Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bits of our weekend

We ate dinner at a fancy ballroom (where I got hooked on sushi)

We saw a  super amazing Dragon Age (and Mass Effect) cake!

It warmed up so the birds came back to the feeders

I found a pack of 60 paper doilies at the dollar store so I made a bunch of snowflakes!

I also found some that stick on your windows. (I've got a little bit of a crush on snowflakes right now)

We made our first (sorta) lifesize snowman!

Idle Husband cracked open a walnut to find a heart inside (awww)

Sushi for breakfast lunch and dinner! YAY!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Finally! Homemade ravioli! Well...sorta

This picture doesn't express the yummy very well

I have to mention this really quickly, too. On top of making all that antipasta yesterday, I also tried a new dinner recipe I found on Citron & Vanille blog, ravioli gnudi. It's like a ravioli without it's clothes on, just the inside portion, really. I kinda stumbled on it and after reading the recipe, I thought it looked like something relatively fancy I could actually make. That was about two weeks ago and it's been on my mind since.

The recipe was super easy to put together. I used low fat ricotta, frozen chopped spinach (that was probably the hardest part, draining and squeezing out the spinach because the little chopped leaves would stick to everything), Kraft shakin' parmasan cheese, and canned tomatoes. Even with those substitutions (if you can even call them that), the flavour wasn't lost. When I started forming the gnudi, it was really sticky and messy, so after the first batch, I switched to using my cookie scoop which worked really well plus ensured that each piece was about the same size. This was great too, because it allowed me to have one clean hand so I could put them in and take them out of the boiling water a little easier.

I can compare it to eating a meatless, noodle-less lasagna, so I immediately thought to make this the next time we have guests. I think it'd be one of those meals that's easy for the cook, because I really think it could be made ahead of time and left in the fridge until, well, 20 minutes before you eat. Then you'd have no dishes save for the actual dinner dishes. Plus it would be an interesting and impressive meal for everyone else, making it look like you fussed when you actually didn't do that much. It's also really filling! We didn't eat all of it (there's a lot leftover, so I'm thinking it's going to make a nice casual meal on Saturday) and we didn't feel like having a snack later. Which is a really good thing, I think.

Anyway, if you're looking for something new and different to make, that's also easy and simple, you should really try this one out!

Angela's antipasta will change your life!

This all started back when I worked for a kinda major (winkwink) retail establishment. When I first started there, I worked overnight stocking shelves. It's not the most glamourous job nor is it the hardest intellectually, but believe me, some people can do it well and some people cannot. This is when I first met Angela. Honestly, I was super afraid of her. Or maybe afraid's not the word for it. I respected her boundaries. Yes...yes that's probably the best way to put it. She was (by far) the best stocker they had. It sounds silly to type that, but it's true. Just her method alone made her the fastest most productive member of the team.

At first, I didn't work with her very much. We would all start in health and beauty every night and this was the only time I would be able to (secretly) watch her work. I was careful not to take her aisle (shampoo) and even more careful not to get in her way or ask if she needed help. I don't know if I was so much conscious of it then, but now I realize that I really aspired to be as good as her. Strange as that may sound, but I didn't want to be one of the stockers everyone else was complaining about behind their back. So I watched her and kept track of what she was doing in health and beauty and her other usual departments.

Until one night. One night, we were put together. Oh, my nerves! It was like all my training and prepping had boiled down to this one night. The one chance I would get to impress her with my not-at-all crappy stocking skills.

We worked together for about a week and nothing really happened. I must not have pissed her off (or I'm sure we would have been seperated) but we also didn't talk or bond or anything. Things felt awkward for me. I didn't want to get in her way, but it was kind of impossible not to when we were in the same department. Conversation was limited to what we were doing with displays and general complaining about what the day staff had screwed up. Until finally, we happened to be stocking in the same aisle and one of us made a joke, the other countered, and that was it. Friends at last!

After that, we primarily worked together. Mostly (I think) because management quickly discovered how much we could put away when teamed together. Not to brag or anything (haha), but we were putting away a large chunk of the product for the team in some of the more difficult, fiddly areas (health and beauty, infants, housewares, and seasonal foods). What we got out was amazing when I think back to it. I really don't know how I managed to work that much and that hard and overnight no less (not even kidding, some nights I would work on less than an hour of sleep). Even funnier, sometimes we would spend almost the whole time before first coffee just chatting it up in infants doing barely anything (there're perks to working in the department furthest away from everyone). Most people wouldn't have even made it out of that department by the end of the night let alone had the time to go and finish two more.

Enough of my bragging -- I just really love merchandising and stocking. I really do. I also love assembly line work. Weirdo!

Right. So the first Christmas after all this she was telling me about how she always made antipasta as gifts for everyone each year. I'd never heard of it before, so I got her to explain what it was and what was in it. It sounded terrible, to be honest, but she insisted it was so good and super addictive. On our final night before Christmas eve, she brought me a small jar to try. "Eat it with Ritz crackers!" she said, "You're gonna love it!"

Crackers purchased, jar opened, and oh. my. gawd. It really was delicious. It really was fantastic. I thought it was about the best thing ever concocted!

Last year, I asked her for the recipe, intending to make it as gifts for friends of mine. She gave it to me, I whipped it up (or destroyed my kitchen -- messiest recipe ever! Curse you cauliflower!), and it was exactly as I had remembered it. Everyone I gave it to raved over it and whatever was left over, Idle Husband and I devoured in less than a week. Nothing says Christmas to me like this anymore and after all the baked goods, I decided I had to make up a batch of this for us to enjoy. I mean, how can I not go through this season without it?

I'm curious about the name of this dip now, because after searching for it on google and on wikipedia, I keep getting 'antipasto' and every picture shows plates of meats and cheeses. That's not what this is. But this is what Angela called it, so I have only that to go on.

I'm not going to string you along, it's a lot of chopping, but with a food processor, I think it takes me about an hour, start to finish. So depending on how you decide to do your chopping, you should seriously spend an afternoon and make this. It will change your life.

Angela's Antipasta

1 cup finely chopped cauliflower (about 2 [2 1/2] larger florettes like from the bottom of a head)
1 cup finely chopped ripe olives (drained)
1/4 cup finely chopped green olives (drained)
1/2 cup finely chopped pickled onions (drained)
1/4 cup oil
1 can finely chopped mushroom pieces, drained (10 oz)
1 small green pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red pepper (I have yet to use this, I usually just go with green and omit it)
2 1/4 cup ketchup
1 1/2 cup (or 500 ml jar) sweet mixed pickles, finely chopped (no juice)
3 tblsp sweet pickle juice
1 (7 oz) can tuna, drained and flaked
1 (4 oz) can broken or tiny shrimp, drained and flaked

I cannot stress this enough: Chop all this stuff. Chop it real good. I just measure the ingredient (heaping) in my measuring cup, dump it into the processor, chop it super fine, and it seems to always work out to the amount needed. You shouldn't be able to tell what the ingredients are. That's the fineness, peeps. Also to be noted, I don't freak out if my processor misses a few. Whatever, so what, who cares!

Put the first five (5) ingredients into a large saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredients except the tuna and shrimp. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add tuna and shrimp. Stir

Jar as you would jar anything and let cool -- or try to! Serve with Ritz crackers (or whatever other crackers you like, but these are the recommended brand). Try not to eat the entire thing. It will be hard.
Makes about 4 large jars (three at about 500 ml, one at about 375 ml)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hair, why do you hate me so?

I thought I'd share a page out of my sketchbook. I've noticed my hair doing weird things on it's own, so yesterday I decided to document it.

I kinda wish I'd have left space for more styles because you should have seen what I woke up with this morning. Gah! One side is perfect, the other side has completely lifted and turned away from my head. I can't even tuck it behind my ear. It still looks terrible.

True life, I'm not kidding you. Styling option #1 happened a couple weeks ago, when I woke up to find a tiny clump of hair on each side of my head turning out while the rest obediently turned in. How does that even happen?!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I don't know how I upset the toilet gods, but I'm very sorry and I won't do it again

So remember when I expertly fixed my toilet? Well, this weekend, as I went to flush, nothing happened. I pushed the lever several times and nothing. Off with the lid, and I discovered the lever had broken. Great. Just when I fixed the other problem a new one's come up. Even though I didn't want to fix every. component. in that tank, it's starting to look like that's what I'm going to end up having to do. Awesome sauce.

This is how it's supposed to look. It's broken right where my thumb is -- disregard the colour of my thumb as I just removed some nail polish, and I couldn't get it all off, also note how cool it is that I can bend my thumb like that! Doncha wish yours could do that? I bet you do now that you've seen it's possible.

Happily, we spent the weekend with the top off. It wasn't hard to flush, we just had to lift up the little plastic lever thing. But yesterday I thought, "Hey! Why don't I duct tape the broken plastic together so we can at least use it properly until I can buy a new one!" cuz frankly, I was getting a little tired of the industrial look aka: being able to see into the tank.

And then I did it. And it still didn't work.

And then I thought, "I should just leave the tape on..."

And then I thought, "But...I'm going to have to remove it anyway because I'm not going to be able fix it with the tape on since I can't see any of it now..."

So I proceeded to take the tape off which was the dumbest stupidest waste of 10 minutes ever (it was super hard to get that stuff off), because in that process, I ended up breaking the lever completely off.

Now, it's slightly harder to flush than before and it's like a balancing act trying to keep the little plastic stick from falling back into the water.

This is how it looks now. We have to pull it up like some fancy toilet pull-chain device.

Another job well done. If the temperature ever gets above -32 (apparently, it was a record breaking -46 here on Saturday with a windchill of -- wait for it -- MINUS 58), I'll actually consider going out and buying the necessary fix for this. Until then, we're making do on what little groceries we have and our super swanky pull-chain toilet until I can venture out without having my exposed skin freeze within 5 minutes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bits of our weekend

We went to the Make It! craft fair

where we found him

Then we went to the WEM Anthropologie, where I spotted this clever gift tag idea

I enjoyed a chocolate mint bubble tea with green apple jelly for breakfast (I'm soo healthy, I know)

Idle Husband made snow angels

I worked on some Christmas cards

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday wore me right out

The whipped shortbread recipe (with the cherry) is absolutely to die for!

After a long day of baking, this is the final haul I gifted for friends: Rosemary cornbread, buttertart squares, gingersnaps, coconut banana fruitcake, and whipped shortbread. Nothing was working out for me yesterday, though. All these recipes (save for the shortbread) I'd made before and after pulling them out of the oven, I was like, "this isn't supposed to look like this! What the hell!" which ended in me nervously sampling everything because THESE WERE INTENDED AS GIFTS; therefore, it's not ok to serve them the junk I'd normally serve myself and Idle Husband. Now, I am so sick of baking and baked goods, I can't even describe it to you. In a way, this is a good thing. I can get back on track and leave the sugar and the flour in the cupboard for...well...I'm hoping I don't want for these things until Easter, or past Easter, or never for the rest of my life, actually. But let's be realistic because I'm a total bread and sugar whore. So I'm just going to hope until February at the earliest.

The next day, I deconstructed this puppy.

As mentioned before, I went out to dinner last night with friends to a place in WEM (well, not technically in WEM but it is relatively attached to the mall) called the Cactus Club Cafe. I guess it's a pretty famous restaurant that has a bunch of creations from a pretty famous Canadian iron chef, Rob Feenie. I guess? I've heard the chef's name before, but I'd never heard of the restaurant until this week. The atmosphere was really nice, the service was ace, the food...could have been better? I think my dining out standards have drastically changed since I started making everything from scratch.

We started with the smoked cheddar spinach dip full of grilled chicken cubes (I don't like that chicken suddenly comes cubed. It immediately makes me think it's that fake chicken) served with white and blue tortilla chips. It was ok. I found it really bland and the chips were saltless making everything even more bland. My friends devoured it and loved it, so I don't know what was wrong with me.

I decided to try the (Rob Feenie created) BBQ duck clubhouse sandwich since I've never had duck before. It also came with chicken and prosciutto on pecan fruit bread and I had the seasonal green salad instead of fries. The sandwich was super salty. Probably because of the prosciutto, but one friend seemed to think that BBQ pork is really salty, so perhaps the same applies to duck. Who knows. It would have benefitted so much just by dialing down the salt a tad. It wasn't inedible, it just needed to be followed by lots of water. Anyway, because of that, I couldn't eat the second half. I'd filled my daily salt quotient with the first.

The salad was really great. I was impressed with that the most, actually. It had strawberries, almonds (I think), and curls of what looked like possibly beet -- something purple, anyway. Oh wait. Actually, take the -ies of the strawberries. I think there was only one strawberry cut in half (like the cherry tomato) -- that really helps you understand the extra $1.50 for changing out whole french fries for salad, hey? Oh well. It was something different than my usual idea of a seasonal salad, and it was so good and refreshing next to my salt sandwich. None of us had dessert, so I have no idea about that.

I'd only go back if the friends wanted to. I wouldn't suggest it for Idle Husband and I. It wasn't that amazing and honestly, looking at their menu again (online),  I fail to see anything I really have to try. It doesn't help that I don't particularly like eating out, but you know, I do get cravings for things I can't make at home...then again, this restaurant isn't offering anything I can't make at home so it doesn't really entice me into going again. Sorray.

Idle Husband's dinner, eaten in front of the computer, of course.

I was worried about what IH would eat without me around to fix something, so I coached him on how to make his own personal pizza. Honestly, I really just wanted to see how my little mini-frozen pizza rounds would fare after having a short amount of defrosting time. It looks pretty good, hey? He was really pleased with the results (so pleased he produced pictures for me)! The funny thing is, though, that he couldn't find the BBQ sauce (we like that on pizza instead of tomato sauce) and he didn't see the tub of cooked hamburger I'd left for him to top his pizza with, only the turkey bacon (even though they were side-by-side). Silly boys. So he filled it with cheese, mushrooms, and the bacon. It looks pretty ace and I bet it was a smidge better than what I ate. He said the dough was pretty well unfrozen by the time he got home (4:30-6) so that was interesting. I really wanted to know how it would cook up when frozen. I'll have to test that this weekend maybe. Anyway, I'm so proud of how far he's come when it comes to cooking. Mr. Order-in is actually preparing his own dinner -- cooking it himself and cooking it properly (aka not burning it). Fantastic! Soon I'll have him preparing meals for me!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cherries on top

Fruitcake's not for sissies.

Yesterday, I discovered I'd be meeting with a couple of friends over dinner on Thursday, so I had to get my butt in gear and get their presents together. I've thought about a bunch of different food-gift options, but as I was making this fruitcake yesterday, I had a revelation. Since there was so much batter, along with two loaves, I made some fruitcake cupcakes as well. They were so cute and small, that I immediately thought, "hey! Why don't I do a Christmas treat sampler for each of them!" Of course, this completely negates my whole I-don't-want-to-bake-a-bunch-of-stuff philosophy, but then again, how great would it be to get that as a gift? A little fruitcake, some cookies, some bars...just some tasty samples. I don't know how much of each yet, but I'm going to stick with two or three portions for now and see how much I can cram into the brown paper bags I've decided to use. I know their family sizes, so I want to include enough so no one feels left out.

Today I plan on making a butter tart square recipe I used to make all the time. I remember it being so delicious and easy to make, and it's a very Christmasy flavour, I think. Then, I'll make some chocolate chip cookies or maybe spicy molasses cookies or maybe shortbread. I haven't made up my mind. And that's it! Hopefully, I can get it all together by tomorrow evening!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Golden Walnuts

Hey look! One of my Christmas ornament craft projects actually worked out this year! This is such an exciting and proud moment for me. Since I finished these last night, I've been using every excuse in the book to slowly walk by the tree just to stare at these lovelies, and poor Idle Husband had to hear me go on and on about them when he got home. I get excited about strange things.

I got the idea over on Design Sponge all the way back in October, and I just kept it up in my head until I could work on it. I've looked at a lot of do-it-yourself Christmas decoration tutorials this year, but I think this one is by far the best (even though it's technically a Thanksgiving decoration tutorial). Anyway, why do I even need to convince you? I'm talkin' 'bout walnuts. Spray painted gold. How can you resist that, crazy?

I didn't really follow the directions that much. I mean, honestly. Who really needs directions to do this? Show me the picture, I'll figure it out on my own, I'm not blind. Anyway, now that I've read the instructions again, I guess the only thing I really changed was the wiring part. For this little project I wasn't about to go and buy heavy gauge wire when we had an entire box of paperclips just sitting around doing nothing (who's using paperclips? I've never understood their purpose. But sometime in the past, Idle Husband felt the need to buy a huge 1000 count paperclip box with about 5 different sizes of paperclips. For all and any possible paperclipping needs, I guess). All I had to do was cut the paperclips apart (keeping the bend if I could), then I held one side with pliers, as I used another pair of pliers to twist the ends together. Easy!

This project took so little time, I'm kinda thinking about making 10 more (afterall, about half of these are going to be given as part of my present decorations). The hot glue dries pretty well the moment it leaves the gun so that's nothing. The longest wait time was spent in between coats of paint. I could have given these another shot of gold spray paint, too, but then I kinda liked some of the nut wispily showing. It's barely noticeable. I don't know how other colours would look (I did NOT like the red they used), but the gold really shows the pattern in the nut and highlights it's natural beauty -- omg! Where once I really hated gold, I think...I think I love gold!

Anyway, if you're looking for a nice gift or something interesting for your tree, make these!

Monday, December 7, 2009

At least the sun's shining

This is what -30 looks like

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I really have to laugh when people describe snow as magical

Let me tell you about my Saturday night.

After we got about 8 inches of snow on Friday (yes, that's right. We had nothing. Then, in one measly day, we got that much. It's insane outside), Idle Husband and I decided to just relax at home instead of trying to brave the snowdrifts with his car just to look around the Future Shop for nothing in particular. So besides shovelling off our walkway and our driveway (a bit), we had a great movie/computer/game day.

Then, around 6, Idle Husband got hungry. We'd been eating cookies all day and just sitting around, so really I wasn't that hungry. I offered him some of the leftover lemon chicken from Friday's dinner. Nope. I offered to make him a pizza with the frozen dough I'd made Friday (I'm experimenting with pizza dough right now to see if I can get the same results if it's cooked directly from frozen or if I have to unthaw it first). Nope. He didn't want me to cook, saying that I deserved a day off from kitchen work, too. So he said he was just going to run over to the Safeway and get something there. I tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn't budge. It's not that bad! My car can make it! Sigh. I decided to tag along, and good thing I did.

We weren't barely out of the driveway when we got stuck in the snow just off the street. Since I can't really drive a stick shift -- well, I CAN but my problem is starting and stopping and that's kinda the important thing to know how to do well when trying to get free from a snowdrift -- I got out to push. Now that I think about it, I don't really have the power to push a whole car out of the snow, but when you're desperate you don't really think about these things. So I'm pushing and instructing him on what to do, when these two, 18ish aged boys came over to help us. Thank goodness they did because the extra muscle helped to get us out.

We got to Safeway, picked out our dinner, and came home. Just as we were headed into the driveway, we got stuck again. Pretty much in the exact same place. We were really counting on having momentum going in, but it didn't seem to matter in snow that deep. So there was our car, sticking perpendicular out into the road, facing our driveway. We couldn't even pretend like we were parked on the street. After a while of rocking back and forth (going forward a bit, then in reverse a bit), amazingly Idle Husband got it free and parked it across the street. Then we both grabbed a shovel and began shovelling out the snow on the street in front of our driveway. I don't think I can adequately describe to you how much work shovelling 8 inches of snow is. Unless you've experienced it, you probably can't imagine it. Snow isn't the fluffy, light, and serene stuff it's made out to be sometimes. Especially when it all settles on the ground together. It's so heavy and dense that it's impossible to pick it up in one shovel-ful. I had to keep skimming the top off of the drift I was working on until I had dug my way down to the ground.

What an adventure we had! I hope the hamburger was worth it! (Idle Husband insists that it was)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

White Winter

I think we got close to 8 inches of snow yesterday!

Actual snowdrifts on the windows! I thought this sort of thing only happened in the movies

It's hard to see, but because of all the wind overnight, there's now pretty snow ripples everywhere

I like how the snow left this pretty pattern in our junipers

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rainbow bread!

Loaf One: better picture, junkier rainbow

Loaf Two: Better rainbow, junkier picture.

So last week, I attempted making rainbow bread. It was one of my Christmas gift ideas since I've been pondering doing a bread theme. I'd never attempted dying dough so these were my tester loaves. Anyway, I honestly thought it was my idea alone. I really did. Then, as the dough was rising, I googled it, and apparently this stuff's everywhere. Not that I wanted to have a unique idea for something, but you know, I kinda did.

Here's what I learned:
1. It's really hard to divide dough that's meant to make two loaves into seperate colours while still leaving some white to encase the whole mess.
2. I should probably figure out how to do this just before it goes in the oven, as the second proofing flattened my rainbow effect.
3. Add in all the flour needed, don't skimp. The white portion didn't have enough so this bread was really soft and squishy and hard to cut. Not that that's a bad thing, but it is.
4. It's kind of embarrassing for Idle Husband to be eating sandwiches made of rainbows at work. He got a lot of questions the first day.
Inquistive programmers: Is that bread blue?!Oh wait! It's green, too! What? What's going on there?! [they start coming over to inspect it closer]
IH: It's just bread, ok?
5. Don't make this again. Make more sophisticated, manly breads in the future.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Check out  my Christmas decorations!

Actually, never mind cuz I'm really disappointed in them. Well, not THAT disappointed, but last year's Christmas was our first Christmas in this house, and, well, I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but at the time, I was feeling like I wanted a very understated Christmas-y look. I just wanted a simple tree with simple decorations and since I didn't have any, I made a bunch of stuff.

While unpacking my decorations and setting up the tree this year, I thought, Oh. These decorations are terrible.

I made stupid baked play-doh mushrooms which I spent forever moulding and, surprisingly, I was super happy with them last year (save for a few that took on a more squished appearance). This year, I'm a little embarrassed of them. I mean, What was I thinking?! When did I think misshapen pink and tan mushrooms looked cool and modern? I think being bent over a lump of pink play-doh for 5 hours played a big part in me believing they were awesome and folksy. But they're not. And I realize now I could have shaped them so much better. I'm about this close to redoing them, but then I think that I'll probably hate the new revised version next year and then I'll end up making mushroom decorations every year for the rest of my life until I get it right which will probably be never.

And I suppose I still don't mind the owls...I suppose...

Otherwise, I'm a little ashamed of my underdecorated house. Where last year I wanted quiet and unassuming, this year I want it to look like Christmas threw up in our living room.  What's up with that?!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blah to baking

I've been on this huge baking kick lately. Not because I have a ton of different cravings but because I've been coming across all sorts of interesting recipes lately, all of which I've immediately thought: OMG! That would be the best gift EVER! I have to do a test run! So last week, I was kinda focused on bread (when the light is right, I'll post something that didn't quite turn out the way I wanted, but damn it looks pretty). This week, I had at least 3 recipes I wanted to try and I was scarily low on all supplies. I got my list together and went out and bought everything I thought I'd need.

But after baking this:

Rosemary Cornbread from an old Martha Stewart Living magazine
(I haven't tried it, but the batter tasted pretty fantastic so I have high hopes for this one. The third bread better be a charm, Martha, jus' sayin')

and these:

The winning chocolate chip cookie from Omnomicon's Recipe Round Robin
(T and I actually participated in this one back in June so that's how long I've been waiting to make this recipe -- also, so sad she's not writing over there much anymore!)

and then eating my fair share of these, I'm suddenly over the whole baking thing. I've been wanting to make these cookies for what feels like forever so naturally, nothing else could satisfy my baking needs until these were mixed up.

I think my baking world has finally righted itself.  Funny, that.

So. My original plan was to gift (only the few close friends I do make gifts for) three different types of bread with homemade butter and one fancy fruitcake (to the friend who likes fruitcake). Now I'm thinking, make these cookies, omit the nuts (allergies!), and call it a season.

Maybe I'm just tired today. I was up at 4:30 afterall!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Blast you, rotten thing!

Am I the only one who has a hard time peeling onions? I'm always hearing everyone complaining about garlic. Garlic is such a pain to peel, they say, Try whacking it with your knife! says another, or Here's this handy device I like to use! says kitchen gadget companies. And there's about a hundred different devices and tricks out there just for that tiny little [non]problematic clove. You can even buy them pre-peeled. PRE-PEELED! I'm starting to think it's a conspiracy devised by the cookbook/how-to/chef/food-tv star community. It's a nice go-to topic when they want to feel knowledgeable, intelligent, and maybe when they have nothing better to talk about. But I've never had a problem with garlic. I've never taken a clove of garlic and said to myself, oh great. Here we go. Another 5 minute job just peeling this darn thing. I don't even want to use it anymore because I have to get this stupid peel off.

No. Never.

Onions, however, are the most problematic of all and no one ever talks about it. Just now, I had tears streaming down my face, my nose was running, and the damn onion peel would not come off. I kept slicing it on all sides trying to make a breakthrough, but no. My eyes were blurry before I even got to chopping it. Eventually, I ended up taking off the first two layers of onion. Is there some trick the rest of the world knows about that I don't? I'm starting to wonder...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas gifts: gaming ideas

Guess what I discovered! My hair doesn't look so horrible if I style it in a messy way! I used to do that a while back with a different cut after I accidentally discovered my hair will curl a bit if I make a little effort. So all is not lost!

I also remembered something else that hairdresser was chatting to me about. She was telling me about how she has a Tetris game on her cell phone and that she was a little addicted to it for a while. Well, I was thinking about that, and I realized something. There aren't that many games that are girl-friendly. And by girl-friendly I don't mean the games video game companies felt compelled to produce for the woman/girl market. Games they think are designed "just for us" (like the plethora of losing weight games or how to cook for the DS or Babiez), are actually kind of demeaning. It's such a close-minded view of what girls like and it makes me sad to think that people still seem to believe these are the only things we're interested in. I also figure that people are probably looking for Christmas gifts about now, and I hope this gives you ideas for maybe a less traditional girl gift. We don't all like getting soap and candles either, thankyouverymuch.

And as you've probably figured by now, Idle Husband works in the video game industry. Therefore, in a very short period of time, I think I've learned more about video games than I have in my whole life. I've also played more different types of games than I ever have in my life, so I think I've kinda figured out what I like and that there are game options out there for us gals. So, as a girl that loves intelligent video games, I thought I'd make a list of some of my favourites. I'm going to focus on portable games and computer games. You know, I would have given my left arm to have had a portable gaming system when I was younger (and by younger, I mean 3 years ago). Having one now is really great. It makes boring times (like in an airport or a waiting room) that much better, so don't knock it till you try it.

Playstation Portable (PSP): Nifty little gadget that can access the internet, store music and pictures, and whatever else I haven't realized yet.

The first game I played on this system was Lumines. It's almost like Tetris, only instead of lines, you have to create squares. It can be really frustrating at times, but it's also really addictive. It has a pretty swell dance-type soundtrack which is great if you're into that sort of music. After a while, I played with the sound off. I'm still trying to beat Idle Husband at this, but I think he's officially the master at this game.

Oh, Patapon. I'm still playing this game and it's my third playthrough for Patapon 2 if that tells you anything. Basically, it's a rhythm game. Like Guitar Hero, if you like, only you memorize different rhythms which in turn command the patapons to do something. Walk forward, attack, defend, jump -- that sort of thing. You have to get your timing right, though, you can't just pop the rhythms in at any ol' time, you have to keep it up like playing a song. When we first got this game, I was reluctant to play it. Sure, it was super cute, but I didn't think I'd be able to remember the commands and I just thought I'd suck at it. But one day, IH left it and I was alone and I decided to give it a try. After that, I was hooked (he never did get to finish the game). The basic premise is that you're their god and they're calling you Mighty (who doesn't like that?) and you have to take care of them by taking them hunting and keeping them from harm -- it gets really addictive because of that! One thing, though. I think it's important to play the first version of this before the second (plus it's twice as much fun for you!). Is the second far superior? In my mind it is, but if you play the second without playing the first, I think you'd get too dependent on the Hero patapon and not really use the commands properly. It's a whole lot more engaging if you're mixing it up and getting them to perform many functions in a battle rather than relying solely on your Hero to win it for you or to protect your entire army the whole time. Also, this is one you can't pause halfway through a level which is frustrating sometimes. And I can't do anything else when I'm playing it. I can't listen to music or have a conversation -- nothing. All my concentration has to go to the game otherwise I'll screw up and the patapons will die and then what kind of a horrible leader would I be?

I also enjoyed Loco Roco. It's the cutest game ever! The graphics are cute, the music is cute, everything about it! Basically, you use the keys on the top of the PSP to tilt the screen left or right in order to roll your Loco Roco to the finish line. As you go, you eat fruit that makes you grow larger, but you're not larger as one entity, you're made up of many, so if you get hurt, one of you dies and that's not good. Both 1 & 2 are really fun and not that difficult to pick up. They just released a shorter, kind of 2 1/2 version called Midnight Carnaval, and I find it super hard. In fact, it's so hard and frustrating that once I got to a level I couldn't get through, I just gave up and stopped playing. When it's so hard, it's frustrating, and it stops being fun. So definitely don't get that version unless you enjoy a challenge and know what you're doing.

I was in between cute games when I discovered God of War. Idle Husband had it sitting on his shelf, and I thought, "meh. I'll try this and see how it goes. I need something to play." And then I actually enjoyed it. Yes, it's killing and monsters and typical boy stuff, but there's also little puzzles you have to figure out in order to progress plus there's a really intriguing story, too. The controls were easy for me to pick up (I like fighting games when I can just hit any button and be guaranteed a pretty smooth move) and even though it was 3D, I wasn't in charge of the camera which I really like. I hate having to move the camera and walk and fight and all that other junk. I'm not coordinated enough for it. 3D is hard enough for me as it is.

We just got Little Big Planet for the PSP because we enjoyed it so much on the PS3. It's got a really cute handmade look to it. Some of the levels look like they're made of cardboard or felt and I really like that artistically. You also have the opportunity to design your own levels and dress up your little sackboy however you like. I haven't played this whole game yet, but it runs the same as the PS3. Platform, though 3D, start at one end, end at the other, collect clothes, stickers, whatever for your little sackboy along the way. I stopped playing this for the time being and I'll probably pick it up later. I found the controls a little difficult, moving from foreground to background, and I find it really hard to see what you're doing. It's really zoomed out, probably so you can view the entire level for it's artistic qualities, but it's zoomed out a little too much. Also the loading times are too long or I'm too impatient, either way I don't like staring at a blank loading screen longer than I have to. Otherwise, it's easy to play and cute and they have a really great indie soundtrack that makes it even more entertaining.

Nintendo DS: portable system that opens like a book complete with touchscreen.
Well duh. Of course I'm going to mention Super Mario Brothers. It was one of the only games I'd been playing until IH came along (I can play Super Mario 3 in my sleep). When he first heard how much I loved playing Mario, he immediately (and most generously, since we didn't know each other that well at the time) loaned me his DS so I could play it. I've since played it through, oh, at least 10 times. It's one of those classics that never gets old and this version, to me, is tops because of the graphics and game play. It's easy to pick up, easy to get through, there are interesting new abilities, and you can always return to it and play through the harder areas again to get the star coins or find the secrets. I especially like how it's set up like Mario 3, but it has more options for quick saves, reasons to actually get the star coins, ability to use a stored item, and it saves your progress when you're halfway through a level. Did I mention it's cute, too? Well it is. (Have you figured out that one of the key components to my gaming is that it has to be cute?)

Rhythm Heaven is another fun musical game. It's basically a bunch of minigames, each with a different character, premise, and song. You tap along to the songs making sure to hit the screen on the right beat. It can be very challenging. I really liked this one and so did IH. It's had a bit of a negative effect, though. The songs are so catchy that we're still singing the tunes (some with our own made-up lyrics) even after having finished the game several months ago. They just get stuck in your head so easily! Fair warning!

Yoshi's Island is along the same lines as Super Mario, only you play as Yoshi with a baby version of the Mario gang riding along. This gives you different abilities depending on which character is riding. It's kinda neat in the way it's set up, too, because you view both screens as part of the level. Even though this game features baby versions of the Mario gang, it was in no way a baby version of a game. I found it to be, at times, incredibly difficult. Some levels I had to play through multiple times just to pass them. Also, whenever you get hurt, your baby flies off and starts crying and you have a certain amount of time to get them back on. I have to confess, I couldn't stand the sound of the baby crying the entire time. When you're going through those hard levels, you could lose the baby 50 times (at least it feels like that much), and then the crying thing gets really annoying. That being said, it's still fun to play and definitely worth it.

Obviously, Tetris is also a must-have. The DS version has classic Tetris along with other versions of the same concept. My favourite is Push, where you start in the middle and battle against the computer to push them down into the flames below. Also, if you have a friend with a DS, you can play against each other even if that friend doesn't have Tetris. It's also a good game to play if you're not looking to advance or make progress or maybe if you don't have enough time to finish a level. You can play and feel absolutely no guilt for shutting it down halfway through a game. Good for waiting in line or at the doctor's office. (I should have taken this along the last time I went, but I wasn't expecting them to have removed all the magazines from the waiting room due to H1N1!)

Computer Games: If you have a laptop, these are perfect! And if you don't, they're also perfect!

Zuma is super addictive. I started playing this online for free (just in little tester spurts) and it was fun just playing like that. They've now released a new and improved Zuma which I really like as it's the same concept but with more variety. Basically, what you do is shoot different coloured balls to make groups of 3 or more, thereby elminating them and shortening your line so they don't fall into the waiting mouth. Once you get a certain amount of points, the balls stop coming and you complete the stage by getting rid of all the balls, making sure they still don't slide into the mouth. Simple, right? Well it gets faster and tougher, but it's still really great to play and oddly, I still don't seem to tire of it.

Plants VS Zombies is so. much. fun. We played this one to death (no pun intended)! And it's easy (but not too easy)! Plant sunflowers, make sun, plant plants that shoot, bomb, freeze, or stall the zombies to keep them from coming into your house to eat your brains. There's a lot of strategy that goes into it, though, and you'll want to find the perfect lawn set up to keep the zombies out. It's so much fun when you unlock the endless levels because then you can really shape your lawn into a zombie killing machine! And yes, even though this game has zombies, it's uber cute. Trust me! Once you start, you'll have to finish it -- or at least play until you collect all the plants for your zen garden!

Another one I started out playing online in little free demos was Cubis. Match up the coloured squares to make them disappear. Easy but addictive. I loved the colours and, oddly enough, the sound they make when they disappear or break or dissolve. I like weird sounds. It also has enough modes to keep you interested and some of them can be quite challenging. This was a game I really enjoyed playing while talking on the phone. It kept my hands busy, but didn't interfere with my ability to have a conversation. Perfection!

Well, I hope that makes the world of gaming less intimidating while also giving you some ideas for Christmas gifts. Don't feel like it's only a market for guys and kids! Anyone can play and enjoy these games, you just have to find what's enjoyable for you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It tastes better than it looks

This is kind of a terrible picture, I know. My proper camera ran out of batteries, so I made do. Anyway, this was dinner last night. Dinner kept becoming something different as the day went on, it was kind of frustrating! At first, my plan was to try making a breakfast strata because I had some maple turkey sausage in the freezer that had been there forever and I wanted to use it before it got too frosty.

But as I looked at the recipe, I realized I didn't have any cheese and by that time, it was too late to take anything else out. I think this happens to me too much. Since I've switched my focus from making new dessert recipes (my poor poor waist) to making new dinner recipes, I seem to have given up planning. I think it's because dinner ideas lend themselves so well to creativity. I take most dinner recipes as more of a suggestion, a guideline, and then I end up doing whatever I want in the end. I don't measure ingredients, I very rarely have the right poundage of meat, and lately, I rarely have the important ingredients that make the dish that dish -- I don't know how I ended up with absolutely no cheese on the one night I wanted to use it. We don't even eat that much cheese! This is the sort of thing that's been happening. When I have the stuff, I don't know what to make with it, then, as soon as it's gone, I have the perfect recipe for it.

Anyway, back to the rice. I figured I could make stir fried rice with the sausage. Add some soy sauce, wing the other flavours and that should work. There was a moment when I was cooking the sausage, onions, and mushrooms, that I thought maybe I should make some spaghetti instead. This looks like it'd be really good on spaghetti. But, of course, I had the rice sitting there (which I cooked several hours early and cooled) and there was another inner-debate on just saving it and making rice pudding (something else I've been craving lately) until I remembered I'd used chicken stock to cook it. Oh well. I'll make rice pudding some other day when I'm out of rice.

Despite all my change of plans and false starts, I'm really surprised and pleased by how this turned out. I think it's more like a dirty rice, but honestly I felt like it was more of a leftover concoction. Even though I wasn't technically using that many leftovers. I had some egg yolk and milk left from when I baked the christopsomo (it was for the wash over top), and I had some miracle whip (I don't buy mayo. Not because I don't like it. I don't think I've ever tried it, but I grew up with miracle whip and that's what I like and that's what I use for everything) and cayenne pepper mix leftover from when I made some sweet potato fries the night before (that sounds gross, but sweet potato fries and even regular fries taste fantastic dipped in miracle whip. Add some ketchup, and you've really got something!) So maybe it was just a seasoning leftover party. I was a little nervous about the maple sausage and adding seasonings to it, because it was very maple flavoured. You could really taste that distinct flavour. Surprisingly, all of that worked fantastically together.

So, as best as I can remember (the amounts are guesstimates), here's what I threw into it. Obviously, I think it's pretty easy for anyone to just throw together this kind of dish. Keep adding stuff you like (or that you have left in your fridge) and keep tasting it. Tasting is super important! And always stop when you're ahead ; D

Maple Sausage Rice
2 cups cooked rice (cooked with a boullion cube or stock)
1 package maple turkey/chicken sausage, remove the meat from the casing (just slit it down one side with your knife, and then you can peel the casing off really easily)
1 onion, chopped
3 mushrooms, chopped
3 small cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup (more or less) water (just use this to thin out your rice. As it cooks, it tends to get a little pastey and thick which isn't very pleasant eating)
salt/pepper to taste
These ingredients are optional:
2 tsp miracle whip mixed with cayenne pepper (as hot as you like; you could also just use cayenne pepper alone because the heat was a nice addition to the sweet of the sausage, though I really liked the tang of the whip, too)
1 egg yolk mixed with milk (I just wanted to get rid of it, honestly, but it did make the rice a little creamier)
1 chopped tomato (I just wanted to add some colour and a veggie, you could use some other veggie, too)

Cook the sausage until it's nice and crumbly (like ground beef), add in onions and garlic, cook  until the onions are clear. Add in mushrooms. Cook those down a bit. Add seasonings. Add rice, mix all together. Add water as needed. Add the optional ingredients if you like. Enjoy!