Monday, July 8, 2013

Weekend Camping: Quetico Provincial Park

photo c/o my instagram

This past weekend, we decided to ditch town and explore North Western Ontario.  Well known for it's abundance of lakes, wildlife, jack pines and canoe enthusiasts, this part of Northern Ontario seems to attract solitude loving tourists from the Mid-Western US (I say this because I saw license plates from Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and of course Minnesota) as well as more local fans from neighbouring provinces (Manitoba and Alberta).  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Summer Book Club (for one!)

Below is my summer reading list.  My book club for one.  After 3 years of graduate studies (which should be done ANY day now!) I am so looking forward to reading books of my choosing, not one that illustrates or illuminates my research topic.  

photo via my iphone & Instagram

So, after a long morning spent researching on Amazon and then updating my hold account at my local library, I waited.  Thinking that the books might already be on hold (considering some of them are fairly new and popular) I expected to get a book a week or so.  But then, they all came in at once!  So, here is my hoard of books.  The tower of literature beside my bed, on my nightstand.  For a few nights, my husband kept willing that tower to collapse.  Jokes on him, I know how to stack a book or fourteen.  You can't see all the books, so I'll list them here:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Father's Day 2013...Experiences vs. Things

photo via Wikimedia Commons

There's nothing like Father's Day.  Except for Mother's Day...that's kinda like Father's Day.

This year we want to do it up for the Father in our lives, and since he's a minimalist who doesn't like "stuff", "junk", "knick knacks" or cards, the girls and I are planning on providing him with an experience rather than a thing (though I'm sure some "things" will be coming home from daycare and kindergarten for him...).

We are planning a picnic (we scoped out the perfect spot the other day), perhaps with a growler of this local beer, and will then present him with...sailing lessons!  He's a fan of boats, having spent most of his boyhood summers ass firmly planted in a canoe, with a small amount of sailing experience.  Fast forward 20 years, we live on a fresh water ocean, and he could probably use a refresher.  This way, he can spend one fun weekend sailing around and enjoying himself and relaxing in a way, because the guy cannot relax.  Not that I'm being completely altruistic. I hope this encourages us to one day buy a boat on which I can have dinner and cocktail parties and sunbathe (completely lathered in sunscreen and topped with a hat, who am I kidding?).  All of the things I want to do on the boat require it to be docked though, since I have terrible sea legs.  I literally have no legs at sea.  Tie me to the starboard (?) while I heave out my lunch.  Yeah, I don't boat well.

I've seen a slew of other awesome Father's Day gifts around the web, and I'm sure more will surface in the next few days, but if it wasn't sailing lessons, here's what I'd be looking at:

Jordan has a great Travel Map DIY which would be perfect for my map loving husband.  I had already found a great Asia Pacific centered National Geographic map that I wanted to get for us anyway, just to get a different perspective on the world...literally!

You can find a pile of hammocks on Etsy...I particularly like these colourful numbers from Costa Rica.

Otherwise, maybe I would make all of his favourite foods:  bacon and eggs for breakfast, a BLT for lunch, hamburgers for supper, and pecan pie for dessert.  All with butter (shudder) and accompanied by this refreshing gin bevvy from Shutterbean.

Happy Father's Month!  Way to go dads!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On being a student and a mother

Parenting is tough.  Equally tough is being a student.  Combine the two and you've got yourself a challenging time.  I started my Master's degree when my oldest daughter was 20 months old.  This year she started junior kindergarten, and I'm still. working. on. my. degree...

Granted, in that time, I've also added another daughter to our family, done a little traveling (The Bahamas! The Florida Keys!...nothing THAT exciting) and also worked full-time at an office job.

Having kids and being a student essentially means being pretty much mediocre at both roles.  There are times when I would love to be on the ground colouring with my kids, but instead I'm hunched over journal articles, highlighting and note-taking like a madwoman.  Other times, I've had to write papers in a series of late-night sessions, after a full day of primary care-giving.  When that happens, I tend to say fuck it when it comes to my editing, only to regret it when I get feedback from my instructors.  

I've had to miss group meetings because I needed to pick up my kid at school.   I've had to push an instructor to give me earlier office hours because I needed to get home and nurse my baby.  I've never apologized for being a parent/student, but I'm sure I've inconvenienced people, my classmates and instructors alike, and that's pretty crappy.

And while I'm nearly done my studies (as long as I can achieve the completion of my research by the end of June) if I could go back in time and meet past me, I would definitely have encouraged myself to complete grad school BEFORE I had kids.  I can't imagine that I will pursue any higher education, at least not until my children have achieved a higher level of independence and/or we're rich enough to hire help (which is a very pie in the sky statement).

But, at the same time, I do enjoy keeping myself busy, and keeping myself challenged.  As well, I like that my daughters see me working hard and achieving a goal.  I continue to remind them that their education is so very important.  Michelle Obama said being smart made her feel cool.  I think being smart is cool.  I hope they feel that way too.  

At this point though, I long for the end of June, when, unbelievably, all of this work should (WILL!) be done.  When I can read books with my kids, spend entire afternoons baking with them, playing with playdough, and just generally going at their speed, without the always looming deadline present in my mind.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Things Fall Apart: Chinua Achebe

(Photo credit: Craig Ruttle/AP via Guardian)

Listening to the drone of news this morning, regurgitating  some highlights and lowlights of our Federal budget, the only real story that made my ears perk was the announcement that Chinua Achebe had died at the age of 82.

What does the death of an octogenarian Nigerian author mean to me?  Well, I’ve indirectly been influenced by Achebe for years.

Achebe is best known for his book, Things Fall Apart, and while for years I’ve meant to pick it up, I never actually got around to reading it.

The first time this sentence entered my realm of consciousness I was a 17 year old buying her first hip hop CD.  The Roots Things Fall Apart.  (ok that's not true.  I had actually bought the Ma$e CD in the 8th grade...)

And with that began my forever love of The Roots...

The next time I heard of Achebe was nearly 6 years later.  Even throughout the completion of my Bachelor's degree in International Relations, I still never picked up Achebe's novel.  
But then someone introduced my to the writings of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi and I became a superfan.  There are some writers that you read once, and you know you'll read everything they ever publish for the rest of your life, or theirs, whichever lasts longer.  My list isn't long, but includes Margaret Atwood, Bill Bryson (weird I know), Zadie Smith, Joseph Boyden and Chimamanda Ngoza Adichi.  

I quickly read everything by Adichi that I could get my hands on, and Half of a Yellow Sun remains one of my favourite books ever (for-ever, ever?).

(photo credit: Amazon)

Adichi references Achebe throughout that book, and I've read articles where she has discussed the influence that Achebe has had not just on Nigerian writing, but on African writing on the whole.  

Now, Adichi's writing about Nigeria opened my eyes to the Biafran Nation, something I knew nothing about.  In fact, I had only heard the word Biafra once before, as the last name of Jello Biafra, the lead singer of the 80's punk band the Dead Kennedy's.  All of a sudden this entire new nation unfolded before my eyes, page by page.  And the it collapsed.  And while at a nation-state level it was likely inevitable, reading about it for the first time through the humanistic writing of Adichi made me so sad for it, so sad for the Biafran's, and for everyone starved, killed and injured in that pursuit.

Since then, I've kept Nigeria in my heart and in my mind.  I love to listen to both Fela and Femi Kuti, and was lucky enough to catch Femi Kuti in concert in Vancouver in 2007.  I follow Nigerian current events on international news, and I hope to visit the country one day.  

And I think that if it weren't for Achebe, I and a million non-Nigerians the world over who have become transfixed with the country, and who maybe even feel invested in it, even in some.tiny.way would be left perhaps never having been introduced to this country.  I think this a very big public service that Achebe provided for his nation.  

So, here's to you Chinua Achebe.  Thank you for opening up the world to me and to millions of others.   

Friday, February 1, 2013

Thirty One Things...

(photo credit: moi)
I am only vaguely going to address the nearly six month gap in my writing here. I didn't quite reach six, so there you have it.  But, you know, life has a funny way of catching up with you, and the like. (I feel like I gleaned that last sentence from a Disney princess movie, maybe?)

But what better way to start back into it by declaring on my birthday eve a grandiose to-do list for the next year?  Totally unoriginal, plenty of list-makey types do this , so I was inspired to create my own.  Plus I love a little structure in my's like my own personal annual corporate strategy!

And while I have a mental list of about a million things I would like to accomplish with and for my girls this year, I tried to keep the focus more "self" relevant, so the list doesn't include "potty train D" or "make sure both girls can back float".

So without further ado, my list:

  1. Finish my Master's degree (which means finish my research and write about it)
  2. Get Published.  Either a story, a journal article, an essay, hell I'll take a haiku (that.won't.happen.).  I just want to see my name, on paper, preferably glossy, followed by 500-2000 words of my choosing.
  3. Make donuts (or doughnuts) and macarons.  Because I like a challenge, I'm scared of hot oil, and I'm pretty good at cupcakes by this point.
  4. Read two books a month. I'm not fussy about fiction vs. non-fiction.  Last month I read NW by Zadie Smith.  This month I'm thinking of finishing Makers: The New Industrial Revolution and The Conflict.  
  5. Teach H how to read.  Ok, this is kid related, but only because I loved to read at her age, and she's SOOOOOOO close to reading.
  6. Buy a second house.
  7. Plant and maintain a veggie garden.  I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle last year, and all I wanted to do was be my own food producer.  Realistically, I'd like some squash, some lettuce, maybe some tomatoes...
  8. Take better pics.  Or, learn to take better pics.  Or think more before pressing "click" on the camera.
  9. Join a hiking group.  My family hiked a LOT when I was young, and then I rejected it in my rebellious stage, but I really love it, and I love sharing the experience with others.
  10. Run 10 km/or a real race.  
  11. Learn to swim properly.
  12. Sew this t-shirt.  Sew this dress.
  13. Re-finish a piece of furniture at minimal cost.
  14. get a cool hair cut/colour that is relatively easy to maintain.  Nohing funky, but something less blerg than my current mop.
  15. Make green smoothies a habit.  Good people do this (my dad, my sis-in-law, etc.).  I wanna do this too.
  16. Get a skin care routine for my thirties.
  17. Get glasses or contacts.  My eyesight is less than stellar.  I try to ignore this, but I end up squinting. A lot.
  18. Find the perfect shade of red lipstick.  My bestie and I are both into achieving this totally vain goal this year.
  19. Set up and keep a real budget.  I've set up a personal budget before, but more as a challenge, and I didn't really stick to it.  I'd like to actually stick to it for a period of time (3 month minimum).
  20. Learn more about graphic design.  I like it, I'm interested in it, and I'd like to learn more about it.
  21. Stay up to date on my industry (professional communications, marketing and PR).
  22. Stay in touch with people who are important to me and to our family.  This means making an effort to schedule phone calls, write letters, send postcards, etc.
  23. Make more, convenience-buy less.  Homemade meals, homemade doodads, etc.  This may prove challenging as Target moves into Canada this Spring (I've still never been to a real Target.  Only online.)
  24. Get my family into broader food interests.  We're already great about limiting meat intake, but I want to try more Thai, more Korean, more Ukrainian.  Try more.
  25. Get hooked on meal planning.  I get so bored having the same spaghetti once a week.  My 4 year old loves it, but it sorta kinda gets me down.
  26. Get in better shape.  
  27. Pursue writing as a career.
  28. Continental travel!  Minnesota! Chicago! DC! Quebec! Northern Ontario! BC! I wanna see what I can see!  Without flying overseas!
  29. Become more cultured.  Meaning, hit up cheap opera matinees, take in plays, leisurely stroll through art galleries and museums.  Perfect my contemplative postures.
  30. Attend a film festival.  Nothing major here, I'm not talking TIFF.  Even just some local film fest.  I just love movies and used to love film festivals.
  31. Be more in the "now"with my kids, husband, friends and family.  I'm starting to get it about how quickly kids grow, so I want to really savor it.
And that is it.  I mean, some of them could be easy to scratch off, others (like the last one) are way more abstract.  But it'll be nice to have some guidelines to look back on throughout the year.  So tomorrow, I'll turn 31, and I'll start on my list.  And groundhogs will determine the length of Winter.  (My forever connection to B. Murr).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Food: Summering in Sweden with Swedish Summer Cake

For the past few years, my wanderlust has been firmly fixated on Summer time in Sweden.  I'm not sure if this is because I imagine they have the same long summer nights that we do, being close to the Arctic Circle, or if I just want to get my fish-crazy chow on in a lovely country known more for their social advancement and flat pack furniture than their history, but I have a serious jones on for some Sweden in the summer.

Summer cabin north of Stockholm, Sweden.
Summer cabin outside of Stockholm via

That being said, I also am firmly planted in the camp of not wanting to travel internationally with 2 small kids.  Canada is a big enough country, and just heading West to see my own family is an effort of Herculian patience and fortitude, so, yes flying internationally is not my current cup of tea.  Which means, I can just dream instead.
available at amazon

I've been stoking my Swede-love by reading Marcus Samuelsson's 'Yes, Chef', which I find hard to put down, (I love a good memoir, and I love reading about food as well, so...BAM!)

Also, to make use of the one million delicious fruits and berries produced in Ontario and Quebec this time of year (since these are the ones we get up here), I've been making my version of Nigella Lawson's Swedish Summer Cake from her Kitchen cookbook. 

 My love of cookbooks knows no bounds, and I remember reading the recipe sometime in the deep dark winter, and feeling intrigued, with the hopes of exploring it during a warmer season.  The other day we were having an amazing mid-summer, mid-week feast consisting entirely of barbecued peel and eat shrimp and corn on the cob, when I decided we were looking at the perfect time to test out the Swedish Summer Cake.  I couldn't remember if it was a Sophie Dahl recipe or a Nigella recipe, but once located, I decided to make a few changes.  The differences being, mine's easier:  Where Nigella splits her cake into 3 tiers, I stick to 2.  And while Nigella prefers a gooey, eggy custard for her middle layers, I stick to the ultimate in simplicity, Nature's icing, whipped cream and Nature's sprinkles, fruit.

Here's my adaptation, converted from grams, so excuse the wonkiness of that!

Swedish Summer Cake
 (adapted from Nigella Lawson's Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home)

                                                            356 F for 35 minutes
3 eggs
1 heaping cup of white sugar (like, pyramiding at the top heaping)
90 ml recently boiled water
1.5 tsp of baking powder
0.8 cup of all purpose flour

half a small carton of whipping cream (35%)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp honey

1 9-inch springform pan with removable bottom
parchment paper
strawberries, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, etc. (the fruit and quantity of your choice, really)

Preheat the oven to 356 F.  This is me being finnicky, but when I converted 180 celsius to fahrenheit via google, 356 F is what I came out with.  I bet 350 F would work just as well, but you might need another minute.

Prep the springform pan by cutting the parchment paper round to fit the bottom, and then spray or grease the sides of the pan.

I used my Kitchenaid mixer to whip this cake up, starting with the 3 eggs and sugar.  It is important to whip it fast and long, as you want the egg/sugar combo to double in size and become pale and velvety.  Once it gets there, turn the mixer down a notch while you pour in the 90 ml of water.  

In another bowl, mix up your baking powder and flour.  When they're mixed, start adding them to the still whisking mixer, stopping only to scrape down the sides to ensure everything is well combined.  

Pour the batter into your springform pan.  Into the oven it goes, and keep the oven light on so you can check on your progress.  It should take about 35 minutes, but you should really be basing the doneness on how golden brown the top is, and if you get a clean cake tester out of it.  

While it's baking, clean  up your Kitchenaid bowl and whisker, then completely dry it off.  Pour the whipping cream into the bowl once it and the whisker are securely attached to your machine again, and start whipping.  I like to put my vanilla in early, but I like to leave the honey until the cream starts to form soft peaks.  Keep whipping until the whipping cream forms stiff peaks, then stop.

Once the cake is baked, take it out to cool for 10-15 minutes before very carefully running a butter knife around the edge of the cake.  Then spring open your springform.  I like to pull the cake out and pull the parchment off the bottom before letting it cool a little more on a cake plate.  

Right before serving, use a serrated bread knife to slice horizontally through the middle of the cake.  Very carefully lift the top layer of the cake off and set it aside on a dinner plate.  I use my cake server and the serrated bread knife to lift the top layer, to ensure it doesn't break, but if it does break, you can just place it back on top afterwards and hide everything with whipping cream and berries.  

Plop a large dollop of whipping cream on the bottom half of the cake that you cut. Smooth it out and add some fruit, as much as you want, and then replace the top half of the cake.  Plop another large dollop of whipping cream and spread it out so it covers the entire top of your cake.  Add the rest of your fruit, slicing the larger fruit (peaches and strawberries) and leaving the smaller berries au naturel.

Slice it up, serve to your friends and loved ones and enjoy.  A slice of this tastes great with tea for breakfast the next day, while reading Yes, Chef, and I'm sure might also be good while perusing the latest Ikea Catalor right after you down your requisite bowl of chia seeds and hemp hearts.

                                                                 Serves 8-10