Go With the Flow

Marble Collage

I was recently the lucky recipient of these lovely Zoya polishes – pink Kristie, blue Maren, turquoise Harbor, and purple Jessica – thanks to the kind folks at Nail Polish Canada.  I swatched them all, of course – see my previous post for those details – but I also wanted to do a bit of nail art with my new, candy-coloured polishes.

Problem: I’m SO out of practice these days, both in terms of nail art ability and actual nail care, that a good mani for me is one in which my nails are not encrusted with a solid quarter-inch of gardening grit.  I figured at best I’d come up with something ultra easy, like a simple dotticure.

Instead I decided to shoot for the moon and do a water marble manicure, perhaps THE most difficult nail art technique, one that requires you to float polish on the surface of water.  Because that just sounds SUPER easy (spoiler alert: it’s usually not, and it’s always hella messy!)

Except….this time, with these polishes, it wasn’t.  Even after my extended absence from the nail art realm.  I think it’s because these four lacquers – rich cremes, all – are brand new, and at the peak of their polish power, having not picked up months’ and years’ worth of oil and grime.  All four are of a completely identical consistency as well, making it ultra easy to float the polish on the surface of water AND toothpick-out a swirled design.  TL;DR?  These Zoya polishes make water marbling EASY, even for the woefully out of practice.

Marble 5 - Fingers

Speaking of, I realize that without photos of the water marbling process, this must all sound like utter gibberish.  So might anyone be interested in a little tutorial?  Because I’d like to give this technique another try, see if I could come up with a slightly more consistent design finger-to-finger (much as I like the every-digit-for-itself approach.) 😉  Please do come back soon to see how I work out with that!

Splash Into Summer With Zoya

Zoya Collage 1

Throughout this pandemic period, I have been losing things – sunglasses, car keys, paperwork, and, if the above is any indication, occasionally my own dang marbles.

Perhaps the thing that’s irked me the most about all of this forgetfulness is that I seem to have lost the ability to paint my nails!  Pandemic concerns aside, I’ve been busy for pretty well half a year now settling us into our new home, and I’m finding the property – a single family home with a lot of landscaping – to be quite demanding of my time.  As such, I’ve barely done a lick of nail art, and the thought of giving myself a manicure just for fun has been incomprehensible (mostly because for the majority of the spring and summer, I’ve been sporting a gungy gardening mani – cracked, breaking and caked in a whole lotta dirt.)  I am woefully out of practice, and boy howdy, do my nails look it, too.

So I was thrilled when Nail Polish Canada recently asked me to use and review one of Zoya‘s new six-piece summer collections.  Gave me a wonderful excuse to get back to the nail art and blogging that I love so very much, and the even better excuse to get my nails in shape and give myself a number of pretty manicures.  So thank you for the timely reminder to do something nice for myself – and my nails – Nail Polish Canada and Zoya!

Zoya is a long-standing polish manufacturer whose name, in my experience, is synonymous with quality, consistency and a leading edge approach to animal and human welfare.  Their polishes are Big 10-free (that would be free of all of those toxic ingredients you can hardly pronounce), cruelty-free and VEGAN, which delights Mr. Finger Candy, who is vegetarian but leaning vegan, to no end.

Moreover, Zoya’s polishes are uniformly great, with a nice self-leveling formulation that you will fall in love with if you’re not great at painting your nails, or if you, like me, have nearly completely forgotten how!  I’ve yet to use one that hasn’t applied well and worn like the dickens.  Zoya’s creme polishes also come in about a bajillion beautiful colours, making them perfect for nail art.

This is Zoya’s six-piece summer Splash collection.  I had my choice of two Splash collections, and I chose B because of its lush, vibrant cremes, and those two perfect beachy shimmers.  Let’s jump in the pool and take a closer look at these lovely polishes, shall we?

Kristie 2

First up is Barbie pink Kristie, the perfect summertime hue.  This would look fantastic on toes dangling off the edge of a diving board.

Fisher 2

Next we have the first of two shimmers in the collection, Fisher.  This is a lovely Cinderella blue shot through with silvery-purple microshimmer.  I used a top coat with Fisher and the other shimmer because they were both just the tiniest bit dull, and I wanted to bring out every ounce of that beautiful shine.  This colour reminds me of beach glass.

Jessica 2

Jessica is next on (the pool) deck with this deep, glossy raisin.  Tons of shine in this one, even without the benefit of topcoat.

Maren 2

Next up we have Maren, a gorgeous ocean blue that is the very definition of “Splash”!  I own a number of these cobalt blue polishes, but Maren stands apart from the others with its warm, barest-of-green-leaning hues.  Beautiful.

Corrina 2

In the penultimate spot we have Corrina, the perfect shimmery shell pink.  This is such a flattering hue, and while I think it looks beautiful on my freckled Celtic hide, it would be absolutely gorgeous on people with darker skin tones.

Harbor 2

Finally, we have the one true blue(-green) polish of the collection, Harbor.  Small word of warning, though, when it comes to Harbor, and indeed, nearly all turquoise or green-leaning hues – they will stain, so use a base coat.

TL;DR;JCOTP (too long; didn’t read; just checked out the photos): Zoya’s vegan, cruelty-free, non-toxic polishes are some of the best ones out there, and this Splash collection is a gorgeous slice of summery fun.  Get yours at Nail Polish Canada by clicking the embedded links above, and please come back later on this week when I’ll have some cute, Zoya-ful nail art to share with you.

The Best of Days: A Gratitude Post

Halloween Collage

Show of hands if this pandemic has left you, too, feeling wildly imbalanced.  I know that over here in Sandraville, I have spent the past six months vacillating between frantic highs (back-busting stretches of gardening, mad cleaning, and a fun new obsession with keeping my lawn watered) and why-effin-bother lows (silly crying jags, disinterest in seemingly everything, and boredom that probably borders on clinical.)  Most days I get along just fine, going about my life like most of us are – cautiously, probably a bit timidly, but trying.  Sometimes showing up is 90 percent of the battle.

But the temptation to slide into pandemic pity has been, on occasion, overwhelmingly tempting.  I want to wallow, even when I know – especially when I know – that wallowing is unproductive, and just plain makes me feel bad.

So with the desire to banish those bad feelings for a little bit, Mr. Finger Candy and I recently sat down and talked about all of the things we were fortunate enough to experience pre-pandemic – our year and a half of indulgent Disney vacations chief among them – and how very, very lucky we were to have been given that time.  It was a wonderful lesson in a gratitude, and a timely reminder to count our many blessings.

It’s in that spirit that I now present to you THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!  No, really, with zero disrespect to the many important dates and events in my life (high school and university graduations, first date with my husband, our wedding…) this day – October 31st, 2018 – ranks as the absolute best. 🙂

It starts with an obsession with twenty one pilots, Halloween and Disney vacations, as all good stories do.  We were – and still are – mad as Hatters for our favourite band, twenty one pilots.  We were also going to be celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary – yup, we were married on October 31st – with a trip to Disney World.  So when we found ourselves with Halloween tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, an after hours event held at the Magic Kingdom, we decided to dress up like two different video versions of TOP’s enigmatic frontman and maestro, Tyler Joseph.

Twenty One Pilots Collage 2

At the time I proposed attending the party en costume, Mr. Finger Candy lamented that no one was going to know who we were.  “Husband of little faith!” I admonished.  “Okay, so not everyone is going to know who we are.  But the RIGHT people are going to know.”  Sure enough, we were in the park maybe 10 minutes before I began hearing delighted cries of, “Hey look, twenty one pilots!”  Rock star cosplay – it’s what’s for breakfast.

Twenty One Backpack Collage

Actually, what was for breakfast was this obscenely rich – TOO RICH – Poison Apple Cupcake, an $8 item from the Main Street Starbucks (“Home of the Half-Hour Lineup”) that was all Instagram and no taste.  It was a real one-and-done, as in take one bite and you’re done.  Cute, but way, WAY too much.  I generally prefer far less Red Food Dye No. 4 in my baked goods.

Poison Apple Cupcake Collage

We then skipped up Main Street to the hub, where we took the requisite photo in front of Cinderella Castle.

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Actually, we snapped photos all over the place.  When in Disney!

Tyler Two Pilots 9

We got stuck on It’s a Small World – you have no idea how small that world truly is when you’re creeping through it at .3 nautical miles an hour – and nearly missed our lunch reservations at Be Our Guest, the Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant in New Fantasyland.  As a reward for our stress, anxiety and patience (what are we going to do, bail out in the middle of Equatorial Africa and wade our way to the exit?) we were blessed with a total sweep of the It’s a Small World goodbye boards.  Ciao, Belle-a!

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Speaking of, lunch at Be Our Guest – a first for us; we’re normally breakfast people at this amazing themed restaurant – was the very definition of scrum-diddily-yum.  My husband continues to rhapsodize about the vegetarian French onion soup two years on, and I think I once had a sexy dream about the beef dip. 😉

Be Our Guest Collage 2

This restaurant has special meaning for us.  It’s where we like to go for our most romantic and special meals – an anniversary breakfast, now an anniversary lunch, and one very lovely (and very late) Christmas Day dinner.  We normally like to grab a table in the West Wing, where thunder and lightning flash throughout the room and the Beast’s shredded portrait morphs from human to monster and back again, but for this meal we snuggled up for the first time in the library, where a gigantic music box of Belle and the Beast twirled gently in the center of the room, tinkling softly.

Be Our Guest Collage 2

Between our late lunch and the start of the party, we hit up some rides – nothing that would muss up our costumes too much (sorry, Space, Splash and Big Thunder Mountains.)  Instead we kicked back with multiple stately rides on the PeopleMover, a surprisingly zippy, magnet-powered Walt original.  Whilst in Tomorrowland, we also tried out our fun new identities as Tyler Two Space Pilots on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, a black-lit, neon-splattered shoot-the-target ride.  And we concluded our time in Tomorrowland with a showing of the Carousel of Progress, a moving, animatronic stage show depicting one American family’s relationship to innovation and progress across the last 100 years.  Sounds like a total snooze, but I assure you, it’s a delightful hoot.  Also, 22 minutes of seated air conditioning.

TOP Ride Collage

It was also in the Tomorrowland bathrooms where I bemusedly overheard a little girl and her mom discussing my costume, with the mom furiously trying to shush her daughter as she, in her best approximation of sotto voce, LOUDLY grilled her mother as to whether she, too, had seen the funny, dirty girl with the crud on her neck.  Heh.

Once the sun began to set, we picked up our party wristbands, grabbed a couple of sacks and hit up the innumerable trick-or-treat trails.  And we CLEANED UP, because we were SUPER INTO IT.  You can’t help but throw candy at the costumed adults shouting “Trick-or-Treat!” and excitedly swapping goodies as they hustle off to the next candy stop.  By the end of the evening we had amassed two bulging sacks of candy (PB Snickers, Mars, Skittles, M&Ms and enough Starburst to power an 11-year-old’s birthday party) – or about five pounds of miniature sized sweets that I had to declare and explain to an amused TSA agent on our journey back home.  No ragrets!

I Want Candy Collage

In between ducking down dimly lit treat trails (or very brightly lit treat trails, in the case of the ones set up inside an attraction) we hit up Pirates of the Caribbean, which featured live actors dotted throughout the ride.  I didn’t find that they really added a whole lot to the experience (you want scary, try getting stuck on Pirates for 45 minutes!) but Mr. Finger Candy always loves an excuse to “YEE-AAAARRRGGHH!” with impunity.  We also ambled back over to the Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square for the first of the evening’s three rides, which is 10 fewer rides than we took the Halloween previous, when we rode the Mansion 13 times in one day for our 13th wedding anniversary.

Haunted Mansion on Halloween

Back in Fantasyland, we met Pooh and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang, likewise resplendent in their Halloween costumes.  I think Tigger was a big TOP fan, because he kept gesturing excitedly to his neck.

Tyler Two Pilots 11

In between riding rides, meeting cool characters, amassing a ridiculous amount of candy and fielding a ton of questions about our costumes, we nabbed an amazing spot in Frontierland for the 11 pm parade, and spent our wait time goofing around with one of the Disney PhotoPass photographers.

Halloween PhotoPass Collage

Mickey’s Boo to You Parade was so much fun!  Here, see for yourself in this video I made of the first Not So Scary we attended earlier in the season (though in this case I failed to record the very best part of the parade – literally dropped my phone – which my husband refers to as Jafar making f**k-eyes at his wife.  What can I say, the baddies like me.)

We closed out the night with the midnight showing of the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, a mildly raunchy stage show featuring the Sanderson Sisters, as well as a whole host of other Disney baddies, including Mr. Oogie Boogie Man, Cruella DeVil, Dr. Facilier, Hades and, once again, Jafar (boy, that guy gets around.)  My favourite part of the show were the lights and images that they projected onto Cinderella Castle.  Gorgeous.

Halloween Castle Collage

At that point it was about one o’clock in the morning, so with the tenderest of tootsies, arms laden with bulging sacks of candy, and completely jacked on high fructose corn syrup, we boarded a bus back to our resort…and then began the whole thing all over again five hours later!  We are nothing if not committed Disney travelers.

So what made this day the very best?  Well, not-so-simply because I was doing something so special, with the most beloved person in my life, on our most important day, dressed like my favourite musician, on my very favourite holiday, in the most magical place on earth.  And a Disney villain tried to make me his snake bride.  How could that not be the best day of my life? 😉  And one that I have very much enjoyed sharing with you.  Thanks for coming along on this gratitude-affirming look back on one of those days that makes life worth living.

Keeping it Small, Safe and Sudsy

Soap 1

Well, aren’t I just all over this hand washing thing!  Welcome to the new Finger Candy, friends – expanding my reach to the whole dang hand now!  Maybe even both of them, if you’re feeling so bold.

It’s funny, because growing up, I was not a big time hand-washer.  Cleanliness and hygiene were important, of course, but we weren’t a “wash up before supper” kind of family.  I grew up on a hobby farm, and probably the best you could have asked for is that I brushed my hands off on the seat of my pants after I yanked that carrot out of the ground (and before I shoved that carrot, completely unwashed, but sort of dusted off, into my mouth!  That one never failed to both delight and horrify my grandfather, the owner of the hobby farm.)

But before we purchased this single family home late last year, Mr. Finger Candy and I lived, for nearly 15 years, in a gigantic condominium apartment building with a seemingly infinitesimal number of high touch surfaces – elevator buttons, keypads, door handles, electronic fobs, counters, shelves and the like.  We were both also taking public transit to our jobs, which from a public health perspective is pretty well akin to just straight up licking your neighbour’s eyeballs.

So hand-washing really became a thing around our place.  I also liked the excuse of purchasing fun Bath and Body Works soaps.  Who doesn’t want their hands to smell like frosted donuts?

Then the pandemic struck and hand-washing became a life-saving necessity.  And suds, much like toilet paper and disinfectant wipes, became scarce.  For much of the spring there was no stock to be had at BBW, which is maybe not the negative I’m making it out to be – BBW soaps, particularly the foaming ones, can be harsh, and after a few weeks of manic hand-washing, our mitts were chapped and raw.

Soap 3

I have, throughout the entirety of this pandemic, attempted to purchase small and local as much as possible.  These are the community businesses that need – and quite frankly, deserve – our help and our purchasing power in these unprecedented times.  And it suddenly dawned on me that I knew of a local soap connection – Heart & Home Soaps, run by Jennifer Dlugokinski, a woman I’ve known since grade 6!  (P.S. Shout-out to your seventh grade birthday party, Jenn, when we listened to the Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had a Million Dollars” about 25 times in a row!)

Heart & Home typically sells its wares out of the Carp Fair, which has been unfortunately shuttered since the beginning of the pandemic.  But Jenn is still selling her products on Heart and Home’s website, so I placed an order, nixed the shipping option – why pay for that which you can drive 25 minutes and pick up yourself? – and drove out to her place to pick up my suds.  She had packaged them all up and left them in her mailbox, and that was that.  Simple.

Soap 2

And you know what?  They are fantastic soaps, lush and rich and full of happy hand-making ingredients like seed butters, Vitamin E, and fruit and nut oils.  They’re pretty, too, swirled with vibrant colours and, in a few cases, shimmery mica.  They smell great, also, particularly Peppermint Rush, which is getting a major workout in my kitchen (nothing feels like it gets your filthy post-gardening hands properly clean like mint) and Satsuma & Mandarin.  I’m also pleased to note that two, three weeks on, our frequently-washed hands are soft and smooth.  Maybe a bit tight after washing – that’s just using soap, I fear – but nothing like the BBW soaps, which had actually stripped our hands.  This feels so much better!

Soap 4

All in all, I feel good about shopping small and local, supporting a friend and getting my mitts clean!  And if you’d like to check out Heart & Home’s products for yourself, please click here (or the link above) for some lovingly crafted soaps.

Enter the Hand Sanitizer

Wu 1

“I’d like to thank the Wu-Tang Clan for this hand sanitizer” – truly, words I NEVER thought I’d utter in this lifetime.

But here we are, in the midst of a raging global pandemic – another state I never really thought I’d find myself in – and the Wu has stepped up in a major way, teaming up with Canadian home and body care company Jusu to produce Jusu x 36 Chambers, an all natural, plant-based, vegan hand sanitizer, the proceeds of which benefit three local Ottawa charities, The Ottawa Mission Foundation, the Ottawa Food Bank, and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.  It’s good – if not slightly out of left field – work that has brought together the collaborative talents of some of my city’s most creative and civic-minded souls, and I’m unbelievably impressed by the hustle.  Ottawa done us real proud with this one.

Wu 4

Apart from what I hear was a pretty fantastic show at the Ottawa Blues Fest some years ago, I’ve no clue what the Wu’s connection is to my (typically) pretty boring and bureaucratic city.  I guess there’s something (or someone) here that speaks to them (though I will never stop questioning what might be attractive in this city of endless suburbs and RioCan strip malls to a bunch of badass New York rappers with names like RZA, Ghostface Killah and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.)

Right, so the hand sanitizer itself – it’s awesome, and I wish I had purchased more than two bottles.  Isopropyl alcohol is, of course, the main medicinal ingredient, so it’s going to disinfect your mitts just as well as any of the other ohol-based products on the market.  But after that initial blast of ALCOHOL!!!, 36 Chambers (in the spicy citrus, Chilling Chilling scent) mellows out into a mild, utterly dee-licious blend of aloe, cinnamon, citrus, eucalyptus and rosemary that will have you surreptitiously sniffing your hands like Mary Katherine Gallagher on a major bender.  Best of all, 36 Chambers is a light and easily absorbable liquid that leaves your formerly chapped and irritated hands soft and residue-free (“Ooh, baby, I like it raw” – so sayeth ODB.)

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That way you can pull on your new Wu-Tang x Ottawa tee without getting it all gunged up! 😉

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If you’re interested in nabbing your own bottle of 36 Chambers, hit up Jusulife.ca – for every bottle sold, one is donated to a local homeless shelter, where I’ve no doubt these kind of products are in great demand and use.  Because every stinkin’ little bit of thoughtfulness and protection protects us all, and if the Wu is doing their part, well, then so can we.  Good job, Ottawa.

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Is it Time to Eat Again?

4 Hello Fresh Collage

Hello friends!  With all the apologies in the world for being a bad, bad blogger, I’ll simply note that at this exact moment in pandemic time, I’m struggling.  Drowning in housework, pending renos, gardening and some re-re-discovered hobbies, I should be a veritable dynamo of productivity.  Instead, I find myself drifting about the house, half-assing the things I should be full-assing.  I’ll clean a bit.  I’ll take a nap.  Then I’ll go out in 30 degree weather for five hours and garden so hard, you’d think I’m stumping for it to become the next new Olympic sport.  There are no in-betweens now – it’s just go or no go.

Ah, but as always, I’m so incredibly fortunate that food is a comforting consistency in my life.  And thanks to the Hello Fresh meal kit deliveries that we have been receiving through much of the pandemic, it’s also been a tasty, fun and educational comfort – just the thing for these utterly weird times.  So let’s take a peek at what we enjoyed and how we fared during this most recent Hello Fresh experience, shall we?

Cheesy Squash-Stuffed Ravioli Bake with Caramelized Pear Salad

4 Squash Ravioli and Pear Salad 1

Hello Fresh LOVES them some butternut squash, particularly in roasted and ravioli form.  Fortunate, as I really love both of those things as well, particularly when they’re combined with an herby, cream cheese-based sauce and gooey melted cheese.  So delicious, but I maybe enjoyed the salad most of all.  Can’t go wrong with peppery arugula, candy sweet pears and crunchy pepitas.  It made a nice, light foil for the rich pasta.  I’m actually back so far on these Hello Fresh posts that this recipe has come around once again in the recipe rotation, and it was just as good the second time.

Veggie Chili with Tortilla Chips and Sour Cream

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Here’s another recipe we’ve tried before.  Hello Fresh changes up their menu offerings fairly frequently, but highly rated recipes come back time and again, and this hearty chili is a favourite.  Actually, my favourite are the tortilla chips you serve alongside or on top of the chili (though what sillyhead got that one so mixed up?  Clearly the chili is just a delivery mechanism for the CHIPS!)  I also went rogue on this one, and thinking that the finished product – your basic bean and veggie chili – was looking a bit sparse, I added some sauteed Beyond Meat to the pot for the final five minutes of cooking time.  A solid offering, but without that bit of plant protein, not quite filling enough.

Grilled Halloumi Bun with Basil Aioli and Potato Wedges

4 Pesto and Halloumi Buns 1

What you see is what you get with this delicious recipe – pan-griddled, salty cheese on a toasted bun with pesto aioli and rosemary potato wedges.  I always think of this popular recipe as summer food (and very soon I will have a barbecue on which to grill that cheese; pretty excited about what that’s going to do to my Hello Fresh-ing.  Reason number 1,657,498 I’m glad we now live in a house as opposed to a condominium apartment – the ability to possess a barbecue.)

Homemade Vegetable-Packed Calzone with Spring Mix and Italian Vinaigrette

4 Veggie Calzone 1

This recipe’s a bit of an odd one for me, as I find it both tasty, and destructive (digestively, and to your kitchen!)  It’s all that flaky puff pastry (again, tasty, and remarkably easy to handle, but yikes, your life will be a mess of buttery flakes for DAYS after preparing this one.)  It also may be the leek and bell pepper filling, which goes into the oven raw – it would benefit remarkably from a quick sautee in a hot pan before you assemble the calzones, just to round off the static, slightly harsh flavour of the fresh veggies.  I see that this recipe is coming around again in a few weeks’ time, and they’ve changed the puff pastry over to a more traditional pizza dough.  Smart.  Hopefully they’ll follow suit soon with some changes to the filling.

Veggie Taco Bowl with Beyond Meat and Mexican-Style Red Rice

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Fun discovery of the last few years (particularly when we’re down Disney way) – I friggin’ LOVE Mexican cuisine!  I mean, my love of margaritas is fairly well documented, but I also love red rice, jalapenos, fresh salsa, cilantro, limey crema and, hoo baby, salty, corny, crunchy tortilla chips.  So how fortuitous that this recipe – another one we’ve enjoyed maybe three times now – features all of those things, and a bit of delicious Beyond Meat to really boost that burrito bowl flavour as well.

Cheese-Stuffed Pasta in a Zucchini Tomato Sauce with Balsamic Onions and Parmesan

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It seems inevitable that when you’ve tried as many Hello Fresh dishes as we have (three per week, almost every week, since the beginning of the year) you’re going to run across a dud.  This recipe had potential – loved the sticky, balsamic-glazed onions they used here as a kind of garnish – but absolutely none of the flavours went together.  Honestly, the final result tasted like two different pasta dishes slammed together at the last moment, one a delightful mix of caramelized onions and nutty parmesan cheese, and the other a direct-from-the-can stuffed pasta courtesy of Monsieur Boyardee (not to slam the Chef; I actually really love Beefaroni, and I will mourn the loss of Rollercoasters with mini meatballs until my dying day.  I just don’t expect to find those flavours in my Hello Fresh entree.)  The balsamic onions would be great on a thin crust pizza, though.

Stuffed Roasted Portobello with Cheesy Chive Mash and Mixed Kale Salad

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Saving the best for last, this scrumptious dish is the vegetarian version of Sunday Supper – meaty, soy-glazed portobello mushrooms topped with cheesy, chive-flecked mashed potatoes and a rich, salty onion gravy.  Bit of crispy kale salad dressed in a zippy vinaigrette makes a fine, fresh accompaniment for all that flavour.  This is such a nicely balanced dish, hitting all those flavour and texture sweet spots.  Outstanding!  If I had the option to make this dish all of my recipes for the week, I would.  And then keel over, because there’s just too much mashed potato goodness here.

Well, now that I’m ravenous all anew, it’s time to go and see what’s on tap for this evening.  Something fun and yummy, probably – and once I know for sure, you’ll be the first to know. 🙂  Bon appetit, and hang in there, friends.

Good Food

3 Hello Fresh Collage

Still Hello Fresh-ing over here in Quarantine Land, we are.  And thank goodness, too, because preparing these meals – and then devouring them – is pretty well the most exciting thing in my life these days (save hacking down the overgrown foliage in my backyard, a newfound skill that has not yet revealed itself as either beneficial to the plants, or wildly destructive.)

We enjoyed these vegetarian entrees quite a few weeks back, just as COVID-19 kicked open the door to the world.  I remember sitting down to one of them, the Beyond BBQ ranch burger, and thinking to myself, “In disaster movies, everyone’s always hunkered around humanity’s last can of beans.  The world CAN’T be going to shit if I’m still here eating my bourgeoisie plant burgers, can it?”

Turns out it really can, plant protein be damned!  And no surprise here, but the remainder of that week’s entrees – dishes featuring parmesan-dusted croutons, mandolin’d zucchini slices and artfully-torn bocconcini – also failed to make a dent in the progression of the world’s going-down-the-toilet-ness.  It all felt very silly, and more than a little pretentious.

But dang if it wasn’t delicious – a far superior alternative to humanity’s last can of beans.  Also entertaining, and a necessary, welcome distraction from, at that time, the lunatic spiel of bad and badder news emanating from every part of the globe.

That’s food’s power, though, isn’t it?  Speaking as someone who has struggled to control her weight her entire life, a love of good (and bad) food CAN absolutely backfire on you.  But it’s such a comfort.  It’s warmth and love and fulfillment, and I feel so very fortunate – now, during the pandemic, but always – to be well fed, and to not have to worry too much about where my next meal is coming from, whether it’s a little pick-me-up from the kitchen, or a trendy plant protein burger from a meal kit delivery service.

And now let’s take a look at this latest roundup of Hello Fresh yumminess.

Coconut Dal with Spinach and Warm Naan Bread

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Yup, okay, I’ll be the first to admit that lentils NEVER look particularly appetizing.  It’s just a fact of cooked lentils.  But cripes, are they weirdly delicious, particularly when simmered in garlicky, ginger-infused coconut milk, making this rich, filling Indian dish 100 percent tasty, and also 100 percent vegan.  I really loved the dusting of unsweetened coconut on top, too – such an unexpectedly fun little garnish.

BBQ Ranch Beyond Meat Burger with Crispy Shallots and Fries

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Ah yes, the Beginning-of-the-End Burger.  Kidding, kidding!  But this was the Beyond Burger that had me contemplating my rather privileged position in the midst of this pandemic.  Socio-political considerations aside, it was delicious, the burger thickly layered with tangy BBQ sauce, crispy fried shallots and a tart, chive-y dressing (though I jettisoned my dill pickle slices; never been much for pickles on a burger, or indeed, pickles at all!)  There was a ton of the mayonnaise-based dressing left over, so I tossed a bit of it with the provided spring greens, and then used the rest as a dipping sauce for the oven fries, because what are fries without mayonnaise anyways?  Less yummy, that’s what.

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Warm Mexican Bean Bowl with Tangy Guacamole

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A bowl-type dish served on a plate – what even IS this madness?!  Here we’ve got another trendy dish, the burrito bowl (again, the kind of thing about which my grandmother would have remarked, “Well, that’s a hell of a jollop.”)  Here we’ve got onions, red bell peppers and black beans sauteed in a Mexican seasoning blend, on a bed of cilantro rice, topped with sour cream and tart guacamole.  It was great!  Zero complaints with this new classic.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – just eat it (sorry, Nanny!) 🙂

Rigatoni in a Blush Tomato Sauce with Basil Oil and Torn Bocconcini

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This is my favourite Hello Fresh recipe.  Gosh, I love this incredible pasta dish!  This is one of Hello Fresh’s fussier recipes, involving boiling, sauteeing, blanching and broiling, but the results – plump pasta in a creamy tomato sauce, topped with bracingly bitter basil, broil-burst tomatoes and torn bocconcini cheese – are so worth it.  As always with Hello Fresh’s pasta recipes, I think there is an uneven ratio of pasta to sauce, so I always add an extra cup of pasta to the mix.  I also just want more surface area on which to drape that amazing sauce!  Here I used farfalle, because I always have those on hand.

Za’atar and Feta Tart with Spinach Salad and Sliced Almonds

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Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend made up of savoury herbs like marjoram, coriander, oregano and dried sumac, as well as lots of salt and, often, toasted sesame seeds.  It’s crunchy, salty and herby – the perfect thing to sprinkle atop a bed of zucchini, shallots and briny feta cheese in this puff pastry-based tart.  A fresh spinach salad, topped with toasted almonds, rounded out this nice, light meal.

Minestrone Tortellini Stew with Cheesy Croutons

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This stew-soup hybrid was yummy and, thanks to the tortellini, very, very filling, but nothing that rocked my world.  I did make one small amendment to the recipe, tossing the ciabatta bread cubes with a bit of garlic-infused oil, before sprinkling on the parmesan cheese and setting them in the oven.  I thought the entire recipe was better off for having added an additional layer of fresh flavour.  Besides, who’s going to say no to savoury little cubes of bread toasted in garlic and cheese?  Certainly not this person!

By and large, I find Hello Fresh’s entrees – at least the vegetarian ones that we have sampled – to be more hit than miss, and these two weeks were no exception.  I remain consistently impressed with their offerings, and I think they’ve done a great job so far in maintaining their well-functioning business model in unprecedented times.  To the next round of delicious, good food!

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Blue Flowers 1

That’s the name of these cute little blue blooms that have flower-bombed my front beds and lawn.  They’re big time bee-bait, though, so I’ve been admiring them at a distance (except for when I dashed outside to recklessly plunge my hand into the buzzing bed of buds to snap this photo of these inspired-by nails I recently did.  What can I say, guess I’m willing to suffer for my art.) 😉

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Fairly Local Eating

More like eating EVERYTHING.  The grazing is just out of control.  Making things worse this week is the PSA – potato service announcement – the spud producers of Canada issued, imploring Canadians to eat more delicious french fries, owing to the 200 million pounds of potatoes going bad as they sit in storage, waiting to be turned into delicious french fries.  I joked on Facebook that I just KNEW that one day my true life’s purpose would reveal itself, but this is probably not the call-to-arms I needed.  There are presently seven bags of tater tots in my freezer, so I think I’ve got this processed potato business well covered.

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But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t step over you and everyone you’ve ever met to get my mitts on some McDonald’s fries right about now.  Oh, McD’s fries – salt-crusted, golden yellow sticks of heart attack-inducing pleasure…one day, when the world is not a total hell hole, you, me and a pile of McChicken Sauce will be reuinted.

Until then, I continue cooking from home.  I haven’t caught the baking bug too, too badly, although I’ve made a few batches of scones, a lot of cookies and a couple of raspberry cream-cheese pies.

Dessert Collage

A friend of mine has been cultivating a sourdough starter – remind me to check in with her to see how that science experiment is proceeding.  Her husband has been helping the process by barking, “TA-WISTED SOUR START-AH!” in the style of The Prodigy’s Keith Flint at the thing.

We’ve ordered takeout from local (Ottawa) businesses often – The Works Kanata for choose-your-own adventure burgers (Gotta Be KD, featuring, yup, Kraft Dinner, is my not-so-weird favourite); Karara for incredibly tasty Indian takeaway (I could DRINK the mustard seed-studded sauce that accompanies the Madras chicken); Pure Kitchen Kanata for buffalo cauliflower bites and plant protein burgers smothered in vegan cheese; and Meatings, a beloved barbecue joint we placed an order with last week for ah-mazing dry smoked staples like pulled pork, brisket, chicken and jackfruit, as well as vacuum sealed pouches of favourite sides, like creamy, Cheetos-topped mac and cheese and buttery little loaves of cornbread.

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And while we haven’t ordered from them directly, a couple of pasta entrees from Biagio’s, a favourite west end Italian restaurant, proved to be a lovely treat for my parents one recent weekend.  And we’re itching to try Dreamland Cafe on Preston, a quirky little pasta restaurant.  Lots of pasta love in this family.

Hello Fresh continues to impress with their meal kit deliveries; that one’s at the local/provincial level.  We’ve backed off on this one somewhat in recent weeks, simply because we haven’t loved many of the recipes on offer.  Thankfully, Hello Fresh makes it easy to skip any weeks you don’t love.  Seems prudent during these times – someone else is going to love that sweet potato wrap you just weren’t feeling.

Hello Fresh Collage

And our local grocery stores have remained fairly reasonable places to shop, with dedicated seniors’ hours, and staff going above and beyond to maintain a safe shopping and working environment.  Through much of high school and all of university I worked part-time as a cashier at a grocery store, and man, do I feel for the new breed of essential worker.  It’s why Mr. Finger Candy and I plan our shopping trips like we’re going to Disney, with a mind to getting in and out as efficiently and safely as possible.  Don’t dawdle and have a purpose.  These people are putting so much on the line for you.

Interestingly, the food-related businesses we’ve had difficulties with during the pandemic have all been big multi-national concerns, including Starbucks (our local will allow you to place and pay for a mobile order, but you can only pick it up if you’re in a car, despite the fact that the mask-less, glove-less barista is still handing it directly to you; guess that steel framework around the wide open window makes all the difference) and Instacart, a data mining operation disguised as a grocery delivery service.  Disentangling ourselves from a botched $60 order on that one led to Mr. Finger Candy sitting on hold for over nine hours across four different phone calls.  Good thing we’re all at home and have nothing better to do with our time, right?

Anyhow, long story short, there’s no bullshit to the phrase SHOP LOCAL.  Turns out it’s a pretty great practice, and I’m pleased to be supporting small and smaller businesses in my community that are undoubtedly struggling during these deeply uncertain times.  Give it a try in your neighbourhood, because hey, even during all this weirdness, you still gotta eat (and eat and eat and eat…)  Might as well do something great for your community while you’re stuffing your face! 🙂