I’ve gathered up some bits of wisdom of late that I’d like to share.
First up, how to…
…Figure out what streaming service a particular show is on
Netflix, Apple TV, Disney+, Prime, Crave, Tubi, CBC Gem… It’s nuts. So many services! I don’t subscribe to them all, but enough to make it hard to remember what’s where.
It’s even more confusing for Canadians, since US media will tell us a show is on a service we don’t have in this country (Hulu, Peacock, HBO+)—but that doesn’t always mean we can’t get it on a service we do have. Even more confusing, just because it’s on an American version of a service we have (like Netflix or Prime) doesn’t mean it’s also on the Canadian one. Could be on some other service entirely here.
This is why I love the JustWatch app. You select the streaming services you have access to and it serves up what’s on each. You can set up a Watchlist of every TV show or movie you’re currently watching, or plan to watch, and have one-page look of everything you’re currently caring about. You can mark off episodes or movies as you watch them. It will notify you when new episodes or a new season become available. And it has a pretty good recommendation engine if you need more to watch.
Of course, you can also use it to look up some show you’ve heard about, to find out if it is available to you at all, and if so, where.
…Watch Poker Face
Solid as I generally find the JustWatch app to be, one thing it doesn’t quite get is conventional cable. Particularly when it behaves unconventionally.
I’ll blame Gus the cat for my slowness in getting into any kind of Christmas spirit this year. A few weeks after his pretty speed recovery from the injury above his eye, he suddenly come down with something… He stopped eating, grooming, or doing anything other than shuffling uncomfortably from one sleeping spot to another. It was a weekend, and the vet was open only for supplies, not medical appointments. They suggested taking Gus to the emergency veterinary hospital.
There he got tested for everything imaginable. He had some neurological symptoms—asymmetrical eye pupils, inconsistent results on the “knuckling” test—and few slightly abnormal results on the blood test. Could be infection, could be tumors… He was admitted and hydrated, appetite stimulated, given pain killers, and started on antibiotics. I went home to fret.
Gus responded quite well to the various ministrations, though, and we were able to take him home the next day. He seemed pretty good from that point, though lower energy, and with the uneven pupils persisting a while. We continued the antibiotics for seven days, and a few days later, the eyes improved, the energy back. I brought him in for a final check from our vet, who found that all seemed good, except for the eye on the injured side looking a little irritated.
So she suggested a week of twice daily eye drops. Gus was much better about letting us give him those than we expected. What seemed much more upsetting to him was if we had to chase him down first; he’d sometimes hide for hours afterwards. So we took to surprising him with eye drops. Those done, he continued to seem quite fine.
There are Big Things going on in the world that I am certainly reading about, am in some cases being affected by, and likely have some sort of opinion on. But here, as is often the case, I’d rather write about those times when I’m distracting myself from the news.
Like hey, you still gotta eat. Might as well enjoy it.
During the last round of restaurant closures in January, I took S&V Uptown up on their offer to deliver me a surprise pack of three wines with matching recipes. I ended up with an Ontario Riesling, an Italian Pinot Grigio, and a California Cabernet Sauvignon. That one came with what looked like the most interesting recipe: Bison burgers.
People are always thinking burgers with beers but you are not most people. You bougie. Sniff and swirl that Cab and pair this with Beyoncé on loud.
S&V Uptown recipe notes
I mean, after reading that, how could I not make the burgers? Me am bougie! I adapted the recipe slightly, the main difference being using only ground bison, no ground beef (not bougie enough!). I also simplified the already simple instructions (bougie and lazy). Resulting in:
1 pound ground bison
1/2 cup minced onion (I used frozen minced onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley
1/2 Tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 Tablespoon onion powder
2 Tablespoons ketchup
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Divide into four patties. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with olive oil. Cook patties roughly four minutes per side.
Lordy, it was delicious. (Now I get why so many people order burgers.) And the Cab Sauv, not always my favourite wine, was just lovely!
Winter interferes with Winter House
Langdon Hall, meanwhile, coped with the closure by offering to feed people outdoors, in what admittedly looked like a pretty awesome setting:
A couple friends agreed to meet us there, weather depending. And honestly, the weather much of that planned day wasn’t great. Started off quite blowy and snowy. But we were planning to go only later in the day, anyway, and by then, it was sunny and calmer.
Jean and I decided to stop in and see the Ronnie Wood Art Exhibition first (yes, that would be The Rolling Stones bassist). When we got there, however, the museum was actually closed due to weather (even though, to be clear, the art is exhibited indoors), so we thought, huh. Better call Langdon Hall to make sure their Winter House is still in operation. Yep, they said, it’s open! No reservation required.
So we coordinated with our friends to meet there—it’s about a half hour drive. Only to be told on arrival that, oops, sorry. Closed after all, due to wind.
I mean. The closure was understandable. But they had decided to close it at 1:00 pm that day, and we called them around 4:30 pm. So…
We grumbled, but moved on. Upon discussion, this became a meal of takeout Indian at our friend’s house (courtesy: Vijay’s). And you know? By this point of the pandemic, it was actually much more exotic to be eating indoors at someone else’s house than be at a restaurant’s cool patio. The food was good, the beer was great; their house has many cool features; it was a fine evening.
And we got to the Ronnie Wood Art Exhibition the following weekend. He’s a talented guy!
Breathing easy at Loloan
Restaurants are back at full capacity now (if they want), and as of Tuesday, won’t have to ask for vaccination proof anymore (unless they want to). We decided to take the vax pass for one more spin at a day and time we thought wouldn’t be full capacity: Thursday at 5:30 pm. And we selected Loloan Lobby Bar both because we like their food, and because they’d made the point that they’ve worked to improve their ventilation.
Ventilation is key to indoor spaces being safer, especially those places where you can’t mask, but how to know what public places are well-ventilated? I decided to a buy a portable CO2 monitor to give me an idea. Outdoors is about 400 ppm, and levels above 1000 ppm are considered hazardous to health. You’re looking for indoor space to be under 800; under 600 for places like gyms, with a lot of exhaling going on.
I haven’t been to too many places since I got the monitor, but these are the results to date (rounded measurements, since the levels bounce around):
Also, the food at Loloan was delicious! (But we forgot the camera…)
I’m actually a bit appalled that my house doesn’t have better ventilation than my grocery store, but whatever the reason, it’s not because of a natural gas cooktop. Those, I’ve learned, are really bad for indoor air, as well as contributing fairly significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. So the use of induction cooktops is encouraged as an alternative.
I’ve recently acquired one of these. Mine replaces an electric cooktop, so shouldn’t make much difference to my indoor air quality, and only a minor improvement to my greenhouse gas emissions, as it uses less electricity. But I’ve grown quite fond of it, enjoying these benefits:
Speed of heating pots and pans: Water boils so fast. Pans are ready to fry foods so quickly.
Fine temperature control: This took some getting used to, but you can really quite finely set the controls for the level of simmering, boiling, or grilling you want to achieve.
Easier to clean. The element itself doesn’t get hot, so items don’t burn on it as much. Everything is flat, so no knobs to clean around.
Safer. The elements don’t heat unless a metal pot is on it. They will not burn cat paws. They won’t start a fire.
Downsides are that induction cooktops cost more, and they only work with magnetic pots—stainless steel, iron, and so on. Some of our previous stock of cookware worked, but we did have to replace a number of items. For me, though, the investment has been worth it.
This year, like most other people, we weren’t able to do what we normally do at Christmas time. A chance to develop our new traditions, perhaps? Except… Will we really want to nostalgically recall anything from 2020?
So hey, best to focus on the now, and on the “what you can do” vs. what you can’t. In 2021 and subsequent, we’ll see if anything sticks.
When I first got an Instant Pot, I was sort of skeptical of its ability to make yogurt. Not that I doubted that it could—I just wasn’t sure of the point. Yogurt is easy to buy, and it’s not a processed food.
The New York Times emphasized the importance of using very fresh, great-tasting milk as the base. And here’s where being Canadian is problematic, because we have supply management. And supply management means that basically all of our milk (and butter) is uniformly the same bland product. (Why is food so great in France? In part, because they have better butter!)
I won’t turn this into a treatise into supply management, but… The only milk I could think of that actually claimed to be different in some way was Eby Manor’s Golden Guernsey Milk. And it was produced right in my home town, which I hoped meant it was pretty fresh.
Golden Guernsey milk comes in glass bottle
Could I taste the difference? Actually, as I never drink milk on its own (that is, not in cereal or a smoothie or something), I figured I’d never be able to tell anyway. Now I’m thinking I should have done a taste test between it and whatever “normal” milk I had on hand. Next time, I guess.
The only other ingredient—since I couldn’t find yogurt starter—was a yogurt with “active cultures” to act as the starter. So yes, to make yogurt, you generally have to buy a tub of yogurt, of which you’ll use only 2 Tablespoons.
The elapsed time for making yogurt is quite lengthy (basically it’s an all-day thing), but the working time is short and the process is easy. Sterilize the milk; let it cool to room temperature; whisk in the yogurt; cover the Instant Pot and let it run on the Yogurt cycle for 8 hours. Cool, then chill the result.
So this makes plain yogurt. And how good can plain yogurt be, right? But actually: pretty damn good! Like, it’s still plain yogurt, but I’ve never had such a nice tasting and beautifully textured plain yogurt. Of course, this would be the freshest yogurt I’ve ever had, so I suppose that’s part of it.
I was asked if it’s possible to make Greek yogurt; yes it is, by straining the yogurt first. You could also make flavored yogurts, but I don’t really see the point; with plain, you can produce whatever flavor you want by adding fruit or flavorings. (Think you’ll find that not much sugar is necessary.)
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say you should buy an Instant Pot just to make yogurt (as apparently some people do), if you have one anyway, you might want to try this functionality.
I at first wasn’t interested in the device, as it was described as a handy one-pot option for people who don’t like to cook. I got more intrigued with the reports of the speed which you could cook certain things—baked beans, brown rice, whole squash. Maybe it would allow me to cook those types of dishes and foods more often.
I used some birthday money to take the plunge. This required first doing some research into the varieties of models available to figure out what I wanted. I thought that maybe I would want to make yogurt some day (?), so I’d go to at least the Duo model, instead of Lux. But I didn’t really see the need to be able to control the thing with a phone app (!), so I wouldn’t spring for the “Smart”.
I then tasked Jean with figuring out where to buy the Duo from. We ended up getting it at Best Buy: The 6-quart Duo Plus.
There’s a bit of a learning curve to this thing. I did read the manual, and some web resources, but Jean and I were still fumbling our way through the first recipe we tried, honey-garlic chicken. Like, first we had to sauté, and we missed that we were supposed to wait until the indicator said Warm before adding the food. Then it was on to pressure cooking, and it took a few tries to get how to set the cooking time, and how to tell when it was actually cooking. And then we had to decide on a technique for “releasing” the pressure cooker five minutes after it was done.
So all in all, this supposed 30-minute recipe took over an hour. It was, however, absolutely delicious.
And did kind of look like this. Photo courtesy the Diethood blog.
Since then I’ve also tried:
Adapting my Mom’s baked bean recipe to the Instant Pot
Making roast potatoes with rosemary
Steaming basmati rice
A momo meatballs with cilantro chutney recipe
Cooking whole beets
Making pina colada rice pudding
And so far I’ve learned:
Mentally add in a 10 to 20 minutes preheat time to each recipe
Long-grain rice in 4 minutes? Baked beans in 40? Well, not quite. Because recipes will tell you how long to saute or pressure cook something, and how long to let it sit before releasing, but will never estimate the preheating time—perhaps because it can vary with the model or how hot it got in the previous phase. So in addition to prep and cook time, you have to consider that preheat time.
It’s not always faster
Baked beans, chicken with bones, brown rice, beets—even with the preheating, all of these were definitely faster in the Instant Pot than they would have been in the oven or stove top. But for long-grain white rice…? About the same. And, you have to make a lot of rice at once, which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to limit carbs.
It doesn’t do crispy
It’s been terrific at producing tender meat, creamy rice pudding, and flavorful and tender baked beans. But in roast potatoes, I prefer more crispness than you get cooking them this way (though I still might do it again if I were low on time).
What I’m most eager to try next is a macaroni and cheese recipe (from a book) and a chicken adobo. I’m looking forward to trying risotto (which I’m too lazy to make the traditional way) and seeing how it does with whole squash.
Oh, and I guess one of these times I’ll have to try making my own yogurt (!).
We had someone over for dinner last Thursday, a not-that-common event that we did memorialize in photos. However, he did bring flowers—some lovely orchids—and Jean used those to experiment with close-up photography.
As the main course, I made Garlicky Lamb Chops. This recipe (follow the link) is so simple and fast, but turns out so well: You just dip the chops in a mix of fresh rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper, then pan-fry them in olive oil.
One of the sides was Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts & Dates, though I used raisins instead. Fortunately, our guest liked Brussels sprouts; not everyone does. This turned out well also; these do well roasted, and adding raisins, walnuts, red wine vinegar, and honey produces a tasty results.
I also roasted some potatoes—I just winged that “recipe”.
Dessert was Cherry Fool, and I can’t find the recipe online, even though it came from LCBO magazine. Basically cherries in whipped cream with icing sugar and almond extract, though. And I used mixed berries that included cherries instead of just cherries.
Friday we were supposed to go see TransCanada Highwaymen with some friends, and I was really looking forward to it. This is a group made up of Chris Murphy of Sloan, Stephen Page of Barenaked Ladies, Craig Northey of The Odds, and Moe Berg of Pursuit of Happiness. They were to do songs by all of those bands, while regaling us with tales of life as semi-famous Canadian rock star. Doesn’t that sound great?
I’m sure it would have been. Unfortunately, Northey broke his ankle playing hockey about a week before the show, which then got cancelled. (Though as I keep telling people, I don’t know why he couldn’t still sit down to play guitar and sing.)
We decided to go out anyway and revisit TWH Social, present home of a former favourite chef. We’d found the place a bit loud on previous visits, but it didn’t as bad this time, at least for the first part of the evening. And I was very happy with my food.
Squid with tomatoes and roast potatoes, a speciality of this chef
Grilled lamb chops with sweet potato and mushroom saute
So yes, that’s lamb two days in a row for me.
Jean started with a Caprese salad, then had the gnocchi with sage butter and chicken broth. This was a different gnocchi recipe than what the chef had made at the previous restaurant, and Jean didn’t think it was an improvement.
Saturday we got our live music fix. Other friends had invited us to go see Whitehorse, a band neither Jean and I were familiar with before getting tickets. But I had been listening to them since, and they are pretty good.
Before the show, Centre in the Square offered a $30 three-course dinner in the Member’s Lounge, catered by Borealis Restaurant. We decided to do that, and it was great. First was a kale Caesar, then a paella, then—I forget what dessert was. All good, though, and we also enjoyed the drink list (among us, we sampled orange wine, Pinot Noir, champagne cocktail, Scotch), though it was more premium-priced than the food.
The show was done in “On Stage” format, meaning that the whole audience, and the band, and a bar, were up on the very large Centre in Square stage, instead of the usual “band on stage, audience in theatre seats”. It was pretty cool.
Ready to rock!
It was a good show. Opening act Begonia had a lovely voice and an entertaining manner, a combination that reminded me of Jann Arden (or Adele).
And Whitehorse did some of their best-known songs (I assume they were? At least, at this point I recognized a number of them), reminisced about the early support given them by Waterloo, and talked of causes important to them, like supporting sex trade workers.
Whitehorse are a husband and wife team, this night supported by a band
They also threw in a couple of covers. One was of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”, in tribute to Malcolm Young. Another was of Neil Young’s “Ohio”.
(Should have zoomed in a lot earlier than I did on the video. Not used to this taking videos at concerts thing.)
In an effort to reduce—though most definitely not eliminate—carbohydrate intake, I’ve been experimenting with using stevia in desserts. It generally works well in custards and puddings, though you have to be OK with the slight anise flavor the stevia lends. Baking is trickier—one brownie recipe ended up too dry. But this chocolate chip cookie recipe worked out really well.
I started with a recipe from a Nutrition Action Newsletter, so it wasn’t my idea to use whole wheat flour and non-hydrogenated margarine. (I’m sure butter would work fine for those avoiding margarine.) It was the sugars I adapted.
2½ cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup non-hydrogenated tub margarine
Baking stevia equivalent to ¾ cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar *
1 whole egg
1½ tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup Stevia chocolate chips (I used Krisda brand)
½ cup chopped walnuts
* I believe some sugar is necessary to avoid overly dry cookies
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the margarine, baking stevia, and sugar and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until all the flour is combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts with a mixing spoon until incorporated.
Drop the dough, one teaspoonful at a time, onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are just browned. Remove from the sheet to cool, Makes about 5 dozen cookies.
Guess it would be more normal to have a picture of plate full of cookies, but this is all we have left!
These cookies were really good—no need to grade them on a curve. And of course they’re not exactly a health food, but a treat. Just one that happens to have a bit of fiber, low sat fat, and somewhat fewer carbohydrates.
As my seasonal gift to you all, I will set aside the “political update” blog post I’ve been puttering away at and instead write about things more Christmas-y.
Though in the same province, my home town is far from where I live now. (Even Canadians get surprised at how far apart two cities in the same province can be.) Though we try to get there for Christmas, that’s normally the extent of the winter travelling to the north.
This year, however, we were lured there a mere two weeks before Christmas by Jean’s Mom celebrating her 90th birthday. She’s doing rather well!
Gosh, I think I took this photo. Yay, me.
Also occurring around the same date were my Dad and my brother’s birthdays, so while at it, we celebrated those as well.
The combined ages of the two birthday boys
A snowstorm in the southern part of the province delayed our arrival back home (by plane) til the next morning, but it was a nice visit.
Being away for an extra December weekend meant condensing the amount of Christmas cooking I did, both in terms of time and quantity. (It also meant even more online gift shopping than usual.) This past Saturday I made my single tourtière, using a recipe that is now traditional to me, though not to the rest of my family. I was unable to find the ground bison that I usually combine with the ground chicken, so I tried lamb instead.
The distinctly lamb-y smell of it made me worried while preparing the dish, but in the end, it really didn’t overwhelm everything. And the crust turned out quite remarkably flaky and delicious.
Tastes better than it looks!
Sunday was when Jean and I celebrated “our” Christmas. I decided to roast a duck, not having done that in a while. I’m amazed by how many people are totally intimidated by the idea, when it’s really the same principle as cooking a chicken: stuff the bird if you want, then put it in a roasting pan in the oven at 350 or so until it reaches 165 F. Only real difference is where a rack in the roasting pan might be optional with chicken, you really want to use one with duck, because so many fat drips out of it. You don’t want your bird floating in it.
For the duck, I consulted a Jamie Oliver recipe that involved stuffing it with ginger, rhubarb, and sage, then serving it with a broth / red wine (didn’t have masala) sauce and crisped sage on top. As sides, I made roasted Brussels sprouts with apple while Jean handled the mashed potatoes. It made for a delicious combination of food in the end.
Serving it with 2010 Chateau-neuf-du-pape didn’t hurt, either
For dessert I cobbled together a nice-looking tray (if I do say so myself) of items mostly not made by me:
As tasty as it looks!
The sucre à crème in the forefront was my doing (sugar, sugar, and cream: with a little butter, because why not). But the rum balls were a (homemade) gift. And the ginger cookies were President’s Choice. All rounded out with some foil-wrapped chocolates.