Fear in a box? I don’t think so.

I almost didn’t write this today – I was actually going to write about the paleo diet breakfast quiche I made (good, and good for you). Then I went onto WordPress and saw the stats for my blog. Someone searched Google yesterday for “fear in a box” and got pointed  to my blog. Yikes.

That got me to thinking about fear, and the boxes we put ourselves into.

A few days ago  my svelte yet wiry husband wrote a blog that made me laugh out loud. He titled it “End of an Era”  and in it, he recounts his brief flirtation with Crossfit training. He was not enamored with it, and is considering something a bit more… well, his speed. His crossfit hijinks and fish-out-0f-water pain is pretty damn funny, but what interested me more about the blog was his willingness to admit to his lack of fitness; his ability to just say “gee, I’m not as slim any more and I’m not fit. I should do something about this.”

Just like that. No ego.

For me, it has taken me a few years to even admit that I may have, you know,  gained a bit of weight.  For the past few years I’ve somehow managed to be in my body but not really

even look at it. I clothe it, feed it (yup, I sure do) and deal with my increasingly ahem weighty presence by sort of, you know, ignoring it.

I have, as they say, let myself go. I’d even go so far as to say that I’m fat. As I wrote that line, it ended with “all of a sudden” in my mind, but really it isn’t all of a sudden. It’s the result of a multitude of things – stress was a biggie, and I quit smoking (two years next month woot!), and I got older and my hormones are all out of whack…

Oh yeah, and I ate a lot and didn’t exercise. That’s what happens, people.

Weren't the 70's grand?

Like my husband, I was for most of my life able to eat anything I wanted and not see the deleterious effects of it on my body. I am now fairly sure that while genetics played some part in that, I can also say that smoking (sometimes two packs a day) and excessive coffee intake was the “magic” behind my skinny frame. I also had a healthy childhood.  Sure, we ate our fair share of Devil Dogs and candy bars, but I was always running around, riding my bike, and not eating half as much crap as I do now. I don’t think there was as much of the processing in food back then, either. Less high-fructose corn syrup, less sugar.

I was active. Occasionally, I was even in really good shape. I would go through phases of  enthusiastic gym membership, and even with the hampering effect of smoking, I was fit and my body would do what I told it to do. I was able to coast along for years, doing nothing, because I’d started with a healthy and fit body.

Now? Not so much.

I love and admire that my husband is so willing to be open about it, and it made me think about the shame that I have been carrying around about my own body. I’ve managed to engage in all sorts of magical thinking, but I’m fairly sure that the only solution is to just stop eating as much, stop eating bad stuff, and start moving more.

Sigh.

For me, being fat has generated a kind of apathy. It has coincided with aging – there’s a big difference between, say, 36 and 46 – the last decade has not been easy, nor has it been kind… I’ve aged, right? Between 26 and 36 you can sort of pretend that you haven’t changed, but that next decade is a doozy. I’m invisible in a way that I never used to be – in a way that my husband probably can’t even identify with, because it’s bound up in ego.

I’m not invisible to him, of course, but to the world at large I’m – all of a sudden – an invisible silver-haired fat lady. WEIRD.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about my weight here. It’s a process, though – this getting to know my new self and accepting that something needs to be done. Hell, it took me more than one try to quit smoking…. the tools I used to effect that change will come in handy as I struggle with my sugar cravings. I’m becoming more and more convinced that processed sugar and carbs are akin to nicotine, and that I should treat it as such – something I need to avoid.

I’ve tried a bunch of things and the only thing that seems to work is to eat properly and to exercise more. It’s not a quick fix (drag!) but I think it will work. Every time I eat natural whole food that’s good for me and take a walk or move my body, I am rewarded by having more energy, and clearer thinking. That positive reinforcement isn’t always enough to stop myself from having french fries (last night) but it does have a cumulative effect. Eventually, I’ll get it.

I’m tired of being tired. Tired of not having a waist.

Tired of being an invisible fat lady. And hell, if my husband can admit it and work on it, I can. I mentioned earlier that I’d let myself go…. I am letting myself go, but not in the way we normally conceive of that.

I’ve been working so very hard to get my brain/emotions straight that I forgot that my body is me. Ego has been holding me back. I’ve worried about being fat, of being unattractive, of admitting to myself that I’m aging (duh). It’s hard to admit your ass is no longer cute, and harder to admit that it was important to you that it was…. Ego is a bitch. Ego is a child, and it’s not always good to just let that little dictator tell you what to do.

So I’m letting that go… it’s a good lesson to learn; surrendering the ego is the only way, really. What I’m looking for can only happen with the humility that this sort of surrender generates: Harmony. Lightness. Room to breathe.

***************************************

And, oh hell. Here’s the quiche recipe.

easy peasy

Preheat oven to 350 F

for each quiche, use one egg. Whisk eggs together with a splash of water. Divide the eggs evenly into the muffin cups.

Chop a selection of veg and meat. I used fennel sausage, red pepper, baby spinach, cilantro and delicious cherry tomatoes from Den Haan’s.

Plop it all into the egg mixture and push in a bit. Crack some black pepper over it all.

Pop in oven for 15-20 minutes.

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naked cranberry neighbour oatcakes

Okay. What is it with nekkid neighbours? On any given day, without fail, somebody out there searches for “naked neighbour” and comes to my site.

The only thing on my site that’s searched for more often is “cranberry oatcakes”.

The reason that “naked neighbours” brings searchers to my blog is that I have neighbours who, when the weather is warm, live largely outside in direct eye view of my desk. They’re loud, and apparently unaware of the fact that other people can see and hear them. I even designed a header just for them! I kinda stopped writing about them though, it felt kinda icky.

Recently, my exceedingly handsome and handy husband put a new outlet into the south wall of my office, which allowed me to move my desk. I don’t have to look at the Next-to-Naked-Neighbours now. I try not to, I really do. They still don’t seem to grasp  the idea of window treatments, and I can tell you with a fairly high degree of accuracy what kind of orange juice he takes out of the fridge at night… when he opens it and the room is bathed in fridge-light, I can’t help but be able to see, if chance puts me in view of it. I love my sun room/office, but I avoid it at night so I don’t have to see them, and I avoid it on warm days because  I may hear their overly-loud cell phone conversations, smell their cigarette smoke, or (no, pleeeeease no!) hear those immortal words screeched from husband to wife in the driveway: “HEY?!  YOU ON THE TOY-LET?”

Actually, I kind of ignore that side of the house, now, to be honest. They recently cut down a lot of the foliage and trees in-between our houses, so in order to feel private, I have to look the other way. They built a giant addition that lacks symmetry; it’s not my business.

I understand them, sort of. They’re really involved in improving their property, and their house. They’re building, and really industrious. They probably don’t really think about my house, and the fact that they’ve made it almost impossible for me to not see into theirs. Maybe they’re bitching about me too, who knows? I want them to have some privacy, so I can have some. That requires that I not look over there, and that maybe I’ll have to just not look in that direction. It’s what we do, when we live in close proximity, right?

My blind eye is turned.

But really, I digress.

As interesting as they are, they aren’t the point. What I want to know is this:

Why, in the name of all that’s in a birthday suit, do so many people Google “naked neighbours” so often? Even more to the point: why, when there are about 2,270,000 results in 0.27 seconds (I checked) for that phrase, do they click-through to little ‘ole Box 761? I’m not even on the first page of searches!!

It’s very strange, and I spend just a little time each day musing about it. The only thing that really gives me hope is that Google has 271,000 hits for cranberry oatcakes.  It’s not 2

maybe I should be aiming for that intersection between the two?

million, but it’s a respectable number. I’m not sure what the demographic is of my readership, such as it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s more the oatcake crowd than the naked neighbour group.

Just FYI, here’s the post about oatcakes. They’re good. Really good. And FYI, I’m not at all anti-naked. I like naked. Just not in the adjoining yard, whilst smoking and arguing on the phone with power tools in hand. Or, like, without window treatments and getting an early evening OJ from the fridge.

It’s all about choices, really.

Cooking up a winter storm

I don’t know what it is, but I’m cooking a lot lately. Nesting, maybe?

It may not be helping me to keep my girlish figure, but oh, I’m enjoying it. The photo stream on my phone looks like a foodie’s Tour of Carbs…. probably the result of my going low-carb for several months in late 2011.

WordPress very helpfully noted in its year-end summary of my blog that “cranberry oatcakes” was the search term that most often brought readers to my site. I’ve decided not to fight it, and you’ll probably get a look at some of my creations here more often (they normally live on Facebook; I guess this will be their new, occasional, pied a terre.

In no particular order, my most recent food explorations. No recipes included, but if you want one, just request it in comments….

Oh, and the second most requested search term?

naked neighbours

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garlic/thyme bread, and sesame seed bread. It is delicious, and yeasty warm butter-drippingly fabulous.

For dinner, we had Italian Wedding Soup. It was spicy and warm and comforting, but also seemed fresh and bright – really clean fresh and green. That’s the spinach and spicy sausage meat, marrying together. I hope they have a long happy life together.

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A few days ago, I took it upon myself to explore the homely popover. They are a remarkable concoction – fluffy and high, crisp and warm outside, but soft and almost like custard inside. I made a savory one for dinner, with peppered bacon, spinach, tomato, onion and parmesan. Then the next day I had no choice but to try my hand at individual apple popovers.

no choice, I tell ya.

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And then there is the best of all. The creme brulee. Oh my. Lime infused, heavy on the vanilla. Creamy, crunchy. Hot, cold, smooth and sharp. Is there anything nicer?

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Nothing much else to say, except that I feel like I’m learning things, and it’s nice. It’s one of my happy places; that space I inhabit when I am puttering in my kitchen, puzzling through recipes, and figuring out the spot where science and art meet on my plate.

(note on the photos: all of them (c) 2012, taken by me in my kitchen on my iPhone)

Dubrovnik, Budva

I’m having too much fun to write much, but will say that I’m completely charmed by Dubrovnik and the old city. Budva? Not so much. So far it feels like a soviet Coney Island.

That’s kind of interesting in itself, though, so we’re going with it.

Today we begin our travel (via rental car… the first time not on foot or in a bus!) through Montenegro. We don’t know much except that we need to be back in Sarajevo by the 30th.

Last night we went to a Budva grocery store and bought all manner of good things, and a few not so good. We had two bags bursting with booze and snacks, for 15€. it was fun, and we needed a break from the beauty.

My favorite item:

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Now, off to Sveti Stephan:

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More photos on FB.

Charlottetown

Mr. 761 and I are in lovely Charlottetown PEI to visit our future Chef, Erica. I brought her here last week and moved her in to residence; Mr. 761 wanted to come visit and check it all out. I’m never averse to a visit to PEI…. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite places.

Mark bought himself an iPod Touch, for the camera, he says. I think it’s for the Angry Birds.

Off to brunch with Erica, Mr. 761, and some Ch’town friends!

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Portland, where my sole now resides

lifted from the interweb, I didn't take this

 

Portland Maine is so pretty, and I really didn’t expect it. I don’t know what I did expect, but not this pretty jewel of a town with gorgeous shops, superb restaurants, and world-class service.

We stumbled upon this, really. We got sick of driving (it’s no fun once the sun goes down) and made Portland our destination. We were kind of tired, and a bit sick from the junk food we ate in the car (Coke? Pepperoni? Hickory sticks? Really? What were we thinking?). Ugh. I shudder to recall it, but somehow the food one eats on a road trip, in the car, doesn’t count, right?

We drove up to the second hotel we saw (the first was full, the valet told us) and ended up

nice, but ours was blue

at the Portland Harbor Hotel. Pretty rooms, working wifi, a fabulous bathroom with a deep soaking tub and gorgeous marble, shower, and great service. A good hotel makes me very happy, as does a toothbrush holder on the counter – a germ-fighting nicety that not all hotels think of, but a detail that will actually entice me back when I find myself in Portland again.

Silly? Perhaps, but the devil is in those details.

We literally stumbled upon our restaurant last night as well. Those cobbles are quaint, but not great for two relatively clumsy people…. We dined at Street and Co., and they gave us the best meal we’ve had in ages.

I wrote about it last night on Facebook, still in the thrall of that buttery perfect sole:

http://www.streetandcompany.net/home
Started with salad of frisee with house cured bacon, poached egg and mustard sauce. Oysters, the moist delicious ever, and a simple but divine sole francaise. I dragged it out as long as possible, but eventually there was no sole left. It was so good I mourned it pre-emptively, halfway through dinner. Vanilla bean panna cotta with currants for dessert. Chardonnay to start and a black sambucca to finish.

That’s really all there is to say. Except that I want to reiterate my love of those oysters. I like them, but wouldn’t go out of my way for them, you know? The ones I had last night were quite possibly the best ever, and I might go out of my way for those ones.

Off to breakfast now, some rambling around the waterfront (kitchen store, anyone?) and then on to Connecticut and my Nieces 761.

Pink. Nostalgia. Shazam!

When one is in the grocery store, it is not generally expected that a wave of nostalgia will wash over one in the toilet paper aisle. It did though, when I saw this:

pink toilet paper roll

How great is that? I’d never really given it a lot of thought, but when I saw this I realized that I haven’t seen colored toilet paper in ages. When did it go out of style?

I did some quick research, and discovered that after its heyday from the 50’s through the 70’s, it started to lose favor because of the dyes perhaps posing a risk to the environment, and because it cost more to produce. So sad, I didn’t realize I missed it until I saw some in my local grocery store.

These rolls of pink loveliness (goes well with my sleep-deprivation bathroom wallpaper,

 

Find the cure, through wiping

 

no? That’s a whole ‘nother story for another day….) apparently passed the environmental protection censors because it’s all for a good cause — finding a cure for breast cancer. I’m sure it’s all biodegradable and healthy now, so don’t worry.

In my research I’ve discovered a whole new world of toilet paper aficionados — blogs, and web sites, essays and articles. TP is a bigger deal than I thought! By the by, aside from Wikipedia, your one-stop shop for TP talk would probably be Toilet Paper World (glow in the dark toilet paper, anyone? Got some Christmas gifts to buy?).

For me, this  product gave me an oddly nostalgic pleasure, just for a moment. I was talking on the phone to a friend while I was shopping, and when I mentioned the wall of pink toilet paper, she said that she’d had the same reaction when she’d seen it in the store. It spoke to me. I was happy to pay for it, and took it home.

Once home, though, that frisson of nostalgia petered out. I’m not entirely keen on the particular shade of pink, to be honest. And it kind of looks, well, weird.

Nostalgia, in fact, may depend precisely on the irrecoverable nature of the past for its emotional impact and appeal (cf. Linda Hutcheon in this essay). It’s weird to be nostalgic. I don’t feel old enough to be nostalgic, but I guess I am. Besides, it’s not really a function of age, is it? It’s more about the signifiers, iconic images that point to moments in our lives.

The following cavalcade of images represents signifiers that make me feel a frisson of nostalgia. Like the toilet paper, it would probably be a bit of a disappointment if they actually reappeared. Let’s keep them all safely in the past, where they will continue to give me pleasure.

 

blue portable typewriter

We had one of these... wonder where it went?

 

I remember we had one of these. In 5th grade I typed a project on “Australia” with it. It had a case (this is not the exact kind, but I remember it was robin’s egg blue), and you could carry it around.

I loved this typewriter, and even though I failed typing class in high school (sigh) it certainly didn’t hurt that I’d learned where the letters were by 5th grade.

Remember this? I once, over the course of a hot summer afternoon, drank an entire case of can of tab colathis stuff (with the help of my friend Trudy, by the way — not all by myself). That was back when you slathered yourself with baby oil and baked yourself in the sun. Good times, good times.

This particular can doesn’t show it, but remember those cool push top cans? They had two little push buttons, and they were great. Probably a choking hazard. In fact, I remember opening one with my teeth while on the merry go round in the local park. We used to make that thing go so fast we were in danger of flying. It was a lot of fun, but probably banned now, along with those push button can openings.

 

whirly death traps of fun

 

 

And these! Oh, remember these?

Wacky Packages! If I recall correctly, I had a large collection of these stickers on the headboard of my bed. I’m sure that my mother was happy about that.

There was a lot of great candy, back in the day.  I ate it while watching the Shazam/Isis Power Hour. Anyone remember what “SHAZAM” stood for?

Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.

If I recall correctly, Billy drove around in the desert in an RV, and talked to the above-

 

what a couple.

 

mentioned  Gods.  Isis was an ancient Egyptian superhero who was, for some reason, a school teacher in the modern day (I had to look on Google for that part — couldn’t remember it).

That ends my nostalgic trot through the years of my youth.  To end, some immortal words from the great bard, Lou Reed:

I don’t like nostalgia, unless it’s mine.

Cranberry Oatcakes

This recipe is especially for Silas.

I got the basic recipe from a lovely book called Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens by Marie Nightingale (Nimbus). It’s a nice little book. I bought the book to give to my (step)mother as a gift and well, I started reading it. I’ll get her another copy one of these days.

For this recipe, I actually made a mistake while creating the first batch and it turned out so nicely it’s how I’m going to make it from now on…. the original recipe is called “Pictou County Oatcakes” but I don’t know if Pictou  Co. would accept them, with these changes.

  • 3 cups oatmeal
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar (can reduce to 1/2 cup — I did so on second batch)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening or butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • cranberries (I used frozen, because that’s all I have at the moment)

Combine the dry ingredients and cut in butter or shortening.  Dissolve baking soda in the boiling water and add, stirring continuously. Toss in the cranberries (I don’t bother measuring — just throw them in until it looks right).

Mold with hands and shape into a long, fairly dense, wedge (you might need to flour hands and board to help with this).  Slice off wedges and bake in 400°F oven for 10 – 15 minutes.

As I said, none of this is really specific. It’s not a dainty recipe that requires stringent measurements. Really, it’s oatmeal, right? You will be rewarded for your efforts, and your creativity… what about apple instead of cranberries? Yum. What about orange zest and OJ instead of water? Raspberries?


Comfort Food

Not that I feel much need for comfort, but the cooler temperatures and all-around Fall-y feeling has made me think of those foods that make me feel good. Stews, spicy soups, and that old fave – lasagna.

Lasagna used to be a special occasion food for us — it was what we always knew was waiting for us when we made the drive from Ontario to my Aunt’s in Massachusetts. We would clamber out of the Country Squire station wagon and go in through the breezeway to a kitchen that smelled delicious. It meant we were home, with our people.

Oh, there’s nothing better! Every time I make it, it’s different — some times I make spinach and feta the stars, other times it’s all about the tomatoes. Today’s was basic no-nonsense no-frills. Delish.

Tomatoes. Cheese. Pasta.

So. It’s not rocket science (though arguably just as useful).

  • 1 can whole tomatoes (whole is always better than diced, fyi)
  • 500 g container Cottage Cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 2 eggs
  • Parmesan (the real stuff, not the stinky Kraft stuff)
  • oven-ready lasagna noodles

That’s all, you say? Yes. If you want more, just add it in, but what you have listed above is all you need to make a delicious pan of lasagna.

Here’s what you do:

Break up the tomatoes and heat them (with the juice — that’s important). If you are so inclined, add herbs — Mr. 761 loves thyme in his sauce, I prefer cilantro or basil. Today I used just salt and pepper because I wanted to taste the tomato. Heat it up, and since you want it to be a bit “juicy”, add a bit of water if you want (about 1/2 cup). You need that little bit of watery-ness to help cook the pasta in the oven.

Once the sauce is heated, ladle enough into the bottom of a casserole pan so that it’s covered liberally. Place noodles side-by-side, without overlapping (usually it takes 3 of them, and then some little broken pieces at the long end). Take the cottage cheese and whisk in the two eggs with a fork. Ladle 1/2 of that mixture on top of the pasta, and roughly grate some Parmesan on top. Repeat until the pan is full.

The top layer should be noodle>sauce>grated cheese.

Pop it in a 375° oven for 45 minutes, covered with foil. After 45 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Let it rest 10 minutes before serving.

Easy, right?

Some favorite variations: spinach and feta; tofu; italian sausage meat and ricotta…. really, make it whatever flavor you want. No matter what you put in it, you will be happy, and the left-0vers are even better than the first day!

“Visiting Author” Today….

I was reading one of my favorite blogs today, and want to share it, because it looks delicious, and I’m too busy/whacked out on sinus medication today to actually write something of my own (though I will try and find time to make that pie….)

Here’s the link:

http://localfoodlover.blogspot.com/2010/08/blackberry-apple-pie.html.

While you’re there, explore her blog — it’s really wonderful.

Enjoy!