Melon for the melting

Notable things:

-The fantastic gluten-free pizza and organic Shiraz my uncle treated me to on Thursday. I was so excited (and impatient) by the arrival of my pizza, that I burnt the roof of my mouth royally. No matter; my tastebuds were in full motion. I ate like a champ. Their tomato sauce is so good, and the pizza so delicious that it renders the hour wait worthwhile. It is so good, in fact, that I don't even need the toppings (though I'll take kalamata olives any day of the week.) I wish I could remember the name of the Shiraz, because it, too, was pretty delicious.

-In honour of this heat wave, I purchased three slurpees and one giant, neon green freezie in the last week. I'm sure these are the types of things people generally don't admit to other people, but I have no shame. As I chomped on that freezie while walking across Dundas, you can bet everyone was jealous. Look at that freezie! said their faces. Oh, I know.

-Getting an Ontario watermelon (whatever that means anymore) for $1.99 and two pounds of red grapes for $.79 (however, points removed for having to carry that melon back to my apartment from Chinatown -- drats, my impulses!)

-Cadbury fruit and nut milk chocolate bars. I love dark chocolate -- oh, do I ever. But sometimes a girl just needs some milk chocolate. Especially accompanied by homemade iced coffee with extra milk. And especially accompanied by a couple episodes of Sex and the City: "The Cold War" where Carrie is seen with Petrovsky eating oysters and drinking champagne at Pastis and "Splat!". All of the cozying up and lush sweaters tempt me; I want to cuddle on the sofa with a book and a hot cup of tea (sweetened with black cherries, of course.) But I don't. I don't, readers, because it is 93°F outside. My face is melting off. I do love hopping in and out of a cold shower, though.

-I'm compiling all of my recipes tonight. I tried a few months ago, but took a break that lasted, well, until now. It's a big project. Thus the chocolate. And the iced coffee.

-The city smells of street meat. Mmm.

-I've heard the last dazzling review I need of SOMA's hot chocolate. As soon as it cools down enough to enjoy a hot beverage other than my morning coffee, you'll know where to find me.

Until then, I'll be washing dishes and recipe-filing.


The sweet smell of September

I know you've gone a while without a recipe.

Sorry to starve you; it wasn't my intention.

I'm in the business of preparing for fall, dear readers, and it is a booming business indeed. Since the late spring and summer have been somewhat unkind to my friend Anne and I, we took it upon ourselves to declare the end of August the beginning of autumn. No matter that I'm still one with my clothing after walking three blocks. If I were living in Tallahassee and not Toronto, this would be perfectly acceptable fall weather, and since Anne resides in the Sunshine State, I'll let her call the shots.

As a girl who never tires of soaking up warm-weather rays, who loves nothing more than to sit on an outdoor patio sipping a drink, who adores beach-combing and house parties and walking around the city without donning a parka and four layers of clothing, whose excitement over an abundant display of summer produce borders on obscene, my cheering on of the next season might come as a bit surprising. But, oh, I'm so ready for it; I'm ready for full-time work, for writing with a cup of hot tea in hand, for baking and roasting and stewing and braising, for bundling up in a cozy sweater, for the onslaught of squash and root vegetables, and for picking apples and eating them, making apple crisps, and applesauce. Turns out there's a lot to love about this thing called fall, a season I didn't get to wholly experience last year when, to my dismay, the leaves on the Northern Florida trees did not change colours. To tell you the truth, while I appreciated the warm climate, I missed my autumn, however short that time can sometimes be in southwestern Ontario. I'm imagining High Park in October, and the fantasy makes me smile wide.

Even if I were to ignore it, there's other signs autumn is already on its way, veering across open roads. I have in my hands Put 'em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook by Sherri Brooks Vinton, Recipes from the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables by Andrea Chesman, and The Zuni Café Cookbook by the remarkably talented Judy Rodgers of the Zuni Café in San Francisco. I'm lingering a little too long around the tea section of the grocery store. I'm making lists of films I'd like to see. I'm drafting ideas for stories. I'm considering how I might go about throwing a holiday get-together with some friends of mine months down the road, gathering to watch holiday movies and eat popcorn and cookies. I'm even bookmarking promising recipes for candies and baked goods. Did I mention the mulled wine -- Glühwein -- and all of the hot toddies, made with Forty Creek or Crown? It's preposterous.

However, I'm still eating a copious amount of salads, which I love, especially lettuce-based ones. Some I've eaten with chopped avocado, black olives, goat cheese, cucumber, and bacon, drizzled with chipotle-ranch-lime dressing. Some include a chopped, hardboiled egg. I'm dreaming up a salad with chickpeas, grilled vegetables, hummus, kalamata olives, and lemon juice. And yesterday's was probably my favourite: Romaine lettuce, tangy goat cheese, a lemon-oregano vinaigrette, smoky bacon, and baked sweet potato fries tossed in cumin and chili powder.

Let's talk sweet potatoes. Baked and dressed with a brown butter vinaigrette, or roasted with sea salt and rosemary. Mashed with coconut milk and macadamia nuts, or baked with a crispy, brown sugar topping. I especially like sweet potato fries, as I've mentioned, and goat cheese -- mmm. It's a tough cheese to beat in my books. Sure, I love a great vintage cheddar, or Havarti, or Pecorino Romano, or anything, really, that doesn't taste overly barnyard-y. But goat cheese deserves its own line. Its own book. I can't remember quite when I first tried it -- not too long ago -- but it's fantastic on just about anything. I'm sure some will disagree; that's okay. However, I have to say -- if I had a genie in front of me, ala Aladdin, one of my wishes would be to have an endless supply of chèvre. I'd then trot back to my apartment and live happily ever after in my goat cheese-gorging domain. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? Now, about tracking down that genie ...

Until fall officially announces its arrival, I'll be taking advantage of the abundance of lettuce still stocked at the stores, and be making salads all live long day. And you should make this one; it's yammy. Har har, I made an awful joke (and worse, it's copied from Big Fat Burrito.)

Salad with Baked Sweet Potato Fries & Goat Cheese

Adapted from Susan Anderson and Kevin at Closet Cooking

Serves 2

1 large sweet potato, peeled and sliced into fries
2 oz. goat cheese
2 slices bacon, cooked and roughly chopped (optional)
Two generous handfuls Romaine lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp sea or kosher salt

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from 1 juicy lemon
1 tsp dried oregano, or 1 tbsp fresh
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pre-heat oven (I used my trusty toaster oven) to 350°F/180°C. Toss fries with olive oil, cumin, chili powder, and salt. Layer the fries on an aluminum-lined tray and bake for 30-45 minutes, until crisp-tender.

While the fries bake, assemble the vinaigrette. Combine the lemon juice, oregano, garlic, and Dijon, and whisk to emulsify. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Taste, and season accordingly. Set aside for the flavours to mingle and become friendly.

Crumble goat cheese and bacon over Romaine lettuce, and top with sweet potato fries. Taste the vinaigrette one final time, season if necessary, and drizzle over the salad. Serve immediately.


Over a meal

9PM, leaning on a windowsill at the Carlu, glancing down at the bright lights of the city.

"So what's your story?" she asks. It's a popular question around these parts because everyone has one. Between bites of too-dry fish, cold steak, potatoes, and bitter greens dressed in a tomato vinaigrette, I tell her. "You just came to Toronto?" she asks again; I nod. Shrugging, I confess I've done smarter things in my life.

"Sometimes," I say, "you just have to take a chance, a giant leap, and see what happens." As soon as the words cross my lips they feel rehearsed, tacky, wisdom passed down, but I believe it and I live it. It feels kind of dramatic, like a pop song aimed at a teenaged demographic. "No one knows who she is or what her name is, I don't know where she came from or what her game is," Nick Gilder sings in "Hot Child in the City". Gilder was singing about child prostitutes on Hollywood Boulevard, but he could've just as easily been talking about us.

This girl's originally from Taiwan and is moving to Norway next week for six months to throw herself fully into the study of design. She says she wants to move to Sweden. Over our meal, she points to the building across the street, its lights like arrows pointing up to the sky. "Something like that brings out emotion in me," she explains. "Or apartment buildings. I imagine people living there, poking their heads out." In silence, we watch strangers as they walk the streets below. Looking out over the city, sharing a meal, we're the lucky ones.

*Image courtesy of Jeremy Wing.


"We'll collect the moments one by one / I guess that's how the future's done"

There is something so very magical about life.

I don't believe in fate or destiny or any of those things, but I don't see any harm in wishing. Nobody ever got to the top believing they were intended to stroll the streets, begging.

I fretted -- or had a small meltdown -- over my unemployment and have had a string of interviews since. I'm technically employed now, but I'm hoping something long-term will come about very shortly.

I felt lonely and wanted desperately to meet new friends; in turn, I met a large group of lovely people, quickly, through work.

I glanced at my cheap, crappy pots, adding new/not these pots to my list of things I'd like to obtain eventually (or soon), and when my former roommate came to visit this weekend, lo and behold, she brought two great steel pots, claiming they were mine. I don't think so -- I only owned a single pot when we lived together -- but I'll take the gift as a sign that maybe magic still wields its wonders, even in Hogtown.

A few years ago, I was looking to move into my first apartment. After scouring the ads obsessively, I met a girl online from Nova Scotia whom I felt instinctively was meant to be my roommate, and after several weeks of e-mailing and messaging, she was. Days later, I found our apartment.

I'm not saying we didn't go through our own adjustment phase, as all roommates must do, or that the apartment was perfect, but it has made for some humbling, wonderful stories. I recall Halloween 2007 rather vividly, considering that evening I somehow managed to crack our newly purchased water bottle and watched as the contents cascaded all over our kitchen floor. If I ever wanted to know what five gallons of water might look like, well, now I knew. There was the furnace filter that was so black and in need of changing it gave us both the most awful sore throats. The mice that ate my bedding and nibbled on my camera case. The mold in the bathroom. The nearly non-existent windows. Suffice to say, I learned many lessons that winter, all of them necessary.

However, no one can say we didn't eat like queens.

Yes, there were epic disasters, like the unedible carrot soup I made that I tossed off the back porch because it tasted so obnoxiously of garlic and fresh dill. But there's Silke's potato salad, a top secret recipe and for good reason -- it's the best potato salad I've ever eaten, and as someone who's consumed ten times her weight in potato salad over the years, I feel I have the authority to make such hefty declarations.

Oh -- Greek salads, silky hummus and a lemony, spicy lentil soup from a nearby restaurant; rice vermicelli bowls filled with lightly pickled vegetables, juicy and perfectly seasoned chargrilled pork, and a good dose of garlicky-sweet sriracha sauce, hot enough to turn a sick person well; addictive, gluten-free monkey bread that disappeared within a ten hour span (it contains raisins, and therefore qualifies as a breakfast food. Obviously); glorious cups of fair-trade coffee with cream. An assortment of memorable cheeses from our favourite cheesemonger at the Ottawa St. food market, thick tzatziki, giant kosher dill pickles eaten for lunch (as lunch?) on Saturday afternoons, tart crab apples, $8 rib-eye steaks, a 5lb basket of Montmorency cherries eaten within a week (oh, my poor belly!); Bubi's garlic sauce (also known as garlic crack); the nachos at Papa Cheneys accompanied by many whiskey sours; multiple bottles of Valpolicella; crispy fries dipped in mayonnaise; roasted chicken with lemon and garlic; spaghetti squash tossed in Alfredo sauce; the most amazing grapefruit from South Africa; pears poached in tea. Living together only encouraged our collective gluttony, but it was worth it. I still know who to go to with my latest culinary obsessions, of which there are many.

When she came to visit me this weekend with her fantastic boyfriend, it was a given the following days would be an absolute food fest.

Within twenty minutes of their arrival, we bore the brunt of a torrential downpour and walked over to a local English pub. I mean, you're basically talking about the duo who ran out in the middle of a serious winter snowstorm for a hot chocolate; what's a little rain?! It turns out, it's nothing much, especially when we glanced down at the plate of warm golden vegetables looking back at us. Sweet potato fries tossed with chili powder and cumin, dipped into chipotle aioli while we sat in red velvet booths, squeezing our soaked pant legs and laughing like the children we are. Sipping Strongbow and sitting back in our seats -- oh, the life. It's hard to contend with a Saturday night of catching up with friends, drinking English cider, our bellies full.

Coffee was drank. Four bottles of wine were emptied. Miser Wat was eaten. Potato salad was made, with local potatoes and dill -- and thank goodness. There's been a serious lack of potato salad in my life this summer, readers. And Laura Calder's chocolate cream cake? It was imagined. I want that cake. I want to eat a big slice of that cake, with a coffee, sitting next to my best friend. When I spotted it in the cookbook Silke bought for my birthday, I read over the ingredient list.

"Is there time to go out and get all of the ingredients?" she asked in that very mischivieous tone of hers. The cake will have to wait, but you bet your buttons it will materialize! Poof.

I suspect, ladies and gents, that this cookbook is a gem -- and not only for the Chocolate Cream Cake. The recipes are remarkably simple and easy to follow, and most call for fewer than ten ingredients (many less than five.) I happen to adore Laura Calder. In fact, I used to wake up at 7am to watch her, and followed the show with two eggs, sunny side up, topped with a tablespoon of cream cheese and fleur de sel.

"Really, a printed recipe is no different from a photograph of a person, snapped off guard at a specific moment in time. I see that as a good thing, because it means that every time I cook a dish, even if I've made it a hundred times before, it will have something new to tell me about itself, about the day I'm having, about what I'm hungry for in the broadest possible sense. Food has that way of pointing away from itself and back at us: that's why I find it interesting," Calder writes in French Taste. I would contend that encountering a great recipe is like meeting a new, great person -- someone who is open and available, someone who invites you into their life wholeheartedly and lets you see every crack and corner of his or her personality. Besides, I have no room for snobbery in my repertoire; the only recipes for me are the ones adaptable to change, that are varied, that are alive, that are totally and fully themselves.

That's when the magic happens, after all.

*The title of this entry is taken from "Mushaboom" by Feist


Quarter of a century

It's official: I'm 25. So far, a quarter of a century looks great; I can't tell you how excited I am about the future. I woke up, and the world somehow became brighter and more beautiful.

This week has been full of surprises. I interviewed for an Assistant Editor position on Wednesday, and it was botched in the best of ways possible. I was greeted by a stunning woman donning a gray Banana Republic dress, and I followed her kitten heels through the office. Immediately, I liked her -- and felt she would be, in some irrational, inexplicable way, important to me. Within fifteen minutes, she concluded the interview with some careful discernments.

"Listen," she said. "To be honest, this position isn't for you -- you'll be bored. If you want my advice, figure out what it is you want to do, and find a way to do it, and don't waste a year on this job. You're young."

She also asked if I would talk about my Master's thesis, a book I wrote and quickly threw aside out of embarassment. To my surprise, she deemed the concept interesting, and requested I send her sample of my writing to see whether I might qualify for freelance work. She mentioned something about developing a book out of it, but the details, understandably, are blurry. "No promises," she said, as she handed me her business card. You'd think I'd be disappointed, but instead I smiled, almost laughed.

For years, I've wanted to be an editor. For years, I've been told I'd make a suitable editor. I've worked on book projects, I've taken courses, I've read the books. Perhaps I would've made a stellar Assistant Editor a year ago, or three years ago. But now, the shoe just won't fit. For a long while, I've wondered if it's even what I would like to do. Having the notion quelched was, in actuality, a terrific relief; no longer am I chained to this outdated dream of mine, but permitted -- nay, encouraged! -- to start fresh. The second interview of the day? It went very well. I slipped into those peep-toe heels and, instantaneously, felt at home.

I rang in 25 digitally with my close friends, Anne and Kim, at midnight. The next day, I slept in late, ate a delicious cheddar and jalapeno omelet, drank too much coffee, and devoured an intensely fragrant, juicy grapefruit that I bought the previous day in Chinatown. Glorious! Just as I reconciled myself to a day of cleaning and possible solo wine drinking, Andrea came to my rescue and proposed a night out. Dinner, drinks and Dawson's Creek; it's hard to beat that trifecta. And so after strolling around Yorkville, reading and walking, we met up and wandered down Yonge before entering a Thai restaurant.

The rest of the night becomes about as clear as my interview with the editor -- the result of putting away an entire bottle of brut champagne by one's self, in addition to the girly cocktail I enjoyed at the restaurant made of vodka and passion fruit liqueur (a birthday necessity!) The next day, when I awoke with a massive headache and walked around my hot apartment, I experienced the downside of being 25. I'm no longer nineteen, or even twenty-one, and therefore can't bounce out of bed ready to take on the world. Or the sunlight. My face lies, but I'm slowly but surely getting older.

I think I'll try 25 for a while.

Things I have learned in the last year:

-Fresh potatoes taste extremely earthy in the best way;
-There is something really lovely about wishful thinking -- for the less religious among us, it's all we've got;
-People in the American south know how to party like nobody's business -- there must be something in the Maker's Mark;
-There's nothing wrong with a little Taio Cruz to jumpstart your day.

So I raise a toast to another 25, surrounded by great food, great drink and a fabulous community of friends and family who make the living worthwhile -- cheers.


An unlikely paradox: fashion and lentils

The Toronto I know and usually adore has transmutated into a muggy, humid hole of a place. But readers, like almost everything, it hasn't been all bad.

Outside, a car alarm beeps loudly and refuses to cease. I'm not generally a night owl, but I like this time -- a time when the city has quieted, and a new kind of beauty appears. It's not an obvious one; Toronto is rough around the edges. It's not easy to love, and it doesn't don the dresses and designer pantsuits it presents to its shoppers along Bloor St.

But there's that adorable, chubby little girl on Dufferin who made me smile wide. There's R., who works hard and talks about waking up to do yoga in the morning; who throws solo dance parties in the middle of service by salsa dancing on the concrete floors of the kitchen as caterers swirl a roasted garlic and dill aioli over tiny salmon cakes. Tonight I met Huiwot, a twentysomething who laughs more than anyone I've ever met and can be depended on to crack a solid joke just when you need one. She also happens to have a special knack for finding appropriate hiding places for leftover pastries. How do you turn your back on a city that begs you to see it for all of its splendid diversity? Sometimes, it turns out, all you need is two cardboard boxes filled with leftover food, a free ticket home, and a funny companion who grows increasingly excited by the possibility of meeting! the! final! four! tennis! champs!

As of right now, I have no fewer than fifteen borrowed books on my sofa as I type this. I'm not sure when I will read them, but I'm looking forward to whenever that is -- and happy that more and more, I am forced to make time for things, a sure sign that life is (!) moving ahead (!). I am holding on to these wings.

On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of attending the launch party of a fashion line, and was, wonder of wonders, the lone woman of the evening. I often love my job. A single girl among fifteen men! Oh my good luck. I also managed to fanagle an escort to my bus stop, which proves that either I have yet to lose my magic touch or have very good luck indeed. It was a fun evening that culminated with my supervisor sticking a gold star next to my name -- like kindergarten, but with booze.

What has been my sustenance through all of this excitement? A lentil salad -- a humble meal for one. I know what you might be thinking. Lentils? Really? Those things that taste of earth and stone? Yes, those things that taste of earth and stone! Before you call me crazy, know that this salad calls for bacon. Let me tell you: my love for bacon is deep-seeded and incorrigible, and I suspect yours might be, too. Hello, strips of crisp saltiness! Is there anything better than the sound of bacon crackling and spluttering in its own grease within a cast iron pan? Especially as you, still sleepy, sip on a cup of hot coffee and listen to the likes of Sia and Ingrid Michaelson, sun dappling the top of your kitchen island? I'm sure there is something better, but, oh, bacon, you come awfully close. Romancing one's self is underrated.

I also happen to be of the camp that loves lentils. French green lentils are the best, otherwise known as Puy lentils, but regular green or brown lentils work just as well in this recipe. Tossed with rendered bacon fat and red wine vinegar, and topped with a runny egg, it is a fabulous food for a roaster of a summer day.

I hope you like it as much I do.

Lentils with Bacon and Red Wine Vinegar

Serves 4

1 cup green lentils

3-4 strips thick-cut bacon, diced

Rendered bacon fat
1 tsp good quality Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

4 poached or fried eggs (optional)

Add the lentils to a pot, fill with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and continue cooking until lentils are tender, about 20-25 minutes. I like to add a dried bayleaf to my lentils, but this step is entirely optional.

While the lentils simmer, slowly cook the bacon over low heat. If you cook the bacon on too high a temperature, the fat will not render properly -- and trust me, you want the fat. Low and slow is the way to go.

As the bacon cooks, assemble the vinaigrette. Combine the mustard with the red wine vinegar to emulsify, and add the garlic and onion. When the bacon has finished cooking, remove the strips from the pan and set aside. Quickly whisk about 3-5 tablespoons of rendered bacon fat into the vinaigrette. Season to taste. Dice the bacon, add to the lentils, and pour the vinaigrette over the salad, tossing well to combine. Enjoy topped with a poached or fried egg if desired, or crumbled goat's cheese and toasted, chopped walnuts.



Alone in the kitchen with a cold sausage, or why I'm the only one who finds my poetry sexy

There are events that might lead a girl to stand in her kitchen at 2am wearing a tank top and short shorts, eating a cold spicy Italian pork sausage dipped in yellow mustard over a wood counter. Namely: a wedding at the Royal Ontario Museum that went on all night.

There are perks to serving with a catering company. Seeing as I'm virtually penniless and practically unemployed -- and may or may not have a history of dating not-so-rich men -- the closest I'll ever get to attending a wedding of this magnitude is to serve at one. Hours of setting white table cloths just so, setting up silverware and pouring water yielded one of the most beautiful weddings I've ever seen (not that I'm an authoritative arbiter of taste when it comes to weddings, but it was genuinely gorgeous.)

Of course, the food deserves a mention: miso beef satays; california sushi rolls garnished with wasabi mayo; crisp endive boats filled with chopped walnuts, roasted pears and Roquefort; truffled ricotta ravioli with a fragrant basil pesto; roasted golden and purple beet salad with goat cheese and citrus vinaigrette; a mushroom tart overflowing with oozy cheese; nicely seared black cod served on a lentil-mango cake or a 60-day aged beef tenderloin accompanied by roasted fingerling potatoes; vanilla crème brulée spiked with cinnamon that was likely the creamiest thing you'd ever eaten in your life. Suddenly it was midnight, and somewhere in there I poured wine without spilling any and had to hold back tears as I set up coffee cups when the father spoke proudly of his very accomplished daughter and equally accomplished son-in-law.

But when I finally trucked my aching body home around 1:30AM, the only thing on my mind was -- that is, apart from sleep and aspirin -- sausage.

Sometimes a couple date bars and a cup of hot, weak coffee just won't cut it.

What do I eat when no one is watching? I buy cream cheese in plastic tubs, and when the tub is just about finished, I smash a couple crackers inside, smoosh it all around, and eat the concoction with a crack of black pepper.

I like to scoop mouthfuls of cottage cheese right from the container while lying on the couch fanning myself on a hot day, watching bad daytime television. I often forget about my second cup of coffee in the morning and end up drinking it cold. Which, by the way, suits me just fine. I get unreasonably excited over the prospect of treating myself to a jumbo freezie from the convenience store down the street, $.65. In fact, I get so excited I almost skip back to my apartment. Almost. And I eat whole, plain lemons, alone, so no one will give me the look that says, you eat lemons? or will remind me my practices, in addition to being entirely unconventional, are detrimental to my decaying tooth enamel.

There you have it, the makings of a gourmand. So it won't surprise you to learn that after a long night serving rather pleasant people and working alongside fellow servers (otherwise known as future friends), I retired to my single girl apartment to devour a cold sausage with my hands, happily dipping it in a pool of yellow mustard. Readers, I have no shame.

What do you eat when you are alone, and you believe no one is watching?


After breakfast

"Hope is a good breakfast," Aster Ketsela Belayneh, owner of Ethiopian restaurant Addis Ababa, says in The Recipe of Love: An Ethiopian Cookbook. That's a statement I can get behind.

I rise in the morning for strong coffee and breakfast, even if "strong coffee" means gulping from a travel mug as I power walk to the subway and act as though I am immune to humidity, and even if "breakfast" translates roughly into quickly devouring a bowl of plain yogurt laced with fresh peaches, cinnamon, chopped walnuts and a drizzle of clover honey, almost forgetting to chew.

I'm not sure what would get me out of bed otherwise. The promise of a beach day? A trip to the moon? It's hard to compete with breakfast. And coffee -- there is something about coffee brewing, perfuming the air with that lovely warm aroma, that sends my senses ablaze. It's comforting. Almost every morning, like clock work, I pull out my favourite green mug from the cupboard and pour in a little cream, anticipating that first rich taste. It's a small ritual, nearly insignificant, but I suppose that is when I hope -- when I dare to plant a mental seed for the day.

I hesitated for a while about posting this recipe, hoed and hummed a little. People tend to turn off whenever I broach the subject of vegetarian cuisine -- oh the controversy! However! This recipe is delicious. Very delicious. And, joy of joys, it comes with an anecdote.

Once upon a time, I was sixteen -- hard to believe, I know. I met a girl in my creative writing class in high school who seemed to speak another language; she was an outspoken environmental activist, a spirited writer and, fortunately for me, had excellent taste in music. We exchanged poetry and talked Tori Amos and violins, and she introduced me to Bob Dylan, a musician, who, surprise surprise, quickly became one of my great loves. So it came to pass that one Friday night in the winter of 2001 two smart women found themselves at Marathon, an Ethiopian restaurant on University Ave. in downtown Windsor, talking about projects and the future, our lives open before us like blank books.

I've gone back over the years. It's interesting to see the evolution from where I was at sixteen to who I am at twenty-four. I eventually lost touch with the girl when she left to plant trees up North one summer and we went our separate ways. But, she gave me Marathon, she gave me Mr. Dylan, and she provided me with this entry. She also managed to successfully accomplish a crucial and difficult feat: to make high school interesting.

To provide a bit of background on Ethiopian food for those of you who are unfamiliar: Ethiopian meals are served traditionally with injera, a thin pancake of a bread that bears some similarities to sourdough. Injera serves as both the plate and the utensil in this case. Diners huddle over one or two plates together, depending on the size of the group, and eat. This practice may sound odd to Westerners, but might appeal to those who often enjoy sharing meals. "People who eat off the same plate will never betray each other," a popular Ethiopian proverb goes.

My favourite dish and one I've come to rely on heavily over the last couple months is a red lentil stew called Miser Wat (see also Meser Wat, Yemiser Wat, Miser Watt and Miser Wet.) While the meat-based dishes are wonderful in and of themselves, it is the vegetarian ones that truly shine. I serve this stew hot over brown rice, but it's also fabulous with injera or served atop white rice (I recommend basmati.) The preparation is a little involved and time consuming, but, I promise, low-maintenance. As an added bonus, the stew freezes and re-heats extremely well, and apart from the requisite spices, the ingredients called for in most Ethiopian recipes are relatively inexpensive. If hope is a good breakfast, then perhaps peace is a good dinner.

And tomorrow? I'm going to wake up early and eat my breakfast.

Miser Wat

Serves 3-4 (1/2 cup servings)

2 tbsp clarified butter or ghee (unsalted butter is also fine)
1 cooking onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
5-7 tbsp Berbere spice*
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/8 cup heavy-bodied, dry red wine (optional)
1 cup red lentils
3-4 cups warm water or good tasting vegetable stock
1 tbsp sea salt + more to taste
Cayenne pepper or harissa, to taste (optional)

Rice or injera
Romaine lettuce, roughly chopped

5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice + zest of the lemon
Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

In a large, high-rimmed skillet heat the butter or ghee over medium-high heat and add the onion. Cook the onion until it has softened and begins to caramelize, about five minutes, and add the ginger and garlic. Using a wooden spoon, mix the aromatics well to ensure everything is evenly coated in butter. Once fragrant, incorporate the Berbere spice. Add tomatoes, paste, wine (if using), lentils, and 3 cups of warm water or heated stock (you might need more) and bring to a boil. Reduce to a strong simmer and continue to cook, covered, for an additional 30-40 minutes, or until the structure of the lentils loosens. Keep an eye out on the liquid and add more water or stock as necessary, 1/2 cup at a time. The starch from the lentils will thicken the mixture substantially, but you're looking for a consistency similar to that of pea soup.

In the meantime, make the vinaigrette for an accompanying salad. Wat is generally served alongside collard greens (usually kale) and/or surrounded by a simple lettuce and tomato salad dressed with a very light-tasting vinaigrette. My preference is for regular Romaine lettuce hit with a more aggressive punch; the lemon juice cuts the spiciness of the dish extremely well and adds brightness to the stew. To assemble the vinaigrette, mix the lemon juice with the olive oil and whisk vigorously to emulsify. Add salt and cracked black pepper to taste, and adjust your vinegar/oil ratio to your preference. Dress the roughly chopped lettuce five minutes before the lentil dish is complete so that the lettuce has a chance to absorb the vinaigrette.

Once the lentils have finished cooking, stir in the salt and adjust the seasoning.

To serve, layer the plates with the salad, rice, and lentil stew in that order. If serving on injera, scoop the stew over the injera and place the salad separtely on the injera. Let cool to desired temperature and eat, adding cayenne pepper or harissa if desired and salting to taste. The amount of salt needed will depend on the spice mixture used; mine is salt-free, and so I tend to salt liberally.

Best consumed within five days or freeze for future use.

*You should be able to find Berbere spice at any spice store or international grocer, but if not, try this recipe. Start with 4-5 tablespoons and add more to taste. I know the spice mix calls for many different spices, but Berbere (pronounced BUR-berry) is incomparable to anything else out there and is an essential ingredient in many Ethiopian dishes.


one martini, two martini, three martini...floor.

I went on my uncle's boat yesterday and we rode over to the Island. An afternoon of caramel apple martinis and conversation. It was really lovely, but I must confess the afternoon went a little like this: one martini, two martini, three martini, floor.

I put up a brave fight, dear readers, but I've become a terrible lightweight. My days of drinking double rye and waters of epic numbers are gone. It's the heat and the smog, I'm telling you! Honest to goodness truth! Somehow I don't think my declarations were all that convincing.

We passed a school of sailboats and I mentioned how I would like to do that sometime. "Sign up next summer," my uncle said, "and find a nice man whose parents belong to the club." Well, that sounds easy enough.

The conversation reminds me of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" because it recalls the questions we ask ourselves (I ask myself?) about whether we'll fulfill all of our wild dreams, whether we'll find the courage within ourselves to move forward, whether we'll make it. "Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?" she asks, but we never know, of course. Judging strictly by the conversations I've shared with others while under the influence (!), though, I can't help but feel as though so many of life's answers can be found at the bottom of a martini glass, caramel apple or no, and that by discussing our fears with others we can somehow expunge them from our thoughts. Or something like that.

(I'll quit with the martini jokes, I promise.)

As Elizabeth Gilbert announces so candidly in Committed, "I went to Cambodia because I had to go. It may have been a messy and botched experience, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't have gone. Sometimes life is messy and botched. We do our best. We don't always know the right move." We just flat out don't know. Can I manoeuvre a sailboat? Can I succeed in this city? Can I learn how to bake a soufflé without burning it?

I think Baroque painter Caravaggio had the right idea. Even in the darkness, all of the objects that appear in his works are strikingly clear and visible. Perhaps if we're willing to open our eyes, the darkness has the ability to shine a little light -- however dim the light may be. And maybe if we're too preoccupied with the search for a bright, obvious light, we'll miss our chance to move out of the rabbit hole. Sometimes our wants come to look so different than we ever expected them to.

Thank goodness for that.

Caramel Apple Martini

2 parts butterscotch schnapps
2 parts sour apple liqueur
1 part vodka

Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Pace yourself: it may taste like candy, but this drink is as potent as they come.
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