Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Crockpot Butternut Squash Soup

Lately we've been going to our local farmer's market every weekend. It started when a dear friend, and our baby girl's Godfather, started a wonderful new job as the butcher for the storefront of a local farm. I could rant and rave about the glorious meat we've been blessed to eat lately (oh sweet baby Jesus, thank you for bacon), but the quality of the meat at Getaway Meat Mongers speaks for itself the moment you take your first bite. Let me just say that sustainable, local, grass fed livestock, that is lovingly cared for by a farmer and properly butchered is an experience worth trying and repeating.

But I digress. Today I want to share with you my version of Butternut squash soup made, of course, in the crockpot. The reason I mentioned the market is that all of the vegetables I used are from Noggins Corner Farm's stand at the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market. If you find yourself there, be sure to share a smile with their funny and knowledgeable staff. They are a highlight of our weekend. Now for the recipe!

2 medium butternut squash
4 medium potatoes
6 rainbow carrots
1 can coconut milk or coconut cream
4 cups broths (veggie, chicken or beef)
4 tablespoons butter
Brown sugar to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

First up, cut those butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Put a tablespoon of butter on each of them and sprinkle some brown sugar, salt and pepper on them. Bake them in a 400F oven for 25-35 minutes or until fork tender. You can either scoop the flesh out of the skin or, like me, turn them upside down and carefully cut off the skin. Cut the squash up into chunks and drop into your crockpot. Cut up your carrots and potatoes and drop them in there too. Mix up your veggies and then add your broth and a little salt and pepper. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Your whole house is going to smell the way I imagine heaven smells! When it's all soft and cooked take the broth and veggies out in batches and blend it until smooth. When you've blended the whole thing add your coconut milk and whisk it in. Add more salt and pepper to taste. I think this would be especially tasty with some of my Mom's Molasses Brown Bread. This soup recipe had a few steps but it really was so easy, delicious and worthwhile. I can't wait to have my second bowl tomorrow!

The best part, my three older kids who are 21 months, 3 years and 4 years old all loved it. My 4 year old girl literally said "Mommy, this was the best meal ever. In the world!" I'll take that victory and run!

Friday, 27 January 2012


Baby girl is now 5 months old. I have to admit, I'm pretty excited about this. She's really sleeping through the night now, and is even going to bed at a reasonable hour. I'm actually getting time with my husband without having to speak quietly so as not to disturb the delicate balance of breastfeeding and conversation. I even got out for a ladies night last night. We got together for coffee and had a good knit, because that's how we roll. Baby girl was home, snuggled in her bed, snoozing. According to hubby there wasn't so much as a whimper from her.

Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed every sweet second of near constant snuggles, bonding and adoring my new little wonder. I wouldn't trade a second of that time for all the coffee in Columbia (although I doubt there's much coffee left as I have been consuming it in massive quantities). That being said, I can't help but rejoice in this new stage. Baby girl is so much more independant. She enjoys being down on the floor with her siblings in the thick of things. Especially now that youngest boy isn't trying to sit on her. During the day I've been free to do more than supervise the older kids. I've been able to get up and dance with them, build with them, draw with them, and just be a Mom to them instead of a voice trapped in a chair. I can tell the kids enjoy the difference too. It's nice to remember motherhood changes with each stage of life. We grow with our babies.

With all this extra time and energy I'm already plotting so many little projects. Mostly it's knitting projects, but also my old stand by of baking and cooking. I'm pretty sure you'll be seeing a few more crockpot recipes here from me in the future. That and a few more ladies nights to get my creative energies flowing in the company of my sweet lady friends. I'm also looking forward to the idea of a date night with my darling husband some time soon. We've had a rough couple of weeks and I'd love the chance to reconnect with him. Oh sweet sweet freedom. Dream away, baby girl. Mama has a few sweet dreams in store for herself too.

Inner Strength

As I type this, my boys are playing "sleepover" on the floor of our livingroom, curled up in baby blankets I was trying to fold from the laundry (oh well). They are whispering conspiratorially to each other, probably about trucks. I look at them and I can't help but love my sweet, energetic little boys. I wonder sometimes about what it is I have to bring to the table for these impressionable little men in training.

Just like girls, who are taught by society to aspire to an image of physical beauty that is unattainable, young boys are taught a similar message about strength, appearance, and success that, if it is attainable, is undesirable. Men are bombarded every day with images of the tall, dark and handsome superman type figure. Who cares if he's vapid, abusive or cruel, so long as he's good looking and rich, right? Such a sad image of real manhood. I think this image misses the true inner strength of a real man, the man some women don't even believe exists until he walks into her life. Sadly so many women settle for less not realising there are good men out there. I pray every day that my boys don't get caught up in society's vision of manhood being about size, strength, or paycheck.

So, what makes a good man? What inner quality do I pray my boys will have? Strength. Not physical strength, but an emotional strength that will carry them through rough times. Strength to be brave enough to love with their whole being. Strength to be unafraid to show emotions when they need to but also strength enough to control their emotions so they can hold someone else in times of need. Strength to fight the good fight, but also strength to let go of a fight not worth having. Strength enough to apologise when they're wrong but also to be charitable when they're right. Strength to believe might doesn't equal right and that all beings deserve our respect and care. Strength to be themselves, even if what they love about themselves doesn't make them popular, rich or famous.

Our boys won't have to look far for their example. Their father is a man of this kind of inner strength and true manhood at his core. He dedicates every moment to our family, rarely thinking of his own wants or needs. Like St. Joseph, his favourite saint, he chooses to live a life of abiding and daily faith, acting quietly and with great gratitude for all God has entrusted to him. As a mother all I can do is show them a man like their father is worth loving and let them know that they are worthy of unconditional love just as they are. I pray that they always see how grateful I am that when God knit them in the secret of my womb, He created them in His own image as a gift to our family. I pray they strive to live their lives trying to come closer to that perfection instead of the false image the world would teach them to strive for.

In the Eye of the Beholder

This morning instead of her usual request for Disney princesses or fairies, my eldest daughter asked if we could watch a VeggieTales movie called "Sweetpea Beauty". I couldn't resist this request as it's a very short DVD and has a message I would gladly spend every day for the rest of her life drilling in. The theme is on beauty, but not in the way you'd expect. They take two classic princess fairy tales, Cinderella and Snow White, and revamp them to be about true beauty instead of society's image of what physical beauty should look like. As I watched my daughter (and her two very obliging brothers who love the movie too) enraptured by the cute animated vegetables retelling her favourite stories I couldn't help but wonder if any of it was sinking in.

She's only 4 and all of her little lady friends are still completely unconcerned about their looks. Or better yet, they're still at that age where everyone is beautiful and fabulous because they haven't been told to think otherwise. Their parents are just as careful as we are to instill the belief that true inner beauty radiates out. Like her friends, her true belief right now is that everyone and everything is beautiful unless she's told otherwise. I wonder how long I can protect her like this and how hard I will have to work to always keep a sense that she is truly beautiful, both inside and out. I know we don't focus on physical beauty too much in our house, but once she goes to school I can't control what others say. It was in elementary school that I recall that brand of bullying starting. Part of me is already beginning to grieve the idea that some day she will look at herself and see some imperfection or flaw. Or worse that one of her school mates will make the leap for her and point out some area of her appearance that will cause her to doubt her whole self. Our society has become so obsessed with the idea of perfectly symmetrical, stick thin women. Will she believe that she measures up to this standard?

My hope in all of this is that if we work hard with her now to understand that beauty isn't just about the physical part, but also about her heart, intelligence and talents, she will learn not to measure herself against airbrushed pictures and starved starlets. I pray that she will see herself with the same joy and wonder I did the day I first held her. There are no imperfections, only variations that make her special and wonderful. My beautiful child and not just a mass produced doll. With whose eyes will she see? The eyes of society or the eyes unconditional of love? I know, just like the rest of us, she'll struggle and have bad days, but in those moments I can only pray she hears the still small voice reminding her she was planned, her creation already known by her Creator before there was time. She is wonderfully made and loved by her family and the Father who wrote her name on the palm of his hand. She is worth loving. She is beautiful.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Finding Joy

Things here have been hectic to say the least lately. My husband is sick with some sort of unknown illness and has been in and out of doctors offices and the emergency room for weeks. All we've been able to figure out is what it's not. They've prescribed him an army of medications that all seem to be doing just this side of nothing for him. It's gotten to the point he can't work a full day most days because the pain gets so overwhelming. He's doing his best to grin and bear it, to hide the intensity of his pain but as the days wear on it's clear he's falling apart at the seams. He is truly the St. Joseph of our family, working hard and doing all he can despite his own setbacks to take care of the family God has given us. Suffice it to say this has been really stressful for both of us and the kids, who are too young to understand why Daddy can't play pony today or why his energy is so low. In all of this I'm struggling, struggling to find a voice for my prayers, patience with my children when I'm distracted by worst case scenarios, and most of all I'm struggling to find joy.

These days even a small moment of joy is enough to fuel me through the rest of an unpredictable day. I'm holding on to my little moments tightly, doing my best to remind myself over and over again how lucky I am. With four children these moments come surprisingly often (mind you they are perfectly balanced with the complete pandemonium that four crying, screaming kids can bring). Each child has their own unique way of reminding me of why it is I keep getting out of bed each morning to jump into the fray, especially on my weaker days.

Today, as I lay in bed giving baby girl her first feed, she fell asleep next to me, and giggled in her sleep. She has a deep chuckle for such a little girl and I could barely stiffle my own giggle watching her smile at whatever hilarious dream she was having. I've struggled so hard with breastfeeding and these little moments remind me why I fight every day to keep that relationship strong. It's helping me to grow my already strong bond with my baby girl.

Our eldest, the little princess, has had the honour of giving me a reliable moment of daily joy for 10 days. She's signed up for a charity campaign where she draws a picture on a chosen theme for 30 days and people pledge to support her. My 4 year old artiste has already raised $150 in support of an AIDS/HIV charity. That's wonderful enough, but to add to this I have the joy of watching her mind work through the idea of her challenge for the day. She usually ends up chatting her little heart out and gets completely distracted before I remind her of her drawing. I then get to watch her bend over her paper with great intensity as she fulfills her task.

Our oldest boy is my little button pusher. He's the screamer, pusher, and definitely the go-to guy if you have a question that demands an answer of "no". I love his spunky and independant spirit even if he drives me a little crazy sometimes. For all of his spiritedness he's truly a gentle soul, and is becoming a doting older brother to his roommate, his little brother. He's started this little habit that I have no intention of breaking (for so many reasons): whenever we get home from being out he gently asks his brother to sit down, then he very carefully takes off his brother's shoes for him. Then, if he can get him to stay still he'll take off his brother's coat. So precious. Some day I think he'll make a great Daddy.

Now our little man, Daddy's shadow, can't help but be adorable. He's on the small side for his age and has just started climbing all over the furniture, a feat his stature had denied him previous. Besides this, he's also started forming full sentences and the results would melt any mother's heart. A lot of what he says involves his brother, running the gamut from "Brother, where ARE you??", "Brother, play with ME!" to "NO, brother. NO!". It's great to see him coming into his own and even better to see that he adores his roomie. I must say though, what really gave me a little burst of joy seems so inconsequential from the outside, but was for me another memory to store in my heart for the lean teenage years sure to come. My wee 20 month old boy, covered in markers, came up to me with a look of the greatest trust and earnestness and, holding up a marker in his perfectly formed little hands, asked me in the sweetest voice: "Mommy, please help me with this. Please!" He wanted me to help him uncap his marker, no biggie. The best part was right after, completely unbidden, he followed up with a big smile, a hug and an unmistakable "Thank you, Mommy!" before he ran back to drawing with his brother and sister. Melt.

I'm writing these little moments as much to help myself remember in the tough times as anything. I want to soak up these moments, live in these moments and treasure them as the precious miracles they are. These moments also help me appreciate the personalities of each of my children, which is a blessing in and of itself. I thank God that He keeps giving me these little moments to get me through and remind me that there's always light in the dark places, I just need to keep my eyes open.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Crockpot Beef Stew

In the middle of today's craziness and chaos, I had a moment of pure delight. Well, several if you count the every day miracle that is the perfect love of a child multiplied by four. I was lucky to have one of those precious moments with each of my children today. Now, this was balanced by a level of general insanity that movies like "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Yours, Mine and Ours" can only attempt to rival. Let's just say, thank God the markers were washable, the clothes changeable, and the boo boos kissable.

Back to my moment of pure delight. This was the kind that had nothing to do with the kids, yet anyway. They were calmly playing for the moment so I went off to the kitchen to get a start on supper. Thanks to my trusty crockpot I knew 20 minutes of prep could make for a delicious supper that I didn't need to worry about burning while I attended to the needs of my 4 little ones. I had some beef that we'd picked up at the Seaport Market on Saturday. It was stew cut beef from sustainably raised, exclusively grass-fed cows, beautifully aged and expertly butchered by a real Butcher (baby girl's Godfather as it happens) that we purchased at Getaway Meat Mongers. Soooo good. Besides that we had picked up some vegetables from the Noggins Farm stall at the Market, namely potatoes, rainbow carrots, cremini mushrooms, and leeks. As soon as I saw the stew beef I knew I had to make a classic recipe from my Mom's cookbook: Beef Stew (or Beef Ragout). I made a few tweeks to her recipe but overall this is her version of the hearty classic. As I type this the smell of the rich spices and fresh produce are wafting through our house, covering up nicely the pile of wet diapers hiding in our livingroom. Here's the recipe!

1lb stew beef
6-8 cubed medium potatoes
6-8 rainbow carrots cut in discs
3 chopped leeks (green and white parts)
1lb sliced cremini mushrooms
2 28oz cans diced tomatoes
4 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves (remember to remove before serving!)
2 cloves crushed and minced garlic
1/2 tsp pepper
2 T Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp allspice
4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Combine everything but the meat in your crockpot. In a large pan put 1T olive oil on medium heat. Dredge your stew beef in flour. Shake off excess flour and brown all sides of your meat. This will seal in the juices and therefore your flavour! You will be able to tell your pan is ready by dropping a pinch of flour in. If the flour bubbles and cooks it's ready for your meat. Once your meat is browned, add it to the other incredients in your crock. Take a spatula and get all the juices from the bottom of your pan and put them in the crockpot too. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 5-7 hours. This is one that you can refridgerate and cook again on low for another 4-6 hours the next day. The sauce will reduce and get more rich!