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.