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]!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Recent Food Stuff Ending in Crock-Pot Potato Soup

This is the last really big haul I did from the garden at the end of August.  I've since brought in even more tomatoes and quite a few carrots.  The carrots are still going strong, so we bring some into the house every few days.  The Lipstick peppers were super-flavourful, and I'm sad I couldn't encourage the plant to put out any more of them before the weather turned.

This is the result of our most recent visit to the local farmer's market.  Clockwise, from left to right we have eggplants, cheese & herb sourdough bread, nectarines, eggs, sweet long peppers, artisan pork sausages, wild blueberries and strawberries.

In addition to this, we are still receiving our local produce delivery basket.  In short, we are still drowning in produce, even though it is now fall.   Root veggies are starting to appear as well, and we have had a surplus of potatoes.  I haven't even bothered to dig any of the potatoes I planted earlier this year, since we've been getting so many in our deliveries, although I'm going to have to do it soon.

Combine the abundance of potatoes in our life with the fact that both partner & I have managed to get ourselves the first colds of the season at the same time, and the end result is crock-pot potato soup.  I did not take any photos, because I didn't think to do so before dinner, and there was none left afterward.

To make some yourself, you will need:
3-4 large potatoes, washed & cubed
1 large carrot, diced
1 medium handful of chives, finely chopped
1 vegetable bouillion cube
1/2 tsp ground rosemary
salt & pepper to taste
milk (approximately 1-2 cups)
sour cream & more chives to garnish, should you so desire

Put everything in the crock-pot except for the milk.  Add enough water to cover the vegetables, turn the crock-pot to low, and walk away.
When you return home from work/errands/lounging on the couch/etc, 6-8 hours later, blend the soup up (I have an immersion blender.  If you are using a regular blender, be sure to do it in batches and keep an eye & a hand on the lid).  Add milk until you get the consistency you like.  If necessary, warm gently until heated back to your desired temperature.
Serve with the garnishes of your choice.

I know it is similar to the potato & leek soup I've posted previously, but this version requires so much less effort.  I hope you enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Random Internet Amusements - Sept 2014

I realized today that it has been five WEEKS since I lasted posted anything.  I haven't even been really updating my Facebook feed that much.

The killer thing is that I haven't been doing a lot (with a few exceptions, including attending a lovely wedding).  My life lately has mostly just the routine items needed to keep things going generally smoothly.

I have, however, found a few things on the internet that have kept me amused, so I thought I would share a few links with you (keeping in mind, that these websites have no idea who I am, I just think they are neat).

A Mighty Girl - this website is full of awesome, kick-ass things.  Tons of books and movies with strong, female characters, and a great assortment of clothing in all sizes.  The clothing includes super-hero items in the colours the superhero wears in the comics/movies/other media (anyone who has stood in a store/looked at an e-store and yelled something along the lines of "BUT BATGIRL DOESN'T WEAR PINK!" will get me on this one).  I have yet to purchase anything from this site, but only through an effort of will.

In a similar vein, Her Universe is a clothing website for those of the female persuasion who appreciate some of the more major fandoms.  Currently, they are carrying items for Star Wars, Star Trek, Walking Dead, Marvel, Dr. Who, and Transformers.  I have also not purchased anything from this site, largely because of the shipping to Canada costs, but the Han Solo dress looks amaze-balls.

The food blog Amuse Your Bouche has a ton of vegetarian recipes, with Pinterest worthy photography.  Most of it sounds and looks really, really delicious.

Lastly, this video made me laugh really hard.  At work.  Fortunately, it was my lunch hour.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

2014 Garden Update: August Tomatoes

Well, it is a new month, and I thought I'd give a garden update.  I'm only going to talk about my tomatoes though, because reasons.

The Mountain Princess beefsteak tomato plant has not loved life.  It caught some sort of tomato plant disease and mostly turned yellow & withered up.  It was very sad.  I did get a handful of fruit from it before it gave up the ghost.  They were tasty, but not special tasty.  I don't think this is a variety I'll grow again.

On the other hand, the Isis Candy cherry tomato plant is growing like mad and starting to take over the raised bed.  The tomatoes themselves are really sweet & have a lovely variegated red-orange-yellow hue.  See?  Cute AND tasty!

The nasturtiums are also growing like crazy, and have managed to avoid aphids so far.  They got planted near the onions and escaped spearmint, which helps I think, since bugs generally don't like mint or alliums.

Oh, and I am finally getting sunflowers!  They are a lovely pale lemon yellow colour - almost the same colour as my kitchen.  Since the pack was a variety pack, I can't wait until the rest of the blossoms open so that I can see their different colours.

How are your gardens doing?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Banana Pear Bread

So far, today has been a lovely day.  There is a nice breeze keeping it from being too hot & sticky outside, I got up in time to have breakfast (which partner cooked) before going to yoga class, and I may have treated myself to a tiramisu gelato on my way home from said class.

Then I noticed that there were 4 overripe bananas & 2 overripe pears sitting in the fruit basket.  This immediately led to the decision to make banana-pear bread.  It turned out pretty awesome.

You will need:
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs
4-5 medium ripe or overripe bananas, mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vanilla or plain yogurt (about 1 single serving container)
1/4 cup cooking oil or melted butter
2 medium ripe pears, finely diced

Preheat oven to 350F, and grease a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients, except the sugar.
In another bowl, combine all the wet ingredients and pears.  Make sure they are well mixed.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened (it is supposed to be lumpy).
Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a wooden tooth pick inserted near the top centre comes out clean.
Now, the hardest step:  cool 5-10 minutes before attempting to slice.  I lasted 3 and got slightly burned fingers for my efforts.

I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Grilled Garlic Scape Pesto

Our produce delivery has been really lovely the last while.  Part of that, I'm sure, is that things are coming into season here, so we're getting lots of super-fresh, local items!

Not too many baskets ago, we received a pile of garlic scapes.  For a long time, people thought of them as compost, since you need to snip them if you want nice, fat garlic bulbs.  However, in the last few years, they've come back into fashion, which means that they are often quite expensive at the farmer's markets!  It was lovely to get some in our basket at no extra charge.

We weren't quite sure what to do with the scapes, and since we were planning on barbecuing the following day, we decided to toss them on the grill too.  We tossed them in a tiny amount of olive oil, with just a light sprinkling of salt & pepper to season and grilled them for 2-3 minutes.
They were not too shabby prepared that way, but we could only eat about one each with all the other items we had grilled.  So I made them into pesto!  (I love pesto, if you had not yet guessed from all the other pesto recipes in this blog)
I think grilling them gave them a softer flavour than if I had just made the pesto straight.

Here is what you need:

A blender
About a dozen grilled garlic scapes
parmesan cheese
olive oil
hulled pistachios (I got mine at the bulk food store)
salt & pepper to taste
maybe some water, depending

Roughly chop your garlic scapes and toss them in the blender (I did not do this, and it took forever to blend everything down.  Don't be like me, and chop your's first!).  Add in 1/4-1/2 cup pistachios (I didn't measure, I just tossed in 4-5 handfuls).  Give a good solid few shakes of parmesan, a little salt & pepper, and pour in 1/2 cup of oil to start.
Pulse away, and add more oil as needed.  I think I ended up using about 1 cup of olive oil, but I also added about a cup of water to mine, to make it more sauce-like.

If you are not using it right away, you can pour it into an ice cube tray to freeze, or stick it in the fridge for a bit.  I had so much, I managed to have a full ice cube tray and a 250ml jar full!

I used some of the jar in tonight's lasagna, and it was quite tasty.
If you find some garlic scapes for a good price and decide to try this recipe, I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Garden Update: July 2014

Now that we're in July, I thought I'd do a quick update on the garden - especially since I got my first serious haul of produce into the house the other night (as opposed to the little smaller bunches of stuff that I've grabbed).

Sugar Snap Peas, French Breakfast Radishes and a mess of green beans!

I have pulled up quite a few radishes & eaten a lot of sugar snap peas before this photo - these are just the ones that have largely made it into the house unscathed.  The peas especially are lucky to have made it this far - I find them extra delicious right off the vine.

Here's the main veggie patch.  

I know that it largely looks like a big green mess, but from left to right, you can make out: potatoes, in a light beige pot, sweet peppers, in the plastic terra cotta looking pot, broccoli (the dark green leafy thing behind the peppers), snap peas, carrots & dill all mushed together behind the broccoli,  the cherry tomato in the pink cage in the centre, the white rectangular pot of lettuces, celery, radishes & beans to the right of the cherry tomato, and in the last tomato cage, the beefsteak tomato plant.  Also, lots and lots of weeds . . .

The beefsteak tomato is not loving life this summer.  Most other things at this end of the garden seem to be doing okay though.

Here's the left side garden.  The blasted daylillies are taking over again.  However, the white patch in the front is my lovely thyme, all in bloom.  The chives are also doing really well. The oregano is still struggling along in the middle of the patch.  The far end is where the sunflowers ended up, and so far, so good with them.  We'll see what happens when we finally get some flower heads - especially when they get seeds.  I suspect I will have it out with the neighbourhood squirrels again.

The right side garden.  The daylillies on this side are largely containing themselves.  Between these guys and the hostas you see in the background, the strawberries are doing okay - they did not fruit very well this summer, but they are everbearing varieties, so I may get a better crop in August.  The onions seem to be going along alright, as is the nasturtium I got.  The spearmint from last year escaped its pot and somehow got into this patch, so, that will be a forever struggle to keep it under control.  

Finally, the deck pots.  I have two of the rectangular pots - the other is just out of frame.  They both contain the watermelon radish seeds, and neither is doing well.  Too much rain, and the squirrels have been digging in them.  Rosemary and lavender are also performing decently.  The cinnamon basil (the dark green pot) however is also not loving life.  I can't figure out why.  On the upside, at least it is giving me (and the bees) a decent amount of flowers to look at.

The globe basil to the left is doing awesome.  I love it.  Really, you have no idea how excited I am for pesto making.

That concludes today's tour.  How are your gardens growing?  Have you harvested anything yet?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bodies Are Confusing

Lately, I have not been feeling so great about my body.

Working a job where you sit for most of the day, combined with a cold Canadian winter where you want to stay cozy indoors has led to an issue with shorts and skirts fitting this spring & summer.  Boo and urns.

Since I generally do more running around in the summer months, I'm sure that at least some of these items of clothing will eventually come back into rotation, but for the moment, my jerkbrain is making me feel kinda yucky about the whole thing.

However, that being said, my body still manages to surprise and amaze me.

The last two yoga classes I attended, I managed

a) to get into wheel with no assistance

b) stay up in wheel for the length of time the instructor was having the class do wheel/bridge!!

So, while my butt might be having issues with wanting to fit into some of my comfy summer clothes, my core, shoulder and arm muscles are doing an awesome job of reminding me that I can be strong like bull.

I hope that you are feeling awesome about your body, or at least have something to appreciate about it.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Craft Stuff: Easy Hot Air Balloons

Today was a bit of a rainy afternoon, so while the munchkin had her nap, I did a little craft I've been meaning to do for a while.  I made 3 adorable hot air balloons to hang in the munchkin's room!  They were super-easy, quick and they look pretty good if I do say so myself.

Here's what you will need to make some on your own.
To start, you will need approximately 6 things:  scissors, clear tape, markers or paint, bow wire (I included a photo of this with the label, so you could see what I mean), a paper lantern (the kind that comes without lights), and an appropriately sized takeout container/treat box.  I forgot to include the scissors, tape & markers in this photo, but I think it is a safe bet that you all know what those things are.  Everything on this list is easy to find at most craft stores (and sometimes the dollar store!).

If you chose a plain paper lantern, and you want to decorate it, now is the time!  Mine came in a three pack (two in the star pattern, and one plain gold), so I didn't have to do anything.  Once your lantern is decorated, the next step is to cut the flaps off the top of your take out container.

Now it is time to decorate your container!  I chose plain cardboard because I wanted mine to look like a wicker basket.  However, if you find coloured or patterned ones, decorate them (or not) however you like!
To get the wicker-y look, I used three different coloured markers, yellow, light brown and dark brown, borrowed from munchkin's stash of art supplies.  I did it in order of lightest to darkest as below.

Not too shabby, eh?  Up close, you can tell that this is a rough marker job, but since these are going to be hanging from the ceiling, that doesn't matter too much.  I was just going for the effect from a bit of a distance.

Now the part that took the longest.  Your lantern should have one side with a plain metal bar, and the other side should have a hook-y thing.  You want to attach your basket to the plain bar side, as shown in this photo.  That way, the hook end is free when you go to hang up your balloon.

Now you want to take your bow wire, and wrap it around the bar on the lantern & the handle on your basket, like this:

And a close-up, because I was apparently on the ball earlier today:

The bow wire is actually a kind of wire, so while it is a good idea to knot it at either end, it will hold its shape fairly well.  If you want to get really fancy, you could take the handle out of the take-out container and replace it with the wire, but then you have a trickier job of making sure both sides hang evenly.

Now, you just have to hang your balloon and admire your handiwork!  We were unfortunately out of clear line to hang up my completed balloons, but the photo at the top of the page where I held it at eye-height came out pretty well I think.

I hope you enjoyed my little project.  Feel free to share if you make one for yourself!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Toddlers Confuse Me

Sometimes I wonder how the human species survives the toddler years.

Babies are cute and adorable little blobs who give you gummy smiles and generally do their best to endear themselves to you.  It is a matter of survival, and they know it - they need you to feed and protect them.

Toddlers are defiant little blighters who need your help to survive but refuse to admit it.  As they are tiny humans who are still learning social mores, they do completely irrational things, and often get away with it.

For example, it is considered perfectly normal for a toddler to eat their dinner wearing nothing but a bib and their undies.
Also normal? Biting, hitting, kicking and screaming to express their displeasure with something.  These displeasing things can include daddy touching your shoes, having a broken cracker, eating the last grape, or not being allowed outside in a snowstorm wearing only your pajamas and snowboots.

I may have sprained a key portion of my brain related to thought in the last weeks.  Possibly on the day she laid down on the sidewalk and refused to walk, but screamed "I BIG GIRL" when I offered to carry her and then tried to bite me when I tried to pick her up anyway.  Her plan was apparently to live on the sidewalk forever.

Then she got distracted by a cement truck that drove past.

I've suddenly lost my main point in writing this, but I think it is that while I love my child dearly - and it is hard not to when she wraps her arms around my neck and says "I wuv you mama" - sometimes, her actions, words and attempts at logic hurt my brain.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Garden 2014: A Start

The raised planter and some of the pots.  There are so many seedlings in this photo!

Gardening - it is a thing that I do sometimes.  I'm pretty lazy, so I don't always weed when I should, or remember to water consistently, and I have a toddler 'helper', so it is generally not worthy of a magazine photoshoot.  However, it is something that brings me pleasure, especially the bit where the food parts ripen and I get to eat them.  Plus, the toddler seems to enjoy being outside with her little gardening tools, digging holes and yelling "I help! I do it!"

I've planted stuff out back in the last few weekends, laughing (carefully, while knocking on wood, just in case) at the prospect of a late frost.  As gardens are always a work in progress, especially when you inherit a space, we're still working out some placement issues.  This means that there are still seed packets on my kitchen table, and empty pots in the shed.

Here is a little list of what is already in the ground (most seeds and seedlings I purchased from Urban Harvest, although a few seedlings came from one of the convenience stores near my home).

  • Broccoli
  • Celery
  • Mountain Princess Tomato (it is a determinate, so it is in a pot.  We'll see how it goes)
  • Isis Candy Cherry Tomato (isn't that a great name?  Apparently, the individual tomatoes ripen in all different colours. Whee!)
  • a rainbow pack of carrot seeds (including: Atomic Red, Cosmic Purple, Lunar White, Scarlet Nantes and Solar Yellow)
  • Six Week Bush Beans
  • Sugar Daddy Sugar Snap Peas
  • French Breakfast Radishes
  • Watermelon Radishes (not yet planted, but these are neat.  They are green inside instead of white, so they look like little watermelons)
  • Lipstick Sweet Red Pepper
  • Onions - I planted Evergreen Bunching Onion seeds, but something dug up that patch, so I planted yellow onion seedlings in the same area.  Hopefully, I'll get both!
  • A 'Lucious Lettuce' variety seed pack of lettuces
  • Dwarf Nasturtium
  • potatoes, that I took from our produce delivery box
  • French fingerling potatoes 
  • A new second blueberry plant (one of the two I planted last year got attacked by local wildlife and did not survive)
  • Two new strawberry plants (about half the existing strawberry patch did not survive the winter)
  • A sunflower mix (not yet planted)

I also added to the herbs.  The chives, oregano, thyme and lavender all survived the winter.  New is:

  • garden sage
  • spicy globe basil
  • dark opal basil
  • cinnamon basil (what can I say? I'm apparently a sucker for basil) 
  • and an additional bit of lavender.

Are you planting anything this season?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Garlic-Spinach-Tomato-Mushroom Spaghetti Delicious

If you have small children, you'll understand the needing to get food into tiny faces before a certain time, else you face the wrath of a major toddler HANGRY meltdown.
So, yesterday, by the time we got home, we were seriously behind schedule.  I did not have a lot of time to throw something together for dinner, and judging from the behaviour I was facing, we were close to witching hour. Fortunately for me, yesterday was also the day we receive our weekly produce bin, so food was at hand!

I threw this together quickly, while distracting a toddler with crackers, and preventing her from breaking herself or the kitchen.  It turned out to be pretty gosh darned delicious, so I'm sharing my dinner win with you.

To make my tasty, last minute, Garlic-Spinach-Tomato-Mushroom Spaghetti, you will need:

spaghetti or other long noodles
3-4 large white mushrooms, washed & sliced (I only used 2 yesterday, but more would have been better)
1/3 lb spinach, washed and roughly chopped (ie. a big bunch of spinach)
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste
olive oil
grated parmesan cheese

Get the noodles started as per package directions.  Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  When the oil is warm, add your garlic & mushrooms.  Stir occasionally so the garlic doesn't burn.  Let the toddler have a turn with the salad spinner full of just washed spinach while you do this so they let go of your knee.

When the mushrooms start to look a little bit cooked, throw in the spinach.  It will wilt down by a lot, so don't worry if the pan looks ridiculously full. When the spinach has all wilted down, so that there is space in your pan again, add the pint of cherry tomatoes, and then salt & pepper to taste.  Give everything another stir.

At about this point, your spaghetti will likely be done.  Drain your noodles, reserving 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the pasta water and toss the lot into your frying pan.  Toss everything together until it is all well mixed.

Serve with lots of grated parmesan.

I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I Love You, Crock-Pot

Slow cooker
Image from Crock-Pot's official Canadian website

Dear Crock-Pot,

I'm sorry that I go through periods where I neglect our relationship.  It isn't very nice of me to leave you sitting in the pantry, getting dusty, for weeks at a time.  It is especially not nice when the weather is cold and damp and miserable, since that is usually when your talents truly shine.
I know that today was sunny, and nice, with a crisp spring breeze, but I thought it was time we got caught up.  Plus, I had a turnip, some cauliflower and a lot of sweet potatoes that wanted to meet you.

Thank you, my slow-cooker friend, for being understanding and not holding a grudge.  The sweet potato-cauliflower-turnip soup we made together today was delicious.  It made the bellies of my child, my partner and myself very happy.  Although, I think the munchkin may have eaten more bun than anything else, she did seem to like the bites of soup that actually made it into her mouth.

Yours in deliciousness,

If you want to make your own crock-pot improv soup for dinner, peel (if appropriate) and roughly dice whatever veggies you happen to have on hand (I especially like root veggies, and adding some onion, celery or carrots rarely goes awry).  Dump them in your slow cooker with 4-6 cups of water or broth, whatever spices you think will taste good, turn the cooker to low, and walk away for several hours.  If you want smooth soup, immersion blender it up if you have one!  If you want to make it more a meal, get some buns or bread and a salad to serve on the side.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

The 2014 Goodreads Challenge: Ahead of Schedule

Goodreads:  Do you use it?  Do you like it?  I think it was the lovely brains behind My Adorable Smalltown Life who let me in on this way to get book recommendations and track what you are reading.
As someone who enjoys reading, and reads a lot (thank you public library!),  I've found it really great to track what books I've started, but had to return because I couldn't renew them again, in addition to keeping on top of all the interesting books I want to read . . . someday.  When I have time.
Fortunately, I use public transit, so I get to read at least once a day on my way home from work (I'm not gonna lie, I usually nap/meditate on my way *to* work).
The downside to this is that sometimes, my 'currently reading' list gets really long, since it includes not only the books that I've actually got going, but the books I started but had to return AND the books that I've picked up from the library but haven't started yet.  Seriously, Goodreads needs to get on top of some sort of better tracking for library users.

In any event, I was updating my Goodreads lists after picking up my holds at the library on the weekend, and I've noticed that I'm way ahead of schedule on this year's reading challenge!  I set a challenge of 30 books, since that is about what Goodreads thinks I read last year.  Apparently, I've already read 14 books, and I'm not sure how that happened!

Here's a little breakdown of what I've completed, in no particular order, in case you are looking for new reading material:

     This book was a really fun read.  The author travelled around the USA and looks in depth at some of the foodie culture - especially some of the ones that are a little more out there.  I would definitely read this again

    Also pretty awesome, even to my vegetarian self.  It is an actual historical look at livestock farming in the USA, mostly concentrating on the late 1800s through the present day.  It was really interesting to see how and why factory farming evolved, and then the development of organic farming in the 1980s and 1990s.

The XX Factor by Alison Wolf
     This book gave me some issues.  The author talks about how gender equality in the work world has led to greater social inequality among women.  From my perspective, what she really was talking about was how rich people have used gender equality to stay rich or increase their wealth, not that feminism has inadvertently created a greater income gap.

     The introduction to this book was a little rough, since I am of a younger generation than the author, and she talks about some cultural things that are very specific to growing up when she did.  However, most of the book is an interesting look at how the feminist movement has been sidelined and appropriated by culture to promote the image of a woman who does everything and does it perfectly.

     This was alright.  It was clearly aimed at kids in their early twenties who are still figuring this grown-up business out, but it was filled with practical advice on a lot of different topics.  Also, the author has a pretty good sense of humour.

    Another social studies book on female parenting in the Western world.  I gave it four out of five stars because the author uses her personal story of burning out as a great backdrop to discuss serious issues like family/parental leave, etc.

     I had a lot of high hopes for interesting projects and gardening advice out of this one and was kind of let down.  A lot of the gardening projects are not really useful outside of the warmer climes of California, and much of it is kinda basic in some ways.  The book is organized really well, and it is a nice read if you are just starting out with these sort of things though.

     This one by the same author as above was much more interesting for me.  Lots of neat things you can make yourself.  If I can find a used copy to buy (cheap) I think this book would come in super-handy in case of zombie apocalypse.  They even made their own wood ash lye so they could make soap from all non-purchased ingredients!

     The power of intuition.  Not a bad read.

     Short stories from a Russian author translated into English.  I don't know if it was the translation, but a lot of the stories, while interesting, felt rough and unfinished. 

The Circle by Dave Eggers
     Holy crap was this an awesome read of fiction.  Go to the library right now and borrow it. Go!

     Pretty good.  Amazing one line quotes, good overall story, but I didn't realize that it was the start of a series (I think it might end up being a trilogy) when I picked it up.  

     Overall, I liked this book.  It is filled with examples of families who made their schedules work in order to share as equally as possible in raising their children.  Unfortunately, 98% of the examples are in the kinds of employment that are already well known for their flexibility (freelance graphic designers, etc).  The ideas are sound though - just needed more diversity in the actual examples I think.

     This whole thing read like a promo for the author's own website, and is advice for entrepeneurs that has been around forever.

Feel free to leave me new book recommendations!  My list is not overly large - yet!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Happy Belated Pi Day!

Yesterday was Pi Day (March 14 aka 3/14 which, of course is the first three digits of the mathematical Pi 3.14159 . . . ).  I did not have time to do any baking yesterday, so I did my Pi day baking earlier today. 
As our produce delivery box recently came with a beautiful looking lemon, it was easy to decide on baking a lemon meringue pie.

I used this recipe from Canadian Living as my basis - I did not alter it too much.  I used a premade Tenderflake pie crust instead of making my own, I zested one entire lemon instead of only zesting a tablespoon of rind, icing sugar in the meringue instead of fruit sugar, and I added a splash of vanilla to the meringue.  I think it came out pretty well.

All the ingredients, ready to go

 The yellow bowl contains the lemon zest & cubed butter, the measuring cup is the fresh squeezed lemon juice, and the black bowl contains the egg yolks.

Here is my prepared pie crust, ready & waiting for the lemon curd.

This part of the process is a little tiring.  The below is the water, cornstarch, salt & sugar mixture.  You need to bring it to a boil, while continuously whisking.  If you stop whisking, you end up with a blob of burnt cornstarch & sugar at the bottom of your saucepan, instead of a thickened gel-like substance.  Then you temper the eggs by pouring a little bit of this into the yolks (while whisking, of course) and then pouring the whole kit-and-caboodle back into the saucepan for a little more cooking.  If you don't temper the eggs, you end up with scrambled egg yolks instead of curd.  It isn't as hard as it sounds, but your arms sure get tired!

Ah, here is my completed lemon curd, cooling down on the kitchen table.  I put plastic wrap over it so that it wouldn't form a skin while it cooled.

Here is my beautiful curd, resting in the pie shell.

Meringue time!  I like making meringue - for some reason, watching the booger-y egg whites turn into delicious sugary topping is weirdly appealing to me.

Here we have finished meringue, with lovely stiff peaks.

So much meringue on top of this pie!  I admit, I got lazy and didn't feel like busting out the piping bags, and just blobbed it on with a spoon, but I don't think it is a terrible aesthetic.

Finished pie!  At this point, I had just taken it out of the oven, and partner was desperate to cut into it.  I'm mean and made him wait until after supper.

So, partner cut the pie, and butchered it a little bit (he insisted that he could do it neatly with just the pie lifter and no knife.  I think we can all see how that turned out).  However, I think this clearly shows the lovely, yellow lemon curd layer beneath the giant heaping layer of meringue.  

Please ignore the fact that we are weak in the face of pie and ate half of it in the first go.
Have you made a pie in celebration of Pi Day? 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Note to Self: Next Summer, Make More Pesto!

My belly will be very sad when it realizes that the last of the pesto I made from my basil harvest in the garden this summer was part of tonight's (delicious) dinner.  The pesto was really tasty, and I am very sad there will be no more until the next harvest of basil comes in.  I am especially sad because the current weather reminds me that this is going to be months & months away!

Tonight's dinner was inspired by receiving this week's produce delivery box, and realizing that we had to use up some of last week's delivery so we could fit everything in the fridge!  I ended up making a quick & easy pasta with the pesto, tomatoes, mushrooms & spinach, and then a quick little salad.

Here's what you will need to make it yourself:

Squiggly pasta shapes (I used a combo of fusilli and scooby doo/cavatappi noodles, since they were open)
1/2 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
2 cremini mushrooms, sliced
a large handful of spinach, washed & sliced thinly
1/2 small zucchini, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 small red onion, diced
olives - the black, wrinkly kind (optional) - as many as you like, because this one is really subjective
olive oil for frying
4 ice cubes worth of pesto (or about 4 tablespoons)

Start cooking your pasta as per package directions.
Heat up the olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan or large saucepan.  When the oil is warm, add your onion, and cook, stirring occasionally until starting to soften.  Add the garlic and spinach and cook another two minutes.  Dump in your cherry tomatoes, zucchini and mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until everything is warmed through and the tomatoes start to wrinkle a little.  Then add your pesto and olives (if using).
At this point, your pasta should be cooked.  Drain off most of the water, and then add the pasta & remaining water to to your pan of sauce and stir/toss so the pasta gets completely coated.  Leave on low heat if you think it needs a little more cooking time, or you haven't started the salad yet because there is a toddler demanding your attention by holding onto your knee and yelling.

If you choose not to use olives in the pasta, I would recommend maybe adding some chili flakes, or some parmesan or other stronger, salty cheese, just to give it that little extra kick.

The salad I made was just a quick toss of romaine lettuce, two small, sliced carrots, orange bell pepper and avocado, since those were the quick veggies to hand.

I hope this is something you can use during your hectic days, since it comes together in just over the time it takes for the pasta to cook.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I'd Forgotten About the Dollar Store

February is always a busy month in this household, with multiple birthdays and Valentine's Day and the Family Day long weekend.  There's lots to do!

Part of all the busyness this month led me to rediscover the awesomeness of the dollar store.  We planned and hosted two birthday brunches, with all that entails, in addition to munchkin appropriate goody bags for her daycare class's Valentine's celebrations.

Bucket-loads of paper plates in a variety of colours and patterns? A dollar!  Disposable cutlery in packs that match the plates?  A dollar!  Goody bags, napkins, thank you cards, etc? Less than two dollars each!

Do you need items for goody bags?  Here's a list of appropriate small child items I found at the dollar store:

  • glow sticks (someone did this for a birthday earlier this year and it was a big hit.  After all, to little eyes, a glow stick is nothing but a perfectly toddler sized light sabre!)
  • name brand Play-Doh: our dollar store was selling it in two dollar four packs!
  • old-school party noisemakers
  • stickers, stickers and more stickers: all sorts of subjects and finishes, including puffy animal stickers, shiny rocketships, and branded characters
  • art supplies, including crayons, finger paints and little pads of paper
  • super balls
  • all sorts of candy
There was a whole lot more, mostly of the small toy variety, but you get the idea.  There are tons of options!

The other thing that struck me about the grocery store, while I was getting party supplies, was the abundance of different grocery and household staples.  Baking soda, brand name soups, Kraft Dinner (and several KD rivals), pickles, dish soap, paper towels, etc.  Since the grocery store nearest our home sells Kraft Dinner for $1.60 and it is (surprise!) a dollar at the dollar store, that is not a minor savings, for just one example.

The other major item I've been stocking up on is candy bars.  The vending machine at my place of employment charges $1.50 for candy bars and $1.25 for a bag of chips.  Candy bars at the dollar store go for $0.69 and chips (which, while still small, are larger than the ones in the vending machine) are $1.00.  As a result, I loaded myself up and have stashed them in my desk so that I can avoid the overpriced vending machine at the office.

Woo hoo for saving money!

Do you have an awesome dollar store near you?  Have you found anything awesome there?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Guest Post: And She Brought Pie!

Hello!  I invited Jen B. from My Adorable Small Town Life to come on over and do a guest post.  She is a smart, funny Amazon, and if you haven't checked out her blog before, I think you should.
She, like me, enjoys a good meal, and for this guest post, she decided to try making a sweet potato pie.  I've never made a sweet potato pie, so I was excited to see how it turned out!

I first heard about sweet potato pie from The X-Files, in: "Jose Chung's From Outer Space". In that episode, Mulder sits in a diner and orders piece after piece of delicious pie. That is one of the many X-Files episodes that stuck with me (Alex Trebek is in it!) and the pie stuck with me too. At the time I had no idea what sweet potato pie was, but I knew the X-Phile in me would one day have to try it.

I looked through dozens of recipes, Googling: "best sweet potato pie" and "authentic sweet potato pie" and after a lot of deliberation I decided to trust Joy the Baker's recipe as my first taste of this delicious dessert. I picked a good one, as this is one fabulous pie.

Ingredients: (adapted from Joy the Baker)
9" deep dish pie shell
2 cups mashed sweet potato (about 3 small sweet potatoes, or 1.5lbs)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cup evaporated milk, divided (each half is 1/2 cup + 2 tbsps)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla

Method: 1. Peel and cube sweet potatoes and place in steamer pot. Steam until soft and then mash them. 

2. Add mashed sweet potatoes to a medium pot. Add brown sugar, spices, butter, and half of the evaporated milk and stir and warm over low heat to combine.

3. Use an immersion blender to get mixture really smooth. I used a hand mixer and may or may not have melted some of the electrical cord on the burner. If using a blending appliance near a burner, keep your eye on the cord and be careful!

4. After simmering for about 5 minutes, remove sweet potato mixture from stove and set aside. In a bowl, whisk together the rest of the evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla, and granulated sugar.

5. Add the egg mixture to the warm sweet potato mixture.

6. Pour into pie shell.
*Note: this recipe makes about 1/2 a cup too much filling for a 9 inch, deep dish pie shell. When following this recipe, you might want to have some tart shells on hand to use up the extra. Or you could do what I did, which was overfill the pie to the point that it dripped out over all the sides. The baking process did make the edges of the pie taste amazing, so that was a bonus.*

7. Bake at 375°F for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 325°F and bake for an additional 45 minutes. According to the recipe, the pie is done when it only has a light, structured jiggle in the center. My pie had no jiggle at all (which looked good to me!) and a knife inserted in it came out clean.

8. Cool on counter for an hour then place in fridge until completely cool. Enjoy!!

I have to say this pie was absolutely delicious. It is a lot like pumpkin pie in texture and somewhat in taste, but it has a really beautiful sweetness that is completely its own. I didn't put whipped cream on my piece (an absolute must for pumpkin pie and me), as it was really just perfect by itself. I loved it and will definitely be making this pie again.

Have you tried sweet potato pie? What do you think?

Also, feel free to check out more of my blog: My Adorable Small Town Life
And/or follow me on Twitter: Jen B: @myadorableblog

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Finally, A Reason to Use the Nope Octopus in a Post

I made it to yoga class for the third week in a row this morning!  I even managed to get up into wheel pose for all of 2 seconds before my shoulder muscles turned into the Nope Octopus.

I had been going to a class off & on before the Christmas holidays, but after the first week of December, I completely fell off the wagon.  By the first week of January, my body was angry with me for not keeping up on my self-care.  I'm really glad that I've found a handful of classes that I'll be able to attend regularly again.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Public Transit Poems: Part 3

Chilly folks inside
Where have all your hats got to?
Stop blocking the stairs