Friday, December 9, 2011

many passports ago

Found my first passport the other day. At least I think it was my first. Went to Mexico when I was about 18 but don't think I had a passport. Is that possible?

Anyway, this is me when I was... what is it, 25, just before a trip to Jamaica. Funny cuz a really gorgeous (and admittedly sweet-talking) 30-year-old told me today that I look 25 but of course he didn't see this bit of evidence to the contrary.

I looked so innocent... unmarked. And yeah, nowadays my soul is a map. I've traveled so much over the last two decades, I've been thinking lately I should write some details down one day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

been awhile since

... i posted anything work-related. But when I saw the ocean on G's walk this morning, it asked me to share this very compelling Q&A interview with the author of a new book about what's going on in the oceans.

Photo by World Resources Institute.
I try not to talk about these things too much with most of the people I know because it's hard for me to stay calm and find the right words to get through the shields people create for themselves. Because, psychologically, we humans are having trouble dealing with the ecological problems our industrial society has created. It's downright scary, mindboggling, depressing. Better for your mental health not to think too-too much about it, I know. Just because it consumes much of my thoughts and, increasingly, my actions/lifestyle, I want to be clear: I am not judging anyone. Particularly the person (hi, S) with whom I recently discussed my gradual ethical transformation into this eco-hardass! I hope she can stop feeling scared to talk to me about such stuff and she can now attest that I do make, at my little city homestead, a pretty awesome loaf of bread!

Okay, end of enviro-interlude. Thanks for listening.

Addendum: Just got my hydro bill and mainly because of receiving my lamps with CFL bulbs (and probably also do to my deciding to cut down on heating a bit after having been shocked by my October bill), my consumption dropped from 10kwh/day in October, back to what it was at in August: 3kwh/day. Wonder what the corresponding CO2 reduction on that is!

Monday, November 21, 2011

the joys of unfussy

I'm so glad I'm pretty much the unfussiest person I know. Take celery root. It's bizarre looking and is probably ignored by a large percentage of shoppers, but man, I heart the stuff. And in super-easy savoury cakelets? Yes please! (I'm happily thinking of the four leftover ones in the fridge.)

Celery root muffies
Adapted (read: simplified) from Muffin Tin Mania

3 cups grated celery root
2 eggs
¼ cup flour of choice
1 Tbsp capers
1-2 tsp ground coriander, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grate the celery root (takes a strong arm if doing it by hand!). Combine all the ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Divide mixture among 8 buttered muffin-tin cups (half-fill the empty cups with water: the steam will help make the tops crunchy and the filled ones bake more evenly) and bake for 25 minutes until the tops have turned a golden. Let cool a bit before lifting them out with a rubber spatula.

Friday, November 11, 2011

yes, soup for you

I don't know why I logged in, I'm too tired to blog. But then I saw this recipe I meant to post waiting in drafts and I'm just gonna go for it.

And, as a matter of fact, I think I'll make some this weekend, WITH HOMEMADE BREAD! Because... drumroll please... my stuff got here last Thursday so I have my cookbooks with my awesome no-knead bread recipe and the dutch oven I need to bake it in. Plus I just ordered a lovely huge bag of unbleached flour and a Sugar Pie (heirloom) pumpkin that I could use in place of squash.

Ginger-scented squash and apple soup
(adapted from a couple of places)
  • 1 leek (white only)
  • 1 butternut or some Hubbard (quantity depending on size, some are huge!) squash, peeled, seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored, chopped (squash and apple should be at a 3 to 1 ratio)
  • 3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth if vegetarian)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger root
  • Splash of milk or half and half (optional)
  • A bit of salt, if necessary (my veg stock is salted so I didn't add any)
Boil squash and when half-done, add apple, leek and ginger. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for until squash is soft. Puree veg with some of cooking water, [return to a pot if you used a blender rather than a hand-held thingy] and add broth gradually until you have the thickness of soup you want. Stir in the milk/cream if you want.

Absolutely autumn-licious.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

it was gone before i noticed

Many will roll their eyes at me for complaining about this, but all the mutt walking has left my jeans unattractively baggy. It seems to have happened kind of suddenly, or maybe in my 'emotional distraction' mode, I didn't notice it happening. But anyway, my shipment is set to arrive within the next week or two so hopefully amongst the bulk of my clothing are some pants that will better compliment what I've got left back there.

And how happy I will be to have a fall coat or three to choose from, instead of wearing the one sweater (I purchased from a yard sale) or 5 layers of summer clothing I've been swaddling myself in. Not to mention gloves, more socks, my bathrobe, hiking boots, rain boots, other running shoes, sofa cushions, my comforter, floor lamps, some things to hang on the tiresomely white walls, etc., etc., etc.

Another category of my things I'm so ready to receive is my cook/bakeware and large spice collection. Because another reason I think I'm slimmer than ever is that I've taken the habit of eating more macrobiotic than ever. I only eat out once or twice a week nowadays. No more regular doses of heavy tapas, and not even any take-out or delivery. Since there's no one to compromise with, I pretty much subsist on veggies and whole grains and yummy but nutritious things like the dessert below I whipped up to take along after an invite to my sister's friend's place last week.

Now I'm off to make some peanut butter pumpkin bars and dog cookies.

Caramel pumpkin pudding tarts

adpted from healthfulpursuit
  • 1/4 cup raw (or toasted) buckwheat groats
  • 6 medjool dates (soaked +/-15 minutes)
  • 3 tbsp almonds
  • 6 tbsp raisins, soaked (or 3 tbsp raisins and 3 of candied ginger)
  • 1/2 tsp almond or vanilla extract
Pulse nuts and buckwheat until finely chopped but not powdery. Set aside in a bowl. Pulse dates, raisins, ginger. Combine well and press into tart shapes (makes 4, but pudding makes double that so double base if you wish). You can bake them briefly at 250F to dry them out a bit (20-30 min) but they get very crunchy if you do, which is nice if you have good teeth!

adapted from loveveggiesandyoga
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds, boiled in 3/4 cup water until thickening (then set aside and let cool)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (to taste; can also omit or use maple syrup, stevia, agave, etc.)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon, optional
  • 1/8 tsp vanilla extract, optional
  • 1 cup greek yogurt
  • a pinch of maca root powder, if you've got some

Prepare the flax gel. When it's cooled somewhat but not totally, add brown sugar and stir well until sugar is dissolving. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, vanilla, maca. Mix well and then stir in yogurt. Refrigerate until ready to serve. If you've baked the shells you might want to scoop the pudding in an hour or two before serving to soften the crunch a bit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

closeness lost

Overshare warning: more confessions today. So yes, I'm lonely and struggling with big questions about myself. While it is super-extra great to be near all four of my sisters (and nephew as a bonus) for the first time in 23 years, I have no friends here. The one potential, who was also a newcomer and with whom I had an eerie number of things in common, decided to return to her native San Francisco. Not that I've given up. I have begun forcing myself to do things I don't love doing, since I am a bit introverted, like joining activity groups.

But the whole experience has made me face the fact that it's a long while since i made a new true friend, and I continue (oh damn the overseas living) to lament the distance, literal & figurative, between me and most of those few I used to have. And i seem to have forgotten how to forge new friendships. Or maybe I've lost the true desire to do so. I guess I'm having trouble seeing the point as I don't seem to be able to develop the closeness I used to enjoy with various friends.

Have I changed? I think I trust people less than I used to. And frankly, I also find myself finding a lot of people vacuous, unable to converse about important things, or open-up about their emotions. Maybe it's my "high emotional sensitivity" (I've discovered I might be a HSP) that gets in the way? Or has the world changed? Are people too busy, too lazy, or too cyber-connected to feel the need for real intimacy? Intimacy with not just with me, but with real issues, reality, humanity.

Wow, lucky the sun is shining again today or this would seem an even bigger downer. If that's even possible...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

way to move

so, with the pleasantly switched forecast today, G-dog was very anxious to take our afternoon walk and wouldn't stop bugging me as i puttered around doing chores. when we finally hit the seawall (where else would one choose to walk on a sunny late Sunday afternoon?) the only one going faster than us (not counting the runners, rollerbladers & gazillion cyclists) was one super-modelly looking speed-walker, clad in black spandexy outfit & barefoot shoes, the latest trend in sporty Vancouver.

And even she didn't leave us in the dust or anything, she just got ahead of us somehow but then ended up at a very similar pace and therefore never took a long lead.

I was in a groove partly because I had, for a change, decided to grab my iPod (I don't usually wear it walking G as it's harder to communicate with /command her) but also because I was buzzing on the fall sunshine, etc. And the G was being such an angel, it finally confirmed my suspicion that her behaviour when we walk is directly correlated to how close we are from going at her natural pace.

Which apparently would be a touch faster than a supermodel's, if she weren't tied to a leash held by my hand.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thursday night confessions

So, yes, I've been imbibing. At the moment it's just rose petal nectar water that my sister M bought because she liked the bottle (I'm working on it M, you'll have your damn bottle soon). A strange and virgin cocktail I know but I'm listening to The Heavy so that makes me at least half cool, doesn't it? (Does anyone even say "cool" anymore?)

But I digress. The fact is that I had an urge to blog tonight but it popped into my head that I felt like finally just letting myself go and posting whatever I felt like it without censoring myself as I've always done here and on pinchmi before.

Then I thought of my dark blog and how neglected it is and what's the point of posting there anymore. (So yes, confession number two: I have a secret sad full-of-bad-poetry blog.) And then I realized, hey, I think my dark blog was my first blog! See it wasn't always dark. I started it to chronicle our 'Foreign Life', when we first left Montreal. But then I despaired on unemployment in Ottawa for many winter months and my darkness started to emerge and the few readers I had dropped off. I think two people may still have the URL and, unfortunately for them, I still do occasionally post a poem.

Oh but now I'm remembering that I can't quite call it my first blog as I had a websitey thing with Tripod (anybody remember Tripod? well then maybe you remember Archie and gopher)  before moving to Blogger. But it was more of a writing portfolio thing I think, and technology back then was so much less sophisticated (that's about, what 15, years ago) and man, I think I remember that it had jpgs of photos I shot of clippings from my University newspaper writing career!

Hey but wait, the dark one was not my only "secret" one. I also had another, slightly more widely read, clandestine blog (anybody remember The Poop?) before the nameless one, aka The Ex, got all paranoid and made me delete it because a colleague of mine found out about it and his wife worked at the embassy I was "telling all" on... That one could've been good. As a disgusted taxpayer, I had harboured a secret hope that it would get discovered and popular.

Anyway, there, I've done it, I've let myself rant about whatever popped into my head. Now I'm going to do another thing I had the urge to do and that is to reveal to her adoring fans that Little Ms. Adorable Mutt, is my own special burden sometimes.

Bad things the dog has done (so far) this week
(Well since Tuesday because I can't remember past then, but I'm sure there was plenty of stuff.)

Tuesday: Lucky dog that she is, during the 2+ hours that I walk her daily, I occasionally let her off the leash to play fetch on the beach (her new favourite game). Well on Tuesday, despite the fact that I had been treating her with CHEESE, she ran off, waaaaaaaayyy far down the beach, and even swam out, quite far, further than she's yet swum (she's just learning!), chasing after a seagull or a duck or something. She refused to come back for like 5 minutes and I sort of thought she never would. "Dog, you're still a dog," I told her. "Yes, wet you sort of do look like a polar bear cub, but you're NOT."

Wednesday: With her undeserved luck holding, the next day, she found a really big (drumstick) chicken bone, and promptly snarfed it even though I've told her a zillion times not to eat random bones, especially poultry. Okay so none of the hundreds she's eaten to date have splintered in her throat or impaled her intestines but that doesn't mean that one someday won't.

Thursday: I gave her dinner (Marine Stewardship Council certified Alaskan pollock, toasted millet, and simmered kale) and left her a kong with bread and peanut butter in it and another with a chicken heart in it. And then I left to go eat dinner with my nephew. I was gone about two hours! Got home to find she had, of course, silly me, gotten her big nose (supported by her dirty front paws) onto the kitchen counter and knocked down a plastic glass with a few tablespoons of brazil nut flour in it and a few sheets of leftover flat bread (I forget what it's called and what country it's from, and I can't find it here which is weird because there are so many on this really great list. Wish it had recipes!) Anyway, aside from the fact that a) she didn't need that extra food and b) she broke the plastic glass, I've also told her a zillion times that she is not allowed to take things off the counter!

Okay well, the week is totally not over yet so this list doesn't seem that impressive now but it'll grow for sure. After proofreading this one last time, I'm thinking my dog might be a bit spoiled, what do you think?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

the people that you meet

The secret life guy: Somehow a middle-aged technical writer neighbour of mine ended up confessing that he blog-squerades (has someone invented that word already?) as a 20-something German prison guard living (or was it working?) in London. Curious but too chicken to ask him, since I suspect he had one drink too many the day he told me, I have searched for his blog but am unable to find it.

Mr. '67: Walking a dog can occasionally lead you into conversation with strangers (though, sadly not as many as I'd like, as I am always on the lookout for friend-material). Usually the chit-chat is quite light, "Oh, what kind of dog is that?" kind of thing. But one fellow dog owner who opened up to me straight away was a youthful 72-year-old hippy who confessed that he is pleasantly surprised to be alive. I had mentioned having just moved here and he told me he moved here in 1967 and loved it so much he stayed. He spent his youth "doing very bad things" he said and is now determined to enjoy the life he is shocked to still be rocking (he looked nowhere near 72, hence my choice of "rocking").

Happy hardware man: Several weeks back I popped into a small hardware shop for some necessaries and the very jovial owner kept calling me young girl though he himself looked to be in his early sixties. Needless to say, I loved him and plan to make him my regular hardware stop. 

Silver Benz: (Well, I didn't actually meet this guy I saw yesterday morning but he truly made an impression!) A regularly dressed older guy turned my head around when I realized it was his shiny new Mercedes idling next to the garbage bin he was picking softdrink cans out of with one of those garbage pick-up stick/arm things. I crossed the street and watched as he drove from one bin to the next in a parking lot next to the beach.

Welcome to Vancouver's West End.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

got me a dose of justified paranoia

So another tale of woe (I've had many of late, as I seem to have been struck by some sort of minor hex) that I've not mentioned is my non-justifiably besmirched credit record.

In finally switching banks (had wanted to for some time, for ethical/tarsands reasons but could not do so from overseas), my new credit union branch manager told me that they unfortunately had to limit the activities I would be able to conduct on my account, due to a collection agency being apparently after me! Me, queen of responsibility and thrift! Me who hates to owe anything to anyone and hadn't had any debt to speak of since university!

Needless to say, I was upset. It took numerous phone calls for me to determine that, in fact, the collection agency was after someone named Caroline and not moi, and for an address I have never lived at!  How this got attached to my credit record, none of the involved parties can say. But regardless, Equifax, the credit bureau from hell (holders of the smear!), got me so incredibly frustrated I thought my head would explode, with their horrible contact options, long hold times, ignorant call-centre workers spouting things that just do not make sense, and a complete unavailability of supervisors who one might hope may be better informed/more intelligent.

Oh and by the way, Equifax records your phone call without advising you in advance (the dumbest agent I spoke to let that slip). Which is fine by me, perhaps someone may hear the dumb idiot repeat nonsense over and over, despite my valid debunking every time.

The collection agency was, on the other hand, very helpful and professional. They went out of their way to exonerate me enough to satisfy my credit union.

As for my official credit record, unfortunately the matter still lies in the hands of Equimess. I need to be in a very calm place before I call them back up to find out the status of the correction to my record.

But I digress... Sorry. What I wanted to whinge about was the fact that in the last week, I've started receiving spam in my junk mail folder that is specifically about credit records! There is no privacy in e-world, people, none at all. And it's rather frightening.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

i've become a Reply All idiot

Okay, so I don't know what to use as an excuse. Emotional distraction? Bad hayfever that's making me sleepy? Finally-don't-give-enough-of-a-damn syndrome? Twice in the past week  I've Replied All, meaning to delete the sender's address & just copy my close colleagues, and then whoopsie, forgot to delete the sender!

Thankfully in neither case did I disparage the sender. Nonetheless, the mssgs did contain enough ingredients to allow me to be embarrassed, which I am not easily.

Hopefully the trend does not continue, cuz I sorta-kinda really need my job.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

an ultimatum?

I just remembered I have a funny post in the 'drafts' folder that I never finished about the quirky people I've met in the eclectic West End, my new 'hood.

I could also talk about Meg, the apple-nutmeg scented bonzai I got, or brag about how happy I am to have furnished my new apt for about $600 (excluding my natural latex bed, which could be a whole other post), or I could rant about the fact that my personal effects are only leaving Spain today and will take another month to get here... but I'm not feeling much like blogging these days, or maybe ever again.

Say something to change my mind, oh silent visitors of mine...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

let summer foods console me

Opening the fridge this evening, to add the leftovers of my dinner of pan-fried young broccoli with garlic and new red potatoes with butter and black pepper, i noticed how full it was but how everything was staying so fresh, particularly the lovely veg I got at the farmer's market on Saturday.

Then I also realized, wow, the overwhelming majority of stuff is not only organic, but local too. You have just got to love summer.

So there is:

  • half a leftover flax/hemp oatmeal pancake
  • dog food components (cooked)
  • a serving left in a pkg of tofu
  • some dregs at the bottom of a hummus container
  • leftover spicy bean mash (from a heirloom local bean mix)
  • toasted amaranth & coconut pudding i made last night
  • a pkg of tempeh
  • nice big pack of fresh spinach linguine (better eat that tomorrow)
  • apricots, figs, 1 peach
  • green, red, yellow peppers
  • beet greens & beets
  • 1/2 a cucumber
  • basil
  • a big bag of green beans
  • potatoes
  • a little bit of lettuce
  • 2 flavours of yogurt (the lemon's almost finished)
  • milk
  • eggs
  • 2-3 cheeses
  • miso
  • peanut butter
  • dog cookies

(the freezer has mostly bread, more dog food, and some blackberries I picked in the park this morning and decide to preserve for the dark days of winter).

What's in your fridge today?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

breakfast right off the bush

How refreshing it is to gaze in awe at huge cedar trees in a misty forest and pick wild blackberries just a 15-minute walk away from a busy downtown street. Everytime G and I have walked in Stanley Park this past week, she's had to wait while I reach up into the huge cascading blackberry canes to find the deliciously sour nuggets.

This morning, as most people were heading off to work, the park was quiet and it seems no one had yet come along to find the ripe ones, so I scored myself a huge handful that I savoured as Miz Whitey pulled me along in search of wildlife.

Monday, August 22, 2011

dreaming of soft sleep

So my resolve to buy new only those things that are of hygienic concern (bed & futon sofa mattress) has not been too difficult to maintain. As the photos in my new album show, it's quite easy to quickly decorate in an affordable/live simply, if eclectic, way here in Vancouver.

Antique desk $50, chair $5
Of course my aching body may not agree with the "easy" part as shopping at yard sales (where people set out used/antique things for sale on the front lawn of their houses or apartment buildings) and on craigslist, freecycle and kijiji when you don't have a car means you've got to walk these things home. Well, that is of course "got to" if you're as... uh... frugal/thrifty as I am.

The only item not carried by foot was the futon frame, which I had intended to carry for the 7 blocks home (with the aid of my poor sister M), but it turned out to be just too heavy and we had to call a van taxi. Actually, it might not be that much heavier than my gorgeous limed (solid!) oak 1950s bookcase, for which I paid only $11, but I picked it up the morning after I (alone) walked the bookcase home for 1 km and I had no energy left!

Love my new bookcase & the thing is strong enough
for that monster TV my nephew gave me.
Anyway, my new bed arrives tonight and my muscles are very anxious, because to recover they really do need to sleep on something soft, rather than the deflate-while-you-sleep air bed I've been on for a week.

G-dawg, on the other hand (paw?) is napping quite comfortably in her new antique beef & pork packing crate bed, dreaming of squirrels, no doubt. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

world's brightest office?

So here I am, trying to work, sitting cross-legged on the floor (on a cotton mat provided by my sister E) of my new empty livingroom/office. My monitor is perched on the small box that housed my Mac Mini (hard drive), the keyboard is on my lap and the mouse is set on a soft CD storage book, which is mounted on a Radiohead box set.

I should really try to get as much work done as possible in the next couple of hours because the white drapes that were supplied with the apartment don't do much to filter the sunlight that will soon pound directly in and bounce around the white walls.

The G-dog is fast asleep on the other side of the room, over by the balcony door. Yesterday I ran her around a bit too much I think, considering we were still quite jetlagged. This morning she seemed a bit more herself, enjoying the many squirrels we saw in Stanley Park, which is but a 10 minute walk from our new home.

(Opps, she just woke up to chase a fly, they don't put screens on windows here.) Maybe this evening I'll have a chance to get down to the dog beach and finally introduce her to the ocean.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

local food, bicycles and lemonade stands

Is there anything quite like summer in Montreal? I don't think so...

Though it's a bittersweet temporary homecoming, there are so many simple pleasures that soothe me somewhat.  This morning I bought some fine Quebec cheese, good bread and local strawberries.

This afternoon the sky cleared and I had poutine with pepper sauce for lunch in the company of someone dear to me.

Later in the day I hopped on my new friend, a Bixi (share) bike, and cycled past some kids manning a good old fashioned lemonade stand as I headed towards Mont-Royal for a picnic with other friends, whose 5, 4, 3, 1 year old children I met for the first time.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

finally defined

Not that it matters, as this blog's days are numbered anyway, but I was talking to someone the other day who mentioned reading my blog but couldn't pronounce it. And it made me remember how I chose the name and it was an ironic reminder to have right now really, as some of you might see.

See last summer when we arrived in dear old Spain we used to go walking in the empty fields in and around the town we were staying in. I was struck by all the snails (caracoles) everywhere and I noticed that they had a penchant for climbing things — fences, tall plants, etc — which I had not previously known about snails as I'd always imagined them snailing slimeishly around in the dirt.

Well, I reasoned, it must be because it's so dry here, the sun beats down mercilessly in the summer, with precipitation an extremely rare event. So the snails are thirsty and climb things simply in search of dew to satiate their parched snail souls.

And ta-da, that's when my mind likened us, this 2-legged smug species of ours, to snails. We're all just working our way through life, seeking something to quench us. Somos (we are) but as instinctually driven as these base little creatures.

Yet smart as we think we are, we have no shell to protect us.

Friday, June 3, 2011

say a prayer for the scaley souls

We very rarely buy fish, so go figure that the day I buy a kilo of fresh beautiful sardines, I see this stunning graphic prepared in honour of European fish week, the website for which has even more mind-boggling fun.

Grace and I thank you for your lives, little glimmering friends.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Beet-red Velvet Terrine/Pâté

loosely based on this gone raw burger recipe
  • 1 or 2 fresh raw beets
  • 2 small/med. carrots *
  • 1/2 to 1 cup walnuts, soaked in water for an hour or so
  • 2 tablespoons brewer's yeast (optional I guess)
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons of miso paste (depending if you use 1 or 2 beets and how salty your miso is)
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons of cardamom seeds (shelled), toasted in a pan for a few minutes on medium and then ground with mortar & pestle**
  • olive oil

* The original recipe called for sundried tomatoes, which are also fantastic in this recipe, I just forgot to soak mine first!
** I guess you could use already powdered but it just won't have the same fantastic flavour. In fact, you could use a different spice/s as the original recipe called for cumin, celery seeds and oregano, not cardamom!
The orig. recipe also calls for some garlic and a little bit of onion, which is also good but optional too.

Start your walnuts soaking. Peel and roughly chop a beet or two, ditto the carrots. Drain your walnuts. Dump all that into the food processor (or mini-chopper, in batches) and add the miso, yeast and cardamom. Drizzle with some olive oil. Pulse to chop and then process until uniform and a good texture.

You can either bake it until it's heated through or eat it cold. It'll blow your mind either way.

Monday, May 23, 2011

not only dogs do it in the park

Okay so I've decided to come clean about something I've been struggling with, which I'm ashamed of: ethnocentricism. I thought I was getting better, recovering somewhat from an initial culture shock I've felt coming to the land of the brash from polite Japan. I was adjusting, trying to reason with myself whenever the culture-judging instinct took hold, and not feeling so hostile in response to what I perceived as rampant hostility, negativity, inconsideration.

And then... Two incidents turned my head around in the space of a few days and had me resentful again. Last weekend I was having dinner on the sidewalk terrace of a restaurant around the corner with my visitor/travel mate on her last night in Spain. It was typical Spanish dinner time, which is 10:30 p.m., so it was not unusual that a family soon arrived and took the table next to us that included a little girl and two (10/11-year-old) boys who decided to play rather than sit down as their parents looked at the menu.

No big deal, it's a free world, right? Except the game that they chose to play just a few metres from our table was soccer with a soda can, which on a sidewalk makes a heck of a racket. But you know what? No one, including the parents, seemed to mind or care. I thankfully didn't have a migraine but as this went on for 10, then 20 minutes, I thought of the residents of the building directly above who may not be dining but rather trying to relax. We certainly didn't enjoy our dinners and kept shooting dirty looks at the immune parents, to no avail.

When there was a break in the noisy game, I glanced over to see that it was because the two boys decided to step off of the sidewalk onto a little square of grass/hedge and, get ready for this, have a peeing contest... Needless to say we finished up our food as quick as possible and fled.

Now I need to explain that men and children urinating in public places is super-common here and I still have not adjusted to that but I try, try, try to rein in my disgust and remind myself that my reaction is based on a taboo in my own culture and that I must not judge others.

However, should we not, please, draw the line at pooping? Yes, that's right, and I don't mean to shock you (or rather, maybe I do! so then I won't feel so guilty about my ethnocentricism? chime in with comments, won't you, please?) but a few days after that fateful dinner I was walking the G-dawg at lunchtime and entered a park full of picnicking office workers only to come upon a man in front of some bushes (yes, in front) squatted with his pants around his ankles. Okay, he didn't look like a businessman or anything, could have been drunk, disturbed, I don't know. But it was just... too much for me. Down I sunk again into my despair.

But.... here's a happy ending for you. I've been buoyed up again in the last few days by a grandfatherly fruit-store owner who stuffed my knapsack with extra (free, if somewhat wrinkled) apples and called me cielo (a term of endearment that literally translates as "sky") and an exceptionally friendly poodle-owning lady who chatted me up (as Grace smelled her Tony) and in parting also called me cielo.

So who knows, maybe the sky's the limit. Someday I could love Madrid as much as I loved Tokyo.

PS: Still not finished uploading my pix from the south to Flickr but will hopefully do so over the weekend.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

G speaks

Okay so yes, I'm officially obsessed with Mishka the talking husky of late, but in my defence, the training that yielded the talent G-dawg displays in this video predates my knowledge of Mishka's existence (though I do attempt for the zillionth time in this video to get G to speak English, with Mishka's iconic "I love you" being my dream)! We taught G to talk on cue because A's mom really-really gets a kick out of hearing her over the phone.

Recently, my friend Teacup was visiting and I made G speak for her. It was T who sent me the Mishka link upon her return home. Sadly, G just doesn't seem to have a knack for any other language but hers, and she speaks mainly for cookies rather than a desire to communicate that huskies seem to have. But she certainly is as kawaii as ever, ne!

I've gotta go finish packing my bag now. I leave tomorrow a.m. on a southern exploration by train, as mentioned. Pictures will eventually follow. Hasta luego.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


When so much time has passed, it's hard to know where to start. For those I haven't spoken to in the interim, I spent the last couple of months not just worrying about my friends and colleagues in Japan but also working on a website that launched a few weeks ago.

Penitents leading a procession through the streets
of Sevilla on the Sunday before Easter.
Since then I've been meaning to post but then had a visitor for a couple of weeks who kept me busy with sightseeing, including a trip to the truly awesome town of Sevilla during the run up to the city's famous Holy Week (Easter, etc.), so we actually got to see the procession floats on display in a couple of churches and then even some penitent processions on Palm Sunday (the pointy mask-hats creeped us both out a little). Apparently the major processions (can't imagine there being even more people in those narrow streets, I don't like crowds and I was freaking out a little as it was) later in the week got rained out.

Sadly, two days in Sevilla just aren't enough (we barely got to see a sliver of the gorgeous Alcázar) but I am going back there in a couple of weeks with a friend from Montreal who I'm meeting in Malaga next Monday. I will take tons of pics then and post about the trip afterwards as we're also going to Granada and stopping in Cordoba (all by train) on our way back up to Madrid.

But what I wanted to talk about today was something that I dreamed up the other night after A & I went to a concert by one of the few jazz artists A listens to who I actually really like a lot: Avishai Cohen. It was a really fantastic show with a very enthusiastic crowd & 4 encores that gave me an idea for a post theme like some I used to do in Tokyo: here are my cultural highlights of our time so far in Spain, which unbelievably is now 10 whole months. We tend to do more cultural things here than we ever did in Tokyo since it is very affordable and the selection is great.

Incendies: a play by Montrealer Wajdi Mouawad. We saw this back in early fall I think. The movie has come out, which I haven't seen but the play was excellent and it was so nice to hear some Québécois!

Max, by Batsheva Dance Company: the show was called Max and was arresting & fascinating, riveting in fact. It seems to have drawn heavily on the movement technique/'language' called Gaga (nothing to do with that Lady) developed by the company's artistic director that has apparently even become a sort of exercise style/movement, spreading to the US and Japan (Batsheva is coincidentally also Israeli).

Flamenco at Sevilla's Flamenco Museum: I'm afraid I didn't write down the names of the artists but all 4 were superb. Male and female dancers were both so impressive (I particularly like male flamenco as it seems more physical/passionate and you can see the foot work better without the dress!) and the vocalist and guitarist absolutely excellent. We were in the second row but it was hard to get nice pix as we weren't allowed flash so most are just a big blur!

Avishai Cohen: Bassist, composer, arranger and to my surprise, a really great singer. Most of his own work doesn't have that much vocals in it but he covered a couple of songs that night, including a version of this Argentinian ballad, Alfonsina y el mar, that was even more beautiful, if you can believe it.

Museums: It was nice to have a tourist-friend excuse to go back to two of Madrid's world-class museums, the Thyssen-bornemisza and the Del Prado. Am looking forward to the Picasso museum in Malaga now too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

white soup and sunshine

So Little-Ms-Homemade-from-Organic-Ingredients has a confession to make: I'm craving a Tetra-pac carton of non-organic soup that I (don't-know-what-possessed-me) bought a couple of weeks ago.

And get this: it's white and you eat it cold!

I was at a grocery store we rarely go to, a) because we rarely shop at grocery stores, ordering instead from a small organic shop whose owners deliver our purchases for free as their kid goes to school in our 'hood, and b) it's a pretty expensive, fancy one. I think I was there to buy meat for Grace, since I hadn't had a chance to go to the market that weekend.

Anyway, sorry, hunger is making me digress. It's lunch time, hence my dreaming of the White Garlic Gazpacho... Which was, by the way, though not organic, All Natural! The ingredients for which go something like this: Water +/-67%, almonds, breadcrumbs, garlic. I know this sounds strange, which I think is why I decided to buy it, but mmm-mmm-mmm, it is awesome.

But hey, in googling a recipe for it just now, I see that it usually has grapes in it too. Don't recall that ingredient. So I'm going to have to try making it one day soon as we seem to be into gazpacho weather of late (it's 15C and sunny as ever right now).

Meanwhile... maybe, instead of first eating here at my desk as I work (which'd have to be beet/feta salad for the 3rd meal in a row) like I normally do and then using my lunch break to walk the G, we'll jot out now and swing by a certain store!

Monday, February 14, 2011

cupid, frozen

Photo by Karine.

just as magnolias were tickled
out of their dream state
on the verge
of stretching unfurling
soft quiet lovely,
winter snuck back
in a jealous mood
to grab hearts
that had other plans

happy you know what
from chilly

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Sometimes I wish I were not such an eco-nut. Like right now, I'm hungry and want to make red lentil dahl but am lazy to copy down the recipe. For once, I wish we had a printer.

I'm also thinking it is time I bought some clothes, as my wardrobe is getting quite raggedy. Only problem is that I prefer second hand but there aren't any good ones in Madrid. Unless you're into polyester retro nonsense.

Another thing that irks me is my inability to find affordable vegan mascara (my organic shop has one for 18 euros!) and eye pencil. This old girl has very pale eyes and if I don't mark 'em up a little (and wear some blush) people are likely to ask me if I'm well.

On the latter items, this leads me to a very frustrating story... My sister M sent me a birthday package back in December that includes said mascara and eyeliner. However, the company subcontracted by the Spanish post office to handle customs on packages STILL has my package hostage!

We have struggled for two months to get it all settled (they don't answer the phone, but occasionally reply to e-mail with very rude tone and without including a name) and we still don't have a final explanation for all the charges that add up to a total duty/handling/tax/who-the-hell-knows-what bill of 70 euros!

We found out after our initial disbelief at their unprofessional/incompetent/suspected fraudulent behaviour that they are notorious for exactly this and worse! A particularly sad story is that of a Korean student to whom her mother sent (her own!) winter clothes. She ended up paying 90 euros, they didn't release her stuff because they decided to charge her more, but she decided not to pay (not trusting that would be the end of it) so lost her money and her clothes!

Anyway, there's a whole movement against this company (Speedtrans) it seems, which is why we're fighting and I still don't have my gift, no matter how much I crave it!

But enough about that for today. Finally, I have continued this post after dinner and have decided to include the dahl recipe, since I know my fav readers like to cook! And bonus: this is easy-peasy.

A second bowl's a given red lentil dahl
(adapted from The Weather in Cascadia)

  • olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp (freshly ground) coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • (2 tablespoons hemp or flax meal, optional)
  • salt to taste
  • a few dollops plain yogurt, optional

Heat the oil and fry the garlic & ginger on med-high for a couple of minutes. Add all the spices and cook another couple of minutes.

Add the lentils and vegetable broth, and raise the heat to medium-high. When it comes to a boil, reduce to medium-low and simmer, partially covered. Continue to simmer and stir occasionally until the lentils are tender - around 15 minutes. (Add hemp powder at some point just before you're ready to serve.)

Taste and season with salt.

Ladle into bowls and add the yogurt, if desired.

If you want a lot of yogurt, as we did (a big tablespoon each) you might want to warm it first as it cooled the dahl a bit too much. We devoured ours with (microwave) baked sweet potatoes and steamed judias verdes (gigantic flat Spanish green beans). And I found a treasure in the freezer this afternoon: a brownie each for dessert!


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

i wasn't hungry, until i ate

For those who don't know my secret, I eat often. I mean secret in the positive, "Ooh, that's what her secret is" sense. Because yes, I know I'm quite thin and I know eating often helps my metabolism to keep it that way.

But I digress... My point is that today around my normal morning snack time (that is about 3-4 hours after my breakfast, which this morning was toast with chestnut honey-drizzled fresh cheese and a pear), I wasn't actually hungry but went to the kitchen merely to make myself a cup of chai tea.

While waiting for the water to boil however, I saw the tin on the counter and thought, oh I'll have just one. Well one woke up my stomach and I think I ate five (they're small) and had to force myself to put the lid back on. My stomach is still growling, 20 minutes later.

Anyway, the whole episode reminded me that I must share this recipe. Those who like oat cakes MUST try 'em for they are too easy and superb.

Thyme-scented oat cakes
Adapted from Anja's Food 4 Thought

8 oz fine stone-ground oats (I used organic flaked oats, which are popular here)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
6-8 tablespoons boiling water

Preheat the oven to 375F/180C. Line a baking sheet with parchment (I just used a nice newish, unscratched non-stick one, no paper).

Whizz all ingredients except the water in a food processor, mini chopper or blender, until well combined.

Add the boiling water one tablespoon at a time. By the 5th spoon it'll start to get sticky but thick, which is how you want it, so stop putting water when it looks like a good dough consistency (I think I put 5 or 6).

Make a ball & roll it out on a floured surface while still warm (or it gets too stiff), to as thin as possible (approx 2 mm). Cut with cookie cutter, glass or a knife.

Bake 15-17 minutes until lightly coloured. Cool on rack & store in airtight container.


Peanut butter and banana granola bar squares
that are a meal in themselves!
Aside from that, I also made some rich peanut butter & banana granola squares last week (photo here) and on the weekend came pretty close to complete success in the bread department.

I made two baguettes the other night (dough had been fermenting, à la Peter Reinhart, in the fridge a couple of days) that had me doing a bit of a victory dance and taunting poor innocent Alain, who responded by saying no, he wasn't jealous of my skill, all he cares about is getting to eat the products of it!

He is quite spoiled really, as is little Ms. Whitey whose favourite liver cookies I also make, despite nearly provoking a vomiting bout every time I throw the uncooked liver into the food processor. DIS-GUST-ING!

These aren't the baguettes, they're previous, less-successful attempts at a batard (bottom)
and a funny-folded failure that didn't cook properly in the middle!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

i caused an accident & just kept walking

So me and the G go out for our afternoon walk today and head towards Parque Castilla... But before I continue, I think I need to explain something about being a pedestrian in good old Madrid. Our neighbourhood is full of what seems to be quite common in this city: cross walks at intersections that have no light, nor even a stop sign (one of the streets will have a yield sign, the other nada).

Of course drivers are supposed to give priority to us poor hoofers, else we could be waiting a long time. They will, in a pinch, stop for you. That is IF you're brave enough to play their own particular brand of "chicken". That is, they will continue coming through the intersection even if you've already stepped off the sidewalk, and they will do this at a speed that makes you wonder whether they intend to stop or not. Of course they are hoping you will chicken out and stay at the curb, but if you continue crossing, they will (usually) stop. Once I figured this out, I bow to no one, as I am a bit of an anticar-ite (for Seinfeld fans) and generally stubborn.

Anyway, back to my story. A few blocks away from our house, G and I stepped off the curb at a corner where some dumbass was actually parked (still in her car though) over most of the cross walk. Which I guess may excuse the driver who was approaching, as 'perhaps' she didn't see that I was stepping off the side walk (though of course maybe she did, it likely wouldn't have changed her behaviour).

I gave her a dirty look as she proceeded toward us and she did stop with her front wheels over the edge of the cross walk, which is quite normal as I said. Then, just as I stepped out of her way and she could've proceeded, another car came and rear-ended her at a decent clip; enough to make a bunch of noise but not propel her car forward much, I don't think.

I say I don't think because frankly, I didn't even think of turning back and sticking around. Though as I walked away, I did wonder if I should be a witness or whatnot but there were plenty of other people around and many of them seemed quite interested so I decided to just keep going.

I guess I was in kind of a bad mood (I've had a nasty headache for days) but also I'm just SO sick of people. I think my hermit-hood is starting to affect me. More than once when we're out recently, I find myself telling Alain, "L'enfer, c'est les autres". And sort of meaning it...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

demon vanquished

A belated Happy New Year folks. Nine days in already and I finally sipped a glass of champagne today to welcome it. It was a only a small, cheap, complimentary glass after a late lunch in an Indian restaurant but it also wrapped up a weekend during which I ventured out of the house several times (shopping yesterday, museum & lunch today) without feeling like I might frighten children.

In other words, my conjunctivitis is just about all cleared up, finally. Don't think I had ever had pink-eye before but this case was way past any shade of rose, I tell you. Last weekend by this hour, the nasty bug had my whites entirely blood-red, I kid you not.

It had started New Year's eve, on what I thought was the tail of a little flu that had started on Dec. 27th, as our Christmas hosting was just about to wrap up (our guests began leaving on the morning of the 28th). By the 31st I had felt fine enough to spend the afternoon cooking for our one guest for the evening, Celia.

But by the time she went to bed at 11 p.m. (she's 89, a longtime friend of A's family who lives on the other side of Madrid and A visits her every weekend) it was clear I shouldn't be drinking champagne as the damn conjunctivitis that began in the late afternoon was progressing really fast and knocking me out.

Long story short, I didn't get treated that weekend since, short of going to the emergency room, everything was closed. But it was b-a-d by Monday morning so off I went to the clinic and got me some kryptonite drops. But by then my body's defences had been on overtime making lots of that fun goopy stuff and the congestion and  coughing had started and here I still am, congested and still hacking. Should be good as new in a few days and hopefully won't catch a cold or flu for another couple of years, as that's how long it'd been I think.

Anyway, that's my excuse for not posting before now and not having anything much else to say since I've mostly spent "this year" lying on the couch. Signs of life this weekend included boxing up the Christmas decorations, and baking some very yummy oatmeal cookies yesterday (or at least A tells me they are, I can still barely taste).

We also really enjoyed the Rubens exhibition we saw today (which did not include the piece I stuck in at top right, unfortunately!), particularly a series he did in collab with Bruegels. Afterwards we didn't stick around to do other parts of the huge Museo del Prado (we were hungry), but the visit made us resolve to get there more often, particularly during the get-in-free Sunday evening time slot. Next weekend we're going to hit Goya's Black Paintings, which we did peek at on our way out, and I can't wait, that is some eerie stuff!

Okay, yawn, I'm even boring myself now. Time for dinner, which tonight is a gift Celia gave Alain when he visted her today: two tortillas española (one has spinach, the other caramelized onion). Hope I can taste 'em, cuz while A's are good, hers are the BEST.