28 Jun

Freedom Fest

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On Monday night Matt and I went to watch the fireworks. Not just fireworks, THE fireworks as in the International Freedom Festival fireworks on the Detroit River. It’s one of the biggest fireworks displays in the world and it happens every year the week before Canada Day and Independence Day.

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We try to go every year. We also try to avoid being downtown every year that it’s held. Downtown offers the best view by far, and the pounding in your chest from every firework explosion. I love that feeling. But I also hate crowds and fireworks night is ridiculously crowded downtown Windsor.

So we park near the Ambassador Bridge and watch the show from there. We can come 10 minutes before they start without worrying about snagging a seat for a good view.

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This year though the West End of the city was downwind and the smoke from the fireworks got in the way of our view of the fireworks themselves, making the display less impressive than I’ve seen it in the past. But I can’t really complain. It was a gorgeous night to to be out and I always love the fireworks show.

Tonight I headed to the movies to see Brave with my friend Tina and Matt. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I guess I was hoping for another movie like Mulan so getting witches and spells and princesses and enchanted animals was a let down. Not the best Pixar film to date.

25 Jun

Best Ever Granola

Best Ever Granola

I stopped making granola because I pretty much fuck it up all the time. I know, it’s the easiest thing to make– stir together ingredients and bake—but I almost always manage to burn it or undercook it or forget to add some critical ingredient like a sweetener.

So I wrote off granola for a long time because I just kept wasting not-so-cheap ingredients like nuts and dried fruit on a really terrible outcome.

But then this weekend I was looking through all the delicious recipes in the In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite cookbook and I saw the recipe for granola that someone (I think Sarah) said was phenomenal so I thought, what the hell? and decided to give it a go.

I made half the batch because I was afraid that my track record of bad granola would continue. That wasn’t the case.

HO-LY SMOKES it’s good. I managed to not burn it by keeping a careful eye on it and taking it out of the oven as soon as it turned a dark golden colour (in about half the time the recipe recommends). It came out crisp with a slight chewiness and a really great sweet/salty/rich flavour.

I could hardly stop eating it. This must be what it feels like to be addicted to crack—minus, ya know, all those terrible, self-destructive things that come with crack addiction.

I’m pretty sure I think I just made the best granola ever.

Best Ever Granola

Pistachio and Olive Oil Granola

from The New York Times and In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite
makes 4 cups

1.5 c rolled oats
3/4 c shelled raw pistachios
1/2 c shelled sunflower seeds
1/2 c unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 c honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 c chopped dried apricots
1/3 c raisins

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine all ingredients except the apricots and raisins in a bowl. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil in an even layer.

Bake for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until golden brown and well toasted. (The original recipe stated to bake for 45 minutes but mine was done in less than half the time even though my oven was set at 290F. You might want to keep an eye on it.)

Remove from the oven and add the apricots and raisins. Allow to cool and harden before serving.

22 Jun

Girls and Lena Dunham’s Body

I really like the show Girls on HBO. Does anyone watch it? It started out hilarious and slowly got less and less funny throughout the season. I find most of the characters annoying and frustrating. I was hoping for something like Sex and the City, but it’s nothing like that at all.

And yet I keep watching it.

One reason: seeing Hannah (played by Lena Dunham) naked or half naked. A lot.

That’s probably really weird to say. But seriously.

Lena Dunham isn’t terribly fat. Her body is imperfect, so basically she looks completely normal, like most of the women I know, and not at all like the stereotypical ‘perfect’ Hollywood body that we’re exposed to.

So, yay! We’re making progress here. It’s a chance for the people to see a naked woman who doesn’t fit the media standard of bodily perfection, isn’t photoshopped or airbrushed, and who looks completely natural.We hardly see women naked any more in general and now someone who doens’t fit the hits our small screen. That’s impressive.

But the best thing is that the show isn’t about her body. The plot line doesn’t revolve around her appearance or size as some sort of obstacle she has to overcome in finding love, finding a career, or having a social life (she has plenty of other problems that interfere with those life goals). Her appearance is also not a novelty either. She’s not playing the typical ‘token fat girl’ binge eating her self image sorrows, or the ugly duckling who was never actually ugly to begin with but just needed a new outfit to snag the hottest guy in school. The show is a normal girl with normal girl problems.

I think it’s pretty refreshing to be able to see on television not just a show starring a woman with a body that’s outside the Hollywood ideal (we’ve seen that with Mike & Molly), but also not revolving the whole story around her appearance.

So even though I don’t always love the storyline, and I think the main characters make terrible life decisions, and the male lead character (Adam) drives me bananas, I still watch the show because I think it is doing great things for women’s body image.

The point being: your life doesn’t have to revolve around your flaws.

20 Jun

Free Vinyasa Yoga Podcast

(Source: Etsy Print)

 

I found this great collection of Vinyasa Yoga Podcasts online (by some guy named Nathan) that really remind me of an instructor at my gym whose class I used to go to religiously and who now only teaches smack in the middle of the day while I’m at the office.

It’s such a great flow: It’s interesting. It doesn’t bore me. It includes some pretty cool poses that I don’t practice all the time. The instructor doesn’t sound like a total douche or hippie, and I don’t find myself mentally telling him to just shut the fuck up! like I do with some instructors (ahem, Dave Farmar).

So, yeah, basically it’s a win. Especially since I can manage to get through a whole 90 minutes without wanting to just shut it off and go bake cookies or something.

Anyway, now I just want to do yoga all the time again– which is awesome– and I’m starting to reconsider taking a Yoga Teacher Training course which I’ve always wanted to do but sort of pushed aside for the past, oh, 5 years or so. I imagine I could be a good teacher if I can bring some elements that I like into a yoga class– like strength and variety of poses– and leave out the ‘words of wisdom’ that some teachers like to force on you.

. . . but knowing me I’ll probably hold off on teacher training again this year.

Anyway, if you’re looking for some really good, FREE yoga podcasts check out the  Nathan Yoga Podcasts.

18 Jun

Qi Gong

I was stranded on a patch of rug in the basement on Sunday afternoon after mopping Matt and myself into that spot. My furry nephew Ruxin was staying with us and he felt it necessary to mark his territory in various locations so I had to mop the entire place from top to bottom (although, the house was long overdue for a mopping anyway).

Had I thought it through, I would have eqipped myself with a book beforehand to avoid the boredom of watching Sunday afternoon television. I suppose there are worse things than watching This Old House.

Matt flipped it to 56-3, the Detroit PBS Create station, and there were about 5 minutes left in a Qi Gong programme so I decided to join in.

 

It was almost instantly calming (though I’ll admit that the fact that I had a squeaky clean househad something to do with that too).

I know nothing about Qi Gong except that often I see an older Asian couple doing it in a nearby park at sunrise. It almost seems as if it is a moving meditation. I’m going to have to look into it more and maybe download a video or something. I liked the serenity I felt in the few minutes of doing it.

14 Jun

Spiced Pears with Hazelnut Whipped Cream

As promised, I present you with a dessert dish featuring juniper berries.

I had trouble finding a dessert recipe featuring juniper. The first one I came across from the BBC’s Master Chef for Gin and Tonic Jelly with Juniper Berry Mousse, Lemon Sorbet, and Gingersnaps sounded amazing but ridiculously complicated and far beyond my scope as a novice. But I did save the recipe in case I’m ever feeling ambitious.

Instead I made a recipe I found on New Scandinavian Cooking for sauteed pears with whipped cream.

As with savoury foods, juniper berries work well with heartier desserts. Some sweet dishes that you can use them in are:

-poached pears
-apple or pumpkin pie
-spice cookies
-meringues or pavlova

I thought the juniper, chili, and fennel added to this pear dish was a very interesting flavour combination. I was a big fan. I loved the Frangelico whipped cream on the pears (and so did Matt who was eating it with a spoon!).

Spiced Pear

Spiced Pears with Hazelnut Whipped Cream

Serves 6

Ingredients

1/4 cup honey, preferably heather honey
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 large Bosc pears
8 juniper berries, ground or finely crushed
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
3/4 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons Frangelico or other hazelnut liqueur
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Directions

Peel the pears and cut them in half. Cut off the stems and blossoms and scoop out the seeds with a small spoon or melon baller.

In a large nonstick saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the honey and heat until it turns a light caramel colour. Stir in the chili powder and the ground juniper and fennel. Reduce the heat and add the pear halves. Cover the pan and cook the pears, turning them every few minutes, for 20 minutes over medium-low heat, or until tender but still somewhat firm near the core.

While the pears cook, whip the cream, sugar, and Frangelico in a medium bowl until stiff.

Serve the pears with a drizzle of the honey sauce and a scoop of whipped cream. Serve warm.

14 Jun

Juniper Berry Bechamel

It’s time for another Eating the Alphabet recipe link-up where each month we make a recipe featuring a fruit, vegetable, legume, or whole grain from a different set of letters of the alphabet.

So far I’ve done:

(A or B): Buttercup Squash and Artichoke Pasta
(C or D): Grenadian Oil Down with Cassava (Favourite)
(E or F): Homemade Fig Newtons (Favourite)
(G or H): White Chicken Chili with Hominy

This month we look at I or J. I’ve got two recipes in store with my ingredient of choice: Juniper Berries. But first. . .

WTF is a Juniper Berry?

Juniper Berry

The juniper berry is actually the berry-shaped pine cone of a certain genus of juniper. It has a distinct ‘pine’ flavour and is most commonly associated with gin— it’s the main ingredient.

Modern gin as a spirit actually evolved from the juniper berry’s international history of being taken as an alcoholic tonic in order to promote general health. This was pretty common with Europeans who used these juniper tonics for the antibacterial and diuretic properties of juniper berries. It particularly was helpful for kidney and stomach ailments.

European colonizers in India and South America took it as an antiseptic to prevent obtaining intestinal bacteria (and unpleasant bowel movements). And you know those modern Bombay gins? They trace their origins back to India when they were taken to prevent malaria. Who knew!

But juniper berries as a remedy date farther back than colonial times. They were used to treat tapeworms in ancient Egypt and the ancient Greek Olympians took them in order to increase their physical stamina on game day. Juniper berries were not only taken as a tonic but could be used topically. Canadian First Nations used juniper berries in a poultice to treat wounds among other things.

(Sources 1, 2)

WTF do I do with Juniper Berries?

You mean, I can use them for other things than just garnishing my gin & tonic?

If you don’t know what Juniper berries taste like, they taste just like gin. If you don’t know what gin tastes like, then we can’t be friends.

It’s fresh, and pine-y, and sharp– it is a flavour that really cuts through the rich meats and winter vegetables.

Culinary uses of juniper berries mostly come from Scandinavian and Northern European cuisine where they are added to wild game, hearty vegetables, or fowl dishes. Think the stuff you’d eat in the winter months: rich stews, roasts, and sauerkraut.

You can add them to:

– soup/stock
– cabbage or sauerkraut
– marinades for meat
– turkey stuffing and gravy
– bechamel sauce (like I did below)
– roasted pears (seriously, I’ll show you in my next post)

Be sure to crush or grind them before using for the most flavour.

In reading a bit about juniper berries I figured I had to make something rich out of them. I decided for my juniper berry recipe that a thick bechamel sauce with a creamy mouthfeel and a sharp pine flavour would be delicious. I paired the bechamel with pan-fried tilapia and I thought it tasted fantastic. Matt wasn’t a big fan on the first bite, but I think the flavours grew on him the more he ate it.

Juniper Berry Bechamel over Tilapia

Juniper Berry Bechamel Sauce

Serve this bechamel on chicken, pork, beef, or fish over a bed of wild rice.

Makes ~2 cups

Ingredients

20 juniper berries
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 Tablespoons butter
2 heaping Tablespoons all purpose flour
3/4 c milk
3/4 c plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions

Grind the juniper berries and rosemary in a spice grinder or mortar & pestle until very fine.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook until it turns a light
golden brown.

Meanwhile, stir the milk, yoghurt, and lemon juice together in a separate bowl.

Once the roux is golden brown, add the milk mixture tablespoon by tablespoon. Whisk continuously until very smooth, adding more milk if the mixture is too thick. Bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes and remove from heat. Season with salt, rosemary, and juniper.

Serve warm over your favourite meat or fish dish.

Juniper Berry Bechamel over Tilapia


 

12 Jun

Women and Nudity and the Awkwardness of it All

When I was thinking up some things to do for my get together with girlfriends in Toronto two weekends ago I immediately thought: spa.

Last summer I went on vacation to Tobermory and Collingwood. My sister, friend, and I decided to go to Le Scandinave one afternoon. I had read about it and heard good things and even though sitting around and doing nothing all afternoon is the bane of my existence (I always want to be doing something) I was willing to try it out.

The premise is 15 minutes in a heat source (steam room, dry sauna, or jacuzzi) followed by a plunge into a 60*F cold pool, followed by 15 minutes of lounging in a hammock or muskoka chair by a crackling fire. Then repeat as many times as desired.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this water treatment was responsible for making me feel the best I have ever felt in my life. Honestly, I still dream about it sometimes and I always crave going back and feeling that good again.

Of course when I googled “water spa Toronto” and came up with Body Blitz Spa I was more than excited to offer the idea to my girlfriends, so I e-mailed them my suggestion.

Are you fucking crazy? I’m not going to no naked spa! (or something to that effect) was the response from one of my friends.

I didn’t even notice that the spa is “bathing suit optional”, but I hardly cared since it’s a women’s only facility. People walk around the change room at the gym naked all the time, it’s not really a big deal. And besides, it’s not as if the place is “nudity required”.

Today I read an editorial in the Globe and Mail about this very spa, and more specifically about the nudity (or lack thereof). The writer and the naked spa-goers that she interviewed labelled the swimsuit clad twenty-somethings who frequent the place as prudes whose self-esteem is too vulnerable to allow their imperfect bodies to be seen by others.

“For their mothers, nude bathing was empowering; for them, it’s objectifying.”

Is it true? Are we really prudes?

I’ll admit that had I gone with my friends to Body Blitz I would not have bathed naked. Maybe because I know they wouldn’t done it have either, but mostly because I think it would be awkward to be naked around people I know and try to ignore the obvious. “Hello! Here are all those parts of me you’ve never seen before.”

Had I gone to the spa alone, it would have been a different story. I like to get the full experience of anything that I try. And plus I get undressed in the gym changing room all the time in front of women I don’t know, and I don’t think twice about it. The veil of anonymity is a powerful tool.

This whole thing got me thinking about females and nudity, in spas, in change rooms, and in locker room showers. The more effort we put into covering up our imperfections by hiding our bodies from other women then the less real, unaltered images of female bodies we are exposed to. Where else can we see real boobs and thighs and bellies on women who don’t pose for magazines or red carpet photo-ops? Do we even know what real women look like anymore?

If we were a bit more open to the idea of nudity then maybe it would be better for all of our self confidence, and our comfort with our bodies.

07 Jun

Tempo Weightlifting Routine

A couple of weeks ago I finished up the six day weightlifting routine that I was working on that incorporated moderate lifting with a small circuit. I liked the variety in the workouts but I think I prefer to focus on lifting on one day and circuit conditioning on a separate day. But it’s always nice to change things up a bit.

…so I’m changing things up again and adding a little more variety to my workout with Tempo Lifts.

Weightlifting tempo is the speed that you lift and/or lower the weight. Usually I do both relatively fast, but by slowing the tempo I can increase the amount of time my muscles are under stress and so I can fatigue them in a different way.

I’m lifting 4 sets of 8-12 reps with the following tempo:

Set 1) 4s to lower the weight + 1s to lift the weight
Set 2) 1s to lower the weight + 4s to lift the weight
Set 3) 4s to lower the weight + 1s to lift the weight
Set 4) 1s to lower the weight + 4s to lift the weight

. . . with a pause between the lift and the lower.

So I started this lifting routine last week and boy did I feel it on the weekend! The amount of weight I’m pushing is about 75-85% of what I do for normal sets of 6 reps, but I burn out in an entirely different way. It’s going well so far though I’m having trouble with so many reps (anything more than 8 reps can get really boring).

Day 3 of the routine is a drop sets day for a couple of reasons, but mainly because drop sets take less time and I like to keep my Friday workouts quick.

Click the Image for a PDF of the workout:

I haven’t been pushing too much weight lately, but I’m happy with how my weightlifting is going and how muscular my arms and legs feel (even if they don’t always look that way). I have to admit though that I’m jealous of the Husband who has been making crazy gains in strength and speed (with his running) in a really short period of time lately whereas I’ve sorta stagnated.

Men have it so easy don’t they?

06 Jun

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

I just spent a fantastic weekend in Toronto with my girlfriends. We went to see the Picasso exhibit at the AGO which had a really extensive collection of his works (to be honest, I wasn’t expecting that much). We also did a bit of shopping on Queen W. and on Bloor, but luckily not at the Eaton’s Centre where 7 people were shot on Saturday evening. As usual, I didn’t buy much, but I was able to pick up a travel pack for Matt from MEC for our upcoming summer adventures. We stuffed our faces at brunch at Lola’s, with a delicious Dim Sum dinner in Chinatown, and with homemade raspberry sorbet while watching Midnight in Paris which may or may not have just made my ‘favourite movies’ list. So good.

And now I’m happy to be home and back to my usual routine of weightlifting, cooking, and baking. This week I plan to make another batch of the strawberry rhubarb jam that I made last weekend to go with my homemade cream scones and for a jam tart that I baked last week. We’ve almost used it all.

I had intended to just buy jam from the grocery store for the jam tart but then I forgot to put it on my grocery list so I skipped the breakfast aisle, and my jam.

When I told Matt that I forgot to buy jam he said, Then just make it. In my own mind that seems like the most logical solution moreso than, say, just going back to the grocery store. He knows me too well.

This jam obviously turned out good since I’m making it again. It’s very sweet and has the perfect thick, sticky jam texture.

Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam Recipe

Ingredients

1 pound rhubarb, diced into 1/2″ cubes
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 cups sugar
Juice of 2 limes

Directions

In a medium bowl add the rhubarb, 1.5 cups of sugar, and the juice of 1 lime. Stir until thoroughly combined.

In a separate bowl combine the strawberries, the remainaing 1.5 cups of sugar, and the juice of 1 lime. Stir until thoroughly combined.

Cover both bowls and place in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight to allow the fruit to macerate and the juices to be drawn out.

Drain the liquids from both the strawberry and the rhubarb into a large heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium heat.

Bring the juices to a simmer, stirring often, for 15 minutes or until the juice has started to thicken.

Add the fruit and continue to simmer, stirring often, for another 15 minutes or until the jam reaches 95*C or 200*F.

Remove the jam from the heat and leave it on the stove to cool. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate overnight.

My jam was perfect consistency the next day when I took it out of the fridge, so I jarred it as it was. But if your jam isn’t thick enough then simmer the mixture again the next day, remove from the heat, allow to cool, and refrigerate overnight again.