Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Shopper's Drug Mart Optimum vs. Costco Executive Membership

Regular readers of this site (or my Twitter feed) know that I love Shopper's Drug Mart's (a Canadian pharmacy and drug store) Optimum rewards program.  I also love Costco.

With the start of a new school year, I have been reviewing our budget and looking for more ways to spend less.  One thing I have been reviewing is our use of different reward programs and where we buy our groceries, toiletries, household products, etc.

IN A NUTSHELL:  Optimum is the better rewards program (vs. Costco Executive membership).  Costco is still a great place to save money.

The Nitty Gritty Details:

Shopper's Drug Mart - for every dollar you spend at Shopper's Drug Mart you earn 10 Optimum points.  There are various levels of points that you can redeem, but I typically only redeem the maximum so that is what I used to my calculations.  Under the current rewards structure (September 2015), if you redeem 95,000 points you can get $170.00 worth of product.  This means if you spend $9500.00 you get $170.00 back (95000 /10 = 9500.00) - which is about 1.7%.  With a Costco Executive Membership you get 2% back on all your purchases.  At first glance, the reward programs seem very comparable but in reality they are not.

So why is Optimum the better rewards program?

The Optimum rewards program regularly features days when you can earn 20x the normal points (so 200 points for ever dollar spent) if you are spending $50.00 or more.  In addition to this, Optimum regularly sends bonus point coupons to email subscribers many of which are tailored to your shopping preferences.  Optimum also features bonus redemption days where you can redeem 95,000 points for $200.00 worth of product instead of the regular $170.00.
So let's redo those calculations:
I try to shop at Shopper's only when it is 20x the points and I also aim to only redeem points on bonus redemption days.
SO -  with that in mind - if I spend $475.00 (95000/200 = 475) I earn $200.00 in free merchandise.
Hold on a minute - that is getting 42% of what you spend back. 

Yes.  Yes it is.  And that is why Optimum is hands down my favourite rewards program on the market.  It is far superior to any other consumer rewards program that I am aware of.

Some of you may be thinking that Shopper's Drug Mart is expensive.  It is not.  It is true that many of their products regular prices are higher than in other stores, but Shopper's has excellent sales.  Read the flyers regularly.  Their sale prices are almost always competitive with other retail chains (especially for diapers, feminine products, deoderant, various food items, etc.).  Shopper's was recently purchased by the Weston corporation and they now carry many President's Choice brand products.  If you are into makeup and cosmetics, Shopper's Beauty Boutique carries most top cosmetic brands (Smashbox, Clairins, Lancome, Clinique, Estée Lauder, etc.) and you can now order them online from the store and have them shipped to you.

Although I love Costco for many things (flour, yogurt, imported cheeses, the list goes on) - I am carefully examining my shopping list to see what items I should switch back to purchasing at Shopper's Drug Mart.

If you do not have an Optimum card - get one.

Monday, September 7, 2015

An Affordable, DIY, Guest Room

Guest rooms!  They are a real luxury, but often something people do not want to spend money on.  For years our guests slept on either an air mattress or an old Futon (like really old - my husband used it as his bed one year in university).  While rearranging a great deal of our basement, we decided to relocate our "guest room" to what was our office.  Except, there was no room to relocate because - well - we just had the futon/air mattress.  In other words, it was time to create a guestroom.  I have been mentioning it here and there for months - but it is finally time for the reveal.

This is not really a before and after because - somewhere buried in my hundreds of pictures is the one before picture of our office that I took.  There is just no time to look for it right now.  It is a room that was painted a light brown.  There you go.  Close your eyes and picture it.  OK, let's move on.

This guest room is sort of a tribute to the many childhood summers I spent in Nova Scotia.  My mother's family is from a rural area near Truro, and growing up I spent most of my summers there.  It was beautiful, and peaceful.  I had no concept at the time that my grandfather grew up with very little financial means.  Even going there in the early 90s as a small child my great-grandmother was cooking all her meals on a wood stove.  We had chamber pots in the upstairs bedroom at the farmhouse.  It was like stepping back in time, but for me it was magical.  I remember the smell of the wood stove, waking up in the morning and watching the deer graze in the meadow, swimming in the creek with my cousins.  This room is a tribute to my grandparents (who are both still alive) and those wonderful memories.

The whole thing started when I picked up the above dresser at a Habitat Restore for $18.00.  It was just too great to resist.  I loved the detail at the top of the dresser, as well as the wood carving underneath the highest drawer.  Having said that, the dresser was a mess.  It needed a thorough vacuum and then a major wipe down before we could even start working on it (see my step by step furniture upcycle guide here).  We painted the dresser in Lemon Verbena by Para Paints.

These knobs are from IKEA.  FAGLAVIK Knob in Black.  They are $3.99 CAD for a two pack.

We used FAGLAVIK knobs from IKEA.  We spent $32.00 plus tax on the knobs (yes, more than we paid for the dresser) but it was the look we wanted and it is still a reasonable price for knobs.
On top of the dresser sits an old oil lamp.  This was another great find at Habitat Restore.  I paid $20.00 for it.  The lamp rests on a lace doily.  Very old school.  My family is from Belgium and I picked it up at a shop in Brugge (or Bruges as it is known in English).  The painting on the right is a Keirstead print that I happened to come across at the Salvation Army.  It was $4.00 and it really fit with the theme of the room, so naturally I bought it.  It is resting on a gold easel from Dollorama (Canadian Dollar Store chain).

On the wall beside the bed hangs two prints.  There is a set of 3 prints, but in the end we used just two.  I have the third hanging around, waiting for a proper home.  These prints are lovely, but when they first showed up at our house (purchased at The Salvation Army for $3.99 each) they were in need of some TLC.  The mattes and the frames were given a complete makeover (read about it here), and the frames were painted in St. Boniface by Para Paints (one of my favourite colours).

The prints are hanging above an old wash stand.  Remember the Nova Scotia theme?  This was used by my great-grandmother and her parents growing up in Nova Scotia.  It was passed along to my grandmother and she has passed it on to me.  This wash stand fits perfectly beside the bed.  It is covered with a cross-stitch that my grandmother made for me, and the vase (sorry - I could not bring myself to buy flowers just for this picture) is from IKEA.  I had it on hand, but they retail for $1.99.

On the opposite side of the bed sits this refinished wicker basket, another Salvation Army find.  It holds Tartan blankets that I picked up on a trip to Edinburgh and magazines for some bedtime reading.

Up on the window ledge (oh yes, this is a basement guest room) sits this tiny bird sculpture, purchased at Value Village for $2.99.  It was black and a little rusty, but this was quickly resolved with a few coats of Rustoleum.

The headboard (which we made ourselves) is painted in Lemon Verbena by Para Paints (like the dresser).  There is a bulkhead over the right side of the bed (not visible in the photo) which is why the focus of accessories is on the left side.

This duvet cover is from Giant Tiger (a Canadian discount retailer).  The duvet cover and the pillow shams came as a set for $19.99 CAD.  I was really happy with this find!  The bed is a double, but the duvet and cover are a Queen size.

And there you have it.  This is the guest room looking in from the door.  The walls in the room are painted in Georgian Green Tint 1 by Para Paints.  This room is very peaceful.  Sometimes my son and I go lay down on the bed and read a book just for a change of scenery, it always reminds me of Nova Scotia.

The Cost:

The total cost for everything that I purchased for the room (not including the mattress and metal bedframe, bedsheets, and not including things I already had on hand) was $200.00 before tax.  The mattress and box spring (double) were $400.00 at Costco and bedframe was $90.00 from Sears Canada.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Throwback: Rosh Hashanah Menu

With the Jewish New Year quickly approaching, I thought I would repost the Rosh Hashanah menu from Friday Night Dinners.  It is one of my favourites.  The Sparkling Pomegranate Sangria, the Egg Salad and Smoked Trout Spread, the Country Mash, the Prime Rib.......and two of the best (in my opinion) dessert recipes from the book - Ruthie's Apple Cake and Ginger Molasses Cookies.

See the menu and recipes here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Friday Night Dinner Project: No Knead Artisanal Bread

Back in January, I cooked the Dinner With Kids menu from Friday Night Dinners.  There is a recipe in this meny for No Knead Artisanal Bread that I could not make at the time because I did not have the right cooking equipment.  Fast forward 8 months (8 months!! What??  When did that happen?), and I recently invested in two Le Creuset French Ovens.

Sidebar:  My first Le Creuset purchase was during one of the The Bay's flash sales.  They had two different Le Creuset French Ovens at a significantly reduced price.  I took the plunge and bought one - also using Ebates during a Double Cash Back special, meaning I got 5% cash back.
Next up, we were recently on holiday in the States and we visited Sur La Table.  This is my absolute favourite (chain) kitchen store.  The prices here are amazing and they sell top of the line kitchenware.  I was able to get a 6.75qt round and wide French Oven from Le Creuset 40% off through a series of promotions and discounts.  If you live in a bordertown and are looking at investing in some Le Creuset, you will not regret a trip to Sur La Table.  

Now, where was I?

The bread.  Right.  To make the No Knead Artisan Bread you need a cast iron dutch oven style pot: enter - my Le Creuset French Oven.  This weekend we made the bread.

It's sooooo easy!!!  And econmical.  We buy large bags of flour at Costco (10kg for about $7.00).  I calculated that this bread costs about 0.18 cents a loaf to make.

You start by mixing the dough - which is essentially flour, water, and yeast.  The recipe uses All Purpose Flour, which I love because it means you do not need to have Bread Flour.

The dough is covered with plastic wrap and a tea towel, then left to rise for 12-24 hours.  I let my bread rise for about 13 hours.

After the first rising period, the dough is patted down then folded into a little cube.  The dough goes for its second rise which is only 2 hours.

The dough is popped into your dutch oven and cooked at a very high temperature (450F).  And that's it.  Bread is done.  So easy.  Does the bread taste good?  YES!  It certainly does.  This recipe is great, easy, cheap, and you get beautiful artisan style bread.  My only note is that I found the crust a bit tough and chewy - although it was great for dipping in soup.  When I make this bread again, I think shorten the cooking time slightly to have a softer crust.

This bread is also open for experimentation.  In Friday Night Dinners, Bonnie mentions multiple variations which include adding black olives, adding dried cranberries and nuts, adding raisins, and the list goes on.

If you love fresh homemade bread - this recipe is for you.  Here is the link to Bonnie Stern's Six Hour No Knead Artisanal Bread Recipe.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

About those Planned Parenthood Videos

If you haven't heard about this blame useless media hacks.  Then Google Planned Parenthood Selling Baby Parts videos.

Sickening does not begin to describe it.

Laura Rosen Cohen and Mark Steyn pretty much sums my feelings here.

Slow Cooker BBQ Baked Beans

I loved baked beans.  I mean, I really love them.  When we lived in Québec, one of my friends often made incredible maple baked beans from scratch.  Breakfast just was not the same without them.  When we lived in the UK, tomato flavoured baked beans were served with every English breakfast - and of course - they were a favourite topping on jacket potatoes (a baked potato served as an entrée with various possible toppings).  And who doesn't love some good old BBQ beans with cornbread and chicken?  Or served as a side with fajitas?  Oh man, now I'm hungry.  OK, let's get to the point.

For quite some time I was scouring the internet for a BBQ Baked Beans recipe that I could make without having turn on the oven - and that did not involve using canned beans.  Well, I could't find out.  I found some good recipes from Ricardo, The Pioneer Woman, and Paula Deen but none of them were exactly what I was looking for.  In the end, I took parts from all of these recipes to come up with a made from scratch in the Slow Cooker BBQ Baked Beans.  It's good.  Real good.

Slow Cooker BBQ Baked Beans
750 ml (3 cups) of dried navy beans
1 onion, peeled and halved
4 1/2 cups of chicken broth
1/4 cup of maple syrup
1 tsp of dry mustard
1 to 1 1/2 cups of BBQ sauce (I prefer Bullseye Original)
6-8 slices of bacon

Easy Steps to Delicious BBQ Beans:
1.  Put the beans in a large bowl and cover them with water.  Let the beans soak overnight (even up to 12 hours) at room temperature.  Make sure the beans are always submerged in water.  Rinse and drain the beans.

2.  Put both onion halves in the slow cooker.  Add the beans, chicken broth, maple syrup, dry mustard and 1 cup of the BBQ sauce.  Place the bacon, in strips, on top of all ingredients.

3.  Cover and cook on low for 10 hours (cooking time will vary depending on your slow cooker).

4.  You can use a slotted spoon to remove the onion from the slow cooker.  You may also wish to remove the bacon (I remove what I can, but you can most certainly leave it in).

5.  Taste time - check your beans and adjust the amount of BBQ sauce as you see fit.


Friday Night Dinner Project: Greek Dinner

After reading this menu several months ago, I decided to save it for summer for no other reason than that I thought it seemed like a wonderful summer meal - and it is!

Let's get to it:

Wild Mushroom Mini Strudels (aka Spinach and Feta Mini Strudels)
My husband refuses to eat mushrooms (although I love them), so I was very glad to see the alternate filling suggest of spinach and feta for this recipe.  If you are nervous about working with phyllo pastry this is an excellent recipe to start off with - it is very easy to make, looks good and tastes delicious!  The spinach and feta filling was quick to whip up - and even my young son was eager to eat these spinach strudels.

The other filling suggestion a mushroom and goat cheese combination - sounds delicious.

Greek Salad in Cucumber Basket with Grilled Pita

This is the salad you want to make when you are having company, or when you need to take a salad to a summer picnic.  This is a truly wonderful Greek salad that can be served with or without lettuce.  It does not take long to prepare and it tastes simply excellent. (Click here for a somewhat similar recipe from Bonnie Stern.)

Swordfish Souvlaki with Lemon Dressing and Mediterranean Rice Pilaf
The intro notes to this recipe suggest that it can be made with extra-firm tofu, lamb, chicken, fresh tuna, or swordfish.  I opted for chicken, mainly for cost reasons.  This recipe is quick and easy to make.  Also of note - is the tzatziki recipe that accompanies it.  This recipe merits its own page in the book, although it does not get one.  This tzatziki has graced our table on many, many occasions.  I whip it up on my Cuisinart mini food processor in a matter of minutes.  Of course, it tastes great with this chicken, or as a dip with fresh vegetables, or grilled pita.  I really enjoyed the rice - it has a light lemon flavour.

Greek Wedding Cookies
You guys.  These cookies!!!
These cookies are simply divine.  I could (um I did) eat almost the entire batch myself.  I do not drink coffee - but I imagine that these cookies would be really nice with a strong cup of coffee.  The recipe says they melt in your mouth - and they do.  Soooooo good.  It is a real pity I cannot find the recipe for these reproduced with permission online.  Buy the book people!!

Lemon Yogurt Cake with Lemon Glaze
This was not my first time making this recipe.  It's a good one.  The Lemon Yogurt Cake is surprisingly moist and very sweet.  I always make it with unflavoured yogurt and not the buttermilk.  I have also made it with lime instead of lemon (I love lime).  This was the first time I made the Lemon Glaze for the cake, and I have to say that even though the glaze is delicious, I actually found it incredibly sweet (too sweet for me) when paired with this already sweet cake.  It was good - but definitely for someone with a real sweet tooth.  This cake is just fabulous on its own or topped with mixed berries and a bit of fresh whipped cream.  I have made it in a loaf pan, for this time I made it in a round 9 inch pan.  Delicious.

More Friday Night Dinner Menus to come in a few weeks!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Simple Decoration Solutions

The new/old spare bedroom redo is almost ready for sharing - but in the interim let me share this.

I needed a little something for the corner by the bed - but I did not want a nightstand.  I was looking for something simple that would hold blankets, some magazines, and maybe a book for a guest looking to relax and unwind.  A basket.  Yes, a basket is what I needed.  Off to the Salvation Army I went, where I found this basket for $4.00.

Solid,  Dependable.  Good old wicker.

I had a can of Rustoleum on hand (Painter's Touch Ultra Colour in Satin Granite).  It was a beautiful sunny day.  Outside I went.  One coat bottom.  Two coats bottom.  One coat top.  Two coats top.  (Note - I only use Rustoleum outdoors because the fumes are incredibly strong.  Also - wicker takes a lot more paint that other projects because of all the holes.)

The basket say drying in the sun.  Then it came inside to its new home.

There it is.  Sitting in the corner full of Scottish Tartan and magazines waiting to be read.

Did I mention this cost $4.00?

For more great simple solution and frugal ideas check out the "With What You Have" series on Assortment Blog.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Total (Affordable) Closet Overhaul

The reach-in closet in our master bedroom needed an overhaul.  The closet system consisted of one shelf running the entire length of the closet.  This was not efficient.  We were shoving stuff in every possible space, and the mess was driving me a little bit crazy.  I looked into getting our closet professionally done - which as it turns out is quite expensive.  I just could not wrap my head around spending $1000,00 or more on a space that very few people aside from my husband and myself will ever see.  On the other hand, I wanted it to look good and be organized.  For a few months I spent time every night laying in bed staring at the closet (pathetic, I know) and trying to figure out the most affordable and efficient way to redo this space.  Cue inspiration.  

This is our closet before the overhaul.  As you can see it was full to the brim, to the point that stuff is spilling out of the closet and we could not even close the doors.

Step One: 
The first thing we did was remove all clothes from the closet.  Everything.  Then I went through everything and got rid of clothes that were not earning their keep.  My wardrobe has changed a fair bit since I had my son.  I used to wear dresses to work all the time - but since I am still breastfeeding I find dresses really inconvenient and I have been wearing more pants and skirts.  I got rid of some dresses that I did not think I would be wearing again any time soon.  The Salvation Army definitely benefited from this project.
Once the closet space was more or less empty, I found it much easier to envision what I wanted to do with the space.

Step Two:
Next up, my husband removed the shelf that stretched the entire length of the closet.  He washed down the walls, filled in the holes, sanded them down, then painted the walls.  We painted the walls using CIL Primer and Paint (it's a combo) from Home Depot.  The colour is Horizon.

A fresh canvas!!

Step Three:
After researching various options I decided to go with plain old white wire shelving made by Rubbermaid and available at Home Depot.  I used the Free Style shelving that allows you to move garments from end to end.  Home Depot employees will cut the shelving to measure for you in store.  (Sidenote: Apparently the Rubbermaid shelving is actually baked once the colour is put on, as opposed to being simply dipped in paint as some other brands are, making the coating on these shelves extremely chip resistant.)  I purchased the shelving I wanted (some 12 inches deep and some 16 inches deep), the wall mount, the free slide verticals, the brackets for the shelves and the related hardware.  Note: I highly recommend the Rubbermaid hardware packs that are put together with all the screws that you need to complete your project as well as end caps to put on the end of the shelves in order to avoid sharp edges sticking out.  I brought them home and my husband was able to install everything in about an hour or so.

I decided I wanted to go with three different tiers of shelving.  I moved the highest shelf closer to the ceiling (from where the previous shelf had been) in order to allow for a second shelf to be placed beneath it that would still be high enough off the ground to hand my husband's shirts on.
The shelf below does not run directly to the wall - I left about a 12 inch gap between the wall and the bottom shelf because I wanted a space to hand long dresses.

Wondering why I staggered the two top shelves instead of using one long shelf?  Two reasons:
1. Because I wanted the first shelf to be high enough to hang long dresses from and to allow space for a lower shelf that I could still hand dress shirts on.
2.  I wanted the second shelf to be low enough that I could still place storage boxes on top of it.

Here is the closet before I started putting the clothes back in.

And here we go - you cannot see all my dresses in the far left corner, but they are there.

These is a little cubby hole to the right that you cannot really see in the picture.  I have tied my scarves to hangers and they are occupying this space.  Eventually I could add some shelving there, but it is just a nice little hiding place my son loves going into and reading books.  I want him to be able to use this space for now so the shelving will wait.

These are Martha Stewart storage bins that I already had on hand (purchased at Home Depot).  You can see the end caps on the wire shelving in these pictures.  The only other change I would love to make it to buy coordinating wood hangers for the entire closet - it is just not something I want to spend money on at the moment.  When I decide to splurge, I will be ordering a bunch of these.

Let's review:



The entire project cost just under $300.00.  We are very happy with the results!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Friday Night Dinner Project: Barbecue Dinner *updated*

*UPDATED* - While going through some files on my computer, I found some of the missing pictures from this recipe.  I have added them below.

The posts in this series have been a bit irregular over the past month or so - but I am still plugging away at the Friday Night Dinner Project and I only have 8 menus left to cook.  This week's menu is the Barbecue Dinner.  I actually cooked the entire menu (minus one dish) about 6 weeks ago, but was holding off on this post until I made the final recipe, Hugh Carpenter's Grilled Tuna Skewers.  Boy, am I glad I waited.  They are amazing!  But we will get to them in a minute...

This is one of my favourite menus from Friday Night Dinners.  Everything in it is delicious (really delicious) and easy to make.  The dishes taste like summer and ever since I made this dinner I have been itching to have a summer party.  We have a large family gathering next weekend, I even offered to do all the cooking so I could share these recipes (unfortunately nobody took me up on my offer!).

Here we go:

Lime Martinis with Mint and Ginger
I made the virgin version of this (so it is more like a limeade) and omitted the ginger.  Refreshing and lovely served with ice.

Hugh Carpenter's Grilled Tuna Skewers
These skewers are divine.  I mean, they are really, really good.  The recipe can be made ahead and served at room temperature - but if you do not make it ahead there is no need to worry as you can whip up the whole thing (marinade and all) in about 10 minutes.  I did not have bamboo skewers so I simply grilled the pieces of tuna steak on my Cuisinart Griddler (we also do not have a barbecue) and stuck toothpicks in them afterwards.  Far less glamorous, but it does works well.  I did not have any preserved lemons on hand so I used the recommended substitute and just added a little lemon juice to some Hellman's Mayonnaise.  Please allow me to say again - these are so easy and delicious.

Barbecued Chicken with Lemon Chipotle Baste
The baste for this chicken provides excellent flavour.  As usual, I could not find pureed chipotles so I added some chili powder and cumin to the recipe (not the same, I know).  I used chicken thighs (no bone but skin on).  As we do not have a barbecue, I followed the instructions that allow you to brown the chicken and then bake it in the oven.  I would definitely make this chicken again, in the oven or on the barbecue.

This coleslaw has a vinaigrette style dressing, which is apparently quite good - but the recipe also offers an alternate creamy dressing.  I love creamy dressings so I decided to go with that option.  The Creamy Coleslaw Dressing is delicious.  This recipe makes quite a bit of coleslaw - it says 8 servings but I think it could serve 10 depending on the portion size.  The key to this recipe is having a good food processor to shred the cabbage.  My food processor is very small so this took me quite a while - but it was worth it. (This is a link to one of Bonnie Stern's Creamy Coleslaw recipes, although it is not exactly the same as the on in the book).

I just pulled up my picture file to upload the pictures from the rest of this menu only to discover they were not on my computer.  I checked the memory card on my camera to find out that I deleted them (obviously thinking that I had already uploaded them to my computer).  *sigh*
Well good thing this is not my job.  I'm disappointed though because this is a great menu and I wanted to share my pictures with you.  It's not the same without the evidence - but we will carry on sans photos.

Moroccan Sweet Pepper and Bread Salad
I had not idea what to expect when I made this salad.  It was a pleasant surprise - but it does not surpass the delicious coleslaw.  I did not have Argan oil so I used olive oil instead.

Sweet Cornbread
This is a great cornbread recipe - it is on the sweet side (as the name clearly states) and it is definitely not dry as some cornbreads can be.  This recipe (it is the Brother Juniper's Cornbread Griddle) gets used fairly often in our house.  I use melted butter and buttermilk in the recipe as we are not a Kosher household.  I omit the corn kernels and the jalapeno.  If I do not have buttermilk on hand I just make sour milk using milk and lemon juice.  This cornbread pairs well with so many things.  When I have leftovers I love serving a slice of this topped with a bit of maple syrup - it is like a Johnny Cake.  So good.

Blueberry Cobbler
Simply divine.  Blueberries are a perennial favourite in this house (a rule of them is that we always have enough hand picked blueberries in the freezer to make a pie every week for a year).  This recipe can be made with fresh or frozen berries.  It is delicious, amazing - whatever adjective you prefer - this is an amazing dessert.  Serve it with vanilla bean ice cream.
The nice thing about this menu is that there are two recipes which call for buttermilk (the cornbread and the cobbler) so it gives you a good reason to buy buttermilk and not waste any of it.  However, if buttermilk is not available you can make your own sour milk as mentioned above.

Get the cookbook and make this menu.  You won't regret it!

Next up will be the Greek Dinner Menu.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer Reading: Resistance of The Heart - Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany

This is not a book review - rather a quick note to any reader who might be interested -

Last week I read Resistance of The Heart - Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany by Nathan Stoltzfus.  It is not a new book (I purchased it a few years ago, but just got around to reading it now because...life) - but I highly recommend it.  Stoltzfus chronicles the actions of intermarried Aryans and Jews living in Germany during the Shoah.

This book is interesting, disturbing, and thought provoking.  It provides an excellent and well researched account of increasing discrimination against Jews living in Germany before and during the Shoah.  Stoltzfus is thorough yet concise as he examines the persecution of Jews and their Aryan spouses - his methodology is solid and it is very easy to see why this book received such wide recognition.  At the risk of repeating myself, I highly recommend it.

From the coverlet:

The Rosenstrasse Protest was the triumphant climax of ten years of resistance by intermarried couples to Nazi efforts to destroy their families. In fact, ninety-eight percent of German Jews who did not go into hiding and who survived Nazism lived in mixed marriages. Why did Hitler give in to the protesters? Using interviews with survivors and thousands of Nazi records never before examined in detail, Nathan Stoltzfus identifies the power of a special type of resistance-the determination to risk one's own life for the life of loved ones.

Next up: I am reading Aliyah by Eliette Abécassis.  (This book is not available in English).
I have to thank Laura Rosen Cohen for bringing this recently published book to my attention - it is a sort of sequel to Sépharade (un autre roman excellent si vous cherchez un roman à lire...)

Simple Summer Dinners

Well hello there.  Yes, we are still blogging.  Summer projects are keeping me very busy - but it also means there will soon be lots of stories to share.

Last week my son and I drove to a local farm where we were able to purchase wonderful, fresh, Ontario grown produce.  In fact - it was all grown and hand picked on this farm, East of Toronto, which has 150 acres of hand picked crops along with many other delicious treats.  When we got home, I sliced the broccoli, red pepper, and cherry tomatoes and then sprinkled them with olive oil and za'atar.

I threw these onto a parchment lined baking sheet into the oven to bake for about 30 minutes (at 425F).

In the meantime, I cooked a whole box of spaghetti (Catelli Smart Pasta).  After draining the spaghetti, I added some extra virgin olive oil, approximately 1/4 cup of butter, and some Parmesan cheese.  Now the pasta was ready to be topped with the roasted vegetables.

I also washed and chopped the fresh romaine lettuce I purchased and tossed it in homemade New Wave Caesar Salad Dressing (from the Vegetarian Menu in Bonnie Stern's Friday Night Dinners) along with some croutons and more Parmesan cheese.

And that's it.    It was delicious.  Our company loved it too.

Is there a better way to end a summer day then with a quick, simple, farm fresh and delicious dinner?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Worth Reading: The Life and Death of Steven Sotloff

This week, Tablet Magazine published a 30,000 word essay titled "The Life and Death of Steven Sotloff", written by Jonathan Zalman.  

It is absolutely worth taking the time to read Part One and Part Two.  

I do not want to comment on it too much, but it should definitely be read in its entirety.  Aside from providing a detailed account of Steven Sotloff's life, it also details the tremendous efforts of his friends and family to secure his release and to stop the media from identifying Steven as both Jewish and Israeli.  Shortly after ISIS released the video of Steven Sotloff in captivity I learned that he was Jewish and had ties to Israel (I did not know him and have no connection whatsoever to his family).  It was clear to me that there was some type media blackout on this information, rightfully so, and I read the details about how this came to be with great interest.  After Steven's death, when news that he was Jewish and a dual Israeli-American citizen spread rapidly, I wondered what terrible impact the release of that information would have on other prisoners being held by ISIS.  Zalman also addresses this (although briefly) in his writing.

This is a very important piece of writing.  Please read it.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Friday Night Dinner Project: Asian Dinner

Well May has turned into June but alas, here we are.

This week I am posting the Asian Dinner from Friday Night Dinners. 

The menu starts off with a beverage -
Sparkling Green Tea and Lychee Sangria
As usual, this is a cool and refreshing drink.  To make a non-alcoholic version, I used ginger ale instead of sparkling wine and no liquor.  I also used white cranberry juice (as recommended) because I could not find lychee juice.  If you are looking for an "iced tea" that is not overly sweet, this is a nice option.  Here is a link to several of Bonnie Stern's sangria recipes - including one very similar to this recipe but with added berries.

Chicken Dumplings with Thai Peanut Sauce
The sauce, the sauce.  The sauce!  This recipe is all about the fabulous Thai Peanut sauce.  The sauce calls for Thai Curry Paste, I used Patak's Red Curry Paste and it was perfect.  The dumpling are alright, but I just found them soft (texture wise, and I know they are supposed to be) and I like crispy.  However, I have made this Thai Peanut Sauce about three times in the past several weeks.  Most recently, I served it with tofu and vegetables over rice.  It is a quick, no cooking required sauce.  Perfect for putting together a fast meal and proof that you can make delicious food from scratch even when you're in a hurry.

Roasted Halibut with Green Curry Coconut Sauce
For some reason I anticipated that this Green Curry Coconut Sauce would be thick and creamy - I don't know why.  Anyway, it is not - but it is good (I also used Red Curry Paste).  This is a mild curry sauce and Bonnie Stern suggests using it with lamb, chicken or shrimp as well as with the roasted fish in the recipe.  I used tilapia instead of halibut and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Spiced Basmati Rice
This recipe is similar to the basmati rice recipe from a previous menu, but with different spices.  It was just as good this time as it was with the other spices.
Stir-fried Baby Bok Choy
This was the first and probably the last time I will eat Bok Choy.  I just did not like it.  Neither did my husband.  Maybe it's an acquired taste.

Coconut Rice Pudding
I just have not gotten around to making this yet (sadly).  I promise to post an update as soon as I do - all the ingredients are sitting on my counter...it will happen soon....