Friday, 22 June 2012

Chicken stir-fry wraps a la Martha

I bought a cook book a while back, Great Food Fast, with Martha Stewart's recipes. I must admit I did not know who she was until she was arrested, but now that I have this book I am truly beginning to appreciate what she does. This book is fantastic for someone like me. The recipes are easy and most of the time I have the ingredients in my pantry, and when I don't it is not all that hard to find them.

I have tried quite a few of the recipes and just did a search on the internet and found the link to Martha's website. Some of the recipes from the book are on it. But the chicken stir-fry isn't. The book suggested serving it as a wrap with Boston lettuce. But I know that will not go down well with my boys so I served it with rice and green beans.

I think I will work my way through this book. I am glad I have the book because I find that way easier than looking things up on the internet. I guess I have a long way to go before I start reading e-books...or whatever those books on computers are called. Books are bit like food for me, I have to be able to smell them as I read them.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Lemon drop cheesecake

I love cheesecake. My favorite would be a regular cheesecake with blueberry sauce. Lemon cheesecake however is a new idea. Since I love the citrus flavors I thought this might be worth a try, especially since recipes from Canadian Living have almost always turned out great (when I follow instructions).

This recipe in the magazine had lots of pictures and I was so excited when the candied lemon peels turned out perfectly. They were yummy. I imagine they would be great to add to a lot of other recipes. I just lack the know how to begin pairing it with other foods. Although I love orange and chocolate.

For the cheesecake, the batter itself was a wee bit tricky for no other reason than that my brain just fries itself every now and then and fails me when I need commonsense. I unpacked and washed a food processor we have had for nearly six years to make this cake. I saw a line that said liquids should not go over that point. I thought to myself that it can't be a big deal. So I added the ingredients and kept going. When it got time to lift the cup and pour the batter out that line seemed pretty important. Well, lets just say that I managed to get most of the batter into the cake pan.

The other thing was that I just could not find graham crackers for the crust at two super markets. Now where on earth do you find it. I looked in the baking foods aisle and the cracker/snacks aisle. So I just went with some random cracker I had in the pantry. Not a good idea, I had a very soggy crust. And the cake cracked a bit, not sure why. The light frosting however,, helped cover the crack prefectly and the candied lemon made it look so darned pretty. If you didn't get it yet, the candied lemon was my favorite part of the whole cooking process.

The cake itself was too big for a family of two and a half (Offspring does not count as a whole person yet when it comes to factoring in serving sizes). So I distributed it to the neighborhood. It even earned me a few surprise compliments. So all in all, a keeper, I would make this again.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Got hit by shit

I just realised I have not posted in a ridiculously long time. I also realised I was beginning to get anxious and twitchy. That's when it hit my that I have not been sharing the sordid details of my life with how many ever anonymous readers there are.

So the reason for my absence is pretty much explained in the post title. It has been raining crap for the last two months. It all started with having my wisdom teeth out. While I had hyped myself no end, the whole process was so simple and brief. However, for anyone who has had their teeth taken out you probably know that the real trouble is not with having them out. It is just like having a baby. The labour and delivery seemed like a walk in the park for me compared to when we got home with my little bundle of screams. It was a similar experience, I ended up with something called a dry socket. Well, there are easy fixes, it was taken care of.

Just as I was getting over this nonsense, I met with an accident while driving to work. The other driver just drove into me. Yeah right! That's what everybody says right. I didn't say that initially. I thought it was totally my fault for having made the left turn when this woman on the right turn only lane t-boned me. I refused to move the car. I was too stunned, because in the corner of my eye I was looking for the car that ought to pull up alongside me, because that it what people do when they get on the goddamn right turn only lanes. So the crash was totally unexpected. Scary, but my immediate reaction, "oh no, I crashed my Hubby's dear old car." He has been driving this lady for nearly twelve years and she was in ace condition. No exaggeration.

The last I saw of the trusty old Girl

After waiting two hours for the cop, and another two hours of statements and time in the cop car I got a ticket for turning when it was not safe. I don't know what happened to the other woman. It was one of those days, pouring rain and wind and just a crappy day in all. I am now waiting on a court date to contest the ticket because I am convinced it was not my fault. I have had to make the same maneuver a couple of times since then and I have been fine. Hubby pointed out why it was not my fault because when you look at the intersection from the direction in which this woman came at me (picture below), it is impossible to hit me unless she was trying to get on to the far left lane, which is what I was turning on to, or she lost control of the vehicle. So now we wait, not sure what will happen to the insurance, hopefully we can sort this out before it comes up for renewal.

I was where the red car is when I got hit...sigh.
On the same day this happened a cousin of mine, 42 years old, had a stroke. She is still in a coma after two surgeries and cerebral edema that never went down. She has two boys who are convinced their mother will be well and a husband who is sitting by her everyday, completely in touch with reality yet hoping for a miracle.

So I go forward, praying for this beautiful woman and thanking the power beyond all comprehension for sparing my life, yet again. I only hope I am still here for good reason and that I learn what it is, sooner than later.

On that note I best be off and do some serious work. Stay tuned, I will keep up with some regular rambling from now on.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Some Jay glory

Winter is gone. In actual fact it never did quite arrive and Spring just waltzed in. But this seems to have completely confused all my precious flora and fauna. The blue jays for one were around all winter and now they are here in flocks. 
The best way to lure Jays - peanuts!
I usually wait with much anticipation in early May for the beautiful blue creatures, but they got here a few weeks ago. Or, like I said, probably never left. I wonder what this means for them? Anyhow, this little post is not so much a musing of their plight but more of my efforts to take pictures of them in all their glory. 

The picture that started it all, I am going to be working on this for a while

It is a work in progress, and I am scouring the website for any information their might be in my efforts to photograph them in flight. 

Eerie landing shots - I kind of like the effect of the contrasting shades

This must be accomplished with my limited paraphernalia as I simply refuse to spend money on anything other than essentials right now. If you must know it is more out of need than a matter of principle. 

My personal favourite

I am also for once quite grateful for technological advancement, and digital cameras in particular. I snapped nearly 198 shots, that with a film camera would have cost me an arm and a leg, perhaps even my head in the current climes! Not to mention I will not be posting this for at least another month.

Just look at the form, the colours...
I love birds, fuzzy sleepy heads, angry faces and all, but I do believe they are most beautiful doing what we admire them most for, flying. Perhaps we will all look our best if we were doing what we are all meant to be doing. Pity it isn't as simple for us humans to figure out with the slightly more evolved brains.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Peace or piece?

Some days are better than others for me and weekends for a housewife are no different from the work week. Sometimes it means more work than the so called work week. So when Good Friday rolled around we hadn't make concrete plans to do anything for the weekend I cooked lunch (the way us Sri Lankans cook no matter where in the world we go) and decided to hit the eliptical for 30 minutes. I don't get to do this often, in fact it is only the third time this year that I actually made time to exercise (I know, I know!). Since Hubby was home I thought I would take advantage.

Just as I came down to the basement and got on the machine both Offspring and Hubby came down too. The former decided to jump around the couch sending my heart rate way higher than the exercise alone did and Hubby was calmly checking maps for a drive!! What?! Seriously, can you not watch the kid for half an hour while I burned off the fat that I have been lugging around for three years? I was a bit ticked off and finally I said, "can't I have just half an hour of peace?"

My Offspring quickly jumped on the couch, reached out to me and said, "here you go Amma, here's a piece for you," and handed me a piece of his play-doh!

I may not get much peace right now, but the pieces my kid hands out reminds me to smile and thank God for the little Blessing.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Food for thought?

Staying home with the Offspring has resulted in me living in a la la land of my own. I experiment with cooking, having finally discovered that it does help live in denial of reality, if not relieve stress. My posts of late have had a lot to do with food. Today, as I carried a bag of groceries to the car I was wondering about the heavy bag of  food for two adults and a half pint. We as a family are guilty of throwing out food, food that can probably feed at least two children comfortably for a day.

The West African food crisis is only one of many reasons I feel so guilty. It isn't just about food, it is about the inequality that has prevailed through time. Reading about the current situation in West Africa really pains me, partly because I always wanted to work among these people. I wanted to be a doctor and serve people. I mean really serve people. I wanted to go to them, not wait around for them to come to me.

I realize now that even if I had become a doctor like I wanted to I would probably be paying off debts incurred to get through school. If I had got through that I most likely will be caught up in the bureaucratic bullshit involved in working with these people. If I had gotten through all of that I would most likely be watching these people die every day while I still had ate at least one hearty meal a day.

I have been reading a lot about the causes for the inequality, why I get to cook a meal that would clog our arteries while these people starve for want of a morsel, but none of the literature has a solution. I sometimes wonder if the solutions are edited out of what I am reading...The sense of helplessness is at times overwhelming.

I think it's time to return to la la land. It is all I can do for now. Or is it?

Monday, 2 April 2012

Moju inspiration

Inspired by the moju that turned out so well I cooked a whole meal. I figured if I used the some of the spices from the moju recipe I might be able to get the flavour of fried rice that I so love. And I did! It was the cloves. I never use cloves in my cooking because I never knew what it could do. Now I do!

Seeing how the rice turned out I just kept going and put together a whole meal that any self-respecting Sri Lankan living overseas would appreciate. It is still way below the standards of a meal cooked in clay pots using spices ground on stone over a wood burning fire. Sigh.

I blew my nose and drank copious amounts of cold water to calm the heat from the meal. Now that is Sri Lankan cuisine to me.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Moju magic

I love spicy food. I have been asked often why I eat food as spicy as I do. I don't know why. But then I do come from an island that was colonized by the British partly for its spices. So I guess we people have a spice gene that needs satiating. One of my favorite foods from the good old homeland is moju. I must admit that until I met my beautiful author friend I didn't know what it was called. She and her husband can cook up a storm. I have been fortunate enough to have tasted their's and my friend's mother's cooking. Moju was a regular dish on their menus.

I tried cooking moju from recipes that I found in books, the internet, word of mouth...nothing worked. It just did not taste as good. In my desperation to simulate the sweetness of the dish I even tried using dates. Sometimes it is just simple ingredients, as I discovered when I read through a fool proof recipe.

I asked my dear friend if she had a recipe that she could share. It is not that she would not share it with me, but what I have found is that most brilliant cooks do not have recipes for foods like this. Especially one that someone as anal as I could follow. But my lovely friend's mother did! Or perhaps she painstakingly went through it in her head to give me ingredients and quantities. I am convinced that is what happened. Thank you Aunty. I wanted to cook it for the Christmas lunch we were having last year, but it never happened. I finally got around to it late last week.

I started work by assembling all the ingredients. Something I don't always do, but I wanted to do the recipe justice.

All prepped, nothing was left to chance, down to the two piece of 1" rampe

I added only what was called for. I did panic a bit when there was no quantity listed for the small red onions and capsicum, but it turned out okay, I think...

If those aren't pretty colours...

And Aunty W, you are my hero! As my Offspring would say, it was um um um :).

Moju a la Aunty W

Friday, 30 March 2012

An update on the 'fright'

So it turns out the City does deal with things in a half decent fashion. Good to know, it is after all our tax money that is at work. I got a call from the pool supervisor where our Offspring goes for lessons. She had not been there the day of the incident. She was at the union negotiations (of course!). She spoke well and asked how we were doing and stressed the importance of bringing our little guy back for lessons. We understood that, but I wanted to know what they would do to address the incident and future safety during lessons.

They are adding another instructor to manage four preschoolers! Fine by me, but why? They are also considering opening up a new session on Fridays and we can move our little guy to that time slot if we would like to. I am fine with that too, I would like to avoid the boisterous boy if I can. I know she can't really speak about that kid, but it seems like that is one issue. But it isn't ours. So I am not going to worry about it.

I also asked what authority the teacher has to ask a kid to leave the pool if s/he does not behave. Her response,  was something akin to - not much really, you know these days we have to be really careful. First of all we don't know if the child has been diagnosed with a behavioral issue, and if he has the parents must disclose the information for us to deal with the child appropriately. The other things is that these are preschoolers so a time out would be a serious issue and we deal with different kinds of people and really, we can't do much - part of the response is understandable. The second half is political bullshit.

She also did not once admit that the instructor was perhaps wrong to have gone under water. She lost sight of them, it was just a split second, but as we saw it was all it took for two kids to slip under water. She defended the instructor and said she was excellent, perhaps, but I have yet to see it. I will only take him back for lessons because I do not want him associating all the negativity of the last lesson to the water/pool.

I am now waiting to hear if they are opening up the Friday session and if we can move our guy, if not I will watch to see how the lessons go and if I am not happy I will pull him out and demand a full refund. I can always take him during family time and continue to let him have a safe and happy time in the water.

That's our monkey in his sandbox filled with water.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Fright of my life

Hubby and I had a fright of the worst sort. We took our Offspring for his swim lesson after a three week break (just the way City programs are organised). He loves the water, his swim lessons and was looking forward to seeing his old friends. We had warned him his old friends may not be there and that he would have a new teacher. His first reaction was, "I want my Jessica." He eventually warmed up to the new teacher and three boys, including ours, got in the pool. The class limit was four children so I knew one more would join them. These are all children under five and our little fella was the youngest.

So I set him up and went out to the viewing area to watch. Hubby and I were a little taken aback at how quickly the instructor was getting the kids to put their head under water, etc. We were not too worried because this was his second session and he had done those things with the old instructor, albeit, nearly six weeks after he began lessons. After all, these lessons (called Preschool Swim) are meant to get the children ready for serious swim lessons at age five. It is not meant to have them training to compete or anything. He was doing okay, coped well with the dunk and was still chattering away.

Midway through the class an obviously boisterous boy joined the group. That was the fourth kid on the list. His mother took a seat next to us and laughed at how stubborn the boy was and that he would not follow instructions. Hubby and I did not find it funny and got a bit anxious at what would happen if he dragged one of the other kids into the water with all his antics. But things progressed okay.

In the last four minutes or so the teacher put them on a large float and pulled the float asking all four of them to beat their legs. They were doing okay until she went under water to check something (I am still not clear on what she went to check) when two children, including our Offspring went under water!! My heart is racing even as I write this. She grabbed one kid, our guy was still gone, then she got him! And let him go again. I ran into the pool area and by the time I got to them she had him and he was crying. I picked him up, so relieved he was screaming his head off. Never have I been so happy to hear him cry. I was still shaking and in no mood to talk to anyone. I soothed my baby and rocked him for a while listening to him complain and how he wanted his Jessica back.

The reason why the teacher lost our son when she first grabbed him was because the boisterous little monkey rocked the float to hard. He was laughing. I know it is not his fault, he is but a child. But surely the teacher had to have a talk. This Jessica my son absolutely adores has had many chats with the Offspring. Our child is no angel, but today he did behave so very well and he was having such a good time until he went under water. It was the teacher's job to check kids who do not behave because the safety of the other children is at stake and that is what happened today.

My usually calm and collected Hubby let the instructor know he was not happy with how she was handling the kids and that she needed to check the kid who rocked the float so hard when she was trying to get the kids from under the water. After I had stopped shaking I brought him into the women's change room and was changing him, still not in the mood to talk to anyone when the boisterous kid's mother walked in cracked a joke about the drowning and how he should know to hold on. I snapped, I turned around and said, "you should try and chat to your son about listening to the teacher." It is all I said and she started yelling about me blaming her son. I was not, it was not his fault, but if he could just stay tuned to the other kids...I tried telling her I was not blaming her son but she wouldn't listen. I was angry at her partly because she finds her son's indifference to authority funny.

When I came out of the change room she was waiting outside and I told my husband what I had told her and she started yelling again about me not having manners and I should not speak about other people's children. I feel bad about the whole situation, but I was the mother who saw my kid go under water, he cannot swim, he is three years old!! I do not find any of it funny. None of the other mothers tried to joke about it. Everyone gave the little guy a pat on the back and said he should come back next week. No one spoke to me. I still need to have a good cry because I was so scared. I thought I lost my baby.

Perhaps I am very wrong with what I told the mother. Perhaps I should have apologized to her. I don't know. She does need to deal with her son. I deal with mine on a daily basis, especially about his interaction with other kids. Everyone's child is special and I do not want my son hurting someone else's baby.

The teacher was genuinely sorry and she said she would never do what she did today, going under water when the kids were on the float. It is disconcerting for children. I want to follow up with the pool folks on how they address incidents such as this. Neither Hubby nor I were in the state of mind to talk to anyone today. We were both angry and upset and wanted to leave.

I can't let this go, I have to go back and talk to the pool administrators and then maybe follow up with the City. But what I really want to do is just go away, away from this horrid City, away from people who cry racism for every little thing, away from all this political correctness...I just don't want to deal with any of this anymore! I need a time out.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Lamb chops a la Dork

We had a very expensive meal this weekend. Lamb chops, Australian lamb chops at that. When I say expensive I am not speaking of the money we paid, but more about the cost of production, transportation etc. We do have lamb every now and then, but every time I pick it up at the grocery shop I hear that small voice of reason tell me how environmentally unfriendly that is, in so many bloody (literally) ways! But the carnivore in me cannot resist temptation.

It turned out pretty well for chops that were pan seared and popped in the oven for an hour while the Offspring entertained himself (a rare occurrence) and Hubby and I discussed Arundhati Roy's most recent essay (a topic for another time). I usually have fresh rosemary, but this time I just used some dried herbs, plenty of garlic, black pepper and fennel to rub over the chops and seared them on the pan and then transferred to a baking dish. I popped it in the oven, covered, to cook for over an hour. We all eat the meat well done, hence the hour. And lest I forget Hubby made the mash from scratch.

So that's dinner a la Dork, vast improvements if I may say so myself. Perhaps I should try a greener meal next time? Greener in every sense of the word!

p.s. While my cooking has improved I am getting nowhere with taking decent pictures of my accomplishment. Such a bummer.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Embalmed Roses

While at Canada Blooms (yes, I am still on that, it is my usual Spring highlight, just a tad tainted this year) we were negotiating a really crowded aisle with a sleeping child in the giant stroller when I noticed a man holding out a rose. It seemed like he wanted to give it to me, but he seemed very reluctant. Being the cheeky monkey that I can be sometimes I said, "thank you very much, that is so sweet." He quickly pulled back and brought the flower close to my face. I figured he just wanted me to smell it, it was really fragrant, just like my English roses. But they seemed a little worse for the wear. I looked at him as if to ask what the deal was so he started to explain.

"You see, they are like embalmed roses," he said. That is the first time I had ever heard of embalmed flowers. Apparently these guys take out the sap and replace it with something akin to embalming fluid. Fancy that! I have seem human bodies being embalmed but never thought of flowers being embalmed.

They seem like a fairly large organisation and it looks like they came all the way from South Africa to exhibit their work. Iluba has a local operation too. The folks at the stall were lovely, not to mention the accent. I could have stood there listening forever about how they did what they did if it weren't for the fact we were on a short time line (we had to get through what we wanted to while the Offspring napped) and we were being jostled by everyone who passed by. Also the idea of dead flowers posing as live ones did not appeal to me.

I love fresh cut flowers for their short, vibrant and fragrant lives. They don't drag themselves around and stink up like us humans. But embalming is a novel idea, but not one that appeals to me. I think I have made my point. Having said that these guys do some pretty amazing work. Check their South African website. I, in the meantime, will simply wait for my roses to show up sometime in June and enjoy their fragrant and fleeting lives.

My very own David Austin's Golden Celebration

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Only a little confusing

Apart from getting my blog going (which still needs an enormous amount of organizing) and taking care of offspring full time, I have also been pursuing some career options. One of them being an international PhD scholarship to the one place I am certain I am connected to in some cosmic way. I got all the documents done on time except for my Masters supervisor's reference. You see in the academic world this becomes super important, it is often not about what you can do but what someone else says you can do. Well, I guess it is pretty much the same shit everywhere. Anyway, as per usual, he disappears on me and when I finally get a hold of him on the phone he apologizes and says, "as you know I prioritize based on deadlines" whatever the hell that may mean! What it meant this time was that when he finally completed my reference and tried to upload the document the website was down and so he did the next thing suggested on the instruction sheet, email it to a general information address provided. He just forgot to mention that was what he did.

I kept checking everyday but his reference did not show up. So finally I email him after Hubby convinced me even super smart academics can screw things up for us. That is when he told me what he had actually done. So I email Heather XXX at my cosmically connected Uni (or so I thought) and forward my supervisor's email asking what could be done. She writes back saying she is no longer with the graduate office and that I must contact the office directly. So I write to Dr ZZZ (sort of the Goddess of the office) and get an out of office message saying I should contact Heather XXX. Since Heather XXX wrote saying she is not with the office anymore I shoot off an email to the Girl in all my frustration. Thank God I did.

The Girl then wrote me saying I ought to write to Ms ABC and explain the whole situation, which I did. I once again get an out of office reply saying I ought to contact Ms DEF or Ms GHI. I forward the email to Ms DEF and cc the Girl. The Girl writes back saying it sounds desperate enough for someone to take action and then asks Is Heather XXX the same as Heather YYY. Because in all my emails I refer to XXX while it was YYY I should have been writing to. XXX is at U of T, while YYY is at my cosmic Uni in Australia. Oh God! I feel like shooting myself. Trust me, I for a minute had no idea what to do. So I write to Australia explaining the error and wrote to Heather YYY saying I made a stupid mistake and had got her name mixed up with someone else. I also wrote to Ms DEF explaining the error.

All this happened over a period of 12 hours. I have two Heathers in my mailbox and just did not pay attention to the last name when I hit enter as I sent the messages out. Lessons learned - 1. Pay close attention to names and email addresses, you'd think I would know that by now; 2. Never do anything with the Offspring rattling off his story about the jungles; 3. Check, double check, triple check emails to anyone of consequence, especially if they don't already know you are an idiot and you don't want them to think you are one!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Sustainable practice in my backyard?

Is that even possible? I have, in my efforts to attract local wildlife, tried to find native plants with little luck. Not to mention that anything I do find ends up costing a ridiculous amount of money. But I managed to find some information at Canada Blooms. Perhaps the only useful thing I did while there last weekend.

I attended a talk on sustainable urban gardening. Guess what, the expert tells me not to turn the soil over. We have very hard clay in Toronto, unlike the sandy soil I have seen in Australia or the fabulous soil that is a lovely mixture of just about everything in my country of birth. So splitting perennials or transplanting them can be a back breaking task, not to mention making up a brand new bed. After all the digging I did, this lady says, don't dig! Better late than never I guess. So that is one thing, don't dig, or at least the message was that you don't have to.

The next was to find native plants. I have picked up information on a whole lot of gardening clubs in my area. Now I have to find the time to look them up so I can meet up with like minded people. Here's hoping the colour of my skin or my appearance does not put them off. I am dealing with quite a bit of that lately. It seems South Asians are not considered keen gardeners. Perhaps this whole migrating all over the world is seen as unsustainable? No pun intended. But I will try and find those native plants.

I am also looking forward to exchanging plants and getting some for a fraction of the cost of buying it at a nursery. Most importantly the talk has meant that if my roses die I will let them go to rose heaven and  get a few native plants that my feathered friends would be attracted to. I already have the bees buzzing in the yard.

March 16, 2012 - this picture should not be possible on this date!
Last but not least, she said start by stretching and then begin exercising. Makes sense. There would be no garden if the gardener cannot sustain him or herself. So if you have done no gardening so far it is probably a good thing, temperatures are dipping below zero next week and you have time to loosen those muscles a bit.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Canada Blooms 2012

If there is one event I look forward to each year it is Canada Blooms. I have been to the show twice before and both times I was blown away by the creativity of gardeners, florists, bird watchers, horticulturalists...basically like-minded people. I have had great conversations, taken a lot of pictures and simply had a lovely time. In 2009 I accomplished all this with a two-month-old breastfeeding baby!

Canada Blooms 2009 - feature garden

Last year I missed the show and was really upset. So we planned well ahead for this year, got the tickets and prepared for every kind of scenario with a three-year-old in tow and got to the show just after it had opened. For once I even got an empty SD card in my camera and charged the batteries. However, when I got to the show and walked through the doors I felt this huge sense of disappointment. I just saw stalls everywhere, not an indoor 'field' of tulips or fantastic flower arrangements.

One of many many beautiful flower arrangements

It felt like a humongous, messy marketplace. I did not take my camera out, not once. All I would have likely managed was the backs of people's heads anyway, most of whom seemed to be angry and in a great hurry. In all fairness I think the focus was on the National Home Show this year. But the sheer volume of people coupled with more stalls than the place could have comfortably accommodated did not make for a pleasant time. There was no room to walk let alone with a sleeping child in a stroller.

Canada Blooms 2009 - Another fabulous feature garden

One thing the stalls did accomplish was to get us to part with a sizable amount of money. We now own three steam irons (don't ask!), some fabulous lily bulbs (the Girl would love them), a glorious African violet, some (apparently) fantastic mineral make-up and the Offspring scored a fancy egg shaped night light that changes colours.

It seemed like a show for someone interested in the home show, either looking to renovate, buy or build a house and then contemplate a garden. It was not for the gardener or art lover in me. 

Fabulous sand sculpture, also from 2009

We saw none of this fabulous art work, just tonnes of vendors. Canada Blooms is open for ten days this year, I am not sure having it open longer with fewer attraction is worth it. We figured it all boils down to dollars and cents. I felt sad when it was time to leave, I don't think I will go again next year.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Speaking of hummingbirds

If there is one thing I would like to do before I die (actually there is plenty I would like to do before I die) it would be to take a national geographic quality picture of a hummingbird. I won't do much with it, perhaps post it on a blog, if blogs exist until then and frame and hang it up for myself. Sometimes you just do things because you want to do need for rhyme or reason.

This is one of my early efforts to photograph the smallest bird ever to flit around this beautiful planet. Squint a little and tilt your head slightly to the left and you should see the bird. I will try and work on it more this Summer so you won't have to squint or work out your left from right.

Hummingbird cake

Baking a decent chocolate cake spurred me on and I decided to try the recipe for a hummingbird cake. It was also mainly because I had a pineapple at home (an ingredient I am not likely to have on the shelf) and I figured it ought to be better than using canned fruit. I baked the three layers as suggested by the recipe and got three really nice looking cakes. The road to getting them baked was quite challenging since the Offspring decided to help and dunked flour on himself, the floor...we basically made a big mess. But in the end it all got done and the cakes were baked. I had no cream cheese so I refrigerated the cakes to frost later. 


The downside to leaving things for another time is that I tend to meddle. I used nine inch pans and felt the cakes were larger than the ones in the picture (I know!), so I 'trimmed' them. I ended up with three cakes of different sizes. On the upside, the edges I cut out were tasty, a little too sweet for my liking, but yummy. I can see why its called hummingbird cake, it is very sweet.

The next day I went out and got the cream cheese, made the frosting while Michael Buble sang me a few ballads and frosted the cake and sprinkled the coconut, and did it look lovely or what! It looked so pretty. I wish I had the Girl to take photographs for me.

Pretty hummingbird cake
 Sadly the cake was not as yummy as it was pretty. It is rather a heavy cake. Moist, yes, but not soft. The tanginess of the cream cheese frosting does balance the sweetness of the cake, some people may love it, but not me. I liked it, but I didn't love it. I am not sure I would bake it again. I might try making cup cakes with the recipe, that might be a better way to go. I would also try reducing the quantity of sugar. In all fairness my cake was not as dark as the one in the picture shown with the recipe and I needed more frosting between layers. That may have affected how it tasted, or not. All in all, not a good effort. 

I am disappointed but certainly not deterred from trying something else. 

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Pioneer effort

I have baked cakes successfully for about five years now. However, when I made chocolate cake I had only Betty Crocker to thank for. I finally decided I must try and bake one from scratch. I have a fabulous cook book that Prashani gave me, but I find it a tad intimidating. It calls for half a wine glass of something and being the chemistry lab geek (some may call that OCD) that I am, I need to know what kind of wine glass, etc. because the measurement will vary with the size of the glass, won't it!

And so I searched the fabulous internet and found Candian Living. I buy the magazine on occasion and have found the recipes actually work so I decided to try their chocolate layer cake recipe. It called for at least one last minute run to the shops for two cake pans because I did not have two of the same size to bake the layers. The trouble I have with trying new recipes is that I often find I don't have one ingredient or utensil and when I improvise I mess things up.

I worked on the recipe, following instructions diligently, and produced a pretty yummy cake that didn't look half bad. My only trouble is that all my cakes tend to rise in the middle and doing layers can get tricky. Even though I don't like to I might have to cut the top off to make a nice flat layer cake. I wish I could have shared it with my chocolate loving friends.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Cedar Waxwings

It is always fantastic to spot a bird you've never seen in the wild before. I am getting rather good at spotting new species of birds, if I may say so myself. Here's proof of the flock of cedar waxwings we saw over the weekend. 

My first ever picture of a cedar waxwing

 The pictures are misleading, it did take a 300mm zoom and some editing to see them as clearly.

They were quite restless, there was a fair bit of human traffic where we were so they kept flitting about. I never quite got a look at the red tips older birds have on the wings. I have to assume that they were all young.

Tad windy there!
I also managed a few shots of their so called amazing aeronautic capabilities. If I could I would have sat their all afternoon watching these beautiful creatures. 

Just look at the pattern on their tails!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Soaring weekend

The weekend we put the clocks forward is always tiring, at least since the Offspring arrived. We also pushed our luck with him a bit trying to get a few things done which ended in a scream fest, but all in all it turned out to be a half decent weekend.

To be honest I have to force myself to remember what we did because everything is overshadowed by the fabulous pictures (by my standards/capabilities) I got of my feathred friends. Looks like I don't have to entirely give up on wildlife photography, I just have to be more realistic and perhaps happy with one grand shot for a season.

Sunday morning, lounging in the backyard with my little monkey eating 'snack' and sipping tea we spotted a red-tailed hawk. Not easy to photograph and not with an excited little boy at my feet. This was the end result, not as sharp, but you can identify it. We need to take care of these guys because according to my bird book they have thinning egg shells, a sign that we have too much pesticides in this area. I will stick to my garlic and vinegar in our yard this summer

I did meet yet another fabulous bird, will post as soon as I get the chance to go through hundred odd pictures to pick the best ones!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Spring forward

Another sure sign that Spring is just around the corner is losing an hour of sleep! We are on daylight saving time starting 2:00 am. I used to like the idea because the days are long and we could enjoy the backyard, etc., but since the Offspring arrived it doesn't seem like such a good idea. Getting him to bed tomorrow will be such a struggle. By the time I've convinced him that he must sleep before the Sun, it is already rising on the other side of the world and with it my plans for a quiet drink on the patio. Ah well, at least we can sleep with windows open...oh my sweet Summer breeze...

Thursday, 8 March 2012


The Girl is giving a fabulous account of her trip to the US and Canada and she has posted some beautiful pictures of fog/mist along the Eastern coast. It reminded me of home. 

I am a tropical being in my heart of hearts. I took these pictures some seven years ago when I visited family. I grew up in the tropical highlands, where mist is a daily occurrence. 

In the tropics we are not likely to see fog along the coast like the Girl and her Boy saw along the Atlantic, but the highlands are magic.  I love the mist, I love walking on a misty day along tea plantations...and as a child there was no end to my imagination.

There is something so romantic about mist, I've never found it frightening. Driving can get tricky as you never know what is coming around the next bend, and there are lots of them up in the hills.

Everything looks twice as beautiful.

I have so many memories of misty days and long walks and so few pictures. This is not the best picture of this tree, but I know exactly what it looked like that day and no matter how many pictures I take sometimes I just cannot capture the moment, the feeling. That's what makes a fabulous picture and that is what the Girl has accomplished. Well done Girl!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Spring Garden 2011

This was my garden last year, I should say my Spring Garden. I was totally taken my surprise at the lovely salmon (shame I can't find a more floral hue to speak of) tulips. I just put them in the soil after a planter I had bought had gone its merry way. I had forgotten all about them. I also cannot take credit for how all the colours played out. Last Summer we messed with the flower bed a bit with planting annuals etc., so I am not sure how things will turn out this Spring. The tulips are already beginning to work their way out. So here's hoping they put on a show for us again.

The interesting thing about my garden is that it receives varied amount of light and therefore heat (I presume). Notice how things are different from one end of the flower bed to the other? The tulips in the far left of the picture are yet to blossom. The good thing about it is that I have some colour, almost all of the time. If things are so different in one tiny flower bed, how different it must be in this big big world?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

So much for the calendar

Last winter I was counting down to Spring, desperate for warmer weather. It had been a nasty one, we had all been ill throughout and it was a trying time in general. As always I waited for the robins, and they finally showed up in mid-March. This year, they arrived in mid-February!
American Robin

For once I was not waiting for the robins, I know not to look for them until the ground is beginning to thaw, but the poor dears are here. I wonder what could have brought them back so early? It is not yet Spring, definitely not. What is making these birds think that Spring will be here soon? They are working with a different calendar to what we have. Humans are so out of sync that I am worried about the planet, the changing climate and what it means for the world my son will live in.

It isn't just the robins, the red-winged black bird is here. I saw an American goldfinch today, not yet quite the fabulous gold, but they are here, still in their shabby winter plumage. I am keeping the feeder filled and hoping they survive the next couple of weeks before the world warms up a tad for us.

American Goldfinch enjoying some catmint
What is even more shocking to me is that my tulips are coming up. The crocuses are pushing through, but to see tulips in March in Toronto is not normal. Ah well, while concerned, my heart did skip a happy beat at the sight of the bulbs pushing through.

First of the crocus in 2011

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Social suicide? Nah!

I, like most people I know, got sucked into the whole Facebook and social media business. I connected with people I thought were gone for good from my life. It was great, for a while. 

Last week I had a brief tryst with fate and while laid up in bed in pain, scratching myself and drowning in diuretics I realized that a lot of the noise in my head had to do with Facebook. I am not yet a total bitter old bitch, but I am getting there and some people's comments and their opinions were getting to me. 

I contemplated culling my list; then I considered what my bosom bud has done, create an alternative profile for close friends, but it felt like too much of an effort. I thought about who it is I would miss if Facebook crashed one day, my list of friends boiled down to two people!!! Both of them write me, Skype with me on a regular basis. As for family, I couldn't lose them if I tried. So I deactivated my account. I am amazed at how much time I have and how quiet and settled my thoughts are. 

I am the sort of person who cannot ignore or overlook other people's troubles. I take it to heart and then my brain processes it. I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about these people and they don't even know about it. So I decided to let it go. I am glad I did.

I have exchanged nice long emails with one of my friends since and have a Skype date for tonight with another. I also have plenty of time to get a lot of other things done. If I have committed social suicide by getting out of Facebook it just might be the best thing I ever did, for myself.

Monday, 9 January 2012

All a-Buzz

It so happens I have another cake story. Not all that funny this time just a lot of pain. I didn't know piping was equivalent to lifting weights. When I set out to do this I thought to myself, "how hard can it be to squeeze some sugar and butter out of a plastic bag on to a cake?". Apparently a tad more difficult than I thought.

This was a Buzz Lightyear cake for my Offspring's third birthday. He explicitly said he wanted A "Buzz cake". He told half his little world he was having a Buzz cake. I was nervous about making it so I searched the internet for a cake maker. I am not too good at finding things on the internet but I did find a bakery that makes fancy Buzz cakes. The catch - it was in the United States (shipping might be an issue) and it cost no less than a few hundred dollars. I couldn't justify spending that much money on something he doesn't even particularly like to eat. So I embarked on a cake making adventure.

My friends have all been very kind and generous with their praises for my efforts to the point of me feeling a bit embarrassed because it was not that big a deal. Anyone can do it. Really, seriously!

I bought a shaped pan and then followed instructions and if you compare the picture on the website/pan cover to what I have done you can tell it was the work of someone just learning the ropes. The colors aren't a great match, the grey and green are a bit dark and the outlines very shaky. Here is a series of pictures on how I went about it.

I baked two cakes because I needed one for school and one for the party at home. One had more batter and the crust got a bit crunchy before it was cooked through, which is preferred by the boys. So I let that be. The second one was perfect.

The day after I baked the cakes I started work. I was very impatient with the sides, I have never been able to smooth the sides. I figured I could fix that later and got started on the face because I was on a timeline. This is not work that you can do with a three-year-old around. I had to get it done before he came home from school.
Setting out...
The eyes and mouth took me nearly half an hour, I was trying to be really perfect which is one of my pitfalls. I can be really hard on myself. But then I reminded myself that this cake was for the Offspring and even if the cake remotely looked like his hero he would be thrilled, so I moved on. I got the outlines done, but as I started to fill in the colors I had to keep patching the outlines.

The real challenge was working from a mirror image, which I had not given much thought to before I bought the pan. However, I did read the reviews on the website by other cake makers attempts which gave me a heads up on the issue and I went slow with the outlining and was careful before I started to fill in the colors.

Line and all the finicky bits are in.
Once I got all that done I was rather excited to start piping. I had never done any piping before so I practiced on a plate. I couldn't get it as pretty as in the picture, and again reminded myself that this was for my baby boy. I forged ahead.
Making progress
I made good progress. The upside to icing two cakes at one time is that the quantity called for in the instructions is adequate for two cakes. You can't pipe with a tiny bit of icing, so when you have a quarter or half a cup of icing you might as well do two cakes. Its just the muscles of your hand, forearm, arm and neck that might not appreciate it. That's a lot of muscles!
And we're done
After five hours and a very sore arm the cakes were done. I was pleased with it, but as I said, it was not that hard and it is far from perfect. This is not the work of a genius, but a mother desperate to make her baby boy's birthday as special as she could. I think it was a hit.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Such a flawed machine

Since one of my goals this year is to put me first, I made it to my doctor's office today for a scheduled physical. We did the usual chatting and she took swaps and smears and whatever else she needed and then got talking to me about a recent blood test. It seems my body is attacking itself!

I find the human body absolutely amazing, I teach this stuff and I can get students to love it because I do, sincerely do. At the same time I am constantly reminded how terribly flawed it is. It is so messed up that we have built an enormous industry to prolong its life. But in the end it gives up, it does not last forever. So when she told me that it was an autoimmune condition I asked her what triggers it. No one really knows apparently. I have some theories. I doubt anyone will listen. It will make for a pretty good medical thriller.

It was kind of scary getting my medication at the pharmacist who said, "is this your first time?" I nodded yes. He then said, "well you will have to take this for the rest of your life, or at least until blood levels stabilize." I could tell he added the last bit to make me less anxious.

One thing is for certain now, I have no reason to let life pass me by, I simply have to live it, the way I want to!