This and That...

What a great week! Although Kitimat's run of sun ended a few days ago, it's still incredibly spring-like! Today when I had the dogs out I took a walk around the yard and discovered that my rhubarb is popping up in the garden! I don't care what the groundhog says, the rhubarb knows when spring is on its way!

As you can see above, I received some pictures from the fishing expedition I blogged about on Wednesday. The first photo was taken during my "extreme fishing" experience! The second photo is just me by the river, but it shows off my pretty pink fishing rod!

I'm almost finished knitting my first pair of socks and I can't wait to tell you all about it! I also visited a new wool shop in Terrace and picked up some very pretty red sock wool and a spool of silk soy yarn that may find its way into mittens. So I am all set! They also had a glitter crochet hook which I am so buying if I ever take up crochet!!

On the kitchen front, I've been searching through my recipes old and new. I always love to cook but every so often I get the urge to cook up a storm. In anticipation of this I went grocery shopping the other day and stocked up on all my favorite ingredients. I started off today with beef strogonoff and spider cookies. Tomorrow I'm going to make a big pot of cabbage soup and perhaps a sweet potato sauce to serve over whole wheat pasta. And sometime this week I'm going to try a new recipe for upside down shepard's pie and beef turnovers.

My dairy intolerance can make cooking a challenge, especially home style favorites like beef strogonoff and sweets. Over the years I've discovered some great substitutes. So I prepared the stogonoff with soy sour cream and the spider cookies with soy milk. When I first stopped eating dairy about 10 years ago it was a lot more challenging to find substitutes; they either didn't exist or they were incredibly expensive for very small servings. So it's been nice to have more options.
I've even discovered a line of soy yogourt that is sold in single serving containers for a price that is very similiar to regular yogourt.

The beautiful weather has also made it easier (and more pleasant!) to get out for walks, something that Molly and I have both been appreciating! I'm hoping to get both of us for a few strolls this weekend!

Between knitting and cooking and walking, it's gearing up to be a busy weekend! I hope that you have a great weekend, too!

Extreme Fishing For Girls!!!!

Just after Christmas, I went to a local hunting and tackle shop with a friend. We had a great time digging around all the really cool stuff. I wandered over to the fishing rod department to check out what they had since I was planning to get some gear and start fishing in the new season. Suddenly my eye caught hold of something so wonderful, so fabulous, I did a double take. I took a step closer and swooned...

A pink fishing rod!

I asked the sales person if it was a "real" rod or just a novelty item. She assured me that it was a sturdy angling rod that would be good for fishing for smaller salmon and trout. Just what I needed to get started! And, not that I needed any more convincing, but she also pointed out that there were two LED lights running off a dynamo in the reel!!

Of course as soon as I got home I dropped lots of loud hints about my find. After all, I had a birthday coming up! And sure enough, last week, on my birthday, I received my pink fishing rod along with a tackle belt and a starter kit of tackle and hooks. I was so excited, but resigned that I wouldn't be trying out my new stuff for at least another month.

I was wrong.

Kitimat has been experiencing the most unbelievably beautiful weather. All week the temperature has been well above zero, with bright sun and clear skies. The snow is melting, the water is running, it feels like Spring!!! And so this afternoon our friends called to see if we wanted to go fishing on the Kitimat river.

We quickly decided to go along, if only to enjoy the fresh air (and the bonfire, hotdogs, and marshmallows!) Fishing licenses start in April, so it really wasn't worthwhile to purchase one for a month. However, a quick internet search revealed that one day permits are available, and so we loaded up my gear and headed out! We stopped at a tackle shop to buy my permit and I got my "anglers number." You have this number for life - exciting!!! We made another quick stop for weiners and continued to the river.

I had a great time casting and reeling in (although it was so sunny it was hard to see the lights). We decided to move to a sunnier spot beside a large log jam (trout apparently gather around fallen trees). After a few more casts I realized that I hadn't put a worm on my hook. So I headed back to get some bait. I was assured that I would've been fine without a worm, but to feel free to use some. I was pleased that years after my Dad showed me how, I still had the knack, and the stomach, to bait my own hook! (With apologies to the worms, I'll remember you always!)

The river was fairly shallow, so getting snagged on the bottom was inevitable. Most of the snags were easily released. However, one cast very close to the trees got snagged really well, and no amount of coaxing would release it. I had no room to move downstream to ease it out, unless I was willing to climb the trees...

Well, I'm a thrifty sort, and I also really hated the thought of having to go back to the fire with my line cut. So with the phase "no lure left behind" in my head, I started clambering up the logs. I felt muscles I hadn't used in a very long time. I quickly realized I would be more mobile if I took off my groovy tackle belt (think a fanny pack with three sections, one of which is holding a solid plastic miniature tackle box). Free of my belt, I moved a bit easier over the logs, but I did have to watch out for frost (slippery!) and sticks (trippy!) I got into position and started moving my line around, to no avail. She was stuck.

By now my pal had joined me. She was able to see my lure, and pointed it out to me, so we had an idea where it was snagged. She also came up with the idea to find a large stick to bump the rock off of my hook. Well, the stick ended up being a tree. If you've ever tried moving a tree through a briskly flowing river, well, let's just say it's a great resistance workout for your arms. Finally, thanks to hard work, innovative thinking, cooperation, and a very heavy stick / log, my line was free. Still attached was a very relieved looking worm. I lost him soon after (to the river, not a trout) but it was nice to see him come through that ordeal.

So, no trout were caught, but we had a great time and a yummy campfire supper of hot dogs and marshmallows. Soon I'll have a regular permit and there'll be no stopping me!

Now, where can I find a pink fishing vest...?

It's My Party And I'll Clean If I Want To!!

We had a little soiree this weekend. I love entertaining; in fact I enjoy the whole process, from deciding who to invite to planning the food and decorations. Our fete this weekend was fairly casual, a BYOB gathering with munchies. However, there's one part of the party process that remains the same no matter what kind of hoopla is being thrown - the cleaning. When we're having guests, we want our homes to be at their best. So we dust, mop, scrub and shine in preparation. And it's totally worth it when you look around the crowded room and see all those gleaming floors and table tops!

However, all that work comes undone very quickly, and the morning sun can reveal quite a different sight (not to mention smell!). Chip crumbs, empties, and spills. And why is it that the morning after a party
always smells like salsa?

After many get togethers, I've developed a post-party strategy that has my house back in pre-party condition in no time! When I'm shopping for the party, I try to pick up something yummy for breakfast the next morning that won't take a lot of time and mess to prepare. After a good night's sleep, we get up and make some coffee. While the coffee's brewing, we cue up some upbeat music. Then, we assemble the cleaning supplies and get to work!

First up, grab a garbage bag and get rid of any trash. If you are going to recycle bottles, give them a quick rinse and then place them in a blue bag. Once the garbage is out of the way, run the vacuum around. Unless you had a lot of spills or a ton of foot traffic, you can probably get away without mopping, but only you can decide that. Once the floors are finished, I like to give the sofa a quick vacuum as well, since it's usually a bit crummy from snacking. Moving right along, it's time to tackle surfaces. Grab your favorite cleaner and a cloth and wipe down any surfaces where food and drink were placed.

By now, things are starting to look and smell fresher! I like to give the rug and sofa a quick spritz of fabric freshener, but that's a personal choice.

It's time to move along into the kitchen. Wash any dishes in hot, soapy water. As you dry, put aside any serving dishes your friends brought to be returned later. Wipe down counters and put away any special dishes or bar items. Sweep the floor and mop if necessary.

Finally, the bathroom! Follow your regular routine for cleaning the bathroom (you can determine how much cleaning needs to be done!) Change the towels, restock the toilet paper, and change the garbage.

And that's it! If you work together you'll be finished in no time flat, and all that will be left is to do is to put up your feet and enjoy the rest of the morning (or afternoon!) with another cup of coffee!

I hope your weekend was as fun as mine! Have a great week!!

Dog Wash DIY

Ah, glorious sun! Kitimat has been enjoying the most wonderful spring-like weather! The sun is shining, the air is warm, and, wait for it! the snow is melting!!

As the doggies and I were enjoying the sun streaming into the living room this morning, I noticed that they were looking a little grubby. Unless they're really dirty, we try not to wash them too much in the winter as they can catch a chill so easily. Molly in particuliar has an incredibly thick coat (washing her is akin to washing a sheep) and it takes a really long time for her to completely dry, even after using a hair dryer. And while Molly is probably rugged enough to handle being a little damp, Tinky Wink definitely can't risk a chill. And so, I decided to take advantage of the mild temperatures and bath the dogs.

I initially only planned to bath Tinky Wink, as he was looking less and less like an adorable pup and more and more like a greasy old man. Despite my best efforts he's always getting gravy in his beard! However, after his grooming was complete, he looked so beautiful and fluffy that I decided to fix Molly up too!

Here's what I do to make the process and smooth as possible. If you can, plan to do this BEFORE you scrub your bathroom, floors, etc, because you'll almost definitely have to do them once you're finished bathing your dogs. In the winter, even if it's mild out, I make sure the heat is going so the house is nice and toasty. Check to make sure all windows and doors are closed and take note of any drafty areas. Get a clean dry towel and have it and any grooming items ready. For the Yorkie, I wash him in the tub, give him a towel dry, and then carry him, wrapped in a towel, to the washing machine (relax, I'm not going to throw him in the dryer). There is a plug for the hair dryer beside the washer, and it's the perfect height for me to work, plus, he won't jump down (this is just Tinky, be sure that whatever area you use is safe for you and your dog!!! I would NEVER put Molly up there, for example). Using a hair dryer, I dry him thoroughly (Yorkies are susceptible to colds, they don't just wear those sweaters for fashion!). While you're drying, make sure you check the heat of the dryer from time to time as they can get quite hot; if it feels too hot on your hand it's safe to assume it's uncomfortable to your dog. I also like to groom him a little, using a tiny set of trimmers designed for detailing. I just tidy up his feet, his beard, and his ears. I finish with a good brushing.

For Molly, I follow pretty much the same procedure, except with her I use the clippers to remove any matts before I start (since matts get worse when wet). Molly is a true Terrier, so while she is eager to please (she hops right into the tub) she is also willful (tries to angle herself so I can't work). So for her, it's easier to keep the door shut so she can't run away. The other advantage to this is that it contains the mess to the bathroom. Make sure to rinse well! Molly has an extremely thick coat that holds suds and takes forever to dry. We take her to the groomers in the spring and get her clipped quite short (as you can see in the photo at the top, which was taken after her last visit to the groomers, she looks great in a schnauzer cut!).

Be sure to follow up bathtime with lots of snuggles (if they want to be near you) and cookies, to make up for any scolding and for the whole experience in general! If you have pups that love to be bathed and enjoy the tub, that's a bonus. Even if your dogs are more like mine, the clean fluffy fur and sweet smell will be worth it! And hey, dog washing has GOT to count as a work out!!

Happy Pancake Day!!

Since our arrival on the West Coast, we've confirmed that we do things a bit different back East. For instance, our vast array of obscure celebrations. We have Grading Day which, for those of you not in the know, marks the official end of the public school year. Students go to school for about 1 hour, receive their final grades and grading certificates, and then go home to their parents for a day of gifts, fast food, and general merry-making. Apparently they don't do that here. It has been pointed out that the "no child left behind" movement has made the concept of grading obsolete, however, the tradition remains in the East. Frankly, I'm not sure how summer could start without a pocket full of twoonies and a DQ Full Meal Deal.

We also have "Tipsy Eve" on December 23. This holiday, although popular, was always difficult to define. We always observed it as a sort of "kick-off" to the festive season and would always go out for a night of partying, usually at a local pub. This year we hosted a Tipsy Eve party that is going to become an annual tradition. In preparation for this post, I thought I would do a quick Google search as to the definition of Tipsy Eve and was surprised to see we weren't far off the mark. This article from the website for Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage gives a good explanation not only of Tipsy Eve, but of several other popular customs including Pancake Day!

Pancake Day is celebrated as part of Shrove Tuesday, but back home folks of all religious persuasions enjoy it. As long as I remember it has always fallen in February, which when combined with Valentine's Day, made me wonder as a kid why people complained so much about February. Chocolate and pancakes are a winning combination! We would always attend the Pancake Supper at our church where I marveled at the seemingly endless supply of pancakes the griddle could produce. As adults, we tried to observe it and we were always disappointed when it would somehow get by us.

This year, of course, old traditions are seeming even more important, and so we made careful note on our calendar that February 16 was Pancake Day! One day we casually mentioned this and were surprised to discover that it wasn't a well-known event here. Some people had heard of it, or used to celebrate it, but all in all it seemed to be relatively unknown. And so we decided to have a pancake brunch with a few friends.

A pancake brunch is a great way to have a get-together. They're easy to make, are relativly inexpensive, and hey, everybody loves them! We decided to go with blueberry pancakes. I make mine from scratch but there's nothing wrong with mix, there's actually a few really great ones out there that only require you to add water (just read the ingredients if you have allergies to consider since most mixes will contain milk and egg ingredients). Warm your oil over medium heat until a bit of batter sizzles when dropped in the pan. Add your batter to the pan and watch until you see a few bubbles forming around the edge of the pancake and then it's time to flip! I usually like to get started cooking before everyone arrives and so I keep a baking dish warm in the oven to place the cooked pancakes in while I finish the rest of the batch. Add some sausages, butter, a variety of syrups and some fresh tea, coffee, and orange juice and your guests will leave full and happy! If you want to get a little fancier (which I didn't this time around, since I am a purist when it come to Pancake Day!) you could serve fruit toppings and whipped cream as well. Sometimes I add vanilla to my pancakes, and due to my dairy allergy I always prepare my pancakes with soy or rice milk (just swap it in for the milk in the recipe).

There's no need to wait until next Pancake Day to enjoy this breakfast favorite with friends (or without them for that matter, more pancakes for you!)! If you have a favorite pancake variation, or an obscure holiday that means a lot to you but leaves others scratching their heads, share it in the comments. I'm always looking for an excuse to have a party!

My Funny Valentines

Last week I decided to get creative and make some Valentines. I began making home-made cards a few years ago; I scrapbook and card making is a natural off-shoot of that because it uses many of the same tools and techniques. One of the things I like best about making home-made cards is that I can customize them to suit the styles and personalities of their recipients.

I sat down with my supplies to create. I stared at pink paper and then red. I looked at heart shaped stencils and cabbage rose stickers. After a while, I started cutting and folding and pasting. I finished one card, and then the next. I layered solid papers against patterned and considered the effect of buttons, brads, and ribbon. Soon, I had a nice little pile of cards. There was just one little thing. While I had made several cards, none of them were very “Valentine-y.” Maybe it was the mild, spring-like temperatures inspiring me, but my creations were all bright and cheery, not at all romantic or sentimental. I have nothing against Valentine’s Day personally but it’s never been a favorite holiday of mine, and hearts and roses are not really my card-making style. And while I do love red and pink, these colours ended up being the background for retro animals and folksy flowers. I did manage to make one important Valentine (for my sweetie), and while I may not have gotten inspired in time to send Valentines back East, I think some folks at home can expect a cheerful note card in their mailbox in the near future.

Whether your cards and greetings were glitzy and glam or homespun and heartwarming, I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. Remember to be good to your sweetie every day, not just February 14!

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and richness to life that nothing else can bring.”
-Oscar Wilde

A Perfect Summer Moment in February

Birdwatching. It conjures up images of walks in the countryside, wearing tweed and bringing a picnic lunch (for future reference, any image I conjure will be catered). And although I am planning to bring that image to life in the coming months (it’s a little damp and dreary for picnicking right now) bird watching has become a part of our routine here in the hive.

We’ve always been bird-lovers, and both come from families of bird enthusiasts. My grandfather raises homing pigeons and one of my favorite sounds is that of a flock of pigeons taking off from their loft and circling overhead, occasionally swooping low in perfect formation, and ending their flight with a choreographed landing. There’s no word in the English language to describe the sound so I won’t attempt it, but that sound, combined with the warmth of summer and the scent of freshly cut grass forms about as perfect a moment as I can imagine. Unfortunately, it’s a sound I haven’t heard since I’ve been here, and I miss it very much.

There are, however, other birds, and the sight and sound of them has brought our home a lot of joy over the past few months. We noticed the birds hanging around when the Mountain Ash trees in our back yard were full of berries, and quickly purchased some bird seed. Our efforts have been rewarded by many visitors, and a copy of Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America has helped us to identify them. Generally we have a lot of Juncos and Sparrows, and on occasion a few Red Winged Blackbirds. While watching our regular bird feeder visitors during the fall were lucky enough to see a flock of Canada Geese flying overhead. About a month ago, I noticed a Bald Eagle in a tall spruce tree several blocks away. He stayed there for several days, left, was replaced by a crow, and the tree has been vacant ever since. I keep looking back, hoping to see my eagle, but so far he’s staying away.

Our Yorkshire Terrier enjoys the birds; after coming home from the shelter he discovered a comfy spot on the back of our sofa and that is where he spends the majority of his days, keeping watch over the backyard and the birds. Occasionally we are summoned by his insistent yapping to some avian upset that has taken place, but for the most part he is quietly content watching his friends through the window.

As we have been observing the birds through the window, we’ve been missing out on one of the best things about bird watching, bird song. I took the dogs out the back door early one morning and was greeting by the trilling and tweeting of happy, well-fed birds. This made me think of how wonderful it will be in the summer when the windows are open and their songs will be heard inside. I thought of our gardening plans and how we could plant some flowers that appeal to birds so we could attract more to our yard. Our window would be perfect for hummingbird feeders, too…suddenly, despite the mid-winter chill, I was feeling a little bit warmer.

And then, a few days later, it happened. I was standing on my patio in the back yard, watching Molly and Tinky Wink run around, when I heard it. It was a familiar sound, one that transported me to my grandparent’s backyard on a perfect Cape Breton summer day, with the scent of freshly cut grass perfuming the air. A glance up confirmed it, it was the sound of several small but strong wings taking off and circling overhead, occasionally swooping low in perfect formation, and ending their flight with a choreographed landing. I couldn’t believe it. Standing on my toes, I strained to see where they had landed, and there they were, bobbing around on the ledge of a pigeon loft. Homing pigeons. The February day felt quite warm now, and as I headed inside with my dogs, I had a smile on my face, a spring in my step, and summer in my heart.

Enjoy your weekend and any unexpected adventures it may bring! And Happy Valentine’s Day!

Household-y Delights!!!

Ah, guilty pleasures. We all have them. There’s the lavish ones; chocolate, angora socks, veal. The funny thing is, when revealed, guilty pleasures have a certain cache and give their owner an air of luxury and magnificence. We all know someone who has a fabulous shoe collection, or who always brings Piper Heidsieck on New Year’s Eve. And even as we think “I would never” there’s a part of us that whispers “Wish I would.” Let’s be honest, we grudgingly admire someone who indulges in their heart’s desire.

Now, all that being said, there’s another form of guilty pleasure that, curiously, is a little harder to own up to and raises more eyebrows than pricey treats. These activities would normally be considered mundane, boring, dull, even…work. Housework, to be exact.

Sparkling faucets. Sweeping behind the sofa. Perfectly folded towels. These things may seem unremarkable to some, but to many they are simply thrilling. I personally love waking up the morning after going on a cleaning spree and seeing the sun spilling in on perfect, smudge-free floors. Or coming home, opening the door and smelling the sweet scent of clean.

Which leads to another dorky guilty pleasure, cleaning products! For some, clean has a distinct smell. Bleach for some. Lemon or pine for others. Many like to use the trendy scent du jour. I did this once. I purchased everything lavender. Cleaner, dish soap, laundry detergent and softener. Even disinfecting wipes. Body wash and hand soap and lotion. Scented candles. I did this while my husband was away for a few months since he’s, well, allergic to lavender. My goal was to get lavender out of my system and de-stress while I was at it.

Of late, I’ve become more concerned with green methods of cleaning my home than with designer fragrances. As the owner of four pets, I’m concerned with what they are picking up off the floor. And I’m thinking a lot about what all six of us are breathing in and absorbing. So I’ve been using a lot of vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice.

We’re planning more ways to go green as well. Back home, we had curb-side recycling, including organics. We don’t have this here so we have fallen out of the habit, and it really bothers us to see so many bags going to the curb. So, one of our next household projects will be to start recycling again. It will be more work for us since we’ll have to haul our recyclables to the depot ourselves, but it’s something that’s important to us. We are also planning to purchase a manual push-mower and to plant a garden.

This could become my newest obsession. Enthusiastically going green, while still a glamour-less guilty pleasure, is something we can all benefit from and aspire to. After all, a healthy, happy environment should be everyone’s heart’s desire.

Weekending and Dreaming of Spring

Happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend full of happy weekend-y things! Things like breakfasts, parties, sleep-ins, and dog walks, those simple past-times that remind you that you aren’t on the clock!

We had a lovely weekend here at the hive. Saturday started late after sleeping in. I whipped up some scrambled eggs and toast and wonderfully strong French press coffee. I have a new toy; after years of watching the legendary infomercial, we finally purchased a Magic Bullet mixer. I have to confess I’m hooked. I used it to whip up the scrambled eggs. We were going to a party later in the evening so I decided to make two dips, guacamole and black bean dip. So, after eggs we made a quick trip to the grocery store. Well, my poor little Bullet met its match, rock hard avocados. By the time everything was ready I didn’t have time for a disco nap but I’d had a fabulous workout! We headed out for the evening and had a great time with friends.

Sunday we slept in again (hey, what are weekends for!). I made pancakes with raspberry syrup for breakfast (again with the Bullet!). We worked off the pancakes with a walk along the shore of the Kitimat River with some friends and chatted about how much we are looking forward to fishing season. Since Sunday was British Yorkshire Pudding Day, we had planned to have pot roast, but it didn’t thaw in time (blame it on a late night!). Luckily we had a few t-bones thawed and wouldn’t you know, they taste great with Yorkshire Puddings, too!

I also finished my first sock! I can’t wait to show off the completed pair. I got to try a few new techniques such as turning a heel and shaping a toe!

Looking Ahead…

We received our Vesey’s Seed Catalogue last week! This summer we are planning to have a vegetable garden and so we’re having a great time flipping through the catalogue pages and deciding what we want to plant. Even though it’s still February and according to the groundhog we have 6 weeks of winter left, there’s something about a seed catalogue that makes you feel a little bit warmer.
Our plan is to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, beans, peas, squash, and pumpkins (which I know are technically a squash but I like the word pumpkin). Also some herbs. I’m also planning to freeze and preserve as much as I can. Ordering the seeds will be the first step in a project that will take the better part of a year. Planting will actually get underway in March as we start our tomatoes and peppers indoors. I’m looking forward to sharing our progress with you as we work towards our garden.

Enjoy the week ahead!

Holy Cow!

This fall, I bought a cow.

Actually, I bought a quarter of a cow. I had been finding it difficult to consistently find the cuts of beef that I frequently use in recipes, and so when we had the opportunity to purchase a quarter of beef we jumped at it. I’m a little embarrassed at how excited I was. I couldn’t wait for it to arrive. And when it did arrive it was fabulous: Boxes and boxes of every cut imaginable. All of it wrapped in brown butcher paper with the cut stamped on. I was elated.

This may not be a big deal to most, but to me, seeing standing rib roast in my freezer alongside many, many sirloins and T-bones was thrilling. Whenever I wanted to make a particular recipe I would have the right cut at my fingertips.

Just as thrilling as the expensive cuts was, however, the sheer quantity of cheaper cuts. Chuck roast for slow cooking, blade steaks, and lots and lots of ground beef. I’ve had tons of fun working with all this beef. The great thing about buying a bulk order like this is, again, you get a variety of cuts. Normally I would go grocery shopping and purchase specific cuts needed for a recipe; now, I discover a recipe and have what I need in the freezer. Also, with so much meat on hand, I depart from my regular recipes and try new ones. I’ve noticed with interest as the winter wears on that I’m using more of the cheaper cuts than the expensive ones I had initially swooned over. In particular, the ground beef.

Now, ground beef gets a bad reputation sometimes, and anyone who’s tasted poor quality, hamburger would understand why. That is why it is best to purchase a good quality beef. However, sometimes this isn’t possible. The ground beef from my cow is amazing!! With just the right amount of fat, it barely needs to be drained, yet it doesn’t get dry and burn easily like a lot of lean ground beef does. It has a full delicious flavor, not gamy or greasy. I’m thrilled, especially considering I have so much of it. The challenge has been to keep coming up with creative ways to use it.

Even if you purchase your ground beef at the grocery store (as most folks do) it is generally a good value (thus the popularity of prepackaged hamburger meal kits). It cooks up quickly, making it ideal for quick suppers. And because of its texture, it takes on flavours well in saucy recipes, such as spaghetti and chili. However, it tends to get used over and over again in the same recipes, making cooks reluctant to make them. In some cases it’s because the recipe grows dull and tired (think the original comfort food classic, meatloaf, or hamburgers) while others are made in big batches that require a lot of preparation and simmering (again, spaghetti and chili).

My strategy to avoid hamburger hell has been to look at new ways to prepare and present. To start, the humble burger. One of my favorite magazines is Everyday With Rachel Ray. Every month she features a burger. Sometimes they are what she refers to as “fork and knife” burgers, essentially, burgers you eat with utensils instead of your hands; back home we would call it a hot hamburger sandwich. The first one I tried was topped with stewed vegetable gravy, served on an English muffin. This recipe was a hit, and quickly became a regular menu item because we almost always have root vegetables on hand. Once you start brainstorming all the things you can top a burger with, the hot hamburger possibilities are endless! Mushroom or onion gravies would be tasty and traditional, or, mix some garlic and basil into the burgers and top with spicy tomato sauce for easy grinders! Go a step further and throw some sweet pepper and mushrooms into the tomato sauce, sprinkle some cheese on top and you’ve got pizza burgers. The idea it to make the ground beef burger a canvas for your toppings.

One of the best things you can do with ground beef, in my opinion, is stretch it out in a big pot of chili or pasta sauce. In our house, a pot of pasta sauce is the ultimate timesaver, as you cook once but eat many times. However, in a busy household sometimes it happens that the meat gets thawed but the chili or spaghetti never gets cooked. Why? Because the cook didn’t have a couple of hours to prepare all the ingredients and then let the pot simmer. One of my favorite new things is skillet cooking. It’s a kind of cooking challenge I have with myself. I thaw a package of ground beef and then have to prepare the dish using my cast iron skillet. My favorites so far are skillet spaghetti and skillet chili. Although the yield will be smaller than if you took the time to cook a big pot, I find that we can get four to five meals out of it. I’ll explain how I break that down shortly. But first, the recipes.

For the spaghetti, I brown a pound of ground beef in a tablespoon of olive oil in my skillet. When the beef is cooked, I add a splash of stock and cook for a few minutes more. Then I add a diced medium onion and minced garlic to taste. When the onion begins to look translucent, add a can of diced tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste. Let simmer until thickened and reduced. Add your favorite spices. To stretch this recipe, we ate it for supper with pasta the first night. My husband took a serving with his lunch to work the next day. For supper the next night, I prepared pizza dough, and to the remaining sauce I added a half a can of diced toms, adjusted the seasoning, and used it as pizza sauce. Since the meat is in the sauce there’s no need for pepperoni (but of course you can add it if you like for a “meat lovers” pizza!)

For the chili, I followed the same process, using my favorite southwestern spices. I also added a can of black beans and a cup of frozen corn. I served the chili over hamburger buns for “Sloppy Joses.” Of course you could eat the chili as is with your favorite fixings. Leftover chili makes a great topping for nachos or hot dogs for the next evening’s meal.

The possibilities are endless!! So whether you purchase your ground beef a pack at a time or you have 50 packages of it in your freezer, enjoy the last few months of comfort food season and come up with some creative ways to prepare it. And of course, share your favorites in the comments!

Happy Friday! Have a great weekend!