Thursday, May 31, 2012

life, and changes

So, uh, we're moving.

Yeah. Life's like that sometimes, isn't it? It's a big scary change (amongst so many other changes right now), and although it was something that Bunny and I have discussed a lot lately it's all very sudden.

So we've had a long day, picking up things from our place in Toronto and bringing them up north. We have many more days like that to come.

Suffice it to say, we're exhausted.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

life, and happiness

With everything that's been going on lately, it's hard to find things to smile about, but we've been plugging along at it. There are a few things, though, that deserve special mention.

  1. Bunny's sister is married! She got married in Jamaica on Friday afternoon (we told her there was no way in all heck we were letting her change those plans) and we are all thrilled for her.
  2. I am marrying into the best family ever. I already knew this, but this past week has really driven that home. And woah, is that a wonderful thing.
  3. The care and support we've been overwhelmed with, whether it be from family, neighbours, our friends nearby, friends from the internet, down to the care we received at the hospital and funeral home.
  4. Poppa Bunny is home. His urn is beautiful, and he's in the living room. Later we will spread some of his ashes in his favourite fishing and hunting spots (including the spot where he shot his one and only urn.)
  5. Being surrounded by the people who love us. Right now, that's important.
  6. The freedom that being unemployed/freelancing has given Bunny and I to be where we need to be while all this is happening.
  7. My new blue dress that Bunny adores. Seeing him happy is really good.
  8. Decisions Bunny and I have made regarding our future that are still very private, but we're very excited about. This has thrown a lot of perspective on some things.
  9. The pictures. Oh lord, the pictures. They are by turns heart breaking (Poppa Bunny with his only grandchild, which are beautiful but I can barely stand to see) and hilarious (Poppa Bunny wearing my mother's dirty panties on his head, and the lead up there. That was, oh, fifteen years ago) and going through them has been good.
  10. Valentino Rossi coming in second at Le Mans this past Sunday. The Doctor is in the house!
Ten is good. If I can think of ten things that make me happy right now, I'm good.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

book review: the bonesetter's daughter

I've been hearing about what a great author Amy Tan is since high school, but somehow I'd never really managed to pick up any of her books. The other week at Indigo I decided to remedy this, and grabbed a copy of The Bonesetter's Daughter (because it was the cheapest of her books and, well, I'm cheap.)

It took me awhile to get into, but oh was this a good book. There are a few stories, taking place in different time periods, woven together here. There's the story of Ruth Young, learning her family's true past and taking care of her ailing mother, as well as her relationship with her partner. There's memory of her childhood. The best story, though, is LuLing's (Ruth's mother) account of her youth and trip to America. They all worked together brilliantly.

LuLing comes across as such a vivid, realistic character. Except for the fact that she's Chinese and not Hungarian, she could be my own grandmother. Ruth herself is complex and prickly, flawed and loving. Strong characters are a requirement for me in most books, and they were most certainly strong and realistic.

Tan's writing style spoke to me, the way she melded dialogue and story.

One thing I hate to admit, though, is that I did have trouble keeping my attention on the book. I'd happily read for stretches, but at no point did I feel compelled to pick it up and finish, but I was happy to have it around. Maybe it's that I had other things on my mind, or maybe with all the stories taking place I needed to let them sink in. I'm not sure.

Either way, I'll go out of my way to read more of her work in the future.

Monday, May 28, 2012

life, and anger

The world has completely pissed me off right now. Like what the f*ck is going on?

I feel like a pariah. In addition to Poppa Bunny's stroke last week, my brother came home two days later for a funeral. My mother's best friend's father died a week to the day from Poppa Bunny. What are we, cursed to know and love? (Obviously I know this is not the case. But it feel like it.)

Oh? And that day that Poppa Bunny passed? One of Bunny's cousins said that ten people at his work lost someone close to them on the same day.

It's just too damn much. It needs to stop and go away and for the world to just be quiet and nice to us for awhile.

Friday, May 25, 2012

life, time passing

The last few days have been a whole lot of nothing.

Sitting. Thinking. Talking to people as they stop by, with the well wishes and the sympathy cards and the flower deliveries and all the food. Snuggling with Bunny on the couch. Hugging his momma. Wiping down counters, throwing out recycling. (I swear I'm going to go home a cleaner woman, after a few weeks spent here. This house is immaculate.)

It's stopping myself from going on Facebook, because every time I log on I just have to go look at his page, and read all the comments. I cry every single time.

None of it has really hit yet. It's going to destroy us a little bit at our wedding right now. (The wedding that Bunny is currently in the process of re-planning. God knows what's happening now. Something about a backyard bbq? Whatever makes him happy.)

We've been going through photos, scanning them to the computer, the past few days. Momma Bunny's best friend is up to something with them. And oh that's been wonderful in a way and horrible.

And I'm about at the end of what I can talk about without crying, though there's still so much more to say, so I'm going to sign off now.

But writing is good. Posting is good. It helps life feel somewhat normal, even though it's anything but.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

so much food

Right now, we're focusing on the mundane, because that's about all we can handle.

As we've been camping out at Momma Bunny's, I haven't had much of an opportunity to cook anything. The house has been full and overflowing with people stopping by to pay respects and check up on everyone, and we're rather overwhelmed with the kindness and care being shown to us.

The first few days there has been pizza delivery (at the ICU nurses' insistence before we left), and then hot dogs and hamburgers to feed the crowds. Since then? Well, Momma Bunny cooked one day for normalacy, but we have fridges and freezers overflowing with casseroles and pork chops and meat loafs and mac and cheese and muffins and bagels and salad and fruit plates and . We had to move some of the food over to my mom's house because there's just no room.

We've just been showered with people wanting to love and take care of us. The only cooking I'll really be doing up here is my mac and cheese, at Momma Bunny's request.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

life, an update

So Bunny and I are settled in at Momma Bunny's house now. We're staying here for another week, or two, or three. It's all very up in the air. Even more, we're quite seriously exploring the possibility of moving into Momma Bunny's (and my mom's) city. (As in the city where I grew up and hate. But family is there.)

We're doing ok. The visits have slowed down and we've been able to have some family time, just quietly dealing. My brother even came up from the Niagara region last night, so I've had some time with him.

His sister and her fiance and daughter got on the plane to Jamaica yesterday, and we're excited for them to come back married next Tuesday. One of the family aunts has gone with them, as well as his family from the States and a bunch of their friends. So they'll have a good time.

We're having a good visit. A very lonely and quiet visit at times though.

I'm of course dancing around the reason of the visit, because it's hard to write and uncomfortable and sad and complicated and it just makes me f*cking mad. So let's just get this out:

Last week Bunny's father woke up to a very severe stroke. The family called 911, did chest compressions, prayed ... and we had a very long day at the hospital. The clot was in the main artery (the basal artery?) feeding the brain, and the doctors did everything they could, including treatment regimes that he didn't qualify for, before they were able to confirm that he was brain dead.

My father in law died last week.

So we're here, dealing. Just breathing, you know? So updates and recipes and ramblings will come, but right now? We're just taking things one moment at a time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

life is what happens when you're making other plans

Hello!

Our regularly scheduled programming is taking a break this week. Bunny and I have had a family emergency that's commanding most of our attention at the moment, so things are a little crazy. We're both doing well, and I'll let everyone know what's going on when I've had a bit more breathing room from the whole situation in a week or two. Right now we just need to be with our family, and that means extended time away from home/the internet/the city/our normal lives in general. There may be some big changes for the two of us coming up, we just have to figure our shit out.

Our saving grace is that our employment situations have allowed us the space to be where we need to be, with who we need to be with, as long as necessary.

In the meantime, I do have a few things pre-written that I'll schedule to go up for you guys, and I'll see if I can't drag some old family recipes out of our mommas for you. (Those are the keepers, right there.) Expect some radio silence though, as we're getting a handle on life, as we now know it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

first-try shortbread

Not following recipes when baking is just plain stupid. I'm sure that none of you are surprised to hear that I do this all the time. Or that I gather up three or four recipes and pick and choose what I like from each.

Which is how I ended up with not-very-good lemon shortbread last week. An email has since been sent to my mother, begging for a copy of the family shortbread recipe from Christmases past, and then I will try again. This could take months. The recipe may even be lost. :(

I should have known I was headed for trouble. Things didn't turn out bad, per se, but it also wan't great. I have a decent idea of what I didn't like though: the flour to butter/sugar ratio. Too much flour, not enough butter. It was too dry, too crumbly. I tasted the flour, strongly. Things weren't mixed the way they should have been, and really, I just screwed up based on laziness. Apparently, I also should have gone with icing sugar, and far FAR less than I expected.

I was going to put the actual recipe up. There's no good reason to clog the internet up with a crappy recipe, though. That seems pretty pointless.

Anyone have a great shortbread recipe they can direct me towards?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

growing up: cleaning style

I've never been a neat freak. I'm not an obsessive organizer or vacuumer. My definition of clean has always been more about "clean enough" than deep cleaning. In university, when I lived with roommates, my cleaniness levels tended towards the lowest common denominator: I would keep the common space as clean as the messiest of my roommates at any given time would (although admittedly my bedroom was a wormhole for clutter, always).

When I first moved in with Bunny, our space was very very small and he'd been in it awhile already. One of the secrets to making a small space seem big is that it has to be tidy. Otherwise? Complete and total mayhem, and the space practically shrinks on itself.

Moving in, I felt like a total dirt squirrel. I didn't clean anything as frequently as he did. His need to vacuum every couple of weeks felt obsessive. (Fun fact: Mama Bunny vacuums every single day. She keeps the most immaculate house.) As I began to take over chores in the house my definition of clean and his started to collide.

At first it was very clear that Bunny was the cleaner of the two. My piles of clothes on the floor drive him nuts. I have (organized) piles on two occasional tables in the living room that I need to tidy up frequently because they drive him bonkers.

Over the last year, things have been on a slow change trajectory. I've realized that while I hate sweeping and mopping the kitchen and bathroom floors, I'm perfectly happy to vacuum everything but the stairs (Bunny's job) once a week or so. I've started doing dishes almost every day .... and as a natural extention of doing dishes I also tidy the rest of the kitchen.

Today I even caught myself cleaning the bathroom surfaces (sink, toilet, bathtub) for the third time in a month. I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but in years past three rounds of bathroom cleaning a year from me was impressive. So why'd I clean the bathroom? Things weren't visibly dirty .... it just seemed a lot easier to give everything a simple clean now, than wait a month until things felt icky.

My cleaning needs have been growing up. When my house is clean I'm proud of it. I'm more comfortable in a clean home. If I want things clean? Well, I've got to do some cleaning.

We've slowly been taking control of our home, and our cleaning habits. We still have pockets of crazy: half of his office is a disaster zone, our tile floors are still kind of gross, no matter how many times I pick up the bedroom it's still a disaster zone, and we have a couple of problem clutter areas that keep popping up.

But holy cow, I'm slowly turning into a grown up as far as cleaning goes. And the bathroom is now, officially, on the clean list.

I'm curious, though: how often do you do basic cleaning chores? How has your relationship with tidying up changed as you've gotten older?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

unrecognizable

For the past five years, I've had the chance to do something really fun. I get to help run a weekend Scouts camp. (Technically, it's a moot. But I digress.) I put in my decade in Girl Guides as a kid, have the 10 year pin to prove it, and thoroughly enjoyed my time. But I bowed out just before high school; my life was falling apart and I needed to regroup and a lot of things fell by the wayside. I never did get that orange belt.

Anyhow, my university roommate is super involved in Guiding, still, and one of her big initiatives is throughing an annual Guiding and Scouting camp. So every May for the past five years, I dig out sleeping bags and air mattresses, pack a bunch of clothing into a weekend bag, show up on Friday and just do what I'm told. I'm your basic lackey: I'll run registration and the cash box, I'll score the parachute game and feel queasy for the people drinking the blender concotions, help out with dinner or just go wherever a useful body is needed.

Last year I got to be in charge of making cotton candy, and I may or may not have eaten an Oh Henry! bar covered in the pink stuff. Delicious. But again, I digress.

This year I threw my back and was told on no uncertain terms that I would not be camping when plugging in the espresso machine made me whimper. (I'm a wuss. It's ok.) It was really important to me that I help at least a little bit, though, so Bunny and I made the drive on to help with the Friday setup. I tied knots in ropes and plugged in a hose - not the most useful I've ever been.

Friday also marked the first time someone has ever completely not recognized me due to weight loss. It's very, very strange. This was followed by about 10 minutes of oh my god you look so good.

I know that none of the many people who have commented on my weight loss mean anything untowards by it. Extended family and acquaintances are really just trying to say something nice to me. When you lose fifty pounds or more (hey: I've got no idea what I weigh right now. I know what the scale said last, but that was months ago) it's a big change, and it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise. It's hard not to remark on it when the last time you saw me I was in a dress twice as big as the one today.

The problem is, it makes me uncomfortable. I don't like all eyes on me, commenting on my appearance. I feel like I'm being judged. When people tell me how beautiful I look now, I wonder if they're really saying I looked terrible before. Coming from people who never paid attention to my appearance before, it makes me feel as if being "thin" (and I still don't think I am that, I mean have you seen all the jiggles in my belly???) suddenly makes me more worthwhile of their time and attention. But what happens if I stop being thin again? Do I go back to being unworthy?

Then, of course, after complimenting me endlessly, people want to keep taking about it. They want to know how. How'd I do it? What did I change? How long did it take? Really, this is almost worse than the compliments. Yes, I did set out to lose some weight. It also got accelerated by some illnesses, including a stomach issue that plagued me for months and made it almost impossible to eat much. It's hard not to lose weight when you can't eat. I'm being complimented for getting sick. Huh?

There are a few things about my weight loss that I am proud of. I treat a box of cookies or a bag of chips much more reasonably than I used to. I try not to binge eat anymore. I'm proud of that. I eat less processed food. I don't avoid crap or junk food, but I make the effort to make it myself. I found a way to incorporate the dairy food group into my diet.

There are so many things that need to change, health-wise, about my eating though. I need to cut the flipping sugar. My coffees and teas will be just fine without so much. I should learn how to eat breakfast. Breakfast right now is a latte, which is more than I used to manage but still not ideal. I need to eat more fruit, and snack on less junk. It'd be nice if I got more exercise, and was more active in general. I'm working on making that a priority, but the motivation comes and goes.

So I'm not a big fan when someone wants to tell me "how great I look now".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

christopher moore: fluke

I'm a Christopher Moore fan. You know that already, right? I've been reading him in droves ... and I think I need to give it a break.

Why would I need to take a break from an author who can make me literally laugh out loud reading? Well, his style is a little bit new to me. I don't read much comedy (although I do devour fantasy and history, which he dabbles in) and I think I`m a little overloaded on comedy.

I hate to admit it, but I didn`t enjoy Fluke as much as I loved the other books of his I`ve read. I can`t quite put my hand on why, but I don`t think it`s any real reflection on the book. It`s more my headspace: I wasn`t as into the comedy this time, or as into the subject matter.

The plot was interesting, and I still laughed out loud and interrupted Bunny playing with his bike to tell him some super-funny moments. I just didn`t get as interested in things. Lets be honest here I missed the vampires and death merchants. There were none of either in Lamb, but the complete irreverence of that story really made up for it.

I did love the classic Christopher Moore characters. They`re funny, interesting, and while they aren`t as fully fleshed out as I tend to prefer it comes across as being intentional. He makes it clear when he is playing with stereotypes, and it`s effective. Early on in the book I was thrilled to pieces when a favourite character of mine from the vampire trilogy showed up, and played a fairly major role in this book.

Really I just need a break from the more comedic styles of reading. I adore his writing, but I think I need a change, to read some stuff that`s more from my usual area of the bookshelf. Which is exactly what I`m doing, with a bit of fantasy, via Beth Bernobich.

As far as what`s next on my reading list? I've got some more fantasy sitting around. I've been meaning to read Amy Tan for ages and recently picked up The Bonesetter's Daughter. After that, who knows? Maybe it's time for a biography.

Monday, May 14, 2012

brownies, revisited (espresso brownies with dark chocolate crust)

Nothing gets Bunny and I more excited for a Sunday at home watching tv than Race Day. We're rather addicted to motorcycle racing. We wake up at all hours if possible to watch the MotoGP premier class live, and we get excited for SPEED TV's schedules.

Wait, what does that have to do with brownies? Being that Bunny has spent the past year studying to be a motorcyle mechanic, we actually have friends who also like motorcycle racing. Recently, that meant that one of his classmates came over for an afternoon of GP and Superbike racing. When Bunny has his friends over I just can't help myself. Really I can't.

It would be downright mean if I didn't make them a snack. Not to mention that I'd been thinking about brownies the last few weeks. They'd creep up into my mind, all uninvited, and it was inevitable that I'd end up making them.

These are based on the same brownie recipe I've made in the past (which, by the way, is from Reader's Digest's Cookies, 1,001 Mouthwatering Recipes from around the World). Things are a little different this time. I didn't have any cocoa powder. I mucked with some proportions, added some walnuts, used real butter instead of margarine (butter's expensive, dude. but my mom sent me home with a couple of sticks so I'm using that up!) The butter and sugar rested longer than last time, because I was elbow deep in dishwater and almost done. I really don't know if that affected this at all.

I enjoyed the original recipe a million times better, but that's a product of my brownie tastes. This one was much more on the cakey side (which is perfectly acceptable, I just prefer fudgy). The nuts? I liked them here, but I don't think I'd have enjoyed them as much in the fudgyier version. Also, they tasted a little less intensely chocolate than I remember the original recipe tasting. The cocoa powder is worth it in the future.

The last note is the crust. There's none of that real crinkly crust I adore, but instead a fine layer of dark chocolate shavings, to play with the bitterness of the espresso.

My favourite bit? Sending a friend home with a doggie bag of brownies. They might get a little squished on the ride.

Espresso Brownies with Dark Chocolate Crust

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar (of your choice. I like brown here, but white works.)
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, or coarsely chopped semi- or bittersweet chocolate (depending on your tastes)
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • one esprsso shot, or 1 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350*F.
  2. In a sauce pot, melt butter and sugar until fully incorporated. (This is the most glorious twist on creaming butter I've ever experienced. Three months later this is still true, you guys!) 
  3. Remove from heat, add espresso and stir until combined. Let cool for 10 minutes.
  4. When slightly cool, add eggs and vanilla, mixing until combined and glossy. Add chocolate chunks, mixing until fully melted in.
  5. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt until everything is evenly distributed and you have a uniform consistency.
  6. Spread into 9x9 square pan (or, if you are lame like me a 9 inch cake pan), and bake for 30-35 minutes (32 was perfect for me), or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  7. Eat them. Do not frost. (Frosting brownies had ought to be a crime. Save that for your cake.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

project update: pillows

So, you know how I'm making accent pillows? Yes? I've actually got some decent work done on that lately.

Which is saying something, because it means that making pillows has to be more exciting than the slew of other options I have for things to do (I mean I could cook, do laundry, wash dishes, cross stitch, play Kinect, read, write, play with the puppy or a whole bunch of other things) and given that I'm sewing them by hand, I have to in the mood to put a fair bit of time into them.*

I've been in a pillow-y mood the last few days though, so I've put in some serious sewing time. (Mostly while watching Paranormal Activity and Game of Thrones, because I can.) Lo and behold, the first pillow is almost done. As in, ready for stuffing.

Dude! I have almost made a pillow!

I'm thinking that maybe finished pillows will finally merit a picutre? People like pictures, yes?

*A sewing machine will come. In fact, I almost got one for my birthday. But we are not bringing another decently sized appliance into this house until we have room for it. Which means reclaiming a big portion of the office. And there are lots of little projects/purchases before that happens.

Friday, May 11, 2012

fish house review

My mother grew up in an area of downtown Toronto near where I currently live. Why is this relevant, you might ask? Because sometimes, when Bunny introduces me to a restaurant (he's lived in this city a decade longer than me) or when we find one together and I get excited about it .... she spoils my fun by telling me "oh, I remember that place. I used to eat there thirty years ago".

The first time I went to the Fish House she spoiled my fun just like that. Bunny and I have been here three or four times now, generally when we are already out of the way. Because Fish House is out of the way.

I want to love Fish House. I really do. I love seafood. I love any chance I'm given to eat something from under the sea. So of course I want to love Fish House. Unfortunatey, I don't love it. I like it, quite a bit, but I'm realizing that it really isn't anything that special. It's sort of like an independent Red Lobster.

Bunny and I started the meal off sharing some bacon wrapped scallops (around $10). I love me some scallops. There is nothing like a great scallop, and there are some that I remember fondly years after the fact. These were ok scallops. The scallops themselves were just barely overcooked, and unfortunately the bacon was more chewy than crunchy. A scallop is a scallop though, so it's easy to like. The plating was a bit of a letdown: just four scallops plunked down kind of sad-like on a plain white plate, with a little bit of seafood sauce on the side. Nothing special.

Then they brought out their bread basket, which was rather enjoyable. The bread itself was dense and chewy, and had a hint of a sourdough taste. We demolished it.

For my main, I said screw it, it's my birthday dinner (and I needed some birthday love since I'd ended the day itself in tears) and went for Alaskan Queen Crab Legs ($26). I love me some crab. I also switched up the sides; instead of rice and mixed vegetables I asked for sweet potato mash and beets.

The crab was crab and delightful just in that. There's nothing quite like cracking into crab legs and enjoying the meat inside. So clearly there were no complaints there. The sides were not amazing. I love beets, but mine were unfortunately cold and didn't have anything really going for them. The mash was a little bit odd, on the spicy side which I wasn't quite prepared for. But the crab was lovely!

Bunny opted for a mixed seafood dish ($21) that included crab-stuffed salmon and grilled calamari. His verdict was that it was ok, but nothing special. The calamari rather disappointed him as it was overcooked and he felt like the salmon was alright but he wouldn't order it again. (Although he ordered it last time and thought the same then, tee hee.)

Dessert was blueberry cheesecake for Bunny and coffee for me. I was a little bit unimpressed with their dessert menu: three kinds of cheesecake, apple crumble, creme brulee and nothing chocolate. Who doesn't have chocolate option on their dessert menu? I call bullshit.

So the food? It's like a B -.

What did thrill me was our server. She was amazing. She anticipated our needs, was super sweet to us, and checked in with us just enough. It made me a happy duck.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

parmesan polenta

We're always looking for new things to try in the kitchen around here. (I think that's something that most serious home cooks, aspiring cooks, and people trying to find new easy-and-quick recipes have in common.) Especially when it comes to our starchy or grainy side dishes.

We eat mashed potatoes like they are a staple. A lot of rice passes through our kitchen, in many different forms. Roast potatoes, sweet potatoes are common, easy side dishes. If we're  That's not really all that much variety, though. If every day of my week I have some sort of rice or potato on my plate ... that's rather boring.

All that being the case, I'm a little bit ashamed to admit that I've never made polenta. Part of this comes from my childhood dislike of Italian food. (Have I ever told you of my extreme tomato aversion?) Italian, and Italian inspired, dishes have been working their way into my kitchen for year, though. I love pastas, risottos, and am having a bit of a love affair with the hunk of parmigiana-reggiano in my fridge right now.

Other reasons there is no excuse for my not having had polenta so far? I love cornmeal muffins. I love corn. And tortillas. And everything. So I solved that today.

This is, of course, only a first attempt. I took inspiration from two culinary favourites: Lynn Crawford and Giada de Laurentiis. But let's be honest, I didn't use either of their recipes. I got ideas for proportions and methods then went entirely in my own direction.

I found it a little bit bland on its own, but I served it with roast chicken and glazed carrots. The chicken and gravy were nice enough with it, but oh the carrots. The sweetness from the glaze gave the polenta a new life. The grainy texture of the polenta practically melted into the sweet glaze.

Parmesan Polenta

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 4 cups water or chicken stock, plus 2 cups on reserve
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup grated parmesan/parmigiana-reggiano (I had the good stuff and went a little crazy. That stuff begs to be grated. And eaten as is, or maybe with some honey and glazed walnuts. And grated more.)
Directions:
  1. Bring 4 cups water or chicken stock to boil.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer, stir in the cornmeal. Wisk this up thoroughly at this point.
  3. Continue to cook for about 30 minutes, wisking frequently.
  4. While cooking, add additional water/stock in 1/4 cup increments as needed. You'll know when you need it; the texture of the polenta will get thick and the whole thing will stiffen. Don't sweat it. Just add the liquid in as needed.
  5. Turn heat waaaaay down. Mix in butter and parmesan, and stir until things are all melted through.
  6. Eat this. Serve with something with strong, pronounced flavours (like the carrots, or maybe a big meat sauce).

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

mid-week happy break

  • When Bunny makes a big production of dancing around the living room on his way to kiss me
  • Getting to stop in at "the office" and kiss Bunny midday
  • Delivering the beverage of choice for his coffee break
  • The way Jethro smacks his jaws together, twice, when he's really excited about/impatient for a walk
  • My future mother-in-law's banana bread
  • The dish rack full of freshly cleaned dishes
  • Calling back to say "I love you" less than ten seconds after hanging up the phone from an angry/frustrated/annoyed/mean conversation
  • The smell of my home in the evening
  • My heirloom clock
  • Our sideboard/mantleplace with the collection of original artwork, antlers, animal skulls, Cheyenne's Paw Print, a stuffed Angry Bird, a globe that's actually a cigarette holder, a cat's ashes, a bowl of change/jewellery and the sphinx. It's an odd collection, but it's perfectly us
  • Thinking about a new series of Doctor Who
  • Getting to know Bunny's family better at his sister's bachelorette
  • My morning latte
  • Parmigiana-Reggiano
  • The mess that is my coffee table
  • Pashminas and scarves
  • My new vintage cocktail dress
  • Getting interrupted for doggy kisses
  • Christopher Moore books

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

glazed carrots and parsnips with brown sugar and ginger

This is one of my "set it and forget it" deals. Which, essentially, is what I want out of my side dishes. I don't want to slave over my side dishes. I want to put a little bit of work into getting it started, chuck it in the oven and forget about it until I'm ready to eat.

So when I got it in my mind to do glazed carrots, I wasn't interested in any of the recipes that called for boiling and then pan glazing. I'd be too busy with the other dishes at the end of my cooking process to want to bother with that. I wanted oven-glazed. Easy peasy, yes?

The only question left was what did I want my glaze to be? I like honey, but I'm not crazy about it. I find it's a little too strong, when sometimes all I want is sweet. I didn't have any real maple syrup on hand, so that was out. Molasses sounded interesting, but I had enough other experiments for dinner. That being said I was left with an old standby: brown sugar.

I promise, this is dead simple. If you can peel and chop a carrot (even if you can't - you could use "baby carrots" here in a pinch), use a microwave, and turn on an oven you can make this. This is enough for two people, comfortably. If there are more at your dinner table just double (or triple) the amounts.

Oven Glazed Carrots and Parsnips with Ginger

Ingredients:
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into disks
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into disks
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted (you can do it in the microwave!)
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 - 2 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • pinch of salt
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400* F.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the butter, brown sugar, ginger and salt.
  3. Put the carrots and parsnips in a baking dish.
  4. Pour the glaze on top of the carrot mixture. With a spoon, mix things up until all the carrots and parsnips are evenly coated.
  5. Place in the oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes, depending on what else you have going on.
  6. Don't panic if you need to leave them in the oven an extra few minutes, or pull them out early. It will be ok.

Monday, May 07, 2012

money woes

This unemployment thing? Apparently it's getting to me a little bit more than I though. Mostly the money part. My take home from EI isn't all that different when I was working. Obviously it's way lower as a gross number, but the taxes are lower and I wasn't making much more than minimum in my last position anyway. Essentially, it covers my necessities for the most part, but to allow myself to buy the occasional book so I don't feel deprived and freak out or to buy a gift I do have to dig into savings a little bit.

So I stress about the dollars and sense. I know Bunny's got good money coming in on his side from the freelance (and he has so much work offered he is turning stuff down) and I know that we as a family unit are solvent. But me, myself? I'm in the red.

It's hard not to have any spare money to squirrel away. To be paying off my student loans, but only the minimums. To have the balance in my bank account creep slowly down instead of up. (Actually, maybe that's not true. I have almost the same bank balance now that I had in January, within a hundred dollars. Maybe I need to take a minute to appreciate that.) It's hard to feel dependent on Bunny, financially. Even when I am paying my share of the bills.

It's also really hard to watch Bunny spend money comfortably. He tends to make bigger "impulse" purchases than I do. Then again, very rarely are his big impulse purchases completely impulsive. He might wake up one day ready to spend $500 on item X, but he's been thinking about item X and the budget for it for months.

So, this week has been hard. In the course of seven days Bunny has purchased: a new AV receiver (his old one broke months ago and he made the decision to wait until he was working full time to replace it), his new desk and lamp (necessities, in my mind) and computer speakers.

It stressed me out more than it had any right to. I felt uncomfortable, and I was trying to both be supportive of his decisions and also make it clear where some of these purchases would require more discussion and compromise in the future, when our money is completely merged. I listened to his logic in deciding between different options and gave an opinion when asked. He made good decisions, I think. He weighed all the options, and decided on options that would be cost effective, make him happy long term and functional.

That all being the case, it seems completely uncool that he bought me a birthday present and I freaked out. It's this gorgeous vintage LBD-esque cocktail dress, and I love it and it was reasonably priced. Leaving the store, though, all I could think was please take this back and I feel bad about you buying this for me and I don't need it and I don't need you to buy me things and I want to throw up because I feel needy and greedy and controlling and would you stop spending so much f*cking money it f*cking stresses me out.

So poor Bunny was walking back to the truck with me after having bought me a present, and instead of having a happy, cheerful fiance gushing about thank yous, he had a fiance who was moody, sullen and didn't want to kiss him. After about two minutes of this I told him what was on my mind. Because I was acting downright ungrateful, and that's not cool. So we talked for a minute, and I made sure he knew that hey, I like this dress a lot and thank you for it, but I'm feeling a little bit stressed about money right now and it's really affecting my mood and it doesn't mean that I don't totally appreciate the present. Sometimes when I can't afford things for myself I have the hardest time accepting the generousity of others. I don't like asking for help.

Later, we talked a little more. I made sure I articulated that while I was stressed about the financial decisions I didn't think they were bad, it was just too much big ticket impulse purchases for me to handle at once. I can`t handle a grocery bill that`s too big, how`m I supposed to handle a week with $700 of impulse buys? Then today we went to Sears so I could pick up a shower gift for his sister and that was a disaster and a half.

This is me being emotional about money. I do need to recognize that. Practically speaking, I might not be able to contribute to my savings goals right now, but I am still making positive contributions to my net worth with debt repayments and my current budget. My savings have stayed very stable, considering I'm not bringing in a proper income.

But I am stressed. I feel constricted in my ability to make financial decision that make me happy. I'm frustrated that Bunny has considerably more financial freedom than I do at the moment. (We'll be re-examining how we split up our household expenses at the end of May, when he's had a full month working full time. We usually try to keep things proportional, and right now with him transitioning from school to work they aren't. So we'll figure that bit out.) I'm frustrated that I feel like I can't make the splurgest that I'd like to make. I'm frustrated that I feel like I'm not contributing to our household, even though I am. It's just in non-work-type ways.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

the pickel barrel

When I was young (toddler to kindergarden type young) I was underweight to the point that people would stop my poor mother in the street and ask her if she was starving me. That's how thin I was.

With little itty bitty me, who was not only a picky eater but also had some serious food intolerances, it became very important that my mother tried to sneak nutrients into me at every chance she got. Cans of soups would have extra vegetables added. Snacks were almost exclusively fancy. White bread did not exist in our house.

As far as I knew, spaghetti was always green, because my mother used to buy fresh spinach pasta at Loblaws.

And so, there is a story of me, very young. Out to dinner at the Pickel Barrel with family. Turning my nose up, as I would, at every single item on the menu until my mother simpled ordered me buttered spaghetti. That's something I would eat.

When the spaghetti was delivered to the table? In it's normal (non-green) colour? Well little old me stands up, stands right up on the table and screams "That's not pasgetti! Pasgetti is supposed to be green!"

I was a riot as a kid. And last weekend? I had lunch at the exact same Pickel Barrel location that I made the spaghetti stink in.

Friday, May 04, 2012

body image highs and lows

I had a whole big long post written, and then deleted the whole thing. It had nothing to do with what I want to say.

I've been thinking lately about body image. About the things I like and dislike about my physical appearance. I've been thinking about how I feel about disliking different parts of my body.

Even though I've been fat for most of my life, my size has never been my biggest dislike. I have quirky dislikes that don't entirely make sense and are completely unchangeable, as far as I know.

I dislike my hands, particularly my fingers. I don't like how square my palms are, because I feel like they are masculine. I have short fingers. I had a vague recollection of being told "no" on piano lessons as a child based on my fingers, but I may have made that up in my subconscious. I always wanted long, elegant fingers and narrower hands.

I hate my toes, particularly my (practically non-existent) toenails. They're so small that I can't really get a pedicure, because I have almost non-existent (toe)nailbeds. I don't look very pretty in peep-toes.

I very intensely dislike my nipples. Even though everytime I've expressed this sentiment to the men in my life I've been told that they are cute and unique. I worry about breastfeeding.

I dislike the shape of my belly. Not so much the size, as the shape. I look at my stomach and how it dips and bulges along my natural waistline. Even at my smallest I feel like I have rolls of fat there and the lowest part is saggy. I am the only person who has ever noticed this. It doesn't bother anyone else.

I hated the limits of my body. That my ankles tended to twist far more easily than others. I hated my migraines and digestion issues. That I couldn't swim as fast as the other girls in my class. That no matter how hard I practiced my body resisted all the gymnastics and ballet I threw at it. I didn't understand why my body wouldn't, or couldn't, do the things I wanted it to. I hated knowing that my mother is the most flexible person on earth (at least according to her chiropractors) and that I don't bend easily.

These aren't things that are never going to truly go away. They bother me more than being fat ever bothered me. Which, I think, is a good thing. I can't diet away annoying toenails and I can't exercise my way into longer fingers. I can lose or gain weight, but the shape in my belly that I dislike won't change. I might get more fit in the process of getting thin, but I could get fit without it. In a way, these dislikes made it easier to accept and be comfortable with my size. I might not like how big I was, but it wasn't my biggest physical concern.

The things that bothered me about my body had more to do with how I can use it and the identity I see for myself. I am more bothered by things I can't change than the things that I can. I don't like to feel as if I am masculine, and I felt like my hands were at odds with my desire to be a musician, and it bothered me when my body stopped me from doing the things I wanted to do.

I could do with more body confidence than I have. It would be good to not have the immediate reaction I have to seeing my belly when I'm naked. It would be nice not to sit around hating my toenails. I'm starting to let go, though. I'm starting to be ok with the fact that my nipples aren't the ones I would have chosen, and that my hands don't comfortably reach a full octave stretch.

I'm ok with the things I don't like about my body, though. I feel like they speak to my own standards of beauty, and I like that they made yo yo dieting seem pointless when I was younger. I feel like my reactions to these aspects of my body are more reflective of how I think than what society tells me I should think.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

who wants a pony?

I'm puttering around in my morning minding my own business. Reading the blogs in the morning, as I do. Drinking my latte, because I'm turning into my mother and no one in their right mind should speak to either of us before we have been caffeinated. (Seriously. Don't test your luck. Especially with her.)

Bunny's up with his computer working away on elevations and built-ins and trying to make magic things for the designers. Except suddenly he's laughing his ass off. Design isn't that funny, is it?

Not at all.

What's funny is the text from his sister telling us that apparently some neighbours back home are breaking bylaws. Which is nothing new, and it's good amusement to watch some of the other bylaw-stickler neighbours make a stink over things. But this particular incident, if the SIL isn't just pulling our leg, is hilarious.

Apparently someone built a shed/mini-barn in their backyard and has just moved a pony on in. I still haven't stopped laughing.

This is not fair. How come no one ever built me a pony shed? I want a pony!

balsamic-marinade beef with roast veg and cheesy mashed potatoes

One of the simplest meals to make is a roast (of any kind) with some carbs and vegetables. It's a staple meal for me, and it's the ultimate comfort food. I grew up on these meals.

For the Roast:

Ingredients:
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary (or other herb of your choosing)
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 small beef roast (mine was about 2 - 3 pounds but I'll give you per-pound cooking times)
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cups liquid
    • My preference for gravy is always the starchy cooking water from potatoes, but you can do plain water, beef stock, wine, juice or a combination. It just needs to be liquid.
Directions:
  1. In a small bowl, mix together everything but the beef.
  2. Place beef in a ziploc freezer bag. Pour your marinade in the bag. Seal the bag.
  3. Throw it in the fridge for a couple of hours, the longer the better. Overnight is cool. If you can only do it for an hour or two, though, that's ok.
  4. When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 450*F. Remove the roast from the fridge, take it out of your marinade bag and place it in a cast iron skillet, dutch oven or other roasting vessel.
  5. When the oven is nice and hot, pop the roast and set the timer for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of in an extra-hot oven will help sear the outside without separately searing it.
  6. Reduce the heat to 350*F and cook until the internal temperature reaches 130*F (for medium rare), measured with a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast.
    1. I'm not going to tell you how long to cook your beef. I'm sorry. Medium rare beef will, generally speaking, take about 25 minutes a pound. Everybody likes their meat cooked a little differently, though. Your best friend is a meat thermometer.
  7. Remove your roast from the oven. Place the roast on a new plate or cutting board and cover in tin foil to rest, for about twenty minutes. This lets the juices settle in the roast.
  8. While your roast is resting, work on your gravy. Put your pan onto the burner and add the flour, wisking together thoroughly with the drippings. You'll want to wisk it for a couple of minutes to let the flour cook out.
  9. Gradually add the liquid, a couple of tablespoons at a time. Thoroughly wisk in to incorporate. This part needs to go slowly, otherwise things get lumpy. Add a little liquid, make sure everything is evenly mixed up, repeat.
  10. Once you have your desired amount of gravy, give 'er a taste test. At this point you are checking the thickness of the sauce (if it's too thin, reduce it at a low simmer, if too thick, add more liquid) and taste (you may want/need to add more salt, stock or any of the marinade ingredients to brighten this up.)
  11. Adjust the gravy as necessary.
  12. Carve up your roast and serve, with accompaniments.

Roasted Mixed Broccoli & Carrots

Ingredients:
  • 1 crown of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
Direction:
  1. Preheat oven to 350* F.
  2. Evenly spread the broccoli and carrots in a casserole or baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and garlic powder.
  3. Bake for about 40 minutes. (Note: if you are making this with above roast beef recipe, put this in the oven during the final 40 minutes of cooking.)
  4. Turn the veggies over about halfway through cooking to heat more evenly.
  5. Enjoy.
Cheesy Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:
  • 3 - 4 medium Yukon Gold potato (Idaho will do in a pinch, but I'm a Canuck. I use Canadian potatoes.)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 - 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Directions:
  1. Peel & cut potatoes into roughly equal chunks.
  2. Place in a small sauce pan, cover with water. Add the salt. Cover your saucepan.
  3. Bring the pot to boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes.
  4. Drain the potatoes. Note: if you are making the above roast & gravy, reserve the potato water for the gravy.
  5. Add butter to the pot, put a lid on it and let the butter melt for a few minutes.
  6. Using a hand masher (or other smashing method of your choosing) smash everything.
  7. Add the cheese and milk. Stir them through.
  8. Eat. Enjoy.

And, that's dinner for ya. It's a fairly run of the mill meal around here. If you want to make this a set it and forget it type of meal (my favourite) swap out the cheesy mashed potatoes for some roast fingerlings.

    Wednesday, May 02, 2012

    the taste (and smell) of fresh

    I have grocery store woes, sometimes. It's such a first-world problem, but I get worked up about it at times. Generally speaking, Bunny and I shop at a discount shop a ten minute walk from home. It has the best produce we've ever seen in a discount store, and it caters to the various cultures in our neighbourhood (there's tons of Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian ingredients that aren't) including a lot of produce I don't often see at bigger stores.

    When we shop there, our grocery bill is always reasonable.

    I grew up a Loblaws girl, though. Even as a starving student I shopped at Loblaws brand stores. But oh are they too expensive. Every now and then, we end up at our old Loblaws to do a whole shop and the experience drives me a little batty.

    It's glorious walking through the produce section; where I don't automatically discard most of the things I pick up. I cringe at the prices, though: the quality is great, but you pay for it. I love the fresh deli counter, and adore picking through all the fresh meats and cheeses. There's a butcher and a seafood counter in the store. Things are fresh.

    The aisles ... there are so many more than at the discount store. There are options. There is an entire aisle of the store that carries nothing but different varieties of tea and coffee. At my normal grocery store, there's not much variety. Having so many options means I have to say "no" to myself more. I see more things that I want, and it can be hard nto to buy them. The discount store carries nothing but the basics which is great, because there is no temptation.

    I almost cried when we reached the cash register. Everything we picked up was beautiful, but the final total was higher than we are used to paying for a week's worth of groceries. Spending $65 (which is still under our technical weekly budget, by the way) was enough to make me feel uncomfortable and edgy and anxious.

    After I put the groceries away, though, I was chopping a red bell pepper for a cheese dip (yeah, I made it again) I was hit with the smell. OMG the smell. Sweet and inviting, I just had to eat some. So I had a bite and just about died. I noticed everything from the perfect crunch to the slight juiciness, to the slightly sweet taste. I can't remember the last time I ate a bell pepper that was so fresh, and good.

    Then, I started grating a hunk of parmesan cheese. The real stuff from the cheese counter, not the vaccuum sealed non-Italian variety. The first thing I noticed was the texture. This cheese grated so smoothly, so easily, it seemed impossible that it was related to the old, hard stuff we usually had. The smell attacked next. I can't even describe it. Then, well, I cut off a little chunk and ate it.

    After that, I stopped stressing about the grocery bill so much. We paid for the quality, and I know it.

    Tuesday, May 01, 2012

    garlic hoisin stir fry with mixed vegetables

    Maybe I've mentioned it before, but stir fries are popular in our house. A go to meal. Once again, at mid-day, I'm chopping vegetables for one. I'm also very excited to take another stab at making my own sauce. The last time I did my own sauce there was one major thing that needed improving: we wanted more.

    Why am I not surprised? We like things saucy. I have been known to eat gravy with a spoon. (Not, like, a whole bowl of gravy or anything, but I will stand over a pot of gravy and taste-test far more than needed. Non-stop.) Bunny douses everything he can in hot sauce, or bbq sauce or whatever else he can get his hands on. For stir fries he has been very clear in that he wants enough sauce to heavily flavour his rice or noodles and would I please just use more.

    So this is a double-sauce recipe. If you don't like things as saucy as we do, reduce things a little. We weren't swimming in sauce at the end, but could easily scoop up a few good spoonfuls to dump on Bunny's noodles. Alternately, if you're trying to feed more than two people, bulk up on your veggies (or other additions) and go crazy with the sauce.

    I'm also funny in that I like all my veggies to be similarly shaped. So everything that can be cut into strips or matchsticks is. But that's just me.

    Stir Fry

    Ingredients:
    • 2 1/2 bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch strips
    • 1 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
    • 1 bunch bok choi, rinsed well, trimmed and cut lengthwise down the ribs
    • 1 red onion, finely sliced
    • 1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
    • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
    • 1 tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 1/2 tsp chili flakes in oil
    • 2 tsp sesame oil
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp sugar
    • 2 tbsp water
    • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
    • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
    • 1 tbsp cooking oil (such as peanut or safflower)
    Directions:
    1. Chop and prep all your vegetables and garlic in mise en place bowls. You'll need these all easily at hand when you're ready to start cooking.
    2. In a small bowl, mix hoisin, soy sauce, chili flakes, sesame oil, salt, sugar, water, lemon juice and garlic powder. Wisk together until well mixed.
    3. Heat the cooking oil in a large skillet or wok over a burner on high.
    4. Add onions and garlic to skillet, saute for 2 minutes. (We like our onions cooked down - if you don't, start the onions with the carrots.)
    5. Add carrots to the skillet, saute for another two minutes.
    6. Add zuccini and bell peppers, saute for about one minute.
    7. Add the bok choi, saute for about two minutes. You're looking for the greens to begin to wilt.
    8. Add the sauce to the mix. Stir things up and make sure that the sauce is coating things fairly evenly.
    9. Remove from heat. Serve on a bed of rice or noodles (we used udon noodles). Garnish with a handful of sesame seeds or finely chopped green onion. Eat. Enjoy. Repeat.