Sunday, 23 September 2007

DG: A Weekend of Domesticking

DGK rides again!

This is written from one week in the future, I am very sad to say. I have no access to my blog from my new job. Or to my gmail account. Luckily, though, I am able to fill most of my work hours doing work, which is very novel to me, and kind of fun. For now.

But enough about that! What, you ask, has Karen-in-the-Kitchen been up to?

More than you could imagine, actually. I'm kicking myself for not photographing the Todd-and-Erin dinner of Friday night, in which I made a fantastic triple-veggie-cheese dip as an appetizer, chicken breasts stuffed with roasted peppers, zucchini, pesto, and mozzarella (His Huffness did the stuffing, but I did everything else, including the pesto, from scratch), roasted carrots, parsnips, and leeks; and Chris made this neat rice with pine nuts and spinach, which he also made for me on our 2nd official date (there was a bonus date between the first and the second, but we agreed that one doesn't count), in which he totally impressed me -- in fact, I was pretty sure that I'd marry him after that meal).

For dessert: individual molten lava cakes (another Donna Hay creation; buy the book), garnished with dark chocolate and raspberries, and looking pretty much like the photo from her book, right. I even impressed myself.

Until later that night, actually, when I slammed my thumb in a door, but then couldn't remember which door... mmm, wine. Lots and lots of

Where was I?

Oh, yes. My weekend of domesticking.

Chris had to work all day Saturday, then had a mess dinner at night, so I thought I'd dedicate myself to practicing my new aerobics releases (they're awesome!!!) and cooking ahead for the freezer.

I give, for your consideration, a soup!

Saturday evening's first oeuvre is to the left. Rich and creamy (yet moderately low in fat), you see a velvety root vegetable soup with figs. Oven-roasted carrots, parsnips and rutabaga were pureed with some ginger, sauteed onion, a few figs and skim milk to create a delicious autumn taste. The finishing touch: a dollop of sour cream and some chopped figs as garnish. Magnifique! Chris has even approved it for the first course of Thanksgiving dinner next week.

Once this was cooling on the stove, I switched modes to Karen-the-Baker. I pulled out my Eat, Shrink and Be Merry cookbook, which I highly recommend. Not only is it full of puns and delicious, healthy food, but they promise to respond to every single email they receive. I checked it out for myself last year, when I made "Marla's Maple Pork" from their Crazy Plates; it was so good that I wrote them fan mail, and I got a response before the day was out! Incredible. Unsolicited sales pitch: for a taste of the background principles (and general silliness), click here. Then buy their books (available at all major book stores)!!! Ok, back to me. I made the Bran New World muffins. Yum again! However, a tip to fibre-challenged types: one a day is plenty.

Finally (it being a bit past 10 pm), I set to work prep-cooking. I trimmed the stew beef, cut up carrots, potatoes and onions, and mixed everything up in the slow-cooker, to be turned on, bright and early Sunday morning. Sunday morning I was neither; who am I kidding?

Anyhoo, I got up just before 10, plugged it in, added the tomato paste, beef broth, and bay leaf, and left it to do its thing till 6:30, when voila! A hearty meal of home-cooked stew, complete with whole wheat scratch biscuits.

My goodness, can it get any better?

Well, this Saturday, hungover, I made a beautiful chocolate brownie trifle for Nat-and-Mario's housewarming.

(But, you ask, how could you have constructed such a fabulous dessert with a nearly broken thumb, a pounding headache, and a queasy stomach?)

Easy, sez I. 'Twas but a trifle.

Last day on the job!

Saturday, September 22 was my one-year anniversary in the Public Service. Friday, September 21 was my last day at PCO. A new adventure starts Monday.

But, first things first: speakers on.

Good, now click here. You can do the walk if you want.

I enjoyed my last day at PCO immensely, aside from a few minor devastations. Friday dawned beautiful and sunny and warm -- surely a good omen -- and Chris and I slowly got ourselves out the door (I was well into my "what are they going to do, fire me?" mode), only slightly after 8 am.

We got to York and Byward when we saw the crowd; there were people on rooftops, in garages, and everywhere. Oh, that's right: Blue Rodeo was playing a street concert for Canada AM! From 6:30 am onward, they popped on and off the stage, playing some new songs. ( - under "highlights - Blue Rodeo; I'm not sure how long it will be posted) We were standing just behind and to the left of the stage, when suddenly, Jim Cuddy walked up and stood two feet in front of us - very cool. There were a few hoots and hollers, but because the host wasn't yet finished interviewing Margaret Atwood (she was there too - how uber-Canadian can you get?), the production assistant shushed the crowd. They actually quieted down! Amazing. Jim was very friendly, posing for pictures and talked to the people in front of us (although I overheard the girls beside us taking a photo of his butt) - the most un-rockstarly rock star I've ever seen...I was impressed. We watched them play a beautiful new song (not one of the video clips, unfortunately), and then Chris and I moseyed on to work.

For a Friday, it wasn't too bad - they still expected me to work, for some reason (what the--), but I managed to slip out at lunch to complete the final step of the long, drawn-out, Huffification process - the new passport. I swung by the Cock and Lion patio on my way, to get Mat to guarantor-ee my gorgeous, gorgeous passport photos (kaff), and told him that I'd try to be back soon as I could, so save me some beer. As I had filled out my forms online again at Passport On-line*, I jumped to the front of the line, and got back to the patio just in time to watch him drain his glass. Boo. But whoa, it was quick -- and a much better experience than last time.

I had time to swing by the bank before deciding that I probably should go back to work, where I was put to work (gasp!) again. At 3, the farewell wine-and-cheese started, and this is where the smile started to freeze on my face.

In this case, Jeff and I were both leaving, so it was an extra big deal, with awesome snacks, a good assortment of wine, and two wrapped presents. It is custom for the Boss (nameless - you'll see why) to speak at every farewell. She started with me.

She described me as the "face of (department X)", as the first contact the public has, as an ambassador who gives the first impression of professionalism, helpfulness, and energy. It was a lovely speech for a departing receptionist, the one who answers the phones and greets visitors. How nice, I thought, followed by, does she even know what I DO around here? Apparently not.

This is the woman who looks right through me every time I give her a message, and doesn't even acknowledge that I've spoken. She is very charming and fit, a successful woman in her late fifties that everyone admires....but dear god, I swore then that I will NEVER be like her. I am quite sure that the soles of her stylish and very expensive shoes are marked by the many people she has stepped on, on her way up...but she probably didn't notice.

I know, I know, I sound bitter and angry. Really, she can't be that bad. After all, she gave me a warm and friendly smile when she shook my hand and handed me my farewell gift (a lovely globe paperweight, picked out by someone else).... and called me Vicky.

*I made another PSA about it at my class this morning - it's that fantastic. Seriously, saved me at least an hour - instead of waiting your turn in line, you get bumped to the next open window - awesome.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Adventures in Cooking: (Rat-a-too-ee) by Numbers

Becoming a DG (Domestic Goddess): the Quest continues
Last night's challenge was inspired by a totally fantastic Disney movie of the same name. The main difference between me and the chef from Ratatouille is that he's a clumsy redhead who has a Very Talented Rat on his head, controlling his cooking abilities, whereas I am just a clumsy redhead who WISHES she had a rat on her head... but I digress.

A little background on preparation, etc.
As I had a gym date with Meaghan after work yesterday, I knew I'd need to make a quick meal when I got home, since I also knew that SOMEONE would be cranky and hungry. We'll call this imaginary person "Fis".

I decided to start on Tuesday night, chopping and sorting all of my ingredients. Therefore, when Chris or I got home on Wednesday, we would just have to add the numbered baggies to the giant pot, and cook away! Also, it gave me something else to report to Chris on what I did all night, besides "my nails."

I peeled and chopped a medium eggplant and 2 unpeeled zucchinis into "1-inch cubes" (actually 2-inch rhomboids - my chopping needs work). They went into my "Ratatouille-by-Numbers Container #1". Three-quarters of a medium onion was chopped and put into baggie #2. After that, 2 red bell peppers were cut into (sorta) 1-inch (kinda) squares, as was one of those previously-mentioned one-clove garlics. They went into baggie #3. Everything went into the fridge, along with a baggie with two chicken breasts*. The big pot was put on the stove, with the salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, olive oil, and a can of diced tomatoes beside; everything was ready to go.

The creation of a culinary masterpiece
I got home at about 7:20 (Meg and I not only did shoulders and chest, but she also saved me from Creepy Gym Guy twice...then we needed a salad to wind down afterwards), and preheated our giant Mario Batali Italian Essentials 6 qt. Pot (thanks, Sean!) with a bit less than 1/4 cup olive oil, on high. In went the first baggie. For about 10 minutes, I stirred and flipped, until the zukes and eggplant were sort of golden. They were then removed, and the heat was reduced to medium-high.

Next, the onion baggie was emptied into the pot, with 2 more Tbs of oil (note that I didn't use the term "low fat" to describe this dish), and sautéed until it was translucent. Meanwhile, I chopped the chicken into wee bits, and added that, too. When the chicken was browned, I emptied baggie #3 in, and stirred the peppers and garlic around till they were soft.

In went the tomatoes (drained), with a few extra cherry tomatoes from Meg's garden, some thyme, a bay leaf, not enough salt** and pepper. Covered, the heat reduced to low, it simmered for 5 minutes. I added the eggplant and zucchini back in, stirred it up, and let the flavours meld for 20 minutes, then added the final touches: about 3 Tbs. finely chopped black olives and 1/4 cup of fresh basil from my garden. I ladled it into bowls, and served it...

The verdict
Very good! Chris would "ask for it again"! It's a beautiful dish with vibrant complementary colours, a great smell, and good texture, but would need more protein next time to boost the nutritional value. Also, I was so focused on the main dish that I neglected to add any carbs for the resident marathoner... next time, I'll make tea biscuits too.

This is an actual, unretouched photo of my ratatouille.

*Ratatouille is generally a vegetarian dish, a chunky, hearty, savoury vegetable stew, but hey, our household needs protein to maintain its MBQ (manly biceps quotient), so chicken had to be added, too.

**I consistently under-salt, which I contend is better than over-salting, but I hope to get to a happy medium at some point.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Murder, Mystery and Intrigue at Tina and Phil's cottage

The first cottage weekend of the summer (wait, isn't summer technically over?) was wonderful. Relaxing, easy and friendly, full of laughter and silly games - what a great time!

We took turns cooking in teams (in theory), ate like royalty, and maybe drank a wee bit as well. Friday night was punctuated by a barbecue, a campfire, and a poker game that everyone won (yay!), much to the disgust of the serious poker players. A 2 am bedtime was too early for Phil and Luther, who sat by the fire till 4 am.

Chris and I somehow dragged ourselves out of bed at 8:30 on Saturday morning to drive back to Ottawa for the day. (I had two classes to teach and a fishing vest (above right -- nice, eh?) to sew) (he had a football game and a day of Navy work.) With our costumes in tow, we drove the 45 minutes back again at the end of the day, just in time for Scrabble-for-money, more poker, and a murder...

The murder mystery kicked off before dinner (and karaoke). The photo slideshow (below; follow the link, then choose "view as slideshow" and click on the "i" for the play-by-play) really tells it the best.

After the perp was unmasked, we went on to MORE poker (boys), Cranium (girls: Jess and I kicked Tina and Carilynn -- aka "the cheaters" -- butts), Outburst, then finally bed.

Sunday morning (11 still counts as morning) dawned bright, and Chef Christophe Encraque and his Sous-Chefs made some delicious french toast, maple bacon, and beans. We slowly, slowly got ourselves sorted out and ready to leave, but then a brilliant sun came out and we had to stay for another hour.

We took Tina home with us (how could we not? Look at that face!), stopping for poutine on the way home (thanks, Phil!), which was necessary and delicious, but definitely not a good food choice. Now that we know where their idyllic getaway is, we'll be sure to go again, as long as we're still allowed!

I'm hoping to be able to upload a video soon, but that blogger feature isn't working very well. For a teaser, however, the title of the video will be: "A little bit of karaoke makes the time fly by... especially when your militant ecologist friends aren't answering their cells."

Intrigued??? (Jer, this is where you make me an offer...)