Category Archives: Ambition

‘Chain Letter’, or ‘the one where I talk about my writing process’

One of the finest human interactions is that simple, thrilling moment when you share a secret. A memory, an aspiration, your true opinions, a thought you’ve kept to yourself. You blurt the out sometimes. Others you keep forever. For me, secrets typically crawl out slowly like new roots that grow and turning past obstacles seeking nutriment. They live just under the surface.

When asked recently by a good friend and storyteller, Selena Chambers, to discuss writing as part of an unfolding chain letter style response to a question writer’s often put off, I began to think about the root system of my secrets. In this post, I’ve tried to unfurl what’s hidden and to share a little about the process of digging the secret things up and handing them over at the surface.

1) What am I working on? Followers of this blog know that I’m a transplant. First from the Midwest to the South and, more recently, from the South to up to True North, or Vancouver, British Columbia. When you move, there’s lots of anticipation about what will happen to you there. I anticipated all kinds of thing, but never how much of my thinking would turn to comparison and exploration here. My writing, both on and off line, centers around defining the concept of home now that I live somewhere dramatically different.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? This blog seems to be capturing the change in scenery that I’m used to reading about once it’s been lived through. As in, what I’m trying to do here is to keep a record of how things around me change – how I’m changing – as it’s happening. I’m trying to be an observer of what I would otherwise come back to in ten years and describe to you as something that happened to me in the past.

3) Why do I write what I do? This particular project happened as mechanism for helping me figure out what I was noticing around me. The place I was in, new trees, new climate, new people, plastic shoes, all these things felt a little too whirl-wind-y. Taking those experiences down, photographing them, and logging them here has helped me to identify what it was that I liked about this new place I live. Instead of random ideas floating around me, I’ve used this place to grab them as a would a butterfly with a net. To examine them rather than simply ‘look’.

4) How does my writing process work? I’m a journalist by training, so I write about things I have actually seen, but I am cultivating the imagination at the same time. It’s this second part that alludes me most. I would argue that if – like me – you can’t answer this question in a straight-forward manner, then you aren’t treating writing as work. If you can answer it, then I’d argue that you shouldn’t, because you’ve found a way to wrangle down fleeting thoughts, to gather the wandering herds of imagination. No matter how close to the surface that gets, it should stay a secret. So far, I’ve found myself between these two places – there’s a bit of a process, but I could be better to define it for myself, not for others.

One thing that’s true about the writing process is that it depends entirely on reading. Lately I must admit that I’ve been absorbing all sorts of paper-based reading material from Lacan lectures to a wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest identification manual to a novels about an old man in Guernesey. When my hands aren’t full of paper, I’ve been finding real pleasure looking around brainpickings.org which always has great, often literary posts. And, if you’re in the mood for reading material, do stop over at selenachambers.wordpress.com – the author of which has inspired some of my most excellent real-life moments and – happily – this post.

 

 

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The Differences

Dear Readers. I have ventured far from home and have neglected this space in favor of Florida. This holiday, I sunk into a deep relaxation unlike any I’ve known. I went home. The other home and, for the first time in a long time, settled in.

The holidays are always a bit emotional, especially for those of us who live far from those we love, but this year all of that was hidden under the extended time we had to be there. The weeks wrapped me in the contentment of an old quilt and was strong enough to give me time meditating on the differences.

Things are different down in America, down South, and in Florida. People talk differently, dress differently, spend their time differently. As far as I can tell, it’s these differences that make us like or not like something. ‘I’m glad to be here because here people do this or that thing. I like this or that thing better that that other thing from over there.’ Does that make ‘here’ better? More ‘my speed’? I was on this idea so much that I made a list.

Junebugs, pick up trucks, state roads, and styrofoam. Lizards, restaurant inside gas stations, spanish moss, trailers, sandy feet. Screen doors, coolers, creeks, cypress knees, and sensor lights. Saying ‘hi’ to everyone you pass. Waving with your first to fingers to people you pass while driving a car. Vegetables cooked in salt water. Drive through liquor stores. Parking lots. Sweet tea in a to-go cup. Wind chimes. Sand dunes. Woods with floors lined in pine straw.

Then I thought that is this very desire – the need to classify differences – that should be avoided. These things, the strange things, or, in my case, familiar things, are not all there is.  Can we not turn our sensitivities, our perceptions, to what we have in common instead? Would we even want to?

Today, back in Vancouver in the rain and the grey, I’ll make a little promise to look instead  for commonality. The noise of the water on the shore, flip flops, people who like boats. Sea gulls and sunburns to come. My list so far is short, but I’m working on it. Perhaps this will ease the sickness for the homes I have and, if I’m lucky, maybe those I’ll have in the future.

 

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Number 30 on number 31 (Oh and 29 too)

A whole year gone, and I’m excited to say I’ve completed my mission – to taste, make, eat, and share 30 cakes  from birthday No. 30 until birthday No. 31. The last few weeks I was quite anxious that the whole thing might fall apart, but thanks to a delicious (and nutritious?) breakfast on my birthday morn’ and an English treat at one of Vancouver’s finest pubs, the Cheshire Cheese Inn, I can officially stop pestering everyone with photos of cake.

No. 29: Mini, cloud-topped double  vanilla beauties.

No. 29: Mini, cloud-topped double vanilla beauties.

Brambleberry Trifle

And, finally, Brambleberry Trifle.

Double vanilla I won’t sour with an explanation. Just promise you’ll try it… maybe even for breakfast. The trifle, however, I feel keen to explain. Wikipedia says some of the first trifle mentions date as far back as the 1590s and I though that fitting to celebrate my grown-up-ness. Custard,  liquor-soaked bread, brambleberries and a heap of whipped cream makes for an impressive cake indeed, especially when it follows a pint of celebratory lager.

As this  took a whole year to complete, I feel like I should be able to offer more fanfare, but the soft landing of some of our most worthy endeavors often fails to be easily described. The best I can say is that I got to share this year-long celebration of me with some of the very best people I know – sister, husband, friends, and a few quietly with me, myself, and I.  So here’s to being older and to accomplishing even the silliest of goals.

 

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30 Cakes (26, 27 and 28/30)

This week I’ve had a familiar cake from a stranger, and some unfamiliar cakes baked with love by friends. The first one, the carrot cake, was nice enough and made for a happy little afternoon tea-time treat, but made me miss my sister and her version made with apple sauce and a lot of shaved carrots. Shaving carrots takes some commitment, but watching as the roots are stripped and fly like mad confetti into a big bowl is actually one of my favorite culinary experiences. This version is from one of Vancouver’s many great not-Starbucks coffee shops, Koffee. While this was delicious, I’m now really looking forward to getting out the vegetable peelers and talking my sister into making her version while we’re home for Christmas.

Eat your vegetables.

Eat your vegetables.

The second cake, well ‘cake event’, was happily found at the annual holiday party of my wonderful knitting buddies. This Knitmas, the table was filled with sweet treats which included an anise and almond cake and peppermint brownies both made by some really talented knitters I’m happy to know. With a pile of friends celebrating a common interest, a plate full of cakes,  and other holiday parties on the way, it turns out the end of the 30 Cakes is nearly here.

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The superstars are there on the bottom left and top-ish-middle  buried around a few assorted “not cakes”, am I right? Let’s call it a ‘cake event.

 

 

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30 Cakes ( 24 & 25/30)

So, this whole time, since I turned 30 nearly 12months ago, I’ve been foregoing seconds of any type of cake I have already gotten/cooked/or otherwise received. That means no more cheesecake at my  knitting group, no more doughnuts, no more walnut frosted.

I’m preparing to make a concession.

Since moving to Canada, something I’ve really come to enjoy is celebrating two Thanksgivings. One in October, the Canadian one, doesn’t have any of the normal family obligation for us so we usually take advantage by doing something a little out of the ordinary. Black and white monster movies from the 1940s, turkey dinner at a diner, naps and Indian delivery, these kinds of things. The last few years, we’ve been taken in by our Canadian buddies and treated to incredible vegetarian feasts of squash and oh-so-incredible tofurkey. One thing I’m sure to have twice is pumpkin pie.

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Leftovers from the “Canadian” feast with a Charley Harper puzzle – sounds like Thanksgiving to me.

Now that we’re on our way towards American Thanksgiving, formerly known as “Thanksgiving”, I think I’ll go ahead and give number __ to another round of this holiday classic. With every day this week at regular work hours, scrambling to make some sort of acceptable mini feast for ourselves, and make the most of the weird, electronic connection to our families that Skype will offer, I think a little comforting repetition is in order.

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30 Cakes (22/30)

Of all the phrases we hear (and use) too often, and I think ‘pleasant surprise’ is one of the ones I like least. This is only because when I actually do encounter one, the phrase kicks in and I immediately stop considering what makes the surprise pleasant. Like the other day when I ordered apple pie and coffee at a sandwich shop as part of my endeavor to eat 30 Cakes in this, my 30th year. It’s a deli so, low expectations, right? Wrong.

Apple pie and sweet surprises.

Apple pie and sweet surprises.

Turns out this sandwich shop (it’s called PHAT, you know, like pretty, hot and tasty) has an apple pie good enough to be tagged as a pleasant surprise. ‘Pleasant’ in that it’s nice to be presented with a something the maker of which cared about, took their time with, and wanted you to like. ‘Surprise’ because we spend so much time noting the petty problems and annoyances of a day, so when something nice comes at you, it’s probably better to drop the over-used phrases and just enjoy it.

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30 Cakes (20, 21/30)

This time last year, I had a little mini obsession with thinking being 30 would be hard. Days of dread, anticipated shame, and fear of having to start spending more time looking at wrinkle products drove me to finding something fun to ring in the year. What did I decide? That for something as eventful as turning 30, a single cake didn’t seem fitting. Thirty cakes, however, did. 

When the day finally approached, none of the bad feelings had really materialized and , 300 or so days later, I can this has turned out to be one of the most fun challenges I’ve set for myself. I say challenge because managing the cake schedule has turned out to be harder than turning 30 every even dared to be. Rolling toward the end of this endeavor, I’m  two cakes closer to the goal with an eight item to-do list ahead of me.

I swear I almost always eat hummus and pepper sandwiches at work because I’m super cheap, but sometimes I wind up in a little cafe watching the rain and all the downtown business people out an about. Doing so over a latte and lemon cake for number 20 is a pretty nice way to spend a half hour once in a while.

Number 21 is a bit of a cheat but it feels right in my heart – after all, what’s not cake-y about confetti cake batter? Thanks to a recipe found over at Tasty Little Crouton and a wonderful guy who understands that an ice cream maker is a romantic gift, a frozen version of my either birthday is now sitting happily in my favorite mug. 

Lemons for lunch.

woah, icecreamy.

woah, icecreamy.

 

 

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Impending Gloom

So, at the risk of sounding like one of those people who creates a problem and then complains about it, the time has arrived where things outside turn, as my favorite Irish buddy would say, ‘a bit grim’.

This will be, I think, our third winter here in Vancouver. I say ‘I think’ because it might actually be our fourth. At this point, Vancouver and I are in that steady phase of a relationship, not yet five years in but longer than two, where time has started to pass in unrecognizable ways. The kind where, when the time is actually counted up, you don’t feel like what’s happened in your life matches the resulting number. It feels a bit like when you are dating someone for longer than you normally do. On most days it’s nice – things have gotten comfortable, you know each other pretty well and can hang around happily without doing much. Then there’s the days when you see that lingering weird thing about the person that you don’t much like. Maybe they have an anger problem. Maybe they have smelly feet.

With me and Vancouver, it’s this:

Impending gloom.

Impending gloom.

Last week you were so nice with your warm sun and views of a mountain. Today you are grey. And I mean one-hundred percent grey. Grey skies, grey buildings, grey piles of soaked leaves all over the sidewalk. Grey.

Here’s the part where I’m complaining about something I caused myself. Who doesn’t understand that this is stuff of which the Pacific Southwest (or Northwest, depending on your perspective) is made? Who doubts the power of a literal rainforest to produce days and days and days of clouds and light rain? Who moves to British Columbia without a rain coat? That’s right, an idiot. From Florida.

This year, I’m determined not to fall victim to the gloomy bubble that is the sky above me and not to spend months complaining about it. How then will a sunbathing, flip-flop wearing, jean-shorts making girl like me combat impending gloom blues? Well, after some number of years, I can tell you it starts with a sunny breakfast.

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Thank goodness for my local grocery store owner who maintains a perpetual supply of grapefruits.

It also takes lots of candles, evenings with cool tunes on CITR or the turntable, puzzles, coffee at any hour, rain boots, fresh flowers, breaking up dark hours after diner with a walk up the street at Delany’s for hot chocolate, knitting, hockey, poutine, a sketchbook.

These will be the core strategies of my plan, but I’m open to additional research, suggestions, and, above all, not complaining. Happy grey days, Vancouver. Happy winter to us all.

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30 cakes (19/30)

Stitches and pumpkin cheesecake.

Stitches and pumpkin cheesecake.

Normally, I’m not a believer in organized fun. Events at work, group concert attendance, meeting strangers at coffee shops to discuss a common interest, none of these are what you might call “up my alley”. Thankfully, I seem to have usually had a nice little circle of close friends – people who are up for whatever and don’t need to plan things in advance. When we arrived in Vancouver, that circle shrank considerably, so I started looking for places to meet people outside work.

Adding to or building up a group of friends can shape your impression of a place. Even on vacation, we often judge the entire place we’re visiting on the few interactions we have with the locals. Where I grew up, people would often say that they didn’t like New York after visiting – “Everyone was so stuck up and busy,” “No one would talk to us” – these kinds of comments are thrown around as the official judgement of an entire city.  Whereas, if you have pleasant encounters on a trip, you tend to head home with warm feelings and happy stories more so than I think we often realize.

Vancouver is sort of notorious for it’s icy attitudes. People I meet here who are from other places often describe their friend-making experience as a challenge. Vancouverites have a class to attend or special interest group work to do or allergies to wheat, all of which can make going to grab a beer with someone more complicated than I’ve certainly ever encountered. Also, it’s a transient city, and that’s something I do know about. Living in a beach community as a kid meant summers filled with new kids to hang out with and weird, empty feelings when everyone went back home. In Tallahassee, where we lived last in Florida, the college atmosphere seems to make people want to “move on”. It was a place where attending going-away parties was pretty common. Since moving here, I’ve said good bye to a half dozen of the buddies who were drug away by work permits, calls to their home town, or jobs far away.

What I did find is one totally excellent group of knitters who are brought together by stitches and coffee and Thursday evenings. This is, technically, organized fun, but I have to say that seeking a interest group pretty soon after we arrived has been one of my best decisions yet. Found originally on meetup.com (Eek! How organized does that sound?) this group has strengthened my appreciation for how good we can be to each other without even knowing it. What you might call general chit chat and laughs over this or that thing we all experience in our knitting or in our lives has made a lovely little impact on me over the last few years. In the midst of people not making eye contact on the side walk or talking to their neighbors, there’s a little cluster of us who bring our own backgrounds and stories while we happily step away from our various jobs and kids and partners for a brief moment.

For this reason, I’m super happy to have indulged in cake #19 with my knitting buddies. When this sweater finally gets finished, I’ll be reminded of a chilly October evening with friends at Trees coffee shop where, by the way, you can get an absolutely delicious pumpkin cheesecake. And, if you’re someone living somewhere new, let me take a moment to tip my hat to those to are pulling together strangers at some coffee shop on some corner in your town. The work of connecting people sure isn’t easy these days, and a little appreciation to the talkers and the planners was given with each of this cake’s bites!

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30 cakes (16, 17, and 18 / 30)

Homemade plum cake, heavy on the egg whites.

Homemade plum and strawberry cake, heavy on the egg whites.

Lucky's doughnuts - lemon creme!

Lucky’s doughnuts – lemon cream!

My own invention - coconut pistachio with brown sugar caramel!

My own invention – coconut pistachio with brown sugar caramel.

September made for a strange collection of cakes – plums from BC made into a egg-white-heavy cake, a delicious treat from Lucky’s doughnuts, and an invented (as in, thrown together from whatever was in the cabinets) coconut and pistachio cake drenched in brown sugar caramel. Not too bad for a month, but still more work to do!

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Summer, according to my phone.

Recently, I was asked what thing about people bothered me the most – as in, did I have an irrational fear of the elderly or an instant dislike of people who perpetually told you the gritty details of their health problems. It was one of those things that you can only talk about with close friends, but we all have ‘peves’ with each other and it makes for pretty good fun to identify the minimally terrible and often hilarious things about your friends that you so enjoy.

One of the things we didn’t bring up was over-use of cell phones that seems to have become socially acceptable. It’s a practice of mine that I don’t use my phone when I’m talking to, sitting with, or generally in the same area as someone I know. Right next to hand written letters, I think people sharing time with each other is one of the greatest things about friendship and family. These days, so many conversations between two or more humans is perpetually stopped or distracted by looks into pockets or screen-based chats. Hopefully this is a trend that will die out as we realize how rude we are being to each other. Not trying to sound like a bossy old lady, but one can only hope.

In the meantime, I must admit that I remain undecided about the addition of phone cameras into our lives. While I’m certainly no professional, I have appreciated photography since I was given access to my dad’s old 35mm Cannon with detachable lenses when I was eight or maybe twelve. Seeing the working mechanisms of a little dark place that made printed copies of things that otherwise exist only in memory made me want to take pictures, study photographer’s styles and techniques, and generally appreciate thoughtful and interesting documentation of the world.

Perhaps mistakenly, I often don’t carry a camera these days because I can rely on my phone to take snapshots. This brings me back round to the over-use issue and, like I said, I actually don’t know where I stand on this. Yesterday, I purposefully didn’t bring a camera or my phone to the release of a hand full of Harbor Seals that I had helped care for as a volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Center. This was the annual volunteer-led release where the people who have helped feed and clean and grow and heal get to carry cages down to the water and release now-healthy seals. The beach is usually cluttered with friends and family and yesterday was no exception. The dry beach where we were was pretty shallow and everyone was standing as close as they could almost piled on top of each other. Amidst the crowded bodies, all arm were up and out; everyone was ready with their phone cameras.

What I’m afraid of is that this sort of photography removes us from the moments we are experiencing. There’s no zoom on those things, after all, so we must push our way to the front and sometimes get so close that we loose the perspective of a regular camera man – one where you take the whole scene into account, where the background matters too.

On the way home, I looked though the things I had photographed this summer and found another layer to the argument – I had not remembered several of the events documented with a quick snap, or should I say finger press, of the camera phone. For this, spy-camera-sized and instantly obtainable photo ability, I guess I’ll have to say I’m glad. But I still think we should put phones down more often and really look around, listen to each other, and try to remember the events of our lives. Here are a few that, thanks to having the phone,  I’ll remember from this summer.

My first 'swim' in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

My first ‘swim’ in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

Weird things downtown.

Weird things downtown.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

Neon.

Neon.

Wine and sunshine.

Wine and sunshine.

Cute street scenes.

Cute street scenes.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Jorts!

Jorts!

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

Visits to a muddy border.

Visits to a muddy border.

A picnic at Green College.

A picnic at Green College.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Appreciating the walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Meeting this guy.

Meeting this guy.

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The Halfway Report: 15/30

With the year mark coming back around faster than I am keeping up with, my plan of having 30 cakes in the first 365 days of my 30th year might need a little recap and refresh.

Luckily, I didn’t have to dig very deep to remember that I started this count at the birthday lunch I had with a wonderful friend who took me out for mini cakes and a palm reading (yes, both services are offered at the same venue – obviously an incredible pal for finding it and knowing how thoroughly happy it would make me). From there I was surprised at work with a chocolate cake breakfast and the ball, as they say, was officially in play.

I’ve since had cakes for Christmas, a famous Vancouver-style cupcake, and a stunning southern classic cake paired with champagne and a healthy dose of my girls back home. I’ve baked a few, including this coconut beauty, and tucked in a couple of  mini treats to what would have otherwise been regular days.

All told, I still have exactly 2 months and 29 days to finish. With the installment of #15 (spiced milk cake with caramel icing) and the incredible looking strawberry cake recipe that I was gifted recently, I think I’ll be well able to note this as a happy 30th year indeed.

15/30 - a classic milk cake recipe (with cardamom, nutmeg and all spice added to the milk) plus a brown sugar caramel icing - helps start Fall off right.

A classic milk cake recipe (with cardamom, nutmeg and all spice added to the milk) plus a brown sugar caramel and elderflower icings to help start Fall off right.

 

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30 Cakes (14/30)

I don’t know if you’ve been around since December, but it was in that month that I had a certain auto-versary. Rather than being filled with dread, the actual day of my 30th came and went riding on a pleasant sense of accomplishment. I decided it would be appropriate to continue the celebration and what better way to do that than to fill this year with 30 cakes.

Unfortunately it’s already the end of August and I’m falling behind. With the “heat” of summer (it’s Vancouver, but things are still pretty saucy out there) it’s just been too much to crank up the oven or encourage the desire for heavy-duty deserts. What to do? A little cool cheesecake seemed spot on, as they say.

Does this count as one or three?

Does this count as one or three?

Number 14 came in a set of three. I don’t know what it is about cheesecake that yields so popularly to sampler flavors – I have and always will prefer ‘plain’. Consumed in in the true spirit of things (with one bite of each to start) this little plate made a nice afternoon break from work the other day at a coffee shop around the corner. It even came with a kinda crazy sharp fork so hooray for that.

Now I just have to make sure I’m happy with my decision to count this as one and not three. Oh, and eat way more cake in the next few weeks! Anyone have a fun summer cake recipe to share? I’m thinking something fruity for number 15.

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The Vegetables of my Labo(u)r

June this year has been kinder than last. I’ve only had to wear rain boots two or three times so far and have switched to my lighter jackets successfully. That said, there’s still a chill in the air and we’ve been spooked out of camping twice so far with temperatures dropping to the single digits (Celsius, people… I’m trying!) still.

That said, one part of summer has already arrived – the happy results of early spring planting.

Bucket of greens fresh from the farm, er, I mean balcony.

Bucket of greens fresh from the farm, er, I mean balcony.

This wonderful little concoction of greens includes some kind of choy vegetable I forgot the specifics of, red and green leaf lettuces and a few pieces of arugula. Having grown up successfully (in spite of a north-facing lack of sun and squirrel who ate quite a few of their seedling brethren) these little greens will keep me from having to buy lettuces for a while.

But not everyone is an enemy!

Garden's friend.

Garden’s friend.

I still have sugar snap peas on the way and fingers crossed for red tomatoes (last year’s were mostly green).  I also have some wonderful flowers starting to come up so come on Summer and bring my little green balcony some sunny days, warmer nights!

Greening.

Greening.

Vegetables of my labo(u)r.

Vegetables of my labo(u)r.

 

 

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Explore(r)

This afternoon the weather is perfect; a cool breeze, blue sky, and warm sun are wrapped around the city and it feels like the forecast might just have enough teeth for it to stay like this a while. I walked a while this afternoon and contemplated how it’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere else.  In the early spring I had a excellent trip up the West Coast but since then we’ve been city bound.

In thinking about where I haven’t gone lately, I return to the notion that travel defines us. A trip can shape our outlook on the year and keeps us looking forward to something in the months leading up to the departure. We decorate our spaces ‘here’ with our best pictures from ‘there’ and we repeat stories from places other than home because those are the stories that become our favorites.

I also thought about how it’s almost our third anniversary with Canada. I certainly define myself as a person “who travels” and hope to see more and do more with each passing year. But what does it mean to stay put? To move and stay and live in a place that’s foreign? How long do you have to be there before you stop being a tourist? Is it when you know how to get around? When you accumulate all the spices you’ll ever need in your new house? When you can know that this is going to be one of the best days of summer because you’ve seen a few now and you can tell?

What I landed is the idea that maybe the thing I want to be isn’t ‘traveler’ so much as it is ‘explorer’. Not so much about racking up miles or ticking off lists, but to come to know a place through time, through experiences. To choose your path home by finding the one last street you haven’t yet walked. To learn the names of native trees and the animals who live in the woods. To get to know the guy who runs the market and how to find a quiet place even downtown.

This is a different type of travel. It’s slower. It happens more in your head than in your feet or on your passport. It’s not the kind of thing that works really well for stories. You can’t really get by telling an acquaintance about that time you learned which color slug was the native species without making a weirdo of yourself. A few years gone, I know the slug and I have a few sunny days to remember. I can tell Canada that I know it a little. I think it will listen to me in a way it couldn’t if I were only here a week or even a month. I’m an explorer, I will say, and I will come to know at least this one little peninsula here at the edge of the world.

Little roads, close to home.

Little roads, close to home.

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30 Cakes (12/30)

In December I turned 30 and to celebrate one day of fun just didn’t seem appropriate. Maybe it’s all the hype with becoming a real adult. Maybe it’s just because I like baking new things. Either way, this year is the year of 30 Cakes.

Number 12 is a nutty adventure – Walnut with Cardamom butter cream.

Spicy, nutty number 12.

Spicy, nutty number 12.

It’s modeled after a recipe found in a baking book left here by a friend of mine who has moved on to more southern climes (Australia, actually, which is almost as south as you can get! ). I modified it a little by adding yogurt to the ground-walnut-based batter and cardamom to the icing a little at a time until I ended up with just a hint of flavor beyond delicious sweetened butter icing.

Made in a loaf pan, this is a tasty little cake that might just wind up as breakfast tomorrow too!

(Hey. You on Instagram? I promise I don’t just take photos of cake!)

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30 Cakes (11/30)

In “The Life Aquatic”, Steve says that 10&1/2 is his favorite age. This I understand to be a protest of the power of 11.

Eleven marks a click in another dial. It is different. It’s the beginning of the time after the beginning.

The eleventh cake in this series is different too and is a testament to my kitchen-improv skills. I was in the mood to bake but realized only after preparing some of the ingredients (including the broken eggs if I remember correctly) that I was missing certain key liquids.

What to do? I could have made a quick trip to the store but decided instead to substitute rum for buttermilk.

Results? Not bad. Messy, but delicious, and a pretty good beginning to “the middle” if you ask me.

Rummy!

Rummy!

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30 Cakes (10/30)

Best cake name yet goes to this one: "The Diplomat"

Best cake name yet goes to this one: “The Diplomat”

Having your sister in town after finishing an awesome road trip is reason to celebrate so Cake 10/30 came with a few glasses of wine. This one is from True Confections, a desert-only restaurant here in Vancouver. Great idea, huh?

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30 Cakes (9/30)

Everybody needs goals, right? Well mine is to encounter 30 cakes this year in celebration of a certain birthday milestone. With February coming to a close, I’m just enjoying number 9 on a rainy afternoon.

9 of 30

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30 cakes (8/30)

So it’s half way through February, I’m at eight, and feeling quite good about the 30 Cakes Project. This one is a homemade attempt to rectify the many differences in coconut cake recipes I’ve been looking at for the last couple of days. I kept finding that I didn’t have all of the ingredients for any one of them so came up with a version containing what I did have. There’s apparently a neat way of making coconut buttercream with eggs that I want to try one day, but I’ll need like six eggs to make that work along with a fluffy cake. I only had three eggs and was tired of waiting for coconut cake so I improvised and came up with this beauty.

IMG_9313

It was incredibly coco-nutty and really sweet. I’ll need to do some adjusting to this before calling it a home run. Still, you can’t really go wrong with coconut anything if you ask me.

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the New North Country is expanding!

NNCG is expanding!

The new north country just got a little bigger folks. I’m not everywhere yet, but you can now follow me on Twitter  @newnorthcountry . I’m also working on a few Pinterest boards that you can see here.  Can’t wait to see you there!

(thanks to Little House of Rena for this cute pic)

My heart belongs to N.O.

After missing the last few years home for Christmas, we’ve booked tickets and will soon be south-bound. I’m really excited for family times and for warm weather and for lounging around with old friends. Also, the idea that we might make a sneaky little trip to one of my favorite places in the world, New Orleans. Skip the Bourbon Street and the ghost tours and head straight to the regular restaurants and quiet neighborhoods. Talk to the person who owns the book shop or take a side trip to the aquarium. To celebrate (and perhaps solidify) the potential for a visit, here’s a look at my last trip there a few years ago.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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