Ottawa ComicCon Begins Today!

Today is the first day of Ottawa ComicCon! If all goes well, my costume lineup should be as follows:


Left: graphics from Pokémon Go; center: Death as illustrated by Paul Kidby in The Art of Discworld; right: Jack Nicholson as the Joker (1989) via Warner Bros.

Friday: Pokémon Go player, with Thing 1 as Vaporeon and Thing 2 as Flareon
Saturday: Death from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
Sunday: Femme version of the Joker from the 1989 version of Batman

Hope to see you all there! Don’t hesitate to stop by and say hello if you see me.

Quick Dinners

With ComicCon prep taking over my life, I have been resorting to quick, improvised dinners to feed my family lately. Here are a few of them:

A quick trip to the grocery store yielded a refrigerated rotisserie chicken and cheese-and-spinach-stuffed pasta, both at 50% off. I reheated the chicken in the oven; boiled & drained the pasta and added some cream cheese, sour cream, and cooked spinach; and peeled & chopped a few carrots which I boiled in the microwave. Prep time for this meal was twenty minutes at most, leaving me more time to work on my costumes.


Leftover soup with bok choy and rice.

One of my favourite things to do lately is throw leftover vegetables and/or meat into some home-made broth (of which I have copious amounts in the freezer), add a bit of leftover rice or small pasta, and then boil it all together for a few minutes. With a bit of salt and pepper, this becomes a healthy soup that takes only about ten minutes to prepare.

At the kids’ request, I did make up rice bowls this week, but of a simplified kind. While the rice was cooking, I peeled and nuked the carrots, chopped and microwaved the bok choy, and cooked up some frozen corn. I also grilled the shrimp — I love shrimp when I am short of time because it takes so little time to cook — and scooped out some avocado. No special shopping or all of the burners used this time for a rice bowl meal! I just used whatever I had in the fridge, freezer or pantry. It took about 35 minutes to make this meal, including prep work. Not bad for something so fresh and tasty.

Fish Tacos

With all the prep work for ComicCon that I’m cramming into this week, I’ve had to cut down on the amount of time and effort I spend cooking. But I still want to eat well! So I thought I’d try something I’d never made before: fish tacos. They’re fast, easy, and healthy (so long as you don’t drown them in cheese and sauce).

I used the spice mixture from the Grilled Fish Tacos recipe from Eating Well, but I cooked the fish a frying pan instead of on the grill, since with all the rain lately my yard is a morass of mud. The kids snapped up the tortillas first, so I had my taco on whole-wheat pita instead. I topped mine with leftover avocado tartar sauce (which is perfect with this dish), romaine lettuce, tomato, shredded old cheddar cheese. This was such a simple, delicious, and healthy meal to make that I’ll definitely make it again.

Janeway / Sisko Baby Sweater Pattern

As this week is the lead-up to ComicCon, I thought it appropriate that I re-post my pattern from my old blog for a Star-Trek-inspired baby sweater. Back in June of 2013, friends of mine were expecting their first child at any time, so I wanted to knit them an appropriately-geeky baby gift. The couple was particularly fond of Star Trek, specifically The Next Generation (TNG) and Deep Space Nine (DS9). I knew what I wanted to knit, but I couldn’t find an appropriate pattern online, so I had to come up with one myself. We didn’t know if the baby would be a boy or a girl, so I thought that a sweater based on a uniform would be most appropriate. Most notably, I used photos of Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway and Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko as references.


Sweater modeled by Thing 2, who was 18 months old at the time, and who comfortably wore a size 2. The sweater is a bit too short in the arms and body, as well as being snug. I would say it’s actually about a 12-18 month size, but as you can see, it does have some stretch.

I used Fringe Association’s tutorial for how to improvise a top-down sweater — which is full of invaluable information — as a basis for my pattern. I really needed the help, especially since at the time I’d only ever knit two other baby sweaters, and that was years prior. I had some difficulties with getting the sizing right, to start. The first two tries were disasters, the first yielding a neck that wouldn’t fit a preemie, and the second one that was too big for my four-and-a-half-year-old. Try three gave me the size I wanted: 12-18 months, with a nice stretchy neck and short collar to accommodate a baby’s big head and short neck.

Without further ado, here’s the pattern for a 12-18 month size for the sweater:

Janeway / Sisko Baby Sweater
Size 12-18 months

Materials
– 25g (half a 50g/125m (1.76oz/137yds) ball) of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino in colour 340034 (cherry)
– 140g (just under three 50g/125m (1.76oz/137yds) balls) of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino in colour 340300 (black)
– one set of 3.25mm (US 3, UK 10) circular knitting needles in a length comfortable for the magic loop method (I recommend 75cm/31.5″ or longer)
– 10 stitch markers

Gauge
– 29 stitches and 44 rows = 10cm x 10cm (4″ x 4″) worked in stockinette stitch

Instructions

Neck:

– Using the cherry yarn and the stretchiest cast on you know, cast on 80 stitches. Tillybuddy’s Very Stretchy Cast-On for Double and Single Ribbing is the best cast-on I’ve found for this.

– Divide the stitches so that there are 40 stitches on each needle.

– Being careful not to twist, join for working in the round.

– Work in K2, P2 ribbing for 2.5cm (1″).

Yoke:

– On each needle, place stitch markers as follows, with “|” representing a stitch marker, and the numbers enumerating the stitches:

4 | 2 | 28 | 2 | 4

– Additionally, add a different coloured stitch marker at the end of each row.

– Round 1: Knit until last stitch before first marker, KFB, knit until first stitch after second marker, KFB, knit until last stitch before third marker, KFB, knit until first stitch after fourth marker, KFB, knit to end of needle. Repeat for second needle.

– Round 2: Knit. This pattern will increase the number of stitches on each needle by four every two rounds.

– Repeat Round 1 and Round 2 until the sweater measures 9cm (3.5″) from the very start of the neck. Switch the yarn to black yarn in the middle of the back of the next Round 2.

– Continue repeating Round 1 and Round 2 until the stitches on each needle are divided as:

21 | 2 | 62 | 2 | 21

Separate the Body and Sleeves:

– Knit until you reach the first marker, remove the marker, and then knit one more stitch. Place a marker. Remove the next marker.

– Knit until you reach the next marker, remove the marker, and then knit one more stitch.

– Place the next 44 stitches on waste yarn, removing the markers as you go. (These will be for one sleeve.)

– Cast on 4 stitches, place a marker, cast on another 4 stitches.

– Knit until you reach the next stitch marker. Remove the marker, the knit one more stitch.

– Place the next 44 stitches on waste yarn, removing the markers as you go. (These will be for the other sleeve.)

– Cast on 4 stitches, place a marker, cast on another 4 stitches.

– Your stitch count should be as follows: 44 stitches on each piece of waste yarn for the sleeves, and 72 stitches on each side of what will now be the body.

Body:

– Knit until the piece measures 27cm (10.5″) from the very top of the neck.

– Work in K2, P2 rib for an additional 2.5cm (1″).

– Cast off loosely, but not too loosely. I like Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off, but to keep the rib from flaring I only used it on the purl stitches, and I did a straight cast off on the knit stitches.

Sleeves:

– *Pick up the 44 stitches that were set aside for one sleeve on waste yarn, then divide them in half, putting half on each needle. Put a stitch marker between the halves.

– Pick up and knit 8 stitches in the armpit of the sleeve (where you cast on the extra 8 stitches for the body earlier).

– Place a marker halfway. This should yield you 52 stitches total (26 on each needle) on the sleeve.

– Knit the sleeve in the round until it reaches 14cm (5.5″) measured from the armpit.

– At the start and end of each needle, K2tog for one round. You should now have 48 stitches total (24 on each needle).

– Work in K2, P2 ribbing for 2.5cm (1″).

– Bind off in the same fashion as you bound off the body.**

– Repeat from * to ** for the second sleeve.

Finishing:

– Sew in ends.

– Give the whole sweater a hand wash and a good wet blocking.

Pumpkin-Seed & Chili-Crusted Fish Fillets with Avocado Tartar Sauce

For non-Ontarians, the idea of an LCBO may seem a little bit strange. The acronym stands for Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which is a provincially-owned retail store that sells beer, wine and spirits — and, importantly, it’s the only place where you can buy all three. The Beer Store carries beer (obviously), and a few places like the Wine Rack carry wine, and as of April 13th the Government of Ontario announced that beer will be allowed to be sold in some grocery stores… But you can’t get spirits anywhere else.

All that being said, the LCBO has gone to great lengths to follow a retail business model instead of a government one. The stores are well-kept, even fancy in some places. If a small location doesn’t carry the drink you’re looking for, you can order it online and have it shipped to your home for a fee or to your closest branch for free with a minimum purchase. Like many retail stores, they also have their own free in-house magazine: Food & Drink. These magazines (and now their website) have a great reputation for delicious recipes — and of course suggestions for the proper drinks to serve with said recipes. The magazines are stuffed with full-page glossy photographs of mouth-watering concoctions. Let’s be honest here, it’s food porn, plain and simple.


Pumpkin-seed & chili-crusted basa fillets, served with basmati rice and steamed spinach. Avocado tartar sauce not pictured.

I have been collecting Food & Drink magazines for years, but I never actually used any of their recipes. I’d ogle the photos for a bit, and then the magazine would go up on a shelf, never to be looked at again. Two years ago I just recycled the lot of them, tired of them taking up space on my bookshelf to no purpose. But the next time I went to the LCBO, I picked up the latest edition anyway.

So it’s with a great feeling of achievement that I can now say that I’ve actually made one of the Food & Drink recipes! I grabbed a copy of the magazine last week and actually cooked the food on the cover of the Early Summer 2017 edition within days. I used the Pumpkin-Seed & Chili-Crusted Fish Fillets with Avocado Tartar Sauce recipe. Of course, my version didn’t turn out nearly as pretty, but I just snapped a shot of it before we sat down to eat. But it was delicious! Pretty easy, too. I used the cheap basa fillets that I had in the freezer, which were much thinner than the recipe called for. I stacked one fillet on top of another and then crusted the stack, and that worked pretty well. I omitted the jalapeno peppers from the avocado tartar sauce because of my kids’ low tolerance for spicy foods; it was still delicious and everyone came back for seconds.

After this success, I’m thinking that I’ll browse Food & Drink next time I’m at a loss for dinner inspiration. Maybe eventually I’ll even do a second dish from there!

One Week Until ComicCon

Only one week until ComicCon, and I have been working my tail off to (hopefully) get things done in time. Sorry for the low quality cell phone pictures, but I haven’t had the time to take anything nicer.

I completed the blue bodysuit for Thing 1’s costume.

I hand-stitched Thing 2’s fun fur tail; this kind of fur tends to clog up the machine, so I worked the old-fashioned way. I also remembered why I hate working with fun fur. It sheds everywhere! You’d think I owned a golden retriever.

I made and painted a backpack, which was the last piece I needed for my day 1 costume. Hopefully it will be both practical and costume-friendly.

I built the framework for my Day 2 costume, found a foam head for it, paper-machéd the head, and painted it.

And I also wired up the skeleton head so that the eyes glow.

I really, really hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew, and that I’ll have all the costumes done in time!

A Healthier Burger Recipe

Last night I took advantage of the gap between spring rain storms to make up some burgers on the barbecue for the family dinner. My family absolutely adores burgers, so I’ve been looking for a way to make them healthier. Sure, tonnes of grease tastes good once in a while, but it’s not something that we should be eating regularly. Moderation in all things, including moderation. So I came up with a tasty recipe that combines lean ground beef (for flavour) with ground turkey or chicken (to reduce the fat). I also use oatmeal instead of the more traditional bread crumbs to bulk up the burgers and absorb moisture; oatmeal is full of healthy fiber and, as a bonus, has an incredibly long shelf-life. This means that these burgers are wheat and gluten free, so long as you pick the appropriate brand of sauce.

To add a bit of extra healthiness, I made the buns from scratch using the whole wheat variant of Nan’s Pan Rolls Recipe. To make hamburger buns, shape the buns individually and place them with lots of room between them on greased baking sheets between the first and second rise. The recipe makes about 24 hamburger buns.

Now, even a healthier burger isn’t a hundred percent healthy. If you really want a healthy burger dinner, you’ll have to serve it with a salad.


A healthier burger with ketchup, mayonnaise, shredded cheddar cheese, and romaine lettuce.

A Healthier Burger
Makes 10-12 small burgers

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together with your hands:
500g (1.1lb) lean ground beef
500g (1.1lb) ground turkey OR chicken
1 egg
3/4 cup plain uncooked oatmeal (not instant)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce OR barbecue sauce of choice
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Divide the mixture into 10-12 portions*. Roll each portion into a ball, then shape the portion into a patty shape with your hands.
Preheat your grill** to about 400°F (204°C). Cook until browned evenly on both sides (with a bit of char) and until center of burger is no longer pink. (Do not serve these burgers rare because they contain poultry.)
Serve on whole wheat hamburger buns with your choice of toppings such as ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise, pickles, cheese, or avocado.

*Larger burgers may be made, but cooking times should be adjusted.
**Burgers may be fried on a flat top or in a frying pan, but they taste best on a grill.