Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


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Facing a fear: Butter chicken

I don’t tend to do much experimenting when it comes to cooking. I don’t enjoy cooking as much as I do baking, so I’m just not motivated to venture beyond the old standards. I also have a serious lack of confidence.

Every now and then, though, I get the itch to try something new. Sometimes it works and, well, sometimes it doesn’t (putting it mildly). But even then, I don’t go far beyond what I’m already comfortable with.

Recently I got the urge to go wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy out of my comfort zone and I tried my hand at butter chicken. It’s something I really enjoy eating, but it has always seemed to…exotic…for my limited culinary skills. But, as much as I enjoy it, I am limited as to when and where I can get it.

Starting about 10 or 12 years ago, my tolerance for spicy heat in foods took a hit. I’m not sure why, but it did. I didn’t have a very high tolerance to begin with, but since then mild salsa is sometimes too much for my sadly sensitive palate. Some places have it mild enough that I can eat it and others I can’t touch at all. I tend to avoid it except at a buffet where I can have a little taste before committing.

So, I took it into my head to try to make butter chicken on my own. That way, I reasoned, I could tweak the recipe to reduce or omit heat-inducing ingredients to my own taste.

To be honest, I was extremely skeptical, not to mention nervous, about the whole idea. Firstly, I had no expectation whatsoever that anything I could make would even come close to rivaling what would come from the kitchen of a cherished Indian grandmother.

As such, when I hit up the ol’ Google machine, I typed in “easy butter chicken” not “traditional butter chicken”.

Thankfully, there were a lot to choose from. Hmm…I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, actually. Having never made it before and having no real idea of what went into it (besides chicken, of course), I had no idea which recipe to choose from.

I read a few and, after a lot of reading and guessing, I picked and chose bits and pieces of about three different ones. (I wish I had kept the links to them, but I didn’t. Sorry!) I made up my grocery list and went shopping. That wasn’t the nerve-wracking part – I’m good at shopping. J

It still took a bit of nerve for me to actually get around to the cooking part. I was, seriously, almost afraid to start. Who was *I* to think I could take this on?? My culinary background is a pretty standard meat-and-potatoes kind of thing, not to mention far too much prepared foods. Now, all of a sudden, I was going to take on an Indian classic? And, moreover, instead of picking one recipe and sticking to it, I was going to try combining bits and pieces of three different ones and throwing in some of my own ideas?

It was bound to fail.

I convinced myself, though, that since I was only cooking it for myself, the only real consequence if it failed was that I’d just have to find something else to eat for supper. Having thus given myself permission to fail, I was able to get started.

I went through the various steps, feeling quite chuffed that I was even giving it a go, and started to feel really hopeful when I added the cream – it became that fabulous butter chicken colour and, when I bent close, it even smelled like butter chicken!!

But the chicken breasts still needed to go in and, in my experience, that can make or break a recipe. It’s the texture – it has to cook properly or it could be too dry or too tough or too anything but yummy. I don’t have a great track record with it, to be honest.

Once the chicken was in and the pot was covered, I had to walk away. This is also something I’m not great at. Sometimes I poke and pick at things because I don’t trust myself or the recipe or whatever and things crash and burn. It was hard. But I did it.

And it paid off – it didn’t fail!

In fact, it was a roaring success. (Keep in mind the fact that I had kept the bar pretty low – it was a roaring success compared to that.) While I wouldn’t ever serve it to anyone who grew up with a traditional butter chicken recipe, I will definitely do it again – and again and again and again. I absolutely loved it.

The end result! I had a yummy piece of hot, buttered naan to go with it. It was just what I wanted it to be!

I faced my fears once when I was about 12 or 13 and it didn’t go so well (a story for another time, perhaps). This time, happily, it went smashingly.

And now I can have butter chicken whenever I want!! Woohoooooooooo!!!!


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I don’t lose socks

I fully realize that by writing this post I am very likely jinxing myself. But I will write it. It needs to be written. Hope needs to be given to the world that it is indeed possible to do laundry and not lose socks.

I will admit that I used to be a person who lost socks. Regularly. At a certain point in my life, though, that changed. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what that point was or what happened to change it.

In fact, I hadn’t even realized it had changed until one day a few years ago somebody on some TV show was talking about how they always lose socks in the dryer and everybody else laughed along in agreement.

I started to laugh, too, but when I tried to bring to mind a recent such experience, I couldn’t. I couldn’t even remember the last time it had happened. I realized I was no longer a member of this club that, until that moment, I had thought everyone who did laundry belonged to.

Is it too much to admit that, mingled with a weird happiness in knowing I had fully functional pairs of socks, the realization also brought with it slight disappointment at now being shut out of said club. I mean, stories about not losing socks aren’t interesting or funny at all, are they? There are no water cooler exclamations of shared misery such as “You are so right! I never lose socks all the time, too!” or “I have a drawer full of matched pairs of socks, too! It’s horrible!” Who cares?? Now, stories about losing socks…that gets a sense of camaraderie going all the time! And so I was thence thrust out to no longer participate in such conviviality again.

I have come close to getting back in, though. I’ll fold the laundry, and at the end there’s a lone dark sock with no partner. In the early days after I realized I was no longer in the “sock loser” category, when this lone sock appeared I would think, “Ahhhhh…there we go. My grand run is over! I’ve rejoined the ranks. It had to happen one day. Well, it was good while it lasted.”

Then, invariably, I’d find his partner – tucked in the dryer or washer, dropped on the floor by the dryer, or hidden on the floor behind the hamper.

But now after all this time, there is no twinge of disappointment when I see the leftover, solitary sole atop my folded laundry. I see it and know – beyond a hyperbolic shadow of a doubt – that I will find its partner. It will not remain alone, destined to be tossed in the trash or turned into a rag. Sometimes it sends me on a merry chase – likely to keep me humble, I’m sure – but I always find it!

So, my friends, there is hope. One day you, too, may be able to empty that sad little drawer of misfit socks and match them again with their sole-mates to live happily on in the Drawer of Pairs.


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I fought the couch…and the couch, not surprisingly, won

It was a lovely afternoon. A belated Easter dinner at my youngest brother Al’s house last Saturday with him, his wife and my next youngest brother, Bill. Lynn served a fabulous baked ham and scalloped potatoes, followed by carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. (Seriously…this is the best cream cheese frosting that I have ever had!! But I digress…)

After gorging on all the delicious food, we comfortably ensconced ourselves outside on the patio to continue our visit. It was a beautiful, grand spring day, which have been rather few and late this year, and we wanted to take advantage of it as much as we could.

Later, as Bill and I were about to head out, Al asked Bill to help him move their old couch to the upstairs den. Bill, happy to help, dropped his backpack and they started in. Now, had this happened at the beginning of the visit, it would have had a different result. However, throughout the afternoon, they had each had a few wobbly pops and as they started grunting it up the curved staircase, it struck me that it might not be such a good idea for them to be doing this on their own. So, as any non-wobbly-pop-drinking big sister would do, I hopped up to help out.

It’s a lovely couch. Very well made. You know something about well-made couches? They last long, yes, and they are comfortable. They are also heavy. H-E-A-V-Y. Heavy. It’s important that you know that. It’s also important that you know that it’s more of a modern design. Not one of those puffy, soft-edged things (like I have). It has angles and edges. Leather-covered, but edges all the same.

Another critical piece of this story is that Al was at the top, Bill was in the middle and I was at the bottom.

As we struggled along, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Friends episode with Ross’s new couch. Happily, there were no cries of “Pivot! Pivot!” and our episode ended much more successfully with the couch in one piece.

By the end, there was only one small ding on the wall (they are planning on repainting, anyway) and one other…minor…incident.

At one point, the couch slipped backwards. On stairs, backwards also means downwards. I refer you to three paragraphs ago where I described how we were each situated. What did the couch hit when it slipped backwards and downwards? (I’ll give you a couple of seconds…) Yes – you got it! Me!!!! Remember the heavy bit I mentioned and the edges of the modern design? My soft edges were no match.

I had a choice: Stand my ground and absorb the impact or go backwards (and downwards) with the couch. Needless to say, I did the former. There was no conscious decision, mind you. There was no time for that. While I have had my fair share of clumsy moments, thankfully, in this particular instance my brain knew that downwards and backwards would end only with me under the couch at the bottom of the stairs, with Bill likely squished under some part of it, too. So I stood my ground. We got it back under control and successfully made it to the top. Yay!!!

You’d think, then, that the title of this post should be “I fought the couch and *I* won”. If I had written this immediately after the couch made it up the stairs, it might have been. But within a half hour – still in the car to drop Bill off at his place – I started to realize that I might have won the battle, but definitely not the war.

By the time I was ready for bed I knew that I was in for a world of hurt on Sunday. The couch, it seemed however, was too impatient to wait until Sunday for its final coup, preferring instead to begin during the night on Saturday. You don’t know how many muscles you use to do simple things like lifting your head or fluffing a pillow until those muscles aren’t in a good mood.

The straight line bruise (remember those edges?) on my upper arm is almost gone today – it’s now just that yellowy-green colour that seems to only exist subdermally and nowhere else in nature. My neck and shoulder / upper back, however, still remind me that I lost. They are mostly good, but every now and then I’ll turn a particular way that they don’t like and they are not shy about letting me know it. (Three hours in the theatre this afternoon to watch Avengers: Endgame might not have been the best decision I’ve ever made, either.)

And so, I concede this loss to my worthy opponent. (And next time, wobbly-pop brothers will be on their own with heavy furniture…seriously, what was I thinking? I’m too old for this… ) 😉


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Quieting the self-critic

You may recall that a few months ago I talked about having challenged myself to write 50 blog posts this my 50th year before I actually turn 50.

If you look at the number of posts I’ve written since then, you will quickly see that I am quite a distance from achieving that goal and there is less than half a year left before I hit the big 5-0.

It’s the oddest thing, really. I quite enjoy writing – or I wouldn’t do it. I enjoy so many things about it, including the physical act itself – whether with a keyboard or an actual pen to paper – and the fact that it fulfills me in some way. Yet I don’t do it that much.

So why don’t I do it more? Why do I choose instead, more often than not, to just flake out in front of the TV and zone out?

It’s not like I even have to choose between writing and watching TV. I am, at this very moment, for instance, sitting on my couch AND watching TV! (Bohemian Rhapsody, to be specific…loving the music, btw.) And still…I don’t write.

I’ve mulled this over quite a bit over the years. I think that part of it might be because I write in my journal (the pen to paper thing) two or three times a week. Not that what I write in there is particularly interesting or anything, but maybe it’s enough to feed the desire.

Another contributor – perhaps even the biggest – is that I struggle with the idea that anything I write could possibly be of any interest to anyone else. It’s kind of bizarre to me that it would be. Even though I frequently have had people tell me I should write more, I suppose a part of me doesn’t believe it. And, along a similar vein, even when I want to write, I think I have to find some amazingly gripping topic to write about that would be worth taking up however many bits and bytes of space these flittering characters take up in the cyberverse.

Given how much (subjectively speaking) crap there already is online, I really shouldn’t worry too much about that, should I? Plus, as the old adage goes: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There’s an audience for pretty much anything and everything on here.

Finally, I should admit that I really don’t like to practice anything. If I’m interested in doing something, I just want to automatically be at least decent at it. Years ago, for another birthday milestone, I had challenged myself to learn to paint watercolours. I signed up for a course and was absolutely flabbergasted to find out that I first needed to learn to draw. WHAT?!?! I didn’t want to bother with all that. I wanted to dip a brush in water and paint and come up with something that looked passably like what it was supposed to be. Without any of the other fiddle faddle. (I did, dutifully, however, do a drawing session with an artist once, and I bought a book with drawing lessons in it – which I still tinker with every now and then – so it’s not like I’ve just totally thrown in the towel on that. I just impatiently wanted to immediately do watercolour sans practice.)

I guess, then, that I shouldn’t be too surprised that I don’t jump to the computer more often. I’ve criticized myself out of it before I even get one word written.

Well, I’ve decided to cast all that to the wind. I really, really, really want to achieve that goal this year and in order to do so, I’m going to need to stop with the constant self-editing and just write. Write, write, write, write, write.

That means some posts are going to be interesting, some will be OK and others (probably this one, for example) will be mediocre at best. I have about 21 weeks to write 40 posts. Eek! Wait – this counts as one, so 39 posts left!

I apologize, then, in advance for some of what is bound to be posted here over the next few months! And thank you, too, for bearing with me and (perhaps?) cheering me along on the sidelines… 🙂


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I got it! I got it!

For the last 15 or 20 years I have wanted to own a Dutch oven. OK…I’ll admit that is NOT the catchiest first line of a post and I may have already lost you. I hope not because it really does get exciting. Well, kitchen-gadget exciting. To me. 🙂

So, yeah…I’ve wanted a Dutch oven. And maybe once a year in the past decade or two, I would venture out to see if I could purchase one. Each time I end up drooling over the Le Creuset options. They get amazing ratings and, seriously, they are beautiful. The colours! Oh myyyyy – the colours!!!

But the price tag. Oh dear – the price tag. For a 7 qt one, I’d have to fork out about $350 CDN or more. And I can’t justify that. So I would drool, occasionally caress and fondle, and then walk on. I would also look at the other non-Le Creuset options that were more budget friendly, but I honestly had no idea which would be the best direction to throw my money. Then, dejected and disappointed, I would give up and leave it alone for about another year.

Then, for some reason, I would forget the past failures and convince myself somehow that this year – THIS year – it would be different. I’d find a killer Le Creuset sale or all of a sudden the “Dutch oven switch” would flick on inside my brain and I’d know which of the more economical versions I should get.

You know what happened. Or didn’t happen. I never got one. The cycle just continued over and over and over. And over.

And so, this past Friday morning while I was lying in bed (I had the day off), the “Let’s look for a Dutch oven!” urge hit again. Maybe it’s my age, but before I got too gung-ho, I told myself not to get too excited. (You know by now that I like to talk to myself.) I could look, but I knew my past track record, so I wasn’t allowed to get disappointed when (not if) I didn’t find anything I could buy.

So, without further ado and without even hauling my arse out of bed, I grabbed my tablet and started searching.

It didn’t take long for my hopes to begin to be dashed against a shore of broken crockery dreams. The prices were still high (go figure) and there was still a sea of unknown economical options from which to choose. I was, again, adrift.

But then I thought of the America’s Test Kitchen. It’s a show I started watching a couple of years ago on PBS. It is just what the name purports it to be: a test kitchen. I love it. In addition to testing recipes, they also test kitchen gadgets and equipment. (Do you see where I’m going here??)

The light bulb went off! I thought, “Surely to heaven they’ve tested Dutch ovens!!” While I knew that if they had tested them, the unattainable Le Creuset would be at the top of their list, I also knew that whenever they give their ratings, they also provide a recommendation from the more budget-friendly options. So…off I went to Mr. Google and he did not disappoint!

Here’s where I landed: Dutch ovens. As you can see, the Le Creuset was at the very top, but then…there it was! A Cuisinart was the budget recommendation! A brand I knew and could (hopefully) afford!

Back to Mr. Google, now with a specific brand in mind. I thought I had it in the bag. Not so. The first search results showed a couple of Cuisinart options, but they were still pricey, for me (between $160 and $200 CDN). Ahhh boo.

But then…just when I was about to throw in the towel for another year…there was an option from Costco. It was the exact same as the $160 one that Walmart had, but it was only $80. Huh? I clicked the link thinking it must be a smaller size and you just couldn’t tell that from the thumbnail image. Nope! Same size…same everything except for the price. Before I jumped on the excited train, though, I thought that maybe I was on the US Costco site instead of the Canadian one. Nope…It was Canadian. Seriously? I mean, I know different places have different prices, but THAT much of a difference? (And the Walmart one was on sale, BTW.)

Anyhoooooo…I wasn’t super keen on the colour of the one at Costco, but for the price, I could absolutely learn to love it!! (It’s not that I didn’t like the colour…it just wouldn’t match anything in my kitchen.)

Just as I was about to put it in my cart, I saw a thumbnail of another one in a colour that I liked better AND it had four small, individual Dutch ovens with it. For $10 more. Double huh? So I clicked. Sure enough, 7 qt blue Dutch oven with 4 individual ones for $90.

I still thought there had to be a catch. Then I figured it out. The shipping. Cast iron would have killer shipping fees. There’s no way they’d ship it for free so that’s how they were going to get me. So I looked…Nope. Free shipping.

WUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT?

So, now after 15 or 20 years, I am the owner of not 1, but 5 (!!!!) Dutch ovens!!! Woooooohoooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!! My budget was $100. Taxes in this set was $101. Not too shabby if I do say so myself!!

(I just checked and Walmart has the same set right now for $180. What even???)

PS: (Cuz what’s a day without learning something…) Technically, “Dutch” ovens that have enameling are actually “French” ovens! Nobody knows that term, though, so, much to Le Creuset’s chagrin, we just call them all Dutch ovens. You’re welcome.


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Happy birthday, WWW!!

I had my introduction to the World Wide Web (WWW) somewhere, I think, in late 1994 or early 1995.

I was living in Calgary, AB at the time and one of my friends was dog sitting for friends of hers. They had Internet access and told her she could go online while she was staying there. They gave her some instructions (how to dial up, for example) and told her if she ran into any trouble, she could just call the brother of one of the friends. Easy peasy, right? Uh huh.

Before I go any further, I should say that I know that the WWW and the Internet aren’t the same thing. At the time, though, it was all the same to me. Those were the days of Netscape Navigator and MetaCrawler. Ahhhh the memories! In any event, my first Internet experience was also my first WWW experience.

She was staying there for a week or two and was allowed to have friends over and we were pretty excited to check out this Internet thing. The first time I was over, we thought we’d give it a go. We were pretty excited – we had no idea what this thing was, but it sounded pretty cool. Looking stuff up without books or paper? WHAAAAAAAAT?!?!

We were big movie buffs so the first thing we searched for, after the beeeeep-boooopedy-beeeeeeeeep of dial-up got us online, was movies. Specifically, because we were in our mid-twenties and single, I think we included “hot men” in the search field.

Well, if you weren’t online much “back in the day”, you may not be aware that there was very little by way of search filters. You REALLY had to be careful what you searched for because anything and everything pretty much brought up porn sites. (There’s a little bit of foreshadowing there, in case you didn’t catch it… 😉 )

In retrospect, we probably shouldn’t have searched for movies with hot men. Nowadays, you could search for “movies with hot men” and you’ll get regular movies. In 1994/1995…not so much. But we didn’t know. WE DIDN’T KNOW!!!!

All of a sudden we found ourselves on this page with this naked man behind a chain link fence, some sort of sign or something strategically placed over his “we weren’t looking for this” bits.

We went through a few quick reactionary stages. We were surprised, shocked (really, we had no clue) and then we cracked up laughing. It wasn’t what we were looking for (we were in a Hugh Grant/Four Weddings and a Funeral phase) so yeah…porn wasn’t what we were looking for and we found it hilarious.

But the people who lived there had kids so, before we did anything else, we wanted to make sure that the page we landed on was deleted. We hit the back button, thinking that would do the trick. Then we hit the forward button to make sure the porn page was gone.

You know how the forward button works, so you aren’t surprised when I say that the page was still there. The nekked man was still behind the fence. Eek!!!! We didn’t want their kids to accidentally stumble onto that page. For that matter, we didn’t want her friends to think we hopped online to scour for porn. (Mind you…”scouring” requires wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy more effort than porn searches require online, especially back then…)

We tried the back and forth thing a few times and even closed the window and opened it again. No matter what we did, the nekked man was still there.

We talked about calling the brother, but we didn’t want him to think we were porn dogs, either. My friend didn’t even know him. “Um…hi…I’m dog sitting for your brother [or was it sister?] and I…um…accidentally ended up on a porn site and don’t know how to get rid of it before they come home.” We could only imagine his reaction.

So yeahhhhhhh…we didn’t jump at that option. We tried all the things we had already tried several more times. Needless to say, they never worked. Ultimately, the fear of the kids landing on that page outweighed the feeling of stupidity and, with much trepidation, we made the call.

The brother, who worked in IT, reacted pretty much how we expected. He laughed. A LOT. And loudly. But he helped us.

After that, we refused to try again. We walked a wide berth around it. It just wasn’t worth it.

In the fall of 1995 I went back to university to get my education degree and I was “properly” introduced to the Internet. I was taught how to use it and to be careful of the dangers of porn showing up in your searches. By the time I started teaching, I had a clue. Finally…I had a clue. 😉

And the rest is history!!!


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“The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss

I came across this poem today and it really touched me so I thought I’d share it. To me it’s beautiful. I hope you like it.

Firstly, it reminds me that I need to do more to serve and help people. I’m more like the hermit he refers to. But I need to put my house – myself – by the side of the road more.

I also love the imagery that he uses. And I love that he puts us all on the same level: “The men who are good and the men who are bad, As good and bad as I” and “They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong, Wise, foolish- so am I.” It gets rid of the “us” and “them” idea that prevails so often.

The House by the Side of the Road

by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Link to source: https://www.alsintl.com/resources/poetry/the-house-by-the-side-of-the-road/