Saturday, December 30, 2006

It's a Wonderful Life


Okay, Christmas is officially over for me and I'm a happy woman as my holiday to do list is now complete. The last but certainly not least of a list of festive must do's was watching Family Man. For me this charming and funny modern day version of It's a Wonderful Life (watched that too of course!) has just the right amount of romantic sappiness to get you in the holiday spirit. Yes, it's best watched during the festive days running up to Christmas but since the disc only arrived in the post from Amazon yesterday I had to be flexible with respect to this ritual.
'I choose us.' Awwwww . . . I fear this blog is slowly but surely revealing my true identity as a saddo.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Culture Vulture

Ah the holidays . . . time to catch up on all those cultural goodies (using the term culture loosely here!) that get neglected during the busy working weeks . . . Here are a few gems that I've enjoyed this Christmas.

I've just finished Victoria Hislop's The Island. Set on the real life Greek island of Spinalonga found off the coast of Crete, the story is about the inhabitants of a leper colony in the mid twentieth century. I know it sounds kindof depressing and it is a sad story in parts but trust me, it has a really good plot with characters that you can really get attached to. While we're on the topic of good holiday reads, I must mention Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a rambling mysterious thriller set in Spain. Stu's reading it right now and really enjoying the story and I felt the same when I read it last year. Both of these books are Richard and Judy Book Club selections (a British rip-off of Oprah's Book Club) but don't let that put you off! I found both a bit slow to get into at the start but give them a good fifty pages and you'll be hooked.

Moving from the page to the screen, I can't help but mention High School Musical . . . Hey! Stop laughing at me!! It was on TV tonight and I am not ashamed to admit that I really enjoyed it. I think it might have been a big phenomenon in North America but I've only heard murmurs of it here among colleagues talking about how much their nine year olds like it. What can I say? I wish I was nine again because I would watch that baby over and over!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Confessions of a Shopaholic

I have a confession to make. On Boxing Day night the news featured a story about all the bargain hunting Belfastians out shopping immediately after Christmas. No sooner had I finished one of my tried and tested rants about how Northern Ireland people are shopping mad when the phone rang. It was my sister-in-law Judith phoning to kindly invite me to go along to the Next sale with her. What to do, what to do??

Now, Judith has a lovely little baby (pictured above) who grows out of clothes like nobody's business so she was frequenting the sale with the noble intention of getting some new duds for Dan at dramatically reduced prices. Fair enough. As for me? I hummed and hawed only a little bit before agreeing to go along under the guise of 'seeing what it's like.' Perhaps I have omitted a crucially damning detail that will reveal precisely why I come to the blog confessing my consumerism; the fact is folks, that the Next sale started at 4am!!

When Judy and I arrived just after 6am (you're ashamed of me aren't you?) believe it or not the selection was picked over. Well, despite my moral ambiguity over the whole thing, I emerged bleary eyed and still half asleep with a big bag of items. As the fitting rooms are closed the strategy (I was briefed beforehand) was to buy anything that I might like/that might fit and then return a whack of the items a few days later. When all the dust had settled, I have to say that I did get a few (okay, maybe a couple more than a few) really cute tops for work at some really good prices (as in 50-70% off - I mean come on people!) Pray for me.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

God Rest Ye Merry Poodles

Well, it's been a lovely Christmas. I know you've been on the edge of your seats to read all about it ;) but my brief blogging hiatus is explained by the fact that we've been staying with Stu's parents since Christmas Eve. While they do have a computer, it might be considered anti-social were I to spend my days blogging instead of engaging in festive family frivolity which has included food, games, walks, movies and more food. All that to say that we've had a really good time - I won't go into too much detail (such as who gave what to whom but cannot help but mention the Dave Matthews tix from gift-giver extraordinaire njb) but will say that we've enjoyed opening pressies on Christmas Eve, having a very good Christmas Day (gorgeous turkey and lots of games including some old school rounds of Uno - I love games) and a Boxing Day competition over who could stay in their housecoat the longest (Stu who's usually Mr Up and Attem won!)

I have lots of pics to post (foody, gifty etc.) but stay tuned as I will wait till tomorrow when I get back to the Mac which is considerably speedier. The one pic I share with you tonight is of the beloved Oskie maxin' and relaxin' at my family's pre-Christmas-Eve-Christmas-Eve. Two things with regard to the pic - Brotes, I'm taking it as a compliment that you chose to adorn your cherished poodle with the brand new posh tie that I sent you for Christmas! And as for your query kvpa, the family had an early Christmas Eve because Bruce has been working long hours in the slamma to cover a very inconvenient Christmas strike (but then I suppose a convenient strike just wouldn't do the trick at all would it?)

Have yourself a Merry Little December 27th.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas from Belfast :)

Merry Christmas friends and family!

Wishing you a lovely Christmas Eve and Day - Hope that each of you enjoys surprising presents, juicy turkey and good company. Oh, and somebody please make a snow angel on my behalf!

Miss you all - Julie and Stu xox

Pickled

It's been yet another lovely day of holidays - Stu and I have settled into a super chilled routine - staying up late and sleeping in, cooking yummy meals, baking for Christmas, watching dvds and reading has been peppered with lots of walking (errands and just for fun), biking and time at the gym/spa (just in case you were worried that we've turned into complete couch potatoes!) It's good to have a holiday at home every now and again although I've spent so much time in my pjs and slippers that I'm starting to wonder how I will ever manage to go back to work? I think I'll worry about that next week.

Anyway, today I spent a chilled out afternoon doing food preparation for Christmas. Since Stu's mom and sister are doing the turkey and trimmings I indulged myself in making a vanilla cheesecake drizzled with cranberry syrup and fresh cranberry sauce for Christmas Day (I like the bright red berries - so pretty) and also potato, beetroot and wild rice salads to be enjoyed on Christmas Eve. Oh, and I baked some more ginger loaf just because it smells so good. Since I was all tired out from all the culinary Christmassing, Stu took over for dinner and made this Greek Shrimp with Feta recipe from Beyond Salmon which was excellent.

All this food talk brings me to the main topic of my post - pickled things. Yes, you heard me. And just to clarify, this is not an ode to festive cocktails (although I wouldn't be opposed to that) but more of an exhortation to get your hands on some lovely relishes and other pickled accoutrements in preparation for the leftover turkey and ham that's always hanging around after the big day. My thought train has been inspired by Nigella (yes, I'm talking about her again) who featured a very enthusiastic monologue along the same lines on this year's Christmas series. While it's frustratingly tough to get a really good dill pickle around here (they're all sweet and called gherkins - not the same) I have lately discovered the enjoyment of pickled beetroot and pickled onions alongside sandwiches. Viva leftovers!

Friday, December 22, 2006

'Twas the night before Christmas . . .

I know it's only the 22nd but my family's having Christmas Eve tonight in Saskatoon. And I'm in Belfast. Take a moment to boo hoo on my behalf, if you please. Christmas Eve is really the 'main event' in my house when it comes to Christmas. My dad's Norwegian background meant that we always open all gifts save our stockings on the 24th (and lately due wide spread reticence to rise early on Christmas morn has meant that even the stocking stuffers get cracked the night before!) It's a great night - a good meal, usually a candlelight church service and then everyone chilling out by the tree in the living room - a reading of the Christmas story precedes opening pressies which is usually followed by playing with presents and eating DQ ice cream cake. General silliness usually segues into out and out hilarity. I like that.

On a side note, my family's celebrating tonight because both my sis and Dad have picked up the big money shifts which mean working Christmas Eve and Day (Ninners in the army and my Dad as a newly recruited jail guard but that's a whole other story!) Also, tomorrow the Brot-iason crew are headed down south to Ruth's farm for her family's festivities. So when it comes to opening presents, there's no time like the present! :)

Ahem. But back to my 'I won't be home for Christmas rant' - this is my fifth (count them!!) fifth Christmas away from home. My first was during my university exchange year when I met Stu and all this away from home Christmas nonsense officially started! The past four we have been here in the UK with three here in Belfast and one in Scotland. I have to admit that the St Andrews year included my parents and the Ninnygoat but still, nothing replaces a Saskatoon Christmas and in my opinion it's high time . . .

This rant must include the corollory but not insignificant comment that I have always enjoyed very lovely Christmas times with the Noble clan - these times have been very chilled, warm, fun and filled with delightful food of course. Nonetheless, indulge me on this rant for a few more seconds, if you will . . . few things 'wind me up' more than hearing friends/colleagues debate ad nauseum about who's family to spend Christmas with - the husband's or wife's? When the two families live in the same village I've endured pontification about whether they should they go to one in the morning and one in the afternoon and who will be offended about which decision? Yawn. I happen to think that such debates in my melancholy company are insensitive. Stu says I'm being overly sensitive (moi?!) Let's just say we're all entitled to our opinions (fortunately I just happen to have a whole website devoted to the expression of mine!!)

But, no matter how lovely my Irish Christmas experiences (and, like I said, they are very lovely) every year without fail the long-suffering Stu is subjected to a fair measure of homesickness from yours truly. Today I indignantly pointed out that Stu has only ever spent two Christmases away from home . . . not that we're counting. But we are.

Ah well, all this to say that big travel plans are afoot for Advent 2007. For now, it's mulled wine, mince pies, Christmas crackers and paper crowns all the way. Cheers Big Ears to the B family on 14th! We miss you. Have fun tonight xox

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ninny's Gibraltar Monkey

Y'all ready for this? Quite possibly the funniest thing you'll see all year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Just take a little off the top

Dontcha just love holidays? The main (as in only) item on my busy agenda today was getting a haircut. At ten I dutifully showed up for my appointment and an hour and a half later emerged a new woman. Don't let my creative little graphic mislead you - it was a change for the better (I just liked the comic!)

In summary, I'm still sporting a bob but it's a bit shorter in the back and longer in the front. Uh oh. That makes it sound like a reverse mullet. It's not a reverse mullet. I think my new style could be referred to as 'The Posh', as in Vicky B, but since I hate her you won't catch me calling it that.

My stylist is the owner of the salon up the street from our house. It's a pretty hip and happening place to go as far as hair in East Belfast goes and I really love the way he cuts my hair. As an added bonus, he says things like, 'Babe, this funky cut is going to look so hot on you' and he means it and I believe him. All the sweet-talk succeeds in distracting me from the very high price of the haircut. I'm not going to say how much it is because then I will feel publicly guilty. But heck, I'm worth it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

meme

Stu and I have just been out for a nice long evening walk around East Belfast. The pic is of our beloved Belmont Road - just about twenty seconds from our house. We love having lots of shops (grocery, fruit and veg, butcher, dry cleaner, tailor, post office, two funky restaurants including a gourmet burger joint, cinema, video store and coffee shop/vendor of yummy Maud's ice cream) right on our doorstep. Good thing it's all so convenient since our car has officially bit the dust (yes, I am still talking about this!) and today the mechanic was finally able to look at it only to inform us there's some major work to do (boo . . . ) and he'll get to it in 2007!

Anyway, back to the walk. The weather's been very mild here so it was pleasant to be out in the fog looking at Christmas lights and all the lovely sparkly trees in people's windows. I've inherited this trait from my mom who loves to walk around neighbourhoods in the evenings noticing houses for sale, houses sold, people's yards, colours of living room walls and generally everything else there is to be noticed (but not at all in a creepy way, I should add.) I'm so happy that soon my parents will be here in the flesh to join me on these walks! They arrive on January 17th and I sortof can't believe that the date is finally so near although of course with it being Christmas right now I wish it was sooner (for anyone who doesn't know, they're renting their own flat and staying until July!!) Feels like we've been talking about and planning their trip for so long - I'm sure it's slightly weird/crazy-busy for both of them to be finishing work this week and not going back until September!

Well, I was surfing random blogs (permissible since I am on holiday) and stumbled upon something called a meme on Gary's Blog (I don't know Gary from Adam or Eve, by the way.) I did some more surfing to find out that a meme is cultural information by word of mouth and are often in the form of inside jokes. My investigation also revealed that a meme in the blogging world can be a question or list of questions that a blogger will answer and then tag other passed on the internet bloggers with the meme and they then answer as well. While I won't tag anyone, I thought baring my soul to you all in this way seemed kindof fun so here we go . . .

A - Appetite? Everything in moderation.
B - Best apples? Pink ladies, mostly because of the name.
C - Cooking? Love it (except maybe some evenings after a too long day at work and then a Marks and Spencer Indian meal does nicely.)
D - Drink of choice? I'm a fan of the sparkling water but depending on the context and the meal I like red wine, Corona beer with a lime and on a rare occasion real coke (gasp!) which is required for pizza or burgers.
E - Essential Item? Flat shoes. I love ballet pumps and flat boots - sooo happy they're in style right now!
F - Foreign Language? Medium good at French - taking a night class on Tuesday nights right now - bettering myself and all that . . .
G - Great at anything? Grammar and proof-reading - How boring am I? Oh, my banana bread's pretty great too.
H - Height? 5 foot 5 inches and no, I'm not telling my weight!
I - Indulgence? Ben and Jerry's although lately I've discovered their chocolate fudge brownie frozen yogurt which is surprisingly okay for you.
J - Jealous or envious? Never in relationships but sometimes of haircuts, clothes and accessories (so vain!) Confession: I actually stopped a woman in the Birmingham airport the other day to ask her the brand of her handbag. It was Orla Keily. I want one.
K - Kinks? What - in my neck? Not lately.
L - Love? Stu of course :)
M - Married? Three and a half years - time flies when you're having fun!
N - Neglect? Lately my running schedule :( I've given myself a bit too much time off after two marathons in 2006 (there I go with the pat on the back again . . . )
O - Old? Stuart described me recently as 'almost 30.' Absolutely untrue. I'm a sprightly 26. He was just trying to make himself feel better because he turned 30 in October!
P - Politics? I used to love the Canadian variety - still am very interested but feel slightly unplugged living here. The Northern Irish version is frustrating, but oh the drama!
Q - Quit? Once I quit coffee for several months. It was a good decision because I was very hyper.
R - Rich? No real desire to be rich, but I have been persuaded to chip in on the Euro millions lottery pool at work recently so maybe I have a slight desire. I would buy a house here and in SK (and maybe one in Canmore too for Stu - he really likes it there) which would satisfy my split personality.
S - Seasonings? Cumin. I like all spices but cumin's in lots of yummy things.
T - Television? In all honesty probably a bit too much. Favs include West Wing, Scrubs, 24 and CSI Las Vegas. I love Grey's Anatomy but Stu hates it and recently I've been getting back into ER.
U - Unknown fact about me? Very little is unknown and if anything has managed to remain unknown until now it should probably stay that way. Unfortunately I'm not very mysterious.
V - Vegetables I hate? Never met a vegetable I didn't like although I've always found lima/broad beans a little chalky.
W - Weeds I like? Funny question. Dandylions. Remember 'Mama had a baby and her head popped off . . .'? That's a sick song.
X - X-rays? Once on my collarbone after I broke it tubing and Diefenbaker hill when I was 12 on a junior high youth night. I've always maintained that youth groups are a risky business.
Y - Yogurt? Lots and of every variety - natural yogurt is a healthy swap for sour cream.
Z - Zodiac? I'm an Aries I think but I've never been too interested.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dinner Party


Fasten you're seatbelts folks - I have a feeling that it's going to be a bit of a foodie week on the blog! All this time off means extra opportunities to chill in the cucina. (Dunny and Apple Dumpling, I will ignore the cheeky comments on my last post and forge ahead with the recipe-fest!)

But first, we had our special Christmas Carol Service last night which included lots of carols and nine scripture readings. It was very nice - I did the last reading which was fine but of course I spent most of the service checking the order, feeling more than slightly paranoid that I would miss my cue! Afterward we went to a friend's for coffee and there were lots of others there from church - it's nice to feel like we're getting to know people here.

So anyway, we're having some people over for dinner tonight so Stu's made a veggie lasagna this morning and I've been baking a carrot cake with cream cheese icing. Aren't we feeling organised? The veggie lasagna is from Moosewood's Low-Fat Favorites - it's even better if you make ahead and then let it sit so it really sets.

Lighter Lasagna
2 c cubed courgettes/zucchini
1 c cubed bell peppers
1 c chopped tomatoes
4 c sliced mushrooms
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c red wine
3 tbsp chopped fresh basil
10 oz fresh spinach, rinsed (frozen works too and is cheaper!)
2 c low-fat cottage cheese
1 c grated low-fat mozzarella cheese
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
3 1/2 c prepared tomato sauce
1 lb uncooked lasagna noodles

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Combine the courgettes, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, salt and wine in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes until all the vegetables are tender and juicy. Stir in the basil and set aside.

Cover and cook the spinach on high heat in just the water clinging to the leaves for 3 minutes, until wilted but still bright green. Drain and chop coarsely. Combine with the cottage cheese, mozzarella, and parmesan and set aside.

Spread one cup of the tomato sauce evenly on the bottom of a 3 inch deep nonreactive 8x12 inch baking dish. Layer with five or six noodles, one generous cup of undrained vegetables and one cup of the spinach-cheese mixture. Cover with a second layer of noodles, one cup of sauce, one heaping cup of vegetables, one cup of the spinach-cheese mixture, and a third layer of noodles. Finally, add the rest of the vegetables, the remaining spinach-cheese mixture, a fourth layer of noodles and the rest of the sauce. Cover tightly with foil and bake until the noodles are tender, about 60 minutes. Let sit at least ten minutes before cutting.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Run, run as fast as you can . . .

Craving Christmas? I've just one (compound) word for you - gingerbread. I just put two loaves in the oven this morning and as I type the house is filling with the mouth-watering deck-the-halls aroma of ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and cocoa. As I'm going to wrap them up all pretty-like and give them as gifts to friends, here's hoping it tastes equally festive :) (Disclaimer - the above pic is not mine!)

I've only ever made this recipe in Canada while treeplanting (you guessed it, 12 loaves at a time!) where I had an abundant supply of molasses (slow as in January) in the familiar cream, yellow and brown carton. Yesterday in the grocery store I stood pontificating about what molasses is known as here (a fun little game - not) and settled correctly on Lyle and Son's black treacle. While scraping the sticky black goodness from the tin, I had time to look carefully at the company's logo which oddly enough depicts a lion carcass swarming with bees - yummy!

Now here's a bit of useless trivia for you - the Lyle and Son's website explains that the Scottish founder Abram Lyle had strong religious beliefs and as such the trademark has a Biblical reference. Samson was travelling to the land of the Philistines in search of a wife. During the journey he killed a lion, and on his return past the same spot he noticed that a swarm of bees had formed a comb of honey in the carcass. Samson later turned this into a riddle: "Out of the eater came forth meat and out of the strong came forth sweetness" Judges 14:14.

But enough about freaky Old Testament imagery. I want to post this recipe from my all-time favourite baking cookbook Baking Illustrated. Very easy, excellent with a cup of tea, and like I said, smells heavenly!

Gingerbread
2 1/4 c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground c loves
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cocoa
8 tbsp butter (1 stick - 113g) melted and cooled to room temperature
3/4 c mild or light molasses
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c buttermilk
1/2 c milk
1 large egg

Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350F or 180C. Line a loaf pan or 7x11 inch baking pan with baking parchment or grease and dust with flour. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat the wet ingredients together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the dry ingredients and beet on medium speed until the batter is smooth and thick, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake until the top springs back when lightly touched and the edges have pulled away from the pan sides - about 40 minutes for the cake tin or just under an hour for the loaf tin. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Falalalalala . . .

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Christmas Do (or Don't!)

Woo hoo!! (Say that out loud, if you please.) We've made it to the weekend and Stuart and I are officially off work until January 3rd! I know it might sound a little indulgent to be off for so long, but happily a major benefit of working in the UK are the bountiful holidays! We don't have too much planned for this pre-Christmas week and that suits me - I'm thinking lots of going for coffee, time to go to the gym, some festive baking and cooking and a sprinkling of errands like house cleaning and getting the water pump changed on our car (yes, the saga of the Mazda continues!) Oh, and blogging, of course!

Had a good time at my work 'Christmas Do' yesterday (translation Christmas party.) I enjoyed much more than last year when I had only just started the job because now I know everyone very well. The food was no big thrill (think dark and smokey bar serving Christmas dinner en masse - 'nuff said) but it's fun to have a chance to have a good old gossip and get out on the dance floor with work friends outside of work where we periodically gossip but seldom dance. I had a very good time but left at a respectable hour before things had a chance to degenerate too badly. Afterall, we do all still have to work together!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hello Starling

Last night Stu and I saw Josh Ritter in concert at The Empire, Belfast. It was amazing. As it was the last gig of a year long tour, you'd think that musicians would be tired and no longer excited about playing live. But the band seemed so happy to be performing for a very enthusiastic Belfast crowd. Three things about Josh Ritter: 1) He's very tall, 2) Rumour has it he once flirted with Ms Ninnygoat Broten and 3) He smiles when he sings, which is lovely. My favourite song is 'Me and Jiggs.' I recommend.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Have yourself a Brummy little Christmas

My day yesterday began dark and early at five am when I got up to go to the George Best City Airport to fly to Birmingham for a day of training. While slightly sleepy, I was looking forward to a good day of travelling with two friends from work, some useful training and (last but not least!) a day away from the office. After a bumpy flight and Starbucks caffeine injection we made it to the offices on time. Strange but true, the accounts analysis training was (thankfully) more interesting than it sounds.

After our work day came the highlight - a visit to Birmingham's premier shopping centre called - wait for it - The Bullring. How cool is that?! Sounds exponentially more exotic than a mall. Anyway, it was huge (see pic and imagine me playing the part of wide-eyed country mouse visiting the big city) but after the early morning start and all the travelling we were a bit too tired to do battle with frenzied Brummy (read people from Birmingham) Christmas shoppers.

Having managed to get a snazzy new top for my work's 'Christmas Do' tomorrow night, we made our way back to the airport with lots of time to spare before our flight. All was going according to plan until about five minutes before we were due to touch down in Belfast the pilot announced that we would soon be landing at John Lennon Airport in Liverpool! Say what?!? Apparently, due to a power failure in Scotland (picture people eating haggis and playing bagpipes in the dark) which affected air traffic control we couldn't pass over Scottish air space en route to the Emerald Isle. Never having been keen on flying through uncontrolled airspace, Scottish or otherwise, I sat back and enjoyed my complimentary cup of tea. Somewhat unfortunately we didn't get off the plane so I didn't get to meet any Scousers (read people from Liverpool.)

In addition to the Bullring, I have to say that one highlight of the very long day was learning the lingo of my travelling companion Laura who uses a fab if somewhat indecipherable version of Cockney rhyming slang. When she found out we wouldn't get home till after midnight she exclaimed something to the effect of, 'Well, I'm cream crackered but at least were not on our Jack Jones!' which actually means 'Well, I'm tired/knackered but at least we're not on our own!' She's a talking riddle. I love it.

Well, to make a long story long, twenty hours after I set out I returned to home sweet home feeling slightly bedraggled and not much like getting up for work in the morning! Roll on Christmas vacation!

Monday, December 11, 2006

If it's good enough for Don . . .

My sister Nancy doesn't have a blog, but yesterday on the phone several of her sentences started with, 'Hey! You should do a post about . . . ' I suggested that she get a blog of her own to exercise this creativity but she answered that she wouldn't possibly have the time to maintain such a thing. Since we've already established that I, on the other hand, have plenty of time, I agreed to blog by proxy for the Ninnygoat. Her topic of choice you ask? Cold-fx. That's right - along with Don Cherry, Ninny fully endorses it. She ran out the other day and was suddenly starting to feel stuffed up. Can you say placebo? Just kidding - I'm a believer. My cousin-in-law (is there such a thing?) Nico tried to sell me on it during our treeplanting summer and I would've gotten on board but it was a bit 'dear' as they say here and we were, well, poor. (By the way Nico, if you're reading, I thought of you and your pa tonight on the bus when Shakira came on my Nano!) Back to Cold-fx, on Nancy's recommendation I shall endeavour to get my hands on some to ward off the winter snottiness. I mean, if it's good enough for Don . . .

Nancy's other blogging suggestion? Holy toast (Batman!) Kate recently sent her a set of these little beauties. The website assures us, if 'you suffer from the almost constant disappointment of holy effigies failing to miraculously appear to you during breakfast . . . don't leave it to chance or random benevolence (never a safe bet), this absolutely brilliant yet thoroughly un-blessed pair of Holy Toast presses, will guarantee you a highly visible (even to the faithless), and perfect Virgin Mary every time.' Ace.

As for me, I must admit that I've nothing 'strange or startling' to report. Work's been hectic enough but I'm spurred on by the knowledge that Stu and I start our Christmas holidays on Friday!! Cold remedies and ethereal toast notwithstanding, there's something worth getting excited about.

haut couture tea cosy

I'm conscious that this is the second consecutive post featuring a pic of yours truly. Well I say whateva, because not even the fear of appearing self-obsessed is not going to stop me tonight. I'm just so excited about my latest fait accompli, the Cabled (or should I say fabled?) Newsboy Cap from Stitch 'n Bitch Nation (and if you think I'm joking about being so excited, think again.)

I first wanted to make this cap three winters ago back when I was a knitting newbie. Sadly when I went to my LYS (that's local yarn store for all you non-knitting-blog frequenters!) for some direction I was advised that it was maybe a bit beyond my ability. Since this wisdom was from the very talented Di Gilpin I took it on board and I went back to my scarves for a while. On a side note, I miss St A's for many reasons, not least among which is this yarn shop - I didn't realise how fortunate I was to have access to such an amazing quality and selection. It's been a bit difficult adjusting to the disappointing stacks of granny wool (read acrylic - ewww) available here in Belfast. Anyway, as expected Di's advice was sound because the cabling is a bit tricky but in the end it was an enjoyable project that only took a couple of nights.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

The Knitty Gritty


Long ago and far away I dreamed (yes, dreamed) of having a knitting blog. That said, the only knitting material that I've managed to post since my blog's inception are links to other people's blogs where beautiful woollen things are produced.

Now that I've got the blog what's the problem you ask? Well the thing is, I haven't been very ambitious on the knitting front lately (although I have nearly completed funky flat-cap on the sticks right now - coming soon!) So, by way of motivating myself (and maybe a couple of you - Kate?) to choose a big new project to get into over the Christmas hols, I decided to post my little pride and joy, Rowan's Salina sweater. Sincere apologies to those of you for whom this is very old news since I finished the sweater in September (I started in January!!) but there were a few friends that I neglected emailing the finished pic around to (Dunny!) so here you go.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Friday Night Film Club

In connection with his work Stuart attended a conference about human rights today (like so many of you he has a much more interesting job than me - sigh, a recurring theme . . . ) Anyway, he got to take in a seminar about blogging presented by the man behind Slugger O'Toole, the premier blog focusing on Northern Ireland politics. It receives over 50,000 hits a month (talk about blogebrity!) so if anyone is daft enough to wish to try to understand Northern Ireland politics I suggest you give it a look see. Well, apparently good old Slugger himself emphasised the importance of conversation within the blogging ethos, which made me feel just that much happier to have so many comments (yes apple dumpling, even from you!)

Tonight we visited the cinema across the street from us (love that) to see 'The Holiday' which was okay/basically mediocre. (Not an overwhelming recommendation considering the critic is a girl who loves a good Christmas romance movie!) On the saccharine scale the reviewer in today's Guardian compared it with having a melted Mars bar being poured down your throat (good or bad? You decide.)

While of course I did get drawn into the whole snowy Christmas/falling in love motif, I felt mildly annoyed throughout by Cameron Diaz who seems to have a knack for playing really unsympathetic characters (remember guiltily rooting for the other woman in 'My Best Friend's Wedding'?) Kate Winslet and Jude Law are likable (still, I just struggle to forgive Jude for the whole divorcing the mother of his four children/getting a new girlfriend/cheating on the girlfriend with the kid's nanny thing) However, the infinitely quirky and puzzlingly attractive Jack Black is the main redeeming factor. That, and the saccharine of course.

In other news (well, not news exactly) I just downloaded Sarah McLachlan's version of 'Song for a Winter's Night.' Originally by Gordon Lightfoot I think. It's beautiful and snowy.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Radio Canada

Wanted to flag up a hot new opportunity for all you talented Saskatchewanians out there (and possibly others!) CBC Saskatchewan is holding open auditions for a host of a new show!

While we're talking public broadcasting, I might as well go the whole hog and highlight CBC connoisseurs Anne and Ninny's top picks from our national broadcaster. You see, my mom is a serious fan of Rick Mercer - she loves his witty reports and has recommended several times that I check out the one where he convinces Bob Rae to skinny dip (oh Anne!) Alternatively, njb favours George Stroumboulopoulus and with a name like that who can argue?

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

'Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.'

The beautiful Nigella's special Christmas series started tonight and for once I felt truly glad for BBC2. (Sara - get your mom to tape it to watch when you're home - it's lovely.) Scribbled her instructions in my notebook so I could bring all you cold Canadians her mulled cider recipe (evidently I've got a thing for the mulled Christmas bevies!) . . .

Mulled Cider
cider (as in alcohol rather than apple!)
cinnamon sticks
clementines cut in halves and each half stuck with a clove
bay leaves (she calls for fresh but I'm sure dried would be fine)
muscavado sugar
a mug of apple and ginger tea

Put all the ingredients in a big pot and heat but don't boil. Serve and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

To post or not to post


For the first time since my little blog came to life nearly three whole weeks ago, I'm feeling slightly hard up for an idea. Had one of those days at work (grrr) and then went to my French night class (aren't I industrious?) Let's just say it's been a bit of a long one characterised by the sneaking sensation that at any time my brain might begin to melt and slowly dribble out my ears. Gross.

Anyway, I was debating out loud about what to post tonight and Stu had the audacity to suggest that perhaps if a great idea didn't immediately come to hand, maybe I shouldn't post at all. Bite your tongue! I haughtily explained that I couldn't possibly let down my loyal fan base, eagerly checking this little blog from all corners of the globe (not to brag or anything but shout outs to commenters/lurkers from Toon Town, Cow Town, Caslow BC, Vancouver, O-town, London ON, NYC, Baton Rouge, the OC (the one and only!), Thailand (if apple dumpling is who I think he is!), Barcelona, Poole in England and of course lil' old Norn Iron.) If there's anymore of you out there, send me a note or a comment and I can continue to bask in the delusion that my wee blog is taking on a life of its own.

Fortunately, just when I was about to do a whole post talking about nothing, the infamous Ninnygoat sent me this link. For anyone who knows the Ninster it's chuckle worthy (somehow I just know that KVPA will looove it) and also enlightening to see what she gets up to every day (when she's not at the (sally)army that is - that work is strictly confidential.) All I can say is your job looks significantly more fun than mine.

On another completely random note, as I type this Stu's watching Brick, a film noir detective story set in a contemporary American high school. Bit avant garde for me, but fyi he says it's good. (Let's face it, you always knew he was cooler than me.)

Oh look, I really did manage a whole post talking about nothing. Would you look at that?

Monday, December 4, 2006

4077th

'I've got a soft spot for Klinger. He looks a lot like my son and dresses a lot like my wife.'
Col. Potter

In order for a household to run smoothly, some division of labour is required. For instance, in our house it is my responsibility to maintain the Amazon.co.uk DVD rental list. If you're thinking no big deal, think again. I have been tasked with the hefty responsibility of ensuring that a timely and appropriate stream of little orange envelopes come through our door - it's a delicate balance to get just the right blend of movies, documentaries and series (all-time favs include Scrubs, CSI and 24.) As if that weren't enough, I also have to make sure that our six disk allocation lasts all the way till the end of the month!! It's no small feat, I tell ya. (Perhaps only now you're getting a feeling for just truly how much I don't like British TV!)

And this week, what with the excitement surrounding apple pie recipes, anonymous blog comments and mulled wine, the new Amazon disks were dispatched without me giving the sacred list the slightest thought . . . Shocking! Fear not - we came out trumps because something that I had added to the list on a whim a long time ago found its way randomly to the top, and it is satisfyingly funny.

I have lots of fond childhood memories of MASH. It used to be on at ten each night and I remember stubbornly sneaking from my room and trying to watch it from behind the couch while my parents laughed at the antics of Hawkey and Houlihan. I think there was a lot of innuendo in the humour that I didn't get at all, but I liked it anyway. Well, we watched the digitally remastered pilot and first episode on DVD tonight it was classic from the start. The Amazon gods must have been smiling on me . . .

In other news, a fleet of Smart cars descended on our neighbourhood today and Stu thoughtfully took a snap thinking I might like to put them on my blog. How right he was. I dig 'em.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Sunday Lunch

Just a quick post as it's already Sunday night and time to get organised for the work week again (boo urns!) I received an email from my friend Dunny who said that she was loving the blog but that from the frequency of my posting it looked like I have a wee bit of time on my hands (you were all thinking it!) Maybe so. Anyway, I somehow found time midst all this blogging to put up our little (and I do mean little!) tree this evening. Wish you all could come over for a cup of hot c - it's seriously cosy in here now.
We had a very nice afternoon with Stu's fam all over for Sunday lunch. The most popular guest was of course our nephew wee Dan who was generally very intrigued by the new surroundings (see pic - that's Stu's Dad happily lurking in the background!)

We had Stu's Irish Stew for lunch (love that - Stu's Stew - ha.) I wanted to post the recipe because you see, traditional Irish Stew is usually fairly un-good. Some variations involve ground beef and lots of potatoes making for a fairly mushy concoction. Anyway, this recipe from Rachel Allen (she's an Irish chef who I really like - Sara, in my humble opinion she is even cooler than Nigella - controversial!) is decidedly not mushy and really flavourful.

Irish Beef Stew
1.5kg stewing beef
175g streaky bacon
3 tbsp olive oil
12 shallots, peeled
18 button mushrooms, left whole
3 carrots, cut into quarters
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp chopped thyme
2 tbsp chopped parsley
10 cloves of garlic, crushed
425ml red wine
425 ml chicken or beef stock
For the roux:
50g butter
50g flour

Brown the beef an
d bacon in the olive oil in a hot casserole or heavy saucepan. Remove the meet and toss in the onions, mushrooms and carrots, one ingredient at a time, seasoning each time. Place these back in the casserole, along with the herbs and garlic. Cover with red wine and stock and simmer for one hour or until the meat and vegetables are cooked. To make the roux, in a separate pan melt the butter, add the flour and cook for 2 minutes. When the stew is cooked, remove the meat and vegetables. Bring the remaining liquid to the boil and add 1 tbsp roux. Whisk the mixture until the roux is broken up and the juices have thickened, allowing to boil. Replace the meat and vegetables, and taste for seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with Pea and Spring Onion Champ and Irish Soda Bread.

P.S. Stu is watching School of Rock. Jack Black is funny.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Fa la la la la


I have to say that one of the best things about being in the UK for the Christmas season are the frequent opportunities to enjoy mulled wine (doing some concerted looking on the bright side here because I would love to be coming home!) I haven't made any yet this year, but believe me I will, and I suggest you do the same. This one's from the one and only Nigella. (Accompanying mince pies coming soon!)

Nigella's Mulled Wine
1 bottle red wine
4 tbsp dark rum
125 ml Earl Grey tea
1 orange quartered, each quarter stuck with 1 clove
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
1 tbsp dark muscavado sugar
1 tbsp honey

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan, bring almost to the boil, but before the aromatic wine actually boils, turn down to the lowest possible heat and keep it warm as you ladle it into nearby glass.

But enough about that . . . We've had a very nice Saturday which began pleasantly by going out for a lazy breakfast at a really nice diner just down the street from us. We've only recently started going there because I was harbouring a grudge against the proprietors for a long time - when we first moved here last year I had what I thought was a really good job interview to waitress there. Even though it was definitely not my dream job, I was more than miffed when they told me they'd definitely call me and never did! Grrrr. So, after a year long boycott I decided to give it a try and I'm mature enough to admit that they make some mighty fine scrambled eggs and mushrooms.
Afterwards we got quite a lot of errands done including posting some Christmas packages to Saskatoon (phew! I got them in the mail on time!) Grocery shopping necessitated some serious self-control so I didn't freak at the throngs of dazed and confused people mindlessly blocking aisles, their carts overflowing with chocolate and wine (calm down people, it's only December 2nd!) Now we've spent a lot of the afternoon cooking which was very pleasant indeed. I baked the pie (I'm not all talk!) and Stu made very lovely smelling Irish Stew in readiness his family coming for lunch tomorrow.

Friday, December 1, 2006

TGIF


How delightful that it's officially December and we can now all, in good conscience, deck the halls. Finally we can join those folks in our neighbourhood (I will refrain from making any classist comments here) who thought it appropriate to put up the tree, dancing lights and inflatable santa's just after Remembrance Day.

Had a very Friday-esque Friday at work today (love that) and enjoyed a long lunch wandering around the Christmas Market outside city hall (see pic) with some colleagues. After some mulled wine and fresh air the whole going back to work thing really was a bit of a shame. Tonight we are going to the movies to watch 'Starter for Ten' which looks like a pretty promising British rom com. Just looked online and apparently it'll be released in North America this spring (how happy am I to actually get a movie here first!? Usually there's a six month delay which is not entirely bad because it gives my movie buff dad a chance to watch them all and give us his 'must sees.') I shall let you know if you should pencil this one in for '07.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

As Canadian as Apple Pie

'If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.'

Although I'm not completely sure if the apple dumpling gang's special request was entirely heartfelt, this super keen blogger has never been one (in the two whole weeks that this blog's been in existence) to ignore the requests of a reader.

I learned to make pie crust three years ago from the lovely Karen Gatewood. A native of Americus, Georgia, Karen is mother of our dear friend Tee. Even as she was far away from home while visiting her son and his family in Scotland, Karen demonstrated her classic southern hospitality by kindly schooling me and a couple of other friends the art of pie making. She's a great teacher who de-mystified pastry and her recipe's delicious. I'll be making one this weekend.

Karen Gatewood's Apple Pie
Filling:
6c apples
1c sugar
4 tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
Mix dry ingredients with sliced apples.

Crust (enough for 3 crusts - two bottoms and one top):
3c flour
1 tsp salt
1c and 2 tbsp shortening (or butter/Cookeen in the UK)

Cut the above ingredients together. Add 1/2c ice water (to sight) and mix with wooden spoon into a ball (don't over blend!) Flour foil or wax paper. Split dough into three and roll onto wax paper until 1/8 inch thick. Put pie plate over the rolled out pastry, flip and fit to pan. Fill with apple filling and repeat rolling process for top crust. Fold and flute edges using a pinch and twist motion. Poke holes in top crust and sprinkle with white sugar. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes and then at 350F for 40 minutes. Lovely.

While you're making your pie you might want to give Paolo Nutini a listen. He's an up and coming Scotsman (Paolo sounds Scottish no?) Since today's pay day (woo hoo!) I'm going to celebrate by buying his cd tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Don't get your knickers in a twist

I received this attachment today from Cath Mc and thought it rather clever. Tried to think of something interesting to post about either laundry or global warming, but all I can come up with is that it is rather difficult to dry clothes here since both dryers and backyards are rare. So much for coming up with something interesting.

The car officially died today (sort of.) We were on our way to have dinner with Stu's sister and her family tonight (including our very charming seven month old nephew!) but we didn't make it. Why were you driving, you ask, when the car was acting up only a few days ago? Good question. As the temperature gauge climbed alarmingly high, we unfortunately had to cancel on Judith and park the car at a gas station. We went for pizza while we gave the steaming engine time to cool off. Despite how things were looking when we were stalled in rush hour traffic with our hazard lights on, the evening turned into quite a nice impromptu night out. Now let's just hope that the repair bill doesn't kibosh Christmas!

On a side note, we are watching Studio 60 on DVD. It reminds me of home because it's a downloaded Canadian copy off the internet (shhhh) that's got the CTV symbol on the bottom of the screen. I like it quite a bit but am not totally convinced - I was really excited to see it at first because I love Aaron Sorkin from the West Wing. And well, anything with Josh of course . . .

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sundog

I should begin this post with a disclaimer - anyone living in the prairie provinces who is currently being treated to wicked weather might want to stop reading now. You've been warned. The thing is, when I read Nancy's comment this morning about getting tonnes of snow and then saw in the news that super cold and snowy weather was blanketing the prairies, I felt homesick! Please don't be angry, but when my widget (gotta love the new Mac) said you'll be going down to minus 21 tonight, I wished I was there.

No, I'm not crazy - herein you will find evidence that there really is no place like home! It's just that we don't get weather like that here. Stu and I were at the Continental Christmas Fair in town yesterday where I mused, 'It's not really cold enough for mulled wine is it?' I know it's just my 'wish we were home for Christmas' self talking. And I know that my family will scornfully remind me that I haven't endured a real Saskatoon winter since 1998 but anyway, the feeling's there. Sigh, it's been so long that I've even lost my street cred in scoffing when people here shudder over temps reaching zero and the green fields getting a dusting of icing sugar snow (I do it anyway.) Homesickness will make a person say the strangest things . . .

Monday, November 27, 2006

An (Un)Manic Monday

Stu and I were both off today - how lovely to start a Monday by not hearing the alarm ringing! We were having a nice chilled out day (Christmas shopping, coffee drinking . . . ) until we took our car for its annual MOT inspection. In order to drive your car here you have to have a yearly check by government authorised mechanics. Not a bad idea in terms of road safety as there are a lot less beaters with dodgy brakes on the roads. Even though we'd taken it to our reliable mechanic Hubert for a tune-up our little 1997 Mazda failed on a couple of minor points. This was mildly annoying as it means getting the faults fixed and taking the car back for another appointment, but we became slightly more concerned when the car suddenly started making strange noises and stalling on the way home. Not good.

Fear not though, all was not lost in terms of the relaxing day off and I decided to take advantage of being home early to make a nice meal compliments of The Naked Chef. It was scrummy and very easy . . .

Tray-baked Pork Chops with Herby Potatoes, Parsnips and Pears
marinade
2 good handfuls of fresh rosemary, pounded
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
10 lugs of olive oil
3 lemons, halved, juice and skin squashed
freshly ground black pepper
Mix everything together.

8 pork chops
3 parsnips
3 smooth-skinned pears
1 1/2 lbs potatoes, scrubbed
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rub and massage the pork chops with the rosemary marinade, and, ideally, leave for 1-6 hours for maximum flavour. Preheat the oven to 425F. Wash the parsnips and pears and slice into quarters lengthwise, removing the cores from the pears, then cut the potatoes into .5cm thick pieces. Dry them with kitchen paper, then put them into an appropriately sized roasting tray with the parsnips, pears, pork chops and the marinade. Toss over to lightly coat everything then season and roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the chops.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

How clean is your house?

You know you've grown up when your weekend plans involve cleaning the house. I remember being frustrated as a child on Saturdays, wanting to go out and do exciting things but being delayed by my mom's to do list which included very boring things like washing the kitchen floor. Well life goes on and Stu and I spent this afternoon in domestic bliss. After some enthusiastic scrubbing and de-junking, things are sparkling and I'm full of optimism about the tidy week ahead.

Periodically we get really motivated, clean everything up and resolve to be perpetually neat. But before we know it the week's gotten busy and suddenly we've reverted to the faithful method of leaving everything at our backsides. Sad but true. There's a reality TV show on here (Brits love reality TV and the stations love it even more because it's so dang cheap to make) which features two super clean women preforming whirlwind transformations on the disgusting houses of some really serious dirt-birds. Sounds like must-see TV huh? It's perhaps slightly exploitative as these places are def-com bad, suggesting that these people have bigger issues than simple laziness and an aversion to the 'hoover.' Nonetheless, I watch anyway and enjoy how it makes me feel less bad about the dumping ground that is our spare room.

But enough about cleaning. Today being Sunday, I made soup which has become a bit of a tradition chez-nous recently (can you call something a tradition after three weeks?) I chose to make Carrot and Parsnip soup and Irish Soda Bread. Last fall my sister-in-law Ruth mentioned this soup to me and I subsequently found the ingredients on a website that I can't seem to locate again. This one was really good with a mingling of sweet and hot flavours - it originally called for more chili powder but turned out too hot so I've reduced the amount here.

Carrot and Parsnip Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic
3 cm root ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp chili powder (beware - this will give it a kick!)
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch cayenne pepper (again, bit of a kick)
200 ml apple juice
500 ml veggie stock (I use Marigold)
1 1/2 c chopped carrots
1 1/2 c chopped parsnips
200 ml orange juice
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
natural yogurt

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the oil and saute the onion, garlic and ginger until translucent. Add the cumin, coriander, chili, cinnamon and cayenne and fry for about 30 seconds more. Add the apple juice, stock, carrots and parsnips and simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes. When the veg is cooked through, remove from heat, add the orange juice and puree with a blender. Season to taste and garnish with a dollop of natural yogurt.

The big hit of the afternoon was the Irish Soda Bread. What can I say? When in Rome . . . This super easy recipe is from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites and it turned out really well! The introduction to this recipe states, 'In many homes in Ireland, breadmaking is still an everyday affair . . . Always ready to be sociable at the drop of a hat, the Irish have perfected a number of quickbreads.' Ahem, I'm a bit skeptical about the everyday breadmaking thing but must admit that I was inspired to make soda bread by our very sociable friend Sara C (the original Irish domestic goddess!) who brought us a to-die-for loaf recently.

Irish Soda Bread
1 1/2 c white flour
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp packed brown sugar
2 tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces
1 egg white
1 c buttermilk (or 1 c regular milk mixed with 1 tbsp lemon juice)

Preheat the oven to 375F. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the white flour, whole wheat flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Thoroughly mix in the brown sugar. Using a pastry cutter (or your hands!) cut the butter pieces into the flour until the mixture is crumbly and resembles coarse meal.

In a separate bowl, bet the egg white until frothy and add the buttermilk. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring just until the dough is evenly moistened, the dough will be very soft. Turn it out onto a lightly floured board and, with floured hands, gently knead for just 30-45 seconds - overkneading will toughen the bread.

Mound the dough into a dome about nine inches across on the baking sheet. With a sharp knife, cut an X about 1/2 inch deep in the centre of the loaf. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the crust is firm to the touch and golden brown. Serve immediately.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Shappin'

Don't worry, I didn't actually buy very much! (I just wanted to put an Anne Taintor pic on this post because I like her stuff.) I went into town today to do a little bit of Christmas shopping. Living far away from family forces me to be somewhat organised as I need to get the package for Canada put together and in the mail in reasonably good time. I had a bit of success today (something cool for you Ninny!) but I think I'm going to get most things on the internet because that way I can get exactly what I want and not spend my Saturdays doing battle with shopping-mad Northern Irish people. Anyway, my list's not too extensive because on Stuart's side of the family we've all drawn names and will only buy for one person each and then buy goats etc from Christian Aid with the moolah we would've spent on gifts. Oh yeah - we do buy for our three nieces of course as well (I'm all for teaching social responsibility young but how would you tell an eight year old that instead of getting her a pressie you've purchased a chicken in Zambia on her behalf!?)

On my way into town I think I broke an unwritten cardinal rule of urban living. I got onto a bus bound for Belfast and as I was paying for my ticket I realised that the driver lives two doors down from me. I friendlily exclaimed, 'I think you're my neighbour!' At first he seemed taken aback but then was nice enough when he recognised me. Okay - I know that might sound normal so perhaps I need to explain further the social intricacies of living in a small Victorian terraced house. The thing that is quite different here (where there is no space) from Saskatoon (where there is lots of space) is that we live very close to lots and lots of other people. It's a red brick jungle with about thirty attached row houses on each side of the street which is about a block long. Anyway, you'd think if you lived that close to your neighbours (and engage in ongoing parking spot wars with them) you would maybe get to know some of them right? Think again. My theory is that in order to cope with the population density we all just pretend that the others don't exist. There's not much waving hello or stopping to chat in the street and if you see any of your neighbours elsewhere in the hood, whatever you do, don't let on that you recognise them. But today I did. And he was nice.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Girl's Night In

Friday night at last! :) Stu's out at a work thing all evening and I have a choc-a-bloc schedule of enjoying a chick flick that Stu would rather throw himself off the roof than watch (I've read the reviews, I know it's not great but I'm watching it anyways and hopefully it's a tear jerker.) Other evening activities include getting 'stuck in' (Northern Irish lingo) to a new knitting project, blogging (my latest obsession) and drinking hot chocolate. Bliss.

After a hectic week at work and being out most evenings (one soiree included a satisfying evening playing badminton with work friends - took me right back to BRCI girls' doubles days with Andi!) I love cosying up on the couch. Now, don't get me wrong, I'd rather Stu were home and, while were talking about girls' nights, I'd very much like to have Nancy or Mom or many other women friends over to join me for the cheesy movie watching. Unfortunately, most of you are in Canada or the States so no luck for me there! (While we're on the subject though, it's been wonderful to get back in touch with many old girlfriends recently through this blog!) Anyway, tonight friends, it's just little ol' me and a whole lot of chilling. Cheers to that.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

mini me

Here's a fantastic way to waste a bit of time! Virtual make overs for yourself or someone else you care about.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

1-800-CALL-JEAN

My sister Nancy emailed me earlier tonight asking for a recipe suggestion for her work's bake sale on Friday. As for me, I instinctively look to the honourable Jean Pare, mogul of the Comany's Coming dynasty and grandmother of all good Canadian prairie food. Nancy, my recommendation is for Chocolate Chip Banana Bread - This recipe's based on Jean's rendition from 'Muffins and More.' It's been a big hit with my small group and with work colleagues (it's kindof unique here - people are expecting bread and they get cake - nice surprise!) And who could forget treeplanting? If it's good enough for Sardell . . .

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

makes 1 loaf
2 eggs
1 c sugar
1/2 butter melted
1 c mashed bananas (3 bananas, the blacker the better!)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 F. Beat together the eggs, sugar, butter until frothy. Stir in mashed bananas and vanilla. In a separate larger bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Add the wet ingredients to dry and stir well but don't over mix. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into a loaf tin lined with baking parchment. Bake for 50-60mins or until a knife comes out clean.

Monday, November 20, 2006

TomKat


Just a super quick post to get something off my chest - I've had it with Tom Cruise, pre-maturely middle aged Katie and that hairy baby who's name means thief in Japanese and who looks suspiciously old for seven months. Sorry to sound quite so caustic, but the media here has been full of the Italian wedding, who was there (Brook Shields?? Obviously the whole post-partum scuffle's been put to bed) and what Posh wore. I mean, I liked the Top Gun/'You had me at hello' Tom as much as the next child of the eighties but since he revealed his lunacy a couple of summers ago it's all just gotten so boring. Phew, I feel better now.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

'A truly filthy Irish day'



Even though it's my fourth winter living in the UK, I never fail to be surprised and upset by the arrival of winter. I know that seems like a funny thing for someone from the Saskatchewan arctic to say, but believe me, while a skiff of snow is about as 'wintry' as it gets in Ireland, there are still some temperature issues. Perhaps I should be more specific - what I'm really getting at is that it gets really cold in doors here. While at home it's so frigid that well-insulated houses, central heating and warm buildings are absolute musts, it's not uncommon for houses, churches and workplaces to be really cold here!! Drives me nuts. I love our wee house, but I have to admit that heating is a bit of a challenge as the kitchen doesn't have any heat (other than the oven!) Oh well - it's not really that bad. I have definitely learned to be more energy conscious, coming to see putting on slippers, wearing layers of fleece and exploring the wonders of hot water bottles (called 'jars' here) as sensible rather than resentable like I used to!

What prompted this rant about indoor heating? Well, the weather has turned really miserable this week - the commentator on the rugby game Stu's watching on TV just called it a 'truly filthy Irish day' and I have to agree - there's cold wind, dark skies and heavy rain. Okay, I'll stop whining because I know anyone at home reading this while coping with minus 30 will really want me to shut up!

Well, I think the best way to cope with nasty weather is to make soup and this Sunday afternoon I opted for Leek Vichyssoise from Crank's Fast Food (our all-time favourite cookbook). Don't ask me what vichyssoise is technically speaking, but the creamy leek and potato soup that the recipe yielded was delicious. I paired it with Savoury Scallion Biscuits from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home (another fav). So, without further adieu . . .

Leek vichyssoise with Kaffir lime leaves
This can be served hot or cold but if you're going for cold, thin it down with a little extra stock.
Serves 4
60g butter
1 small onion, chopped
4 large leeks, trimmed and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large potato, roughly chopped
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
800ml vegetable stock made with 1/2 tsp bouillon powder (I always use Marigold)
4 Kaffir lime leaves, crushed but not broken up
1 tbsp double cream
salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the onion, leeks and garlic and sweat until translucent. Add the potato, nutmeg and a little of the stock. Cook quite fast for 5 minutes, then add the rest of the stock and the lime leaves and simmer for a further 10 minutes or so until the potato is tender right through. Remove the lime leaves and puree in a blender until smooth. Return to the heat for a moment while you stir in the cream. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

And for the biscuits . . .

Savory Scallion Biscuits
1 1/2 c unbleached white flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
1 c low-fat plain yogurt
1/2 c minced scallions
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a medium bowl combine the flours and stir in baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl combine the remaining ingredients and then add the yogurt mixture quickly and thoroughly to form a soft dough. Drop eight spoonfuls of the dough onto a cookie sheet lined with baking parchment. Bake for 20 minutes and serve warm.

I'm feeling warmer now.