Thursday, December 23, 2010

The key to a good Christmas drunk... my mother's homemade egg nog.

Egg nog is the best of all possible drinks in my world. As an overgrown toddler who drinks milk by the vat every week, I love any excuse to down more dairy (I believe it is impossible for me to break a bone, so calcium-dense am I), and as a grown up who likes a tasty cocktail once in a while, the prospect of this brandy-rich tipple fills me with glee.

I beg of you, put DOWN the carton of storebought nog this year and make your own. You won't regret it. Just don't nog and drive.

Christel's High Octane Egg Nog
8 large eggs (double yolkers preferred but not necessary), separated
1 litre container 10% cream
500ml container whipping cream
cup of brandy
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp good quality, real vanilla extract (mum is very serious about this. The vanilla MUST be real.)
pinch of salt
nutmeg, if desired

Beat egg whites with pinch of salt and 1 tbsp of the sugar until stiff. Set aside.
Beat egg yolks with the rest of the sugar until fluffy and white. Set aside.
Beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Set aside.

Pour brandy and 10% cream into a large punch bowl or other suitable vessel. Carefully fold the whipped cream, egg whites and egg yolks into the liquid.  That's it! That's all there is to it!

Store the nog bowl in a cold place (we usually have it sitting outside the back door) with a cover on it. To serve, stir gently and ladle up the liquid into your glass, then top with some of the foam and sprinkle each glass with nutmeg if you like.

Keeps well for a day or two in a cold place and is really delicious for breakfast on Boxing Day.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

...and what have you done?

A few days ago, I remembered this post I wrote last year about that ol' Christmas feeling because, of course, I was suddenly struck anew with that lovely, slightly painful combination of joy and sorrow endemic to this time of year.

Did you ever watch Will & Grace?  I don't have an absolutely clear memory of this but I believe there was an episode where Grace decorated a department store window for the holidays in dark reds and warm blacks, rich velvets and twinkling candles. As another character stood outside on the street looking at the display, she said something along the lines of "It's perfect. It's dark and glam and luxurious. Just like Christmas."

At the time, although I agreed with the "glam" part, I thought it was a pretty pessimistic take on Christmas. Of course, I was young and likely wedged so far up Christmas' butt I spit tinsel, but I really couldn't see how Christmas could be considered dark.  Christmas is fun! It’s about food!  And gifts! It’s bright and sparkly, not dark and gloomy!  As I've gotten older, more sentimental, and less obtuse, I've realized how much the holiday season is tinged with sadness, stress and regret.  Of course, there's the push/pull stress of family and social commitments, and the financial impact of gift giving and all that, but the real sombre tones come from the inevitable review of events as the year comes to hurtling to a close.

All of this came bubbling to the surface last week as I sat in a concert hall, listening to an incredible, wall-of-sound, full orchestra and chorus performance of Handel's Messiah, just the kind of thing I like.  The thing about Messiah, as you all know, is that it's a work that features joyously overwhelming choral bits in order to make you forget about the huge musical lamentation in the middle.  And it was during that middle part that I realized I was close to tears, right there in the middle of Roy Thomson Hall*.

There's nothing like music to unlock whatever you've put away, and while the chorus and soloists sang about Christ's Passion, I could not stop thinking about events of the past year.  Of course, there are the small regrets (did I NOT say I was switching jobs this year?), the missed opportunities, the words said and unsaid, but more notably, there's been a real loss or two.

My friend Sally died this fall. I only saw her about 4 times a year for dinner, but there's a Sally-shaped hole in my world where she used to be, and I regret that I didn't have more dinners with her.  I regret that I responded to the news that the cancer had reached her brain with such pragmatism, even though she herself presented the prognosis with unflappable calm. I wish I had let myself feel more at the time of Sally's news, when she was there, for God's sake, before she left the planet so unbelievably quickly.  Because what's the point of feeling so much about it now that she's gone?Sometimes grief seems an empty gesture.

She was a lovely woman. Kind. Funny. Short. Endlessly enthusiastic and interested in all our stories. Strong. Brave. Really short. At least two decades my senior, Sally was a kind of proxy aunt, sister, mother and I guess I thought she'd always be around. I fear I took her grinning, low-key friendship for granted, and I'm sorry to have done so.  It tinges my grief with guilt.

I think of Sally often (just as I think of another lovely woman I knew who also lost her life to cancer last summer, though hers is not my story to tell) and am childishly glad to have an old clock on my wall that she gave to us as a physical reminder of our friendship.  While there's nothing that can bring her back or change the situation, I have learned a good lesson.  Thanks to these wonderful women, I don't need Jacob Marley and his ghostly friends to visit this Christmas.  Sally's absence will remind me to not take for granted the good things in life, to appreciate the very, very many people I know who make my life so extraordinarily rich, to reciprocate, to expect less, and to give more. 

Which, when you think about it, is the real luxury of our end of the year holiday celebration. The chance to learn a lesson before it's too late, before you wipe the slate clean with the change of the calendar. Sometimes, I guess, it takes until you're 40 before you really get the point of Christmas.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


*Be warned: they don't really lower the house lights for symphony performances like they do for the opera or theatre. You can silently cry your eyes out at La traviata or Our Town and no one's the wiser, but the symphony? Not so much.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Today's Top Five List of Unlikeable Words

5. slacks
4. panties
3. tot
2. moisten
1. gusset

Plus an honorable mention for ointment.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Today's Top Five List of Favourite Smells

5. Cat tummy

4. Cold butter

3. Dog paws

2. Ink, most especially lithography ink

1. The green husks of black walnuts


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ladies Nice Things

I stole a few hours this morning and went to the Christie Antique Show with my mother in law. I had no intention of buying, what with the husband and I already drowning in stuff, but of course I did.

The purchase of an old purse in navy leather started the ball rolling. It's not in great condition, but for $12 I just couldn't resist. I do love a good, proper ladies bag, especially one with a built in frame purse inside -- vay, vay cool. A few booths later, I found one of my favourite vendors of antique textiles (Jan Marriott, and bought a couple of gorgeous silk scarves (one from the 40s, one from the 50s) for $20. Then my mother in law treated me to a pair of thick, fluted milkshake glasses -- the perfect accompaniment to a pair of recently rediscovered green Fireking oval diner plates that have been buried in our basement for a few years. My final purchase was, of all things, a triple strand of fake pearls. I've never really cared for costume jewellery and yet, today, it was all I could do not to buy brooches and bracelets and rings by the bucketful.

Looking at my purchases all together, I think we can all come to the conclusion that I might be watching a little too much Mad Men these days...


Friday, August 6, 2010

Boy At Large

The other day I received one of those phone calls that can make a mother stop dead in her tracks. "Do you know where your son is?" said the voice on the other end of the line.

Okay, the voice was my husband and he wouldn't be calling just to ask where one quarter of his of spring were, just out of the blue.

I told hubs that to the best of my knowledge Junior was out for a bike ride. At the very least this answer should be good for part marks. My little man was indeed out for a bike ride, as a matter of fact he had gone all the way to visit dad at work.

I laughed and asked how he got there, ( I know he was on his bike, I mean what route did he take). Turns out he took the safest of all possible routes. Since it was near the end of the day dad was just going to keep him there and then drive him home.

My son, just for the record has just turned 9 years old. My husband works about 2.5 kms from our house.

As we told our friends who have kids about the same age about Mr. Man's adventure they were horrified. Did we ground him? Did we take his bike away? Was he ever going to be allowed to leave the property again.

To be honest I was shocked by how shocked they were.

My son is the only boy in the family. He has three sisters who are all girly girls. Our dog is female, to the best of our knowledge so are the fish. He really likes being a guy. He likes to do guy things. He likes to think that as a boy he is just more adventurous and independent than his sisters. We can debate how true that is another time.

The thing is, I grew up in a time and place where everyone spent summer (spring, fall) days out on their bikes. We knew our little corner of the world like the back of our hand. I kind of like that my son knows our neighbourhood. I feel better knowing that when he is out he knows several routes to get home.Plus he knows where all his friends, and most of his sister's friends live should he ever run into trouble and need help. Plus, little does he know, but I have watched him on his rides more than he knows, and even when he doesn't know anyone is watching, he wears his helmet, and crosses at the lights and obeys all the rules.

So he isn't grounded. He gets to keep his bike, and his independence.

Monday, July 19, 2010

and sometimes a window opens and dumps a good thing in your lap

Remember this?

Yeah, I'm so full of it. I learned a long time ago that the more righteously indignant I get about something, the more chance there is I'm the one who's wrong or at fault. Similarly, I've now learned that the more adamant I am about not doing something, the greater the likelihood that I'll be doing it anyway.

Because, I'm very excited to announce, next week I start a new job in (you guessed it) fundraising. Which I swore up and down I was finished with. However, this is a one year contract covering a maternity leave AND I get to work with a very smart, very funny and very stylish young woman I've worked with before AND it's for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (it's like the mothership calling me home!) AND it's just grantwriting . Which is my very favorite thing to do for money besides writing the occasional food piece for Vines magazine.

How can a girl resist?


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The world just doesn't need another food blog (but here's my favourite early summer dinner recipe anyway)

You know how there can be a dish you really love for a few years and then it somehow falls out of rotation and then you bring it back and it's so damn good you wonder why on earth you ever let it go?

Linguine with asparagus and lemon cream is that dish for us.

Shortly after we got married, Christopher came home with a Donna Hay cookbook that had been sent to his office. We both fell in love with it, enjoying the inspiration of newish, vaguely Asian flavours and loving the large format and excellent photo styling. One dish that caught our eye was this pasta with lemon cream sauce and asparagus, and I duly set forth to make it from the recipe.

Which is where the problem starts because I have some sort of recipe-attention-deficit-disorder and can rarely follow one all the way through. What I should do, of course, is make a particular dish to exact recipe the first time around and then tinker with it, and sometimes I do, but more often I get halfway through and decide to tinker.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure I did make the lemon cream pasta according to Hay's recipe the first few times and it kind of worked but never very well. There were always two issues for me -- (one), the sauce involves, if memory serves, equal parts cream and stock and the sauce always ended up thin and soupy except for the addition of (two) parmesan, which I always added when the heat was too high and would end up with those horrific strings of cheese that happen when the liquid is too hot, do you know what I mean? The only way I've ever been able to make non-stringy cheesy sauce is to make a proper white sauce with roux and then add the cheese, but that wouldn't really work here.

So, after throwing the book against the wall and starting from scratch using my instincts instead, I devised a simplified version of Linguine with Asparagus and Lemon Cream Sauce.

enough asparagus for two
enough linguine for two
zest of one lemon and the juice of half the lemon
tablespoon of butter and maybe, if you've got a really nice one, a dollop of olive oil
one clove garlic, chopped finely OR grated to slush on a microplane
1/2 to 3/4 cup of cream (I used half & half but go to town if you've got heavier cream on hand)
good parmesan
large pot of boiling, salted water
salt and pepper to taste

Trim woody ends off your asparagus and discard, then cut asparagus into 1-inch segments. Toss in boiling salted water and cook until crisp-tender. Lift out of the boiling water (you need the water for your pasta, after all) with a slotted spoon or similar tool and place in a bowl of cold water to stop it cooking.

Throw your pasta in the boiling water you cooked your asparagus in. In the ten minutes you've got while the pasta cooks, melt the butter (and the dollop of olive oil, if you want) in a sauce pan on low heat, then throw in the zest, garlic and lemon juice. Whisk to make sure everything's all melty together and then pour in cream, whisking to incorporate all the ingredients together. Let it cook for a bit on low heat.

Drain your pasta when it's done. Squeeze a bit more lemon juice from the other half of the lemon over the hot pasta and toss. Pour the garlicky lemony cream over top and toss to make sure every strand is coated. Drain your cooked asparagus and add to the pasta. Grate fresh parmesan over top and add some good coarse cracked black pepper. Plate up and serve with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy the adulation.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Life in Melonville

You know how people talk about six degrees of separation? I have a friend who likes to say that here in Melonville it is more like 3 1/2. Ain't it the truth.

I have a niece who recently began dating a new guy. Not a brand new guy, like not a newborn, the guy has been on the planet for a number of years now, he is just new to her. Okay.

Wouldn't you know it, his grandmother and her grandmother ( my mother) are church friends. Of course they are! This is Melonville! This Sunday after Mass my mom made her way to New Guy's grandma to celebrate yet another match that will keep the Melonville bloodlines intertwined.

My mother went on and on about what a lovely girl my niece is. His grandmother thinks he hung the moon.


Then it happened. New Guy's grandma, pulled my mom aside, apart from the crowd. She needed my mom to know that New Guy is indeed a peach. Lovely boy. Good job. Loves his grandma....but....BUT...she needed to know if my mom had seen him yet. No? Well, then she needed to know, and please remember he is a lovely boy, lovely, but well, seems he...have I mentioned what a peach he is? Because he is, it's just that he's ummm........



I kind of blanked out at this point in the story. For all I know one or more grandmothers needed to be revived with smelling salts and the priest may or may not have administered a therapeutic belt of altar wine.

And my husband wonders why I want our kids to spend as much time away from here as possible.


Friday, June 11, 2010

So yes, Kara and I did spend top off an unbelievably great day of kateandkara time with Eddie Izzard. Sweet Lady Gaga, but he makes me melt, you have no idea. George Clooney gives me butterflies, but Eddie MELTS me.

If there was any way I could get to NYC to see him in Race I would be there in a heartbeat....sigh.

Okay, see here is the problem. I had this really great rant in my head, and now I am all about the Eddie. Now I have to go and get some fresh air and have a tea and maybe go buy some groceries and try to refocus.

I'll be back later.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


(Also, Kate and I went to see Eddie Izzard last night and I must say, there's nothing sexier than a man in stilettos and full makeup who makes you laugh 'til you cry.)



Fat & Happy

So, I don't know if you remember, but last spring I was all gung ho (do you ever look at a phrase like gung ho and wonder who the hell came up with it? But then, that's what wikipedia is for. Anyway...) to lose weight and regain the basic shape of a human and be fabulous and wear wrap dresses without needing high-tensile foundation garments and reacquaint myself with my ankles and all that jazz?

Yeah, that SO didn't last.

I still go to the gym, mainly because in a fit of ill-advised I Love Exercise! I Will Always Love Exercise! I Will Never Roll Around In Butter Again! enthusiasm I signed myself up for a years worth of once-a-week sessions with a trainer and now I can't get out of it. And, to be honest, I like the guy and it is a great way to start every week, you know all glowy and virtuous and pure (translation: sweating 'til I'm blind and breathing stertorously through open mouth like a beached carp). And I even managed to do some classes a few weeks ago and they didn't kill me or make me cry or put me in the hospital. But as the weight slowly ounces its way back on to my 40 year old ass, the guilt about not staying with the program grows and I wonder why the hell I can never stick to this kind of thing.

It seems that I have a problem staying motivated, at least when it comes to mortification of the flesh types of things.

Last week, my friends Robert and William pointed out to me (over a cup of my excellent strong coffee with cream and a pile of fresh baked pain au chocolate that they brought with them, you know the kind where there's so much butter in the pastry that the paper bag turns translucent and the good dark chocolate just oozes out? Mmmmm, that kind.), that when I started going to the gym I was very unhappily employed in a job that couldn't have suited me less, but feeling trapped by the excellence of the salary and benefits. I couldn't leave the job, indeed every attempt to find a new one failed miserably, and I just had to do something for myself that would allow me to accomplish something. So, I started the exercise and diet program and got all high on endorphins and achievement and the thrill of seeing my waistline emerge after many years of hibernation and all was right with the world.

But I couldn't keep it up. Weight-wise, I flatlined for a good half-year or so, which was okay in that I was happy with my size and slightly fine-tuned shape and I always meant to climb back on the wagon of strict eating and exercise habits, but it just never happened. And then my job ended in March and I thought "Hey! With all this free time, I can hit the gym during the day when it's not so busy, this'll be great, I'll be in wicked shape by the time my 40th birthday rolls around in May!"

But that's not what happened at all! Instead of watching what I eat and making daily pilgrimages to the Altar of Fitness, I've been cooking up a storm, perfecting my sourdough breadmaking abilities, puttering around the house and generally enjoying myself. In short, I'm happy. Truly, sickeningly, oh-god-Kara-would-you-ever-just-shut-up-about-it happy. And happy, it seems, is a state that doesn't inspire a whole lot of motivation for me to do the kinds of things required to lose 100 lbs. Now, I'm still much more fit than I was before this all started, much stronger and straighter thanks to the trainer and my now daily habit of long trail walks with the dog, but it would seem that for me at least, happy = fat.

That said, I have a preliminary job interview on Friday. Who knows? I might be back in the rat race sooner than anticipated and that extra avoirdupois might just melt away again.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

A gross of gross

We went to Costco today. Since there's just the two of us, we don't really go to Costco except to buy new tires for my ancient Ford on what feels like a semi-regular basis. However, as you all know, it's a useful membership to have when you need a gross of something. And don't we all need a gross of something at some point?

The logic behind today's visit was to stock up on a few things as I prepare for us to Live On A Strict Post-Layoff Budget. Toothpaste, toilet paper, those Ace Bakery pre-baked baguettes of fabulousness that you keep in the freezer, that kind of thing. All very sensible. Of course, what we came home with was a tower fan, a pint of shucked oysters, a herd of single serve bottles of Arranciata, a bottle of pomegranate juice, a box of protein bars and some chocolate milk.

This, in my relatively limited experience, is par for the course at Costco. You just end up coming home with shit you didn't think you (and probably don't) need. Sometimes when we amble through the aisles (waiting for our tire installation, naturally), I wonder aloud about just who's going to buy a flashing neon OPEN! OPEN! sign, or a collapsible kayak, or an entire case of Tucks medicated pads, but then I'm distracted by the 100-pak of my favourite Sharpie pens or 5 pound bag of frozen asparagus tips and forget what I was saying. There's just too much to look at.

But, as I said, we don't go too often, so perhaps it's just that the Grocery and Dry Goods Carnival of Weirdness that is the warehouse/club type of shopping experience has never lost its novelty element for me. It's akin to going to one of those gizbillion square foot grocery superstores in the States and standing, mouth agape, in the pudding aisle, amazed at the sheer variety of a single product.

The excess of it all, however, is something I don't like to think of too deeply. There's something of a fiddling-while-Rome-burns kind of decadence about all of that everything, right there for the taking. I start to feel a tremendous guilt, not only about how much stuff is available in each aisle, but also that I should be spending my money in smaller, independent stores, not this huge chain. Of course, there's precious few independent grocery stores left these days (whither Mr. Hooper?) and I do spend an awful lot of our food budget at the only one I know, the extraordinary Punjab International. But it's not really enough to assuage the guilt.

But there are times, as all of you who hold Costco memberships know, that you just need a gross of something. Or, in the case of the 100-pak of Sharpie pens, you just think you need a gross of them. And it would take a stronger woman than I to resist a pint of shucked oysters for $10. Or a whole herd of Arranciata. Or the biggest bottle of pomegranate juice I've ever seen. Or cheap chocolate milk.



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Goddess, domestic (variety of)

I've been thinking a lot about domesticity and such, lately. More specifically, how bad I am most of it, and how stay at home moms really need to enjoy much more credit than they currently seem to earn.

It all began because of the whole unemployment thing. Much like my husband, I've always been absolutely hopeless at housework. We can throw a great dinner party, but the two of us are terrible at maintaining even a modicum of neatness. Granted, we live in a tiny house with pets and way too much stuff, but even if we lived in a place three times the size, we'd still live in a whirlwind of crap. It's just the way we are, especially when both of us are working. We're not proud of it, it's embarrassing when my father draws a happy face in the dust on the t.v. screen each and every time he comes over, but it sort of just became the status quo.

However, when my contract ended and I realized I'd be home for some time, I decided there was no excuse for living in chaos. I had grand plans for a massive spring cleaning, including repainting the bedroom (which I have done) and making sense of the office/spare bedroom (which I have not mustered the will to do...yet) and finally ridding the basement of all kinds of unnecessary crap, as well as getting the garden ready for the summer, planting vegetables, staying on top of the mountain of ironing (we really need to start wearing more jersey and less broadcloth) and making a gorgeous dinner every night.


It took me a few weeks to get out of the habit of staying up all night reading and sleeping in half the day (left to my own devices, I revert entirely to my undergraduate ways), and it took a few more to get out of the habit of listlessly shuffling through the mess every morning and then deciding to go out for coffee with my non-working friends instead. It wasn't good, but eventually the level of household chaos got to me and I reaffirmed my commitment to living like a grown-up.

Which is when I realized how much bloody, bloody work it is to keep a house (even this one, which could double as a set for The Borrowers) tidy and pleasant. Some of it, such as cooking, baking and most gardening, are joyously creative and provide enormous satisfaction. But a lot of it is dull, dirty, and often strenuous work. And the thing is, it never ends. I no sooner have the bathroom spotless, for example, than little drifts of shed pet hair begins to eddy about in the white-tiled corners. The livingroom is cleaned thoroughly and then, like magic, tiny piles of receipts and bits of mail begin to pile up on various surfaces. The neverending cycle of laundry is another thing -- apparently, without thinking, the husband and I have become serious clotheshorses and the ironing pile reaches about 6 feet in height if I don't stay on top of it. And the dust! I know that living in an industrial city means extra dirt but for the love of pete, what is with all the dust???

So, as I work my way through the house, a cyclone of mess, often leaving the rooms I've cleaned looking slightly worse for wear, it occurs to me that this job would be that much harder if we added children to the equation. Can you imagine? Any child of mine would end up looking like that Pig Pen character from the Snoopy comics, abuzz with wavy lines of smells and dirt, whether it wanted to or not. Surely, I'd eventually develop enough of a routine to keep us out of the diphtheria zone, but I fear the child would be off to university before I managed it.

I blame myself entirely, of course. When I was growing up, my mum was always at home and I realize now that I never really paid attention to all she did to keep the house running smoothly. Not that I took her for granted, but I just didn't pay enough attention to the mechanics of running a household. Now, however, I'm beginning to appreciate just how hard it is to keep things spotless while also having enough time to do the things you truly love.

Monday, April 12, 2010


If you're like me, you have a Pavlovian response to the words Fried Cheese. Cheese? Gooood. Fried? Gooooood. Put 'em together and you might as well ring a bell and commence salivation.

Although I've been a fan of fried Haloumi for some time, its relative scarcity around these parts (you can find it if you look hard enough, it's just not always the best) coupled with its occasional destructive effects on our digestive systems means that I'd gotten out of the habit of fried cheese and salad for dinner.

Well, no more. My mouth is happy and my hips are sobbing but Upper Canada Cheese Company has resuscitated this household's fried cheese habit.

Always late to the party (I really have to start paying attention to the outside world again), I only just heard about Upper Canada Cheese Company's amazing Guernsey Girl cheese. Made from the milk of a single herd of Guernsey cows, this cheese is absolutely meant for frying or grilling. It's buttery but not bland, creates its own delicious crust in the pan and squeaks a bit as you bite through. Fried up and sprinkled with a crunchy salt like Maldon, it's pure dairy heaven. So much so that I'm not sure I'll ever explore the recipes devised for the Guernsey Girl challenge, it's just so perfect on its own, hot out of the pan.

Read a bit more about it here or at Then get thee to the Cheese Boutique, or, even better, to Upper Canada in Jordan, ON and buy it by the blockload!


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Door Closes and No Window Opens (but at least I finally have the time to get that window really clean)

For the first time in I don't know how long, I'm unemployed. Well, technically, I'm employed until April 30 but because the campaign I was part of is essentially finished, my employer is (very generously and, frankly, wisely) allowing those of us whose contracts will not be renewed to vamoose/get out/stay home while they pay us out.

Yes, that's right, I'm getting paid to stay home. Commence envious gasping now.

Of course, I have no idea what I'm going to do next, absolutely no idea. I do know, however, what I won't be doing any time soon and that's fundraising. After 10 years, I'm done. Like dinner. Just thinking about it makes my jaw clench and my brow furrow. I can't bear the thought of asking anyone for money for any cause and, more to the point, I don't think I'm any good at doing it any more. Once upon a time, in the right circumstance, for the right organization and with the right boss/mentor, I was good at it. I hit my targets, I made donors happy, I was fulfilled and enjoyed myself so much it almost seemed criminal to accept a paycheque. I didn't even mind the donor who insisted I pick up his cheque in person every year, the better to stare pointedly at my chest as he handed it to me over his desk (I retaliated by staring pointedly at his toupee for the entire exchange), it was all fun and games at the time.

But no more. It's over. I'm too self-conscious about it now, too aware of the ridiculousness of a job that requires you to beg, professionally. Oh, I know, it's not begging, it's not sales, it's fundraising!, but when you're facing a seemingly insurmountable financial goal with prospects who have no intention of voluntarily ante-ing up and you no longer believe in your ability to charm donors, it's pretty much begging. And I never meant to be a fundraiser in the first place, I just sort of fell into it by accident, so it's not like I'm walking away from The Perfect Career. I've been kidding myself about this line of work for years now.

So what to do next? Not a freaking clue. And yet, I'm strangely unmoved by this. I was more panicked about what I'd do post-campaign when I was still in campaign. Now that it's all over, and it's all official that my contract is over, I just feel free. I haven't clenched my jaw to the point of cracking molars in three weeks. I can't remember the last time I had a headache. The cooking rut I'd had us holed up in since Christmas has ended. I can think of all the stuff I want to do around the house without getting all verklempt and, more importantly, I've started getting that stuff done. With pleasure. I really excel at this staying home stuff, you know?

Of course, all good things come to an end and I will have to find work at some point -- if all goes to plan, not just yet, but soonish -- which begs the question of what sort of work I want to find. At this point I can't imagine what I want to do or who I want to be when I grow up, but I'm quite convinced that the further I get away from the fundraising character I've been playing, albeit badly, since 1999, the closer I'll be to figuring out what I'm supposed to do next.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Glad Rags

It will surprise anyone who sees me on a regular basis that I actually love clothes. I don't love them on me, necessarily, what with being the type of girl who looks best in a dirndl, hefting 9 or 10 full beer steins in each meaty paw while encouraging you to finish your damn 'wurst, but I do love clothes, fashion, costume, whathaveyou and always have. I've been buying Vogue since I was 12, my favourite library books in grade school were a couple of History of Fashion type encyclopaedias and I was never really as interested in playing with my Barbies as I was in their extensive couture wardrobes, cunningly sewn every Christmas by my mother -- tiny evening dresses, suits, a black velvet cocktail dress with purple trim and a very au courant disco outfit of white satin pants and a coordinating top that consisted of little else than long gold fringe. Mum even crocheted knickers for Barbie out of superfine white yarn!

But, as I've noted before, I'm a curvy girl in a low-rise jean world, with legs like tree trunks and a generous caboose. With fashion over the past few years largely designed for people who are built more in the straight up and down mode, I'd kind of lost interest in clothing in general, preferring the far less judgmental world of accessories, specifically handbags, which always fit. A month or so ago, as I sat in my cubicle at work and realized I'd worn yoga pants to the office, and thus actively adopted the official uniform of the I Give Up Club, I realized that it was time to climb back on the fashion train and start paying some attention to what I was wearing or I was going to end up on that People-of-Walmart website or similar.

At Christmas my favourite co-worker gave me a copy of Scott Schuman's book, The Sartorialist, and suddenly it got me thinking about style all over again. Although almost everyone depicted in Schuman's book and on his website are longlegged and lanky creatures and therefore wholly unlike me, this doesn't actually matter as the book reminded me that style really has little to do with whatever is actually in the stores. Much like Malcolm Gladwell's description of cool, true style is that elusive x-factor that's simply unique to the stylish person. It's the way they put stuff together (and, if you look at The Sartorialist, how they tie a scarf) that makes the difference, much more so than the actual items worn. But beyond the elusive concept of style, the other thing that's so wonderful about this little book is the reminder that clothing is the best, easiest and most simple way we have to communicate who we are (at that particular moment) to the world.

Anyway, all of this has got me thinking of the various bits and pieces of clothing I have loved over the years. Suddenly, in the same way that scent can richly and immediately invoke the strongest memories of an event or meal, remembering the outfits I donned at various times in my life helps me remember who I was and, in a way, how I got here. From my childhood lederhosen and batiked t-shirts (what? it was the 70s!), to the black pinstriped pencil skirt my mother sewed sans pattern, draping it on my teenaged hips like my very own Madame Gres, to the Doc Marten Mary Jane shoes I wore to death in my 20s and the voluminous orange and green silk ball gown I wore to get married, all of these costumes are helpful reminders of the various incarnations of Kara that have existed over the years.

Of course, I have no idea who I'll be in the future so I can't predict what sorts of outfits I'll be wearing (please GOD let the futuristic white satin jumpsuits so prevalent in the sci-fi tv series world never come to fruition), but I do know that I plan to pay just a little more attention to what I wear, what I'm telling the world about myself. Metaphorically speaking, I may not be shining my shoes for Seymour's Fat Lady, but I will be accessorizing for Schuman's Sartorialist camera.


Monday, March 1, 2010


Greetings from Chilly Florida!

This weekend was spent Driving Miss Patty (my beloved mother-in-law)to her fun vacation rental in Florida, so I'm writing this from a house that has a lanaii. And a resident aligator. I'm not kidding. There's an aligator out there, a real, live lizard, not far from where I'm sitting. I am simultaneously thrilled and freaked by this and if you readers are red-blooded Northerners, then you are too. Admit it. And when I tell you that manatee and dolphin sightings are also a possibility, then if you don't admit that's a teensy bit pants-wettingly exciting, you need to stop reading this right now.

Manatees! In the backyard! Come on!

Florida. Wow. This place is so weird, but I kinda love it already. I never did the Florida thing as a kid (mine is the kind of family where you road tripped to Cape Cod. In March.) and the only other time I've been down here was for two press junkety type trips to Disney and we all know that Disney is a planet unto itself and not exactly representative of the actual Sunshine State. Of course, so far all I've seen is Rte 301 and the I75, the Walmart where we stocked up on pool noodles and the Winn Dixie where we stocked up on snack cakes (just kidding, we didn't buy any snack cakes, though the variety of donettes and snack cakes was positively psychedelic), and of course, this fabulous house. That has a pool. That's kind of indoors.

I'm never leaving.

Or, if I do, it will be very hard not to turn around and drive down here all over again. I have loved every minute of the whole trip. So much so, that I'm trying to figure out how to do this professionally (long haul trucking? Can anyone tell me how I go about becoming Large Marge?), how to get paid for driving through North America, particularly the United States. We started this trip in snow and ice, and by day two had left that all behind -- do you know how funky it is to kick-start Spring by just leaving Winter behind you on I77? Then, on Sunday, I began my day by driving through a mountain, people! Not over, not around, but through a mountain. And I liked the experience so much, a few miles down the road I drove through another mountain. And then down a mountain, enjoying all the while a view that must have stretched a hundred miles or more. Just spectacular.

And did you know that the friendliest people on earth live in Georgia? I defy anyone to stop at the Welcome Centre on Rte 301 just after crossing the South Carolina border and not be welcomed to the very zenith of welcomedness. Those people are friendly! And welcoming! They had pins with the Georgia peach and a Canadian flag on them. Seriously! Why? I don't know, but they did and it made me love them all the more. Plus, they gave us free coca cola products to refresh us for our journey. Admittedly, I'm a total pushover for fountain pop of any sort, but when it's a waxed paper cup of icy cold cherry coke proferred with a genuine "how y'all doin?", my heart melts a little. Best Welcome Center ever!

I want to do this whole trip again. And if you come with me, you have to be as nice to me as my lovely mother in law, which means you have to let me drive your car (mine's a lemon, we're taking yours) and you have to sit beside me, reading out interesting historical facts about the towns we're driving through. From now on, this may be the only way I'll travel.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Why I Cook

I'm at home today because there's a team of plumbers in the basement installing a back-flow valve. This will, hopefully, prevent sewage from coming up our basement drain in the event of another (and let's face it, inevitable) flood like the one we had in July .

ANYway, given that their jackhammers are making either writing my oyster piece OR napping impossible, I was just rootling through Twitter and someone was talking about their new blog post on Why I Cook, which was inspired by Michael Ruhlman's post on the same subject. It's kind of an interesting question -- in the same way that, apparently, some historians don't take food history seriously as a subject because food just is, and therefore isn't interesting enough to research/write about*, cooking just is. It's universal. Well, except for the raw food people, of course, but for most of us, cooking is just a fact of life and not one that you particularly question. It's like asking why you wear shoes or something, you just do.

So, why do I cook? Well, it's a three part answer, but it all comes down to the same thing: Pleasure.

I Cook For Me
Not to get all Nigella on you, but for me cooking is pure pleasure. And I don't just mean weekend cooking when you get to spend time at the market and lovingly pick every ingredient, or even just ransack your pantry and then spend hedonistic hours in the kitchen while a cassoulet simmers fragrantly in your oven. I'm talking about every time I set foot in the kitchen. From making a sandwich to frying an egg, cooking fills me with every positive emotion you care to name. So much so, that I find it hard to stay out of the kitchen at parties (only with the host's permission, of course, since God knows I don't like people in my kitchen) or out of the way at cooking schools. I have to get in on the action.

And, truly, is there anything more lovely than a few minutes at the stove, contemplatively cooking an omelette? Or chopping vegetables? Or searing the perfect steak? Or whisking a salad dressing exactly to your taste? And what about all those little kitchen miracles -- watching butter and egg become hollandaise, or the way a simple mixture of yeast, flour and water will rise into the perfect pizza dough, or thickening a sauce with roux. How can anyone not find pleasure in making this stuff happen? It's magic.

I Cook For You
The pleasure of cooking is increased many times over when you've got an appreciative audience. My mother has noticed over the years that the people she meets who don't cook are generally the ones who don't have an audience. If the person you're feeding doesn't notice what they're eating, then your pleasure in cooking is bound to be diminished. I am grateful to be surrounded by people who are interested in and appreciative of their food. There is nothing better than watching someone react to something I've made for them. If they love it unconditionally, then it's like Christmas, and if they suggest that the dish is missing something or could use a little less this/that, then it means they're really paying attention and tasting and dinner becomes more than just a meal, it becomes a conversation.

Now that I think about it, actually, I think there IS something better than simply cooking for others -- when your friends and family e-mails to ask for your recipe, or calls to ask for tips on how you made something. A few years ago, Kate asked me how I make my ribs. So I wrote out the three-day process that I use (probably the first time I ever had to write a recipe out for something I just make without thinking!) and e-mailed it off to her. The ever-practical mother of four promptly simplified the recipe ("do I REALLY have to brine for 24 hours? Really, Kara?") to her tastes and has been making it for family parties ever since. Then last night, my friend S. called to ask how I prepare the fish for Baja Fish Tacos, which I'd made for her and her husband last month. I know that S. will take this dish and make it her own, make it part of her repertoire, and share it with others who will then tweak the recipe to suit their own tastes. What an enormous compliment to have people want to replicate/tweak foods that you've introduced them to.

I Cook To Eat
The pleasure of cooking is only matched by the pleasure of eating. And I love to eat. Oh, goodness, but I love to eat. Which is why it's funny to remember that I was such a godawful picky eater as a kid. Looking back, I really feel sorry for my mother, who is an excellent cook, for having to deal with my limited diet. Only the plainest foods were allowed on my plate, nothing could touch each other, no visible fat was allowed on my meat and I'm pretty sure the only cooked vegetable I ate from birth to my mid-20s was corn niblets. I'm not kidding. I didn't try olives or pickles or raw tomatoes or ANY of the foods I now consider basics until I was in university. Pathetic! However, I've been making up for lost time for years now and, with the exception of insects and some organ meats, will pretty much eat anything**.

Especially if I've had the pleasure of cooking it.


*Don't even get me STARTED on how wrong this point of view is. At least 27 different kinds of wrong.
** And beets. If I wanted to taste basement, I'd go lick the cellar floor.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The New "Just Say NO!"

The other day I had one of those moments that stopped me in my tracks. My son asked me why I am so mad all the time.


The answer I gave him, was that I am not mad, I am frustrated. There was a lot of babbling about being busy and asking the kids to help out, and there was a lot of apologizing and making sure he knew that I was not mad at him or his sisters.

The truth is I am mad.

I am mad because I am totally out of time. I know this is the mantra of modern living, but it's true. I usually function on about 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Either because I didn't actually make it to my bed before 1 or 2 AM or I got into bed early and then laid awake thinking of everything I was supposed to do and didn't get done, and what won't get done tomorrow so I can finish up today's stuff.

I am a stay at home mom. My job is running the house and keeping the family going. My husband owns his own business and works long hours. At the moment we ( my husband and I and our 4 kids) are living in a house that is going through a renovation. So I have all the cooking. cleaning, laundry basics to deal with in a house that is caked with drywall dust and covered in plastic sheeting. Then of course you have all the extra-curricular the kids are involved in.

Get ready this is where I start to lose my mind.

My mother was fond of saying that a busy kid is a happy kid. I have found this to be true. What is driving me nuts is having a busy kid means that I have to be a totally overscheduled parent. It isn't all the taxi-ing around that I find annoying it's the endless requests to volunteer. It all seems so simple when your child comes home and asks to play soccer or hockey or whatever. Hang-on, because you will barely be finished filling out the registration form when someone will start to tell you how they need parents to help coach the team or be referees or sit on the executive. They all have the same pitch. The only way they can keep costs down and offer this fabulous program to all of these kids is with the help of parent volunteers. It is only one or two hours a week. You are going to be at the field/arena anyway.

This year things have spiraled out of control around here with volunteering. Between hockey, dance, the school's parent council we average about 36 volunteer hours a month. That is above and beyond attending the games or shuttling kids to and from lessons. Right now we are lucky to have one meal a week together as a family. This week the kids will have Valentine's parties at school. They have all asked me to bake either cookies or cupcakes for their classes, so now I need to find a couple of hours beyond the time already spoken for.

My husband usually works from 8 AM-6:30 PM. Two of my kids are in school full time, a third is in JK half days, and the baby is still home. My oldest daughter dances 3 days a week, my son has hockey 2-3 days a week, and has cub scouts once a week, and my 4 year old dances once a week. Now try and schedule in the birthday parties and play dates that every kid gets invited too. Of course there is a lot of overlap which means one parent is home with kids who aren't in an activity at that time, or those kids are home with a baby-sitter who is getting $10 an hour.

I helped out at Cub Camp last month and then last week my son's cub scout leader asked if I would be interested in becoming a leader. "it doesn't take much time, just the meetings and maybe an hour in planning time." That would bring us to 46 hours a month. The hockey people are already making a pitch to have my husband more involved next year. The organizations we are involved with love us. People who know us through our kids activities are always telling us what great parents we are. But my son thinks I'm mad at him all the time.

Here is the plan, I am going to say no to cubs, and hockey is just going to have to find another superhero. There are dozens of kids in these activities, and yet I keep seeing the same few faces during all of our volunteer time. I am stepping down, or at least back. There will be less of my cookies on the bake sale table, and there will be a new face on the bench at hockey games next year. Either some other parent is going to step up and help share the load or the activity will fold due lack of interest ( highly unlikely by the way) and if that happens it means I'm the only one who cared so who was I killing myself for anyway?

Then I can spend more time at home relaxed and happy with my favorite people in the whole world.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Baby NoBounce

Speaking to my mother briefly last night about that last blog post ("I think you're too late for this Olympics") reminded me of something from childhood that explains ALL when it comes to my lack of running ability.

When I was little, I couldn't jump.

Not kidding. I couldn't. I had no bounce. I used to stand on the edge of the rug in this sort of skiiers crouch, bent at the knees, swaying back and forth, down and up, swinging my arms, tensed to spring my little body right off that rug and into the stratosphere. And, inevitably, all that effort would end in one thudding step forward. I had no jump.

Running? HA! I've never stood a chance.


PS Maybe THIS is why I fell in love with basketball (as a spectator, not a participant) so easily? Those boys can fly!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

If anyone on Hamilton Mountain felt a tremor yesterday, the epicentre was my ass

Every Monday morning, I get up early and workout with a trainer. It seems ridiculous on a number of levels, but I've come to really love this part of the week. Not only does it fill me with that smug Rockyesque Feelin' Strong Now sense of well-being that greatly improves my mood in the workplace even if most Mondays I can't lift my arms above my head for the pain, BUT it's also the one day a week I'm guaranteed to get my fat ass to the gym. Not just because I'm paying trainer-dude for his time, but also because he'd be disappointed if I didn't show up and if there's one thing I can't bear, it's knowing I've disappointed someone.

(Aside: have I told you about the time in my last year of high school when I had to write a paper on that bloody Pynchon story, Entropy, and I Just. Didn't. Get. It. and when I got the paper back the teacher had written that he was disappointed with my efforts and I ended up prostrate with grief? Yeah, that's how much I hate "disappointment".)

ANYway, in the time I've been doing the trainer thing, I've mostly stopped attending the "Lean&Fit" classes at my gym. Partially due to scheduling difficulties but more because the trainer's spoiled my appetite for the high-intensity circuit-classes. Why? Because trainer-dude is a very quiet, intense kind of guy so our half-hour sessions are very intense and very q-u-i-e-t, a quality I've come to greatly appreciate but which makes the "Lean&Fit" classes unbearable in their volume and pace. "Lean&Fit" instructors never shut up, never get off the microphone, never stop yelling at you. It makes me want to kick them in the yoga pants all the while mewling shutupshutupshutupshutupwhywontyoujustshutup?!! So, I've stopped going and instead try to go and break a sweat on the treadmill 2-3 times a week, which I quite enjoy.

Which led me to begin thinking seriously of taking up running. It's attractive for a number of reasons. It requires very little equipment. It's an excuse to listen to music. It's something you can do alone or in a group, depending on your mood. Every woman I know who's taken up running speaks of it in this reverent tone. One woman I know lost a whopping 60 lbs just from running. It's a religion I want to join. I've got powerful legs, I've been thinking, powerful legs that could probably run pretty darn well. That's it! I'm gonna start running!

Yeah, maybe not. Yesterday, trainer-dude made me run around one of the training rooms. Up one side, shuffle side-to-side across, backwards down the other side of the room, shuffle side-to-side across, and repeat. And it nearly killed me. I do, it turns out, have very powerful legs. I start like a shot, like an absolute shot -- I'm not kidding, for a nano second there, I swear I'd beat a cheetah in a foot race -- but about four steps later the seismic kachunkachunk of my very large badonkadonk catches up with me and all but stops me in my tracks. I think I must be very susceptible to gravity or something because it's like I can barely lift my feet, I'm so earthbound and, well, lumbering. Of course, it didn't help that I was doing this in front of a large mirrored wall and became horribly aware of just how much of me was rolling and heaving as I thundered up and down and back and forth across the matts. Not to mention how much I need a new sports bra and possibly some sort of high-tensile exercise pants to contain/tame these gigantic thighs and all the junk I've got in my trunk. And my arms! What do runners do with their arms? How does it not kill them to hold their arms bent at the elbow like that? Jeeze!

So, maybe running's not my thing. However, with all that power in my legs for steering and my love of winter, not to mention my willingness to appear in public in entirely unflattering high-tensile exercise wear, I'm now seriously thinking that the luge might be just the sport for me.


Friday, January 15, 2010

about this #draw365 thing...

As I mentioned before, I haven't drawn a thing in years. Unlike riding a bike, I think it's something you do forget, or at least it's the type of thing where if you don't use it, your facility for drawing really rusts up.

So, I have to say, agreeing to draw something, ANYTHING, every day and posting it for all the twitterverse to see has made quite an impact. Without thinking, I seem to have started a bit of a series of self portraits in the mode of famous images. Kinda my version of Cindy Sherman, on a doodling scale. I've attached the first two, one of me as a Zaftig Edie Sedgwick and another as a Zaftig Betty Grable. Honestly, this is the most fun I've had with a sketchbook in decades. If I keep going, I might have an entire wall full of fat little me cutouts. Silly! But so damned fun to do!


Thursday, January 7, 2010

140 Characters

Happy New Year!

Because I am sick of seeing the Sticky Toffee Pudding post on the blog (I overdid it in the cookie and cake category this Christmas and really can't bear the thought of anything sticky or toffee or puddingish) I thought I'd write a quick post to start 2010 on Are You Kidding Me?

Unfortunately, I don't really have anything to write about at the moment as I'm feeling quite blue and it's mainly job-related and I don't want to bore you all with my whinging and moaning.

But I DO want to say how much I love, love, LOVE Twitter. Good GOD, but I loves me some Twitter. I love the 140 character limitation, I love having the opportunity to send random thoughts out into the universe, I love reading other people's random thoughts, and I love the fun stuff like #draw365, where a whole bunch of people commit to drawing something, anything, once a day and posting it for all to see. Considering that I drew constantly up until the age of 19, you'd think this would be easy but that all stopped after I failed to survive art school so getting back into drawing is a nice little challenge. So far, it's not so much drawing as doodling but whatever, the point is that I'm putting (Sharpie fine-point) pen to paper again on a regular basis. So hooray for all that.

Alright then, having now entered at least one post that has nothing to do with Christmas or food, I should get back to work. Or, at the very least, to doodling.