April 27, 2010

Lavender -- Not Just for Grandma Anymore

"There's a few things I've learned in life: always throw salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for good luck, and fall in love whenever you can"
William Shakespeare

There's this little restaurant in Vancouver called The Italian Kitchen that was one of my favorite places for an awesome meal. And then, one balmy summer evening, the waiter asked if we (the girls and I) would like to see the dessert menu. On a whim we said yes (I don't have a sweet tooth -- at all) and this amazing little dessert caught my eye. Lavender Creme Bruleé. I took a risk (creme bruleé isn't too sweet I reasoned), ordered and have been smitten ever since.

This past winter the girls and I ventured to our spot. When the waiter asked if we'd like to see the dessert menu I said "no need, I'll have the Lavender Creme Bruleé" to which she replied "I'm sorry, we don't carry that anymore." WTF!!! I haven't been back since.

So began my quest for the perfect Lavender Creme Bruleé. And here it is:

1 tbsp lavender flowers (dried)
2 cups heavy cream
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup white sugar
dash of salt
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp Grand Marnier (if you want -- gives it a nice hint of orange)
more white sugar for sprinkling on the top to bruleé
4 ramekins

Preheat oven to 300F.

Put alot of water on to boil.

In a saucepan on medium heat, add the lavender to the cream. Bring to a simmer (when you can see steam rising) then remove from the heat. Let it sit so that the cream becomes infused with the lavender scent (you can leave it for quite a while -- in case you forget while you're busy beating the eggs).

In another bowl combine the 3 egg yolks, sugar, salt, vanilla and Grand Marnier.

Now strain the lavender out of the cream and slowly add the hot cream to the egg/sugar mixture. You have to do it slowly (and stir slowly) so that the eggs don't end up curdling. Yuck! Once it's all been combined divide it between the four ramekins.

Place the ramekins in a glass baking dish and place on the middle rack of the oven. Now take the boiling water and slowly pour it into the glass baking dish (you're doing the water bath cooking method -- just like Julia did). Slide the rack back into the oven (good luck with this if your oven is sticky -- water everywhere) and bake for anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes (this will depend on your oven -- mine is closer to 60 minutes). You can tell when they are done if you jiggle one of the ramekins and it seems kind of, well, jiggly.

Remove from the oven and let sit in the water bath until the water cools (so you can stick your finger in it and not have to be rushed to the hospital). Then put them in the fridge to set for at least 4 to 6 hours.

(Sorry, I know this is the painful part, but you really have to do this. The last ones I made I was in too much of a hurry to eat them and only put them in the fridge for about an hour and a half. They came out runny -- they still tasted great -- but they were more like Lavender Creme Bruleé smoothies.)

When chilled enough, sprinkle the top of each with sugar (enough to thoroughly cover the top -- so you can't see the custard) and then get out your blow torch, make sure the smoke detector is working and start bruleéing.

They are amazing! And really quite easy. You will impress you guests. And most importantly, you will impress yourself.

So there Italian Kitchen. Who needs ya?

April 24, 2010

A Nickel Ain't Worth a Dime Anymore

~Yogi Berra

When I was young my parents tried to instill in me a sense of respect for the almighty dollar (sorry, pun not intended). I opened my first savings account at the tender age of five and deposited my meagre allowance. I got my bank book updated every week and was always disappointed in the paltry amount. My parents kept uttering the mantra "compound interest, compound interest", but my interest was waning, not compounding. When I turned 13 the bank, in its quest to get more of my hard earned cash, offered me a Chargex (that's was Visa was called back in the day).

I happily accepted and never looked back. Compound, schmompound. My money was better spent paying off escalating credit card bills. Talk about compound interest. Chargex's interest rates were anywhere from 15 - 29% -- yes, even back in the 70s. And it was a never ending battle to pay off any of the actual credit card debt. Fortunately my credit limit was $500 so irreparable damage was not done. It was a love/hate thing for years. It still is a bit. It's so easy to just "buy" something and pay for it later. Sometimes much later. And with everything old being new again, the latest gadget (and I am the Gadget Queen) always screams Buy Me!

But my parents did prevail when it came to investing. My longest running job (FedEx from 1986 - 2006) offered a really decent company investment plan. For every dollar I put into an RSP (401k in America), FedEx doubled it. I know! I know! How could I not take advantage of that? Free money. I also thought it might be a good idea to put a little bit away on my own -- just dribs and drabs -- but something.

And then along came the man of my dreams. He was smart, witty, compulsively hedonistic (but in a good way) and kinda adorable. He's a Chartered Accountant and a Certified Senior Advisor. He said he could take my savings and make them do crazy Circe de Soleil things, but with a saftey net. He could help me plan for my future. Freedom 55 and all that. And now as everyone is limping back to the starting line, my portfolio is blossoming like a perennial in spring. He is my Financial Guru. Would you not trust this man with all your money? I know I do.

April 20, 2010

Blogger Blues

I've been bloggerwhelmed of late.

For months, when talking to friends about events in my life I would say "Oh, I don't need to tell you all the details, just go to my blog -- it's all there." Whenever anything even slightly noteworthy happened I would think, "Must remember these details to get it on my blog." When nothing noteworthy happened I would think, "Must make dull life into interesting blog post."

Then there was the need to read all the blogs I was following and comments on all the blogs I was following and hope that the blogs I was following would be reading and commenting on my blogs. This meant constant checking of my blog to see who had read it, who had left a comment and who hadn't.

And then (and maybe this was a blessing) my web access at work wouldn't allow me to get to my blog. I could go to other blogs just not my own. This effectively shut me down, as when I got home from work the last thing I wanted to do was fire up the computer. I was starting to feel anxious and also weirdly paralyzed. I'd be letting people down if I didn't blog. I'd be missing my fellow bloggers if I didn't read their posts. There wasn't enough time to work full-time and blog. Arrgghhh!!!

March 8th my future became crystal clear -- in full blown HD no less. And if I didn't do something soon I would be in serious trouble. Sorry to be harping on House, but...

The episode was called "Private Lives" and the sickie was Frankie, an avid blogger. She blogged everything from everywhere. And I mean everything.

Did I want to end up like this?

Nope, not for me. So I turned off my WiFi, closed up my laptop and returned to the BlogFreeZone. I saw a dog sitting in a café sharing a latté with her owner. I didn't blog. My mother came for a visit for a week (I drank a lot of wine). I didn't blog. My best friend turned 40. I didn't blog. I made Lavender Creme Brlueé from scratch. And they were great. I didn't blog. I got new orthotics. I didn't blog.

It was great. It was freedom. It was sheer glorious laziness. It was kind of lonely. I realized I enjoyed the interaction with my fellow bloggers, and I cared about what they were up to. So I'm back but with some personal guidelines:

I will not obsess if I miss a day or two posting
I will not obsess if I miss reading all your wonderful blogs
I will not take it personally if people do not comment
I will try to comment on your blogs, but won't obsess if I don't
I will enjoy the process
I will enjoy the Lavender Creme Bruleé I'm making tonight (and may blog about tomorrow)

April 18, 2010

When a House is a Holmes

I watched Sherlock Holmes this weekend, and had an epiphany. My beloved House is none other than Sherlock Holmes. The play on words "house/homes (holmes)" and House's one true friend Wilson (to Holmes's Watson) should have tipped me off. Am I the only one who just got this? My god, in the Season Two finale, House is bloody well shot by Jack Moriarty. Duh! Have I been in a coma? I'm usually much quicker to pick up on these things. I think I've been in a bit of a fog lately (sorry, not meant to pun London).