Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Adventures in Cooking: The Great Caper Caper

In my ongoing quest to epitomize Suzy Homemaker, I have been reaching for my cookbooks more and more often. My brief exposure to the Food network on motel cable has taught me that good chefs taste their food as they cook (so THAT's how they "season to taste"!) and that, more importantly, there are more interesting meals out there than grilled chicken and steamed veggies (I know! I was shocked too!)

Sunday's trip to the grocery store yielded some new ingredients. Turkey scallopini (which I think is Italian for "thinly sliced" (hey, I'm right!)) was on sale, so I thought, why not? We hadn't had Italian dressing, the easiest basic marinade ever, in the house for over a year. Wee little asparagi were well-priced, too, so I picked some of those up, as well. I had capers in the fridge from a previous foray into gourmet cookery à la Donna Hay. (Great cookbook from Ryan and Nouha!)

Back at home, I dropped the scallopini into a glass dish and drizzled in a bit of Italian dressing, turned to coat, then put it in the fridge. I ran out to the store to get a can of crushed tomatoes (I knew I forgot something), and rolled up my sleeves.

I sautéed half an onion and this really neat one-clove garlic (Chantal sent some home with me from Kelowna - it's very, very garlicky!) in some olive oil. I then added the can of crushed tomatoes and a splash of Tina's homemade wine (heh). It boiled for about 15 minutes, then I added a bay leaf, some oregano, ground pepper and a tablespoon or so of capers, and reduced it to a simmer. It sputtered away messily, spitting tomato bits onto my stove, walls, and floor for the next 45 minutes.

I put the giant pasta pot on to boil. Once the linguini was in and bubbling, I was in Go Mode*.

I used a close approximation of Mario Batali's roasted asparagus recipe (clip off the ends, toss with olive oil and salt, then roast for 10 minutes in a 500-degree oven), but made a few changes to the sauce (no hardboiled egg to mix in with the red wine vineger, olive oil, capers and green onion) and to the oven temperature, as I wanted to cook my (now breaded in "homemade" bread crumbs (I forgot those, too) with oregano, pepper and parmesan) scallopini at the same time (Chris is funny about frying stuff, so I decided to try to keep everything as low fat as possible) - so 450 it was.

To drink, I took the rest of Tina's wine, and mixed up what I fondly refer to as "Hooters Sangria" - wine, OJ and fizz (in this case, diet 7Up), plus a splash of Grand Marnier to classy it up a bit, and some ice.

Everything was ready at the same time. The linguini was drained and plated, then doused in the tomato-caper sauce and sprinkled with a bit of parmesan. The golden brown scallopini rested just beside the vibrant red sauce, and the dark green of the asparagi was sprinkled with the sauce for added texture. The asparagus had nice crispy ends, the flavours blended well together, and Chris toasted me with his crystal glass full of sangria.

Go me, I thought.

* Go Mode: For those that have ever watched me cook, this is the exact time that you do NOT want to watch me cook. If there is any kind of time limit or coordination of items involved, the kitchen is the wrong place to be for you; the adjoining room is also too close, in fact, and any comments, suggestions or "tips" should be kept to yourself. Consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

An EXtravaganza of Random Strangers

Chris was in withdrawal from fair food (well, it has been a year), and I was in withdrawal from spinny rides (the vertigo and nausea had passed). I had put two David Wilcox songs on our "Rock Me Across Canada" mix, so it was serendipity that he would be playing at the Ex on Saturday.

Under a threatening sky, we arrived at the fairground at 4:30, leaving ourselves enough time to get thoroughly dizzy and disoriented on the rides, eat a wide variety of unhealthy fair fare, pet some goats, and still have time to get to the beer tent before the 8 pm show.

First stop: the food tent, not surprisingly. I had just polished off the last bit of wedding cake before we left home, so I was fine, but Mr. Huff was feeling peckish. He got quesadillas from a trailer, and I admired how fresh the server still looked, despite the 88% humidity. (I'm amazed at some people's unnatural resistance to frizz, red-facedness, and shininess.)

On to the spinny rides! We did three in a row, and my stomach was starting to tell me that it was a bad idea, so we switched to the cannonball drop, which is completely terrifying, and not fun at all (until next year). The sky darkened a little more. One more spinny ride, two fun houses, and the pirate ship (on any normal occasion, I would have put my fingers in my mouth to say it, but I was well aware of the EX-treme unhygienicness of the fairground). It started to rain a bit. Two more spinny rides, then I had to put my foot down with a splash.

To the petting zoo! I was lunging towards the donkeys, my arms outstretched, when Chris stopped me. Donkeys are also unhygienic, it seems, as are goats. The lemurs, though not pettable, put on a good show, and I was content to just watch, thought I REALLY wanted to pet that llama; he had excellent teeth. The sky had completely opened up at this point.

Back to the food tent! Chris' hamburger was ok, although he made a dubious poutine choice (with chicken and cream on top? what the -), and then we splashed off again, this time to the bumper cars, the reptile zoo, and finally the zipper.

We were ready for David. It was pouring rain now, and although we both had jacket-type things, neither had a hood or a hat. Also, our drinks were being watered down.

A voice called us over to a patio umbrella. "You can share with us," she said. A stranger, Micheline, introduced us to her companion, Dennis, and her daughter, Julie. Alfredo, apparently the original "owner" of the umbrella, was there too. We started to chat about how many times we had each seen David's show. The music started, and the rain continued to fall. To sum up, great show - he's consistently fabulous, and played as well as usual. But enough about him. Soon, two more guys were under the umbrella, too (Mike and Dave), and then two more (Matt and Bill). We ended up talking, dancing, and buying rounds.

We discovered that Alfredo and Chris had the same birthday and that his wife was an Aries like me; that Mike and I used to work out at the same gym; that Julie thought Matt was cute; that Bill and Chris had both worked in Yellowknife; and that Bill went to high school with my friend Jamie. The show wrapped up. Not wanting to end the evening so early (it was only 10), eight of us carried on to the Royal Oak for snacks and more drinks. Then, at 11, at Micheline's insistence, we hopped in cabs to go dancing at Caliente. Chris and I attempted a bit of salsa (that one lesson helped us a bit, but not enough), then sat back and watched some of the amazing talent on the floor.

It was such a random meeting of such different people, all connected in different ways. When we finally left, around 1:30, we traded emails, got business cards, and hugs. Will we ever see them again, I wonder?

Monday, 27 August 2007

Back on the Wagon Again...

Ok, so after a fantastico week -- hubby was away on Tuesday, which necessitated a Girls' Wine Night (TM), Thursday was a Chez Lucien extravaganza with Danielle, Friday was dinner at E18hteen with Kris and Marc, Saturday was a night at the Ex, "now with more booze!", and Sunday, well, it was almost a day of rest (for my liver), except for the sangria -- I have decided to take a break from drinking.

Until tonight, that's Monday Night Martinis and Manicures at the Collection!

Restaurant Review/Personal Account of E18hteen
E18hteen is known as a nice restaurant. Everything I'd ever heard about it was upscale and classy. Great, I thought - it will be a good place to take Kris and Marc, our good-yet-evil friends who bought us about 40 lbs of chocolate and a bodyfat scale as a wedding present. We owed them a dinner, so decided to try it out.

The evening started well, in our living room: I made an olive and walnut tapenade and peaches, wrapped in prosciutto, drizzled with a balsamic reduction, both for the 2nd time this week. First, because if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and second, because they're both deeeeelicious and easy to make... and impressive, too! We opened the bottle of Shotfire Ridge, one of our discoveries Down Under, that Rob gave Chris for his birthday, to raves. Yum.

We walked to E18hteen, about an 8-minute journey. They were expecting us, and gave us a great table, both by a window and by a fireplace filled with candles - gorgeous touch, and worth replicating... if we ever have a place with a fireplace, I mean.

First impression: well, the service was slow...but very polite. Very, very, v e r y slow, though. The very polite waiter took his time coming over to fill our water glasses, and then even more time before he returned with menus.

When he returned for a third time, quite a while later, we each ordered a different dish: Kris ordered the black cod, Marc ordered the scallops, Chris had the surf-n-turf, and I ordered ostrich... mmm, ostrich... without the mushrooms, of course.

It took 30 minutes (from ordering) to see the very polite waiter again. He came back to tell us that they didn't have the wine we ordered, and another 15 after that to get a bottle of another one (some South African Shiraz - quite good). We skipped appetizers, since we'd done that at our place already, and also because we didn't expect the wait to be so long, but woo, it took forever to get food. The bread came just after the wine (now 45 minutes since we ordered), and lasted about 3 minutes - it was delicious, though, and the caramelized butter was a lovely touch.

The food arrived after about an hour, and the first thing I said when I saw mine was, "I asked for no mushrooms" (there were about 200 of them sitting smugly on top of my ostrich). The very polite waiter took it away, and I encouraged the others to start without me. They refused, saying that their food was too hot, anyway.

My large, flightless bird came back quickly, mushroom-less, which makes me wonder if they just rinsed it off and replated it, but either way, yum. Ostrich is a very lean red meat, and this one was perfectly tender, with a delicious sauce, "cherries gastrique" and swiss chard (low-carb, too!). Everyone loved, loved, loved their was it worth the slow service? Undecided. Either way, though, all four plates were pretty much licked clean.

We decided to order dessert - we were fairly full, but the warm chocolate cake with caramel gelato and marshmallow sauce sounded way too good to pass up - one for each couple. We waited...and waited...another 30 minutes... and when it got there, we looked at the giant plates with the itty bitty pieces of cake in the middle (I could have circled it with my thumb and finger) and an itty bitty scoop of gelato on top, surrounded by a pool of marshmallow sauce. Again, deeeeelicious, but microscopic. And, not to pinch pennies, but for $12, I expect more than a mouthful!!!

The very polite waiter, sensing the growing dissention at the table, finally brought the bill, and said that because it took so long to arrive, he didn't charge us for the desserts ($24 for two bites? I should hope not!!!), which was nice and polite and considerate of him.

Overall: the food was incredible. Super-fantastic. Excellent at its poorest. Even the vegetables were amazing. The servers were polite and knowledgeable. However, as we had been prepared for a nice, leisurely meal, it was shocking to find how much more leisurely the meal was than could be considered acceptable. One of the party (guess which one?) termed it as "brutal". I can't imagine how uncomfortable it would have been if we had been struggling to make small
talk for two courses over three hours.

At least we had good company... and good food, eventually.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Say cheeeeeese!

There is a very fine line between eating enough cheese and eating too much cheese. Unfortunately, I have never just crossed that fine line. I usually go about two-pounds-of-cheese past that line, for example, about three bites into last night's WAAAAAAY too much cheese dinner... and keep going.

I had the delicious (and cheesariffic!) baked brie platter from Patty Bolands: a 4-inch wheel of brie, breaded with parmesan, and baked, accompanied by crisp bread, apples, and some pear chutney. It comes on a regular-sized dinner plate, beautifully presented, and thus masquerades as a reasonably-sized meal. With only about a bite left, however, I realized that I had eaten almost all of my reasonably-sized meal, but was actually a giant piece of cheese.

So good...

Hey, speaking of cheese, the latest collection of Huffintastic photos are now posted on Check them out, if you'd like!

Friday, 10 August 2007

My photos have moved...

Due to Yahoo Photos shutting down, I've picked up and moved over to Flickr...

The "sets" (albums) are displayed on the right-hand side. Just click on one, choose the "view as slideshow" option (top right), then mouseover the photo - you should get a large "i" which will open up the comments section. (After all, you wouldn't want to look at the photos without my witty descriptions, would you?) (Of course you wouldn't!)

So far, 20 minutes into it, I'm impressed with the usability. I think the black background makes for a more vivid, dramatic setting, anyway.

Please let me know if you have problems accessing these! And YES, I'll work on getting the wedding photos posted sometime in the next 3 years... and the shots from our road trip, too.

Running update: I did my "favourite route" (see entry of June 19) on Tuesday night. Still hobbling today... nothing like easing back into it with a 6k run...

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Tuesday: I watched that damn dog run away for 8 days.

From the journal:

Saskatchewan, what I've seen from the highway, is a study in contrasts. A green, green field makes way for the pale yellow of the wheat, then a vibrant field of sunflowers, followed by barren earth. The fields are often dotted with rolls of hay. Tableaus of cows. And very, very often, a sudden marsh, full of reeds and cattails and ducks, pops up beside the road.

I've been trying to get a shot of the Saskatchewan flag; not the actual flag, but a bright green stretch of grass in the foreground of a golden wheat field. We're moving too fast, I think, but that theme is repeated over and over, under the biggest sky I've ever seen.

Flat, flat, and more flat. Just like Manitoba, but a slight variation on a theme. We kept driving along the TransCanada, heading for Medicine Hat. As resident Navigator/Alligator, navigation was a very easy task: "Get on the Queensway west. Stay on the same highway (it becomes the 1 in Manitoba) until you get to Calgary, then follow the signs to Edmonton."

Chris' trucker burn on his left arm and knee are darkening to a deep tan. I keep coming up with ideas on how to tan his other side to match, but the only feasible ideas (face the other way in the driver's seat) (let me drive all the way back) are just silly.

Shockingly, I stayed awake all the way across the country, except for one small nap on Tuesday... during which time Chris ate his leftover pizza and decided that if I wasn't hungry (conscious), then we wouldn't stop for lunch. We checked into the Medicine Hat Lodge (quite nice, amazing waterslide), and drove around the town for an hour or two. When we got back, I was all set for dinner, when I noticed that Chris was putting on his exercise gear. What the - ? I contented myself with grumbling, growling, and a handful of trail mix (with chocolate of course), before I disdained to join him in the gym. Dinner, finally, afterwards, was happily prefaced by $4-bellini-night.

One more day to go.

Monday: to Manitoba....and beyond!

Another late start from Kenora, punctuated by me locking the keys in the truck (Chris had a spare set) and followed by me splattering a protein shake all over the place. Luckily, I was laughing so hard in both cases that the death glares just bounced off of me. Heh.

Also, as I pointed out, we're an hour and a half AHEAD - we can just coast! Death glare.

The plan was to aim for the Saskatchewan border, then on to Regina. Imagine - 3 provinces in one day, after spending 3 days just trying to cross Ontario!

Journal entry:

Manitoba is flat. It's like the vegetation and geography got a memo that said, This is no longer northern Ontario. Conduct yourselves accordingly.

Within about 5 minutes of crossing the border, the Shield rocks disappeared. The lakes vanished. The trees shrank away from the highway, and the Deer Crossing
signs replaced the Night Danger-Moose signs. (Apparently, the moose also got the memo.) The highway straightened out so that I can see as far in front of me as I can behind me.

With this flatness and straightness has come a harshly-beating sun and a wildly-whipping wind. Still no bandanna at any truck stop, so I still sport quite the
rat's nest, with, as Chris said, apologies to the rats.

Actually, I finally scored a bandanna at a truck stop Somewhere in Manitoba. I asked at the counter, as I had been doing, and they found one in the back, faded from years of display, coated with dust. I soaked it till it was clean(er), and wrapped it around my head - heaven! It was cool, my hair was out of my face, I looked like a Road Warrior...

Saturday and Sunday: from Marathon to Kenora

Saturday started with pushups, lunges, and crunches - I pledged to stay somewhat active over the vacation - and an egg mcmuffin.

It was a long, but beautiful drive, rolling hills, rocks, and so much forestry! On almost every rock face, someone had stacked rocks, mostly into inukshuks. At first we didn't notice it - just one here or there, but then we realized that there was one on every large rock. My guess is that hitchhikers must do that, or very dedicated locals. Either way, it was very neat - a way to leave your mark without defacing the land.

We stopped for a quick wade in Lake Superior - the soft sand beach gave way to pebbles at the water's edge, and then back to fine sand after about three feet. Little minnows frolicked, and sandpipers ran along the shore... certainly not what I expected from northern Ontario.

We drove all the way to Marathon, on the northeastern shore of the lake. We got in just as it was dusking (Chris didn't want to risk running into a moose) (I really wanted to see a moose), and this time opted for a Travelodge, since somebody didn't want to sleep on an uncomfortable bed again. We had room service bring us some drinks, and we stayed up a bit too late watching the Food network.

The alarm (actually, every alarm we set) didn't go off, so we rolled out of bed around 9:30, and I did my Attack tracks again before we hit the road. We were aiming for Dryden, but if we made good time, we'd push on to Kenora.

From Sunday's journal:

Just leaving Marathon, the town in which Terry Fox was forced
to concede his heroic run, the scenery was still rugged and beautiful: lots
of rock faces, tall, forests, and the occasional view of a sparkling Lake
Superior beach. After Thunder Bay, however, it gets much less
stunning. The trees grow closer together, tall, weedy and
sickly. There were sometimes copses of trees or naked trunks; some of
the conifers were stained a rust colour, when they had needles at all.
This continued for three hours. Was it caused by the railroad?
The highway? A forest clear-cut then replanted poorly?

Then, outside of Dryden, the lush greenery returned.

We passed Eagle River. "Eagle River!" I exclaimed.

Chris didn't get it.

On the road... Friday

Well, the Huffintastic Cross-Country Adventure is over, and boy, what a ride! A 6-day ride, to be exact. Since there is very little to do over 6 days, once the necessary "look, a cow!" and "hay!" conversations have been exhausted, I had time to keep a journal and email back and forth with a few people.

Friday, we left directly from work - it was a great feeling just to jump in the truck and go...until we got stuck in the post-work traffic, but s'okay.

From my travel journal:
We drove past Petawawa at about 8, passing by Black Bear beach and campground. I hadn't thought about that place in a long time.

Between first and second year university, I went camping with Christine, a fun and adventurous girl who had just moved from Petawawa, and tall, gorgeous-with-long-blonde-hair Heather. We went camping at Black Bear campground on the weekend after Canada day, right beside the base.

We hung out on the beach during the day, and teased Adam for being so white that it hurt our eyes when he took off his shirt.

At night, we'd mix drinks and sit around the fire.

Entire Chicken Johnny, back when he was just Johnny, sat up with me one night in the landromat, trading his guitar back and forth.

Bottle-boob Jim would stare morosely at the bottom of his 2L coke bottle, and mourn the fact that he was down to only 3 "bottle boobs", which is what we all started calling the five bumps on the bottom of plastic bottles. He wandered off at some point, and was found in the adjoining campsite, passed out on a picnic table, on the other side of a skunk. We let him be.

And Mike and I climbed over a barbed-wire fence and all the way to the top of the Petawawa water tower, and sat there till the sun came up.

The water tower wasn't visible from the highway, but I kept craning my neck as we drove by, just in case.

We arrived in North Bay at about 10:30, checked into the Dolphin Motel (no dolphins in the bathtub, alas), and crossed the parking lot to the dubiously-named "Alkazar", which was apparently "a fun place to hang out with friends". Ok, we thought. We'll bite. Well, I've never gone out on the town in North Bay before, but I really hope that North Bay-ers would consider it a sketchy place. There were pool tables and horse races showing, with a bookie all set up in the corner, taking bets. Luckily, the game was on, and the bartender made me a fantastic Fuzzy Navel (I think?) that was mostly vodka and peach schnapps.

After one drink, we staggered back across the parking lot, Chris killed a spider for me, and we went to bed.