Everything new is old

When I began this post, I was sitting in my bed, eating leftover birthday cake in a glass that used to hold Bonne Maman jam or marmalade in it and I am reminiscing about the first heritage building that I remember experiencing. My day-to-day work revolves around the historical relevance of places, people, and events, so it makes sense that I would reflect on my personal experience in this, but it only came about because two fellows whom I follow on Twitter commented on the building next door to this one, which I spend more time in today than the other building.

1458470_430393567086946_1517877451_nFor about five years, I took weekly theatre classes and summer theatre programs at a place called The Theatre School in downtown London Ontario. The place that has substantially more meaning and is extent today is City Lights book store, whose aisles I wander frequently in my returns to London for historical and antiquarian books, and for excellent copies of Chatelaine from the second-wave feminist era. (I’ll ignore the presence of one creepy CBC talent on the bookstore’s homepage.)

The Theatre School, however, was on the top floors of the Imperial Bank of Canada building at Richmond and King, on what I think is the southeast corner (London doesn’t have a natural inclination to landmark by water the way that Toronto and Ottawa do).

The building was constructed in the Italianate style circa 1880. (City Lights down the street is also a heritage building and was constructed three years later.) I remember the floors creaking under our feet as we rehearsed and the small, narrow corridors where we waited between scenes. I remember thinking that it was an old, noisy building, and wouldn’t it be nice if we had a better performance space so that we weren’t all crammed in the waiting area like sardines, despite being mostly petite girls of ages 7 to 14.

Now, I can’t imagine a more interesting space to perform in. I relish the chance to go and visit new old buildings and explore them and hear the stories of those who lived, worked, or play there. Now, I think: A hundred years ago, did Sir Adam Beck do his banking beneath where my feet landed twenty years ago? Maybe. That’s something.

It’s a really good thing that your tastes change as you get older. If not with food, then at least with buildings.

Everything old is new

It’s been almost a year. I’ve sought my reprieve, and then slowly, sneakily, I got back into blogging through another channel, another title. Oh, and I was still writing historiographical and public history blog posts for Active History. And then, today, I went over to the other channel to blog and realized that I wanted to talk about food, but also about other things, and isn’t that what the channel over here was for?

So, I am back. I don’t promise to blog with any frequency or to post photographs that are pin-worthy. I don’t even promise that this post will make it out of the drafts folder. I have too many demands and distractions in my life to do something like make an empty internet promise.

(Insert distractions at length, which include – but are not limited to – reading Historicist, updating my LinkedIn profile, reading a lovely blog post about Molly Wizenberg’s new book, getting changed into running clothes, going running, making and eating dinner)

[The next day…]

It struck me to be particularly meritous to return to this here blog when I was reading Andrea’s piece on 15 years of blogging, which WOW and CONGRATULATIONS, and I realized that there is something useful about having a place where one can come and distil their thoughts and photographs and engage with people – or not – as they choose. So I am back, with a new design, having deleted some pages, and with only the promise that I will revisit this when I am able and that I will transform it as needed.

And as a gift, this cake with that frosting. Neither are particularly difficult and together they are four layers of exceptional.

Books, read

Books read, fiction:

An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Books read, non-fiction:

Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto by Shawn Micallef.
Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon
Boosypants by Tina Fey
Last Call by Daniel Okrent
Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s
Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

What I’ve learned from the kitchen.

Recently, as I made a second batch of triple coconut muffins, I gave grave consideration to all the things that the kitchen has taught me over the last decade. I remember in grade 10, taking a home economics course on food that required meal planning, grocery lists, and as a final project making dinner for my small family of three. How much has changed.

The kitchen has taught me to be patient. To measure. To follow instructions. To ignore instructions. To have a plan.

The kitchen has taught me when to cut corners, when to abandon all hope, and when to roll up your sleeves and make more of a good thing. The kitchen has taught me to be creative, to be playful, to be more considerate of others. The kitchen has taught me to share. The kitchen has taught me to not be selfish. The kitchen has taught me that everything will be alright, eventually. The kitchen has taught me that it is a constant.

I met up with Laura of Zahlicious yesterday afternoon for drinks. She asked whether I was still blogging. I answered no. Like me, Laura moved to Toronto from Ottawa, but unlike me, she has found a way to keep writing about food. Meanwhile, I’m finding trouble cooking every night of the week or baking on weekends. But when I do, I go all out, I make more of a good thing, and I am reminded that the kitchen is a constant in my life.

Cookie Jam, Toronto?

Remember this? CupcakeCamp in Ottawa, two years ago, was phenomenally successful and raised boatloads of money for charities. Since then, one of the winners – Karen Foster – has planned a similar concept with equal success. Cookie Jam in Dartmouth is happening on April 20.

This is a placeholder post, because I miss baking, I miss community organizing, and gosh-darn-it… I want to plan something like this in Toronto. So, who’s with me?

The Black Screen of Death

Trinity Bellwoods

When I was growing up, everyone knew about the “Blue Screen of Death”. The form that it took progressed over time, as the computer’s capacity of graphics grew. The shade of blue changed over time, as did the words that were used to tell you that you were about to lose everything that you had worked on since you last saved. (And of course, this began in a time before auto-save). Those of us with MacBooks have never experienced the blue screen of death. I’ve owned three MacBooks, while my husband has owned one, and we’ve never had to concern ourselves with the system crashing, with us receiving errors that obliterate our work. When I wrote my Master’s, I never once quivered in fear at the prospect of losing my work because of the blue screen of death. My first two MacBooks died from overuse and abuse, both at a young age. I upgraded before I started my Masters to a MacBook Pro, with its titanium shell and higher-speed processor. It was an absolute beauty. Little did I know that it was also a ticking time bomb.

Apparently, the generation of MacBook Pro that I own was installed with a faulty graphics card, which-beginning in 2011- would give users what became known as “the Black Screen of Death“. Essentially, the graphics card stops working, rendering a total absence of video output. Apple issued a notice saying that they would provide users a fix, if they experienced this in the first four years after the original purchase. Naturally, four years and three months after I bought my computer, I started to notice this problem (which at the time, I didn’t actually realize was a systemic issue). It was usually solvable by putting the computer to sleep by closing its lid and then opening it. Today, it was not. I tried resetting everything that I know how to reset on my computer, then Googling the things that I didn’t know how to reset, then Googling “Black Screen of Death” half-jokingly, only to realize that this was not a joke.

With luck, I will be able to use a FireWire cable to extract all the data that I’ve built up over the years on that machine (and, actually, on past machines). There are Honours Research Papers, a Masters Thesis, photos from weddings and vacations, resumes and cover letters. I live in a digital age, and therefore have carry a very digital past. Luckily, the nature of digital footprints is that you can duplicate, or in some cases triplicate, them. The important photos live on Flickr, on CDs, and in emails. My thesis sits on a shelf. There is a recent copy of my resume on my computer at work. But, the medium through which I created those things is gone, and that’s something worth mourning. When I told Andrew, he rightly pointed out that I could probably survive with my iPad, if I were to install a Word Processor and he’s probably right. It is, though, the end of an era for me. To say that I was privileged with access to technology is an understatement. I’ve had my own computer since I was seven and my own laptop since I was 18. There’s no logical reason, though, for me to own my own laptop (unless I were go back to school), so this is the stage that I begin to learn how to share technology. I’m sorry if this sounds self-involved–it probably is–but, because technology and the internet are such a huge part of our everyday life, having to share that medium (when you’ve never had to before) seems really, really strange.


Unrelatedly, I strongly recommend that you make these badass cinnamon buns. The black screen of death was far less worth after a second third one of these.

Spicy Carrot Salad

Do you remember how I swooned over this recipe? How I swore up and down, side to side, and round and round that I would never get tired of it? That’ll learn me. It took me a week of eating it for lunches, plus two days as a soup (with veggie stock and coconut milk added in) for my body to shout “ENOUGH!” Unfortunately, that point came last night, in a fit of exhaustion, while I was beginning to pack my lunch. Doubly unfortunate was the fact that I only bought for this week the groceries that we needed for meals. I had everything I needed in the house to make smoothies for breakfast, and breakfast for dinner, and nothing to make lunch. Go figure.

So, I grabbed a couple (4) carrots and sliced them into chunks. I grabbed an apple (Pink Lady, if you must know) that would have otherwise found its way into my lunch whole, and sliced it. I tossed both generously with cardamom, salt and black pepper and dobbed them with leftover bacon fat (the merit of a huge brunch is leftover bacon fat to cook vegetables in) and roasted them at 450F for 25 minutes. It’s all the energy that I had in me.

This morning, I topped them with leftover sunflower seeds (which aren’t that good in smoothies anyhow), dried cranberries from my baking stash, and an ounce of leftover goat cheese that a lovely friend brought for brunch to have with bagels.

I really don’t understand why my husband suggests that I take a peanut butter sandwich for lunch.


Doughnuts. They're what's for brunch

When we lived in Ottawa, in Lowertown, Andrew would visit Rideau Bakery regularly for their apple fritter doughnuts. Doughnuts became the hot new thing after cupcakes, or at least tried to. I can think of a half dozen spots in Ottawa (more in Toronto) that have doughnuts on their menu, and all of them have one thing in common: They’re best when fresh.

In Montreal, there’s a delightful Greek bakery on St Laurent, north of Schwartz’s. I won’t lie to you: Our gluttonous selves often visited Schwartz’s for smoked meat sandwiches, pickles, and cherry soda before heading north for a fresh, creme filled dessert.

As good as any of these is Joanne Chang’s recipe: The dough can be done up the night before or first thing in the morning and left to set until a few hours before rolling, cutting and leaving to rise. Then, they have quick dip in a bath of hot oil and are tossed with sugar. You can fill them or not, as you please. You could also slice them in half and fill to make giant cream puffs. Brunch demands so many other things, so here we simply left them as they were, sinful enough to be sure.

1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast, or 2/3 ounce fresh cake yeast
2/3 cup milk, room temperature
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for baking sheet
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 large eggs
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
Canola oil, for frying

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, stir together yeast and milk; let stand until yeast is dissolved, about 1 minute. Add flour, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, and eggs; mix on low speed until dough comes together, about 1 minute. Continue mixing on low 2 to 3 minutes more. Add butter, a few pieces at a time, mixing after each addition and until butter is fully incorporated and dough is soft, 5 to 6 minutes.

Remove dough from bowl and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 15 hours.

Lightly flour a baking sheet; set aside. On a well-floured work surface, roll out dough into 12-inch square about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2-to-4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out 9 doughnuts. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap; let stand in a warm spot until they’ve doubled in height and feel poufy and pillowy, 2 to 3 hours.

Fill a large heavy-bottomed saucepan with oil to a depth of 3 inches; heat over medium-high heat until it reaches 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Working in batches, place doughnuts in the hot oil, taking care not to crowd them. Fry until golden brown on one side, 2 to 3 minutes; turn and continue frying on remaining side until golden, 2 to 3 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to a paper towel-lined baking sheet until cool enough to handle.

Place remaining cup of sugar in a small bowl. Toss doughnuts in sugar, one at a time, to evenly coat. Serve immediately, or allow to cool for 30 minutes before filling each with about 1/3 cup filling.

A New Year’s State of Mind.

Springbank Park, Christmas.

The second of January. In which I prepare a whole lot of food, most healthy; go running; and consider and reconsider and reconsider (again) all the things that I want to do. Always. Talk to me in March, when I’ve forgotten most of the things that I want to do this year and am struggling with the other half.

Twenty-seven things seems like a good number, if ambitious. It’s a start.