Sunday, November 30, 2014

Purple-y delicious

I had a craving for beets or cabbage today.  A little odd, I know. Maybe just needing some B6 or possibly potassium?

A shot of purple to feast my eyes.

In my recipe search I went through some old cookbooks on the shelf, and came across this curious description:

Every fall at the farmers' market I buy the biggest, heaviest green cabbage I can find. I wrap it tightly in a plastic bag and put it on the bed in my guestroom, which in winter I only heat enough to keep fruits and vegetables from freezing. Then almost every week I fetch my cabbage to the kitchen, carefully pull off a couple of leaves, and slice or chop them to make a salad... I wrap up my cabbage again and am grateful that it will probably last as long as the snow flies. Edna Staebler, 
Soups and Salads with Schmecks Appeal

Edna was born in 1906, died in 2006. The back of the 1990 book says she "lives in Mennonite Country north of Waterloo, Ontario, where she reads, swims, knits, and feeds wild birds, her cats, and her many friends." I think I would have liked her had I gotten a chance to know her.  Although I wouldn't have wanted to stay in her guest bedroom in winter! 

Normally I slice the cabbage,  exposing the rosette of colour, but then after awhile the white turns yellow and doesn't look very appealing. The cabbage dries up and ends up in the compost. looking shriveled and sad.

I love this peeling-the-leaf method! Just take what you need, and this humble .99 cent veg has the potential to last for months in the fridge.

I ended up making a beet and red cabbage pickled salad to satisfy my craving, and look forward to peeling leaves for the next few months. Next up: braised red cabbage with bacon.  

A memory from years ago: I ended up on one episode of a T.V. cooking show because Bob Blumer was casting participants from garden clubs. It was an entertaining day, mainly just sitting around waiting for a chance to eat an incredible meal prepared fresh from a community garden. No pretending was required when we finally got around to eating, the meal was delicious! A spectacular table had been set, which included slicing cabbage heads so they entirely covered the surface of the groaning table. Incredibly colourful! Even a few years later, people would say they saw me on T.V. Funny thing was I never did see the episode.

...
Cabbege:  In addition to being packed with vitamin C and anthocyanins, red cabbage is packed with fiber, vitamin K, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese, and also contains thiamine, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, and magnesium. It's the glucosinolates in cabbage that get the award for their "anticancer" benefits.

Beets:  Betanin and vulgaxanthin are betalains that have gotten special attention in beet research. Beets are also an excellent source of folate and a very good source of manganese, potassium, and copper. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin C, iron, and vitamin B6.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Club Catch-Up


I haven't been blogging much about my Book Clubs lately.

Too busy? Or maybe just distilling?
Just a quick catch-up here about the titles, the meetings, and some thoughts along the way. Mainly, I can't read everything, even though I wish I could. The classics, the best sellers, the recommends.... life is short.

November 

The Light Between Oceans, ML Stedman (BPYC Book Club)
This was Maureen's pick, and definitely a hit. The story hinges on a baby washed up on the beach of a lighthouse keeper and his wife. The newborn arrives in the boat with a corpse. Tom and Isabel, who recently suffered the loss of a stillborn, decide to take the child as their own without reporting their find back to the mainland.  Complications ensue. It turned out to be quite the debate, with people arguing back and forth about whether the decisions were right or wrong, defensible or not. Good thing we weren't a jury - or I am sure we would still be there. Raised voices, passionate pleas, and lots of laughter.

Shanghai Girls, Lisa See (Book Babes)
Virginia's pick turned out to be a bit of a dud for nine of the ten of us. This historical novel starts in China and then travels to San Francisco/Los Angelos. The story follows two sisters, privileged "beautiful girls" who model in Shanghai, as they escape a terrible war with the Japanese to arrive as immigrants in the United States. One is illegal, the 'paper wife' of a 'paper son'. The story is well researched, but not told with the same passion and empathy the author brought to her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Still, a good and frank discussion of the book.

The Massey Murder, Charlotte Grey (Heliconian
The author has been a frequent guest of the Heliconian Club in past years, and there was even a reference to the club's early days in her book. This historical novel is a  'true crime' that took place in Toronto almost a century ago, in February of 1915. Meticulously researched, it gives the reader a great sense of the times - the newspapers, the justice system, the class hiearchy, the role of women. Charlotte mentioned there was no record of the court proceedings, because the verdict was "not guilty," so for fact and context she culled from the media of the time. Smartly written, if a bit dry.

November insights:
So often we ask or respond to the question, "Did you like the book?" It is too short an answer, really, and I am going to try to avoid giving a quick response unless it is part of a longer discussion. You can have a good discussion about the book without really liking it, and you can learn something along the way if you finish books you don't like. (I didn't completely 'like' either Shanghai Girls or The Massey Murder). On the other hand, I shouldn't feel I 'have to' read something in the first place. Hmmmm.

I can't keep up with my reading!  Since I'd read Light Between Oceans during the summer of 2013, I didn't reread it for the discussion, and wished I had, because it would have been great to have all the nuances in mind for the discussion. On the other hand, I forced myself to finish Shanghai Girls, where at least a few people around the table just set it aside. Meanwhile, I hadn't completely finished The Massey Murder before hearing the author speak at the Heliconian.

October 

Memoirs of A Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah (BPYC Book Club)
Here's another book I forced myself to read. Quickly. To prepare for the discussion I started midway, at the point where Ishmael is taken to the Rehabilitation Centre, because I wanted to skip the bits with little boys pulling the triggers on guns.  Then I ended up reading from the begiinning. This is an important story and a riveting memoir, as much about how horrible we are to each other as well as how much we can help each other. Margaret picked the book.
 

Birding with Yeats, Lynn Thomson (Book Babes)
A lovely story about a mother birding with her son through the years he is growing up. Lots to relate to - Alex moved out just the month before; I'm a bit of a birder myself; and the setting is Riverdale, Toronto. Shared history and geography. Nicolette chose this because of 'disruptive technology', in the sense that eBooks are changing the way we experience text. For example, the version I was reading on my Kobo had links to descriptions of the birds, but when I read it on my laptop it would display photos of the birds.  The book renewed my interest in traveling to Point Pelee to take in the sights during a bird migration, although descriptions of the scenes were quite comical. The way the book was written made me think disaster was just around the corner. Nicki had the same reaction, so I knew I wasn't alone. Someone was just about to die or get some horrible disease - was it Yeats? I struck up a conversation with someone at the yoga studio when she asked what I was reading, and it turned out she knew Yeats (and the author), having worked at Ben McNally Books. She reassured me Yeats would be fine.   

Pastoral, Andre Alexis (Heliconian)
Nominated for the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction literary prize just days before we heard him speak at the Heliconian, Alexis’s Pastoral was called “a virtually flawless novel” by the jury, composed this year of Neil Bissoondath, Helen Humphreys and George Murray. Coincidentally, the announcement took place at Ben McNally Books, co-owned by Lynn Thomson with her husband Ben. It was interesting to hear Alexis speak about how he methodically embedded sheep, water, fire and clouds into most chapters and how doing this didn't confine him but sparked some creativity. Actually, I can't remember if was clouds or candles, but I did note to myself at the time he was capturing the elements. Feng shui writing?

October insights
This same month, I watched the film Boyhood, such an amazing movie that chronicles the life of boy coming of age. Followed by reading two very different memoirs dealing with boys growing up in very different circumstances. How much of our fates are dictated by where we are born, when, and to whom. Yet it is still the choices the individual makes in those situations that defines who they are and who they will become.

I've heard of Ben McNally Books before, I'm not sure why I've never made a visit.

September
In Paris and London this month. I may get around to reading these eventually, but probably not. I can't read everything!

Moloka'i, by Alan Brennert (BPYC Book Club)
The Devil on Her Tongue, by Linda Holeman (Book Babes)
Minister Without Porfolio, Michael Winter (Heliconian)


Friday, November 28, 2014

Sadhana 5

Sadhana 5.

30 days straight in the yoga studio. On the mat by 6 a.m. with a class until 7:30. I did my first in 2012.

This time around, I almost didn't sign up because it was already tough enough getting out of bed in the morning. Rising one hour earlier wasn't going to make my life any easier. My body felt stiffer than usual, and even simple poses seemed difficult. Nor did I stumble into bliss or feel a sudden connectedness with strangers like I sometimes do after intense practise. I said in an earlier post it was tough slogging, and it was. Many days I just felt stiff and cranky.  A few nights I was tired enough to land in bed by 8:15.

"Without Animosity, With Indifference" became a bit of a mantra for me, as there suddenly seemed to be jerks everywhere. Someone in an early restorative class took over my set up and sent me fuming looking for alternate props, agitating me for the rest of the practise despite the mantra. People everywhere sneezing and coughing without covering their mouths, drivers cutting me off in traffic. Was I a magnet for unpleasant, trivial and petty annoyances? Was I, in fact, someone else's unpleasant, trivial and petty annoyance?

'Stuff' comes up during intensives and it's not always pleasant. Some attribute it to physical memories on a cellular level. We carry things around in our bodies for years and sometimes even decades, and it is easier said than done, to Just Let It Go.

Yes, it was tough slogging. Do I regret signing up for the 30 days?

Not a chance.

postscript
After writing this entry I went back and read all (70!) of the entries tagged 'yoga.' Great to keep a record to be able to reference past the years. Although here and there I found some technical inaccuracies, most of the observations still ring true. I guess making the record has inadvertently become part of my practise, a gift to myself.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Solyanka

The photo caught my eye in last week's Globe, along with the description:  "a soup that eats like a sandwich."

 

When I read the ingredients, I was skeptical.

 

Smoked meat and pickle soup? Absolutely delicious, especially with the dollop of sour cream and dressing of dill.

 

Definitely tastes better once it has time to sit. 

 

The recipe is from Lucy Waverman, who first tried  the soup on a cold winter's day in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Hearty enough for a cold and blustery day!

 

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 oz (75 g) pancetta, chopped
3 1/2 oz (100 g) chorizo, chopped
4 oz (115 g) smoked meat, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
6 cups beef or chicken stock
1 tsp allspice berries
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 large potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
3 large pickled cucumbers, finely chopped
1/2 cup pickle brine
2 tsp capers, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Garnish
1/2 large lemon, sliced
2 tbsp chopped dill
1/3 cup sour cream or more to taste

 

Method

Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta, chorizo and smoked meat. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes or until the meat begins to produce fat. Add onion and carrot and sauté for 2 minutes or until tender. Remove meat and vegetables to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Discard fat.
Place stock into a large pot over medium heat. Put allspice, peppercorn and bay leaf into a tea egg or tie together in cheese cloth to form a pouch and place in stock. Add the cubed potato, tomato paste and paprika. Bring to boil and then simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat. Stir in sautéed meats, onions and carrots, then add pickles, brine and capers. Simmer soup for 15 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for several hours or overnight to blend the flavours. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed and plenty of black pepper. Remove the bag of spices.

Serve, reheated, with a thin slice of lemon, chopped dill and a dollop of sour cream in every bowl. Taste for seasoning again.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Joons


We took Alex and Penny out to celebrate his birthday, offering to treat at the restaurant of their choice. That's how Rob and I ended up at Joons in Koreatown.

I've sat at cooking tables before, but this is the first time I've tried Dak Galbi, a tasty marinated chicken dish that is prepared by the waitstaff at your table. A pungent mix of salty, spicy, sweet, cooked and fresh, crunchy and soft, hot and cold. Surprisingly for an Asian dish, mozarella cheese is added just before you dip your chopsticks in. Tasty!

Penny ordered the vegetarian bimimbap, which arrived in a very warm bowl that continued to cook ingredients once it was at the table. Very colourful.

The restaurant has mixed reviews on yelp, but our experience was great! Most of the other diners were Korean, and the meal was definitely value-priced.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cocktails

I raided the liquor cabinet for Rob's 60th and propped a copy of  'Old Man Drinks' at the bar, but it turned out the most popular cocktails were the most popular cocktails. Namely, martinis, gin and tonics, mohitos, and white wine spritzers.

We also had ingredients on hand for classics like Manhattans, Whiskey Sours, and even Gin and Milk.  I never did get around to trying the Monkey Gland, but love the backstory:
They say W.B. Yeats had monkey glands implanted in his scrotum when he was an old man, to help restore his sexual potency. That revolutionary procedure, which was all the rage in the 1920s, provided the inspiration for this cocktail, first mixed up by Harry MacElhone, owner of Harry's Bar in New York and Paris. The Washington Post pronounced it the smash hit of the 1923 tourist season, and it was later adjudged to be one of the quintessential cocktails of the Prohibition era. No representations are implied regarding this drinks - ahem - rejuvenating powers, although it is a fact that Yeats got his groove back soon after undergoing the procedure.

The Old Fashioned "may be the quintessential old man drink. It's so old, it was being called old-fashioned back in 1890. It's so old, one of the glasses we drink cocktails in is named after it. It's so old, some scholars believe it was the first drink to be called a cocktail."
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I must get myself a decent muddler so I can try some of these at home.

We also had some absinthe, and near the end of the night some of us were pouring Green Fairies, although I don't think we had quite the same knack as some famous devotees, well practised in the art.

I was secretly hoping to use up some of the liqueurs and mixers that get picked up for parties and never get quite finished, but those bottles came home again, to be poured into coffees and on top of ice cream for the coming holiday season.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wasn't that a party!

Rob 60? Unbelievable! After a bit of arm-twisting I persuaded Rob into having a party to celebrate. What a fabulous time! It turned out Alex and Penny's party room was available, a fabulous space with comfortable leather couches, a billiard table, shuffleboard, and a great bar.  All of Rob's siblings & their spouses were able to make it: Gord & Linda from Oakville; Brenda and Bill from Caledon; Lois and Mark from Matewatchen, and Sheila from Victoria BC.  Sheila's coming was truly a surprise, you could tell from Rob's reaction it took a millisecond to sink in that yes, that was Sheila coming through the door. Kathy, Al, my Mom, Penny's mom, Jeff, Sue. And nieces (Tina and Sarah) and nephews (Spencer and Ryan). Liz and Darcy. Ross and Virginia. Friends from BPYC, too... Grace, Kaarina, Dick, Maureen, Annika, Dino, Wendy and Raymond. It was wonderful to see everyone together enjoying each others' company.

There was lots of food (definitely too much, so many leftovers!) and copious cocktails (just a little too much), and a red velvet cake with cream cheese.

Best of all though, were the toasts. People shared funny stories and happy memories about Rob. And rather than just listening, Rob responded, so it was more like a mutual reminiscence. A great celebration for a wonderful person, husband, father & friend!


Friday, November 14, 2014

November garden


Nov 2nd
Nov 11
Mid-November, and it has snowed a few times but still melts quickly. The pots are readied for the winter; the cyclamen bulbs in the ground. Some plants are moving indoors, like the purple oxalys and begonia bulbs.

.... and there is a white rose and late nasturtium hanging on... snake root and toad lily blooms nodding in the sun.  The backyard is golden today.

In the front garden, the dragon's blood maple looks lit from within, while it could still be summer as far as the junipers and green grasses are concerned.

I am putting some souvenirs from our London trip out by the pond... some interesting pieces from our mudlarking by the Thames. Odd little nobs and indents worn by centuries of grinding with the tides; a bit of broken glass with a thickness that looks like it could be late nineteenth century; and a piece of old brick or a pottery shard. Hopefully these will enjoy our Canadian winter.


London mudlarking treasures

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sadhana Moon - November


Day 8 of the sadhana, and it is tough slogging getting up to be at the studio by 6 am everyday.  The plus side is, this time of year, the moon is rising a bit ahead of you and is perfectly placed in view for the drive to the studio.
 
Moon is officially full November 6th at 5:23 pm.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Yes Please


Thanking the Globe and Mail for publishing this excerpt from Amy Poehler's book, Yes Please.

I am a moon junkie. Every time I look at the moon, I feel less alone and less afraid. I tell my boys that moonlight is a magic blanket and the stars above us are campfires set by friendly aliens. I track lunar cycles on my iPhone and take my kids outside at night when a moon is new or full or blue. We call this “moon hunting” and we bring flashlights and moon candy along. The moon candy looks suspiciously like M&M’s, but so far neither of my sons has noticed.

On moon-hunting nights, I give them a bath and rub both of my boys down with Aveeno lotion and comb their hair. I spread Aquaphor on my lips and try to kiss them. Sometimes I chase them around until I catch one and throw him on the bed like a bag of laundry. Most times I am too tired. Then we head outside. We wear pyjamas, because going outside at night in your pyjamas feels like breaking out of jail. I watch their little fat feet and their shiny cheeks as they jump into the backseat of the car. These boys, they are delicious. I swear, if I could eat my children, I would. I’d consume them like some beast in a Hieronymus Bosch painting, but in a friendlier, more mom-like way. Their little bodies make me salivate. It takes everything I have not to swallow them whole.

I love my boys so much I fear my heart will explode. I wonder if this love will crack open my chest and split me in half. It is scary, this love.
I should point out here that I have a picture of them wearing underwear on their heads while simultaneously pooping. Archie is on the toilet and Abel is on a potty and they are facing each other and smiling like crazy people. I plan on using it for blackmail when they are teenagers and won’t let me hug them in public any more.

When your children arrive, the best you can hope for is that they break open everything about you. Your mind floods with oxygen. Your heart becomes a room with wide-open windows.
You laugh hard every day. You think about the future and read about global warming. You realize how nice it feels to care about someone else more than yourself. And gradually, through this heart-heavy openness and these fresh eyes, you start to see the world a little more. Maybe you start to care a teeny tiny bit more about what happens to everyone in it. Then, if you’re lucky, you meet someone who gently gestures for you to follow her down a path that allows you to feel a little less gross about how many advantages you’ve had in life. I was lucky. I met Jane. Dr. Jane Aronson founded the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO), which addresses the medical, social and educational needs of children living in orphanages in over 11 countries.

Even though I’m bossy, I like being told what to do by people who are smarter and more interesting than me. Jane asked me to host her next event. She spoke about her travels all over the world. I told her I would love to do that someday and she said, “Okay, then. We will.” I hosted an event for her that next year and we became friends. Then she took me to Haiti a year after, as she’d promised.
At the end of 2012, I was in the middle of separating from my husband and preparing to host the Golden Globes for the first time. I felt completely sorry for myself while simultaneously believing I was hot shit. Great things were happening in my career and my personal life had exploded. I was trapped in an awful spiral of insecure narcissism.

I was nervous and excited to go to Haiti with Jane, if only for a change of scenery. And so, I boarded a plane bound for Haiti on New Year’s Day 2013.

My first impression was of total chaos. The streets of Port-au-Prince were filled with dust and trash and babies. There was so much to look at. Everyone was busy carrying something.
I saw Haitian boys with bodies the same sizes as Archie’s and Abel’s carrying huge jugs of water. In just a few minutes you could tell which kids had parents and which were on their own. I kept trying to connect the small children and the adults they were walking next to. I was looking for comfort. I was uncomfortable. You know that horrible feeling when you lose your kid for a minute in a mall and your heart pounds and your ears fill with blood? It was that feeling. When I drove the streets of Haiti it felt like many of the children I saw were lost and no one was looking for them.

We arrived at an open field filled with young Haitian WWO volunteers. They wore matching shirts and led the kids in what looked like improv games. Some of the boys were playing soccer, and Jane tied her long-sleeved shirt around her waist and joined them.

I realized there was no getting out of physical activity, so I sashayed over to the small amplifier and started to DJ. A dance party broke out. The kids laughed at me at first until they realized I am a world-class dancer with moves of steel. Most of these children were used to living in the moment. Thinking about the future was a luxury. They took turns with their paintbrushes. There was no crying about sharing. There was no pushing or saying they were bored. Everyone was used to waiting.
A weird sandstorm kicked up and the dust swirled like a magic trick. We all paused together to watch, and I took a mental picture and time-travelled to the future. I thought about my boys being teenagers and playing soccer and dancing and sharing.

Those kids needed so much holding. Kisses and hugs and clothes and parents. They needed everything. The enormity of what they needed was so intense.

We ended up talking in the street with Jane, and crying. Jane was agitated and passionate. She talked about all the work left to do and all the small changes that can improve children’s lives. I was once again moved by her ability to steer into the curve. Jane was a big-wave rider. She didn’t make the mistake that most of us make, which is to close our eyes and hope the waves will go away or miss us or hit someone else. She dove in, headfirst.

Later that night we talked about animals. Wendy, a WWO supervisor, shared a story about how her daughter was caught in a stampede of elephants and lived to tell about it because she ran left instead of right. And because she knew one simple fact: Elephants leave the way they come in. We all agreed that elephants win for coolest animal, and I showed off by reciting my elephant facts. Elephants have long pregnancies and purr like cats to communicate. They cry, pray and laugh. They grieve. They have greeting ceremonies when one of them has been away for a long time.

I thought of this when I got back to my boys, the elephants and the greeting ceremonies. I told them about how one day we might ride an elephant and they climbed on each other to act it out, switching parts halfway through. I gave them a bath and put lotion on their skin. I realized how lucky my life is. And theirs. I lay in bed and thought about time and pain, and how many different people live under the same big, beautiful moon.