24 April 2008

Grumpy, but almost on my way to happy…

It’s my last day at work before I head off on vacation and I should have left the office about an hour ago. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I am stuck here late trying to sort out Microsoft Outlook problems so that a coworker can send out an email to several distribution lists on my behalf tomorrow. I thought that the 'IT' people would be able to solve my problem relatively easily, but that wasn’t the case. After well over an hour of running back and forth and trying to keep my temper in check, my colleague and I cobbled together a Plan B scenario that will have to suffice. I’m very grumpy right now as all the excitement seems to have aggravated my back again. The muscles were feeling tight but significantly better this morning and now, after running laps around the building, I’m starting to experience a dull ache. To make matters worse, I missed two busses and am now stuck in the office for another 30 minutes. Hubby has taken pity on me and has agreed to pick me up, but he is now tied up in traffic…grumble, grumble, grumble….

Tonight I have a mountain-load of laundry to do and travel documents to print out. While I do enjoy planning vacations, I can't help but get a little frustrated sometimes as I’m always the one that takes responsibility for the finer details . I am the keeper of documents, the studier of maps, the developer of packing lists and the printer of tickets. Between Daniel and myself, I am admittedly the ‘tour de force’ when it comes to organizing; this being said, however, I’m also the one that gets to enjoy the “stress” of traveling. It’s crunch time now and I know that I likely won’t relax until I’m sitting on the beach in Mexico, bags in my room and a double dose of tequila in my very large margarita.

23 April 2008

Pity party, table for one...

Day two in the world of back pain and I find myself feeling a little nervous. I managed to make it through the work day yesterday in relative comfort, however things got pretty desperate around dinner time. Dan and I finally went to Mambo Nuevo Latino, a Latin restaurant in the Byward Market that I have been anxious to try. Sadly, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the atmosphere and delicious food because my back started to twitch and ache again. To make matters worse, I think that the Robaxacet caused me to have trapped gas in my chest and abdomen. All together, it made for a pretty horrific combination.

After paying our bill and hightailing it out of the restaurant, hubby rushed me home and put me to bed. On the plus side, I was able to lay straight on my back without too much discomfort, an improvement from the previous night at least. I decided to sleep it off and see how I would feel this morning before heading to the doctor’s office. While the pain is still present, it doesn’t seem to be quite as spastic so far. I’ll see how the remainder of the day goes before I decide to do anything about it. I suppose it would be wise to get myself an anti-inflamatory, if needed, before I travel to Mexico. My main concern is that I will worsen the condition with travel and I certainly do not want to find myself having to deal with a Mexican medical system.

In short, I am throwing myself a pity party. I still don’t understand why, after months of high physical activity and no injury, I have to suddenly pull, pinch or twist something at this precise moment. I don’t want to cancel my trip because this is pretty much the only time I can get off for months, and yet I don’t want to ruin the vacation by having to sit still for an entire week – no climbing the pyramid at Coba, no cliff jumps at Xel Ha or cave swims and, horror of all horrors, the possibility of no snorkeling trips. I guess I shouldn’t write it all off yet, but I know that the back is one heck of a huge muscle that takes more than a few days to heal once injured.

22 April 2008

No luck whatsoever

Only days away from my vacation and my body has decided to backfire on me. Yesterday, in a desperate final bid to get by body in perfect bikini form, I decided to go for a quick jog. Per usual, I started off with a few simple stretches in order to avoid injury…Ohhhhh the irony! One attempted hamstring stretch later and I found myself in a twitching and spastic ball of pain on the floor. Why God, why?

At first I thought I might have pulled a muscle but with little to no improvement after doping up with Robaxacet, a long bath and dousing myself in heat rub, I’m starting to think that I may have actually managed to pinch a nerve…double damn!

I’m still trying to figure out how I managed to hurt myself. I may have already aggravated my back by changing up my weightlifting routine over the weekend but the new exercises never actually hurt while I was doing them. I experience more back pain than usual the day after, but nothing too severe. Odd that a simple little stretch could end in so much pain; I guess the body works in mysterious ways and in my case, it conks out at the most inopportune moment possible.

Please keep your fingers crossed folks! I do not relish the though of spending my vacation with back problems…then again, plying myself with corona and rum may be the most effective means of pain relief at this point.

21 April 2008

Oh, Mexico….

Oh, Mexico
It sounds so simple I just got to go
The sun’s so hot I forgot to go home
Guess I’ll have to go now

Oh, Mexico

It sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low
Moon’s so bright like to light up the night
Make everything all right

Oh, Mexico

I never really been but I’d sure like to go
Oh, Mexico
I guess I’ll have to go now

Yeah that’s right…I’m singing Jimmy Buffett tunes and I don’t care who knows it!

Not long now until hubby and I are wasting away in “Margarittaville”

18 April 2008

Catcalls and wolf whistles…things are heating up in Ottawa

It’s a warm and sunny Friday afternoon in the nation’s capital. At 24ºC, the city is in a festive mood as in finally says goodbye to a long and oppressive winter. The sidewalks are filled with walkers, shoppers and window browsers, while the marketplace pubs and patios are overflowing with people desperate to grab a pint and make the most of this glorious weather.

On days like this it’s hard not to feel just a little bit lighter, brighter and, in some cases, more confident or daring. When the sun comes out, it seems as though inhibitions are thrown to the wind and people feel the need to express themselves. Perhaps it’s a way of shrugging off the final vestiges of winter, those dark months where the bulk of us hide under frumpy coats and dismal attitudes, or perhaps I am just being too charitable…

Yes folks, you know that the season has officially turned the corner when men start to catcall, wolf whistle or just plain old ogle. Welcome to the season of jeering, leering and cheering.

On my lunch hour walk today, I was ogled twice, wolf-whistled at and engaged in a conversation at a traffic light. Trust me folks, I’m not one that typically notices these things or inspires this kind of reaction; I’m wearing a frumpy t-shirt and jeans for God’s sake! I guess men are just happy to finally be able to look at any woman that isn’t buried beneath a parka. On the flip side, I can’t exactly complain about seeing fit guys jogging in snug-fitting shorts…but at least I’m discreet in my observations and less vocal with my admiration!

17 April 2008

Vicissitudes of the veiny redhead…

By now most readers probably know that over the past year I have turned my life around, lost a considerable amount of weight and become somewhat of an exercise junkie. I can honestly say that, forehead wrinkles and laugh lines aside, I feel younger and healthier today than I ever have before.

While I’m far more pleased with myself internally and externally, I have come to encounter one small issue that I had never even considered…I have since become one hell of a “veiny” woman!

I’m not sure whether it’s the weight training or simply the loss of fat between skin and muscle, but I have started to notice huge monster veins in my forearms that were previously invisible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that I’m starting to look more toned but veins have always creeped me out! Perhaps this phobia has something to do with an overexposure to muscle magazines and posters that my father kept in his gym while I was growing up. I remember seeing women with hulk-like arms and bulging veins and thinking to myself, “Gross…why would any woman do that to herself?!?” To be honest, I think many of them were on steroids and hormones, but I remember that those pictures appalled me and my perfectly conventional view of what women were “supposed” to look like. Several years later, I find myself staring at the same nasty, snaking streaks of blue on my own body - not quite as bulgy but still quite visible with my pasty redhead complexion.

In a perfect world I would have kept my “chubby-gal” alabaster skin, yet still have the benefit of toned muscles. I’m sure I’m over exaggerating the matter…but I really HATE veins (too bad we actually need them). On the plus side, giving blood should become much easier. I may not be able to stand looking at myself, but I can assure you that I’ve since become a phlebotomist’s dream!

(p.s. The woman in the picture is NOT me...!)

16 April 2008

New look, same redhead…

Do not panic; do not adjust your screens!

It’s the same old blog with the same old ramblings; I simply spruced up the design a little. The former shot of my frizzy locks wasn’t cutting it anymore. The Vargas Girl is much more fun and akin to my personality…now if only I had the same sultry look to match…

Nothing overly electrifying to report these days other than the fact that I leave for Mexico in ten days – WAAAHOOO! Not that I’m excited or anything (wink, wink)

Hubby and I are very eager to indulge in the sun, surf and sand. Tonight we’re getting ourselves in the spirit early by trying out a new local Latin restaurant…yum! We are also going to swing by the currency exchanger to pick up our pesos. Not much left to do really, other than purchase a few medical necessities and odds and ends over the weekend. I've been told that Immodium and After Burn lotion are two must-have items. On second thought, not too sure why I’m so excited...

14 April 2008

Sixty-five years young…

Yesterday hubby and I threw a surprise party to celebrate my father’s 65th Birthday! Now that I can actually talk/ write about it, I am happy to report that everything went off without a hitch and the birthday boy was completely oblivious to our little scheme.

Sadly, we never organized anything to celebrate his retirement from the force or his 50th and 60th birthdays, so this was the perfect opportunity to cook up our long-overdue surprise. Dad was under the impression that he would be showing up at my place for the standard birthday dinner, but instead he walked into a room of relatives and friends poised with cameras…SURPRISE!

All in all, it was a very fun evening. Per usual, I cooked enough food to feed an army or small country – a gargantuan spread more befitting of an Italian wedding. But, as I have learnt from the past few years of playing hostess, good food and lots of wine makes for very happy guests. Furthermore, a fridge full of leftovers makes for a very happy Jenny who will not have to cook anything for days or weeks to come!

So there you have it, yet another weekend of overindulgence and little to no sleep, but well worth it to see the surprise and smile on my father’s face. Happy 65th Pappy and here’s to many more!

09 April 2008

Messy kitchen, happy guests, growing waistlines…

The title pretty much gives it away. As you have undoubtedly guessed, Sunday’s B-Day dinner was a resounding success. The jerk seasoning had just the right degree of kick and it complimented the pineapples perfectly. The cake was sinfully delicious (very similar taste to key-lime pie). The surprising star of the evening, however, was the homemade rice pilaf with pecans. This is something I can easily add to my repertoire; it’s fancy enough to serve to guests, yet also a simple and inexpensive way to give weekday sides an added boost.

Not much else to report right now. Very busy days ahead as I try get through a mountain of work before hubs and I head to Mexico. Can anyone please explain why it takes so much work and effort just to relax? Hardly seems fair….

To tide you over until my next update, I am posting my recipes from Sunday’s meal. Go ahead, give them a whirl...I dare you!

Spicy Jerk Chicken Kebabs with Bell Peppers
and Pineapple

The spice level of this dish is pretty mild. For an added boost, add a few seeds from the jalapeño pepper.

1 tsp. whole allspice
1 tsp. black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
8 garlic cloves
3 large shallots, peeled and cut in half
1 (3-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded
2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups (1-inch) cubed pineapple (about 1 medium)
1 1/2 cups (1-inch) pieces red bell pepper (about 1 large)
1 1/2 cups (1-inch) pieces green bell pepper (about 1 large)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Cooking spray


  • Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add first 3 ingredients to pan; cook for 1 minute or until lightly toasted and fragrant.
  • Place spices, brown sugar, and next 9 ingredients (through jalapeño) in a blender; process until smooth.
  • Combine spice mixture and chicken in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal and marinate in refrigerator 2 hours, turning occasionally.
  • Prepare grill.
  • Remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade.
  • Thread chicken, pineapple, and bell peppers alternately onto each skewer.
  • Brush reserved marinade onto pineapple and bell peppers. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper.
  • Place kebabs on a grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill 8 minutes or until chicken is done.

    Yield: 8 servings (1 kebab each)

    Rub the skewers with some cooking spray so that the meat will slide off easily when cooked. It’s so yummy that you won’t want to leave anything behind! If you have too much marinade, reserve some for another meal - pork loin would be great!


    Rice Pilaf with Pecans

    Amazing recipe! The rice really absorbs the sweetness from the golden raisins and the combination with cinnamon is perfect! Half the recipe and you can still easily feed a 8 people (as sides).

    3 Tbsp. olive oil
    1 cup (1-inch) julienne-cut carrot
    3/4 cup finely chopped onion
    5 cups low-salt chicken broth
    1 cup orange juice
    3 cups uncooked long-grain rice
    1/2 cup golden raisins
    1 Tbsp. sugar
    3/4 tsp. salt
    1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
    6 Tbsp. finely chopped pecans

  • Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  • Add carrot and onion; sauté 5 minutes.
  • Add broth and orange juice, and bring to a boil.
  • Add rice, raisins, sugar, salt, and cinnamon.
  • Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
  • Sprinkle with pecans
  • Yield: 12 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

    Tip: Even if you half the recipe to make less rice, I highly recommend adding the full amount of veggies and raisins. Experiment and garnish as you like.


    Lemon-Lime Layer Cake

    Perfect dessert for a lovely summer day BBQ. Almost like a pound cake mixed with key-lime icing and filling.

    Cake Ingredients
    Cooking spray
    1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
    1/2 cup butter, softened
    3/4 cup egg substitute
    1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
    1 Tbsp. grated lime rind
    1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 10 ounces)
    1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 1/3 cups low-fat buttermilk

    Icing Ingredients:
    1 tsp. grated lemon rind
    1 tsp. grated lime rind
    1 tsp. fresh lime juice
    8-ounce 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
    2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted (about 10 ounces)

    Preparation / Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Coat two (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; line bottoms of pans with parchment paper. Coat paper with cooking spray.
  • Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes).
  • Add egg substitute, lemon rind, lime rind, and lime juice; beat well.
  • In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stirring well with a whisk.
  • Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
  • Spoon batter into prepared pans; tap pans once on countertop to remove air bubbles.
  • Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack 10 minutes; remove cakes from pans.
  • Carefully peel off parchment paper. Cool completely on wire racks coated with cooking spray.

    Preparation / Icing:
  • Place lemon rind, lime rind, lime juice and cream cheese in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth (about 1 minute).
  • Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat).
  • Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup icing. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.
  • Chill 1 hour. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

    Yield - 16 servings (serving size: 1 slice)

    Tip: Be sure to sample your icing…it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! I found the original recipe to a little too “cream-cheesy,” so I added in more lemon/lime rind and juice to give it a nice citrus burst! Be sure to reserve some lime and lemon wedges for garnish…a nice finishing touch once the cake is iced.
  • 06 April 2008

    Now commencing hour five in the kitchen…

    It’s Sunday and I have been slaving away in the kitchen for five hours now. Once again, I find myself wondering if I have bitten off more than I can chew...quite literally. However, despite being tired and immensely dirty, I am pleased to say that my tropical-inspired birthday menu is off to a phenomenal start. The lemon-lime citrus cake is complete, the pineapples and peppers are cut, and the homemade jerk seasoning is ready to go. I still can’t get over the sheer quantity of ingredients that goes into the marinade, ridiculous but hopefully worth it in the end. Thankfully, hubby has now taken pity on me and is chopping the rest of the veggies for the southern rice pilaf….did I mention that I love him?!? Sadly, I was unable to find some Alaberino at the LCBO, so I opted for several other bottles of Niagara wines that hubs and I have been eager to try.

    Looks like this won’t be a waistline friendly day after all…oh well.

    05 April 2008

    Far too reflective for a Saturday morning

    It’s Saturday morning and I’m perfectly content sitting in the quiet, sipping my coffee in an oversized bathrobe. Hubby is still trying to catch a few more Zzzzs, but 8:00 a.m. seems to be my limit. It’s not that I wouldn’t love to sleep more; my body just won’t let me. I envy Dan’s ability to sleep like the dead…even the slightest noise wakes me and then I will typically abandon all hope and just haul myself out of bed. Oh well, it is kind of nice being the first person up and having the stillness of the house about me.

    The weekend is gearing up to be sunny and beautiful with lots of melting and temperatures in the double digits. I tried to get most of the laundry and housecleaning out of the way last evening so that I can get out and about today and enjoy some sorely-needed fresh air. With only three weekends left until vacation, I have a huge list of things to buy…shirts, dresses, shoes, sunglasses, etc. My weight loss left me with next to no summer clothes. On one hand I’m very pleased, but on the other it’s very aggravating to see a closet full of gorgeous new clothes that I bought for the cruise last year, all way to huge on me now - what a waste! Thankfully, I received lots of gift certificates for my birthday so that will help cover some of the cost. That’s the one downside to getting fit…it’s expensive!

    No other huge plans brewing this weekend. Dan and I are going to see an old friend that’s in from Calgary visiting her parents. She recently had a gorgeous little baby girl, so it will be nice to see the two of them this evening. Many of our friends have hopped on board the baby train lately (not me – not yet), and it’s really fascinating to watch everyone become parents - these are people we attended elementary of high school with, when we no more than children ourselves. It definitely reminds us that time is marching on and that we really are getting older, albeit reluctantly at times.

    Speaking of getting older, tomorrow is Mom’s 61st birthday and Dad will be turning the big 65 one week later. Hard to believe they’re in their 60s now; in my mind I often still see them as hail and hearty at 40. It’s as though I’ve captured their image from my childhood and it is difficult to acknowledge the fact that they really have changed a good deal over the past several years. Aging is inevitable unfortunately and I guess that’s why it’s so important to celebrate each precious year and moment that we have on this earth. Birthdays should be marked as an achievement or blessing, rather than a somber reminder of just another year gone.

    04 April 2008

    Add some 'spice' to your sixties...

    In case you haven’t already noticed, my life and writing often revolves around themes. When I have a particular feeling, notion or idea on the brain, I have a tendency to get wrapped up in my own little fantasy. Some would label this compulsive behavior, but I much prefer to think of myself as a ‘highly passionate’ person…

    With the onset of Spring and thoughts of sunshine and steamy destinations, I’ve naturally started to have a hankering for tropical food…something spicy, sexy and ohhhhhh so flavourful! It’s time to shake off hearty casseroles and slow-cooker staples in favour of my sorely-neglected BBQ.

    This coming weekend, I’ll be cooking a family dinner for my mother’s 61st birthday. As you can probably guess, my sudden ‘tropical fever’ will undoubtedly have an impact on the menu. I’m throwing caution to the wind and trying to do everything from scratch: fresh, spicy and completely experimental. While I’ve enjoyed eating both Latin and Caribbean cuisine in restaurants, both are relatively uncharted territory in my kitchen. On the plus side, my family isn’t exactly made up of “island cuisine’ aficionados, so I can probably get away few minor wrinkles. Lord only knows where I get this predilection to feed spice to very white people?!? Sometimes I think I should have been born closer to the equator…

    So far, here is Sunday’s culinary vision:
    Caribbean Jerk Chicken with Bell Peppers and Pineapple
    Southern Rice Pilaf with Pecans
    Steamed Green Beans
    Dessert: Lemon-Lime Layer Citrus Cake
    Wine: Albariño (Spain)

    No starters necessary as this should already be enough food to feed an army. Thankfully, I’ve also figured out ways to make everything waistline and bikini friendly – huzzah!

    Wish me luck folks! Hopefully I will not have to pass Pepto around the table as a digestif.

    03 April 2008

    The melt is on

    At long last, Spring finally seems to be on its way. The birds have started chirping in celebration and the temperature is gradually climbing past 0º; we may even reach double digits by the weekend. For the first time in months, we can finally pass two cars down my street…God bless life’s simple pleasures.

    With the end of winter in sight, it seems as though everyone in the city has an added bounce to their step. It’s hard not to smile just a little bit more or take a few extra minutes to make pleasantries with the other revelers of Spring. Seriously…I’ve been walking around at lunch hour with a huge smile plastered on my face - dorky, yes, but much preferable to my foul, troll-like disposition of February.

    Here’s hoping that the evil word, “snow,” will soon become a distant memory. With any luck the sun will be out and all will be melted by the time I’m back from vacation.

    And now, to make you completely envious, here is a picture of hubs and I “living the hard life” exactly one year ago in Antigua. Only 22 more days until we’re doing the same in Mexico!

    01 April 2008

    Itsy bitsy, teenie weenie, make your parents cringe bikini...

    Only twenty-five days until the warm glorious heat and sunshine of Mexico. Alarmingly, this means that I now have less than one month to magically transform my abs into something befitting the two ridiculously skimpy bikinis that I purchased.

    In a moment of confidence (or outright brazenness) I found myself trapped in the dressing room of Bikini Village, as a bubbly and ever-so-perky saleslady brought me one skimpy mini after another. I went in with the firm affirmation that I wanted a modest and well-structured one-piece but the name of the store should have tipped me off. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I found myself timidly staring in the mirror feeling more than just a wee bit vulnerable. Once I got over the initial shock of my blinding white skin (seriously frightening folks), I was happy to note that the suit wasn’t quite as horrific as I thought it would be. Even though I’ve lost over 20 lbs. and have worked hard to get myself in shape, I sometimes feel as though I’m a stranger stuck in another’s person’s body. It’s a bit of an awkward sensation, much akin to puberty, where you haven’t quite come to terms with your new body/shape. After hiding under layers and being very conscious about playing down ‘problem’ areas for years, it’s very difficult to suddenly wrap your head around the notion of bearing it all. It’s fun and liberating, but it’s also a little frightening. I have proverbially ‘got it’; now I just need to learn to be more comfortable with ‘flaunting it’ a little.

    Bathing suit shopping was definitely a revelation and a new experience for me. To the saleswoman’s credit, she was extremely patient as it took well over an hour for me to decide on what I wanted. She must have sensed my apprehension and thankfully wasn’t too pushy. In the end, we were both rewarded as I walked out with two skimpy bikinis (meager in material but not in cost) and a new one-piece (some old habits die hard).

    I’m still not entirely sure that I’ll have the gumption to strip down on the beaches, but I am gradually warming to the idea. My husband, of course, has been a towering force of enthusiasm and encouragement…(shakes head in exasperation)

    And so the countdown continues, with days diminishing and killer abdominal crunches increasing.