Saturday, August 31, 2013

Yayyy...A Senior Badge & Life Update

Apparently I have now contributed enough reviews to Tripadvisor to receive a "senior badge". I have no idea what that is but I have it. I'd pin it on myself and walk proudly around the house, but alas...I think it might be a virtual badge. I'm a firm believer in rewarding people for their efforts, but somehow, I don't think virtual rewards have the same impact as tangible things like stickers, crowns, certificates, prizes or money. Here's the review which earned me the distinction. Nothing special, just sharing about a nice café from my recent trip to St. Jacob's.

Other than this, I'm not certain what alien has taken over my body. Actually, that's a bad analogy since I just gave away my purple inflatable alien to a thrift store. I've been ripping apart my house yet again trying to downsize, organize and sort. More on that in tomorrow's blog. I completed and submitted my next column yesterday even though it's not due until Monday. It is scheduled to be published on Friday the thirteenth...uh oh.

I've signed on for three months of Weight Watchers online after being inspired by my stepdaughter who has lost over 90 pounds. More on that later as well. At this time, it sufficeth to say it's more than a small struggle, as all weight issues are. The points system seems so easy until you finish lunch and discover you have no points left for the rest of the day. Fortunately, my 5 km of walking a day and my time at the gym give me a few bonus points. I'm hanging in. It's a learning process just as my cell phone was.

Today, I made a recipe from the "Weight Watchers in 20 minutes " cookbook. It took me an hour. The recipe was "Curry Dusted Shrimp with Mango-Ginger Sauce". Easy...not. I cooked some Deer River wild rice with it.  Pretty good tasting. There's enough rice and also enough mango sauce left from this meal that I've decided to make mango chicken another day. Perhaps I'll turn this into a cooking blog. Might get me more followers.
Anyhow, this will definitely be my last kick at the weight loss can. It's exhausting. Having said that, next Sunday will be my macaron making class in the big city. I wonder how many weight watchers points are in those? Best I start jogging and zumba-ing and saving points. Either that, or I resist eating them. Is that even possible?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Life List

Occasionally, I like to comment on something I've read. I just completed the book "The Life List" by Lori Nelson Spielman. It's this author's first effort and I found it quite enjoyable. Having said that, I must point out that this book is no "War and Peace", "Pillars of the Earth", "Gone with the Wind" or any other major work. It's an easy read novel based on an unusual premise. It has the potential to be a great chick flick and ought to be made into a movie. I found it on a Walmart discount shelf.
The plot begins as follows. The matriarch of a family dies. Two sons are given inheritances but the daughter, the youngest in the family, must complete a series of tasks prior to receiving anything. She has one year to accomplish the goals as set out on a list which she created as a teen girl. Her life takes some unusual turns as she tries, with the help of her mother's lawyer to achieve the goals, some of which seem impossible. Others kind of solve themselves while some are accomplished through the heroine's own efforts, by coincidence and by luck.

Once I got through the initial pages, I could barely put the book down. It contains some of everything...drama, love, loss, hope and humour. It invokes in the reader feelings of sympathy, hostility, frustration and fear. Some parts are predictable, others are surprising. There was a highly emotional section where at one point, my tears flowed so profusely that I had to take a break from reading.

My final verdict...pretty good. In fact, a very good first effort for this author. I doubt that such a list would be as easy to complete as the author suggests, but nonetheless, it all worked. She did not write herself into any corners. I would have liked to see a less rushed ending. The story wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly in the final chapter. On the other hand, this made the story satisfying. Thumbs up.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What Part of Ribfest is Fun?

I've always been interested in the summer ribfest weekends. Although they seem to occur all around the province, I've never attended one.

This year, we had some visitors so we decided to venture to the park where this activity was to take place. We had lunch at our favourite downtown restaurant first, since we really didn't plan to partake of the picnic style $13 half racks of ribs. Besides, hubby planned to barbeque his own ribs the next day. Well, not his own ribs but the ones he had defrosted....from the store. Adam's ribs as it were.

As we neared the makeshift entrance we noted that two ladies who had trekked to the park in wheelchairs were turned away. One had a tiny dog on her lap. What nerve !

Next, we were frisked. I had my purse searched, (I thought for tiny dogs), but was told that they were looking for "outside food". Fortunately, the mints which were stuck to the inside lining of my bag were not noticed. Little did they know that I smuggled a tummy full of schnitzel into their facility.

We wandered through the park and admired the trophies of the rib chefs. We entered some contests and left the area unimpressed. As we exited, we saw that the entrance also had a large trash bin for people to deposit water bottles and drinks. A friend told me that they even took away water from children. That's almost worse than taking candy from a baby (or in this case an old lady but fortunately they didn't find my sticky stash).

Interestingly enough, despite the ban on dogs, the groups "Garage Dog" and "Rufbuki" were allowed to appear at ribfest.

If I had seen the following rules sooner, I might not have bothered to go to the park to learn that ribfest is all about selling food and drinks to make money, nothing more. I don't consider this one of the many wonderful community building events happening in our parks and on the beach throughout the summer.

Rib Rules - Note the shouting capitalized and bold letters

In order to ensure a safe and secure visit during your time at Northumberland Ribfest and because this event is Licensed by the Liquor License Board of Ontario there are a few rules to follow:
1 – NO FOOD or LIQUIDS of ANY kind are allowed into the site, including water bottles, open or unopened.
2 – ALL Handbags and Purses will be checked prior to entry.
3 – NO Bags, Coolers, Backpacks or Other containers are allowed on the site.
4 – NO Pets are allowed in the site. The site can become quite crowded at times and it is not a safe environment for your pet.
5 – NO Bicycles are allowed in the site. If you ride your bike to Ribfest, it can be locked to the fencing at either entrance where our security personal are in attendance during our open hours.
6 – NO Recording Devices – Please respect our Professional Entertainers.
7 – Footwear is mandatory – While we Endeavour to keep the site as clean as possible, occasionally something can go unnoticed so please make sure that you and your children have proper footwear.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Now I'm Cooking!

It's not that I don't cook anymore. It's just that I don't feel the same need to try things and experiment with new recipes as I did when I was younger. There were so many things I used to cook and bake, fancy things, elaborate things, delicious things. I've lost interest...well, except for the challenge that is the French macaron cookie and last year's cake decorating courses. My idea of eating these days is having a salad for one meal and soup and a sandwich for another. I figure that restaurants exist for when the occasional need arises to have something special or more substantial.

Having said that, I have been responsible for a few reasonable efforts of late. I will share. It was our anniversary recently. I splurged and picked up some lobster tails at the local grocery store. I didn't really consider $5.99 each much of a splurge, just nice for a change. I have discovered a fabulous  product. Ziplock zip'n steam bags are great for steaming but maintaining the nutrients in veggies. Clean and slice vegetables, drop into bag along with desired spices and place in microwave for four minutes. Here's our anniversary meal complete with two baked potatoes. Delicious!

Colourful presentation on a black platter
 Yesterday, we were having company. I decided to try a recipe I found online. It didn't seem too difficult and was an interesting take on the usual dull chicken breasts. I already had boneless, skinless chicken, some sundried tomatoes and bread crumbs in the house and just needed to buy (or rather send hubby to purchase) a red pepper and some feta cheese for the filling. I pounded, stuffed, tied and then baked. Tasty!

Once the string was removed, they held together well. I sliced the three breasts into halves. Here are the pictures of how my chicken turned out. I have submitted them to the site above but have seen no evidence of them online as yet.
Cross section
Exterior nicely browned
I sprinkled the top with finely cut green onions as suggested and it made the presentation even better. Then I served this with Deer River wild rice, broccoli salad and creamed spinach. After such a success, who knows what I might try next?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Macarons Are Not Macaroons - Part 2

Ok, so based on the fact that both macaroons and macarons contain egg whites, perhaps they are related. I googled...something about history and Italian other favourites. It's all irrelevant. To me, there's still a huge difference in texture, consistency and appearance between those giant coconut mountains and the delicate, round, melt in your mouth, dainty, filled macarons.

One full week after the macaron making failures, we tried again. We attempted it only once, convinced that we followed the instructions to the letter. We also added a secret ingredient (not into the batter but into us).

Step 1 - Sift together ground almonds and confectioner's sugar.

Step 2 - Beat egg whites until white, glossy and whatever else the recipe says. Add sugar and food colouring.

Step 3 - Combine in metal bowl and fold with spatula (about 50 turns) until mixture has lava like consistency. Our arm muscles weren't aching. The batter was a bit thinner.

"Yayyyy....It's looking better than the last times!" Isn't it amazing how much confidence wine gives you?

Step 4 - Squeeze onto double parchment paper (or a silicone mat, whichever you prefer). So far so good.

Step 5 - Oven. We waited. We watched. We were excited.......until.....

Little tongues or little feet? We weren't sure which, but they ran. Ugh...another failure, although they tasted awesome. We compared them to the sample macarons from the bakeshop that my friend had purchased. Hmmm...not that much difference I thought.

Some sympathetic person who was feeling our pain, posted this on facebook...a Wagjag special. Could these implements make all the difference?

After some discussion and further research, we were thrilled to discover the following course. We have registered.

If we succeed, we should be able to teach techniques and sell macarons to recoup our investment. At the very least, our family and friends will be receiving macarons as Christmas gifts this year.

Stay tuned for "Macaroons Are Not Macarons - Success, The Final Chapter", at some future date.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Oh Canada...An Amazing Race

When I was younger, I had no interest in travel that didn’t involve Caribbean beaches, heat and sun. Touring around Canada, was out of the question. In my opinion, it would not have been a vacation. As I matured, I developed a greater appreciation of our fabulous country and am making an effort to see more of it.

I did not plan to watch "The Amazing Race Canada". After all, the teams would be racing around Canada. How interesting could that be? There'd be no consumption of weird animal innards or bug larva. There'd be no transporting horse manure through the streets for use in the construction of straw huts. There'd be no terrifying death leaps off giant buildings. Well, perhaps there would be. It remains to be seen. So, I missed the first episode.

When I discovered that teams would be in Vancouver for the second show, I thought I might want to watch to see familiar landmarks. Then I looked for repeats of the first episode. After all, it's kind of important to know the cast of characters isn't it? In true Canuk t.v. fashion, episode one, has been available over and over and over ad infinitum.

Then there's the website
After viewing the second programme, I was hooked. The format closely followed the American version complete with music and a cast that included gay cowboys, cutesy sisters, an "older" celebrity couple, someone with an illness, newlyweds and young man with prosthetic limbs who had served in the military. Nonetheless, the show had a true north strong and free feel to it.

As I thought about potential future content, I became excited, not for the programme or the participants, but rather to see more of Canada. We live in a huge country with diversity in landscape, language and people. What other country can boast such a variety of terrain...mountains, lakes, forests, rivers and prairies and beauty within their borders? What other country has such diversity of cultures, festivals and celebrations? How different are the Maritimes from the Prairies, the Rockies and the Territories...night and day.

I was excited for this week's programme. Racers were in the Canadian NWT and the Yukon. It did not disappoint. I'm not a fan of the cold, however, I found it to be spectacularly scenic and different. It makes me want to travel there for a visit. I think I'll add it to my bucket list.

*Note...I have been to the Yukon by train from Alaska...another world. I loved it.

Next week teams travel to Regina. I haven't been there and look forward to seeing more of it in the Amazing Race Canada.

 As much as I admire the strength, courage and stamina of all the teams, I'm cheering for the "older couple" Joanne and Hal. After all, how many of us grew up watching their lifestyle tips? The Body Break commercials have become part of Canada's history.

Monday, August 5, 2013

No Chickens For You !

There was an article in last week's local paper about a pair of urban farmers. They live almost in the downtown core of our town and they grow crops which are sold at a local farmers' market and to a few restaurants. They also own chickens....four chickens. The problem is that they have been given until August 19th to dispose of their chickens according to a town by law which does not allow livestock in the rural area. Apparently, the director of planning and development received "some complaints" about the chickens.

I learned that there was to be an open house, so being the curious person that I am, I attended. The street was lined with vehicles on both sides. I wasn't the only curious person in town. As I approached the property, I was amazed at the size of the piece of land.
The grounds, the gardens and the vegetables were fabulous...even edible flowers! I was impressed with the amount of time and energy which had clearly gone into this property.
I walked toward the hen house. I saw three chickens in a very clean enclosure and one very loud clucking chicken which was somewhere not visible. I presume she was the fourth hen a'layin. I spoke briefly with the property owner regarding concerns. Where there any issues with neighbours? Was there a problem with predators? Were there any health or safety issues? The responses were all negative, nonetheless, the city had received "some complaints".
Apparently, the city of Vancouver now allows residents to have four chickens in their backyards for personal slaughtering, no roosters, no sales, only egg production. Interesting. Unfortunately, this is not Vancouver and we have by-laws. I spoke to several people who said "years ago, everyone used to have livestock on their property." That was a different time. Those areas were not urbanized.
There was a petition available for signing. I left without adding my name. I have no problem with these four chickens. After all, they're not near my house. I am also in favour of sustainable gardening, organic foods and self sufficiency. The problem I had was here.
The wording of the petition suggested that the rest of the population of our town should be allowed to keep chickens if they wanted to. I have issues with the concept. Just because these men have a fine, clean property which is causing no health or predator problems, doesn't mean that this could not lead to complications if chicken raising were the norm. It would seem to me that it would also be a costly endeavour for the town to "police" the "responsible keeping of backyard hens." The wording is too vague.
So, if the chickens have to go by August 19th, hubby and I came up with two suggestions. Either the chickens which are considered pets should be kept indoors, or perhaps they could be "farmed out" so to speak to a property deemed rural/agricultural in the northwest part of town.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Macarons Are Not Macaroons - Part 1

My friend and I wanted to make French macarons. Not to be confused macaroons, (the little coconut and condensed milk delicacies), macarons are made with egg whites and ground almonds. They are the latest fad in cookies, colourful, tasty and available for purchase at limited locations. They tend to be obscenely expensive running from $1.50 to $2.50 per cookie. 

We researched extensively, watched youtube tutorials, picked one of many recipes and decided we were ready. We amassed the ingredients...egg whites, sugar, confectioner's sugar, ground almonds.
Telephone is not an essential ingredient
The egg whites were beaten into a foamy froth and sugar added. Meanwhile, the ground almonds and icing sugar were sifted and any almond chunks removed.
I think you need a KitchenAid mixer like in the youtube video
The two mixtures were folded together. There are varying suggestions as to the number of strokes, anywhere from 35 to 75 but the batter is to have a lava like consistency. In fact, it needs to fit through a number 4 cake decorating tip. We could tell we were in trouble already.
"My, grandma, what thick dough you have."
We filled a decorating bag as suggested and used a larger tip because our dough was too thick. We squeezed the dough onto the parchment lined pan.

Phew, glad I work out. This is tough to squeeze out.
Then we banged the pan to try to smooth out any bumps and remove air from the cookies. We let the cookies sit for about 20 minutes. Each pan was baked individually in a 285 oven for 15 minutes. The recipes vary in oven time and temperature so this was a bit confusing.
Despite our care, the cookies did not turn out. We tried again and we tried again. Three unsuccessful batches. We viewed the youtube videos and read all troubleshooting information. We narrowed it down to two potential issues. Possible problems were - not enough mixing of egg whites or too oily ground almonds. On the bright side, all the failures tasted great. We shall try again next week.

Cookies on right were efforts 1 and 2.  Cookies on left were getting closer to how they should look.
After an exhausting day, we danced.
Gotta love ABBA....We are the dancing queens...