Wednesday, February 28, 2007

a star is was born

My little monkey turned 14 today!

He used to look like this:

Now he looks like this:

"Highway to Hell", anyone?

You KNOW there was cake, but I seem to be having a Mercury Retrograde week and will have to wait until tomorrow to tell you all about it.

Happy Birthday, Big Guy!


Monday, February 26, 2007

bet you can't stop at just one

All right, I'll admit it, I'm addicted.

Ever since I discovered that our local supermarket carried little cans of hot wasabi peas, I've become an out-of-control snacker. The market may not have fresh spinach or chocolate chips or proper brown sugar, but they have hot wasabi peas. It's a step in the right direction. But it's also my downfall. I cannot stop eating those things.

What's worse is that shortly after my discovery, Mr M found out that the wholesale market we sometimes shop at has great big cans of wasabi peas, as well as their partner in crime, those crunchy round sesame peanut crackers.

I can take or leave the sesame crackers, actually. It's those tiny peas that have really stolen my heart and my taste buds.

I'm obviously done for now and will have to start rationalizing my consumption. Hmm, let's peas are vegetables, aren't they? There's got to be some nutrition in there somewhere. And if you let the delicious, spicy wasabi coating melt slowly on your tongue it'll clear that sinus infection right up. A definite health benefit, for me at least. At this time I'm still in denial about the palm oil and the FD&C Yellow #5 and Blue #1 dyes, though, and have chosen to ignore how those ingredients may be affecting my quality of life.

But I guess there are worse things to be addicted to, and it looks like many people in Germany may start thinking about kicking the habit soon. The tobacco habit, that is. Last Friday Hannover played host to the "Nichtraucher Gipfel" - a summit to discuss Germany's anti-smoking laws, or lack thereof. State health ministers finally agreed to ban smoking in public buildings including hospitals, schools, daycare centres, night clubs, pubs and restaurants, unless restaurant owners are able to provide a separate room for patrons who still wish to smoke. Smoking will also be prohibited in public transportation, something I am very happy about.

Further information here:

German States Agree On Limited Smoking Ban in Restaurants

Germany Will Ring in 2008 Smoke-Free

The Power Behind the German Smoking Ban Stalemate

Opinion: Plans For Smoking Ban Are Half-Hearted

This ban is a huge step forward in terms of protecting the health of Germany's citizens, especially children. Over 3,000 people in Germany die every year from the effects of passive smoking, whereas not one single person has expired from watching me eat hot wasabi peas.

Food for thought.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

everything but the kitchen sink

Kim at Stepping Stones tagged me for a "what's in your handbag meme" and I'm happy to oblige.

I seem to be one of the few women on earth who couldn't care less about designer handbags. I do have a lot of bags, but none of them were very expensive. I go more for function and comfort. They have to be able to hold all my stuff and not slip off my shoulder every 5 minutes. Mr M is the only other person who's allowed to dig around in my bag, but he doesn't do it very often.

I've been using this green bag since last November and it has held up well so far.

And of course you want to know what I carry around with me on a day to day basis.

cell phone
address book
appointment calendar
4 pens
make-up bag
hair brush
breath mints
bus schedule
nasal spray
travel sickness pills
Lufthansa air sickness bag
plastic Edeka shopping bag
red fabric shopping bag with Mr M's company logo on it
the kitchen sink

I'm ready for anything!

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Monday, February 19, 2007

lucky duck

Sunday was the first day of Chinese New Year. That reminded me of home since Vancouver has a huge Asian population and Chinese New Year is such a popular celebration. You'll hear people all over the place greeting each other with "Gung Hay Fat Choy!"- a wish for prosperity in the coming year - and see tons of red and gold decorations, red and gold being lucky colours in the Chinese culture.

On the weekend we had a meal in honour of the lunar new year with a few symbolic foods.

These scary creatures are marbled tea eggs, simmered in black tea leaves and five spice powder. They symbolize fertility. (No, no further plans in that area in case you were wondering!)

A big pile o' noodles for longevity

Fish cooked whole symbolizes togetherness and abundance

And roast duck brings happiness and fidelity

Almond cookies, sugared walnuts and dried fruit ensure a sweet start into the Year of the Pig.

Apologies for the crappy quality of the photos. These pictures are sort of reflecting the way I've been feeling lately - totally unfocused and a little bit surreal with all the colours slightly out of whack. Know the feeling? I'm hoping it'll pass soon. Actually, the way things have been going, I think I may just start my year all over again right now if it's OK with you.

Anyway, all this food got me to thinking about how much I used to enjoy exploring Chinatown in Vancouver. Here's part of a piece I wrote in 2005 about one of my favourite childhood food memories.

#3: The On-On Restaurant in Chinatown

I learned to use chopsticks at an early age.

As far as I know, San Francisco has the largest Chinatown in North America. Vancouver's Chinatown comes in a close second, which means that there are literally hundreds of good and not so good Chinese restaurants to choose from. Back when I was a child, we chose the On-On on Keefer Street. The restaurant itself was nothing to look at, quite the greasy spoon in fact. The food, however, was divine, and judging by the scads of Chinese patrons, fairly authentic. We’d go at least once a month, I’d say, and have a wonderful meal. I even had a birthday party there once, as I recall.

Usually we’d just ask the waiter to bring us what he thought we’d like and what really sticks out in my mind was their sweet and sour pork, a mostly westernized dish, but exotic enough to the young palate. The little bone-in morsels were covered in a sticky bright red sweet and sour sauce that we couldn’t get enough of. The fact that you got to spit something out onto your plate without getting yelled at made it even more fun for us kids.

Another thing I remember about our Chinese dinners out was my grandmother just being herself. Our Nonna (English, not Italian, but spent many years in Rome) could not go near a pair of chopsticks (usually her own, thankfully) without sticking them up her nose and letting them hang there for a few seconds, making her look like some kind of walrus gone wrong. She did this every time we went and my brothers and I were absolutely mortified. So much for being a fine English lady. Now we wish she was still around to embarass us.

Gung Hay Fat Choy, Nonna, wherever you are.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

a romantic little dinner for...four

Well, you know where all that romance can lead to if you're not careful: two extra place settings at the dinner table. Ha ha. Hmm, maybe Mr. M and I should leave the kids at home and go out on a real date sometime. It's been a while. Like maybe 14 years or so. Oh well.

Last night I made chicken and prawn skewers with a fruit salsa, basmati rice and stir-fried broccoli. The recipe came from an old magazine and was developed especially for Valentine's Day by a Chinese chef who claimed that in Chinese folklore, the chicken and the prawn often represent the dragon and the phoenix, which in turn represent the male and the female. Opposites attract and all that. The salsa includes tomatoes (love apples!) and your choice of juicy yellow fruit (juicy!). And it's common knowledge that nothing says love like a plate full of gorgeous green broccoli, right?

I used peaches for the salsa and was pleased with the flavour. Kumquats are pretty hard to come by around here and I'm not that big of a fan anyway. I couldn't find any coriander either, so I substituted flat leaf parsley instead. I wouldn't do that again - the taste was a bit too strong and overpowered the other ingredients somewhat. It did go very nicely with the skewers, though.

The following recipe makes enough for two. I just increased the amounts accordingly to accomodate our voracious appetites.

Chicken and Prawns with Tomato Kumquat Salsa
(Canadian Living Magazine, February 2001)

1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
1 Tbsp each olive oil and fish sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp each minced gingerroot and grated lime rind
1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes
1 boneless skinless chicken breast cut into 1-inch (2,5 cm) chunks
8 tiger prawns, peeled and deveined
4 wooden skewers

1 tomato, seeded and diced
4 kumquats, seeded and diced or very thinly sliced (or substitute 1 cup chopped mangoes, papayas, peaches or strawberries)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander
2 Tbsp chopped red onion
1 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
pinch each salt and pepper

Salsa: In a small bowl, stir together tomato, kumquats, coriander, onion, lime juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate one hour.

Meanwhile, in bowl stir together coriander, olive oil, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, lime rind and hot pepper flakes. Add chicken and prawns, stirring to coat; marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes. While chicken and shrimp marinate, soak wooden skewers in water.

Onto each of 4 skewers, alternately thread chicken and shrimp; place on greased broiler pan. Broil for about 5 minutes per side until shrimp are opaque and chicken is no longer pink inside. Serve with salsa. Makes 2 servings.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

sweet heart

Couldn't help it. Did another ones of those Bloglines quizzes.

Your Candy Heart Says "Hug Me"

A total sweetheart, you always have a lot of love to give out.
Your heart is open to where ever love takes you!

Your ideal Valentine's Day date: a surprise romantic evening that you've planned out

Your flirting style: lots of listening and talking

What turns you off: fighting and conflict

Why you're hot: you're fearless about falling in love

all you need is love

or cake! (and maybe a heart-shaped cake pan)

I made the cake using the Nutella muffin recipe. So here it is. Sorry for making ya wait so long.

Nutella Muffins

75g (1/3 cup) butter
100g (oh, let's say about 6 Tbsp)Nutella
50g (this is only about 3 Tbsp and really not enough for a muffin recipe. I used 160g, about 2/3 cup) sugar
2 eggs (did U know? - German eggs are sold 10 to a carton and have bright orange yolks)
120ml (1/2 cup) milk
300g (scant 2 cups) flour
1 package (15g or about 3 3/4 tsp) baking powder
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Melt butter and mix with Nutella and sugar. Add lightly beaten eggs and milk and blend well. In separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and cocoa. Add to wet mixture and stir until combined. Fill 12 muffins cups (greased or lined with paper liners) 3/4 full and bake in a 200°C (400°F) oven for 20-25 minutes.

Around here we kinda like Valentine's Day and make it a family affair. All my sweeties surprised me this morning with these lovely flowers and got some sugary treats in return.

Happy Valentine's Day!

I think these guys say it best...

A bell is no bell 'til you ring it,
A song is no song 'til you sing it,
And love in your heart
Wasn't put there to stay
Love isn't love
'Til you give it away.

~Oscar Hammerstein

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Monday, February 12, 2007

reclaiming our living room

Whew! Won't be doing that again for a while. There's still stuff everywhere. I'll be organizing and decluttering for days to come.

Well, the carpenters were scheduled to arrive at 9 a.m. on Friday. Mr M had been out and about since about 7 doing various errands but promised to be home in time to receive them. Shortly before 8, just as I was about to step into the shower, the doorbell rang. Story of my life, happens all the time. It's either the mailman, the in-laws, or, this time, two strange men with a big truck. Sure, they said, the carpenters were coming at 9, but they were told to unload everything at 8. Oh, thanks for letting us know beforehand. Good thing this was not a beauty pagent.

They had a teensy problem with the lazy susan corner cupboards - they didn't fit through the ridiculously narrow kitchen door (who builds these houses anyway?) and had to be hefted through the window instead. A couple of small trees bit the dust in the process, unfortunately.

Up until about noon there was only one guy working on the kitchen and we wondered if he'd get finished on time. A bit later two of his pals showed up and put the finishing touches on everything and they made amazing progress. We hung around in the living room, supervising at a distance and providing tea, cookies and cheese sandwiches and by the end of the day we were chilled to the bone because they kept the front door open so they could go outside and use the electric saw etc. Figures that it was only 4°C that day. Brrr!

So here she is! The colours are slightly off because of the lighting but you can get the general idea. As well as wanting to add a few splashes of colour here and there, we still need to decide on a window treatment because the obligatory German-issue white lacey curtains just aren't cutting it any more. I'm thinking something sheer and terra cotta-y to go with the floor. What do you think?

The countertops are higher than they were before, and we got a built-in oven and ceramic cook top. The sink is also new. We decided against getting a new dishwasher just yet because the old white one works perfectly well. But can you believe we never had an exhaust fan over the stove like normal people? We do now and I love it.

View of other side with microwave niche. The upper part of the entire wall used to be pretty much dead space in the old kitchen so we have a LOT more storage now.

The entertainment centre - TV, DVD player and radio all in one. Mr M's idea. I always had a little TV but not a fancy one like this. It's kind of scary.

The only (British) English translation I could find for this cabinet is a "pull-out larder" which isn't the most attractive description. The cabinet itself is great. The whole thing pulls out and can be accessed from both sides. The door is on an angle to give us more room when entering the kitchen.

Super-mega cutlery/utensil drawer. Whoo! I can find stuff!

This corner of the kitchen used to be home to The Bermuda Triangle of Cabinets. Things would disappear on a regular basis and you had to practically crawl in there to get anything. We decided to replace it with a lazy susan just like the much-loved one in the right corner. Great for pots and pans.

The hard part now is deciding where everything should go. There's so much more room now, but guess what? I'm too short to reach a lot of it! Hmmmphh. Germans are just too damn tall. Mr M. had to go to that Swedish place again on Saturday and buy a little step-stool for me. What I am able to reach will be put to good use, though, and I'll be so happy to have a place for all the stuff. No more cluttered countertops.

All in all I am delighted. This kitchen actually makes me feel like cleaning and polishing it, and if you know me, you'll know that's really something.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

houston, we have a floor

The floor looks like terra cotta tiles but is actually laminate flooring from the Parador Stone-Click series. It only took Mr M a couple of hours to install and looks like it will be very easy-care.

The other wood-patterned board is left over from the laminate we have installed throughout the rest of the ground floor.

Oh yes, and Mr. M asked me to make sure to take a picture of this nifty blue precision instrument that he designeded himself and had some colleagues at work make for him when we moved in here and had to install a bunch of new flooring. I'm not exactly sure what this thing does, but it seems to work.

And we have lights (you know, from that Swedish place) that could be mistaken for UFOs but look much more cheerful when they're on.

While we're at it, we also have...

...snow! For the first time this year, and...

...sushi! For tonight's no-cook dinner.

If all goes well we should be basking in the glow of our new kitchen by tomorrow night.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

takin' a break

Did you know that today is World Nutella Day 2007? Even though my kitchen is pretty much demolished, I just had to participate, because who doesn't like Nutella?

We've had a special limited edition jar of Nutella kicking around since last summer's World Cup. I guess it's supposed to look like a soccer ball.

We all really like Nutella, but since it's basically just fat and sugar with very little nutritional value, we try to limit ourselves to eating it for Saturday breakfasts only. That's why this jar has lasted so long. But even Nutella has an expiry date, so what to do with all that nutty goodness? I searched the web for easy recipes and found one for Nutella muffins. They are good. Very good. The first batch fell prey to the taste testers and was gone in about 20 minutes. The second batch survived until today. The recipe is here in German. When I have time I'll translate it and note the changes that I made.

a sweet oasis of calm in a sea of chaos

They call them muffins, but who are we kidding? These are cupcakes through and through and would be even better with a bit of icing on the top. I'll try that when I have a kitchen again.

In other news, we've been workin' hard all day trying to get everything done by Friday. All the old cabinets are out now and the painting is almost finished, ready for the floor to go in tomorrow. Unfortunately we've been faced with a common problem in German houses and apartments - mold. Ewww. I hate mold. Strong chemicals have been brought into play and I am trying to stay as far away as possible. Now I know why I don't renovate other people's homes for a living.

Mr. M was at the flea market on the weekend and came home with a couple of interesting mats that we used to prevent the stove from getting damaged while we were hitting things with hammers. Boy10 says he wants one of these on the floor of his room when we're finished.

Time to get out of the danger zone and enjoy a muffin and a cup of tea...


Sunday, February 04, 2007

let the reno begin!


Oh all right, after hanging out with you for over 18 years I suppose I'll miss you just a little bit. No, it's not you, it's me. I'm ready for a change. We don't have anything in common any more. Don't take it personally but you're just too...too...beige.

Mr. M's plan for today is to pull down the upper cabinets and paint the ceiling and walls. He's taking Tuesday to Friday off work so the remaining cabinets will have to come out Tuesday so we can put in the new flooring. Friday at 9 a.m. three strapping young men will be stopping by to do the rest.

Hopefully I'll be cooking again by Saturday! Whoo!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

blogging will be sporadic

I've busied myself all day with cleaning out the old kitchen cabinets and am now up to my ears in...stuff. Heaps and piles and tons of stuff that will, of course, have have to be put back again when the new kitchen is in.

This could take a while. Feel free to talk among yourselves in my absence.

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