Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween: My costume is Adult Braces Woman!! What's yours?

I am scheduled on Thursday for yet another installment of "Adventures in Orthodontics". In other words, I'm saving scary for the day after Halloween.

The purpose of this appointment has something to do with 'bonding', adding back a c-chain and most likely a replacement of my upper and lower wires with larger gauge wires. I have no idea what bonding is. It wasn't explained to me and I have found varying answers on the scary ol' Internet. To be honest, I never really know what I am in for until I'm in the chair. I know the orthodontist has a general game plan, but the way he decides on the fly to move brackets and add springs, I'm thinking it's a perpetual work in progress. Which explains why he won't give me a straight answer when I ask "when do we think these monstrosities are coming off?". I can barely remember what it was like before braces.

I'm generally pleased with the progress, don't get me wrong. I think my upper teeth look fantastic, aside from the curved wear and tear on one of my front teeth which results from years of constant grinding against my bottom teeth. The orthodontist has assured me that it will be capped with a veneer or some equivalent to even out the appearance. I THINK this is what he referred to as bonding. We shall see! My front teeth on the bottom however, are making me crazy. All my lower teeth have ever-so-slowly rotated as planned, creating the ideal 'U' shape in my mouth. The only remaining problem is that the two bottom front teeth which have always been crooked and jammed together just will not separate and align properly, even after three separate bracket adjustments. So frustrating!

I am praying to the Halloween spirits that by Halloween next year my braces will be a thing of the past so that my boyfriend won't suggest for the third year in a row that I dress up like the mean little (brace-face) girl from Finding Nemo. I already went as Sookie with braces (from True Blood) and Marge with braces (from the Simpsons), so I'm hoping that next years costume will be brace free!

Chompers

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Shop: Oops I did it again...

51 days into the shopping diet and I think I messed up.

I had a 25$ eBay bucks certificate that had to be used before November 4th or it would expire. eBay issues certificates every quarter based on how much you spent during the preceding three month window. With the deadline fast approaching I decided to use it towards an Elie Saab perfume that I had been coveting; one that I had planned on buying anyway once I lifted my retail ban. I know it's a breech of my 'no shopping' rules but with 25$ off the total, I rationalized that I would only be out of pocket for the remaining 25 dollars. I've tried to be good.... I haven't even touched the other gift certificates that are just lying around, waiting to be used. A little rationalization here, but this should only count as half of a cheat, since it's half prepaid. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it. Now I just need to keep my itchy trigger finger away from ebay.ca and avoid further temptation.

Have I mentioned that I have NOT broken down and bought the J. Crew tipped pea coat? That's gotta count for something, right?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween: Oh Homie....

It appears that Montreal will be spared the worst of Hurricane Sandy's wrath, although 90 kph winds and rain will likely spoil Halloween trick or treating activities on Wednesday. I feel bad for the kiddies. I know it's such a privileged way of thinking, "Forget Hurricane devastation to poor countries, how will our children go door to door for free candy?!?" but I still can't help hoping that Sandy will pass before the big night. As a child, Halloween was my favourite day of the year, even more exciting than my own birthday. I mean, come on! Getting to dress up in costume and getting tons of free candy??

This past weekend, I attended a good friend's annual Halloween party. Costumes were mandatory, and I had a sneaking suspicion there would be free candy. I really, really wanted to make my own mummy costume (think Daft Punk's Around the world video) but found the effort to be too cumbersome and costly, so instead I went to Halloween Depot to pick a store bought costume. It's really no surprise at this point, but I was still pretty appalled to see the percentage of women's costumes that started with the word "Sexy". Sexy nun, sexy nurse, sexy Pocahontas, sexy Snow White, the list goes on and on. Sassy is also a new way of saying the costume is sexy; it translates to short and worn with fishnets & a push up bra. Honestly, I don't think of myself as a prude but at this age I have enough self esteem to not need such an attention seeking costume, especially when you are attending a small party consisting of friends. So, back to the Halloween Depot.... I gathered 6 or so costumes that I deemed demure enough to try on. I narrowed down my selection to a Mexican day of the dead bride, Sally from a Nightmare before Christmas and Marge from the Simpsons. Sally was cute despite being a 'sassy' version; it could be worn demurely enough with the right accessories but unfortunately the wig was so incredibly cheap, with very few strands of red yarn and many gaps in the scalp. I decided it was a no go. I also eliminated the day of the dead outfit because it was so flimsy for the price and I predicted that I would smear the sugar skull makeup all over myself within minutes of application. This meant that the Marge costume won by default, but to be fair, the costume had some great qualities. The wig was surprisingly well made; it was huge, full of volume and no gaps around the scalp. Not to mention it was two feet high! I generally try to go for scary costumes (it is Halloween after all) but this one just seemed to fun to pass up on.

I won second place in the best costume contest (yay, bragging rights!), losing first place to a gender bending Dolly Parton. I can't complain, in the unwritten rules of costume parties I believe it's near impossible to beat a cross dressing male, especially one in pantyhose, tight skirt, blond wig and enormous falsies...guess my nixing of the sexy costume didn't pay off!!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Eat: Gushing about Campanelli (Review)


For the Montrealers out there, consider this a public service announcement. Go to St. Henri and find Campanelli.Try everything on the menu. You're welcome.

For the uninitiated, Campanelli is a fantastic little cafe that specializes in sandwiches, salads, coffee and dessert. Pretty simple menu and a tiny locale but they deliver quality ingredients and amazing flavour. Behold... the meatball sandwich. So good, it's really a sangwich. I turn a blind eye to the fact that no meatball tastes that good without having a certain ground meat in it that I once swore I would never ingest, but my trip to Italy ruined me forever. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, that's okay, I'm being intentionally obscure because of how guilty I feel)

 Or perhaps you would like to try the roast beef instead? Yeah, that's a good bet. The beef is sliced wafer thin and the combination of peppers and mustard really amp up the flavour. The bread is the perfect balance between toothsome and soft (even for metal mouths like myself).



I must say that their coffee is one of my favourites in the city right now. Coffee is ubiquitous but there is a paucity of GOOD coffee. I'll have coffee just about anywhere but I can count on one hand the places that I think make a great cup. These days I prefer making coffee at home to going out for one (think french press, a decent grinder and Kicking Horse beans...so darn good). I do enjoy Myriade on Mackay and In Gamba on Mont Royal but right now I'd have to say that I prefer Campanelli's americano. Their americano is incredibly balanced and always leaves me wishing I had splurged on a larger format.

I don't live or work near St. Henri, and Campanelli is closed on Sunday so it's not always easy to find an opportunity to go. Luckily, I have my hair stylist across the street (the lovely Alyson at Tête du Toro Art et Cheveux) so I get to indulge at least once every 6-8 weeks. Not nearly enough in my opinion. I'm working on it though, autumn means no more golf on Saturday afternoons and THAT means more lazy Saturday afternoons savouring all things Campanelli.

In terms of the cafe itself, the place is quite handsome. A lot of thought has obviously been put into the decor, which has a very masculine feel to it. I like the style (think unfinished wood, metal, mason jars) so I find the ambiance pleasant and comfortable. I was there for lunch last Saturday; it was pretty busy considering it's located off the beaten track for passerby. You get the feeling no one is here by accident. The barristas & staff there not only make a mean coffee but are also friendly. These days I don't expect 'friendly' at hipster-approved institutes (just ennui or disaffected stares), so it was a pleasant surprise.


Their website sure is pretty, but it doesn't really tell you much about what's on the menu. Perhaps it is because the menu changes often? Hard to say, but for this reason I decided to do an altruistic deed and share some pictures of the menus on the wall. Hopefully you can read it clearly enough, I tried to increase the contrast as much as possible. As a sandwich affectionado,  I want to try nearly every sandwich in the place. 


Aside from the sandwiches & coffee, the desserts and snacks are divine. On our last visit we tried (and loved) the pina colada muffin. It is chock full of pineapple and some wonderful blend of butter and brown sugar, which gives it this deep brown butter flavour. Fantastic.


And I guess you have to go early if you want to avoid the following sight. Heartbreaking!!! This empty jar use to contain cream cheese frosted carrot cake. A lovely square of carrot cake sliced in half and stuffed with a perfect cream cheese icing. This is a carrot cake so yummy I think it is better than a Cho'Cola carrot cupcake. There, I said it. But alas, it's true.


They are located at 4634 Rue Notre Dame Ouest, Montreal, Quebec H4C 1S2. Go there. Get me a carrot cake square while you're at it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eat: Aloo Matar Recipe

Even since we watched an episode of Jamie Oliver's Great Britain a couple weeks back, I've had a hankering for some Indian spiced potatoes. Jaime Oliver reminded me how easy cooking with Indian flavors can be as long as you have all the ingredients on hand. I love all the spices of Indian cuisine but I'm only starting to get the hang of understanding what combinations of spices work best, especially since there seems to be a lot of layering.

The opportunity to dabble with Indian spice came along the other day when we were trying to figure out a veggie side dish for dinner. Knowing we had potatoes and frozen peas in the freezer I thought I'd play around with an aloo mattar recipe. Every single recipe for aloo mattar seems to be different, so I thought it would be low risk to make my own mix of spices based on a few of the variations I've found. I started with this one from Manjula's Kitchen and modified it tremendously. Please keep in mind that this 'recipe' was ad hoc and I mostly 'eye-balled' my measurements. It's a safe bet you can add/remove mustard seed without much consequence, but pay attention to spices that add/remove heat so that you don't ruin a recipe with mouth-scorching heat.

Improvisio Aloo Matar

Approx. 5-6 medium potatoes (I used russet)
1/2 to 1 cup finely diced onion (or omit if you don't have)
Approx. 1 cup frozen green peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
1-2 teaspoons mustard seed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1-2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2-1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt, adjust to taste
1 teaspoon mango powder amchoor
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons or more, chopped cilantro

Cut potatoes into bite size pieces (I left the skin on). Chop onion into a fine dice. Heat the oil in a saucepan, and add the following spices: cumin seed, ground cumin, cayenne, chili pepper flakes, mustard seed, ground coriander, fennel seed, turmeric, salt and paprika. Cook the spice mix until spices start start to become fragrant and browned. Add onion and cook until slightly softened. Add potatoes, stir to coat with spices and add just enough water to slightly cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and reduce water slightly, stirring every now and then for approx. 10 -15 min. Mash a few pieces of potato to add texture and thickness to the sauce. Ensuring there is enough water for the potatoes to remain 'saucy', add frozen peas and stir to combine. When peas are cooked through, add mango powder, garam masala, and chopped cilantro. Mix gently, turn off the heat and cover the pot. Voila.. aloo mattar!

* * * * *
On a side note, I recently acquired a masala dabba (check out this one as an example) which I am quite eager to use. I'm hoping it will be easier to manage than my motley crew of spice bottles/jars, as seen in the picture below. I'm not sure which spices will make the cut to be included in my dabba but I'm psyched to set it up!





Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eat:Home made Ramen Soup

I'm a lucky girl. Last night my lovely man searched all over Montreal to find BBQ pork so he could make a home made ramen soup. We found some nummy looking noodles while grocery shopping over the weekend and he had already made pork stock a couple weeks back, which was waiting patiently in the freezer for just such a purpose. I'm still dehydrated from all the saltiness, but oh was it worth it. Check out this big beautiful bowl of soup. If you're not jealous, you should be!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Eat: Orecchiette with Basil Pesto

The thing about tried and true recipes like bolognese or pesto is that there are a million versions. When you decide to try a new recipe, how do you select from the thousands out there? All these years of recipe experimentation and I had never made my own pesto until just recently. I like pesto enough to eat it at home, but I was willing to settle for the Classico jarred stuff until now (for shame!). Really though... I don't find it half bad for a bottled product. But with an abundance of basil growing and slowly dying on our balcony, I wanted to use up the green manna from heaven (because basil is freaking GOLD!!!) quickly and this was the first recipe that came to mind. I flipped through a ton of cook books, comparing the different versions of pesto until I decided to make Giada De Laurentiis' sauce with some tweaks based on the Barefoot Contessa's version.

You can find the recipe here on the Food Network website. Obviously I only made the pesto and not the Tuna, but I'm sure the combo would be fantastic. My notes & modifications:

  • I went light on the olive oil, closer to 1/2 cup. Use good oil here, aside from the heat generated by the blender, it is a raw sauce.
  • I looked at other recipes and decided to add nearly a cup of cheese as a result. I used a 50/50 mix of grated grana padano and parmigiana reggiano.Choose good quality cheese.
  • I used 4-5 big cloves of garlic. DO NOT COPY ME unless you want to stink like raw garlic at work the next day, even after showering. Next time I'd go closer to 2-3 if the cloves are that big.
  • If your garlic is getting old and has a green center, it has begun to sprout. This will taste especially harsh in a raw sauce like pesto. Take the extra time to cut the clove in half and remove the green sprout if you can't replace it with fresher garlic.
I figured a good, straightforward sauce like homemade pesto deserved a special pasta as it's vehicle into my belly. For this noble cause, I chose a sexy orecchiette covered with tons of surface ridging, perfect for adhering precious sauce. (Sounds vaguely dirty, doesn't it? Good food always does!)





Friday, October 19, 2012

Eat: Sharing is for Sissies at Momofuku Noodle Bar (Review)

When visiting New York City, I find it terribly difficult to narrow down and select a handful of restaurants to dine at. There is simply too much choice! The last two times we've been there we had  less than three days in the city so it's easy to do the math on how many lunch and dinner reservations you can make. The time before last, I made an amateur mistake and gorged myself during dinner at Morini, my favourite restaurant. I was loving every morsel and greedily decided to finish my already massive meal with dessert AND a latte. The next morning I couldn't even fathom eating breakfast. I had a proper food hangover. Even worse, I didn't want to eat lunch and I was barely hungry enough to eat dinner at Meza Grill when the time rolled around. I wasted nearly 3 meals in NYC thanks to my gluttony at Morini.

When we went to NYC this past September, I was acutely aware of my tendency to overdo it so I  tried to employ some self restraint. Leading up to a dinner reserved at Mario Batali's Lupa, I knew it was essential to eat light for lunch. Marc had a strong hankering for noodles so we decided to try getting into momofuku noodle bar. We were there just early enough to get a seat at the bar before a rush of people filled up the entrance. Their pork buns are legendary so I knew it wasn't even an option not to order one of those. For my main, I selected the momofoku ramen bowl because is there really any resisting a soup with pork belly, pork shoulder and a poached egg on top?

When we got to ordering, the waiter suggested that we share a large bowl of ramen between us. Now, for the record, I don't like sharing food. I'll share just about anything but I LOATH sharing food. If you know me, you probably know this already - or I was trying to be VERY polite. I cringe when I hear people say 'Hey guys, how about we all share entrees together instead of ordering your own?!'.  I know people will be offended by this but I really don't see why, I'm not pushing anything on you and yet I often feel bullied into sharing when I don't want to. In the past I have been somewhat of a picky eater, so the situation always ends up the same. Inevitably 5 plates end up on the table, only one of which I actually want to (or can) eat which for some reason, everyone else wants to eat too. I end up staring at some nasty shrimp, foie gras, clam or offal plate that I want nothing to do with. Paying for a bunch of food I don''t eat and leaving hungry makes for a cranky Heather. Okay, okay, you get the point, I don't do sharing. But when the waiter suggested it almost out of nowhere, since we hadn't said we wanted to eat light, we thought there must be something to his rationale. Also, we were afraid to repeat the food hangover of our last visit, so we agreed.


The pork bun was good but I wanted it to be awesome. It had all the right flavours and textures, pork, hoisin, scallion, cucumber. You could just taste the umami (hahaha, well maybe YOU could, but since I think umami as imaginary as a unicorn, I'll go with salty). My only gripe was that my pork lacked the grilled quality that I noticed on everyone else's plates around me. Mine was blubbery and white, which I didn't find very appetizing. Bummer.I'll chalk it up to a food quality issue since Marc's pork bun looked way better than mine.When the soup showed up, I couldn't help thinking 'you got to be kidding me'! It was smaller than the average Vietnamese Pho soup - and now we had to s-h-a-r-e? Noooooo! To make matters worse, it was so delicious. Pork broth is just...wow. We both played nice, but I'm sure we were both hoping the other person would have to go to the bathroom or something so one of us could attack the soup solo.

I finished my meal still hungry. Between the blubbery bun, too small soup, really bad house wine and line up behind us, I can't say I loved the experience (sorry to the Chang fanboys out there).At least we had no risk of overeating but that's hardly a flattering advertisement. Despite my stingy opinion of the place, I would go back. I'd avoid the wine and be sure to have a bowl of pork ramen all to myself.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Drink: Le Jaja de Jau (Review)

 I'm long delayed in posting about le Jaja de Jau. It's a bottle that you have probably seen a million times at the SAQ or some other wine store and just passed over. I know I did.

I have a tendency to gloss over French wines. I know French wine has a great reputation but the labelling and complex classification often confuses me. Historically I haven't been too keen on experimenting with unfamiliar wines when I already know so many wonderful Italian wines. But after our trip to Paris last year, we decided to add a bottle of French wine to every case we buy as a way of learning more about French wines. I'm starting to notice trends; we often go for a VDP (Vins de pays), which is a step above table wine but still really good. The value for the price makes these wines worth the experiment. We have also enjoyed a few GSMs (blend of Grenache, Shiraz a.k.a. Syrah, and Mourvèdre) if and when we can find them. Thanks to this taste test experiment, a bottle of Jaja was added to our cart and the rest is history.

I have since bought two full cases of Jaja. With a 15% discount at the SAQ outlet, the entire case amounts to 123 dollars, a total steal. It's the perfect wine to have in supply. We intersperse drinking the cheaper, every day jaja with some of our favourite (albeit more expensive) wines so that we have some variety. It tends to bring down the overall cost of being an oenophile.

You can read more about Jaja de Jau on the SAQ website here. What I can add is that Jau is a region in France and Jaja is a colloquialism used within that region to describe everyday wines. Mignon, n'est-ce pas? The SAQ indicates that the wine has a slender texture and smooth tannins; I totally concur. Its has this nice full taste but somehow doesn't leave you with a mouthful of tannin after you swallow. SAQ also wrote that it pairs well with dry sausage, pizza and pork. Absolutely it does (but what doesn't go well with pizza and sausage....miam). I'm my opinion, it goes very well with most foods that contain a little fat or savory component. My only word of caution: I have noticed that occasionally, the wine tastes a little off on the second or third day after being opened. Not always, but every now and then it has a taste that I can only describe as 'pruney' if open too long. Normally that's not a problem, I do my best to finish a bottle on the day I open it <insert joke at my expense here>.   But with table wine, the whole point is to have a glass here or there be able to leave a corked bottle on the table for whenever the mood strikes you. Having said that, I've only noticed this a couple times so I'm will to accept this flaw. Please add a comment if you have tried Jaja de Jau, I'd love to hear what other people think about it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Eat: More blathering on about cupcakes

In honour of my nephew's 7th birthday, I give you: cupcakes!


These particular cupcakes are from Cho'Cola. These are not the cupcakes that my nephew will be enjoying tonight; we have discovered that four dollar cupcakes are wasted on children. Or maybe just my nephews... the way they decimate a cupcake with their fingers and then leave most of it to be thrown in the trash makes me want to shed a tear. My family has unanimously agreed that for the time being, the cupcake destroying kiddies will get grocery store or equivalent cupcakes. As long as there is neon icing and tons of sprinkles they don't seem to know the difference. Cupcake Plebes!!

I've heard much debate over which cupcakes are the best in Montreal. There are some polar opposite opinions out there, especially with regards to Cho'Cola. I recognize that Cho'cola cupcakes tend to be on the drier side, and the cupcakes are a bit top heavy with icing but I like my cupcakes buxom! Their stupendous carrot cupcakes would be nothing without that massive dollop of cream cheese frosting. These haters are icing wimps; come on, who whines about too much icing? Boo hoo, I have too much delicious butter cream, what will I do? Duh!? Share it with me!

I get it though, to each their own. I personally haven't fallen in love with Itsi Bitsi on Notre Dame, and many people sing their praises. I'm a bit of a cupcake virgin with regards to any of the other specialty shops in town. Not for lack of interest, it's just that I have allocated myself a cupcake budget and with Cho'cola so close to home it's hard to justify going across town for an unknown variable. I don't like gambling with cupcakes...it's way too dangerous a game! I'd like to say there is no such thing as a bad cupcake, but I've had enough cupcakes to know that is just not true. So I'll just have another Cho'cola carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting and smile stupidly from my neck of the woods. Ahhhh.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Halloween: Pumpkinausaurus

Using your best guess, would you say this pumpkin was decorated by a 6 year old child or a 34 year old woman? I believe that this pumpkin stood a better chance of looking like a dinosaur had it actually been decorated by a 6 year, but alas, it was my artistic handiwork. Look upon my Pumpkin, ye mighty, and despair!

We picked up this adorable Martha Stewart Dinosaur kit at Target, thinking that we could entertain my nephew while he was visiting our place for the afternoon. It was such a romantic idea, going out to select a pumpkin and decorating it together on a cool autumn day. Picturesque, right? But once my nephew realized that we would not be stabbing any pumpkins with knives, we realized how little interest this 6 year old actually has in pumpkin decorating (ah yes, he IS my nephew). I managed to coax him to paint the pumpkin this lovely shade of green before he managed to convince Marc to turn on the xBox and leave me holding the paint brush.

A couple days later I decided that I might as well finish it myself so I could present it to him as a Halloween decoration for his front step. I sat down with a steaming cup of coffee and adhered the foam stickers. I felt like I was robbing the kid of the opportunity but at the same time I was acutely aware that he was uninterested AND that my arts & crafts skills were about the perfect match for a  5+ and over pumpkin decorating kit. There were a few technical glitches; the paint stuck to the glue of the sticker and came right off the pumpkin leaving big orange spots, and the heat from our base heaters seemed to have dried out the glue causing Dino's head to fall off more than once! Poor Dino. I'm not sure he's going to make it to my brothers place in one piece, so here's a picture for posterity.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Blog: Template changes

I updated my blog template yesterday to a pretty neat dynamic template. The preview was really cool, specifically the magazine format. It just looked so fresh and clean. The dynamic placement of the posts really added visual interest. I was pretty sold on it because it looked so nice on my PC and iPhone but later on when I tried it using it on an iPad I discovered that my posts were un-scrollable (Yes, yes, that's a made up word). The scroll functionality somehow works in the background window (i.e. the homepage) but not in the post itself. Strange. That makes it impossible to read a post if it's longer than a specific length and let's be honest, we all know I'm verbose. So this morning I had to change it again. I lost my previous custom template as a result of the switch so I'm trying out this one. Please let me know if you run into difficulty navigating it or if you just plain hate the decor.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Eat: What's in the Box?

Answer: Recipes! (...and you thought it was Gweny's head, didn't you?)*

When I first started cooking I had an idyllic plan to put all of my favourite recipes on cute little cards and store them in a charming little recipe box. It appealed to my sense of organization. I didn't have cable and cookbooks weren't the booming industry that they are now so I resorted to reading other peoples cookbooks (old school gems like Joy of Cooking, East meets West, Sara Molton, etc) and copying my favourites by hand. I would cut recipes off of product boxes; I still have a Becel margarine curry chicken recipe that I am still inexplicably fond of despite the fact I haven't bought margarine in years. I started a notebook to collect the recipes, hoping to one day find the time to transcribe them onto those cute little cards. My pet project.

After a while I started to print recipes off the Internet from sites like www.allrecipes.com or www.epicurious.com. Again, I assumed that if the recipe made the cut, I would transcribe it to a cute recipe card. The pile of new recipes kept growing and growing. Eventually I created large Word documents, shrinking the font size down and printing double sided pages. This resulted in binders full of recipes. As awesome as these binders are, I never really considered them a replacement for my recipe box; they were too impersonal, relatively unattractive and consisting of mostly untried recipes. By this time I had also collected a number of  beautiful hardcover cookbooks and a pile of Gourmet, Fine Cooking and Bon Appetit magazines, all containing scads of exciting new bookmarked recipes. There was no catching up and the effort to create these recipe cards seemed way too daunting and not very practical (not to mention anachronistic).

It's the definition of spoiled for choice. Gorgeous food blogs, websites, and iPad applications; so many sources of to-die for recipes! But even with recipe box applications like iPad's Paprika, I can't seem to get my act together and collect all my favourites in one place. It's not 'my' application so it  doesn't have that personal touch that I'm after. I must admit to a bad habit; if I believe a task is too big to do perfectly then I might avoid starting it altogether. If I delay enough, I sometimes come to the conclusion that I no longer want to complete the task, so problem solved!  But I have been thinking about my recipe box project again (hence this post). I was in Michaels arts & crafts store the other day and I saw potential supplies that I could use to create a lovely box, cards, etc. My creativity was momentarily piqued but I quickly realized that the time for an actual physical recipe 'box' has passed. It would be more practical to base my project on a soft copy format but I need to put some thought into how I can do that and still make it personal.

I realized a few days back that I may already have the basis for my  new 'recipe box' idea right under my nose. Without really thinking about it, I had been printing off individual recipes (even ones that I already had in cookbook format) so that I could refer to it while cooking. This way, I didn't mind if it got dirty and I could easily carry it to the grocery store for ingredient shopping. After I was done with the recipe, I noted the modifications to ingredients, preparation, and whether or not I thought it was a 'keeper'. I would then stuff the dog-eared recipe into a big box on my bookshelf. OK, I know what you're thinking, "that's a recipe box, dummy!". But I swear, it started out as a place to keep incense, tea lights and matches; the pile of folded, sometimes stained, doodled upon recipes amassed by happenstance and I hadn't even noticed it. I'm not exactly sure how I will go about it but I think I will take this informal recipe box, combined with photos I have taken and have a recipe book printed of all my favourite tried and true recipes, a la iPhoto format. Everyone I know seems to have pretty, hardcover bound photo albums of children's photos, so why not recipes?

Aside from printing up a personal recipe book, I have also considered using this blog. Perhaps I could format it in a way that my recipes are indexed like other food blogs, and consider this my online recipe box? In a lot of ways, the work has already been started. I have posted numerous times about the meals we have made, complete with photos. Perhaps with some organizing and frequent posting, this could be my solution. I'd love to hear from anyone who read this post, how do you manage your recipes? What do you do with your most coveted ones, such as recipes that have been passed down in the family? Got any to share??


*nerdy movie reference, but I won't say which one since my lame-o joke ruins the punchline of the film.

Shop: Lessons from a Retail Diet

Day 32. I had to spend over 500$ on winter tires this past weekend so it's not like I haven't been spending...just not on retail therapy. But I have learned a few things over the last 32 days:
  • I dislike 3 of the 4 bottles of toner that I am using. I didn't notice because I was rotating my use, but now that I am finishing the products off, I am forced to use one product for multiple days in a row and I don't care for the way my skin feels after a few days use. When all is said and done, I will buy only one toner. (Don't you feel better, knowing that I have settled on a toner?)
  • Banana Republic send way too many emails. As does Bath and Body Works, GolfTown and J. Crew. I still torment myself by looking at them when I really should just unsubscribe.
  • I don't consume nearly enough tea to warrant my spending habit at David's Tea. I can't cut through my supply. As much as I like the tea, I like coffee more.
  • That I actually do get a vicarious thrill out of helping other people shop. I find it satisfying to help someone decide on an article of clothing or product, almost as much as when it's for myself. I've joked many times that I should have been a personal shopper. I really do think I could be good at it. I'm not going to say that I always put together the best outfit combinations but if someone told me that they were looking for a motorcycle boot or a nice cardigan, I'm betting I could research the crap of out it and come up with some fine options to choose from. Such a wasted skill! Why couldn't I be better at algebra? Instead I aced 'What Not to Wear'.
  • Now that I'm not spending as much time trolling stores, I have rediscovered 'me' time on the couch with a book and coffee (or reading a book in a hot bath, for that matter).I have many unread books around the apartment just waiting to be enjoyed, and an ample supply of coffee. Definitely a more affordable way to spend a couple hours, or at least until I run out of new books.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Eat: Cuban Sandwich Recipe

By now you are probably well aware of my affection for Cuban sandwiches. There is a paucity of Cuban sandwiches in Montreal which is such a shame, as they are the pinnacle of sandwich-dom. Try one, you'll see.

Last week after my boyfriend made a roast ham (delicious in its own right), it dawned on me that we could use the leftover ham to make Cubans.  We have wanted to try these for awhile now so we had numerous ideas of what ingredients would make a good Cuban. A basic Cuban uses Cuban bread,  pork, ham, mustard, pickle, cheese and sometimes mayo. It is pressed and served warm. You can take many liberties when choosing each of these ingredients, which is evident when you try looking up a Cuban sandwich recipe on the Internet. So many variations that all claim to be authentic; I'm sure they are all varying degrees of delicious in any case.

  • Bread: I had no idea where to get Cuban bread, so instead we stopped by Coco Rico in the Plateau and bought Portuguese buns. They are not a perfect match but the size and texture seemed like a suitable option that would press well. I'd try a different variety next time.
  • Pork: The sandwich that I base all my comparisons had a warm carnitas-style braised pork, which was not saucy but very juicy. It would have been quite laborious to replicate this so we opted for a more easily sourced but no less flavourful option. We stopped by our local butcher, Tranzo, for super thin slices of their homemade porchetta. This stuff is awesome.
  • Ham: The impetus for the whole endeavour was Marc's roasted ham.We sliced it as thinly as possible, and used a couple slices per sandwich. We wanted a 4:1 ratio of pork to ham so that the ham would not overwhelm all of the other flavours.
  • Mustard: I opted to mix my own, consisting of 1 tbsp grain mustard, 1 tbsp Dijon, 1 tsp regular yellow mustard and 1 tbsp mayonnaise.
  • Pickles: We used some readily available Polskie Ogórki Dill Pickles and sliced them thin.
  • Cheese: While in the Plateau for Coco Rico, we stopped into La Vieille Europe and picked up some Emmenthal cheese. We wanted a relatively neutral taste, but something that still had it's own distinct quality.
They turned out wonderfully, I couldn't be happier with the results. Pinnacle of sandwich-dom.








Saturday, October 6, 2012

Eat: Moroccan Carrot Soup Recipe

I make carrot soup a few times a year, often because there is an aging bag of carrots in the fridge that I hate to see waste away. I've made a few different variations, ranging from the typical carrot/ginger combination to curried carrot. These soups have turned out satisfactorily but I can never say they were good enough for me to crave leftover. This week I was faced with yet another bag of aging carrots so I decided to search epicurious for a new soup recipe. I came across Moroccan Carrot Soup, which has been in my recipe box for years but I never really gave it a second look. I decided to try it because the reviews were through the roof and the flavours seemed quite unique. Like most puree soup recipes, it was fairly easy to make. I couldn't believe how fragrant the toasted, ground cumin seed was. The addition of honey, allspice and lemon juice really transformed the carrot soup base into something so much better than basic carrot soup. Most of the ingredients are pantry staples which is an added bonus for the lazy epicure.

Follow the recipe, which can be found here. I made some modifications based on reviews/comments on the site:
  • To amp up the flavour, add double cumin and allspice. Worth it.
  • Add cumin and allspice while the onions cook, to get the most flavour out of the spices.
  • Add salt & pepper (to taste) while the onions cook. The recipe does not emphasize this but both ingredients are needed to bring out the other flavours.
  • If you don't like a sweet soup, use half the honey suggested. You will still taste it but it will be a more savoury soup, which is my preference.
  • I forgot about adding the yogurt until after I served the soup. I didn't bother with it after I tasted the soup however, it really didn't need anything more.
  • The recipe (to me, anyway) makes a small batch. Maybe 3 meal servings (see pic below). I'd consider making a double batch next time.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Eat: Happy Gobble, Gobble!!

Joy! It's Friday! Even better, it's a three-day long weekend for Thanksgiving and we have lots of fun plans in store. On Sunday I'm taking nephew to lunch and then to see the movie Hotel Transylvania. It's the first time I (Auntie Heather) get to take my nephew out without family supervision. He's too young for a tattoo, but piercings are OK, right? I kid, I kid...I'll bring him back in one piece.

In terms of Thanksgiving festivities, we have two family dinners planned. One is at my parents place on Sunday for a traditional turkey feast and another, less conventional dinner is planned for Saturday night at Venti Osteri with my boyfriend's family. Have I mentioned that Venti is one of my two favourite restaurants? That they rotate their menu seasonally and I am dying to try their latest Fall creations? Wild Boar Ragu, here I come. Tradition be damned, I am electric with excitement over their menu. Observe the photographic evidence of Venti's might, home made cured meats and salumi!!:



Happy Thanksgiving to the Canadian folks out there. Enjoy those tasty, tasty calories.

***

On a side note...it's Day 26 of the no shopping diet. So far, so good. I have a few expenses that I need to deal with in the coming weeks. A few birthday presents to purchase, winter tires, maintenance & supplies for the car, etc. With all that shopping, it's hard to miss...shopping. I have gift certificates for a few retail stores that I am trying to forget about; between the required spending and the gift certificates, it wouldn't feel much like a no shopping challenge.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Like a punch in the nose

Today at lunch, I ordered my usual sandwich in the company cafeteria and walked to the cash to pay. As the lunch lady punches in my sandwich, she looks at me for a long moment and says "you packed on weight". I know this is the truth. I've let my diet get a little out of hand and had a few Ulcerative Colitis flare ups this year which directly conflicts with exercise & energy, especially running. I've been trying to get back into the swing of things but my love of food and disinterest in all things cardio has derailed me, time and time again. But hearing someone who is pretty much a stranger say this out loud was rather unpleasant. It stung. Also, what was she expecting me to reply? It was not even a question, it was a statement. It felt...mean. So, I gave her a quick out and said. "Sorry, what was that?" hoping she would change her approach. But she chose to stick with it and said it again but louder, "you packed on weight". Now I was pissed. All could say was a "YES". I turned a one syllable word into three in my attempt to be very clear that one word was all she was getting as a response. If she expected me to elaborate on it she was going to wait a long time; and I think she was prepared to because she just kept looking at me. It became something of a staring contest, the epitome of akward. She finally decided on "you put on weight" (a slight variant, how refreshing!) while nodding her head at me. Just....wow. I muttered "Okay, well thanks for that" as I shook my head and walked away. She called after me and said "I know it's not nice to say but you know...". No, I don't know. I would never do that to someone. I really wanted to end the whole thing but could not think of anything to say, so I looked her in the eyes and said "Yes, it's not nice" and walked away. It was the very  defintion of l'esprit d'escalier; I really wish I had a snappy answer but I was tongue tied.

I generally try to keep my posts "drama free" and talk about stuff I am happy & passionate about but this got under my craw and I had to write about it. I will use this as my venting session and not dwell on it. I know I'm making a big deal out of it; if it was between two guys it probably wouldn't even be an issue. But she's a woman and I think she must know at this point in her life that you don't say things like that, especially to people who aren't your friends. I know I'm taking it personally; it hurt because it's true. I started out this year saying I needed to lose the five pounds I wanted to get rid of and ended up gaining an extra 15. It's not a joke to me and I certainly don't need a stranger thinking they have the right to make it a topic of discussion, especially in front of other people at work. Manners!! Where are people's manners these days? Sheesh...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Eat: Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage Recipe

Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage has to be my all time favourite fall pasta. It has everything; carbs, sausage, onions, sage, cream and pumpkin - a rather unexpected flavour combination! The ingredients might actually be a little off-putting to some but I promise that when these ingredients meld, they combine to form the perfect fall comfort food. Even more surprising than the ingredients is the source of the recipe: the much reviled/loved Rachael Ray.

Now I know reactions to 'Rach' are polarized, but I got to hand it to her. My interest in cooking stems from watching her show nearly ten years ago. I owe her for that (grating voice aside). The food I cook today is a direct result of 30 Minute Meals. I will not lie, I was a terrible cook when I first moved out on my own. I didn't know any better. Cooking was not a beloved activity in my family so I didn't have much to go on. They employed more of a 'eating for sustenance' philosophy. The things I tried to put together and call a 'meal' were absolutely cringe-worthy. Luckily I discovered 30 Minute Meals when I was in my early twenties, sparing me from decades of dry over cooked pork chops and Lipton side dishes. Phew!!

Rachael Ray's show made me realize that cooking was accessible and that I could try ingredients that I was unfamiliar with. I can still remember how excited I was the first time I made sea scallops. I can't even begin to describe the self satisfaction that came with making five-spice duck breasts! Fresh ingredients and simple recipes - great building blocks for a budding home cook. Not to mention learning how to pair ingredients/flavours; until 30 Minute Meals I had no idea what flavours went well together. How amazing is it to be able to whip up a salad dressing without glancing at a recipe, thanks to a better understanding of fats/acids? Joy!I eventually discovered other inspiring chefs/cooks like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Barefoot Contessa and Giada DiLaurentiis, which lead me to move on to more intermediate and advanced recipes/techniques but I still have a handful of Rachael Ray staples that will stay in my arsenal of recipes. This is the reason why I come to her defense when people jump on the "Rachael Ray Sucks" bandwagon. Anthony Bourdain can suck it; I don't see him inspiring slews of home cooks.

Without further ado, I give you Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage from 30 Minute Meals. I always make the recipe exactly as written with the following side note: use lots and lots of fresh sage. It makes the recipe sing. The last time I made the recipe I had only a small amount of sage, about 8 leaves or so. I realized afterwards that she wrote 'sprigs', not leaves. I lamented my error tremendously.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eat: Harira Recipe

<NOTE: My spell check is not working so bear with me until I can sift through my typos!!>

The weather has taken a turn. It's getting darker much earlier than it use to and the temperature has dropped significantly. Cold, nap-enducing rain seems to have taken over, weekend after weekend. I know that its October and we are offically in autumn...yes, yes, that's how Autumn works, I know. But still...the part that baffles me is how did we go from 30 celcius, tank tops and shorts to 4 celcius, coats and scarves? Where did the sunny, foliage filled days of 15 celcius, jeans and sweaters go? I remember we use to have them, why else do I have all these mid weight sweaters and coats designed for such spring and autumn weather? I realize it's a matter of perception on my part but I seem to have missed the transition period. I skipped right over a slew of fall clothing for warmer, winter items. I have already wore tights and in my mind that makes it offical; winter is coming! (GoT reference anyone? You're welcome!)

During this time of year, I become even more of an homebody than normal. I read more, watch more movies and definitely cook more. This cocooning has already started; I think my boyfriend and I have cooked more in the last month than we have in the last 6 months. It helps that I really love the food associated with this time of year. My favourite recipes come out; hearty rib sticking recipes involving seasonal goodies like apple and pumpkin. And soup!! How I love a homemade soup. I was thrilled earlier this week when we decided that the weather was just right to make my first batch of harira.



For those uninitated, Harira is a Moroccan soup, typically used to break fast during Ramadan. I found this recipe on Epicurious years ago, and have been making it ever since. There doesn't seem to be one, true harira recipe, and I have never made the recipe the exact same way twice, but almost every recipe and photo I have seen looks amazing. I won't write out the recipe here, I really think the epicurious one is a great place to start but I will add these notes, becuase I think these details made a really delicious soup that much better:

  • Use vermicelli rather than rice. I prefer the different texture it adds; I break up the vermicelli in tiny pieces (this can be messy but worth it). Use only 1/3 of a typical vermicelli package or you run the risk of soaking up all of the liquid into the noodles

  • You can avoid meat altogether. I skip the chicken addition everytime and I don't even notice the lack of flavour. I promise this recipe has flavour without it. I used Vegetable stock during my veggie days and it is chock full of tastiness.

  • Add 1/4 tsp of cayenne. Why not?

  • Add Ras el Hanout if you have it, about 2 teaspoons. It has so many morocaan seasonings, it really adds that extra depth.

  • Add tumeric, fennel seed and mustard seed. Again, I did it just because I felt like it. You could do without it, but if you have it, why not.

  • Defintiely use fresh cilantro and parsley, dry just won't cut it here.

  • I don't love how this soup freezes/thaws, so I recommend eating it rather than freezing the leftovers. The flavour deepens as the days pass.
 I swear this one is a keeper. If anyone tries it, please let me know how you liked it, or what modifications you made. I am planning on trying a lamb version of it this year and I'm curious to taste the results.



Monday, October 1, 2012

Shop: The post where I mention Dicks four times

It's Day 22 and I must begin by saying that there were some retail expenditures this past weekend. Before I started this little test of will I had made plans with my family to go away for a weekend of golfing and shopping. When I set up my ground rules for this weekend, I decided that some minor spending was allowable as long as I stuck to stores/deals that I didn't have at home. I figured that a full day of golfing would keep me away from the stores for at least one of the two days, keeping the temptation to a minimum.

As luck (and weather) would have it, our weekend was completely rained out. We made the no-go call Saturday morning after we sat down for an early breakfast. We ended up spending most of the day shopping and I ended up spending at two stores, Target and Dick's Sporting Goods. I bought a mish mash of small odds and ends at Target (Ice cream scoop, Hair elastics, Halloween & Christmas decor, 6 dollar t-shirts and a flannel button down from the men's department) for about 75 dollars. At Dick's Sporting Goods I bought a golf skirt that had been discounted twice down to 30$, and four exercise singlets (Nike & Adidas) for yoga and gym workouts. I realize that buying four singlets is a tad excessive but they were 20-25 dollars a shirt, compared to the typical 65 dollar price tag at Lululemon for one shirt. It certainly fixes the workout laundry problem I've had lately and will (hopefully) curb my appetite for all things Lululemon.

I behaved myself on Sunday, making no retail purchases other than some orthodontic supplies. The full extent of the retail damage for the weekend was less than 250 dollars, which I think is pretty tame given my track record. Now that I am back home the shopping ban is back in full effect with the exception of Birthday and Christmas gift shopping that will soon be upon me.

On a side note, some anecdotal evidence of my immaturity:

As my family sat together for breakfast Saturday morning planning our day, I mentioned that I'd like to go to Dick's Sporting Goods because they have a good selection of golf equipment and clothing. My mother, trying to be helpful, explained that I could download and print coupons off of the Internet. She suggested that I "go on the Internet and search for Dicks". I burst out laughing, asking her if she's sure she wants me to do that?! It was hilarious to see her blush all kinds of red when she realized what she had said. I considered it my duty to tease her for the rest of the weekend. Ahhh wholesome family fun....good times.