June 20, 2012

on being domestic.

Meet my mom: the CEO of her own business, which she and my dad started in 1977. She spent 21 years previous to 1977 training for this position, and now has almost 35 years of experience under her belt. Despite losing her business partner of 32 years back in 2009, she has pressed on and continues to run the business with success (along with the help of her six very awesome board members) while working tirelessly on her expanding career. Now that is a resume. Her official title? Homemaker extraordinaire. She also teaches on the side -- just for fun, right mom? :)

My mom taught me a lot about the different departments of running a house (e.g. sitting on a chair while vacuuming is not effective). Most of what she taught me has stuck pretty firmly in my head, but there is a whole lot I haven't managed to figure out yet.

Some examples:

1. Fitted bed sheets.

I cannot fold these. Cannot cannot cannot. 

This is what it always seems to look like after my attempt at a nice folding job. It probably doesn't help that we have a king-sized bed which makes the sheets enormous -- while I'm holding the one corner, the other corner is probably out somewhere in Chicago having a slice of deep dish pizza.

While folding sheets back at home, my dear patient mother showed me countless times how to tackle a fitted sheet. I'd make a weak attempt and shove it in the closet, hoping no one would see it. I'm pretty sure my mom would find it later on and refold it -- there's some talents that I'll just never grasp, I guess.

2. Fluted pie crusts (and pastry dough in general)

Pie dough is so fickle! If the humidity on a pie-making day is a little wacky, then too bad, Chef Suzy, your pie is gonna suck. The pie I was making on this particular day drove me bonkers. The dough would not. roll. out. I almost cried and took out the countertop with my marble rolling pin. That would have done some serious damage, so I'm glad I refrained and just took a photo instead.

My mom is an expert pie-maker. Though I do have memories of her shouting at fickle pie dough (even chefs with decades of experience will have a bad pastry day every once in awhile) and chucking whole cakes in the garbage and of things catching on fire inside the stove (a leaking fruit pie... PIES! THEY CAN BE SO EVIL! but yet so tasty), she's a bonafide country-fair-blue-ribbon-winning pie queen. Most of the time she'll whip together pie dough in 5 minutes flat and toss it in the plate and fill 'er up with cinnamony apples and then flute those edges like you've never seen edges fluted before. When I try and flute my edges they're all lumpy and uneven, and it looks even worse after it's been in the oven, if that's even possible.

A confession, mom: I've resorted to using a FORK to line my crust! More than once. Obscene.

And don't even ask what's going on with the weird diamond shapes. It was a bad pastry day, and 'twas all I could manage.

There are, of course, more things that I'm not very good at. But I've got years to get those things figured out -- and maybe next time I'm back home in Ontario my mama will give me a pie-fluting tutorial... but I've quite given up on the fitted bedsheets. I'll leave that to the pros.

June 15, 2012

I AM your Father.

Father's Day is coming up. For many it's a day of celebration and outdoor barbecues; a day of beer on the back deck while flipping burgers on the grill and enjoying a good chat with dad. For perhaps just as many, though, it's a day that highlights the pain and regret of broken relationships with fathers who have failed to meet expectations or just haven't been there (see above -- Darth Vader for a dad? That'd be tough). I'm somewhere in the middle -- Father's Day brings bittersweet thoughts of what was and what could have been had my dad been diagnosed properly almost three years ago. But I'm also incredibly thankful that I have a dad worth celebrating -- a father who was a father, if that makes any sense. He had good relationships with all six of his children and their significant others. He worked hard and made incredible sacrifices for all of us. He knew how to love us well.

And now he celebrates Father's Day with his Father -- the ultimate Father -- the I AM. And that's why Father's Day should be a glorious day of celebrating, no matter where your earthly father is at -- because our Almighty God and Father is always at our side. Amen and Amen!

June 13, 2012

on forgetting my birthday.

You know how when you're in your 20s suddenly it's not socially acceptable to go up to strangers and declare 


It's just not really kosher.

Keeping this rule of social acceptance in mind, I did not inform my boss and coworker that my birthday was happening when it was. Maybe it would have been different had I been working at my job for longer than 1.5 months, but at the time, it was still in that "I'm new and can't remember half of what you tell me" phase so to go around like a hyped-up 8-year-old on a bakery frosting diet shouting to the nations that it was the anniversary of my birth was not something I was itching to do. 

This Monday: The boss (Dr. L) asks how my weekend was. I go through the somewhat exciting events of the weekend, then joyously inform her that Wayne finally found a long-sought birthday present for me (a fantastic croquet set) and we played croquet like mad for hours on Sunday evening... cue conversation in which Suzanne says silly things:

Suzanne: GAH! I can't believe I just said that! Now she's gonna know it was my birthday recently and that I didn't tell them!
Dr. L: Hey... Was it your birthday recently and you didn't tell us!? When was your birthday?!
Suzanne: (Trying to play it cool but mostly just appearing like she doesn't know when her own birthday is) Oh, um... like... uh...I think in May. Yeah. May. (Really? I think?)
Dr. L: Oh you!! What day?
Suzanne: Uhhh... the 2nd?? Yeah. The 2nd.

So apparently my natural instinct is to try and make the Dr. feel better about not knowing when my birthday was by pretending that I have no idea when my own birthday is. Don't worry about it, Dr. L, my birthday's a sneaky one, it changes all the time -- might be in September next year! Catches me off guard, too. I'm actually not even sure if my name is Suzanne. That's also a big fat unknown. Life can be tricky.

Lesson learned. Just be the hyped-up 8-year-old and proclaim your birthday loud and clear. Probably more fun that way, too.

June 11, 2012

pop! whiz! bang!

Fireworks give me warm memory fuzzies.

Not sure what warm memory fuzzies are. I'll get back to you on that.

In other words, I have fond memories of going out with family as a kid to see the local fireworks displays on Victoria Day and Canada Day. It was a huge event -- took all afternoon to get six hyperactively excited children packed into the family van with lawn chairs and blankets and layers of clothes for the evening chills and juice boxes and cherry and licorice twizzlers.

Then the chaos of getting to the park and trying to keep all six hyperactively excited children corralled began -- picture a local park in the dark with hundreds of kids hyped up on a school-free day of sun, probably too much coke and other assorted sugary holiday food items being absorbed into their blood streams, and then you'll just about get what it was like for our parents to keep things under control.

Okay, we weren't that bad. But it probably wasn't as pleasant an experience for my parents as it was for us kids.

Once we got older we'd stay home and have our own little fireworks display in the backyard -- not nearly as dramatic as the city show but a lot more up close and personal -- diving to avoid rogue firecrackers, that sort of riotously dangerous fun.

Over time we even halted the backyard pyrotechnics and we took to clambering up on the roof of our house to watch the fireworks going off in town. Gave our mother heart palpitations, I'm sure, but you're invincible at 16, everyone knows that.

Now we're all older and far too mature and wise to hike to the top of a two-storey house (right guys?). My last Victoria Day in Canada was spent with some family members who shall remain nameless in the church parking lot next door setting off a couple subpar firecrackers like a bunch of teenage hooligans.

But we're not teenage hooligans, despite what this picture may look like. We're responsible adults with jobs and car insurance. Remember that.

And now I'm in Michigan, where the sale and use of stronger and louder residential firecrackers has been legalized -- and our neighbourhood is putting their rights to really good use. Excessively good use. 

In Ontario, you're only allowed to set off firecrackers on the actual designated holiday, along with the two days before, and the two days after. Here in good old Michigan, there have been firecrackers going off behind our house every night for the last three weeks. Three. Weeks.

I fear my warm firecracker memory fuzzies are fading... and fading fast. I'm going to bed with earplugs tonight.

June 09, 2012

flour power.

HAH -- I was right -- flour IS the culprit in all my baking failures over the last 10 months!

If you're confused, go read this.

Whenever we have visitors from Canada, we'll often ask them to bring us some of the Canadian luxuries that we can't find here. I know, this is America, what does Canada have that the U.S. in the 21st century doesn't?

Ketchup chips (among other things).

Anyway. When Wayne's family was here visiting a few weeks ago, my mom-in-law was kind enough to bring me a nice little bag of Canadian Robin Hood flour (what is with flour companies naming their product after mythical British figures?). I was determined to get to the bottom of my baking woes -- determined. I refuse to let silly ingredients and my psychotically over-hot oven destroy my love for all things absolutely non-gluten-free.

I grew up in a family with very firm weekend meal traditions in place -- spaghetti on Fridays and pizza on Saturdays (and no, we're not Italian... or Eyetalian, as the Dutch say). Not only did Wayne grow up with similar traditions, and not only are these two meals extremely delicious, but it's also wonderful to hit Friday and not have to decide what to plan for the next two nights' meals -- so we've stuck with the traditions.

With our Friday night spaghetti we switch between having cheese bread (courtesy of Wayne's family traditions) and homemade biscuits (my fam). I know, biscuits are something you have with tea and jam, or soup, or milk if you're British. We, however, like them with our spaghetti. They're fluffy and light and perfect for soaking up the last dregs of sauce on your plate.

I got married and moved to the USA and consequently started buying American flour. I made biscuits on a Friday night and was terribly offended by their denseness and general lack of flavour. I tried different baking powders, different flour brands, different measurings of ingredients -- nothing. Nada. Continued suckiness.

Then Robin Hood came on the scene, and not only did that rogue help out the poor, but he saved my baking face. The biscuits last night were like enormous marshmallows and tasted like they were straight out of my mama's oven. Ohhhh yeah. I was so happy that I forgot to take a picture of them like a true blogger would.

But the question remains... what's the deal with American flour?

I did some research and dug up some very interesting facts.

First of all, American All-Purpose flour isn't truly All-Purpose -- it's not recommended for bread-making because of its lower gluten content (hence my crappy bread-baking results). In order to get bread to do what it's supposed to, you must buy bread flour. But I don't want to buy bread flour. I don't have enough room in my tiny seminary kitchen for all different kinds of flour taking up my minimal shelf space... so this could be an issue.

Canadian All-Purpose flour generally has a higher protein content than American flours do, which results in a higher gluten content, which somehow results in a flour that is actually true to its name -- all purpose! You can use it for anything from cakes to pastry to breads -- and it will all turn out beeeeyoooooteeefully.

I wish I understood the science behind all of this. There's a reason I stopped taking chemistry after grade 10. Yikes.

I'm sure that scientifically there's probably a clear explanation. I, however, think it's simply the je ne sais quoi of Canada. Don't try to explain it. Just eat it. Mmm. Bread.

June 06, 2012

the summer chop.

My very best friend in the world (aka Wayne) finally officially finished school two weeks ago... One year down, three to go! Three years still seems like a long time -- but I can promise you that by the time Wayne reaches graduation, it'll be like getting a pie in the face and we'll be all, "Whoa! Where did that come from!?"

Anyway. After nine long months of Hebrew mutterings and paper editing and pre-presentation nerves and deep theological research, we felt it was necessary to partake in some year-end celebrations. First up on the agenda: Suzanne's summer haircut.

Okay, this was not officially part of the celebrations, it just happened to work out that way.

I love getting my summer haircut. I have a ton of hair (so my hair stylist Shelly says) so it feels wonderfully light after getting a bunch of inches whacked off. The one thing I don't like about getting a hair cut? When I'm asked what I want done. I have no idea what I want done. I usually mumble out something vague like "Uhh... just cut it to here... and... um... bangs. Trim my bangs" and it usually turns out okay -- my hair is cut and my fringe is restored to its former glory and out the door I swish.

However, this time around something reckless got into me and I said, "No layers!" when Shelly
asked what I wanted done. I have no idea why I said this. I have nothing against layers. It's just that I've always had layers and wondered what it would be like without them.

Shelly: Are you sure you don't want layers?
Suzanne: Umm... (suddenly unsure) Ahh! I have no idea!
Shelly: How about I just do a little tiny bit and see what you think.
Suzanne: Okay, yeah... (Gripped with sudden desire to control the situation despite entire lack of hair styling knowledge) But only a little bit.
Shelly: (snippy snip!) How's that?
Suzanne: Yeah, that's good. Keep it at that (completely feigned confidence).
Shelly: Are you sure? I could do some more.
Suzanne: (totally not catching the fact that Shelly is indirectly telling her that her hair will look stupid if she doesn't get more layers) Nope, that's fine.

So apparently there's a reason layers are used. I mean, the hair stylists always make your hair look fantastic but when your hair dries after the next shower you take, kablam, reality. Turns out that if you don't have layers your hair looks somewhat triangular, especially on hot and humid summer days. Nice. I'm going to be triangle-head-Suzy until the fall, because being the frugal Dutch girl that I am, I only visit the salon twice a year.

On the upside, Wayne and I went to Steak n' Shake afterwards for half price celebratory-school's-over milkshakes! And everyone knows that milkshakes make everything better, especially when they're half price. Mmmm. 

June 04, 2012

tourist season.

Tourist season has begun here in Michigan! Actually, it never really stops... but that is completely okay, because we love having visitors! We feel very far away from our families so it's always nice to spend a weekend with some familiar faces.

We've had guests the last two weekends -- Wayne's family two weeks ago, and a part of my family last week. When guests come over we do a lot of eating and a lot of sitting on couches and being silly. Having guests also forces us to do some exploring of the city and it's fun to discover places we've never been yet!

Wayne and his Mom.  

 Wayne's uncle -- the happiest 42-year-old you'll ever meet! 

 2 out of the 3 cutest children in the world. 

It was a hot weekend -- thank goodness for excellent water features!

We're looking forward to having more visitors as well as getting back into Canada for some good old-fashioned fun at the stomping grounds of our youth. Hurrah for summer! 

June 01, 2012

on being busy (or why I've been MIA)

Not that I need to give any excuses. I refuse to be a blogger who apologizes for taking a hiatus from writing... although I didn't really realize I was taking a hiatus until I looked at the date of my last post. Life just happens sometimes, and taking part in that is so much more vastly important than producing little scribbles on here, like this lady says.

This is what happens when you don't visit your own blog for awhile:

1) Everything is a potential posting topic -- par exemple (that's french), how I can't fold fitted sheets. How pie dough can be so, so fickle. How California strawberries taste lame, even in strawberry season. How Michigan State Parks can't hold a candle to Ontario Provincial Parks. How little green tips of basil plants poking through the soil make me want to do a happy little garden dance. How I can't believe that Wayne and I (but mostly Wayne) have made it through our first year of seminary (3 more to go!).

In other words: my brain is a mess. A great big blogified mess. I'll get it all out and sorted at some point and write about it here. Don't you worry, sugar!

2) People discover your blog and suddenly there are NINE PEOPLE following it! Now, it was never my intention to stack up followers. I started this blog to empty my brain and to aid my family in keeping track of my mental state. I'm pretty sure that my mom and mom-in-law and aunts etc still haven't figured out how to comment/officially follow this but I know they're reading it faithfully which I appreciate. 

However, my horizons have been expanded thanks to an Irish lass with a pretty sweet name who keeps a blog here -- and wrote about ME! As a result some more followers have trickled on board... haha. I'm still aghast. Thanks Orla. Hope you're having fun in TO!

3) You panic slightly. Time does not allow you to write, and you have this horrible sinking feeling that if you don't get something online right now the whole blogosphere is going to crash and burn in a magnificent explosion of pyrotechnics because clearly blogger.com is depending on you and you alone to keep the earth spinning.

Oh please. I was being sarcastic. I'm not that egocentric. At least... hopefully not. Tell me if I am and smack me hard. Gah.

It's raining today. Don't forget your umbrella-ella-ellas!