Mom’s the word

Dear Diary…
I kid, I kid!  This won’t really be a diary entry.  It’ll be a blog post, or at least, I’ll try to make it a blog post.  Seriously though, does anyone else struggle with that?  I find I need to constantly remind myself that I’m writing something that potentially (unlikely, yes, but potentially!) the whole world could see and I need to write accordingly.  I struggle with my “voice” when blogging.  It’s all too easy to forget there’s an audience and that writing as if only to my diary is not doing anyone any favours, least of all me.  Especially on posts like this, as there’s the risk they could go all teenage angst sob story.

You see, my mom heads home today.  And, as grateful as I am for the three weeks we just spent together, I tend to get a little emotional at the end of it.  I feel that half a world of distance all the more keenly when she goes, especially now that I’m a mom myself.  It’s hard building a family on the other side of the world from the one I grew up with.  Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of just how blessed I am.  The opportunities I have here in Norway are nothing to scoff at.  I live a pretty charmed life, and this is definitely a country to raise a kid in.  My little one is lucky to have been born here and I’m grateful that she was.  But sometimes (often), I miss what I had back in Canada.  Particularly the people.  So every once in a while, I allow myself a brief moment to feel sorry for my not-so-hard-done-by self.

Aright, moment over.  Let’s focus on the things I’m grateful for instead, specifically when it comes to my mom who, let’s face it, is pretty awesome.

If I were to name one person who most inspires me to do better by this planet, it would have to be my mom.  Her influence is the main reason I want to live a healthier, greener, cleaner more sustainable life.  Her passion for nature and this world is unrivalled and she instilled a lot of that in my brother and me.  My mom has a great respect for the entire animal kingdom.  (Ok, mosquitos are free to piss off ’n die, but pretty much everything else is welcome as far as mom’s concerned.)  The reason I rescue those wayward spiders that I discover in my home?  My mom.  (She’s also the voice in my head that guilted me for weeks after I vacuumed up one particularly intimidating spider.  Won’t do that again!)  And I’m convinced that my insistence on live traps (which my fantastic hubby, as usual, takes in stride) – for the wayward mouse that took up residence between our floorboards – can be attributed to my mother’s influence.  Why kill when you can relocate?  Exactly.

Mom was early on the natural cleaning supplies bandwagon.  She was suspicious (and rightfully so, it seems) of a lot of the household cleaning products, distrusting of the harsh chemicals.  I grew up in a house cleaned with things such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon – all of which tend to be the go-to cleaners in my home now.  I am SO grateful for that!  The more I research into these “miracle” cleaners, the more relieved I am that they are – for the most part, at least – not part of my life.

And yes, mom can probably take credit for a good deal of my environmental activism, too.  I’m really proud of her for attending the Enbridge protests a few months back, doing what she can to protect BC’s coast.  Granted, this is probably one aspect many people wish she hadn’t passed on to the next generation, but I’m glad she did.

For someone who has lived comfortably all her life, my mom is really great about reusing and up-cycling.  She doesn’t need to.  She could fairly easily buy in (pun intended?) to the disposable culture.  But she doesn’t.  It’s something my family and I tease her about more than we should… when she holds on to something 99% of the rest of the western world would toss out in favour of something new… But she does it because it’s right.  Like when I was clearing out some of my stuff from my parents’ basement.  I came across a bunch of old toys.  Sorting through them, I decided which ones were in good enough shape to go to second hand – as is – and which should be tossed.  An old doll stroller was in the toss pile and I groaned as mom “rescued” it.  More junk.  Well, mom cleaned it, mended some torn fabric, fixed it up and made it good as new again… just in time for Christmas.  Some little girl got a better Christmas because my mom lovingly restored something most the rest of the world – myself included – would have been too lazy to bother with.  I think that’s pretty great.

I could go on about my mom for ages; these examples just scratch the surface, but it probably gives you a better idea of where my interests come from.  I love how passionate she is and I don’t tell her often enough how awesome she is.  I’m so glad my little girl has such a good roll-model to look up to.  I know I’m the better for it.

Nana and her favourite girl
Nana and her favourite girl

No milk, no eggs, no problem

I promise this blog isn’t going to be all about food.  I’m not qualified to write about food expertise, nor am I interested enough.  But I’m pretty proud of my latest food-related accomplishment, so I’m going to brag about it a bit.

Two of my husband’s cousins live relatively close to us and yet, in spite of that, we have never visited with them.  It’s something I bug hubby about on and off as, coming from a big, chaotic and yet close-knit family, I like to keep in touch with family.  My husband claims it’s just another one of my “collections.”  (He also accuses me of trying to collect rooms, just because when we were house-hunting, I insisted whatever we bought had to have at least 4 rooms and got ridiculously over-excited about one we considered that had 7.  Seven bedrooms…. imagine!)  I digress.  At any rate, we finally got around to inviting the cousins over for a visit.

As it turns out, one of the cousins is a vegan.  Begin panic mode!  What the heck were we going to feed her?  Now, I’m no Martha Stewart, happy hostess.  My home, although comfortable and something I’m proud of, does not look like it came right out of the pages of a magazine.  And I don’t set a table fit for entertaining the queen.  But it’s his family and the first time they’re visiting our home.  I want to make a good impression and I generally aim for at least half-decent-hostess status.  Vegetarian, I can work with, but vegan is intimidating.  Plus, it throws a kink in my world-famous (hah!  I’d like to think) banana bread plans.  I found – on Pinterest, of course – a really awesome recipe for banana bread.  It’s easy to make and has turned out great each time I’ve tried it.  However, it also contains milk and eggs.  Dilemma.

Since I don’t drink cow milk, I already had a substitute (rice milk) on hand.  Eggs are trickier though.  Back to Google I go.  (Seriously, what did people do before Google?)  After a very brief search, I came across a pretty amazing post: a beginners guide to replacing eggs.  Absolutely brilliant!  The second option – 3 tablespoons of mashed banana and 1/2 tsp baking powder per egg – seemed like the best fit for my needs.  The author warned that banana gives a bit of a taste… I would hope so in banana bread!

A little more than an hour before our guests were set to arrive, I started my witch’s brew.  Banana bread makes the house smell absolutely delicious – part of the reason why it’s my favourite show-off dish (happy hostess, remember?)  So I was a bit nervous when hubby wanted to boil some eggs to add to the buffet we were serving for lunch.  When I pointed out that it would be a weird smell combo with the banana bread he gave me his patented (or at least it should be) “Woman, you are crazy” look.  Fine, fine, boil your eggs.  Stupid eggs were really messing with my hostessing abilities here.

Finally, the guests had arrived and settled in, my little one had enjoyed her opportunity to squeal at hubby’s cousins’ kids (she’s at that age where she’s stoked about meeting other kids) and it was time to tuck into the table for lunch.  The banana bread cooling on the kitchen counter looked pretty promising, but would it taste as good?  I wasn’t sure which of the two cousins was the vegan, so I asked and was met with blank stares.  Maybe “vegan” is a different word in Norwegian?  I had figured it was a fairly new term, relatively speaking, so Norwegian had probably just yanked it directly from English.  No?  Ok… I tried to explain what I meant asking who here didn’t eat meat or eggs or milk…  Again, the blank looks.  “I don’t eat red meat, but everything else is fine,” explained one cousin.  “I’m not a vegan.”

Not a vegan?!?!  Not a VEGAN?!?!  (Picture it yelled – in my head, at least – like the “Not a woman” line from Willow.  Haven’t seen that movie?  You’re missing out.)  I tried to stay calm, visions of unnecessarily terrible banana bread dancing in my head.  “You’re not?  Oh.  Hubby said one of you was a vegan.”  (Turn to glare in the general direction I’d last seen my husband.)  “Nope.  I wonder why people keep thinking that?”

Turns out, her fiancé is vegan, but she’s not.  Well, drat.  I explained about the banana bread then, apologizing profusely in advance should it taste wonky.  This was my first foray into vegan cooking, after all.  (All for naught!)

The lunch went off without a hitch.  Hubby’s aunt, cousins and their kids are all really nice.  (We really should spend more time with them.)  And finally, the banana bread tasting began.  (Admittedly after some prompting from me.  “Don’t forget to try the banana bread.  Sorry if it’s terrible!”)  I attempted to focus on feeding my baby while people dug in, not wanting to put more pressure on them to “like” the banana bread than I already had.  “Hey, this is really good!”  I cautiously look around.  One cousin is even giving some to her little daughter.  Let’s face it, a kid under the age of two, as this little sweetie is, will not pretend something is good to spare my delicate feelings.  She loved it!  My mom turned to me and confirmed, “It actually IS good!”  I had to try it.  Huh.  Who’da thunk?  It WAS good!

Alright, so it’s a little ironic that I’d gone to all that trouble for no good reason.  And banana bread – being more like a cake than bread, as my husband points out – is not exactly a health food.  But I was pretty excited I could make a vegan recipe work.  It might even challenge me to look into some other vegan recipes.  Maybe even some that are actually about “healthier living.”  (That is, after all, what this blog is supposed to be about, right?)  I’ll make an honest effort to have a non-foodie post next time.

Oh, and I didn’t take pictures of the banana bread.  It looks just like a normal banana bread.  Google it.  In the meantime, here’s the fruit plate I put together.  (Pinterest, obviously.)  See?  Hostessing at its best.  Hah!

Fancy fruit
Fancy fruit

The wonders of home cooking

I love a good slow-cooked meal.  Growing up, the slow cooker – or crockpot, as we called it – was a staple of my dad’s (yep, dad was the cook in our household) kitchen.  The main recipe he employed it for was chilli and it was delicious!  I have yet to find a meal better suited to a cold, winter evening than a big bowl of steaming chili.  Yum!

When I first moved out on my own, there was no way I was going to spend my precious few expendable dollars on a slow cooker, so I made do without for a few years.  But when I settled down with my now husband and we started setting up house, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t really claim to have a “real” home without a slow cooker.  (Yes, I know I’m ridiculous.)  Well, slow cookers aren’t particularly commonplace in Norway.  If you were willing to shell out the big bucks – and here, I’m talking around $300 – you could get a pretty basic one, but it was no great shakes and I was NOT dropping that kind of cash on it even if it was.  When hubby and I got married, we had a slow cooker on our wish list and friends of ours were generous enough to actually get it for us.  (Yes, we’re spoiled.)  Unfortunately, the crockpot came from North America.  So, while we were able to get an adaptor for it that was supposed to convert voltage, etc., it was not a fan of Norwegian electricity, apparently.  The first time we used it, smoke came out from behind the control panel.  Yikes!  I get nervous leaving the crockpot (yes, I’m going to use the two terms interchangeably throughout this post, get used to it) on while we’re out of the house at the best of times.  Not gonna happen with one that’s smoking…

We packed the crockpot away with the intention of bringing it to Canada for my brother later (tried that… the lid shattered into a million pieces in my suitcase.  THAT was fun to clean up!)  Eventually, when Norway got a bit more adventuresome in the slow cooker department, we purchased one here.  It was still more expensive than I’d like to pay, but manageable.  And our home was finally filled with the glorious smells of a slowly perfected, home-cooked meals.

You’d think my (thus far kinda boring) story would end there, right?  Nope!  A while back, I stumbled across an interesting post on my Facebook newsfeed.  It was an electricity-free crockpot.  Say whaaat?!?!  This magical device is called a “Wonderbag.”  Basically, it’s a big, insulated bag, topped with a puffy little hat, closing in at the top.  All ingredients are brought to a boil on conventional stovetop.  Boil for about 20 minutes (this varies a bit,depending on the recipe) and then seal the pot into the Wonderbag.  The food continues to slowly cook as the hours pass.

I admit, I was a bit skeptical at first.  But the reviews looked good and I was intrigued.  Plus, I like the history of the company and that for every Wonderbag purchased, another is sent to a family in Africa.  I decided to try it out.  Checking out the various options available on the website, I was stoked to see one of the options not only provided a “sister bag” to a family in Africa, but that it was actually handmade by a woman in Africa (job creation), using recycled materials and part of the proceeds go to the World Wildlife Fund.  Sold!  I went for the purple one, of course.

A short wait later and my package arrived.  It was sent in a clear, plastic wrap, so I got a few questioning looks at the post office.  But this is Norway; they didn’t ask.  I excitedly brought my new kitchen toy home.  My husband snorted, “You know you can get the same result with a duvet, right?”  Hey, no raining on my parade, buddy!  So, what recipe to try first?  Chili, of course!

With help from my mom, visiting from Canada, I got all the ingredients prepped and thrown together and brought it all to a boil.  We let it boil for about 20 minutes, I put everything into a smaller pot (there’s supposed to be as little extra room in the pot as possible) and put it into the Wonderbag, sealing up the top.  Now, to wait.  7 hours later, it was time toeat.  Finally, the moment of truth.  Hubby opened up the bag, skeptical it’d still be warm enough, and out whooshed the scrumptious smelling steam.  Definitely warm enough.  And, oh, was it tasty!

Final verdict?  This one’s a winner.  The food turned out great, I love that it’s electricity-free so it saves energy and there’s no risk of a fire, and I feel good about supporting several great causes.  Yum all around!