BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Our little Princess

Nikolai has always been into queens and princesses.  Kings and princes are just auxiliary characters to him.  That is probably because kings and princes really are just auxiliary characters in the huge princess marketing campaign that is aimed at little girls.  Regardless, I really didn't know how much Nikolai loved princesses until he was given a cast-off princess colouring book that had been slightly used by one of his cousins.

Nikolai is not an artsy-craftsy sort of kid.  Oh how I wish he was into painting and gluing, colouring and cutting; but alas, Nikolai is just not that interested in art. My daydreams of us crafting together are barely realized by my continuous efforts to have him make the occasional greeting card to send out to his Grandparents.  Despite my best efforts as a crafty sort of mother, he really is a lego building kind of kid.  

All of that changed on the day we got the princess colouring book.  He loves that colouring book and has spent a lot of time colouring in the princesses with his purple and orange crayons.  So it hardly was a surprise when he started wearing a snow white costume around the playgroup we attend.  I am an open-minded mother.  I can handle his interest in wearing frilly dresses.  I even understand it!  Boys' clothing is downright boring.  Who wouldn't want to wear something sparkly that flounced nicely when twirling around?

But my own ability to be an open and accepting parent was challenged when the playgroup lent Nikolai a pink princess dress to wear home.  He wore that dress home, and wore it all the rest of that day.  At bedtime he carefully took the dress off and tucked it into his dresser.  The next morning he got dressed into jeans and a blue shirt before slipping the pink shimmering dress on over top.

I didn't have any problems with him wearing the dress around the house.  He knows that princes are boys and princesses are girls; but he also knows that princesses get all the action. Nikolai the princess, encompasses all the feminist principles of the Paper Bag Princess and Princess Smartypants.  He is a sword wielding, evil princess that steals things and banishes everyone from the castle.  Nikolai loves being a princess because he's never been introduced to a simperingly sweet Disney Princess.  He thinks princesses are full of gumption, bossy by nature and able to slay a dragon single handed.

Where the princess dress and I came into conflict is when he decided to wear it to story time at the library.  I was a bit surprised at how uncomfortable it made the other parents feel.  Even people that I had a nodding acquaintance with were distinctly distant.  The next day he raced around the backyard in his princess outfit causing a neighbour to remark to Brad about how nice it was he was relaxed about Nikolai's dressing up like a girl.  However, the princess outfit doesn't seem to be just a short phase, and as it continues to feature in our daily life I have found myself becoming immune to the odd side-long stares. 

Besides, how could I hate the princess dress?  It's the ONLY thing my son has reliably cleaned up every night.  Even now it's safely stored away in the bottom drawer of the dresser.

Casting a Spell:
At the park with Brad getting air on the spinning cup:
Throwing rocks into the ocean at the beach located four blocks from our house:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Green beer in Canada

Saint Patrick's Day in Canada is a much different thing then it is in Ireland.  In Ireland, it is a family holiday and a community holiday.  Unless you happen to live in Montreal, there really isn't a St. Patrick's Day Parade in Canada.  Instead it is a holiday belonging to the twenty-somethings, and it is primarily celebrated in a pub.

In Victoria, The Irish Times pub erected a large white beer tent that was fully decorated with the remains of Arthur Guinness Day decor.  And it is not a holiday that is restricted to the Irish pubs; our local pub, The Bent Mast, had a bouquet of green balloons tied to their doorway, announcing their party intentions.  But... 

while we enjoy a good pint at the pub, it just didn't seem like the right way to celebrate our love of Ireland... we certainly don't love Ireland for the beer... and we never even went to a pub in Temple Bar...

So we decided to throw ourselves a dinner party instead.  It was very reminiscent of our time in Ireland.  A herd of children running around, jumping on the bed, spreading toys everywhere and spilling food all over the floor.  Adults sharing good craic (conversation) over our pints and dinners until our over-tired children started to self-combust from a sugar induced mania.  And just a few homemade decorations to remind us of our time in Ireland... and it's not that I don't own proper St. Patrick's Day party ware...

however... much to my very great annoyance... our stuff is still sitting in a warehouse in Montreal (likely enjoying the festivities there).  At this rate our shipment will arrive in time to be a 4th birthday present for Nikolai... in June!  While I may have initially missed Nikolai's trains and my bike, I am now eager for my running shoes (trainers), our cookbooks and gardening books, our summer clothes... ah the list is endless. 

I've blogged quite a few savoury Irish recipes... and really vegetarian fare isn't the cultural norm.  So in honor of St. Patrick and the snakes, I'm going to blog two sweet recipes.

The photo above is evidence of the other activity we spent our weekend doing... and och! my back feels the burden.  We're actually not completely done yet, but we only have to remove the grass before we have a friend to come over to till it for us on Saturday.  It's proves to be a much more difficult task then we initially realized it would be!

Crispy Buns
Every children's party, in the whole of the isle, has at least one plate of crispy buns to ensure that the children are sufficiently hyper by the end of the party.
The recipe is super simple:
Melt chocolate (I used one bag of chocolate chips).
Stir in crispy rice cereal (you can choose to use a no name brand or the trade marked variety).  Just use enough to ensure that all the rice is coated by chocolate.
 Scoop into muffin wrappers and leave to cool and solidify before serving.

Chocolate Biscuit Cake
Apparently this was made popular by the fact that Prince William chose to have it as his grooms cake.  I remember it as a small square that was available at the Farmer's Market in Maynooth and in most cafes.

Hand crush one package of Rich Tea biscuits.
Cream together 4 oz of butter and 4 oz of sugar in a separate bowl.
Melt 4 oz of dark chocolate.

Add the creamed butter to the melted chocolate and mix until smooth.  Then add in one egg, and gently fold in the biscuits until everything is nicely coated in the chocolate mixture.

Spread into a small greased cake pan.  Top with wax paper and try to flatten out as much as possible.  Then refrigerate for 3 hours.  If you are feeling fancy you could coat it with a layer of melted chocolate after it's cooled, but I think it's fine as a simple chocolate-y square. Sorry for the not very appetizing photo... but I forgot to take the picture until AFTER they'd all been eaten!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A controversial series: episode 1 - Electricity

This week I rediscovered the world.  OK, perhaps it wasn't that dramatic, but I did find out that if I listened to daytime radio (after 9 am and before 3pm) that I could get through the news segments without the dramatic sound effects that cause my son to ask difficult questions like "what's a homicide?"  As a result I rediscovered my love for radio documentaries!

For example, today I listened to a documentary on Climate Change.  Basically it was focused on a controversial book, and how the author found the controversy absolutely appalling.  And I would have to agree, denying climate change is basically the same as suggesting the earth is flat. We know the earth is round because science proves it, and science proves that climate change is occurring (though perhaps not so much anymore, now that the Conservative Canadian government decided to stop funding the Arctic research station).  Anyways, I'm not here to debate over whether climate change "is real" because to do so is counter productive to Nikolai's future on this planet.

Instead I'm going to express my astonishment at how cheap energy in BC is!  It's no wonder that even my "green" initiative prior to moving to Ireland was way more wasteful than my everyday habits after having learned to live with extremely high power bills.  If 1 hour of heating literally costs 1 euro (can't find the symbol on my Canadian keyboard), then you start to rethink 24/7 heating.

Today I found the BC hydro power calculator, and realized that there really isn't any monetary incentives to saving power.  All their PowerSmart campaigns can do is inspire people to save power through an appeal to their good nature.  So now we come down to the other controversial part of my blog... The Smart Meter.  Now I have friends who work at BC hydro, and they are very much in favor of the Smart Meters, and I know people who think the power meters are an invasion of privacy, and that the EMF's are potentially harmful.  But I'm not going to delve into the evils of the cellphone quite yet (save that for another episode); however, I do wonder at the requirement of the power meters.

It seems like an awfully expensive project to help save power (though the cost should be recouped by efficiencies), I just wonder at why they don't just raise our fees?  If you want people to start hang-drying their clothes then make it unaffordable not to!  Besides, indoor drying is a great way to humidify the dry air of a snowy winter.

On that note I just have to comment that I still can't figure out how to fill my giant "American-sized" refrigerator, and I still find everyone's houses to be way too warm!

Now, to offer some ideas as to how to diversify your grains... here's how I enjoy millet.

Millet Polenta
Rinse 1 cup of millet, then cook for 30 minutes 3 1/4 cups of broth, until all the water is absorbed.

It will be a dense mass.  Press this mass into a loaf pan and smooth it out with a spoon.  Leave it to cool for a few hours, or overnight.

Then turn the millet out onto a cutting board.  It should easily come out as one big mass. Slice into 1/2" thick slices.  Then you can prepare this just as you would for corn polenta.  I tend to fry mine until browned on both side, then serve it with a sauce.
Millet Quiche Crust

Prepare millet in the same fashion as for the polenta.  Though I would recommend using just 3/4 cup of millet and 2 cups of water for one regular sized pie crust.  When it's cooked press it into a pie plate.  You can then make any quiche recipe that you would like!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

To blog or not to blog

The truth is... I'm having trouble blogging.  This is likely because I am spending a lot of my creative brain power on editing the book (which proves to be much harder than writing it was in the first place).  Also, all my usual blog topics are dried up...
... I'm no longer an ex-pat doing those funny ex-pat things
... I'm no longer visiting tourist sights (there are far fewer sights to see in Victoria)
... I am completely out of the news loop because the radio segments seem to be far too explicit and graphic to have on in the background, as Nikolai is sure to repeat the information wondering about the drama of so much death. (The Irish news stations cover much less world news, so it's mostly about Euro affairs with only a brief coverage of world drama. Whereas, Canadian stations tend to punctuate the news stories with the sounds of gunfire and people crying.  Should I wonder at the fact that he's suddenly of fascinated by guns?  Since he still is afraid of watching Pingu, I'm hoping that a viewing of Bambi will cure him of his interest.)

I guess I could turn this into a blog of our mundane life... but I am not so inclined.  Interesting stories are fun to tell and fun to read, but does anyone really want to read a whole blog about Nikolai's new preschool? (I switched him because he didn't seem to be enjoying the previous one, but now I have to walk 25 minutes to drop him off... and 25 minutes back home again. So I signed him up for 5 1/2 hour days to make up for the long commute.  I ABSOLUTELY CAN'T WAIT UNTIL MY BIKE FINALLY SHOWS UP!!!) The picture above is of a peacock that wandered into our backyard from Beacon Hill Park. Nikolai fed the peacock, and found him to be easily trained to follow a trail of bread crumbs all over the garden. ---Ahem---

So I've decided to move into a blog that interests me... a food blog!  This basically allows me to clear out my folder of recipes into an easily searchable database (thanks to the google search bar and my recipe index).  However, if my readership plummets due to the lack of material then I will probably bid my blog adieu, as it has become a bit of a task master.

Today's recipe is Pot Pie. In a fit of nostalgia for Simple Simon's Pie Man I made a traditional pie for dinner this week, and found it to be quite quick and easy to do!

Mix a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup of butter (or alternative) into 2 cups of flour (I used wholegrain spelt) until it resembles a coarse meal.  Then add just enough cold water to turn it into a workable dough.  I used about 1/2 cup. Refrigerate until you are ready roll it out.

Basically any stew will do, but here's my generic recipe. Mix all the ingredients together then turn into the pie for baking.  As a veggie recipe, the ingredients don't require pre-cooking as long as you dice everything up finely.
-1 onion diced
-1 potato diced
-1/2 cup of dried red lentils cooked until soft
-1 tsp of oregano
-2 tsp of bullion powder
-1/2 cup of grated cheese
-Salt to taste

Variations include adding different vegetables, using curry powder instead of the oregano, making a white sauce for the base rather than using cooked lentils, or if you're short on time you could eliminate the lentils and allow the potatoes to form the base.

Form the pastry either in a pie plate, or the half moon shape of a pasty.  Fill and seal off. Make a few incisions on the top to allow steam to escape. Bake at 400 C (200 F) for 30min, or until the filling is bubbling and the pastry is browned.

Friday, March 02, 2012

It's a small world after all!

One rainy afternoon a couple weeks ago, we decided to set upon our stack of paperwork.  In Nikolai's case this was directed towards making the required 16 valentine cards that he was to distribute to his preschool classmates.  Though this practice seemed a bit odd to his Irish friends, in Canada Valentine's is not just for couples, but rather a general exchange of cards. (Likely brought about by Hallmark to sell more cards.)  And I decided (mainly because I didn't have the time to go shopping for store-bought cards) that Nikolai should participate in making his cards.  This basically involved cutting out heart shapes from craft paper and decorating them with stickers. A seemingly simple task that became impossible to complete due to the shear number of cards to be done.

On the other side of the kitchen table I tackled our pile of mail. My success was much greater (though perhaps it's not fair to compare my diligence with that of a three year old), and by the time we were done all I had left was a stack of letters to mail.  I had stamped, addressed and readied everything to go, leaving behind just one letter to be addressed.  We were sending postcards to some of our friends in Ireland, and remembering Irish mailing addresses is a pretty simple task... if you know where the person lives then that's all you need!  There are no postal codes or tricky systems to figure out, all you need to know is the street address.

In fact, in a town as small as Maynooth sometimes a name is all that is required to have mail delivered. We've actually had first hand experience with this relative miracle in the modern age of mail when An Post (postal service) automatically started forwarding our mail about a month after we moved to Earl's Court.  I guess there aren't that many Zarikoff's or Parrish's in Maynooth!

Back to Victoria and my stack of postcards and redirected mail... the next day we carried the pile to the mail box and sent them on their way.  It was only after I tipped them in that I realized the unaddressed postcard was in the batch!  It was to Nikolai's old preschool, and though it had been fully decorated for Valentine's it wasn't addressed.  The issue was that I couldn't remember the name (Tiggywinkles or Tiddlywinks). It wasn't that I had forgotten the name, just that I was always getting it wrong, even when Nikolai was attending the school! I thought of hassling our local post office to get the errant postcard back, but it seemed easier to simply make another one.

So this past Monday I had Nikolai sit down with his paints to make a replacement postcard.  (For some reason he was way less interested in painting the postcard than he was in painting the hockey sticks we'd cut out of an old cardboard box.  It certainly hasn't taken him long to adopt some Canadian interests!)  But this week, I have been languishing with a flu so the painted postcard has remained unsent.

Now to the punchline of the story... have you guessed it yet?

Today we found out that the errant postcard arrived safely to Tiggywinkles and Scallywags!  A friend in the class wanted to know just how famous was Nikolai to have the postcard arrive safely.  It had been addressed thusly: Dear Preschool Teachers and Class, (insert a bunch of shiny heart stickers)  From Nikolai.  Maynooth, Kildare, IRELAND.  Personally, I'm pretty amazed.  There are at least four other preschools in town, so it's not like it was an easy task to figure out which one had a former student named Nikolai. Now that is a mailbox miracle! Kudos to the An Post workers (and perhaps the strength of the Maynooth gossip circles)!

The picture is from the beach at the end of Government street, but don't worry, he didn't go racing down that hill! It's taken with my fancy new phone, and I don't think the picture's half bad!