24 February, 2008

no. 15: holy chocolate batman! I've been ganached!

So... one of the chain bakeries that has an outlet near my parents' house (Cobs) makes chocolate hot crossed buns. Hot crossed buns being my favourite lenten treat. Only, in recent years, I've found there's something about hot crossed buns that doesn't agree with my stomach, and in the interest of maintaining digestive peace, I've had to abstain. (Don't think that counts as giving up something for Lent though... since they're only available during Lent...) So, instead of indulging in that particular yeasty, chocolate and candied fruit treat, I've discovered the deliciousness of their chocolate scones. Well, really, triple chocolate scones... cocoa dough, chocolate chips and ganache drizzle. And they're entirely too tasty for words. Were it not for the cost of these indulgences, I'd probably consume them for breakfast, lunch and supper. Alas, on my student budget, I cannot justify the much-needed endorphin boost of this purchased chocolate breakky... so I started searching them out on the internet, looking for a home-made alternative. I can, however, justify the purchase of flour, cocoa, chocolate chips and the occasional small carton of heavy cream... because they're all good for so much more than chocolate scones. Enter this recipe from Orangette, and you have the makings of a divine Sunday breakfast. One that kept me sated until 1pm, actually, and I ate one scone with a bit of honey dew melon...

the 7 un-eaten scones still sitting in the baking tray... waiting for the ganache to set.

The recipe indicates that it makes 6 large scones. Little did I realise they would be THIS large. My poor tummy cannot handle such a generous size at breakfast every day (though, being sated until actual lunch time instead of hearing the digestive growls at 10am would be a good thing!). I cut it into 8, and I guess I'll save the monstrously huge ones for weekends or days when I opt to work from home, and then don't have to worry about waddling the 20 minutes to the office... Next time, I'll cut it into a good 10 or 12 more friendly-sized delights. And they ARE delightful: chocolate upon chocolate upon chocolate, and then (not so artfully) drenched in ganache - of which I still have a decent amount now stuffed in my freezer.

Surprisingly, though, this is not my only ganache adventure of late. I've been staring at the scone recipe in my moleskine weekly planner (best sale purchase ever, tiny enough to fit in my purse, big enough to hold all I need, and exceedingly affordable) for about two weeks now, and the ganache recipe kept calling out to me: "all I am is cream and chocolate..." "you know you wanna..." so once I'd bought the ONLY available size of cream carton at my grocery store (1 L), I knew I had to justify the purchase of that much extra dairy... and decided to toy with the chocolate I have lying around... and started to experiment with microwave ganache.

It is thus that I discovered the easiest and tastiest mid-week dessert ever:
Throw some chocolate chips in a bowl, sprinkle a scant dusting of cinnamon and clove powder over them, and then pour to immerse (without fully covering) with heavy cream. Throw the whole shebang in the microwave for, um, 45 seconds on high, and while that's bubbling away (make sure it doesn't boil over, what a mess!), wash and slice an apple into finger-friendly pieces. Take the bowl out of the microwave, stir until fully blended and enjoy your tasty treat! Best easy dessert ever, and it is truly up to your discretion just how much chocolate sauce you make this way.. and what fruit you dip in it... melon is also tasty, as I'm sure would be berries of any kind. The clove-cinnamon combo just adds an extra little something, my favourite cake of all time has the clove-cinnamon-chocolate mix, and so whenever I have that combo, I think of happy memories, family suppers and birthday cake.

mmm... yes... chocolate... the perfect start and end to any day.

Related to all my chocolate consumption, winter, at this point, is really pulling my spirits down. And I'm trying just about anything to avoid the nasty late-winter slump (perhaps to the detriment of my wasitline, but we'll see). As the sun continues to rise earlier and shine for longer, I AM picking up some cheer, but it is slow-coming, even after a brief sojourn to the beach. On a whim, the other week, wandering our leanly-stocked farmers' market (lots of crafts and dried goods, little in the freshness department, as one would expect), I found some not-exactly-inspiring cilantro, but I KNEW I had to have it. If there is a herb that can evoke memories of warmth, humidity and sunshine, it is cilantro. I'm not even sure why. I used to hate the stuff. Thankfully, I've changed my opinion. Cilantro and cumin, both of them pull me into their pungent embrace and I am suddenly thinking of rich greens, and beaming sunlight... maybe it's genetic... my Mediterranean ancestry calling out to me through my taste buds... maybe it's just the subtle imprinting of guacamole and hummus memories... who knows... but if ever there's a way to shake the winter blahs, it's through this stuff...

And, after throwing it in my chili leftovers, and a pot of tomato pasta sauce (yum, what a refreshing combo!), the flagging last bits were screaming out for attention; as was a can of chick peas at the store last night. Somehow chickpeas as an impulse buy rather perfectly describes my personality. haha! And it is thus that my rag-tag hummus was born.

hummus plate
yes, that's my lunch.

I didn't realise until I'd gotten home that a) I only had a lime, and no lemon, and that b) my roommate didn't have tahini, like I'd thought she did. So... improvisation! Come to think of it, I have never actually followed a recipe for hummus... maybe a combination of two recipes together at once, but never one all by itself, and never any of them to-the-word. The can of chickpeas was rinsed and thrown in a bowl with two chopped cloves of garlic, about a half-teaspoon of every relevant-seeming herb on hand: cumin, paprika, chili powder and coriander, a tiny pinch of salt, a very healthy spoonful of cashew butter (who needs tahini anyway?), and all the still-green cilantro, roughly chopped. Over it was drizzled the juice of half a lime, and some unquantified amount of olive oil. Then I pulsed it all with my roomie's stick blender. Stick blenders, it would seem, are not good friends with chickpeas. There's something too thick about their consistency (and I was NOT adding THAT much oil to the mix, as much as I love olive oil). But, after much fretting and pulsing, it was mostly mixed (I'm still finding the occasional chunk of garlic or a completely missed chickpea, but that's what food adventures are about!). And upon letting it sit, VERY aromatic. As a result, I am in love! This is one of the best hummus(es?) I've ever made, even if it's going to keep me from talking to people for fear of bowling them over with garlic breath. Served drizzled with a little extra olive oil, and lightly dusted in chili powder, or just as is, it makes a great topping for pita bread, and the little bit of pita-hummus-ham sandwich I made for lunch today.

If it weren't for the three gorgeous eggplants I bought yesterday waiting patiently on my counter for me to pay attention to them, I might just throw in the towel and stop cooking for a while... nothing is going to be as rewarding, fortuitous or fun as these adventures... though I AM craving ratatouille, so I guess it'll be okay.

I was going to blog my latest knitting projects, too, but I think I'll save that for some time later... food is enough for now.

19 February, 2008

no. 14: alright, I get it

The universe has made it very clear to me that, where some people get things handed to them in particular directions, and some in others, I have an interesting path to walk.

I've always worried that I've taken the easy route through this whole school-university-life business... But even the easy route teaches lessons. And what the easy route has taught me is that I need to not take things for granted. It has also taught me a lot about what appears to be easy is actually anything but when you get right into the thick of it. There's a lot to do in the middle of easy, and whether it's exciting or drudgery, it must all get done, even if you start off not knowing what you need to. So, the life-school easy route is one thing. All my school/job decisions have been easy ones, and if I've sold myself short or overstretched myself, I've always learned from it and gained experience from it, in order to make better decisions in the future. What hasn't been easy is the rest.

I'm 25, relatively active and healthy-eating, but definitely more sedentary (and a little to piggy at the (even the healthy parts of the) buffet) than I ought to be. I've paid for that in some respects, though recent doctor's visits suggest that I'm moving in the correct direction... except that it's not enough to be gradually reducing one's BMI to the below-25 set. There are other things that determine one's health. Things like recurrent long-lasting headaches, and alarming optometrist reactions to views of my retinas... And even though the opthamologist I met kept saying I was a healthy, "not morbidly obese" (not obese at all), young woman, those words aren't reassuring when something is wrong... only I don't know what that something is just yet. And the fears were brought forth with the words of my GP. Things like pseudotumor cerebri (excessive fluid on the brain) and Multiple Sclerosis are not ailments one often likes to think of in the midst of the twenties. And not that I know what I have, if I have anything, the string of tests and scans to which I will be subjected should hopefully point in some sort of direction... even if that involves an eventual lumbar puncture or other medical treatment. This, while not being easy, is difficult only in the sense that I need to learn to cope with it, since I cannot perform a CT scan on myself, nor any of the other tests etc. that I must undergo.

What is being VERY difficult right now, and difficult in a way that is entirely up to me, is my, uh, personal life. Now, I'll be the first one to admit, I don't have much of a personal life. Yes, I have a whole raft (or, well, a nice raft armada, really) of friends, but friends are one thing. I cherish them all dearly, and value their presence in my life like I value that of water and my favourite fresh fruits. But they are not exactly the people I want to take home and snog. Well... not most of them at any rate. And this is where the difficulty begins.

I have a friend I'd like to drum up the courage to say that to... the "I want to take you home and snog" part... and I am (drumming up the courage)... excruciatingly slowly. Snails move faster than me. But I also have a friend who I think would like to say that to me, and I REALLY don't feel that way about him. Not one iota. Perhaps once upon a time in our 5 year friendship I might have been directed towards those feelings, but now is not that time. And as I like to think, but haven't said, that ship is not even in harbour, forget setting sail. hell, I don't think the ship ever found harbour, it was blown off-course a fair bit too early.

So, I did what any well-meaning person whose forgotten the taste of stuffing their foot in their mouth does. I said something. Not to the one I want to snog, THAT would have been a good idea. No, I said something to the one I don't want to snog. Well, okay, it's a little more sticky than that... a good metaphor would be that of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby**, in which Brer Rabbit encounters this character whose impassivity bothers him to the point of altercation and eventual self-tarring. Not that either of us are guilty of impassivity in this case, but instead that the altercation has left me further embroiled in this stupid lump of tar and turpentine. Further than I ever thought possible. Because he's a friend I'd like to keep as a friend, I deal with fairness in information-giving. When one asks, I usually answer honestly, even if the questions are uncalled-for or off-base. So he asked me if I was having a CT scan... I said yes. Rather private personal health information, but he asked, so I answered. And leading from there, I became standoffish and defensive and really did the body language thing to say as much too (short of just getting in my car and driving away, which I should've done.). So I later e-mailed him and called him out on it. (hello Tar Baby) He apologised for it, and made note of some distance I'd created between us, and cited my recent medical adventures as the likely and understandable source of that distance.

Had I left it at that, the tar baby would have just been something I'd greeted and passed on the side of the road, much as Brer Rabbit should have. Alas, I did not. I've been gaining this sense lately that there's a lot more going on than what my friend has been admitting. And not, like, illegal behaviour or anything, but feelings left unsaid. In fact, they're palpable. It's as though there's an enormous elephant in the room and I've finally decided to say something about it. So I did... I responded and said I didn't want him to be led astray into thinking that I created this distance between us because I was undergoing some sort of bizarre medical adventure. I said it was because, in a very passive-aggressive way, I didn't want to fuel any more potential feelings in him. Because the last thing I want to do is lead someone on, when there's nothing to lead them towards. (and this would be where I started punching the tar baby) So, yes, I basically told him "hey, there's a huge elephant in the room with us" and he responded to me with "yes there is, you're partially to blame for it being there, and it's not going to leave any time soon." (good Lord, there's a lot of tar here) So, I'm stuck. I don't want to say anything more... not for a long while, because I really do want time and space from him, and I want him to not like me that way. But I don't think it's going to be that easy. I just don't know what the best course of action is from here. Do I continue fighting this stupid tar baby? Do I sit in the sun and let it bake off? What did the rabbit do?

hmm... Brer Rabbit had Brer Bear throw him in the briar patch and ran away... to come out scot-free again, combing the tar from his fur. I don't know if that's going to be possible in this situation. At the very least, I need to not punch/kick/hit the tar baby any more. But how do I get thrown into the Briar Patch? and who is my Brer Bear?

Anyway, that about says it all. This elephant has been stepping on me for a while, and I'm tired of being smacked in the face by its trunk. I needed to say something. I just don't know how to get rid of it. I don't even know if it's in my power to get rid of it. Though, I can see myself kicking it to death... It makes me feel awkward, embarassed and actually, hatred. I HATE that this is happening. I valued his friendship, but the elephant is very much likely going to kill it, or maybe eat it for breakfast. Whether it's a painfully drawn-out msn conversation, or a lunch I didn't want to have (and made feeble excuses to try to discourage him), or a christmas present I didn't reciprocate (because I'd say I didn't want anything and I meant it), or all the hugs I don't want to freely give to him, but he asks so forcefully, and I'm too polite to say no. Is that politeness though? Is it polite to wait until the elephant is too big to fit through the door and leave? I think it's my politeness that's, in the end, allowed the elephant to feed and grow.

So, I'm leaving the room. Whether or not that's the appropriate solution to the problem, I'm trying to shut the door on him and his elephant. While, thus far, there is no Brer Bear to throw me in the briar patch, I'm trying my best to throw myself into it. ... at least I hope I am.

and maybe, somewhere in that briar patch, as I comb tar from my skin, I'll be able to drum up the nerve to talk to the guy I actually do want to snog... because I think there's a chance he feels the same way too.

** Alright, before you call me a racist for using the Song of the South in any such format, let me just make my point: as noted previously, I think, I was exposed to a lot of older children's reading growing up (e.g. Little Black Sambo), and though perhaps initially these were very racist stories, I never saw them as such. Growing up in a multicultural city, neighbourhood and school, I learned from the beginning that colour, heritage and race denote nothing of any particular differentiating importance such that one colour (etc.) should be better or worse than the other. ... it also helps that my mother's of mixed racial heritage. So don't take my use of the tar baby as some sort of resurgence of racist imagery. I am using it only because it figured prominently in my childhood - as did all the stories of Brer Rabbit, Bear and Fox, and the Briar Patch in which they battled - and it's poignant when one looks at things in terms of the sticky situations we (un)wittingly throw ourselves into.

06 February, 2008

no. 13: uh

I have NO idea what to do with myself when I'm done school (finally).

Do I (if I get it) take the one year tropical internship with NO pay?
Do I just bugger off for a while, burning my inheritance on a backpacking trip?
Do I search for some sort of job with or without health insurance and employment security, but a better paycheque than anything I've ever had?

how much should I let money dictate this?
how much should I let my heart dictate this?

Oh, I don't know any more. Here I am supposedly in the thick of things, thesis-wise, and instead of being fully immersed in thought surrounding my experimental design, and reading papers of studies similar, I am instead hemming and hawing about what I'm going to do when I'm done. Or, well, really, in the fall, whether or not I'm done, it would seem. Yeah, that's right, I'm thinking about September already, and it's not doing me any good!

This blog is turning more into a me blathering to the void than expounding on the joys of knitting and hugging trees. I guess the forefront of my thoughts belongs solely to my concerns for the future. I'm sure my warrior pose will be all out of whack these days (I guess I'll find out tomorrow)... pulling too far forward (into the future). So, sorry if you're reading this thinking "where's the knitting??" my heart's just not into typing about knitting, even if I have made a pair of mitts and am in the midst of a pattern-free pair of hand-warmers.

Anyway, my regularly scheduled ponderances: what am I doing with my future? I went to Mexico for a week with my parents. And the leaving left me wanting more. Maybe because each time I travel I meet people who are far more interested in me than the people around me here at home. Maybe because I was immersed in warmth, a near 50 degree temperature difference from my current surroundings. Maybe the sunshine (and tequila) made me drunk and a little too wistful. But, actually, I spent a lot of time thinking... what else does one do on a beach vacation with the folks? There's only so much hanging out with the parents a person can take, and thusly I wandered the sandy beach a lot. And in my wanderings, in addition to seeing tons of birds and a few whales from the shore, I did a bit of soul searching. Admittedly, often enough I let my mind wander into fantasy, but I did get down to a little business... like what do I want to do when I'm finally finished my thesis?

just watching the waves often won out over all thinking...

And thus far, my decisions aren't so much decisions as they are me casting my line into the vast ocean hoping something might take the bait on my hook. Though I'm also afraid I'll catch a) the wrong fish, or b) a really huge fish I'm not prepared to battle out. While, on the one hand, I don't really just want a sardine, I'm also not sure I'm ready for a whale... I guess I'm hoping for a nice, medium-sized tuna, or maybe a salmon. Yeah, salmon. That's about where I'm sitting right now. I don't feel like battling a tuna. But the meaty value of a salmon would make me happy. Plus they're just such lovely fish. And let's face it, where a sardine would maybe give you a snack, and tuna would keep you fed for the rest of your life, salmon is probably just the right amount of fish. Good for a long-haul, but not huge enough to make you so fed up you'll never want to eat fish again. I guess that's what I'm hoping for: a medium effort, medium-pay, medium commitment kind of next step.

heer fishy fishy!

So... what are the salmons I could possibly catch in my life? Do I have any? And that's where it all falls apart. I've come across a few nice looking jobs lately, for Parks Canada, and for Greenpeace, but neither of those really says "this is what you're looking for." So, thankfully (I guess), it's a good thing they're hiring for NOW and I really shouldn't start looking for anything earlier than September. What's scaring me is that I impulsively (alright, not fully impulsively, it's been incubating for a good 4.5 years already) applied for a September internship with an international field studies program. Yeah, that's right, an internship. Probably something I could've done coming out of undergrad, maybe not something I should aim for coming out of grad school. Not to mention the nonexistent pay. But at the same time, it's situated in the tropics and near-tropics, and room and board are covered. So, experience, fun, adventure, food and shelter, plus year-round warmth... for one year... is it worth it? Will I get it? Will I want it if I get it? At least I'm applying. Other than that, I'm not applying for jobs. I think I'll let it go a few more months. I'm not worried in the least. Perhaps it's the thought that there will be something for me when I'm ready for it (do I get things handed to me THAT easily??), or perhaps it's the thought that I really shouldn't push beyond what I'm supposed to be doing right now.

Things are just getting... difficult for me. It's so busy, and so disconcerting at times. And I get so discouraged, not because I'm not making progress, but because this is no longer what I want to do. I don't really love research. I love learning, but not the statistical testing and publication that come hand in hand with research. So, the life of an academic is probably not mine. And that's fine. What did come as a bit of a surprise was that, in my committee meeting this week, after an impromptu presentation of my research design and methods, my committee all informed me that I ought to be a teacher. I guess I'm good at something, even if it's not *doing* but instead *teaching.* Still... that's a daunting enough idea in its own right. How does one decide to become responsible for the knowledge accumulation of other people? And how does one not become buried under the weight of that responsibility?

Forget the fact that I'm not even sure it'd be a good idea for me to teach... anything. I don't know anymore where my aptitude lies. Or, for that matter where my heart lies. Maybe I really do just need to bugger off somewhere and burn my inheritance so-to-speak... let my heart talk to me frankly, and come to some sort of agreement, that might in the end produce a little bit of job security and health insurance. Or maybe not.

or maybe I just need to find somewhere with a big, beautiful sunset every night...