Stolen Salad

Hurrah! I managed to recreate the summer pasta salad that I like so much at Pete’s Frootique.

My eyeballs identified the main ingredients when I first saw the lovely dish among the offerings at the Frootique – tortellini, cherry tomatoes, string beans, and parm. My taste buds told me there was lemon in the mix. And the label told me the one other ingredient – plain yogurt.

I’ve not had much success recreating dishes without a recipe but I thought I’d give this a try. So I cooked about 3 cups of store-bought cheese tortellini, blanched about a cup of chopped string beans, and tossed them with about 1 1/2 cups of whole cherry tomatoes. I zested some lemon into it and added more than just a sprinkle of parm.

Then came the guessing game of the dressing. I combined the juice of one lemon juice with a couple of tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt. It was runny, so I dumped some out and added another heaping tablespoon of yogurt. Final proportions were probably juice of half a lemon and about 3 tablespoons of yogurt.

Mixed it all up, portioned it into containers for grab-and-run work lunches, and waited. By 11:18 this morning, I was starving and desperately curious to know how it turned out.

Spectacular! I’ll be making this stolen salad again and again.

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Opportunity cost of mini meatloaf

I’ve never been so fired up about math in all my life.

In fact, I’ve always hated and struggled with math. Homework routinely ended in tears when I was a kid. I knew just enough to figure out the pre-calculus mark that would be pounded in harsh black typewriter ink onto the first report card of my Grade 12 year. I recall a classmate asking if it should have read 92. Alas, 29 was correct.

It didn’t get any better in university, although I was able to avoid more of it. Stats and economics were the only required courses in my undergrad that seriously involved math. I squeaked by in both.

And now, here I am, diving head first into algebra, graphs and complicated sounding things like production possibility curves, opportunity cost, and elasticity. And that’s only two weeks into the first of two economics courses in my Master of Public Administration degree.

It’s terrifying. I mean really terrifying. My biggest fear is failure, and tackling this subject puts me in great danger of having that fear spectacularly realized.

But at the same time, I feel like it’s high time I get over this particular fear. That’s the attitude I decided to set for myself as this course loomed before me.

So that’s nice, I’ve got a good attitude. But here’s the amazing thing: this math, this economics – it’s constantly on my mind. If you were to stick electrodes all over my head, you’d see a brain lit up like a Christmas tree, working, struggling, stretching, growing.

I may be a fish out of water, but I’m a very determined fish and also very curious. So much so that, even though I’d planned to take tonight off and start at it again tomorrow with fresh eyes, I found myself going back over course materials and doing some algebra and graphing refreshers on the Kahn Academy website that I’d recently signed up for.

Interestingly, as my brain buzzes with the sparks and flashes of a-hah moments when I get it and steam comes out of my ears when I don’t, a link to a blog post from the Kahn Academy founder plopped into my inbox today. In essence, it said that failure is good because it’s only when our brains struggle that they grow.

Yes, I actually brought myself to type those words. Failure is good.

This is a major breakthrough, folks. If you knew me, you’d understand that this is really big news. Other arguments in favour of that statement, like Einstein failing umpteen times before making game-changer discoveries, never really sank in. Logically, they make sense, but they weren’t able to penetrate my fear.

But this one…maybe it just hit at precisely the right moment for me to finally buy it.

Not that I plan on failing this course. Oh no. I’ll fail umpteen times at practice questions all in preparation for successfully finding my way to the minimum required B+ average, at least.

turkey meatloafIn order to do that, I spent Labour Day stocking my freezer with homemade meals because now that school’s back in, I can’t afford the opportunity cost to my studies of cooking mini-turkey meatloaves.

You see? I’m learning!

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ps – How to make mini meatloaves? Just take your favourite meatloaf recipe and make it in a muffin tin. Easy peasy.

Friday night nachos

IMG_20140815_183805It’s Friday night, the week is done like dinner, and I want nachos.

Nothing fancy about my nacho prep. My only ‘secret’ is to sprinkle a little cheese over the chips before adding chopped pepper, tomato and green onion and then topping with more cheese. It helps everything stick together rather than toppings sliding off the chips.

IMG_20140815_182841What really makes the nacho experience for me, though, is my homemade guacamole.

I despise cilantro, a key ingredient in most guac, so I never buy the stuff. If I want it to not taste like cactus – which I have tried, true story – then I have to make my own.

I stick to the simplist of ingredients: avocado, garlic, the white part of the green onion (the green part goes on the nachos), a little tomato, and a splash of lime juice.

IMG_20140815_183304I make the whole thing right there on the cutting board. Chop the garlic and onion together, mash it into the avocado, then fold in the tomato and lime juice.

You see that napkin in the ‘final product’ photo? Yeah, that’s because it’s about to get deliciously messy in there.

Here’s to Friday night!

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La vie en vélo

IMG_1924Well I’m a little browner and a little leaner since my last post. A week on a bike will do that.

Just spent a glorious vacation cycling aux Îles de la Madeleine, with the rolling hills of Prince Edward Island on the way there and back. It was fantastic to be back in the saddle again, riding along with friends old and new.

I revelled in drinking in all the heady scents of wild roses, clover, Queen Anne’s lace, mossy forests, and of course, the salty ocean air. I wish I could bottle these scents, but since I can’t, I make a point of taking a great big inhale every time I see a clover field or bank of wild rose bushes, and guarding the scent memory to make me smile some day down the road.

IMG_1910My sense of taste was equally well treated. The majority of our 14 cyclists tented for most of the tour, and cooked our meals in the great outdoors. We’d often start with happy hour, pooling our nibblies and raising a motley array of beverage containers to the day’s adventures. Then as evening set in, it was time to get cooking.

For me, camp cooking does not mean beans and wieners. Why eat a completely brown meal when you can enjoy sautéed scallops with snow peas and grape toms tossed with pasta, garlic and parm? Nothing fancy or difficult about it, and it sure beats dinner from a can.

While breakfast tends to be on the modest side, my friend Karen and I thoroughly enjoyed pancakes one rainy morning in the dry comfort of a shelter. I supplied the instant pancake mix, syrup and stove fuel while Karen supplied Greek yogurt, peaches and blueberries as well as good old Java Blend coffee. It was delicious, filling, and a great way to while away the wet morning.

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There were also lots of good eats to be had at local establishments. We had a group breakfast on our first morning at Pas Perdu…don’t you love that little play on words?

IMG_1904While some preferred good old Tim Horton’s, most of us made multiple stops at Boulangerie Madelon. A word to the wise: you always can count on cyclists to find the best bakery.

Most of us occupied a place at this table at Café La Grave at one point or another over the space of a couple of hours. If you ever find yourself there, you can’t go wrong with the orange or the chocolate cake.

Yes, the break from the day-to-day routine and the food were fantastic. But the things I cherish most from this week on the road are the camaraderie of cyclists through sun, rain, wind and hills, the reconnection with old friends and building connections with new friends, the ‘life stuff’ conversations with caring souls, and the deep gratitude that I am able to live la vie en vélo.

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Sunny, lemony birthday

yvette birthday basketThis is my friend, Yvette. She’s been one of my best friends since we met at age 13 in junior high. She was cute as a button then, and she still is. Just look at that smile.

Today is her birthday. She’s posing here with her birthday present from her significant other. He not only got her exactly what she wanted – a lovely new bike basket – but he also filled it with flowers. He’s a keeper.

It’s a gorgeous sunny day, after a long winter and a less than springy spring. Birds are chirping. Lawn mowers are buzzing. A perfect day for a birthday.

We’re heading out to brunch soon with the gang – well, at least as much of the gang as we can muster. Some are following professional pursuits to other provinces. Some are busy with kids. Some are taking advantage of perfect weather to get the kayaks on the water, including Yvette’s fella. He’d already taken her out for a birthday dinner last night, so she gave him her blessing to go paddling – which proves she’s a keeper, too.

lemon curdI thought I’d add an extra bit of sunshine to Yvette’s day. She’s been in love with my lemon curd since her first taste about 10 years ago. So I squeezed the sun out of four lemons and cooked it up into into a bottle of this delicious thick sauce.

I also added several outbursts of laughter because I was listening to Stuart McLean’s “Car Wash” story on the Vinyl Cafe podcast. I often listen to these podcasts while cooking. So there’s lots of good nutritious laughter cooked and baked into my food.

I like this lemon curd best on a vanilla cheesecake strewn with berries. But Yvette just might savour a spoonful or two right from the jar.

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Feeling good

Birds flying high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good…

I can’t put my finger on why, but I feel good today.

In fact, it started last night. It’s like something clicked and I’m back to my regular old self. I got out of the office on time, pulled off a solid weight workout, and got to the bus stop in time to catch an express bus home.

Then in 10 minutes flat, I had Jamie Oliver’s “hit and run” chicken in the oven and started buzzing around preparing for the next day…fresh gym clothes in the bag, clothes for work laid out, lunch and snacks assembled in the fridge. I was on such a roll, I also had a batch of breakfast cookies ready to throw in the oven as soon as the chicken came out.

I devoured my chicken with a couple episodes of The Good Wife, then curled up in bed with a collection of short stories including a delightfully disturbing one written by a respected and talented colleague, and drifted off to sleep, thankfully not dreaming about said short story.

My lunch and snacks for tomorrow, assembled in one spot in the fridge for easy grabbing in the morning.
My lunch and snacks for tomorrow, assembled in one spot in the fridge for easy grabbing in the morning.

This morning when I woke, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I’d really slept. All my domestic efficiency lately means it was a cinch to grab breakfast, lunch, snacks and coffee and get to the bus stop in plenty of time. And it struck me as I rode the elevator up to the office: I feel good.

Another workout trotting on the treadmill, another express bus home, another feed of that tasty chicken with The Good Wife, and prep is done for another work day.

This is the old Adèle returning. Out of the poor habits that had formed through the turmoil of the past few years. Back on my game, or at least getting there.

I’d say that’s a step towards the alignment I resolved to seek this year. Awesome.

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Save (and savour) with Jamie

downloadI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…Jamie Oliver is a smart man. The world would be a better place if everyone listened to him.

He doesn’t pay me to say that. And I’m not a delusional fan. He’s just a smart guy who gets the problems with food today. And he’s trying to do something about it.

With me, he’s preaching to the choir. I already cook from scratch. I already have the skills to cook one thing tonight and use the leftovers for something else tomorrow. But it’s shocking how many people don’t.

It seems to me that time is key thing that prevents people from buying decent food and cooking it. Our society is barrelling along at breakneck pace to the point that most people rely on packaged crap that they can heat and serve quickly. Money factors in, too, but home cooking doesn’t have to break the bank.

So Jamie is coming out with cookbooks and campaigns that show people how to to cook good food fast and on a budget. He doesn’t spend much time preaching about healthy food (although when he does, he does it very convincingly like in this Ted Talk). He knows that media bombard us with that message to little effect, and that it mainly makes people feel guilty for their shortcomings.

No, he generally comes at it from a less preachy, more motivating angle. He tells us he’ll teach us to cook meals that are quick, easy, tasty, and make us feel like rock stars with family and friends. He aims to build confidence through skill and delicious outcomes. And after his Food Revolution in the US, he’s recently formed a partnership with Sobeys stores to help spread this message in Canada.

IMG_1510Smart guy. So I asked Santa for a copy his new cookbook, Save with Jamie. And Santa (aka my brother) delivered. When I flipped through the book on Christmas day, one of the first recipes I saw was sausage panzanella. I bookmarked the page immediately, and made it tonight.

Not only is Jamie smart, but he just might get me to like olives and capers. Both are in this recipe and they blended so well with the other flavours that I didn’t find them overpowering.

So thanks, Jamie. And in your own words, big love!

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