July 29, 2009

Routine - comfortable or boring?

Having a routine has such a smelly reputation. People who used to be attached to their routines were pegged as reliable, dependable, predictable and it was a good thing. People who follow their routines now get pegged as boring, unimaginative, and gasp, predictable. No, actually they go further than that, they get pegged as crazy, nuttier than a shithouse rat. Inevitably when the words will whisper out: OCD – obsessive/compulsive disorder…

I’ve noticed over the last few years we make things either catastrophic (I hate that soup, I could kill that guy, it’s a disaster) or pathological (he must have xxx syndrome, yyy disorder, zzz genetics). We have no in between and we’re thankful when our lives careen somewhere in the middle.

It kind of pisses me off frankly. Why can’t people have their routines? It brings comfort to some.
I have a friend or two who like their routines – or have their thing. And they have to be quiet about it. One eats the same salad everyday, from the same place. They recognize her voice on the phone now when she calls to pre-order it. Another crosses the street only at crosswalks – no jaywalking – now it seems quite sensible given that she was hit as a child running out into the street…but no matter how quiet the street, she’ll wander the extra way up the sidewalk to get to the other side. And me…I run home from work and I run home the same way every time. It may seem boring, routine, but I time it. And then I can see if I’m getting stronger and faster or older and slower. You may guess which way I’m starting to lean on that one…

My sudden defense of routine behaviour is also a sign of age - another step on the path to old fartedness, along with my sudden fascination with birdwatching and lack of interest in bars and nightclubs - and it's also just pure defensiveness. I noticed during my staycation this summer that I have my places, my things, my ways. I have two cups of tea with breakfast and it’s not over til I do. By 11am my brain and stomach are working in league to push me to the coffee maker. And it has to be the same kind (Kicking Horse coffee – the Kick Ass strong blend and no I don’t get paid anything to say that). Steve and I will wander on a hot afternoon (although this July we’ve been waiting for a hot afternoon) up to the Dairy Queen about 20 minutes up the road from our place (which is complete justification especially with the return trip) and we’ll sit and watch the world pass by on the sloping road down into the valley that overlooks the city. Not the best ice cream, but I’ve had worse. And the setting isn’t bad.

Twenty years ago my gang of friends went to a middle eastern restaurant in the middle east of Toronto (east, but not as far east as the city now wanders – a friend’s friend said that once) – we went there a lot. Okay we went there so much we’re fairly sure we paid for the family to move to the other end of the droopy strip mall and expand two store widths. We spent all our time there. We were university students and the coffee was good and the food was even better. And the family that owned the joint came to know us all by name.

The restaurant is still there – though the family has moved on (I believe they sold it to a couple of their cooks), and so has the old gang of friends. I don’t see them anymore. And I stopped going there until a few years ago. The family must have given the cooks all the recipes – the hummus, the baba ghanoush, the tabouleh, the labaneh, all from scratch, all still killer good.

My Mum, who can never remember the names of the dips always sits down, looks at me with excitement and says, “so, are we going to have all the bits in the middle?” And I don’t know why but we order all the bits in the middle (the dips), then we order chicken kabob sandwiches, or the lovely lamb kabob sandwich – even though their beef shawarma looks fantastic. And we don't stop eating until we're hurting...the tahini and onions and tomatoes and parsley all melding together with the meat…the pita soft, warm and fresh...all wrapped in a foil diaper. The diaper I learned very early in my middle eastern eating career, should never, ever be removed without putting one on the outside of your pants. Or you’ll be sorry. I’ve warned and wagged my finger at newbies and watched them get drenched in a combo of tahini, meat juice and tomatoes.

They even have mahalabia – which I don’t eat often, I just love saying it. Ma – ha – la – bia…

So that was our routine – Two three four times a week we’d all pull up in our assorted cars and chow down. So now you know why I have to run.

Now here’s the best part. We’d grab a table – we’d order our bits in the middle and the waitress would bring divine crunchiness on a plate: pickled turnips and hot peppers. We’d dive in and have to ask for more – in fact they just started bringing us two plates.

We went to the restaurant a few weeks ago – Mum, Steve and I – during a shopping day. And it had been so long that I actually forgot about the turnips. And when they showed up – I grinned and said…oh…yeah. And we chomped down. Crunchy, tart, beautiful. I had to figure out how these were made – so when we got home I dug online and into some books here (my cookbooks now have their own home on bookshelves in the bedroom – not my favourite place but better than on top of our cupboards where they got both greasy and threatened to collapse the hardwood cupboards) I morphed a few recipes into one. And it was close...

It was easy and quick. And so was the eating a week later. Steve kept going to the fridge and forking a few down. They’re gone now. But I’m definitely going to make them again. And again. And again. Like a routine - comforting and rooting us to our joys...

Pickled Turnips – adapted from a few sources (see my updated recipe - the restaurant was generous enough to share it with me)

2 lbs turnips
1 raw beet
½ lemon
1 ½ heaped tbsp salt
6 cups water

Wash the turnips and the beet. Don’t peel. Slice the turnips and the beetroot about ¼ “ thick. Sprinkle the beet slices with the juice from the lemon and then lay them in the bottom of a jar (I sterilized the jar). Put the turnip in on top of the beet and pack them in. Add the salt to the water and stir then fill the jar. Seal and keep cool for about four or five days.

The beets slowly colour the turnips a beautiful pink.
The recipes call for waiting a week – but we found them a little on the soggy side by waiting that long. And I put them in the fridge once we’d opened them.

1 comment:

Gay Stephenson said...

I'm with you Nicky! I love to go back to the same restaurants (my favs), and walk the same routes. Scott makes fun of me. Still it's not that I'm not adventuresome too, I get a thrill out of trying new things. But you're right, I get much comfort from sticking with my tried and true.