Let the Countdown Begin…

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Has it seriously been over a month since my last post? Geez Louise! So much catching up to do.

I need to start by explaining our new life situation as it is the cause of my absence lately but also the inspiration for many posts to come. In February, I mentioned my husband’s new job, involving a lot of traveling. Well, so much traveling that we will move from Virginia to Georgia this summer! This new move is both exciting and terrifying. I am excited to discover a new city and to embark in this new adventure. I am sad to leave my friends and a workplace I love so much. I know I will miss a lot of things about Charlottesville but I also feel like it will be nice to try out something new. And, to be frank, I have only ever moved twice in my life: First from my parents’ house to my host family’s house when I became an Au Pair, and then to Jeff’s house. This will my first time doing actual packing. And this will be quite the packing experience. We will go from a 4-story townhouse to a one-bedroom apartment. This means I need to get rid of most things we own. So my last few weeks have been filled with writing and dealing with Craigslist posts, making donation piles, etc. On top of that, I also have my job and all its end-of-year activities! I love my job and it is honestly what’s keeping me (mostly) sane through all of this.

So where do I start? I guess I should show you what my meals have looked like lately. To be honest, most meals have involved throwing vegetables and some protein in a large pan and throwing the whole thing on pasta. Often my favorite kind of meal and also the easiest. My goal lately has been to use up what we have in the pantry (hence the large quantity of pasta dishes) and in the freezer (sweet peas, shrimp…), while mixing it up with fresh ingredients as well. Here are some examples:

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Shrimp, broccoli, mushroom, onions and tomatoes. Served on fresh Mona Lisa Pasta (a local Italian restaurant) egg linguini. My first time buying really fresh pasta and it will be difficult to go back to anything else from now on.

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Simple but tasty: Bell peppers, white mushrooms, onions and Aidells Portobello & Swiss Chicken sausage.

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One of my favorite ideas so far: Sweet peas and mushrooms, added to a simple Béchamel (white sauce) with Parmesan and prosciutto. Served on angel hair pasta.

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One of my many “what’s left in the fridge” dinners: Asparagus, kale, bell peppers, cauliflower and onions. Served on Soba noodles

As I know that we will soon leave Charlottesville, the town where I have spend the past 8 years, I feel the need to say goodbye to some of my favorite restaurants. For some, it is all about their food, for others, it is about the many memories related to the place. I keep talking about listing them but the official list does not yet exist. I might regret this once I run out of time. But here are a couple of places I visited one last time before the move:

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South Street Brewery: This is where I met most of my American friends when I was an Au Pair. Many friendships grew during our weekly meetings and, come to think of it, I might not have met Jeff if it wasn’t for that (I met Jeff through friends I met there). That is also where I celebrated my 21st birthday!

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Zazu’s Curry Chicken Wrap: One of the first things “out of the ordinary” I ordered when I moved to Charlottesville. Although I have tried many other flavors since, I wanted to end with the original. And it was just as good as I remembered.

Well, I guess you’re a little bit more up-to-date now. Time for me to go make my “before I leave” restaurant list. :)

TCP: Russian Snack for the Winter Olympics

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Whenever I choose a recipe for our cooking projects, I like to link it to our theme. The Winter Olympics were tricky at first. My first thought was “healthy athlete food”, followed by Russian food. Unfortunately, most traditional Russian recipes I found were either not very healthy (or I should say, too heavy) or not easily made/cooked in a classroom with limited time and equipment. I finally came across a Russian carrot salad (apparently also very popular in the South).

The project was very simple: the children mixed the dressing ingredients and we then added it to the carrot and raisin mixture. Nothing too complicated. And, of course, a lot of tasting was involved. Because we couldn’t add carrots and raisins without making sure we liked them! :)

Russian Carrot-Raisin Salad:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of shredded carrots
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • 1/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar

What’s Next?

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk and sugar.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the carrots and raisins. Add the yogurt mixture and mix well.
  3. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes before serving.

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This week was more about the experience: we told the children we were traveling to Russia to make our snack. We showed them on a map where America was and how far our plane would go to get to the Olympic village. As we had practiced our Olympic sports all week (during circle time, we pretended to ice-skate, ski, play hockey, etc), we told them we were finally ready to participate in the Olympics, but like any great athletes, we needed to eat well to be ready to compete! Our toddlers, who recently started responding much more to pretend play, really seemed to enjoy the full experience. Most of them went through a full plate of carrot salad! It was definitely nice to have them enjoy such a common vegetable in a different form.IMG_7937 - Version 2

TCP: Strawberry Chocolate Muffins

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I apologize for being so behind on posting our toddler cooking projects! With snow days and hubby travels, I lost track of a lot of things. This week’s recipe is actually what we made the week before Valentine’s day. Since we alternate cooking days between Thursdays and Fridays each week, I wanted this group to make a special Valentine snack as well, even though we were a week early. It turned out to be a good thing because Valentine’s Day was a snow day so we didn’t get a chance to make anything else anyway.

We had chocolate chips left from the holidays (thanks to a generous mom from our group!) so I figured it would be a great time to use them. I found a healthier strawberry-chocolate muffin recipe to try to off-set the fact that we would use chocolate chips.

With each recipe, I try to find a few special tasks for the children. Sometimes, it may be to crack eggs or chop something. For this muffin recipe, I gave each child a plastic knife and a strawberry and asked them to chop it. I told them we would add them to the muffin mixture. It started out great! We were so impressed to see how focus they all worked, trying so hard to dice their strawberries. Unfortunately for the baking, most of them couldn’t resist and ate their strawberries as soon as they were done chopping them. Out of twelve toddlers, only two waited and gave us their chopped strawberries. Thankfully, we had extra and, as soon as we noticed their habit, we quickly chopped extra ones for the recipe.

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Using one of our child-safe knives, a generous donation from a class parent.

Another interesting aspect of making a healthier muffin recipe was using applesauce instead of butter. We had extra individual serving sizes of applesauce from past snack time and the children really loved seeing their favorite snack thrown into the recipe. And surprisingly enough (not!), the children were very happy to sample the chocolate chips before adding them to the recipe!

The children happily devoured their muffins after circle time. Another successful cooking project in the toddler class. :)

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Needless to say, it was a love-filled week in the toddler class!

Keeping My Momentum Going

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As I mentioned in my latest posts, with my husband’s new traveling job, I made one new rule for myself: cook something new every week. Although Jeff ended up being home last week (yay!), I still wanted to follow my plan. I found recipes that we would both liked and headed to the grocery store.

For my lunches, I made taco salad. I followed this Paleo recipe, although I used turkey instead of beef, and added chopped onions. The seasoning was perfect. To make it a salad, I added diced bell peppers, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, lettuce and spinach.

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On Tuesday, I made these pot sticker burgers with Asian slaw. They were super tasty although the slaw was a little bit too spicy for my taste. But that’s my fault, I should have skipped the crushed red peppers…I should’ve known better.

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On Thursday, I made slow cooker Mongolian beef. Although the preparation took a little bit more time than I expected, it was still stupidly easy to make and the result made the house smell amazing. I served the beef with steamed Jasmine rice and sautéed asparagus. When I asked Jeff to rate the dish on a scale of 1 to 5, he responded “I got a second helping. It means more than your scale.” Good point, honey, good point. If Mister Picky gets seconds, you know it was good.

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Although I had planned to make more, I only ended up needing two dinner dishes for the week. Partly because Jeff was out one night and I made a lazy but delicious bowl of pasta (regular boxed pasta and store sauce…don’t judge) and also because we caved in and got frozen pizza on Friday.

This week, I only have one recipe lined up so far: chicken salad for my lunches. The recipe I made was super simple but absolutely delicious. I apologize for the lack of quantities, I just threw it all in randomly.

Best-Ever Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

  • Chicken breast, diced
  • Fuji apple, diced
  • Red grapes, halved
  • Fat free Greek yogurt
  • Natural peanut butter (or almond or nut-free butter)
  • Honey

What’s Next?

  1. In a large bowl, mix the chicken, apple and grapes.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, peanut butter and honey.
  3. Add the “sauce” to the chicken mixture and mix it all together.
  4. Voilà! Serve in sandwich, pita, lettuce wrap…or just eat it with a spoon!

I plan to have it tomorrow for lunch in a pita bread, and possibly try to make a lettuce wrap with it. Seriously, this is my new go-to chicken salad recipe. SO GOOD. I may or may not have had a few spoonfuls after I made it. I had to stop myself.

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Other than the best chicken salad ever, I don’t have any crazy recipes planned this week. My true excitement will be at the preschool: Dr Seuss theme, baby! I cannot wait to see the children’s faces when I tell them we’ll be making green eggs and ham, just like Sam-I-Am! :)

When Snow and Hearts are on the Forecast…

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When Snow and Hearts are on the Forecast…

Wow, what a week! What started as the first week of my husband being out of town turned out to be the most eventful week of the year so far! (Yes, I know, it’s only February…) Although my husband was initially only supposed to come home on Friday, he was sent home early based on the weather forecast. On Wednesday, I drove to the airport in what started to be icky road conditions for Virginia (although, as a Canadian, I feel like I know how to drive in bad weather, the other drivers were scaring me more than anything). I waited at the airport for over an hour and when Jeff’s flight was 5 minutes to arrival time, we were told that the airport was closing and their flight was sent back to Washington DC. Panicked, I started driving back, not sure where Jeff would end up being for the night and having to drive in much worse snow conditions. The roads were messy and the few drivers left weren’t using too much of their brains (no, having a pick-up truck doesn’t mean you know how to drive in the snow…my little car was chugging along nicely while trucks and SUVs in front and around me were swerving all over the place). I finally made it home and did my best to reach Jeff who was back in DC. Flights cancelled and hotels fully booked were not a good sign for him. I’ll skip the nervous wreck night I spent but all this to say that Jeff made it back to Charlottesville (although not home but a hotel about 30 min. away from home) around 3:30am. He stayed there for the night and a good friend of ours drove the next day to go get him and bring him back home at last.

Kitties and I snuggled on the couch until 4am, hoping to get good news from the hubby.

Kitties and I snuggled on the couch until 4am, hoping to get good news from the hubby.

So Jeff finally came home on Thursday afternoon. What a relief it was! Because of the snowstorm, I didn’t have to go to work (the whole city shut down on Thursday and Friday). I didn’t enjoy the snow as I normally would have because, this time, instead of being a source of joy, it was a source of anxiety. It was the obstacle making Jeff’s life miserable. So no, I didn’t make any snowman, which I now slightly regret.

I might have been stressed out but I did enjoy the view!

I might have been stressed out but I did enjoy the view once Jeff was back!

Friday was Valentine’s Day, of course! Normally, I make a big deal about it…never in a demanding way but more by wanting to make heart-shaped treats and share a good meal together. After Wednesday’s big scare, we were both exhausted and didn’t really have access to much since most roads had not been plowed yet. So we improvised with what we had for the perfect Valentine brunch: heart-shaped French toast, sautéed chicken and oranges. And a metric ton of maple syrup. And maybe a little wine since we couldn’t go anywhere anyway.

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Our simple yet tasty Valentine brunch

Sautéed chicken: chicken breast, paprika, curry powder and sea salt, sautéed with olive oil in a wok.

French toast: Mixture of eggs, milk, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon to dip the bread in, cooked in a large pan.

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Yes, this is a gigantic bottle of maple syrup next to the wine…I am Canadian after all!

For dinner, Jeff made some frozen taquitos (did I mention we had to make due with what was left in the house?) and I attempted to make crème brûlée…sadly I failed. I should have known that using fat free milk instead of cream, and a broiler instead of a blowtorch would mess up the result but I was determined to try anyway. Next time, I’ll make sure to have the right ingredients and the right equipment.

Although Valentine’s Day is over, I still want to wish you all 365 days of love, friendship, hugs, high-fives and kisses. Because it should be a year-round thing anyway. :)

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Adjusting to a New Life Routine

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Ladies and gents, life as we know it in this Hungry Québécoise’s household is changing drastically. No, to my mom’s despair, I am not pregnant. ;) Without getting into too much detail, my husband just started a new job that will involve weekly travels. Basically, we will only get to see each other on the weekends. Thank goodness for Facetime and Skype! This new life will definitely involve adjustments, not only in the way we spend the little time we have left together but also in how we’ll use our time alone. While Jeff will be busy traveling, I will need to develop my own weekly routine at home. Part of my plan is to do most of the housework (vacuum, laundry, general cleaning) little by little during the week to have as much free time as possible to spend together over the weekend.  My other big plan is to try out one or two new recipes every week. My otherwise-wonderful husband is very picky so there are many recipes I have been dying to try but haven’t had the chance yet. My goal is to try some recipes that he wouldn’t like anyway while he’s away.

My "single lady" grocery shopping...

My “single lady” grocery shopping…

This week, I made two recipes, both from Budget Bytes: oven fajitas and chili cheese beef ‘n mac. I had planned to make one on Monday and the other on Tuesday but since my evenings are free now (still adjusting), I figured I’d go ahead and make it all on Monday night. I did make a few substitutions in the macaroni recipe: I used ground turkey instead of beef and quinoa macaroni instead of regular. For no reason other than that’s what I had on hand. Both dishes were extremely tasty and super easy to make. I had the fajitas for dinner in a lettuce wrap and tried the macaroni at lunch today. I have two more portions of fajitas and 4 more portions of macaroni which will provide most of my meals until Jeff comes back.

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The chicken fajitas, right out of the oven

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Lettuce-wrapped fajitas, small but filling.

My lunches for the week. The picture does it absolutely no justice.

My chili mac lunches for the week. The picture does it absolutely no justice.

So we’ll see what happens with this new lifestyle. Of course, I’ll miss being with my husband every day but I have a positive attitude about it and desperately want to make the best out of this experience. And nothing makes things better than good food in my book!

TCP: Oatmeal With the Three Bears

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Last week, as we introduced the toddlers to many classic tales, our cooking project seemed very obvious (at least to me!): porridge with the three bears! I preferred making oatmeal, so as I read them the book, I simply substituted the word in the story. Although this dish didn’t involve any cooking on the children’s part, it did involve a lot of tasting! The wonderful mom in charge of bringing snack that day brought a variety of toppings, including dried cherries, coconut flakes, fresh strawberries and molasses. While the oatmeal was cooking with the boiling water (at a safe distance from the toddlers), we invited them to taste all the toppings to later choose what they would want in their bowl of oatmeal. The children enjoyed all the toppings but our biggest pride was to have them try molasses, since it’s a very particular taste. Most of them loved it. Once the oatmeal was ready, we asked them to tell us which toppings they wanted in their oatmeal. The majority of them ask for a mixture of all the toppings.

Oatmeal and topping options

In an interesting turn of events, we realized that the oatmeal was still too hot to eat, just as we heard that we had a fire drill! We told the children we would do just like the three bears, go on a walk and come back when the oatmeal was just right. After the fire drill, as we walked back in, we kept asking them if they thought Goldilocks ate their oatmeal while they were out. While most shouted “No!”, while a few of them really seemed to wonder whether or not it was an actual possibility.

The book we read, although in French.

The book we read, although in French.