The reading (and travelling) life

Image courtesy The Graphics Fairy
Image courtesy The Graphics Fairy

I’ve got a five hour car trip ahead of me today and last night I fell asleep reading. Which means the light was on and I wasn’t wearing my CPAP. So I may be puling off for micro-naps today.

I’m heading in to the final stretch of my reading challenge in a Goodreads group, so I’ve got a very defined book list.

In printed text, I’ve got just a few pages left in The Woman Upstairs by Clarie Messud. I’ve owned this book for a while and thought it was a kind of thriller or something. But it’s not. And it’s terrific, resonating on a number of levels. More to come when I review it.

Next up in will be Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother by Priscilla Uppal, a non-fiction memoir that I’ve been hearing great things about. I’ve also got The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (Keep Toronto Reading and my next book club selection) on my pile, as well as Washington Square by Henry James (for TIFF Books on Film).

Audio books are a terrific accompaniment to long drives and boring housework. I’m halfway through Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer, a fascinating look at memory and how memory champions train for competition. Next up will be The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which will (hopefully) be good prep for my trip to 221b Con in Atlanta next month. I purchased that through Downpour which has great deals on the ACD canon at the moment.  I’ve also got The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb on the OneClick Digital Recorded Books program through my public library, but the app seems to be glitchy so I’m not sure that I’ll be able to listen to it unless there’s an update.

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This week, I hope to get my mom’s condo ready to put on the market. There’s still a lot of stuff to clear out, and I need to find a cleaning crew to give it a once-over. I’ve got some friends and family to see in town, and I’d love to catch the new Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Blogging may be light as I won’t have wifi chez moi, but who knows? I’ll try to at least keep busy on Instagram.

And finally, my indoor herb garden in rocking my world! Everything’s up except for the garlic chives. The cilantro suddenly appeared yesterday and I’m very pumped about that one as it’s the hardest to find in garden stores.

Lent(il) Pie

Yesterday was Pi Day (and a Lenten Friday) and I intended to make some kind of non-meat pie for dinner. I confess to not (yet!) having mastered pie crust so I count on frozen pastry shells, of which I only had one.

So on to plan B.

I’ve always got lentils etc on hand so I googled <lentil pie> and found this terrific recipe for Lentil Chilli Pie with Cornbread Crust for which I had all the ingredients. I used a dutch oven so that I could simply put the cornbread batter over the chilli in the same pot, and then pop it in the oven.

http://www.food.com/recipe/lentil-chili-pie-with-cornbread-crust-324554

I served it with chopped avocado, hot sauce, and greek yogurt. And then had it again for breakfast this morning!

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Speaking of Lent, this giving-up-refined-sugar thing is working in that (1) every time I crave sugar, I’m reminded of this penitential season and say a quick prayer or make the sign of the cross; (2) my sugar addiction seems to be breaking; and (3) I’ve lost 7 pounds, with no other dietary restrictions.

This sacrifice is the hardest one I’ve done in the 10 years I’ve been Catholic. Giving up alcohol was a breeze in comparison. I’m going to consider continuing on with trying to live with a vastly sugar-reduced diet.

Zou and I went for coffee on our walk back from the library today and i got a bran muffin.  It’s sometimes hard to know where to draw the line: is a plain croissant “better” than a bran muffin? I got the muffin. it wasn’t sweet. And I put the little chocolate squares that came with the coffee in my pocket for the chocolate addict who lives in my basement. The one who serves himself small bowls of chocolate chips during Lent because his mother isn’t dealing sugar at the moment.

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Seven Quick Takes – Pi Day

Seven Quick Takes Friday

    1. It’s Pi Day. Given that’s it’s also a Lenten Friday and that I’ve given up sweets, I may be cooking up a lentil pie for dinner.
      pi day
    2. We’re heading to Sweden in June to visit Zouheir’s oldest brother, Jean-Louis, and his family. Happily, our sons are joining us on this trip which will coincide with Midsummer there, apparently one of the more festive periods in that country. Much to my chagrin, I’ve never been before, despite my late mother-in-law’s many invitations.  Here’s a shot of the lads Swedish cousins (shamelessly lifted from George’s Facebook page.)

      Swedish Mansourati cousins.
      Swedish Mansourati cousins. (Mike, George, Jessica, Rita)
    3. Dorothy Palmer and I are heading to 221b Con the first weekend of April in Atlanta! She’s a huge Sherlock Holmes fanatic and experienced improv-er and is leading an event:
      SherlockImprov – A live-action combination of cosplay and improv, where everyone gets the chance to create on-the-spot drama by jumping into the roles of Holmes and Watson and their crew. No theater or improv experience is necessary, just a willingness to enjoy the new story we create together.
      221b con
    4. Zouheir and I saw Metamorphosis at the Royal Alex last weekend. Brought to Toronto by Mirvish, this dramatization of the Kafka novel is a marvel, and left my head spinning and a little water welling up in my eyes. One of the finest pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time. It’s finished it’s run, but if you ever get a chance….
    5. Our first-born started his first job post-graduation in December, and yesterday he headed to University of Waterloo to interview co-op students. He’s with a small start-up and is getting the full range of work experience. I believe he was “nacho boy” at the beginning (responsible for bringing food to their Friday afternoon review sessions.) He’s coming up in the world! Only a few months ago he was getting coaching on how to handle the other side of the interview table.
    6. For those of you who do family history research, Mocavo is having a free access weekend. Check it out…you never know what you’ll find!
    7. A couple of Kickstarters have drawn my attention this week. First is Neil Young’s Pono music player that provides high quality audio, equivalent to vinyl but digital. I first heard of it when I read his memoir Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream, and the Kickstarter was launched earlier this week at SXSW. I have a whole blog post in my head about why I’m not listening to much recorded music these days which will be for a later date, but I’m seriously thinking of getting in on this project, especially after I watched the video at the top of the Kickstarter project page.

      The other Kickstarter is for the restoration of St. Francis in Rome. From the project page: When St. Francis used to come to Rome between 1209 and 1223 to meet the Pope Innocenzo III, his house was a small “Cell” where he lived and assisted lepers. After eight centuries this place now requires substantial restoration work in order to preserve its priceless spiritual value and its ancient works of art.

      I kicked in some support for this project and I hope that they’re able to meet their objective.

As always, more Quick Takes, many with a Catholic flair, can be found on Fridays at Conversion Diary!

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Seven Quick Takes – Is it March already?

Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1. Brasstronomical---bigI’m listening to the new Heavyweights Brass Band disc Brasstronomical that just dropped last night. We’re big fans around here, not just because they’re a hot local indie group, that crosses genre lines, but the sousaphonist Rob Teehan was Michael’s teacher for four years and had a huge influence on his decision to pursue his music dreams. Here’s a little promo vid:

  2. i’ve got a couple of great books on the go right now. You’ve already heard my thoughts about the Neil Young memoir, but I’m also reading I The Divine: A Novel in First Chapters by Rabih Alameddine. Zouheir read his masterwork The Hakawati a year or so ago and has been raving about him ever since.
  3. If any of you use the Kobo ereader, there’s a coupon code for 30% off selected ebooks, good until March 9. Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist is there and it’s a terrific read. I’ve just picked up the Priscilla Uppal memoir Projection : Encounters with my Runaway Mother which is on my to-read list this month.  Be sure to use the coupon code MARCHOFFER.
  4. Thinking about a Toyota Venza. Any views yay or nay?
  5. Since my Goddard meet-up two days ago, I’ve re-invigorated my search for more cousins that I know are in the area but that I’ve never met. My great-grandfather Stephen Robert Goddard had a brother Samuel who had four daughters. I’d really like to see if I can find some of their descendants. Their married surnames are Bessey, Beecraft, and Young. The girls were born in the Toronto area between 1888 and 1893. PLEASE get in touch if you think we’re related.
  6. Look what I found at Value Village this week:
    And I bought it because this:

    Nathan Fillion of course!
    Nathan Fillion of course!

     

  7. On my way back from Barrie on Wednesday, I popped into the factory outlets to check out the Villeroy & Boch store, home of our china pattern. We don’t have room for more dishes really, but I picked up a couple of the large coffee mugs (of which we only have 2) so that there’s no more early morning pre-caffeinated contention for them.
    While I was there, I also stopped in to Crabtree and Evelyn to buy some small tubes of their beautiful hand cream for my purse. I have this thing about wearing gloves in the winter (as in NOT wearing gloves) and my hands are appalling. Or maybe it’s just age. Anyway, the young woman working there introduced me to their hand recovery product, a gritty scrub that is also moisturizing. After the demo, I realised that my hands felt better than they do in our high-humidy summers. SOLD (and on sale.)
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Lenten intentions

Today was pretty much a write-off. I managed to miss my sleep window last night and didn’t crash until after 2 am. And this after the stop-and-go traffic for an hour and a half on my way back from Barrie yesterday.

Anyway.

I didn’t make progress on any of my projects, but rather got sucked into a genealogy vortex for a couple of hours this morning, lay down on the sofa to read after lunch, and crashed for four hours. Awoke to darkness except for the glow of my herb garden.

IMG_0039And isn’t she beautiful? My mom gave it to me for Christmas and I had to find a place in my cluttered kitchen/study to put it. I finally got it set up  a couple of days ago, and today I noticed some shoots starting to emerge! I see fresh herbs in my future.

I missed Ash Wednesday mass yesterday with my outing, which was coordinated with others before I realized what day it was. My Lenten intentions this year include … gulp … giving up sweets (not including fruit or other naturally sweetened whole foods.) And of course to follow the prescribed fast days. How does this play out for me? No frozen yogurt bar halfway through the afternoon. No ordering meaty pizza on Friday nights. No chocolate bars or baking pies or putting Nesquik syrup in my afternoon iced coffee. No apple fritters at Tim Hortons when I’m on the road. I should probably avoid my organic nut and seed bars because, lets be honest, they’re full of honey and are really just a protein-heavy, gluten-free candy-bar.

There is a debate among Catholics of good faith about whether Sundays during Lent should be a wild card, exempted from the fasting and other promises. I’m going to call it a “no” for this year at least, as I suspect I am fairly addicted to sugar and getting it mostly out of my system for 40 days in a row is probably better than a little binge every seven days.
I had a momentary debate with myself about the Foundry Cider I pulled out the fridge to go with my dinner. Sugar? Na. But I thought I’d check the nutrition label and found that there isn’t one. But there’s this instead:

foundry can

I don’t want to be legalistic about all this. We’re also called to acts of charity and spirituality, for which I have planned. But there are good reasons why Catholics have these traditions and rules. Every time I crave something sweet over the next forty days, I am reminded that my suffering is nothing.  And that’s great preparation for the highest of feast days that we approach.

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Goddard Meet-Up

After connecting on Facebook a few weeks ago, I headed up to Barrie to meet a cousin in my Goddard line. Tom’s great-grandfather John and my great-great-grandfather William were brothers who emigrated to Canada from Kent, UK around 1870. They settled in Vespra Township near Craighurst (north of Barrie). Tom’s ancestors moved north to Temiskaming and mine moved south to Toronto. He and his wife Joy just spent some time in the UK, including Kent, visiting some of our ancestral towns, and since they were returning home through Toronto, it was a great time to meet up without the 6 hour drive! We arranged to get together at the residence of Lillian, widow of Ernest Goddard, another descendent of John, and Tom’s second cousin. She lives in Barrie in a retirement residence built on the site of the Royal Victoria Hospital where she was born.

I know….it’s complicated.

Family relationships
Family relationships

Tom came with his wife Joy and son Jon (who lives in Collingwood), and there were murmurs about maybe a Goddard family reunion sometime in the future.

The gathering.
The gathering. L to R: Tom, Lillian, Janet, Jon, Joy

waging-heavy-peace-coverFor my driving time today, I queued up my current audiobook, Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young. When I first started listening to it, I was a little annoyed by what seemed like a lot of plugs for his various projects including Pure Tone (now Pono) and LincVolt. But as I continued into the book, I began to realise how passionate he is about these initiatives. The memoir is a kind of stream-of-consciousness thing, like he’s sitting next to you and reminiscing about his life. But it’s strangely compelling, and was the perfect antidote to the huge traffic mess that greeted me on my way home.

There was a terrible accident on the 400 today just south of Barrie. All traffic in both directions was diverted off the highway and what should have taken me twenty minutes (Barrie to Cookstown) took an hour and a half. Luckily, I had Neil chatting with me in the car and that kept me alert and interested. (The audiobook is read by Keith Carradine, who sounds great although not like Neil, and pronounces Sault Ste. Marie with the “l” sound in it.) But more about the book once I’ve finished it.

I’ll probably associate Tom and Neil and the scent of the lavender hand cream I bought on my way home in the same space in my brain.  And in honour of Tom (he’s a sheep farmer), I share something that I spotted in my Facebook feed tonight:

dog in sheeps clothing

 

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Reading as imaginative co-creation

As the lights darkened in the TIFF cinema Monday night, I leaned over to my friend and said “We’re so lucky to live in this city.”

We were there for the season opener of the Books in Film series. Eleanor Wachtel had just introduced Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and special guest flown in from Lahore for the screening of Mira Nair’s film based on the novel. From his brief comments before the film, it was clear this was going to be a highlight of the series.

No spoilers here. This Man Booker nominated novel is a must-read. But it was an interesting exercise in teasing out the differences between the experience of reading and that of watching a film. The novel has two basic acts: Changez (the protagonist, pronounced Chong’-iz) at Princeton and working as a financial analyst in New York City; and Changez after he returns to Lahore. The novel is written in the second person: Changez is telling his story to an American while sitting in a cafe in Lahore. We don’t know much about the American and the ending is not tidy.

In the film, there is a third act that ties the story together. There are other significant changes, and much more of a back story. Hamid stated that movie-goers don’t want to leave the cinema not knowing what “the ending” meant. But more than that, he had interesting things to say about the experience of reading versus watching a film.

In his view, a book leaves greater space for “imaginative co-creation” on the part of the reader. And particularly so in this novel where one half of the conversation is missing. Readers are required to imagine a lot, to create their own reality, to “engage in make-believe, or imaginative play for adults.”  He said that film is more “pre-chewed”, with less space for the viewer to enter into their own minds. Hamid stated that “books and film are completely different art forms.”

There was more. A discussion of the meaning of a beard. Nair’s changes to the screenplay to highlight powerful women. The importance (or not) of 9/11 in the novel. How one’s identification as part of a group can be (always is?) uncomfortable.

This was an evening to remember, and one of the reasons that I love my adopted city, and TIFF in particular. If you’re a reader and love film (and live in Toronto), single tickets are now available for this terrific series.

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Seven Quick Takes – Almost spring? Please?

Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1. Last night I attended the Open Book Literary Salon hosted at The Spoke Club. Moderated by Becky Toyne, the discussants were writers Michael Winter, Stacey May Fowles, and Brian Francis. Sadly, the promised “relaxed, salon atmosphere” didn’t really materialize. The ambient noise from other areas of the club required the use of microphones, even in the small space, and it was really more of a panel discussion with a few questions from the audience than any kind of salon experience.
    That being said, there were a few worthwhile gems. SMF often writes to “work something out” for example, “why I like CSI or Rihanna”. BF is motivated to keep writing because he feels responsible for his characters, not wanting to leave them in limbo but finish their stories. He also noted that you need to allow yourself to have a crappy first draft, but just get the story finished. No one will ever see it and it’s the second draft where the magic happens. MW suggested we analyze why we like the books we like (to read). This will help with your own writing. And both BF and MW encouraged people to read a lot, and read what you like, not what you think you’re supposed to read,
  2. Before the salon, my friend and I ate at WVRST (609 King W), a lively place that sells artisanal sausages, fries, dips, and an interesting selection of beers (and cider). You place your order at a counter and your meal is brought to you. Seating is on long communal tables and while it got a bit noisy by the time we were leaving,  I’ll definitely be back.
  3. Last Sunday, the choir was ready to sing our first hymn in Icelandic. It took us a few weeks to get the pronunciation down as there are extra letters and letter-combos that we had to master . Because we sing at the back of the church from a loft, the sound is lovely. Here’s a video clip of the group Arstidir singing it in a train station:

  4. I was crushed to miss Jonathan Crow playing a Beethoven Violin Concerto last Friday due to ill health, but surprised when TSO member services called me offering me other tickets through their missed concert program. How lovely is that?
  5. This Monday is the first evening in the TIFF Books-on-Film series. Eleanor Wachtel will be interviewing Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I’ve both read the book and seen the film, but am looking forward to hearing Hamid’s view of the translation from page to celluloid.
  6. I’m heading to Barrie next week for a day to meet some distant cousins. Thanks to the Goddard Association of Europe‘s Facebook page, I’ve linked up with descendants of the brother (John) of my gggrandfather, William Goddard. I’ll also spend some time in the Barrie Public Library’s local history room, and if weather permits, visit the cemetery where a number of Goddards are buried.
  7. I spend part of last week clearing out my mom’s condo, getting it ready for sale, and I came across this blast from the past:
    I hate to cook bookMy mom’s famous “Chicken Rice Roger” came from it, and I suspect some other recipes as well. They’re in pretty bad shape but I’m gonna look for new(er) copies as they’re the kind of cookbook that makes for a fun read. There’s a 50th anniversary edition published in 2010 (we’re the same age!) that I might just break down and buy.

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A lemony partner for salmon

Vintage Fish stamp courtesy of the Graphics Fairy,
Vintage Fish stamp courtesy of the Graphics Fairy,

I’m not a big fan of white fish: tilapia, sole, haddock etc., but i love salmon and steelhead trout, and my partner absolutely adores this accompaniment for oily fish. I usually double the recipe and triple the amount of cooked rice if I’m making it as a side dish (rather than stuffing.) 

Fillet of steelhead Trout
Fillet of steelhead Trout

Lemon and Rice Stuffing
(from The Canadian fish cookbook! by A Jan Howarth):

1/3 cup butter
1 c. minced celery
1/3 c. minced onion
1-1/2 c. cooked rice
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 tbsp. grated lemon rind
1/4 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Melt butter in a frying pan and sauté celery and onion for 3 to 4 minutes until tender-crisp. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Makes 3 cups. Use to stuff fillets or whole fish. 

Two nights ago, I made two large fillets of steelhead trout and had a lot left over. Today, I made a quiche using the leftover trout  and some asparagus with this recipe. I added an additional egg and some extra milk (I used goat milk) to fill the pie shell. It turned out very well and I’m pleased to have used up leftovers as we’re both out tomorrow night.

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Food memory: chicken cacciatore

PrintWhen I was visiting my mom in Ottawa last week and we were reminiscing, i reminded her how much I loved her chicken cacciatore. I seem to be able to conjure the taste in my mind, and it’s one of the favourites from my childhood.

I mentioned this to my husband upon my return and he decided to prepare it for Sunday dinner after I returned from book club. I have her old recipe files and notebooks, and I found it in her “Do it yourself Cook Book”, a blank-ish notebook designed for home cooks to record their tried and true recipes.

It was wonderful, with exactly the same taste as I remembered.

Here’s the recipe. Mom noted that it was from the “Old Good Housekeeping” cook book.

Chicken Cacciatore

6 tbsp oil
2-3 lb broiler-fryer chicken, cut up
1 cup minced onions
3/4 cup minced green peppers
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 28 oz can tomatoes
1 – 8 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 cup chianti [yikes...we never had wine in the house]
3-3/4 tsp salt [bizarre quantity - reduce this by at least half]
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp allspice
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Dash cayenne

Sauté chicken in oil on all sides until golden.
Add onions, peppers, garlic; brown lightly.
Add rest of ingredients and simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes or until chicken is tender.
Serve with rice.

Makes excellent leftovers!