focus on food

Dinnertime is rarely without drama in my house as of late. Big brother has always been a pretty great eater, but little brother apparently skipped that gene and has taken to refusing what we have to offer. (I promise not to get into our strategies and failures behind whether or not we eat as a family or we have utter meltdowns at dinnertime).  

I’m guilty of having let my kids run my food life. I’ve gotten entirely too caught up in who likes carrots cooked and who prefers them raw, whether or not we have chicken nuggets in the freezer and making sure I cut every last bit of crust of the littlest’s PB&J. It’s ridiculous.

You know what? I love to cook! I love to eat! I’m a vegetarian who often ends up heating up a frozen veggie burger for lack of a more inspirational option after I’ve cooked a pot of homemade turkey soup or from-scratch, meat-laden spaghetti sauce for my menfolk (admittedly, I love doing that, too, but I far too often forget myself or just don’t bother).

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THEN, a friend gifted me a Superstore cooking class with former Top Chef Canada contestant Chef Lauren Marshall. First, can we talk about how thoughtful an experiential gift is?! We had so much fun! What a great way to spend a fun evening out, learn a few kitchen tips and enjoy an incredible meal. Highly recommend.

The theme was vegetarian Belizean food. If this doesn’t mean a whole lot to you (as it didn’t to me before I attended the class), the influences are very Jamaican and Mexican in nature. Think tostadas on the beach. AKA delicious. It really lit my vegetarian fire. I’m so excited to not only recreate the meals at home, but also branch out into other foods, ethnicities and methods that I haven’t tried before.

I do a bi-weekly meal swap with another friend and we, too, recently decided to branch out and try new things. For the past two swaps, we made Thai dishes — a type of food I have little experience with beyond the confines of a take-out menu. We made and shared Thai-inspired meatballs, noodle salad, squash curry and wonton slaw cups that were all tasty and added to our respective recipe collections. Food containing peanut butter, which three of four recipes do, tend to go over well in my house; the spice factor is a little iffy for my men, but that just means more leftover lunches for me.

Part of our meal swap is to go vegetarian for every other exchange. It is great for me because it adds a dish in my meal planning rotation that I might have had a chance to try (read: not bothered to make for just me).

The whole topic has inspired one of my resolutions for 2017.

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More on those later.

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cooking date night

Husband and I don’t get out much. We’re fortunate to have friends who offer to help, but we generally end up spending “date night” at home, enjoying some down time together after the kids go to bed. I’m sure there’ll be a point when we will have an urge to go out on the town more frequently, but for now, we’re content at home. We’re tired. We like doing things in our PJs. We like going to bed early. Plus, a night out including a babysitter, dinner and a movie is a minimum of $100, which is hard to justify most of the time.

We also really like to eat. It’s almost as if “date night” is actually code for “eat lots of yummy food.” And I’m not talking about chips and dip or popcorn. I’m talking hot appetizers, full meals and/or takeout. It can become a little excessive. It’s a guilty pleasure and while we aren’t going to apologize, it really should be reined in.

But, as I mentioned, we are fairly frugal and we decided we wanted to eliminate the expense of getting takeout (for greasy, mediocre food). I was also interested in reducing the caloric intake of these dates, because eating 1,000 calories at 10 p.m. isn’t good for anyone.

We decided that our food could also be our entertainment and we’d start having cooking date nights at home by picking new recipes – themed by ethnicity – and spend some time together planning the meal in advance. Shopping for ingredients can be a family outing, too. Then on date night we can put away our phones, put on some music and spend the evening cooking and catching up.

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Our first cooking date night was simple Italian, something we have fairly often, but to make it new and unique, we made our sauce from scratch, I made eggplant parmesan for the first time to accompany Husband’s chicken parm, and we tried a vegan kale pesto for our garlic bread. It was so delicious and so much fun to make and eat together. We did a homemade appetizer night, on which we made soft pretzels from scratch, fresh chicken wings and wonton samosas. That night was also tasty, but far too much work for one date. We also did pub-style sandwiches and fries one night and Chinese food another. We repeated the first Italian night menu, too, since it was so yummy the first time around.

Tomorrow night, we’re sticking to Italian but trying vegetarian lasagna rolls, which will either be super easy or a disaster. But either way, it’ll be fun. It gets us off the couch, away from screens and interacting with each other. Of course, we interact plenty in the run of the day, but it’s sometimes frightening how quickly my husband starts to feel like my roommate when we don’t make time for each other.

Maybe tomorrow night, if my husband is lucky, I’ll swap my roommate yoga pants for my wifey … yoga pants.