Book Writing Continues as Day-Job Resumes

The Writer on the Move at Vancouver's Bike-Friendly Cafe

The Writer on the Move at Vancouver’s Bike-Friendly Cafe

The final week of my 3-month Book Writing Tour 2013 concludes with me writing at Musette, my Vancouver neighbourhood bike-friendly café. Inspired by my Parisian café and Torontonian coffee shop writing experiences, I trial this tradition in my hometown as well. Also before concluding, the latest iTouch drama of my Book Writing Tour 2013 – that is: the mysterious disappearance of my crucial historical Calendar entries, which I reported in my Decidedly Foodie Return to Vancouver story – gets somehow resolved…though I now have 2 copies of each of those entries on my iTouch and no Apple technical support to assist with resolving that glitch. I am once more reminded that, sometimes, you just need to accept imperfections!

With the following week’s return to regularly scheduled programming at my paid day-job with NRCan, I reduce the frequency of my story posts here. My current goal is to post bi-weekly stories, with the intention of having this external motivator to keep me living my life as I transform my past into a useful and publicly sharable tale. Ideally, this frequency will allow a good balance between my book writing and my storytelling about parts of my writing process.

Travel-Inspired Homemade Mojito

Travel-Inspired Homemade Mojito

I now resume my various routines in earnest. My weekday morning smoothie ritual of fruit-protein-and-a-green-veggie is once again complemented by my weekly juicing of carrots and ginger, with a mix of beet, apple, cucumber, spinach or kale, and red pepper added in turn into the vitamin-rich rotation. A new addition to my homemade drink preparation is the delicious and somewhat healthy, travel-inspired Mojito, in which Jamaican Rum instead of white rum greets some organic sugar, soda water, and fresh lime juice and mint. While fresh produce abounds at the downtown farmers market during the summer months, I work into my weekly routine a Saturday morning stroll there through “my secret garden” passageway. I manage, also, to keep up with my twice-weekly Pilates classes at the nearby YMCA in order to keep strengthening my core to give my wiggly body some added stability, along with gaining other physical and mental health benefits. I practice using my strengthened core posture while cycling to the monthly Pacific Mobile Recycling Depot with my unmarked plastics and other materials, like almond milk cartons, that are not currently recyclable through the municipal recycling collection system.

While I continue deliberating the intensity with which I will continue improving my French in the foreseeable future, I take advantage of 3 conversational French opportunities in the past week. I drop in at 2 Vancouver French Meetup events, which both happen to be a little before and on the way to the writing events I participate in that week. I also reconnect with my new Parisienne friend for language exchange practicum, which we started after meeting at one of these French Meetup events I frequented in preparation for the Paris portion of my Book Writing Tour 2013. Perhaps I will return to France some day in my reincarnation as a full-time writer… We all need dreams, and it is wonderful when we can come up with some – and think that there is even some possibility of attaining them.

Romeo and Juliet (With a Twist) Outdoor Theatre Performance

Romeo and Juliet (With a Twist) Outdoor Theatre Performance

To sustain my artistic soul, I take myself on several Artist Dates these past two weeks. A friend invites me to another outdoor Shakespearean performance, this time at Sunset Beach: “Romeo & Juliet” (also with a twist). Similar to the gender role twist in the Hamlet performance I related in Back in Undecidedly Sunny Vancouver, here both Romeo and Juliet are portrayed as women, played by women, in a story of love – one that “transcends sex, sexuality and gender.” Even classic stories can become fresh and relevant to current times when a twist is introduced.

As part of my Artist’Dates, I also attend 2 evening Summer Writes Lectures at the downtown campus of Simon Fraser University. The first one, “Going Places: A Writerly Perspective on Travel”, quite timely for my last week of my Book Writing Tour 2013 discusses how writing is a journey, and uses the excitement, uncertainty, and discovery of travel as metaphors for writing. From this Lecture – by short-story writer Marina Sonkina, originally from Russia and the Communist Block all too familiar to me from my childhood – I am reminded of the importance of humour in storytelling. The following week’s Lecture, “Personal Tales: How a Country Boy Became a Poet”, reminds how the places and physical objects that flit through or linger in our lives, shape us. In this Lecture, George Bowering – from the small BC town of Oliver – highlights how taking notice of the details distinguishes writers from non-writers, and speaks to me of the importance of being comfortable in one’s own skin.

The Summer Writes Lectures are accompanied by 4-hour writing Workshops conducted over 2 days, of which I take the one on “Personal Tales: Form and the Narrative Essay”. Invited to bring a physical object from our past to serve as a memory prompt, I narrate the forgotten story that the object commands be told. Only it works even more effectively than I expect, and the process of writing the narrative induces some surprise discoveries.

The Writer's Herb Garden at 3 Weeks

The Writer’s Herb Garden at 3 Weeks

Back at my apartment, my little herb garden – planted only three weeks earlier upon my being Back in Undecidedly Sunny Vancouver – is already nearing harvest. My cilantro, arugula and mesclun salad greens are reaching heights of up to 10cm. Though the days remain warm, the evenings are now getting chilly, so perhaps they will not grow much in size but will ripen even more in flavour.

The Writer Celebrating 16 Years in Vancouver with French Dinner

The Writer Celebrating 16 Years in Vancouver with French Dinner

My return to my day-job coincides with my celebrations of my 16th anniversary of coming to Vancouver. Only two weeks since celebrating my 29th anniversary of coming to Canada described in my Decidedly Foodie Return to Vancouver story, I don the same pretty Desigual dress – which I first feature in the London Calling story – and indulge in some rich French cuisine of French onion soup, truffled poutine, and crème brulée, at one of my favourite restaurants in Vancouver, the Franco-German: La Brasserie.

Iron-Rich Chicken Livers Dinner Salad

Iron-Rich Chicken Livers Dinner Salad

Additionally to my weekly Special Dish for the Week creations – of which I had 3 in the past two weeks: Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup, Spiced Swiss Chard with Butter Beans, Pineapple Shiitake Thai Curry with Shrimp and Chickpeas – into my other cooking, of late, enter dishes containing chicken livers along with other iron sources (like oatmeal in my smoothies) and iron supplements to counter the recently measured iron deficiency, which may be causing my ongoing fatigue and muscle weakness.

As I recount my writing-related endeavours and other life-affirming activities of the past two weeks, it all feels incredibly productive but a tad overwhelming. I feel my body is speaking up in mild protest this week, and I am listening. I will be taking it a little bit easier, and the upcoming long weekend – quite fittingly celebrating Labour Day – should help with that plan as well.

Special Dish for the Week: Pineapple Shiitake Thai Curry with Shrimp and Chickpeas

With fond memories of my 2009 Southeast Asia travels with a good friend, I return to Thai cuisine for this week’s Special Dish for the Week:

Pineapple Shiitake Thai Curry with Shrimp and Chickpeas

Pineapple Shiitake Thai Curry with Shrimp and Chickpeas

Pineapple Shiitake Thai Curry with Shrimp and Chickpeas

The usual suspects of base seasoning: garlic, ginger, and red Thai chili pepper, meet in a sizzling mélange of organic virgin coconut oil with green Thai curry paste, and chopped stems of cilantro and Thai basil. The stir-fry of these spices is occasionally doused with the water in which the shittakes have been soaking. Kaffir limes are tossed in to begin the release their specific Thai citrusy flavour and scent.

Currently in search of more sources of iron for my diet, I use the vitamin-C-containing pineapple and heme-iron-containing shrimp of the original recipe to help with absorption of the non-heme-iron in the chickpeas.

The soaked and sliced shittake mushrooms introduce a meaty texture into the dish, while the coconut milk provides the creaminess that binds this dish together while balancing the spiciness of it.

Final seasoning of contrasting sour tamarind, sweet maple syrup, and salty fish sauce balances the base flavours, while the cilantro and Thai basil leaves add the aromatic element.

Serving the Thai curry over the plain but flavourful and textureful jasmine brown rice, I enjoy this dish with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. After, I indulge in 3 squares of mint dark chocolate.

Meal ideas & recipes from “International Thai Cooking: Authentic Thai Food” book acquired during my 2009 Southeast Asia travels.

Special Dish for the Week: Spiced Swiss Chard with Butter Beans

This week’s part two of the two part Special Dish for the Week follows last week’s theme of spiced paprika – a recent acquisition for my spice collection – this time making an appearance in:

Spiced Swiss Chard with Butter (Lima) Beans over Cinnamon Rice

Spiced Swiss Chard with Butter (Lima) Beans over Cinnamon Rice

Spiced Swiss Chard with Butter (Lima) Beans over Cinnamon Rice

This dish is bursting with flavourful spices and nutition. Spiced paprika makes another guest appearance, along with regular paprika (though sweet paprika is called for, so I add a dash of maple syrup to sweeten the dish a little).

Other spices for this dish include cumin (seed and powder), coriander (fresh and powder), pinch of saffron, red Thai chili pepper, all intermingled with olive oil sautéed onion, garlic and ginger – naturally some of these are my own additions (love that ginger!).

The Swiss chard is stir-fried in two batches: chopped stems soften with the spices in some vegetable stock, and after those are tender, the shredded leaves join the stir-fry along with the butter (lima) beans. Remembering my lesson about not making food too sour, I use the juice of just 1/2 a lime for some added taste and nutrients. And this time, I add a little sea salt, too.

Cinnamon rice seemed like a good addition to such flavourfully spicy dish, and indeed, it gave the dish another dimension. Cinnamon is said to reduce inflammation and have antioxidant effects. And it enriches great tasting food!

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

Special Dish for the Week: Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

This week’s part one of the two part Special Dish for the Week is very flavourful, with sensational texture, and features green peppercorns – another recent acquisition for my spice collection – making a debut appearance in:

Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

This is the third time I am having this soup, and am liking it ever more! The first time I tried this sweet and spicey creamy taste sentation, my Haburgerin hostess made it for me on my stop in Hamburg during my Book Writing Tour 2013. The next time, I introduced this delicacy to my London host on my London stop of this same Tour – albeit we were unsuccessful till later in finding green peppercorns, so we spiced it with black peppercorns instead. It was still delicious!

It is very simple to make, although as usual, I use the original recipe as a guide, and then amend it! The soup base consists of chopped shallots sautéed in butter with smashed green peppercorns. Then with equal parts of chicken broth and cream, the soup is brought to a boil. Some figs are cut into the soup and cooked till tender. The soup is blendered smooth, upon which, the secret ingredient is added: mine was the Italian Sambuca instead of the French Pastis that the original recipe calls for. The Sambuca turns out to work great, too! (Phew, what a relief!) A little more heating while the last of the chopped up figs are added till tender.

Served with a sprinkle of market-fresh cilantro, the flavours and textures melt together in the mouth, with the fig further dissolving in a most intriguing sensation on the tongue. Try it and find out for yourself!

Decidedly Foodie Return to Vancouver

The Writer's Market Veggies Lunch and Sprouting Seedlings Beside

The Writer’s Market Veggies Lunch and Sprouting Seedlings Beside

Second week back in Vancouver from my Book Writing Tour 2013 travels, I immerse myself in another of my favourite pursuits: food! My intense cravings for veggies are just barely satiated by the abundance and diversity of the fresh produce from the downtown farmers market. On a sunny afternoon, the market’s juicy tomatoes, fragrant basil, and earthy cilantro, all chopped and seasoned with minced garlic and olive oil, become bruschetta that I enjoy on my balcony with a glass of rosé. I marvel at the seedlings that have sprouted in only a few short days in the container on the ground beside me. I eagerly await my harvest of the mesclun salad greens, which originate from Provence.

As I indulge while writing this, in several steamed cauliflower florets, lightly sprinkled with toasted sesame oil, I reflect on my affinity for eating, travelling and writing, and how much I enjoy writing about making and sampling delicious, nutritious, and visually appealing dishes that I often discover during my travels. Feeding my body feeds my soul.

Sensously Inspired Kale and Almond Salad Lunch

Sensously Inspired Kale and Almond Salad Lunch

On another afternoon, I try out a very effective and sensuous tip for softening the leaves of kale, which I learned from my Torontonian hostess during my stay in Toronto on my Book Writing Tour 2013. After shredding the kale into bite size bits, cut into them some avocado, squeeze in some lime juice, and with complete abandon, get into the makings of this salad with both hands, mashing the avocado all over the leaves. From another friend, who treats me to a quinoa kale salad this week in Vancouver, I learn a tip for making whole almonds more edible in a salad. Thus, after a couple of hours in the fridge, I top up this lunch treat with some chickpeas, crumbled goat cheese, and the second new addition to my salad-making: olive oil and balsamic vinegar soaked cranberries and almonds.

Along with my veggie cravings, I am also on the prowl for a variety of duck meats for the French salade Landaise that I featured in my final story post from Paris on my Book Writing Tour 2013, and which I would like to try making. Finding duck meats in Vancouver is proving to be a challenge, and so far, I have ended up with: 2 duck breasts from 2 different markets; duck pate infused with foie gras and Périgord truffle; and chicken gizzards from among the packet of giblets.

The Writer Celebrating 29 Years in Canada with Homemade French Dinner

The Writer Celebrating 29 Years in Canada with Homemade French Dinner

While I patiently acquire the more precise ingredients for my salade Landaise, I make a duck-inspired homemade French dinner in celebration of the 29th anniversary of my fateful coming to Canada from my native Poland on account of my puzzling physical condition that is a significant subject of my book. Certainly the richness of French cuisine is reminiscent of Polish food, which is perhaps why I enjoy them both so. I begin this feast with the duck pate from my imprecise duck meats stash, spread over a fresh baguette from a nearby French boulangerie. Sadly, it is no match for the one with which my Parisian host has spoiled me during my Paris stay on my Book Writing Tour 2013. For the entrée, I pan sear, then bake, one of the 2 duck breasts I now have in my possession, and loosely following a recipe, I make yam potatoes in Old French Style, replacing nutmeg with smoked paprika and parsley with herbes de Provence. Buttered baby lima beans complete the dish, and Chat-en-Oeuf rosé wine stands in for the more renowned but difficult to obtain in Vancouver, Châteauneuf du Pape.

Duck-Inspired French Meal of Pate and Breast Fillet

Duck-Inspired French Meal of Pate and Breast Fillet

As part of my August 10th celebrations of my Canadian life’s beginning, I take myself that evening to the theatre on a more prescribed solo Artist Date. My muse is a Jacobean tragedy of “Women Beware Women”, which plays at the Jericho Art Centre, where I saw “We Are Three Sisters” – a play about the Brontë Sisters: Anne, Charlotte, and Emily – before departing on my Book Writing Tour 2013. Although I do not specifically seek these out, I find that there are quite a few stories and screenplays about the plight of women from past centuries, oddly all written by men. While, themselves, inspirational stories of strong and self-willed women, in an age where idleness was at most expected of and permitted to non-peasant women, their gallant portrayal causes me to reflect on how with my book and my story, that I as a woman write myself, I might contribute to bringing more herstorical balance to these issues as well.

As I nourish my body and cultivate my soul, sadly technology drains my energy and sucks my brainpower. Ever since losing all my Contacts in an inexplicable blip while in Paris during my Book Writing Tour 2013, my iTouch has been fraught with peril. The latest drama has been the mysterious disappearance of my historical Calendar entries, on which I heavily depend to remind me of the barrage of events of the last several years that compelled me to share my story through a book. While the latest technological glitch mirrors the frustrations I am presently experiencing in some parts of my life and with certain aspects of telling my story, perhaps it also serves as a trifler distraction from those more haunting reflections.

Seeking solace in my love of good food, I relish in the making and the tasting of this week’s Special Dish for the Week: Smoked Paprika Eggplant Salad with Tahini-Yogurt Dressing.

Special Dish for the Week: Smoked Paprika Eggplant Salad with Tahini-Yogurt Dressing

This week’s Special Dish for the Week taste sensation is flavoured by smoked paprika – a recent acquisition for my spice collection – which gives the dish a smokey flavour without actually charring the food, making a debut appearance in:

Smoked Paprika Eggplant Salad with Tahini-Yogurt Dressing

Smoked Paprika Eggplant Salad with Tahini-Yogurt Dressing

Smoked Paprika Eggplant Salad with Tahini-Yogurt Dressing

Veering quite off the original recipe, my salad uses quinoa and chickpeas for the additional protein in this dish – adding more texture variation and nutty flavours.

Certainly another labour of food love, the final result of this multi-part dish is worth it!

Thickly sliced eggplant, scored in criss-cross pattern, is marinated in olive oil flavoured with a generous helping of smoked paprika, grated garlic and sea salt.

Meanwhile, sautéed chopped onions and cilantro stems are added to the cooked quinoa and canned but organic chickpeas. When these all cool, chopped vine tomatoes and arugula are tossed in, completing the base salad.

Then, as the marinaded eggplant slices, slowly and in turn, make their way through the skillet towards tenderness, the dressing is prepared. To plain Greek yogurt, some tahini is added, and further flavoured with grated garlic, ground cumin, juice of 1/2 lime (the recipe called for 2 lemons, but I am learning my lesson of over souring my dishes against my liking!), chopped cilantro and some sea salt.

These, then, are assembled as shown in the photo, and paired with a glass of Pinot Gris wine that had been a gift from my friends vacationing at my apartment while I travelled during my Book Writing Tour 2013.

And for dessert, some almond halva from the European / Mediterranean Deli in my neighbourhood.

Most definitely another great idea from, by now, my favourite cookbook!

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

Back in Undecidedly Sunny Vancouver

The Writer's Vancouver Public Library Office

The Writer’s Vancouver Public Library Office

After hearing all the raving about record-breaking weeks of sunshine in Vancouver, rain and clouds greet me for a few days upon my return for 3 more weeks of the in-town portion of my Book Writing Tour 2013. And after spending a couple of days getting caught up on the more mundane tasks of life that sometimes unfortunately take precedence over writing, I settle back into my Tuesday and Friday Pilates classes routine at the YMCA, resume my Saturday morning farmers market circuit, and once again return to the Vancouver Public Library for some concerted writing time.

"Hamlet" (With a Twist) Outdoor Theatre Performance

“Hamlet” (With a Twist) Outdoor Theatre Performance

My first Artist Date back in Vancouver is an outdoor performance of Hamlet (with a twist) at Granville Island’s Carousel Theatre for Young People and its Teen Shakespeare Program. The twist involves my preferred portion of the colour palette: black & white costumes, in steampunk style, and reversed gender roles, with Hamlet being a girl and the queen dying instead of the king. In true Shakespearean fashion, though, and most reflective of life itself, everyone still dies in the end.

Tomato, Bocconcini and Red Wine Balcony Lunch

Tomato, Bocconcini and Red Wine Balcony Lunch

While enjoying my tri-coloured tomato, bocconcini, basil and cilantro salad and sipping a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon on my sunny balcony one afternoon, I am inspired to plant some new life around me in the herb containers that lay abound. I march over to the local artsy garden shop, where I get just a little over-ambitious. Picking up the 40L bag of topsoil as it is the same price as the 25L bag, I just barely drag the >20kg of dirt over the 2 blocks that it is to my apartment. It will be a few weeks till there is something to show from the planting effort.

Herb Garden Planting Contemplations Over Quinoa Salad and BBQ'd Salmon

Herb Garden Planting Contemplations Over Quinoa Salad and BBQ’d Salmon

While at the said artsy garden shop down on Hornby and Pacific, I make a stunning discovery: the Desigual brand has been getting sold here for nearly a year! I wondered when the fashion that I have been introduced to in Europe, and which I feature in the London Calling story stepping out of the distinctive red phone booth, would find its way to Vancouver!

Taking My Writing for a Bike Ride and Ice Cream to English Bay

Taking My Writing for a Bike Ride and Ice Cream to English Bay

With only 3 more weeks to go before returning to regularly scheduled programming at my paid job with NRCan, having spent more than a few days in transit and settling in over the course of my Book Writing Tour 2013, I try to play a little catch-up by writing on the BC Day Long Weekend. With the sunny weather enticing, one afternoon I take my writing on a bike ride and for some ice cream to the beach at English Bay.

I happily reconnect with my Developmental Editor by Skype once more, and with this 1-hour call, we resume our bi-weekly check-in and moral support sessions. This website’s blog has been a good surrogate for the last 2 months, though I am glad to have both now. Now that I will be more stationary and soon my writing time will be once again dramatically reduced, while I spend my days earning my keep at my day-job, I contemplate the frequency with which I will continue motivating myself to do interesting and inspirational things in order to keep myself writing and to have some fresh insights to post here. My weekly semi-public recounts of my writing efforts, motivations, and life experiences, from my travels throughout Europe and in Ontario during my Book Writing Tour 2013, have been very morally supportive and motivating for keeping my good and wanting moments in perspective.

I am also back with my Special Dish for the Week routine, and in keeping with the Watermelon theme, I make a Watermelon Curry.