Monday, 26 November 2012

Festive Decorating Party Chez Beavis

Last week was a bit of a blur, nothing to report except work/study. I had a significant office meltdown and on a separate occasion I mispronounced 'Jorges Luis Borges' about 30 times in one hour, but no long term professional damage was wrought.

On Saturday the sun was gloriously out for the first time in aaages, so I left Matthew snoring gently at about 9:30am and popped to the corner store for some baking supplies. As per our last blog post, I diligently selected some new recipes from The Book, and got to work.

I love festive baking, but my mouth does not water for plain shortbread. It's just to ...plain. So I respected the recipe, but I also zested a massive orange and splashed my newly-purchased orange essence liberally. Voilà orange seasonal shortbread. Voilà also a lovely wintery scent which lasted most of the morning and came back in the evening when I finally got around to cutting and baking.

I also make r&r truffles. One thing I passionately yearn for from Australia during the Christmas baking season is pure cream. Does not exist here. I made do with 'whipping cream' which is only 33% and contains skim milk and *shudder* carrageenan. What is carrageenan anyway? Don't tell me. I don't want to know. Also, skim milk has no place in cream. Long story short, they were ballin'.

Festive and fortifying.

Matthew surfaced in the pm, and we headed for Value Village (Canadian version of Savers) on Victoria St for some appropriate attire for Matthew's work Christmas Party next weekend. Although both our sweaters are definitely ugly, mine is also angora leopard-print, so it's on trend as well. And Matthew's actually suits him, so I'm going to encourage him to wear it after the affair is over. Judge for yourself:

Also, Matthew's mustache is Back, and luxuriant as ever. <3
 After battling the hoards at the supermarket where we picked up a million avocados because they are 'in season' (noone ever successfully grew an avocado in Canada, so I expect it's Mexico's season this refer to), we continued homeward to bake the shortbreads in time for our Christmas Tree Decorating Party.

Cousins Shannon, Eleanor, Carolyn and Emily came over and made beautiful work of the tree trimmings and window decals. We rewarded them with r + eggnog, champagne, and ice-your-own-shortbread. (Yes, we did give them dinner, and dessert. But yes, they did most of the work by far.)

Shannon and Eleanor in front of the naked tree.

With Matthew, adding the awesome vintage lights.

Carolyn decaling the door with snowflakes


Carolyn and Emily without a drink in their hands... how did this happen?!

The solemn decoration of the winter orange shortbread stars

Favourite picture: me taking my hostess role seriously, Eleanor saying 'when'.

Emily and Shannon decorating their stars
Matthew's stunning macro photography of his spontaneous shortbread frosting sandwich.

The finished tree! And our new poinsettia (thank you Emily!)

 On Sunday morning, again beautiful and sunny, we woke up to the most beautifully decorated apartment, full of festive cheer. Thank you to Carolyn, Eleanor, Emily and Shannon for making our apartment ready for the season! We think of you whenever the tree lights are on (every evening :)).

This evening we ran out of baking (I know! How could this happen?!) so I make the second iteration of the applesauce ginger cake I first tried last week. It was even better this time. (Long story: it's a 'copy recipe' Starbucks ginger cake. Last year I kept making excuses to 'get a coffee' which was code for 'get cake', but in my internet wanderings I discovered it is full of evil petroleum byproducts. So I made my own. It's pretty similar. No complaints from the 20 people I've already fed it to.) We put it to cool on the balcony because it's snap-freezing out there this evening. These clear nights! Bracing!

Matthew iced this. He is my champion baking decorator. It's all that Warhammer, such dexterity, such an eye for detail.
Matthew has started a new blog called The Far-Seeing Eye. Check it out! We're taking over the internet!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Holiday Baking Preseason Tryouts

Oh my goodness another week has just whew! flown by. This week Matthew and I spent serious hours apart. Uncool. I exhibited especially pathetic behaviour, but we were both a bit lost. Monday I was at home and Matthew was at work (uni holiday for Remembrance Day, I think I already blogged about this), and Tuesday was of course night school. And Wednesday we had planned Date Night In, where I would try to make a more interesting meal than usual, but I got my emotional on, and also accidentally sliced my finger whilst chopping the onion, so that reduced the romance slightly. Luckily I was slightly anesthetised by a good deal of triple cream brie consumed directly before, so it didn't really hurt. Thursday was my first Grad Student Society Council attendance (free dinner) and Matthew was gaming on Main St. Friday was Martina's birthday party at a brand new pub (or 'wet bar' as it is known) on Broadway (Matthew and I were both in attendance).
Movember themed drink at the pub on Friday... with a mustache!! #holdmeback

Saturday Matthew went to the other side of Seattle, Washington State, for a day of mad rally driving with his friend Phil. Below is an awesome video Phil took of Matthew roaring through the mud. It was really soggy, in Vancouver and in WA.

(YES. I embedded that video. I have tech SKILLS.) Also, how awesome is Matthew? Born to drive!

I had book club at Kendell's place, and we were discussing Jeanette Walls's The Glass Castle. It was pretty gripping. Next up is Heller's Catch-22. Last book club meeting, in October, we realised that several of the members had the same books at home, in the ever-expanding 'I must read this one day' section of their personal libraries. So we are trying to pick books which overlap our obligatory life reading goals. I'm gunning for Cloud Atlas, since I have already started Love in the Time of Cholera independent of book club. Also Kendell made beautiful cookies.

Later in the afternoon I skytrain'd to Aunty Lorraine's house and met up with all the cousins (Terrace folks included) for a decadent roast beef smorgasbord. Aunty Lorraine had baked a pumpkin pie (just keeping in practice for Christmas time), and Cousin Eleanor had baked a blueberry yogurt tart. I'm still full thinking about it.

Matthew got home from Rallying, and I persuaded him to join us at the King's house for an evening of kitten-baiting and multiple-desserting. Of course he couldn't refuse. We stayed for hours, played with Molly and Rorschach (both glossy black-and-white shorthairs, both with keen curiosity).

This morning after a well-deserved sleep-in, I think you'll agree, Matthew got his paint on and I totally got my bake on like big time. Last night Aunty Lorraine lent me a Christmas baking magazine-book and I stared at it all evening (in between playing with the cats, of course). Heaven! My kind of reading material.

I have the utmost respect for Canadian Living since it totally delivered an amazing gingerbread men recipe last year as you recall. This afternoon I approached Almond Biscotti with enthusiasm. Yes, I know it's not strictly festive, but we didn't have any pistachios or cranberries (to make appropriately holidy-coloured biscotti) and for that I'm thankful, because although they turned out to be a success in the end, there were several points of confusion and dread along the baking journey.
Two massive logs of biscotti, pre- the cutting process.

After the first bake, the cutting process was harrowing and Matthew had to intervene. *shame*

Redeemed with a dip in the chocolate soup!

Artfully arranged for Matthew's (hopefully) charmed colleagues tomorrow.
So biscotti. I can do that now. Also this afternoon I made applesauce from 6 apples which had been lingering in our fruitbowl, and also a banana walnut layercake (ref. 'lingering in fruitbowl' also). Bring it on, festive season. Armed with "120+" recipes and ready to bake!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Remembrance Day Long Weekend in Whistler

Matthew had last Friday off, so when I finished work at 2pm we rendezvoused at our place and packed for a Romantic Weekend Getaway In The Snow. We hit the road at 4ish, just in time for some stunning sunset action over the Lions Gate Bridge.

Lions Gate Bridge going North, looking East up Burrard Inlet
Looking North West

We got to Whistler in the dark, and after checking in to our modest accomm, we quickly went in search of  a pub. It was chilly out! Writing this blog post, Matthew and I couldn't remember what was so hilarious about this sign, but we figured it must be that the whole street outside the pub was deserted, and it was -2 degrees C, and this sign was just hanging there in the freezing cold.

In the Brewhouse there is a little model train that runs the perimeter of the pub. It rattled past above Matthew's head once every 5-10 minutes.
Due to our shock at the low temps, Matthew and I were loathe to venture much further than the Whistler Brewhouse on Friday evening, but we learned that the new James Bond film was playing at just the right time, so we sauntered up the Stroll and bought tickets, and then raced back to the motel room to get my glasses and Matthew's hat. So glad we did because I was so tired from a week at work I could barely see straight, and also it was so cold Matthew's ears were threatening to snap off. Happily, we made it back to the cinema in time for the start of the film.

If you have been following this blog, you will know that Matthew and I have become James Bond connoisseurs in 2012, watching all of the films ever made (even making it half an hour into the dreadful Peter Sellers version!) and reading a couple of the Fleming novels which we found for mere dollars at the local second-hand bookstore. So we were pretty keen to see this one. We both enjoyed it, I think. Actually, any action movie in which I do not instantly fall asleep we call a triumph.

When we awoke on Saturday morning, this was the sight that greeted us from the motel balcony: 

Whistler Village playground on the Village Stroll
We wended our way to the Amsterdam Pub (not the most salubrious place for breakfast, but the only place which serves it after midday) and Matthew manfully ate 4 pancakes dripping in bacon and of course maple syrup. Props. Afterwards we walked in the bright crisp sunshine to the upper village.

Matthew in the Blackcomb Adventure Zone in the Upper Village
 We were delighted to discover a snow machine hard at work coating the footpaths. Matthew even threw a small snowball at me (and got a withering look in return). The blue of the sky is absolutely true to life. It was the perfect day for admiring the hills. Upper Village was sadly empty. November is still 'off season' (hence our last-minute planning) and there was not even a speck of snow on the slopes yet, but the trails are covered in ice and too slippery to really enjoy a hike.
Whistler Village Stroll
Later in the afternoon we 'strolled' back through the Village, and did a spot of window shopping. As the shadows lengthened (at 3:30pm! so early!!) we grabbed a starbucks gingerbread latte with whipped cream and cup of earl grey (guess who ordered which) and sat close together in a lone sunbeam, catching the last of the warmth.

(Also, Matthew encouraged me to purchase a second pair of gorgeous vintage leather made-in-Canada cowboy boots, in a hearty brown with white-stitched detail. I was in fact wearing my black made-in-Canada cowboy boots at the time. The shop was called 'The Beach'. It also sold $160-gumboots. So much ironic about the situation. ...Thank you, Matthew! You know me so well.)

By 4pm it was looking close to dark and feeling close to freezing, so we popped back into the Brewhouse, pulled our hats off our mussed hair, and had a warming shiraz.

On our way back to the motel, we decided to explore the amenities. We lucked upon the hot tub and discovered it agreeably empty of fellow patrons. I was in there like a shot, turning a bright lobster shade within 5 minutes, but Matthew discovered he'd packed regular cotton shorts instead of boardies so he sat on the edge with his legs in up to the knee. The hot tub was covered by a roof, but not protected by walls, so there was a pleasant chill which made the heat bearable for much longer than I usually manage when I go to the local community pool.

Later we ventured to the Village Square for dinner; we hadn't booked or really made any plans at all. There was the Cornucopia Food & Wine Festival on, but our lack of planning meant that we didn't really come in contact with it.The walk back from dinner to motel, despite our many layers of winter-appropriate clothing, was appallingly cold. We practically jogged.

On Sunday morning we checked out and headed to the Upper Village for breakfast at the Milestones there. We had learnt our lesson about battling the breakfast crowds in the Lower Village the day before, and as we anticipated, Upper Vill was pleasantly empty of fellow tourists. As we breakfasted and gazed out the window, we witnessed a small but persistent flurry of real snow, which never came down seriously enough to stay on the ground.

After breakfast we walked about one third of the way up the bare and icy Blackcomb mountain. The ground was dry and hard, and the ice had expanded and lifted the soil curiously above the rocks. The grass was crispy but not slippery. The snowflakes continued the whole time, but never landing.

A long dry frozen puddle, and me.

Looking back down the mountain towards the Upper Village.

On our way back down the hill, we discovered a mountain bike trail which wound around a creek with a several pretty waterfalls and was all covered by forest. Matthew found some dramatic icicles.

Our last views of Whistler were rather gloomy, but that just made the blue skies of the day before seem even more magical.

Farewell, Whistler!
The drive home was interesting because the weather alternated between snowing and raining depending on whether we were uphill or downhill. Either way, we were relieved to watch the temperature rise on the car thermometer by solid degrees all the way home.

When we got back to South Granville we decided to nip down to Broadway for a coffee, and lo and behold, we ran into Carolyn and Aunty Lorraine! We had an impromptu catch-up and plotted Christmas-related plans (because it nearly 'tis the season!!)

Funny story: last weekend was Carolyn's birthday, and she is the last of all us girls to leave her teens. So proud of her for making it out in one piece! I hadn't seen for probably months, and so I took her to lunch. ...Then I saw her the next day while I was waiting in a sunbeam for the 99 bus. ...And then Matthew and I ran into her again yesterday at the coffee shop! Clearly we are on each others' radar!

Lastly, my most heartfelt thank you to Matthew for a calm and picturesque weekend away.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Movember and Dark Table

Halloween Party at my work, Matthew and I were not organised enough for costumes We both have a glazed, Friday-after-work look about us. Thanks to our lovely friend Rebecca, who dressed as a fearsome pirate, for this photo :)
It's a quiet Sunday afternoon, Matthew and I are at the table doing table-activities: reading for fun and study, drinking eleventy billion cups of tea, and making warhammer. It has been rain without end since Friday. Not sure how the mountains are looking, because haven't seen them since last we wrote.

On Wednesday evening, after we got home from Uncle Dan and Aunty Leslie's house, Matthew embarked on Movember in preparation for the first of the month. There is a team going at his work and he and one other had to do a bit of removal in order to qualify to start. Here's his official 'before' Movember mugshot:
Barefaced and glorious
I found it a bit unsettling, as Matthew hasn't been without a mustache since about 2008, and even then it was only a once-off (literally). But not as unsettling as Matthew's colleague, whose wife hadn't seen his bare face in 25 years.

Every morning since Thursday we have a progress inspection. I hope to take a photo or two more of the process.

To donate to Movember, raising vital funds and awareness for men's health, specifically prostate cancer and male mental health initiatives,visit Matthew's page:

Friday was both awful and excellent. My workday seemed filled with bureaucracy and futility, although everything went quite as usual and expected. That was the awful part. The excellent part was my friend Chelsea's birthday dinner at Dark Table Vancouver.
Us at Dark Table Vancouver. No, really.
We met on the restaurant terrace, which was luckily under cover since it was pouring. Chelsea is from bookclub, and I didn't know any of her friends, and they were all totally lovely. We had to get to know each other pretty quickly, because in the restaurant we relied on calling each others' names out across the table, and trying to remember who was sitting where. I have not experienced such total darkness in decades, if ever. Our eyes got tired from straining to see, and we began to hallucinate that we could make out our cutlery and other objects close to us. But we couldn't. We couldn't see anything. To get our server's attention we were instructed to actually shout out his name: 'Lazaar!!'. This seemed rude, and we were reluctant at first. But then we really needed a glass of water, so we did. It felt like very outside established restaurant etiquette.

Some hilarious things:
  • We entered and exited the restaurant in a conga-line, grasping (in some cases, fearfully) the shoulder of the person in front of us. There was much jostling and brushing. Glad we were all women; could have got weird.
  • Our meals all came out at very different times, and then were whisked away from us very quickly and replaced with the next course. The meals were frequently not what had been ordered, but because we couldn't see, we had to start eating and let our sense of taste discover this. Sometimes it took a while.
  • Some of the ladies got curious and snaffled little samples of the placemat and napkins to inspect in the streetlight outside (the tables were lined with rubbery material so that the plates didn't slip)
  • We narrated everything. 'I'm holding my fork', 'I'm touching my butter', 'I just missed my mouth', 'This might be chicken', 'I'm tasting a beet', etc.
Overall it was a very entertaining and delightful evening out, and I hope that Chelsea enjoyed it as much as I did.

Yesterday I continued to deliver on my promise of All Layer Cakes, All The Time, with a banana walnut choc chip cake with cream cheese frosting. In case you don't believe me, this is the third layer cake I've baked in three weeks. It's good living, here. Just ask Matthew, my official cake tester. Luckily I've started back at the gym three days a week (ample rest days), so the old waistline is not in imminent danger.

We have a lot to look forward to in the near future as Matthew and I have planned a Romantic Getaway. More details to follow!