Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Humour

Today, is Easter Sunday so I thought I would offer you some humour to enjoy with your chocolate!

There's nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with CHOCOLATE.
- Linda Grayson, "The Pickwick Papers"

Good Idea: Finding Easter eggs on Easter.
Bad Idea: Finding Easter eggs on Christmas.

I'm a little hoarse tonight. I've been living in Chicago for the past two months, and you know how it is, yelling for help on the way home every night. Things are so tough in Chicago that at Easter time, for bunnies the little kids use porcupines.
- Fred Allen

A strangely reflective, even melancholy day. Is that because, unlike our cousins in the northern hemisphere, Easter is not associated with the energy and vitality of spring but with the more subdued spirit of autumn.
- Hugh Mackay

Alzheimer’s Advantage You can hide your own Easter eggs.

All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!
- Lucy Van Pelt, "Peanuts

A lady opened her refrigerator and saw a rabbit sitting on one of the shelves.

"What are you doing in there?" She asked. The rabbit replied: "This is a Westinghouse, isn't it?", To which the lady replied "Yes."
"Well," the rabbit said, "I'm westing."

Q: Why does the Easter bunny have a shiny nose?
A: His powder puff is on the wrong end.
Q: What is the difference between a crazy bunny and a counterfeit banknote?
A; One is bad money and the other is a mad bunny!
Q: Why is a bunny the luckiest animal in the world?
A: It has four rabbits' feet
Q: What do you get when you cross a bunny with an onion?
A: A bunion
Q: What kinds of books do bunnies like?
A: Ones with hoppy endings!
Q: What did the rabbits do after their wedding?
A: Went on their bunnymoon!
Q: Why did the Easter Bunny have to fire the duck?
A: Because he kept quacking all the eggs!
Q: How does the Easter Bunny paint all of those eggs?
A: He hires Santa's elves during the off-season.
Q: What happened when the Easter Bunny met the rabbit of his dreams?
A: They lived hoppily ever after!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Wedding

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last several months, you may have heard that there is a wedding coming up on Friday, April 29 in London. Yup, Wills and Kate ... oops, make that Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton (soon to be Princess Catherine will tie the knot at 11:00 AM London time.

The couple have been dating off but mostly on for several years and last fall he finally proposed to her. The wedding details have slowly been trickling out ever since. Some are based on speculation and other tidbits have been released by the palace.

One thing I have to give them credit for is to start a charitable gift registry. They have selected a number of charities that have a special meaning to them and asked people to donate to those rather than to give them a gift. Wise choice. After all, how many crock pots and blenders can one couple use? Especially a couple with the deep pockets such as theirs.

I guess I should make a confession here. I have nothing against the Royals, it’s just that I am not a fan of Royalty or the pomp and ceremony that goes with it. My grandmother thought very highly of the Queen and the Royal family and tried to instil that awe and respect in me. To a point it worked – for awhile anyways.

When I was about ten, Princess Anne and some other Royals were in Canada. She visited my home town and I was there in the crowd. I don’t remember much of it but I do recall she wore a light blue dress and I was within arm’s reach of her. Big deal right? No, I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. Years later, my mom and I were having lunch at a restaurant here in the city and everyone kept watching out the window. We asked what was going on and were told that the Queens motorcade would be passing shortly. Someone finally said it was coming, so everyone in the restaurant (including us) ran out onto the boulevard to wave at the Queen. Whoopee! A fleeting glance of an old woman wearing a hat as she is driven by in a big black car. Everyone was thrilled. I just wanted to go finish lunch.

In most respects, I’ve never really understood the whole Royal thing. I know that Royalty has had their importance in the past but the whole concept of Royalty, pomp and privilege due to birth or through marriage just seems so outdated and wrong. There is so much more that could be done with the money spent on or by them. Sure they do charity work and make money for charities by appearing or lending their name but it all seems so fake and so removed from the realities of the average person.

There are so many rules and regulations they have to live by. Some call it privilege but in many ways it is an oppression as their life is not really their own. You almost never see the women wearing the same outfit twice yet countless people around the world are homeless, hungry and in dire need of even a tiny fraction of what is handed to the Royals on a proverbial silver platter because of the family they were born or married into.

In the days when my grandmother was such a fan, the goings on behind the palace walls were well guarded. The biggest scandal to reach the outside was the abdication of King Edward so that he could marry the love of his life – a divorcee named Wallace Simpson who ... gasp ... was a commoner and also an American!

Times have changed a lot in the almost thirty years since my grandmother passed. She saw the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer but not much more. Royal scandals have become a regular event.

What she didn’t see, was how the Royal family pretty much closed their collective eyes to the myriad of cheating spouses and the ever increasing scrutiny of the press and paparazzi. She didn’t see how Diana was thrown to the wolves as it were for being human. Diana was in way over head even before the wedding but tried her darnedest to live up to the Royal expectations.

Diana was the one who finally put a human face to the proverbial “stiff upper lip” of the Royals. She was one of the first celebrities to reach out to those with AIDS. She tried to teach her boys that there is more to life than being a Royal.

In many ways, she seems to have succeeded in that respect. William and Harry have both stepped out in their own way from behind the sheltered life of the Palace. From what I have seen and read, they seem to be far more aware of what is really going on outside in the real world. Their mother would be proud. Too bad the Windsor’s hadn’t shown her the same respect and acceptance before, during and after her marriage to Charles. Even in her death, her humanity and her spirit were all but ignored by the Royals. Okay, they did eventually make a few statements but it was too little too late for most of the fans to truly accept the sincerity of it.

Now, it is many years later. A few more scandals, divorces and such have passed. The Queen mum has died. Andrew and Sarah have divorced. Charles finally married his real love Camilla (she wasn’t deemed worthy to be his wife all those years ago before Diana). Another Royal wedding is about to take place. Prince William is second in line to the throne after his father Prince Charles.

William has been doing his best to prepare and yet also protect his lady love and her family from the prying eyes of the often vulturous media. Over the last few weeks, they have made several public appearances to ... ahem ... feed the media beast. In the hope that this will quell their hunger to devour her as they did his beloved mother. Only time will tell if the plan works.

Alas, the hype in the lead up to the big day has only increased. England has declared the wedding day as a holiday in the hope that the people will come out in throngs to celebrate. Tens of thousands of Royal watchers from Great Britain and around the world are expected to descend on the city to watch the processions for even a glimpse of the bride and/or groom. The souvenir market is overflowing with tacky kitsch ... both Palace endorsed and the fake. Media outlets around the world are planning and promoting extensive coverage.

Here in North America, the major networks are starting coverage early – REAL early! There is a six hour time difference between London and here in Winnipeg. Our networks are starting the coverage at 2:00AM central. They will cover the arrival of the commoners, the dignitaries and the celebrities. The wedding itself and of course any other mundane or minute detail they unearth.

Needless to say, there will be those who get up or stay up all night just to say they saw it live. Many will PVR/DVR/TIVO the whole thing to watch at a more reasonable hour. Most will likely watch the (no doubt) endless ad nauseam rehash of coverage online or on TV later in the day.

As for me, the only reason I’ll be up that early is to answer a call from Mother Nature! Otherwise, I’ll be in dreamland catching some zzz’s! There will be ample coverage later that I can ignore.

It won’t be easy, but they seem to have it far more together than other Royals and newly Royal who have gone down this path. I really do wish the happy couple well. I think they are going to need all the luck they can get.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

dn's Lemon Chocolate Chip Muffins

There is something about the smell and taste of a lemon that makes me think of spring! The scent alone just seems to freshen up a room and awaken the senses. The taste of lemon cleanses the palate and leaves me wanting more!

Lemon and chocolate aren’t a combination that most people would necessarily think of. However, when you do stop and think about it, the tartness of the lemon and the rich sweetness of even a dark chocolate are a marriage made in food heaven! I’ve loved this combo for many years and have tried it in desserts such as my "Lemon Cloud Pie" and "Jollygood Squares"! I also have a lemon chocolate chip cookie recipe that I will have to post sometime. So why not try lemon as a main flavour in a muffin?

A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a recipe on the Taste Of Home site for Lemon Chip Muffins that sounded good, so decided to give it a try.

The original recipe called for buttermilk or yogurt. I never buy buttermilk and I don’t eat yogurt so I used the extra lemon juice from the lemons to make my own buttermilk. Granted, my version of the buttermilk for this recipe uses more than the average buttermilk substitute*, but the extra lemon only adds to the flavour!

Of course, I did a bit more than that to put my own spin on the recipe! I added both whole wheat and all purpose flour. Needless to say, I also added more chocolate chips!

The result was a flavourful blend of the tart lemon and the sweetness of the dark chocolate! These are great as a breakfast muffin or to enjoy with a bowl of fresh fruit or a cup of your favourite break time beverage. These freeze well - even with the topping on them. Just thaw them first and then stick them in the microwave for about 10 seconds before serving to bring out the blend of flavours!

dn's Lemon Chocolate Chip Muffins
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 eggs
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup miniature dark or semisweet chocolate chips
2 medium lemons
Approx. 1 1/4 cups milk

Wash and dry the lemons. Grate the peel of the two lemons and set the peel aside. Juice the lemons, removing any seeds. Measure out 3 Tablespoons of the lemon juice and set aside. Place the remaining lemon juice in a two cup measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 1 1/2 cups. Stir to combine, then let stand for about 5-10 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a bowl, cream butter and 1 1/2 cup sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flours, baking soda and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Fold in chocolate chips and lemon peel. Fill paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full.

Bake at 375° for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not over bake. Brush tops with lemon juice; sprinkle with remaining sugar. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to finish cooling. Yield: 2 to 2 1/2 dozen.


*Buttermilk is easily made by placing either 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or white vinegar in a 1 cup measure then adding enough milk, soy milk or cream to make 1 cup. Stir to combine and let stand for 5-10 minutes before using in any recipe. This method works particularly well for most baking recipes which call for buttermilk or yogurt.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Assembly Required

Whatever happened to the days when things came pretty much assembled?

I’m not talking about kids toys that parents spend all Christmas Eve assembling. Those have been around for what seems like eons! I’m talking about the everyday items that are used to furnish a home. You know, the kind where all you would have to do is open the box and attach a handle on a dresser or a set of legs for a table, couch or chair.

Back in the real old days – before I was born – you either made your own furniture or you bought it preassembled. A delivery truck would show up at your door and bring in the finished piece and even position it for you.

Even when I was younger, the delivery guys would sometimes help you take things out of the boxes for you if you asked nicely and gave them a small tip.

I remember ordering a pair of tall bookcases for my apartment back in the early 1980’s. The delivery guys brought them in and positioned them where I wanted them. All I had to do was place the adjustable shelves at the levels I wanted. I also ordered dressers that were completely assembled – even the handles were on!

Then, sadly, things started to change. Manufacturers realized that they could save money by leaving some of the assembly to the customer. That way their packaging and labour costs would be less. Shipping would also be less expensive. They assumed that most customers would embrace a slight inconvenience (read: do it yourself work) to save a little money.

They, of course were right. Who doesn’t love saving money? Most customers didn’t mind a little work and earning the right to say “I put it together myself!” Even with that bit of extra work, the directions were usually pretty good and gave even a novice a half way fighting chance of getting it done right! Of course they always left out the part about having a couple of screws left over!

Alas, time has moved on and the “Assembly Required” seems to be about the only way to buy any furniture these days. About 13 years ago, I bought a bookcase headboard that took two of us 5 hours to put together.

About 9 years ago, I bought a TV stand that took me about 5 hours to put together by myself! Okay, it took me longer because I am legally blind. Maybe the “average” person could have done it faster, but I did it and I was proud of it!

So a few weeks ago, I went shopping for a small mobile cabinet that I could use for storage and to set a lamp on beside my chair. I found one on sale for 25% off at a local Office Depot. Including taxes it would be just under $110.00. Sounded great – until I asked about assembly. Well, they could arrange for someone to come to my home and assemble it for me but it would cost $60.00!! WHAT? Seriously? I don’t think so!

I figured that I had done enough assembly before – I could do it again! Granted, I didn’t have quite as much sight or the same finger dexterity that I had even 7 or 8 years ago but how hard could it be? Well, sadly, it could be very hard. The actual pieces of the cabinet were well defined, but the hardware was packaged into a few small bags and not even labelled. There were 91 screws in five different sizes. The parts list didn’t show life size pics of the screws so you either guessed or measured to make sure you had the right ones. Not only has the complexity of DIY construction increased tenfold, the instructions have also changed. To assemble anything these days, you either need an engineering degree or at least have a sense of how to read a blue print!

The instructions were basically a series of sketches with lots of numbers and letters on them. I assume that the lack of writing was also to save paper that would be needed to print out more details in several languages. That didn’t bother me though, as I assumed that I could get more details at the web address provided. No such luck. I couldn’t even find the model number or even the cabinet on their website. Their so called “help” videos were flash animation of how to install parts that I already knew how to do. After finally sorting out all the parts and getting the pieces organized, I started on step 1. Part of that required 9 of the tiny 16mm screws.

It did not go well. Granted I had injured my shoulder the week before, but my fingers could not hold those little screws to get them started properly. It took me a long time to get six of them in. Then I realized that the last three for that step would have to be inserted in a recessed area. I tried a few times, but quickly realized that this was beyond my abilities. I wasn’t impressed nor did I want to have to ask for help. I’m stubborn that way. But I knew I was in over my head with this project. I certainly wasn’t about to call Office Depot and arrange to pay $60 for some guy to do it for me!

No way! I called one of my friends who came over a few days later. I sorted the parts and got them ready for each step while she did the assembly!! I held pieces in place as needed. We chatted as we got it done. Not including stopping for a lunch of my fresh homemade buns with a topping of salmon, it took us about two hours or so to put it together. The cabinet looks great! Besides lunch, I paid her in some more buns to take home, a bag of homemade Black Forest Cookies and a few hugs! She was glad to help – even if her arm was a bit sore from all that screwing!