September 29, 2006

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well...

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." 
- Virginia Woolf

We gave ourselves just over 3 months to plan our wedding. Bags of time. Oodles. An eternity. No problemo.

Then I started researching the food. Because, as you’d expect, that was the most important element of the day.

If we were going to put money into anything in this wedding, it was the food.

With three months to plan the wedding I wasn’t worried.

My dream wedding, when I thought about it, involved 10 people in a restaurant with the freedom to choose what they wished from the menu and winelist. And I was aghast at the number of places whose imaginations stopped at: chicken or beef. I was not inspired.

And what they charged for that creativity! They were eating our modest budget... tartare.

I was telling my friend Julia this over dinner at her house one night. The night that she and Guy met Steve for the first time. Their beautiful home had just been renovated – they looked around. “How many people are you inviting," they asked.

 “About 50,” I said.

“You could have it here.”

We laughed…and then we stopped laughing…and then we thought about it…The back room was walled by French doors that overlooked a flagstone terrace. If it was warm enough, wedding outside, if not, by the fireplace. We agreed.

So we had a venue…we also had an officiant for the ceremony. My friend Karen, of the magic nuts, had an uncle who was an officiant. Done.

Next: back to how to feed them.

Our budget bled red everytime I called a well-known wedding venue…Steve’s face looked like he was hemorrhaging. And so it went: wedding venues/restaurants/big rooms/caterers/tables/linen/cutlery/glasses/rent-a-dream wedding…and I realized the wedding industry was salivating, poised for attack, waiting for me to give in.

Suddenly the wedding was less than four weeks away.

I was walking down Yonge Street one afternoon, after lunch with a friend, and walked passed The Stork on the Roof, a restaurant I loved and had been to a few times. It was owned by Jennifer Gittins and Michael van den Winkel, friends of friends. They had just finished their lunch service, so I went in to say hi and thought it wouldn’t hurt to pick their brains on how to make dinner out of cheese and crackers for 50.

They hugged me and asked how things were going. “Well I’m getting married in a month, and looking for a way to feed people. You guys don’t do weddings do you?” I hoped I didn’t look too desperate, but I think it was too late.

Jen looked at Michael and said, “Sure! We’d love to. We’ve closed the restaurant for birthday parties I don’t see why we can’t for a wedding.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. One of my favourite restaurants available? On a Friday night? In a month?

I tripped home like the not-so-giddy bride I was, and told Steve – he trusted my instinct (part of why I love him) – so we went to meet the chefs that weekend, before they opened. They pulled out a variety of menus. My jaw dropped. They were offering a choice of 4 appetizers, 5 entrees, and 4 desserts. There would be an open bar, a choice of wine, and champagne after the main course. I nearly teared up. It was what I had dreamed of for 10, but was getting for 50 instead. Steve loved the restaurant, it was warm and friendly and unpretentious and Jen and Mike oozed the passion they have for the food…We knew we were in good hands.

Then the price. I closed my eyes. We had chosen the more expensive menu. Open bar. Wine. Champagne. It came in at $65 per person…everything except the tip.

We came in UNDER budget. Who ever heard of such a thing? I let go my giddy side.

The day before the wedding my friends the graces all gathered at Julia’s to help slice, chop, prep the hors d’oeuvres we were serving before the ceremony. Julia wanted to take care of the flowers. Steve was busy mixing dance and dining CDs.

We laughed, and talked, and rejoiced at it all. It was elegant. It was communal. It was beautiful. Cook with love…it’ll show in the food.

And the next morning…Steve and I couldn’t help marveling at how happy the day was. It was sunny and warmer than normal. We were calm and happy.

Then Steve picked me up from my hair stylist at 4pm (an hour later than I expected). We fought traffic northward to Julia’s house, me in the passenger seat with my hair held up with over 100 bobby pins, realizing as I stared at the people heading home from work that I had written my vows, memorized them and stored them somewhere in my brain where the sun don’t shine. The nerves had arrived.

Then the words flooded back to the front of my brain and I could breathe again. We arrived, the food prepping was in full swing, I went upstairs to change. Dear Jain brought us champagne, and left us alone while we just marveled at the precipice we were on.

It was a happy wedding. As 7pm rolled up to us, I finally lost it…I giggled for about five minutes as we all gathered outside on the terrace – lost it. Not mascara-smudging lost it…but almost. Steve lost it once I’d said my vows to him. He was speechless – which is something for Steve. Then when he said his vows, they came out in a whisper. At least the officiant verified he’d promised a bunch of stuff, no one else heard a thing.

Then we were off to the restaurant – and the orders were taken and the meals flowed out of that small kitchen like poetry. The room was almost silent as everyone tucked in. I chose the seared scallops, the venison and then the crumble. Cook with love…

Jen and Michael sold the restaurant last year. They closed on my birthday. So we went for one more dinner – I had my first soufflĂ©. I know they’ve taken some deserved time off and are thinking about re-opening with a different theme…and I can’t wait. But I don’t think they realize how far beyond fulfilling my dream they went. They will always be embedded in the memory of the happiest day I’ve known. And that’s something.

Have a wonderful weekend…
Eat, love, and sleep well…

September 28, 2006

The Missing Link

Steve sat across the table from me – his eyes sparkling from sudden realization and a little too much wine. His arm was extended, his finger pointing. “You think that I gave up?”

He had achieved the perfect smirk.

I could feel my cheeks flush, my eyes narrow, my arm rise, my finger point back, “You mean you think that I gave up?”

We stared for a bit.

Then I grabbed the corkscrew, another bottle of wine, the dessert and headed for the living room…and he followed.

I knew my life had just shifted – like an earthquake had just passed through the kitchen.

All because of a lost email.

A few weeks before that dinner, our very excellent friendship took a strange, vortexed dive into the weird world of email flirtation. He admits now he was the big, dirty slut who started it all (his words, not mine). But only because, he claims, I must have “meant something” when I emailed him and signed it with just an “n”. I didn’t…but it’s kind of a spurious denial now.

This needs perspective. I am still living down my reputation as an oblivious non-flirter. I was single for four years. My friend Bill told me he was going to pay to have my radar fixed, because something was obviously very wrong. I NEVER noticed when someone noticed me.

When I did stumble into flirtation – I lived up to my obliviousness: I emailed one guy I liked a downright lascivious invitation to “keep in touch”. I was so proud of how forward I was. I never heard from him again.

My friends, those so-called graces of mine, nearly peed their pants. I still hear that story.

So falling in love has a lot to do with good fortune. Because in my case it almost didn’t happen.

Steve and I met through one of my best friends, one of the graces in my life, Carol. She and Steve had been college buddies. They had become rock climbing partners after losing touch for a bit, and we started hanging out.

Steve walked into the pub the first time I met him, and smiled. His smile lit me up. He’s the kindest person I have ever met, one of the most compassionate, and has a sense of humour that chokes us all…and he used all that to get through a hard time.

He was coming out of a long-term relationship – and since Carol and I have both been there, we understood the emotional landslide.

Then, after a winter-long road trip through North America and into Mexico he came home to climb back into his new life.

The emails started about a month later. And as we sneaked toward my birthday at the beginning of May, he offered to cook me dinner. Before we knew it, we were debating the merits of various super villain costumes and how good showers are.

I didn’t take him seriously – because my radar is, as I’ve said, extremely off track. Besides, I kept saying – IT’S STEVE.

Then after a flurry of furious, very lusty typing – he suddenly stopped.

He simply wrote one night that: “he had a visitor coming.” Didn’t know what that meant…but it stopped.

I was certain I had been wrong, misread it all, couldn’t flirt to save my life…See?

And so it went for the next week – we dove back to the fringes of friendship and just agreed on the mundane details of scheduling the dinner and where it would be and who would be cooking and what time it should be.

My stomach fluttered when he arrived. I felt foolish and embarrassed and worked at being normal. He showed up on his motorcycle with a smile and a dinner already cooked. He had planned a menu he could pack into the paniers on the back of the bike.

He walked in with: a chilled bottle of champagne, homemade guacamole and bread to start, curried shrimp and spinach on rice, homemade na’an bread, homemade raita for the main, and homemade apple turnovers for dessert. He was wearing the closest thing he could find to an Indian shirt…all because I love Indian food.

And he prepped it all while I was writing (on deadline).

Then we ate. It was beautiful. As we finished up the last of the main course, I got up to open another bottle of wine. And I tested the water – dipped my toe in… “So we never concluded whose Catwoman costume was the best…”

And he said, “Yes we did. Julie Newmar. I said so in the next email. You got that one right? Because my computer crashed right after I pressed….”

He paused. He smirked, and pointed, “You think that I gave up.”

I pointed back at him and we stared at each other for a long time. My radar was working fine.

He never really left. Even though he’d just rented an apartment and furnished it.

He explained that because I hadn't answered the "missing" email, he figured he'd offended me, gone too far...tested the limits. So he backed off and looked at the dinner as a friendship salvation mission.

Five weeks later, down in a park that juts out into Lake Ontario, on the first day of summer, we went out on an actual "first date". (He even left a voicemail, introducing himself and asking me out and said his friend Carol had said we should meet...)

He sat on a log, I sat on the ground leaning on his legs, and he said he wanted to marry me. And I said I wanted to marry him. Then I told him, he hadn't actually asked me. So he did.

I pulled out a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot I had bought just in case (since my radar was by now, so polished, I sensed what was coming). Then I did a happy dance on the rocks – the wind blowing with me, the sun dancing in and out of the white clouds, the cormorants skimming along the surface of the waves.

There was no existential hesitation. It was an instinctive reaction, a gut feeling, a crazy, impetuous, underthought life change. It was soooo unlike me.

I was so happy.

I’ve lived with Steve now for two years – well, 2 ½. We work together in the same room everyday: our office by day, our living room by night.

About six months into the marriage I realized how lucky I’d been. We had learned more about each other – knew more about our moods, our needs, our habits…I felt richer and luckier. We are good partners.

We share cooking duties – and love cooking together. We talk. We lean on each other. We push and challenge each other. Then we talk some more. And I’ve learned to keep saying I love you out loud and often – because I now know how rare it is.

So this weekend we’ll be celebrating 2 years of fixed radar, lost and found emails, and I think we have enough imagination to leave out the catwoman suit. I never knew how rich life could be.

September 26, 2006

Another Broken Spine Recipe

My cookbooks live on top of the cupboards over my sink. At 5'10" I can reach them no problem - although dusting them is still a chore. I came across another book with a broken spine - and it's one of those expansive titles again: The Top 100 Pasta Sauces, by Diane Seed. I don't know if you've seen it, my copy was printed in 1992.

I let it fall open and it showed its cracks on page 97 - which belies tasty and easy...and if you read Adam's pro-fat manifesto, you will be supporting him by trying this - think of it as a good or delicious deed:

Rigatoni alla Norcina - Rigatoni with Norcia Sauce

550g/1lb rigatoni or short pasta

1 small onion
15ml/1 tbsp olive oil
200g/7 oz pork sausages
100ml/4fl oz white wine
250ml/8fl oz double (heavy) cream
50g/2oz (generous 1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Slice the onion very finely and fry slowly in the olive oil in a covered pan. The onion should not be allowed to change colour. (Did you know that if you cover the pan, the onions will take longer to brown? - Handy to know if you're still chopping and you only want the onions translucent and perfumey and soft and silky, but I digress...)

Remove the skin from the sausages and divide the meat into very small pieces. Put them in the pan with the onion and add the wine. After 10 minutes, add the cream and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat, add salt to taste, and keep warm.

Cook the pasta. Drain it, toss in the grated cheese, and turn into a heated serving dish. Stir in the sauce, add freshly ground black pepper to taste and serve at once.

Feeds 4. Oh my...

September 22, 2006


I have a memory of tagine. It’s from Paris. I was a tagine virgin. I had just climbed the ramparts of Notre Dame cathedral. I walked among the weird-headed gargoyles – at the ready to spit rain down on the poor mortals on the ground.

Suddenly the bells clanged to life, and I found myself walking with a limp, all hunched over. It was glorious.

And when my imagination and my body came back to the ground, I was hungry.

I found a restaurant on the Left Bank (well it was left from where I was standing) – a little North African place and thought I’d treat myself to a little tagine. When you’re sitting in a restaurant on your own, with no one to eavesdrop on, you look around with all your senses – and I wanted time to stand still for just a moment while I let it sink in that I was in Paris, sipping wine, and waiting for my tagine to head out of the kitchen.

It was one of my best meals there - I found Paris difficult to eat in on a backpacker's budget. My absolutely favourite meal, was a loaf of rustic bread, some raw cheese and a tomato that I picked up on my way to the Louvre and ate on the grass before going in to see Napoleon's tomb. 

Anyway, tagine is one of those dishes that grabs your nose and won’t let go…and it ain’t as difficult as it may look – believe me, I’d know.

A couple of weeks ago I was leafing through a Canadian magazine that had a recipe for tagine. And it was one of those rare moments I had almost everything at hand or in the cupboard. I had just bought a piece of fresh lamb from our favourite place: Fresh from the Farm – and now I knew what I had to do with it.

Here’s a strong recipe from what I thought would be a bland source…I was wrong. It will zap your home with beautiful, exotic scents - it actually drew our dear landlady Diana, an adventurous eater herself, downstairs to see what was up in the stewpot. (She's off in Turkey right now having her own food adventures which she promised to remember for me.)

Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Apricots and Golden Raisins
Adapted from Canadian Living, September 2006 issue:

3 lb boneless lamb shoulder
2tsp ground cumin
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp each salt and ground ginger
½ tsp each turmeric and pepper (I overdid it on the turmeric, still worked out)
2 cups chicken stock (if you have any homemade…oh my…what a difference)
1 tsp saffron threads
¼ cup slivered almonds
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 carrots, sliced diagonally (I would steam these a little ahead, I was standing around waiting for them to cook through)
1 cup sliced dried apricots
½ cup golden raisins (I only had Thomson raisins, which worked fine)
1 tbsp liquid honey
1 tbsp fresh mint (actually does make a difference even though it’s a garnish)

Trim the fat from the lamb and cut into 1 ¼” cubes. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine cumin, cinnamon, salt, ginger, turmeric and pepper; remove 1tsp and set aside. Add lamb to bowl and toss. Set aside.
In sauce pan, heat stock until hot; add saffron and let stand for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile in large shallow Dutch oven, toast almonds over medium heat until golden. Remove and set aside.
Add 1 tsp of oil to the pan, heat over medium high heat and brown the lamb in batches, adding more oil as necessary. (I found this went very quickly – so keep an eye on it). Transfer to a plate.
Add remaining oil to the pan; fry onions, garlic and reserved spice mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden, about 5 minutes. Return lamb and any juices to pan. Add stock mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lamb is tender, about 1 hour.
Add carrots, apricots, raisins and honey; cover and simmer, until carrots are tender about 30 mins. (I would steam the carrots a bit to get them started)
Uncover and boil over medium heat until thickened to consistency of gravy, about 5 mins.

The recipe says this can be made ahead – just let it cool for 30 mins. Then put in an airtight container and refrigerate. Keep for no more than two days.

Then sprinkle with almonds and mint. And enjoy…I served this with rice…and not a drop was left - and I wanted to know if it tasted better the next day...I have a feeling it would. Bon Appetit.

September 19, 2006


I love eating out. Even alone. When I do, I do the book crutch – I bring the book, but don’t necessarily read it. Or I read it. Whatever. I might spend the whole time just watching other people eating together, alone, or alone together.

(I’m a notorious eavesdropper. Why do people talk about the stuff they talk about in a restaurant? How can’t I listen to why they’re breaking up/having an affair/going bankrupt/or talking about others who are? And I mean, it’s just so rude of me…my nearest and dearest can do an impression of me at a table, leaning like I’m being slightly pushed by the wind toward the conversation, my ears pink with curiosity and swelling to the size of satellite dishes. I know…it’s bad.)

Steve and I went out one night last spring to a swishy restaurant and watched a couple spend the first half hour of their coming together, each in separate communion with a Blackberry.

We giggled, but in that we’re-all-going-to-die, hysterical kind of way.

Anyway, a few people I’ve met fear eating alone more than almost anything – although they fear just being alone even more.

I’m not one of them.

I remember a friend wondering at it – after his marriage broke up under him, while he swirled in that endless sea of emotional muck, almost drowning, just treading water, begging for solid ground – “But what do you do when you’re alone? How can you stand it?”

I think part of what he was asking was how do I fill my time? And more profoundly, why doesn’t it fill me with dread?

I don’t understand. Is the fear of being alone the fear of stuff you don’t want to hear/see/taste/feel inside? Is loneliness a vacuum that fills life with all its toxic waste? I don’t know. I’ve never felt that way. I mean I think you can tell that roiling about in the muck is part of who some of us food bloggers are.

I grew up as an “only” child, spent lots of time alone, and don’t remember loneliness at all.

And then I went traveling. I was single for the first time in years and I exulted in it. I was taking off alone. I was free.

I had put a high price on wonder and got my money’s worth. There were mountains and seas and deserts and jungles. And that was just the logistics and bureaucracy. Mastering the train schedule in India and buying a ticket should fulfill requirements for graduate degrees. And then, there really were mountains and seas and deserts and jungles.

I was going to say that I pushed my boundaries in Nepal and India. But the truth is, Nepal and India pushed me, well shoved me really. I had little choice. Life and death were entwined there – right in front of you.

For example, on just one day I saw Buddhist monks chanting and praying in the biggest temple outside of Tibet - I watched Hindu attendants prepare 5 funeral pyres - I walked through the temple grounds built to honour Shiva – I walked past sadhus, holy men who live with nothing, their faces painted, their hair and eyes wild, their trident spears at their sides – I watched monkeys hunt and tease each other in the trees - and happened on a courtyard where a few families had just sacrificed a young calf– its head severed, dogs licking at the spilled blood, men dipping their fingers in it, daubing the blood carefully on their foreheads and pouring the remainder over the shrine where they’d killed the animal, two children crouched and staring in fascination at the open neck until the adults dragged the carcass off across the cobblestones – it was so real. Surreal. It pushed every boundary I knew.

I returned to the river and sat and watched the cremations start. The buildings nearby were all hospices. People died there, cremated openly, mourned openly. A shin bone rolled off a funeral pyre, the attendant picked it up with two sticks, and put it back in the flames. The breeze turned and blew smoke, ash and grief over us. A skull burst with a loud, sudden popping sound – which they said released the soul. And it was done.

I went back to Kathmandu late in the afternoon - heavy, quiet, different.

Somewhere along the road, about three months into my trip, I was carrying more baggage than I thought. The time had given me space – the distance from home had given me time to re-skin myself – I mean, to find out that I was actually me, not a confluence of me with partners.
And life and death had been in my face. Everything I took for granted came into relief.
I found myself in my hammock, overlooking the sea, on the balcony of my hut in Thailand that was costing me $8 per night (Cdn) – with a bathroom…and occasional electricity. And I was sobbing. I was more alone than I’d ever been.

And I was surprised by the feeling. Kind of bitter, kind of sweet – maybe umami…

It was official. I was lonely.

I was homesick. I needed people more than I thought. I needed my people.
Loneliness is in everyone – somewhere.
Touching it was revealing and it felt kind of good, in a strange kind of way.

You know what I did. I sent emails home to everyone telling them I loved them, then I grabbed my book and headed for the restaurant nearby that knew a thing or two about pad thai and green curry – and if they’d caught any red snapper, I’d have to hurry…and I went and read and looked at the sea as the sun set, and I started gabbing with people - all of them looking for something, even if they didn’t know it.

You know one of these days I’m going to lighten up in this blog and you’re going to be shocked.

Top: A picture of me on Bapu, somewhere outside of Jaisalmer, India, 2001.

September 18, 2006

The Re-Invigorator

My friend Naomi moved into her new apartment on Saturday - right in our neighbourhood - I could throw a stale bun over the house across the street and might just land it in her new backyard. It's wonderful to have her so close - spittin' distance, as some would say.

She helped Steve and I through our food rut on the weekend by coming over to share her first meal in her new 'hood.

We started with the crack of the cork on a bottle of Prosecco...I really think that should be a daily ritual. Really. I do. New home, new sights, new sounds, and bubbles in a glass...

And then dinner: roasted chicken and vegetables - it's the vegetables I want to share the most (but thank you chicken, you came to a glorious end) - we had: roasted potatoes and parsnips (oh the nose's odes to parsnips), zucchini grilled on the bbq, and...oh...yeah...butternut squash with carrots and ginger.

I am a NUT for any root vegetable. I lunged at the butternut squash when I saw it at the store. It is one of my favourites. So I knew it had to be part of the new home feast.

It is so easy and so wonderful: peel the squash, remove the seeds (and save them - see below) and cut into 1 1/2" chunks. Peel the carrots and cut into smaller pieces - the carrots tend to cook slower. Peel about one inch of fresh ginger and cut into slivers...Throw all this in water and boil until mashable. Get the water out, get out the masher and get to work. Add some butter if you like. And check the salt level...

The flavours and colours blend and meld into an autumn landscape in a bowl - with the ginger perfume heading up to your nose like teasing seduction - you chase it, but it's elusive, you let it be, it comes to you.

The seeds you can separate from the pulp, lightly oil them, if you like, (try canola oil instead of olive oil), and sprinkle them with salt. Put them in the oven at 275 degrees until lightly browned. You'll start to hear them pop if they've been in there too long.

And for dessert Steve baked a pear and peach crumble with the almost last crops of locally grown fruit - he also tossed in some thompson raisins and slivered almonds. It was unbelievable...mmmm leftovers...

I think the spice is back in the cooking adventure - it's so easy once you're cooking for others.

Thanks Naomi, and welcome home.

September 11, 2006

Chicken and Fruit in Curry Sauce

I was thinking about the rut I sometimes get into with cooking - when I have four or five dinners that rotate through my life and palate - and I forget some of the previous favourites.

So feeling a bit directionless gullet wise, I started digging through the cookbook collection, looking for those with broken spines.

My first entry in this collection is from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. It was a gift, and while I was nomadic, it was one of the few cookbooks not packed away, so it got a good thumbing through.

And the book started falling open at two places: the first - how to carve a turkey (which I think like pain, I keep wiping from my memory) the second - a happy rediscovery of an old standby - chicken curry. No, it's not from a real Indian cookbook, but it's got such a great twist and is so fast, it's worthy of a broken spine.

So, this book is now double jointed, partly because of how often I've made this but mostly because it's a hefty 944 pages (I guess because of a need to live up to the title).

Chicken and Fruit in Curry Sauce - adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup sliced onion
2 tbsp curry powder
2 cups peeled and chunked apples, bananas, papayas, or mixture (I also use raisins and mango if available)
1 cup peeled, cored and chopped tomatoes
2 boneless chicken breasts cut into 1 1/2" chunks, I use boneless chicken thighs
Heat the oil and add the onion, when softened (and not brown), add the curry powder and stir for one minute. Add the fruit, tomatoes and chicken. Cook, covered for five minutes on medium low heat. Remove the cover and raise the heat. Cook the chicken through and thicken the sauce.
Serve with basmati rice.
For four...


September 09, 2006


When I sit down to eat a meal with Steve - when the plates are full - of colour, of potential, and full of life - we kiss.

I don't know how we started this ritual or when. But I remember the first time I witnessed it.

I was in a restaurant, almost ten years ago, on a tiny island called Bequia in the Grenadines. I'd been invited to dinner by a couple from Berlin I'd been hanging out with. He was a writer. She was an artist. They always kissed before they ate. It was beautiful.

And now somehow it's our ritual.

I have come to respect rituals - more than I ever did before. Rituals seemed stuffy and disconnected, dead and meaningless.

Then age and experience hits back, hard. And I think it's my answer to finding joy when bad stuff is lurking. Marking life moments of my own choosing - it makes me stop to look at beauty.

Like...I understand people who celebrate both sunrise - I'm with them in spirit, though not often in person - and sunset. Although I've seen dolphins break the surface of the Ganges at sunrise, and I've watched the day break over the Himalayas and been running in mid-January as the sun rose to conquer the windchill in Toronto - and I've also watched the sun set in Key West, just under the Golden Gate Bridge, and slip behind the ocean's edge in Thailand. Humans always gravitate to those moments. Something in us knows they're profound - everyone is quiet, alone in themselves.

They're moments of greatness - bigger than us.

My favourite rituals are self made. They find a moment to celebrate life. They're not imposed by outside powers, not to save our souls. Just a chance to take note of stuff that counts.

Dinner is a daily ritual I love. There are no distractions. The TV is off, there are no books, no magazines, no last minute ends of chapters. Dinner is our time. The end of our day when we come together again, away from the connection with the outside world. And kiss.

I definitely had to mature into that.

We're of the generation after all, when it was a huge deal to have a "colour" tv - when tv dinners came out of the kitchen on tv trays with fold out legs (mine had a happy face). That ritual was groovy and far out...

And, for me, the noise filled a hole.

It was just Mum and I for dinner. I was the only person I knew whose parents had split. My brother died in a car accident when I was seven and our relatives were all in England. So when I look back on it, it was a time of being lost and trying to find a place where we belonged. A time of looking for ritual without knowing it.

Auntie Joan is my second Mum; my Mum's best friend. She'd invite us over to her part of town on weekends. There were lots of people, lots of love, there was lots of noise, tons of great food. Out came the linen, the silverware, the silver serving dishes.

We were all terribly polite and considerate. Please and thank you's every which way. No one would think of rising from the table before everyone was finished. And the conversation and laughter flowed like wine. I craved a large family, I thrived here, and I wanted to fit in.

Rituals connect us, sometimes willingly, sometimes not.

My friends have talked about dinner rituals - Andy comes from a family of ten children - their dinners sounded more like blood sport for seconds. Another friend was the only girl with older brothers - she had to get them seconds and then clean up. Ugh.

Others, whose family stories were just bloody entrails of cruelty and dislike, disappointment and indignity, often suffered - but sometimes they remade their rituals and their "families", gathering friends around them.

Some of my male friends talk about the time they initiated their manhood, when they were given the carving knife and faced down the Thanksgiving turkey - with an even balance between victory and defeat.

My friend Kathilee who grew up on the Prairies, made it a rule that her young daughter can leave food on her plate, but not food that died for her - which I love.

Even the rituals away from the table can be meaningful - like pizza-and-movie-Fridays.

From all of this, there is meaning greater than the meal itself. Like cooking, the food is greater than the sum of its ingredients.

When I started thinking about this, I realized I equated rituals with what I didn't have - they were defined by big families, lots of children, legacy and connection. And that I'd never get it.

Not long ago I realized rituals are what we make them. And I also realized people who seem to have it all sometimes miss out on the opportunity that belonging brings. They never think about it.

I can find joy where I choose to. Even if it's setting the table just for me - candles, a wine glass, a full up colourful dinner full of potential and life...

Dinner is a celebration of sustenance - my choice to manifest joy.

It turns out I belong and had always done so.


Yesterday in a newish daily ritual we walked in the nearby ravine (accompanied by the steady roar of a highway that punctuates the valley's eastern edge) - and for the first time in the 30 years I've lived in Toronto I turned and looked straight into the eyes of a doe. And a few metres on, the eyes of her still-spotted fawn. Cyclists blasted past us determined to get in shape, cars whizzed behind us on the highway's offramp at Bloor Street. We just stopped. And we stared at her, and she at us, until she decided the greenery was far more interesting. The last I saw of her, her white back end was disappearing into the branches for dinner.


September 05, 2006

I have a confession to make

Right after publishing my post on how we should all care about what we eat and in so doing, care about each other (group hug anyone?) Steve and I had to run out on errands…and we ended up grabbing some industrial fast-food burgers for dinner…at 8:30 at night…Steve’s “double original” was splayed out on the wax paper ready for dressing in the time it took me to walk over to the serviettes and ketchup across the way...

ugh…precooked efficiency.

Reminds me of my favourite saying from television: there's landmark television, and there's landfill television...

And those were landfill burgers.

So in retribution for stepping in the muck of hypocrisy -
  1. We cooked a beautiful roast beef dinner on Saturday - roast potatoes, fresh steamed leeks with bechamel sauce, carrots and rutabaga mashed, and roasted parsnips and brussel sprouts...
  2. Sunday we followed up with a roasted chicken from our favourite market that sells meats from the Mennonite farms in southwestern Ontario - in Steve's rub of course.
  3. And finally, in my favourite example of a closed loop, I'm now in the stock market - every glorious roasted chicken carcass is the path to glorious chicken stock. I slowly simmered the pot and let the house fill with warmth and the smell of Thanksgiving. It was a moment of rich abundance - a bull market for chicken stock.
So now I think my righteous path will lead me to something clean and bright tasting - vegetarian chili. This is a recipe via Barb, the incredible apple painter of my previous post who found it in a tv magazine many, many moons ago.

This is now my quick dinner if we have nothing in the cupboard and don't feel like making a fuss. And if you put on some music and start chopping're done in no time and the kitchen fills with the wonderful scent of cumin and peppers and tomatoes and onion...(why isn't that a room freshener scent? huh? fried onions? I'd buy a house in a millisecond if it had garlic or onions wafting through the air - if you could buy a house for the price of a bag of onions, that is.)

Barb's Vegetarian Chili
Sautee an assortment of chopped vegetables (onion, green pepper, zucchini, carrots, celery )
Add large can tomatoes and its liquid
2 tbsp. of tomato paste to thicken
A bit of brown sugar and salt to lift flatness
Can of kidney beans and (sometimes) chick peas
Some frozen corn
Season with cumin, chili powder and a few pinches of cayenne
Serve with shredded cheddar and sour cream

I thicken yogourt (in a sieve lined with paper towel - I know, I know I keep meaning to buy cheesecloth) and then fold in fresh herbs and/or garlic and let it sit for a bit...and serve that on the side.

September 04, 2006

Back to School

The part about September that I like so much is that it feels like a new beginning.

I think Labour Day should be a kind of New Year's Eve. It's a time for new starts.

I was one of those geeks who actually got excited about the first day of school.

It was the only time I actually planned and laid out my clothes the night before. I remember my new desk, brand new exercise books, textbooks that didn't have swear words inked on the page edges yet (back in the days when you didn't have to share), a fresh supply of pens, virgin erasers, and getting to smell newly-sharpened pencils as I lifted the desk lid (really aging myself).

For a few minutes it was as neat as the instruments on a surgical tray. Of course it never lasted long.

As much as I got along well in school, the only remarks I remember on my very respectable report card, was that "she could be neater".

Details, details... Perfection is elusive.

Steve's sister Barb did this painting of an apple. It's not a photo. I'm not kidding.

Barb starts back at school herself tomorrow - a classical artist with natural talent who has never stopped training herself throughout her life. She pays the rent with animation jobs mostly, and now is adding more digital skills to her repertoire. It's not just talent, it's hard work. Striving for more, for perfection. It's a difficult, painful way to happiness...but what beauty we get to see along the way...