Monday, December 31, 2012

whipped lemon shortbread cookies

Shortbread has to be one of the most perplexing cookie recipes I've ever come across. It's so simple with the fancy butter, good flour and sugar. So complicated once you change up the sugar, add cornstarch and other garbage. Also, given that in the end there's only a small handful of ingredients it's also so easily messed up. Too much flour (or even sugar) and things get crusty and crumbly and dry. Not enough and the dough won't do anything.

Once you do get the texture right, then you have to contend with the fact that shortbread has very little taste in and of itself and needs to have something added for flavour. I'm a little lazy with flavours today, to be honest, and just felt like going with something simple and bright: lemon. Granted, the lemon can be replaced with any citrus, really. I do a lot of lemon desserts, though, and maybe I should stop. They're just all so good.

This recipe for whipped shortbread, adapted from allrecipes.com is one of the dead simplest I've ever come across. As long as the butter's nice and soft when you start this is all easily done in a mixer and the hardest bit is portioning out the cookies. It's not quite my family recipe but it's a pretty damned good one.

Whipped Lemon Shortbread

Ingredients (for the cookies)
  • 1 cupbutter, softened
  • zest of 1 lemon
Ingredients (for the glaze)
  • juice & zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, combine butter, flour, lemon zest and confectioners' sugar. With an electric mixer, beat for 10 minutes, occasionally scraping the bowl down until the dough comes together in a clumpy ball.
  3. Spoon onto cookie sheets, spacing cookies 2 inches apart.
  4. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the bottoms of the cookies are lightly browned.
  5. While the first tray bakes, put together your glaze. Mix the lemon juice, zest and the icing sugar together until the sugar fully dissolves in the liquid. If the consistency is too thick for your tastes, add a little more lemon juice or water. If it's too thin just add more icing sugar a spoonful or so at a time.
  6. Remove from oven, and let cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies on to wire rack.
  7. Drizzle the lemon glaze overtop the cookies and allow to cool and set for about 10 minutes before transferring to storage or serving trays.

Monday, December 24, 2012

why Christmas is my favourite holiday

Four years ago today I walked into my next door neighbour's home and met the rest of my life. Since then, Christmas has become my favourite holiday of all.

I don't know if I've ever revealed here the fact that meeting Bunny was love at first sight for me. Although I'd known of him for fifteen years (being that I knew his family well), he'd only actually lived next door for about eight months when I was eight years old, and we'd never had an actual conversation. I probably hadn't seen him at all in the ten years before he became my everything.

In the years since the only way I can describe meeting Bunny is this: pure magic. There was a literal shift that I felt inside myself, there were stars in my vision and a knowledge with absolute certainty that this man was the person I would spend the rest of my life with. The axis that my universe was on reoriented itself to accomodate him. I still can't entirely accurately explain that evening.

The next day I remember talking to a friend in utter disbelief and telling her that I had just met the man I would marry. I went back to school and had the same conversation with other close friends and was met with the response of: who are you and what have you done with the Sheryl we know? Treating a relationship, or a potential relationship, with any sense of seriousness was out of character for me.

Before Bunny I never believed in love at first sight. I didn't even particularly believe in romantic love in general. That moment changed everything.

I'll be taking the next few days off to spend time with family and cherish the time we have together. Hopefully your holidays are as wonderful as I anticpate mine being.

Friday, December 21, 2012

review: The Magician King

After reading Lev Grossman's The Magicians I was left feeling just a tiny bit underwhelmed. Shouldn't a book that has a more adult take on the subject matter of Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia be a little more amazing? I mean, adult there was in the characters and the emotional tones of the book and even the sex scenes, but it didn't spark me like I'd hoped it would. Still, I was pretty sure I would pick up the sequel.

I'm glad I did. The second novel in the trilogy seemed somehow more involved, had more depth and complexity. Maybe it was the fact that the magical world had already been introduced and didn't need to be built? But oh, this book was much better by far.

At first I found the main storyline, Quentin's story, which alternately took place in Fillory and our wold to be somewhat underwhelming compared to the flash backward plotline of Julia, Quentin's pre-Brakebills friend. Watching her story unfold - how she became a magician through back channels and fought and fought for her powers and existence was much more compelling than Quentin's education had been, or what felt like meandering with no direction in the main plotline. Julia's story, start to end, is probably the single most compelling plotline in the book.

The real time storyline, following Quentin, did not engage me much at first.
About halfway through the book it started to really strengthen and built up a lot of momentum. Fillory is just, well, boring. Intentionally so, I think, and the way this plot point makes you think of things is quite well thought out. The grass is always greener, right?  There's a beautiful tension here, illustrated in the character of Quentin himself about what we should want in life, what magic means, and how the world can fulfill our needs. Just because we chase or yearn after something with the thought that it will fulfill us doesn't mean that attainment fulfills us. Lifestyle inflation, magic form right there.

New and old characters are introduced here, with great and ill effect. The characters in the Julia storyline all exist for no other reason than to propel her character forward. Perhaps the best character in the book though was a new one: Poppy. Throughout the book I liked her more and more, though at the end of the book she makes a decision that is just so completely out of character that I don't know what to make of it.

The storyline with Penny and the Neitherlands, which really doesn't start to come into play until later in the book is perhaps the most intriguing. I don't want to go too into detail because I think you should read the book, but it really gets into the magic system of Grossman's world and in some ways I find the Neitherlands to be more "magical" than Fillory itself. Or at least more interesting.

This is apparently book two in a three book trilogy and it's very clearly set up that way. Even the ending isn't really an ending, which is fine by my reckoning because I'm genuinely interested in what comes next.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

quilting: the quilt top

Finally (finally!) I have a finished quilt top. Last night I put in the last seam, took out a couple of pins and breathed in a big sigh of relief. Then I fluffed it over Bunny (who had already crawled into bed to watch tv) to show off. The quilt top is done.

I've got this huge feeling of accomplishment in my heart. This is a project I've been dreaming about for years and just getting to this stage has been almost three months in the making.

I made it a somewhat awkward size. It just barely covers a double bed, with no extra width to hang over the edges. That's ok though, because this one was just for the pure joy of learning to quilt. Seeing how things have turned out, there are some parts of the design I'd do differently next time, like putting in square corners if I did sashing again. I'd also make the sashing narrower in comparison to the quilt blocks (the pink is kind of taking over the quilt, and I'd really been aiming for more of an even split of pink/black/silver). I'd also make an effort to work out at least a rough outline of pattern and size before hand, so I know exactly how big I'm planning on making, how much work it is to get it that big, and so I can buy all my fabric for the top at once. The dye lot difference I ran into with one of my patterns rather sucked.

It feels crazy to be done this bit. There's still tons to do to finish the quilt, but with the top pieced I feel like the biggest bit of the project is done. All the fussing over seam allowances and super straight lines. No more pinning tiny squares and cramped fingers.

Today I'm taking a break from quilting. Taking a day or two to just bask in the fact that this part is done and do a little prep work for the next step (ironing, measuring, all that lovely stuff).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

lemon pound cake

This lemon cake has been months in the making. It's a recipe I've used before, adapted from the Smitten Kitchen recipe (in turn taken from Ina Garten) and it may be one of the best pound cakes I've ever had. It's a dense crumb with just the right hint of moistness to the whole thing and has a more intense lemony taste than almost any lemon cake I've ever had, barring those filled with lemon curd.

As it happens, lemon pound cake is actually Bunny's favourite, so I'd been fielding requests for this cake for ages. I'd tried to sneak in lemon cupcakes, but apparently they did not count. So the other week when his birthday rolled around I dragged my tired bum home from work and whipped out the KitchenAid, because clearly this was the only cake that would do. While it doesn't scream "birthday" it does scream "Bunny" and the fact is he's not a huge fan of layer cakes and frosting of any sort.

My alterations on this recipe are fairly simple, and the result of two factors I'm a little embarrassed about. First there's the change from buttermilk to regular milk combined with lemon juice which is sheerly a matter of my being unwilling to buy buttermilk. (I mean it's not even a byproduct of making butter anymore, it's all cultured. I just can't get behind that.) Second there's the fact that every time I've made this recipe I have misread the directions involving sugar, which has necessitated both a change in how I've listed the ingredients, and an adjustment of some amounts. Even with the extra sugar in my version, this recipe is by no means sweet.

The caveat mentioned in the Smitten Kitchen introduction still stands, however. The lemon syrup simply does not absorb easily, and it is necessary. Dribbling the syrup over the cake was one of the most labour intensive parts of this recipe as I had to keep it to a barely-there trickle to allow it to absorb.

If you're more fancy than me, you might make a lemon glaze to drizzle over top, or serve this with some sweet jam (I think raspberry would be lovely). If you're feeding a Bunny though, you'll leave this right as is. It's pretty darn amazing that way.

Intense Lemon Pound Cake

Ingredients:
For the cake:
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • zest of 6-8 large lemons (as it happened, I only had four lemons on hand this time and the cake still turned out beautifully, but I do like the more intense lemon of the 6-8)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the syrup:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350*F. Grease two loaf pans and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, add the lemon juice to the milk and set aside. The combination together is remarkably like "buttermilk" as sold nowadays. When you're ready to use the milk mixture it may be a little bit, uh, chunky, but don't worry too much about that. As long as the milk was fresh to begin with you are golden.
  3. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes in the mixer.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing between each addition. Add the vanilla and lemon zest, and mix until the yellow bits are evenly distributed. If you're using a mixer you will want to stop and scrape down the bowl once or twice at this point.
  5. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  6. Add about 1/4 of your flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mix and stir to incorporate. Next add 1/3 of the milk and lemon juice mixture, stirring to incorporate. Continue alternating the flour and the milk mixes until everything is combined.
  7. Divide batter evenly among cake pans and bake for 55-65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the top comes out clean.
  8. While cakes are baking, combine the sugar and lemon juice for the syrup in a small saucepan. Over low heat let the sugar dissolve into the juice. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from the heat.
  9. When cakes are done, let cool for about 5 minutes.
  10. Slowly drizzle the lemon syrup over the cakes. You'll want to have either a very slow drizzle to allow things to absorb. If any extra syrup pools in the corners don't worry too much; it will absorb into the sides of the cake.
  11. Eat, enjoy. (Possibly after a disgustingly large "dirty burger" or pulled pork sandwich)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

wanting the babies, now

I talk less about the fact that I want to have a baby than I do about the fact that I had a miscarriage. The miscarriage is a done deal, now it's just dealing with the physical and emotional aftermath. For me that's a million times easier than thinking about getting pregnant, and waiting to get pregnant, and trying to get pregnant. There's nothing I can do about that process (beyond what I'm already doing), so I've just got to let go and let life happen.

There are a lot of reasons why we want to have the babies now rather than later. But the fact is that while the chance to be a young mom has passed me by, I don't want to be an older mom having babies. I want to be done with making the babies in my early thirties. More than that, I want Bunny to be around for all the big milestones of their lives, if possible.

In some ways part of what hurt so much about the miscarriage was the fear that it took the possibility of being a young-ish mother away from me.

This article from a couple weeks back on Slate gets to a lot of what my fears are. Of course, if it took my seven years to have a baby I'd still want one (I think) and what's right for me and my family isn't what's right for anyone else.

Monday, December 17, 2012

hurting

I cannot remember the last time turning on the news on my tv made me cry. This weekend, every time I have even thought about what's on the news I have been in tears.

An elementary school. Children. An adult went out of his way to kill other people's babies and my heart is breaking for it.

I'm not very articulate on my feelings of the whole matter, other than the fact that this pains me more than I can say.

There are issues that I wanted to talk about, regarding guns, gun safety, and gun control but I don't have the ability to calmly make my case right now. What I will say is this: all the gun safety education in the world doesn't stop someone who has the intent of going on a shooting spree; the only thing that effects that is controlling the access to guns.

Today my heart hurts. Today I'm sad that access to a deadly weapon is so easily obtained. Today I'm hurt that people in the world have so little respect for human life that they could destroy families and futures and take away the innocence and lives of children.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

lagging (the eternal to do list)

This week it feels like I'm behind on everything. I'm tired and busy and my to do list is buzzing in the back of my head. There are so many things I want to do and get done but working nights for the week kind of makes my day seem useless.

I've still got to do something with all the financial data Bunny and I put together the other week, and I'm hunting for a few missing pieces. (Two specific bills did not make it onto this list, and they need to be there). The actual budget needs to be created, because while our current spending is well below our income there's a lot of improvements we could make, I just need to get the system together.

Then there's the mess that is the marriage certificate I have yet to send away for, that I finally can send away for. As in the piece of paper that I need to officially begin the name change process, which we're planning on doing before we open a joint account. (And I have to take a look at our accounts, interest rates and monthly fees to figure out what we need in an account - luckily Bunny's cousin works at our bank, so she'll help me out with that one.) Then there's the whole "change my name" which is a boatload of paperwork.

Those are the big things. Then there's the little things, like the two book reviews I've yet to write up here and some design updates I keep promising myself that I will get to soon and that I've yet to touch. There's the baking projects I want to tackle (like those caramels, that just won't leave my brain).

Christmas shopping is still looming in my future, and I hate to admit December has hit and I haven't even started. Hopefully by the time this post goes live I'll have something done. I just can't decide what to get Bunny, and my mom and brother are hard to buy for.

And there's the next step on project quilting. I'm about an hour's worth of stitching or less away from finishing the quilt top, and I've got some shopping I'll need to do this weekend to get started on the actual quilting (I still need to pick up the batting and some quilter's pins, but that's easy enough). I'm also working on finalizing the design for the baby quilt that I'm starting next; I have it mostly figured out and I think it's largely going to be a pinwheel design, it's just figuring out sizing and details and finalizing fabric choices. I may start in on the baby quilt before I'm actually done the first one, just because I'm nervous about timing. It needs to be done before the baby is here, you know?

All of this of course leaves little to no time for a social life, and I'm trying to work that back into things. It's hard being so far from my friends.

Today about all that's going to happen is work, and maybe laundry. Hopefully this weekend I won't feel so behind.

Friday, December 14, 2012

the birthday that wasn't

Poppa Bunny's birthday passed very recently. He would have been 68. It's still hard to believe sometimes that he's not with us anymore. It seems so unfair that he didn't even get to see what 68 looked like. That he didn't get to be here for either of his babies getting married. That he's not around to see the magic the family's up to right now.

For the last few months, Poppa Bunny's death for me has been inextricably linked with my miscarriage. Those losses share an anniversary and some difficult emotional ties and I have a very hard time separating them from each other. It's been a long time since I've been able to feel grief for one without being a little overwhelmed by the other.

Poppa Bunny's birthday though is all him. We had a small birthday dinner, just the immediate family, for him. My mother in law wasn't going to, originally, but Bunny brought the idea up and a family friend stopped by with a surprise gift of some venison. It's a little crazy how thinking about a dead deer makes me tear up for him. But that's a big part of who Poppa Bunny was.

Today I can't stop thinking about the last time I saw Poppa Bunny before the stroke, before he died. It was Mother's Day, and we'd come up to take our momma's on a joint dinner out. After hugging goodbye, before I left, I tugged one of his socks off.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

bailey's butterscotch blondies

This recipe? I'd been dreaming about it for weeks. I can't always make brownies, even though they really are my go to baking project. Especially when I'm so unwilling to use any other brownie recipe, and I'm making the same old same old. Last time I made brownies I started dreaming of these. Deep butterscotch flavour, laced with just enough Bailey's to give it an edge. Not quite a brownie, but the same lovely crinkle crust on the top, and a similar gooeyness in the centre.

The process for making these is the same as brownies, nearly. Add in a few minutes to brown the butter, take out the chocolate and it's the same. I ventured out with the recipe here, trying one I found online just tinkering with the instructions and ingredients a wee bit as the amount of brown sugar seemed a touch excessive.

These were a hands down hit. I took family votes and at least half of them prefer these to the brownies and I've already been begged to repeat the recipe.

Bailey's Butterscotch Blondies
adapted from SugarDuchess.com

Ingredients
  • 1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 shots (2 ounces) Bailey's liquer
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (not packed) all-purpose flour
Directions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350*F. Grease a 9x11 baking pan.
  2. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. When the butter is melted, continue to leave it over the heat, as we're going for browned butter here. Stirring occasionally, you're going to let the butter simmer lightly until it browns which will take about 5 to 10 minutes. The top of the butter is going to bubble and froth and will appear white. You'll need to stir things up to keep an eye on the liquid below, as it goes from a bright yellow to a deep caramel brown. In my experience just before the butter starts to properly brown you'll also notice a textural change in the foam at the top - it will become more dense with smaller bubbles. When you have a medium to deep brown colour of the melted butter underneath you're good to go.
  3. Add the brown sugar to the butter, stirring until the sugar fully melts into the butter. After about 2 minutes, remove the butter and sugar mixture from the heat.
  4. Let cool 5 minutes.
  5. Add vanilla and eggs, beating vigourously to combine. The longer you beat at this point, the better crust you'll get.
  6. Mix in the Bailey's!
  7. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, mixing until just combined.
  8. Transfer your blondie batter to your baking pan. The batter will be fairly thick here, but you should be able to push everything out to the edges and smooth down the top.
  9. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  10. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

constructing a married budget

I've started making some progress on this whole "budget" thing Bunny and I have been working on. Well really it's my show, I'm the dedicated money manager in the household. (Bunny's the dedicated dog walker - somehow I think I get the better deal.) So forward motion.

We finally have a picture of how we spend our money in a given month. Our expenses are fairly low, other than the truck and loan payments. We're spending more on wants than we probably should be but it's manageable and we both agree that right now as long as we are saving strong we need a bigger wants budget to help emotionally deal with living with my mom. Sometimes for us a dinner out is a necessity because it lets us spend some quality time away from everyone else in a way that we can't do at home.

Now we're on to the points of negotiation and compromise. We're trying to decide what expenses need their own budget and what expenses need to come out of just our allowances. Clothes, for example, are a tricky one. I've always bought clothes either out of my fun money or, very occasionally, my savings. But is it fair to either Bunny or I to spend our allowance on clothes for work? Or a winter jacket or boots when we don't have one? So clothes get a budget, though we're trying to figure out just what that should be and what clothes that includes. (A pair of reasonably priced winter boots, perhaps. But just the first pair.) There's the fact that I think some of our expenses are not very well thought out, and we both need to figure out ways to live on less.

Then it's decisions on how much to save, how much to put towards debt repayments, which debts to pay off first. We seem to have a pretty straightforward idea: get rid of the last vestiges of credit card debt (we each have a couple hundred dollars there, but nothing crippling), make the minimums on my student loans and save hard for a house. It's deciding how far to claw back our want budget when we don't have a lot of "needs" right now. And balancing the emotional aspect of that is hard, too.

We'll actually put together our numbers later on, but so far things are looking pretty promising. Essentially we're already living on one income even with our high wants, which means that we can put aside some hefty savings every month and that Bunny's freelance is all going to be gravy. I already had a suspicion that we were doing well, but the hard confirmation of that is nice.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

unwinding

This past weekend was a little busier than normal and with that I feel like I've had absolutely nothing done. Usually, when I have a full weekend off, Bunny and I try to keep our errands and social activities to one day and just relax and enjoy each other's company the other. This time? That didn't happen.

Saturday was busy with errands. We went looking for a winter coat for Bunny and winter boots for me, and while we didn't buy any we found some good contenders for both of us. We visited about half of the city. After that we went over to a cousin's for dinner, and we had an all night laugh along with the extended Rabbit family. (I also got a sneak peek in Bunny's aunt's craft stash, because we're really the only sewing crafts enthusiasts in the family. I'm also maybe getting an afghan made for me. I'm only a little excited about this.)

Sunday was, if anything, even more social. It's hard trying to fit in socializing when all your friends live an hour away by car, minimum (and I don't drive). So Bunny drove us in to Toronto and we split up to spend the day with our university roommates. Neither of us did anything fancy - just hanging out and recharging our friendships which was perfect.

With all that, though, by the time Monday rolled around not only was I exhausted but I felt like I hadn't done a single thing this weekend. I certainly hadn't touched either of the baking projects I've been lusting over (home made caramels, and bailey's butterscotch blondies - these both will be made soon). I'd thrown a load of laundry into the washer, but completely missed putting it in the dryer, so it needed to be done twice. I did get a little bit of sewing done on the quilt (I'm overwhelmed by how little is left to complete the quilt top) and a fair bit of reading.

It makes no sense that after having a busy weekend I feel utterly unaccomplished, but it's the truth. The quiet times are when I Get Things Done, and I just didn't have those this week. Luckily I have a mid-week day off to recharge. My plans are to do nothing (except all the quiet things).

Monday, December 10, 2012

I can has more boots?

I've got money on my mind, again, today. Don't I always? I finally have my hands on some hard data about our expenses and income over the course of the a month and I'll be spending part of the weekend plugging away at numbers and coming up with a budget to present to Bunny for us.

The other reason I've got money on the mind is all the snow on the ground lately. We had our first official snow squalls the other week and the roads and sidewalks are covered in several inches of white dust lately. The amount of snow we've got in the yard is unreal after half a decade of winters in Toronto and the Niagara region. With all this snow it's become apparent that I need more winter boots. Well, they're more of a want than a need, because I do have boots that will suffice for the winter.

I want nice winter boots though. Knee high leather riding style boots, well lined and waterproof. Something that's somewhat stylish while also being practical. Something like this or this (I have a Naturalizer outlet nearby, so at least I can get similar styles on the cheap). Boots that I can wear on the way to work and still not despise keeping on my feet once I arrive.

So I'm saving my pennies. Trying to keep my "fun money" purchases lower than usual so that I can carry over twenty or thirty dollars each paycheque and afford boots in a month or so. Part of the problem is of course that we haven't entirely figured out where new clothes fit in our budget right now - I've always taken that out of my own spending money, which has never been the case for Bunny, so we'll see how we figure that. As I said though, these boots are more wants than needs, so even if clothes come out of some other budget catagory this is a fun money splurge.

I don't mind spending big chunks of my fun money on splurge clothing items. I've done it before, from the first Coach purse that I bought after lusting over for a year to the latest boots and the orange leather jacket. Getting the payoff of something that I will want to wear for years is pretty awesome after saving for it. I love how it feels to buy something after wanting it for so long and saving for it. I enjoy the purchase, and the item, more for the wait. It also makes me determined to spend the money on something of a quality that I know will last - if I'm turning down fancy coffees and more books and lunch out for these things I want to enjoy them for years.

Maybe I have a little bit of a boots obsession, but I'm ok with that. I can't get away with sundresses in the winter so I need something to get excited about.

Friday, December 07, 2012

pasta casserole with carrots and peas

I've had this casserole craving lately, and it's strong enough that it can't be solved simply by mac and cheese. I feel the need to put all sort of different casseroles together, come up with new and exciting things and just keep eating casserole. This casserole isn't anything mindblowing, but it's definitely a great side dish. (If it weren't for Bunny this could even be the main, really.)

It's a simple formula, really. You need a starch, and almost any will do: pasta, rice, quiona, potato. You need a sauce, and any basic mother sauce can really handle this. You might want some other stuff to add more flavour, this is whatever you feel like or have on hand. I've done casseroles in the past with meats and vegetables, just with meat, and I've even got this idea for the future that some toasted nuts might be nice for texture.

This isn't the mind blowing, best casserole ever recipe. This is really just what I had on hand - rotini, frozen peas and carrots. More than anything it was an experiment to see if my sauce would work and I was quite happy with how that turned out. Really it's the breadcrumbs that make this amazing. It also made a great next day lunch, so there's that going for it.

Also a note on the directions. I've set things up to have you cook the pasta before starting the sauce but it's really not necessary. If you want to start your sauce as your pasta is cooking (or even as the water is coming to a boil) simply pay attention to your timer for cooking the pasta and vegetables and forge onwards with the sauce.

Ingredients
  • 350grams dried rotini
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 2 cups frozen carrots
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Directions
  1. Cook your pasta.
  2. Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. (Rotini is about 8 minutes to al dente).
  3. With three minutes left in your cooking time, add frozen vegetables.
  4. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of cooking water.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350*F.
  6. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the butter is melted add the flour to the pan, wisking vigorously. Cook the roux for about 2-3 minutes, until it comes to a consistent texture and start to smell like it's cooking.
  7. Add the milk to the roux, stirring frequently. At first the roux will likely look like chunks that wont dissolve, but as the milk comes to a boil and with continued stirring I promise that it does. Keep stirring until the mixture starts bubbling and thickening up.
  8. Once the milk has thickened, add the salt, poultry seasoning and the reserved pasta water and stir until it comes back to a boil.
  9. Remove from heat, add shredded cheese and stir until it melts evenly throughout.
  10. Transfer pasta to a baking dish and pour the sauce overtop. Mix everything up a bit until things are evenly coated. Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over top.
  11. Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

review: american gods

I picked up this book half expecting a struggle. You see, Neil Gaiman and I don't have a shining history. I'm a little bit in love with the movie Stardust and quite enjoyed the book. Other than that, I've tried to read Neverwhere a few times and have invariably put it down within the first couple chapters because I just could not get into it.

Everyone seems to love this author though, and I felt like he deserved more of a shot in my reading repetoire than just a one book wonder. And given that science fiction and fantasy is probably my favourite genre I had to give another shot to an author who is so well respected with other fantasy fans. So I researched a little, and from what I could tell American Gods is, if not his best, certainly Gaiman's most popular work. Clearly this was where to start.

It was a good place, too. This novel is just beautiful. It combines the "real" world with mythology, magic and even a little philosophical pondering. The plot is decently paced and builds wonderfully towards peaks and valleys, stories weave in and out from each other. I'm pretty sure there isn't a single loose end in the whole books, but at the same time the story isn't wrapped up in a way that feels too smooth or fake. It's just well written and well edited, there are no throw aways.

Based solely on this book? Gaiman gets another shot. I'll be looking into some of his other titles and probably reading. I may (just maybe) even try and find that copy of Neverwhere and give it just one more go.

Next on the list? More fluff, in the form of the sequel to this. Then it's a debate: do I get into some somewhat serious reading again? Or is it just fluff month?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

pajama acceptance

I've given in. I have made tangible purchases that recognize that a) I will be spending the winter in this stupid cold and snowy city and b) we're staying with my mom at least until spring. What would a purchase have to do with accepting this, you ask? Good question.

While I wouldn't call myself a nudist, I'm pretty free with my body and comfortable with my own bareness. Over the years this has shown up in a number of ways, from naked sunbathing, getting barred from wearing dresses to preschool, running around backyards naked and just generally hanging around in the house unclothed. There are a lot of naked-Sheryl stories out there, but not in a dirty way. (Ok, some in a dirty way. Most are not though!) This surprises most people who know me from a school or work setting but I'm not too concerned. It's just a human body, everyone has one.

When we were in Toronto, the way to deal with winter and household nudity was to put on some slippers and wrap myself in a towel or Bunny's housecoat hanging open. Here that's not going to be working out so well. It's colder than Toronto, and my mom just does not want me walking around naked all the time. So accepting that I'm going to spend winter here really means that I need something to cover up around the house in the morning and just before bed.

Clearly it was time to get my hands on some pajamas. Or at least some pajama pants, since I do already own tank tops and t shirts. Luckily for me, Wal-mart sells cheap pajamas and my I had my latest bonus from work on a Wal-mart gift card. So on a recent weekend I indulged in a few fun pairs of pajama pants (somehow both pink, and I'm really not sure how that happened).

This is me. In my hot pink zebra striped fleece pants, ready for winter. It's strange that a little purchase like that makes me feel more settled, but it does. It's like a statement to myself: this is where I'm living, and this is what I need to be there. I may not love the living situation but I sure am ready for it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

breaded chicken breasts

This chicken is easy as pie. Except it's not pie, because that's chicken pot pie and that's a pretty marvelous idea in and of itself. Once the initial breading is done all that's required is chucking the chicken in the oven and coming back in 40 minutes to make sure it's done and nothing burned down. Even with the extra steps of breading, it's weeknight meal chicken, the sort of chicken I like to make when I want to throw something on quick, pull my vegetables from the freezer, grab some dinner rolls for carbage and go vacuum and do laundry while things cook.

The breading does some magic here, keeping the chicken juicy and moist all the way through. It's like home made Shake and Bake. If you want to work some real magic and you have an extra fifteen minutes you could even crisp things up in a frying pan with some oil to get the crust nice and golden all the way over before putting it in the oven. Or make your own breadcrumbs, or use crushed nuts or cornflakes or something for the crumb coating. There are plenty of ways to make this delicious, but the fact is it doesn't need much help.

Mostly, this is just chicken for those nights where you have chicken that you don't really feel inspired to cook but is going to go bad if you don't do something. So do this, because I promise you this will be delicious.

Ingredients
  • 4 bone in chicken breasts (I happened to have skinless, but this works with skin on)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
    • alternately: 1/2 tsp each thyme, oregeno, margoram, rosemary and basil
    • alternately: buy Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350*.
  2. Mix your breadcrumbs with the Italian seasoning.
  3. Set up a dreding station. On one plate spread out your flour, lightly beat your eggs into a bowl or shallow baking dish, spread out your breadcrumbs in a third dish.
  4. Lightly flour your first chicken breast, ensuring it is covered on all sides. If possible, try to only use your right hand for this.
    • There's a method to the one handed madness. Your're trying to keep your right hand "dry" (for chicken, flour and breadcrumbs) and your left hand "wet" (for eggs) so that you don't have to wash your hands between every step (eggy hands don't mix well with either flour or breadcrumsb). You can also get around this by using forks or by just not caring. Either way, still make sure you wash your hands as often as necessary for sanitation reasons.
  5. Move the chicken to the egg dish, turning until it is coated with egg. Try to keep this entirely with your left hand.
  6. Move the chicken into the breadcrumb mixture, and coat with breadcrumbs. Use your right hand for this.
  7. Transfer the breaded chicken to a baking dish. Repeat steps 4-7 with your remaining breasts.
  8. Roast the chicken for about 40 minutes, or until an internal thermometer reads 165*F. The breadcrumb coating will start to brown around the edges and be a light golden colour across the top.
  9. Let rest for five to ten minutes before serving.

Monday, December 03, 2012

patience in crafting

So the quilt? The quilt I've loved working on so far? It's driving me a little bit nuts right now. I'm still working away on it and enjoying it, but the bit I'm working on is a little bit trickier than it has been so far. What's ironic is that this is a part I thought would be fairly easy.

I'm just stitching my blocks together into six rows of four. Right now I'm on the last of those seams, actually. This bit is a little fussy though. I have to line the seams up pretty precisely in order for things to look right and come out relatively even and square. It's harder than I thought it would be. I actually had to pull out my stitch ripper the other day and remove a seam so I could restitch it with better alignment.

This part of the process is trying on my patience. I'm so close to having the quilt top finished but at the same time it's still so far away. I want to be able to move on to the actual quilting, and cutting the fabric for the next quilt but there's still work to be done here. For me this is always one of the hardest parts of a project: when the end (or the end of a stage) begins to be in sight. When I'm cross stitching it's when I get to go back and do the detail work, the couching and backstitching and French knots. Sticking it out has always been worth it though for the end result. Which is what I'm focusing on right now. Making a blanket by hand.

Luckily the hard bit is also rewarding. These individual blocks are coming together, I'm seeing my blocks completely surrounded by borders and in strings. In a few days I'll be starting stitching my rows together, and I'll get a view of what the piece will actually look like in a more finished state. At this point I've got a mantra when I'm stitching and wish I were farther along: six more seams. (Well, the number is ever changing, but you get my drift.) Right now that's all I have left of the quilt top. Six seams. Those six seams just take awhile, when you're doing it all by hand and when you're sewing six feet per seam.

So here I go, toddling along towards completion.

Friday, November 30, 2012

lemon spice cupcakes

I really wasn't kidding when I said I do more baking (and log more kitchen time in general) in the winter than the summer. On a recent mid-week day off I used the excuse of being home alone and my mother in law's birthday to kill a couple birds with one stone. Given that there was a birthday, clearly there needed to be cake. I'd also been promising Bunny a lemon cake for quite some time and he's been getting a little cranky about it. (Man likes his cake, what can I say?)

So there would be cake, and it would be made with lemons. Except my mom doesn't have a cake pan and all my bakeware's buried so cake wasn't going to work, but the quick swap of muffin tins made that ok. I didn't want to make just any lemon cake, I needed to add a little something extra to it. If I'd have had fresh mint (or even peppermint extract) I likely would have turned this in to a lemon and mint cake, but being restricted by ingredients that was off the table. What were easily at hand were some beautiful spices, and somehow cloves and nutmeg seemed perfect.

These cupcakes are made, once again, based off the good old Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook's recipe pages. In fact, I took the same recipe that gave me these beauties and just ever so slightly modified things. In all honesty, it's just a small addition to the ingredient list and a slight switch in mixing and baking instructions. But seriously, these are amazing. Your family will thank you.

Lemon Spice Cupcakes

Ingredients
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  •  3/4 cups milk
  • 3/4 cups margarine
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • zest & juice of one large lemon
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350*F. Line or grease the muffin tin. This recipe yields 18 cupcakes.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together margarine and sugar until just barely creamed.
  3. Add eggs, milk, vanilla, lemon juice and zest and mix until evenly combined.
  4. Add the baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cloves and half of the flour. Mix on low until most of the flour is incorporated. Add the rest of the flour and mix until the batter is of an even consistency, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
  5. Fill the cupcake containers about 3/4 of the way full. For me this worked out to be just under 1/4 cup of batter in each.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  7. Cool in the tray for 10 minutes then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.
  8. Let cool completely before frosting.
Lemon Buttercream

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3-5 cups icing sugar
  • zest and juice of 2 large lemons
Directions
  1. In large bowl, mix butter with lemon zest and juice until everything is smooth.
  2. Add 2 cups of icing sugar to the bowl, turn mixer on to medium and blend until sugar is all absorbed into the butter.
  3. Continue to add sugar, half a cup to a cup at a time. Mix until each batch is completely absorbed, and taste before adding more.
  4. When you find your buttercream comes to a flavour/texture combination you like you are good. If you like less sweet, this will likely look like about 3 cups icing sugar, if you like more sweet you're probably more in the 5 cups or so range.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

changing expectations, culturally

My mind lately has been pulling itself back to the question of what it means to be a woman in the modern world. What we expect out of ourselves as human beings, women, wives, mothers and all. It's a hard question because so many conflicting things are expected of us, by virtue of being women. Every choice we make is a little bit heavier. Particularly lately I've been thinking about what it all means in terms of parenthood.

When babies eventually come, would I rather be a working mother or a stay at home mom? Actually having a choice in the matter is a pretty big luxury in and of itself, and I'm lucky in some ways in that I have some easy options both ways. If we can afford it, I have a husband who would support me staying at home past the end of government mandated maternity leave. If we can't, or I decide I want to be at work either way, I have access to free childcare. Let's be honest: free childcare is a huge deal. So going into motherhood I'm in a pretty privileged decision to make my choices.

I think about being a working mother though and I rather shudder. I just don't want to do all of that. Then I realized something that struck me as kind of strange. We expect a lot more out of our own parenting than we used to. As women have been climbing up the corporate ladder, chipping away at glass ceilings and just generally increasing our expectations on the work front, so have the expectations on the home front.

It's not enough to just have a happy, healthy kid anymore. Said kid also has to have music classes, and participate in sports and athletic activities. There's a lot more help with the homework expected, and chauffering each kid to an activity a day (pottery classes, piano lessons, soccer practice, French club, Girl Guides). In general parents (fathers as well as mothers) are expected to do a whole lot more with their children. Raising a well rounded child isn't enough, we need to coddle and cajole, and be a much bigger part of our children's lives.

It's backwards, you know? We have less time at home, to take care of the house and raise the kids. Yet we have bigger houses which take more maintainance, and we have increased the demands of childrearing, which takes its toll. There's less time to go around and we are supposed to do so much more of it. Of course it doesn't work as well as everyone would like it to.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

crinkles

As I've been on the slow climb towards turning thirty (which is still a couple birthdays away) I've been paying a little more attention to my skin and skin care routine. I try to remember to wash my face, even though I forget more often than I remember. I have some amazing moisturizer that I try to use at least a couple of times a week. I've switched to a slightly more expensive make up brand, at least for my foundation, because it's better for my skin and has an SPF. (Plus, I like their stuff.)

I keep paying attention because everyone tells you about growing old and wrinkles and the fact that a little bit of time spent taking care of my skin now will one day payoff is more elastic, less wrinkly, more even skin. Because I'm supposed to care about wrinkles and dry skin and even if I don't care right now one day I will.

I think I've finally identified my first wrinkle. Like a wrinkle that stays even when I'm not distorting my face. A wrinkle that's just there no matter what I do. Just under the outer corner of my eyes, there is a wrinkle and it won't go away.

What's so confusing about this wrinkle is that I feel like I should be upset about it. But I'm not. I feel like I should care that I have a wrinkle. But I don't. It's just there, doing its own thing and its not a big deal. My skin has a little fold that didn't used to be there and it's not going to go anywhere. It may even make me look older. I just don't care.

Maybe it's that I married an older man and that's made me more comfortable with the aging process. Maybe it's that there aren't enough of the wrinkles yet for me to be concerned. Maybe the fifth wrinkle is the one that will make me cry about getting older. Maybe I've escaped from the idea that being, and looking, young is inextricably bound up in my worth as a woman. I'd like to think that's what it is, but who knows.

How do you react to "visible signs of aging" (as all the commercials like to say)? Do they bother you at all, or are you ok with the aging process?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

book review: The Magicians

After Rushdie's memoirs I needed some lighter reading. Something a little escapist, that wouldn't be too challenging. Something about this book grabbed my attention, so on a recent shopping spree I picked it up.

This was every bit the easy read I expected to be. It even ended up being more gripping than I expected. The first few chapters weren't particularly promising; while the I liked where the plot was moving I found them a little uncomfortable and childish like this was going to turn into a Harry Potter fan fic.

In some ways it did, even though it's completely unrelated to Harry Potter. What I found intriguing about the book though was that even though it went into magical worlds and there was a bit of "live the dream" to it there was this beautiful humanity. This book is jaded. It explores the idea of happiness and misery, how we build and nuture those emotions and conditions.

It's the human elements that make this book. I enjoyed the magic bits, but in the end it was Quentin, the main character, and his struggle against mundane human misery and depression that created the interest. He has everything he's always wanted: he goes to a magical university, has abilities that the rest of the world only dream of, he even visits the alternate universe featured in his own childhood fantasy books. Even with all of that, he's still unhappy. He longs for these things, intensely, until they become real. The more he gets what he wants, the more he realizes that happiness doesn't come from these things.

Honestly this wasn't the most amazing book I've ever read, but it was engaging and I found the human story within it to be incredibly deep and relateable.

Monday, November 26, 2012

carmelized butternut squash risotto

Now that it's cool out I want to be in the kitchen all the time. All the time. In fact, this risotto may have made its way to our table the same day as the last batch of brownies were created. I've got all these great dinner ideas swirling around my head - roasts and gratins and soups and all sorts of delicious things.

It also may be time to admit that butternut squash is becoming one of my favourite foods. There's nothing I like as much as a good squash soup, and it lends itself well to pasta. There's this earthy, slightly sweet, creaminess to a well roasted piece of squash that just works. This risotto though might be the pinacle of squash goodness. The caramelized squash cubes blend so beautifully with the creaminess of the risotto and the sharp accent of the parmesan.

To be honest, the squash risotto may also be my best risotto so far. At least it's definitely had the best reactions.

Carmelized Butternut Squash Risotto

Ingredients
  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 4-6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, gently simmering
  • 1 cup white wine or juice (optional)
  • 3/4 cups grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375*. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, spread the squash cubes in one even layer across the sheet. Drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil and about 1/2 tsp salt and place in the oven.
  2. Set a timer for 40 minutes.
  3. Bring a small saucepan with the stock to a boil on a back burner of the stove. Leave this simmering through the rest of the cooking process.
  4. In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat remaining 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, saute about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent.
  5. Add the arborio rice to the mix. Stir until evenly coated with the oil and occasionally after. This part takes about 5 minutes and you're looking for the rice to start to smell a little bit nutty, and the edges may begin to brown.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low. At this point you'll want to add your first infusion of liquid. If you have wine or juice (apple or white grape would be best here, in my mind) add that to the pot. If not, just add a cup of your stock. Stir frequently as the liquid absorbs to the rice.
  7. Continue to add stock, one ladelful at a time (approximately 1/2 to 3/4 cups at a time) and stirring as the liquid is absorbed. It should be about 3-5 minutes per ladelful. You don't need to be tied completely to the stove at this point but you don't want to walk away for very long. This needs to be stirred at least every 15 seconds or so as the liquid absorbs. The slow addition of the liquid is what creates that creamy risotto taste.
  8. When you've added at least 4 cups of stock, take a look at your rice. If it's creamy and kind of loose (if you run your spoon through it and the rice moves to fill the gap) it's time to taste things. Try a couple of grains of rice as a start. You want the rice to have a bite similar to al dente pasta.
  9. If the rice tastes good, procede to the next step. If not, keep adding liquid till you get that consistency.
  10. Add another ladelful of stock to your rice. Stir as it absorbs.
  11. Remove the squash from the oven and transfer your cubes into the risotto. Stir to evenly distribute the squash.
  12. Add a final ladelful of stock to the risotto. Stir until incorporated.
  13. Remove from the heat and stir in your cheese.
  14. Serve, garnish with more parmesan if desired.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The quilt is toddling along towards completion. Some weeks it seems like I make a crazy lot of progress, sometimes it seems like things are dragging so slowly. At this point, all the squares are completed and all the edging is sewn on the individual squares. Now it's just stringing them together in rows of four and sewing the rows together into an actual quilt top.

This is a pretty easy, relaxing bit. It's straight backstitching and I can practically do it in my sleep. Except when my fingers start to freeze and cramp which has been happening lately. Maybe that's a sign that it's time to close the basement window? This stage is also rather exciting, as I'm starting to see how my squares are going to look on the finished quilt and get a better idea of how everything pieces together.

I'm also a little anxious. I want to get started on actually quilting the whole thing together and I'm just not there yet. I want to get started on the baby quilt, to the point that I've been playing around with design ideas when I'm doodling on the phone. In fact I think at this point I know exactly what I'll be doing there at this point and I just want to start. I'm ready to play with new fabrics.

I'm also moving closer and closer to actually having my own hand made blanket. Which has always been a huge deal for me, and I'm a little at a loss as to what I want to accomplish next. I know I want to keep quilting, and I have dozens of ideas I'd like to work on and I'm excited to work on more fabrics and patterns.  I feel a little like it won't be enough to just keep quilting. I might have to set myself up with a new challenge here.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

linkses

The Huffington Post is talking about pregnancy, post-miscarriage. This gets to the heart of a lot of how the miscarriage has made me view the idea of future pregnancies. I want them, I just don't trust my body to handle them.

accomplishment on the job (but not the career)

I've been with my new job for awhile now. In fact, I've officially had my three month review (plus a month of training, which they don't count towards that). It's not a career, per se, but it's a job that pays the bills, lets me strengthen and develop skills and that I mostly enjoy.

Turns out I'm also actually kind of good at it. Which shouldn't surprise me, since it's related to previous work experience, but it does a little. I've even got the marks on my review and some follow up from my supervisor and they're pretty clear. Objectively I'm really good at my job. My reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and I push myself to keep improving. It's fun to constantly have something to come home and brag about, even if it's just a good report or a nice mark on a review.

I don't feel so good at it though. I have this one thing that I just struggle with. I mean I hit my targets and I'm a good solid average at it. I certainly don't earn my way to bonuses in this particular area often (and this is one of only two targets we can earn bonuses for), and while I do my job it's nothing to write home about. I have other things that I'm really good at, objectively, but I find really hard to do. It's not a hard skill, it just isn't one I was naturally given. I feel like I'm growing as a person because of it, and I'm getting to develop stronger skills but I just don't feel good at it.

I wonder sometimes if it's just that I feel like I'm capable of more. Maybe I'm never going to feel good at a job that I think should be easy. Maybe taking a "paying the bills" job is never going to give me a sense of accomplishment. Don't get me wrong, I still take pride in doing a good job. I'm constantly trying to hit higher performance targets and come in consistently above standards and expectation (and for the most part, I do). I just don't feel like I'm doing enough. Not enough to feel really "good" or to be able to feels "accomplished", although I'm getting better at celebrating the little victories.

What's the line from Erin Brockovich? "Not personal! That is my work, my sweat, and my time away from my kids! If that is not personal, I don't know what is!" I may not have made a career a field I have a deep burning passion for, and I may not have a fancy job but you had better bet I take my work seriously. This is my time away from everything I love, and that's a big deal. I can't hate that time, and if I didn't strive to do my best at whatever it is I'm doing it would be an awful waste. Just sometimes it feels like even if I am the best at what I do it wouldn't mean all that much and I don't really know how to change that. Maybe I just really feel like work is never going to be an accomplishement for me - even the best job I've ever had, where I did feel like I did something really good in the world I never felt any personal sense of achievement. Maybe work is just work.

How does work and career play into your life? Is it a central element, or somewhere along the sidelines? What role do you wish work had?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

on "Joseph Anton: A memoir"

This book has been a long read for me. It's been carted back and forth in my bag for a couple of weeks now, quite literally weighing me down. Its been eating away at the back of my mind, making my thoughts swirl around confusingly.

At the end I'm not entirely sure what to say about this of all books. I could start with the easy and state that it is, in fact, quite brilliant. The way Rushdie unfolds his life on the page, the way he choose to tell the story in third person narrative, the genuine disbelief at the situation he finds himself in after the fatwa. It's the story of his life but it's also the story of a modern dilemna we find ourselves in: the battle between Western style freedoms and personal expression and the reaction of fundamentalists against those same rights. Rushdie was really one of the first battles of the culture wars that have been going on.

Although I picked up this book because I was genuinely interested about just how the fatwa had impacted Rushdie's life and because I wanted to hear the story from his side that wasn't the most important part of the book for me. Rushdie speaks to the human condition, what it means to be human. He speaks of what it means, for him, to be a writer and actually quite a wealth of advice for aspiring writers.

I can't tell you how many lines in this book are currently underlined. Passages that spoke to me so strikingly I wanted to be able to find them for later. His writing can be breathtakingly beautiful. It's got its flaws for sure and at times his voice almost comes off as pompous, but by and large I was enraptured just by the way he strings his words together.

Most of all what I want to say about this book is that you should read it. Even if you don't like his style, even if you disagree with his opinions. The man's got something to say and he will make you think.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

nutty, fudgy brownies

You would think that when I'm ready for brownies that it might interest me to try a new recipe. I'm a fan of changing it up and I get bored of the same old recipe time in time out. Except when that same old recipe is this one that I`ve already used twice.

I`m fairly consistent in how I like my brownies: fudgy and crusty. I don't want a "cake like" brownie, because if I wanted something cakey well I'd just make cake. For me a brownie needs to be fudgy (maybe even gooey, sometimes) and it absolutely must have the brownie crust. Otherwise why bother? Having a recipe that I know gives me my necessities in a brownie makes me a little weary of trying any other recipe although I have about a dozen bookmarked to try later.

The problem I run into is that I don't want to always make the same brownies. Every batch doesn't need to be espresso brownies, even though the original recipe is perfection itself. Sometimes I want to change things up a bit. Maybe make mint brownies, or do something layered and with a cream cheese marble. Sometimes I just want some nuts with my chocolate.

There's this bag of pecans sitting around the house that's just been begging me to find uses for them. They made a great crust on a pork chop the other week but there were still plenty left over. It seemed to me that they wanted to go into some type of chocolatey goodness so clearly brownies were called for. Even more clearly it wouldn't be enough to just add pecan bits. If I was going to make nutty brownies, I wanted that flavour to be incorporated into the whole batter which was where the Nutella came in. Luckily Bunny knows that I have a secret love of chocolate hazelnut everything and occasionally grabs the giant Nutella jars from Costco to surprise me with so I already had a form of chocolate and nut flavour to go from. Adding a quarter cup of that to the batter just seemed like it would make everything better.

Nutella Pecan Brownies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar (of your choice. I like brown here, but white works.)
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, or coarsely chopped semi- or bittersweet chocolate (depending on your tastes)
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cups butter
  • 1 /4 cup Nutella
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350*F.
  2. In a sauce pot, melt butter and sugar until fully incorporated. This should be glossy and somewhat melty by the time it's done, and is the single best method for brownie butter creaming I've ever encountered. Seriously divine.
  3. Remove from heat, stir in the chocolate and Nutella until fully melted. Let cool about ten minutes.
  4. When slightly cool, add eggs and vanilla, mixing until combined and glossy. At this point, mix things fairly well to ensure everything is fully incorporated. The longer you mix at this stage, the better your brownie crust ends up being. The whole chocolate mixture should be a big, glossy muck by the time you're done here. 
  5. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt until everything is evenly distributed and you have a uniform consistency. Things should come together fairly quickly, and you do not want to overmix at this point.
  6. Gently stir in the pecan pieces.
  7. Spread into a lightly greased 13x11" pan and bake about 30-35 minutes.
  8. Let cool for 10-20 minutes, then cut into bars and remove from the pan. Take half to a neighbour immediately, otherwise you will eat them all. (Which really may not be a bad thing, but still. Share the brownie love).
  9. Eat them. Do not frost, because these have that lovely crust and that just should not be ruined.

Monday, November 19, 2012

shopping for a fall weather uniform

As colder weather as been creeping over central Ontario my every day outfits have needed a bit of an overhaul. Airy dresses or a tank top and jeans, both paired with a light blazer, were great work day uniforms during the summer months and early fall but they lack the sort of warmth I need with temperatures starting to hover around the freezing mark.

Given the fact that my winter wardrobe had been purchased two to four sizes ago I had the issue of not having too many easy transition pieces to move into winter with it was clearly time to start updating the wardrobe. A few of my old sweaters have enough stretch to still be wearable still, but most things are starting to look a little baggy on me. I've also figured out that my skinny jeans have become my every day pants because I'm loving the look of them tucked into some tall boots and it's just easy to pull on a similar style pant every day. Skinny jeans, boots and a sweater seem to have become my fall uniform. There was also some incentive to spend money on clothes as my work likes to pay out our bonuses in the form of gift cards and there was a rather hefty one to the mall sitting around burning a hole in my wallet.

Last weekend Bunny and I came up with a plan and headed out with the intent to spend. We went out with a shopping list in mind: two or three new everyday sweaters for me, a hoodie sweatshirt for him and maybe if there was some leftover I'd buy a new pair of jeans. And boy did we ever get lucky.

I was determined to buy quality items, not just discount sweaters at the cheap stores because I wanted something that would last and there are a few stores that I find do sweaters really well. First store we rolled into I managed to find two really great sweaters with the added bonus of 25% off the entire store. Next was a search for Bunny's hoodie and we happened to find two that he really liked at great prices (and one of them ended up being on sale as well). After that we still somehow had enough left over to get another sweater, my jeans, a couple of books and pay for lunch and fancy coffee ... with a small balance left over.

What's interesting is noticing what's in common with all the items I purchased. All the sweaters have interesting necklines. None of them have the same neckline, but they're all a little unusual. Boat neck with buttons, deep v with a sort of collar and a big, bunchy faux turtleneck (it looks better than how I'm describing it, I promise). Soon enough it will probably be cold enough to layer blazers over the sweaters but for now I have some great fall weather pieces.

Now, on to the hunt for more boots to continue to expand my fall/winter wardrobe. I could use some nice riding style boots and some dressier winter weather boots. Heels might not be so practical in a more or two.

Friday, November 16, 2012

second hand

When acquiring "things", whether they be books or furniture of stuff for a future baby I put some serious thought into the decision to buy new or used. The hypothetical house Bunny and I want to buy one day? Well, we love the idea of a new build and getting to choose something where the layout serves exactly our needs and we have the opportunity to customize. We also love the idea of an older home, with sturdy construction that's already stood the test of time in an established neighbourhood and fully grown trees in the yard. Both options are equally viable, and in the end the decision will come down to what we like best and can afford when the time comes to make the decision.

Other decisions are easier. If I'm buying a stove (which I unfortunately may be doing soon) I'd rather invest a little more money into a new model, that hasn't undergone years of repairs and breakdowns and has a warrantee. A coat rack or end tables? I'll probably scour garage sales and thrift stores until I find something I like that's decently constructed and I'm not breaking the bank on. Books are another easy choice: if it's readily available used, I'll buy it used. The writing isn't any less spectacular just because someone else has thumbed the pages before.

I love antiques. This probably has something to do with growing up with a lot of family antiques and hand me downs. I grew up with family heirloom sideboards, bookcases and dressers and there's an understanding that my younger brother and I are both in love with these pieces and we know we'll have a terrible time compromising on who gets what in that unfortunate eventuality of their being passed down. Having all these beautiful, well made pieces instilled a love of the sturdy construction and amazing craftsmanship of turned legs, carved details and the lack of fiberboard backing. If I were ever buying these sorts of pieces myself I know I would hoard money and end up with a perfectly mismatched set of antiques.

My ideal set of formal dishware, for one day, is all antique china. It actually doesn't matter to me whether its a matched or mismatched set (I'm good with the eclectic mix of patterns). Just beautiful, well taken care of pieces that have some personality to them. I have a hidden love for antique teacups and saucers, and even the start of a little collection that will one day drive Bunny nuts.

Something like a couch or chairs? While I love antique Queen Anne's I lean towards more modern constructions with overstuffed cushions and recliners and general comfort in which to lounge. I just don't find antiques to be quite as comfortable and for me comfort is key. I'm also not keen on not knowing the history of my upholstery, although antique construction is far superior. I'm also not opposed to a well loved and cared for hand me down from friends or family who I know care for their possessions.

What I'm not a huge fan of is a collection of mismatched, run down hand me downs. That sort of style certainly filled my needs in university, and while I don't need everything to match, Bunny and I do have a somewhat cultivated sense of personal style in what we'd look for in our own spaces. Some newer pieces let the older ones shine. The things that don't match still need to go and complement each other.

I'm also sometimes weary about the safety of older things. All the baby stuff we've been given will have to be carefully researched eventually to determine that a) it's still safe and there have been no concerns or recalls associated with with and b) that it's still in good condition and I'm not concerned that something will happen to things. Something like a car seat I will 100% buy new just because of safety concerns, even though I don't think new is the only way to go.

Another thing I'm a fan of buying used is cars. Not that I've bought any cars recently, but Bunny and I have been discussing the eventuality of ditching the truck and we're pretty sure we'd like to buy used. I like the savings, and I don't need that new car smell. We've also got a mechanic that we trust, who is very good at his job and has a relationship with our family so we know he'll tell it like it is. Plus many of Bunny's motorcycle skills are transferable and he's always done his own basic maintainance (oil changes, changing tires etc). The whole idea of "new" isn't important for us in a car.

How do you style your home? Are you a fan of hand me downs or antiques? Do you like a matched look and the comfort of owning all new pieces? Is it a little bit of a free for all? Are there any things that you insist on buying either new or used?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

even when you have it, it feels like there's never enough

The whole married budget thing is still a little up in the air. Bunny and I both have our individual data from October, but I've yet to get a hold of his cashflow information and start combining all the information and really working on the data. I'm lazy about it. I'm also a little scared. Even without putting the data together fully with what I do know I'm sure we're doing alright. Money's a big worry for me, and it always will be.

Do we have enough? Can we afford the things we want and need? Do we have a big enough emergency fund? Are we spending too much on stupid things? Will we ever have decent retirement funds and be able to afford a house? Why was I so happy to let Bunny quit the lucrative career before we took advantage of another year or two of that salary to put towards a home? (The answer to that last question of course is for both of our sanity and our relationship, and support him in doing something that he loves as a career.)

In the grand scheme of things, I'm pretty sure October was a good month. Yes, we had to pay for the root canal and that was painful. Yes, Bunny took more than a few sick days this month. Luckily we found some significant cash, in actual bills, that we had quite literally forgotten about and were able to use towards that expense. Honestly when we can forget about a few hundred dollars and not be stressed about it? We can't be doing that badly. On top of that, we were able to pay all our bills including a couple of large and irregulars that we usually don't see, throw some extra money towards the ever decreasing debt and put some significant cash in savings. All of that, and we didn't even have any freelance hours this month. That's a big deal mostly because Bunny's freelance hours are where we're able to get the biggest payout per hour and it's money that goes straight to our long term savings funds, so it's pure gravy. On top of that I had some nice paycheque surprises myself, including an extra fifty bucks on one cheque, a sweet little performance bonus in the form of a gift card (new shoes, here I come! - or not) and the news that I'll be getting somewhat of a raise next cheque which is always a great thing.

We're doing alright. We have money in the bank. We can afford everything we want or need. We could afford to live on our own if that was our priority right now, and that's a priority that's always under review. We can afford to help my mom out with some around the house things as they come up, and we intend to. Still our financial goals feel a million miles away. Buying a house? Doing so with a big enough down payment that we have an affordable mortgage? That feels almost impossible. Going to Spain in a year or two feels more doable, but that expense would seriously cut into the house fund. Even though my student loans are ever shrinking, it still feels like I'll never get out of debt.

What's particularly ridiculous sometimes is knowing that I'm the one who likes managing the money in this relationship. I'm a little bit better at it, by both of our accounts, although Bunny's pretty good with money himself. For all that I worry, always, I love coming up with budgets and paying the bills and watching the savings go up and the debt go down. It's my thing. It's such a stressful thing.

How do you feel about managing money? Do you enjoy it? Is it stressful? A combination of both?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

almond clementine cupcakes with cream cheese icing


Lately the KitchenAid mixer has been making me feel guilty. Just sitting, unused, in the corner of the counter it's practically giving me puppy eyes. Everytime I enter the kitchen there's a little twinge of "I should bake something" and last weekend I finally got around to it.

I've been promising Bunny some sort of cake for weeks now and I still hadn't gotten around to it. Cupcakes seemed the easiest since I wanted to make icing as well. Me being me I wanted to do something a little bit unusual though. Something needed to be different. Nosing around the pantry I came up with a bag of almonds and a box of clementines and naturally I figured that almonds and clementines would make a good cupcake combination.

Then I pulled out my favourite cookbook of all time, the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook and looked at a couple of recipes. I kind of mashed the recipes for yellow cake and chocolate cupcakes, with some modifications, together into these beauties. Using the almond flour here gave them a rather dense, crumbly texture rather than traditional airy cakeness, but I liked the end result. I may have eaten three last night. Luckily with the in laws next door I was able to unload half the batch without too much trouble.

Almond and Clementine Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
makes about 18 regular cupcakes

Ingredients
For the CupCakes:
  • 3/4 cups butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • juice of 2 clemetines (if you're better with a microplane than I am, add the zest too! My clementines just wouldn't zest)
  • 2/3 cups milk
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup almond flour (which, if all you have are whole or partial almonds you can make by zipping it up in a food processor. About 2/3 cups whole almonds worked into 1 cup almond flour for me)
For the cream cheese frosting
  • 250 grams of plain or light cream cheese, softened
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • juice of 2 clementines
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375*F.
  2. Prepare muffin pans for baking. Either lightly grease the cups or use cupcake liners.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved into the butter and it's nice and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs, vanilla and clementine juice and beat until eggs are well incorporated and there are no obvious chunks of butter.
  5. Add the milk and mix until incorporated.
  6. Add the almond flour, baking powder and salt and mix until evenly distributed. Once the almond flour is fully incorporated, add the all purpose flour and mix in.
  7. Full the muffin tins about 3/4 of the way full. These cupcakes don't rise a whole ton so they can fill most of the cup.
  8. Bake approximately 20-25 minutes. You're looking for golden edges to the cupcakes and for a toothpick inserted in the centre to come out clean.
  9. Let cook in muffin tin for 10 minutes, transfer to cooking rack to finish cooling before frosting.

Make your Icing
Note: this makes about twice as much icing as you need. Unless you really like icing.
  1. In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese together with the clementine juice. You want the juice fully distributed through the cream cheese and the texture will get just a touch watery.
  2. Add the icing sugar 1 cup at a time to the cream cheese mixture. Stir until fully mixed in and the sugar has completely been absorbed into the cream cheese. Taste throughout the process. With all four cups of icing sugar the icing should be much thicker, in fact almost as thick as the cream cheese was before adding the clementine juice.
  3. If it's not sweet enough, add more sugar. Alternatively, because you've been tasting throughout the process, you can always stop when you get to the sweetness level you prefer.
Once your icing is made and your cupcakes are fully cooled go ahead and frost them. Then watch them disappear.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

baby stuff

Even though we're not currently expecting, Bunny and I have been slowly coming into a collection of baby stuff. As it happens the collection actually started just after the miscarriage (as in, the day after the ultrasound confirming things) and started very awkwardly. Slowly since then Momma Bunny's garage has been filling up with things that as yet we have no use for.

Right after we got a positive result on a pee stick some friends of ours texted to say they wanted to get rid of some baby things, and would we be interested? That day it was an easy answer. Yes! We need baby things! We will happily take your baby toys and fancy, convertible stroller and bouncy chairs. When the miscarriage happened it became very odd and uncomfortable, because seeing and thinking about all the baby stuff kind of just tore the hole in my heart even farther open. I felt guilty taking the these things when just looking at them made me want to cry. Luckily Bunny's was a little more together and he handled dealing with all the stuff (except for the massive stuffed tiger I cried into on the drive home) and hopefully his good graces made up to some extent for my lackthereof. Yet another apology for my behaviour just after the miscarriage needs to be made to these lovely friends.

As it happened, that pile of baby stuff ended up not so much being a straight on gift as a trade. Our friends wanted space and to give the things to people who might someday use them. We happened to have a well taken care of antique wooden toboggan of just the sort that our friends had been hunting for (and finding that wooden toboggans, even used ones, were going for ridiculous prices) that we were looking to unload. So we swapped.

This week, Bunny brought home a crib. It's actually a really beautiful crib, and while when the time comes to use the crib I will have to do some research and safety vetting to do, again that's one less thing we will eventually have to purchase.

It's all a little awkward and uncomfortable though. The baby stuff not only reminds me of how much we want babies, but how clearly they are not happening right now. Getting pregnant is not something that you can control. I mean, you can do all the right things, and plan on pregnancy, and time certain bedroom activities even when you're not in the mood. At the end of the day though nothing that we do can guarantee anything. Sperm and egg will collide when they want, not when we want them to. Implantation may not always occur, and chromosomal abnormalities happen, ectopic pregnancies happen. And there's just no guarantee. Maybe we just can't have children in an unassisted biological manner.

Right now that's not something we really know. The doctor said that having had a miscarriage is a good sign, because it means that neither of us is sterile (I hate that word), but at the same time, maybe there's some sort of inhospitable environment or something going on there. It's a fear I can't quite shake, and I'm trying not to worry about it too much right now. We're letting life happen, and while we're trying to make a baby we're honestly not trying that hard. I'm not ready for ovulation kits or talking to doctors about fertility tests and drugs and all that jazz. Maybe down the road we'll have to look at that, but I hope not.

All that baby stuff sitting the garage feels like tempting fate. I'm still a little bit emotionally tender and the idea of wanting something so badly and knowing that there's always a possibility that things won't happen the way I want them to makes me anxious. If I let myself want something so badly and it doesn't work out the way I want it to I know I'll be devasted. I don't want to be devastated, again, by baby making issues. Wanting something so badly feels like inviting disaster. Planning and acquiring for things I can't control feels like inviting it not to happen. The idea of never being able to use that baby stuff is a little painful. I'm trying not to borrow trouble, though. Life's going to happen the way it happens, and there's only so much I can do to affect that outcome.

That pile of baby stuff in the back of the garage and my mind still has a little niggling worry though.

Monday, November 12, 2012

more on the quilting

The quilt is really, seriously coming along well. I don't think I expected to like doing the borders/sashing as much as I do but it's really just more piecing and it goes so comfortably. I just like sewing straight lines, lol. At this point I'm working on larger sections at a time and the sort of "supersized" nature of the borders when compared to the simple blocks makes things quicker and simpler.

I also figured out the trick to cutting multiple pieces at once with the rotary cutter for this section and that took out the most tedious part of the process. It's definitely made it clear that I need a bigger self healing mat and a long, wide quilter's ruler for when I start my next project but I'm excited about the whole thing.

Bunny's reaction as the quilt is growing is making me laugh so hard. The particular fabrics I'm using here are a pink, silver and black mix with a combination of abstract graphic prints and one that has a brocade look. Originally I bought them for living room pillows (with his approval) until he later told me he really didn't want our pillows to be pink. So I didn't particularly intend for him to love (or even like) the quilt just because of that. He's gotten super excited about it though, even to the point that he's a little disappointed that I'm not making it a bit bigger to go on our bed. He even told me to use fuschia for the borders which was my end decision anyhow.

There's still a lot of work left to do. After I finish the borders I have to piece the top together and get it all ironed up and measured and everything. Then there's putting it together with the batting and backing and properly quilting it. But this is ever so slowly starting to take shape and look like a real quilt. That's pretty exciting.

My quilting habit is also kind of cutting into my reading time, but after spending 8 hours a day staring at a computer screen it's a good change. I'm still slugging through the Salman Rushdie biography, though the end is, finally, in sight. Even if I weren't a fan of memoirs I'd be a fan of this book. It's maybe making its way to my best ever books list so I want to savour the last hundred pages. His writing is absolutely gorgeous. I'm looking forward to sharing more of my thoughts on this book later.

Friday, November 09, 2012

things which make me happy

I'm having a kind of blah day today. Right after Bunny's teeth got fixed and the grumpy pain monster went away he got sick and so there's been the sucky sick man in my husband's place. Although he's pretty adorable when he's sick. I also maybe had a wee bit of a freak out over the living situation again today, crying in the car after running some errands about how much I hate living out of boxes (finding my winter coats should not be such a big ordeal) and all that other garbage. So it's time to focus on the good stuff, because there is so much good stuff.

  • Myself, my family and those who are near and dear to me are all fine in the wake of Hurricane Sandy
  • We live in a place where the most we're ever affected, personally, by a hurricane is some big winds and heavy rains
  • My adorable puppy who has been especially playful lately
  • The end of my husband's tooth pain. I love seeing him happy and pain free again.
  • Having the best husband in the world
  • Knowing enough about motorcycles to be able to have a somewhat informed discussion. For people who've known me for awhile, this is surprising. Personal growth and more knowledge.
  • Quilting and other sewing projects that keep me happy, calm and sane. Plus the sense of accomplishment that comes along with them.
  • Sour cream and onion chips.
  • The really amazing potato and leek soup my mom made the other week.
  • First snow! It happened, it was beautiful, and it was light.
  • My three month review at work just passed, and it was all glowing positive. Plus, I maybe get a little bit of a raise, which is always nice.
  • Our savings are growing again. October was a good month for us, and while we'll probably have less to show for November and December what with Christmas and all it's nice to see those numbers grow.
  • Babies that people I know are having.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

rotini with butternut squash

The first time I heard about pasta with butternut squash I made a "ewwww" face. Because that's gross. Right? Turns out that's not right. It's actually kind of fantastic. Especially if you're me and are the one freak of nature in the world who is convinced that tomatoes, especially tomato sauce, is just the grossest thing ever. I mean the smell of pasta sauce sends me out of the room gagging. So this butternut squash thing? It's a nice change from the usual olive oil and parmesan or cream sauce routine I have with the pasta.

I've seen numerous suggestions for this, and while I'm sure a puree would be delicious, and I'm sure that I'd enjoy it if the squash chunks were a more firm-tender I have a sneaking suspicion that this way is best. Caramelizing the squash chunks mean that I can get an almost sauce-like consistency when mixed with the browned butter at the end while still maintaining some of the bite of the squash. The soft-but-not-liquidy texture is an interesting contrast to the pasta.

There are things I would change, as always, if only to try something different next time. There was a bag of pecans I almost chopped and toasted to mix in with this, but Bunny's impending root canal stopped me. (Thank you dentists for giving me my husband back. The grump monster was getting old.) For the same reason I also cooked the pasta itself just passed al dente so that things would be easier on him. If I'd planned ahead to have fresh sage, or any herb really, on hand I would have added that to the brown butter mixture.

Ingredients:
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried sage (or other green herbs. I was sorely tempted to use mint, which I just might do next time.)
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 2" cubes. You'll want these to be uniform, but uniformity is more important than getting any specific size.
  • about 500 grams of rotini, fusili or penne (for us this was about 1/2 a package of rotini)
  • salt to taste
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350*.
  2. Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil for easy clean up. Lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray or oil. Lay out squash cubes in a single layer across the sheet.
  3. Cook for approximately 1 hour, or until the squash starts to caramelize. Look for the edges of the cubes to just be turning brown as you remove the squash from the oven.
  4. Start preparing pasta, according to package directions. Don't forget to liberally salt the water, as this is the main opportunity to season the pasta. My pasta took about 10 minutes to cook and the water about 5 minutes to heat. If your pasta requires shorter or longer cooking time, adjust when you start this step accordingly. When the pasta finishes cooking, reserve about 1/2-1 cup of cooking water before draining it off.
  5. In a large skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Continue to heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter begins to take a slightly browned colour. Let heat for approximately 10 minutes. When the butter is properly browned it will start smelling rather nutty and sweet, and will take on a really luxurious flavour. The low heat is super important here, as it's incredibly easy for the butter to move from browned to burnt and higher heat will speed that process. By keeping the heat low it's easier to monitor your butter.
  6. Once that butter browns, remove from the heat and stir in the garlic and herbs. If you're adding something like fresh sage or rosemary this is the time to do that as well.
  7. Bring the pan back over the heat and add the squash to the butter. Mix everything around to get an even coating of butter on the squash. Turn the heat up to medium and cook the browned butter and squash together, stirring constantly. The aim here is to get the squash to break up a little bit so it can cling to the pasta, rather than just be chunks of squash in the pasta. Cook for about 3-5 minutes (or until you see a consistency of squash that you like.)
  8. By now your pasta should be cooked and drained. Add pasta to the skillet and stir vigourously to thoroughly coat with the butter and squash. Let everything hang out in the skillet for about 2-3 minutes at this point.
  9. If desired, add 1/2 - 1 cup of reserved cooking water to the pasta/squash. Let lightly simmer until it comes together with the butter into a more saucy consistency. This helps the butter really adhere to the pasta, and tastes a touch lighter.
  10. Eat! Enjoy! If you're a fan, serve with a liberal helping of freshly grated parmesan. Or garlic toast (if you're my mom or Bunny that's a must.)