Sunday, January 23, 2011

Alright, I'm on-side


I had quinoa the first time in Peru over 3 years ago - maybe it was the grain-y texture or the flavours with which it was prepared by our porters on the Inca Trail but whatever it was, I was not a fan.

But, I thought I'd give it another chance since I need to add some variety to my clean eating diet.  Much as I enjoy my roasted sweet potato bean salad, it was certain to get old day in and day out as a healthy snack in lieu of my apple in the afternoon.*

So, I spent some time last night on my go-to site for recipes, Epicurious and made this one, Quinoa and Black Bean Salad, tonight.  I tweaked it a bit, skipping the jalepenos and the cumin (eww!) altogether, added lime zest to the dressing and replaced the green peppers with red.  And let me tell you, it was yummy!  I'm now converted to quinoa and am so glad because it's so good for you.

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) though technically not a grain, has been touted a supergrain because it's high in fiber, a good source of iron, an unusually high protein source for a plant food and has all eight of the essential amino acids.  Pretty awesome right? 

Anyway, I'm rather pleased with myself for coming around on quinoa, just as I came around on couscous.  Before I went to Morocco, I thought I didn't like couscous either but I gave it another chance and it did not disappoint - unlike asparagus.  Asparagus has failed me each time I've given it a go to change my mind and I've since decided that it's dead to me. That's right, asparagus, you're dead to me!

I have my eye on Quinoa 365, a very well reviewed cookbook filled with quinoa recipes but I'm going to give some of my saved recipes a try before committing to the purchase.

* I'm trying to cut fruits and dairy from my diet - at least during the week.  I had a chat with my trainer about my progress and while I'm getting stronger every day, I'm not seeing the obvious changes in my body like I did in the early days.  We've figured out the training side of the equation so the other side is my diet, hence the effort to cut fructose and lactose from my diet.  

Psst!

I booked myself an afternoon at the spa next Saturday and you might be wondering why I did when I'm supposed to be on a spending fast.  Well, given the explosion of group-buying deal-a-day sites - Groupon and Living Social being the biggest - I accumulated quite a few spa package coupons last year that I haven't yet redeemed, and this spa afternoon is one of those redemptions.  An aroma facial, hot stone massage, hand paraffin treatment and the choice of a manicure or pedicure - all for $39(!)  Crazy right?
Anyway, my inbox got pretty full on a daily basis from all the deal sites I had signed up for and the clutter was distracting - until a friend told me about dealradar.com - so now I'm telling you.  It's a service which consolidates all the daily deals into one email.  There's good coverage of the major Canadian cities including Toronto (bien sur), Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa and Winnipeg; coverage of a few cities in Great Britain and Australia and about 70  cities in the U.S. 

If you're into deals and want a more effective and efficient way of managing them, subscribe to their free daily email.*

*  For the record, I'm in no way affiliated with the site.   

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tis the Season

Yup, that time of year is just around the corner.  For my sister and friends who work in financial services, it's the dreaded crazy-stupid busy period in the lead up to the February 28 deadline to make last-minute contributions to your RRSPs in time for the 2010 tax year.

Now, I wouldn't normally write about RRSPs since I've never particularly been interested in investing - at least in financial instruments.  A statement bag?  Yup.  A diamond pendant or the go-girl right-hand ring?  Sure.  But those are all pretty "investments" that are tangible and that I can wear on my person.  A stock or mutual fund?  Where's the fun in that?

Seriously though, I came across this headline in the Star today - Fewer Canadians 18 to 34 have RRSPs, bank poll finds - and for some reason, clicked through.  Seems only 39% of my contemporaries today have an RRSP compared to 62% who said they did 5 years ago.  The main reasons cited for not investing include the desire to reduce debt, save for a rainy day, or home ownership.  On that last point, I have to say that one of the key reasons I'm a homeowner today is because I invested in an RRSP just about as soon as I started working full-time and was eligible to take part in a company-sponsored plan: I "paid" myself first by having a percentage of my pay cheque automatically deducted and invested into an RRSP and maxed out on any employer matching programs offered.  On the former, I'm not tempted to spend the money on stuff I don't need and on the latter, any funds matched are "free" money to me.  And who doesn't want free money?  I then took advantage of the Government of Canada's Home Buyers' Plan and withdrew funds tax-free from my RRSP to help pay for the down payment on my condo.   

Interestingly enough, the year-end statement for my employer-sponsored plan arrived today and frankly, I'm always pleasantly surprised by how much I've socked away because I honestly don't think about the biweekly deposits I make into this plan.  The best is seeing all that "free" money in matched contributions - a sweet 16% of my porftolio is made up of these funds!

So, if I can share any investing advice with you, it will be as I advised my brother when he first started work: make sure you participate in your company-sponsored RRSP and take advantage of any employer matching programs offered.  Some company's match a percentage point for every year of service, i.e. if you've worked 1 year, they'll match up to the first 1% of your contribution so the 2% of your salary that you've contributed is now actually 3%. In real numbers, assuming you make $50K a year, the $1000 you've put away in your RRSP is now $1500 - that's $500 "free."   I'm not even going to get into the benefits of compounding interest and the potential of lower weighted-average costs of investment. 

Even if you don't work for a company with these benefits, open up an RRSP account.  There are so many resources online to help you with that and if you're nervous about doing it on your own, get some help and visit your local branch.  Despite what 50% of Americans think, you're probably not going to retire from the lottery so be responsible about your future.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spineless Classics

I discovered Spineless Classics thanks to Kelly over at Jax Does Design today and am so thankful I did because they're the perfect trifecta of typography, literature and art all in one.  I dropped them a quick email and got a perfectly lovely and prompt response from Carl who confirmed that they do indeed ship to Canada! YAY!!  If only I wasn't on a spending fast! 

I'd love to get either Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or The Wind in the Willows for my Piglet.
For me, if push came to shove and I had to pick one, it'd be Pride & Prejudice - I love the romance of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

GG Hits & Misses

Did you watch the Golden Globes?  What did you think of Ricky Gervais?  I thought he was fantastic! He was so bracingly sharp, which made for a very interesting show since I really only ever watch awards shows for the fashions.  On that note, as ever is the case, there were hits and misses on the catwalk that is the red carpet so here's my quick rundown before I hit the sack.

First up, the misses: Angelina Jolie in an awesome colour but ugly, ugly (yes it needs to be repeated) dress and lank, blah hair; Emma Stone who's so pretty but looks at one with her dress; Sandra Bullock who also looks like the same colour as her dress with the unflattering thick fringe; and Christina Aguleira - what happened to her?  She used to be so cute!
My hits include 2 ladies in black - Olivia Wilde in this gorgeous, sparkly, princess-y Marchesa ballgown (I hate her boring hair though) and Eva Longoria in this restrained and streamlined Zac Posen that reads like a super-fem tuxedo-dress to me.


And 2 ladies in blue: Jenna Ushkowitz in I-don't-know-who but she's perfect and I love her hair and make-up; and Amy Adams in a Marchesa gown with laser-cut details.
This Versace on January Jones - I wasn't keen on it when I first saw it.  But, it grew on me and I've come to admire it's amazing fringe construction.

And my all-time favourite of the night was Kyra Sedgwick in this juicy orange Emilio Pucci - the way she's accessorized it with the turquoise drop earrings and the multiple gold bangles is perfection. And if you watched the candid bits of the telecast, you would have seen how sweet she and Kevin Bacon were. I love them as a couple! 
That's all.  G'night folks!
Photos via People and Us Weekly.

Golden Globe Sunday

How was your Sunday?  Did you get up to much?  The sun shone brightly outside and while I would normally head out to the market for my fresh groceries, I'd already taken care of that the day before so I was able to spend the day in my PJs. 

I spent much of the day industriously preparing my meals for the week so I can veg out in front of the TV to watch the Golden Globes uninterrupted by chores.  I made my everyday lunches for the week of the usual chicken breast with bell peppers and broccoli, hardboiled a dozen eggs and whipped up another batch of roasted sweet potato succotash to snack on during the week.  There's a load of laundry waiting to be washed and a couple of delicate, beaded Ts and a merino wool sweater in my sink. 

1.5hrs more to kill before the pre-show fashion runway begins...!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Home-made Protein Bars

I got this recipe for home-made protein bars from my trainer before the holidays and finally decided to give it a try. I made a number of tweaks to the recipe, including steel-cut oats instead of the rolled oats the recipe called for which made for a harder chew; rather than prepping yogurt cheese, I mashed up a banana and mixed it with a couple eggs; I used 1 tsp of nutmeg (only because I mistook it for the cinnamon) and because I didn't have a 9"x13" pan, I used an 8" round pan.

The bars - or slices in my case - turned out quite well, despite my not following the last directions precisely because of the late hour.

Not only are these healthy for you, but because of chocolate, they smell awesome when they're baking - you can totally trick yourself into thinking there are chocolate cookies in the oven!

Ingredients
1 cup whey protein powder
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup Agave nectar or honey
1 cup dark chocolate
1 1/2 cup yogurt cheese
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tsp extra virgin oil
1 tsp vanilla
cooking spray

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Coat 9x13 baking pan with cooking spray.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and the honey.
3. Stir in the broken pieces of chocolate
4. In another bowl, mix the yogurt cheese, oils and vanilla.
5. Add the yogurt mixture to the dry ingredients and use clean bare hands to combine these well.  Coat hands in olive oil to help prevent sticking.
6. Place mixture in pan and press down evenly.
7. Bake on middle rack in oven for 15 minutes.
8. Let cool and cut dough into bars.
9. Place bars on a Silpat-lined cookie sheet and bake for another 15 minutes.
10. Remove from heat and transfer to wire cooling rack.
Makes 20 to 24.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Anthropologie Wish List

I received Anthropologie's latest catalogue in the mail today and was struck by their cover product - the  gorgeous Daily Brights Satchel in blue below.  Look at that lining of zebra AND leopard - never mind how functional it is on the inside! 
A quick flip through the catalogue and that's when I discovered their Filgreed Chestnut Tote which I MUST HAVE. Except that I'm on a spending fast. Yep. A spending fast. So all I can do is stare at it longingly...I wish I could feel the texture. So beautiful.
Oh and I've got my eye on these too...Damn spending fast!
Swept Swag Sweatshirt, Mainstay Tunic, Morning Mists Top, Emerald Wicklow Dress

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pretty Bluebellgray

Tell me these aren't the prettiest, girliest cushions you've seen in awhile. I dare you. You can't, can you?
I was catching up on my reader and happened upon them via a sneak peek on Design*Sponge of Fiona Douglas' home, the artist/designer behind Bluebellgray.  Check out her lovely wares below in situ.

Seriously.
Just lovely. 
Photos via Design*Sponge

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bed Refresh

I switched out the throw/blanket at the end of my bed today, replacing the fuschia/gold paisley shawl I bought in Little India with the cactus silk/wool blend waterfall blanket I bought in Fez:
What do you think? Methinks they're a better complement to the Orla Kiely pillow cases.

Weekend Update

How was your weekend? Mine was quite nice - I spent the day catching up with wL.  We took in a musical together yesterday at the Canon Theatre: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  I was drawn to it because of Chilina Kennedy, the female lead, who I'd last seen in the Stratford Festival's production of West Side Story which played to rave reviews - and she really was a stand-out because I don't normally remember details like actors in the shows.

Quick review: the show was funny - literally laugh-out-loud funny - and the performances were all very good, although I was a little disappointed that Kennedy's role was so small - but that's a function of the story.  Check it out quick if you're so inclined as its current run ends a week today on January 16th.

We went to Campagnolo for dinner afterwards and had a great meal.  The cocktail list was creative and the menu was short (which is how I prefer it), and printed daily in order to take advantage of fresh ingredients and stem boredom in the kitchen.  We had 2 appetizers: fresh burrata cheese on a crostini with roasted grapes which creamy goodness and braised rabbit with rapini and pine nuts which was also rather tasty.  I can't remember when I last had rabbit or what it tasted like, but this was perfectly braised and tender.  For our mains, we had fresh whole grilled sea bream and the chef's specialty: ragoĆ»t of wild boar, spare rib and tripe on polenta.  The sea bream was perfectly grilled and while some people are put off by fish that looks like fish with head and tail on, it doesn't faze me at all because that's how Chinese serve their fish.   On the chef's signature which is his nonna's recipe - I found it too salty for my taste, otherwise, the boar, spare rib and tripe were tender (although there was only 1 piece of the latter to be found in our dish.)  (Apologies for being a bad blogger and not taking photos of the mains...I was distracted by the conversation.)

My Sunday was pretty low-key.  I slept in (again) until 11am (YES!) and puttered around before heading out to pick up groceries in Chinatown.  I vegged about for a bit and proceeded to prep my meals for the week: my Monday through Thursday lunch of grilled chicken, fresh broccoli and bell peppers, and a roasted sweet potato, corn and black bean succotash to serve as a good carb to snack on through the week and to accompany a few dinners, including the salmon steak I had tonight.  Slowly getting back to a routine...

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Parade

I went to my first Meetup in Toronto tonight and saw Parade, a musical based on the true crime story set in 1913 Atlanta of Leo Frank, a Jewish supervisor from "up North" Brooklyn who's accused of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13 year old white factory employee.  The trial was sensationalized by the media, resulting in Frank's conviction in the eyes of the public.  Despite conflicting statements from eyewitnesses, including the black janitor who was coaxed to confess that he had helped hide Mary's body, and the lack of physical evidence connecting Frank to the murder, the all-white jurors convicted Frank and sentenced him to death.

Leo Frank
Appeals by Frank's lawyers were denied all the way to the US Supreme Court, but he was finally granted a reprieve by the outgoing Governor of Georgia who, after a detailed review of the evidence and testimony, decided that Frank had not been granted a fair trial.  His death sentence was commuted to life in prison, where Frank was kidnapped by a lynching party who took him to Mary's hometown of Marietta, Georgia and hanged him from an oak tree.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I see the word musical, I think upbeat stories with happy endings which this clearly is not - this intrigued me enough to go see it.  And I'm glad I did because it was quite good although I was a little bothered by the music - the lyrics and melody were fine but the accompanying music didn't fit at times. 

Mary Phagan
On the company - the cast was generally solid with some standouts although one for the wrong reason - Micheal Therriault, the actor who played Leo Frank was very familiar to me and I realized afterwards it was because I recognized him from his role as Leopold Bloom in The Producers - I really enjoyed his number called Come Up to My Office during one of the trial scenes.  Daren A. Herbert who played the dual roles of the night watchman and janitor had a great tenor and I loved his rough bravado in character as the sometime convict-janitor.  Jay Turvey was another favourite as the Governor and reporter.  Amongst the actresses, I liked Alana Hibbert who played the maid and Jessica Greenberg who was the tragic Mary rather adorably.  On the flip side, Tracy Michailidis who played Frank's wife didn't seem to have a strong enough voice to project throughout the small theatre.  I was a bit distracted by how it seemed like she had to strain to make herself heard and finally there was Jeff Irving who, though he had a fine voice, over-acted to the point of annoyance. 

In the final analysis, it was a fun way to spend a Friday night: I saw some interesting theatre, met some new people and am looking forward to attending the next meetup - of which there are already 31 to choose from, over a third of them in the next 2 months! Fun times ahead!

If you're interested in checking Parade out for yourself, it's on at the Berkeley Street Theatre until January 22.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Hungover Panda

The cuteness of this shot is unbearable.
Photo by LongShotAlpha via Disgrasian

The Shadow of the Wind

I just finished The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and wow. Wow.
I first heard about it earlier this year from my VP at work who was reading The Angel's Game, Zafon's follow-up title.  He'd read The Shadow of the Wind and had recommended it so I finally got around to ordering it online just before the holidays. SO GOOD.

I must admit that like The Winter Vault, it took me awhile to get into it but about 150 pages into this 486 page tome, it really picked up and I was hooked from then on.  The book has everything: a tragic hero, a murderous villain, a femme fatale, loyalty, forever love, madness and war, all set in Barcelona, one my favourite cities in the world. There were 2 unexpected twists, the first of which was literally a jaw-dropping revelation and I promise you that if you're patient, you won't be disappointed.

One of my favourite phrases is this: "...a story is a letter the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise."  This is precisely why in times of great confusion or frustration I turn to writing my thoughts down in an attempt to reach some form of understanding - letters to myself.  I've stopped doing that - partly because my life hasn't seen much in the way of major upheavals, but I do feel that I need to get back in touch with myself again.  Hence the resolution to blog more - whether I decide to publish them in the end is besides the point.

From the back cover:
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer's son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entilted The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax.  But when he sets out to find the author's other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written.  In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax's books in existence.  Soon Daniel's seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets - an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

One year later...

I spent much of this very day last year cleaning and organizing my desk of the various clutter I had accumulated over the years and moved from my childhood into my very own first home.  At the time, I made a resolution of sorts to keep it neat through the year and I'm proud to say that I have, as the photo below attests:


I spent many an evening, early morning and weekend last year working from home at this very desk.  In hindsight now, I'm going to add one more resolution to my list: Work less.

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