Literary Inspiration: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Gawain Collage

So here’s the thing about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a 14th Century poem I recently re-read to satisfy the theme of an epic work in my friends’ reading challenge – it’s repetitive, preachy as shit, and as presented (in written form, translated from its oral, Middle English origins) it’s a deathly dull slog through what should be a thrilling tale of chivalrous knights, fair maidens and fantastic creatures.

Faulting neither the original, anonymous storyteller (or storytellers), nor W.S. Merwin, the scholar tasked with translating found snippets of actual archived text into something approaching readable English, Sir Gawain was simply not meant to be read, was in fact an oral tale designed to impart moral lessons whilst entertaining exhausted warriors around the campfire.

So if a read-through (my first since university) seemed stilted and lacking in detail (except for the endless passages devoted to inventorying the Green Knight’s admittedly pretty badass-sounding suit of jade-hued armor) that’s because the story was missing that certain – and quite necessary – dramatic flair that’s only present during the live performance of a thing.  I’ve no doubt that 14th Century audiences were enthralled by this spritely, sweeping tale of “verray parfit, gentil knyght”s and the murderous green giants who seek to behead them, but absent that live engagement, there’s precious little to the story itself.  Knights be knightin’, you know?

Ah, but the real fun (fun?) of Sir Gawain lies not in the story, but in the translation itself.  Just looking over the original Middle English will leave you feeling slightly disoriented, like staring at a door frame set ever so slightly out of square – there’s something wrong there, but you’re just not sure what that wrong thing might be.  But if you’re interested in linguistics and etymology, as I am, Sir Gawain is literary catnip.

Gawain 4

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a weird one, and I’m not sure I’d ever point to it as a favourite, but it’s an enjoyable enough read, and as a case study in translation, it’s utterly fascinating and indeed, quite epic. 🙂

Sir Gawain 1

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Kaleidoscope Candy

Kaledioscope Candy 1

Cheery sprinkled nails (using Cirque’s gold glitter standard, Kaleidoscope) for this cheery Saturday morning.  Hope your weekends are kicking off most delightfully, friends! 🙂

Kaledioscope Candy 2

SMT Scent Summit

SMT - Scent Summit Main Photo

Good morning, friends, and welcome, here in Ontario, to another swelteringly hot summer day.  We’re deep in the heat right now and just coming off a long weekend marred by inconsiderate, unpleasant weather, so everyone should be in a super great mood today!  So what better time to plan out a big scented wax order with Sniff My Tarts, who are opening for customs this coming Saturday?  I’d actually say it’s the perfect time for such an activity (anything that keeps you quiet, seated and three inches off the air conditioner, right?) especially with a couple of cool blogger friends and I guiding you through the madness.

I’ve posted about Sniff My Tarts before; I’ve placed two custom orders with them in the past, and shipping SNAFUs aside, I have always been very pleased with my products.  But jumping into the deep end of the custom wax world, creating scent blends when you’ve no idea what the individual notes even smell like in the first place, can be a confusing, daunting prospect.  Which is why a couple of blogging buddies and I have teamed up to share our custom ordering experiences, including our successful scent blends, in the hopes that you, too, can join in on the fun and mayhem this coming Saturday.

First, the pertinent details.  Sniff My Tarts will open for custom orders twice on Saturday, August 11th, once in the morning between 9 am and 10 am EST, and again in the evening between 7 pm and 8 pm EST.  Custom orders are taken on a first come, first served basis, and turnaround times for this popular ordering event (which SMT only holds twice a year) can be substantial – my last custom order took six months to finally make its way to my doorstep.  An order with SMT is very much a set-it-and-forget-it kind of proposition, as in make your choices, place your order, pay your money and then be utterly surprised and delighted when a gigantic box of wax that you had somehow forgotten about materializes on your doorstep in some months’ time.

If you go over to Sniff My Tart’s website and click on the “Custom” button on the left-hand side of the page, you’ll see the many formats that SMT is making available for customs – everything from multi-scent chunks, loaves and those incredible decorated sheet cakes, to chunky frosted sugar cookies, mini muffins and dainty macaroons.  Note that some forms are only available in individual scents (the macaroons), while others can accommodate blends of up to four different scents (pretty well everything else.)

After choosing the type of wax you’d like (I’m quite partial to those lovely decorated sheet cakes), begin to compose your scent blends.  You can find a comprehensive list (actually two lists) of SMT’s offered scents and their descriptions at the top of their homepage.  Keep in mind that the order in which you choose your scents does affect the outcome of your scent blends – the first scent you choose (sometimes called the overpour) will be the most dominant scent, with the second and third scents pulling up the rear.  So if you’re looking at a blend – say, this Mango Sorbet/Vanilla Waffle Cone/Coconut Cream Pie beaut I created some orders back – and thinking to yourself, “That sounds great, but I’m not sure I want that much Mango Sorbet,” move the scent notes around so the Mango Sorbet is in the third scent slot.  These are your custom creations – do with them what you will!

Birthday Sheet Cake

Having said all that, I’m also all too aware that creating your own delicious-smelling blends is a daunting, somehow needlessly complicated prospect, particularly if you’ve never done it before.  Which is precisely why I’ve composed this handy dandy list of some of my favourite SMT scents to help guide you through the seemingly endless blending possibilities.  Some of these creations are tried and true favourites – the Mango Sorbet blend, the Apple Cider Latte/Ice Cream Scoop Bread/Vanilla Waffle Cone blend, anything involving Marshmallow Noel and Candy – while others are hopeful shots in the dark.  What I do know for certain is if we weren’t talking about wax here, I’d want to eat every single thing on this list!

SMT - Sandra's Picks

If you don’t care for my BAKERY ALL THE THINGS approach to home fragrance, I’d invite you to peruse the infinitely more diversified scent lists of my blogging buddies Jay of The Scented Library and Julie of The Redolent Mermaid.  Over on both blogs you’ll find similar charts laying out Jay’s blends (fresh, airy, herbal blends shot through with fresh fruit and the barest bit of bakery) and Julie’s (natural, earthy, herbal scents heaped with mounts of mint and sweet Pink Sugar.)  Both have excellent, deeply varied tastes in fragrance, and they both like to experiment and blend outside the box (whereas seemingly the only requirement to me liking a scent blend is whether it could also possibly be mistaken for some sort of delicious dessert.)  And not for nothing, but they’re both pretty cool people with awesome blogs!  So please do check out Jay and Julie’s blogs for awesome additional scent blends, as well as their thoughts on the SMT custom dance.

As always, if you have any questions or would like a bit of guidance as you navigate the choppy waters of a custom wax sale, please do drop any one of us a comment and we’ll be happy to assist.  Who knows, we might even pick up some heretofore undiscovered scent blends.  Happy planning, friends!

A Multitude of Mermaids

Closing out the long weekend for us Canadians and kicking off the work week for the rest of you fine folks with this little video I made for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, of one of my favourite rides at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid!  As my husband has pointed out, my affection for this new-ish attraction is fairly unsurprising given that it’s essentially the Haunted Mansion, themed to the Little Mermaid (they share a similar ride profile, right down to the Doom Buggies/Clam Shells that usher you through the ride (don’t forget to pull down your sand bar, wah-waaaahhhhh) and the bats/stingrays printed on the moving walkway at the end of the ride.)

And while I was dinglehopper-deep in fond memories of Journey of the Little Mermaid, I thought it would be fun to round up the many, many mermaid manis I have done over the years, including a number of ever-evolving Little Mermaid manicures honouring our girl, Ariel.  Gosh, some of my earlier stuff was dod-gy!  That’s one of the very nice things about dabbling about in a visual medium – when your talents evolve (and they absolutely will, with enough practice) you’ll really be able to see how very much you’ve improved.  It’s great (mermaid) motivation. 🙂

Hello Delicious: A Week of Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh Collage

A few weeks ago my husband came home bearing a $40 off coupon for Hello Fresh.  Hello Fresh is one of those meal kit delivery services where you make your weekly selections from a range of menu options, and then the assembled ingredients are delivered to your door some days later, to await your magical culinary touch.  I’ve been really curious about Hello Fresh and other outfits of its ilk (Goodfood, Red Apron) but, frankly, frightened off by what I consider to be an unequitable ratio of value to cost.  As in I think it’s a pretty poor one.  But with a coupon that covered more than half the cost of a week of Hello Fresh meals, the time seemed right to satisfy my curiosity and give this fun delivery service a try.  Here’s how our week of Hello Fresh broke down.

First, because Mr. Finger Candy is a vegetarian, we went with the veggie meal plan.  Hello Fresh offers three different plans – family (predominately meat-based entrees), pronto (quickly prepared dishes) and veggie.  All of the plans are available for either two or four diners, and you can choose to receive three or five meals a week.  We went with the three-meal veggie plan for two people at a cost of $73.99.  With free shipping and our $40 off promo code, that brought the cost down to $33.99, or $5.67 a plate.

Hello Fresh is a subscription service, although you’re free to cancel your subscription penalty-free at any time (provided, of course, your latest box of grub is not already on its way) or even suspend your subscription for a period of time.  The latter is particularly helpful if you’re perhaps going to be away from home for a while, or even if you just don’t care for any of the coming week’s planned meals.

Your three (or five) meals come wrapped, by the individual recipe, in a brown paper bag, and the brown paper bags are themselves boxed up in a large, insulated cardboard box lined with disposable freezer packs.  The excess packaging issue (or the perception of excess packaging) is one that Hello Fresh seems to be acutely aware of, and they appear to be making every effort to pack their goods in recyclable and biodegradable packaging made from sustainable sources.  In addition, they offer free pick-up and shipping on the ice packs, should you not wish to cut them open and dissolve the contents down the sink (or, alternately, to slice them open and play around with the semi-frozen, 99 percent water-based solution contained therein.  It was just like trying to hold handfuls of frozen lubricant, an activity I already clearly indulge in a lot!)

My first nit to pick, however, is not with packaging waste, of which there was, all things considered, precious little.  It’s more that I had arranged my day in order to accommodate a delivery window of 8 am to 8 pm, only to discover, well after the lunch hour, that our order had in fact already been delivered, and was at that very moment leaning (and melting) against my front door, where it had been sitting, in a very hot and humid hallway, for anywhere between one and four hours.  The contents of the box, our meals, were just fine and none of the ingredients had spoiled, but the bottom of the main box was approaching sodden and had to be disposed of immediately, because it reeked of wet cardboard death.  A simple knock on the door just to let me know the delivery had arrived is all that was required here.

The three vegetarian meals we received included a pasta dish (Rigatoni in a Blush Tomato sauce with Basil Oil and Torn Bocconcini), a Thai-influenced entree (Thai Massaman Veggie Skewers with Basmati rice, Eggplant and Cremini mushrooms) and a salad (Mixed Bean and Veggie Panzanella Salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette.)  There’s some indication on Hello Fresh’s website that you can in fact choose the entrees you’d like from any given week’s menu (say, for instance, you’re not super jazzed about Thai cuisine, and would prefer another one of the dishes on offer) but the policy isn’t clear and I wasn’t able to make any changes to our order.  Which is just as well, because I absolutely would have jettisoned the veggie skewers, as I’m not that fond of Thai food, which would have been a shame, as they were utterly delicious.

Each recipe took about half an hour to 40 minutes to prepare, and produced one plate (or bowl) of food per person and nothing more; we absolutely did not realize next-day leftovers from these recipes.  Having said all that, the recipes were nicely laid out and easy to follow, and I even picked up a couple of new cooking tips from the rigatoni dish (and I thought I knew all the pasta tricks!)  I especially liked the “exactly what you need inside” approach to the ingredients; as I puttered about my kitchen tossing exactly 18 cherry tomatoes with precisely one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar from the miniature, two tablespoon-bottle provided, I felt like I was the star of my own little cooking show.  Of course, it helped that I was addressing an audience of one curious cat and one curiouser husband as opposed to just talking to myself in the middle of the kitchen.  Let’s see how each entree stacked up, shall we?

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

Rigatoni 2

This was so delicious, I could have eaten both bowls myself, and then probably a third just for total overkill measure.  I had not the most optimistic of hopes for this dish; as a lifelong pasta devotee, I just assumed I had already enjoyed (or made) all the great pastas in the world.  Also, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than cherry tomatoes, basil and cheese.  So how delightful was it to find out I was completely mistaken on both scores?  Because this bright, fresh, super flavourful pasta dish was not only unexpectedly scrumptious, but making this recipe also taught me a few new tricks – first, that fresh basil can sometimes be a tough old thing, and a minute or two in a hot, blanching bath will do it wonders, secondly, that I’m drowning my roasted tomatoes in liquid when just a tablespoon or two will suffice, and thirdly, I don’t use either vinegar or my broiler enough.

Rigatoni 3

But making this incredibly delicious pasta – indeed, all three of the dishes – laid bare what I consider to be the one and only flaw to the Hello Fresh service – namely, that the very small portion sizes do not represent good value as set against the per plate cost.  When I pulled the ingredients for this recipe out of the bag, I had a great laugh at the comically small amount of dried rigatoni.  Look at how teeny weeny it is!

Rigatoni 1

However, looking at it in a more positive light, making these recipes also exposed one major obstacle to my plateaued weight loss efforts, that being that I’m wildly overestimating my portion sizes.  A single serving of this rigatoni dish clocked in at 727 calories, and as I’ve already indicated, I not only thought the portion sizes were tragically tiny, but that I could have eaten about three times as much.  So a cool 2,200 calories in pasta alone.  Which may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but could I have eaten both bowls?  Yes, absolutely.  Which may account for at least some of my inability to move the weight loss needle in any significant way for some months now.  Creeping portion sizes are a real dink.

Thai Massaman Veggie Skewers with Basmati Rice, Eggplant and Cremini Mushrooms

Skewers 2

Well, this was an unexpected hit!  As in I had expected to hate it, because I really, really dislike Thai food, just to an unbelievable degree.  But I’m always game to try something new (I’ve eaten – and sort of enjoyed? – duck testicles, for pity’s sake) and I’m so glad I did, because this dish was incredibly delicious.  I think I cooked the spicy peanut butter sauce down just a tad too much (it was decidedly thicker than the one pictured on the recipe card) but holy crow, who cares, it was great.  I particularly loved the bright flavours of the cilantro-lime basmati rice, and prior to this, I would have gone to the mat over my hatred for basmati rice.  But this was a particularly inoffensive basmati, neither too flowery, nor too starchy.  Like the rigatoni, I’d make this yummy dish again in a heartbeat.

Skewers 3

However, about an hour after eating, both Mr. Finger Candy and I were utterly famished; like, gnawing the chair rail molding hungry (no, just us?  We do have a lot of decorative molding in our apartment.)  These veggie skewers were so delicious, but once again, there was simply not enough food.

Skewers 1

Mixed Bean and Veggie Panzanella Salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette

Salad 2

Finally, we come to the dish I was the least enthused about (bean and bread salad, really?) and while it was tasty, it was my least favourite of the three recipes, in large part because this kit was missing the Italian seasoning blend, a somewhat crucial component to a salad where the only other flavour is LEMON!!!  Oh my gosh, so, SO lemony; too lemony.  I cobbled together a vaguely Italian-ish seasoning blend from spices in my pantry, but that’s somewhat defeating the whole “exactly what you need inside” principle Hello Fresh literally prints on the outside of their bags.  What would you do if you didn’t have any of those spices in your kitchen?  Eat intensely lemony bean and bread salad, that’s what.  And while I actually quite enjoyed the hearty beans with the fresh, crunchy vegetables and the toasted garlic bread cubes (the smell as they were toasting was utterly intoxicating) I thought the vinaigrette could have benefited from both the missing Italian seasoning blend, and a tablespoon or so of dijon mustard.

Salad 3

Geez, I also forgot that one half of one of the mini cucumbers had gone mushy, requiring me to substitute a handful of cherry tomatoes from the fridge.  Delicious, but again, quite besides the point.  Presumably because of the beans, this dish was super duper filling.  And I’d absolutely make this dish again as well, just with a few necessary flavour adjustments.  This recipe really represented the poorest value for the money, though, and I would not have been happy paying the full plate price ($11) for such a dish.  Heck, I’m not sure if I was happy paying $5.50 per plate.

Salad 1

The too-long, didn’t-read version breaks down like this: I see a lot of utility for a meal kit delivery service like Hello Fresh for many, many people – those who hate to shop and would prefer if someone else did it for them (me!), those with little cooking experience or a very pared down kitchen (definitely not me), people who travel a lot and never keep a fully stocked kitchen (occasionally me), home chefs looking to juice their repertoire of recipes (very much me; I’m always on the lookout for a great vegetarian meal), travelers staying in suites with kitchens who may wish to make their own meals (never, ever me; I’m not cooking after a long day at the Disney parks!), those on restrictive diets seeking to strictly monitor their portion sizes (should be me, apparently) or those looking for a unique wedding or other special occasion gift (not me anytime soon that I know of, although I’d gladly accept such a gift!)

Ultimately, though, I think the main reason a person might continue on in their Hello Fresh subscription is because they have a lot of disposable income and they don’t mind spending it in this fashion.  Because for all of the positives – and there are many, many positives, overwhelmingly so – the price-to-value ratio is so skewed, I think you just have to enjoy the experience of a meal kit delivery service; nothing more complicated than that.  And if you do see value in something like Hello Fresh, that’s awesome; if we could afford it, we would have continued on with our subscription.  But as it was, the increasingly budget-conscious person I’m becoming derived little pleasure from knowing that I could have made four times the amount of pasta using $30 worth of full size ingredients that I got off my own butt and bought at the store.

So would I use Hello Fresh again?  In the words of one of my personal heroines, Mabel Pines of the animated TV show Gravity Falls, yes, definitely, absolutely!  With the caveat being that it would have to come along with a pretty major discount to offset what I consider to be the one stumbling block to the service – the prohibitive cost.  Otherwise, I loved the entire experience – it was fun, produced really tasty meals and was a nice little break from the usual.  One and three-quarters of a thumb up for Hello Fresh from this blogger.