Thursday, April 30, 2009

dn's Pork Chops with Mushroom Rice

This recipe has been a family favourite since I was a kid! Like most of the recipes I have posted, it has been tweaked a bit, but it is still a very simple and delicious supper dish that will have everyone wanting second helpings - especially of the rice!


a little oil and margarine for browning chops
4 boneless pork loin chops
1 medium onion - finely chopped (about 1 - 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped (about 1/2 - 2/3 cup)
1 1/2 cup sliced FRESH mushrooms
1 cup brown rice - DO NOT use instant rice!
1 Tablespoon light (low sodium) soya sauce
2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic (2 to 3 cloves)
1 284ml/10oz can Cream of Mushroom soup (low fat)
1 cup chicken broth (low sodium)
1 cup water

- Preheat the oven to 375F
- Spray a 2 Litre/quart casserole dish with a non stick coating such as Pam
- In a fry pan, lightly brown the chops in the oil and margarine. Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Add the onions and red pepper to the fry pan and saute for a couple of minutes.
- Add the mushrooms and garlic and continue to saute another minute or two.
- Combine the rice, soup, soya sauce, broth and 1/2 cup of the water in the casserole dish.
- Stir in the sauteed vegetables.
- Add the last 1/2 cup of the water to the fry pan and stir over low heat just long enough to lift all the drippings from the bottom of the pan.
- Pour the liquid and drippings into the casserole and stir till everything is well mixed.
- Place the pork chops in a single layer in the casserole (they will sink closer to the bottom).
- Cover and bake for 50 - 60 minutes or until rice is thoroughly cooked.

Serve with a green salad or steamed vegetable such as broccoli, asparagus or green beans.

Yield: 4 servings



Monday, April 27, 2009

April 1984 Ice Storm

The spring of 1984, started out like most prairie springs do. The usual thawing and sprouting of new growth. Easter was late that year - April 22. We'd been having some really beautiful warm spring weather with temps well above the normal of mid teens for highs. In fact, from April 18 - 23 we had daily highs from 20C to 23,5C.

Easter Sunday we decided to have a bar-b-cue and eat outside. We were all enjoying the warmth of the sun and watching tens of thousands of noisy Canada Geese flying north. As you can see by the pics below, the skies were thick with the birds. These shots were both taken that Easter Sunday.

This first one is looking east from my parents yard as the birds were congregating in our neighbours field in the late afternoon:
This was also taken on April 22 around 6:40PM

Little did we know what was headed our way just a few days later. Parts of southern Manitoba - mostly the Pembina Valley - would be hit with a massive ice storm.
The weather started to cool on the 24th and the rain began to fall on Thursday, the 26th. Late that evening, the rain began to turn to freezing rain and ice pellets. By the 27th it was both freezing rain and snow. Historical weather data from enviorment Canada, shows we received 13cm rain on April 26 and 34cm rain plus 5cm snow on April 27 in the Pembina Valley area. Winnipeg received 8cm rain on 26 and 17cm rain with a trace of snow on April 27, but theirs was mostly rain. Parts of the Pembina Valley were without hydro for a few days to a week or more - including my parents farm.

Our power went out in the wee hours of Friday April 27. My dad had transferred close to a thousand bedding plants to his little green house, just a couple of days earlier. He and mom spent part of the night moving the most fragile of the plants back into the house and covering the rest to protect them from the freezing temperatures.

We weren't sure how long the power would be off, so we tried to use the most perishable foods first and open the fridge and freezer as little as possible. My brother (who lives on the same property) went to town to pick up some supplies. The local Co-op was also without power for the first couple of days, so only a few customers were allowed in at a time - with a flashlight - to find the items they needed! Once the power was back on in town, my brother brought us take out fried chicken a couple of times. We also used the bar-b-cue and a small butane stove to heat water for soup, hot chocolate and coffee. Dad said we were "camping"!

Dad had a small gas heater that he used very sparingly - just enough to keep the house from getting to cold and the plants from being damaged. The fumes from the heater could be toxic to the plants if used in excess and we all found ourselves getting headaches if we were exposed for too long.

It is amazing how much you really depend on electricity. This was long before we had computers, but we did enjoy watching TV. Mom, dad and I played a lot of card and board games through that outage. We are creatures of habit though and it is amazing how often we flip a light switch without even thinking. There is a light above the phone in the hall and every time dad went to answer the phone, he would try and turn on the light! Mom and I would here the flick of the old chain switch for the lamp and then a curse and a laugh as dad realized what he had done - again! The same thing happened when he would use the bathroom. It got to be a running joke for us. Mom or I would say something like; "What's wrong dad? Is the light not working?"

Once the power was on in town, my mom and I went in to my aunts to bath and wash our hair. We also took laundry to the local laundry mat.

It was just over seven long and chilly days before the power to our prairie farm was restored. We didn't have to throw out a lot of stuff - thank goodness! Only a few of the bedding plants were lost, but we had to cut down several trees, bushes and shrubs on the property that were just too badly damaged.

On April 28, 1984, I took my old camera out and took some photos of the yard and the damage that the storm had caused. The yard was like a skating rink, so I didn't venture very far. Here are just a few of the shots I took that day:.

The leaves were just coming out on the grape arbour to the south of the house:
Once beautiful Weeping Willows, covered in ice:
Downed power lines and trees all coated in ice
Branches heavy with ice:
An icy sunset:
We have just come through a bitterly long and cold winter this year, not to mention the second worst flood in over 100 years this spring. I really hope that Mother Nature hasn't got any more nasty weather tricks up her sleeve - especially an ice storm! One of those was enough and I am way to attached to electricity and my computer to go without power for more than a day - let alone a week!!


Friday, April 24, 2009

Dream Home

In my last post, I talked about remodeling and creating a dream home. So what is my dream home?

Well, it would be a cross between a log cabin and a ranch house with a touch of southwestern for good measure. It would be all on one level (my knees don't like a lot of stairs!) with lots of natural woods. It would also be a "green" house with solar panels on the roof, low energy appliances, radiant heated floors, air conditioning, central vac system and wherever possible, re purposed materials would be used. I'd use Ott Lite's wherever possible and the good old incandescent bulbs for ambient lighting.

The kitchen, dining room and living room would be one large open area with high, beam ceilings and hardwood floors. In fact, almost all the rooms would be hardwood as there would be no carpeting in the house.

The kitchen would be done with oak cabinetry with lots of cupboard space and a walk in pantry off to one side that also had a big deep freezer. Appliances would be stainless steel: a large, electric, self cleaning oven (the one I have now won't hold two - 2 Litre casserole dishes at the same time!) with four burners, a grill top and an overhead exhaust fan; a big fridge; and even though I've never really used one, I'd like a dishwasher. I'd want a nice size island with one side suitable for two bar stools to sit under the counter top. I want lots of counter space so that I have room to do baking and cooking.

The dining room would be between the kitchen and dining room and thus be the connector for entertaining. There would be a dining room suite for 6 or 8 with a sideboard cabinet/buffet for storing extra entertaining ware. There would also be a built in bar area along the wall.

The living room would be open and airy - yet intimate and very relaxing. There would be a stone fireplace with a mantel (real wood, not gas or electric). The furniture - sofa, love seat, ottoman, two arm chairs/recliners - would be leather. The accents would be cushions, throws, framed photos and minimalist ornaments as accessories. The colours would be either black with accents of silver and jewel tones or a dark chocolate with creams and southwestern shades of turquoise, lapis (dark blue) and malachite (dark green). I'm not a fan of florals or prints, so the pieces would be pretty much solids. Coffee table, end tables, entertainment units and such, would either be wood or metal, depending on the colour scheme. The room, would also have a large plasma screen TV and all the latest sound/video technology!!

There would be two bedrooms. The master would have a large walk in closet (or a wall of closet and cupboard/drawer space) and a half bath. It would be nice if the window(s) did not face east so that I am not wakened by the bright morning sun! A queen or king size bed with a bookcase headboard would be the main element, but there would also be a love seat by the window and a cedar chest at the foot of the bed, to store the extra bedding in.

One design that I did see on Extreme Makeover that I did like was for a bedroom ceiling. It was painted a dark blue and had a series of tiny pin lights installed to illustrate one of the night sky constellations. The lights were on a dimmer switch so that you could adjust the brightness of the "stars"! That idea would fit in beautifully for me, as I have always loved night skies and am rather partial to shades of blue in my bedroom. I would probably choose shades of green for the second bedroom.

The bathroom would be fairly basic. A large tub/shower enclosure - with low-flow plumbing features would be a must! It would also be nice if the bathroom had one wall to the back of a laundry room so that you could have a small shoot/door that allowed you to dump laundry without carrying it around the whole house. As for colours? Probably in the peach or sea foam green shades with lots of soft creams.

There would be the aforementioned laundry/utility/storage room with efficient appliances and a built in ironing board and a rod to have some clothes on hangers as they dry. There would also be shelving for storage and cleaning supplies. Both the bathroom and laundry room would have a linoleum or tiled floor.

The house would have a den/computer room. A full computer center on one side and floor to ceiling bookshelves for a library on another wall. There would also be a nice big comfy armchair by a window for reading.

My home would not be complete without a fitness room. It would feature my gazelle as well as a treadmill and some sort of resistance equipment like a Total Gym and/or Ab Lounge. Maybe even some free weights and a pilates mat if there was enough room. Of course the room would also be equipped with a good sound system and a Plasma TV on the wall!!

Outside of the house there would be lawn and some small shrubs out front with a couple of evergreens or other trees - maybe a Weeping Willow. A small stonework accented flowerbed along the front of the house would be great. Out back, there would be a patio area with a bar-b-que, table and chairs. I'd like some lilac bushes along one side of the property and maybe even a big old elm tree or at least something that will look great as the leaves change in the fall! Even though I am not a gardener, I'd like a small garden to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions and herbs. Would be nice if there was room for a love seat swing somewhere to sit and contemplate life while watching the sunsets and the stars. If there was room, I'd also like a gazebo near the back of the property.

Okay, I know this dream house of mine would cost a fortune, but what is life without a little dreaming? I wonder if a dream man would come with that dream house? Okay, maybe that is asking a little much!


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Building and Renovating

Back in the mid 1990's I did a series of interviews with some architectural students at the University of Manitoba. They were studying accessible design and interviewing people with a variety of disabilities. They wanted our input on what we liked and didn't like about various designs and especially what we liked and didn't like about where we were currently living. It was interesting to get their perspective on design and see how their interpretations changed after speaking with those of us with disabilities. I had never paid much attention to design before that - although I already had a pretty good idea of what I liked and didn't like - I just never bothered trying to label or describe it.

Spending time with those future architects got me curious to learn a bit more about the whole process. I still can't tell a lot about design, but at least I understand a little more of what goes into the process of creating and building that design.

Doing any home renovating can be a real headache - not just financially - but it can also be a strain on all those who normally inhabit that home. Trying to co-exist in makeshift conditions while construction is taking place is often stressful and chaotic. Several friends and members of my family have built homes and done remodels over the years. They all have a few battle scars and stories to tell. One apartment that I lived in, needed major work done on it. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I ended up living there while the work was being done over about a month. It wasn't fun! I've also been through two remodels with my parents.

Our old farm house was built my grandfather back in 1910. It was your basic two story farm house with three bedrooms upstairs and a living room, dining room and kitchen downstairs. A full bathroom was installed on the main floor in later years. In 1967, my parents did the first of two remodeling jobs to that old house. They took the second floor off and extended the main floor with a large dining room and living room. The old ones were turned into three bedrooms. It took several months to complete the work. In the early 1980's they remodeled the old kitchen and added a sun room. The house was 1600 sq.ft. (40'x40') when it was all said and done.

I was almost 10 when they did the first one and don't remember a lot - other than it was a very small and crowded living space during the construction. The second one I remember quite well. Once my parents decided to redo the kitchen, mom and I poured over magazines and cupboard designs, trying to decide what would be the most useful features and layouts. The demolition and construction only lasted a few weeks, so it wasn't too bad. We just made sure that we had a lot of food prepared ahead of time in the freezer as we had little space to prepare or cook from scratch.

Have you ever watched any of those home improvement shows that take dilapidated old homes and remodel or restore them? There are tons of them out there! It is amazing what they can do with some of these old buildings and the technology that can be incorporated to make them into homes that are livable and energy efficient.

I know that there are many people who live in horrid conditions and don't really have the opportunity to do the remodels and makeovers they'd like. There is only so much that the average person can do on their own. It takes a lot of money and skill to do a most of the necessary work.

I used to watch Extreme Makeover Home Edition for awhile, but frankly found most of their work to be a little too extreme and probably a lot more than many families would really need or want. Given how quickly those homes are constructed (7 days from tear down to completely finished new home), you have to wonder just how sturdy/durable they will be over time. I also wasn't too impressed with the pull at your heartstrings moments that they trotted out in every episode. It often came across as using the families problems for better ratings. You can't help but wonder, how many more homes could be built, if the money that the show spends on constructing these extravagant homes was used to build more moderate sized homes with less excess. They could build even more if you threw in the production costs and the earnings of their design team"!

No, if I am going to watch a home renovation show it's going to be the granddaddy of them all: "This Old House" and "Ask This Old House"! I've actually been watching them for over 10 years. It's not that I know much about what they are doing, but I find it interesting to see how they make the design choices and adapt modern technology to suit the time period of the house in repair. To be honest, I really can't stand a lot of the old styles with the ornate woodwork and plaster details. Then there is some of the gaudy wallpaper, tapestries and furnishings that went into these homes! You couldn't pay me enough to live with some of those styles. Okay, maybe you could - if you had a big enough bank account, but I doubt most of you would be willing to pay me that much or even live with some of that stuff yourself!! Do you really want to dust all those nooks and crannies? I'd be scared of breaking some of those furnishings/fixtures or spilling something that would leave a stain! There really is no accounting for some peoples taste - or lack thereof!

I really don't know a lot about architecture and design, but I've never been a fan of ornate designs/detail, print fabrics, bright colours or even wallpapers and borders for that matter. I know what I like - clean simple lines without a lot of detail - that way there is less to dust, clean or brake! I love natural woods like oak and pine, that are just lightly varnished to bring out the natural beauty of the grain.

I think all of us have fantasized about our dream home at some point. We've all seen photos of houses we liked. We've passed by homes and thought that it looked like the kind of home we'd want to live in. We have seen certain features in homes and thought that it would be great if we could have that in our own home! We've all seen homes in magazines and on TV and wondered what it would be like to live in our own "dream home"

So, IF you could live in any kind of home, what would it be? A cottage? A chateau? A ranch house? A mansion? A condo? How would you decorate? Would there be a yard? The possibilities are endless!

I've never owned my own home. Ever since I left my parents farm, I've always rented. I'm actually pretty content where I am, but there are times that having my own space and a yard would really be nice. Renting, has always been my best option, but it hasn't stopped me from doing a little day dreaming about what my ideal home would be.

So what would be my dream home you ask? Well, you'll have to read my next post (April 24) to find out!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Too Quick To Misjudgement

You have to have been living under a rock not to have heard anything about the newest superstar on the planet - Susan Boyle

She made her debut a week ago on Briton's Got Talent". When she walked on stage it was obvious that the judges and the audience weren't expecting anything from the 47 year old Scottish church volunteer who is single and says she has never been kissed. She is the youngest of nine children and spent most of her adult life caring for her ailing mother who died about a year ago.

The moment she started to sing "I Dreamed A Dream", the mood of the crowd went from jeers and snickers to awe and disbelief as they heard the angelic voice coming out of this unlikely talent. Even crusty old Simon Cowell became a believer and fan.

Well there seems to be a raging debate as to whether she should get a makeover from her so called dowdy look to something more appropriate for a rising star. Amanda Holden, who is one of the judges on Briton's Got Talent is encouraging her to fight the pressure and be true to herself. Holden says that she will not allow fellow judge Simon Cowell to have his stylists have their way with her. At least one entertainment show has given her a virtual makeover.

A poll on US Magazine asked the question "Should Susan Boyle get a makeover?
Yes without a doubt - 55.58% 7,600 plus votes
No we love her the way she is - 44.42% 6100 plus votes

Another poll on ExtraTV gives three pictures of Ms. Boyle and asks people to vote;
So far about 58% are voting for the first look as the "bob hairstyle frames her face nicely". 14% are voting for the second look as they feel "it makes her look younger". Only 28% "like Susan the way she is"!

What a sad commentary on what society has become.

Society has become so fixated on appearance that they fail to see the gem within. I'll admit, I have also been known to occasionally judge before knowing the whole story - we all have at one time or another. The problem is that most, rarely take more than that first look. If they do, the second is to make sure they really saw what they thought they did the first time.

At this point, the only media - that I have heard of (besides Ms. Holden) that wants to see Susan as herself - is the Oprah Winfrey show. Oprah wants her on the show exactly as she is.

I hope that Susan stays true to herself and does not allow the media and society pressures to make her into something she is not. I admire her courage and her strength to put herself out there in such a public display despite the fact that she had been bullied and teased over the years.

I always wanted to be a singer as well. I did a couple of small talent shows when I was younger as well as numerous solos at coffee houses, church gatherings, weddings and karaoke in later years. I know I also shocked a lot of people when I sang. It happened on more than one occasion. There would be a bit of awkward silence or murmurs, then I'd start to sing. They couldn't believe that voice was coming out of that body! Sometimes you could hear a pin drop as I sang - even in a crowded bar. It was both empowering and intimidating. I don't think I could put myself out there the way Susan did.

I've been teased, ridiculed and bullied - not just as a child but even as an adult. The old saying of "sticks and stones may break my bones - but names will never hurt me" is a crock. It hurts like hell! The words echo in your mind and if you hear them often enough you start to believe them. I've heard all the ugly jokes more than I care to admit. I know that my looks leave a lot to be desired. Susan is beautiful, compared to me. I know, I know, "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder" and "Beauty fades, it's what is inside that counts". I've heard it all. But I also know that my face is not symmetrical, my complexion is uneven, my teeth are rotten and that my eyebrows are too thick for the styles of today. I know my eyes freak a lot of people out. The eyes are supposedly a window to the soul and since I can't control the movement of my eyes, it makes others very uncomfortable. Yes, I know, I am my own worst critic, but I am also a realist. I could hide behind make up, but I'm still the same underneath and that is supposedly the part that really counts.

I know that people still stare at me as I go about my daily life. I feel it. I hear the snickers and even some of the not so quiet comments. The looks of shock and pity. Parents trying to hush a not so quiet child who can't stop staring or pointing and wants to know why my eyes are so weird.

There have been times that I have been tempted to change my appearance, but this is who I am - I don't like my appearance any more than most other people do, but I see it as my porcupine shell. If you can look past the exterior and take the time to see who is on the inside then it says a lot more about the kind of person you are and the kind of friend you will be. If you can't accept me - flaws and all - then why would I want you in my life?

Being legally blind does have it's advantages here. I don't really see well enough to get a clear view of how someone else looks. I don't see the "flaws" that others would see and judge. I don't even see myself that clearly. I've tried very hard to get past the prejudices and the cruel, insensitive comments, but they still hurt. Being even less than average looking is like being in a prison at times. You are ostracized before you even speak. Most members of the opposite sex don't even want to be seen with you let alone talk to you or be with you in a more intimate way. The odds of you finding a partner are pretty low.

"You know The waitress she took her bar rag, and she wiped it across her eyes.
And as she spoke her voice came out as something like a sigh.
She said "I wish that I was beautiful, or that you were halfway blind.
And I wish I weren't so goddamn fat, I wish that you were mine.
And I wish that you'd come with me, when I leave for home.
For we both know all about emptiness, and livin' all alone."

- Harry Chapin

None of us knows what the future holds. None of us wants to be judged before we have a chance to even open our mouths. We can't all be a "10" - or even a 6 or 7 for that matter. For every one on that upper side there is someone else at the other end - crying out for love and acceptance. We don't want your pity. We go through life trying to do our best and just want a chance to show the rest of society that we should not be judged by our appearance.

Susan Boyle is a breath of fresh air in a superficial society. She has caught us all off guard with her amazing talent. I hope she wins this talent show and goes on to have a successful career as the singer she always dreamt of being. I also hope she stays true to herself and doesn't change anything that she is not completely comfortable with changing.

I'd like to believe that this whole thing has opened a few eyes to the multi billion dollar farce of skin deep beauty, but sadly the polls seem to say that the quest for exterior beauty isn't going to end any time soon.

That is a sad commentary indeed.


P.S. I just learned that Susan recorded a song for a charity album 10 years ago. The audio has been posted on YouTube along with stills of her from Briton's Got Talent. It is fast becoming yet another hit for her! "Cry Me A River" Give this woman a record deal already!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Thoughts to Ponder

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts to ponder. Here are a few more musing from my inbox for your consideration and amusement!

1. My husband and I divorced over religious differences. He thought he was God and I didn't.
2. I don't suffer from insanity; I enjoy every minute of it.
3. Some people are alive only because it's illegal to kill them.
4. I used to have a handle on life, but it broke.
5. Don't take life too seriously; No one gets out alive.
6. You're just jealous because the voices only talk to me
7. Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.
8. Earth is the insane asylum for the universe.
9. I'm not a complete idiot -- Some parts are just missing.
10. Out of my mind. Back in five minutes.
11. NyQuil, the stuffy, sneezy, why-the-heck-is-the-room-spinningmedicine.
12. God must love stupid people; He made so many.
13. The gene pool could use a little chlorine.
14. Consciousness: That annoying time between naps.
15. Ever stop to think, and forget to start again?
16. Being "over the hill" is much better than being under it!
17. Wrinkled Was Not One of the Things I Wanted to Be When I Grew up.
18. Procrastinate Now!
19. I Have a Degree in Liberal Arts; Do You Want Fries With That?
20. A hangover is the wrath of grapes.
21. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a cash advance
22. Stupidity is not a handicap. Park elsewhere!
23. Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday,lying in the hospital dying of nothing.
24. He who dies with the most toys is nonetheless DEAD.
25. A picture is worth a thousand words, but it uses up three thousand times the memory.
26. Ham and eggs...A day's work for a chicken, a lifetime commitment for a pig.
27. The trouble with life is there's no background music.
28. Good health is merely the slowest rate at which one can die.
29. I smile because I don't know what the hell is going on.
30. Life is sexually transmitted.
31. Men have two emotions: hungry and horny. If you see him without an erection, make him a sandwich.
32. Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the internet and they won't bother you for weeks.
33. Some people are like a slinky... not really good for anything, but youstill can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.
34. All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.
35. Why does a slight tax increase cost you two hundred dollars, and a substantial tax cut saves you thirty cents???
36. In the 60's, people took LSD to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Triple Chocolate Pizza

Easter is coming up this weekend and for most people, that means indulging in the ultimate guilty pleasure - CHOCOLATE!! Sure you can buy lots of expensive little chocolate eggs, rabbits and all manner of holiday treats for your family, friends or yourself, but why not make something that will be a real show stopper for your Easter buffet or dessert? Something that any true chocoholic would practically drool over? How about a Triple Chocolate Pizza?

I found the original recipe years ago in a Company's Coming cookbook that featured recipes using chocolate. As usual, I've made a few minor adjustments to it, but it is truly a mouth watering dessert that is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth - especially the chocoholic kind! This dessert is quite rich in flavour, so a little goes a long way. You can easily cut this into 12 - 16 pieces.

I strongly recommend that you prepare ALL the ingredients before you start baking the crust, so that there are no delays between pastry, filling, or topping steps.

Chocolate Pastry
2 cups All-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups Granulated/white sugar
1/3 cup Cocoa powder
3/4 cup Butter or hard margarine, softened
2 Large eggs, fork beaten

Chocolate Filling
8 oz. Cream cheese, softened (light or regular)
3/4 cup Granulated/white sugar
1 Large egg
1/4 cup Cocoa powder
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

1/3 cup Dark or Bittersweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup Semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup White chocolate chips
10-14 Maraschino cherries, rinsed, drained and quartered
1/4 cup Sliced almonds - toasted

Measure flour, sugar and cocoa into bowl. Add butter. Cut in until crumbly. Add eggs. Mix well. Press into 12 inch (30 cm) pizza pan that has been lined with parchment paper. I find it easiest to work with a small amount of the pastry at a time and create a small ridge around the outer edge of the pan, before filling the centre. Do not press the pastry in too firmly or it will be very hard when baked. Bake in 350°F (175°C) oven for 15 minutes.

While the pastry is baking, beat all 5 topping ingredients together until smooth. Spread over hot crust. Carefully, return to oven for 10 minutes.

Sprinkle chips onto the hot pizza, (I start with the dark, then milk, then white as it looks nicer when they are blended later) then very carefully return the pizza to warm oven for a minute or two. The pizza is quite heavy with all of the chocolate so make sure that you have a good grip on the pan before trying to move or lift it. Let stand on wire rack until soft - a minute or so. Draw the flat edge of a knife back and forth over top to smooth out most of the chips.

Place cherries and almond slices evenly around the pizza.

Cool completely. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and chill in fridge for two to three hours. Cut into 12-16 wedges using a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter.

- Instead of the chocolate chips, I usually use good quality baking chocolate that I have chopped fine.
- To toast the almond slices, place on a microwave safe plate and microwave on high for about 3 minutes - tossing every minute of so to avoid burning. Cool while preparing the rest of the pizza.
- It is tempting to cut while it is still warm or at room temperature, but it will be a much cleaner cut and less apt to break, if it is cut once it has chilled.

In the unlikely event of leftovers, the pieces can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap and frozen in a zippered freezer bag for up to 3 months



Saturday, April 4, 2009

Is It Spring Yet?

Anybody else tired of winter yet? It was supposed to have moved out on March 20, but as usual it is overstaying it's welcome. our CTV station has a daily online poll. The question for April 1 (and the day of our last snowstorm) was "Are you sick of winter?" Well it was one of the highest responses in ages with about 2,000 people logging on to vote. 88% said yes and only 12% said no! It should be noted that the 12% who said "NO" need to have their heads examined!

Those 12% and a few others, are the odd - and I do mean ODD - folks who love winter and are sad to see it go - like the winter sports enthusiasts, but I think that the vast majority of us weary prairie dwellers are more than ready for a little bit warmer weather.

Twelve years ago, in 1997 we were looking towards a fairly routine spring and slightly elevated risk of flooding. By the beginning of April, the streets and sidewalks of Winnipeg, were pretty much clear of snow and ice. The snow banks on boulevards and shady areas were quickly disappearing.

Then, Mother Nature unleashed a massive spring snowstorm that changed everything.

" 1997 - April 5-6 - Worst recorded blizzard in Winnipeg this century. Total accumulated snowfall: 48 cm (Friday to Tuesday). Previous record: 1966 - 38.1 cm snowfall. Duration of storm: 24 hours, Average wind speed: 60km/h, gusting as high as 85 km/h."

We all know that the aftermath of that storm, led to the flood of the century that devastated many homes and businesses.

Well, the spring of 2009 is also proving to be rather nasty. We've had a few teasers of mild weather, but have also had a couple of nasty storms in the last two weeks. The snow had been starting to melt at a reasonable pace and then a winter storm rolled in on March 25 and unleashed freezing rain, then ice pellets then snow. It lasted off and on for a couple of days. We were just starting to get over that, when another storm hit this past week and dropped another 8-10cm (3-4 inches) of snow over southern Manitoba.

Our friends in Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota were hit even harder and have been facing an uphill battle trying to prevent major flooding. There have only been a few minor breaches so far, but the memories of Grand Forks in 1997 are still very fresh in their minds. So far, we here in southern Manitoba aren't at major risk for flooding, but all precautions and sandbagging is taking place to protect vulnerable low lying areas. Volunteers are still needed for sandbagging in certain areas. The main concern at the moment is the possibility of ice jams blocking the flow of water near bridges and doing damage along shorelines.

The line between winter and spring can be like walking a tight rope. If the snowfall has been heavy, you want a slow steady melt to avoid major flooding.

At the same time though, you have had a long five or six months of wearing extra layers of clothing and heavy boots. You are tired of plugging in the car or freezing at the bus stops. You are tired of shoveling all that white stuff, tripping over snow banks/drifts and having your glasses fog up, the moment you step inside.

The spring thaw cycle can cause major damage to roads and can be treacherous for pedestrians and drivers.

Traversing the sidewalks at this time of year is quite an aerobic workout. The daytime thawing creates puddles and mini lakes all along the sidewalks and streets. Depending on the overnight temperature, it then does a partial or full freeze - just enough to create a skating rink in the shallow areas and a layer of ice thin enough to break through in the deeper areas. The deeper areas, refreeze and create ruts that can challenge even the most agile, fully sighted people - let alone those of us who are a little less fleet of foot and/or visually impaired. Throw in a new layer of that fluffy white stuff over it, a few snow banks at bus stops and intersections. Oh and let's not forget the ever popular sea like puddles along the curbs that cars LOVE to speed through so they can spray pedestrians and other vehicles.

Kids may enjoy some of this wet stuff, but for the rest of us? Well let's just say that "We are not amused!"

I don't want anyone to have to go through a flood. I grew up in a flood zone and we got some degree of flooding every year. I know what that is like and I wouldn't wish that on anyone, BUT I'm tired of wearing multiple layers. I'm tired of wearing winter boots and a heavy coat. I'm tired of having to navigate rivers, lakes, streams, mountains and glaciers just to walk to the bus stop on otherwise flatlands of the prairies! I'm tired of freezing at the bus stop and I'm tired of being sprayed by passing vehicles. I'm tired of my glasses fogging up every time I get on the bus or go inside of a building.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate winter completely. I am just tired of it coming early and staying late. It is supposed to arrive on December 21 but, it starts trying to move in sometime in late October or early November and then refuses to leave when it's lease is up on March 20. Sometimes it stays till mid April! Talk about a rude guest! It's a cold hearted, blowhard with bad dandruff!

I want spring and I want it yesterday! PLEASE!!!


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Practical Jokes

Well, it's that time of year again - April Fool's Day. I wonder what mischief our friends, family and the media will be up to this year?

The best practical joke that I ever pulled wasn't even on April 1. It took place in February 1980. My parents and another couple (J and S) were planning a train trip to the west coast. They were supposed to board the train at midnight one night in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. They would travel west to Vancouver, then take the ferry across to Victoria. They would make the return trip by ferry and train a few weeks later.

My parents decided to have a little fun at their friends expense - especially since the husband (J) of the other couple was notorious for playing pranks. They asked me to call them and tell them that there had been an error in booking and that their sleeper car would not be available until at least Brandon (a couple of hours west). Mom and dad had provided me with the travel agents name, number, all the booking info, sleep car number, their birth dates, phone number, mailing address - everything I might need if they asked any questions.

This was long before call display and really clear long distance. I didn't know the couple that well at the time but figured that I could pull it off. I made the call late in the afternoon of the day they were to leave. I told them that I was calling from Via Rail. In my most professional voice, I explained the booking issue and said that I had already spoken with their travelling companions (my parents) and that they were fine with the situation as long as their friends also agreed to the arrangements. I made a point of throwing in some of the booking info to make it seem more legit. Both couples would have full access to the dome car and its amenities until their sleeping quarters were ready. I apologized for any inconvenience. They said everything was fine with them as well and thanked me for informing them. I called my parents and filled them in.

Later that night my brother and his wife drove the two couples to the train station. S was talking about the call from Via. My parents said that was odd as they never got a call. S couldn't believe or understand what was going on. She swore that this was all on the level as the woman who had called had all the booking info and everything! My parents just let her ramble and said we'll find out for sure at the station. She was getting madder and madder as no one believed her. She said "I bet you a hundred bucks this is real!" They just laughed and said we will see. She upped the ante to five hundred and they just laughed and said we will know in a little while. It was all my family could do to keep a straight face, but they wanted to see how far she would go with this since she was so convinced!

When they went to board the train S asked the conductor about the rooms and the dome car. Of course he had no idea what she was talking about! She was dumbfounded as to what was going on. My parents finally confessed that I had made the call and that the whole thing was a joke!! S didn't believe them at first. The realization that she had been fooled hit her slowly and she couldn't believe that someone like me would play such a trick (I was a much different person back then!)

They boarded the train and had a thoroughly enjoyable holiday. S told the practical joke story to pretty much everyone on the train there and back and at their hotel in Victoria. Everyone thought it was hilarious and that she had been a good sport to tell the story on herself! She did get on my case a little when they got back but she was also impressed that I had been so convincing! She offered to pay my parents the money she bet, but they said that the reaction to the joke was payment enough!

I haven't played a lot of practical jokes since then, but I inadvertently pulled one last year. I'd seen the video that was released by the BBC about flying penguins. It was very obvious to me that this was yet another of their brilliant and elaborate April 1 pranks.

So I decided to email several of my friends a link to the above video without mentioning that this was a joke. Some I emailed privately, but also did a group email to about a dozen friends on the wiki. I said "Don't know if you've seen the news today, but you should check out this link and the video that goes with it!!" It never occurred to me that some of my otherwise intelligent friends would fall for something that seemed pretty obvious to me.

The group email proved to be the most fun as those who got it sent a private note back so as not to spoil the fun for others. Several got it right away and thought it was quite funny. A few thought it was a bit odd and wondered if it was a joke. At least 4 bought it hook, line and sinker! Emailing back to the whole group with responses such as "This is amazing!" and "Who knew!". As each response rolled in that day, I emailed each privately and asked if they knew what the date was. I also sent them a link to my April Fool's Day post from last year. Luckily they all had a great sense of humour and had a good laugh when they realized they had been fooled!

No one was mad at me, but to be on the safe side I'm going to be extra careful this year. Payback can be a real bitch!!