First Dinner Party and Tips!

On Monday I hosted my first ever dinner party, and it was a success! That’s a loose use of the term dinner party, which in this case involved three of my closest friends coming over for some food after work. I am incredibly proud of myself, and I think if you haven’t done this before you definitely should consider giving it a go. I’ve included some practical tips at the end of this post.

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I see these friends once or twice a week out at local Toronto restaurants and locales, and while we’ve gone over to friends’ houses, it’s never been the four of us together at my place. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could curate a fun night in.

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After much deliberation, I cooked Pinch of Yum’s Creamy Thai Sweet Potato Curry, which I’d already test-cooked a few days before. The web is inundated with amazing recipes, and in the end I decided to make a vegetarian meal because I am trying to limit the use of animal products where possible, one of my friends is vegetarian and well #meatlessMonday.

I followed the instructions for the curry to a T and it turned out amazing. I even roasted the peanuts myself, which I’m sure elevated their flavour at least a little bit because they were the best peanuts ever, and I wasn’t the only one to think so.

To start, we ate some vegetarian potstickers—I didn’t make these, just reheated them—and we drank cooling Chardonnay with our spicy meal.

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After eating we sat on the couch continually interrupting each other with life and dating updates. It was a lot of fun, and we completely forgot about dessert (we were planning to go to Wanda’s for waffles).

Another happy fact about this get-together is that save for the packaging the potstickers came in and some napkins, this was a waste-free meal. I took all of my own bags and containers to the supermarket and Bulk Barn, my local bulk dry-goods store, so in the end, there was almost nothing to discard. What little I did discard was biodegradable, green bin waste such as potato skins and cilantro stems.

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I hope this inspires you to just give hosting a try if you’ve never done it, or haven’t in a while. I find (from this experience and from being a guest) it’s much more intimate than going to a restaurant and it can strengthen friendship bonds in a way that meeting in public doesn’t always. Your friends will appreciate you for it! As well, it can be a more ecological alternative, depending on the choices you make.

Even though my grand tally for dinner parties amounts to just one now, I feel there were some important factors that contributed to my success. Here they are, below:

  • I invited only my closest friends. They didn’t expect me to be perfect, and they were there mostly for the company. And because of this I didn’t criticize myself too harshly when at the last minute I realized I forgot to pick up the right type of napkin. Which all in all meant I enjoyed the experience more!
  • I prepared something I knew how to make and that my friends would enjoy. I am no cook, but ensuring these two things still made my night (and meal) a success. I mentioned in our group chat that I’d be making Thai to see if anyone would be opposed to it. They weren’t! (This is a good time to check for allergies, too.) Then, after selecting a recipe online based on careful examination of positive reviews, I made it once before the big night. I didn’t want to serve my guests a recipe I hadn’t tried before. The food was going to be a big part of the get-together, so I tried my best to make it good.
  • I took the extra step.  I’d been working on Monday and unfortunately didn’t have the time to go the whole extra mile. But I found small ways to put in extra effort to make my guests feel both special and welcome. I lit a few candles and I chose to do something as simple as buy raw peanuts instead of roasted. Freshly roasted peanuts taste so much better, and my guests noticed and appreciated the small bit of extra effort.
  • I had a backup. I was counting on the conversation to flow really easily between us, because we’re a group of already-established friends. And I was right—it did. But just in case, I thought it would be good to have a backup game to play. Something like Cards Against Humanity or Moral Dilemma can be the perfect social lubricant on an “off” night. This safety net also gave me a little extra room to relax.

 

Quinoa Three Ways

If you hate the texture! 

Even though I learned about the benefits of quinoa years ago, I really couldn’t bring myself to eat it until recently. Unlike rice and other grains I like, quinoa seeds would—annoyingly—slip beneath my teeth as I tried to chew. I just can’t stand the texture of plain quinoa, and I don’t imagine I’m the only one.

Quinoa is one of the few plant foods that contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a plant-based form of a complete protein. According to the BBC Good Food website, a magazine I love (and trust), quinoa is high in fibre and a good source of iron, magnesium and manganese. As well, research shows that quinoa is high in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. You can click to see where I have found this information and more, here.

In conclusion, quinoa is a good thing (better than most grains, it seems)! So I didn’t want to just give up on it because of a texture problem. And it turned out to be a pretty easy one to circumvent, anyway. I just have to mix it with other things.

Here are my three favourite ways to eat quinoa recently. It’s gone from bearable to being a constant in my diet.

  1. Mix equal parts quinoa and brown rice! This is the least expensive and simplest way to eat quinoa for me. It involves simply mixing a cup of each in a pot and cooking. Brown rice tends to cook quite a bit slower than quinoa, so I add that first, and toss in the quinoa about 15–20 minutes before the rice is done. Make sure the pot is filled with enough water!
  2. Quinoa and veggies! This was on a salad I ate at a restaurant, but I’ve since recreated it at home. It’s a similar concept to above, but a bit more nutritious, and it keeps in the fridge for up to four days. You can add it to bowls or salads or pour a little pasta sauce over it and enjoy. I cook tricolour (or any) quinoa and add one or two cups of frozen carrot chunks and peas. There’s really no recipe and quantities depend on your preference.

    I should add that I do find tricolour quinoa is less “slippery” in general, but I realize it’s not available everywhere.

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  3. Put it in an intricate salad! The internet is littered with really complex salads that contain a cup of quinoa here and there. These can be a little hit and miss in my experience, but when they are good can be a really great way to incorporate quinoa. This Mexican salad was a favourite and it can contain up to two cups of quinoa (it’s also vegan, made with Daiya cheese).

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Soul Journal: Letting a Good Thing Go

Two weeks ago, on a Monday, I took the plunge and pressed print on my resignation letter from a job that has brought so much growth to my life.

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A year ago in March, I began working in the highly competitive field of book publishing, doing something that gave me a hand in the creation of real books that real people read and enjoy and think worth their dime to buy! I was a new proofreader, proofreading and  lightly copyediting manuscripts every single day. (Yes, I got to read stories for a living.)

While I loved the job at first and came to work with a feeling of pride, endeavouring to do my best on every single page, eventually that feeling faded. I was gripped with a feeling of complete isolation that overshadowed my positive feelings about the role. While the department had more than a dozen people—almost all of which I liked—the job itself turned out to be too solitary to bear.

I tried keeping myself busy with social outings after work, with friends and with new people that I met through meetup.com, trying a variety of activities. While the social stimulation was very helpful, it left me with no time to carry on other important aspects of my life. I spent nearly two hours in solitary transit, eight hours at work, and the few more I had left, I was using to socialize.

Eventually I began to experience sleep troubles and felt I was on the verge of more worrisome/deeper emotional disarray. I knew that I was living by hanging on to the wall of a cliff, and that no matter how strong I made myself to be, I’d eventually slip and fall. So I made the decision to instead reach for that just-too-high edge while I still have strength left in me.

I can’t describe how good it feels to take a huge risk that somehow feels right (and that all things considered actually is right). It feels much safer than a routine that works against me. I’m following my bliss, and I feel ecstatic and excited.

I let a good thing go because it stopped working for me. And I feel so alive…

 

 

Finding What You Seek

This post is like nothing I usually put up here, but I learned a beautiful lesson today and it really made me understand what I am doing wrong in terms of looking for certain things—looking for a good partner, a better fitting career, a better social life, etc. Basically, anything.

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This morning, I got up and started with my regular routine. I opened the front mirror cabinet in the bathroom and took out my cleanser. I cleansed my face and then towel dried. Then, I opened the mirror cabinet again, this time looking for my sunscreen!  The shelf above the cleanser’s is where I keep my sunscreen, so that’s where I expected to find it.

But it wasn’t there this morning.

Confused, I looked through the cabinet’s shelves thoroughly, opened both side compartments and looked there, opened the cupboards under the sink and looked there and even looked through the purse I take to work and in the kitchen and clothes’ closet—I really couldn’t understand where this sunscreen could be. Well…I didn’t find it. I went to work, and ultimately ended up using the spare sunscreen in my purse, which I use to reapply and keep my skin protected on longer days.

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But just now I got home and I saw that the sunscreen had been on the bathroom counter all along! Now, my bathroom counter has all of four or five things on it. The soap is at the side of the sink, a candle and air freshener spray are tucked in one corner, my toothbrush is on its charger and…that’s it! It was those things, plus my sunscreen, but I didn’t see it despite searching and searching because I expected to find it in its regular spot and when I didn’t find it there, I figured, well, then it should be in those other places. This baffles me because I would have never had to look in the first place if I’d actually been open to finding what I was looking for.

I italicized the word see because well of course I saw it, literally speaking. But it didn’t register that what my eyes were seeing was what I was looking for. It’s so silly but I do this all the time, but not just for trivial things like misplaced sunscreen. I do it for potential relationships, friends, jobs, educational opportunities, etc. I put up conditions that aren’t in my best interest—they don’t actually produce what I am looking for at all. In this case, my brain was looking for “the sunscreen in the cupboard,” but that’s not what I actually wanted. What I wanted was “the sunscreen”… It would have fulfilled my desires 100% even if I’d found it on the floor, trash can or tub.

Anyway, this was a huge reminder for me to make sure that the conditions I place on the things I want are intentional and genuine because otherwise it’s so, so easy to miss on opportunities. 20170406_173931

Here’s what’s on my plate for dinner. I’m a little sick today and I’d rather conserve all of my energy for getting better than for cooking or preparing food. There’s a salad place I trust a 20-second walk from my door, so tonight’s pick was a falafel salad with sweet potato mash and hummus. So good!

I took photos of what was “on my plate” yesterday too but after getting home and seeing a video of the children and adults in the Syrian chemical attack on my feed and then learning about similar atrocities being perpetrated in Yemen, blogging was the last thing I wanted to do.

On My Plate

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Dinner was brown rice with black beans cooked with chicken broth. I used a can of organic black beans and long grain brown rice. I “steamed” a carrot and broccoli in a pan with a couple tablespoons of water, then wilted some baby spinach.

Yesterday, I found a beautiful piece of salmon at the store for $4. I was too lazy to cook it then, so I seared it with a little garlic and olive oil today. Half of it is left over, and I will probably eat that for lunch or dinner tomorrow.

The half avocado is random, but I didn’t want it to go bad in the fridge, so I tossed it on top of the veggies with a teaspoon of low sodium soy sauce.

I used brown rice because in the nutrition course I am taking, I learned about the dangers of refined carbs for what they do to our blood sugar and the chronic illnesses that can trigger over time. Whole grains like brown rice release their energy more slowly, giving us a smaller rise in blood glucose that our bodies can handle better.

At the store, I looked for organic brown rice but didn’t find any. I am trying to make a real effort to buy organic whenever it makes sense for me (some essentials are still too expensive). I’ll have to try a different store for rice next time. My main concerns with conventional farming are runoff (which ruins the surrounding ecosystems) and pesticides.