Sunday, February 27, 2011

Perpetual Guest Blogger.

I hate my blog. The design of it, that is. Well, I'm not all that satisfied with the content sometimes either, but that's a slightly different issue.

Some of you may have noticed I've occasionally been playing with different layouts. I've got it so I like where things are and the spacing etc. but the designs are all pre-designed templates. There is nothing personal about that! It makes me feel like I'm not really part of this thing I pour my thoughts into - like a perpetual guest blogger on my own dang blog.

It's time for change (again).

Since I am determined to delude myself that spring is just around the corner, I will think of this as another thing to bring in the spring!

I warn you, graphic designer I am not. I don't want fancy but I do want to feel like this is my cyber-space.

I think it will make me want to visit and write more. And I really miss writing. I haven't been writing about the topics that I really want to talk about and it's annoying me.

So there you go. My "public" commitment to sprucing up the place.

Anyone have tips on creating banners? I've never done one.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fighting February

Like many people, I really don't like February.  By about this time of year I seem to have zero energy for pretty much anything. It sounds overly dramatic, I know, but that doesn't make it any less true. I don't even see it coming, usually. Add to the February "blahs" the fact that we are up several times a night with a puppy and my husband just submitting 3 papers for journal publication and you have a very tired house.

I woke up this morning, fully intending to go to work. The puppy (Logan) and I had our bathroom breaks - fortunately getting it right in terms of who goes inside and who goes outside. Logan, at almost 8 weeks, knows what to do when he is outside and even sometimes asks to go out when he needs to, but occasionally thinks perhaps he should try inside, just in case. I, on the other hand, am trained pretty well to only go inside with a few exceptions.

Anyway, we do our thing, I toss a handful of kibbles his way and look in a mirror. Ugh. At that moment I am awake enough to realize that I look exactly as awful and tired as I feel and the inklings of a cold I felt yesterday were indeed getting worse. So I called work and went to bed for another 4 hours solid. I woke up feeling like hell but thankful the puppy slept just as long (I was smart and let him sleep next to me). About an hour later I felt better than I have in weeks.

We did manage one task on the weekend that helps fight February.

SO nice to smell dirt.
(um, is it weird to admit that?)
We started seeds for several varieties of peppers, all hot [Monet (jalepeno), big bomb (cherry bomb), explosive ember (serano)] or medium hot (crimson red). We wanted to start some plum type tomatoes but ran out of large size jiffy pucks (seen in photo above, re-hydrated) and couldn't find them in store either. I also get other peppers and tomatoes as transplants in the spring but some varieties I can only grow if I start from seed. I will also start cucumbers, ground cherries, and maybe a few other things in the next few weeks.

What? Doesn't everyone have a 
mini-greenhouse in their dining room?

Hang in there everyone, the end is in sight!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Adjusting Priorities (puppy!!).

I have so many things to say about my horse life with Brumby. The last month has involved a lot of revelations, so to speak, and I've been looking forward to sharing what's going on and also getting your perspective on things. For now, it will have to suffice to say that I have had the BEST rides the last 3 weeks. I feel like another mountain has been climbed and the horse and I arrived at the top together. I hope it lasts. Even if we have small set backs I feel like there has been a point which we can't regress past. Does that make sense? I wish I had shared the increments on this journey here.

But there was this

and then this

That beautiful golden foster dog was followed by more work travel for me and several big deadlines for my husband that all fell on the same day (that would be today - it's over, woo hoo!). When the humane society asked if I could take another foster a week after the golden left us, I told them it would be at least another month due to travel and busy schedules. I take fostering very seriously and don't think it's fair to young puppies if I don't have the time for them. Hazel requires a lot of exercise but she is otherwise calm and self-sufficient. Young puppies, not so much! I also have Hazel in a fantastic dog daycare once a week, sometimes more, so I can get to the barn. Most of the dogs I foster have bordetella (kennel cough) so they are in a soft quarantine for the first while. Not to mention I don't really want to pay the daycare fee for a dog that isn't mine. I know that probably sounds cheap but when you factor in the time and toys and training I put into these dogs, well, at $23/day/dog it ain't happening!

Where was I? Oh yes! So we fostered the golden from around December 20th until Jan 10th. She was adopted on Jan 19th by my mom after she had her spay surgery and dental surgery to remove some retained teeth. That was supposed to be a story on it's own!

There was NO WAY I was going to foster again for a little while.

Then I read a blog post from the humane society about 11 puppies who were found near a dumpster at our War Museum.
CBC News - Ottawa - 11 puppies found abandoned near Ottawa dumpster

The original article mentioned how they were having a hard time finding enough foster volunteers. Of course, there were plenty of people "off the street" (so to speak) offering to foster them but of course they won't do that. They actually care who their foster parents are and volunteers must have a police background check. 

Of course, I knew 11 puppies on top of their normal volume would stress an already stressed foster system. It also happened that earlier that day my husband had decided to cancel his next business trip. So I sent an email...

...and got this.

We've named him Logan and he is hilarious. He sleeps a lot but is increasing in playfulness everyday. Unfortunately, he came down with kennel cough so he has had several rough nights (and therefore so have we!). Our humane society is almost ready to move into their new location which is desperately needed. The building they are in makes it impossible to properly contain disease and is so old the electric, heating, and plumbing is not repairable. I imagine the need for my foster services will go down dramatically once they move since not ALL incoming dogs will get kennel cough!

So yeah, I've been busy. But it's the satisfying kind. I will leave you with a few photos.

Though he be but little, he is fierce.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Duck with Spiced Plum Chutney

This recipe comes from Jamie Oliver's book "Cook with Jamie" and, like everything I've tried in this book, it is spot-on.

Roast Duck
Sage, fresh
Sea salt
1 duck
1 orange, halved
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated and bashed

Preheat over to 350F (I have a convection oven and so I roasted at 325, raising to 350 for the hour). Put 5-6 sage leaves in mortar & pestle and bash together with salt. I only had dried sage and skipped this step. I'm sure it's worth having fresh sage but it is still absolutely delicious with dried. Rub sage and sea salt all over skin of duck. Place the rest of your sage and the orange halves inside the duck cavity.

 For the vegetables, our carrots were not peeled. They were carrots that we had frozen very soon after harvesting from our own garden, so we prefer to leave the peel on. It's your choice. I DO remove the skins from the garlic.

Choose a roasting tray that will fit the vegetables and duck snugly. Put the veg and garlic into the pan and put the duck on top, breast side down. Roast for 2 hours, turning over a couple times during cooking. You will probably need to drain the fat halfway through. Jamie says not to throw the fat away. Separate the fat from any meat juices, strain through a sieve, and it will keep a couple of months. Use to roast potatoes. Well, if he insists, right?

These steps happened while I was at the barn, so no photos, but you can imagine my excitement when I came home (hungry!) to find a duck in the oven! I was soon put to work making the chutney.

Spiced Plum Chutney
1/3 C sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
6 large ripe red plum, chopped
A strip or two of orange zest
pinch of ground cumin
sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Add sugar to saucepan and add just enough water to dissolve it. Place on heat, drop in cinnamon and star anise and bring to a boil. Simmer until the syrup reduces right down and the bubbles get bigger.

As soon as the syrup just starts to turn golden, add the chopped plums, orange zest, and cumin. I had 2 slices of candied ginger which I also chopped up and added in. The plums will release their juices and begin to cook down after awhile, into a thicker consistency. Take pan off the heat, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

--back to duck--

For the last half hour, make sure the duck is breast-side up so the skin can get crispy. Leg meat should come easily off the bone when the duck is ready.

Serve atop the lovely roasted veg with the plum chutney and some watercress (we used micro greens) on top to garnish.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Boarding Barn: A Screw Loose.

I stood in front of my stall, organizing the equipment and tack before going out to catch the beast. I removed the tendon boots from the grooming back and located the hoofpick. As I stood, a horse already on cross-ties began seriously freaking out.

I took a step toward my stall door, figuring I wouldn't be run-down in there if the mare busted the ties. The night turn-in and feed woman comes down the aisle and catches my eye, "f'ing psycho," she says quietly as she passes me. I can't help but snort back a laugh and roll my eyes.

The mare is a nut-job.

One night, while passing her stall with my horse, she lashed out so violently that she brought a leg down on her feed-tub, breaking it. Now, we were a good 4 feet from her in the aisle, so this should not be out of the ordinary for any boarded horse. After I had Brumby on the cross-ties and untacked, I went over to check out the damage to the feed tub. The mare was just beginning to snuffle around the tub, impressed with her handy work, no doubt. I heard the particular thud sound of metal falling on plastic.

"Aw, sh**t," I cursed to myself, waving the mare away from the tub.

"What's up?" I looked up to see a fellow boarder who had just come in. I explained what had happened and that there was now a bolt inside the feed tub of crazy mare, leaving me no choice but to go in and get it before she ate it. Or spit it - projectile-like - at the next passer-by. I was not looking forward to entering that stall.

I lived to tell the tale but have no love for that horse. So although I wasn't surprised by the mare's sudden blow-up, I was certainly not impressed with it or the ensuing chaos as her owner and friend tried to regain some semblance of control. I went about my business.

About 30-40 minutes later, I am at the door to the arena. I wait until crazy horse, who is being lunged, is at the farthest end, call "door" and wait. Friend of owner comes to the door. She opens it a crack and peers out, "we aren't finished lunging yet," she says.

I blinked.

We have a policy that you aren't to lunge your horse if other riders are in the arena. I suppose this has been interpreted as keeping boarders out of the arena if you are in there lunging! Sure! I'll wait outside in the dark in -15C and wait for you to finish lunging, take your time. Obviously your time is worth more than mine, even though I pay for the use of the facilities just as much as you do [sarcasm].

I kindly offer to hand-walk at the far end to give them a few more minutes to finish up. I wish I had stayed outside because what I saw my my head hurt. The plus side is I now have a better understanding for the mare.

The mixed signals the poor thing was getting constantly was enough to make me feel crazy. Every time the owner asked the horse to walk, she would only let her walk for one or two strides (sometimes not even one full stride) before asking for the trot again. In my opinion, it came across as telling the horse it did not respond properly to the walk command. It seemed pretty clear to me that this was confusing for the horse and, in fact, the horse would take more and more time before dropping to the walk (naturally!). There were many more examples, such as asking for a slow trot and then chasing the horse with the whip. I can't imagine what they hoped to accomplish.

Ah, life at the boarding barn. Often an exercise in keeping your mouth shut.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sole Food.

Today I ended up working from home to avoid the rather impressive snow storm we were having. I could have made it in to the office without too many problems but why bother when you don't have to? I planned ahead and brought my laptop and a couple documents home yesterday, so I was all set. Sasha bikes to work year-round so he decided that it would be much more productive to stay in as well. Although we spent the day working in separate rooms, it was nice to be there together. I liked making a pot of herbal tea and pouring a cup for us both before hunkering down to work again. Or having lunch together at out own table - a real treat!

You would think that, being home, I would have extra time for making dinner. I certainly didn't find that to be the case!  I decided to take some sole filets out of the freezer and do something with them. I know, I know, frozen fish is frowned upon and I agree for the most part. But you know what? Good quality frozen fish is sometimes a better option than fresh, especially when you don't live close to the sea! I have had both good and bad luck with both "fresh" and frozen fish. I find good quality frozen sole to be perfectly acceptable.

I kept it simple and made an old favorite.

Breaded Sole served with Chard and Brown Basmati.

I take one cookie sheet and line it with either parchment paper or wax paper. On the left, pour a pile of flour, preferably unbleached organic. On the right, pour about the same amount of breadcrumbs.  Be generous with both these amounts, based on the number of fillets you have. You want to have plenty to play with for the breading process. Season both with salt and pepper and any other seasoning of your choice (smoked paprika, herbs, Mrs. Dash, Old Bay, anything!)

In a bowl, whisk one egg very well. I sometimes add a splash of milk if I think I might have too many fish fillets for one eggs but not enough for two - it helps the egg go further and doesn't disrupt the dish at all.

I set up a station (sorry, no photo) with the raw fish on my left, the flour and breadcrumbs in front with the bowl of egg somewhere in between. I also have another sheet to my right, to place the breaded fillets before pan frying.

Take one raw fillet by the tip of one end and place on flour. Don't let go but give it a wiggle and flip over. Shake off excess and take for a bath in the egg. Then place on the breadcrumbs. You can use the parchment/wax paper to help tip the breadcrumbs on top, or just flip and press. 


I put a few tablespoons of olive or grapeseed (or a little of each) in a frying pan and cook a few fillets at a time. It takes only a minute or so per side. Keep warm in your oven or warming drawer while you cook the remaining fillets in batches.

The swiss chard was sauted with minced garlic in a tiny amount of olive oil. I place a lid on for half a minute to steam and then remove and toss until wilted. Today, I added a splash of balsamic vinegar and tossed until cooked down a touch.

Of course, a simple yet lovely meal like this needed something to round it out.

If only I had some ice cream!