January 18, 2013

A Home of My Own

Sigh. I hate to admit this.
I have never owned a house.
I really hate that I hate to admit this. Re-Sigh.
What I hate more, is that having never owned a house makes me feel a bit like a loser.
I don’t think I’m alone. Oh god don’t let me be alone.

I know a few other people, mostly artists, who have never scraped enough money together for a down payment – let alone cover a mortgage. Even in this time of unprecedented, unbelievably cheap money. That bastion of adulthood - a mortgage. You've arrived...right?

Contrary to popular belief, house ownership is not an entitlement. Until the late 1940s most people in North America rented. The housing boom made owning possible. And now about 2/3 of Americans own a house – or the bank owns it while they live there. Which means a significant number of people still rent...

I went through the numbers with my husband when he came into my life. He’s owned before. He knows this whole ‘budget’ thing. He watches real estate like a red-tailed hawk on a field mouse. He hasn’t seen the market making any sense for the last number of years. So we’ve put money away…paid all our bills…and we sit patiently - okay I’m not so patient - waiting for a ‘market correction’. By the way, the Toronto real estate numbers were recently released, and sales here have dropped a whopping 19.5% over last year at this time…BUT…prices haven’t.

Steve created an excel spreadsheet with every variable and compared owning to renting (and saving/investing the difference). Yes, we save the difference – our shredded sofa is ample evidence. We do have that discipline.

On balance, it kind of balances…but…and yes there is a but…if you buy early in life…and if you pay it off, then the advantage is to owning. And there is a difference once you’ve cashed out as an owner and have to live on the money – you might be better off....

Blah, blah, blah. Money and math and business decisions...

I’m more fascinated by the feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s uneasy. That feeling like you’re being left behind at the train station while everyone heads off to vacation/beach/funland. Or there’s a party somewhere…you can hear it…somewhere…Friends have urged us to buy – saying the same thing I’ve heard over decades – jump in, or you’ll never get in – always said when things are in a frenzy.

Part of my problem is that I forgot. I mean time flew by…and sort of like having children…I forgot there might be a deadline. And here is what I hate even more. It might actually be too late. There is an encroaching deadline on this…why buy something that I have to commit too many years to paying off…years that would now take me wayyyyy beyond retirement (assuming I were to live a fantasy life and actually retire)?

Buying now just doesn’t make sense to me…it doesn’t make sense. And I shake my head loose, and my shoulders and my arms…as if I’m starting afresh – pushing away the propaganda that says my life is not successful without a house in my name. And trying to live in the spirit that works hard not to follow the herd…

I know. I know… renting…

…the house isn’t ours, the things we’d improve aren’t really in our power to improve. We share the basement laundry with our landlady (as lovely as she is)…so she has to come briefly through our apartment to get to the basement. The century-old place is nowhere near sound proof or insulated. Personal conversations have to be whispered, no one is dumb enough to come over without a sweater – unless we’ve had the oven on for a couple of hours.

And yet, my life is actually better without a house right now. My quality of life is quite high compared to previous years – I can travel…I can sit here and write and don’t have to worry about next month's rent. We put a lot of money into the food we buy. We have a stove, a fridge, and a counter…and our overhead isn’t that high. We live close to the subway system, in a fantastic neighbourhood. And if we lost an income, as we did late last year, we’d be okay. Because we didn’t buy. It bought us some freedom. On balance…not a bad deal.

And when I look at it that way – I haven’t been left out of the party – in fact, I can host the party.

Which brings me in a long, roundabout path to New Year's Eve. We had 8 people at our dining room table. We’ve ritualized the many-course dinner over the years. It started with homemade paté, thanks to Andy, and prosecco. When we gathered around the table, we started with lobster and shrimp rolls. Then a salad – simply green, scattered with toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds with a lemon dressing. In between various friends kindly got up to wash the dishes…and dry them…while Nicole and Jean Paul’s dog Connor (dear Connor) joined in and tried to help by eating the scraps that had gone into the compost bin…and then…on to the next course.

We ate pork loin roast – stuffed with apricots and prunes and smothered in a Madeira wine/molasses glaze served with a mashup of rutabaga and carrot, and steamed green beans with garlic and ginger. Then coq au vin with rosemary roasted potatoes. Then flourless chocolate cake, thanks to Nicole. And the cheese plate? We never got there. But the dishes were all clean.

We barely got to the champagne at midnight. Some of us just had cups of tea and were lolling on the furniture wobbling our way into a standing position to wish everyone a happy new year. Oh my god we laughed and talked and yammered and yawed…we laughed so hard. What a great way to bring in 2013. I love my friends. Feeding them ‘til they hurt was my way of showing that.

No, we weren't in our house...but we were definitely home. 

January 16, 2013

Lobster Rolling Into Another Year

We all seemed so tired as 2012 came to a close. Just so tired. It wasn’t one specific thing. I’m not sure what exactly led to the sense of exhaustion. But as I racked up the good and the bad points, devouring our way out of 2012 seemed the best revenge.

It was an interesting year…the team I was on won a media award…and I learned tons technically...and I finally became a Canadian citizen……and I quit my job (phew…that was hard)…and we helped one of our Moms clean up, sell up, and move out of her house…and I went to Italy to help one of my graces celebrate her half-century mark…and suddenly the twilight of the year was here.   

I guess, on balance, that makes for a good year.

But it was hard, and trying, and testing and sparkling…

We have created a ritual. When we’re in town for new year's eve, we get together with friends to cook and enjoy a feast – a feast of many dishes…and small portions…and many hours of lounging. And laughing.

Everyone was very busy this year…so I decided, with more time than anyone on my hands, to get it together and get us into 2013 happy and full.

We started with lobster rolls.

I’ve never had lobster rolls. Seriously.

I’ve been lucky enough to eat lobster twice, the best way possible – full food karma – on the Atlantic coast.

The first time was in Lubec, Maine. I. Love. Maine.  
We were there to tell the story of a dedicated, passionate team of whale researchers who were getting to know, and save, the most endangered whale in the world – the northern right whale.

At the time, there were about 300 whales left in the north Atlantic. They had gained the name right whale from the days of whale hunting…they moved so slowly they were the “right” whale to hunt.

Moira (Moe) Brown, a fellow Canadian, and her gang have made huge strides in protecting them.

When I reconnected with Moe in the fall (I’m so happy to have relinked), she told me the population is around 500, averaging about 22 calves per year for the last decade…and most of that, I think, is because Moe and her team and have worked tirelessly for decades now to keep the slow, lumbering animals out of harm’s way – even convincing the governments to move the shipping lanes so that the gentle beasts don’t get run over…

On our last night in Lubec the research team bought a pile of lobsters for dinner (we paid for ours). 

They cooked them in a pit in the backyard – with seaweed, and stuff and more stuff…I’m not sure what…as we had also bought a pile of wine and the recipe dimmed into the twilight and night. But the lobsters…were…sooo…good. We made tables out of doors and all plonked ourselves down for a seafood feast.

Then we all went over to Campobello Island, where FranklinDelano Roosevelt spent many summers, and walked, well…weaved along, the raised boardwalk through a bog to a big wooden platform – and under a perfectly clear sky, wrapped in sweaters. We laid on the platform on our backs and looked up at the stars. One of the researchers had brought his telescope…and he set it up…and we all marvelled at the crab nebula. An appropriately crustaceous end to a lovely evening.

We were back on the east coast the next year meeting up with Gary Dedrick to explore the disappearing fish from the sea banks off Nova Scotia. Gary was a fifth generation fisherman if I remember correctly, and all his brothers but one were fishermen. 

He was a passionate defender and advocate of how to responsibly maintain the fish stocks – taking us through the docks, the various fishing methods (he was not fond of draggers), the fish plants where many women prepped and iced the fish…An entire way of life was disappearing as fishermen were sunk by few fish, big debt, and absolute misery.

We spent time with Gary, who is on the fisheries sector council, as he advocated for his fellow fisherman - turning defending his livelihood and everyone else's, into his livelihood. And with us he had to put up with having a camera in his face as we followed him around on his journeys for a week and a half...with us babbling constantly about how he should just ignore us...act natural...


He patiently explained to us landlubbers how the fishing industry worked…how he stitched together a living between long lining, lobster season, and swordfish season. 

So again on our last night, the Dedricks and friends invited us for supper, in their backyard. 

The lobster was a complete surprise for us, our host/producer had hinted at a lobster obsession. She is of small stature …but, man, could she pack away lobsters like a longshoreman. It was impressive. 

The Dedricks watched us eat. And they took video and pictures. Gary said, “Don’t look at the camera. Just pretend we’re not here…” They guffawed…”yeah just act natural.”

Gary also taught us that night that if you snap the lobster’s tail fan off, you can pull the meat out with a fork in one, big piece…And while that was almost 20 years ago,  I pulled out that very trick the night I made lobster rolls. 

Lobster rolls are really easy. It’s lobster meat mixed with a beautifully-flavoured mayonnaise sauce. Then it’s all stuffed into a hot dog bun. Traditionally…

…but this was New Year’s Eve.

I looked up about a half-dozen recipes for this – and made up my own concoction in the end. And bear in mind I made this for 8, but it was an appetizer/first course, so the portions were smaller…adjust amounts accordingly if you’re planning this as a main course.

Lobster Rolls

4 lobster tails – can be frozen if necessary
1/2 cup melted butter
pinch of paprika
salt and pepper
1 lb fresh wild shrimp
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, a little set aside
olive oil, enough to coat shrimp
1 cup mayonnaise (depending on how mayonnaise-y you want it)
2 tbsp lemon juice and some lemon rind
a small splodge of mustard (optional)
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp or so of capers, roughly chopped
parsley, finely chopped (optional)
8 buns – split open, toasted if desired

I bought lobster tails and broiled them. I decided to broil them after watching how. I split the tail shells down the middle with a pair of kitchen shears (not as easy as it sounds, and there are many spiky bits that the lobster keeps for its last revenge). I pulled open the shell a bit, poured the melted butter on the meat, and sprinkled it with paprika, salt and pepper and broiled them until they were opaque. About 10 minutes. I watched them very, very carefully because one minute too much and the meat would have been tough.

Remove the meat from the tails and roughly chop into bite size pieces. Set aside.

Now that the broiler is off…turn the oven on to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wash the shrimp, and let them drain well.

Chop garlic (2 cloves or so to your taste) and set a little bit aside (you can cook the shrimp with most of the garlic and add the remaining raw garlic you’ve set aside after the shrimp come out of the oven.)

Toss the shrimp in olive oil, chopped garlic and salt and pepper. Lay them out in a single layer on a tray. Put them in the oven. They too should only take 8-10 minutes at the most. Keep a close eye and pull them out halfway to turn them over.

Toss them with the remaining raw garlic and set aside.

At this point, you can put the seafood in containers and refrigerate until you’re ready to mix with the mayonnaise and serve. I don’t know that I would let it sit too long in the mayonnaise…but maybe I’m just being paranoid.

So…the mayonnaise – this can be a bit of a creative jaunt.

Put the mayonnaise in a mixing bowl.

Add the lemon juice and rind. Mix thoroughly. Add the mustard, celery, green onion, capers and mix.
The key is that this concoction gets to sit in the fridge for a few hours to mature.

When you’re ready to serve, mix the mayonnaise sauce with the lobster and shrimp meat. I shelled the shrimp before putting them in the mixture. (By the way, the shells from both would be a good source for fish stock – if you are partial to that kind of thing).

Toast the bread buns if you desire, then line them with lettuce or greens and spoon the seafood mixture into the crevice. Serve…

And dream of the ocean. May we all get a taste of the ocean in 2013...

January 04, 2013

Christmas Vegetables...I mean, Turkey

Yeah...so...I've been digesting for two weeks...I'll be done by spring.

The fridge has gone from bursting – with food stuffed on top of it, beside it, up and down it – to empty…in a week.

And the other thing I've noticed?...After all that food...I'm hungry all the time.

Christmas dinner was part of that – I broke a record – a personal best on the vegetable front. Previous record? Six vegetables. But this year…beat that by two. Yup eight vegetables. For three people...

  • Carrots
  • Rutabaga
  • Leeks
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Green beans

…and turkey with sausage stuffing and gluten free bread stuffing…
…with gravy and white sauce (for the leeks)
…with cranberry sauce

…followed by flaming Christmas pudding


And then, there was new year’s…but that’s my next blog. Happy 2013.