Saturday, April 16, 2011

Happy Pie

Ah, Spring! When we celebrate the birth of so many new creatures by... eating them. Yum.

The weather is still unseasonably cold, but the sun actually comes out for a few hours these days, and my third (and last, please god) virus seems to be gone. I even went back to the gym today, the first time in almost a month. Good thing, because I leave town in less than two weeks. Two weeks: time's flying by. I can't believe it.

Anyway, J and I had a really annoying meal last night; you know the kind- we went to our local Mexican restaurant and had a totally indifferent meal. Nothing was bad enough to complain about (except the lack of Guacamole on my plate, which the waitress claimed they had run out of- at a Mexican restaurant! On a Friday! until I saw some sitting on J's plate and then she stammered "well, he got the last bit".) It was just a truly bland meal- nothing had any flavour to it, and it wasn't even particularly cheap, to compensate. So today I swore I'd make up for last night's blah experience with a little home cookin', and...

I finally made something from a recipe I found in Saveur Magazine, which is sort of like National Geographic, but with recipes. This is an Easter Lamb Pie, from Sicily. Your basic meat pie, but with a twist: the 'pastry' is yeasted, and is really more like a bread than an actual pastry.
You start out by making the 'pastry'. It's like bread- you use yeast- but also like pastry- you use shortening. Is there anything in the world whiter than shortening? It's the purest white I know.

Then, while the dough is rising, you combine chopped up lamb with herbs and garlic. Lots of garlic.

This should really be done the night before, so that the flavours can marinate the lamb, but that's not essential, unless your Sicilian grandma is around to kick your butt.
Your boyfriend might mock your attempts to make meat pie and document it. Ignore him. Or get your revenge by including his picture in this blog.

But he won't turn up his nose at the finished result. Infact, he'll even help you decorate it:

Baaaaah! Happy Spring, everyone.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Coffee Shop

Last year, I had a few... issues. Basically, I felt like I'd painted myself into a corner. The really bad thing about that is, you can get so panicky about the situation that you can't see a way out. Some people get really depressed about this. I don't think I was depressed. Let's just say I had some angst. Maybe some Weltschmerz. Ennui? Anyway, whatever it was, I felt crappy enough that I wanted to talk to someone. So a wise friend told me about Family Services; I called them up and they put me through the intake procedure and said it might take a 3-4 months for someone to become available.
Actually, I think it was only two months. If that. Someone became available, and every few weeks I'd get on a bus headed south a few blocks and blurt out some of my problems to a lovely lady who had no ties to my life and who listened non-judgementally and sympathetically to my woes for half an hour. Sometimes I'd laugh; sometimes I snorfled my way through a few Kleenex, but it felt necessary for a while, anyway. I think on some level I was hoping that I'd have a momentous breakthrough- you know the ones where the light goes on above the patient's head and they cry: aha! I'm like this because of that! And they cry it all out for awhile and then... no more problem.
*Spoiler alert: that never happened to me.
Actually I still struggle with many of the same issues I had last year: poverty, instability, self-doubt. I know that I will have to work on those things for a long time. Maybe I'm still in a bit of a corner; it's just that it's not a bad corner to be in most of the time. There are friends and family in my corner with me. I have a window there, and most of the time I remember that if I want to walk out of there I may get some paint on my shoes but I probably won't die. Hell, we're all in some kind of corner, aren't we?
Anyway, one of the most therapeutic things about going to counselling was this place:

Most times I'd get off the bus and I'd be early for my session (because punctuality is NOT one of my issues), so I'd go to this coffee shop.
There's a lot of wood there. A pleasant view of the neighbourhood. Food that's actually made there, instead of being trucked in from some mass-producing bakery of blah.
Lots of times I'd take a tea along with me to Family Services, and it would sit with me through the next half hour, along with the kind lady who was listening to my problems.
When the sessions were over (I think the deal was a dozen, and I spread 'em out over four or five months), I wasn't magically 'cured'. My counsellor was sympathetic, but not much of a one for coming up with actual gameplans. But I'd talked out some of my troubles and I headed off to Barkerville and a much-needed injection of work and confidence. And I didn't have any need to be up in that neighbourhood anymore, so I didn't get to visit the coffee shop anymore.
Yesterday I passed through that neighbourhood on the way home from a rehearsal, and went back to the coffee shop for a snack. It was a good time to be there; not too busy, no lineup. They've expanded a bit, which is good, because they get pretty busy sometimes. I had a dark, strong Americano and a lemon tart.

A little boy saw me fiddling with my iPod and said "Do you have any games on there?" I admitted that I did. "Can I see?" he asked, and so I ended up letting him play a few rounds of Angry Birds while his father got him a snack. He was probably around four; still young enough to be totally trusting and careless of Stranger Danger. He leaned against me while he commandeered my iPod and I was happy to let him.
I could probably wrap this story up neatly by contrasting me in my dark times last year (unhappy, uncertain of everything) with this happy, confident little kid, but that feels a bit cheap. I will say that it was good to be back at this coffee shop, which is a special one in a town filled with far too many cookie-cutter coffee shops. It was good to have much longer hair and fewer pounds on me than last year. It was nice to feel the sun trying to poke through the clouds that have been too present lately. It felt really nice to be headed home and not to a counselling session.

We fled south last weekend, tired of the ever-present rain and grey skies of Vancouver. I don't know if it's been a particularly grey winter this year, but it sure as hell feels like it. However, we should have known that if you're fleeing bad weather, don't stay in the Pacific Northwest:

Portland was just as grey, just as cold, and even more windy than V-town. However, it had a few things going for it: it wasn't home, so it had the novelty factor going for it, its downtown is very easy to walk around, and in spite of the grey skies, it's a lovely town with a million restaurants. What could be better?
(An aside, if you'll indulge me: why does Portland have much, much, MUCH cooler movie theatres than Vancouver? Are we really so lame, so apathetic, that we let stupid chains like Cineplex take over all our theatres? Well yes, sadly, we are. When we were in the Land of the Free, we went to a fabulous place called the Living Room Theatres... it was a bar, a restaurant, and several tiny, comfy movie theatres. We lazed in fabulous chairs, alcoholic beverages in hand, and enjoyed a lovely movie experience. And this seemed to be the norm down there rather than the exception. Vancouver NEEDS this.)

We walked miles (we took the train down, so we kinda had to. But I love walking, and J was pretty game). When it got really gross out, we retreated to cool indoor places like OMSI, the huge science centre/planetarium/Omnimax/submarine on the other side of the river. We spent a day scoping out the shops (and bought multi-tools at REI, the US equivalent of MEC). We strolled from one restaurant to the next until our stomachs protested. We relaxed in our beautiful downtown hotel. All in all, it was a delightful 4 days.

Now we're back, and my stomach tells me I should go back on my no-wheat, no-dairy no-fun diet immediately. With costume fittings for my summer job looming, I have to agree. Here's something that fits the bill, although it's unlikely that I'll lose any weight eating it. I justify this breakfast by saying that there was a bag of fingerling potatoes sprouting in a cupboard, and I had to use them up. But really, it's just a way of making my holiday seem as if it's not quite over yet.

Salmon Hash
I had a version of this at the Benson Hotel in Portland. The salmon was pale, smoked and mixed right in with the wonderful, slightly too greasy potatoes. My version uses Indian Candy (because that was what was in the fridge), and my potatoes didn't really "hash". It was still really good, though. (And no wheat or dairy to be found!)

Chop some onions, garlic, and whatever herbs you may want to throw in (I had cilantro, so that's what I used).

Toss it in a pan with some olive oil, and stir until the onions are translucent.

Meanwhile, boil some potatoes.

When the potatoes are soft, add them to the pan, along with some more olive oil, salt and pepper (I like Fleur de Sel better than table salt), and maybe a couple of mushrooms.
Let it all cook until the potatoes are getting crispy on the outside. Then add the salmon and some of the herbs.

Finally, slide a poached or fried egg onto the top, and garnish with more salt, more pepper, and the rest of those herbs. Take it to the table and break the egg yolk so that it covers the hash with warm yellow yolk. Bon Appetit!