Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An Unusual bit of Experimentation

In an attempt to eat healthier in general, Boyfriend and I have taken to loading up on vegetables at the Farmer's Market and then looking through cookbooks for interesting ways to cook them. We found huge stalks of purple kale with bright pink stalks and purpley veins running through firm, dark green leaves. It was irresistible. The recipe we chose was from my favourite food blog, orangette (see link below) but there were some changes. The recipe was for braised greens with chickpeas, and seemed pretty simple. We substituted shallots for the onions, because we'll need them for a recipe later this week (stay tuned) but we were a bit stumped when we found that our local grocery store had no chickpeas. Seriously, no chickpeas. No brand-name chickpeas, no store-brand chickpeas, no organic chickpeas. No chickpeas at all. We were in disbelief. How could there be no chickpeas? There was a big gaping hole on the shelf between the beans and the lentils where the chickpeas should have been. The beans and lentils were both decently stocked. It made no sense. Boyfriend and I wandered up and down the aisle, muttering "no chickpeas? no chickpeas!" over and over. Eventually, we were forced to give up.

Now, I very rarely make changes to recipes. Shallots for onions are one thing, but how could we not have chickpeas with braised greens and chickpeas? After much, much deliberation, we decided to go with the lentils. Neither of us are very experienced with them, but we figured they looked similar and are both involved in Indian food in similar ways, so we nervously went ahead with it.

Boyfriend washed the Kale while I sliced it into ribbons. The kitten had a very odd reaction to the Kale, she seemed to be afraid of it. When boyfriend shook a leaf she'd leap at it, then mewl at me with fear and confusion in her eyes. She later took a stalk (about a foot long) and ran upstairs with it.

We cooked garlic and shallots in olive oil in the large skillet until the onions were nice and soft, then added the lentils. We weren't sure how long to cook them, as it turns out lentils are very tiny and probably don't need to be cooked long at all. Anyway, we gave it a few minutes and then added the kale. Looking from the bowl of kale ribbons and the pan they were supposed to go into, my elementary understanding of physics warned me this couldn't possibly work. I threw in a a handful, and the kale shrunk up wonderfully. I was able to add it, handful by handful every few minutes until all had somehow found room in the skillet. Orangette then advises gently simmering for 15 minutes, but we found this to be unnecessary. Either because the lentils were so small or because it took so long to get all the kale in, we worried about overcooking after about 5 minutes.

The result was one of my favourite things: warm mush. Comforting and yummy. I once dated a vegan who said that he liked his food to taste as much like dirt as possible (we didn't last long) and I think I almost understand what he was saying when I ate this. There was a simple earthiness to it. Boyfriend found it a bit bland, and not quite filling enough, but it was just right for me and I think it'll make a great lunch. Next time I'll have to see how well it keeps.

The best food blog out there: www.orangette.blogspot.com

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I'm 26 now, which is quite a lot.

On my birthday I rarely deny myself anything that tickles my fancy, often with disastrous consequences.
I started the day quite responsibly, waking in the dark at 6:15 for a fartlek that turned into a steady hard run. I’ve never been good at regulating sprints, and I felt like running hard, pounding out the trail, stretching my legs and pushing myself. It was 6k, which felt like recess after last Sunday. Actually, the whole run had the feeling of recess, racing from one end of the playground and back, before running had any particular goal in mind.
While in the shower I decided on my first indulgence of the day; a Tim Horton’s breakfast. Scoff if you must, but there are few things that start my day off as happily as a bacon breakfast sandwich on a bagel with a large half-coffee half-hot chocolate. Even though nothing involved in the buttery mess has even a passing relation to a barnyard animal, the pleasure of it gives me more energy for the day than any painstakingly-prepared, all-natural, nutrient-packed breakfast ever could. Also, I was able to eat it on the bricks by my work, warmed by the first rays of an unusually warm first day of fall.
For lunch I traipsed down to my favourite coffee shop, Coffee & Company, a place that’s usually outside my budget for lunch. But oh, so worth it. I start with a CafĂ© Voltaire, double chocolate, double espresso, double pretentious. Then there’s their chicken pesto panini. Juicy grilled chicken, still-crisp roasted red and green peppers with pesto spread and provolone cheese, grilled on their in-house baked herb panino loaf. I topped this off with an impossibly rich Godiva champagne truffle.
Not every birthday at my office is celebrated with a cake (although my co-workers did sing to me mid-meeting) but by coincidence there was a baby shower that afternoon, which meant Costco cake and half a root beer. A bad idea in retrospect.
Dinner was at the St. John’s fine dining standby, The Cellar. It’s been my parent’s favourite restaurant for twenty years, but somehow I’ve never been there. I started with baked brie in filo with blueberry sauce and apricot chutney. Now, I’ve never met a cheese that I didn’t like, but warm brie is almost another entity onto itself. It looked so good that everyone wanted a bite, which was a good thing because if I’d eaten the entire thing myself I don’t know how well I could have done with the rest of my dinner. This was the New York strip in red wine and mushroom reduction. Cooked perfectly, as expected, but it fell into the trap that catches so many of these steakhouses: over-peppered. I understand that pepper is an important part of steak and very popular, but I think it often overpowers the sauce, so that you can hardly appreciate it. The veggie side was a dish of beets, corn and red pepper. Sweet, but not too sweet.
With diner I ordered a 2007 Louis Latour pinot noir and I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I usually have something very powerful with steak, like a shiraz or a Chianti. Sometimes even a zinfandel. But last night I wanted something a bit light, fruity, nuanced, and this wine didn’t deliver. It had a very poor nose and was really pretty flat on the palate.
Partially because of the poor wine, I decided to order a glass of Newman’s Own port wine with my dark chocolate hazelnut torte. It was sweetly syrupy which went very well with the slightly bitter torte. At this point I started to get a bit nervous about going home, where awaited my favourite dessert of all time. But could I do it justice?
Well, I did my best. My mother had baked the Betty Crocker cocoa fudge cake. This was my first birthday cake and every birthday cake except for one. (A year in Fredericton) This cake is moist, sweet, creamy and chocolaty. As full as I was, I had a small piece and scraped up every last bit of icing. Anyway, there’s more to last the week now.
That was my birthday. A couple of presents especially worth mentioning: Essentials of Italian Cooking from Boyfriend (oh, you’ll be hearing more about that!) and from my parents (in addition to the fabulous meal) a running jacket and tickets to La Boheme which will be playing here in March. Pretty good haul, I must say.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In which Emily runs 18k, witnesses an accident and makes soup

Before today the longest I'd ever run was 16k. I've done this distance a few times but never gone beyond it. Today the schedule called for 18k so away I went. I tend not to think about running while running, but it was hard not to today. I was very aware of how everything felt, and not in a good way. It was even worse because I ran over the same terrain three times. The time dragged and it felt very long.

I was heading up the last hill, about half a kilometer from home, I heard a crunch and scream of metal. I broke into a sprint as saw a car hit a building and careen through the intersection. It came to a stop on the other side, and I ran forward as fast as I could. As I got there, people were starting to converge and two were already calling for help. Fortunately, no one seemed to be hurt, but the older lady who was driving stayed in the car just in case. We were close to the central fire station, so it didn't take long for help to arrive. I gave a statement to one of the firemen and then ran the rest of the way home. It was very hard to start running after being stopped for so long, my knees felt creaky, but it was only about three minutes.

After two big glasses of blueberry juice and a very hot shower, Andrew and I started Sunday's soup. Being so tired, I decided to take more of a supervisory role so I could sit with my feet up. It was a very simple soup, potato and leek. Basically, you just boil a whole mess of leeks and potatoes for about an hour, then mash and stir in cream, butter and parsley. Very simple and good.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Yesterday's hill sprints really took a lot out of me and work was really stressful. So, to relax on my first evening off of the week I decided to cook pasta sauce and bake chocolate chip cookies from scratch. I should confess, I have a kind of "from scratch" complex when it comes to baking. I got it from my mother, who has never and will never use a mix. There are four main reasons I will never use a mix:

1. It doesn't taste as good. It just doesn't.
2. Most mixes contain weird ingredients and additives. Why bother with that if you don't have to?
3. Mixes don't really save you that much time. I've seen mixes where you have to add milk, eggs and oil. So all the mix does is combine the flour, baking powder and sugars for you. Is that really that difficult.
4. In "from scratch" baking, you can taste the love.

Anyways, I consider myself something of a chocolate chip cookie connoisseur, and there's one recipe I always found trumps all the others. It's the recipe that comes on the back of the Baker's brand chocolate chips. It can't be improved upon. I don't always use Baker's chips, but I long ago copied down the recipe and fixed it to my Betty Crocker Cookbook. My only advise is to turn the cookie sheet every five minutes while to cookies are baking, so they cook more evenly.

As for the sauce, it was nothing original, but impossible to mess up. Dice about 6 cloves of garlic (Did I mention I have a pop chop? Envy me.) Cook the garlic in about a half cup of olive oil until it's soft but not brown, add a can of diced tomatoes, oregano (fresh if you have it, and I did!) salt, pepper and whatever other seasonings you fancy. Give the tomatoes a quick mash if you don't like big hunks of tomato in your sauce (I don't) and let simmer for as long as possible (at least an hour). We had it over cheese totellini that was on sale at the grocery store.

It was a good time and made for a delicious dinner, but I probably should have been resting more. I completely collapsed afterwards and realized there would be no way to get my 8k in this morning. I'll try again this evening.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What a difference a day makes

Yesterday at 6:30am it was light enough for me too get dressed without turning the light on. Today I needed the light. It's that time of year now. I don't know what time it was, but I was on my fifth hill sprint when I noticed the sky over the harbour was a bit pink. (Oh yes, I was doing hill sprints at dawn)

To make up for two days off I spent two days working. As in, I worked from 9am to 5pm and then from 6pm to 10pm. Factor in a combined total of 2.5 hours on the bus and a 6k fartlek and you can see why those 48 hours took so much out of me. I was so busy I needed to get my mother to bring bread to my office because I didn't have time to get to the grocery store. Also, by September 15th I had already broken 4 Christmas ornaments. Still the Queen of Clutz!

These early morning runs are really starting to get to me. I'm barely awake from them and they leave me spent for the rest of the day. Especially now that they're getting longer and I need to start getting up earlier to compensate. It's only a few more weeks, I suppose. Great, now I'm freaked that the Cape to Cabot is so soon...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"The Unicorn" by Iris Murdoch

Last night I stayed up late to finish The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch. It took longer than a medium-length paperback normally would because of the arrival of the fall Vogue. But The Unicorn fit nicely into my purse and had chapters exactly the right length to fit into a 15 minute work break, two chapters to a bus ride. I talk first about these minor structural elements because if you know anything about Iris Murdoch I don't need to tell you that it was a fantastic read. As the friend who lent me the book said, she's a reader's writer. Her books are deep and well written, and at the same time gripping and engrossing. Her characters are full, her backdrops lush. In the Unicorn she lulls us into a happy dream world out of time, misty with mystery and whiskey. As the truth of the situation situation is slowly revealed a cold darkness grips the reader, as it grips the heroine, Marion. Like the reader she is disturbed, but unable to wrench herself away. She at first relishes her part in the adsurd fairy tale until she realizes she has become ensnared in a net which she quite willingly threw herself into, and is now unable to escape. A cold darkness descends so thick that I imagined all the ensuing scenes to be taking place at night, even though they may have been at breakfast. The characters do seem to be travelling through an endless night as they wait, and wait, and wait for the forewarned crisis which is all the more horrifying for it's incomprehensibility. As they wait they become increasingly desperate, clinging together or wrenching apart in a dance of domination and sexual desire.

This is the second Murdoch novel I have read, after "The Black Prince" and I've never understood why there isn't a greater fuss about her. She is truly one of the great modern novelists.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Weekend Off

Last weekend I had two full days off in a row for the first time in over two months. I scarcely knew what to do with the extra time, so I pulled down Mastering the Art of French Cooking for answers. Now, I'm no Julie Powell, but Julia Child has become a sort of idol of mine. Especially since reading her memoir, My Life in France. I always love reading books about food, but this one was something else. It was joyous. It was all about discovery, experimentation. With her insistence that all recipes be perfectly replicable, she made cooking something more akin to baking, my first love. I have also discovered by using her cookbook that if you do what she tells you it will be delicious. They don't just work, they're spectacular.

Anyway, Saturday morning Boyfriend and I went to the Farmer's Market to load up on ingredients and treats. We sipped fresh lemonade (I should say guzzled) while we picked up broccoli, carrots, leeks, lettuce, cucumber, turnip, fresh herbs, blueberry jam, homemade bread and cupcakes.

Sunday morning (after a decidedly ordinary 12k run) we got to work making Soupe au Pistou. Apparently a traditional soup in Provence, which I enjoyed because I've recently finished reading Four Queens detailing the history of the 4 daughters of the Count of Provence who all became queens, despite their relatively humble origins. It was especially fascinating because only two actually married Kings. Marguerite married one of the Louis and Eleanor married Henry V of England. The other two married men who were able to acquire Kingdoms, largely through the machinations of the Provencal family. But I digress.

We started by boiling new potatoes, carrots and leaks with a bit of salt for 40 minutes. Then we added green beans from my own little garden (so fresh they were picked after the soup had been started) Kidney beans, broken spaghetti, breadcrumbs, pepper and and let that boil for 20 minutes. Meanwhile we made the pistou, a paste of tomato paste, Parmesan, garlic and basil (this looked kind of gross but smelled amazing) and then stirred in olive oil. Then we varied from JC a bit. I'm sorry, we didn't have two soup tureens (actually, we didn't have one, we borrowed it from Roommate). We added a cup of the soup broth to the pistou, then transferred all that back into the soup, stirred it in and served it. It smelled amazing, and the taste was something else. So flavourful and satisfying. Not creamy, but thick enough to feel substantial. The vegetables were tender but not too soft. Everything was simply tasty. Boyfriend had balked at the $9 for a tiny bottle of saffron but we decided that it was well worth it, especially because we have a lot left for more soup. Not that we'll need it anytime soon. Boyfriend and I had our fill (with homemade whole wheat bread for dipping yum) and Roommate had had a bowl as well, I was able to bring a litre to my parents and put a litre in the freezer for some warm comfort on an upcoming winter's day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Yesterday turned out to be pretty good after all.

The run wound up being one of the best I'd had for months. I started out slow so I promised myself that if I got to the end of Bannerman Park and I still felt like going home, I could go home. Well, by the end of Bannerman Park I was flying. Once I was over the large hills at the start of my run I hit the level ground with a renewed strength. The golden slanting rays lit up the final burst of green and made my eyes ache. I passed a ballpark that had just had it's final mow and the sweet smell of grass on the sharp autumnal wind opened my lungs and my chest and sparked a store of energy I didn't know I had. By the time I reached Quidi Vidi Lake I felt as though I were a machine, well oiled and indefatigable. I felt fit, I felt strong and I ran back up faster than I had run down.

Meanwhile my lovely boyfriend had decided that if it had to be premade sauce it ought to at least be loaded with cream and cheese, accompanied by chilled white wine and followed by peanut M&Ms. After a hot shower I was able to slip my aching legs into some fuzzy sweats and curl on the couch with fettuccine alfredo and old Blackadder episodes. You can't ask for more out of life than that.

Today there is no running, but there is work, second work and a birthday party for a friend. Off I go!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A bit of whining at 3:30 on a rainy Thursday

Ever had a day when everything seems to be a dark blue? Everything is normal and fine, but all the zing has gone out?

As you may have guessed, I'm having one of those today. I slept to late to run before work. Thankfully I'm not working tonight so I can run then. But I feel so tired and heavy. It's 8k, which isn't that long, but it seems an impossible stretch righ now. The boyfriend and I were going to try a new recipe for dinner, but as I won't be back from my run in time we're probably just going to have spaghetti with sauce-in-a-jar again. There's very little that's as depressing as jarred sauce when you were hoping for something a bit more special.

My other big complaint is about microsoft word. Four pages into a project for work I realize that I need to adjust the tabs so that everything is nicely lined up. I need it to look like columns, without actually having the dividing line. There is no way to do this. I can't even just line things up with the spacebar, as whole paragraphs will start jumping around unexpectedly. I'm not one to rant about computer companies, but does Microsoft think we can't be trusted to create our own paragraphs? Must they protect us from ourselves getting wildly out of hand with margins? Will the world end if we abandon the standard half-inch indentations?

Monday, September 7, 2009

stitch, stitch, stitch

I decided to spend my evening off hemming a new pair of pants to save a few dollars on a tailor. I learned how to sew when I was younger, but unlike other crafts I never had much patience for it. As Anne said in Anne of Green Gables "It's just one seam after another and you never seem to get anywhere". But the pants were gorgeous and far too long.

I first started by doing it inside out, pretty typical but I picked out the stitches and started over. It took an outrageously long time to do, and the kitten was no help, but I finally got them done and it's not a bad job, if I do say so myself. Probably not quite as neat as a tailor would do, but unless someone decides to examine my ankles up close (unlikely) they should do fine. I still have another pair of pants, but no grey thread, so we'll have to wait on those.

First Entry!


I suppose the best way to start here would be with a little introduction. My name is Emily and I'm just shy of 26. I take on a lot and I plan to use this space to process it all. I'm hoping that writing for others will force me to see the humour in things and keep me grounded in why I'm doing them. So here are a list of things that fill up my days (and nights)

I have a career I really care about, and I realize that I'm pretty lucky for that. I'm a Junior Archives Assistant and I hope one day to be an Archivist. Things are going pretty well here. I have four bosses but my only complaint about them is that there are so many that things get confused. I volunteer for overtime and extra work because I'm trying to make myself indispensable. So far I think it's working, but it can be kind of tiring. Like when I'm at the office on Labour Day.

I also have a part time job at a cardshop in the mall. I'm training myself to be good with money, which is easier to do when you have some. So I work an extra 10-15 hours a week and try to put that money towards grown-up things like savings and debt repayment.

Is everyone reading this from St. John's? If not, I'll take a moment to explain the Cape to Cabot. It's a 20k road race that stretches between two of the areas most popular geographic attractions. The first is Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America. The second is Cabot Tower, a tower built on Signal Hill that dominates the Harbour. From one point you can see the other across the water, but to cover the distance on land you have to take a winding route up and down some of the steepest hills you've ever seen. It takes place October 18th and I'm training.

I also have my hobbies, cooking, baking, crochet and reading. I'm obsessed with food in general so there will probably be a lot of that here. I realize that most of my hobbies are kind of grandmotherly in nature, but that's always been the kind of things I enjoy most.

And then there are friends and family and so forth. And at some point I really need to do some laundry...