Friday, December 28, 2007

potato soup, revisited

I returned home from my family's Christmas celebrations with a new digital camera, and I have been busy creating photo albums on Facebook with it ever since.

To see a Facebook album that describes this potato soup recipe in its entirety (photographs included), click here.

1. I had a bunch of potatoes that needed using up, so I made some potato soup this afternoon. Luckily I had some onions, too - courtesy of my last visit home to my parents. Normally I like to use leeks in soup, but onions will do in a pinch... (These ones were pretty small, so I used three.)

2. Peel the onions and chop them into large pieces.

3. Heat some olive oil (I used about three tablespoons) in a soup pot and add the onions. (Check out the neat spoon holder I got from Mom and Dad for Christmas (you can buy them at Lee Valley).)

4. Here's how many potatoes I used. Let's see... one, two, three... looks like there are eleven there. I don't normally cook a certain number - just as many as I have, or as many as will fit into the soup pot.

5. Remove any eyes from the potatoes (just snap them off), and wash them.

6. Chop the potatoes into large, uniform chunks.

7. I normally save cooking water from vegetables, and freeze it in canning sealers until I need it. Today I pulled four jars of frozen cooking water out of the freezer for this soup.

8. Defrost the cooking water for several minutes in the microwave, so that you can get it out of the jars. Alternately you could defrost the jars in the fridge overnight, or just use plain water for the soup.

9. Saute the onions until they are nice and soft - kind of like this.

10. Add the semi-frozen cooking water or broth to the onions, and heat until it's completely thawed.

11. Add the chopped potatoes and top up the pot with water until the vegetables are just covered.

12. Sometimes I cook the soup plain, without any seasoning. Today I felt like doing something a little more adventurous, so I pulled out some rosemary, ground cloves and ground cinnamon. I added about a spoonful of the rosemary leaves, just a pinch of ground cloves, and about half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. The smell of these particular herbs and spices always reminds me of Swiss Chalet dipping sauce, for some reason. Add the spices to the soup pot and cook, covered, until the potatoes are soft enough to break with a fork.

13. Once the potatoes are cooked, you're ready to puree the soup. Here's my usual set-up for the pureeing: soup pot, blender and a bowl for the pureed soup.

14. I puree the soup while it's still hot (not recommended, since it's a burning hazard - but I like to live dangerously...) Regardless of whether the soup is hot or cold, don't fill the blender jar very full. Completely cover the solid food chunks with liquid. You may need to use a bit of extra water by the end of the job - this particular soup took about another four cups of water in addition to the soup stock.

15. Just as an aside, potatoes are very starchy. Don't blend them too long or you'll get wallpaper paste instead of yummy soup. And rinse all containers immediately after using them, to make clean-up easier.

16. I always wait to add salt until after the soup is pureed. Today I decided to use up some special salts I've had sitting in my cupboard for over a year. The red salt is Hawaiian, I think, and the white salt is Italian sea salt. The grey salt is sea salt from Brittany. In the end, though, all I used in this soup was the red salt.

17. I usually add about this much [approximately 1 tablespoon of] salt to start with, and taste between additions. It's better to add too little rather than too much at a time! Trust your own tastebuds. This is the fun part. Stir the soup well between additions, and then taste it each time. Does it taste like soup that you'd gladly eat in a restaurant? Not salty enough? Add a little bit more salt, and repeat the entire process until it tastes just right.

18. Because I usually freeze most of my soups, I get out a bunch of canning sealers while the soup is cooking.

19. Fill the canning sealers with hot soup. If you're going to freeze the jars, don't fill them too full or the jars may break in the freezer.

20. Cool the jars in the fridge before putting them in the freezer. Each pint jar holds approximately one serving.

©2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Monday, December 17, 2007

insomnia

This story was originally published as a Facebook note on the morning of December 13, 2007.

A little comedic piece I started at approximately 3am yesterday morning...

10 things to do when you’re awake for no good reason in the middle of the night.

1. Lie in your bed in the dark, worrying about absolutely everything – from the woeful state of your bank account to the war in Iraq. This is an especially cheerful old-school pastime that is bound to entertain you for several hours.

2. Watch YouTube. (I would tell you to watch TV, but I don’t own one myself, and I’m going for a vérité feel in this piece).

YouTube has the added “really wake you up” benefit of requiring user-generated search-parameter input (i.e. you have to type words into the search field) – guaranteed to keep enough of your neurons firing to preclude drowsiness until at least 6am.

Another value-added perk of YouTube-watching is the ability to find several inane videos that you can then forward to all your Facebook friends.* (Yay FunWall and SuperWall!)

(*Warning: excessive use of this entertaining Wall-posting feature will quickly result in the LOSS of all your Facebook friends.)

3. While we’re on the subject of Facebook: It just so happens that FB is probably THE supreme insomniac diversion.

Start by spending an hour or two manually searching for long-lost friends who fell through your “Friend Finder” cracks.

Then browse a few hundred groups looking for ones you might like to join. Try to figure out if Facebook has a limit to the number of groups you can join.

(It does. And yes, you may consider that a dare.)

Troll your friends’ Fun- and SuperWalls for annoying chain letters, to forward to all the friends who haven’t already dropped you.

Play your next move in Scrabulous. Then start a bunch of new Scrabulous games when you realize that no one else is going to be playing their moves anytime soon. Try to figure out if there’s a limit to the number of Scrabulous games that you can have going at any given time...

5. Plow your driveway of newly fallen snow. I did not make that up. There is actually some f*cking idiot running a snowblower outside my window as I write this.

(Really. And it is 330am.)

This definitely falls under the “misery loves company” category of midnight diversions.

(I’m imagining a little “Misery” of my own right now – something along the lines of a Kathy Bates scene...)

6. Eat.

Forget anything you’ve ever heard about how consuming food in the middle of the night really packs on the pounds. I’m here to reassure you that food eaten between the hours of 2 and 5am has absolutely no calories.

Resist the urge to try new flavour combinations, however. Dipping those Ruffles potato chips into that half-empty jar of crunchy peanut butter is a recipe for gastric disaster. You’re already going to feel crushingly sleep-deprived at work later this morning. No need to add indigestion to the list of complaints.

7. Wake and dial.

This is a cheerful variation of the classic “drink and dial” activity – with the added advantage of sobriety.

Better yet, why not begin a fruitful career as a prank caller? Dial some random numbers and ask for their favorite sleep tips. Just be sure to press *67 first.

(I am currently giggling uncontrollably at the thought of calling up some poor schmuck in the middle of the night. Maybe sleep deprivation is not unlike being drunk, after all.)

8. Clean your apartment.You know it never gets done during daylight hours – so why not take advantage of this “found time”? Running the vacuum is guaranteed to endear you to your roommates and/or adjacent neighbours. (See item 5 on plowing your driveway, above.)

9. Experiment with “white noise”.

This is an especially worthwhile endeavor if you share a bed with someone who is still asleep – and snoring. Turn on the TV to a holding pattern or an impossibly high channel. Set your clock radio between stations. Lug that floor fan up from the basement and play with the speed settings.

How much white noise does it take to truly drown out the sound of a person snoring? And what kind of funky distorted noises can a snoring person make when a floor fan is positioned six inches from their face? On "high"? Oops! Did your companion wake up? Guess they’re not snoring now…

10. Write a list of 10 things to do when you’re awake for no good reason in the middle of the night. (Skip number four, and when people ask, say: "Whadya expect? It was the middle of the night! I was sleep deprived, okay?")

It won’t help you get back to sleep, but it sure is entertaining. Just don’t let your boss see the list – he or she doesn’t need to know much creative energy you’re pouring into useless pursuits, rather than channeling it into your job.

(If you’re a freelance writer, on the other hand, you have just come up with a new article to sell – which could be an effective solution to the bank account situation mentioned in item 1.)

I’ll close with my grandmother’s favorite bedtime mantra: 'Night 'night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

(As a child I never knew what the hell a bedbug was. Apparently there is now a North-American resurgence of bedbug infestations, though. I just did a Google search on the subject of bedbugs. I do not recommend this as a pleasant insomnia-related activity.)

©2007 Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Sunday, December 16, 2007

my solstice prayer tree

My family will tell you that I'm not very traditional when it comes to Christmas decorating. Or maybe it's that I'm overly traditional: I'm not interested in the commercial "Christmas" we've come to know in North America since the advent of the Coca-Cola Santa.

I don't want garlands of artificial greenery with white icicle lights and tinsel. I don't have room for a Christmas tree, and I'm allergic to heavily-scented holiday candles.

I'm not a Scrooge. I just like to explore the sacred and pagan roots of this seasonal festival in my own way - and come up with decorations that have real meaning for me. Decorations that, more often than not, I've created myself.

Last Christmas - my first ever in an apartment all of my own - I settled on a potted rosemary bush and some small white paper snowflakes that I cut out one evening while listening to Christmas carols.

This year I've been so focused on some urgent projects that Christmas decorating almost didn't happen. I use the deep, eight-foot-long window ledge in front of my desk as a kind of seasonal altar, displaying random things - usually from nature - that appeal to me visually and symbolically.

When I returned to my apartment after house-sitting for most of the month of November, I put a simple wooden bowl and the shed skin of a snake on the ledge. The bowl symbolized the emptiness that I often feel at this time of year - as I wait to be filled with inspiration and a renewed sense of purpose in these dark days of December. The snake skin represented the new growth I desperately wanted to experience after searching unsuccessfully for employment for over three months.

Then one day while I was walking Jack the pug puppy, I glanced down at a four-foot length of branch that had been lying on the ground near my client's apartment building for several months. The branch was a favorite distraction of Jack's - he loved sticks, and often tried to pick this one up and "carry" it ("drag" is more like it) a few feet before the weight of the branch caused him to give up and move on to other, lighter conquests.

"That branch might make a nice decoration for my apartment," is what I thought to myself as Jack knawed on it for the thousandth time. I lifted it off the ground, and Jack was immediately delighted by this new activity. As I dragged the branch in one hand and Jack's leash in the other, we engaged in an impromptu game of "carrot on a stick" - only in Jack's case, no carrot was necessary. The stick alone was enough.

A couple of hours later when I finally carried the branch into my apartment, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. I had an empty clay pot left over from an amaryllis that a former client had given me last Christmas; the pot was cheerily decorated with finger paints, courtesy of the client's daughter. The leafless branch, firmly planted in an assortment of stones and pebbles inside the pot, looked like a vision of November: black, wind-swept fingers scratching a dull sky.

I've always been drawn to Tibetan prayer flags. I can see them in my mind's eye, tied in clusters along pilgrimage routes, the prayers of the faithful carried to heaven by the winds that set the flags dancing.

I have a lot of prayers right now. I want to tie my prayers to my tree, and imagine the wind coming to carry my prayers up to heaven (or wherever God might be, since God definitely seems to be busy somewhere else right now).

The flags didn't get created immediately; in the meantime, I tied bits of natural-coloured wool yarn to the branches. This afternoon I was given an unexpected gift of free time, and I finally prepared my prayers - 30 words or phrases printed out on plain white paper. I crumpled the paper after printing it, to soften and give movement to my "flags." Then I cut the flags apart, and stapled them to my prayer tree.

I'm praying for good health, and abundance, love and creativity. I'm also praying for a deep, romantic love - something that I am sorely missing in my life right now.

I'm praying for meaningful work and overflowing energy; I'm praying for discipline, rest and sustenance. I'm praying for wisdom, courage and hope.

In this cold season, I'm praying for warmth - of the body, and also of the heart. I'm praying for joy and play and dancing. I'm praying for inner peace.

But most of all - above everything else - I'm praying for enthusiasm. It's one of my favorite words, from the Greek theos, or God. It literally means to be filled with God.

(And I do yearn to be filled with God...)

I'm leaving for my home town in a few days, to spend time with family and friends. When I return to my apartment at the end of December, I already know what I'll replace the prayer tree with. I have a box of paperwhites ready and waiting to be planted in the amaryllis pot.

(I will see green things growing as the new year begins...)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

vegetarian chili

I love my slow cooker. I got it at a church rummage sale, and while it may not be pretty (the exterior is harvest gold and beige, the crock dark brown), it's a great little workhorse.

I like to cook dried beans in my slow cooker, and chili is another favorite, because chili always seems to taste better when it's cooked for a long time. I've got a pot of chili simmering as I write this...

cooked beans (any variety, although I prefer milder beans such as navy)
1 large can crushed or diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons chili powder
3 grated carrots
salt to taste

If you want to cook the beans from scratch, soak 1 bag of dried beans in the crock filled with water for eight hours or overnight. I like to start soaking the beans first thing in the morning, then cook them as I sleep.

To cook the beans, drain off the soaking water, pick over the beans and discard any blemished ones, then fill the crock with water again. What I usually do is turn the slow cooker on high for a couple of hours (or until I go to bed), then turn it down to low so the beans can simmer all night. They will generally end up VERY soft and mushy (which I prefer. Don't like hard beans.)

Sometimes I leave the beans (especially slower-cooking ones, like chick peas) on high, and let the smell of them wake me up in the middle of the night, at which point I turn the cooker down to low. (And don't tell me that we have no sense of smell while we're asleep, as studies suggest. The beans ALWAYS wake me up when they need to be turned down...)

Drain the beans of their cooking water (some cookbooks recommend saving the "broth," but I find it hideous). Put all the chili ingredients in the crock, and simmer on high for two or three hours, or on low all day.

About the carrots: My mom always made chili with carrots. I don't know why. I don't always include them, but they add colour and more nutrients.

My favorite beans to use in this recipe are: navy (the small white beans that you usually find in Heinz prepared beans - they're nice and mild); black beans (they make me think of Carribean or South American stews); and pinto beans (if you puree the finished chili, you'll have some AMAZING refritos). If you really need to add kidney beans, by all means go ahead. I don't care for their tough skins, myself.

Store any leftover chili in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze it immediately to save for a future meal. Mmmm...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

beet soup

Back a million weeks ago, when my parents sent me home with fresh produce from their garden, the bounty included a bag full of small-ish beets.

Now the great thing about beets is, they’re tailor-made for long storage. Hence when I decided to make some beet soup this afternoon, the beets were still good to go.

Beet soup is sometimes called borsht. I think it may include potatoes in that incarnation. The soup below is just plain beets and onions. Feel free to jazz it up if you like.

several beets (don’t know how many I used; let’s say 12-15 small)
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
olive oil
salt to taste

Consider yourself duly forewarned: beets are MESSY. The easiest way to cook them is whole, with their tough outer skins on. Just put the washed (but unpeeled!) beets in a pot, and cover them with water.

They’ll take a long time to cook, though. Like, probably more than an hour. They’re done when you can pierce them with a fork.

Peeling them is the cool part. Put the pot full of cooked beets in the sink, and run cold water into the pot until the beets are just warm to the touch. Then, one beet at a time, gently squeeze the skins off. (Don’t wear white.) My mom always left the skins in the pot – that way you’re not flapping your hands like a maniac, trying to brush off the wet skins.

Once you’ve peeled all the cooked beets, chop them coarsely and set them aside.

In your large pot, heat the olive oil and add the chopped onion. Sautee until soft. Add the cooked beets, fill the pot with just enough water to cover everything, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Now comes the REALLY messy part. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. (Really don’t wear white.)

How do you puree soup, by the way? For safety’s sake, you should probably wait until the soup is cool. Me, I like to live dangerously – I always puree it hot. (Kids, this requires adult supervision!)

Transfer the pieces of vegetables into the blender jar with a ladle. Make sure there’s enough cooking liquid to cover all the pieces, or the machine may blades may get stuck and stall. Think of it as giving the vegetable pieces enough room to float – but just a little bit!

Transfer the pureed soup to a waiting container – preferably a large bowl. (I’m house-sitting right now. Could only find a couple of medium-sized bowls in this kitchen. I’m thinking the homeowner doesn’t cook much…)

Once all the soup is pureed, I usually put it all back in the pot, and add salt to taste. How much salt? Well, it depends how salty you like your soup. Try adding about a tablespoonful, and stir the soup well before tasting. If it doesn’t seem salty enough, and another tablespoonful… and so on.

I measure stuff with my hands most of the time, and I usually like to add a couple of palm-dents of salt to a large pot of soup.

My biggest regret of the afternoon: I forgot to bring my handy canning funnel from home. I usually put the pureed soup into canning jars and freeze them to re-heat later; it’s SO much messier without a canning funnel.

A lot of people don't really like beets. I think they're yummy. Naturally sweet, and such an amazing colour. Plus, what other food turns your pee pink?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

the light of the moon

I'm ashamed to admit how little time I spend outside during the course of my "normal" day-to-day life. I walk from my apartment to my car, and from my car to other buildings. Occasionally I actually go for walks on city streets. But generally I spend very little time outdoors, and even less time in a natural setting.

I'm house-sitting right now, looking after two large dogs. They need to be let out several times a day, and walked at least twice. The property is quite large, and one circumnavigation of the park-like grounds is a frequent choice for the daily walks.

I am loving being outside with the dogs in this crisp, autumn weather.

This morning I took them out early, since I also had to put out the recycling for the garbage trucks before 7:00 a.m. It was still dark, but I've done the walk around the grounds with the dogs often enough to feel comfortable on the unlit terrain.

And I hadn't counted on the moon.

When you live in a city with streetlights, it's easy to forget how bright the moon is. I remember reading books as a child, with stories about people travelling "by the light of the moon," and I could never figure out how the moon could give light.

Then I spent a summer planting trees in northern Ontario, where there are NO lights for miles; during a midnight pee I found myself blearily wondering where the spotlight had come from - and then realized it was the moon, high above me!

It was magical walking by the light of the moon this morning with the dogs. They had shadows! That made me laugh - to think the moon is bright enough to cast shadows.

(And it's only a quarter moon right now; it will be a lot brighter in a week's time...)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

how i'm staying cold-free (knock on wood)

Everyone I talk to these days is sick. And I don't just mean everyone in my city. I mean everyone everywhere - Toronto, London, ON, England, Europe...

Here's Michelle's sure-fire preventive for avoiding colds: raw garlic.

I mentioned this garnish in the comment to my harvest soup recipe posted earlier this week. I've been eating it like crazy for days, stirred into soups and stews.

1 small tub (500 mL) of light sour cream
8 cloves fresh, minced garlic

I actually used two cloves from a head of elephant garlic, but it works out to about the same amount. Stir the minced garlic into the sour cream and let the flavours meld for an hour or two before serving. Should keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.

(I find that if I eat raw garlic in the evening, it doesn't come out through my skin the next day the way cooked garlic dishes do. It's pretty powerful stuff during and after eating, though. Just saying.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

jack-o'-lantern time

It's Saturday morning and I'm up to my elbows in pumpkin muck. Loving every minute of it. I'd been wanting to buy a pumpkin for several days, but kept putting it off. Then I asked my niece last night on the phone what she'd done this week that was fun, and she replied that they took a trip to the pumpkin patch.

That settled it.

Bought my pumpkin this morning. (City-slicker Aunt Michelle doesn't live anywhere near a pumpkin patch, so the selection at Dominion had to do.)

I want a jack-o'-lantern of my own because they're so cheery when it gets dark. The smell alone as I cut into the rind was worth the price of admission. This is fall - happy fall. (As opposed to chilly, rainy, dreary fall.)

I like my jack-o'-lanterns happy, too. No scary faces for me. It's always a bit of a surprise what the visage will look like, though - I prefer to cut freehand. My faces are pretty simple: two triangle eyes, a triangle nose, and a huge grin with a couple of lone teeth. (Why is it that jack-o'-lanterns have to be toothless, by the way?)

I was afraid this year's fellow was going to turn out a bit of a simpleton. Usually I try to go for a jolly laughing face with some intelligence if I can manage it. Luckily the overall effect of this year's effort was redeemed by an unmistakable aura of innocence. My pumpkin looks just like a picture of my laughing nephew, age two.

(Pepitas are sauteeing on the stovetop as I finish writing this. More happy fall memories...)

Friday, October 19, 2007

a moment

I may have already mentioned that I'm a little addicted to YouTube. It's a boon to a woman without a television - and I don't even mind watching that tiny little five-inch screen. I've seen some of the most amazing, moving, funny, gross and entertaining things on YouTube, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tonight I was browsing through a bunch of random searches - mostly singers I like. After a search of Sting interviews I happened upon a music video of a Sheryl Crow song which featured an appearance by Sting.

I watched, and was deeply touched by the lyrics of this song - Always on Your Side.

It's funny - those private, intimate moments that happen between two people, that you assume are unique to you, and then discover much later are universal...

I once told a former boyfriend of mine that he was like a beautiful butterfly on my hand; I knew if I tried to hold on to him I would hurt him, and so I promised to leave my hand open, and just enjoy the blessing of his presence for as long as it lasted.

Turns out it didn't last nearly as long as I would have liked...

There's a lyric in Always on Your Side that goes:

Well they say that love is in the air; Never is it clear
How to pull it close and make it stay.
Butterflies are free to fly, why do they fly away,
Leavin' me to carry on and wonder why?
Was it you that kept me wandering through this life
When you know that I was always on your side?

~

It really is a lovely song. Check out the video for yourself, here.

(I'm still trying to figure out how they knew about my butterfly story.)

(And now I'm missing that boy...)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

harvest soup

I'm having my friend Tricia over for dinner tonight, and have decided to serve soup since it's easy and fairly quick. I have some jars of my basic squash soup in the freezer, so I'll use that as a base. But while I was preparing some stuff to add to it, I decided to take the soup in a whole new direction...

Heat up three portions of:

1 recipe basic squash soup

Then, in a SEPARATE pot, prepare the following SECOND soup:

1/2 large (garden large, not grocery store large) zucchini
3 carrots
1/2 cup green or brown lentils
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
pinch rosemary
Herbamare original seasoning, to taste

I had some carrots and a zucchini from my parents' garden in my fridge. I chopped them both individually in my food processor until they were in tiny pieces. (The carrots were dry pieces the size of peppercorns; the zucchini was mush, basically).

Put the chopped carrots, zucchini and lentils in a pot with enough water to cover and make a good soup consistency. Add the seasonings and simmer until the lentils and carrots are cooked. Adjust the saltiness with some more Herbamare* to taste, if needed.

What you will end up with is TWO soups: the squash soup and the lentil soup. I haven't tried this yet (I'll let you know how it goes tonight), but I'm going to pour each soup into the soup bowls from opposite sides at the same time, so that each bowl is filled half with squash and half with lentil soup.

Should make a festive-looking presentation if it works...

*Herbamare is an absolutely fantastic organic vegetable and sea salt seasoning. It can instantly add depth to the flavour of any dish. Look for it in the organic seasonings section of your grocery store or natural foods store.

Friday, October 12, 2007

someone with more blogs than i!

I'm doing research right now for a talk I'm giving next Monday for the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada. I'll be discussing inexpensive marketing techniques, including blogging.

I was just browsing for blogs on that topic when I came across a blogger.com user who has 43 (yes, that's forty-three!) blogs registered under his name. You can check out his profile and his list of blogs here:

http://www.blogger.com/profile/07219299130867293674

Now, what really bugs me about this guy is that he's obviously just used these blogs as a marketing ploy to generate web traffic. He has created as many blog titles as he could think of that relate to his business (advertising wraps on trucks - those huge print ads you see applied to buses and transport trucks). Then on each blog he's simply posted the exact same information - basically an advertisement of his business.

Why did he do this? Well, blogger.com offers their blog URLS for free. To do something similar by registering regular .com domain names would have cost a chunk of change.

But this is not blogging. He's not creating regular posts for any of these blogs. And I think his approach may turn off potential customers, once they realize what he's done...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

goodfellow's tree-kangaroo

I may spend too much time online.

I Googled my last name early this morning (I couldn't sleep and was randomly surfing online). On something like the 20th page of search results (yes, I actually read through the previous 19 pages!), I found mention of an animal called Goodfellow's Tree-kangaroo.

There's an animal named after us! Who knew?

Kind of cute, huh? Apparently they live in Papua, New Guinea. In trees.

(And I love the taxonomy: Dendrolagus goodfellowi. That's goodfellow with an 'i' on the end. Makes me laugh just to say it out loud. Let me rename myself: homo sapiens goodfellowi...)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

stewp

After the holiday weekend I was sent home with another huge butternut squash (see my earlier recipe for ginger squash soup here). I'm running low on the squash soup I made a couple of weeks ago, so I decided to make some more this afternoon when I had some free time. (Oh, the joys of being self-employed!)

This time I didn't used any seasoning other than salt, and the soup had the most amazingly pure squash taste.

1 HUGE butternut squash
1 large sweet onion
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste

I also used Italian sea salt this time, and I loved the lightness of its salty flavour. I sealed most of the soup in jars, but for my late lunch/early supper I prepared a bowl of the basic squash soup with some leftover green peas and mashed potatoes. The potatoes gave it a lovely, thick consistency which was almost like stew, but not quite.

(Stewp, if you will... )

1 serving squash soup
1/2 cup cooked peas
1/4 cup cooked mashed potatoes
dash of salt

Monday, October 8, 2007

what i'm doing with thanksgiving leftovers

I've tagged this post with the label "gratitude," because this (and every) Thanksgiving I'm very grateful for... leftovers!

Mom sent me home with lots of goodies, including leftover peas, rutabaga (turnip) and mashed potatoes from last night's family celebration.

I defrosted and heated up a serving of my ginger squash soup, adding some of the cooked peas and turnip to the saucepan. Yuuummm...

1 serving ginger squash soup
1/2 cup cooked green peas
1/4 cup cooked, mashed rutabaga
dash of salt

A friend of mine once told me that she loves leftovers because it means you don't have to cook that night. Amen.

If you like leftovers too, there's a really great cookbook that gives all sorts of recipes to make with leftovers. The book includes master recipes for the first-time-around foods, too!

Leftovers by Kathie Gunst.

Monday, October 1, 2007

baths

I wasn't always a bath person.

I learned how to take a shower when I was 10 years old, on a solo trip visiting my maternal grandmother. And for nearly 30 years after that, showers were my personal cleaning method of choice.

Part of it may have to do with the fact that I always shared a home with at least one other person, and didn't always feel comfortable "lazing around" in a tub.* Baths also seemed like so much work; the speed of showers appealed to my go-go-go internal clock.

Since moving into my own apartment, however, I have become totally enamoured of baths. So much so, that I now bathe rather than shower whenever I have the time.

The ritual of "drawing the bath" is part of the appeal. I make sure the tub is immaculate (even if it means cleaning the tub beforehand), then pour in my additives: plain Epsom salts, pure vegetable oil (usually sesame or olive - although lately I've been trying to use up my supply of castor oil), and essential oils (usually lavender, although in the spring and summer I also like rosewood).

I add the water last. In the cooler months I like my baths as hot as I can stand; in the summer, they're usually tepid.

I like the lighting to be really dim while I bathe. I usually turn off the room lights and bathe by candlelight - or in the summer, when candles might be too hot, I simply leave the bathroom door open, letting light from the rest of my apartment spill into the dark bathroom.

Then I soak.

And I mean really soak. I have friends who like reading the bath. None of that for me. I may take the occasional phone call (and if it's dangerous to hold cordless or mobile phones while sitting in the tub, I don't want to know), but otherwise I just lie there.

I'm reminded of Blanche Dubois in Streetcar Named Desire. Stanley always rebuked her for spending too much time in the tub (especially during the hot, New Orleans summer), but she countered that it was "hydro-therapy," and good for her nerves.

Soaking in water is good for my nerves. I feel blissed-out by the time I'm done. It's as good as yoga for my mental and emotional well-being, without the effort of actually doing asanas.

*The one exception was the period I spent as a live-in housekeeper/nanny for a family with an indoor hot tub. I did like the hot tub.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

pugs

I've mentioned in an earlier post that I visit a little pug puppy named Jack every weekday at noon. Jack makes me laugh. He does a lot of cute puppy things like bounding around after me and clambering all over me and taking great leaps at my face to lick me.

One of the weirdest things I've noticed about Jack, though, is that he seems to have no joints. Whenever I carry him, his front legs splay straight out to the side. And he likes to lie down with his hind legs spread just like the puppy in the photo above. (Which I found on the internet - the photo, that is - and it just goes to show that Jack is not unique in his double-jointedness.)

All I can say is, how does he do that?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

croutons

Another really great way to use up stale bread is to make croutons. Years ago I became known in my immediate family as a great crouton maker. I spent a summer working for tree-planting camps - first as a planter in Northern Ontario, and then as an assistant cook in Northern Alberta. The head cook at both camps was a fantastic woman named Elizabeth Evans, who learned to make croutons at the knee of her Italian mama.

Elizabeth made croutons from any kind of bread - stale or not. She cut the bread up into long-ish pieces and then sauteed them in olive oil with chopped garlic until they were well-browned. They were liberally salted when they were done.

When I started playing around with making my own croutons, I stuck to hearty breads that were definitely stale. Lots of olive oil, but generally no garlic. A bit of salt, maybe. I served them in salads. (I was also known for my great salads.)

These days I've been making a lot of croutons again. When my bread gets stale, I break it into large-ish chunks (much bigger than those little cubed croutons you can buy in the grocery store, anyhow), and toss them around in a frying pan with a bunch of olive oil until things are nicely golden. No salt.

These taste AMAZING dipped into soups (which is how I've been eating them, lately).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

gazpacho(-ish)

When Mom sent me home on the weekend with the fresh, home-grown produce, it included a bunch of tomatoes. Yum.

I've mentioned in an earlier post that I love to buy this really great rustic, whole wheat bread from the local grocery store. Well, because I'm single and I'm the only one eating it at my place, it often goes stale before it's all gone. Doesn't matter. I love stale bread. There are all sorts of wonderful ways to dress it up and make it edible.

If you break some stale bread into small pieces, and pour a bunch of juicy, chopped tomatoes over top, and then drizzle everything with olive oil and add a dash of salt, you have something that reminds me of the roots of the cold Spanish soup called gazpacho.

I love rustic cooking for its honesty and its practicality. In many parts of the world, grains - whether they be served plain, or in a more processed form such as bread - are precious foods. In other languages, the name of a favorite grain is often synonymous with the word for "food," and you can't consider yourself fed until you've had your daily serving of grain.

In the parts of the world where bread is the favorite way to eat grain, no part of the bread is wasted. (Unlike here in North America, where generations have grown up with the idea that bread = soft, fluffy, squishable white stuff with no soul - and your bread doesn't grow stale, it just starts to grow penicillin.)

Anyhow, I've been enjoying using up all my stale whole wheat bread as the base for a cold (which is really a misnomer, since I never refrigerate my tomatoes - really they're kind of room temperature, I guess) tomato "stew."

ginger squash soup

Mom sent me home this past weekend with a bunch of produce from my parents' garden, as well as a HUGE butternut squash from a farm where Dad keeps some of his bees. In previous years the squash from this farm has been AMAZING, so I was really happy to get it, even though it's not one of my absolute favorite vegetables.

I decided to make some soup, since I like to have a couple of different kinds of soup stored in individual servings in my freezer. I didn't have any leeks (my favorite onion base for soups) on hand, but I did have a mild spanish onion.

1 butternut squash
1 large spanish onion
4 tablespoons dried ginger
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste

Peeling the squash is the hardest part. You can avoid peeling the squash by baking it in the oven first, but that takes so long and is messy... I prefer to slice the squash into two-inch-thick rounds, and then cut the tough rind off each round with a paring knife.

After you've peeled the entire squash, cut up the flesh into uniform chunks.

Chop the onion, and saute it in a very large pot with the olive oil. Once the onion is soft, add the ginger and squash chunks, and enough water to cover everything.

Simmer over low heat until the squash is cooked.

Remove from heat and puree in small batches in a blender or food processor. Add salt to taste.

This soup has a LOT of ginger in it. I like a really gingery bite. Adjust the amount of ginger (or leave it out entirely) if you're not as fond of ginger as I am.

Monday, September 24, 2007

porridge

I love eating cooked grains for breakfast. It's an ayurvedic thing, I guess. Hot foods in the morning are supposed to stoke your digestive fire, or agni.

(Although don't tell my Scottish ancestors, but I hate oatmeal. It makes me gag.)

My favorite cooked grain is quinoa, but it's kind of pricey, so I often make do with brown rice. I cook it up into a porridge very similar to the mild, Asian rice porridges that are considered healing or "invalid" foods.

I add some quick-cooking lentils to the porridge to make the protein more complete, and I often add a little bit of curry powder for the healing properties of turmeric, which has become a popular herbal remedy touted for its anti-inflammatory benefits.

I make a large pot of the stuff, and then put it into glass jars in individual servings, to store in the fridge and eat over the course of a week or two.

3 cups brown rice
1 cup lentils (I like Indian black or yellow lentils)
9 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon curry powder

Put all the ingredients into a large pot, and cook over medium heat until the water begins to boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes. Keep the pot lidded at all times. Stir occasionally. (Figure that one out!)

Take the pot off the heat at the end of the cooking time, and let it stand for five minutes before serving, or storing in containers in the fridge.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

driving

One thing I will always be grateful to my ex-boyfriend for is the amount of time during our relationship that I got to spend driving on country roads to get back and forth between my place and his.

Today I made another trip - and it was a gorgeous day for a drive. The fall colours are just starting to turn, and the rolling hills between Toronto and Barrie were amazing.

There are two landscapes that tug at my soul: the flat fields of southwestern Ontario where I grew up, and the hillier version in central Ontario where my ancestors homesteaded.

Friday, September 21, 2007

wi-fi

Until I started blogging a year ago, I was a bit of a technophobe. Correction. Techno-ignoramus. It wasn't so much that I was afraid of technology, I just didn't know how it worked.

There's still a lot I don't know. I don't own an iPod, or a PDA, or a cell phone that takes pictures. (I think my cell phone can text, but I've never tried it. I'm allergic to phone bills that are more than $60 per month.)

I am loving Wi-Fi, though. Here I am, hundreds of miles from my home and my high-speed modem (I'm writing this while visiting my parents), and I'm posting a blog entry.

How cool is that?

I love laptops, too. Laptops with Wi-Fi.

My parents' cat is sitting beside me on the kitchen table, trying to figure out what this alien contraption on her "stage" is.

(I have the sneaking suspicion she's shedding lots of hair into my keyboard, too.)

I wonder what I'll know how to use 20 years from now?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

barbie as the princess and the pauper

One of my favorite things to watch on YouTube is—wait for it—clips of the songs from the digitally-animated movie Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper.

My niece fell in love with this straight-to-DVD release a year-and-a-half ago, when her cousins lent her a copy. I was kind of aghast when my sister told me that Meghan was watching Barbie movies. My feminist-indoctrinated sensibilities were offended by the thought of our little girl growing up with Barbie as a formative role-model.

(Let's just forget, for the moment, that Barbie was my absolute favorite toy as a child.)

My sister pleaded Barbie's case. Apparently the songs were catchy. She (my sister) had already memorized the lyrics, and found herself humming snippets of the songs all day long.

I decided to reserve judgment until I saw the movie for myself.

So, the next time I visited my sister, Aunt Michelle and Meghan sat down to watch Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper. (By then Meghan had already tired of the film and wasn't especially interested in watching it with me. Didn't matter. I made her.)

I was enchanted.

I'm a classically-trained singer with a pretty low tolerance for badly-written or -performed music. I was grudgingly impressed with the song-writing—especially the lyrics, which celebrated Barbie's talents, individuality, and self-development. Who knew?

The best moment, however, came while I was watching my niece's response to the songs. Caught up in the joy of the music, she sang along boldly and un-self-consciously. And I was awestruck to see her mimicking, gesture for gesture, each choreographed Barbie movement.

At one point Meghan raised her tiny little hand to the sky and wiggled her fingers; tears sprang unexpectedly to my eyes when I saw butterflies alight on the Barbies' onscreen fingers moments later.

I don't pretend to know what's really good for kids and their development. But I remember craving magic as a little girl... and I can't deny my niece the same magic.

Why do I keep watching the Barbie videos on YouTube? Because I want to be like this modern-day Barbie: bold, courageous, self-knowing, compassionate, and fulfilled.

Have a look for yourself, here.

youtube

I love YouTube.

I visit YouTube frequently—perhaps too frequently. I am thankful to all the people who upload the videos that I enjoy watching.

I don't own a television. I made a conscious decision to do without one when I moved to Toronto. In fact, when I moved to Toronto I had already more-or-less stopped watching TV for over a year. I found that TV sucked up too much of my free time, and was a poor substitute for what my body was really craving whenever I sat down in front of the boob tube: i.e. sleep, rest, relaxation or meditation.

But after being TV-less in Toronto for several months, I accidentally discovered how much "TV" I could watch online.

I like the interactive aspect of YouTube (as opposed to the mindless randomness of channel-surfing); I like being able to search, find and select what I'm watching.

It's just as hard to tear oneself from the flashing screen, though.

Hmm.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

de nile

How many things (besides my ex-boyfriend) have I been in denial about lately?

Scary thought.

I always assumed I had a pretty good handle on what was going on inside my own head.

I'm definitely in denial about the fact that I need bifocals. That would plant me too firmly smack dab in the middle of "middle-aged."

Oh well.

As my choir director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor pointed out to me last Thursday night, when my arms holding my music kept stretching further and further in front of me (and the notes coming out of my mouth whilst we were sight-reading kept straying further and further from what was on the printed page), "De Nile is a looong river, Michelle."

what I love about my life

I'm sitting here in the edge of my bed (a pristine, white-sheeted mattress on the floor—very "French country" meets "Japanese minimalism"), my laptop on a small wooden stool in front of me, my legs tucked up under my chin as I stare at the screen and key away...

And I realize it doesn't get any better than this. I love being self-employed. My schedule is my own. I'm editing a paper for a client at the moment, but I'm doing it at my own speed, on my own time.

I'm wearing yoga clothes. The same yoga clothes I'll be wearing later in the day when I leave my apartment to do some dog walking. The same yoga clothes I'll be wearing a couple of hours after that, when I help an organizing client clean out her basement.

I love my life.

I'm comfortable, and I do work that I love.

it's called a breakup because it's broken

I bought this book yesterday. It's a good book—and a funny book (thank goodness!)—but it's also a hard book to read.

I'm finally coming to terms with the fact (which has been obvious to my long-suffering friends and sister for several months now) that I'm still pining for my ex-boyfriend. In fact, I wish he and I were still together.

(And if he came to me right now and said he'd made a horrible mistake—that I was the woman of his dreams, and he'd be lost if I didn't take him back RIGHT THIS INSTANT—the only thing I'd say before jumping into his (not-so-)ever-loving arms is: "What took you so long?")

Correction.

Would have said.

I am reformed(ing). If you've been dumped, read the book. It will show you how crazy you are.

(Or in my case, were.)

It's Called a Breakup Because it's Broken by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

per • spec' • tive

It's been an interesting week. I just lost a new friend due to a misunderstanding, and I'm really, really, REALLY beginning to realize just how much my ex-boyfriend doesn't want to have any kind of friendship with me, either.

(Note to self: don't add ex-boyfriends to your Facebook friends list. It's too painful seeing what they're up to in the long stretches between your infrequent telephone conversations.)

So this morning when I was out doing the car shuffle I was in a kind of pensive mood. Then I noticed one of the trees I was passing as I walked the block back to my apartment. It was a chestnut tree, much taller than the others around it. I immediately wondered how high it was.

I thought about a book I had pulled off my shelves yesterday; I browsed through it before napping. It's called Meetings with Remarkable Trees by Thomas Pakenham, and is full of the most amazing photographs and descriptions of noteworthy trees in Great Britain.

There is a woods in my hometown of London, Ontario where there is an oak tree that is estimated to be at least 700 years old. (That's a picture of it, above.)

700 years.

Suddenly my week doesn't seem so important...*

*Although I just remembered – my ex and I spent one of our first days together as a couple underneath that oak tree. Crap! Back to thinking about him again…

Monday, September 17, 2007

the kindness of strangers

I genuinely expect tiny miracles to manifest themselves in my life daily. (It's always lovely when external circumstances actually coincide with that dream.)

This past summer, one of other tenants on my floor asked if I'd like to use her parking spot for four weeks while she was away on a road trip. Her offer was a boon to me, as you'll appreciate if you've already read this earlier post.

For four weeks I didn't have to do the car shuffle! I was in heaven. Every single day, as I parked my car in her spot, I told myself that I was the luckiest person in the world.

Turns out I don't have long to wait (13 days!) until I finally have a spot of my own on the building property. But in the meantime, until September ends, I'm still doing the shuffle...

This morning as I turned my car around to head over to the street a block away where I can park all morning, this same tenant (my parking angel) stopped me on her way to her own car, and asked if I wanted to park in her spot while she was away at work.

Yes!

(It also meant I didn't have to drive into the rising sun with a foggy windshield. You know it's fall when... your windows are covered with too much wet every morning.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

leek and potato soup

olive oil
3 leeks
four potatoes
water
salt

I'm half Scottish, so leek and potato soup is a no-brainer comfort food for me.

I love soups in general—they're easy to make, inexpensive, and a great way for me to consume my veggies. Plus they're easy to freeze, which makes them convenient. All I have to do is stick a frozen container of soup in my fridge the night before, and I have an almost-instant meal the next day.

Another thing I love about leeks is that they add a really subtle, distinctive flavour to soups that onions can't match. Leeks are always my first choice when I need an allium-family base for any soup.

To make the soup, I first wash the leeks (today I used the whole bunch of three). Leeks need special cleaning, since they're often grown in sandy soil and need to be thoroughly rinsed.

I cut off the tough ends of the leaves (anything that's dark green), then cut off the root end. Next I make a slice down the length of the leek, without going all the way through.

Under running water, separate the individual layers without actually taking them apart, and make sure that you rinse away any visible sand or dirt.

I puree most of my soups, so I don't worry about how nicely chopped everything is. Just make the pieces small enough so that they don't take forever to cook.

Heat some olive oil (I use about a quarter of a cup) in a large soup pot. Add the leeks, stir to cover them with the oil, and then turn the heat down to low and let them simmer for 5-10 minutes, until they soften and start to wilt.

Then add four chopped potatoes (you can remove the skins first if you want, but I often don't bother. I like the rustic texture of bits of skin in my soup. Today I used new potatoes, and left them unpeeled).

Fill the pot with enough water to just cover everything, and put the pot on the stove to simmer until the potatoes are cooked.

Instead of plain water, you can also add any vegetable stock that you've got. I usually save the cooking water whenever I cook vegetables, and freeze it in jars to use in soup-making. Today I had a bit of carrot water to add to the soup. I don't like using commercial stock powders since I find the taste too harsh, but do whatever's convenient for you.

After the potatoes are soft, take the pot off the stove and puree the soup in small batches in a blender or food processor. I'm a pretty hearty risk-taker and puree everything while it's still steaming hot, but you may wish to let the soup cool first before pureeing. When pureeing soup in the blender, I make sure to add extra water to each batch if needed—enough to cover all the solid food chunks thrown in the blender jar.

After the soup is pureed, add salt to taste. This time I tried out some of the smoked salt I re-bottled yesterday, and it was an amazing addition to the soup, giving it a dense, rich flavour.

When my soup is done, I put it in individual wide-mouthed Mason jars and freeze them. (Make sure you cool the filled jars overnight in the fridge, before putting them in the freezer. And be sure to leave enough space in the jar for the soup to expand a little as it freezes.)

This soup also makes a great base for a number of other dishes. Add some cooked vegetables and you have a great vegetable soup. A favorite variation of mine is adding chopped fresh tomato.

Add a LOT of cooked veggies, and you have a stew.

The soup can also can be used as a white sauce over veggies, or as a hot dip for a hearty, rustic bread.

Mmm...

bread and olive oil

More about food.

One of my favorite treats lately is this really chunky, hearty whole-wheat bread from Dominion. They sell it in the fresh-baked bread section. It's got a really earthy texture. Chewy, like home-baked whole-wheat bread.

I take a slice and tear it into chunks, then drizzle extra virgin olive oil all over it. Yum.

Which reminds me, I was in Greektown with a friend on Friday night, and we stopped by a natural foods store on Donlands near O'Connor (forget the name of the store). There was a salesman inside, demonstrating an organic brand of olive oil from Greece. He was a hoot. He encouraged us to sample the olive oil by dipping chunks of bread into an open dish of the oil. My friend declined, but I was right in there. I love free samples...

I won't kid you—the oil tasted amazing. Really mellow, but rich. Anyhow, then he tried to sell us some of the oil—which went for $17-$29 per bottle. We both said we had full bottles that we needed to use up first, and he pointed out that if we bought his smallest bottle we'd have a "starter kit" of his oil.

I had that running through my head the whole night. This guy and his olive oil "starter kit"...

another egg story

I first posted this true story on Facebook. My status update that day read:

Michelle is cleaning up a royal mess after doing something UNBELIEVABLY STUPID involving a stovetop and some raw eggs.

So, the story.

Okay... so I wanted to hardboil some eggs, and I set everything up the way I always do: filled a pot with water, put it on the burner, put the lid on, turned on the burner...

I also put four eggs on another burner, ready to add to the water once it was boiling. I like putting the eggs on a burner—that way they don't roll all over the place.

Can you see where this is going? Yup, I turned on the wrong burner. *$&#*!!!

I was working at the computer and smelled a burning smell, but figured it was just an old spill on the burner under the pot of water, and would burn off quickly.

Then I heard a loud POP, and ran to the kitchen in a panic, afraid that something had exploded and my stove was on fire. Something had exploded all right—one of the eggs, sitting on top of a fiery-hot burner! The other three eggs also proceeded to explode.

(Sigh)

You know that really vile smell that burning eggs make? That's what my apartment smelled like. And I don't have a stovetop fan.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

eggs and salt

I'm a vegetarian, and while I've flirted with veganism (not eating any animal products at all) over the years, I currently consume eggs and dairy.

I love eggs prepared any way. My favorite is hard-boiled. Every four days I boil four eggs, and then eat one of those eggs per day until they're all gone. At which point I boil four more eggs...

When I moved into my current apartment I nabbed a shaker from my parents' kitchen, filled with six different kinds of salt. My dad got it as a Christmas gift, I think. It sat on their spice shelf unused for a couple of years. When I asked Mom if I could take it, she gave me the nod. (She barely tolerates Dad's foodie acquisitiveness.)

Of course, what did that shaker do but sit unused on MY shelf for nearly a year? Good thinking, Michelle.

This past week I finally decided I needed to use that salt or re-gift it. I mean, I'm a professional organizer, for heaven's sake! What would my clients think?

(Umm... that I'm human?)

Anyhow, I opened up the individual sections and transferred the salts into tiny Mason jars that I will be more likely to use. (I like to sprinkle salt with my hands, not from a shaker.)

As I transferred, I tasted. It was kind of fun. There was some fleur de sel, which I already have, and some coarse grey sea salt. Then there was some fine, free-running Italian sea salt. Those were pretty normal.

The cool salts were crazy colours. One was coarse and red—Hawaiian clay salt. Another was golden. It was smoked. The final one was powdery pink, and the label said it was European black salt. It had a really sulphuric flavour that made me think of eggs...

So I've had some on my hard-boiled eggs the last couple of days. Yum.

Friday, September 14, 2007

choosing a blog template

Creating a blog is really simple, especially when you use a blogging platform like Blogger.com. They have a few basic templates to choose from, and all you have to do is pick one.

Choosing the template for my first blog was easy. I loved one called Minima Black, because the starkness of the black background, simple layout and minimalistic fonts appealed to me.

When I created my second blog I stuck with the same template because I liked it so much. Same with the third. And the fourth. And the fifth. By then I had come to realize how great the colours of my artwork and photographs looked against the black. And I loved how the darkness of the blogs gave the content a kind of cinematic or theatrical feel, sucking the reader into a quiet womb where they became transfixed by the screen in front of them, seduced by my organized, eco-friendly and colourful world. I felt I could create anything—give my reader any experience.

It just so happens that there is another Minima template offered by Blogger. Minima White. You're looking at it. Same layout and fonts as the black version, but this time... well... in white.

I still love the black, but the white seems almost like a breath of fresh air. Like waking up from a dream and joining the conscious world again. A little more boring, a little less atmospheric, but a little more... hmm. Can't find the word...

what I had for breakfast this morning

A modest bowl of curried rice and lentils.

(Okay, and a few other things.)

Five almonds.
Seven celery sticks. (They were leftover from dinner with Tricia last night.)
Seven black olives. (There's nothing special about that number. It's just what I scooped out of the jar.)
A chunk of Brie. (Also from last night's dinner with Tricia.)

I think I may also have had an early-morning snack. Something's tickling my memory.

Oh yeah.

An ice cream cone.

(Yummy new flavour: Fried Ice Cream by Breyers. It's like Mexican fried ice cream, only all mooshed up.)

the car shuffle

I live in Toronto. Toronto is crazy for lack of parking spaces. My apartment building has only a limited number of surface parking spots, and none of them are mine.

You can park on the street overnight in Toronto if you buy an overnight parking pass. You have to go to City Hall to get one, I've been told. And you need all sorts of documentation to prove that you need to park on the street. City Hall can't always guarantee you a permit. It depends on whether or not there's any available space left on your street.

I have a safe place to park overnight. I can't tell you where it is; the official proclamation from City Hall is that there is NO FREE OVERNIGHT STREET PARKING in Toronto. But I do have a safe place to park overnight.

The hassle comes in the morning, when I need to move my car to another spot. Toronto has a really Machiavellian street parking system (in case you hadn't already guessed). On some streets you can park on at certain times; other streets you have to leave clear at certain times.

Every morning before 8:30 a.m., I have to move my car to a street where there are no parking restrictions. I can't park on the street in front of my building between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. (It's a school zone.)

After 10:00 a.m., I can park further down my street—just not in front of my building. I can't stay in those areas after 10:00 p.m. without an overnight parking permit.

So the routine goes something like this:

First thing in the morning I move my car a block away, to a street where there are no overnight parking restrictions.* When I need to use my car later in the day, I have to walk a block to get to it.

When I come back to my apartment before 6:00 p.m., I have to park half a block away from my building. Sometime after 6:00 p.m.—but before 10:00 p.m.—I can move my car back in front of my building.

We won't talk about where I park my car overnight.

The most useful thing about this whole procedure is the hat that I wear on my head first thing in the morning when I go out to move my car. It covers my bed head.

*Why don’t I just park there all the time? That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? The fact is, there’s an uposted law that says you can’t park on any Toronto street between the hours of 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. without an overnight parking permit. So I can't safely park there overnight.

hats

I wouldn't call myself a hat person. I don't acquire hats the way some women acquire shoes or handbags. But I appreciate the value of a good hat.

What's a good hat?

One that covers my bed head.

(Yes, even people with this little hair can get bed head.)

My hats run toward the snug-fitting, alternative-lifestyle variety. Toques, we call them here in Canada. Watch caps. There's a name for them in Australia, but I forget it. (I was told by an Australian guy here in Toronto last winter.)

I make my own hats. Most of them are hand-knit from Icelandic wool. In varying shades of blue. (Or occasionally "natural.") They are itchier than you can imagine. I tolerate it, somehow.

Hats are good. They make me presentable first thing in the morning, when I have to move my car. (That's a whole other post.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

my lap

My body is a child-friendly zone—for children of all species.

I just got back from my daily dog visits, which included a half-hour love-fest with a pug pup named Jack.* Jack is about 13 weeks old, and one of the liveliest creatures I have ever met. He also seems to adore my lap. All I have to do is sit down on the ground near him, and in seconds he is clambering all over me. I apparently make an ideal puppy obstacle course. It's a good thing I dress very casually for the dog visits, because I look like a mess when he's through.

Glancing down at my t-shirt just now, I noticed that I am still covered with short, blond dog hairs. (As well as some blotches that are probably dried pee stains. I take him outside to pee when I first get there, and when I pick him up afterwards to carry him back inside, he uses my t-shirt as a blotter.)

I think I have a very high tolerance young things wiggling all over me. (If a slightly lower tolerance for stains.) I first decided this when my niece and nephew were small. My arms were tailor-made for corralling exuberant gestures, and my lap gives every indication of being the perfect combination of soft and bouncy. With a child (or a puppy) on my lap, I feel at one with the world.

Must be a hormonal thing.

*not his real name