Sunday, November 23, 2014

Baked with love

I was really busy yesterday getting a head start on my gift giving. I made shortbread with cherries on top and with sprinkles. Then I made three batches of biscotti - orange/chocolate, chai/cranberry and lemon/almond. The house smelled so good that I couldn't decide which one to eat. So what did I do? I had none. That's right. None! That's willpower or too tired to really enjoy any of it. 

Next week I am going to make up my gift bags. I also have a half a dozen cakes to make too. That'll be done in the next week or two. 

I should start taking orders but then that would take away the joy of baking and would make it feel like work. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

True Patriot Love in the Fields of Honour

I've mentioned in previous posts that I sometimes go for a lunchtime walk with one of my colleagues to the Brookside Cemetery. I like to go there from the Spring to Fall. In the spring, the trees come alive with the first signs of spring with their tiny buds and leaves. It quickly turns into summer with some grand and majestic trees providing shelter from the hot Manitoba sun. I sometimes find a park bench (it really feels like a park) and eat my lunch or just sit and listen to music.

But undoubtedly, my most favourite time is Fall, when the trees and shrubs change colour and the geese get ready to go south for the Winter. This Fall, I spent a lot of time just enjoying the falling leaves and the geese soaking up the last warm weather in Omand Creek which runs right through the cemetery.

I think this is a very peaceful final resting place - aptly named as the Field of Honour -  for those who have served my country well and made the ultimate sacrifice. Given the incidents in Ottawa and Montreal in the last few weeks, I want to say Thank You to all the men and women who are here and the many more who I will never know but will forever be grateful to.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Christmas prep started

I am already planning for Christmas by getting a head start on my Christmas baking. For those of you Guyanese, you'll know what I mean. Guyanese fruit cake takes a looooong time to make. I mean a very long time - like more than a year from the grinding of the fruits and soaking them in bottles of wine to baking it at least a couple of months before Christmas and giving it another soak - but this time in rum. Most people will know that I don't much like alcohol - be int wine or hard liquor but if it's in fruit cake, I'll eat some.

A few years ago, I was in Bermuda and managed to get a bottle of rum that was 151 proof (75% alcohol) (the rum that is usually sold is about 80 proof which is 40% alcohol). The bottle has a mesh on the top - not sure why - maybe because it is extremely flammable but in any event, I pour some over my cake so that having more than a small piece can give you a head rush. It's so strong that I have to mix it with 40 proof rum, otherwise it's way too strong to be enjoyable for me.

So now the cake is nicely wrapped and aging in the basement, just waiting for the holidays.

Fruit cake batter
Wine soaked fruits (for about 1 year)

Fruit cake batter with fruits added

Finished fruit cake (before a good soak in rum) 
Is Christmas still December 25th? Can I nibble on a few pieces of cake just to be sure that it's good enough for Christmas. No. I'll resist the temptation and anticipate the experience.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Giving Thanks

Traditionally for Thanksgiving, I host a lunch with turkey and all the trimmings but for the last couple of years, we've been away during Thanksgiving so we have not done that. This year, we decided to have Thanksgiving breakfast with Sharm and her family, Mom and Sophie and Darwin. Breakfast worked because Sophie had to work later today. Sharm said I could made buns or bread so I decided to make wholewheat challah (egg bread). It's a bit more time consuming than a regular loaf of bread but the reward is a soft, tasty bread with an almost creamy texture. Instead of making rolls, I made two braids.

If you are on a low carb diet, that is really too bad. This bread will take a huge amount of willpower - if you can manage it - to resist it. If you love the bread, you'll be well satisfied. Apparently, it makes a great bread pudding but I've not ever had any leftovers that I wanted to use for bread pudding, even though I like it. 

Wholewheat challah dough rising

Finished wholewheat challah

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Garden surprise

This has to be the weirdest thing but when I was putting away my planters this fall, I had to remove some of the annuals from the pots so I could store them. In one of the big pots that I planted myself in the spring, I saw something just below the surface of the soil that looked like a slightly red light bulb.  I removed some of the soil and what I found astonished me! A giant sweet potato (see below with my fingers on the bottom right of the picture as a reference point). I did not plant the sweet potato nor do I recall seeing it growing in the soil but it must have, because there it was. At first I thought it was some kind of joke that Robin was playing on me but he wasn't home when I was emptying the pots. I then went to another pot and there was a second one - just about the same size. 

Sweet potato

As if that wasn't startling enough, I dug further down into the pot and found two very large yams. I could not fathom what had happened to cause them to grow in the planters but later I surmised that I do buy and use sweet potatoes and yams and we compost just about anything that is compostable so maybe there were some eyes from some of the compostable materials that grew into those veggies. Whatever they were, I was quite thrilled. I later went into the garden and dug up my 10 pounds or so of potatoes that we really did plant. 

All in all, with 60 pounds of tomatoes, my sweet potatoes, yams and potatoes, it was a good harvest after all. And yes, how could I forget my several dozen zucchini? I've shredded a lot of that and put in my freezer for winter baking and soups. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

My first digital story: about my parents' marriage

I developed an interest in digital storytelling a few months ago and found a website that has good instructions on how to create your own digital stories. It's called Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling and it's managed by the University of Houston's Dr. Bernard Robin.

I started reading through the material and by some stroke of luck or serendipity, I was perusing some free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offered by Coursera in July and came across the Digital Storytelling course to be offered for 5 weeks starting in September. So I enrolled and started on September 8. 

This is the last week of the course and in those 5 weeks, I learned how to identify the story I wanted to tell, my target audience, the learning outcomes, and the theme of the story (know this already from teaching). I also wrote my script for the story and received feedback from other students enrolled in the course (already know how to do this too). I narrated my script using a digital voice recorder (already do this as part of my work), downloaded it to Audacity (free audio editing software which I used once before) and did some edits. I sourced royalty- free music (thanks to many artists for sharing without compensation) from Jamendo (this was new for me) and downloaded wevideo (new for me) which is a free (with major limitations) video editing software.

The learning curve for me was navigating the software and using several value added features to my story e.g. the volume of the music, transitions, timing the images, audio and music, removing background sounds, fading in and out and using what is known as the Ken Burns Effect.

I chose to tell the story of my parents (wedding picture below) and the challenges they faced when wanting to get married over 60 years ago but belonging to two different faiths. The story is still as relevant today as it was in 1952. Here is my story titled: Breaking Down Barriers (update: April 19, 2016 - video not working because I didn't know that the free version had a shelf life. Too bad).

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Fort Whyte: A room with a view

Today was a work day but my workplace was somewhat unusual. It was at Fort Whyte Centre. I decided that since it was a short 10 minute bike ride to the centre, I would ride my bike instead of taking my car. I bundled up since the morning was somewhat cool and left home about 7:35 to arrive at 7:45 - 15 minutes before my appointed meeting time with the rest of the group. 

Luck was not with me because when I arrived at the pedestrian gate which is a short cut from the highway route, the gate was chained shut and would not open for another two hours. I had two choices - bike back home and get my car or bike along a very busy two lane with no paved shoulders. Rather than risking life and/or limb, I took the road less travelled and biked back home. I am frustrated that the city supports and encourages active transportation and has the route on an active transportation map but the gate to the centre is padlocked for many hours so as to make it inaccessible for bikes. 

I managed to make it to the centre for 8:00am anyway and most of us walked to the Siobhan Richardson Research Centre to spend the rest of the day in our workshop. It was a room with a stunning view as can be seen from the pictures below. It would be fantastic to go to work and see this every day instead of ugly concrete walls that I see for most of my day. Fortunately, Fort Whyte is near enough to be so that when the gates are open, I can go biking there in the summer to enjoy watching the bison roam and ducks and geese making good use of the ponds. 

Manitoba really is beautiful in the Fall. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Another double digit grandbaby

My grandbaby Sahana celebrated her double digit birthday today. This is grandbaby number 2. She is getting so tall - at 5 ft 1 inch and just 10 -  that she looks like she could easily be 15. She get to choose her cake that I would make and after going back and forth between a chocolate swirl cheesecake and a dobos torte, she chose the dobos torte. That's one of my specialties - only made for special occasions and only for special people. This year I've made 3 so far: one for Sharm for her big day in March, one for Trent for his big day in September and one for Hana for her double digit birthday. 

If you have not ever had a dobos torte, it's a 7 layer sponge cake with 7 layers of chocolate frosting. It's one of the only chocolate cakes I actually like and will eat and enjoy. The cake takes a lot of labour. Frosting has to be made ahead of time and chilled overnight. There are 11 eggs in the sponge layer and each egg has to be separated. The whites have to be be beaten with sugar until stiff. Then the yolks have to be beaten with sugar separately. Then add the two together. Each layer has to be baked separately in 1/4 inch layers. Then it's the assembly of the cake and frosting, alternating each layer. It's very yummy and the eating is inversely proportionate to the amount of time it takes to make it.

I guess at some point I will have to stop referring to my granddaughters as grandbabies but I reserve that privilege until they have children of their own.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Deja Vu or what?

I had a great day with my 7 year old granddaughter Sabreena on Saturday. Last week we made a date to go to the fabric store. I told her that she could pick out some fleece that she liked and I would make her a jacket with a hood. After the fabric store, we'd go for lunch and she could pick the restaurant. 

I picked her up at 10:30 and off we went with pattern in hand to Fabricland. As soon as we walked in the store, we saw a faux fur fabric with sequins and she took a liking to it. Not the most expensive fabric in the store I am sure but it was $36 per metre so it wasn't the least expensive either. I took her to the back of the store where there were bolts of fleece in every colour and description and she gave each one a cursory look before moving to the next, and the next, until we looked at all of them. She found a few that she commented on but in the end, she said: Nani, these are nice but can we go back to the front and look at the pink fur?"  

So we went. I tried to distract her with other less expensive fabrics but alas, her mind was made up. It was going to be the pink fur with sequins and nothing else would do. Then I needed some different fabric to line the hood of the jacket and of course it was the white fur with sequins. So that's what we bought. Then it was another examination of other fabrics whereupon she found a totally sequined and very shiny fabric which she wanted for a top. Not being able to resist a 7 year old, I bought enough to make a top too. 

What's the Deja vu moment? I remember having a similar experience with her mother about 38 years ago. Sharm was 2 and she wanted a pair or black shiny shoes with one strap across the top. Robin and I looked at every children's shoe store in Winnipeg and we could not find a pair. So we drove 4 hours away to Fargo and found a children's shoe store. At that time, money was scarce but we found a pair of shoes. Only thing was, they were $40 - for a pair of child's shoes! Fortunately for us, there was a white patent leather pair with one strap at the top for $15 and we tried to interest Sharm in that pair but her mind was set on the black pair with the one strap. Then we found a black patent leather pair with two straps for $12 and we offered up that pair. But she gave us a partial smile and stuck to her initial decision that it had to be a black shiny pair of shoes with one strap at the top. So that's what we came home with - a black shiny pair of shoes with one strap across the top. Hmmm, so much for trying to convince her that something else would do.  

So back to me and Bren: We still had to decide where to eat lunch but she was so excited to get home for me to to start sewing that she decided that we could go to Subway and get two sandwiches and then to McDonald's for a strawberry/banana smoothie and we'd take it home to eat in the sunroom. That way, I wouldn't waste any time in a restaurant having a leisurely lunch.

After a quick lunch, we went to my sewing room in the basement and started cutting out the top which I lengthened into a mini dress. 

Breen was my little helper, cleaning up the mounds of sequins from all the cutting I was doing. 

The dress was completed within an hour but since it was a shift dress, I added some darts to the front and back to give it a bit more shape. Then I added a belt which completed the outfit. So, my grandbaby got a nice new shiny dress exactly like she wanted. 

She added a bit of faux fur I had from who knows what? This was just for the photo op.

The fur lined jacket was cut out and sewn a bit later and by that evening she also had her pink fur jacket with sequins.

That was my Saturday. And to think I had an awful cough that made me feel like heck. Spending the afternoon with my grandbaby sewing the outfits cheered me up tremendously. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

85 is a huge milestone for Mom

85 is a big number - especially when it's your birthday. Mom celebrated hers today and by the way she looks, she might be around for another 15 healthy years. She has a few aches here and there but she still does her exercises every morning including yoga, she drives her car and her cognitive skills are as good as ever - except when she decides it isn't. 

We had a birthday dinner for her and Sharm got her a tiramisu cake to satisfy her sweet teeth - that is - more than one sweet tooth if you will let her.   

Happy birthday Mom. May you have as many healthy ones as you want.


Bounty from my garden

We planted about 12 tomatoes in June which I thought was a bit too late to get anything from the arden but my garden rewarded me with about 40 pounds of tomatoes - so far. I still have to pick some more. I'm hoping for another 20 pounds. I spent yesterday dehydrating a big batch and roasting another batch. 

Part of my bounty

Prepping for the dehydrator

Laying out the dehydrator trays
I decided to roast a batch with onions and herbs like thyme, Newfoundland Savory and some of my custom blend Sandra S seasoning. This blend will be in my forthcoming cookbook which I hope to have released in Spring 2015. If you have never used Newfoundland savory, you MUST try it. I was introduced to it by my best friend Catherine in 1979 and since then, I have been using it - albeit, sparingly - every time I make roasted chicken, stuffing or veggies. This is one of the best herbs that I have used - and I have used many spices. 

Roasting tomatoes
This was a good way to spend Sunday.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Feel good news

Today's news makes me feel hopeful for the world. If you have been reading my blog posts for the last couple of years, you will remember that last year, I trained and climbed Kilimanjaro with my daughter Sunita, my sister Sabena, and three friends. 

On Day 5 of the trip, Sunita, Sabena had to abort the rest of the climb at Mawenzi Tarn because Sunita succumbed to Acute Mountain Sickness. Descent is mandatory and rather than risk death, we chose life. Sunita, somewhat disappointed, felt that she was ruining my trip but I was going to have it no other way but to go down with her. Sabena was feeling equally bad as she was really suffering from the dust storm that was raging the night before.

We descended to Horombo Huts on Day 6 and then to Marangu Gates on Day 6. We were accompanied by our lead guide Godfrey. During those two days, on that long solitary walk back down, we had lots to talk about. I spent some time talking to Godfrey, respect for him growing with each conversation. What I did not blog about is the details of those conversations. I am now happy to share some of those details.

Godfrey and I talked at length about his life, his dreams and his realities. He told me about his wife and daughter and how much he wanted the best life for them but with the responsibility of taking care of his father and of his bright younger brother who was expelled from school because Godfrey could not afford the tuition fees, my heart at once went out to him. Then my head took over and I became suspicious that this was another "feel sorry for me" story that is told to every gullible tourist in an effort to extort money, although he did not ask for any money.

During our conversations, I asked if could choose to do anything else but the slavish work of mountain guide, what would he choose. He said that he wanted to start his own gear rental business but every time he saved a few hundred dollars of the USD $2,500 he thought he needed, some emergency came up and he had to spend it (sick parent, sick child, brother's tuition fees).

Something in me made me think that Godfrey's story was different and by the end of the climb, going only from gut feelings, I was convinced that he was telling the truth about his life. I guess it was my implicit respect for him - a stranger only a few days ago - and is concern and regard for getting us over the very rugged Mawenzi Tarn, high altitude and some long paths over two days down to safety. Or maybe it was the care he took to make sure our tent was set up in just the right spot out of the wind at Horombo Huts. Or maybe it was the care and concern he showed when Sunita was throwing up along the long walk to Horombo and the encouragement he gave her to eat some soup that night. As a mother, I can be a protective lion and I cherish the thought that someone was looking after my cub.

It was all of those things and more. It was the collective gut feeling of me, Sunita and Sabena that made us, over the next two days in Moshi, think about how we could help Godfrey. We finally decided that we would fund him to start his business with an interest-free loan and hope that he would take the opportunity to build a better life for he and his family and most especially his daughter who deserves a fighting chance to education and a good life. 

When we met him two days later, we told him that we would help him and he hugged us but we must have looked like any other group of tourists who made grand gestures and wild promises but who, soon after leaving, forget those they left behind. We asked him to put together a business plan which he did but it was far from a real plan. Donna F, one of the friends who went with us, offered to help Godfrey put together a more realistic 3 year plan with achievable goals as well as a sound repayment schedule for the interest free loan. Donna L tried to source some external funding similar to my crowd-funding KIVA. Programs I looked at would either take too long or would require particular criteria to qualify for funding so we didn't pursue that.

In March finally had everything in place - a sound financial plan and Godfrey had already started sourcing some inventory from other guides. We sent the money, putting our trust in Godfrey that he would make this work and we would get our money back eventually. I am happy to say that Godfrey's business has taken off and he has already made is first quarterly repayment of $250. That has to be my BEST "feel good" story of the year. 

If you or anyone you know is planning to climb Kilimanjaro and you need/want to rent gear (which you will most likely need to; we did), you can contact me by posting a comment on the blog, or you can contact Godfrey at the information below.

Godfrey's contact info.

Rental gear

Rental gear

Rental gear

Rental gear

Godfrey's daughter (who will have a good life)
We did not get to the top of Kilimanjaro although we got as far as about 15,000 feet but in the end what we got from this experience was so much more ... faith in humanity.

Oh Happy Day!!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Beat it, beat it...

I don't know anyone who does not know or like Michael Jackson's music and there is a new generation of Michael Jackson fans including my 7 year old grandson Ronin. He has been relentlessly watching Micheal's videos and teaching himself how to moonwalk and do the dance for Beat It.

Since a kid sized Beat it jacket is hard to find, I decided to make one for him. It took me  several hours spread out over a few days but it's finally done and I have to say, it looks very cute! It was intended for Halloween but I think he'll be wearing it more often. I'll have to post a picture of him actually wearing it. 

                                                             Ronin getting his jacket! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Upper Canada Village

I was in Ottawa last weekend to visit my aunt who sadly now has dementia and is in a supportive living facility. I was sad to her there, especially when she thought she was back in her childhood home in Guyana where I spent a lot of time with her during my elementary school summer holidays.  I am fortunate that she still knows who I am so the visit went well. I was also fortunate to visit my cousin who lives in Kanata and with a stroke of luck, my other aunt and cousin from New York were also visiting. I felt very good that I could see all of them. 

While all the visiting was good, it make me think of all the medical issues in my family that I either didn't know about or worry about. Now that I am in my sixth decade, I have to worry about cancer (Dad's), Parkinson's (my aunt), dementia (my other aunt), diabetes, (just about every family member in the previous generation), high blood pressure (many family members from the previous generation) and who knows what else that I don't yet know about? 

I had a chance to go with another cousin, his wife and two of their friends to Upper Canada Village, just West of Cornwall, Ontario. It was a beautiful Autumn Day but with a real chill in the air. I should have dressed warmer and I would have enjoyed the 4 hours we spent walking around but by the 3rd hour, I was hungry and cold so I was not as attentive as I would have been looking at a bit of Canadian history. 

Nevertheless, the first couple of hours were quite good and the scenery was lovely. See for yourself. 



Slate and school bell - reminiscent of my start to school

Peace and calm