the wandering homebody


Messy, Unphotogenic Perfection
04/20/2012, 12:59 am
Filed under: food, recipes, travel

I could write a book about the food we’ve eaten since leaving for our travels last July. For the most part, it would be a bland, grease-spattered book full of descriptions of oversalted (yet still somehow tasteless) sauces, salads made with wilting, brown-edged iceberg lettuce, way too many Milanos while we were in the States, and it would end with a 45-page rant about how I have started to absolutely loathe going to restaurants. There would be the occasional chapter about food surprises, mostly all after leaving for our overseas travels. There would definitely be a few paragraphs devoted to all of the buttery croissants and pain au chocolats I ate in Paris; the cao lau from Hoi An which I’m still dreaming about, six weeks later; the earthy, unfiltered sake we had in a tiny mountain town in Japan.

For the most part, though, the last year has not been great, food-wise. One of my favourite parts of travelling is discovering local cuisine, but I have to admit that at this point, I am so completely over eating out. We’ve been in very few places with kitchens, and when we do have one, I will basically do almost anything to avoid restaurant food. When we do have the good fortune to have access to a kitchen, I don’t want anything too fussy or overly complicated. I want flavours that are familiar and comforting to me. This often means eggs, or pasta, perhaps something as stupidly simple as a grilled cheese sandwich. I don’t get too adventurous when we’re cooking on the road, since if a dish goes awry we don’t have a pantry full of back-up ingredients.

This past week we were in Bruges (where we watched the fantastic namesake movie) and we were very, very happy to be in an apartment for the whole week. This was such a treat; you have no idea. For seven whole days we nested and had the luxury of two separate rooms (three if you count the bathroom!). Our apartment was a five-minute walk from the main square, a walk that took us down cobblestone streets and past canals with swans floating in them. It was almost like a way, way, way less awful Disneyland.

We didn’t have even one dinner out, and this made me happier than I can say. We made a lot of good meals while we were in Bruges, but the standout one for me (and one I repeated two more times since I am totally a creature of habit) was a slightly crazy egg dish inspired by my love of yogurt, İskender kebab, and this fantastic sausage we found at the local grocery store.

This is a very loose recipe, and I’m sure that there are a number of ways it could be tweaked and improved to suit your taste buds. For me, though, this was messy, unphotogenic perfection.

Faux-Turkish Eggs and Tomato Sauce with Meatballs and Brown Butter

For the tomato sauce:

In a medium-sized pot, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil. While the oil is heating, remove the casing from one or two sausages and pinch the meat into small balls (heh, heh — but seriously, they should be around 3 cm in diameter), then add them to the pot and cook until brown on all sides. Throw in a couple of finely minced garlic cloves, fry for about a minute, then add one zucchini, cut into quartered slices. Fry everything together until zucchini starts to go transparent, then add a jar of your favourite tomato sauce, and a glug of whatever wine you most assuredly have on hand if you’re a lush like me. Bring to almost a boil, then turn it down to simmer while you finish the rest, adjusting for seasonings.

For the brown butter and egg:

On medium to medium-high heat, melt a tablespoon or two of unsalted butter in a small saucepan (preferably metal so you can see the colour of the butter change). The butter will melt, then foam a bit, and eventually start to turn a light amber colour. Also, it will smell like heaven and you will want to drink it with a spoon, but DON’T DO IT. Take the pan off the heat just after the butter turns light brown; the colour will deepen even after removed from heat and then you won’t risk burning it.

If you really want to gild the lily here, you can pour the brown butter into a jar, leaving just a tiny bit in the pan, then fry your egg in the browned butter remnants. This is probably a good idea. In any case, fry an egg any way you like it and remove from heat.

Assembling:

Ladle a good amount of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a bowl (this must be eaten from a bowl. You are a monster if you think otherwise), followed by a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt. Slide the fried egg on top, then pour the brown butter over the egg and watch it drip down into the sauce. Serve with buttered toast, some dark Belgian beer, and a deep sense of satisfaction at cooking your 27-year-old self a meal.

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Here We Go
04/07/2012, 12:42 pm
Filed under: everyday life, travel

So. Somehow I went nine and a half months without writing. There are many reasons for this, but since I have no one to be accountable to, I won’t delve into them. Mostly, we were travelling. Actually, that seems like a reason to write more, but we used our other blog for recounting travel details, and then every time I thought about writing here, I felt overwhelmed and empty-handed. I kept holding off, waiting until I had something important and hopefully insightful to say, letting days and months go by, almost (but not quite) forgetting about this space. The truth is that I still don’t know what to say or where to begin, but the other truth is that no one is really looking at this but me, so I have nothing to lose by writing whatever I’m currently interested in or thinking about.

The last week has been especially rough for both Mark and me. Homesickness combined with the flu combined with just a general sense of ambivalence about travelling versus settling again has made it a long, weary few days, and to be honest, I’ve been throwing a pretty impressive pity party for myself. We spent a week in Paris, and despite the fact that the weather was stunning, and the cheese plentiful and cheap, and we had the perfect (tiny) apartment in Montmartre, I spent a lot of time brooding over what I wanted to be different. I know that it’s not possible to love something all the time, even if that thing is travelling and it’s what we’ve wanted to do for years. At the same time, this is the one chance we get at this life. I’ve been thinking about this continuously for the last 48 hours, since I found out that my 19-year-old cousin in Wales died suddenly from an inflammation of a previously-unknown cyst in his brain. I didn’t know him well, though I’ve met him a few times, but from all accounts, he was funny, sweet, loved Tupac and soccer, and was happy. I wish I had gotten to know him as an adult. His mother is one of my favourite relatives, someone who has welcomed me into her home many times and still one of my main sources for book recommendations. She and my uncle have a relationship that I’ve observed and tried to emulate (though perhaps this week I haven’t been so successful). In fact, she was one of the only relatives who contacted me after my dad died. I expected emails from so many other, seemingly “closer” relatives, but never heard from many of them. She remembered me, and I’ve always remembered that.

Wait, there’s that pity party again. What I want to say, what I’m trying to say in a really roundabout way, is that this is it. This is my life. I want to remember it and appreciate it and even on the really crappy, rough days, experience it. I guess I want this space to be something of a digital notebook (ugh, what a terribly obnoxious phrase). I need to stop overanalyzing and just start writing. Here we go.



packing and stalking
05/09/2011, 1:50 pm
Filed under: everyday life, travel

I have three good friends in the town at the moment, so there’s been a lot of this going on:

And some of this:

And a little bit of this:

Why, yes, that is cheese-flavoured Kit Kat! Gouda-flavoured, to be precise. I found it at T&T Supermarket in Vancouver, and am still undecided on whether I found it irresistible or appalling. Perhaps both.

Life is moving at a frighteningly deliciously fast pace these days. The camperization of the van has been completed (by Mark), curtains have been sewn (by me), and the painful process of packing up/getting rid of junk has begun. Because I am a pack rat of epic proportions, I can often be found agonizing over even the smallest, seemingly useless pieces of crap. We sold my much-loved Nissan Altima about a week ago, and the night before it was driven away, I sat in the front seat and had a good cry. I thought about all the road trips I took in that car, and how excited my dad was whenever he got to drive it, and how he named it “Francesca”. Oddly, I did not shed even one tear when I dropped my wedding dress off to be consigned, but if you asked me to part with incredibly ugly cardigan I wore on my first date with Mark (plain black with INSANE buttons sewn all over it, as I thought this would be a good conversation piece), I would tell you to pry it from my cold, dead hands.

There is so much more to say about our trip planning and preparation, and the fact that we start our first test run in less than a week (!!!), but I’ll write more about that over at the website Mark has set up for the trip. I’ll continue to write here about things that are interesting mainly to me (FOOD). For now, I will leave you with these stunning lyrics. I was just a young’un when I wrote this, and obviously a prodigal talent, a burgeoning wunderkind. You needn’t comment on my brilliance; believe me, I already know.

______________________

Red makes everything beautiful
And you wear CK Be
I only want to touch your hair
Those golden, silky locks
But you won’t come near me
Because I scare you

CHORUS
T.T., you’re my obsession
Claustrophobic, closing in
There may be 1440 hours in your day
But there’s many, many more in mine

7:30 bedtime so I can think about your face
Your hair smells so sweet, it could be candy
Your house of rock can’t keep me out
Trust me — I’ll find you

REPEAT CHORUS

______________________

I was 12, the song was about Taylor Hanson, and the answer to your burning question is no, so far I have never had a restraining order filed against me.



lately
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.



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.