Thursday, February 28, 2013

baby quilt: so close to done

A few days after my last update it happened. I put the last few stitches in the quilt top of the baby quilt. I could go back and do a more detailed quilting, but I don't really think it needs it and I don't want to take away from the piecing and the fabric patterns so I'm declaring the quilting done.

There's not much left to do. I trimmed off the excess batting and backing fabric, and now all that's left is to deal with the binding. Then that's it. It will be done. I'm a little bit in awe of this, and even though it's just little it feels like a major accomplishment. Making a blanket has been on my life list since I was tiny, and I've almost done it.

Of course even though I'm nowhere near done this guy, my mind has already started jumping around to other projects. I want to finish up my Scrappy Trip top that I've been slowly plugging away at in the meantime. I'm working on block seven, and I think I'm aiming for 16 blocks for the completed top so it's four feet square. It's just a little throw quilt to go on one of our living room couches, so I think that's a decent size. My mind is also a little preoccupied with a traditional log cabin quilt I'd like to make with two of the same fabrics to go on the other couch when we finally move out. And I'm vaguely planning a quilt for my niece, as that seems only fair.

Then there's the orchid cross stitch that simply needs to be completed. Given how slow work has been lately, I just might take it in to play with on the downtime. Unless things pick up soon that will probably be a good call. I also need to finish up the pillows, but that's not really pressing as they have nowhere to go at the moment.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Liebster Award

A few weeks ago I got nominated for a Liebster Award by The Smitten Immigrant. I have to be honest: I'm terrible at these things. I'm pretty sure I've been nominated for one in the past and I'm not so sure I remembered to actually do the follow up/response post. (I'm sorry!) This post here is also more than a little belated, but I'm trying.

I'm supposed to:
1) Share eleven things about myself
2) Answer the eleven questions from the blogger who nominated me
and
3) Nominate eleven other small blogs.

Number three will be skipped here, because I figure if I can barely get it together enough to put this post together, others might feel the same. Or maybe that's just me projecting my laziness to others? Possibly.

So, eleven fun facts about me.
  1. I'm more unplugged than most people realize. I removed email and social networking from my smartphone a year and a half ago and I'm so much happier without having all of that constantly at my fingertips.
  2. If I'm not in a social mood, I am horrible to get a hold of. I won't respond to emails or text messages because I simply won't check my emails or text messages. I also as a general rule just don't answer the phone, so I can be difficult.
  3. I vastly prefer film cameras to digital. I don't like the immediacy, and I'm not so sure how I feel about all the "sharing". I still have yet to put a single picture from my wedding on facebook. I'm a bad millenial. Can you see the theme here - I never embraced the digital age, or my generation's penchant for technology although I use plenty of it when necessary.
  4. I hate my wedding video. Not because I disliked the ceremony, because our simple city hall elopement was perfect for me. But I dislike the presentation of it. My memory is this magic moment where my entire field of vision was Bunny, where I felt present in myself and I was hearing the Justice of the Peace. The video? Mostly dominated by my mother constantly walking in front of the camera and when she's not, it still presents something that feels very far removed from how I felt that day. I do love seeing Bunny's little cute moment at the end, though. Every time.
  5. My favourite tv shows tend to be science fiction. Star Trek, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape. Except I never like how they end.
  6. I wear diamonds on a daily basis. Mostly because Bunny's given them to me and I just never take them off. Although the freak out I had when one of the earrings fell off was crazy.
  7. Hazelnut is one of my favourite flavours. Chocolate and hazelnut, coffee and hazelnut. It goes so wonderfully with most of my indulgences.
  8. I almost never match my socks.
  9. In the winter I don't shave and/or wax my legs. It's getting kind of gross and I'll probably do something about it soon. I do it in the summer because it gets sweaty and uncomfortable. Plus, bare legs are pretty with all the skirts I like to wear.
  10. I naturally write lefthanded, and backwards. Like mirror image. It makes reading numbers difficult because my mind tries to reverse them. I'm ambidexterous enough that I can actually write with both hands at once (and I've been required to prove this in the past).
  11. Without my glasses I can't see past the end of my nose.
And the questions I've been asked:
1 What fantasy animal would you like as a pet and why? Probably a pegasus, because how awesome would it be to just ride a horse into the sky?
2 What is your favourite fictional universe? I can't choose a favourite! I'm always a fan of ones that open up from or are hidden from our own real universe, just based on that tiny possibility that yes, that could be real. It just takes stumbling upon.
3 If you could design your own body from scratch (no humanoid form is necessary), what would you look like? It would have wings, for sure. If I could design from scratch there would be the ability to fly. I'd also probably do something with a less stiff bone structure, more sinous. Maybe somewhat snakelike? I guess I'd be a dragon if I could design from scratch. Except I'm not so sure how the sex would work, and that's an important consideration.
4 What is your favourite mode of transport? I loved streetcars when I was in Toronto. Public transit for going within a city is so key, and I'm still grumpy that my town has a pooey system.
5 Name a personal triumph that was totally insignificant in the larger scheme of things, but made you feel _so very good_. Student body elections in university, when I ran and I lost one of the VP positions. It sucked so hard and I would have done so well in the role, but at the end of the day just the fact that I put myself out there and pushed so hard at something I wouldn't have trusted myself to do five years prior was a huge personal accomplishment.
6 What is your most unrealistic fear? That the world is going to end. Except maybe it will. Most of my fears are pretty well based in reality.
7 What is your opinion about the possibility of artificial intelligence as a vital element in future human society? It scares me. I don't think we understand enough about consciousness, intelligence and existence to properly create an artificial intelligence. We don't understand enough about the ethics of how we should treat people who are different from ourselves to have any real way to make educated decisions about how to integrate an artificial intelligence into our societies. I already think we over-rely on technology to begin with and the idea of artificial intelligence suggests that we are getting in over our heads in creating beings that will fundamentally change our world with no real understanding of the effects it could have and how to deal with those changes. Technology is great, but as a society we tend to plow forward without understanding the implications of our creations. Until we learn to slow down and think about what's we're creating and how it will impact the world as a whole and what it means for the creations themselves we don't have any business playing with artificial intelligence.
8 What kind of socks do you wear or buy? I love knee highs and brightly patterned socks, but I tend to buy cheap ones. They're just socks. I also don't tend to wear them matched.
9 Star Trek or Star Wars? Star Trek. I appreciate the original Star Wars trilogy, but Star Trek has greater appeal to me. The ability to evolve and recreate itself fascinates me, and I've always found the characters fascinating. Except for the Enterprise series. That one I just couldn't get into.
10 If you could recommend one thing to your readers (a book, a song, a dish a restaurant, whatevs), then what would it be? Ryan Adams. I'm not crazy about his most recent work, but that man sings to my soul and he reinvents himself musically constantly, although he's always best when he's sticking to his alt-country roots.
11 What is the best advice that you ever got from anyone (be they real or fictional)? Figure out what your priorities in life are and live according to them. It may be family, it may be hobbies, it may be career, but it has to matter to you. Don't chase dreams just because someone else thinks they're important: they have to matter to you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

cheater meals - club house alfredo with asparagus and fake crab

Some weeks I get shafted at work. By which I mean I get the late shift, and while I get lovely mornings to myself to read and quilt and have a fancy pancake and spiced apple breakfast (yes, I will share that eventually, as it's a favourite) I come home after 9pm tired and cranky and the last thing I want to do at that moment is make dinner. Sometimes I'll luck out and my mom or Bunny will have something ready for me, other times there are leftovers (if I'm smart I made soup earlier in the week), but some days I get home at about 9:30 and am faced with the task of making dinner. Which doesn't make me a happy camper to begin with at that hour, but it's why I have cheater hacks.

Not every meal needs to be fancy. For the most part, all that most meals need is some carbs, some protein and some great vegetables. Nights like this, I'll rely on some prepackaged foods that I usually avoid, like a packet of Club House alfredo sauce and some imitation crab. Spruced up with some asparagus, fresh parmesan and a clove or two of garlic and things get good. Or at least, my mom and Bunny get happy and I stop being grumpy.

Spruced Up Club House Alfredo with Crab and Asparagus

Ingredients
  • 1/2 package of rotini or penne
  • 1 package imitation crab
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • fresh parmesan
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced (or, if you really feel like cheating you can buy this stuff in jars)
  • 1 packet Club House alfredo sauce and related ingredients
    • 3/4 cups milk
    • 3 tbsp butter or margarine
Directions
  1. Bring a large pot of well salted water to boil.
  2. Rinse asparagus. Snap off the ends - wherever they snap naturally is good. Roughly chop the aspargus lengths into thirds and set aside.
  3. Cut the "crab" into inch long slices.
  4. When water comes to a boil, put pasta and set timer according to package directions. Depending on the dried pasta you're using here this will probably be between 7-11 minutes. Keep an eye on the time and when there are five minutes left throw the asparagus into the pot with the pasta.
  5. In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter.
  6. Throw the garlic in once butter is melted, stir for about 2 minutes.
  7. Add the milk to the butter-garlic mixtures, as well as the Club House packet. Stir around until it's an even mix. Stir occasionally as the sauce comes to a light simmer, which is where things start to thicken.
  8. When the timer goes, add the crab pieces to the alfredo sauce. Drain the pasta and asparagus.
  9. Add the pasta and vegetables to the sauce, mix until everything is evenly coated. Grate about 1/4 cup fresh parm over the pasta, stir around again.
  10. Eat. If you're me, then promptly go to bed.

Monday, February 25, 2013

long weekend bliss

Last weekend, the government decided to give us a statutory holiday. A silly one, maybe, but hey it was nice to have a long weekend in February. It seems a little nuts that February is nearing the end already.

If you ask Bunny, he'd say it's a little nuts that I'm saying the long weekend was "blissful". We did some very hard work over the weekend, that resulted in a few mini freak outs (mostly due to outside forces annoying the pants off us) and three long slow days of anxiety. It's work that continues, but we slogged through the worst of it sequestered in the basement and now we're just moving forward and continuing. It's a big deal all around.

Here's the thing, though. Even cranky, anxious and grumpy I would choose three days with no one but Bunny and the dog before anything else in the world. Curled up on the couch, working on our projects, watching the last season of Fringe and countless movies and reading some crappy fantasy (metaphysics needed a few days hold for this) and watching Bunny play video games is not a bad way to spend a weekend. I ate so much junk food I almost puked.

So three hard days were kind of blissful, just for the company. Tuesday morning after Bunny had left for work and while I was getting ready, I had the suckiest puppy dog ever. It's like he knew our quiet little weekend together was coming to an end and it was time to get back to life as usual.

Friday, February 22, 2013

quilting, actual quilting (stitch)

I'm getting a little bit amazed with myself. The baby quilt that I've been working on for months is toddling towards completion at a somewhat dizzying pace. I've been working on this for less than two months, and granted it's small at about 28"x40" but it's seriously coming along. I know lots of quilting bloggers zip through multiple quilts in that sort of time frame but I'm going to give myself a little slack here. I'm still new at all this and more importantly I do it all by hand. No sewing machines for me.

After a couple week's break due to bad weather and being too busy to go out, I've made a lot of progress in not a lot of time. I aquired the the quilt batting and I pin basted the layers together. Honestly I didn't really enjoy the process of laying everything out and pin basting the whole matter. It's fussy and it's important to get it right otherwise when I'm actually quilting everything's going to be screwed up and the fabric could be all rumpled and look crappy. It's not something that I can do sitting comfortably, and I spent a lot time hunched over and my back was in a fair state by the end of it.

That was about two nights ago. Since then I've grabbed out the quilting hoop that I was given for Christmas and have been going away like a busy beaver. I don't particularly need the stand, as this is such a small project and have just been working off the hoop.

The process of quilting the layers together has been surprising. I expected this to be a tedious part of the process. I expected it to take a long time. In fact, it's rather speedy. Quilting across a block takes only a fraction of the time that it takes to piece the same block. Here I was thinking that this part of quilting was going to take ages and in fact it's just zippy. Two days into the quilting and I'm about a quarter of the way through.

The only complaint I really have is with my stupid thimble. I hate thimbles. The fact is clearly evidenced in the sorry state of my right thumb and left second finger, which are constantly being poked by needles to the point where the skin is developing splits and callouses at an even pace. (I just wish the callouses would hurry and develop a touch faster.) Pushing a needle through multiple layers of fabric and holding multiple stitches at once though requires a thimble. I've got a couple to work with but none of them are anywhere near comfortable, so I may start a small thimble collection until I find a decent one.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

money can be fun, too

The money situation in our little baby family by turns frustrates me almost to tears and makes me feel very hopeful. Mostly the tears just happen while I'm PMSing and revolve around feeling stuck in our living situation, so it's not really fair to blame it all on the money. It's a process, though. Money doesn't grow on trees we earn it through giving away our time and we keep it by making (sometimes hard) choices about what is and isn't worth spending.

This week is a hopeful one. We're making a change to our lifestyle that I don't really want to talk about too much but should free up hundreds of dollars a month for savings. Which means we are that much closer to living the dream (of living on our own). After a nasty surprise about the state of one of our bank accounts earlier this month this is a huge thing.

I've also noticed changes in my own spending habits recently. We're still being lazy and operating on separate accounts - though we've mandated weekly updates to each other so there are no more shocks in the future - and almost everything that's not a necessity has to come out of "my" account because that's where the free, unallocated money lies.

It's become second nature to me to whip out my debit card when we're out to dinner together. Not because it's my job to pay, but our entertainment budget happens to sit in my account. I don't even think about it anymore, and when I make the effort to think about it I realize how truly I see the money there as both of ours. Even with expenses that could be called "mine" alone - like all the money that's being spent on aspect's of a dear friend's wedding, I'm making better choices. I technically could just whip it out of our savings, but instead shoe shopping comes out of my personal fun budget. Gifts will be a different matter, but we have a very clear set budget for what we spend on gifts now for any occasion.

Bunny's even gotten on board with giving himself a fun money allowance, although I think we need to talk about what exactly is all entailed in fun money. He's not giving himself enough freedom in some ways, and we're not always on the same page about what comes out of what. For me, if we say "screw it, I want McDonald's" while we're out shopping and it's not a proper date, that's fun money. For him, that's not. Which accounts for the very different allocations. I also view fun money as something that I choose to do my entertainment expenses from - so if I want to take a trip down to see a friend for no reason, the travel expenses come from there. He uses the general budget for that. So we've still got some talks to get on the same page and we'll both flex a bit, but hey progress is progress.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

please don't steal my naps (a rant)

Listen, I understand that you're nosy. Heck, I can be nosy too. I understand it to an extent. It annoys me, but whatever I can get over it. I just stop answering when the questions get overly annoying, superfluous and invasive because that's the only thing that seems to work.

But seriously, seriously this was a new low. I mean I really just don't know what to make of this. The answer to your question should have been self evident. I just don't understand what was at work in your brain here.

Waking someone up from a nap to ask "What are you doing?" Really? Really? I'm napping, that's what I'm doing. Or I was, until you woke me up and I was no longer able to nap.

Had you had follow up questions, or something you needed to talk to me about it might have made sense. If you had been expressing a concern or trying to tell me I'd been asleep too long I would have been annoyed but I would have understood. But there was nothing after this. Just waking me up to ask what I was doing.

The answer was self evident. I was taking a nap. You know, that thing where it's not bedtime but you're sleeping anyway because you're tired and you can? I wanted to nap for longer, too, but once you woke me up I couldn't get back to sleep. What good is half a nap? I'm never going to get that other half back now. Nap stealer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

if we were rich ...

As always we did our "Valentine's" late. I'm not fussed about a holiday designed around big Romantic Gestures, I more care that he's sweet to me every other day of the year and I love how he'll bring me caffeine in bed, opens the car door for me every time, puts my glasses away at the end of the night and oohs and aaahs over my craft projects even when he doesn't know what he's oohing and aahing over. But hey, who can say no to an excuse to a dinner date out of the house?

We ate at one of our favourite places in town, a Thai restaurant with great decor and (mostly) amazing food. It's kind of confusing because the pad Thai there is patently awful, but everything else is phenomenal. The tom yum soup keeps me coming back, and we've enjoyed every other dish we've had there. This visit we split a divine lemongrass beef stir fry where the beef was unbelievably tender and Sambal noodles that were sneakily spicy and full of flavour with lots of vegetables added in. The meal as a whole was so spicy my nose and eyes watered and I blew my nose so hard in the bathroom I popped my ears.

But that pad Thai thing got us thinking on the way there. How it's really too bad that the best Thai place in town has terrible pad Thai and it's too bad that we can't enjoy that dish there every now and again. Which started the conversation if we were rich what would we do? This is the dreaming we whiled away our Valentine's on.

If we were unbelievably rich we would be able to say "I want pad Thai" and hop on a flight to Thailand. Since we're already there, we'd head over to China for dim sum the next day and then go get some pho in Vietnman for dinner. We'd spend a day in India eating curries and then stop in Japan for a sushi dinner. Oh along the way we'd stop and see all the amazing cultural sights too, so we'd probably spend more than a day or two there but let's be honest we're going for the food. (Or at least that's Bunny's motivation).

If we were rich we'd fly to Spain for paella and tapas and make sure our trip coincides with the Catalunya MotoGP race. We'd pop through France for some authentic bistro food and to eat things covered with divine sauces. We'd grab a cafe au lait at a coffee shop then wander through some museums. We'd head on a train to the Netherlands and have some of those awesome Dutch pastries whose names I can never remember but are almondy and so damn good. We'd jump over to Italy and eat pasta and risotto, stare at the Sistine Chapel and have a morning espresso before heading to Germany for some beer and to grab some sausage and potatoes in Poland. We'd stop by England on the way home for a proper tea with scones, a big breakfast and then some more curry.

Maybe the next week we'd head to Montreal for poutine, then fly to the east coast for lobster. We'd head down south for tacos and stop at million barbeque places on our way up home for Bunny. Stop over in New Orleans for the beignets and pecan pie.

If we were rich we would eat so much.

Monday, February 18, 2013

bit of this, bit of that

The last week or so while working on my myriad of projects nothing has really gotten finished but a lot has gotten accomplished. Little bits and pieces of randomness have been picked up so that I can move to the next step on the important projects.

I've been doing some semi-serious reading, tackling the first third of Jim Holt's Why the World Exists. Which also reminded me that when people ask what you're reading, replying with "oh, just some light metaphysics" causes them to look at you like you've grown a second head. Metaphysics isn't particularly light in any case, but given that most of the concepts covered in the book aren't new to me and it's so far an exploration of various explanations of existence and nothingness I feel safe calling it "light" for now. It's also got me itching to go dig out my book boxes from the garage and pick up some "heavier" metaphysics, and reminded me of a few philosophers whose work I want to read more closely. It's a little exhilarating to be excited by philosophy again. To have given time the chance to work its magic and work my way through the burn out that partially stopped me from pursuing grad school. (Well, burn out and health issues and new love and fear of more debt all contributed, but still).

In the quilting world, I've picked up the bits and pieces that will allow me to move forward on actually quilting the baby quilt. It's measured and ironed and I have curved safety pins and plans to pick up the batting tomorrow. I've also sewn my way through a couple more blocks of my scrappy Trip Along quilt and done some cutting for the next two. I'm planning on picking up a couple of paler, more solidly coloured fat quarters to round out the next few blocks after these. The pace is driving me a little nuts, but that's the nature of hand sewing everything.

I also finally located two things that have been driving me nuts. My orchid cross stitch had been languising behind Bunny's table, and while it will still probably be only slow going to finish the piece at least I know where it is. Similarly, I found my short, bamboo knitting needles. Like I need another project, right? Except I do. I need a work appropriate project, and the mindless work of a scarf is pretty perfect for those unexpected lulls that tend to come at work, and if I need to stop on a dime I can. (My boss is pretty cool with crafting at our desks when we're don't have a customer to help and there's a lot of this that goes on in my office. Cross stitching and quilting are both a little bit fussy for work, but knitting is totally appropriate.) I'm also slowly moving my small scraps into a little scrap box my mom handed on over. I still need to figure out something for my larger scraps, but at least I have a place to put the smallest salvagable scraps.

Kitchenwise, it's been a crapshoot. With my hip acting up it's been hard to spend enough time in there to really do the cooking I want to and things like risotto and soups have fallen by the wayside. I've mostly been the kitchen director and we've had a lot of meals where everyone contributes a bit of the labour and I've orchestrated the whole thing lately. I'm starting to feel a little more as if I can stand for fifteen minutes at a time, though, and took advantage of the chance to do a lot of prep work for the next few days.

I've also fit in a trip through the city to do some shoe shopping for a close friend's wedding with the rest of the bridal party and it's pretty nice to have fit in some super social time. Plus, thanks to the government giving us an extra stat holiday a year or two back we've got plans to visit some other friends in the city next weekend. Lots of good social stuff.

Friday, February 15, 2013

dreaming through the mls

Given all the time we've spent over the past month or so discussing finances and money and how that relates to our current and future living situation, it was time Bunny and I started seriously thinking about places to live when we leave my mother's basement. With the savings I've managed to come up with in the past couple of months and the fact that freelance money seems like it's going to be flowing pretty steadily for Bunny in the forseeable future we're starting to lean back towards waiting and buying a home; the nice fact of all this indecision is it gives us time to sit put and save while we make up our minds, and either way buying a home is a ways out.

We've both been looking at local listings lately, browsing the MLS on the web together and separately, feeling out more realistically what's available in the area. We've arrived at two really clear conclusions.

First, homes that are pretty dreamy (as in perfect kitchens, nicely designed, and with the more open concept feel that we've become fond of) are outside of our price range - but that's not a surprise. What's surprising is that they're not as far out of reach as we thought: the dream home sweet spot in our area tends to run between $250-300,000. We can't really see ourselves being comfortable spending more than $225,000 max (and that's pushing it) when we are ready to buy. Unless one of us doubles our income, but that just doesn't look realistic right now. So we're not going to get in a dream home with our first house, but that's no surprise to either of us. While I'm not a fan of house hopping and selling every five years, it's not unreasonable to think that in 10-15 we might be ready to sell and move up a little and the houses we love aren't too far from our starting point.

What is surprising is realizing that decent, liveably homes in the area are sometimes listed as low as $150-175,000. Below what we were hoping to spend, eventually. Listings at this price are available in a lot of areas including the same neighbourhood our parents live in. The idea of being a 10 minute walk away from our moms is inticing, though so is the idea of being clear across town. There are even homes just down the street from my office which is also a pretty accessible part of town in this range. The layouts aren't as open as we'd like and most of the houses we've been seeing online would need a few coats of paint and eventually I'd want to replace the cabinet doors in the kitchen, but they look liveable and they all live up to the standard set by the old townhouse we loved.

All said and done, I think we're leaving more towards waiting and buying. It's still an ongoing discussion and it probably will be right up until we close on a house. Then I'm sure they'll be negotiations about what we want to upgrade first and years down the line we'll be debating about how long to stay. It's feeling hopeful though and we're feeling pretty bright about the whole concept.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

happy things on a cloudy day

Last week I was feeling all refreshed and re-energized about life, like the sunshine had just come out from behind the clouds. This week has not been so fun. Not because life's not good - it absolutely is. My hip started acting up at work the other day, and the only way I've been able to get even remotely comfortable the last few days is half lying down, leg propped up on a pillow with a heating pad keeping me warm. It's made work, where I'm pretty literally chained to a desk somewhat trying and just generally has me a little extra snarky and grumpier than I like to be.

That's ok though. It's nice to be in a not entirely bright mood and realize that really, the only thing holding me back is physical discomfort. When the rest of my life feels like it's in order I can live with that. Plus what better time to focus on all the awesome things in life than when things are just on a little downward spell?

So it's only fitting that I do a possies post. Here are just some of the things making me happy today:

  • Having awesome, productive money talks where Bunny and I both come out being on the same page. Especially when we were both willing to compromise to get there.
  • Reading metaphysics. Metaphysics lite, but still it's the most serious philosophy reading I've done in years and I miss spend hours thinking about the difference between something and nothing. My brain feels energized.
  • Bonuses at work. Who doesn't love extra money? And even though for some reason Bunny likes to think of it as "my" money entirely (probably because it comes on gift cards rather than as cash), I don't. It makes it feel a little extra special when we buy Bunny something.
  • Hot pink zebra print lounge pants. Self explanatory.
  • Buying quilt batting for the baby quilt. I'm getting there, and I'm actually seeing a project through. It's exciting.
  • Having frozen dinner options for when I don't feel up to cooking.
  • Bunny's aunt is making me a blanket! We all know how I love blankets, and crochet is one thing I can't do plus my knitting skills stop at "scarf". Beyond which it makes me feel like real family.
  • The sewing bag my mom got me for Christmas, because it's awesome and also useful.
  • Decaf tea for after work, and hazelnut lattes on the weekend.
What's making you happy these days?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

stuffed mushrooms with bell pepper and peameal

I've shared my basic stuffed mushroom recipe before, and it's easily a favourite of mine. Impressive without being hard, meaty without having meat, and just flat out delicious. This time I decided to play around a bit, and I shocked myself by putting in some meat. When you just happen to have peameal bacon sitting in the fridge and a meat-loving husband what's a girl to to?

The peameal (which, if you're not from the Great White North you might know as Canadian bacon) can easily be replaced by regular bacon or even sausage if that's what you have on had, but it definitely works here. It gives that extra punch of heartiness and protein without being overpowering or overly noticable, and it certainly lends to the texture of the dish.

I used oversized stuffer mushrooms here, somewhere between 2 and 3 inches across. Serving wise, three apiece makes for a hearty appetizer or side dish. If you're doing a cocktail party these will be a hit. They've even gone over well as snack food for a man cave video game day, but you'll want to make extra for that. As far as the stuffing goes, there's no getting the amount exactly right. If you have too much left, either heap it on or save it for later, add more cheese, and stuff a chicken breast later on. Trust me. Or you can just eat it with a spoon. Which, while embarrassing, you won't regret.

Stuffed Mushrooms with Bell Pepper and Peameal

Ingredients
  • 9-10 oversized button mushrooms, or about 16 large ones
  • 1 small to medium bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 slices of peameal (Canadian) bacon, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus more to sprinkle
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp olive oil
Directions.
  1. Preheat oven to 350* F.
  2. Clean your mushrooms. You can either use a mushroom brush, or a paper towel to lightly wipe them down. Getting them wet isn't good, but a little bit of damp won't hurt them.
  3. Remove the stems and hollow out the mushroom caps. Trim or tear away and small bits of mushroom flesh that are getting in the way of stuffing space. With the stems, cut off the woody end bit and discard. Finely chop the remainder of the stem and use for your stuffing.
  4. Arrange the mushroom caps on a baking tray and add a light sprinkling of salt.
  5. In a small saute pan over medium heat, saute the bacon until cooked through. Stir vigourously to make sure your dice has left you with lots of itty bits of bacon rather than a few big bites. Once the outsides begin to take on a brown colour remove from the pan and set aside for later.
  6. Heat the oil in the pan. Once it's sizzling, add the mushrooms and saute until they shrink in size and start to take on a deeper (less white) colour, about 3-5 minutes. They'll start to smell really hearty when they're ready, but more than anything you're looking for a colour and size change.
  7. Mix the bell pepper into the mushrooms and saute another 2-3 minutes, until the pepper begins to soften. The colour will get a little bit less bright as this happens.
  8. Add the bacon back to the pan and stir until you have an even mix of all three ingredients. Sprinkle your breadcrumbs and Italian seasoning overtop and stir until the breadcrumbs absorb most of the moisture in the pan, about a minute. Add your cheese and stir quickly to incorporate. With the cheese this starts to come together in clumpy bits and you're about done.
  9. Remove your mix from the saute pan to a small mixing bowl. If you're like me you may be touching things with bare hands at this point, and that's just safer.
  10. Using your hands or a small spoon, stuff your mushrooms. Fill the caps and press down so the filling is tightly packed. If you have a large amount of filling, don't be afaid of overstuffing your shrooms, just make sure you press the stuffing fairly tightly together.
  11. Sprinkle with more parmesan. This will bubble and sizzle and be delicious.
  12. Bake for about 20-15 minutes, until bubbly and brown. The mushrooms will release some of their juices in the oven and just be oozy and wonderful.
  13. Let them cool for a few minutes. Eat them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

planning a spree

I've mentioned that last month's bonus from work was pretty sweet. Not like, thousands of dollars sweet - much more modest than that. Still a great contribution to our budget and still enough that Bunny and I can do some significant shopping with it. Given that it's a gift card bonus it's designed for some spending. When we're buying our own groceries and furnishing a house there will be some serious spending we can do with it, but right now we use bonuses for more splurgy spending.

This month we're planning on getting the bonus on mall gift certificates and spending the money on some much needed new clothes. I've bought some sweaters this year but they've ended up being pretty poor quality (needless to say I'm pretty unhappy with them) and almost all my older sweaters have started to seriously wear out. I'm running out of decent clothes in good condition for winter weather and need new pants. Bunny has a few pieces of clothing he needs to update as well, so we're trying to be somewhat proactive with how we plan the money.

Having the gift card gives us a simple and set budget: we spend my bonus and no more. I'm a fan of getting the most bang for my buck, though, and I'm determined not to fall into the same shoddy quality trap as my last purchase though and so we're going in with a list. I'm still fuming over the fact that not one but two sweaters busted elbow holes in the first two wears, and I'm finding that other recent purchases from that store are falling apart way too quickly for my liking. At this point I know it's not just the design but rather overall quality issues so I've given up on even taking things back but I won't be purchasing there again.

Bunny's pretty easy on what he wants to find and isn't too fussy on where he purchases things. I've been browsing websites for stores that I know and trust (stores whose clothes have lasted me years in the past, and whose most recent purchases I'm still happy with) and trying to come up with a hit list. I'm also being conscious of looking for sales, using coupons and gift certificates and finding every possible way to get the most bang for our buck.

How do you clothes shop? Do you go in with a plan, or leave room for whatever strikes your fancy? Are you a sale shopper, or do you just buy as you need?

Monday, February 11, 2013

review: anathem

I'm one of those people who has no problem going back to an old book that I enjoyed the first time round and re-reading it. In fact I'm a bit of a perennial re-reader which all started with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I used to read once a year. I don't do as much re-reading anymore, mostly because there are so many new books I want to pick up and bury my head into, but when I'm between books I have no compunction about picking up an old favourite.

Which was why after finishing Blueprints of the Afterlife I couldn't help but be drawn to Neal Stephenson's Anathem. I've reviewed Stephenson before, and I enjoy his writing. He's one of the few writers who I feel can truly master a complex, intricate storyline with many different plotpoints and ideas all at once.

Anathem is a lot different from Reamde. Told in the first person, it focuses on just one character and everything going on outside his storyline, while important, is peripheral. It's heavy on the science and philosophy, though it's all reimagined into a fictional world placed "upstream", perhaps, from our own. This is about 1000 pages, and at times it's dense going the first go around especially. If you're not into having a bit of a refresher course in philosophy, mathematics and physics interspersed with your fiction this will not be the book for you. If you are? Dive in. I couldn't put it down.

Lately my reading has been taking me down a somewhat philosophical path, just by dashing philosophy into my fiction. It has me ready to pick up some serious philosophical reading next, get back to some of my roots.

Friday, February 08, 2013

sunshine

Last month the PMS hit me hard. I was stressed out, I was trying not to focus so hard on the fact that it had been a whole six months since the miscarriage, I was struggling to hit some targets at work, and then I was late. Way late.

For a solid two weeks I was a moody mess. There was a lot of crying, and while I almost always cry when I'm PMSing it's pretty predictable: I have one day where I feel like I'm going to cry for no reason whatsoever then BAM! something hits and there it goes. Instead I cried at work because I had to deal with a string of nasty people all in a two hour time period (which was humiliating, though my coworkers had expected me to freak out long before I did) and then I had a meltdown over the budget right after telling Bunny everything was going to be ok.

Once my body finally started acting normal again, it was like I could finally see the sun coming out above me in the sky. I was able to pull out of the crazy mess that was my own head and enjoy life again; I started hitting out amazing days at work that culminated in the best month I've closed at the job to date, I started answering my emails and text messages from friends the same day I reached them, and I started to get some perspective to be able to deal with more trying living situations in order to get to the big picture goals longer. I got involved in the book I was reading and when I finished that I quickly buried myself in a new one. I was able to put in time on some craft projects. The hours I was working ended up with me putting in some significant kitchen time and making some great dishes.

Life feels good, again. I feel like my best self. And I'm so very, very confused. In the midst of my messy, hormonal state we had a lot of discussions about what we want to achieve in the next couple years of our life. A money source that had dried up for the past six months reopened and looks like it's staying that way for the next while, and suddenly the financial goals seem doable in a reasonable timeframe. I took a hard look at our expenses from the past year and figured out just why our savings hadn't grown like we'd hoped (medical expenses, buying a bridesmaid dress, car maintainence, excessive thank you gift for my Mom, Christmas and getting married all took a toll on the savings) and we realized that things had turned around in our savings plan.

We've still got a lot of questions. A lot of timing to work out. A lot of being unsure over what the best thing for us is right now, and later, and how we'll get there. How much effort to put into certain things and how much to hold back. There's a balance I'm trying to come up with, and sometimes it's hard. But we're working on it.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

chicken vegetables stir fry with hoisin ginger sauce

Stir fries are a favourite easy meal of mine, as my recipe track record suggests. I tend to rely pretty heavily on hoisin in them, but hey use what you know. This one was a pretty simple weeknight meal, and I did all the prep and cooking in less than an hour while talking with Bunny.

This was a compromise between wanting a veggie heavy meal and wanting to incorporate some protein. Frozen chicken breasts happened to be easy and available, so I used those, but this would have been absolutely delicious with thinly sliced beef. As with all the stir fries, you can use this recipe as is, but really it's just a guideline. Switch up the vegetables for things that you love and you'll be happy.

I'm also all about debunking the idea that it's hard to make a stir fry sauce. Yes, I use the same base ingredients. You'll notice that not only is hoisin a repeat offender, but so is sesame oil and soy sauce. Part of it is just that since this isn't a common meal right now I'm not stocking my fridge too many different ingredients for stir fries. In the future I'd like to play around with black bean sauce, peanut oil, and some other ingredients that seem exotic to me but I use what I have.

I also had some fun cookware to play with, as my mom had an electric wok sitting around. Nowhere near as awesome as a real wok, that you can easily turn about as need be, but it definitely did the job. And it was really nice to have enough cooking space.

Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry with Hoisin Ginger Sauce

  • 1/2 cup hoisin
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1-2 tsp chili flakes in oil (depending on your spice tolerance)
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • juice and zest of 2 limes
  • 2 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 chicken breasts, cubed
  • 5 heads baby bok choi (cut the base off and separate all the leaves)
  • 4 small carrots, sliced in 1/2" disks
  • 3 bell peppers, sliced into strips
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
Directions
  1. In a bowl combine the hoisin, sesame oil, chili flakes, soy sauce, lime juice and zest, ginger, fish sauce and water. Stir it up and put it aside.
  2. In a large skillet or wok over medium high to high heat, get about 1/2 the cooking oil sizzling. Add the cubed chicken to the wok and saute, stirring vigourously, until the outside edges are completely opaque, about 3-5 minutes. Because the chicken has been diced into somewhat small pieces, once the outsides are opaque the insides should be good to go. Remove from the wok to a small bowl and set aside for later.
  3. Add more oil to the wok if necessary, it should be just lightly coated but no oil should be pooling at the bottom. Add the carrots to the pan and cook stirring vigourously about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the bell pepper strips, cooking a further minute.
  5. Add the bok choi and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, until the portions begin to wilt.
  6. Put the chicken back into the wok and pour the sauce over everything. Mix it up well until all the ingrediens are coated and things are evenly mixed up.
  7. Turn off the heat. Serve over rice.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

review: blueprints of the afterlife

Always, without fail, Bunny gives me a book for Christmas. I like to read and he likes to encourage my reading. He's come up with some real winners in the past; creating my Christopher Moore obsession and tailoring choices to my interest. The real criteria he uses, though, is to get me something I'll like and wouldn't have chosen myself.

Ryan Boudinot's Blueprints of the Afterlife fits that bill entirely. It's part science fiction, part post apocalyptic, part philosophical commentary and a total mindf*ck. The writing style reminds me of Neal Stephenson, particularly his early work. (This definitely isn't as dense as Reamde was!) It's based on life on earth, after what's called the FUS, short for the F*cked Up Sh*t. There are five or so completely distinct character arcs and plotlines that at first seem completely unrelated, to the point that they feel like they could be coming from completely different worlds. Different post apocalyptic nightmares. Except they're all the same. Unless they're not?

Clones, "newman"s, a bionet (which is basically the internet, but in our bodies), quantum computers, religious and metaphysical implications, wars fought by corporations extraterrestrial intelligence, slaves who don't know that they're slaves, the ability to upload, download and erase memories. It's a smorgasbord of sci fi ideas and it's knit together beautifully. Two of the character lines in particular, Abby Fogg and Luke Piper, were beautifully engaging, though I have a feeling that those were simply the plotlines I related to most and that other people might enjoy some of the other lines more.

This is one of those books that you keep thinking about after you've finished, where you go back and re-read chapters partway through just to make sure you understood correctly. I'll be reading this again because I want to understand this book completely, and I don't quite. Which (I think) is somewhat the point.

There's a pretty broad appeal here. I know what would have caught Bunny's attention was the post-apocalyptic leanings, but it would also appeal to sci fi fans, philosophers and just about any lover of a good engaging story. It's heavy stuff and it's worth every second you spend reading it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

house vs home

After last month's money meltdown on my part, Bunny and I have been talking a lot about money and goals. We always talk about our finances and our goals, but we're really trying hard to balance two specific goals in our heads and our fiscal reality right now: buying a house and living on our own. In my intensely PMS-induced meltdown I came out with a very clear opinion: I want out. I don't care about a house, I want out.

I've said it a million times before, but I have a really hard time living with my mother. It wears on me emotionally, and I know part of it is that I had some very traumatic childhood experiences in this house that affect me more than I'd like. I also went through the first portion of my adult life defining failure, for me, as moving back in with my mother. Top that off with the fact that I miss living in Toronto and the freedom it gave me terribly and I just genuinely don't like the city we live in (even though I think it's the best place for us, for a lot of reasons) and it's a bit of a headspin all around.

Plus, I miss living just with Bunny. Being able to have a conversation with him without someone trying to butt in and say "what was that" every other sentence, and when my husband asks me a question I'd like it if I could be the one to answer. I miss having our furniture, our bed, our art, our kitchen stuff. I miss him being a private place for the two of us. I miss having mid afternoon sex on the living room floor. Wait, what? Really I shouldn't complain so much, we've been lucky.

So there's a strong drive to just get a place of our own. Moving out, though, means giving up on the idea of owning a home in the next five years realistically. We just don't have enough budget leeway for both to happen, especially if I get pregnant. We haven't gotten as far ahead of things as I'd hoped to in 2012.

Financially, what we'd spend on a mortgage wouldn't be higher monthly than we'd spend on rent. Depending on how big a down payment we put togther and how small we go home wise, it's not unreasonable to think that our mortgage might even be smaller than rent is. Extra expenses aren't to be denied of course, there's property taxes and maintenance and insurance and utilities and bills you can get around with renting. Still, the down payment we come up with is a deciding factor in how much we need to pay monthly to have a house. Doable, but a little way out.

It was an expensive year. Eloping, while cheaper than a wedding, involved more than a couple splurges. We both had health care expenses, and neither dental work nor glasses are cheap. Bunny's freelance essentially dried up this summer. There were expensive and unusual truck repairs, and we bought a big "thank you" birthday present for my mom in the fall. Then there was Christmas. We saved pretty decently, but the first four months or so I was working the balance in our books didn't move very quickly.

The last few months have been different. Since Novemeber we've steadily put away a third of our regular income, and we do have some more places we can trim easily if we decide to move out. Somehow even with Christmas, even with sick days, and even with days off work we managed to save more in December than we had in almost any month this year. Bunny's freelance is moving full steam ahead this winter. I got a tiny (miniscule, but still) raise at work, and it's looking like I'm going to be bringing in a decent bonus from last month. My portion of our savings (which are the bulk of our non-RRSP savings) are higher than they were when I was laid off last year, and the bulk of that has come from the last two or three months.

Comfortably sized homes in our city can be had in the 200K range. That's a home that's a little bigger than a starter home, and on the high end of the size spectrum for us. Because of my work, we're also looking at the north end of town which is significantly less popular and in demand than the south end. It's not unrealistic to think based on the savings I've made in the past few months, the RRSP contribution we can put towards a home, and the fact that we haven't even factored any freelance money into the numbers yet as it hasn't been billed that we could be realistically looking at a home in a reasonable time period. The kicker is that a lot of it depends on the freelance: it has a bigger affect on our ability to save than any other single aspect of our financial picture. It's also the least reliable part.

So again we're left with the defining question of just what our most important goals are here. Do we need to get a house, or is a (rented) home enough? Of course it's not an easy answer, and it's never going to be. There's a lot of really solid arguments towards buying, and the finances make me lean that way but at the same time I don't like where I live and it's hard not to be miserable about it, at least some of the time.

Monday, February 04, 2013

eat right, feel right

Maybe the other week when I posted about frustration with my weight I was being a little overdramatic. I can be that way. Holiday food and all that garbage certainly leads to little bit of fluctuations. Certainly I wasn't happy with what I was eating and it was definitely showing on the scale, although not in a terrible way, just in being at the top end of my weight range. I did certainly thow a hissy fit that resulted in some delicious vegetables coming home during the grocery trip the next week, and we had a week of pretty rocking vegetable based meals while I was in charge of the kitchen. Luckily work gave me a day time schedule that let me do most of the cooking.

I cut back on the crap pretty quickly. Stopped buying junk food for no reason whatsoever and started eating decent things that make me feel healthy and happy. What do you know but almost immediately, the scale started telling me a story I like again. Two steady weeks at the exact number in the middle of my weight range - right where I want things to be. I don't want to lose more weight I just really don't want to be gaining any back.

It's amazing how much eating things I feel good about equates to a number on the scale that I like to see. My body sends some pretty strong signals physically and emotionally when I'm not meeting its nutritional needs and almost as soon as I start listening to those signals things start getting back to normal pretty darned quickly. It's not always easy and its not always fun (sometimes the effort involved in eating healthy seems a little bit ludicrous) but it always pays off in the end.

Friday, February 01, 2013

caramel, or a near fail

Two food posts in one week? Neither of them resulting in me sharing an actual, successful, reciplicable recipe? Oh well. That's life sometimes.

At the start of the year there were two cooking goals I wanted to accomplish, among others. Apparently time in the kitchen is one of my most favourite things to tackle, because I've already made a couple of attempts at macarons and I've played a bit with caramel.

The caramel goal isn't to make a beautiful caramel sauce - that I already know how to do thanks to Michael Smith, who tends to have some of the dreamiest, easiest recipes ever. The goal was to make those chewy, somewhat soft caramel candies. When I finally got my hands on a candy thermometer I felt like life's greatest mystery was solved. Since then I've made two attempts at caramels, and both have somewhat failed (although no epic fails, thankfully).

The first recipe I used told me to line my pan in waxed paper to make for "easy" removal which was really, really bad advice. The caramel stuck to the paper and Bunny and I spent an hour cutting things off of the paper and half the batch ended up going in the garbage. The bits I salvaged were fairly dreamy though and I quite enjoyed having one or two bits of caramel after dinner. The second fail was totally my own fault, and was a bit of a comedy of errors: I used too small a pan, so I had to rush some steps and didn't get the heat high enough after adding the cream, and speaking of the cream I used 5% coffee cream. It was cold, coffee cream was all I had, and I was too lazy to walk to the corner store for some heavy cream. I ended up with a very thick caramel sauce. Not quite what I was going for.

Luckily I have plans in mind for the big pan of caramel sauce sitting in the fridge. White cake with caramel whipped cream frosting, and I think I'll be trying a take on this luscious pot de creme with caramel instead of chocolate. That project is for the next weekend, and I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Sometimes its more fun when things don't work out as intended, and this particular mess up has certainly given me more opportunities to play.