Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Bit Behind Schedule

I've gone and put a few too many projects on my plate, recently.  Add this to the fact that I've been downed twice by illness in March (food poisoning/possible stomach bug, and then a wicked head cold that took up residence in my sinuses), well, my personal projects, including this blog, are definitely not where I want them to be.

I've finished one flip-top mitten for myself, and am a few rows into the second, and got started on an adorable dragon hat for the munchkin.  Both of these are on hold, however, while I finish a baby blanket for some friends.  Their baby will be here pretty soon, and with the weather the way it has been, I haven't needed mittens recently.  Hopefully, by the time I finish the dragon hat, it will still fit munchkin.

I'm a bit behind on my Goodreads challenge too.  Part of this is that some of my holds have taken a really long time to become available.  The other part is that I have limited reading time - I mostly read on my transit trips home from work.
This year, I challenged myself to read 40 books (my challenge in 2014 was 30 books).  Here are four of my favourites so far:

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
I really enjoyed this story of a young Arab hacker in an unnamed Middle Eastern state, who gets caught up in weirdness after getting a copy of "A Thousand and One Days" (the secret book of the jinn).  It is rather fitting that Neil Gaiman was quoted on the cover of the copy I read, as it has similar fantastical elements to his work.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Other reviewers either seemed to love or hate this book.  Not many people fall into the middle ground.  I fall into the love it camp.  It is very hard to describe without giving away the plot.  There is a lot of history, and as the main character gets to live the same life over & over again (in a way that is not like Groundhog Day at all), some repetitive themes.

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
The author is better known for his web comic XKCD.  Before doing the web comic full time, he worked for NASA!  If you ever wanted to know actual answers to ridiculous questions like, "is it possible to build a bridge from London, UK to New York, NY, entirely out of LEGO, and have enough Lego bricks been manufactured to do so?", then this is the book for you.

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
While this book is written with a wicked sense of humour and sarcasm, it is, in the end, actually quite serious.  If you want a look at what it is like to be part of the working poor in the USA, from someone who actually is living that life (and not, for example, a middle class journalist who is only doing it for a few months, in order to add something to their byline), then read this.  Actually, read this book anyway.  It will give you a new perspective on the world's economic system, and possibly more empathy for those whose luck has not been as good as your own.

Do you have any book recommendations for me?  I need some books to catch up on this year's challenge!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Delicious But So-Not-Authentic Vegetable Paneer

So, there is a restaurant that delivers to our home extraordinarily delicious Indian food.  Every time I order, I think about trying something new from their menu, and always fail, because the thing I usually order is so gosh-darned tasty.  I also usually have a plan to save half for my lunch the next day, and that plan is also a HUGE fail, since I inevitably eat all of it.  My only other problem is trying to keep my child's hands off my paneer, since she always tries to steal all of it!

I've been thinking about finding some some Indian recipes to try at home, and when I was out with a coworker at lunch today, and the store we were in had blocks of paneer for a good price (our local grocery store never has paneer, which is sad), I decided that tonight would be the night I would try my hand at an Indian inspired dish.  This turned out pretty good, but since I threw it together without a recipe, based on what was in the fridge and pantry, it is very definitely not anywhere close to authentic tasting.
Partner told me it was really good when going back for seconds and thirds, so I'm taking that as a good sign.

I should have taken this photo before I mixed everything together, but you get the idea

Here is how I cooked my Inspired by Indian Restaurant Vegetable Paneer

oil for frying
1 onion (I had a large shallot, so I used that), sliced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped
2-4 mushrooms, sliced
1 frozen spinach block (from the kind that come frozen in a bag, in large blobs, not a bag where the whole bag is one block)
frozen corn
frozen green beans
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin diced or crushed tomatoes
paneer, cut into cubes
1 tsp curry powder (or to taste)
1 tsp cumin (or to taste)
1 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
1 tsp ground ginger (if you have fresh ginger on hand, use that instead!)
1 tsp chili powder
something spicy, if you like spicy (we added ours after, because the small child would have objected to hot sauce in her dinner)

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium, and add the onion.  When the onion starts to soften, add the garlic.  Let them cook until both are softened, and then add your carrot, celery, mushrooms and zucchini.
Give everything another minute or two, and add your spices to taste.  Remember that you can always add more later.
After the spices have had a moment to warm, put in the coconut milk and tinned tomatoes and give everything a stir.  Put in your frozen vegetables, and give another stir.
Let everything cook together for 1-3 minutes, and then add your paneer.  Make sure everything is well mixed into the sauce, and then turn up the heat to bring to a simmer (you want the sauce to reduce a bit)

When everything is cooked through, serve it with some rice, naan or other grain product like quinoa or couscous.  Essentially, something to soak up the sauce.
I think that next time I may try cooking this in the slow cooker (adding the paneer at the end, so it doesn't disintegrate), so that the flavours have even more time to get to know each other.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Vegetarian Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls

I was flipping through one of my cookbooks earlier this weekend, and came across a recipe for vegetarian cabbage rolls.  The basic components sounded right, based on the innumerable cabbage rolls I ate as a child, so I decided to give it a shot, with some modifications.

The original recipe in my book calls for black beans, and raisins.  Frankly, I believe raisins are an abomination, especially when baked into other foods, so that was not happening.  I also think the black beans are too large a bean, if you are going to get anything close to a good texture.  I don't want big balls of mush when I bit into something like a cabbage roll.

Alright, here's how I did it.

1 cup cooked rice
1 tin (19 fl oz) lentils, drained & rinsed
1/3 cup diced carrot (about 1 small to medium carrot)
1/3 cup diced celery (about 1 large celery stalk)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 small to medium cabbage (I used a savoy, because they were on sale at the grocery store, but plain old green would work fine too)
3-4 cups marinara sauce (I used one 680ml jar of tomato passata, and just added spices, and a bit of water, but I definitely needed more sauce).
1 tbsp lemon juice or balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sugar (brown for preference, but white will work too, it just won't be quite the same flavour)

1.  Mix the rice, carrots, celery, garlic, onion, lentils and one 1/2 cup of marinara sauce in a large bowl.  Set aside.
2.  Carefully peel off 8-10 of the large, outer cabbage leaves.  You want them to be as intact as possible.  Grate 2-4 cups of the rest of the cabbage.  Put the grated cabbage in the bottom of the crock pot (this will shield the rolls from the direct heat).
3.  Boil the intact leaves in a large pot of water for 3-5 minutes, or until pliable.  Drain the leaves, and cut out the thick middle rib.
4.  Mix the sugar & lemon juice with the marinara sauce.  Pour 1/3 of the marinara into the crock pot, and mix into the shredded cabbage (this will keep the grated cabbage from burning).
5.  Taking your whole leaves, one at a time, place approximately 1/3 cup of the rice and lentil mixture into the middle of the leaf, fold over the sides, and roll up.  Place each roll into the crock pot.
6.  Pour the remaining marinara sauce over the cabbage rolls (if you have to do more than 1 layer of rolls in the crock pot, pour some marinara over the first layer before putting in the second, and then pour the remaining sauce over the top).
7.  Cook on low for 7-9 hours, or on high for 3 1/2-4 1/2 hours.

I served mine with a salad tossed in a lemon-tahini salad dressing.  Yum!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Potato Cup Things With Eggs & Veg

Earlier today, this recipe quite literally landed on my doorstep, as part of today's newspaper.  They call the recipe Potato Nest Frittatas, but to me a frittata is more of an egg pie/cake sort of thing.  This is more like eggs in a nest.

So, I gave the recipe a bit of a spin for supper, except that I substituted a bit (and by a bit, I mean a lot).  I only made 5 egg-potato cups, just for reference.

I didn't have any russet potatoes, and the recipe calls for baking them in the oven and then letting them chill overnight.  I think this animated gif sums up my feelings this instruction:

I instead scrubbed two medium yellow potatoes (and one sweet potato, just to see how it would fare in the recipe) and microwaved them until they were cooked.  Then I stuck them in the freezer for 5 minutes, until they were cool enough to handle.  I probably should have left them in the freezer longer, as I discovered a few rogue pockets of steam while grating them.

The sweet potato was not as firm as the regular potatoes, so it was more half grated-half mashed, but they still made nice potato cups (I got 2 sweet potato cups and 3 yellow potato in total).

I put finely minced red onion, mushrooms, yellow sweet pepper and cream cheese in the potato cup, before cracking the egg in.  They only just fit in my standard size muffin tin.

Getting them out once they were done baking was a bit of an adventure.  I definitely did not grease the sides of the muffin tin cups enough, and the bottoms were still a little soft.  So, definitely check that your muffin tin is very well greased.

In the end though, they turned out to be delicious.  They went really well with buns and spinach salad for dinner.  Even munchkin gobbled her share right up.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Goodreads Roundup

Happy New Year all!
I had a look at my Goodreads challenge for this year, and I have read a LOT!

I set my challenge at 30 books for 2014, based on my 2013 numbers.  Looking at my profile today, I have read a total of 52 books this year.  That is a lot of down time on public transit.

Two of those books were children's books (Neil Gaiman's "Fortunately, the Milk" and "Chu's Day"), and another is a knitting book (and I already made an adorable hat for munchkin), so subtracting those from my total, that brings me down to 49 full, grown-up books read.

I went over some of the books I had read earlier this year, so here are some of the more stand-out ones I've completed since then.

Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather - I really enjoyed this one, although it gave me anxiety.  Very intense, and a good look at how easy it could be for something major to go wrong in our modern world.  Hard to describe without giving away major plot points.

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory - a future where you can print your own custom drugs, and where someone has created a (banned, illegal) drug that makes people believe they can commune with god.  I especially liked that large portions of the book take place in Canada.  Aside from the Canada connection, the plot never sags, and moves along at a good pace.

The Germ Code by Jason Tetro - a book examining our relationship with germs, and how we affect each other.  SCIENCE!

Horns by Joe Hill - I read this before I knew they were making (& released, earlier this year) a movie version starring Harry Potter.  This book wasn't what I expected, and large portions seem to be different from the movie (based on the trailers, as I haven't seen the film).  Really, really good.

Where do Camels Belong? by Dr. Ken Thompson - a look at invasive species, how we attempt to define them (and how we really can't), how politics and human bias against boring or ugly looking creatures all play a role.  Super interesting, and full of SCIENCE.

So, I need to set a new goal for 2015, and I'll need some book recommendations to add to my list.  What have you read that was interesting this past year?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Children's Television

So, television.  In general, on the internet, television for young children can be a contentious issue.

That being said, most parents I know (including myself!) appreciate the brief periods of quiet that a television program can bring to one's household.  Sometimes a parent just needs two minutes of blessed quiet to maintain their sanity for the rest of the day.

My munchkin is still pretty little (toddler/preschool age), so while we don't watch a lot of television, there are extra levels of crazy in the programming designed for kids in that age range.  Seriously, sometimes you wonder where the writers and animators are getting their drugs.

TV Shows that Munchkin Seems to Enjoy and Don't Make Me Completely Nutso:

  • Octonauts
    This is a BBC series about a crew of animals who travel Earth's oceans in their crazy underwater living quarters/ship, helping ocean creatures.  They end every episode by singing a song with facts about the creature they helped, with video of the real life animal in the background.  It is cute without being saccharine and educational without beating you about the head.  My only issue with this show is that while there are two female crew members (one of whom is the ship's mechanic/fix it lady) the show mostly revolves around three male crew members.  It would have been awesome to have more episodes featuring Dashi & Twig in more central roles.
  • Bubble Guppies
    A Nickelodeon show featuring 6 little mermaid kindergarten children (or guppies).  Each episode they learn about something which is triggered by what the guppies see on their way to school (eg. running into a friend who falls and breaks their tail leads to a whole episode about doctors and medical related things).  I love that all 6 guppies seem to get equal face/air time, in addition to having an even gender split in the characters (the three girls are Molly, Deema and Oona, and the three boys are Gil, Goby & Nonny).  The songs are really catchy, and my only real beef with the show is that there are so many freaking nautical puns.
  • Peg + Cat
    This is a joint Canadian-American production.  The main point of the show is to demonstrate mathematical concepts to little ones, but does so fairly subtly (the characters ask viewers to help with counting, finding shapes, or doing simple addition or subtraction problems - in order to solve a dilemma in the show).  A fair amount of singing is involved, and I love that the show is presented so that it looks like everything is drawn on graph paper.
  • Zack & Quack
    The whole thing is based in a world that is essentially a giant pop-up book.  Zack, a little boy, and his friend Quack, a duck, are theoretically the show's heroes, but they rely heavily on next door neighbour Kira, who carries a paper fixing kit with her wherever she goes.  This show is seriously adorable.
  • Fraggle Rock
    I know, I know, this show has not had a new episode since 1987, but it is readily available on DVD or Blue-Ray (we have the first two seasons on disk).  It started in Canada with the Jim Henson company, and translates better than some other stuff from that era, since it was intended for international audiences right from the beginning.
    It is just as good as you remembering it being when you were little.  The only thing that doesn't hold up as well is the green screen effects and some of the out in the real world scenes (whoa, the early 80s!), but everything else is still pretty awesome.  You get the lovely nostalgia factor, and your kid gets to watch high quality programming.  
TV Shows that Munchkin Seems to Enjoy that Hurt My Brain
  • Toopy & Binoo
    This is a Canadian series about a cat (who doesn't talk) and a rat (who doesn't freaking shut up) and their adventures in their 'whimsical' world.
    The writers of this show have smoked ALL the drugs.  It was nominated for a Gemini award, but I can only imagine it was because the show's staff shared their stash of the good stuff.  Seriously, this show is all kinds of WTF.
  • Mike the Knight
    This Canadian show means well, and some of it is cute.  That being said, Mike is a bossy, know-it-all little brat who doesn't ask for help until everything is about to bite him in the butt.  He's mean to his sister because she is a wizard and not a knight.  He treats his dragon buddies like slaves.  He is bossy at his other friends, unless he needs something from them.  In short, Mike sucks.
  • Thomas and Friends
    This is not the Thomas the Tank Engine of years past.  Thomas in his 2010's incarnation is similar to Mike the Knight - the trains are whiny, selfish little bastards.  You will watch this and yearn for drunk Ringo or George Carlin from the 90s to return and kick their annoying train butts.  Kids, unfortunately, love them because trains.
  • Trucktown
    Much like teenagers boarding a bus in threes, I can't even with this show.  It is full of terrible stereotypes (especially gender related, especially on the rare occasions that the show's lone female character is allowed to make an appearance - boys like to smash! And play rough!).  I don't understand how an award winning children's author is behind this mess.  Seriously, dude wrote The Stinky Cheese Man and is now doing THIS?? 
If you have any recommendations for keeping a small child entertained for a few moments so that the parent in the house can get things done without said small person underfoot, shout them out in the comments!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Random Thoughts From A Two-Year-Old

Small children are wonderful, terrifying, strange little creatures.
Here is a short and random sampling of things that our resident tiny human has said and/or done in the last few days.

In the middle of bed-time stories (David's Father by Robert Munsch), she looks over at partner, who is fully clothed at the time and says "Papa, your armpits are hairy."

*Fart noises* *laughs hysterically*
Later, in a conspiratorial whisper: "Papa, I like farting on Mama"

Insists Papa has to shave, so that she can grow a beard herself.

"What did you do at daycare today?"
Proudly: "I bite [other kid at daycare]!"