Friday, 30 December 2011

A-Nom-Nom: Roasted Root Vegetables with Thyme

With a large family, Christmas dinner tends to become more of a cohesive potluck - everyone pitches in by either making a dish, or cleaning up afterwards. Some of us participate in both types of activity, but I'm not here to point fingers!

I've been a little short on creativity in the kitchen lately, so I was happy to see that Canadian Living Magazine was willing to help me out. My subscription to the magazine was a bit of an accident (choosing it against Style At Home!), but I'm glad that I'll have these issues to reference as the years fly by. You see, reading Style At Home makes me want furniture and home decor items that I could never afford. Canadian Living makes me feel like a good mom, housewife, and an overall good Canadian.

Anyway, I decided on the following recipe to bring to the annual Christmas dinner because a) I'm the vegetarian, and b) there was a huge bag of carrots in my fridge at the time.

I'll post the original recipes from the CL mag, but I obviously made tweaks as I went, depending on what was available to me.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Thyme 
Serves 6
  • 2 lbs beets (about 6), peeled*
  • 1 lb parsnips (about 3), peeled
  • 12 oz carrots (about 4), peeled
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Roasted Root Veggies with Thyme

  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
*Personally, I omitted the beets and made up the difference in carrots and sweet potato (yams). I also added a couple of quartered white onions. Who am I kidding ... I didn't measure anything.

Cut the beets, parsnips, and carrots (and whatever other vegetable you chose) into 2cm pieces; place into large bowl. Add whole peeled garlic cloves, fresh thyme, oil, vinegar, salt & pepper. Toss to coat.

Roast in a greased roasting pan at 375 degrees F (190 degrees Celsius) in oven. Stir once or twice, until golden and tender - approximately 1 1/2 hours. Garnish the finished dish with sprigs of fresh thyme.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Life Can Be Grimy.

In my last post, I told you about the homemade dishwasher detergent powder that blew my mind. Now that I've done a few loads of dishes, I love the stuff even more. Part of me expected the subsequent loads to have residue or clean less efficiently, but it didn't! The stuff works great - two thumbs way up!

I also mentioned in that post that I've been cleaning with homemade cleaners for a while now. Because of my husband's profession, talk of toxic additives and chemicals sometimes comes up. After the little baby dude arrived last year, I really got to thinking about the products we use around here. Do cleaning products really need all that crap in them to do their jobs properly? As it turns out, no. Not at all. So I've whittled down my cleaning arsenal to these homemade "products":
  • one bottle of all-purpose cleaner
  • one bottle of glass/window/stainless steel cleaner
  • one tub of dishwasher detergent
  • one tub of laundry detergent
And, as it turns out, they have common and *relatively harmless ingredients: Borax, white vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, soap flakes, lemon juice, peppermint essential oil. By buying this stuff in large containers, you can save quite a bit of coin!

*There has been debate over calling Borax a "non-toxic" cleaning ingredient. Though it is a natural cleaner, it can irritate skin and certainly should not be ingested. (You can drink the vinegar and lemon juice if you want, but that's not recommended either.)

So, here's the breakdown of my kitchen favourites if you want to try it out ...

All-Purpose Cleaner - I put the following into a spray bottle (the Dollar Store carries some cute ones): 1 tbsp. Borax, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 1/4 cup of white vinegar, squirt of lemon juice, one or two drops of peppermint oil (you can use whatever you want - orange is nice, too). Fill the rest of the bottle up with hot water and shake to dissolve the powders. Of course, the amount of individual ingredients you use will depend on the size of your bottle. Mine is about 16 oz. or so.

Glass/Window/Stainless Steel Cleaner - This might make you laugh. I always bought commercial glass cleaner and really had a forehead slapping moment when I learned how to make it myself. Put 1/4 cup white vinegar in bottle and add hot water. Done! It works so well, it's ridiculous. Smells like vinegar, but the smell dissipates fairly quickly.

The team, looking tough.

After the pandemonium that was the holidays, my house really needed a little polishing! As with most "recipes" I'm going to post, feel free to play around with amounts. My only suggestion is to go easy on the powders. You'll know you added too much if your homemade cleaners are leaving a residue behind. And can I just say ... I absolutely LOVE peppermint essential oil.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Domestic D'uh: Homemade Dishwasher Soap

For two and a half years, I've been buying those dishwasher soap tabs without much thought. We always used them at home when I lived with my folks, so I just assumed it was the way to go. But, after switching to naturally-based (and homemade) cleaners for the rest of the house last year, I figured that there had to be an alternative for cleaning my dishes, too.

So, I Googled it, because I Google everything when in doubt. All of the initial "recipes" I found involved powdered citric acid. It was suggested that this could be found at wine and cheese making establishments. Um, ok. The baby was napping and I had a dishwasher full of gross dishes, so I Googled on a little more and settled on this mixture:

Equal parts Borax, washing soda, and baking soda. Mix thoroughly. Use 1 tbsp. per average load.

That's it! You see, the reason for the citric acid in all the other mixtures is because it is supposed to prevent the formation of a cloudy residue that is sometimes left on dishes when using powdered detergent. But, by filling the "Jet-Dry" reservoir with straight white vinegar, you'll likely avoid that problem.

Disclaimer: From my reading, I understand that this residue might still be present, despite the vinegar, if you have especially hard water. In that case, you may want to track down that citric acid after all!

So I used this new mixture with the white vinegar boost today for the first time and I have to say - it's great! No cloudy residue and the dishes are sparkling. I might add a few drops of essential oil (like peppermint) next time to avoid the telltale smell of the vinegar, mind you.

Being cheap is sort of exciting. I hear it's my forte.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A-Nom-Nom-Nom: Making Mint & Cilantro Chutney

I have to say that my husband makes some of the best food I've ever eaten, especially when it comes to dishes that take a little patience. While we're pretty lucky to have a whiz in the kitchen to call our own, sometimes I pull out a gem of a dish (or, in this case, condiment).

After our trip to India way back in January, I frequently get cravings for dosas. It is essentially a crepe of sorts, made with fermented rice batter and black lentils (also known as the 'rava dosa'). My favourite dosa is the 'masala dosa', which is stuffed with onions, spices, and potato and gently rolled into a tube-like shape. And they are HUGE. Like two feet long sort of huge. You might feel a little ridiculous when you are served your first dosa, but that's ok. You'll get over it quickly and be glad there is so much to go around.

The masala dosa, served with a variety of chutneys.

Dosas are usually served with a chutney or two and I have to say that I became mildly obsessed with the creamy cilantro variety. It has a mild, but refreshing taste that soothes your tongue after taking a particularly spicy bite of dosa!

Cilantro chutney (
The nice thing about this chutney is that it only takes a few minutes to make. You'll need:

  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fresh mint leaves
  • Raw almonds, toasted in a pan
  • Plain yogourt (the thicker, the better - high fat always wins!)
  • Garlic, chopped
  • Red onion, roughly chopped
  • Salt, to taste
Throw everything in a food processor. Done! You'll notice that I didn't include any measurements. That's because this really isn't a recipe. You can totally tweak this concoction until it tastes good to you. I recommend using more cilantro than mint, since the mint can be a little overpowering. Keep in mind that raw garlic is potent stuff and can upset tummies. If you want, you can omit the garlic and mint completely. Again, it's up to your personal taste!

I made sweet potato fries last  night and used this chutney as a dip. Hubby made some sort of meatballs and used the chutney for that. It's pretty versatile, so have fun and enjoy!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Pin This!

Back in August, I completely transformed my daughter's bedroom while she was away on vacation with her grandparents. She was on the cusp of becoming 9 years old, so her bubblegum pink room was starting to seem a little too juvenile for her (or so she told me: "It's too baby-ish"). So with a few (many) coats of a deep and saturated fuschia, my daughter's room quickly changed into a more sophisticated space for a growing little lady. I'll post the deets of that makeover another time, but wanted to share a quick project that was not only cost effective, but super easy too!

Thrift-store corkboard project - for under $10

I was lucky enough to find the perfect frame while poking through the local thrift store (holla ValueVillage!), though it was sort of a stretch to see the beauty lurking beyond this print:

Why so sad, dying flowers?

But I focused on the frame and picked up a few things from the dollar store on the way home:
  • One package of corkboard tiles
  • One package of pretty purple gem thumb tacks
I already had the Krylon spray paint in 'Ivy Leaf' kicking around from a previous project, so I was able to quickly get to work once the baby went down for a nap. I put down some plastic in the carport and quickly ran a coat of the spray paint over the freshly wiped down frame. I let it dry and applied two more thin coats over the next two days to get full coverage without any annoying dripping. I'm super impatient by nature, but with all the curves and detail in this frame, it was important to take it slow with the painting.

Two days later, I was happy with the paint coverage, so I was able to start assembling the corkboard. I used simple white all-purpose glue to adhere the corkboard tiles to the back of the existing print (I couldn't bear to defile that print!). I wasn't too worried about the type of glue I was using because the board fits very snug into the frame.

The next steps were as simple as popping the board back into the frame and hanging it where I wanted using some ribbon and hooks. I added the thumb tacks as a nice surprise for my budding artist. She has since posted multiple drawings of Smurf characters to her board.

The finished corkboard. IKEA's BYGEL containers hanging below the board are a great place to store pencils, little notepapers and other art supplies. At 99 cents each, how could I not?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Tonite, We Catalogue

Hi there, hump-day.

I should have known to turn the T.V. on in time to catch 'Modern Family', but I was too busy. Busy meticulously recording items for an insurance claim. We had a bit of a water problem in the basement way back in July of this year and we're still dealing with the aftermath. I had no idea that cataloging damaged CDs would take up so much valuable time ...

I also wasn't aware that my husband owned such CDs as "The Best of Line Dancing" Vol. I right on through to Vol. III, Cher's "Believe", and the soundtrack to "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me". Huh. The things you learn when you actually pay attention. Then I got to thinking: What does your music collection really say about you? And what the heck will the insurance people think when they get to see the whole disturbing shebang in a nice & tidy list that may be indicative of a slight obsessive compulsive problem?

I'm not really worried about it; my collection is awesome.

But I'll leave you with a little something my husband might enjoy.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Sit, Ubu, Sit. Good Dog.

As an owner of a former racing Greyhound, I've slowly learned a thing or two about training a clueless adult dog. Because of her history, she really had to learn all about living in a house with a family almost from square one at the ripe age of 2. Like most dog owners, I set out to teach her how to "sit". All the reading I did about racing Greyhounds pretty much told me the same thing over and over: they don't like to sit - so if she didn't want to sit, I should let it go.

Dashed were my hopes of having a well trained family dog! Ok, that's a little dramatic. Is it really important that your dog learn how to "sit"? Not at all, really. You and your dog can have a perfectly harmonious and respectful relationship without it. But growing up in the 80's meant that a few words would always be a part of my "good dog" image:

So here is how it all went down. Before I begin, I just want to say that I'm not a professional and certainly don't claim to know what I'm talking about. It just worked for me. Before you start sit/stay/down commands, it will certainly help if you've already built trust and respect with your dog through regular exercise, positive stimulation, and care.

Bum on Floor + "Sit!" = AWESOME
  1. Since most dogs are insanely food-oriented, grab a handful of treats/snacks. Anything small and tasty works.
  2. Your dog will probably notice this, but ignore your dog's attempts to get the treat (unless, of course, s/he decides to sit!)
  3. Follow your dog around. Not too closely, but close enough that you are able to give instant praise (within 1 second), if necessary. You're now looking to catch your dog spontaneously about to sit.
  4. When dog sits on his/her own, promptly say "SIT!" and give reward. Go bananas with glee and face rubs.
  5. Relax.
I've found that touching or attempting to push the dog's rump down never encouraged the action of sitting with my dog. If that does help you, then go ahead and do it. But don't be discouraged if that technique backfires - it might actually confuse your dog. Waiting for the dog to sit on its own will allow it to rest in a more comfortable and natural sit.

Once you've gone through the steps above a couple of times, take a break. This can be a few hours or a few days. It really depends on how well you're both catching on. If you're frustrated, end the training session on a good note and leave it until the next day.

 Once your dog recognizes the word "sit" and associates it with the sitting action, you can try to ellicit a "sit" by approaching your calm dog and asking for the sit, while raising the treat just above his/her head.

Eventually, no food bribe will be needed and you'll have a new command under your belt. Good, dog!

The relaxed sit. Dogs are prone to sitting like this (on one hip) if they feel they will be sitting for a long-ish period of time.
The attentive sit. Better known as the "I'm gonna get something good" sit. The more bony-butted dog breeds (like the Greyhound, Boxer, or Chihuahua) will likely not actually rest their rears on the floor. This squat of sorts is simply more comfortable.
The best part about command training is that the steps work for pretty much any command (sit, stay, come, etc.). With patience, your dog will quickly learn to connect his/her actions with your words and good times.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Roy Orbison Singing For The Lonely

With Christmas violently approaching like a festive freight train, holiday specials are dominating the TV channels and radio airwaves. I nestled into bed last night and flicked on Detroit public TV because ... when in doubt ... there's always something on that channel.

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself looking at Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night from 1987 (broadcast in 1988). Nostalgic me was instantly thrown back to my younger years and had me thinking about my dad (Hi, Da!). I remember seeing this taping a number of times growing up.

For this performance, Orbison is backed by some musical heavy hitters, including Elvis Presley's former backing band, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, k.d. lang, Elvis Costello, and the incredible Bruce Springsteen, among others. The soothing sounds were completely filmed in black and white in front of a live audience (which also contained quite a few celebrities).

Just the thing to help my mind make sweet dreams ...

Only the Lonely - Roy Orbison & Friends

Hope you enjoy a little serenading. Christmas or not, music sometimes has a way of making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ok, enough cheesy-ness ... didn't you know that too much cheese can cause constipation?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Party Favours: Candy "Sushi"

For my daughter's 8th birthday last year, we decided to lend a little Asian flair to the decor. There's nothing that irks me more about planning a kids' party than worrying about filling little bags with useless plastic toys and generic candy.

One Mother's Day, my daughter proudly presented me with a little tin full of candy "sushi". It was so cute that I had to revive it for her Asian-inspired birthday celebration. It is very easy to make and fun for the kids to get involved, too.

Candy "sushi" - a nom nom nom.

All you need is:

  • Ingredients for making a typical rice krispies bars recipe (Rice krispies-type cereal, marshmallows, butter, and vanilla extract)
  • Long licorice or shoestring-type candy
  • Fish shaped candies (the Swedish ones are yummy)
  • Flat, dark green or blue tape candy
  • Any other candy you like, cut into strips or bits
  • Aluminum "bento" type boxes - I found them at the Dollarama (3 for $1)
Have all your candy close at hand. Make your rice krispies bars, as detailed on the box of cereal - Mix and heat the ingredients, but do not refrigerate the end result or allow it to cool too much.

Roll out the sticky rice krispies treat into a long rectangular shape (the "short" side should be about 6" wide). Use butter to grease your supplies and hands, as necessary. Place your candy strips and/or shoestring licorice about one quarter of the way in along the entire long length of the rectangle - you don't need much - a few strings will be enough.

Once you have filled your "sushi", simple roll the rectangle so that you are left with a long log. Cut the log into 1" or so pieces. They should now look a lot like sushi!

Now we decorate! Roll your sushi in the tape licorice candy to mimic the "nori" (or seaweed wrap). Alternatively, I think it would look neat if you wet the edges and rolled it in sprinkles to mimic sesame seeds that are sometimes seen on sushi rolls. Use the remaining candy (like the fish shapes) to place on the tops of certain pieces. These are only recommendations - have fun with this part!

Place your assembled pieces in the little "bento" boxes. You can even decorate the lids with the party-goers' names, stickers, etc. I added a fortune cookie to the box - I realize that isn't at all Japanese like the sushi is, but covered my bum by calling the party "Asian-inspired", right? Because who doesn't like fortune cookies?!

Personalizing the sushi "grass"
Wrapped and ready to be snacked on.

The best part of this project is that the candy sushi is yummy. I ate a lot of them while preparing, so don't feel guilty :)

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Morning Constitutional

In my extended family, when the conversation turns to bodily functions (especially poop), I am always blamed. For whatever reasons, this usually happens at the dinner table at our weekly family get-together. Sometimes, it's factual. Other times, it's funny. Every time, I just can't resist an opportunity to talk about BMs. Here's the thing: I spend all day with a 19-month old boy and a large dog (who, I swear, has canine Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

After putting the babe down for his nap this morning, I went to wash my face and glanced over to notice this product on my bathroom counter:

Whatever, right? It's lemon & lime scented shaving cream.
No. My mind sees this.

I'd love to meet the marketing/design genius(es) at Gillette who came up with this label. I mean it. Can I have a job?

I'm not sure what bothers me more - the fact that I'm blogging about this, or the fact that I found my daughter's markers to colour in a poop pile on the shaving cream can at the age of 27. Mom would be so proud. (Hi, Ma!)

Happy Monday, everyone!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Craftin' and Gangsta Rappin'

My good friend, Kristen, and I decided to hold an impromtu craft night last night. We ended up collectively making some adorable gifts and decor item for the holiday season. We also drank wine. And listened (ie. belted out along with attitude) to some classic 90's hip-hop tunes. Oh, the memories. Anyway, it totally dawned on me that we are old. But, as it turns out, we're pretty creative, too.

Since most of what Kristen made are destined to be gifted, I won't show them here. But I will show you the little wreath that now adorns her beautiful and large mid-century kitchen cabinet. Kristen had crocheted a thin little scarf and gave up on it. So I turned it into a wreath and added ribbons and some sewn on buttons. Much thanks to her mother for her massive collection of random (and some very interesting vintage) buttons.

 Does this totally remind you of Grover's 'Near & Far' skit?  Me too.

So I used a plastic coffee can lid and cut a hole in the center for the wreath form. Then I wrapped the crocheted yarn all around the new form and added the embellishments with a needle a thread and a little hot glue. Kristen has this monster hot glue gun that looks and smells industrial - it's pretty magical, but a a little intimidating at the same time. Ha!

I wish I could show you the amazing gifts Kristen made, but we'll just have to wait.