Sunday, October 31, 2010

The quest for enlightenment

The Perfect Housewife hasn't been around in the past few days. Why you ask? She has no kitchen.

Mr. V "accidentally" (this is up for debate) broke the kitchen light a few days ago, and thus he was quite excited to get to replace it. I'm not too familiar with how long it takes to renovate things, so I was expecting it would take him about a day, so I would only be without a kitchen for one meal.

Alas, it is not to be. We're now on day three, and still no kitchen for the perfect housewife. Instead, my kitchen is draped with plastic like Dexter's kill room, and I'm not exactly sure when I will be able to get back in it. Luckily for us my parents live close by, so we've been mooching off of them for the past couple days.

I live in hope that my kitchen will return tomorrow, but there are no guarantees. My next project, when I get my kitchen back, is the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Damn all the onions

I said at the start of this project that I wanted to learn how to chop an onion quickly like Gordon Ramsay. I have begun to learn, but I'm still definitely not as quick as regular chef. I will keep trying though.

However, the problem with chopping all these onions is that I apparently haven't yet taught my tear ducts to stop crying. Today, while making vegetable wraps for dinner, I literally had tears rolling down my face. It doesn't always happen, but it's very annoying when it does. There has to be a way to not weep while chopping onions, otherwise there'd be chefs sobbing in every kitchen.

In other Housewife news, I finally have a clean-ish house. On Friday, I spent the afternoon reorganizing our big cabinet to put away some of our wedding gifts. Prior to that there were piles of boxed bowls and such everywhere; now the only things left to put away are some charger plates and our nice china place settings. I'm aiming to get that all done this weekend, but I'm not completely certain it will work out as planned.

Unfortunately our office area is still a rubbish tip. Because of this, we have three big boxes in our living room that hold the pieces of a bookshelf, and it's starting to wear on me. However, we aren't able to build the bookshelf until we clean out the office completely. A homeowner's work is never done I guess.

Recently I've hit a wall in the recipe-trying arena. I'm still finding some recipes that look great, but they just seem like a lot more work than I'd hoped for. On Friday and Saturday it's not so bad since I'm not at work, but every other night it just seems to be too much by the time I get home. If we didn't live across the street from a grocery store, I don't think we'd be eating at all some nights.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Keeping everyone else's life perfect

Today, I am thinking about more than being the Perfect Housewife. I am attempting to become the best woman I can possibly be, and sometimes this spills over into my job as a journalist. It is my job to tell you what you need to know, to educate you in current events, and to make sure you don't miss a thing.

This week, it was also my job to keep things from readers. Those who live in Canada cannot have escaped the trial of (now-stripped of his rank) Colonel Russell Williams, the former commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario. On Monday, he pleaded guilty to 82 fetish break-and-enters, the rapes of two women, and the murders of two more.

The trial lasted for four days, ending with his sentencing yesterday, to two concurrent life sentences with no possibility for parole for 25 years. He is now locked up in Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario, the same prison that currently houses Paul Bernardo and used to hold Clifford Olson.

Though much shorter, the trial brought back echoes in my mind of the Robert Pickton trial, which I attended for nearly a year, used as a basis for my journalism honours thesis, and wrote about almost-daily.

During both trials, photos and video were presented to the court. Some of these photos were then released to the media, including photos of the pig farm (Pickton) and the hundreds of items of lingerie stolen during break-and-enters (often modeled by Williams). However, many were not, for which the entire world should be grateful.

Thus, it was up to the editors and reporters of every newspaper what they would write about and print. This week, the details flowing out of Ontario were gruesome, depraved and sadistic. They were horrifying, disgusting, and at times extremely heart-breaking.

I love my job, I do. I have wanted to be a crime reporter since I was in first year journalism school and I was sent on a ride-along with the Vancouver Police. But there are weeks, and trials, that are extremely hard to take. The trial of Russell Williams was one of these trials.

It is never easy to be a crime journalist. It is fascinating, rewarding and eye-opening, but it is never easy. It is our job to tell you what you need to know without horrifying you. It is also our job to make sure you know the magnitude of the crimes committed.

It is a very fine line, and it can be wearing sometimes. However, I went into journalism knowing what I was getting into, and I do not regret the decision. Most people who read the newspaper do not realize what went into the story they are reading, and thus, this post is born.

When you read that news story about the murderer, the rapist, the abuser, remember that someone wrote that piece. Remember that someone had to read the court transcripts, interview the victim's family, and look at many, many photos. Remember that someone listened the words of a parent who has lost their child, a brother who has lost his sibling, or a friend who has lost their confidante.

I read those horrific details so that you don't have to. I look at those photos so that I can choose the one least likely to hurt you. I listen to those people so that I can write the best story, the story that will show you the human face of this crime.

And sometimes at the end of the day, I cry at what I have heard. Remember that next time you don't like how something has been portrayed in the media. A real person wrote that story, a person who lives a life very much like yours. I am not a monster looking for the most sensational angle. I do not live to hurt other people, or profit from the pain of others.

My job is to keep you informed, up-to-date and knowledgeable. But sometimes, it is also my job to keep details from you that you just don't need to know, to keep you innocent of the pain that someone else has wrought upon another human being. Sometimes, it's my job to keep everyone else's life perfect.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A real cream of mushroom soup

Finally! Food and Wine has come through for me once more!

You may remember my obsession with the perfect homemade cream of mushroom soup after my fond memories of my cousins in Ireland. I tried a few weeks back with a regular mushroom soup, but had no luck when it turned out that I apparently can't read recipes, and it was just mushrooms instead of the all important CREAM part. Still delicious, but not what I was looking for.

However, I have finally done it. Though this soup did not turn out perfectly, it was the closest I have ever come, and it was way better than any tinned or boxed soup I have ever tried. The one thing keeping it from perfection was that it was a lot chunkier than I had hoped for, and there wasn't quite enough broth. Both of these issues are easy to fix though, with the addition of more vegetable broth and perhaps sticking the soup in a blender instead of the food processor.

Either way an excellent addition to my recipe book, and certainly something I will try again.

Tomorrow, I attempt a panini. I may or may not be mildly terrified.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A treatise on Italian night

I was so looking forward to my night of Italian deliciousness, and it didn't turn out as planned. My parents often told me when I was a kid that I should have been born Italian instead of Irish, just because of my obsession with Italian food.

Obviously, I've made many different types of pasta before, including during this project. But I have never attempted to make anything other than pasta, so I decided to try my favourite Italian appetizer, tomato bruschetta. The recipe looked fairly easy, so I figured all would be well.

I didn't count on getting lip from my husband about the fact that sourdough bread is not Italian. I had originally planned to ignore the edict in the recipe about sourdough bread and buy a French baguette instead, but I am a sourdough bread addict so when I actually found sourdough rolls at the grocery store, I was deliriously happy.

Amazingly they fit in the toaster, but unfortunately I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been, and they ended up much harder and crispier than I had planned. Mr. V had no problem with this, but I'm not a fan of hard, crispy bread, so it didn't turn out quite like I had hoped. We did however grate some provolone cheese over top of the tomatoes, which was delicious. Next time, I pay more attention to the bread. I would also try roasting some more veggies to put on top as well, since it was a bit plain. It was a good first try though I suppose.

The pasta was a definite disappointment though. The recipe, for fettucine alla boscaiola (mushroom and tomato sauce) came from another one of my cookbooks, and the picture looked delicious. Unfortunately, the sauce was way too watery and it ended up looking like fettucine soup. A dose of cheese helped a bit, but there was still way too much liquid. The sauce was still tasty despite the liquid, but next time I would definitely add more vegetables (the only veggie in the sauce being onions) to give it substance, and ignore the instruction to add the liquid from two cans of whole tomatoes. The tomatoes themselves gave off quite enough liquid themselves.

So alas, Italian night was decidedly not a success. Hopefully tonight's menu, whatever it is, will be better.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Return of the phyllo pastry

Tonight, I decided to try something different. When Mr. V and I moved in together, I brought a ton of cookbooks into the house. I placed them in our bookshelf, and then forgot about them for the most part. Instead, I depended on Mr. V to help me cook, or got ideas from websites, magazines or T.V.

So, last night I pulled out my pile of cookbooks, and we went through them to find a recipe for dinner tonight. We ended up choosing a mushroom and ricotta tart, made with phyllo dough. We still have phyllo left over from my experiment with mushrooms and asiago en croute, so that was a good start.

Now, I don't eat eggs. Yes, I'll eat a cake or something that uses them as a hidden ingredient, but I don't like the taste of eggs on their own. This recipe worried me a bit, because in this case the eggs are really front and centre. Granted they were mixed with ricotta cheese and sour cream, but as I beat everything together, it looked much more egg-y than I was comfortable with.

However, it was delicious. The biggest problem? There wasn't enough of it. Between Mr. V and I, the tart disappeared quickly (it was a small tart in the first place) and he was still hungry. He ended up zapping a frozen pasta meal, so I guess that was a Perfect Housewife fail.

Bad housewife, bad! You did not feed your husband properly!

Tomorrow is going to be an Italian night, with tomato bruschetta for an appetizer, and then some spaghetti with mushroom sauce for dinner.

I will also (finally!) be cleaning my house. At this point, the only clean room in the house is our den, and that's just unacceptable in the Perfect Housewife universe.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The chocolate peanut butter experiment

Chocolate and peanut butter is the best combination ever invented. Seriously.

Thus, I was extremely happy when my brother asked for a peanut butter cheesecake for his birthday, which also coincided with Thanksgiving. After at least an hour of searching my cake cookbooks and the Internet, I discovered this recipe. Ah, perfection!

I chose not to make my own cookies for the crust, since that would have taken far more time than I had. So, I used graham crackers that we reduced to crumbs in the food processor and then mixed with butter. I chilled it overnight, and then made the cheesecake itself on Saturday. Though it looked complicated, it didn't end up being as tough as I thought it would be. I also didn't include the peanut butter patties because I felt it would be peanut-buttery enough without them. I may try to make them next time though.

After being chilled overnight again, I mixed the ganache and poured it over the top before chilling it for the last time.

The cheesecake was amazing. Absolutely, one hundred percent, wonderful. It was a hit at Thanksgiving dinner, and by the end of the next day, it was completely gone. Definitely a recipe for me to make again.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A tale of an internal struggle

This entire project has been to make me into the Perfect Housewife, who cooks, cleans and takes care of her handsome, hard-working husband. By definition, The Perfect Housewife is a throwback to a time when women were the only ones who took care of the house, and the men hunted and gathered in order to keep the wife in the house instead of out in the real world.

That definition is in contrast with how I actually want to live my life. I still go to work five days a week, and I expect people to help me with cleanup if I am the one who cooks, and vice versa. I don't want to be the woman who works all day then comes home to cook and tidy while the man of the house sits and watches TV. However, I often struggle with housewife guilt, in that I want people to admire that I do hold a job while having the perfect house and cooking delicious food. It can be tough sometimes.

This internal struggle came to a head during Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws. When Mr. V and I arrived, his mother and sister-in-law were preparing dinner for the 25ish family members who would be descending upon the house. I, feeling guilty, stepped in to help while Mr. V helped his brother with the turkey. In the next three hours, the boys sat and supervised the deep-frying turkey while I, my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law cooked a ham, steamed vegetables, roasted potatoes, made pots of rice and stuffing, and laid out the table. We then ferried food down the stairs once people began arriving.

After dinner, our little female cast was joined by my aunt-in-law and two cousins-in-law. We ferried platters back up the stairs, washed, dried and put away dishes and leftovers. The men in the family watched the hockey game, and sat around and had some drinks.

Herein lies my dilemma. It was fun to be in the kitchen with the women, catching up on family gossip and chatting. However, it was hard to walk past the living room and see the men sitting there with their beers while we carried, washed and stored food before then carrying more platters full of food (dessert this time) down the stairs again.

While I understand it's a habit that's been long-ingrained in the family, it was tough to swallow. I don't mind cooking and cleaning up (obviously, look at this project), but it felt like there was no reciprocation. The men didn't clean up, they didn't carry things, they didn't put things away. They sat on the couches and watched a hockey game.

I worry that this project is just reinforcing the stereotype that a woman's place is in the kitchen. I love cooking, I love taking care of my home, and I love my husband. What I don't love is the feeling of being nothing more than a housekeeper, and I certainly felt that over the weekend.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Crazy bastard

As I said yesterday, I tried Fusilli alla Crazy Bastard last night. I've mentioned on this blog before that I love Mario Batali, so I was obviously excited to try this recipe, apparently inspired by him.

According to Mr. V, this was the best pasta I have ever made. Pasta is my favourite food, so it's always been something that I want to perfect, and I've attempted many a recipe in our nearly three-year relationship. Apparently this was the closest I've ever gotten to perfection.

I did find that the tomatoes didn't roast as much as I would have liked them to. I was a bit nervous by the hissing and popping sounds coming out of my oven, so I probably pulled them out a bit earlier than I should have. They were delicious (I love cherry tomatoes), but they didn't have the taste I was expecting. The sauce was also a bit thicker than I'd have liked, but that was due to the goat cheese I'm sure. Next time I would add more tomatoes to give it a bit more tomato flavour, and hopefully also give it a bit more liquid.

I will definitely make this again, and I owe another debt of gratitude to Mr. Batali.

I now enter the longest, most family-full weekend. I am in charge of two batches of spinach and artichoke dip (one for each family dinner), and two cakes, including the peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake I mentioned earlier this week.

I've definitely fallen down on my Perfect Housewife duties this week though, in that our house needs to be vacuumed and dusted, and our kitchen floor is pretty gross. Hopefully I will have a bit of time to do at least one of those things on Monday after work; time to put my soul in the hands of the domestic goddesses again.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The results

As I noted on Tuesday, I am on the quest for the perfect mushroom soup recipe. Last night, I tried this one from Food and Wine Magazine. While it was not a cream of mushroom soup (which I didn't pay attention to when I was skimming the recipe), it was still delicious.

However, making it pointed out some deficiencies in my kitchen. The recipe calls for coarsely grated potatoes, which seem easy enough until you realize that you don't have a coarse grater. I have a small grater that I've used for grating fruit zest and cheese for pasta, but there was no way it was going to work on a potato.

So, Mr. V very nicely chopped up the potato for me. It was delicious, but chunks of potato don't really dissolve like the recipe called for. A small setback, but one nonetheless.

Despite the small issue of the non-grated potato, the recipe was amazing. I took the leftovers for lunch today, and several people stopped by my office to tell me how good it smelled.

Tonight's dinner? Fusilli alla Crazy Bastard, which I'm making just because I love the name.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My next experiment

I have an all-abiding love for cream of mushroom soup, which is something I picked up several years ago while visiting my family in Ireland. There, I spent an afternoon picking wild mushrooms out of my cousin's yard, and carrying them home to be made into the best wild mushroom soup I have ever tasted. Sadly my cousin was killed two months later, and his house no longer belongs to the family.

Since my visit, I've bought the boxed soups in a vain attempt to taste that wonderful flavour again (and maybe remember the fun I had that afternoon.) Of course, it has thus far never been matched. So, tomorrow evening I am going to attempt to make wild mushroom and potato soup from a recipe on Food and Wine Magazine's website. This is the first time I've actually been nervous about trying a recipe, for reasons that even I am not quite sure. Perhaps it's because this soup has a lot to live up, or perhaps it's just the memories that I hope it will bring.

Though it's obviously not going to be the mushroom soup I remember, I hope it will be equally delicious.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A bit of Batali, and other deliciousness

For the past several years, I've been a huge fan of Food Network and pretty much anything cooking-related. One of my particular favourites is Iron Chef America, though I can rarely eat the things the chefs cook. My favourite chef from Iron Chef? Mr. Mario Batali.

Mr. V and I were lucky enough to eat at one of Batali's restaurants while we were in Vegas on our mini-honeymoon. It was, without exception, one of the best meals I have ever eaten. So, I was excited to find some recipes from him on the website of Food and Wine Magazine. I had planned to try this pasta early last week, but circumstances prevented it so I finally made it on Wednesday night. It was absolutely delicious, though making the sauce ended up being quite messy as the tomatoes are meant to be squeezed by hand just before putting them in the sauce. I may or may not still be cleaning up splatters all over my stove and walls. Without a doubt, I would make it again however. I didn't realize it would be quite as spicy as it was though. I don't have an issue with spice, but for those who are, leave out the hot chili flakes.

On Thursday night, I attempted to make vegetable yaki udon again. The noodles weren't an issue, but I blanked halfway through making the sauce and almost forgot the cooking sherry. Luckily Mr. V came home just as I was mixing up the sauce with the vegetables, and a small crisis was averted.

In yet another triumph in cooking (we're not going to discuss the state of our apartment right now, due to having a giant Ikea bookshelf box in the middle of our living room as we haven't had time to build it into our office yet), I discovered a new love for corn tortillas. Prior to this past weekend I had only seen hard corn taco shells, but never enjoyed them. We had plenty of vegetables, so we stopped by a local Mexican importer and picked up some soft corn tortillas, along with guacamole and red corn chips.

It was like a revelation. First off they're way healthier than the huge flour tortillas that I usually buy, and secondly they were delicious. Though I prefer the flour for my grilled veggie wraps, we will definitely be using corn tortillas for fajitas and tacos from now on.

Thanksgiving is now this coming weekend, and I will certainly be earning my Perfect Housewife stripes. Between the two family dinners (one Saturday, one Sunday) I will be making two batches of hot spinach and artichoke dip, one peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake (using this recipe) and a traditional chocolate cake. At least I don't have to cook dinner for either day!