Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


Cooking prep times (or What if you DON’T have a sous-chef?)

Have you ever used a recipe to cook or bake something? If you have, you probably know exactly where I’m going with this.

But, for the sake of those who either don’t cook or have never needed to use a recipe, I’ll go there anyway. 🙂

In pretty well every “proper” recipe I’ve seen there are two times given: prep time and cooking (or baking) time. Prep is short for preparation, so prep time is, you guessed it, the time it takes to prepare the ingredients for the recipe: taking them out, cutting, chopping, peeling, measuring, etc. The cooking (or baking) time is – wait for it! – the time it takes to actually cook or bake the thing! Ta daaaaaaaaaaa!! Not rocket science.

For some reason, though, the people who write recipes seem to think that we all have sous-chefs at home who do all of said cutting, chopping, peeling and measuring. Then when we walk into the kitchen to make a recipe, everything is laid out in those cute little bowls (like on the cooking shows), all ready to go.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon often over the years. But it really stood out for me somewhere in the past several months when I was intentionally looking for some quick recipes for weeknight suppers. I have a bunch from years ago where you open cans of things and throw in some meat or veggies to create an easy one-pot meal. (Ahhhhh…the days of the cream of chicken soup casserole!!) But I wanted some healthier options that didn’t use a bunch of prepared foods.

So, as I am wont to do, I hopped on the ol’ Google machine. As you can imagine, there were a lot of results. And they sounded ideal: “Healthy dinner recipes ready in 30 minutes!” YES!!!!! That’s it!

Then I read the recipe: Take out X Y Z vegetables. Peel them. Dice them. Put them in the food processor. Make a sauce. Get out this other stuff and measure it. Slice the meat into thin strips. Hop around the kitchen blindfolded, on one foot. OK…I may be exaggerating on that last bit, but you get the point. 😉

Joking aside, I have actually seen a recipe with most of those steps and a listed prep time of FIVE minutes!!WHAT??

Some recipes kind of cheat, too, and include a pre-cooked ingredient just so they can say it’s a really fast recipe. So always read the recipe! (Especially keep an eye out for when something needs to be marinated. You might actually need to start your prep a couple of hours earlier or possibly the day before.)

Even in baking, which I’m more comfortable with than cooking, I find it impossible to achieve the listed prep time.

It might be possible if I treated it like a race, but if I hurry, I make mistakes and drop things – or even forget things. (Ever made banana bread without the baking powder? Good fun.) Plus, I want to enjoy it, not feel like a clock is ticking. I don’t go intentionally slow, either. And my kitchen isn’t huge. Everything is within easy reach – no more than 4 or 5 steps away. Really, if prep times were going to work for any regular person, it should be me.

Sadly, they don’t, so I don’t trust them at all anymore. I scan the recipe to see what’s involved and, at a minimum, double the prep time to help me decide if it’s something I want to take on in the time I actually have.

If you are fairly new to cooking or baking, or if it’s a completely new type of recipe to you, I would suggest even starting with tripling the prep time. Or maybe even totally disregarding it. Give yourself a comfortable spread of time so you don’t feel that ticking clock or, worse, a sense of failure or incompetence that might deter you from trying again in the future.

Cuz, seriously, it ain’t you. It ain’t me, either. It’s the recipe.

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Markers and cheesecake (Or: See how easily I get distracted?)

I was in my craft room Friday night, practicing some hand lettering exercises and watching Father Brown (as one does on a Friday night).

I had my brush markers and other pens around me, but realized I needed some finer felt-tip markers, which were on the ottoman in the living room.

No biggie – I’d just go get them.

I should explain to you that I am not a rich, eccentric billionaire who lives alone in a massive mansion where the living room (one of several, in that imaginary place) is a block away from the craft room. I live, rather, in a cozy, two-bedroom condo. On the floor plan, the “craft room” is actually the dining room. It could also be a den, if one so chose. For me it’s a combined office/pantry/craft room. All that to say, this ain’t a huge place.

You would think, then, that I would be able to do the 30-second (max.) round trip to get the markers easily enough.

If you did think that, then we probably don’t know each other very well. Because that didn’t happen.

Now, I did succeed in getting the markers easily enough. I even picked them up and headed back towards the craft room. Now I just had the 15-second return trip to contend with.

But, you see, the kitchen is between the living room and the craft room and I had to pass through it both ways. I successfully made it through the kitchen in my outbound trip. Inbound? Not so much.

This is what I got up to go get:

And this is the no-bake cheesecake that I decided had to be made on my way back to the craft room:

Sadly, it didn’t even turn out well!

It didn’t set at all, even after being in the fridge overnight. I had to put it in the freezer yesterday and after several hours it sort of set, but went liquid again after about 20 minutes. It tastes fine, so I won’t throw it out, but I definitely won’t make it again. The next kitchen distraction (because there will be a next one) will just have to be something else. 🙂


Where are you from? (And why you might want to rethink asking that question.)

 “Where are you from?” About two years ago I would have thought that was a great question to ask – a great way to make conversation and get to know someone. Over my lifetime, I’ve asked it dozens of times. Probably over a hundred. And even that might be conservative.

It turns out, though, that those four little words can be quite loaded – and I had no idea.

To me where I am originally from (the island of Newfoundland, on the very east end of Canada) is a huge part of the person I am. There are vast linguistic and cultural differences there from even other parts of Canada. Where I live (Ottawa, Ontario) is very different from where I am from. Ottawa is part of my current life; Newfoundland is my cultural heritage.

I’ve always been interested in cultures and love learning about them. It’s not what’s the same about us that makes people interesting to me – it’s what’s different. It’s in the differences that I learn and grow and come to appreciate so many things.

So for me, asking someone where they are from has always come from a place of wanting to respect a person’s heritage enough to ask about it and wanting to increase my own understanding of places around the world.

I have learned, though, that to the person on the receiving end of that question, it might not come across that way.

One of my friends here is of African descent, by way of Barbados. She grew up in Manitoba, one of Canada’s prairie provinces. She’s the one who opened my eyes to the potentially darker side of this question.

For her and, I have learned since, many people who don’t sound or look like they “belong” in Canada, that question can make them really feel like they don’t, in fact, belong. She explained to me that when she answers that she’s from Manitoba, there is frequently a follow-up of, “No…but where are you really from?” Because a person of her colour, obviously, couldn’t possibly be “from” Manitoba.

We had a really good conversation about it that day and it made me uncomfortable. I wanted to resist it. I even thought to myself, “That’s ridiculous. She’s being over-sensitive.”

I realized later that I thought those things simply because of how uncomfortable I felt. I had flashbacks of times I had asked that question over the years. I didn’t like the thought that when I thought I was showing interest in them, I may actually have been insulting them. I didn’t want that to be the case, so I resisted the idea.

We often do that, don’t we? In so many situations it’s easier to put the “fault” of something back onto someone else. And my initial, defensive reaction was to do just that.

Since that conversation about two years ago, I have thought a lot about this idea. In fact, I’ve tried to write this post a bunch of times already and have never really been able to get it to where I’m comfortable with it or to write it in a way that readers would be comfortable with it.

Today I realized that making people (myself or others) comfortable with it shouldn’t be part of the equation.

That’s not to say I’m intentionally dismissing your feelings. What I mean is that it’s normal for this to be an uncomfortable subject, especially when it’s new to you and if you are an asker of that question.

Plus, sometimes it’s good to be made uncomfortable and if you are uncomfortable right now, please read on.

In today’s world, I think we need to be uncomfortable more often. Reading only things that already match our thoughts and ideas – things that we are comfortable with – only serves to more firmly ensconce us on that particular “side” of an issue. We will only learn and progress – as individuals and as communities – when we allow ourselves to learn about and try to see the other side of things. Frequently that means we will be uncomfortable. And, seriously, that’s OK – even more than OK.

Before I go further, let me explain that for me this is not a question of “political correctness”. I don’t even like that term. It might just be a question of semantics, but to me it implies that something should be changed solely to appease one group or another because politicians are afraid of that particular group. I get that laws need to be changed sometimes in order for changes to happen and particularly for rights to be given, but changing individual attitudes and behaviours is more than that.

For me when we change how we act, what we say and what we accept from those around us – it shouldn’t be because it’s the “politically correct” thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do, out of simple human decency and respect.

This is one of those situations. Just because I’m curious about someone’s background and I don’t have any ill-will or malicious intent in my question doesn’t mean I have carte blanche to ask it whenever the urge strikes me. If I’m genuinely interested in that individual – and not just satisfying my own curiosity – then the first thing I should consider is whether or not my question would be welcome in the first place. (Another one of those reminders from the universe that it’s not, for some reason, all about me. 😉 )

Interestingly, I have even realized that I have not always enjoyed being asked that question myself.

As I said, I grew up in Newfoundland. European settlement of Newfoundland, which began in the 1500s, was primarily by English and Irish settlers, with some pockets of French communities depending on what was happening between Britain and France at any given moment. There are almost as many variations of English spoken in Newfoundland as there are communities. It is, I’m sure, a linquistic academic’s dream. (For more information about that, see the Wikipedia articles Newfoundland (island) and Newfoundland English.) In my “natural state”, I have an accent.

I lived almost 14 years in Calgary, Alberta. More often than not, as soon as someone heard me speak, they invariably asked either the general “Where are you from?” or the specific “Are you from Newfoundland?”

When I confirmed that I was, indeed from Newfoundland, the reactions were generally (in the other person’s mind, no doubt) very positive: “Oh! I love Newfies!” or “Newfies are the hardest workers!” There were also the comments about us being the biggest drinkers, too, which always came up when people found out that I was from Newfoundland and didn’t drink. “How is that possible???” they would ask with sincere incredulity. Happily, I never ran into the stereotype of “stupid Newfies”.

I either had to learn to just laugh it all off and take a 10-minute detour to every conversation when I first met someone or I had to learn to hide my accent and stop using those colourful expressions. Luckily, I have a knack for languages and accents and could hide that pretty easily. I also learned fairly quickly to avoid expressions that non-Newfoundlanders wouldn’t understand. (I should be clear: I never did this because of any sense of shame of being from Newfoundland; it was strictly because of how annoying and bothersome the interactions were.)

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t equate those experiences with the experiences that people of colour or who have immigrated to Canada deal with. Hardly. For one thing, I at least had a choice to be able to hide my linguistic identity. That choice is not available to people of a different colour or who aren’t able to blend in with the language so easily.

But thinking of my own experiences with that question has given me a bit of a different perspective into what it might be like for others on the receiving end of it. It also helped me realize that, even if there isn’t a sense of being made to feel like you don’t belong or perhaps of being “less than”, not everybody even wants to talk about where they are “from”. So I try to be respectful of that now.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Maya Angelou

If you’d like to learn a bit more about this, please check out this TED talk by Taiye Selasi and this Huffington Post article by Isabelle Khoo.

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Pyjamas at work and I don’t care

I was on the elevator at work yesterday – going up or down, I don’t remember and, really, it doesn’t matter. It was crowded and I was towards the back left. As I frequently do, I was standing there, minding my own business, looking down at the floor. Not an exciting thing to look at, but you have to look somewhere and the floor is the least obtrusive thing to look at.

Of course, when you look at the floor on a crowded elevator you see shoes and lower legs. Sometimes I see footwear that I really like. I might even say to the person, “I really like your shoes!” But generally, I just kind of stand there quietly minding my own business.

Yesterday, though, what I saw confused and surprised me.

There was the regular assortment of spring footwear, of course: dress shoes (either on the optimistic or those staying inside), rain boots for the more realistic folks venturing outside, and comfy shoes of various types.

Amid that, I saw this flash of colour that drew my attention. There, in front and to the right of my feet and lower legs were lower legs clad in what I think were pyjama bottoms. They were a dark blue, almost navy, in what looked like a jersey knit (t-shirty material) with about a 2-inch band of multi-coloured floral satiny fabric. I thought, “That can’t be right…” so I looked again, thinking they must be regular pants. But they looked loose and sloppy like pyjama bottoms.

Unable to resist, I scanned up her person, thinking the top would give me a clue. But she was wearing a long jacket. Bummer!

Now you might ask, “Lucy, why do you even care? It’s really none of your business.” And you would be right.

While I do live by the “pyjamas are for home and not for public” philosophy, I also live by the “you do your thing and I’ll do mine” philosophy. I’ve seen pyjamas in public before – lots. I’m sure you have, too. Perhaps you even wear them in public – who knows! When I see them, I just do my internal, middle-aged woman “tut tut” and that’s the end of it.

But seeing that yesterday – in an office setting – really confused me. It was like the generation gap opened wide with this loud sucking noise and flashing lights to make sure I was aware of the distance between me and the “It” generation. If those really were pyjamas, where was I when it became OK to wear them to work, when work isn’t a pyjama-testing job?

Where was I? I was so far away from the young adult scene as to be completely clueless about this. That’s where I was.

Now, I’ve never been one to be very savvy about fashion. I have no idea what’s really in or what’s really out. But you’d think I’d have an inkling as to whether or not this is now considered fashion, right? Apparently not. Cuz whether or not they really were pyjamas, they did look like them, and I don’t even know if it’s that’s a thing (outside the pages of “The People of Walmart”).

The other side of that realization has been that I discovered that I don’t even care that I don’t know. I mean, yeah, it hit me broadside at first – “Oh no! I’m getting old!” But then came, “Uh huh. So?” Then I realized that I genuinely don’t care that I don’t know if “that’s what the kids are wearing these days.” I really don’t.

And I like it.


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… ) 😉