A random mix of goodbyes, memories, and chicken marinated in orange juice

Well, it’s finally here.

…Okay, it was here 12 days ago, but I’ve been busy…

September.

The idea of this month has been barrelling down the metaphorical Tunnel of Life behind me for a little while. I knew this month, in this year would be difficult. Now I find myself hesitantly reaching for the bottom corner of my calendar, slowly flipping the page from August to September, as though scared of what I’ll find on the other side.

The flip

I’m so consciously aware that I’m nowhere near Ottawa and nowhere near the people or places where I’ve found comfort for the past four years.

I wish I could properly articulate the way I feel right now. But it’s difficult, since it changes by the minute and mood. Most of the time I face some embattled sense of self, half of me willing my body and mind to go forward in an independent, blind flight, the other half pulling me back from the edge, coaxing me with the memories and thoughts of my university life.

The first weekend in September signified the unspoken close of a major part of my life.

Topping it off was the saying of a final Canadian farewell to one of my best friends, Ariel, who is off to pursue her master’s degree in London, England.

Like many of my best university friends, Ariel and I first met because we lived on the same floor in residence. She, room 504. Me, room 514. There were countless slipper-padded, sweatpant-wearing strolls between our two rooms. Plenty of trips dragging a toaster oven behind us like a puppy dog, in preparation for chicken nugget gorging.

A few scenes from our friendship, stolen from Facebook

I knew Ariel was going to be one of my best friends when she helped me carry my heavy Schwinn bicycle up a spiral staircase during one of the first weeks of September 2008. You know the stairs – those steep, more-architectural-than-practical ones that lead up to the Mackenzie King Bridge by the Rideau Centre. If I remember correctly, we almost died/dropped my bike over the rail as a result of laughing so hard.

I met Ariel in Toronto two weekends ago, and we had a wonderful time. We dined on crêpes, relaxed in parks, explored Kensington Market, indulged in afternoon Distillery beers, and avoided jumping on roadside mattresses in the Annex that may or may not have been infested with bed bugs.

A few snapshots from our day

Most my weekend visit was spent in Oshawa, where Ariel is staying at her aunt’s house before jetting off at the end of the month. Here I met her two cousins, six-year-old Zane and five-year-old Kian. Like many children, they were quick to love and the first name of adults were irrelevant, so long as you gave them piggy backs (I did) and allowed them to climb on you like a jungle gym (ouch).

Ariel and I also did a few of the things that have come to define our friendship. We harshly critiqued outfits on Project Runway. I held my breath and crossed my heart as she drove her grandpa’s 200-year-old (only a slight exaggeration) Volkswagen Jetta. We goofed off with water guns. I acted my real age (seven-and-a-half) and bounced about on the water bed as Ariel tried to get to sleep, giggling as I pretended we were at sea.

Ariel’s aunt also made a delicious meal one night – Moroccan chicken inspired by an old family recipe. It was unbelievable, and I promptly copied it at home to accompany this blog post.

Dinner, layer-by-layer

Oh right, and speaking of home…did I mention that I moved out of my high school house?! Big news, and a big change.

Ah yes, so change. It’s happening very quickly. I have no idea where I’ll be a month from now, and that simultaneously terrifies and thrills me. Minor existential life crisis aside, I think I’ll be okay.

But still, four years of university was a long time, and I don’t think you can say goodbye to that phase of life without crying a few tears.

I look forward to what comes next and am happy to know that I’m charging (or at least moving) forward with the same support system as before – friends and family (heck, even this blog in some way or another).

So while I’m sad to leave the past four years behind, it’s with great anticipation that I pursue the next few.

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Rosemary pork chops with homemade crab apple sauce and sweet potato, celery and apple salad

*homemade, but not by me, more on that below

Hi there. It’s non-vegetarian Hilary speaking. Remember me? Maybe not. You haven’t seen me around these parts for a bit as I’ve been off on summer holidays to avoid the sweltering heat. But the nippy fall breeze is back (ok, maybe not so much this past weekend, but it’s coming!) and so am I. Good to see you again.

Kale and quinoa – favourite summer foods (well, also sweet potato, but it managed to sneak into this dinner…I can’t quit my hot weather food cold turkey, after all) – be damned! Carnivore Hilary is rearing her ugly head.

The entire basis of this meal was formed around a condiment: the apple sauce. This wasn’t your average run-of-the-mill, eat-with-peanut-butter-on-toast (actually very tasty) apple sauce. This was homemade crab apple sauce made by our web editor, Wendy.

I know! Crab apples! Yes, you’re thinking of the right food, those tart little half-sized apples you used to throw at the kids on your block. The ones that you would pitch like a soft ball and hit with a tennis racket. They are one in the same.

For the childhood reasons listed above, crab apple sauce would normally not appeal to me. But because Wendy, a whiz with all things food, made it, I knew it had to be good. Wendy told me it was like your everyday apple sauce but with a kick; more cinnamon and – you’ll never guess so I’ll just tell you – a whole bag of marshmallows melted into the batch!!! Crazy, right? According to Wendy, the marshmallows were to serve as an alternate sugar supplement and were also used to thicken the sauce. Sneaky marshmallows. I love it.

So right, when it comes to dinner food, I always associate apple sauce with pork chops. As it happened, I had some leftover sprigs of fresh rosemary in the fridge, perfect to top off these chops.

Pre-oven
Post-oven

And, as is always the case when I cook meat, I underestimated the time it would take to cook. So here I sit (this is past Hilary speaking), typing out this blog post, eating spoonfuls of apple sauce and listening to my stomach growl. Please don’t even remind me of the homemade pizza my mom made for her dinner, the leftovers of which are sitting idle in the fridge, threatening to turn my saliva glands into miniature geysers.

Anyways, I also made this sweet potato, celery and apple salad to accompany the chops. I thought it would nicely balance the heaviness of the meat. Raw sweet potato is a recent revelation and allowed me to divulge in the fleeting days of my summer foods. If you are a loud chewer such as myself, do not make this salad for any occasion where you need to impress, since the sound of it crunching in your mouth will sound like bones being broken. And I know this is the biggest first world problem EVER, but julienning sweet potatoes = my own form of personal hell.

Sorry the photos aren’t up to my usual standards. It is getting dark oh-so-early and I’ve yet to find the ideal nighttime photo location.

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Early autumn risotto (with chicken, roasted cherry tomatoes and rosemary)

It is near impossible for me to write a blog title without including parentheses. Can someone please hold an intervention for me?

Last week it got particularly fall-like in Sudbury. The temperature dipped to a chilly 12 degrees in the morning, making my tug my sleeves over my knuckles as I biked to work. My new autumn jacket, jeans and eternity scarf were officially broken in. And if I closed my eyes while biking, it was almost as though I was zooming down Sunnyside Avenue in Ottawa on my way to an 8:30 a.m. journalism class in St. Pat’s.

My first taste of autumn was filled with nostalgia and a slight tinge of sadness. Brisk weather makes me want to wear Toms and big sweaters. It makes me crave the feeling of walking across campus with a tumbler full of tea. It makes me want to wait in line at the bookstore and hug warm, freshly-printed syllabi. This upcoming season will be a strange one, I can feel it already, and last week was simply a prelude to that emotion. As if I wasn’t already writing enough personal “reflective 20-something-year-old” essays, I sense a landslide more to come.

Right, the food. I generally associate risotto with chillier weather and, if risotto were a piece of clothing, it would most certainly be one of my big, grandpa-style knit sweaters. It’s warm and versatile enough that it can be for casual dinners or fancy affairs, dressed up or dressed down.

I still had a few cherry tomatoes leftover from my friend’s garden, and wanted to use them before they went to waste. Oh, just so you know, spontaneously squishing freshly-roasted cherry tomatoes with a fork is a good way to get burning tomato juice in your eye. Don’t try this at home, kids.

I saw a delicious looking recipe for a barley salad with grouse on the interwebs and was inspired to create a simpler, sister dish. As much as I would love to use all that spare grouse I have hanging around my kitchen (…), chicken breasts were a tad easier.

The only criticism I had of this risotto was that I went overboard with the rosemary.

Fresh herbs can be one of those things where I think “oh hey, it can’t actually produce that strong a flavour, let’s just add more for photography sake!” Incorrect. I got too sprinkle happy and it was obvious. I have adjusted the recipe you see below these photos to take into account my mistake (but the pictures look nice, right?).

So, anyone else yearning for a fresh box of black pens or the smell of new textbooks? How about stepping on crunchy leaves? (this last item is truly a universal love, if ever I did encounter one)

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Cinco de Mayo 2012: Pico de gallo guacamole and beef and black bean enchilada bake

Hello everyone.

It has been quite the two weeks since we last spoke. Since my April 27 post (womp womp), I’ve moved 489 kilometres north, transferred four years worth of personal pack-rat belongings into my high school bedroom (which I promptly redecorated and rearranged as to not seem like I was back in grade 12. More on that later), and finished the first two weeks of my post-graduation “adult” job with CBC here in town.

Whew. Now that I’ve at least partially settled in, I hope to cook more for myself and family, and blog more as a result. I’ll be the first to admit that the past two weeks have come as a bit of a life shock. One Monday I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom in my pajamas laughing at The Devil Wears Prada and the next I was waking up early and donning my three-quarter-length “adult” GAP pants. Yes, that’s how I define adulthood. By the length of my pants. Clearly I have a lot to learn.

Anyways.

Yes, as this post suggests, this meal was indeed made last Saturday, a full week from today. I am hanging my head in shame, (and simultaneously lapping up a mug of coffee, a liquid which BAM, I have become addicted to. I’m a real journalist now. FYI I also measure adulthood by the amount of coffee one must consume).

This is the first meal I made upon my glorious return, and it happened to correspond with two events: Cinco de Mayo and my dad’s birthday. I’ve informally celebrated the former ever since taking spanish in grade nine, and love the day because it gives me an excuse to sing and dance to this song while cooking (I think I link to this tune in every Mexican-style meal I make…). As for my dad’s birthday…well Tex-Mex style food is one thing my entire family can agree on. So here we are.

When scribbling out my grocery list for dinner, I was terribly worried. In Ottawa, it’s likely that all things Mexican would have been sold out/in low demand at the grocery store because all the yuppies in my neighbourhood would be having themed taco nights. Then I remembered: I live in Sudbury now. People do not care about themed holiday meals. More tortillas, jalapenos, and avocados for me!

The first two courses of the Cinco de Mayo/dad’s birthday fiesta turned out perfectly. My dad kindly volunteered to be the hand model for these photos, so long as he got to eat each styled, guacamole-filled chip. Every ounce of credit for the dip’s success goes to this brilliant Pioneer Woman Cooks recipe. She is a goddess.

Dad hand. I am of the impression that he deliberately created several blurry photos, just so I would have to re-shoot them with different chips.

Oh boy, the enchilada bake was awesome too. It didn’t collapse and sink in upon cutting, nor did my plate fall off the deck when I took the picture you see at the bottom of this post (this is actually a serious risk!!!). Tiny celebrations.

Enchilada layers, illustrated. A four-storey Tex-Mex tower

Oh right, also regarding the enchilada bake: I used a February 2012 Canadian Living recipe, but my kitchen obedience pretty much stopped there. I was worried the original ingredient amounts wouldn’t make enough, so ended up tossing in some quinoa, extra black beans and corn. All resulted in me stuffing my 8-inch casserole dish to the maximum capacity, and pressing down on the tortilla layers as saucy bits came bubbling up. BUT IT WORKED.

My dad said it was exquisite. I don’t think a knock-off Tex-Mex dinner has ever been described in such a way, but hey, I’ll take it.

Next up: A whole pile of carrot cake. And then a post about how I’ve decorated my bedroom, because, you know, I have nothing better to do except take pictures of my ceramic elephants and marble collection.

After that: Mother’s day. May is fun.

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Prosciutto-wrapped, goat-cheese stuffed chicken breasts with roasted pear and walnut arugula salad (phew)

This was a very grown-up meal.

When it comes to cooking, making dinner with one component is usually enough for me. You know – just pasta or just chicken or just a kooky vegetarian burger. The side dishes that are normally associated with a well-balanced, three-part meal normally come in terms of me eating a tiny piece of chocolate while dinner is being prepared. Or a fresh pita. Or whatever else is on my countertop.

I’m rambling now, but basically what I’m saying is that a dinner hat trick is something I feel I can humbly boast about.

My good friend and old roommate Ariel came over for dinner a few nights ago, and I decided to spoil us. Though I spent the afternoon drooling over Internet images of pumpkin-stuffed perogies, I remembered at the last minute that I had two chicken breasts that needed to be used (don’t worry, the pumpkin perogies will be made and blogged about someday soon). Thus, this dinner came to be.

Here is what old (pre-learning to cook, circa 2010) Hilary and new (cooking, yay!) Hilary think of chicken:

Old Hilary: Okay, so I have this piece of chicken. Even though I’ve had plain chicken for the past three nights, I think I’ll duplicate those “successes” and again fry this on our George Foreman grill until all the delicious juices are oozed out of it. I’ll also slather it in BBQ for good measures and will probably eat it with lots of extra salt. Side dish: plain rice.

New Hilary: Okay, so I have this piece of chicken. Obviously no piece of chicken is complete unless it is stuffed with smooth goat cheese and oven roasted in its own juices with fresh sprigs of rosemary. Oh right, and I have this prosciutto here – sure, that can be a sweater for the chicken in the oven. Four hundred degrees is a little chilly anyways. Let me consult my beautiful, Things Organized Neatly-style cookbook for ideas. Side dishes: hmm, might as well make a fresh arugula salad and potatoes fried in duck fat while we’re at it. (okay, I get it, this sounds super indulgent and gluttonous, but it doesn’t happen often. Mom, I love duck fat. Accept this. Let it be my vice.)

Wouldn't that be better? Me with nothing to say and you in your prosciutto sweater (song lyrics, updated)

Conclusion: New Hilary is slightly more OCD, and is conscious of how judgmental she is of the girl she once was. New Hilary is also more satisfied with dinner and life on a daily basis.

The roasted tomato juices were delicious with the chicken, and it took all my will power to not tackle Ariel and eat her plateful too. A good, balanced meal, exactly what you want before you spend the rest of your night pigging out on Mayfair Theatre popcorn (whilst crushing on George Clooney), licorice nibs and a really yummy gelato-espresso drink. #girlsnight

Chicken, before and after oven
Arugula = the best

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