Monday, December 22, 2008

A Photographic Update

Some pictures from the Festival of Lights at the Van Dusen Gardens, and of my polymer clay home-made gift exchange project. The polymer clay may need some explanation--it's a charicature of a friend who has a young baby and a wife who is telling the rest of us to "pull the trigger" and have babies too. So I created a "Pull the Trigger Action Figure" which comes with a number of accessories, including a Sperm Gun (blue and pink rifle with a sperm painted on the side).





















Thursday, December 18, 2008

Andrea Cooks the Turkey


It is a holiday tradition in my family to listen to Stuart Mclean read "Dave Cooks the Turkey." In this tale of holiday woe (for those of you who have been deprived of this hilarious story) Dave agrees to cook the Christmas turkey, only to discover on Christmas eve that "Taking care of the turkey meant BUYING the turkey as well." So Dave finds himself in a taxi searching for a turkey in the dead of night, and this is only the beginning of his turkey cooking disaster. If you don't get a chance to listen to this story this year, I present you with an alternative:

Andrea Cooks the Turkey (Leg)

Since leaving the cushy world of Green College, where it was not uncommon to be fed duck and bison, I have had to enter the domain of home-cooking. I never really aspired to be a chef and I am perfectly content to let other people cook for me whenever possible, but living on my own requires cooking nightly meals and food experiments followed. After having boneless, skinless chicken breasts more times than I could count in a single month it seemed time for something more exotic. So when I saw a package of two turkey drumsticks at the Choices market I pounced on them. Cooking drumsticks didn't seem nearly as ambitious as cooking an entire turkey and I was sure that it was within my power to whip up a delectable, juicy turkey leg for myself and M. I had visions of Thanksgiving in minature--perfectly seasoned turkey legs brought to the table with gravy made from the drippings, roast potatoes, and a green salad.

Things started out well enough. I seasoned the turkey legs, put them in the oven, and soon my apartment had a very festive aroma that wafted out into the hallway and, I imagined, made the mouths of my neighbours water with culinary jealousy. I left them in the oven for what seemed like a reasonable time of about 45 minutes, but I quickly found that they had definitely not cooked in this time period. As I sliced into one it ran with watery red juice and made it appear that I had brutally wounded the leg. I thought of Dave and his turkey "Butch" who was a grade B turkey and appeared to have been in a fist fight. My turkey, as far as I could tell, had not been abused, but I'm pretty sure it was a long distance runner. When M. arrived home and the legs had finally cooked, I brought them to the table only the find that the turkey legs were so stringy and full of tendons that they were pretty much inedible. That turkey hardly had a scrap of meat on its bones, just shards of tough, bone-like material that stuck in my teeth. What kind of life had this turkey had? Clearly it hand't lived the life of an inactive battery turkey. This turkey must have been a working bird. Maybe it worked on an assembly line or something and in its spare time was a long-distance swimmer. Maybe this turkey was forced to earn its keep on the factory farm and spent its days running machinery, eating too little, and wasting away to barely nothing before it was slaughtered. Whatever the case was, the turkey was horrible, and my gravy wasn't much better. I had to thicken it with potato flour. This resulted in somewhat gritty and flavourless liquid that I poured liberally over my dessicated turkey leg just so I could choke some of it down. I have since gone back to cooking chicken though I have graduated to chicken breasts with skin on them.

Clearly I need to work my way up to cooking a whole turkey. I can sympathize with Dave. Cooking a turkey, or even just a few turkey legs, is not as easy as it might seem.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Muffins (Revised)

As I was posting the entry yesterday about Dad's amazing Christmas cranberry muffins I was deeply aware of the irony that I would not actually be able to eat these muffins this year. An ongoing experiment with an elimination diet, meant to reveal which foods have been torturing me, means that I cannot currently eat eggs, gluten containing grains, dairy, or soy (among other things). This severely restricted diet means that baking is a bit tricky, and with M. being allergic to gluten and dairy we're really making an obnoxious pair when it comes to food these days.

I had been lamenting my deprivation of muffins and other holiday baked goods all day when some news came along that cheered me up immensely--I was actually going to get the snow day I had been dreaming of. Vancouver has been getting a serious dumping of snow since early this morning, and at noon I was told I could go home from work! There's nothing like unexpected freedom to bring joy to a saddened heart. I nearly skipped home (okay, I actually just took a bus, but I was skipping inside) and upon arrival in my cozy apartment with the snow falling sweetly outside I was struck with a moment of inspiration--I was going to make cranberry muffins if I had to substitute every single ingredient in that damned recipe.

My ingredient list is as follows:

2 3/4 cups buckwheat flour
1/4 cup potato flour
1 tbsp flax meal + 3 tbsp water (substitute for eggs)
baking powder and soda (same)
raspberry juice mixed with small amount of lemon juice in place of orange juice (this is simply because I didn't have any orange juice)
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
orange rind
3 tbsp olive oil in place of butter (stupidly margerine contains dairy products and the non-dairy spread contains soy. Go figure)
sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg
salt (same)
cranberries (same)
tsp vanilla extract
Topping: sweetened coconut (because I didn't have pecans)

These Frankenstein muffins are currently in the oven, and I'm happy to say smell amazing! Whether or not they'll have the texture of cardboard is yet to be discovered. We'll be able to find out in about 5 minutes...

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Okay, apparently these muffins take a bit longer than the stated 25 minutes to cook. So we'll have to wait a bit longer.

...

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And the verdict is....SUCCESS!

These muffins taste pretty much nothing like the originals, but for vegan muffins that are basically allergy free these are surprisingly delicious. They're a little bit dense, but overall the texture is quite good. The cranberry flavour blends well with the buckwheat, and these actually did rise a little bit. The contrast between the red cranberries and the white coconut made them look very Christmas-y. Overall I declare this a win!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Muffins for Christmas

One of the songs that M. and I are working on makes reference to "Dad's Banana Muffins." The line is a tribute to my father's culinary excellence and I contend that my father is the maker of the world's most delicious banana muffins. These muffins would occassionally appear, as if by magic, on dreary mornings before we went off to school and I would have the luxury of waking up to the smell of fresh baking wafting up the stairs. This line was a bit of a creative sticking point, however, since M. thought it would be more appropriate to say "Mom's Banana Muffins." Clearly M's mom is of a different breed than mine, because though my own mother has thousands of wonderful traits it's my dad who has become reknowned for his exciting food experiments. It's Dad who decided that for a whole year we would never eat the same meal twice (and succeeded!), Dad who introduced us to a now much requested pistachio cake, and Dad who makes us drool over the Chicken Devonshire that no one else can seem to get quite right. So for this reason, and because my social principals would not let me cave to the sterotype of moms in the kitchen baking up a storm, the line remains "Dad's banana muffins."

Dad also began a tradition of baking cranberry muffins on Christmas morning. These muffins have now become an essential part of the holidays at our house. I provide the recipe here for the benefit of everyone's taste buds.

Dad's Christmas Morning Muffins

Ingredients

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1 beaten egg
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
3/4 cup orange juice
2 cups chopped cranberries

Topping

1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 tsp cinnamon

In a blender (or with a spoon and some elbow grease), mix together dry ingredients. With 2 knives or pastry blender cut in butter. Add egg, orange juice, rind, and berries. Mix until just combined. Pour into lightly greased muffin tins and sprinkle approx. 1 tablespoon topping over each muffin. Bake at 350 degrees till golden brown (about 25 minutes)

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good muffin.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow Days

When I was a child in Ontario, we had real winters. Winters where the temperature would drop to the point where our nostrils stuck together when we breathed, our lips became bizarre landscapes of chapped mountains and valleys, and Mom would put plastic bags inside our boots to keep our feet from getting wet. I lost my tooth one year in the school playground while pretending to be an Arctic seal frolicking in the snow. I ran into another child/seal and the collision launched my loose tooth into a snow bank where I was unable to recover it. Thankfully the tooth fairy trusted that the tooth was somewhere and paid me anyway.

Winter accidents weren't exactly uncommon. I was once entranced by a giant icicle hanging from our neighbours eaves. Its brilliant glittering drew me like a moth to a flame and before I knew it my hand was reaching out to possess the light refracted in its depths. I gave the thing a yank. It broke into three pieces. I held the bottom piece in my hand, the top piece remained firmly adhered to the eaves, and the middle piece slammed solidly into my upturned face, that had just recently held a look of ice obsessed rapture, and now sported a lump on the forehead. I warn everyone to observe icicles from a distance as they can cause horrible bodily harm!

Winter in Ontario required constant efforts to keep warm--mittens and boots would be lined up like sodden soldiers in front of the heating grates to dry overnight, hot chocolate consumption would sky-rocket, and beds would be made up with extra blankets, hot water bottles, and heating pads. I would stare out the window at night, watching monstrous flakes drift out of the sky, and hope for a Snow Day while listening to the omnipresent sound of shovels scraping across the sidewalk.

I didn't really think that I would miss the deep freeze of the Ontario winter, but my time in Vancouver has shown me how much the search for warmth gave cozy meaning to the long winters. Here we have to desperately attempt to escape the damp, but this means mould control, umbrella drainage, and a need to change your socks every time you come inside and just doesn't have the festive feel of a snowy winter. So it was with great joy that I greeted Vancouver's recent snowfall. The snow isn't very deep, and it likely won't last very long, but when I went outside this morning to greet the snow covered morning my breath hit the air in smoky puffs, my chin turned into an ice-cube, and the dangerously icy sidewalk crunched under my boots. I hummed "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" to myself and thought of home.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Meet Charlie and Maura

Maura the Sheep

Charlie the Snail

Charlie and Maura are a few of my latest polymer clay creations. Charlie the Snail has actually been around for awhile making very slow progress around the base of our television. He's a fairly unassuming fellow but has a tendency to bring much joy to those around him. Maura the Sheep will be a gift this Christmas. She emerged after a disasterous project where I attempted to glue cotton balls onto the body of another polymer clay sheep. A note to all who might be using polymer clay--liquid Sculpey will NOT work to glue cotton or other fabrics to a clay base. It just smeared around and caused a really insane mess. Maura was attempt #2 and turned out fairly well. Her coat has pockets which I made look full by stuffing them with small balls of tinfoil before baking. The candy-cane uses a small piece of armature wire to keep it together. I thought about giving Charlie away as a gift as well, but I have become too attached to him to let him go, so it looks like he'll be sticking around.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Neologisms for All

I am extremely interested in the rapid expansion of the English language. Exciting new words emerge on a fairly regular basis, and I truly enjoy the fact that "to google" is now a verb that is making it into mainstream dictionaries. Not wanting to miss my chance to contribute to the enrichment of the language I would like to offer up a new word that I encourage everyone to use as frequently as possible:

n. SNACKRIFICE--to make a sacrifice that has some relation to food or snacking. (Examples of usage and proper contexts provided below).

In truth, I made up this word accidentally. M. and I were working on recording our most recent song which has a lot of references to food in it. One of the lines is "love requires sacrifice" but I must have had food on the brain, because instead of saying "sacrifice" I said "snackrifice." At first this was just an amusing blunder. I giggled, then continued on with the recording project. However, after giving the neologism some thought I realized that it might actually be a useful and extremely descriptive term that should probably enter formal usage. Here are some possible applications:

1. You're on a diet, and have had to give up all your favourite snack food. You can then tell people that you are making a snackrifice for your health.

2. It's Lent. You have given up chocolate. You are, therefore, making a snackrifice for religious reasons.

3. You have to fast in order to have your cholesterol checked (or for some other medical procedure)--a medical snackrifice.

4. A kid in kindergarten wants to make more friends. So he gives away the piece of chocolate cake in his lunch every day to a different classmate--this is a snackrifice for the sake of social advancement.

5. **WARNING: potentially blasphemous statements follow** And here's where I think the biggest application is. In the Roman Catholic Church they practise transubstantiation--where the bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Jesus was sacrificed for our sins, and Catholics then eat his body and blood at church--therefore Jesus is the Holy Snackrifice.

You can see where this term is extraordinarily useful. So I encourage you all to go out and find ways to employ this word in your daily lives. I expect it to be a linguistic revolution.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

And So We Begin...

In perusing the vast network of blogs that have cropped up recently I have noticed a trend towards picking a specific theme or topic and diligently expounding upon it week after week. I admire those who manage to focus so completely upon the thing that intrigues them most--knitting, baking, politics, photography, travel. And while these blogs might take forays into unrelated topics the dedicated blogger always returns to their topic of choice, weaving each aspect of their life journeys back into their primary theme. In beginning my own blog I had good intentions of narrowing my focus to a single unifying topic as well, but I know myself, and I know that such a project would be doomed to fail. So I am succumbing to the magnetic pull of multiplicity--that great creative force that has kept me from ever being able to settle upon a single passion or pursuit--and I am taking as my central metaphor and symbol for this ongoing writing project the figure of Brigid. Brigid (alternatively spelled Brighid) emerges in Celtic mythology as a triumverate goddess with the triple associations of poetry, fire (and in conjunction the home/hearth and crafting, particularly smithwork), and healing. Due to her multi-dimensional nature she is a well-suited guide for the travels that are to come through my ever-shifting collection of interests. I expect this blog to be a diverse landscape touching on whatever hobby, passion, or obsession has taken hold of me. You can expect to find entries on knitting, allergy free cooking, literature, photography, polymer clay, paper crafts, music, and health, but there are likely to be endless diversions and tangents along the way. My goal is to share the flickering images that I work to patch together into an elusive whole called Life and to celebrate the disruptive moments of spontaneous chaos that oppose unity at every step of the way.