Friday, March 30, 2012

Wedding Talks with Bunny

Every day, Bunny and I reference the fact that we are getting married. It's not uncommon for the last thing one of use says at night to be "I can't wait to marry you." Regularly we speak of the shape of our future marriage, our dreams and plans, the values we want enacted in it. We talk marriage a lot.

What we don't talk about so often is the wedding. The day itself, or all the associated planning. Which, to be fair, we are rather laissez-faire about to begin with. Ours will be a very lazily planned wedding. Beyond the people, the place, the officiant, and license (oh yeah, the food and dress deserve a mention) I really don't care about the wedding "stuff".

I'm getting married. The details just don't matter.

We do, though, talk about the wedding and wedding related things. If we didn't, the wedding would never happen. These conversations go differently, though. More in fits and starts, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, before retreating to safer ground of I want to spend my life married to you. That part's easy to talk about.

Lately, the wedding topic that has been coming up has been the registry. Everyone tells us how important it is, how we should put this, that or the other on it, or when we want to buy something they say "Just register for it." So we will register, because some of our closest friends have made it very clear that they want that, and I think the registry exists as much for our guests as for us. I need a moment though, to say it feels crazy to create a registry for our tiny wedding.

But now we're left with a big question. What the heck do we put on our registry? Neither Bunny nor I have any desire to fill my cupboards with fine china or crystal. All that fancy stuff, beautiful though it may be, doesn't fit into the life we live, and it doesn't fit in to the life we're planning together. Everyday dishes, glassware and cutlery in fun, clean patterns though? That suits us a lot, and I'd be happy to use them for the next twenty years.

Bunny, bless his heart, has thought about it too, and has ideas of his own. Ideas that get into the fact that a registry is about basics. He`d like to ask for new sheets and duvet covers, maybe even pillows. After he suggested that it was simple enough to consider that hey, we`ve been wanting a couple of nice floor lamps (for living room and offices purposes) since we moved into the new place. The sort of classic lamps that we can (again) use for the next twenty years.

After about ten or fifteen minutes talking about the registry, the conversation took its natural course. We danced our way back to other topics, topics that don`t make us so uncomfortable, topics we care more about as a general rule. Motorcycles and engines, or the book I`ve been reading. What`s for dinner? And of course, our favourite: Hey, we're getting married!

How cool is that?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

omg donuts

I have some serious period cravings going on.

I want chocolate every way I can get it, and then some.

I made another batch of these donuts. Within a week of making the first batch. That never happens. They're addictive.

If you try these, prepare to be hooked.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Things From The Internet

Articles like Why Are Harvard Graduates in the Mailroom? from nytimes.com make me very, very sad. It's not that I've never heard of the employment lotter; I've been in lottery jobs, I've turned down lottery jobs ... they're everywhere. It just makes me sad that it seem like this is the only way of getting ahead anymore. Beyond which, around here, even being a mail clerk isn't an entry level job, as companies ask for a couple of years of experience. You can't even get in the lottery without experience in many places.

Articles like this make me feel as if I have no control over my career, or ability to influence my successes and failures. Success appears more as an accident than anything. As if it doesn't matter how much effort I put into things, that the opportunities just aren't there. Reading that article makes me feel a little bit fatalistic. I mean, I don't even have a Harvard degree, I just have the pretty one from the school that I loved.

The thing is, even if that is the case I can't go through life acting as if I am powerless in my own career. It's like (philosophy nerd alert) determinism: even if everything is already pre-destined and we have no control over our actions, we still have to treat people as though they have responsibility over themselves and their actions.  Personal responsibility is part of the very fabric of civilized society, we need it to function. Whatever truth there may be in that article (and it's important to recognize those truths) I still have to believe that the work I do and the efforts I make will have a real impact on my career successes. If I don't, where would be the motivation to try?

PS -
Also, on another note: Go Jimmy Carter!

PPS -
The internet is making me angry. This on MSN Canada about the Marriage Secrets You Should Never Share. Some of them make sense ... but click through and there's at least two slides telling you that you should never share money information. What the heck, peeps?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Info-mercial Laughs

Has anyone else seen the commerical for the Gojo Handfree? I laugh everytime, but I can't help thinking that it would be better with this guy.



Please note: I'm not endorsing any of these products. I think that the advertising his absolutely hilarious, though.

cauliflower cheese soup

Lately, I've felt like a bit of a magician of the cauliflower. It's a vegetable I grew up with; it appeared on the table in california mix frozen veggies, in a delightfully breaded and pan fried variety, and was just considered part of our normal week. I've always enjoyed the texture, but found the taste rather bland. Bunny on the other hand has not traditionally been a fan. He'll eat it, but he'd rather not.

In the past few months, I've been putting a new spin on the old vegetable. I think I've finally managed to change Bunny's mind on it. There have been a few key dishes that have done that:
  • Fried cauliflower
  • Cauliflower curry
  • Broccoli and cauliflower gratin
  • Cauliflower cheese soup
I'll have to dig up the recipe for that gratin sometime, because it's better than I can tell you. Rave reviews from guests. The fried cauliflower was an invention of my mothers: dip in egg then breadcrumbs and treat like a schnitzel. Cauliflower curry I may have shared before. (If not I promise I will, because it's amazing).

Cauliflower soup, though? That seems to be asking a lot of a vegetable that I just described as being a little bit bland in flavour. Obviously cheese mitigates that quite a bit, but it seemed a little bit crazy. I've had cauliflower soup in the past though, and found it pretty darn good.

Which was all besides the point, because I had a head and a half of cauliflower in the fridge (some of it was leftover orange cauliflower, because how could I not) that had already been written on our meal plan as Cauliflower Cheese Soup. There's no arguing with the menu plan.

It only seemed fitting to share.

Ingredients:
  • 1 large head (or 1 1/2 small heads) of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 parmesan rind
  • 1 cup grated cheese
    • I used a fairly even combination of mozzarella/cheddar/parmesan based on what was in my fridge. I'd leave the mozzarella out in the future. I also might go with a more nutty cheese next time
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Directions
  1. In a soup pot or dutch oven heat olive oil over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add garlic and onions to the pot. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until onions are translucent.
  2. Add the carrots and celery, saute for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Add cauliflower to the pot. Cover with the broth and bring to a boil. (Note: my broth did not fully cover my cauliflower at first. Don't worry about this.) Once everything heats to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low.
  4. Add parmesan rind. This bit is just for flavour, and will be removed later.
  5. Cover, and simmer for approximately 30 minutes. At this point, even if all the cauliflower has not been submerged in the liquid, with the lid on it will have been cooked through.
  6. Remove and discard parmesan rind.
  7. Blending time! If you have an immersion blender go wild. If not, you're like me and you get to transfer the soup in batches into your blender or food process. Blend until smooth and return to the heat.
  8. With soup blended and heat reduced to low, slowly stir in the cheese. At this point you do NOT want the soup to boil, because that makes the cheese go all stringy.
  9. Cut up some bread, butter it, and go nuts eating!
Notes:
  • So my soups are very very thick. You might like yours thinner; if that's the case, keep some stock, or water, on reserve and add near the end of cooking (before you add the cheese) to thin things out.
  • As I said, this was a bland-ish soup. We let the cheese do the flavouring, but you can add all the herbs or spices you like!
  • Sad note: I went to find links to the fried cauliflower and cauliflower curry recipe ... and I realized I've not shared them yet. So I'll get on that, promise.

    Monday, March 26, 2012

    outfit 4: a night on the town

    It's March, but based on the weather I'd say it's May or June. It's also Canadian Music Week or Music Fest (I know what's going on, really I do - I promise!) and Bunny's best friend's band was playing the Cadillac Lounge. A Thursday, and a night on the town? Craziness. Clearly I needed to step up my game.

    So, I thought about things a bit, and clearly I needed to wear my trouser jeans. Dark indigo, long enough for boots, and a great neutral that goes with everything else. With the jeans, it seemed only fair that I'd wear simple black boots. The simplest black, square toe, square heeled boots you've ever seen. Have I ever mentioned how much I gravitate to square or almond toes on shoes and boots?

    An old top. A great top - brown and rose, lightly patterned, smocked hemline, peasant neckline. This top always makes me happy; the fabric is loose and drapey in such a way that suggests, rather than shows. I just think I look damn good in it. Throw on a hand-made necklace and the terra cotta leather jacket and things were looking good.

    It was a great outfit. Dressed nicely for a night on the town, a little bit of polish and edge added by the jacket. But also sort of an every-day comfortable.

    Also: If you ever have the chance to see Dirty Penny play, go. The lead singer, bless his soul, likes to do something completely original every single show. Last night? He was a giant mattress. It slayed me.

    Final Note: I'm such a little old lady, I ordered a vodka seven when we got to the bar, and after my first couple of sips turned to Bunny and said "This is pretty heavy on the vodka" as if that were a problem. Poor vodka seven, it didn't do anything wrong.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    boiling blood

    Seriously, are we not beyond this already?

    To be fair, I do not know the details. (And, um, I'm using like the shittiest news source ever, but I've been hearing a lot about this lately.) It is perfectly possible that Jenna Talackova was disqualified for legitimate reasons completely unrelated to the biology of her birth. I do sincerely hope that there's something else going on that simply hasn't been released to the media, that the reason has nothing to do with the fact that Jenna was born, biologically, a man.

    Somehow it doesn't feel that way.

    Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

    the concubine's daughter

    Take me to a bookstore, and I can easily spend hours there. Growing up my mother would take me on field trips to the World's Biggest Bookstore once or twice a year (if we were in Toronto for a show, or to buy me a saxophone, or a fancy dinner this was a guaranteed stop) and without fail I would freak out. This store was like magic to me with books piled upon books as far as the eye could see. I'd never seen so many books in one place before. I'd go off and reverently look and touch at as many possible books I could find in the sections that interested me, my mom would go off into her New Age section and come out with a deck of Tarot Cards.

    Given all the books that I would see and touch and want to read, it was inevitable that I would wind up with more books on my "want" list than would realistically come home with me. Thus began a long standing bookstore habit: lusting over the same book, time and again.

    I'll go in to a store, and the same title will catch my eye a million times. I'll pick the book up, think about it, and ultimately decide that it's not the book I'm buying today. Maybe next time. This can go on for weeks, months, sometimes even years.

    That's what happened with Pai Kit Fai's The Concubine's Daughter. Every trip to Indigo Books in the past year, I have seen this title. Picked it up, read the back and thought Hmmm, this could be interesting and then XYZ reason means I shouldn't get this one today. So I kept putting it back on the shelf.

    A couple of trips ago, though, I'd already picked up a Christopher Moore number to feed my current obsession, and as I was making my way to the register I stopped at the Bargain Books table. They're a bargain, you know, which means clearly I have to have them. If a book is crap at $3, do I really care? Heck no! Well, lo and behold but The Concubine's Daughter was marked down to $4.99. I'd considered it so many times in the past that I decided to just bite the bullet and buy the damn book. So I did.

    Let me tell you, I wanted to love this book. I really, really did. I wanted to like it a lot. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Maybe there was a reason I put it down a dozen other times.

    The problem? The grand, over-arching plot simply wasn't cohesive to me. It fell apart. The introduction to the story was interesting, but weak. Things always seemed to go just so - which, given the ending I suppose makes sense, but didn't feel natural. Characters were given strength, but in some cases only got to where they wanted or needed to be through luck. The characters were interesting, but not particularly developed. And in the end the whole story came down to a pre-destined kung fu battle. It just didn't work.

    What did work for me was how rich the cultural narrative was. I enjoyed delving into Chinese cultural traditions that are utterly foreign to me. Histories that speak to strong women, and traditions but are so very different from my own. My favourite sections of the books dealt with Li-Xia's time on the silk farm and her daughter Siu-Sing's time working in the near-sex-trade. The book spoke of strong women, but in the end I never felt as if they were real women. They felt like Mary Jane characters in bad fan fiction, the idealized self.
    For $5 I don't regret buying it, or really reading it. I certainly won't read it again. The one good thing? It has me more interested in picking up the Joy Luck Club. I'm not sure why I haven't read that yet.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012

    clam-digging

    Spring is most definitely in the air. It's cliche, but it's also true. The last bit of the weak winter we've had seems to be quickly transitioning into spring. It's supposed to be 26*C tomorrow. That's like, June weather. How is it June weather already????

    It's weather that means I get to start re-evaluating my wardrobe staples. Sitting on the porch with a book, wearing a pink jersey dress*, legs bare. All my lovely skirts and dresses can get a little bit more play, sweaters can move to the back of the closet as blouses and t shirts become more the norm. Aaaaand, I get to open the Old Jeans drawer and see if there's anything worth pulling out.

    There have been various pairs of summer pants over the years. Capris, clamdiggers, long shorts, cut off jeans. Somehow, thanks to my ever-fluctuating weight, I do not seem to own two pairs of summer pants in the same size. I very rarely spend two summers in the same size, more to the point. With spring weather on the horizon, it seemed to me that I should go see if there were any old pants to fall in love with.

    Ohhhhhhh, and there were. Were there ever. So thank you to my nineteen year old self for knowing how to pick out a decent pair of jeans.

    Clamdiggers. Dark indigo, which is so versatile. A fairly straight leg cut. No belt loops. (Key, as I don't wear belts except as accent pieces.) The fit? Pretty darn decent.

    Let me count the ways I have either enjoyed or dreamed of enjoying these pants since I have rescued them:
    • With flats graphic tees for a casual day, maybe with a light scarf (you know I love those, right?)
    • With a nice top and heels for a night out
    • With the orange leather jacket, while walking the dog
    • With a blazer and tee shirt for a lunch with my moms (this needs to happen) 
    These pants have me excited. I want to wear them, and that's pretty important in a piece of clothing right now. I want clothes that jump out of my closet and say wear me. I want new (or, rediscovered as the case may be) clothes that fit with my current wardrobe and immediately inspire me to choose outfits. Isn't that how clothes should make us feel? Excited to wear them and inspired by all the options?

    An honest evaluation of the pants tells me that in and of themselves, they are not amazing. They are damn good pants, that fit well, flatter my body (and my butt) and make me feel good about how I look. But they aren't statement pieces. These pants are the sort of basics you build a wardrobe around: something that plays well in a variety of contexts, with many different styles and pieces.

    Plus, it's nice to have a third pair of pants that fit.


    On another note, I think I need to give in and buy some earrings. I've been lusting over silver hoop earrings since Christmas. Three months of dreaming should be met with reward.


    *Remind me to tell you about this dress sometime. I'm pretty sure I was wearing it the first time Bunny ever noticed me as an adult. Plus, it's worth all of the million compliments it earns me.

    Friday, March 23, 2012

    "Valentine's" Dinner at Terroni

    I believe I mentioned that we had delayed our Valentine's dinner for a variety of reasons. I may have also mentioned that we finally got around to it ... on St Patrick's Day no less. We like to mix our holidays, and avoid green alcohol. So, we finally got out to Terroni on Adelaide.

    Bunny discovered Terroni years ago, back when he was at the design firm. He learned about a lot of good eats that way. He's been talking about this restaurant for almost the entirety of our relationship, and about a year and a bit ago he took me there the first time. Suffice it to say, it was amazing. Enough so that I was excited to go back for Valentine's.

    As we had only decided on Friday that we were going out Saturday we didn't make reservations. Based on how busy it had been last time, when we had waited in a crowded bar for over an hour even with reservations, Bunny was a little worried that we might have another long wait. Luckily, we had no reason to worry. We had come early, around 6:30, and within five minutes they sat us at a lovely little table downstairs.

    First off, our server helped us pick out a beautiful white wine. Which is a really big deal. We're both red wine lovers, and we know what we like: full-bodied, dry, slightly heavy on the tannins. Why didn't we go for one of those, you might wonder? Well, unfortunately red wines give me migraines and I haven't been able to have more than half a glass of the stuff in about three years. We ended up with a lovely, crisp white with very minimal acidity. You'd better believe that we polished that bottle off.

    We started out by sharing the Tagliere Mezzo e Mezzo, which was the same thing we started with last time. The prosciutto was excellent, and Bunny said both the other meats (salami and something else) were nice. There were two cheese (I can't remember what they were called), both cow's milk. One was lovely, with a texture similar to cheddar and a fairly mild flavour. The other was similar to a parmesan: hard and salty. Unfortunately neither Bunny nor I were big fans. The way they serve the app, on a beautiful wooden cutting board and plated with some accent foods (walnuts, honey, roasted pear) was delightful. One of the best parts was the ability to sort of mix and match things: a forkful of salty cheese and honey, or meat with some pear. It's just a perfect start to the meal.

    For the main, I ordered the Ravioli di Zio Paperone: homemade ravioli stuffed with duck confit, fig, roasted butternut squash, sauted with oyster, button mushroom and parmigiano. I'd been wavering back and forth between this and one of the pizzas, and I'm definitely glad I decided to go this route.

    The raviolis were made from green pasta which is by far my favourite. The filling? ZOMG so good. The way the components were mixed together they formed a great, cohesive flavour that built on itself. The richness of the duck, the sweetness of the fig and the creaminess of the squash all complemented each other perfectly. I almost didn't order this because I was worried I wouldn't like the fig component, but it worked very well. I appreciated that they didn't try to put any sauces on the ravioli; the olive oil and mushrooms were all that was necessary.

    The portion size was perfect. Because my appetite is small, I was worried at first that I might not get through it all, but it was so good that with a bit of help from Bunny the whole of the dish disappeared. I loved this.

    Bunny had the Spaghetti in Canna Mare: fresh clams and mussels, calamari, scallops and tiger shrimp, light tomato sauce. I didn't try his, but from Bunny's appraisal my dish was better.

    For dessert, Bunny kept things simple with just an espresso and lemon biscotti. I have never heard someone rave about a biscotti the way he did about his. It wasn't large, maybe half the size of the biscotti you might get at a coffee shop but I got the impresson that every bite was delicious.

    I came in knowing exactly what I'd be having for dessert: the tiramisu. I've dreamed of this tiramisu since the last time I was there, and luckily it did not disappoint. The ladyfingers had just the right texture, soft but not soggy and with some cakey-ness. The marscapone had just the right hint of sweet without being out-and-out sweet. This dessert actually makes me a touch sad, as everytime I eat it I can't help but think I'm turning into my mother. Entirely worth it.

    It's also worth noting that the service was beyond excellent. The man who took care of us was friendly without being obtrusive, and had perfect timing in stopping by to check up on us. The pacing was perfect, with no rushed moments and no long lulls of wondering what was happening. Every time something was cleared from our table we had at least a couple of minutes before more food came. I very much appreciated how knowledgable he was about the wines and his ability to recommend something to my taste while pointing out where the wine I chose might diverge from my stated tastes.

    All in all? A great dinner. We've been before and we will be back again. Terroni is one of those really great date night/slightly fancier restaurants we keep in our back pockets.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012

    cheesy broccoli & pasta casserole

    I did not grow up on casseroles. I grew up with casserole dishes used as serving dishes, but that's really as close as things get. Those green bean casseroles everyone sees around Thanksgiving? Alien to me. Tuna casserole I know of, and I even know the way my nanny made them; I've never been served it. I don't think I've even eaten it, to be honest. Past roommates have made casseroles, so I've seen them. In theory I get the can of mushroom soup + chicken + rice or pasta = dinner equation.

    But I've never really done casseroles. I've had this growing affair, though, with gratins. The broccoli/cauliflower gratin I made when Bunny's sister was here, the parsnip/carrot one I've made a few times; they just make me want to make more. In theory, I think a casserole would not be that different from a gratin. So, towards the casserole we go.

    All afternoon I've been thinking about a baked pasta. But I don't want to go the mac-and-cheese route, that would be too heavy. I want some greenery in my dinner, some heft to the nutritional value. Something with a bit of a crunch, to give a bit of a textural contrast.

    In my head there was broccoli. A heavier sauce: a bechamel, maybe even with cheese. Not cheddar, or gouda: something a little bit different. Mozzarella, for gooiness; parmesan for flavour.

    Cheesy Broccoli Pasta Casserole

    Ingredients
    • 1/2 package of dry pasta - I used rotini
    • 1 head of broccoli, cut into florets & disks
    • 1 small red onion, chopped
    • 2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
    • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
    • 2 tbsp flour
    • 2 tbsp butter/margarine
    • 2 cups milk
    • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
    • salt - 1/2 tsp for the sauce, plus more for salting your water
    • 1 tsp garlic powder
    • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
    • 1 tsp olive oil
    Directions

    1. In large pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions. In the last 2 or 3 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli. This gets the broccoli started just enough that it will finish in the oven.
    2. Put pasta and broccoli in a large casserole dish. Set aside.
    3. In a small saute pan, heat the olive oil. When hot, add garlic and red onion, saute 3 - 5 minutes, until translucent. When these are beautiful and smell lovely, add them into the casserole dish with the broccoli and pasta. Mix everything together well until it is evenly mixed.
    4. Preheat oven to 350*. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter or margarine. Add flour and wisk to make a roux. Cook about 3-4 minutes to allow the rawness of the flour to cook off. Add the milk, as well as salt, garlic powder and thyme. Wisk to combine. Cook over medium heat until the milk thickens and begins to bubble, wisking occasionally. (In my experience, the bubbles are the key that your bechamel is ready for the next step. The bubbles will be about the size of a quarter.)
    5. When the bechamel has thickened, turn heat to low. Slowly add mozzarella cheese into the sauce, stirring to incorporate. Once all mozzarella is combined, add half of the parmesan. Stir until melted into the sauce.
    6. Pour the sauce over the broccoli and pasta. Using spoons or tongs, toss until all the casserole contents are evenly coated with sauce.
    7. Combine remaining parmesan with breadcrumbs, sprinkle on top of the casserole.
    8. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
    9. Eat. Enjoy. Share. Freeze some for lunch next week, even.
    Notes
    • Cheeses: I went with mozzarella and parmesan largely because a) I had them on hand and b) I wanted more subtle flavours. If you want a stronger cheesy flavour, go with something stronger.
    • I find that at least 2 cups of milk is necessary for keeping everything well coated and moist through the cooking process. Any less and you end up with kind of crusty, dry pasta. Don't do that.
    • This is a very mild flavoured dish. Bunny doused his in hot sauce (he's on a kick) but I found it was a nice as a calmer dish. Very kid-friendly.
    • Of course you can change out the broccoli for other vegetables if you'd prefer. Broccoli is just one of our favourites.

      Wednesday, March 21, 2012

      homemade donuts?

      It started, as these things do, with a craving. A desire for cakey, chocolate-y, glazed goodness. The need to make them for myself, as I certainly wasn't going out on a search for the best chocolate cake donut in Toronto. I just wanted satisfying. So, I bunkered down with my good old web browser and methodically looked through my favourite cooking blogs, checked the recipe search on foodtv.ca and finally began Googling.

      I was shocked by how difficult it was to find a relatively sane recipe for chocolate cake donuts. Baked was preferred, but not required. Just chocolate and delicious and not asking for a million obscure ingredients. Finally, finally I found a recipe.

      Inevitably, of course, I encountered issues. I certainly don't have a donut pan; luckily it was implied that a muffin pan would work. I worried a little bit that it wouldn't taste donut-like, just like a chocolate muffin. I don't keep buttermilk around; that, I decided was an easy substitute for the regular stuff. The only thing to do was go ahead and try.

      Baked Chocolate Cake Doughnuts
      I used this recipe almost exactly as is - and honestly, I wouldn't even try to fudge it. It worked perfectly.
      • 1 cup all purpose flour
      • 2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
      • 1 teaspoon baking powder
      • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
      • 1/3 cup grams sugar
      • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
      • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain salt
      • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or coconut oil
        • I used margarine, and it was fine
      • 1/4 cup buttermilk
        • Or regular milk, if you don't have buttermilk
      • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
        • I'm sure you could replace this with sour cream, if that's what you have on hand
      • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
      • 1 large egg
      Directions
      1. Lightly grease a doughnut (I used a normal sized 12 cup muffin tin) tin and preheat the oven to 350F.
      2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda, and then whisk in the sugar, nutmeg and salt.
      3. Add the butter (margarine), and using your fingers, rub it into the dry ingredients until it becomes coarse crumbs.
      4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, yogurt, vanilla and egg. Add to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Do not overmix, or your doughnuts may be a bit rubbery. (I found that with a spoon this just needed a few quick mixes - almost like folding)
      5. Fill each cup 1/2 to 3/4 full. You can do this with a spoon, but I prefer using a piping bag to fill each cup more evenly and cleanly. It’s important not to overfill, or as the doughnuts rise, you’ll lose the hole. (Using a muffin tin, I simply used a cookie scoop. Simple. They came out like oversized donut holes)
      6. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes (mine took 11 minutes - but I only made 12 instead of 15), until the doughnuts spring back when touched. Let cool slightly on a wire rack before glazing. If coating in powdered sugar, let them cool even a bit more.
      Honestly? You need to make these. They are ridiculous good. What Bunny and I couldn't get over was that they had a true donut texture. Oh, the texture. Dense, cakey, pulling apart perfectly.

      Seriously. Make these. I wish I could take credit for even one small part of their yumminess, but I can't. What I can do is tell you that these are way easier to make that you would possibly imagine, and that you need to make them because they are amazing.

      Come on, I'm throwing out the bolds and italics all over the place here. That's gotta tell you something.

      Tuesday, March 20, 2012

      shopping day!

      I think it goes without saying that this has been a hard week. If I can manage to keep my mind off of Cheyenne and how much that hurts and how terrible and guilty I feel for a couple of hours I'm doing well. It's hard to keep the last image I had of her from the backs of my eyelids. Keeping the TV or music on in the background helps a lot. I've been running around keeping super busy, simply because I want to be mindlessly busy. Going to bed if I'm not exhausted is almost asking for trouble. Originally we had plans three evenings this week. None of those really happened: I just couldn't handle the idea of going out and being social.

      Friday though, Bunny asked what I wanted to do this weekend. I may be feeling pretty down in the dumps, but I really do need to get out and not just become a hermit. He knows I get like that and that sometimes I need to be pushed out of the house. His suggestion: a day out shopping.

      A day wandering the streets of Toronto. Hitting his favourite clothing store for pants and a great chat with the owners, then off to Queen West for a little bit of everything. Weather warm enough to be able to wear my leather jacket and a dress, and the freedom of not having to be anywhere.

      So, we wandered. We went to about a million different stores. I found the cutest dress, with a deer on a it, but decided that spending $150 on a dress right now wasn't in my best financial interests. We looked at art (including the neighbourhood map of Toronto that he's in love with) and furniture and discussed what we did and didn't like, and what we would be doing with some of the art we currently have and nee to hang. We oggled over heavy bottomed glasses and structural wine glasses. Talked about the sort of dishes that we want to register for.

      I can't even remember how many stores we went into. Bunny hit a home run with the clothing shopping. At Black Market he grabbed three adorable graphic tees, and then he discovered Ironhead and fell in love with their screened workman's shirts. He even got two pairs of pants - sexy jeans and some simple shop pants that actually fit. I was a little more reserved, only picking up a great green and black patterned shirt and two books.

      After that? We went out for our belated-Valentine's dinner. I'll tell you about the tiramisu later. It was that damn good.

      All in all, Bunny came up with exactly the day I needed.

      Monday, March 19, 2012

      soy ginger chicken & baby bok choi

      Often, I dream up a dish, or a set of flavours I want to work with. It rolls around in my head for a week, I look at various different recipes - from my own cookbooks, on the internet - to gather a general idea of how other people have combined the elements I'm interested in. Then I go wild on my own. Sometimes, this doesn't work well at all, and I have another go to fix things.

      Every now and then, things go perfect the first time. The soy-ginger chicken recipe I'm going to share with you today is one of those times. Colour me surprised: I have a hard time with chicken, unless it's a simple fried chicken or pot pie. (Though, I have had a hit or two in the past.) I can never get the meat thermometer in, I undercook. I'm not patient with my chicken. So when this worked out, I was thrilled.

      Soy Ginger Chicken

      I can't think of the last time I was this happy with chicken. It came out perfectly done, the breast was juicy and moist and the flavours were perfect. Little bit of kick from the ginger, the soy sauce didn't make things too salty, and there was plenty of lightness from the lemon.

      The dominant flavours I wanted to play with here were soy sauce and minced ginger. Given how thin soy sauce is, I was concerned that I would have difficulty getting a good glaze (which is what I initially wanted) and decided to go with a marinade. If you like a sharper flavour, use more ginger than I have. Once I'd decided to go that route, the marinade flavours got a little more complex.

      While I loved serving this with the baby bok choi and basmati rice, it also would have gone great with something like the spicy orange green beans. If I had marinated and cooked the chicken in chunks or strips, it would make a great component to fried rice.

      Ingredients
      • 4 chicken breasts
        • I used boneless/skinless, but that's simply my own taste
        • 6 - 8 chicken thighs would be a good substitute
      • 1/3 cup soy sauce
      • 2-3 inches fresh grated ginger
      • 2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
      • zest of 1 lemon
      • juice of 1/2 a lemon
      • 1 tsp granulated sugar
      • 1 tbsp canola or peanut oil
      Directions
      1. To make your marinade, in a small bowl, wisk together soy sauce, grated ginger, minced garlic, lemon juice and zest and sugar. Place chickens in a freezer bag with a watertight seal and pour the marinade over the chicken pieces. Squish things around in there a bit so that every piece of chicken is covered. Put in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours. (Overnight would be perfectly acceptable.)
      2. In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm canola oil. When the pan is hot, add your chicken breasts. Discard the remaining marinade. Cook, covered for 5 to 7 minutes. Flip the breasts and cook (still covered) another 5-7 minutes.
      3. Check for doneness (either by food thermometer or by cutting into the chicken - there should be no pink, only white), and serve. If not done, continue to cook, uncovered, watching carefully.
      4. Enjoy.
      Mini Baby Bok Choi in Hoisin Stir Fry

      I was thrilled to find mini baby bok choi at Freshco this week. Ususally there are the full sized as the normal baby bok choi, but last week there were little bitty wee ones that were so cute I knew I needed to eat them. The white parts are much softer than they are on the larger versions.

      The sauce needs some tweaks, to be honest. I found that the hoisin was a little too strong on the baby bok choi but it was perfect on just a mouthful of rice. I'd probably scale back the amount I used next time.

      Ingredients
      • Baby bok choi, cleaned
        • As I said, I used the mini versions (that are about as big as my thumb) - and I made 20 (which was half a package). I imagine that about 8-10 of the normal baby bok choi would be a good substitute
        • This made enough for two dinners and one lunch.
      • 1 clove garlic, minced
      • 2 1/2 tbsp hoisin sauce
      • 1 tsp soy sauce
      • juice of 1/2 a lemon
      • 1/4 tsp sugar
      • 1 tbsp canola or peanut oil
      Directions
      1. In a large skillet or wok, heat canola oil over medium-high heat.
      2. In small bowl, combine hoisin, soy sauce, lemon juice and sugar. Set aside.
      3. Add garlic to the skillet. Saute for about thirty seconds, until things start to smell really good.
      4. Add baby bok choi to the skillet. Saute for about 2-3 minutes. You're waiting for the green parts to begin to brighten in colour.
      5. Pour the sauce over stir fry, stir to coat evenly. Continue cooking 3-5 more minutes, until the greens just start to wilt.
        1. The best way to do this is go by the colour of the greens. I like just wilted, but some people like their greens more or less cooked. If you know how you prefer your dark leafy greens cooked, watch for that point.
      6. Serve over rice or noodles & enjoy.
      I could easily see the sauted baby bok choi become a simple little lunch for myself. It's just so easy, and tasty.

      Sunday, March 18, 2012

      silver linings

      There have been a few bright spots in what has otherwise been a pretty awful week.

      I've had a profound appreciation for being unemployed this week - otherwise I never would have had the opportunity to simply hop the next bus to my mom's when I needed to be there on Wednesday. I could not be more grateful for the fact that nothing stood in my way. To be able to be at home now, hidden in a burrow of blankets on the couch alternating between being ok/hurting like hell and unable to stop crying/just trying not to feel so bad for a few moments instead of trying to appear to be ok in public. I'd had enough of crying in public by the time I got home Wednesday night. (I just don't like crying in public in general. I'm sure the sentiment is shared by many.)

      I was reminded of the fact that even though we have a difficult, loaded relationship that I have a mother who loves me, a lot, and only wants happiness for me. Of how I have the best brother in the world, bar none. That even though my extended family is one giant mess, the people who matter are always there.

      And Bunny. Always Bunny.

      Who bailed out early on a friends' birthday to come home and be with me. (Please note that I told him to still go to the party.) Who talked and cuddled on the couch. Bunny who went out and bought hot chocolate and didn't say a word when I drank three mugs. Who just said "ok", kissed my forehead and turned on the TV during his nap yesterday when I told him the quiet was bad. Who held me in bed and stroked my hair when I cried half the night.

      To have someone who I could simply snuggle into and cry to. It's not that I've never cried to Bunny, or in front of Bunny before. There have been tearful phone calls, and when I have PMS I cry for no good reason and I just can't stop, and probably a hundred other times. Never, though, have I ever turned to someone in the middle of the night and just cried my heart out.

      Saturday, March 17, 2012

      boring menus, and meal inspiration

      No one who knows me would be surprised to learn that I do the menu planning around here. Shocked? No? Good. Sunday or Monday evening I sit down and think through what we're going to eat for the rest of the list. I look through the fridge, I think about what we've eaten recently, about what flavours I've seen on tv that I want to try and I try to come up with a guideline for what we're eating for the next week.

      Bunny has some say, but has told me that if I want to run the show it's mine. So I run the menu by him, ask if there's anything he doesn't like the sound of, anything he wants to change or replace, and if we need to add anything else to the menu. Mostly he just says "that's good".

      It's hard sometimes not to fall into a rut. Not to have chicken breasts with sauted spinach and mashed potatoes three weeks in a row. We have either a stir fry or a fried rice almost every week, lately we've been alternating these with curries as well. Soups make constant appearances, so we try to change the flavours.

      Some weeks, I look at the menu plan and get really, really sad. Because shit, didn't we eat exactly that last week? Don't we ever do anything interesting? How many roast beefs and pastas-with-alfredo sauce can we eat?

      Then I look at it a little bit more. And sometimes, sometimes I see things differently. I wander around the living room and catch sight of the new stir-fry book Bunny bought for me. I see a sad bunch of droopy green onions and think about something new to do with them. I open up the "Sheryl's Recipes" tab in my bookmarks and look for word or recipes that I haven't made yet to jump out at me and say HEY! MAKE ME! USE ME!

      Wheels start churning, and I start salvitating. "Chicken with sauted spinach and mashed potatoes" doesn't look boring anymore, but it's not going to work, because suddenly I am thinking about a soy-ginger glazed chicken and who wants spinach with soy-ginger glazed chicken? Stir fried baby bok choi is a very good substitute for spinach, in keeping with the dark, leafy greens. Mashed potatoes can be replaced with basmati rice, or glass noodles.

      The whole dish transforms in my mind, while the basic structure of it is the same. Just as easily it could have transformed into an orange chicken with spicy green beans. Or seasoned heavily with paprika and served with a shredded cabbage and roast potatoes.

      So when I'm uninspired and bored with all my meal ideas, I still put them down on the menu. Because it's a place to start.

      Friday, March 16, 2012

      stuffed mushrooms

      The first three times that Bunny and I cooked for each other, there were mushrooms involved. Creminis sauted with cumin and sesame oil, portella slices in red wine vinegar with parmesan cheese, and stuffed mushrooms. It was also a time of pretending that I wasn't desperately turned off by tomatoes, to the point that I gag and leave the room when they are cooking. It would have just been too much: a vegetarian who won't go near a tomato.

      I have very fond memories of our early forays into cooking for each other. Every time I have grilled cheese I'm taken back to the first breakfast Bunny ever cooked (and first year university, where I ate it five days a week in the cafeteria). We went to great lengths to impress each other with our kitchen prowess, and every now and again we like to recreate parts of our early meals.

      For me, that means making stuffed mushrooms, which is a go-to showy dish for me. It's easy, and looks much more impressive than the sum of its parts. I tend to stick to the same pepper-and-mushroom stuffing, because I like the colour and texture contrast, but that's where you can get creative and do whatever you want. Without any further ado ....

      Pepper Stuffed Mushrooms

      Ingredients
      • 10-12 "stuffer" mushrooms - or any large cap mushroom. Large creminis and mini bellas are probably my favourites here.
      • 1 bell pepper, finely chopped
      • 1 small onion, finely chopped
      • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
      • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I tend to use a pre-seasoned crumb. If you don't you may want to add 1/2 tsp each of oregano and thyme, OR 1 tsp Italian seasoning. Or whatever spices YOU like.)
      • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling
      • olive oil
      • salt to taste
      Directions
      1. Preheat your oven to 350*F. Clean the mushrooms, trimming off the woody part of the stem.
      2. Carefully destem your shrooms. Often, the stems snap off fairly easily, but you may prefer a paring knife. Carefully trim away any flaps of mushroom flesh from the opening, in order to create more stuffing space. Put the mushroom stems aside for later.
      3. Arrange mushroom caps on a lined cookie sheet. Lightly sprinkle salt over all caps, set aside for later.
      4. Chop onion and bell pepper, mince garlic. Finely chop the stems of the mushrooms.
      5. Using a non-stick skillet, bring about two teaspoons olive oil to medium heat. Add onion and garlic, cooking until onions are translucent. Season to taste with salt - I find about 1/2 tsp here to be more than enough. Add the bell pepper and mushroom stems, and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Everything should start smelling really good and the bell pepper will lose some of its opaqueness.
      6. Remove from heat. Stir in bread crumbs and parmesan.
      7. Carefully spoon stuffing mixture into the mushroom caps. In general, this recipe yeilds overflowing caps (just the way I like them).
      8. Sprinkle some grated parmesan over the top of the caps for extra deliciousness.
      9. Bake 12-15 minutes. The cheese at the top will start to brown and your nose should tell you when these are done.
      10. Eat them. Share with friends or hoard them all for yourself. (I won't tell).
      Notes:
      I've said it before and I'll say it again: make this to YOUR tastes. There are so many things you can adjust on this dish to suit yourself. Good starting points are:
      • SEASONINGS. I barely season this: I find that just a touch of salt to bring the flavours out is more than enough, especially with the parmesan. You could do Indian-inspired, or heavily garlicked, or a great smoky flavour.
      • Bread crumbs. I know these are problematic for lots of people, but I'm sure that you could find an acceptable gluten-free substitute. Make your own crumbs from gluten free bread? Maybe there's a different binding agent you'd like to use. I cook imagine substituting cooked rice or barley here, but it wouldn't hold together quite as well.
      • The stuffing. I've got a craving for these cooked up wonderfully with a nice crab-and-green onion filling. Or maybe grains. Different vegetables. I'm clearly in love with the Red Lobster stuffed mushrooms. Choose flavours you like and play! (And if you change the filling, maybe change up the cheese!)
      • The cheese. I use what I like, and what's easy for me, but there's nothing to say that these wouldn't be great with a romano or asiago. Actually, I think I've done asiago before. It was nice.

      Thursday, March 15, 2012

      decorating the window (to the soul)

      As an adult, my first foray into fashion was through make-up. Mostly, this was because I wasn't happy with my body size and, lets be honest, eyeliner is much more forgiving than clothing. It also let me play around with colours, application techniques, and lots of new and different looks. I like it. I do it every day that I leave the house for more than a dogwalk or a trip to the corner store. (Lies. I went to the grocery store today with no makeup.)

      I don't leave the house without make up on, generally.

      Let's think about that for a minute. I do not leave the house in my bare skin. At the very least, if I'm running out more than twenty steps past my front door there is mascara and eyeliner and tinted moisturizer. More often than not, there's a whole face done up. I feel "naked" without it. Does that mean that I'm not comfortable in my own skin??

      Why do I wear it? Really, I think it's important to know why I wear make-up so much. So let's run down.
      • It makes me feel more polished and presentable
      • I like playing with colours
      • I feel prettier with makeup on, as long as it's not overdone
      • It's fun to do my makeup
      • I enjoy putting it on, the habit and ritual is nice
      • It also clearly marks in my mind that I'm leaving the house and should put my best foot forward
      • I feel more confident when my skin tone appears more even
      • It make me feel more feminine
      • I feel like I look boyish without it
      Most of those things don't bother me. I'm ok with acknowledging that I feel more comfortable with that little bit of armour. It's pretty similar to feeling more confident in a great dress or a jacket that makes me feel like a million bucks.

      Some of those aspects bother me. Feeling that I don't look like a woman - what does that even mean? It's crazy. I am a woman. It's kind of hard to miss. I have the hips, I have big boobs, I have curves and shape and clearly my body says "woman". I'm capable of looking into a random mirror some days and saying "take that, Jessica Rabbit" because I just think I look that smokin'. And yet, on a bad day, I look in the mirror when I have my hair pulled back and I see "boy". That bothers me. I sit there thinking, if my face were a little more angled or if my cheeks were a little thinner I'd look more like a woman.

      What the fuck? My face shape makes me feel masculine? So I hide that under some mascara and layers of eye shadow to specify the "feminine"? It's so silly. Does my definition of pretty mean feminine? I hope not, and I don't think it does. I know some very androgynous women, and I think they are gorgeous. I know some overly feminine women who I don't think are particularly pretty.

      So why does it bother me so much on the days that I look in the mirror and see more that is masculine than feminine?

      Wednesday, March 14, 2012

      Cheyenne

      There are other things I had hoped to do today, and other things I had really hoped to say.

      Right now? My heart's rather busy breaking.

      I just got home from my mother's house. Last night, one of the most beautiful dogs in the world had a really bad fall. This morning, things were worse.

      This afternoon we put her down. So I'm going to go ugly-cry some more now. There's lots of content scheduled to go up over the next couple of days, so you'll see that, but if there's radio silence for a little while otherwise, don't be too surprised.

      the kitchen, and things to come

      A lot is said about a kitchen, and about a person (or couple, or family) by the things in it. By the choices of cutlery and plateware. The pots and pans you own and use, the layout of the space. Bunny and I have been trying to slowly reclaim our kitchen from the disaster area that it has become (part of which includes a reorganization of our pantry that was completed the other weekend). We're always thinking hard about the new gadgets we want, and researching them before we purchase them.

      We don't, however, have much of a grand, overall plan. We know that there are cooking utensils and gadgets that we want. We want more dutch ovens and serving dishes. That we like classic whites in slightly unexpected shapes like sloped oval bowls, and that we would like our kitchen to have a rainbow of colours (for which reason we always look for a colour we don't already have when buying things like dutch ovens). We're never going to have that perfect set of KitchenAid Empire Red, because that would be boring.

      Usually there's nothing we need that's too pressing. We have the basics, or enough of the basics to get by. So we tend to have a hodge-podge strategy of buying kitchen things. Whatever inspires us, as we can afford them. Right now, that's not going to work.

      There are two reasons for this. Firstly, we're getting married, yo, and people keep asking us to register for stuff. So, we need to give some thought to that. Secondly, we're having a crisis of basics.

      Cutlery is disappearing. As in, I wash the same spoons four times a day some days because we have so few. We can just get by on what we have, but it makes it awkward when we want to have friends over for dinner/drinks/what have you. Glasses are breaking. We have broken wine glasses, tumblers, everything. Currently we are reduced to drinking water out of coffee mugs or 6 ounce juice glasses (which tends to be enough to have one sip of water, and then refill.) We also need new plateware. Really we need a 12 set, so that we have enough for a family of four or five one day. Right now it's not unusually to not have enough plates for dinner.
      At the behest of one of my best friends, I'm refraining from going out and buying new glasses and plates when I see ones I like on sale. But it also has me slowing down and thinking more closely, asking myself "would I want to use this plate for the next 20/30 years?" If my friends are buying something for me that I've asked for, I'd really like it to be something we will use for the rest of our lives. It also has me thinking about how these pieces work together - these are the sort of basics I haven't had to think about in a long time.

      There are a few things that I know make both Bunny and I happy in kitchenwares. So we need to really look into those in order to actually build an approrpriate registry, and a kitchen that actually works together.

      Tuesday, March 13, 2012

      thank you, Atlas

      So, not to long ago, Bunny and I got our whackload of documents together, trekked out on the TTC and headed to the accountant. It's that time of year again.

      Honestly, taxes and tax refunds almost seemed like a joke to me this year. I had the easiest taxes ever, with only one possible deduction. But it's a bit of a crazy tax year for Bunny. In general, it's been a crazy year for Bunny, actually. What with the quitting-his-job, going back to school, starting up on the freelance work, buying computers for the freelance and school, a half year of RRSP contributions, buying tools for the new career, setting up a "home office" upstairs .... and that's JUST work and school related.

      So yeah, he's had a big year in a way that makes the taxes complicated. What with overpayments, the easy deductions/tax credits, and figuring out what ELSE we can deduct since he works from home. One of the many reasons that we choose to pay an accountant to do this for us.

      Now, taxes are done, and that's a Very Good Thing. In and of itself, but also for other reasons. Big reasons.

      We're-getting-married type of reasons.

      I haven't talked too much about the wedding, lately. All along, we've been planning on having an affordable wedding, for us. Nothing excessively spendy, and we've essentially eliminated about a million things that we don't care about. Cake? Nope. Colours? Nope. Decor? I love the designer whose restaurant we're getting married in, so why would I change anything? Favours? Only if I feel like baking in the weeks leading up to the wedding, or decide to knit a million scarves.

      Even so, lately our financial dynamic has made it really hard to think too much about the wedding. Yes, there are savings. Yes, there is freelancing money and EI deposits. Yes, I can budget like nobody's business. Yes, we can cut back on photography and open bars and this that and the other. Yes, I can wear a second-hand dress proudly. No, we don't need all the bells and whistles.

      I'd be lying, though, if I said it's not scary trying to plan a wedding when you have an unemployed bride and the groom is in school and isn't expecting to be making the big bucks directly out of school. I see the dwindling balance of my bank account every month, followed by a cold knot of dread in the pit of my stomach. We say, "Oh, we should put down that deposit" and then don't act. Not because we don't want to, but because we're scared that the money won't be there. Or that we'll have spent a couple grand on a wedding that we're scared we might need for rent, or groceries in a few months.

      A lot of things changed the other day, after taxes. Getting married is our big investment of the next year, and we do want a wedding to celebrate that fact. Going in, we knew that we would be getting some kind of refund, we just weren't entirely sure to what extent. We knew that there would be numbers that made us happy, and that it would make it easier for me to say No and for Bunny to not stress about What Happens After School.

      If we wanted to put the whole of our tax refund towards the wedding, it would be practically paid for. As it is, we are not. We may choose to roll some back into RRSPs, Bunny's wardrobe is in a sorry state that we need to address, we have planned for an expensive dinner in a month and probably another one in June. There are some courses we are both interested in taking, individually and separately.

      But! Our tax refund money will essentially pay for half of the wedding. Half. That means that I only need to come up with half as much money as I thought I would, that Bunny has fewer financial worries while he starts his new career. That means that when my brain starts to think of one or two little splurges I don't have to panic and say NO! NO! NO! without thinking them through.

      I means we can talk about doing a DIY photobooth if we want, or consider a guestbook. We can buy Bunny a whole suit, if we decide he needs one. We can add those touches that we don't need but would certainly love.

      Bunny can even have his flowers, damnit.

      Monday, March 12, 2012

      an exploration in layering

      Layering. Wearing one piece over another, for fashion or function.

      I hate to say that I've never been much of a layering person. In my mind, there has never been a reason to put a camisole or button front under a sweater, and I haven't always understood why I would want to wear a cardigan or a jacket instead of just a warmer shirt. Things are changing in my little brain, though. I'm embracing "completer pieces" as Stacy and Clinton would call them. I see a shirt or blouse and I think about how I would wear that with a blazer.

      Slowly but surely, I'm coming around to the world of layering. I'm even starting to see the reasons why I would layer other things. Other things! I'm putting camisoles under wool sweaters, to get the affect of the colour and the lace peaking above the neckline and below the hemline. I may even be daring enough, one day, to attempt the button-front under a sweater combo, though I am terrified it will make me a) sweat like a horse and b) look incredibly bulky.

      So, I want to know, what are your favourite ways to layer clothes? What pieces do you find work best (or worst)? 

      Sunday, March 11, 2012

      I'm a little bit in love

      So, being unemployed has its benefits. For me, it can be pretty important to remember that, and to appreciate them. One of those benefits (and also one of the demons) is free time. Gobs of free time like I haven't had in years. Time to watch stupid tv, and cook, and cross stitch, and play with the dog, and do a million things.

      Time to read.

      I've always been a reader. My future sister in law once described my childhood thusly: "you were never a child. you read and played soccer. that's not normal childhood." Please note that when she said I read and played soccer, she meant that I read about six hours (or more) a day and only saw the outdoors when I played soccer.

      My book collection is massive, and I can be pretty all over the board. Science fiction and biography are favourites, but I can get lost in just about anything. Classic fiction, history, philosophy, fiction, non-fiction - you name it, I read it. I even sometimes read Bunny's fishing magazines. (I wish I could take that hour back).

      So, I have been devouring books lately. Like, gone in mere hours or days because I have the time to spend reading them. My favourite find is actually a book that I picked up and put down a million times until Bunny gave it to me for Christmas, not knowing that I'd been considering.

      A Dirty Job. Christopher Moore.

      Can we talk about how hilarious this man is? I love his irreverence, and his willingness to let his characters be these wonderful, absurd, flawed creations. The utter silliness. The complete disregard for good humour (see, Lamb: the gospel of Biff, Jesus' childhood friend. Yeah that book exists. He wrote it.)

      He makes me laugh out loud, and sometimes, that's the biggest gift a book can give.

      beef stew

      Tonight we're planning on having one of the simplest dinners I know how to make: beef stew. In fact, it's so easy that I almost think that beef stew is a cop out dinner. This is the process:

      • Beef cubes, to be browned in the dutch oven.
      • Quickly sear off some chunked up carrots and potatoes, to give them some texture on the outside.
      • Cook up some onions and minced garlic for flavour.
      • Cover it all with beef broth, and let slowly simmer all afternoon.
      • Near the end, I'll throw in some green beans and frozen peas for colour and extra nutrients and adjust my seasonings.

      Later, I'll send Bunny to the corner store to pick up some crusty bread to dip into the lovely juices and we'll enjoy this, maybe with a glass of wine. (Or not.)

      It's not a dinner I make too often, but essentially these are the types of dinners that are the mainstays of our diets. Things that take minimal prep work, that can cook unsupervised for long periods of time, and that end up with deliciousness.

      Saturday, March 10, 2012

      a condundrum, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a mystery

      There's a dilemna I think many job seekers come across at some point or another, one that I'm in right this moment and I'm not quite enjoying. It's a good dilemna to have, it's just difficult to handle.

      Turning down a job offer, or walking away in the interview process.

      Sometimes a company sets off red flag alarm bells in their head. Sometimes its too similar to a bad experience from your past. Sometimes it's just a gut level feeling that you won't be happy, or the job won't take you where you want to go. Or maybe you just don't trust the company. Maybe the money is just so low that there's no way to say yes reasonably.

      I'm all for pushing boundries and moving outside the comfort zone. I want to grow and develop my skills and my career and myself. But there's a fine line between taking on a challenge and doing something that just doesn't fit. It's realizing that while you might be able to perform the job functions, you fundamentally would not be satisfied doing so, and that you genuinely think that you are not going to be able to do what the company needs.

      After three months of being unemployed, of tears and frustrations and even fights fueled by the stress of feeling useless and as if I'm never going to be able to live up to job or career expectations how do I reconcile that with walking away from what might be an opportunity? What might even be a really good opportunity, in fact.

      It's all helped by the fact that Bunny is all on board with whatever decision I make. That he's in fact told me he doesn't think that it's the right opportunity for me and that we'll be ok, and he's got the freelance, and we both have some savings, and that he'll be working regularly soon. It's also helped by having an amazing brother who calls to check up on me and see how the interview went and ask me if he should go to Cuba in May (answer: yes) and talk about life in general.

      So right now, today, I have some thinking to do. How do I really, at my heart, feel about the work? Do I think I will be able to live on the starting wages? Progress quickly enough to make me happy? Do I genuinely feel that the company's values are in line with what I need in an employer.

      To make it harder, even with all my questions and doubts, walking in that office it's crazy awesome how much energy there is and how happy everyone seems about their job. That I like a lot. I've genuinely liked everyone that I've met, from the girl at the front desk to the big boss (who I chatted up waiting for the interview ... Shyness 0, Sheryl 1), to all three of the women I've interviewed with.

      So what's holding me back in either direction. Am I just scared that I won't succeed, or is this just not my thing?

      Friday, March 09, 2012

      Moments of Insecurity and Laughter

      So there was a job interview recently. (These exist in my life, yes. They make me very happy when they occur.) After I got the call to come in, the first thing I did was get on the phone with Bunny and squeal. Good news needs sharing, he's the first person I want to share with and when the news is that good the first person who hears it generally gets a squeal.

      This is not a post dedicated to me admitting to being a squealer, I promise. (But I am one.)

      Later that evening when Bunny came home, we naturally talked more about the interview, and the company. I told him how excited I was. He told me how excited he was for me. Then because I'm shallow I started talking about what I was going to wear (the new suit, of course). Bunny, bless his soul, wanted to continue along the shallow route.

      "Don't take this the wrong way, but you should really get your uh, lip waxed before you head over there tomorrow."

      Natural reaction: pout. So of course I pouted and whined and teased him. Then once I was done being a snotty whiner, I laughed my ass off.

      I have hair on my upper lip. I'm pretty sure most women do. Mine's more obvious than I'd like, but I've always thought it was not that bad. At the end of the day, I don't have crippling upper-lip-hair fear. It doesn't cause me social anxiety (although maybe according to Bunny it should?) Let's scratch that thought, though, and just admit it:

      I have a moustache.

      And if anyone's going to tell me to go get it waxed, it had better be Bunny.

      Thursday, March 08, 2012

      sweet and spicy butternut squash soup

      For the past several months, I've been all about soups. They're so easy, and you can make them with anything. Pureed, you can have lovely vegetable bliss or you can have lovely chunks of meats, pasta and vegetables floating in a flavourful broth. In fact, pretty much any vegetables baked or cooked for an hour in stock and then put in the blender ends up in deliciousness.

      One of my favourites, and a consistent hit with Bunny has been butternut squash soup. Ridiculously simple, and with such wonderful consistency it almost always seems to come out right. The squash is delicious in its own right (we love eating it roasted, or with pasta), and takes on such lovely sweet flavours if properly developed. I mean, roasted squash with a little bit of brown sugar or syrup? The carmelization that develops is out of this world.

      Which got me thinking. Roasting squash for soup could create so much sweetness, I wanted something to balance it out and create a little bit more depth of flavour. Sweet and sour seemed obvious, but I'm not always a fan of that combination (unless it's in candy - then I am all over it) and I didn't really think sour would work with the squash. Inspiration hit in the form of Bunny deciding that he wanted to start eating more spicy food. Seriously, the man has been adding hot sauce to everything lately.

      Sweet and spicy. That seemed like exactly what I wanted. I've tried to create this soup before - and it did not turn out well. This time, I seasoned things much more conservatively and I think that made all the difference, because it came out every bit as good as I'd hoped for. And then some.

      Sweet and Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

      Ingredients
      • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into even 2 inch cubes
      • 1 medium sweet onion, roughly chopped
      • 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
      • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced or grated
      • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped (optional - I didn't have any on hand but really wished I did)
      • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock OR 4 cups water and chicken bouillon
        • Note: My goal was a slightly thinner soup, if you prefer a thicker puree, reduce this to 3 cups
      • 1 tbsp olive oil
      • 2 - 3 tablespoons maple syrup
      • 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, based on your heat preference
      • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
      • Salt to taste
      Directions:
      1. Preheat oven to 350*F.
      2. Spread cubed squash evenly on a lined (parchment paper or silicone) cookie sheet. Drizzle the squash with maple syrup. Season the squash with cayenne pepper and garlic powder.
      3. Bake butternut squash for 1 hour, until the cubes begin to develop carmelized crusts.
      4. While squash is baking, heat olive oil in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until translucent or about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Adding the carrots and celery, continue to cook another 5 minutes.
      5. Add stock to the pot, bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until squash is done cooking.
      6. Remove squash from the oven. Using a blender or a food processor, you will want to work in two batches. Transfer half the squash into the bowl of the blender, followed by half the liquid and vegetables from the soup pot. Blend until smooth, and repeat with remaining ingredients.
        1. Alternately, if using an immersion blender, transfer all the squash into the soup pot and blend to desired smoothness. I am envious.
      7. Bring the soup up to a low simmer again, and taste for seasoning. This is the point to add salt/pepper/more cayenne if you desire. As well, you can add more broth at this point if the soup is too thick.
      8. Serve. Enjoy. Eat with generously buttered crusty bread and smile a lot.
      Final Notes:

      There are so many ways to change this up.
      • Swap out the maple syrup for brown sugar, or your sweetening agent of choice
      • Add more or different vegetables into your soup stock. I almost want to add apples into this, but that's a whole different beast.
      • When the squash is done roasting you can add it to the soup pot and let the whole thing continue to cook for another half hour or so. I've done this before, but don't find it makes enough of a flavour difference to bother with though.
      • Change up the heat. Maybe you don't like cayenne. Change it out for jalepeno peppers, or chili powder or oil, or hot sauce. I really like the slightly sweet heat of cayenne with the maple syrup, but there are lots of combinations you could do.

      Wednesday, March 07, 2012

      Excitement on the Horizon

      Today, I have exciting things going on as far as the job hunt goes. Which reminds me that I'm currently unemployed.

      Sometimes, being unemployed sucks, right? Yeah we all know that tune. It becomes very important to keep yourself busy and socialized, or else you run the risk of turning into a hermit who talks to cats like they are people. Wait, what?

      There's been more effort put forth lately to keep in contact and make plans with friends, which is harder for me than it should be. There's a recognition that perhaps I need to find more things to do in the neighbourhood, and that there are some initiatives that my co-op has that I could get involved in to make my life more enriched. (Next week I'm hoping to get into a meals program that cooks in our co-op centre weekly and sells the meals at-cost to community members living on their own. It's my kind of thing.) It's realizing that "oh shit, I haven't returned that email from two weeks ago" and apologizing. It's saying "hey, the last few times we've made plans you've come here, why don't I hop on the train this time."

      It's considering shelling out $200 for pottery or yoga classes even though I'm really trying to be more careful with my money. I really should just do it.

      In all this planning and trying to fill the hours, it's also important that I get excited about the things I do plan and those things that are just past the horizon by are going to be super fun.

      It's thinking about going out for drinks for Bunny's friend's birthday next week.

      Or going to the opera in April. (That excitement's been building since Christmas.)

      Taking advantage of the occasional daily deal, spending some money even though it hurts, and getting tickets to go see Avenue Q with friends this summer.

      I'm excited. Good things are coming.

      Tuesday, March 06, 2012

      dressing up your store-bought sauce

      I don't always make everything from scratch. Really, I don't think most people do. Sometimes it's easier to use that jar of alfredo sauce, or the canned vegetables, or whatever pre-made component just makes life simple.

      Stir fry is a fairly common meal in our house. It's easy, it's filling, I can do it with just whatever leftovers are around the home, or I can do it with a big pile of fresh veggies purchased for this very purpose. I can make it all vegetarian, I can add meat or seafood or tofu. It's just easy. You all know how much I like easy meals, right? Other than chopping everything up, a stir fry is the easiest meal I know.

      Of course, the easiest way to make it easy is using a pre-made sauce. We tend to keep our kitchen stocked with VH Stir Fry sauces (orange ginger, teriyaki, garlic hoisin, sczechuan are our staples) but the thing is, they can be kind of boring. Good, but boring.

      So, when I pulled out the bottle of garlic hoisin sauce yesterday, I knew I wanted to do something more. I didn't want to make an entire sauce from scratch, but I knew I wanted something a little bit extra special. So I looked around.

      I thought about all the lovely veitnamese soup bowls I've had at various restaurants over the years, and how I would without fail use both the hoisin sauce and the chili flakes in oil. That would add a nice kick of heat to the meal. I had inadvertently used sesame oil in my pan, so I tossed so sesame seeds over the dish when it was finished. To finish things off, I added a small squirt of lemon juice.

      The meal I ended up with was a hundred times better than what I'd began with. A few little touches really brighten things up.

      Bunny does the same with his tomato sauce, adding fresh herbs and lots of minced garlic when he has it.

      How do you update a store-standard?

      marriage pie

      Today I came across the story of Engagement Chicken which makes me laugh. Mostly, this is because of an old family joke involving pecan pie.

      I've been baking for years. Rough translation: I've been baking since I could reach the counter-top. Pies, for a long time, were a specialty of mine, though I don't do them often anymore. Apple pie, leftover turkey pot pie, cream pie ... I like my pie. Suffice it to say, by the time I was in university my grandma should have tasted a few of my pies. At least.

      My second to last year of high school, I went on a band trip to New Orleans. Of course that was just full of awesome. Duh, right? One of my favourite pieces of awesome was this amazing slice of pecan pie I had for dessert one night. I'm a little sad to say that I'd never had pecan pie before. Fast forward a couple of years, and I'm slowly finishing up first year university. In the dessert tray of the cafeteria up pops slices of pecan pie. Good, but not good like New Orleans pecan pie. There began the craving. I needed pecan pie. It was a must. I would stop mid-lecture and find myself drooling, the with the ghost of sweet gooey pie teasing my tastebuds. There would be no stopping me until I got my hands on this pie.

      Just before Easter break, I was on the phone to my mother, reminiscing about this beautiful pecan pie. I was determined to recreate it, or at least attempt to.

      "I think I'm going to make pecan pie while I'm home."
      "Ok. I'll get pecan pie ingredients."
      "Thanks Mom."
      "Hey, you know pecan pie is a lot like buttertarts, right?"
      "Ok???? Where does that come from."
      "Your Aunt Lil had a super secret ingredient for buttertarts that made them spectacular. You should try it."

      So, of course, I did. I made the pie, I used the super secret ingredient (weird but works SO WELL) and served it up at Easter dinner. Good pie. Great pie even, but I'm not sure it was as good as the New Orleans pie. Nothing special, right? Except for the fact that when my old-world Hungarian grandmother tried my pie she had something to say about it. In Hungarian, of course.

      It took me three requests to get my mortified mother to translate. Apparently, I was as of that moment, eligible for marriage in my grandmother's eyes.

      I've still yet to make that pie for Bunny. It's become a bit mythical in my family: the suggestion is that me making that pie is akin to a man proposing and Bunny had been informed that he would not be seeing this pie until after he asked. He's still waiting, just based on the fact that that much corn syrup scares me, quite frankly. My brother and an ex had made jokes about this pie, there had been a suggestion that he would have proposed by planting a ring in a pecan pie.

      Monday, March 05, 2012

      Closet Overhaul: The Pink Cardigan

      So, I think I mentioned that when I was in Mississauga last week that a new cardigan was purchased. It's a fairly simple one: crew cut neck, zip front, no embellishment or decoration. Simple mid-tone pink in colour.

      Nothing special, right? Except for the fact that it kind of is. This is the sort of piece that my wardrobe really needs. It fills a big role, and broadens my horizons. After I got home, I went pretty much straight to my closet and looked at what outfits I would put together with it. Happily, the answer was so many. Here's a short list of some favourites I plan on rocking:

      1. Cardigan + Dress. This works with no less than 3 of my dresses. It's a nice way to dress things down.
      2. Cardigan + Jeans + Tank Top. Or t shirt. Or camisole. It pulls together a much more casual look into something somewhat polished.
      3. Cardigan + Flower Shirt + Dress pants (or skirt). This is a little more "dressing up" something that I haven't found a specific way to wear. I have this great pink and black flowered wrap top that just feels too naked on its own so I rarely wear. I'm feeling a little bit stoked to wear it together.
      All in all, I'm quite pleased that I was able to buy a cardigan that makes at least three completely different outfits, and only set me back $6. I almost wished that I had grabbed a few different colours.

      I wish it had a bit more interest to it, but I'm sure I could fix that. I find myself half tempted to go out and buy some sequins to jazz it up with. Cause, you know, if it's boring I can dress it up myself. I'm thinking that this would also be well served by a nice brooch or a strand of pearls.

      Saturday, March 03, 2012

      orange-cinnamon sugar cookies

      You know I'm essentially the Cookie Monster, right? C is for cookie that's good enough for me .... uh, I can stop now. But I am the cookie monster. Actually, I think one of my favourite nightgowns ever had a giant Cookie Monster on it. Maybe that was preminiscient.

      I have a serious weakness. I'm pretty sure it started when I was little, and my mother would let us have two cookies after dinner (or at anytime - the limit was always two) and she'd sit there with a stack of six. Or ten. So I would be there all questioning why do I not get the cookies? I like the cookies!

      I made a million cookies in my childhood. I also probably ate a million cookies. I may or may not have stolen a million cookies. The number of cookie-related crimes I was reprimanded for as a child was slightly excessive. You are looking at (reading about?) a cookie thief. I may have ruined a Christmas exchange one year with my cookie theivery in fact.

      Which is all a very longwinded way of telling you that you should not be surprised by the unreasonable amounts of cookie recipes that appear on my blog. If you looked through the recipes, you'd certainly think that all I make or eat is cookies. I promise that this is not true. Really, I promise. It's not true. I eat other things, I bake and cook other things. Today is not going to demonstrate that, however. Not in the slightest. Today I give you more cookies.

      This recipe is a basic drop sugar cookie. Nothing fancy, but quite delicious. I get a little bored with sugar cookies, so I do tend to like to up the flavour of them a touch. Get something more interesting going on, so I don't feel as if I'm boring myself.

      Orange Cinnamon Sugar Cookies
      slightly adapted from allrecipes.com
      Makes about 4 dozen cookies. You will want to share.

      Ingredients
      • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
      • 1 tsp baking soda
      • 1/2 tsp baking powder
      • 1/4 tsp salt
      • 1 tsp cinnamon
      • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
      • 1/2 tsp ground cloves (optional, but cloves + orange? So good.)
      • 1 tbsp orange juice (I juiced half an orange which was a little bit more than that)
      • zest of 1 medium orange
      • 1 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
      • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
        • Note: I think these cookies would be ridiculously good with 1/2 cup of that being subbed for brown sugar. Depth of flavour, baby.
      • 1 egg
      Directions
      1. Preheat oven to 375*F. In medium bowl, wisk together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves).
      2. In large bowl or mixer, cream together butter and sugar until delightfully fluffy.
      3. Add egg, orange juice and orange zest to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix.
      4. Gradually add the dry ingredients, stirring until dough comes together smoothly. I added them in three batches, gradually decreasing in size. (This is my favourite method).
      5. Drop spoonfuls (I used a standard sized cookie scoop) 2 inches across on lined cookie sheet.
      6. Bake 9 minutes, or until colour just begins to change. These babies don't go golden or anything (I feel like swapping out some of the white sugar for brown might change that), so don't wait for too much colour change. Let rest on cookie sheet about 5 minutes, then transfer to rack.
      7. Enjoy the yummiest. Give some away.

      Friday, March 02, 2012

      excursions!

      Yesterday afternoon, I headed down to the front door, looked at the barricade of cuteness that Jethro likes to make when I want to go out (he'll sit in front of the door and give me the puppy dog eyes. The sad ones. It melts me and makes it very hard to leave) and headed out for a trip to Mississauga. I had plans with Ye Olde University Roommate, who is probably my bestest friend in the world. Last couple of visits she'd headed in to Toronto so it seemed only fair that I make my way out to her.

      Can I just say what a good idea the visit was? Sometimes being unemployed turns me into a Hermit (well, I have some natural hermit in me, so it shouldn't be a surprise) and I don't see anything outside the dog walk for days on end. I look at cross stitch patterns and read books and blogs and news. I cook, and do dishes. I snuggle with the puppy and Bunny and sometimes even the cat. Some days the highlight of my social interaction is a conversation with the gentlemen at the convenience store when I go pick up milk (wearing Bunny's pajamas, my hair all everywhere and super gross because I just woke up and how am I supposed to have coffee if there is no milk????) This is a somewhat sad state of affairs. f

      The solution is of course to socialize more. Cultivate my social network more highly. Push myself to spend more time with the people I love, even if I'm feeling hermetic and anti-social. Realize that even though spending money on GO fare to another city and coffee or dinner with friends is not in the budget at all that it is perfectly OK and that I'm better off putting a little money into social trips and outings and just taking care of me.

      So we had a really awesome day. We went on a walk in a park, got coffee to warm up, went in three different malls and bought candy (I love the Bulk Barn) and clothes (a cute cardigan and a pair of jeans for a total of $18, because I need more than two pairs of pants that fit) and went out for dinner.

      We talked. Laughed. Caught up. Talked about how her wedding plans are coming along (smashingly! I'm so excited for some of the great things that are going on there) and how I'm so incredibly laissez-faire about wedding planning that it's a little nuts. I got yelled at to REGISTER FOR SHIT (oh, you like those glass kitchen cannisters? REGISTER FOR THEM YOU NUT). We looked and laughed at some terrible prom dresses. Drank chai lattes. Ate sushi. Lost (and rescued) my phone. Talked about some politics that annoy us. Laughed at how both our fiances are in school and loving it. Reminisced about our party days, and Mackenzie Chown complex, and just in general had a great time.

      I need to do this more often. In fact, I think I'm going to make a commitment to take some of this time off to actively visit more of my out of town friends. Spending the money hurts like crazy .... but seriously? I would so much rather have the time spent with the people I love.

      Thursday, March 01, 2012

      everyday dinners

      You know those recipes that find their way into your oven week after week, month after month? The ones that are just the easiest fallbacks ever? Those are some of our favourites around here. We go back to them again and again. Recipes you make without looking at ingredient lists, mostly just by feel.

      Those tend to be the favourites, here at least. It's fun to change things up, but really, these are our own version of comfort food. The things we make a million times over.

      We have a more than a few of these, and they're just so darned easy. Here's a selection:
      • Roasts of any sort. These are our easiest go-to.
      • Quiche! My mother taught me to make this so long ago I don't even remember how I learned. The great thing about quiche is you can go simple or fancy, traditional or just whatever's in the fridge. It's also not significantly more work to make two quiches than it is to make one, and they freeze beautifully. Also - I am sad to note that I haven't attempted to give you my quiche recipe yet. Don't worry, we'll work on that.
      • Macaroni and cheese. Swoon.
      • Fried Rice. This one surprises me, because I only started playing with this out of curiousity, but it's fast become one of Bunny's favourites.
      • Soups. Butternut squash is our go to .... and we'll hopefully be re-attempting the sweet and spicy butternut soup soon. But anything works: broccoli, leeks, potatoes, carrot, anything. Even when soup's not that great it's easy.
      • Chicken and gravy. Champagne gravy. Any kind of gravy. This is just easy and fun.
      • Pasta of any kind. It's just easy.
      The great thing, is that this list is ever growing, ever evolving. What I want to know, though, is what are your go-to favourites? What amazing everyday meals am I missing out on?