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Tetrazini 3 comments

My mother had to feed 12 people three meals a day on a rather skimpy budget. When I think back on it, this was really quite a feat. Although I learned a lot from being in the kitchen with her, I wish I’d paid a little more attention to her creative resourcefulness in stretching her food budget, keeping food interesting/healthy, and not being wasteful.

It was a big deal for me, last Christmas, to feed eight people in my small abode. That one meal took a lot of planning, and I got a lot of it wrong. I had enough food for an army, as it turns out. An army considerably larger than eight. There were leftovers.

Mom was creative with leftovers, or whatever was at hand. Part of the trick was, of course, making sure that the right basic stuff was on hand. And, honestly, when feeding 12 people, casseroles made from opening a tin or two of this or that never did generate complaints. Therefore, one of the “must have” cooking ingredients was a supply of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.

Food snobs poo-poo recipes that include the instruction “Open a tin of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup” as being well below acceptable standards of cuisine. On most days, I consider myself a bit of a food snob.* Except today. And, wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t have a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup on hand, just when I needed it.

Usually, Sunday dinner involved a large, roasted dead creature. My father, a Brit and a butcher/farmer by trade, would call any roasted dead creature “a joint” and I, for the life of me, couldn’t figure out why. Most popular beef roasts do not involve a part of the anatomy anywhere close to a joint. When the “joint” was not beef or pork, there would be poultry – either chicken (several) or a turkey, which was my favourite.

Turkey was my favourite primarily because turkey leftover options involved a few of my all time leftover favourites, all of which also involved Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. Something heavenly happens when you combine leftover turkey gravy with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. These favourites included:

– turkey a la king (creamed turkey with veggies, served on toast)
– turkey pot pie (my all time, bar none, favourite leftover meal – essentially, turkey a la king in pastry)
– turkey tetrazini (somehow different than creamed turkey on toast and I’m not sure why)

So, tonight, staring at a fridge filled with well-enjoyed, but nearly about to go off meat and veg, I embarked on a slightly more health conscious version of tetrazini, which I dubbed “Three Pork Tetrazini” or by its Swedish name “Pork Pork Pork!!”

First, I had to go to the general store to fetch the requisite tin of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. I spotted a coyote on the way back from the store. I am, truly, where the wild things are.

But, I digress … the rest went as follows:

1. Boil water for whole wheat pasta of choice. Prepare to desired doneness. Drain.

2. While the pasta is doing its thing, chop four slices of bacon into one inch squares and toss in fry pan @ medium-high. Follow this with:
– garlic
– chopped onion
– chopped peppers
– mushrooms (lotsa mushrooms)

3. Stir the fry pan mixture around a lot. If bacon isn’t providing enough grease, add oil of choice – either butter or olive oil will do.

4. Pour glass of wine. 🙂

5. When the bacon is looking almost done, add chopped leftover pork loin and chopped lean ham. Keep stir frying.

6. For heaven’s sake, don’t over cook the pasta!!!

7. Add several handfuls of baby spinach carefully picked over for mushy leaves and those weird skinny non-spinach leaves that always seem to sneak in. Keep stirring this up.

8. When the spinach has “melted” and incorporated into the mixture, add the tin of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. Stir to blend in and let heat through.

9. This recipe has both BACON and tinned pseudo-food. DO NOT add more salt at any time. That is just silly.

10. While the soup heats through and blends in, grate some old cheddar. Sprinkle that on top and stir until incorporated. The whole mix may take on a brownish tinge. This is desireable.

11. Add the drained pasta (hope you started with a big enough pan!) and keep folding until the pasta is fully covered in the sauce.

12. Pour another glass of wine. Serve.

The observant amongst my readers will note that this recipe does not have to be made with pork or, indeed, any dead creatures at all. Any combination of stuff stir-fried in garlic and oil, coated in Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup and glued together with old cheddar and served over pasta is going to be pretty yummy.

And it was. 🙂 AND … if you serve it with enough wine and call it “tetrazini”, your guests may just believe you!

*I was called a “coffee snob” the other day. I can’t imagine why. 😉

How To Poach An Egg (a.k.a. How To Get UnSettled In Your Ways) 2 comments

I have always been a good poacher of eggs. A properly poached egg is a thing of beauty. Fully set white, very runny yolk on buttered toast with salt and pepper. A perfect breakfast that seems decadent in its rich flavours and textures but is actually fairly healthy. (The butter won’t hurt ya, really …)

My former egg-poaching methodology involved any old pot with boiling water that has a dash of salt and a splash of white vinegar. (The vinegar helps the whites set without as many stringy bits.) I’d crack the eggs directly out of the shell into the water and then stand over them until the exact right moment, usually about two or three minutes. I also had an method of using a frying pan to boil the water, and now I see that is just WRONG. I remember my brother also enjoying poached eggs and using the heel of a loaf of bread to drain them first before transferring them to his toast. The heel would get tossed.

My ex says I make the best poached eggs. I have them most mornings for breakfast.

My friend Miriam and I talk about poached eggs a lot. She shares my love of the perfectly poached egg. Ever helpful, Miriam sent me a video a while back on how to poach an egg. This arose out of her disdain for the idea of putting a splash of vinegar into the water, which I do understand.

For weeks after I watched this video, my poached egg mojo was totally messed up. I couldn’t get it right as I was trying some combination of my old method and this new method and just getting it all wrong. After years of getting it mostly right, new information totally threw a monkey wrench into the works. The guy in the video leaves out some important pieces. How hot is the water when you start? Do you leave it covered or not? What do you mean, leave the egg in for TEN MINUTES???

Experimenting with this new method of doing something I know so well has taught me a lot. For example, the pot matters. If you are going to leave the eggs sitting in water, they have to be completely covered in water, and the pot needs to be heavy and able to hold heat for some time. My thin-walled small saucepan is a bust. My larger thick-walled saucepan rocks, but only if it has enough water in it to cover the eggs.

I have finally got it right.

How To Poach An Egg Perfectly Without Vinegar and Without Standing There And Staring At It and Fussing Over It

1. Select a heavy pot and put enough water in it to cover the eggs. Add a few pinches of salt and bring to a boil.

2. Crack the eggs into a cup, carefully.

3. Put some bread in the toaster.

4. When the water is boiling, stir the water in a circle in any direction you care to.

5. Carefully drop the eggs in one motion into the centre of the vortex and immediately cover the pot. Turn the heat off. Set your timer for three minutes.

6. Whistle a happy tune. Maybe pour a cup of coffee.

7. When the timer goes off, butter the toast. The eggs need the last 30 seconds or so.

8. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon onto toast. Decorate with salt and pepper. Enjoy!!

One Perfectly Poached Egg

One Perfectly Poached Egg

Is Chinese Food Like Re-Purposed Blog Content? Click Here To Comment!

Possibly. I’ll let you decide.

The CheapEats Toronto Blog (go there NOW if you are even remotely interested in food in Toronto) recently re-purposed some content from another blog. Specifically, a TED presentation, about 16 minutes long, about the history and evolution of Chinese food in the United States. I’d love to see a Canadian analysis along the same lines someday. Funny and fascinating.

Christmas Present – 2008 4 comments

November 28 – 30, 2008

There are a few threads of tradition starting to emerge around the Christmas season. The earliest is that my friend, Amy, comes to visit the last weekend in November. It feels like a transition time, from the regular day-to-day trials and tribulations to a more special time. We don’t get to see each other enough, Amy and I, so we have set aside this weekend for what we call “Cottaging in the City”. My place turns into a cottage, sort of, without the sun, the lake and the mosquitos. But it does have quiet time, the reading of books, possibly puzzles and lots of good food and wine. We schedule this to coincide with the Women’s Blues Revue. The concert in 2008 was, if possible, even better than the previous year. I can’t wait for next year’s show!

We shopped a bit so I could drum up a particularly yummy breakfast on Sunday. Mmmm…

Cottaging in the City Breakfast

Cottaging in the City Breakfast

Mmmmmm ...

Mmmmmm ...

Ring that Breakfast Bell!

Ring that Breakfast Bell!

Cottaging in the City involves very good food!

Cottaging in the City involves very good food!

Friday, December 12, 2008

There was a lot going on that week – exam week where I teach. This particular Friday, as I recall, looked something like this:

6:00 a.m. – Get out of bed NOW …

8:00 a.m. – .. because you have to help Patricia supervise an exam.

10:30 a.m. – Meeting with Dean

12:30 p.m. – Lunch, off campus, with colleagues

shopping and errands

6:00 p.m. – Squash (we played for an hour)

So, at this point, I was invited to a birthday party. However, I’d been upright for 13 hours and it had been an active busy day. And, I needed a shower. So I went home and cleaned up and pondered the wisdom of going out. Because, at age 45, the idea of going out at 9:00 or 9:30 p.m. doesn’t hold as much appeal as it once did.

Then, Cate showed up online. And we talked, as we do. And suddenly it was 10:00 p.m. Something about talking to Cate invigorated me, I guess, because I got my second (or was it third?) wind and headed out the door to Rochelle’s birthday party. I appeared just in time for cake! What wonderful luck! 🙂

Rochelle's Birthday :-)


Friday, December 19, 2008 – STORM DAY!

Grades had been submitted on the 17th, perfect timing for a snow day! In anticipation, I made sure I had all the right supplies on hand to bake up an equally wicked storm in the kitchen. The weather gods did not disappoint, with “snowmaggedon” arriving, on schedule, during the morning rush hour. I purposefully kept all media off – no radio, no tv. In fact, for the record, I believe this is the day I called to cancel my cable subscription. In any case, I started baking and I had a really good time, either chatting with friends on the phone while baking, or listening to Christmas music.

Mostly, I had a good time re-acquainting myself with my Mom’s recipes and her baking equipment. It is all essential. First, the recipes …

Mom's Recipes, in her hand-writing, safely stored away

Mom's Recipe Box

The box is chock full of them, including a recipe for “stain for kitchen cabinets”. I guess there is only ONE stain for all kitchen cabinets, at least in my Mom’s world. 🙂 Mom had a particular idiom for recording her recipes and thank goodness I baked alongside her for quite some time and learned the patois of her instructions. Measurements are missing and, often, she will put ” , as in, “refer to above” … but, there is no “above” to refer to.

There is one recipe that I come across everytime I go through this box. It always gives me pause and causes me to furrow my brow. Most of the recipes are written on 3 x 5 recipe cards but this one is on a slip of green paper. And, actually, this one looks like it is in my brother’s handwriting, not Mom’s. I must remember to ask him about it. Here is the recipe – it has no title that indicates what it might be, just ingredients and instructions:

4 cups tomato paste

4 cups sugar

Stir to keep sugar from burning. Boil for exactly 25 mins. Add 1 large pkg Jello. Raspberry or strawberry.

That’s it. What the hell …?

Anyway, on storm/baking day, I made short-bread, orange/date/coconut chews and protein powder peanut butter balls. Okay, admittedly, my Mom didn’t use protein powder in her recipes but she *did* make peanut butter balls. I have the proof as she has about three different recipes for them right here in this box. However, this recipe was passed on by the WWBA who seems to be in favour of me upping my protein intake. Something about muscle re-construction … but I digress … the orange/date/coconut chewie squares are such a total nostalgic blast for me. I made them using my Mom’s mixing bowl. I think this bowl was standard issue to housewives in the 1950’s. I’m kinda precious about this bowl. Believe me, it does not have “microwave safe, oven proof and dishwasher safe” stamped on the bottom.

Batter for Orange/Date/Coconut Chews

Batter for Orange/Date/Coconut Chews

Here is the bowl with aforementioned batter. My Mom was famous for her “squares” and I’m sure that at least half the recipes in this box are for “squares” of various descriptions. I told J that I was going to make Mom’s orange/date/coconut squares but all she heard was “Mom’s … date … squares” and got apoplectic with joy. Everyone loved Mom’s date squares but they weren’t my fav. It’s the orange/date/coconut chewie squares that totally have my heart.

Orange/Date/Coconut Chews Before Baking

Orange/Date/Coconut Chews Before Baking

Orange/Date/Coconut Chewies in the pan, all warm and yummy

Orange/Date/Coconut Chewies in the pan, all warm and yummy

So, the storm stormed away outside, and I did my thing in the kitchen, totally into the groove of Christmas, connecting with my Mom, and baking delicious treats. And, then it was time to go meet Cate for dinner. Having not listened to ANY media, and having only the view from my windows to go on, I pictured a city blanketed quietly in snow, shut down to all activity, peaceful. Feeling a somewhat nostalgic, romanticized mood, I thought that walking across the downtown core for dinner would be a swell idea, especially if I took my camera. A city peacefully asleep under snow, is what I pictured in my mind’s eye. I bundled up and jammed my camera in my pocket.

Like New York, this city does not sleep, especially on the Friday evening the week before Christmas, snow or no.

Street Corner in SnowStorm

Street Corner in Snow Storm

Snowdrifts in Park

Snowdrifts in Queen's Park

Snow ... yup ... December in Toronto ...

Snow ... yup ... December in Toronto ...

I think this video, with the University of Toronto bells in the background, has a certain Edwardian quality to it. (That was for wizzy, if she is still reading The Handbasket.)

Snow diamonds

Snow diamonds

Tree framed by headlights

Tree framed by headlights

I made it over to Harbord House in surprisingly good time and we had a cosy little dinner, Cate and I. She threw her wool on the floor a lot while knitting and I don’t think you are supposed to do that. Here, she displays her latest work in progress.

Cate poses over dessert with partially finished hat

Cate poses over dessert with partially finished hat

The temperature dropped about 10 degrees while we were eating, I think. It was much colder when we left the restaurant then when we arrived. I walked down to College with Cate and we passed many sweetly decorated houses on the side street. I particularly liked this tree and, although it is hard to photograph Christmas lights, I think you get the idea.

Decorated Tree on Side Street

Decorated Tree on Side Street

(Why are there so few green Christmas lights? Inquiring minds want to know … )

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The hockey game was good fun, with a hard-won 1-1 tie. A hard-headed win, as it were, as I managed to whack my helmeted head pretty hard against someone else’s helmeted head. I appear to have all my faculties still. Thankfully, it was an early game as I had to rush home, shower, and head to a party! 🙂 Rhonda and Mary-Ann were hosting a Christmas gathering and, sadly, it sounds like a bunch of people wimped out due to weather and various flu and cold bugs that seemed to be cutting people down prior to Christmas. However, those of us who braved the elements were treated to marvelous food and great company. We even persuaded Mary-Ann to play the piano while carols were sung.

We were very well-behaved.

We were very well-behaved.

This was, in fact, almost two parties. I’m not sure you can see Party #2 taking place in the background here. The beautifully rendered lines of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “The First Noel” were punctuated by delighted giggling and shouts from Party #2, consisting of Rhonda, Don and MA’s four charming off-spring. A good time was had by all. 🙂

Sunday, December 21, 2008

First, another birthday party – this time a brunch. I had to whip up another batch of shortbreads for this …

Shortbreads, O/D/C chewies, Protein Peanut Butter Balls (by me); Vegan Sesame Chewie Cookies by Karen C.

Shortbreads, O/D/C chewies, Protein Peanut Butter Balls (by me); Vegan Sesame Chewie Cookies by Karen C.

Christmas birthdays are hard. My Mom’s birthday was December 24 and I remember her day always getting swept under the carpet. I think Moms’ birthdays do, anyway, as they are usually the ones in charge of remembering everyone else’s birthday – who is in charge of remembering hers? Well, Bev was the birthday girl, and birthday mom, on December 21 and we celebrated!

Birthday Fest!

Birthday Fest!

Sometimes, cake must be subdued.

Sometimes, cake must be subdued.

Possibly the last healthy food I ate until New Year's!

Possibly the last healthy food I ate until New Year

Next, I had to re-stock some baking supplies. I’ve found a terrific small-chain bulk store for this at Pape/Danforth. It is a bit messy and disorganized, but the young people who work there (they all look about 12) seem to know their stuff. It is called Strictly Bulk, on Danforth, North Side, just West of Pape.

It seemed that my friend Nancy, a.k.a. Trix, was going to arrive from Ottawa by bus much later than originally anticipated. I had thought she might enjoy the Kensington Winter Solstice Festival of Lights, followed by Chinese food with friends. Alas, the bus strike in Ottawa, and adverse weather, all conspired to make her later than she anticipated. So, it was on to Kensington to meet-up with LA, friends and wee ones. The meeting-up happened but the solstice did not. Or rather, I’m sure that solstice occurred because, well, it just does. But the Kensington solstice event did not. Why it did not remains a mystery.

Chinese food DID happen, with much joy and rapture, as per usual.

Mmm ... Chinese Food! And reflective tape!

Mmm ... Chinese Food! And reflective tape!

Gin and solstice and chinese food ... a potent combo

Gin and solstice and chinese food ... a potent combo

Someone in the crowd at the solstice non-event slipped me a bottle with some gin and lemonade in it. It would have been rude to turn it down, of course. And, I’m Canadian and NEVER rude …

House of Gourmet

House of Gourmet

Mmmm ... House of Gourmet BBQ Pork

Mmmm ... House of Gourmet BBQ Pork

Mmmm ...

Mmmm ...

House of Gourmet

House of Gourmet

After dropping folks off at various spots in the core, I beatled back to the bus station to wait for Trix, thinking she’d be about another 45 minutes and that I could amuse myself for that time period.

It was cold and damp. It was an hour and a half before the bus pulled in. Felt like three hours, my legs all restless, alternatively twitchy and crampy. I’ve never been so glad to see a greyhound bus in my life.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Trix and I designated this as another baking day, along with some decorating. I needed some pastry for the future tortiere so we worked on that first.

Le Pastry Chef

La Pastry Chef

The smiling pastry chef

The smiling pastry chef

Then, I got to making some of Grandma’s Cookies, which is how my brothers and I refer to them. Grandma’s Cookies could also be called “kitchen sink cookies” because they have a bit of everything in them, from corn flakes to candied fruit to pecans to coconut. These are my brother David’s ulitmate cookie Nirvana and it was my plan to present him with some to take home on Christmas Day. It chokes me up a bit when I see my Mom’s recipe card for this which does not read Grandma’s Cookies. It reads “Mom’s Cookies”.

Takes much licking, keeps on ticking

Takes much licking, keeps on ticking

Behold, my Mom’s vintage 1950’s MixMaster. It still knows how to make cookies!!! It is impossible to estimate how many batches of cookies, cake batter, potatoes, and a myriad of other concoctions have been whipped together by this machine over about a 40 year period. Still works. When I was big enough, it was my job to set it up and use it. I still have a scar on my left index finger from the time that I plugged it in without checking to see that it was turned off and my hand got chomped in the beaters. Ow. I think I was about 10.

After baking, Trix and I sorted through decorations and tarted the place up a bit, including placing the cedar boughs over the door and on the “mantel” of the fireplace. Can a drywall box be called a “mantel”?

I dropped Trix back off at the bus station in the late afternoon – a short but sweet visit. It was then time for a pre-emptive visit to the gym.

I tried to take photos of the fireplace but, again, it is hard to capture the glow of the lights and the fire with no tripod and a rather limited piece of equipment.

No flash, no ambient light

No flash, no ambient light



Ambient light, no flash

Ambient light, no flash

Flash, ambient light

Flash, ambient light

Monday night was “tortiere filling prep” night and it was a divine way to spend my time, the smell of all those spices filling my place and, I’m told, the hallway outside my door and my neighbour’s place as well.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I FINALLY made it to Tuesday morning shinny and it was a blast. I had every intention of attending the Christmas shinny brunch that followed but, alas, my penchant for panicking over simple household matters chose that moment to rear its head. Long story. I didn’t make it to brunch.

I did, however, manage to pick up most, but not all, that I needed for the rest of this food-crazed holiday, including a 19 lb free range, organic, non-medicated, non-hormoned, non-GMO, etc. etc. turkey. I think this creature attended Montesori and spoke seven languages before they snuffed it.

More baking and cooking followed, along with several re-arrangements of the fridge to fit everything in.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

This was my primary “veggie prep day” yet, I needed guitar strings and cheesecloth. When a girl needs guitar strings and cheesecloth, stormy icyness and snow squalls cannot stop her. Veggies can wait.

This was the morning that the City of Toronto called to confirm, absolutely, that they owed me a refund on my taxes. Not only that, they didn’t really require the paperwork they asked for before. Merry Christmas, me! Furthermore, the store where I bought my last telephone headset honoured their warranty to replace the headset regardless of what happens to it. Even though I’d tossed the headset three weeks ago and was supposed to bring it in. Hey – Santa brought me a new headset for Christmas! 🙂

This was such a fun morning of errands. Feeling rather jaunty after my phone call with the City, I headed out with my Santa hat on. This made everyone smile. I had a huge list of errands – drop off cookies to my weight loss team (some kinda irony there …), LCBO, dollar store, electronics store, guitar string store, grocery store … and it all went smoothly and with a lot of that Christmas-y smiling at/with strangers kind of interaction. I’m glad I left a few things to the last moment. Found parking everywhere, paid for none of it, found Every Single Thing I needed in the dollar store, and chatted with at least half a dozen strangers in the grocery store.

Then, in the afternoon, it was serious veggie prep time. Chop cauliflower. Trim broccoli. Peel/boil potatos. Peel/boil turnip. Roast garlic. Mash turnip/potatos/garlic yogurt together. Press into baking dish and seal with cling wrap. I opted to take a short-cut with the carrots and just make due with baby carrots.

I left the tortiere assembly to the end. This was a mistake because it was now, oh, 4:30 or 5 and I was due at Gail and Sonja’s at 6:30 for Christmas Eve dinner.  I had taken the pastry out of the fridge, the pastry Trix had so lovingly prepared a few days earlier. The stuff looked and felt perfect – for all the world, perfect pastry. Trix has made pastry for me before so she knows what she is doing. Either I left it in the fridge too long, or I simply lack my Mom’s pastry “chi”, but I could not get that stuff to roll out. No way, no how. I did manage to get a layer of pastry in the bottom of each pie plate but they each looked like they’d been through a war. In trying to get it right, I added water drops, creating an instant glutenous mass. I then tried to balance with flour which, in my frustration, I spilled all over the counter and floor. I tried not to look at the clock.

Giving up at about 5:30 and now dangerously close to running late, I dashed upstairs to shower off the flour in my hair, after checking with Rabba’s to see if they carried frozen pie crust. The man with the undefinable accent wasn’t sure what I meant by pie crust exactly, but was 100% certain that he carried it. Right.

Off to Gail and Sonja’s for a gorgeous evening that included prime rib, asparagus, and squash.

Mmmmm ... balsamic glaze ... mmmm

Mmmmm ... balsamic glaze ... mmmm

The hostess with the mostest!

The hostess with the mostest!

There was a lovely cranberry fruit pudding/cakey delight for dessert, with a caramel sauce. I took great pleasure in demonstrating that it is possible to set your dessert on fire with either Canadian Club or Jamaican Rum. Sadly, there is no photographic evidence of this demonstration, but there were witnesses.

And, there was still the matter of the tortiere pie crust to resolve. The gang at dinner were all going to the MCCT service and I was more than happy to offer them a lift to Roy Thompson Hall. They assured me, before we left the neighbourhood, that the tiny-looking Mom/Pop store at the corner would have frozen pie crust. I admit, I was skeptical as I picked my way carefully through the icily treacherous sidewalk path to Stephen’s Convenience. Not only did Stephen’s have pie crust in the quantity that I required, they had – as a back-up – pie crust mix in a box! I bought it all, no longer leaving anything to chance. I was clearly so relieved the lovely woman gave me a small poinsetta plant as a Christmas Eve gift.

What a lovely day that was!

Thursday, December 25, 2008 – Christmas Day!

I was up and on my feet by about 8:30, with a long list of things to do. Tortiere to assemble. Stuffing to make. Turkey to “dress” (what a funny term) and get in the oven. Chairs to fetch from the amenity room with my illegal key. 🙂 Last minute decorating and cleaning up. Boxes to shove into closets to make room for the family to descend. I decided that I was going to eat enough that day, and nibble enough throughout the food prep, that I wouldn’t eat a proper meal until Christmas dinner. This was probably a mistake as when Ben arrived around 2:00 p.m., I was starving. He brought a bag of kettle corn (sweet and salty popcorn) and I put out some of the appetizer cheeses, olives and dips and we fell into it all.

I’m not sure how to summarize this day other than to say that the stuff that I expected to go “wrong” didn’t (family stuff) and the stuff that I have much confidence in and had prepared for did not go off as I’d wish. The oven didn’t heat up as much as I would have wished and the turkey took too long. The veggies couldn’t go into the oven until the turkey was out … the whole meal took longer and, in spite of my best efforts, didn’t get coordinated to be all ready at the same time.

Other than the bulk of the family being late and arriving in many more vehicles than I could have anticipated, it was so nice to see them. Seriously. Nieces and nephews have grown into interesting, three dimensional people. Nephew’s dog is a cutie. Both brothers’ were helpful and respectful. Sis-in-law, as always, a delight. Lots of chatter and such a high degree of comfort. Wow – very nice indeed. No one will remember the turkey issues.

After all that work, the tortiere was a hit. (phew) Both brothers, sis-in-law and a niece interested in the recipe.

The traditional (I’m serious) family poker game broke out after dinner, over mincemeat pie and apple pie. There was no clear winner, we each seem to hold our own, but my nephew Wes seem to rake in quite a haul in the last hand.

I hope my brother David sends me some of the photos from the dinner as I had my hands a bit too full to manage snapping shots. Given the look on his face when I handed him his box of Grandma’s cookies, I think he might make the effort.

Seems to me I managed to finish cleaning up all but the roasting pan by about 1:00 a.m.

Friday, December 26, 2008 – Boxing Day!

In the UK, the serious celebration and socializing day is Boxing Day. Everyone goes out, not necessarily shopping, just out visiting and, in our case when I visited the cousins, strolling the pier and the boardwalk along the shore. I seem to have captured a bit of this because I tend to want to have people over on Boxing Day as well. This year, I invited people for a Boxing Day leftover open house/drop-in featuring “no forced conversation”! As many as 25 – 30 people indicated an interest in coming by with their leftovers (yikes) meaning I had to do some serious re-arranging of furniture. However, a few seemed to get way-laid and, in fact, it was more like me and 15 people in total and that was perfect. What a nice evening! Except for the part where I did try to burn the place down a few times with candles. Oops. No permanent damage done, although one wall may need a wee bit of re-painting after I remove the wax. ’til then, nice evidence of a swell party, si?

So many tarts, so little time ...

So many tarts, so little time ...

And not a chocolate cake in sight!

And not a chocolate cake in sight!

Getting suited up for the evening

Getting suited up for the evening

... with some helpers ...

... with some helpers ...

Almost done!

Almost done!

I’m hard-pressed to explain why a coconut bra carries the spirit of Christmas, but you’ll have to trust me that it does.

I lost my picture taking momentum right about here and failed to snap shots of Jan, Ruth, Rhonda, Mary-Ann, Kristin, Catherine, Brandon, Cory and Danielle and Andrew. Nor did I capture the candle holder going up in flames, or the chorus of mmmm everytime someone tried tortiere for the first time, or sampled one of Kristin’s brownies. I note that god’s refrigerator still contains rather a lot of mix.

Boxing Day wound up the “official” Christmas stuff that I’d planned for and, not surprisingly, at the end of the evening, I found myself back in the kitchen again. Apparently, I am somewhat rooted there.

Which, it seems, is an ok place for me to be. :-)

Which, it seems, is an ok place for me to be. 🙂

I hope everyone’s Christmas has turned out as delighfully as mine. I thought I’d feel out of sorts without a big trip or a really “big” event planned but, to the contrary, I’m totally “at one” with this holiday season. Brilliant. Now – what am I going to do with all this food and mix?!?

Phew 2 comments

I forgot about the mid-term thing that happens to instructors each semester. In addition to keeping up with class prep and general administrative stuff related to teaching, there is usually a boatload of papers, assignments and mid-term tests that all seem to arrive at the same time. You can try to plan it out differently, but it always seems to happen that there is a time crunch in the middle of term. You can't ask more of students earlier, in terms of major assignments, as they are just getting their feet under them. You really have to get some work in, assessed, graded and returned to them so they know where to improve before the end of term. As of last night, I'm done with the bulk of it. I'm behind on a few things but that will get all caught up by the end of the day today.

I've had several weeks of practically no unstructured time at all. Even my social engagements have been blocked in as has prep time to cook for friends, which I'm always thrilled to do. I love that so much. So, I don't mean to say that "no unstructured time" = "no fun". It has had to be calculated, planned-for fun. And there has been plenty of it, I'm happy to say.

But if I don't get some time to putter around my house, write, stare out the window, sip my coffee, listen to CBC, blog, write some more … I'm going to bust a vessel in some critical place, I swear.

Here is my new favourite lamb curry recipe. I have no idea if it is "low fat" but it doesn't use any coconut milk or other dangerously thigh-busting ingredients. The "rich" taste comes from cooking down apples, raisins, onions and lemons. (I always use more onions than called for, and I always buy the "sweet" onions, even for cooking.) Here is my new "standard" channa masala, which appears to be vegan. I love the vagueness of some of the measurements here – It really does mimic how I cook. I made this Baked Seitan from a recipe right here off Method's Vox blog about vegan cooking, and it totally rocked, although I don't recommend it in a curry. As happens in the blogosphere, I have no idea who this person is, but she takes photographs of vegan food that make this omnivore think twice. And her recipes rock. 

I think I'm going to spend a chunk of this winter learning how to make better curries, although the folks who have sampled the lamb seemed pretty pleased with my efforts. I think I can do better, especially if I can find more "low-fat" recipes.

Because I forgot about the mid-term thing, I booked a bunch of social stuff into these last few weeks. I wouldn't change any of it … might spread it out a little more next time. 🙂 This past weekend was a big "foodie" weekend, as was the weekend previously …

Thursday night, late after class: Shopping for cooking projects. I was the woman staggering out of Bulk Barn at 10:00 p.m. carrying items I only vaguely understood how to use. Like "nutritional yeast". What the hell is that?

Friday: Cooking curries, baked seitan, vegan meat loaf … almost all day.

Friday night: Ethiopian Food with Jan. I really want to book their coffee ceremony sometime. The place smells so invitingly of frankencense and other spices. A really cosy, yummy spot.

Saturday morning: Breakfast with Cate, which is alway a treat. We restricted ourselves to poached eggs and eschewed, rather than chewed, breakfast meats. So well behaved, we were.

(Insert frantic grading and house-cleaning here)

Saturday evening: The long-promised home cooked vegetarian meal for the Woman With Beautiful Arms (WWBA). This followed me being put through my paces at the gym as I too wish to acquire beautiful arms. I hope chick peas have sufficient requisite protein for muscle repair.

Sunday morning: After another frantic cleaning / grading session, I joined a group of dim sum lovers at the Bright Pearl on Spadina for a total dim sum blow-out.

(Insert further grading, final food prep and frantic ironing here.)

Sunday evening: The long promised curry dinner for R and M-A. Freddie was a most excellent hostess and made her guests feel right at home.

Monday morning: Get up at 5:45 a.m. to do some power skating.

Just had to throw that last one in … 🙂

Somehow, after all that food, I managed to weigh in yesterday at my lowest all-time weight since starting to focus on weight loss, and I lost 1.25 inches off my waist in a week, which is a bit shocking.

There isn't a single item I would change or trade in the above itinerary – loved it all. Having so many terrific, amazing and beautiful people in my life is such a blessing and makes me very happy. What I excluded here was discussion of the time commitment to my dog, who has been with me for most of October, and the management of a new client that I took on earlier this month. I think I need a breather. 🙂

(Note to Readers: The Handbasket, i.e. this blog, will shortly be moved to a new home, after two years of cozy comfort here at Vox. The link to the new home will be made available when the switch is all set up, likely within the next few weeks. I hope you will join me there!)

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Planning To Fall Off The Wagon 4 comments

Here is a partial list of the foods I plan to eat in my birthday week, starting with Jeffmas on Sept. 27: 

  • KFC (one piece only – that stuff'll kill ya … )
  • Big Mac
  • Pasta with blue cheese, asparagus, shrimp and pancetta
  • Indian Food @ Trimurti
  • Blue cheese on anything (everything?)
  • Ace bakery baguette with some kind of crumbly old cheese (probably not the whole baguette …)
  • Bacon
  • Sausage (the good stuff)
  • Portuguese Custard Tart
  • Dark chocolate
  • Peanut Butter Cookies from Tim Horton's
  • Cake, preferably chocolate, with icing
  • Butter cookies from Kaivalya
  • A cheesy croissant
  • If Lex were to volunteer gnocchi,  I wouldn't turn'em down.

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What to Eat / Not Eat 4 comments

Haven't posted much about food lately. I'm such a foodie. This diet is killing me. Sigh. So I've been both bad and good this weekend.

Bad: Pizza from Magic Oven. OK so not "bad", actually so very very good. This one is the Gourmet Meaty Pizza (proscuitto and some other stuff, artichoke hearts, garlic spinach, two kind of cheese) and I had them add roasted red peppers. Mmmm …


Between the beer, pizza and GlenLivet … I was up three pounds the next day. Damn. 🙂

Good: Sunday a.m. Breakfast.

Two eggs scrambled with cottage and mozzarella cheese, spinach, red peppers, mushrooms and onions. Sliced fresh tomato with fresh basil, kosher salt and drizzled with aged Italian balsamic. Guatamalan fair trade organic coffee with stevia (the other white powder from Columbia) and hazelnut "real" cream.

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Food Meme II 3 comments

Venus' Silly Food Meme II: Name strange food pairings or combos that shouldn't go together, but actually do work marvelously together. I'll start …

1. Salt AND sugar (carmelized) on popcorn.

2. Potato chips as crunchy condiment interiors to sandwiches. (Something I discovered in elementary school but found that some of my friends also used to do this.)

3. Any kind of fruit jam on scrambled eggs.

Aside: Do you think I'm being drawn towards food memes because of my diet? 😉

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Food Meme 5 comments

Venus' Silly Food Meme: Name as many food pairings as you can that would not, under any circumstances, be a good pairing during a meal. As individual items, you must actually like each member of the food pairing but together … eeuuww!

1. Cheddar cheese and bean sprouts. (A friend experimented with this in high school. Euw!)

2. Sushi and dark chocolate.

3. Dill pickles and ice cream. (This from a woman who has never been pregnant.)

Can you make my list longer?

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Pho 911 1 comment

I made a significant contribution to the Canadian economy last Friday. First, B and I headed off for a field trip to Scarborough, complete with a stop at Federick's, Toronto's greatest Haka Chinese restaurant. After a brief debate with the owner about whether Egg Foo Young should have dollops of oyster sauce (me = yes, Simon = no!), we headed off to Kitchen Stuff Plus for a minor consumer orgy as we rummaged through their January sales. I found so many deals that B had to help me load it all into my place when we got home.

Later in the evening, M and I headed out on the "let's get Venus in some decent jeans" mission. For our shopping pleasure, we headed to Yorkdale mall. Neither of us are mall rats, and they keep renovating the place, so we got thoroughly lost a few times. We had a stop at Jean Machine, the kind of store I NEVER set foot in. I didn't buy anything there, but I must have tried on 100 pairs of jeans – all cut for someone who is 14 and doesn't mind showing the top of her butt to the world. I mind, what with me no longer being 14. I need to say that although the clothing in this store was not age, or style, appropriate for me, the staff rocked and were determined to find something that would appeal to the old fart wincing in the change booth. At one point, there were three staff members slinging jeans over the top of the booth.

Finally we wound up at Cotton Ginny, a much more appropriate choice, where M convinced me to try on the size 16. I am grateful.

When M and I go out on a Friday adventure, we often wind up at Xe Lua, a Vietnamese Pho place on Spadina. We had planned to do exactly that, however, Xe Lua seems to have disappeared. For many, this comprises a Pho 911.  We wound up at Hello, Saigon (formerly Miss Saigon). This was a treat and proves that one should venture off the well-worn path once in a while. This restaurant appears to be owned by a husband and wife who are somewhat English-challenged but certainly not enthusiasm challenged. They really want to you like their food. Happily, that isn't difficult. The mango salad rolls were yummy and unusual and the Pho was rich and infused with an extra dash of five spice powder.

M is on the same eating discipline as me and likes to try to order her noodle soup with no noodles. This proves to be an interesting exercise if the person taking the order has limited English. Who goes out for Pho with no pho? How could someone with limited English understand that the customer doesn't want noodles in their noodle soup? Not surprisingly, after a lengthy ordering discussion involving lots of smiling, nodding and hand gestures, M's soup arrived with noodles. M wasn't about to complain or send it back as the fragrance of the soup drew us both in. Very nice broth and a generous serving. I need to say that the server, Husband, was sweet and charming and clearly wanted us to enjoy our restaurant experience. In addition to the food, I think he is one of the restaurant's greatest assets.

Rumour has it that Xe Lua is re-opening on the second floor of the same building … anyone know? Wherever they re-appear, they may have to go way over the top to earn our Friday night Pho business from Hello Saigon.

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