Thoughts

Year in Review: Books from 2014

SO MUCH TO READ AND SO LITTLE TIME

I set a goal for myself this year: to read 25 books. While I didn’t make it to that goal, I am on track to finish 18 by years end with three other books started. As with most things, some were better than others with a couple of particular standouts.

First of all, I read 4 books by Louise Penny, to bring me up to her second last book in the Detective Gamache series. These are ‘go to’ books for me. I love the stories and especially the characters within the books. The relationship between Gamache and his second in command, Beauvoir, is tested throughout these books and culminates in a climactic ending. While I am eager to read the last one, I felt the need to take a break before finishing all the books in the series so far.

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Another book in a series that I particularly liked was Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Prisoner of Heaven. This is the third book in a series, the first and best is The Shadow of the Wind. The three books are not sequential, but rather have overlapping time periods and characters, weaving together a picture of a time period in Spain rather than providing various sides or a sequential narrative to one story. The Shadow of the Wind will remain one of my favourite books of all time. The beauty and of the story and the incredible imagination that it took to create still remains with me to this day. I do not recommend reading the three books in a row, but rather pacing the time between as they are better as independent works of art.

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At the end of August, we planned a trip to Europe for 15 days. A cousin of mine got married outside Paris and so we decided to turn the trip into a vacation as well. This was my first visit to France, and leading up to us departing, I read two books written by Americans living in Paris: Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard and Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Duckerman. The latter turned into one of my favourites this year. Bringing up BebU is cleaver, funny, insightful and well researched. Her story is enjoyable not only as a parenting book but also as a commentary on American and French culture and relationships in general. While I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, this is definitely worth the time.

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Three other books that stood out for me were:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The City and the City by China Mieville

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The Handmaid’s Tale is the first book by Margaret Atwood that I have read and I was not disappointed. The story is unique, interesting and filled with social commentary on gender relations, stereotypes and exploitation throughout time. While the plot is set during a future time, it is more poingnant today than ever. I have at least one of her books on my list for 2015. The Mieville book was a total surprise. I picked this up to read while in Cuba last winter, knowing nothing about the story or the author. Set in eastern Europe, The City and the City is a tale like no other that tells little to the reader until the final pages of the book. Bizarre and complicated, this tale was very, very interesting. I would only recommend reading it if you have time to sit down and commit to the book – it is not something that you can come back to over a period of time due to the complexity of the story. The final book I want to highlight is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I have to admit that I was drawn to this book due to the hype of the movie that was released this year (I have yet to watch it). This dark and haunting story captivated me and I read the book in one weekend. While the climax is not what I expected I would recommend this book as a very interesting read.

Books

Happy reading in 2015.

Thoughts
– My Little Green Bike –
Last year I bought a bike. Nothing special, just an old bike that a friend was trying to get rid of. She gave me a good deal for it and it fit, so I said “hey, sounds good to me.”
Since I bought it towards the end of the Summer and due to the fact that I can be a bit lazy and unmotivated when it comes to exercise (and yes, I consider putting around the city on a little bike exercise), I actually only rode it twice. When the spring arrived this year, I was determined to get my money’s worth. I pulled that little bike out of the garage (i.e. dirt filled basement in our dingy apartment building), cleaned it up, filled up the tires with air and took it for a test run. Everything seemed to be working and in order.
My first run to work was tough. My bum hurt, my lungs hurt and I wasn’t used to all the amazing drivers on the roads. I also realized that the gears didn’t work and the breaks were a bit squeaky. Overall, it was a success.
Over the next couple of months I slowly built up my stamina on my sort of fixed-speed bike, and found a safe route to and from work. I was feeling, healthy and strong – sailing through the city without a care in the world.
Unfortunately, as with most things, the breaks slowly deteriorated. They became louder and louder, announcing my arrival at any street corner with an outrageous screech. Finally the day came when I realized that it was time to take it in to the shop – a dog barked in response to my screech.
When I took it into the bike shop, I asked to have the breaks fixed and also to get the gears fixed so I could use all three instead of just one (and I know what you’re thinking – yes, my little green gem had three whole gears!). The young gentleman who checked me in looked at the bike, back at me, back at the bike, back at me… and then said, I have to go and get another mechanic. He returned with another young lad who did exactly the same thing. Finally, we had three people looking at my bike in sheer fascination. I knew it was a special bike, I just knew it! I explained again to the third lad what I was hoping to have done and he started laughing. He replied “You couldn’t pay me to fix the bike.” What gall. What cheek.
He did go on to explain that as it was an old bike (I like to use ‘vintage’ – as in the older the vintage of wine, the better) and that the parts would be very expensive to get to replace the gear-shifter-thingy. “But, you can instead just ride it as a fixed-gear bike,” he said. “No matter,” I replied, “I can ride it as is as I am used to it by now, but can you please fix the breaks?”
A week later I got a call to pick up the bike. Finally, my little green friend was back in working order. When I went to pick it up, the total was significantly higher than what had been quoted – I had been told that to redo the brakes completely, the cost would be about $35 – but my total was closer to $70. Looking at the bike, I could see that the handles had been replaced – the older handles were the shifters for the gears that weren’t working. I asked about the increase in cost and was provided with an inventory of bike parts along with $20 for labour…. hmmmm, I thought – I guess I didn’t realize there was labour included?? I paid the expensive bill and headed home. As I got on my bike I realized that something had changed… my easy peddling had now turned into hard peddling… maybe a week without biking really did set me back that much? Darn this getting older stuff – not only are hangovers worse, but I fall out of shape in a week.
By the time I got home, I realized what had happened. When the young man had told me – “You can just ride it as a fixed-gear bike” he had actually meant “We can remove all the gears on the bike, remove the shifter handles and turn it into a fixed-gear bike on the most difficult gear.” I now have a bike with one, hard gear to get me around the city and all possibility of shifting to an easier gear has been removed. Silly me, why didn’t I understand what he meant. Maybe I can paint it a bright turquoise colour, get matching rims and thin wheels, wear fake glasses and high waisted short-shorts and blend in with all the cool kids. My masquerade is now over and I am cool because I have a fixed-bike. Thank you bike guys for knowing exactly what I wanted!
Conclusion: a harder gear means I go faster AND get a better workout. Lets keep our thoughts positive. 🙂
Little Green Bike
Little Green Bike
Recipes

Why not stay in and cook…

One of the best meals we make is homemade pizza. It is just so much better than frozen or bought pizza. Home made pizza is easy and delicious and you can be as creative as you want.

There are many different dough recipes, and sometimes I will make a more complicated one in advance of the meal. But, if you are like me and this is a last minute decision, here is a fast recipe that yields about 6-7 thin crust pizzas. Although we often opt for the one-two topping pizzas (i.e., cheese and just mushrooms) sometimes we get creative and something wonderful happens. Here is one of my favourites from the last batch. Enjoy!

Dough:

  • 1/2 Tbps dry yeast
  • 2 Cups Warm Water
  • 4 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 4 Tbps Olive Oil
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 4 tsp Suga

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water (approximately 6-10mins). Mix Flour, salt and sugar. Add olive oil and water mixture and use a wooden spoon to combine ingredients. I usually mix it so that it is mixed but still a little stringy – it doesn’t actually look like a ball of dough at this point. Cover the bowl and let sit for 30 mins while you prepare the ingredients to go on top and heat the oven to ~425. Turn the dough mixture onto a floured surface and knead until it resembles a ball of dough. Place back in the bowl and keep covered while you prepare each pizza. Usually I will use a knife to cut off the necessary dough per pizza – remember, this recipe should make 6-7 thin crust pizza so measure accordingly. Once in the oven, monitor regularly, but each pizza should take about 10-15 mins to cook. Look for a nice browning around the outside of the crust.

For the pizza picture below, we used the following toppings:

  • Caramelized onions
  • Boursine cheese (I believe a herb and garlic mix that had been leftover from a party)
  • Spinach
  • Proscuitto
  • Ground black pepper
  • Olive oil (drizzled over the pizza before it went in the oven)

 

Before
Before
After
After

 

Thoughts

Winter reading and Focusing on Imagination and Creativity

With increased access to television online, the world of entertainment has expanded exponentially. I find myself coming home from work, cooking dinner and then curling up on the couch to watch a movie or a couple of episodes of a show available through Netflix or online sites such as GlobatTV. This is the unwinding experience – I don’t want to have to think, but rather, want to enjoy letting my mind go as it is bombarded by images and stories that I absorb visually. I have little to no time away from access to a computer where I can immediately check my email and facebook for the 100th time that day, or scan through pinterest, news sites, watch videos etc.

Growing up, we had no television – in fact, my mother still to this day has no tv. She put us in an alternative school that emphasized creativity through experience and imagination. Although I was a late reader, once I did start reading, it was my entertainment. I read and read and read. Now, I am lucky if I sit down for 20 minutes with a book before going to sleep. It is almost as if reading has become a chore that I would rather not spend time on when I am unwinding from my work day. As it it is easier for me to just watch TV than read. But why?

What comes to mind is that books take attention and commitment. To get into a book and commit to the characters and plot line, you need to spend the time getting to know the story that the author is weaving. If I don’t spend time on the book, than those sporadic 20 minutes of reading doesn’t allow me or my imagination to commit to the story being told. I don’t give it the attention that it deserves.

I think its time to turn down the visual bombardment of televisions and move towards the creative escape of a darn good book.

Since January, I have managed to make it through 4 books – my goal is to double that by Summer. Let the reading begin.

Thoughts

“If split there…

“If split there was. That beginning was a shadow in history an unknown – records effaced and vanished for a century either side. Anything could have happened. From that historically brief quite opaque moment came the chaos of our material history, an anarchy of chronology, of mismatched remnants that delighted and horrified investigators. All we know is nomads on the steppes, then those black-box centuries of urban instigation – certain events, and there have been films and stories and games based on speculation (all making the censor at least a little twitchy) about the dual birth – then history comes back and there are Beszel and Ul Qoma.” – The city the city by China Meiville

Thoughts

“I must learn t…

“I must learn to love the fool in me–the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled, masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my fool.” — Theodore I. Rubin

Travel

Pacific Northwest Trip III: Portland and the Willamette Valley

I was most excited about going to Portland. The whole trip to the west coast was amazing, but I had heard so much about Portland and was really looking forward to seeing the city and experiencing the culture. The TV show Portlandia portrays a series of stereotypes about Portland that I find interesting culturally. Although extreme versions, we did see a lot of the themes from the show in person. I want to preface this post by saying that Adam and I couldn’t really figure out what Portland was – what its image or personality was and, how we could describe our experience to others. (For example, we live in a capital city which means that it houses a lot of bureaucrats – the personality tends to be a bit conservative, quiet, and outdoorsy.) On our second day in Portland we came to this description: it is a city that feels retro in a way that has now become cool, as if it hasn’t changed in 40 years and all of a sudden this is the new ‘in’ vibe. But there is so much more to it than that. Everything is local. When you talk to people in the city, they are all making their own beer, their own hot sauce, they all use locally sourced products, everything is recycled and reused; lots of craft fairs, vintage stores and neighbourhoods where no one wears makeup. Everyone we met was easy going, calm and nice. This is a large generalization, but it was the feeling I was left with after visiting. Portland was a bit of a dream-like city where you felt like you could just melt into it, never leave and be happy.

Portland
Portland

We arrived in Portland in the afternoon on Saturday. The drive from Seattle was quite beautiful with the dark green trees, rolling hills and mountain range in the background. We wanted to be able to stay in Portland so we could spend the evening exploring the city, but with the total expenses for our trip adding up, we tried to find the cheapest hotel to stay in. And you bet we did. I have never stayed at such a grungy hotel and we were both extremely happy that we were only there for one night. The Hotel was the International right beside the Convention Centre. The good thing about the hotel was that it was located right beside the light rail that took us into downtown Portland. Ridding through the city we were able to get a better sense of what it looked like. Here are some images of downtown:

We ate dinner at a place called The Parish – the the heart of the downtown district and decided on a seafood feast starting with a plate of oysters, then a warm octopus and rabbit sausage salad and for the main a soft shell crab that was done almost like a burger on a bun – delicious. This was my first time trying softshell crab and it was amazing. Afterwards, we wandered around the city as it grew dark, stopping off for a drink here or there…. one place we noticed which was just around the corner from the restaurant was this brewpub that seemed to have a line up around the corner for the whole night. We managed to sneak into the bar and grabbed a couple of stools when two other left and enjoyed one of the many Portland microbreweries.

Deschutes Brewery
Deschutes Brewery

The night was beautiful – warm and welcoming. The downtown felt like safe with quiet excitement. We walked by two weddings with people spilling out into the streets.

Portland at Night
Portland at Night

The next day, we rose early and headed out to explore other areas of Portland outside of the downtown core. We got lost a couple of times and eventually had to buy a map – it seems that Portland is divided into four quarters – Northeast, northwest, southwest, southeast – and each quarter has streets that identify their direction… so we would see East 123 northwest street etc on the signs. Once we were able to orient ourselves, getting around from one quarter to the other wasn’t so bad. We went to Mississippi st, to Alberta St etc to visit some of the vintage and funky neighbourhoods. And of course did a drive by of the famous Voodoo Doughnuts…

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voodoo-doughnuts

After exploring for a while, we headed back into downtown Portland to try a couple of the the street vendors. Portland has city blocks surrounded by food trucks of all sorts – foods from all around the world as well as gourmet specialities – like the grilled cheese truck – serving any number of options but all being grilled cheese.

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Once full, we decided it was time to head south to our next destination: the famous Wilamette Valley for a tour of Oregon wines. Not knowing the region well, we found what looked like a town that was in the center of the region: McManville. It was perfect. Driving into McManville, we came across Dundee Hills, an amazing location to truly taste some of the greats in Oregon wine. We hadn’t planned on doing any tastings that Sunday afternoon, but couldn’t resist driving into the hills to see what was in store. This was the first place we came across: although the wines were not the best on our list, the view demonstrates the absolute breath-taking beauty of the region.

This region is incredibly beautiful and if anyone is travelling to the area, I would recommend staying in McManville. The town was quaint and friendly with lovely boutiques, great coffee shops and delicious restaurants.

A taste of McManville
A taste of McManville

We stayed at a beautiful B&B that had a real victorian feel to it. The owner was a French man who served us Creme Brulee followed by Ostrich quiche with truffles for breakfast. Decadent and delicious. Luck would have it that he was a sommelier and we spent some time speak with him about what vineyards we should visit that day. This made a huge difference because we were able to taste some of the best wines in Dundee Hills. These were the ones that really stand out and are a must if you find yourself in the region.

5. Durant Vineyards

4. De Ponte Cellars: we learned at this vineyard about how the iron rich soil from the volcanic past really influenced the palate of the wines.

3. Eyrie Vineyards: These were very good, well made wines. Some of the vines were 45 years old and demonstrated the complexity that comes with age. One interesting technique that they used for the Black Cap Pinot Noir 2010 was what they called ‘dry farm’ which we learned meant that no added water to the vines.

2. Domaine Drouhin: very French in style. Very well made wines.

1. Domaine Serene: Our favourite, and the only place that we bought a bottle. Although expensive, they were exquisitely made.

Dundee Hills
Dundee Hills