Archive for November, 2012

Fall turns to winter and spring

magnolia buds_november

It is pouring down rain today. Pouring! The rain is hitting the roof of our apartment hard enough that the plink plink plink sound is echoing in the hood fan of the stove. It’s beautiful to listen to, lovely to write about, and in a few minutes I’ll be walking downtown and getting soaked by it.

The other day, when I was out for a walk in the sun, I saw that holiday decorations are going up all over the place: lights, wreaths, acrylic snowflakes and oversized Christmas ornaments hung on the almost-bare branches of trees. Along with these vestiges of winter, I noticed that spring has already started. Furry buds on magnolia trees, green clusters holding spring’s rhododendrons, and even a few spring bulb tips peeking out of the ground just as the final leaves fall from the trees. This is the thing I missed when I lived in Calgary: the continuous cycle of plant life, the constancy of new beginnings, things forever growing and green. I will take the rain.

November 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm Leave a comment

Mushroom soup and a movie

Every once in a while I make something to eat at home that receives glowing reviews from my dear dining mate. This is no easy feat and like all hard-to-achieve praise, it is sometimes hard to understand. This is just mushroom soup – there are some fancy things to add at the end if you wish – cream, a bit of chopped spinach (my favourite), a few drops of truffle oil, a sprinkle of chives – but it is just mushroom soup, and it is easy to make.

The hardest part is the patience needed to cook the onions and mushrooms slowly so the flavours have lots of time to develop and mingle – make sure you do that.

I made this soup for a quick Friday dinner before we went to see Life of Pi, which was very well done – a great movie adaptation of a great book. Like many people, I’m a Yann Martel fan (especially his ‘What is Stephen Harper Reading’ project, which I enjoyed even more than Life of Pi), and it makes me very happy to see Canadian literature turning into Hollywood films. I remember seeing Yann Martel’s books at the Livraria Lello in Porto a few years ago and wondering if he was as pleased as I was to see his books translated into Portuguese. I think his star just took another giant leap.

Mushroom soup
Serves 4

1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (or dried thyme)
Lots of fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup red wine
3 cups sliced button mushrooms
3 cups sliced portobello mushrooms
4 cups vegetable stock
3 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (I used oregano and basil)

Optional add ins (for four servings):
1 cup chopped spinach (frozen is ok, but thaw it first)
4 tablespoons whipping cream
truffle oil
minced chives

Slowly cook onion in oil over low-medium heat until it begins to carmelize. This will take a while, maybe 15 minutes. Add in the dried herbs, pepper and red wine; stir for a few minutes until the wine starts to reduce. Add in the mushrooms and cook slowly until they begin to cook down, about 10 minutes. Add in the vegetable stock and fresh herbs and remove from the heat. Let the mixture cool down to lukewarm and then puree in the blender (do not blend hot liquid, not ever!). Return to the pot and heat through. Stir in any of the optional add-ins above. Or, if taste differences prevail in your house as they do in mine, add what you will to the bottom of individual bowls, ladle in the soup, stir and serve.

November 25, 2012 at 1:11 pm 3 comments

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A real book. The kind of book you always hope to find. A can’t put it down, stay up until 2am, fall asleep with your glasses still on your face sort of book. The storyline is epic and sprawling, there are tons of characters (but you’re never confused about who is who), the writing is lush and visual with no “literary trickery” says one reviewer I always trust, and the book is long, which is good because you don’t want it to end.

It’s a great book. I liked it so much, actually, that I closed another book the other night before I finished reading it. Not good enough. I love books, I read a ton of them, and I try to choose carefully. It’s a rare thing for me to abandon a book, but I think my standards have just gone up. There was a great article in the National Post recently by Keir Lowther, a PEI author who was guest editing the Afterword section. He talked about the importance of telling a good story and not just generating literary drivel, which, I have to say, is my assessment of that half-read book I’ll be shuffling back to the library this weekend.

The Night Circus was a Christmas gift last year. I put it on my wish list because I was inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s pep talk for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, and because it sounded like such a great story: a night-time circus. How magical. The Night Circus, a debut novel which has become a bestseller, began its life during the NaNoWriMo challenge, which happens each November. 46,991 words is the closest I’ve come to reaching the 30 day-50,000 word goal. This year will be the fourth time I’ve participated.

There are only nine days left in the challenge and for a variety of reasons I’m off to a late start: a day in, a mere 1,727 words logged. The little word tracking chart on the NaNoWriMo website makes it look like I’m at the bottom of Everest, and I suppose I am, but I didn’t want to break my tradition of participating. Only 48,273 words to go. Every attempt at a novel brings you that much closer to actually completing one, right? Better late than never, and better to fail than not try.

I believe that books find you at the right time and place in your life. If I own them, I tend to wait for them to call out from the shelf instead of reading them the moment they arrive. When November came along and I found myself thinking about the challenge but not actually participating yet, I decided to read The Night Circus. I loved it and now I’m using it to justify this ridiculous decision to try to write 50,000 words – not in 30 days (which sounds so easy now!), but in nine. By the time I was a few pages into The Night Circus, I thought, I want to write a novel just like this some day. Imaginative. Page-turning. Magical. Fun. Something a reader can’t wait to get back to and can’t wait to begin again.

Happy NaNoWriMo, writers. There’s still time to start!

November 22, 2012 at 4:13 pm 1 comment

Carrot oatmeal raisin muffins

I am not much a carrot person. This might seem funny for a vegetarian, but it’s true. Boiled carrots, roasted carrots, carrots in stirfries – I’ll eat them, but only because I know they’re good for me. I love most vegetables, so I’m not sure what it is about carrots that doesn’t work for me.

Raw carrots pulled fresh from the garden are a completely different matter. Those I love. Those I could eat all day. The rest of the time, though, I grate carrots and bake them into muffins and cakes. Carrot cake, carrot loaf, carrot muffins – carrot-filled baked goods are among my favourite treats.

Carrot oatmeal muffins
Makes 12 muffins

1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons each cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups grated carrot
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
1/4 cup flaxseed meal

Combine dry ingredients. Whisk together water, egg, vegetable oil and grated carrot and add to flour mixture. Gently fold in raisins, coconut, walnuts, ginger and flaxseed meal. Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes in a 375F oven.

November 16, 2012 at 3:41 pm 1 comment

The sunshine that was

Vancouver’s sunny days glisten like jewels this time of year. We had a gorgeous stretch of weather last week, four or five days of sunlight that made morning strolls with the dog and walks around the city oh-so-pleasant.

I found myself at the entrance to Sun Yat-Sen Park, a free public garden adjacent to the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden on one of the sunny days last week when I was early for a movie. Few things match the joy and decadence of going to the movies on a weekday afternoon, but sitting in the sun for half an hour watching ducks glide around a pond and then going to the movies in the afternoon, well, try to top that.

Weeping birch trees still full of golden leaves hung over sun-dappled water, a few people milled around the paths near the pagoda, and I thought, This is why I live in Vancouver. Because the gardens are open all year.

The movie was also amazing.

November 14, 2012 at 9:41 am 1 comment


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