Christmas, Oink and Hogmanay

We got back from the Highland town of Aviemore yesterday evening and after doing a bit of work, I can think about the last week and a bit. Aviemore will have to be a different day’s writing but Edinburgh can be consise. Or at least, I will try….

Generosity has been a plenty since the moment we set foot on Scottish soil. Lesley and Stephen welcomed us and our bulky rucksacks into their guest room and told us to make ourselves at home. They are good people. And in return, we have been making a few dinners and I have been getting acquainted with the somewhat older gas range/oven for my baking.

Working

My company has an office here so my first week in Edinburgh was spent working in a very quiet downtown office. The office manager here was kind enough to reserve me a desk and the next few days were spent working 8 hours ahead of Vancouver time and meeting some great new people. I got taken out for lunch by the marketing ladies and the director for the area at this posh (My new favourite word – but only to type. It sounds better when those with a UK accent say it.), though slowly serviced restaurant called Tempus (25 George Street, Edinburgh) . They have have these mix and match bento box style lunches and when or food finally came, it was very good.

Haggis, fish and chips, fish cakes - yum!

It has been interesting working in an office where someone offers to make you a tea every morning, but hey. When in Rome… They all think I’m nuts here because I take my tea black as the night – no milk, no sugar. They call it “straight up”.

I got wonderfully – as opposed to woefully – lost on my lunch break the other day and I realized that it was the first time in a few weeks that I had been completely on my own. Edinburgh is gorgeous at Christmas time and I was lost in a beautiful city, by myself, and I was having the BEST TIME. (It’s been fantastic actually getting to spend for than two waking hours a day with my husband, but I’m sure he felt the same way I did when I was lost when he went climbing last week.)

Playing Tourist and Walking into OINK(?)

George Street

We have played tourist a bit, going to the Christmas market and drinking mulled wine, walking the Royal Mile – where I dragged Sean into almost every wool and cashmere shop – and visiting Roslyn Chapel. But we’ve also been enjoying “living” here: grocery shopping, catching the bus… Normal things. Though the shop where we had these lovely pulled pork sandwiches was anything but normal.

First, you start with the name: OINK (34 Victoria Street, Edinburgh). And then you look at the carcass in the window. And then you walk into the tiny shop and order what turns out the be a piece of “I could never be a vegetarian” heaven. The pork is so tender (just falls apart) and with some haggis and baked apples in a bun. Oh, my , gosh – I’m almost drooling just writing about it. I will let the below menu explain how you order.

OINK - The menu
OINK - The window
Excuse me, I'm eating...
Christmas Day

Christmas was the best (and most chaotic) day of our trip so far. We spent Christmas with Lesley’s extended family in the morning and then with her rather large in numbers immediate family for dinner/tea.

We woke up to our Christmas stockings – put up by Lesley when we came – full (courtesy of Santa who must have had a short but precarious tiptoe from the door and over our stuff to where the stockings were hung) of wonderful things like lotions and mini whiskey bottles. On top of that, Sean got a much wished and searched for hip flask and I got a beautiful and very soft cashmere scarf. We wore our Canucks jerseys (our gifts to eachother) and it was a really good morning.

Lesley and Stephen were thrilled with their Canada mittens, which I was so relieved about because I had agonized a bit over what we should give them. (Mind you, Stephen is an ex-pat, so we could have given him a maple leaf chocolate and he would have been ecstatic.)

We then piled into the car and began the journey of champagne (my new favourite way to start Christmas!), eating, opening presents, learning and trying to remember people’s names and playing the insane Chocolate Game and Beetle Drive. Let’s just say every soul in the room was rather competitive. It was great fun and we are still overwhlemed at the warm welcome we received that day. We received gifts from people, who had never met us, but who heard we were these nice Canadians friends coming for Christmas. Thank you McKinlay and Robertson families for making us feel at home!

Champagne for breakfast! Apparently if you add orange juice to champagne over here, it is called a Bucks Fizz - not a mimosa. Trivia question: What year did UK group Bucks Fizz enter and win Eurovision?
The chocolate game. Explanations will be done in person.

Hogmanay

Today is Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve), which is a big deal in these parts. We are going to an 80’s themed party at Frances and Jim’s house, which I am really looking forward to and we have champagne ready to go. I’m not entirely certain what to expect – I know we will have fun – but am pleased that we will be inside as opposed to out in the wet and windy city waiting for Primal Scream to come in stage. Time to attempt to stretch out my poor legs and have some lunch before party prep.

I hope everyone has a safe, happy, and fun-filled NYE/Hogmanay. Happy New Year! See you in 2012. 🙂

Christmas Favourite Things

I was listening to my favourite radio station on the internet the other day – love technology letting me listen to my station while I’m in the UK! – and they have been playing holiday music 24/7. They played “My Favourite Things” from the classic Sound of Music and I thought “Why do they play this? It’s not a holiday song…”

But then I got thinking about my favourite things about the holidays and my question was answered. 🙂

  • Decorating the tree–  Something I didn’t get to do this year, but Lesley and Stephen have a beautiful tree here in Edinburgh. When we got here, we presented them with a Canucks tree ornament, It’s pretty cute and look very happy in the tree.
A little piece of home...
  • Spending time with friends and family  – Also something that we don’t get to do this year (the family part at least – we are definitely with friends 🙂 ) but a while back when I mentioned that it would be weird spending Christmas without our families, Sean says to me – somewhat indignantly – “I’m your family.” (Awww – every now and then, he surprises me.) This is also Lesley’s favourite Christmas thing. Something I have always wished for is a BIG family Christmas. I’m an only child, and my family on the West Coast is on the smaller side compared to the Quebec contingent.   We have been promised said big family Christmas dinner with Lesley’s family in Dundee. Apparently there will be a lot of them and they’re loud, but very, very nice. 🙂 We normally have a holiday open house at our place before Christmas, but it will happen when we get back.
  • Baking (the process and the eating of) – Before we left, I hadn’t had a chance to do much holiday baking, but now that we are settled Scotland, I have made use of the kitchen. They have an older gas stove and oven, which has both delighted and baffled me. My honey oatmeal chocolate chip cookies went flat and rose at the same time. Normally they are nice and puffy. I’m thinking it’s the flour, or maybe the different kind of honey here. But regardless, they still tasted good. I had my first go at shortbread tonight and they turned out pretty good. Ugly, but good. Not post-worthy though, so I am going to try a different recipe and see I go with that.
  • Snow –  When I polled everyone, this was the first thing both Sean and Stephen siad. We never really have a white Christmas back home, but it’s nice to wish for.
  • Holiday lights – This is also Stephen’s favourite thing. They have approximately 2000 holiday lights in/out of the house. The tree, the banister, the fireplace  mantle, and outside. 
  • Holiday music– My top 12 (I couldn’t pare it down to 10)  favourite holiday songs, in no particular order:
      • God Bless the Child (Shania Twain)
      • Grown Up Christmas List (There are a few versions but my current favourite is the Michael Buble track)
      • A New York Christmas (Rob Thomas)
      • What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve (Harry Connick Jr.)
      • O Holy Night (always good by whoever does it)
      • Do You Hear What I Hear (Linda Eder)
      • Les Cloches Du Hameaux (traditional French-Canadian)
      • All I Want for Christmas is You (Mariah Carey)
      • Where Are You Christmas (Faith Hill)
      • Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Bruce Springsteen)
      • Do They Know It’s Christmas (Band Aid)
      • White Christmas (Bing Crosby) – my ABSOLUTE favourite Christmas song, ever.
  • Holiday movie – “White Christmas” hands down, my favourite – we usually watch it on Christmas Eve. Not this year though (but I will when we get home!). “Love Actually” comes a very close second.

What are you favourite holiday things?

Have a safe and merry Christmas everyone!

The Napoli Diaries Part 1

We are now in Edinburgh and because I’ve been working, it’s taken me a while to get my mental and paper notes together from Italy, but here we go…

Day 1: We had to connect in Milan (only a hardship because we didn’t actually get to be IN Milan). We had to go through security again, and thank goodness Milan went better than Heathrow. (Oh yes, I forgot about that… We are going through security at Heathrow and of course we have to take off our shoes, take the electronics out, etc. So we go through the scanner and our stuff goes through the x-ray machine. And then they put my purse on the table for furhter investigation. I’m sure you can imagine the word that went through my mind at that moment. Now I know there isn’t anything in there worth the waste of both mine and Sean’s time, but there we were while the somewhat useless security agent uses his wand thing to swab my purse and then test the swab in the machine (5 times!) for explosive type material. Both parties had to fill out forms all because they thought my iPhone set something off. And then, even now in the clear, I get taken to a room to get patted down. All I could think was “Seriously?!? – I’m going to get strip-searched because of some idiot?!?” That of course was not the case, but it was, from scan to leaving the room, 20 minutes of my holiday time completely wasted.) It was time to put the money belt on and acquaint myself with the zipper lock on my stainless steel mesh lined Pacsafe purse. Naples is famous for many things, including two negatives: the Camorra (mafia) and pickpockets. Neither were a worry while we were in the city, but during high season in the summer, the latter is something to be very aware of. But we took the precaution and I looked like I was in a first trimester or like I’d eaten too much pasta on some days. But whatever.

After picking up our bags from the baggage carousel that was painted like and looked as fast as a roulette table, we were picked up at the airport by the hotel shuttle driver, Alex. I’m sure he looked at our bags and thought “Dio mio…”. Alex spoke great English and was a wealth full of knowledge. Though it was apparently an unseasonably warm 20 degrees Celsius, Alex and the rest of the locals were dressed for winter. (Their summers are generally in the 30’s. Naples is on the coast of southern Italy and they have palm trees everywhere. I LOVE palm trees.) We were just happy to be somewhere somewhat warm.

We checked in to our hotel, the Hotel San Francesco al Monte, and the staff was lovely and welcoming. The hotel is a former monastery, and it is BEAUTIFUL. Our room was bigger and more beautiful than I had expected (you never know when you book online and get a good deal) with tile floors and a Jacuzzi(!) tub and shower. Mount Vesuvius was right in our view and it’s pretty spectacular even from far away.

We had what was meant to be a quick nap and slept through our dinner reservation at the hotel restaurant. But it was not super busy so it didn’t matter. we still got fed. 🙂 It felt wonderful to put on a dress – even if it was slightly wrinkled (Cat – even wrinked, it’s still a great dress!) – and go have a proper sit-down dinner and not be eating in transit.

Because the hotel and restaurant are in a monsatery, there’s all sorts of of radom nooks and crannies and staircases, so it took the very tired travelers that we were a few minutes to find the restaurant. They sat us down and we opened to menu to this vast array of choices. Here’s the thing about an Italian meal. There are many components: antipasti, primi, secondi – and sometimes more courses before you finally get to dessert. To be budget consious – it was expensive – and because I don’t think we were that hungry, we just ordered a primi each and a nice bottle of house red. Sean had the swordfish, and I had the spinach tagliatelle with crab meat. They were both delicious. I cannot remember the name of the dessert – so tired… – but it was all very good.

The bill came handwritten on carbon paper. As the week went on, we came to realize that this sort of record keeping system is how Italians seemed to roll. And while they are quite efficient despite the antiquated stationery, this record keeping is perhaps a contributor to the headline making financial crisis…

We slept like rocks and woke up the next morning ready to tackle Napoli and find out if the pizzeria listed in my guide book was actually the BEST pizza in the city.

Day 2: We woke up somewhat refreshed and had our complimentary breakfast back up in the restaurant. Still hard to find but this time much more fun to find. Lots of bread and pastries (yum! 🙂 ). Tomatoes, eggs, cheese, meat. And prunes, which are an understandable addition. All that wheat and meat over a lifetime and you need prunes. There was wonderful juice and great yogurt.

The girl at the front desk gave us directions to the funiculare, which is one of the modes of public transport in the city. There are three lines and each take you up/down the hills of various parts of the city. It’s very convenient and perhaps taken for granted – as we realized a couple days later . The ticket machine wasn’t working and after a conversation of hand gestures and a few common words with a station worker, we were directed across the street to the newspaper stand to buy tickets. And so began my daily routine with the lovely gentleman who runs it. He helped me fumble through my request of two day passes and made sure I saw that he gave the right amount of change for my purchase.

The first task of the day – for me, not for poor Sean – was to find the Frette shop. It is a famous Italian linen shop and when you read about what sheets celebrities have, they often say Frette. But now, I wonder: WHY? They weren’t soft and the thread count wasn’t that high. Beautiful patterns but somewhat overpriced. Maybe I’m missing something. Needless, to say, I was somewhat disappointed by this finding especially after taking the time to find it and driving Sean nuts because I couldn’t always see the street names (on buildings, often hard to see when the etching is old) on our way to find it. But I redeemed myself when we eventually found the wine shop: Enoteca Dante (Piazza Dante off of Via Toledo). It was like finding the Holy Grail of Italian wine. My trusty Frommers Napoli day trip book listed it as the best wine shop in Naples, and it did not disappoint. Wines at all prices (3 for 10 Euro – hello! – and higher), floor to ceiling in this small shop.

We bought a great Vesuvian red wine (they have a vineyard on Vesuvius – how cool is that!), and a white wine made by a winery called Verdichio. They make a white wine that my dad introduced me to a few years ago and it is in a bottle shaped like a fish. It was hilarious trying to explain what I was looking for to the man helping me in the store. Language barrier always makes things amusing. I eventually drew a picture and he expressed regret that they did not have that exact wine but one similar. I also bought my dad his requested syrah – he didn’t specify a label to me, but wanted a syrah.

We bought a corkscrew – essential – and off we went to go find pizza.

One thign that Napoli is most famous for, is that it is the birthplace of pizza. Proper margherita pizza. Bread, sauce, mozzarella, basil. That’s it. No frills. The place listed as the best in the city is Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale). And if you can find it – it took us forever lol – it is AWESOME. Looking at the map in my book, it shows where we are supposed to go but doesn’t show the streetname on the map that the descritpion lists out. So we were going a bit blind and found this place by accident. And there was a lineup. So we took a number and waited 20 minutes for what turned out to be really, really, really good pizza. Da Michele is this small-ish place (that you can tell used to be just small way back when) with white walls and a wood stove in the back. It was hopping. We were sat next to a local couple who pointed at the menu (Margherita, marina, or doppio margherita – that’s it. For a Libra (moi) it was the best menu ever.) and told us that the doppio pizza was the way to go. The guy ordered one for himself. And no, he was not enormous. Sean and I ordered the recommended to share and IT was enormous. And so delicious. We ate more pizza at different places over the course of the week , but this was definitely the best of the best of the Neapolitan pizza fare.

After that, we were ready to go back to our hotel and rest. We probably walked about 12 km or more that day. Dinner that night was at a place down the road from the hotel and will be documented in Part 2.

It’s time to go explore Edinburgh and perhaps eat a pulled pork sandwich…

Christmas Abroad Begins and Broccoli Stilton Soup

So it’s finally happening. I’m officially on vacation/working abroad. With my husband. For a month. 🙂  The two weeks prior to leaving were, let’s say full; both at home (packing, etc) and at work with all the corporate holiday chaos and working my tail off to finish everything before I left.  And I only got partly through my holiday baking. Baking and yoga are my de-stressers, and full out yoga has been out lately because of my shoulder. So not having time to do all my holiday baking was a bit of a letdown. But you know what? I’m on holiday/working abroad now. Yay!!!! We are now in Edinburgh after a week in Napoli and I have copious amounts of photos and notes to sift through. And so, on today’s lunch break, I attempt round one.

Continue reading “Christmas Abroad Begins and Broccoli Stilton Soup”

Good Old Friends, Fun New Things, and a Drunken Chicken

Have you ever gone without something, not knowing how much you miss it until it comes back into your life? And then you wonder how you survived without it? That is how feel about my hair straightener. I had a great travel one that was accidentally dropped one too many times and stopped working. My bangs grew out and that’s really all I had used the flat-iron for, so I was okay with not having one (having in recent years come to love my curly hair).

But I was doing some Christmas shopping in HomeSense today and they had this huge array of hair tools – flat-irons, curling irons, blowdryers, etc. “Innocent” curiosity drew me to the shelves and then I found the golden box with the brightly coloured, ionic flat-irons (1.25″ plates and travel size). $50 – regularly $120 if not bought at HomeSense – was the price, and really, I would have been a moron not to buy it. And so became my Christmas present.

And because it was there, and it made total sense to buy, I also purchased a heat-safe mat to leave my flat-irons on to cool and get wrapped in when I travel. Totally worth $7. It changes colour so you know your straightener is ready and it’s sparkly.

When I got home, the first thing I did was roll out the mat and plug a straightener in. If my hair could sigh contentedly or even sing, it would have. It sound silly, I know. But it’s the little things, right?

Every now and then we have a roast chicken – whether we roast it ourselves or buy a rotisserie chicken from the deli. I don’t realize how much I love roast chicken until I have it after a while. My taste buds wonder why it’s been so long.

Chicken is really great because it’s a versatile meat. You can flavour it any way you want and it goes with everything. Particularly beer. Random, I know. So was the beer can barbecue stand and tray that my mother-in-law gave us a little while ago. I didn’t really think we would ever use it. And then I came home with a surprisingly reasonably priced non-antibiotic, naturally fed chicken. It was Sean’s turn to make dinner the next day and I was mandated to come home with a six-pack of either Granville Island Maple cream Ale or Lions Winter Ale. And so began the chicken’s somewhat undignified, but super delicious adventure. Definitely a new way to make a roast chicken.

We threw away the box and as previously mentioned, Sean doesn’t really do anything from a recipe. So I Googled and tweaked a recipe to share.

Drunk BBQ Chicken

(Suggested) Ingredients:

  • 1 can beer of choice (room temperature)
  • 1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • For Rub:
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Method:
  • Combine all rub ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.
  • Remove giblets and the neck from chicken. Sprinkle all over with rub, including cavity.
  • Sprinkle all over with rub, including cavity.
  • Open can of beer and drink 1/2 of it. (The site I found this recipe on said to throw that half away, but really? Really?)
  • Pour a bit of the remaining beer into the stand tray.
  • Place, minced garlic, rosemary, thyme, lemon juice, and pepper flakes in the beer can. Make sure to pierce two more holes on the top of the can. Place chicken on top of can.
  • Preheat grill for a medium heat. Place birds on grill balanced by the beer cans. Grill over indirect medium heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until internal temperature of thigh is 180 degrees.
  • Remove chicken when finished cooking and let sit (with beer can still intact), for 10 minutes before carving.
  • Enjoy!

Another fun new thing is the slash-proof purse I bought for our Christmas abroad, but that’s a post for another time.

Almost heaven – Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

I recently walked into (almost) heaven. Grocery heaven that is. Thrifty Foods officially opened their doors pretty much across the street from our apartment, and I am – and apparently the rest of the Sapperton area is – thrilled. It’s especially exciting for me because I now don’t have to take the train or walk more than I really want to get groceries anymore. (It’s almost like living in the West End again – the market was literally around the corner from where we lived and Capers was just down the way.)

Thrifty Foods is a BC owned and operated company that likes to stock beautiful and mostly local and organic produce. As someone said to me the other day, it’s totally in my wheel house. (Such an odd expression…) I walked in there last week on opening day evening and the grocery angels sang. It’s a beautiful and well laid out store, and the best part? It’s a 24 HOUR store, which is awesome for staff, patients, visitors of the hospital across the way, people who work wonky shifts (like Sean), and those who reallize they need something when it’s 9pm (like me).


My favourite part of the store is the bulk foods aisle. Have I ever mentioned how much I love, love, love the bulk foods aisle of a store? The stock is always good and it’s always cheap. I bake a lot, so I often have to replenish my ingredients. Bulk is the way to go.

A favourite store of mine (and a great place to shop for bulk ingredients – organic or regular) is Galloway’s in Richmond. They are a specialty foods store that has anything and everything you could ever want – herbs, spices, grains, flours, canned goods – anything you could ever want for cooking and baking. It is another place where I walk in and the angels sing. Definitely one of my happy places. Even if I go there to buy just one thing, I go through every aisle and walk out with at least three more things than I had intended to buy.

Last week, I went in to buy ingredients for the vegan chocolate cupcakes I had found a recipe for. We were meant to go to a Halloween party Saturday night and a dinner party the next night, but Saturday ended up being a complete wash. Neither Sean nor I were anywhere near party mode so we stayed in, watched the last few episodes of season 1 of “Heroes” (I’d never seen it – hello, addictive) on Netflix and I baked up a storm for the dinner party (hosted by our friends Richard  and Mike at their fantastic apartment).

There is a great vegan blog called “Oh She Glows” written by a Canadian woman in Ontario. Her name is Angela Liddona and she has a really inspiring story a bout self image and healthy eating. But thats something for another blog. This is the first recipe I have had a chance to try from her site and I was really excited. Unfortunately, these ended up being only almost vegan – I couldn’t find vegan butter for the icing (and I was NOT going to use margarine, vegan or not) and my chocolate chips probably probably aren’t vegan, but at that point, I was home and not going anywhere.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

(Adapted from the recipe found here at “Oh She Glows”)

Yield: 12 cupcakes

  • 1 cup non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (new ingredient for me)
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp pure almond extract (optional, but I agree with Angela: AWESOME)
  • 1.5 cups all purpose spelt flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt, to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a cupcake pan with cupcake liners. With an electric mixer, beat together the following ingredients in a large bowl (non-dairy milk, oil, sugar, apple cider vinegar, vanilla, almond extract). Beat on medium speed for a minute or two.

2. Now sift in the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt). Mix well, until the clumps are gone.

3. Stir in chocolate chips.

4. Spoon the batter into prepared cupcake pan, about two thirds full for each. Bake for about 22 minutes at 350F, or until the cupcake slowly springs back when pressed with a finger. Allow to completely cool before frosting.

5. Make frosting (recipe below) and enjoy! 🙂

My first batch, I mistakenly put baking powder, not baking soda in the dry ingredients. It wasn’t a disaster, but the cupcakes weren’t as big and fluffy (and as you can see, though fully baked, they refused to fully rise). The second batch turned out much better.

 

Almond ‘Buttercream’ Frosting

Yield: ~2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance buttery stick or equivalent, room temperature (I couldn’t find vegan butter when I popped into Superstore, so I had to settle for real butter. I’m trying the vegan butter with the next batch I make and will report back.)
  • 3 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1.5-2 tbsp non-dairy milk, to achieve your desired consistency (I used unsweetened almond milk)

Directions:

In a mixing bowl, beat 1/2 cup of Earth Balance (or equivalent) with an electric mixer. Add in the milk, extract, and salt. Mix. Now gradually add in the sifted icing sugar, starting with 1 cup and mixing slowly until fully combined. Mix in a stand mixer for 5-10 minutes or with a hand mixer for at least 4-5 minutes to achieve nice and fluffy icing.

(Funny story: I was making the icing and clearly was off in my own little world when I read the recipe for how much almond milk to put in. Instead of 1.5 tbsp, I put 1.5 cups. So when my trusty Kitchenaid was mixing and all I saw was what looked liked chopped garlic in oil, I was very confused.)

Version 1 

 

Version 2

And of course with making icing comes the inevitable taste monster: my husband. I swear he hovered for 10 minutes.

 

Once Sean got his taste fix, I pulled out my Wilton piping kit – it was my first time using it, so it was a big deal for me. My cupcakes don’t look perfect, but they tasted fantastic. Because quality control is important – you can’t bring something to a dinner party if you haven’t tasted it… 😉 – we each had one. Bliss. Almost heaven. They were awesome. Sigh.

 

Much to Sean’s chagrin, this occasion called for the first use of my cupcake carrier. When I asked him to hold it on the bus while I unzipped my jacket on the way to Richard and Mike’s, he looked quite pained. It was pretty funny. He’ll hold my purse for me without complaint, but the cupcake carrier was a bit much for him. Poor guy. You can see the lid to the right in the below photo and the trays. (Notice the conspicuous empty slots. I told you, quality control is important.)

It was a great dinner party. Fun people and everyone brought something to make up what turned into a fantastic meal. The salmon was to die for and for some, the cupcakes turned into a pre-dinner snack. Ah, boys…

Eating Game

Last night is the reason I will never become a full out vegetarian or vegan. Our friend Geoff came over and he brought moose steaks – yes, moose steaks. And shrimp. And scallops – that my husband bought bacon for. Did I mention the moose steaks? All that being said, when Sean told me how much protein we were eating, he added:

… and I’m assuming you’ll be making a salad because that probably sounded like a lot of protein to you.

Um, yes. My husband knows me well.

You’re might be wondering about where the moose steaks came from. Geoff just came back from working in Whitehorse in the Yukon, and while he was there, he and his friend went hunting for game. And they (responsibly (in terms of not wasting the full animal), bravely (moose are way bigger than we are), perhaps stupidly (again, moose are way bigger than we are)? – depends on your perspective on a variety things) hunted moose. And Geoff’s freezer is now full of moose meat that he was lovely enough to share with us.

I got home and saw the plate piled with not even cooked yet, but beautifully seasoned meat and, I kid you not, my mouth started to water. I was pretty surprised at myself, but I’m the universal blood type and apparently I need protein.

Sean sautéed his infamous mushrooms at the stove and then smoked some fresh rosemary on the grill before grilling the steak. The patio smelled wonderful. Almost more wonderful than the shrimp and (bacon wrapped!) scallop skewers that Sean grilled pre-steaks. That he made garlic butter to dip said skewer pieces in. Oh. My. Gosh. And then Geoff made margaritas from a mix he brought called Skinny Girl. (Bethenny Frankel has gone into drink mixes – it’s pretty good. I make awesome margaritas from scratch but I would buy this stuff in a pinch.)

Thank goodness for the salad or my food conscience would have nagged me all bloody (moose steak!) night long- my body might crave protein, but as I’ve paid even more attention to what I fuel my body with in the last year, I’ve found that it also craves veggies. A lot. My favourite vegetable of late is kale, and if I do say so myself, I make a mean kale salad: fresh kale, cucumber, red bell pepper, dried cranberries, goat cheese (yum!), and light balsamic dressing. I forgot to open the can of chickpeas, we really didn’t need anymore protein. At all.

So yes, I had my veggies but I LOVED my moose steak. (Like deer meat, which I have also tried, it’s very lean and tender. Not gamey at all.) That (and the bacon, and the garlic butter; and the fact that all my leather shoes and purses would make me an incredible hypocrite) is why I could never be a full out vegetarian or vegan. I admire those that are, and firmly believe in eating as healthy as possible (fruits and veggies y’all!). But every now and then, it’s nice to eat game. 😉

Comfy cozy cookies

Fall is here and with it comes the chillier weather and the inevitable rain. When I have to pull out a light wool coat or start wearing boots, I know summer is officially gone. But autumn is my favourite seasons because of the clothing required. Knee-high boots. Jeans. Turtlenecks. Tights or leggings. Knee-length skirts. I’m all about being comfortable and cozy, so aside from the rain, I’m in heaven when fall comes. Monday was the first cold, rainy day of the season and there was no other option but to wear my favourite Mexx sweater, leggings, and one of my favourite pairs of knee-highs. One of my co-workers remarked that I looked very fall-like. Like I said, there was no other option.

When it was hot out, I didn’t really have any desire to bake – an oven makes any kitchen unbearbale in the summer. Unless I baked at 11pm. But now that the heat from the oven will be more tolerable, even welcome, I’m armed and ready with favourite recipes and those I want to try. And so the Alternative Baking Chronicles continue. 🙂

While my focus is primarily on baking healthy baked goods, this cookie would maybe get a 2.5 on the healthy scale. The recipe calls for shortening (read: lard) and butter, guess what? That’s what makes them taste good. They, like my beloved Mexx sweater, are a comfy, cozy part of life. They make you feel good to eat one. (Even when the roof of someone’s mouth almost burns because they won’t wait 5 minutes for cookies to cool down – you know who you are and I adore you all anyway despite and because of your cookie snatching skills.) The key thing is that there is a healthy sugar alternative: honey (as opposed to granulated sugar).

Honey has become a staple in my baking since I wanted to make oatmeal cookies a couple years ago and I didn’t have any brown sugar. Off to Google I went and found the below – absolute favourite – recipe. Tried and true – when I make these cookies, they disappear pretty quickly. And they always turn out fab. (Except when I gave the recipe to one our friends because he wanted to make them. The next time I saw him, he reported that they did not turn out well and what do I do that makes them so wonderful. My cheeky response was that I make my cookies with love, to which he responded “maybe that was my problem…” – I guess he wasn’t in a good mood when he made them or was distracted and missed something. I hope he tries again. Everyone deserves good oatmeal cookies!)

OATMEAL HONEY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

  • Servings: Approx. 5 dozen small cookies
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour – all purpose is best but try using spelt or kamut flour as an alternative (makes for even more delicous, melt in your mouth cookies!)
  • 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

METHOD:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream honey, shortening and butter in with a mixer until smooth.
  3. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and add vanilla. Mix well. (For extra fluffy cookies, mix for at least two minutes.)
  4. In a separate, smaller bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, soda and salt; whisk to mix well.
  5. Add flour mixture to honey mixture; mix thoroughly.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips and (optional) nuts.
  7. Use an ice cream scoop, cookie dough scoop, or large spoon to drop by the heaping teaspoonful onto greased baking sheet.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees F for 12 to 16 minutes or until lightly browned. Repeat for however many trays of cookies.