the wandering homebody

03/22/2011, 5:59 pm
Filed under: everyday life, food, travel

Fat Jesus on a bike (I stole this expression from Dexter and try to use it whenever possible as it makes me giggle uncontrollably), I love eggs. Hard boiled, soft boiled, baked, scrambled (but only when I make them, I am very particular about them being almost uncooked and made over very low heat), sunny side up, poached, over easy. Yesterday afternoon I had two soft boiled eggs for lunch with buttered rye toast on the side, and for once I didn’t read or watch a show or browse the internet while I was eating. I sat at the table (what a novel concept!) and really tried to enjoy my food. The yolk was perfectly soft but not too runny, and I sprinkled salt and pepper on every bite I took. Mark joined me, and we didn’t talk much, just sat in the sun and ate. It was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had of late.

Also very enjoyable was the coconut lentil soup we had for dinner last night. We love this recipe and make it about once a month — actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Mark makes it about once a month; I don’t think I have ever made it myself. I kind of love that. Yesterday we tag-teamed it a little. He got it started and simmering, and then left for his kenpō class. He apologized for the mess he’d left behind, but I didn’t mind at all. I put on some old-school Dixie Chicks, rolled up my sleeves pyjamas (who am I kidding — I work from home, and therefore wear pyjamas all the time) and washed the dishes. Then I got really ambitious and decided to make some buttermilk biscuits to go with the soup. I went the old-fashioned route and used a pastry cutter instead of the food processor, mostly because I was too lazy to wash the all of the food processor’s seven different parts. I made a big mess and it seemed like there wasn’t enough liquid and that they weren’t coming together properly, but in the oven they puffed up beautifully and Mark got home just as I pulled them out of the oven, and there was a new episode of 30 Rock to watch and dinner felt like such a success. I love nights like that.

The biggest news around here has been that we took the plunge and bought a minivan! The prospect of purchasing a vehicle seemed so overwhelming to me — I’ve never done it before — and we were getting pretty stressed about the whole thing. Saturday afternoon, we decided to just “go look”. Three hours later, we were the proud owners of a Dodge Grand Caravan. Yes, despite the fact that we have no children. We named it Django, and it will be our home for five months. Everything is starting to feel real now, which is incredible if you think about the fact that this trip has been a theoretical idea for close to four years. So many times, I haven’t really believed that it would happen, and even now, despite the fact that there is no conceivable way we would own a minivan if we weren’t going to use it for this trip, I still get flashes of disbelief. Mark will spend the next few weeks camperizing it, and I’ll document the process along the way. We’re aiming for a test run to Portland in May, another one to Alaska in June, and then in July,  just under four months from now, Road Trip of Awesomeness will officially commence.  I do believe this deserves another one: Fat Jesus on a bike.


the best i could do
03/16/2011, 10:13 pm
Filed under: everyday life, food

I was going to bake a pie for Monday — pie for Pi Day. I had it all planned out,  how I would carefully look through this cookbook and finally get some use out of it, how I would try two different pie crust recipes and compare them. How I would patiently cut butter into the flour by hand and work it in until just combined; perhaps pull out some of the blackberries we picked the week before the wedding and froze for “later”. The lattice crust I would make. I even thought about venturing out for pie weights, although I have a sneaking suspicion that dried chickpeas probably do the exact same thing at a fraction of the cost. I was going to write about the pie café I dream of one day opening, with handmade quilts and milk served in mason jars and a wall full of books.

Instead, I spent the weekend unsuccessfully fighting off a cold, battling insomnia (very rare for me), and worrying endlessly about Japan. I gorged on news updates and YouTube videos. Thankfully, we don’t have a TV; I would probably have kept it on day and night. I thought about that pie, thought about writing on my silly little blog, and it all just seemed so pointless. I donated money to the Red Cross and wondered if the ridiculous coasters which are pretty much the only things I can make could possibly be helpful to anyone.

So I didn’t make a pie. I managed to make pudding, and this only because I desperately craved some comfort food. What I really wanted was to be able to crack my wand and apparate to my grandmother’s flat in India. I would put on one of her often-washed, soft, faded caftans and a pair of rubber flip-flops. I would sit with her at her worn, wooden table and eat one of the meals I dream about when I’m on the other side of the world from her  — dosa, idli, upma. Afterwards I would watch her sort her pills for the evening and take her shot of insulin. She’d regale me with gossip about such-and-such cousin and I would pretend I remembered who they were and nod back. Later she would go into her bedroom and watch one of her crazy, dramatic Malayalam soap operas, and I’d sit beside her and read, perhaps listening with one ear open for the rise and fall of the dialogue, just so I didn’t miss anything really juicy.

I can’t apparate though; I can’t even use the Floo Network. I am no magician. Instead, in the face of all of the incomprehensible terror and sadness and fear, I roasted a chicken. We turned the fireplace on, so grateful for this small pleasure, and snuggled into the couch. My sweet husband let me talk him into watching Love Actually (although I did have to bribe him with boilermakers) and he “mmmm”-ed out loud when he took his first bite of the potatoes roasted in all of the chicken’s delicious drippings. We kept pausing the movie to talk about our travel plans and baby plans and future life plans. We ate chocolate pudding and though this helped exactly no one but us, it was the best I could do that day.

Four years in the making
03/10/2011, 9:38 pm
Filed under: travel

Mark and I are currently in the final planning stages of what may or may not end up being a rather epic adventure. I don’t even know how the seed of this idea got planted in our heads, which seems unusual given the loftiness of this dream. For example, I remember passing my best friend Liz in a stairwell during our first year away at university. We were both having terrible days, and one of us — I believe it was her — suggested, “Let’s just take a year off from school and go traveling”, and then we did exactly that. We moved back to Calgary for 10 insufferably long months, worked to save up money, and then spent almost six months backpacking through Europe (this is as original a decision as deciding to cover Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, I know) before flying down to India. Looking back, it seems like we were just babies when we left. We were 20 and felt completely invincible, which explains a lot of the incredibly idiotic things we did, which may or may not include getting into a complete stranger’s car in Turkey while being groped in the  back seat by our waiter from earlier in the evening. Stupid, stupid, stupid. On the other hand, we made some smart decisions, too. Exhibit A: Finishing an extremely large, ridiculously creamy wedge of Cambozola while sitting by the Grand Canal in Venice, then looking at each other, nodding, and immediately re-entering the grocery store to buy another slab of cheese. Neither of us mess around when it comes to serious business like cheese.

My point is, this is something Mark and I have been talking about for almost four years now, since shortly after we started dating. The itinerary has changed a lot, and is continually evolving, but so far is as follows:

  1. Pack up and rent out house, buy and camperize minivan, then begin 4-5 month road trip around North America. Eat a lot of pie.
  2. Return home for a couple of weeks, crash with my lovely mother-in-law, reorganize and repack, and take cheapest available flight over to Europe.
  3. Travel through the colder European countries while we still have our winter clothes — France, England, Scotland, Switzerland, etc. Drink a lot of beer.
  4. Make our way east as the weather gets warmer, heading towards Turkey, and possibly including North Africa (if politics allow for it). I would also love to go to Ethiopia, since that’s where my dad grew up, but we might have to save that for another trip with that side of the family.
  5. At some point fly to India for a few months with my grandmother. Do some traveling in the south. Eat a lot of dosa.
  6. Also at some point spend six months or a year teaching ESL, possibly in Hong Kong. It would probably be good to get some use out of that TESL certificate.
  7. Possibly jaunt down to New Zealand so that we can rent a car and drive around, camping and hiking. Eat a lot of lamb.
  8. Try not to kill each other due to the fact that we will be together pretty much 24/7 for up to two years.
  9. Come home and eat a lot of salads.

Writing this out, I can see that it looks completely batshit crazy, but that’s just because it is! It makes little to no sense. It’ll be expensive, incredibly frustrating at times, and I’m sure that very often we will wonder what the hell we were thinking.

I wish we could leave tomorrow.

Let’s talk about cake
03/07/2011, 4:21 pm
Filed under: everyday life, food

As of today, Mark and I have been married for 177 days — not quite half a year, but close enough. Almost six months later, I still regularly wake up in the middle of the night panicking about the wedding, and then get to enjoy the feeling of pure relief washing over me when I realize that it’s behind us. This is a first world problem, I know, but I never especially wanted to be a bride. I never even thought that I would get married, especially not at the (relatively young) age of 26. Most days, I still feel 12 on the inside.

When we got engaged, we spent a good seven or eight months hemming and hawing over the wedding details. My family’s politics made things difficult. My social anxiety and total and complete fear of being the centre of attention made things difficult. My utter detestation of small, finicky details made things difficult. Are you seeing a pattern here? Mark is a patient man.

The thing is, I never really dreamed of a big white wedding. So many people I know seem to have gotten married for the wedding itself, not for a marriage. My ideal nuptials involved somewhere beautiful and stormy (I was rather partial to the idea of the Wickaninnish Inn), a green dress (not sure why I was so intent on this, as I hardly ever wear green and I don’t think the colour even flatters me that much), and — most importantly — just the two of us. Also, you know, someone to marry us.

Mark, on the other hand, cared about all the things I didn’t. He wanted his family there. He wanted us to commit to each other in front of people we cared about. He refused to look at my wedding dress until I walked down the aisle. I teased him a lot about us completely swapping gender role expectations, but sometimes I wasn’t teasing. Sometimes we were both really frustrated that we couldn’t see eye-to-eye on the first major decision we were making together. I think we argued more in the few months leading up to the wedding than we had in the almost three years we had been together before getting engaged. I just wanted it to be over.

Eventually, of course, we got our shit together. We made an initial guest list of 140 people, and then slashed it in half. We found the perfect venue, with a cocktail reception in a greenhouse, an amazing photographer, and readings that didn’t make us want to puke (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, I’m looking at you). We made wedding favours of rosemary salt using the giant rosemary bush in our backyard and pretty much based the look of the whole wedding around “silver dollar” seed pods. We decided that dried flower bouquets may be slightly morbid and reminiscent of death, but so be it. We used them anyway.

One thing that was of extreme importance for both Mark and I was that the wedding really feel like us. I haven’t been to that many weddings yet in my life, but I have been to at least one or two where I walked away feeling really puzzled at the lack of character in them. We both knew that if we were going to do this, we wanted our handprints all over it. Making the favours was part of this, as was theming the rehearsal dinner “moustaches and candy” just because we thought it was funny. We wanted humour everywhere, even on the programs.

I also made our wedding cakes. Sadly, I cannot take any of the credit for this. I was completely and utterly shameless in stealing this idea from Molly Wizenberg (aka Orangette). I know that I’m not the first to do so — just Google “winning hearts and minds cake” and marvel at the results — but, man. I totally copied her. As someone who grew up with a deeply ingrained fear of both cheating and plagiarism, this feels a little like both. I mean, I know that technically I was the human female who chopped and stirred and baked, but this recipe belongs to her and always will. I made 10 of these in less than a day; they cost a fraction of what a store-bought wedding cake would have (even with high-quality chocolate, though just regular butter), and they delivered about 100 times as much satisfaction. I love this cake. Everyone loves this cake. If you don’t love this cake, I probably don’t love you. Or perhaps I love you, but you’re allergic to chocolate and are therefore unable to try it, which doesn’t count.

I made the cakes about three weeks in advance, froze them in pizza boxes (an idea also stolen from Molly), and gave them to the caterers the day before the wedding. We brought our own cake stand from home and I somehow convinced Mark to let me top the main cake with styrofoam owls which I found at Michael’s and which I thought were utterly hilarious (brown! white! just like us!). Everything came together like it was supposed to, and though I almost puked in my best friend’s car before arriving at the venue, once I got there, I somehow snapped out of it. My uncle Alex beamed as he walked me down the aisle, and I didn’t see anyone but Mark, which was exactly what everyone said would happen. Mark’s brother Paul did such a wonderful job of conducting the ceremony and my beautiful, funny friend Michelle read from a children’s book that I love. The cap sleeve button on my dress snapped off while we were kissing, almost causing a minor wardrobe malfunction, but I didn’t care. My sweet bridesmaids shoved a glass of wine into my hand immediately after the ceremony. My friend Jesse, who I’ve known since I was three years old, came  all the way from Toronto, and I saw him for the first time since 2006. I missed my dad, but that was okay. We ate cake, danced to The Book of Love, and we were married.

(All photos taken by our incredible photographer, Heather Armstrong, who is not dooce but has the same name as her.)

Our wedding cake, also called the “Winning Hearts and Minds” cake, can be found here. You should make it right now.

A very good place to start:
03/07/2011, 2:41 am
Filed under: crafts, everyday life