30 May 2009

Has anyone been in a jam exchange?

During our Christmas cookie exchange someone came up with the fabulous idea of having a canning and jamming exchange. I've agreed to organise it, but I have no idea as to how it would work.

I think I'll send out a note to the cookie people (and a few others I know to can and jam) to gauge interest (with a September date as the actual exchange date) but I'm not sure what sort of "rules" these things have. If anyone has organised or participated in one, I'm interested in knowing how you set it up.

- Did you limit participants?
- Did you ask for them to let you know what they want to provide (to avoid having 12 types of strawberry jam)
- What size jars did you exchange (one cup, two cup, four cup bottles?)

Any suggestions are appreciated...


What I'm reading:
The Children's Book by A.S Byatt

I'm a pen for hire!

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26 May 2009

Patriotism in a pork chop

Mob mentality is fascinating.

I'm not talking of hoisted pitchforks and torches. Not mentioning the great unwashed's chants and slogans for the monster or the politician or the monstrous politician.

I refer to what I can only parse as subtler, fear-based deeds. No protests, no egg-throwing...just simple avoidance and whispering, often without any real concern for what I call "facts."

A couple of years ago spinach eating slowed because Californian green leafies were salmonella-tainted. Well...that would be fine if all we had available was Californian in origin. We didn't: we had Ontario spinach. Little pleas reminding consumers of the safetly in locally-grown stuff filtered through the news, but I fear those cries may have fallen on temporarily deaf ears. To that mob, at that time, all spinach was poisonous and shouldn't be eaten (and I'm sure some children were very grateful for that). It didn't matter what info you threw at them, the meme held.

So in late April when "Swine flu" filled slop buckets, I waited for restaurants and cafeterias to pull bacon, sausage and other pork products from the menus. I wasn't disappointed. It didn't matter that, for the most part, the meats they cooked weren't culled from infected piggie herds (okay, they may have been Maple Leaf products which, as recent history proves, could bring its own set of health issues, but if so they should have pulled those foods yonks ago).

It doesn't matter that those poor, curly-tailed creatures boar the grunt of epidemiological nominclature. How many times did we hear that people generally can't catch porcine apoplexy? How many times were we told that pork meat, when properly cooked, poses little to no harm to us?

Apparently not often enough. The piggie sniffles was renamed (or "rebranded" in marketing speak) as H1N1. About as melliflous as the dots and dashes of Morse Code, many people I know kept "Swine Flu" on their tongues, perpetuating the lingering fear that a glorious market lunch of a back bacon and cheddar sandwich with grilled onions could signal a greater commodal bonding.

The entire incident really didn't help an already suffering pork industry. Our local pig farmers (yep, I'm in piggie country) didn't have a great 2008 and being tied to a WHO Level Five pandemic meant that 2009 wasn't looking much better.

At the apex of flu coverage I found myself craving pork chops. Really. It's part of the entire "my little grey cells are about as porous as Swiss cheese and allow far too many thoughts to macerate to the point of drunken obsession" thing.

I admit that I struggled with this particular craving.

I knew I wouldn't catch something horrendous. It's just that apart from bacon and sausage, I don't really like pork. For the most part I credit My Dear Little Cardamummy with my usual avoidance as her habit of turning juicy chops into splintered slabs with the moisture content of graphite tattooed itself on my palate memory.

Oh well... the craving became intense...as intense as a palate worm. Yeah. That's pretty intense. It started telling me I had to have lemon...and garlic...and oregano with my pork. It also said something about olive oil too. Gosh. It's as if the palate worm had just come back from white sand beaches and amazing blue skies...without the bottle of Ouzo. Well I'm glad it did.

I went off to, while not singlehandedly save the Canadian or Ontarian pork industries...I thought I could do my bit to buy a local farmer a large double-double or two. My favourite butcher was more than happy to be the payment conduit.

There are many variants of this particular marinade. Use it as a guideline and adapt it to your own taste. Let the pork rest in it, at room temperature for about 15 minutes, before searing those lovely slabs of meat on a hot grill or pan.

Greek-style pork chops
(for four nice pork chops)

I dspn oregano
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced


What I'm reading:
The Children's Book by A.S Byatt

I'm a pen for hire!

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22 May 2009

Online dating and why I think I'd rather eat carrot oatmeal muffins

Yes...I took a little break. No, Zippy the laptop is fine. I just needed a few days to re-centre myself and just relax. Well...what I thought would be four or five days turned out to be more like a week and bit. Oops.

As you know from
my recent maple syrup post I've re-entered the dating world. My venue of choice: one of those online dating sites.

Good gravy.

I'm sure there are pages and pages written about how people market themselves on these things Yes: I choose to think of it as marketing one's self--much like applying for a job, we're applying to spend time with one another. Is that a cold and detatched way of looking at things? I don't know.

It's all about creating a good first impression. We use words and/or pictures to set ourselves apart from the others looking for...well...something. We don't have the luxury of vocal intonation or facial expressions for clues. We only have what's on screen.

This makes me wonder what goes on in some people's heads. For the moment, let's forget about the fact that at least 40 per cent of the guys out there post profiles or send messages that read as if they were written by drunken monkeys with access to a typewriter. Really--I can send you some of these messages if you want. I'm not even talking about superficial troglodytes who should count themselves as lucky that anyone would want to spend more than five seconds of time on them.

No, I'm talking about the guy who decided without any encouragement from me to Instant Message me...and send his photo to me.

Now...for those of you who haven't been through the Hades that is online dating IM: it's annoying. I can't be on for more than 10 minutes before the Joey Tribbiani-wannabes (complete with the "How you doin'" (sans " ' ") opening line start flashing messages at me. Please. I wrote a profile. If you bothered to read it, you'd know that I don't respond to blind IMs.

Normally the photo thing isn't too bad. Often it's a grainy, toothy image of a guy--sometimes posed, sometimes not. No worries.

But imagine if you will...an image of a sunglasses-wearing middle-aged man, clad in Spandex cycling gear, sprawled on his office desk, posed like Becks in his Calvin Klein underwear ad, giving the photographer a Fonzi-like thumbs-up signal.




If I were bereft of morals, I'd post the picture for you to see.

What on Earth made him think this is a great PR shot? What makes him think that I (or any woman in her right mind) would want to talk to...that? What makes him think that I may not be a future client to his firm, and will be sitting across that desk from him to discuss a contract?


I just hope they Lysol sprayed that desk. I could just imagine the skin rash that would appear after resting your forearm on it.

To make matters worse: he's contacted me more than once this week...each time, sending me that photo.

Is he trying to blind me...or make me want to scoop out my eyeballs with grapefruit spoons?


Now granted...not all men on the system are like this. There are some very lovely men there. Heck, I've met (either in RL or online) The Swordsman ((get your mind out of the gutter) he's the one who asked for a break), The Beethoven Fan (we've developed a wonderful penpal friendship...even though he lives about 10km from me, we've still not met after all these months), The Guy Who Likes Properly-Made Caesar Salads, The Diver and more recently The Watercolourist-Engineer.

But after too many nights trying to dodge all the Spandex-boys out there, it's just nice to retreat into my kitchen and do some baking. These carrot-oatmeal muffins are hearty, not too sweet and incredibly moist and are a delicious breakfast.

Carrot Oatmeal Muffins
yield: 12

200g ap flour
110 oats
1Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
250 ml milk
80 ml maple syrup
60ml canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
75g chopped walnuts
60g raisins, soaked for about 10 minutes in boiling water
140g grated carrots (approximately one densely packed cup

Preheat oven to 190C/375F and line a 12-bowl muffin tin with papers.

Stir together flour, oats, baking powder, ginger, and salt.

Mix well the maple syrup, egg, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined. Fold in the grated carrots, nuts and raisins.

Divide batter into muffin bowls and bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted tester comes out clean.


What I'm reading:
The Children's Book by A.S Byatt

I'm a pen for hire

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13 May 2009

Two bits of sweetness

Sweetness Number One:

Do you ever notice how some people go quietly go about, pasting the universe together, ensuring the Milky Way doesn't spring a leak and stardust doesn't collect in the corners?

These are the people who keep things going as tickety boo as possible, usually without fanfare, often without thanks.

One of my colleagues is a wonderful person with a great sense of humour who just coordinated a successful, huge and amazing project. She's a great person and we are so very lucky to have her with us.

I racked my brain to find a fitting "hurrah for you" acknowledgement--well, beyond saying "hurrah for you"...and then I thought of it.


Cupcakes baked by our darling Cream Puff.

For those of you who don't know, Ivonne started her own little baking business sometime last year (email creampuffsinvenice at gmail dot com, if you're interested in hiring her), so I asked her to bake my friend something wonderful and Spring-like.

Ivonne never disappoints and made these lovely raspberry-rosewater cupcakes, all pretty in pink, to be delivered in the morning. I'm sure my colleague will love them.

Sweetness Number Two:

Back in March I told you of a different colleague and her quest to help her brother-in -aw win an engagement ring for his girlfriend.

Unfortunately he didn't win (he came in third). But that didn't stop the proposal...in the manner he described. I'd passed on the message that my readers wanted to see pictures from the proposal, in exchange for voting for him in the contest.

So, for those of you who wanted to see a giant chicken in a swanky restaurant, here you go:


What I'm reading:
The Children's Book by A.S Byatt

10 May 2009

Chickpea and Couscous salad

All it takes is a week without Internet access to make me realise two things:
1) I look up far too much trivial nonsense
2) I spend far too much time trivial nonsense

The number of times I wanted to grab the laptop to look up everything from the
renewal status of Life (No: they didn't but at least the series finale made sense) to my area's hardiness zone (Yes: my front patch of dirt really really needs tending. No: I don't know what I'm doing) to the G&S version of Baby Got Back (Yes: really).

Zippy's back and she's behaving (mostly). They couldn't replicate the problem (sound familiar, anyone) but they made her a mostly cat-hair free machine.

Even though the weather's warmed up a bit, I'm still daydreaming about the Medeterranean. Normally my thoughts turn to France, Italy, Morrocco and their neighbours in winter's depths or when mired in muck...But my mind still wanders to my idealised world of azure skies, hilltop villages, fields of lavender and shorelines dotted with beach umbrella'd owners spying lapping waves (and each other).

Since my bank balance hasn't magically grown to accommodate a jaunt, my kitchen will have to allow a virtual trip.

My recent reacquaintance with couscous was a happy accident. Meandering the bulk food shop aisles saw me returning with a bag of teeny wheaty granules. Usually it's a side dish, sometimes prepared with dried fruits, it's accompanied roast pork and chicken. After a few meals, when the meat and other sides have long disappeared, I'm usually left with anywhere with an orphaned third- to half-cup of couscous.

Waste not, want not.

Like most salads, this one is thrown together with whatever I've found in my fridge or pantry. And like most salads, I don't measure when I combine ingredients, so just use it as a rough guide. The result is delicious paired with merguez sausages or eaten on its own for a deskside lunch.

Chickpea and Couscous salad
1/2 c cooked couscous
1c drained chickpeas
1/2 red bell pepper, diced

2-3 sundried tomatoes, chopped
3 Tbsps chopped olives
1/2 onion, slivered
1 garlic clove, minced
juice of half a lemon
olive oil
salt, pepper


What I'm reading:
The Children's Book by A.S Byatt

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03 May 2009

I think my laptop caught porcine apoplexy

Even though we all know we cannot catch H1N1 (aka Swine Flu) from a good old bacon sandwich (okay, not all of us know this as a friend mentioned her cafeteria pulled BLTs from the menu because of the swine flu), I think all the online news coverage I've been following brought out the hypochondriac in Zippy the laptop.

She's going into the repair shop for a few days (hopefully it's not a lost cause) -- I'll be back when I can reliably get this thing to boot up.

Anyway... I leave you with an idea...especially appreciated by those in the midst of calming others and monitoring the various health websites: Piggie-shaped cookies, complete with little face masks (of coloured sugar). The recipe is
Butter Cut-Out Cookies from Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess (p 212).

Have fun but remember to wash your hands...talk soon.


What I'm reading: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

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