Tuesday, April 30, 2013

review: river of stars

I've read everything that Guy Gavriel Kay has ever written. I've given my opinions on a couple of his works already. Once I made my way through my first book of his, I got my hands on everything else I possibly could, and I've been utterly impatient about buying new releases in hardcover (I usually try to hold off from buying hardcover, both for price and size). So of course, when I first saw River of Stars in the bookstore, with a 30% off sticker no less, it was evident that yes I was going to have to buy this book.

With all that said, River of Stars had some high expectations to live up to. It didn't disappoint. There's been a definite shift in the writing style from what tends to be seen in his earlier books. The narrative shifts between a third person focus on various main characters and a narration that calls to mind the telling of an oral history around a fireplace, or a historian looking back on times long past. It's pure, masterful storytelling at its finest, really.

The characters are beautifully written and fully realized. Even the supporting characters seem thought out, as if Kay truly knows and understands the people he is writing. The blend of history and fiction is so seamlessly done that it's only at the end, during the acknowledgments (and as I delve into my own research) that I can parse out the fiction and reality.

Mostly, this book makes me want to pull out my copy of his last book, Under Heaven and see if I can immerse myself in a little more of this style of storytelling.

Monday, April 29, 2013

28

This weekend I got older, which is always odd. Birthdays are strange and awkward for me, and while I like the excuse for presents I'm not a big birthday celebration fan. Everyone else seems to think me turning older is a much bigger deal than I do. Maybe I just don't like having all the attention on me, and I feel a lot of pressure around my birthday to just be all "me, me, me" and it's kind of obnoxious.

Which sounds totally ungrateful, and maybe it is. I'm not all that fancy a person, and most of my wants are pretty low key. Mostly all I wanted was dinner at one of my favourite restaurants and a trip to the museum, which will wait till June, when the exhibit I want to see starts. Other than that? All I really wanted was a fancy coffee and a dinner with just me and my husband, followed by cuddling up on the couch watching some old motorcycle races with a glass of nice wine.

We ended up doing a little bit more than that - handled some shopping and did some planned spending from one of my gift card bonuses from work. New book, new blazer (on sale! with a bonus discount card! in a colour I'd been looking for!) and even a new camera. Which means that I will finally make good on those promises to share pictures of my crafting and some baking recipes. If the battery ever charges, that is (I bought the floor model, and the charger won't light up, so I'm not 100% sure if it's working or not. If not, back to the store it goes for an exchange). I also had my third driving lesson this morning which was tons of fun.

I'm not sure how I feel about turning 28. 27 was a strange, surreal year with some of the biggest lows and most amazing ups I've ever had. It will always be the year I got married, and that's pretty awesome, but a lot of hard stuff happened too. I don't know how much I need in the way of fancy celebrations for this turn around the globe, really. But it was a nice day, when everyone else wasn't trying to fuss so much over it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

learning to drive

As I've been alluding to the past few weeks, I've been in the process of learning how to drive. It's a little bit embarrassing to be saying that, at my age. I'm about to turn 28 (already? how'd that happen) and I'm just now getting around to learning how to drive.

When the rest of my friends were all learning how to drive as teenagers I was very strongly discouraged from exploring that option. It wasn't something that was supported in my household, it was made clear that if I wanted to learn there would be no help and I was basically told that I had no business driving. Specifics included "too clutzy to learn to drive". It was a lot of time and money for something that I didn't have any support for, and I wasn't going to be able to afford a car for myself so I just let it slide.

Then I just ... never prioritized it. I thought about learning to drive when I was out of university, but I knew that if I learned I would want access to a car and it wasn't something I placed and financial priority on. As much debt and as little savings as I had straight out of school I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea of a car.

After letting it go for so long the idea of driving started to take this huge life of its own in my head. I lost that fearlessness that I think helps carry teenagers through the learning process; I'm very aware of how dangerous a car can be, the fact that accidents happens and that life is mortal and tiny and precious. Plus, being in downtown Toronto a car seemed like craziness and Bunny had the truck for when we needed one anyhow. We even lived completely truck free the year that Bunny was back in school to save costs.

I'm biting the bullet and just learning, now. Part of it is independence, and knowing that mobility and transportation will always be an option for me. Part of it is to get me options for how to get around this city, even though we won't be looking at getting a second car (at least not for a very long time), part of it is that Bunny thinks its important, part of it is flipping the bird to the person who thinks I have no business driving. Part of it is sheer fun.

It's a lot to think about. It's a lot of variables to balance at once - gears and gas and breaks and the clutch. Trying not to stall the engine (poor Lucy, I tried to start her from third). I've only driven in a parking lot so far, and I'm still afraid of every other moving vehicle and even people walking in the distance but man is this fun.

What was the last thing you did that scared you?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

what to eat, when to eat

My diet/exercise regimen is just driving me nuts. I never eat quite as well in the depths of winter as I do in the summer, and the combination of odd hours and the fact that I'm not always the one making the grocery lists or cooking has been catching up to me.

I think it mostly comes down to three things. My sweet tooth is always something that I struggle to stay on top of and I know my constant desire to have a brownie or a few pieces of chocolate or a couple of gummi cola bottles or some baked goods or caramel sauce on my pancakes is never consistent with keeping myself at a size I like - but this is manageable, really. Having the occasional cookie is not a big deal and I'm not going to fuss about it. My sweet tooth is not going away, but I'm more than capable of managing it.

What is a big deal is the fact that I haven't been very consistent about breakfasts lately, and that I'm then voraciously hungry at the end of the night. Come 9 o'clock I want to eat everything in sight and if I don't I get nasty grumpy, and at 9 in the evening about all I have the temperament to grab are boxed cookies or chips or something equally terrible. It's stupid, too, because I know when I eat breakfast (or even have a latte for breakfast!) I can keep my evening hunger to a manageable level. When I eat breakfast I'm capable of eating two squares of a king sized hazelnut chocolate bar, whereas when I don't I'm probably going to eat the whole thing.

So I'm trying to make a real effort to do the breakfast thing. It's a hard adjustment for me as I hate eating in the morning, and find it makes me queasy. I may end up making friends with the tub of Slimfast my mom has lurking in her cupboard. I don't know. But I've got to start doing something about it.

What are your food pitfalls? How do you work to overcome them? Any awesome and easy breakfast ideas I can steal?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

still tripping

Over the weekend I put the final stitch in block sixteen of the Scrappy Trip Around the World quilt I started back in January. Which was supposed to be the finish line but the fact is these blocks are addicting to sew. They're just easy straight sewing, and come together so beautifully that it's hard not to enjoy them. Plus, I had almost enough fabric left over to put together another four blocks and it was all in strips so it seemed just perfect to try and use it up. And then once I laid it out I really liked the idea of going a bit bigger, and Bunny agreed.

Which is how I ended up with another fat quarter, sewing away on block seventeen. It will probably be another two weeks now until these babies are done, which is just as well because it gives me some time to plot out my next project. My niece is next on the list, and I have a very clear idea what I want to do. I just need to plan out the blocks do up some math and figure out how much fabric I need to be buying for it.

I'm also trying to decide just how much money I'm willing to pay for batting for a living room throw blanket. My local quilt shop has some gorgeous wool and bamboo batting that I'm mooning over, but I can get cheap and decent batting for about a quarter of the price elsewhere. It is a dilemma. When I get around to making us a proper bedroom quilt I'll spend some money on the batting ... but this project I'm just not sure.

Speaking of bed quilts, I've also been slowly collecting fabrics for a project for Bunny and my bed. It's slightly mismatched, and I've decided on a colour palette of pinks/purples/blues for it and I'm trying to buy the fabric a little bit here, a little bit there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

enough is enough (a ramble)

While the tv was on a lot in my house growing up, the news was almost never on. We'd tune into a local morning show that was really more weather and variety tv, with a hint of local news thrown in for good measure. I started reading the new in high school, and watching the Daily Show in university (which, while amazing commentary is not a real news delivery system). Since Bunny's come along, though, watching the news has become a part of my everyday life. We put on the news while we bustle around in the morning. It's the background noise we put on after work, when I'm busy cooking and he's freelancing.

Lately it's been exhausting. It's been heartbreaking, really, some of what's going on in the world.

Stories of teenage girls commiting suicide, after being raped and sexually harassed and then bullied over it. Newscasters expressing sympathy to men who commit these type of crimes, rather than the women who are attacked. Seeing how clearly major news outlets are afraid of saying the word "rape" when that's what happened, how they sugar coat a situation as if it somehow softens the truth.

Then there are mass murders and terrorist attacks and too many innocent people, innocent children, dead because someone is angry at the world. There's shock and worlds imploding around people and it's just all too much until I want to tune it all out and pretend that this isn't the world I live in.

It makes me sad that we live in a world where people think it's ok to act like this. Where this is how people treat each other, and where it's gotten to just be so common. I'm tired of it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

off track

You know those weekends that roll by in a blur, and while you get lots done and probably enjoyed yourself, but you're not quite sure because you haven't had enough time to process things? This was one of those. We did make a point of having a dinner date (poutine!) on Friday night after work, which has to count for something.

Around the house stuff got finished - laundry put away, kitty litter cleaned, I tidied up the basement and such.

Saturday consisted of my second driving lesson (turning! I can turn! and it's fun!) and a couple of miscellaneous errands in the morning, followed by the baby shower. A couple hours filled with lots of people and kind of centred around, well, babies. I officially said goodbye to the baby quilt (though I will go back and get a photograph of us, and it's just living next door) but it's definitely on its way to a good home. After, we went back to my mother in law's and spent some more time with the family before running away to get some quiet time ... and some Doctor Who.

Sunday was out of town errands. Nowhere excessive, but we needed to get out to the flea market for some nicotine fluid for Bunny's e-cab and made a stop in at the quilting shop in the town nearby to price out batting and scope out fabrics for my next project. Then it was home so Bunny could get some solid hours of freelance in (and I got a bunch of around the house stuff done).

We did have some relaxing time. I got some sewing done and officially decided that I'm going for 20 blocks on the Scrappy Trip quilt which just leaves these last four to go, and means I'll be working on it awhile longer. We also stopped and checked in for Doctor Who on Saturday night and took an online visit to Jerez, Spain for a GP race. We'll catch up on the rest of the classes over the rest of the week. Thank goodness I was gifted a surprise three day weekend from work with how crazy everything's been.


Tomorrow it's back to the grind for the last full week of the month at work. It's all cylinders go there, and this time of month there's a lot of pressure with sales targets and no chances to make up for a bad day. Time is just zipping by lately.

Friday, April 19, 2013

review: neverwhere

You know those books that you want to read and you want to like? Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere has been one of those for me. I first picked this up probably almost a decade ago with every intention of reading it. Honestly. I was going to read this book. Except I wasn't into it, and put it down. Then I watched (and read) Stardust and loved it and simply had to give Neverwhere another try. Except I just couldn't do it. Couldn't get excited.

Finally American Gods did me in. The book was so amazing, and I loved Gaiman's imagination and writing style and it just seemed obvious that if I could just get started I would enjoy Neverwhere. Plus I had the damn book sitting around, it was obvious that I just needed to read the thing. I also have the mini series waiting on the computer to be watched, and am now even more excited about it than I was before. (We went on some series binges that prevented me from watching, and racing is back. Dangerous.)

So I did.

I'm not sure why I had so much trouble with it before. Certainly Gaiman's style isn't as developed as with his later works and maybe the pacing could have used some work ... but the book is beautifully written. The atmosphere is palpable, the use of metaphor is so extensive that it becomes a natural part of the storytelling. It's a bit myth, a bit fantasy, a bit of reliance on fictional archetypes and a whole lot of good.

Really the only issue here is just how long it takes to get going. It's just a touch too much set up, even though it's all important to the story. Once the story gets going, though? Watch out.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

learning to like things

In all honesty I'm never going to love the city we live in. But it has jobs, for both of us - career work for him, work-work for me - and it has family and it's affordable to live here. It's boring, and culture is non-existent. There's almost no diversity, and perhaps because of that it tends to bring out the worst in stereotypical ignorance. It's a hard city to like, for me.

For all of that, though, I'm trying. I have to try because otherwise I'll just be sucked into a terrible pit of hating where I live for perhaps the rest of my life and that's just depressing. I'm trying to come up with activities to do here, things that we can get involved in and places we can go for fun.

In the summer we have a beautiful beachfront (although really? don't get into that water, please) that's made for strolling along. Lovely long walks can be had there, and there's the cutest little ice cream shop by the marina that has a killer rainbow sherbert.

Typical suburban charm also leads to some pretty intense garage sales in the summer. There aren't always the same treasures that you might find in the snazzy downtown Toronto neighbourhoods, but there are some hidden gems and once we hit Victoria Day you can't take an early morning drive on the weekend without running into at least five. The typical suburban attitude also means that the hipster styles of the city haven't become all the rage here yet, so we can find some amazing shabby chic thing at a bargain. The nearby, small town antiques barns (literally, in barns) are quite similar, and haven't been infiltrated by designer pricing yet. Antique wood chests at $300? Still painful to spend that much ... but in Toronto that would easily be double.

The Thai place here is quickly becoming "our" restaurant, although it makes me sad that their pad thai flat out sucks. Everything else on the menu is great and the tom yum soup is flat out phenomenal. Classy d├ęcor and amazing food designed to be shared? Yeah I'll take that.

Bunny and I are also looking at all the various physical opportunities. While we're not willing to shell out the money to get into skiing at this point (seriously, skiing and snowboarding are about all you can do here most of the year) we're talking about buying day passes and renting out some gear next year. Or maybe hitting the tubing hills, which can also be quite fun. We're taking a look to see if there are gyms we can stomach the price of - I'd love to do yoga classes, and we both feel out of shape. Maybe we'd even take up rock climbing if we could find a place.

I've been offered a chance to devote some of my sewing time to a theatre company a coworker volunteers at. I'm not sure if I'm interested, but we'll see.

Then there's the fact that Bunny's teaching me how to drive. For real. I even had my first lesson last weekend and managed not to stall out the truck.

There's also the quilting store in one of the towns nearby that I'm maybe a little bit in love with. Love it love it love it. Fabrics and threads and patterns and thimbles (thumb thimbles!) oh my.

How do you find things to love where you live? Have you ever tried to find things to love in a place that you're not fond of? How'd you go about it?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

left out

A month ago or so I was in a room full of women, some of whom I knew well, some of whom were friends of people I know well. It was an open house for a product line and was very casual - a number of brands were being represented and I was happy enough to show up to support people. A fair chunk of extended family was there, too, so it was also definitely a social event as well.

After the first half hour or so, though, the conversation got a little bit stuck in a loop. Someone brought up their child and the next thing you knew, for the next three hours, the conversation was almost exclusively on children and being pregnant, with slight interjects about husbands not doing their share around the house. Granted there was also a heavily pregnant lady in the room as well as a brand new momma, so of course babies would come up. But everytime the subject changed it would inevitably spin back to the conversation of children

There was something strange and uncomfortable about the whole matter. These are smart, fun, engaging women. Women who are successful in their careers - there was a banker, entrepreneurs, a nurse. Women who have brains and have lives outside of just their babies. And yet the default conversation was entirely based around current and future children, interspersed with a whole lot of "you'll sees" for the few of us who didn't have children. Like I wasn't part of the club, and wouldn't be able to fully participate in the lady talk until I cross that boundary and my opinion is somehow less valid for not being there.

It's not to say that our families shouldn't be important, because they are huge. But really? Isn't there more to us? What's up with this idea that the defining moment of our lives is our reproductive success? I feel like we should have more to talk about than just babies. I mean yes, babies, interesting and engaging and huge accomplishments but there has to be more to us.

Where was the talk about the cool hobby projects that people were into? The fact that their careers were fulfilling or engaging or even just that they enjoy leaving the house to work? Wasn't there even one single other subject that these women could have used to relate to each other than just babies?

The whole time I felt incredibly isolated. Because I can't just jump into the baby conversation without revealing some very hard things, and so if I don't know the people involved in the conversation I'm probably not going to. I don't need to turn everything into a woe is me tale. It made me angry though, and sad, to suddenly be left out of the conversation just because I haven't been able to walk that path yet.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

caramelized onion and mushroom casserole

I can't believe I'm sharing another casserole recipe with you, again. I won't blame you if you're bored of them but I need to be honest here this one is the best. If you like casseroles, or caramelized onions, or anything you just have to make this. The idea for this one germinated when I first made a casserole containing mushrooms and caramelized onions. What if I just used more? Wouldn't that be utterly delicious? Well yes, and this is the result.

I've got to be honest, though. This is not a throw it together in fifteen minutes casserole. I spent an hour just on the onions. You might want a kitchen helper. But oh my god was this worth it. This whole idea was based around the household love of onions, and my belief that they are always better caramelized and always better with mushrooms. I wanted the onions to shine in this casserole, which is why I left out all other vegetables. I also wanted it to be a little more hearty, which is where the ground chicken came in.

If you wanted to make a vegetarian version you could easily leave out the chicken, use margarine and vegetable broth. Honestly though? I wouldn't change a thing

The secret to this recipe might have been the onions, or it might have been the kick of cayenne. I'm not quite sure. What I do know is that we fought over the leftovers.

Caramelized Onion and Cremini Casserole

Ingredients:
For the Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp dried time
  • 1 - 2 tsp cayenne pepper (base this measurement on your family's spice preference, we used 2 teaspoons and it was perfect)
For the filling:
  • 1/2 package of dried fusilli or rotini (the curves here pick up the onion bits and sauce perfectly)
  • 12 medium yellow onions, sliced
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1 tsp salt
  • olive oil
    • 1 tbsp for the chicken
    • about 2 tbsp for the onions
  • 1 pat of butter
Directions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350*F.
  2. In a skillet or pot with a large bottom (I used a dutch oven here) bring 2 tbsp olive oil to medium low heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions to the pan. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and stir. You'll want to cook these all the way to caramelized and with so many onions it will take a long time.
    • Note: Stir these regularly, but feel free to multi-task here. Especially for the first twenty minutes while the onions go from translucent to browned you can take your eye off them for a few minutes at a time.
  3. In a medium skillet, bring 1 tbsp olive oil to medium heat. Add the ground chicken to the skillet and cook, stirring regularly, until browned. Once cooked through, transfer to a medium large bowl and set aside for now.
  4. Check in on your onions. Keep cooking. They'll probably be translucent and not quite browned, but keep an eye on them.
  5. Begin making your sauce. In a saucepan over medium heat melt your butter and add the flour to make your roux. Wisk to integrate, and allow to cook about five minutes, stirring regularly, to get rid of the floury taste.
  6. Add the chicken broth to the roux in about 1/3 cup increments, making sure to wisk until completely integrated between each addition. Once all the broth is added, simmer over low heat until it just begins to bubble. At this point you can add the milk, as well as your seasonings (pepper, garlic, cayenne). Once again bring to a simmer to thicken slightly. At this point you can leave the sauce over low heat on a back burner.
  7. Check in on your onions. They'll probably be about browned now, with bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the colour of the onions is about medium brown (not quite at the caramelized point) add the mushrooms to the pan. Stir. The mushrooms and onions will cook through together from this point on. While the mushrooms begin to cook the onions will continue to caramelize and they'll get all lovely.
    • Continue cooking while making the pasta, stirring regularly. These should finish up completely soft and caramelized and delicious right about that time.
  8. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook your pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain.
  9. In a large casserole dish combine the pasta, caramelized onion mixture and ground chicken. Pour the sauce over top and mix until evenly coated.
  10. Pop it in the oven for about 20 minutes.
  11. Put this in your mouth. Seriously.

Monday, April 15, 2013

cats, continued

Remember how having Moetzel back on loan from my in laws was a bit of a disaster at first? What with cat fights at 2am and the like?

Well I've got to be honest, I don't want to give her back. She's a finicky cat (I've never met a she cat who wasn't), and won't tolerate being picked up and doesn't particularly like being approached. She's also a little too comfortable getting in the way of the other animals; I have to patrol when I'm feeding Phoenix otherwise she'll kick her away from her food dish.

Moetzel's a cuddle cat, though. She'll jump on the couch with us, or snuggle into my feet when I'm in bed reading. Her little head nudges just a little bit under my hand begging for attention. She's so sweet that it's hard not to love her. This is all somewhat hilarious, because she used to be the most skittlish, solitary cat before we moved and would have nothing to do with either of us.

Still, I'd be lying if I said the animal situation is perfect. Moetzel's given both Jethro and Phoenix a good swat on the nose in the last week, which I'm not happy about. I can't quite figure out if the cats actually like each other or not - they chase each other a lot, and often look like they're approaching each other in a friendly manner, but we still hear a hiss from one or the other every other day or so. No more growls though, and those worried me.

I'm still hoping that by the time construction finishes at the in laws the cats will be all cuddly and my mom won't want us to return her. I don't want to give her back, really.

Friday, April 12, 2013

happy things

It's been a long week. A good week, but a long week and I'm out of intelligent conversation and book reviews (although I finished one more ... it just kind of isn't worth reviewing) and recipes so instead here's a list of things that are making me happy in my life. Because everyone likes to enter the weekend on a good turn.

  • Cat cuddles. Moetzel snuggles me in bed, and Phoenix has been letting me pick her up more lately. It's so unusual and I'm adoring it.
  • Valentino Rossi, on the podium! The Doctor back in racing form makes for extra exciting GP races this year and there's nothing like seeing this man come from behind - he made Qatar extra exciting, and I'm so excited to see how the rest of the season plays out. Only one more week until the Circuit of the Americas.
  • Doctor Who. My favourite Doctor. Last week's episode was wonderful and I loved the Doctor's speech, and there's a new episode tomorrow. Yes, I am looking forward to that.
  • Quilting things. Bunny took me to a quilting shop in a nearby town last weekend, and I picked up a couple of co-ordinating fat quarters to go on a quilt I'm planning for the future and I'm already daydreaming about it. Plus the quilt shop was really kind of awesome, and I think I'll enjoy going back in the future. I've also got all but two of my Scrappy Trip blocks done, and I'll be passing on the baby quilt next week.
  • Dreaming about going to an improv class with George Clooney and Jack Black. That actually happened. Also I'm pretty sure George Clooney was teaching some class in a tower in my dream.
  • Butterscotch blondies. I may have even improved upon my original recipe which is saying something. The rich butterscotch flavour in blondie form? Delicious.
  • Putting up good numbers at work. It always puts me in a good mood. Also, getting co-ordinating schedules with my favourite coworker. Again, it makes for good moods.
  • Flame. It leads to so many good things, and it's mesmerizing to watch.
  • Coupons. Discounts on dinner, free concessions at the movie theatre ... everything's better with a coupon.
  • Mesopotamia at the ROM, opening in June. It'll be a busy summer and I'm not sure when I'll fit this in, but I'm excited.
  • Caramelized onions. I am in love with everything about them - the taste, the texture, the process, and the things you can do with them.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

what will the next project be?

As I was doing the finicky work of finishing the baby quilt (it's done! I made it!) I'd been rewarding myself with what I call my project in waiting, the Scrappy Trip quilt for our couch. It's reaching a near critical mass, with 12 of 16 planned blocks completed. If I happened to have more of the fabric line I'm using for it I'd be looking at making more, but really 4 feet square should be big enough for this puppy.

Last night I laid out the blocks on the bed just to play with the layout a little and it's looking good. I'm trying to decide how I feel about the colours. Last time it was looking a little overly blue and not very green or orange, but I've definitely balanced out the orange with these few blocks. The question is really how much more green do I do - it's going on a green couch, so I don't want there to be too much green. Tonight will be spent with some fabric cutting the next four blocks and contemplating.

What's dangerous is that instead of just being proud of what I've accomplished (a blanket! an honest to goodness blanket!) and a second, really cool, almost finished quilt top I'm starting to think about what comes next. Because even though I've still got layering and basting and quilting and binding I'm thinking of what's next. I got some fabric for Christmas, but I'm not really that crazy about it. I'm wanting to go buy more more more. I need a plan for the next one, though.

Of course I'm basically drowning in options. I'm planning a log cabin quilt for the love chair to co-ordinate with the scrappy one I'm working on, done in the same fabric line but a more traditional/less scrappy layout. My niece needs a quilt (I've been eyeing either hourglass blocks or a star sampler), my brother in law is begging for one. I've been eyeing the Swoon pattern online lately, and thinking that I eventually want to do a medallion type quilt for our bed. I just want to do them all and all now. Plus I also want to have about a million and one fabrics, although that's not sensible. I'm trying to keep the expenses reasonable, here.

I'm also starting to look more favourably on the original quilt. It's kind of hung up over a bedframe, and I see it every time I'm in the laundry room ironing and I'm starting to warm up to it, a bit. I don't like it per se, and there's a lot that I would do differently if given the chance (most of which I did do differently on the baby quilt). It's simplistic, the scale is off, there are some stupid planning mistakes and I just feel like I could do better. The thing is that I need to find someone to give it to, someone who I know will love the pink/silver/black colour scheme and who isn't as detail OCD as me to get bothered by odd sashing and I can't quite bring myself to buy backing and batting for no reason. Although maybe I'll use it to practice some more complicated quilting patterns? I don't know.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

when recipes don't cut it

Baking days often begin with ingredient inspiration for me, or a desire to reinvent the wheel. My brother in law constantly requests my blondies and I don't like to always make the same thing so I'll take a look into the pantry and see what different ingredients I have to play with.

Last week the answer was cooking grade maple syrup, pecan and rolled oats. Should have been easy, as recipes for maple pecan oatmeal bars abound online. I settled on one from the Quaker website out of sheer practicality: usually websites from brands like Quaker are good ones.

I was disappointed. Maybe it tells a little of some growing skill in the kitchen? Eating these bars I had very specific things I wanted to change. They were way to sweet, and I'll be cutting back on the sugar. There's not enough moisture and they could use an extra egg for binding. They needed something else chewy and clearly the idea of raisins was just necessary.

Of course now I'm out of maple syrup, and will have to play with molasses or honey instead. Luckily I'm itching to go and can't wait to figure out how to improve. A year ago if this had happened I'd be throwing the recipe in the garbage. Now I just want to fix it and I have an actual idea how. There are concrete ideas on what I need to do to fix it. And I'm excited.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

dopplehusband

Four and a half years of knowing Bunny and I have never, once, seen him without his beard. The beard that gets long and unruly and unkempt and has been known to create certain discomfort when kissing. The beard that's adorable and handsome and ruggedly masculine and seems to give his looks an extra "oomph" that makes him look so much like himself.

As much as I tease him about it, I love it. The beard suits him. Plus, it may be his only remaining public claim to being a redhead and apparently that matters to him.

I've always said I would like to see him, just once, barefaced. I figured being married to the man it would be nice to know what his face looks like underneath that inch of hair. Mostly I figured I'd wait another four years before there'd be any give on the issue (although really, I always said that I just wanted him to shave once, then he can go ahead and grow it back.) Last weekend it happened: my husband de-bearded himself. (And I shaved off the winter forest of leg hair, to make things somewhat even.)

He's just the same, except so incredibly different. The shape of the corner of his lips, that's always been hidden by scruffs of hair. Under his beard his skin is so much softer and more even than I'd expected. At the outer edges his jaw is even more defined. he looks younger.

It's a little like he's his own twin brother, and kissing him feels a little naughty. Granted I can never use the same argument again to get him to shave but now that I've seen him once I'm happy.

Monday, April 08, 2013

review: the night circus

There's very little to say about Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus that can't be summed up in one word. Perfection. Without a doubt, this is one of the best books I have read in ages and I'm a little wistful that my fiction never turns out this beautifully.

Morgenstern has the most luxuriously writing style, seeping her work in atmosphere and location. Where most writers focus on the character, or the plot, this book is driven entirely by the atmosphere of the circus and the depth of her world. With the focus so clearly on the setting and the feel of the story, any concerns I would have raised in other books about character development all fall to the wayside. You can just sink into this book, it feels so real, and it's easy to imagine myself walking around the Night Circus itself after reading.

I want her to write a million more things, because even if I read a new book by her every day of my life it might not ever be enough. She reminds me a little bit of Italo Calvino, particularly Invisible Cities. From me that's a big compliment as that's perhaps my favourite piece of literature (but who can ever choose?)

Pure magic.

Friday, April 05, 2013

finish line, crossed

Maybe, just maybe, it's time for me to go out and buy a camera. I've been wanting one for awhile so that I can bore you with pictures of the food I'm cooking and crafts in progress and take pictures when I'm doing fun/exciting things in life. But mostly? I need a camera because I'm pretty sure I promised pictures of finished quilts.


And I definitely finished the baby blanket. It's done!!! Down to the last little stupid stitches on the binding (which I learned a lot about, by the way) it's done. It's been in the wash and crinkled up and everything. Seriously. I made a blanket. It feels pretty awesome.

Washing it for the first time rather terrified me, and I had to take it over next door and show it off to my in laws first, just in case the laundry machine broke it terribly somehow but everything came out just fine. In fact, it was somewhat magical the way the blanket was all a little bit stiff before going into the washer and came out of the dryer all in one piece and soft and in some areas a little puffier and just about the same in others.

I made a blanket. Life goal accomplished.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

small forms of feminism

Feminism is a label I struggle with more than I'd like to admit. At the simplest level I identify as feminist because I truly believe that all people are created equal, and that the shape of our chromosomes shouldn't dictate how we are treated by the world and I have an issue with the fact that right now it does. What I have a hard time with is feminist expectations and how to reconcile living a life that will make me happy with a life that fights for equal rights and freedoms.

When I fit so easily into the model of the woman who cooks and cleans and sews and would be happy to be a stay at home mom it becomes even more important to do the small every day acts of equality.

Things like holding the door open for a man, when I happen to reach it first. (Seriously, the stunned looks I get at this blow my mind.) Having entertainment expenses come out of my part of the budget, so I get to be the person to whip out the debit card when we're out and about. Making Bunny take an active role in the work of changing my last name.

It's challenging the men in my life to think about the inequalities in a world. Making sure that they know that yes, sexism exists and it affects me and it affects them and it is real and problematic. It's calling them out if they say sexist things and getting them to think about their assumptions.

It's making political statements, and supporting women's rights by writing letters to my political representatives and voting with equality as a key issue. It's being aware of other forms of inequality and speaking up about them, especially when they don't affect me.

There are others, of course, things that I do and things that I don't do because they don't feel right to me. Some of them come naturally, some I stumble across and make my own and some that I try on for size and end up keeping up with. The little things matter and they count. At the end of my life I don't necessarily expect the big obvious acts to point to the fact that I'm a feminist, but I hope that when people see the small acts, the everyday ones that matter to me, that they make a difference.

What are your quiet acts of feminism, the ones that aren't large and obvious but you hope make a difference in people's lives?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

review: the dovekeepers

My journeys to the bookstore this year have been filled with picking up all of those haunting "mean to read" books. Every single time I go lately I've been picking up something that I keep wanting to read. Apparently, I know my tastes because I've enjoyed everything so far and this is no exception. The Dovekeepers has haunted me at the bookstore for years now. It hits all sorts to checkboxes that make me want to pick up a book: it's critically acclaimed, about women, historical fiction, discusses religion in a historic context.

I first learned about the mass suicides at Masada in high school, in Latin class. Because clearly I was the geek who learned to read Latin (I also maybe wrote my high school diaries in runes to make them hard to crack, but you know, this isn't all about what a weirdo I am), and when you elect to learn Latin you also get to learn all sorts of ancient history. Maybe that's why I'm a fan of the civilizations exhibits at museums. It was a fascinating story: an entire city that chose to organize a mass "suicide" rather than surrender to the Roman forces.

Alice Hoffman explores this story through the eyes of four women of Masada. I don't even know where to start with the beauty of this book. The history is simply astounding, the characters are strong and weak and complex and interesting all at once. Perhaps most interesting to me is the portrayal of Judaism at the time, how much seems to be relying on myth and angels, how deeply these characters live their religion, how much a part of them their beliefs are - even when they claim not to believe. The repetition of the rule not to harm oneself, that it is harming God's creation - the way that rule is hammered in repeatedly, and how relevant it is to the story being told.

The story unfolds in the most gorgeous way, with the four narrators each taking a turn. As any one voice begins I started with the feeling that I wasn't particularly a fan of the character. Hoffman's brilliance in writing is that over the course of a few short chapters I move from not liking the character to being fascinated by them.

Hands down, I would pick this up again and read it happily. My only regret is that I didn't read it sooner.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

tattoos

On my left wrist is a small, black infinity symbol designed to look like a snake eating its own tail. I don't even like snakes, and yet midway through university I paid to have this etched into my skin forever. Perhaps this is one of my favourite pieces of art, I love the shape of the snake's fangs, I love the motion portrayed in the body. Everything about this I love. It also helps that I considered this tattoo for a good several years before I committed.

It's every bit addictive as people say, but even for someone who enjoys bits of body art I'm aware of its permanence. Which doesn't bother me, really, my body is scarred and marked and stretched: skin is by nature permanent and why should I ever regret putting a piece of art on myself? I have plenty of permanent marks that I would wish away if I could, my tattoos do not fit that bill.

As soon as the last puncture of the tattoo gun was completed, I began contemplating my next tattoo. Upon the completion of our last exam we simultaneously had the word surgite, our university's motto, scrawled across our ankles. Since that moment I have been thinking constantly about what comes next.

For years my mind has been playing with the image of a shooting star. Lately it has been more on my mind than usual, and I'm coming to think that it will be next. That perhaps it will mean more than how pretty it is to me, perhaps it will also mark the fleetingness of life and loss and will symbolize the pregnancy that was gone so soon after I found out about it. A star blazing across the sky. That while beauty in this world can be gone all too soon it's still there, it still exists, and it is still a small form of magic.

Thinking about the small pile of allowance money I have saved, parting with a week or two's worth on this seems worth it. The idea has been settling into my mind and it seems more real and more right. It feels like me like something that belongs on my skin. Of course there's still plenty to do: choose a final design, choose a size, choose a location, find a local tattoo artist that I like.

There's time, though. My skin isn't going anywhere. As long as I'm here, so is it.

Monday, April 01, 2013

chicken pot pie with biscuit crust

What, exactly, is it that separates a chicken pot pie from a creamy chicken stew? It's a question I haven't quite figured out, and this "pot pie" seems to just straddle that precipice. The large biscuit topping is much like a pie crust, but really the same recipe could be adjusted to make dumplings. The pie filling is loose and almost stew-like, and certainly if there were any more liquid I would call this a stew or soup. The lack of a bottom crust combined with the fact that it's made in a casserole dish point towards "soup" but it quite distinctly was based on a pot pie. The method of preparing the filling first and then baking it also point more towards pot pie than soup to me.

This was a recipe designed to use some strange odds and ends in my fridge. Two stray roasted chicken breasts, some parsnips and a bunch of asparagus. You could of course cook chicken just for this, or use a rotisserie or what have you ... but this is also a great way to use up some leftovers. The asparagus worked better than expected in the pie, actually: it had all the goodness of green beans, but provided extra flavour and a touch more texture. It would be easy enough to substitute out any of the vegetables I used, really, but the combination of the sweet carrot, spicy parsnip and bright, fresh asparagus was delightful. I'd also advise against putting potatoes in. With the biscuit crust that's just overkill. Or maybe you like carbs even more than me. (In which case, I'm kind of scared and kind of in awe. Let's be friends.)

Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Crust

Ingredients
Filling:
  • 3 medium carrots, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 large parsnip, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into inch long pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked, diced chicken
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp thyme
Biscuit Crust
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/3 cup of milk
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400* F.
  2. Prepare your biscuit crust.
    1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and thyme. Stir with a fork.
    2. Add the oil. Mush it around until the oil is absorbed by the flour and your have sort of a crumbly flour mix.
    3. Pour the milk into your mixture. With your hands or a spoon mix until it all just holds together. If it's sticky add a little extra flour. Do not overmix - once your dough looks like a ball you are good.
  3. In a large saucepot over medium heat melt the butter for your filling. Add the flour, wisk to combine well. Let cook about 3-4 minutes wisking frequently. It will sort of bubble up as the flour cooks off and leaves you with just the roux for thickening.
  4. Begin adding the chicken stock to the roux in stages to allow the roux to combine properly and prevent lumpy sauce. Add about a quarter of your stock at a time, wisking vigorously until it's smooth and even. Once all the stock is in the pot, stir occasionally and allow to come to a light simmer, let bubble about 3-5 minutes.
  5. Add the milk to the pot, all in one go. Throw in your spices (pepper, thyme, cayenne) at the same time. Wisk until it all comes together and again allow it to come to a simmer. Give it another minute or so before moving on to the next step.
  6. Add your root vegetables (carrots and parsnips, in my case) to your sauce and allow to cook about 5-7 minutes until the chunks just begin to have some give when poked with a fork.
  7. Add your asparagus and turn the heat down to the minimum. More tender vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, peas or beans will only need a few minutes cooking in the sauce before going in the over. Cook for about two minutes.
  8. Mix your chicken pieces into your sauce mixture and you have pot pie filling! Transfer to a casserole dish.
  9. Grab your biscuit crust. On a floured surface, roll it out until it's approximately the same size as your casserole dish. Put on top of the filling.
  10. Chuck the whole thing in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the filling is bubbling out from underneath and the crust is golden brown.
  11. Let cool about 5 minutes, serve. Put this in your mouth. Nom.