The Craft Draws Me Closer

Saying “yes” to life keeps proving to be rewarding, but admittedly, it can be also tiring. In the recent weeks, I arrange several Artist Dates for myself. On some of these, I take just myself; on others, I share myself with an interested friend. I start with a play, then a film, proceeding to a seminar, followed by a couple of dinners—all in a build-up to my 2nd Vancouver Writers Festival, where I shall begin my story.

The idolatry of Margaret Atwood

The idolatry of Margaret Atwood

Of the three events at the Vancouver Writers Festival that I take in this year, the one I attend with the greatest anticipation has the literary equivalent of rock star fame, for me and for the packed auditorium: Margaret Atwood. I decide to try out the idea planted in my mind during my last year’s attendance of her reading and commentary: I request her autograph for one of her books. It turns out to be a meaningful experience for me, though it stems from the very dissatisfying impersonal signing transaction. Perhaps this is how it feels for her as well. I confirm for myself that I prefer to engage in idolatry from a distance, mainly because I realise that the relationship I develop is with the idol’s work and not the idol: the person.

The experience, and my analysis of it—which I naturally undertake by writing about it—give me much insight into my own book writing and eventual publishing process. Mine will be a book about some details of my life. When it is finished, it will have the appearance of a self-contained story. Those who read it may feel like they have developed a relationship with me, where in fact they won’t have—though they may not realise it—because the relationship, if any, will be with their own images that my words will have conjured up for them—and I, as the writer, will not even have the privilege of knowing anything about some readers of my work. Yet, I think it will be important to remember to acknowledge the person reading my work, as a person, and not merely as a reader—while not taking their reactions to my work too personally.

Other events’ commentaries resonate with some of my own deliberations for my writing and my book: In which voice (I…, she…, you…) do I write which parts of my story? Would it be beneficial for me to use a pseudonym (in part because most non-Polish speakers will have trouble with my real surname)? And would it be easier to write as someone else (fictionalising the story to gain some more distance from it for myself)? One author suggests that non-fiction is a misnomer because it is all made up: facts, too, are created before they come into existence. I am heartened to hear from a seasoned author that it takes 4-5 years to write a book even when you have done it a few times—I am coming up to 3 years. Another lesson I glean for writing, and for life itself, is to remain obsessively curious.

With these insights working themselves out at the back of my mind, I return to moulding my own story. Feeling that I have sufficiently wrapped my head around my recent log jam of thoughts, I give myself permission now to work on other stories in parallel with resolving that jam. I dedicate a weekday evening to writing other stories, and my Friday day-writing time to that more intense self-analysis—and then, I improvise during any other writing time that I may have in the week or on weekends, when I am not learning French or taking myself out on Artist Dates.

Another recent Artist Date is a play, entitled “All In”, about the practical challenges of incorporating diversity into daily life, no matter how much agreement there is that it is a good idea to do this, and no matter how good it sounds in theory.

The film that I see, “The Escape From the ‘Liberty’ Cinema” (Ucieczka z Kina ‘Wolnosc’), is shown at the Vancouver Polish Film Festival. This 1990 film is a good reminder for me, and for my story, of how life used to be in Poland when I lived there a decade earlier, including the state of physical dilapidation of the infrastructure, and the imposed but also accepted concept of doublethink (unlike what happens today in Canada and other democratically capitalistic countries).

Balancing the artistic inspirations with some learning about the latest in brain science, I attend a morning session at the Vancouver Conference on Neuroplasticity. A very brainy presenter and the equally brainy exhibitors and participants confirm what I have recently been hearing and reading. Only within the last decade has the ‘learned’ community been increasing its acceptance of the brain’s ongoing potential to physically adapt to a person’s deliberate changes to how their body performs some activity. There are many clues in this topic and this confirmation for me and my story.

Obsessively Curious About Steak

Obsessively Curious About Steak

After feeding my soul and my mind, I take a culinary time out from my cultural Artist Dates, and apply the concept of “obsessive curiosity” to a couple of my dinners. There, I try out two varieties of steak as my source of iron: tenderloin and t-bone. I am not sure about the relative iron content, but taste- and texture-wise, the tenderloin comes out on top. I also get adventurous with sampling some purple cauliflower from the downtown farmers market. Though it is a keeper for its novelty and the possibly higher antioxidant content of purple foods, I do not find it to be particularly any more flavourful than the more typical white variety.

Obsessively Curious About Purple Cauliflower

Obsessively Curious About Purple Cauliflower

My other recent culinary delights, in the form of Special Dishes for the Week, are of seasonal and somewhat traditional persuasion, and include: Mushroom Risotto with Tomato, Cardamom and Coconut Sauce with Tofu and Water Chestnuts, and Ground Turkey Chili. The backlog in my freezer—which now needs clearing in order to free up the glass lunch containers for new dishes—conveniently coincides with a busy weekend of the Vancouver Writers Festival events, which leaves little time for additional cooking for this week.

Last Friday, we also say goodbye to Jody, ‘my’ cat, that has been my Mom’s companion for the past 19 years. Meow…

Goodbye Jody, Meow

Goodbye Jody, Meow

Special Dish for the Week: Ground Turkey Chili

Though the Thanksgiving turkey evaded me this year, it could not escape its fate entirely, as I make this Special Dish for the Week:

Ground Turkey Chili

Ground Turkey Chili Feast

Ground Turkey Chili Feast

In my current search for perhaps more absorbable food source of iron and protein, I purchase a pound of organic ground turkey at the last for the 2013 season downtown farmers market. It is quite lean as I cook it with some chopped onion and grated garlic and ginger, before adding the other ingredients. While chopping the veggies and opening the cans of beans, I put on the wild rice (pre-soaked in water over night) to cook in my rice cooker.

Ground Turkey Chili over Wild Rice

Ground Turkey Chili over Wild Rice

I coarsely chop red and green peppers, shiitaki and brown crimini mushrooms, and a zucchini. I slowly add these to the cooking ground turkey and onions. Out of convenience, I use canned beans, but I choose organic, one can of each: red kidney and black beans. Next, I add one can of organic diced tomatoes and one can of tomato sauce, and then the spices! Two types of chili powder (one more spicy than the other), two types of coriander (fresh leaves of cilantro and powdered), cumin, turmeric & black pepper, the left over pinch of dried oregano leaves, and some dried thyme. Not giving it even half the recommended cooking time, my impatient hunger will be satisfied—over the cooked wild rice and garnished with cilantro, I ladle out this tasty and warming chili, and enjoy the dish with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Meal ideas & recipes from http://www.inspirehealth.ca/recipes/2013/09/crockpot-chili.

Special Dish for the Week: Tomato, Cardamom and Coconut Sauce with Tofu and Water Chestnuts

Posting with a week’s delay, as an accompaniment to the Mushroom Risotto Special Dish for the Week, I make another version of this tasty sauce dish:

Tomato, Cardamom and Coconut Sauce with Tofu and Water Chestnuts

Tomato, Cardamom and Coconut Sauce with Tofu and Water Chestnuts

Tomato, Cardamom and Coconut Sauce with Tofu and Water Chestnuts

Having made this recipe several times before, each time varying some ingredients to a degree, I make this variation with tofu (as an added source of protein) and water chestnuts (since I note on the label that they contain iron). Finding cardamom seeds extraction from their pods a bit tedious and labour intensive (i.e., the novelty has worn off, I guess), and having seen at a grocer that simply the seeds can be bought, my search, since then, for the pod-free cardamom seeds has produced only powdered cardamom—so I give that a try. Like its whole black seed parents, the cardamom powder is citrusy smelling, and promises a burst of sweet-spicy flavour.

Tomato, Cardamom and Coconut Sauce with Tofu and Water Chestnuts over Mushroom Risotto

Tomato, Cardamom and Coconut Sauce with Tofu and Water Chestnuts over Mushroom Risotto

As in previous iterations, chopped onion, grated garlic and ginger, red Thai hot pepper, turmeric & black pepper, honey, garam masala, and chopped cilantro roots, sautéed in olive oil, form the base of this recipe.

Once I add the tomatoes, more cilantro, and coconut milk, I gently introduce the cubed organic tofu and the sliced water chestnuts, and let the flavours seep into them. Again I make the mistake of adding the juice of half a lime, instead of just a sprinkle to taste, and have the dish turn out a little more sour than my taste buds prefer—however, over the Mushroom Risotto, it works well! The sourness of the dish also brings out more fully the deep flavours of the accompanying Cabernet Sauvignon.

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

Special Dish for the Week: Mushroom Risotto

This Thanksgiving weekend, I am not craving the traditional turkey—I am craving mushrooms, and lots of them; so much so, that I make this Special Dish for the Week twice, slightly varying the ingredients each time:

Mushroom Risotto

Asian Assortment Mushroom Risotto

Asian Assortment Mushroom Risotto

Having tasted some authentic, freshly forayed mushrooms in a risotto at my friend’s birthday getaway in Roberts Creek several weeks ago, I have been craving mushrooms (as well as mushroom risotto) ever since. It being the Fall, and naturally mushroom season, it certainly is fitting. Sadly, though, wild mushrooms do not reach the downtown farmers market, and the selection at the local grocer—although it is most surprising that they even have a selection—is limited and rather pricey. I give in to my craving, and purchase an Asian assortment of wilder looking mushrooms, which includes: 3 chanterelles, 2 shiitakes, 1.5 trumpet royale, and a bunch of shimeji mushrooms (I think). I augment my fresh shroom selection with 6 dried shiitake that I have soaked in water over night. The soaking softens them up, and produces a “broth” for cooking the risotto.

These I sautée in some butter, with grated garlic, finely chopped shallots, salt and pepper, and possibly the key spice ingredient: thyme (powder, as I do not have any of this herb fresh or dried whole). Meanwhile, I cook my risotto rice in the broth of soaked dried shiitake mushrooms. I use a rice cooker—which is perhaps my most used small appliance, second only to my handheld blender with which I make my weekday morning smoothies. The risotto turns out more fluffy than creamy, as it perhaps would if I used a more traditional low heat, slow cooked, stovetop method—but my craving is impatient. At last, when both are ready, I gently stir in the sautéed fungi into the fluffy risotto, and feast slowly, savouring the flavours, enhanced with small sips of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Farmers Market Assortment of Mushrooms

Farmers Market Assortment of Mushrooms

For the encore presentation of the mushroom risotto this Thanksgiving weekend, I do pick up another assortment of locally cultivated mushrooms at the downtown farmers market, including: baby shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, brown criminis, and a large portabella mushroom. I gently rinse them, cut away the tiniest sliver off the bottom of the stem only on the mushrooms that really need it, and start chopping them into bite size bits. This takes a while!

Wild Rice Cultivated Mushroom Risotto

Wild Rice Cultivated Mushroom Risotto

Meanwhile, I have my base of finely chopped onion, grated garlicsalt and pepper, and thyme (powder and dried this time) sautéeing in coconut oil for a slightly sweeter flavour variation. I slowly add the bite size mushrooms in order by their hardness, and continue sautéeing the ingredients until only some of the liquid that seeps out of the mushrooms remains. Where my mushrooms lack in wildness, my wild rice variety steps in. Having soaked my wild rice in water over night in the fridge, I prepare it also in my rice cooker. Once more, when both the wild rice and the not so wild mushrooms are ready, I gently stir them together. This wild rice risotto accompanies my other Special Dish for the Week: Tomato, Cardamom and Coconut Sauce with Tofu and Water Chestnuts. The combination of flavours bursts in my mouth as they commingle on my tongue and palate. To celebrate this festive Thanksgiving dish, I treat myself to a Bordeaux with my meal and dark organic chocolate squares for dessert, and enjoy it all immensely.

Reconnecting with The Craft

Reflecting on a thought from an earlier story post—that “life tends to be a little full when you’re trying to live it and write about it”—I give myself permission to occasionally lapse a little on my current goal to post bi-weekly stories, which I established upon my return to my day-job from my Book Writing Tour 2013. Easing off the pedals is a strategy I am learning to implement in order, among other things, to keep from imploding on myself under the vastness of life-engaging possibilities.

Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

One of these occasions is the birthday weekend getaway for a friend, together with a few of her girlfriends, which we spend in the relaxing, if rainy, Roberts Creek on BC’s Sunshine Coast. We spend our days together savouring an abundance of very delicious dishes made with ingredients obtained during a damp but enjoyable walk to the village and a likewise damp but fruitful mushroom picking expedition.

The Writer at Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

The Writer at Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

Most fortunate for me, many of our companions come from the publishing industry, and some, too, are writers; thus, we enjoy many a chat while relishing the beachfront hot tub, warming fireplace, and elaborate candelabra. The sun does make a welcome appearance at the very opportune moment when I step down onto the beach to snap a few photos whilst the rain lets up. Sunday morning, before we depart, I get adventurous and make mulled wine out of the left over red wine, orange juice, honey, and some cinnamon that I find among the kitchen supplies—the Glühwein is a hit! And the Roberts Creek retreat inspires two consecutive Special Dishes for the Week: Quinoa and Chickpea Salad and Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Soup.

The following weekend, I spend feeding my soul at the Vancouver Art and Book Fair with a performance of a short story, entitled “I Fell in Love with Black”, from which I soak up the wisdom of the “Sky Cathedral” sculpture: “I only speak to those who listen.” The Art and Book Fair is held in the old Courthouse Chambers within the Annex of the Vancouver Art Gallery—itself a treat for me to see for the first time, and to momentarily feel transported back in time to another age. I learn from another presentation about a personalized yet affordable publishing-on-demand option that I may look a little more into when I get closer to that stage in my book process.

Vancouver Art and Book Fair 2013 at the Vancouver Art Gallery Annex

Vancouver Art and Book Fair 2013 at the Vancouver Art Gallery Annex

With two weeks passing since I braved, with mixed results, going dancing—and with publically tested affirmations of a less wiggly body this weekend—I decide to get back onto the dancing horse once more. Much to my relief, the evening proves relatively uneventful for my ever-vigilant self, and I find that I even enjoy myself, the music, and all the people who appear to be in a good and non-judgmental mood that evening. The one person, who distinctly misinterprets my facial expression, readily receives with a genuine smile my brief explanation that it was not intentional on my part; I feel relieved to have been able to get my voice to work; and we both get back to enjoying ourselves, perhaps a little more accepting.

Mid-week, I take myself on another Artist Date—this one, a play: “Assassinating Thomson” at the Firehall Arts Centre. I revel in appreciation for how this lone performer weaves his own story with the mystery surrounding the death of a famous Canadian painter from a century before. I leave this clever performance reflecting on several meaningful for me quotes, including: “Maybe you get to the point when you no longer grieve what you’ve lost, and you celebrate what remains” and “The story changes with the telling and with the teller”.

Turkey Livers and Multicoloured Veggie Dish

Turkey Livers and Multicoloured Veggie Dish

In my culinary adventures, one night, as an accompaniment to a colourful plate of orange carrots, green peas, yellow potatoes, and red tomatoes, I try out the iron-rich turkey livers that I previously acquired at a downtown farmers market outing. Prepared similarly to fried-up chicken livers, with sautéed onions, salt and pepper, and a dash of red wine, the turkey livers prove likewise tasty, though more gamey and not as tender. I may try them again, as a paté! On another night, I harvest more greens from my herb garden, grate a carrot, hard-boil an egg, make up some lentils, slice up an avocado, toss in some baby plum tomatoes, and sprinkle these with olive oil, balsamic vinegar glaze, and black sesame seeds, for a deliciously balanced—in flavour, colour and nutrition—super salad. Naturally, I enjoy both meals with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon each!

The Writer's Herb Garden Super Salad

The Writer’s Herb Garden Super Salad

Cette semaine, mes études françaises ont aussi recommencé pour les dix prochaines semaines, so that my French homework will once again compete for my limited book-writing time—but there is method in my madness!

While seeking balance between engaging in life and easing off, I plod away at my recent log jam of thoughts, and feel that I am reaching a possible resolution on one significant part.

Special Dish for the Week: Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Soup

I have a craving for Pizza Hut pizza, and am in luck with their 2nd and 3rd for $5 special, so I will be having slices of veggie, tropical shrimp, and grilled chicken for lunch this week, and as an accompaniment, I make this Special Dish for the Week:

Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Soup

Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Soup—Pre-Blendered

Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Soup—Pre-Blendered

This recipe idea came from a friend with whom I spent my friend’s birthday getaway in Roberts Creek last weekend. Naturally, I amend the recipe with a few additional ingredients. Chopped onion, grated garlic and ginger, and a red Thai chili pepper, sautéed in olive oil, constitute the base of this yummy soup. Organic chicken and vegetable soup stock cubes enrich the base flavours as well. Cubed sweet potatoes are accompanied with cubed yam for added colour and sweetness (though next time, out of curiosity, I may try this soup with sweet potatoes only). I also add some organic red lentils for some additional protein. While the potatoes and yam cook to soften, I spice this soup up with cumin powder, turmeric and black pepper, a pinch of salt, juice of a lime, few dried cranberries, and cilantro. Finally, I add the pièce de résistance of this soup—few teaspoons of Adams 100% Natural peanut butter!

Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Soup—Post-Blendered

Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Soup—Post-Blendered

When softened and the flavours have intermingled, I ladle out the chunky soup for a snapshot, give it a taste in that form—good contrast of flavours—before I blender the soup to its final consistency. Garnishing it with a few cilantro leaves, I enjoy this thick, spicy, peanutty and sweet accompaniment to my pan-seared and oven-roasted duck breast slices. Sipping a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with my meal, and letting the square of espresso chunk Denman Island Chocolate melt in my mouth for dessert, I thoroughly enjoy my culinary experience.

Meal ideas & recipes from http://allrecipes.com/recipe/spicy-sweet-potato-soup/