Monthly Archives: November 2014

Convince Me: Fantasy Literature… Also? Banana Breakfast Cookies

If you read a bunch of fantasy literature back-t0-back your mind gets so filled with exotic names and imaginary places that eventually you don’t know where you are or what’s real anymore. That’s good fantasy literature, the kind of fantasy that sucks you into the writer’s world and makes you believe. It’s one thing to make a believable character in fiction, but when you write fantasy you also have to create a convincing setting. So far my bar is set by George R. R. Martin’s  Game of Thrones series. I measure success by how quickly I’m immersed in the world and caring about what happens. In Martin’s books it happens within a few pages. Until I’d read Game of Thrones my fantasy standard was Tolkein, but I absolutely love the real world Martin creates, with its immense cast of characters. It’s so realistic, which is funny when you remember that it’s fantasy and involves magic and dragons and whatnot. But Martin’s books also involve realpolitik, and characters with a myriad of motivations that include religion, money, ego, love, hatred, revenge, family honour, friendship…the list goes on. Not just “I want to make everything shitty and dominate over it” like Voldemort and Sauron. I have already posted about this before, so let’s move on before I start ranting about bad-guy motivation.

I recently picked up The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, and in the spirit of embracing fantasy literature I took it home and read it. Number of pages to total absorption: 3. Nutshell? Heir to the throne has been raised in secrecy, and when she reaches her age of majority she is collected by an armed guard and escorted to her kingdom. Mayhem along the way. Heir arrives at her citadel and immediately starts stirring things up by kiboshing a human lottery tribute to a dominant neighbour nation. Shades of Danaerys! The setting is a post-technological world, so no modern medicine or science, just a bit of magic as per fantasy lit protocol. Johansen has created a wonderful main character, with strengths and foibles like anyone else, but also endowed her with special powers and a strong sense of justice…fun fun fun. The down side is that this looks to be a series and this is the first, just published, which means I’m going to have to wait to see What Happens. That’s annoying, because I love to rip through a long series. I came to Game of Thrones late and it was an endless hot bath of fantasy lit joy for me as I immersed myself in book after book of Martin’s world.

I also picked up Rogues, which is a compilation of short stories edited by – George R. R. Martin! This guy knows his fantasy literature, although why he’s spending time editing these compilations rather than finishing Game of Thrones I don’t know!!! Anyway, I still have to thank Martin because he’s introduced me to some new fantasy writers, with whose worlds I have been bewildering myself lately.

A standout in this regard is Joe Abercrombie, whose book Half a King, although it took a few more pages to grab me than Johansen’s book, is still very absorbing. Again, a flawed hero, heir to the throne, but physically handicapped and with no magical abilities at all. Poor dude, but his story promises to be a real bildungsroman as he goes through much tribulation and gains wisdom, strength, and character along the way. I assume this character growth will continue. Of course, the sequels will not be released until February 2015 and July 2015 so we’ll have to wait to find out. However, Abercrombie has another trilogy out and I’ll bide my time with that. On my list also are Matthew Hughes and Phyllis Eisenstein, whose short stories stood out of the Rogues compilation. Can’t wait!

Wow, you read all the way through that? You get a cookie (recipe):

Banana Breakfast Cookies

Oven: 375F. Cookie sheets lined with Silpats or parchment paper.

Very large bowl, dry ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 c. quick oats
  • 1 c. wheat germ
  • 1 c. wheat bran
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 t. baking soda (sift or at least break up any knobs)
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg

Medium bowl, wet ingredients:

  • 1 very ripe banana, mashed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. white sugar
  • 1/2 c. oil
  • 1/2 c. yogurt or buttermilk
  • 1 t. vanilla

Add wet to dry, mix well. Add:

  • 1 c. chocolate chips
  • 3/4 c. raisins
  • 3/4 c. chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans all good)

Use two tablespoons to shape cookies (on half-sheet pan I fit 12). Bake 10 minutes, swap and turn pans and bake another 10. This timing is for largish cookies of which this recipe makes four dozen. If your oven/pans are smaller you’ll be at this a while. I freeze the majority of these and restock the cookie jar for a week, easy. That is, unless Justin comes home after hockey and scarfs down half a jar while the rest of us are sleeping. (Yeah, bear, I know it was you!)

These are good cookies to grab for a quick breakfast or an after school snack. Energy, fibre, nutrients, chocolate. Done!

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Christmas Gifts for the Lifestyle We Don’t Have

Christmas catalogues have begun to pour through the mail slot. Some are for Chapters/Indigo and similar, and the children seize on these and begin making their lists. Some are from companies like J.Crew and I always have a look at these. Not Victoria’s Secret; their Christmas catalogue is meant for members of Cirque du Soleil or similar, nobody else could wear that stuff with a straight face. But some are so far out that they give amusement, so I’m going to share my favourite (so far, it’s early days yet) here.

Atkinson’s is a high-end gift store in Vancouver; it’s where you go to find something for the hostess who has everything. I actually go here to pick up Lampes Bergères, which are basically room fresheners and they make a good gift. The claim is that they “clean” the air which I doubt but they do an efficient job of removing scent from the atmosphere. Excellent for the day after you’ve made a tasty curry.

Anyway, it looks like they have our lifestyle figured out:

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This is absolutely my husband at the end of the day. Well, a few small differences: Canucks t-shirts and sweatpants instead of the natty shirt/tie/suspenders, beer instead of Scotch in the Waterford glass. If this dude is watching the hockey game, then there you go. (I think his team’s losing though; even my husband doesn’t generally look this cranky.)  I showed Justin this picture and we-like-to-die-laughing.

A typical place setting at our house:

Image 2

Right? I think it’s Versace. Versace plates. If my kids had to set the table with this stuff the complaining would never end. I don’t think that goes in the dishwasher. I’ll not put those on my wish list, even though they would raise the tone a bit, what with me always forgetting to remove my Ebisu beer apron (from doing an izakaya stage in Tokyo) when we have guests over.

My favourite item:

Image 3

It’s a champagne sabre. Don’t use your regular sabre! Even when I lived an expat lifestyle in Malaysia, where some people (not me) practiced a particularly flossy style of entertaining (coffee mornings featuring special steel Alessi cups for the coffee and fancy china for the tea, for example) I never witnessed someone opening champagne with a sword. Cigar humidors, wine fridges, crystal decanters, yes, champagne sabres, no. Where would you put it? In with the kitchen knives? or do you display it somehow? I’ll never know.

This is the kind of thing I sort of love but I don’t know where I’d put it, nor what I’d put into it. Granola bars? I find that when fruit is left out like this it dries up. Bananas?

Image 4

 

This I actually like, and how I got from “this is ridiculous” to “hey I like this” is a process I don’t really understand. But the Atkinson’s people do! I suppose I should be flattered that they sent me their catalogue. They think we live like this! Wow.

Image 1

I really like this one. I hope my husband reads this post!

Christmas is coming, people. Brace yourselves.

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Remembrance Day; a time to think, read and learn

Japanese Canadian War Memorial

Japanese Canadian War Memorial

Yesterday on November 11, my husband took the girls to a Remembrance Day ceremony held at the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park. Justin’s great-grandfather’s name is upon the cenotaph and the ceremony they attend commemorates the sacrifices Japanese-Canadians made for their country. I always find this interesting in light of the fact that these men and their descendants were treated as foreigners and enemies in the next war and interned in prison camps. But that’s another post. It’s interesting to note, however, that in 1916 volunteers were not accepted in British Columbia, so they travelled to Alberta in order to enlist.

 

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Justin’s great grandfather Masahiro Shishido. I was describing the Kaiser’s mustache to the girls and here Grandpa shows us how it’s done.

When I ask the girls what Remembrance Day is all about, they parrot, “To remember the soldiers who served their country in war,” which is what they’re told at school. When I ask, For which war was Remembrance Day created in 1931? they’re not sure. They’ve heard of Hitler but that’s about it. They know I like history so they begin asking for a complete rundown of World War I and World War II – over breakfast. I’m not equipped to deliver a history lecture but I did my best with the little I know. I am in the process of learning about World War I, which is further back in history and therefore harder to grasp and understand. I have a whole list of books I’m working on, although the best starting place has been Ken Follett’s recent history trilogy that begins with Fall of Giants and World War I. Winter of the World deals with World War II and the third one, Edge of Eternity, is about the 1960s and the changes of that era. Ken Follett has a great way of giving immediacy to history and is one of the best authors for providing a coherent framework on which to hang further research.

My plan is to try to teach the girls a bit of history at a time and to try to bring that sense of immediacy to them. I think it’s important that World War I was the first mechanized war. Men from farms and villages who had never seen machinery were now overwhelmed with technology. People who had never heard so much as a firecracker were stunned by colossal explosions. Horses were used in the war, which seems incredible now.  Shell-shock was the old term for PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, only of course in the 1910s people didn’t understand what the soldiers had truly endured, unless they’d been there themselves. There are so many things to learn about this war and it spread out in all directions. I’m actually feeling that I should learn more about the Crimean War to get more background on World War I! It never ends, does it?

I think that books and movies are the places to start. Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is good, as is Passchaendale. Legends of the Fall is on my list and also possibly Gallipolli, although World War I in the Middle East is an entire category on its own.

For books, Charles Todd’s series about a Scotland Yard detective who is a veteran of World War I is well done, as is Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. I remember reading All Quiet on the Western Front in high school and not understanding a bit of it because there was no context. None of us had any clue about the history of the novel. I should reread that.

For nonfiction, on my list I have Margaret MacMillan’s The War that Ended Peace, Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, A World Undone by G.J. Meyer (I love this author), and Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson. But there is a whole slew of nonfiction books on the subject so – lots of reading to do.

I think for the kids, perhaps the best introduction might be Rilla of Ingleside, one of the last books in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. They absolutely loved Anne of Green Gables and we will continue the series although I’m waiting for them to get a bit older. In Rilla, war touches Anne’s family with tragedy. It’s the saddest Anne book and L.M. Montgomery’s books are full of tragedy so that’s saying something.

I’m also considering an introduction to World War I poets. Every single school Remembrance Day ceremony features John McCrae’s In Flanders Field, which is beautiful, but I take mild exception to the third verse which exhorts the living to continue the war, to “take up our quarrel with the foe.” The poem was so popular it was used as war propaganda to whip up support. I prefer Siegfried Sassoon, who used poetry to express his disillusionment with those who perpetuated a jingoistic and useless war. His poems powerfully convey an enormous grief and bitterness. No pro-war propaganda here; Sassoon was seriously angry and you get a very sharp sense of that in his poetry.

I am aware that Remembrance Day is a day we keep aside to honour those who felt it was their duty to try to protect other people, regardless of which specific war they served in. I also feel that it our responsibility to take the time to consider those who volunteer to be prepared to protect us and our system of belief. And of course we think about the lives of those who sacrificed themselves in the service of their country.  But I tend to think most about the First World War, the war that shocked the world and changed us forever.

 

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It’s been a freaky couple of weeks here in Canada; and Curried Vegetable Bisque

I haven’t been posting lately because I’ve been too busy reading everyone else’s posts and trying to make up my mind about the dizzying amount of news that’s being generated around here.

First, a lunatic stormed the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, killing one soldier and terrifying everyone. It was no 9/11, let’s have perspective, but it did scare the bejesus out of us anyway. We all mourn Nathan Cirillo, our fallen sentry. It turns out the loony was a drug addict and a Muslim of the unbending type and he’d held up a McDonald’s here in Vancouver because he wanted to go to jail so that he could go into rehab. Sad. There’s been some debate about whether he attacked Parliament Hill because he’s a loony or because he’s a radical Muslim heeding the call of ISIL to attack unbelievers wherever ye may find them. He was shot on the scene so we’ll never really know.

Then last Sunday Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC’s show Q, swept all this away with a Facebook post that gave the excuse to the Toronto Star’s publishing a piece about his alleged attacks on women whom he’s dated or worked with. Social media went completely apeshit. There has been a bewildering number of points of view and it’s really hard to keep up. I don’t even engage in Twitter so this is just me reeling from all the Facebook posts. Generally I don’t approve of people being accused, tried and convicted by anonymous accusers and an Internet mob; however, it’s looking more and more as though Ghomeshi may have done these dreadful deeds. More people are speaking out and attaching their names to their accusations which of course gives credibility to their statements. It just seems to me that we have a responsibility to make a police report when we experience assault; it’s important to protect yourself, and it’s also important to protect the next woman. A lot of sexual offenders escalate their attacks, and hey, he could have killed someone! Filing a police report does not mean that you have to also press charges and wind up in court. Also, you can request a publication ban on your name so that you don’t get pilloried by Internet trolls. So one thing that has become clear is that people don’t really realize the ins and outs of making a police report and what it entails and doesn’t entail, so we need some public education going on out there. These accusations would carry much more weight if there were a corresponding string of police or medical reports. If he did these things then it sounds like he should be in jail; but if he didn’t (I’m not saying anything) then his life has been needlessly ruined, and it was just that easy. I’m no fan of Jian Ghomeshi necessarily (I’ve only seen his interview with Billy Bob Thornton which is worth watching) and I’m certainly no apologist for sexual predators, but I think we’ve seen a really ugly side of social media here. Hopefully the police will be able to find grounds for arrest although good luck to them, he’s hiding out in Los Angeles apparently.

However, this incident has opened several lines of thought, one of which is workplace safety and sexual harassment in general, which is clearly necessary, as it is looking as though the CBC knew what Ghomeshi was up to and shielded him until it was no longer possible, upon which they quickly canned him; and the other is victims of rape and sexual assault feeling emboldened to come forward with their stories. I’m kind of surprised that it is still so difficult to expose a rapist. John Irving once described rape as the most violence a human being could suffer and yet survive (The Hotel New Hampshire). And we make it harder for victims to find justice? That makes me mad and sad and frankly, frightened for my daughters and their friends.

And then it was Halloween, which my kids have been talking about since last spring. I’m so glad to have that over with. Costumes, candy, teenagers showing up in ski suits as though they’re real costumes…. Then, at 11:30pm Halloween night, a child who I thought was asleep murmured, “Can I send you my Christmas list?”

So, all that has been occupying my mind and also I haven’t read anything particularly compelling lately. I did, however, create (quite by mistake) a lovely curried vegetable bisque which I will share here:

Curried Vegetable Bisque

The quickest soup for the coldest day. Smooth, creamy, warming, with a bit of heat. You can cut the vegetables any way you like (slice instead of chop or dice) as it’s going to be puréed anyway. The smaller you cut the vegetables the quicker it will cook.

1 T. olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
about 1 t. grated ginger
2 t. garam masala
2 t. curry powder
1/4 t. red pepper flakes (up to you)
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
4 c. water
2 chicken cubes (or chicken or vegetable stock)

Sauté onions, garlic and ginger in olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat until softened and translucent. Add spices and sauté until fragrant.

Add rest of ingredients, bring to a boil, stir, then lower heat and simmer until vegetables are tender.

Purée well in blender. Add 1-2 cups of milk (your choice; you can use 1/2 c. of cream if you prefer for a richer soup) and continue to blend. Pour into bowls.

You can dress it up with some chopped cilantro, a dash of plain whipped yogurt, and homemade croutons. Papadoms would be good!

If you choose to omit the red pepper flakes, those who desire heat can always add it with a dash of Sriracha, or hot sauce of choice.

You can also make this vegan by using vegetable stock instead of chicken and coconut milk instead of milk.

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