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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Eating Healthy, Delicious and Nutritious Meals on the Cheap

I wanted to take some time today to address the topic of eating healthy and delicious meals at home on the cheap. It is a very relevant topic for those of us opting for self-employment, as find our incomes constricted, at least initially, while we start our businesses. Consequently we find ourselves cutting back on expenses such as eating out.

There is no reason why our palettes, or our health must suffer. In fact, I would venture to suggest that working from home gives us the opportunity to eat better than we ever have for much less than you thought possible. If you want to know how, read on.

What Kills Our Grocery Budget

There are certain foods that are always expensive and push our grocery bills up to high levels. By high, I mean over $150-$200 per week for 2 adults. The following foods should, and can generally be avoided for general consumption:

1. Beef steaks and cuts other than chuck, blade or stewing beef. These are very expensive and while they are a great treat, there are so many more delicious recipes you can make with cheaper cuts of beef that taste just as good.

2. Pork medallions and loin chops. Again this are much more expensive than shoulder butt, which although fatty can have the excess fat trimmed off.

3. Boneless meats. They are usually twice as expensive per pound and it isn't because bone-in meat weighs twice as much, because it doesn't. It is because you are paying the butcher's labour cost. As I have shown in my earlier posts, you can use the bones to make stock, which will prove to be one of your wonder ingredients.

4. Most condiments and sauces. These are very expensive and are full of preservatives and additives that are not good for us to be consuming on a daily basis. Exceptions to this are things like soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegars and cooking wines that cannot be made at home. Most of these things though are not that expensive. The things to avoid are the marinades, stir-fry sauces and salad dressings. All of these things can be made quickly and cheaply using fresh ingredients like garlic, fresh herbs, soy sauce and lemon juice.

5. Almost all packaged, processed foods from the centre aisles of the supermarket. Again there are many exceptions as the centre aisles contain your staples such as pasta,  rice, sugar, spices, flour and these are all important. But these are all basic ingredients that cannot easily be made at home. Similarly items like tomato paste, stock and canned tomato sauce are all useful to have on hand and not too expensive. It is generally items that you can easily make at home that you want to avoid like cookies, pre-packaged dinners, frozen dinners, canned curries, frozen dinners and the like.

6. Fresh herbs. You are best off growing these in little pots at home. If you buy them at the supermarket, you pay through the nose: $2-$3 just to get the teaspoon you need. The rest winds up rotting in your vegetable crisper.

The Wonder Ingredients

There are some foods that will always be cheap to purchase, that will always enhance the taste and nutritional value of the recipes you use them in:

1. Vegetable, Beef and Chicken Stock: Any time you are boiling vegetables that you later flavour with salt and butter, consider substituting the water with stock instead. Instead of using butter and cream in mashed potatoes, consider using stock instead. When making rice consider using stock in place of water.

2. Fresh Herbs Grown at Home: a herb plant will cost you $2-3 but will yield you fresh basil, oregano, rosemary, dill, tarragon, savory, marjoram and the like for the entire year. Investing $25-$30 in a herb garden will prove to be one of the best investments you can make toward making delicious food. You will find that with proper use of herbs and other flavour enhancers like lemon juice, cooking wine, Worcherstershire sauce, and vinegars you can greatly reduce the salt content of your food.

3. Onions, Green Onions and Garlic. Show me a single recipe of food that contains sauteed onions or garlic that does not taste better because of them. They are also dirt cheap.

4. Carrots. Good for adding sweetness and depth of flavour to slow cooked stews.

5. Lemons and Limes. The juice is an excellent source of vitamin C and flavour enhancer. The grated rind is an excellent source of lemon or lime flavour.

6. Fresh tomatoes. Again, show me a recipe that does not contain properly cooked tomato sauce that does not taste delicious. Once you reduce the acidity of tomatoes through the cooking process, tomatoes add sweetness and richness to most foods, especially when combined with herbs like savoury, marjoram and basil.

7. Butter. Need I say more? Everything tastes better with a little of it. I believe that it is actually a lot better for you than margarine. Many margarine products actually contain hydrogenated oils that are actually very bad for you. They are not natural so it is really any surprise?

Menu Planning

In order to cut down on grocery waste and take the guesswork out of meal preparation. I find it is a good idea to invest in a good slow cooker, and a few good cookbooks. I find the Joy of Cooking to be an excellent resource. Otherwise look for ones that contain recipes that are mostly simple ingredients, and recipes that entail more than one or two stages to the cooking process. The more stages there are to the cooking process, the better the food will taste, as a general rule. An example is my post on the roasted chicken stock where the extra step of browning the meat and vegetables is suggested, rather than just chucking the ingredients into a pot of water and hoping it will taste good.

Initially, it will seem cumbersome, but once you get the hang of planning menus and once you have made a repertoire of recipes several times, you will begin to develop a sense of how to combine ingredients together in a way that will be delicious on you own. It will start with making substitutions in the recipes themselves and seeing them turn out and will eventually get to the point where you can make a meal on the fly without a cookbook.

I started off by taking a Sunday afternoon to plan 4 weeks of dinners using my cookbook. As I made each meal Steph and I discussed whether we liked it and if it was a "make again". Then when it came time to plan the menu for week 5, I could introduce one new recipe and recycle four of our favourites from the last 4 weeks. This could be repeated for the next four weeks and continued indefinitely. I would use the notepad app on my phone for the menus and would have my shopping list at the bottom of the notepad, so that if I wanted to repeat the menu from several weeks past, I have my shopping list already. All I have to do is check the kitchen for stuff on the list I already have and then I just pick up the missing items.

I have found that this works wonders. Most of the meals have been delicious. They have been healthy and our consumption of processed foods have dropped drastically. Most importantly I have found that we have kept our food spending to an average of $130 CDN for a week and have not had to throw out much food at all.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Most Tasty Bolognese Sauce and I Make a Cool Discovery This Week - a Manitoulin Island Cover!

So I made the bolognese sauce that I referred to in this morning's post tonight and served it with gnocci. All I can say is OMG!! Unbelievable! The most tasty pasta sauce that I think I have ever tasted.

I varied the recipe from the one in the book by substituting sherry cooking wine for the red wine and ground beef in place of ground veal.  The chicken livers add a depth of flavour without any liver taste. You will need:

1 large celery stalk
1 large carrot
1 medium onion
1/4 cup of chopped fresh sage
1/2 cup of chopped fresh basil
1.5 cups of chicken stock, preferably the roasted chicken stock that I mentioned in this morning's post.
1.5 cups of dry red wine or cooking wine.
1 large can of chopped fresh tomatoes
1/3 lb fresh chicken livers
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 pound ground pork

Start by using the food processor to chop all the vegetables fine. Heat about 2 tbsp. of the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat and fry the chopped vegetables for 10 minutes or so.

Then use the food processor to chop both the sage and the chicken livers together and then add them to the vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes until no red or pink colour remains. Add one or two pinches of salt and pepper while you are cooking.

Then add the ground meat in the 1/2lb batches. Brown each batch thoroughly and add a pinch each of salt and pepper before you add the next one. When all the meat is added, cook, stirring constantly until there is no red or pink colour.

Then add the wine. Turn up the heat to high and boil until the wine is almost gone. Make sure that any clumps of meat have been broken up. Now add the tomatoes, the broth and the basil. Stir and bring to a gentle boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for at least an hour, and as long as 3 hours until the sauce is thick and rich.

Serve with your favouite pasta and enjoy!

As I had said last week, I am working on the 1875-1888 Registered Letter Stamps. Among the items I am listing, are some covers franked with the 2c orange registered stamp. I bought three of these covers from a British seller on e-bay some 3 months ago. They didn't seem particularly special when I bought them. One of them was this cover:

I looked up the town names shown in the three cancellation handstamps. The handstamp on the front of the envelope is where the cover was mailed. The backstamps show the route that the cover took before it reached its final destination which is shown in the handwriting on the cover:

1. The cover was mailed from Kagawong, ONT on March 5, 1877;
2. It reached the post office at Little Current on March 9, 1877
3. It reached its final destination of Manitowaning, on March 19, 1877.

Now this would not normally be that special as it was common for mail at this time to pass through a transit point before reaching the recipient. No, what makes this cover special is where those three towns are located. They are all communities in Manitoulin Island. Manitoulin Island is an island in Lake Huron. It is the circled island in the map below:

Image result for manitoulin island

The island is about 1,000 square miles and had a population of around 12,000 in 2012. As the Wikipedia article states, it was not opened up for non-native settlement until 1862.

That means that this cover was mailed in Manitoulin Island to a recipient in Manitoulin Island, a mere 15 years after the island was opened up for settlement. The fact that it took 2 weeks to reach its recipient, some 93 km away attests to how sparsely populated the island was at this time, and how little infrastructure there was for mail carriage.  Consequently this is a very scarce, if not rare item of early Ontario postal history.

Thank God for the internet and Wikipedia. It makes unraveling these mysteries a piece of cake.

The Most Amazing Chicken Stock Recipe Ever, Poker Night Was Fun But Money Was Lost and Victor is the Most Adorable Cat on the Planet

One of my gifts for my birthday last month was a cookbook by Food and Wine, which is called "The Best of the Best". It is a collection of the most popular recipes from their magazine, and two of the recipes in the Italian section caught my eye: one is a Bolognese sauce that is made with a variety of ground meats including chicken livers and the other was Roasted Chicken Stock. I'm making the Bolognese tonight, so I can't comment on it yet, but I can say that the recipe for chicken stock was the most favourful I have ever tasted and uses a very small amount of salt. As usual I varied the recipe, and I used the leftover meat from the bones and the vegetables to make a most flavourful chicken salad, that in my opinion can stand on its own without mayonnaise. So if you are looking for a lower fat alternative, this may well be the recipe for you.

I didn't think to take pictures when I started this recipe so I don't have any until the point where the stock is finished. I decided to try the recipe because I wound up with the bones for about a dozen chicken legs after I made some Thai Barbecue Chicken for my poker game on Saturday. I had cut most of the meat off the legs for the skewers, but left quite a bit of meat on as well: generally anything too small to thread onto a skewer stayed on the bones.

Most of the time when you make stock, you fill a large pot with water, add your bones, celery, onion, salt, maybe some carrot (but not usually) bring to the boil and simmer until it is reduced to half or less of what you started with. You drain the stock to separate out the vegetables and bones and then you throw the bones and vegetables away. The result is usually not flavourful enough to eat on its own, but is a welcome addition to use in place of pure water, when boiling, making rice, or makin g sauces. However, in this recipe, we fully cook the ingredients by browning for almost half an hour and then we add the herbs and liquids. By the time you add the herbs and taste, you will not believe how flavourful it is.

You will need:

the bones of 8-12 chicken legs (both drumstick and thigh)
3 celery stalks finely chopped
1 medium onion finally chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
1 clove of garlic finally chopped
1 sprig of fresh parseley
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 teaspoon coriander seed (ground)
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups of cooking wine - I like to use sherry cooking wine.

Start by chopping all the vegetables in the food processor together. Then heat the oil in a deep stock pot - at least 5-6 quarts, preferably larger if you have it, as the bones will take up a lot of space. Heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, brown the bones for 15 minutes turning several times to mix. Then add the diced vegetables and brown for another 10 minutes. After you have done this, add the cooking wine and boil until the wine is reduced by half. There will be other liquid before you add the wine, so you want to reduce the overall liquid by about one-quarter. Then add 2 litres of water, and the salt, bay leaves and coriander.

Simmer this for 1 hour over low heat. When done, add the fresh parsley and thyme. Your stock will look like this:


The next step is to separate the bones and ground vegetables from the actual stock so that it can be used in your recipes. I used one of those long, flat round slotted spoons with the small holes to scoop out the bones and vegetables, as I don't have a cheesecloth. But if you want to remove all the fine particulate matter than you would probably want to strain it through a cheesecloth. After doing this you should wind up with this:

You get about a litre of usable stock from this recipe. Now this is where I really depart from common practice. That bowl of bones and meat above, will form the basis for a really tasty chicken salad that can provide sandwiches for a week. I take a pair of tongs and hold the bones while I flake the meat off with a fork. One of the plus sides to making the stock this way is that the simmering time is much lower than it usually is. This means that the bones will still be strong enough not to splinter when you do this, so you can keep the small bones out of the mix. After this is done you will have a container of chicken meat and vegetables that looks like this:

I then put the whole lot into the food processor:

Then I add a whole bunch of green onions:

Then I blend the whole mixture on pulse until it looks like this:

 It looks just like chicken salad would if you used a ton of mayonnaise, but there is NO mayonnaise in this. The vegetables and the chicken fat from the stock are sufficient to make it creamy and smooth. Try it. You will never go back to buying chicken in a can.

The beauty of this whole recipe is that it is borne out of an attempt to save money on food for a party. Chicken legs are still very cheap. Wings are not and breasts are not, but a pack of three chicken legs can still be bought for under $5. All the chicken for my poker party (20 large skewers) cost $15 - less than a pizza. Out of the waste, I got stock to use for the week, which will make the rest of this weeks's food delicious, and sandwiches for lunch all at no extra cost, except a bit more time in the kitchen. Mind you, it isn't much extra time, as I'm already there making food for the party anyway.

The poker night was a lot of fun. All five of my old friends showed up and we played poker until the wee hours of the morning. The chicken was a hit as well. I wound up losing all $40 that I had set aside for the night - just got horrible cards. Oh well, can't win e'm all. But the most important thing was it allowed me to reconnect with friends and get some much needed relaxation and perspective.

Victor is the most adorable kitten on the planet! Yes I know - I'm just like all cat owners. But honestly, how can you not love an animal that does this:

He climbed up onto Steph's shoulder and curled up and went to sleep on her neck while she was sitting at the dining table. Later Steph got up carefully and came over to the living room, without disturbing Victor. He was still in the same position sound asleep. As I write this, he is curled up on my lap. At night he comes into our bed and curls up next to one of us and purrs until he falls asleep. When he is hungry he is voracious - I can't even get the can open before he jumps up on the counter and tries to get at the food, meowing outrageously before I can get it out of the can.

I think he will help keep me grounded, as he seems so happy with thee simplest of things: food, safety and a lots of love.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Getting Started on Canada Back of the Book and Provinces, But Feeling Very Tired

I had said the other day that the late nights are taking a toll. I believe this to be so, but I also think that being alone day after day is giving me a bit of cabin fever. I like working alone, but I'm not working in a relaxed manner anymore. I can't stop thinking about how much more material there is that needs to be listed and how much more needs to be done. I think it may be warping my perception. I've managed to list over 800 items these past two months and keep two blogs up to date while reviving my third blog. I have to remember that this is not a bad amount of accomplishment for three months. But it is hard - I don't have any feedback from other dealers. Steph tells me that I'm doing very well, and perhaps I should internalize what she says more. I'm just having one of those doubt filled days where I wonder if I did the right thing.

Today, I start on what we collectors call back-of-the book material. This simply means stamps that are not regular postage stamps, but those used to pay for other charges, such as airmail (back when airmail was a luxury), special delivery, postage due (when the letter sent did not have enough postage), officially sealed (undelivered letters were opened and sent to the Dead Letter Office and these stamps were used to reseal the envelopes) and registration. During Queen Victoria's reign, the only material that falls into the back-of-the book category was the 1898 Special Delivery Stamp, the 1875-1893 Registration stamps and the Officially Sealed stamps. Examples of each are shown below:

This is a beautiful pristine mint block of the 1898 Special Delivery issue which was actually printed towards the end of its life sometime between 1920 and 1922. This issue was in use for 24 years before being replaced by the 20c carmine special delivery stamp in 1922. The stamp was a deep blue green when it was first issued in 1898. Then it gradually became green and then progressed to yellow green and finally deep yellow green as in the block above. 

This is the 2c registered stamp that was first issued in 1875. There were three stamps in this set, including a 5c deep green and an 8c blue. The 8c had a very short life from 1876-1877 as the registration fee on letters to the UK was dropped to 5 cents. The 2c stamp shown above paid the fee for local letters. It comes in a wide variety of colours from bright orange to very dark red. 

This was the 1902 Officially Sealed stamp, which replaced the 1879 design. This stamp is printed on bluish paper, and was re-issued on white paper in 1907. This is the rarer of the two. Usually used stamps of this issue are badly creased as this one is, because they were used to reseal envelopes and packages. This is the only example I have ever seen or handled in my 37 years as a philatelist. 

Sales activity has been very quiet this week. I have one sale to post today and then I can devote the entire day to lotting. Then I'm going to meet Steph at my favourite restaurant, House on Parliament and then we will spend the evening relaxing. Tomorrow, I'm having my friends over for a night of poker, which I'm really looking forward to, though I really must develop a different tell, because I think they are on to me, and I really can't afford to lose more than $40. 

Have a safe, and relaxing weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Long Day Ahead and the Movie "The Visit"

It is my day to work late. I just finished my post for my Canadian Stamp Blog dealing with the 1899 surcharge issue that I will be listing today:

These stamps were issued between July 31, 1899 and August 10, 1899 in response to a shortage of 2c stamps that was not alleviated until new supplies of the 2c carmine Numeral stamp were ready on August 22, 1899. You can read the full article here:

Today's goal is to get all 35 of the remaining unlisted stamps listed today, and to press on as far as I can with the 1898 Special Delivery and 1875-1888 Registered stamps. This will take me to the end of the regularly issued Canadian stamps of Queen Victoria. Then I have another 5 working days to list the material issued by New Brunswick, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland during Queen Victoria's reign as well as revenues. It's going to be tough -there is still at least 200 items to go. 

After that, it is time to move on to Nigeria and deal with Queen Victorian material from this area. Nigeria was not yet a country at this time, but consisted of five areas:

1. Lagos (from 1874-1901)
2. Niger Coast Protectorate (from 1892-1901)
3. Niger Company Territories (became Northern and Southern Nigeria from 1898-1900)
4. Northern Nigeria (1900-1901)
5. Southern Nigeria (1900-1901)

I have a lot more material from these areas than I do for Canada, so I expect listing this material to take several months, so I may intersperse issues from Nigeria with Canada, as I do not want to lose momentum with Canada. At the same time, I have a feeling that Nigeria will sell very well once I get it listed. 

Last night, I surprised Steph by picking her up from work and we went for a nice dinner at a restaurant we had tried a couple of weeks prior and then I took her to the newest  M. Night Shyamalan move "The Visit". I must say that this was a welcome surprise, given that most of his movies in the last decade have left much to be desired. I don't want to spoil it for any of you, so I will just say that if you like suspense horror that slowly builds to a climax, with a bit of humor, then you will find this movie to be well worth the price of admission. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Map Stamps are Now Listed, My Son Turns 21 and I'm Almost Completely Beat!

On the 20th of this month, 3 days ago, my son turned 21. Gosh I miss him. He lives on the other side of the country on Saltspring Island. He's a typical 21 year old trying to figure out a life for himself that doesn't include too much of his parents in it. I respect that. I got him a phone plan a couple of months ago so that we wouldn't be completely dependent on Facebook. We have an arrangement where I text him before I call to ask him if he can talk. This way he doesn't feel put on the spot, or feel that he has to talk to me. We have had some really good conversations lately. But I still miss him - I want to have him around to do things with and discuss his life over a pint or two. Still, I know that Saltspring suits him very much and I don't think that he will come back.

These late nights spent listing material are definitely taking their toll. On the one hand is is nice to see my e-bay store grow as it has, but it is also very tiring work, especially when I see how much more material there is that needs to be listed still. I am lucky to be getting through 50 stamps a day, which is not very much when I consider that I have over 100,000 stamps. I'm hoping very much that things will speed up as I get into the modern material.

Yesterday, I completed my postings for the 1898 Imperial Penny Postage Issue. It was very labour intensive because I had to scan the stamps several times to capture all of the varieties that exist on these, and then write the very long descriptions for them. I'm hoping that the collectors who look at them will find them useful and appreciate the amount of work that went into them.

So I approach today with optimism and tiredness. I don't have any sales orders to send out and I don't have very many purchases to put away. So I think today, I'm just going to take it easy and work as much as I can on the 1899 surcharges. I want to surprise Steph today with something romantic, as she has been having a really hard time lately and its been a while since I have done anything for her.

I don't really have any more new recipes to share, as I'm just recycling old ones this week. I think on my Canadian Stamp Collecting blog, I will write about my grading system, as I can just re-produce material that is on my e-bay store pages and add a paragraph or two to explain what it is and why I came up with it.

Happy middle of the week everyone!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sales Reach the $4,000 Mark and a Suggestion for Brunch

I am now at the end of my second month, since I started listing material. My sales are around $4,000 now, which averages out at $2,000 a month. It is not enough to sustain the business, or to live on, but after 2 months, I'm about 1/4 of the way to where I need to be to draw a modest salary have another 16 months to get there. So, I'm optimistic that I am actually going to be able to pull this off.

This is a short post today, because yesterday I spent the whole day after I got home, writing a long post on my Canadian  Philately blog about the 1898 Map Stamp:

Today, I'm focusing on getting the map stamps listed.

I do have a quick brunch idea for eggs Benedict. Mine uses packaged Hollandaise sauce, as I find it to be just as good as fresh and making it from scratch requires a double boiler and a lot of patience for it to turn out. You will need (to serve 2):

2 fresh croissants
4 eggs (assuming that each person is having two eggs)
1 tablespoon of capers
4 slices of prosciutto ham
8 slices of tomato or for added punch, green tomato or yellow tomato

Put a large pot of water to boil for the eggs. Add a tablespoon or so of vinegar to the water. This is important, otherwise your eggs will not stay together when you crack them in the water.

Turn the oven on to 200F. Slice the croissants and place them on a cookie sheet in the oven to warm them and crisp them a bit. You don't want to leave them in too long though, or they will dry out.

Fry the prosciutto quickly in a small skillet to crisp it and bring out the saltiness, as well as render away some of the excess fat. You don't want to use any oil - the heat of the pan will be sufficient. Set it aside when done.

Make the Hollandaise sauce following the package directions and just keep it simmering while you make the rest of the dish. If it gets a bit gloppy, just add a bit more water to keep it the right consistency.

When the water is boiling crack the eggs of the person who wants soft eggs directly into the water. Wait 2-3 min before cracking the eggs of the person wanting medium eggs and then if you have someone wanting hard poached eggs, wait another 2-3 mins before cracking their eggs into the water. You have to watch the eggs quite closely because they will turn in a second after they are done. They can be soft poached, you can turn your back and then discover that they are not medium. So my suggestion is that after you fry the prosciutto, that you take the croissants out of the oven and assemble the plate so that all have to do when the eggs are ready is remove them from the water and place them on top of the croissant halves and top with Hollandaise.  To assemble the halves, take a croissant half, place a slice of prosciutto on top and then two slices of tomato.

While the eggs are cooking, you will see a scum form on the surface from the egg white that has come away from the eggs. I use a slotted flat spoon with fine holes to gently remove this, so that I can see the eggs themselves and check for doneness. Soft boiled eggs will take about 5 min in the water. Medium will be 7-8 and hard 9-11. By staggering the addition of the eggs at the beginning you can ensure that they will all be ready at more or less the same time. When the eggs are ready gently spoon them out using a slotted spoon to let the water drain off and place them atop the croissant halves. Top with a small ladelful of the Hollandaise and some of the capers and serve.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Off to Spar With Canada Revenue Agency, Another Beef Stew Recipe, the Newest Member of the Family and The 1898 Imperial Penny Postage Issue

Today I spent the first part of my day arguing with Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on behalf of a former client. Since I am the only one who knows all the facts of the case, I had agreed to appear as a favour to both the client and my former partners. I can't get into the details of the case obviously, but it gives me a bit of an opportunity to rant about CRA and how the organization has changed since I became an accountant. In fact it is these changes that CRA have undergone as an organization that are at least partially responsible for my decision to leave public accounting.

When I first became an accountant in 1994, CRA was concerned with collecting the tax revenues that were legitimately owed to it by Canadians. Although we operate on a self assessment and honour system in this country, spot audits were considered to be an important aspect to enforcement. But CRA was a cost centre of the government. Auditors at that time had a big picture focus. You could reason with them. If a client did not have all his or her receipts, you could have a discussion centered around what support had been provided and extrapolate based on that. You could negotiate a reasonable position based on the facts and common sense. If it became clear that making adjustments was just going to create a lot of extra work for everyone and not result in any significant tax change then auditors would let these matters go, as they recognized that they just weren't worth pursuing. They had bigger fish to fry, like people hiding their assets offshore and stuff like that.

Oh how things have changed....CRA is now a profit centre of the government. What does this mean? Well for one thing, it is now the job of the auditor to disallow as many expenses as possible and characterize as many bank deposits as income as possible. How do they do this when common sense and the generally apparent facts support the taxpayer's position? They ignore them. It no longer matters what you can explain, it only matters what you can prove. It used to be that if there was something of relevance outside the period under audit that supported your position, the auditor would consider it. Not anymore - they will only consider facts and support that arose during the specific period they are looking at. What if their adjustments result in no net tax change, but create a lot of unnecessary work for everyone? That's fine. You see in their mind now, there could be a tax change, even if it is small. In addition, it used to be that if you supplied receipts for an expense that CRA would accept it as adequate support, without too much scrutiny. This is no longer the  case. When you supply evidence to CRA of a business expense, they will often disallow it on the basis that they don't think that it was incurred to earn income. They will do this even when it is obviously not incurred for any other reason. How do you prove that an expense was incurred to produce income in cases where things didn't work out as planned (which is nearly all the time!) and no money was made? It is just outrageous.

The result now for many good, honest tax paying clients is that they get a nasty surprise in the form of a tax reassessment, often to the tune of $100,000 or more. This can effectively wipe them out - everything they have worked their lives for - gone. The most disturbing part of all this is that most CRA auditors I have dealt with in the past five years or so are incredibly callous and insensitive to the fact that they hold these people's lives in their hands. Indeed they behave as though the clients can easily pay these assessments, or as through "hey look bud, I'm just doing my job". I don't know how they can live with themselves much of the time. I had clients who were nearly driven to suicide by CRA. I had a client in his 80's who had to discharge himself from hospital because some CRA auditor wouldn't wait until he got out of hospital for some documents he wanted. Just unreal.

As a professional, I am powerless to help them without charging them a lot of money. I can't work for free because most of these issues are very time consuming and take up weeks and weeks of professional time. But then at the same time, I am cognizant of the fact that I'm not really helping them that much. It is very difficult to watch your clients go thorough this and not be able to help them in the way that you would like to. That is one of the reasons why for me, this profession just wasn't fun anymore. Well actually I never expected it to be fun, but at least under the old system, I could actually help a client without breaking their budget. Now, I'm not so sure - even if the client wins, they lose big. I can't live with that anymore.

The only way this will ever change if if Canadians in general become aware of just how bad the situation is, and demand change. Of course what really needs to happen in my view is that taxation should no longer be based on the income of Canadians, but should be based on a zero-based budget formulated by the government. What is a zero based budget? One where every thing has to be justified - the government figures out how much money it needs and then a voters list is consulted, or a list of SIN numbers and the figure is divided by the total number of taxpayers. You pay your share. It's very simple - a central computer could figure this out in seconds. No more system where the government raises the money first and then figures out ways to waste it and demand more. The budget would have to be put to the public in a national referendum every 5 years and the elected officials would be held accountable if there was significant mismanagement over what was agreed to. Impossible? I don't think so. But Canadians would have to insist on it. As long as there are enough people willing to support the current system there is no reason for it to change. If taxation were based on need like this, there would be no need for auditors, since the only question would be whether or not you paid your share of the tax and what to do if you couldn't afford it.

Anyway, end of rant.

It occurred to me the other day that I'm posting all dinner recipes and no breakfast or brunch ones. It turns out that I do have some, and I will be posting these this week, as I do not have any new dinner ones, except for a new version of beef stew that I tried last night. This one is an Italian inspired version that departs from the meat-potatoes-carrots one that most people are used to. This one uses a tomato sauce made from fresh onions, garlic and tomatoes, as well as celery, raisins and pine nuts:

1.5-2lb stewing beef - basically 1 large pack.
two large onions
2 cloves garlic
6 large tomatoes or 12 small ones
1 handful of raisins
1 handful of pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 handful of fresh basil
1 celery stalk sliced into 1/4 inch pieces.
1 cup of beef stock

You start by chopping the first onion fine fine and slicing the celery. Heat some olive oil in a skillet and brown the onion, celery and the meat together. When the onion is soft and the meat is browned, take it off the heat and add it to the stoneware insert of your slow cooker.

Then add the allspice, raisins, pine nuts and beef stock. The next step is to make the tomato sauce. You want it to have a consistency that is like thick soup - just a little less dry than tomato paste. Yiou want it to be thick because you are making the stew in the slow cooker and you are already adding 1 cup of liquid and you don't want too much liquid. You start by pureeing the second onion and the garlic and then in a separate batch, roughly chop the tomatoes by pulsing the food processor a few times (maybe 6-8 2 second pulses). Heat some more olive oil in a skillet and when it is very hot, add the onion and garlic. Fry for about 5 min or so until the onion is no longer bitter. Add in the roughly chopped tomato and boil over high heat until nearly all the water is gone and the tomatoes taste somewhat sweet rather than acidic. Take it off the heat, add salt to taste and then blend in the food processor until smooth with the fresh basil. It should have the perfect sweet-salty balance and be sweet from the basil. Add this to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Put the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-5 hours. It is done when you can cut the meat chunks easily with a fork.

Over the weekend, we went to the Toronto Humane Society and adopted the newest member of our family - litte 3 month old Victor:

This is him on my lap as I write this post. 

When we first got him home and Steph was holding him.

Him on my lap just before he went to sleep and moved over to the other side of my lap. 

Steph and I are just tickled pink with him. We saw him at the shelter and just fell in love right away. We were only going to look, but we wound up taking him on the spot. He has slept with us for the last two nights, although he kept us up for most of Saturday night, as he would bound around the bed and explore the whole room several times during the night. But the rest of the time he would look for the space between me and Steph and would curl up into a little ball and go to sleep, purring the whole time. 

Today, I'm starting work on the 1898 Imperial Penny Postage Issue:

This was the world's first Christmas stamp and a somewhat politically incorrect message in this day and age. But it reflected the immense pride in the empire that was prevalent at the time, back on December 25, 1898. I am preparing a post for this issue in my Canadian stamp blog, which can be accessed here:

Friday, September 18, 2015

An Unusual Friday, Veal Saltimbocca and the Numeral Issue is Finished!

Today has been a bit of an unusual day. At my old firm they hold tax law update videos toward the end of each month. This month's video was scheduled for this morning, so I decided to attend, as I still have to keep my education up to date if I wish to retain by CPA designation.

I made the drive up to North York for 8:30, saw the video, said "hi" to many of my former co-workers and met with my former accounting partner Allen to discuss how things were going. I got back at home at 11:30.

I have spent almost all day today writing my blog article for my Canadian Philately Blog. Today I was writing about the 1898-1902 Numeral Issue that I just  finished listing last night. I must say that I am very proud of what I have written. If you are so curious, the link to this article is below:

I can also post images of the last values from this set: the 8c, 10c and 20c:

I am particularly proud of this last stamp. Only 540,000 20c stamps were issued on December 24, 1900 and very few of these have survived in such pristine condition. I am asking $1,500 US for the one shown above. 

Last night I decided to try my hand at veal Saltimbocca. I served this dish with a simple gnocci that I served with a rose tomato sauce. It turned out to be a good compliment to the very tasty and salty Saltimbocca: 

1 veal cutlet per person that you are serving.
2 prosciutto slices per veal cutlet
3. fresh sage leaves
4. 1/2 cup of white flour
5. 1 tablespoon of oil
6. 1/2 cup of medium sweet sherry. The recipe called for white wine, but I felt the sweetness of the sherry goes well with the saltiness of the prosciutto. 

This is a very simple dish, but one that will surely impress your guests!

Start by placing the veal cutlets between two layers of cling wrap. Use a rolling pin or a meat hammer to pound the cutlets to 1/2 an inch thick. When this is done, lay some sage leaves on one side of the cutlet - just 1 or 2 and then place a slice of prosciutto over the sage. Repeat with the other side of each cutlet and then lightly flour the cutlets. Heat the oil in a skillet and when it reaches a high temperature, fast fry the veal 2 minutes on each side. Then add the sherry to the pan and deglaze for 1 minute. Then serve with your choice of side, preferably something with not too much salt. 

Enjoy, and have a happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Listing of the Numeral Issue Almost Complete, Thai Barbecue Chicken Recipe and On Target to Finish Queen Victoria by the End of September

These late nights every Tuesday and Thursday are really helping me catch up on the backlog of lotting. I not only managed to list all the stamps I set out to list on Tuesday but managed to finish two more values from the set as well: the 5c and 6c, as well as scan the 7c. Yesterday was Steph's day to work from home, so I spent it getting the remainder of the Queen Victoria Canadian material ready for lotting, so that I can hopefully power-lot it all tomorrow as well, since Steph is going out tomorrow night as well.

Here are some of the nice  1c, 2c, 3c, 5c, 6c, and 7c values from the Numeral Issue that I listed on Tuesday:




I still have the 7c, 8c, 10c and 20c values to list, which I hope to do today. Then tomorrow, I can work on the 1898 Imperial Penny Postage Issue and the 1899 2c Provisional Stamps. Next week, I can work on the 1898 Special Delivery Stamp, the 1875-1888 Registered stamps and pre-confederation provinces. This will put me in striking position for the last week of the month, to finish Queen Victoria by listing revenues. My total inventory listed right now is just shy of 1,400 lots. The remaining Queen Victoria should take the total to about 1,700 items. October and November should be sufficient to cover Edward VII and King George V. 

Last night I tried a recipe for Thai Barbecue chicken that was just to die for, and I just had to share it here. You will need (to serve 2 with 5 skewers each):

10 bamboo skewers soaked overnight in water (critical as they will burn up and fall apart on the barbecue otherwise)

3 large chicken legs
4 cans of coconut milk each 350-375ml. 
1 10cm piece of fresh turmeric 
1 5cm piece of fresh ginger
4-5 hot chili peppers (I used some Jalapenos that I had in the fridge)
2 tablespoons of tamarind sauce
100g of brown sugar
300g shallots
1 entire head of garlic peeled and separated
1.5 tablespoons of salt.

Trim the meat of the chicken legs and freeze the bones to make stock with later. Cut the chicken trimmings into cubes that can be threaded on the skewer or strips if they are narrower than cube size. Place the cut chicken into a large plastic freezer bag. 

To prepare the marinade, combine in a food processor, a pinch of salt, one of the cans of coconut milk, the turmeric and the garlic and process until smooth. Add the marinade to the bag and place in the fridge for 1-3 hours. 

The barbecue sauce will take about 30-40 min to prepare, so you want to prepare the accompaniments for the meal while you are making the sauce. I made coconut rice to go with it. I probably should have made some vegetables too, and I would recommend a simple mango salad, or some stir-fried Bok Choy, or some other green vegetable. Whatever you serve can be relatively plain as the sauce is going to be very flavourful - so much so that you won't want to waste any. 

To make the sauce, pour a can and a half of the remaining three cans of coconut milk into the food processor. Add the ginger, chili peppers and shallots and process until smooth. Set aside. Now bring the rest of the coconut milk to a boil, stirring clockwise in a large saucepan until oil begins to form on the surface. This will take about 15 min. Once this stage is reached, add the mixture from the food processor and continue to boil over medium heat for another 5 min or so, stirring constantly. Then add the tamarind sauce and brown sugar. Continue to boil over medium high heat until thick. 

While the sauce is boiling, turn on the barbecue,take the chicken out of the fridge and remove the chicken from the marinade and thread it onto the waterlogged skewers. Put the skewers on a plate. Ladle some of the boiling sauce into a bowl to use for basting the chicken. When the barbecue reaches high temperature, place the skewers on. Baste every 2 minutes or so and then turn them over. Repeat this until the chicken is cooked. 

By the time the chicken is cooked, the sauce should have thickened to a point where it can be used as a dipping sauce. Serve the skewers and accompaniments along with a small bowl of dipping sauce for the chicken. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Listing of the Numeral Issue Gets Underway, Osso Bucco, Latest Canadian Stamp Blog Posts and sales approach $3,500

Yesterday got off to a slow start, as I am now posting to both this blog and my Canadian Philately Blog on an almost daily basis and it takes me a couple of hours to compose my posts for the Canadian Philately blog. However, I am quite proud of the quality of the posts. If you are intrigued to see what I am writing about, you can access the posts through the following link:

I am now closing in on nearly two months of active listings and my sales are just over $3,500 to date. I am optimistic that at the end of my second month, September 23, I will have a total of over $4,000, which averages out at $2,000 per month. It is still not nearly enough to live on, but if my sales continue to grow as I list more material, then by January 2017, I should be generating enough sales to pay myself a salary, which means that I can stay in business and not have to go back to work as an accountant.

I am now working on posting the listings for the Numeral Issue and managed to get all of the 1/2c values listed yesterday. The half cent value looks very similar to the Maple Leaf stamp:

Today, I am hoping to complete listing of the 1c, 2c and 3c stamps. and scanning of the 5c and 6c values.

The meal I am making today is Osso Bucco, which is braised veal shanks in a tomato-beef broth. It is a Northern Italian recipe and literally translated it means the "bone with the hole". I had a recipe in the new cookbook that I received for my birthday that I wanted to try, but when I read it, it just didn't look right to me because it called for pan-frying of the veal, which I know would result in tough, chewy meat. The only way to cook veal shank is slowly to break down the connective tissue. So I came up with my own recipe to serve 4:

4 large veal shanks.
1 onion or bunch of green onions (I used green as I had a bunch in my fridge that I needed to use)
2 celery stalks
3 carrots
2 cups of beef broth
1 can of tomato paste
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme

Season the veal with salt and pepper and then coat both sides in flour. heat some oil in a skillet and brown the veal on both sides for 2 minutes on each side. This will bring out the flavour of the meat while it is in the slow cooker. Set aside.

Next cut up the vegetables and place them in a food processor and pulse using the chopping blade until they are finally chopped. Heat some more oil in the skillet over high heat and fry the vegetables for 5-6 minutes to bring out the flavours adding Italian seasoning as you stir. Take the pan off the heat and pour the vegetables in the bottom of the slow cooker insert. Then add the veal. Add the tomato paste to the beef stock and whisk until smooth. Pour over the meat. Add the fresh thyme and turn the slow cooker on to low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours, depending on when you need dinner to be ready. After the meat is done it should practically fall off the bone. Check for salt level and adjust as necessary and serve.

I like to serve it with bread or rice, but you can also serve it with potatoes or noodles. the broth is quite runny, so I find that bread or rice absorb it better.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Keeping the Spark Alive

I wanted to address a topic that much is written about: keeping the spark alive in a marriage or long-term relationship.

I am by no means an expert in the romance department. I used to be many, many years ago. But two divorces have left me very jaded and cynical. However, I have been trying to change that in my current relationship with Steph and get back to my romantic roots.

I am sure that what I am about to say will resonate with many men: I am often stumped for ideas as to what to do, so I tend to gravitate to the comfortable and familiar, a bouquet of flowers or dinner and a movie. But after a while this gets old and you will find your partner getting tired of the monotony. The next thing that often comes to mind is some grand gesture that is very elaborate and costs a lot of money and planning to pull off. We men want to do this grand and wonderful things for the women in our lives, but because of the amount of planning and the cost, we often find that we never get around to doing them. This is precisely why the charges of our non-romanticism coming from our partners hurt as they do - because we really do care.

So I am going to write about a thought that has recently hit me after doing much online research to find romantic ideas that would help inspire me to break the mold and show Steph how much I love her. The thought is that less is more. Simplicity rules the roost.

If you look at most lists of romantic ideas and dates that are published online the items on the lists seem to fall into two categories: elaborate and expensive and simple and not expensive. What you choose to do will of course depend on the type of partner you have. Steph has very simple tastes and is not a flashy person, so I have found that simple things seem to work very well.

The simple gestures further have one thing in common: they are all novel ways of telling her what I appreciate about her or what I love about her. You will notice that they are not simply expressions of "I love you", as that doesn't require that much thought, whereas telling her specifically what I love about her requires thought and attention. Of course you can write a simple note, but once you have done that once or twice, it can get monotonous. So a novel way to spice things up is to think of everyday objects that you can alter so that they become your messenger, or maybe not objects, but figures of speech, poems or the like that can be altered to describe your partner.

For example Steph and I like to play cards very frequently. All cards usually have a lot of white space on them. Since they get dealt, she can will look at them. So what I did last week was I went to the dollar store and bought a pack of cards and a pack of permanent felt markers for $2. Then I took the black marker and wrote on the front of all 54 cards (I included the jokers): "Chris Loves Steph Because...". Then I had to think of 54 reasons why I love Steph. It wasn't hard at all. I thought of each thing and using a different colour marker for each suit, I wrote that thing on the numeric side of the card. The whole thing took about 2 hours. Then I invited Steph to play cards. You should have seen her reaction when I dealt them out. It was priceless.

The cards were good because they were an item that has lots of parts (i.e. 54 cards) and lend themselves out well to containing a loving message. But there are others that would also be good to use for this:

1. Notebooks that get used around the house.
2. Sticky notes
3. The bathroom mirror - messages written in lipstick
4. The windshield of her car - although you have to be the one to clean it off.
5. A calendar - if there is one up on the wall somewhere in the house
6. Pieces of fruit with disposable thick outer peels like bananas
7. Towels - every considered getting a set of towels and having messages stitched on?
8. Her purse and makeup cases - putting notes in her compact so she sees it as soon as she opens it.

The key is to pick ordinary household objects that get used fairly frequently that you wouldn't expect to find love messages on and then put messages on them. The element of surprise is what makes the message extra special. Once you have chosen the medium for the message, then your work lies in composing the message. But this doesn't have to be difficult. None of the above things cost a lot of money or are difficult to plan. They key is to decide to do them regularly and incorporate them into your routine. This is what I am trying to do now, because I know if I don't, I won't get around to them.

I would also say that Steph and I don't do Valentines Day. We actually boycott it because we have noticed that the quality of services in restaurants and public venues actually plummets, while prices are jacked up sky high. Besides how romantic is it when it becomes an obligation? My thought  is that it is better to do romantic things once a week or a few times a month rather than trying to come up with something or Valentines.

I am not suggesting that you shouldn't plan elaborate things either. Even though Steph has simple tastes there are things that I have planned in my head that I want to do with her during our life together, but they are things that I would plan for special milestones in our lives, not things to do every week or every month.

Anyway those are just a few of my thoughts on romance.

This week, I put a new menu together from two cookbooks that I was given for my birthday: an Italian and a Thai cookbook. I will be writing about the better recipes over the course of the week as I make them.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sliced Open My Little Toe, Beef Stroganoff, A Busy Sales Weekend and My Stamp Blog Finally Gets Some Traction

I wasn't going to write a post because it is the weekend and I don't normally work on weekends. But I managed to injure myself last night and had to spend most of the night at the hospital. So today I am recovering and home by myself while Steph participates in her friend's baby shower.

I still don't know exactly how it happened, but I was going down the stairs at about 11pm to let the cat (Meeko) out of the basement. We'd put her down there because she had been acting all crazy for most of the evening and we wanted her to calm down. As I was going down my foot hit the stair and slid straight across it and I lost my balance and went down. When I got up I had these huge welts on my right arm and my little toe on my right foot was killing me. I limped to the bathroom and that's when I noticed the blood. Steph told me that I had a huge gash right where the joint on my little toe is and that it was about an inch wide and almost down to the muscle. I cut it open, but still can't figure out on what? Being a relatively typical male in this respect, I was content to just put Polysporin on it, bandage it up and go to bed. But Steph is wiser than I. She suggested we go to the hospital up the street. I immediately groaned at the thought of the all night wait in front of me, but I went with her.

I'm glad I did because the first thing the Triage Nurse asked me was whether I had had a Tetanus shot. I said yeah in 1977. Apparently you need them every 10 years, so at very least I needed the shot. I waited for about 21/2 hours to see a doctor who confirmed that stitches were needed and that I did the right thing by coming in. What followed next was the absolute most excruciating pain I have ever felt when she put the needle into the open wound to freeze it. It was much worse than I thought it was going to be and I'm not ashamed to say that I let out a scream that I'm sure most of the hospital heard. But it worked quickly and in no time I was back home in bed.

Steph and I spent most of yesterday helping her friend with a final dress fitting for her wedding. So when it came time for dinner we had decided to spend the night in and make our favourite meal, Beef Stroganoff. It occurred to me that I haven't posted the recipe for this yet:

1 pound of beef tenderloin - tenderloin is essential for its tenderness.
1 large onion or 3-4 small ones chopped fine
2 cups of sour cream (I prefer full fat, but 5% is good. I wouldn't recommend anything less)
1 tablespoon of beef bouillon paste or 1 cube of granules. I prefer the paste as the salt content is lower.
1 package of egg noodles.

Place the beef in the freezer for 20-30 min to partially freeze so that it will be easier to slice. Put the water on to boil for the noodles. Saute the onion in oil until soft, but not brown and set aside. Slice the beef into cubes 1/4 inch thick and about 1 inch square. Melt 2-3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet until nut brown and fragrant and then fast fry the beef for 2-3 min. It is very important not to overcook the beef because you want it to be tender. Remember that even after you remove it from the heat it will continue to cook for a minute or two. So my suggestion is to take it off the heat when there is still a bit of pink. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook for about 8-10 min. Put the meat aside and then add the onion and the bouillon granules or paste to the pan and mix well (over medium high heat). Then add the sour cream and mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust the salt level as necessary and add some black pepper. Add the beef back into the sauce and heat through.

Drain the noodles and add the sauce, tossing to coat well. Serve at once and enjoy. This meal isn't cheap - the beef will probably cost $30 or so, but it is sooooo good.

This weekend has been busy for sales with me selling over $300. I continue to be cautiously optimistic, but it appears that my business model really is going to work. I've noticed some engagement from my customers now over e-mail and my stamp blogs are finally getting some readership now that I started taking the time this week to post to them daily. This week I wrote some really long posts about how to sort the Montreal from Ottawa printings of the 1870-97 Small Queens, the role that stamp dealers have to play in the hobby, the growing problem of evangelism in the hobby where collectors too easily dismiss items as fake and the 1897 Diamond Jubilee issue. The posts can be accessed by the following link:

Tonight I think I will take Steph out, as she has had a long and stressful weekend with this bridal Shower, so I won't have any recipes to post tomorrow. Instead I think I will talk about the importance of keeping romance alive in relationships and give some ideas that I have found that accomplish this nicely. It is particularly relevant because I have been so focused on the business lately that I have started to take my relationship somewhat for granted, and I need to break that mould.

Friday, September 11, 2015

More Maple Leaves, A Quiet Two Days, and a Tasty Pizza Recipe

The past two days have been quiet on the sales front. It is the first time in almost a month that I have had no sales. This hasn't sent me into a panic though and as a matter of fact, it has been nice to be able to start listing my stamps earlier in the day and get more work done. I might yet get all of the Queen Victoria material listed before the month is out, which would be very nice indeed.

My meeting with John Martin last night was fantastic! We spent a couple of hours mostly chatting about my new business, his clients that we both know and general developments in the profession. It looks like it will turn into a regular monthly or bi-monthly thing. At least that is my hope. It will be nice to have someone that I respect to chat with every now and then about the business.

I am hoping to finish off the Maple Leaf Issue today and then get a head start on the Numeral Issue of 1898-1902. After that, all I have to list for Queen Victoria are the 1898 Christmas Issue, the 1899 2c on 3c surcharges, the Special Delivery Issue, the issues of the provinces before confederation and the revenue stamps. So If I can get into the Numerals today, I should be able to finish this by the end of this month. Steph and I discussed the backlog and it was decided that I would begin working late until midnight on Tuesdays and until 11 on Thursdays. We'll see how this goes.

For now, I can show you the rest of the stamps in the Maple Leaf Issue:



Each of the above stamps retails for between $200 to $500, but there are lots of stamps from this issue that are much less expensive than this. Some of them can be had for as little as 99 cents.  If you would like to check out my stamps from this issue, you can access them by the following link:

I haven't posted a recipe in a couple of days, so I thought I would share one very tasty recipe that I made up on my own for pizza. You will need:

1 pre-made pizza shell, like a Boboli or some fresh pizza dough (either is usually readily available in supermarkets)
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese, preferably extra old as it is nice and sharp.
1 bell pepper (red, yellow or orange) sliced into 1/4 inch strips
1.5 cups of sauteed boneless chicken, bacon or sliced salami or pepperoni
1 large onion or 4-5 small onions
1 cup of pizza sauce (usually comes with the pizza shell)
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar glaze or 2 tablespoons of good quality aged balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2-3 splashes of Worcestershire sauce

Slice the onion into rings and separate them. Heat some oil in a skillet and fry the onion rings until they start to become glassy. Then add 2-3 splashes of Worcestershire sauce and mix for 1 minute. Add the balsamic vinegar or glaze and the sugar. Mix well. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting and cover the skillet. Leave this to simmer for 20-25 min. The onions will caramelize during this time.

If you are working with raw chicken, this would be a good time to slice and saute it. Same goes for bacon.

Just before the onions are done, preheat the oven to 425F or as directed on the wrapper for the pizza shell. Spread the pizza sauce on the shell, followed by the cheese, meat, pepper and finally the caramelized onions.

Pop it in the oven for 10-15 min. Let it cool for 5 min or so before slicing it and then enjoy! It is a knife and fork style pizza. It will likely be messy if you try to eat it with your hands.

This weekend looks like it will be a bit dreary with clouds on Saturday and rain on Sunday. But it has been very hot lately, so it will be nice to have a dry day that is not boiling. I think I'll take Steph to the Queen West Art Crawl at Trinity Bellwoods Park on Saturday.

Enjoy your weekend people!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Maple Leaves Continue, My Canadian Philately Blog and Meeting John Martin for Drinks

Yesterday was spent writing articles for my Canadian Philately blog, sorting British West Africa material that I had purchased that arrived in the mail yesterday, listing the 1c Maple Leaves and scanning the 2c and 3c values. Today, I am going to try and see if I can list the 2c and 3c stamps today and get the rest of the set scanned.

Here are the 2c purple and 3c carmine from this wonderful set:

My listings so far of these issues can be found in my e-bay store, which can be accessed by way of the following link:

My Canadian Philately blog has languished in the past three years since I started it, largely because I haven't had time to post to it. Since I became full time in July, I have only managed to post a few articles. This week I have tried to remedy that by posting two articles on Small Queens, including how to tell the printings apart and one article today addressing what the role of the stamp dealer is in fostering the good health of the hobby. To view those articles, click on the following link:

Tonight I am going to reconnect with a man to whom I owe much of my professional judgement and skill as a professional accountant: Mr. John Martin. John was my boss 11 years ago when I first moved to Toronto. He was the founding partner of EvansMartin LLP, which has subsequently been bought out by Myers Norris Penny, a major player in the Canadian accounting landscape. As far as I know he still does a lot of consulting and financing for his clients, as that is the work he enjoys.

When he hired me, I knew the rules and I knew how to put a file together. But it was John who taught me how to run a practice profitably and how to balance the interests of the clients with compliance with the rules. He and I worked together for 5 years until I left the firm in 2009. We have since fallen out of touch, much to my regret. Initially it was because my ex monopolized my time to such an extent that I just never had time to meet with him, Then as more and more time went by, it got to a point where I just never got around to reconnecting - until now. I messaged him on Linked-In and tonight we are going to meet for drinks. I am looking forward to catching up.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Longest Reigning Monarch, the 1897-1898 Maple Leaf Issue and Chicken or Turkey Taco Salad

As of today, Queen Elizabeth II will have ruled the United Kingdom longer than any of her predecessors.  Despite this, she does have two close contenders:

King George III: October 25, 1760 - January 29, 1820 - 59 years, 3 months and 4 days.

Full-length portrait in oils of a clean-shaven young George in eighteenth century dress: gold jacket and breeches, ermine cloak, powdered wig, white stockings, and buckled shoes.

Queen Victoria: June 20, 1837 - January 22, 1901: 63 years, 7 months and two days

Queen Victoria by Bassano.jpg

She has now ruled for 63 years, 7 months and 7 days, making her the longest serving monarch in the UK and possibly the entire world. Indeed it is doubtful that there will be another monarch that will rule that long, as the monarchy may not survive long enough for that to occur. She has been just as popular as George III and Victoria were, maybe even more popular.

She became queen suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 25, while she was visiting Kenya with her husband, Prince Philip. Her father was sick with lung cancer, but as far as Brittons were concerned he was on the mend - he'd had his left lung removed and was slowly gaining strength. He had accompanied her to the airport and waved at her as she took off. That was February 1, 1952. On February 5, he went hunting at his Sandringham estate, and by February 6, 1952 he was dead. 

She adapted to the role quickly and with grace. Her first major challenge was the Suez crisis of 1956 in which Nasser, Egypt's leader at the time, seized control of the Suez Canal and expelled British ships, which relied heavily on this route for trade. Her next major ones were the Falklands War in 1982 and the general strikes in 1983. Most of her challenges otherwise have been social in nature: the changes in attitudes towards the monarchy and what is acceptable have led to a large number of scandals within the Royal Family. This is mainly because the attitudes of the younger royals have changed in step with the general population, while the rules of decorum and her values have not. She has maintained her composure while the Empire that she inherited has largely disintegrated, and while some of its member nations, most notably Australia have called for the abolition of the Monarchy.

She will indeed be a tough act to follow.

I have started listing the Maple Leaf issue of 1897-1898. The first two values of this issue are shown below:

This issue is so called because of the maple leaves that are in the corners of the design. I believe that this is one of the most balanced and exquisite designs of the late Victorian era. It was short lived because of an outcry from French Canadians, who could not read the denominations. Because most households still used gas light at the time this issue was current, many of the values were difficult to distinguish. So the following year in 1898, the design was modified to replace the lower leaves by numerals. It is aptly called the Numeral Issue. 

I tried the Chicken Taco Salad yesterday and it was very tasty. The original recipe calls for turkey, but I believe that ground chicken works just as well. You will need:

1 can of kidney or pinto beans, rinsed.
1 16 oz jar of salsa plus 1 extra cup for serving
1 cup of chilled sour cream, stirred
1 can of sliced black olives
5-6 cups of shredded lettuce
1 large avocado, sliced
2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 cups of corn chips
1.5 pounds of ground chicken or turkey

This is an extremely easy meal to prepare. You start by taking 1 jar of the salsa and the ground chicken or turkey and placing it in the slow cooker on low for 5-6 hours. It will become really tender and tasty taco meat. 

When you are ready to eat, line a plate with some of the shredded lettuce, add a handful of corn chips, some of the taco meat and then some of all the other toppings and enjoy! It is like eating de-constructed tacos. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Comments Please, Stone Laying and Spending Time With Friends, Jubilees are All Done and Sales Approach $3,000

I am noticing that plenty of you are reading my posts, but almost no comments are forthcoming regarding any of the topics that I am writing about, which surprises me as I had hoped that some of them would spark some discussion. I feel that my readers would benefit from hearing other people's perspectives about some of the topics that I am raising in my posts. The only way that I know of to achieve this is if readers leave a comment when some idea resonates with them or they disagree with something I have said, or have something to add. So please, if you read something that touches a nerve, please leave a comment.

One of the main reasons why I left the world of public accounting is the lack of flexibility and work-life balance. Having to drive into the office every day and having to be there every day engenders an inflexible mindset. Even though I always had the option of leaving the office to tend to a personal matter, I rarely did as I knew that my absence would be noticed. My best friend is going through some trying times right now and getting together has proven to be difficult for both of us. So when I was invited to join him in laying some stonework at his parents' cottage on a Friday, I could hardly pass it up. To me, being able to take the day off to go be with him is the main reason why I became self employed.

He and his dad were laying a slate pathway from the driveway to the front steps:

I have seen countless walkways like this and I never gave much thought to all the work that goes into laying them. To do it quickly, you have to have excellent spatial skills and an excellent sense of geometry. You have to select stones whose angles will complement each other, while not leaving odd angles that cannot be easily matched later. Of course when you buy the slate from the landscape supply, it comes in large skids and you never know what your slabs will look like, so laying the walkway is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that weigh between 20 and 80 pounds each. What you see there took 3 days to lay and cut. Cuts were made with a stone saw and it created a lot of dust.

Working together in the sun was fun and it gave my friend and I a chance to properly catch up and talk. I also got to know his parents better, as I had met them a few times before, but only socially and never really spoke to them for more than a few minutes before. This it what life is all about - spending time with people that you care about. I just hope that things work out for him.

Last week, I met my target of completing the listings for the Jubilees, and I managed to link my blogs to Google +, which has increased the readership twofold. I have fallen quite far behind on posting to the Canadian stamp blog though, so I think I will take a couple of hours today to compose some posts for that blog. Sales over the weekend were brisk and I now am approaching $3,000 for a month and a half of sales activity, which continues to be promising. I think my biggest problem will actually be labour: finding enough labour to get all the inventory I do have up for sale. I am thinking that I may search for some retired people who are interested in part time work to help me out. I found a website "" where I can post jobs aimed at people who are 50-64. I have thought for a while about who the best people to hire would be and I came to realize that because I can't afford to pay high salaries, I need to find people who would enjoy the stimulating nature of the work and for whom money is not their primary concern. Based on this, I don't think youth would be the best employees, but rather older, educated people who might be interested in what I am trying to do.

Tonight, I am making a slow cooker chicken taco salad and will post the recipe online tomorrow if it turns out.