Thursday, January 19, 2012

2011 in Photographs Part Two (In which I spy signs of spring, marvel at minor miracles and do my part for world domination)

We're now so far into 2012 that this is bordering on the ridiculous, but nevertheless, I bring you 2011 in Photographs --- Part the Second!

April, 2011:

I'm currently huddled beneath my butter-yellow flannel sheets with both my space heater and my humidifier going full blast, so you can probably see why this photo is so appealing right now.  I love every season in its turn, but with every passing year winter's turn seems a little longer and less tolerable.  By the beginning of March I can't step outside without feeling a little lift in my heart, right before my hopes are dashed when the winter air freezes my nose hairs off.  I'd get discouraged, but I know that sooner or later I'll be rewarded with a warm, earthy, wet whiff of Spring!  I've got a phone full of photos capturing my early Springtime discoveries, but I think this one is my favourite.  The light is so bright and hopeful and buttery ---- just like the flannel sheets I'm hibernating in.  Sigh.  

May, 2011:

This month's photo just squeaked in under the wire for May.  May I present to you, 5 of the 10 toes of the erstwhile Squidgy, Mr. Gavin Gaunt!  You might remember him from the bump he made in February's photo entry.  Gavin is the progeny of two of my closest friends: Momma Julia, who tirelessly dealt with my many questions and forgave me for consistently greeting her bump first whenever we got together; and Papa Robin, who has endured our endless oogling and googling with good grace and turned into one hell of a daddy (and one-handed video game player!).  Many of my dear friends and family have already had beautiful, sweet babies that I love with all of my heart, but having spent SO much time with Gavin prenatally made the whole process wonderfully and terrifyingly real to me for the first time.  This little foot kicked me before it had even met me, and now it kicks me when I'm trying to stuff him into his jammies after his bath.  WHA--?!

June, 2011:

Speaking of the Gaunt-Rannalas (I have other friends, I swear!), one of my most favoritest yearly traditions is two-four weekend at the Rannala cottage.  We eat, we drink, we collect shells and skip rocks and build roaring 2-storey bonfires.  We listen to music, we make music, we draw and laugh and dash out of the steamy sauna to plunge breathless and laughing into the icy chill of the lake.  It's glorious.

Amusingly, little Gavin chose to make his entrance on -- you guessed it! -- May 24th EXACTLY, which meant a slight postponement of the trip to the end of June.  That's the great thing about this tradition, though --- the date might change, the cast of characters might change, but every year we carve out some time to come together, relax, and try to forget about the outside world.  Or, in the case of our nerdiest participants, try to dominate the outside world with plastic soldiers and a keg of Golden Horseshoe!

In keeping with my new stick-to-it spirit, stay tuned for Part Three!:  In which I wait for Godot, become a crystalline entity and dwell in the land of giants!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2011 in Photographs Part One (In which I evade dangerous predators, bend spinach pasta to my will and learn to fear my mother)

Inspired (as always!) by the lovely Elsie from A Beautiful Mess, I've decided to share a photo from my iPhone for every month of the last year.

You won't find much to admire in the composition or the lighting, and I'm afraid my stylist is on hiatus.  They're not what one might call great art, but I've carried these photos with me through a bumpy, transitional, eye-opening year -- and I think there's something sort of lovely in that thought.

January, 2011:

I remember standing in front of my bathroom window with a mouthful of toothpaste (I like to walk around when I brush my teeth) when a speck of red in the bare trees outside caught my eye.  After a fair amount of squinting and spitting (toothpaste burns when you leave it in your mouth too long), my eyes made out the hawk and figured out that the red spot was the inside of his lunch.  I'm no vegetarian, but as the life partner of a small furry creature, I was a little disturbed -- ESPECIALLY since I've let said small furry creature run around unattended on my deck, which is right across from this hawk's picnic spot!  The thought that his sweet, warm, affectionate little life could have been literally snatched away in an instant --- well, lesson learned.  When he goes adventuring these days, it's under my very watchful eyes.

February, 2011:

Radiant momma-to-be Julia and her bellyful of Squidgy (who has since been born and given a respectable name) shows off the spinach pasta we made from scratch.  Her husband Robin is a from-scratch kind of guy with incredible patience and a seemingly endless tolerance for hunger.  I've always been an instant gratification type when it comes to my dinner.  It took FOREVER to make this pasta and then transform it into a mushroom lasagna, but when the first fresh, delicious bite hit my tongue I understood.  You can take all the shortcuts you like and things will be just fine -- you probably won't even know what you're missing.  But if you want something truly delicious, you've got to relish each and every step along the way.

March, 2011:

Once upon a time, my mom Suzy, her little sister Lise and I took a trip to a Medieval Times Castle far, far away (yes, when you live on the east side, the Exhibition grounds qualify as far, far away).  You can see that we got into the spirit of things -- and the SPIRITS of things, if you catch my drift.  Anyway, we had a great time at the show (of course, I'm always happy when I get to eat with my hands and yell at people).  As you can imagine, leaving the place was a bit like being in the middle of a cattle stampede if the cattle were greased up, slightly tipsy and waving pointed sticks.  These drunk frat guys behind us were getting increasingly obnoxious and inappropriate, "accidentally" bumping into my tiny aunt and making stupid jokes.  She shot them a few dirty looks and told them to get lost, to no avail.  Unfortunately for them, they didn't know whose sister they were messing with.

As long as I live, I'll never forget the sight of my mother whipping furiously around, drawn up to her full 5 feet and 3 inches in righteous indignation.  The force of her glare seemed to stop them in their tracks as she spat "Back the eff off!" They muttered apologies as they gathered the limp shreds of their dignity,  and then, as ordered, backed the eff off.  I've never been so proud to be her offspring.

This roller coaster ride of self-indulgence and bad photography will continue tomorrow, or tomorrow-ish, in Part Two (In which I spy signs of spring, marvel at minor miracles and do my part for world domination).

Until then...

Monday, January 02, 2012

Looka what I made!: Homemade gummies (and Cajun Spice Mix -- oh my!)

In the interest of showing kindness not only to my loved ones but also my bank account this holiday season, I decided to roll up my sleeves and craft at least part of my gifts to my nearest and dearest.  As you might imagine, it was easy to come up with make-able presents for the lady-types in my life, but the man-types took a bit more thought.  Particularly My Favourite Brother.  I floundered around before I hit upon something good --- instead of buying him his traditional bag of gummy bears, I decided to MAKE some instead!  They turned out so great that I thought I'd share the process.  Also, my parents' kitchen is so sparkling clean and sunny that it was screaming to have a tutorial photographed in it.

Without further ado, my homemade gummy recipe!

If you've ever made regular Jell-O, you can handle this.  Especially if you've ever made regular Jell-O incorrectly!

First off, our ingredients:

Hey look, you can see my iPhone's reflection!

A small pot, a measuring cup, some unflavoured gelatin and some FLAVOURED gelatin.  Oh, and a mold of some kind.  I went out and invested in some of those plastic candy molds (you can find them in Bulk Barn, Michael's, baking supply stores, etc).  If you're an Advent Calendar enthusiast, you can also save the plastic backing for festive gummy-making next year.

To start, pour the gelatin mixture into the pot.

I did not intentionally coordinate my nail colour with the Jell-O, I swear!

Next you'll want to add the unflavoured gelatin.  How much is really dependent upon your own taste.  I made a few batches before I found the consistency I liked -- just over 1/4 cup of the plain stuff per package of Jell-O.  Dad was less discerning and happily ate every last bite of the testers. 

Add a half cup of water and put it on the stove to boil.  It's gonna look like a gross lumpy mess, but never fear -- the magic of chemistry will take care of that post haste. Stir often to avoid an unpleasant chewy skin on the bottom of your pot!

Gloop gloopity glop.

Once all of the crystals have dissolved and you've got a nice hot pot of sweet shiny goodness, you'll want to put that goodness into some sort of heat-proof container that will allow you to pour with reasonable accuracy into the molds -- I used a glass measuring cup with a little pour spout. I found that pouring the mixture into this resulted in some foam at the top which would make for cloudy, less pretty gummies, so I skimmed that off with a spoon before pouring into the molds*. I let it sit for a minute or two to thicken up.

All attempts to take pictures of this stage of production resulted in sticky, delicious disaster, so you'll have to use your imaginations.  I recommend pouring s-l-o-w-l-y until the mixture is bubbled out JUST above the level of the mold (the thickness of the mixture will allow for this).

Your index finger will take care of any stray sweetness...

I'm an impatient sumbitch, so I stuck the molds in the freezer to speed up the hardening process.  T-minus ten minutes to Gummytown!

Once you've got them out of the freezer (or fridge if patience is one of your virtues), it's time to peel them out of there.  Don't be shy!  These little suckers will stand up to a lot of pushing and pulling, so dig right in there!

Almost.... in... my... belly...

I laid them all out on a plate to "dry", since they're a bit sticky when they first come out of the mold.  You could probably also use corn starch to de-sticky-fy them, but I didn't feel the need.

The purple ones are grape, and the red ones are cherry, raspberry and strawberry.

And that, my friends, is that.  Pretty simple, huh?  I don't have any pictures of My Favourite Brother opening them on Christmas morning due to my commitment to not annoying the crap out of him over the holidays, but since he ate most of the box on Christmas morning, I'm going to consider this recipe a success!

For those who might be curious, my other homemade gifts were as follows: crocheted slouchy berets from baby Alpaca wool for mom and Sis-in-law, small plaques reading "Home" for my aunties from this tutorial I found on A Beautiful Mess, and a big batch of Cajun Spice Mix in magnetic jars for the aunties, my Dames and my dad.

AIEEEE, cher!

Cajun Seasoning Mix

3 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne powder
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon thyme

It goes great in pretty much anything.  I think I'm going to try it out on sweet potato fries next...

*After writing this paragraph, the word "pour" lost all meaning to me.  Does that ever happen to anyone else?