Enjoy Cooking on the Fly? Spaghetti and Meatballs, Impossible to Mess Up


I love food, but I don't enjoy baking and cooking the way some people do. I think it boils down to the fact that I dislike following a recipe. If I don't have everything a recipe calls for, I would rather try and substitute the missing ingredient with something I already have than make a trip to the grocery store — even when the missing ingredient is butter.

I recently baked chocolate chip cookies. I had a craving for them and had all the ingredients, except butter. But who needs butter? It's fattening and can cost up to $4.97 for one stick. I also think that most recipes call for more butter than is really needed. 

So I went ahead and started making cookie dough. I mixed together flour, sugar, eggs, and fat-free sour cream in place of butter. I followed the rest of the recipe and then rolled my dough into cute little balls, placed them neatly on a baking sheet, and popped them in the oven.

Did my cookies turn out? Not really. They weren't horrible but they didn't flatten out like cookies are supposed to and they tasted pretty bland. I decided to look into the reasons why they turned out this way, besides the obvious. 

What I found out is that sour cream actually can be successfully used to substitute butter in certain recipes. In cookie recipes, sour cream can be used to substitute some of the butter called for, although fat-free sour cream is not recommended.

Cooking allows much more flexibility than baking when it comes to substituting ingredients and making up a recipe as you go. After a long day, the last thing I want to do is cook an extravagant dinner following a recipe. I prefer to cook when inspiration strikes and following my own rules.

Spaghetti and meatballs is one meal that is a pretty safe bet to cook on the fly. Adding fresh vegetables and spices to your sauce and making meatballs from scratch can make it a bit more interesting, but it's still nearly impossible to mess up. If you like pasta, it's the perfect weekday evening meal and tomorrow's lunch is already made!

Cherry tomatoes and white mushrooms.
Toss tomatoes, mushrooms, and salt and pepper in a pan with a little canola oil.
Pasta from scratch would be delicious, but let's be honest — I'm in CreComm!
I'm pretty generous with my pasta sauce. No measuring cups here!
Since lean ground turkey contains less fat than lean ground beef, I use it in place of beef whenever I can. Here I added one egg, bread crumbs, Montreal Steak Spice, and a spoonful of barbecue sauce to ground turkey to make the meatballs.  
Roll the turkey into little balls with your hands and place them in a lightly greased pan.
Get the pasta going! I like whole-wheat spaghetti.
Meatballs are ready! 
Spoon spaghetti, meatballs, and sauce onto a plate. Dinner is served! 

The Short Story: A Creative Writing Exercise that Worked for Me, You Can Try It too!


In my creative writing class at school we use a little gem of a book called Writer's Gym: Exercises and Training Tips for Writers by Eliza Clark. The book is not only handy for its tips on how to write intriguing dialogue and advice about developing plot and character in a story, but also provides a number of writing exercises to help get ideas flowing.

 I wrote the following short story for my creative writing class a couple of weeks ago. It was the result of a writing exercise we did in class that was taken from Writer's Gym. I'll provide an explanation about the exercise at the end of the story, but first I invite you to read my story and see if you can guess what the writing exercise might have been!

A Date for John

     Cassie Sorenson smoothed the worn fleece blanket over her thighs and leaned back against the pillow pressing between her shoulder blades and the living room couch. This is how she spent her days — stretched out, re-reading Jane Eyre and Little Women and listlessly flipping through Home and Garden and Canadian Living magazines. She loved to garden and she loved to cook and since she accepted she could no longer manage either, she vowed to commit to memory as many classic narratives, gardening tips, and recipes she possibly could.
“How was your day?” Cassie’s husband John asked her from the front foyer, shrugging off his coat and placing his briefcase on the hardwood floor.
“Oh, it was fine.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Did you remember to take your medication this afternoon?”
“John, you called to remind me to take my medication an hour ago. How could I possibly forget?”
Acting as if he hadn’t heard her, John walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge door, peering inside at the contents. 
“Are you hungry?”
“Not really.” Cassie looked up from her magazine in time to see him frown.
“But I could eat, I guess.” She said quickly. “What were you thinking for supper?”
“How about chicken, rice, and vegetables? Or beans instead of vegetables? Dr. Phillips said we should increase your protein intake to help you retain muscle.” 
“What’s wrong?”
“Well, why did you say, Mmm?” 
“No reason.”
“Cassie, Doctor Phillips said-”
“I don’t care what Doctor Phillips said!” Cassie said, closing her magazine abruptly. She felt her cheeks warm and she immediately felt bad for being so sharp. 
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I really don’t care about chicken or rice or protein.”
It hurt her to see the stunned look that crossed his face but she needed to tell him what was on her mind.  
“I’m bored John. I’m so very, very bored and I just want to have some fun for once. I can’t stand spending all day moving from the bed to the couch to the bathroom.”
     John regarded her silently from where he stood behind the stove in the open-concept kitchen they had saved for years to remodel. His eyes traced over Cassie’s small frame, hidden under her favorite blanket. She was getting so small. He just wanted her to eat more.
The silence stretched between them until John turned and opened the freezer, taking out some frozen chicken which he set in the microwave to thaw.
“Would you like to see a movie tomorrow night?” He finally said. 
Cassie looked up from her lap where she had been tracing shapes on top of the fuzzy blanket and smiled. 
“Are you asking me on a date Mr. Sorenson?” She asked trying to sound coy.
“Yes, Mrs. Sorenson.” John replied and Cassie saw him crack a smile.

     Cassie stirred awake to the sound of John opening the front door and closing it behind him softly. She kept her eyes closed as she listened to John take off his shoes, remove his coat, and place it on a hanger in the hall closet. His sock feet moved quietly over the hardwood floors and the plush carpet in the living room as he walked toward the couch where he had tucked Cassie in that morning. She breathed in his familiar smell and snuggled in to the warmth of his arms as they moved around either side of her. 
“Hi” he whispered.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Mmm..it was more of a doze than a sleep, but yes thank you.”
“Are you hungry?” He asked hopefully.
“Not really” she said and immediately regretted disappointing him. 
“Okay. It’s six o’clock.”
“The movie starts at seven...Do you still want to go because we can—”
“Yes, yes, I want to go.” Cassie said, her voice hoarse.
“If you’re not feeling—”
“Please, John. I want to go. I feel okay enough to go.”
John studied her for a moment deciding whether to believe her.
“Okay.” He said after a few moments.
Cassie smiled and was surprised to feel the unfamiliar prickle of excitement. 
“I got you something.” John said suddenly.
“Okay...” Cassie said, immediately curious.
     John stood up and crossed the room to where his briefcase sat on the floor. He picked it up by the handle and brought it over to Cassie, placing it gently in her lap on top of the fleece blanket. John popped open the brass clasps holding the briefcase closed and pushed the lid open wide as far as it would go, revealing what was inside. 
“It’s made from real hair almost exactly the same colour as yours.”
Cassie stomach churned but she remained still, staring blankly at the dirty blonde hair wrapped in clear cellophane plastic resting inside the briefcase. 
“Cassie?” John asked when she didn’t say anything.
“Cassie? Are you going to be sick?” John placed his hand on her back and moved it around in gentle circles.
“Why did you buy this?” Cassie finally whispered.
“I thought it might help you feel more comfortable in public. It might take some getting used to but...” 
“Some getting used to? John, I’m terminal.”
Although they weren’t touching Cassie felt John’s whole body tense.
“John...” She began carefully, “we both know my diagnosis. I’m not going to get better. No matter how much I sleep or how much I eat.”
“I know.” John said in a defeated voice. “It’s stupid of me, but I just thought...we could pretend.”
  Cassie’s heart surged with love for her husband; for her kind, caring John who could not accept what was happening to them. Her John, who she would soon leave behind to pick up the pieces and carry on with life without her while she was set free. She leaned forward and kissed him with all the spirit and energy that remained inside her and he responded, wrapping his arms around her and squeezing her tighter than he had allowed himself to do so in months. Skin against skin, they gasped for breath as they moved together, salty tears stinging each other’s cheeks and hearts thumping loudly in their chests.
Breathless and invigorated, Cassie untangled herself from John and stood up.
“Where are you going?”
Cassie walked toward the wig that now lay strewn on the floor and bent down to pick it up.
“I’m going to get ready for our date.”

The End

Here is the writing exercise I used to write this story and one you might want to try as well: 

Part 1: Head to your local thrift store. Buy an item that you find interesting. It can be anything from a flashy belt to a vase — anything will work for this story, you just have to be creative! This is what we did in our creative writing class, but choosing an item from home will also work. Just make sure to have the item present because it helps to have a visual when you're writing.

Part 2: Write a story about two characters who have some sort of relationship — a married couple, boyfriend and girlfriend, best friends, siblings, co-workers etc. In the story, one of the characters must give the other a gift (the item you chose). The gifted item should symbolize or reveal to the reader that something is not quite right about the character's relationship. Miscommunication, conflict, and/or a breakdown in the relationship should be symbolized or initiated by the gifted item.  

I bought I wig when I went with my class to the Goodwill thrift store and I really didn't know what to do with it until I started writing. I eventually got the idea to use the wig to convey a husband's struggle to accept that his wife has a terminal illness.

I found this exercise useful in helping me form an idea for a story. I also think the exercise helped me stay on track while writing the story as I had to keep the item in mind at all times, which in turn helped me to write all the important moments in the story such as the rising action and climax.

What are some writing exercises you have tried? Were they useful? Share your comments!

Sawdust is Bad, Asbestos is Worse


If you are a homeowner in Windsor Park, chances are good your attic is full of sawdust.

Don't believe me? Before you go ahead and rip down those old wood soffits to find out, read on for my word of caution.

I have found home renovations to be an excellent way to learn about the inner workings of a home. As we embarked on our home renovations, we discovered quite a few things about our 1950's bungalow. Mainly, that the floors weren't level, the walls weren't straight, wallpaper was hidden under several coats of paint throughout the entire house (even inside closets), and our attic was insulated with sawdust.

Now, having an attic full of sawdust is not such a terrible thing. It could be much, much worse. Let me explain.

Like most young couples on a budget, we had decided to save money by doing home renovations ourselves and for the most part, everything went well. With practice and patience we mastered the art and science of stripping wallpaper, mudding and sanding, painting walls and ceilings, leveling a floor, and cutting and painting trim and baseboards. By spring, the interior of our home was looking pretty good but our eavestroughs needed to be replaced and with quotes from exterior renovation companies ranging from $2,000.00 - $6,000.00, we moved outside to tackle our next project.

A quick consultation with YouTube and The Home Depot staff told us all we needed know — or so we thought — about replacing eavestroughs, soffits, and fascia, and we set to work pulling down the old, rusty leaf-filled eavestroughs. Next we tore down the first of several plywood soffits to be removed, and that's when we knew we were in trouble. There was none of the pink insulation we had expected to see in the attic. Instead, it was packed with sawdust.

There was so much sawdust (18+ extra-large garbage bags full in the end) that it began spilling out of the attic, covering the ground and us. Shocked that our attic was "insulated" with nothing but sawdust and at a loss about what to do about it, we called Nisby Home Renovations. Wayne, a contractor from Nisby, came to our home to discuss our options.

"Just be thankful that it was sawdust in there and not asbestos" Wayne said. "A lot of houses in this area have sawdust, but many have asbestos for insulation."

Asbestos? A known carcinogen? I had heard of asbestos before but I had not thought for a minute that the stuff might be in the insulation in our home. I wanted to learn more.

A quick Google search pulls up various articles detailing the use of asbestos roof insulation in residential and commercial buildings throughout Canada and confirms what Wayne told us. While the use of asbestos building materials including insulation has decreased significantly in the recent decades, homes built in Canada before the 1980's that have not undergone extensive renovations are likely to still have insulation containing asbestos. Asbestos poses a low health risk when left alone but if disturbed, asbestos material releases hazardous fibres into the air that when inhaled can lead to lung cancer and other diseases.

So while seeing sawdust in our attic and all over our yard was a shock and a mess to clean up, in the end we are very thankful that asbestos was nowhere in sight.

If you suspect there might be asbestos present in your home, try to avoid disturbing the asbestos material and visit It's Your Health - Vermiculite Insulation Containing Asbestos for more information on asbestos and minimizing your risk of asbestos exposure.

Keeping in Touch By Photograph


Living far away from my parents and my little sister is sometimes difficult and lonely. My parents live 2,000 kilometres away in Peterborough, Ontario and my sister, Heather lives in Saskatoon where she is a first-year law student. I've always considered myself to have good communication skills and as a communications student whose world revolves around writing, presentations, and group work, one would think I would be quite good at keeping in touch with people. In reality, I fail miserably when it comes to calling my family members regularly.

If you still live with your parents or live in the same city as them, you probably don't realize how much your relationship with them is shaped and dependent upon many small moments you share together. Take for example, a Saturday afternoon spent grocery shopping with your mom. In between deciding what ingredients you'll need to make dinner or what snacks to buy for the upcoming week's lunches, you might talk about your busy week at school or work, rehashing something funny or even trying that happened to you and she might do the same. Even if you don't talk about anything like that, by being in the same physical space at the same time, you are sharing an experience together that will help shape your relationship.

Since moving to Winnipeg there have been countless times I've been shopping, watching TV, or cooking dinner when something funny or memorable happened and I wished Heather and my parents were there to share the experience with me. So why don't I just text or call them and tell them what happened? I believe there is a reason the saying "you had to be there" exists. Because sometimes it's true. There are just some moments in life that can never be captured in an email, text, or told in quite the same way as how it actually happened, no matter how good of a storyteller you are. Also, most people including myself lead busy, fast paced lives. Juggling the demands of school, work, home, and friends does not leave much free time these days. It is often the case that I feel inspired to call or text my family but by the time I reach for my phone or computer, some other obligation is pulling me in another direction.   

While I admit I have not done the best job of keeping my family up to date on my life since starting school, I would like to take this opportunity to try and change that by trying something new. We have all heard that photographs are one of the best ways to capture a moment in time without words. I want to share with my family and my readers some photographs I've taken of some obviously beautiful spots in Winnipeg and some less obvious ones. It's perhaps one way I can communicate my love for this city and photography to all of you.

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