Six Weeks of Birthday and Chance Encounters

My six weeks of birthday celebrations (turned into seven!) are nearing their end, but hopefully the serendipitous chance encounters I am also experiencing lately are not. And I am having lot of fun with both. These and other life, job and health goings-on are more or less connected with my book writing endeavour—and they certainly keep me sufficiently busy to not be also writing about them more regularly in my story posts. Some I now recount in this post, and others will perhaps be shared in future posts or will form more content for my book.

What is the story behind the six weeks of birthday, I have been asked a few times? Usually, I “just” celebrate birthday month, but the idea behind both is to make the birthday target big enough so that my birthday wishes are never early and never belated, and by making my birthday celebrations virtually impossible to miss, everyone can just feel good about my birthday!

BIrthday Potluck Mexican Dinner

BIrthday Potluck Mexican Dinner

This year, my birthday celebrations begin mid-February with a potluck Mexican dinner prepared with a couple of friends, in commemoration of the Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, from which I had just returned.

We feast on spicy tomato and avocado guacamole and sweet corn and black bean salad as appetiser. For the main course, we enjoy corn tortillas filled with deeply green spinach and cilantro rice, sweet peppers stir fry, grated cheese and sour cream (Americanised Mexican food variation). Dessert turns out to be extra-rum flambé bananas. It truly is a feast for all senses!

Birthday Thai Dinner Fit for a Queen

Birthday Thai Dinner Fit for a Queen

For another birthday celebration, a friend treats me like a queen, allowing me to assume my position in a strategically placed arm chair—which feels more like a throne—while she prepares for me a Thai curry dinner and showers me with the most thoughtful gifts of two kinds of dark chocolate, red French wine, handmade porcelain clay dish, and a hand crafted Pisces-themed birthday card. Not being one for accepting or giving material presents, I delight at my friend’s thoughtfulness on this occasion. During the evening we also enjoy a brisk walk down to the Fraser River to whet our appetites.

On my actual birthday day, I invite a friend and prepare a French Charcuterie Board dish, in commemoration of the Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, from which I had returned earlier in the year.

On another evening, two friends join me for an adventurous experience of dining in complete darkness at the Dark Table restaurant. The experience is designed to emulate performing all but one activity without the sense of vision, allowing a new perception of reality, where the senses of touch, taste, hearing and smell are intensified. I experience a temporary sensation of vertigo when I sit down, before I regain my sense of balance through the sense of touch by feeling my way to what is vertical (the wall beside me) and what is horizontal (the table in front of me). I also find that it is my sense of hearing rather than taste that is the most intensified. I complete my experience of walking in other people’s shoes by taking a trip to the washroom, where I need to be lead by a visually impaired waiter, much more skilled at finding their way without seeing with their eyes than me—and I redouble my gratefulness for my sight when I reach the toilets, which are fortunately, for me, fully lit. No meal pictures from this experience as they would have been rather dull without an infrared feature on my camera.

A steady supply of wine and tea with various friends nearby, as well as wishes and gift packages from friends abroad, see me through to the end of March.

Why would anyone ever stop celebrating their birthday just because they don’t like the number attributed to a particular year’s festivities?!

I continue my education on the book production process and industry by attending a self-publishing fair, once again organised at the Vancouver Public Library. There, I meet and listen to an apparently successful self-published author, Martin Crosbie, who very generously shares his discoveries of strategies to dramatically increase his books’ sales on Amazon. It is a little too early in the process for me to apply any of his findings, although it is encouraging to know that Amazon is not such a book selling mystery after all.

The Writer's Workplace at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The Writer’s Workplace at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

I also partake in an in-town, 1-day Writing Retreat, organized as part of the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group. I am grateful for the chance and for giving myself permission to dedicate this day to writing, which I rather enjoy, but sometimes—with a lot of other life going on—I find it a challenge to get to. I have a chance to network with other writers, sharing writing craft and industry tips over refreshment breaks and a healthful, delicious, seasonal, mainly local and organic lunch at Tractor Foods restaurant.

Keeping up my French ameliorations is one of the many activities competing for my time, attention, and sense of enjoyment—I really do enjoy learning and using this fabulous and romantic language. One evening, I go with a friend—with a similar passion for French—to see the movie entitled “Gare du Nord”. This movie is naturally quite artistic (i.e., a little confusing), and incredibly well done. It tells a story of the people, the ghosts, and the people who feel or are made to feel like ghosts, whose lives intersect at this Parisian jewel of a cross-roads that is Gare du Nord. On another evening, I head to a Vancouver French Meetup event for some conversational practice after work, only to find myself crashing a retirement party for a Federal Government colleague and serendipitously connecting with a Francophone acquaintance, with whom I parler en français for a good 45 minutes.

The Writer's Garden Cottage at Xenia Retreat Centre

The Writer’s Garden Cottage at Xenia Retreat Centre

My serendipitous encounters also take me on a search for the Celestine Prophecy book—which fortuitously is about apparent coincidences, their meanings, and possible ways of living life if one chooses to follow the path that these reveal.

This, in turn, leads me to finding my amazing, past yoga teacher, and to partaking in the Ocean Breath yoga retreat, which she leads the following month on Bowen Island near Vancouver. This turns out to be precisely the relaxing, meditative, peaceful, and insightful weekend getaway that I crave at the point that it takes place. I stay in this amazing little Garden Cottage that reminds me that “Everyday is a Gift”.

The Writer at Her Garden Cottage

The Writer at Her Garden Cottage

Between some relaxing and some invigorating yoga sessions; fantastic and healthy meals with inspiring conversations; nature walks that include a visit with Opa—the 1000 year old cedar—a walk around a secluded lake through a forest, and a walking meditation at a rock labyrinth: I spend time at my little cottage writing through my thoughts and working on my book, as I am kept company by a pretty pewter ferry and a friendly pewter humming bird in the windows.

Opa - The 1000 Year Old Cedar

Opa – The 1000 Year Old Cedar

I experience a new for me sensation while hovering my left hand over a round of white crystals—the air between the underside of my hand and the crystals feels cold, but only with my left hand. On the other hand, the air feels the same temperature below and above my hand when I try this with my right hand. I am not sure what, if anything, this tries to tell me.

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Xenia

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Xenia

My healing energies are invigorated by a resident energy healer and a couple of sociable sessions in a wood burning sauna. Having recently read another kindred spirit’s mantra about “When cloudy pool of water settles, it becomes clear”, I make it my intention for the retreat weekend. Though clarity does not fully crystallise just then, my time and encounters at Xenia make space for my spirit to breathe and calm my mind and body.

Back at home in Vancouver, I continue to inspire my senses with Special Dishes for the Week that include Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa and Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant.

What a delicious six weeks of birthday this has been!

Special Dish for the Week: Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa

Not feeling like eating much lately (which I know is hardly believable, but true), I was happy to have my appetite revived by seeing some awesome super salads at a healthy restaurant I recently snacked at, and by a friend’s suggested recipe for this week’s Special Dish for the Week:

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Ingredients

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Ingredients

The rainbow salad is really quite life evoking! Loving my black for my clothing, in my food I do love my colour, and this dish certainly provides plenty. My 2-hour preparation adventure begins with laying out the fabulous ingredients.

I also make the dressing for this salad in advance. Using generous amounts of grated garlic and ginger, three types of mustard (organic Canadian Dijon, authentic spicy French Dijon, and semi-authentic French dark mustard from London’s Saintsbury’s), authentic French herbes de Provence, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and two types of oil: cold pressed virgin olive oil and unrefined toasted sesame oil, I manage to whip the dressing without making too much of mess of my kitchen this time! I am learning to do the whipping of oil and herb containing dressing with my electric whisk inside my sink, and to hold tight onto the container (after a couple of previous kitchen disasters).

Rinsing and putting on some tri-coloured quinoa in my rice cooker, I begin chopping my veggies. I commence with chopping some onion and cilantro stems, which I sautée together in some virgin coconut oil, adding a little salt and black pepper. I also thinly slice some red cabbage in preparation for a few minutes of steaming, as I am not too fond of entirely raw cabbage.

I julienne my four colours of peppers: green, yellow, orange, and red. I shred some carrots, for more orange, and because I love carrots! In the meantime, I roast in my toaster oven some raw green pumpkin seeds. I continue chopping more cilantro, and slicing half an avocado. I open an organic can of chickpeas, for some more protein, and prepare a handful of alfalfa sprouts.

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa

I assemble these, in turn, on my plate, in a rainbow arrangement of colours, with the quinoa as the base at the centre. Counter-clockwise, the assortment presents: whitish green alfalfa sprouts; green peppers; yellow peppers; orange peppers; red peppers; purple cabbage; beige chickpeas. White onion and green cilantro stems bring in the full outer circle to the whitish green alfalfa sprouts. The top layer continues with mostly greenness from the cilantro; green pumpkin seeds; avocado; and the pièce de résistance carrots. These are all generously sprinkled with the sweet and sour garlicky-gingery-maple-syrupy dressing.

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Dish

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Dish

I thoroughly enjoy this diverse sensation of textures and flavours. At last, after some days / weeks (?), it is a dish I feel like eating! A French Longue-Dog red wine enhances further the superbly flavourful dish, and once more I rejoice at the feeling of company that my Santé, machine à manger wine glass brings me. While I savour these flavours and the memories that the glass inspires, I listen to oldies but goodies from the “Songs for Maggie – Luvafair Favourites” CD. I am feeling quite alive!

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Melange

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Melange

For the left overs, I make a rainbow mélange of the veggies and dressing. The bowl does not allow for mixing in the left over quinoa, so I mix in some of the dressing in separately with the quinoa. These will make for some awesome lunches and dinners throughout the week. I am already looking forward to tomorrow’s lunch: it is so pretty! Joy and life bundled in pyrex, sprinkled with black sesame seeds.

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Lunch

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Lunch

Tonight, though, my meal ends with a cup of Pau d’Arco Tea that I unearthed on the weekend, and half a slice of French apple tart (a little too sweet for the body, but decadent for the soul!).

French Apple Tart and Pau d'Arco Tea Dessert

French Apple Tart and Pau d’Arco Tea Dessert

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Encore

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Encore

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Encore

Within about a month, I crave this colourful and tasty salad again. I am also curious about how much time and effort I can save by using my electric chopper (blender) for some of the veggies. I use the chopper for my carrots and onions, but get stomped on the cilantro—it seems to mangle it but not reduce it in size, so I now need to chop the mangled cilantro by hand. Perhaps it needs to be dry to chop? The carrots turn quite to mush, so I return to hand chopping of the cabbage, the peppers, and avocado.

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Encore Dish

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Encore Dish

I slightly vary the ingredients from the original salad: I omit the alfalfa sprouts and reduce the number of colours in my peppers. I also mix the veggie ingredients together and add the dressing to the veggie mélange before serving over the  tri-coloured quinoa. Otherwise, I follow the original salad recipe, and marvel in its deliciousness once more for another week. A cheerful yellow gerbera accompanies my meal, beeswax candlelight, and a glass of red wine (naturally).

Special Dish for the Week: Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant

I am feeling the need for a more earthly connection, and decide for this week’s Special Dish for the Week a combination of legumes, nightshade, and a lot of earthy spice in:

Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant

Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant

Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant

Using much of a recipe as a base, I naturally innovate. The base of the red lentil dhal are of course red lentils; I use organic. And I add some organic canned chickpeas for some added protein.

To begin preparing the spices, I lightly heat some cumin seeds and mustard seeds in some olive oil. Next, I introduce some chopped onion and the stems of cilantro. Then I add some grated ginger and garlicred Thai chili pepperscumin powderturmeric and black pepper, and some chili powder. To finish off the spices, I add some cinnamon, which goes very well with raisins, so I add a bit of those too.

To this spicy paste, I bring some organic vegetable stock, a few chopped tomatoes, and begin cooking the rinsed red lentils and chickpeas. Before these finish cooking, I squirt the juice of half a lime and add some chopped cilantro.

The smoked paprika eggplant is super easy, and not too involved. I thinly slice the eggplant, and lightly fry the slices in a little bit of cold pressed virgin olive oil. I make a glaze of smoked paprika powder and water, and use a brush to apply a thin layer to each softened eggplant slice.

Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant Dish

Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant Dish

I serve the dish on a bed of brown jasmine rice, spreading out a couple slices of smoked paprika eggplant, and layering the red lentil dhal. One-eighth lime, a dollop of organic Greek yogurt, and chopped cilantro finish off this dish.

From my Santé, machine à manger wine glass, I sip a French Côtes du Rhône, which makes me feel close to my good friend who sent me the glass as a present. I surround myself with light from a beeswax candle I bought from my honey lady at the farmers market back in the Fall, and with a beautifully crafted ceramic clay bowl that another good friend made me for my birthday. My meal sits atop an authentic Provençal place mat, and I dab my lips with a matching serviette, gifted to me by another good friend. Though I dine alone, I feel the love of others around me.

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

Special Dish for the Week: Birthday Charcuterie Board

This week my Special Dish for the Week is for the official birthday-day of my 2014 six-weeks-of-birthday celebrations, and for the occasion I invite a friend and prepare a French dish:

Birthday Charcuterie Board

It is such a delight to gather the ingredients and assemble them in a dish that includes some authentic French ingredients, “smuggled in” from France on the way back from my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice; some local French ingredients from Faubourg Parisian bakery café; and some other French imitation stand-ins as it is simply impossible to reasonably find all the authentic ingredients in Vancouver within my cycling radius — so I roll with what I can get, and it works out great!

Birthday 2014 Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

Birthday 2014 Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

We start off the festive meal with hors-d’oeuvre of authentic olives à la méditerranéenne avec ail et fines herbes, while sipping a glass of authentic red Châteauneuf-du-Pape Héritages wine. I serve the olives in my new birthday gift, porcelain-clay bowl, hand-made by another good friend of mine. I get to relish the thoughtful gift while I relish its olive contents.

First course consists of Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup, which my French-speaking German friend introduced to me to during my Book Writing Tour 2013. The soup is once more a hit, with its flavourful and texture combination of sweet, savoury, gritty and creamy.

Birthday 2014 French Charcuterie Board

Birthday 2014 French Charcuterie Board

Second course is my adaptation of a more traditional meat & cheese charcuterie board and add a few non-pickled veggies. One of the veggies is thickly sliced avocado sprinkled with unrefined toasted sesame oil, black sesame seeds, sea salt, and a balsamic glaze, while the other veggie is thickly sliced tomato dashed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, with sides of cilantro and lime wedges. Definitely a lighter refreshment to offset the more traditional ingredients.

Of the more traditional ingredients, I serve thinly sliced Italian prosciutto, not being able to reasonably find French jambon cru — which is just fine, since that is what we also had for our charcuterie board New Year’s Eve dinner during my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice. I also share my authentic medallion of foie gras (thank you duckies!). Two types of goat cheese (chèvre) round out the dish: fine herb and fig flavours.

All these delights are enjoyed with a baguette tradtionelle, from the local French bakery café, which sadly disappoints in its lack of crispness on the outside and softness on the inside by the time we have our evening meal. But my mind reaches back for memories of the real thing in Paris and Nice, and it stands in nicely to make this birthday charcuterie board fully enjoyable. Organic butter and authentic Dijon mustard intensify the textures and the flavours of the main ingredients.

For dessert, I serve several different flavours of macarons, also acquired from the local French bakery café, and enjoyed with rooibos tea lightly flavoured with authentic eucalyptus essential oil infused honey also from Nice.

What a feast! What great company! And to think: this is but one of the experiences of my six-weeks-of-birthday celebrations!