20 November 2006

Magically delicious

Saturday’s meal was a wonderful success. Good food, loads of wine, full tummies and happy friends! Dare I say, I’m actually starting to enjoy entertaining!

I have to admit, I ended up going the easy route with appetizers. I planned the menu with good intentions but time was not on my side on Saturday. Instead, I opted for some paté, Vinta crackers, grapes and brie cheese. It was a lazy and easy alternative, but always a crowd pleaser nonetheless.

The Tikka Masala turned out beautifully. I’m still not entirely sure what I ended up adding to the sauce, thanks to several glasses of wine. I’m quickly learning that, if you are the cook, it’s probably better to do the bulk of your drinking after the meal is complete. This being said, perhaps it was the wine that inspired me to start throwing spices in the curry at random. I have a vague recollection of what I used, but it turned out perfect! Maybe I do have a cook’s intuition after all?

Despite my tipsiness, I managed to pull of a good meal. The curry was accompanied with a bowl of basmati rice and a garden salad with apple wedges. I actually got comments on the lovely presentation…me…can you imagine? Not bad for a girl who considers “ham on a bagel” good eating.

Dessert was a simple affair. I ditched the fried plantain idea, as hubby said the produce wasn’t looking so good. Instead he picked up a chocolate pecan cake with caramel drizzle. Yummy, but I could have probably done better myself. Of course, Dan had to buy a mammoth-sized cake (I think it’s a guy thing). It is now occupying the entire top shelf of fridge and stares me in the face every time I open the door…I can hear it taunting me.

All in all, I’ll give myself a B + for my meal on Saturday. Next time I’ll have to leave myself more time to prepare appetizers and dessert. I tend to get carried away with cleaning; it’s hereditary.

Lessons learned:
  • Chopping veggies and preparing meat before guests arrive was a good idea…no mess, no stress!
  • Drink in moderation before cooking!
  • Have “good” spices on hand in case of drunkenness (Thank God I didn’t use anything sketchy)
  • People really DON’T care whether you baseboards are clean or not.
  • Have hubby do the cleanup – Go raibh mile maith agat, a ghra!
  • Relax & Enjoy – you are among friends!
  • 18 November 2006

    Another foray into the wonderful world of cooking

    Tonight I am hosting yet another dinner party and, dare I say, I’m looking forward to cooking!

    Last week’s meal with the parents was a huge success. I made two gorgeous mesquite pork loins, steamed asparagus with grated Parmesan and roasted potatoes. All very easy, but tasty nonetheless.

    Tonight I will be making a classic Chicken Tikka Masala, served on a bed of basmati rice and paired with nann bread and spring salad. For appetizers, I will attempt toasted coconut shrimp in curry sauce. I’m hoping that this won’t be curry overkill but it should be passable seeing as everything is fairly mild. I saw the recipe online and thought it would be fun to try.

    Desert is an ongoing debate. I am considering doing fried / caramelized plantain with peanut butter ice cream. Not sure how this pairing will be with the curry, I still have to work that one out. Maybe just a simple sorbet would do the trick?

    Keep your fingers crossed. Hopefully I won’t botch the entire meal. We are cooking for good friends of ours who have fed us countless times. Now that Dan and I finally have a home of our own, we really want to treat them to something special.

    If all else fails, we DO have an obscene ton of wine! Yes, sadly alcohol is always a backup plan…

    Other plans for the day:
    Clean house….bleh!
    Pick out blinds for master bedroom…FINALLY!

    (Maybe I’ll get to sleep in past sunrise on weekends now?)

    16 November 2006

    Paving our way to happiness

    Very exciting news to share today! At last, our street is getting its final layer of paving! Perhaps not so exciting for you, but Daniel and I are ecstatic.

    Ever since we moved into the new house, we have had to battle with mud and guck on a daily basis. Walking down the street has always been a precarious task, due to huge mud-filled potholes and puddles. The street cleaner passes on a regular basis, but its efforts are always in vain…more water invariably leads to a bigger mess.

    We had pretty much given up on all attempts at cleanliness. Washing the car was purely nonsensical, as it would always end up covered in dirt seconds later. Keeping shoes clean was also a pipe dream. Try as I might, I could not contend with the thick & sticky clay that would cling to everything. I admitted defeat and sacrificed a beloved pair of shoes as “mail fetchers.”

    While there is still some ongoing construction around the house, I think that this final layer of paving will help cut down some of the mess. I look forward to the prospect of going for a jog without slipping and sliding, and finally being able to walk to the bus stop in style. Perhaps I am too vain for my own good, but I simply abhor wearing sneakers or rain boots with skirts and suits!

    Hopefully the paving will be completed today. If the crew are still out when I get home this evening, I may even hug one of them!

    Yup…the joys of homeownership at its finest. I need a life.

    15 November 2006

    Piñatas a plenty!

    The gaming world has gone mad, and so has my hubby! Those who know Dan well will readily admit that he’s a bit of a geek. In no way do I think that this is a negative thing, but it is sometimes cause for confusion.

    Daniel is a complex man. His tastes and preferences tend to lean towards the odd and eccentric…and I’m not referring to myself!

    My hubby loves his computers games. Second to me and the guinea pig (hopefully), they are the loves of his life! Nintendo, Game Cube, PS, PS II, X-Box and so on….he has them all! While I do not understand his fascination with gaming, nor the burning desire to spend hard-earned money on such things, I am happy that he seems to find such immense joy from sitting in front of the TV, eyes strained and fingers flying at breakneck speed…can you tell I’m not a gamer?

    Usually I embrace my husband’s geekiness; it is one of many quirky things that I love about him. This being said, I do question some of his game choices! Dan presents an interesting dichotomy; his games always seem to come in two different forms - uber violent…or cracked-out children’s games! The latter seems to be the current craze.

    For the past two evenings I have sat in bemused silence, watching my husband play the strangest game that I have ever seen – Viva Piñata. How can one sum up such absurdity?!? Essentially, the premise of the game is quite simple: the player is responsible for planning and managing a garden for piñatas…yeah… The more attractive the garden, the more inhabitants and piñata animal species you will attract. Strange but remotely cute right? Here’s where things get interesting; you are also responsible for the mating and breeding of your piñata population. Each animal/ piñata has its own bizarre mating ritual – the rabbit piñatas purr, flap their tails, then proceed to do an Irish jig…riiiiight….can we say acid trip?

    Essentially, the fate and destiny of your piñata colony lies directly in your hands. It is your own little piñata ecosystem to manage with care. Much like real life (ummm…minus the whole piñata garden thing), the species exist according to the old theory of survival of the fittest. On occasion, the weaker and smaller piñatas will be killed or attacked by bigger inhabitants. When a piñata dies, all that remains is a pile of candy which the other piñatas proceed to snack on….very disturbing!

    My hubby is enthralled by this game and has already managed to build an impressive colony of piñatas. This being said, his rabbits (a.k.a. Bunnycombs) keep getting eaten by a visiting fox. Very, very sad…poor Bunnycombs! I have to admit, even I have started to concern myself with their plight!

    So there you have it folks. Not even two months after the wedding and our marriage is already reduced to quite nights spent in, attending to a damn (yet strangely alluring) piñata garden. What is the world coming to?

    Want to find out more about this messed-up game, visit their website

    14 November 2006

    Check your daily Citizen

    It turns out that my opinion piece re: Remembrance Day touched a few hearts and turned a few heads. After much prompting from family & friends, I decided to submit the article to the Ottawa Citizen. It wasn’t long before I received a phone call from the editor, asking for my permission to run the piece in an upcoming paper. There are still no guarantees that this will make it to print, but it looks like a good possibility.

    I can’t describe how excited I feel at the prospect of seeing my article in the paper. It feels amazing to know that my opinion was compelling enough to grab someone’s attention. This is the first time that I have ever felt empowered to write such an article, let alone send it in to the paper. I feel as though this has sparked something inside of me - a small flame that has always burned beneath the surface and has been hidden for far too long.

    For the first time in ages, I feel passionate about writing. I’m not referring to my typical “fun” blog entries or my techno-laden articles at work, I’m talking about truly writing from the soul.

    Back in high school, I was often reputed for my “strong” opinions. I was debate captain for several years, as well as a member of the impromptu speaking team. Yup…I was a politics geek. The students voted me, “Most likely to become Prime Minister” in the yearbook. I always seemed to be passionate about some burning issue. Everyone assumed that I would never change…myself included.

    I tried to pursue my passion in University; I entered the honours program for communication and political science. While I enjoyed my courses for the most part, they did not often provide me with the opportunity to express myself freely. Papers were always written within the constraints of guidelines, predetermined topics and university writing manuals. While I always excelled in my assignments and research papers, I often felt that they were uninspiring – just the typical philosophical drivel that professors devour with fervor.

    I always thought that my career would finally provide me the opportunity to tap into some of that misplaced gusto. I was very fortunate to find a government job in the field of communications directly after graduation. I was excited at the prospect of writing again, outside the realm of university papers. However, I soon discovered the many creative limitations that exist within the government. While I find the R &D sector fascinating, my knowledge of the subject matter is rather limited. I want to be passionate about science and I want to tell people why our research is valid, however I often lack the tools, resources and creative license to do so. This problem is also compounded by the fact that many scientists are not communicators, thus they do not comprehend the importance of talking about their research or justifying its value. The challenges and limitations can get quite frustrating.

    Writing the remembrance article has reminded me that I don’t have to be stuck in this stagnant position. I simply have to find the time to express myself through other means….writing articles for the paper is just one simple solution..freelance work is also a possibility.

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed re: the Ottawa Citizen. There is no guarantee that they will run the article. Just keep checking those papers for the next 7-10 days! Not everyone will agree with my opinion, but that’s a risk that I have always been willing to take. At any rate, this will be one more notch of experience to add to my belt and one more small accomplishment to add to my portfolio.

    10 November 2006

    Remembrance...no place for politics

    I saw a story on the evening news the other day that irritated me to no end. In conjunction with Remembrance Day, an Alberta store is selling white “Peace Poppies.”

    The white poppy project is spearheaded by the U.K.-based Peace, Pledge Union (PPU). The PPU is an independent / activist organization that preaches non-violence with a shared aim to work towards creating a world free from war. Subsequently, as you can imagine, they do not support the war effort (past nor present). Their pledge reads as follows:

    “War is a crime against humanity. I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war. I am also determined to work for the removal of all causes of war.” ~ PPU pledge

    Proceeds from the white poppy project go towards the PPU and their various activist campaigns. Proceeds from traditional red poppies are given to the Royal Canadian Legion to support veteran care initiatives. Many feel that peace activists are hijacking our long-standing symbol of remembrance. For veterans, this is a blatant insult and a slap in the face that contradicts the very principles of Remembrance Day…I fully agree without hesitation.

    Remembrance Day, is simply that - it is a day to ‘remember’ the brave men and woman who lost or risked their lives in order to defend our nation, our freedom and ideals. It is a day to reflect, to mourn and to appreciate; it is NOT a day to protest or politicize.

    People died for us, they made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the lives that we live so freely today. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the war effort or not, these soldiers command respect for their selflessness and bravery. How many of us can honestly say that we would make the same sacrifice for our nation? Not many, I gather.

    Perhaps I am biased because both my grandfathers were active in the war. My maternal grandfather drove a tank throughout the war through some of the bloodiest battles of Italy in WWII. He seldom spoke of his time in Europe; my mother thinks that the memories were too painful for him. I have no doubt that he lost many friends on the battlefield and it was something that haunted him for the rest of his life. I wonder what he would think of the white poppy?

    I also wonder what my great uncle would think. The only memory I have of him, is an inscription on a war memorial in New Brunswick. Dead at age 20…do you think this is how he and his fallen comrades wish to be remembered?

    In no way am I knocking the concept of peace - it is a desirable goal. I have no problem with people voicing their opinions and promoting a better alternative to war; I think it is a positive message that needs to be spread. However, I think that November 11th should remain a day of remembrance and not an opportunity to argue the validity of war.

    I am 25 years old. I have never known war. I have grown up with all that a child could want or wish for. I have a family and education. I have a country that I am proud to live in and call home. All these wonderful things exist, in part, because of selfless individuals who answered the call. I owe them a debt of gratitude, we all do.

    Tomorrow I will stand at the Cenotaph in Ottawa and applaud our veterans. I will be wearing a red poppy, not a white one. I will not think of politics. I will not judge. I will simply remember.

    09 November 2006

    And now for something completely different

    For those who know me well, they will readily agree that I am not the world’s best cook. To be more exact, I’m lacking in the creativity department when it comes to food. I don’t mind being in the kitchen, but I never seem to have enough time to whip up something new. Meat, potatoes, veggies, casseroles, I have a tendancy to lean towards to the eating habits of my grandparents - the basics. I always have well balanced meals, but they are severely lacking in…tastiness. When I want to go bold and daring, I buy asparagus!
    Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little, sometimes I’ll branch out and cook up a pork loin or homemade spaghetti…but that is the extent of my Martha persona.

    I’m not quite sure where I adopted this cooking apathy. I’m usually not a lazy person and I adore baking! For some strange reason, putting together a creative meal just isn’t my forte. I always clip recipes with good intentions, but I never seem to get around to trying them out. Here’s the funny part – I love different food! I’m not the least bit picky and I tend to lean towards something “different” when eating out. At home, however, I usually fall back into that old familiar tedious menu.

    Daniel and I both work long hours on weekdays, and often participate in extracurricular activities in the evenings. I suppose this is the root of my problem. Very often we are snatching food, or shoving it down our gullets as we fly out the door. Grocery shopping is always done in haste (due to my own impatience), so we always tend to grab the old reliable staples. Each time we leave the store, I chastise myself for not spending a little more time in the spice aisle.

    This past week, I finally managed to break away from my bland food slump! I have quickly discovered that it is better to do groceries on a full stomach, this way I am more prone to browse the aisles rather than rampaging through the store with only one thing on my mind…”Must get home! Must eat!” I am far more tolerable after I have been fed…quite similar to my guinea pig actually….

    Daniel and love treating ourselves to a meal out every few weeks, and perhaps this is what inspired us. As strange as it sounds, our local pub has a wonderful curry that we are both addicted too. Every time we eat there, one of us exclaims, “Boy, we should make this ourselves sometime;” usually the other nods in agreement, and the impetus ends there. Luckily, our post-restaurant visit to the grocery store seemed to motivate us this time!

    Like thirsty nomads heading towards an oasis, Daniel and I both beelined for our world cuisine aisle…our salvation at last! Curry, black bean, coriander, noodles…all of a sudden we entered a whole new world of potential tastiness! Who knew that this little gem existed right within our own grocery store?

    After careful deliberation, we walked away with some basmati rice, naan bread, black bean paste, tika malasa and butter chicken sauce. Nothing too crazy, but it was a wonderful baby step.
    I am proud to say that the butter chicken sauce has already been put to good use. It was ridiculously easy to make, and tasted wonderful. Seeing as this was my first attempt at a curry, I decided to play around by adding in some matchstick carrots, garlic and finely chopped green pepper. And for my final burst of creativity, I sliced apples as a side dish (along with the naan and basmati). Surprisingly, the pairing worked out really well. Daniel and I loved it! I have been eating leftovers for the past few days now and still have not tired of it.

    Hopefully, this is a first step in inspiring me to cook more original meals. I am having my parents over for supper on Sunday and plan to prepare a different curry from scratch this time. I may be extra ambitious and try making my own naan bread too. Yes…it does seem like a lot of curry for one week, but I want to surprise them with something new. Hopefully all will go down well, as my father detests the smell of curry – I hoping that the taste will change his opinion.

    By the end of my curry-overkill weekend, some good ‘oul meat and potatoes may actually be in order. At least now I know that there are easy and tastier options out there. Work nights may never be same…

    06 November 2006

    Le Weekend

    The weekend is over and I can’t help but feel somewhat disgruntled. Sadly, Daniel and I were not able to get into the annual Food & Wine Show on Saturday. It turns out that half of Ottawa had the same idea in mind. One look at the three-hour queue in the freezing cold, and I knew that it wouldn’t be happening for us this year….le sigh!

    Luckily, we were able to meet up with some friends and had the last laugh as we sat drinking wine in a warm apartment. Who needs lineups for samples, when there’s a huge LCBO just around the corner? And so…we killed a few bottles while watching a Dane Cook DVD. If you haven’t seen this comedian, you need to! I’m not sure whether it was him or the wine, but I laughed until my stomach hurt. Classic!

    The rest of the weekend was spent cleaning our horrendous mess of a basement. Everyone who comes to visit the new place always remarks upon its cleanliness…little do they know that we have been shoving everything into the unfinished portion of the house. Unfortunately, however, it is not a simple case of “out of sight, out of mind,” because this also doubles as our laundry room.

    I love my husband; he’s a wonderful, brilliant and caring man. This being said, he is also a terrible packrat! I am quickly discovering that we have a strong difference in opinion when it comes to deciding what is “useful” and what is not. Several boxes of ancient computer parts does not seem logical to me, but alas…we still have them! Some battles are not worth fighting.

    With a few heavy duty shelves, some boxes and a ton of compromise, we managed to take reign of our basement once more. I am proud to say, we can see our floor again and I now have a clear path to the washing machine and clothes line.

    Next weekend: more cleaning! The snow is coming and we need to fit our car into our tiny hole of a garage. With all this newfound space in the basement, I have a feeling that we will be chucking our garage clutter down there for the winter. One solution leads to another problem and we are right back to where we started…go figure. At least we tried!

    02 November 2006

    Booze, ghouls and hordes of chocolate

    I am proud to say that Daniel and I have successfully survived our first Halloween. We had both been awaiting the big day with childlike anticipation for the past month. Nothing short of tacky, our front yard was decorated to the hilt: tombstones, glowing footprints, intricately carved pumpkins, skeletons, spider webs, red lights, a goblin and (la piece de résistance) a fog machine! Pair all of this with spooky music, and you have a veritable fright fest! We would have done the Griswolds proud.

    Despite the fact that Daniel and I still live near a construction zone, not to mention the fact that we are surrounded by selfish “Halloween Scrooges,” we ended up doing remarkably well for our first year of haunting. We managed to attract roughly 40 kids, many who were on route to the more developed streets further down. Next year I anticipate our numbers will double; can’t wait!

    And now…time to vent… What is it with people who hide at home and close their lights on Halloween?!? I can understand not handing out candy if you live in an older neighborhood where there are few children, but in a young community replete with kids?!? Our development is literally crawling with little ones, yet I was amazed to see how many houses ‘clearly’ weren’t participating in Halloween. Is it really so difficult to hand out candy for an hour? You don’t even have to make that much of an effort, just a small inexpensive bag of candy will do!

    When I think back to my childhood, I have such fond memories of Halloween. My brother and I would go out “Trick or Treating” for hours. It seemed as though all the houses in our neighborhood were decorated, people made more of an effort and went out of their way to give the kids something special. I can’t help but feel as though the children of today are being cheated. It seems as though everyone is less charitable these days…or maybe this is all due to the fact that more parents are working?

    Some people may roll their eyes at Daniel and I for spending so much on Halloween, but we think it’s a worthwhile investment. Can you put a price on giving a child good memories? For me, there is nothing more rewarding than knowing that we have made a kid laugh or made his/her experience a little more exciting. I want us to be known as that “cool” and zany couple who always do something special each holiday. Oddly enough, these are the kinds of things that children remember…

    End of rant….

    In other news, Dan and I held our first official Halloween / house party over the weekend. Not too shabby for our first attempt at hosting 17 people – stellar costumes, spooky lighting and plenty of homemade munchies and drink (three cheers for hubby’s minty champagne punch). Dan and I are blessed with wonderfully creative friends who aren’t afraid to throw themselves into character. As extra encouragement, we decided to design a trophy for best costume. It was a tight race between Tony Clifton (Man on the Moon) and a drag figure skater…très inquiétant! Kudos to Jasen (a.k.a. Tony) for winning the top prize…that swagger was WAY too natural!

    For your enjoyment…some of our enthusiastic party goers…