Why My Brain Hurts

Starting a new job is exhausting.  I should know, I’m doing just that!

There is so much to learn when you start a new job: where is the coffee machine?  How long am I allowed for lunch breaks?  Will I get in trouble if I’m on Gchat and Facebook at work?

Okay, just kidding, those aren’t the important things.  What you really want to learn is who is who (Mark in the corner office does what again?), the scope of your responsibilities, and what your deliverables and objectives are.  If you’re taking over a position from someone else, you also have that person’s shoes to fill (be they big or small).

In my case, the shoes I have to fill are ENORMOUS (and they’re stilettos!).  I am honored and humbled to be replacing a lady who kicks derrière at what she does.  I’ve been working for a week and two days (only three days of which I have spent in the office), and the enormity of what I still need to learn is beginning to dawn on me.

But you know what?  I.  Am.  So.  Thrilled.  I have a lot to learn in this new job, but I know already that it is stuff that I desperately want to know.  I feel like an academic who has just discovered her research passion, or a future tennis star who just picked up a racket for the first time.  This is work that I am meant to be doing.  This is the work that will challenge, delight, stress, frustrate and ultimately reward me.

It’s intimidating, but not daunting.  I know perfectly well that I am capable of learning all that I need to (and then some!) and I know I will do it because I’ve already caught the fever of asking questions, looking things up and informing myself.  I’m also thrilled because I can tell that I will never know *everything* about this job.  It will always change and grow, and force me to remain creative and flexible. What more could anyone ask from a job??

My Hero the CrockPot
The staff, hard at work while I’m at the office.

Of course, all this learning and growing means I am exhausted by the time I get home from the sheer effort of concentration required all day.  Thankfully, I have discovered the CrockPot (or slow cooker), a genius invention by some wonderful person who understood people in my very position.  Tonight, Chico and I will taste our first CrockPot recipe and here’s hoping the veggies aren’t too soggy.

When all your brainpower is used up by the time you get home, it is vital to eat a tasty, healthy meal, relax with your Chico (or Chica, whatever), unwind and recharge your batteries for tomorrow.

Tonight, when you get home, do something to help unwind.  Paint your nails.  Write in your journal.  Watch a silly video online.

But most importantly of all, give yourself a pat on the back for the hard work you’ve done today.  And keep in mind all that you’ve learned, and all that you still have to learn.  And be happy.

 

(And if you’re in a professional rut–get out of it!)

The Turkey That Almost Wasn't

The Turkey That Almost Wasn’t

In my first post, Lessons from my Kitchen, I mentioned a spectacular near-disaster on Thanksgiving 2012, and promised to write about it at a later date.  That date has come, my friends.  I am now here to tell you about the The Turkey That Almost Wasn’t of Thanksgiving 2012.

It was my first Thanksgiving meal.  Not the first one I’d eaten, mind you, but the first one I was hosting and cooking myself.  And boy, was I organized.  Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated on the first Monday in October, and on the Tuesday before, I called up my local supermarket to order a small fresh turkey to be picked up on Monday morning.  “Oui madame!”  No problem.  The following day, I called back to confirm the order and to make sure they had specified “fresh” not “frozen.”  “Mais oui, oui madame, aucun problème.”  Brilliant!  And so I set to cooking.

Over the next few days I made applesauce, cranberry sauce, pumpkin muffins, prepared stuffing, and a lentil and sweet potato casserole for my one vegetarian guest.  It was a frenzied few days of cooking, and on Sunday evening I picked up the phone to call the supermarket and ask what time the turkey would be ready for pick up.  “Oh, around 9:00am, madame.”  Perfect.

Monday morning, Thanksgiving day.  My guests are coming at 1:00pm.  It’s ten minutes past nine and I’m at the butcher counter of my local IGA.

IGA butcher: “Mais madame, nous n’avons pas de dindes fraîches!”  (“But madam, we don’t have any fresh turkeys!”)  “In fact, we’re not getting any deliveries today!  The only turkeys we have are these frozen ones over here.”

Let us pause for a moment and picture a look of horror, mixed with rage and incredulity.  Got it?  Good.  Moving on.

Me: “WHATDOYOUMEANYOUDON’THAVEMYTURKEYIORDEREDITLASTWEEKIWANTTOSPEAKWITHTHEMANAGER!!!” and so on.  While waiting for the manager to find a solution, I have located a butcher shop not too far from my home and have managed to secure a 6kg (13lbs) turkey–the smallest available.

Manager: “Madame, we will have someone go fetch your turkey and bring it special delivery.  It should be here by 11:00.”  Fine.  I cancel the 6kg turkey with the other butcher shop, go home, put my apple crisp in the oven, call my friends and reschedule for later in the day.  They’re very understanding.

Eleven o’clock has me back at the supermarket, all anticipation.

IGA butcher: “Voici votre dinde, madame!”  Here is your turkey.  And he hands me a frozen turkey.

Let’s pull up that face again, shall we?  Good.

Me: “Qu’est-ce que vous voulez que je fasse avec ceci, monsieur?  J’ai des invités CET APRES-MIDI!!”  What do you want me to do with this, sir?  I have guests THIS AFTERNOON!!!

IGA idiot–ah, I mean butcher: “Ah well, you should have ordered it ahead of time, madame!”  This is where I practically lost it.

Me: “I DID order my turkey last week.  I called once to order and the next day to confirm.  Go.  Find.  My.  Order.  Sheet.”

While he’s in the back, I manage to contact that other butcher shop again.  “Sure, we still have the turkey.  Of course we can hold it for you.  But for no more than half an hour, ma’am.”  The disgraced IGA butcher comes out from the back looking horribly sheepish, holding a sheet of paper in his hand.

Him: “I found your order, madame.  It got lost under some papers and was never filled.  I am terribly sorry.”

It is at this point that my rage becomes too much for me, and instead of yelling, I look at him with huge eyes which well up with tears, which then start streaming down my face.  He sees this, wrings his hands and says, “Shit.”  That’s right, buddy.  You made me cry.

Quickly wiping away my tears, I race back up the hill, toting my grocery cart behind me.  Huffing and puffing, I realize by the time I get 1/4 of the way to the other shop that I will never make it in time.  Thinking quickly, I hop on a public bicycle, throw my ungainly cart over the handle bars and go peddling across the Plateau like a madwoman, my cart teetering and my jacket flapping open behind me in the wind.

Several illegal traffic maneuvers later, I’m at the Portuguese butcher shop.

Me: “I’m here for the 6kg turkey.”

Butcher: “Six kilos?  Ma’am, this bird is at least eight!”

My jaw hits the counter.

Me: “Eight kilos???  (That’s 17.5lbs) What am I going to do with all this turkey??”

Butcher: “How many guests are you having?”

Me: “Three.”

Uproarious laughter from the butcher and the man behind me in line.

Me: “And one’s a vegetarian.”

I thought I had nearly killed them, they were laughing so hard.

When he recovered, the butcher very kindly cleaned and emptied the bird, and gave me a quick lesson on trussing it.  The man behind me in line said, “Don’t stuff it.  It’ll take too long to cook.  Put your stuffing in a casserole dish and warm it for the last 30 minutes.”  What a kind, kind man.

I wish for the sake of a good visual I could say that I threw the bird back on the handlebars of the bike and biked home, but it was just too heavy and my cart was too awkward.  But I did rush home with an ENORMOUS bird in my grocery cart.  (Did I mention that the oven was preheating back at the house this whole time?  Yeah, there’s that.)

I got home, trussed it up, seasoned it, brushed it with my mother’s marinade and threw it into the oven.  That’s when I called my mom on Skype and emptied my tear ducts out of sheer frustration.  But now that the damn thing was in the oven, the humor of the situation was already dawning on me.  My mom was kind enough to restrain herself from completely guffawing, but she couldn’t help let a few giggles escape.  By the time she finished giving me her last advice, we were both giggling.

At 5:00pm the turkey came out of the oven, and after having to practically rip apart the aluminum roasting pan it was in (and nearly giving myself a hernia in the process), it was ready to present to my guests in all its glory.

The Turkey That Almost Wasn't
The Turkey That Almost Wasn’t

The turkey and all the side dishes were absolutely scrumptious.  As were the leftovers Chico and I ate for the next three months.

Twitter #Hashtag: #ObamaSciFiQuotes

The #Hashtag for the last week of February is #ObamaSciFiQuotes, inspired by President Obama’s apparent SciFi reference gaffe.

During a press conference about the impending sequester President Obama said, “This has been some of the conventional wisdom that’s floating around… Most people agree I’m presenting a fair deal” to Republicans. “The fact that they don’t take it means that I should somehow do a Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what’s right.”

Cue: OUTRAGE!!!!!

There is no “Jedi mind meld,” Mr. President!  It’s a Jedi MIND TRICK (actually a quote from the first Star Wars prequel which should be erased from all our memories), and a VULCAN MIND MELD (do I have that right?  I’m not really sure).  The president did the unspeakable: he mashed together Star Wars and Star Trek, two science fiction segments that have famously warred over which was the “original” or the “best”.  (George Takei said it best when he begged for “star peace” in the face of a greater threat: “Twilight”.)

Apparently, mixing up Star Wars and Star Trek is a grievous sin, because since the “incident” the president has been mocked in social media.  If William Shatner and Carrie Fisher spend time arguing over which is better, then you can be sure that hundreds of thousands of other web denizens out there spend plenty of time obsessing over this kind of thing.

President Obama (or his team, whichever) had a clever response to the outrage and sarcastic #ObamaSciFiQuotes trending topic:

Obama Jedi Mind Meld

In a brilliant move, the president took his blunder and ran with it: thus getting more people than he could possibly have dreamed of talking about his “mistake” and actually talking about the sequester. This is good PR: take a faux pas that could potentially alienate some (crazy) folks, and make it a coming-together point, a kick-off for conversations on a topic that needs to be discussed.

Someone else who is getting some good press out of this is the guy who sat down and wrote about why the president’s reference was actually accurate.  Chris Peterson of MIT wrote a blog post in which he explains exactly why Obama’s reference is correct and how it proves that the president is, in fact, more of a nerd than anyone ever thought.  His article was referenced on TheVerge.com and has since been tweeted and retweeted with the #ObamaSciFiQuotes hashtag.

Brilliant.  It keeps the debate and conversation going, and gets Mr. Peterson some good visibility while he’s at it.  His article is funny and so well timed as to make it go viral.  One expects something the president says or does to go viral, but the secret formula for a viral post, video or tweet is elusive and no one is really sure how or when it’s going to happen.  So congrats, Chris!  You have successfully done what all online marketing managers are dying to achieve: you went viral.

Can We Discuss Tennis Fashions?

Can we please talk about the hideous tennis fashions?  Why is EVERYONE wearing yellow?  Yeah, I know it shows up on the TV screen and all, but ew.  Seriously.  Ew.

Tennis Yellows
This is ugly.

The ladies are doing it too!  Disgraceful!  Who said that tennis fashions means one must match the tennis balls??

But you know what two classy gents aren’t getting into this silly yellow nonsense?  That’s right.  Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.  They’re above yellow.  These men are so manly that they pull off pink.

Roger Federer 2013
Subtle pink detail. I love it.
Rafael Nadal Pink
This is nothing if not manly.

Ditch the yellow, Tsonga & co.  Get on the pink train.  Or as one Roland Garros watcher said last year of Rafa’s fashion choice: go with lust red.

 

Twitter #Hashtag of the Week: #Oscars2013

It’s a little late coming, I know, but the #Hashtag of the week for February 18th through 25th has got to be (what else?) the #Oscars2013!!  Woo-hoo!!  Glamour!  Dresses!  Fashion!  Ridiculously good-looking people!  Awards for mediocre artistry!  Oh wait, no I was kidding about the last one.  To be fair, I have only seen four of the nine nominees for best picture and I never saw “Argo”, so I cannot comment on the winner.  One thing everyone can agree on after the #Oscars2013 is that Jennifer Lawrence has stolen our hearts.

Jennifer Lawrence with her parents
She went to the Oscars with her parents! What’s not to love?

There are many reasons to love Jennifer Lawrence post- #Oscars2013.  For one, she fell up the stairs as she went to collect her award.  Yes, it’s all over the internet, and it seems to be all that people are talking about.  But ladies, how many of us have done this?  Now let’s be honest.  My incident of falling up the stairs to the history building in college, sending my books scattering and my skirt flying over my head as the cute guy in class came up the stairs behind me might not have been on the same epic scale as falling at the Oscars, but I can imagine how she feels.  And I love her for how she owned it.

Another reason to love Jennifer Lawrence is her attitude about being famous.  It’s like she can’t believe this is all happening to her, and is unabashedly star-struck and in awe of the whole experience.  Her post-Oscars press conference is absolutely hilarious, as she answers some pretty silly questions with humility, humor and a great sense of timing.  When asked about “the process” for getting ready for the Oscars, she frankly answers: “I woke up, took a shower, tried on the dress and it fit, thank God, and then I got my hair and makeup done.”  That’s it, folks.  Just like the time you had your hair and makeup done for your cousin’s wedding.  Except, not.

But my all-time favorite J.Law (as the kids are calling her on Twitter) moment of the night was when Jack Nicholson approached her during a post-ceremony interview.  Despite the fact that Jack-Jack was clearly ogling her (creepy Uncle Jack, anyone?), she responded with hilarity and grace.  Her reaction is just what any of us would have: something to the effect of “HOLY CRAP, IS THAT JACK NICHOLSON??”  I would certainly have reacted the same way (okay, I would probably have fainted), and it made me so happy for Jennifer Lawrence to know that she is a regular girl like me, living the dream.

So my #Oscars2013 commentary has turned out to basically be a fan love letter to Jennifer Lawrence.  There were a few other choice moments (hungry on the red carpet).  While I would not have voted for her to win best actress for her role in “Silver Linings Playbook,” I will say: Well done, Ms Lawrence.  It will surely be a pleasure to follow your career (and daydream about swapping situations for a day–like for #Oscars2014).

Spiced Zucchini Muffins

Are you at a loss for something to make for a Sunday afternoon tea?  Fear not!!  I have the perfect recipe!  This comes from one of Jane Brody’s many good food cookbooks and it has been a favorite in our family for years.  I think it was one of the only ways our mother could get us to eat a vegetable…

They're so yummy...
They’re so yummy…

Don’t be put off by the idea of zucchini (or courgette) in a muffin.  It works even better than carrots, as the water content of the zucchini makes the muffins nice and moist.  So without further ado, here is the recipe:

  • 1 cup unprocessed bran
  • 2/3 cup stone-ground, whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup corn oil (or canola or sunflower)
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed, dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange rind (a pain in the butt, but worth it!!)
  • 1 cup 1% low-fat milk
  • 2/3 cup grated unpeeled zucchini (roughly one large zucchini)
  • ½ cup raisins
  1. Heat oven to 400ºF (205°C).  Line a 12-cup muffin pan with 2 ½ inch foil cups (don’t use paper, they’ll stick!!).
  2. In a large bowl, combine the bran, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and orange rind until evenly blended.  Whisk in the milk.  Add the milk mixture and zucchini to the bran mixture, and stir together just until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Do not overmix.  Stir in the raisins.
  4. Divide the batter evenly into the muffin cups.  (The cups will be quite full.)  Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted in one of the muffins comes out clean.

They’re quick and easy to make, especially if you have a food processor in which to grate the zucchini.  Give them a try and I promise you will like them!

Crocheting to Keep Warm

A gift from me to you
A gift from me to you

Two days ago I finished a crochet blanket and yesterday I had the pleasure of giving to a girlfriend.  It always fills me with satisfaction to see the final product and know that I made this beautiful (at least, I think so!) thing with my own hands.  The other day in my post about boredom, I wrote about how manual labor in the form of creative crafts can help alleviate ennui and make one feel useful.  Crocheting, for me, is more than just a way to feel productive: it a fun way to give a little part of myself to my dearest friends.

Last year I joined a Stitch n’ Bitch and started meeting up with a group of (mostly) ladies on Tuesday evenings.  (Stitch n’ Bitch is an international thing and you can probably find one in your hometown if you’re interested.)  We meet in quiet, well-lit cafés around the Plateau neighborhood and chit chat mostly about our projects, but also about the little things that make up these lives of ours.  I have learned a lot of tricks from the ladies, including this neat tip for joining two skanes of yarn!

There are always new and familiar faces at the meetings.  They come from diverse backgrounds, all brought together by a love of knitting and crocheting.  The other day, the organizer of our group asked us on Facebook why we knit (or crochet).  The reasons were diverse: some said for socializing, others for keeping their hands busy.  Still others said they learned it from a loved one and kept on in their memory, and others do it for the love of creating something.  Everyone had his or her own reasons for picking up the needles or hook, and it was interesting to hear the different ways this simple, ancient activity brings joy to people’s lives.

That got me thinking about why I love crocheting so much.  My mother taught me when I was little, and she and I worked together on a granny square blanket which I kept for many years (until it disintegrated).  It wasn’t until college, though, that I realized what a precious gift crochet is.  My friends saw my old blanket and kept asking me about it.  So I finally picked up my hook again and made a throw for each one of my closest girlfriends.  Then I made one for my grandmother.  Then I made one as a wedding gift for my oldest brother, then another for my second brother and his bride.

Soon, everyone I loved had a handmade Jane afghan.  Even my new little nephew has his own original BrainInJane piece!  So when asked why I crochet, I realized that it is because for me it is a way of telling a friend or a family member just how much I love them.  I want to give them something that I have put time, thought and energy into.  It’s my way of saying, “You are a person I value and here is just a small token of how much you mean to me.”

The next time you have a gift to give, consider making it yourself.  You’ll be delighted by how much it touches your friends’ hearts.

Movie Night: Les Misérables

Last night Chico took me out on a date for dinner and a movie.  I love date nights!  We saw “Les Misérables” which I had wanted to see but never got to.

Les MisérablesBefore I go any further, I will say that those of us who know and love the stage version of Les Mis will only be able to fully enjoy this film if we check our musical expectations at the door.  That said, the acting was fine, the film was visually stunning, my biggest disappointment was Hugh Jackman, and my greatest delight was Anne Hathaway.

First, the negatives: I’ve always been a fan of Russel Crowe, especially since “Master and Commander” (he makes ruffles look SEXY!).  But, not to put too fine a point on it, his singing was, well… weak.  He can carry a tune, yes, and he was clearly trying hard.  I think we all expected him to sound bad, but his obvious discomfort at having to sing made him appear stiff and uncomfortable on screen.  One could argue that Javert is a stiff character, but for the most part I thought Crowe just looked pained at having to sing.

And then there’s Hugh Jackman.  I had heard and read that he was on broadway and was a talented singer.  I even heard him singing at a Tony awards ceremony and in some YouTube videos, so I had high expectations.  Talk about disappointment!  His singing, while better than Crowe’s, is by no means good.  After hearing his first song, I realized I had to seriously lower my musical expectations.  As far as acting goes, he is fine, though I would argue that Valjean is not a particularly challenging or nuanced character.

Not to harp on, but another let-down were Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter as the Thenardiers.  Their “Master of the House” scene was disappointingly lame, and I struggled to understand many of Helena Bonham-Carter’s lyrics (I had the same problem with her singing in “Sweeny Todd”).  Thankfully, I already knew all the words, so her lack of enunciation couldn’t leave me mystified. Foiled, madam!  I felt the director could have done so much more with Baron Cohen’s comic genius (did anyone else find him hysterical in “Hugo”??).

After accordingly lowering my standards, imagine my delight when Anne Hathaway showed up.  True, her voice is not particularly strong, but it is clear, true and wonderfully fragile.  The close-up camera during the iconic “I Dreamed a Dream” aria was harrowing, and her performance was, I believe, the strongest of the film.  She was heartbreaking and, frankly, perfect.  Well done.

The younger members of the cast were the most talented, and Marius, Cosette, Eponine, Enjourlas and the children are all quite good.  As I said, the film looks amazing: gritty, dark, with great sets.  Despite sounding like a Debbie downer, I really did enjoy the film!  There’s plenty of eye candy and who doesn’t love a costume drama?  I DO!!

Life is Awesome

What do you have to celebrate today?  No matter how crappy life seems to be, or how dismal the weather outside, there is always something to celebrate.  So take a minute to think about what’s awesome in your life today and then CELEBRATE IT!

celebrate (1) copy

Go out and have a party!  My party plans: Get a massage and then buy myself some beautiful new yarn.  Yup, that’s how I’m going to celebrate a bundle of good news.

Life truly is awesome.

 

Ratatouille

This is a recipe for something which I call ratatouille but which probably has nothing to do with real ratatouille.  I’m sure real ratatouille is far more complicated than this, but I like to keep things simple (and tasty).  So here goes:

I'm never sure how best to chop these.
I’m never sure how best to chop these.
  • 2 large sausages of your choice (optional)
  • 1 large Onion, diced
  • 1 Eggplant (or aubergine for you UK folks), diced, salted and left to sit for a while then rinsed.
  • 2 medium Zucchinis (that’s courgettes for the UK), sliced however you like
  • 2 bell Peppers (I like to use orange and yellow to add color), sliced however you like
  • 3 large Tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 large cloves of Garlic, smooshed (hee!)
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • Salt, pepper & other seasoning you might like (I use oregano)
  • Gnocchi (to serve)

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Slice open the skin of the sausage, squeeze out the meat and in a large pan, cook it until browned on medium heat.  Remove from the pan and set aside.  (I like to leave the grease from the sausage in the pan for extra flavor.)

    Brown it up nice an' good.
    Brown it up nice an’ good.
  2. Add some olive oil to the pan and warm it up on medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent (they say about 5 minutes).
  3. One by one, add the eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and garlic.  Let each cook a little before adding the next.  (Note: some people like to cook the garlic with the onion at the beginning, but by adding it towards the end with the tomato, you make the flavor more intense.  Just sayin’.)
  4. Chop up the veggie bouillon cube and mix it in well.  (I recommend using the cube and not broth because the veggies will produce a lot of juices and you don’t want it to be too wet.)Photo 2013-02-18 14 23 18
  5. Add the sausage back in, get it nice and bubbly.  Then lower the heat, cover and let it bubble away (stirring occasionally) for 15 to 20 minutes.  Once done, season to taste.
  6. In the meantime, boil some water and salt it generously.  Throw in the gnocchi to cook until they pop up and float in the water (about a minute or two).  Drain and serve with your delicious ratatouille-type dish!

As I said, it might not really be ratatouille, but it’s delicious in any case!  Thanks to my friend Maura for teaching me this recipe oh so many years ago now.

Bon appétit!  (Yes, I did just say that in a Julia Child voice in my head).