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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Top Ten Things I loved about this Christmas

Whew! What a holiday. I think it's a general rule that holidays are difficult for most people. I have to say that this year I was lucky in that I had a blast and a blast only. It's hard to narrow down, but here are my top ten things that were awesome about Christmas 2010:

1. Mulled wine

As you may have gathered from my photos in Turkey Tips from Toiv, we work in an open-plan office with six desks facing each other. We have called our area "The Eastern Bloc" in recognition of the fact that most of us come from Eastern European descent. This year, the Eastern Bloc decided to have a Christmas sweater party that was a raging success. Everyone brought some baked goods and I volunteered to make mulled wine. I have never made mulled wine before, but it seemed simple enough. Follow this recipe and you can't go wrong:

Mulled Wine
2 oranges
12 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
1 whole nutmeg
1 sliced lemon
1 bottle red wine
1/2 cup of sugar

This was not the recipe I originally followed, but I made some adjustments and the above seemed to be the batch that most people enjoyed. It is, of course a matter of taste. Begin by brewing a cup and a half of water with the sugar, herbs and fruit. Once the mixture has reached a boil, reduce heat and let cool for 20 mins, then add the wine. Serve immediately. The smell is ridiculously delicious and made the office smell the way you always hope your home smells at Christmastime (realistically though, mine probably smells like a pine candle, a litter box, and gluttony).



As mentioned, it was a Christmas sweater party, which resulted in:

2. This Photo of Sharla and Brown Santa

Not only did Nin wear a woman's cardigan that his wife bought especially for this occasion, but Sharla wore a 14-year-old Rudolph sweater with a built-in red light complete with battery pack:


Christmas vomited on them and it makes me very, very happy.

3. High Tea at the Wedgewood Hotel with Lana and Paul

Lana and her boyfriend Paul invited me to high tea with them, where we lingered in front of the fireplace for hours drinking Kir Royales and hot English Breakfast tea. Look how cute they are:


I love love!

4. Eggnog Pie

I found this recipe online, made it for the office party, and it was such a hit I made one for Christmas dinner. It takes about 5 seconds to make and tastes like frolicking with wood nymphs in an enchanted forest (or something):

Eggnog Pie

1 frozen pie shell
2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups eggnog
2 tablespoons rum
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 package non-instant vanilla pudding

Follow directions on the pie shell box, bake and allow to cool. In a saucepan, heat eggnog and add vanilla pudding mix. Whisk until thoroughly blended, remove from heat when large bubbles appear. Add nutmeg and rum, place in fridge to set.

Whip the cream until stiff peaks appear. Once set, remove the pudding mix and beat until fluffy. Fold whipping cream and pudding mix together, then pour into pie shell. Top with nutmeg, then allow to chill overnight.

I mean, look at this thing:


5. Pomegranate Martinis

On Christmas Eve, my mum and I like to have a little Christmas cheer and watch White Christmas, with Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby. This year, I decided to make simple pomegranate martinis with muddled pomegranate seeds, lemon juice, ice cold vodka and pure pomegranate juice. A lovely way to cap off the evening!

6. Mum's Curry

Another thing we like to do on Christmas Eve is make prawn coconut curry. Well, I make the rice and do some prep, then it's all mum. I don't know what it is with this woman and curry but she knocks it out of the park every single time. Since it was Christmas, we used a whole bag of frozen prawns, chopped up a handful of cilantro, a shallot, and a whole bag of Asian Family red curry sauce, which has lemongrass and coconut milk already mixed in. We served it over basmati rice and it was the best meal I had in ages:


7. This Pot


Santa (my mum) brought me my very first piece high-quality cookware: this stainless steel beauty I have named Edith (Edie for short). She and I cooked orzo together last night. I think it's love.

8. Stella's Holiday Collar

Stella is generally a good sport when it comes to putting up with my overloving her, dressing her up, and hugging her every five minutes. I found a Christmas collar at the dollar store and since she tore apart her reindeer antlers from last year, I figured it was time to renew her holiday spirit:


Something I didn't anticipate? Mad Stella is a ringer for Mad Carri. To wit:


 Spooky.

9. Holiday Log

About 5 years ago I bought this DVD for $4.99


I love the fact that this is the second edition, the first must have been a fucking runaway hit. I call it my log movie, and it features a crackling fire, optional Christmas carols, PLUS TWO BONUS outdoor campfires. It's atmosphere in a disc. I've used it for the holidays, I've used it on dates, I've used it when the heat busted in the Holly Lodge to psych myself into thinking it was warm in here. Every year I appreciate it just a little more. Thanks, log!

10. General Gluttony

I fed my face like it was Rome before the fall, and according to the scale at the gym, I didn't gain any weight! LOOKING at food usually makes me gain about 5lbs, so this is some kind of Christmas miracle. I had some amazing food, and that for me is pretty much the best way to celebrate the holidays. And? I got to see my mum, which always makes me happy. And friends. And cat. And log. And everything. I hope your holiday was just as awesome :)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Turkey Tips from Toiv

My friend and co-worker, Carri Ann, is one of those wonderful creatures who leads a life resplendent with quirky thoughts and actions without a trace of self-consciousness. Most of our work day is spent giggling at her frequent outbursts and non-sequitors. To wit: Carri recently bought her first turkey. The partial process is reenacted below in this photo essay (shot entirely in our office, with the assistance of found objects as props).

First, Carri needed the assistance of the staff when she couldn’t locate the “turkey section” in her local supermarket. When she found it (two LARGE bins in the meat section), she needed to call her mom to find out how to convert kilograms to pounds. (She could have done this herself if she had a smartphone, but Carri refuses to purchase a data plan. She has very definite ideas of how to spend her money). When she found her dream turkey, she then found herself on the phone with her mother, who wanted a chat. Carri wanted to humor her mom, seeing as she MADE her call instead of calling long distance herself (“she gets it free, it’s a bundle!!”) but sure as hell didn’t want to lose her turkey, so she stayed on the phone while maintaining constant physical contact with her bird “because there were other vultures swarming the turkey tank”. It looked something like this:


I should mention here there were at least 40 other turkeys available.

When the phone call ended, Carri was able to scoop up her bird and take it to the checkout, along with some sale eggnog (!) that she found en route. It is at this point in the story she dispenses her holiday advice: “put your frozen turkey in a cart or a basket, because it’s cold. Real cold”.

Lines are long this time of year, as everyone knows. Carri's arm and hand became increasingly cold and achy. Carri is also easily irritated. Mornings bother her, as well as being dehydrated, hair that is both curly and straight, and bad customer service. The line she was in was not moving fast enough, PLUS some woman was not filling the gap between customers in a satisfactory fashion:


You can practically see the stink lines coming from her stank-eye.

Lo, gentle reader, heed this warning. Do not end up like Carri this Christmas. For God's sakes, put your frozen turkey in a basket. I think we can all agree, this is a mournful sight:


Learn from her mistakes. Her strange, strange mistakes.

Cast:

Carri: Herself
Customer #1: Amanda
Customer #2: Christina
The Turkey: My purse
The Eggnog: My water bottle

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

it's getting hot in herrrrrr

.... with 8 'r's.

It's really hot in the Holly Lodge right now, the boiler and all the radiators are from 1912 and if they don't get heated to a certain temperature, they clang like the ghost of Marley (how's that for a Christmassy reference?). A lot of people are sweating like a whore in church but I find it glorious. There is nothing better to me than coming how from work, putting on pjs, turning off all the lights, lighting candles and the Christmas tree, and settling in with a blanket, a civil war documentary, and a hot cup of tea.

Tea is comforting on many levels. It's the warmth you swallow, the sedating quality of sitting, holding hot ceramic, the space in your day to feel and think nothing but good. I've been into sleepytime tea lately, as I have had a lifelong battle with insomnia and I find it actually helps (that, and I will not drink chamomile. I think it tastes like rotten lettuce). I like making it with a teaspoon of sugar and a little milk.

I've been feeling pretty lucky lately, and my private tea time has allowed me to observe that feeling even more. Around this time of year, I usually make a laundry list of gifts for everyone and an equally long list of New Year's resolutions for myself, usually starting with weight loss and ending with amassing a large savings. But I have to say that this year I feel a little different. I have a great career that I love, a beautiful home, a great cat, wonderful friends and family. I'm inside when it's stormy out and I don't have any physical illnesses or deformities. I have the kind of life where I am afforded the time to consider a raw food diet for the cat and whether or not I should take a wine tour in the Okanagan this summer. How many people around the world can say that?

So this Christmas, when I'm in the usual consumptive fever like everyone else, I'm going to try my best to remember this and not lose sight of my good fortune. And if you are reading this, then I'm doubly grateful to you that you would take time out of your busy life to read my ramblings. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Perogies for Boz

I'm half Ukrainian. That means I enjoy ridiculously strong tea, intemperate climates, plastic-covered furniture and vodka. Out of respect for my paternal grandmother - who died when I was 15 - I taught myself to make the foods she loved and could make in her sleep. I inherited some of her old cookbooks, which to me are more precious than 500 cats and 20 wheels of brie cheese, and have incredible names like "Ukrainian Catholic Women's League Cookbook". And just in case you don't believe me:


I started with perogies, that most delicious of Ukrainian fare, and moved on to borscht, cabbage rolls and beet leaf rolls (we like our food predominately in roll form). My friend and landlord Boz became ill suddenly a couple days ago and when I asked him what I could do for him, he requested my perogies. So I got to work.

First, you need a lot of time. This is not a one-pot, 1 hour meal. You will need about 3 hours on your first time and eventually you will get better, and will need about 2. Second, you will need fridge space and counter space. What you will NOT need is money. Perogies enough to feed an army will cost you about $20 in ingredients, and that's aiming high.

You will need:

Dough:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup deskinned, boiled, mashed potato
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 ½ cups of warm milk

Filling:

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
¼ cup butter
½ cup white onion
2 small deskinned, boiled, mashed potatoes

Like most things in life, there is a rhythm to making perogies, as well as a few shortcuts that I’ve learned the hard way. Allow me to share them with you: First, take three medium sized potatoes, peel and boil until quite soft, then mash. This can be done up to one day ahead of time so the process isn’t too tedious the day you make them. Next, fry the onions in the butter until they become translucent. Add this mixture to the cheese and what is left of the potatoes after you have removed one cup for the dough (see what I’m doing there?). Mix everything together so that the cheese lightly melts and it all begins sticking together. Place in the fridge and let cool for half an hour. The mixture should be cold when you begin to assemble the perogies.

Next, you work on the dough. Mix all the dry ingredients together with a whisk, then slowly add the warm milk. Blend together with your hands. Add more flour or milk if necessary. Once properly blended, the dough should be slightly sticky but not too sticky to handle. Turn onto a floured surface and knead 10 times NO MORE. This is key. If you over knead, the dough will be too tough to manipulate properly and the manufacturing process will be difficult. Place in a clean, oiled bowl and cover with a dish towel. Leave to sit for half an hour. This is the point in the perogy-making process where you can take a little break, have a drink, masterbate, whatever you’re into.

Once the half hour is up, turn your dough back onto the floured surface. Spread out dough with your hands, then use a rolling pin to roll it out very thin, about ¼ inch, maybe less. To make this easier, and because I have a tiny West End kitchen, I rip the dough ball in half and do half at a time. Feel free to find what works for you.

Hard-core Ukrainians use knives and freehand to cut the dough circles that will house the filling, but I’m not that talented, and I’m willing to bet neither are you. I use a glass, which gives me about 3 ½ inches of surface area, which is what you want. If you have a cookie cutter that will work as well. Whatever you can find that will give you a circle about this size will do: 


I like to cut all my dough circles out at once, then manufacture the perogies. As you can see from these photos, this woodblock surface is all the space I have, so I have to economize. I mean, look at this bullshit:


Once the dough circles are cut out, you can now begin to manufacture your perogies. Form a ball of filling in your hands about the size of a walnut, and place in the middle of the dough circle. Pinch the perogy at the top, then up one side, then the other. Make sure the perogy is sealed on all sides. Keep up a steady pace; the dough becomes dry if you wait, so get a rhythm going 'till you're done.



After they are completed, put a large pot of water to boil, set aside the ones you are going to prepare now, and either freeze or refrigerate the rest in a sealed container. Once the water is at a rolling boil, put in the perogies and stir with a slotted spoon, making sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pot. Once they have been in for about 5 mins, drain and set aside. Chop half a white onion and half a ring of kielbasa or Ukrainian sausage. Fry in a pan with a small amount of oil. Once the onions are translucent, add the boiled perogies. The key is to fry them on the bed of the sausage and onion mixture to impart flavour. Once the pergoies are brown on both sides, remove from heat and serve with sour cream. 


I brought some to Boz and he was crazy about them. Well, if I'm honest, it was mostly the meat. He looked great and I'm happy to think that some good cooking and visits from friends will get him back on his feet in no time!

So that, my friends, is how you make Ukrainian perogies. Make sure you tell everyone how hard it was to make them, bank extra sympathy for your hard work, you never know when you're going to need it.

Epilouge: I started writing this post about 2 weeks ago, and I thought the end would be different. Sadly and untimely, Boz passed away on December 7, 2010. His memorial was today, on the 6th floor of our building, where everyone gathered to have some food and beer and trade great stories about him. He was the landlord here for 30 years. He looked out for everyone, kept a gorgeous garden in the back, and raised his teenage son. So many people knew him and loved him. I wasn't personally especially close to him, but I really enjoyed cooking with him in the garden in summertime, smoking and drinking and carrying on with him, my girlfriends and Paco the maintenance man.

On reflection, this building - which has been my home for 7 years - doesn't feel as safe anymore. It's not exactly home the way it was. I know the only constant is change, but I hate that. There is a peace that should come from that fact, but I haven't found it yet. When I do, I'll let you know.

We'll miss you buddy.