2011 Goodbye

2011 in on it's 365th day which means it's time to say goodbye to this year and hello to the next.  I'm not big on sentimentality but since everybody else is doing it I thought that I might as well jump on the band wagon... 'cause I'm a wagon jumper kinda person.  Here are some highlights (the ones I can remember), some inspirations and some struggles that have hit me this year...

This movie blew me away this year.

Hoisin Sauce.  I heard a chef on tv the other day remarking that he could eat hoisin sauce straight from the jar.  Yup.  It's been a huge discovery for me this year.  What... RAD.

I'm still coveting a tattoo by Alice.

Bread became a regular part of my life this year.  I can't say that I'm good at it.  I can't say that I make nice looking loaves.  I can say that it's pretty easy and is worth the effort.  Most importantly I can say... 'Yeast!  Hey!  I'm not afraid of you anymore.'  We're cool.

Music is always a big part of my life.  I'm currently over-dosing on these guys... canadians no less.  I'm also loving this and this and this.  Sometimes I look pretty funny when I'm running and doing a kind of arm dance at the same time.  I just can't help it, sometimes music really does transport me.  Oh and take a listen to this stuff.  Mind blowing.

 In 2011 I took an awesome trip with the fam and  another short one with my BFF.  Both were awesome and I'm a lucky human being.

This year I learned that things you could never have predicted can come along and change your world view completely if you let them.  Sometimes it doesn't just help you become a better person but helps the people around you too.  For that I say a big Thanks.

I learned that good relationships can still get better even after 16 years.  Awesome.

I'm grappling with my sense of self in the midst of environmentalism.  I'm wondering what it means to give a shit in this current politically correct ecology dialogue.  I'm wondering if that dialogue is even a good thing.  I'm grappling.  Reading an article in the latest Orion Magazine by Paul Kingsnorth really hit the issues I'm struggling with on the head.

I'm crossing my fingers and praying hard to whoever will listen that 2012 be a better, brighter, happier, more fulfilling year for all of us... now let's get it started!!!

Oat and Seed Crackers

This is it.  It's truly winter.
We have had our first real snowfall of the year.  The one that stays for at least 24 hours.  The one that starts slowly over 3 or 4 hours and then gets heavier for another 3 hours and then just becomes flurries for another 4 hours.  The kind where you don't have to guess whether it's rain or snow.  The one where you are definitely cold when you go outside, the wind is unmistakable and your hands are frozen in a couple of minutes.  Yup.  It's winter.
It came 3 days after Christmas here in Toronto.  That's ok though because I'm kind of still celebrating.  I'm still cooking away and baking for friends.  Right now D and I are in the kitchen cooking our annual ham.  This year it's happening in Coke which is kinda funny because we are against drinking it (look I'm no saint - I'll have it once in a while).  So while the ham is getting a coke bath I'm making crackers.

Sometimes I have this weird experience where I'm reading my own blog, I'm reading what I wrote not much earlier, and it feels like I'm reading someone else's stuff.  That's weird right?  I sound different when I read me.  Maybe it's like hearing your voice back after a recording (super-weird) or seeing photos of yourself that look nothing like you do when you look in the mirror.  When I read me it feels to me like I'm reading about this person who is really funny and smart, who is probably feeling pretty confident about herself, who believes strongly in things (true), has it pretty together (hmmmmmm) and is highly energetic.  The only problem is that it's just not me.  I was never one of the super-smart kids in school.  In fact, I don't think that I fell into the 'reasonably smart' category.  I guess I was funny but that was only to my friends who I cared enough to be funny for.  My confidence levels vary daily and sometimes multiple times daily (is that normal?).  I do believe in things strongly but not so strongly that I'll get angry with you about it which probably would make me a terrible activist.  'Has it pretty together'... let's not even go there.  And highly energetic?  Well, since the holidays have started afternoon naps have become highly valued and since the snow has fallen and it's gotten like mega-cold (Ok - not that cold) I've been too lazy to run... but I am getting out there tomorrow.  That laziness has caused me to procrastinate making these crackers by at least 3 days.  But not any more... they're done and they were easy.  The results very tasty.

This recipe would easily lend itself to all kinds of variations as well.  I would happily add something peppery or parmesan or herb.  I'm definitely making these again with some variations.  I have a BFF who loves oatmeal and needs some homemade Christmas gifts in her life.    I tried a little one with some cheese on top and it was great.  KT is going to love these.

Seeded Oat Crackers adapted from GoodFood UK Magazine
makes about 12 - 15 medium/large crackers

50 g (between 1/4 and 1/3 cup) butter, melted
100g (1 cup) oatmeal
100g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp poppy seeds
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1/4 tsp salt
dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicone.
Bring a little water to a boil.
Combine the oatmeal, flour, baking soda, seeds, salt and nutmeg together in a bowl.
Add to the flour mixture the melted butter and enough boiling water (about 5 - 6 tbsp) to form a stiff dough.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness (.5 cm).
Cut out the shapes that you want and place on baking sheet.  Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden.
Remove and cool on wire racks.

Brussel Sprouts and Mushrooms with Hoisin Sauce... Easy Side

The holiday is firmly behind me.  I'm ok with that.  The fanfare.  The rush.  The dinners.  The schedule changes.  It's all wonderful... and then I want to get back to normal.  Vacation normal mind you.
We had a wonderful Christmas dinner with family.  The best part was on Christmas Eve though.  We went out with the kids and saw 'Tintin' in the theatre.  We had thought that going at 7:15 would be awesome because then we could just head home afterwards and the kids could hop into bed.  No fuss.  What happened though was quite different.
After the movie we realized that an old teacher of kid #1's was in the theatre with us.  She was there with her two kids.  We had a great chat in the lobby and then she suggested that we find somewhere open so that we could get a drink and a late night snack.  Trust me, there isn't a whole lot going on out there on Christmas Eve in this part of the world.  We found this place still open and hit it with gusto.  It was really great to catch up with her and meet her two kids.  The things we learn about and from each other are amazing.  I love getting to know people.
This teacher is from Iran.  She left just before the revolution in the early eighties.  Her father barely escaped with his life a few years later.  She was educated in France as an architect but has somehow ended up here as a teacher.  Once her kids are both old enough she's getting back into architecture.  We started to talk about holidays and celebrations.  Me, being a bit of a humbug, commenting on how much we overdo things and blow them wildly out of proportion.  Her, commenting on how nuclear our celebrations are.  In her part of the world when there is a celebration it's out there.  Shops are open, restaurants are open, people are outside, there is music and noise and lots and lots of people.  Here, it's quiet.  Granted, it's cold and that makes a huge difference.  Also, it gets dark here at about 4:45 p.m. right now which can put a damper on things as well.  Still, she's kinda got something there.  We're all inside with our families.  It's not a community thing.  We are all celebrating but we are doing it largely in small groups in our homes.  Interesting perspective.
Having been christian all my life it's always interesting for to get someone else's perspective.  What do you do on a day when no one is out and about and nothing is open.  What if there is nothing that you even care to celebrate.  Traditions are cool.  Christmas traditions are cool.  I wonder though if we just make them up ourselves most of the time.  Like in my last post when I said that my new tradition is going to be 'screw linzer cookies, spend time with friends'.  Is there anything about Christmas that we could decisively say that everyone participates in.  It all got me thinking which is cool 'cause since everything is closed there isn't a whole lot else to do.

I made scalloped potatoes as my contribution to christmas dinner.  There were leftovers (thank god) that I brought home.  I made this side dish to go with them here at home.  We had a completely vegetarian day-after-christmas.  I can tell you that not only is this really good for you, it's easy and tastes absolutely out of this world.  I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday, if you celebrate it at all.  I hope that you were able to stop and enjoy those around you with gusto.  I hope that you could eat some great food without pangs of guilt.  I hope that you laughed a lot and played some stupid games after the great food.  I hope for you that something deep and meaningful has been fed with richness and love.  (jeez that got all weird and mushy... yikes).

Brussel Sprouts and Mushrooms with Hoisin Sauce (made it up, in my head, just like that)
serves 4

1 lb brussel sprouts (bottoms marked with an 'X' using a knife
3 cups button mushrooms halved
1 small onion diced (I used green onion bottoms cause that's all I had)
3 lg tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari

Blanch the brussel sprouts for about 4 minutes.  Drain and set aside.
Heat a wok over medium heat.
Throw in about 3 tbsp (maybe a bit more) of your oil of choice.  You will need to use a little more oil because the mushrooms absorb a lot.  Throw the onion and mushrooms into the hot oil and sauté for about 3 minutes or until the mushrooms just start to soften a little.
Throw in the brussel sprouts.  Toss around for about 3 minutes.
Add the soy sauce or tamari and the hoisin sauce.  Cook together just long enough for the sauce to cook down a little bit but there is still some nice juice.  About 3 - 4 minutes.
Remove from the heat and serve.

Stupid Linzer Cookies

I officially hate making Linzer Cookies.
There I've said it.  I feel better.... Dang, I just thought about making them again and lost it.  Well, I gave it my best shot.
I nearly threw in the towel with these things.  I was losing my religion (not that I have any to speak of at the moment) and my mood was threatening to send Kid #1 and 2 into therapy sooner rather than later.  I remember in the middle of the process thinking that doing this and being this way really sucks at Christmas time.

The experience has kinda got me thinking about the Christmas traditions that we all seem to get so hung up about.  I make a certain kind of cookie every year.  Cappuccino Flats.  You can find them here.  They're awesome.  I don't know why I only make them at Christmas but I do.  It's become a tradition because somehow it just seems wrong to dip cookies in melted chocolate in the middle of the summer... but I could still totally do it.  But then I can't stop there.  I have to make all kinds of stupid cookies... try new ones (because repeating a recipe is like wearing the same underwear two days in a row for me or something), try making crackers, throwing in some gingerbread ('cause they go well with the lemon curd that I made, right - that actually makes sense)... then my students give me stuff.  This year I got chocolate and more chocolate, jams, jellies and a gingerbread house... more stuff than I know what to do with.  I regift - there I said it.  I donate.  I share.  I eat some of it.  Then I've got all this other crap that I give away 'cause I made it and I know full well that everybody else is overwhelmed with stuff too but I'm giving some to them anyway... it's dumb.
Why don't we do this in February when nobody has any crap left and we would all really appreciate a little pick me up to get through the rest of winter.  This cookie tradition has to get amended for my own sanity, my kid's sense of well-being and my pocket book.
The christmas tree is a tradition right?  We get one every year and the kids love it.  I could take it or leave it.  I'm not sure that I would care if I didn't have it.  Might even be a relief.
Christmas dinner?  Yup - feel the same way.
Here's the only tradition that gives me any true satisfaction:  Having time with people that I care about and that I really want to spend time with.  Not worrying about what I bought for them and whether they'll like it but just being with them.  I don't want them buying me any gifts.  I don't need stuff.  I need them.  Having the time to do that is more precious than anything I make or buy or get.  Done.

So I've put my foot down about stupid linzer cookies that don't make as many as their recipe promised and dough that wouldn't roll out whether I begged or pleaded and wayyyyyy more time and mental anguish than they could ever give me back.  Not again.  They taste good... but not good enough.
Here is my new Official Christmas Tradition:  Hello Friends... Goodbye stupid Linzer Cookies.
Merry Christmas

(Stupid) Linzer Cookies adapted from Martha Stewart 'Cookies'
makes about 13 if you are me, recipe called for 2 dozen (!)

2 cups all purpose flour (plus some for rolling)
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup pecan halves toasted lightly
2 tbsp icing sugar (plus a little more for sprinkling)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter cubed
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 lg egg
1/2 cup jam of your choice (something red is nice)

Sift flour and baking powder together in a bowl.  Combine the pecans, icing sugar, salt and cinnamon in a food processor or blender and pulse until finely ground (in retrospect I would just buy ground pecans and be done with it... too much additional bother)
Add the butter and sugar to the pecan stuff and beat at medium speed until fluffy.  Mix in vanilla and egg.  Beat just until incorporated.  Continuing to beat, add in the flour mixture and mix until combined.
Halve the dough and shape into disks.  Refrigerate at least 2 hrs (Mine went overnight).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment or some kind of non-stick arrangement.
Roll out one disk of dough until it's about 1/8 of an inch thick.  Refrigerate another 20 minutes (really?!)
Remove from fridge and cut the cookies leaving half of them intact and the other half with a hole in the middle.  Re-roll the scraps, refrigerate and use again.
Place on the baking sheets and bake until pale golden - 8 - 10 minutes.
Cool on wire racks.
Heat the jam in a small pan over med/low heat just until it liquifies and thickens a bit (if needed) - about 7 minutes.
Sprinkle icing sugar on the cookies with the cut out in the middle.
Spread jam on the intact cookies.
Place the cut out cookies on top of each.
Take some pictures and thank the gods that you don't have to do this again for another year (maybe never)

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St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.

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  • Naparima Girls High School Cookbook
  • The Silver Palate Cookbook
  • More-with-Less Cookbook
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Wanda Thorne
St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.
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