Saturday, 23 April 2011

Forget being Ma'amed...

Hell's fury has been unleashed.


I wish I had been ma'amed today.


Ailsa and I were out for a girls' shopping day (Daddy and Vaughn went on a boys' shopping day - they got a lawn mower!) for Easter treats, Costco supplies, and, apparently, emotional abuse from which I may never, ever, ever recover.


And no, I am not over-dramatizing this!


Ailsa and I were eating lunch in the food court (we split a meatball sub and a cup of roasted-tomato-and-orzo soup from Subway), when a nice man started making googly-eyes at my daughter, as most people do. He then asked me how old she was, and I told him.


He told me how cute she was (duh), and then he said...


...are you sitting down for this?...


"You must be her grandmother."


!!!???!!!


There was a sudden hush as all the air was sucked out of the room. Food-court trays clattered as people dove for cover, some under tables, others behind counters.

I looked at him, to see if he was joking, and no, no he wasn't.

???!!!???


I think I'll go lie down for, oh, the rest of my life now.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Let me Entertain(ment) you...

A cheapskate, moi?

I prefer "thrifty".

One of our first purchases on the Return to Ottawa was the Entertainment Book, which was used and abused to its fullest when we lived here before.

We forgot to defrost chicken? And it's -25 out? Let's just see what's within 2 blocks (and $7 off), shall we?

We can't decide where to go? Let's just see what the Entertainment book has in that area, hmm?

We have a special occasion? And we're trying a new place? Let's do it for half price!

It was easy and convenient back then. It encouraged us to try new places (well, once the coupons for our favourites were used up, anyway), and made us feel less guilty for eating out, sometimes 3 times a week. (This possibly had something to do with the Market living.) One Easter, I had won a 2-night stay at the local Holiday Inn. We checked in, brought out the coupon book, and had an amazing, adventury, edible weekend, all at incredible discounts.

Generally, though, it always paid for itself within a week of getting it (after all, it's how much you save, not how much you spend, right?), almost exclusively by eating out at non-child-friendly establishments.

And it was awesome.

So when we bought the book in October, what with the "lifestyle changes" we had acquired over the last 2 years or so, we were a bit nervous about getting our money's worth.

We shouldn't have worried.

Yesterday, we went to the Science and Tech museum (one free adult admission = $9), then to a certain nameless McChain restaurant for lunch (one free Sizeable McSandwich = $4). Tonight, pizza ($7 off) (not that we only feed our kids junk - far from it. McLunch aside, the pizza is an organic whole grain, Heavenly Herb-ed crust, with chicken, spinach, basil, red peppers, feta cheese... mmmmm). We've also gotten 30% off dry cleaning, and, when we FINALLY make time to celebrate our anniversary, we'll use one of the fine dining discounts, too.

Look at us save!

Now that we've sold our third residence (kaff), you'd think we'd be rolling in the dough, but thanks to a fantastic basement flood and subsequest discovery of insane amounts of mold...well, every penny counts.

Sigh.

Hey, the pizza's here!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Hey, didn't you used to have a fish?

Yes, yes, we did, rest his little fins.*

We now, however, have very loud reminders to feed, clothe, change, and otherwise entertain the current dependents.

For example, the other night, we put two cranky little kids to bed, about 20 minutes early (it was either that, or kill 'em). Vaughn settled in nicely, but Ailsa cranked and fussed and wailed. After the third time up there, to see if she was gassy, poopy, or too hot, I suddenly realized what she was trying to tell me at very high decibels.

Although YES, we fed her dinner -- oops -- we forgot to give her the usual cup of milk afterwards. So I brought the little red-eyed angel (note how the perspective changes!) back downstairs, handed her a sippy cup of milk, which she chugged, and threw her back into her crib.

And without a peep, she rolled over and closed her eyes.

*No, I didn't starve my fish to death! Buddy passed after a valiant battle with um... some kind of condition that caused him to list to one side and not swim very well. He was treated with the best fish-drops I could find, but lost the war. Poor little fish.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

And now we are Thirty-Five

Well, I survived yesterday.

Let's start with the highlights, shall we? In no particular order of awesomeness:

Score! (hockey)

At floor hockey last night (admittedly, after a glass and a half of Very Good Wine), I scored my First Goal Ever. And then, about 3 minutes after that, I did it again! I can now quit forever, having peaked, with perfect timing, I might add, in the playoffs. "I choose not to hock".

Yum!

The day started with my traditional 7 am Birthday Breakfast at Cora's - and if you weren't invited, don't be mad-but-relieved-at-the-same-time. This year's was just the fam. And Grandpa even drove in from North Gower! What dedication! What caring! What a great example to set! (everyone else, take note for next year)

The aforementioned Very Good Wine (2003 Kaesler Stonehorse BV Shiraz) was accompanied by steak, sweet potatoes, and broccoli with gourmet (pronounced "goor-mit") cheez sauce, followed by an amazingly dense, moist chocolate cake with smooth-and-creamy white icing à la chef Christophe Encraque. I have decided to keep him.

Score! (loot)

I have a Kindle! So neat! Feeling very proper and pretentious, I immediately downloaded the Complete Works of Jane Austen for 89 cents. And after getting about 12 pages into Emma, I decided that honestly, since Kindles are for people that are ashamed of what they're reading, I then downloaded a fluffy romance. I was far too spoiled, also ending up with gardening gear, gift cards, jewelery, and warm fuzzies from friends near and far.

Discovered the number 3 reason to have kids!

As we may recall, the number 1 reason is because of baby sneezes. I forget number 2. But number 3 is because they laugh at my jokes. Hard.



And now the lowlight:


Barf!

Ailsa threw up all over her crib and herself, right before I climbed into bed. Chris was awesome, though - he dealt with de-funkifying her (an overwhelming job) while I changed sheets and scraped large pieces into the toilet, while trying not to barf, myself.*

Today was harder. Vaughn got up early (as in 5 am), which makes me cranky because then I am awake at 5 am, and also because then he is a miserable little boy all day long, as anyone who has been within a 100-metre radius can attest. Ailsa woke up happy, chugged back her milk, and then launched it a good three feet, using just the power of projectile vomiting (she takes after her mother!). And then she was fine again, till we went to the pool with the banshee (above), and she threw up all over the bleachers. The lifeguard was very good at it, and waved away my apologies, saying that next time, if she threw up in the pool, then the lifeguards would get a break. How nice, but I was still dripping with baby puke. Again.

Finally, I realized, that although "35" is just a number, if I were still competing, I would now be in the Masters' category. Granted, yes, I'd kick a$$, but what a sobering thought.


* Hey, remember when I was the one that would throw up on my birthday? :)

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Couscous and Kids: A (Long) Cautionary Tale

First and foremost, we must differentiate between "couscous", a small grain of semolina, popular in North African cooking, and "goose-goose-your-caboose" which is a game that I play with my kids, and is pretty self-explanatory. Both elicit giggles.


"Eat your couscous," I said. And Vaughn shrieked, "No Goose-Goose-Caboose!" and laughed and laughed. Couscous is a funny word, I suppose.

Anyway.

We had a date night set up for last night. I was very excited, of course, and called to book the babysitter. To make a really long story slightly shorter (and to edit out anything that might reflect poorly on me or my attractiveness as an employer to future babysitters), I came up empty-handed.

So, I emailed the other couple and told them that I would host instead! (After all, what better way to celebrate a night out than to stay in, with one's children, and try to host a dinner party?)

Chatelaine (which frankly I haven't put much trust in since the Infamous Mojito Pork Incident) published an article titled, Home at 6, Party at 7. Well, it claimed that you could put together a show-stopping three-course meal (plus signature cocktail) in under an hour.

You're on, Chatelaine!

Before starting, I envisioned the letter that I would write:


Dear Chatelaine,


I can't believe it! Pressed for time, and needing to impress, I attempted your Home at 6 menu, and was so happy that I did! The guests were blown away, my husband was over the moon, and I was calm, collected, and a radiant hostess, for the first time ever. Thank you, Chatelaine!


And then I pictured the next letter I would write:


Dear Chatelaine,


I just tore up the glowing letter I wrote you before my dinner party, then coated the bits of paper with cooking sherry and set them alight, causing my smoke alarm to go off for the eighth time tonight. Etc.


The actual result was somewhere in between, which was a pleasant surprise for everyone.

The kids eat at 6, and it was bath night, so the plan was to bathe them right after dinner, PJ them promptly, and allow them to play till 7:30. Our illustrious guests were due to arrive at 7 (thus exposing them to only 30 minutes of the Vaughn Show) and eat at 8. What could possibly go wrong?

Since I am aware of my limitations as a home chef, and also familiar with Murphy's Law, I decided to do as much prep work before the guests arrived as possible. So, I had all my little prep bowls (thanks, Mom!) filled with minced garlic, diced onion, measured spices, etc, and the dessert fully prepared by 5:30. The dessert, you ask? Ginger-Berry Cookies and Cream, a mixture of fresh raspberries and blueberries, ginger, and maple syrup, layered with maple whipped cream and crumbled ginger wafers (they're waffer thin!). Oh, yes, and a splash of the afore-mentioned cooking sherry to amp up the flavour (and fortify the chef). So that part was done.

After bathing two squirmy and slippery little kidlets, they were pyjammified and set to play, and I started the Green Pea & White Bean soup. I preheated the broiler, threw the relevent prep bowls into the saucepan, rinsed the beans, measured the peas, and opened the chicken broth, and set it all to boil. At about 7:35 (can you believe it? Although our guests showed up about 20 minutes past 7, I was able to wrangle the Hufflings to bed and start the gametime work right on schedule!), I puréed it with my handy-blender, and moved it to a warm burner on the back of the stove.

Two courses, done! Go me!

So, at 7:38, I got started on the Dijon-Crusted Flank Steak. I made my shallow cuts in a diamond pattern(ish), smeared on the contents of yet another prep bowl, and let it sit for 10 minutes. I then boiled the water for the Toasted Tarragon Couscous*, added another prep bowl of stuff, toasted my couscous (odd step, one which I felt very sure I was burning instead of toasting, but it tasted ok, I suppose) (also, "toasted my couscous" sounds sort of naughty, doesn't it?), added the boiling water mixture, covered it, and threw my flank steak under the broiler. After five minutes, I mixed a lot of baby arugula in with the couscous, took my pancetta rounds, which in this case were genoa salami rounds, put them on another sheet, and added them to the oven, too.

Let me just pause for a moment to note that the smoke alarm goes off in my house frequently. Frequently, as in every time that I use the oven, at least once. Ailsa used to cry (as did Vaughn, when he was very young), but she's learned that it's funny (Mommy covers her ears and yells, "Very Loud Noises!"**) and also that dinner is probably almost ready.

So, when it went off for the third time, it was 8 pm on the dot, the steak was pulled out to rest, and the soup was in the bowls, with the little genoa boat afloat, filled with cheese from a goat! (Yes, I gloat.)

We even matched it with a white wine, a 2010 Silver Point Sauvignon Blanc. In (wait for it) WHITE WINE GLASSES.

Tadah!

By the time we finished our soup course (it was light and fresh-tasting, and most of the diners praised it) (kaff Test Pig#1 did not kaff), we discovered that the flank steak was, well, sort of really, really rare, and also pretty cold. We plated it anyway (because Fis said I wasn't allowed to toss it in the microwave), piled on the couscous, and sat down again with a 2009 Stump Jump GSM. In (wait for it) RED WINE GLASSES.

Tadah, again! Just for that, anyone would consider a dinner stellar, non?

Anyhoo, despite its...ok, I'll say it, rawness (and short marinating time) (oops), the flank steak was pretty good. And paired with a bite of couscous and arugula, almost gourmet. A bite of couscous by itself, though, was decidedly less impressive (as noted, in detail, by TP#1). Oh well.

We finished up with some cupcakes (from our guests - yum!) and, after half a heated game of Women vs Men Cranium, the dessert (which 'twas but a trifle) was a medium hit. It could have used some more texture, such as adding the cookies at the very last minute.

So what does this have to do with kids?

Well, the lucky little Test Piglets got to sample the entire menu tonight for dinner!

Vaughn took a sip of the soup. "Do you like it?" I asked. "No," he said.

He did "ok" with the steak (usually the kid bellows "Steeeeaaaak!"), and, well, only a fool would give a toy like couscous to a 2-year-old or his baby sister. Couscous apparently looks like sand, and is fun to pile, but not to eat. I've never seen Ailsa turn away from any food (including the soup course), but she turned away and spat out the grains while giving me an infuriated what-do-you-think-you're-doing/I'll-toast-YOUR-couscous look.

The cautionary bit is more of a Public Service Announcement about how much couscous it takes to fill a whole dining room:

1 teaspoon.

* Tell you what: I'll share my awesomeness. Article and recipes are here.
** Anyone? Anyone? Oh, fine.