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Thursday, December 22, 2011

For the love of cranberry

Cranberry sauce with turkey is the holiday equivalent of pineapple on pizza.  You like it or you don't.  One of the great dichotomies of life.  Since I'm dedicating a whole post to cranberries, I think you can guess which side I favour.

[found here]

For years I thought canned cranberry sauce was a-mazing.  Sweet, tangy, easy, there.  That was before I was doing any of the cooking.  A few years back I took to making the sauce from scratch - which is dead easy.  Boil a cup of sugar and a cup of water, add a bag of cranberries and cook til the skins split.

Last year, I came across a more involved cranberry sauce recipe in Sweet Paul Magazine.  I knew I had to try it!

"Sauce" is an understatement.  This stuff is called Spiced Cranberry Apple Relish and is just as fancy as it sounds.  But fun to make!

Chutney ingredients

First, dice up the cranberries - I threw them in the food-processing attachment of my immersion blender and a few minutes later:

Minced cranberries

Citrus really makes this recipe zingy (zest and juice of oranges and lemons).


Grated fresh ginger adds the eponymous spice.

Cranberry apple chutney

Bit of sugar tames things down a bit:

Cranberry apple chutney

Just Us organic sugar

And the final product.  Cranberry lovers rejoice!

Cranberry apple chutney

Best enjoyed with turkey and all the trimmings.  Happy holiday eating to all of you, cranberry lovers or not!

Turkey dinner

O, Christmas Tree

This Christmas brings a few firsts.  First Christmas living back on PEI (after all those years away), first Christmas in our own home, and more to the point of this post, first real Christmas tree!

We started the season with only nine Christmas ornaments.  The nine ornaments worked well last year, when we had nothing to decorate but our philodendron.  But, thanks to some gifts, some sales, and some last minute DIYing, I think we've been able to fill it out nicely.


[Santa from a French craft fair, from the world-traveling brother-in-law]

Sou'wester snowman

[Snowman, Atlantic style]


[From a couple of donkeys]


[Labrador souvenir]

First Christmas in the new place!

[A gift from Mike's mom]


[DIY with feathers and empty Christmas balls]


[A mummer, souvenir of Newfoundland]

Pinecone on a spruce tree

[More DIY - pine cone, a hook and some hot glue]

Snow doc

[A gift from my mom]


[Souvenir of Europe - handmade in the Czech Republic]

The trunk may be crooked and the ornaments few, but to me it's the most beautiful tree.  The scent fills the house.  It really brings on the Christmas spirit!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

NYC... the food

You may remember my recent visit to NYC from my last post. I had to make a separate post about my dining experiences there.  Despite spending only three nights there, the trip was so packed full that one post couldn't do it all justice.

I will preface the post by saying that I don't have pics of all the great food we had.  Meeting up with three girls you see only once a year leads to a lot of great conversation; food blogging was taking a bit of a back seat.

Our hotel was near Times Square.  By the time we had all arrived from our various destinations we needed to head somewhere close by to eat.  One of the girls mentioned Junior's.  The original Junior's is located in Brooklyn and claims to be the home of the best New York cheesecake.  I have to say, the cheesecake was pretty great as far as cheesecake goes!  Unfortunately I don't have a pic, probably due to the instantaneous feeding frenzy my tiredness at the late hour.

(On an obscure note, the restaurant was founded by Harry Rosen.  But not this Harry Rosen.)

I do have a pic of another great menu item - the brisket:


A combo of NYC traditions:  beef brisket with au jus, served on potato pancakes with a side of applesauce!  The beef was moist and tender (which is saying something for a cut of meat like brisket) and the "bun" was hot and crispy.

Next up is a spontaneous street-sweet:  mini cupcakes!  They were bite-sized and so tempting.

Mini cupcakes

How tempting?  Let's just say this was on our way to breakfast!

mini cupcakes

So hard to choose.  #firstworldproblems

Probably the most famous NYC "restaurant" we visited was The Soup Man.  

The Soup Nazi

You may recall this place from Seinfeld.  "No soup for you!".  They actually sell t-shirts with that saying...

As you'd expect from the reputation, this guy is serious about his soup.  Actually, he seems to be pretty serious about everything, particularly the right way to order the soup.  The rules are printed on a large sign, and there are even handy marks on the sidewalk to help you out.

Soup Nazi

Now, for the soup.  I had to have the lobster bisque.  Fantastic.  

no soup for you!  ...soup for me!

You may have gathered from the pics (or remember from Seinfeld) that the "restaurant" is actually a lunch window on the street.  You can't eat soup standing up, so we headed to a nearby park to enjoy it.  The meal includes fresh bread, fruit, and a chocolate.  Lovely lunch!

The last meal I have to share with you was more 'Euro' than 'Big Apple'.  We had a decadent breakfast at the Le Pain Quotidien location in SoHo.  

petit dejeuner

Check out this meal.  A bread basket with four of their rustic/traditional breads, boiled egg, gruyere, organic apple juice, and cappuccino.  Yum.

The number of places to eat in Manhattan is almost incomprehensible to a girl used to the selection in Atlantic Canadian cities.  I recommend reading some online reviews ahead of your visit to have a short list of nearby restaurants.  Otherwise it's hard to know where to start!  

Any NYC restaurant favorites?  Please share in the comment section!

Monday, November 28, 2011


This fall I was lucky enough to make a trip I've always wanted to make.  To celebrate our 30th birthdays this year, three of my girlfriends and I decided we'd visit New York City (that's 120 years of life experience, for anyone who's counting).

I had never really visited the US.  Not for a proper trip.  There were a couple of half-hearted day trips across the border to Maine, but those don't really count.  So, it was time.

I have long been curious about NYC, given it's pervasive presence in pop culture.  I also have a few favorite blogs based in and around New York including A Cup of Jo, An Apple A Day, and Darling Dexter.  And who wouldn't want to hit the streets of Manhattan after watching a few episodes of Bill Cunningham - On The Street?  With my wardrobe, I know he'd spot me right away and probably do a whole video on me...

Anyway, on to some highlights of the trip!

We stayed in a New York hotel that's been around forever, the New Yorker.  It was very central, had great Art Deco styling and was quite clean.  Four people to a room was pushing it, but doable.

New Yorker Hotel

Because it was so close, we happened to hit Times Square almost every day.  Dundas Square in Toronto has nothing on this place.  It was constantly packed with people, no matter the time of day.

Times Square

Another iconic symbol of New York that we passed daily:

New York Times

On the top of my list of things to do in NYC was Top of the Rock, a trip to the top of Rockefeller Centre to see the whole of Manhattan.  The views were incredible!  Especially the one with all the cute girls in it.

Central Park

Empire State

Girls at the Top of the Rock

It was mid-November, so Rockefeller Plaza had the beginnings of its legendary Christmas display.  Like the massive Christmas tree - with six storeys of staging required for its decoration!


The rink was open as well.  There's something funny about a Zamboni in Manhattan.


After seeing how huge Central Park was, we had to go take a look.  We must have spent a couple of hours there and only covered less than a quarter of it.

Central Park

Central Park

The show we decided to see was a comedy that had won numerous Tonys: Avenue Q.  Sort of an existentialist/realist take on modern urban life.  Performed by puppets.  Here is a sample from the soundtrack.

Avenue Q

The Museum of Modern Art was another spot I couldn't miss.  Partially because of a special exhibit:  Plywood.

MoMA plywood exhibit

...and it's role in mid-century design, of course.  Not just plain old plywood, that would be weird.

For example:

Eames chair

Mmm, plywood.

Looking back at everything we did in the city, it's hard to believe we spent only three days there.  Yet, there is so much I'd like to go back and do!  So, the Big Apple is still on my list of "places to see".

Ok, I'm stopping this monster post right here.  There is a bit more NYC to come (NYC: The Food).  So stay tuned.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest we forget


I wouldn't call myself a military buff.  But I take Remembrance Day very seriously.  WWI and WWII were atrocities.  I think it is important to periodically revisit those horrible events.  It gives us perspective - war is atrocious, both for soldiers and civilians, and we should attempt to avoid it at all costs.

With that said, I'm proud of the roles Canadians (and Newfoundlanders, back then) played in the wars.  My grandfathers (pictured below) both served Canada, overseas or at home.

Papa O'Brien

[Henry O'Brien]

Grampy O'Connor

[Leonard O'Connor]

To me, the world wars had clear morally "good" and "evil" sides (at least with respect to the Holocaust).  Some of the armed conflicts ongoing today don't seem to be so clear cut.  My wish for 11/11/11 is that those countries involved in armed conflict will work diplomatically where possible to find meaningful solutions.  Ones that don't waste the lives of soldiers or civilians.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte

Also known as Black Forest Cherry Cake.  A cake I've always enjoyed and admired.  One I might never have tried to make on my own (seems like a high degree of difficulty, no?).  Well, the stars aligned a few weeks ago and it became apparent that I needed to get on it.

You see, we had planned an Oktoberfest celebration (in honour of both the season and our recent adventures in Germany).  It happened to be scheduled on the same date as the birthday of a dear friend of mine.  It didn't take a master of deductive reasoning to identify Black Forest cake as the most appropriate gâteau d'anniversaire for the occasion.

It took a few grocery store trips to gather all the ingredients.  I decided to short-cut with the chocolate cake part (thank you Duncan Hines), but wanted to create the cherry filling from scratch.  Luckily a local grocery store had some imported sour cherries in juice.  Add a bit of sugar and corn starch, stir for an eternity, and you get delicious cherry filling:

Cherry filling

I know you know what comes next:

Whipping cream

Oh yeah.  Full-fat.

Add some icing sugar to get, well, icing:

Whipped cream

(Not going to tell you how many spoonfuls I sampled to make sure it was "just right".)

Another special ingredient was Kirsch, a strong alcohol made from cherry distillate.  Tastes nothing like cherries, more like whiskey.  So I diluted it with a syrup made from the sour cherry juice and more sugar.


Cake (and pretzels)

These are the cakes, left out overnight to cool and dry slightly.  (See the husband's homemade soft pretzels in the background?  Yum!)  You may know that this cake has several layers, more than your average b-day cake.  I thought cutting it would be a horrible mess, until I found a tip on the interwebs.



Cake-slicing trick

Wrap the thread around the middle of the cake, pull, and voila!  Two layers!  I was sure I had discovered the world's best-kept secret, but a quick poll later on at the party assured me this was essentially bakers' common sense.  Martha was probably born knowing this one.

Anyway, it was then time for assembly:

Ready to assemble

In this order: cake layer, baster-full of boozy-cherry-juice, dollop of whipped cream, cup of cherry filling.


...and so on, until a final layer of chocolate cake is on top.  Then you let your inner Cake Boss out, and decorate the crap out of this towering calorie-fest.

Black Forest cake

Final product!

With the birthday boy:

Birthday boy

(Now, just to keep it real, I need to show you the cake from another angle.  Has a bit of a list to it.  Next time I will try a bit harder to make the layers flush.)


For any of you viewers at home interested in tackling the Leaning Tower of Bavaria that you see above,  here are two links to helpful online recipes.  I used a hybrid of the two.  Check out the comments below the recipe on the first link too - it's a gold mine down there.

One last thing.  When Mike and I get into something, we get waaaay into it.  So trust me, Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte tastes best when you are wearing traditional Bavarian lederhosen.

Hosts in 'hosen