18 January 2007

Sexy Salad

Last night I truly managed to surprise myself. In honour of my father-in-law’s 50th Birthday, I decided to branch out and try a new recipe for dinner. While this may not sound exceptional to most people, it is a huge step on the domesticity front for me. I am renowned for buying recipe books and wistfully sighing over descriptions of exciting food, but I always end up making the same old faithful dishes.

While my father-in-law is a meat & potatoes kind of man, I really wanted to try something different…something that could only be described as a culinary work of art. I was determined to create a salad so glorious, that even the most hardened Lachanophobic would drool with anticipation. Enter what I like to call, the “Sexy Salad”

The wonderful thing about salad is that you really can spice it up as much as you like. All you need is some leafy greens for your canvas and the rest of the masterpiece is entirely up to you. Last night’s salad was inspired by a recipe that I once saw on the show “Take Home Chef” on TLC. I recall a program where the chef prepared a beautiful salad with pears and a sweet raspberry dressing. Curious, I conducted one of my much-cherished “Google searches” and found a whole slue of wonderful recipes. After a quick browse, I settled on this little gem….

Roasted Pear Salad

1 cup port
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (prodotto di Modena, Italia..yay!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pears
mixed greens (I used fresh spinach and endive)
pomegranate seeds
gorgonzola cheese

Place pears on baking sheets and broil until golden brown (approx. 3-5 minutes). Set aside to cool

In a saucepan, bring port to a boil – continue to simmer until liquid reduces to ½
Set aside and cool completely.

In a blender, add cooled port, balsamic vinegar, garlic, Dijon, and shallots. Purée until smooth. Refrigerate dressing once complete.

Arrange greens on a plate and garnish with roasted pears, pomegranate seeds, walnuts and crumbled gorgonzola cheese. Add cooled dressing.

This salad is truly a sight to behold and taste. Because certain items were not available at my local grocer, I had to make a few moderations to the recipe. Rather than pomegranate, I used fresh cranberry. Unfortunately, I could not find any gorgonzola cheese; instead I opted for some thinly cubed mozzarella. I still think that blue cheese would be better however hubby is not a fan.

If you want to fancy things up a bit, try roasting the walnuts in a pan for a few minutes; this really brings out the flavour! I doubled the recipe in order to serve 6 people, and I still ended up with some spare dressing – Score!

The rest of the meal also went off without a hitch: mesquite pork loin, steamed asparagus, mash potatoes (for the boys), and yummy rutabaga. As if that wasn’t enough food, we topped things off with some Bailey’s cheesecake and a healthy dose of wine.

Speaking of wine, if you are looking for some insight or suggestions on your next special bottle, be sure to check out my NEW wine blog, “Wine made easy”. Aside from writing, wine has quickly become my other passion in life. While I cannot proclaim myself a wine expert (at least not yet) I am studying and “sampling” as many different varieties as I can possibly afford. I’m a wino with a cause!

Bon appétit and cheers!

17 January 2007

Manners…a thing of the past?

What is it with people these days? Have we really become completely lost in our own self interest? I thought I had more hope for society, but my bus ride into work this morning has convinced me otherwise.

Typically, I try to catch an express route in the morning but luck was not on my side. Instead, I was stuck onboard the city’s main East-West bus which I usually try to avoid like the plague.

Despite boarding at the beginning of the route, the seats filled up instantly. Luckily, I was able to score myself a spot at the middle of the long articulated bus. Needles to say, I was happy to find a seat…at 5’2” standing on a crowded bus can be a real issue…especially when claustrophobia kicks in…fun times!

No more than 2 minutes after the bus rolled away, I noticed a mother and her little boy standing in the aisle near the front. Immediately, maternal instinct (who knew?) kicked in as I saw the scared little tyke wobbling around on unsteady legs. Incredulously, I watched as people deliberately ignored the stumbling child and weary mother. Young students, perfectly capable of standing, feigned sleep, while men, the so-called chivalrous sex, buried their noses deeper into the morning paper.

When it became obvious that nobody was willing to help, I stood from my seat and flagged down the mother. She thanked me profusely as her little boy scrambled to the seat. When did such a simple gesture become so demanding? When did common courtesy become a rarity? When did we become so selfish that we would put our own comfort above the safety of a child?

What a sad world we live in!

10 January 2007

Down for the count...almost

I am proud to say that both Daniel and I survived our first night of boxing 101. At the end of last night’s class, being able to stand even felt like a giant accomplishment.

It turns out that the instructor and I have a different perception of the word “beginner”. While we did learn some basic moves and combos, I was surprised to have gloves on within the first 5 minutes of the class. Things move fast, but I guess that’s to be expected in boxing.

The majority of our first class was spent practicing a series of different punches: left jab, right cross, left hook. These are recurring moves that we will need to know for sparring in the future. Dan and I took turns practicing our punches, alternating between the gloves and the blocking / focus pads. It was fairly intimidating being on the receiving end of Dan’s punches – this is where the whole male vs. female strength issue is totally validated. Dan wasn’t even hitting my pads with full force, and I could still feel myself being moved backwards. Meanwhile, my pitiful left jab isn’t strong enough to move tissue paper on a windy day. However, I do think that he felt some kick from my right arm…definitely something to work on!

Minus the aching muscles and shoulder blades, I think I’m really going to enjoy boxing. Daniel and I are excited to purchase our own gloves this week, so that we can practice at home. Luckily we already have some equipment from Dan’s jujitsu days so keeping up to par shouldn’t be too costly.

Irish dancing is on tonight’s agenda. I look forward to getting my feet stomping again as I was on a month-long hiatus throughout the holidays. Thank God Irish dancing doesn’t involve the upper body, otherwise I’d have a major issue on my hands…pardon the pun.

TTFN! Only 78 days until we leave for sunny Miami and our Caribbean cruise!

09 January 2007

Goddess of the gloves

Just when I thought my extracurricular activities couldn’t get any more random, I’ve decided to sign myself up for a beginner’s boxing class. No…I’m not talking about that sissy cardio kickboxing stuff; this is the real deal – gloves, mouth guard, sparring…the whole shebang.

I can just imagine the collective gasp from readers right now. You are probably wondering why I would subject myself to such brutality. My answer is simple…Why not?

Even as a child, I was fascinated by boxing. I’m not sure where this interest developed; perhaps it stems from the infamous “black box” that my father setup in our family living room, allowing us to watch the major championship fights live from Vegas. I was dazzled by the male heavyweights and inspired by women contenders who defied the conventional norms of the sport. I cheered for the likes of Holyfield and De La Hoya, and developed a strong hated for the boorish conduct of Tyson. I’ll never forget watching the infamous “ear incident” in a Holyfield vs. Tyson match with my father. I was disgusted and transfixed all at the same time.

Over the years, I haven’t had to opportunity to follow boxing much - Ottawa isn’t exactly a mecca for this type of sport. There is a regional boxing club which I once considered joining with fleeting interest, however my schedule never permitted me to pursue the matter further. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my local gym has contracted out to provide boxing instruction - score!

Tonight should be interesting as it is my first class in boxing 101. To make matters more interesting, hubby will also be joining me. Relationship coaches often recommend that married couples should find a common activity to share in order to foster their romance….something tells me that they probably don’t have this on their recommended list! I can already picture the competitiveness issue; neither of us are gracious winners or losers. Just yesterday I “trashed” Dan at Wii boxing...luckily we are still on speaking terms today.
So there you have it, yet another random activity to add to my life. A boxer / Irish dancer - a strange brew indeed!

Wish me luck, hopefully my pretty face won’t get too marred over the next 2 months.

04 January 2007

'Twas the Season

It’s official; I survived 2006! The holidays almost killed me but I thankfully managed to pull through. What I had hoped would be a relaxing break, turned out to be utterly busy and exhausting – I suppose it was an appropriate way to end off a chaotic year…

Being newlyweds, Daniel and I were faced with the difficult task of trying to divide our time evenly with both our families throughout the holidays. While we did have to deal with this back when we were dating, being married truly does add an extra level of complexity. Being the wonderful “unit” that we now are, we are expected to appear side-by-side at all family functions. It sometimes feels as though we are the main attraction…some sort of freakish double-feature at a circus.

All in all, I think we handled the holidays rather well. The 24th and boxing day was spent with the in-laws and Christmas day and January 1st was spent with my family. All the days in between were spent running around. In the span of 11 days, we only managed to sneak in three meals “alone” at home...two of which were takeout. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly the romantic week I originally had in mind. Thus is the life of newlyweds …but at least I didn’t have to cook many meals right?

The colossal year of weddings, ended off in fine style. Dan and I traveled to Guelph on December 29th to attend a friend’s wedding. It was a fun-filled weekend as Dan played the role of best man…lots of partying was involved. I knew barely a sole at the rehearsal dinner but left Guelph two days later feeling as though I knew everyone. Some things never change, those Engineers are still a wild bunch! Amusingly, I had already met some of the guys in the wedding party…although under some fairly embarrassing circumstances…

Rewind to University back in 2000: I was a very eager little communications Frosh, trying to earn scavenger hunt points for my faculty. One of my main objectives was to infiltrate the Engineering pub crawl in attempt to steal a much coveted hardhat from a poor unsuspecting male. Armed with three of my girlfriends, we brazenly lied and flirted our way into the party. After several hours of drinking, dancing and making an utter ass of myself, my friend snatched a hardhat and we tried to escape the pub unscathed. The guys were having none of it; they were already on to our little scheme. We ran out of the pub with several engineers in hot pursuit. To my horror, two of the engineers that I flirted with mercilessly to get into the pub were at the wedding. I don’t think they recognized me, but silly me had to open my mouth. My introduction went something like this, “Hi my name is Jenn! I think we already met several years ago. You tried to throw me out of an engineering pub. I was the drunken Frosh who was gyrating around one of your buddies on the dance floor….” Thank God I’ve grown up…somewhat…

So there you have it, a busy and interesting holiday season for Daniel and I. Once again, my relentless celebrating, lack of sleep and overindulgence has left me sick as a dog.

Bring on the Kleenex, the Vicks, and the cough syrup….bring on 2007!

And now for your amusement, here is my favourite Christmas gift ever! Allow me to introduce Seamus, the Leprechaun cookie jar - the perfect amount of kitsch, functionality and Irishness. Many thanks to “Bruiser”, the world’s best shopper!

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