October 22, 2007

Baking Success

I spent most of my Saturday in the kitchen baking. First up: Christian and I made a marble cheesecake for dear young Sandra's birthday. Neither of us had ever made marble anything so instead of slicing the chocolate parts through the white layers, we ended up kinda mixing and blending the 2 together. The cake started looking better as we built it up higher and started mastering the art of slicing. I might have gotten a bit too carried away with the knife because when the cake came out after baking, the cuts in the cake close up. After chilling, it was even worse as the cuts had become huge crevices! Half an hour before the birthday dinner I started freaking out because it looked pretty bad. I made an emergency run to Loblaws and decided to try some blueberry pie filling to cover the top. It was a great save and the cake tasted even more scrumptious with the topping.

Second up was pumpkin scones. I developed a huge craving for homemade scones ever since my stay at the Bruce Peninsula B&B, where I had the best scone ever. In the spirit of the fall season I went with using pumpkin. The scones came out pretty well, but I think it could have used some more ginger and cinnamon.

Pumpkin Scones

Marble Cheesecake

Graham Cracker Base

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons margarine, melted

Cheesecake

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
1 1-ounce square unsweetened chocolate, melted

1. Combine crumbs, sugar and margarine; press onto bottom of 9-inch spring-form pan. Bake at 350°, 10 minutes.

2. Combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla, mixing at medium speed on electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend chocolate into 1 cup batter. Spoon plain and chocolate batters alternately over crust; cut through batters with knife several times for marble effect. Bake at 450°, 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 250°; continue baking 30 minutes. Loosen cake from rim of pan; cool before removing rim of pan. Chill.

3/4 cup sugar

Source: Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cookbook

Pumpkin Scones

2 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup pumpkin (if canned, be sure there are no spices or sugar added)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Mix together flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and cut into flour. Mixture should look like coarse crumbs. In a separate bowl mix together the pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together (don't overmix).

2. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead gently 3-4 times, and then shape/pat dough into a circle about 1 1/2 inches thick. Slice in half, and then cut each half into 3 equal pie-shaped wedges. Brush with egg glaze (1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp milk), and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.

3. Bake on a cookie sheet for at 375° for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 6 scones.

Source: Morning Coffee & Afternoon Tea

Posted by mich at 3:48 PM | dreams [0]

October 19, 2007

The Final Countdown

After over 3 months of waiting I'm counting down I've entered the last couple of weeks until my departure... 14 days left! *inhaaaale, exhaaaale* I couldn't wait for this moment to come but now the nervousness is hitting. The guys over there found me an apartment with 2 other roommates, but I didn't have the chance to ask any questions about it. I've never lived with any strangers before so the idea is a bit nerve-wracking, especially considering how anal I am about my personal space. Eek.

What I'm dreading the most, however, is the packing — how will I manage to pack a year of my life into just 2 suitcases (and under 50 lbs??) Being the pack rat that I am, my room's a treasure trove of things amassed throughout my lifetime (or more simply junk, as my family would call it) and I'll feel like a part of me will be cut off. Sounds a bit silly I know, but every so often I can spend a whole afternoon going through my room and just sit there looking through photo albums, postcard collections, birthday invitations dating all the way back to nursery school, old magazines and the like. My biggest dilemma was deciding which and how many cameras to bring with me. I've finally settled on just my digital ones because I'm betting that film developing/processing is pretty expensive over there (like everything else) — so my Nikon D70s, Leica D-Lux 3, and Rolleiflex Minidigi (big, medium, and tiny) :P As for book I'm worried those will completely weigh me down: 4 recipe books, 5 travel guide books (for Europe, Stockholm, Sweden, and Scandinavia), plus my design & leisure reading books (Anna Karenina, 100 Things to Do Before You Die, Houses of the World, Mapping, The Modern Girl's Guide to Life, and of course, my sketchooks.) Then all my necessities like coats, winter clothing, boots, sheets, etc. Oi... what a challenge.

Oh, and about my new Leica... I love it. I tried it out on my Pennsylvania trip and I'm pretty happy with the pictures, especially with the wide 16:9 format. All the reviews I read complained about the noise at high ISOs, which is a bit of a drawback, but it's not as bad as I had anticipated — plus I don't shoot at such high ISOs too often anyway. The main reason I went with the Leica was because it's like a pocket-sized SLR; it shoots RAW (although the RAW files are gigantic... 20 mb!), does bracketing, manual exposure, and a whole bunch more stuff that I haven't yet read about in the manual. Plus, it's so purdy!!

Posted by mich at 1:30 PM | dreams [1]

October 12, 2007

Thanksgiving Road Trip

I went on another road trip last weekend, and surprise surprise, I did all the driving... again. This time it was 1500km, whoaa baby! Chris and I went down to Pennsylvania mainly to go to Grove City's crazy outlet mall. Since we made it a 3-day trip we headed further down south to Pittsburgh first for some sightseeing. Besides the Andy Warhol museum, where I learned that Warhol grew up in Pitts, there really wasn't all that much to see or do. The city is actually quite pretty- it's surrounded by rivers and each city block has a different styled bridge to cross the water. I only saw about 15 bridges along one river, but I read the city actually has 446!!! The downtown core though was so dead on the weekend and all the shopping was closed, so we drove 10 minutes out into the suburbs to hit up the big malls.

We stayed at a motel in New Stanton about 45 minutes south of Pittsburgh, which actually worked out well for us since we had decided to drive a little further south to check out Frank Lloyd Wright's renowned Fallingwater House, which is built over a waterfall. Because we didn't make tour reservations at least a few weeks in advance, tours were completely sold out so we just walked around the exterior of the house instead. It was still quite an spectacular thing to see, especially in the fall.

It was about a 3 hour drive back up to Grove City, so we were left with only 3 hours of shopping by the time we got in at 4pm. Unfortunately, the mall closed at 7pm on Sundays which was 2 hours earlier than the rest of the week, booo. We hit up the Banana Republic outlet first, where we bumped into everyone: my mom's friend and daughter (whom I had also bumped into the last time I was in Grove City!), Christian's friend Yit and his friends, as well as Cass & co. Funny how such random events get clumped all together. After shopping, Christian and I checked into the Super 8 (where everyone else was staying too) and were giving our card key for a room. When we opened the door however, there was someone in the shower and a girl walking around &mash; we were assigned to an occupied room. The receptionist downstairs was absolutely mortified and couldn't figure out the problem, so we headed out to dinner in the meantime. Yit was scaring us because he said that when they checked in without a reservation, the girl had told him he had the very last available room. We had a reservation online, but were starting to get worried that the motel was double booked. Luckily by the time we returned to the motel, they had everything sorted out.

On the last day we went back to the mall by 10am sharp to finish up the rest of the stores we had missed. I went to my favourite store, Jimmy'z, where everything was 40% off, so I went completely buck wild. They also had clearance items that were already marked down by 50%, plus had an additional 60% off. I ended up with some great pairs of jeans that actually fit me well, and even found one for $12! How could you go wrong with that? I think everything item I bought that weekend was < $35... most of them were actually less than $15. The only thing I was disappointed about was the fact that I only really needed new running shoes (my current ones are now 9 years old and counting, and have outlived 2 other pairs). I found a couple styles that I really loved (and were super cheap), but none were in my size :( Now I'll have to look for them up here, but they'll be at least double the price. And if you all are feeling sorry for Christian about my shopping bonanza, don't. 'Cuz he shopped more like a girl than me, having bought twice as much as I did!

---

Last Friday I made my own Thanksgiving meal since my family was still away in Asia. I slaved over the kitchen for 3 hours, but I must say I completely outdid myself. I made sweet dumpling squash stuffed with pepper and wild rice, provencal roasted chicken with honey and thyme, and maple sweet dumpling squash. It was only the maple squash that didn't really turn out — even though I left it in the oven for twice as long as the recipe required, it still wasn't fully cooked so eating semi-raw squash was blech (thus, I didn't include the recipe at the bottom).

Sweet Dumpling Squash Stuffed with Peppers and Wild Rice

3 small Sweet Dumpling squash
6 pablano peppers (a mix of green and red is nice)
1 1/4 cup uncooked wild rice/brown rice mix
veggie broth
1 small onion, minced
olive oil or butter
salt and pepper

Bake whole squash until tender-firm to touch, but not totally soft, about 40 - 45 minutes. Set aside to let cool.

Cook the wild rice/brown rice mix with veggie broth instead of water.

Blacken the pablanos either under the broiler or by holding over a direct flame on the stovetop. Get them evenly charred all over and close them up in a plastic bag to steam and cool for about 20 minutes. The skins should easily peel off. Remove the stem and seeds and cut the pablanos into strips.

Once the squash has cooled, slice off the top in one piece and scoop out any seeds and strings. Cut around the sides and top of the squash to remove the flesh, taking care not to scrape too close to the sides of the squash so it remains intact. Dice the flesh.

Add some oil or butter to a skillet and sauté the onion. Add the squash pieces and sauté until tender all the way through, 5 - 10 minutes. Add the pablanos and rice and cook for a few minutes together until the flavors mix a bit together. Adjust salt and pepper.

Source: vanesscipes

Provencal Roasted Chicken with Honey and Thyme

Chicken:
1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, excess fat trimmed and giblets removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, sliced
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, zested in large strips
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey

Sauce:
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

For the chicken: Season the chicken cavity with salt and pepper, to taste. Stuff the chicken cavity with the shallot, half the thyme, and lemon zest. Set a v-rack or regular rack in a roasting pan, and brush chicken with a bit of the olive oil. Whisk the honey and remaining oil in a small bowl. Dip the remaining thyme in the mixture and use it to brush the chicken all over with the honey mixture. Season bird with salt and pepper, to taste.

Tuck the wings under the back, cross the legs, and tie them with kitchen string. Place the chicken breast side down on the rack and roast until the back is golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and turn the chicken breast side up. Cut the string where it holds the legs together and open up the legs a bit. Baste the chicken with the pan drippings, using the thyme sprigs as a brush. Roast the chicken again until the breast is golden brown and a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 170 degrees F., 20 to 25 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a carving board, and let it rest 10 minutes before carving.

For the sauce: Remove the rack from the roasting pan. Put the pan over medium-high heat, add the water, and stir with a wooden spoon to release the brown bits that cling to the pan. Strain the pan drippings into a small bowl and spoon off the fat. Whisk in the lemon juice, olive oil, honey, shallot, thyme, salt, and pepper to taste. Carve the chicken and serve drizzled with the sauce.

Source: Food Network

Posted by mich at 6:49 PM | dreams [1]

October 5, 2007

Kooza

I went to see Cirque du Soleil for the first time ever and I was so blown away. I've always caught bits and pieces of shows on tv, but it always just seemed "meh" to me on the small screen. For Kooza Christian and I got front row seats and they were amazing.

My favourite act involved this huge long contraption with 2 big hamster wheels at either end. Two guys at each end spun the end wheels, which in turn spun the big machine. Chris and I were sitting right in front of that thing which was pretty scary because it felt like we were going to get hit and we could feel the wind blowing in our faces! These guys were doing the CRAZIEST stunts that had the crowd screaming and yelling in excitement and terror. That was definitely the most exhilarating part of the night. Other performances I loved were the contortionists (but they made me flinch the whole time), a couple who did a dance-like routine on a unicycle, and a guy who did balancing poses on top of stacks upon stacks of chairs. Another amazing feat was done by the tightrope walkers: 2 guys riding across on bicycles connected by a stick, and another guy balancing on a chair on top of that stick! The clown segments in between were hilarious and so much fun too, and the juggler was juggling in a way I had never seen before &mdash with his head and feet. Everything about the show was spectacular: costumes, set and lighting design, and music. I loved it, I want to see them all now!

---

I cooked myself a pretty little dinner two nights ago and it turned out quite nice and tasty. The next day though I tried rice pilaf again and ended up with sloppy rice because I added way too much water for too little rice :(

Grilled Chicken with Fresh Tomatoes and Thyme

2 chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups red and yellow cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons chopped sun dried tomatoes
2 teaspoons capers (optional)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil (or lemon flavored olive oil)
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
Salt
Pepper
Thyme sprigs for garnish

Heat grill to medium high heat. Grill chicken breasts, turning once (about
7 minutes per side). Meanwhile, in large skillet add tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, capers, garlic, thyme, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Heat only until warm. Spoon mixture over chicken breast; garnish with thyme sprigs and serve.

Posted by mich at 5:30 PM | dreams [0]

October 3, 2007

Nuit Blanche 2007

The general consensus for this year's "art-thing" was a huge disappointment from last year, and I completely agree. Even though there were more venues and the event drew tons more people, I was quite underwhelmed by the big exhibits that I had been so excited for. Still, I ended up staying out until 7am (and without any caffeine!) to check out as much stuff as I could. In general, many of the descriptions were embellished and made a lot of the pieces sound much more interesting than they actually were; instead, a lot of the work felt uninspired and weren't as engaging. I really missed the creative approach many artists embraced last year in opening up private spaces to the public by converting them for different use.

MOCCA muralI started off the night at Parkdale and made my way towards the downtown core along Queen West. The first thing I noticed was the crowding — there was probably at least double the amount of people, and this year I noticed so many young kids running around (not cool for the artists who had to continually tell the kids to stop playing with their art installations.) The most interesting thing for me in that zone was Play By Hear at CAMH that was a series of horns connected together that mixes and distorts tunes from people's MP3 players. The "hub"Trinity-Bellwoods park was pretty much empty and non-eventful besides the horde of Scotiabank tents... total letdown.

Green ScreenOn the walk up towards OCAD, I went through Kensington Market in hopes to see the ASSBOOK project, where photocopier is available on site for people to photocopy their own fannies, but it was cancelled. Further down the market street I happened upon a booth set up by the Infinite Exchange Gallery, which was probably one of my favourite things of the evening. It was really low-tech, small and intimate. Each artist had an engaging project that called on collaboration from participants and in exchange for a piece of work, "buyers" would have to trade something, whether it be a story, a drawing, etc. One artist had set up a typewriter to write a letter or card to a recipient chosen by the requesting person, and in return the person sender would do a good deed. The artist would then draw up a letter of agreement stating the terms of the good deed and the details of when/what/to whom the letter/card would be delivered that was then signed by both parties. Another section of the booth was for creating BFF pins, where the artist would take pictures of the 2 BFFs and create pins so that each person would have a pin of their BFF. In exchange, each participant had to relay a story or memory of the person they brought. A third artist in San Francisco laid out a stack of homemade postcards and paint chip samples in different shades of greys and black and asked people to cut out the paint chip that matched the current colour of the sky and glue it on the postcard. The person then had to phone the artist in SF to give his/her name and address to receive a postcard with the current sky colour in her location. Really neat idea, except that the person who had called the artist before me got a message saying her voice mail was full. Bah.

White Line LightI continued through OCAD, Yorkville, U of T, the village and Eaton Centre, but everything just seemed mediocre. The hugest disappointment was Nightless City, which people had been touting as the fog event of this year. WRONG! It was was pure cheese as it was just the stores lit up in red light — a literal interpretation of a red light district. Some of the exhibits I quite liked included Ghost Station at lower Bay Station (which apparently had a 1-hour lineup early evening, but by the time I got there at 5am I just walked right in), a fun light-sensitive screen that people posed in front of to capture their shadows at the Italian Embassy, and white line light at the Old Police Station that was an eerie yet captivating light and sound installation consisting of 2 long floating electrical beams resonating with low frequency vibrations.

It was still a fun event to go frolicking about at night, but with such high expectations from last year I totally underwhelmed. If anything, this has inspired me to come up with something of my own for a future Nuit Blanche. For now, I won't be too sad to be missing the one next year, I'll just be looking forward to the one in Paris instead :D

Funnily enough, I'd say the highlight of my evening was the dinner before heading out for the night. Christian took me to The Parkdale Drink, where his friend is the head chef. So in addition to the entrées and appetizers we ordered, his friend sent out some fancy extra plates that weren't on the menu like smoked salmon with cream cheese and dill on Melba toast and a cute little risotto ball (to die for), PLUS deep fried banana dumplings and ice cream.

Posted by mich at 5:11 PM | dreams [1]