Tuesday, January 31, 2012

grocery habits

Over the years, as my relationship with Bunny progressed from seeing each other on weekends as we lived in separate cities, to spending most of our time together, to living together, our grocery and eating habits have evolved a little bit, to revolve around joint preferences. I have a feeling that to some extent this is fairly standard. Of course, through that we've also had several changes in circumstance: Bunny leaving his job to go back to school, me being unemployed and the financial consequences in both our grocery shopping habits have changed quite a bit.

In the begining, for instance, we would shop mostly for "meals" - elaborate plans we would make to impress each other, but without the long term planning to keep a fridge stocked. Over time, we began to slowly stock up on joint staples: soups, peanut butter, tofu, cheese, vegetables etc.

When we first lived together, we would grocery shop at the Leslieville Loblaws, and shop with our eyes, being creative about things. What vegetables looked good? What proteins and starches were appealing. Was there anything frozen we wanted? How about snacks? Treats? We would still shop for "meals", and as those got somewhat rarer, we would go to fancy butcher shops and vegetable stands. We looked to get things on sale, but only to stock up on favourites, never to just choose the best price. We would eat out, or order in as we pleased because the money was there.

Around the time Bunny started to think about going back to school, we had to re-evaluate. Our grocery budget needed to get more under control, because our division of expenses and available income pool were about to shrink. We were giving up the car, so we couldn't get to our old grocery store, but there were several grocery stores (less expensive ones) within walking distance. We wanted to plan our menu more closely, take more advantage of sales and coupons than we already did, trim the excess from our grocery budget.

This meant a lot of changes. Having a solid number that we could spend in our heads. Having an outline of what we were going to eat, and when. A list of what we needed, compared against what we have. Buying meat in bulk at a discount, and freezing the excess. Working more grains and legumes into our diet.

Recently, this has also meant re-evaluating how we consume some things. We've never gone through much more than a litre of milk, if that, a week; recently, though that has changed. I'm home, and drink lattes every morning. Bunny likes to have milk to drink and with cereal sometimes, and I use it a lot in my baking. We've started going through two litres a week. So, this week, we decided to buy a 4 litre bag for, get this, the same price as a litre carton.

Another change was that I planned my menu this week around the flyer. 10lb bags of potatoes for $2.49, 3ilbs of carrots for $1.49, a brick of cheese for $4.99. Chicken was on sale, so we picked some up. We picked up cauliflower (also on sale) for potato cauliflower curry, parsnips to do a dish with the carrots, peppers to turn into a stir fry with both the carrots and some items we already had in the fridge. The menu was built around the prices.

We`re still limited, of course, by what our arms can carry home but shopping and planning around the flyer has been a great plan for now.

What changes have you made to your grocery habits that have saved you money in the past? Bunny and I are always looking for hints.

Monday, January 30, 2012

woooo eee

So, blackout weekend from the blog, apparently. I kept meaning to post, but just didn't happen. Which, really, tends to mean it has been a great weekend. A blast was had Friday at the wedding show, and I entered to win about a million and one giveaways. So we'll see, hopefully I'll win something good. (IE, no strings attached.)

Saturday was spent in the most delightfully lazy way, cuddled up on the couch while Bunny played video games and I alternated between reading and cross stitch. Sunday a little more business got taken care of, but we didn't worry too much about things.

Today was getting back into the swing of things, and menu planning/grocery shopping. Some executive decisions were made based on consumption - bulk carrots and potatoes were on sale, and a switch of what type of milk we're buying (bags instead of litres, because we're going through the stuff right now.)

It's a kind of boring day here. But a nice one

Friday, January 27, 2012

angelic demon?

Best photo booth moment at the bridal show is undecided. It's either when I tried to eat L, which is classic, and inspired Bunny to ask "are you trying to zombie her" when he saw the photos. It might, however, be the photo with us both in halos .... with the most evil expressions you've ever seen on our faces.

Bridal show? Success. I'm hoping to win lots of things, but no guarantees right? You never know, though.

Anyhow, we have a quiet weekend planned. We need to go to Costco and pick up massive piles of meat, as we are completely out of everything but pork. (I have about 3 pork roasts, and a ham. Yet we keep buying it.) So I'll pick up some chicken breasts and thighs and a nice beef roast or two to work with. We also love their frozen pizzas: the plain Kirkland Cheese Pizzas are 9.99 for a box of four, which is perfect when we add our own toppings.

It was so nice to get out of the house and just spend some time with a friend. I get a little stir crazy here some days.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

literary crack

First, let me say that the lemon cake I linked? In the oven. It still blows my mind how quick and easy it is to throw things together with the KitchenAid.

Second, I have a confession. I'm currently addicted to the Hunger Games trilogy. I've yet to read Mockingjay, but I devoured the other two books each in the course of a day. Now I'm just trying to convince myself to see if I can find Mockingjay at the library, as opposed to plunk down twenty bucks for it.

The plots are well thought out, fast moving and drag you along with them. The characters are, for the most part, flawed and multi-dimensional. The supporting characters have a tendency to be incredibly under-developed but it doesn't so much hurt the action: it all goes on inside Katniss' head, so as long as she's developed and coherent the rest rather works. And they are crack. I cannot put them down.

the dinner conundrum, plus temptation

Today's been a little bit slow paced, which is ok. Bunny's on a school field trip, I've sent off a few job applications, no big plans. Tomorrow night I'm meeting a friend for dinner and to go to the National Bridal Show, but today I don't really have anything planned. I just need to have the kitchen clean so Bunny can make dog food later tonight.

I'm trying to think about what I'm making for dinner, but in reality all I can think about is making this Glazed Lemon Pound Cake from Martha Stewart. It looks pretty delicious and I think that it is very soon going to wind up in our bellies here. But uh, not so dinner productive. (Especially since we had brownies for dinner the other night :S ).

So. I could make broccoli soup, but that's boring. I could make fried rice, but we've done that a lot lately. We have to use up the rest of the green beans in the fridge, and I'm thinking tonight is the night. I could pick up taco stuff and do that, but it's messy.

Peirogis? I think we might have some of those in the freezer. With green beans that would be pretty lovely. We should have enough cheese.

Dinner solved!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

brownie love

Anyone who doesn't adore chocolate probably shouldn't bother reading this. It won't do them any good. Because what I'm talking about today is something loaded with chocolate. One of my favourite baked goods. The one that I go waaaaay overboard on (moreso than Bunny): brownies.

Of course there are many schools of thought on brownies. Cakey, fudgey, goey. Frosted or left bare. My own personal needs in a brownie include being intensely chocolately, more to the fudgey side than the cakey, dense but still moist, no nuts. Most importantly, I appreciate a perfect, unfrosted, crinkly crust. The crust makes the brownie.

My favourite recipe comes from a book called 1001 Cookies, and is a surprising hit. The technique for the sugar and the butter pretty much makes the recipe, in my opinion. The liquidy syrup is one of the most delicious things I have ever seen. Originally, they are espresso brownies (which I adore), but it would be easy enough to change that. Substitute creme de menthe, or even Baileys (!), or whatever other liquidy goodness your heart desires. As always, I double if not triple the vanilla requested, and I adore it. If you're making a brownie with nuts, maybe use nut extract or nut butter somewhere in here. I also upped the chocolate factor ... but they're brownies!

Espresso Brownies

Ingredients
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar (of your choice. I like brown here, but white works.)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup chocolate chips, or coarsely chopped semi- or bittersweet chocolate (depending on your tastes)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • double espresso shot
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350*F.
  2. In a medium bowl mix flour, salt and baking powder.
  3. In a sauce pot, melt butter and sugar until fully incorporated. (This is the most glorious twist on creaming butter I've ever experienced.
  4. Remove from heat, add espresso and stir until combined. Let cool for 5 minutes.
  5. When slightly cool, add eggs and vanilla, mixing until combined and glossy. Add chocolate chunks, mixing until fully melted in.
  6. Mix in cocoa powder.
  7. Stir in flour mixture until everything is evenly distributed and you have a uniform consistency.
  8. Spread into 9x9 square pan (or, if you are lame like me a 9 inch cake pan), and bake for 30-35 minutes (32 was perfect for me), or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
These will be delicious and you should eat them often. If you are like me you will become thoroughly addicted to them. Very dangerous.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

soothing movements

I've been working a lot on my cross stitch lately. This is the second I've done in recent times, one upon the other. I have a third waiting for me to start.

The first was a beautiful picture of a dog sleeping on blankets, on the worst cloth ever. I've finished that, and it is draped over a mirror, waiting for me to turn it into a pillow. I've been meaning to make it a pillow for the dog, actually.

The current one is a beautiful landscape: liles on water, swans and a bridge in the background. Dozens of colours and combinations, different stitches, thread counts. I'm currently about a third of the way done; I started in October or November. Of course, currently I can spend more than a tiny hour here and there working on it, but still. It's amazing seeing the colours blossom out over the page, the picture take shape. To see this beauty come from a series of movements of a needle through cloth. It's incredible.

The lily picture will be turned into either a wall hanging, or perhaps a pillow for Bunny and I. After this, another project I want to begin is making new throw pillows for the living room. Have the shapes, colours, sizes I want (and be able to change the covers as we please). Stop dragging the bedroom pillows downstairs for the evening.


In a lot of ways, needlework can be similar to cooking. The same soothing feeling as moving a needle through the cloth can be replicated in stirring a sauce. Thinking about how a recipe will come together. Watching your creation unfold. Of course, cooking yeilds much more immediate payoff, but it also needs to be repeated more often, and the results are quickly consumed.

The best part is thinking about how it will work: thinking about the fennel in the fridge, wondering if there is any frozen chicken that I can work with upstairs, are the mushrooms still good, and maybe I could use half an onion and lots of garlic. What herbs and spices I want to use.

Monday, January 23, 2012

chinese new year dinner + spicy orange green beans

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I didn't entirely realise that today is Chinese New Year until I spoke to my mother last night, and was reminded of the fact when I was watching the news this morning. So, since our week's menu is very loosey goosey, it seemed natural to make up a Chinese inspired dinner.

Nothing fancy, really. Frozen pork and vegetables potstickers we'd bought on sale. Rice. The big gun was actually the beans today, because I wanted to spice things up a bit. I've done nicely sauted green beans before, often with a nice kick, and I hugely enjoy them. So I figured I'd share with Bunny and you.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 pound of green beans (or two good handfuls), ends trimmed off
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 inch chunk of ginger, grated
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced (separately)
  • 1 teaspoon chili oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
Directions
  1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Blanche beans approximately 1 minute, quickly run under cold water or in an ice bath.
  2. Heat sesame oil in saute pan. Add garlic, quickly saute about 1 minute.
  3. Add beans, stir to coat with oil. At this point, add orange zest and chili oil . Saute another minute to two minutes.
  4. Add orange juice, saute another 2 minutes.
  5. Serve!
Seriously easy. You can adjust the chili oil up and orange juice up and down to change your heat levels and sweetness levels. Bunny rates this at a 4 on the heat scale (his scale has 11 as "too hot to handle". Don't ask.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

kitchen appliances unearthed

Like many a person growing up with a fondness for cooking, I grew up in my mother's kitchen and learned her tricks. Starch water for gravies, that shepherd's pie is best made from leftover prime rib roast and that the gravy is the perfect sauce. How to make eggs and things - her way. I grew up with her wisks and wooden spoons, food processor and handheld mixer, and her little tools. Fairly standard, I think.

Every now and then my mother likes to clean house. When my mother cleans house, what tends to happen is that my house comes out significantly more full. I end up with leather skirts and jackets, old suits that haven't fit anyone in years but are only a size away from what I currently wear, candles and antique clocks. Sometimes, I end up with kitchen gear. Snag a proper spoon here, get a wisk there.

Very occasionally, I end up with antiquated kitchen appliances. A pasta maker that I think was a wedding present 25 years ago. Bunny and I use it gladly whenever we're in a pasta making mood. A chafing dish that has yet to be used. Old cookie sheets. Sometimes, I get hand me downs that really kick it out of the park.

About six months ago, my mom called to say "I'm getting rid of the bread maker, do you want it?" The bread maker. A Christmas gift one year, that I remember quite clearly. Probably got about six solid months of use, but hadn't been pulled out since before they split. The bread maker that probably didn't work ... but I needed to at least try it, right?

So, the breadmaker. Beautiful fresh egg bread and country bread. Cinnamon bun dough. I feel like I'm cheating at everything when I use this, but it works so breezily and it makes my life so simple. Plus, who doesn't like fresh baked bread? Or buns.

It's an appliance I would never have bought on my own. It takes up more kitchen space than it really has any business doing. Would I get rid of it? Not a chance. It's useful, fun and oh does it make my kitchen smell good. That's really what matters, right?

Bunny's been bugging me for the cinnamon buns for weeks on end. Today I was finally in the mood. Right now, we have cinnamony goodness bubbling up in my oven, rising to deliciousness. I could not be more excited. (And hey, the damn bread maker even comes with its own recipe book. the work is done for me!)


On another note, I don't have a menu yet for the week. This is very odd to me, but that's ok. Currently I'm just trying to work around what I have available:
  • A head of fennel (I'm thinking baked? ideas?)
  • Haricots vert (perhaps with a beef or pork roast?)
  • Leftover broccoli (cheesy soup to come, methinks)
  • Lemons, oranges and apples - will be used as needed
  • Mini red potatoes
I think I have a few plans for these, and I have a few more ideas bouncing around my head for the week. We'll see what I come up with.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

soup tips & ramblings

Today's been a good/bad day. Bunny and I have both been a little bit edgy. I'm PMSy and stressy. My poor fiance has a chipped tooth that's giving him a heck of a lot of pain. It's made communication more of an important tool for us - remembering to hold our tongues instead of snapping, and taking more time to fully explain our points and making sure we understand each other and aren't reacting based on assumptions.

I love that we're both aware enough to say "I'm sorry if I was short with you earlier. My mood's been kind of down and xyz is what I think is going on. I shouldn't have taken that out on you." The awareness that sometimes if we've got our own shit going on, we can't read each other's minds and automatically know. That we have to tell each other what's going on. Then, you know, we try to be more aware of the other person's feelings and be a little bit more gentle with it.

Since Bunny's mouth is bothering him, we're going easy on dinner. Soup type easy, in fact. Pureed soup, so there is no chewing involved and nothing that could hurt my boy. We have home made soup once every couple of weeks, and sometimes it surprises me that we don't have it more, because they're both easy and delicious.

Today's soup? Leek and potato. Our standby is butternut squash (because it's so infinitely adaptable), but we've done barley-lentil, bean soup, broccoli cheddar (Bunny's going to do that one up again soon, I think), carrot and whatever else we can come up with.

The secret to a good vegetable soup is that they are honestly easy as pie. It's all about layers of flavour, and occasionally taking the time to develop more flavour. Pureed vegetable soup can be made with any vegetable, and all you really need is a good quantity of veg, liquid and a pot.

With no further ado, my favourite soup tips:
  • Liquid!
    • Keep the liquid levels lower than you think you should. Particularly for a cream or pureed soup, just cover your veg to start with. If you need more liquid you can always add.
    • Don't use plain water. I mean, come on, water has no flavour to itself. Your liquid should be flavour packed. Suggestions include:
      • Stock/broth - this is the easiest. Whether it's a few buillon cubes, or homemade stock, you get plenty of flavour
      • Wines - pair to your ingredients. I love a nice white wine deglaze in a soup pan. Go drier than you might otherwise.
      • Juice - ok, so don't dump Five Alive in your soup pot. But pure orange juice? Apple? Grape? Contrast or compliment the vegetables flavours in your soups.
      • Starch water. If all else fails, use potato water. This is my mom's tip, and that little bit of starchiness makes a world of difference. Don't have pasta or potato water? Boil up some frozen veg and use that water. It absorbs some serious flavour.
  • Herbs & Spices
    • Duh! Always add some. Use what works for you. I have a few standbys - tarragon with mushroom, cumin and garlic with root vegetables
    • Season this shit. Seriously taste your soup and make sure you have properly salted everything.
    • Fresh herbs at the end to garnish add a touch of flavour as well as colour.
  • Be creative with your vegetables. You don't just have to boil/simmer them in the soup pot. Do something to them first. Layer your flavour.
    • Roast veggies. When I make squash soup I almost always roast the squash, which adds great depth. I love adding roasted garlic to recipes.
    • Carmelize your onions. That brightens up any recipe, but adds real depth to soups. Be prepared for your soup to be darker than you expected, though.
  • Additions! Add things to help your flavour. Suggestions include:
    • Cheese rinds. Just like you would use in making stock, and remember to take the rind out before blending.
    • Cheese! I mean, really, where would we be without broccoli-cheddar?
    • Sauces & such. Seriously, consider adding a condiment. A great mustard, a touch of curry paste, worstershire sauce ... whatever condiment you like that works with the vegetables you chose, add some.
    • Egg. This can add a really rich creaminess, but needs to be done very carefully.
Use your imagination. Be creative. Once you know the flavours you like, you can play around with them.

Friday, January 20, 2012

marketing magic & food thoughts

The other day, I made some faux-devil's food cupcakes. I fudged the recipe a little bit (once I have it final I'll share) and they came out lovely. Served with a beautiful ganache frosting, they were nothing but delightful.

What has me musing, though, is not so much the cupcakes I made. It's thinking back to my childhood, to the massive chocolate muffins my mother would bring home from Costco. Muffins that taste remarkably like devil's food cupcakes.

It shouldn't surprise me, really, considering everything we hear about how unhealthy muffins can be and the fat content and the sugar craziness and how intensely evil muffins can be from nutritional press. How is it though, that companies get away with calling a cupcake a muffin. Because there's no frosting? Because it's packed with other muffins?

Because it's what consumers want to hear. We want to hear the word "muffin", because that says "it's not terrible for you" not "this is dessert and should be treated as such". We want to hear muffin because that gives us free license to eat it almost whenever we want. The marketing people play right into that. Entirely.

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On another note, I made the most delicious dinner the other night. Pork roast, rice and curried veggies and lentils. I changed the recipe up a touch this time (less lentils, more vegetables) to suit the meal, and again, amazing. I've been trying to change up some of my meals a little more, mix up side dishes and try to integrate different things more often.

What blew me away though, was how amazing a forkful of lentils and pork tasted together. Like OMG food heaven. Those flavours were destined.

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One more food related note: I'm currently falling a little bit in love with pancakes. There's something to be said for a recipe so simple that I can make it without even thinking, with only one measuring cup and sprinkles of the other bits.

I love the recipes that I get to know that well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

closet overhaul: outfit 1

I make it a point to get properly dressed, in decent clothes I wouldn't be afraid to be seen in public wearing on every so called "work" day. It stops me from being a total slob and helps keep me focused. Since I don't have to go out in the cold for any longer than necessary to walk the dog, I can even do a little dressier than I used to at work.

So today, while getting dressed the other morning, I started putting away some clothes just hanging out on the chair, the floor, the stepper and I came across an item that had been the bane of my existence for awhile. This beautiful oatmeal coloured hook-and-eye cardigan.

This cardigan? So cute. Love the details, the cut. The problem is the colour. I know a lot of people do oatmeal but I can't. It washes me out like nobody's business. I look deathly in it. The result of which is that I have had the cardigan for a year but have only worn it twice. Even worse, I have felt like a schlub every time I've worn it. It's time to go. Really, I should have just listened to Bunny when he told me that the colour was terrible but I wanted to love it, so badly.

I thought I was off to a sad start in the closet. Then I decided to pull out a tunic style dress and leggings for the day, which was a good start. After that? Magic.

There's this purple (eggplant purple) jersey dress I have. A little plain, not quite enough shape to be interesting on its own. Slightly defined waist, but not clear. Midi length, which is in right now, although the higher waist and A length skirt haven't always been the best on my hips. Add a belt to it and the dress instantly perks up, but still wouldn't be dressy enough for a corporate office or as an "impress people" outfit. It's a decent dress on it's own, but a little "blah".

Suddenly, thinking how this dress just needs a little bit of something to help enhance the waistline definition and just dress it up a little bit, my eyes caught the conductor jacket. Hello!

I can't wait to wear that outfit out in public.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

butternut spice

I had hoped, today, that I'd be posting a recipe for a sweet and spicy butternut squash soup I made last night. But, uhhhh .... I kinda busted it. I put too much cayenne pepper in, and then I tried to compensate with the sweet side. What we ended up with was something too spicy for me and too sweet for Bunny.

We'll try again in a couple of weeks, see how it comes. In theory, this soup is all that. Butternut squash has some sweet going on all on its own, so I figured we'd carmelize the onions to get more sweet, and give it a heavy kick of cayenne to balance that out and interest Bunny.

So, no soup recipe for you. However, I will leave you with a suggestion: roast your squash before turning it into soup. Roasting it will develop the flavours a little more than cooking it all the way through in the soup, and you'll get some of that lovely carmelization going on. Trust me, it's delicious.

Monday, January 16, 2012

style spotlight: ode to my closet

Dear Closet:

I love you, but we need to have a serious talk. You've always been good to me, but these issues we have? They're growing. They are getting a little bit out of control. We're not working together anymore; in fact I sometimes think you're working against me.

It's frustrating me to no end. You have lots of beautiful things, but I don't really know what to do with them. It doesn't help that a lot of the clothes in there don't fit anymore. Also not helpful is the fact that so many of your contents are old: things I bought on sale in high school and university. Not to say that there aren't some great pieces from those times .... but not all of them are still me.

And the organization? It's so not working. That's not all your fault though, I let Bunny put the clothes away even though I know he doesn't sort them the same way as I do. Maybe I need to give some more thought to how you're layed out. I should probably come up with a better system for organizing you.

I've tried to make our relationship better, I really have. And I'm still going. I'm trying to identify the gaps that you have, the things I need to fill you with. I've taken piles of old things I don't wear to the donation box in the laundry room. But really? We've got to sort this out.

And so, we've got some rules here. Some things we have to do, a project if you will. Every week, for the next little while, we'll take stock. We'll look at things I love and things I don't. What we'll do:
  • Locate and discard one item that I don't love anymore and get rid of it
  • Come up with one new outfit that I would wear to work or out (new being the operative word. If I've worn the items together in the past it doesn't count.)
  • Do one style spotlight post, on either items I love and why I love them, or items that I want and why I need them
The other thing we need to do, closet? Invest in some tailoring. There are those two gorgeous winter skirts Bunny bought me when I got my first full time job, and they're 3 sizes too big now. They are beautiful and well made though, so I think they are worth another $20 to have them taken in. The items that aren't worth tailoring? It's time to get rid of them. We need to work on this.

Let's get it together.

Shhhhhhhh.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

cozy Sundays

I love the quiet of Sundays, as if the world is slowing down and encouraging us to be calm and gather our strength for the Monday that will follow. Sundays are almost always revolved around the house for us here. Errands get run during the week, or on Saturdays. Big plans get made for other nights. Sundays are reserved for tidying up and watching movies and snuggles on the couch. For big beautiful dinners and quiet work on crafty projects.

In my oven there is a big, bubbling pot of beef braising in broth, to be turned into beef stroganoff. There's another hour and a half before I have to think about them again. There are bowls of diced onions and garlic as well as sliced mushrooms, all prepared for me later. I have a package of eggy noddles in the cupboard that will cook up quickly enough.

I'll probably toss a bowl of frozen peas in the stroganoff, just because I don't feel right about a meal with no green in it. I'm excited though, because braising and stewing are current favourite techniques of mine.

Earlier this weekend there was risotto, and risotto cakes, and of course morning lattes. Last night there was cuddles and tostitos and spinach dip.

That's something I've been experimenting with lately, as it happens: dips. I made a crab one awhile ago that I really liked but wasn't quite right. The spinach dip last night was much closer to the mark, but it certainly didn't match the dip I have in my head (a favourite restaurant dip). I'm trying to avoid using sour cream or mayo, and used yogurt as well as cream cheese, but it may have been too tangy for me. I found another recipe online that I'm going to try later. I'll also play around with the crab dip (make it more substantial, mine was way too liquidy for my tastes).

All of this has let me use some favourite dishes in my kitchen: the dutch oven and the miniature casserole dishes. The dutch oven is actually getting so much play time in my kitchen that I'd like to get another .... well, I'd love to get a proper Le Creuset (a girl can dream, right?) one. I think next time I'm going for bigger capacity and maybe even an oval one. Also of the utmost importance: new colour. Maybe purple?

It's been a nice quiet day. A properly cozy Sunday.

the style spotlight: leather pencil skirt

The other day I had lunch with my mother. As I don't have too many excuses to get out of the house and dress up anymore, I decided I wanted to look extra-good. Polished, put together. Show some personality, but still be dressed appropriate to meet my mother in her corporate office, and possibly make a couple of business stops on the way home.

So, I put together an outfit that, when described at it's most basic level, fit that. Polished. Conservative. Put together. Stylish. It included:
  • Boots (black)
  • Pencil skirt (black)
  • Tights (black)
  • Top and cardigan (black & purple)
  • Vintage coat (hunter green)
  • Scarf (sunshine yellow)
Colours co-ordinated and everything pulled together. The yellow added a pop of colour to stop things from getting too drab or boring. All in all, it worked. It fit the bill. Polished. Conservative.

Except, every time I looked down and saw my skirt, I felt a smile creeping across my face. I felt downright subversive. I felt hot and sexy and like I was still put together, but as if I might have been breaking a rule or two. (In a good way).

This is something I long for in clothes. Clothes that make me feel like that, they turn out to be my statement pieces. They make me feel powerful and pretty and like I can take on the world (shouldn't all clothes make you feel that way?) They make me feel like I'm a better version of myself. When I'm shopping, I tend to look for classic staples. Grey pantsuit? Probably going to be very useful. Workplace appropriate dress? I can work that. I try to focus on the pieces that bring everything else together, some classic lines and shapes and simplicity.

I like that hint of originality, subversiveness, eccentricity. There`s two ways to get that: pair the classic with the unexpected. (Adding pieces to give colour, pattern, crazy jewelry). The way I like better, though? That involves deliberately looking for eccentricity and subversiveness in the classic clothes.

It's blazers with unconventional cuts and details.
It's unexpected colours and pattern in everday wear.
Unexpected and risque materials - a la the leather skirt.

Obviously, ones whole wardrobe cannot be like this. There must be simple sweaters and blouses, button fronts and jackets with little in the way of playfulness. This is quite simply because one's whole outfit cannot be subversive: one, maybe two pieces tops. To add any more than that is to cross from subtly subversive and still conservative to plain edgy. There is a balance.

Had I worn a different skirt the other day, that outfit would have had an entirely different feel. Powerful and appropriate? Yes. But also expected.

And that's the last thing I want to be.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

at the centre of the world there's a portrait of a girl

I'd be stating the obvious if I said that I love the weekends. Doesn't everyone? You see, it's not really the days, or their position in the week that I'm fond of, rather it is that stretch of time (right now spanning) from 2:30pm on Fridays until Bunny crawls out of bed Monday morning where all that are on my horizons are expanses of time spent together, quietly or otherwise.

It's the possibilities of everything that those hours could contain, and the knowledge that they tend to be fantastic. Tickle fights on the loveseat in the morning, puppy snuggles in bed, playing together with the Kinect, errands out together, the possibility of dinner at a favourite restaurant or perhaps a new and challenging recipe at home. It's Bunny attempting to feed me breakfast and playing with the dog. It's pulling out the Christmas gift chess set or going to the museum. Working on my needlepoint while he plays video games or makes dog food, cuddling up to read together.

It's also the time when I start making plans for the next week. Thinking about what's going to be on the menu, searching out and bookmarking recipes from a few different sources, starting to think about what new ingredients are exciting at the moment. Split peas? Fennel?

Today, we've got a lazy day planned, for me at least. I'll make a risotto for dinner (something fairly simple) and we'll have a movie night for which I'll try to make a baked spinach dip. Maybe we'll watch a few episodes of a favourite tv show, and Bunny will handle making dog food mix.

It's a simple day, and very quiet ... but I love it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

bunny dinner day

So I'm, uh, not cooking dinner tonight. Bunny's taking over the kitchen and is trying out a new recipe from the One Pot cookbook I bought him awhile back.

We have a lot of yumminess planned in our kitchen this upcoming week: another risotto, spiced pork with curried lentils (because they were so damn good), beef stroganoff and I'm hoping for some spinach dip. Plus I've had this idea for spiced apple cupcakes with caramel topping rolling around my head lately.

But today is not my day in the kitchen, and I'm strangely not planning on spending much time in there, other than maybe to do some dishes. What I am planning on doing? Cleaning up some. Watching my needlepoint explode even more. Maybe organizing some clothes. Get some work done.

Later Bunny and I are meeting up with some of his old coworkers for drinks. Right now? I have hours of quiet fun ahead of me.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

ten things: in the kitchen

I have a lot of "Stuff". I also have a lot more Stuff I want to aquire. Obviously, I have only a finite amount of space for said Stuff, and I hate having stuff that I don't love, use or care about taking up space in our home. Bunny and I have been slowly purging some things lately: there was a big pile of my clothes (clothes I can't remember the last time I wore) that were recently donated to goodwill. Bunny is down in the storage room now clearing out old toys/tools of his that no longer work/he no longer uses. There's garbage coming from there, and he's going to try and sell some of the Stuff as well.

Part of purging, in my mind, though, is figuring out what you have that you love, and what you have that you don't use at all. (Like that section in our cupboard dedicated to drinking stuff ... we barely drink. Why do we give an entire shelf to this crap!) This helps me identify where I want to expand (more cookie scoops) and what is just garbage.

In that line, we're going to start exploring TEN THINGS from various parts of my house, used for various purposes that I love.

Today's topic: TEN THINGS that are UNEXPECTEDLY USEFUL and that I LOVE in our kitchen.
The rules: their use must surprise me. This means that I can't add the KitchenAid or the oven - I knew that they would be useful. It does mean that if I really want I can include the espresso maker, as it's surprised me with just how useful it's been.
These need to be items I actually use, not just want to use. Aaaaand we're off!

  1. Mise-en-place bowls. Ok, so these are not actually mise-en-place bowls, but that's how I use them. Bunny has an additional set of bowls, outside of our everyday bowls, that never get used for eating. But what they are wonderful for is preparing my ingredients and setting them out for my cooking. Nothing makes me happier than these bowls when I'm setting out to make a recipe.
  2. Cast iron Dutch Oven. This should be a duh, right? Except it's not. It's a fairly recent purchase and I love it. It's replaced my saucepans as my most-used kitchen pan. It's ridiculously versatile: I can make risotto, braise beef, cook up a big, beautiful soup or pile of grains, I can bake up a beautiful casserole in it if I so desire.
  3. Cast iron fry pan. That's got to be cheating, right? Except I never owned one until I moved in with Bunny, because I never though I'd need it.
  4. The cookie scoop. This one's silly. Because my cookie scoop is crap and I have to fix it pretty much every other time I use it, so you'd think I wouldn't love it like crazy. But I do. Oh how I love it. Having the scoop is a bigger deal in cookie making to me than having the mixer is: scooping cookies has always always been the hardest part. I love having perfectly portioned scoops of dough that all cook into beautiful cookies. I love it. It makes me want to have a cupcake sized scoop and a mini scoop. I love this baby.
  5. Specialty bakeware. I don't love one use things in the kitchen as a general rule. But some items are important. My flan dish? Means I can make pies from scratch, and that's important to me. Loaf pans? BANANA BREAD. Spring form pan? OMG cheesecake. My bread machine and pasta maker? Slightly superfluous now that I have the KitchenAid - but fresh baked bread? Heaven. These things make me happy and allow me to feel like I have freedom to do what I want in my kitchen.
  6. Microplane zester/grater. Yes, I have a box grater than can do all the things the microplane does and more. But its, well, boxy and unweildlly. Ideally we will aquire another microplane with a larger grate and get rid of the box grater. The microplane is great: I can zest a lemon, grate parmesan or spices (if I happen to have cinnamon or nutmeg whole). I can use it to catch the seeds when I squeeze said lemon. I love this tool.
  7. Meat thermometer. Growing up, I never used one. But this, this is the key to perfectly prepared roasts. It makes my life easy.
  8. The magic bullet. We don't use this often, but it's so useful. I can whip up a bit of cream. I can grind coffee or spices if need be. Blend up some soup, if we're just using a small amount.
  9. Old applesauce jars. Huh? Old applesauce jars? Listen, sweetheart, I'm cheap. But I also like pretty glass jars holding my grains and legumes. I love my barley and lentils in old Motts jars. I have some green split peas that I intend on moving into the next one. They could even work for different rices. They're pretty. I can use a magic marker to write cooking directions on them so I don't need the bag. After the roach infestation in the old building, it's also really nice to know that some things are completely safe. Beyond all that? When my grains are all neatly displayed I feel like I'm more likely to use them. They spark my imagination, and I remember that I've kept them -around for a reason. Plus, they are kind of pretty.
  10. The vaccum sealer. Again, this isn't used often, but it's always used to great effect. It means we can buy our meat in bulk at Costco, and make it last. We spend about 60-100 on meat there every couple of months, chop it up into smaller portions, vaccum seal it, label it and freeze it. This means that I have perfect portions of beef, pork and chicken all awaiting me in the freezer whenever they are desired. We save money by buying in bulk, and I feel better about the fact that these trips only happen every few months.

attitude is everything

Attitude is a choice.

(Usually. We will leave the exception of depression/anxiety outside of this for now - although there is choice involved in those too. The choice to get help/not to get help. There is always choice.)

It's the choice of thinking that things will work out in the end, and working towards that. It is the choice to wake up every morning and put something of yourself out there into the world, to work towards what we want, to puruse or to leave those things which inspire us.

It's actually a million little choices: to get up and begin the day, to present our best self, to try hard and not be afraid to fail. These are just some of the choices we make in our day, whether conscious or unconscious.

It's the choice to take news that you didn't want and look at it in a different light.

Two days ago I got a call from a recruiter I've been working with. This opening has come up, did she want her to submit my name & resume? Yes, yes I did.

Well, they didn't choose me. Which sucks. In fact, it stinks because this was an opportunity I think I would have been really good at.

That's ok, though. Here's the thing: I didn't get the job. I did get a lot of great information.

I learned:
  • I made a good impression on my recruiter. We only met last week and she doesn't have my competency tests back and she's already trying to place me
  • I have a resume that she's not afraid to hand out to high powered clients
Those two things would be enough, in and of themselves. But here's the deal: I don't expect to hear back on every resume. But now I have someone else on my side, getting my resume seen more.

When I worked in sales, and fundraising, and telemarketing there was one constant: the people who made the most commissions/exceeded their goals/were the best, they were the people who weren't afraid to try. They weren't afraid to put themselves out there and hear "no" in response, and they weren't afraid to ask again, or to ask why. It's not that they tried more or harder (although they probably did): but more than anything, the people who succeed are the people who aren't afraid to take risks. Who aren't afraid to get an answer they don't want.

It's easy to be negative and to say things won't work out.

But you know what? It'll work out. What I have in front of me are a million different opportunities. And I'm looking forward to seeing which ones open up for me and make me happy.

That job that I didn't get? It's ok. Because the information I gained and the confidence that information gave me is way more important than that. It was one opportunity that didn't work out - and there are going to be lots of opportunities that don't work.

Until there's one that does. It might take awhile to find, and I might have to try on a few more not-quite-right-for-me options. And that is ok.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

tick tock tick

Today.

Today is full of hope.
So much that today it's painful.

Today is lunch with my mother, at a favourite Chinese restaurant.
Today is appreciating the fact that I can have a decent relationship with my mother. That I had a lovely time.

Today is wearing an outfit I love.
Today is being sneakily subversive: leather skirt, pencil cut.
Today is layering and colours that contrast and look lovely.
Today is putting on old favourite boots and realizing my ankles are getting skinny. Who knew that could happen?

Today is waiting.
Today is counting down the minutes, waiting for the phone to ring.
Today is hoping that I hear the answer I want on the other end.

Today is grocery lists, and shopping.
Today is waiting for Bunny to come home. To cuddle.

Today, today is waiting, and hoping so hard I don't know how to explain.

for aidan: curried lentils

A good friend of mine recently was asked to go on a gluten & sugar free diet, and has requested some recipes. This is a recipe that I have not yet perfected, but have enjoyed thus far and that I think she will like.

I made this last weekend, and I have to say it was one of the hits last week. It might even taste better as leftovers, really. Bunny and I enjoyed this as lunch the next day, and I've had it as lunch twice this week so far ... warmed up and stuffed into a lovely pita. It was sooo good.

As with most of my recipes, this one is infinitely adaptable. To get at this, I looked at a lentil & sweet potato recipe on Smitten Kitchen, a curried lentils recipe on Epicurious and some lentil tips on The Kitchn then decided what I liked from each, looked at what was in my cupboard, and smooshed them all together in 1 recipe.

Ingredients
  • 1.5 cups dried lentils (I like green or brown, but I mean they're lentils - if you like red, go red)
    • With legumes, it is always a good idea to pick through them and make sure that there's no junk in there.
  • 4 cups liquid
    • I used chicken broth, use what floats your boat. Veg stock, apple juice etc
    • You may need a little extra - use your own judgment
  • 1-2 onions, diced
  • 1-2 peppers, roughly chopped (I used green, but would go red or yellow next time)
  • 3-5 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1.5 cups frozen peas and/or corn
  • Spices:
    • 1.5 tsp garam masala
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • 1/2 tsp tumeric
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
      • Note: feel free to replace with curry powder, or whatever Indian spices you like best
    • Salt, to taste
  • 2-4 tbsp oil (I used olive)
Directions
  1. In medium to large dutch oven or soup pot, heat 1-2 tbsp oil. When hot, add onions & garlic to pan, saute until onion is translucent or about 5 minutes. Add carrot & peppers to pan, saute a further 5 minutes. Add spices (except salt), stir to coat all veg equally.
  2. Add lentils & liquid to pan, bring to a boil while stirring frequently. When water boils, reduce to simmer, partially cover, and let simmer for 40 minutes, checking in & stirring occasionally. (Note: at this point, if you notice that all the liquid boils out add a little bit more, but you shouldn't need to).
  3. After 40 minutes, add frozen peas, stir through lentil mixture until equally distributed. Cook another 5 minutes.
  4. At this point, taste test. This is the point to add salt, if necessary. This is done when lentils are tender.
Serving Suggestions:
  • These are great on a bed of basmati (or other) rice
  • Amazing with pita or naan bread
  • Serve as a side dish to another main (but easily serve as a meal)
    • Bunny thinks it would be great with blackened fish
Notes:
  • Make extra, because the leftovers are fantastical
  • Again, infinitely customizable. Things I might do in the future:
    • Add celery, parsnips or potato
    • Adjust the seasoning (Bunny would prefer a little more cayenne, I like my food with just a hint of a kick)
    • Make this into a true curry: add some yogurt to give it a real creaminess
    • Tomato: I would never add it, but I bet it'd be great in this dish for tomato-lovers
    • Adjust quantities: bulk up the veggies, man!

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012

    menu planning & leftover recipes

    When Bunny went back to school, the biggest expense that we both knew we needed to cut was our grocery budget. We used to go to the store with only a vague idea what we were eating throughout the week, and we'd wing it - buying whatever looked best, or sounded yummiest or set off my imagination. Our shopping habits have since changed: now I make a meal plan and a grocery list before we head out, we try to incorporate things that are already in our pantry or fridge into the meals, and I've put an emphasis of trying to learn how to cook more with legumes and grains (beautiful barley dishes, or curried lentils have been amazing choices lately).

    These changes (weekly menus, set grocery lists) have turned out to have big benefits, in several ways. Our trips to the grocery store are more organized, and the number at the register tends to be much more reasonable. Usually we're under budget. The contents of our shopping cart shock me: mostly produce, and fresh ingredients. Sure, a bag of flower or sugar gets tossed in, or snack bars, but the bulk of our purchases are eggs, milk, and vegetables, or bulk grains. We've cut waaaay back on processed food. Now, this is partly because I bake so much, but it's become very unusual for super processed foods to grace our plates. Even better, there is no stress about what's for dinner? because (unless we've decided we're lazy and would like to opt in to frozen pizza) it's easy done.

    So how do you plan an effective menu? Here are a few tips:
    • Be realistic. If a recipe is outside of your comfort zone (cooking wise), save it for a night that you have time. Don't put too many ambitious items in a given day or week - you'll go crazy.
    • Use what you have. Take inventory of your pantry & try incorporate what you already have in your plan. Use up leftover produce from the other week. Already have 3 kinds of rice? Maybe you don't need a fourth. If you have shelves of food that never get touched, find a recipe to use them in.
    • Planned leftovers. There are two ways to do this.
      • Leftover as a meal. If you made a great roast, there's no reason that you can't have that for dinner twice in the week. Or freeze meals and have them next week.
      • Leftovers as a portion of a meal. Reincorporate the leftover meat, or plan to make extra rice/pasta/veggies to use in another dish. From my childhood: a roast beef inevitably meant that we would have shepherd's pie later in the week. Roast a whole chicken? Plan on making soup or chicken salad or pot pie.
    • Don't be afraid to try something new. Try a new vegetable, or a new way of preparing an old favourite every now an again. Variety is the spice of life. (See the first tip, though, for a warning)
    So with that in mind, I'm also going to give you an amazingly easy leftover recipe to play with.

    What's-In-The-Fridge Fried Rice

    Ingredients:
    • Rice, cooked - 11/2 cups
    • Eggs - 2-3 large, lightly beaten
    • Vegetables - approximately 2 cups roughly chopped or small sized mixed vegetables of choice
    • Onion - 1 medium, diced
    • Garlic cloves - 2 minced
    • 1/4 cup low flavour oil (I used peanut and canola)
    • 2-4 tbsp soy sauce
    • 2-4 tbsp sesame oil
    • Protein, cooked - approximately one cup, roughly chopped.
    Ingredient side note:
    For the vegetables, I used 1 cup frozen peas plus 1 can corn. If I'd had leftovers from another meal I would have used them.
    Rice? Basmati leftover from curry earlier in the week.
    Protein? I chopped up some leftover pork roast.

    Directions:
    1. Heat 1/4 cup oil is large saute pan. When hot, add onions & garlic; saute until onions are translucent. Add vegetables, saute until warm, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from pan, set aside in medium bowl for later.
    2. Add meat to pan. Saute until warmed through. (Note: if you want to use raw meat, simply cut into small portions and cook it through. It'll work). Remove from pan, set aside in same bowl.
    3. Add eggs to pan. Scrambled, stirring constantly. Cook until solid but still slightly moist. Break into small pieces. Remove from pan, set aside. (I left these in a separate bowl, but it's unnecessary.)
    4. Ensure enough oil is in pan to just barely cover bottom (if not, add a little more). Add cooked rice to pan, stir to ensure each grain is coated with oil. Spread into even layer on bottom of pan. Every few minutes stir and flip the rice, and respread. You should notice the rice picking up colour, and as you continue cooking you may notice that you have to stir more frequently to stop the rice from sticking to the pan. When the rice reaches the desired level of colour (colour means flavour), add vegetables, meat and egg. (For me, this step was approximately 5 minutes). Mix until there is a fairly even distribution of fillings in the rice.
    5. Add soy sauce and sesame oil, mix the oil and sauce in thoroughly. Serve.
    6. Garnish, if desired with green onion.
    This is just about the most adaptable dish I know. I've made it with just egg and vegetables. I've made it with beans. I've made it with fresh veggies, with frozen, with a million different protein sources. This is one of the ultimate meals for when you don't have much in your pantry, or to use up all your last little bits of leftovers.

    Monday, January 09, 2012

    revelation in the bathtub

    The other day, I was laying down in the shower, as I do, thinking. Thinking about my body, as it happens.


    You see, I have never really liked my body, as is. I have always wanted smaller thighs, a flatter belly, less jiggle to my upper arms, less pudge in my cheeks. At my highest highs, I felt this way. At the smallest I've ever been in my adult life (lasted all of 2 months in my first year university), I felt this way. I would lay in the bathtub looking at myself, or stand sideways in front of a mirror, sucking in my stomach thinking: if only I were that size, I'd be happier with my body. It's still too big, but that size would be better.

    To say that most weight loss in my life hasn't been healthy would be an understatement. I starved myself for a year spanning the end of high school and the begining of university. Or I've lost weight because I've been so damn dizzy and nauseous that I couldn't eat. Even now, if I'm being honest, a large part of my weight loss has been illness-related, though I've also wised up about portion control and balancing meals.

    The difference: at my smallest in first year university I looked at my body and said if only I lost 20 more pounds, I would be prettier and more lovable. if I were as small always as I am when I am sucking in my gut, I'd be closer to being thin.

    Now? I suck in my gut and I think damn, that would be kind of gross if I got that small. Or, if I lost 10 pounds that would put me right into a healthier weight range for my body size (height, build, etc). Even more than that: If I strengthened my ab muscles, maybe my back would hurt less. Or, I wish that I could do more with my body. When I stop and look in a mirror I think damn, I'm looking kind of hot today. I'll take this.

    Here's the thing: my body isn't perfect. At no point has it ever been perfect, nor will it ever be perfect. And that's ok. Do I like enjoying how my body looks? Sure. But being thinner has not magically fixed all the problems in my body: it doesn't stop me from having dark, noticeable arm hair, it doesn't stop the strange shape my belly takes where it looks like I have rolls, even when I'm smaller, it doesn't change the fact that my thighs still rub together or that I don't like my fingers.

    Boo fucking hoo.

    So what I think I have fat, fugly fingers? They dance across a keyboard quite easily, and I are the biggest part in making my beautiful needlepoint projects. One looks beautiful in my engagement ring.

    Those thighs? Help me walk. Look damn hot in demin. Hold my weight.

    My belly? Indentations and funny rolls are far less concerning than the nausea that has been plaguing me for months.

    Those are just the things that I dislike about my body. That's not speaking about how much I love my ass*, or enjoying my collarbones. I've reached the point where, yes, I still want and need my body to be aesthetically pleasing. Yes, I think it can be pleasing even with flaws.

    More importantly, though? I want a body that works. Something that performs what I ask of it. That helps me go where I want to go, physically and mentally. That makes me happy.


    *Note: Bunny will (I'm sure) want me to note that that's actually his ass.

    weekend roundup

    It would be fair if one were to say I spent most of my weekend baking or cooking in some manner. I'm not going to deluge you with recipes though. I didn't do anything earth shattering or ground breaking, despite Bunny's reactions. I stayed fairly close to easily set standards or recipes. But in case anyone is wondering what deliciousness I was up to:

    Curried lentils that were even better for lunch yesterday than they were for dinner Saturday night. Leftover rice (so I can make fried rice tonight) abounds. These lentils? Seriously fantastic and I intend to eat many of them in the future, especially thinking that they make good lunches. I could eat these with a nice pita every day for weeks on end, and they're very filling. The version I made was pretty basic. It was inspired by a recipe on Smitten Kitchen, but other than lentils and curry seasonings they're completely a different beast.

    Also from Smitten Kitchen was a Pear and Almond Tart. Ingredient for ingredient, word for word really. Well except for the addition of some vanilla and nutmeg, but that's quibbles. Bunny got quite adorably excited for this one, as apparently pear tarts are a favourite of his. Who knew?

    Sunday dinner was fairly standard here. Lovely roasted pork, with a cinnamon crust and a touch of champers in the pan for moisture. That one came out glorious, to be honest. Along with that we had mashed potatoes, snap peas and a beautiful champagne & potato water gravy. Again, that pork is destined to go into a fried rice tonight.

    What's crazy right now is thinking of how many new recipes I've done in the past week. I usually cook or bake every day, but new recipes have always tended towards once every week or two. Being home all the time, though, really changes things up. I can devote a couple of hours of energy to dinner. It is really so satisfying to be able to enjoy that.

    Today is time for me to take another look at what's in the pantry and fridge and start thinking about what I'm making the rest of the week. I think it's time to do another fresh pasta dish again. Maybe a real fettucine alfredo? I'm not sure. There's also a bag of cornmeal in my cupboard - perhaps it's time for tackling polenta? I've got that lovely container of pearl barley that I think would go lovely as a bed for some braised beef. I'm pretty sure there's been a request for my mac and cheese as well .... maybe I'll mix some peas in? We'll see.

    It's also time to take stock of what staples are missing. I threw out the last bit of ginger root the other night, so I should pick some of that up. I think I might even need garlic again as well. I'm starting to need flour again.

    And now? Now I'm sitting down, having a latte and a puppy snuggling into my feet. Resumes to go out today, promises of vacuuming to be completed.

    Saturday, January 07, 2012

    you've got to grind, grind, grind at that grindstone

    "A man has dreams of walking with giants
    To carve his niche in the edifice of time
    You've got to grind, grind, grind
    At that grindstone
    Though child'ood slips like sand through a sieve
    And all too soon they've up grown
    And then they've flown
    And it's too late for you to give
    Just that spoonful of sugar
    To 'elp the medicine go down
    The medicine go down, the medicine go down"
    - A Man Has Dreams (highly abridged) from Mary Poppins

    When I was little, Mary Poppins came out of the Disney Vault and was released on VHS (that was how we watched our movies). This was, in my family, a huge deal: it was my Nanna's favourite movie and she'd never been able to actually own it.

    This movie takes me back to their cottage, with the huge open concept kitchen/living room/dining room from way back before open concept was cool. I heard stories of how they built the cottage, after tearing down the old one, on land that had been in our family for oh, six generations at least. Currently my aunt and uncle own it, although if I were ever in the position of owning a vacation home I'd buy it. My Poppa's brother and sister also each owned a cottage (or in at least one case, a virtual mansion) on the side of the same lake.

    Today, Mary Poppins was playing on Bravo, so I figured what the hey, nothing better is on so I'll watch that. I didn't realize I had such strong memories associated with it.

    This movie brings me back to vividly to bridge at the dining room table, roaring fires, concrete stairs leading to a pebble beach and the most massive boulder. Weekends spent building decks (front and back), seeing the house from a little aluminium boat on the lake. It reminds me of fish fry breakfasts, eggs cooked in bacon grease, and more family just down the road.  Falling asleep to sound of water.

    And that song, that song exemplifies why Bunny quit the fancy design job last summer to go be a mechanic. That's not how we want to live our lives: there will be no grind, grind, grinding at that grindstone to the detriment of our family life. Because childhood does so quickly slip away and it's such a magical time. We are quite decided that we want to spend that time on our own lives.

    A job is a great thing. A career that is intellectually stimulating, socially engaging and satisfying in and of itself is a wonderful thing. To me, at least, a career does not make a life. A career is what allows for the rest of it.

    Giving our future children memories like those. Different movies, I'm sure, but one day, I hope that my children and grandchildren put Stardust or Contact on as adults and are overcome by memories of their family and their childhood that make a little part of them ache with longing to go back (in the best way).

    Friday, January 06, 2012

    champagne week continues: chicken with mushroom champagne sauce

    The whole reason that I opened a bottle of prosecco the other day was the overwhelming desire to make risotto, and the save the single bottle of Reisling for a time I really wanted to enjoy a hefty amount of wine (which happens ... almost never). And the risotto was fantastic, really it was. Hands down amazing, even if I wished I'd changed some things up.

    However, risotto may have been the least cool thing that came out of that bottle. I quite enjoyed drinking my way through a glass (or two) of prosecco each night. It was very enjoyable, and I was shocked at how bubbly it still was the second night. Plus there's something to be said for dancing around, cooking and drinking bubbles amirite? The ultimate winner, though, was dinner yesterday. Bunny went nuts and even I was quite crazy about it.

    What was so amazing? Well, everything. I kinda went crazy. We had chicken in a champagne-cream sauce. Cornbread. Roast beets, which we both adore. Homemade butter (heck yes I did). What you need, though, is this champagne chicken recipe. Unreal.

    Chicken with Champagne Mushroom Cream Sauce
    adapted from cooks.com

    Ingredients:
    • 3 servings of chicken
      • 6 chicken thighs OR drumsticks OR
      • 3 chicken breasts
      • Note: Bunny and I did drumsticks, because it's what was on hand. I think this would be ridiculous good with breast
    • 1 cup of dry (brut) champagne, prosecco or sparkling wine
    • 1/4-1/2 cup of milk
    • 1/2 onion, finely chopped (I used red, but sweet onion would have been really nice)
    • 1-2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms (we used less, but it would have been better with more)
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • Salt
    • 2 tsp dried tarragon, divided
    • 2 tsp garlic powder, divided
    • 1/4 - 1/2 cup flour
    • 2 tbsp (approx) olive oil
    Directions
    1. Mix flour, 1 tsp each garlic & tarragon, and salt in a bowl or on a plate. Lightly dredge each piece of chicken in the flour. Set aside.
    2. Add oil to frying pan (Note: I do not recommend a non-stick pan for this. You want all the carmelized bits.), turn heat to medium. When pan is hot, add chicken to pan. Brown on all sides, approximately 3-4 minutes per side. When browned, remove from pan and set aside.
    3. Add garlic and onion to pan, cook until translucent about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms to pan. Sprinkle remaining 1 tsp each tarragon and garlic powder over mixture. Saute mushrooms until softening and getting some lovely brown colour.
    4. Add champagne (etc) to pan. Vigourously stir to deglaze. At this point, add chicken to pan, reduce heat slightly (to medium low) and cover. Let cook approximately 15-20 minutes.
    5. In 15 minutes test for doneness. I like to take the temperature and always recommend this. I also tend to pull the chicken off a few degrees early. When done, remove chicken from pan.
    6. The champagne sauce should be fairly reduced, thicker and nice and bubbly in the pan. Delicious. At this point, add your milk and let it quickly simmer for a few minutes, stirring.
    7. Plate your chicken, spoon over sauce, ENJOY!
    Notes:
    • Bunny went crazy over this. One of the best meal reactions I've had in a long time, and that is saying something.
    • I used milk because a) it's what I had and b) I didn't want to add a million calories to my sauce. If you want a richer sauce, go for the cream.
    • Spices: we're garlic lovers here, so there's always garlic (often in multiple forms). Tarragon we just enjoy with mushroom. Again, if you're eating this spice it to YOUR TASTES.

    Thursday, January 05, 2012

    little pieces of awesome

    Lately there has been a lot of time, here. Time spent doing many things: writing and rewriting resumes and coverletters, sending them out. Bookmarking job listings. Following up with people, getting responses back, going to interviews. All good, job related things.

    My life, though, is so much more than that. Just like I have never looked at a job, or a career, as defining me as a person (something I can't imagine ever happening, truly), being unemployed and looking for work does not define me.

    The past week has been full of these little moments of amazingness and I thought I'd round up a few extra-awesome ones here. So here goes!

    • Cuddle time. Even when I'm not in the mood for it, it's one of the most important parts of my "work week"
    • Bunny kissing my forhead when I'm halfway asleep
    • Making butter. Squeezing fresh made butter in bare hands. It's one of the reasons I've always loved baking - getting your hands right in there. There's something very viscerally appealing about something so basic as butter.
    • Puppy snuggles
    • Slow dancing to Bright Eyes in my living room. Every time Bunny and I slow dance at home it brings to mind the most vivid memory of the first New Years Eve we celebrated together, and how we came home from Nathan Phillips Square and danced around in our itty bitty apartment. He was wearing his African man-skirt.
    Of course, none of those (or even all of those together) give you a picture of what my life is, or who I am. But they get awfully close to describing some of the best moments of me in the past few days.

    Champagne Adventures + Risotto

    Last night, Bunny and I had a blast. He was off school at about 3:30, so we met up to get groceries (and I was pleasantly surprised with the total, especially since it included a bulk chocolate chip purchase and a quart of heavy cream - staying on budget makes me happy) and then came home for reading snuggles before I got to work with dinner.

    A couple weeks back, I posted about the surplus of champagne and lack of any other decent wines in our home. This week, some of that champagne (well, prosecco ... I call all sparkling wines champagne even though I shouldn't) is getting put to use in the kitchen. Case in point: tonight, I will be making chicken with a champagne cream sauce.

    Last night, though, I tackled a project I've long wanted to do: risotto. Oh, I know I've made barley risotto before, but it's not nearly the same. Delicious, but different. This was a simple mushroom risotto, which certainly didn't come out perfect but came out very good for a first try (especially considering I didn't particularly use a recipe. Just elements of recipes. We've talked about this before, right?).

    Also in the re-occuring theme of discovering old music I have loved, I danced around to Bright Eyes I'm Wide Awake it's Morning while cleaning/cooking. I had forgotten how clearly Lua was about cocaine, and how heartbreaking Poison Oak is. How much I love his spoken word lead-ins to albums. The haunting beauty of Landlocked Blues, how much Road to Joy makes me smile and how some lines from Another Travelling Song snag my heartstrings.

    Mushroom Champagne Risotto
    (basic outline from Smitten Kitchen - asparagus, artichoke and mushroom risotto)

    Setting Up:
    Open champagne/prosecco/sparkling drinks. Pour glass for yourself. Turn on favourite music. Begin.

    Ingredients:
    • 1 cup (approximately - I had a leeeetle bit more) arborio rice
    • 4 cups (again, approximately. I don't do exacts) chicken broth
      • Substitute: Water + chicken bouillon
    • 3/4-1 cup dry (brut) champage etc
    • 2 cups finely sliced mushrooms
    • 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp finely chopped onion (I used red)
    • minced garlic to taste (I used about 4-5 cloves)
    • Olive oil to coat pans.
    • Salt, to taste
    • 1-2 tsp dried tarragon
    • 1-2 tsp dried thyme
    • 1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus more to garnish
    Directions:
    1. Slice or chop any and all ingredients that need slicing or chopping.
    2. Put approx 1 tbsp olive oil in saute pan over medium heat. When hot add 1 tbsp chopped onion and minced garlic (1 clove here, for me). Saute until translucent, then add mushrooms to pan. Season liberally with salt and 1 tsp each tarragon and thyme. Saute, occasionally moving, until they begin to smell meaty and substantially reduce in volume. (Took me about 5 minutes). Remove from heat, set aside for later.
    3. Bring chicken stock to a boil, reduce to simmer. The stock should stay lightly simmering the entire time you're cooking. Add approximately 1-11/2 tbsp olive oil to pot/dutch oven, bring to medium heat. Add 1/4 cup chopped onions plus garlic, season lightly with salt, 1 tsp each thyme and tarragon (or to taste). Saute until translucent.
    4. Add arborio rice to onions, stir to coat with oil. Stirring frequently, cook approximately 5 minutes, until it begins to smell nutty. Bring heat down to medium low, add champagne to pot. Stirring gently but constantly until champagne is fully absorbed.
    5. Slowly add broth, one ladleful at a time (my ladle holds between 1/2 to 1 cup), stirring until fully incorporated. Keep heat low - the risotto mixture should not be bubbling, just absorbing. Once each ladleful is absorbed, add another. Stir.
    6. This process should take about 30-45 minutes. After about 30 minutes, taste rice for doneness, it probably won't be done but it never hurts to check. Keep adding ladles of broth and incorporating until rice tastes done. (I like the rice softer, some people might like a more al dente risotto. If you're the one eating, cook it until you like the texture.) If you start running out of broth before your risotto tastes done, bring some water to a boil in your kettle (or the same pot) and use that. It's not an exact science.
    7. For a finished risotto, you're looking for something that "spreads" when plated. It should be fairly loose, and very very creamy. When your rice tastes done, at this point you're adding liquid for texture. If the risotto doesn't feel loose, add more broth and cook a minute more.
    8. Remove from heat, add parmesan and sauted mushrooms, stir to incorporate.
    9. Plate! Sprinkle additional parmesan over the risotto to taste (Bunny and I like lots). Enjoy. Let your significant other tell you how "This is just soooo good. Make it again? Can I have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow?" and complain that there's no meat, because I swear he's half way to being a carnivore.
    Notes:
    • Don't like mushrooms? Use fresh cooked peas, or small cubes of cooked squash, or whatever your heart desires.
    • You could probably saute the mushrooms while the risotto is cooking, and I probably will in the future.
    • Don't want to use sparkles? Dry white wine. Something you're not afraid of having a glass of while cooking.
    • This recipe did not turn out perfectly - my risotto wasn't quite as loose as I would have liked to feel like I did it right (if I'd been on Top Chef, Wolfgang Puck would have given me a tutorial) but that doesn't matter. It tasted delicious. Remember, if you're cooking for yourself or for your friends/family it doesn't matter if it's perfect. Taste good? Yes? Good enough! But - you'd better believe that I will try to perfect this.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2012

    round UP & plans

    Yesterday was a very, very good day. In a nutshell it featured:
    • An interview that went very well (and was in response to the first resume I sent out in the new job search) & that I have been asked to do some follow ups with
    • Not getting gittery/nervous in said interview
    • Getting to wear the new suit! Which made me super happy
    • Home-made dip for dinner
    • Puppycuddles on the couch at night
    • Post-interview coffee with my momma (cause she was right around the corner and why not? I don't get to see her enough)
    • My momma loving my suit - especially as I was worried she wouldn't like it, being that it is a little fashion forward
    • Good karma acts, because sometimes you just have to put yourself in someone else's shoes
    • Reading more of the Jane Austen biography
    Things that I'm excited for that are coming up:
    • Grocery shopping tonight!
    • Recipes throughout the week, hopefully including:
      • Risotto (mushroom)
      • Butter! (which will then both be indulged in and baked with. Because you know, it's home made butter)
      • Some sort of tart
    • Torchwood: Miracle Day
    • More puppycuddles
    • Morning lattes
    • Tidying up
    • Cross stitch

    moments: puppycuddles

    I lingered in bed longer than intended today, by about an hour. There was a bit of a chill in the air and the covers were warm and invitings. I'd already scooched into the warm spot that Bunny vacated when leaving for school and snuggled into his scent. The dog was at the foot of my bed, and created more warmth. I started to feel nauseous, and stayed in bed until the feeling began to subside. (Sidenote: have we talked about this? I hate my stomach lately.)

    I brought pillows down to the living room, picked up the laptop and set myself up on the couch. Apparently puppy decided that he wanted to set himself up with me, as he climbed up onto the couch, and snuggled up to my legs. After a minute he cuddled in closer, resting his head on my calf and essentially holding me captive to his cuteness. (My morning latte was certainly delayed, entirey worth it.)

    Good way to start the day? Absolutely.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2012

    meringues

    They will be the death of me. I am determined to get them right but just can't quite seem to get the inside to be that perfect marshmallow like fluff.

    I think I'm going about them the wrong way at the moment. I've been using a cinnamon meringue recipe, which requires folding of cinnamon and cocoa into the egg whites once whipped. This is doubly troublesome as Bunny and I do not own a rubber spatula (how? why? it's ludicrous, but I'm loathe to spend money right now), and so I have been folding with a spoon. Perhaps I need to start with a more straightforward meringue than something which requires folding.

    I also might be well advised to use a recipe from an author I trust than the random (and 3/4's terrible) 1001 Cookies book my aunt gave me the other year for Christmas. That will be the next try, I believe. Give me a few more weeks and Bunny is going to be sick to death of meringues.

    On another note, this afternoon is going to be a little hectic: I have a meeting, and Bunny and I have to go grocery shopping. I also (rather stupidly) put off a phone call that I really should have made today, but now will have to do tomorrow. Oh well, not much to be done about that.

    Monday, January 02, 2012

    "new"

    I had a lovely New Years. Very low key, fun, full of good friends.

    Bunny and I actually had a quite busy day: my university roommate came into town with her fiance and parents. We trekked to the ROM (specifically to see the Mayan exhibit), went out for dinner. Then the roomie and her parents headed off to see American Idiot while myself and the menfolk came home. I napped, they played Halo.

    After that, we met up with my friend, ditched the 'rents and went off with borrowed skates to do some ice skating. This part of the plan drove us nuts deciding on: initially we were going to go to Mississauga and skate there, but couldn't find a dog sitter. Then we were talking about Nathan Phillips Square ... but oi the crowds on New Years there. (I had a fit of claustrophobia there a few years back). Bunny saved the day, though, suggesting Lake Devo, which is this tiny ice rink on Ryerson's campus that was just barely populated, and perfect.

    Now, I hadn't been on skates since I was maybe .... 12? Sounds right. I'd taken figure skating lessons as a child and dropped out because of poor balance and shitty ankles (thanks Mom :p). Haven't been on ice in years. So I borrowed some old skates from my roomie, Bunny borrowed her dad's old skates, and off we went. He was bloody brilliant, the rest of us tottered around with some level of trepidation and had a load of fun.

    I almost fell, and then freaked out when Bunny tried to catch me. Overactive screamer, much? Surprisingly I stayed on my feet other than that. The whole time I felt a little extra wobbly on my right foot, like the blade was sneaking away from me. Taking the skate off, we realized why ... the boot and skate connection was pretty completely broken. So I stayed on my feet, even with broken skates!

    After skating, we wandered around. Stopped in the Imperial Library for a couple drinks and to ring in the new year. Wandered up to a TD. Walked half an hour home, because it was as fast as waiting for a streetcar.

    A lovely night, spent with lovely people, just chill, relaxed and having fun. What more can I ask for?