This is for the guy on Twitter who asked me for smoothie recipes: I don’t have one.

But I love them! That $6 smoothie from the mall is good, but let’s face it. SIX DOLLARS. SMOOTHIE. Criminal! They’re so simple, too. You don’t need a recipe. It’s more conceptual: you need fruit and you need liquid. You’ll be drinking about a cup and a half of it, so maybe try half fruit, half liquid, then blend? It’s funny because normally I love recipes! Certainty feels good! But in this case, you have to do the thing where you do what FEELS right. You can be like a celebrity chef and BAM!

I’ve been using frozen berries (You know those 5 lb boxes of blueberries you can get at the farmers market? Now that I have a deep freeze, we are ON IT.). I like yogurt for the creaminess, maybe a little scoop of sorbet if you like. Experiment! I don’t add any sweetener, but you could if you wanted to. It’s a good way to get those nutritional supplements in, too. Flaxseed oil or something. Wheat grass?  I don’t know! Just keep an eye on measurements, otherwise you end up adding a little of this and that you have way too much (can it be frozen? I bet it can).

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Vegan Buttercream

Thankfully, it’s not only possible but it’s delicious. But take note! Margarine is sneaky. Most brands have whey, which is a dairy ingredient. Some brands also have gelatin, which is animal collagen.

Most recipes seem to call for some shortening, but quite frankly, that’s disgusting. So I just used an entire cup of vegan margarine, creamed it with my mixer, then added about 3 cups of powdered sugar, then mixed it some more. It looks a little questionable at this point, but don’t worry. You add a couple teaspoons of vanilla, then a tiny bit of soy or rice milk while beating until it’s smooth.

Lick the beaters.

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Vegan Chocolate Cake

I have vegans in my family, but that doesn’t mean they have to go without the good stuff. I’m in charge of some baking for Father’s Day/everyone’s birthday (seriously: two of my siblings were born today, and my brother in law. Plus we skipped my dad’s birthday earlier this month ’cause he was out of town). My sister, who turns 40 today, gave me this recipe. it’s very easy and very good. I make this instead of regular chocolate cake. It’s better!

Combine dry ingredients: 1 1/2 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup cocoa, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt. Sift together, or do as I do and just mix it a lot, anxiously, in the hopes that it’s as good as sifting. I’m using whole wheat flour today. Wish me luck!

Then mix liquids: 1 cup warm water, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/3 cup vegetable oil (I used olive), and 1 tsp apple cider vinegar. Mix the liquids into the dry ingredients, pour into a greased cake pan (I used olive oil), and bake half an hour at 350F. I’ll probably skip the icing. I’m not that advanced. I suppose I can make a buttercream with margarine. Off I go to get margarine!

Anyhow, it’s perfect. Can’t wait til Father’s/Birthday dinner!

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Dinner Project: Glico Curry

When it’s cold and gloomy and I feel terrible about myself, I need to eat Japanese food. Most people think of the very expensive stuff when they think of Japanese food, but there is a world of typical Japanese things that are everyday, home-cooking comfort foods. Of course, I love sushi and tempura and all that too, but this is the stuff that my mom made for us growing up. It’s unglamourous, but hey. I’m not judging when you dump a can of baked beans in with your Kraft Dinner.

Glico curry is a sweet, unspicy (even the Hot kind has no bite to it whatsoever), creamy bastard cousin to anything that might legitimately call itself a curry. But what do you expect from a company that is better known as the maker of Pocky? It’s also cheap. For about $4, you can make enough curry sauce to feed a family. Or one person, over the course of several days (Aaron doesn’t like Glico Curry!).

Follow the instructions. It’s not difficult. I usually just put in potato, onion, carrot, and pork. Anything more than that seems overcomplicated, though I usually double the quantities. Something seems off about only putting one medium carrot, one onion, and one potato! Four is better. And twice as much meat, preferably kind of fatty. You’re boiling everything, so a little fat keeps it from getting too boiled-meaty. Serve with hot rice. My mom usually has some pickled ginger on hand (the savoury kind, not the kind served with sushi), but I always forget.

Sweet, gravy-like Glico Curry! So comforting! I can (and do!) eat it for  whole week!

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OMG Rhubarb!

The house I now live in once housed a little old lady. She liked owls and the colour green. And like most little old ladies, she grew rhubarb. Planted it, on purpose, pretty much in the middle of my backyard. And it’s very happy there.

So happy! It’s huge! And I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I mean, I’ve had rhubarb pie before, and I like it fine. There is rarely a pie I disapprove of. But this freakishly large plant is so daunting, and isn’t it somewhat poisonous? And, bleah, cooking stuff. I haven’t been in the mood. A strange admission for a food writer, but yeah.

In any case, I got a cheap pair of garden shears and I whacked it to bits, discarding the perilous leaves (and leaving them in an ugly pile in my garden. Martha Stewart, I ain’t.) Once safely indoors, I washed the stems and chopped them into 2 cm bits. Most recipes recommend boiling them in their own juices, which is a freaky thing. You just throw all the pieces into a pot with about a half cup of sugar and let it sit for a while until they BLEED. Then you can turn up some heat until it boils for a bit, then turn down the heat to simmer (covered) until the bits are soft. Taste it to see if it’s sweet enough for you. Then let it cool some. In fact, let it cool and put it in a tupperware and refrigerate it. Yeah.

It’s tangy and sweet. My mom gave me some rhubarb compote just like this and said it that she eats it on ice cream. This is very good. You can also stir some into plain yogurt, or blend it into a smoothie. But my very, very favourite thing that I ate it with was pork chops. Oh myyy! So much better than apple sauce!

Did I mention that rhubarb is very high in fibre and (aside from the half cup of sugar) is pretty healthy? Oh, and that plant in my yard has grown back its severed stalks, and then some. I don’t think I hurt it one bit.

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Restaurant review: El Rancho

We are exceptionally lucky to have this very excellent Salvadorean restaurant mere blocks away. It’s incredible food (and most things come with a salad– this is a pet peeve, ordering a meal that doesn’t come with a vegetable. I mean, really!) and the prices are reasonable. Also, I didn’t mention that they will make most of the meat dishes vegetarian if you ask. Our neighbourhood also hosts an annual Pupusa Festival, too. My neighbourhood is awesome.

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Thor VS Bridesmaids

I saw both Thor and Bridesmaids recently, and surprise! Both pass the Bechdel Test!

In fact, it is not as simple as chick-flick VS dude-flick. Thor, while it does fulfil the action and fighting part, also manages to be quite a nice family drama. Anthony Hopkins is a great actor who shows up in terrible movies (Hannibal, anyone?), and he makes a very serviceable Odin. But what an appealing God of Thunder they found in Chris Hemsworth! He is certainly beefy enough (and is frequently shirtless to prove it), but he’s also charismatic enough to pull of the godlike thing. It’s pretty easy to dismiss a guy with big muscles as no more than eye candy, but his character is given enough depth (comedic to epic) that he kind of grows on you.

The same, unfortunately, can’t be said of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, who we are told is a brilliant scientist but never really demonstrates how that might be. It’s too bad that she’s reduced to just a pretty girl. It’s hinted that there’s something special about her that Thor is attracted to, possibly her intelligence or something. But mostly she aw-shucks herself under his gaze and never really proves herself. Kat Dennings, as her lab assistant, has more moxie. (and yes, it’s these two female characters who chat nicely about science to fulfill the Bechdel requirements!)

Yeah, though: the 3D is as blurry as ever, and the ice giants are fakey. It’s silly, predictable, but still Ok enough to sit through.

Bridesmaids, on the other hand, was much better than I expected.

I try not to read too many reviews before I see something for fun (when I review, I do lots of research). From what I could tell, it was a ensemble comedy with lots of women, but it was a gross-out formula in the Judd Apatow vein. And sure, there’s a food poisoning scene that’s pretty gross. But that’s just ONE incident. It’s no Hangover.

What it does have: female characters, over 30, who aren’t all moms. Women who are as concerned about their friendships with each other, their work, and the meaning of life as they are with their spouses and children. And it’s FUNNY.

There’s lots to relate to. Kristen Wiig is Annie, a slightly washed-up 30-something who is floundering after losing her business and her boyfriend. Her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph, who was so great in Away We Go) gets engaged, and it lets loose all kinds of issues. Helen (Rose Byrne) is a rich, put-together uber-bridesmaid who is perfection to Annie’s disheleved chaos. There’s a rivalry, plus a sense of mourning that Lillian is not the same kid she grew up with. Friendships do change, and there’s no simple way to evolve out of them sometimes.

Add to that a cute love interest (Chris O’Dowd), some puppies, and Wilson Phillips, and of course, a wedding. There will be tears.

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Dinner Project: rack of lamb

It’s an expensive cut of meat, but compared to ordering it at a restaurant, it’s a bargain. Less than a diner steak sandwich, in fact. I bought a nice rack as a treat from Serben Free Range at the Alberta Ave Farmers Market, a little intimidated, but was surprised how easy it was to make a very swanky dinner for two for under $20.

First, I prepared some potatoes for a side. I peeled and sliced thinly a couple of very ordinary russets, then arranged a layer in a buttered pie plate. Salt and pepper. Then a layer of sour cream and some shredded cheese left over from taco night. Then another layer of potatoes. Then more seasonings and cheese. I threw that into a hot oven (450F) while I prepped the rest of the meal.

The lamb was already Frenched, but it doesn’t seem hard to prepare something whole. I’m a little jealous, actually. All that “scrap” meat could be made into a stew or something. But when it’s already prepared, there’s not much to it. Salt and pepper the rack and give it a sear on both sides in a cast iron pan. Then remove the meat, spread some dijon mustard on the meaty side and pat on a crust. I used a mixture of bread crumbs (I used panko, since that’s what I have), finely-chopped  fresh rosemary, minced garlic and a little olive oil to moisten. You’re supposed to cover the bone ends with foil, so I did. Then it all goes in the oven for 12 to 20 minutes. At the same time, I roasted some asparagus, and covered the cheesy potatoes with foil so it doesn’t burn.

I prefer my meat on the rare side, I removed the rack after 12 minutes and let it rest for 10 more. I think it could have used a couple more minutes, but I was really hungry! And it was so delicious that it hardly mattered. Impress your friends! Rack of lamb!

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Quick breakfast

I’ve been doing office work for the last month (for Elections Canada, actually– if you’ve never been an election worker, I recommend it!) so instead of my usual routine, I’ve had to get up quite early and head to the office every day. This means that time is a precious thing in the morning, so breakfast has usually been a bowl of granola. This gets boring after a while.

Then I remembered an old trick: breakfast sandwich. You know that eggs can be microwaved, right? Yeah! In a coffee mug, I pour about a teaspoon of olive oil. I crack an egg into it, give it a quick scramble, and microwave it for about 40 seconds. While this is happening, I cut open an English muffin (toast it if I’m being very luxurious) and lay a slice of processed cheese on one side. When the microwave beeps, I take the mug out, slide the egg onto the muffin and let the heat melt the cheese.

Just as good as store-bought! But better, since the eggs I use are free range and organic, and the English muffins are whole wheat. There is nothing to be done about the processed cheese slice. I just like the taste of it, OK?

Anyhow, if you have one minute in the morning, you have your own version of a breakfast sandwich. And you don’t even have toxically idle your car in a drive-thru to get one!

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The blender is your friend: pureed soups

When we moved into our house last summer, one common question was: “What can we get you for a housewarming?” The answer? Easy. A blender/food processor. It is the gateway to many pureed delights, including whipped potatoes and soups.

Soup! With a blender, you can make a creamy soup that has no cream at all in it! Share it with friends! Freeze some of it for later! You don’t even need a recipe! Chop an onion (or a couple leeks, or shallots, if you’re fancy) and sweat it in some olive oil in a pot for a bit. I roasted a butternut squash the other night. Can two people eat an entire butternut squash at one sitting? No! So put it in soup! You can also use carrots, broccoli, celery, whatever (but you’ll need to add some potato for creaminess). My squash was pre-cooked, and so you can pre-cook your veg too (Boil it? Roast it? Sure!) or just simmer it with the onion in about a litre of stock (Home-made? Canned? Bouillon cube? Sure!) until it’s all soft. Then: BLENDER! That is it. Add some more liquid if you like. Add herbs if you like.

If you, like me, are very lazy about eating your vegetables, a pureed soup is a great way to drink your servings. Note that this soup is also completely vegan and gluten-free. NO EXCUSES!


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