Omniprescent Oscar

What can I possibly do to be more girly right now – I’m putting together this Oscar post while Sex and the City is on the in background, and I’m sipping a tea while eating chocolate chip cookies. All I need are the quintessential curlers in my hair, an avocado mask on my face, and toe separators securely in place while my nail polish dries.

Let’s just cut right to it. Dresses, dresses, dresses!!!

I’m sure everyone has seen Mila Kunis’ Elie Saab by now. It’s my favourite of the night! The draping is perfect, and the dress is demure, yet sexy, and the delicate scalloping around the bust is so come-hither. I love it!

Wow – what a transformation from the beat-up and bloody girl from Winter’s Bone! Jennifer Lawrence looks smokin’, yo! Her Calvin Klein dress is so simple, but she looks like a complete bombshell. (Question: How do celebrities wear necklines like this, but their breasts still look springy, not saggy and deflated?) I also thought it was funny when on the red carpet, Lawrence said, “I’m here to have fun, and lose!” Haha!

And she does it again. Natalie Portman looks radiant in her Rodarte dress. What else can I say, really? She never fails! (I also love her tassel earrings, and how they contrast with the texture of her beaded neckline.)

I have to agree with ABC’s red-carpet commentator, Randolph Duke, who said Hailee Steinfeld was wearing something completely age-appropriate. I think she’s only 14, and the sheer overlay that covers her upper chest is a classy touch. In her Marchesa, she’s a ballerina from a jewelry box – so lovely and cute! Pretty sure I couldn’t have walked in those shoes when I was 14, though. Yowza!

Ah, the many looks of Anne Hathaway. I’ll pass on the red Valentino – not a fan of the poufy side-gathering; I’m loving the cream Givenchy Haute Couture gown, though – wouldn’t my red hair suit it well? Haha! In look number three, Hathaway looks super-cute in her Lanvin tuxedo, but her song was annoying. I don’t like her fourth look because of the way the overlay stops at knee-level (I don’t think it would look that great extended, either, so I suppose I’m OWT on this one).

Ah, my favourite dress of Miss. Hathaway’s! The spectacular fringed and sparkly number on the far left is by Oscar de la Renta, and I want it (Hathaway also looked beautiful – I thought her hairstyle was fantastic paired with this dress)! The sixth look is an Atelier Versace that I’m oatmealing out on; and her seventh dress was an Armani Prive that me no likey. Number eight, the final look, was Tom Ford, but too severe for my tastes.

Sandra Bullock wore Vera Wang last night, and hers is a look I’m on the fence about. Like? Not like? Mehhhh. What I did find agreeable was her comment to Javier Bardem that he scared America…with a bad haircut (No Country for Old Men reference). Haha!

I didn’t exactly love Amy Adams’ L’Wren Scott (and I didn’t think the green jewels matched), but come on – how gorgeous is she?! During the show, when the camera panned to Adams, her makeup looked flawless. Girl crush!

Attack of the green jewelery! Reese Witherspoon accented her Armani Prive gown with this year’s ubiquitous emerald-coloured baubles. (Did anyone else notice this?) As for her actual dress, another meh. It’s hard not to do a double-take, though – she’s so glamorous!

I love the colour of Scarlett Johansson’s Dolce & Gabbana dress, but I’m not loving the patchy lace and the flowers. I have to admit that she looks stunning, though! Her hair and makeup look wonderful!

All right, on to my least-favourites. What is going on with Jennifer Hudson’s cleavage? I think her bust size is too small for this amped-up look. Jennifer should have said no to this Atelier Versace. (I can’t get this picture to centre, for some reason!)

Too much tulle! Tulle overload! It looks like it got caught on the train of Halle Berry’s Marchesa. No, no, no.

Nicole Kidman’s makeup and face looked lovely (she didn’t seem as “tight” as usual), but her Christian Dior was a downer for me. She said she loved the structure, but that’s exactly what I dislike about it!

I thought I liked Gwyneth Paltrow’s Calvin Klein dress when I first saw it, but after studying it a bit more, I changed my mind. I don’t like the horizontal band of fabric along the bottom, or the drop-waist, and the neckline is too boxy, from shoulders to cleavage.

Just like we can count on Natalie Portman for class, we can count on Helena Bonham Carter for kook. What is happening with this Colleen Atwood disaster? Not to mention the ode to Britain…

What the f$&k is up with her f$%@&!g square-shouldered f$%@&!g dress underlaid with gold f$%@&!g tinfoil? If you watched the show last night, you’ll know that isn’t gratuitous swearing. I’m sorry to point out the joke, but I can’t have my sterling reputation damaged!

Tim Gunn was raving over Marisa Tomei’s Charles James dress, but I thought the neckline was ill-fitting in proportion to where her breasts are, and the split in the dress’ fabric and tulle didn’t flow together. But what do I know when up against the likes of Tim Gunn?!

The varied structure of Busy Philipps’ Douglas Hannant dress is not pleasing to my eyes – especially the square-shaped hip panel!

Look! It’s Cruella DeVil! (Otherwise known as Sharon Stone wearing Christian Dior.)

That would normally be the end of my review, but I found these heinous pictures of after-party looks at the Vanity Fair gala, and I just had to share. What was happening here?!?

Sophia Vergara.

Madonna.

Jessica Szohr.

Seriously? Music and TV was not representing last night! And in front of Vanity Fair herself? For shame! What did you think of the Oscar looks of 2011? One of my favourite things about Oscar night is studying what the actresses look like in comparison to the roles they played in their nominated movies. I think the biggest transformation was Melissa Leo from the mom in The Fighter, to the pretty woman who walked the red carpet. And, speaking of the films, I actually did pretty well in getting through the nominee list – I watched The Fighter, Winter’s Bone, The King’s Speech, Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine, The Social Network, Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right, How to Train Your Dragon, and Inception. My favourites were The Kids are All Right and Rabbit Hole, and my hands-down least-favourite was Blue Valentine. How did your viewing go?

And, just before I sign off for tonight, I have to repeat one of my favourite quotes from the 2011 Oscars. It came from host James Franco after a segment about the winners of the Science & Technology awards – “All right, congratulations, nerds.”

*The pictures above are from usweekly.com, fashionist.ca, catwalkqueen.tv, and nydailynews.com.*

Toast, the French way

I’m posting this week’s recipe a day early because it’s Oscar night, and that means tomorrow is reserved for my dress review. Will I face bitter revolt because I am straying from my usual schedule? Let’s hope not (Joanne, I told you to put down the pitchfork, and GO HOME already), because if you so choose not to come back, you will be missing out on further recipe wonders such this week’s Baked Peanut Butter and Banana French Toast, from Food & Drink. Sooooo goooood…

Ingredients

1 wide supermarket-style baguette
2 large bananas
½ cup (125 mL) peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
1 cup (250 mL) milk
3 eggs
2 tbsp (25 mL) brown sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
½ tsp (2 mL) each cinnamon and nutmeg
¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 25 mL) butter, melted
Maple syrup or chocolate sauce

Directions

1. Slice baguette into ten 1½-inch (4-cm) pieces. Using a knife, slice through the bottom crust of each piece, nearly right to the other side, to form a pocket. Thinly slice 1 banana. Spread about 2 tsp (10 mL) peanut butter into each pocket, then stuff in a few banana slices. Squish bread back together again and don’t worry if it tears a bit and you can see the filling.

2. Whisk milk with eggs, sugar, vanilla, spices and salt until blended. Place stuffed bread in milk mixture. Turn once. Refrigerate, covered, at least 2 hours or up to overnight, turning a couple of times.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).

4. Brush baking sheet with half the butter. Place bread on top, spacing evenly. Brush tops with remaining butter. Bake in centre of preheated oven for 6 minutes. Turn and continue to bake until golden, 5 to 6 more minutes. Slice remaining banana. Serve scattered with bananas and drizzled with syrup or chocolate sauce.

My ingredients.


Ami’s ingredients.


My French toast soaking in the mixture.


Ami’s French toast, soaking in the mixture that she says looks like cream of mushroom soup.


My version of Baked Peanut Butter and Banana French Toast.


Ami’s finished product. Is your mouth watering yet?

To all the French toast naysayers out there, let me start off by stating that Ami and her husband Chris don’t usually like French toast (she told me when she was little, she would turn it down for plain Shreddies!!), but they both absolutely loved this recipe. I am in love with it, too, but I, on the other hand, am obsessed with French toast, and will almost always order it if I’m eating out for breakfast. It’s. Just. So. Good. Not really good for you, per se, but that’s why you make something like this once every couple months – to indulge in it as delicious treat.

Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. First up, the “wide, supermarket-style baguette.” What do you think this is? Ami and I didn’t know, and thought all the baguettes at the store looked too skinny for such an undertaking as French toast, so I went with a Calabrese loaf, and she bought Italian-style. The next problem we ran into was cutting the pockets into the pieces of bread. I doggedly hacked away at my slices (I think my knife was dull), while Ami abandoned the idea altogether and went with the simple peanut butter and banana sandwich, which she then soaked in her mixture.

And, speaking of which, we also made sure the two sides of our bread slices/sandwiches were really wet with the mixture before we set our covered pans in the fridge. Ami let hers soak for about six hours (turning the bread twice per side), I left mine to sponge up what was left of the mixture overnight (also turning it twice).

Next up was the actual baking, where Ami and I also decided to take different paths. While I baked my pieces of bread in the oven, she fried hers in a large skillet on the stove (she was worried that since she had actual sandwiches, and hence thicker French toast, baking them in the oven might not do the trick).  The skillet method wouldn’t have worked for me, though, because I was making this breakfast for four people, and since I had single pieces of bread, I wouldn’t have been able to have everyone eating at the same time without the help of the large area of the baking sheet in the oven. Ami, however, was cooking for two, so the skillet worked out well.

Anyway, with a bit of melted butter, and the old-fashioned grilled-cheese cooking technique, Ami’s French toast turned out wonderfully browned and cooked through. Mine turned out just as wonderfully browned and cooked through, but it definitely took longer than what the recipe recommended. I turned the bread twice, and kept each rotation in the oven for about five minutes. I also kept the light on in the oven, to keep an eye on the browning situation for the 20 minutes it took me to cook the French toast.

Besides our assemblies and cooking methods, Ami and I also differed and/or made substitutions in the following ways:

  • She used all-natural crunchy peanut butter on one side of her sandwich, and spread Peanut Butter & Co’s Dark Chocolate Dreams on the other side (a decision she unequivocally says was the BEST ever). I used smooth, light-calorie peanut butter.
  • Neither of us measured the amount of peanut butter we put on our bread – what was the point?
  • She used almond milk, while I used regular ol’ skim.
  • I used Smucker’s chocolate sauce to drizzle over the French toast once it came out of the oven.
  • She forgot to take a picture of her vanilla. Tsk, tsk, Ami, tsk, tsk!

As I mentioned, I made this dish for four people – me, Darcy, my mom, and my dad – and it was a big hit with everyone, even Darcy, who isn’t the biggest fan of sweet breakfasts. There were lots of “Mmmmmm”s and exclamations of “This is really good!” so I think the recipe is a keeper, especially for company. Ami agrees, with a rating of 4.5 out of five (also my rating – the recipe loses half a point from me for what I saw as unclear soaking directions, the difficult creation of the pockets, and the longer-than-indicated baking time). Those issues probably make the recipe seem more worthy of a “4″ rating, but I just can’t go that low!

Now, go back and look at the pictures again. How long can you survive without making this?!!?

Family Day Weekend, Part 2

As promised, here is Part 2 of my Family Day Weekend. It’s 11:30 pm, and I can see the toothless yokels outside my window, growing restless with their torches and pitchforks…

This is a bad-quality picture of a good-quality bowl. I couldn’t seem to snap a decent shot of this lovely primary-yellow Pyrex bowl that I snagged at the Freelton Antique Mall for $5 (!!!), so you can either imagine its beauty, or you can take a look at an original ad for it here.

Another find at Freelton. I look at salt and pepper shakers every time I go thrifting, and nothing has ever caught my eye like these did. They were $8 for the pair, which is more than I wanted to pay, but I loved them on sight, and you can’t barter for a lower price at Freelton because the vendors aren’t at their booths, so I threw caution into the wind and spent the $8.

I also obsessively scour the glassware shelves at antique malls, looking for the perfectly priced set of drinking glasses. On Sunday, I found that set at Freelton, and it was $7 for seven glasses! I couldn’t believe it, and snatched all seven into my tender, loving arms as fast as I could.

My dad and I have played cribbage for years, but I never actually owned my own board – until now! This vintage board was waiting for me at Freelton, and it was reasonably priced at $7.

Onward to the St. Jacobs Antiques Market, where I found this vintage Pyrex coffee carafe priced at $5.10. I have something similar that I keep milk in, but it doesn’t fit a whole bag, and I think this new carafe will, so this just might be my new milk jug! Isn’t that exciting news?

Darcy loves anything that looks like this (sad creatures doing odd things, or that have a general hangdog demeanour), so I knew I had to pick this up for him (it was only $4.76 at our last stop, Market Road Antiques).

Does Emily Post approve of smoking? If she does, she would have been looking at me with distaste a couple weeks ago when a friend was over and asked for an ashtray, and I had to tell her to leave her cigarette butts in the snow on the balcony. Classy! However, from now on, it’s sophistication all the way with this ashtray I bought for $1.50 at Market Road.

My mom came running to me with this licence plate, which is not only PEI-related, but is also from the town in which she and my dad went to high school. Go, Montague Regional! I couldn’t turn away this item that was loaded with sentimental value, and for $4.23 at Market Road, it now hangs in my den, on the picture wall.

These two bowls, I got for free! The Early American pattern on the left arrived with my mom (she bought it for me at the Cookstown Antique Market for $11.86), and the Spring Blossom bowl on the right was acquired by my mom (for me) in a Pyrex trade with a nice woman named Taylor, who lives in Georgia. These bowls are now enjoying their stately home on top of my kitchen cupboards.

My mom and I both wanted this, and we spent much time examining it, and deluding ourselves with grand illusions of entertaining guests at our homes, who would then be served their food from this Golden Poinsettias casserole dish. The unreality of this scenario made us laugh like loons.

I’ve converted and sworn off technology. Bonnets and lanterns only.

And there it is – my Family Day Weekend, Parts 1 and 2. Upcoming on the blog is my Oscars dress review, and my and Ami’s next recipe, Baked Peanut Butter and Banana French Toast. Yum!


Family Day Weekend, Part 1

Well, it was a long weekend, so that means the exalted or reviled grab-bag blog. As 50 Cent is fond of saying, hate it or love it? Daddy ain’t around, probably committin’ felonies. OK, not true, and my Family Day weekend wasn’t spent with my jailbird daddy – it was spent with Darcy, Susie, my mom, and my dad, who ain’t committin’ no jacked-up felonies.

Boots, Spring; tights, Aldo; shirt-dress, H&M; cream belt, vintage; brown belt, Suzy Shier; tank top, Urban Outfitters; earrings, gift from Erin; necklace, bracelets, and bird pin, vintage; nameplate bracelet, craft fair.

Sure, the nameplate bracelet is broken, but I like to wear it anyway, and it’s survived about 15 years of ownership, so give it some slack, all right?

Darcy and I went out to East Side Mario’s for supper on Friday because every so often we like to gorge on unlimited salad, soup, and bread at what we call “Generic Restaurant TMs” (the “TM” stands for the trademark symbol). And, as per usual, we left wondering why we ate at said Generic Restaurant TM. It’s like Bart with Lisa’s electric-shock cupcake – we never learn, and keep going back for more.

The La Palette experience.

Saturday at noon, you could have found me at La Palette, in Toronto, where Susie and I went for lunch/brunch before heading to the National Home Show. I sought out this restaurant after reading an article in Toronto Life about its French onion soup, which, for the record, is soup I have a hard time not ordering if it’s on the menu. Thus, my ongoing quest for the perfect French onion soup. Toronto Life called La Palette’s concoction “peerless,” and I have to say I disagree. I was disappointed in the soup because I didn’t think it was cheesy enough, there was an odd tang to it that made me wince slightly every time I ate a spoonful, some of the bread chunks were hard, and it arrived at the table merely warm, not hot. Sorry, Toronto Life, this March’s Food & Drink article was wasted on me and my common taste buds that can’t appreciate a slow-roasted beef bone broth. On the bright side, though, Susie very much enjoyed her omelette, greens, and “frites,” and the bread basket was pretty decent.

What I wore to the Home Show: Boots, Spring; tights, Secret; sweater-dress, Le Chateau; feathered necklace, Charlotte Russe; bracelet, necklace and bird pin, vintage; earrings, gift from Erin.

Susie and I.

The pictures above were taken just before Susie and I left the Home Show, and our smiles mask our bitter disappointment with the hour and a half we basically wasted at the Direct Energy Centre (it was good fortune that Susie won the tickets, and that we didn’t pay for them!). The show was oddly bi-polar, as if it couldn’t make up its mind to be a flea market or an actual home show. One minute we were looking at hulking garage doors and scratch-resistant flagstone, and the next minute, our eyes were being blinded by the shiny silver buckles of knock-off purses dangling precariously on particle board across the aisle. So strange!!! Susie and I went to see the Rockettes and their Radio City Christmas Spectacular a few years ago, and the performance was so weird and disjointed that we joked we must be on an acid trip. The Home Show experience elicited similar comments.

The endangered Krispy Kreme, in its natural habitat.

After Susie and I were finished at the Home Show, we decided we wanted/deserved a treat. Cupcakes won out as the most desirable confection, and this decision was determined by the simultaneous squeals of excitement we both let out once the word “cupcake” was mentioned. Fast-forward two and a half hours, and Susie and I are sitting in my car, eating chocolate-glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts.* We couldn’t find a cupcake shop in the area we were in, and since we each had a voucher from FabFind for six free Original Krispy Kremes, we gave up the cupcake search after high winds, transit inadequacy, and pure frustration left us deflated and rabid for sugar. Family Day Weekend, Part 1, end scene.

Tomorrow I’ll regale you with Sunday’s second-hand purchases. The antique malls brought forth much bounty, and I can’t wait to share the fruits of my foraging!

*Did you know a bizarrely located Krispy Kreme standalone store exists on Harbord Street in Toronto? I can’t decide whether it’s good or bad for me to have acquired this little piece of information.


Breaking bread

It’s cookin’ Monday! Last time, Ami and I had risotto and roasted vegetables cooking in our kitchens, and just about a week ago, we decided to try our hands at home-made bread. When I told my mom what I was baking, she had a decidedly negative reaction. “Bread is SO hard to make. Good luck, chump,” is basically what she said, and when I was with Susie this weekend, telling her about the bread, she asked incredulously, “You made it from scratch?!?!?!” Well, yes, I did, and so did Ami, and with little more than a few e-mails back and forth with our initial uncertainties, we truly accomplished this most impossible feat. We created bread with our very own hands, and the flour runneth from our fingers and the dough riseth most mightily…

Chef Michael Smith’s Country Bread

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup any multigrain mix
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 cups warm water

Directions

In a large bowl whisk the dry ingredients together, evenly distributing the salt and yeast throughout the flour. Pour in the warm water and stir with the handle of a wooden spoon until a moist dough forms. Continue stirring until the dough incorporates all the loose flour in the bowl, 1 or 2 minutes in total. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 18 hours. The dough will double in size and bubble (don’t worry if you don’t see this happening – I didn’t notice a difference in the dough until the 18 hours were up), and long elastic gluten strands will form without laborious kneading.
Knock the dough down and toss it with a splash of vegetable oil, evenly coating the dough ball. Form it into a 9- x 5-inch (2 L) loaf pan and, without covering, rest it a second time. In 2 to 3 hours it will double in size once more.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C). When the dough is ready, bake for 45 minutes.

My ingredients, minus the vegetable oil, which I forgot to photograph.

Ami’s ingredients, minus her oil (she used olive), which she also forgot to photograph.

I was very curious to find out what “long elastic gluten strands” are. Now I know, and so do you.

This is Ami’s dough, just before it went into the oven. I had made my bread before her, so I sent out the alert that she needed to watch for this phenomenon. Our solution was to simply tuck the errant dough back into the pan. As you will see, hers turned out looking better than mine did…

…it looks perfect!!

Mine oozed…

…but looked much better when it was out of the pan and cleaned up a bit.

What do you think? It’s not bad, if I do say so myself! All the ingredients were easy to find in the grocery store, and I’m sure many of you have many of the required items in your cupboards right now – Ami did, and she opted for rolled oats as her multigrain mix, while I chose to try out the Red River cereal. No complaints from either of us on our choice of “mix-in.” Other differences between us were my bread flour versus Ami’s all-purpose flour, and the aforementioned use of vegetable oil (me) or olive oil (Ami). Oh, and while I used a plastic-wrap shower-cap-with-elastic thing to cover my bread, Ami used a tea towel, which is good to know if you don’t have plastic wrap on-hand, or if what you do have doesn’t stick to your bowl (which is what happened to me, and was the reason why I scrounged out the shower-cap apparatus).

During the entire process, we found out there isn’t really much of a process at all. There is a lot of waiting. And sleeping. The dough does have to sit for 18 hours, after all! Our agreed words of warning are regarding the crazy dough-ooze that creeps up and flows outside the pan during the last 2-3 hour part of the recipe. Unless you have a deep pan, the escaping dough is going to be a part of your life. Stop being judgmental, and just accept it for what it is, OK?

As I said in the dough-ooze’s caption above, we just tucked the extra dough back into the pan as best we could. In the “after” pictures, you’ll also notice that my bread is slightly burnt on top – for some reason, the crust started to get a little too brown after about five minutes, and I had to put the pan on the lowest oven rack, as well as lower the temperature by 20 degrees. This wasn’t a problem for Ami at all, though, and her loaf of bread looks lovely!

And finally, Ami and I want to reassure anyone who tries this recipe that if your crust feels rock-hard when you take the pan out of the oven, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that your bread is ruined.We literally knocked on the tops of our loaves, and we both thought we had messed something up, but when we sliced into our bread, it was bliss! So soft and delicious! I had a bit of trouble getting the loaf out of the pan, but I think that’s because of the ooze, since Ami didn’t mention that she had any difficulties.

We found the bread to be pretty filling, with two (thick-cut) slices the maximum we could eat in one sitting, but damn (or day-um!), it was good. Ami rated this recipe a 4.5 out of 5 (it lost a half-point for the mess of the ooze), and I agree with her score, but I withhold half a point for my slightly burnt crust.

I have already stated to Darcy that I will make this bread again, and Ami’s husband asked her bake more the day she made her first loaf, so I foresee more bread-baking adventures in our futures. If we can do it, you can do it!

House tour

I said (a long time ago) that I was going to post pictures of my apartment, so can you please forgive me the fact that my promise is being made good on over six months later? I have things straightened up because I cleaned last weekend, and my parents are coming to visit on Sunday/Monday, so without further ado, please the enter house tour here:

The living room! All decor and furniture is from IKEA except the throw pillows (Home Outfitters) and the TV (Best Buy).

The bookshelves, the precious bookshelves.

A portion of my bookshelf allotment. The wooden calendar was my maternal great-grandmother’s, and I faithfully change it every day. Flipping the date is one of the first things I do each morning.

Another view of the living room, and the kitchen.

The kitchen. (The chairs are from IKEA, but that’s it!)

My ladies. (And behind that door is the washer and dryer. Yahoo!!)

Another vantage point, and my other lady. I’m working on my Pyrex bowl collection – as you can see, I don’t quite have enough yet to fill the tops of the cupboards. I keep all my baking supplies in the wooden bread box, and I reach up there by standing on the fold-up step-stool you can see to the left of the fridge in the picture of “my ladies.”

I have always liked a full-magneted fridge, and I don’t think this affinity is going to change any time soon.

On the way into the Man Den…(The reflective rectangles at the top of the room are two of three licence plates we have up there – Ontario, PEI, and Alberta.)

Darcy and I spend a lot of time in here. In fact, I’m writing up this post from the couch corner you can see in this picture!

The pictures on this wall are a mish-mash of things both Darcy and I like, and most of them mean something personal to us.

The view on the way out of the Man Den.

The recently painted bathroom. I still have work to do in here, but it’s coming together slowly…

The bedroom – also known as the most incomplete room in the apartment. I don’t have anything on the walls yet, and the only other items to show are my wardrobe (which you can see here), two bedside tables, and a clothes hamper, so the colour scheme is just going to have to do! (Bed frame and bedding from IKEA.)


Anomaly week

Boots, Spring; tights, Old Navy; sweater-dress, gift from mom; sparkly scarf, Le Chateau; chiffon scarf, ring, and earrings, vintage.

The scarves.

Yahoo! Another day of dressing in more than warm-up pants and a T-shirt, and another opportunity to wear my new boots! What a crazy, whacked-out week this is turning out to be. Monday, Apache and the ballet; Tuesday, a meeting; Wednesday, a two-hour American Idol; Thursday, baking bread with Ami; Friday, the beginning of a long weekend; Saturday, lunch at La Palette and the Toronto National Home Show with Susie; Sunday, the parentals’ visit and The Freelton Antique Mall. Do I have the wherewithal to survive? What obstacles will befall me in these perilous adventures? Only time will tell if my natural pluck, winning smile, and transit savvy will be enough to help pull me through this quagmire of events and dicey stand-offs that are sure to involve at least one game of Russian roulette. Cry for me, Argentina, cry for me!

Post-Valentine’s Day

Our Valentine’s Day crowns. Thanks, Mary-Sue!

Did you know yesterday was Valentine’s Day? Haha. My Valentine’s Day greetings included cards from my brother and my mom and dad, a gift from Darcy’s mom, and then a night out in Etobicoke and Mississauga with the D-Man. For Christmas, he bought me (us) tickets to Moulin Rouge: The Ballet, at The Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, and, conveniently, the show fell on Valentine’s Day. We debated going somewhere “nice” for dinner, but we hadn’t made reservations, and instead decided to eat at one our favourite places that ended up satisfying us just as much as anywhere else could have – Apache Burgers, in Etobicoke.

Delicious food abounds.

We only eat here every few months or so because it’s not exactly health food, but oh my God, is it good. We both agree that it’s the best burger we’ve ever had, and the onion rings are scrumptious. For under $30, we got a burger and onion rings each, a pop to share, and two chocolate malt shakes to top off the meal. Mmmmmmm…malt shake.

Right: Poster, self-explanatory; Left: Our view from the right balcony.

I took the furtive picture on the right after Darcy saw someone else pull out their camera. There were signs and announcements about NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY!!!! so I felt like Big Brother was about to seize me at any minute, but I managed to get out alive in the end. We both enjoyed the show, and Darcy was pleasantly surprised at how much he liked the ballet, especially after making jokes beforehand about how he was going to fall asleep. Giving the ballet another chance will definitely be in our future. I went to one about four years ago, so this was practically my first time at the ballet as well. I have to admit, though, I kept thinking about Black Swan, and imagining Black Swan-esque things about the lead dancer who played Nathalie. I won’t go into details, so as not to spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it, but did I see scratches on her shoulders? Anyway, Moulin Rouge is my favourite movie, and while names and parts of the story were different in the ballet, the premise was pretty much the same, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Here is what we did when we got home:

Boots, Spring; leggings, Dynamite; green tube-dress, Spoof; T-shirt, Esprit; belt, Le Chateau; necklace and earrings, vintage.

It’s me at 11 pm.

After taking outfit pictures for me, Darcy opened our Valentine’s Day package from his mom, and among some candy and pajamas were crackers (I failed in making mine “crack”), from which we pulled a piece of paper that ordered each of us to get our significant other ice cream and write them love letters.  HAHA. We doth don yon crowns instead.

Happy belated Valentine’s Day!

I challenge you to find mustard greens

Hi, everyone! Welcome to the first cooking collaboration between Ami and I! As I mentioned on Facebook and in my previous blog post, we will be attempting to either cook or bake a new recipe every week, and we will be sharing our adventures with you – and just because this recipe happened to turn out well and cook rather smoothly, don’t assume that we (well, me, at least) are chef extraordinaires who are taking on this project only to rub your pretty little noses in our kitchen prowess. All you have to do is read my last post to see that, to me, this a whole new world, worthy of Jasmine and Aladdin singing on a magic carpet. Anyway, without further ado, here is my and Ami’s first recipe of barley risotto with roasted winter vegetables, which is a foodnetwork.com recipe suggested to us by our friend, Sandy/Alex:

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, homemade or low-sodium canned
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced
  • 1 small celery root (about 1/2 pound), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 1/2 small butternut squash, halved, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 to 5 cups torn mustard greens (1 small bunch)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, optional

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss the carrot, celery root, and butternut squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the salt on a baking sheet and spread out in an even layer. Roast until golden and tender, about 25 minutes.

Combine the chicken broth and thyme in a pot and bring to a simmer.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the barley, onion and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften a bit, about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine, and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is absorbed. Add 2 cups of the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently. Add the remaining broth and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender but still slightly firm and the mixture is still soupy, about 30 minutes. Add the roasted vegetables and cook until the vegetables are heated through. Stir the mustard greens into the risotto, then let the mixture sit until the greens wilt, about 3 minutes. If the risotto thickens up too much, thin it out with a little hot water. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately (or else face certain death). Pass grated cheese at the table (not exactly a necessary step, and why dirty an extra bowl?).

Here are the ingredients and brands I used.

Here are the ingredients and brands Ami used. (Is that not one of the biggest carrots you have ever seen? My carrots look pathetic in comparison.)

The various stages of risotto cooking.

My risotto on the left, Ami’s on the right.

First off, let’s address the ingredients. Mustard greens? Celery root? Never heard of them. Well, I hadn’t until I read this recipe. Ami and I both struggled to find mustard greens – I had absolutely no success, and all she found was stray mustard greens mixed in with other leafy vegetables. I ended up using spinach, and Ami used kale. She also added more ground pepper to her dish because she had read that mustard greens have a more pepper-like taste than kale. And what about the curious celery root? It’s that ugly brown, warty-looking thing in my ingredients picture. It was actually pretty easy to find (I saw it at both Longo’s and Food Basics), but in a fit of contrariness, Ami’s root pulled a disappearing act because it overheard us calling it names, and she used turnips instead. I didn’t make any other substitutions, but Ami used 1/2 tsp. of dried thyme  in place of the fresh stuff, and also grated Pecorino Romano cheese instead of Parmesan. Oh, and we both didn’t know what “smashed” garlic meant, so we each went for the next best thing: minced. I actually tried to “smash” my garlic down with the bottom of a spoon, but that method was useless. One more note about the ingredients: can I just please complain about how hard butternut squash is to peel? *Whine*

OK, on to the actual cooking. Ami and I found the recipe fairly simple to follow, and the only thing we thought to be off about the instructions was the second addition of the broth, which is supposed to take 30 minutes to soak up into the barley – we thought it was more like 15-20 minutes. There actually isn’t much more to say, other than if you’re skeptical (as I was) about roasting the vegetables first and then leaving them out in the open until they’re ready to go in the risotto, don’t be. A warning, however, to those with errant husbands and/or boyfriends who are underfoot whilst you’re cooking: Ami remarked that her husband Chris “kept picking them (the roasted vegetables) off the pan and eating them.” G’way with you!

From start to finish, the recipe took me an hour and 40 minutes, and that’s from setting everything out on the counter to sitting down with fork in hand. And, by the time I did sit down, I had, of course, sampled the risotto, and I thought it to be quite good! The taste of the celery root was a bit questionable, but any doubt was easily disguised by the mixture of other flavours and textures in the risotto. Ami and I both agreed it was very filling, but that being said, Darcy ate his right up, and Chris scarfed down three servings. You man, you like risotto. Me woman, I full. Based on those  nine words of supreme articulation, I rate this dish a 3.5 or 4 (so, 3.75?) out of 5, and Ami rates it a 3 out of 5. For me, I found the Parmesan really gave the dish that extra oomph into cheesy goodness that is my score of 3.75 out of 5.

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

A cooking collaboration

An ad to which I should take heed?

If you follow me on my De Facto Redhead Facebook page, you might have noticed my announcement this week that I am starting a new feature on my blog – cooking! Joining me in my culinary adventures is Ami, formerly of the Beyond Peas and Carrots blog, and currently a busy stay-at-home mom to Holden and wife to Chris. Ami and I have known each other since we were 11 years old, and while the years have taken us in different directions, thanks to Facebook, we reconnected, and now, by chance, we live within about an hour of one another!

Ami devoted a lot of her posts to cooking and baking, which I have been attempting (as of late) in ever-increasing quantities. I have always enjoyed baking, but cooking? Not really. Let’s review:

1. Childhood: My mom used slap my potatoes down on my plate (while I was scrunching up my nose), and say, “You’ll have to learn how to make these for your own family some day, you know!” Me? Forget the potatoes – I really would have preferred a hot dog or a grilled-cheese sandwich. Or maybe plain pasta. That was good stuff.

2. Teenage years: Absolute refusal to learn how to cook aforementioned potatoes, and my mom’s increasing exasperation with my bored stares at her requests for me to “JUST peel the potatoes, OK?” No can do, mom, this girl’s gotta talk on the phone for eight hours with the friends she just left 10 minutes ago.

3. Adulthood – 19/20 years old: Ahhhh, the freedom of college, and from the shackles of Sunday’s potato meals! Their replacement? Oh, just eight months of the residence meal-plan at Humber College, from which I ate bagels, croissants, salads, hard-boiled eggs, and toasted turkey sandwiches before scurrying up to my room only to be starving in the evening, at which time I would scarf Mini-Wheats and rice cakes topped with peanut butter. Maybe throw a juice box in there for good measure. Truly, I wasn’t a calorie-counter dieter at the time, as much as the evidence is mounting to the contrary – the food in that cafeteria was just BAD…and yet somehow my friend Peter squandered away his entire meal plan in half the year. He liked the eggnog.

4. Adulthood – 20/21 years old: I’m living with a roommate now (hi, Cristiana!), and while I have officially said goodbye to the meal plan, I now have to take care of producing SOMETHING for my own meals. Enter my staple lunch of a piece of fruit, baby carrots, two rice cakes topped with peanut butter, and something for dessert. Cereal or a bagel was usually my breakfast, and supper meant the astounding variety of pasta and Prego sauce, eggs and toast, or French toast.

5. Adulthood – 21/22/23 years old: Graduated from college and moved back home to finish university as a commuter with about an hour’s drive to class. In other words, back to the Sunday pototoes. And no, two years away didn’t make me miss them.

6. Adulthood – 23/24/25 years old: I graduated from university, and moved to Toronto to work retail for the summer before I went back to college for a post-grad program. After I graduate from college (again), I start working in Toronto as well. During these years, I live with Sandy first, then Susie, then Kristy, then (briefly) Erin. Each person became very familiar with my english muffin pizzas, and, yes, pasta with…wait for it…not Prego, but a step up into Classico!

7. Adulthood – 25/26/27 years old: The Edmonton years, when Darcy and I moved in together, and he did the cooking. My specialties were pancakes and a macaroni and hamburger casserole. These were also the Edmonton years when my mom would ask, “What are you feeding Darcy?” Didn’t I just answer that? Pancakes and macaroni and hamburger casserole.

8. Adulthood – 28 years old: Back to Ontario! Roles reversed, I’m the one at home, and Darcy’s the one out at the office. I finally start to feel some sense of homemaker stir within me, and I decide to start trying to cook. Miracle of miracles, I’m not that bad, and now I might even, ahem, enjoy it. Say what? I actually credit part of my motivation to begin cooking to Ami, because when she was writing Beyond Peas and Carrots, she was constantly posting about this meal or that dish – and her son is not even a year old! I guiltily read her posts while wearing my pajamas at four in the afternoon, thinking I should stop being such a slattern, at home all day and producing nothing in the way of sustenance for Darcy and I. What? A graduation from english muffin pizzas to pita pizzas doesn’t count?

So, while I would by no means call myself a cook, I am trying to at least become a competent one, and my little collaboration with Ami, in which we will compare our ingredients and experiences cooking or baking the same recipe, is a great way to experiment with new foods, hone some skills, reconnect with an old friend, and inspire me to get some fresh content up on De Facto Redhead!

You can look forward to our first recipe review on Monday – it’s a barley risotto with roasted winter vegetables, and we can thank my former roommate Sandy for the recipe, who has also evolved his palate from his Delissio pizza days. Aren’t we soooooooo grown up now?

Carla vs. Potatoes, 2007.