Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring!

The first flower in my balcony garden was this daffodil that bloomed March 8th (three weeks behind last year).












Spring has been in the air for a few weeks now, though today is the official first day. Last week it even felt warm enough to walk to the grocery store without a coat. It's interesting to think how warm even just 10°C feels now, when in in six months 10°C will feel cold. I'm sure there's a scientific explanation for that. 

My favourite thing about spring is the freshness. A few weeks ago I was down on myself for having let breakfast salad because I haven't been in the mood for it (this is a great blog post about why it's okay not to want to eat salad in winter), so I'm really excited to be craving fresh vegetables again.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Carte Postale: Back to School

After a three-year hiatus, I had my first day of school earlier this month (not counting when I was the on the other side as a language assistant in France). I can't believe school has already been in session for three weeks. So far grad school is exciting and is already becoming very busy so I'm not sure I'll have much time to post. The decision to go back to school when I had a job I love was a difficult one, especially when these last years have been so difficult for my demographic to find meaningful work that is related to their degrees. But ultimately I went back with the idea of furthering my career and am able to stay on part-time. It also happens that the school is on an urban campus and that my job is across the street.

This postcard Jacqui sent me while I was in France was a bit of an odd full-circle moment for me. The postcard looks west down Water Street toward the Harbour Centre. Her note was about how she had taught political science at the Harbour Centre campus when she was a grad student (the arrow she drew is actually pointing out the Lookout, the campus is obscured by the trees). It almost seems like the postcard was somehow foreshadowing because I am now a grad student there.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Baguette

Peter and I spent the long weekend at his parents' lake house--I managed to get up (but not stay up) on water skis! On the drive back we heard an episode of The Current on CBC about how baguette consumption has declined in France. Though 98% of the French eat baguette, they're only consuming about half as much bread as they did a generation ago. The worry seems to be about the threat to cultural identity.

L'Observatoire du pain, France's bread lobby, has launched a Got Milk?-style campaign asking: Coucou! Tu as pris le pain?

My favourite part of the baguette is the crusty pointed ends. Costing only about 80 centimes in France, it was one of the biggest shocks coming back to Canada where a baguette costs about four times the price. The other thing I noticed when living in France is that people would carry the baguette simply tucked under their arm. Here cashiers will try to awkwardly stuff the long shaft of bread into a grocery bag. I always pull it out and do as I saw in France.

(photo by Carl Monus)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

PDX

I'm basking in the second day of afterglow from our weekend getaway to Portland.

Shortly after Peter planned a brewery tour bachelor party in Portland for his friend Josh (who eloped in Positano!),  a group of us started planning a weekend trip to Portland for the beer fest.

With six of us going, I looked up rentals on Airbnb and found this lovely yellow heritage house located in the historic Ladd Addition neighbourhood--check out the aerial view of the neighbourhood's cool diagonal pattern.

The home was lovely, spacious, and beautifully decorated. I especially loved the vintage map of Stockholm at the top of the stairs (undoubtedly a nod to the owners' Swedish roots) and prints of Ladd and Portland bridges. The best part about staying in a house together rather than in four separate hotel rooms was the group feel. In the mornings Peter made us his delicious egg breakfast sandwiches and we ate them at the table on the porch.

I would definitely rent a house for a group vacation again. We even talked about doing Portland again next summer.
Saturday afternoon we headed to the Portland Beerfest. We sampled at least a dozen brews (fortunately they were only 4-ounce pours). I had fun learning how to identify the tasting notes and diagramming them in a beer tasting book I bought for the trip.

I have to say I was really impressed with the festival. Initially I had thought it would be a brewery pub crawl, so when I found out it was in a park I was a bit worried that it would have a beer garden vibe. It was so much better than I had expected. There wasn't beer garden vibe at all. Craft beer lovers (some in clever beer t-shirt or costumes) came together to enjoy 4-ounce samples. The organizers also deserve props for the eco-friendly glass tumblers we got with our admission--I'm sure we diverted thousands of disposable cups away from landfills.

Otherwise, we just scratched the surface of Portland. We browsed Powell's Books, ate at food carts, and Anna, Patrick, and Dan braved the 45-minute line so we could sample Voodoo Doughnuts.

I hope to go back again soon.

(top photo mine; Instagram via Anna)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Portland

Tomorrow we're driving to Portland with four of our friends for an extended weekend getaway. Peter and I stayed in Portland in 2009 when we roadtripped down the Oregon Coast to San Francisco, but we were only there for a night so we didn't see much of the city.

We rented a super cute house with a hot tub on Airbnb. I haven't really planned anything otherwise. We'll be checking out the beerfest and I want to browse Powell's Books. I'm also armed with my friends' Josh and Colene's google map of what they consider Portland's best.

Have you been to Portland? What are your recommendations? We haven't yet made any plans for dinner Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights.

(photo via Design*Sponge)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Les bleuets


bleuet (bluh-(eh)) : blueberry

Summer has set in, which means locally and seasonally available fruit. Peter eats apples daily and that they are not in season is readily apparent in the produce aisle: the apples on offer are either the rump end of the last year's harvest or flown in from New Zealand with a heavy carbon footprint.

A few weeks ago I went out to Westham Island and bought local strawberries from a farm stand. Strawberries' short peak season is drawing to a close, but blueberries are now coming into season. Last weekend's market had the season's first local blueberries for sale.

I have a very particular memory associated with blueberries. This particular childhood memory consists of visiting my Grandpapa in Québec during the summers in the 90s. I don't remember what kind of car her had, but it was an older model from the 70s or 80s and had the option of seating three in the front seat. My Grandpapa lived in the Québec countryside. Grandpapa, dad, my two sisters, two cousins, and I would pile into the car and drive up a gravel country road to our ancestral lands. I remember it was a bumpy ride and occasionally a small rock would ping the side of the car, as happens when driving on gravel roads. My Grandpapa would then lead the way and show us to where the wild blueberry bushes were and we would pick blueberries. Cueillir les bleuets. So many blueberries. This is one of my fondest childhood memories and I recall it whenever I eat plain blueberries.

But when I got to France, les bleuets were not les bleuets. Instead they were called myrtilles.

myrtille (meer-tee(l)) : blueberry

In France, bleuets were a type of flower. Basically indistinguishable to the average person, the blue berries called myrtilles and bleuets are related, but different genera of Vaccinium.


(photo of blueberries by Ashley of Hither & Thither featured on Cup of Jo; flower drawing by Carl Axel Magnus Lindman, public domain via Wikipedia)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Before Midnight

Last week I saw Before Midnight, the third installment in the story of Jesse and Celine. I loved their dialogues in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. This time the conversation included other characters and one raised equally interesting questions about life and relationships.

There was one line in particular near the end of the film that really struck me. I can't recall it verbatim, but at one point Jesse says this is real life, not a dream world.


I mulled this sentence over after leaving the movie. I feel it succinctly describes what I've been at a loss of word of how to say about my time abroad. I enjoyed my sojourn in France.  In fact, it was a year where I literally lived out a dream to live in France and travel around Europe. But when I got back, I felt a strong urge to deconstruct what I've come to feel is a romanticized myth of France. My intention is not to disparage a country that I again find myself under its spell. But there is seemingly an industry manufacturing dreams of a place where you'll be swept off your feet by a cute Frenchman and live happily ever after on a vineyard. Rather, I sought to come to terms with France as a real place, grittiness included. 

(photo by Cynthia K.)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wanderlust Wednesday: Cycling in the Netherlands

Imagine you're cycling in the Netherlands. Over bridges spanning canals, by row upon row of colourful tulips, along paths that take you through past windmills.

Peter and I love the Netherlands (actually we're pretty fond of the Benelux countries generally). I've been to Amsterdam twice and the off-kilter canal houses really charm me. Peter's seen more of the Netherlands as his tours to Europe have usually been based out of the Netherlands.

When we were there last summer, I wanted to go on a city bike tour. Ever since, I've been periodically daydreamed about doing a bike trip of the Netherlands.

Have you ever done a trip by bike?
(Photo of Dutch countryside by Martin Kers)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Solstice Weekend Cleanse

Since my last cleanse in February, which left me feeling energized and renewed, I slacked in my eating habits and started to feel a little sluggish and gross. Counter-intuitive, I thought, given that we were just coming into spring and summer and all the fruits and vegetables.

I didn't want to commit to a three-day cleanse. Instead, I decided I just needed a quick reset to help me get back on track. So I decided to kick off summer with a one-day juice cleanse. I went with the Juice Truck's Pick and Mix and based my juice selection off of the third day of the three-day cleanse, which includes the Skin Deep strawberry-kiwi juice that I hoped would help set my complexion straight.

I chose to cleanse on Sunday, the first full moon after the summer solstice, because I'd recently read a Vidya e-newsletter about cleansing with the moon cycles.

I think I thought my full moon cleanse would feel more supernatural than it did, but it was a pretty quiet weekend. Saturday night I did yoga on my balcony by candlelight as the nearly-full moon was rising. I thought of capturing the moment, but I didn't want to interrupt my practice. The sky was clouded over on Sunday, so I didn't get to see the full moon.

Whereas I bounded out of bed and was full of energy the morning after completing my three-day juice cleanse, I didn't really notice any effect of a one-day cleanse. It makes sense that it would be less noticeable as it's not as long. I did enjoy the day and it felt good to be flooding my body with good stuff. I think I would consider quarterly cleansing, but I would probably opt for 3-days to really feel detoxified.

(Photo by me of a beautiful Ghanaian coffin I saw at the ROM in Toronto in March)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

On the Road

There's another three weeks left until the solstice and the official start of summer. But I've been ready for summer ever since the weather started taking a turn for the nicer in May.

A few weeks back I was telling some friends about how I was listening to this episode of This American Life about a guy who decided to walk across America. Though I haven't been on a cross-country road trip, I remarked that whenever summer rolls around I feel compelled to read "wander literature."

I was given a copy of Kerouac's On the Road seven years ago by a now-estranged friend who wrote a lovely inscription in the front cover. I remember not really getting into the book until the third part and disliking the portrayal of the female characters. I'd love to re-read it and see if I still feel the same way. You can check out a variety of editions of On the Road front covers here.

This summer I think I might read Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, the original Route 66 story.

What's on your reading list this summer? Do you find the seasons affect what you're in the mood to read?

(Photo from the film On the Road via Art Info)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Backyard Chickens & Chocolate Mousse

The weekend before last was long weekend and the weather was much nicer than forecasted. Saturday was our friend Henry's birthday and he hosted a backyard barbecue. Earlier this spring he built a chicken coop to house three Rhode Island Red hens. Being into what I call food politics and local eating, I was pretty stoked to check his operation out.

Henry said his chickens lay an egg a day. It was super cool to see the eggs he had collected in his fridge because they ranged in size from a small ping pong ball to the size of store-bought eggs. Not that I was surprised, but the contrast between nature's variety and the homogenous offerings in our industrial grocery stores was striking. He was generous enough to give me a half dozen eggs.

I was super excited because I had never had farm fresh eggs before. Right away I made knew what I'd use them for: Julia Child's chocolate mousse that calls for farm fresh eggs. The next afternoon I bought dark 75% cacao Ecuadorian chocolate and whipped up my first chocolate mousse ever. David Leibovitz shared a close adaptation of Julia Child's original recipe. It made quite a lot so I brought it to share at a beach barbecue that evening.

Peter and I ate the remaining mousse for dessert the next evening on our balcony, which he had finished re-flooring. With candlelight and a glass of beer, it made for the perfect ending to the summer's first long weekend.

(Photo of chicken by Henry)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Cascades

I've had a couple of great weekends in a row now. I went over to Victoria the weekend before last to celebrate Kristen and her boyfriend Alex's birthdays. They made a compelling argument that Victoria is the Canadian Portland, but that's another post.

The next morning, Monday, I met up with Jacky, who was in Seattle on business from Washington, D.C. To get there, I took the Amtrak Cascades train, which I was so stoked about that having to wake up at 5:00am didn't even bother me.
The train ride down to Seattle was beautiful as tracks seemed to trace the coast. Just over the border there was a beautiful evergreen forested area (though I wasn't able to get photos because I was on the opposite side of the train).

Having come from Victoria the day before and having just finished watching Season 2 of The Killing on Netflix, which his set in Seattle, I was feeling pretty pumped about the Pacific Northwest. The region definitely has some commonatlies, namely the Pacific, evergreen trees, and affinities for coffee and craft beers. What's not to love?

I'm vaguely aware of the Cascadia movement, but I think this Young Pacific song would be an appropriate anthem:

Take me back to the North Cascades
A place where I feel I was raised

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Long Short While Ago

This day almost passed by unremarkably. It rained, I had dinner and great conversation with a friend I hadn't caught up with in a while. Then something earlier this evening sparked my memory that this day two years ago I was spending my last night in France in Toulouse with Emily.

We had spent the day visiting Carcasonne and after dinner in Toulouse we went for a walk and ended up sitting along the bank of the Garonne river. Emily took the photo above and I think it captures the reflective mood of the evening. I was sad to be leaving, but at the same time I felt ready to be going home.

I cherish the memories of my all-too-brief sojourn in France. These days when I recall a specific memory I can't believe it's been two years since I've been back.

(Photo by Emily)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Goldeen

When I was in Toronto, a glimmer of gold around my cousin Vivian's wrist caught my eye. She was wearing the Fishbone Malone bracelet by Toronto-based indie jewelery designer Ashleigh of Goldeen. I don't wear a lot of jewelry, but  I was really drawn to this piece.

I bought one for myself and have worn it every day since it came in the mail last week. What I like about the fishbone bracelet is that it's a naturally-inspired form that feels delicate and ladylike while at the same time being edgy. The San Jose Olé earrings (pictured center) featuring turquoise stones, have a beachy, bohemian aesthetic. Their name inspires dreams of travelling up and down the coast of California, as though a character in a Kerouac novel.

Nostalgia, which Ashleigh cites as inspiration, permeates the feel of Goldeen, including the handwritten tags. I asked Ashleigh a bit more about what inspires her: "I use a lot of vintage findings and try to add my own twist to them, like hand painting the chiefs or the bone earrings with enamel, or using them in an unexpected way."

Goldeen makes jewelry for women and men. Ashleigh also works with beads, gems, and semi-precious stones. You can see more of her pieces here.

---
Disclaimer: Goldeen did not pay me to write this post. I did ask Ashleigh if I could blog about Goldeen and she included the earrings as an unexpected surprise. This post comes from me genuinely thinking she makes cool stuff.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Kimchi is Yummy (Really)!

I've never been a picky eater, but something about how Andrenne, one of my room mate in France, described Kimchi totally turned me off from wanting to try it.

While I was in Toronto, though, trying Korean food with my cousin Vivian who taught English in Korea was at the top of my list of things to do. So on my last night in town before going to the airport, we met up and headed to Toronto's Koreatown for dinner. She had a few dishes in mind of what I should try, so she scrupulously read the menus posted in the restaurant windows.

She ordered bibimbap (isn't that the most amusing name?) and a seafood soup dish. While we waited for our food to arrive, Vivian explained to me that Korea is a food-centric culture. Koreans, she said, will greet you asking, "Have you eaten?"

The waiter brought us six different kinds of kimchi, which I tried, and loved. I immediately wondered why I had been so reluctant to try it with Andrenne and Katherine in France (though I'm not sure if I'm quite up to making my own yet). We mixed in kimchi and sriracha into the bibimbap, and savouring the first delicious bite, I declared Koreans the original put an egg on it people.

The most recent sabre-rattling from North Korea seems to have settled down (or the media has moved on). I always wondered what it was like to be in South Korea at such a seemingly tense time. When I asked, Vivian told me that people back home in Canada would be flipping out, but things would be fine in Busan, where she lived, and people just went about their day-to-day activities.

I found this so strange, that I asked my friend Andrea, who is currently teaching in Daegu:
So, I live in Daegu. Which is a lovely (enough) little town about 2 hours from Seoul on the super-fast train. It's actually the third largest city in the country, with a population that hovers close to 3 million people, though it has a decidedly more insular vibe, which makes it feel smaller than Seoul or Busan. I think this also lends to the fact that people here seem to feel fairly removed from the on-goings with North Korea.

I mean, for one thing, the entire nation has been dealing with these tensions with their neighbours to the north for over half a century. They've grown accustomed to the antics of the succession of Kims that autocratically rule above the 38th parallel. So, as far as I've heard, even up in the capital they're feeling fairly nonplussed about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, the western media is apparently making it out like we're on the brink of nuclear annihilation (eeeeek). I've received numerous messages and emails from concerned family and friends over the past week... when, in reality, if it wasn't for them I probably wouldn't even have heard much about this.
If you're curious about Korea, Andrea--who previously taught English in Georgia--writes a clever travel blog. Janis of the blog My Suitcase Heart is also teaching English in Korea and takes magical photographs.. These shots of the azalea festival are especially dreamy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

TO Toronto (Part 3)

(Have I run dry of clever Toronto titles?)

As much as I liked Toronto as a city, the best part was by far seeing all the friends and family I have out that way. When an opportunity to go to Toronto arose, the prospect of reconnecting with these friends really tipped me towards seizing the chance (as if that in itself wasn't reason enough to go!).
First thing Saturday afternoon was a second French reconnection. I caught up with Katherine, Marryn, and Amanda (and her fiancé) on a sunny roof-top patio. None of us could believe it had already been almost two years since seeing each other. It was really interesting to catch up on everyone: some are engaged (not me--this is not a subtle announcement!), pursuing various career ambitions, but all doing fantastic by all accounts.
Sunday my cousin Gilian came to Toronto and we checked out the ROM. Here she is in front of the mastodon from Welland. (I have more on the ROM for another post.)
Then Monday my cousin Vivian got back into the city from a weekend trip to Algonquin Park. Having not seen her in at least a dozen years, I was surprised that when we first hugged a black hole didn't form. The next night, she took me to the Whippoorwill. A crazy small-world Vancouver connection occurred when Shawna turned out to work there.

I also caught up with friends I didn't get pictures with, like Evan and Kaitlin.

It was so great to see everyone, I am definitely more inclined to go back for whatever reason (or no reason)!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Breakfast Salad

At the end of the first week of the new year, having been sick with the worst cold ever, I suddenly got this craving for spinach salad. Maybe it subconsciously had to do with balancing out the excesses of the holiday season. Whatever the case, I rounded up the ingredients, using Smitten Kitchen's recipe as a guide.

It was so good (I mean, it tasted like a classic spinach salad, but it satisfied a craving). I couldn't get enough of it. I wanted to eat salad morning, noon, and night. And why not for breakfast? Spinach salad has some of the constituent parts of the standard North American breakfast: eggs and bacon. It would also help me with my resolution to eat wheat free.
And this is how I started eating salads for breakfast on weekends. My standard breakfast salad is a variation on Smitten Kitchen's spinach salad. It tends to vary with what I have on hand, but it tends to include:
  • a few handfuls of spinach (the one pictured above is with baby kale)
  • a fried egg (why not?) - I like to do mine over hard
  • red onion
  • lots of fresh cracked black pepper
I put bacon in on occasions when I have it, but am happy to do without. I also really like to toss in some strawberry or cherry tomatoes.

For vinaigrette, Jane Hornby's has become my favourite:
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp light olive oil
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
I tend to improvise in the kitchen. So for instance, I just use 3 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil because that's what I have. I also just put a small spoon-tip of Dijon rather than a whole teaspoon as I found it to be quite hot with the raw garlic. I haven't yet tried it with white wine vinegar.

One thing I'm discovering is how simple it is to mix up a salad dressing from scratch. Until recently, I only knew of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. But now I've made Greek salad dressing from scratch. It tastes cleaner, probably because it doesn't have all those extra additives that store bought varieties do. I want to try and make my own Caesar salad dressing, complete with anchovies!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Torontosaurus Rex

Aesthetically, I found Toronto quite pleasing. From the red streetcars (which I kept accidentally calling the tram) and decorated subway stations, to its brownstone architecture. It had a vibe more similar to Montreal than Vancouver. One of my first experiences in the city was walking up University Avenue from Queen Street, at which point I thought the city felt pretty suffocatingly English-Canadian. Soon after, however, I discovered its richness in multiculturalism (and the associated delicious foods!).

There was of course one exception:
Robarts Library, apparently "one of the most significant examples of brutalist architecture," is, without exaggeration, the most hideous building I have so far ever seen. Apparently designed to resemble a peacock, it looks more like a turkey in my opinion. Named for a former premier of Ontario, I'd frankly be insulted if someone named such a monstrosity in my honour. Katherine, one of my former room mates in France, whom I was with when I took this photo, told that the architect didn't take the weight of the books into account when planning the building. As a result, Robarts is actually sinking at the rate of about one inch per year (reminds me of a similar problem the Dutch face in Amsterdam).

Perhaps reinforcing the lesson to never judge a book by its cover, Robarts is actually pretty cool on the inside. It's fourteen storeys tall and has escalators.

Lest the prominent position of this post lead you to believe I was nothing but horrified, I will tie this post back to the title and leave you with a photo of a tyrannosaurus rex I saw in the Royal Ontario Museum:
If tyrannosaurus rex means "terrible lizard," I think "terrible building" is an appropriate name for Robarts ;)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Toronto Rhymes with Piranha

Pronounced "Toronno," anyone who says Toe-RON-toe is from away.
-- Quote from a card by Wendy Tancock (I love her cards!) 
Wow, Toronto! For being the hate crush of the nation, you sure are an awesome city. The people were so friendly; in an ironic twist of fate, the only person I met who was an asshole was from Vancouver (well, Nanaimo originally).

I had such a great time, I can't wait to share more about my trip.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

TO Toronto

If Vancouver gets a rep for being a city of laid-back-nature-loving-latte-sipping-yoga-devotees, Toronto is its hip-yet-stern-grown-up sister city. Or so it seems.

You see, I've never been to Toronto (I think I had a connecting flight at Pearson once, like fifteen years ago). I remember when I first met the other Canadian assistants teaching English in France (all of whom were from Toronto or its surroundings) and told them that I'd never been to Toronto. They looked at me in disbelief. Or maybe that was me reading into it too much because of my own insecurity on the subject.

But why would I have gone to Toronto? Only one of them had been to Vancouver. And apparently Lonely Planet agrees (note the Vancouver city guides and lack of a Toronto equivalent). But I jest.

It's just that other than Toronto being the "center of the universe," the CBC occasionally interrupting national broadcasts to update us all on the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 401, and being home to the world's formerly tallest sky scraper, I just don't know much about what it has to offer.

So this isn't so much a regular Wanderlust Wednesday, as it is a call for travel tips and suggestions. An opportunity and seat sale coincided, and I'm really excited to fly out on Friday morning. Have you been to or live in Toronto? What should I eat, drink, and see? I love architecture and my espresso black instead of with steamed milk. The touristiest thing I think I might do is go up the CN Tower... if I don't get struck with a fear of heights.

(photo by Stephanie Todaro via Design*Sponge)