Category Archives: Food

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!


Filed under Books, Food

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.


Filed under current events ranting, Food

New York State of Blog

(This post is dedicated to my husband, who has been patiently and uncomplainingly waiting while I shopped and carrying my bags for the last ten years.)

I’m not so organized that I had blog posts ready to go while I was away, but I did know not to post from New York, thanks to Todd Pack (who writes one of my favourite blogs) who pointed out that there’s no reason to let people know you’re not at home.

(It’s taken me ages (work, domestic chaos) to get round to posting this; and now I’m anxiously watching the news as Hurricane Sandy floods lower Manhattan. My sister and her husband have fled to friends uptown, thank goodness.  They let me know that they have beer and wine, so they’re covered in case the worst happens. I can rest easy.)

So, before the New York/New Jersey area was lashed by gale-force winds and rain:

This fall was our tenth anniversary; we decided to visit New York, without the kids. Romantic! Except that we elected to stay with my sister and her husband, sleeping on an air mattress in their living room. Their bedroom was right above us in a loft that is accessed by a construct that is more ladder than stairs. It was just like being in bunk beds!

My sister and her husband live in New York’s Financial District, less than half a block from Ground Zero.  We figure it must be one of the safest places in New York, as it is absolutely crawling with police. From this area, the southernmost tip of Manhattan Island, you can easily access about 3 subway lines that radiate up the island; most convenient. We took the one that went up the eastern side, essentially underneath Broadway, to go to Soho. Shopping, food, etc.  I do like the southern end of Manhattan; Soho, the West Village, Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District are all fun areas to walk around in.

Cool building in the Meatpacking District

We surrendered to the fact that we were tourists and bought tickets to go up the Empire State Building. If you’ve ever seen Sleepless in Seattle and watched Meg Ryan run in off Fifth Avenue, straight into the building, into an elevator and directly up to the 86th floor, then you might imagine it’s actually like that. Don’t you believe it. Buy the express tickets. These enable you, once you’ve entered the building and gone up the escalators to the second floor, to bypass the long back-and-forth line to take an elevator to the 80th floor. Once on the 80th floor, you line up again for another elevator to the 86th floor. Express tickets holders are exempt from this line too, as are tourists from countries where lining up is not a valued cultural habit and if you snooze, you lose. On the 86th floor, if you bought tickets to the 102nd floor observatory you can line up again and this time the express tickets don’t help you at all.

If you poke your camera lens through the railings on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building you can sort of get a picture of Central Park.

After all the fun identifying landmarks and taking pictures through other people’s armpits, we walked up Fifth Avenue to see a few more sights. The New York Public Library was a happy one to a book lover even though we didn’t go in due to time constraints. I was just glad to be there.

One lion, one Canadian book lover

I took Justin to Rockefeller Centre next, to see all the other tourists. And also the ice rink and NBC building, etc. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was next.

He’s actually thrilled to be at this historic and cultural landmark. But he’s been carrying around my camera bag and all my shopping for a while at this point.

I love cathedrals! And St. Patrick’s is lovely. Bonus: there was a Mexican wedding going on, with groom dressed in formal black and silver thread and bride in much fluffy white organza. Wonderful. Many pictures taken here, while Justin sat in a pew, surrounded by shopping bags.

If you are lucky enough to live in a city old enough to have such wonders I suppose you grow accustomed to them. I’m not so lucky and I don’t think I ever will get over the awe I feel in these amazing buildings.

It’s nice to see the cathedral serving its original purpose, even when the transepts and aisles are jumping with tourists.

Of course we ate; fabulous ramen at Ippudo which was probably my favourite meal in New York. We had a cucumber appetizer, crispy chunks of small Japanese cucumber with a sort of tasty oil dressing which I had trouble identifying but which I think was sesame oil. Not the dark roasted sesame oil but the light kind. Plus salt, I think, but I’m not sure, and shichimi (Japanese multi-spice powder). It was loaded with umami and incredibly more-ish, with a slick mouth feel, so addictive. Crunchy, fresh, salty, juicy, spicy! It gives me a shiver just to remember it. We also had some pork belly tucked into steamed buns, and fried Japanese chillies with yuzu salt for dipping. And then big bowls of handmade noodles with rich broth, barbecued pork, eggs, and I don’t even know what else except that it was tasty, multi-textured, hot, and completely satisfying.

Deep-fried Japanese chilies; they are the prettiest bright green.

Ramen isn’t so pretty; but it’s sooooo good. No, I don’t know what the black stuff is. Some kind of fungus or seaweed or similar. It tasted good.

In the West Village we visited Móle, a fantastic Mexican restaurant in the West Village. I didn’t bring my camera to this dinner and it’s a good thing too because there was really no room for anything extraneous. We were wedged in so close to each other and to other people that I had to keep my handbag on my lap and breathe shallowly. So, let’s say the ambience was intimate. Also loud. We shouted at each other over the menus and then over our appetizers (guacamole, tamales, and and meals. One star dish was tacos chuletas, which has pork loin and bacon and cheese and is so good your eyes roll up into your head when you eat it. I also, unfortunately, had a cucumber margarita which had enough tequila in it to make me quite sleepy and foolish by the end of the meal, my tolerance to alcohol being roughly equivalent to a canary’s. I can’t in fairness comment on the service as it was a busy night and we only went the once. It was difficult to get a server, let’s just leave it at that. But we managed to get everything we needed and pay at the end and that’s the main thing.

We also enjoyed a meal at Traif, a hip place in Williamsburg, in itself the newest hipster locale in New York. I suppose all the young hip people are priced out of Manhattan and are creating hipness in Brooklyn, which paradoxically draws people out of Manhattan. Traif serves tapas-style dishes, of which we are very fond. I would provide pictures except that Williamsburg was too hip for me to bring my camera bag. Justin refused to carry it, anyway. Strawberry-cinnamon baby back pork ribs were sticky deliciousness, sautéed broccoli rabe came with a savoury truffly toast thingy and a fried egg. I always order anything that comes with an egg so that was a no-brainer. I can’t remember what else we had but it was all very tasty. Service was very good. We found a bit of plastic in one of the dishes and mentioned it to the server just to let them know, but it made them quite anxious. Then we had to reassure them that we just didn’t want it to happen again, we weren’t interested in suing anybody or being unpleasant. I mean, we’re in the business, we get it. Stuff happens and frankly, it’s a good thing if, in a good establishment, it happens to me and not to someone else, who might be unpleasant and litigious and consider an accident an opportunity.

Another nice Brooklyn restaurant was Vinegar Hill House in DUMBO, an acronym which stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass and means Brooklyn. We took the ferry across which only took a minute, and then visited friends and their gorgeous twin babies and giant Great Dane:

Baxter, the most dignified of dogs, is also the only dog who has seen the top of my head. He came to say Hello when I was sitting on the couch and I was forced to look up at him.

Right, Vinegar Hill House: lots of pleasant food here too, the standout appetizer being the Chicken Liver Mousse, smooth, creamy, flavourful and served with toasted bread, mmmm. A most delicious pappardelle with a lamb ragu was also worth a mention. For our mains we had various proteins which were consistently underdone; I can’t say I’m in love with this trend. My pork was, well, quite pink. Tasty, and I didn’t get sick afterwards, so that’s good, but I was nervous the whole time I was eating it. The other three diners shared a large rib eye for two which was undercooked again – rib eye should be more medium as the connective tissue doesn’t get broken down enough if it’s rare and the result is a tough chew. We had the rib eye cooked a bit more and it was better if still quite rare. Rarer is not always better, that’s the lesson.

New York has some amazing ethnic food; I love Italian food and vastly enjoyed a meal at Bocca, an Italian restaurant a few blocks north of Union Square. We had light salads then pasta. A simple pasta of homemade square spaghetti (tonnarelli cacio e pepi) had a spectacular presentation: the server brought it up on a huge wheel of Parmesan – the pasta was swirled around in a depression formed in the top of the cheese, lavishly peppered and served with a smug twirl and flourish. And rightly too, as it was insanely delicious. I love simple pastas and this one was simple yet amazingly luxurious. Gnocchi al “telefono” – gnocchi with tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella, was also excellent. I had a cocktail before the meal and in the resulting befuddled state  forgot to take pictures, however. Yes, I know, one drink and my memory goes. We had another amazing meal at Max’s in Little Italy. Burrata cheese caprese salad, porcini ravioli in truffle cream sauce, pillowy soft gnocchi….this all added up to a bout of indigestion that lasted until about 5:30 in the morning. I am mildly lactose-intolerant and apparently it’s ramping up. Such good food, so much pain. Was it worth it? It’s hard to say. I’ll say this though; I’m avoiding fresh cheeses for a while.

I took Justin to Times Square (“That’s it?”); he was expecting something more like Tiananmen Square or Red Square so I was sorry to disappoint. What can I say? We were there during the day; it’s much more impressive at night when everything’s lit up. He got over his disappointment in the Yankees shop and it was my turn to wait, although I’m much less patient than he is because all those shirts look the same, they just have different guys’ names written on the backs. We then took a creaking pedicab through Central Park. Our driver had kindly lent his larger pedicab to a colleague who had a 3-person fare, and was dismayed to find that his colleague’s pedicab was in less than stellar condition. We had trouble following his spiel, given his Turkish accent and the groaning of the axle. But it was a beautiful day, our driver was charming if hard to understand, and it was a quick way to see a bit of Central Park. I took a few unremarkable pictures with my iPhone which I won’t bother to share here.

OK, maybe one. The Dakota!

I stopped in Trump Tower to see if there was a bathroom and also to have a peek round the lobby, as Bill Bryson described it as like being inside someone’s stomach after they’ve eaten pizza and I needed to see this for myself. (Does that man have a way with words or what?) I found the bathroom eventually (it’s downstairs), and was stunned by all the pink granite and glossy brass everywhere. It’s quite awful, I’m afraid, and once Bill’s planted his suggestion, it’s impossible to see it as anything but a digestive tract.

Granite, granite, everywhere, and all of it is pink!

I’m going to end with a few more photos and a caution: due to airlines charging for checked bags, everyone brings on larger rolling hand luggage. The people in the back get to board first; they fill up the overhead compartments right down to the middle of the plane. Then they watch the last passengers’ faces as they realize that there’s no space for their hand luggage and they’re going to have to gate-check their stuff. It’s a nightmare. If, as on our flight out, you are deplaned due to a toilet refusing to flush and the mechanics can’t fix it so they need a new plane, you can experience the stampede as all the passengers, determined to secure an overhead spot for their large rollies, jockey for position to reboard the new plane. It’s quite exciting, like running with the bulls at Pamplona, if the bulls had large rolling suitcases.

So, book yourself into the last 10 rows of the plane.

So many cool food stalls in the open market, Meatpacking District

Love the name of this food stall. I don’t know if you could do that in Vancouver.

I love waffles and crepes and pretty much any starch that comes with cream, fruit and chocolate. Didn’t get any myself, but a fellow tourist let me snap his.

Lovely handmade things for sale in the open market, most of them too bulky to be brought home on an airplane.

I was reading the names on the grey t-shirt and realized that I knew them as I was just then starting Game of Thrones. The first book. I thought they were 3 but found out there’s like, 5 or 6 and who knows where it will all end.

Justin went in to buy this but it was really expensive for a t-shirt so I just took a picture.

And that was New York for us!

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Filed under Food, Travel