Showing posts with label recipes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label recipes. Show all posts

3.12.2017

i have found the way to make perfect hardboiled eggs (or, in which buzzfeed improves my life)

In Egypt, breakfast almost always includes a hardboiled egg. Even the breakfast cart parked near our bus to Petra had a bowl of hardboiled eggs. And the eggs are always perfect. The shell slides right off, leaving a smooth, perfect white, and a bright yellow yolk. How do they do it?

Way back, I posted my method for making hardboiled eggs, which at the time, I thought was perfect. Alas, it was not. With some batches, every egg peels perfectly. Others, about half do. And in some batches, I'm lucky if two or three eggs peel well, and the rest are a mess.

My beginner's Arabic is nowhere near good enough to discuss cooking methods, and none of our Breakfast Guys had sufficient English, so I didn't ask. I just peeled and ate each egg, marvelling at the consistent perfection. I was so excited about the eggs that I peeled one for Allan every morning, too.

On the internet, you'll find many different egg-boiling recipes, each claiming to be The Best. I decided that when we got home, I would collect all the methods and conduct an experiment, using all different methods, writing down which eggs were made with which methods, and so on.

When I started googling, I found that Buzzfeed had done the work for me! This post -- I Tested Out Popular Tricks To Make Hard-Boiled Eggs Easier To Peel -- is exactly as advertised. Buzzfeed staff writer Mathew Jedeikin collected all the advice from the internet, made a whole bunch of eggs for his husband's breakfast, and reported back on the results. In typical Buzzfeed fashion, there are lots of pictures of the results and honking big titles -- with baking soda, with vinegar, with and without ice bath, starting from boiling, starting from cold water, and so on.

So thanks to Buzzfeed, I can now post the way to make Perfect Hardboiled Eggs. I made a dozen at a time, as I always do.

1. Begin with a low boil, not a full-on rolling boil.
2. Add vinegar -- about 15 mls (1 tablespoon) per 4 cups of water.
3. Use a slotted spoon to gently lower eggs into the water.
4. Boil for 14 minutes.
5. Remove eggs to ice bath.
6. When eggs have cooled down, they are ready to peel and eat, or to peel and store in the fridge.

This method solves three previous issues.

One, I had been lowering eggs into rapidly boiling water, causing the eggs to explode. The gentle boil fixes that.

Two, the vinegar dissolves enough of the calcium to loosen the shell's grip on the egg.

And three -- shared with my old method -- the ice bath shrinks the inner membrane for even easier peeling.

The vinegar and the ice bath might be redundant, but I'm willing to use both methods to arrive at perfection.

(I notice that many commenters on the Buzzfeed story are horrified. "Who the hell boils eggs for 14 minutes?" "How do you stand the vinegar?" and blahblahblah. I don't know what they're complaining about, but if you dislike vinegar or you feel strongly that 14 minutes is too long to boil an egg, perhaps these comments will be helpful to you.)

8.04.2014

zucchini abundance recipe of the day: zucchini-corn-tomato bake

I found a bunch of recipes similar to this, and adapted them to my tastes. This one is easy (especially if you use a food processor to shred the zucchini and cheese), healthy, and tasty.

I feel like the ability to tweak and change recipes marks a turning point in my cooking evolution, in both confidence and knowledge. I like it!

Also, I don't have measurements for this one. It's down to what proportions you like and what ingredients you have on hand.

Zucchini-Corn-Tomato Bake

1 medium-to-large zucchini, grated or shredded
2 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely cubed
Kernels of corn, either fresh (one cob) or frozen (one box or half of one bag)
Fresh basil, shredded
Seasoned bread crumbs
Parmesan cheese, shredded (omit this for a dairy-free dish)
S&P to taste

In a baking dish, combine zucchini, tomatoes, corn kernels, basil, salt, and pepper. Stir until all are thoroughly mixed. Mix Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, then sprinkle the mixture on top.

Bake in 400F/200C oven for 45 minutes.

That is all.


7.28.2014

zucchini abundance recipe of the day: penne with zucchini and fresh herbs

This is probably the easiest way to use zucchini from your garden, and if you're growing herbs, it's an excuse to use those, too. It's also one of those dishes that takes just about anything you like in pasta. I'm keeping it very simple, so as not to drown out the zucchini.

I use brown rice pasta. I originally tried it when we thought one of us was celiac, then it became habit. It's delicious and very healthy, but it does need the extra step of rinsing the cooked pasta. If you don't do that, the pasta will all stick together in a one big gluey mess... something I discovered painfully on my own. 

Also, if you use brown rice pasta, it's easier to use a "cut" pasta, like penne, rotini, or ditalini. Long pasta like spaghetti or linguini is more difficult to rinse properly. 

Pasta with Zucchini and Fresh Herbs

1/2 package of penne pasta 
1 large zucchini
a variety of fresh herbs, washed and shredded (I used basil, thyme, and cilantro)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated or shaved (Use good cheese! It makes a difference.)
salt & fresh black pepper to taste
olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta to just under desired doneness. When it's still a bit harder than you want it, remove the pasta from the heat and pour into colander. If you're using rice pasta, rinse it well with cold water, stirring the pasta with a wooden spoon as you rinse. Drain well.

While the water is heating and the pasta is cooking, slice the zucchini lengthwise, then slice each half lengthwise again, so you have four spears. Then slice each spear, so you have triangles. 

Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Add garlic and let it cook a bit. Add zucchini and herbs. Cook for a minute or two.

Add pasta to skillet, add salt and pepper as desired, and continue cooking until the pasta and zucchini are both at desired doneness, tender but not mushy.

Spoon into pasta bowls and top with grated cheese.

One large zucchini nicely covered half a bag of pasta, for dinner for two people.

7.25.2014

zucchini abundance recipe of the day: zucchini fritters

Apparently if you grow zucchini, you have too much of it.

Being new gardeners, we didn't know how prolific our one zucchini plant would be, or the insane quantities - and size! - of the vegetables it would produce. And those leaves! They're gigantic and there's so many of them! It's been a source of wonder and amusement.

We've cut back the leaves several times, as they're crowding out the herbs and the eggplant. And of course cutting back just makes the plant produce even more. I remember that much from my indoor planting days.

There's no shortage of recipes online offering ideas and advice on how to use your surplus zucchini, including several suggestions of leaving some on a neighbour's porch. So although there's no need, I'm going to add mine to the pile. My recipes are all adapted from what I've found online, usually a combination of ideas I find in two or three places, tweaked to our own tastes and cooking style.

Zucchini Fritters

1 huge zucchini, grated or shredded in food processor
Some salt 
1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 or more cloves of garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten
A little ground black pepper (if you've used seasoned bread crumbs, try not adding more salt)
Olive oil

Place shredded zucchini in a colander in the sink and salt lightly. Zucchini has a lot of moisture and this helps get some of it out. (Some people leave salted zucchini for hours or even overnight to leech out the moisture. So far I've found this is both unnecessary and too salty.)

While the zucchini is sitting with the salt, combine all other ingredients except olive oil in a large bowl.

Rince the zucchini, drain it well, and pat it dry with a cheesecloth or paper towels. Add the zucchini to the bowl with the other ingredients and combine well.

Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet on a medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, scoop spoonfuls of the mixture into the skillet. Flatten each scoop with a spatula.

Cook 2-3 minutes until the underside looks golden brown, then flip them over and cook 2-3 minutes on the other side. We like these kinds of things very well done, so I continued cooking them until they had a crisp brown exterior.

Serve and eat them right away, while they're sizzling hot. Most people probably would serve these with sour cream or yogurt. I prefer mine with no sauce or condiments, as I do most food. Super yummy. 

One huge zucchini yielded about 15 small fritters.


2.03.2014

healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week: i finally make delicious lentil soup, thanks to you

Last summer, I asked for help in turning my drab lentil soup into something more yummy and enticing. Thanks to wmtc readers, I've done it. Yesterday for the first time, I made lentil soup that I will actually look forward to eating (as opposed to tolerating because I made it and don't want to throw it out).

Here's what I did.

I switched from chicken stock to beef stock.

I took out the celery and added mushrooms.

I added something acidic, in the form of the tiniest drop of Tabasco sauce. This made an appreciable difference, and now I understand why soup recipes often call for a splash of vinegar or the juice of a lemon. When readers suggested Tabasco, I was skeptical, because I don't want the soup to be spicy, but you were right: a tiny bit added flavour without heat.

I also balanced out the other seasonings, which I had overloaded in an unsuccessful attempt to give the soup more flavour.

At this point the soup was much improved, much tastier. If I wanted to keep the soup very low fat, I could have stopped there and it would have been all right.

But my friend and cooking guru M@ gave me several beef bones and smoked ham hocks. I threw a ham hock in the slow cooker and the effect was just about miraculous. I realize now that the bones impart more than flavour; the added fat gives the soup a wonderful texture and thickness.

There's not much extra fat, either. After the soup is refrigerated overnight, excess fat would have risen to the top for easy skimming and removal. This morning, there was no visible layer of fat on the soup.

I now understand why, when I tried to make my mother's mushroom and barley soup without marrow bones, the soup was thin and boring. When I made the same simple recipe with bones, it was the thick, rich, flavourful soup I remembered from my childhood.

This has been a fun learning experience for me. Thanks, everyone! And here's my non-vegetarian lentil soup.

1 litre low-sodium beef broth
1 cup lentils
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, cubed
8-10 cremini mushrooms, quartered
4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 bay leaves
thyme, allspice, salt, and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce
1 pork or beef bone

Throw everything in the slow-cooker for 8 hours on low. Remove bay leaves, bones, and any gelatinous pork skin. Enjoy!

7.29.2013

healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week: help me make delicious lentil soup

The healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week - now running about every-other week - has hit a snag: lentil soup. I love lentil soup, but my own is turning out just OK, not really delicious.

After the first try was too bland, Stephanie suggested using allspice and more bay leaves. Excellent idea! I upped the bay leaves from three to six, and added allspice. Result: big improvement, but still not great.

If you make delicious lentil soup, can you share your secrets? (And if the secret is homemade stock, then I'm out of luck.) More below.

* * * *

I'm still using the hell out of my slow-cooker. I usually cook with it twice a week - once for food for the weekend, and once for my meals at work, one batch for the week. I'm still collecting meal ideas, if you have any favourites to share.

I notice that recipes I find online tend to be exceedingly bland. With the exception of foods that are supposed to be hot-spicy (which I avoid), the recipes I see are shy of seasoning. Lentil soup, for example, may call for 1/2 a teaspoon of thyme, 1/2 a teaspoon of oregano, and 1 clove of garlic. A pot of soup with only those seasonings would be tasteless. Maybe this is a case for cookbooks, as opposed to cooking websites.

I also note that this is the kind of post that usually goes on Facebook these days, as opposed to blogs. As you may know, I think that is bad.

* * * *

So here's the lentil soup I made yesterday. What's yours?

1 cup dried lentils
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 lb - 1 lb smoked ham, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
6 bay leaves
2 teaspoons thyme
2 teaspoons oregano
1 tablespoon allspice
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 litre or more low-sodium chicken stock

Everything goes in slow-cooker, 8 hours on low.



7.14.2013

healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week: chicken in wine with sun-dried tomatoes

When it comes to soups and stews, there is a seemingly endless number of variables that can be changed to create new variations of any given dish. If you like chicken stew, for example, you could experiment with different combinations of vegetables, different seasonings, better (or quicker) stocks, fresh herbs - and then with various combinations of all of those. Since buying my slow-cooker some months ago, I've made lots of different chicken stews, all of them easy, tasty, and healthy. This one is my current favourite combo.

A note about these stews. To make a proper stew, most people use some sort of thickener. You can dredge the meat in flour, or add corn starch, flour, tapioca, bread crumbs, or even oatmeal to the liquid. I don't do this. For me, thick means gloppy; I don't like it. Plus, I prefer not to add gluten or additional calories to any dish.

If you prefer a thick stew, you'll want to thicken any of my recipes. Or you could try one of the three ways I serve these dishes: either as a main-dish broth soup, or by serving with a slotted spoon and/or tongs without the liquid, spooning on a bit of broth for moisture and flavour, or by serving with brown rice or pasta to absorb the liquid and flavour the starch.

Since this version has potatoes, and you probably wouldn't want both potatoes and rice, so either of the first two options would work.

4 chicken drumsticks and 4 chicken thighs, skin removed
3-4 carrots, sliced thickly
1 medium onion, cut in eight pieces (quartered then quartered again)
20 tiny red potatoes (if they are larger, cut them in half, ending up with about 20 pieces)
2 ribs celery, cut lengthwise, then sliced thickly
about 10 crimini mushrooms, halved or quartered
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes, not in oil
1 cup red wine
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
thyme OR cumin
salt & pepper

Season chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and either thyme or cumin but not both. Brown well in skillet. Add to slower cooker.

Add all other ingredients directly to slow-cooker. Stir to combine.

Cook on slow for four hours. Remove chicken and keep warm. Continue cooking broth and vegetables for another 2-4 hours, depending on how soft you want the vegetables, re-adding chicken to the pot for the last half-hour.



7.05.2013

healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week: sausage and three-bean stew

Whether this recipe qualifies as healthy depends on whether you think sausage can be part of a healthy diet. I buy sausage that is made from local, organically raised turkey and free of preservatives. The sausage is slightly higher in saturated fat than skinless chicken breast, but way lower in fat than pork sausage. Plus at about a half-sausage per serving, you're not eating a huge amount of meat.

The sausage adds terrific flavour to the stew, and the combination of beans and meat make it very thick and hearty. If you can, get loose sausage meat, not in casings. If you can't, slit open the top of the casing and squeeze the sausage out of the tube.

4 turkey sausages (or 1-1.5 lbs of loose sausage meat) with Italian seasoning, sweet or spicy according to your preference
1 19-ounce can of white beans
1 19-ounce can of chick peas
1 13-ounce can of black beans
3-4 tomatoes, diced, or use 1 19-ounce can of tomatoes
2 medium or 1 large carrot, chopped
1 large onion, run through food processor
1 tablespoon dried oregano (or a bunch snipped from your garden if it's the season)
1 tablespoon dried basil (same as above)
fresh ground pepper

If you have actual sausages, squeeze the meat from the casings into a warm, nonstick skillet; if you have loose sausage meat, just put it in the skillet. Break the meat into small pieces and brown it. (Don't skip this step.) Add it to slower cooker.

Soften the onion and carrot in the same skillet, add to cooker.

Rinse and drain beans, and add to skillet. Add remaining ingredients, stir well to combine.

I didn't add any additional salt, because the sausage seasonings already contain salt. If you are used to saltier food, this may not be enough for you, so you could add a bit more.

Cook for 8 hours on low.

6.21.2013

healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week: beef, barley, and mushroom stew

This week's healthy slow-cooker recipe features barley, a yummy and healthy grain. I especially love the chewy texture.

Barley is one of the four oldest grains to be cultivated by humans.* Unfortunately, whole-grain barley is difficult to find. The more common pearl barley is not a whole grain. I haven't found a convenient place to buy whole-grain barley, so I reluctantly use the pearl version. It's just as tasty and contains fibre, but lacks the full-impact health benefits of whole grains.

I don't know if it's cultural predisposition, being raised on mushroom-barley soup as I was, but to me barley's natural partner is mushrooms. I prefer the cremini variety, but you could use any kind you like.

This recipe was adapted from my friend and cooking guru Matthew Bin. I got the barley idea from Matt, but I suspect this version would be too mushroomy for him.

2 lbs. beef cubes, preferably locally sourced and traditionally raised
1 large onion, chopped or run through food processor
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or food processor
1 large carrot, sliced
1 large rib of celery, chopped
16-20 cremini mushrooms, sliced or quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
1 cup barley
3 cups low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup of red wine
thyme
salt & pepper

Brown the beef on all sides, put in cooker, cover.

Soften the vegetables in olive oil, one type of vegetable at a time, or skip this step. Add vegetables to cooker.

Add broth and wine, season with thyme and S&P according to your preference.

Cook for about 4 hours on low.

Add barley, stir, cook for another 4 hours on low. If it's too thick, add more broth.



* The other three are wheat, rice, and millet. Corn and quinoa came much later in Mesoamerica and the Andes, respectively.

6.14.2013

healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week: vegetarian chili

This has turned out to be one of our favourite slow-cooker meals. It's delicious, incredibly easy to make, super healthy, and inexpensive. Adapted from nowhere: it's my own.

Canned beans, properly rinsed and drained, have the same nutritional value as dried beans. They're much easier to use and work well with the slow cooker. Combined with brown rice, they make a perfect protein, and give you lots of fibre. And lots of yumminess.

1 19-ounce can of each:
- corn niblets
- black beans
- white beans
- chick peas
- diced tomatoes
1 large onion, diced or run through food processor
1 red bell pepper, core and seeds removed, diced or cubed
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced or run through food processor
bit of olive oil
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
anywhere from 1/2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon dried chipotle, according to your preferred level of spice
anywhere from a dash to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2-3 dashes of salt
a few turns of freshly ground black pepper

Soften onion, bell pepper, carrot, and garlic in olive oil. Put in cooker.

Time-saving tip. While cleaning and slicing carrot, heat up the oil. Put carrot in oil to soften, and core and dice the bell pepper. Carrot goes in cooker, cover cooker, pepper goes in skillet. While pepper is softening, run onion through food processor. Pepper goes in cooker, cover cooker, onion goes in skillet. And so on; the order of vegetables doesn't matter.

Put colander in sink, and rinse and drain: black beans, chick peas, white beans, corn. Rinse and drain each can separately, put in cooker, repeat for the next can.

Empty canned tomatoes directly into cooker.

Add seasonings to taste and stir well. Cook for 6 to 8 hours on low, depending on how soft you like the beans and vegetables. If you're around, stir occasionally. If not, it might stick a little, but that's not a big deal.

For the healthiest meal, serve with brown rice and plain, low-fat, Greek-style yogurt.

For a more fun but less healthy take, serve with tortilla chips, grated cheddar, and full-fat yogurt, or mix a little sour cream in with the yogurt.

6.07.2013

healthy slow cooker recipe of the week: thai peanut chicken

In defiance of current internet rules, I am posting this on my own blog instead of on Pinterest - but please feel free to share this on Pinterest if you like.

I'm going to post one slow-cooker recipe each week until I run out of ideas. Each recipe will use whole foods, be high in fibre and low in salt, and contain no processed foods of any kind. They'll also be easy to prepare.

Thai Peanut Chicken, adapted from The 150 Healthiest Slow Cooker Recipes on Earth, by Jonny Bowden and Jeannette Bessinger.

chicken drumsticks and thighs, on the bone but without skin
1 sweet onion, run through food processor
1 cup peanut-only peanut butter (i.e. no added salt, sugar, trans fats, or chemicals)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup low-sodium tamari sauce
juice of 1 large or 3 small limes
4 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
1 inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper (optional, I don't use this)

Brown chicken pieces, or omit this step. Put chicken in slow cooker.

Soften onions, put in slow cooker. If you browned the chicken, you can throw the onion in the same skillet so it cooks in the chicken residue.

In food processor or blender, or with hand mixer, combine all remaining ingredients until well blended.

Pour sauce into slow cooker and move chicken pieces around so that all are coated thoroughly.

Cook 4 hours on low.

Remove chicken and keep warm. Continue cooking sauce for 4 more hours on low. Return chicken to sauce for last half hour.

You could serve this with rice noodles or rice. I make a pot of brown rice, which is healthier and re-heats beautifully.

12.14.2012

post your slow-cooker recipes and tips here

I just bought a slow-cooker, the first one I've owned. Do you use one? If so, what are your favourite things to make with it? Any tips or suggestions? I know there a zillion slow-cooker recipes online, but I'd like to hear what friends and readers like. Thanks!

12.29.2011

five items in search of a post (a list of sorts)


This has been a strange winter break. I've been working at the library, collaborating with Allan on some paid writing work, taking care of the massive number of appointments and personal chores that pile up while I'm in school, seeing a few friends... but also making sure I spend a fair amount of time on the couch either reading or watching DVDs.

The one thing I haven't been able to do is any serious writing for wmtc. My brain and my time management somehow doesn't get past scraps of notes and drafts. We leave for Quebec on Sunday, so chances are dwindling. On the other hand, my courses this term may not be too taxing. (I'm being polite. I think they're pure manure.) So I might actually write these posts in January.

Here are a few items that don't warrant posts of their own, but might be useful for someone Googling or stimulate conversation or provide a moment of entertainment.

1. How to make hard boiled eggs that peel perfectly.

Here's a great way to make hard boiled eggs that don't crack and always peel quickly and easily.

I really dislike struggling with a hard boiled egg, removing the shell in tiny little shards, or removing half the white along with the shell. This way, the shells zip right off in a few large pieces and leave the whites smooth and intact.

I've tried all different methods and this works every time. What you'll need:
- Eggs - I make a full dozen at one time, but you can make any amount this way.
- Pot large enough to hold the eggs and a lot of water
- Another bowl, like a mixing bowl or sturdy serving bowl
- Ice cubes
- Slotted spoon

- It doesn't matter if you use fresh eggs or eggs that are a few days old. The internet says fresher eggs don't hard-boil as well. I have not found this to be the case.

- Place the eggs gently in a pot, and fill the pot with warm or hot water from the tap.

- Place the pot on the stove, and put on the lowest possible heart for 5-7 minutes. Leave the pot uncovered throughout.

- Increase the heat a tiny bit (on an electric stove, to 2 or 3). 5-7 minutes.

- Increase the heat a bit more (to 5). Another 5-7 minutes.

- Increase the temperature to 7 or 8. Now the water should come to a rolling boil, but the eggs won't crack. I like my hard boiled eggs thoroughly hard inside, so I let them boil away for a good 10 minutes. If you prefer them slightly softer, adjust accordingly.

Now comes the cool part that makes the eggs peel easily every single time.

- When the eggs are almost done, place a large empty mixing bowl in the sink. Have ice cubes ready.

- When the eggs are done (after the water has been at a full boil for at least 10 minutes), turn the heat off and place the pot on a cool burner. Use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs from the pot and place them in the mixing bowl.

- Turn on the cold water, and when the bowl is partly filled, add the ice cubes.

The cold water will shrink the membrane that binds the shell to the egg. But other methods, such as running cold water from the tap over the eggs, don't work as well, because all sides of all the eggs don't get cold enough.

Hard boiled eggs will stay fresh in the fridge for more than a week. When you're ready to use them, firmly tap the large end once on a plate (or a paper towel on the kitchen counter), then lift off the peel, working your way around the egg.

2. Dietary cholesterol has no effect on blood cholesterol.

Speaking of eggs, did you know that dietary cholesterol has absolutely no effect on blood cholesterol? The long-accepted wisdom that egg whites are good but egg yolks are bad has been disproven. Egg yolks do not raise your total blood cholesterol, and in fact they raise your high-density lipoproteins (HDL), also known as "good cholesterol".

In fact, knowing the cholesterol content of any food is useless. If you're concerned about blood cholesterol levels for cardiovascular health, reduce your intake of saturated fat. As my doctor put it, eggs are fine - unless you fry them in butter, then eat them accompanied by bacon and buttered toast. But the egg itself, either hard boiled or poached, or scrambled in a nonstick pan with vegetables, is super good for you.

3. If we have an appointment, please don't call me to confirm. And if you do, please don't ask me to call you back.

When did the confirmation phone call begin? It seems to me that we used to make appointments and be expected to show up. Now every office - the doctor, the vet, the podiatrist, the hair salon, and so on - has people leaving messages confirming your appointment. I dislike this. I don't need calls telling me where to be and when. That's why I keep a calendar (or diary or appointment book, if you prefer).

I don't like receiving confirmation calls, but I can ignore them. What I really dislike is confirmation calls that ask me to call back. The hair salon I use leaves a message asking me to call and confirm my appointment. They're very difficult to reach on the phone; the front desk staff is harried and you're always put on hold. So for every appointment, they're essentially asking you to call twice - once to book the appointment, and a second time to confirm it, unless you happen to be answer their confirmation call, which I never do.

To avoid having to make this second phone call, I've taken to asking them to confirm my appointment when I book it. After I've made the appointment, I ask, "Could you do me a favour and mark this confirmed? I'll definitely be there, and if I can't make it, I always call to reschedule." It works. But I'd really rather not bother.

4. AlternativeTo

Do you know AlternativeTo.net? If you're looking for a type of software and want to see what's out there, or if you're using something you're not overly thrilled with and looking for an alternative, you can search here.

For example, Allan and I are wondering about an alternative to RefWorks, the research-management software I use through the University of Toronto. Once I get my degree, I won't have free access to it anymore, and it's probably not worth $100 per year for the license. Here's what AlternativeTo tells me. (Googling "alternative to refworks" also brings up this page.)

5. And you thought it was three kings and a donkey.

The last item in this list is another list. Thanks to my friend S, partner of M@, I bring you 25 awesomely inexplicable nativity scenes. Now this is the spirit of Christmas!