17 Dec

Holiday Fun

I tend to anxiously anticipate Christmas, but this year it’s flying at me at an alarming rate. I don’t even feel in the Christmas spirit yet even though I’ve finished my shopping, gone to Christmas parties, and put up a tree. And even though I’ve been extra festive this year by doing Christmas-y things like seeing the Nutcracker and going to Holiday Nights.

The Nutcracker

Nutcracker BalletMe and Victoria

My sister and I went to see The Nutcracker at the Detroit Opera House a few weeks ago. It was the first time at the ballet for both of us, and The Nutcracker seemed to be the most natural foray into the world of ballet.

Nutcrakcer

The costumes were gorgeous, the scenery was well done, and the dancing was impressive. Victoria and I marvelled at how anyone could possibly dance right on their toes and spent time the next day Googling pointe shoes and how they work.

Needless to say I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the next ballet that rolls into town.

Holiday Nights

This past weekend Matt and I and three other couples went to Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn for the Holiday Nights event which runs every year.

Holiday Nights

Greenfield Village is a collection of authentic homes, workshops, cabins, and other buildings from the 1600s to 1800s. In December the village is open at night for Christmas themed festivities in an event that sells out every night.

Holiday Nights

They line the paths with candle lanterns, and there are actors in period costume throughout the village including Santa and live reindeer (for those who thought reindeer were fantasy, they do exist).

There are special Christmas themed exhibits, displays, and demonstrations.

There are carriage rides and Model-T rides and a small ice skating rink.

Holiday Nights

Live carolers, brass bands, and mummers provide entertainment. When you get peckish there are stews (delicious!) and hot roasted sandwiches and chestnuts and cocoa and cider available too.

Holiday Nights

The night wraps up with a Fireworks Finale after which the whole place swiftly shuts down (and I mean swift) and you can’t get a beer anywhere. We tried.

I hadn’t been to the Village before (just to The Henry Ford Museum) but I’d like to go back sometime when it’s less busy so I can spend more time looking at the historic buildings.


You’d think that by partaking in such festive activities, I’d be fully ready for the holidays next week, but still I’m not quite there. I have presents to wrap and cookies to bake and a Christmas Eve menu to put together.

I am pleased to say that I have nothing to do all day on Christmas Day until dinner and Boxing Day will be completely free. That’s two whole days of chilling and doing absolutely nothing. Sounds great in theory, but can I handle such idleness? We’ll see in a mere week.

10 Dec

All I Want for Christmas 2014

All I Want for Christmas 2014

My 2014 Christmas Wish List:

Left to right, top to bottom

1) Yoga Mat Carrier– I loosely carry around my yoga mat like a chump. I have a Manduka black mat that weighs about the same as a toddler, so it’d be nice if I could carry it on my back from time to time. I don’t really need a mat carrier since I tend to not carry my mat any farther than the distance between my parking space and the studio door, but at least this will keep my mat from unraveling in the back seat of my car. (Go Play 2.0, Manduka, $32)

2) Compass – An epic hiking adventure just may be in the works this year and it requires a compass. I need to practice my compass and topographical map reading skills that I haven’t used since I was 14. (SUUNTO M?3DL NH LEADER BASEPLATE COMPASS, MEC, $28)

3) Cardigans – My life philosophy is that you can never have too many cardigans, or cookies. Chalk it up to the cubicle farm life where the temperature switches from sweltering to frigid faster than you can say “At the end of the day, it is what it is.” (Any cardi will do, but I’m partial to v-necks with buttons like this AEO Boyfriend Cardigan, American Eagle, $34)

4) Athleta Stripe Fast Track Tank – I tried this on months and months ago and I regret not shelling out the $50 to buy it. It fit amazingly. It was perfectly stretchy without being clingy, light, and comfortable. It doesn’t look like they carry my size any more but I need to keep an eye out for a similar tank and snatch it up. (Stripe Fast Track Tank, Athleta, $49)

5) Wool Base Layer Top – I could use a mid-weight base layer for the aforementioned future hiking adventure. I like merino wool the best because it’s warm and dries fast. I find good wool stuff is worth shelling out big bucks. (Oasis Long Sleeve Half Zip Hood, Icebreaker, $130)

6) Sweat Pants – Because I always dress to impress and sweat pants always impress. . . actually I just need something warm to put on over my yoga pants in the winter. (Pocket Original Sweatpant, Roots, $68)

7) AE Artist Jeans – I only wear American Eagle Artist Jeans. I currently have two pairs with holes in the crotch. I have nothing against other companies or jeans, but constantly re-purchasing a style that I know looks good means less shopping, and I hate shopping. You’d think I’d look for a new brand that’s a little more durable since my thunder thighs consistently burn holes in the groin area but, again, that means more shopping. (AE Artist Jean, American Eagle, $51)

8) Tea for One – I drink tea on my own and preferably with biscuits whilst watching British television. Making an entire pot just means it goes cold or, even worse, I drink it completely and spend the next hours making repeated bathroom trips. A teapot for 8 to 16 ounces would be perfect. (Brown Betty Teapot – 2 Cup, English Tea Store, $32)

9) Moccasins – I wasn’t going to put them on my list this year but I still don’t own any and I still would like to. I guess I’ll continue to put them on my list every single year until I get them.

What do YOU want for Christmas this year? Maybe I’ll buy it for you!*

*Under no circumstances am I obliged to buy you anything for Christmas.

27 Dec

Christmas with Samantha

Typically my sister and I host an appetizer party on Christmas Eve at my dad’s house for all of our aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s a lot of work– a few days of cooking at least– and always exhausting but I love it. It gives me something to do (I feel incomplete when I’m not busy) and it makes me happy to cook for people.

It was quite a change this year when my uncle and aunt decided to host the Christmas Eve festivities. A welcome change, since my sister is currently pre-occupied with a 6 week old baby and not entirely willing to simultaneously nurse her child and roll sushi for 25 people. And, of course, it would have been a lot of work for me to take on myself.

Christmas Eve

So I find myself with nothing to do on Christmas Eve day. It is actually pretty nice to spend the morning lifting weights and shopping for things I plan to buy on Boxing Day and spending the afternoon drinking coffee and watching British television until it is time to get dressed and leave.

Christmas Eve is my favourite celebration because all 20 of us dress to the nines, drink, shout, and nosh informally on enough appetizers to feed 100 people. This year is like every other until shit gets extraordinarily depressing as we learn of an unexpected death in my cousin’s family that puts a dark cloud over all of us. So there’s that.

Christmas Morning

Christmas morning is perfectly relaxing for Matt and I. With no children or family to speak of we wake up late and exchange presents (more on those later) while watching Muppets Christmas Carol, my favourite Christmas movie. Later we get dressed and stop by my dad’s house for coffee and a rum cake that’s more rum than cake (Merry Christmas indeed!). He gives us our presents (which is dad-speak for “envelope of money”).

Christmas Night

Later in the day we head to Matt’s aunt’s house for Christmas dinner. Here I’m required to drink half a bottle of prosecco and/or practice my meditation skills as the conversation trails from the ‘damn socialist government’ to the ‘damn gays’ to <insert controversial, socially conservative opinion here> while Matt does his best to try and steer us toward lighter yet equally upsetting topics like the Detroit Lions.

We leave relatively early, partly to avoid being roped into watching The Trailer Park Boys Christmas Special but mostly to open presents at my in-laws’ house. I use the term “open” loosely since Matt’s mother is overly generous and there are far too many gifts for her to bother wrapping any of them. Our presents are put on display like raffle prizes at a church bazaar, and you’re never quite sure which is yours. We take all of our loot home in garbage bags (we really have that much stuff) and hide the chocolate and cookies from our voracious sweettooths in the deep recesses of our kitchen cupboards.

Boxing Day

I head to the mall just after it opens so I can pick up the clothes that I had already scoped out for myself on the 24th. I impulse buy a pair of skinny pants from The Gap even though I still don’t know how I feel about the “skinny” style on myself. It might look weird. Of course I buy a cardigan too. I spend most of my time at SportChek picking out a spring/fall coat and then trying to decide which of the funky workout tights to buy (they’re one of the things on my wishlist). I leave the crowds after an hour of shopping with my purchases.

After returning home Matt and I take down the Christmas tree and box away the decorations. That’s why it’s called ‘boxing day’ amiright?

And then the rest of Boxing Day becomes a repeat of Christmas Eve– hot beverages and British television. Matt asks me if I want to watch Star Wars and I’m so bored that I oblige, but only agreeing to watch it in one hour intervals.

How was your Christmas?

13 Dec

All I Want for Christmas 2013

All I Want for Christmas 2013

My 2013 Christmas Wish List:

1) BooksHarvest by Jim Crace, The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, and The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond are topping my list right now, but I’m open reading to others.

2) Flannel – I like this flannel shirt from L.L. Bean. Actually, anything from L.L. Bean is acceptable.

3) Minnetonka Moccasins – again, I will put some variation of moccasins on my Christmas list every year until I get them.

4) A Kitchen Scale – I just can’t bake properly without an accurate scale.

5) The Iron Islands – I can wear this necklace as I anticipate the next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Plus it’ll look awesome with my direwolf t-shirt.

6) An Agenda – it’s suddenly becoming necessary in my life to keep track of what I’m doing and when. These agendas are super cute, plus my friend’s girlfriend makes them.

7) Yoga Pants – I like the long, fitted variety and I certainly would not be opposed to these awesome samurai yoga pants.

8) Yoga – Some passes to local yoga studios would be awesome. I love to practice in the community.

My Christmas Wish List looks a lot like last year’s and I’d still accept anything from my 2012 list. I guess my tastes change little from year to year and I rarely buy things that I want.

What do YOU want for Christmas this year? Maybe I’ll buy it for you!*

*Under no circumstances am I obliged to buy you anything for Christmas.

31 Dec

The 2012 Holidays Recap

 

I ate a lot of food and cooked even more.

Christmas Eve was the main event hosted by my sister and I at my dad’s place. We made sushi, spring rolls, pulled pork sliders, mini grilled cheese sandwiches with shooters of tomato soup, baked brie, and a bunch of other tantalizing appetizers.

Turns out, these Pear, Blue Cheese, and Toasted Walnut Salad Spears? Seriously good.

Pear, BLue Cheese, Toasted Walnut Salad Spears

Lots of Hot Yoga and Weightlifting

I started up my new 5/3/1 weightlifting routine of presses, squats, and deadlifts. It has been keeping me in the gym slightly longer than usual with all the reps on the accessory exercises.

My friend Jasmine got a pass for the hot yoga studio while she’s in town for Christmas so we went together a couple of times and I went without her too. Ahhh… I’m loving yoga.

I got what I wanted for Christmas

. . . a tea infusing travel mug from Matt.

Christmas Morning

It has a lid I can use to rest the mesh insert when my tea is done steeping and better yet, this one is a thermos to keep my hot stuff hot.

I also scored some gift cards to SportChek (I see hiking boots in my future!) and a nice cash-infusion.

I Experienced the Awesomeness of Fondue, again.

My girlfriends and I got together for a FUN-due evening while everyone was home for the holidays. We hit up The Melting Pot for the cheesy, meaty, and chocolatey goodness of fondue.

I love going here for dinner. It’s makes for a nice, long night out where you can chat while your skewers of meat simmer away in the pot.

Me and Cristina at the Melting Pot

The Melting Pot

I saw my cousin get hitched

I went to the bachelorette party last weekend hosted by my cousin’s seriously fun friends and then came the rehearsal on Thursday where I met more of her seriously fun friends, and finally this weekend was the wedding. . . which did not disappoint.

And I’m so happy for my amazing cousin and her new husband, whom I very much adore.

Jenn's Wedding  Jenn's Wedding

I filled up on cake and a lot of cookies so I couldn’t even try the late night poutine bar (umm. . . how cool is that?!) and then I literally danced for hours.

Jenn's WeddingGettin’ low is my specialty.

. . . And it’s not even New Year’s yet!

Oy. What a jam packed holiday.

16 Dec

Plum Cake

It’s time for this month’s Baking Partners Challenge. The theme for this month was Christmas Cake.

Plum Cake Fruitcake

There were 3 cakes to choose from in the challenge. I passed on the Brazil Nut Cake and the Neapolitan Cake because they both were frosted and pretty-looking and as you know, I don’t bake pretty things.

So I went with the Plum Cake which, curiously, has no plums in it. The ingredients included lots of dried fruit and nuts so I was expecting (and excited for) a really dense fruitcake (I honestly love fruitcake).

This cake is actually a bit lighter than I expected it to be so if a super dense fruitcake isn’t your cup of tea, then this might be a better option. It has the texture of a dense muffin instead of a dense fruitcake.

Plum Cake Fruitcake

All the booze, dried fruit, and nuts in the cake make it a pretty expensive endeavour so it’s a ‘once-in-a-while’ treat instead of a regular one.

Matt was a fan of it, surprisingly; I didn’t think fruitcakes were really his thing.

Plum Cake Fruitcake

I took this cake to a house-warming party at the beginning of the month and got quite a few compliments on it. But, then again, almost everyone there was wasted and doesn’t everything taste good when you’re drunk?

So I liked this cake, but next time I might make a panettone or even Food for the Gods instead.

If we’re being frank, I still prefer a really dense, loaded fruitcake that’s been regifted 18 times. But, that’s just me.

BakingPartners

Plum Cake

Ingredients

1 c Raisins
1 c Chopped Dates
1/4 c Candied Orange/Lemon Peel
1/2 c Brandy or Rum
1 c Unsalted Cashew Pieces
6 T Sugar
3 T Water
Lemon Juice ( a few drops)
1/2 c Boiling Water
8 oz Unsalted Butter, room temperature
2 1/2 c Powdered Sugar
3 Eggs, separated
1 t Vanilla Extract
2 c All-Purpose Flour
1 t Baking Powder
1/2 t Ground Cinnamon
1/4 t Ground Ginger
1/4 t Ground Clove
1/4 t Ground Nutmeg

Directions

In a medium pan, add Brandy/Rum, Dates, Raisins and Orange Peel. Cook for 1 minute on
medium heat. Add Cashews and continue to cook for 1 minutes until heated through. Keep aside.

In a small pot, add 6 Tbsp Sugar and 3 Tbsp water and few drops of lemon juice. Swirl pan to
mix – do not use spoon. Heat until sugar changes color and becomes caramelized. (approx 7-8 minutes). Add 1/2 cup boiling water and swirl pan again to mix well. Keep aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine softened butter and powdered sugar and beat with hand
blender.

Add one egg yolk at a time to the mix and blend well. Add Vanilla Extract and blend.

Combine all dry spices, baking powder and flour and sift it into the bowl, adding little at a
time and blending.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat a 9×5” loaf pan with spray cooking oil or regular oil.

Add caramelized sugar syrup a little at a time into mixing bowl and blend. Add fruit/nut mixture into mixing bowl and mix with a spoon.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until they are fluffy and soft peaks form. Fold beaten egg whites into the cake batter.

Pour batter into greased baking pans and bake for approx 1 hour at 325 dgrees F. For
smaller pans, baking time may vary.

11 Dec

All I Want for Christmas 2012

My 2012 Christmas Wish List:

1) The Great Scandinavian Baking Book – I have an attraction to all things Scandinavian in a way that might suggest that I probably lived in Norway in a past life, so naturally I’m intrigued by this collection of cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Plus it`s a James Beard Foundation winner, so it must be a good book.

2) Bouchon Bakery – Recipes from one of the best bakeries in America. I’ve made some of Thomas Keller’s cookies in the past (like Oreos and Chocolate Chip cookies) and they’ve all turned out phenomenal.

3) Back to Baking – this is essentially a cookbook version of Anna Olson’s tv show Bake, which is my favourite foodnetwork show right now. She focuses on teaching a concept and basic technique and then gives you options to apply it to more complicated recipes.

4) Something Plaid – like this shirt, dress, or skirt from Tommy Hilfiger. I love plaid. Love. I walked into the Tommy store a few weeks ago and the place was covered in plaid. I pretty much wanted to buy everything in sight.

5) A Cute Dress – like one of these from Dorothy Perkins. I like the 1950s style, especially the fit ‘n flare cut which seems to flatter pretty much everyone.

6) A Waffle Henley – so warm, so comfortable, so perfect for pairing with yoga pants to hang out at home.

7) Deerskin Slippers – because I will put some variation of moccasins on my Christmas list every year until I get them.

8) CBC Radio-Canada Bag – is this not the coolest bag you’ve ever seen? I saw it at Pearson airport before our flight to Greece and I was SO tempted to buy it. Later, I cursed myself for not buying it because Matt’s tote ended up breaking while we were on the trip.

9) Soufflé Dish – I’m going to need one of these if I plan on making a soufflé

10) Tea Infusing Travel Mug – I like this Aladdin one because you can pop the mesh bag up when your tea is steeped. I have an old tea mug and I have to take the whole mesh insert out or deal with really, really strong tea.

What do YOU want for Christmas this year? Maybe I’ll buy it for you!*

*Under no circumstances am I obliged to buy you anything for Christmas.

28 Dec

Do you think there’s enough food?

I’m back after my Internet hiatus for Christmas. I’ve hardly turned on my computer for 5 straight days over the holidays and, not gonna lie, I quite liked it.

In its usual way, the holiday brought lots of family dinners and a bounty of food that naturally led to my overconsumption. My sister and I hosted Christmas Eve at our dad’s place which, in our family, means drinks and appetizers. My family’s philosophy on food can be summed up in 2 words: volume and variety.

Growing up with celebrations where a 40lb turkey was the standard size and everyone went home with a week’s worth of leftovers, I have it ingrained in my mind that if you don’t serve enough food for twice as many guests as you actually have in attendance then you’ve failed. My biggest stressor when hosting an event is whether or not there is going to be enough food. My rational brain knows that the massive menu is more than enough, but I always have doubts.

Inevitably, no matter how many dishes are prepared, I always second guess myself. On Friday as we were prepping some of the 18+ appetizers that were on the menu my sister asked

“Do you think we have enough? You don’t. I can tell.”

I wanted to reassure her, but all I could think was that our family might be going hungry this Christmas Eve.

A week of baking, and two days of prepping and cooking later and I was driving to my dad’s for the big Christmas eve party and practically falling asleep at the weel from being on my feet for 2 days straight. All I wanted was a nap. And maybe a foot massage.

But I love cooking, and I love hosting, and I love serving too much food. It’s worth the sore feet and the stress once my loud and boisterous family arrive with their boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and brothers and babies and everyone gathers around the food to eat and drink and catch up with each other.

Obviously with all the dishes that we made, my family wasn’t going hungry this Christmas. We ate until we were full and then ate a bit more and there were still plenty of leftovers at the end of the night. It always happens this way, and yet I will always doubt that there is enough food on the table.

Sahtan!


Just some of the Christmas Eve spread:


My aunt and uncle brought a platter with enough caviar to feed a Russian army.

Homemade California Rolls

Jumbo Shrimp

Homemade Lox on Homemade German Pumpernickel

Apple, Bacon, and Caramelized Onion Turnovers (top) Shrimp Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Asiago Frico with prosciutto, spring greens, and balsamic.


Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tarts

Sesame Chicken on Rice Cakes

Homemade Baguette, Pumpernickel, Oat Crackers, and Wheat Thins

We also had seafood salad, cider fondue, oysters, swedish meatballs, guacamole and chips, zucchini and feta tarts with olives and mint, jalapeno poppers, grape tomatoes with bocconcini and basil, fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce, spiced nuts, and mistletoe sangria to drink.

So yeah, there was enough food.

15 Dec

Christmas Tunes

I got a hair cut, finally. I only delayed it about 6 months or so.

DSCF7881
Before: Wow, did I really leave the house with my hair that frizzy? Sadly, it looks like this on a daily basis.

DSCF7884
After: Trimmed an inch, shortened the layers, and thinned out. It will probably go back to looking like the ‘before’ in a couple of days.

I was looking for some new Christmas music to add to my collection and heard lots of good things about A Very She & Him Christmas, so I downloaded it.

While I like their rendition of “The Christmas Waltz“, I find listening to the whole album at length to be rather boring, and the last thing I want is to be bored by my Christmas tunes. It brought back memories of being forced to watch the Lawrence Welk Show on Sunday nights with my Nonna. Plus, there isn’t a single religious song on the album, which is a major Christmas album fail, in my opinion.

So that got me thinking about my favourite (and least favourite) tunes from the holiday season. There are SO many, so it’s tough to pick but I narrowed down my preferences as best as possible.

Best Christmas Tunes

Classic Secular:

Happy Xmas (War is Over) – John Lennon

Truthfully I am partial to Sarah McLachlan’s or Celine Dion’s versions though. Yoko just ruins the original for me.

Coming in a close second is Last Christmas – Wham! (and no one else’s version even comes close to the original). There isn’t a time when I don’t hear this song and turn it up to jam.

Modern Secular:

Yule Shoot Your Eye Out – Fall Out Boy

Yeah, it’s depressing and emo, but I love it. And I listen to this song all year long. Don’t judge.

Classic Religious:

This is SO hard. I think that all the religious songs are a million times better than the secular stuff which I generally find cheesy. I think it’s a toss up between:

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and
Oh! Holy Night

Modern Religious:

Breathe of Heaven – Amy Grant

This song is a beautiful perspective of Christmas from the Virgin Mary. We used to sing it every year in high school and it still tops my Christmas playlist.

Worst Christmas Tunes

Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid

I get that this was a fundraiser for the 1980s Ethiopian famine and that’s all well and good. And I get that the lyrics were trying to put into perspective our first world “needs” at Christmas time compared actual needs of the rest of the world, but has anyone ever really listened to the lyrics? Like, really listened to them? They’re a bit of a stretch for even my liberal brain to wrap itself around.

It’s a world of dreaded fear
Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears
And the christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

The clanging chimes of doom? Really? It’s Africa, people, not the coming of the grim reaper.

In case you don’t agere with me, even the songwriter Bob Geldorf thinks it’s the worst song in history.

Christmas Time is Here – A Charlie Brown Christmas

This song actually makes me want to shoot my eye out. Or at the very least, cover my ears, curl into a ball, and cry “please, make it stop!”

Anything from Manheim Steamroller

How do people listen to this shit?

Blue Christmas – Elvis

Any version of this song is depressing. The most depressing part being that I can’t stop myself from singing along. Elvis’ version is by far the worst.

06 Dec

Thai Peanut Sauce

Well hello there, Christmas Tree. Thanks for finally gracing me with your presence.

Christmas Tree

Soon you will also be gracing me with your presents.

Matt and I put up the Christmas tree last night so we’re finally decorated for Christmas. We’re getting closer!

I added the new ornament that we bought from Bronner’s:

Snowman Ornament

I was really excited about it when I saw it and my reaction was something like this:

Oh my God! Look! It’s a little snowman! Look Matt, isn’t it cute? He’s floating in a mug of hot chocolate! He’s a snowman. Floating in a mug of hot chocolate.
I have so many questions.
How did he get into the hot chocolate? Was he murdered? It was it the children, wasn’t it? They stole his magical silk cap and corn-cob pipe and pushed him in there, didn’t they?
But he looks so happy! Why? Why snowman? What have you seen?!
Oh, so many questions.
We have to buy this.

And now he will grace our tree for years to come. I will tell my grandchildren the story of Frosty the Murdered Snowman.

Tonight I did a little bit of Christmas shopping and now I’m exactly halfway done. I felt a bit uncomfortable shopping though because I smelled like a Chinese restaurant from my very delicious dinner tonight: Crispy Fried Tofu with Thai Peanut Sauce.

This sauce is SO good. I made it for the first time a few weeks ago and have been wanting to make it since. It tastes fantastic on absolutely everything. Tofu, rice, spinach, whatever.

Please, please make it.

DSCF7853

Thai Peanut Sauce

Adapted from Melissa Clark
Makes ~1 cup

2/3 c. all natural peanut butter
1/4 c. coconut milk
1 clove garlic
1” thick piece of ginger, peeled
juice of 1-1/2 limes
small handful of cilantro
1 T miso paste
1 small hot chili
1/4 T sea salt
~1/4 c. water

Process everything except the water in a food processor until smooth. Add the water slowly until the desired consistency is reached. I like it a little runny so I can drizzle it over everything.