Thursday, 31 December 2015

Life Lessons from The Terminator

My husband and I love watching movies.  So, during the holidays between Christmas and New Year’s, we watched all five Terminator movies – one a night for 5 nights.  What follows is not a review, there will be no spoilers.  I won’t be talking about plot lines, movie trivia (which I love), or commenting on the movies themselves in any way.   What I will tell you is what I learned by watching these movies. 

Somewhere along the way (and rather unexpectedly) I realized these movies had some pretty good life lessons to share.  Here then, for your reading edification and enjoyment on this New Year’s Eve, are some of the things I learned from Arnie and the gang:

1.      Sometimes it’s hard to know who your friends are.  The same thing can be said about your enemies. 

2.      Never underestimate how far your parents will go to protect you – chances are if they have a choice between saving your life or letting the earth get nuked, they will lock you in a nuclear fallout shelter without giving it a second thought.

3.      The future isn’t set – we can always make a difference if we keep trying.

4.      No war is won alone (and I’m talking about personal wars too) – it takes a lot of people working together to make it happen.  It’s also done through a series of small victories, not just one big one.

5.      It’s okay to pick a mate that reminds you (in a good, non-creepy way) of your Mother.

6.      All Moms are warriors.

7.      You shouldn’t assume that because your Mom thinks you’re going to save the world you can be an arse - you still have to be a decent person. 

8.      You have to behave like a leader in order for people to want to follow you.

9.      There will always be someone (or something) that is bigger, faster, or stronger.  The trick is to learn how to use your own personal talents to the best advantage.

10.  A little levity during stressful times can be a good thing and can help with the bonding process (okay, so that is a thinly veiled reference to the movie – I couldn’t help myself).
Along with being entertaining, the movies were a lot more insightful than I would have imagined.  Tonight we will wrap up 2015 by watching Oblivion, which I think is a very fitting way to end the year, don’t you?

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Karma is Funny

So last night I posted my blog “All Quiet on the Western Front” at 11:37 pm.  At precisely 11:39 pm, while I was in the middle of reading the blog to my husband, he interrupted me to say “did you feel that?  I think we’re having an earthquake”.  It says something that I was so absorbed and taken by my own writing that I hadn’t really noticed – oh I heard the building make some funny sounds, but I attributed it to the sheer awesomeness of my talented prose. 

Immediately we scanned a variety of social media, as well as live television and radio sources.  Not surprisingly, Twitter and Facebook had information within about 90 seconds of the incident.  We never did find anything about it on TV or radio.  Once we confirmed that there had indeed been a mild 4.9 earthquake originating from Victoria, we did what all reasonable people do, we hopped in the car and went across town to Tim Horton’s for steeped tea.  Actually the last time we experienced a quake we went to Canadian Tire - I mean really, can you think of a better place to go during a potential natural disaster?  There’s food, water, bathrooms, safety kits, camping gear, the list goes on.  The only thing to remember is to stay clear of the really high shelves - aside from that it’s perfect. 

Needless to say, we returned home and are safe and secure.  Except for a bit of excitement and a late night coffee run, everything is back to normal.  Karma, Mother Nature, whoever or whatever it is that determines the way events unfold, found it in her infinite wisdom to remind me she has a sense of humour.  Just when I think I have a good grasp of what’s going on around me, I am reminded that we are just fleas on a cosmic dog to be shaken off when the mood strikes.  It is a good reminder (and especially meaningful at this time of year when we often reflect on the past), never to take things for granted and to be prepared for anything – even if that means simply taking the time for tea when there’s a problem.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

All Quiet on the Western Front

It’s that strange bit of time between Christmas and New Year’s - a sort of “no man’s land” between the two holidays.  I’m just starting to get the hang of this being on a break thing (starting to sleep in later and wear my jammies longer each day), and yet look a bit longingly at the calendar waiting for my regular routine and getting excited about offices and shops being open regular business hours again. 

We watched the 4th Terminator movie today.  Tomorrow we will watch the 5th and final one (I believe there will be more made in the future) and follow that up with the movie “Oblivion” on New Year’s Eve, which seems a rather fitting way to finish 2015. 

It’s quiet and I like that.  A peaceful life works well for me.  Even the weather has calmed down in the last day or so.  It’s been a good way to refresh and renew the spirit.  I think I’ll go have some tea and do some knitting.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Dim Sum and Terminator 2 - Another Day in Paradise

Let’s see…har gow - check, sui mai - check, bean curd rolls, shanghai juicy buns, pan fry dumplings – check, check, and check.  Terminator 2 queued up and ready to play on Netflix – big check. 

I can’t think of a better way to enjoy our holiday time together than to have home cooked dim sum and watch all the Terminator movies in sequence.  So that’s what we’re going to do.  If you need me I’ll be sitting next to my darling husband on our big comfortable couch with our feet up, chopsticks and hot sauce in hand, stacks of bamboo steamers next to us, and watching Arnie blasting that Cyberdyne creature out of the atmosphere.  Now where did I put the Hoisin Sauce?

Sounds like another wonderful day for us here on the Island. 

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Why Secret Family Recipes are for Sharing

I come from a long line of really good cooks.  Growing up, our family often visited nearby relatives where we would talk and laugh and play games.  The kids would play tag, Simon Says, and one game that involved a witch saying “I’m going to town to smoke my pipe…”.  The grown-ups would usually play a variety of card games (hearts, whist, and something we called moustigree, although I have absolutely no idea what its proper name would be).  Always at these gatherings there were tables groaning with food.  Each of the Aunties and Uncles brought something to share with everyone.  It was great because although they were all excellent cooks, they made their own special dishes so we always had something wonderful and different to eat when we visited.  These family gatherings were such a huge part of my growing up and the food was the thing that helped us to celebrate being together.

Some years ago, I was looking for a recipe for a particular cookie one of these amazing cooks used to make at Christmas time.  The cookie was silver-ish in colour, filled with candied fruits and nuts, and had the most delicious chewy/crunchy texture.  It was my absolute favourite and one I will always associate with the holidays.  I found out that sadly, when my lovely Aunt (the creator of these delightful taste memories) passed away – the recipe went with her. 

It got me to thinking about my own recipes and cooking techniques.  What had I shared with my children and the other people in my life?  I realized that I had never taken the time to write out any of these family recipes, these heirlooms really, to be passed on and enjoyed by future generations.  How sad would it be to have all that information, all those memories lost once I’ve gone?   It put me on a mission.  I dug through battered recipes boxes, hounded family members, sifted through pages covered in flour and cake batter (those are the BEST recipes, by the way), and basically read through every recipe book owned by any relative I ever met (and I come from a very large family).

Once I had all the recipes I could find, I typed them up, put them in a recipe book format and made copies for everyone I could.  Each recipe includes the name of the contributor and includes their own personal comments about the dish being described.   Recipes that were handed down from my Grandmother had her name as contributor.  It is a great way to honour her memory and to feel close to her. 

In keeping with that, here is her recipe for Cream Puffs.  They can be sweet or savoury depending on what you use to fill them.  Enjoy! 

Cream Puffs

½ Cup Margarine

1 Cup Boiling Water

1 Cup Flour

½ tsp Salt

4 Eggs

Add margarine to boiling water, heat until margarine melts.  Add flour and salt all at once, stirring vigorously.  Remove from heat, cool 1 minute.  Add unbeaten eggs, one at a time, beating with a spoon after each addition.  Drop by heaping tablespoons every 2” apart on a greased baking sheet (make them smaller or larger depending on your preference).  Bake at 450F for 10 minutes, then 350F for 25 minutes.  Fill with sweet or savoury fillings, such as custard and whipped cream or salmon salad.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas...Have Some Tea

Welcome to my Christmas Blog.  I’ve decided to write about something very dear to me – tea.  People who know me know that along with many varieties of tea itself, I collect tea pots (I have some beautiful pots, but have a special place in my heart for some very hideous ones too), tea paraphernalia, tea books, and other tea related items.  I also collect tea stories.  I have many of these, but today I will focus on telling you about the best salesperson I ever met.  Her name is Stella Wong and she has a marvelous tea shop in Hong Kong. 

I met Stella Wong quite out of the blue one day.  My husband and I were walking by, looking at the various shops and stalls and this lovely young woman who was standing in the doorway of her tiny shop simply asked us to come in to “have some tea”.  Walking into Stella Wong’s shop was like entering the T.A.R.D.I.S. (I am a geek, but had to ask my Geek husband about the spelling).  The exterior of the building did not in any way reflect how large it was inside.  Surely in order for it to hold this much stuff, the building must really be huge!  I was in my glories – there was tea stuff everywhere.  Shelves lined the walls and held everything from ornate pots, tiny little tea cups that have no handles and hand painted designs on the sides, bamboo and shiny gadgets for making tea, every size of Buddha statue to bless the tea makers and drinkers alike, and tea – rows and rows of shelves of tea in great large wheels and lovely tins.

Located toward the back of the shop was this gorgeous rosewood table.  It was ornately carved with areas cut out of the wood.  On top of the table there was a samovar steaming away and all the equipment and utensils needed for making tea.  While my husband browsed the shelves, taking pictures and finding the right Dragon tea set, Stella seated me across from her and proceeded to make pot after pot of delicious tea – green, white, Dragon, Gunpowder – the list goes on and on.  As we sat talking, she deftly poured scalding water into the pot, swished the water around, poured it out over the little Buddha that sat in happy observance next to us, added tea leaves to the pot, filled it with water, then waited.  As we waited for the tea to steep, Stella talked.  She asked us where were we from, were we enjoying our vacation in Asia, what had we done so far.  Never once did she try to sell me anything.  We were simply two friends enjoying a visit over a cup of tea.  It was thoroughly and completely enjoyable.

The cups we drank from were tiny, maybe holding an ounce of liquid at a time.  It wasn’t until I drank 30 or 40 of these little sips of heaven (and was altogether much too close to exploding), that I realized that as long as I emptied my cup, Stella (being a gracious host) would continue to pour.  Out of shear (and uncomfortable) necessity, I wised up and left some tea in my cup.   Once we finished our tea, my husband and I made our purchases (let’s just say that Stella probably had to spend the rest of the day restocking the shelves and leave it at that, shall we), then toddled off back to our hotel so I could take a much needed refreshment break and nap. 

Later that afternoon our purchases were delivered to our room.  As I was going through all the bags and boxes, oohing and aahing over our treasures, I realized that at no time did it feel like anything other than a visit with a very pleasant and lovely woman.  And each time I use one of the pots or cups, or drink one of the teas (yes, I still have some of the tea 10 years later – that’s how much we bought), I am reminded of that wonderful afternoon.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Food, Glorious Food

It’s Christmas Time and you know what that means – family, friends, and feasting.  Food has always been an important part of my life.  Hmmm, what a curious thing to say.  Of course it’s been an important part of anyone’s life, otherwise they aren’t here to say such a thing.  What I mean is, along with the obvious benefits of consuming food (i.e. survival), food plays in important part in helping me express myself on a day to day basis. 

I come from French and German heritage – so basically, whatever the event, feed it.  If there’s a funeral, you feed people.  If there’s a wedding, well certainly you must feed everyone.  If there’s a birthday, or an anniversary, or a dog fight happening somewhere in the world – you guessed it, everyone must eat. 

For me, when I cook for someone, I’m putting a little of my heart and soul into the food.  It is more than just sustenance; it’s a way for me to show someone I care.  I know this is going to sound really crazy, but I can’t stand watching food fights on TV (I can’t imagine how I’d react if one ever broke out in front of me).  All I can think of when I see it happening is that someone, somewhere spent the time and effort and love cooking something that is now being thrown in someone’s face or splattered across the cafeteria wall (these things always seem to happen in cafeterias in the movies – perhaps that’s a commentary on the type of movies I’ve been watching). 

I have so many wonderful holiday memories that involve food.  One of my favourites is Christmas Eve tourtiere.  My Mom makes the best tourtiere on the planet.  I know other people say that, but in my case it’s actually true.  If you aren’t familiar with this traditional French Canadian dish, it’s a pie filled with ground pork and mashed potatoes all seasoned with savoury sage and other spices.  Some people like to eat it with ketchup (I’m in that group), and some folks insist on having a dill pickle with it (heck, I’m in that group too).  One of my relatives loved slathering a thick layer of real butter over the crust before diving in to the heavenly dish.  Any way you slice it – pulling that fresh, hot pastry out of the oven after midnight mass was always the official start of the Christmas holidays to me. 

The photo I’ve included was the lunch I made for myself today – crab cakes with sweet Thai chili mayonnaise and a spinach and tomato salad. 

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Coffee is Music

The coffee was exceptionally good this morning.  I’m not sure why - maybe it was the new French Press I used, or the water was just the right temperature, or maybe I was just especially in the mood for it.  To be honest, the reason doesn’t really matter.  The fact is that it was delicious and brought back a lovely memory.

A few years ago, 2003 to be exact, I had the pleasure of going to Rome, Florence, and Venice.  Italy is a beautiful place to visit – the people, the art, the sites, and of course, the food.    Because we were travelling with Eurail passes, we spent a fair amount of time in the train terminals.  As you might expect, along with throngs of suitcase-toting travellers, there were shops and kiosks and wonderful little places to eat or grab a cup of coffee.  Instead of something like a restaurant where you might sit to drink the coffee or have a pastry, there were groups of high round tables (the kind you might see on your patio with an umbrella sticking out), right out in the terminal and no chairs anywhere.   I was so confused when I first saw this.  You want me to have a cup of coffee while standing?  I just didn’t get it. 

Fortunately, the further south we travelled, the more elastic the time became.  This gave us ample opportunity between trains to people watch.  After a bit of observation, the purpose of the chairless tables became clear – people would order and pick up their coffee from the Barista’s station on the side and walk over to one of the tables.  They almost never set their cup down, but instead held the saucer in one hand and sipped quickly from the cup in the other hand.  Because they were usually drinking their rich, dark espresso from a demi-tasse, they simply didn’t need to take time from their busy schedules to sit to drink their coffee.  They really spent only a few moments standing before moving on to their day. 

As I sat there thinking about this, contemplating the elegant simplicity of it, I noticed something else – the Barista.  How graceful he was, how fluid his movements behind the counter.  Steaming and tapping, washing and spinning.  I remember the sounds of the newly washed dishes clinking, the metal spoons clicking, the milk being steamed and swirled, the cappuccino maker hissing and burbling – all of it taking on a lyrical quality.   The Barista was conducting a symphony with the utensils and dishes as his instruments.   It was lovely music – and it makes me smile just thinking about it. 

The Daily Jar

The other day someone on Facebook posted an idea that I think is really excellent.  The idea is to keep a large empty jar (think, one of those huge glass jars usually used for pickled eggs – of course emptied and preferably washed to get rid of the pickled egg smell, unless, of course, you’re into that sort of thing), a small stack of note paper, and a pencil or two on a desk or counter where it is easy to see and access.  Throughout the year, whenever something good happens, you write about it on one of the little slips of paper and pop it into the jar.  At the end of the year, you open up the papers and read about all the lovely things that have happened throughout the year.  What a nice idea!  Something about this idea intrigued me.  I mean, of course, it’s a pleasant thought – but, perhaps it’s the start of an even better concept.  How can I incorporate this into my life in a way that makes it really my own idea?  How can I make this even more meaningful to me? 

I love the simplicity of the pencil and paper, a recycled glass jar.  In this day and age of technology, I still like tangible things.  Don’t get me wrong – I pity the person who tries to take my smart phone away from me, but there’s something magical about holding an actual book and being afraid to blink when you turn the page because you might lose the story, break the spell.  How satisfying it is to see the wrinkled spines of books lovingly read and sitting on a shelf just waiting to be read yet again.  Electronically plunking in letters to fill in the squares of a crossword puzzle on my tablet just isn’t the same as sitting with your steaming cup of coffee, poring over the paper and filling in letters boldly in ink when you’re sure you’ve got it right.  The therapeutic value of slamming down the phone to convey your frustration just can’t be duplicated in this era of softs beeps and slight vibrations.  So it makes sense that having paper to hold in my hand, a pencil’s slight scratching sound to hear, a jar slowly filling with notes tied up in little scrolls to look at, perhaps even the faint pickle odor that couldn’t be washed away, no matter what.  Maybe all those things that appeal to my senses help to round out the experience.  To make the act of recording happy things even more real, more meaningful, even happier, because they are not only attached to my memories, but to my physical being as well.  The thoughts become tangible through the act of writing them down and storing them in a jar.

Well that all sounds very poetic, doesn’t it?  And that wasn’t really where I was going with this at all.  I was supposed to be explaining how I turned that into this.  Into why I’m writing something called “The Daily Jar”.  As I thought about this lovely idea, this gratitude jar, I thought that instead of making New Year’s resolutions that are supposed to make us happy in the future, maybe writing about the good things throughout the year and reading them on New Year’s Eve would be a great way to be happy now, about what is, not just possibly happy about what might be.  Imagine, a way to take the happy thoughts and make them tangible, to give them an actual space (even if it’s just in a jar), to be looked at and smiled over and recalled.  Not only will those events have made us happy when they actually happened, but we give them a second opportunity to warm us, fill our hearts and make us glad.  How great is that.

Then I thought, “Well sure, that’s just an awesome idea, but why wait until the end of the year?”  Wouldn’t it be great to add something to the jar every day?  I’m sure I could find something to be grateful and happy about almost every day.  I’m certain that I can add some thought, some small gesture, a delicious taste, a wonderful smell, a pleasant sound, each and every day that brings me joy, makes me happy.  I like to write (yes, I’m typing, I’m way too lazy to write this amount of text by hand – don’t judge me, I’m complicated).  The writing itself is a pleasure for me.  So why not try it.  Why not try to fill my jar a little every day. 

The Daily Jar has another meaning too, though.  Along with being a way to identify my gratitude and joy on a daily basis, it is also a way to “jar” some ideas from my brain and to shift my mood into one of happiness.  I was watching a TED talk the other day where the speaker was saying we need to be happy first, not keep saying “Once I (fill in the blank), then I’ll be happy”.  Filling the jar a little each day, jarring myself to see the joy each day – to make my happiness tangible each day – these things help me to realize I am happy now, that there is joy in my life now.  That is The Daily Jar.