Sugar and Pumpkin Spice, and Everything Nice.

I’ve taken an extra long weekend this, uh,  weekend.

Poor Sprinkles cracked a tooth and had to have surgery to extract it. So I stayed home Thursday and today to look after her. She’s totally fine. It also happens to be my birthday weekend! Huzzah! So I’m currently listening to 90’s CanCon and drinking pumpkin spiced whisky. Guys, I think we’ve pumpkin spiced everything now. Apparently there is pumpkin spice rawhide bones for dogs. We’ve gone too far. We’ve gone way too far.

I, of course, wasn’t looking for pumpkin spice whisky. I was actually looking for a maple whisky that I had bought last year, but the LCBO discontinued selling it, jerks. It was called Tap 357, and it was so good. I think at one point i was drinking it straight from the bottle, cos I’m classy like that. Anyhoo, the only bottles left are in Woodbridge, or somewhere called Warsaw, which has a 705 area code, so might as well be in Poland. Sad times.

So pumpkin spiced whisky it was! It mostly tastes like candy, and burning. It’s perfect for the cold weather. I know everyone except for me is miserable that it’s now October. But I love October! I can wear scarves again, and layers, and hats, and socks! I’m not sweaty. The leaves turn, and the air smells so good. Also it’s my birthday. There’s a long weekend that sometimes includes a really good pie. Also apple pies and apple picking, and apples. Oh and hot chocolates and furry blankets! And best of all hallowe’en, the greatest of all the commercialised holidays!

I also bought some decorative gourds.
I am fully seasonally prepared. And a little drunk.

Now if only a new Game of Thrones book and/or season would come out.

Happy Friday!

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Rituals Remembered.

In spite of my attempts to wait for the slightly less crowded streetcar this morning, my commute remained akin to that of a tinned sardine. Sweaty people to the front, some weird puddle of brown goop to the left, and a woman writing in her journal to the right.

Journal lady reminded me that I, too, once journaled on a daily basis. I have two solid years worth of late-night, tear-stained, melodramatic essays on my teenage life. It’s equal part glorious and depressing. Present Maggie is thrilled that past Maggie had the foresight to document these exceptionally formative years. My journals start January 1st, 2000, which was the last half of my final school year in Toronto, and the beginning of my time in the UK. Eventful, to say the least.

Here are some choice excerpts from my first few days at boarding school:

September 5, 2000

“I broke my mug, mom broke the suitcase and she left her raincoat here. I hate the transition stages, they’re the worst.”

September 6, 2000

“Some of the guys here are pretty hot, but lots of them have acne problems, which makes me feel better.”

September 7, 2000

“History is frightening and so is Chapel. Lots of the teachers are scary, some seem like assholes and others seem quite friendly.”

September 8, 2000

“Boys are so hot when they play pool.”

September 9, 2000

“Did I mention how sexy guys are when they play pool?”

Every night before I went to bed I’d nestle in and write. Sometimes just a paragraph, and sometimes an epic novel. It was a ritual. One that I lost, and one that I miss. And one that I’d like to start again. So I’m starting now. I’m going to rustle up a journal, and commit to writing something in it every night. And I will be (hopefully, consistently) complementing it with a witty and informative blog post.

Hah!

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Every day is burrito day!

I’m just going to pretend that it hasn’t been several months since I last visited this corner of the internet.

Or written a lengthy missive.

 

Anyhoo, next week is the last week of work at my current job.

Wait what?

Yup. It’s crazy. Awesome. Scary. Insane? All of the above!

 

Then a week after that I’m off to Japan, Thailand, and England. Some would call this living the dream, and it may just be.

 

So, with all these wacky changes coming up, I want to dedicate more time to this whole writing things, and subsequent posting of them on the interwebs. I think it’ll be good for me, to keep some semblance of a schedule. Or something.

Also I have a lot of baking endeavors that will clearly need to be documented.

 

Tarts people. Tarts.

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“This Play Has EVERYTHING!”

4.5 unicorns out of 5

Last night my sister gave me her ticket for the opening night of the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Handel’s Semele.

On the surface it’s a pretty boring opera with a traditional Greek plot line. Semele (Jane Archibold) is to marry Athamas (Anthony Roth Costanzo), but she’s in love with Jupiter (William Burden). Ino (Allyson McHardy), Semele’s sister, is in love with Athamas. Luckily for them both, Jupiter whisks Semele away to a palace to be his mistress. Juno, Jupiter’s wife (also played by Allyson McHardy), is inherently jealous and plots to destroy Semele with the help of her adorable sidekick Iris (Katherine Whyte) and Somnus (Steven Humes) the God of sleep. Juno succeeds. Semele dies. Too much harpsichord. Blah blah blah.

But this production is slightly different. Swap out the Greek for Chinese, and things get more… interesting.

The big hype around this particular production is the set: A 450 year old  Chinese temple. Thanks to the director, Zhang Huan, this Ming Dynasty temple was disassembled and shipped to the Four Seasons Centre and re-built. Better yet, the previous owner of the temple, Fang Jixin, was executed by firing squad for murdering his wife’s lover. It’s a beautiful set. And the opera begins with a film explaining its history as the overture plays.

Aside from the short documentary during the overture, I knew I was in for quite the ride the minute the “castrato”, or counter tenor as I suspect he still has his testicles in tact, began singing. Athamas shrieked about Hyman and torches while prancing around the stage swooshing his cape, spinning around like a little girl in a new party dress. His high-pitched, desperate-for-sex wails were, in a word, unbearable. Though, every so often he’d hit a lower note, and his voice was quite beautiful. Not so much an octave up. Usually castrati elicit the tones akin to young choir boys, but this guy was a little closer to The Darkness. Now, I’m not certain, but I think this was intended to make you hate the guy. Either way, I hated the guy. And then hate melted to pity once he started to grope the horse’s ass. Yeah, he molested the wedding horse cos his fiancé was rebuking his advances. I guess you take what you can get.

I wanna talk more about this horse. In the past, COC productions are usually either excessively minimalist and angular with some attempt at modern artistic flare (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t), or opulent and traditional (opulence always works, mostly because I am a great appreciator of all things shiny). This production, however, felt like it was a high school play put on by a fifteen year old boy with an unlimited budget and access to exceptional talent. It’s like that episode of Futurama where Melllvar kidnaps the cast of Star Trek and lives out his sci-fi fantasies, but with COC’s Semele it’s sex instead of sci-fi. Right back to the horse. It’s two people in a horse costume a la pantomime. Which I think is just WONDERFUL. It dances! It twitches when it’s ass is being grabbed! It’s a two person horse costume! What more could you ask for?

After the wedding falls apart due to Jupiter rescuing Semele,  Semele appears mid-air hanging from two wires. In spite of her supremely beautiful voice, I couldn’t help staring, aghast, at the awkward wires supporting her flight. It just looked awful. Perhaps it was my angle, perhaps it was the spot light, but the wires seemed more visible than the soprano. It was at that point the production downgraded itself set-wise from high school to junior high. I could almost see the stereotypical outcast pulling the ropes back stage keeping Semele aloft. You’re almost hoping for a Hindenberg style mishap, after all, she is to be consumed by flames in the end.

The first Act ends on a surprising artistic and compelling note. A Chinese singer fills the theatre with beautiful tones, and  slowly walks across the stage, singing his refrains. It’s so beautiful that you briefly forget about the castrato, the pantomime horse and the wires.

Act Two begins with Juno angry and swearing vengeance after Iris, almost too gleefully, explains Semele’s blissful situation in, what I have come to refer as, the sex palace. Don’t mess with a jealous God yo. It’ll just end badly. Juno huffs off with Iris and the curtain raises to reveal the sex palace. It’s dressed up as a grove. The set itself is striking with the old temple and an abundance of greenery. Semele and Jupiter sweetly swoon at each other, their voices are stellar. The swooning gets more intense as Jupiter begins to disrobe Semele and thoroughly manhandles her body. The chorus, dressed as Buddhist monks joins them on stage, and with them returns the horse! The horse is in a new costume, this time a Chinese print, rather than plain red, and it has a huge erect horse penis.

Let me say this again.

The horse has a giant erect penis, a cock, if you will.

The monks start banging the horse. The horse starts banging the monks. The monks start disrobing, into what look like dirty gym clothes (a striking contrast to the more tradition and elaborate Chinese silks and robes), and begin to have sex in all kinds of positions. Basically there is a lot of simulated sex going on on stage. And to be honest I forget what happens next, because I was too distracted by the giant horse cock. The programme says Jupiter summons Semele’s sister Ino to the sex palace so they can hang out, thus distracting Semele from her desire to become immortal (her eventual downfall).

OH WAIT, I forgot about the Sumo wrestlers. At some point after the orgy two Sumo wrestlers come out, and wrestle. And it’s AMAZING. I’ve never seen Sumo wrestling live before. They stomp and balance on one leg, they kick, and then bing bang bam they wrestle, pushing and shoving and falling in tangled mass balls of skin. After one finally submits to the other, they join hands and skip off backstage through the flora.

After intermission the theatre was less full than before intermission, surprising absolutely no one.

Act three is staged on the roof of the temple. Juno and Iris enlist Somnus in their plot to destroy Semele. He agrees, only because Juno mentions the name of his love (which I forget, but she’s sitting topless next to him on the roof – so I’m not sure how this became a turning point in his decision to help out Juno). Behind Somnus and his topless lover sits a huge inflatable doll, that slowly inflates throughout the scene. The rhythm of the air inflating the doll mimics the rhythm of the music, so as wacky as it is, it actually worked rather well. Though when I first saw the inflatable doll, I thought that perhaps someone would end up banging it. This was not the case. And to be honest, after what happened in the first half, I was a little disappointed.

Actually, after the first half the final act is a little disappointing gimmick-wise. There’s a huge mirror used that reflects the entire audience, and more interestingly, the orchestra and conductor, which is visually quite stunning. And there’s a beautifully crafted white Chinese dragon that moves around the stage, representing Jupiter’s true form. But Semele’s death lacks any fire. And by fire I literally mean fire. I was hoping for flames and smoke and bangs and sparks! But rather she is just wrapped up and consumed by the dragon which, if it weren’t for all the ridiculousness of the first two acts, would be exquisite. But instead it was lack-lustre.

What I will give the third act, and what really is important when it comes to opera, is that it includes the majority of Jane Archibald’s phenomenal vocal work. Her voice is incredible and shines throughout, and was met with loud applause and several shouts of “Brava!”. And this appreciation was shown again during curtain call. The talent was on form throughout.

If you’re unsure about opera, maybe this is the one for you. It has a little bit of everything: Sumo wrestlers, a horse with a giant penis, monks having sex, boobs, a soprano with a truly magnificent voice. Seriously, it has everything. Everything to the point where it feels like you’re on a date with a guy who REALLY wants to impress you and pulls out all the stops to make sure there isn’t a single boring moment, filling the lulls with Sumo wrestlers.

Oh! And one of the bass players in the orchestra looks just like Tobias Funke. This opera REALLY does have everything.

This production may not be for everyone, but it definitely proves that the COC found its balls.

(Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

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Mmmmmm pie.

I can count the number of pies I’ve made on my fingers. I’m hoping to include toes soon. In spite of my low number I really do love baking pies. I have a beautiful pie plate that needs more use. So in honour of Thanksgiving this past weekend I baked an apple pie for one of the three dinners I have attended/will be attending (2 down, one to go).

I couldn’t remember what recipe I used for my last crust, so I hashed together a new crust recipe! Based entirely off the proportions for good ol’ Barefat’s “Deep Dish Apple Pie”. Except I replaced the shortening with DUCK FAT and the water with VODKA.

Let me explain a few things for you, in case those last two ingredients make you question my sanity (it’s ok, I totally understand). I’m big into the idea of animal fat over shortening. I mean shortening has its place, I’m sure. It makes for flakey things, and I use it when I need to. It’s just, believe it or not, way creepier than animal fat. The process you go through to render fat from various vegetables? That shit shouldn’t happen man. It just shouldn’t. But animal fat? That is a much more reasonable and natural process. Just embrace it and pretend you’re European, or a cowboy, or whatever. The extra bonus of animal fat is that the exceptionally attractive butcher will explain to you all the differences between the animals. Lard (pig fat) is the cheapest of animals fats, and is good for use in sweet or savory pies. Beef is ok too, but should really only be used in savory crusts. Chicken tastes SUPER chicken-y, so not such a good plan. Duck, ah yes duck, it’s the most expensive (other than goose I’d assume, or polar bear, but I’m not THAT fancy…. yet), but it is exceptional for all types of crust. OH, THE TASTE! So I use duck fat. It smells a little woody, but it’s soft and easy to work with. And you can freeze it.

My choice of vodka as a substitute for water is not based on my love of a good tipple, no,  but instead: SCIENCE. The problem with water is that when it meets flour it gets gluttony, or something, and makes for a tougher, less flakey crust the more you work with it. Using vodka means you can have a wetter dough which is easier to work with, without sacrificing flake. Go team vodka!

People, my pie-hating sister ATE ALL THE PIE. This crust is THAT good. So I will share it with you.

Duck Fat Vodka Pie crust:

This recipe will make a bottom crust and a top crust.

Make sure all your ingredients are very cold, but not frozen.

1 ½ sticks of good unsalted butter, cubed

1/3 cup duck fat, splodged (it doesn’t really cube as it’s so soft, like all our fatty bits!)

3 cups of flour

1 tsp salt

1 tablespoon white sugar

½ cup of ice cold vodka (I like to pour myself a glass on the rocks and measure it out from there)

1 egg and a splash of milk for the eggwash, keep separate.

  1. Pre-heat oven to 415 F (an odd number but it worked). Stick a tin foil lined baking tray on the lower rack to catch all the tasty juices that will inevitably ooze out of your pie. This way your kitchen won’t smell like it’s on fire. Maybe.
  2. Whisk all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Throw butter and duck fat in with the flour and cut in with two knives, continue until it’s a bowl full of pea-sized floury buttery bits. I usually get impatient and start using my hands. This works especially well if you are a vampire, or have naturally cold hands.
  4. Slowly pour in the ice cold vodka, and work into dough with your fingers until it’s all just combined.
  5. Divide dough into two disks, and put in fridge for 30mins, or forever. It’s up to you.
  6. After you’ve made your filling, or washed your hair, or whatever, roll out the dough until it looks like a big enough circle to fit into your pie plate with some over-hang. THEN (here’s a handy tip), fold it in half (or into a quarter triangle guy) and place it in the dish, and then unfold in the dish. This avoids breaking it to a billion pieces. SMART. Press gently into the dish.
  7. Pile in your filling! I used a cinnamon spiced apple filling and piled it in HIGH, but do whatever makes you happy! Peaches, plums, pears, whatever!
  8. Do the same but with the top! I cut out ADORABLE hearts, but if you don’t want to be barf-tastic, just make some slits with a knife, or whatever. Your pie is like a puppy, it needs to breath! So make some breathing holes.
  9. Eggwash your pie! Dip a brush into the eggwash you made, and then paint the top of your pie with it. I forgot this step, but I just did it 45mins into baking. It worked out fine.
  10. BAKE! I baked mine for about 1h 25mins, the crust was a delicious golden brown and the juices were bubbling and gurgling and leaking on to the tray below nicely. I’d start checking in about 45mins in, if your top is getting too golden for your liking, place some tinfoil on top!

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You can give them to the birds and bees…

I have just entered month four on my new, much tighter budget, and against everything I imagined, it is going extraordinarily well. I’ve actually- shock horror -managed to save $900.00, which is insane. And counter-intuitive.

 

I was lucky with timing as July was a bountiful month in terms of cash flow. I structured my budget based on two pay cheques a month, but July happened to be one of those moths where I am paid thrice! So that started me off in very good financial standing. I also received my income tax refund and a couple other government rebate cheques. That is where all of my savings has come from. I am currently looking at my savings strictly as “in case of emergency” money, though as it’s my birthday I might treat myself to a little something something.

Also, to fully disclose, I have been helped out every so often by my wonderful boyfriend, who picks up the tab for meals out and the occasional grocery trip. I like to think that I pay him back by feeding him doughnuts.

But the most important part in any kind of financial planning is to not spend more than you earn. And I am most certainly keeping within those bounds, and Mint has been a crucial part in managing all my money. It allows me to account for every single penny I earn and then subsequently spend.

Now that I count every single penny I spend, I spend my pennies much more wisely than I used to. Here is a fabulous pie chart showing the break-down of my monthly spending for September:

The most conspicuous changes in my spending are that I haven’t bought a single article of clothing since April (except for two bras which were not only VERY necessary but also VERY on sale!), I bring lunch in to work pretty much every day (added bonus being I am cooking a lot more, which makes me happy), and my restaurant and alcohol expenditure has been cut significantly. I still budget in dinners and nights out, just not nearly as much as I used to. Now, I actually look at the price of the products I buy. I am fortunate enough, however, that my tighter budget allows me to continue making meaningful choices. For example, I allocate enough money to groceries that I can continue to buy organic, free-range meat and eggs, as these things are important to me.

There are some things in my budget that surprisingly were a surprise. My dog, for example, is the thing I spend the most money on after rent and groceries. Because I’m a sucker, or responsible, – you decide –  she gets fancy brand dog food that costs $60 a month, pet insurance for another $60, and a bag of treats for $7 or so each month. I could cut those costs by more than half by chucking the insurance and getting crappier food, but as I’m 100% in charge of her life and welfare it’s just not something I’m inclined to do. While I feel no remorse for living off ramen myself, I don’t want to purposefully inflict a crap diet on something that has no other choice, so Sprinkles dines on wild boar and sweet potato. I do fine too, as I noted above, with my affinity for local, happy livestock. Though, man, do I love a bowl of ramen.

Thus far, I’m doing really well. I’m pretty proud at my self-restraint and my abilities to manage money, as I have been known to be a little out of control. I’ve also learned what things are important to me that I am more unwilling to bend on: Coffee still gets a budget, while H&M has lost some business.

 

Let’s hope I can stay the course!

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