Saturday, 21 November 2015

Reality Break

I was going to do more of a day by day WDW thing but I have been home for almost a week and is cold as f*** and I feel like there is nothing to look forward to ever again.  Post holiday blues in the worst way.  Honestly, I don't think I was meant for this climate.  I'm always so happy when it's hot and everyone is complaining.  So I'll take a break to the food planning part instead of immersing myself in pictures of how warm and happy and relaxed we all were a short time ago.

The grocery shopping for this week was epic.  It cost so much that I got a free Jamie Oliver knife without having to actually save up stamps for it.  It seemed smart to use up everything before we left but I'm literally paying for it now.

I did the meal plan based on the shopping instead of my usual shop based on the plan.  I was out of so many things and then just bought some things that were on sale or looked appealing.  As always, the meals sometimes get moved from one day to another.

Wednesday - Pasta with sausage and kale, homemade focaccia bread with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Thursday - planned meal out - last day of my holiday time

Friday - Chicken or vegetarian fajitas with salsa, refried beans, cheese or vegan cheese, guacamole, lettuce, cilantro.

Saturday - Macaroni and cheese, vegan mac and sauce, Asparagus

Sunday - Braised chicken thighs with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, roasted mixed veg (broccolini, zucchini, corn)

Monday - beef curry, chickpea, potato and cauliflower curry, spicy green beans, basmati rice, samosas & Indian breads (Jordan and Cory coming so bigger dinner)

Tuesday - Spaghetti & Meatballs, Italian bread (ready to bake from freezer), salad

Wednesday - Pizzas and Greek salad

Thursday - Empanadas, soup (probably choice of several jars of leftover soup from freezer)

Friday -  Teriyaki salmon, rice, Asian style salad

I also hard boiled some eggs for lunches (all eaten as of this writing) and made some spicy tuna-mayo  Onigiri for the freezer.  Forgot to take photos but they are so easy to make and so delicious for lunches.  Mix some tuna with spicy Japanese mayo, or regular mayo plus siraccha sauce to taste.  Cook Japanese rice in the rice cooker - I use Kuhio Rose and buy the big bags to keep in the storage room along with the giant bags of basmati and of flour.  Then I just fill the canisters in the pantry as needed.  I made 4 rice cooker cups of rice which made 6 large Onigiri.  Plus one small one I gave to Maddie's friend Hayley.  When the rice is cooked tear off 6-8 good sized squares of plastic wrap.  Sprinkle the top one lightly with sea salt.  Put a heaping half cup - more like 3/4 cup - of rice in the middle.  Make a dent in the rice and put in a tablespoon of tuna.  Wrap and twist the plastic wrap tightly around the rice, moulding it into a ball and enclosing the filling as you go.  It's easier than it sounds.  Then unwrap the ball, sprinkle with some toasted sesame seeds and re-wrap, putting the individually wrapped Nigiri in a freezer bag or container.  To add to a lunch microwave the frozen rice ball before packing until it is warmed, the cold rice will be hard otherwise.  Don't heat it so much the filling gets hot.  Let cool to room temperature before packing.

I got a very late start due to the grocery shopping - started about 4 pm but was done most of the prep by the time I served dinner at about 7:30.  First I started the beef curry.  It's a new recipe, I've made many curries but never with stew beef.  It was on sale and I think the boys like having some beef once in a while.

I used this recipe Fragrant beef curry with rice 

I did replace the milk with a can of reduced fat coconut milk and the curry powder with garam masala and turmeric, and put in a large tin of diced tomatoes instead of the fresh tomato called for.  It smelled great, we will see what they think on Monday.

As the meat was browning and I was adding vegetables etc to get this started simmering I put together the breads - focaccia for that night and pizza doughs par-baked to serve another night.  I'm getting better at the planning stage of batch cooking so I knew I'd have to have all the meat and vegetables for all the dishes pre-chopped and measured and all ingredients out of the cupboards to reduce the prep time and allow me to move easily between one dish and another.  Got the bread rising and started the sauces and pasta for the macaroni and cheese.  I made a typical cheese sauce for the large dish, but Maddie's vegan one which contained almond milk, lots of nutritional yeast, and some tahini actually was more tasty.  A bit envious.

I plan to put sliced tomato and panko breadcrumbs on top before baking them.  These went into the basement fridge.  That's Maddie's on the left, it even looks better because the real cheese one above contains white sharp cheddar and asiago, which don't give it the pretty colour of the turmeric and "nootch" in Maddie's.

Earlier in the day, while avoiding grocery shopping, I'd used the bags of vegetable scraps from the freezer to make veggie broth.

I got about 28 cups of broth from 4 large ziplock bags of carrot peels and tops, too soft tomatoes, mushroom stems and leek ends.  It makes me feel so thrifty!

Cut up the veggies and made the seasoning for fajitas and put them aside for Friday.  I added a sliced zucchini to the veggies here when I cooked them, and used two large boneless organic chicken breast halves for the meat, which was seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin and smoked paprika and cooked separately.  In the corner of the photo you can see the cooled, par-baked pizza shells that I also didn't photograph.  I was trying for efficiency hence no prep photos either.

This is the pasta with sausage and kale we ate that night.  I didn't take any photos until the meal was over - so this is the leftovers packed for Jimm's lunch.  Too easy for a recipe.  Blanch half (or more) of one of those huge bags of kale you can buy in the lettuce section.  I used the macaroni water after removing the macaroni with my large pasta scoop.  While cooking 1 lb of shaped pasta saute 6 sliced mild or hot Italian sausages, remove when done.  Add a little more oil to the pan if needed and a chopped onion.  Add 3-4 cloves chopped garlic when the onion is done, cook for a minute or so.  Deglaze the pan with about 2 cups of broth, chicken or vegetable, and return the sausages to the pan.  I used a vegan chicken product because I forgot to thaw chicken stock.  Season to taste with salt and lots of pepper.  Stir in the kale to heat, then add the drained pasta.  If your pan is not really large you have to reverse that, draining the pasta and then pouring everything into the pasta pot.  Keep back a cup or so of pasta water in case your pasta isn't brothy enough.  Stir over the heat for a couple of minutes to reduce the stock and blend flavours.  It would be best to stir a half cup or so of grated parmesan into it at this point but I kept the cheese on the side so Maddie could eat it.  I consider this one a big success as Jimm ate the kale without complaint.  A first.  The focaccia is my usual recipe.
I spent $17 on this authentic balsamic and it was worth every penny

I'll leave you with the image of all the dishes that had to be washed.  

Crazy catch up part deux

This, my friends, is Cinderella's castle at Walt Disney World being transformed into an ice palace by Elsa.  As I am on call for Christmas this year we had decided last year to spend two weeks in WDW as a family instead of having a big Christmas.  Everyone had a year to save for the trip, which would have worked out much better had the Canadian dollar not tanked during 2015.  It was almost par when our original plan was made, and something like 0.72 when we were paying for everything.  Bad enough that we had to reduce the length of our stay at the last minute, from two weeks to 8 days.  I have planned trips to WDW before and always use this great specialist travel agency,  It doesn't cost extra and really helps with the massive organization required for something of this scale.  Difficult as the planning can be, WDW makes it all so easy once you get there that it's pretty easy to forget not only how hard it was to pull together, and how much it costs, but real life in general.

I plan a lot of trips, and I think this is the first time I have had a major screw up.  The planning stage was fraught with small disasters along the way, including two of our children (Jimm's daughter Jordan and son Cory) and their spouses not being able to come, and some valued friends also having to bow out.  The weak dollar meant everyone who was going paid more.  There was a scare involving my oldest son, Riley, whose girlfriend Christa had a terrible time getting the time off from work and they were not going to make it....but she managed, although she had to come a day later than the rest of us.  Airfare was going up and up and up and I was despairing of ever getting tickets we could afford.  Phone calls to airlines asking for group rates resulted in price offers of $800 US from Vancouver to Orlando.  Then suddenly one of my price watching apps gave me a price of under $450 with Westjet, on the days we needed.  I called everyone, got the credit card with the highest limit (Riley's) and started booking flights.  It's complicated, because Alice was paying on her own card, you can only book 6 flights at once although we were 10, and I wanted to use my Westjet credit card $99 companion flight for Jimm.  Turns out I had to call in for that, so I left a message for a call back.  Meantime I'm frantically booking on line for Alice, then Madeline, then the group of 6, Riley and Christa, Jen and Jeff, and the two youngest Trav and Ken.  I am booking the 6 when Westjet calls and I can't stop because I might lose the seats.  Everything gets done.  A day later Jen texts me.  "Mom, why are our flights returning 2 days after we get there?"  I say - they aren't - it's the NEXT Sunday.  Nope.  I hit the wrong week on the drop down calendar.  I'm frantic.  Call Westjet, the lovely woman says - no problem, you are still within 24 hours, I will change the flights no charge.  That will be $3000 please.  WTF?  Yes, the price changed that much in less than 24 hours, so that the return flight that was $267 was now $800.  She was sorry, nothing she could do.  I was sick.  I actually cried on the phone.  She was very kind and refunded the original cost of the return flight to Riley's credit card, instead of to a "travel bank", but that was all she could do.  So...we had 6 people with no return flight.

2 insanity inducing days later I found them United flights for about the same price, but leaving at 0600 on the 16th.  So now they needed a hotel room for part of a night, and transportation to the airport because they could not use WDW's "Magical Express" bus after the checkout day, and in addition our cheap arrival flights were for the day before our check in, arriving about midnight eastern time, so we needed to stay in the airport Hilton that night.  Ugh.  Found them a Holiday Inn near Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs) and reserved a van from a limo service for 0345 a.m. because they had to be at the airport 2 hours before their flight.  Amazingly, no one hates me, they were all very gracious and praised my efforts at putting the trip together, even though this error cost them all money.

Then, after Riley had paid their tickets, Christa could not get the time off work to leave Thursday.  He had to buy her another flight, leaving after she finished work, so she flew overnight and arrived the Friday after we had checked in to our WDW hotel.  I think this cost him another $400 or more.

Anyway, the room, park tickets, and all the meals were pre-paid (we opt for the Disney Dining) you don't really save money unless you are 1)a large group of foodies like us 2) go during the free Disney Dining periods (usually September) or 3) are some kind of competitive eater in training.  But it is convenient to pay it ahead of time and not worry about meal costs while you are there.  You get meal credits, 1 quick serve meal, 1 snack, and 1 sit-down meal per day of your stay.  It doesn't sound like a lot, but each meal includes a non-alcoholic drink and a dessert (except breakfast) and the portions are huge.  The snacks include things we would call a meal, like a bagel with cream cheese.  And what we didn't do was look at our credits so we presumed we only had them for the days of our stay - we checked in on the 6th of November and checked out on the 15th.  You have to make restaurant reservations 120 days in advance or you will get nothing (that's another long story) and the "Signature" restaurants take 2 credits per meal.  We love the chance to eat really amazing, award winning food so we had booked 2 signature restaurants.  That means out of 9 nights we had used 4 meals, which we thought meant 2 nights we would have to eat elsewhere and pay for meals.  NP.  We had dinner at Disney Springs in the House of Blues on the Wednesday, our no-park recovery day.  Then on our last night together we ate at Raglan Road Pub, an Irish pub in Disney Springs.  On the next day while checking out we found that we all had sit-down meal service credits left, in Jimm's case 2 as he missed one meal due to getting a cold.  We hadn't actually looked at how many we started with, and it was one more day than we thought.  I think I forgot we didn't use a credit on our arrival day. So the later-flying kids used what they could the night after Jimm & I left with Alice and Maddie, and they still had a ton of credits left, so they were frantically converting them to snack credits and buying candy to take home instead of letting them go to waste.  Lesson - if you do this, keep track of your meal credits and make sure you look at your initial statement that tells you how many you start with.  Every time you "pay" for a meal you get a receipt that tells you what you have left, but only of the type of credit you use, if you you use a quick service it only says how many quick service left.  And each room had different numbers of credits and so on, so it got confusing.  As a result we paid for at least one meal we didn't need to.

We still managed to spend a good deal of money on alcohol and there is an automatic 18% gratuity added for large parties so you definitely still spend the dollars. Lots of them.  And it's easy to do, you get given a customizable "magic band", a bracelet that is your room key, park ticket, and yes, handy link to your credit card to pay for all those drinks and shopping.  You never need to touch money.  Very dangerous but handy.  You can also use the bracelet to download links to park photos taken on rides and so on, I will post some of those when I can afford to buy them!  More Disney to follow.
The "kids" from left Ken, Jen, Alice, Jeff, Maddie, Travers, Riley, Christa

Crazy catch up posts

I don't even know how I got this far behind.  My phone is full of photos that were intended for blog posts and are now languishing selfishly, taking up space I need for important functions like Words With Friends.  So....I'm gonna back-date and rely on memory for my original intent.

Back to October 17th, my first real social function after Thanksgiving.  We went after dinner to our friends' place for drinks and snacks, along with the requisite gossiping about those who didn't make it.  Kidding.  Sort of.  We had been warned that Annike, who is Swedish, was making a "sandwich cake" and to eat lightly.  Having experienced Stu and Annike's hospitality before I took that seriously, and was grateful to heed the warning.  Turns out sandwich cake, or Smörgåstårta  is a popular Scandinavian dish served in many restaurants.  It's a sandwich, but so full of creamy, mayonnaisey filling it more resembles cake.  Fillings vary but usually include eggs and shrimp.  It's gorgeous, probably horribly fattening, and absolutely delicious.

My veggie plates never look like Annike's  I'm keeping this as a reference!

I figure your heart health and weight are your own business so I'm including a copy of Annike's recipe here, with her permission.  Seriously, you have to try this at least once.