Monday, April 30, 2012

home improvements

Bunny and I have lived in our current home for about a year and a half. We love it here. We have a beautiful two-bedroom townhouse, a big open living area, two balconies (the sketchtastic one and the party terrace), and we're in the middle of a great co-op community that we love.

We're settled, but we're not quite done. We've set up the living/kitchen area in such a way that works with our lives and reflects our tastes. Last summer, we bought my first pieces of real furniture (a couch and loveseat) that revolutionized the living area. But the rest of the house? Oh god, no.

We only use our bedroom for, well, bed and getting dressed so we haven't exactly spent a lot of time dressing it up. We our Valentine's bed that we got a few years ago, a hand-me-down falling-apart dresser and some random furniture that is essentially used to hang clothes. We need a new dresser, at some point, but we keep putting it off. It's not an essential.

The second bedroom is a disaster zone. We have a crazy ass bookcase that's overflowing in the worst possible way. We keep our chest freezer and Bunny's old (and largely unused) workout bench up there. We have two or three boxes that haven't been unpacked since we moved. (Is that a sign that I should just throw them out? We clearly have not needed any of these things in the past year.)

Worst, there's a pile of hanging things that we have not dealt with. A beautiful mirror, an heirloom wildlife print, a handful of small pieces of original art painted by people we care about (those, at least, are on display if somewhat haphazardly). There's a massive pile of unfilled picture frames that have been given to us over the past couple of Christmases (Christmas with Bunny's family is guaranteed to yield picture frames and smelly stuff for all) that we keep talking about filling and hanging and just haven't gotten around to. It wouldn't be a stretch for me to want to frame some of my cross stitches.

There's a lot left to do, and I'm a little sad that 18 months into living here there are so many basic things undone. We really need to hang the d*mn pictures.

However, the point of this was not (entirely) to rant about how Bunny and I are too lazy to finish setting up house. The point of this is to say: Bunny has a new office.

Well, it's not really new. It's still the second bedroom, and there is still a lot of crazy ass mess in there. For the past year he's been set up on this little dinky metal desk that he's had since he lived on his own in a junior one bedroom and had no space. There's also no overhead lighting in that room, which makes working there a pain in the ass. All that was fine, I think, when he was only putting in a few hours of work here and there. Now, though? Now that he's spending the full days working there, and that this is his primary job? Different situation.

Yesterday he came downstairs in the morning and said "I really need a lamp. Let's go to Ikea tonight."

In the afternoon it was "I would like to get a new desk. I don't have space for laying out my drawings and plans to refer to."

Now, normally I don't go for impulse purchases. You still want a desk and lamp in two weeks, fine. But just because we want something today doesn't mean it has to be purchased today. These seemed a little different. He genuinely cannot work without light, and if that's his 40 hours a week workspace I do genuinely believe it needs to be comfortable. The need for those things isn't going to go away in two weeks.

So, we bought a new desk and lamp. We are starting to reclaim our space! Wahoo!

Friday, April 27, 2012

fettucine alfredo

Some dishes are inherently decadent. There's no real way to make things lighter through substitutes, nor would you really want to. To make things healthier would be to ruin things. For me, fettucine alfredo is one of those dishes. Mounds of delicious, carb-tastic pasts (bonus points if it's fresh), swimming in that delicious, rich sauce. Copious doses of heavy cream, real butter and loads of fresh parmesan melted into each other. It's heaven on a fork.

I made this for the first time in a grade ten cooking class, and was delighted by my new found skills. I may have eaten this for about four weeks straight after I learned how to make it. I ate heaps of fettucine in alfredo sauce. Since then, I've come to realize that heavy pastas are not necessarily the best choice for everyday eating. Every once in awhile, though, the idea plants itself in my mind and there is no escaping it.

There are more traditional recipes than mine out there. The most traditional exclude the cream entirely. And add the parmesan at the end. That's not my recipe, though. I use the amounts as guidelines. If I want a thicker sauce, I reduce the cream. I just have fun with this, because it's pure indulgence.

I craved this for weeks before giving in and making this. Why? I'm not sure.


Fettuccine Alfredo

Ingredients:
  • 1 box of pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt & pepper to taste
Directions
  1. In a medium sauce pot, melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Once melted, add the cream.
  3. Mix that all together, until it's fairly even. You'll still have whiter and yellower spots, but that's ok.
  4. Place your pasta in a large mixing or serving bowl, sprinkle the cheese over it.
  5. Pour the cream and butter mixture on top of that.
  6. Using tongs, serving forks or whatever utensil you like, toss everything around.
  7. Serve. Eat.
  8. It's really that simple, I promise.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

ranting on girldom. blame the internetz.

I've been holding onto this for about a week now. Because I don't have all the answers, and because I know that some of my opinions on this subject contradict each other. Because I know so often discussions about what we expect of women in this world, and what women should expect and do for themselves get very loaded and feelings get hurt. Obviously these are only my opinions and feelings, as I'm trying to work out how I feel about a really big issue. Being a woman.


The article I'm currently reading says: "If you don't like women to wear make up, you don't like women who have taken control the way they present themselves". It's interesting.

There are so many schools of feminism, and so many different ways of looking at things. Sometimes I feel like I'm being judged by feminism, or pushed into roles and lifestyles that just don't suit me as a person, because they are the "feminist thing to do".

I'm a girly girl. I like dresses and skirts and boots with pretty heels. I like sewing things and doing embroidery and flowers. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy spending time in the kitchen? (Um, you may have figured that one out.) I like wearing tinted moisturizer and eyeliner and mascara and layers of blended colours. I love doing my hair and having freshly shaved or waxed legs, and catching glimpses of myself looking super hot in windows.

I like these things in and of themselves, for how they make me feel. Sewing makes me happy. Cooking makes me feel productive and as if I am extending a gesture of love - I see it as a very primal way of taking care of people. The fact that the traditional woman's role was in the kitchen doesn't phase me: my role is in the kitchen because I'm happy there. As far as makeup and clothes go, I may dress girly, but I dress for myself. Bunny flat out hates a lot of the super-girly elements that I adore. So I say f*ck it and wear ruffles and flounces and dresses because they make me happy.

But those are all things that sometimes make me feel like I'm a bad feminist, or putting back the feminist ideals.

The idea of running a household and living out the traditional female roles doesn't scare me. They are suited for my personality. I don't feel pressured into those decisions. In fact, right now in some ways these decisions feel like rebellion. There's so much pressure to have everything, to be a career woman and fight my way into a corner office and put in the 60 - 80 hour work weeks. I have been told by people that my decisions will put back the women's movement.

Here's what irks me: in a fight for equality I feel as if we have turned everything is stereotypically the domain of women into second class choices. Not only am I pressured to have a career (and one that defines me), but if I do decide that I find more value and contentment one day in being a stay at home mother I feel like I am making a second class choice. Like I've made the wrong choice.

Even worse, we don't take men seriously when they step into the roles that have been traditionally filled by women. We as women are encouraged to go out and make our mark in the work world, to have a career, to fight the pay gap and more. But where is the reverse?

Yes, there are stay at home dads. I'm the only person I know who even came close to having one, though (my parents both took career breaks at different points before they split up - I had a parent at home approximately 30% of my childhood). I don't know a single peer or near peer who is a stay at home father. The opinions I hear about stay at home fathers aren't very positive. Which is unfortunate.

I do take issue with household work and raising children being characterized as "women's work". It's everyone's work, and men and women should both shoulder their fair share of that, as a whole. But here's my question ... why do we de-value that work so much?

I feel like there's a disservice being done here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

best oatmeal cookies

Yeah, I went there. I called these cookies the best. I try to avoid using the word best to describe a recipe, because everyone's tastes are different. I have my favourite chocolate chip cookies, but they are not the best. These oatmeal butterscotch cookies, though? They are the best. Which is saying something, because oatmeal cookies are so diverse. There are those that are light on the oatmeal, heavy on everything else. There are the paper thin "chip" type cookies that have that lovely, crisp oat-y texture. Then there's the question of what to put in the oatmeal cookie: raisins, chocolate chips, nuts, nothing at all?

Generally I appreciate all types of oatmeal cookies. I've loved a white chocolate and cranberry combination from a nearby coffee shop. Boxed oatmeal cookies rarely disappoint. Chocolate or raisins is a hard choice, and there's plenty to be said for letting the oats shine on their own.

These cookies, though, are all about butterscotch chips. They just might be the perfect oatmeal cookie combination in my mind; somehow the way the slightly caramelized flavour complements the slight nuttiness of the oats is perfect. You don't get the same melted chip goodness that chocolate chips will give you, but the texture is perfect.

It's not often that I make a sweet twice in one week, but this one I made last weekend, and then by request for Bunny's end of the school year party on Friday. Out of every cookie I have ever sent to his classmates (and I have sent quite a few) this was the one they requested. So I said ok, and told Bunny I wanted to experiment with the butter quantities. To which he very seriously told me that if I changed a single element of these cookies I was an idiot. Then he told his classmates, who also begged me not to change anything.

One of the guys even told me I should enter the next season Recipe to Riches with these, which may be the best cooking complement ever.

So now that I've given you the reviews on the cookies, what else should you know about the cookies themselves? These are heavy on the oatmeal type cookies, and it works well. The texture holds up for several days (and, uh, I left them uncovered on a plate) which is always a big plus for me - but honestly don't expect them to last that long. Don't mistake yourself: these cookies are dense, and filling.

I've made a couple of small changes from the original recipe, but honestly not many.

Now go make them. Thank me later.

Oatmeal Butterscotch Chip Cookies
adapted from allrecipes.com

Ingredients
  • 3/4 cups butter or margarine, softened
  • 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all pupose flour
    • Note: I fudged this, the second time. One heaping cup of flour. Worked pretty perfectly
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
    • if you need, you can substitute quick oats, but the texture will probably tend towards being softer.
  • 1 300g bag butterscotch chips
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375* F.
  2. Cream the butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl, until well incorporated. When it starts to look fluffy you're good to go.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating well until fully mixed in.
  4. Wisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and garam masala. Add the flour to the butter mixture in two batches, stirring until completely blended. If using a KitchenAid type mixture, you'll want to scrape down the bowl a couple of times.
  5. Stir in the oats, until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of your bowl as needed.
  6. Stir in your butterscotch chips.
  7. Drop by spoonfuls (normal cookie scoop sized) onto a greased cookie sheet, about two inches apart.
    • I used a silicone sheet and found that a light coating of cooking spray made a huge difference in my ability to remove these from the sheet at the end.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes. The edges will just be begining to brown.
  9. Let cool on the cookie sheet for five minutes, transfer to wire rack or platter to continue cooling.
  10. Eat them, before everyone else does.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

status update: change is in the air

Friday, was Bunny's last day of class. Almost twenty years after high school, and more than a decade after dropping out of college, he gets that fancy piece of paper saying he's completed a course of post-secondary education. The actual graduation ceremony, which I will attend grinning like an idiot, won't be until June, but right now I'm busy being proud of him.

Did I also mention he's graduating with an average that has to be in the 90s? My baby's a smarty pants.

What this all means, though, is a lot of changes around the house though. It also means more job-search stress than we know what to do with. I'm still languishing in the unemployed state. (Which, while stressful and known to cause great emotional discomfort is not without its benefits.) Bunny has yet to secure an apprenticeship position and is really stressed out. Right now we're waiting to hear back from one place, and he's putting together an application for a lead his instructors gave him. He's got his freelance going on, and is actually out on a lunch meeting now. His boss would happily take him full time, so we have some stability while we wait for things to sort themselves out. Really it would be nice if by the wedding we were both happy with our employment situations (it's a reasonable goal, I think).

So there's stress.

There's also, though, this giant change in that suddenly neither of us has anywhere to be during the day. I straggle out of bed at my usual time and he's just coming in from walking the dog. I put down the laptop to make a coffee and when I come back he's on the computer and won't give it back. It's a bit of a re-negotiation here: I have a routine that he's suddenly intruding on.

Except he's not intruding. It's his house too, I'm just not used to sharing this part of my day. I have to make space for him and recognize that I'm not in control all the time. I'm not always good at sharing, or compromise. I need to remember it's not ok to pout when other people don't want the exact same thing that I do all the time.

Right now we're at a place where life is going to be shuffling around a bit. We'll be keeping ourselves busy, and figuring out what changes we need to make when we're both around 24/7. I might have some very good plans for some of that time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Review: Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill

Did I tell you that we went to the opera the other week? It's something I've wanted to do for awhile and Bunny, being the smart cookie that he is, bought me tickets for Christmas. I'll tell you a little more about that some other time, but right now I want to focus on something else: the post-opera dinner.

We wound up at the Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill, which was rather unexpected. Heck, I never knew they existed before which is something of a shame. We'd hiked down to Adelaide St with the intention of hitting up Nami for some sushi, and had agreed that Terroni would be our backup plan in case Nami was closed. We figured being that it was a Sunday we should hedge our bets. Well, what do you know but both were closed. Fudge that, right?

So we walked down Adelaide a bit more and discussed our options. Keep walking and find somewhere? Hop a Queen car and go to Aji Sai? Hey, there's a seafood place across the street. Want to try there? The sign says they have lobster, you like lobster. Let's go!

Thus we wound up at the Starfish. We were early, around maybe 6:30, and it was a Sunday so we weren't surprised that the restaurant was fairly slow, with only two other tables. The restaurant comes across very unassumingly. The sign announcing its presence looks cheap and diner-ish. Inside, the restaurant seems small (although there does appear to be a back room), and for the most part the decor was forgetable. It was a cloth napkin place, and cloth napkins always make an impression on me. They speak to an older time, where the world wasn't quite so disposable.

Plus, I've never seen a cloth napkin at a restaurant that doesn't care about the food. It told me that they were serious about their fishies.

The menu changes daily, something that I both love and hate. I'm the sort of person who does like to order the same items every time I go to the same restaurant (see: every time I have ever visited a chain restaurant), so updating the menu so often is a deterent to becoming a regular. Then again, for a fancier place that I wouldn't realistically dine at all the time? It's a great way to keep the chef's inspiration fresh, and to enjoy really seasonal food.

To start with, our server brought out a bread basket. The bread was good: dense and chewy, and the butter come softened. I'm also going to take this moment to say that our service was excellent. They know what they are doing here.

Bunny wanted to share a plate of oysters and given that we were at an oyster bar it seemed like a good idea. I've never had oysters before, though, and I have a tendency to get very nervous about new foods and something about the idea of eating raw oysters has always given me the heebie jeebies. Then again, I like raw salmon ... can't be that different, right?

I had oysters. They brought three varieties: a Galway flat (I didn't try it, but they were massive and Bunny adored them), something called a champagne oyster (that were tiny tiny and adorable) and a third that I don't remember. I never would have guessed what variety there is in oysters, and I'm glad that I got to try a few. We started with the champagne oysters, because I'm a wuss and they were small and therefore less scary. They were good: they had that same seafood sweetness I love about crab, the flavour was very mild, and I almost felt like it melted in my mouth. The second oyster was not so great. It tasted slightly fishy to me, but I think it was simply a stronger tasting oyster. Bunny liked his.

The verdict on oysters? I'm glad I tried them and will definitely make it a point to have them again. They were good.

For my main, I had Ontario trout. I usually stay away from ordering fish at a restaurant; if I'm at a seafood place I would generally rather have crab or scallops and when I'm not at a seafood place I know there are better items on the menu, but this really jumped at me. I don't think I could have made a better choice. This may have been the best fish I have ever eaten. The skin was perfectly crisped, the flesh was cooked to pure perfection, so moist it was almost juicy and completely cooked through. My mind was blown.

Even better was the fact that the trout was well accompanied. The plate had a generous smear of a celeriac puree with wasabi, that was divine when eaten with the trout. The creaminess and the slightly more intense flavour balanced perfectly with the fish. There was also a beautiful selection of vegetables: roast fingerling potatoes, golden beets, baby turnips and apples. I may have mentioned before how much I love beets, but I've never had a golden variety, and they were excellent. (Well, duh.) The potatoes were great as well, my only complaint with them was that there weren't many. What didn't thrill me were the turnips and apples. The turnip was just so bland and boring with all the flavours going on everywhere else, and the apples weren't enjoyable. Their inclusion was a little bit unfortunate, as everything else was so well balanced.

Bunny had considered getting the trout, but instead went with a duck dish. It came with a few different sides - no puree or beets, but there were leeks and some other things - that I didn't try. I did, though, get to taste his duck and that was very well prepared. Rich, tender, and meaty. He ate every bite on his plate.

Dessert was pretty good as well. Bunny tried their award-winning sticky toffee pudding and practically licked the plate. I had an espresso creme brulee that was quite delightful. The sugar crust was perfect, and I found that the contrast between the bitter espresso and the sweet custard was delightful.

Price wise, this isn't a bargain. The mains on the menu rain between about $25-35, and realistically if you're here you'll probably indulge in a couple of oysters or an app as well. And try the sticky toffee pudding. Trust me.

All in all, Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill gets high marks from me. It's a great alternative to our usual seafood place, and downtown is much more convenient than hiking out to East York. The quality of the food and the thought that went into the accompaniments made a big impression and we will most certainly be going back.

Friday, April 20, 2012

stir fry day

Some meals end up on the dinner table here with great regularity. The simple, easy dishes that don't take too much thought. Easy pastasmacaroni and cheesefried rice, tons of different soupschicken and greens, and roasts and potatoes are all common dishes for us. The basics I fall back on.

Another basic that we do a lot is a simple stir fry. This is another one of those dishes that mostly consists of bits of this and that in the fridge. It's a meat-free meal I can sneak in under Bunny's radar, although it's not necessarily cheap. It's also a good place to use up bits of leftovers from the week (I can't tell you how many times a roast is re-incarnated in a stir fry here), and sometimes we stir fry just so that we can have frozen shrimp.

It's also a dish that lets me be a little bit lazy about my cooking, and do my prep in stages. Actually cooking this takes maybe ten minutes, start to finish, it's the prep that takes time. Oftentimes you'll find me around noon, peeling and chopping veggies for a stir fry; when I was working I'd do my chopping the night before. In the past I've always used the biggest lazy hack of all: bottled stir fry sauce. Which really does make this easier (or, more accurately, harder to mess up) but it's so much more fun playing with flavours on my own.

The vegetables in this dish are reflective of what Bunny and I keep in the fridge, and what we buy for stir fries. We've always got uses for carrots, onions and bell peppers so we always have them on hand. The great thing about a dish like this, though, is that you can use whatever you want. Have a zucchini? Replace one of your peppers with that. Want mushrooms? Throw them in. I love adding in baby bok choi, and I have a feeling that even some spinach might be nice added in at the end. If I had a can of baby corn I would toss it in this dish in a heartbeat.

Everyday Stir Fry

Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp hot chili oil
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  •  1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 inches fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 2 carrots, cut to matchsticks
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • snow peas, one handful (yeah that's how I measured)
  • peanut or vegetable oil, for cooking
Directions:
  1. In a small bowl, combine water, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, chili oil and lemon juice.
  2. In a large skillet or wok, heat cooking oil. When hot, add garlic, ginger and onions to the pan. Saute about 1 minute.
  3. Add carrots to the pan. Saute about 2 minutes. Add bell peppers, saute another 2-3 minutes. Finally add the snow peas. Saute a further minute.
  4. Add your sauce to the pan. Jumble everything around so that all your veggies get equally coated with the sauce. Keep this on the heat about one or two minutes.
  5. Serve over rice or noodles. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

art, of sorts

Has one little picture ever stirred up a lot of controversy. Surely you've heard of it, from an art show in a British Columbia university. You know, the one of the Muslim woman wearing a veil and holding a bra as she's folding laundry?

Yeah that one. I've been reading a lot about it over the past few days, and it really intrigues me. It brings up a lot of questions, most of which I don't have real answers for.

As I was reading in the Huffington Post today, there's a bit of an uproar surrounding it.

I come at this from the viewpoint of someone who isn't religious. From that standpoint, I have the right not to have the rules of someone else's beliefs pushed on me. I expect to live in a world where whether I have access to abortive procedures or birth control is a decision that the government and the medical experts make, regardless of what the stance of any major religious institution might be. I expect that I will have the option of eating any food I want, even if religious laws forbid it. I expect that I can make the choices to live my life in any way I want, without having the moral expectations of religions I don't subscribe to pushed upon me.

I expect a lot.

I would also be completely wrong-headed to say that I can push any of my views of people who do subscribe to various religious beliefs. I can choose to reject the rules of religion, but I can't flaunt my rejection in people's faces. I have to respect the same rights that I am so adamant about: that people have the right to make their own choices without having someone else's moral viewpoints thrust down their neck.

That's tricky, though. Often these morals clash, quite clearly. For someone who believes that abortion is murder, I can see where it might be pretty hard to sit back and let other people make that choice. How do we reconcile two mutually exclusive viewpoints and peacefully share a world? How do I reconcile my personal freedoms in some of those respects?

What sticks out to me about this particular issue, this picture, is that there is a suggestion there is a disrespect to the religion here. I mean, if I dressed up in a burqa and held a bra and had someone photograph that and post it that would definitely be disrespectful. I would be mocking someone else's religion. As far as I can tell, though, that's not what happened here. This was more photojournalistic - a picture taken of someone's real life, with consent of the individual photographed. It's a poignant contrast, and thought provoking. It was so very, very heavily rooted in humanity.

What's it is not is sexual, in any way. A bra in and of itself is not a sexual object. It's a piece of clothing, a tool that makes life a heck of a lot more comfortable. Women wear them. For the larger-busted among us they are down-right essential. Women wear bras, wash bras, put bras away, buy bras. They are a part of life as women.

But there are a lot of people who are offended by this. The Saudi Arabian Embassy has gone on record saying this photo is offensive to Islam.

So here's my question: how do we balance the rights of an individual and a society to freedom with respect for the fact that other groups have very different ideas?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cream Cheese Spinach Dip

This is the sort of recipe I have spent ages trying to perfect. I still probably will continue to tinker with it over the years. Spinach suspending in a creamy mess? Delicious.

But I have dip problems, which I have told you about before. I don't like mayo or sour cream. They creep me out. The idea of either of them makes me cringe. I've since figured out that I like yogurt and cream cheese based dips (although the idea of eating cream cheese on a bagel also creeps me out - I'm a weirdo) and my very favourite comes courtesy of Kelsey's. (They also introduced me to deep fried Mars bars. Which I adored.)

Recipes claiming to duplicate their dip have abounded over the internet, and I have certainly used more than a few. But there are always a few missing in my pantry. I usually have parmesan and cheddar cheeses on hand, but we don't tend to have cream cheese or Romano on hand. We'd rather have blues and bries for eating purposes.

What's a girl to do? Well, I adapt things for what I do have onhand. No Romano? Well, I have two different parmesans. I'm never going to chop just a tablespoon of bell pepper, but sometimes I have miniatures on hand, and I'm ok with having too much bell pepper.

This recipe is just barely adapted at all. Just barely.

Almost-Kelsey's Four (Three?) Cheese Spinach Dip
from cdkitchen

Ingredients:
  • 1 package (250g) plain or light cream cheese
  • 3/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Trestelle pre-grated Parmesan
  • 1 miniature bell pepper, chopped extra fine
  • 1/4 small red onion, chopped extra fine
  • about 3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 2/3rds cup grated Cheddar cheese
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400* F.
  2. In boiling water, blanch spinach for 45 seconds. Drain into a collander over the sink. When it has cooled, squeeze to dry.
  3. Mix cream cheese, garlic powder, cayenne and parmesan(s) until softened and thoroughly mixed.
  4. Add bell pepper and onion, mix until just incorporated.
  5. Add spianch, mix until just incorporated.
  6. Transfer to small, oven proof serving dishes (ramekins, gratin dishes or miniature casserole dishes all work perfectly for this) and top with the cheddar cheese. (Pro-tip: I transfer my dip into two miniature casseroles, so that Bunny doesn't eat the entire dip before I have had three bites. Plus, this way he gets an orange dish and I can have blue or purple and that makes us happy.)
  7. Bake for 15 - 18 minutes, until bubbling on the top.
  8. Serve this baby up with baked or fried pita wedges (if you want to go all Kelsey's style) or tortilla chips. Especially corn chips. Oh yeah.
Also, possibly the best part here, you can make this ahead of time and just pop it in the oven. One of the best ways to entertain.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Closet Overhaul: The Green Sweater

Today I'm thinking about an older item in my closet. Picked up at RW while Boxing Day shopping two or three years ago, it's just a simple sweater. I easily have a dozen simple sweater, but this particular one is the best of the bunch.

Wool blend, and that fabric feels better than the others. (As it should, it's from a store with higher quality than any of my other sweaters.) It just sort of ... glides across my skin. The colour is lovely: a mossy, mid-tone green. Beautiful scoop neckline with a little bit of detail, and ribbed hemlines at the wrists and waist.

Nice, but nothing special.

But oh do I feel beautiful in this. Muted tones have always worked well on me (think dusty pinks and purples, subdued oranges), and green has always been my colour. Although it's crazy hard to find the right green, this sweater does it. Can we also just take a moment and say that this sweater makes my boobs look like a million bucks? Because oh wow do they look good. The neckline is just high enough to make a camisole unnecessary, but I can throw one on if I want the detail to poke out. It neither clings nor bags, as so many of my sweaters do, but just skims my body.

Basically what I'm saying is that I need about a hundred more of this sweater. I feel so damn good in this. It's no real secret that this is from a nicer store than I usually shop at and you can tell from the quality. I've bought a few items from there recently, and have been super impressed. The thing that sets this particular sweater apart, more than anything, is that it's better fabric, cut better, and it doesn't lose its shape in the wash. It's ruined cheap sweaters for me. (In fact, a few of them are currently in my "to donate" pile).

Monday, April 16, 2012

rosemary lemon chicken

Chicken is one of those foods that took awhile to grow on me. It has the potential to be incredibly bland, and if not prepared well it's just boring. I ate a lot of boring chicken growing up, I think.

As a cook, though, chicken excites me. Chicken plays so well with a variety of flavours, and I find it's quite forgiving of different combinations. It goes well with hot, spicy flavours or more complex, woody flavours, it suits bright flavours and it goes well with subtle flavours, not overwhelming things. There are so many things to do with chicken: pot pies, fried chicken, in a soy marinade or in a mushroom sauce. And those are just a few favourites. People go on about buttermilk marinaded chicken, which is on my to do list later.

Today's chicken is a fairly simple recipe. It's so basic I almost don't want to call it a recipe, actually. It's also delicious. I'm sure that you could easily enough adapt this to a whole chicken, or use different parts. I've used a marinade, but if you don't have as much time this could just as easily be a rub for the chicken. I used rosemary because it excited me but I know that this would be equally delicious with another strong herb. (I almost went with sage, which would have been a completely different flavour profile).

Ingredients:
  • 6 chicken thighs
    • I used bone in, skin on. If you prefer boneless and/or skinless, just adjust your cooking times
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large lemon, juiced and zested
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
Directions
  1. In a large bowl, mix together olive oil, lemon zest and juice, salt and garlic. Pull the leaves off the rosemary sprigs, add to the mix. Wisk to thoroughly combine all ingredients of the marinade.
  2. Place chicken in bowl with your marinade. Rub everything around so that each piece of chicken is evenly coated with the marinade.
  3. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or overnight. (Alternately, transfer the chicken and marinade to Ziploc freezer bag.)
    1. Note: I found that the marinade congealed a little bit when chilled. Don't worry. It's all about the flavour.
Wait awhile. Come back to things.
  1. Preheat your oven to 350* F.
  2. Bring a large cast iron skillet to medium high heat. (You don't need to add any oil, because you've got a few tablespoons in your marinade. If you chicken is skin on, you're even better.)
  3. When the skillet is hot, place your chicken pieces in the pan, skin side down. Let this sear about five minutes.  What we're looking for here is a nice golden crust on the skin side of your thighs. Because crispy chicken skin is one of the best parts here.
  4. Flip your chicken so the skin side is up. Sear a further two minutes on the other side. (I don't worry about getting too much a sear on the non-skin side, because I don't find it makes as big of a difference, taste wise.)
  5. Transfer your skillet to the oven. Cook for 35-40 minutes. Test your chicken for doneness, as no one likes raw chicken. There are two methods.
    1. Insert a meat thermometer. Easiest way to tell.
    2. Cut into a thigh - things should be completely white, not pink.
  6. Let your chicken rest about 5 minutes.
  7. Eat. Enjoy. Serve with mashed potatoes and a lovely roasted veggie.
Also: You can totally make a gravy with this, but you really don't have to.

    Saturday, April 14, 2012

    food obsession: sushi

    I go through phases with food. When I was a toddler, I refused to eat anything but frozen lima beans for lunch for pretty much a year solid (true story). Now, I can barely bring myself to touch the stupid beans. I go through months of nothing but peanut butter and apple snacks, and then all I want are carbs for months. For weeks I might be interested in nothing but soups and then, out of nowhere, I want nothing to do with them.

    Right now, I'm smack in the middle of obsessing over an old favourite. I can't get enough sushi. Cannot get enough.

    I first fell in love with sushi in university. Downtown St Catharines was overflowing with all-you-can-eat sushi places. The crowds of broke university students I was friends with gathered towards them like months to a flame. The quantities of rice, fish and vegetables that were consumed over the course of a couple of hours were mindblowing.

    When I moved to Toronto about a year after I graduated, I assumed that sushi would be an all the time thing. What I hadn't counted on was that Bunny was all sushi'ed out from all the late nights at work when his entire team wanted sushi, even when he wasn't into it. So I didn't have too much sushi for quite some time.

    But oh am I on a kick right now. Two of my last four dinners out have been at sushi places. I've picked up prepared sushi from the grocery store twice in the last three weeks. Plus there have been quite a few sushi dishes picked up as a snack from the food court while I've been out.

    I'm a bit of a sushi wuss. I'm not in love with most raw fish, although I go crazy for salmon sashimi and nigiri. The melt-in-your-mouth salmon texture drives me wild. I tend to go for more Westernized offerings. I like the textural contrast of a California roll. Vegetable maki is my friend. (Who would have guessed that cucumber wrapped in rice and seaweed could be so delicious?) I have a weakness for yam or crab tempura sushi. The tempura crunch and the slight sweetness is just too good. (Also: I'm currently in love with a yam tempura and avocado roll. The creaminess and the crunchiness just made me swoon.)

    I'm a little adverse to the all-out crazy Western style rolls. I don't want six different fillings and some weird sauce on my sushi. I like to keep things fairly simple. I don't want there to be too much going on.

    If you couldn't guess, I'm craving sushi again.

    Friday, April 13, 2012

    Wedding Ambivalence, and Musings

    I'm getting married next fall.

    That is one of the most exciting statement I've ever made. I couldn't be happier to be marrying Bunny. I'm soooo excited for the life we've started together to be formally recognized and to officially be husband and wife.

    The wedding that Bunny and I are so lacksadaisically planning is beautiful, simple and calm. Full of details that are meaningful to us: a friend performing the ceremony, in a chapel that Bunny worked on at the old design firm. Traditional vows, because we (well, I) like the symbolism of tying ourselves to generations of couples who've been married before us. It's like wrapping our union in some of the magic of the institution. The reception at a restaurant we love, owned by friends. Flowers from one of Bunny's friends shops. A hand-me-down dress given with love (and it's oh-my-god gorgeous). Jewellery my mother is making for me, hair and makeup done by a close family friend. Basically any detail we are making is something we really care about.

    Time to talk and laugh and dance. Keeping the party small enough that we can casually hang out and spend time with everyone, share the magic. Disposable cameras everywhere, so that we get a million candid photos. Fun, laid back and surrounded by love. That's the vibe we're going for.

    It's pretty perfect, and it fits Bunny and I to a tee.

    Except there is still a part of me that wants to just run to the courthouse and get married, tomorrow. Just us. It's a tugging desire, and I'm quite honestly on the fence between the two options. I could go either way. I've never fussed much about having a wedding, and I'd really be just as happy with an elopement.

    Here's the thing, even though I'd be thrilled with an elopement, we won't do it. There are a lot of very special reasons why Bunny and I have decided to have an actual wedding. We've looked at the big picture, and for us nothing short of throwing a party will satisfy us. It's important to us for a lot of reasons to have the wedding.

    Sometimes we (well, especially me) struggle with it. We are not fancy party people. We're laid back homebodies who love our friends but adore being on our own, just the two of us. I'm a courthouse person, and Bunny's from a courthouse type family. (His parents' wedding consisted of a courthouse and then a bunch of friends at McDonald's. Sweeeeeet.) There's a big pull for us to do the courthouse thing.

    Fact is, we have reasons why having a wedding is important. A lot of reasons, actually. Reasons that have all come from places of love. There are parts of the wedding I could not be more excited for. So we're having a wedding. Happily. Just not without second thoughts.

    Thursday, April 12, 2012

    Crafty Hands

    Tossed over an unhung mirror in my living room are two pieces of completed needlework. Cross stitch, specifically, is my poison. It's a somewhat unceremonious display for scraps of cloth and through that I spent months stitching, pulling taut on frames and removing them at the end of the night to save the fabric. Eventually I'll either frame them or make pillows, but for now at least they are haphazardly displayed.

    Handicrafts are kind of in my blood. I grew up around them. Until my parents divorced, most of my weekends from April to October were spent at my grandparents' cottage. During the day life bustled with activities: cooking, gardening, fishing, swimming, card and board games, a walk down the gravel road to visit family. My Poppa and both his siblings all owned cottages on the shoreline of Lake Simcoe. Our cottage had been in the family for six generations before me. I'm tied to that land, on the inside.

    At night, the family would gather around the fireplace in the livingroom. From big bags at their feet, the women in the family - my mom, Nanna and two aunts - would pull piles of fabric or yarn. Baby blankets and children's sweaters to be knitted, embroidery to be sewn, and eventually there was even quilting.

    It was around then that I began doing crafty things. Knitting scarves, doing small bits of needlework. Latch hook rugs. Little things. I've picked up various bits of hobby crafts over the years: making Christmas ornaments and jewellery, knitting mindlessly and varieties of sewing crafts. I even once hand-sewed replica of a Roman stola by hand for a school conference.

    Having something to do with my hands is soothing. I enjoy slowly watching a flower unfold across a swath of fabric as I make tiny stitches with coloured floss. It's a simple joy, watching beauty come out of knots in yarn or carefully placed thread. Even more, there's a great sense of accomplishment in completing a poject and making something seemingly out of nothing. In the end, I love seeing how all the carefully meticulous work and tracking and perfectionism pay off in something beautiful to be displayed, worn or used.

    So here's my question for you: What crafts and hobbies do you do? (Or wish you did?) What's ot there that I'm missing?

    Wednesday, April 11, 2012

    Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies, My Way

    Do you remember the first time you ever baked or cooked (mostly) on your own? For me, it was chocolate chip cookies from the classic Toll House recipe baked in my mother's kitchen. It's not much of a stretch to say that I grew up on these cookies. It wasn't unusual for my mom's friends to request that I make cookies, and these were my standard.

    The first time I was allowed to make them on my own was magic. Using the big mixing bowl and wooden spoon, the sweet metal measuring cups. Perfectly lined up gobs of cookie dough on my mom's battered baking sheets. Watching them rise and turn golden in the oven. I was the kid who sat in front of the oven with the light on to watch the entire process.

    The Toll House recipe, to me, is the standard by which all chocolate chip cookies should be made. It's a good basic cookie dough, and can be easily altered to suit most tastes. My mom, like most people I know, had her own variation as do I. The best of my mom's changes was with the sugar: a higher proportion of brown than white. And no skimping on the chocolate skips, but leave the nuts out.

    My own version includes cinnamon and nutmeg, in small quantities. When I have them on hand I like to add chopped walnuts or pecans for texture, but they certainly aren't necessary. If I don't have brown sugar, I don't worry about it. Always, I go overboard on the vanilla.

    The mechanics of how I make the cookies have changed. The KitchenAid whips the dough up so quickly I feel like I'm cheating. My cookie scoop makes portioning, my least favourite part, a breeze. I don't always watch them rise anymore. I do still love that first warm cookie, with gooey chocolate staining my fingers.

    I don't claim that this is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever. I think that for cookies, to call something the "best" is too subjective. I'm always open to new recipes to try. But this, this is my favourite. And Bunny just recently took two dozen (half a batch) to school, so I thought I would share.

    Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Ingredients
    • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    • 1 cup butter, margarine or shortening, softened (I use margarine, but they'd be lovely with buttter)
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 cup packed brown sugar (doesn't really matter if it's dark or light)
    • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 (12 ounce) package NESTLE® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
      • Hot tip: I don't ever by the packages. I buy the bulk Hershey's chips. :S I use about two cups, but it changes every time
    • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
      • Walnuts or pecans are best, in my mind
    Directions:
    1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
    2. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in small bowl.
    3. Cream the butter and sugars in a large bowl until it starts to look a little tiny bit fluffy. You shouldn't be able to really see any sugar crystals and visually the texture of the mixture changes. (Do I need pictures? I really need to get a camera and give you pictures.)
    4. Add eggs and vanilla, beating well.
    5. Add the flour mixture in 3 - 4 batches, beating until mostly combined before adding the next batch of flour. 
    6. When the cookie dough is uniform, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts (if using nuts). 
    7. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. (Makes about 48)
    8. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for at least a few minutes, transfer to racks or a plate to finish cooling. (What, you think I own cooling racks? Nope.)
    9. Eat them. Get chocolate all over your hands. Enjoy. Bake again, but different.

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

    laundry rant

    Let me start by stating that I have no qualms about the distribution of chores in our household. I tend to do more of the day to day stuff, and Bunny tends to do more of the once-a-week (or less) "Big Chores". Right now, since I'm home much more than he is, I've also been picking up a few of those. This works for us. I don't mind cooking and washing up, but the idea of taking out the trash? I just don't want to deal. Please no.

    There are plenty of chores that are unpleasant. I'm not particularly fond of cleaning the bathroom, though I do it far more often than I ever would have expected. I don't really like picking up around the house, but I do it every other day or so. I don't enjoy cleaning floors, but I clean them.

    But laundry? Oh god, laundry. My reaction to this chore is absolutely irrational. I turn into a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. I scream at the hamper, I stew while I walk around the back of the building to the laundry room. I scare the dog. I bitch at Bunny to no end. I just cannot handle laundry.

    Actually, it's not so much doing the laundry that creates the problem. I mean, chucking clothes in a washer, transferring them to a dryer, and then putting them away is not that big of a deal. Where it gets me though, is not having a washer and dryer. Leaving the house to do the laundry is a whole different beast than just flinging a load of underthings in the washer.

    It's not so much doing the laundry that is the problem, as the leaving my home to do the laundry. Every little obstacle in my way puts red flags in my vision. Someone dumped things in the wrong part of the hamper? I'm mad. There's only one washing machine available? I'm mad. I dropped things on the way? I'm mad. The machine ate my quarter? I'm mad. It doesn't matter what happens when I do the laundry, it will make me mad because I just hate the laundry that much. Complete irrational hatred.

    It fills me with rage. White hot rage. Two year old temper tantrum rage. Inexplicable, unexcusable, irrational rage. I f*cking hate the g*ddamn laundry. I hate it I hate it I hate it.

    I have to be honest, I don't care about clean clothes. Not as much as I should. Not enough to be worth getting this worked up about laundry. I would really rather wear dirty clothes for the rest of my life than do the f*cking laundry ever again. For real. I haaaaaaate laundry.

    What's even more ridiculous about my hatred of laundry is that it's a chore that Bunny does more than 75% of the time. He knows I hate it, and it's not very often he asks me to do it. If I'm doing the laundry it's because it needs to be done and there was no chance for him to do it.

    But me doing the laundry? Well I can do it, and I will do it, but it is torture. I equate washing my clothes with torture. That's how strong my reaction against laundry is. I rage against it the entire time I'm doing it.

    Which is all to say that the laundry is currently in the dryer, and I have to go pick it up in half an hour.

    So, here's my question for you: what chores do you hate? Why do you hate them so much? And what do you do to make them a little bit more bearable?

    Monday, April 09, 2012

    crafty projects

    Lately I've practically had a needle and thread attached to my hand. I've been plowing through my latest cross stitch pattern (a really cute bunch of butterflies) at a speed that's a little bit surprising for me. Especially considering how long the last couple have taken me, I'm surprised how quickly this is going.

    So quickly, in fact, that when we were in Barrie this weekend I stopped in at Walmart (ugh) to pick up supplies for my next couple of projects. Next on the list? Pillows! I'm finally starting the pillows! I have lovely fabric for two pillows (a silver and black pattern, and a pink/white/silver/black pattern) and I'm going to do one side of each fabric on both pillows. I'm excited.

    Aaaannnnnd ... Bunny said we should register for a sewing machine. Heck yes we should! I'll make a million beautiful things.

    We've also been talking about a few projects for the near future, in anticipation of the fact that we're intending on babies. (Yeah, yeah we are. Baby fingers make my heart twinge.) Little cross stitch pattern type things, easy ones. All I can think is how cute would it be to have a little collection of cross stitched animals hung on the wall for our baby when we have one.

    Have I mentioned that I have baby fever? Because oh boy do I ever.

    Saturday, April 07, 2012

    shopping my freezer

    I don't do so well with cooking for just two people. Luckily, Bunny and I both enjoy having leftovers for lunch and we have a huge chest freezer to hold any extras. We keep the freezer pretty stocked, between vacuum sealed cuts of meat from Costco and tupperwares full of leftovers. At any given time, we can count on the freezer having a quiche or two, leftovers from a couple of random dinners, and at least half a dozen containers of soup.

    Once again, we haven't really gotten around to going grocery shopping this week. I've been a little bit consumed with some other projects and strangely haven't been dying to get into the kitchen, so we've been eating out of the freezer. Last night was a vegetable quiche, and the night before that was a barley lentil soup for me and cauliflower cheese soup for Bunny. His lunches have even been coming from the freezer this week, since I haven't been cooking in the evening. (Please note, I've still been making plenty of cookies. Nothing stops that.) The number of tupperware containers we have rescued is remarkable.

    Annnnd, it makes room for us to make way for new leftovers in the freezer, when I'm back in a cooking mood. I love the rotation we get there.

    So now my question for you: what are your favourite freezer-friendly recipes?

    Friday, April 06, 2012

    Outfits 5 & 6: Incorporating New Pieces

    I've been a bit of a busy bee lately. Spring has sprung, and it seems to have brought my social life along with it. Coffee dates, sushi nights and general fun have been taking a bigger role in my life lately. The sort of occasions that call for a more casual style, and on recent outings two new items got some play.

    The other weekend my university roommate and I went to a spa sampler (trying to sell us on their wedding packages, we decided to try them out). I wore an old staple, my favourite black and white graphic floral dress. I love this dress. Accessories were kept very simple: black boots and a wool coat, my silver heart pendant. I did, though, have to get a pop of colour into that outfit somehow. Remember the new pink cardigan? That, in addition to a fuschia camisole provided that pop. Because both bits of colour were in the same family it worked so easily. The look almost pulled itself together. It always feels fancy when I put on a dress, but really it's the simples of all possible outfits.

    I can't always wear dresses, as much as I might like to. On a recent coffee date with a friend, I gave in to the lure of pants. The lure of trouser jeans. (Which are new, but don't really count.) Many elements were standard; I even wore the same boots and jacket as I'd worn with the dress. What I did get to add into it was the green and black patterned shirt I picked up recently. Add in my black and gold beaded necklace, which is quickly becoming one of my favourite accessories, and the look was done.

    The best part about both of these outfits was that they allowed me to match new pieces with my existing wardrobe. It makes everything feel fresh and new, and it makes me feel comfortable that I've selected new items that will fit into my current closet.


    How's the closet overhaul going, you ask? Quite well. New pieces are working with what I already love, and I've got a growing pile of "to donates". I'm getting rid of clothes I don't want to wear. Woo!

    Thursday, April 05, 2012

    crab cakes

    My love of crab comes straight from my mom. I'm pretty sure it's the best seafood: nothing quite matching the sweet and juicy flesh. It's amazing dipped just slightly into butter, or completely on its own. It's not exactly something you see on my everyday menu though. It's expensive, and in general the closest thing to fresh crab I ever bring home comes in a can.

    Canned crab? Yeah I know. A can of crabmeat can turn into any number of delicious things, though. Bunny goes crazy for crab quiche. I love crab in my pasta. Of course, there's also the standard crab cake.

    Generally speaking, I make crab cakes as appetizers or grazing food. When I'm cooking for two, this recipe yields way more than we'll realistically eat with a meal ... but by the time we go to bed the two of us will have devoured them.

    Crab Cakes
    adapted from Elizabeth Baird
    makes about 12

    Ingredients
    • 1 can crabmeat
      • feel free to replace this with fresh crab, if available
    • 2 gloves garlic, minced or grated
    • 1/2 large bell pepper, finely chopped
    • 1/2 red or sweet onion, finely chopped
    • one large egg
    • 2 tbsp plain yogurt
    • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
    • 3/4 cups breadcrumbs, divided
      • note: I use preseasoned crumbs. If you don't you'll want to add some Italian seasoning in to your recipe
    • Olive oil, for cooking. (About two tbsp)
    Directions
    1. Drain the can of crab meat. You want the flesh to be fairly dry. Transfer to a large bowl.
    2. Add the pepper, onion, egg, parmesan cheese, 2 tbsp of bread crumbs and yogurt. Stir until well combined.
    3. Sprinkle remaining bread crumbs in shallow dish.
    4. Form crabmeat mixture by rounded spoonfuls into balls; roll in bread crumbs. You'll want to ensure that your crabcakes are fully covered in crumbs as this is what gives them that lovely crunchy crust.
    5. Place covered balls onto waxed paper or prep plate. Press down slightly to flatten. (Be careful here, because they cakes tend to want to fall apart at this point in my experience.)
    6. In nonstick skillet, heat half of the oil over medium-high heat; cook crab cakes, in batches and adding enough of the remaining oil as necessary, for 2 minutes per side or until golden.
    7. Sprinkle with salt, to taste after removing from the pan. (This is when the salt with adhere the best. You don't need much.)
    8. Serve with any creamy dip of your choosing (lemon aioli would be lovely), or on their own with lemon.
    Notes:
    • The yogurt could easily be replaced with mayo. I just hate the stuff.
    • These would be a great side to a salad. That would be an amazing lunch.
    • If you're using fresh crab, you may need to add some salt to the mix. Canned crab tends to have salt already added.

    Wednesday, April 04, 2012

    Money Lessons from my Mother

    I don't think it's too unreasonable to suggest that most children first learn about money at home, from their parents. Certainly that was the case for me. I knew money was something that parents had, and sometimes gave me (yay allowance!), and exchanged for things.

    When my parents divorced, I learned how the division of assets (money, and things that were valuable in a monetary sense) played into the whole process. I learned about a lot of the financial decisions my parents had made before the divorce, and I learned that a lot of those decisions did not reflect my mom's values.

    Around that time I also learned that spending money feels like happiness. My mom dealt with her pain about the divorce process through a few things and one of them was spending money. Buying crystal balls and collectible swarozski figurines. New clothes and computers and televisions. Doubling the Christmas budget (because spending for other people is as satisfying as spending for yourself). The same holds true for me, a little bit. When I'm sad, buying things gives me a pick me up. I like things. I like spending money. In the moment, it can even feel like buying happiness.

    But you can't buy that.

    When I headed to university and money wasn't there, I learned that creating plans for how I would reach my goals was a pretty good idea. Talking with my mom, I discovered that I really had no idea how much my mom struggled with money and how much time she spent stressing about cashflow.

    My mother is not exactly great with her money. I had no clue about that, though. There was always food in the fridge, and all of our needs (and many of our wants) were taken care of. There were no harrassing collections calls, and my mom handled her own taxes. I'd always assumed that my mom was a money whiz. Why? Because she always had money, and we were in no way deprived. My mom appeared to be in control of her money. What I didn't know about then were the piles of credit card debt, the credit score that couldn't carry a car loan, the retirement funds that weren't quite so funded, the nights spent worrying about if the money was going to be there when she needed it.

    My mom was not a financial beacon of hope.

    As an adult she's taught me more about money and money management than almost anyone I can think of. She's sat me down and gone through her budget line by line, so I can see what's going on, what expenses I might one day need to expect. We've discussed savings and strategies and smart purchases. My mom is a coupon queen and a bargain shopper extraordinaire. We've talked about smart money decisions, and why to make them.

    The other week, my dog got hurt very badly and we had to make the decision to put her down. That was a million and one discussions with the vet, decisions to make that would have a huge impact, for Cheyenne's well-being and quality of life, for our own emotional states, and financially. Neither of us had budgeted for emergency surgery or a thousand tests. (Although I kind of had, that's the whole purpose of my emergency fund.)

    Sitting there, at one point while my mom was looking at quotes for various treatment options and tests and trying to decide where do we go from here, I could see she was so overwhelmed. Between being how sudden everything was, being emotionally devastated and looking at big numbers for things that probably wouldn't even fix things, we were both in shock a little bit. After a few minutes I looked at my mom.

    "Mom, let's put the quotes away. The money shouldn't be part of our decision. It's just money. It comes and goes, sometimes you have it and sometimes you don't. It doesn't matter right now."

    We put the quotes away and decided with our hearts. That's the only way you can make a decision like that, or at least for me it was.

    Money doesn't buy happiness. It takes a lot of work to manage money well, and sometimes a lot of sacrifice of our desires. Money can buy things, and plane tickets and trips - but it doesn't give you love, or experiences, or emotion.

    When it coems to a lot of things, I'm a scrimper and a saver. But when it comes to life, death and taking care of the people I love? In those moemnts, money is just a tool. It's numbers in a bank account, and even when I don't have it I won't let it stand in the way of the things that are important. Money isn't one of them.

    That is what my mother taught me about money.

    How about you? What did your family teach you about money?

    Tuesday, April 03, 2012

    an interlude

    So, ya'll know I write, right? Clearly it would seem, that's what I'm doing right this moment. I put pen to paper, press buttons on a keyboard. String words in a row. Sometimes my writing takes me down some less conventional roads.

    Sometimes the words pour out of me with far less thought than I'd usually allow. They tumble out, in a different form than my usual prose. Every now and again I figure I might as well share.

    Without further ado....


    It is a moment
    Trapped in a dream
    A day, surrounded in light

    Dreams loom on the horizon
    Appearing larger than their reality
    Larger than any possible reality

    What could be
    How that moment might feel
    Dazzles like a promise

    Carrot, dandled on a string
    Could it ever come true
    As it does in the dream?

    Reality is a fickle beast
    Dreams do not always come true
    When the real world gets in the way

    Happiness need not lay
    So precariously
    On whether dreams bloom

    Sometimes the edge of real hazes
    Our worlds merge
    Dreams become reborn

    As they take life on their own
    Wings, formed unlike any
    We had imagined

    Our lives forever different
    As we face the world, the truth
    Of our dreams realized

    So unlike our imaginings
    They unfold, unwind
    As more than we ever imagined

    Monday, April 02, 2012

    bread, made of corn

    We'd already talked about dinner. With a fridge full of leftovers, and being a few days late on the grocery shopping, it seemed only natural that we'd delve into deliciousness made on days past. Life should be so easy, right? We all know that I don't do things that simply.

    Come about five o'clock, and cravings struck. Intense desire, no need for new food. Carbs, breads, chocolates: something with a nice crumb. I could go out to the corner store and grab a box of cookies, but that seemed particularly unsatisfying. But cookies? They might do the trick. Out came the cookie book.

    Chocolate chip was out, as I do that so often. A quick check of the pantry revealed that we were out of oats and nuts. Options were limited, it seemed. Then, out of nowhere, I flipped the page and my eyes landed on not one but two recipes for cornmeal cookies. Cookies described as tasting just like cornbread. Rather brilliant, no?

    Brilliant or not, it wasn't going to fly. If I wanted something that tasted like cornbread, maybe I should just make cornbread. So that's what I did. I mean who doesn't like cornbread, right?

    I used a pretty basic sweetened cornbread recipe, nothing too fancy. Because there weren't many ingredients, modifications were simple. This is a cornier cornbread than most, as I changed the flour/cornmeal ratio (so there would be more corn goodness). This made two big changes in the bread. To start with, you loose a little bit of a bready, soft texture and gain a more mealy texture. The upside to this is that everything tastes that much more intensely of corn. (If that's not your thing, use even amounts of cornmeal and flour.) Another change was to switch out the oil for applesauce, because that tends to make things moister in my mind.

    Slightly Sweet Corny Cornbread
    adapted from allrecipes.com
    Ingredients
    • 1/2 cup all purpose flous
    • 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
    • 2/3 cups white sugar*
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 3 1/2 tsps baking powder
    • 1 cup milk***
    • 1/3 cup applesauce
    * I'm sure this would also be delicious with brown sugar. I'd also love to try honey, but that's something to be careful with, as it changes the dry/liquid rations
    ** This sounds like a lot of baking powder, but after baking this I absolutely would not reduce this
    *** You can sub a can of creamed corn for the milk
    **** If you don't have applesauce (preferably unsweetened) just use your favourite low flavour cooking oil (vegetable, canola)

    Directions
    1. Preheat oven to 400*F. Lightly grease a 9" cake pan*.
    2. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Lightly wisk to evenly incorporate all dry ingredients.
    3. In a separate bowl, combine egg, milk, applesauce. Mix well.
    4. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir until well combined.
    5. Transfer batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula to ensure even distribution.
    6. Bake in preheated oven for 20-22 minutes. The top should have begun to brown just at the edges, and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cornbread will come out clean.
    * You can also try this in a cast iron skillet, or a loaf pan. If you use a loaf pan you'll want to be careful of your cooking times, as it might change.