For you, the dress code is casual.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Cheese, Please?

Cheese is a good, good thing. Like most "good, good" things, it's bad for you, most of the time. (As part of a balanced diet, it provides a pretty wicked calcium supplement, protein source, and can even aid your metabolism's processing speed.) Anything that averages between 22% and 77% milk fat tends to be a little on the glutonous side, so you need to be conscious of what you're doing. I've lost a lot of weight and I've done so without eliminating cheese completely from my diet. Instead of buying that fucking lame-ass "cheddar" they sell at your local supermarket, I buy mine from good retailers who sell better cheeses. I use strong, pungent cheeses that offer a lot of bang for the buck so that I can use less of it than I would a less spectacular cheese, thus keeping my fat intake at a reasonable level. It's the best way to go -- go hard, go strong, or go home.

My cheddar, for instance, is a New Zealand extra aged cheddar that has a sharp, bitter, rich, indulgent flavour that makes the average "sharp" cheddar -- particularly the American variety -- taste like solid boredom on a plate.

Having a good cheese retailer is a great thing to have, and every decent-sized town has one of those cheese retailers that sits head-and-shoulders above any other. Here in Vancouver, it's Les Amis Du Fromage. (If you have a slow browser or memory issues, don't click on the link. It's a very slow-loading page.) If you left your language dictionary at home, that's French for "The Friends of Cheeses." With friends like that, man, your fridge is always going to be a happy land. They stock anywhere from 350 to 500 cheeses at any time.

The thing about a bonafide cheese retailer that sets it apart from someone who simply sells cheeses is sheer knowledge and a willingness to educate you, the customer, with it. If you were to walk into Les Amis, for instance, and say "Well, I'm making a tenderloin with crispy saffron-roasted potatoes and baked asparagus, and I'm looking for a nice cheese to serve in a young mixed greens salad with a sweet oil dressing," they'd not only have several suggestions, but they'd get you samples of them all, and then suggest serving methods.

Any good specialty food retailer should be willing to educate you, provided you ask the right questions.

Personally, I love cooking, and anyone who's had the pleasure of dining in my home can attest to that. I like putting on a show, and I'm kind of excited that I get to do so for the New Boyfriend this weekend, particularly since he's a foodie, too. But while most people tend to get their food education just from television or books, I make a point of getting into conversations with retailers, and even with other customers. I've learned tricks like freezing homemade late-season pesto in ice cube trays for individual servings over the winter, and I've had incredible food experiences I may not have had otherwise.

Like love, like science, like art, food is a language that not everyone's lucky enough to understand. Remember that scene in Good Will Hunting, when Will says to his chick, "Well, when it came to math, I could always just play?" When it came to food, I've always been able to play. My earliest photos are of me in an apron and a chef's hat. I can remember a time when I was 10 and I went and spiked a roast beef with cloves, and my mother freaked on me. "If you've ruined my roast," she threatened, "You're losing your allowance for the next two weeks!" I kept the allowance.

The only thing that deterred me from going to chef's school a few years back, in 2000, when I was on the verge of getting a student loan for it, was when I read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. He explains how, as a chef, you never get invited for dinner, you never cook for yourself, you seldom get to enjoy people enjoying your food, and you have to commit to 60-hour weeks, minimum. I love food, and I love cooking for others, but I never wanted to begin hating it, and I knew I would if I had to forsake the rest of my life just for the kitchen.

Ah, cheeses. I'm visiting Les Amis today, as well as Vancouver's Granville Public Market, which some would say is overpriced, and perhaps it is, but if you know what to look for, it's not. I'll be acquiring chicken stock from The Stock Market, some veggies from other retailers, soem quality chicken, and then venturing just off the Island to Les Amis, where I'm not sure what I'll be in search of, but I'll be sure to tell them what I'm making, and see what they suggest. I know I need feta cheese, but I'll visit the Greek markets for the Macedonian sheeps' feta, which is this incredibly rich and delectable feta that just melts on your tongue. Pair that with some good oil and vinegar, and it's to die for.

I don't normally obsess about cheese. But I'm obsessing about cheese this morning because I fucking HATE the asiago* that destroyed my scrambled eggs this morning.

I'm out of veggies, so it was one tomato, two organic golden yolk eggs, a little butter, some strong cheddar, and some asiago. The asiago was... musty, dry, unbalanced, and as disappointing a cheese I've had since the over-hyped Tillamook "aged" cheddar that GayBoy seems to think is the bomb. (Sorry, baby, but you're delusional.)

Bad cheese is just wrong. To wreck scrambled eggs when served with sauteed cornmeal back bacon, 12-grain bread, and French-press coffee? A fucking sin! Travesty of travesties! Simply TRAGIC.

So, I ate a third of the sadly under/overwhelming eggs, and instead focused on the meat and bread. Saddened by my disappointing start to my day, I find myself getting increasingly psyched about a quest for foods. Vancouver is easily one of the best food cities in the world. We've got superlative organic farms, an incredible assortment of restaurants and specialty markets, with entire regions dedicated to all the different ethnic groups that make this city one of the most dynamic on the continent -- Italian, Asians of all kinds, Indian, Persian, Greek, French, Carribbean, and so forth. It can take years to learn all the great food resources available in this city. Every few months, I find someone else worth making a mental note on.

Maybe today I'll get lucky and learn something new. Maybe today's the day I discover the New Cheese that gets me Inspired to create more. What fun. Who needs to hunt? Just explore what your city has to offer, it's as good as getting any animal in the crosshairs, and no blood need be spilt.

*Moral of the story: Don't buy your Italian cheese from a Greek retailer -- they've never liked each other. I'll get it from Les Amis next time.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Yippy-Ki-Yay, Mofo! Progress, Baby!

My tres shitty start to my day is long, long gone. I've not only tackled and put away all my paper work, I've managed to kill ALL the clutter in the four main places that I've had Mounds of Clutter for the last several months -- on my two antique sideboards, my kitchen table, and atop my beloved writing desk.

Hmm. Maybe I should post a photo of it sometime, the desk. It's something I essentially altered from a design I saw once in a book -- all seven-feet long of it. I cleaned off the surface and gave it a couple deep, doting coats of of Tung Oil (okay, no jokes about oiling wood with Tung... that's just too easy). Now? Fucking AWESOME! I can't WAIT to do some serious writing now. FINALLY.

I hate writing at my desk when it's all cluttered. Well, clutter no more. My bedroom's gonna be in a better state than it's been in months. Yay! I'm a happy Steff. :) I had NO idea I could get this much done in a day -- but really, just since about 4:00. Holy shit! Who knew?! I should check my ass for char marks, considering the fire I've lit under it. Wow. All that's left to do in my apartment? About five dishes, sweep the floors, Swiffer, and tidy the bathroom. Then, I'm up for domestic Goddess of the Month award. "It's a clean sweep!" Hardy-har-har.

From Grumpy To Not

It's been a shitty year for money, and instead of facing up and dealing with finances as best I could, I have often done The Ostrich: Buried Head, Ass Up.

Today, I've tackled the mountains of paper that have littered my home -- paper that reveals what I already knew: I can be an avoider. Tonight, I shall organize some more of my place, but the papers have been sorted and now they have been filed. Perhaps I shall celebrate by cleaning off my beautiful desk and oiling the wood, something it's needed for some time now.

I've been In A Mood all day, and it's ebbing now, receding off into nothingness, exactly where it belongs. Moods come, they go, but I feel it's important to own them. You feel shitty? Don't fight it, go there, but know when to leave it behind.

So, I'm leaving it behind now, with the help of a nice, supportive call from The Guy, a few glasses of water,* I feel fab.

I'm still a little grumpy about a few things, but it's nothing I can do much about. Money, I mean, it is what it is. I know the hole I'm in, but I also know it's one I can climb out of. I try not to hide from my reality, but some days I manage to do it too well. Bills in the mail? Let's not open those. Let's put them... here. And let's put that wooden box on top of it. A-ha, hidden now. Perfect.

Yeah, great management skills, Steffi. Funny thing is, I'm not THAT behind. I'm just not living in the present, if you know what I mean. Oh, well. Soon. I know I'm on the verge of it all.

But a little organizing will go a long ways tonight. I'm sort of starting a new phase in my life... a return to Good Health, the finding of a Good Man, the onslaught of the Good Season, a dedication to Good Activity, all of that. Organizing the house is a Good Way to salute it. So, organize I shall. (Naturally, it will take me weeks, heh, but the ball shall be rolling.)

(The Boyfriend thinks I'm weird because of my beliefs that food influences mood. This coming from a self-professed foodie? Mmf. What, does this make me a FooMoodie? Maybe. Whatever. I go whack if I've become dehydrated, and I know for a fact now that I was, all day. I had about 4 large glasses of water in the last hour and the headache that has dogged me all day, and the sore eyes and lethargy, they've gone far, far away. Knowing water affects me so profoundly doesn't always mean I'm smart enough to do anything about it. It's good to be reminded. I feel really good now, so, there you go.)

I Hear My Phone A-Ringin'

A telemarketer just called, trying to whore a credit card on me, a credit card I know I won't be approved for anyhow. What's the point? They only come after the people they have flagged as having been bad spenders in the past.

No longer am I a bad spender, but I certainly loathe having phone calls interrupt my day, given that I'm a Deep Thinker and like my space when I have it.

I realize there are a lot of dickheads out there, like my beloved friend GB (sorry, GB, but you know how I feel about it), who seem to think they're entitled to be assholes to telemarketers. That kind of behaviour pisses me off, because these are people who, for whatever reason, have that as a job. And while you might be all high-and-mighty about never accepting a job like that, not everyone has the luxury of choosing what they do. God knows I've done shitty things like taking inventory, stuffing envelopes, selling vacuums... anything to pay the fucking rent, man.*

I believe in treating people with respect, regardless. When a telemarketer calls, I'm not all fluffy and nice, but I am indeed firm without being a cunt about it. I cut them off and I say, "I'm sorry, I'm not interested." Again, they say something else. "Look, I am not now, nor will I ever be interested. And I want to be taken off your calling list."

The latter is important. You absolutely must say, "I want to be taken off your calling list." Once you have, they are legally obligated to do so. As a result, they often then launch into a pre-written one- to two-paragraph long speech to the effect of, "It takes 30 days for changes to go into place, but please tell anyone else who calls that you have been struck from the list and then terminate the call. We appreciate your patience," yada, yada, yada.

Life is too short to be one of those petty fuckers who treats these people like shit. You really get something out of that? You better ask yourself why. I dislike knowing that people I care a great deal for behave in ways that smack of vindictiveness and pettiness when it comes to calls such as these.

If, however, I meet with a rude telemarketer, you bet I can return the same sentiments.

Another kind of caller I'll often get, since I've been paid to be a part of focus-group surveys in the past, are market research companies calling to do polls and surveys. All I ask them, then, is, "Are you paying me for my time? I make $30 an hour."

"No? Then have a nice day." And I hang up.

It's easy to be firm without being an asshole. Try it.

*(I am considering, for the hell of it and for the experience, trying to get in with Mr. Cool Ice Cream so as to drive an ice cream truck for a bit this summer. I mean, really, wouldn't that be cool? I mean, I'd have to be Ms. Cool, but hey. It's all about experiences, ain't it, this Life Thang?)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Life throws a curveball

It's a beautiful spring day today, and it's a shame the boyfriend's stuck in a hospital bed, waiting to go under the knife.* He sounds incredibly upbeat, considering, and that's very attractive in itself. I like a man that can take adversity in stride, it's a sexy quality.

I'm at home, taking it easy. I really, really, really want to go into the hospital and see him, but he's on the other side of town, and the scooter ride today might not be the wisest choice, since I'm only now feeling human -- except for the voice. I have laryngitis and by proxy now sound like 40-year two-pack-a-day smoker with a death rattle and croak. Oh, sexy, I know. You want me.

But the laryngitis, strangely, is my body's way of healing. Whatever. If there's anything good about this sickness, it's the fact that it's shaved about 15 pounds off me, exactly all the weight I gained over the winter. I'm back to the size I was last August, after all my cycling and activity. Within a week or two, I'll be back on my bike and the weight will drop like the American dollar, man.

I'm disappointed the guy's got the bad break, and I feel really badly for him. I'm not in any sort of a "woe is me, why do I have to have an injured guy?" self-pitying mode, not at all. I'm not that selfish. I just feel badly for him. He was all blissed out about things, and has been diligently working at losing weight and being active, and I know how frustrating it can be to get injured when you're shaving off the pounds. It can be a big roadblock. Naturally, I tried to put a positive spin on it, that using the crutches can result in getting nice, strong arms, and big, brawny shoulders, which his body is predisposed to gaining, so I think I might get myself a nice sexy bruiser out of it, but who knows.

Like I said, he's positive, which is great. And I'll be supportive, and patient, and I'll dote on him throughout the recovery period, so when he's finally well, I think we'll have a great time.

I'll go visit him in the morning, hopefully before the weather turns bad, and make sure his spirits are up. Ah, well, it's funny how life goes, but maybe this'll be one of those things that makes you get close in an awful hurry, and that's not such a bad thing.

*(Oops: I should explain. Dude slipped, fell, and busted his tibia in not one, not two, but three places just above the ankle. Sadly, Krazee Glue won't do the trick. Nope. He's thorough: Boy needed surgery -- a plate and seven screws. Nice, huh? What some guys'll do to get attention, I tell ya. Well, he didn't need ta, he had it. Goof!)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why the Democrats Couldn't Win with a Fucking Map

They have no spine. The Republicans, they see an opening, and they just don't head for it -- they sprint AND jump. The Democrats ask, "But would it be the nice thing to do?"

Jesus Christ. They're like the fat kid in a dodgeball game -- OUTTA there, baby! When, oh, when are these ideological losers gonna get the memo that the nice guys finish last?

The Washington Post ran a story on the impeachability of Bush, and now 51% of poll respondents believe the MoFo should be impeached. But get this:

It would be a considerable overstatement to say the fledgling impeachment movement threatens to topple a presidency -- there are just 33 House co-sponsors of a motion by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) to investigate and perhaps impeach Bush, and a large majority of elected Democrats think it is a bad idea. But talk bubbles up in many corners of the nation, and on the Internet, where several Web sites have led the charge, giving liberals an outlet for anger that has been years in the making.
Oh, WHY? Because having a valid IN is a bad thing? A war starts with fabricated evidence, bad intelligence, prisoners are tortured, young men and women dying for the wrong reasons, the constitution is ignored for wiretapping purposes, and bringing it up is a bad idea?

Oh, no, hey, three-and-a-half more years of this bullshit sounds like a great plan to me. Yeah, sure, why not?

Hell-fucking-lo?! Oh, my GOD. Would somebody teach these goddamned nimrods how to run for office?!

For God's sake, where's Ken Star when you need him? I'm gonna have a goddamned aneurysm here, for crying out loud! Shoot me NOW, man! God! What a stupid, stupid party. Good politics, but Jesus, can we have a STRATEGY? Please? I beg you!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

But they're so cute!

Welp, the big bad Canadians are at it again, kids! They're killing the helpless little seals.

Now, I think seals rock. They're so damned cute it's not even funny.

Unfortunately, they also devour an ever-dwindling fish stock off the Canadian shore. Canada's fish stocks have been depleting steadily for the last three decades (or the last four centuries, depending how literal you are), considering we've got some pretty wicked fish going on around here. Our economy on the East Coast has been absolutely devastated over the last three or four decades as a result of those fisheries going steadily down. If it's not humans killing fish, it's the seals.

So what's the solution? A little bit of both, I'd say: Impose stricter practices upon international fisheries that include tighter regulations on how trawlers operate, because trawlers are about as destructive as it gets, and yes, the culling of seals is a necessary evil as well.

The seal population's triple what it was in the '70s, and growing leaps and bounds, yet the celebrities and animal rights' organizations don't tell you that.

These mammals aren't just cute and fuzzy, they're about 200kg, fully grown. They eat a lot of fish, every single day. (Strangely, having checked numerous sites, no one's giving figures on how much they actually eat per day, except for the fact that they eat 67 varieties of fish, and 70 varieties of invertabrates. Hmm. Quantities, anyone? Anyone?) There are six million seals in the region being culled, and of those, 325,000 are up for grabs. But 6 million mammals with an average weight of 200kg feeding on fish daily, well, you do the math.*

It's shitty, having to eliminate any of the cute pups, but really, it's about balance. Man disrupts the balance via his ignorance of nature. Trawlers churn up the ocean floor, dolphins and other would-be predators are caught in the nets, pollution levels are at an all-time high, garbage and litter find their ways into the ocean, where a single plastic bag can be enough to kill a decades-old whale, while little or nothing is done by OTHER nations to prevent this massive misuse of one of our most vulnerable natural resources.

Canada has more coastline than any other nation in the world. Yes, our actions therefore are GREATER than any other nation in the world -- and very, very necessarily so.

Drastic steps need to be taken, and while culling seals is the gutless, easy way out, at least it protects the fish-stocks for the short term.

Yes, the oceans need to be protected. Yes, this is a sad state of affairs. But until governments around the world get their shit together and enact laws and limitations on seafood to be fished for sale -- and IMPOSE punishments upon those who infringe laws -- the Canadian government and its people cannot be expected to sit on the sidelines while OUR fish stocks suffer the brunt of THEIR inactivity.

Lesser (yet more abhorrent) of two evils? Fucking right it is. Sad such decisions must be made, but there it is. You tell me something else we can do today that will have an impact literally tomorrow, and I, too, will be on that bandwagon. In the meantime, keep the self-righteousness and bandwagon jumping to a fucking minimum, because the lack of reality-check cashing's getting a little tedious right now, and I'm sick of my nation getting slagged for the rest of the world's failure to act within their borders, and the lack of enforcement in international waters.

(*I've scanned probably 30 sites trying to find a document that speculates as to quantities of catches by seals on a daily basis, particularly the harp seal, the species to be culled. Nothing. Fucking nada! So, how is one to have an informed decision on this matter, eh?)

Some Recent Photography...

I recently finally got a decent sized memory card for my camera. Before, I had a 32MB card, and now I have a big-assed 512MB card. Yay! About time. I was limited in how many shots I could take in a day, and always had to edit them on the fly. Now, I can save more and be fussier at home with a larger viewing media. Whew.

This is in my area, a sign on the main strip, Oak, heading towards downtown Vancouver. I love the grouping of signs, and with the cross at the top, I thought it was amusing. I call this, "How to Get to Heaven." Sometimes, a change of perspective changes everything.

We had some nice sunny weather earlier this week, on one of the rare days my flu has abated in the past few weeks, and this was taken after a meeting downtown. This is the legendary Stanley Park Seawall, which is 8 miles/11km long, part of a network of 35kms of seaside-routes for bikes and walkers along the waterfront of Vancouver -- one of the reasons this is one of the most active cities on the continent. What's not to love?

Another portion of the Seawall, probably about 3-4km Northwest of the above photo, still on the Stanley Park stretch. (Stanley Park's the largest urban park in the world -- next is New York's Central Park, I believe.) But this photo is very representative of the fact that we truly do live in a rainforest. It'd been sunny a couple days by this point, yet the ground was still draining down this cliff wall. Takes a long while for this region to dry out.

Again, the same stretch as the first Seawall photo. I love catching people just being natural, just like this. The photo could be darker, but then again, I couldn't be bothered right now. :)

Every now and then, I luck out on the beach being at a ridiculous low tide. Some days, you can walk a kilometre or more out on the sandbars. This is when I sadly discovered a hole in my shoe, which made for mighty wet and cold feet on my 20+ minute scooter ride home, and perhaps why I'm sick again. :P

Some Recent Photography Part Deux...

As you probably know (or maybe you don't, if you're new here) I love doing classic car shots, and nothing's more classic than a hula dancer mounted on the dash of a classic Laurentian. Animal-skin steering wheel cover? Priceless! (Canadian trivia: The red flower on the bottom right is the poppy -- what Canadians wear leading up to November 11th, which we've dubbed "Remembrance Day," and the poppies signify respect for the veterans who've fought in past wars, the poppy being made famous as a symbol of peace in the Canadian poem by Lt. Col. John McCrae--)

In Flanders Field the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I'm cool, I ride a scooter. A retro-styled Eurotrash scooter. Not only does it look cool, but it lowers my cost of living by about $300 a month compared to the car I likely would have bought had I not bought a scoot. People always approach me to talk about this little beast, but sooner or later, they always comment on my Evolve Fish.

I love new flowers in spring.

I also love the look of young algae on the shores in the sunlight, which you only see when the tide's really, really receded, such as it had on this day last week. Sadly, the picture does the sight no justice, since the algae is freakishly lime green in the sun.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Mock Chicken Pot Pie

(I'm kind of stretched creatively lately, and the choices are either I whine and go on about my life in a diary-kind-of-way, or I try something new -- and since I'm a pretty decent cook, why not share some recipes? Good filler, literally, too. :)

I love chicken pot pie, but as a (sort of) single person, it's an impractical meal to make, since it doesn't freeze that well.

I was playing around tonight and have come up with a reasonable way to make it, and imagine a couple variations could be made to make it into a real pot pie, which I'll suggest at the end. So, this is quick, simple, pretty cheap, and true comfort food. You'll have three choices: Eating the filling on top of mashed potatoes, like a stew, or either a) putting 3-4 Pillsbury biscuits on top & baking, or b) using real biscuits* or something like Bisquick, made to order.

You take a can of ready-to-use chicken stock -- (not the Campbell's kind you add water to, but if you have the liter container of ready-to-use stock, you want to take about 400 mls, which, for you Yanks, is about 1 & 2/3s cups) -- and get it heating up on the stove. Add a boneless, skinless chicken breast, and one bay leaf, and bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and poach it gently for about 10 minutes, until no longer pink inside. If you're feeling wild and crazy, you can add a small onion for additional flavour, too.

When it's finished, take the chicken out and set it aside. Allow the stock to continue cooking, since it will reduce down and the flavour will intensify. You want it to reduce to about 1 cup in volume. This is the step that elevates any pot pie. For shepherd's pie, do the same -- always reduce the stock down for a richer, more satisfying experience, even if it's cheap stock. You'll be amazed.

(If you're going spudly on this, while this is happening get some nice Yukon Gold potato, and start boiling them for mashed spuds. I keep the spuds simple -- a little cream, too much butter, kosher salt, and coarse fresh-cracked black pepper, lots thereof.)

While the stock is reducing, finely chop a small leek (white & light green bits only), wash well, and add to a small stockpot with about a tablespoon of butter. Saute it until it starts to turn brown on the edges, then add another tablespoon of butter and allow it to melt. Now, you're making a roux, which is the thickening base of most hearty stews, like Gumbo. Add a heaping tablespoon of flour, and stir until the roux turns light gold in colour. If the roux is too thick and pasty, just add a little butter. (Note: You can add about half a finely chopped red pepper, too, if you'd like something a little more upscale. Saute it at the same time as the leeks. You may need to add additional butter, though. Or olive oil works well, too, and is a healthier choice.)

Grab a whisk, pour the strained hot stock into the roux/leek mixture, and combine well. It should thicken pretty substantially, but may need more thickening later, and I'll explain how to do that after.

Now, add about 1 cup or so of your fave brand of mixed frozen veggies. Measurements... who needs measurements? All the matters is there's enough sauce to cover the veggies and the chicken, that's all. So, more, less, whatever. It's really not brain surgery. Go with the feel. Frozen pearl onions are a nice touch, too, so you could toss a few in, but they may take longer to cook. Chop the chicken, add it in, and let it cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat. You can add whatever spice you like, but Thyme is an excellent choice for this. (About a tablespoon for a nice, savoury dish. Savory is another good spice, or tarragon, whatever gets your rocks off.)

When the veggies are cooked, you may notice that the sauce is a little thinned out. If so, the way to add more flour to an already mixed sauce without adding more liquid is simply to take a teaspoon or so of softened butter and blend it with flour. This prevents it from clumping when you add it to the sauce. Allow it to simmer after adding the additional flour, of course, so it reaches maximum thickening.

Taste it. Like it? Spiffy. No? Adjust the seasonings: Thyme (or spice of choice), salt, pepper. Sort of in that order, too. If you're serving it on potatoes, you'll need to cook it a moment or two longer before doing so, but if it's going in the oven, that's irrelevant.

If you like, you could add a tablespoon or so of whipping cream for richness, but I didn't find it necessary.

If you've made mashed potatoes, you just pour the stew on top of the spuds and serve it straight up. If you want to do a pot pie, you use a small breadpan or something with reduced surface area, and preferably lower sides, and pour the hot stewed mix into it, put the biscuit topping on top, and cook it according to the biscuit instructions in a preheated oven, allowing that it may take a little extra time to cook being that it's atop a moist mixture. Always look for golden brown biscuit tops and bubbling sauce on the side. (If using Pillsbury biscuits, ignore the "keep apart" instructions and nestle them about a half-inch from each other. You want to get 'em friendly.)

Eat and be happy. :)

* (I make wicked biscuits, but they're a hassle for one person -- and dangerous. They're so damned good I'm liable to eat 6 or so, and they always taste better with buttah... so I never make them except with company, since weight loss has been a priority for awhile. There are three secrets: Super-cold butter, work the dough as little as possible (and use a fork as much as you can, since the heat of your hand melts the butter, not good), since every extra bit of working it will make them less light and fluffy, and three, when you've finished mixing it together, stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes before you roll/cut them out -- this keeps the flakes of butter cold & intact, which yields the fluffiest, flakiest biscuit you can get. Heaven. If you need a recipe, check Martha Stewart's site or try to find Emeril Lagasse's recipe on, I've used both to extremely good results.)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Potato Leek Soup

Well, I've been updating so little, and recipes for a single person are so hard to come by, particularly for a lazy soup night.

So... Take one small leek, chop the white'n'light green bits up into small bits, and saute in a tablespoon of unsalted butter for about 10 minutes until it softens.

Chop a small baking potato (skin on) into thin slices, add to leeks, salt & pepper it, and then add 1 cup good chicken stock and 1/2 cup of water, bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are fully cooked. Allow to cool slightly, puree it in your blender, and return it to the pot. Add a tablespoon or two of heavy cream, and about a tablespoon of chopped dill. That's all it takes!

I like to have it with some crusty french bread and a plate of good balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping, since it breaks up the creaminess of the soup. Delish on a colder night, but not too heavy. mMmM.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The State of the Steff Union

I really, really, really plan to update this cesspool of a blog with part two of the Yukon tale intro, but your patience is appreciated. I'm just getting over the last of this fucking bronchitis, and I've been working on a deadline (that pays sweet fuck all except a byline of note) off and on all week, fruitlessly until now.

Now I'm all tied up with working today and tomorrow, but hopefully the weekend will bring part deux (which is mostly written as is, but needs an ending... and needs me finding the friggin' thing after having "organized" my laptop's desktop... ha. Oh, the irony.)

As happens today, I'm off to tackle the last of unemployed paperwork, and if there's a god, another week or so should result in knowing whether I have to get my ass into another job ASAP or not.

On the other hand, I've heard from someone with a proposition that could mean some real good things for me. Said proposition needs some discussing, which should happen sometime early next week.

Saturday, I have date Numero Deux with a guy who can only aptly be described as non-stud nice man -- which is what I'm in the market for. I've been toying with the requisite bad boys and artsy boys of late and my god, I'm so sick of all the crap they come with. Give me a man who says what he means, does what he believes, and doesn't give a shit about living up to an image, and you'll give me a man who mirrors all I value.

So, Nice Guy's making me dinner, and it dawns on me that I've never really had a guy make me a meal from top to bottom before. (Well, I've had them make me a meal, but cooking for me's a whole other ball game.)

This shall be entertaining, and welcomed. Anyhow, much going on, many distractions, but next week will be a much, much better week. Thank goodness.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

My day and a recipe for Hen a la Diabolo!

I had a nice afternoon with a nice guy today, but I’m still getting over the flu and I didn’t realize how hard it would be to make it through a few hours of activity so soon after the bug’s climax. Ah, well. You live, you learn.

I think there’ll be more of that to come, and next time around will be more enjoyable for all, I’m sure. When I’m not feeling myself, I’m very, very off my game and tend to be a less responsive individual, which really sucks. I love getting engaged in a good conversation, and I hate it when I lose my game.

I hadn’t slept well, yada, yada. Such is life. I suspect I’ll sleep like a child this evening, though, since I’m very relaxed, despite being a little disappointed in the day. (Mostly because I wasn’t able to be myself as much as I’d like, and wound up being extremely fatigued by the day’s end. I wanted to have a rich conversation, and know I could've done better.)

To put it in perspective, I’ve actually just finished lying my head down on the desktop for the last five minutes. Something I think I’ve never done before. Hmm. Well, there you have it. A little whooped as yet.

The guy mentioned something about doing a chicken dinner, though, and that got the taste buds thinking “sure, sounds like a plan!” And then I was poking around for a snack (found pineapple) and noticed my frozen Cornish hen in the freezer. Aha! Hen a la Diabolo! That’s tomorrow’s dinner.

Here’s the deal. Preheat yer broiler. You take a hen, crack its backbone and split it, then remove the breast bone and flatten the bird. Now you smother the doomed bird in olive oil, on both sides, then give it kosher salt all over and lots and lots of cracked black pepper. Put it skin side down on a broiling pan, and broil it for about 8 minutes until it’s getting nicely cooked, and a little charred. Turn it, and wait until the skin begins to get a little charred as well, another 8 minutes or so. The juices should run clear, just like if it were chicken. Take it out when cooked, set the bird on a plate, and let the juices sit in the pan for a moment.

Get yourself a bed of nice herb salad. Slice some nice ripe yellow and red tomatoes, and scatter them. Juice half a lemon over the bed of herbs, and the other half into the pan juices. Scrape the nice bits off the bottom of the pan and mix the juices well. Sprinkle the salad with salt and only a bit of pepper (since the bird's so peppery), and then drizzle the pan juices over the herbs. Rest the chicken atop the salad. Serve with crusty bread. (From the Williams-Sonoma cookbook, Cooking for Yourself, an incredible cookbook for the single person who's sick of cooking large recipes that lack the special touch. Easy, quick stuff that results in wonderfully rich single dining experiences. Five star book.)

Awesome meal for one. Light, yet decadent. Seems too simple, but the flavours meld wonderfully, and the warm juices give the herbs just a bit of extra zing. Wonderful. It what will be my first real meal since being sick. Although, damn, that roti was good today. Made me realize how good my chicken wraps are, though, so I’ll need to make those again soon. Looks like I’m buying chicken thighs this week!

*I'm a good cook, and I've been wanting to get back into cooking for the whole winter and think the mood to cook is really getting stronger. Yay. Must try new things. After this old hen trick. :)

HEY! I MESSED UP. Two things, above recipe's for a 1-1.5lb cornish hen. Second, You cook it for TWELVE minutes with the skin side down, then EIGHT on the other side. (And I only eat about half the bird per meal. When you're doing leftovers, just mix a little lemon juice with olive oil (1:1) to sprinkle on the lettuce, then salt'n'peppa it, and be happy.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

still sick, still grumpy, and don't give a shit about updating. heh. sad, but true. food beckons. something... uninspired.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sigh. I'm sick. I have the flu. I'm sorta grumpy about it. Could be worse. I could be sick off my ass. Fortunately, I'm sick on my ass. (Whew.)

Made chicken stew with dumplings. Oh, dear. Yummy factor 10, and a Mommy factor 10. Mom used to make some pretty skookum good dumplings. I remember, I think, the last time she ever made 'em, back when we lived in the house her and Dad built, in White Rock. I was probably 15 or something. It was one of those things she just stopped making one day.

But as nostalgic and I-miss-my-mom as I get when I'm sick, I'm still a better cook than her, hands down. (heh) And I put parsley in my dumplings. Mm. (Not the biggest parsley fan either, but it works on chicken stew, man. I was thinking of dill, but dill and chicken? I'm not that liberal, man.)

Anyhow, jacking up on juice and vitamins. Fun. Shoot me the fuck now, honestly. Heh! I'm a miserable sick person some days. Fortunately I have the good sense to keep it to myself.

But I should mention, I bought this blueberry-cranberry cocktail, and damn, is it good. I figured I needed calories after going a day and a bit without being able to keep food down. Since after dinner Monday, no food would take hold. I was getting pretty week. Blueberry-cranberry cocktail to the rescue! I think I've had almost a half-gallon of it today, diluted with water, so, like, a gallon!

Soon, I'll go *POOF* and turn into a blueberry a la Veruca Salt. That'll be hot. That'll send the guys running.

"Look, a blueberry. Cute!"

Hey, what can I tell you. I lead a rich fantasy life. And then there was NyQuil. *Wink.* Oh, speaking of, I could use another shot. *Coff* Yep, there it is.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Beginning of an Era: Yukon Tales v1.0

I’d begun working in the photography store back when I was finishing up my last year of college for journalism. I would graduate at 19 and soon be working in the first truly cool job of my life, printing photos. (Outside of college, that is. There, I was a librarian and photography lab assistant. Pretty sweet gigs, both.)

The storeowner, Mr. P, was a classic asshole. He thought he was slick, had a wife who was 4’9, which was fitting, since he called himself “The Big Man” and often spoke in third-person.

His son, B, was a pretty cool kid who raced cars and climbed mountains, and his easy 'tude made the hassle worth it. Most of the time, I worked in photography, doing the printing of shots and such, but in busier times, my personality was great in sales. And so I found myself out front on that fateful morning.

I was helping the nearly 60-year-old woman amass frames and prints for the upcoming funeral of her late husband. She would require just over a dozen 11x14 frames. I grabbed the stack, which was tall enough to mean I could see straight ahead and nothing more, then staggered off to the counter where I would begin processing the nice order. In theory.

That was the assumption, before I stepped on the stapler. You see, Mr. P believed himself to be too important to waste spending time doing the mundane, like picking shit up off the floor that he dropped. It his was his store, his kingdom, his call.

So, I stepped on the stapler and my foot rolled. I crashed to the ground, having shredded and strained every single muscle in the foot.

I was sobbing like a girl before B came and helped me hobble to the back room. He sprinted, literally, to the food court for ice and came back to help. His father had already fucked off for some felafel.

“A doctor’s gonna need to see that, Steff,” he muttered as he held the sprained foot gingerly, icing me.

Flashforward, and it was a series of shredded tendons causing me to be in a world of hurt. The diagnosis? No work for eight weeks. Crutches. Painkillers, ice. The Worker’s Compensation Board would pick up the tab, it seemed. Mr. P was livid that I was “inflating” his premiums.

I knew one thing, working there would be an even grander hell by the time I was through. Mr. P’s avid car-racing season would be ending and he’d be back full-time at the same time that I’d be returning. This is the same guy who would check employees’ coats for evidence of ski tags and such after a day off “sick.” Imagine eight weeks of scrutiny all bottled up?

“I need to get the fuck out,” I thought. “I’ll move.”

I began thinking in terms of other Canadian cities for an experience. Victoria, Calgary, and Whitehorse (in the Yukon) were the choices, I thought. Someone offered that Whitehorse had a “job boom” going on, and that should be priority one. I swallowed that line, then checked into it: 24% unemployment. Shit, I thought. Ah, well, can’t hurt. Calgary and Victoria were cities, more of the same. The Yukon, I thought, would be an experience. I was all about the experience then, as I am now.

During that eight weeks, I couldn’t really drive until about week 6 or 7. I was going insane. There were no buses, I lived in the boonies, none of my friends would visit, my life was at the most boring standstill ever. I was watching Donahue and Oprah on a daily basis, and felt as close to suicidal as I’ve probably ever been (which is to say not that close).

The first day I could be mobile, I got the hell into my car, zipped into the city, checked out the library for a Yukon phone book, jotted down addresses and names of any business I had applicable skills for, and then went off to the always awesome Benny’s Bagels to get into a little work.

I sent off 35 form letters and resumes to those businesses in question on that Tuesday afternoon, and returned to my open-face pizza bagel with great trepidation. Now, I would wait.

It's Four In The Morning And I Can't Sleep

It’s 4:08 am. I’ve been drifting in and out of consciousness for about four hours now. I received an email from a reader of my sexuality blog yesterday, saying he’d been looking for a voice in the wilderness about a particular topic for the past few years, never having found that voice. He told me I was the first person that ever made much sense to him on that particular topic, and after lavishing some more praise on me, suggested I should author a book on the subject.

I've finally said a boisterous "fuck it" to the ceiling that has held me in rapt attention for the last 18% of my day, and now I'm prepared to fatigue myself for sleep via a purging of the words.

That reader-recommended topic, I have to agree, is one that I believe is profoundly important for the modern man, and I’m pretty stoked to have a guy come out and tell me that I’ve essentially really impacted his worldview, and that he believes I can have the same impact on many other men, that my book would “sell.”

I wonder sometimes if readers realized just how much impact they can have on writers. We lowly blogophiles you see before us, we’re not just here for kicks. Some of us are on missions to get our words out in the stratosphere long before we meet whatever untimely demise lies in wait for us. We take chances, lay our vulnerability bare for all to see, all in the hopes that someone somewhere will venture forth and say, “Dude, that touched me.” It's a quest for immortality, however cheesy that might sound. Hear me, and hear me now, my friend. I write, therefore I am. Rowr!

Sadly, most comments received tend to be light and fluffy or short and to the point. It’s not that often that the people who are shaken will dare to contact us. Back at Christmas, I had a dozen or two really sweet emails telling me how I’d influenced these folks over the past few months. Maybe it’s a special occasion communication, but I don’t care. It really, really hits the spot when someone really truly takes the time to sit down and say what they think about you.

There are few people I bother to go around and read blogs for, and even they are only fortunate on blue moons and red sunrises to have me come by. It’s just too fucking addictive. There are some remarkably interesting writers out there, and the more time I donate to you, the less time I donate to my craft. It’s priorities. Writing, in all its forms & guises, is my only mistress of import these days.

And finding out I’ve shifted a worldview is about as rich a payment as I ever receive. Oh, to write a book on something that I feel so passionate about. Hmm. I have this fantasy of this one magazine I want to write for. I know the format, the rough title and style of the column, I have this little dream of how it’s received, the attention I get. This suggestion from this reader is the first thing I’ve begun to believe that I could sell that magazine. The first thing I’ve realized a potential in – something no one’s doing quite like me, something timely.

I’m sorry for all the vagueness, but every now and then an idea is worth keeping secret.

The only thing is, I’m not ready to write it. It needs research, better understanding of certain events & discussions that have led up until this point in time. But now I’m thinking of it. Now I’m fascinated. Now I’m flattered, flummoxed, and floored. Now I don’t know where to go, except maybe a pre-dawn walk or something. I have all this frustration and distraction with which I can do nothing right now.

But now it’s 4:20 am, and I can smoke a little dope and chuckle about the apropos of it all. Add to all the above that my ass and abs feel tighter than a snare drum because I rediscovered my Ab Swing about 32 hours ago, and I feel tense, tense, tense.

Fortunately, I’m in good mood about it.

I posted a “wah, wah, I know not where to begin” posting a couple days ago about my story series suggestion regarding "my life thus far," and good buddy Steve has proposed I tell how I landed my fair ass in the Great Frozen Beyond, and Stevie, old boy, it just so happens there’s a story there to tell.

I think I’ve figured how to blow my wad for the night. I’ve got Oasis’ “Morning Glory” playing on repeat. “All your dreams are made when you’re chained to the mirror and the razorblade…” Sorta fitting for that story, really.

About that story series. I know it must seem odd that the more important other writing becomes to me, the more lofty my goals get in, say, this area of useless blog writing. I’ve been sort of puzzling over this for the past week or two, thinking I must be absolutely insane, but then it hit me. Creativity, true creativity, tends to really need confidence and the willingness to take chances. The more we try, the more we do, the more we believe in it. I guess I figure that if I can up my game elsewhere, creatively, that it must be up every place. Hmm. Nice notion.

But, well, without ado. Yukon ho! Another day or two and the first installment shall be up. Time to kill a bowl and roll, Stan, roll this wagonwheel.

(*I oughta be listening to the song that provides the title to this piece, M. Ward, Four Hours In Washington. Great insomnia classic.)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ooh, spooky -- Call Father Karras!*

I've been writing intermittently today about the crossroads I find myself at. It feels so self-involved. I quit, now, and I'm watching, at long last, season two of The Wire. (YAY! Tee hee. I'm so happy to be sans life this weekend... brilliant TV, sanity, and solace. What I need.)

So, I just did one of those stupid Quizzilla shit things, and now I'm freaked out. Based on my real name:

You Are The Hanging Man

You represent the seeking of enlightenment and spiritual clarity.
You tend to confuse others, but your oddities seem deeply satisfying.
Self sacrifice is easy for you, especially if it makes you a better person in the end.
You are the type of person who is very in touch with your soul and inner spirit.

Your fortune:

Right now is a good time for reflection and meditation.
You should stop resisting the problems in your life, and let yourself be vulnerable to them.
You may need to sacrifice something important to you to move ahead in your life.
Accept your destiny with courage, and learn to let go of what you think you need.

*That'd be a reference to "The Exorcist," fyi. Priest who gets smoked by the little possessed bitch in the house on the hill. Shpooky. I hate demon possessions! They suck!

Incidentally? Wrote about vulnerability earlier, and sacrifice, and destiny. How fucked is that? Yes, creepy. Frickin' quizzes. Bullshit.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Capsule Review and a Piss'n'Moan

A friend came by for dinner and a movie tonight, and we checked out Hustle and Flow starring Terrence Howard. Cool flick. Very fun. Loved the lingo. Editing was top-notch. Acting, exceptional. Great feel. Very authentic. Enough said.

(Plot: Pimp "DJay" decides to pursue his lifelong dream of being a rapper. Ergo. Similar to 8 mile with the authenticity and feel, but this was decidedly funnier than 8 mile, and occasionally more touching.)

I'm trying to decide which mini-life story of mine to tell on here first. None of them are standing out for me yet. I feel like a cheap actress in a low-rent drama. "What's my motivation?"

"Fuck all, honey. You're doin' whatcha gotta do, baby. Carry on. Bring it."

Yeah, nice direction, asshole. That helps.

You see, the problem is, whenever I tackle what's ostensibly a "project," such as this, I always feel the need to start with a trump hand. I gotta know I'm goin' in holdin' aces high, or it's just no go. What, am I a control freak? Yeah. Probably. Am I insecure and want to compensate? Well, sure, you could say that. Or you could say I know I've got an A-game somewhere, and just expect myself to bring it.

I'm not saying I'm all "A" material. Are you nuts? I wish. I have little fantasies about such things. "Oh, to be an "A" girl."

But I know I measure up some of the time. And some of that time, I know it when I see it. I just want to be seeing it this time, and right now, nothing's crying out as the play-me card.

In a way, it's made all that much harder because of this disconnect I feel from my past. The person sitting here now in this moderately well-decorated bedroom, hardwood flooring stretched out below her, a quite period apartment from the '50s with the low drone of distant traffic is a world away from the chick tucked in with blue shag in the north, or the insecure loser living at home with mom.

Writing about the present is great. Writing about the recent past is better. Writing about the distant past is sometimes like trying to package time travel. It's just not going to work. And everything, my whole life, it just seems so very far away from this person sitting here now, and I wonder, where did all those miles go?

For some reason, I can't help but thinking of this Sunday morning in early February in the Yukon where Lisa and I were just leaving the Five Corners, where we'd had pancakes, and were blazing a trail down the highway towards Carcross, where we'd be going into a native ceremonial sweatlodge, and Nirvana's Lithium came blaring over my stereo. Lisa, the uber-Tom Petty fan, had never heard this track before. (Hey, it was '95 then.)

I like it - I'm not gonna crack
I miss you - I'm not gonna crack
I love you - I'm not gonna crack
I killed you - I'm not gonna crack

And there I'd be, moshing as I'm driving, singing along. And that person, that time, that world, seems so far away. How can I write about it in an interesting, engaging way?

So, what this is, boys and girls, is performance anxiety. You see my pattern? I tell you what I'm going to do well before I'm even ready to do it, so I'm fucking committed and my pride's on the line, and I gotta lay down and follow through. It's self-administered peer pressure.

Insanity is what it is, but there you have it, and here we are. Something's gotta come. I think what I might do is pick a smaller moment that meant a great deal. Maybe my first Northern Lights. Something like that. Hmm. Either way, I'm tired of feeling like I'm in another galaxy from my past, since so much of who I am comes to me by way of those times. I wanna own it again, and I guess this is my way to do so.

This isn't that uncommon, the great disconnect from one's youth, but I think it's an important thing to deal with in the proper manner. Life's too short to forget where you've come from, so whatever it takes to reinvigorate that, then so be it.

Anyone wanna do my dishes? I wanna crash. :P