Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Do you ever read your bible and learn something new or come across something that you had never thought on before? I hope so. Everyone ought to. One of our biggest goals when reading scripture should be to understand God's character and I can guarantee that there isn't anyone one earth who understands God fully; the job can never be fully done by us. But if you say "no", and if you find that it's been a long time since you've learned anything new simply by reading your bible, you need to examine how you're reading it. What's your attitude? What's your mindset? Are you just reading the same verses over and over and over again?
I'm actually not writing today to convict anyone about anything necessarily. I'm writing today to confess something - a bit of a revelation in my life.
Matt and I are currently going through a rough time. There are lots of contributing factors but one of the issues we're facing right now is financial distress. Now, we're not going to lose our house or anything, but right now every penny counts for us and we've been only spending on things that we absolutely have to. Things are tight.
Last night I had been reading my bible and looking up verses about perseverances, struggles and hardship and I came across one verse that stood out from the rest. Hebrews 12:7 says, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treat you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?"
Admittedly, when I first read that it wasn't exaclty what I was looking for so I skipped over it. Later, however, I got to thinking on the verse. I wondered what qualified as hardship which could be considered as discipline? The majority of our issues right now fall moreso under the persecution blanket than anything so I'm pretty sure those aren't disciplinary, which is why I didn't pay much attention to that verse at first. Our financial issue however I would classify as 'hardship' rather than 'suffering' - which persecution would fall under. I started to wonder if our financial struggles were not the work of demons trying to destabalize us during this hard time, but if they were not in fact the direct work of God as a disciplinary action.
Even though we knew we were going to be strapped for money we decided to not cancel our tithes, which come out as automatic withdrawls twice a month. Now, the amount that comes out has never been equal to 10% of our income - until now, that is. Before we relied on keeping tabs ourselves and paying the difference of the tithe ourselves and while some months we probably got close to reaching 10%, other months we weren't close.
Matt and I like to give. Sometimes we're informed of needs and we like to step up and bless our friends by gifting money on them, which we usually have much more readily than we do now. But that's not really tithing. To tithe actually refers to paying money into the governing church body to which you submit your authority. To tithe well you must do so in confidence of the stewardship of your church and trust that the money will be used well. Typically anything that is given outside of your giftings to your church would be considered 'offerings' instead of 'tithes'. Traditionally (of the Old Testament) the average amount given by the Jews was 25% of their gross income. For more than a few months our tithes plus our offerings didn't even equal 10%.
Not this month. This month we've actually brought in so little money that our automatic withdrawls and our pledge to one group have actually surpassed the 10% mark.
That was the confession time, now here's the revelation time.
What if God finally got sick of us shirking our responsibilities and decided that if that was all we were going to give each month that He would make sure for us that we only got enough money to make that portion equal 10% of our income? Did my disobedience force God's hand? Did He have to limit our income to keep us obedient? I almost said faithful then but that's not faithfulness. Faithfulness isn't forced. I shouldn't need prompting to be faithful.
If you go back to the scripture I quoted before it's worded "Endure hardship as discipline." It doesn't necessarily say that every hardship we come across is disciplinary. However, it does imply that you should at least give thought to your hardships to see if maybe your own actions haven't brought it on.
Sometimes financial hardship is just a sucky season at work and we should grasp the opportunity to refocus our priorities and thank God for what we have. Sometimes God will allow demons to force a financial struggle on us so that when we make it through that time it will be counted to God's glory. Sometimes God allows it to happen to harden us and purify us.
And sometimes, it will be to get us back in line; to let us know that we've been doing it wrong and that we need to change. So when you face hardship, examine your heart and while you don't have to assume that you've done wrong, check and make sure and learn from your hardship like it were discipline and ask God to guide you through it.
Yeah, Matt and I were doing pretty well. We talked about tithing and tried to make sure we remembered to give and took on different projects so that we were giving more... but I can't lie and say that we were giving our first fruits. Even if we had made it to 10% every month, it wasn't our priority as it should be.
Malachi 3:10 says, "'Bring the whole tithe into my storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test me in this,' says the Lord God Almighty, 'and see if I won't throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.'"
I don't need to test God. I know that He is faithful. But that verse does give me confidence to make my tithe my priority and to know that if we maintain that, we'll always have at least enough to live on.
My first priority should be to give glory to God and last night I was convicted that I hadn't been following in obedience as closely as I ought to. Today I have decided to change how I've been giving and not because I 'have to' but because I want to - to the glory of God.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Garden Plotting

Is it too early to be planning my garden? I hope not.
After a slightly disappointing day which involved Gabe being more clingy than usual I found running out of ideas of things to do. I remembered a seed catalogue I had upstairs and decided to flip through it finally. Last year Matt expressed a desire to get a rose bush (he has occassional domestic things that he shows interest in - vines, rose bushes, drapes and paint swatches are the most common) I'm very particular about what kinds of roses I like and typically always look for flowers that are good for cutting. So, when this catalogue had a shortage of pictures I went to the website for a local nursery and saw that they had pictures of every variety of rose they carry. Well, I picked out a dozen varieties that I thought I'd be happy with, mostly double-flowering. I'm quite excited to go in and see some of them in person, particularly the "Salmon Impressionist", "Modern Sunrise" and "J.P. Connell" varieties. I really want a nice double-flowering, white bloomed and deep green foliage variety but I didn't come across one of those. After going over the roses I moved on to the pictures of their vines. I've always wanted a clematis but wanted something unusual - like the "Duchess of Edinburgh" variety. I didn't even go through all the varieties but I looked at that one because of the name and I've never seen anyone like it. It's a white, double-flowering (notice a trend in my tastes?) and so, so pretty! I also noticed that the nursery carries a hardy kiwi variety that's edible and self pollinating and some hardy grape varieties that were good for not only jellies but for eating even. My second favorite type of jelly is grape (next to crabapple) so I'd love to try and make some. We may or may not get my vegetable garden in this year, but with the strawberry plants I put in last year and the off chance that I could get my grapes and kiwis to produce this year I think I would be reasonably entertaining with just my fruit plants. Oh, and I've been meaning to put in some raspberry bushes for a few years but because of Cash I never thought I'd get away with it. This year I hope I can trust him to not dig up my plants (or I'll just break out the chicken wire). I put about 100 tulip bulbs in my front flower bed last fall with staggered blooming times so while I'll still get some bedding plants, I won't need many.
One thing I'm doing for sure this year is putting in a compost in our yard. We'd use it, we always have tonnes of leaves and grass and such and we have lots of spots in our yard that need plumping up. Even if we don't get our garden going this year we're at least going to build it (it'll be a raised garden) and we can dump our excess compost in there.
With the new baby coming I'm planning on spending a lot of time outside but since he is coming I'm going to need my garden more or less completely ready before he comes - or I can't bend over, whichever happens first.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How to when you don't have

Well, I'm feeling much better today than I had been feeling all week. My fever is finally gone, I can almost breathe through my nose again and I actually left the house for the first time since Monday! Being isolated and drained got me to thinking and planning - a favorite past-time of mine. Whenever I feel bored or unenthused about life in general I plan things; I plan garden layouts, renovation ideas for our house, goals for my life and things that I want to do with my kids when they're older. I write them out in lists and I have random lists in random notebooks all over my house.
One of the things I started planning this week was a bunch of "How To" ideas. These aren't your typical "how to" instructions either. I won't be telling you how to build a birdhouse or how to wallpaper a room. All of my ideas are composed of two parts: "How to" and "when you don't have..."
First, let's start with How to be productive when you don't have energy/time.
This is a good one for me this week. I've been feeling physically drained and useless but have been wanting more than usual to get things done. The first tip I will offer is to modify tasks where you can. For example, I've been trying all week to get some baking done. That involved getting my kitchen clean, finding time to make something and having enough energy to stand for as long as it took. The kitchen cleaning I couldn't really modify but the time I would need for my baking I could. I had envisioned making cookies just so Matt and I would have something to munch on this week. My shortest recipe for cookies takes about 20 minutes start to finish, not including clean up and cool down. That's not alot of time but I couldn't seem to find it in my day - and yet I still wanted something dessertish in the house. Thank goodness for Jello products. 3 minutes actual hands-on time, chill and ta da! Dessert for two nights. Well, we polished off the Jello tonight and I finally got the kitchen fully cleaned while Matt played with Gabe but I was running short on time and energy again. So what did I do? I made puffed wheat squares on the stove top. Quick go-to recipes like Puffed Wheat Squares and Rice Krispie Squares can substitute for cookies and if you wanted something more pie-like but don't have the time or energy, making squares with a shortbread crust can take 20 minutes start to finish.
Another tip for being productive when you're short on time or energy is to simply do it. I'm not saying "suck it up", but I am saying that some things aren't as hard as you think they need to be. It's inevitable, especially if you have kids, that you will walk from room to room of your house repeatedly through the day. Is your house in need of tidying? Before you leave a room scan it for anything that needs to be put away in the room you're headed to. Does your dishwasher need to be emptied? If you go to pull a single dish out to use it, pull out a few more at the same time, say all the plates or utensils, and put them away before you head back to what you were doing. Cleaning the bathroom is another one that never seems to be a priority task, and yet you go in there multiple times a day. After you pee when you get up in the morning (we all do it) put some toilet bowl cleaner in the toilet to sit there until the next time you come to go "potty" - then you can brush it down before you do your business. After brushing your teeth grab a cloth and wipe down the sink and vanity quickly. After having a bath clean the tub while you're right there. Bit by bit you can get it done.
What if you don't have any productivity goals but still feel the need to get something done? Pick a small task that isn't a daily one and it will feel more like fun than work. Write congratulatory cards to people, whip up a batch of sugar syrup or rearrange the flowers hubby gave you for Valentines Day. Picking small, 5 minute tasks will make it seem more doable and less of a burden.
Next, How to give when you don't have money.
Things are tight in our household this month (we're buying groceries on gift cards) but I keep hearing about these places in need that I wish I could help out with. Food banks, homeless shelters and women's shelters always need help - more often than most of us think about, and while it might not always be in our power to give money, it usually is in our power to give something. For example, lots of soup kitchens have tonnes of dry goods thanks to food drives and donation bins, but alot of them still have high monthly expenses to pay for perishables. They go through bread quite quickly. Well, when I make bread I never really make one loaf at a time. I don't use a bread machine and my go-to recipe is for three loaves. While I may not have money, I always have bread ingredients on hand - so make some bread, and drop some off. (Same goes for cookies, muffins, etc)
Clean out your closet. Lots of us have more clothes than we ever think to wear so do a purge and this time, don't take them to Value Village. Take them to a local Women's shelter. I guarantee they need them more.
Give your time. That's kind of the obvious one, hey? But really, one Saturday morning call the Food Bank and ask if you can help put together bins, or a soup kitchen and offer to serve food. Cleaning crews are always welcome everywhere and if you are not so much an elbow-grease person as a people manager organize a food drive with your work as the drop off location.
How to sleep well when you don't have peace of mind.
Are you worried? Stressed? Counting sheep not cutting it? This is another subject I have alot of experience with. I myself am an anxious person. I've been getting better, but nature supplied me with a whole lot of overactive anxiety, to the point where I would get physically sick when I was in middle school if I forgot about a piece of homework and I have spent many, many, MANY a night wide awake worrying about the next morning. What nature (read: my mother) bestowed on me, fortunately grace has relieved me of in many instances. My first tip will be the biggest and best and the one that will always work most effectively: Give it up to God. Are you worried about the thought of your house burning down? Are you panicky whenever you hear a bump in the night? Do you think that the closest trees are going to fall on your house in the middle of a big wind storm? (If you've never experienced any of these thoughts or sensations, lucky you. You are not an anxious person.) If you can relate to any of those descriptions the first thing you need to do is realize that there is nothing you can do. Nothing. Sure, you could build a house out of metal so that it won't ever burn down (I'm never visiting during a lightening storm) and you could cut down all the trees around your house so they won't fall on you (over-kill much?) and you could pay for the most expensive security system available, but the truth is that you aren't in control of what happens. If someone wants to break into your house, they will. You can do things like lock your doors and stuff, but really, who doesn't have big windows on the front of their house that someone could break into? Yes, there are ways to be smart, and things you can do to discourage intruders (dogs, locks, lights, etc) but I feel so much more comfortable knowing that it's in God's hands than I would feel thinking that it's in mine. God is a sovereign God and He oversees everything that happens on this world. Bad things can only happen because God allows them to. Now, God is not a cruel God either - he is a compassionate God with plans much bigger than we can comprehend and everything, be it good or bad, that happens in this world will be to His eventual glory. Lying awake and worrying about storms and thieves and "acts of God" won't ever get you any rest. But realizing that they are truly acts of God will. If you trust in God and trust in His will, then you can sleep easy.
Secondly, and obviously less importantly, take charge of your dreams. Lucid dreaming, as it were. I'm not talking a full-blown Inception adventure, just some dream maintainance. There was a point in my life where every night I would dream that I would get up, go to work, make the bread and muffins and scones and do the dishes... and then wake up and have to do it all over again, but for real. Not really a restful sleep. One day I gave my notice at work (one month's notice mind you) and that night I went to sleep, got up in my dream, went to work, started making the bread... and decided that was enough. I threw the bread dough in the garbage, walked out of the cafe and lit it on fire. I also slept very well for the rest of the night. Now, maybe don't have dreams about burning down your place of employment - that does seem a little psychotic - but if you are dreaming about work, stop it. It really is that simple. Just stop. You don't have to wake up, but you do have to realize that it is just a dream. Prep yourself before you go to sleep by a) not thinking about work, b) thinking about what you do want to dream about and c) reminding your brain that you will be sleeping. And then, if you ever get the chance to, throw the bread out. I never had another cafe dream after that.
Lastly, if you are being plagued by a to do list. If it is one thing that you forgot to do but you're too comfy in bed to get up and do it - probably just get up and do it. If you're like me you'll not only get it off your mind, you'll also be more tired from your trip and you'll fall asleep quicker. If it is a mounting to do list I suggest two different things. One, write it down. If you're worried you'll forget about something, jot it down on a notepad and it will help you make sure you get it done in the morning. Two, realize that there's nothing you can do about it at 11:00 at night and that it will have to wait until the morning anyway. Did you forget to buy something from the grocery store? Are you really going to run out to a 24 hour Walmart in the middle of the night? No. Did you not get around to dropping something off at someone's house earlier? Would they really be so happy to get it that they wouldn't mind you waking them, their kids and their dog to drop it off late at night? No. Breathe, relax, resolve to take care of it first thing in the morning and get some sleep.
My last one: How to feel like you have alot when you don't have anything.
Everyone will have their season of financial shortcomings. It's tough when they come and no one really looks forward to them at any time. Often they come after a period of relative affluence which makes it even harder. When Matt and I first got married he hurt his knee and needed to take 6 weeks off. We thought money was tight then. Of course I had a job then and eventually the Worker's Comp money came so really we weren't all that bad, but considering where we had been at, we felt it as a big hit. With two incomes for the first month of our marriage we had been living it up: trips to IKEA, lunch after church every Sunday with some friends, dinner out once a week and a nice new recliner for Matt to sit in. I think the shock of having to change our lifestyle so suddenly was what hurt the most. No more dinners out, no more after church lunches, IKEA was blacklisted and Matt got a lot of use out of the recliner since he wasn't allowed any physical activity. It starts to get to you. You want a latte but you feel bad shelling out the $4.50. You head somewhere early morning and before would grab a Timmy's but even that seems out of your budget. Grocery shopping becomes more of a chore than ever and you seem to notice how your clothes fade faster, all of your lightbulbs seem to burn out at once and your DVD player starts blipping out (true story). Right now we're going through this phase again, a little bit more in the extreme though. Top it off with unfulfilled pregnancy cravings and the fact that we actually ran out of Kleenex this week and you can see how things might be a little tense around the house. So what do you do? Embrace what you have. Last night I was craving chinese food. It happens about once a month but when I'm pregnant I don't feel like eating anything but chinese food until I finally get some. Normally I would pick up the phone and shell out $30 for dinner that night. Not this week. So I decided to make my own chinese food. Being short on time and not having any shrimp in the house I decided I'd just make some Chicken Fried Rice. I lucked out and had everything I needed in the house: Chicken, eggs, green onion, peas, rice, soya sauce and oyster sauce. Perfect! I made a tonne of it and that was all we had for dinner - and none of us minded. If you are craving fancy Starbucks drinks, make them yourself! 2 minutes, a cup of sugar, a cup of water and some vanilla will give you a vanilla sugar syrup - add that to some heated and frothed milk with an earl grey tea bag and you've got a London Fog. I find not going out for food to be one of the hardest adjustments about cutting back, but if it's just to fill a craving figure out how to make it yourself and you'll not only save the money but you'll also have a new skill (FYI, I make my own sushi all the time now instead of running out to a store and buying some, and since I can keep most of the stuff stocked regularly I usually have everything I need in my cupboards)
Embrace gift cards and coupons. Say that you decide to splurge and have dinner out. Decide whether it's the food you really are craving or if it's the novelty. If it's the latter, check your SUTP or local flyers for coupons to indulge cheaply. Matt and I went to A&W last week thanks to some 2 for 1 coupons that came in the mail. That was fun! It was a meal out! It hardly cost us a thing! If we feel the need for a fancier time out in the near future we have an Earl's giftcard that we got for Christmas that still has enough on it for desserts for us. Going out for dessert instead of a full meal fills the novelty and a sweet tooth. If your birthday is coming up, request gift cards to restaurants so that you can keep date night running in tight times.
Have people in. Sometimes it's just company that you miss about the lifestyle change. If you were used to hitting up a hot spot with friends once a week or doing lunch with some people regularly, don't cut out the people just because you're cutting out the spending! Have people over to your house for coffee or a poker night. Potluck desserts work great for a party and no one will think less of you.
In need of mental stimulation? If you're the type that normally spends on things like books, magazines, art supplies or sporting tickets, find a new, cheap hobby. Via internet you can find all the reading material you need. If you enjoy doing Crossword puzzles either look for them in your newspaper or hit up an online games site. If you are an avid painter who is running low on supplies, try posting an ad on kijiji for used paint supplies for free - you'd be amazed how many people will be willing to give you things if you ask. If you like to attend local hockey games but can't afford it, either tune in on TV or the internet, or change your league to Peewee or beer league games that you can go to without paying.
If you are a shopper that suddenly has to kick the habit, first off, good luck to you, second off, take delight in shopping for necessities. Is the thrill of the hunt what gets you? Flyer shop for the best grocery prices in town! If you have a favorite store that you feel the need to browse in and like to buy something everytime you're in, try buying something you actually need. My favorite store is HomeSense, which is attached to Winners, so that is pretty easy for me. I can buy shampoo there for cheaper than I could at Walmart usually so if I ever felt the need to just "buy" I could find a cheap necessity. Mix up where you buy too. Matt and I needed pants quite badly so last week we went to Value Village where I found two of the nicest pairs of Maternity jeans that I've ever tried on and I paid alot less than I would have elsewhere.
It's probably safest to refrain from shopping trips - window shopping is a dangerous hobby and more prone to make you want what you can't have than to appreciate what you do have. Stay at home and maybe take on a new project like finally painting all the doors in your house with that can of paint that's been sitting there waiting for you for a year. Your desire to get it finished will overshadow the fact that you haven't gone out and spent money in a week.
And my last tip of all tonight is to realize that hardship is only for a season. Some seasons may last a lot longer than a month or two, but if you only ever look towards the end you may forget to enjoy life that you're living and if that season lasts for a year, or even four, it'd be sad to look back at the end of it and realize that you wasted that much time waiting for things to get better instead of embracing how they were.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Happy belated Valentines Day! I hope you had a good one.
I myself was sick but other than the fact that I couldn't breathe, I nearly went through a whole box of kleenex yesterday and I'm still running a fever, I'd have to say yesterday went fairly well.
My original plan for yesterday was to spend the entire day on the couch. I'd have felt entitled to it and wouldn't have felt guilty about my lack of productivity - except that it was Valentines Day. Even though Matt and I had just had the weekend away staying at a hotel and eating out I still wanted something to celebrate Valentines Day with. And what do I do when I need inspiration? I go to MarthaStewart.com of course. I decided to decorate the house with hearts and shamelessly cutesy decorations. I found a craft for wax paper crayon hearts that you hang in your window and I decided to try that. I also noticed a flower arrangement she did up with red tulips and cinnamon hearts. It just so happened that Matt gave me red tulips last week and that we had a bag of cinnamon hearts in our cupboard (from our wedding... 3 years ago...) Well, I set out to start prettifying my house when I realized that I didn't have wax paper. Nor did I have enough cinnamon hearts to sufficiently fill the vase I was working with. Nor did I have a clue what to serve for supper! I did, however, have giftcards to Safeway. Now, I don't normally shop at Safeway but decided yesterday was a good day to make an exception. Money is a little tight right now, especially after our nice weekend in Calgary, so I decided that if I were to spend money it ought to be money that doesn't come out of our account. So, after a successful shopping trip at Safeway, coming home and putting Gabe down for his nap and grabbing a quick bite myself, it was time to get to work. First off I filled a juice pitcher with water and a few drops of food coloring. I went outside to our massive snow banks and drew hearts in the snow, all along our walkway and in front of our driveway. Next I rearranged my flowers and cinnamon hearts. I decided it was stupid to buy more cinnamon hearts that we would never get around to eating so I changed vases, pulled some flowers and made a pared down version of the arrangement. With the flowers I pulled out I removed their petals, made our bed upstairs and put the petals in the shape of a heart on top of our duvet. Then I got to work making Pots de Creme - something I had alway intended on doing for Matt on Valentines Day. If I ever had to choose between making pudding and pots de creme, I'd always make the pots de creme. So easy, no double boiler involved and a lot less time taken up.
With dessert in the fridge I set to work making my wax paper crayon hearts. That took about 40 minutes and Gabe, who had since woken up, spent that time coloring a Valentines Day card for Daddy. Matt's parents called shortly after and asked if they could take Gabe out for supper with them tonight (heck yes!) so I got him dressed in a dress shirt, a tie and a sweater vest (all with red stripes) and ready to go. FYI, whoever makes kids ties that you actually have to tie is a saddist. Honestly! I was using teddy bears to try and tie it around and eventually had to free-hand tie it and then barely got it over my son's gigantic head! That thing is never going to be untied from this point forward.
Well, by the time Matt got home, Gabe had been picked up but I'd hardly started dinner so he helped my whip it up: Steaks, tortellini, sourdough loaf and Black Bean and Corn Salsa. I also had some frozen strawberries that I had let defrost in my fridge last week and so I put those through the magic bullet, added a touch of strawberry syrup and topped it up with club soda. It was a very nice dinner overall. And afterwards I was so sick I put on my sweat pants and went to bed while Matt played with Gabe.
I'm paying for the effort a bit today. I still can't breathe, my head's killing me and I'm dying for some cold medicine (which I'm not allowed to take), but it was nice having a Valentines Day.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Babymoon Complete!

I am so, so tired but glad for it. Matt and I got home from our Babymoon this evening and while it wasn't exactly how I planned it was still great.
Matt ended up having to work on Friday until 3:30 - by which time we had planned on being in Calgary, checked in at the hotel and seeing the Titanic exhibit at the World of Science. After Matt showered, we loaded up, dropped off Gabe and all, we ended up on the highway by 5:30. After mssing our turn into downtown and consequently taking a 20 minute detour, we made it to our hotel by 7:30. Thank goodness for guaranteed checkins! By the time we got there we were so hungry we wanted anything to eat, regardless of how fancy it was or wasn't. So, all those restaurants we'd been looking at that we would have had to drive to were out. Fortunately we were within two blocks of Eau Claire Market which has a Joeys Tomato. I'd never been there before so we opted for it. It was great! Fantastic calamari. We ate so much for appetizers I could hardly even try my souvlaki and we didn't even look at the dessert menu. The next thing on our itinerary was to hit up a pub with some pool tables to watch a bit of the flames game. When I asked Matt though he opted to just go lounge in the hotel room since he was so tired - and to be honest, I was hoping he'd say that. We turned on the game at the room and when it was done we watched HGTV. We love that channel and since we don't have cable we never get to watch it. We did get to order room service - something I'd been really wanting to do - so we had cheesecake for dessert and then watched more TV. It was nice to just chill.
This morning we got up at 8, showered and packed and then checked out just after 9. We walked down to Eau Claire for breakfast and then went up to The Core to see the shops. The Devonian Gardens were closed which sucked. I did have a pretty good find in one of the shops though. There's this cute little shop called Compleat Cook in Bankers Hall. I used to go there to look around when I worked downtown but never felt tempted enough to buy anything - until today. They carry this line called Sophie Conran for Portmeirion. Her classic tableware collection is so gorgeous I couldn't stop looking. There were three pieces in particular that I adored: the egg cups, the mortar and pestle and her Celadon tea cups with the irregular rim. All of the pieces are textured with an almost faux bois design and absolutely gorgeous. You can see the pieces at www.sophieconran.com. What you can also see there are the prices. Now, in shop the egg cups were $18.95 for 2 and the mortar and pestle was $23. If you visit the link you'll see, not only that it is a UK shop that doesn't ship to Canada, but that the prices are in pounds and work out to more than the prices in Compleat Cook. I didn't buy the pieces there. I did grab the collection pamphlet so that I'd be able to find it in the future but I'll definitely be going back to Calgary to buy at least the mortar and pestle, which at $23 is not a bad price really, especially not for a designer piece. There are two Compleat Cook shops in Calgary - Bankers Hall and Willow Park. Check out the collection sometime.
After walking all over (to Olympic Plaza, Art Central and up Stephen Avenue Walk) we went for lunch at a sushi place called Banzai. It wasn't the best sushi I've ever had, but it was sushi all the same and it certainly wasn't the worst I've ever had. Matt needs a fair bit of sushi to feel full and normally that takes a fair bit of money. Here we ordered their 42 piece Party Tray for $25 and we both more than ate our full. By the time we were done our tour of downtown it was 3:00 and we decided to come home early.
It was a great time to just relax and not worry about having to take care of diaper changes and snack times, but I missed our little boy :)
Today was great, tomorrow is back to reality.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Strawberry Pavlova and Egg Yolks

Today was not a good day to work with egg yolks apparently. First off, at breakfast with Matt I ordered soft-boiled eggs. I was a little nervous because the last time we were there my eggs were underdone (for perfect soft boiled eggs: bring salted water to a rolling boil, add eggs and set timer for 4 minutes) Well, this time they were overdone. I call soft-boiled eggs "dippy eggs" because I eat them by cutting my toast into strips and dipping it in the soft yolks. There was no dipping with these bad boys. The yolks were so hard I couldn't even spread them on toast. They were simply hard-boiled eggs. Very nice hard-boiled eggs, but still - I wanted dippy eggs.
Then this afternoon I called and invited my parents to dinner at our house since my house was clean, my husband was home and my baby was napping. I decided to start by making a dessert so I made this beautiful pavlova. The problem with making pavlova is that you are left with egg yolks and I never know what to do with them. There is, however, a great little blog that one day posted a list of recipes for varying numbers of leftover egg yolks. http://www.fortysomething.ca/2010/04/recipes_to_use_up_extra_egg_yo.php Now, I've been to that site a few times since all I can ever think to use egg yolks for are puddings and mayonnaise, but this time I kind of felt that it let me down. I had 4 egg yolks so going down the list I was a little stumped. Being pregnant I'm obviously avoiding raw eggs (bye bye Carbonera and aioli). My mother is allergic to chocolate (so long Boston Cream Pie, Chocolate pudding and Pots de Creme). It's freezing outside so I'm not going to make ice cream, and I already baked something so I wasn't going to bake more. Stumped.
I hit up Marthastewart.com (because what else do you do when you need ideas?) and searched "egg yolks". I came across a little ditty that I had never even heard of: Honey Zabaglione. Now, turns out I have heard of it, just spelled differently: Sabayon. But Martha made her's sweetened and mixed with cream and spooned over grapefruit segments. It looked gorgeous. So half an hour before my parents were set to arrive I set to work whisking the egg yolk, honey, water and other goodies in a bowl set over simmering water. The recipe said I should do that for about 10 minutes, or double in volume.
1 minute mark - "Man, this is foamy."
2 minute mark - "Hey, this is starting to look really good!"
3 minute mark - "I'd say this is done but I've never made this before and I should stick to the recipe."
4 minute mark - "10 minutes? Really??"
5 minute mark - "This doesn't look good anymore..."
6 minute mark - "Crap. It's wrecked."
I overcooked it, in spite of my vigorous whisking, constant simmer checking and compulsive clock checking. It would've been perfect at the three minute mark had I trusted my instincts, but I'm not too hard on myself because 3 minutes is a long way from 10 minutes. So, my nice creamy sauce had egg yolk chunks in it, and thus went my experience with egg yolks today.
The rest of dinner turned out nice. I made up some alfredo pasta, baked chicken in a broccoli sauce, a simple salad and my pavlova was awesome.
I should mention also why my house was so clean that I felt it would be more appropriate for me to invite people over rather than clean it more. I'd had a very busy Sunday thanks to some volunteers not showing up and over-committing myself to begin with. I ran every position in the church cafe on Sunday, even though I try to only ever do one per week. After we got home from my parents' house where we watched the Superbowl Matt started cleaning and I felt too sore to help. I apologized and he said, "That's okay. You were busy with the cafe and all your important things." He meant to be consoling, but he was moreso convicting. Yes, if I have agreed to do something it is important for me to see it through to completion and make sure it is done well, however, the cafe is not my priority. My family life is. That is where my first responsibilities lie. So my house was messy but the cafe was clean. I felt bad for it.
Monday night came and we were supposed to be going to Auxano but I told Matt I'd prefer to stay home since I was still quite sore and tired. He said okay but I could tell he was a bit disappointed. But I had good reason. Matt left the house by 6:30. By 7:00 the kitchen was spotless. By 7:30 the living room was too. By 8:00 Gabe's room was cleaned, his clothes sorted and all of the floors were vacuumed. Matt got home at 9 by which time I'd had a chance to have a hot bath, a cup of tea and to do some relaxing (which I really did need) but I felt much more satisfied about the relaxing I got to do since my house was clean. (Just don't look in the office until after tax season.)

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Babymoon!

We've booked it! We're going! Our Babymoon is coming!
What is a Babymoon, one might ask? Well, that actually depends on whom one is asking. There are two version of the story. One says that the Babymoon is the first week or so at home when the parents get to bond with the new baby they just brought home from the hospital. The other one (and the one to which I am referring) says that the Babymoon is one last big date night or trip that the expectant parents do before the baby comes.
We did have a big date night before Gabe came - and actually were celebrating our first anniversary when I went into labour - but I wouldn't call that a Babymoon. When it's your first it doesn't seem as important. Matt and I had time to ourselves every night back then, so our date nights really were only nights that we went out for some nice food.
Now, however, we feel the need for a bit more. Gabe is at a point, finally, where we can leave him for a night and none of us will be freaking out. However, it does take a while to get to that point so we know that once the new baby comes we won't have the chance to spend a night away for a number of months. We decided that right now was the best time to go for the trip. I'm pregnant but not too pregnant to have any fun or be comfortable on a short car ride.
So what are we doing for our super awesome Babymoon? We are going to Downtown Calgary! Cool, eh? Wait - you don't agree?? Well, here's why you should:
We wanted to leave town but while a short car ride might be doable for me, a long one (say, to Fairmont) would not be.
We wanted somewhere that could keep us heartily entertained for the 24 hours we spent there. (Therefore eliminating small towns)
Lately I have been craving some foods that you seem to only be able to find in Downtown Calgary (The best salt and pepper squid in the world is in this run down little fast food hut on the back side of a food court in TD Square)
Lastly, I miss Downtown Calgary and while Matt visited there with me once, it wasn't a very thorough trip and I wanted to be able to share all the things I love about that place with him.
We've actually got a pretty sweet plan for our trip, too. We're staying in a nice little hotel with a balcony, room service and a king sized bed that's a couple blocks away from Au Claire market. (We had been looking at the newly renovated Westin or the Palliser, but the package we got in on for our hotel came with free parking, whereas the others did not) When we first get to Calgary we're going to hit up the Telus World of Science. They've got a display there on the Titanic - an artifact exhibit of things that have been recovered from the actual wreckage. I think it'll be worth seeing. After that we're going for dinner. That was actually the hardest part of our trip to plan. All of the restaurants that would normally seem fantastic to me are out because just reading their menus makes my stomach turn. One place was offering a BLT Consomme with Bacon Foam and Smoked Tomatoes. That almost did me in, while normally it would delight me. The pictures were even worse than the descriptions. The only places that I could stand to read the menus and look at the pictures were, oddly enough, a Korean restaurant called Anju and Japanese Village. Anju looks like a really neat little place and they've got "weird" things like Ox tail tortellini with truffle oil, but also serve a teriyaki chicken dish. So depending on how I'm feeling I can either go all out and try something new, or I can just get the chicken. In any event, Matt would like it (he loves trying different ethnic foods) and some of their sides like their salt cured blue crab and their dried squid, while they may not be anything I cook at home, they sound basic enough that I could stomach them most days. Japanese Village puts on quite the show for their evening dinners. You watch the chefs prepare the food with all the fancy twirling and flipping of foods and utensils. I've never been anywhere like that so while the food doesn't seem as "out there" as Anju's menu, it would still be a fun new experience. I wish I could say we were going to both, but we will have to choose just one.
Depending on what time we finish dinner and all, we might opt to go hit up the games room at Au Claire for some pool or try and hop into a venue with some live music. That night I also want to order room service. I know, it's probably not going to live up to the 18% service charge, but it's just something that I've always wanted to do and this seems like the perfect time to do it. The hotel has a good dessert menu and what looks like a nice imported cheese selection so we'll probably order some of those for the evening.
Saturday morning after we eat breakfast at the attached cafe and check out we may need to move our car so we'll drive it the two blocks down to Au Claire and pay for parking there for the day. Then the real fun begins. After going through Au Claire market we'll walk up to TD Square and hit the shops that I used to frequent every lunch hour when I worked at the law firm. It'll be neat to see what's still there and what's new. We'll see the Devonian Gardens, get some Cookies By George, maybe try some of that phenomenal salt and pepper squid and hopefully not buy too many things we didn't need :) After lunch in the food courts connected by the +15s, we'll hit the streets - namely Stephen Avenue Walk. We'll see all the shops along there and walk up to Art Central - a massive communal art space for selling and creating for over 50 artists. They've got some great cafes in there and while I'm not a typically "artsy" person (I have a very limited range of appreciation for modern or post-modern art) it would still be neat to see everything that's done and sold there. From Art Central we'll probably hop over to Olympic Plaza, although the water will probably be frozen still, so no foot soaking. We might hop over to Prince's Island Park then - I've never seen it in the winter.
We'll be right near our car then, so we may decide to hit the road, but, we may also decide to have a bit more of a refined dinner than the Wendy's we would probably grab on the road. If that's the case, we'll take one more walk up Stephen Avenue Walk and go to Saltlik, a steakhouse. I've heard they've got great calamari (if I won't already be squid-ed out) and their Baja Shrimp appetizer sounds really good: Pan-flashed shrimp, coconut cream, crunchy tortillas and avocado salsa.
It'll be interesting to see how much we have time for and if we feel we need to rush anything... So long as I get to walk around downtown again, with my hubby in tow this time, I think it'll be a good Babymoon any way.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)