Enter the Hand Sanitizer

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“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.

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

Chionodoxa

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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.

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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! 🙂

Mickey’s Hidden Agenda

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Hidden Mickeys are a Disney thing.  Hunting them all down – and there are over 1,000 of them in Disney World alone – is like an unofficial, parks-wide scavenger hunt for three circles in the shape of Mickey Mouse in a place where you would not normally find them – a little cluster of stones on the lobby floor of one of the resorts, the profile of three logs stacked together in a fireplace, this artfully arranged pile of leaves.

Mickey wreath

Anyhow, whilst recently cleaning up my nail art supplies, I ran across this KB Shimmer polish, Hidden Agenda, a neat thermal colour-changer that morphs from a peachy-grey blush to a steely metallic blue.  I thought it would be fun to dot Hidden Agenda onto a nude base in the shape of Mickey’s head – presumably the hidden Mickeys would stay hidden as against the nude background, only to emerge in glorious icy blue when exposed to the cold.

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Of course, that presumed that Hidden Agenda was the same colour as the base I chose, which, as you can see, it most definitely was not.  I remember it being much peachier than it’s showing here, but the effect still mostly stands.  Cute.

Hidden Mickey Collage

I haven’t been talking about Disney much lately, because…well, because the world is completely screwed up, and that includes Disney.  There’s some curious shenanigans going on at the executive level, to say nothing of the worldwide park closures (I’ve no idea if this is true or not – the House of Mouse is notoriously guarded when it comes to its official numbers – but I read the other day that for every day the parks are closed, Disney loses $30 million.)

I’m sad that my favourite place on Earth is well shut up behind padlocked gates, and I’ve no idea when I’ll get see it again.  I’m upset that 35,000 cast members have lost their jobs.  I’m tired of the Disney bloggers and the vloggers who can’t respect a stay-at-home order to save their own lives, let alone mine.  And I’m mad at the guests who could not see well enough to stay the hell home in the days leading up to the closures.  You actively prolonged this entire situation.  Hope you enjoyed your vacations.

I’ve also always viewed Disney’s as a kind of barometer of how well my own life is going.  Do I have the financial means to take a Disney vacation this year?  Is my passport up to date?  Am I feeling fit enough to tackle a Disney vacation?  And if the answer to all those questions is yes, then I dare say I’m doing okay, life-wise.  I might just sort of have my shit together.

But Disney’s hurting right now, and I’m hurting, too.  There’s no fun there right now, just gigantic neon question marks over a fog-shrouded future.

Wow, okay, so now that I’ve bummed everybody out, it’s time to get on with the day and stop dwelling on the negative.  Disney – indeed, life – will “open up” once again.  We’ll be able to go back to the people and the things that we love.  That much doesn’t need to stay hidden, even if for the next little while, we might.  Stay safe and stay home, friends.

Hoppy Easter (and a Hoppy Birthday to Me)

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So here it is, proof positive that whether it’s on my nails in polish or on a piece of paper with gel pens, all of my attempts at drawing an animal result in some gigantic butt’d aberration that looks like it’s suffering from a wicked case of conjunctivitis.  At least this chunky fellow is wearing a mask and maintaining social distance from those carrots.

I made that little card yesterday for my parents, who are used to my laughably childish creations, and we ran it by their place, along with a COVID care package containing ah-mazing Indian takeout (hit up karara.ca if you’re in Ottawa, peeps), chocolate chip cookies, raspberry cream cheese pie, toilet paper and a whole mess of silly comedies and rom-coms.  Don’t ever say I’m not a great daughter when I’m bringing my parents both Indian takeaway AND the TP necessary to deal with the aftermath.

Care Package

Though, even at a distance, I think my parents could have done without their son-in-law showing up dressed like a pirate bike messenger.

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We did the lightning fast trading-of-the-care packages via the garage, while my mom danced a trio of stuffed bunnies in the window and my father – so randomly, like a Kids in the Hall sketch – ran out of the house with his BELT looped around his neck, shouting that he was so bored he was taking HIMSELF for a walk.  I think they might be going a little stir crazy.  They just looked so excited to lay eyes on us for the first time in over a month.

Which is a feeling I’m coming to be quite familiar with.  I miss my parents more than is probably healthy for a 43-year-old; the urge to run at them with a tackle-hug, the kind I haven’t given since I was probably a little kid, was practically overwhelming.  I had to dither by the car for a couple of minutes to keep from bursting into tears, and then I bawled the entire way home.

Doesn’t help matters that tomorrow is my birthday (I’m turning 43 bullshit years old, if you’d like to send me a cake made of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.  I’m the one behind the Haunted Mansion doorbell.)  I’m an only child (duh) and kind of a spoiled one at that (double duh) and the big joke among my family come April is “How much are we going to get hosed for Sandra’s birthday dinner this year?”  Like hosing isn’t a foregone conclusion when I insist on going to a restaurant that only lists its market prices (and now I’m crying again thinking about the Kir Royale and seafood risotto I will not be enjoying at Giovanni’s on Preston tomorrow.)  It’s only-child-indulgence on a massive birthday scale, and I think my parents enjoy lavishing it on me just as much as I enjoy receiving it.  But this year is going to be kind of different.

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Yeah, okay, so like my inability to draw creatures, probably all the proof you needed that my parents and I are close is this envelope addressed to “our princess.”  You can also see where I got my artistic ability (joke; that wonderful little doodle my mom did there is a reference to every stick figure drawing I ever made of “us is the family” – dog, Boo Boo; dad, glasses and two hairs; mom, miniskirt and curly hair; me, bangs and a tutu; cat, Puddin’.)

Anyhow, we made out about as well my parents did with this reciprocal gift of roasted garlic tomato sauce, apple cobbler with caramel sauce and these adorable little chocolate bunnies, which I immediately decided to take outside for an Easter photo shoot, because I’m clearly bored as crap.

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A 2020 EASTER BUNNY STORY, IN THREE PARTS

After spending some time in quarantine on my parents’ kitchen counter, a plastic bag acting as their PPE, the bunnies were feeling severely cooped up, and so they decided to venture out into the world.  It felt very big and very quiet.

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They made it as far as the front flower bed before they got freaked out by the silent emptiness and decided, like everyone else, to go back inside and get drunk.

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It did not end well.  The bunnies now have to go take a nap.  The end.

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Good to know I haven’t lost my (stupid) sense of humour!  Speaking of, you’ve got to have one to go out in public looking like this!  Easter weekend fashion in the age of Corona, folks.

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So there’s all the mostly welcome weirdness we’ve been up to this weekend.  I hope you’re having weird and wonderful ones yourself, friends – may they be just the hoppiest. 😉

Food For Fun

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It was recently brought to my attention – hi, Mom! – that my Hello Fresh posts are, shall we say, a bit shill-y.  As in I’m stumping hard for the meal kit delivery service, with a mind to gettin’ paid.  Anyhow, in case this was troubling you, allow me to reassure you that this is very much not the case.  I’m simply a pleased consumer passing on a solid recommendation.

But yo, Hello Fresh, if you’re reading this, I can be bought SO HARD!  Hit me up and I’ll shill even harder than I apparently already am. 😉

But until I’m rolling in fat stacks of Hello Fresh entrees, let’s talk about the changing face of food in this new age of Corona.  Last week during both a video chat with a friend and a regular old telephone call with my mom, we were in agreement that perhaps THE most exciting part of our new routines is the planning, preparation and eating of our meals.

This is actually not too surprising.  If you’re fortunate enough to have consistent access to quality food, you know it’s about so much more than satisfying your nutritional needs.  Food is warmth, food is comfort, food is stability, food is home.

And so now that we’re home all of the time (or at least we should be – get off the friggin’ beach, Florida!) food is playing an even larger role in our lives – it’s becoming the focal point around which many of us orbit our days.  So whether you’re putting on a five-course spread for your family, or you’re finally cultivating that sourdough starter, or you’re simply upending a box of Kraft Dinner into a pot of boiling water, food has taken on a brand new importance in our lives.  It’s now about so much more than stuffing our faces.  Now it’s about discovery and anticipation, routine and structure, and the kind of satisfaction that only comes from a really good meal (with really good people, now sitting in virtually from their own kitchen tables.)

It’s also its own unique form of entertainment.  It’s new techniques to try and new flavours to explore, with (hopefully) delicious results.  It’s NOT sitting on your butt for seven solid hours watching that wretched Tiger King thing. 😉

Pre-Corona, I noted that I really loved making these Hello Fresh meals.  That much has not changed in our intra-Corona lives.  It’s just a fun activity, and there ain’t nothin’ better than the kind of fun you can also eat.

For specifics on our experience with Hello Fresh, including lots and lots of photos of the tantalizingly yummy recipes we’ve tried, please click here, here and here.

And now on with the show!  As in the showing of the food, six vegetarian recipes we tried some weeks back.  Spoiler alert: One was amazing, four were great, and one was a serious contender for the worst meal I’ve ever eaten.  Okay, let’s do this thing!

Brie, Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Sandwich with French Green Bean and Cashew Salad

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I’m not a big brie-lover (although every time I hear the word “brie” I think about Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters nervously querying a party guest as to whether the room is too warm for the brie) so I passed half of my sandwich on to Mr. Finger Candy, but I LOVED the mixture of sauteed cremini mushrooms and onions in a balsamic glaze that made up the other half of the sandwich.  The spinach salad that accompanied this dish was also pretty fantastic, utilizing those balsamic mushrooms again, along with mustard-glazed green beans and toasted cashews.  I liked the salad so much, I made it again a week later for my parents as an accompaniment to balsamic-buttered steaks.  Definitely one to add to the permanent rotation.

Creamy Stracciatella Cheese and Tomato Sandwich with Roasted Potato Wedges

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Bruschetta!  Drizzled with more of that scrumptious balsamic glaze (I actually went out and bought a full size bottle, because I might just start adding it to everything.  Coffee?  Sure.  Ice cream topper?  Why not?!)  With a side of roasted potatoes.  Mr. Finger Candy went WILD for this dish, with its piles of tomato, basil and green olives atop crunchy ciabatta buns.  Stracciatella cheese added just the right amount of mellow creaminess to offset the bright, briny flavours of the bruschetta topping.  Solidly yummy.

Golden Halloumi and Ratatouille with Roasted Garlic Dressing and Ciabatta

2 Halloumi and Ratatouille 1

Halloumi is a super salty, semi-firm cheese reminiscent of cheese curds.  Owing to its high melting point, it lends itself quite well to direct heat cooking on a grill, or in a dry pan on the stove (which is how this particular halloumi got those lovely, lacey brown bits.)  Halloumi shows up in a lot of Hello Fresh’s vegetarian recipes, presumably because it’s delicious, filling and, best of all, versatile.  In this dish, the pan-fried cheese slices were paired with a delicious roasted vegetable ratatouille and chunks of garlic-toasted ciabatta bun to sop up every last bit of that roasted garlic dressing.

Beyond Meat Gyro Wrap with Chunky Fries and Chopped Salad

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My city attracts a lot of people of Middle Eastern descent, and shawarma restaurants abound.  Substitute the Beyond Meat in this recipe for actual meat and you’ve got your pretty classic Ottawa-at-2am-after-the-bar food (I was actually more a fan of veggie Whoppers on the second floor of the Burger King on Dalhousie, but there’s no accounting for taste, now is there?) 😉  This was yummy, but like all of Hello Fresh’s pita-based recipes, there was a disproportionate amount of filling to filling-holder.  Two autre pitas, s’il vous plait.

Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta with Toasted Pine Nuts and Baby Heirloom Tomatoes

2 Lemony Ravioli 1

Of the more than – *counts giant amassed stack of recipe cards* – 50 Hello Fresh meals we’ve eaten, there have only ever been two dishes I flat out hated, the final dish I’m going to discuss today, and then a too-greasy, lemon-and-pesto pasta dish we had some years back.  So when I saw that this recipe featured many of the same ingredients as that pasta dish, I thought, “Wuh-oh, here comes a dud.”  But hey, turns out I was totally wrong, because this pasta dish was GREAT, with each plump ravioli draped in a light, lemony sauce that had me licking my plate clean.  Good grief, this one was dee-licious!  And I see that it’s coming around again in a few weeks’ time, so obviously I’m not the only one who thought it was divine.

North African Spiced Freekeh with Roasted Squash

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Saving the inedible for last, we come to the worst Hello Fresh meal we’ve eaten, a weird mishmash of freekeh (a rice-type grain), squash roasted in dusty-tasting Moroccan spices, and onions sauteed in bracing, acidic harissa paste.  And if that’s not gross enough, the whole works were then topped with spinach, briny feta, chewy currants and toasted almonds.  I put my plate down after two or three game bites and still paid the digestive price the following day.  Mr. Finger Candy really fared no better.  I’ve no idea what Hello Fresh was thinking with this incoherently bad recipe, but it really needs to be relegated to the “Never Again” pile.

As always, and particularly during this time when a good deal of us are under orders to not even dare think about leaving our homes, Hello Fresh is a great service that delivers, pun intended.  I’ve been really impressed so far, and that’s before I had a genuine necessity for such a meal kit delivery service.  Please give ’em a try and let me know what you think, and hey, try and have a bit of fun out there while you’re chowing down.  We can, and should, still enjoy the little – and delicious – things.

Socially Distant

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There’s a line from the 2009 movie Zombieland that has been going through my mind now for days.  For those who haven’t seen it, Zombieland is a comedy set in a post-apocalyptic America besieged by the ravenous undead.  Jesse Eisenberg plays Columbus, a nerdy introvert and borderline agoraphobe whose ultra risk-averse and rules-oriented approach to life and death (and un-death) has him convinced he may be one of the last human beings left on the planet.  He’s wrong, of course; Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin soon join in on the post-apocalyptic fun.

But before he meets the trio who will go on to form his cool new functional family, he spends a lot of time surviving alone, a lot of time wondering if he’s the last man on earth, and he remarks at one point, with a great deal of sadness, that he was never much for people, but now that there are no more people, he misses them.

And that’s where I’m at right now as I at least enter my fourth week of this weird new state of what I’m coming to call Hiding From the Flu.  Not to fear, I’m in no danger of breaking the quarantine.  I’m still quite a ways from running out onto the street and madly dashing about, licking and touching everything and everyone in sight.

But I do miss people.  I miss random human connection.  I miss coffee nights with a lifelong friend.  I miss wantonly scruffying the cat who comes by our back porch to extort food from us.  And I really, really miss my parents, who are just a 22-minute drive east, and who I have not seen now in over a month.  We’re your pretty typical, not-too-touchy WASP-y types, but I’d really like to reach out and give them a hug right about now.

Here’s some topical nail art for the times.  Sending you love across the socially accepted distance, people, because I do indeed miss you.

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