Tuesday, September 28, 2010

baked oatmeal

I've recently developed an addiction to breakfast foods.

I guess it's a better addiction than one to desserts which is where I was, oh, about two months ago.

Now I feel like I can get away with delicious things as long as they're for breakfast which naturally gives me a chance to work them off throughout the day (mmm clever).

I've been going through batches of granola, nectarine smothered french toast, nutella stuffed french toast, egg-in-a-holes, plain puffed rice cereal with yogurt and honey, and I even bought some milk and had real live cereal which I haven't had in years! (I really should have capitalized on that and crossed one of the items off my list. Damn.) And don't even get me started on brinner! Heavenly scrambled eggs, bacon and egg cups with roasted cherry tomatoes, pancakes with chocolate chips and bananas! I think I might need to buy a waffle iron...

Today, for a change, and because it's all chilly outside, I decided to make some baked oatmeal. Actually, what I really wanted was the true, blue, glue oatmeal, but I couldn't remember the water ratios. Ah well, next time.

Anyhoo, I whipped it up, stuck it in the toaster oven, then completely ignored it while it cooked.

And of course, I totally burnt it. It's pretty black, actually. I'm going to go ahead and blame the toaster oven. My new toaster oven which is almost the most awesome toaster oven ever conceived ever.

Let me count the ways:
  1. you can fit two (2) racks in it. That's right. If you wanna bake up some amazing chicken fingers and damn, you also want to make garlic sweet potato fries and of course the damn things won't fit on the same pan; it totally doesn't matter cuz you can and you still don't have to turn on the oven.
  2. apparently, it's really hot and cooks things in half the time. Case in point: my baked oatmeal.
  3. it's also a -- dramatic pause -- rotisserie. Yes. It rotisserizes things! I've never needed this function so much as after I had Idle Husband's dad's fireplace meat. Meat, on a skewer, slowly rotating on an open flame = the best meat I've ever had -- in my life. But we don't have an open fire and I've just been getting by on the spices and rotating them every 10 minutes by hand. Now we are the proud owners of a rotisserie and it's awesome. I used it last night for the first time. I also burnt our fireplace meat last night for the first time, because I had no idea what temperature the oven should have been at or how long it'd take. I thought it was done, oh about 20 minutes or so before IH got home. But he wanted to see it turning, in action, so I just let it go until he could see it.  So refer back to #2.
  4. it's got knobs. I don't know if you know how important old-fashioned knobs are, but once you've had some stupid digital display, you really realize the convenience of a knob. Stupid having to stand there and push the up and down buttons forever to get to a temperature because it thinks it's being awesome by always remembering the last temperature you used even though you only used 450 that one time in a whole month; then stupidly having to cancel to change the temperature because you got it wrong and if you don't cancel and redo all of that button pushing, you have to wait for it to heat up to the desired temperature so you can change it; and then, after all of that, stupidly forgetting to push start and then walking away and having a shower thinking it's going to be on for an hour, but it's not and oh yay, you get to eat dinner at 9 now, good for you; oh and don't forget about the lack of an automatic on. Wanna cook something longer than 2 hours? Better remember to reset the damn thing; and why are all the button functions explained with a picture? Is this for the illiterate? Well, good luck, nonreaders. I don't even know what half of those pictures are. Cookies? A potato? Why do I even need a potato button? -- eh hem, all of these problems and more are solved with a simple knob.
Anyway, I digress.

The baked oatmeal is still really delicious despite its burnt state. I just had two bowls of it (it's been scientifically proven that a good, hearty breakfast is important). I like to have it with a drizzle of honey and a couple good sized dollops of plain yogurt (not that fancy flavoured yogurt. Why bother with that runny stuff when you can add some jam to this marvelous as-thick-as-I'm-going-to-find-it-in-Canada yogurt and make it any flavour you want?).

The recipe I use I (naturally) found on the internets somewhere, but it's been so long (because I was on a baked oatmeal kick last winter), I can't give you a link. Instead, I'll painstakingly type it out for you. Cuz I like you like that.

Baked Oatmeal
1/3 cup vegetable oil (canola or olive or maybe applesauce would work...I should try that)
1/2 cup sugar (brown would probably be nice,too)
2 eggs (ostrich...no; I'm kidding)
2 1/4 cups old fashioned rolled oats (that's important. I'm not talking about the quick cook kind)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk (I've run out of clever things to amuse you with so you don't have to be bored reading an ingredient list)
Special add ins! raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, bananas, vanilla, walnuts, almonds, coconut, sliced apples or other fruits -- you know, use your tastes, judgement, brain, and add how much you want of what you want. But, like, don't get too crazy.

Whisk the oil, sugar, and eggs together until well mixed and slightly glossy. To this, add everything else (dramatic!). Pour into a baking dish (I use a glass one, 11 x 7 x 1.5 in or 2 QT or 2 L if you want to get all technical. But the only reason I chose this smaller dish is cuz it fits in my toaster oven perfectly) and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes (maybe not 30. I definitely should have checked mine at 20 due to my resulting burnage). I like to let it cool ever so slightly before digging in, but hey, that's me. I don't like burning my tongue. Maybe you do, I don't know.

Monday, September 27, 2010

weekend walk

Have I ever mentioned that fall is my favourite season?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

sunday brunch

Nutella stuffed french toast with caramelized bananas (or delicious banana mush, whatever)

This is what I wanted to make Idle Husband for his birthday breakfast, but since his birthday was on a Wednesday, I couldn't coordinate it (read: I couldn't get up at 6:30 to have it made for 7).

This is super easy to make. The only difference is the Nutella inside. So all you have to do is make a sandwich with Nutella, then follow the directions for french toast, substituting some sugar in the egg mixture instead of the cinnamon (for a sweet crispy crunch). Easy and yummy!

Friday, September 24, 2010

I'm a total idiot

So yes, obviously, I'm pretty thankful it decided to be all nice fall weather instead of crap fall weather all of a sudden, and I'm definitely rejoicing by suiting up in painting clothes and painting the trim around the house.

But get this. Just listen. I had some stupid brainwave at the end of last week involving reading the paint can and seeing what the lowest rated temperature was for it to work and still dry in a moderate amount of time.

So I take the long and harrowing journey down to the basement storage room, pull out the can, and guess what? That stupid exterior paint will dry in temperatures as low as 2 degrees. TWO.

Remember that day when it was sunny and NINE and I was like, OH MY GOSH, YOU GUYS! THERE'S NO WAY PAINT'LL DRY AT 9 DEGREES! DAMN MY LUCK!

There. I'm a total idiot.

Anyway, regardless of my own foibles, I've actually got a lot of the trim painted already and I've only been at it two days. Mind you, I've only painted the trim I can reach while balancing precariously on my too-short ladder in the most awkward of spots, but that's still a large chunk of it done.

And I've come to realize that there are no good ladder spots anywhere but on the porch. The lawn? Heck no. The driveway? You'd think so, but you'd be wrong. Oh, and don't even get me started on how stupid it was trying to paint the wooden trim just behind The Bed of Junipers today. It was like a total gymnastics routine. Good thing I realized I could reach most of the flower box from the ground because I really didn't feel like negotiating the ladder in there -- again.

Now I'm completely covered in welts, and I'm pretty convinced I'm 100% allergic to junipers. And even though I was in the blazing sun, I wasn't a quarter way across when I decided it would be quite beneficial to make my way out of the junipers (again) to get my coat so at least my arms would be protected from them even though I knew I would be at risk for heat stroke. My hands...well, they've depuffed and I'm only marginally wanting to scratch the skin off them, so I've made some progress in that department finally.

I think if I were living in one of the houses across the street from mine, I would have parked my chair up to the window, popped some popcorn, and enjoyed "that crazy swearing girl's" juniper dance all afternoon. I'm not going to lie and say I wouldn't have been cheering for her to dump the paint all down the front of her shirt. She was teetering over unstable branches, stupidly carrying an almost full can of paint like a baby while holding the paint brush and using her other hand to grab wayward branches in order to stablize herself. She was totally asking for it.

The saddest thing is that I have to drag the ladder over there eventually, because I need to paint the top of the flower box. The flower box that can't sustain any flowers because it's too hot. That makes the task even more worthwhile.

I have been doing things in stages, though. And I'm trying really hard not to be anal about getting it all done promptly in one hour (like I do other things). So the first day, I did all the super easy yet time consuming stuff. And the only bummer that came out of that was that all the super easy stuff is now done and has even got a second coat on it already, so that's the end of my actual painting fun.

I do have a nice tip for you, regarding painting. As I said, I'm not painting everything perfectly in one day. I have other stuff to do, too, surprisingly.

So if you're thinking I'm packing up my paint and cleaning out my brush every time I quit, you'd only be half right. I am putting the lid back on the paint can. That's just good common sense.

The brush is another matter all together. Here's what you do in handy gif form!

Just wrap your paint brush up -- good and tight -- in some ordinary tinfoil. If I wanted to store it longer, I'd probably also put it in a plastic bag for extra air safety.

Then stick it in your fridge (if you want it to last longer, opt for the freezer)

your sad pathetically empty fridge

When you're ready to use it again, just warm it a little (from the freezer, warm it a lot), unwrap, and get to work! It's like you didn't even stop! Genius!

*disclaimer: this trick doesn't work if you want to store your paintbrush for more than a month or a year or some other crazy amount of time. It's just until you can get back to it. If that's not going to be until next spring, then, you know, wash it or toss it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

6 weeks ago

I started working on a little project involving this super purple spray paint.

Here's what I was painting:

I was originally going to give these away. Understandably, I didn't like how they looked. The paint was chipping and, well, they weren't cute. I like cute.

Anyway, I wanted to spray paint them but I just couldn't find the motivation. On one particular trip to our most favourite store, I stewed over paint colours. As usual, I couldn't make a decision. But then, while we were still wandering around, I had a moment of inspiration, got my paint, and a day later, I sprayed them.

They look so great, don't they?

Um, no. That picture is all an illusion. You see, by spraying them, I unintentionally highlighted all of their flaws. The chips, the cracks, everything was about 100% more obvious.

What to do! What to do! I had some mini ideas like maybe smearing on some glue to act as a cover so once I applied another coat of paint, none of those cracks and bare ceramic would be visible.

I wasn't sure that would work, so I decided this needed a call to mom. She knows everything.

She suggested I use caulking. Just some regular, paintable caulking. Ok. That made sense to me.

So a week after, I finally remembered to buy some caulking (they sell smaller tubes now that don't require a caulking gun -- thank goodness).

I tested this idea on the worst looking duck and I'm not going to say it was 100% successful. Since I was only focusing on the damaged areas, I could really tell the difference between what I'd put caulking on and what I didn't. It was really hard to get the caulking as smooth as the ceramic. Mom kept insisting I had to take my time and smooth it and work it. Well, I tried that -- unsuccessfully -- the caulking was drying too quickly. If I even looked at it, it would ruffle up with texture. So I messed around with this duck for another week, and honestly, I was at the point where I didn't even want to bother with this project anymore.

I finally decided to cover the whole test duck in caulking. After I sprayed it, I decided that I really didn't mind the texture. It was a little more interesting than just shiny and smooth.

So instead of spending hours sanding and applying and sanding again, I put the caulking everywhere. On every surface of each duck, and I made sure the texture was nice and not ratty looking.

After a couple applications of caulking and more than a few coats of spray paint (not because the caulking was hard to cover but because I kept missing some of the harder to spray spots), here's what came out:

You can kind of see the slight texture, right?

Check it out:
I definitely would have liked them to be smooth, but I'll take this over that any day.

Now I have an even bigger problem.  I have no idea where to hang them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

mushroom ravioli

I don't know when I first had the idea for these. I think I just wanted ravioli or at least something resembling ravioli, and the last time I was making wontons, I thought, why can't a wonton wrapper be a ravioli?

Since I used up the last of my frozen wonton wrappers on wontons (I didn't even get to use all my pork filling), the wrappers went on the grocery list and raviolis went on my menu.

For three whole weeks.

I guess when a person really wants to buy wonton wrappers and isn't just thinking, hey I should get some of these and just keep them in the freezer for when a wonton craving hits, they mysteriously disappear from the shelves. Funny, that.

Anyway, I finally found them in stock, and if you're like me and hate Superstore's filing system, I'll help you out and tell you I find these in the fancy deli meats cuz that makes sense when you really think about where a package of wonton wrappers should be.

First things first, make your filling. I decided on mushroom just because I had no other ideas for this particular vegetarian Tuesday. Er, semi-vegetarian Tuesday. I also defrosted my leftover pork mush from wontons past. That stuff can't stay in the freezer forever, you know.

I loosely based it on this recipe which I swear I didn't find before I had this wonton ravioli idea. I just decided to search for a mushroom ravioli filling and low and behold, this popped up.

So, by "loosely based," I mean my recipe went something like this:
  • enough canola oil to cover the bottom of my pan
  • 1 large finely chopped onion (I friggin' love onions)
  • about 3 ounces of finely chopped button mushrooms (no matter how many mushrooms I get, I have yet to actually get one pound. Even when I buy "extra" mushrooms because I'm making a mushroom based recipe and I still have some in a bag at home. I've never been able to measure a whole pound. I'm starting to think a pound of mushrooms looks like an entire flat of mushrooms.)
  • 3 large minced cloves of garlic (I friggin' love garlic)
  • 2 minced thinish slices of fresh ginger (my tiny 11 cent bit of ginger was starting to look bad so I peeled and chopped it into slices and froze them)
  • generous amounts of salt and pepper
  • a few splashes (maybe about a couple tablespoons) of soy sauce
  • I wanted to put more salt and pepper in, but then I remembered soy sauce has salt in it and then I was worried everything was too salty and it was definitely salty, but I liked it that way
  • a sprinkling of oregano (I don't have thyme)
  • a sprinkle of vegetable seasoning (I friggin' love this stuff)
And you know, saute all that in your pan until the juices evaporate and the mushrooms become thick and filling-like. Technically speaking.

Now on to the fun parts.

These pictures are not the best, but they're the best I could get in my very dark, poorly lighted kitchen with wet floury paste-hands.

lay out your wonton wrappers and add a tablespoon of filling to the center of each one. Dip your finger in some water and wet all four sides of the wonton wrapper.

Take another wonton wrapper and press it over your filling making sure to press around all four sides. I picked them up and pressed around the sides and around the filling making sure the air bubbles were all out.

Place them on a damp towel (I have issues with dampening an actual tea towel for these things so I'll use paper towel instead. You can use whatever you're comfortable with) and cover with another damp towel so they don't dry out.

Then I popped them in the fridge until I was ready to cook them. Make ahead meal! Fantastic!

When you're ready to cook them, boil a pot of salted water. Keep it at a rolling boil and drop a few raviolis in at a time. I put in 8 each time. That recipe says to cook them for 4 minutes, but once they start floating, I generally consider them done. You just want the wonton wrappers to be soft and tender, a little translucent.

Now here's where my problems started. I had made some browned butter with garlic and I had planned on using that to gently coat the wontons so they wouldn't stick together. In hindsight, I should have put each of them directly into the butter as soon as they came out because as more went in my bowl, it got increasingly harder to toss them with the butter. So there was definite stickage. Also the mushroom filling was very delicate. That meant that they easily ripped open when we tried to get them out of the bowl (stickage also contributing). I think it would have been better to have made a mushroom ricotta filling or maybe used a meatier mushroom or maybe if I'd actually used the whole pound. I just thought they should have been a little more substantial than just the mushrooms and onions.

pork filled ravioli

I'll probably make these again. They're not exactly hard but they are slightly time consuming so it's not something I'd make every week. They're a nice change from the usual pasta and they were really delicious. The mushroom filling definitely trumped the pork. It was so good! As usual, if there are any dinner leftovers, I have them for breakfast. And I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a little sad now that they're gone.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

please can I just get ONE more day of summer?

Frost came early this year. It's like the weather knew it was September. It was almost as soon as the calendar flipped over, things got cold and windy and unsunny. I was kind of hoping for at least one or two days where it might reach 20 degrees, but it's only been rain or I'm gonna rain! and then no rain.

It's only been a particular bummer for me because I wanted to get the wood trim on our house painted. I've only been talking about it and thinking about it every week since March. I'm a total procrastinator, hey?

But it was hard! I'm telling you! I thought I could just go out there, take an hour, scrape the old flaking paint off, pop on some new paint, and maybe (if it needed it) paint a second coat either an hour later or a day later. Whichever.

But the scraping doesn't go like it goes in my mind. At the most, some of the obviously flakey stuff would come off immediately, otherwise I was literally sitting there, scraping a 1 cm square area for about 10 minutes with no results.

That's not cool.

So my hand got tired and I put it off.

And now you're probably thinking that there were lots of nice days I could have gotten it done. And there were. But when it was nice, it was almost too nice. The trim I need to paint is on the south side of our house. We learned very quickly after moving in that it's mandatory during the summer to close all the curtains on this side of the house as soon as 11 a.m. hits. I'm pretty sure if I didn't, we would roast to death. We would. I'm not being overly dramatic. So there was no way I wanted to work out there, in the middle of the day, with the sun pounding on my head. And when it was raining, obviously I couldn't paint; and when it was kinda chilly, I was most likely waiting for the wood to dry from rain that happened the day before. So anyway, you know. Excuses excuses.

What I was really counting on was a nice fall. Cooler but still warm enough to work outside. And here it's been. Cloudy and overcast and making me want to go do it, but scaring me just enough with the chance of rain for me not to.

The first day (Friday) when we had blue skies and sun, we got frost and a high of 9. Paint won't dry in 9 degrees. Sigh. So instead I went out and pulled some weeds in the front, cut some things back, cleaned up all my pots for fall and for our eventual move, and scraped all the weeds out of the driveway crack (because even though I won't be shovelling snow here for very long, I am not shovelling over those damn weeds again. Total headache). At least I did something else relatively major out there this year.

Anyway, enough moaning about that. Let me show you the tomatoes I got from my three measly plants this year. Thank goodness I was super nervous and scared about frost and cooler temperatures and pulled most of them off the plants almost 2 weeks ago.

I've got them set up just like my gram always did. In a little box tray, with a lining of newspaper and covered with newspaper, on the floor of my pantry, in the dark. Although mom tells me gram used to wrap each of her tomatoes in its own individual newspaper nest. Aww. She really loved tomatoes. She used to eat a bowl of canned tomatoes with sugar sprinkled on them.

This isn't nearly all of them, though. I just took enough out for decorative picture purposes. They're all ripening very nicely and we had one of the larger ones in the birthday salad. I'm bummed I didn't get as many as last year, but there's always next year!

I also forgot about these two cement bird statues I have. They were outside and then mom was telling me she saw one of them on some design show. So I was like, I think I have them, and I went and pulled them out of the weeds and brought them inside. So there. Add those to my collection.

House update!

Here's how it's looking right now. Pretty snazzy, eh? I'm really happy with the outside colours. I wasn't sure how they'd work together on a large scale and with the shingles, but they all blend together really well. The siding has got a little green in it. Silvery green. It's very reminiscent of olive tree leaves which is probably why it's called Olive Grey. The door is the last part that I'm hoping works out. It's not supposed to be white. I think that's just their 'for now' door. It's supposed to be a brighter teal blue. I hope it looks nice with everything else! We've kinda been able to see inside through the windows and it's still in the framing stage, so we definitely have a ways to go yet.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hermes' day out

I don't know what started it on Saturday, but we thought it might be fun if we opened Hermes' cage door for a while.

So I opened it and secured it with a twist tie and we waited and watched.

At first, he kinda pretended like he didn't notice anything was different. He'd jump on his food dish and reach his head just out the door and then jump away.

We thought we'd give him some encouragement, so I took his hanging mirror and hung it just outside the door.

Now his bird friend had been courageous enough to venture outside and Hermes knew it. He swung the mirror further out of the cage a couple of times before climbing out the door and around the side of the cage.

Then he went for a fly.

We might make this a weekend routine.

It's good to challenge him with new things. Besides, he needs excercise, too. 

And those are definitely the only good things to come out of this idea. There weren't any added benefits to his excercise at all. No, sir. Nothing like how he was no longer interested in angry squawking, random piercingly loud chirping at nothing in particular, or the fact that aside from some minimal chatting to himself, he slept quietly the whole rest of the weekend. Nope. None of that. It was just good to challenge him and give him some excercise. Yup. That's the extent of it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I look like a drowned cat in a fancy dress or birthday dinner part 2

After finding the tenderloin and successfully trimming and cutting it, to say the rest of the meal planning went perfectly and without a hitch would be an understatement.

Everything was going my way. Everything was going perfectly. Which is a far cry from what always happens every single birthday.

Let me remind you about the chocolate cake I failed to put flour in. Or the lopsided, pieced together banana cake with candles that wouldn't stay lit.

For the first time in Idle Husband birthday history, everything was going smoothly. I even had time to do all my excercising and go for a walk on the treadmill and I even baked bread just cuz.

I got out a fancy tablecloth and set the table with my good china. I cut the last of my roses for a nice bouquet. I even found some vases that could double as candle holders and set up some tealights.

I wanted this dinner to be really fancy. Restaurant quality. I had even decided to put on one of my fancier dresses for the occasion which is a far cry from the pajamas I normally wear for dinner.

I had just finished washing my hair and the bread was still in the oven, when I decided to sit down and take some time to make up a fancy looking menu for our meal. I had thought about doing it earlier, but I decided to do it only if I had extra time.

imagine it without the 'F', 'N', and ampersands
I also wish I could have spent a little more time fiddling with silly things no one ever seems to notice like the spacing and it would have been even better had I managed to get it printed out

I was just in the middle of finding a fancy font when I got a phone call. A text message phone call. Have you ever gotten one of these? A text to landline message? IH sends them infrequently, but I've decided I really hate them. It's hard to understand and it's really hard to replay them. So here's what I heard: I am coming home glark glorkel. I didn't know if that meant I'm coming home right now or I'm coming home in an hour. I had no idea.

I thought I'd do the smart thing and stop moving menu items up and down and start cooking the items on the menu. If he was coming home, I actually had only 20 minutes to get dressed and get everything cooked and the potatoes would take at least 30. Sigh. All my planning and IH arrived home to find me with wet straggly hair,  in a dress thrown on over my pajama pants, disaster mess kitchen with potatoes boiling, and half a menu on our computer screen.

So he got to watch me as I ran frantically back and forth between the kitchen and the office to read what the internet said about cooking steak since I had no idea how to cook them properly and I didn't want to use my old just stick 'em in the oven routine. They were filet mignons afterall. So I ended up overcooking the mushroom sauce and the potatoes were in the oven about 20 minutes too long.

I guess it wasn't much of a disaster and it was so nice that he wanted to come home early and spend the rest of his birthday with me, but you know how it is. When you plan things a certain way and they don't turn out that way. Sucky surprise failure.

Ah well. The resulting meal was in fancy dress, in candlelight, and it was so. delicious. The filet mignon was fantastically melt-in-your mouth. And it was super easy to cook -- in hindsight. It just felt all mad-dashed and out of control at the time. All I did was pan sear them for about 3 minutes each side and then I finished them in the oven which took about 15 minutes and constant checking (we don't like steaks bloody). I'm pretty convinced that the third meat thermometer I've purchased in the last two years is completely flawed in its temperature readings.

The only thing I could fault was the nutella mousse. The recipe called for a bit of gelatin to be added, but I don't think it needed it. We ended up with little granules of gelatin which gave the smooth mousse a kind of sandy texture. To think the one thing I thought would be fail-safe, the one thing I made way back at 11 a.m., would be the one thing that truly failed in the execution department. Surprising.

Another year, another birthday. I really liked this fancy dinner idea, though. I think I might make it a tradition.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

so that's where they come from! or birthday dinner part 1

Yesterday was Idle Husband's birthday.

He did not want a cake this year.

I always make a cake. That's my thing. That's my special gift. Any cake! Any kind, any icing, any flavour! Made to your birthday specifications!

But this year, the request was for no cake.

It kind of bummed me out, I'm not gonna lie. What on earth was I going to do if I couldn't make a cake?

Dinner. I focused on making an amazing dinner. And that focus quickly turned to filet mignon. Why filet mignon? Well, recently, IH has been obsessed about it. He heard about it from Gordon Ramsay; he had it at the steakhouse; there's not a week that goes by where he won't fondly tip his head up and say, ahhh filet mignon. And just that, too. Not remember when I had it? and it was good? No. Just ahhhh filet. mignon.

So I made it my mission to find some butcher and find filet mignon.

I kind of hated this plan, because this plan required me to drive somewhere unfamiliar, and I do not like to do so by myself. I really wanted to have the GPS, but it was in IH's car and I thought it would seem really suspicious if I had asked him to bring it in for me, just cuz. We both know I hate that machine. I don't trust it. It's gotten us everywhere we didn't know how to get to, but I'm still nervous to use it by myself. So I thought I'd have to do it the old way. Google, print, and cross my fingers I don't get stuck on a one-way coming home.

But then guess what happened? Luck of all luck, one of my favourite blogs in the whole blogiverse, The Art of Doing Stuff, made a video about cutting your own steaks.

I'm really surprised I watched it since it's my own personal rule not to watch anything that goes over one minute -- well, maybe not a rule per se, more like if I see a video over a minute, I generally don't want to bother myself with it -- and this video was over 8 minutes long. I really like Karen, though, and I pretty much read everything she writes whether I think it relates to me or not. Besides, I'm already cutting up my own chicken, why shouldn't I be cutting my own steaks? This seemed like information that might come in handy in the saving money department eventually.

So I'm watching along and chuckling at her commentary and video editing skills when all of a sudden, this pops up:
Tenderloin Steaks are also known as...Filet Mignon
Say what now? Rewind that! Filet mignon comes from tenderloin? And you bought your tenderloin at Costco? That means that there is some shred of possibility, some glimmer of hope, that I might be able to find a tenderloin...at Superstore?! Seriously?

Major. Breakthrough.

So trimming and cutting my own filet mignons quickly rose to the top of my list. I have no idea how much an actual filet mignon costs from a butcher, but I know it's expensive in a restaurant, and if I could get a tenderloin and do it myself for less money, well, how could I not entertain that idea? I'd be left with the perfect birthday surprise plus filet mignons for many dinners to come.

My plan was solid. I had to get groceries yesterday anyway, so I'd look, frantically if I had to, all over the meat department at Superstore. I'd ask the butcher there if I had to. I'd find it. If it meant cheap + avoiding a harrowing trip to some place new, I'd pester everyone at Superstore until I found a tenderloin.

As it turned out, I wandered into the meat aisle and immediately found a tiny hunk of tenderloin. I was pretty elated. I was a little miffed it wasn't like Karen's. Small, already half trimmed, on the expensive side for maybe four steaks.

I turned around, and right there, in their feature bin, were three -- three! -- tenderloins exactly like Karen's! Shut up. And cheaper. Cheaper than Karen's! I had no idea which to choose. I had no idea which looked best. So I opted for the middle priced roast and discarded the first tenderloin nub I'd found.

To say I was even more excited now would be an understatement. If anyone noticed me, I was grinning ear to ear and talking to myself about how friggin' genius I am and how perfect everything was gonna be.

You can watch Karen's video about trimming the tenderloin and I'll spare you my details, but let's just say mine didn't look as pretty as her's. Maybe I cut too much off? Maybe I dislocated something that should have stayed attached? I don't know. I was just happy to have been left with at least 10 pretty good looking steaks. I don't know if they're the proper thickness or size. And I don't care. All I know is that they each cost about $5, and I learned a life skill that I'll use forever and ever. I don't know if I'll be able to buy two good steaks for over $20 ever again. Scrap that. I do know. I won't. It's tenderloin forever now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

although...embarrassing myself is a small price to pay for a whole new (free) wardrobe

I just realized something. I'm in the most terrible clothing rut. Ever. Possibly of my whole life. To say I don't suddenly feel like I've been left behind in a decade would be a lie, because I feel like I've been strutting around in the same shlumpy clothes that I was wearing in high school.

Ok, maybe not the same exact clothes as high school (though, my pajama wardrobe would say differently), but the same style. The same ideas. The same thing.

I've really started to realize that the way I've been viewing certain articles of clothing is wrong.

Like my ridiculous rule that my jeans have to cover at least 90% of my shoe. They have to look a certain way when I look down. I can't describe how, they just have to look right.

Or how I can't seem to shake the sneaker habit. I know, I know. They're great because I walk. A lot. But there are lots of good looking shoes out there that are perfectly good to walk in, and I'm not wearing them. Why? Because I think my toes look stupid? Earth to me, they don't look stupid. It's all an illusion. An elaborate illusion I set up for myself back in 1999/2000 when I thought I was dressing pretty swell.

So there. I've confessed. I feel like I'm still living in 10 years-ago-style.

Something needs to change and I want to start with my jeans.

Do you know that feeling you get when you get a new haircut? Or maybe you wear glasses and after trying on half the store, you find the perfect new pair and suddenly, you feel like you need to get a whole new wardrobe or, yes, even a new hair style, to match? Do you know that feeling? I want to get that feeling with jeans. I want to find a pair that's so 2010 and updated that everything else will fall into place.

Shirts will naturally get updated; shoes will become easier to shop for; heck, I might even get myself a new pair of glasses and a new haircut.

That's where I want to go, but getting there is going to be difficult.

You see, I hate shopping for jeans. Well, pants in general. They're just never right. When they looked at women's bodies, they looked at everyones' but mine. Or at least that's how it feels.

So I think for all my life, I've just been okay with the jeans I've been wearing. There might have been one aspect of each of them that I liked, but the rest was either ill fitting or just wrong in some small way. I think I've been only just getting by in this department.

Now I'm at the point where I feel like the jeans I currently wear are so terrible, so ill-fitting, so out of date that I can't even believe I'm still going out in public in them. So it seems like an obvious place to start, and I think that instead of just settling for a pair that does a halfway job, I'm going to invest the time and try on as many pairs of jeans as I possibly can. I don't care what the label says or my stupid rules on what I think they should look like even before they go on. I'm just going to try them all and hope I find a winner.

For example, previously I thought I couldn't wear a skinny, legging-type jean or one that tapers a little at the ankle. Do you know why? It's because I have this 1999 view of what a tapering, skinny legged jean is and that's not how they are now.

I had to return something to Walmart on Monday, so for fun, I searched anything they might have had labeled as a skinny jean or a jegging (that term really gags me) and tried it on. Surprise! I actually really liked how my legs looked in the skinny jean (the jegging, not so much). If the waist had fit better, I probably would have bought them.

So now I really know that my preconceptions of how things were and how they are now are completely wrong. I guess you just get used to seeing yourself a certain way for so long that it can be really hard to switch gears and keep modern. I'm starting to have a whole new understanding and appreciation for some of the more deeply style-rutted people on What Not To Wear. I've always sat there, watching that show, and I thought, How can they not see how completely out of date they are? Yeah. I get it now. I feel their pain. At least it didn't take embarrassing myself on tv to figure it out.

So I'll just be busy reinventing myself, now, one pair of jeans at a time.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

sunday brunch

french toast with caramelized nectarines

This is a really yummy breakfast plus it's super easy and adaptable. You could use any fruit you have around. And just so you know, pretty much all of the stone fruits are on sale right now. Peaches would be really delicious!

I took two nectarines, quartered them, and placed them in a small frying pan with some margarine (be generous, about 1/4 cup) and about 3 teaspoons of brown sugar. It takes some time but eventually, you'll be left with a delicious nectarine flavoured caramel sauce.

The french toast was the easy part. While the nectarines are cooking, take four slices of bread and soak them in a mixture of egg (I did one egg per slice, but I could have gotten away with three), milk, and cinnamon. Once both sides of the bread have been coated in the egg mixture, move the slices to a griddle and cook them until both sides are golden brown.

Top the french toast with the nectarines and enjoy!

Friday, September 10, 2010


Yesterday was walnut day. Not technically or anything. It wasn't observed around the world. There wasn't some festival showcasing the nut -- unless you were in our house. Then it might have seemed like I was preparing for a walnut showcase. Or something. I just happened to use a ton of walnuts in our main meal and in our dessert.

It kind of started because of this kataifi dough I purchased a long time ago for a sweet cheese dessert. The package had been in my freezer for almost the whole summer and every time I opened the door and saw it staring back out at me, I thought I should really get on making that dessert.

But like all things frozen, it had to thaw in the fridge for 24 hours and then sit on the counter for another 2 hours and, me being me, I would think, hey! I should make that cheese dessert tonight! And then I'd go over to the freezer, take out the box, read the thawing instructions, curse myself for not thinking about it the day before, and put it back in the freezer. And this has been going on all summer long.

Finally, on Wednesday, I took it out and put it in the fridge. I had since scrapped the cheese idea. It's best served warm straight out of the oven -- like most cheese things -- and I figured I'd never get my act together to actually have it ready to cook for an after dinner dessert anyway. So remember how I've been kind of inspired by things cooked in muffin tins? Well, that's what I've been thinking about. Baklava cupcakes.

Baklava is something I've made twice before but with phyllo dough sheets. Kataifi dough is basically phyllo dough but it's shredded and it looks like this:

There are recipes on the box for both kataifi rolls and squares which I thought might be easier options, but when I read the recipes, they're almost identical to my baklava recipe except there's about a cup more sugar. There's already enough sugar going on here. I didn't feel like adding another whole cup would really be necessary. The other problem was how to work with it. For a kataifi roll, the box says to "flatten a section of the kataifi...and roll up." Uh, are you looking at what I'm looking at? What the heck makes up a section? How do I get that section out? How do I flatten it? Kataifi rolls. They're not happening. So I kept on with my original idea.

Here's what I did for my baklava cupcakes.

First, it's important to note that you should make the syrup before you start anything else. It's important that one be hot and the other be cold. That is, the baklava has to either have the cold syrup poured over it immediately after it comes out of the oven or you have to wait for the baklava to cool and then pour boiling hot syrup over it. Whichever is fine, I just find it's easier waiting for syrup to cool rather than waiting for the baklava to cool.

first, I doubled the cupcake liners hoping that would help contain the syrup a bit better. Then I ripped out enough kataifi to cover the bottom of a muffin cup and brushed on some melted butter.

I sprinkled about a teaspoon of ground walnuts mixed with cinnamon and cloves onto the kataifi, ripped out some more dough to cover the tops, and brushed them with a little more butter.

Then all I had to do was pop them in the oven for about 15 minutes. (On hindsight, I think these could have cooked for another 5 minutes just to brown the tops a little more.) After they came out, I poured on the syrup immediately.

pouring the syrup on was a little more difficult because I didn't know how much should go into each cup and the stupid measuring cup I have doesn't pour very cleanly if I'm trying to pour slowly. So every inch of my kitchen is sticky right now. Fair warning.

I ended up making 24 cupcakes, but I opted to use the last of the kataifi in a loaf pan instead. There's too much dough in that box. I would have had close to a hundred cupcakes if I'd kept on. Ok, maybe closer to 50. Whatever count I would have ended up with, it didn't matter. Over 24 is too many for us.

The verdict? They're very good and taste exactly like baklava. I think they look really cute, and it's nice to have them in a small, bite-sized package. Most importantly, Idle Husband is completely in love with them. I had no idea, but kataifi rolls are his absolute favourite dessert. Good thing they're exactly the same as baklava except for the dough and the amount of sugar.

Here is the recipe I use for baklava. I like that I can really taste and distinguish between the honey flavour and the walnuts and the cinnamon with this recipe. And even though it seems like a lot of sugar for the syrup, these really don't turn out as sweet as they could be. I've had authentic greek sugary syrup desserts and trust me. One tiny bite of those and you go into a sugar coma almost immediately. These are nicely sweet. Not overpoweringly so.

Now remember I said we had walnuts for dessert and for dinner? Well, I stumbled on this roasted walnut balls recipe last week and thought it would be perfect to try for our meatless dinner night. It just so happened to coincide with when I decided to pull out the kataifi. Strange. Maybe I was subconsciously craving walnuts.

I don't have pictures of the walnut balls because mine didn't look as nice as the recipe's, so you might as well look at those pictures instead. And you should, because I have to tell you, they were delicious! When I was making them, I wanted to eat the raw dough because they smelled so good. Then they smelled amazing while they were cooking. And the taste? Actually, they taste a lot like a regular meatball. They really do. We had them with ketchup, but I didn't feel like I needed to have ketchup. The white sauce went perfectly with them. And they're good the next day, too. I had the leftovers for breakfast. If you're looking for a meatless recipe, you should definitely try them!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

homemade slush

I'm sorry to bring this to you on such a cold and dreary day, but I was experimenting with this last week and then things started getting cooler and then I tried to hold out for a warmer day, but that warmer day didn't come, and then I thought, oh heck. I'm Canadian. It's not weird that I'm trying to make frozen things in September and, more importantly, this frozen thing -- this idea -- doesn't work anyway.

It doesn't. Not even with the tiniest glimmer of hope or possibility. The pop freezes, oh yes, it does. You end up with something that looks like slush.

But this, my friends, is not slush. It's some sort of weird combination of slush and ice cube. It's chunky like an ice cube but softer and meltier.

On my first attempt, I couldn't stand the sound that was coming from the rotating blade. You see, the pop tended to freeze on to the bottom and sides of my ice cream maker instead of freezing together like ice cream would. So eventually, there was a nice wall of frozen pop built up around the bowl and the mixing blade was scraping around it. When I lifted the blade out to see what was going on, I realized the frozen pop wall was also on the bottom of the bowl, and because of that, I couldn't get the blade back in right, so the mixer wouldn't mix anymore.

So I thought I'd leave my ice cream maker bowl on the counter for a while, regroup, and try again. This time, I tried to dump the pop in without getting it on the sides and I left it on longer, undisturbed, and suffered through the sounds.

I left it for as long as it takes to empty my (overflowing) dish drainer and organize my storage container cupboard (which was at the point where my containers were starting to tumble out every time I opened the door). But the scraping sound was unbearable. It's about the only time I've thought it would be possible to break my ice cream machine. I have the KitchenAid bowl and there has never been a point where I thought breaking any part of it would be possible. That scraping sound? Oy, I thought the mixing blade was going to snap in half. I stood in front of it, staring, hand-wringing, and decided that no amount of slush would be worth breaking my ice cream maker for, so I finally shut it off.

And this is all I got. I drank down some of the liquid so it would be easier to see the frozen bits, but that's the entire result from two cups of root beer. That's a whole lot less glamourous than I thought this idea would be.

I have these disasters so you don't have to (even though you probably wouldn't want to anyway, and you're probably dreaming of hot chocolate and gingersnaps right now instead of slushies and popsicles like I am).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

no wonder they weren't keen on fixing it themselves

So last week, I blurrily woke up and sauntered about with my usual morning ritual. Open the curtains in the office, feed fish, open curtains in dining room...and when I pulled back the dining room curtains, I was surprised to find some strange man in a hoodie with a cigarette coming in my back gate.

My stomach immediately flopped and I stood there in shock. I watched him as he slowly tiptoed across the deck and out to the yard.

I gathered my wits and jogged back into the office to see where he went. By then, he had sauntered across our lawn, over the rock garden, and through the downed fence into motorhome neighbours' yard.

He sidled up the larger motorhome, then walked over to the smaller motorhome (oh yes, there're two of them), opened the door, and climbed inside.

I was in complete shock. As soon as I witnessed this, everything weird with the gate this year suddenly made sense. There have been many times this summer when the gate has been left open. Either the bolt is unlocked and the gate is closed or the gate is actually swinging open freely. I had been chaulking it up to the meter reader, but apparently I was dead wrong.

I'm pretty sure they've been doing this all summer. Right under our noses and just as bold as if they owned our lot themselves. And the one thing I know for certain is that I do not like the idea that they've been using our yard as a pass through.

I can't tell you how weirdly violated that makes me feel. Strangely, I'm not so much as mad as I am sickened. Who does this? Who is so bold as to do this when they probably know fully well that I'm here all the time? I could never. I just couldn't even think of doing it. The only case would be if my life depended on it because then I'd have a pretty damn good excuse if I were caught.

Though by the looks of him, if I had marched out there at that very moment and caught him, he wouldn't have the same reaction as I would have if I were caught. I think it would be more like, f-off or you'll get yours or I'm going to randomly break into your house now just to teach you a lesson. Have a good sleep!

It makes me wonder if there is ever a case where you live somewhere and you actually have nice respectful neighbours. Does this exist? Are there actually neighbours somewhere you'd want to invite over or talk to over the fence or bake cookies for? I'm starting to seriously doubt it.

We went over a few options and decided the best way to deal with it would be to fix the fence. At this point, I didn't really care if it looked good. I just wanted it to stand and block the path. That's all. I was willing to unrole ugly orange snow fence over the hole and secure it on both sides, that's how much I wanted them out -- actually, my first instinct was to buy a roll of gaucho barb wire and an electric fencer, but then I'd be in trouble with the city and they'd be laughing all the way to the bank.

We took ourselves down to the Home Depot and wandered around looking at wood. There's a lot of options when it comes to this stuff.

We knew we definitely needed a post. I knew we probably should get some cement to secure it. Maybe we might need some cross pieces? We got some of those, too.

Technology is a grand thing because we googled how to fix a fence right there in the store with Idle Husband's phone. I wanted to dig a hole with a shovel -- specifically with the extra craptastic one that came with the house (because I'm cheap), but after reading the how-to, IH insisted we get a post hole digger. Luckily, they rent them, so we picked up one of those, too.

can you see that splintered wood to the left? that's what's left of the old post. that also made digging the hole especially hard.

Getting the hole digger was absolutely the smartest thing we did when it came to this project. The hardest part was digging the hole and it had to be roughly two feet deep to matter. So I've been thanking IH for exerting muscles he never knew he had because without his suggestion of getting the digger, we'd probably still be working on that fence and the post would not be as secure as it is now.

While he did that, I removed all the old fence boards from the cross pieces and removed all the nails. This was kind of a tedious task, because you would not believe how many nails previous people had put into this fence. I don't know about you, but when I see a fence post completely rotting at the base, my first instinct isn't to put another cross piece on the top and a hundred more nails into the boards. If the post rots out, well, no amount of nailing is going to save your fence. Just saying.

While the cement was drying and since we only had the digger for 4 hours (or we only wanted to have it that long), we returned it and picked up five new fence boards (that's how many we figured we had to replace), some nails, and some metal brackets to secure the cross pieces to the posts.

we do not know how to cement

When we got back, we waited an hour more just to be sure the cement had firmed up, and then we started making the fence look like a fence.

Along with my "I don't really care what this looks like" attitude, we decided to try to reuse all the old pieces first and use the new ones only if we absolutely had to. As it turned out, we ended up not using any of the new wood we bought. We probably should have used them, but we were attaching things to old crumbling side posts and pretty much every section of our fence is wobbling in some way, anyway, so again. We did not care.

So just in case you're wondering, this entire project cost us less than $35. Can you believe that? The quote I got from that fencing company a while back came in at $1600 and he refused to fix only the problem. He would do it, but that would mean redoing the whole back fence. So we're quite happy with our result. Quite quite happy (we may or may not have done a little happy dance and celebrated with steaks).

on a side note, doesn't that tree look amazing?
check out the before

This was seriously easy. A little time consuming and repetitive (I forgot how much I love hammering, you guys!!), and we are totally stiff and sore, but after we completed everything, the fence looks -- really pretty awesome, actually. I'm quite impressed with our first attempt at wood fence building. Now we look over at that corner section the neighbours threw up last year and we're kinda feeling like maybe we should take it down and do it properly. It looks like crap, they bought the wrong brackets, and no wonder the post is already starting to tip! They only used a little gravel to keep it upright!

I'm feeling a lot more energetic about working outside now, too. I didn't realize how exposed I felt until the fence went up. I think that's why I've been avoiding so many outside projects this year. I can't tell you how glad I am to have our yard back. It's going to be nice working outside this fall.