Tree’s company

My mother and I had a typical fall conversation the other day – blah blah pumpkins blah crisp air blah blah blah suitable layers of clothing. When we got around to the part where we talked about the colours of the leaves, she told me the birch tree in their front lawn had “just a few yellow leaves.”

“That’s weird, because so does ours, and we’ve already had snow,” I told her.

(I really wish I had been kidding.)

We were both a bit surprised at what the other was saying until we realized it was an issue of semantics. She meant ‘just a few of our tree’s many remaining leaves have turned yellow so far, while the rest remain a dazzling shade of green because our weather is glorious.’ And I meant ‘just a few yellow leaves are left on our tree, because the rest have crumbled and died, much like my soul, in the face of the ever-advancing winter.’

I guess that’s what a 1,000-kilometre difference in latitude looks like.

We’ve had a few other surprises when it comes to trees here in the North.

I believe I’ve already described my shock when I realized there were no maple trees. Or oak. Or chestnut. I’ve seen a few ash, but I’m mostly convinced that those have been artificially introduced from the south.  Without all those trees with widely different leaves, I’ve realized that my ability to tell trees apart is specialized exclusively to deciduous trees.  Show me a row of trees and I’ll tell you, “Oak, oak, birch, maple… pine?”

Evergreens, to me, all look like each other – green cone-shaped pointy things. I know some are greener and some have needles that are broader, but I don’t know which belongs to which tree.

And that, in turn, led to another surprise; not all evergreens are, in fact, evergreens.

trees

Enter the tamarack. It’s that bright yellow cone-shaped pointy thing. Not quite an evergreen if it’s going to turn brilliant gold, is it?

Tamaracks are part of a small group of trees that I only recently found out exists – they’re deciduous conifers. In other words, they have needles and form cones, like conifers, but they change colours in the fall and lose their needles every year, like deciduous trees.

One on hand, I’m glad tamaracks exist because they add a punch of flash to the landscape. And contrasting colours are interesting to look at – just ask my three-month-old.

But there’s something that I find irksome about them at the same time. Isn’t it a little suspicious that these trees are trying so hard to be two things at once? Being one type of tree seems like enough for so many other species.  Maples, oaks, willows, spruces – none of them seem to have this identity crisis.

Hmmm. As pretty as they are, I think tamaracks are going on my “keep an eye on these guys” list.

The only other members, for the record, are duck-billed platypuses and tomatoes.

Getting back on (the) track

I have never been much of an athlete. Sure, I participated in plenty of athletic pursuits; I have played soccer for as long as I can remember (some of it even on a competitive team), I have figure skated, I was a pretty good basketball player until all the other kids hit their growth spurt, too, and more recently, I took up an interest in both ultimate frisbee and running.

But even while doing all of these things, I never really felt like an athlete. Athletes, you see, are lean, graceful, and purposeful. They train hard, they work towards goals, they love “the burn,” and they look good while doing it. In short, they belong in Gatorade commercials.

I, on the other hand, belong on the couch. Preferably with a baked good at my side (or in my mouth).

When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I had to give up sports where contact was a possibility. So, pretty much all team sports. But my obstetrician also told me to stop running (advice that I now know is not exactly great), so I did that too.

Honestly, at first I was a little relieved – running isn’t all that much fun.

But as I found myself becoming wider and wider – and thus harder and harder to move around – I was surprised to find that I was envious of all those fools I saw outside running. “Look at how swiftly they are moving their bodies! They are masters of their own worlds! They have poise! They have endurance! Running looks fun! I want to run!”

I vowed that as soon as I got the go-ahead from my doctor after the baby was born, I would go running and try to really appreciate what my body could do.

So, with a bit of encouragement from my husband, I signed up for a 5 km race yesterday. Besides a quick break to tie up my shoe, I ran the whole way without stopping (quite a feat, really, given that I haven’t ran in a full year).

It felt terrible.

I was not graceful. I certainly lacked poise. I did not feel like a master of anything. And my husband has photographic proof that I did not look good while doing it. I placed 83rd out of 98 participants and ended a full five minutes over my personal best.

If that run had been an audition for a Gatorade commercial, the producers would have laughed in my face and probably snickered about it for years to come. (I am possibly unfairly assuming that Gatorade commercial producers are not unlike the cool kids in popular television shows aimed at insecure teenagers.)

But today? Today I woke up to burning thighs. And that made me smile and feel proud.

Today I feel like an athlete.

I have a lot on my plate

I think I might be turning into a hipster. Or a foodie. Or a selfie.  One of those words means someone who wears thick rimmed glasses and experiments with recipes involving coconut butter, right?

(I’m already such a cool mom.)

I posted a while ago about how cooking for myself is terrible. Sure, I enjoy eating three cookies and a microwaved pizza pocket for dinner, but neither my heart nor my waistline appreciates the meal.  And it turns out the whole ‘eating for two’ thing doesn’t stop once the baby is extracted – I have to continue to eat properly to feed Baby E if I want her to grow and flourish.  #parentingneverends #alwayseating #toomanybananas

(Seriously. Is that how you use a hashtag?)

Luckily, husband and I have now been reunited for several months after his stint at police college, and now that he knows everything there is to know about being a police officer, I have him home most nights for meals.  Plus, now that I’m “on maternity leave” (read: a full-time baby slave), I find myself on the couch for hours on end, either feeding my child or acting as a substitute for a bed. What do I do with all that down time?

Well, when I’m not trying to figure out how to get the baby to nap in her crib for at least ten straight minutes (please! seriously!), I’m investigating what I could be cooking or baking or otherwise preparing to eat. My life currently seems dedicated to feeding people and dogs and cleaning up after people and dogs, so I might as well do it well.

In the past several months, I have tried a lot of new recipes and foods. In some cases, it turns out the rumours are true – for example, spaghetti squash is easily substituted for spaghetti, is delicious, and is a wondrous gift from the Earth for those of us who count calories.  (There are lots of ways to do it – I cut it in half lengthwise and put both halves face down in a baking pan and fill the pan with about an inch of water. I bake at 400 degrees Farenheit for about 45 minutes, then turn them face up for 15 minutes. Then I scoop out the guts with a spoon and use a fork to tear apart the sides into “spaghetti.” I know I’m late to the party, but this stuff is seriously amazing.) In other cases, I’m less than pleased with what I discover; I tried Greek yogurt in two different recipes – a soup and a dessert – and wasn’t floored by the outcome.

The overall result is that I am much more confident in the kitchen. And I am also always full.

Here are some of my favourites:

Creamy tomato and rice soup: I recommended this recipe to friends and they weren’t impressed. Then they tried mine and they were impressed.  I forgot to tell them the secret: use loads of Montreal chicken spice.  Also, sometimes I cheat and use a flavoured rice to kick it up a notch.

Baked potato soup: I use this recipe because it’s pretty healthy, as far as potato and cheese soups go. Of course, I add more cheese, so that kind of negates my reasoning.  I also use Montreal chicken spice instead of paprika (it’s just good, okay?), and am too lazy to put in the green onions (don’t judge). Oh, and I use garlic instead of chives, because I always have garlic on hand and my local grocery store rarely has chives in stock (one of the delightful aspects of living in Northern Ontario).

Tomato lentil soup: In case you missed the memo, I like soup.  I made up a recipe using a few Internet recipes as a guideline.  Here’s what you do: chop up an onion and throw it in a big pot on medium heat with too much butter and as much dried basil as looks right. Feel free to use fresh basil if you’re a show off. Put in some salt and pepper too.  Let it cook for five minutes or until you get impatient, then add a can of diced tomatoes, a cup of red lentils, and enough chicken (or vegetable, weirdo) broth to cover the tomatoes and lentils.  Then add a bit more broth because you forgot that lentils absorb a lot of liquid. Then add some more.  It will probably end up being most of a container of broth.  Let that concoction simmer for about twenty minutes, then blend it with a hand blender or whatever tool you have and serve it with an entire loaf of bread.

Lemon pepper green beans with almonds: This recipe is seriously the best vegetable side dish I’ve ever made. It’s simple, easy, and so delicious that even my Dad, who would rather personally slaughter a cow than eat a plate full of vegetables, went back for seconds.  I also do this recipe without almonds, because sometimes ten minutes to roast almonds is ten minutes I don’t have/am too lazy for. In that case, all I do is steam the green beans, heat some butter in a pan, and toss the green beans in with the lemon pepper seasoning (I use Mrs. Dash because it’s delicious) for a couple minutes.  Regardless of whether I add almonds, I use more butter and lemon pepper than this recipe suggests, and you should do the same if you want to be awesome.

Poppy seed chicken casserole: What this dish lacks in visual appeal (everything) it makes up for in taste and ease.  Plus, it freezes really well. When I do it, I use three chicken breasts, which I bake in chicken broth for about 25 minutes first, and loads of poppy seeds. I also use low fat sour cream to help convince myself that a dish that features Ritz crackers isn’t that bad for me. The only downside I see to this dish is that it has zero vegetables, which introduces a perfect excuse to make lemon pepper green beans. So really, there’s no downside at all.

Chicken fajita quinoa bake: Somewhere in the vast world of the Internet, I saw a quote that made me laugh: “Never eat anything you can’t pronounce… except quinoa. You should definitely eat quinoa.”  Quinoa (KEY-nwah, for those as new to food trends as I am) is, according to Huffington Post, “The New Health Food Superstar.” It is a complex carbohydrate that is high in protein and relatively low in calories.  And it is something I’m still pretty scared to experiment with. But when I saw this recipe that combines everything I love about fajitas (everything except trying to cook everything all at the same time, and also how many dishes you dirty in the process) and eliminates the things I hate about fajitas (trying to cook everything all at the same time, and also how many dishes you dirty in the process), I was all in.  The only change I made was that I substituted corn for beans, and it turned out great.

Banana oatmeal (chocolate chip) cookies: I love bananas. I have one every day for breakfast.  And some days for an evening snack. But somehow, I still felt like I needed more bananas in my life.  So I made these cookies, added in an extra banana, substituted the 1/2 cup of nuts for a full cup of chocolate chips, and all was well in the world.

Peanut butter cookies: These are unlike any other peanut butter cookie I have ever had.  The peanut flavour is a little more subtle, and they are, as advertised, unbelievably soft.  I used birch syrup instead of maple syrup because maple trees don’t survive in our climate. I also used the “regular” versions of all the healthy ingredients listed (regular bleached flour is good enough for me), and they still turned out amazing (but now I might have thyroid dysfunction).

I never intended to write a food blog, but with all the delicious food out there to make (and eat!), I just might be headed down that path.  If you, dear reader, have recipes you think I might like, please let me know. In the meantime, I’m a little worn out from typing this all out, so we’re having Kraft Dinner and hot dogs for dinner.