Saturday, December 31, 2011

the dining experience: hard rock cafe yonge & dundas

Let me preface this by saying that as a general rule, Bunny and I tend to avoid chain restaurants. We've been known to enjoy such deliciousness as East Side Mario's Italian Wedding Soup or the Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits but we prefer to go to smaller places. Sometimes fancy restaurants owned by friends or that Bunny used to work on, or smaller hole-in-the-wall but amazing places to anywhere in between. The food is invariably more interesting, even if it's not always better (there are some shitty independent restaurants we've eaten at, of course).

The other night, though, we were out shopping and decided to do a bit of a dinner out. On a lark, we decided to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe - not quite sure why, just that it seemed like a good idea. Bunny had never been, and the only time I'd eaten at one had been a band trip to New Orleans in 2003. So we went.

We waited about 20 minutes for a table, which wasn't terrible. Very much enjoyed that the little lobby had a few interactive items and displays for us to occupy ourselves with during the wait. The waitstaff was also great - polite, friendly, on time with everything and happy to help.

The food? Enh.

To start Bunny had wings (he choose the hottest variety) and I had an order of onion rings. I have a love affair with a well made onion rings. Unfortunately, both were a little bit underwhelming. The wings were hot, sure, but there was no other flavour to them, really which I found disappointing. I like some complexity to my heat. As far as the rings went, they were large and lovely and had a beautifully sweet onion taste to them. Unfortunately the batter was lackluster at best. Flavourless again, but crunchy, and far to thin for my liking.

Dinner itself was a pulled pork sandwich for Bunny and chicken & beef fajitas for me. Evidently they'd had some nasty surprised with the fajitas in the past, because our server said "Just so you know, you have to assemble them yourself. Are you ok with that?" Hahaha. To be expected, and it's something I love with restaurant fajitas.

Bunny's sandwich was a hit. The pork & sauce had a great smoky flavour that Bunny was quite thrilled with. I snagged some of the fries and was quite impressed. Nice thick sticks, little bit of skin still on the potatoes. They had that beautiful crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside texture that makes fries amazing.

As far as my fajitas go, they were fairly solid. Good but not great. Personal pet peeve was the tomatoes in the guacamole, but that's just a quirk of mine (hatred of all things tomato). The chunks were big enough that I could avoid them, so I was happy. I greatly enjoyed the chicken and the fajitas vegetables, though I wasn't so keen on the beef. It looked beautiful, I just didn't enjoy it too much.

The biggest impression, and perhaps the best thing: the iced tea. Brewed iced tea, which just tickles me. It was lovely and tea like, sweetened at my request. Just a hint of sugar, not too much. The addition of squeezed lemon made it blissful. Fresh iced tea always impresses me.

Overall, it was what I expect from a chain. I would have liked to say it was better, but it wasn't. My biggest complaint was that everything was really overpriced. Price and quality were not on par. That's really my complaint with a lot of chains - that the food is a little bit boring and the quality doesn't justify the price.

Would we go back? No.

Were we disappointed? Not really. I wanted to be more impressed, but it was right around what I expected.

Friday, December 30, 2011

confessions of a (former) fat girl - adventures in shopping

Most of my life I have worn a size 14-16. Maybe not "fat girl" material to some people, but it certainly felt fat to me. Not large enough that I always had to shop in plus sized stores, but large enough that it could be a stretch to find things in normal stores at times. My weight has dropped at certain points, and tottered back up (I have sugar love. It's a bad thing. And a terrible lack of portion control at times), just enough to give me hints of what I like best about my body. At any size, I have a fairly hourglass shape, with is helpful. I have a defined waist, even at my largest, and I have collarbones I love when I get smaller.

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been losing weight and needed to go get interview clothes yesterday to accomodate that. Bunny and I went to a couple of really nice stores first, to try on suits on sale, see if I could find something that was perfect. No dice. If I was going to spend $200 I didn't want to spend another $50 on alterations right now. I needed something a bit more affordable.

I did, though, have a pleasant surprise in the size department. My jeans that fit are a 10, but I didn't necessarily take that to be too much of an indication of anything, so I went into the fitting room with pants in sizes 8, 10 & 12 while fully expecting that I would be wearing the 10s or 12s. I was wrong. I haven't worn a size 8 in eight years, actually, but apparently I do now. I can live with that.

What was even better, though, was getting to try on different styles of clothes and seeing how the fits worked. I tried on several suits that just weren't quite what I wanted or needed, and as I said I'm not paying $200 right now for not quite right. When I have steady income, sure. That's what tailors are for. Right now, no.

In the end, RW&Co ended up making me happy. I got a gorgeous jacket with some interesting flair (I'll post more about it later) and some nice matching black pants. A slim boot cut pant. Pants that are cut very close to the body, that don't do a whole lot to camoflage the size and shape of my thighs.

Two years ago, this would have been a no go. I tried the straight cut and skinny jean look and it was terrible, went nowhere. I do have a pair of straightcut pants from larger sizes to wear tucked into boots, but it hasn't historically been the most flattering. Now? I can wear pants that are cut close to the leg and still look good. In fact, look amazing.

In the change room I had one of those "I don't want to take this off" moments that I dream of. When those moments happen I try to listen, as I don't think I've ever been disappointed in the purchases that result from them. I felt smoking hot. It was amazing.

I'm excited to wear these pants. (And we'll talk jacket later, I promise. I do have a love affair with them, after all.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday Win: carrot & turnip mash

The circles I follow within the blogosphere have been talking a lot about one thing, lately: how to navigate the early(ish) years of a relationship and newly married life in relation to the holidays. The give and take, the things that you do just to make your significant other happy, the things you miss out on - and sometimes the things you gain.

In Bunny and my holiday scheme, I have an urge to shout out "I WIN!" Because for the most part we do have the easiest holidays ever. The only thing that separates his mom's front door from my mom's front door is a driveway, so we bumble over here and there all the time. Our first year we really did our holidays separately but met up on the drive every hour on the hour, and both spent some time with each other's family. We've since moved to primarily spending different days with one family or the other, but we do see them both fairly equally. Both our parents are super understanding, and we also have to be respectful of his sister, brother-in-law and neice's holiday plans, so the flexibility comes easily.

That's not what I mean by "I WIN" though. What I mean, is I get all the best benefits. I grew up with big extended family on my father's side, and would spend large chunks of time over the holiday travelling for family dinner after family dinner, seeing a million cousins and aunts and uncles. Ever since the divorce, though, and other messiness, I don't get that. The closest relationship I have on that side of the family occurs on Facebook. My mom's family (grandma, aunt, cousin) all come down for the holidays, but it's not a super festive big exciting thing.

I get a big family gathering back, though, with Bunny's Dutch side. This is only the second year that I've gone, but I do feel very welcomed into the fold there. Win. I love the extra love there.

There's another holiday win, though, that comes from his mother's kitchen. I think the first time I had this was a couple of Thanksgivings ago, when we all (and by all, I mean BOTH our families) piled into Bunny's living room to eat. It was better than the mashed potatoes ... and for me to say that is something else.

Mama Bunny's Carrot & Turnip Mash
a rough approximation of Bunny's mom's recipe

Ingredients:
  • Carrots - 1 to 2 cups, peeling and roughly chopped
  • Turnip - 1 to 2 cups, peeled and roughly chopped
    • Note: very the amount of vegetables based on your audience. I make 1 cup each carrots & turnip if I'm only feeding Bunny and myself, plus leftovers
    • I like to use equal portions carrots and turnip, but if you prefer to load up on one over the other go for it!
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Butter or Margarine - 2-3 tbsp (or to taste)
Directions:
  1. Prep your vegetables. Peel, cut into pieces roughly the same size. Dump vegetables into large pot, cover with salted water. Bring to the boil.
  2. Boil approximately 10 minutes, until fork-tender. Drain water. (If making a gravy or sauce, set some of this aside. Vegetable water adds a little more "oomph" to gravies.)
  3. Add butter to the pan, and then MASH away. If you prefer you can always use a blender or processor to make it super smooth, but I like my carrot and turnip to be a little bit chunky.
  4. When thoroughly mashed, taste. Add more salt or butter as necessary.
  5. Enjoy! They don't replace mashed potatoes, but they're easily as good.
Also, leftover mash is amazing when mixed with breadcrumbs & parmesan and fried up. In fact, it's maybe even better than the original.

wardrobe and the job search

With a steady paycheque not coming in right now, I'm not really inclined to be buying to many clothes right now. Makes sense, right? The issue there, of course, is that I now need new things from my clothes, and I'm no longer sure that my closet provides.

For the past eight months, jeans and a nice shirt were considered appropriate work wear. Of course, I love dresses, so those played a fairly large role in my everyday wear, as they always do.

On the job hunt, though, that doesn't quite fly. Not only would it be terribly unprofessional to show up to an interview, or drop off resumes, in (nice) blue jeans, even worse it doesn't make me feel powerful and compentent. In my mind, a good interview outfit feels like a uniform or a suit of armour. You should feel powerful, strong, compentent. The message that's coming off should be that this chick is professional and she can do the job you need her to.

Jeans don't do that. Even dresses, don't always do that. I do love me a dress, and think they are a great choice for office wear as they can be played up or down, formal or informal. In an interview, though, I don't want anyone noticing my personal style or cute shoes or anything. Instead I focus on coming off as polished and professional. Nothing does that like a suit (or, failing a suit, a great pair of slacks and a blazer. Even a skirt and complimentary blazer seem more dressed up to me than a dress and a blazer).

Issue: I don't have a single pair of dress pants that properly fit. I've lost a fair chunk of weight since I started my last position, and have gone down something in the range of two dress sizes. Or so - I haven't bought clothes since .... July? I'm not sure entirely where I fit on the clothing scale anymore. Plenty of pieces in my closet will still work - dresses are forgiving to weight loss, as are shirts and blazers (maybe it's just because of my chest? It always necessitates something bigger than the rest of my body). Pants, though, are an issue.

So I will be buying some kick ass interview pants today. Something that makes me feel sharp and powerful and in control. Maybe a great dark grey, which I almost think of as more of a staple than black.

There's also a glimmer of hope in my mother's house: there should be a suit, in something resembling my size, hanging in my closet. She's going to check, and if it's there she'll bring it for me to pick up sometime next week. I should have looked while I was home for Christmas, but wasn't thinking of it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Plans

This is a slow week in the kitchen for me. There's no real meals on the horizon that I intend to make this week. Mostly that's because we have a fridge and freezer full of leftovers and Bunny and I would really like to eat our way through them. I will throw out food, sometimes (when it's gone bad, or when it's just two mini roast potatoes that neither of us are going to eat that night, or what have you) but I really don't like to.

Anytime I clean out the fridge or throw out food, poor Bunny gets an earful. So we're trying to avoid that.

I'd be lying, though, if I said there wasn't a bigger reason that nothing's happening in the kitchen. It's this little itch in my hands, the back of my mind just begging for me to scratch it. Something sitting, still in its box, down in the foyer waiting for us to create space for it and start using it. Something that comes in beautiful, gorgeous Empire Red. Not to mention the hand mixer and the flan dish and mini casseroles that ALSO came home with us for Christmas.

Really, nothing can be done in the kitchen until Bunny and I re-organize a few things and create more usable space. First, we need space for the KitchenAid, and it needs to be both stable and near a plug. I don't want to put it on the bench table we use as a counter, because it's away from the walls and it isn't stable. Seeing as my mother is of the bigger-is-better mindset and bought me the biggest available mixer, I need to make sure it's stable.

So, plan at this point, is to bring Bunny's workbench in from the back balcony and move all his engine stuff to that so I can have the dining room table for the mixer. Yeah, we don't use our dining room table. Plus we will need to reorganize our cupboards and find space for the hand mixer, flan dish and mini-casserole dishes.

Next week, though, I have some kitchen dreams. They include:

  • Risotto! I finally have arborio rice, and I'd like to pick up some fancy mushrooms.
  • Fruit tart! I'm thinking maybe pears? And my own flan dish certainly calls for making my own pie shell. I could do a quiche in there, but where's the fun in that.
  • Gratin of some sort. Maybe scalloped potatoes (I think I'm going to pick up a mandoline in the next few weeks), but some sort of beautiful gratin served in my new mini casseroles.
  • So many mixer recipes - meringues (and then macarons, when I get the meringues right), cookies and cupcakes, mousses
  • BUTTER! Because how cool is that, really? And then buttermilk pancakes with the leftover milk, of course
Surprisingly, the casserole dishes are lighting my imagination slightly more than the mixer. I look at them and all I can think of is having guests over for dinner, serving mini mac and cheese side dishes, souffles, so many ideas. Yum.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

budget smudget

I'm a little bit peeved with myself right now, financially. Not that I've done anything wrong, per se, but I'm frustrated with what I have not been doing.

A little history for you: I was terrible with money in high school. I worked like crazy, but I didn't save. I viewed cash as expendable. Now, money does not control me, and it's something that can be replaced, but to have control of your own money and to have money available for me whenever I need it is important. In high school, though, I had no concept of control or budgeting. Whatever money I have, was available for spending - and in fact would be spent.

University was a little bit better. I had a semblance of a budget, because the money had to stretch for the school year, but I didn't truly understand the concept of budgeting and the importance of saving. I funded my education mostly through private bank loans, and because I hadn't worked for the money, I had no attachment to it. If I wanted to buy a dress, or a book, or new shoes, the only question was "do I have the money available?" It didn't matter that it wasn't really my money, just that it was there to be used. I missed payments, avoided collection calls, and was just generally stupid with my money.

After I graduated, I quickly decided that I didn't want the black cloud of student debt hanging over my head for the next ten to fifteen years. So, I learned how to budget. I learned that just because money is available doesn't mean that I should spend it. I started aggressively paying back debt, I started building an emergency fund, I created a budget that I can understand and live with. That isn't so strict that I can't stick to it, and can be flexible when I need it to be.

The past month or two, though, I have been avoiding my budget. I've been sticking to it, but avoiding looking at it or thinking about it. This all started when Bunny and I got engaged, and I avoided sitting down and making a super formal budget (which I still have to do. Dang it!)

I haven't looked at my budget, really, since then. I mean I've looked, but I haven't truly reviewed the budget and adjusted it too much, which is unfortunate. I really do need to start doing that more. Especially given that my financial situation has changed, and it's time to really look at how to make the funds that Bunny and I have available to us last. I'm not quite sure why I'm avoiding it, because at the end of the day knowing how my financial situation stands, and where it's taking me, is very satisfying.

pancake accessories

I don't know anyone who doesn't love a pancake every now and again. They're a perenniel favourite for me, as I always used to make them Sunday mornings growing up. Every week. When I was little, my mom always had boxed pancake mixes on hand, ususally Aunt Jemima but sometimes other brands.

As I started to spend more time in the kitchen, I really realized that I wasn't always entirely happy with boxed pancake mixes. There's never enough baking powder in the mixes and the pancakes don't bubble properly, which is a constant annoyance to me. I like my bubbles damnit! I later realized that this is an easy enough fix (add your own!), but I also came to another realization.

It's just as easy to make your own pancakes from scratch as it is to use a mix.

Hear me out here. I know there's lots of recipes out there that call for whipped eggs whites and other craziness. I've never bothered with these, I'm sure they make lovely pancakes, but I certainly don't want to spend all that time getting a batter together in the morning! I do fully intend to try these sometime in the near future (with the help of the new KitchenAid!!!!), but they aren't necessary. If you have the Good Housekeeping cookbook (my first, and my base cookbook for most traditional recipes), the recipe in there is great. Almost equal portions of flour and milk, some oil, an egg, and a touch of sugar, baking powder and salt.

Easy peasy.

Even easier? Making custom pancakes. Everyone knows of course the standard blueberry or chocolate chip pancakes, which are perhaps the easiest. But why stop there? Banana can be added, either smushed and beaten into the batter, or sliced and placed into the cooking cakes. Apples and pear and great when shredded and mixed in, especially if you add some cinnamon and nutmeg. Those are the obvious ones, though. Just adding fruits, or sweets to the batter.

My favourite pancake customizations all involve actually changing the batter itself, the proportions and ingredients to really transform the pancakes. Whipped egg whites, to me, fall under this category, as does the classic: buttermilk pancakes. Other great ideas I have heard involve different types of flour, or adding cottage cheese (that's courtesy of Oversized Cliches). My favourite, though, addresses Bunny's most common pancake complaint:

He says they are like Chinese food, in that he's hungry again in an hour.

So, add some bulk. The cottage cheese would work, but I like adding some bulkier grains to the batter myself. My favourite: the oatmeal pancake. Replace about half of the flour with rolled oats. This bulks up the pancakes and makes it a lot more filling, with fibre. You can really use any sort of grain, I'm just partial to oats. In my experience, though, you do in fact need to leave some flour there.

In bullet form, your pancake tips are:
  • Additives - add fruits or other lovely bits to your batter
  • Basic recipe changes - buttermilk, whipped eggs
  • Change the flour - oat flour, rye flour, whatever you like
  • Add a grain - Swap half the flour in your recipe for something more fibrous and filling, like oats
  • HAVE FUN! If you can think of a simple swap, add it or switch it up

Monday, December 26, 2011

holiday roundup

Question for you: was anybody not sick this holiday?

Everyone we saw over the past two days has been sick. Most of mine and Bunny's immediate family has a nasty cold, Bunny's been fighting something, and good chunks of extended family were sick, some so much so that they were asked not to come to dinner!! I actually, pleasantly, have only had to deal with my tummy troubles and a throat tickle for the past few days - I'm rather surprised.

So, Christmas. This year, pretty freaking rocking. Because Bunny's extended family hosts a big annual dinner on Christmas Eve, we went to that for the third year in a row, which was lovely. I'm getting to know his aunts and uncles and cousins more, which is nice, seeing as next year they're officially my family too. It also means that I get to be a bit of a spoiled brat and have the my favourite bits of Christmas at my mom's (Christmas morning & dinner) with relatively little fuss.

Saturday morning his dad picked us up bright and early and we headed Barrie-wards, dropped things off and had a bit of a visit with my family and his parents. An hour or two later, we got in the car to head up to Caledon to see his family, and I got a nice long nap on Bunny's lap while his dad drove. This year, not having the truck has been a big adjustment; for the most part we don't miss it, but when it comes to things like going to visit family, we definitely find that there is a real loss of freedom that I dislike. Not the end of the world though, and worth it for Bunny to be in school again.

A lovely time was had by all, and it was nice to get to hang out with everyone. His aunt and uncle made a beautiful dinner - they do a smoked ham and turkey every year that are to die for. The best ham I have ever eaten resides there. Unfortunately I was a little queasy come dinner time, so I didn't have much to eat then, but prior to that there were about ten different dips and chips and there was cocktail shrimp and a glorious afternoon of food.

The favourite, by all? The "stinky cheese dip", or hot asiago and artichoke dip his aunt makes. It's garlicy and delicious. In fact, it was the one thing that I was told "if you don't try this, I'll be offended". Would have tried it anyway, and loved it to pieces.

We watched last year's Doctor Who Christmas special with the cousins before dinner, and after dinner everyone always gathers around downstairs and we watch some sort of action movie for awhile (this year it was Inception, past years we've seen some James Bond and Avatar) until everyone gets settled, and then we take a break for all the younger folk and Bunny's grandparents to open gifts. Not too much longer after that we headed home.

Weirdest thing Christmas Eve, for me, actually happened at my mom's house, once we got home. My mother keeps a full house on Christmas: me (and Bunny and I like to spend the night together, what with the anniversary and all. That night is non-negotiable), my brother, cousin, aunt and grandma as well as herself. Given this, Bunny and I are used to awkward sleeping arrangements: lumpy, painful futons, his neice's twin bed, separate couches in separate houses etc. This year, my mother insisted that Bunny and I take her bed. So weird. I felt so guilty!

Christmas day was a bit of a busy blur. My mom woke us up, we opened piles and piles of presents and enjoyed ourselves, after which Bunny and I headed over to his parents' for breakfast. His neice's dad dropped her off about a half an hour later, and we started the gifting all over again. We bounced across the driveway for a few hours, and then Bunny took the dog out and I had a nap. My mother attempted to teach me how to make a turkey, which was slightly pointless as I plan on doing almost everything different when it's my turn (I intend on being a briner, and I also refuse to stuff the bird - and my mother was trying specifically to teach me how to salt and stuff the turkey). Then my brother's best friend came over for dinner (his family was off in Hawaii) and we all had a merry old time.

We even got to watch the new Doctor Who!

Presents wise ... can we just say I was spoiled? So very very spoiled. Some of the highlights include:
  • A date night package from Bunny, featuring tickets to the Opera Atelier and dinner at Lee. If you live in Toronto, love good food (and don't mind paying for it) and have never been to Lee: GET YOUR ASS THERE. It is ridiculous. We had my birthday dinner there last year and I'm still drooling over the Chinese pancakes & seared scallops
  • Beautiful leather gloves from my brother
  • A Kinect workout game from my cousin (including a yoga portion!!!)
  • Books, body stuff, picture frames - the usual, but always appreciated
  • So much kitchen stuff! This is year two of "Kitchen Christmas" for me, where almost all of my presents are kitchen tools. This year, I was lucky enough to receive:
    • A flan dish (in turquoise!)
    • Four mini-casserole dishes (that I have been lusting for)
    • A two-person Foreman grill
    • A hand mixer ... that was made slightly redundant by
      • The KitchenAid Stand Mixer
Yes, you read that right. I received a KitchenAid for Christmas. How lucked out is that? Now, it was a combination my Christmas present/Bunny & my engagement gift from my mom, but can we still say HOLY CRAP.

I figure I'll use the mixer to create lots of lovely cakes and baked goods to thank Bunny for taking me to the opera. I'm sooooo excited. Does this mean that I may finally be able to beat meringues and move on to macarons? Oooooooh!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

most magical day on earth

It's Christmas Eve! Which is truly the most important day/holiday in the year to me. Christmas Eve was never a really big day for me, other than the fact that after my parents divorced we developed a very regimented schedule of traditions (White Christmas, peeling chestnuts) for that day.

No, today is the most magical day ever because of one very important reason. It's the day that I get to say Happy three year anniversary, Bunny! I love you!

We're going to head out to his family big to do soon, and then later I'm looking forward to hours of cuddles and snuggles and finding out about the mysterious computer printout that I'm getting for Christmas tomorrow.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

the zombie takeover (Christmas in disguise)

My home & life have been taken over by two little annoyances lately. First, there's this nasty little cold that Bunny has contracted that's been bothering him for the past couple of weeks. Nothing too serious, but the cough has really been bugging him. Then, there is the fun annoyance of CHRISTMAS! And presents!

Some people may kind of hate me for this, but growing up in a non-religious home, Christmas really was always about two things: presents and food. Dinner (always turkey, like any good part-British family) with a million side dishes and amazing dessert. My momma's mashed potatoes, and dill carrots. My new favourite holiday dish is one made by Bunny's family, though.

It's also the only time of the year that I see my family on my mother's side. Now, it's a very small portion of family, but given some mental illnesses, it can be a very fraught and drama filled get together sometimes. I recall one Christmas I was told that I was Hitler incarnate. No joke. When I was younger it would also include a dinner with the other side of the family, although that hasn't happened in years. As a general rule, though, my family has always been non-religious, and so although there were "children's Bible stories" books growing up, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have set foot in a church. As I got older there was an acknowledgement that Christmas came about because of Jesus, but I really learned that from Charlie Brown. So, you know, not so much a religious connection.

Fact is, though, I enjoy Christmas. I love it. The most amazingly ritualized meal of the year, gifts (both giving and getting), getting to have Bailey's in my first coffee of the morning. Even the traditions that have fallen by the wayside, like smashing gingerbread houses with my cousins. Sitting around, having my cousin play Santa and waiting as we opened presents one at a time. Trying to get him to always make sure that I got the last present. Christmas presents are the only thing I'm ever patient about, all year.

I love choosing gifts, and wrapping things, and baking. All of it.

Here's the thing though. Since I met Bunny, Christmas has taken on a whole new meaning. Christmas has its own special magic, imbued specifically in our relationship with each other. It's our anniversary. Walking in to his mother's living room on Christmas Eve, locking eyes with him as he came up to greet me, feeling this mesmerizing, spellbound feeling come over me. The world changed in that moment, like doors were opening and begging me to climb through.

Staying up all night talking, outside our houses freezing as he smoked and I stood there smiling at him, my heart melting, with this huge weight of knowledge, this feeling that something miraculous was happening in my life. Thoughts running through my head, unbidden, an instinctual knowledge that it didn't matter if I was tired or cold, that something amazing was happening. That if I left, it would be the stupidest thing I had ever done.

So, I really have my own special meanings attached to Christmas. It was the day I met and fell in love with the love of my life, and that's something that not many people can say. It gives the holiday a special magic all of its very own, just for Bunny and I.

We're spending Christmas Eve this year with Bunny's extended family, doing their big dinner. It's a little overwhelming, given that I don't know everyone well, and I'm not great in group situations, but I'm excited. There are some people there that I am really excited to see, and I'm sure it'll be a great chance to get to know some people better. Plus, given that Bunny and I have only been engaged a few months, and haven't seen his family since it happened, we have a built-in conversation starter.

Of course, with that, comes letting other of my own traditions fall out. No spending hours Christmas Eve peeling chestnuts and watching White Christmas with my cousin. No last-minute wrapping most of my mother's presents. I don't even know if I'll be sleeping in my mother's house this year (depending on how things work out I believe our choices are a lumpy futon that puts me and Bunny in a lot of pain, his neice's twin bed, or separate but comfortable couches in separate houses).

All of that's ok, though. Bunny and I get to negotiate, try out a little bit of everything, and at the end of the day make the decisions that make us happiest.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

the dining experience: dim sum seafood king

Toronto Life gave me a fantastic tip last week: Dim Sum Seafood King, during weekday lunches does $2.00 dim sum plates. Considering that Bunny and myself (and my mom) are all dim sum fans, this needed to be tried.

So Monday when we were headed out Christmas shopping, Bunny and I decided to make a lunch stop first. We don't do dim sum often, because the bill at the Pearl is often a bit painful, but we are always in the mood for dim sum.

This was, atmospherically, very different from the Pearl. It was much more the traditional dim sum banquet hall that my mom likes to tell me about, and that I have occasionally seen on TV. There must have been hundreds of tables around the room, all done up in perfect white tableclothes, napkins & chair covers. Super high ceilings made the whole place seem bigger than it actually is, and genuinely helps with just how crowded the place was.

The place was packed, which is always a good sign, and there were plenty of Chinese people eating there, which would usually be irrelevant but at a Chinese restaurant gives me little sparkles inside because it is generally an indication that it's bound to be good. There was even a party of some sort going on, and they were doing Chinese karaoke. Free entertainment!

So, the food. The carts came much more frequently than they do at the Pearl, and every cart was loaded. Each cart had about three different dishes, minimum, and the servers were all very cheerful. As well, you could order extra items separately, and some special items rotated around the room on much smaller trays with individual servers. (Those items were all specially priced, aka not $2, and included my favourite item).

Bunny and I did good for ourselves, tried lots of things, but kept it to a somewhat minimum. We had:
  • Pork dumplings
  • Shrimp & chive dumplings
  • Seafood dumplings
  • Sticky rice in Lotus Leaf
  • Shrimp "sliders" (as Bunny likes to call them), or rice noodle pancakes
  • Fried shrimp and scallion cakes
  • Some weird bird's nest meat dumpling that Bunny got (it was that or chicken feet ... I almost wish he'd had the chicken feet)
I adored the fried shrimp cakes (they call them hockey pucks at the Pearl). Perfectly crisped exteriors, moist filling. The shrimp taste & texture comes through well, but isn't overwhelming. Honestly, I prefered this to the Pearl's version.

Next favourite were the pork dumplings. They actually surprised me how much I liked them, as I don't usually go for pork at dim sum. Again, perfectly moist and perfectly seasoned, and the wrapper was perfectly cooked. I'm not quite sure what the dumpling wrapper was, it has a yellow colour, like lo mein noodles, and is definitely not the rice paper wrapper that the seafood dumplings come in.

The dumplings were good. Not great, not as good as the ones at the Pearl, but nothing to complain about. (Especially not at the price!) Really, my complaint was that they were oversteamed, and the wrapper was falling apart. They were huge, though. and the fillings were good.

Shrimp sliders again, on par with the Pearl. I actually found that these ones held together better than they usually do.

Disappointment came in the form of sticky rice. Instead of a big package, it was two smaller packages (perfect for Bunny and I), but I felt like the fillings were a bit more out there than they go with at the Pearl - several weird looking things that I just couldn't bring myself to put in my mouth. Curse of being a picky eater.

We weren't sitting around waiting for hours for things, new plates came frequently, and as soon as we asked "who do we talk to about the bill" one was provided quickly and politely.

Possibly the best part was the price: $25.00, tax & tip in. That's a third of what the bill comes to at the Pearl. There is a difference in quality, but it's very slight. Really, I only had two complaints (and the sticky rice was just me being squeamish). I was blown away by the bill.

Would I go back? Yes, absolutely, and I'm already planning to. On the other hand, if they priced themselves on par with Pearl, I would choose the Pearl. But! Holy shit was it good.

that & this

Bit of a roundup post:
  • Emergency funds are good things, even if annoying, and I thank myself for that gift every day
  • Promising things on the horizon in the new year, starting with a discussion that I'm very excited about
  • Bunny has been extra-special amazing lately, which is worth noting. Seriously, I have the most wonderful man in history
  • Style alert: I bought two new pashminas (red paisley with black touches, tone on tone bronze paisley) because I found them super cheap in Chinatown and oh my goodness gorgeous
  • Dim Sum Seafood King review still to come - I promise
  • Christmas shopping is COMPLETE (well, Bunny still has some to do)
  • I bought Bunny's Christmas present literally right in front of him, and it was hilarious
  • I have sooo much wrapping and baking to do in the next three days, as evidenced by the four or five batches of frozen cookie dough & the pile of unwrapped presents
  • Must locate tape and present tags, those could be helpful
  • Bit of a rollercoaster couple of days
  • The Help (the movie) is almost as awesome as the book, which is a win to me
  • It's time to choose a new book to start in on. I'm considering the Scarlet Letter.
  • My cross stitch is getting beautiful. I've got a lovely iris taking up most of the space in the hoop right now, and so much blank cloth to take care of
  • Bunny is making dog food now, and it's stinky
  • Three more days until we are picked up to head Barrie-wards
  • The new coffee (our old favourite, but it's more expensive than I really like to spend on coffee but it's great coffee, and I'd rather buy medium-expensive beans than go out and pay for fancy drinks all the time) is fantastical and I love it

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

braising notes & general musings

So, despite the fact that we make an awful lot of roasts here, one thing that very rarely happens (or at least, not intentionally) is a braise. Cuts of meat seared off and then stuck in the oven to cook low and slow for long periods of time, until they reach deliciousness.

Sunday night, I made one. It wasn't perfect, but it was good. A couple of lessons learned along the way:
  • Put your vegetables in the bottom of your cookware
  • Sear your vegetables beforehand - this equals deliciousness (seriously, some of the best carrots I have ever had resulted from this)
  • Sear your roast
  • To dredge or not to dredge? I vote not to, but that's simply because I don't think that it added anything. I actually strongly disliked the crust on my meat after dredging, whereas I love a good seared edge. It also did nothing to help thicken up the gravy afterwards, even though it had been suggested to me for just that reason
  • The juices from a braise will taste heavily of the spices you use on your meat, moreso than pan drippings from a roast - I liked this, but I might use a lighter hand next time. I did an Indian spice mix (cumin, tumeric, garam masala and garlic for kick because why not) and my gravy tasted very strongly of that after the fact
  • Use more vegetables than you think you should, because they will be delicious!
In a few minutes, Bunny and I are headed out to complete the last of our Christmas shopping. We still have both our moms to buy for (they are really the hardest, but we know where we are going/what we are getting), as well as his sister. Yesterday we thought we'd taken care of his sister at Winners, but when we reached the cash register at Winners we noticed several small but significant flaws in the piece that we had picked out for her. So another trip to the Eaton Centre today, as well as Crappy Tire. Not a big shopping list - 3 items, really, and wrapping stuff.

With that, we are off! (I have an excited Bunny beside me here.) Also, as a tease for later, Bunny and I tried a new dim sum place yesterday that we'd like to share.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

humour in the liquor cabinet

Let me precede this post by saying that neither Bunny nor I are big drinkers. He appreciates a good scotch or tequila (expensive scotch and tequila - remind me one day to tell you the 40 year scotch story), and enjoys having the occasional drink, or an after work beer every now and again.

I personally prefer to seek my intoxicated state through other means, but have been known to enjoy the alcohol while partying. I'm also a big fan of wine - we both are.

Our problem comes when we consider my migraines. Our wine preferences line up fairly well; we both like drier reds (Bunny's partial to the Italian reds, I am not so fussed). However, about a year and a half ago, red wines began triggering some very painful migraines. This was unfortunately discovered over a bottle of vintage Barolo that I had given to Bunny for Valentines, waste of a very good wine. Probably the best I've ever had.

So, with me not drinking reds often anymore, we don't tend to share a glass over dinner often. As neither of us is libel to polish off a bottle on our own, wines don't often get consumed except for special occasions around here. We used to have a lovely collection of reds, as began with a liquor store tradition of always picking up an extra bottle for later. Which works well on several levels: we always had a bottle on hand for a hostess gift or unanticipated birthday, and there was always a bottle of wine or two there for a "just because" occasion. Bunny's run his way through most of our collection now though.

Whites are a trickier subject, as I'm only just learning what I like in them. I do not like sweet wines, but I do like fruity wines in moderation. I'm currently discovering a streak that I enjoy in Reislings, although there are some notes in Sauvignon Blanc I don't mind (though they are very hit and miss, and I won't have those anymore without consulting a sommelier). I mostly only have wine while out right now, as I don't want to commit to a full bottle of something I don't know if I'll enjoy.

Red or white, though, what we don't often drink here is sparkling wine. Bunny professes a dislike for champagne, but I enjoy some sparkly every now and again. This fact is not reflected in our liquor cabinet right now.

Currently, our lackluster wine collection boasts a bottle of Wild Vines (huh? Must have picked that up for a cheapie girls night that never materialized), a Reisling that I don't know where we purchased, and no less than 5 varieties of sparkling wine.

We don't drink sparkles often. Yet we have five bottles? How did this happen. Well, two I know were gifts (one of which I'm very excited for - maybe New Years?), at least one was from Bunny's former place of employment (high rollers, there), one I couldn't begin to guess, and I'm pretty sure the half bottle of Henkel is from my mother, courtesy of Bunny's stocking last year.

Do I take this as a sign to get my drunk on?

Chicken & Gravy, and a pie confession

I have a confession to make, and I'm a little embarrassed by it. A little shortcut I take on everyday affairs in the kitchen sometimes, when I'm only cooking for Bunny and myself and not worried about impressing anyone. When the requirements for dinner are simple and nutritious and tasty, and I really don't mind having some imperfections.

I use frozen pie crusts. Not the good ones, either, just the everyday Tenderflakes. They're nothing special, and I can definitely taste the difference when I do make my own crust. Honestly, though, if I bulk making quiches for frozen dinners, or just whipping up a leftovers pie, I'm not concerned with the perfect pie crust.

Pecan pie for guests, I'll make my own.

Last night was a bit of a simple/lazy/somewhat lovely thrown together dinner. A month ago or so I'd made a chicken pot pie, with perfectly cubed chicken breast and some frozen mixed veggies. Me being me, I didn't use a real recipe, so I ended up with entirely too much filling, and I was able to freeze about a cup to a cup and a half of the extra.

So, last night was use the chicken pot pie filling night. It was a bit of an anemic filling, so I decided to quickly cook up some chicken thighs to get some extra meat and drippings to make a fresh gravy, and I diced and blanched some carrots and broccoli that were chilling around the crisper. The extra chicken and fresher veggies really brightened things up.

Can I also tell you how I made the best gravy ever? I made loads, so there's a nice tub of rich chicken gravy in my fridge. So, here's some instructions for simple sauted chicken thighs & gravy:

Ingredients:
  • 6 chicken thighs, bone in (optional), skin on (the skin on is important here. Gravy does require pan drippings and some good flavourful fat, to me, and you just don't get it with skinless)
  • A tablespoon or so of oil (I like olive, use what you like though)
  • Seasonings (I used a liberal sprinkling of season salt & garlic powder, but it's really season to your tastes)
  • 3-6 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth, or other liquid
  • Additional liquid (water is fine)
Directions:
  1. Heat skillet medium to medium high, add olive oil to pan
  2. Liberally season chicken thighs, on both sides
  3. When pan & oil are hot, place chicken in pan, skin side down (I like cooking the fatty side first, it helps lubricate the pan for the other side and prevents sticking)
  4. Cover the pan, let chicken cook 5-10 minutes, until skin side is well browned. Flip chicken, cover and let cook another 10-15 minutes.
  5. Chicken is done when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 170*F (Full disclosure: I generally pull my chicken bits off the heat around 160-160 if I can and let the temperature rise as the meat rests) Pull chicken from pan & set aside to enjoy the deliciousness
  6. At this point, you should have a lovely pan full of drippings. Reduce the heat, to just below medium, and add the flour to the pan - the amount of flour you need will depend on how much drippings you have
  7. Vigourously wisk the flour and drippings together, they should get thick (like a roux). Continue to add flour until you have a paste like mixture in the pan. Continue to cook, wisking, for a few minutes - this allows the flour to cook off a little
  8. Slowly add stock/liquid to the pan, starting with 1/2 cup. Note: this will steam up, so you will want a longer handled wisk. Wisk very vigourously, ensuring the liquid and flour/fat paste mix up evenly. It won't look pretty at this stage, but that's ok. Just let everything mix fairly evenly.
    1. Note: I cannot stress enough just how important it is to add the liquid in stages. Adding in stages allows you to evenly incorporate your thickener (that pasty flour/dripping mixture) with the liquid portion of your gravy. Add a little, wisk until combined, repeat. I have found that this is the single best way to avoid having lumpy gravy. You can add all the liquid at once, but do this at your own peril.
  9. Continue to add stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time and wisking vigourously until incorporated. By the time you have all the stock in your pan, your gravy should be much looser. Bring things to a simmer and let reduce a touch. I let things reduce for about 2-3 minutes.
    1. Reducing the gravy like this helps the flavours intensify and blend together better. It also gives the flour a chance to properly thicken things up, and helps you really adjust the thickness later.
  10. At this point, everything is up to taste: do you want a thin gravy or a thick gravy? Your best bet is to taste your gravy now and go from there. If it feels a little viscous for your tastes, thin it out with more liquid. If it feels thin, let the gravy continue to reduce until you are happy with the thickness.
  11. Seasoning: sometimes you will have to adjust your seasoning. Be gentle here: if you are using herbs, add them early. If you are using salt, wait until the end to season, especially if you plan on reducing.
  12. Enjoy!
Bunny and I made a very thick gravy last night, as we were using it as the sauce in our pot pie and I find thickness is necessary. However, I got tons of gravy from my pan, and thinned the rest out, and that's what's in my fridge right now. And it's delicious.

A Note on Liquids in Gravy:
Growing up, there was one thing, and one thing only, that was ever used in gravy: the starchy water from boiling potatoes.
I'm not so into using water in gravies anymore. Starchy water is great for a gravy where you have loads of flavourful drippings and you just need liquid, not flavour. The fact is though that the liquid adds so much flavour to the gravy. Broth takes things up about ten notches. Wine works nicely (particularly red wine in a beef gravy), and I love using juice in my gravys (apple juice pork gravy, anyone?).
You can use whatever flavours you like, but I always recommend being a little bit more adventurous than just water.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

dinner plans

Not that three posts in a day isn't a little overkill, or anything ... but I'm thinking about dinner. Actually I am thinking about dinners as tomorrow night's dinner is equally on my mind.

I have some chopped up chicken pot pie filling dethawing in my sink from the last time I made pot pie. I don't think it's quite enough for an entire pie on its own, so I have also got a package of chicken thighs dethawing with them. Even if it's overkill, I can always do with a few extra helpings of meat in my fridge. They shape into great lunches/breakfasts for Bunny as he's a protein hound.

Plus, they'll help me with the gravy, as that has yet to be made.

Tomorrow night's dinner I'm really excited about. I'm going to do some kind of slow cooker or braised beef. Figuring out the details still, but I have some eye of round in the fridge that will serve nicely. I'm thinking of beautiful beef slow cooking with big chunks of carrot and onions, served with some barley and maybe a little bit something extra. Oh! The extra head of broccoli that's getting old in my crisper. That will do nicely.

Four days of dinners revolving around meats is a lot here, but it's got Bunny happy. I for the most part just sniff around them and mostly ignore the things.

I'm certainly enjoying all the time I get to spend with my kitchen lately.

dinner time roundup

So I've been lax the last two days posting food. Which is sad, because I've done some truly delicious stuff while I've been home.

Thursday night was a great dinner. Nothing too far out there, a simple honeyed ham because hams were on sale at Freshco this week. Scored the rind and just sqeezed a tablespoon or so of honey on top, and baste every fifteen minutes or so as things baked. For carbs we added a simple Uncle Ben's flavoured wild rice.

The real star on Thursday was the carrot and parsnip gratin. After the success of the broccoli/cauliflower gratin I've been wanting to experiment with other gratins. It's even got me excited about the idea of casseroles, which is impressive since I've never been a big casserole person. But this could be my new thing!

The carrot and parsnips? Super simple:
  • Blanched off about 3 cups of chopped roots, to help them cook faster
  • Caramelize some red onions, as Bunny loves onion and I figured they'd add some depth of flavour
  • Make a bechamel, as per usual; season to taste
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan turns the bechamel into a mornay
  • Add the carrots, parnsip & onion to a baking dish. (I used a 2 quart, because my 1.5 quarts were a leetle small - but the 2 quart was larger than needed)
  • Dump your sauce on top of the veg, mix until evenly coated
  • Sprinkle breadcrumbs lightly on top, as well as an additional sprinkling of shredded parm
We liked it, but not as much as the last gratin. I'm thinking that maybe I needed a more melty cheese, and something with a little bit of stronger flavour than parmesan. Thoughts for next time involve leeks and asiago, with maybe a bit of acid to brighten things up.

Last night, we strayed from the menu plan (I do this a fair bit, but shopping for a menu always helps us out.) Somehow, I got it into my mind that I should attempt to make crepes. I love me some crepes, but have never actually attempted them on my own.

Smitten Kitchen had a few different ideas that looked good, but in the end I stole a crepe recipe off of a mushroom crepe cake that she had posted and worked with that. Of course, every resource I've read on crepes tells me that the first one will be garbage, and maybe the second. This is entirely true.

But the third and onward? Perfection. I was quite happy with the results. Next time I'd use a smaller pan, as I used an 11" nonstick ... I would have been more than fine with the 8", and will definitely do that next time.

Fillings were super simple, featuring thinly sliced leftover ham, wilted spinach and parmesan for dinner. Afterwards Bunny slapped some Nutella on one for dessert, and I had more than 1 done my favourite simple way, with citrus juice and sugar. Heaven!

I'm not sure what's on the menu tonight right now. I do have a pie shell and a tupperware of chicken pie mix (veggies and diced chicken, just needs to be dethawed and a gravy made) in the freezer that was meant to be on the menu this week, as well as a spaghetti squash that I would like to get to.

Since it's so cold I'm thinking we will go with pot pie, but you never know.

cozy Saturday mornings & Christmas cookies

The temperature has really dropped overnight here, so I'm quite glad that Bunny and I are planning a quiet Saturday in. I think he's going to play video games, and I'm going to read and work on my cross stitch.

I'm also thinking I'm going to maybe whip up a batch of gingersnap dough to portion out and freeze. Because even prior to my lay off we had severely slashed our gift budget compared to the past few years, we are doing a little something extra. (Have I ever mentioned how my first year as a full time employed non-student I spent over $1,000 on Christmas? And I only buy "big" gifts for 6 people, plus smaller ones for extended friends & family. It was a little overkill.)

It's actually super convenient - I whipped up a batch of dough, using all recipes I've enjoyed in the past (I might add one or two new ones, but I'm not really inclined to go too outside of my comfort zone for gifts). When I had the dough ready, I baked off a tray for Bunny and I enjoy that night/the next day, portioned the rest out and froze it. Now I have bags with directions waiting for just a little bit of extra attention from me.

I'm rather excited for the idea of Bunny and I having two weeks at home together. Some time for us to just chill out before he gets back into his next semester and I start seriously working on my job search.

Currently, I have frozen bags of three different types of cookie dough resting in my freezer: Chocolate chip cookies (with walnut pieces, which I've never done before but I quite enjoy), snickerdoodles and chocolate sugar cookies. Bunny and I were thinking 4-6 kinds of cookies, so gingersnaps will pull me up to my minimum and I'll think about maybe doing some others through the week.

Friday, December 16, 2011

we sit and find flaws in everyone, I wanna keep you by my side holding off tidal waves

Day 3 of unemployment, so far, has meant:
  • Waking up even EARLIER than I used to wake up for work, all on my own. I laid awake in bed with puppy cuddles just because I could
  • Getting dressed properly - jeans and socks, and undergarments, for no other reason  than I feel better fully clothed than in pajamas
  • Realizing that this is a great time to explore my nudist tendencies, if I so desire
  • Reading the news, and the blogs over two double lattes, made to my exacting specifications
  • Being able to pull together a snack at the first signs of hunger pains without thinking about it
  • Writing a post to submit to APW, and having time to come back to it
  • Putting all the dirty clothes in the laundry basket for no reason other than they bothered me
  • A dishwashing dance party with the puppy to the ever wonderful soundtrack of the Format
Now, I don't want to jump up and start making grand generalizations about things after only three days at home. This whole being unemployed thing has me thinking about the statement "I am not a morning person". I have never considered myself to be one - I'm a great night owl.

Here's the thing though, I've been waking up and enjoying the mornings these past three days. What I'm starting to wonder is if I don't need to change my statement. I'm wondering if it might be more accurate to say "I am not a social morning person". Cause I'm sure loving puppy snuggles and am enjoying waking up at a normal time.

It feels good.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day 2

So, here we are, on day 2 of being unemployed.

Oh, what, I didn't mention that I was let go on Tuesday?
So yeah, day 2. It's a hard and complicated thing, and I have lots of complicated feelings about it. That's ok. How can there not be complicated feelings about losing a job you didn't love, when you knew the company was in dire financial straights and you would be the first to go, but still provided a steady paycheque and a feeling of self-suffiency. Of course, there's lots of other complicated stuff about it, and other feelings I'm still sorting through - but it's probably for the best to keep that off the internet, you know?

So day 2. 12:30pm, and here's what my day has looked like so far:
  • Wake up at a perfectly respectable hour and spend the morning with Bunny before he headed off to work (this is a Big Deal for me, as I'm not a morning person and am uninclined to wake up for ANYTHING)
  • Breakfast of two double-strong lattes (light on the milk & foam) and a piece of toast
  • Getting properly dressed - underthings on, real pants instead of pajama bottoms, I can walk out in public and not look like a slob (which I don't generally do on weekends if I'm not planning on leaving the house - and I think I need to make a habit of doing right now)
  • Catching up on the news and my blogs all morning long - what a luxury
  • Puppy snuggles on the couch
That's a decent day. Plans for the afternoon include work on my needlepoint, a streetcar headed east, and some decent reading.

I'm giving myself essentially until the new year as a "vacation" as I really haven't had more than a week off since I got my first job out of university. So I'm taking a break. The only things I intend on accomplishing the first week or so is to submit my EI application, update our housing assistance application with the co-op (thank god we live in a co-op, let me tell you!), and calling my banks to see what they can help me out with as far as my loans go. Oh, and I have to get a new debit card.

I have some "for fun" plans right now. I'm going to spend a lot of time reading and cross-stitching and writing and baking.
Maybe next week I will tackle the project that is "Get the House Clean Top to Bottom".
I'm going to try out tons of new recipes while I'm home.
Spend more time reading.
I have the time now to really dedicate more of it to keeping house - which is exciting.
Make working out more of a priority.

Later on, I might look at some volunteering.

It'll be good, right?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

thankful

So, yesterday was a pretty rough day on some levels. Everything is still very raw and like and open wound, but I want to remind myself of all the amazing things in my life that are either independent of the crappiness, or are going to come out amazingly because of.

  1. Bunny, and having the most wonderful partner by my side though everything
  2. Financial smarts & planning ahead
  3. Morning lattes
  4. Baking!
  5. All the new recipes I plan to try
  6. Living in a co-op
  7. My beautiful, messy home
  8. Having the time to clean my home up
  9. Having Enough
  10. The chance to explore my dreams
  11. Time to myself
  12. Puppy cuddles
  13. Not having a job I hate
  14. Knowing that I'll be ok
  15. Knowing that I can take care of my finances

Monday, December 12, 2011

style spotlight: scarves

For someone who loves clothes the way I do, it's pretty odd that I don't accessorize more. Part of it is that I'm lazy in the morning, part of it is I feel a bit ridiculous, and part of it is that some of my "statement" pieces have been replaced by sentimental, standard pieces. (I switched an arsenal of hand made necklaces for a simple pendant that Bunny gave me and I now never take off, for example.)

One accessory, though, that I almost always rock is the scarf. Pashminas, of the plain and patterned variety (lately I'm loving paisley pashminas - it's the perfect pop of pattern). What's great about a pashmina is that outside it's a great scarf, and when I'm freezing in the office I can switch it into a shawl.

I'm also a huge fan of knit scarves, particularly those that I created myself. There's a lovely denseness to the wool, and they're a little more rustic. A good knit scarf reminds me of being seven, and playing outside in the snow.

A third type of scarf I'm starting to love are simple, wool scarves. Like this great green and brown plaid cashmere one I picked up in Kensington a few weeks ago - it's super warm, and this great pop of very classic pattern and colour. The only problem with this one is that Bunny keeps stealing it, because it's so warm.

There's so many great scarves out there, though. Infinity scarves are a current obsession of mine, though I have yet to purchase one (shame on me), and there are all sorts of great ruffled scarves, and silk scarves for the warmer months ... although in the great white north, my scarves tend to be appropriate for three quarters of the year.

The great thing with a scarf as an accessory is that they are both functional and fashion. What could be better than that?

obsession: beets

So, until about a year ago, I had never eaten a beet in my life. Which is kind of crazy, when I think about how darned much I love beets now. They have this great sweetness and depth of flavour that I adore, and it makes them the perfect accompaniment to a roast.

Which is all to say that I am very excited to be making beets and beef for dinner tonight, as well as some smushed potatoes and gravy. And for all that making a roast "feels" fancy to me, it's one of the easiest things to make on a weeknight. Seriously, it's dead simple. Chuck stuff in the oven, check the temperature every now and then. Mashed potatoes are the most work of everything I'm making, really.

I'm excited for beets. I'm also excited for grocery shopping tomorrow. I've got some fun things planned out for my week's menu - a mix of old favourites and some new recipes I'm dying to try.

And apparently I'm eating moose this week.

I guess that's what happens when you decide to marry into a family of hunters. People give you moose.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

productive Sunday

It's been a very good Sunday here. A very productive Sunday. Bunny's been busy most of the day putting in some freelance hours, and now he's hiding out studying for an exam tomorrow. However, yesterday was his birthday, and I did not make him a cake - which meant that I spent much of today making up for it.

At first I had planned on doing a cake with chocolate ganache and peanut butter filling, but out of nowhere I decided to ask him if he was into chocolate or caramel for the cake - and caramel won. Which originally was shaping up into a white cake with caramel buttercream, but then I started snooping around Smitten Kitchen looking for recipes, and caramel cake caught my eye.

I'm a little obsessed with wanting to learn some southern cooking lately. I don't often do many things that are even remotely related to southern cooking, but ideas like caramel cake sit well with me. Especially because I read The Help not too long ago, and the thought of caramel cake had really stuck with me.

So, caramel cake. I stuck pretty true to the recipe as Smitten Kitchen had it, though I did make a few substitutions and changes. I poured the glaze over a few minutes ago, and now it's sitting on the kitchen counter letting the glaze cool and harden.

I'm very, very excited about the cake we will be having shortly.

I also made Bunny's favourite pasta and squash recipe for dinner, and a dozen chocolate sugar cookies. There's another couple of dozen portions of cookie dough in the freezer, as Shane has decided we are going to do Christmas cookies to supplement our smaller than usual gift budget.

Now it is time to go eat.

kitchen woes

Sometimes, my kitchen drives me nuts.

It's not so much that it's small, with limited counter space. That's not actually a problem for me, as I tend to exclusively use the space covered by the wooden cutting board and a six inch space beside it. The space frustrates me more in how it limits appliances and bakeware ... the KitchenAid stand mixer I lust over would take up so much space I'd end up loathing it, but really, I can live without the mixer.

It's more the gaps in our tools and bakeware. For example, I don't have a mandoline, or an extra large dutch oven ... those I can live without. It's the bakeware that really drives me nuts, since bakeware is what I use. I don't have beautiful serving dishes, or a gratin pan, and I don't have a square cake pan.

Or a 9 x 13 rectangular baking dish. This one drives me nuts. That, and not having a proper pie pan.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

the dining experience: the pearl

Chinese food is pretty much the bomb. It's also a little crazy that I say that, as I grew up hating Chinese food (the msg doesn't do nice things to my belly, and I'm a picky eater to begin with) which was unfortunate, as it's my mom's favourite.

So, I didn't get to experience dim sum until a few years back, though I grew up hearing about it from my mother. Really, it's also slightly sad because I have still yet to experience real Chinatown dim sum ... and Chinatown # 2 in the city is just about a fifteen minute walk east from me.

The reason, though, that I have not had Chinatown dim sum, is that in Toronto the king of dim sum restaurants is not in Chinatown, it is at the harbourfront.

It's hard to properly critique the Pearl, as it's the place that defines dim sum for me.

What I can tell you is this:
The food is always fresh, and even when the carts are not empty, they never circle the room more than once. If you come between sittings, they ask you to order off a menu instead (but they have absolutely all of the same dishes), which on the one hand takes away half the fun ... but it ensures quality of the food. I won't say I've never had anything I didn't like there, because that's not true, but I've never had anything I didn't like that I expected to like. Sometimes the dumplings are a little hint oversteamed, but it's pretty uncommon; even the items that I expect grease from tend to be low on the greasiness, which is a plus for me.

The staff is friendly and helpful, always. Sometimes if it's busy it takes awhile to get requests filled (soy sauce, new chopsticks) but they never forget your request. If there is a problem with the food, I've always found that the staff treats it as if it is their own personal responsibility to make you happy.

It's amazing food.

I'm going to go have a leftover dumpling now.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

on the go!

I'm a little scattered at home lately. I've got a lot of little projects going on, and some not so little projects. Plus, well, just everday stuff.

I pretty much own the kitchen here. I mean, Bunny loves cooking and he spends a couple of nights a week in there, generally (heck, right now he's making dog food there. Yeah, you heard me right.) I'm the self-appointed & generally elected chef though, it's me spending my evenings all cozy with the stove. So I spend a chunk of time there cooking dinner, and as often as not I also spend a few hours in there baking afterwards.

In fact, there is a ginger snap recipe I've been drooling over for the past few weeks that I want to make tonight (though it will probably not happen until tomorrow, given the time).

I also just today finished a needlepoint project, that later needs to get turned into a dog pillow (more project) ... and promptly started edging the aida cloth for my next one. The new one is a much more complex cross stitch, more detailed and fancy.

On top of all this, I have been slowly slowly slowly starting to think about the book that's been rumbling around my head for the past six months or so. So I've grabbed a notebook and am slowly starting to write out scenes and stories from it.

There just aren't enough hours in the day, you know? I also don't particularly make it easy on myself, as they are all things that can give me quite a bit of eye strain. Well, I guess when I'm baking it's not so bad, but I do find that both writing and needlepoint get hard on my eyes.

Oh! And then there's the scarves that I keep picking up and putting down. They're perfect for when I'm not really in a mood to do anything, but want something to keep my hands busy.

Monday, December 05, 2011

snickerdoodles

Until today, I had never in my life made or tasted a snickerdoodle.

I'm quite glad to say that as of today, I have officially made them, though I have yet to try them. (Though Bunny says they are awesome). I didn't quite follow the recipe - I substituted chopped almonds for walnuts, because I didn't have any, and regular sugar and extra vanilla for vanilla sugar (since again, I have none).

They sure smelled good, and a dozen are packed away with Bunny to go to school tomorrow for his little friends. (I'm such a lame-o, and I love it.)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

cash, money, plastic, oh my

So something I haven't talked about a lot on here is money, which is rather surprising. I am a money person, I am a budgeter and a re-budgeter and all things. My first blog I ever followed was a personal finance blog (Get Rich Slowly, which I still love) and I tend to have lofty financial goals.

I like to be in control of my money, instead of my money being in control of me.

I don't make a whole ton of money, and Toronto isn't exactly a cheap place to live (within Canada at least). With Bunny back in school and only working freelance a few hours a week, things are tighter than the have been before. We rearranged our budget load to accommodate for that, and it puts a lot more financial pressure on me.

Here's the thing, though. I pay back my student loans somewhat aggressively, although currently with the wedding coming up and Bunny in school, I have somewhat scaled back on that. I put money aside into savings with every paycheque. I give myself a reasonable allowance out of what is leftover after all the necessities are paid for. Sometimes if something special comes up I'll adjust my budget for the month and swing things around to better allow for different treats. Not often, but sometimes.

Do I wish I had more money? Heck and yes. I'd love to make enough to not have to worry or think about the basic expenses, to be able to make more splurges. I'd love to have a membership to a yoga studio, and take pottery classes and have a personal trainer and buy millions of books and purses and shoes and coats. I'd love for Bunny and I to each have our own laptops, and to get an iPhone and have a downpayment for a house and be able to afford to go to Spain for the honeymoon, instead of just an all-inclusive Carribean vacation (which is a heck of a lot of fun and very needed, but not the sort of travel that either Bunny or I crave.) I want to be able to go back and get as many more degrees as I want (masters and MBAs and additional undergrads - I would like to be a full time student), and take a year off to travel the world. Own a sailboat and spend my summers on the seas. Have a house with a little backyard and a garden, have more real art on my walls, be able to buy the more expensive furniture that's very much to Bunny and my tastes than general Leons and the Brick stuff that we have. It'd be awesome to have the designer wedding dress, and have full day photography coverage at our wedding, have orchids and peonies and all sorts of beautiful flowers exploding everywhere.

There are a million things I would like to have that all cost money. The thing is, that list up there, none of them are needs. I want all those things, or they are things that Bunny and I want together. At the end of the day, though, Bunny and I can afford everything that we need (shelter, food, transportation to and from work/school, a semblance of a social life) and quite a few of our wants. We can afford to have a wedding that fits very well with what we want. We can afford to live in a house that has a few extras. I can afford to buy the occasional coat, or purse or pair of boots. It was no big deal for us to replace Bunny's work computer last week when things kind of exploded.

Bunny was able to quit his high paying professional job and go back to school for a career that he loves, without us taking on any additional debt, or dipping into his retirement savings.

We have everything that we need, and we are able to prioritize our wants to have all the most important of them. We don't have everything but we do have enough.

lazy day dinners

Have you caught on that I've been pretty darn lazy around the kitchen this week? Maybe the last two weeks, really.

Last night we went out to Mi Mi's - best Vietnamese place I know, and an old YP staple of Bunny's. It was extra awesome, as our moms had come up to go dress shopping with me (and oh what a story that is - for later) so Bunny and I got to share one of our favourite every day restaurants with them, which was nice. Plus, it's always awesome to remind ourselves of what great friends our moms are. It's a hoot.

Today, we are being lazy as well. I woke up, started thinking about how I hadn't slept well at all last night, and that we need a real bedroom makeover. Or, we could just you know, by some window coverings. I'm sensitive to light, so not having anything over our bedroom window doesn't really do me any favours. As the day progressed, I started to think that really, our home is a mess and we need to fix that and I just don't have the energy to do that and cook tonight.

Which promptly reminded me that I had a couple of quiches kicking around the freezer, just waiting to be dethawed and eaten. Perfect forethought.

Here's the thing: quiche is dead easy. Pie shell, cheese, egg, milk/cream and an appropriate filling matched to the cheese. Toss it in the oven for about 45 minutes, and then experience deliciousness. What's even better, is that making multiple quiches really is not significantly more work than making one quiche. So, when I do make quiche I try to do three or four at a time and we freeze the excess.

Which lets me spend my day writing and drinking lattes and cleaning, rather than cooking when I'm not in the mood.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

oi

We are in day 3 of migraine land.

Which, as I'm sure you can imagine, puts me in a pretty bad mood. No big deal, I live with it (when you conistently have migraines you don't really care so much). But it's getting frustrating.

It also resulted in a box of KD for dinner. Not the best choice, but I had a real lunch (leftovers from Bunny bailing me out and making a pork roast and mashed potatoes last night) so I'm not going to care too much.

Blah. That's really it now. Blah.