Monday, March 24, 2014

The 2014 Goodreads Challenge: Ahead of Schedule

Goodreads:  Do you use it?  Do you like it?  I think it was the lovely brains behind My Adorable Smalltown Life who let me in on this way to get book recommendations and track what you are reading.
As someone who enjoys reading, and reads a lot (thank you public library!),  I've found it really great to track what books I've started, but had to return because I couldn't renew them again, in addition to keeping on top of all the interesting books I want to read . . . someday.  When I have time.
Fortunately, I use public transit, so I get to read at least once a day on my way home from work (I'm not gonna lie, I usually nap/meditate on my way *to* work).
The downside to this is that sometimes, my 'currently reading' list gets really long, since it includes not only the books that I've actually got going, but the books I started but had to return AND the books that I've picked up from the library but haven't started yet.  Seriously, Goodreads needs to get on top of some sort of better tracking for library users.

In any event, I was updating my Goodreads lists after picking up my holds at the library on the weekend, and I've noticed that I'm way ahead of schedule on this year's reading challenge!  I set a challenge of 30 books, since that is about what Goodreads thinks I read last year.  Apparently, I've already read 14 books, and I'm not sure how that happened!

Here's a little breakdown of what I've completed, in no particular order, in case you are looking for new reading material:

     This book was a really fun read.  The author travelled around the USA and looks in depth at some of the foodie culture - especially some of the ones that are a little more out there.  I would definitely read this again

    Also pretty awesome, even to my vegetarian self.  It is an actual historical look at livestock farming in the USA, mostly concentrating on the late 1800s through the present day.  It was really interesting to see how and why factory farming evolved, and then the development of organic farming in the 1980s and 1990s.

The XX Factor by Alison Wolf
     This book gave me some issues.  The author talks about how gender equality in the work world has led to greater social inequality among women.  From my perspective, what she really was talking about was how rich people have used gender equality to stay rich or increase their wealth, not that feminism has inadvertently created a greater income gap.

     The introduction to this book was a little rough, since I am of a younger generation than the author, and she talks about some cultural things that are very specific to growing up when she did.  However, most of the book is an interesting look at how the feminist movement has been sidelined and appropriated by culture to promote the image of a woman who does everything and does it perfectly.

     This was alright.  It was clearly aimed at kids in their early twenties who are still figuring this grown-up business out, but it was filled with practical advice on a lot of different topics.  Also, the author has a pretty good sense of humour.

    Another social studies book on female parenting in the Western world.  I gave it four out of five stars because the author uses her personal story of burning out as a great backdrop to discuss serious issues like family/parental leave, etc.

     I had a lot of high hopes for interesting projects and gardening advice out of this one and was kind of let down.  A lot of the gardening projects are not really useful outside of the warmer climes of California, and much of it is kinda basic in some ways.  The book is organized really well, and it is a nice read if you are just starting out with these sort of things though.

     This one by the same author as above was much more interesting for me.  Lots of neat things you can make yourself.  If I can find a used copy to buy (cheap) I think this book would come in super-handy in case of zombie apocalypse.  They even made their own wood ash lye so they could make soap from all non-purchased ingredients!

     The power of intuition.  Not a bad read.

     Short stories from a Russian author translated into English.  I don't know if it was the translation, but a lot of the stories, while interesting, felt rough and unfinished. 

The Circle by Dave Eggers
     Holy crap was this an awesome read of fiction.  Go to the library right now and borrow it. Go!

     Pretty good.  Amazing one line quotes, good overall story, but I didn't realize that it was the start of a series (I think it might end up being a trilogy) when I picked it up.  

     Overall, I liked this book.  It is filled with examples of families who made their schedules work in order to share as equally as possible in raising their children.  Unfortunately, 98% of the examples are in the kinds of employment that are already well known for their flexibility (freelance graphic designers, etc).  The ideas are sound though - just needed more diversity in the actual examples I think.

     This whole thing read like a promo for the author's own website, and is advice for entrepeneurs that has been around forever.

Feel free to leave me new book recommendations!  My list is not overly large - yet!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Happy Belated Pi Day!

Yesterday was Pi Day (March 14 aka 3/14 which, of course is the first three digits of the mathematical Pi 3.14159 . . . ).  I did not have time to do any baking yesterday, so I did my Pi day baking earlier today. 
As our produce delivery box recently came with a beautiful looking lemon, it was easy to decide on baking a lemon meringue pie.

I used this recipe from Canadian Living as my basis - I did not alter it too much.  I used a premade Tenderflake pie crust instead of making my own, I zested one entire lemon instead of only zesting a tablespoon of rind, icing sugar in the meringue instead of fruit sugar, and I added a splash of vanilla to the meringue.  I think it came out pretty well.

All the ingredients, ready to go



 The yellow bowl contains the lemon zest & cubed butter, the measuring cup is the fresh squeezed lemon juice, and the black bowl contains the egg yolks.

Here is my prepared pie crust, ready & waiting for the lemon curd.


This part of the process is a little tiring.  The below is the water, cornstarch, salt & sugar mixture.  You need to bring it to a boil, while continuously whisking.  If you stop whisking, you end up with a blob of burnt cornstarch & sugar at the bottom of your saucepan, instead of a thickened gel-like substance.  Then you temper the eggs by pouring a little bit of this into the yolks (while whisking, of course) and then pouring the whole kit-and-caboodle back into the saucepan for a little more cooking.  If you don't temper the eggs, you end up with scrambled egg yolks instead of curd.  It isn't as hard as it sounds, but your arms sure get tired!


Ah, here is my completed lemon curd, cooling down on the kitchen table.  I put plastic wrap over it so that it wouldn't form a skin while it cooled.


Here is my beautiful curd, resting in the pie shell.


Meringue time!  I like making meringue - for some reason, watching the booger-y egg whites turn into delicious sugary topping is weirdly appealing to me.


Here we have finished meringue, with lovely stiff peaks.


So much meringue on top of this pie!  I admit, I got lazy and didn't feel like busting out the piping bags, and just blobbed it on with a spoon, but I don't think it is a terrible aesthetic.


Finished pie!  At this point, I had just taken it out of the oven, and partner was desperate to cut into it.  I'm mean and made him wait until after supper.


So, partner cut the pie, and butchered it a little bit (he insisted that he could do it neatly with just the pie lifter and no knife.  I think we can all see how that turned out).  However, I think this clearly shows the lovely, yellow lemon curd layer beneath the giant heaping layer of meringue.  


Please ignore the fact that we are weak in the face of pie and ate half of it in the first go.
Have you made a pie in celebration of Pi Day? 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Note to Self: Next Summer, Make More Pesto!

My belly will be very sad when it realizes that the last of the pesto I made from my basil harvest in the garden this summer was part of tonight's (delicious) dinner.  The pesto was really tasty, and I am very sad there will be no more until the next harvest of basil comes in.  I am especially sad because the current weather reminds me that this is going to be months & months away!

Tonight's dinner was inspired by receiving this week's produce delivery box, and realizing that we had to use up some of last week's delivery so we could fit everything in the fridge!  I ended up making a quick & easy pasta with the pesto, tomatoes, mushrooms & spinach, and then a quick little salad.

Here's what you will need to make it yourself:

Squiggly pasta shapes (I used a combo of fusilli and scooby doo/cavatappi noodles, since they were open)
1/2 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
2 cremini mushrooms, sliced
a large handful of spinach, washed & sliced thinly
1/2 small zucchini, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 small red onion, diced
olives - the black, wrinkly kind (optional) - as many as you like, because this one is really subjective
olive oil for frying
4 ice cubes worth of pesto (or about 4 tablespoons)

Start cooking your pasta as per package directions.
Heat up the olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan or large saucepan.  When the oil is warm, add your onion, and cook, stirring occasionally until starting to soften.  Add the garlic and spinach and cook another two minutes.  Dump in your cherry tomatoes, zucchini and mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until everything is warmed through and the tomatoes start to wrinkle a little.  Then add your pesto and olives (if using).
At this point, your pasta should be cooked.  Drain off most of the water, and then add the pasta & remaining water to to your pan of sauce and stir/toss so the pasta gets completely coated.  Leave on low heat if you think it needs a little more cooking time, or you haven't started the salad yet because there is a toddler demanding your attention by holding onto your knee and yelling.

If you choose not to use olives in the pasta, I would recommend maybe adding some chili flakes, or some parmesan or other stronger, salty cheese, just to give it that little extra kick.

The salad I made was just a quick toss of romaine lettuce, two small, sliced carrots, orange bell pepper and avocado, since those were the quick veggies to hand.

I hope this is something you can use during your hectic days, since it comes together in just over the time it takes for the pasta to cook.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I'd Forgotten About the Dollar Store

February is always a busy month in this household, with multiple birthdays and Valentine's Day and the Family Day long weekend.  There's lots to do!

Part of all the busyness this month led me to rediscover the awesomeness of the dollar store.  We planned and hosted two birthday brunches, with all that entails, in addition to munchkin appropriate goody bags for her daycare class's Valentine's celebrations.

Bucket-loads of paper plates in a variety of colours and patterns? A dollar!  Disposable cutlery in packs that match the plates?  A dollar!  Goody bags, napkins, thank you cards, etc? Less than two dollars each!

Do you need items for goody bags?  Here's a list of appropriate small child items I found at the dollar store:

  • glow sticks (someone did this for a birthday earlier this year and it was a big hit.  After all, to little eyes, a glow stick is nothing but a perfectly toddler sized light sabre!)
  • name brand Play-Doh: our dollar store was selling it in two dollar four packs!
  • old-school party noisemakers
  • stickers, stickers and more stickers: all sorts of subjects and finishes, including puffy animal stickers, shiny rocketships, and branded characters
  • art supplies, including crayons, finger paints and little pads of paper
  • super balls
  • all sorts of candy
There was a whole lot more, mostly of the small toy variety, but you get the idea.  There are tons of options!

The other thing that struck me about the grocery store, while I was getting party supplies, was the abundance of different grocery and household staples.  Baking soda, brand name soups, Kraft Dinner (and several KD rivals), pickles, dish soap, paper towels, etc.  Since the grocery store nearest our home sells Kraft Dinner for $1.60 and it is (surprise!) a dollar at the dollar store, that is not a minor savings, for just one example.

The other major item I've been stocking up on is candy bars.  The vending machine at my place of employment charges $1.50 for candy bars and $1.25 for a bag of chips.  Candy bars at the dollar store go for $0.69 and chips (which, while still small, are larger than the ones in the vending machine) are $1.00.  As a result, I loaded myself up and have stashed them in my desk so that I can avoid the overpriced vending machine at the office.

Woo hoo for saving money!

Do you have an awesome dollar store near you?  Have you found anything awesome there?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Guest Post: And She Brought Pie!

Hello!  I invited Jen B. from My Adorable Small Town Life to come on over and do a guest post.  She is a smart, funny Amazon, and if you haven't checked out her blog before, I think you should.
She, like me, enjoys a good meal, and for this guest post, she decided to try making a sweet potato pie.  I've never made a sweet potato pie, so I was excited to see how it turned out!
-Tasha


I first heard about sweet potato pie from The X-Files, in: "Jose Chung's From Outer Space". In that episode, Mulder sits in a diner and orders piece after piece of delicious pie. That is one of the many X-Files episodes that stuck with me (Alex Trebek is in it!) and the pie stuck with me too. At the time I had no idea what sweet potato pie was, but I knew the X-Phile in me would one day have to try it.

I looked through dozens of recipes, Googling: "best sweet potato pie" and "authentic sweet potato pie" and after a lot of deliberation I decided to trust Joy the Baker's recipe as my first taste of this delicious dessert. I picked a good one, as this is one fabulous pie.

Ingredients: (adapted from Joy the Baker)
9" deep dish pie shell
2 cups mashed sweet potato (about 3 small sweet potatoes, or 1.5lbs)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cup evaporated milk, divided (each half is 1/2 cup + 2 tbsps)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla

Method: 1. Peel and cube sweet potatoes and place in steamer pot. Steam until soft and then mash them. 

2. Add mashed sweet potatoes to a medium pot. Add brown sugar, spices, butter, and half of the evaporated milk and stir and warm over low heat to combine.

3. Use an immersion blender to get mixture really smooth. I used a hand mixer and may or may not have melted some of the electrical cord on the burner. If using a blending appliance near a burner, keep your eye on the cord and be careful!

4. After simmering for about 5 minutes, remove sweet potato mixture from stove and set aside. In a bowl, whisk together the rest of the evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla, and granulated sugar.

5. Add the egg mixture to the warm sweet potato mixture.

6. Pour into pie shell.
*Note: this recipe makes about 1/2 a cup too much filling for a 9 inch, deep dish pie shell. When following this recipe, you might want to have some tart shells on hand to use up the extra. Or you could do what I did, which was overfill the pie to the point that it dripped out over all the sides. The baking process did make the edges of the pie taste amazing, so that was a bonus.*

7. Bake at 375°F for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 325°F and bake for an additional 45 minutes. According to the recipe, the pie is done when it only has a light, structured jiggle in the center. My pie had no jiggle at all (which looked good to me!) and a knife inserted in it came out clean.

8. Cool on counter for an hour then place in fridge until completely cool. Enjoy!!

I have to say this pie was absolutely delicious. It is a lot like pumpkin pie in texture and somewhat in taste, but it has a really beautiful sweetness that is completely its own. I didn't put whipped cream on my piece (an absolute must for pumpkin pie and me), as it was really just perfect by itself. I loved it and will definitely be making this pie again.

Have you tried sweet potato pie? What do you think?

Also, feel free to check out more of my blog: My Adorable Small Town Life
And/or follow me on Twitter: Jen B: @myadorableblog

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Finally, A Reason to Use the Nope Octopus in a Post

I made it to yoga class for the third week in a row this morning!  I even managed to get up into wheel pose for all of 2 seconds before my shoulder muscles turned into the Nope Octopus.



I had been going to a class off & on before the Christmas holidays, but after the first week of December, I completely fell off the wagon.  By the first week of January, my body was angry with me for not keeping up on my self-care.  I'm really glad that I've found a handful of classes that I'll be able to attend regularly again.

Friday, January 10, 2014