Food, glorious food

I enjoy cooking and baking.  I also enjoy eating.  Food is one of the greatest pleasures in my life.  Almost of all of my treasured memories are tied to food; it’s actually a bit of a running joke in my family that I will tell some story about my childhood, and the conclusion will be “and then we went out for ice cream”.  To say that I love going out to eat in restaurants is a bit of an understatement.  When Jason first came to visit Ottawa, I didn’t plan a list of things to do; I planned a list of things to eat.  I had very few ‘deal-breakers’ in our relationship, but one of the top three was that he had to like Vietnamese food.  If he couldn’t handle a bowl of pho, then it wasn’t going to work.

Lucky for me, he’s likes the stuff.

Many of my childhood memories are of being in the kitchen at our old house.  It was a small space, but it’s where we congregated for tea, where hurt knees were bandaged, where art projects were completed.  My mum was the primary cook in our family, although Dad did prepare food from time to time: Kraft Dinner with peas and tuna (blech!), hot dogs with fried onions and oven-toasted buns, eye of round roast beef, and pancakes.  Daddy’s special pancakes.  No other kind will do.  But it’s my mother I’m thinking about here.

Mum was (and still is) a wizard at “concocting”.  She was always able to throw together a meal from whatever we had in the fridge and pantry, occasionally specializing in the “weird and wonderful”.  By watching her cook, I learned how to prepare food on the cheap.  Shop where immigrants shop.  Always have a can of beans and a can of tomatoes on hand.  Go to the Parkdale Market at the end of the day because vendors will give you more for less.  Make soup.  When all else fails, make tea biscuits.

(It should be noted that while my dad’s pancakes are textbook perfect, Mum’s tea biscuits are never the same twice, but it doesn’t really matter.  Slather them with jam and butter and honey and make a pot of tea and no one will know the difference.)

I remember learning to cook, starting small with scrambled eggs and french toast, then progressing onto more complicated things (delicious delicious baked goods).  If it wasn’t for “Kids Cooking” by Klutz Press and measuring cups I doubt I would have learned my fractions.  Our copy of “Kids Cooking” is crusty and sticky, the pages for brownies and chocolate chip cookies almost impossible to open.  I bought my own copy when I first went to university, and it already has a fair number of stains and smudges on its pages.  I also made many recipes from another children’s cookbook, also titled “Kids Cooking”, although this one was part of the Company’s Coming series.  Childrens and college cookbooks are still my go-to manuals when preparing a meal; I like their simplicity and clarity.  A recipe for a good spaghetti sauce is something to be treasured, no matter if it originates from a primary coloured tome illustrated with anthropormorphic bears or not.

I consider myself lucky: I learned to cook as a child.  I learned how to plan meals, go grocery shopping, adapt ingredients, troubleshoot when necessary, and most importantly, how to prepare and present full meals.  This made university life much more pleasant (and much less expensive).  I can still remember walking into my residence kitchen, and finding a first year who did not know how to make his own pasta.  It was a sad day.  I don’t think anyone should be allowed to graduate high school until they can plan and cook one week’s worth of meals, and also be able to do all the laundry for said week.  My cooking and baking skills ultimately made me popular at parties, dinners, and potlucks, and I think it is safe to say that it also won me a boyfriend/fiance/husband.  A nice perk to learning how to make tacos when I was eight or nine.

(to be continued)

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Random thoughts

Two things have come into our lives recently…and have improved our quality of life in a big way.  It’s been hot in Ontario.  Really effing hot.  And really effing humid.  I have more of a problem with the humidity than the heat, due to my asthma.  And my poor Maritimer husband has been dying from all the humidity.  We haven’t been sleeping well.  Sit on a chair too long and sweat stains appear.  Cold suppers are all the rage.  Baking is out.  Going for walks at Walmart, Home Depot, or Loblaws has become our new favourite hobby.  Both of us have been irritable, cranky bitches.  July hasn’t been much fun.

But relief is here!  My parents, lucky folks, have central air.  They had an old air-conditioner from our old house (1920s property that it was, it did not have central air).  After hunting down said old air conditioner, which was holding up part of my bed, my parents gave it to us, along with money for the air conditioner fee (because electricity is included in our rent, Queen’s Housing charges a seasonal fee if you want to use an air conditioner).  Life has gotten so much better since installing the A.C.  We’re sleeping through the night.  We can enjoy our apartment again!  Yesterday we stayed in and watched movies.  I made eggplant parmesan (which is baked at 425, so it would have been a no-go had our apartment still been a little muggy heat den).  My asthma is under control.  My husband has stopped whining.  Life is good.

A second, smaller form of relief came from my sister Katie.  Kingston water tastes like chlorine.  I find it really hard to get my eight glasses a day, because I don’t really like drinking from the swimming pool.  I had mentioned to Katie that I would like a Brita pitcher as a birthday gift…and she came through for me!  Now we have cold filtered water in our fridge.  I don’t have to obsessively doctor my water with mint or lemon (although it tastes good).  I feel much more energized, and have fewer headaches.

Hooray for simple solutions!  Next up, STORAGE.

In other news, we saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.  It was pretty cool, and both of us enjoyed the special effects, and felt that the 3D was used in a most effective manner.  But, but, but…I spent a good week being annoyed about the whole thing due to a constant barrage of facebook status updates from various friends and acquaintances.  “It’s over, so sad!”

I can understand the nostalgia for the series, but I feel like these people are missing the bigger picture.  The film franchise was just one guy’s (okay, multiple guys) perspective on the series.  One way of looking at things.  It was an adaptation of an entertaining and complex series, with hits and misses.  I don’t feel that just because the films are finished that “it’s over”.  For me, the magic of Harry Potter comes from J.K. Rowling’s words, and from my own imagination.  It doesn’t come from a British dream cast, or a pretty badass score, or superamazingblowyourmind special effects.  Stars will fade.  Special effects will seem corny and dated in a few years.  But I can always go to Hogwarts.  And that’s where the true magic lies.

That being said, I do want to visit ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ at Universal Studios.

In other news:

You can fit three adults and a ninety pound standard poodle in a Toyota Corolla, and everyone will have personal space and plenty of breathing room.  The same is NOT true when you add a fourth adult.  And this is why I am not in Ottawa at the moment.

Ringo the standard poodle attracts attention wherever he goes.

Lobster makes my dad a ridiculously happy man.  My parents and Katie came down to Kingston (along with Ringo) for my belated birthday dinner last thursday.  We had a picnic from Pan Chancho, and then took the ferry to Wolfe Island for the afternoon.  We later met up with Jason at the Keg for supper.  OMIGOD it was good.  I had the best filet mignon of my life.  Dad had their lobster special (two and a half pounds!) and was so blissed out and content afterwards.  Lobster=happy dad.

Thinking about plot holes in Back to the Future gives me a headache.

The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook should really be titled “How to Cook Everything”.  My mum has a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated (love that magazine), which is produced by the same people.  I’ve been in the market for a new cookbook, so I checked TATKFC out from the library.  It has not disappointed.  I like the layout, I like that it’s in a binder, so recipes lay flat, I like the pictures but also that it’s not a food porn cookbook, I like the helpful tips and anecdotes, I like the clarity of the writing style, and I like the text features.  I also like the fact that as a general rule, the recipes do not call for a ridiculous number of ingredients, and that most of the ingredients are things I would have on-hand or could easily purchase.  I will be adding this one to my collection, and predict it will be used on a fairly constant basis.

Food tastes better with fresh ingredients.  Thank you, Kingston Market.  Fresh basil, fresh eggplant, and fresh beefsteak tomatoes=the most amazing eggplant parmesan ever (I also must thank TATKFC).  I’m not normally a fan of tomatoes on their own, but these ones were so ripe and perfect, I could have sat and eaten them whole.  Fresh peaches and local honey were also purchased, and if Jason and I started planning our meals around the market, we could buy local meat, eggs, cheese, and baked goods, too.  Mmmmm.

Alright, naptime.  I have gotten some of the random thoughts out of my head, so I feel more content to lay down and rest.  Perhaps this is a sign that I should start doing my morning pages again.

Thoughts…

I have many things I wish to write about:

-trying to eat well

-facebook and private lives

-“I want it now!” newlywed syndrome

-weddings

-on living a creative life

-and other things

But for now, I want to write about Pizza Hut.

Yes, Pizza Hut.

We never really went to Pizza Hut as a family.  It was too noisy, and my parents preferred Ottawa’s old school independent pizzerias: The Cafe Colonnade, The Bella Vista Tavern, Napoli’s Restaurant.  Places with blue smoke and Italian grandmas working the til and career waitresses and sambuca candies with the bill.  If we ordered in, we bought from Carlo’s, a local place just around the corner from our house, ten percent off if you pick up your order, and free RC cola, too.  They liked our family-Mum and Dad ordered about 20 extra-large pizzas from them for their twenty-fifth anniversary party (called “The Pizza and Beer Party”), and we always got fantastic pizzas from them.  I haven’t found a pizza joint I like nearly as much as Carlo’s, not since I moved to the Maritimes and Mum and Dad moved to their new neighbourhood.

Pizza Hut was a rare occurrence during my childhood.  Dad would sometimes take me, on Saturday afternoons when we would run errands on the Merivale strip, and we would share a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, and green peppers, and some Pepsi to drink.  I had friends for whom Pizza Hut was a weekly ritual, so from time to time I would go with them, getting the kids meal that was sponsored by YTV (YTV being another one of those things I lacked during childhood, but that didn’t keep me from watching “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”).  I remember those plastic cups with the conical lids, and the all-you-can-eat Sundae bar.  But if you ask me to talk about where I ate as a child, I was more likely to say The Carlingwood Restaurant, Whisper’s Pub, or John’s Quick Lunch, not anything part of a chain.

I probably even regarded Pizza Hut with disdain, because how could a chain ever compare with my charming hole-in-the-wall, greasy spoon eateries?

How indeed.

Much pizza was consumed during my first few years of university, because really, what else do university students eat?  Sackville, although tiny, boasted Joey’s, Jack’s, Pizza Delight, and Greco’s.  I didn’t really care for any of these places, although I quickly developed an addiction to garlic fingers, a true Maritime delicacy.  Take one pizza crust.  Cover in some sort of creamy garlic spread.  Top with pizza mozerella.  Bake until the crust is brown, the cheese is gooey, and a layer of grease has appeared on top of the grease.  Slice into rectangular “fingers”.  Serve with donair sauce (yuck), caesar dressing (okay), or marinara sauce (best).  Consume while watching movies, or after a heavy round of drinking.  Such is the stuff that makes the frosh fifteen.  Too much beer, and too many garlic fingers.  There is nothing that can compare to this greasy culinary delight.

Because garlic fingers are a regional food, you wont find them outside the Maritimes.  Sure, there are similar products, but nothing quite matches in terms of taste, texture, and appearance.  It’s the kind of thing homesick Maritimers long for when they’re trapped in Upper Canada, or working in Fort Mac along with the rest of New Brunswick, Cape Breton, and Newfoundland.

Pizza Delight, being a Maritime chain, sells garlic fingers.  Pizza Hut, being American, does not.  But I have come to love their bastard approximation almost as much (or at times, more than) my beloved garlic fingers.  Breadsticks, with cheese.  I first discovered them on a trip to Woodstock (the New Brunswick one, not the cool one).  Woodstock boasts very few restaurants, and the Pizza Hut is one of the town’s finer offerings.  The Woodstock Pizza Hut has won awards for outstanding service, and it shows.  The waitresses are friendly and efficient, the food consistently good, and the patrons are happy.    After two decades of not eating Pizza Hut, I was converted.  I have grown to love the chain.

Last night I was too hot to cook.  Too hot to stay in our sweltering little apartment.  I wept for the thought of pizza, Pepsi, and air-conditioning.  So we piled (how exactly do two people pile into a mini-van?) into our car, and drove to Pizza Hut.  Not that one, not the sketchy one, the good one.  And in a nod to those Saturday afternoon outings with my Dad, we ordered a medium pizza with pepperoni, sausage, and green peppers.  Oh, and a spinach salad.  And some breadsticks.  Those damn irreristable breadsticks.  Basically, pizza crust covered in some kind of spice, topped with mozza cheese baked bubbly and brown, served with a rich tomato sauce.  There’s a sweetness to this appetizer, something Jason and I have never been able to identify.  But who cares.  They are delicious, the perfect blend of crunch and chewiness, of sweetness and spice, of hot cheese and cold sauce.  Heaven.

(And they taste even better the next day, heated up in an oven.)

And there you go.  The indie-only food snob endorses an American chain, the kind of restaurant featured in movies like “Back to the Future”.  But who cares.  The food is good, and that’s all that matters.

Apartment Life

I am unemployed.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not working.

I am grateful to have married a man who understands that “domestic duties” are work.  I am grateful to have married someone who appreciates the effort it takes to sort, wash, dry, fold, and put away laundry.  Who loves my cooking and is willing to help with the dishes.  Who understands how much good food costs, but that we both feel better when we eat well.  Who doesn’t mind my constant purging of stuff (and all the trips to the Salvation Army that said purges require).  Who knows that it’s not always easy to scrub out the bathtub, but the results are worth it.  Who appreciates a clean, tidy, and beautiful home.

This is not an arrangement that either of us take for granted.  There are jobs and chores to be negotiated (taking out the garbage and recycling, for example).  There are times when I don’t want to cook, and there are times when Jason cannot stand the dishes.  There are money worries, and societal pressures.  Why aren’t I at work?  I’m a teacher, shouldn’t I have a job?  Can we afford to do this?  Am I really working, or just playing house?

This life is a balancing act.  It’s not easy.  There are times when I am frustrated by employment opportunities, or the lack thereof.  The economy still sucks.  I get pissed off when people say that Jason should be “doing better” than Future Shop.  It is a good job.  I know it wont be his career, but now it pays the bills and provides health benefits.  I get hurt by comments about me “not putting my degrees to use”.  I also have mixed emotions when I see my former classmates post about finding “dream jobs”: full-time drama teacher, traveling music teacher, youth theatre educator…I want that, too.  Jason and I made the decision to stay in Kingston, and that situation has left me with fewer possibilities in terms of education-related employment.  And yet, I find joy in my life.  Joy in the little things, joy in my relationship, my family.  Joy in the knowledge that I am using my B.A. and B.Ed., just not in the way most people would expect.

Is it perfect?  Is it ideal?  No, of course not.  I have my ‘dream’ life…the one where there are no more student loans, where the car is less than a decade old and has a functioning air conditioner, where there is a two bedroom apartment or maybe a small house, where Jason is working his dream job, and I am creating a life involving the arts, children, and education…I would like that life, in a small town, but close to bigger cities.  But this is the life we are living, and it is still a very good life.  We live in a nice neighbourhood, close to the YMCA, a public library, the grocery store, and most major bus routes.  Our apartment is quiet, and things work the way they should.  I am slowly but surely becoming involved in the Kingston arts community.  We have a wonderful church family.  Jason enjoys his work.  Kingston is a pretty great place to live.  Toronto and Montreal are close at hand, as are many provincial parks.  We are close to my family, which means so much to me.

Still, things could always be better.  Aside from winning lotto max and paying off our student loans and buying a nice new (or newish used) car, there are a few small things that could make home life just a little bit easier on the both of us:

Storage, storage, storage.  We live in a one-bedroom apartment.  It came with decent storage (a large “locker”, hall closet, decent cupboard space in the kitchen, double closet in the bedroom), but improvements could be made.  This includes one of those over-the-toilet shelving units for extra bathroom stuff, a second chest of drawers to go inside the closet for our linens, most under-the-bed boxes, some containers for my craft supplies, and a small shelf for dvds, games, and the like.

Slipcovers.  Our couch and comfy chair were given to us from one of Jason’s family friends.  They were never used, are very comfortable…but the pattern is what I call “old lady floral”.  We cover them up with blankets and throws, but I would love to make or buy some slipcovers in a sturdy navy-blue pint.  Furniture is a funny thing for newlyweds, as there is a tendency to want the “perfect house” look RIGHT AWAY, and it’s not realistic unless you have scads of extra money just laying around.  I’m okay with taking our time to build our household, to wait for pieces that are high-quality and beautiful.  Our couch and chair are great, they just don’t match the decor.  So slipcovers would make me happy.

On the note of beautiful things, more art.  And a maybe some mirrors.  A full-length mirror would be nice.

Finally, the kitchen.  Kingston water tastes like it comes straight from the swimming pool, so a Brita would really help us when it comes to getting those eight glasses a day.  Jason and I have also finally come to the conclusion that it is time to buy a coffeemaker, as my husband is a wee bit of a douche in the mornings.  I want something small, that doesn’t steal precious counter space.  He wants something that will make his coffee NOW.  The mini-Keurig seems to be the answer to our prayers, and I think Jason’s parents are gifting it to us as a Christmas present.  Until then, I am on the lookout for a small french press, one that can do double duty for loose leaf tea.  Kitchen storage also needs a little work: a few lazy susans for the deep cupboards, and some wire shelves for the dish cupboards would make finding/getting what we want just a little bit more simple.

As I said, I’m unemployed, but still working.  These are just a few quick fixes that will help me out at home, to make for a happy homemaker while I sort out my life.