Three hundred and sixty-six

Three hundred and sixty six days

I made it through it all.  All 366 days of it!

Normally I do a recap of the month, but as this month was a bit of a recap of the year, I’m going to skip that and just do a final post of the year.

Recap of the year

Where do I even begin?  So much has happened over the past year.  I’ve decided the best way is to share my favourite posts, divided by the months.  Although I have lots of ones I am proud of, these in particular resonate with me for some reason or another. (If you want a short description of what I got up to each month, click on the monthly topic below and it will take you to my recap posts for that month.)

MARCH 2011 – Extreme Couponing

APRIL 2011 – 30 Days of Art

MAY 2011 – 31 Days, 31 Dates (there’s a tie with this one – I also really enjoyed my dating advice at the end of my final post for that month)

  • The speed-dating date – I have always wanted to go speed dating and it was quite the experience.  It was one of the worst ‘dates’ of the month, but also one of the most memorable.
  • The social experiment date – A confusing date that forever changed my life, the way I feel about myself, and my future plans (we had a short, passionate affair that ended badly, then I drove across Canada with him during First Kiss Interviews month, we hated each other, then became sort of friends, he made me doubt all the great things about me, and now we don’t really talk – advice to all the ladies out there: listen to your instincts and don’t get blinded by a pretty face).

JUNE 2011 – Cooking 30 Countries (funnily my two favourite posts this month were meals I shared with the man who taught me stop motion animation and the one who confused me)

  • Italian with the Italian – a wonderful evening with a wonderful man, and lots of practical information about Italian cooking.
  • Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi – Kangaroo and Tim Tams.  It reminds me of living in Melbourne, and some very interesting facts about kangaroo meat included.

JULY 2011 – Only Online Purchases

AUGUST 2011 – Out of My Comfort Zone (there were so many great posts this month, but here are a few of my favourites)

SEPTEMBER 2011 – 31 First Kiss Interviews

OCTOBER 2011 – Vegan for the Month

  • Freeganism – I find this world of living without money fascinating, and although extreme, I think we can learn from them.
  • Raw Vegan Food Diet – Another extreme way of eating, taken from a lecture I went to at the University of Toronto.  Lots of great information.
  • Makeup and Skin Care – Interview with Kait Gray from Arbonne.  This changed the way I look at the cosmetics industry.

NOVEMBER 2011 – 30 Holiday Celebrations

  • Guy Fawkes Day – A fascinating discussion with some of the Occupy Toronto camp.
  • Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day – I was a model for the Toronto Star and did an online video for them!
  • Happy Movember – I love this holiday.  Men with moustaches for a month – very sexy in a Tom Selleck sort of way.

DECEMBER 2011 – Good Deed a Day

  • Extremely good and bad people in one day – A shocking negative event followed by an equally shocking positive one.  It brought tears to my eyes.
  • Hitting the bottom mid-month – including a very personal (yet very public because it was on the blog in the comments for all to read) debate between a friend of mine and I which almost cost us our friendship.  The debate crossed several posts, with this being the finale.  It really opened my eyes to my own views, but also how others perceive what I write.
  • The science of good deeds – How good deeds affect us mentally and physically.

JANUARY 2012 – Life at the Poverty Line

FEBRUARY 2012 – A Photograph A Day (month suggested by and voted on by the readers)

What I learned

In each of the month recaps (click on monthly topic above to read them), I talked about what I learned as an initial reaction.  As a year-long learning experience, I have no idea where to start.  I have learned so much from skills to knowledge to personal growth.

I am a different person than when I started March 1st, 2011.  Besides physical changes of losing weight through being vegan (and keeping it off through keeping up the no dairy and yoga), there have been many emotional and psychological changes.  The knowledge I gained about the different topics has given me a wider perspective on the world.  I feel like I have a purpose – like I’m fulfilling a need in myself and sharing it with others.  I am now part of a community of bloggers who are as supportive as they are talented.  I am happy and calmer, but also a bit more jaded with the world (damn porn cinema!).

I gained skills like extreme couponing (the auto correct on my computer kept wanting me to write extreme “coupling” – when you’re tired like I have been on numerous occasions this year and am right now, you find this very amusing) and cooking.  I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to do this and I have such amazing people in my life who support and encourage me.

I wrote this on Day 100 and it still rings true:

There have been days when I’ve hated that I’m doing this – that I’d love a ‘normal’ life where I don’t have to blog and make Taboulleh at 1:30am.  But most days I love it.  I love that I’m learning something new and writing every day.  I love talking about my project – still.  I love sharing my experiences with other people, whether by the blog or by them being a part of whatever adventure I have planned for the day.  I love that I’ve created this for myself (with the help of so many great people) and I feel so fortunate every day that I can do this.  Whether this turns into a million-copy selling book becomes less and less the point (although that would be fantastic).  It’s about the experience, the knowledge and the growth.  And the chance to share that with you.

Where do I go from here

The plan is to write the book about my experiences.  I will also be blogging at least once a week.  Every Wednesday I will post a recap of how things are going with me.  Sometimes it will be a comment on a topic or research on a subject that I’ve discovered about one of the ideas from the year.  And sometimes it will be just about how I’m feeling.  A bit like the daily blog posts I’ve been doing, but on a bigger scale.  I will also be posting occasionally during the week if there is something that inspires me to write or a very interesting or timely topic I want to discuss.  So keep reading for all that.  I will also be updating you all on how the book is coming along and my search for an agent and publisher.  This could be interesting to those of you out there trying to get your own work published.

I’m also going to stick with some of the things I learned this year.  I’m still trying to buy all natural cosmetics, and not eat dairy or pork.  I am determined to pick up my guitar again, paint, make pottery, sew more and do all the other projects I started during art month and never finished.  I still use my online and coupon shopping skills.  I’m still pushing myself to  do things out of my comfort zone on a weekly basis, and I’m a fountain of dating knowledge for my single friends out there.  I’m working on arranging some more volunteer experiences for me to help out more in the community.  I’m donating money regularly to help those less fortunate.  All of these habits I learned through experiences in the past year and I am grateful that I can stick with them.

Thank you again everyone for following along through three hundred sixty six days of posts!  Check back next Wednesday to hear how much I miss my blogging routine, how the book is coming along, and hopefully some other fun information.

One hundred and twenty-three

India

Before writing a recap of my month of Cooking 30 Countries, I have to share my friend Trason‘s mom’s butter chicken recipe.  It is absolutely amazing and really not that hard to make.

Lorna and Trason’s Butter Chicken

PREP

Clean about 1lb of chicken and cut into cubes a third the size of your palm.

Your Marinade in a BIG BOWL:

Tandoori Masala – 2 table spoons
Yogurt Plain – 2 table spoons
ginger paste – 2 tea spoons
garlic paste – 2 tea spoons
Lemon – Half (take seeds out)
Pinch of Salt

Drop Chicken in and mix well – DONT TOUCH YOUR EYES :)– and cover it securely with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge either over night or you can do this 2 hours before.

Once marinated, line a baking dish with aluminum foil and spread the chicken and sauce evenly.  Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes (check that chicken is cooked by slicing open the middle of the bigger chunks).

SAUCE

1/4 block of butter
2 tbsp Almond Powder or crushed almonds
I can of Tomato PASTE (Unico 156ml small tin)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp chilli powder
Half and Half Cream (10%) Small carton
1% milk small carton as well or medium size

Heat butter in a large saucepan until melted.  Add crushed almonds or powder and blend together.  Add tomato paste, mix well and simmer for 5 minutes, or until it solidifies enough that it leaves the sides of the pan.  Add sugar, salt and chilli powder.  Once mixed, add cooked chicken and the remainer of the marinade from the pan.  Poor in small carton of half and half cream.  Stir well.  Add small amounts of milk if it looks too thick.

PULAO RICE

1 cup of basmati rice
1 onion
1 chicken soup cube
3 cinnamon sticks broken in half

Sauté onion in a little olive oil until slightly translucent.  Add cinnamon sticks and stir for one minute.  Add chicken stock cube and break apart to cover onions and cinnamon evenly.  Add rice and mix together for one minute.  Add two cups of water and bring to a boil.  Cover and let simmer until rice is cooked.

RAITA (yoghurt dish to cut the spice of the curry)

Combine plain yoghurt with diced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.  Top with black pepper.

Amazing!!!!  Thank you Trason and his mom for allowing me to share this recipe.

Making it through Cooking 30 Countries

I made it through Cooking 30 Countries and I’m so happy I included this month in my year.  Even though my readers dwindled considerably from date month to this month, I feel more centered than ever and ready to take on the challenges the rest of this project will face.  With a full belly and a strong group of friends and family to help me along the way, I am ready to start getting more publicity, writing, researching and diving even more into this project head and heart first.

I also needed this break of cooking and eating while recovering from date month!

Recap of the month

Here are the recipes I made (or other people made) and where they are from: Ethiopian at Lalibela Restaurant, Pabellon Criollo and Torta de Jojoto from Venezuela, Mexican at Milagro Cantina Mexicana, Scottish Shortbread, Hungarian omelette, Indonesian Prawn Nasi Goreng, Tabbouleh from Lebanon, South African Bobotie, Swedish Bärkräm, Ecuadorian Locro de Papa, Brazilian Biscoitos de Maizena, Aruban Banana na Binja, Japanese at Nami, Caribbean at Island Foods, German Oktoberfest sausage and weisse beer, Thai at The Thai, Southern American Jambalaya, Greek salad, Russian Apple Pie, Imam Bayildi from Turkey, French Chicken Supreme with Gratin Dauphinoise and asparagus topped with Hollandaise Sauce, Italian Spaghetti Carbonara and Gelato, English Scones,  řízek from the Czech Republic, Portuguese Pasteis de Nata, Australian Kangaroo and Tim Tams, Perogi from Poland or the Ukraine, Chinese stir-fried noodles and General Tsao,s Chicken with steamed boychoy, Canadian at August Restaurant, Indian Butter Chicken (see above).

I was going to write about which were my favourite and least favourite dishes, but as I look back on them, they all had their good and bad points.  Most of the bad points being the fat content and most of the good being the taste!  The only dishes that I really didn’t enjoy was the South African Bobotie, but a lot of other people loved it (it might be the fact that I had it for three meals in a row and got sick of it) and the Pabellon Criollo, but I think that was because of a bad recipe.

My absolute favourite part of the month, though, was being able to share many of those meals with my friends and family.

What did I learn?

  • Planning ahead: I once again am having problems with planning ahead, but I seem to have learned my lesson half way through the month when I embarrassingly invited a friend over for dinner, then had nothing prepared and we ended up having to go out for food.  I was much better at planning meals a few days ahead of time during the last few weeks, than I was during the first (a lesson that will come in handy for Only Online Shopping month).
  • Scheduling: I also had a hard time scheduling my time to cook and write between working hours, but I do feel like I’m finally learning to set aside time for it.  A friend of mine lent me Stephen King’s On Writing, and although I’m only part way through, I’ve learned a lot about the job of writing so far.  King is a huge advocate of setting aside time to write in a private environment with no distractions.  This will help me be more productive while I am writing.
  • Sources used:  I need to make sure my sources are valuable when using them to create content for my blog.  Some of the recipes I used were neither easy to follow or tasted that great because of the place I found them (I originally thought they were good sources, but on further research realized they weren’t the best).  The best sources for these kinds of experiments tend to be word of mouth or websites that have comments sections on them.
  • Advice: Speaking of sources, the best places I found advice about specific recipes (besides verbal advice) were on the comments sections of sites like allrecipes.com.  People have made these recipes before and suggest how to make them better.
  • The right tools: It was hard to cook without the right tools.  A dull knife, no spatula, the wrong pan.  All of these things made the experience harder than it needed to be and hurt the end product.  Each month I need to plan what tools I will need to best accomplish my goals and work hard to have those in place before I start out on each journey.
  • The recipes: Learning to cook better, one day at a time.

Where do I go from here with International Cooking?

I will definitely be trying more new recipes.  Especially because of Online Shopping month starting today, I’m going to be cooking at home more than ever.  I will also be trying to perfect some of the ones that didn’t work as well as they could have but I still enjoyed and know can be even better.

A new challenge:

There were a lot of countries I didn’t get to, but there is one in particular that I’m a little upset I didn’t get to try.  A friend of mine sent me to youcook.ca and got me in contact with the chefs there.  The You Cook team started the blog in November of 2009 to learn about cooking restaurant-quality food at home.  Recently editor Thu Nguyen went to Vietnam on a quest to find the tastiest Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwich).  I’m disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to make Banh Mi, so I’m setting myself a challenge for next month: I will attempt to make Banh Mi by purchasing all of the ingredients online and making it at home.

Starting today everything I spend money on for the month of July will be bought online.  My credit card is sure to get a work-out!

One hundred and twenty-two

Oh Canada!

Poutine? Montreal-style bagels? Caribou? Tourtiere? Peameal bacon? Butter tarts? Maple syrup?  Tim Horton’s? Beer?  What would be the best choice of a meal to represent Canada in my month of cooking 30 countries?  For me, what best describes Canadian cuisine is how eclectic it is.  Indian and Thai food are mixed with Italian to create an interesting new dish.  Restaurants have items inspired from an assortment of different countries on their menus.

What about the locavore movement – eating locally produced food?  Where my parents live in southern Ontario you can stop at stands by the road and take local produce from farmers, leaving your money in a tin.  Being so close to farms and having farmers markets located throughout the cities (see Farmers’ Markets Ontario website to find one near you), it’s not hard to eat food grown by your Ontario neighbours.

In honour of both of these ideas – the eclectic nature and the local food – my parents and I went for Spanish-style tapas and local wine at August Restaurant in Beamsville (I didn’t get a chance to make Spanish food this month, so this is also a tribute to Spain).  August Restaurant is a “partnership between a chef and a gardener”,  using almost all local ingredients and growing most of their own vegetables.  All soups, sauces and breads are made in-house.  The tapas menu (they also have lunch, brunch and dinner menus) has a wide variety of dishes, including Herb and Brie Pierogis with Double Smoked Bacon and Onions, Wee Little Lobster Mac ‘N’ Cheese (obviously not all ingredients are sourced locally, unless there are lobsters in Lake Ontario that I don’t know about), Sweet Potato Empanadas (which tasted a lot like pumpkin pie), Curried Lamb Meat Balls with a Sour Cream Dip and Crab Cake Po’ Boy with House Made Tartar Sauce.  You can look at the full tapas menu here.   Everything was delicious and reasonable priced.  And the mini ice cream cake for dessert was divine!

Tonight

For my final night of international cooking, my Indian friend’s mom’s butter chicken recipe.

One hundred and twenty-one

China

These are all the dishes I used while trying to cook three Chinese food dishes:

The dishes after a cooking frenzy! You should have seen the kitchen before I cleaned it!

Timing has always been an issue for me.  How do you get three dishes to cook perfectly and finish at the same time?  I’m slowly getting better at it, however one of the dishes always tends to suffer a little.  In this case, it was slightly over-steamed bok choy.  Cooking for just me and sometimes one other person, I also find it hard to make a small amount of a recipe.  Usually the amount you are supposed to make is for 4-6 people.  Normally leftovers would be great, but as it’s international cooking month and I cook every day, there is no need for leftovers.  The chicken dish I made ended up with a little too much sauce for the amount of chicken I used.

General Tsao's Chicken, steamed bok choy, and Chinese stir-fried noodles

On the menu was: General Tsao’s Chicken, steamed bok choy, and Chinese stir-fried noodles.  My brother joined me for lunch yesterday and said the stir-fried noodles tasted exactly like at any Chinese food restaurant he’d been to.  He wasn’t as keen on the chicken because of the extra breading (mess up in scaling back ingredients sizes).  Below is the recipe for the stir-fried noodles inspired by a post on good-chinese-food.com.  For the recipes for the General Tsao’s Chicken click here and for the bok choy, click here.

Chinese Stir-Fried Noodles

Ingredients:

Chinese noodles – I used thin yellow noodles
Carrotts, cut in thin strips
Mushrooms, sliced
Green onions, sliced
1 tbsp minced garlic
Soy sauce
Chinese barbeque sauce
Oyster sauce
Sesame Oil

Boil noodles until al dente (the yellow noodles I used took only 1 minute to cook).  Drain and set aside.

Add a small amount of vegetable oil to a frying pan or wok and heat to medium-high.  Fry garlic and carrots for approximately 20 seconds, then add the mushrooms and green onions and stir-fry for 3 minutes.  Add a little soy sauce at the end.  Set aside.

Heat about 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce and 1 tablespoon Chinese BBQ sauce in the frying pan or wok. Heat this mixture very briefly before adding veggies and noodles. Toss well to coat and turn off the heat. Add 1 tbsp of sesame oil and toss again.

I used approximates of ingredients until it tasted the way I wanted it to.  All in all a successful meal that was very tasty, despite the giant mess of the kitchen I made!

Tonight

Visit to my parents in the Ontario farmlands and dinner at a restaurant that only serves local food.  Oh Canada!

One hundred and twenty

Ukraine/Poland

Not the prettiest looking Perogi, but definitely tasty!

During my date month, a really lovely gentleman I met online said he didn’t want to be  just one date of 31, but would make me perogies during my international cooking month.  Although we never did meet up, I believe he still reads my blog.  So in honour of him, I made perogi from scratch yesterday.

Perogi are central/eastern European dumplings (similar to Italian tortellini or Chinese wontons) usually filled with potato, meat, cheese, onion and/or sauerkraut.  There are also dessert versions that are filled with fruit and served with sour cream.

They were actually really simple to make, and very delicious (although my dough was a little thick – good to know for next time).  You begin with 2 cups of flour, 1 egg  and a pinch of salt.  Combine in a bowl and keep adding water until a sticky dough is formed.  Leave dough sit under a bowl for 20 minutes.  Then work on the filling.  For the potato and cheese version I made, boil potatoes until they are ready to be mashed.  Shred strong cheddar cheese and mix with potatoes, salt and pepper.  Roll the dough out thin and cut circles with a drinking glass.  Put the potato cheese mixture in the centre, stretch the dough around the filling, fold in half and pinch the pocket closed.  To cook put the dumplings in boiling water until they float, then transfer to a frying pan with a little oil to crisp up.  You can also freeze them between wax paper.  I ate my plain, but you can serve them with melted butter, sauteed onions and bacon bits.

The inspiration for my recipe was this one on allrecipes.com.  Although, I did modify it according to the comments below the recipes and to decrease the size.  The beauty of those kinds of websites is that people will comment below with tips to make the recipe better.

One of the images from TasteSpotting.com

While I’m writing of great online places to find recipes, my friend Meg suggested TasteSpotting.com.  A community driven visual potluck, TasteSpotting displays beautiful images of food, linking to recipes on blogs around the world.  I have used this site as inspiration for a lot of my month of cooking.  And the photos make you want to cook every single thing on there!

Today

Home-cooked Chinese