Moving…

Decided to try my hand at self-hosting, so my blog has moved to here. The posts that are here will remain for now, but all new material will be on the new site. Enjoy!

 

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Some Thoughts on Separation and Divorce…

I was recently talking to a friend and colleague who is also going through a separation. She is now living in a basement apartment and said that she is finding it hard to stay motivated to decorate and cook for herself. While I certainly understand that it’s hard to cook for one after spending years cooking for two, it made me sad to really listen to her say, “What’s the point of making a mess in the kitchen just for myself? What’s the point in decorating or making the apartment pretty? I’m the only one to see it”. And I just wanted to shake her and say, “YOU are the point!”

Why is it, as women, we find it so hard to treat ourselves as we would treat our husbands or families or friends or even strangers, for that matter? Why do we treat ourselves worse than we would a stranger or even a person we couldn’t stand? I told her that I deserved to have delicious food, to have colour-coordinated towels in the bathroom and look at a lovely bouquet of flowers. I deserved to wake up to nice smelling sheets and a beautiful framed piece of art on my wall and spend 15 minutes making a delicious frittata with bacon, goat’s cheese and potatoes, using every pan in the house, and to eat it leisurely in my dining room while watching my puppy snort and run around, sniffing for crumbs to inhale.

A big thing that I did when I moved into my condo was to eat at the table. Yes, occasionally I eat on the couch, but for dinner, I try to eat at the table. I put out a napkin (I get disposable ones for cheap on sale at the grocery store, which may be wasteful, but whatever), set the table for one, put out any condiments I may need and eat with a knife and fork. It makes a simple meal (which may be ramen with shrimp and broccoli) more of an occasion than eating slumped over on the couch, eyes glazed over, staring at the TV.

She totally just farted in the tub…

I also like to light candles for myself, buy flowers for myself and to treat myself like I would a houseguest, because I’ve been through the wringer for the past 6 months, and I need to be gentle with myself. It’s kind of like “Fake it ’til you make it!”. My surroundings play a big role in how I feel emotionally, which has a big role in how I feel physically.

So that is the point. Even if your apartment is temporary, even if you only know how to make big batch recipes (freeze the rest in single portions for days when you are rushed or feeling lazy), even if it is just for your own eyes, surround yourself with beauty and be kind to yourself. If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone else fully and you certainly can’t expect anyone else to love you fully, either. If you can’t treat yourself with kindness, no one else will, either.

I think this is a man? You get the point anyway…

So that’s the end of my mini-rant. If you are living on your own after a long time being part of a couple, be kind to yourself. I read this quote on http://galadarling.com/ (read it, it’s an awesome blog!):

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love & affection than you are yourself, & that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection.”

(Buddha)

That quote hit me in the face like a brick. No one is more worthy of your love and affection and kindness than YOU are.


And now back to our regularly scheduled programming of recipes, alcohol, cleaning and profanity…

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The Soup Diaries: This Ain’t Your Granny’s Soup…. Oh, wait. Maybe it is…

This doesn’t need a witty quip. Beef! Beef! Beef! says it all…

This is the time of year that I crave soup; a giant vat of it to swim in on mornings like today when the steering wheel felt like a circular icicle. That would have been splendid.

Soup is also usually pretty cheap to make. I’m going to chronicle a few different types of recipes in the coming weeks, but for today, I’m making a basic turkey soup. We’ve already had Thansgiving in Canada, but I know that my neighbours to the south will be celebrating in a few weeks. This is a great way to get rid of left overs.

The best soup always uses a home-made stock. And the turkey carcass is perfect and free at this point, so why not? After dinner, I either throw it in the freezer, or into my largest stock pot with cool water, not hot. I then add some salt, pepper and bay leaves. I bring it to the boil, then cover and drop to a simmer for a few hours. I then let it cool and pop it in the fridge overnight. This will let the fat rise to the surface and cool it all down so you don’t burn the shit out of your hands when you remove the bones. If you have done it right, it should actually look like a disgusting flavour of Jello. Fun Fact: gelatin (which makes Jello) comes from bones from various animals or pig skin. Think of that next time you are eating some of the jiggly stuff.

Yeurg.

Anyway, I usually pass the contents of the cooled pot through a colander or sieve, which gets out almost all of the bones. Now here comes the pain in the ass part: this step also gets out all of the delicious meat. So you will need to take the time to pull the meat from the bones. If I’m lazy or don’t have a turkey carcass, I can usually get frozen turkey legs for cheap and I use them. There is only one main bone and a few sinew bits, but it’s much easier to get all of the bones out.

Now you’ve got the stock and the meat. Next you add the aromatics. This varies by region, but the basics are onion, carrot and celery. In my province, we sometimes skip the celery. Then you can either add other veggies or noodles. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a member of the soup police. Do whatever you  want. Just make sure that you don’t let it boil dry. That is not soup. That is mang. And no one likes mang.

Anyway, a traditional soup in my region for turkey is to add carrots, onions, and turnip (which is actually rutabaga, but apparently everyone has misidentified it for a few hundred years). Now there is some controversy. And soup controversy is right up there with abortion and affirmative action at times. Some people add potatoes, some say its sacrilege. Some also like the soup clear, where others like red soup. You can make it red by adding a can of tomatoes or ketchup. I know it sounds gross, but you only add a bit and it adds a bit of sweetness which is nice. I am also in the potato camp. And it’s my fucking soup, so if I want to add a rock from the side of the highway, I will. Rocks happen to be high in fibre.

I also like to add savoury, which is commonly used in stuffing here (which we call dressing, even though it is officially a stuffing as it usually goes in the bird). Anyway, if you wanted to add some herbs like you usually use in your stuffing, that would be nice. Just be aware that if using sage, it’s pretty strong. Season it in batches so your soup doesn’t taste like bug spray. Let it simmer until everything is cooked and delicious. If you have to crack open a can or container of stock, go ahead. Just try to use the low sodium variety.

And that is that. That’s an easy, cheap, tasty, pretty healthy pot of soup. I usually freeze a bunch of it in small batches for lunches or lazy suppers. This is probably the worst recipe ever on this blog as it’s basically “huck some stuff in a pot and simmer until yummy”, but that is basically what soup is. Just make sure you add enough salt. Especially if you add rice, potatoes or noodles. Those fuckers eat up salt. But do it in batches, again, so it’s not overseasoned.

And voila. Soup that didn’t come from a red and white can. I didn’t take pictures of the soup before I froze it in small containers for lunch/dinner, and I didn’t think you’d want to see a picture of the freezer full of soup, goulash, chilli and ice cream, so you’ll have to use your imaginations, unless they’ve been crushed by working in a cubicle farm like me. If it has, make some soup of your own! I do plan on making some more for the next installment of The Soup Diaries, probably of the creamed variety.

Stay tuned! The anticipation is too much!

“God Damnit I love this soup!”

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Cleaning Tips and Tipples: Five Minute Cleaning

She’s only smiling because she’s high on the fumes from the oven cleaner.

Sometimes I don’t have the time, energy or desire to completely clean the house from top to bottom. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t do a few quick things that will make me feel better about my surroundings. I usually find that if I spend 5 minutes on a small task, I feel much better and less lazy/tired/sloth-like. Here are a few cleaning tasks that only take 5 minutes, but make you feel a million times better about your home.

1. Sweep the floor in the front porch. I find during the fall season, every time I open the door, a few leaves blow in. So take a few minutes and sweep them out. And if you are in the front porch, open the door and clean the broom. I usually whack it against the porch pailings, which gets it free of schmootz  that tends to accumulate between the bristles.

2. Swipe down the bathroom. Give the mirror a spritz and shine. I then use the same damp, cleaner filled paper towels to quickly wipe out the sink. Give the toilet bowl a swirl with the brush, and replace the towels. This is usually more than sufficient between weekly cleanings, especially if you have guests show up unexpectedly. If this is too much, just get the toothpaste blobs out of the sink. They tend to stare at me, mockingly, until I run the hot water and rub them away. Take that, you little bastards!

3. Change the garbage. Takes a few minutes and helps to make the house smell nicer. And if you can’t close the lid or have to split a fucking atom to add another tissue to the pile without it creating an avalanche of garbage on the kitchen floor, this is usually a hint that you should have changed the garbage about 3 days ago. Do it now.

He who tops it, drops it!

So these are 3 quick, five minute things that you can do to make you feel more productive and together. This calls for a cocktail! A lazy cocktail!

Screwdriver:

Pour some vodka in a glass with ice. Top with orange juice. If you are out of orange juice, just add more vodka. But then you can’t use the excuse that you came down with a case of 24-hour scurvy when you get caught drinking at 11:30am. But if you have another drink, you won’t care anymore. Awesome!

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Ways to Heat the Home: Stealth Mode

It’s getting colder. Summer is officially over and it’s time to turn up the heater, break out the Snuggies and settle in for a long winter of freeze-your-tits-off days (that is the official meteorological term) and even colder nights. But there are things you can do to help keep your home toasty and warm without breaking the bank.

1. First check for leaks and drafts. There isn’t much point in stealth heating if you are just going to let said heat get sucked outside. So check your windows and doors for any drafts, as well as the outlets in the walls and along the baseboards. You can even do an energy audit here: http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/do-it-yourself-home-energy-audits . It’s just as much fun as a real audit from the IRS (or CRA for my fellow Canadians), but if it helps you save money, do it any way. Make sure that you seal the leaks and drafts and then we are in business!

2. Invest in curtains and floor coverings. Keeping the curtains drawn, especially in the evening, helps prevent loss of heat in the home. As well, floor coverings over hard flooring (rugs, carpets, dirty laundry…) helps to keep your feet warm and retain heat in the home.

3. Use your oven. There’s a reason that I make a lot of braises, stews, soups and casseroles during the fall and winter and less in the summer. Not only do I crave hearty meals, but using the oven to cook something low and slow also heats up the whole house, as well as making it seem cozier with the aromas and sense of smug satisfaction in killing two birds with one stone. Dinner and warmth! Suck it, birds!

4. Wear layers and use layers for bedclothes. This seems obvious, but you tend to stay warmer if you have a bunch of thin layers as opposed to one thicker covering. This is why people wear long johns. Oh, I know, they are also so sexy that you might become the talk of the neighbourhood if you slip out quickly in them to get the paper, but there is a reason for the layers. The heat is trapped between each of the layers, and you stay toasty for longer. And sexy.

5. Close the damn doors! Were you raised in a barn? Didn’t think so. Close the doors inside the home, as well, to trap the heat in the rooms you are in. You don’t want all that toastiness you just created to drift into a room that you may not be inhabiting for a while (basement, guest room, dungeon while the gimp is out running errands, etc).

Jesus! Would you close the fucking door already?!?! Were you raised in a barn-never mind.

Any-hoo, with these tips, you can probably turn the thermostat down a little bit and keep a little more money in the bank/your wallet/under your mattress where it belongs!

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How to Make a House/Apartment/Condo/Cardboard Box Under the Overpass a Home

“Oh that? I just whipped that up as the kettle boiled.”

OK, so you don’t need to handcraft a sampler to make your living space a home. Even if it’s temporary, even if you live alone, even if you only have a bedroom in a boarding house, you deserve to feel like your surroundings are your home. And, to me, home means a comfortable, warm place where I can relax and unwind. Here are a few things that I do make my condo feel like my home:

1. Purge and Organize

When I was living in a tiny studio apartment, I found that I had way too much stuff. When I had too much stuff, I never had enough storage for everything, so it overflowed into my living space. That made the living space feel more utilitarian and just a place to crash after work as opposed to a sanctuary.

OK, so maybe this takes the term “sanctuary” to a whole new level…

Anyway, my point is that when I moved into my condo, I got rid of a lot of stuff that I realized I just didn’t need. Or love. Or want. Or use. Basically, if it didn’t fit into any of those categories, it didn’t stay. If you don’t love it or want it or use it or need it enough to make a dedicated space for it, why is it in the damn house to begin with? Get rid of it. Donate it to the Sally Anne or Goodwill. But get it out of your home.

2. Make Your Space Smell Good

Maybe not for the bedroom.

To make your home smell warm and inviting, you can do a ton of things. You can bake something lovely that will smell up the joint, you can make your own carpet refresher (see my previous post on that subject), light a few candles or just open the damn window for a few minutes. Hell, simply boiling some cinnamon sticks, cloves and apple slices will make you smell like Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines’ lovechild. But, keep this in mind, too: having a nice smelling home is also about the ABSENCE of some odours. All the scented candles in the world won’t help if the garbage is stinking up your abode.

3. Surround Yourself with Things You Love

It’s amazing how a few photos, art work, souvenirs from past trips and items from my childhood make me feel when I look at them. So why not have them out so you can look at them every day?  I’m not talking clutter, but a few photos on a shelf with a turtle from my recent trip to the Dominican and a book from my childhood makes me smile whenever I look at them.

Too much…

 

4. Flowers

“He’ll never guess that I ordered these for myself from ‘A Secret Admirer’…”

Nothing makes me feel more indulgent or happy than a bouquet of flowers. Even an $8 bouquet from the supermarket makes me smile. I know, I know, I’m spending money on something that will be dead in less than a week, but I don’t care. Is $8 too much to spend so that your eyes can gaze upon beauty for a few days like an empress in a kingdom from another place and time? An empress who has enacted a law prohibiting ugly things from falling under her gaze upon penalty of death by rabid monkeys? Well, maybe. But I’m doing it anyway, dammit!

 

So these four things are all things that I do to make my condo feel like a home. Most of them are inexpensive (free if you pick dandelions for your flowers), but make a big difference in how I feel when I walk through the door. And how I feel when I walk through the door is what makes my space my home.

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It’s been awhile…

Image

And there have been a lot of changes in my life. My husband and I have separated, I have purchased and moved into my own condo, and adopted a dog. My relationship issues are part of the reason that I haven’t posted lately. I didn’t really feel like posting on a homemaking blog when my own home life was in shambles. And, besides, it’s hard cooking for one and what was the point in trying to keep my home and make it lovely when I was the only one living here?

Then I realized how fucked up that line of thinking really was. Yes, it may be just little ole me in this condo (well, I also have Bea, a french bulldog, sharing my bed) and I may be the only one here most of the time, but this is my house and this is my life, and I alone am worth the effort of a warm, inviting, homey place to come home to at the end of a hard day. I don’t need a husband or a gaggle of kids running underfoot to bake something lovely or to arrange flowers for the dining room. In fact, it’s even MORE important to do it for yourself! I’m currently at a point in my life where I need to be surrounded by the people and things I love. And that just may include cinnamon rolls made from scratch (I’ll be popular in the office tomorrow).

If you can’t love and care for yourself, how can you do it for anyone else?

So if there are any other newly single ladies out there who are struggling with the idea of making your newly single house, apartment or condo a home, please know that you aren’t alone and that you deserve to be surrounded by comfort and beauty. And I’m going to keep posting because it brings me joy. Do what brings YOU joy. Even when you don’t feel like it, because it is those times that you need it the most.

And if I can dig out my camera, I’ll post a photo of the beautiful cinnamon rolls that are on their second rise. The smell is already driving little Bea nuts…

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The Lost Art of Throwing a Dinner Party

I guess I must be getting older. I’m hosting a dinner party for some friends this Saturday.

Again, much like the cocktail party post  I wrote ages ago, ambiance is critical. Keep the lights low, light a few candles (UNSCENTED. You don’t want your house to smell like a damn pine forest or an apple pie. Unless you’re serving apple pie. In which case, the pie itself will do.) and throw on a playlist from the good ole iPod. Again, make sure you don’t have anything too jarring or irritating. I thought about this today when Kenny Loggins was playing on the radio during my morning commute. After about 45 seconds of Danger Zone, I was contemplating driving off a cliff.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, music. The bottom line is that you want the guests to come and relax and enjoy your company and food. Skip the workout playlist or anything that tends to inspire murder/suicide.

Now the most important part: the food. Wouldn’t be called a dinner party without dinner, would it?

I kind of follow the Barefoot Contessa’s school of thought when it comes to entertaining. No, I don’t mean living in a mansion in the Hamptons and having your friends bring yet another orange tulip floral arrangement to the “barn” I built that is nicer than 97% of the all of the homes in my neighbourhood. What I mean is that you want to serve something that you could do with your eyes closed for the main course, try to do dessert ahead of time and purchase something to throw together for an appetizer. And always have a cocktail and/or plenty of wine on hand. This is critical.

For example, a menu that would work would be:

Appetizer: Assorted cheese, olives and salami arranged on a large wooden cutting board. This would be served in the living room with wine/drinks.

Main Course: Osso Bucco with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus.

Dessert: Grilled stone fruit glazed with honey and sweet butter and served with vanilla ice cream.

This is actually a pretty easy menu to pull off and it looks pretty impressive. First of all, the appetizer could be assembled hours ahead of time, loosely wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge. The osso bucco is a pretty simple braise that you start hours before. You can roast the garlic in advance and store in the fridge for the potatoes (Bonus: you also won’t burn the shit out of your fingers when you squeeze it into the potatoes). You can quickly mash the potatoes and the asparagus takes all of 15 minutes to roast. Sprinkle on the gremolata that you quickly chop up and you’re done the main course.

Dessert is, again, fairly simple. I melt the honey and butter together and grill the stone fruit on an indoor griddle pan. Make sure that the fruit is a little under-ripe, or they’ll fall apart. Baste/glaze the fruit towards the end of cooking and arrange on a plate with a scoop of ice cream. I like to buy the vanilla ice cream with the flecks of vanilla seeds in them. Looks nicer for a few extra bucks and tastes pretty good, too. You can sprinkle the plates with mint or serve with fresh raspberries (great with peaches for a peach melba-inspired dessert). Done-zers.

Not sure what the menu will be for this weekend, but I’ll be sure to take pictures so you guys can see what I’m talking about. A dinner party doesn’t have to be formal, or have a theme or specific occasion. Just invite some friends over, make something yummy and have a good time!

Just keep the Kenny Loggins and Yankee Candles for lonely Saturday nights when you cry yourself to sleep after eating an entire pint of ice cream by yourself.

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Hey Homies… Cleaning Tips and Tipples!

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Haven’t been doing much baking, cooking or homey-fying the house lately. I’ve been mostly working, but have recently been promoted to a new position that doesn’t involve travel. This means regular hours, which leaves time for me to get back into my home-making. And back into blogging. And the girls at work have heard enough about my baking that they are beginning to threaten violence if I don’t bring some in.

A big thing I want to focus on lately, though, is de-cluttering the house. It’s time for a spring cleaning!

And, it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t include something you can make yourself. Here’s a recipe I found for making your own fabric refresher (Febreeze, if you will. Don’t sue me…).

1/8th cup of fabric softener of your choice. Personally, I like Gain.

2 TBsp Baking Soda

Hot Water

Put into a spray bottle (you can use an old fabric refresher bottle, if you want), add the water, shake and enjoy! I’ve read a few different recipes for fabric refresher and like this one best for its inclusion of Baking Soda. Baking Soda is a natural deodorizer, so instead of just masking the smell, you actually help get rid of the stink that is stinkifying your fabrics. This is a good thing. You don’t want your couch to smell like flowers and an armpit, do you? Actually, if your couch smells like an armpit, maybe you should just buy a new couch. And possibly some new deodorant.

This recipe isn’t really better for the environment or for those with chemical sensitivities as fabric softener isn’t really natural. I guess you could use a natural fabric softener, if you wanted. But making it yourself is cheaper and you can get your own scent by using your favourite fabric softener. Customize-able! Score!

And what would be a Cleaning Tips and Tipples post without the most important part, the tipple? Bet you’d thought I’d forget, didn’t you? OK, the original recipe was a “mock-tail”, which isn’t really any fun. I mean, really, a fruity drink with no booze sounds like breakfast on a juice cleanse diet, doesn’t it? And we’ve already made the house smell nicer, we don’t need to make the bathroom stink by drinking papaya juice spiked with cayenne powder.

Here’s a recipe for a drink I found called a Spring Fever:

  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz mango syrup
  • 1 1/2 oz apple juice
  • 2 oz blood orange juice
  • 2 oz vodka

OK. OK. I know you probably don’t have blood orange juice. Just use regular orange juice and add a titch of raspberry juice to it. Or just use the orange juice and raspberry-flavoured vodka. Whatever. Add the ingredients to a shaker full of ice and shake it like a Polaroid picture (how very 2003).  Strain and serve it over crushed ice. Or you can just throw the works into a blender. Saves some ice and you don’t have to clean the shaker.

I like to serve this with a slice of orange. I drank it before I got a chance to take a picture. And now that the house smells like a dream, so I can probably put off the de-cluttering for another week or so.

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Long Time, No Post 2: Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here! I’ve gone back to school this past semester and have been crazy busy between that and work. No excuse, though. Back to the kitchen!

I’ve been craving cookies lately. Specifically, chocolate chip cookies. Even more specifically, chewy chocolate chip cookies. So I’ve found a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen . You’ve probably watched them on Public Television. Specifically, this nerd:

Now, the food that they usually make looks fantastic, but it’s very precise, analytical and scientific. These are usually things I shy away from, but this cookie recipe is super easy, super delicious and were just what I was looking for.

Ingredients:

2 cups + 2 tablespoons of AP flour

1/ 2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated white sugar

1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk

2 tsps vanilla

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pecans (I used walnuts and pretended that the cookies were a good source of Omega 3′s as I ate them by the handful…)

1. Preheat oven to 325F. They talked a bit about moving the racks around, but I just left them in their usual places and kept an eye on the cookies.

2. Line 2 light coloured cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silpat.

3. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt and sift into a bowl.

4. Combine melted butter and sugars and blend until well mixed. Add the egg and yolk and vanilla and beat until well combined.

5. Add dry ingredients, being careful not to over-mix. Stir in the chocolate chips and optional nuts by hand.

6. Roll the cookies into little balls and place on the cookie sheet with plenty of space to spread. I made them about a little larger than a golf ball. There were also some instructions on how to get raggedy cookies that involved making a ball, tearing it in two and them pressing them together so the raggedy side is on the top. It involved rotating the halves by 90 degrees and the use of a protractor and compass. I just made the balls. Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating half way through, but check them after 12 minutes. Do NOT over-bake them! They will not be chewy if over-baked.

7. To keep them chewy (refrain from stuffing them into your mouth fresh from the oven. Really burns the shit out of the corners of your mouth, which is not cool), let them cool completely on the cookie sheets.

8. Enjoy!

Keep those abominable snowmen away from the cookies.

See that big  one with all the walnuts? I’m eating it right now. It’s delicious.

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