Saturday, 21 March 2015

I wonder if Larry, Darryl and Darryl would come


The problem with starting my health kick on Monday…


Is that this week I didn't just go out for dinner twice, I was also testing different caterers for an event. I love eating with all my heart so testing caterers is, by extension, something that brings me bliss. 

While health kicks…


(where you have to exercise all the time and think carb-carb-carbs but never eat them)


…are a struggle for me.


So my plan (for eating clean and hiring the grade-six-year-old to make me do squats and lunges) had to be adjusted for this week. If you've been around these parts before...you might be moving that mouse to close this page because blah, blah, blah…but WAIT!!!

I did make some progress.


I started a stair-climbing club! Twice a day my club and I will climb the stairs to the 16th floor (which is actually a four minute no-brainer since just-like-that you can bring greater good to your back-side).


The food we ate during the catering tests was absolutely delicious and I am ON A MISSION to figure out how to make: a mascarpone stuffed pasta with asparagus, peas and a cream sauce that was TO DIE for…and the greatest salad with a ricotta base (I haven’t seen or tried anything like it before). I will post recipes and pictures as soon as I nail them.  


OKAYIFYOUWANTTOKNOWTHETRUTHIGAINEDTHREEPOUNDSINAWEEK.


You know I could go on and on talking about food for four and a half hours but I MUST tell you about my other VERY BIG, VERY LIFE-CHANGING calling.

I am trying to win an inn.


My friend Angela, who has fantastic red hair and who takes the most stunning photographs (I just want to be a little bit as good as her) dropped the article about the inn in my life…and told me to go win the thing.


It is possible I am the most easy-peasy person you know.


Because I went from hmmm…let me read about it…

To I CANNOT IMAGINE my life without that inn in it.

It really is a contest. And I really, really will be very good at inn-keeping. I mean I’ve imagined the people who will stay there and I love them all like family already. I have to pay 125 American dollars (which will probably work out to about 800 Canadian, it’s a shame how the dollar has crashed) and I have to convince them in 200 words to give me, That Allisun, the inn.




It took me an hour to write my entry. Counting words. Deleting. Counting.


And I know I’m being a little smug...but I read what I wrote and thought…


I would pick me.


When friends came over the next night I better explained the concept and the process and handed over what I penned…


And one after another they told me it was really good…and one after another they said the same thing…what if…what if I really won???


And the day after that, in a move I decided was very Hemingway (minus the cigaretting, minus the affairs and minus Paris, which is a shame really, because I think I would write better there too)…I tossed round one in the garbage.


Because while it WAS good, I knew instinctively that it wasn’t right. The same way Angela would know the lighting was off. Or a carpenter would know the frame wasn’t level or Harry would know the kid didn’t have what it takes.


[Harry, as in Connick, who remains tied with Keith on my “List”]


Hemingway was a master of dialogue and could put simple words together in such a way that his reader could actually remember what he said, because she felt like she was living it.

If I’m going to win the inn and the life that will come with it, I have to tie the words together in such a way that she will remember me...

You want to know what I've always wanted, even more than a desk?

A barn.


The inn
 comes
with
a barn.





Thursday, 12 March 2015

Bikini season is around the corner and I might as well take it seriously


Emmie is my eleven year old. On Saturday she came back from soccer and started making a mess with mangoes while I was…well I can’t for the life of me think what I was doing, but I was sitting at the kitchen counter for some reason when there is absolutely no time for sitting on Saturdays. EVER.


Emmie is an old, observant soul, with dry humor, who loves fruit and vegetables more than cookies. I’m pretty sure I've told you before how funny that kid is but I think you would have to live with her to appreciate her timing. There was a time when she was the easiest of my children - but she has the most layers - I know her and I don’t.


She started on her second mango when she told me, in all seriousness, that she was willing to give me another chance.


“Another chance?”


“As my manager.”

“Huh?”

She told me she had fired me. FIRED me?


How can you fire me if I didn't know I was hired? She explained how she needed to earn pocket-change and mowing the lawn for $15 a week last summer didn't cut it. Picture of THAT thrown in here because it makes my heart melt; she has to push the mower with all her might and through the great mosquito plague even.



Emmie told me she wants to be an actress. Apparently I was her manager initially but at some point her brother told her he could get her way more gigs than I would (what with all the connections he doesn’t have) so she flushed me. But since he actually did nothing for her, he had been canned too.


I have three children. Kid #1 (most recently fired) is highly motivated and always working and invests his money in TFSAs because he wants to be rich.  Kid #2 could care less about money and blows most of what she makes babysitting on paying me back for the tutoring she wastes (because she isn’t prepared). And kid #3 (Emmie) wants to be richer than her brother and has determined the best way to fast-track things would be to become famous.


“I mean, Mom...look at me.”


It’s the eyebrow that shoots up when she states what should so obviously be obvious to me. So I’m back as a talent manager and what I think about being a movie star is…oh my…I’m not exactly sure how we could make that happen.


So while I consider options for the divine Miss Em, I might as well turn this back to me and all the naughty things I can’t stop eating and my vow to start a health kick and jog every second day of my life. I keep asking begging my family to run with me.


To be fair I can’t make people who play a crazy amount of sports exercise even more, and the snow that is out there is hardly appealing. But my thought is how much we could connect in that time together. And really, with the amount of exercise they do, what more would it take to run around four blocks with me?

When I ask them individually they have urgent homework. When I ask when they’re all together, they volunteer someone else with a smirk and scatter.


So in keeping with the theme of the month, I decided to audition everyone who lives with me as personal trainers. And though I swear I am not running my family as a business…

I decided to turn being my personal trainer into an actual paying job.


Kid #1 was an immediate absolutely not. Without a stitch of sugar coating and it wouldn't matter how many millions I paid him, he doesn't have the patience for me. My husband gave me the eyebrow and wisely kept his comments to himself. Kid #3 wanted to know how much I would pay…


(I hadn't actually thought it through)


So I said $3 a session. And while I could see her wheels turning, the middle one jumped in to say she would do it for $10. I gave her the highway robbery look (at least what I think would be the look) and eventually hired Kid #3. Kid #1 (always the entrepreneur) said there should be bonus incentives for Emmie if I reach my goal and for $20 he offered to help her draft a binding contract. She said she could take of that herself, thank you very much.


Then my aunt became part of it and without us negotiating, she threw us a discount.


So for $2.50 (beginning next Monday because I have some things I have to eat first), I will be one session closer to getting in the BEST shape of my life.

 Cue the lemon water!

And maybe even the hypnotist (I'm waiting to see how that pans out for my friends but if it works for them, I will test it too. Not for me...for the blog...of course).


Friday, 6 March 2015

Just...START

I am alive.

(in case anyone has been wondering)

But I have aged.

I wrestled with how to start up my blog again after dropping off the face of the written world. I mean I wasn’t sure if I should explain every last deviation or whether I should jump right back into it as if that picture of French fries had just happened yesterday. To be fair, I always wish French fries had happened yesterday…

But it is midnight on a Thursday. And though I wonder how many other blog droppers are out there this very minute staring at a screen stumped,  I promised my Dad that I would write six weekends ago.

My first problem? I forgot my password.

My other block? I had a questionable mole on my back. If you know me, you know I’m either downright foolish and haphazard when it comes to my health or I am a total hypochondriac who experiences symptoms the very second I read about them. I couldn’t actually see the mole so I had my husband take a picture and then I matched that picture on WebMD…  

My last big panic was the “mass” last April. I survived, because I told everyone and their mother and brother and random people who worked in stores about it. I have this theory where if I throw my worries out in every other conversation, it really will end up being nothing. And maybe I should be embarrassed of being afraid of things I don’t know for sure…but so far my strategy has panned out for me and I’m always so relieved…WHO CARES!!!

So I called and left a message for my dermatologist who told me two and a half years ago to come back in six months.  Normally it takes six months to get in but you know as well as I do, I might not have six months. I repeated my phone number twelve times in my message and decided, if I didn’t have an appointment by noon the next day, I would call them and throw the extra kidneys into the conversation. I still swear (based on experience) it’s the sort of random distraction that confuses people enough to just…help. I hung up the phone and ate all the peanut m&m’s and ten year-old (purposely-aged) cheddar that crossed my path.

I know I have to bring you up to speed on how all this time played out but that isn’t how my mind works. 
  • Over the last year my father-in-law had late stage stomach cancer, daily chemo, radiation and half his stomach removed…and then right before Christmas, a week after he was given the (woo hoo!) all-clear…his gallbladder ruptured in a mess of infections. After four surgeries and six weeks of critical days, he bounced back. To be entirely honest, I think he had no clue what he went through – he’s Italian, from Italy, and he just didn’t listen to them.

  • I joined a book club and love everything about it except the all-nighters I pull trying to get the book done the night before we gather.  I read fast, thank God. So far we’ve read Boy Snow Bird, Why the Caged Birds Sing, Angry Housewives Eating BonBons, The Light Between Oceans, This is Where I leave you, Wild and The Paris Wife. When I read a book I really, truly think I’m a part of it. And when it ends, it feels wrong how life has gone on. The book club has been a gift. I had no idea how much I missed reading.

Last year, I vowed to dabble in something creative. Since we last left off I:
  • took a photography course that was more focused on the history of photography and creepy photographers than a lesson in what buttons do what on my camera. But I also;

  • took five levels of Photoshop; and

  • two levels of Adobe InDesign; and discovered (after investing $3000 in my new hobby) that I;

  • have a good eye but my talent is sketchy (though if I had time to play, I swear I would be so much better);

Where I started juggling faster was in how I…
  • was so bogged down with work-work that days became nights, became weekends. Nothing would bring me more relief than having you shake your head and tell me it’s terrible, just terrible how I’ve been taken advantage of…but what I’ve discovered is nobody actually cares. Complaining is white noise. My house went to pot. My kids got so much more mature and thankfully, remained nice, responsible people. My ability to keep up with friends was shot and I ate a lot of dark chocolate with sea salt for supper.

  • What eventually happens when you do way too much for way too long is one day you decide ENOUGH. I was DONE. Exhausted. Realizing everything that was being thrown at me was never ever going to get me ahead.

I found a hole.
A need for a job transition that would tap into what I'm best at and would actually benefit the organization. I had to present it. And be tested. And be trained.

I passed.

And they agreed.

You have to be an editor to become one. And that’s where I am today, the editor-in-training for two magazines at work. Editing, writing, proofreading, building content…while I knew writing comes easily to me, I always thought of editing as an extension and not something that could stand on its own. 

It did cross my mind how life can be cruel sometimes and how horrible it would be if the stress of the year had impacted my immune system. The precipitating factors: 1) once I had a pre-cancerous mole removed and 2) I lived ten years of my life with a suntan.

Dr. O’Brien’s receptionist called me two days later to say they had a cancellation and I loved, just loved the woman…until  she looked me up in the computer. She insisted I hadn’t been there in five years.

Impossible, I told her.  I leaned over to search for proof on my bulletin board.

Ok fine. Three years.

She explained my doctor doesn’t see patients who haven’t been there in two and they get rid of the files.

That…HURT.

I LOVE my doctor.  And she knows every dermatological secret I have and even took pictures of them. And that terrible mole she removed, she saved my life!

I asked if there was any way I could see her.

 Impossible. She told me about the other doctor who was taking over and I asked, in a whisper, if she was a she.

No.

Some people are fine with whipping their clothes off in front of strangers but I’ve never been particularly good at that. But I had no other ins with dermatologists so I took the appointment.

It is, what it is, I told myself.

You wouldn’t know I get the giggles at some of the most inappropriate times. I blame it on nerves and being Irish. The doctor called my name and I pulled together all the things I was reading and headed for his door…

He was very botoxed and I did not expect that. As I started to explain why I was there I got the giggles.

He looked at my mole.

He said it was okay.

And I bolted.

I couldn’t do the ol’ let’s-check-them-all-while-we’re-here inspection. I have a plan for sneaking back into the original doctor that I will share as soon as I’ve tested it. Asamatteroffact, I have a LOT of plans and things to share…

Places everyone!

Because the Quest for the Desk is about to begin. Again.


Tuesday, 29 April 2014

No really, am I skinny yet?


When we last left off I was talking about food…

It’s bigger than me…I have to dive into it again.

My thought is I should address my real purpose for being here. I mean I know I’m supposed to be writing about my journey as a writer, but cutting all treats from my life is impossibly hard and you’ll have to bear with me. You know how people who diet or write exams only want to talk about food or how much they have to study? I only want to talk about food.

Now if, as a consequence, while I’m writing about something, I set you up with a meal idea or the recipe for something you want to make tonight…well, that’s what makes the world go round.

The reality is I don’t have it in me to be on a diet for more than two hours because nothing makes me happier than a carb. And if I’m laying it out, I should admit I never start a health kick without having a cheeseburger and French fries the night before.

So I declared last night hamburger night. My plan was to try to put a healthy spin on things by layering more fresh vegetables and using lean beef and 100 calorie flat-bread for buns, and by having corn on the cob instead of French fries...

But I walked in the kitchen when they were peeling potatoes.

“We decided we weren’t having them!” I gasped.

The potato peelers stared at me blankly. Admittedly, that thought might have been in my head.

And man, them there French fries were worth it. In fact, everything was. 


  • We kept our hamburgers simple with salt, pepper and a little steak spice. In dressing them we used caramelised onions, real cheddar cheese, great tomatoes and pickles sliced thinly.

  • Our corn on the cob couldn’t have been better. The simplest way to nail it? Bring a pot of unsalted water to a boil. Add the corn to the boiling water (it’ll bring the temperature of the water down) and when it starts boiling again, turn off the water. I leave it sitting there until we’re ready to eat it.

  •  We sprinkled garlic infused sea salt and pepper on the French fries and dipped them in ketchup and mayonnaise.


We had no space for dessert but made it anyways.

Grilled pineapple (with a bit of cinnamon), vanilla bean ice cream and topped with…

Caramel Sauce
(sauce recipe credit goes to Ree Drummond from the food network)

Ingredients

1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup half-and-half cream
4 tbsp butter
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract


Directions

Mix the brown sugar, half-and-half, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook while whisking gently for 5 to 7 minutes until it thickens. Add the vanilla and cook for another minute to thicken further. Turn off the heat, cool slightly and pour the sauce into a jar. Refrigerate until cold.

It was so good. Soooooo good.

And then I woke up this morning on the health kick that called for a Costco run.

You know how that guy Jared did the Subway diet? It just hit me how I could totally go that route on the diet as a Costco spokesperson because it's all about the healthy choices this week, beginning with supper tonight…

Tomato, Corn and Avocado Salad

(Recipe credit: Martha Stewart, but my friend Shelley gets dibs for finding another winner)

Ingredients

1 ear cooked corn (husk and silk removed)
2 pints cherry, grape, or pear tomatoes, halved (or quartered if large)
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and diced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, such as safflower
Coarse salt and ground pepper

Directions

Cut the corn kernels from the cob and discard cob. Add tomatoes, avocado, scallions, lime juice, and oil in the bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and toss gently to combine.

What a good, fresh salad. I bought everything at Costco...including the chicken I served it with...and what a find! Costco butterflies the chicken and stuffs it with asparagus, spinach and feta and then they season it so that it’s ready to toss on the grill.

With one frying pan I turned that chicken into leftovers for lunch tomorrow. I sautéed garlic, spinach and pine nuts quickly in a little olive oil and sprinkled it with sea salt and pepper. I sliced up the ready-to-use beats from the produce section that have fibre, no fat and barely any calories. 


I’m writing about it now but I really wish it was lunch time tomorrow. Would it be terrible if I ate my chicken for breakfast?

While I was on my I-made-it-through-the-day-high, I was able to find someone in my house to go for a half-walk-half run tonight: my youngest daughter.

For a pack of gum at the deppaneur. 

It's my first time in a long time making it through a day one, which makes me feel hopeful that I can make it through a day two. Queue another round of lemon water! And let the lean legs workout begin!




Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sausage chickpea soup and peanut butter cookies

There’s something about a warm bowl of hearty soup on a chilly or overcast day that spells comfort.  It’s the fresh coriander in this recipe that makes it work whatever the season. The recipe makes enough for a family but I always double the batch so there’s enough to freeze.

To be a little more exact: I double everything in the recipe but the chicken broth, the carrots and celery - I actually triple them. And then I throw in more vegetables: cabbage, zucchini, green beans. Sort of like a weight-watcher soup with protein and flavor.


Sausage, Tomato and Chickpea Soup
(Recipe finder credit goes to my friend Shelley)



1lb Italian Sausage
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp chili powder and pepper
1 can (540 ml) diced (spiced) tomatoes
1 can (540 ml) chickpeas
3 cups chicken stock
¼ cup chopped (fresh) coriander
1 tsp paprika, ground

Cut casings from sausage and roll into balls. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat and cook sausage for 5 minutes. Add onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring often for 10 minutes or until vegetables are soft and sausage is cooked through.

Stir in cumin, coriander, paprika, chili powder and pepper; cook for 1 minute. Pour in the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 10 minutes.

Drain and rinse chickpeas; stir into pot along with stock and fresh coriander. Cover and simmer 20 minutes.


Peanut Butter Cookies  - Called World's Best
(Recipe credit: Gingerbear http://www.food.com)
  

I made half exactly as the recipe called for, rolled in sugar. My plan for the rest of them was to dip them in chocolate and peanuts (roasted, unsalted) but dipping was a mess of a mess so I drizzled chocolate and sprinkled peanuts instead. While I’m a fan of peanut butter on toast, this would never have been my first choice cookie and yet, these are now a fan favorite.


Ingredients

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup jiffy creamy peanut butter (I used Kraft light)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
granulated sugar, to roll dough in

Directions

Heat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, beat butter, brown sugar, and peanut butter until well blended.
Add egg and vanilla, beat well.

Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to peanut butter mixture, beat until well blended.

Shape dough into 1-1/4 inch balls, roll balls in granulated sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheet.  With the tines of a fork, flatten ball.

Bake 9 to 10 minutes until light brown and cookie is set – don’t overcook!


Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack and cool completely.