Oh PlanetBox, I heart you

We generally try to stay away from pre-packaged foods and opt for homemade and fresh foods instead.  Packing a lunch for Sashimi used to entail looking through the cupboard for containers and their matching lids, put all the food in appropriately sized containers, then trying all sorts of configurations to get the damn things to fit in his lunchkit, then realizing that one container just won’t fit and resorting to unpacking his lunch, changing containers and trying the whole process over again.

Now, I have a PlanetBox.

Sashimi's lunch for tomorrow: A balanced lunch made in less than 5 minutes.

Each side compartment holds 3/4 cup, making it the perfect size for fruit or veg. 1/2 cup is equal to one serving, so if you fill those, that’s three servings right there.  The large compartment is for your main, which today for Sashimi is Dempsters Ancient Grains wraps filled with jam and pea butter (his school is nut-free), 10-grain mini muffin, a pepperoni stick and a few BBQ Crispers.  The long compartment just above has a cheese string (the only kind of cheese he will eat) and another roll up. And in the tiny middle compartment, Skittles.  That compartment is just the right size for a few chocolate chips or smarties.  A small amount of sweets goes a long way for kids.

And then, when I close the lid, all the compartments stay separated: no mixing foods!

Closed for fridge-time: foods stay segregated

The box is made out of high grade stainless steel, and has specially shaped magnets that stick to the outside.  They have about a dozen different designs.  I bought 2 different sets (I think one was included with his box, and the other cost $2) so Sashimi can choose which ones to use.  His only complaint was that they did not have dinosaur magnets.

Then, when he is ready to take it to school, it goes in this insulated carrying case:

There is room for a water bottle and a larger item (like a large fruit) or ice-pack in the exterior pouches

There are also a couple of round containers that fit inside the Box, if you want to take dip for your veggies, or a larger one if you wanted to take a yogurt parfait or pasta salad.  Sacha likes neither of these, so the containers are not used much right now.

The whole ensemble set me back about $55.  That being said, I never have to look for containers, never have to buy ziploc bags or saran wrap, it is easy for Sashimi to open and close (unlike when he would have to ask for help with various lids and baggies). I don’t have to worry about whether the plastic has BPA in it (no plastic = no worries) and I can get a clear visual every day that his lunch is well balanced and healthy.

And it comes home pretty much empty every night.

Bon appetit!

It’s canning season!

I took an interest in canning last summer.  My mom used to can all sorts of things when I was a kid, ranging from homemade pickles, to jams, to canned vegetables, to soups.

I started last year with jelly.  My first ever attempt at canning was making nanking cherry jelly, which turned out so well I hopped right into more jellies and jams. Last year, the total cups of jelly/jam canned was roughly 60.  Some in pints, some in jam jars that hold one cup.  By this summer, about 10 cups remained, mostly of strawberry jam, which seems to be the least favourite at our house.  Or maybe I just made the most of that kind last year.

Last year, Tony got into making pickles: he made regular dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, and curry pickles, which were killer. Those curry pickles were so amazing on burgers I can’t even explain it. He also made some pickled beets, and I made about 24 quarts of salsa.

This year, the running total is getting to be ridiculous: I have done 8 cups of strawberry jam, 18 cups of saskatoon jelly, 18 cups of cherry jelly, and nearly 30 cups of raspberry jam, the boys’ favourite.  All of the berries are local, all of which were picked by our family. I also made some cherry bbq sauce (5 cups). We have apples waiting to be processed, too. They are good for eating fresh, but there is no way we can go through all those apples! Jelly-time is looming.

Now, jam and jelly time is almost over and we are heading into regular pickling and canning. We picked about 10 lbs of string beans from our garden last night.  That’s right, 10 lbs.  That was from approximately half our plants, and this was not the first picking.  I picked nearly as many last weekend! I am not one for canned beans, so I am trying to flash freeze them, and Tony wants to make some dilly beans.  I have also got into pressure canning, which opens up so many possibilities, like soups.  I have done beef barley soup and a mexican-inspired meatball soup.

All this canning is fantastic, but I am quickly realizing that I need more space to store my canned goods.  I have no cold storage room, and piling jars all around my basement is not ideal.  We also have to store our potatoes at my mom’s house in the winter because she has a cold room that will preserve them, whereas if we kept them in our house, they would spoil by November, I am sure.

I never thought I would ever be so domestic, but I am loving all the home-grown and homemade foods so much.  It takes time and dedication to make all these goodies, time which could otherwise be spent knitting or relaxing, but we reap the rewards all year on our toast and at the dinner table, so it’s definitely worth it.

Especially when Sashimi tasted some store-bought jam and said “What’s wrong with this jam?  It’s no good.”

It’s berry season, bitches!

Every year I take the boys berry picking at a local U-Pick garden.  They have all sorts of veggies, but we go for the strawberries and the saskatoons.

Every year, I have grand ideas about how the kids are going to love this organic experience, eating berries off the plant, be good little boys and help me pick berries while dreaming of the goodies we can make with them.

Every year, this is what I get:

Is it unreasonable to make your kids walk 20 km home if they are too muddy to get in the car?

I actually had to get a Mexican worker, who speaks little English, to hose Sashimi down before I would even THINK of letting him into the car. Even then, mud like that does not rinse easily, and I had to strip him down to his underwear (to his great embarassment) in the parking area before letting him in.

Oh, and I should mention that Sashimi DID have shoes on when he arrived.  Rubber boots, actually.  But he told me they were giving him blisters, tore them off, and found gigantic mud bogs to jump in.

Will I learn my lesson by next year?  Stay tuned…

Strawberries

Last spring, I planted 14 strawberry plants in my yard.  They were each one small root and stem.  I let them do their thing all summer, letting the runners go mad.  In the fall, I looked closely at what had progressed: once I separated all the runners that had started growing on their own from the mother plants, I counted my new strawberry patch: 60 plants. I rearranged them all in a row and covered them with straw for the winter.

This year, I have again been letting them do their own thing, tending to the flowering ones and trimming the runners somewhat.  Some plants did not survive the winter, but many others sprung up in their place. Everyday for the past week, the boys and I have checked the patch to pick the ripe berries.  Most days we get about 6-10 ripe berries.  Yesterday, we got this:

Nothing better than home-grown berries

So we washed them up and sliced them for the boys at supper time.  Red smiles for everyone!

Pay no attention to the Kraft Dinner in this photo...

Teeth are nice and juicy red from home-grown strawberries