Toronto That Once Was Home

The Writer on the Move at Toronto's Coffee Shop

The Writer on the Move at Toronto’s Coffee Shop

I spend the last week of the out-of-town portion of my Book Writing Tour 2013 in Toronto, trying out my colleague’s writing routine of frequently moving writing locations during the day. This tends to chunk the day with more physical activity and increased potential for interesting encounters and inspirations. Thus, I write my Daily Morning Pages, story notes and organizational ideas at 3 local coffee shops varying in size, artistic decor, and busy-ness, each inspiring creativity in their own way. Throughout the rest of the day, I continue the relocation routine and move around between the garden and the study at the home of my Toronto hostess. My writing colleague and I manage to fit in a collaborative website working session, exchanging tips and tricks, and other website hosting discoveries.

The Writer at the Art Gallery of Ontario

The Writer at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Toronto’s Artist Date takes my writing colleague and I to the beautifully renovated Art Gallery of Ontario. The open-arched sculpture gallery reminds of being trapped with other creatures inside a transparent whale, whose ribs are made of wood. The atrium’s sensuous wooden Baroque Stair that reminds of a snail’s shell is a delightful contrast to the graceful movements of the bird-like robotic arms engaged in a tantalizing ballet dance within the Killing Machine interactive exhibit. Exiting the Gallery, stepping down the gently sloping sinuous ramp with tall massive wooden walls for railings, gives an inspired feeling of floating over the concrete floor like a ballet dancer. The Gallery provides fertile ground for the imagination.

The Gallery experience is further heightened by my excitement of taking Toronto’s Bixi bike share to and from the downtown location. The joyous ride is marred only by a passer-by’s ignorant yet still hurtful audible commentary about the unintentional grimace on my face as I intently concentrate on not getting my bicycle wheel caught in the streetcar (tram) tracks and wiping out.

While I never make it to the nearby Roncesvalles Polish district where I spent about one of my teenage years, I pass through it on a streetcar on my way to the GO Train to make my commute from Toronto to my Mom’s in suburban Brampton for the last weekend of my trip. Excited to be taking one of the very few trains Canada has to offer at present, I even gladly make the 30-minute journey in standing-room-only conditions.

Brampton's Covered Bicycle Parking Station

Brampton’s Covered Bicycle Parking Station

On an unremarkable Sunday afternoon, I stumble on a surprising glimmer of hope for cyclists. In suburban Brampton, I spot a covered bicycle parking station at a “Community Campus” (picture a large open-air mall or “power centre”, geared solely towards public “recreation”, accessible primarily by car, since the >1.5km-long city blocks are largely prohibitive as walking distances). Though distances there leave much to be desired, the brave and fearless cyclists who make the trek there by bike are protected from the dripping rain while locking up their vehicles on a rainy day, and are welcomed by a small piece of infrastructure that further sanctions their transportation choice.

The Writer's Earlier Life

The Writer’s Earlier Life

Upon my return to Vancouver for the final 3 weeks of my Book Writing Tour 2013, I begin to take stock of my gains and my losses from the experience. As part of my travel loot, I return with a handful of my childhood photos to help further jog my memory for stories of what my life’s beginnings were like.

The Special Dish for the Week is a summer favourite, which I make for the second time during my trip (the previous time when London was Calling): the sweet and spicy, cold and refreshing, Watermelon Gazpacho.

Special Dish for the Week: Watermelon Gazpacho

Together with my Brampton host, during my Book Writing Tour 2013, we enjoyed this week’s Special Dish for the Week (which I also enjoyed earlier with my London host):

Watermelon Gazpacho – Thai Style

Watermelon Gazpacho - Thai Style

Watermelon Gazpacho – Thai Style

Never being one for cold soups, I was most pleasantly surprised by the appealing taste sensation that this refreshingly sweet and spicy watermelon gazpacho was for me.

Naturally, the base of this soup is watermelon and tomatoes, which I purée together into a juice (the original recipe calls for watermelon juice, and I am not sure I have ever seen that sold in the grocery store – besides, fresh is usually better!). I have yet to use plum tomatoes in this soup, as I typically use round tomatoes on the vine.

Though the recipe calls for lemongrass, and I have made this soup with lemongrass before, I have also now tried it with cardamom seeds instead, for their similarly citrusy flavour – and it works great!

The usual suspects make it into this soup, including: ginger, garlic, red Thai chili pepper, and usually cilantro. Shallots or a red onion adds to the spice nicely, while the juice from a lime and some olive oil lightly flavour the soup and help with the nutrient absorption. A little salt brings out the flvours a little more.

When serving, the recipe suggests to add some diced watermelon and avocado, plus chopped cilantro and some torn mint, but I have not used any mint in this soup yet. Served chilled after allowing the flavours to infuse, it is most refreshing on a warm summer day. I have yet to figure out what liquor would make this soup into a summer cocktail best…

Meal ideas & recipes from Maria Elia’s “The Modern Vegetarian” book from a good friend.

From London to Ontario

Garden Dining in London

Garden Dining in London

During my last days in London, and the last days of the European leg of my Book Writing Tour 2013, my London host and I continue the daily morning smoothie and 3-minute Pilates routine, to feed the body, in preparation for feeding the mind with my Daily Morning Pages, weekly blog story posts, working through and writing down my life’s story, and reading some insights that others share about book writing and publishing from their own experiences. In the evenings, we complete the day with some rosé to feed the spirit. We gladly retreat back to our garden dining, after our all-you-can-eat sushi tradition gets us again, before I leave that continent once more.

The Writer in Brampton Garden During Toronto's Heatwave

The Writer in Brampton Garden During Toronto’s Heatwave

I land in the midst of a Toronto heatwave, with much relief after spending the 8-hour journey in frigid temperatures, with most passengers repeatedly complaining to the flight attendants, to no avail. At first, the 45ºC on the thermometer in the sun, and the 30ºC at bedtime, are welcoming. I try to do a little bit of work in the shade and among the vast greenery of my Mom’s Brampton garden, but quite quickly the heat overwhelms even me! I give in to nature, and for a couple of days, I simply visit with my Mom and Sister, going for slow walks, eating great Polish food, and engaging in many a chat, much of which assist me in sorting out my story.

Writers Collaborating in Toronto's West End Coffee Shop

Writers Collaborating in Toronto’s West End Coffee Shop

Even nature gets tired of the heat, and after a few massive thunder and wicked lightening storms, the post-thunderstorm cooling brings me to downtown Toronto for a week-long writers retreat visit with my fellow writer and Toronto hostess. There, I join Melissa in a few of her daily writing and creativity-boosting rituals. She invites me to her early morning coffee shop sessions of writing, drawing and connecting with other local artists. I get a weekly guest-pass and we expand her yoga routine to include Pilates at the local YMCA, also down the street like mine in Vancouver. Throughout the day, we exchange tips on writing habits, software programs, and helpful internet resources. Our joint feedback sessions and collaborations are interspersed with creative alone-time as we migrate with our laptops and sketchpads throughout her lovely artist’s home and garden.

The Writer's Garden Lunch

The Writer’s Garden Lunch

We make smoothies for breakfast and fabulous salads of kale and quinoa for dinner. I excitedly get to try out her stylish bright red Vitamix – the most renowned and coveted blender among vegans, raw-foodies, and most soup chefs, alike. The sweet yet spicy Watermelon Gazpacho soup tastes even better the next day for a mid-morning snack, once the flavours have had the time to infuse together. These dishes are supplemented by various goodies from my Mom’s garden and oven in the care package with which she sent me off to Toronto. All quite spontaneously, I meet several close friends of my Toronto hostess, and reconnect once more in-person with another long-time friend who is very supportive of me and my efforts.

The Writer at Toronto’s Kensington Market

The Writer at Toronto’s Kensington Market

My impressions of Toronto as a land of BBQs, cottage-getaways, and urban sprawl are slightly augmented by the highly multi-cultural Kensington Market area we lunch and shop for groceries at, and the diverse and livable West End where I am staying. This area is very close to the Polish community of Roncesvalles that was one of my first homes around Toronto as a kid when I first came to Canada. I look forward to possibly trying out the Toronto Bixi bike share, as I patiently await its installation in Vancouver, hopefully as soon as next spring!

London Calling

The Writer's Garden Office

The Writer’s Garden Office

Things are a little different for me in London this time: it is finally warm here when I visit for once! Most days, I work from the garden office and enjoy my super salad lunches while sipping a glass of rose. My writing is going a little slower after my mini-holiday, and I am also at another challenging spot in my story: What really happened, and how did that actually shape what happened after that? Is what I now say really true, and will it still be true for me 5 years from now? It feels that writing down your past for others to partake in, and possibly dissect, requires a certain commitment to your own truths. I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes, by Margaret Laurence: “A popular misconception is that we can’t change the past – everyone is constantly changing their own past, recalling it, revising it.” I must keep reminding myself that a book, whether auto-biographical, historical, or otherwise, is but a snapshot in time of someone’s interpretation of their truth.

Super Salad and Rose Lunch

Super Salad and Rose Lunch

My London Cycle, The Viking Prelude

My London Cycle, The Viking Prelude

I am now, for a while, back in the land of the daily breakfast smoothie and 3-minute Pilates routine, brilliant public transport (for the able-bodied, anyway), and a pub at least on every other corner. I am also, briefly, reunited with my second love: my London cycle, the Viking Prelude. Life is better from behind the handlebars, I once said to a friend, and it still feels true today. My favourite images of people on bicycles that I have seen on my various travels are the 50-something ladies, smartly dressed in skirts or jeans, swinging their high-heeled foot off their bicycle as they slow down to park; the mothers and fathers with one, two or a bucket-full-of-kids mounted onto their bicycles; and the (usually) elder men cycling blissfully with a cane attached to their bicycle frame for when they must walk. It is visions like these in most countries I have travelled to, that inspire in me the “live as you are” feeling.

Artistic inspirations surround me here. On our walks around town, my London host and I get artsy with the street art (and a little Photoshopping afterwards).

Artists' Walk

Artists’ Walk

Ballet Inspiration

Ballet Inspiration

I find additional inspiration from the Billy Elliot and Spamalot musicals. The latter was even more goofy than the Monty Python movie version, but the former was quite breath-taking and moving – as many sniffles and sounds of search for tissue from the audience can attest to. The elegance of movement of the ballet prodigy has given me some fresh ideas. This lead child-actor was superb to watch. Bravo!

My tech-savvy London host equips me with a few more book writing and reading gadgets to try out during my stay. The handheld iPod Touch (iTouch) picks up the wireless keyboard via Bluetooth as a possible on-the-go writing option… I test out reading an ebook on the iPad Kindle app as a possible book publication format… I am amazed by all this technology that I barely understand, and I think I can increasingly relate to the generations that came before me. Various friends advise me of links to potentially useful blogs written by others about writing and publishing a book. It is incredibly supportive. Sometimes I have trouble keeping up with what helpful words of wisdom and interesting experiences others may have to share, and this, too, helps me better relate to the readers (or would-be-readers) of my stories on this website.

London Calling Phonebooth Pose

London Calling Phonebooth Pose

When feeling nostalgic about the past, and a little sad about a current plan ending, it is advisable to start making a new one. This wisdom was prompted by a timely invitation that I received from the Vancouver Writers’ Meetup Group. As I wind down my Book Writing Tour 2013, with one more 12-day stop in Ontario before I return home for my 3-week finale, it heartens me a little to know that I have a weekend writing retreat in September to look forward to in Vancouver. With both London and Vancouver calling, I remain forever with “One Foot in Europe”.

And in Europe is where I celebrated my 4th anniversary of my possibly life-saving, or at least life-prolonging, surgery of 2009. Unlike in previous years, instead of hosting a potluck open-house for caring friends and acquaintances on a Sunday afternoon around July 14th, I spent the day having a relaxing garden breakfast, cycling around London, acquiring a very pretty designer-style summer dress, and making Beet Bourguignon with Lentils and Brown Rice – all with a good friend here. With this very special adaptation of the better known beef bourguignon, I am now back on track with the Special Dish for the Week. With my London host, we also made a mid-week dish of another Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea and Coconut Sauce over Spelt Pasta.

Special Dish for the Week: Beet Bourguignon with Lentils and Brown Rice

Together with my London host, during my Book Writing Tour 2013, we enjoy this week’s Special Dish for the Week from London:

Beet Bourguignon with Lentils and Brown Rice

Beet Bourguignon with Lentils and Brown Rice

Beet Bourguignon with Lentils and Brown Rice

This very special adaptation of the better known beef bourguignon, the beet bourguignon naturally features some beets, which we bought at an organic market in Notting Hill.

Sautéed in olive oil, the base consists of onion, garlic, thyme, pepper and salt.

The beets are joined by some carrots and mushrooms, and stewed in some tomato purée, red wine, and vegetable stock. We even found some arrowroot at Waitrose, which is an alternative to cornstarch.

With sides of brown jasmine rice and green lentils, this dish is quite delicious. On another iteration, it may be joined by tiny bit of beef for fuller flavour and an even higher protein content.

Meal ideas & recipes from UK Stylist’s Beet Bourguignon.

Hamburg and Poznan Mini-Holiday and Storyline Confirmations

On the German (Hamburg) and Polish (Poznan) leg of my Book Writing Tour 2013, I take a little time out from daily writing, and concentrate on eating and visiting with friends and relatives. But the book and storyline creation process does not stop.

Hamburg German Breakfast 1

Hamburg German Breakfast 1

After the land of the great French baguette, I crave the generous and diverse German breakfast. I am told that this meal remains the most authentic in German cuisine. I also debunk my own perception of the currywurst being a recent addition, particularly in Hamburg, which is a very large and long-time vibrant international trading port city, and where spices such as curry from the Far East have long-since engaged the Germanic sausage. The German breakfast, rich in breads, cheeses, fruit, veggies, eggs and fish, with a dab of marmalade if so desired, does give way on a couple of mornings to some homemade fruit smoothies that I have been missing for three weeks since leaving Vancouver on my Book Writing Tour 2013.

Hamburg German Breakfast 2

Hamburg German Breakfast 2

I spend a day writing and another one updating my website with the previous week’s stories, in written word and with visuals. It happens to be Canada Day, and I am huddling up wrapped in a blanket, wearing two pairs of socks, and a European-must-have thin scarf.

The Writer Shivers in Europe on Canada Day

The Writer Shivers in Europe on Canada Day

I eagerly await some higher temperatures on this continent, while receiving news of the heat-wave I am sadly missing back in Vancouver. In addition to the chilly weather, my uncertainty around the all-German menus at the nearby restaurants, which are otherwise most inviting with their rows of benches around long tables happily shared by strangers, keeps me close to home. I grow even more wary of venturing out on my own when, upon one such act of bravery, I receive now an international confirmation of a dreaded and unpleasant identity imposed on me because of my visible physical condition: this time in Germany, I am once again mistaken for a troubled drug addict unable to maintain control over her body. I manage to regain my composure and am happy with how much better I am able to handle the situation, explaining with a touch of humour to a partially-English-speaking German that their comment made me uncomfortable and that my body simply works differently because of my neurology. I am not crying this time, neither on the inside. Nonetheless, I decide to stay away from peering eyes and insensitive commentaries for a couple of days, and I write and take my meals in my apartment. I no longer feel as much of a need to prove that I, too, can live fully. I, now, know it more, that I can.

In Hamburg This Time, We Eat Again!

In Hamburg This Time, We Eat Again!

While staying in Hamburg, “The Eating Machine” (me) is happily reunited with her travel-partner from their “against all odds” South East Asia 2009 ventures. They cook up a storm, exchanging delicious recipes. Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup as an appetizer to Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea and Coconut Sauce over Quinoa on one evening; a fig and green peppercorn soup to whet the appetite for Eggplant, Lentil, Tomato and Cashew Curry on another. I am spreading the flavours of my favourite dishes across continents, travelling like a seasoned spice trader with my own collection of the more exotic spices. When we are not cooking or eating, my Hamburg hostess and I cycle around this most bicycle-friendly city. By bicycle, we join all types of other regular people: young and aged, business-suited and high-heeled, parents hauling children. We take in views of the historic city centre, the city’s centre-piece lake, the overcast beach, the still under construction new harbour HafenCity, and for an hour, switch to a boat for a favourite Hamburgerin past-time: boat tour of the working harbour while sipping a cold beer.

On my way onward, most surprisingly for Germany in my view, my train is cancelled when I get to Hamburg’s Hauptbahnhof station. Without a minute to spare for an explanation, I rush to catch an earlier train and spend the 2-hour journey from Hamburg to Berlin peering out the window at the unvisited countryside from the cushioning comforts of my folded jacket on the floor in the train’s hallway. Most of the other overflow passengers pass the time in cyberspace, hunched over their handheld game devices. After making lemonade of my cancelled train, when I at last extract my 200mL bottle of Bordeaux on my connecting train from Berlin to Poznan, my compartment co-traveller, in true East-European fashion, produces a Litre of whiskey. We both indulge in relative style: I sip from a miniature wine bottle; in my co-traveller’s hands appear a real glass and an entire lemon for his spiked Coca-Cola.

Poznan "Rynek" Main Square

Poznan “Rynek” Main Square

Another co-traveller in my Poznan-bound train compartment is a Polish-German nurse, with whom I quite happily strike up a conversation in my native tongue after my weeks of learning French and not understanding German. Having briefly discussed my neurological condition as a mutual point of interest, the nurse shares with me a perspective of a friend’s daughter, whose muscles are neurologically degenerating, and the lengths that this teenage girl goes to so as to grab onto life while the opportunities offered her are limited. I offer my still-limited-access website details so that my co-traveller nurse can share them with the girl. Her English apparently is quite good. It is only one sign of her unimpaired intellect that she is intent on nurturing.

Poznan Family Visit

Poznan Family Visit

In and around Poznan, several family visits are arranged. For the long-weekend that I am there, my Dad and his Lady Friend join me from my birthplace in Krakow. I am on a mini-holiday from my book writing, but my eyes and ears remain attentive for details of my childhood and for impressions of what my life might have been like had I not been transplanted to my new homeland in Canada. Some of my story and my perceptions are confirmed; some debunked. My quest for my own truths continues.

Another multi-cultural Artist Date, this time in Polish and about the Jewish culture, unexpectedly presents itself when one of my relatives, a screenwriter herself, invites us to a Sunday afternoon outdoor theatre performance of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”. It is informative and entertaining. It also inspires a fresh perspective for me on what my book is about and how I might describe it when asked versus how I have been describing it until now. There is something true to the Artist Dates, and how art inspires art, and thought, and life…

"Fiddler on the Roof" Outdoor Theatre Performance

“Fiddler on the Roof” Outdoor Theatre Performance

My more frequent relocations of the past week and my mini-holiday from writing are intruding on my Special Dish for the Week routine. They are also making me crave getting back to my keyboard to write!

À Bientôt, Paris! Moin Hamburg!

The final week of the Parisian stop on Book Writing Tour begins with a second Pilates en français class, to exercise the body, the mind, and together, the spirit. My Artist Date this week, while not quite alone amongst friends of my Parisian host, is nonetheless a relatively solitary artist-nurturing experience consisting of three solid hours of four theatre performances – entirely in French! A midnight Vélib bike-share ride home is the day’s welcomed mind-clearing finale.

French Cafe Lunch with Parisian Writer Colleague

French Cafe Lunch with Parisian Writer Colleague

Writing, though, need not always be an entirely solitary activity. Collaboration and mutual support with other writers is highly beneficial and recommended, particularly over a tasty meal of French onion soup, mixed salad, and dessert crepe, in a typical Parisian café, on the odd sunny summer afternoon. This is where Maria and I meet for the second time, to share our biographical writing experiences. It presents an opportunity to share my story of how I came to be working with my Developmental Editor.

Taking advantage of a rare sunny day, I return for my morning writing to the little park by a church on rue Mouffetard, where I wrote on my first writing day in Paris. I slowly begin to say my au revoirs to Paris.

Jardin du Luxembourg - A Writer's Haven

Jardin du Luxembourg – A Writer’s Haven

Still intermittently sunny in the afternoon, I grab a small picnic on the way to le Jardin du Luxemburg, on the Vélib bike-share, of course. This garden park is the working artist’s haven, with visual inspiration abound in the statues, the flower beds, the diversity of trees, period buildings, a pond that serves as a fountain in the centre, and lots of places to sit down with a laptop computer or handheld easel. A multitude of chairs is provided throughout the garden park, as grassy knolls and patches are strictly forbidden from trespassing with a blanket. Joggers and strollers of all ages complete the setting.

Jardin du Luxembourg - A Writer's Picnic

Jardin du Luxembourg – A Writer’s Picnic

I observe the carefree happiness of a little boy ducking in behind a tree as he marvels at the wonders around him, and witness the innocence of childhood slowly stripped away from him as his scolding mother yanks him into obedient motion in the direction she feels they need to be taking. Here I write, while sipping my Bordeaux and munching on my baguette, for four hours into the early evening. In the quite life-inspiring setting, I write about one of my own life re-inspiring events.

That evening I am rewarded with one of my better restaurant meals, which in the café-filled Paris means quite a lot! After nearly sitting myself directly into a tourist-trap, I leave my pedestrian alley courtyard table and opt for a more authentic French gourmet across rue Saint Andrés des Arts at Vins et Terroirs. The two dishes I order, accompanied by a small carafe de rosé, are both excellent – and by now, I have some good points of reference to say so. The saumon tartare with avocado paste topping and a beetroot sorbet are only barely outdone by the salade Landaise, which, in a word, is a mixed salad with all things duck: steaming gizzards, smoked duck breast, and a medallion of foie gras.

Saint Germain Post-Writing Dinner Delights

Saint Germain Post-Writing Dinner Delights

Fully satiated in my dining, writing, and life-witnessing experience, through the streets of Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés, past the Saint Sulpice church, I take the Vélib bike-share home. Located south of the river Seine and west of the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saint Germain becomes possibly my favourite area of Paris, rivalling even the by-now-famous rue Mouffetard.

Saint Sulpice Church near Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Saint Sulpice Church near Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés

After ensuring that my tastebuds experience a cheese fondue and a traditional quiche, both back at rue Mouffetard, I take the night train from Paris to Hamburg. In my six couchette comportment reserved for four passengers only, I spend the first part of the evening enjoying the space all on my own. Thinking about a nice bottle of Bordeaux I did not bring on my journey, I crack open the dark chocolate with sea salt, and settle into a couple of hours of my evening writing, occasionally peaking out the train window. In the morning, after a relatively good sleep on the top bunk, fully trained by the conductor in compartment door security, I am happily met by my Hamburgerin hostess at the main train station.

Heading to the Schlagermove Parade in Hamburg

Heading to the Schlagermove Parade in Hamburg

It is Saturday, the first weekend in July in Hamburg, and it is cool and over cast. Naturally, it is time for Schlagermove parade of 1960’s and 1970’s music, eclectic vintage clothing, and lots and lots of happily drunk Germans from across the nation. My Hamburgerin hostess is joined by a few of her closest friends – fortunately for me, they are all German-and-English-speaking. We have some cake and few drinks, I get a white feather boa, and we head out for a five-hour afternoon walk along 40-some music party parade trucks. We finish in the Reeperbahn red-light district around dinner time, and end up at a Polish restaurant of all places!

I am a little behind in adding my pictures of my visits and activities from my Book Writing Tour 2013 on a location map – continually under development so check back again!

This week, we enjoy two varieties of Special Dish for the Week: Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup and Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea and Coconut Sauce over Quinoa.