Friday, March 29, 2013

tv weekend

I'm not usually all about what's on TV tonight. Mostly, television in my house is background noise while I'm doing something else, and even when I do put the TV on I need to have something to do with my hands. (Thus, the quilting and crocheting and cross stitch and everything).

But! This weekend two of my favourite shows come back from hiatus. Tomorrow we get a long awaited dose of the Doctor and the very teased about search for Clara Oswin Oswald when Doctor Who returns. Seriously I could not be more excited about that. (If I had to choose just one show for the rest of my life it just might be Doctor Who, but that's a hard call.)

Then on Sunday I get a dose of Game of Thrones coming back. Which also means a busy day at work, because everyone needs HBO now. Of course given that I've read the books I already know what happens but they've been telling the story so brilliantly that I can't wait to see how things are portrayed.

What are your favourite shows? Do you get much screen time, or save it for just a few special things?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

creamy broccoli & cauliflower bake

If you have read my (somewhat numerous) attempts to master the casserole (although honestly, they're mostly variations of the same) you may stumble across a secret of mine. Broccoli is my favourite food. It's easy to work with, it fits easily into almost anything; you can eat it steamed on its own, raw and dipped in dressing (although ewww), stir fried, tossed in pasta, baked in casseroles and probably about a million other ways. When I was in university a friend made mini stuffed felt plushies of favourite foods for Christmas gifts and was utterly frustrated at trying to make broccoli for me. Apparently making a stuffed roast is much easier.

This green, cruciferous piece of goodness has made its way into pretty much every casserole I've made here. What you don't know is that this is really the dish that started it all. There's simplicity here, nothing but vegetables and sauce, no rice or pasta or anything to round it out. It's almost, almost like macaroni and cheese, but broccoli.

It's also one of my biggest hits. Never have I served this dish and not had rave reviews and requests to repeat it. If I'm doing a roast and having friends over for dinner, this is the side dish (heck, I can make most of it in advance), if I'm having vegetarian friends over for dinner it's not so hard to make this take centre stage. Bunny doesn't even like cauliflower and he goes crazy over this.

As always, make changes to suit your needs. Cheese-wise, I use cheddar as it's what we keep on hand but this would be lovely with a swiss or a gouda. You could use a smaller amount of a stronger cheese or (gasp) even leave the cheese out altogether. I also like to caramelize my onions because, well, flavour. You don't have to though because in this dish they are not the stars.

The other breeze of this dish is the cooking directions. Twenty minutes at 350 yields the best version, but it's flexible. Because the vegetables are parboiled you can pop it in at whatever temperature the other things in your oven are cooking at and adjust the cooking time. I've made this at above 400 for about 10-15 minutes and it's been fine, although if you go any lower than about 300 you'll want to broil it for a few minutes at the end for a nice browned crust.

Broccoli & Cauliflower Bake

Ingredients
  • 1 head broccoli, in florets
  • 1 head cauliflower, in florets
  • sweet onion
    • 1 large or 2 medium onions if sauteing
    • 2 large or 4 medium onions if caramelizing
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (approximately)
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 3/4 cups cheddar cheese (optional and open to subsitutions)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 3/4 cups breadcrumbs
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350*F.
  2. Bring a large, lightly salted pot of water to boil. Put the broccoli and cauliflower in, reduce to a simmer and cook 2 minutes. Drain the vegetables, and set in your casserole dish.
  3. Put a small to medium saute pan over medium low heat, add the olive oil. When hot add the onions to the pan. Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.
    1. Optional: Continue to saute until browned or even caramelized. Yum.
  4. Put the onions on the broccoli and cauliflower in the saute dish.
  5. In a saucepan over medium heat melt your butter. Add the flour, wisk to combine and cook about 3 minutes until bubbling and just begining to change colours. You want the floury flavour to cook off here.
  6. When bubbling, add the milk and continue to wisk. Cook, stirring occasionally until thickened enough to cover the back of a spoon. Add your salt, pepper, garlic and oregano.
  7. Remove from heat and stir in your cheese. 
  8. Pour your sauce over the casserole dish. Make sure things are evenly mixed.
  9. Sprinkle breadcrumbs overtop.
  10. Pop in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, until the breadcrumbs turn a golden brown.
  11. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

fun money

Finances have been a mixed bag lately. Bunny and I have been working hard on getting on the same page and there have been a lot of very positive improvements to out budget. I'm loosening up a little to allow some extra expenses and he's tightening up his non-allowance expenses. We're getting on the same page, even with the frustrations and the setbacks and it feels good. It's a work in progress, and there are constantly new balls to juggle.

Watching Bunny figure out his allowance money is exciting. It's opened a lot of doors for him in some ways, but at the same time keeps our budget on an even keel with expenses. He's taken off on a run with his model cars and motorcycle hobby and a lot of the money is being socked away towards that lately. He's also talking about spending some on things for his bike (which is currently more toy than transportation). Even his annual men's camping weekend will be coming out of this portion of the budget.

My fun money is a little more in flux right now. It's kind of been piling up and I don't necessarily have anything I want to spend it on. Oh, I buy quilt supplies and fabrics from it when the need arises, and I buy a book every couple of weeks. There's also my fancy coffee habit, and I buy a fancy coffee at least once a week. (It's a terrible, luxurious indulgence and I love it and feel absolutely no guilt about it.) I've got a lot of fun money left over at the end of each pay period though, and I'm at a loss as to what to do with it.

I don't want to blow it all on a fancy purse or shoes (maybe because there's nothing that excites me there?) and all the practical things I could spend it on have been very clearly pointed out to me as budget expenses, not fun money. But why would I spend money from the rest of our budget on a haircut when I have spending money?

In Toronto it would have been a lot easier to make up my mind, but I don't want to be making excuses. I need to figure this out. Is there a class I want to take? Do I want to pay for a joint vacation on my own? Go to some shows in the city? Do I want to invest in some dividend paying stocks? (That idea really interests me, to be honest. The money is just sitting there and I could use it to make more money.) It's at the point where it's a large amount of money but not a huge amount of money. It's not quite enough for any of the big ideas but it's still big enough to need some thought.

What are your favourite splurges? What special expenses do you save your pennies for?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

when the clouds come

Earlier this month I did something I would have sworn would never happen. I ran away from an infant. Instead of cooing over his little cubby thighs and adorable little cheeks then looking at Bunny and telling him it made my ovaries hurt, I took one look realized I wasn't ok and left the room.

I'm a little embarrassed about my behaviour, actually. Walking out of a room full of members of the my extended family in law without so much as a goodbye or a by your leave is not my usual style, and though I can be moody and annoyed and need lots of down time I will push my way through most social situations that are important to friends or family.

Seeing a brand new baby right exactly when I would have become a mother was a little bit more than I could handle, though. I went to the bathroom to try to get myself together, and that didn't work. Then I just walked out the front door because I didn't want to cry in front of everyone. Never in my life have I ran from a baby crying instead of being inclined to just snuggle and coo. Instead of wanting to hold the baby and be in awe over his little bitty human being-ness (because how much of a miracle is that, people coming so small?) I ran away crying. Later that night I made Bunny take me out for Thai, because I needed something happy and Sambal noodles with cashew chicken and tom yum soup sounded like it would make me feel better. (It did. I shouldn't comfort myself with food, but when it's that good, who cares?)

The bad moments come out of nowhere. It's like a storm that breaks out midway through a bright sunny day, shattering what was previously going beautifully. When things are going worse the dreary atmosphere sticks around for awhile, lingering and leaving me feeling empty and drained. On a good day the storm clears as quickly as it comes, and going out for a fancy coffee allows me the space to calm down.

Somehow, reading a book that talked about miscarriage helped carry me through. When I came to the first suggestion of miscarriage I was tempted to put it down but instead found myself devouring it.

It's hard to talk about without making it seem like I'm dwelling. Because I'm not, really, I promise. More often than not it doesn't take up a lot of mental or emotional space in me, but the moments that it does are overwhelming. Then just as quickly they are gone and I'm back to myself. It's odd how out of nowhere the world is a black and stormy place and the loss feels brand new again, walking out of the hospital parking lot with the world falling down around me. Minutes or hours later the intensity is nothing but a memory with that not-quite-real quality that any intense emotional experience takes on after the fact.

Monday, March 25, 2013

pecan blondies

Every cook or baker has recipes that are begged for, I think. Blondies are one of mine, to the point that I can't remember the last time I visited the in laws and was not asked about these babies.

This version, flavoured with molasses and pecans, isn't necessarily superior to the Bailey's and browned sugar ones I love so much, but they are a great alternative. They were born out of a sad necessity when I noted my kitchen was out of brown sugar, a key ingredient and that (gasp) I didn't have butter on hand, only margarine. (I'd used the last of the butter earlier in crepes, so I couldn't complain.) Without the caramelized flavours of brown sugar and browned butter I needed some other points of interest. Molasses makes these almost gingerbread-like and the pecans add a touch of crunch. The only other major addition is a touch of extra flour, to compensate for the moisture brought by the molasses.

These would be a well placed recipe near the Christmas season with the slight gingerbread-esque edge the molasses gives to the recipe. If you wanted to play that up, the addition of some cinnamon, nutmeg or clove would certainly help though it's not necessary. The other big difference in the finished product is the texture, which can be more like a fudgy brownie (with a lower cooking time) or more cookie like (with a higher cooking time).

Bake with caution, because these will be a repeat request.

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp fancy molasses
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups (not packed) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups pecan pieces
Directions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350*F. Grease a 9x11 baking pan.
  2. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter.
  3. Add the sugar to the butter, stirring until the sugar fully melts into the butter. Once the sugar has melted, add the molasses. After about 2 minutes, remove the butter and sugar mixture from the heat.
  4. Let cool 5 minutes.
  5. Add vanilla and eggs, beating vigourously to combine. The longer you beat at this point, the better crust you'll get.
  6. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, mixing until just combined.
  7. Stir in the pecan pieces.
  8. Transfer your blondie batter to your baking pan. The batter will be fairly thick here, but you should be able to push everything out to the edges and smooth down the top.
  9. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Friday, March 22, 2013

review: why the world exists

Despite the hugeness of my book collection and the frequency with which I purchase (two more made their way into my home this weekend, don't judge) it is only very rarely that a hardcover makes its way into my home. This was a book that I lusted over though, and eventually parted ways with some gift card money in order to bring Jim Holt's Why the World Exists home.

As the title suggests the book is an exploration of the why of existence, why there is something rather than nothing, why we specifically exist, how the heck that came to be, and the different ways that exist of explaining existence. I may have mentioned before that my interests in philosophy lie most strongly in that brief space between science and religion (my entire degree was taken to satisfy a deep metaphysical longing ... which sounds incredibly pretentious, but it's true).

With all the arguments put forth in the book - and there are many - this was a slow read. This isn't a book designed to be devoured in a couple of sittings, it's a book designed for slow consumption to make sure you understand the arguments and counterarguments being presented. Holt examines the mystery from existence from all angles which is refreshing, and he's equally willing to knock down a scientific argument as a philosophical or religious which I appreciate.

When reading the philosophy and religion sections it wasn't uncommon for me to feel as if the book was hopelessly derivitive in that Holt didn't put forth any of his own arguments, though near the end he tries his hand at an interesting and original proof. My frustration rather missed the point, though, as the book isn't about putting forth a new argument but rather exploring the possibilities from all angles and trying to come up with something.

As an overview of the question of existence it really it beautifully done. The mathematical and scientific arguments were particularly enlightening for me, and I appreciated having so many arguments in one place. The further I got into the book the more I wanted it to actually provide me an answer though, and on that account things were bound to be deeply unsatisfying. Knowledge about the reason of existence is not easy to come by and this affirms my conviction that belief is perhaps the best we can come up with.

Ultimately this book leaves Kierkegaard's argument about the existence of god ringing in my head. It can never be proven that god exists, because knowledge leaves no room for faith. I haven't figured out exactly what it is I believe about the existence of the world, but it's certainly interesting that this the final thought I can come back with in response to this book.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

orange ginger stir fry sauce

When I make a standard meal around the house I don't really expect a big reaction. Given how often stir fries are made here, I figure they'd be kind of boring. I could not have been more mistaken, as I discovered the other day when Bunny came home to a big mixing cup full of stir fry sauce on the counter. He did a little dance, even.

This time I'm not going to give the actual instructions on the stir fry, because honestly? We've been there, done that so many times. You know the drill, cut your stuff into chunks and add it in based on what the cooking times are.

What I am going to give you is a variation on my standard sauce. This is a simple variation but it was a real hit. Hoisin still forms the base, but orange and ginger are dominant flavours. With the sweetness of the orange I did dial up the amount of chili oil I use, and dialed down the soy sauce to keep things from getting too liquid. The beautiful thing about a good stir fry is just how variable it is. Find your flavours and play from there. Don't be afraid to try new things.

Orange Ginger Stir Fry Sauce

Ingredients
  • 2/3 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • zest of 1 orange
  • juice of 1 orange
  • chili flakes in oil
  • 3 tbsp minced or grated ginger (a zester is the perfect tool for this)
  • a dash of fish sauce
Directions
  1. In large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir until mixed. Let sit for 1 hour, use in stir fry.
  2. If not using the same day, cover and store in the fridge.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

quilting update: the scrappy trip

While the baby quilt sits still unfinished, I'm taking my time with the last steps. Binding is one one of the longer sides, and prepped and pinned to the other but it's really not a part I'm enjoying. I've got till June, technically, to get it done though I'm aiming for the baby shower in April. It's plugging it's way along and I'm comfortable not putting too much time at once into it right now. A picture will come when it's finished entirely because I'm proud of this baby.

Instead I've been putting my time into the Scrappy Trip Along the World quilt I mentioned awhile back. Ever since this surfaced online late last year, many beautiful examples have started to surface online. Mine's made mostly from the same 12 fabrics (although only six colours go in one block, and each is made with a different combinations) and a couple of other co-ordinating prints to match.

Each block is 12" square finished, and I'm aiming for a final size of probably 16 blocks (so four feet square) although I may stretch it out to 20, but I doubt it. At this point I'm working on finishing up block 8, and I have the fabrics for blocks 9 and 10 pre-cut. I'm starting to get a real feel for what my Scrappy Trip is going to look like.

When we move back out, this quilt is to go on our sage green couch and with that in mind I picked fabrics that match the pillows I'd already sewn. It's an interesting line of coordinating patterns in a mixture of greens, blues, oranges and with brown accents thrown in there that Bunny especially likes. Each block I've been trying to choose a "theme" - so I've got blocks based around each colour, blocks of the brightest/most solid prints, blocks where I'm trying to use each of the three main colours evenly.

When I cut the material for that block I mostly only have the block I'm working on in mind and I'm getting to the point where I'm starting to get a real feel for how this quilt is coming out. Half of my blocks currently are blues, with the rest being an even mix of themes. I'm trying to focus on making a few more orange blocks and a few more mismatched, and I'm trying to remind myself to keep the greens to accents. Given the couch colour I don't need too much green in the quilt.

This is an exciting one, and it's the first one that I'm intending to finish that's entirely for Bunny and I. It's also a project that's let me identify more clearly what it is exactly I'm not liking about the first quilt top I worked on - the simplicity of the blocks compared to the scale of the sashing bothers me a lot, and I would have made better choices in how to run the sashing doing it a second time. I may actually end up finishing it entirely later down the road. If I can find someone who would actually want the quilt given the pink/silver/black scheme and the simplicity I probably will give it a finish. I just know it's not going to be overly used around my home and don't want to put any more time and effort into it because of that but if I know it will be used it would be another story.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

update on the cats

Cast of Characters:
  • Moetzel (Bunny's cat)
  • Phoenix (my mother's cat)
  • Jethro (lone dog)
After day one of being a two-cat household last week, I wanted to smack myself. I had successfully integrated Phoenix with two (two!) dogs in the past and here I was with fighting, angry, stressed out cats. One of whom may have peed one me in anger, but really, who can quite blame her? Luckily Bunny worked from home on some freelance the first two days the after Moetzel moved in, so we shut her down with us in the basement when we slept, kept them in different parts of the house when we weren't home, and someone was around to supervise/break up interactions as necessary.

Going into this I pretty much had a feeling that these cats would be fine. Phoenix is a little territorial, but she's acclimated to two different dogs at different times (as well as visiting dogs) and Moetzel has lived with another cat before. Which is maybe why hiss/growl/pounce routine they played the first night frustrated me so much. I hadn't been entirely realistic. I did know that Phoenix would be dealing with a second "intruder" into her space and that Moetzel has had a stressful year (living mostly alone as we were trying to decide whether we were moving after Bunny's dad died, and then moving in with Bunny's mom and having all new people all the time) and that the change wouldn't exactly be kind to her and she loved living next door so we were taking her from a home she was happy in.

Things have quickly calmed down, though. There's still a level of stress that I can read off of the animals of the house at various times but I have had constant entertainment. Phoenix has pretty much accepted that Moetzel's here and just wants to get to know her now, and there haven't been any signs of aggression or territoriality from her since day two. She's a little extra lovey, but I can snuggle a cat every now and again. Moetzel's a different beast, and is a little bit terrified of Phoenix and is more stressed out and grumpy; when Phoenix comes too close to her she'll hiss or growl and sometimes walk away.

Mister Jethro has been hilarious though. This poor dog does not like conflict of any sort and is super sensitive to what's happening around him. If Bunny gets pissed at his video games and gets loud and sweary the dog shakes and comes to me for cuddles and reassurance, so the hiss/growl/chase of the cats when it happens has been hard on him. When Moetzel growls Jethro shakes and needs cuddles. The first days when Phoenix was chasing and Moetzel was hissing? The dog would be going to break them up even before we could get there. I keep Jethro snuggled up with me while the cats are in the same room so that they can interact without him getting in the middle of it.

At this point it's all about a slow stare down. The cats will willingly sit within a foot of each other, though they won't get any closer. Phoenix wants to; she'll move to come in a little bit closer and then Moetzel's hair will stand on end and she'll get that stressed cat posture and hiss and Phoenix will just slowly back her way off, sit down further away, and then slowly try to approach again. It's like Phoenix wants to be friends. They're also both moving freely around the house which I find encouraging, and in the last two days I haven't heard a single hiss.

Wcan comfortably leave the doors open and let the cats wander freely when we're not around and we're not waking up to cat sounds so often. Moetzel has discovered some of Phoenix's favourite hiding spots, and Phoenix will leave her alone when she's there. There's chasing without hissing, which seems more playful, and they're even starting to both choose to sit calmly within a few feet of each other. So positive improvement, though there's still a ways to go.

Monday, March 18, 2013

lazy crepe cake

From the first time I saw the recipe for gateau de crepes on Smitten Kitchen I knew this was something I needed to make. A good crepe is hard not to adore, whether it's filled with scrambled eggs and cheese for breakfast, hit with just a touch of lemon juice and sugar as a desert, spread thinly with nutella, crepes Suzette, filled with lovely fruits or cinnamon and ice cream. There is just no way to go wrong with a crepe.

Since I have made crepes before I must admit I was somewhat surprised by just how dangerous this cake recipe turned out to be. You see, once I made the lazy crepe cake I just could not be done with it. I forgot how excited Bunny gets for crepes, I forgot how enjoyable the process is, even if it is a little long, I forgot how darn versatile these things are.

Most of all I forgot how making crepes transports me back to childhood. It's a funny story, because no one ever taught me to make crepes as a child. These brought to mind though the "Hungarian Pancakes" my grandmother used to bring over, crepelike pancakes rolled up and filled with jam or cinnamon sugar.

Since making the crepe cake, I have been inundated with a need to remake this. One day I intend to make more cakes: the proper one with custard filling, one filled with sauted apples (because that's my favourite pancake topping) and the idea of layering with a rich chocolate mousse is also appealing. I've also since made another, oh, two or three batches of crepes to be eaten different ways.

The crepes batter I use has been adapted only slightly from the one in the original recipe, as I didn't feel it needed to be as sweet or as eggy. Crepe batter is wonderfully resilient and seems to take well to changes. The filling itself? Well that's why I call this a lazy crepe cake.

Lazy Crepe Cake
adapted just slightly from Smitten Kitchen's gateau de crepe

Ingredients:

for the crepe batter:
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups milk
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch salt
for the filling:
  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 5 tbsp sugar
Directions
  1. Start by making your crepe batter. Do this early in the day, as the batter needs to rest at least an hour although overnight is good too.
    1. Melt your butter. Use the microwave: remember, this is the lazy crepe cake. Browned butter would not go amiss, but again, not so lazy.
    2. Mix your flour, sugar and salt thoroughly in a medium to large bowl. Add the eggs and beat until a thick paste emerges. This can be done by wooden spoon, electric mixer (or even a KitchenAid or food processor). I found the wooden spoon gave me quickest cleanup and that was the type of lazy I liked.
    3. Add your milk and melted butter and mix until you have a thin batter.
    4. Set aside.
  2. Bring a nonstick pan to medium heat. Spray lightly with cooking spray (I find this works better than oil, myself).
  3. Pour small amounts of crepe batter, approximately 1/4-1/3 cup at a time, into the pan. Swirl the pan around so that the batter spreads to cover the surface. Cook until the edges begin to lift and the underside of the crepe is lightly browned, about two minutes.
  4. Flip your crepe. If it's your first time I promise the easiest way to do this is with your fingers. The crepe won't be stuck to the pan at all, and if you gently grasp the edges of the crepe you can just turn it over.
  5. Let the other side cook about 15-30 seconds. Remove from pan and stack to the side on a plate. The crepes won't stick, so don't worry.
  6. Continue this process until you have a pile of crepes.
  7. Make your whipped cream. Mix the sugar and vanilla into your whipping cream and, well whip. For me the easiest cleanup route was using my handheld mixer, but again you can use a larger mixer.
  8. Layer your cake.
    1. Put a crepe on the bottom.
    2. Generously spread whipped cream over this layer, at least 1/4 to a 1/2 inch this.
    3. Lay down another crepe, repeat. Keep going until you run out of either crepes or whipped cream.
  9. If you want, you can do something fancy to the top, like brulee it, or pour on caramel sauce or chocolate syrup but let's be honest? The lazy way, with nothing at all on top is perfectly delicious.

Friday, March 15, 2013

happy things for Friday

Because I'm tired and it seems like a good way to round out a week, and it's been awhile I'm giving you happy things for your Friday post. Missing out on the roses is always so easy and I love focusing on the good for no other reason than I can.

  • Impromtu road trips, even if it's just to buy stuff for Bunny's models.
  • Progress on the crafting. I'm having fun and a decent amount has been done lately. 
  • Curling up with a good book, and having tea delivered while I'm reading. Nothing's quite as good as that, right?
  • Choosing exactly the right books at exactly the right time. There's nothing like the punch in the gut feeling of a fictional character telling you exactly what you needed to hear, or going through a situation you're struggling with.
  • The cats. Because they're both pretty cute. I like cute.
  • When old friends invite me to the post-wedding pig roast. How's that for celebration?
  • Starbucks hazelnut macchiato because I can never get enough hazelnut coffee. Almost as good as my preferred latte from Second Cup. 
  • Original artwork. Even though it's not hanging up, I love having it.
  • My handmixer that I'm almost loving more than the KitchenAid. It's not monster sized, which makes my life easy.
  • Having about half a dozen recipes I want to share. Sneak peak: crepes, gratins, cookies, stir fry.
  • Puppy snuggles, because they're always a favourite.
  • Back rubs in bed from Bunny.
  • Having a day at work. Last month was hard and I was stressed and frustrated the whole time. When the days are going well, it makes going in the next day that much more exciting.
  • Busy days in the kitchen.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

rock, meet hard place

The past number of months Bunny and I have been exceptionally lucky. We have a place to stay without worrying about it, from my mom. Our cat has a place to stay while we're waiting for our permanent home. Which is maybe why this week is so frustrating.

Construction is being done in the basement next door for the next couple of weeks and we were told the cat needed to be out for a couple weeks. My mom is not so ok with the idea of the cat coming over: one dog, one cat is her limit. But what can you do? There are no good options about the cat right now and luckily a limited stay didn't bring up too much of a fight.

Except by the cats. And oh do they fight.

First our cat peed on me when I picked her up to be put in the carrier. She hates that carrier. The past couple days have been punctuated with sudden cat fights. My mom's cat keeps starting things, and then our cat growls and her cat yelps and the next thing you know it's three in the morning and I haven't slept but I have to be at work come seven.

Any cat people out there? Any suggestions on getting two girl cats to get along?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

caramelized onion gnocchi in parmesan cream sauce

Gnocchi is one of my most favourite pasta type dishes, in fact the only thing that even comes close is fresh, home made pasta. With the dense yet pillowy texture and that perfect chew it's hard not to love. A perfect combination is created when you douse the gnocchi with a heavy cream sauce - it's hearty, heavy and just delicious. I don't make it often because the whole combination there is bad for my waistline (and my self esteem) but oh do I love it when I have it.

Looking at the gnocchi in the fridge, knowing that I was going to do a standard alfredo sauce on it I couldn't help but wonder what else to throw in. Asparagus is always an option, and it's delicious. Pretty much any green vegetable really, but I also wanted to add some depth of flavour. The richness of the sauce needed something a little bit complex to play against. Luckily my most recent kitchen obsession, caramelized onions, seemed like the perfect match.

Anything as creamy and rich as this does need some sort of green accompaniment to provide at least that illusion of eating healthy. A light salad of spring greens would do the trick, as would a side of broccoli or any other light vegetable. What I happened to have was asparagus, but any old green thing will do as long as it's fresh. I also maybe made stuffed mushrooms that inspired me to give my recipe a new spin there, but that's not so relevant to the gnocchi.

I also made a somewhat more perfected cream sauce this time round than in my last go. The trick, obviously enough, is a heavier cream so things thicken a little better. I also played somewhat with my ratios.

Caramelized Onion Gnocchi in Parmesan Cream Sauce

Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 yellow onions, sliced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 package gnocchi
Directions
  1. In a stainless steel or cast iron saute pan bring the olive oil up to medium heat. Add the onions to the pan, lightly salt (use your first teaspoon salt here). Saute, stirring frequently, to caramelize. The process takes about 15-25 minutes and you're looking for the onions to begin to get crispy brown bits and the pan will get lots of little bits stuck on.
  2. Once the onions are caramelized, chuck in the 1 tablespoon butter and allow to melt and slightly deglaze the pan. Set aside for later.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a roiling boil. When it's boiling, cook your gnocchi according to package directions which in my case was for two minutes.
  4. While the water comes to heat, melt the butter in a medium sauce pan. Add the cream to the melted butter and bring to a light simmer. The mixture will thicken fairly quickly as it simmers.
  5. When the cream and butter has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, bring the heat down to the lowest setting and add the remaining salt, the pepper and your parmesan. Stir until the cheese melts entirely.
  6. Take the caramelized onions and add them to your cream sauce, stir it all up.
  7. Add the drained gnocchi to the sauce, stir it all up until the sauce is coating every delicious little bit of your gnocchi.
  8. Serve. Garnish with more parmesan if you want, but really? The sauce is enough.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

review: secret daughter

My reading occurs almost exclusively through  physical books. I'm also a book collector, as the haphazard stacks and boxes and cases of books around the house can attest to. Despite that, I try to be smart about the books I buy both for my bank account balance and for the fact that I want my library to be somewhat cultivated. (Maybe there's a trip to unload at a used bookstore in the future?) Because of that, I often pick up a book dozens of times, over months and months at the bookstore before I purchase it. That was the case with Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.

If I were to describe this book in one word it would be powerful. Plot and character seem to drive the book equally, and it sucked me right in. The book revolves around three main women; Kavita who gives birth to a daughter while living in poverty in India and brings her to an orphanage to save her life, Somer an ambitious doctor in America who adopts a baby girl from an Indian orphanage, and Asha the daughter that binds them together.

Their stories reached into my soul with their realism and humanity. Asha's need to connect to her roots, to connect to her father's family in India and reconcile with her birth parents while chasing her own ambitions would resonate with any young woman, I think. That precipe of moving beyond her family unit and embracing the new role she created for herself within her family was tangible and real. Heartbreak and hope were present in near equal portions in Kavita's story with the crushing reality of poverty played against a parent's desire to do anything to give her child a better life. In the end her hopes are both met and dashed and she must find happiness in her own life.

Somer, though, that was a character that could not have come at a more perfect time to me. A year ago, five years ago, I wouldn't have related too much to her but reading her story brought some small perspective on the changes big and small that have been wraught within myself over the past year. Adoption isn't her first choice as to how she wants to become a mother, and it is only after multiple miscarriages followed by a diagnoses of early menopause and infertility she gives real thought to her husband's suggestion that they adopt from his home country. This character gives weight to some of my own fears, and to that quiet, underlying change that has occurred within me almost unnoticed. Miscarriage doesn't define, but the pain and experience filters through you and shapes my experiences of the world.

Their stories are told in three dimensions, heartache and joy both, and just enough weight given to the space in between. The supporting cast is equally rich, though it would have been easy with these three central characters to have the supporting cast left as nothing but placeholders and archetypes. Asha's most immediate family is given the most depth and richness, with the characters farther towards the outside becoming thinner, a perfect mirror to the intimacy with which we know the people in our lives.

Plots and disparate storylines are woven together seamlessly. Though things are brought together to a comfortable close in the end, just enough ends are left untied. Had things been even a slight bit more resolved it would have felt a little bit too happily ever after, but as is the ending carries just enough tension to feel real to life.

One surprising thing struck me with this book, that usually doesn't carry much weight in my appreciation. A simple gift, given out of a misunderstanding and presented as a source of disappointment and almost resentment between Asha and Somer, comes about quietly near the end to contribute to Asha's grasp of her ambitions. The symbolism of that relationship, that gift is placed so unobtrusively at first and while attention is never directly drawn to the importance of the video camera it is key to so much. I won't say more, but if you read it you're sure to come across the allusion.

What are you reading lately?

Monday, March 11, 2013

chocolate marbled cheesecake

Cheesecake and I have a rather odd relationship. At one point, I was quite vocal about the fact that I (gasp) didn't like cheesecake. A lot of this comes back to my squicky feeling about creamy white foodlike substances. You can't pay me to get near mayonaisse or sour cream, I'm not a fan of yogurt and for years I wouldn't even come near cream cheese. Over the years, spinach dip made me change my mind a little bit about the cream cheese but I still won't go near the others. I still won't eat cream cheese on a bagel, but over the past few years I have discovered that it has another good use: cheesecake.

If I'm being honest, I still don't like most cheesecakes. I don't like the commercial ones, I don't like the big, tall fluffy ones that run rampant in many restaurants. My tastes are very defined: if I'm going to have a cheesecake it will be a dense, rich slightly tangy cake with a lovely crust. And just for fun, I'm going to make sure that I incorporate some sort of chocolate into them. Otherwise I just really can't be bothered.

My cheesecakes tend to be simple, with just cream cheese, sugar, eggs, vanilla some chocolate and a crust. No extras. No heavy canned cherry toppings. Just simple. I also break one of the biggest cheesecake rules and sometimes use tubs of cream cheese instead of blocks. Honestly? This has never turned into a problem and I still get the same dense, moist deliciousness. This one is everything I need it to be be. It was a bit of an experiment though: more cream cheese, more egg and different baking instructions than usual. I tend to go with a slow, even bake, which tends to come out perfectly even without a water bath. This time I decided to try to a recipe that had a high/low baking instruction which gave a deliciously creamy texture, but skipping the waterbath resulted in some large cracks across the top of the cake.

The perfection in the looks, though? Not necessary. This was pure delight.

Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake
adapted from food.com

Ingredients:

Crust:
  • 1 cup chocolate crumbs (or, if you're feeling decadent, crushed oreos)
  • 1/4 cup buttter
Filling:
  • 600 grams plain cream cheese (this worked out to 1 1/2 large tubs for me)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup semi sweet or dark chocolate chips or wafers
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350*.
  2. Make the crust. Melt the butter, either over low heat or just put it in the microwave for about a minute. In a medium bowl, pour the butter over the chocolate crumbs. Combine with a fork until everything is evenly moistened.
  3. Spread the crust over the bottom of a 8 or 9 inch spring form pan. Press down and ensure the crust is even across the bottom.
  4. Bake the crust for ten minutes. When you remove it from the oven, bring the heat up to 450* F.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the softened cream cheese with the sugar. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. You can also easily do this with a wooden spoon, I just didn't.
  6. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat again until each is fully incorporated. Incorporate the vanilla in along with the last egg.
  7. Pour three quarters of your filling into the springform pan over the crust. Set the rest aside for a few minutes.
  8. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Once melted, pour the chocolate into the remaining cream cheese filling. Beat until the filling and chocolate are well mixed.
  9. Pour the chocolate filling over the rest of the cheesecake. Take a knife and run it in swirls through the batter, so that you'll have lovely marbled swirls going through the whole thing.
  10. Transfer to the oven, bake for 10 minutes.
  11. Reduce the heat to 325* F and bake for a further 20-25 minutes, until the centre is wobbly and not quite set. This will cook through once you remove the cake and let it rest.
  12. Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes, then run a knife around the outside edge of the pan and release the springform. Let cool completely, then cut into wedges and serve.

Friday, March 08, 2013

unquiet

My first ultrasound involved sticking a wand up my yoo-hoo a few days after things started to go badly to confirm that no, I was not pregnant anymore and no, I did not need my insides scraped out (thank goodness). Because I miscarried just before I would have had a normal first ultrasound, I never saw a tiny blob of baby on a screen and I never found out what my due date would have been.

From talking to the midwife's office it would have been March. From doing some basic math the answer is right now, this week. I'm trying not to think on it too much but I'm confuddled. I feel cloudy and foggy and I can't quite pin down what's wrong but I think it's this.

Soon after I lost my baby people started coming out of the woodwork to announce their pregnancies. I've got about three friends and acquaintances who are having babies this week, another half a dozen who are having them this month - and that's just the people I know in real life.

Really, I'm happy for them. I am. But thinking about them is really uncomfortable. I just feel off. I'm glad that none of them are close enough to be visiting those little bundles of perfect little babies with those heartbreakingly tiny fingers and toes. I hope everything goes well for them, and I hope for healthy happy little babies ... but I don't want them anywhere near me right now.

Subjectively it's been quite a bit of time since I've been truly bothered and hurt by everything. But this week has been rough, and even though I had intellectually known to be prepared for thatI wasn't quite prepared for it.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

project roundup: mild apathy

The past week or two have not been very productive for me. Only little bits of cooking and baking here and there, and very little has been accomplished project wise. A little bit of project ADD has me perhaps trying to teach myself how to crochet, because clearly I need a new project skill and I need to further divide my time. Right? Although at least with crochet that's something I can do during downtime at work and I'm not in any way intending it to be a "home" type project.

The past two or three days though, things have started to get done. I've gotten started on the binding of the baby quilt. This is the tedious bit, I've decided. Sewing the binding on the front is easy enough, but the back with all the slip stitch that's required? Not only is it tedious but it rather scares me to death. I'm afraid of mucking it up entirely, by which I mean doing a crummy job and having all the binding come off in the wash. Because of that I think the binding is going to be the most time consuming bit, although I may find that next time it's the bit where I give in and borrow a sewing machine.

I've also finally gotten started on more of my Scrappy Trip blocks, and now that I'm going again there I'm just zipping along. I'm about halfway done block eight which puts me at about halfway done piecing the blocks. This is the sort of relaxing slow sewing I like; it's easy to sit down with some strips and watch the Walking Dead while I sew. Even the cutting/trimming has been fairly easy as I'm using a jelly roll for the fabric, though I often find I need to trim the sides up.

Catching a case of the project blahs really sucks, but I'm glad I'm working my way out of them. Getting things done and getting productive makes things start to look up. I'm feeling more myself when I'm getting some stuff accomplished, even if it's just in bits and pieces here and there. Plus, starting on the last bit of that baby quilt has me excited. Woo!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

caramelized onion and mushroom casserole with broccoli

Whenever I make a pasta casserole, I always think this one will be different. That this one will be the new and exciting one that's the casserole to stake my life on. Which is almost never true. That would be my mac and cheese, or the broccoli and cauliflower gratin that dinner guests request from me years later. This casserole is right in the middle. It's not something that I'd set out for Sunday dinner or as the main course when I'm having friends over ... but as a side dish or a weekday meal? This is pretty darn lovely.

My basic pasta casserole, filled with whatever's easy and in the fridge, never end up being life changing. It's pretty formulaic: pasta, vegetable, bechemel based sauce, sometimes meat if I have some on hand. Variations of this can be done simply, with frozen vegetables. It can be done somewhat easily, with just some broccoli thrown in. It's all very basic. This one, though, it has a little something special going for it.

There's a bit of a time commitment here, caramelizing the onions and sauteing the mushrooms. It's worth every second though as that's what makes this casserole just oh so good. It adds more body and depth ... so much that you could (if you were so inclined) skip the broccoli altogether and just double (or triple) mushrooms and onions. It would probably be pretty decadent.

I was also a bit crazy and tried to do everything all at once. Give yourself a break and make things in stages. It will really, really help your sanity. Then? Enjoy how deliciously lovely this is.

Oh? This will comfortably serve four for dinner as a main ... but you'll probably wish there were some leftovers.

Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Casserole with Broccoli

Ingredients:

For the casserole filling
  • 4 cups dry, medium pasta
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 3 medium white or yellow onions, chopped
  • 3 cups cremini mushrooms, halved
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
For the sauce:
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 cup shredded old cheddar (optional)
Directions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350*F.
  2. Make the caramelized onions and mushroom mixture.
    1. In a medium sized skillet over on medium high heat, heat the olive oil until sizzling. Add the onions to the skillet. Lightly salt to taste (about 1/2 tsp if you're me.) 
    2. Cook until caramelized, stirring frequently. This is going to take about fifteen to twenty minutes as the onions first go translucent, then brown, then start to get really fragrant and brown. Bits of onion will be starting to stick to the pan at the end. Add butter to the onions and allow to melt.
    3. Add mushrooms to the pan, and stir. Cook the mushrooms together with the onions another five minutes, or until the mushrooms have shrunk by about half. Cooking the mushrooms in the onions allows the onions to continue to deepen their flavour without cooking too intensely, and lets the mushrooms pick up some of the caramel-y goodness.
    4. Remove from the heat and set aside for later
  3. Make your sauce.
    1. In a medium saucepan again over medium heat, melt butter. Add the flour, wisk together until evenly incorporated with no lumps. Cook it about 3 minutes, letting the roux bubble a bit and stirring so it doesn't burn. This cooks off the flour so your sauce won't taste floury.
    2. Add the milk. Wisk vigourously to get the roux incorporated. Continue to cook, wisking occasionally, until thickened. To thicken entirely, the mixture needs to come to a light, bubbly simmer at the least. Because there's such a high milk to roux ratio (to keep the casserole nice and moist) you want this to thicken as much as it will.
    3. Wisk in the salt, pepper and oregano.
    4. Turn the heat down to the minimum and add in the cheddar. Wisk until completely melted into the sauce, remove from heat and set the sauce aside.
  4. Make your pasta.
    1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.
    2. In the last two to three minutes of cooking throw the broccoli into the pot. This allows the broccoli to begin the cooking process so it will come out of the casserole properly cooked.
    3. Drain.
  5. Assemble your casserole.
    1. Pour your pasta and broccoli into the casserole dish. Pour the onions and mushrooms on top, scraping the pan to make sure you get all the yummy caramelized bits.
    2. Pour your sauce overtop of the casserole components.
    3. Give it all a good mix, making sure there's a little bit of broccoli and a good distribution of onion and mushrooms in every bit of the pan. You can eyeball this - it's pretty obvious when you've got a good mixture of things.
    4. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese overtop for just a little bit crunch.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Eat. Have some seconds, because you probably will.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

a healthy dose of outrage

Some things make my blood boil. And while usually it's just me throwing a temper tantrum for no reason, there are legitimate reasons in this world to be outraged. There are even some things which I think require outrage as a reaction. War crimes, human rights violations, human trafficking. Or, another word for that last one: slavery.

A survey I did here last week in response to a Liebster award asked me about artificial intelligence and how I feel about the possibility of it existing in our society in the future. This is a subject about which I have some grave ethical concerns, because we just haven't figured out as a society how to treat other people. And I kept thinking. And thinking, and thinking. At which point I realized that while I've brought the subject up before it's been awhile since I've talked about my outrage at the continued existence of slavery in our modern world.

There are a million injustices in the world over which we can get outraged. Hunger, poverty at home and abroad, animal rights, children's right, domestic abuse, mental health rights, the covering up of war crimes, unjust wars ... everyone has their own pet cause. And to get outraged at each cause just takes too much energy. We put our blinders on.

But this is the cause that I care about. This is a cause I think that everyone should get just a little bit outraged about. It's not a simple issue, and it's not easily confined to just one specific group of people. This is sex trafficking. This is kidnapping. This is migrant workers tricked and trapped into forced labour. This is men, women, boys, girls. This is what I get outraged about.

We've only come so far as a society when we don't open our eyes and see that yes, this still happens. Slavery may be against the law in Western society, but it still happens. This is one of our most basic, fundamental human rights and there are too many people in the world that have that right torn away from them.

There's only so much that I can do to fix things, but at the least I can use my voice. People are not property. You cannot own another human being. Full stop.

I can't give you all the facts, but I can give you a couple of resources to start with.

Not for Sale
Anti-Slavery

Monday, March 04, 2013

the shower date

One of my favourite things ever is taking a shower together with Bunny. Early in the relationship, we would do it infrequently in an attempt to be all sexy like, with all the implied awkwardness. When we moved in together, we started to do it more frequently, and the reasons started to change. Sure, showering together is sexy but more importantly it's intimate. You're all wet and naked and touching each other in this confined space and need to work your way carefully around each other and learn how to compromise and share the water spray.

When we moved in with my mom we upped the ante again. My in laws, apparently, take every single shower together and I've started to figure out why. When you share your living space, every moment you get with just the two of you is precious, and it's pretty hard to intrude on someone's shower time. Plus showering together just leads to a different kind of time. You have to pay attention to each other.

For Bunny and I, the shower has become a natural place to have casual conversations about big topics. Like whether or not me getting my hair cut is considered a fun money expense or deserves a budget catagory of its own, and where monies for vacations come from. Or we talk about dreams for the future, how we're feeling about my continued state of not being pregnant, or whatever. It's not that we expect to come up with the conclusions to the questions, but having discussions about weighty topics in the shower lets us work out our feeling very freely. It's easy to be vulnerable when you're already naked and wet (and in my case nearly blind) and all out there physically. There's nothing to hide behind.

This morning over coffee we were laughing and talking about last night's shower, and I told Bunny that showering together was like having a little mini date. We're having deep conversations, with the chance of getting lucky at the end. And if I could only have one or the other, I'd much rather have our showers together than have proper dates.

What are the little ways you encourage intimacy in your relationship?

Friday, March 01, 2013

brain vacation

Evidently, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. After a week spent browsing the MLS listings, I've gone down another track and have been looking at travel sites. Not serious travel, the cultural places that I absolutely must go before I die. Pure vacation and relaxation travel: the sort that has me spending a week on a white sand beach in the sun and coming back with a temporary change in skin tone.

Right now my brain is in St Maarten after I found a resort chain there that just sounds delicious. I've made up a few details in my head, like the swim up bar that I wouldn't really use anyway but I'm also pretty sure doesn't exist. There are days doing nothing but floating on water and falling asleep in the sun, days spent snorkeling, kayaking and visiting tourist areas with Bunny. "Fancy" restaurants whose dress codes state shoes are required. Couples massages and merengue lessons. Visits to a local market. I may be in paradise.  Sunshine that never ends.

In my head I'm lying on a tropical beach. The sun is hot shining down own me, drawing beads of sweat out of my skin. It's lulling me almost to sleep. I have an itty bitty bikini on because if I'm in the Caribbean I'm not going to get all body conscious about enjoying myself, and I've got a big straw had and my sunglasses on. On the horizon I can barely tell the difference between ocean and sky until the sun starts to set and the skies darken. My mind is a beautiful place.

This is actually our target next vacation: tropical beachy and all inclusive. It's not how I'd want all of our vacations to be, or even many, but because my idea of "vacation" in the past has been band trips to Disney World and New Orleans (which are school vacations and only partly count, plus I managed to get terribly sick on both of them), camping, and a couple of trips to visit my grandparents while they were snowbirding in Florida more than two decades ago it seems like a start. It's been almost a decade since I've gotten on a plane and gone somewhere "out there" and I've never had that sheer relaxation vacation. It's the place I want to start.

First, I want to know what it's like to see white sand against deep blue waters, stretching out into the horizon. Even in my dream vacations budget is an issue, and tropical paradises seem strangely accessible. One day.

What's your dream vacation? What have been the best vacations you've had to date? Let me live vicariously, at least for a little while longer!