This blog is no longer being updated, but if you like what you see here, be sure to join me over at Life Pared Down!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections on a Year

Hmm, it's New Year's Eve already.

Christmas came and went quietly, but not unnoticed. It wasn't the holiday I'm used to. There was no fan fare, or travelling, or big dinner. There was no endless string of photographs. There was no turkey, or stuffing or mashed potatoes.

But there was family, and smiles and laughter. There were presents exchanged and virtual hugs and kisses given. Our day was made better for the simple fact that despite 7000 kilometres between us and our families, they were there. My brother was away with his girlfriend visiting her family and we had a very frustrating chat before they left that made me momentarily curse our internet connections. Hopefully our chat next week will be better.

On Christmas morning, at 8am, my parents called us over Skype from their hotel. They went away for a couple days, since it was just them this year. An 8 hour time difference meant that technically it was Christmas morning for them too. They watched while we opened some of the gifts the sent over and we all watched as K sort of got the hang of this opening gifts deal we tossed at her. It was amusing.

I made the most wonderful muffins for breakfast and not only were they easy, they put me in a festive mood. Thank you dear Nigella. If you want the recipe, click HERE.

Later in the evening we Skyped with hubby family who were all there and it was so wonderful to talk to everyone. We miss everyone greatly and it's hard to be away, but this helped.

I didn't make turkey. A fact that later that morning I lamented to one of my dearest friends to as I texted as many people a message as I could. Instead I made this fabulous spiced leg of lamb, which while being amazing, didn't quite hit the spot the way a bit of turkey, stuffing and gravy does.

So I decided that we would do a turkey dinner on New Years Day. And then there were no small turkey crowns to be had. Except for frozen turkeys that were far too big for our small gas oven. We did however find a small frozen turkey crown from a frozen food store that will cook in 2 hours 45 minutes from frozen. Great! It's the right size so that while I can't stuff it, I could make a small amount of stuffing to go in the oven. Then I realized before dinner tonight that there was a problem with this plan:

I don't have the herbs I need for the stuffing, dried or fresh.


Sorry, but stuffing isn't the same without that wonderful blend of marjoram, sage, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. It just isn't.

So we're having turkey… with no stuffing. And no cranberries. Sigh…

Normally I'm really good at planning holiday meals, but when we had done our shopping earlier in the week for New Years and our turkey plan fell through, I didn't get most of the stuff I needed for it. Then we reverted back to the original plan and forgot half the things we needed.

I feel silly… and gypped.

(I should note that there are no stores open here tomorrow. Not even the express stores)

* * * * *

More importantly, I'm trying to wrap my mind around 2011. Years ago, back in the early days of my relationship with R, we discussed his career. I knew there was a chance he could get a job overseas. Did I actually ever truly imagine that I would actually be living across the world far from the country of my birth?


I've come to realize that I am a exploring dreamer. I like the idea of it, but the reality scares me! I do think that I have lost some of the ability I used to have to jump into things with both feet. Now, I need to dip my toes in a little and then I'll jump in. At least that is how things are for the time being. Perhaps it'll change, perhaps it won't.

I'm pondering a new motto for 2012 as my dear friend C and I do every year. Not sure what it will be yet.

As for the shift from one year to another, it will go rather quietly and I've decided I'm alright with that.

As you reflect on the closing of one year and the entrance of a new one, take a moment to be grateful for all that you have. In these days of uncertainty across the globe, there is much still to smile at and laugh about. There is also, always, hope.

I'll see you in 2012.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Looking for the Magic

Three days till Christmas and I find myself in a strange place. I'm happy enough about the holidays but I wouldn't say I'm excited really. It's not the same without friends and family to celebrate with. This is the first Christmas that we're entirely on our own for and I keep thinking that we need to do something, but I've yet to find anything interesting to do on Christmas day since most places are closed. Still pondering but so far all I've come up with a a good walk in the morning. The issue with this? The Met Office has issued a heavy rain warning for Christmas day and possibly Boxing Day as well.

Yeah, okay. Back to the drawing board.

Nonetheless, I did do the one bit of shopping on Tuesday that I needed to do. I actually went out in the evening… on my own! I realized that it was the first time I've done so since we got to Scotland. Why? I've never really had a reason to go anywhere at night, unless we've been out for dinner.

Since we haven't had much snow to take pictures of, here's some from last year when we were living with hubby's parents. These are all natural light images at night during the actual snowfal. All I can say was that the hushed sounds and crispness made it so very magical. I could use a little of this right now...

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Rewards of Cooking

Okay, you know you've been waiting for it. Admit it, you've been wondering if I would toss some foodie posts out there…

So my lovelies, I shall indulge you.

I love Indian food. I was never very fond of my parent's curry growing up, but then again I didn't like anything too spicy either. But when I finally got a decent set of taste buds and discovered curries exists outside of using curry powder, I was ecstatic! Give me a good butter chicken and a korma and I'm happy. Of course, I love the naan that goes with it. Pakoras, samosas, mmmm!

I decided a little while ago that I wanted to learnt to make my favourite dishes on my own. So, I set about looking up recipes. One evening, hubby and I were watching a BBC channel and a cooking show came on. I had never heard of The Hairy Bikers before, but oh how I love them! That particular episode, they were doing a special on cauliflower and did the most wonderful looking Indian dish I had ever seen: Saag aloo with roasted gobi curry. The only thing I didn't include when I made it was the whole chilies, so that K could have some if she wanted. She actually really loves very flavourful foods as long as it's not too hot. This toddler of mine likes mild salsa…

Baby girl also loves korma. It's mild and the coconut cream based sauce is one of my favourites. So I looked over several recipes and decided to make it up as I went with the basic spices, coconut milk and chicken.

The saag aloo dish I've made twice now and I have to say that my favourite part of these kinds of dishes is when you add the dry spices to the pan and cook them a bit before adding other ingredients. The whole flat smells of these flavours and it makes me happy.

The korma dish I made was… okay. It had cinnamon in the one recipe I was basing it off of and having tried it, I would leave it out. It took away something that made korma different.

But here, for your feasting eyes, was the result of my efforts:

Speaking of spices, I decided to spice up my usual shortbread recipe. Now, there are many recipes out there, but traditional shortbread is made up of only three ingredients: butter, sugar and flour. I use brown sugar and it results in a caramelly flavour that I love. Typically I use a light brown sugar so that it remains flaky, but the darker the sugar you use the more crunchy it gets.

To change mine up, I bought green cardamom pods and went through the painstaking process of using a pairing knife to slit open the pods and dump out the dark seeds. Oh the aroma! It's like warm lemons hitting you and it's divine! I "crushed" them a little with the back of a spoon, which was my only option considering I have no motar and pestle. To that I added a pinch of dried ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg and the finely grated rind of one orange. While I have no picture (they're in the freezer for Christmas), all I can say is that it smelled like Christmas in my kitchen and tasted like it too!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Today was the first day in two weeks that I ventured out of our neighbourhood. It was even the first day I ventured more than a few minutes walk in about 10 days. All I can say is that it was nice! The weather is damp and cold, but to me it felt refreshing. Walking kept you just warm enough to keep from shivering but not too warm that you wanted to unzip your fuzzy lined jacket.

R and I took K into the city centre on the subway. Being that it was late morning the train was pretty busy and we nestled ourselves into the cozy train at the end of the car. Being on this particular underground (also known occasionally as the 'Clockwork Orange' for the old orange trains and the fact it simply runs in a single loop) is much like being on a rollercoaster. Your hurtle along at what feels like to be dizzying speeds, turning sharply and being tossed about like a dingy on a stormy sea. My advice to those who get motion sickness is to stick to the middle of the cars. Still, for those who like the adrenaline rush, you can get a healthy dose of 'who the hell is driving this thing' by sitting at the end. And yes, there are drivers, which coming from Vancouver, BC, is rather novel. We always joke that Vancouver's Skytrain rapid rail system is the world's largest toy train set, but really, it's probably not all that far from the truth.

Another interesting set of facts about our underground will probably amuse or concern those of any decent height: The system dates back to 1896 and is the third oldest underground system after London's and Budapest's. Once can imagine that they weren't too concerned with people over 6 feet tall and the tunnel itself is only 11 feet (3.35 m) in diameter. Think about that for a second. Have you seen the movie The Incredibles? You know the scene where Elastagirl is on the little shuttle thingy and they go into the cavern and she has to flatten herself? Yeah, pretty much the same here. My poor brother who is 6'5" will be ducking to get into the train car.

Once you're inside though, and you get a seat, you realize the other quirk about such an old system: the noise. It is such that I can barely hear my music even with it turned almost all the way up, and a "conversation" with another person consists of shouting at each other, even if you're sitting next to each other. Couple that with the fact that few stations have escalators and there are no elevators, meaning we can't bring the K's buggy and have to carry her, means that I only ever take the subway if I'm by myself or with R. It's just too inconvenient with a toddler who still dislikes walking any great distance. Sure, it's been "updated" over the years and it's going through a modernization right now, but it's got a long way to go, as far as I'm concerned, before it's a system that can be considered accessible.

That said, we did head downtown and we managed to get two things: a pair of boots for me (much needed in the cold!) and a 3 foot pre-lit christmas tree to go on our table. I'm feeling rather festive just thinking about it.

Being out in the crowds today was nice actually, if you could handle dodging the people rushing past you. Buchanan Street (aka the Style Mile) is all decked out for the holidays and the usual pipe and drum bands have been replaced by Army and Salvation Army bands playing Christmas songs. My first hint of this was walking towards the first store I wanted to go to and hearing The Holly and the Ivy played by a trumpet and tuba. It just felt so… happy, much like how you do when you watch your favourite holiday films.

Perhaps it was the self-imposed isolation of the last week, but the crowds didn't bother me. After the bad cold K and I had, she, then I, then R all ended up with a very bad stomach bug. All I'll say to that effect is that I haven't experienced abdominal pain that bad since I gave birth…

The other unfortunate bit about being sick for so long is that now I'm behind in getting things in the mail, which is rather annoying. But I can only do what I can do and hope for the best.

Speaking of which, if you heard about the huge storm that hit the UK on Thursday, you'll be glad to know we made it through unscathed. Continual winds at 70 mph (112 kph), with gusts inland here in Glasgow at 90 mph (144 kph). On the coast, the gusts were often over 130 mph (209 kph) and I believe the highest recorded speed was at some high elevation at 156mph (251 kph)! I don't know about you, but even 112 kph is enough to make me stay inside. The last time I tried to take Kio out in a bad wind storm, a gust hit when I got to the bottom of the hill I live on and I had to throw my entire weight over the stroller to keep the last wheel from leaving the ground, as it had already started to tip. After that I promptly went home, where the wind decided to die down and the sun came out; not impressed at all. But that is the weather here in Scotland. Vancouver's frequent changes have nothing on this.

So there you go, I have surfaced, and as you can tell, am in a rather good mood even though I'm still not 100% better. Many more stories to come.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Photo of the Day: Winter Wonderland

I keep trying to come up with a post but I've been sick the last few days and I'm lucky I can manage (barely) to keep up with K, who's also sick as well. So instead I give you another photo. This is from last year when we lived with my in-laws for a couple months. It's December and I'm feeling Christmasy and I wish we had snow like this here but alas all we have is a heck of a lot of rain and good wind storms. though it's getting cold enough that snow/rain is on the forecast. Having lived on a coast with lots of rain most of my life I won't pin any hopes on that particular forecast.