Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: a year in review

I can't even begin to describe what a crazy year 2015 was... but you know I'm gonna describe it anyway.

In 2015:
  • I had 4 massive projects at work that took up a huge amount of my focus and energy
  • we rescued a simply delightful 3 month old lab/great pyrenees puppy, Sasha, who is now 13 months old and still just as delightful (minus the chewing on stuff)
  • I sang BGVs for a super fun concert with an R&B band, and continued to sing with my women's choir
  • my youngest sister got married - it was one of the 3 best weddings I've ever been to
  • my husband and I went on a family vacation with my parents and siblings to Tuscany
  • he and I went to England and stayed in a manor-house with an Earl and Countess
  • I went to Vancouver for the U2 concert and some much-needed girlfriend time
  • we went away to the mountains for our anniversary
  • the two of us catered a burgers and salad meal for 300 people
  • my family camped every weekend for a month and a half of the summer
  • we threw my parents a 40th anniversary garden party complete with formalwear, a bluesy dixie band, a dance, and an amazing home-grilled meal (that we cooked) for around 70 guests
  • we grew our biggest garden yet but fought major drought
  • we hosted out of town dear friends for a couple of weeks (and loved every minute)
  • we did a road trip from Alberta to Oregon to Southern California and back... taking nearly a month and driving over 7000 kilometres
  • we cooked a lot of great food, had some wonderful moments with lovely people, and learned a lot about ourselves and the life we want to have.

It was a great year. It was one with some incredibly big adjustments. 

Last December, my wonderful and brave husband 'retired' from his job and tackled being a primary parent and working part time. He cooked, cleaned, home schooled the kids, and was amazing at every little and big thing he did. I came home from work to a clean house, a great meal, and laundry that was caught up with. 

It was humbling for me, who always struggled to keep the house up to snuff at the same time as everything else. It was also a life-saver, because without him I don't think I would have made it through this crazy year. My work took a huge amount of my time and energy this year, and I struggled with the sense of missing out on things I really wanted to be doing for myself.

Then again, looking at that list above, it seems like we actually did a lot last year! More importantly I know I grew as a person. Better still, my husband and I got even more solid as friends and as a couple, which is phenomenal to me. Going into last year, I thought we were already a really tight team, and yet we managed to grow even more! 

I have so many things to share, but it will wait until another day. 

Goodnight, sleep tight, and we'll see you in 2016.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Southwestern Quinoa with Roasted Butternut Squash

My 4 year old daughter helps me cook every time she catches me in the kitchen. She doesn't 
even wait for an invitation, just washes her hands, pushes out the folding step-stool, and hops up beside me, exclaiming, "Can I help, please, Mama?" How could you turn that down?

As a result, she can now tell me when something is simmering or boiling, she knows how much olive oil to add to a pan, and she is gaining a real appreciation for all things food-related. That's my girl! The other day, she said, "Food is much better when we cook it here." Amen, little lady. Amen.

This recipe is so amazing! 

Normally, I'm not really a huge squash fan, unless it is done just right. This, however, had me coming back for more. The flavour is amazing!

Here are my tweaks on the recipe found here on MyFitnessPal's blog:

Southwestern Quinoa with Roasted Butternut Squash

1 medium (about 2 pounds) butternut squash, cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
2 cups homemade chicken stock
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 limes, juiced
2 tsp lime zest
2 MORE cloves garlic, minced
Handful of chopped cilantro (approx. 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 medium avocados, cubed
goat cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.

Toss cubed butternut squash in olive oil, salt, pepper and 2 cloves of garlic and spread into a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned and soft.

Place quinoa in broth over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cover. Let simmer until liquid is absorbed.

Mix the red wine vinegar with the lime juice, zest, 2 more cloves garlic, cilantro and cayenne. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To make the salad, combine squash, quinoa and beans with dressing. Sprinkle with diced avocado and more cilantro as you like. Serve warm or cold - it's amazing either way!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Perfect Espresso Cupcake

Sometimes I realize that life's best moments can be placed on a palate of colours, flavours, sights and smells, and then brought back down the road. Sweet and creamy frosting with a hint of coffee, and a soft and moist cupcake that melts in your mouth.... these bring back only good memories!

My sister was married last Thursday, and it was the most beautiful and joyful wedding I have been to in years. She met her man in Rome, and they share a love for fine art, fine scotch, and fine coffee. (I respect that deeply, just so you know.)

When we threw my sister's bridal shower last month, I wanted to create a confection that was pleasing to the eye and the palate, and would tell a story even as it tantalized the tastebuds. Espresso cupcakes with buttercream frosting were the final decision.

I couldn't find a recipe that I was happy with, so I took my favourite vanilla cupcake recipe and adapted it. 

Without further ado:

Perfect Espresso Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream

Makes about 30 cupcakes (this recipe multiplies well)

2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tsp vanilla
3 T instant espresso powder
1 cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350, and line muffin tins with paper liners. 

Dissolve espresso powder in vanilla. 

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs on medium speed until frothy. Add sugar and continue to beat until very pale. Ad vanilla mixture and oil and beat. Reduce speed to low and slowly add half of the flour mixture, and then half the buttermilk, then flour, then buttermilk. The batter will be thin.

Pour to half-full in the muffin cups, and bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes, or until the tops spring back lightly when touched. Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool fully.

Frost when cool.

Coffee Buttercream Frosting

1 cup butter
1 cup shortening
2 T vanilla
2 T dark rum (this cuts the sweetness of the icing sugar)
2 T instant espresso powder
Icing sugar

Mix the espresso powder with the rum and vanilla. Beat the butter on high speed with the shortening until it is white and fluffy. Beat in vanilla/rum/espresso mixture until smooth. Gradually add icing sugar until you get the consistency you want. You may add a couple of tablespoons of milk if you need to thin it down. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Nut-butter Brownies for the New Year

Happy 2015, dear ones!
My lovely winter driveway.

I love newness. I know I've said it before, but it's true. New years, new seasons, new opportunities for growth. I struggle with change, but I like newness. Maybe this year, I'll transition my change-phobia into some kind of appreciation of it. That can be a hope, because I can tell you right now that 2015 will be a year of change.

Hopefully the first change will be some major growth in perseverance on my part, because I need it. I'm joining a DietBet with some friends and acquaintances, and that will certainly help keep me motivated for a month, at least. (Join me, if you'd like! The more the merrier!)

Meanwhile, I'm going to keep hosting friends and enjoying good food. The recent family celebrations over Christmas have seen goodness such as smoked chickens, cedar-planked beef tenderloin slathered in roasted garlic-rosemary paste, and many other amazing things. They're all pretty healthy things, too. 

Happy New Year to all! 

Moderation is really the only thing that has been lacking from my diet of late, but I have to admit I've truly enjoyed myself. My husband is a darn good cook, and I'm not so bad myself. That's not likely to change, so maybe the intake is what I need to look at.

If you're looking for something chocolately and totally satisfying, and at the same time pretty healthy, look no further than these amazing brownies! I found the recipe on the incredible paleo blog Elana's Pantry, and have made them many times to resounding praise.

They're dense, chocolatey goodness, all while being grain-free, refined-sugar-free and dairy-free. Healthy fats and lots of energy are packed into a very fulfilling little morsel.

So, while you might be done with much of the holiday rush and settling back into a routine, think of these as a good power-food to take to your kids' sporting events or gymnastics, or as a nice guilt-free treat for your next gathering. And go ahead, share this recipe. Chocolate (and sharing) makes the world go 'round, I'm pretty sure.

Elana's Paleo Brownies
1 (16oz) jar creamy roasted almond butter (or other nut butter, or even peanut butter, if that's all you've got on hand)
2 eggs
1 1/4 c honey (or agave)
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soada
1 c chocolate chunks

Grease a 9x13 baking dish, and preheat to 325. In a large bowl, beat nut butter until smooth. Blend in eggs, then blend in honey and vanilla. Blend in cocoa powder, salt and baking soda, then fold in chocolate chunks. Pour into prepared baking dish, and bake at 325 for 25-40 minutes. 
Your baking time will depend on the nut butter you used, and how soft and gooey you want your final product. They can still be a little jiggly when you pull them out of the oven, but should have pulled away from the sides of the dish. Allow them to cool completely before cutting into squares and serving. (Makes about 24.)

Let me know what you think!

Here's some gratuitous Canadian winter for you.