Mary Moreau

Friday, November 30, 2012

New Personal Record

I make my own Christmas cards and I've done it every year except one since 2005. I have a reasonable excuse for the one year omission: it was the year I made save-the-dates, wedding invites, and personalized store-bought thank-you cards. I usually do around 60, though some years I've made 80. After the first year I got such positive feedback that I thought, "oh crap, now I gotta do these every year." Meanwhile, I love it. I usually get a little stressed about coming up with a new design that I like while trying to minimize cost. After a couple of years of designing really time-consuming finicky cards (individually hand cut scalloped ovals anyone?) and a necessary trip to a massage therapist I've added "be less finicky" to the list of things that I stress over. I thought printing is the answer. 

I've never blocked printed so I thought I was going to go that route but I was inspired by an article in the Vogue Knitting Holiday 2012 about printmaker Carol MacDonald. She uses knitting to make prints. I'm a knitter, I have needles and yarn, and I wouldn't have to buy block printing supplies - this is genius! As I was looking for the right kind of ink I found and bought a paper cutter that makes rounded corners and trimmed all 60 cards of their pointy corners before printing with the cheapo tempera that I settled on. But then I had to figure out how I was going to add my holiday message. I worried if people would get that my print is of a large cable knit swatch bordered by seed stitch and that, therefore, it is supposed to evoke winter and cozying up to a fire with a warm mug of mulled something after a long walk in the snow.

The solution I came up with, using materials I already had on hand, turned out to be quite finicky and time consuming. Apparently that is who I am (blogging about the steps I took to make these cards is example of that). I briefly got angry with myself for coming up with a design element that required scoring and cutting paper, calligraphy, embossing, hand cutting, multi-stage glueing, and a single dot of pearlized ink that takes hours to dry. But then I remembered that I like doing this stuff. Well, actually my husband reminded me that I do and then I remembered it for myself when I got into it. I really like the cards - I would show them to you but it must be a surprise for those receiving them in the mail. 

The best part is that they are all made and it is STILL NOVEMBER! I've never done anything, anything at all, this much in advance of when there is a looming deadline. This is the new personal record. I used to justify my procrastination by saying that I needed the stress of the last minute in order to do things but this shows that personal growth in the areas of time and stress management has actually taken place. Yay! I know they are just cards (that still need personal messages written in them) but I'll take it. 

Note to self: Remember to buy a good paper slicer for next year's round of cards.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Must Not Think About It

It has been a few months since I've written here. I think I question the relevance of this blog and why I even do it. It should be enough that I enjoy it and that there is a benefit to writing for an imaginary (or real - are you there?) audience as it keeps you a bit sharper than you might otherwise be. But I didn't come here today to make excuses for not blogging.

I came here today to say that I would be completely overwhelmed by the not too distant future if I allowed myself to think about it. It requires an effort to divert my attention, which is something totally different than denial. You see, my husband and I are expecting in March and there are so many things that I don't know about how we will manage the huge responsibility that comes with that. Employment is perhaps biggest on my mind (I mean, apart from the fact that I will have a new human being to love and care for). I find myself in the situation where I won't qualify for maternity leave since I'm self employed and a bunch of other questions cascade down from that theme. Questions such as how long will I be able to stay home with the baby? Vs. How long do I want to stay home with the baby? From what I can see, the answers don't align. Can we afford daycare? What daycare? Where will we live? What work do I want to do in the next phase of my life? What will be challenging and enjoyable but will allow me to have that elusive work/life balance? You may have noticed I've been stuck on those last two for a bit.

In addition to the questions above, I, along with my siblings, need to deal with the reality of aging parents. One parent suffers from dementia with Lewy Bodies, which is a difficult and upsetting disease to witness, let alone suffer from. The other parent is completely stressed by the day-to-day reality of caring for someone with dementia and is on the verge of breakdown several times a week. Not everyone involved understands the full extent of the situation and some are in denial about how dire it is. Some are not thinking rationally. Much needs to happen in the next few months. Living arrangements need to change, finances need to be figured out, support systems need to be set up, etc. I want to help as much as I can but since I live 2 hours away there is only so much I can do. I know can't do the little things that would help on a daily basis but I am trying to get up to see them more often than I have in the past.

In the end, I need to keep a bit of emotional and mental distance from these big questions in order to minimize stress and be able to get the dishes done. The little belly bean (too cute?) needs me to stay sane and healthy. There is something grounding in the fact that there is no question about what one of my roles will be in the near future, that of mother. In moments of hormonal unbalance I sometimes worry that I'm not up to the task but on the flip side nothing seems more clear cut: I want to do, and will do, the best that I can. I need to trust that I will be able to put the rest of the pieces together because of that.

Friday, June 15, 2012

How to not Boil an Egg: Dad in the Kitchen

My awesome, local, independent grocery store, Fiesta Farms, is running a contest as a part of their Apron Strings series about family food stories. In other words (theirs), "the ties that bind." Until the end of June people are sharing stories, recipes and videos all about their dad's (or granddad's) cooking for a chance to win Fiesta Farms gift certificates. But I think it's more about sharing with the community if you ask me.

My dad's relationship to cooking is the antithesis of the kinds of stories found in the Apron Strings community and consequently I have no recipe to share. While my dad is known to have a generous appetite with an extreme bias towards starch, it was mom who did 99.999% of the cooking. He does claim to be able to make a mean spaghetti but we never saw any proof.

I do have one vivid memory of my dad's cooking. On one of the rare occasions that my mom was away, probably at a spiritual retreat or something like that, and there was not a casserole to heat up, my dad was left to his own devices. Usually in these rare cases my sister and I would beg to go to McDonald's and dad would cave. My adult self recoils in horror at the thought. So this one time we were unable to work our charm/pestering on the situation and dad was going to make boiled eggs for dinner. I knew that he liked his yolks runny and I did not so I requested a hard boiled egg. He must have been in a foul mood because he snapped back, "you'll get what you get." It may have something to do with the fact that I had been previously telling him that he was going about it all wrong; being nine or so I knew how to boil an egg. It was not a good scene and the mood was sombre.

When, minutes later, the three of us sat down I was the first to crack open my shell and was shocked when out came a completely raw egg! I think I said something like "it really isn't hard boiled" or I hope I did anyway. My sister and I cracked up (ba doom doom ching!). At least my dad was good-natured enough to see the humour in the situation as well. I don't remember what we ended up eating for dinner that night (my guess is McDonald's) but we still laugh about the time that dad couldn't even boil an egg.

Have a happy father's day this Sunday!

Friday, June 8, 2012

There was a lamp

So I have this lamp that I call the "naked lady lamp" (the ladies have varying degrees of exposed  breasts) that I used to think was quite tacky but I loved it despite that. She used to live in my grandparents' living room. Actually, there was a pair but one of them went missing. That's a long story but the moral of that one is don't lend things to people for an extended time while you are out of the country, because it seems convenient to both you and to them, and expect to get it all back. There could be a higher moral lesson here, something about not putting too much emotional stock in your possessions, but I'm still learning that one. Let's just say I'm happy to have at least one lady lamp left. In fact, I think I like it more because I have only one; rarity increases worth. That, and somehow it seems less tacky not be part of a pair.

For, like, a decade or so I had the intention of spraying her a glossy bright, uniform white. She had some gold and green accents. I also wanted to get a new lampshade - nothing too curvy or traditional - something streamlined to tone down the so very not modern aesthetic of the thing. Well, I finally painted her last fall and managed to upset a neighbour with the fumes from the paint. I don't know why I mention that; upsetting him is no amazing feat. I hemmed and hawed about whether I wanted to do it white. Maybe neon pink would be awesome or chartreuse. But then how long would that be pleasing? Best to go with classic white. It was ridiculously simple and could have been done more than a WHOLE DECADE earlier.

Since then she has lived shadeless on my desk. You see, I had a shade that I scored for free - a reject from some design show. It was a drum shade and it was sloppily covered in cheap black fabric with satiny hem tape used for a ribbon trim. I removed the fabric and was left with a linty, sticky mess on the styrene so I removed the plastic as well. So now I was left with the two separate rings from the drum shade. I've been trying to source the styrene so I can build the shade again and have only found UK sources thus far. I'm not paying shipping on that. So I gave up.

I also looked for tutorials on how to sew a lined fabric shade but all I came up with were tutorials on how to glue fabric to an existing shade but remember that all I had were two independent rings that could become a shade. I saw a video on how to make a drum shade out of poster board but that seemed like it could be flammable.
Naked lady lamp in all her tacky glory: the before picture

Today when I was about to go down the Internet search rabbit hole I got so frustrated with myself; I can figure this out without losing hours to slightly helpful hints online. You can go from one site to the next and think, but is there a better way? and you go around in circles and the next thing you know your day is gone and the million and one projects that you have in mind never get done, am I right? Don't get me wrong, I think it's brilliant that there are all those free tutorial and ideas online but sometimes the Internet comes up short. What happened to tinkering? What happened to attempting to do something, having it fail, and then figuring out a better way from a place of true understanding? And besides, ENOUGH ALREADY! HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE ONE PERSON TO UPDATE A FREAKING LAMP? 

So I've just told you this extremely boring story to tell you that I'm going to figure this shit out even though I fear that the result is bound to be monumentally anticlimactic. I'm going to rely on my own wits and ingenuity. I had originally intended to build my shade with some Mylar that I've had kicking around for ages but it's not firm enough. I'm going to see if I can make it work anyway. So take that, Internet. 

While I'm updating my tacky lamp have a lovely weekend, all you lovelies out there.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Two for One Rhubarb Recipe

A couple of months ago I picked up a secondhand copy of James Beard's "American Cookery" even though our stack of cookbooks is getting a little hard to wrangle as they don't all fit on the kitchen bookcase dedicated to cookbooks. All other food related books such as food memoir, food politics, food history, et cetera, go on our regular billy bookcases in the living room, which are equally overflowing. But it's a classic so I had to have it.

I had a bunch of rhubarb I'd recently picked at my in-laws' cottage and decided to see what others had to say about it so I picked up the Beard. Though Beard "would not describe it as a champion among spring fruit" he does offer up a trio of recipes. I love old cookbooks more for the writer's voice than the recipes but I will consult the recipes usually as a starting point. Inspired by Mr. Beard's recipe for rhubarb fool, I set to work.

I cut up the 11/2 lbs of rhubarb into 2-inch lengths, combined with 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan, covered, and simmered until tender as per the recipe. I wanted to play around a bit though so I took about a one inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into rounds, and included that in the saucepan. The sugar was vanilla sugar and I tossed the nearly exhausted vanilla beans in the pot too since that couldn't hurt (and it didn't). Once the rhubarb was a stringy sauce like my mom use to make I let it cool. From there I strained off some of the pretty pink syrupy liquid into a 250ml jar and then passed the rest of the rhubarb through a food mill and filled a 500ml jar with the sauce. The food mill was part of Beard's recipe. It's not a complicated idea - just hadn't thought to do it myself before.

The purée is a really lovely sauce and the ginger and rhubarb play well together. The vanilla gives it all a rounder flavour. I've been using it judiciously spooned into granola and yogurt in the morning and over vanilla ice cream in the evening. Perhaps I should try it with whipped cream and actually make a fool. The syrup I've mixed with water and added ice for a late afternoon treat. So pretty in pink. It's hard to use the word pink and not say pretty too. I've also mixed it with rum and soda with the lime and mint remains of an earlier mojito and that was equally good. I long for a rhubarb patch to call my own.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

When in Doubt - Sugar

My husband and I recently hosted my sister-in-law and my niece and nephew for a few days over March break. They camped out on an air mattress and the couch for two nights in our one bedroom apartment. I have to say that we've gotten it down to an almost seamless conversion from day to night to day again. I was really happy to have them for a visit but I have to admit to a bit of stress surrounding what to prepare to eat because I knew I had sensitive palates to contend with. The first night S-I-L brought some trout and I made a big baby spinach salad with a tahini-sesame dressing and not everyone ate the spinach salad. Strike one.

Even though I was doing my cleanse diet and I believe one should make food that all people can partake in at a meal I decided to make homemade mac and cheese. I mean, how can one go wrong with all those carbs doused in a cheesy sauce, right? Wrong. My feelings of self-worth plummeted, I jest - sort of, as one plate of food remained virtually untouched. The reason: it was too cheesy! At least there was one ravenous eater who had second helpings. There is a strange rule that the more you try to ensure that everyone loves what you prepare the more chances that you will make mistakes you wouldn't normally make. When I put the mac and cheese under the broiler to brown the top I moved on to frying sprouted tofu for myself and the next thing I knew the smoke alarm was going off and the parmesan-bread crumb topping was black. I picked it off and tasted to see that all was still fine. It was but I have to say that it wasn't the best mac and cheese I'd ever made - I think it has something to do with not tasting it enough because of the cleanse diet. It needed more dijon and salt. So where am I at now? Right, strike two.

I knew it was time to bring in a pinch hitter: sugar. Oh yeah, and peanut butter and his good friend milk chocolate. I decided to make the Salted Peanut Butter Cookies from Orangette's blog. I'd made them before and had confidence in the recipe. I did the trick where you scoop out the cookie dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and stuck them in the freezer so that I had 30+ cookies ready to bake into small batches over the next few weeks. It's a practice in restraint. I baked up the first batch the morning of our guests' last day and offered them at lunch. My confidence in the cookie wavered as I thought of the salt. What if they think it's too salty, too different? Will the youngest think it's weird? I let them know that it is supposed to be a bit salty on purpose and crossed my fingers. My S-I-L, a knowing mother, let my niece try a bite of her cookie to see if she liked it before she got her own. My niece said, "I like it. I don't think it's salty." Then as we were loading up their car I handed over a cookbook for them to borrow and my niece looked up at me and asked, "Is the cookie recipe in there?" Her shoulders and her mouth drooped in the most dramatic way when I said no. Home Run.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Places and an Herbal Tea

Today is a gorgeous day in Toronto and is supposed to reach a high of 14C, which is the same temperature that Firenze is supposed to reach. I know this because I keep a few foreign city profiles on my iphone weather app just because they are places I wish I could just be •snap• like that. And boy oh boy do I have itchy feet right now.

But I’m most definitely still here so I’ve been researching what kind of jobs are available and reading up on career reinvention because I feel a different kind of energy (one that doesn’t come from caffeine or sugar since they are verboten for a few more weeks) than I have been feeling. I quit my last job-job in 2010 and have been doing some freelance work that I do from home, which technically is a job but one that has always felt like a temporary one. The thing is, until recently, and lack of work might have something to do with it, I’ve had this urge to do something more.

So I’m researching jobs and seeing what’s out there and since I have itchy feet I can’t resist looking up international opportunities. I’ve learned that I’m not too old to get work/travel visas to at least a couple of countries. I’ve come across house sitting websites (here’s one) and seen postings for long term engagements at houses in the remote hills of an Italian village and others in the south of France. The idea of living rent free, especially in a foreign villa, is very appealing to one who has a tight cash flow and is trying to pay off debt. It makes me happy to just know that these opportunities are out there. It gets the creative juices flowing in a think about alternative routes kind of way – even if I don’t leave Canadian soil for a while.

While I haven’t gone anywhere new and done anything different I am in a new place, a very different place than I was a year ago. I’m feeling, I almost dare not say it, an optimism; the slim edge of confidence has wedged itself into my mind. I know I’ve still got a long way to go but when it comes to personal growth I hope that I never stop traveling.

Tisane for pondering career reinvention and international travel

One doesn't need caffeinated drinks to have a nice hot cuppa to accompany all this pondering and searching. I’ve started quite the collection of herbs, roots, and flowers to keep the taste buds tantalized and the caffeine cravings at bay. Recently I made a particularly tasty one and I wanted to share.

The players:

Dried ginger root



Licorice Root


Let steep longer than you would a normal tea (8-10 mins) to give the roots more time to infuse the water. Eyeball it, play around with the proportions to your liking, and, most of all, enjoy!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cuisine Impro: Garlicky White Bean Soup

I’m exceptionally proud of myself when I can pull a tasty meal together, especially one that isn’t pasta, when there seems to be not a whole lot going on in the fridge. I like to wing it in the kitchen. Yes, I have an obsession with food magazines and cookbooks but for the amount I read them (and give them real estate in our one bedroom apartment) I hardly follow recipes by comparison. I look at them for inspiration. I like to imagine what things will taste like, how they’ll feel in the mouth and am pleased as punch when things go together the way I imagined - even more so when it's better than imagined. It’s like being a matchmaker for food. I’m also not afraid of making a mistake, which I’ll learn from and which sends me back to the drawing board to try to fix the situation so that the meal can be enjoyed. I want my meals to be good but I don’t expect them to be knockouts every single time either. All in all I’d say I’m pretty confident and competent in the kitchen. And I love food. I wish more people would be confident and take pleasure in their cooking – you have to eat so you might as well have a good time doing it. If I hear "I can’t" or "I could never" it just makes me want to take people by the hand and show them how easy and fun it can be.

Last Friday’s supper is a good example of my style of cooking. I’ll warn you now that I’m going to describe what I did and there will be no “recipe” at the end to follow. While my husband was cooking dinner on Thursday I was poking around in the kitchen to see what was in the pantry (what I wouldn’t give for a real pantry!) and I found at the back of the top shelf a cocktail onion jar filled with some small dried white beans, variety unknown. I thought, that’s not a lot of beans but it might be more than it looks and anyway I can do something with it. Perhaps I eat them for lunch or make a dip? So I put the beans in some water to soak overnight.

I work from home so at lunch when I went to see what I could scrounge up I saw the beans on the counter and thought, oh yeah, the beans; I should cook those now. While I was getting the beans together I got my lunch ready. I cut a small onion in half and threw one half in the pot with the beans and sliced the other to sauté for my lunch. I saw that the celery was starting to look a little weary so I used the best looking stalks to sauté and the smaller ones with leafs I threw in the pot with the beans. To the beans I also added a bay leaf. Then I put the lid on the pot and made lunch, which was a celery, onion, and garlic sauté that I added cooked pearl barley to (pulled from the freezer 2 days before) a good squeeze of lemon, then I topped it with a little tahini sauce leftover from last night’s meal.

Since my husband made the lion’s share of our shared meals this week I thought I should make dinner tonight. I was going to make this red lentil soup but then decided that since there seemed to be enough beans to make a soup and they’re sitting there all ready and everything that I’ll do that instead. I asked hubby if he was in the mood for bean soup. He said sure and told me that there’s a Robuchon recipe in The Paris Cookbook. I looked it up and my eyes started to glaze over so I impatiently snapped the book closed while saying: “nah, I’m just gonna wing it.”

So I started, like you do, with onion and garlic in the bottom of the pot in a good glug of olive oil. I decided to throw in a couple sprigs of thyme and a few of parsley. This is where the Robuchon recipe guided me. He cooked the beans with a bouquet garni. Though my beans were cooked and could have made a soup right then and there I decided to let everything simmer for a bit so that the herbs could actually do some good and all the flavours could come together. So I picked out the herbs from the onions and tied them with some kitchen twine so that they could be fished out of the liquid before being puréed. I had drained the beans but kept their cooking water and used that for broth. I’d say I just covered the ingredients with the liquid and added a pinch of salt and let it simmer.

I should mention here that I’m also on a moderate cleansing diet at the moment, which means that flavour cheats like Parmesan or bacon are out. So now I’m thinking, what am I going to do to make this thing interesting? Hubby had mentioned something about truffle oil (the Robuchon version has truffle) and we have some languishing in the fridge so I thought, I’ll finish with that but still - boring. I knew I wanted the garlic to be pronounced and the parsley was already out so I minced a clove with a fistful of parsley to use as garnish. Then I remembered that I saw a lonely aged leak in the crisper that I could put to work. I cleaned him up and finely sliced him and threw him in a smallish cast iron pan to get to work caramelizing and crisping up at bit.

So while the leek was caramelizing I tidied the kitchen table so that we could eat at it and took down the food mill. I will use more labour intensive devices when the result is so much superior and my immersion blender really is inferior when it comes to making a creamy puree. I started to put the soup through the mill after about 30 minutes of simmering with the wrong disc (holes too small!) so I had to start over with the next size up. That was a bit messy but I remained undaunted because I just thought, I’ll know for next time - if I haven’t forgotten again by then. In the end I put the soup through the mill twice to get the texture I wanted. Then, I decided that I’d add a ladle more of bean broth to thin it out a tad. Next, I put the soup on the burner to heat it again as it cools down a bit with the pureeing.

I tasted the soup and adjusted the seasoning with grey sea salt and white pepper and a tiny splash of white vinegar until I thought it was the right flavour to play around with all those garnishes I had planned. I ladled out the soup and sprinkled the minced parsley and garlic liberally over the top. I could have stopped there save a drizzle of olive oil; the parsley not only brightens up the dish (pureed white beans are not exciting to look at) but also it does brighten the flavours. Next, I made a little tangled nest of the sweet caramelized leeks in the centre. Then I drizzled a very small amount of black truffle oil. To me, though, the white beans and truffles make it all very earthy and I wanted something to push it in the herbal direction and on my table was a tiny bottle of fruity Spanish olive oil (the kind on the ice cream in this post) and that was the stuff. For my second helping I skipped the truffle oil and went straight for the olive oil.

While all this was going on I saw that there were chestnuts that had better been used up sooner rather than later so I cut a little x on their bottoms and put them in the oven to roast and they were ready in time to have a handful for desert. They were very sweet – the sweetest chestnuts I’ve ever tasted. Problem is, now I’ve got all these roasted chestnuts to figure out what to do with…but that’s a problem I’m eager to solve!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Paella at Pimentón

On Mardi Gras I wasn’t eating pancakes but I was at Pimentón learning how to make paella. Don’t worry; I ate enough to keep things in the spirit of day. Gathered for the class were writers and bloggers who all share a passion for food. Our teacher was Chef José Arato who actually became a chef by way of accounting. Sizzling Communications, an inspiring duo, put the event together. Being in a room with such talent and spirit made me feel sheepish about not, I mean, inspired to be writing on this blog more often.

We started the class with a demo of how to make our dessert: Ice Cream Turrón. The base of the ice cream is a simple vanilla custard and José, who has worked as a pastry chef, did something so obvious that it made me palm my forehead at the brilliance of it. When he was scraping the vanilla pods he did what you normally do and then, this is the brilliant part, to ensure all the little seeds were used he scoured the pod with the sugar that vanilla was going into. I’m usually trying so desperately to scrape every last seed out that I practically shred the pod in my in my effort to be frugal. Eventually, at the end of the night, the ice cream was served with a drizzle of Tuccioliva olive oil and Sal de Ibiza. Yum! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Next we did some of the prep work for the paella a la valenciana. About eight of us were stationed at cutting boards with knives ready (my knife could have been sharper, just sayin'). Some diced the red peppers while others chopped the onions. I did the latter and let me tell you, that onion was one strong beast; I was teary and sniffly for an hour. I dashed to the hand washing station to make sure my mascara wasn’t running. When it came time to clean the squid I noticed a few were not eager to take on the task. It was my first time cleaning one and when you turn it inside out it is vaguely sexual somehow. I’m on a roll: lately I’ve tried crickets and cleaned squid. What’s something else that others are squeamish about that I can try next?

Good cooking usually is sensual – and I don’t mean over-the-top Nigella style. I mean you feel, taste, and listen to your ingredients. Since most of us don’t grow up at the knee of some aged Spanish relation learning to feel our way through the dish learning from one who knows is a real treat. When we moved into the kitchen and hovered around the range it became clear paella isn’t exact; you eyeball it. We all watched, I should say photographed, while José showed us when to put liquid in the pan, how to agitate – not stir - it, how to finish the dish with a slight burn on the bottom. I have to say I was amazed at his patience with the photo taking. The paella was bubbling away when it was ready for the rice and everyone had to get a great shot of the rice bag!

Throughout the evening we had tapas to nibble on. One really should just nibble because the there’s so much more to come. An escalivada – eggplant and pepper salad – was served along with the paella to round off the meal. I’d never had this style of paella before but I can see why the dish is so famous. The complex layers of flavour from the chicken stock to the mussel cooking water, from the parsley to the saffron, this is the kind of dish that inspires debate about who has the best one because there is so much room, even if you doggedly stick to the classic ingredients, to really express yourself in the kitchen. Looks like I need to get myself one of those space-eating single use kitchen gadgets – a paella pan.


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Toronto, ON

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