The 10 Best Books I Read in 2014

While my reading tally this year didn’t quite stack up to the 52 books I read in 2013, Intellectual Dachshund and I still managed to get through some 30-odd titles.

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This proved to be a much more manageable number, and one which actually allowed me to leave my apartment once in a while (whether I liked it or not.)

Also, can I just say that 2014 was officially the year of the female author? 7 out of 10 of these titles were written by unbelievably talented, smart, funny women.

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K I’m done now. On to my top 10 books!

1. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

That is the question posed by Kate Atkinson in her wildly inventive novel Life After Life. Like a slightly heavier Groundhog Day, the book follows Ursula Todd as she lives- and re-lives- the events of the 20th century. From the opening paragraph, this book had me captivated and completely hooked. I had no idea what turn would come next, which kept me turning pages wee into the morning hours. More addictive than a Chopped marathon on the Food Network, I would highly recommend this for an exciting read. 

2.  Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

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In this funny, ambitious novel, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, best friends and 12-year business partners, must save their beloved used vinyl shop Brokeland Records from the new “Dogpile Thang” music megastore opening two blocks away. It’s like a High Fidelity and Empire Records mash-up, with the end result becoming something new and original entirely.

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 3. The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

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Way back in 2008, before Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize, she wrote The Rehearsal- a gripping little story (about 1/8 the length of the Illuminaries– a major reason why I chose to read it instead) set in the aftermath of a local scandal involving a young female student’s affair with her music teacher. Told from several different viewpoints in a non-linear plotline, I found this book inventive, captivatingly dark, and twisted. Definitely worth a read if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path.

 4. Us by David Nicholls

In Us, well-intentioned-yet oblivious scientist Douglas Petersen attempts to win back the hearts of Connie, his artist wife of 20 years, and the affection of his brooding, 17-year old son Albie, all against the backdrop of a family European vacation.

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I’m a big fan of David Nicholls, and loved his previous books Starter For Ten and One Day. I had high hopes for this one as well- but after reading several books this year about middle-aged marriages in crisis (see: The Vacationers, I am Having So Much Fun Here Without You), I worried the theme might be a bit played out. Happily, this book differentiated itself for me with its clever plot twists and laugh-out-loud humor.  I expect this one to be adapted into a screenplay any day now. I’d cast Colin Firth as Douglas,  Rachel Weisz as Connie, and Ansel Elgort as Albie.

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See, don’t they look good together? I’m really in the wrong line of work.

5.  The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

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19-year-old twins Nicholas and Nouschka Tremblay, offspring of Quebec folk singer, and notorious playboy, Etienne Tremblay, spent their childhood in the public eye. Now they are grown up and making their own mistakes on the streets of referendum-era Montreal – all of which ending up in the French Canadian tabloid Allo Police. It’s a slightly-offbeat coming-of-age tale with a hefty dose of family drama, and a side dish of Canadian politics.

6.  The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman

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I have a special place in my heart for this book, even though it is responsible for the one and only sunburn I received in 2014. (Seriously I’ve gotten much better on the tanning front since winning the nonexistent Miss Hawaiian Tropic competition in 2008). I could feel my shoulders getting redder in the mid-July sun, but my heart just wouldn’t let me put the damn book down. I didn’t want to stop reading about Nathaniel, the self-absorbed future literary star, with a similar penchant for breaking hearts.  This is also maybe one of the best books I’ve ever read told from a reverse gender perspective. I found it amazing the way Adelle Waldman really got into the mind of a man and wrote Nathaniel so convincingly. Seriously worth a read.  (And if you don’t believe me- according to her Instagram, Kate Hudson liked it too.)

7. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

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Part memoir, part coming-of-age story, part love letter to New York City, My Salinger Year  tells the story of Joanna Rakoff as a starry-eyed twenty-three-year-old who moves to New York with the dream of becoming a writer. Instead, she winds up in a crappy Williamsburg apartment with a crappy boyfriend and a crappy job as assistant to the literary agent for J.D. Salinger. Her task? To answer Salinger’s endless pile of fan-mail with a stock response. At first mind-numbingly boring, she soon becomes engrossed by the letters, inspired to craft her own replies.  As they say in the publishing world- it’s a “small story” , but it’s got a lot of heart, and is a great, light, entertaining read.

8. Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler 

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Fed up with the way his life has been portrayed by others, and in the media, thrice-married, aging TV producer Barney Panofsky decides to set the record straight by writing his own memoirs.  Rich in themes- including life, love, family, friendship and aging- I thought it was excellent. Romantic, captivating, hilarious, and uniquely Canadian, I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great read.

9. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Confession: I kind of want to be best friends with Amy Poehler. And if you don’t already, you will too after reading her hilarious book Yes Please. A hodge – podge of personal essays, life advice, Bossypants-esque memoirs from her time on SNL and Parts and Recreation  and straight-up randomness, it will both endear you to her, and leave you laughing uncontrollably. Do yourself a favor and read this one.

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10. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

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This short story collection by indie darling Miranda July (she also wrote and starred in a movie Roger Ebert cited as one of the best films of the decade) is weird, captivating, and slightly disturbing. Any summary I would give wouldn’t do it justice- so check it out if you’re in for a very different read.

Other Books I read in 2014 (In no particular order):

  • Office Girl -Joe Meno
  • The Goldfinch – Donna Tart
  • Fangirl– Rainbow Rowell
  • Listen to the Sqwaking Chicken– Elaine Lui
  • Transatlantic– Collum McCann
  • One more thing – BJ Novak
  • Run Rabbit– John Updike
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man- James Joyce
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil- John Berendt 
  • Not That Kind of Girl -Lena Dunham
  • The Vacationers – Emma Straub
  • I am Having So Much Fun Here Without You – Courtney Maum
  • American Pastoral- Phillip Roth
  • No Relation -Terry Fallis
  • Dear Leaves: I Miss You All – Sarah Heinonen
  • Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations With Today’s Top Comedy Writers– Mike Sacks

Question of the day: What was the best book you read in 2014?

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Where to find the best gifts in Toronto this Holiday Season

*This article was originally published in a lawyerly magazine I write for on the side- but since my creativity well is running mighty dry, And you can buy most of this stuff online also, thought I’d repost it here. Enjoy!

The holiday season is upon us, and with all of the parties, potlucks, and year-end tax restructuring, who has time to schlep around from store to store in search of the perfect gift? So to save your friends and family from socks and Starbucks cards, here’s a roundup of the best places in Toronto to find thoughtful gifts for everyone on your list.

For the foodie

The Good Egg (267 Augusta Avenue).
This Kensington Market outfit has everything you need to make your kitchen Instagram-worthy: rare cookbooks, artisan-crafted aprons, Le Creuset cookware and a vast collection of kitchen gadgets you never knew you needed.

And while you’re in Kensington, check out Toronto Popcorn Company  (147 Baldwin Street). This shop devoted strictly to popcorn (which I thought only existed in my dreams) offers over 100 unique and delicious flavors — from maple bacon, to caramel pina colada. Single bags are $4 and you can even mix and match (in a stroke of genius, I once combined pizza and cookies and cream).

Via Torontolife.com

 

For the CanCon enthusiast

Drake General Store (various locations).
From maple syrup-scented candles to mountie-printed adult onesies, Drake General Store has everything you need to show your Canadiana-loving friend some true patriot love.

And for some distinctively Toronto gear, check out Drake’s newly opened OVO store near Trinity Bellwoods (899 Dundas Street West). There you’ll find a wide assortment of printed toques, tees and hip hop gear to keep your friends and family proudly repping #The6.

For the little ones

Kol Kid (647 Queen Street West).
This indie kids’ retailer specializes in unique children’s clothing, accessories, and killer toys you may or may not want to keep for yourself. My nieces especially love the handmade moccasins and Taro Gomi activity books.

For the ladies

While you’re strolling down Queen West, drop by Coal Miner’s Daughter (744 Queen Street West), a cute boutique specializing primarily in pieces by Canadian clothing and jewelry designers at reasonable price points. (I’ve got my eye on these sweet Labradorite Rings).

For dudes

Montreal-based retailer Frank & Oak just opened up shop in Toronto (735 Queen Street West) with its line of hip and affordable menswear. Browse their collection of colourful khakis, elbow-patched cardigans and incredibly sophisticated grooming products as you sip an Americano from their fancy in-store café.

For the audiophile

For the hi-fi fanatic on your list, check out the new and improved Sonic Boom (215 Spadina), a bigger, badder version of the beloved music store that combines both the former Annex and Kensington Market locations. With nearly 12,000 sq feet of vinyl, CDs, and merchandise (there’s a section devoted entirely to music-themed literature), even the most discerning Rob Gordon types will be impressed.

For the bookworm

Check out Type Books (883 Queen Street West) for a well-curated selection of staff favourites that put “Heather’s Picks” to shame. Type carries a broad collection of small-press and independent titles, including tough-to-find newspapers and magazines. And for the bookworm-in-training, head uptown to Mabel’s Fables (662 Mt. Pleasant Road), a whimsical, fairy-tale inspired children’s book store that you might just want to move into. Located in an old, two-story house, Mabel’s carries hundreds of titles organized by age group and is known for its incredibly helpful and inspired staff.

For the unconventional

Blue Banana (250 Augusta Avenue). This two-story artist collective in Kensington Market is filled to the brim with one-of-a-kind gift ideas: jewelry, house wares, vintage décor; there’s even a wall filled with gourmet hot sauces for the Sriracha-obsessed. Labor of Love (242 Carlton Street) in Cabbagetown is also a great spot for eclectic gifts, and carries a diverse collection of handmade jewelry, quality paper goods, and adorable kitsch (like this fixie bike pizza cutter).

Question of the day: Who is the hardest person on your list to shop for?

7 Slang Words I Learned in 2014 (And How To Use Them)

At the ripe old age of 29, I am slowly coming to the realization that I may no longer be “hip”.

Evidence of this includes:

  • my growing reluctance to stay awake past 10pm
  • unfamiliarity with the majority of award show performers (Ariana who now?)
  • increased disillusion with music festivals and all other non-seated events
  • the fact that I used the word “hip” in quotations in the preceding sentence.

Perhaps the biggest, and most troubling sign, however, is my complete and utter hopelessness when it comes to today’s slang. This was made clear to me recently when a friend described an online date she went on as “a total catfish”.  Say what? “You went on a date with a sea creature??” I asked, imagining the two of them at a fancy restaurant, plates full of plankton.   

“Uh, no” she said looking at me like I had three heads “it means when someone pretends to be someone they’re not online… like the MTV show?”

I wish I could say that was the only time this happened – but alas, over the past year, there have been a number of times I’ve been left with a blank stare, scrambling to urbandictionary.com to break the code, like a less-cool, worse-cheekboned Alan Turing. 

Because I love you and don’t want you to suffer the same fate, I’ve compiled a list of the top 6 slang words I learned in 2014, together with definitions, and how to use each in a sentence so you can be just like the cool kids.

1. Salty

Bitter; angry; used to connote a general bad attitude.

E.g. “She was salty when she discovered Real Housewives of Miami had been cancelled” 

2. Basic

Common; unsophisticated; transparent; generally unoriginal

e.g. “Homegirl bought a year’s supply of Pumpkin Spice Latte Mix. She’s so basic” 

3. Sharewithal

An inherent understanding of what to share on social media, when, and on what platform.

E.g. “Did you see that terrible status Alyssa posted on Facebook? Girl has ZERO sharewithal” 

4. Webisode

Overly dramatic

E.g. “Sorry for being such a webisode last night, I had way too much Pinot Grigio” 

5. Bae 

I’m sure most of you know  this one now that Pharrell has sung it to death, but did you guys know it is actually an ACRONYM? It stands for “Before Anyone Else” and can be used to describe your significant other, bestie, something incredibly cool etc.

E.g. “Nutella is, and always will be my bae” 

6. Turnt Up

Getting loose/wild; crazy partying

E.g. “I drank TWO glasses of wine while watching Extreme Weightloss Last Night. Sh*t was turnt UP”

7. Swerve

To Dodge or dismiss someone.

E.g.

My Friend: “Do you want to do a juice cleanse with me?”

Me: “SWERVE, b*tch!”

Question of the Day: What Slang Words have you learned recently?

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Brow So Hard

You may recall that a while back, I was the victim of a horrific crime against brow-manity.

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You can read all about it here, but in case you find that too traumatizing, here’s the cole’s notes version: some b*tch named Tina at The World’s Worst Salon waxed half my eyebrows off and burned me like a blank CD.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Anyhoo, it’s been nearly four months since that fateful day, and with the help of countless dollars’ worth of miracle growth products a little patience, regular exfoliating and nightly prayers to Saint Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, my eyebrows are FINALLY starting to grow back.  

The only problem is, now that I’ve been burned once before (quite literally), I’m a bit gun-shy. I’ve been scared sh*tless to let anyone else touch my brows lest I suffer the same fate.

And let me tell you- four months of regrowth ain’t pretty. My brows began to slowly take over my face like misshapen, wayward caterpillars.

When she heard my harrowing tale of woe, a friend recommended that I check out the Brow House in Yorkville, a salon dedicated exclusively to eyebrow maintenance in Toronto’s most chi-chi neighbourhood.

“They put me on a ‘brow plan’,” she told me “I love my eyebrows now”.

A brow plan? Well if that isn’t exactly the type of ridiculous, first world sh*t I live for, then I don’t know what is.  Sign me up!

I booked a “consultation” on Saturday afternoon, right between my hair and nail appointments (the struggle is real), and spent the rest of the week with visions of full brows dancing in my head.

The salon is tucked-away in a brownstone walk-up on a quiet Yorkville street. Inside, it is is minimalist and chic: all white with a few, well-spaced red salon chairs, mirrors, and a coffee table stacked with aspirational lifestyle magazines.

I was introduced to my “brow artist”, Natalia.

“How can I help you today?” she asked.

I proceeded to recount my traumatic experience.  “That is horrifying” she said, taking my hand and looking in my eyes seriously. “I am so sorry you have gone through that. You have come to the right place. ”

She proceeded to explain that, despite their current Anthony Davis status, my brows were actually in OK shape.  She drew a line on my face to show me where my brows should be, and said that for the most part, they were growing back nicely. After a couple more months, my arches would be good as new.

As she waxed away the stray hairs, she told me about the Brow House philosophy. “We take a lot of factors into consideration when providing a brow recommendation,” she explained, “your hair texture, color, face shape. If you have a round face, you will need longer, more arched brows to balance it out. For a longer face, we recommend flat brows with a low arch”.

I nodded enthusiastically, amazed by this brave new world of brow theory.

Like me, the ladies at the Brow House are firm believers in the “full brow lifestyle”.

“Have you ever considered getting a tint?” she asked. “That way you won’t have to fill them in every day?”

I was skeptical. What if I looked like one of those old ladies who colored in her eyebrows with a Maybeline eyeliner?

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“No no, it will be subtle” she promised. Reluctantly, I consented, and held my breath as she coloured in my brows with a miniscule paint pot.

The result was, just as she had promised, natural and awesome.

“I feel like a whole new person!” I squealed, taking in my (arguably incrementally) changed appearance in the mirror.

I paid my bill (yikes) and booked another appointment in four weeks. Hook, line and sinker.

Exhibit A: Awkward After Pic I made Colin take of me in front of the microwave.

 

The price of beauty apparently knows no bounds, but god damn if I just bought me some good lookin’ brows.

Question of the Day:  What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for beauty?

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10 Last-Minute Halloween Costumes That Won’t Break The Bank

I read recently that Canadians will be spending more than $1 billion on Halloween this year.

Either everyone is buying me REALLY expensive birthday gifts (P.S., it’s my birthday), or this whole Halloween business is getting straight out of control.

A few years back, I dropped a ton of dough on this Snow White get-up:

With my boo Ariel

For a larger group costume of Disney Princesses:

Sick costume, I know, but was it really worth $150 of my student line of credit  hard-earned dollars??

Let’s just leave that one rhetorical.

In any event, if you’ve got a Halloween party this weekend and don’t want to be a sucker like I was, here are a few easy, punny costume ideas I curated (that’s what Hipsters say when they want to add value to something, right?)  from various corners of the interweb that won’t break the bank:

1. Freudian Slip 

 

2. Business Ghost

Business-ghost
I don’t know why I find this so hilarious.. but I do

3. A Baked Potato

Literally just wrap yourself in tin foil. Genius

4. Iron Chef 

5. Liz Lemon

Via Buzzfeed. My hero

6. Ceiling Fan 

Ceiling fan

…. if you’ve got a partner in crime:

7.  French Kiss 

French Kiss

8. Meat and Greet 

Meat and Greet
So weird yet so awesome.

… if you’ve got a guitar

9. Cat Stevens

Take your basic cat costume one step further with a nod to a musical legend.

…and finally:

10. Chicken Cord On Blue 

Show of your dual appreciation for wordplay and slapstick with this pun.

Good luck and happy costuming! If you do any of these, please send me pics! Especially the last one.

Question of the Day:  What are you dressing up as for Halloween?

 

How To Make The Perfect Grilled Cheese

The ironic thing about my last post (get it? IRON-ic??) was that the majority of you seemed to just breeze right past my laudable domestic accomplishment, and instead focus solely on the photo of the delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

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I can’t say I blame you.

In fact, I was actually pumped you guys asked, since this particular sandwich involved serious time, effort, and months (yes MONTHS) of planning.

Let me start by saying that those of you who found my last post “too domestic” might want to turn back now. Also, this is not your typical, Kraft Singles noise, so you grilled cheese purists also might want to sit this one out.

But if you’ve got an adventurous palate and like eating delicious things, then read on to see how it’s done.

And when it’s finished, I PROMISE you will say:

 

1. The Bread

We used a nice sourdough from BlackBird Baking Co. in Kensington Market here in Toronto:

but  you can really use any artisinal or store-bought variety you want, provided that:

  1.  it’s not too holey (you don’t want to lose any of that sweet, cheesy nectar); and
  2. you don’t slice it too thick (otherwise the cheese won’t melt. Duh)

2. The Cheese

There are times in life when one should exercise restraint. THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM. Feel free to pile on as much cheese as humanly possible. We used a combination of old cheddar, and habanero havarti.

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I briefly considered adding a third cheese, but then I thought

Each cheese needs its moment in the sun. (And by that I mean, in my mouth)

3. The Bacon

Oh yah. I went there.

We fried up some applewood smoked bacon for a little extra flavour and it was DELICIOUS.

4. The Tomatoes

In a rather unconventional move, we added roasted tomatoes to the mix.

We made these guys a while back using a recipe similar to this one,  using beefeater tomatoes from the farmer’s market. After roasting them for 5(!!) hours, were planning to preserve them in olive oil, until we heard that can cause botulism

so we froze them instead.

If this roasting tomato business seems way more effort than it’s worth (trust me, I had that thought too)  then you could always use store-bought sun-dried tomatoes instead.

5. The Spread

We used fresh pesto from Saint Lawrence Market, but again, you could also use store-bought. I honestly never met a pesto I didn’t like.

6. The Assembly

Heat up a heavy pan (we used a cast iron skillet) with a bit of oil. When that’s ready, take the bottom slice of each sandwich, and spread generously with butter (if you’ve made it this far, you’ve given up on being heart-healthy long ago). Set the bread butter-side down on the pan until it is evenly browned.

Make sure you watch carefully. We had a few casualties on this step.

Next, load up the cheese tomatoes, and bacon. We took another unconventional step here and broiled cheesy bread in the toaster oven for a few minutes.

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One the cheese begins to melt, remove from toaster oven.

Then, take the top slices of bread, and spread generously with butter on one side, and pesto on the other. Place butter-side down on the pan.

Once browned, flip over and place pesto-side down on top the sandwich.

Press down gently, and behold the delicious ooey gooey goodness.

If you really wanted to, you could probably do another flip of the whole sandwich on the pan- but ours were melty and delicious enough already.

So There you have it- a deconstructed, pesto and roasted tomato grilled-cheese on artisinal sourdough.

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Can you tell I’ve been watching too much Food Network lately?

We paired ours with tomato basil soup (I can’t remember the brand but we bought it at Loblaws) and some pickles and olives on the side. Perfection.

Like this aerial shot? Ive got mad photog skillz
Like this blurry aerial shot? I should totally be a full-time food blogger

 

Now, for once on my blog I can finally say- you guys should ABSOLUTELY try this one at home. And make one for me too while you’re at it.

Question of the Day: What are your tips for the perfect grilled cheese?

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Iron Lady

Last week I achieved yet another domestic milestone: I finally learned how to iron.

Side note: I should really start a spinoff blog called “The Domestication of BreezyK”. At this rate, I will have completely morphed into the Pioneer Woman by 2016.

Other homemaking pursuits I have recently tackled (besides assembling shoe-racks and making everything that can ever be made out of pumpkin):

  • De-seeding pomegranates088
  • Making delicious grilled cheese sandwiches (Ok, so I really just ate this. )093

Pressing the extra water out of tofu

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Wearing Aprons (like a BOSS)

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But I digress.

When it comes to household tasks, ironing, has long been my Waterloo. I have never been able to master it- mostly because I haven’t tried. Just the look of the thing makes me want to run screaming in the other direction and curl up in the fetal position.

This is what you use it for, right?

I think I inherited my resistance to this menacing metal appliance from my mother, who loathed ironing as well. Presumably in an act of defiance, she never taught her 5 children how to use one. This wasn’t really a problem for me growing up, since all I wore were t-shirts and jeans anyway, but it really began rearing its ugly head once I finished school and got a job at a law firm.

Suddenly I was immersed in a world of suits, silk blouses, and relentless pleats.  So how did I get by without looking like this all the time, you might ask?

I dug deep into my arsenal of iron-avoidance techniques, which include:

1. Putting things in the dryer on low heat for a few minutes

I know this is bad behavior for a couple of reasons.

  • most of these clothes are “dry-clean only” (whatever that means)
  • it uses a crap-load of energy. Every time I do it I can literally feel David Suzuki’s disapproving glare.

2. Hanging stuff in the bathroom while I shower

Again, this is not without its issues:

  • it doesn’t really get all of the wrinkles out unless you take a 45 minute, scalding hot shower
  • results in damp clothing, which you have to wait at least 20 minutes to put on

3.  Blowing on the wrinkles with a hairdryer

  • surprisingly effective, yet time-consuming

4.  Just letting stuff hang there for a while

  • In my experience with extreme laziness, if you just leave things alone for long enough, they tend to take care of themselves

5. Using my hair straightener

  • a sad but true confession – I once used my hair straightener to iron out wrinkles on a shirt in a pinch.
  • FYI- since most straighteners are like, 300 times hotter than the typical iron- I wouldn’t recommend this at home.

6.  Putting stuff under my mattress

  • I did this with dress pants one, and it worked ok, but it sort of kept me up all night, because I was convinced I could feel them underneath me like the Princess and the Pea.

    The struggle is real.

As you can see, all of these methods work with varying degrees of accuracy and effectiveness. You would think with the great lengths I have gone to develop ironing substitutes, I could simply invest the time to learn how to iron. But you would be underestimating my pig-headedness.

So basically, instead of this:

I typically look more like this:

Don’t be distracted by the cute puppy, people. There are 300 more words to go

Anyway- after nearly 29 years of successfully avoiding the iron, last week I was  finally forced to confront my biggest domestic fear head on.

We were rushing to get ready for a wedding, when my boyfriend suddenly said, “Hey babe, would you mind ironing this shirt for me?”

I paused. “Um, why don’t I just write on the card instead?”

“I’ve already done that.” he replied, “It would be a big help if you could iron this”  handing me his dress shirt.

I nervously took the shirt from him with two fingers, like a hot potato when I knew the music was about to stop. I immediately began scanning the room for the nearest exit.

“Wait, do you not now how to iron?” he asked, correctly reading my evasiveness.

“But what do you do instead?”

I quickly ran through the list above. The expression on his face was a mix of pure horror and disbelief.

“Ok, well, if that’s working for you.” he said, turning to do the task himself.

“No wait,” I said, swallowing every ounce of my pride. “I want to learn. It’s time”

He led me through a quick ironing tutorial, explaining the different techniques and settings (did I mention I’m dating Danny Tanner?) . Then, he watched as I practiced on an old t-shirt for a few minutes. And guys, I gotta say- it wasn’t that hard. 

In fact, I’m kind of a ringer.

I’d like to say that since then, I’ve been an ironing machine; pressing my jeans and undershirts like a true square; but I must admit that I’ve largely reverted back to my multitude of avoidance tactics. I don’t know, maybe I enjoy the arbitrary sense of suspense it all adds to my life or something. In any event, I don’t run screaming when I see the iron anymore, and that’s gotta count for something.

Question of the Day: What household task do you avoid the most?

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/oh-the-irony/

 

The Boot Camp Diaries

In an effort to ditch the baby weight, I recently started taking boot camp classes.

The classes take place in one of those industrial, open-space gyms that I thought only existed in my nightmares, and are a mixture of crossfit and pure, unadulterated hell.

Nestled above a Chinese restaurant on one of Toronto’s busiest strips, the gym is a large, windowless box with concrete walls and little ambiance. Across the rubber-padded floor rest various, increasingly imaginative torture devices- from giant tires, to sledgehammers, to dangling gymnastic rings. A thick strip of astro turf runs inexplicably, terrifyingly, down the middle. 

The central radio unleashes a steady onslaught of adult-contemporary hits, and a single metal fan provides the only, pitiful source of ventilation. Near the front of the room is a chalkboard, listing each day’s unique menu of misery. Exercise terms like “Power Cleans” “Weighted Jacks” and“ “Inchworms”  taunt you like creatively-named death sentences, exacerbated by the insane numbers of repetitions scrawled in the margins. 

Needless to say- the combined effect is my own, personal torture chamber.

My general philosophy

Alas- this baby belly isn’t going to eradicate itself, so twice a week at 7 am, Stephen- a fiery welterweight with seemingly boundless energy- leads us through an hour of cruel and unusual punishment while I internally weep and say silent prayers to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

A typical workout consists of three “rounds”, and although they vary each day, it’s a pretty safe bet that each will contain some combination of the following exercises:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Push-Ups
  • Pull-Ups
  • Lifting heavy sh*t
  • Some form of Crawling or jumping;
  • generally wanting to die; and- the WORST:
  • BURPEES.

My boyfriend and I (yes, he’s in on this too. Misery loves company, people) have been going for a few weeks now, and we’re starting to recognize a regular cast of characters. There’s the overly-opinionated middle-aged lady who unreasonably believes everyone is “stealing her free weights”, the tatted-up gay couple who are impossibly ripped (and impossibly cute), and a few former university athletes who boastingly sport the swag of their respective alma matters.

And then there’s us. While we’ve run a few 10ks and consider ourselves reasonably fit (mistaken pregnancy notwithstanding), we certainly weren’t prepared for this type of workout. After our first class, we both couldn’t move for nearly a week. (Although, I do consider the time we spent massaging one another’s calves and writhing in pain while watching Diners Drive –Ins and Dives a true bonding experience.)  

To his credit, Stephen, has been incredibly patient and encouraging with both of us; explaining each exercise and instructing on proper form. He’s also been a terrific cheerleader- especially with me.

Guys, I am not exaggerating when I say I am the WORST at boot camp. I am invariably the last one finished each round, and that’s even AFTER modifying all of the exercises. (Don’t look at me like that. I’d like to see YOUr a$$ do a real pull-up).

Given I am competitive in nature and generally think I am the best at everything, being confronted with my own inadequacy is somewhat devastating. It would be OK if I thought I was getting better, but I honestly feel like I might be regressing. Every week I seem weaker and weaker. I’m like the Benjamin Button of exercise.

The other day in class, I was sitting on a giant tire lamenting my inadequacy, when Stephen came over to me. “How you doing?” he  asked “good?”

“Yeah…” I responded quietly

“It’s ok to take breaks. Don’t worry about what they’re doing,” he said, pointing to my fellow boot camp members, “don’t compare yourself to them. Just think about you. If they’re not taking breaks, they’re not working hard enough. I think you’re doing great”. 

It felt like I had somehow been transported into a scene from a motivational sports movie. Like Mr. Miyagi to the Karate Kid- Stephen had inspired me to get up and flip that tire once more- this time with the heart of a champion.

The whole thing was sort of emotional.

Anyhow- I still suck at boot camp, but now when I want to give up, instead of doing this:

I just listen to Stephen’s voice back in my head saying:

… and if that fails, I just close my eyes and think about pizza.

Mmmm. Pizza.

Question of the Day: What is the most challenging workout you’ve ever done?

A Million and One Things To Do With Leftover Pumpkin

I was deep in the middle of my Saturday morning routine (painting my nails and watching PRV’d weight loss shows), when my boyfriend announced he wanted to make pumpkin muffins.

“Great!”I said, “Love pumpkin muffins!”

“Want to help?” he asked

My immediate reaction was:

 

…but, in an effort to be more domestic, I decided to bite the bullet. Plus, he has  been watching a lot of Pioneer Woman lately, and I’m starting to develop a bit of a complex.

Damnit, Ree Drummond! Stop making the rest of us look bad!

“Sure” I responded, Tis the season right?

Since canned pumpkin just “wouldn’t do”, step 1 was  heading to the market to pick up an actual, real-life pumpkin. There, I entertained myself by taking autumnal instagrams

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while my boyfriend agonized over the perfect gourd. Since they were all $2, we ended up walking away with the biggest pumpkin we could find. Literally, it was like, country fair-winning, radioactive isotope variety.

It could happen.

With the help of a wheelbarrow, some patience, and a LOT of complaining on my part, we eventually got the beast home and set about de-gutting the thing.

“You want to do the honors?” he asked me

In my head, I was like:

But deep down I knew that the Pioneer Woman wouldn’t be afraid of a few pumpkin guts. She’d get her strong, ranch hands in there and tear those guts out with her award-winning southern smile. So, I got myself a rubber glove, and was like:

Suffice to say, it was not pretty- but in the end, we got the thing cleaned out, and used the pumpkin flesh to whip up these delicious muffins:

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Only problem was, even after making the muffins, we still had about 98% of the mutant pumpkin left.

“So, what are we going to do with the rest?” he asked “We can’t just throw it out”

Both my patience and will to live were severely compromised at this point, but instead of getting down, I thought to myself: WWRDD – What Would Ree Drummond Do?  B*tch would get in there and whip up some more delicious pumpkin specialties.

“Of course we won’t throw it out!” I choked, “let me Google some ideas!”

I found a website devoted to “50 things you can do with leftover pumpkin” and my mind was literally blown. Up until that point, my experience with pumpkin was  limited to pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, and the occasional Pumpkin Spice Latte, if I was feeling frisky. This website had everything from pumpkin risotto, to pumpkin flavored margaritas.

I found a recipe for lamb and pumpkin stew that sounded delicious, and decided to attempt it. Guess what? It turned out AMAZING.

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Next, I roasted the pumpkin seeds with some olive oil, smoked paprika and cumin:

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But despite these two further recipes, we had still barely made a dent in the pumpkin. I knew I had to take drastic measures, so I decided to roast the remaining pumpkin and make pumpkin puree.

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At this point, I was starting to get really into it.  I had become obsessed with using every last inch of the pumpkin – even the peel. My boyfriend looked at me with shock and awe as I peeled off the skin of the roasted pumpkin for later use.

“It’s for facials,”  I said, “Did you know pumpkin is amazing for your skin?”

“I think I’ve created a monster,” he replied.

With the pumpkin sufficiently disposed of, the only question remaining was: what to do with all of this damn pumpkin puree?

Um.. smoothies obviously!

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I started with this pumpkin pie smoothie recipe and it was damn delicious.

Ree Drummond better recognize!!
Ree Drummond better recognize!!

Things were going so well, I decided to try another smoothie- this time a “Green” variety. This one included pumpkin, spinach, frozen banana and almond milk.

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Uhhhh… guys- do not try this one at  home.

When I told my best friend about all of this, she couldn’t believe my domestic prowess, and challenged me to use the leftover pumpkin for her birthday cake.

Even though I had never baked a cake in my entire life , I’m not one to back down from a challenge- so I got my apron on and set to work.

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I won’t lie that the process was a little touch and go….

 

But with a LOT of help from my boyfriend, we did it:

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A three-tiered, pumpkin spice cake with cream cheese frosting:

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The cake was a big hit at the party (mostly because I forced everyone to eat it while repeatedly yelling “Can you believe it?? I MADE that sh*t!!” in their faces) – and thankfully I have used up most of the remaining pumpkin (I was seriously starting to worry I was going to turn orange there for a while).

Do I have a future in food blogging? Probably not- but I’d still like to think I could give the Pioneer Woman a run for her money.

Question of the Day: What is the most ambitious thing you’ve ever cooked?

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