30 December 2007

I Survived Christmas 2007!

The Christmas holidays are officially over and sadly it’s back to the grind today. Despite my best intentions to relax during my 12 days off, I am returning to work feeling more weary than when I started my vacation. To say that I’m exhausted would be an understatement, but despite the lack of sleep and blatant holiday overindulgence, I had a fabulous time with family and friends.

Christmas dinner was an immense success and I’m still reeling over the fact that everything turned out as well as it did. I am happy to report that earlier aspirations to “pimp my bird,” resulted in a new recipe that I’ll happily use again in the future. I opted for a homemade apple/pecan stuffing and apple-glaze gravy, both which turned out to be just the right degree of “tasty” without being too crazy. My only slight hiccup was the fact that I burnt myself badly on a hot casserole dish, rendering my hand virtually useless for most of Christmas day - not the best way to start off the preparation of a huge feast for eleven people. Thank the Lord that I have a husband who isn’t afraid to jump in, get messy and take orders from a VERY flustered drill sergeant / wife. Okay…so it wasn’t the most relaxing or enjoyable day for Daniel and I, but the end result was worth it when everyone was seated around the table, replete with yummy food and holiday cheer. We survived our first Christmas dinner, we lived to tell the tale and I will happily and readily pass the torch on to whoever wants the task next year!

Aside from Christmas dinner and many long hours in the kitchen, Daniel and I were fortunate to meet up with several friends over the holidays. It’s not often that we get to see the out-of-towners, so it’s nice to make the most of having everyone in the city at the same time. I had a lovely dinner at a restaurant with one of my bridesmaids, her hubby and their “baby-to-be” and we also had the opportunity to entertain some friends for dinner on their 1st wedding anniversary. When hubby was out at a poker night with the boys, I was also able to throw together an impromptu girls night with two of my old buddies from high school that I haven’t seen in ages. We had a fabulous time reminiscing and catching up on our lives. I was very glad to share some time with old friends, especially seeing as one of them is moving down South next week to pursue her Masters and live with her fiancé who is a classical pianist and professor at the University of Texas…some gals have all the luck, LOL!

This year we kept things relatively simple for New Year’s, with a spontaneous gathering of a few friends at our place for some drinks and games. Hubby managed to snag a new toy for the X-Box, called Rock Band. Although I’m not really one fore video games, even I will even readily admit that this is pretty awesome, not to mention an excellent party game. The name pretty much explains it all: the game comes with two guitars, a drum kit and a microphone that all plug into the gaming console. You form a band and play along to rock music by hitting notes that are displayed on the screen. We had a riot and couldn’t stop laughing at ourselves; of course the fact that we were fuelled by alcohol probably didn’t help. I’ve heard howling dogs sound more in tune. I did make sure to film the band in action, but I would never be mean enough to post it on YouTube…at least not yet! You never know when you’ll need incriminating evidence!

The final day of the holiday was spent nursing a painful migraine and wine-induced hangover, followed up with the O’Brien family New Year’s Day dinner at my parents’ house. I felt kind of bad for my mother because most of us around the table were still suffering the effects of the previous night. It made for a fairly lifeless crowd, be we soldiered on bravely and drank more wine to toast the new year. It’s a hard life, but someone has to do it!

So there you have it, the Cole’s Notes version of my Christmas holiday. Even the recap makes me feel exhausted!

I hope that everyone has a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. This year, I will endeavour to fulfill one of my resolutions by writing more and continuing to bore you all with my wacky antics…luck you! Happy 2008 and thanks for reading!

18 December 2007

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Only one week to go until the jolly fat man lands on my roof. Not sure how he and the reindeer are going to cope with all that snow buildup; something tells me they’ll manage in the end.

Not too much to report today. Ottawa is back in business and kudos to the cleanup crew who worked round the clock to make the roads safer. I must admit though, I do miss working in my pajamas!

Today I am leaving you with some holiday snaps taken over the weekend. With all that snow, I had to find some way to occupy my time…aside from the hours of cooking of course.

Enjoy and be sure to finish your shopping!

Domain of the messy cook

My homemade sugar cookie dough

Hope Santa remembers me

My festive table

Cozy and inviting

Oh Christmas tree

Our "love smores"

Counting down the days

Away in a manger

Hot head Santas from Guatemala


Ready for the oven

In all its shining glory

All aglow

17 December 2007

The calm after the storm

Actually, I suppose you could say that the scene on the streets of Ottawa was somewhat chaotic this morning. Yesterday’s record-breaking snowfall made rural roads and side streets virtually impassible. School busses are cancelled outright and the mayor was urging people to stay at home unless travel is absolutely necessary. Sadly, I didn’t heed the city warnings and I ventured off to the bus stop where I waited for thirty minutes in the –25ºC cold for a nonexistent bus. My patience and nerve shattered when I narrowly missed being struck by a swerving vehicle. Needless to say, I called it quits and decided to work from home today.

Despite my dislike for winter, I have to admit that I sometimes enjoy the community spirit that this kind of weather seems to evoke. There’s something wonderful about a pile of complete strangers working together to shovel driveways or push stuck cars out of the snow. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a new neighbourhood, but it seems as though people here are willing to drop whatever they’re doing to lend a hand. I watched a man this morning going from house to house cleaning off driveways with his snow blower, expecting nothing in return and helping out of the kindness of his heart…something you just don’t see often these days. Hubby and I always joke that it’s, “meet the neighbours time,” whenever a storm comes because we all inevitably end up meetings outside and lending a hand where needed.

However, despite the good vibes and the kindness of strangers, I really don’t relish the thought of having to deal with this amount of snow ever again. It’s technically not even winter yet and we already have more snow than we typically accumulate in the entire season. I can only hope that the next big storm will hold off until after the holidays, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Weather experts are calling for a long, snowy ride.

16 December 2007

Let it snow…and snow…and snow…

After last year’s mild winter and green Christmas, I found myself hoping and wishing for snow this season. I had more of a “light dusting,” in mind, but it seems as though Mother Nature decided to make me eat my words with what can only be referred to as a “major dump”.

It has been years since I’ve seen snow banks this high. It brings me back to my childhood days when we would visit my Grammy in New Brunswick. It was a beautiful winter wonderland for us as children but now, as an adult, I find myself grumbling a good deal more. No messing about while Mom and Dad would break their back shoveling, now hubby and I are the official cleanup crew.

With 60cm of snow in a 24 hour period, it would be insanity to leave the home unless absolutely necessary. As it stands, there is a 3-foot wall of snow blocking our front and back door. Quite wisely, we have battened down the hatches and are hibernating for the day. In a sense, it’s kind of nice not being able to rush around and run our usual million weekend errands. Instead I am still in my jammies, sipping tea and accomplishing a good deal of Christmas baking and cooking. In the past 48 hours, hubby and I have managed to make four batches of sugar cookies, two homemade tortières and a crockpot full of fragrant chicken paella. You should smell it in here!

It has been a good weekend…busy yet uncomplicated. In closing, I am posting various photos from today's adventures in snow removal. As you can see, I eventually abandoned all hope and decided to revert back to my childhood. I jumped in the snowbanks, making an utter fool of myself, while hubby looked on and shook his head. I'm positive that the neighbours must think that I'm an absolute nutcase...maybe they're not far from the truth....

Yikes...this is what I woke up to this morning:

View from the back of our house:

Not a bad view (when you're toasty warm inside)

Diggin my way out...there is a porch under there...

Attempting to climb Mount Tomka

Bad idea...very bad idea...

Making progress. I look like I'm about 6 years old here.

Victory is mine!

Enjoying the view from the summit

14 December 2007

Pimp my bird...

Christmas is coming and soon the grocery stores will be filled with customers frantically shopping for their huge and gluttonous festive dinners. Only a few months after Thanksgiving, I don’t exactly relish the thought of eating a huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Most people think I’m crazy, but I honestly find that the old tried and true holiday fare can get a little bland. If it were up to me, I’d eat curry at Christmas!

Being the ever-so-thoughtful gal that I am, this year I decided to host Christmas dinner for both sides of me and hubby’s family. I figured that I could muster cooking for 11 people in order to give others a relaxing holiday for a change. Besides, this would pretty much let me off the hook for a few years right? No problem really; I’m happy to do it.

When recently sifting through recipes, in passing I mentioned to my brother that I was considering NOT making a turkey this year. Between dividing Christmas dinners with multiple families, I figured that people might grow tired of the usual gobbler. However, my brother was quick to inform me that, "No turkey on Christmas day would be a monumental letdown for everyone,” which is very easy to say when you’re not the one cooking it. Needless to say, my dreams of a beautiful, spicy succulent roast fizzled at that moment and I resigned to the fact that I would have to tackle my arch nemesis once more – “Damn you, stupid bird!”

Now as a hostess, I must admit that I can sometimes be quite selfish in my selection of dishes. As a general rule, I typically won’t put my name on anything that I don’t care for. It’s not that I don’t like turkey; it’s quite tasty. What sometimes bothers me is its lack of zip. Perhaps I messed up my taste buds from too many spicy dishes lately, but I have a really hard time settling for generic flavours. I much rather my food hit me over the head and scream, “Hello!” In other words, I want something that leaves a bit of an impression…preferably a good one. I’m sorry but the “just add brown gravy for taste” no longer works for me.

All this turkey apathy got me to thinking, if Exhibit can pimp "rides" (street lingo for ‘car’ by the way), then surely I can “pimp” my bird...right?

With only two weeks until Christmas, my goal is to settle on something that will satisfy traditionalists and modernists alike - conventional turkey goodness with a subtle hint of wow! Who knows, perhaps I will push the envelope and jazz up the other classics….now the wheels are truly starting to spin. Deck the halls with Malox and Tums…Jenny’s in the kitchen and it ain’t gonna be normal –ha!

Stay tuned for post Christmas blogging, with pictures of the feast to end all feasts!

13 December 2007

Queen of Crock…

Winter is here and there’s a definite chill in the air. Gone are the days of eating al fresco by the BBQ. with a chilled wine in hand and the warmth of the sun on my back. It’s damn cold…and with that comes a yearning for something warm and sustaining.

To be perfectly honest, when I received a crock-pot several Christmases ago from my mother, I wasn’t too sure what to make of it. I always equated slow-cookers to stews and basic hearty meat and potato type dishes…yummy, but hardly exciting for demanding taste buds. And so, in my ignorance, the crock-pot sat in its box in my basement for over a year. Every weekend my husband and I would look at one another and say, “we should really start using that crock-pot,” but we were both too lazy to drag it upstairs and sift through recipes.

Since joining weight watchers and subsequently changing my eating habits, I have taken a more active interest in cooking and meal planning. One day while visiting Chapters, I was browsing through the healthy living section and I saw a book on crock-pots staring me in the face. Feeling bold, I picked up the book and proceeded to drool as I flipped though countless pictures of exotic, spicy, and flavour-laden food. BINGO! This definitely wasn’t the old standard Irish stew (I can just hear my ancestors grumbling). With a renewed sense of interest in my old Christmas gift, I purchased the book and started my journey towards crock-pot addiction.

In our home, Sunday is now affectionately known as “Crock-Pot Sunday” (CPS). Every weekend, I will try a new recipe that I have found. From the traditional to the exotic, you can pretty much cook it all in a crock-pot: Cuban pork and sweet-potato stew, spicy chicken paella, sweet and sour curry, Moroccan lamb…all extremely healthy and diet friendly too! Sure I could probably make these things in the oven or on stovetop, but the crock-pot is actually much easier and the food just melts in your mouth. The other bonus is that I can leave my meals cooking away while I’m out running errands; just set the timer on the pot and let it do the rest. Some slow-cookers even have a ‘hold warm’ function that will activate automatically after the food has cooked - this has proved invaluable while entertaining as I can sit with guests and enjoy some appetizers without worrying about overcooking the main dish.

So there you have it, I am now officially hooked on the slow-cooking method. To the crock-pot adverse, I highly encourage giving it a second chance. Buy one now, and I guarantee it will become a regular fixture in your kitchen during the cooler months…and that’s no crock!