Monthly Archives: March 2011

So Close To Home

Today is the day! At 5:00 tonight, we drop by our lawyer’s office and pick up our keys. Our keys. To our house.

I know this blog ended up a little neglected the last time M and I did something really big. I’m going to try my very, very best to not let that happen again. Over the next month, I want to cover some reno friendly food and I may have some restaurant reviews to share as we explore our new neighbourhood. I also have some crocheting projects I want to get to and share with you, perhaps for in the evenings when I’m trying to relax after working hard from supper to bedtime. And my camera will never be far away. So, I hereby challenge myself to keep you guys interested. Say, at least 2 posts a week? Our lives are going to largely revolve around drywall dust and bathroom fixtures, things that will fit more into our shared blog, but I know there will always be something I can post on.

And, if you’re not already planning on following our renovation adventure, you should be! Don’t forget to regularly check out This Dusty House to keep up with our progress. And, if you want to drop by and see the project yourself, just let us know! We like visitors.

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The Tastes of Home

No, I’m not talking about the magazine, though it’s certainly full of what I’m talking about. My mom received one of those every month for years, so I’m sure a few of those recipes made it into her regular repertoire.

Every time we go to my parents’ place, I gorge myself on my mother’s cooking. Perfectly grilled steak, lasagne, muffins for breakfast, brownies and delicious, delicious wine. I have realized my parents’ home, and as such, my childhood, has a taste. You know how songs can bring you back? This weekend, it was food. Specifically, these:

My mom didn’t make these often and perhaps that’s why they hold the power they do. They remind me of a time when I was, oh, seven or so, a time when I was tall enough to just stand over them. We would slather them with a maple syrup icing, made from our own maple syrup. Still warm, the icing dripped into the crevices of the bun and onto our hands as we pulled them apart and ate them piece by sugary, cinnamonny piece. I’m not sure what the best part was: the icing or the bun itself.

No recipe for these. I didn’t make them. But if I’ve got you feeling like you want to pull out your flour and yeast and sugar, you can hunt down a recipe here. I’m sure you’ll find something delicious.

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Oreo brownies and the Deception of Sunshine

Sunshine can be deceptive. Sunshine can glisten and warm everything up with light without actually adding any heat to the air. Sunshine can’t stop wind from blowing.

Sunshine can make you optimistically pull on your bright pink running shirt and slip into your baby blue, slightly chewed running shoes. It can give you a little bit of a boost as you run with the wind, pushing yourself a little farther than you should, enjoying the feeling of the strength in your legs and the sun in your eyes.

But, like I said, the sun can’t stop the wind. It can’t prevent the wind from blowing so hard as you turn back for home that you’re not sure if you’re even moving much anymore. It can’t warm up a face so frozen and wind-burnt that you can’t feel it and every face twinge feels odd.

Just don’t forget about the cyclist who, as she passed you in her layers of scarves and appropriate cycling clothes, grinned and said, “Good for you!” And don’t forget about the brownie waiting for you when you get back, chocolatey and delicious. These other bits of sunshine can’t stop the wind either, but they can keep you going, over the hill and back up the long, steep driveway of your parents’ house.

And don’t worry. That feeling like you’re going to pass out? It will pass.

(I ran 5.3 km on Sunday with the help of one green-clad cyclist and these tasty brownies, made by my mom who used the recipe from How Sweet It is.)

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Yarn, Yarn, and More Yarn

L is an avid knitter and crocheter. My mother used to knit us sweaters and afghans and taught both of her daughters to wield knitting needles and crochet hooks as well. I’ve crochetted afghans and scarves and, though I haven’t done much in the past couple years, I was kind of excited when L suggested we check out a couple of the knitting stores downtown as a part of our day romping around TO. So, after finally paying for our tasty brunch, we set off toward the Knit Cafe.

We got a little way-laid on the way.

Romni Wools on Queen Street is packed floor to ceiling with yarn. It’s like a second-hand book store, one of those that goes on and on and on with multiple levels and multiple rooms, cramming more and more and more into each nook and cranny. Every colour, every texture.

But, the store was dark and cramped. When L asked for help, the staff seemed to have no idea what they were talking about, or at least didn’t listen properly in order to get what she was asking. They were friendly, but useless. Perfect, L said, for someone who knew exactly what they needed.

So, we continued on.

The Knit Cafe is a completely different kind of yarn store. It’s not packed floor to ceiling. In fact, a knitter looking for a store with lots of selection would probably be a little bit disappointed. There’s one wall of yarn, one wall of needles and other tools, a small wall of books and patterns.

The yarns they sell are quite beautiful. Many are handspun, handcrafted yarns in bright, vibrant colours.

We spent some time here, and L carefully picked out two colours for a cupcake scarf. While she hemmed and hawed over her colours, my brother and I order cappucinos and lattes and settled in at the tables in the centre of the room. Yes, you all read that right — cappucinos and lattes. At a yarn store.

And then, things got really interesting. Apparently, skeins of yarn need to be wound. This is where you all realize how little expertise I actually have in yarn crafts. Sure, I’ve made an afghan or two, but I’ve never actually bought yarn from anywhere other than Walmart and Len’s Mill Store. In other words, I’ve never actually bought a skein. Only balls.

L buys skeins. She knows how to wind a skein. I was fascinated how the twisted rope of yarn ended up in the perfect tightly wound ball, so easy to manage, easier, I would wager, than the loose balls you can buy in bags from any department store.

She picked some beautiful colours.

It was a fun afternoon tromping around Toronto, visiting yarn stores. I might go back to the Knit Cafe someday, bring a friend along, buy a skein, learn to wind it, and settle down with a new project. I think it’s about time I had a new project.

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Check it out: This Dusty House

Hi everyone!

In 5 days, M and I finally get our new house after a long 3 month wait. We’re going to be pretty busy with it, but I hope we’ll be able to share our renovating adventure with all of you. But, this is a shared adventure, an adventure M and I are taking together. So, we want to share together.

You know what this means, right?

Uh-huh.

A new blog!

Come visit us! Feel free to leave us a note. If you want to come swing a hammer, let us know! I’m sure we can find you something to do.

 

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Brunch with Hipsters at Aunties and Uncles

My brother is visiting from SF with his girlfriend. I always like it when my brother comes to visit. This is the second time he decided to arrange his trip schedule in such a way that he spent some time in TO with me and M before we headed out to the country to join our parents. My brother and I used to have a terrible case of sibling rivalry but sometime, somehow, in the process of growing up, I actually started to enjoy spending time with him. And L is just fun.

I took work off Friday afternoon in order to actually be able to spend some time with them. We spent the day romping around the city, drinking coffees, checking out hipster knitting stores (post to come!), and riding street cars. To set our appropriate mood, we had breakfast at the most hipster place we know of in the city. (Not that we know of many hipster restaurants or haunts. We aren’t particularly hipster.)

Aunties and Uncles is one of those restaurants built into a hollowed out, 100-year-old house. Upstairs, you can still see where there used to be walls separating the space into bedrooms. It seems a little grungy, a feeling confirmed by the state of the bathroom upstairs. If I remember correctly from our first visit, the sink was held up by an old cane and the presence of the old, cracked and dirty family shower was a little disconcerting.

But in reality, all of that is part of the charm of the restaurant. It’s filled with authentic 50s memorabilia, covered in a thin layer of dust as if the whole place has been carefully preserved in time. Tables and chairs are mismatched, beat up, well-worn. Old suitcases, posters, toys, and knickknacks are packed up to the ceiling. The place is adorable.

Unfortunately, the service seems to be a little less adorable. We didn’t mind the wait to get a table. The entry way is rather cramped and, with staff moving between the rooms, inconvenient for everyone. And, we didn’t mind the wait for our order to be taken, especially since they were relatively quick with the coffees. We did, however, mind the wait for our food. Mostly because they forgot it. Or, rather, just mine. J and L sat with their food infront of them waiting for 5 minutes until I told them to go ahead and eat. My food was nowhere to be seen and our waiter hadn’t come around in a while. 10 minutes later, he made his rounds, saw the empty table infront of me and turned in annoyance toward the kitchen. Since the kitchen is open to the rest of the restaurant, we quite audibly head the cursing response of the kitchen staff.

5 minutes later my BLT finally sat infront of me.

Simple, delicious. Mmm… bacon.

And that salad? Their vinegrette is delicious.

Here’s something that’s not quite so charming: they don’t take plastic. This doesn’t exactly work for someone like me who doesn’t carry cash for reasons of cash flow control — I am far less likely to get coffee or make impulse purchases on little things if I have to swipe a card to do it. It didn’t exactly work for the American and Almost-American sitting across the table from me either. I left them there and scurried down the street to the Scotiabank on the corner, spent the extra $1.50 with a cringe to withdraw cash from a bank that is not my own and scurried back so we could get away from the restaurant we had already spent too much time at.

Bottom line: They’re hipster and they know they’re hipster. But they’re friendly. It’s a warm, relaxed atmosphere. My stomach thought maybe a little too relaxed. But they make good breakfast food and just for that, the next time an almost-hipster friend comes to town, or even a not-at-all-hipster friend comes to visit, I’d gladly take them there. I’ll just remember to bring enough cash next time.

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The First Run of Spring and Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Granola Bars

The beautiful weather last week called unmercifully to me, poking its fingers of sunshine past the red brick building that blocks the view of the sky from my desk. I’ve got that spring itch, unique to the sunny days of late March and early April. It’s the kind of itch that forces my feet into my runnings shoes and propels me out the door to find out how much I suck.

Turns out, this year was not so bad. Maybe it was because M came with, cycling leisurely beside me with Mocha out front pulling him along so he didn’t even have to pedal. Maybe it was because Mocha’s insistence on a three-times-a-day walk  meant we couldn’t become the sloths we would usually become. Maybe it was the yoga I’ve done a little of this past winter. Or maybe it was the pizza we had the night before. Whatever it was, when I plugged our route into my running map, I was proud, surprised even, to see the distance end up at just under 5km. And I wasn’t even feeling that dead. Somehow, I managed to come through this winter alright.

After the run, these were the perfect snack. I made them last week sometime, determined to find a recipe for granola bars that can replace the store bought kind. I like granola bars, but they’re a little on the pricey side, not to mention all the extra packaging that goes along with them. (We don’t have the space for a recycling bin, so you can imagine the mess one simple cardboard box makes.) Unfortunately, this recipe is not it. Not because they’re not good: actually, they’re beyond delicious. But because they’re maybe a little too good. The addition of the chocolate chips moved them out of the realm of energy-packed snack and too close for comfort to the dessert category. Perhaps my nutritionally-minded mom might have some more thoughts, though I’m pretty certain that I took a healthy snack and turned it into some not so healthy.

I seem to be pretty good at doing that.

Either way, here’s the recipe! Adapted from a fellow blogger over at Food Doodles.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts and pecans.)
1 cup shredded coconut
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup maple or table syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 cup raisins (or other dried fruit)
1/2 cup chocolate chips plus more for topping

Preheat the oven to 350*. In a casserole or a baking sheet, mix and spread the oatmeal, nuts, and coconut. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oats start to brown or until you get bored and want to move on to the next step. Reduce the heat of the oven to 300*.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the honey, syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for approximately 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until melted. Add the dry ingredients to the hot, wet ingredients and mix well. Add the raisins.  Add the chocolate chips and stir as they melt into the oaty mixture. At this point, do not overstir. Add more chocolate chips if you want it to be more chocolaty.

Grease the casserole and press the oat mixture into the pan, making sure it is spread evenly. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top and press them in gently with your fingers or a spatula.

Bake (at 300*) for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool for an hour and then cut into squares. Don’t wait too long to cut because the longer you wait, the harder they will be.


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Tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday comes afterwards

This week, this song went viral:

I’ll admit, I’ve been listening to it a lot today because it’s Friday, I’m excited that it’s Friday, and you have to admit, this song is so bad, it’s actually catchy.

I had a whole other post here, but I thought this might be a little more thought provoking:

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ll know that this song received a lot of criticism. In her response, Black compared the negative feedback to cyber bullying. Really? Cyber bullying?

Hmm.

What do you think?

Has Rebecca Black been the victim of cyber bullying?

Stick your thoughts in the comments!

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Well, maybe just one drink…

It’s St. Patrick’s Day. I celebrated once in first year, two weeks after I had turned 19. It was my first real experience in a packed, hot, sweaty bar with lots of irresponsible drunken people. The campus pub was chaotic, crazy, dark, crowded. I cherish some of those memories, but St. Patty’s day has never been for me. I don’t drink beer much and green beer seems especially unappealing.

However, this is a faintly green drink that is completely delicious. Actually, it’s more yellow than green, but that’s just a technicality. I started drinking this is in university too as I was trying new drinks and expanding my alcohol repertoire.

Tom Collins

Over ice, pour

1 oz lemon juice
1 oz gin
1 tbsp sugar

Stir it all well together. Top up with club soda and mix gently.

Try not to drink too many.

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Raisin Tarts

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: housework and I, in general, don’t get along. On the flip side of that, I like to have a clean home. Have you ever noticed that your living room is a lot cozier if all the dishes are done and the kitchen counters wiped down? Weird. On the flip side of that, there are things in life a lot more important than vacuuming every day and folding laundry.

But not when your landlord comes over.

He dropped by last night, just to see us, the apartment, and drop off a tax receipt (though it turns out we don’t need them anymore… since when?). I was a wee little bit stressed out by the visit. As much as I’m willing to admit that I don’t like housework and do as little as I can possibly get away with, I don’t actually like the idea of casual visitors being able to see the evidence of this. Especially if they’re casual visitors who could decide to charge us for a full scale cleaning after we move out.

On top of all that, Mr. A had no knowledge of our adorable pooch.

– Remember, he has no power over us, M said.

– Right.

– It’s not like we’ll ever need him for a rental reference or anything.

– Right.

– And he can’t kick us out, even if we weren’t leaving.

True: in Ontario, landlords have the power to turn down an applicant if they have pets, but they may not evict them if they get one.

I had nothing to worry about.

Especially when we opened the door to our friendly Iranian landlord and heard the excited exclamation, “Oh, you have a dog! Oh, hello, hello!”

The apartment was beyond clean, thanks to my frantic scrubbing the day before, so after he left and I collapsed into one of our comfy Ikea chairs, I was able to seamlessly move into complete relaxation. Of course, this raisin tart helped immensely.

These were the product of leftover pie dough, the remnants of Pi day’s meat pie, useless bits that I couldn’t bear to throw out. Combined with the only recipe I had all the ingredients for (read no eggs, fruit, or anything perishable required) in the Joy of Cooking, these turned our reasonably well for my first attempt at tart making.

Raisin Tarts
From The Joy of Cooking with a few additional suggestions

Filling

1 cup raisins
1 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp butter

In a medium sauce pan, bring the water and raisins to a boil over high heat. Allow to boil for 5 minutes or so, or until you get bored of waiting. Stir in the brown sugar and mix well.

Remove from heat and add the cornstarch, lemon juice, and butter. Mix well together and set the filling aside to cool to room temperature.

For the crust: like I said, remnants work well for these. If you want you can put this filling into a pie or, do as I did and turn it into tarts. For tarts, roll out your remnants and cut out a piece of dough that will fit nicely into a muffin tin. Grease your muffin tin and gently fold and press the circle of dough into the tin. Make it fit around the curves by creating little folds (or big folds, whatever you prefer). It doesn’t have to be perfect. Cut away the excess leaving a nice sized lip of overhang. If desired, fold the edges over or under and pinch together to create a smoother look. Repeat until all your excess is gone. My remnants got me four tarts with just a little dough leftover — not enough for anything.

Once your filling is room temperature, fill your tarts half full or, like these, all full, depending on your preferences. I found that mine were a little overfull — too much filling and not enough pastry — but M liked them just as they were. So, this step is all personal preference.

Pop your muffin tin into a 400* oven and bake for 20 minutes to half an hour, or until the pie crust has browned slightly.

It is amazing and kind of sad how quickly my kitchen gets messy again.

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