Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hey, Lady!

This will be quick as I feel like death (husband returned home from business trip with cold last week, he's all better and now I'm sick) but tonight I dragged my sickie self to the second lecture and first tutorial for Cultural Studies and Consumer Culture. As this is a full 3 credit class crammed into 6 weeks, missing one night is equal to missing a whole week, so you can see how this eager beaver didn't want to miss out...

I'm taking this course out of interest and because it's been so long since I've been in university (Class of '94, Represent!), I thought it would be a good way to dip my toe in the waters of academia. Something fun that would help me figure out if I really, really wanted to go back for a second degree. This is only the first week and so far, so good, although there's been entirely too much time spent on administrivia in the first two classes. (Seriously, DUDE, you've told us about your lengthy and comprehensive website that covers everything from the course syllabus to sample essays, if it's this necessary to review the site in such detail IN class, then post-secondary education's in big trouble.)

Anyway, it's weird enough to be sitting in a classroom surrounded by people 20 years your junior, with a professor who's your same age (and who, so far, is in danger of being Massive Generalization Guy, but it is an introductory course so I believe there's some slack to be cut here), and trying not to be annoyed by the tip tip typing sounds of 50 people writing notes on their laptops. But it gets weirder when, during the tutorial, you're asked to interview the person next to you and then introduce them to the rest of the class. "This lady," began young Shiv, my partner in this process.

Lady? LADY? Oh, sweet merciful crap. I'm a LADY in my classmates' eyes. Honestly. Lady. What's next? The dreaded Ma'am?

T.S. Eliot's Prufrock has come screaming to the front of my brain numerous times in the past few weeks, suddenly apt in so many ways, and once again tonight. Shall I wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled? Do I dare eat a peach?


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer Eating, Summer Cooking ("You can really taste the kale!")


Tonight, I picked up our first farmshare basket from Manorun Farm, a local organic operation.

After at least three years of planning to support a local farmer by purchasing a half-share for the pair of us, Christopher and I finally remembered to sign up with Manorun ( and send them our post-dated cheques. Behold, we are participants in Community Supported Agriculture!

We're quite excited about this whole venture. Not only are we delighted to support a local farmer, but we also like the idea of the weekly mystery box of ingredients. It's so easy to get into a bit of a cooking rut, making the same few meals over and over again because they're proven favorites and you don't have to think too hard. The amount of broccoli and pepper stir fry with tofu fritters we've eaten this past winter for this very reason is not to be believed. Now we'll get a basket of ingredients not of our choosing every Tuesday night and enjoy the challenge of figuring out what to do with them week by week.

Our inaugural basket contained a generous bunch of radishes (radiculous!), two bags of greens, a paper bag of dried beans from last summer's crop, as well as 6 good sized potatoes from the farm's cellar. Crowning the basket was a lovely bunch of chives, complete with their aromatic fuzzy purple blooms. In addition to the obvious salads, meals this week will include chive and potato fritatta, radishes with sweet butter and coarse salt (I'm a radish beginner. Having never really liked their biting sharpness, I'm thinking that the butter might mellow their flavour a bit for me) and likely the first egg salad of the season to help consume the big bunch of chives. Oh, and I just remembered a delicious dish I had at The Black Trumpet in London, Ontario that might help use up those radishes -- it was a seared salmon fillet dressed with a sauce of chopped radish and creme fraiche, so simple and so good.

Will keep you posted on how our first season as CSA participants goes. I see a lot of kale in our future, do you?


Monday, June 15, 2009

From Kitty Hawk Direct to My Heart

In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright performed the first heavier-than-air human flight in their new-fangled airplane. This magical invention begat over a century of expanded global travel, and, more importantly, the invention of airports.

I love airports. Train stations, too, but it's really airports that I could spend some serious time in. I like the bustle of them, the suppressed emotions (excitement, confusion, occasionally rage) in the air, the off duty flight crews clipping their way ever so efficiently through the crowds with their wheelie bags behind them, the over priced coffee and I-Heart-Whatever-City-We're-In souvenir t-shirts. But the thing I like most of all, more than taking off on a trip of my own, is the arrivals hall.

Just this past Sunday I went to pick up the husband from a business trip to Austria. A number of flights were arriving around the same time at Pearson's Terminal 1, so I had about 20 minutes to wait for Christopher to come through the doors. This gave me ample time to people-watch and I will tell you that if you want to witness pure human emotion, the arrivals hall at a major airport is the place to be.

Terminal 1 has a particularly good arrivals set up, because the travellers are slightly elevated above the waiting area, as though on a stage. So, with each swish-woosh opening of the automatic doors, the waiting crowd stands higher on their toes, necks stretched long and faces angled upwards, looking like a human version of a field of sunflowers. There's a collective holding of breath in the crowd as the travellers appear through the doors, and then a pause as each arrivee takes a moment to scan the crowd and each waiting person mentally processes whether this latest arrival belongs to them or not. And then, if you're lucky, there's a happy shriek and one of the sunflower crowd breaks free and dashes through the crowd, waving homemade signs or bouquets of flowers or just their hands as they charge up the ramp to their loved one.

(This includes me. I am an unabashed charger of ramps when it comes to picking up my husband at the airport and I don't care if I do look ridiculous.)

Airport arrivals always makes me think of those nature programs that show herds of animals, sheep in particular, being released into a field with their young. There's a moment of utter chaos and frantic milling about and then, like magic, the mamas find their babies and peace reigns again.

Magic and peace. This is exactly why you should, if at all possible, retrieve your spouse, parent, or friend from the airport yourself. It's not just about saving the $120 cost of a town car or shuttle, it's about that moment of pure joy, the rush of love (and relief, if you're a nervous nelly like me) when you see them come through the door and they're home once more.


Saturday, June 13, 2009


To all my sleepy Saturday morning neighbours, please accept my sincere apologies for the sudden burst of loud invectives, swearing (in both English and German) and stomping noises that immediately followed my reading of Leah McLaren's column in today's G&M Style section.

So, if your morning ablutions or coffee or walk with the dog were disturbed by my cries of "Sweet merciful crap woman, shut up shut up shut up!" and "Quatschkopf!" and "Why do you have a job?" and (again) "shut up shut up shut up!", and finally "You suck eggs Leah McLaren!", well, it's really all her fault.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A brief encomium

Today is Kate's birthday. Happy Birthday, Kate!

As of this summer, Kate and I have been friends for 15 years. This means that for the past decade and a half, I've not had to remember anything I've said or written in Kate's presence, not a single bon mot/pithy comment/blast of vitriol, as she is the memory keeper of this friendship. Seriously, her acute ability to store whatever nonsense pours forth from my piehole is something to be reckoned with. If she'd harness that power for the greater good of mankind, she'd be a formidable member of the Super Friends, kicking ass in the Hall Of Justice.

And, all references to the Hanna-Barbera cartoons of our childhood aside, she is my Super Friend. For 15 years, Kate has faithfully made me laugh, listened to me, given me her honest opinion when I come out of a fitting room, made me laugh, introduced me to the wonders of cross-border shopping, let me tell her how much she reminds me of Doris Day at least four times a year without telling me off, gotten drunk with me, let me float in her pool for endless hours, let me help choose her wedding dress, made me laugh, taken my suggestion for two of her children's names (Annabelle and Charlotte, it's all my fault and I promise not to be too heartbroken when you hit the I'm-Changing-My-Name-To-Tiffany stage of adolescence), always understood implicitly the absolute minutiae of my world and vice versa to the point where we speak in broken sentences because we don't have to articulate every thought (although that doesn't stop us), endured marathon phone conversations while I was stuck in rush hour traffic and needed someone to keep me awake, made me laugh, discussed everything under the sun with me, agreed to doing this blog, stood beside me on my wedding day AND most importantly, introduced me to my husband.

She is my sister from another mother, neck-and-neck with my husband for title of Funniest Person I Know, a true best friend (cringe-making, I know, to hear an adult use that term but it's just so fitting) in every sense.

Happy Birthday, Kate!
(cupcake image from

Thursday, June 11, 2009


My husband has gone to Austria on business for 5 days, taking the digital camera and wireless-enabled (aging, aneurysm-prone) laptop with him. Feel like my mouth has been sewn shut without these basic tools of communication. Am responding by practicing my calligraphy with a goose feather quill, by candlelight of course.


Actually, am responding by checking bank balance to see if sudden purchase of proper digital camera (point and shoot just ain't cutting it anymore) and less elderly laptop is possible. Likely not.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Soylent Green Is People

"The human body is ... in perpetual inner self-construction and self-destruction; we destroy in order to make it new."

Norman O. Brown

There's this great line in Garson Kanin's play, Born Yesterday, about how democracy is this beautiful machine and someone is always tampering with it. That theme, how we're always ruining a good thing, kind of echoes some recent thoughts that have been floating through my brain attic, basically that humans are astonishing, beautiful, magical accidents that are hardwired to destroy themselves.

If you really think about it, no matter whether you ascribe to a creationist or evolutionary viewpoint, our very existence is amazing and our abilities to think and reason and make art and build civilizations and all the other things we do even MORE amazing. Unfortunately, part and parcel of that is our ability (or perverse need?) to destroy ourselves. We do this, obviously, through war and murder and misunderstanding and fear and all that. But we also seem to do it based on an innate preferences for that which will destroy us. We seem to naturally prefer tastes, smells and textures that need to be synthetically augmented, or wholly unhealthy, in order to truly satisfy. And it's those synthetic additions that so often are responsible for throwing the environment out of balance.

For example, deodorants and anti-perspirants. Beyond the ridiculous packaging (there's GOT to be some sort of container that uses less plastic than the dial-up stick...10 percent product, 90 percent non-recyclable packaging, so annoying), our societal dislike of basic human odors has prompted the need for anti-pit smell products that require synthetic ingredients to make them strong enough to satisfy us and to ensure a really long shelf-life, or the desirable texture. These ingredients, including parabens, aluminum and propylene glycol, are toxins that are absorbed into the skin with daily application and also wash off of us in the show and end up in our water supply. Some of them mimic hormones and contribute, I'm quite sure, to all sorts of reproductive ills throughout the food chain. But, despite evidence of links between deodorants and breast cancer and other health issues, you don't see the deodorant/antiperspirant section at the drugstore getting any smaller. Nor do you see an increase in the number of natural scent-maskers that don't usel parabens, aluminum salts or petroleum by-products. Why? Because we've gotten so used to the convenient effectiveness of these little sticks of toxins that we can't imagine just living with a little B.O., so we'll continue to poison ourselves directly and indirectly by using them. Which kind of means that we prefer slow self-destruction over self-preservation.

Or food. We know that it would be better for our health and possibly the natural world if we'd follow Michael Pollan's directive to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." But do we do this? Not so much, at least not here in North America. I know that my own excessive fondness for fats is a matter of both taste (fat IS the vector for flavour, people!) and texture. The mouthfeel of whipping cream or butter, the richness of egg yolks, the nectar that is good olive oil, the fulsomeness of cheese -- these are all things I used to over-indulge in regularly (daily!) because maintaining a more spartan diet of steamed vegetables and plain, broiled fish or meats just seemed so...dull. Again, sensible self-preservation goes out the window in the face of a dinner of raclette, or vegetables eaten with liberal amounts of aioli, or sunnyside-up eggs cooked in an inch of bacon fat, or...well, you get the picture.

A girl I used to work with would often talk about the earth as a "self-regulating organism" that would somehow (weather? seismic activity?) systematically dispose of its biggest threat in a manner that would keep the planet in some sort of balance. [Cheerful lunchtime talk, I know -- we were a deep bunch at Opera Ontario]. So, is humankind also some sort of self-regulating organism, too? Intent on systematic disposal in order to keep some sort of balance, or to ensure there's always room for the new?

I have no idea.

I do know, however, that it might be wise for me to avoid reading any sort of apocalyptic newspaper stories (Saturday's Globe and Mail was a doozy for that) when I'm pre-menstrual because this blog entry is exactly what happens when I go to the dark place.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Fat Girl Speaks...


Unbelievable that I, a committed all-around potato of the couch variety, would think, much less say, that exercise changed my life, but it's true.

All my life, I've been the big girl. When I was in grade school, I shot up to my current height of 5 foot 7 by about age 11, so I was always placed dead in the middle of the class picture and usually looked like I was about 30 years old. High school was essentially the real life version of Shermer High (The Breakfast Club, anyone?) and my classmates were all tiny little things who looked cute and ironic in their peg legged garbage man pants, whereas I just looked like a garbage man. In retrospect, looking at old pictures, I was anything but overweight in my teens, but when you're surrounded by diminutive, clear-skinned, glossy haired perfect girls who can all wear the knee high riding boots that were de rigeur at OTHS in the 80s, well, it's pretty natural to assume you've got the physique of a piano-mover.

God knows, though, I had the build to handle obesity. My first semester at university (Go you Gryphons!), away from the level-headed meal planning of my parents' house, and with a whole world of fried foods at my fingertips, I gained 30 lbs in the first semester alone. And it was...okay. I was big, but I'd always been big, so it was doable. And the undergraduate uniform of faded mens jeans, voluminous Peruvian wool sweaters and desert boots certainly didn't require a good figure to pull off. I think I got away with it for so long because, like I said, I've got a big build and no one would ever believe me if I told them my actual weight. So you get to fooling yourself that as long as people express disbelief at the number of pounds, you're not that fat.

I continued to get more robust over the years after graduation, eating my way through an emotionally trying mid-20s relationship, until somewhere in my late 20s I decided I needed to lose some of that avoirdupois. My friend Shona and I decided to give Weightwatchers a try and, despite the fact that we'd recover from each wretchedly cheerful weekly meeting with natchos and beer at the pub, it worked! Well, it worked because I was living at home at the time and my mother is a fabulous cook who could make rubber tires taste good, so with her help I was actually eating truly delicious food and lots of it. I managed to lose about 30 lbs and went off to a new job in a different city suddenly single and looking a hell of a lot better.

And then I met my husband. And the weight started to come back on. Which is not to say that the man's been forcefeeding me like a goose meant to give up its fois since 2002, but I suddenly had a willing audience for my culinary skills. And vice versa (our third date, Christopher made polenta from scratch with a mushroom and tomato sauce that was to die for), AND the man writes about wine for a living so suddenly a whole new world of flavours and textures opened up for me. And I was happy. So I ate, and he ate, and I think it wasn't more than 7 months before we got the first serious talk from both his mother and mine about the possiblities of adult-onset diabetes and heart disease and the like. And yet we continued to eat, and drink, and laze about in each other's delicious company for the next 7 years.

(It doesn't help that about 3 years ago I was diagnosed with P.C.O.S., an endocrinological disorder that not only makes me infertile BUT also means that I've got the metabolism of a sloth and gain weight easily, especially around the middle. As an added bonus, obesity exacerbates the symptoms of P.C.O.S. so it's best controlled by watching your weight. Which, as I've said, you tend to put on more easily and keep on more easily than non-P.C.O.S. women. Bit of a fatch-22, if you see what I mean.)

But all that ended for me in January of this year. I don't know what it was, whether I'd just become uncomfortable in my own skin, or was dismayed at all the clothing that wasn't fitting anymore, or I was sick and bloody tired of the P.C.O.S. thing and the insulin-resistance that comes with it, but whatever it was, I'd officially had it with being the Big Girl. So, I decided to do something about it.

Bringing us back to my earlier, outlandish statement of EXERCISE CHANGED MY LIFE.

Mesmerized by a local gym's t.v. commercials promising that I could lose up to 40 lbs in 10 weeks, I joined up in mid-January. The program, called Lean & Fit, involves three circuit-training classes a week, no more, no less, plus a strict and sensible diet. This is gonna be a snap, I thought. The prospect of eating 5 to 6 times a day (or every 3 to 4 hours) sounded heavenly to me, and how hard could these 30-minute circuit training classes really be?

(insert loud, derisive snorting sound here)

It was hell. HELL. At least for the first three weeks. First of all, it seemed like I was always eating and my co-workers got tired of the clink of my spoon against the glass container of cottage cheese, frozen berries and almonds that became my staple daytime meal. Secondly, the classes themselves were HARD. I lasted all of 10 minutes at the first class and had to spend the balance of the session marching in place in the corner (they warn you not to stop moving, or you might vom. Seriously.), alternately gulping water and breathing like a carp out of water. It took me two weeks to figure out that I had to start the session at a strength station rather than a cardio station, or I'd not make it through the whole half-hour. And it took me three weeks to stop being terrified of the trainers.

But it was working. I lost close to 15 lbs in the first three weeks and was watching my body change shape right before my eyes. My legs, always my worst feature, were changing from tree stumps to tree trunks -- not slender by any means, but definitely recognizable as legs and not Doric pillars. My neck was thinning out -- again, far from swan-like but no longer a thick column of extra chins. And, most satisfactorily, my hourglass shape was returning. Lo and behold, Kara had a waist again!

But more importantly, I felt GREAT. Not only was I sleeping like a baby, but my longtime nocturnal bouts with crippling heartburn had ceased to exist. And mentally, I was on top of the world. I was more even-tempered, I had energy, I was alert, it was amazing.

By the end of the initial 12 week Lean & Fit session (I'd had to take a hiatus about 2/3 of the way through to have my knees checked out, turns out I've got arthritis, yet another condition that will be markedly helped by losing weight), I not only could get through each 30-minute class without stopping, but also without collapsing when I got home. I'd come to absolutely love going to the gym, feeling a bit out of sorts when my schedule prevented me from making it to all three classes every week. AND I'd lost 34 lbs.

So, naturally, I celebrated by taking a 10 day vacation in Berlin and eating my face off. Okay, not quite true, the trip had been in the works for a month or two, and I did temper all that eating with a tremendous amount of walking, but you can't go to Germany of all places and not schwein-out on potatoes and sausages and cake and beer. It's impossible. Luckily, I only gained 5 lbs on vacation, which is an easy amount to work off and certainly doesn't represent the thin end of the wedge in any way.


Except for the fact that the vacation, spent in my favorite city on earth, was too short for my taste and I wasn't happy about coming home already. So I got a case of the blues and spent the first week home eating my face off and not walking, and just getting more and more morose as I ransacked the kitchen in search of the food that would make me happy again.

Only the thing is, there wasn't a food that was going to make me happy -- wait, let me rephrase that, because food IS happiness to me, I read cookbooks like they're novels for chrissakes, I write about food whenever I get the chance for hubby's magazine, I LIVE to cook for people! It's my happy place!

So, okay, the thing was, food wasn't the answer I was looking for last week. The answer, as I rediscovered last night at the gym, was exercise. I was scared to go back after a two week absence and was convinced that I'd be back at square one, unable to make it through more than 10 minutes of class. Happily, however, all my prior hard work had paid off and the class, while in no way easy, was not the pure hell I'd expected. I even managed to do 11 proper (read: on my toes, not my knees) push-ups without falling on my face at the end of it. But more importantly, I came home in a great mood and had a lovely evening at home before enjoying a deliciously full night of sleep. Not to wax too poetic or anything, but this morning dawned bright and hopeful and my day at work certainly went better than any last week, And the reason? Exercise.

It's clear that exercise will always have to be a part of my life, not only for physical health (I have another 66 lbs to lose to reach my goal weight) but also for my state of mind. Life is too short to be miserable and if something so simple can stave off the mean reds, then why not keep it up? Obviously, it's not the cure for all that can ail you, but it's one hell of a start.