Thursday, 21 April 2011

Heavenly Smells

I have just cooked my first meal using "Garam Masala" and the smells around here are heavenly!  Mmmmm.

The last couple of weeks have been super busy for this household.  Let me see, there's been work.  More work.  An overnight trip as a chaperone to a Jr. Youth retreat.  And then more work!

I love my job.  Seriously love it.  I am so thankful that I make my living doing something that I really enjoy.  The work can be hard and the days are long, but I usually come home spent, but satisfied. 

I have said for years, though, that, once I'm finished my series of shifts for a stretch, I have trouble with re-entry.  Working 12 hour shifts, the most shifts I will choose to work are 3 12 hour shifts in a row.  That means that the day before I go to work, I spend the evening getting uniforms ready and organizing food to pack for 3 days worth of eating and then I go to bed early.  I rise before anyone, leave before anyone, come home after everyone else, have some quick updates with the family and go to bed before anyone, only to get up the next day and do it all over again.  By the time I have worked my third day in a row, I have spent long hours at work and short (wakeful, that is) hours at home and, while I try to wake up the next morning in wife and mom mode, it is nearly impossible to get my brain to turn off work mode. 

Some days, I re-think stories that co-workers told, laughs we shared, really, just the good times we had while working.

Some days, my body is soooo tired that I can't hardly think a coherent thought.

Some days, my mind is spinning from the mentally draining demands that have been required of me, dealing with acutely ill residents and complicated days.

And some days, I'm lost in the sorrows and struggles of others.  Reality bites.

I just finished 3 shifts yesterday and had good days.  At the end of my last day, though, I had to stay and help another co-worker (Hi Alanna!) cover a shift that needed to be covered after we finished our own shifts.  There are several older men on that unit, and they all look alike to me (I know they don't, but they're all grey haired men that walk, wear glasses and smell....sorry).  One of these old fellas was having a bad day and started following us around as we were doing our work (and talking..).  Obviously sad, I put my hand on his shoulder to try to alleviate his feelings of woe.  Soon, it crossed my mind that he probably needed a hug and so we had a hug.  A long hug.  And he sobbed on my shoulder.  And I patted his back.  I don't know if either one of us know what he was crying about as his state of mind isn't terribly clear, but as the moment passed, he said so clearly "I used to think I was so strong...."

And I've been kind of choked up about that all day today.  Heck, I'm kind of choked up now. 

Why does this blog make me cry?

Life robs us of many things and it takes such great courage to grow old and take what life gives you.  It means our bladders don't cooperate.  Our speech skills waver.  And our minds can be alert enough to know that we feel bad, but not alert enough to know why. 

Please, please, next time you wander into a long term care facility and you get turned off by the sights and sounds and smells, please remember the vital lives that have been lived in those human shells.  The stories are powerful and the souls are hugely relevant still.  And they've been handed difficulties that they never asked for and they will endure them until the day they die.

And I love those old people, those old shells. 

So, today, while trying to shake off the stories that I have left behind, I'm also anxious to re-acquaint myself with my home and my wife/mom roles.  There's no more sure way for me to do that than to get cooking.

I have been thinking all during my work days about what I would be cooking today!  I have been making menu plans for about 7 weeks in a row now, and one of our favorite Indian dishes, "Butter Chicken", was on the list for today.  However, while shopping the other day, I didn't find my usual Butter Chicken mix packet that I love so dearly so I decided to do a quick Internet search to see if I could find something that may bring the same or similar results and I scored big time with this recipe!  I challenge you to make it and to not be intimidated by a couple of listed ingredients.

1.  Garam Masala - simply a spice blend of the Indian variety.  I had 2 choices in the spice/Asian/Indian aisle - I could buy a small spice jar of it for close to $4.00 or a great big bag (about 3 cups) of it in the Indian food section for $3.39.  Seems like a good deal to me!  And, by all means, come and get some if you want to try this out and don't want to buy the bag...seems I have a bit to spare.
Oh!  And, by the way, Garam Masala is a mix of coriander, cumin, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, bay leaves and black cardamom.  No curry.  Nothing "hot" in the spice category.  Lovely fragrant blend. 
2.  Ginger garlic paste - also found in the Asian/Indian aisle, actually just found either Ginger paste OR Garlic paste.  I bought the ginger paste and added fresh garlic to the recipe.  The ginger flavor definitely needs to be there but I wonder about substituting with fresh ginger or even ginger powder?  Could search a few more recipes before drawing a conclusion on that one.

All that to say that even here, in little ol' P.A., I found the ingredients.  Here goes:

Butter Chicken

1 Tbsp oil
1/4 chopped onion
3 cloves garlic (my substitution)

2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp ginger paste
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin (I ran out, plan to include this next time)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 cup half and half cream
1 cup tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste

chicken pieces (to serve 4)
1 more tsp garam masala

Heat oil in saucepan and saute onion and garlic.  Stir in butter, lemon juice, ginger paste, 1 tsp garam masala, chili powder and cumin.  Cook, stirring for one minute.  Add tomato sauce and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in cream and yogurt, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Season with salt and pepper; remove from heat and set aside.

Brown chicken pieces in oil in large frying pan then sprinkle with 1 tsp garam masala and cook until cooked through (or do this step in the oven). 

Toss chicken with sauce mixture and let simmer for a few minutes.

Serve on basmati rice.

I will NOT be buying the butter chicken mix packet any more.  I WILL be using this recipe again, thus, it's a "Make Again"!  The recipe is SO similar to the results we got from the packet, but this is more convenient, and, once again, a savings.

Please try it and tell me that garam masala fragrance isn't absolutely heavenly!

And, for the record, I'm glad to be home.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Feelin' It (or not?)

Took the boys to shop in Saskatoon on Friday for mostly fun - browsing-type shopping. The one necessity, though, that we had to come home with, was a pair of dress pants for Ben.  So, as the day slipped away and the opportunities for lots of clothes browsing disappeared, I decided to take him to Old Navy and hope for some casual khakis that he'd be happy with.  Now, you have to know Ben.  He wears skinny jeans.  ONLY skinny jeans.  That's it.  Nothing else.  And so, when I shoved a pair of straight legged clean front navy blue cotton khaki's in front of him and advised him to try them on, he obediently did that, but stated repeatedly, "I don't know, Mom, I'm just not feelin' it."

I came home from work last night and was thinking about the rest of the chip dip in the fridge and asked the boys if there were any chips left downstairs.  Of course, silly me, the answer was "no" so I substituted some "Pita Crisps" and, while I sat there crunching on pitas instead of chips, trying to tell myself that it was every bit as good, I thought to myself - "I don't know, I'm just not feelin' it". 

Today, while attempting to read the concluding book in a series of one of my favorite authors (Lynn Austin), the whole book seems to be full of alarmingly blatant violence and misery, and while I'm trying to read, I'm thinking to myself..."I'm just not feelin' this either."

Ever have one of those days when it comes to cooking? 

Um, yeah, that's where I'm at today in regards to cooking supper!  I mentally flicked through the file of supper possibilities.  Chicken, nope, did that; pork - did that, too; beef - don't have much; order pizza?  No, not feelin' that either.

And so, I have concluded that this day will not be a day of exciting new meals that will be made with my favorite apron on, music playing, dishes washed as they get dirtied.  Nope.  Today is a day of comfort food; cooking that is necessary to feed the body, and that ends up feeding the soul, too.

Surprisingly, when I told Dean what we were having, he was rather delighted.  He's tired and feeling ickish in his sinuses, probably "not feelin' it" on a multitude of levels.  Funny how comfort food comforts.

And so, may I present to you, SOUP.


1 lb hamburger
1/2 - 1 onion (I used whatever I had in the fridge)
1 cup chopped celery
1 jar canned tomatoes (approx. 700 mls, and boy, I can't wait for tomatoes from the garden this far)
4 cups beef broth
leftover vegetables (today I used the rest of the bag of coleslaw mix)
1 1/2 cups uncooked macaroni
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the hamburger and onion in dutch oven.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add celery and saute a bit longer.  Add tomatoes, broth, vegetables and bring to a boil.  While at a rapid boil, add macaroni.  Turn down to simmer and cook until macaroni is cooked through.  Check for seasoning and add S and P if needed.  I also added a pinch of dried basil.  Whatever floats your boat.

This is so simple it's embarrassing.  I have a lot of nerve to share this recipe on this space.  But I do have to say that, while I love new recipes and variety, sometimes the most tried and true recipes do something for the tired soul.  They simply nourish us and they relieve us of the need to be spectacular and give us permission to just provide a hot meal for the ones we love.

And, I'm all over that.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Works For Me

Well, I'm back after a few days at work.  It's always a challenge to get back into "home mode"; every bit as much of a challenge as it is to get back to work after a few days off.

I want to take time to thank the "Lucerne" company, by the way.  They must have read my last blog, the one where I suggested that buttermilk should be sold in smaller containers than one litre.  Lo and behold, when I went to Safeway yesterday, I was able to purchase a 500 ml container of buttermilk.  Funny how Lucerne could read my entry from last week, and react so promptly.  Great marketing on their part; I'm sure they'll be delighted with the free advertising that I'm giving them here in this space.  ;)

I want to share my Cinnamon Bun recipe with you.  The reason why I want to share it with you is largely selfish - my handwritten copy in my "little black book" is barely legible!  I have used and used and used that recipe and the page is WELL stained with oil and flour and sugar.

I have been using my recipe for several years.  Last fall, I started to experiment with Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Bun recipe found here.  They turned out well, in fact, the preparation method in her recipe is really simple, especially for beginner cinnamon bun bakers.  But, I keep going back to my own recipe.  And that is because my recipe works for me.

There's a story behind that.

When Dean and I were first married, we had the pleasure of being friends with a special lady named Eileen.  Dean worked with her, actually, and she spoiled him now and then by bringing fresh cinnamon buns to work to share.  Now, I've always loved cinnamon buns; they are pretty much at the top of my list of comfort foods for me and Dean really loved them, too.  So, being the devoted wife that I am, I set out to replicate Eileen's cinnamon buns.  What greater gift could I give to my new husband than cinnamon buns "just" like Eileen's?

So, I tried baking some from "who-knows-where-I-got-the-recipe-from".  Results - not that good. 

Next step - get Eileen's recipe.  Did that, made them.  Results - "they don't taste quite like Eileen's", he said.

Hmm, next step - borrow Eileen's bread mixer.  Did that, made them.  Results - "nope, still not like Eileen's."  Compare oven temperatures?  Same temperatures, no difference.

What to do, what to do?  Eileen told me to bake them in tin foil pans.  Ahh.  That must be the ticket!  Did that.  Results - " not like Eileen's."

All of this experimenting was resulting in a very discouraged cinnamon bun baker.  This process of trying to bake like her was getting me nowhere fast.

Then one day I decided that my cinnamon buns did NOT have to taste "just like Eileen's" to be tasty.  So, I gathered my courage and started to make them anyway, not being so concerned with replicating her results, but more concerned with getting into the routine of working with yeast dough.  I started making buns on a regular basis.  I made bread.  I made focaccia, Stromboli.  And cinnamon buns.

And here I am, many years later, and, you know what?  I make REALLY GOOD cinnamon buns!  My buns have changed from dry blobs of gooey dough into pillowy puffs of cinnamon-sugary goodness.  Not to brag or anything,, they're good!

I would never post this recipe as the "world's best cinnamon bun" recipe, though, for the above reason.  I think that with all yeast dough recipes, it really does take a lot of practice to get it right, and the recipe probably doesn't have that much to do with it.  It becomes more of an art to recognize when you've added enough flour, or when you've kneaded long enough, or to find out what kind of baking pans you get the best results out of, or what temperature your oven cooks them best at.  So many variables.

So, for my own sake, here is my recipe for cinnamon buns.  The rest of you - GO FIND YOUR OWN CINNAMON BUN RECIPE!!!!

Nah, you can use mine!  Or Pioneer Woman's  Or use your own recipe, but do what another friend does and let them rise in cream, mmmmmm!  So many tricks to make these things good!  Experiment and please, by all means, share your successes with me!

Basic Sweet Dough/Cinnamon Buns (I mix mine in a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer)

2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 Tbsp yeast
Mix together to dissolve and let the yeast proof for about 10 minutes.

1 cup milk
1/4 cup margarine or oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
I scald mine in the microwave for about 1:30 min.  Stir to dissolve.

In the bowl of the mixer, add:
3/4 cup cold water
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Yeast mixture
Milk mixture
Stir to combine.

Add in 2 cups of flour and mix with the dough hook to make a paste.
Add in 2 more cups of flour and continue to mix with the hook.
Add in 2 more cups of flour and continue to mix.  The dough is starting to come together and should start to pull away from the walls of the mixing bowl.

Add flour in 1/4 cup increments at this point, until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl, but remains sticky to the touch.  The mixer should not have to work terribly hard.  Once you've reached that point, let it knead (on #2 setting) for 5 minutes.  If, at any point, the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add more flour in small portions.

Once it has finished kneading for 5 minutes, place it in a well greased bowl, cover it and let it rise for one hour.  I let mine rise in my oven with the door shut and the light ON.

After it has risen, divide into 2 portions.  Roll out into a rectangle and slather with soft butter/margarine, then layer generous amounts of brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cut into 12 pieces using a serrated knife (using a sawing motion, don't slice downwards) and place in a well greased 9 x 13 tin foil* pan.  Repeat with the other portion of dough.  Cover and return to the cold oven with the light on and let rise for another hour. 

Remove from the oven.  Preheat your oven to 350 F and then bake for 15-20 minutes.

*I really do find that cinnamon buns bake very nicely in tin foil pans.  I always keep them on hand for this purpose.  Yes, they wear out and need to be replaced, but you seem to get softer cinnamon buns in tin foil pans.  I have experimented with other types of pans, and the tin foil gives the best results, IF you like soft buns. 

I encourage you to find out what your cinnamon bun preferences are.  A friend of mine loves her buns barely baked through, preferring them to be quite doughy.  Other friends like theirs well browned (I lean towards that myself).  Others like to ice them with cream cheese icing.  Others like raisins or pecans in the filling.  Others like them dripping with sticky filling.  Considering all of those individual preferences, how can anyone say that they have the "best cinnamon bun" recipe?  Find a good recipe for yourself and get baking!  I know that I've found the recipe that works for me.