19 February 2012

Avocado, Goat Cheese and Tomato Muffins

My sweet tooth is shrinking.

I can feel it.

I've made two batches of brownies in the past six weeks and could barely get through one piece...in total.

I've migrated away from muffins, fruit and/or honey-sweetened granola. I don't really want a sweet in the evening.

That said, I still want to bake--I turn out the occasional cake, but I'd rather try my hand at BBA.

The other week, when I made my Curried Roasted Squash Soup, I wanted something to go with it. I didn't want a slice of multigrain bread, nor did I want crackers.

I played with my Guacamole Muffin recipe and came up with this. It's quick, and easy and a tasty combination of moist, savoury and a bit of sweet (from the tomatoes). And yes...it's a lovely breakfast.

Avocado, Goat Cheese and Tomato Muffins
Yield 12

245g (435ml/1.75c) all purpose flour
2dspn (20ml/4tsp) baking powder
1dspn (10ml/2tsp) sugar
0.5tsp (2.5ml) dried oregano
0.25tsp (1.25ml) garlic powder
0.25tsp (1.25ml) onion powder
0.25tsp (1.25ml) salt
0.25ml (1.25ml) black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
165ml (0.66c) milk
45ml (3Tbsp) olive oil
110g (250ml/1c) roasted tomatoes
100g (3.5oz) soft goat cheese, broken into half-teaspoon-sized pieces
1 avocado's flesh, chopped

Preheat oven to 190C (375F) and line a 12-bun muffin tin with papers.

Sift together all the dry ingredients, including herbs, spices and sugar. Set aside.

Beat together the egg, milk and oil. Add in the in the tomatoes, cheese and avocado, but do not stir.

Lightly fold in the egg mixture into the dry, without breaking up the avocado and cheese. The batter should just barely come together. It will look lumpy and there may be dry spots.

Divide the batter between the 12 papers--you will probably be filling each bun to the top.

Bake for 25-35 minutes or until done. An inserted skewer will come out with a few crumbs and the tops will be golden and firm.

- If you don't have roasted tomatoes, you can use the same volume (one cup) of chopped sundried tomatoes.

I'm a quill for hire!

14 February 2012

Valentine's Day: Nunneries, sequins and Big Green Eggs

Me: "I think I'll become a nun."
Friend: "You won't like wearing black and white."
Me: "Maybe if it were sequinned."

Real conversation...today...Valentine's Day.

I think the above says it all, and my current romantic predicament.

So here I am, looking for Mr. Right...again. He's elusive and at this moment I'm not sure he actually wants to be found. At least not where I'm looking.

Even though it seems more scammers and married men (who, in my opinion, are just another type of scammer) are on those sites, it also seems as if things haven't changed much since I was last on: same games, different players...mostly.

So instead of my obligatory Valentine's Day foodish offering, I've decided to jot a few crumbs of advice, and a couple of observances to assist my fellow connected lovelorn.

No, this isn't going to be a "what's wrong with men" piece--I'm more than certain both sexes can learn from the below. I'm also certain there's an equal set of points which could be directed to women, but I'll leave that to someone else to write. Regardless, the following is based on real profiles, correspondence and dates.

Online dating, in general:
  • The larger your community, the larger the dating pool. A friend of mine put it this way: unless you're in a big city (like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, etc) you may as well be on a desert island. I won't go that far, but I will say if you limit yourself to a 10km radius, and you aren't in a large metropolitan area, you may not be totally impressed by the sheer number of potential playmates.
  • Don't fall for the TV ads. Unfortunately those ads make it sound as your perfect match will be presented to you on a platter, without any effort on your behalf, and all because you spent three-quarters of an hour filling out a questionnaire. Here's a question: if you were given a list of your close friends' likes, dislikes and interests, would they obviously be your close friends? It's the intangible that you can't quite capture in a survey that makes your relationships work. It's the intangible that means you actually need to put in a bit of effort into finding a relationship that works...and put in a bit of effort to keep it working.

  • Complete your profile. Really. Is it too much to ask that you provide the bare basics to whatever site you're on?
  • Be honest about smoking, drinking and kids. If you leave any of these as "prefer not to say" some of us will assume you're a living Big Green Egg, soak up booze like a ShamWow soaks up spilled pop and you just don't know how many kids you've sired.
  • Spellcheck and grammar check your profile. If you bother to read any of the tips and tricks listed on online dating sites, you will notice that your primary school English teacher was bang-on: spelling and grammar count. If you don't know the differences between "there" "their" and "they're," if you think an apostrophe is an early warning beacon that an "s" will appear shortly, or if your profile reads as if it was first written in Italian, Google translated into Hindi, Russian, Swedish and then into English many of us will simply pass you by. You may be a great guy, but if we'd rather gouge out our eyes with rusty grapefruit spoons than read your profile, chances are you'll never get a chance to meet us.
  • We'll know if you had someone else write your profile for you. Read the above point on spellchecking and grammar checking. If you've a beautifully written profile, but your emails and IMs read as if they were written by an illiterate half-blind chicken, we'll know something's up.
  • Have at least one photo posted. As I say in my own profile, I don't judge a book by its cover, but a dust jacket is important. Post as many photos as you feel comfortable, but realise that some people want a photo of your face as well as you at a distance so they can see what your body really looks like. If you don't have a photo posted, many of us will assume you really aren't looking for a relationship, or you're already in one.
  • Lose the sunglasses. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul that may or may not be true, but I, for one, like looking at a man's eyes. Besides, you'd only be hiding behind those kewl shades if you were married or in a relationship, right?
  • If you do post a photo, make it a recent one. You may think you look as you did in the 80s or 90s, but you don't (unless you've spent a fortune on plastic surgery). Really, you don't. You may be skinnier, chubbier, follically challenged or you may have plugs. You may have gone through a punk phase in the 80s and those green spikes may now be a salt and pepper Caesar cut. However you look now, be proud of yourself and let us be able to pick you out in a crowded room in 2012, not 1992...or in one case 1972.
  • Put on a shirt. I really don't know what some of you are trying to prove by displaying your webcam shots of your shirtless torso, but I think you're disproving whatever it is. This is not a comment about flabby bellies, pallid skin or man boobies. It is a comment about TMI.
  • To the guy in the not quite fitting Spandex cycling outfit lounging on an office desk: I know you want to let me and everyone else know that you are physically active, do charity bike rides and are generally a fun person. That's not what I and every other woman I sent your way thought. You don't want to know what some of us thought. In fact you don't want to know if someone thought they were your client.
  • Read our profiles. We're fully aware that many men approach us because of our photos, but it seems a Herculean feat to find one who has read our profile. But really...read what we've written and figure out if what we've written resonates (in a good or bad way) before you contact us. There are reasons why we wrote what we did, including hints as to whether or not you should approach us, including if we're receptive to LDRs or IMs. I'm always most impressed by guys who've read my profile and have then picked out some element and mention and expand upon it when they write to me.
  • Please don't channel your inner Joey Tribbiani. If I get another email or IM simply saying "How you/u doin'?" I may scream. In fact, I have. many times.
  • It takes a certain amount of bravery to contact someone. Unless you've been harassing me or are obviously a scammer, I will reply to your smile, email or wink, even if it's just to say "thanks, but..." (and yes, I know not all women do). In the same vein, it would be nice if you replied to our notes, even if it's just to say "thanks, but..."
  • No means no. Just as in real life, if we've said no, we mean it. Don't keep IMing or emailing us. Don't change your online userid and start bugging us under a different name: we know it's you. It's not endearing, you aren't getting points for persistence. In fact, you're getting blocked.
Have the sense gawd gave a goose:
  • Can your lifestyle really handle a relationship? If you're always on call with several call-outs each night, or if you are so regimented so that your schedule is indistinguishable from a three-year-old's or a 93-year-old's, and you aren't willing to compromise so we can go out for dinner, a movie, a concert or a party, don't be surprised if we walk away. And yes, I know this next part will be controversial to some, but I have to say it: Your kids should be your first concern...but if you're regularly cancelling dates, constantly late or leave early because of surprise-to-you child issues, logistically you aren't ready to date. Some of us may have the patience of Job, but when it runs out, it runs out.
  • Does our age difference elicit images of parent and child? I'm in that age "sweet spot" and I appear younger than I am. What does this mean? I get hit on by 25 year olds and 78 year olds. Sometimes on the same night. Yay me. I'm not a cougar and I'm not looking for a father (or grandfather) figure. To those at the age extremities I want to say the same thing: "Yes, I want to change nappies...just not yours," but I'm far too polite to do so.
  • Respect the fact that we want/don't want/don't know if we want kids. Don't assume you are so great a catch that I'll give up wanting kids just to be in your presence. In fact the mere point that you expect me to give up wanting kids means you are in no way a great catch. The same holds true for women who don't want children and you expect them to change their minds.
  • Women have evolved since you last dated; we hope you've evolved since you last dated. More often than not we are disappointed. If you last dated when you were in your 20s and you are now anywhere from your late 30s to your mid 50s (or older), please be aware that many women who are in their late-30s+ no longer want what they did as when they were in their teens and 20s. Some do. Many of us don't.
  • Keep your ego in check. Yes, we're all trying to impress one another but think about what you say. If I think community involvement is important, don't try and paint yourself as "a light in the community" by getting vendors to charge your company less for services rendered. In the real world, that's considered "doing your job" and isn't deserving of a humanitarian award.
  • This isn't a race. Give us a bit of time to chat before meeting--everyone has a different time frame, but I can usually tell after a week if there's enough of a connection for us to meet. Some women need longer or shorter. If you pout and stamp your feet because I'm not willing to meet you after one email, do I really believe you're interested in a relationship of equals?
  • Chemistry is a mutual thing. According to AskMen.com Chemistry is a natural, mutual romantic attraction between two people that results from a mixture of physical and natural, mutual personality-based rapport. Notice how the definition includes the word "mutual" and the phrase "between two people?" Chemistry is not how you react to a photograph: that is your imagination working overtime.
  • Make a bit of an effort when we meet. I'm not saying dress in your finest or research the socio-economic history of 17th Century Netherlands because I happen to have a degree in Art History and like Vermeer. Comb out that rat's nest, do something about those potatoes growing from under your nails and wear clean trousers. Chivalry is a plus: offer to pick up the tab (we may insist on splitting it 50-50, but at least offer) and hold the door open for us (no, that isn't chauvinistic, it's polite). Put away your smartphone.
  • There's a site that specialises in extramarital affairs. 'Nuff said.

Well, I think that's it for me for this year.

If you're with someone today, find different ways to tell them how much they mean to you every day.

If you're a fellow singleton, and looking for someone special, I hope you find someone lovely who will add joy to your life.

And if you're they guy in the not quite fitting Spandex cycling outfit...really...don't use that photo.

Note: This post has been edited to accommodate other points that should be added to this list.

I'm a quill for hire!

12 February 2012

Temple Food: Curried Roasted Squash Soup

After a week of meals that looked like


(along with other things that came from oil- and sauce-spotted containers, icing-stickied paper sacs, and lidded plastic cups which barely contained melted sugary goo topped with more sugary goo),

It's time for a bit of temple food after a week--and more specifically a weekend--of semi-hedonistic cavorting with old and new friends. More veggies, less meat. More roasting and steaming, less frying.

My week is still busy, so the simplest thing for me to pull together as part of my recentring was a pot of curried roasted squash soup. Like most soups (and most things I cook), I made it on the fly. I roasted the squash when I got home, let it cool overnight and made the soup the next night, after work. The end result was sweet and spicy, creamy with a bit of an edge. Exactly what my body craved.

Curried Roasted Squash Soup
Yield approx 1.5-2L, depending upon how thick you like your soup.

1 acorn squash (pepper squash), approx 1kg (2lbs)
a little oil for frying
1tsp (rounded) (6-7ml) curry powder
0.5tsp (2.5ml) turmeric
1 onion, finely chopped
0.5 thumb (2.5cm/1") ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves minced
0.5tsp (2.5ml) Worcestershire sauce
1tsp (5ml) vinegar
black pepper
chilli pepper (to taste)

finely chopped coriander leaf or flat leaf parsley, for garnish
sour cream, for garnish

Preheat oven to 170C/325F. Lightly oil a foil-lined cookie tray.

Cut the squash in half. Scoop out the pulp and seeds.

Place the squash halves, cut-side down, on the oiled foil-lined tray and bake for about an hour or until the flesh is fork tender.

Remove from oven and let cool. When the squash is cool enough to handle, peel off and discard the rind. Chop the flesh into large chunks.

Fry the curry powder and turmeric in oil until fragrant. Add the onions, coat with the curry mixture, and cook until soft and translucent. Stir in the ginger and garlic until they release their oils.

Add the chunks of cooked squash, and give the pot's contents a good turn or two with a spoon. Pour in enough water to cover the squash. Turn up the heat and let the contents come to a boil for about 10 minutes. Turn the flame down to a simmer, lid the pod and let blurble for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

By this point the squash should easily yield to the pressure of a wooden spoon, if not have totally disintegrated. Either mash the squash, blitz with a hand whizzer, or puree the soup, in batches in a blender.

Return the soup to the pot. Over a flame, thin with more water to a desired consistency. Stir in Worcestershire sauce and vinegar. Add salt, pepper and chilli powder (if using) to taste.

If you wish, serve with a dollop of sour cream, chopped coriander leaf or parsley.

I'm a quill for hire!