Available resources

A woman at my office has a plum tree in her backyard. Every week I walk into the communal kitchen to a cookie sheet piled high with thin-skinned, sweet-tart fruit. It's kept me from the grocery store for two weeks now as I try to eat through my storage supply before The Big Move, destination TBA. I have to be out of my apartment in eight days. I've applied for places. I spend all of my free time hunting for places. When this is all over, I want a long bath, a good book and a glass of wine the size of my head. A slice of peach crisp, the fruit still toothsome and the oatmeal well-done, flecked with cinnamon and a hint of nutmeg.

"I have to watch whom I let pick from my trees," the woman mentions to me one morning as we fix our coffees. "You have to be careful, otherwise all of the fruit will drop to the ground." As I've grown older, it seems my decisions hold more weight than they used to: the consequences feel heavier. I'd never minded my mistakes before; failed kitchen debacles, lousy apartment choices, money unwisely, nights that bled into mornings, were all woven into what it means to be alive. I was watering my wisdom. These days I mainly try to keep the fruit on the tree or in my belly, trying to prevent everything from spoiling along the roots of the tree.

Last summer, when I took part in a renegade-type of not-for-profit group that picked urban-grown fruit for charities, we'd discuss how we'd use our bounty. There was rarely enough to do much of anything with, but there were always leftover apples. I made several pints of applesauce that I used in baking throughout the winter. Sometimes, when I feel like I'm out of resources, I think about those apples. I think about the crab apples my sister and I picked from my Nan's yard when we were kids, removing the worms with knives and eating the crunchy, sour flesh plain, mouths puckering. They weren't perfect, but they were salvaged.

There's a lot to say about our world in light of the shooting in the Colorado movie theatre or the shooting in Little Italy or the myriad of other events that have occurred in the past few weeks. But this is what we're left to work with; this is the mess we're to pick up after. The real challenge, so it seems sometimes, is not to prevent plums from falling the ground -- this they're going to do regardless of our interference or lack thereof -- but to see what we can do with them, to work with them, and to show others by our example how to make the most of what's been left behind to rot.

Until then, I'll deam of genies and peach crisps, of wine and relief.


Slowing down

There's something about Detroit that haunts me. Not the way that Windsor haunts me, with the memories of poetry and fiction readings at Phog or Vermouth or the grad lounge, where we used to go before it was torn down, the medical building erected in its place. I remember the laughter. Half-full rock glasses clanging against the wooden tables, the nervous energy of a dozen quirky literature students, their anxieties quelled temporarily by the dreams on their shoulders. Violins played with such spark at the Dominion House by the red-headed son of a famous writer, who talks about geography the way someone might talk about romance, and with the kind of longing you might expect to hear from an unrequited love.

We picked at plates of French fries, dipped them in pools of mayonnaise and cleared our throats with swigs of hard cider. We walked home in the dead of winter, grounds covered in snow. Some say the city has no culture, but I say it's just a different sort of culture. It's not presented in the form of $27 entrees and chic coffee houses, names in fine typography; it's $5 pints of beer and boots stomping against the old, creaky floorboards and browsing antique shops in Walkerville. It's taking the boat out on Canada Day and inviting everyone you know to the twelve-foot bombfire. It's watching your friend's grandmother make homemade relish. Running through the cornfields at eight years old and eating rhubarb straight from the ground, no sugar. It's teaching your children to ice skate when the lake freezes over.

An ex-boyfriend of mine was fascinated by graffiti. We spent our weekends walking around the city taking photographs and analyzing signatures. I was curious at first as to why; I'd never given much thought to it. But it was reflective of the surrounding area and of those who lived there, of their experiences and their history. And if I had to characterize Windsor's culture, I'd say it's like that. I don't know that most people understand it or even pay attention to it. It seems people would rather cover it with white space or erase it and pretend it never happened and have everyone go on living the way they always have. But it's like that to me: anyone can get involved and anyone can have a say, and in that sense it's the People's Culture. Consumerism, capitalism, they have no value there; it's free-flowing beer on a hot day. It's honest expression.

Detroit doesn't haunt me that way because none of my memories were born there. I grew up across the river and consequently have never been Canadian enough for the Canadians nor American enough for a Green Card, and while two years in the Big Smoke have taught me something about real winter and celcius and have me listening to CBC and reading the Globe & Mail with some sort of regularity, I'm still a Windsorite, one who is continually moved and inspired by the broken working places -- like Windsor, like Detroit -- with holes that need patching and an economy in disrepair but a lot of soul. A whole lot of soul.

In a recent Food & Wine article, Phil Cooley, co-owner of Slow's in Detroit, mentioned that "Detroiters are way stronger than most people." I think it's true. I think it's sometimes true of Windsorites. I caught up with an old friend of mine last summer, and over ribs and red wine I mentioned that I was working two jobs; he laughed and said the same. "Around here, people are always asking me why," I said. He smiled and said, "it's because we're from Windsor, it's normal there."

Two years in the Big Smoke and I still think of Windsor as home. I don't yearn for it, but I feel a connection. The kind of thing that keeps you level-headed and mindful of the environment and community and homelessness. I guess all of the things that you'd file under the humanity umbrella.

And this chicken? She can compete with any bird. She's smokey and succulent and absolutely perfect with sweet potato coins roasted gently alongside her. My favourite thing to do with a whole bird is to brine it; I'm convinced of the difference it makes. Brining tenderizes the meat, yes, but it also flavours it fully and intensely. The spice mix created by chef Brian Perrone is also pretty exceptional. It's a bit of a jerk chicken riff -- the cayenne, the allspice -- but smokier. This recipe calls for a smoker, but I roasted mine at 400F for 20 minutes (uncovered) and turned the oven down to 350(covered) for the remainder of the time, about an hour (or longer, depending on size), until the legs come away from the cavity and the juices run clear. In the crazy heat we had this winter. Because I was lusting after chicken.

As three girls I know donned big white dresses this weekend, I went to a small white house party.

Everyone wore white -- except the woman dressed in black, who apparently didn't get the memo. In typical yuppie elitist fashion, the women, glamazons with perfectly toned bodies and designer clothes and long hair, were full on two cherry tomatoes and drank until they fell over and flashed a fake boob on their way down, and I ate smoked meat in the back room in my frumpy black uniform and cleaned up their cigarette butts and somehow felt like less of a woman because I'll never fill out a bikini top or figure out how to use a curling iron or be six feet tall. And that's really how it is here sometimes. And then I let it go, because honestly, there are more important things in life.

Like wine. For instance.

I arrived back at my apartment at 3am, sore and tired. So tired, in fact, that Sunday morning I was halfway through my protein shake before I realized my almond milk had in fact expired. One day I will disappear and someone will come to my rescue only to find me stuck to my bedsheets with "Body just gave up. Cheers, S." stuck to my backside.

But I insisted on this chicken, purchased from a good, reputable butcher. Sunday dinner -- the chicken, sweet potatoes, asparagus, and a fine glass of Chianti -- was perfect, and somehow made the beginning of a new week a little easier to swallow.

Detroit, you really know how to bring a girl to her knees.

Get the recipe here (I roasted a 3lb chicken and halved the recipe to great results.)


So this is June.

Dear reader, I hope you weren't holding your breath.

I've been wanting to publish something here in this small space. May was a lovely month: the weather was gorgeous; I went to my uncle's cottage and saw the Super Moon rise over the lake; my sister came to visit me and we ate delicious Italian food and shopped until our legs turned to jello and watched bad romantic comedies over cheap bottles of wine; I was there for the rooftop birthday party and at Christie Pitts when we set off the fireworks, and I was there at Detour, an alleged hidden gem in Kensington Market, and served Wild Turkey on the rocks in a reusable plastic cup. I ate Lebanese food on a patio while catching up with a new friend, and laughed with another over plates of duck confit at Table 17, a real hidden gem. My hard drive crashed. My cell phone died. I ate homemade banana frozen yogurt. I enrolled in correspondence classes. I saw a naturopath for the first time.

And then I read Marina Keegan's final column, "The Opposite of Loneliness," in the Yale Daily News regarding the impending graduation of the class of '12. Keegan died recently in a car accident after returning from spring break; she was 22.

It's been a few years since I last graced the grounds of my college campus, but her words resonate within me. A day here in Toronto is spent hurriedly getting to the next: washing dishes, throwing together meals, reading, running errands, finishing up the last jar of the organic Coral Star peaches I bought last year at the Brickworks Farmer's Market in August, a batch of seconds no one would buy because no one in their right mind would willingly turn on their gas stove in the wild, damp heat of that afternoon to preserve a batch of the sweetest fruit. The days felt longer back then somehow, as if the magical evenings we spent at the Dominion House sipping on pints, shouting and discussing literary criticism made time stand still. I remember trudging back to my apartment across the grass with such optimism, moved by the prospect that I had my entire life ahead of me to make a mark on the world.

My experience with my classmates certainly was as Keegan states: "not quite love and not quite community." But our lives were certainly interconnected. Being in graduate school was like living on the inside for the first time. I met a group of likeminded people who felt equally strange and who had the most interesting things to say. Leaving that web wasn't easy; nothing, no great city or perfect spouse or ideal career, can replace what connection does. I was lucky to have found it once, to have found it again in Tallahassee, and to have come upon it in happenstance when I started working in catering twenty-two months ago. "Why work a full-time job and a part-time job?" I've been asked, understandably. Part of it is because I'm from Windsor. That's what we do. But mostly I want to say that it's because this is rare, this sort of thing where we can pick up where we left off, where we support each other in our endeavours, where we laugh and laugh and laugh.

You were correct, Marina; they are not THE BEST years. They are the beginning of THE BEST life. And thanks to your wisdom and foresight, so many people will take a chance and live it.
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