Family Hockey Pool

For as long as I can remember, my family has created a family-exclusive NHL Hockey Pool. Each fall, someone carefully crafts a draft which is intended to challenge and pull at the heartstrings of the participants. It is distributed around Thanksgiving for careful consideration and selection. The entry fee is pretty minimal (heck, most of us forget to pay) but there is a lot more at stake than winning a few measly dollars, there is pride, reputation, and a trophy on the line!

I used to make my selection based on which player’s name sounded the funniest. Then, when I got a bit older, I used to pick the player that was on my favorite team. At one time, I’m pretty sure my cousin chose players based on their potential for being suitors for herself.  We all have our own strategies. Some work better than others but we all want to win.

And then there’s the trash talk. I think this is my favourite aspect of all. Alliances made, alliances broken, threats, jabs, kicks, chants, and that’s just from Grandma! Spouse vs. spouse, kids vs. adults, boys vs. girls; no one is immune, especially around the dinner table during Christmas.

This year has been a real shake up. Many of the expected ‘top-ranked’ participants have been underperforming, underdogs have made healthy strides and others have been subject to a battery of injuries. Many weeks remain, so we can’t be too sure to pin-point a victor quite yet, but it sure is fun.

And maybe I’ll keep a drumstick under the table this Christmas ‘just incase’.


Sugar Sugar

Like most people lately, the past few weeks have been busy busy busy. I've been settling in at my new position, attending holiday parties, shopping for gifts, decorating my place and wrapping presents. My baking endeavours have been on the back burner for a while but this weekend I got back into the swing of things. This recipe... sugar cookies.

Sugar Cookies:

3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups butter (oh boy)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350'F. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until completely combined. Cool the dough overnight in the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough 1/2 to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out shapes as desired and place on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake 6-8 minutes or until edges just start to brown. Let cool completely before icing.

Royal Icing:

3 egg whites
3 cups icing sugar

Beat egg whites until foamy. Slowly add sugar and stir until completely blended. Add colouring if desired. Icing will cool and harden.  Pipe or spread on cookies as desired.


There IS Holiday Spirit

A few days ago I wrote about my frustration with the lack of holiday spirit over the past few days. But every story has two sides and I’d like to share some of the good things that have happened to me too.

You may recall that my wallet was stolen after lengthy appointments at a hospital. As my friends in Australia say, I was ‘dev’ (meaning devastated). Such an annoying process that I’m still trying to rectify by the way. Anyhow, what I wanted to point out is that I had a great friend who took time out of her day to come meet me at the hospital and wait with me while my eyes were readjusting. There’s not much you can do to kill time when you don’t have vision. Books, magazines, internet browsing, even listening to my iPod was out of the question because I could barely enter my pass code into my iPhone let alone see a playlist. So my friend drove to the hospital, took me out for coffee, had good conversation, and once we realized my wallet was stolen, she even drove to the bank and gave me some emergency money to get by in the mean time. True friends and true kindness; I’m so very grateful.

I was also really touched by how much D stepped up and helped me out with the situation. See, the stolen wallet was actually a gift from him during our very first trip together. I’m not a very materialistic person (okay, maybe I am a little bit) but I hadn’t ever had a ‘designer’ wallet before and, more importantly, it had sentimental value to me. I was able to keep myself together the whole day in but, of course, when I called him at noon to tell him what happened the tears started flowing. He told me very sympathetically that everything was replaceable and not to worry about he wallet. Then later that evening, after an exhausting day clinic, he took me out shopping for a replacement and then out for dinner. He didn’t even mention that an important hockey game was on or that his new Xbox had arrived in the mail just that morning. Three days later, a huge pot of seasonal poinsettias was sitting at my place; white ones, of course, to go with my festive colour-scheme.

So I don't really have a point other that that I am extremely grateful to have people who take care of me when things go right and when things go wrong. I don't like being a negative person who focusses on all that is wrong with the world. There will always be people who cut in line, take your parking stall, or nearly hit you with the bus they're driving while talking on a cel phone (ahem, hopefully not that often) but there will also be people who hold the elevator door open for you, treat you to coffee 'just because' or simply smile at you when you pass them on the street.

And no wallet will ever be worth more to me than my friends and family who make me feel like a million bucks.


Where’s the Holiday Spirit?

A few things have more-than-annoyed me lately and anyone who knows me knows it I’ve got a pretty high level of tolerance. I’ve been known to apologize to people for cutting in line ahead of me or stand patiently and smile while someone takes 15 minutes to check out 5 items at the self-check out counter. But after this past week I’m beginning to question, where is the holiday spirit?

After enduring a battery of tests at the hospital for a few hours Wednesday morning I decided to grab a coffee. While putting the lid on my seasonal beverage my wallet was stolen. Driver’s License, Credit Cards, Health Care cards, money…all gone. The barista behind the counter looked more inconvenienced than anything when I asked if someone had perhaps turned it in.

A city bus driver nearly ran into me while I walked across the street at a marked crossing. Was it by any chance the cel phone that you were yacking on that distracted you from the red lights Buddy? Not cool. Plus I think that’s forbidden for public transit drivers to be talking on cel phones, at least it should be. I gave him a dirty stare-down and he ignored me. Complaint filed.

And finally, after waiting 4.5 MINUTES in my car (with my signal light blinking I might add) for an elderly gentleman to load up his car, read the label of an item he purchased, put his cart away and pull out of a parking spot, a big SUV whipped around the corner and drove immediately into the empty stall. Even the bystanders outside the store shook their heads.

I’m hoping things turn around soon because I’m fed up right now!


Gingerbread Army

It has been a bitterly cold week so I decided that today was as good as any to continue my holiday baking in the comfort and warmth of my little kitchen. Plus, it was great to enjoy the scent of gingerbread wafting in the air. It was a long process, but in the end, I had a bunch of new friends smiling back at me.

Gingerbread Men:

1 cup cooking molasses
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter or shortening
1 tbsp baking soda dissolved in small amount of water
1 egg beaten
1 tbsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
4 cups flour

Heat molasses to boiling point, add sugar. Remove from heat, add shortening and dissolved baking soda, cool. Add egg. Sift dry ingredients and stir in. (add more flour if necessary).  Chill and roll out, cut in desired shapes. Bake at 375'F until golden brown - 10-12 minutes.

Royal Icing:

3 egg whites
4 cups icing sugar

Beat egg whites until foamy. Slowly add sugar and stir until completely blended. Add colouring if desired. Icing will cool and harden.


Brrr! Winter Essentials

Well it is officially winter weather here in the Great White North. The last few days have brought on frigid temperatures and lots of the white stuff. Commute times have increased exponentially (did I mention how grateful I am to be able to walk to work), much of the world is now blanketed in snow, and bundled up folks are braving the streets red cup* in hand. Brrr!

So I thought I’d share a list of some of my Winter Essentials.

Coloplast Atrac-Tain Moisturizing Cream

This stuff is intense, like medical grade intense, and boy do I need it. It gets so dry here in winter that my hands often crack due to the lack of moisture…and perhaps because I wash them incessantly. I’m a tad germophobic at times.

Burt's Bees Beeswax lip balm

Staying in line with the hydration theme, this stuff keeps my lips protected and hydrated even in the bitter wind. Tub or tube, they both work for me.

A chunky knit scarf… or any scarf for that matter

I’ve got a closet full of them and they’re one of my best defense mechanisms against the cold. Plus, they brighten up my often drab winter wardrobe. Some of my favourite scarves are souvenirs from places I’ve travelled so it always brings back happy memories when I put them on.


Let’s face it, this is basically a must have whenever coming inside from a frosty jaunt. They especially come in handy during cold/flu season. I don’t know about you, but I always realize that I’m outta the stuff when I need it most. 


I don’t like venturing outside when it is this cold unless I have to. So what to do indoors? I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid but have found that reading is one of my preferred past times now. It’s fun to curl up on the couch and get lost in the pages of whatever I’m reading.

Hot Chocolate

Need I say more?

We’ve got a long season ahead but with the help of these items, I hope it is a bit more manageable. How about you. Any winter must-haves?

*Starbucks introduces their traditional red cups in place of their regular ones during the holiday season. I rarely drink coffee so I don’t really know why I included this – literary effect perhaps?


Holly Jolly Cookies: Whipped Shortbread

Every other year, my extended family gets together for a big family Christmas at one of our respective homes. This year my parents will be hosting everybody, and let me tell you, it is going to be a full house!  Now that most of us cousins are ‘grown ups’ or, at the very least, ‘trying our best to be grown ups’ it only makes sense that we participate and contribute wherever we can. 

This year, my mom asked my sister and I to handle the holiday baking, a request I was more than excited to accept. But, considering that there could be close to twenty hungry mouths to feed, I knew that this would be something that would require a bit of pre-planning and advance work.

So I decided to start early and create a little baking series that I have called, “Holly Jolly Cookies.” My first recipe, a classic Whipped Shortbread. 

Whipped Shortbread:

2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine butter, flour and icing sugar in large mixing bowl. Add vanilla and salt. Whip on high speed for ten minutes. (I think this is the key step, the consistency really changed as time went on). Roll dough into small, walnut sized balls and press with a fork. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies are very lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Now I'll just have to try my darndest not to sneak any from the freezer before Dec 24th.


Proudly we Remember

Vimy Ridge Memorial

I was fortunate to travel throughout Europe this past summer. It was my first trip 'across the pond' and I was doing my best to soak in as much as possible. On one of my first days abroad the tour group I travelled with drove from London to Paris. It was a long trek but I was eager to see the French countryside. 

One of the major monuments we drove past that day was that of Vimy Ridge. Now, being only one of three Canadians on board the bus, I didn't expect our tour manager, Stu, to say too much about it. I was pleasantly surprised when Stu, spoke at lengths about the impact the Canadian forces had during this battle in WWI whereupon all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were involved (for the first time) as a cohesive formation to break apart a critical German line. Many lives were lost but ultimately the Canadians penetrated. Subsequently, the Battle of Vimy Ridge has become a national symbol of Canadian achievement and sacrifice. My heart swelled with pride.

And so today, on this day of national remembrance, my heart swells with a similar pride. Pride for our forces who fought and are still fighting to keep our world safe. Pride for the people back at home who worked hard and made sacrifices while their loved ones were far from home. Pride for the country that I live in and for the efforts made to do what is right.

And so I'll close with the well known poem written by John McCrae in 1915, a Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel, In Flanders Fields.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies grow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Wake up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.


A Palate of Contradictions

It occurred to me today, while eating my Michelina’s Sweet and Sour Chicken for lunch, that I am a walking contradiction when it comes to food. I’m not an extremely picky food person but I do have some particularities that may downright confuse people.

You see, I absolutely hate the taste of cooked pineapple – it makes me gag. And so when nibbling away at my Sweet and Sour Chicken, I was horrified (horrified!) when I bit down on a chunk of cooked pineapple. Could you even imagine, the audacity of putting pineapple in my sweet and sour chicken? How dare they? Maybe I should take a few more seconds in the frozen foods section to consider the label of pre-packed delicacies I purchase. Uugh, the disappointment.

You may be thinking, “So what, she doesn’t like cooked pineapple…what’s the revelation here?” Well, the truth of the matter is, FRESH pineapple is one of my most favourite foods in the world!

Which brought me to question what other epicurious eating habits I have. So here for your reading pleasure is a little list of my quirky food contractions.

Pineapple: As mentioned earlier, I love raw pineapple and have been known to eat the entire thing in one sitting. Yikes canker sores! But cooked? No way Jose! Can’t stand the stuff. My favourite pizza, however? Hawaiian. Yup, I pick each piece of pineapple off. Crazy, I know.

Tomatoes: On the opposite side of the temperature gradient, tomatoes. I absolutely hate the taste of raw tomatoes but will gladly eat them cooked in any form. Ketchup was my best friend when I was a kid, I could load that stuff on anything. Got a hotdog? Just ketchup please. Favourite chips? Old Dutch Ketchup. Favourite soup? Campbell’s Tomato Soup. As a side note, I bought a can of reduced sodium soup last week and ended up sprinkling salt back into my bowl anyway. I know it is better for my health to stay away from the stuff, but the taste just isn’t the same.

Rice: So I’m not necessarily opposed to rice, but given the choice of bread, pasta, potatoes or rice, I’m least likely to pick rice. The contradiction? My boyfriend is Asian. Let’s just say that planning home cooked meals we both agree on can be challenging at times.

Spicy: Anyone in my family can tell you that I’m a whimp when it comes to spicy food. My eyes water, my tongue hurts and my nose begins to run….and that’s just when someone passes the pepper across the table. But, I love me some Thai food. My favourite Thai eatery is this nondescript little place just a few blocks away called, Ruan Thai. Of course I always order the mildest version possible and the lady who takes my order rolls her eyes every time, but the food is just so delish and flavourful. Glass of milk on the side helps.

So that’s my little list of quirky food contradictions.

How about you? Got any weird eating habits?


On Halloween Night

Source: Pottery Barn

On Halloween night there are witches in the air
Very scary ghosts and goblins everywhere
Bats and rats and vampires are a fright
And they all creep around on Halloween night

I wrote this poem when I was eight or nine years old and still remember it perfectly.

Halloween was always a fun experience at our house when I was a kid. My parents would pull down the designated ‘Halloween box’ from the top shelf of our storage room and inside would be an assortment of old costumes, decorations and maybe (if we were lucky) a left-over treat or two.

As much as I enjoyed designing and putting together my costume, decorating the house was the most exciting part for me. My sister and I would stick posters in the windows, hang cob webs around the house, change the front entrance light bulb to orange, and of course put our prized jack-o-lanterns on display. One year we even bought a ‘spooky’ sound track and played it on a tape recorder expertly hidden in our garage. It was so scary cool!

Now I live in an almost exclusively adult building and apart from the little girl who lives across the hall, I don’t get any trick or treaters. There’s no real need for elaborate decorating or jack-o-lanterns to place proudly on display. I have to admit, I look forward to the day that I can pull out a specially designated ‘Halloween box’ of my own and go to town.

But, for this year at least, Halloween will be fairly low key. Dinner at a friend’s house, handing out treats to the neighbourhood kids, and (if I’m lucky) maybe a left-over treat or two.

Happy Halloween Everyone.


Embracing New Flavours

I’ve been pretty busy with many things happening in my life lately; dinner parties, Banff escapes, Zumba classes and coffee dates, interspersed with an icky flu that took the wind out of my sails for a few days.

But, the biggest thing occupying my schedule as of late has been a career transition. I recently accepted a position in a department so drastically different from my current role that I sometimes wonder what the heck I was thinking when I applied.

And then I remind myself, this is exactly what I need.

One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a Project Management Professor who told me to diversity my career as much as possible. Take bites from different slices of the pie and embrace the different flavours.

I’ve been very fortunate in my current role to take on a lot of responsibilities not normally given to designers so ‘fresh’ in their careers. I had an opportunity to apply my skills, be challenged by demanding projects, learn important lessons from a variety of people, and contribute to the success of the team and the company. I’d spent a few years in the role but began to ask myself, “Are things going to be all that different three years, five years, ten years from now?” The answer…probably not.

So, starting November 1st I’ll be embarking on a new career path filled with schedules, budgets, dashboards, sticky notes, project management, and a whole schwack of things I probably can't foresee at this point. Sound like fun? I guess that’s yet to be determined but I’m up for the challenge!

Hand me a new fork!


Give Thanks

Also known as "My First Thanksgiving". 

This year my mom will be hosting a big family Christmas so we decided to keep Thanksgiving low key. I also thought that this could be an opportunity for me to test out my culinary skills (which are basic to say the least) on a very forgiving audience should it turn disastrous. It was a small affair, with just my parents and my sister in attendance. I did a bit of planning, choose basic recipes and wrote down a grocery list of all the things I needed to purchase in advance. I tried to keep things as simple as possible and referenced the Joy of Cooking for most of the meal.

I didn't have the pressure of trying to meet a definite a meal deadline, but I started cooking fairly early in the day to give myself plenty of time to get everything organized and prepared. 

I started with the stuffing, chopping up cilantro, celery, mushrooms and onions (tear)...

We decided to forego the large turkey and opted for two roast chickens. There was only four of us and there would be plenty of leftovers anyway. My mom decided we should called them the 'twins'.

I stuffed the twins and used safety pins to close them as I didn't have a needle and thread on hand (oops, forgot about that). Fortunately they did the trick! I popped these babies into the oven and let them roast away.

I moved on to the potatoes while my sister prepared the yams (sorry, no pics). She was a great help and had those roasting along side the twins in no time.

The next task was the brussel sprouts. I have never before worked with brussel sprouts so this was a bit of an experimental time for me. I cleaned, chopped and steamed the sprouts as per my handy companion, the Joy of Cooking, suggested. Took a little more prep than I expected but still fairly basic.

A simple strawberry salad was assembled. Fortunately I had experience with this one before! My secret ingredient? Sesame roasted cashews served up with a low-fat sesame thai dressing. Delish.

The twins were ready to be carved, a task I left for my Dad. The gravy was made, the food was plated and we were ready to get this meal started!

The end result.

No Thanksgiving meal would be complete without Mom's homemade apple pie. The apples came right off the tree in their backyard. Doesn't get much more wholesome than that! 

All in all, my first ever Thanksgiving dinner turned out very well. I'm sure improvements could be made but nobody complained, the plates were polished off and leftovers were requested. 

I should also be sure to mention that I wasn't trying to prove that I could handle the whole process on my own. I had a lot of help and it was a great opportunity to spend time with family, learn from each other and laugh along the way. 

And for that I was most grateful.


Just Call Me Alice

I recently stumbled across these photos while visiting a design blog and thought they were too cool not to share.

Located just a block from the New York Public Library, Manhattan coffeeshop, D’Espresso, gives the impression that a library has been tilted on its side. Sepia toned photos of bookshelves are printed on tiles and wrapped along the floor and walls. What a cool concept!

Too bad I don’t live in Manhattan. But, should I be in the vicinity any time in the near future, you may just find me here sipping coffee, book in hand, with a little white rabbit nearby.


Time to Lace Up

”A fast body-contact game played by men with clubs in their hands and knives laced to their feet.” - Paul Gallico

Well tonight is the opening night of the 2010/2012 NHL season and I can guarantee that my television set will be tuned in to watch the big game. I wasn’t always the greatest hockey fan but I have learned to enjoy the game (almost as much as football). Plus, D is a season ticket holder now so I’d better learn how to carry a half-relevant conversation while cheering in the stands during home games.

But for those who have no interest in tuning in...

 Ten fun things to do instead of watching the hockey game:

(1)     Catch up on the latest episodes of Grey’s Anatomy
(2)     Go shopping for some fabulous fall boots
(3)     Take the dog for a walk along the river
(4)     Jigsaw puzzle, sodoku, take your pick
(5)     Take a relaxing bubble bath in the soaker tub
(6)     Try your hand at single-crust plum and apple pie
(7)     Catch up on your reading list
(8)     Dust off the old board games, or crack a new deck of cards
(9)     Open a bottle of wine (need I say more)
(10)  Go for a manicure/pedicure combo
(interestingly, I've never had one of these but I'm opening up to the idea).

Keep y'er stick on the ice!



A Colourful Autumn Weekend

Even though Summer is officially my favourite season of year, there is something to be said about the beautiful fall colours, bountiful selection of fresh produce and hours of weekend football games that Autumn brings.

D is on call this whole weekend so I’ve been filling my calendar with all sorts of activities to keep myself busy too… and I must say it has been nothing short of great*.

Record temperatures brought a beautiful sunny Saturday to our city. I spent the entire morning getting a good start on the necessary weekend chores that need to be done (cleaning, bills, laundry etc) so that I could spend the rest of the weekend doing Whatever-I-Wanted! After dancing with my old friend, the vacuum cleaner, I met with a great friend  (who doesn’t require an electrical outlet) and we walked all along the riverbank taking in the beautiful colours and wonderful smells that nature brings. We stopped for some sushi and then met with a third friend for a couple drinks on a sunny patio a few blocks south. Flowers were readily available at the local grocery store so I picked up a couple bunches along with the usual grocery fare. There are very few days of the year that we can comfortably sit outside at night so when D got off work shortly after 9pm, we decided to forego dinner at home and sat on a patio in a quaint neighborhood just across the river. It was glorious.

One of my favourite ways to spend a Sunday is to hit the local farmer’s market. We’re fortunate to have one near by so I gathered my things and set off. The market did not disappoint. I picked up some fresh corn on the cob, ambrosia apples, a jar of homemade borscht (to satisfy my Ukrainian tastebuds) and some organic beef. I’ve never bought meat at a farmer’s market before, so I’m looking forward to seeing/tasting the difference. Here’s hoping I don’t over-cook it – I’ve been known to ‘forget’ things on the stove only to come back to a smoking mess. 

One of the treasures I’m most excited about is a lemon tart I grabbed from a popular bakery stand. Apparently the crust is made from shortbread and the filling, a delicate balance of sweet and citrus. Here’s hoping I can resist until D gets home in four or so hours. Thank goodness my football team is playing on TV so I can focus on cheering them on instead of drooling over the lemony-goodness.

Oh, who am I kidding, I’m still gonna drool!

* Of course I wish I could share this weekend's festivities with D but such is life with his busy schedule. Here's hoping for great weather next weekend too!