Friday, December 31, 2010

Hockey Night In Canada - Project #10 - Icing on the cake

Before today, I spent about 20 minutes a day looking for jewelery and makeup. 20 minutes a day amounts to 5 days a year. 5 days a year! Wasted. But no more! Because yesterday, I spent about 5 hours sorting myself out.

There are two main projects here: a makeup organizer, and a jewelery organizer. These were both simple projects, and most of my time was actually spent sorting through my things. I threw out almost a whole garbage bag of old makeup, skin and haircare products, and put together a small bag of costume jewelery to take to Goodwill.

Jewelery organizer
This is made from a crappy old bulletin board that has been kicking around since we were kids. I was inspired by this. I spray painted the frame white first, and then I used spray adhesive to mount the fabric. I used one fat quarter from a pile of Amy Butler fat quarters that I bought a couple of years ago from Etsy.com. I foolishly sprayed a coat of adhesive on top of the fabric, thinking it would stick on better, and it did, however, it remained tacky when it was dry, and I could imagine all the pet hair and dust that would get stuck to it over time. So, I stuck on a piece of clear contact paper to make it smooth. Next, I screwed in a whole package of assorted hooks that I got from the dollar store, and hung my jewelery.




Makeup organizer
I have had these Mackis storage drawers from Ikea kicking around for a long time. I have even had my makeup in them, but it was just all thrown in, and I hadn't decorated it at all. Then I saw this on Ikea Hacker. I painted each drawer a different colour, and organized my makeup by type in each drawer. I actually used a Sharpie marker to draw on the vine, and label the drawers. Yes, I wrote my labels in French, because I think things sound nicer in French.
 Et voila! I have everything I need to get ready in one place.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hockey Night In Canada - Project #2-9 - Stairway to Hell

This project required many hours of serious, back-breaking labour. It's probably the biggest renovation sort of project I've ever done. 

When we brought Sweetie home, she immediately decided that our carpeted stairs were her back-up bathroom. She has made huge strides over the last while and her accidents have happened far less often. Up to now, I have spent many an hour cleaning the carpet with a Bissell carpet cleaner. I managed to keep it fairly clean, but over time it became harder because the quality of the carpet was very poor to begin with. Consequently, I feared letting anyone in the house  because of the mess of the carpet, and the smell. We did not have anyone over to our house for over a year, and it was probably one of the roughest patches of my whole life.

Anyway, one morning, I got up and decided I was going to rip out all the carpet and paint the stairs. This job took far, far longer than I ever imagined it would, and I have scars on my hands from blisters to prove it. But let me tell you, doing this has truly changed my life. I now spend about 10 minutes a week sweeping and wiping down the stairs, and a welcome by-product of this whole thing is that Sweetie has now decided to pee outside as much as possible. But never mind, if she pees, it gets wiped right up and cleaned right away, as opposed to never really getting the carpet completely clean. It's a miracle.

So, in case you ever decide to take on removing carpet and refinishing the wood underneath, here is what I learned from this experience.

Part 1- Removal
Ripping out the carpet is the fun and easier part. I strongly advise you to wear a mask, glasses, and work gloves. I also advise you to vacuum thoroughly before you begin. There will still be a lot of dust, but the vacuuming will help.   If you have a long staircase, you can cut the carpet into several pieces with a utility knife. This will make it easier to roll and put into a garbage bag or take out of the house. 
The carpet was probably attached to a narrow strip of wood across the back of each stair, with small nails facing upward that you will want to be careful of, so you don't cut yourself. 

Part 2 - Underpad removal 
Holy crap, this part was difficult. The underpad will be stapled all over with big staples. If you are lucky, most of it will rip away and roll up easily. Little bits will be left around the staples that you can pull away or just leave it for when you are taking the staples out. 

If you are as unlucky as I, you will discover that the underpad fused to surface of the stair, with a combination of pee and carpet cleaning solution having taken the effect of glue.  In this case, you will need a metal scraper and serious patience to try to remove as much as possible. 

It was during this process that I discovered that what lay under the underpad was nothing but pure evil:

I know, right? I cried. Seriously. But on I soldiered, and after many an hour, I had removed most of the underpaid and lots of the staples, and compared to what we had before, it was looking better already:
Part 3 - Cleaning stained wood
I had the amazing presence of mind to enlist my good old carpet cleaner to clean the wood.  I highly recommend this as it worked amazingly well. I can think of no other way that I could have gotten the wood clean enough to paint, because the filth really needed to be sucked right out of the wood. I filled the tank of the carper cleaner with hot water, vinegar, and a little tea tree oil. I probably cleaned each stair about 4 times, and each time, the wood became cleaner. Finally, for the last cleaning, I filled the tank hot water and bleach, and ran the cleaner over each stair once again. At this point, the wood was actually so clean that I contemplated staining the wood, instead of painting it. 

Part 4 - Staple removal
This is the part of the job that took the most time. There must have been a hundred staples in every stair. My husband helped with this part, and night after night, we sat on the stairs with pliers, a hammer and a chisel, and pulled out staples. The most heart-breaking part of this job was discovering that the carpet we had was not actually the first carpet that had been laid on the stairs, and we found this out because when the original carpet was laid, no under padding was laid, and the carpet was stapled directly to the wood, with a million, teeny staples, with extra long teeth. When that carpet was taken out, someone took the lazy-ass short-cut of cutting around the staples at the back of each stair, rather than pulling them out. Pulling this out was close to impossible and I very nearly gave in several times: 




I could not get a good picture of this mess; those are threads of age-old pink carpet, liberally stapled down.

In the end, we realized that getting the staples out was not going to work because we would ruin the wood. We pulled out as many as we could, and hammered the rest in. Finally, I had the idea to move ahead with painting the wood, and install a strip of trim to cover the remaining staples.

Part 5 - Painting
Again, fun and easy. I took a vacation day for this job. I chose to paint the risers white, and used an earth-friendly semi-gloss in two coats. I did the part you step on (?) in a taupe-y colour, because I figured it would not show every little footprint. I wish I'd done it darker now, but it looks good.  I used water-based porch and floor paint for that part, because I wanted it to wear and wash well over time.

Now, a challenge: we have a house full of animals, and no downstairs bathroom. I painted about 3/4 of each step first, leaving myself enough space to walk up and down. I kept the dogs downstairs, but of course they were in utter despair about not being allowed to walk upstairs. During this process, one cat ran through wet paint one time, and that was it. Then, once the paint was dry, I carefully went up and down in my bare feet and painted in the rest of each stair. By the time my husband was home from work, it was dry enough for him to be able to walk up. And voila:



Part 6 - Trim
My mom came up with the idea of using adhesive PVC trim to cover the staples that were left in at the backs of the stairs. This stuff costs $5 a roll at Canadian Tire. It is actually supposed to be for caulking tubs, but it works just fine for this purpose. The only issue is that you need a smooth surface for the adhesive to adhere, and we don't have a smooth surface, so sometimes I find that I have to stick the stuff back on, but it's fine. I could not get a good picture of it, because it's white on white. 


I swear, I hear angels singing whenever I look up there now.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Interesting reads

I'm going to keep a list of interesting things I come across here.

The Cross-Dressing Girls of Afghanistan

"...Afghan families don’t have only daughters and sons. They also might have bacha poshes–literally daughters “dressed up as boys.” A bacha posh enjoys all the freedoms afforded to a boy in Afghan culture, including the right to have a job, to play sports and to travel freely."

Live Freed or Die

"Dolly Freed is my hero. In 1978, at the age of 18, she wrote this smart, funny, and frank manifesto called Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money. In it, she explains how she and her dad (whom she refers to throughout the book as “the Old Fool”) lived on about $700 a year and had a jolly old time not having to answer to the Man."


Prostitutes of God

Or, how an ancient Goddess gets bastardized over time in order to develop an economy of prostitution in India.

From the website:

In Prostitutes of God, VBS travels deep into the remote villages and towns of Southern India to uncover an ancient system of religious sex slavery dating back to the 6th century. Although the practice was made illegal more than 20 years ago, we discover there are still more than 23,000 women in the state of Karnataka selling their bodies in the name of the mysterious Hindu Goddess Yellamma. They are known as Devadasis, or ‘servants of God’. From city red light districts to rural mud huts, we meet proud brothel madams, HIV positive teenage prostitutes, and gay men in saris. Our intimate exploration into the life of the Devadasi reveals a pseudo-religious system that exploits poverty-stricken families to fuel modern India’s booming sex trade. 


http://www.vbs.tv/en-ca/watch/the-vice-guide-to-travel/prostitutes-of-god-full-length-new

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hockey Night In Canada: Project #1 - Dog beds

My husband is occupied several nights a week, watching hockey. He swears up and down that I used to watch hockey with him, but I think I was just pretending, back when we were dating. I have a lot of boring winter nights during hockey season, so this year, I'm going to find myself a project every week.

I couldn't bring myself to pay $160 for new dog beds. My mom bought the last ones a couple of years ago when she found a great deal on them.

Most dog beds present a few problems:
  1. They are expensive!
  2. They aren't big enough.
  3. They are covered with ugly fabric. 
  4. You can't wash the inside part, only the cover, if you're lucky.
  5. They aren't waterproof in any way, in case of wet dogs etc.
So, I decided to make my own damn dog beds!

First, I picked up a roll of thick foam for around $20 and cut it in half. Then, I bought a couple of vinyl table cloths at the dollar store, where I also bought two curtain panels for $15. I wrapped the foam in the vinyl like I was wrapping a gift, and secured it with packing tape. Next, I measured the fabric by wrapping it around the foam and leaving a bit extra. I basically sewed a big pillow case by sewing down one long edge and then sewing both layers together to form a pocket. Then I just slipped the cover over the foam. Easy! It took me about 2 hours total and cost under $30.

Here is Sweetie, refusing to get on her new bed for a photo:



During this project, I lost my one and only bobbin for my sewing machine and had to run back out to the dollar store on the corner. They only had a big package of like 900 pre-threaded bobbins for $1. I love Chinatown. I have no idea how I will ever live without a grocery store and a dollar store in my backyard. I also have no idea when I will use up all those bobbins...

When I went in the store, the lady asked me if I wanted a banana. I swear, this is the third time a stranger has offered me a banana this year.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Butcher's Daughter

I am determined to roast a chicken and bake bread this weekend. As we were walking home from brunch, we popped into St. Andrew's Poultry in Kensington Market (lovely and clean, smells like freshly bleached laundry). I spotted free range, hormone-free chickens, two for $18. Wonderful!

And then I see that they still have their feet attached. And I need to lie down.

My husband says "is that what you want?" and I say "let's just get those other ones," and he says "why?" He takes a look and says "oh." Then, brave soul he is, he says to the butcher, "can you cut off their feet for her? Once she didn't eat chicken for a whole year because she saw one with feet in Chinatown." The butcher says "sure, I'll ask Carlos* to do it...do you want their heads?"

Oh for the love of Oprah! No, I don't want their heads! By now, I am near the front of the store, pretending to look at beans. Jason says "I don't think she wants their heads," and Carlos says "ok, no feet, no heads." Perfect. I try to imagine the chickens having happy lives in some sunny barnyard, I mean at least I'm buying chickens who lived like chickens, right? And I go to the cash register.

The other butcher takes our decapitated chickens to the front, and as I'm getting ready to pay, Carlos trots up to the front with a bag and says "here's your heads and feet." I feel myself go pale.

Jason looks at me and says, "it's an animal. So much for The Butcher's Daughter."

I know, I know. I was a vegetarian for several years, primarily to piss off my father ("do you want to put your dad out of a job?"). It was awesome. Most planet-friendly teenage rebellion ever.

*His name is not Carlos, I didn't catch his name. But he looked like a Carlos.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mounting prints on stretched canvas



On our first anniversary last year, we bought a calendar in Qubec City, featuring vintage, French olive oil ads. Halfway through the year I knew I couldn't part with these pictures, and wanted to do something with them. I originally had some black and white framed photos on the dining room wall and thought it was rather blah looking. So, I came up with this idea of scanning the pictures, mounting them on stretched canvases and hanging them on the wall. I'm pretty happy with it, and I've thought of a few other ideas I'm going to try.

On to the project! You will need these things:


  • Computer image editing software - Photoshop or Gimp etc.
  • Printer and scanner (if not using digital images)
  • Stretched canvases in a size close to that of the original photos
  • Package of clear printable lable sheets
  • Paper trimmer
  • Scissors
  • Decorative tape - I used black masking tape
  • Source of artwork - this could be anything, and it could be digital images

And here's what you need to do:

  1. Scan your pictures if required.
  2. Using the image editor, resize your pictures as close as possible to the size of the stretched canvases. For example, my canvases are 8"X10", so that is the size I made the images. This was a slight adjustment, so I did not need to worry about distortion of the pictures.
  3. Print the images on the clear lable sheets and LET THEM DRY for a few minutes.
  4. Carefully peel off the paper backing and stick the label to the canvas.

Optional - finish the edges to your liking. I used decorative tape.


And here they are on the wall:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Radio caca

Someone! Please! Remind me to never tune in to mainstream radio again. Check out the lyrics from this little gem that I just heard on WGAC Crap Radio or whatever I was listening to:

Just gonna stand there
And watch me burn
But that's alright
Because I like
The way it hurts
Just gonna stand there
And hear me cry
But that's alright
Because I love
The way you lie

Holy crap! It's from Eminem's Love The Way You Lie. Who likes the way something hurts? Who likes how someone lies? A doormat, that's who. I know, I know, it's just a song, right? So where does it come from, exactly? Where do the internalized messages and the self-loathing come from? What exactly is fueling the many girls and women in my life who continue to engage in brainless, damaging drama in their relationships?


Make no mistake: songs like these, and all pop-culture signposts like these, for that matter, are a key component of the steady junk food diet that continues to be fed to the brains of girls and women by the establishment. This diet ensures that the majority of those girls and women continue to allow themselves to be lied to and abused, and thereby crippled from reaching their full potential.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"It's fun!"
"It's part of the attraction!"
"I can change them."
"I just want to be pretty."

These are my top four favorite lines that have been spoken to me and by me at various times in my life, in regards to relationships with difficult people at best, and abusive people at worst. Notice I said "people" and not "men,"  because I continue to be astounded by the abuse that women loving women allow in their relationships.

What can you do? You can shift your mindset, you can look for people who treat you well and walk away quickly from people who don't. It's really quite simple. Do not pretend to enjoy how someone lies to you or burns you because you are lonely or think it's normal. Don't let anyone push you into raising your limit for bullshit, don't dish out bullshit yourself, and we will all be just fine.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Crockpot gyros!

Inspired by an old friend, I've had the idea for making my own gyros on my mind for sometime. I was saving the idea for summer, when I could do the final stretch of cooking on the grill. When we learned we would be backyard-less for the best weeks of summer, this was one of the many things I lamented.

Until I stumbled on this! It's crockpot gyros!

http://rainydaygal.com/?p=323

I made a few minor adjustments:

1. I did not use lamb, only because I could not find it on my way home. I used 2 pounds of lean ground beef.

2. I figured my gyros might be lacking in flavour due to having no lamb, so I put the onion and garlic in the meat in the food processor. I also added a good bit of crushed red chili pepper and rosemary.

3. I did not put onion and garlic in the bottom of the crockpot because I knew we would not eat it.

4. I put one egg in to help it all mix together.

Also, when we ate it, we had it with green salad, tomato, cucumber, tabouli salad and tzaziki on our plates, instead of having it as a sandwich.

It was delicious and I highly recommend crockpot gyros for indoor summer cooking. No oven required, no hotter house.

Monday, July 19, 2010

6 inspirations for summer eating - no BBQ required

Some of us don't have, or want a BBQ. Some of us live in apartments, some of us don't eat meat, some of us don't like the idea of cooking over a fire with any regularity. In any case, we still gotta eat all summer! And the magazines, cooking shows and blogs are all chock full of ideas that most often require a grill. Here are some sources of inspiration for summer eating - no BBQ required.

Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less

This list was published in 2007, and I return to it again and again, whether it's summer, or not. There are plenty of no-grill ideas on this list. Check out numbers 17 and 40 for two of my favourites. See number 41 for a simple idea for what to do with all that zucchini.

Summer Recipe: No-Bake Strawberry Icebox Cake

Now, is that not the prettiest and easiest summer dessert you've ever seen? I bet you have a box of graham crackers in the back of your cupboard. Go for it. I also bet this would be yummy with semi-melted ice cream instead of the whipped cream, and then re-frozen.

Double Broccoli Quinoa Recipe
Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks has been a little lacking in new summery ideas this year. I guess she's busy! Here's a recipe for a Quinoa bowl that I have modified in many ways. Sometimes I use a regular pesto and zucchini, sometimes I omit the pesto and use a chili sauce with other vegetables. You can do it cold as the base of a pasta-esque salad too.

Top summer salad recipes

There is nothing too original on this list of summer salads on Canadian Living, but it's sure to remind you of something you forgot about it. I forgot about chick pea salad!

Spanish Omelette

Try an omelette and a salad for dinner. Better yet, try this lovely Spanish Omelette, and check out the other recipes on Spain Recipes.

Picnic Sandwich Recipes

Martha has a nice collection of summer sandwich ideas. Radishes on a sandwich got me pretty excited. Some do have grilled meats, but you could easily sub in deli meats or poached chicken where it calls for grilled.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On the road again

Strange guy in rubber pants*: "Hey, do you have 19 cents? I really need to get home. I just f'd up big time and the cops are after me."

Me: "No, sorry."

Guy: "Well, how about $10?"

*They might have been pants for diving? Or perhaps a flood? It's 40 degrees out. I can't wear pants at all. Well, due to the heat and fact I have a really flat butt, but that's another story all together.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 1 of G20 week

Nothing very exciting happened today. I thought I saw some protestors, but it turned out they were girls giving out samples of a new conditioner.

I said "oh, I thought you were protestors," and one of them said "no, sorry...do you want some conditioner?" Given that my hair has been standing in a candy-floss like halo around my head since the humidity rolled in last week, I said "I would think the answer to that question is obvious."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Two step skinny chocolate milkshake

This kills my cravings for sweets and/or chocolate without no fat, no sugar, and great taste.

1 ripe banana
1 cup skim milk
2 tablespoons good cocoa powder

1. Mash the banana with a fork and freeze it for about a half an hour.
2. Place all the ingredients into your blender and whiz away.

Monday, May 31, 2010

5 great spring sewing projects on my to-do list

1. Hooded baby towel and washcloth set - isn't this the sweetest thing? Our friends are expecting and I'm going to sew one of these for their pending baby girl.

2. Spring ruffle top - love this, and no pattern required.

3. Duvet cover - I can't find anything I like, and I want something very light and bright for the bedroom for summer. This tutorial looks really simple.

4. Bolero from t-shirt - I can never have enough of these things. They are great for putting over sleeveless tops at work and for heading out at night when it might cool down. What a great idea to make one from a t-shirt!

5. Make a custom a-line skirt pattern for yourself - great idea! I've tried this before and never got the line right. I love how this tutorial tells you how to translate your measurements into the perfect skirt.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Desktops

Since I don't get to use Photoshop in my job as much as I would like, I am creating a new desktop for myself every month and posting them here. Feel free to use these on your own computer.

To set these desktops on your Windows-based computer:

  1. Click the image of the desired desktop below. The web page containing the desktop is displayed.
  2. Click the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner of the image to expand it to full size.
  3. Right-click on the expanded image and select Set as desktop background from the pop-up menu.
  4. Enjoy! 


    From December 2010

    From November 2010

    From October 2010

    From September 2010


    From August 2010

    From July 2010


    From June 2010



    From May 2010


    From April 2010

    Gorilla School

    Kleenex required! This video shows the touching reunion of Damian Aspinall with adult male gorilla, Kwibi, whom he hadn't seen in over 5 years. Damian raised Kwibi at Howletts Wild Animal Park in England and then released him into the wild in Africa when he was 5 years old.

    >>Watch the video on You Tube

    >>Visit the Gorilla School web site

    None of us know what we're doing

    “Because, that’s the thing about love, really. No one will love you how you want to be loved, they’ll love you in the only ways they know how. Life throws everyone down drastically different paths so how can we expect everyone to love in the same way? The person you’ll spend your lifetime with will love you in their way and you’ll love in yours, and maybe you’ll meet in the middle and it’ll last. None of us know what we’re doing, you see, we’re just fumbling for matches in the dark. If you’re lucky, you might eventually just strike the right one.”

    http://www.goodmorningandgoodnight.com/?p=984

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Italian Flag Lasagna

    OK, get ready to eat the best lasgana you've had in a long time, without all the work, and without feeling guilty! You heard me! This is vegetarian, low-fat, and low GI, but it tastes like the meatiest, cheesiest lasagna you've ever had. Trust me.

    I've tried a few recipes for vegetarian lasagna and I've never been happy with them. They all lacked flavour, most had too much cheese to be healthy, and those that didn't were dry. Not to mention, none had any significant source of protein. This recipe uses whole wheat lasagna noodles as a lower-GI option, and it features white beans for protein. The cheese is low-fat and significantly cut down from what you normally use in lasagna. This idea has been brewing in my mind for awhile, and I finally tried it out today. I love it, my man loves it, and I'll be making it again.

    Ingredients:

    RED LAYER
    1 cup white beans, cooked and mashed
    1 cup good pre-made tomato sauce
    1 finely chopped green pepper

    WHITE LAYER
    1 cup ricotta cheese
    1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
    1 small onion, finely chopped
    1 clove of garlic, crushed

    GREEN LAYER

    2 cups Bechamel sauce*
    1 small head broccoli, steamed or boiled until very soft, mashed
    3 T pre-made pesto sauce

    OTHER
    1 package whole wheat fresh lasagna noodles - no cooking, and one fits covers the pan!
    1 additional cup of good pre-made tomato sauce
    1 cup shredded white cheese of your choice

    1. Mix each layer separately.
    2. Spoon 1/2 cup of tomato sauce on to the bottom of the pan, top with a layer of noodles, top with the red layer.
    3. Add one layer of noodles, top with the white layer.
    4. Add another layer of noodles, topped with the green layer, topped with another layer of noodles.
    5. Top with the remaining tomato sauce and the grated cheese.

    Bake on 400 degrees for half an hour, let stand for 10 minutes, cut, serve and enjoy.

    * Make a Bechamel sauce with:

    3 T butter
    1/4 c whole wheat flour
    2 c skim milk

    Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and whisk together for about 2 minutes. Slowly stir in the milk and bring to a simmer.

    Saturday, March 27, 2010

    8 healthy changes to make in your home

    I started this post in January, but never got around to finishing it. At that time, I was thinking about how New Years is a mental motivator for change for many of us, and how I'd been making changes in our home around that time. Here is what I've been working on this year.

    1. Remove as much plastic as possible from our home and replace it with glass or certified BPA-free plastic, because of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisphenol_A. Also limit our consumption of canned foods, because the linings of the cans produced by most companies presently contain BPA. I've been looking for canned foods that state that the linings do not contain BPA. I have not found any safe stewed tomato products in cans, so I've switched to bottled.

    2. I'm making my own salad dressing, because bottled salad dressings most often use soy oil, which causes all sorts of problems - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soy#Health_risks, and because they can contain a lot of a sugar.

    3. I've been reading the labels of all processed foods closely (including bread and cheese!) and avoiding foods containing soy (often identified as "vegetable oil," or "soy lethicin," because of this: http://www.utne.com/2007-07-01/Science-Technology/The-Dark-Side-of-Soy.aspx

    4. I have ditched our Teflon or otherwise chemically coated pans because of this: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=124363. I've replaced our pans with good old cast iron pans, and I've seasoned them well http://www.wikihow.com/Season-Cast-Iron-Cookware, and I'm told that over time they will become the best non-stick surfaces ever. As a bonus, I read that small amounts of the iron from your pans will leech into your food, and improve iron levels in your body: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cast-iron_cookware#Health_effects

    5. I know use only earth friendly cleaners in our home. Not only are they cheaper and better for the planet, there are a large number of chemicals included in air fresheners and cleaning products that are suspected of causing human health problems - http://www.preventcancer.com/consumers/household/indoor_air_poll.htm.

    6. We have drastically reduced the amount of wheat products in our diet, and when we eat wheat, it is whole grain only. Learn about the ugly truths of white flour here: http://www.womenfitness.net/ugly_truths.htm

    7. I am happy and proud to report that I no longer drink bottled water. I have swtiched myself to tap water, which we keep in a pitcher in the fridge, there is a water cooler at work, and I avoid buying bottled drinks when I am out. Here's a report on the effects of buying bottled water: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2007/02/01/suzuki-water.html

    8. We are working on switching to hormone-free meats and dairy. Farm animals are often treated with hormones to make them grow faster and produce more milk. Hormone additives in the foods we eat can cause endocrine disorders, such as Type II Diabetes, and are suspected risk factors in the development of various types of cancer. As an important bonus, most farms that do not use hormones also raise their animals humanely. For more information, visit: http://healthlibrary.epnet.com/GetContent.aspx?token=9076b2c9-0730-4f1a-b6fa-5a462bb0a011&chunkiid=90869

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Freaky Friday - "Obviously, you've never been a secretary."

    You know, I go on about my business from week to week and then suddenly, it happens. It's not always on a Friday, but I just love that movie. I mean the original, with Jodie Foster as her androgynous little self. But I digress...

    I walked out the front door this morning and there was a wino sleeping on the stoop across the street. Nothing unusual about that. But then the guy yelled "DID YOU FORGET YOUR WEDDING RING? YOUR HUSBAND WILL THINK YOU HAVING AN AFFAIR!" He didn't open his eyes so I'm not sure he was even talking to me, but you know what? I DID forget my wedding ring! I went back in the house to put it on, because, frankly, we have no shortage of misunderstandings in this house ("I thought you said hot dog buns?" "No, I said hot CROSS buns, but only if they are really fresh, and if they are stale, I want raisin bread, but only if it has cinnamon." You can figure out who is who is this scenario yourself.)

    My work day was pretty uneventful, which I enjoy, because that means I get a lot of work done. When I left the office, I saw that first, blue-lipped, overly optimistic girl wearing shorts, with a sweater and rain boots. If any outfit says "hi, I live in Canada, where we can experience all 4 seasons in a single afternoon," it's an outfit like that.

    Anyway, as I crossed the street, I saw a homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk on the other side of the street, so I got a Loonie* out of my pocket to give him. As I approached he said "oh you look real nice, you must have some kind of nice job, like a secretary or something." I said "well, obviously you have never been a secretary, because it's not always nice." And he started laughing. A man came up behind me and gave the homeless guy some change, and he said "you ever been a secretary, man? It's not that great!" And the man said "ok..." and kept walking.

    So that's that, another Freaky Friday. Or is it? It's only 4:30...

    *Two notes on that point:

    1. For my international audience, a Loonie is $1. Ha! My international audience...I kill me.
    2. We keep a can of change at home for the express purpose of giving it to street folks. We feel that it is part of living downtown. There are a lot of people scattered around who are down on their luck. Is $1 going to change my life? Not unless I win the lottery with it! But it might make someone's day a little easier. And no, I don't care if they are saving change to buy drugs or alcohol. Whatever gets you through a night on the street, you know?

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Dear new dad from the doctor's office

    Dear sir,

    I didn't know what was going to entertain me when I arrived at my doctor's appointment a full half hour early by accident today. But there you were, you and your bewildered wife and newborn, with a seemingly endless selection of baby clothing, snacks, diapers, toys and small appliances, all packed into a stroller that is in fact the same size as my sister's car.

    I assumed you had just gotten to the office and were waiting for your appointment, but then I realized that you had actually finished your appointment, and were preparing to leave. I tried to pretend I was texting but I could not tear my eyes away as you unpacked your stroller. I was particularly impressed when you pulled out an electric bottle warmer, and proceeded to unplug some sort of medical-looking monitor-type machine, to plug your bottle warmer in.

    When the bottle was warm, after you and your wife took turns testing the temperature on your wrists, I'm sorry the baby only wanted approximately 0.0001 ml of milk before he began screaming again.

    Having no children myself, I'm sure it's all very confusing so I understand how you and your wife needed to loudly debate whether the baby had farted or pooped for close to 15 minutes. When your wife finally convinced you that he'd pooped, I think you were right when you told her that changing him on the seat of one of the chairs in the office would be "too germy" for him, and that putting a blanket over the magazines on the coffee table was a much better idea.

    I think everyone was sorry when you announced that you had to leave for work. By the way, did you know that you emptied the water from the bottle warmer into the pot of an artificial plant? Let's just be thankful that you didn't get any on those twinkle lights they had on the plant!

    I got called in for my appointment shortly after that, but when I returned, your wife was still there, packing up. When I left, she was trying to figure out how to hook the detachable car seat thing back onto the stroller. I asked her if she wanted some help but she said "no thanks" in a voice that indicated that she really wasn't very happy.

    I hope your wife got out of the office and on her way soon after that, and that you had a great afternoon at work. Maybe I'll see you guys when I go back for my follow-up appointment!

    Sunday, January 31, 2010

    Fast-forward bread


    Some of you may have gotten excited about some articles that were floating around a few years back for no-knead bread. I read this one on the lovely Amateur Gourmet Blog and was pretty nuts about the idea. Not nuts enough to actually do it at the time mind you, so I filed it in my mental archive for one fine day when I'd feel like making bread. Well, today is the day!

    But guess what? That recipe says the bread needs to rise overnight, plus another 2 hours! It was 3:00 pm when I read the recipe closely, so time was not on my side!

    Then I had a flashback of some sturdy lady yelling at us in some high school home ec class or another:

    "There are two things that make yeast excited, ladies: sugar and warmth!"

    That's when I noticed the New York Times recipe did not have sugar, did not call for warm water, and did not tell you to keep your dough warm while rising. And since I'm a betting woman, I bet those are the reasons you'd have to let that dough rise for 12+2 hours.

    So now guess what? With a few adjustments, you don't need to let the dough rise for 12 + 2 hours at all. I just added sugar, and only let mine rise for an hour, plus a bit while my oven heated up, and the bread was excellent. I probably lost something in flavour or texture, and I will try the overnight method when I have more time, but this bread was fantastic.

    We had it with this wonderful Yellow Split Pea Soup from Heidi Swanson's beloved 101
    Cookbooks blog.

    And away we go!

    1. Turn on your oven and let it get warm while you complete step 2.

    2. Mix the following things together in a bowl and stir well with a fork:

    3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
    1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
    1 1/4 teaspoons salt
    1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (I used brown)

    3. Turn the oven off! Add 1 5/8 cups water to the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

    4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, put it in the warm oven and go do something else for an hour, or as much time as you have.

    5. After at least an hour, take the bowl out of the oven and shape the dough into a ball. Put it back in the bowl and cover it.

    6. Turn the oven back on to preheat it to 450 degrees, and put the pan you plan to use in the oven to heat it.

    6. When the oven is heated, carefully take the pan out of the oven, put the dough in it, put a lid on it, and bake it for half an hour. Then take the lid off and bake for another 20 minutes or so.

    And presto! You have yourself a really lovely loaf of bread that tastes like it came from some fancy bakery in some quaint European neigbourhood.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    4 step healthy Asian inspired soups for one - to go

    I have been constructing lovely soups for one, just made one for tomorrow, and I thought I'd share. This is a great idea for when there are no leftovers to take for a lunch, but it works perfectly well to make on the spot and eat on a chilly night when you're home alone.

    I was inspired by this recipe, and came up with this version that is simple to make and take to work with me. Basically, it is miso paste, assorted vegetables, a source of protein and noodles.

    I love red miso paste, and I buy organic paste, but any kind will do. Any kind of vegetables cut small, raw, frozen or cooked work just fine. For speed and nutrition, you really can't beat frozen vegetables. For protein, I have made this with shrimp as I did here, cooked leftover chicken or other meat, little cubes of tofu, and frozen meatballs. I love dried buckwheat soba noodles for taste and nutrition, but any kind of noodles will work. If you are using long, dried noodles, break them in half to fit your bowl and also so that they will cook more quickly when you prepare your
    soup.

    As for storing this soup before I eat, these are my rules:

    all frozen items = no fridge needed

    some frozen items + non-frozen items = no fridge needed

    all vegetables with or without tofu = no fridge needed

    cooked items that are not frozen = fridge needed

    You will need a large-ish bowl with a fitted lid. The bowl I use is 4 cups. Note that you will be adding boiling water to this bowl, so you should not be using plastic unless you are certain it is BPA free. There is some debate about whether heating plastic releases chemicals into food that may have various, serious health consequences.

    Here we go:

    1. Place your vegetables and proteins in your bowl until it is half full. Top with a bit of chili flakes and about 1.5 tablespoons of miso paste, which you are welcome to adjust to your taste. I have used frozen shrimp, frozen broccoli, frozen spinach and fresh green onions here:


    2. Place the noodles on top as shown below. I have a theory that doing this makes sure the boiling water hits them first and makes them cook faster.


    3. Cover your bowl and go on about your merry way. Store as required by the contents of your soup.

    4. When you are ready eat, boil a kettle of water, pour it in your soup just below the rim of the bowl, cover your bowl, wait 5 minutes and enjoy. Theoretically you could also fill your bowl with cold water and microwave it until hot and let stand.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    How to make a giant storage bag from grocery store recyclable bags

    If you're like us, you buy more of those recyclable bags from grocery stores than you actually need, and have amassed an impressive collection of them. This idea came to me when I was figuring out how to store a Christmas tree we were given. Last year, it lived in a giant TV box that took up most of the floor space in our storage room. I wanted something that would take up less space and be easier to carry. Thus, the giant storage bag was born! I plan on making a couple more of these to hold other bulky items that need to be stored, like off-season clothes and bedding.

    Time required: 2 hours
    Level of difficulty: easy

    You will need:

    6 large recyclable shopping bags that are close to the same size
    Scissors
    Sewing machine
    Thread - this is a good time to use a spool that you don't need/like/want

    To do:

    1. Cut down one side seam and cut the bottoms off of all the bags. Leave the handles on two bags, and cut the handles off all the other bags*. You will end up with big rectangles that look like this:


    2. Thread your machine and set the stitch width to a wide stitch. Take the two bags with the handles still attached and sew them together along one side.

    3. Take two of the other bags and sew them together along one side. Repeat for the last set of two bags. You will now have three big rectangles, made of two bags each. The one with the handles is the top of the bag.

    4. Sew the big rectangles together along one long edge of each bag. You will then have one big rectangle that looks like this:


    5. Fold your big rectangle in half and sew the front and back together along the two remaining edges. You will have a big bag that looks like this:


    And here it is, neatly holding our Christmas tree:



    Yes, that's a cat butt in the bottom right hand corner.

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    How to get 3 days of meals from one chicken

    Buying and roasting a chicken is one of the simplest, most frugal things that I do. I buy a 4 pound, organic, free-range roasting chicken for $12 using my grocery service. This chicken forms the basis of 3 dinners for my husband and I, 2 lunches for me, and a greatly appreciated dog treat for our 2 girls.

    The chicken

    1. Thaw the chicken either in the fridge or in a bowl of ice water.
    2. Soak the chicken for 2 hours in salted water with lemon juice and vinegar.
    3. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
    4. Place the chicken breast-side up in a roasting pan. Salt and season as desired. Sometimes I put lemon halves and/or whole peeled onions inside the cavity.
    5. Roast the chicken with the lid on for 1.5 hours. Take the lid off and roast for another half an hour.

    That's it! You can use the drippings to make gravy if you wish.

    Day 1

    I serve the chicken with a starch and 2 or 3 vegetables. My husband prefers rice and I prefer to experiment with grains such as Quinoa. Sometimes I will do a simple pesto pasta and we'll share that.

    I package 2 small containers for lunches for myself, and I put together plates or bowls for the next night's meals. I also package a small amount of chicken to be used in dinner on day 3.

    As I am carving the chicken, I will put aside the odd bits of meat and skin for our dogs.

    Day 2

    I have leftovers for lunch and we both have leftovers for dinner. I might cook different vegetables or have salad instead.

    Day 3

    I have leftovers again for lunch. Sometimes I will decide to only have some chicken with salad. For dinner, I will use the small package of leftover chicken as the basis for a simple meal. Some things I have tried are: tacos, pizza, quick soup and stir fry.

    This makes for a very easy week of cooking for me. I did this today actually, because I know I'm going to be pooped this week, while I get back into the groove after being off work for 2 weeks.

    My Dinner Plan


    Background

    I know people who become frantic about what they are going to eat for dinner every day. I have been that way myself, and it has nearly driven me mad. This is why I have developed a Dinner Plan.

    Since my husband and I moved in together, I have handled the shopping and cooking. I think I do both well and I enjoy both tasks. I only really handle dinners, because my husband prefers to buy breakfast and lunch at work. I eat simple breakfasts at home, and usually take dinner leftovers or salads for lunch.

    Before this, I had a room-mate who loved to cook, and taking over this responsibility for two people, plus working full-time, has been a challenge in planning and time management for me. Over the last few years, I have developed a plan that seems to work really well. I don't have to worry so much after work, I have a couple of easy nights during the week, and I have time to do other things.

    Advantages

    This is not an approach for those who are interested in frugality. My husband purchases two meals a day, I do not cook every day, we order in once a week and we eat out twice a week. This is the lifestyle we want to have, we can afford it, and this is partly why we live downtown. We have plenty of high-quality takeout options, and many wonderful restaurants close to home. Also, I pass two good, small grocery stores on my way home. I can be in and out in 10 minutes at both of them, and both are well-priced.

    All that said, now that I'm planning, we actually spend way less on food than we did previously. There was a time when we'd order in or go out up to 4 nights a week, because we didn't have a properly stocked kitchen and/or I was just too tired.

    Anyway, here is my Dinner Plan. Maybe this will help you organize a plan of your own, and cut down on your stress.

    The Plan

    Sunday - We handle our own breakfasts and lunch, and I cook something big for dinner that will serve us for two nights. I put my lunch and the next night's meals together. I do this because I have time, and because I am usually very tired on Mondays.

    Monday - I tend to shop for fruits and veggies on my way home. We have leftovers, plus salad or soup to stretch out the meal if needed. I usually make a salad for my lunch.

    Tuesday - I either cook something for two days, or part of the meal for the next day. For instance, if I'm cooking beans or meat, I will double up on the batch and create something else with it for Wednesday. On Tuesdays, I feel like I am back on track more, and I have the energy to shop and cook as needed. I package leftovers for my lunch for the following day.

    Wednesday - I make something simple using ingredients from the previous night's dinner. I tend to do dinner salads, cold plates or pastas. I might even do a quick soup and serve it with salad. Again, I package leftovers or make a salad for my lunch for the following day.

    Thursday - We order in. I requested one week night where I do not have to think about dinner, and my husband decided that this means he orders in. Every other week this is also the day my cleaner comes, and we have a grocery order delivered that evening. On the last Thursday of the month, I get a manicure and pedicure, so once a month I have a major treat on a Thursday. I don't even need to pack a lunch for Friday, because my Friday treat is going out for lunch.

    Friday - Fun Dinner Day. This day has recently migrated over from Wednesday. Growing up, my dad worked late every Wednesday night, and this gave my mom a chance to cook something not classified as a "proper dinner" by my father. This was the day we got things like tacos and grilled cheese sandwiches. My husband I had Fun Dinner Day on Wednesday for many years. We did not eat together on Fridays because one or both of us often went out on our own with friends, or else, one of us was exhausted and didn't feel like eating much at all. These days, both of us tend to be home on Friday. Since I'm usually feeling tired, I have switched Fun Dinner Day to this day, because fun dinners can be pulled together in a flash.

    Saturday - We go out for brunch and possibly dinner, or else we order dinner in. This is generally organized, with my input, by my husband. About once a month or so, I actually feel like cooking on a Saturday.

    So there you have it! This is the plan that gets me through the week without much stress around what we're going to eat.