Thursday, August 28, 2014

50 Shades of Brown

There are those mornings when you wake up feeling relaxed, energized and ready to take on the ups and downs of the day. And then there are other mornings... Mornings when morning comes too soon; when your snooze button rudely interrupts your dreams 10 times before you finally surrender and crawl out of bed; mornings when your eyelids refuse to let go of one another and mornings that are simply not complete without many cups of coffee and its wonderfully delicious shades of brown.

I've had a lot of those mornings lately. At one point, first thing in the morning, one of my colleagues asked me "Are you ok? Are you sick?" No, I was not sick... I was exhausted.

Up until recently, I never hit the snooze button when it was time to wake up. Once I was up, I was up. Now, I count the number of times I hit snooze and between each hit, I start rationalizing with my sleeping-self.

Tania, if you wake up now, you'll have time to exercise, shower, have coffee, breakfast and catch a recorded episode of Will & Grace.
*SNOOZE* 
Tania, if you wake up now, you'll still have time to exercise, shower, have a quick breakfast and watch half a Will & Grace episode... probably no time for a full cup of coffee.... who needs a full cup anyway?
*SNOOZE* 
Tania! You can still exercise and shower; coffee is definitely out of the question but you can have a quick bite and watch a few minutes of Will & Grace... I don't need to watch a full episode; I know them all by heart anyway.
*SNOOZE* 
Tania!! Just get up. Breakfast will be on the run. No time for anything. Just get up and go!! Thank goodness there is a coffee machine at work.

Nobody told me how laborious this wedding planning business would be. I am not complaining at all; I am enjoying every single most seconds of it. Wedding planning is not difficult; you just have to be organized. The difficult part is making sure that all other aspects of your life (like work... or blogging!!(haven't exactly passed with flying colors here)) stay afloat. Honestly, don't employers know how time consuming planning a wedding is? I say, just like parental leave, there should be a plan-your-wedding-leave!

It is now crunch time!! My mind is racing on all the things that need to be done and, in turn, I feel like Mr. A and I are racing against the clock. 8 days and dozen of cups and shades of coffee to go... still so tired but so grateful and excited.

Coffee comes in all many shades and shapes. Here's an amazing recipe for Mexican Coffee Granita. Beautiful brown crystals of frozen coffee. Yum!

Mexican Coffee Granita

Ingredients
- 2 cups strong black coffee or espresso (lukewarm)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons coffee liqueur
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 3/4-1 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions
1- Combine all ingredients and stir until the sugar dissolves.
2- Poor the mixture in a pan and place it in the freezer.
3- Scrape and fluff the mixture with a fork every 30 minutes for about 3-4 hours until it is thoroughly frozen.
*Serve with sweetened whipped cream if desired. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Babies, Birthdays & under-Beds

If you have read my older blog posts, you probably remember the one where I explained how, since my mid-teens (even before I met Mr. A), I had been collecting random objects that I liked and would need for my future home. I had drinking glasses, a vast variety of kitchen utensils, table runners (that were out of style by the time Mr. A and I moved), candle holders, frying pans, etc. For years, I would keep everything under my bed while impatiently waiting for my knight in shining armor to sweep me off my feet and give me a home in which I could put everything I had collected over the years. That blog post was "Under the Bed" and you can read it at the following link: http://www.theprepwife.com/2013/10/under-bed.html. 

I went to Toys'R'us a few days ago to find a gift for the first birthday of my cousin's incredibly adorable twin boys. Yes, twins! I changed my first diaper and it was wonderful! I love babies. Crazily enough, every time there is a diaper to be changed... 



As I stepped into Toys'R'us, I felt like I had just landed in a new country and was asked to find my way without a map. Basically, I was lost and clueless. I strolled through the aisles quickly scanning the toys and stopping in front of anything that said "12 months and above". 

Without much success, I found myself in the clothing section of the store. I think the feeling I had in that department was close to the feeling that the 5-year-old-Me had when entering Toys'R'us. Surrounded by everything in miniature, the under-the-bed-Tania/my inner-prep-mom started to surface. I gawked at the tiny pajamas and socks that would look wonderful on the baby that I don't have yet! I told myself "I have to buy them! I have to stock up! They are so small. They won't take up any space!". Imagining Mr. A's reaction to my coming home with baby clothes (it would have probably been a mix between happiness, confusion and a slight dose of fear), my logical side eventually kicked in and I left the store only buying gifts for the twins.

Either way, very disappointingly (or perhaps thankfully), our bed is very low and there is not a lot of space to hide things under it... and I have already filled all the cupboards and closets of our house to (almost) full capacity. So I either have to resist buying tiny pajamas or find a house with bigger closets. I'll resist for now.

Because no birthday is complete without cake, here's a recipe for a classic Victoria Sponge Cake from the Queen of Cake: Peggy Porschen. I've baked with Peggy's recipes countless times and trust me when I say they NEVER disappoint. 

I know the recipe seems long but it's a lot easier than it looks.

Glorious Victoria Cake

Recipe from Boutique Baking by Peggy Porschen 

Makes one 15cm (6in) round cake, serving 8–12 slices

Glorious Victoria (peggyporschen.com)

Ingredients

For the sponge:
- 200g unsalted butter, softened
- 200g caster sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Seeds of ½ vanilla pod
- 4 medium eggs
- 200g self-raising flour

For the sugar syrup:
- 150ml water
- 150g caster sugar
- Scraped vanilla pod

For the buttercream filling:
- 300g unsalted butter, softened
- 300g icing sugar, sifted
- Pinch of salt
- Seeds of ½ vanilla pod
- Small amount of pink food paste color
- 3 tbsp any good-quality raspberry jam

Equipment
Three 15cm (6in) round sandwich tins
Cake leveller or large serrated knife
Non-slip turntable
Flat disc to place on top of the turntable 
 (Peggy uses the loose base of a 30cm (12in) springform cake tin)
15cm (6in) round cake card
Metal side scraper
Two plastic piping bags
Medium star piping nozzle
Plain round 4mm (¼in) piping nozzle

Directions
Bake the sponges one day ahead of serving. Make the sugar syrup whilst baking the sponges. Prepare the buttercream filling and assemble and decorate the cake on the day of serving.

Preheat the oven to 175°C/350F.

Prepare the sandwich tins by greasing and lining them with greaseproof paper.

To make the sponge
Place the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla seeds in a mixing bowl and cream together until pale and fluffy.

Beat the eggs lightly in another bowl and slowly add to the butter mixture while whisking quickly. If the mixture starts to separate or curdle, stop adding the egg and beat in 2–3 tablespoons of the flour. This will rebind the batter.

Once all the egg has been added and combined with the butter mixture, sift in the flour and stir until the batter is just combined. This will ensure the sponges stay light and fluffy.

Divide the batter evenly between the sandwich tins. If you find it difficult to measure by eye, use your kitchen scales to weigh out the amount of sponge mixture for each tin.

Bake for 15–20 minutes, depending on your oven. If you are using deeper cake tins, the sponges will take longer to cook.

The sponges are cooked when the sides are beginning to shrink away from the edges of the tins and the tops are golden brown and spring back to the touch. If in doubt, insert a clean knife or wooden skewer into the centre of each sponge; it should come out clean.

To make the sugar syrup
While the sponges are baking, prepare the sugar syrup for soaking.

Place the water, caster sugar and vanilla pod into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Set aside to cool down slightly. Discard the vanilla pod.

Once the sponges are baked, let them rest for about 10 minutes outside of the oven. Using a pastry brush, soak the tops of the sponges with vanilla bean sugar syrup while they are still warm; this allows the syrup to be absorbed faster.

Once just warm, run a knife all the way round the sides of the tins, remove the sponges from the tins and leave to cool completely on a wire cooling rack.

Once cool, wrap the sponges in cling film and then rest them overnight at room temperature. This will ensure that all the moisture is sealed in and the sponges firm up to the perfect texture for trimming and layering. When trimmed too soon after baking, the sponges tend to crumble and may even break into pieces.

To make the buttercream filling
Place the butter, icing sugar, salt and vanilla seeds into a mixing bowl and cream together until very pale and fluffy.

Add a small amount of pink food colour to the mixture and stir through until combined and the buttercream is a pastel shade.

To assemble the cake
Trim and sandwich together the three sponge layers using one layer of buttercream filling and one layer of raspberry jam, and the vanilla sugar syrup for soaking.

With the remaining buttercream filling, cover or mask the top and sides of the cake.

To decorate
Place the cake either on to a cakestand or on top of the turntable covered with a piece of greaseproof paper.

Place a star nozzle into a plastic piping bag and fill with a generous amount of the remaining buttercream. Place a round nozzle into another plastic piping bag and fill with a small amount of the remaining buttercream.

Divide the top of the cake into eight equal segments. Using the star nozzle, pipe a ring of C-scrolls around the circumference, revolving the turntable as necessary. Next, pipe a shell from the middle of each C-scroll towards the centre.

Where all eight shells meet, pipe a rosette on top at the centre of the cake top. Using the round nozzle, pipe a small dot between each shell.

Using the star nozzle, pipe eight fleur de lys evenly around the sides at the top edge, with a single upside-down shell underneath at the bottom edge.

To finish, pipe a small dot between the fleur de lys and shell. If the cake has been placed on greaseproof paper, chill until the piped dots are set before transferring to a cakestand.

Serve the cake at room temperature. This cake is best enjoyed within 3 days of baking, but it can last for up to 1 week.

Glorious Victoria (peggyporschen.com)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Brunner

We had a lovely Brunner last weekend.

Brunner is the meal you have when you have planned a brunch for 1:00pm but realize that the Wimbeldon finals are on TV so you push it to 2:00pm. You then realize that the game is getting longer than expected so you push it again to 2:45pm. Finally, you make it to the restaurant at 2:44pm with your stomach singing the feed-me-now chant because you refused to eat a decent breakfast to leave room for the delicious hollandaise sauce-drenched goodies to come. You sit and wait for the fashionably late while chugging down coffee to stop the stomach-chanting that is quickly turning into stomach-chanting-and-dancing. At last, the "fashionable" arrive and a big plate of calorific goodness is placed in front of you at almost 4:00pm. You think to yourself "I got this!" and attack.

Starving, you suddenly feel like you have the special talent of unhinging your jaw and start hoovering up the food on your plate (and a little off your neighbor's plate). A little more than halfway through your giant meal, feeling like an abundantly stuffed Thanksgiving turkey, you notice that your now silenced stomach chants will turn to stomach pains if you keep eating. Nevertheless, you keep picking at the remaining food on your plate thinking you should take one more bite because it would be a sin to waste such scrumptiousness. (Thankfully, Mr. A gladly volunteered to help me clear my plate.) 

That, my friends, is a Brunner. Brunch that is of such wonderfully epic proportions and deliciousness that it automatically and unintentionally turns into dinner as well. 



Liquid gold

We went to L'Avenue on Mont-Royal; a magical place where Mr. A and I once enthusiastically waited in line for at least 45 minutes in -15 degrees of winter cold (remember those days?); where liquid gold (aka REAL maple syrup) flows in abundance and where the food is as enchanting as the bathrooms.

L'Avenue - Bathroom!

Because my eyes radar in on anything on the menu that has goat cheese, I had the Mr. Séguin: Eggs Benedict with goat cheese, sauteed mushrooms & spinach... and it was well worth the wait.


The Mr. Séguin


If you're a sucker for hollandaise sauce like me, here's the simplest recipe e.v.e.r. It is from Julia Child so you know it's good. All it takes is a blender, a few ingredients and less than 5 minutes.

Julia Child's Blender Hollandaise Sauce

Ingredients
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 tsp salt
- a pinch of pepper
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (melted)

Directions
1- Place the egg yolks, salt, pepper and lemon juice in a blender and blend for 5 seconds at top speed.
2- Uncover the blender and (still on top speed) add the melted butter in a thin stream.
3- Season to taste. You're done! Serve immediately or place the jar in lukewarm (not hot!) water to keep it from solidifying. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Living in an Illusion

I noticed that most of my thoughts revolve purely on what's next or what was. I wake up and start mentally breaking down my day; I go to work and think about what I can do or where I can go during lunch; during lunch, I think about my afternoon at work; at work again, I think about what I can cook that evening; cooking, I think about what I can watch on TV later; watching TV, I think about what I can do that would be better than TV (write a grocery list? make a list of must-have songs for the wedding? make a list of people I would like to invite for supper?) or if I could have done or said something differently during the day; right this moment, while blogging, I thought about who I could call to say hello to (I just took a break to call someone). Even on weekends, as soon as my eyes are open, I am on my feet and many things are on my mind. What can I do? What can I cook? What can I buy? Who can I see? Who can I call? At night, when I put my head on my pillow, my mind is rarely at rest but is instead retracing the steps of the day or is thinking about the future. Am I on the right path? What can I do to improve myself? Have I accomplished enough? What can I do to earn more money? What can I do to reach the next level?

I live in the past, in the future, in an illusion...and it's exhausting.




I have been asking myself why we (I know I'm not the only one!) think this way. Where is the end of this vicious chain of thoughts and questioning? What is wrong with the "now" I am in? Why can't I just enjoy the moment, acknowledge what I have achieved and just be content? Is it because I am not happy with the "now"? Perhaps. (What!? A bride-to-be who is not happy?)


Let me explain...

We live in a society that praises productivity, ambition and goals for all the wrong reasons. Of course, I am not saying that wandering aimlessly through life without goals and ambition is a good thing. I am saying that we are brainwashed to believe that ambition is the chase of money, status, power, fame, etc. Ambition should first and foremost be the chase of happy experiences and happy "nows". 

We are kicking our goals further and further and trying to put our "happy-nows" on standby for "happy-tomorrows". We can all make more money and have more power and more fame so how do you know when/if you have reached your goal? How do you know when it's time to open your bottle of "standby-happy-nows"? Let me tell you something: you can never open your bottle of "standby-happy-nows"; in fact, there is no bottle. All you have is your "now" that you choose to make happy or unhappy; or you have the illusion of "happy-tomorrows". 

Once again, I'll mention that I am not promoting a life without goals, without ambition, without motivation and without dreams. Like many of you out there, I want to improve, I want to be healthier, I want to learn more, I want to reach the next level in my career (a few extra bucks would not hurt!), etc. 

However, many of us have put the happiness of our "nows" too far down on our priority lists. Everybody, wake up from your illusion and stay ambitious about being happy and enjoying life. Appreciate all that you have and all that you have accomplished and live your life happily in your "now", not in some "maybe-happy-tomorrow"!





One food that ALWAYS made me happy as a child (and still does as an adult!) is Chocolate Salami!

Here's the quick and oh-so-simple recipe.

Chocolate Salami

Ingredients

- 250g tea biscuits (like Maria cookies), coarsely crushed 
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 egg yolks (fresh!)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup cocoa powder 

- 1 tsp vanilla extract (or a nice splash of liqueur such as cognac or Grand Marnier for the adults)
- optional: Any kind of nuts (approximately 3oz)
- optional: Powdered sugar for decoration 

Directions

1- Coarsely crush the cookies.
2- Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar.
3- In a big bowl, melt the butter (in microwave or bain-marie).
4- To this bowl, add the cocoa, sugar-egg yolk mixture and vanilla (or liqueur). Mix together, Add crushed cookies and mix until combined.
5- Transfer the bowl to the fridge to firm up for 15-20 minutes (not longer or else your mixture will be too hard)
6- Lay out a piece of plastic wrap big enough to hold the mixture. Transfer the slightly firm/chilled mixture to the plastic wrap and shape into a log.
7- Wrap the salami log by folding the plastic wrap upon itself, twist the sides, wrap this in aluminum foil or grease paper and refrigerate overnight (or about 6-8 hours).
8- Roll the Chocolate Salami in powdered sugar to give it more of a "salami" look
9- Slice and enjoy!



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ripples

I think I'm a kind person. I'm definitely not Mother Teresa but I'm a big fan of acts of kindness (even if they are very small acts) and friendliness. I give a helping hand when I see someone in need; if the person behind me at the checkout counter in the supermarket has a few items, I'll let him/her take my spot; I'll hold a door or an elevator; I'll start a casual conversation when in a waiting room, etc. I sometimes receive kindness and smiles in return... I also receive strange looks and discomfort.





                          
A few weeks ago, I went to give a deposit to one of our wedding vendors. This vendor's office was only a few steps away from his niece's store where she sells lovely clothes and accessories for women. We walked the few steps to the store where he introduced me to her, thanked me for the deposit then went about his day. After chatting with the shop owner for about 15 minutes, I told her that I would come back another day to shop.

As we were saying our goodbyes, she told me to pick something from the store as a gift from her uncle/the vendor. With a smile on my face and confusion in my eyes, I couldn't help but ask her Why!? She let out a small laugh and started showing me different items. My mind started racing and I started asking myself many different things: Is this a prank? Did the vendor look legitimate? Would he take off with my deposit? What's the catch? Why would she just give me something? Am I being swindled? 

After rationalizing the situation in my head, I realized that I had thought too hard. The answer was clear... I was dealing with nice people who were simply being kind and friendly!

As I left the store with my freebie-goodie (a beautiful Beeswax candle in a floral teacup), I could not pinpoint what I was feeling. On one hand, at the sight their generosity, I had a soothing feeling of comfort and reassurance. On the other hand, somewhat ashamed, I asked myself "isn't it sad?". Isn't it sad that our reaction to generosity is apprehension; we mistake politeness for flirtation and we question kindness' intention?

I bet the vendor I dealt with and his niece thought that all they did was give a little gift. They did much more than that- they created ripples of kindness. Every little thing we do goes out into the world like a ripple and affects another action and another person.



Cast a good stone...

Be kind to your body as well. Here is an extremely healthy, vitamin-packed Gazpacho recipe that is perfect for the hot summer days to come!

Gazpacho
yield: 4 servings
recipe adapted from realsimple.com

Ingredients

  • - 2 1/2 pounds tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • - 3 small cloves garlic, peeled
  • - 1/2 small sweet onion, roughly chopped
  • - 2 red bell peppers, roughly chopped
  • - 1 pound English cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped
  • - 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • - salt and black pepper
  • Garnish
  • - 3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  • - 1 cup fresh corn kernels 
  • - 4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • - 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • - crusty bread (optional)

Directions


1- Working in batches, place the tomatoes, garlic, onion, bell peppers, and cucumbers in a food processor and pulse until almost pureed.

2- Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the lemon juice, a pinch of salt and dash of pepper.

3- Ladle the soup into individual bowls and top with the goat cheese, corn, and cilantro.

4- Drizzle with the olive oil and serve with the crusty bread (if using).

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Welcoming the Bugs

I have a confession to make... A confession that may surprise some Montreal-ers. I don't like hockey and I have never watched a full hockey game. Mr. A loves hockey and hardly ever misses a game. In fact, he loves it so much that visiting wedding vendors has become extra tricky nowadays because everything has to revolve around the playoffs' schedule. 

When Mr. A is watching the game at home, I usually play on my phone (newest game obsession: 2048!!) or am busy in the kitchen. Sporting my lovely Habs t-shirt (a thoughtful gift from Mr. A), I have seen two or three live games.  Even surrounded by thousands of hyped fans, my mind wanders and I end up watching the people around me more than I watch the action on the ice. I look at what everyone is wearing, scale their drunkenness levels, give semi-nasty looks to the ones behind me who kick my shoulder surprisingly hard (that happened once), and of course, wait for the cue to jump and cheer when everyone else jumps and cheers. 

I guess the hockey bug bit me because, to my absolute shock, yesterday was different! I couldn't believe that I was interested in the game in the first period and a little in the second period of the game. My eyes were stuck to the screen like a magnet and the sound effects of the two great men in my life (Mr. A and Bab!) really made watching the game a treat. I cheered loudly when we scored (not as loud as the Misters though), my heart beat quickly when the Bruins were near our net (boo!), I got angry during penalties... I was a real fan!  

Like I said, for some reason, the game had my full attention during its first period and mid-way into its second period. I guess the hockey bug that bit me was very small (must have been a hockey-bug-in-training)... or the fact that we had a decent lead made the game less interesting for me... or maybe the thought of putting leftover food away and washing dishes was much more exciting to me (any excuse to be in the kitchen!). Whatever the reason was, I welcome the hockey bug to bite me again! It felt nice to be a member of the CH fan club. It makes me feel like a true Montrealer! 

My favorite part of hockey games: looking at what treat-of-a-suit Don Cherry will be wearing. Yesterday was another wonderful gem... Cherry-suit Cherry! 



In honor of Mr. Cherry and his suit, try this delicious recipe next time you bake! 

Chocolate-Cherry Scones

Ingredients
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp chilled butter
- 1/3-1/2 cup cold milk (plus 2 tbsp more for brushing on scones)
- 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
- 1/3 cup dried cherries
- 1 tsp grated orange peel
- 2 tbsp of sugar for sprinkling on scones (optional)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Sift the dry ingredients together.
3. Cube the butter into pea-size pieces and rub in the flour mixture until a coarse meal forms
4. Add the chocolate chips, dried cherries and grated orange peel and mix.
5. Stir in 1/3 cup of milk and add a little more if the dough is too dry. 
6. Form the dough into a 1-inch thick disk. Cut into 6 wedges and place on a baking sheet.
7. Brush the wedges with a little bit of milk (and dust with sugar if you want) and bake for 12-15 minutes. 

Devour warm or at room temperature

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

... and with a smile.

Hello dear readers. Here I am! Magically making another appearance after my recurring and not-so-impressive disappearing acts. As I have previously mentioned, life seems to be getting in the way of my blogging time. As the days pass and the intermission between my posts become longer and longer, I ask myself how I cannot seem to find the time to blog. I don't even have kids yet! How can I not find time?!?! 

Life is not only getting in the way of my blogging time; life is also getting in the way of life. For example, every year, during the weeks creeping up to Easter and Christmas/New Year's, I get in super-housewife-mode. I create a menu, make a cooking schedule and spend hours in the kitchen (sometimes flirting with the idea of moving my bed to the kitchen as well). This year, I had only squiggled a few items on a half-ripped piece of paper. I threw that piece of paper away a few days before Easter knowing that I must surrender and still asking myself where the time had gone.

Do not get me wrong; I am very aware that I am not a ridiculously busy person (although one would be very surprised to know how time-consuming wedding planning is). I see so many people who juggle many more difficult things than I do and I always ask myself how they do it. 

Judge me if you will but one of my biggest desires as a child was not to become a singer, actress, astronaut, etc. I wanted to be a great housewife. I wanted to be like Martha Stewart (minus the whole scandal that landed her time in jail). I wanted to set tables like her, throw exquisite dinner parties like her and, most of all, do it all with a smile and make it seem effortless. 

Today, my biggest desire is not be a housewife (although there is nothing wrong with that); it is to be successful at everything I do. So here I am, trying to be Martha Stewart-esque at home, Hillary Clinton-esque at work, a top wedding planner during the time in between, a blogger...  I am striving to be the woman who can do it all... effortlessly and with a smile. 

That said, I have learned that "effortless" is merely a perception. Nothing is effortless. Even things you enjoy doing (like blogging!) require effort, perseverance and hard work. So, I have decided to face life (with all its challenges, with all its time constraints and with all its glory) head on. I will do it all... effortFULLY and always with a smile.