Category Archives: Shopping

4 Ingredients — episode 3

Ah, wondering why I’ve tried another recipe so soon after the last one? I know, it’s out of character but hubby’s away. And while hubby’s away, this wife must cook.

Well, okay, not really — he did leave two meals for me in the freezer. And I admit to ordering in pizza last night. But tonight, those chicken breasts sitting in the fridge gave me the guilts. As in, “if you don’t cook me tonight, you’re throwing good money into the garbage!”

So, don’t get too excited now … I’ve got another (wait for it), yes, CHICKEN recipe for you again! One day I may venture out of the chicken section of my 4 Ingredients cookbook. In fact, after tonight, that day may just come sooner than expected.

Here’s the recipe, exactly how it appears in the book …

Cranberry & Orange Chicken
Serves 4.       Y.u.m.m.y!
4 chicken breasts
1 pkt French onion soup
3/4 cup cranberry sauce
3/4 cup orange juice

I didn’t have the onion soup or the cranberry sauce, so I picked them up this afternoon. I almost decided to cancel the whole exercise when I realized that every package of French onion soup in the grocery store listed MSG on its ingredients. I also heard my husband’s voice in my head saying, “never trust a recipe that lists soup as an ingredient!” But I didn’t listen.

Silly me. Cause it was Y.u.c.k.y! And I think it was all because of the darn onion soup. I ended up scraping off all the topping before serving it up. We did eat it, but only because it didn’t have a speck of the actual recipe left on it.

I may just need to venture farther out than 4 Ingredients to become a half decent cook (and I do have some great suggested learning sources now thanks to the commenters on episode 2!). The promise of cooking with only four ingredients is so compelling though that I think I’ll give at least a meat recipe a shot.

There’s no scoring for this one because we didn’t even eat it. (And Lynn, I’m purposely not listing the instructions this time. I don’t want you to bother!)

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4 Ingredients — episode 2

It’s okay, you’re forgiven for thinking that I’d given up (again!) on the idea of teaching myself how to not suck at cooking.

My first post on this topic sparked comments from readers that reassured me that I am not the only female lacking in such talent. Instead of mocking me, these lovely folks were sympathetic and encouraging.

This propped me back up because despite it being an age of so-called gender equality, people do tend to go on and on about just how lucky I am that my husband cooks for the family. I wonder if my husband’s male friends go on and on about how lucky he is to have a woman that does the dishes every night? 

While my husband has been working his way through the complicated recipes in the latest Food & Drink magazine (and people wonder why I can’t keep weight off), I have worked my way through the 4 Ingredients cookbook.

Okay, so not really. But I did do one more recipe. Sure, it was another chicken recipe, but it was a recipe. And no, it didn’t work out like it was supposed to, but it was edible.

Here’s the recipe I picked:

Chicken with Lemon & Honey
1.  1 chicken, cut into pieces
2.  2 lemons, quartered
3.  2 tbs. honey
4.  2 springs of rosemary

And here’s how it went:

First of all, I didn’t have a whole chicken. This is just too much for a squeamish, former vegetarian. Instead, I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts that magically grow in plastic packages at the supermarket. (I was nervous about this switch but checked with hubby and he assured me the recipe would still work.)

Then the next hiccup was a lack of rosemary springs. So I just pretended that they were not a part of the recipe and went about my business.

The result was a fresh tasting chicken that the whole family deemed enjoyable. My husband did remark on the lack of rosemary, saying he’d been thinking about the delicious combination of it with lemon. I explained I didn’t that we didn’t have any. He explained we had some growing on our deck. Who knew.

The ratings: Hubby gave it an 9/10, Stella gave it an 8/10, and I gave it an 8/10. It’s easy and the mild taste goes down well with the younger set.

The cookbook I’m using for these posts was written by two Australian women. It’s readily available in Australian and in the U.K. since it’s been a huge hit. And here’s why: (1) All recipes have 4 or fewer ingredients, (2) All can be measured in terms of cup, tablespoon and teaspoon, (3) The methodology is explained on average using 4 sentences, and (4) All recipes use ingredients mostly found in your pantry or fridge already. If you’re one of my Canadian or American readers, fear not, you too can get a copy! Here is a link it on Amazon.ca and here is one for Amazon.com

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SIGG: not so super, afterall?

Sending back my Siggs

Sending back my Siggs

We’ve been using Sigg bottles for ages. And that really says something, since we don’t spend our money lightly on fads. We’re talking $30 for a water bottle to put in a child’s lunch box. When there’s a plastic alternative that’s less than $5, we’ve clearly drawn a line in the sand.

Why? It’s enviro-friendly not to be constantly purchasing plastic water bottles all the time. Sigg bottles are also extremely tough and survive even the worst treatment — from my husband’s camping trips to the disaster that is the back of my car. And last but not least, we didn’t want any chemicals to be leaching into the water we drink.

Naturally, then, I was surprised to find that the inner liner of my Sigg bottles contained BPA. Thinking back now, I can’t actually recall ever reading that Sigg didn’t contain BPA, but I had somehow linked the Sigg brand with safety.

Sigg is now fighting the PR battle of its life. And it all started with a proud announcement that it had developed a new liner — the EcoCare liner — which is apparently 100% BPA-free. This caused many existing customers who’d been using the older models to step back in alarm: “Huh? That means my old liner was not 100% BPA-free?” (Here is the letter from Sigg’s CEO explaining the whole mess.)

Yep, that’s right. Sigg may not be so super, afterall. I’ve recommended these bottles to countless friends. And frankly, the levels of BPA potentially present from the old liners is hardly anything to worry about. (Here is an independent study on BPA levels, published by Z Recommends.) But still … I feel like I was duped and I feel silly for pushing these pricey bottles on my friends.

Sigg is now voluntarily replacing (note: this is not a recall) customers’ old bottles for ones with the new liners. If you’d like to send yours back, go online to www.mysigg.com/liner and click on the menu item “Exchange Program.” Be sure to download the shipping label for Canadian customers.

Naturally, there are many who will refuse to use Sigg products again. They’ve simply lost trust in this brand. If you fall in this boat, here is a comprehensive review of alternative BPA-free bottles for you to choose from.

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Food for Thought

the-peachMy husband never fails to be disappointed with the produce from our local grocery store. Well, to be fair, it’s not just our local store — it’s any grocery store.

After dinner, he’ll look longingly at some peaches he picked up that day at the store. He’ll pick one up, roll it around in his hand, maybe even give it a sniff. Then he’ll sink his teeth into it.

“Ugh,” he’ll pronounce, then put it down and push it aside in disgust. “It looked so good,” he’ll say, “but it’s just pulpy inside. No flavour, terrible texture.” The thing with him is that he’s a perpetual optimist and he’ll be just as hopeful for a juicy peach next time he buys one from the store. And so it goes.

I have always attributed this disappointment of his to the difference between eating a fruit right off of a tree to eating one that’s had to travel goodness knows how many kilometres in a truck. You see, he grew up on a fruit farm in Australia.

The September/October issue of Mother Jones magazine gave me some further food for thought on this issue. Science and environmental journalist Heather Smith explains that today’s hybrid crops “are often bred for size and color, not nutrients.” Her article “Looks Great, Less Filling,” then goes on to compare the nutrient value of fruits and vegetables from the 1950s to today’s counterparts. It’s pretty alarming, really. Or at least interesting.

For instance, according to Mother Jones and USDA data, today’s broccoli offers 52% less vitamin A, 60% less calcium, and 27% less iron. And a honey dew mellow provides 68% less calcium and an astounding 84% less iron. 84% less. Wow, that’s some serious change.

With this kind of radical change in nutrients, can one deduce that there would also be a change in taste? Perhaps that’s why today’s peach doesn’t taste as peachy as it did when my husband was a boy.

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Would your husband notice?

In More magazine’s September issue, a writer gets her face pumped up with injectable filler and bets that her husband won’t notice. Or at least she hopes, since he’s philosophically against these kind of “youthenizer” treatments.

Her article “Is my epidermis showing?” reads a bit like a sad commentary on modern family life. When her husband arrives home after work, she’s on pins and needles wondering if he is going to notice. Instead:

He comes in the door, calls hello and asks if there is any dinner left. I approach, smile and say I made a lovely dinner and there’s plenty left for him.

“Great. Thanks.” He brushes past me and sits with his dinner and the newspaper. Good. I guess.

 Huh? That’s the extent of their interaction? It’s no wonder then that he doesn’t notice her face. He probably wouldn’t notice if she got an entire face-lift done!

But as much as I would like to distance myself from this writer (who is going by the pyseudonym “Ivana Filler” – LOL), I have to wonder … would my husband actually notice if I got a filler? What do you think — would yours?

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Character flaws

I’m a sucker for anything with “character.” You know, one of those people that real estate agents market “charming” properties too. Also, the type that buys a new lipstick simply because its packaging is just so darn beautiful. And last but not least, the buyer of highly impractical, but terribly cute shoes.

I can see how this could be considered superficial. It’s that whole form over function thing. But so far, this has not led me wrong.

Back in 1998 when we wanted to rid ourselves of our landlady, we chanced upon a century-home which had a view, beyond enormous mature trees, of a river. And it was in our price range. Too good to be true? Oh ya, you know it.

What we didn’t notice before buying was that it had not a single closet, nor even doors for the bedrooms. It did, however, have lovely green shag carpet in the bathroom.

Indeed, the place needed serious help, but we saw only its “character.” Since then we have welcomed a dog, a daughter and a son to this home and now it really feels like a part of our family too. Albeit a member of the family that is often a pain in the ass, and demands ridiculous amounts of attention.

Sure, my friends’ homes are far more functional, roomier and offer greater creature comforts, but we still like it here. And so goes the story of my life.

When we decided we wanted to get a puppy, I happened to see an ad in our community paper. I called and went over to see the litter. Oh, I was smitten from the very moment I saw them. I especially loved a male one that had floppy ears and long, soft hair. Yes, long hair. Contrary to everything my husband and I had decided upon in a dog — a medium-sized, non-shedding, clever breed — I brought home our Riley, who was very large and very hairy. And as for clever, let’s just say that he was the only student who didn’t pass his basic obedience course. But you know what? He turned out to be the sweetest dog ever.

See what I mean … character over function. It works for me.

That is, until now.

I’ve been working from a home office since 2005. And in all this time, I still haven’t set up a “professional” working space. Instead, I choose to work on a desk that is solid oak, and made by my grandfather’s hands when he was a student in grade 7.

It’s a beautiful desk. Created before computers, it doesn’t, however, have a proper keyboard area or shelf for a hard drive. Nor does it have enough desk space for a wireless modem, camera, calculator, files and the rest of my tools of the trade. I also can’t really fit my legs under it properly so most of the time I sit cross-legged in my chair.

Ah, who can worry about such details when you’ve got deadlines to meet, right? Well, apparently I better start taking notice now. I’ve developed a really sore arm — from my hand all the way up to my elbow on my right-hand side. I’m not sure what you want to call it … repetitive stress injury, carpal tunnel. Whatever it’s called though, it hurts. Alot.

So tomorrow I will be dragging myself and my sore arm into some big box store for a desk with far less character. Paying good money for something that is functional. Who would’a thunk it.

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I blame Dora

Although I like to blame Dora the Explorer for my daughter’s pinata fascination, the truth is that it’s become a bit of a cherished tradition around here.

The 'Rough Dog' Pinata

The 'Rough Dog' Pinata

It all started on her fourth birthday (yes, that time when all children exposed to a shouting girl in a jungle become madly infatuated and start learning Spanish at amazing speed). We were in Australia at the time and the only thing that Stella requested for her birthday celebration was a pinata. Her grandmother and I set out with her to a party-supply store to hunt one down. We found some, but the pickings were slim. Stella examined each choice carefully and decided upon what she called a “rough dog.” The rough dog was actually a bull, so it’s no wonder it didn’t look like a “cute dog” to her! (To this day, she doesn’t know that it was actually a bull and not a dog. She really likes dogs, so I don’t want to stomp on this nice memory.)

You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that pinatas, like Dora, are of Mexican descent. Instead, China is said to have been the original creator of this paper mache treat.

It goes like this:  On his travels, Marco Polo came across pinatas in 13th century Orient. The Mandarin people would celebrate holidays with animal effigies made of paper and ribbon. These effigies would be filled with seeds and hung from a tree branch. And just like today, sticks were used then to beat open the pinata and release the seeds. When Marco Polo returned to Italy, he brought this pinata tradition back with him. From Italy, the fun was spread to Spain, and then from Spain to the ‘New World’ of North America.

Of course, these days, you’d never find something as healthy as a seed inside a pinata. But that’s the New World for ya.

The Making of the Dino Pinata

The Making of the Dino Pinata

Speaking of the New World … when her fifth birthday hit and we were back in Canada, no simple ‘rough dog’ was going to suffice when my husband came on task. He took it upon himself to create a pinata from scratch in whatever particular vision Stella had in mind. Dinosaurs were a bit of an obsession by this point. (And I’m not exaggerating when I use the word ‘obsession.’ She insisted that we, and everyone at her daycare, call her Yellow Dinosaur and not Stella. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen the dino exhibit at the Museum of Nature.) 

I really couldn’t tell you how many hours went into making this dinosaur pinata. It was clearly a labour of love (although my husband would probably claim money-saving advantages).

Completed Dinosaur Pinata

Completed Dinosaur Pinata

The irony of spending hours and hours on something only to smash it to smithereens is not lost on me. Personally, if I had made this masterpiece of a pinata, I’d probably have thrown my body on top of it as soon as the stick and blindfold were brought out.

But no, this didn’t happen. Instead, we all eagerly took turns whacking it with a stick until its insides released sugar-laden goodies all over the grass.
We’ve just celebrated another birthday here. A 7th birthday. Stella, although still somewhat enamoured by dinosaurs has transferred her obsession to Pokemons. And yes, we’re in obsession territory here again. Anyhow, she picked a Pokemon by the name of Chancy to be the lucky effigy.
Chancy the Pokemon Pinata

Chancy the Pokemon Pinata

I tried to find an image of Chancy to share with you because, honestly, this pinata is a work of art! But alas, I could not. (However, if you have Pokemon fans in your home, a Pokedex is surely close at hand!) 

We spent the special day at Cosmic Adventures with a friend and then welcomed our family to our home for a BBQ. All this was nice, sure, and even the Pokemon cake was good. But the big highlight of any birthday for Stella is pinata time. When the big moment arrived, each child lined up to have their turn smashing Chancy three times. And I tell ya, this Chancy is cute and all, but man, is he tough! Each child had several turns before the goods started to seep out of Chancy’s belly. And then finally – bang! – every toy and goodie flew out. Chancy’s days were over.
After the party died down and we were tidying up, Stella told me she felt a bit sad about Chancy. She said she really didn’t like him get wrecked. This, I could understand. She and her father had invested a great deal of time in creating this Pokemon pinata. I gave her a hug and wondered if our family pinata tradition had shreeched to a halt.
Chancy doesn't stand a chance!

Chancy doesn't stand a chance!

Then I shook myself back to reality. I remembered in vivid detail how she clearly cherished her time pummeling poor Chancy to an untimely death.

So I’m hoping that our little pinata tradition is safe and sound until next year.
It’s hard to resist traditions — even the most illogical —  isn’t it?

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