Old friends

A major complaint about Facebook is that you're often contacted by old friends/once enemies/exes and other creatures you could quite happily live without.

"We never spoke in high school and she once started a rumor about me having herpes - why is she sending me a friend request?"

And then the Facebook netiquette angst hits. Should you accept just to be polite? If you ignore the request, will she then slag you to other FB friends? Blurgh!

In spring 2008, I received a request from a friend I've known since elementary school. I accepted. She then managed to track down a few other names from St. Ignatius, and we quickly established a small circle of friends.

"So...uh, what have you been doing for the last 24 years?"

This small circle of friends has given me a great amount of pleasure over the last year. We've had some great weekend trips, helped each other through tough times, and shared many a beautiful meal together.

I never would have imagined that one day I would find these friends again. That we would have common interests and experiences, common musical tastes and a common sense of humour.

Recently, we had dinner at the house of M., who still lives around the corner from our old school. After dinner, we strolled over to see how it had changed since it was converted to an adult education centre.

The trees had grown much taller. The concrete was more cracked. The windows were no longer filled with cut-out butterflies and leaves. But the one impression that touched us the most was how small the schoolyard now seemed.

It seemed vast and endless as a child. White lines delineating the territory according to grade. The seemingly long distance to cover while playing British Bulldog. It used to be this huge universe that scared us and thrilled us, and now it could be crossed with just a few long strides.

Past and present compressed in one moment. We pulled our sweaters closed as an icy breeze lifted from the soccer field. Memories of childhood flooded in and quite suddenly, I wished I had a taut red dodgeball.


Horseback riding and birch trees

I went horseback riding today for the first time. My teeth were clenching for days just thinking about it, but once I got on the horse, I relaxed into the moment and gave myself over to the experience.

It was easy to do because Pearl, my horse, was the sweetest, most docile creature ever born.

Seconds after being lifted into the saddle, I found myself being transported quickly to a pile of hay. Pearl ate voraciously while the other horses were being saddled, even using her hind quarters to block any other horses that wanted to share in the yum. Once on the trail, the cream-coloured dame stopped whenever the other horses stopped, picked up the pace when the other horses did, and only strayed off the trail if it was too wet and puddly for her taste.

The only time she went (mildly) rogue is when we stopped in a field of clover and she made a beeline for her favourite sweet patch.

Not that the horse's behaviour in any way reflects the character of her (oft hungry) rider. Ahem.

As we ambled along, I noticed that fallen birch trees were strewn all over the forest floor. As I soon discovered - thanks to my brother's girlfriend - birch trees have a limited growth and life span. Once they've attained the end of their natural life cycle, they simply snap and fall, letting their bark sink back into the ground.

It got me thinking about my slowly clearing waters again.

Not only do we humans have trouble identifying the natural end of a job or a relationship, we have even greater issues with letting go. Fear of the unknown vs. the comfort of routine. But what is there to lose, really? Whatever you shed ultimately feeds new life. Even if you have to face failure, all that effort, all those feelings, go on to fuel something new.

Is there anything in your life right now that you should let go of?


Cherry tomatoes

It has been a rotten day. Mostly.

I add the "mostly" because blanket statements are inaccurate - and ultimately harmful. Even on the worst of days, if you are open to looking, you'll find moments of lightness.

As I drove to NDG tonight, muttering angrily to myself, I resolved to find something about this day that I could love. At first I tried to think of something that might cheer me up, but after a few minutes, I decided to just let the happy find me.

And it did, in my mother's garden, when I spotted these cherry tomatoes strung along the vine like lanterns. I also saw some baby eggplants further back that looked pretty happy - but I was deterred by a mammoth spider web.

I can't wait til the cherry tomatoes have ripened. Bet they're going to taste like happy too.


On becoming a better cook

People assume that because I am Italian, I must be a great cook.

Although this has not always been the case, my skills in the kitchen had improved considerably in the last few years thanks to (a) becoming vegetarian, (b) buying my own home, and (c) tips from Jamie Oliver.

Before moving to the Plateau, I lived in an apartment located in a quaint (but remote) residential area wedged between NDG and Lachine. This alone gave me every reason in the world not to cook.

1) Recipes are generally dosed out for four portions. As any person who lives alone can tell you, making a standard recipe is condemning yourself to a week of the same dish. At least if I had friends to share the food with, I might have been more enthusiastic, but...

2) Since none of my friends lived in the neighbourhood and found travelling there a great inconvenience, I rarely had visitors. It was far easier - and more pleasant - to drive out and meet them in a restaurant.

So then I moved. And become a vegetarian.

Now that I had a fabulous new home, in close range to many friends, I want to lure them to my home with promises of homemade pizza dough or asparagus lemon mint risotto, so a 4-portion recipe no longer seems daunting. If you cook it, they will come.

Even though I was initially worried that becoming a vegetarian would limit my range, it forced me to become more creative. In fact, it made me a more mindful cook. Instead of grilling a slab of chicken and covering it with a layer of salt, I now had to find new ways to make broccoli tasty. Even tofu (it turns out) is quite tasty if you know how to season it right.

So I've been experimenting and researching, and learning how to improvise, and the results are increasingly exciting. I am more attentive to the food I eat, my mind remembering which flavours blend well together and my tastebuds recording reactions for later reference.

The following list contains the discoveries that have helped me most in my journey to being a better cook. Perhaps readers might be so kind as to add some discoveries of their own.
  • Fresh coriander. Adds a fresh flavour to food that it's blander cousin parsley cannot provide.
  • Use red, orange or yellow pepper instead of green. The price per pound is fairly inexpensive if you shop in fruiteries and you don't need to use a lot to add some serious flavour to your food.
  • Lemons and limes. A squish of lemon or lime juice - even the zest - adds a freshness to salads, marinades and sauces that lifts the flavour instantly.
  • Marinades. Stop rolling your eyes - marinades are not hard to make. If you can make a simple salad dressing, then you can make a marinade for vegetables, tofu or meat. I quickly got tired of eating steamed vegetables with salt, so I started playing around with marinades. I make a simple marinade for veggies (before tossing them on the BBQ) which consists of garlic, coriander, fresh ginger, sesame oil, lime juice, and salt. Squisito!
Now, of course, I'm hungry.


Women detector

Remember that men detector cartoon I shared with you in July?

I found the source - AND - there's a female version :)

See both cartoons in full size here.


Beautiful, Part II

The parents called from Italy this morning.

My mother still thinks that long distance technology is stuck in the 1960s, so after a few minutes of listening to her yell through the receiver, I was duly passed to my more-reasonably-toned father.

"Brutta!" he bellowed down the line.

I giggled and answered, "Hi, pappino!"

Brutta, as you may or may not know, is the Italian word for "ugly".

My father and I have had the same schtick for years. When I was little, he would come into the house and call out, "Brutta!" I would pretend to be all upset and then (if he wasn't too dusty), I'd give him a hug and a kiss.

My mother might sometimes interject with a "You know he doesn't mean that, right?"

I'd usually give her the big eyeroll before adding, "Of course he doesn't!"

Interestingly, I never once doubted that my father thought I was the most beautiful girl in the world, but until a few years ago, I truly believed that if she could, my mother would change what I look like and who I am.

It took a very long time for me to understand how my mother truly feels about me - and I'm glad to have made it here.

But how did it happen that I only questioned my mother and never my father? Can it be chalked up to the always difficult mother-daughter relationship? Or is it more to do with the father-daughter relationship?



Why we love Jamie Oliver

I was looking through my cookbooks for a good risotto recipe, and I found a great one in Cook with Jamie.

I'm a big fan of JO. And not just because of his Bottoms Up Mugs.

So what's the big deal with Jamie Oliver, you ask? Why do all the ladies get a little giggly at the mere mention of his name?

It's not because he's famous.
It's not because he's cute.
It's not because of the adorable lisp.

It's because he really loves what he does and he gets crazy excited about it. He really believes in what he's doing and isn't afraid to take risks now and again.

That, is hot.


Rethinking your life

There seems to be a lot of this going around lately.

La remise en question, as they so aptly term it in French.

Some have attributed it to the economic crisis, with lay-offs and bankruptcies forcing previously complacent professionals to find new work, get retrained, or rethink their career paths entirely.

Highly-paid consultants are becoming massage therapists, marketing professionals are turning to real estate, and artistic directors are transforming into entrepreneurs.

There is a massive shift going on and chances are, if you aren't already questioning your future, you know plenty of people who are.

In a recent discussion, one friend was obviously frustrated with not already having the answer in sight. I can totally understand her impatience, but I can't take the same approach.

The right answers often take some time to materialize, and must be fed by weeks - maybe months - of reading, contemplation, discussion and quiet reflection. Your old friend Lao-Tzu once wrote:

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action rises by itself?

I'm waiting for the water to clear, are you? What are you doing to help yourself in the meantime?


Four things to know about Adriana

Have you ever sat down and made a list of your particular quirks? I have - and thought I might share it with you all in the interest of improving our friendship. That is, if you know the following stuff about me, you're less likely to get all flustered with me.
  • Walking time. If you ask me how long it will take to walk somewhere, automatically add 5-10 minutes to whatever time I tell you. This inability to correctly estimate travel time is due to two factors: (1) I have a naturally fast walk, and (2) I'm terrible with estimating time (which may also impact point three on this list).
  • Toilet paper. So you're using my facilities and there doesn't seem to be any toilet paper left. Before you start hollering, check the top of the tank, the top of the radiator and the edge of the tub first. I am notoriously bad at replacing the toilet paper roll, but there's always a roll closeby.
  • Making rice. I can never remember how to make rice. On the heat, off the heat, stir, don't stir...ack! Please don't be shy - help me make rice whether we're at my house or yours. I will really appreciate the help.
  • Walking straight. If we're walking down the sidewalk together and it feels like I'm slowly pushing you into the street, don't worry! I'm not trying to kill you - I just walk crooked. Simply let me know or gently guide me back to the straight path.
I'm sure there's more. Stay tuned.