Friday, December 31, 2010

A unexpected moment of sorrow in the last few hours of 2010......

I guess overall I have been very lucky - I had gone through 37 years of life before losing someone close to me, but this year I lost 2, my grandmother and my cousin.  2010 was full of loss and sorrow, so as I sat with friends earlier this evening, I was happy to be saying goodbye to a crappy year.  We had a great evening, with great company and good food - we did an early countdown at 10pm, so we could all get home and put the kids to bed. 
I was walking home (it's a beautiful night) with hubby and the kids when it dawned on me that I will be moving onto a new year, and 2 people I loved won't.  That really hit me hard - and unexpectedly.  It doesn't make sense, they stopped existing the minute they died, but for some reason as I sit here in the last few minutes of 2010, I feel like I am leaving my 2 loved ones behind.  I am moving onto a new year that they won't have existed in.  They existed in 2010, and they won't have ever existed in 2011.  The magnitude of my loss just hit me in a new I am suddenly not so eager to say goodbye to 2010, because that is the last year they lived.... that is where they will always live....and I have to move on.  I feel like I am leaving them behind.
So, I will say goodbye to the last year where they were both alive and step into a new one.  I will count my blessings and be grateful for the friends and family who step into this new year with me.  I hope that 2011 will be kind.

New Year's Resolutions.....or not.

I don't often make New Year's resolutions - why set yourself up for failure?  But last year, I did make a few, and I did manage to keep some of them, or at least make some progress on some of them........ So, I think I will take another stab at it again this year.  What do you all think about resolutions?  Are you making any? I'll share mine, if you share yours!

So here they are, in no particular order.....
Do something about my job. 
I have to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  I either have to decide to be grateful for the job I have and embrace and excel at it, or find another one.  I am too young to just have a "job" - it's time to get serious about my career again.

Eat Less bad stuff, eat more good stuff, move more.
notice I didn't say lose weight.  But hopefully that will be the by-product of this resolution!  Or perhaps I am just being passive aggressive.....

Get a better financial planner - stop the bleeding on our savings.
At this point I would have been better off putting my money in my mattress - and it had nothing to do with the financial downturn, we have always lost money on our investments!  Perhaps I should start a business letting people know what stocks we are buying, so they can take the other side of the market and then cut us in on some of their gains!

Laugh more.
I don't really tend to laugh.  I smile, I grin, perhaps the odd guffaw, but I very rarely laugh.  Time to change that, they say that laughter is the best medicine! 

Stop yelling.
My kids know just how to push my buttons, and I tend to yell at them when they do.  I think there was a bit too much yelling in 2010, I would like that to stop.  My mother yelled a lot when I was a child, and I hated it - and I noticed that I am doing it more than I used to.  So, hopefully I can get the kids to make a resolution to stop pushing my buttons......

Less stuff please.
This one is a tough one for me.  We purge quite regularly, but I also buy quite regularly.  So, I will use the library instead of buying the books I want to read, I will make sure my kids only have the clothes they need (I think Kat's 13 pairs of jeans is somewhat excessive for a 7 year old).  I will reduce the number of toys they have, so they play with and enjoy what they have rather than being overwhelmed with tons of toys. 

Remember that our greatest purpose on earth is to love those who we are blessed to have in our lives.  Try to not take it for granted. 

So, as I work towards these resolutions, I will share with you inspirational things I find to help me along - and if you come across anything, do share!
Happy New Year, may 2011 be filled with love, laughter, good health and prosperity.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Joy to the World, the Gravy turned out!!!

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas!  Our home was certainly filled with much joy, laughter, and may I say, some terrific gravy!  For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I made a get-ahead gravy which I was afraid didn't turn out  - it initially came out tasting like chicken pot pie.  But just before Christmas dinner, when I added the pan juices, and about a half cup of white wine, the gravy was sublime! Making the base of the gravy ahead of time, certainly did save me some time!!!  I will definitely do this again next year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Spicy Nuts - a terrific recipe!

Every year, I try to put together a little box of treats for our neighbours.  The sweet items may change, but a favourite are the spicy nuts - which make it into the box every year.  This year, I am feeling like the baking gods have not been smiling on, I am keeping it simple, and the neighbours treat is going to be the spicy nuts, flying solo.  I often get asked for this recipe, and I hope you enjoy it!
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Spicy Nuts (makes 5 cups)
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1.5 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 tsp paprika
  • 0.5 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 5 cups unsalted nuts (I like to use a mix of almonds and cashews)
Heat oven to 300 degrees F.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. 
In a small bowl combine the salt, cayenne pepper, paprika and sugar, and set aside.
In a large bowl beat the egg white until foamy.  Mix in the spice mixture.  Stir in the nuts until coated (I find nice clean hands are the best tool for doing this!).  Spread nuts on the baking sheets in a single layer and bake for 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees F, rotate pans and bake for another 10 minutes.  Remove pans from oven and immediately spread nuts in a single layer on parchment paper, separating the nuts if any clusters have formed.  Set aside to cool.  Keeps for 1 week at room temp in an airtight container.

Note:  This recipe doubles well, but I wouldn't go much beyond that - it's hard to find a bowl big enough to mix the nuts with the spices!

Here are some pictures to help you along. Please note that these pictures were taken when
I was doing a double batch (I doubled the recipe)

Egg whites, nice and frothy, ready to add the spice mix.
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Once you add the spices, it goes kind of gloppy - don't worry, it'll spread.
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Nuts are all nicely coated (again, I think using your hands is the best way to mix it all together).
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Spread out in a single layer on the baking sheet.  I used my silpat instead of parchment, and it worked out just fine.
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As soon as they come out of the oven, be sure to spread them to cool on a sheet of parchment.  It's best to separate them while they are still warm.  Once they cool off they are stuck together for good.
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All ready for delivery to our neighbours!  I love the look of the decorative takeout boxes that I bought at Michael's - but I stopped using them because they are much bigger than they seem - and I didn't have enough nuts!
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Sucker Punches

This year has been a tough one for my family.  We lost my very loved Grandmother in February, and we lost my 32 year old cousin Anna to cancer in September (she left behind a husband and a 3 year old son, not to mention parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who loved her very much).  They both loved Christmas........and this will be our first one without them, both of them - a bit of a double whammy. 

I have been doing a pretty good job getting into the holiday spirit - buying gifts, wrapping, baking (although not nearly as much as I used to), laughing, having fun, being merry - but there are moments that blindside me, and reduce me to a puddle of tears.

Hubby and I were in the liquor store on Saturday, stocking up on wine for the holidays.  Every year for Christmas, I would get my grandma a bottle of Cognac (it lasts her the entire year!).  We were walking into the store and my eye caught a beautiful cut crystal bottle of cognac and before I could stop it, I thought "that's perfect, Grandma will love it!", BAM, out came the tears and that horrible feeling of loss I get every time I realize I will never see her again.   It's like being sucker punched in the stomach, the kind that knocks the wind out of you - and I never see them coming. 

While my the loss of my grandma is devastating, the loss of Anna has a whole other dimension to it - her beautiful 3 year old son.  He and Tommy are good buddies, and I work very hard not to break out into tears every time I see the little guy.  Last weekend, I was getting a little stocking stuffer type gift for my son, which I thought Anna's son would love as well.... again, before I could stop it, I thought "I'll have to give her a call and see if she wants me to pick one up for him".   BAM.  Sucker punch.  He doesn't have a mommy anymore.....

On Christmas Eve I will be hosting my family for dinner.  Everyone who is going to be in my house is rather delicate this year, and although I know tears are inevitable (and appropriate), I am trying to have as few sucker punches waiting as possible.  Don't buy grandma's favourite chocolates, put away the stuffed Santa grandma "re-gifted" to me, not realizing that my cousin Anna was the person who had given it to her, consider not doing the gag gift exchange they both loved so much (actually, I think they were the only ones who loved it..... but we're still doing it).  It's a losing battle, I guess I will just hope that the sucker punches aren't too hard, and that we all manage to laugh and have a good time with the family we still have - to celebrate the joy of the holiday - despite having the wind knocked out of us.

For those of you who have lost a loved one this year, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and that there aren't too many sucker punches.....

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Get Ahead Gravy - mmmmmmm.

One of the things I find most stressful about a turkey dinner is making the gravy.  Even if the turkey is dry and the veggies soggy, all can be forgiven if the gravy is lip-smackingly good.  But there have been years where my tried and true gravy recipe just doesn't turn out - for no understandable reason, it just doesn't. 
I was watching Jamie Oliver's Family Christmas on the Food Network, where he demonstrated a "make ahead gravy"  - what a great idea!  If I have an amazing gravy already made, then that takes the stress out of the angry gravy gods messing up my holiday feast! I couldn't find the recipe online, so I kept watching the segment over and over until I think I have it figured out. 

So, here is my attempt at get ahead gravy!  I look forward to having my gravy pre-made, sitting cozy and snug in my freezer, to be brought out just before Christmas dinner - that should shave a good hour off my prep time on Christmas.  YIPEEE!!! (please note that this portion of my post was written before I tried the recipe - scroll to the end to see what I thought after the process was done!).

Here is the recipe as best as I could figure it out.

Jamie Oliver's Get Ahead Gravy

Put the following in a roasting pan:

- 2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
- 2 large carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 large onions, roughly chopped (just take the really papery brown skin off)
- 5 sage leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 2 strips of bacon, diced
- 16 chicken wings (I guessed here, be sure to crack the bones with a cleaver)
- Teaspoon of salt
- Good pinch of pepper
- 2 star anise (I didn't have any of these, and I didn't feel like going to the store, so I left it out).

Mix it all well in the pan and roast for about an hour at 400 degrees F.  After it has roasted, remove from the oven and mash it all together with a potato masher on a high heat on the stove.

Add 2 tablespoons of ordinary flour per pint (570 ml) of gravy you intend to make.  Add as much water as you would like to have gravy, and boil for 20 minutes, mashing occasionally to release the flavours.

Once it has boiled for 20 mins and darkened in colour, pass through a sieve and let it cool.  Store in containers/bags in the fridge/freezer.

When it comes to using it, bring to the boil and mix in the juices from the roast turkey (drain the fat first).  

For a little something extra, Jamie adds 2 heaped dessert spoons of cranberry jelly, or a few tsps of butter for extra gloss and richness.  Not sure if I will end up adding the jelly - I guess I will have to wait until Christmas to see if I fancy something a little sweet in my gravy!

Here is everything all cut up and ready to roast - a thing of beauty!

Out of the oven - I ended up leaving it in for about an hour and 20 minutes.  Looks good enough to eat!

After adding the flour, water and mashing every thing up - it looks a bit like a chicken pot pie filling (with bones).....gee, I hope it picks up some colour soon!

 Ok, it's now been about 35 minutes on the stove.... I think this is as dark as it's going to get......

 Double straining process.  Put it through the large strainer first to leave the really large bits behind, then through a finer strainer.....

Just over 4 cups of final product.

After:  OK, so now I have spent some time making this gravy.  The colour isn't as dark as I had hoped it would be, and I have just over 1 litre to show for my efforts.  It tastes OK, more like chicken pot pie filling than gravy though..... I am however, still optimistic!  I will put it to rest in my freezer until Christmas, and maybe with the addition of the pan juices from the actual turkey, it will darken in colour and get a bit more of a roasty flavour. 
I am not going to give up on this concept of pre-made gravy.  I think I will try it a few more times, maybe roast the chicken and veg longer to get more colour on it?  Add more water, to get more final product? 

I must say, this is the second not so stellar venture into the kitchen in a couple of days..... I wonder if I have some bad kitchen ju-ju going on........

Dear readers, if you are feeling adventurous, give this recipe a try - perhaps with some of the modifications I suggested!  Or let me know if you have any great time-saving make ahead tips for a holiday meal.  Apparently, I need all the help I can get!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Battle of the Spritz....not so spectacular.

Most years, for teachers, coworkers and neighbours I put together a gift box of home baked goodies.  The box is spectacular, filled with home made jeweled fudge, spiced nuts (it's a favourite that gets in every year) and hand iced sugar cookies....this year, not so spectacular.  The sugar cookies I usually do are spectacular, but they take days to make, so this year I was on the lookout for cookies that would be festive and yummy (I was willing to sacrifice spectacular) and easy to make in mass quantities.  I decided to dust off my cookie press and quickly make hundreds of spritz cookies, using an inspiring recipe I found on sugarcrafter.  So, I took 2 days off to tend with Christmas baking to demonstrate to fellow employees, that not only do I work full time, take care of 2 kids, a house, and a husband, but I take the time to make personal gifts from the heart.... aren't I spectacular! 

Well, let me tell you, they weren't easy.  The dough is delicious, the cookie press is really just a disguised torture device.  The darn cookies kept sticking to the press, and falling apart, I have a blister on my hand from the damn lever..... this was not the way I wanted to first demonstrate my prowess in the kitchen on my blog. 
On the upside, they do taste good (I can't take credit for the recipe), and as my nanny said, "they look OK". OK wasn't quite what I was going for......oh well, there is always next year......
Does anyone have a "spectacular", yet easy to produce by the hundreds, holiday cookie recipe?

This is the cookie press, otherwise known as torture device.

The final product. I guess they are "OK"

Towards the end, I gave up on the press and tried out some other things with the dough.  They weren't so "spectacular" either. 
I think I will go to the post office and mail my Christmas cards now.  Hopefully I can get that right and build my ego back up again......

Monday, December 13, 2010

Get a Personalized Video from Santa!

For the last couple of years, our kids have gotten a personalized video from Santa, and I mean personalized!  You can upload a picture of your child, a photo of the gift they want, their age, what they have been good at, what they need to improve.... now that's personal!  It's amazing to watch your child's face light up as he/she realizes that Santa really is watching. 

The one we have used in the past is:

There is another one that hubby told me about, I haven't tried it, but he says it's just as good, and they have a contest on the go, if you video your child's reaction, you could win a family vacation....

They are a lot of fun to do, I hope your family enjoys them as much as mine have!

Don't believe in Santa? NO GIFT FOR YOU!

My daughter Kathryn is 7, and most of her friends don't believe in Santa.  I keep waiting for the day when she asks me flat out if Santa is real.  Oddly enough, she never really brings it up.  I was starting to think she wasn't all that bright, until I heard her talking to a friend of hers the other day. 

Abby:  I don't think Santa is real.
Kat: Yes he is.  My mom  and dad get a present from Santa every year.  My mom says as long as you believe, you will get a gift.  And if you don't believe in Santa, he won't bring you a gift.  My mom believes and every Christmas morning she has a present from Santa, and she's even a grownup! 
Abby:  Oh.  I guess I'd better believe. 

A few years ago, Kat asked me if I believed in Santa, and I told her very clearly that as long as you believe, you will get a gift, as soon as you don't, NO GIFT FOR YOU (imagine the voice of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld here).  She has never brought it up since.  I guess she would rather be safe than sorry!

So, a little tip from me to you.... if your kids start to question whether Santa is real or not, tell them the choice is theirs, but as soon as they don't believe, NO GIFT FOR YOU!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree, you're so perfect you could be fake!

Every year we have the grand debate.... do we continue to go for a fresh tree, or do we finally give in and get a fake one (or is the politically correct term, permanent tree?).  Well, once again, the real tree won!  We packed the kids up in the minivan after school and went to our local nursery on the hunt for the perfect tree. 

I hope that every year we make happy memories for the kids - that they will remember picking the tree, then playing hide and seek throughout the nursery, darting in an out of hundreds of trees.  I hope they don't pick up on "holy crap, they want how much?" or the cursing under our breaths as we try to get the thing in the car.   I am glad to report that this year, the cursing under our breath was kept to a minimum, and there was much laughter and happiness all around.  And if I do say so myself it's the perfect tree - my favourite, a Fraser Fir.  I love the hue of green, the very full branches, good needle retention and perfect symmetry....perhaps too perfect......

We had a couple of friends over last night, and one was shocked that the tree was real, she assumed that it was fake since it was so "perfect".   Now that gave me pause.  Every year we look for the perfect tree......does that mean all this time everyone has thought our tree is fake?  I think this adds a new dimension to our annual debate.

Either way, I think it's beautiful.

So, real or fake?  What gets your vote?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Million Dollar Idea - foiled again!!

I don't particularly enjoy working for "the man" - and I am always thinking up great ideas that will free me from the golden handcuffs that tie me to my corporate job.  I have a lot of these ideas, and there is that exhilarating (but short) period time when I think I have finally come up with my million dollar idea....until I GOOGLE it, and learn that someone else has already done it. 

A few days ago, I was taking a shower, and I realized that I was out of shampoo - I mean completely out.  I looked at my beautiful bar of organic olive oil soap and thought "why not?".   So, I lathered up and washed my hair with it, and followed with conditioner (which I seem to have lots of).  Well, if I do say so myself, my hair turned out just fine..... so, it got me thinking....Solid shampoo!  What a great idea, there is no waste in packaging, it is easy to transport, and there is no need for a lot of the nasty chemicals and preservatives they use to make liquid shampoo, well, liquid. 

So, I ran (still wrapped in my towel with my hair dripping wet) to my computer and did a search.....and like most of my other great ideas, someone has already done it.  Actually, LUSH has a whole line of solid shampoos and conditioners (no, I am not being paid for mentioning them here).  So, I immediately sent "Santa" aka, my hubby, a note with links to what I think will be terrific stocking stuffers.  I can't wait until Christmas morning to give them a try. 

But all is not lost, I may still have an idea here after all...the Lush products still have Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in them (in my "green" pursuits I have learned that it is something you may want to avoid - but that's a topic for another post).  So, now I just have to figure out how to make it without any nasty chemicals - and I can retire from my day job!  In the meantime, I will be happy that my shampoo now comes without a bottle, and I can at least feel good about that!

I'll let you know if Santa delivers.  (Just noticed that Santa left the shipping confirmation on the printer.... so I am pretty sure they will be in my stocking come Christmas morning)..... yippeee!!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Jump in.

In January 2010, I made a New Year's resolution to start a blog.  To share my love of cooking, tips for keeping a home running smoothly, funny stories, and to exercise my "writing"  muscle.  After nearly a full year of contemplating blogging platforms, agonizing over titles (most of them were taken by the way!), content, anonymitiy issues, etc - I decided to take the plunge, and just start.  So here I am, warts and all, putting myself out there in the blogging world.

All of the blogging experts say that you should have a clear focus for your blog (i.e. cooking, design, etc), well, not much about me is focused, and I struggle with perpetual monkey-brain (jumping from one topic to another), so I have decided to embrace that and just be myself.  So here it is, a blog about everything I like to talk about.... pretty selfish, I know, but I hope you will join me for the ride.   I have decided to remain anonymous.... yes, I am hoping that eventually people other than my close friends and family may join in and read!  I have learned the hard way that the world is a much smaller place than I think it is.  So to protect the innocent, I will use pseudonyms when I tell stories. 

Girlfriendlifeline.... not my first choice for a title, but an appropriate one, I think. My girlfriends have been a constant lifeline for me, my sounding boards, my shoulders to cry on, etc.  But as our families grow, and our lives become busier, finding the time to connect gets harder.  Usually, by the time I have a few minutes to myself and want to sit down and connect with a girlfriend, it is far too late to call.  So, I am hoping this blog will fill that void , and hopefully others will enjoy it as well.  I hope to share funny stories, ask for advice, share cooking tips, and discuss topics which are relevant to me as a working professional mom with a young family.  You will meet a cast of incredible characters (i.e. my friends and family), and hopefully you will laugh and learn and come to love them all as much as I do. The best part is, we can have these conversations any time of day or night.... whenever we get the chance to sit and "chat".   A virtual girlfriendlifline, why not? 

Look at me, I think I just jumped in.