Working away

Red circles statement necklace

On things like this today.  Stay tuned!

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Entering the Discomfort Zone

Yesterday afternoon I drove into downtown Vancouver and spent a couple of hours promoting Phibersmith to some retail stores.  Then I spent several more hours coming down off my anxiety high.  In fact it took me about three times as long to recover from the outing as the outing itself.

Although I’m fairly new to this whole game of selling one’s artistry, all the seasoned pros I talk to say the same thing about self-promotion: HATE. IT.  It is one of the most awkward, uncomfortable, skeev-inducing activities – speed-dating comes to mind as a possible comparison (although that I’ve happily never experienced) – and yet it’s pretty much essential if I have any hope of success in this crazy venture.

Let me put it this way, for the most part the only interview you have to go through for a job is the one you do prior to being hired (maybe you do a series of interviews, but anyway, you get it).  Imagine instead that a main part of your job was being interviewed – for that same job – over and over and over again.  And again.  You can see how that might get exhausting.

Last night I didn’t settle down until almost midnight, and that was after having to get out of bed once because a design for an embroidered collar popped into my head and I had to draw it in case it wasn’t still in my head in the morning (don’t you just hate when that happens?).  So I was pretty surprised this morning when my eyes popped open at 7am, and I felt… great.  Like I haven’t slept that well in a while, and like I could tackle anything in the world today. INSPIRED.

This started me thinking about the concept of comfort, and how we relate to it.  What do you think of when you hear the word “comfort,” or “comfortable”?  Connotations mostly good, right?  But what about “comfort zone” or  “comfort level”? Still positive terms?  It occurs to me that, as a society that focuses intensely on creature comforts, on making people and situations MORE comfortable (on a physical plane anyway), we tend to ignore the fact that discomfort might be a positive thing too.  Oh, I’m sure that psychology is all over this already, and what I’m thinking here is nothing new – habituation, after all, is Psych 101 – but bear with me.

In the case of comfort zone and comfort level, the term “comfort” in these instances is a negative.  It implies safety, yes, but a safety that is closing you off from new experience and personal growth.  It is safety, but it is also stagnancy – and, frankly, boredom.  For this reason we are encouraged to venture beyond our comfort zones, or exceed our comfort levels.  In this sense, your discomfort zone is actually a positive place; one where you’re pushing yourself to the limit or beyond it, in terms of creativity, or physical (and mental!) endurance, or whatever your passion – in terms of GUTS.

Based on this idea, I’m wondering if I don’t spend too much time worrying about getting myself back to my comfort zone, and too little time checking out the scenery while I’m out of it.  Over the next little while I’m going to be stepping out more often – fearless! – to see what goodies I collect when I’m back at centre.

How are you exploring your discomfort zone?

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Found Object Sculpture, Theme “Domesticity”

Yesterday I amused myself while folding laundry by seeing how high I could stack Thomas’s clothes before they tumbled over (cheap thrills, I know).  Turns out pretty high – I got another load’s worth on there after I took this picture.

When he came home and asked me what I did for the day (and just a note here: this is not ALL I did, I was very productive, it’s just the laundry was goofy and worth sharing), I proudly showed him my handiwork and said, “I built you a tower! It’s like laundry for Jenga players!”

Later on, he changed into pajama pants that were freshly laundered, and when he came back he sat down beside me on the couch, and horrified, I asked, “You didn’t topple the tower did you?”

“No,” he said.  “I took a block from the middle… and I put it on ME.”

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Hankering after a little heat

my happy place

Oh Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun…

I know in a couple of months I’m going to look back on this post and want to kick myself for saying this, because our apartment is basically a big greenhouse, but I am SO looking forward to summer right now.

Don’t get me wrong – the weather has been just fine in Vancouver.  In fact, as I write this, the sun is shining brilliantly and everything outside my window is green… but it ain’t warm.

For a kid from Ontario who’s used to basically 2 different seasons – summer and winter – where one transforms instantly, spectacularly, into another, the actual existence of 4 distinct seasons out West can be difficult to accept.  Spring just seems like such a freaking tease.

Here I am, sitting inside, the sun blaring off the cars on the highway, but if I venture out there (which I do, with puppio, a few times a day – for those of you who worry about my burgeoning agoraphobia) I have to wear a sweater and my jacket.  Until a couple of weeks ago I was still wearing gloves! And HOLY CRAP, I am so, so tired of socks.

I’m ready for shorts, and skirts without leggings for backup.  I want to take off my sweater and tie it around my waist like I did in 5th grade.  I want to steal Thomas’s linen shirts for bathing suit cover ups.  I want to slather on SPF 50 and then pretend to be tanning!  Goshdarnit (Dagnabbit!) I want to be WARM ALREADY.

Until the weather cooperates, unfortunately, I’ll just keep visualizing an internal roaring furnace, schlepping around in my slippers when I just can’t face the socks, and sneaking daily peeks at our honeymoon pictures in Antigua.

Le sigh.

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Apple Blueberry Pie + Pastry Tutorial

The Sneak Peek

A couple of days ago I put the above photo on my twitter as a sneak peek for this recipe.  At the time, there was still some of this pie left in our fridge, and looking at it now, I’m REALLY sad we’ve eaten it all already.  Can we agree on something? Namely that one’s own website is not the appropriate locale for false modesty? Yes? Good.  Because I make RIDICULOUSLY GOOD pie.  I’m not sure if the above was the best pie I’ve ever made, but it definitely ranks.  While we were eating it on Saturday, Thomas commented around a forkful that, “If we weren’t already married for other reasons, I would marry you for this pie.”  Take note, ladies (and gentlemen), this is magic-commitment-forging pie.

Also, let’s all just sail right past the fact that I just admitted the two of us ate an entire pie this weekend.

I was talking to my friend Erica recently (hi Erica!) about making pie and she expressed something that I encounter again and again in people’s attitudes to pie-making: that pastry is too hard, and ergo not worth attempting.  This always baffles me, because pastry – classic pie pastry anyway – is actually pretty straightforward.  I’m not going to get into puff pastry, or croissants, or phyllo, because I buy those in the frozen foods aisle; and I can see from those examples why people might jump to a blanket conclusion about all pastry types being too difficult.  I’m also not going to deny that practice is helpful when it comes to pie-making.  I’ve been making pastry since I was a kid, helping my mother and grandmother make holiday pies, and in that time I’ve caught on to some tricks.  However, none of this is anything you can’t glean from a good step-by-step demo, which is what I’m offering here: I’ve got 30 or so pictures that will make you an expert just like that *snap*.

Here’s the first one:

flour, shortening, salt, stand mixer

Okay, first off – don’t be intimidated by the stand mixer.  Everything it’s doing can equally be done with a pastry blender, or two knives crossing each other in a cutting motion (imagine: held with tips facing inwards, one knife cuts right, one cuts left).  If you do use a mixer, use the flat beater.

In the bowl there is: 2 cups of all purpose flour, 3/4 tsp of salt, and 1 cup of shortening.  I use the original Crisco “No-Fail” pastry recipe.  They changed it a couple of years ago so it’s no longer the one  on the package.  That made me sad :( and I had to scramble around to find an old package and record it for posterity.

With your mixer, or your pastry blender, or your knives, you’re going to GENTLY work the shortening into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles “coarse crumbs.”  When I was little, that term always confused me in its ambiguity.  So to be specific, you want it to look like this:

what your "coarse crumb" state should resemble

You don’t want to over do it, but you don’t want to UNDER do it either – err on the side of getting all the flour involved with the shortening.

The heavy lifting is done! Now for the finesse:

egg, vinegar, water

That’s an egg! Plus 1 tbsp white vinegar, and 2 tbsps COLD water.  The colder the better.  Don’t want the shortening to get melty or anything.  Whisk all that together, and then pour it over your “coarse crumbs,” like so:

pouring the egg mixture over the flour mixture

The next part you want to attempt with a fork, because you want to work the wet stuff through the flour mixture just enough to bring the dough together.  If you mix it too much, you’ll end up with cardboard-y pastry – blech.  We want to keep some air in here because that makes the pastry stay nice and light and flaky.  More mixy = less flaky.  Here’s what it looks like when you’re done:

pastry mixed with fork

Grab all that good stuff, form it into a ball, and wrap it all up in plastic wrap.  Stick it in the fridge until we’re ready to deal with it again.

While you’re in the fridge, grab a big bag of apples.  If you’re at my house, this action will elicit the following reaction:

Piper seese the apples

“Hey… are those apples you’re getting out there? Did you get them out for me? Did you maybe want to perhaps give me one… or the whole bag?”

Piper has a thing about apples.

Apples, peeled

You want to peel and slice about 8 of them for this pie.  For a straight up apple pie you’d want at least 10.  My rule of thumb is to keep going until you’ve filled a big bowl to the brim.  If you end up with extras you’ve got snacks!

We actually decided we had a need for pie because we had all these McIntosh apples taking up space in our fridge.  As you can see, they weren’t the nicest apples ever – a bit on the small, dinged-up side, and they weren’t very sweet.  Luckily, you don’t want apples to be too sweet when making pie; however, McIntosh are not the optimal pie apple.  In Ontario, where I grew up, my grandmother maintains that Northern Spy is the best variety for pie.  I don’t know what the conventional wisdom in BC is, but I’ve had the best luck with Jonagold – which have been unfortunately hard to find of late.  If you can’t find Spy or Jonagold, your criteria should be as follows:  very crisp flesh, because you want them to hold their shape through the baking process, and a fairly tart flavour, because you’re going to add sugar to the filling and you don’t want it to become sickly.  Size doesn’t really matter… ahem *skips inappropriate joke*… but you’ll have to peel and slice less if you get larger apples.

Here is what your slices should look like:

apple slices

You want them nice and thin, and fairly uniform so that they’ll bake evenly.  For this pie, I’m adding about 3/4 cup of frozen blueberries.  Throw those on top and give the fruit a toss:

apples and blueberries tossed together

Lovely.  Now we’re ready for the dough.

The Crisco recipe makes enough for a double crust pie, so I cut my pastry ball in half, and put it cut side down on my floured surface.  I top it with a bit more flour, and I also flour my rolling pin.  No sticksies!  Notice the blue thing?  That is my fantabulous silicone mat that I found gathering dust at the back of a bottom shelf at the grocery store.  It does double duty as a pastry mat and a cookie sheet liner (replacing parchment paper).  It’s dishwasher safe, it rolls up tight, and it always unrolls flat – no curvy edges.  Can you tell that I love it? Yes I do.  BUT, don’t despair, for these purposes, a piece of wax paper works just as nicely.  You can roll your pastry out on a clean counter or board or whatever, but I strongly recommend using something like my mat or the wax paper, for reasons which will become apparent momentarily.

Ready to roll!

Rolly, rolly, and voilà! Here’s my pastry all rolled out to about 1/4″ thick… maybe a bit thinner:

Rolled pastry

Yes, I’ve exceeded the edges of my mat – but that’s okay, my counter is nice and clean, and the important thing is to have it roundish, so that it will fit nicely into your pie plate.  Let’s just give that a measure:

measure pastry against pie plate

Looks pretty good to me.  You want it rolled out large enough that it will come up the sides of your plate and flop over a little bit.

Now here’s the tricky part, and the reason why you’ll love me for suggesting the mat/paper:

transfering pastry with a rolling pin

I transfer pastry in two ways.  Either I roll it around the rolling pin, as shown above, and then unroll it over my pie plate, OR I fold the pastry lightly into a square with all the edges meeting in the middle (imagine: right edge folded to centre, left edge folded to centre, then top and bottom edges folded into centre over the first folds – a neat little package).  In either scenario, it is indescribably useful to have something underneath the pastry that will help it to lift easily, like I’m doing with my mat here.  If you don’t have this, you have to rely on your finger, and probably a butter knife to slide under the pastry and loosen it off your surface.  My way, gravity does the work, and it’s seamless.  Conclusion? My way is better.

Moving on:

pat bottom crust into pie plate

Once you have the pastry centred over your plate, gently press it in to the corners.  If you’ve got any splits in the pastry, don’t fret.  Use a bit of cold water to “paste” the edges together.  No problem.

Now it’s time for the first trim.  As a brief segue, it was the pastry trimming part that initially attracted me to pie making in the first place.  And this is why:

Snow White was the first movie I ever saw in theatre, and I was always mesmerized by the way she trimmed that pie, and the way the animals helped – don’t even get me started on the birds pinching the edges at the end.  Come to think of it, I have a pretty complicated relationship with the whole Snow White story.  But this segue was supposed to be brief.  So let’s look at some real life pie being trimmed.  And oh yes, she is singing in Greek. *shrug*

trimming the shell

Here’s me trimming with my left hand – I haven’t worked out yet how to take photos with my left so I can work with my right.  Not sure it’s actually possible.  Anyway, you want to trim right at the edge of your plate or even a bit beyond it.  This is for two reasons: a) your pastry will shrink down a smidge, and you want it to still look nice in the plate, and b) you need to have enough edge on your bottom crust to smush together with the edge of the top crust.

Here’s a close up.  That’s some Snow White worthy edge:

trimmed bottom crust

Okay, now we’re ready for filling.  Some people get the filling all premixed.  We’ve sort of done that with the fruit, but some might go even further and toss the fruit with flour and sugar.  I prefer a layered approach.  Probably because I’m lazy, but I like to think it yields better results.

Here’s your filling mix:

cinammon, sugar, flour

That is equal parts sugar and flour (I went a little overboard, and grabbed about 1/3 cup of each), with about 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg.  This is the stuff that is going to glue our filling together and stop it from getting all watery when the fruit cooks, so don’t skimp!  This right here is the major downfall of most store-bought pies – the excess liquid that happens when they bake.  Blech! Who wants pie soup?

Here’s what you’re going to do:

butter and cinammon mix in the pie shell

Cut up about 1/2 tbsp of butter and put it in the bottom of the pie shell.  Sprinkle a nice amount of filling mix over that as a base.

Next:

layer of fruit

Add a single layer of fruit – enough to cover the bottom, but not a super thick layer.  No more than a couple of apple pieces thick.

Next:

layering the pie filling

Sprinkle more filling mix (about 2 tbsp at a go) and another cut up 1/2 tbsp of butter.  Continue doing this (if you’re not big on butter, you can dispense with that step after the 2nd layer) until you’ve used all or most of the fruit.  You want the filling to be piled pretty high, because the fruit will cook down, and nobody wants a concave pie for dessert!

Here’s what it should look like, a nice big pile o’ fruit & filling mix:

completed pie filling

Then you’re going to repeat the whole pastry-rolling process to end up with your top crust:

top crust rolled out and transfered

Then guess what happens! More trimming!  You might want to sing a jaunty tune while you do it – doesn’t necessarily have to be in Greek – but I don’t really recommend holding the pie aloft the way Snow White does, just trim around it on the counter with your butter knife, remembering you want to have enough edge that you can pinch together the top and bottom crusts.

Here is what the pinched crust looks like:

top crust trimmed and pinched together with bottom crust

You can also press the edges together with a fork to get an effect not unlike the Snow White birdie feet.  I prefer the pinching method because my pie plate, although it’s nice and deep, doesn’t have much of a lip to accommodate that.  Experiment!

Okay we’re on the home stretch now (phew!).  Your pie needs to breathe while it bakes, so you have to make holes in the top crust to let the steam out.  Otherwise, kablammo!  Well, probably not that dramatic, but it won’t look as pretty as this:

decorative air holes

Your openings don’t have to be complicated.  It could be as simple as a hole in the centre, and some slits on the sides.  Whatever you’re in the mood for.  Since this is a springtime pie, I went with petals.  I use a steak knife to cut out defined shapes.  (I should also mention that you can do the cut out part while the pastry’s still on the mat, but I find it too much of a bother to try and centre it once the pastry’s on the pie.)

Here comes the optional part:

brush pastry with egg

To really gloss up your pastry, you can brush the top with beaten egg, and sprinkle it with sugar.  I used to not bother with this, because I thought it was a waste of an egg, but I started doing it for pies I made for special occasions, and the effect is just so beautiful that now I figure you’ve spent all this time on it already, might as well go the whole 9, right?

Here’s the sugar:

sprinkle pie with sugar

Now you’re ready to bake!  Pies like this one go in the oven initially at 425° F for 15 minutes – this is to kind of “set” the pastry.  You then reduce the heat to 350° F and continue baking for another 40 minutes.  You will know when it’s done because it’ll look like this:

Baked!

And then if you’re like me, you’ll just want to stand over that pie breathing in for a while.

Baked!

Because it smells amazing.  But it’s too hot to eat yet.  Gotta give it some time to coalesce.

BAKED! The pie... that is.

Ça, c’est vraiment bon.

Ca, c'est bon

So I just want to point out a few things that we’re aiming for here:

Piece of the pie

The pastry breaks apart in flakes, that means it’ll melt in your mouth.  The apples have kept their shape, and you can still see the layers in there.  Thanks to the filling mix, there’s no wateriness – although there’s plenty of juiciness – and the crust stays crisp as a result.

Happy baking!

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Ranunculus!

Ranunculus!

They rule the balcony.

Ranunculus!

Ranunculus!

Ranunculus!

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Healthiest Weeknight Quiche Ever

Healthiest Weeknight Quiche Ever

Have you noticed we’re fans of dinners you can whip up quickly on a workday?  No? Let me introduce you to the eating category of this site.  We will try anything once, but unless it cooks up fast, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be ejected from our weeknight repertoire.

You might think quiche is a funny thing to be included in said repertoire.  In fact, you might have quite strong opinions about quiche in general.  A certain person I know will go into a rant about quiche being “not real food” if the word is even mentioned in passing conversation.  Traditionally I suppose, quiche is an “early” dish – tied more to brunch and lunch mealtimes.  When it does make an appearance after hours it’s still the first to arrive – rarely given a more prominent role than the adorable mini-hors-d’oeuvre we all know it to be.

So how to break quiche out of this type-casting? How do you promote it from the chorus and give it enough presence to command your full dinnertime attention? And, to top that off, how do you do all that in finite time? I’ll tell you – stop underestimating the quiche.  Realize first that good quiche has nothing to do with egg and pastry, and everything to do with the supporting players:  that’s right, kids, it’s what’s INSIDE that counts.  Good god I’ve been away from this blogging game for far too long.

Okay here’s the deal: first off, making your own pastry is out – takes WAY too long for weeknights.  I don’t care if you’ve perfected your grandma’s legendary pastry technique, or if you’re hellbent on making wholewheat pie crusts with olive oil, suck it up and buy yourself a couple of frozen Tenderflake pie shells.  Next: make a hefty batch of filling.  Quiche filling is what happens BEFORE you start messing around with eggs.  I’m talking about the load-bearing ingredients that give quiche its healthy glow – because let me tell you, it ain’t the pastry and eggs that make it attractive to dieting trophy wives.  Pile the filling into the quiche, and just use enough egg/milk mixture to hold the thing together.  And lastly, an idea I picked up from a Canadian Living recipe for slow cooker lasagna: use cottage cheese instead of feta, or cheddar.  Reason? You can buy it with 0% M.F. (without it tasting weird), which means it’s all protein.  The No Name brand we got was 2% M.F. and per 1/2 cup has only 100 calories, 2.5g saturated fats, and 14g of protein.  Rock the cottage cheese.  Also – it tastes REALLY good.  Thomas will eat a bowl of plain cottage cheese for breakfast.  I think that’s crazy… but I am willing to make the above substitution in almost anything now.

Here comes the recipe:

Healthiest Weeknight Quiche Ever

(makes 2)

Ingredients:

  • 2 frozen deep dish pie shells
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion (smallish), chopped
  • 1/2 tsp each dried rosemary, thyme, sage
  • 1 head of broccoli (I buy sans extraneous stem), chopped
  • 1 small bunch of kale (yes! Kale! about 5-6 leaves), also chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
  • salt & pepper
  • 2/3 cup cottage cheese
  • 9 eggs
  • 3/4 cup of milk
  • Two slices Jarlsberg cheese (optional… I like cheese)

Preheat your oven to 400° F. Defrost the pie shells for 10 minutes or so, then prick them all over with a fork (so they don’t puff up on you).  Bake them for about 12 minutes – until they’re lightly browned.  You can use pie weights if you like for this step, but as you know, I’m much too lazy, and it’s a weeknight.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in pan over medium-high heat.  Cook onion with rosemary, thyme and sage until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.  Add broccoli, kale and carrot to the pan, stir to combine and cook until kale is softened, and broccoli is bright green (in between stirring, you can cover the pan with a lid to speed up this process – sort of steams the veggies a bit).  Add salt & pepper to taste.

Spoon filling into pie shells until shells are pretty much full. Use your judgement.  Add 1/3 cup cottage cheese to each, and gently mix with a fork to combine.

Beat eggs with milk and pour half of the mixture over each quiche – careful not to let it overflow (if it escapes the pastry, but not the tin, it’s not a big deal).  With fork, gently ease egg mixture through filling.

Bake at 400°F for about 35 minutes (tip: I bake quiche on a rimmed cookie sheet to avoid any potential spills in my oven).  If you’re using the Jarlsberg, place a slice on the centre of each quiche once they’re about 20 minutes into their baking time.

With chopping time it shouldn’t take you more than an hour from beginning to consumption – plus, by making 2 you definitely have yourself covered for lunch the next day.  Did you know? Quiche is best friends with the microwave.

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The Home Office – a brief catalogue

Don’t worry, this post has nothing to do with staplers or other office supplies – although I am still enjoying my “personal trimmer.”  I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between my working life now (at home) and my working life then (in an actual workplace/office).  Pretty much they are what you’d expect from such a change:

  • I am happier and more relaxed
  • As a result Thomas is happier and more relaxed
  • I make a whole lot less money
  • I work a lot more hours – but it doesn’t feel like I work a whole lot more hours

And there are the things that people tell you will happen when you start working from home, and guess what? People are right:

  • I have a really hard time – let me just stress that again, REALLY HARD TIME – separating the home and the work.  Both bleed into each other. When I’m working, part of my brain is berating me for not having done the dishes yet, or reminding me the dog needs to go out soon. When I’m doing the dishes or making dinner, another part of my brain is trying to figure out a solution to a particularly convoluted portion of code I’m writing, or designing a new headband, or telling me that design element I just finished isn’t quite perfect, or saying “hey, why don’t you start a line of greeting cards? wouldn’t that be fun? you should probably go sketch them now.”
  • Understandably this makes it very difficult to just sit and relax, or, you know, SLEEP, which carries over into annoyance for Thomas. I think if you asked him this would be his only complaint (um, I hope?) about my new working arrangement – that sometimes he’d like to tie me to a chair… uh, you know what I mean.
  • So, basically, yeah: working from home may exacerbate your crazy! They should really print that warning on the label.  Just this week I explained to Thomas that when I don’t wave goodbye to him from the window of the apartment in the morning as he rides away on his bike, that I’m convinced that something horrible will happen to him that day, which is why he’s greeted by the emails demanding he confirm his safety when he arrives at work.  When I finished, Thomas was all, “you realize you’re describing symptoms of OCD right?” and I was all, “oh believe me, I am VERY well acquainted with the symptoms of OCD.”

To get to my actual point though, there are upsides and downsides (and b-sides!) to working from home that I did not expect – that nobody told me about, that I didn’t read about, so I thought I’d write about them so that YOU can read about them, and add them to your pro/con list if you’re considering entering the ranks.

Here are some upsides:

  • Number one perk: YOUR OWN BATHROOM. I should stop there, but I’m not going to! Hey, if Oprah can talk about it, can’t I? Yes, I can.  Having your own bathroom… using exclusively your own bathroom… is awesome, and really, really good for you, you know, regularity-wise.  I think my metabolism has sped up for this reason alone. My apartment has TWO bathrooms, with doors, locks, fans, no strangers’ germs, and during the day they are ALL MINE BABY.  And that is where I’m going to stop.
  • Chores – even though they do intrude in your work headspace – are great because they force you out of that headspace.  Every day around 11 am, Piper makes it aggravatingly obvious that she would like to be taken to the park NOW PLEASE.  And I groan at her, because I’m almost done this one thing and couldn’t she please wait five more minutes? But she can’t – so we go and play in the park, and she runs around like a crazoid, and mostly? It’s the best part of my workday.
  • Being here to receive packages, and phone calls, and all that other stuff that happens at home when usually you’re at work – no more Canada Post failed-delivery slips in your mailbox saying “no answer – please pick up from this location at this time which is in no way convenient for you”; no more messages on your machine saying “please give us a call back at your convenience – we are only open when you are at the office, so this will be an impossible task for you to complete”; and if the plumber needs to come in at 10 am? no more problems.

Here are some downsides:

  • My number one on this list, and the list of everyone else who knows me, is social isolation.  This is something my parents started worrying about before I even started working from home, and something my friends back east all get concerned about when I make cracks about having long involved conversations with my puppy.  And I guess I admit it’s not UNconcerning to me either…  we don’t know a whole lot of people out here, and several days can go by and apart from my online interactions, I’ve only really talked to Thomas.  Because I’m not a super-social person to begin with, this is something I’m working on, and trying to guard against.  I’ve instigated regular in-person meetups with the Etsy team I belong to, and Thomas and I go hang out in the ceramics studio at Place des arts in Coquitlam twice a week, which is a start.
  • My wardrobe pretty much consists of sweats and pajama pants.  Although I strictly adhere to my former standards of personal hygiene, my dressing habits have pretty much gone down the tubes, and you know? I kind of mourn them.  I was the girl in university who refused to leave the house wearing anything more casual than jeans – and certainly not without makeup.  Now? I’m very fond of hats.  They disguise bedhead very well.  And my sushi pajama bottoms? They’re educational! Why wouldn’t I wear them out on the back lawn with the puppy?  Because all my days are like Ms. Casual Takes a Vacation, I’ve instituted dress-up Fridays at my workplace, so that at least one day a week, I make a real effort.
  • This one I pretty much can’t stress enough, and goes hand-in-hand with the social thing: No one’s going to tell you you’re cool. At least not at first, and probably not when you most need it (which is when you’re sitting here by yourself, staring at a screen full of crap that you just produced, and are thinking “What the h*** am I doing??!!”).  I’m not embarrassed to admit I need a lot of positive reinforcement to feel good about what I’m producing.  Us creative types can be such insecure boobs.  On my bad days, Thomas can come pretty close to losing his sh** (I’m not allowed to swear right now, more on that later) trying to make up for a staff-load of people telling me my work is worthwhile.  Being a one-man cheer-squad can be taxing, and he is awesome – even if his high kick leaves something to be desired (height…).
  • To finish of this portion of the list, let me just say the following:  You can’t get as much done in a single day as you THINK you can.  No, you can’t, trust me.  This is a hard truth to accept when you’re first operating under your own steam.

And finally, the b-sides:

  • I don’t actually have any b-sides.  I was just being cute. *twinkle!*

So there you have it – maybe some things you hadn’t considered about working from home.  I wouldn’t change what I’m doing right now for anything, because I believe that it will fundamentally change our lives for the better – BUT, there are some caveats, and more things than I expected that need to be made allowances. Probably this list will be ongoing as my work-from-home experience develops, but for now, I’d say I’m off to a pretty good start.

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Back on Track

Hiatus finally over!  I’m so excited about the new site design – this is a first for me: our own custom designed Wordpress Theme.  I worked this baby up from scratch thanks to a brilliant tutorial by Ian Stewart of Theme Shaper, and I’m super pleased with the result.  Knowing me of course I’ll get bored with it in a couple of months so you can expect the masthead at least to change from time to time.

So since this website is all about what we’ve been doing, let’s do a little 3-month recap to get this ball rolling again.

  • I took Phibersmith Designs out into the public with my very first craft show at Blim in March, the prep for which took me most of the month because I had to fill a whole table with TINY PIECES OF JEWELRY – phew!  I’m still working on getting the full range of my products made for that show up on the Phibersmith website.
  • Speaking of the Phibersmith website – it is also up and running and open for business.  Not that I don’t LOVE etsy, but having Phibersmith on its own little web-island-home is a relief.
  • My portfolio site has also been redesigned as a Flash site, which was a frustrating and fantastic process (Thomas deserves mad props for putting up with my hair-tearing while I learned ActionScript) at the end of January.
  • We bought a car at the beginning of March, because we’re a little bit nuts:
    Our Car
  • We signed up for a pottery class at Place des arts in Coquitlam
  • Thomas turned 27:
  • Wait, that’s Piper, here’s Thomas:
    Thomas's Birthday
  • and I decorated the entire apartment with balloons and streamers.  Because Thomas thinks that balloons are alive and popping is akin to balloon-murder, all the balloons are still blown up and taking up real estate in the closet.  It’s been almost 2 months.  That is some balloon staying power.
    Balloons and Streamers

It’s awesome to be back! Thanks for your patience.

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Friday Food: Turkey Bacon Pasta Sauce

Turkey Bacon Pasta Sauce

One of the easiest things I do for a weeknight supper is dress up a jar of store-bought pasta sauce with fresh ingredients.  Not terribly original, I know – every household has some version of this I’m sure.  The only reason I bring it up here today is that I’ve been tinkering with combinations for a few years now, and I think I’ve hit on the holy grail.

The key ingredient of my masterpiece is pretty straightforward in its appeal: it’s bacon.  Thomas has a theory that everything we eat could be made better by the application of either a) way too much butter, or b) bacon.  Bear in mind that this theory is held by a man who actually has to put PHYSICAL EFFORT into gaining weight.  It’s all fine and dandy for him – the rest of us will just shudder and shake our heads and continue pretending that his suggestion of putting bacon and butter on his cereal in the morning doesn’t sound in the least intriguing.

Usually my pasta sauce is a straight up turkey-spinach concoction – the lean, green, Hulk of pasta sauces. I only decided to add bacon because it happened to be on the ingredient list for something else I was shopping for this week.  Also, a long-ago iteration of my earliest pasta sauce attempts involved a sort of pancetta, and it was pretty good.  In addition, I reasoned, if it works for the turkey bacon club, ergo it must be good as pasta sauce.  Anyway, turns out I was right, and for this edition of Friday Food – here is the recipe:

Turkey Bacon Pasta Sauce

You can eat this the same day you make it (make sure you give it lots of simmer time), but I actually suggest that you make it a day ahead of when you want to serve it – the flavours have a better chance to meld if you leave it sitting in your fridge for about 24 hours.  Another idea would be to adapt the recipe for the slow cooker.

Ingredients:

6 slices of bacon
400 g ground turkey (breast or thighs – I used thighs)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 green pepper, diced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 jar prepared pasta sauce (I used a simple basil sauce – I also like to make sure the sauce doesn’t have sugar too far up on the ingredients list)
½ cup chicken stock
1 ½ cups (packed) baby spinach leaves

In large skillet (or wok) fry bacon on medium high heat, flipping once, until slightly crisp and golden on the edges (don’t go crazy with the bacon crispiness).  Transfer to paper-towel-lined plate and drain fat from skillet.

In same skillet brown turkey, scraping up brown bits from bacon, and breaking up turkey as much as possible. About 6 minutes.

Add onion, garlic, pepper, oregano and basil to pan.  Cook until onions are softened, about 3 minutes.

Pour in sauce and stir to combine.  Add stock to thin sauce slightly – add more if necessary to produce desired consistency.  Cover and bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes (more if you’re going to eat it right away).

Finally, add spinach leaves ½ a cup at a time and stir into sauce just until wilted.

Serve over your favourite pasta (pictured is rigatoni).

Enjoy!

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