Monthly Archives: January 2011

Learning to Fall, or, Rather, Snowboard

When I was in elementary school, I went skiing twice a year starting in grade 6. We had to take lessons or at least prove our mad skillz before we were allowed off the bunny hill and on to the bigger hills. One punch allowed you to graduate from the short bunny hill to the J-bar bunny hill and two punches got you up a chair lift. By mid-morning, I’d be bombing it down the blue-square hill and by the end of the day, I will have at least tried out a black diamond, if only once, and to disastrous results.

I remember being sore the day after skiing. I remember the ache in my legs and abs from being so tense and pushing myself so hard. But I don’t remember bruises. I don’t remember having to roll out of bed because my stomach muscles were so shredded that I couldn’t sit up.

Conclusions? Snowboarding is completely different than skiing.

I will even venture to suggest that snowboarding is harder to learn than skiing. Maybe not harder to master — I mean, in all my 3 years of skiing, I never did move on fully from the snowplow. But when you ski, it’s not difficult to figure out which direction you’re supposed to point your feet, and the turning part mostly comes naturally. Snowboarding, not so much. I had a good teacher — and an attractive one at that — but I still didn’t feel confident on the board by the end of the day. In fact, I peaked good and early, had a great run at around noon and just kept getting more and more frustrated after that. Each fall added to the layers of bruises and my muscles were screaming at me in exhaustion. And by the end of it all, I still couldn’t do the switching thing. Kick out my back leg? What? Whatever. Fall.

I know all of this sounds very negative about the whole experience. Actually, I’m feeling the exact opposite. When I settled myself on the couch after making Hamburger Helper for supper, I pulled up Kijiji and started browsing boards for sale. Why? I was sore. I was bruised. I was looking forward to an uncomfortable sleep of tossing and turning and trying to find a position that avoided all my tender bits. But despite all that, I felt good. Instead of sitting like a bump on the couch for yet another Saturday, I had done something, something active, for the first time in weeks. It was hard, but it didn’t seem impossible. I need to be patient, and I need to learn. But most of all, I need to learn to be bold. I need to step outside of my comfort zone and let myself slide. I need to point my board down the hill and not be afraid to go fast. I need more snowboarding in my life.

In retrospect, I wonder if my ability to pick up skiing as a child had a lot less to do with the difficulty of the activity and more to do with the mindset of my 11-year-old self. I used to be less afraid.

It’s high time I remind myself that we are not meant to be afraid and, when we’re bold, we can do so much.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—  and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Hebrews 2:14-15

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18


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Piano Lessons: Becoming A Student Again

Two weeks ago when I had my last piano lesson, the annoyance of a Mercedes-Benz crashing its bumper into my carefully parked car door* overshadowed the experience of stepping back into the roll of a student. Thankfully, this week, my car remained safely parked in my teacher’s driveway.

When I sit down at HJ’s piano, there are two things going on in my head and neither of them translate to good performances.

Anxiety, fear, nerves. What am I doing here? I’m almost 24 years old: should I really be trying to pick this back up? Look at the people on Youtube playing the same pieces I’m playing: grade school kids, the whole lot of them. If I’m not ready by now, shouldn’t I just quit?

Excitement. Desire. Hope. It’s interesting how quickly I can slip back into the old student-teacher rhythm. Having a woman that I consider a friend as a teacher made me nervous for a while, but when I sit at her piano, concentrating on the music in front of me and the movement of my fingers, she becomes a stricter version of my childhood teacher, a version that has some slightly different ideas, a version that cares less about key signatures and more about hand positioning, fingering, and the movement of the music, a version that shares more of her personal life when the lesson is over. I have the same desire to please her, to prove myself worthy, in a sense, to prove that I am actually the advanced student I claim to be. And when something she tells me works? It sends tingles through my fingers.

After every lesson, the countdown to May takes on new life, when I can finally move my old Mason & Risch into our front room.

* The driver of the over-sized SUV well redeemed herself: she sent us to an awesome mechanic who not only matched the door new perfectly, silver stripe and all, but also buffed out a scrape from a previous parking lot altercation, waxed and detailed the exterior, and vacuumed and carpet cleaned the inside. Our car came back looking (almost) new. He even threw in a coupon for a free oil change!

 

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Carrot and Beef Stew

Stew and I get along quite well. Hot, piping, with a slice of generously buttered toast on the side. Usually, I don’t have the patience for stew though. I’ve thrown stewing beef into thick, chunky soups before, but scooped up my first bowl only an hour later, when everything’s hot, but the beef is still chewy, a bit of a chore to get through. Tasty still, but no, not ideal.

One night this week, I felt like cooking, but everything I wanted to make was going to take upwards of two hours and M and I were hungry now. There’s not a lot of room for getting too fancy when you get home at 5:30 and would really like to get some food into your stomach before 9:00. Besides, our fridge is looking pretty bare: our pantry is packed to the hilt, but when there’s no fresh food to accompany the pasta and canned ingredients, all the canned beans in the world aren’t going to get supper on the table. So, begrudgingly, I let M pull our last frozen pizza from the oven.

But, I wasn’t willing to give up quite so easily. There was stewing beef in the fridge, four sad looking carrots in the crisper, onions in the pantry and a box of red wine on the fridge. I pulled out M’s 5 quart crock pot and set to browning and chopping.

While stew and I get along quite well, the crock pot and I need a reconciliation. The concept is great: mix everything together, turn it on at 7:20 am before you leave for work and come back to the heavenly smell of your supper already waiting for you. This worked right up until 5:37 pm the next day when I dipped my spoon into the delicious smelling mix for a first taste.

Oh.

How disappointing.

An hour of chopping and 9 hours of cooking… wasted?

The meat was deliciously tender but it had stewed in liquid that consisted of far too much wine and not enough broth. I was disappointed. In an attempt to save the stew, I threw in a spoonful of bouillon and a cup of water. We waited an extra half hour before we ate until M, in tasting it, reported it was good and hot.

“There’s an odd taste,” he said.

The stew was still tasty. And like I said, that meat was so. tender. It even got better the longer it ‘aged’ in the fridge in the same way soups do. But, whatever you do, don’t put two cups of wine in it. Stick to one. Or half, even.

Beef Stew
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 package stewing beef
½ – 1 tsp herbs of your choice – thyme, basil, oregano, etc.
Flour to dredge
2 tbsp canola oil
Winter veggies of your choice – carrots, onions, potatoes, celery, etc.
1 cup wine
2 cups beef, chicken, or veggie broth
½-1 tsp of the same mix of herbs as above

Put your stewing beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the herbs and mix together so the meat is evenly coated. Gradually add flour to dredge beef in. I did this all in the same bowl because I didn’t want to use any more flour than I needed, but you can also do this the traditional way: drop the meat piece by piece into a bowl of flour and coat. Whichever way you do it, just make sure the pieces of meat are well-coated in flour.

Cook the flour coated pieces of meat in the oil over medium heat to brown. If necessary to provide your meat with enough space, do this in batches. When the meat is browned, transfer it to your crock pot.

Chop your veggies. You can make the pieces as small or as large as you like. Add them to your meat.

Mix in the wine, broth and herbs.

This whole mix filled my crock pot about halfway, so there’s plenty of room to double this recipe if desired.

Cook on low for 9 hours. If you can, taste the mix halfway through cooking and adjust accordingly.

(*My camera is completely dead and I don’t want to drop another $15 for yet another pair of batteries that will die on me again. These pictures are taken with M’s camera which is quite a bit older and, as you might be able to tell, I have absolutely no mastery with it.)

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The Good Earth

This book came recommended to me from a somewhat surprising source. M’s father, like M himself, is not a big reader. Based on the source of the recommendation, I knew this book could turn out to be one of two things: a trite, easy to read, silly little book or great, well-written, captivating literature.

What I learned is that my father-in-law, despite having read maybe 2 dozen books in his lifetime, is a very discerning reader. He read this book for the first time when he was young, a teenager. He couldn’t put it down, he says. The story grabbed him and held on to him in such a way that it remained absolutely crisp for him even 30 years later. I was only a page in to the beautiful, old, hardcover copy he lent me and I knew exactly what he meant.

Pearl S. Buck manages to present an Eastern culture to a Western world in a way that neither alienates nor misrepresents nor coddles. However, built into her style, there’s a sense of separation of both the reader and the author from the lives of the Chinese farmer. In this sense, this novel would be a fascinating study of Orientalism and the Other. The prose is lofty, formal, creating a gap, an acknowledgement, even, of the impossibility of melding the culture of the main character to the culture of the reader.  And yet, there’s this overarching theme that seems to resonate with me and likely resonated with Buck’s 1930’s American audience: as long as you have your land, everything will be Ok. The land provides, protects. It is eternal. It always provides a fresh start, even after the worst of times. Most of all, the land will give you peace.

(I’m not sure if our bit of land will give us that much peace, at least not for a year or so…)

I would highly recommend this book. Buck was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Literature with it. And my father-in-law is right: it’s a page turner and truly a beautiful piece of literature, at that.

(Oprah picked this book up a couple years ago, so it’s readily available at Chapters. Don’t forget: this book was good before Oprah was Oprah.)

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Honey Barbecue Pork

We’ve been thinking a lot about bathrooms and kitchens, timelines, and demos. We’ve been dreaming, and wishing, planning and hoping. We’ve been thinking so much about the coming months that I’ve had very little time to find any food inspiration. A visit to a similarly food-minded friend, the woman behind the blog, An Extra Glimpse, sent me back to my cookbook collection for tonight’s dinner.

She made us a delicious meal of chicken casserole, sweet potato and a delightful, creamy bruschetta. While she cooked, I stood in her bright, cheerful, yellow kitchen and chatted, catching up, jumping from one topic to the next. Another’s kitchen can be so inspiring.

So, today, I felt like cooking, despite feeling a little rough from the late night. I pulled out a church cookbook I got from someone in M’s family. Both J and my mom are insistent that there is some value in these simple books. But I never know how to find the jewels among the rest, especially without a single picture. My love of food comes from a very visual origin: I appreciate the photography that so often goes along with delicious food.

The cookbook I pulled out is not a large one, so it wasn’t difficult picking out a recipe based on what was in my fridge and pantry. And you know what? It was delicious. And that’s not just me saying that: I even got a Good from M! And you all know how difficult that can be…

Honey Barbecue Pork
from the Treasured Recipes of the Lunch Bunch

4 pork chops or spare ribs or whatever type of pork you have
3 cloves garlic
1 onion
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
3/4 cup honey*
4 tbsp vinegar
6 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 dry mustard
1/4 tsp chopped ginger
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp pepper

Boil the pork chops for about 20 minutes. Remove from the water and place in a baking dish that is just the right size for the amount of meat you have.

Chop your garlic and onion and mix in a bowl with the barbecue sauce, honey, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, mustard, ginger, chili powder, and pepper. Pour the mixture over the meet in the baking  dish and pop into a 325* oven for 1.5 hours or until as tender as you want. I only baked it for an hour and they were delicious, but if I had been more patient, I’m sure they would have become even more melt-in-your-mouth tender.

Serve with veggies or a salad.

* I ran out of honey. I didn’t have 3/4 cup. So, I opened my fridge and pondered the contents. Plum sauce? Hmm… table syrup! I just kind of threw some in. It was tasty. Really, you can’t mess up this recipe, what with all the delicious ingredients that go into it.

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My Eyes Are Dim I Cannot See

This morning, I snapped my glasses in half.

Actually, a snap would have been far more satisfying. Rather, my glasses disintegrated. I was cleaning them properly – for once – complete with a little lens cleaner and a lens cloth. Perhaps it was a bit of a vigourous cleaning, but no more than what they should have been able to handle. The next think I knew, they lay in two pieces in my hand, snapped cleanly down the centre, an eye for each leg. For a moment, all I could do was stare at them.

Then, I was filled with this odd sort of terror. Two weeks ago, my last left contact lens split in half in my eye, so I had thrown them out and resigned myself to wearing glasses for a couple months until I could find the time and desire to get to an eye doctor. But here were my glasses, split down the middle, unwearable. What did that leave me?

Blind.

Useless.

Helpless.

Would I even be able to get down the street to the Hakim Optical on my own to see what they could do to help after M went to work? Would I be able to distinguish the various blurs around me enough to even walk into the right store? The thought of stepping out into a world of indistinguishable people and faces scared me.

I can handle a lot without my glasses. I can navigate around obstacles, even in unfamiliar places. I can appear to focus on a person’s face, even if I can’t see a single feature. I can even read, kind of, for a short time, if the book is held centimeters from my face (and yes, I mean centimeters… not inches). But ultimately, I can’t function. I would not have been able to get on the right bus this morning to get to work. I would not have been able to write or review any of my work. And if I had stayed home today? No practicing piano, no watching movies (except to listen), certainly no reading, no beading, no messaging friends.

Like I said. Useless.

So there I was, standing in the bathroom with two halves of my glasses in hand on the brink of panic. Then, M said, “Would my spare glasses help you?”

I almost laughed. His prescription is about a quarter of mine. He can function well enough without them that he took the dog for a walk this morning before putting them on his face. They might sharpen things up a bit for me, but the change would be almost negligible.

And then, I remembered them. The round, kind of rusty, kind of discoloured, very bent glasses of my youth. I had organized our bathroom shelf a few weeks ago and found them crushed at the bottom of a basket, functioning and sound. I went after them, sorting through hair supplies and make-up until I found them, exactly where they belonged at the bottom of a basket. These things were with me for 10 years before I replaced them, solid frames that never break, never snap, never even lose screws (probably because they’re rusted in…). They’re two prescriptions behind me, but as everything jumped into a more-or-less kind of focus, relief washed over me. I would be OK.

It was an odd experience, being a non-functioning person, even just for a moment. It made me pause and remember to be thankful for simple things like glasses. It seems like everything is going so well for us lately, but this morning was a reminder that it can be gone in a second. But. It seems like God always provides a back-up plan, doesn’t he?

The world is a bit blurred today, but at least I can keep going.

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Welcome Home

Whenever something really exciting starts happening in my life, instead of telling you all about it like I should, I seem to let the crickets take over here. So, why don’t I break my silence.

Mark and I have News.

(I love starting it off like this… it makes people perk up and their minds IMMEDIATELY go in the completely wrong direction.)

No. Not that.

Rather, this:

That’s right: we bought a house! And today, we lift our conditions and it becomes final.

Right now, the house is a bit run down. You can probably tell. It doesn’t have much in the way of curb appeal, especially since someone decided it would be a good idea to pave the whole front lawn. The roof needs to be replaced and I think that porch calls for some flower boxes.

But the inside takes way more priority than anything on the outside. When we get the key on March 31st, we’ll take some measurements, toast the radiators and gas stove and huge windows, put down our glasses, and take a sledgehammer to the bathroom. Out will come the baby blue bathtub and toilet, the narrow little vanity. We’ll rip up the terrible tile and maybe even knock down all the walls. If we’re ambitious – and there’s a good chance at least one of us is – we’ll pick the whole thing up and move it, learning all about plumbing and tiling and toilets along the way.

In the meantime, we’ll get downstairs and scrub and scrub and scrub until the white tiles are shining and the bathroom looks usable. We’ll put in some kitchen cupboards and cabinets and drop in some appliances. And then, when we’ve mostly stopped banging around upstairs, we’ll get an ad in the paper (read, Kijiji) and get the basement rented out. Know anyone who needs a big, beautiful, two bedroom apartment for May 1st?

To new adventures!

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Chocolate Chip Shortbread

My cookbook collection grew substantially this Christmas. Apparently, my mother-in-law found out I really like to cook. Oddly, the majority of my new books are actually baking books. And you all know how I feel about baking. But, since it was Christmas and then New Years, I bit the bullet and cracked into a couple of the books.

This one comes from a book called Chocolate. Yes, it’s just all about chocolate. Delightful. I made this shortbread for a small gathering of friends in my small apartment. I think most of it ended up in my belly, but I was impressed with my self-control around this incredibly light, crumbly shortbread crusted with chocolate chips. It was the perfect combination, the perfect little dessert. And for once, it has me imagining potential variations.

Some things about this shortbread. It’s hard to work together. My butter was probably not quite soft enough, but I knew if I stuck it in the microwave it would melt too much and the texture would be all wrong. My solution? Hand it off to the Man so he can show off his Muscles. One of these days, I’m going to take my HBC gift cards to Home Outfitters and get that KitchenAid I’be been drooling over.

Another thing about shortbread: once it is cooled, it gets crumbly. That means it’s not so easy to cut. If you want nice pieces of shortbread, don’t forget to cut it before it cools completely.

Now, if you want a bit of chocolaty, buttery goodness, go make this. If you’re worried about keeping New Years resolutions, I suggest you break them and go make this.

Chocolate Chip Shortbread
From Chocolate by Parragon

115 g butter, diced (1/2 cup)
115 g all-purpose flour (3/4 cup)
55 g cornstarch (3/8 cup)
55 g brown sugar (1/4 cup)
As many chocolate chips as you want

(Yes, these measurements are in grams. I was a little thrown when I first got the book. But then, I got a kitchen scale and everything worked out. The cup measurement are approximates. Corrections are appreciated.)

Mix together the flour, cornstarch, and sugar. Add the diced butter and rub in until the mixture begins to hold together. A mixer is useful for this, whether a machine or a stronger human being than you.

Press the mixture evenly into a springform pan. Sprinkle as many chocolate chips on top as you would like and press in gently with your fingers. If you think you need more chocolate chips, add more.

Bake at 325* for 35-40 minutes, until a beautiful gold colour. Removing the side of the springform pan, carefully cut into 8 portions, or however many you would like. Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before moving to a wire rack to cool the rest of the way. If serving to guests, cut or break a piece in half to share with your Muscle as a taste test, then pack them away to share later.

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Things we don’t have in the Big City

Snow.

Snow shoes.

Liia.

Salt-free boots.

Everyone.

I miss Christmas.

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