day 7: insanely yum...

we took our New Year's Eve tradition of 'trying something new' up a notch this time around. we both love Chinese/Korean-style bbq pork, but it is the sort of thing we tend to leave to the experts. enter New Year's Eve.

he is usually the sous-chef while i do most of the actual cooking, but he did ALL of the work this time around. do not get me wrong. he cooks (every now and then)... really well too... but my brand of OCD usually makes it necessary for me to stand around and "supervise"—which usually results in comments like, "oh... i see you are not fussy about evenness when you chop onions"—which usually gets me banned from the kitchen. this time around, it was all him.

he used the recipe from Chef John (of Food Wishes fame), with the addition of grated ginger, sesame oil, and a dash of smoked paprika. this is one of those dishes that you have to start a day ahead, beginning with turning a laundry list of ingredients into a sauce. full disclosure: the only thing we had to buy for this meal was the piece of pork and the red food coloring. the rest of this stuff is always on hand in our kitchen. however, we had no rice wine vinegar, so he opted for a combination of sherry vinegar and some cheap white wine. [just noticed that i forgot to include the five-spice powder in the photo, as i was busy talking to a friend on the phone when he handed me a bowl full of ingredients and instructed me to take a photo.]

following the directions in the video, the pork  was cut into large pieces and left to marinate overnight, before being placed on a rack and cooked following Chef John's guidelines. [aside: he was hesitant to use the good cooking rack for this particular experiment, so he went out the the little Asian grocery store that is literally right behind our building.]

him: i was so tempted to just hop over the fence to get back home, but there is a massive mountain of snow behind our building, and i didn't want to end up buried in that. 

i have no idea what the package says, but each one contains a run-of-the-mill rack.

two and a half hours later, and we had bq pork. there was more of it. this was just the first piece we pulled out to start slicing. all the photos i attempted to take of the meat-laden roasting pan coming out of the oven look like blurry cries for help. oh well.

we spent days debating what to serve with the bbq pork, coming down to a choice of either rice or steamed buns (which would require one of us to first learn how to make steamed buns). then sanity stepped in.

me: you know what i enjoy most of all?
him: what?
me: a bowl of bbq pork with ramen.
him: ramen it is!

and, just like that, our meal was born. i threw in some green beans, which i frenched and blanched with a splash of Vegeta (a seasoning/soup base which is Croatia's greatest gift to humanity), and finished the plate with some fresh cilantro, a sprinkling of green onions, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. insanely yum!

on an unrelated tangent, the current temperature in parts of Quebec is colder than at both the North and South poles. on that note, i am going to pour another glass of Merlot and wait for my cinnamon buns to rise (more about that next time... maybe). happy New Year, everyone!


day 6: dream a little breen ...

i woke up this morning from a spectacularly crazy dream. i was part of some sort of movie or television show, and instead of being given anything resembling directions... or a script... we were each handed a roll of gold coins and sent off on some wild goose chase. along the way, we blew up a banker (but it was okay, because he was corrupt), shot an accountant (again, it was okay because he was also corrupt), and set fire to a businessman who was in the midst of bragging about how much money he makes by bribing corrupt politicians and lying about everything. some other hijinks ensued, and i eventually found myself standing in the middle of a football field, with several media cameras in my face, screaming something to the effect of "i will not be intimidated by the corrupt politicians who are cheating and lying to the public"... when i finally awoke.

me: what the heck was that?

now, before you start thinking that i should be put on some sort of psych watch, or that i should cut out eating spicy foods before bedtime, it should be noted that we spent last night watching a Neil Breen film, and i fully expected said experience to taint my dreams.

me: watch i'm gonna have some sort of crazy dream about hacking into government computers and driving around the desert killing corrupt politicians and businessmen. 
him:  probably. 

for the uninitiated, Neil Breen is a Las Vegas architect/real-estate-agent turned actor, director, writer, producer, editor, location scout, set designer, makeup artist, and caterer of a series of self-funded feature-length films. it should be noted that i use the word "films" only in the sense that a video record remains. Hollywood has nothing to fear from this film-making lunatic genius.

i am not usually a fan of this type of nonsense, but my favorite animator has probably seen every B-movie ever made. his fondness for bad horror movies is the subject of a running joke around our home.

me: [pausing at the studio door to find him working on one monitor while some strange video is playing on the other one] what in the world are you watching?
him: it's called [clears his throat to put on his special 'bad movie title' voice] Blood Suckers From Outer Sp... [by which point i am already walking away].

it was inevitable that he would draw me into watching such things. specifically, i am enjoying the ones that fall into the "so bad it's good" category, but i draw the line at straight-up "horror and gore". he has already seen most of the "classics" in the "so bad..." category—movies like Birdemic, Samurai Cop, and The Room—but the Breen body of work was new to us both.

Breen has released four films, to date, with a fifth due out next year, and we watched them in the order in which they were released (more or less). first there was Double Down, which we absolutely had to see after he talked me into watching the side-splittingly-hilarious review of it by the guys from Red Letter Media in one of their "best of the worst" videos (NOTE: this video is not suitable for work, children... or my mother).

it should be noted that Neil Breen movies are the kind of thing that you prepare for watching by making sure that there is some form of alcohol in the house, otherwise, you may not make it past the opening credits. this is the stuff that you watch in the company of people who do not take most things too seriously. you know... people who are capable of a little thing called "fun". so, while my favorite animator is not a drinker (he does not like the taste), he has a finely-honed appreciation for all things that can be roughly defined as "absurdity", which describes every second of these films.

we were still shaking our heads in disbelief that anything could be so bad, so we followed it up a short while later with I Am Here... Now, which simultaneously made less sense and was more mind-numbingly terrible than the first one. having come that far, we eventually moved on to the next film, Fateful Findings, and this is where the Breen got to be a bit too much for either of us to handle. experience is usually cited as the best teacher of them all, but Neil Breen seems to have learned absolutely nothing by the time he got around to making movie number three. it was so bad, that we tapped out less than a quarter of the way in, and vowed that that was the end of watching anything "Breen".

then, about a week or two ago, we got to talking about his latest (fourth) film, so we decided to give it a shot. not only that, we started joking about all the "breenisms" you have to look for when watching his movies, and we kept coming up with so many of them, that we made a list. yes, there is an actual physical list (and that is his scratchy handwriting, in case you are wondering). the list is even coded. the circles were from Fateful Findings, and the squares were from Pass Thru. we may have to add a couple more symbols and re-watch the first two films with the list.

with that done, we sat down to watch Pass Thru. and, you know what? the Breen was back! it was bad, but like tolerably, watchably, laughably bad. we had to pause frequently to debate whether or not certain scenes fulfilled one (or more) of the criteria from the list. then there were all the times we had to pause just to laugh at how terrible it was. it was that bad good.

so, there we were last night, trying to agree on a movie to watch together, when i made the fatal mistake of suggesting that we owe it to ourselves to go back and watch Fateful findings all the way through. so we did. i poured myself a glass of wine (the first of a few), while he tracked down the list and a pen so that we could keep proper score. we paused, and laughed, and commented until well past three in the morning, before finally going to bed. and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you find yourself experiencing a night of sleep with Breen in your head. it could have been worse though, as i could have found myself dreaming of a naked Neil Breen.

oh, in case you are curious, i will include the full text of the list down below. however, i would not suggest turning it into a drinking game, or you may need your stomach pumped by the twenty-minute mark of any of his films. sweet breens, everyone.

Neil Breen Checklist

  • hacking
  • superior being
  • techno babble
  • broken laptops
  • corrupt corporate politicians + bankers
  • desert
  • room with blinds
  • pool
  • awkward phone cnversation
  • driving
  • "up" shots
  • awkward sexual assault (*our characterization of his interaction with the female actresses)
  • "in case you missed it" character dialogue
  • naked breen
  • disappearing effect
  • pointless plot contrivance 
  • naked facedown actress
  • childhood love
  • found mystical object
  • stillness of hands
  • stock footage 
  • actresses have to be braless 
  • downfall of humanity
  • denim vest
  • feet/shoes walking
  • bad acting
  • double dialog
  • long hold on object
  • curing disease/bringing back from the dead 
  • bad editing - start too early or stay too long on scene - or out of order
  • using alternate takes (*and treating them like "new" scenes)
  • skull


day 5: an excuse to buy stuff...

having grown out of the excitement of most holidays quite a number of years ago, "special occasions" tend only to present themselves as an excuse to buy stuff that i was probably going to buy anyway... but the holiday takes away some of the guilt attached.

i spent a few months talking myself out of purchasing a set of interchangeable knitting needles, so this was the perfect item to request as a gift from him. he, in return, received a hand-knit cardigan, which i will talk about some other day.

this is the HiyaHiya Sharp Interchangeable needle set. note the case is already covered in cat hair. welcome to my life!

i opted for the the 4-inch tips and the small set (size US#2 - US#8), as most of the stuff i knit require needles within that size range. this set comes with seven pairs of tips, one pair of which have already been put to use elsewhere.

the set also includes four cables in a range of lengths from 16" - 40" (including the needle tips), plus he got me an extra 60" cable and a couple connectors, so i can join a few cables together for a super-wide project. this would also be handy for trying stuff on without having to first transfer all the stitches to a piece of waste yarn, then transfer them back to the needle to continue knitting.

oh, and yes there naturally is a cat. the Little one took a break from running around like a lunatic to lend me a hand. she looks like a ghost kitty in this one.

there are several interchangeable needle sets on the market, but i chose this one because of the incredibly smooth join between the tips and the cables, and (most of all) because of the sharp points on the needles. should an assassin burst in while i am curled up on the sofa knitting a sweater, i am fully prepared to defend myself.

i have about twenty projects that i was putting off swatching (sampling) for until i got the new needles, so it was near impossible to decide which one would be first. this is the beginning of a swatch for the Northdale sweater by Gudrun Johnston. the design calls for three colors of yarn, and each row is worked using two colors at a time, so this is a project for the more experienced knitter. it sounds like i am so full of myself making a statement like that, but it is true.

i had swatched for this sweater in the same yarns at some earlier point, but the resulting fabric was a bit loose and sloppy, so i am holding the yarn doubled this time for thicker, warmer end product. you can see the full pattern of the colorwork on the earlier swatch. i cannot wait to get started on this sweater.

we usually also use this time of year as an excuse to purchase books for ourselves (i have spoken about our book-buying tendencies in the past), but we are foregoing that practice for now. his brother, who is also an animator, has inundated him with "art of..." books during this past year, and i have enough knitting, gardening, and 'cozy mystery' titles to keep me occupied for a while. however, i am adding one new (to me) magazine to my regular reading list.

the title in question is Rowan Magazine, published twice a year by the UK yarn and design company of the same name, Rowan. they are home to some of the biggest design names in the industry as well as a a staggering library of books and magazines, (including several hundred free patterns on their website).

aside: i ended up with two copies of this volume (#62) because the first one was lost in the mail, and i was sent a replacement. naturally, the first one showed up a few weeks later, so now i need to find someone who might appreciate a copy of said magazine. maybe i will drop it off at the yarn shop around the corner, or leave it at the coffee shop with a "please take me home" note attached.

i have a number of Rowan patterns in my library, but i decided to add all future editions of this particular magazine to my must-purchase list because the current issue is overflowing with stuff that i absolutely want to knit, either for myself or for someone that i know. you can see the full range from issue #62 on Ravelry, but i want to share a few of my favorites, beginning with Greenwood by Galina Carroll, the sweater on the cover. i had yarn set aside for this one before the magazine got to my door.

from top to bottom, GloamingGransmoor, and Marr, all by Lisa Richardson.

Lund by Sarah Hatton.

Fishlake (left) and Fumber (right) by Marie Wallin.

and (top to bottom) AfterglowBielby, and Bradshaw, all by Rowan's (arguable) top designer, Martin Storey.

these are my favorites from this issue, but i would honestly wear just about any of the designs included, which is something i have never said before about any knitting magazines. in fact, i have cancelled a few subscriptions in recent years due to their being only one or two things i like in most issues—cough cough... Vogue Knitting. the only problem now is to decide where to begin.


day 4: aphid-ooze honey...

i saw a squirrel shivering on a windowsill this morning, and i almost felt sorry for it. Winter is wacky enough in Canada, but when you factor in being on an island in the middle of massive river, it is downright insane. the overnight temperatures are in the mid thirties... mid minus thirties, that is... with the wind-chill making it feel like the minus-mid-forties. you know that has to be cold, even if you do not speak Celsius.

the local news is splashed with weather-advisory warnings in bold red letters, and constant suggestions to remain indoors unless absolutely necessary. hypothermia sets in quickly under such conditions, so the police even take the extraordinary step of rounding up the homeless population, and transporting them to the shelters around the city. simply put, there is no playing around in these kinds of temperatures.

we are weathering the cold spell by avoiding the outdoors. there are currently three notices on the table for packages to be picked up at the local post office, two of which i know for a fact contain yarn, and they are going to have to remain there until it warms up by at least ten or fifteen degrees. yep... i am not going out for yarn. that is when you know that it is insanely cold.

we are also drinking absurd amounts of tea. this is a common practice around here in the colder months, but the cups-per-day count has almost doubled over the past week... which brings me to the point of today's post.

we do not get into the whole "watch me eat this piece of meat that has been fermenting in a sewer pipe for the past six months" type of nonsense that seems to rank only second to cat videos in the domination of social media. however we do occasionally come across something that is so genuinely intriguing, it has to be tasted. this was the case when i was watching some random food-related thing on You Tube, and the guy in the video made a passing reference to using pine honey in the dish. pine... what???

me: uhm... sweetie... have you ever heard of something called pine honey?
him: i didn't know pines had flowers. do butterflies even live near pine trees? 

this, naturally, led to lots of googling, as i exist in a constant state of needing too much information about... well... everything. in short, the honey is indeed produced by bees, but unlike the more common honey-production which begins with nectar collected from flowers, this variety begins with waste material collected from lots of bugs.

[full disclosure: this part is potentially a bit gross.] honeydew is a sugary substance that is secreted by some insects that feed on the sap of plants. if you have ever seen a bug with a clear droplet of liquid on some part of its body, or found sticky drops of what looks like dew on a leaf, then you were likely looking at honeydew. bugs drink the sap from the plants, and they excrete waste in the form of a sugary liquid from special glands at their mouth, rear end, or along their skin. honeybees then collect said liquid, and take it back to their hives to begin the magic of honey-making. the resulting product is referred to as a "honeydew honey". like i said, kinda gross.

i love love love honey. it is one of those things that i enjoy trying from different places, as the local plant life has a lot of influence on the taste. try a light, floral clover honey (the more common variety in this area) alongside a dark, malty buckwheat honey, and you will instantly see what i mean.

in the case of pine honey, the honeydew is collected from aphids that feed on the pine resin. resin is lower in water content than nectar, so the resulting honey tends to be thicker than conventional honey. most of the sites i visited also suggested a certain element of "piney-ness" in the end product. oh, yes... i was deeply intrigued.

pine honey is produced chiefly in the Mediterranean region, which meant it would be an imported product... which meant it would be pricey. there is a running joke in our household about echeloning our lifestyle by getting hooked on things that are outside of our usual price range (i spoke about this back when he bought some marmalade made with ten-year-old scotch whiskey). i found a few places selling pine honey online, but most of them had shipping costs that were almost as high as the price of the honey, and a few came with warnings that you may be charged additional import taxes depending on where you live. finally, i found a Canadian company selling pine honey from Greece. so i put it in my shopping cart... then i stared at the "order" button for a while.

him: what if you really like it, and you can't go back to the squeeze bottle of Billy Bee honey from the supermarket?
me: i know. that's why i'm afraid. 

we got a 1kg (roughly, two-and-a-quarter pounds) can of honey, cat sold separately.

it cost $28 (Canadian), not including shipping, which was quite reasonable, as some of the pine honeys i found cost almost twice as much... and that was before you include the tariff and shipping.

the can was full when it arrived, but we have already used quite a bit of it. the first impression upon opening the can was the intensity of the smell. fragrances can be powerful triggers for forgotten memories, and this one took me right back to the many jars of stewed plums my grandmother used to make back in the Caribbean. it is a deep, earthy fruit flavor, like opening a package of really plump prunes, mixed with the rich, sweetness of  dark-brown sugar or a dark maple syrup.

the can had one of those easy-open tops, where you lift the metal ring and peel it back, plus a plastic top for after it was opened. this was quite convenient, as the metal top doubled as a tasting tray. i would love to say that i did not resort to licking the last few drops of honey from said surface before tossing it in the recycling bin, but that would be a lie. the stuff is seriously tasty, and it delivers precisely the profile of flavor you would expect from the smell. most surprisingly, it was slightly less sweet than with most other types of honey, and there was a trace of the earthy, mineral taste you get in maple syrup, and the slightest echo of something reminiscent of a pine tree. who knew aphid-ooze honey would taste so nice!

i plunged a wooden stir-stick into the can, and i was surprised at the resistance with which it was met. the stick leaves an indentation in the honey that takes a few seconds to disappear, and when you lift the stick, the honey seems reluctant to let go. [i had to get my assistant to hold the stir stick while i took these photos.]

this stuff is seriously thick. it has a tackiness similar to the pine resin from which it originated, and it behaves like a taffy mixture near the end stage of candy-making.

you know that candy they make by pouring hot maple syrup onto packed snow? well, i am sure you would get the same result with this stuff, even without heating it up.

this thought occurred to me as i stared through the frosted-over windows at the balcony full of untouched snow... then the wind blew, and i remembered that this is still Canada, and it is still cold. this would be a good time for another cup of tea.


day 3: hats and hair...

you know those girls who wake up an extra hour early in the morning so they can apply ten layers of makeup and shellac their hair? i have never been one of them, not even for a single day. so, when i decided to try a new hairstyle, i skipped the (logical) salon route, opting instead to give my favorite animator some very vague instructions, before letting him loose in my hair. if it all went wrong, then at least i would have an excuse to knit lots of hats. 

i expected to wake up the next morning full of regret, but when i stepped in front of the bathroom mirror, i was completely amazed.

me: wow! this actually looks okay. i like it!!!
him: it does... and that's the problem.
me: what is that supposed to mean? 
him: don't get me wrong. you can pull it off with the crazy high cheekbones and that thing you do with the eyeliner.
me: you mean, occasionally putting some on?
him: yeah, that thing. do that and anyone who looks at you would think that you're all trendy and hip...
me: which i am!
him: [ignoring my last comment] ...but the second you start talking, they'd realize that you are the biggest nerd on the planet. 

...then he grinned and hurried away, which was very wise.

i did end up knitting a new hat, but not for me. despite his repeated requests to move to a hand-knit-only sock lifestyle (my fault for knitting him a pair), i cannot seem to muster the enthusiasm to knit more of them, so i copped out and made him a hat instead. 

i knitted him a hat last year out of some of my own hand-dyed yarn, which he wears everywhere (inside and out) during the cold months.

me: why are you wearing a hat... at three in the morning... in the studio... in your underwear?
him: i like this hat. 
me: fair enough.

it feels good to have your handiwork so well received, but i figure he could always use a spare for when he (inevitably) loses... or washes... that one. 

the new hat features a simple textured stitch, and a generous brim, as he likes to wear his hats folded and pulled down over his ears. 

the pattern is Violet Waffles, and it is (currently) FREE on Ravelry. i knit this one in some Knit Picks Swish DK in the colorway Garnet Heather. i found a few balls of this yarn at the back of my stash closet, leftover from some old project (though i could not begin to guess what that might have been). the yarn is 100% superwash (washable) wool, but his hat is at least 3% cat hair. 

speaking of which... it is a scientifically proven fact that taking a photo of knitwear is guaranteed to summon a cat. 

the end.


day 2: a slightly larger nuisance...

i recently learned one of the oldest magic tricks in the world. it is the one where the guy (or girl) reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handkerchief, but there is another handkerchief tied to it, and another one... and another one. you get the idea. this goes on for an hour or so, unil you hear the musical ta da, and the audience awakens to find the magician standing there, holding a rope of kerchiefs longer than the Great Wall. well, i have mastered said trick. except in my version, the rope of kerchiefs is replaced with a meter (a yard or so) of yarn, and instead of pulling it out of my pocket... i am pulling it out of a cat's bum. ta da!!!

the bum in question belongs to Baby Bear, the grey, long-haired lunatic of our furry twosome. this cat exists in a near-constant state of getting into trouble, and i knew something was wrong when i went to feed them that morning, and she did not show up to nip impatiently at my legs while i opened the can. i found her in the studio, under a chair, in a dark corner, and i did not notice the end of the orange string dangling below her tail until i stood in front of a mirror with her in my arms. naturally, it had to be some of my own precious hand-spun yarn, which he and i dyed during one of those sleepless nights when i was busy being disappointed in the world.

my favorite animator was fast asleep during the magic show, but he (literally) laughed until it hurt when i recounted the story later that day.

him: and you want another one.
me: i do...

...so we did! drum roll, please.

introducing the newest member of our nuisance. this is Cordelia ("Cordy"), our intensely energetic Little One.

she was part of a litter of one his parents' (many) cats had near the end of the Summer. she came to us at about two months old, and, never having cared for so young a kitten, i was equal parts intimidated and enchanted by her tininess. he took this little ball of fur out of the carrier, and laid her against my chest... whereupon, she crawled into the collar of my shirt, and fell fast asleep nested in my cleavage. that kind of behavior usually results in resignation from elected office, but she was a baby, so i gave her a pass. she may have also taken a tiny poo while in said space, but i was far too busy falling in love to hold a grudge.

she likes running and jumping and knocking stuff over, especially at like three in the morning when we are trying to sleep, and she recently discovered that sitting in a flowerpot makes bird-watching even more fun.

when her battery runs out, the Little One likes to spend most of her time curled up on the furry brown lap blanket on my favorite sofa. this has led to a few minor heart attacks, as it is sometimes difficult to see where the cat ends and the blanket begins. to avoid having to explain a crushed cat to the vet, i have adopted a policy of "feeling before sitting", especially in low light. seriously... she looks just like the blanket.

my cats are  all girls, and all named after Shakespeare characters. Cordelia joins Ophelia ("Philly"... a.k.a. Baby Bear... a.k.a. Yarn Bum), seen here bird-watching from the comfort of a basket of clean laundry. she does these things just to hurt me.

then there is our calico grand dame, Titania ("Titty"... a.k.a. Mama Kitty... a.k.a. Drooly McDroolDrool). if there is such a thing as a spirit animal, then this cat is definitely mine... minus all the drool. while the other two are running around, perfecting their parkour skills and causing general mayhem, she sits in a quiet spot, pondering thoughts the depths of which would leave Archimedes confused. to a casual observer, this is just a cat lazing atop a box, but you actually caught her on the brink of disproving Newton's second law of motion. take that, momentum! and i wonder why the cool kids never invite me to their parties.

 i fully admit that three cats may be one cat too many for our space, and while i threaten daily to trade one (or all) of them in for a plastic bag of goldfish, they really do bring so much happiness to our home. i even made a special Christmas gift random-Monday-in December treat for them in the form of an 8-inch clay pot planted with cat grass.

it is like eating spaghetti without using your hands. i think they approved.

see the "unamused" look on Mama's face? that is pretty much me... all of the time! seriously, we could be twins.