dreaminghope: (Zoey)
I am the happiest carbohydrate addict there ever was and ever will be.

Russ has taken to making homemade bread each weekend thanks to the shiny KitchenAid mixer we got with AirMiles points. I find the smell of rising and baking bread extremely... appealing. The whole bread experience right up to eating a slice of fresh bread with butter melting on it is so sensual.

Today, he made bread. But even better, he made homemade bagels:

They are even better than they look.
dreaminghope: (Baby DreamHope)
I've fallen in love with The Chai Company's chai concentrate. It's not too sweet and it's smooth (I find some other brands have a sort of gritty residue towards the end of the cup). Donald's Market has had it in the past, but they ran out and haven't restocked in months, so I was on a quest. I checked every health food and grocery store on Commercial Drive – a time-consuming task – then started expanding the search outwards by phone. I finally located stock at "Whole Paycheque", which I don't normally support, but for my chai... About a month ago, when Russ was already in the area for work, he bought me a half-dozen tetrapaks. I've got one left. I'm considering taking on a new supplier at work solely to get myself cases of chai concentrate conveniently and at wholesale.

I've been hunting for Dark Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for a couple of months, as I am a huge dark chocolate fan, but they have proven elusive in Canada. My sister had seen them in a 7-Eleven once, so I have been checking every 7-Eleven I pass, in addition to every grocery store, corner store, and dollar store I enter. Elaine brought my impossible quest to an end by bringing four packages back from her recent trip through Seattle. Thank goodness, as there are a lot of stores to check. They are very tasty, and slightly less sweet than the milk chocolate versions. I approve.

My newest quest was triggered by a desire for s'mores. The craving was completely random, especially considering that I haven't eaten marshmallows since going vegetarian about thirteen years ago. But once I decided that I wanted them, the search for vegetarian marshmallows was on. I considered making my own; there are a number of recipes online, but they all mention being messy, and I don't like messy. So I found one store in the Lower Mainland that sells vegan marshmallows. This past Friday, I went for a two-hour-ish round-trip by SkyTrain and foot to a vegan store in New Westminster and acquired my marshmallows (at the remarkable price of $9 for a small container of maybe 15 of them – I hope they are good).

I want what I want, and I tend to get it.

I haven't had a s'more yet, though. The quest was too short; from craving to acquisition was only about a week. I haven't savoured the anticipation enough. Soon, though, and it will be so good.
dreaminghope: (Giggle)
This morning, I pulled a container out of the deep freeze. It wasn't labelled, but it looked like pea soup, so I popped it into the fridge to defrost for dinner.

Come home from work, open the container... it's not pea soup. It's pumpkin pie filling. Well, that explains the lack of label; I'm the pea soup maker and a compulsive labeller, but Russ is the pie maker, so he would have been the one to freeze the roasted, blended, and spiced pumpkin.

Down to the deep freeze. Pull out another container; this one is labelled "Borscht". Force frozen block out of container and into a pot; it doesn't look quite right. Start heating it; it doesn't smell quite right either. We both watch it melt and theorize as to what it might be or what might be wrong with it if it actually is borscht. When it's thawed enough, Russ does a taste test... it's not borscht. It's seafood broth leftover from Russ' magnificent birthday feast, and it apparently didn't get re-labelled when it was packaged up into a container previously occupied by beet soup.

Down to the deep freeze. Pull out another container; this one is labelled "Pea Soup", but I have my doubts. Open and sniff the frozen block... it's not pea soup. It's also seafood broth.

Down to the deep freeze. Find a container that is decidedly pea soup by both label and appearance, but the mouth of the jar is smaller than the body, so the soup's not coming out until it is thawed.

Dinner ended up being soba noodles and eggs with stir-fried broccoli. The pea soup is now for tomorrow's dinner. New year's resolution for Russ: Label everything before freezing it.
dreaminghope: (Apple Picking)
One of my favourite customers called today, as she does every second Monday, to find out what's coming in her fruit and vegetable bin tomorrow. Most of my customers do this on the website and make any changes there themselves, but Laurie's a little older and she's doesn't have a computer.

"Without any changes, your bin this week would contain one pound of bananas..."


"A head of green leaf lettuce..."

"Maybe take the lettuce out."

"No problem. One pound of red potatoes..."

"OK, I can use the potatoes this week."

"Three concorde pears..."

"Oh, I have to tell you, the bosc pears in the last bin were just so wonderful! They reminded me of the pear tree we had in the backyard when I was a little girl. It was a bosc tree, and it produced the biggest pears. Just half of one was enough. It never produced a lot of pears - just a couple of dozen a year, I think - but they were so good.

"My father would wait until just before the first frost to pick them, and then he would wrap each one in newspaper and store them in this cold storage he made in the basement. Those pears were ugly, with that dull, rough skin, but they were so sweet and juicy. And the aroma! They smelled so good.

"My Dad packed them so carefully in those newspapers, on the shelves in the cold room, that they would last and last. Whenever we wanted a pear, we could have one just like fresh-picked, even in December or February, all the way through to the spring.

"Oh, but just listen to me go on! Those pears just brought back such fond memories, and I wanted to be sure to tell you how much I enjoyed them. I'll try the concorde ones this week."

"I hope you'll enjoy them. In your bin this week, we also have a pound of royal mandarins..."
dreaminghope: (Squinty Puck)
During my Cornish pastie adventure last weekend, I was quite convinced that I wasn't strong enough to deal with the pastry properly, and that's why it was so hard to deal with. I was sure that I had followed the recipe exactly. I even called my mother while making them to check that I had copied the recipe down correctly.

After making the pasties, I was doing the dishes and I washed the liquid measuring cup and had a little flash of memory: I saw myself measuring the milk for the dough, and I saw myself only measuring a quarter cup instead of a half cup.

Sure enough, when Russ and I made a second batch of pastry to use the second half of the filling, I measured a half cup of milk and though the pastry was still tough, it was much easier to work with than the other batch. Amazing what a difference a quarter of a cup can make:

dreaminghope: (Apple Picking)
I've been going to Curves for about two years now. I've got a visible bicep when I flex for the first time in my life. However, I'm still not as strong as I'd like to be, as I discovered today when trying to deal with the pastry for my Cornish pasties.

As with the Split Pea Soup, this is a family recipe. This time, at least I do have a list of ingredients that includes measurements. At some point, possibly years ago, I wrote the list of ingredients, without a title, on a scrap of paper. On the back of the scrap, my entire instructions were written: "Cook veggies + mince well. Base: sift flour, salt, thyme + marjoram. Stir in cereal. Add egg, butter + warm milk to dry ingredients."

The scrap piece of paper )

Vegetarianizing this recipe turned out to be as easy as I hoped it would be; actually creating the pasties turned out to be much harder than I thought.

The Hope's Vegetarianized Cornish Pasties


A couple of small potatoes
1 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 lb Yves Original Veggie Ground Round or similar*
1 can mushrooms pieces, drained and minced**
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp dried parsley flakes
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce***
1/2 tsp salt
Dash of pepper
1/3 cup ketchup

1/2 cup bite-sized shredded wheat cereal
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried marjoram
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter (at room temperature)
1 egg, beaten


Scrub the potatoes and cut them into chunks. Boil until soft and drain. Allow to cool, then cut into smaller pieces.

In a large skillet, melt the tablespoon of butter. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Turn off the heat and add the potatoes, the Ground Round, the diced mushrooms, and all the rest of the filling ingredients. Mix well.

Put the shredded wheat into a bag and use a rolling pin to crush the cereal. There should be a 1/4 cup of finely crushed shredded wheat when you are done.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift the flour, salt, thyme, and marjoram together into a large bowl. Stir in the crushed cereal.

In a microwave or in a saucepan, warm the milk until it is very warm, but don't let it simmer or boil. Remove from heat and add the butter and the beaten egg.

Add the milk, butter, and egg mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix well. Knead the dough until it comes together. This takes a lot of hand strength. The dough may be pretty crumbly.

Roll the dough out until it is about 3 millimetres thick. This also takes a lot of strength. Cut saucer-sized circles of dough (about 5 inch diameter). Spoon some filling into the centre of the circle. Now you can either fold the circle in half flat or gather the two sides of the circle up above the filling (that's the way my Mom does it). Pinch the seam together.

Place the pasties on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Eat hot or at room temperature, or freeze.

*Works out to 1 and 1/3 of a 340 gram package. I'll save the other 2/3 of a package to add to some tomato sauce or nachos.
**I hate canned mushrooms, except in this recipe. I might still try subbing them for fresh in the future, just in principle.
***Some Worcestershire sauces contain anchovies, so for a vegetarian pasty, you'll have to check your sauce. Safeway brand does not contain anchovies.

I had so much trouble with this pastry! My pasties are tasty (I've eaten three of them so far), but terrible looking.

And somehow I ended up with double the filling as I had pastry to fill – I have no idea how that happened, but I'm keeping the extra filling for Russ to make a new batch of pastry.

Still: vegetarian Cornish pasties – yummy! And I'll just have to build some more muscle to roll out that dough.

ETA: What they look like when you make the pastry correctly.
dreaminghope: (Apple Picking)
Russ and I tried to make vegan panna cotta a couple of months ago. Real panna cotta is basically sweetened dairy and gelatin. Dairy's a traditional food for Imbolc, but I don't eat gelatin and one of our friends is allergic to dairy. Luckily, we did a test run of the vegan recipe before serving it to our loved ones... Lesson learned: Never trust a converted recipe where the creator has never eaten the real thing. Hint to the author of the vegan recipe: Panna cotta does not taste like yogurt. At all.

Recently, I've been craving pea soup, specifically the split pea soup my Mom makes. It was originally my Grandma's recipe, and it's good, simple, hearty farmer food. When I asked Mom how to make it, here's the recipe I got:

"Well, you need split green peas. You can get them bagged, but they are probably cheaper bulk. And get about three carrots and an onion. I use a ham bone, but I guess you won't be doing that. Just cook the peas, the carrots, and the onions in some water, and blend it."

How much water?

"Enough for the peas you are using."

How long do you cook the peas?

"Until they're cooked."


The Hope's Vegetarianized Split Pea Soup


2 cups of split green peas, sorted and rinsed
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp liquid smoke


In a large pot, bring 6 cups of cold water and the split peas to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1.5 hours, until the split peas are tender.

Add another 4 cups of water, the carrots, and the onion. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for another 0.5 hour, until the carrots are soft. Add the salt and liquid smoke.

Cool slightly. Puree in a blender until smooth. If you are blending in batches, stir very well first, to make sure the first batch isn't much thinner than the others.

This freezes very well; I actually think it's even better after it has been frozen.

This recipe has been approved by Russ and my sister, both of whom have had the original split pea soup many times.

Next up: Vegetarianized Cornish Pasties. Hopefully this weekend.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
It happens every time I organize an event, even if it's just for the seven other members of Silver Spiral: I spend the week before thinking about it constantly. Until the ritual is designed, I obsess about it, and in between attempts to write it, I meal-plan and write shopping lists and schedule when I'll go to various stores to get speciality ingredients.* On the day of the ritual, I turn into a little whirlwind. Last Sunday, Imbolc, Russ was startled several times when I suddenly squeaked and ran out of the room, yelling "the timer!", "the bread!", or "the ginger beer!" over my shoulder.

Even after my guests arrive, I am rushing around, setting up the altar, assigning parts, getting drinks, finding cat-free places for jackets and bags. During the ritual, I'm trying to remember what comes next. Then, ritual over, the true chaos kicks in as everyone looks at me and says "how can I help with dinner?"

Last Sunday, the meal plan was simple: pasta with sauce. Of course, the pasta and sauce were both from scratch. Russ browned chicken and supervised stove-related items while a couple of people chopped veggies at one end of the table and a couple more made pasta for the first time, under the supervision of our resident home economics teacher. I fetched and gathered and assigned and set the table and opened wine... and in the midst of all of it, I suddenly feel the tension drain out of me and I remember: This is what it is all about. It is all about this steamy kitchen full of people laughing and talking and making dinner together. It's all about this family of spirit sitting down together with mismatched napkins and glasses of juice and wine. It's all about seeing everyone's face when my sister announces her pregnancy.**

It's all about needing a bigger dining room table soon.

* Speciality ingredients tend to be a must when feeding a group requires or has required in the recent past: no meat, no dairy, no nuts, no onions, no garlic, no gluten, and no alcohol.

** Russ and I had to keep that secret for six weeks, and it was hard. Now that she's put it on her FaceBook, it must be completely fair game.
dreaminghope: (Corset)

When traveling, I highly recommend choosing hotels that include breakfast. We had such a hard time choosing food for lunch and dinner sometimes (not because nothing sounded good but because everything sounded good) that I can't imagine what we would have done trying to choose a breakfast place before having coffee.

All three of our hotels included breakfast buffets that we took very complete advantage of. There were always pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, and my new favourite breakfast: fresh buns and slices of mild provolone cheese. There was also cappuccino every morning, to my delight.


Russ and I are espresso drinkers at home too. Years ago, when Russ worked at Starbucks, we used his staff discount and a Boxing Day sale to buy an espresso maker. We gave up the regular coffee machine fairly soon after.

"I don't want all these fancy drinks – these cap-a-chinos. Why can't I get a regular cup of coffee? I just want regular coffee," the woman was obviously American by her southern accent. She is sitting with her husband and another couple at a nearby table in the breakfast room in our hotel in Florence.

Russ, ever helpful, leans over: "Order an Americano."

"An A-mer-i-can-no? Is that a regular coffee?"

"Kind of. It's espresso and hot water. It's like a regular coffee."

"Marvin? Marvin, go order me one of these A-mer-i-can-nos."

Marvin obediently gets up and goes to the espresso bar at the far end of the breakfast room. In the meantime, his wife turns to the other couple at their table: "Do you guys want some too?" When they nod, she yells across the room: "Marvin! Marvin, get two more of those A-mer-i-can-nos!"

We left for a tour while their order was being made, so we never did find out if they found an Americano enough like regular coffee or not.

On a friend's recommendation, we made another delightful discovery (in additional to bread and cheese for breakfast): espresso con grappa. This is not a breakfast drink, but best sipped after dinner, perhaps with a tiramisu. We brought a bottle of grappa home with us to enjoy.


We made it a tradition to celebrate our last night in each city with tiramisu.

In Rome, we had tiramisu on the Piazza Navona. We laughed again at the story we'd learned during our walking tour of Rome: Bernini, who created the famous fountain at the center of the piazza (the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), and Borromini, who designed the church along one side of the piazza (the church of Sant'Agnese), were great rivals. The pope of the time set them to work at the same time in the piazza. Their rivalry is reflected in their great works: the four characters on the fountain are all turned away from the church – one has her face covered, while another has a hand out as though to ward off the church's ugliness – and on the church's front, the sole character – a statue of the saint – is turned aside so only her profile is seen and so that she doesn't face the fountain.

In Florence, we had tiramisu on the Piazza della Repubblica. First, we went to this very fancy restaurant and candy store – a candy store where we had accidentally spent €12 on two tiny bags of candy the day before – but after saying "sit anywhere", no one came to bring us menus or see what we wanted. After waiting for fifteen minutes, we moved on to one of the many other restaurants on the piazza. The staff at the snobby restaurant looked quite shocked that we were leaving, but at the second place we tried, we were served delicious tiramisu (my favourite of the trip, actually) and espresso con grappa in a prompt and friendly manner, and for several Euros less than the other place as well.

In Venice, we had tiramisu at the base of the Ponte del Rialto, along the Canal Grande. We briefly considered celebrating our final night in Italy in the Piazza San Marco, which is even more iconic than the Rialto, but one look at the prices quickly made us look elsewhere: the cost of a dessert was going to be more than we had spent on some meals. And the Canal Grande is gorgeous at night anyway.


Every restaurant we ate in seemed to have a house wine. They were all delicious, and they were all labeled "vino della casa", with no other information about how we could buy a similar wine at home. The Italians have a wonderful invention that I've never seen in Canada: the 375 mL wine bottle. It's just a half-sized bottle, complete with cork, and it is perfect for two to share over a leisurely meal without overindulging or leaving any behind. It is especially perfect to share over lunch, when you don't want to end up too tipsy or sleepy after.


Red wine and pizza go very well together. Red wine goes especially well with whatever wonderful drug is in Italian tomato sauce: it tasted so simple, but was undeniably some of the tastiest sauce I've ever had in my life. Since it is vegetarian and easily identifiable, I had a lot of pizza margherita in Italy, which was delicious, but I also had a most wonderful creation one day when we escaped from the rain in Venice by ducking into the first restaurant that looked warm: tomato sauce, bocconcini, asparagus spears, and an egg right in the middle. Sounds weird – it looked weird too – but tasted like the best of breakfast and pizza brought together.

Coming home

Since coming home, I've been eating breakfast regularly for the first time in years. I have a slice of bread, sometimes with jam, and I've been experimenting with different brands of provolone cheese to find one that tastes right (some are too aged to be eaten so early in the day) and is affordable (the pre-sliced one from the Safeway deli tastes right, but it is a bit pricey, and I'm perfectly able to slice my own cheese).

Today, walking home from the Central Library, I was getting hungry and thought I'd stop somewhere for dinner. The whole walk home, through a good part of downtime Vancouver and all of Chinatown, I kept looking for some place to eat, and nothing looked appealing. I wasn't sure what I was looking for – what I wanted to eat or drink, what kind of atmosphere I wanted – until I realized that I was looking for Italy. Realizing that I wasn't going to find wine and pizza or perfect melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi on a cobblestone street or lovely piazza, I went home. I made my own pasta dish and opened a bottle of Russ and I's own "vino della casa" (a Pinot Noir we made at a local u-brew) and consumed most of both on my back deck in the last hours of sunshine, reading my book. It wasn't Italy, but it was lovely, and close enough for today.

Where I am

Apr. 2nd, 2008 12:02 pm
dreaminghope: (Dancing Cat)
Where I learn that cookies won't keep you together

Two people who were customers of mine as a couple split up recently. He moved out, and she kept their old apartment and account. He opened a new account from his new apartment across town. They order the same ginger spice cookies in their deliveries every week.

Where I feel bad for the dog

The dog next door has a thick, tightly-wound tail that coils on his back. When he is happy or excited, his tail twitches like a snake dreaming of swallowing a fat mouse.

Where I am pedantic and get a new enemy

Someone called me "caustic" yesterday and told me that I must be a very unhappy person... or maybe it was a very angry person. To be fair, I was rather condescendingly correcting her grammar and spelling in an email at the time. I maintain that I was provoked: she works for a book publisher and she sent me an unsolicited sales pitch wherein she spelled the title of the book wrong, spelled "distributor" wrong, and neglected to use full stops on half her sentences (amongst other problems). In the final email of our correspondence, she told me that "grammer [sic] doesn't matter in emails", which is when I gave up - anyone who believes that good writing doesn't matter when selling a book cannot be saved.

Where I want the unwanted

This week, I keep encountering random cases of black jellybeans being used as a metaphor for something or someone unwanted and left behind. To that I say: Send me your black jellybeans. I always leave them for last because they are my favourites. I always like the underdog.

Where timing oneself by others gets confusing

I know that I am going to be on time for work when I pass Marionette Man at the corner of Hastings and Clark. We pass each other somewhere along Clark every morning. It is a non-encounter; we don't even nod to each other. All too often, I pass him many blocks farther up, as he turns off Clark towards his workplace and I start walking faster towards Hastings because I must be running late.

Today, I got to Hastings and Clark and Marionette Man was nowhere to be seen. He is distinctive: more than six feet tall, lanky and long-limbed, and his is arms only swing forward of his hips and his knees seem to bend too much. This peculiar rise and fall to his step makes him appear to be controlled by invisible strings and a not-entirely-talented puppeteer.

I finally saw him a couple more blocks along, turning on to Hastings from McLean. I wasn't early for work, so he must have been the late one today. I wonder if he knew that by when he saw me. I wonder if he'll notice when I'm not around for the next two weeks.

Where I realize that even if I write this in an email while in my office, it does not count as work, and I have far more tasks to complete than I have time to do them in as it is...
dreaminghope: (Giggle)
I was at Granville Island today for another International Writers and Readers Festival event, so I took advantage of the opportunity to do some special grocery shopping at the market. Russ checked out a website and gave me a list of sausages (2 andouille, 6 duck and port, 6 Turkish lamb, and 6 wild boar chorizo) he wanted from a particular vender, so I line up at the counter. When one of the clerks offers to help me, I just handed over Russ' list.

"Having a party?" asks the stocky white-haired man beside me at the counter.

"No, just stocking up. I think most of these are going into the freezer."

"We don't have any of the wild boar today," the man behind the counter tells me.

"Just skip that one, then. Thanks."

"You shouldn't freeze them. You should never freeze anything. Buy it all fresh and eat it right away," the white-haired man sounds stern.

I shrug: "Well, we don't get out here very often, and my partner really likes these fancy sausages. We don't have anything like this in our neighbourhood."

"Ma'am, we only have two of the Turkish sausages," says the man behind the counter.

"Oh, no problem. Um, I'll take the two Turkish and four of those other lamb sausages, the spicy ones."

"You should move closer," the white-haired man continues.

I laugh a little and respond: "I don't think I'm going to move just to be closer to the sausages."

"Right now I'm building a house in France because that's the lifestyle I want to live near. France has the best food. You should live close to the lifestyle you want."

Ignoring the fact that the occasional desire for fancy sausages has now become a lifestyle, I try again to just blow him off with an easy answer: "I don't think we can afford to live down here anyway."

"Then make more money," he isn't kidding.

"Anything else for you?" the man behind the counter asks me.

"No, thank you," I hand over my credit card, "I think I've gotten more than I needed here today."
dreaminghope: (Quiet Gargoyle)
We're having a perfect autumn day. I walked to Main Street and went to an organic and fair trade café where the man behind the counter taste-tested the almond syrup before making my drink. He made my latté backwards – pulled the shots before steaming the milk – but it still tasted lovely. And he poured the milk so that the foam made a swirled heart on top. I drank the heart before putting my travel mug's lid on.

I sit outside of the café at a little ironwork table. I want to write – there's a certain mysticism to The Café as a place to write (or program) – but I end up just reading in the sun.

When I resume my walk, I pull my paisley hat down firmly against the fall breeze. When I get to the corner, I don't start walking at the light but wait until the bus comes to a complete stop. Buses in Vancouver often run red lights, and there'd be something just too silly about someone as bohemian-looking as I – paisley hat, tie-died dress, hemp shoes, naturally worn (out) jean jacket – being killed by public transportation.

There's no one out behind the Ivanhoe yet. I guess anyone drinking at noon on a Friday doesn't want to be out in the golden sun, even for a smoke. It isn't a place for business lunches.

A block down, at the next corner, there's a slick faux-brick condo building, six floors high. The top floor has a larger balcony with a wide cement wall for a railing. Someone has placed a gargoyle on the corner of the rail, overlooking the corner of Main and Prior. He is very easy to spot, but only if you look up; most people don't.

I sit on a short cement wall across the street, where the gargoyle can see me, and that's where I write.

I think about what the gargoyle can see. He can see the daily parade of buses and cars up and down Main Street. He can see the old Italian immigrants heading into the European Deli Warehouse – the import business and warehouse that almost burned down in the rash of arsons in the summer of 2006 – and leaving with their fancy cheeses and French sodas. He can see the sign that says "Welcome to Historic Chinatown" and the graffiti that offers the cryptic comment "I have never been out of love with the mall".

And the gargoyle can see the people who shoot up and who sleep under the underpass across the street. It must be frustrating to be a gargoyle – see it all, and never be able to do anything. It isn't demons we need protecting from anymore, but that's all he knows how to do.

I think about going into the deli warehouse, but entering a dark maze of rooms doesn't appeal, and we have a lot of cheese at home already.

I go home and read science fiction in the sun on my back porch while drinking a glass of red wine, and feel so decadent that it's like there could never be any despair in this beautiful city.
dreaminghope: (Tipsy)
I love food. So does Russ. It's one of the bigger things we have in common, which is good because it means we don't argue about our extravagant food budget. So for Russ' birthday, I got him a nice chef's knife and a culinary event with Edible British Columbia.

They let you in to the Granville Island Market after hours. They have a long open storefront and they set up a lovely table with linens and wine glasses in the cement market hallway in front of it. There are fifteen attendees, and they were all on time, dressed in everything from jeans and t-shirts to a suit with a pink tie.

Immediately baskets of different kinds of breads and dishes of balsamic vinegar and lobster oil are laid out on the table. And the BC wine begins to flow soon after. Three people at the table don't drink at all and another is asking for tiny amounts, so I think the rest of us got larger than normal portions through out the evening; no sense wasting the bottle once it has been opened, I suppose.

We all get up from the table, carrying our wine glasses, and gather around a counter where a professional chef – Jeff Van Geest of Aurora Bistro – creates delicious dishes using local ingredients. The theme on this evening is heritage tomatoes.

After the chef demonstrates each dish, we all take our seats again and are served. It's like watching a cooking show on TV, but you can smell and taste everything.

Green zebra tomatoes look under-ripe – bright green. But they are sweet and juicy. They are plated as you would get in a fancy restaurant – the kind Russ and I only eat at when my parents are paying for a special occasion – so the tomato slices are stacked with delicate rings of onions. They are accompanied by a sprinkle of local cheese and another glass of wine. I’m not much for white wines, really, but it is a nice bright Chardonnay.

I've always disliked tomato soup, but I'd only ever had canned before. But this smoked tomato soup is a completely different creature altogether. The mix of heritage tomatoes are smoked in an aluminum lined pot on a stove top with wood chips. Russ and another more experienced cook compared notes on what they thought was missing from the soup (I think they concluded that it need more cream), but I thought it was delightful.

Being a carb addict, it was the croûtons that I really loved: fresh bread cubes deep-fried in clarified butter and tossed with freshly grated parmesan. Pure decadence. Shame that only a couple of croûtons were in each bowl of soup.

Russ and I sat across from each other. On my left was a woman that Russ would later inform me was typical of a new Toronto import to Vancouver: she spoke very fast and very urgently. She's puppy-eager to learn. She asked a lot of detailed questions and took notes of every store, food brand, and restaurant mentioned by the chef or any of the rest of us. She leaned in intently as Russ told her about the best East Van food locations, having him spell the names of Italian bakeries and give her directions to the most authentic Chinese food stores.

I have been vegetarian for more than ten years. I am, admittedly, a bit of a "don't ask, don't tell" vegetarian (don't ask the restaurant whether or not they use veggie broth; don't ask if the ice cream has gelatin in it), but I have not eaten actual meat in a decade.

I won't blame the wine. I do credit the chef's excellent sales pitch: as he prepared the course, he praised the farm where he bought the chickens destined to be our main course: the chicken's living conditions and the quality of their diet, and the resulting quality of the meat. So when the parchment paper packet was set in front of me, I enjoyed the tomatoes and the arugula and then I had the smallest bite of the chicken.

Chicken has a very weird texture. It is sort of stringy. You all probably don't notice it because you eat it all the time, but it is a very bizarre thing to eat. I'm sure it was fantastic chicken, though; Russ certainly enjoyed both his portion and mine.

Sitting at the head of the table, between Russ and I, is a true foodie. He has come alone, but seems very comfortable making conversation with us, though we are half his age. He attends many culinary events and cooking classes. He is fascinating to talk to – to listen to – as he has traveled around the world primarily to have different food experiences. Toronto Puppy keeps interrupting to have him explain dishes and spell things.

As the chef prepares each dish, his assistant helps invisibly. The tools he needs next just appear beside him. Dirty dishes just disappear from around him and reappear clean if needed. In my mind, I call her Radar.

Tomato sorbet sounds strange, but it was very good. The sorbet was cool and refreshing, and the balsamic reduction wasn't vinegary, but rich and sweet. And I love late harvest wines. I have a sweet tooth.

The whole event was magical, including buying ginger jam and bakeable chocolate truffles to go and pouring ourselves into a cab. It was completely worth having my first ever hangover on Wednesday morning at work.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
As I'm walking down the sidewalk, two kids are running towards me. Their father, or maybe grandfather, is half a block behind them, ambling, smiling at the kids and at the world.

The older of the two kids is a girl, maybe seven years old. She runs facing forward. She's focused, but not in the way that adult runners are focused. Adult runners are concentrating and pushing themselves; they are working. The little girl is flying. Any destination is arbitrary; the goal is only to feel the wind and to run because she can run and she wants to run.

The little boy who runs beside her is about five years old. He runs fast enough to keep up with his sister's longer stride, and he watches her as often as he looks ahead. He runs to be beside his sister; he runs to not be left behind.

I'm on my way to the Chinatown post office, some Swap-Bot postcards in hand needing US stamps. I'm forcing myself to walk at an unnaturally slow pace; it's my day off, and I'm trying to at least imitate relaxation. I've promised myself some ice cream on the walk home from the post office.

When I was little, we used to camp at Esker Lakes Provincial Park almost all summer, every summer. We'd set up our motor home once at the beginning of the summer, then Dad would drive up to camp with us on the weekend and then back home to work during the week. Mom, my sister, and I would stay at the camp ground, and walk to the beach, or the picnic site, or the hiking trails, or the cabin where they show movies at night. And once in a while, we'd walk to the park store.

The park store was magical. There was ice cream and candy, used books (mostly romances that park patrons would trade in when they were done with them), bug spray and necessities, and, one year, the owner made big stuffed animals that all the regular summer kids ended up buying at $10 each. My sister got a pig wearing a vest and I got a seal that I named Suzi. Suzi the seal lives in my craft room now, with Ogie the bear and Fred the dog.

The park store was a long walk from our regular campsites. Well, it seemed like a long walk to our little legs, anyway. And there was a long winding hill leading up to the store, getting you all hot and ready for your ice cream treat when you arrived. Sometimes I would get bubblegum ice cream. I liked that it was bright blue. Sometimes I would get an individual pack of Twizzlers, because I liked to bite a little off each end, then suck Twizzler-flavoured air through my Twizzler straw. Also, a package of Twizzlers lasted a lot longer than a chocolate bar or even a box of Smarties (the chocolate Canadian Smarties, not the American candy). I don't remember when I last had Twizzlers.

After Mom would do whatever errand she needed to accomplish at the park store and my sister and I would get our treats, we would head back to our camp site. If we'd finished our ice cream, or if we'd chosen something that would last, my sister and I would run down the long winding hill while Mom followed. I ran facing forward; running for the bottom of the hill, and running because I could and because I wanted to.

I haven't been looking ahead this weekend. I’ve been watching Russ instead. Friday night, we went to see The Average White Band - my anniversary present to him. I've never heard them before, except for the covers Russ plays with Leisure Lab. It was an excellent show; I loved watching Russ get so entranced by the music and so inspired by the sax player's solos.

Today, it was Russ' godfather's memorial. His great-uncle Geoff was 91 years old when he passed away suddenly a couple of weeks ago, and today was the service. I had the honour of meeting Geoff several times, and he was a warm and happy man. Still, I was there for Russ, and I watched him just as much as I watched the pastor.

I walk back from the post office. I stop at the corner store and look at the ice cream freezer. There's no bubblegum ice cream, but there's some higher quality ice cream bars. I choose one of those, and walk slowly – as slowly as I can bear – homeward, thinking of the memorial service, of the band, and of kids running. Even though I walk alone, I don't look straight ahead.
dreaminghope: (Cute but Deranged)
I took one over-the-counter sleeping aid last night; after, my edges felt fuzzy, like my skin wasn't containing me properly. I still didn't sleep properly. Today I tried to compensate for my exhaustion with coffee. I had two whole cups, and then I was jittery and shaky and...

A customer ordered four pounds of butter this week. Why would anyone need four pounds of butter? He only ordered a dozen eggs. What takes twelve eggs but four pounds - four pounds - of butter?

This seems like a food mystery in need of a food detective. Unfortunately, I am not a detective.

I'm a spy.

I'm a food spy.

This afternoon, I snuck around a West side grocery store in a state of caffeine-induced paranoia. I watched over my shoulder all the time, jumping at shadows and scurrying away from every person wearing the grocery store's colours. Every time anyone approached, I would hastily grab the nearest item from the shelf and pretend to be studying the ingredients. Then, if the other person didn't leave right away, I would casually wander off.

I now know all the Happy Planet ingredients. That stuff's popular with the yuppies; I had to casually wander away and back again four times. I bought a "man goes blueberry" because it doesn't have any bananas in it.

I'm a food spy: stealthily recording the prices of juices and crackers for a competitive pricing secret shop.

I think I need to go coffee-free tomorrow.
dreaminghope: (Cute but Deranged)
There's a story about me from my university years that has been told over and over in the years since I graduated: the story of a million muffins.

When I was in university, I was a typical student with a typical schedule: too much reading, too much writing, too much studying, too much coffee, too much stress. I did have a somewhat unique coping method when it all became too much: I baked muffins; a lot of muffins.

Depending on who is telling the story, I baked six dozen, ten dozen, or fifteen dozen muffins at a time. I may have made six, twelve, or twenty different kinds: cornmeal, cranberry and chocolate, mushroom soup, lemonade, and more. My freezer is always stuffed full, but only some tellings include the detail that each muffin was individually wrapped and labeled before freezing. Some remember that I looked a little manic as I baked; some remember how I pushed muffins on everyone who walked through my door. Some watched me bake. Some saw the overflowing freezer. Some ate the muffins. Some just heard the stories later and retold them.

The story of a million muffins has been an amusing anecdote, a way to summarize my personality, and a teaching tool. As the latter, it was used as an example of one way someone coped with stress; it may also be serving as a cautionary tale of what happens if you don't create more normal coping mechanisms for yourself.

I don't remember how many muffins I made at any one go, or how many different kinds. I don't know how often I went into muffin-making binges. All the story-versions are mixed together in my head, creating a new memory. The story isn't just mine anymore.
dreaminghope: (Happy Bug)
With apologies to those buried in snow – I don't mean to gloat – but in Vancouver, the weather is on the verge of becoming Spring. Despite dire predictions of gloom and rain, we had sun today. The crocuses are up and there are buds on the trees, but nothing is open yet. The whole city is about to have its fresh start; it's a good time to welcome a New Year.

Living on the edge of Chinatown was very convenient for enjoying today's Lunar New Year celebration. Russ and I took Russ' parents to see the big parade. Last year's crowd was estimated at 50,000 people; it was probably even bigger this year.

I am in love with the Chinese Lions. I've always had a thing for bright colours and almost over-the-top theatrics, and they bobbed along with a life that seemed separate from the dancers that were in the costumes. Some made their Lions rear into the air – the head dancer would jumped up and down from the shoulders of the back dancer. And I especially loved the littlest Lions – some of whom were probably just eight or nine years old – who just make me giggle helplessly with the adorable-ness of it all. They were dancing as hard as they could, except when they got distracted by watching the adult Lions around them.

At every pause in the parade, where a gap would form between groups, there seemed to be someone in a "volunteer" hat, tossing firecrackers into the street. The smoke was drifting along the whole route. I never did figure out where the periodic showers of confetti – big squares of colourful streamers – came from. A tall man near me got beaned by a candy thrown from a flat bed truck where a Lion lounged, only his wagging tail indicating that anyone was inside.

I loved the big drums being pulled on trolleys, and the way the gongs and cymbals sent vibrations right through me.

The little boy in front of me, who was visiting Vancouver from the Yukon, had handfuls of hard candies and of red envelopes with chocolate coins in them by the end of the parade. His mother received a fortune cookie; her fortune said "Happy New Year from Stephen Harper*". She carefully put the fortune in her wallet to take home with her. The hard candies were just sweet, with no real flavour.

Sometimes, we could have been in China. Sometimes, we could only have been in Vancouver. Amongst the Benevolent Societies and the Chinese Free Masons, the Lions and the Dragons, and the martial arts displays and traditional dance groups from all over the Eastern world, there were also the Asian Line Dancers (in vaguely Eastern dress with vaguely authentic cowboy hats), the Brazilian dancers in stomach-baring and frilly outfits handing out fliers for their Carnival next weekend, the hippy pick-up band of drums and horns that plays at Illuminares every year, and a couple of First Nations groups drumming and chanting.

We escaped the chaos of post-parade Chinatown for a late lunch. It was a little tricky freeing ourselves from the milling masses after the parade. We ended up completely encircled, with the crowds and the parade between us and home. We finally "salmoned" our way through an area that looked thinner than everywhere else. Then, to one of my very favourite restaurants: a vegetarian Chinese restaurant called Bo Kong.

Happy New Year everyone, and welcome to the Year of the Pig!

*For non-Canadian-philes, Stephen Harper is our current prime minister.
dreaminghope: (Waterbaby)
I want to live in the kind of world where the more pathetic-looking the business, the better it actually is. I want there to be restaurants that look grubby and sad, but have magically fantastic food. And I want to find such a place; I want to know about the secret treasure, and I will only take my favourite people there so I can see their faces when they first see it and then again when they take their first bite.

In my quest to find these secret places that simply must exist in order for there to still be wonder and mystery in the world, last night I ate at a place so small it didn't even deserve to have a full name, but was just called M & A Café.

The only reason I even noticed that M & A existed was because I was hungry when I walked right past it. The one grubby window had a neon "open" sign and a take-out menu of Chinese food stuck to it. They have one of my favourite dishes – mushroom egg foo yung – so in I went.

The restaurant was empty except for a couple who definitely worked there, and quite likely owned it too. It had about ten tables; they looked like they were from an old diner. Most of them had matching booth benches, but a few had dining room chairs that looked like they were taken from some much classier restaurant – one with sophisticated black furnishing, deep red carpets, and starched table clothes – when it closed down or was redecorated.

After they served me a coffee mug of green tea, they made my dinner. My egg foo yung came on a plate that looked like it was from a Canadian kitchen, circa 1950. The rice came in a more traditional rice bowl.

While I was eating my dinner, the couple were having theirs at the table nearest the kitchen. I couldn't subtly tell what they were eating, so the house specialty is still a mystery to me.

The place definitely had the run-down look that could be the rough around the diamond. Now, the moment of truth: trying the food. The food was... good. Not spectacular or magical, but fresh and hot and plentiful. It had big chunks of mushrooms that had never seen a can. It also re-heated well for my lunch today.

So, the search for my own secret treasure continues, but the experiment was pretty tasty, really filling, and didn't give me food poisoning. Let's call that success, of a sort.
dreaminghope: (Flying Demon Girl)

We carved pumpkins last night: four small ones, now sitting along the top of our fence, and one large one, on our front stoop.

My job was to pick the seeds out from the huge bowl of pumpkin guts, so we can roast them. I love roasted and salted pumpkin seeds. I even roasted acorn squash seeds once, because I didn't have a pumpkin.

Five pumpkins mean a lot of pumpkin seeds. The pile is more then an inch deep in our large colander. I had a "no seed left behind" policy when separating seeds from pulp.

I need to rescue all the pumpkin seeds. I go through every wet and stringy blob, seeking out even the smallest seeds.

I don't have obsessive-compulsive disorder; I have a story.

The seeds want to be roasted and eaten. They don't want to go to waste. I assure them that I will find each and every one of them.
dreaminghope: (Waterbaby)
The best dessert looks too big when your plate is set in front of you.

It looks too small after you've taken the first bite.

It turns out to be exactly the right size by the time you've scrapped the plate clean.

The warm three-berry pie and vanilla bean ice cream was delicious.

I love True Confections.


dreaminghope: (Default)

February 2014



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