Tuesday, 28 January 2014

White Bean Soup

White Bean Soup with Trout Cakes (recipe to come soon!)
I feel like the Queen of Homeownership today. I started by shovelling my driveway, which is fairly annoying, but the end result makes me feel like a highly functional Canadian.

I did my laundry afterwards, which promptly led to my house turning into a Scandinavian spa, since apparently my dryer vent had become unattached from the machine. I didn’t realize it at first, and was sort of enjoying the warmth and humidity. Then I remembered it was -30 degrees outside and so therefore my tropical house made no sense.

Upon first inspection, it was easy to conclude that the dangling hose from the wall was the problem. I’m pretty laissez-faire about home improvements, so I grabbed some packing tape, slapped it around the hose, and called it a day. At this point, I feel it’s important to mention that my “laundry room” is actually a small closet, that only allows a stackable washer dryer combination, with only somewhere around three inches between the wall and the appliances.

Have this spatial visualization in your mind, and then imagine me, a roll of packing tape, some scissors, and my very curious golden retriever, all in this extremely small space. Also imagine trying to get that roll of tape to provide enough material to wrap around the dryer, at about 80% humidity and within three inches of space. You can see why I sort of just abandoned the project after about thirty seconds. The language in that “room” (closet) can certainly not be repeated on our family-friendly blog, and when I let the packing tape wrap around itself without having folded the edge over, I nearly gave up (I CAN’T FIND THE EDGE!!!!). But I persevered, and I was able to slap enough tape on to tell myself it would all be all right, once I got the tape scraps out of my hair.

About ten minutes later, I noticed a slight burning plastic smell, not to mention a humidity level not unlike Fern Gully. I headed back to my laundry closet, which is also conveniently located in my home on a landing in the middle of a staircase. There is not enough room for me plus a laundry basket on this landing, let alone me and the dog and the laundry and now my necessary paraphernalia to actually fix the dryer, and so I approached rather fearfully, since it was quickly becoming a high risk of danger with the space issues and the possibly burning plastic.  

I should confess that this is not the first time I’ve had to fix this dryer vent. It is also not the first time I have rigged up a vent that blows toxic fumes out of my house with duct tape. My portable air conditioner is set up almost the exact same way. Not to brag, but I’m pretty much a pro at fixing vents by wrapping enough tape around them that it either melts and fuses permanently to the vent and tube, or I keep enough tape in the house that I can fix it every single day.

This, of course, means that there is a chronological history of tape attached to this vent. Several layers, some of which have, in fact, fused together, cement-like, however strangely un-sticky to the actual appliance. This means that now, I am in this extremely small space, with scissors, hacking off chunks of ancient duct tape, sweating more than I do in my hot yoga studio in Crow Pose.

All this was highly annoying, and I actually have no idea if it’s actually fixed or not. I’ve since decided just to write a blog instead and hope that I can just get through the next two loads, and maybe the paint won’t peel off the walls until next week’s laundry loads.

In honour of steamy situations, I’ve adapted Ina Garten’s rosemary bean soup, found here, which turned out absolutely amazing. You need:

  • 1 can of white beans (if you don’t used canned beans, you need to soak them for like 1,000 hours or overnight or something. Definitely try to use canned beans.)
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • Splash of sherry
  • Tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large branch fresh rosemary (6 to 7 inches)
  • Chicken stock (enough to cover the beans)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sauté the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Deglaze your pot with a splash of sherry, (because I just put sherry in all my soups now) and then add your beans. Cover with the stock and bring to a boil. This can also be a great vegan soup and/or gluten-free soup option. If you want to make it for vegans, use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. That’s pretty much the only thing you need to change. It’s already gluten free, especially if you use your homemade chicken stock (most packaged ones seem to contain wheat, for some reason probably no one wants to actually know).

Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for twenty minutes. Puree and serve hot. I drizzled olive oil on mine, because I think it looks jazzy. Easy! And I don’t have to think about that bloody dryer for a bit.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

A Toast to Toast

I just read the MOST delightful article the other day, sent to me by a friend who is always on the very tip of The Next Big Thing. She is a delight, and so, by extension, most things she sends my way are delightful. But this latest article she sent really spoke to me.

As most of you know, I participated in that CBC Hopes and Dreams contest seeking to raise money for Shepherds of Good Hope, here in Ottawa (By the way, thank you so much for your donations. If you want to see The LadyGirls in the flesh, we’re at about 12:00 here).  I also work with marginalized women, providing literacy and mentoring to them. I really believe in the power of choice, and I believe that once people who are currently struggling are given the tools to make choices, they will make good ones.

That may be why this article on toast, of all things, really did speak to me. The author does an excellent job of telling the story of a woman who battles her demons every day. While she hasn’t always won the battle, she carries on in a way that is truly admirable. I think I was so moved because I could relate to her experience so deeply. In my work, I never pity the women I support. They inspire me, and I owe it to them that I keep our program fresh, innovative and transformative.

Toast speaks to me because it truly is comfort food- without frills, without complications. It is so honest, it cannot even be called honest. It is simply toasted bread, and it is without pretention, rustic-ness, or irony.

I remember my first hangover, and my saving grace (which I must admit was mostly thanks to Mummy) was toast. I had had three cran-tinis the night before, when I was about 17. I woke up the next day and instantly threw up about six times. It was New Years Day, and we were supposed to have dinner at a friend’s house. My mum came into the bathroom and said, “Do you have the flu? Or more importantly, what did you drink last night?”

There was no recourse; the truth flew out of my mouth faster than last night’s refreshments. She laughed, and now I know it’s because drinking anything called a cran-tini is just begging for a hangover, but at the time I couldn’t fathom what she might find so funny. I went into the basement and buried myself under a blanket, simultaneously swearing I would never drink again and cursing my older boyfriend for allowing me to make such bad choices.

My mum came down and gave me a chocolate milk, (which, as I recollect that moment, still turns my stomach) scrambled eggs, and toast. I looked at her, horrified. Did she ACTUALLY expect me to choke this down? I was certain I wouldn’t be able to eat for days. 

“You must,” she simply said. 

I knew that the particular tone in which she said it was not only a no-nonsense tone, it was the tone of infinite certainty. The option to eat was not there; the only sensible thing to do was to consume everything. Up to this point, I had not yet been “in trouble”, per se, and the threat of it still was looming firmly overhead. I thought that if I did eat everything on the plate, there was a good chance I could probably fly under the radar enough to get through the holiday without true punishment.

So I ate. The chocolate milk may have secretly been poured down the toilet, but I did eat the damn eggs. I also ate the toast, and afterwards, my mother had never been so magical in my eyes. HOW DID SHE KNOW? How did she make it so that I felt just fine after I jammed that toast down my throat? To a seventeen-year-old girl, that was just shy of mysticism.

Now, eleven years later, I realize this breakfast was common sense. But toast still holds a certain reverence for me. I was able to make it through the rest of the day, somewhat functional, thanks to that plain buttered toast. And it wasn’t just hangovers that called for plain, buttered toast. It was for the flu, it was for cold days with soup. It was for midnight snacks, it was for after-school snacks. The accessibility of toast was undeniable. The first meal I ever made myself when I moved out of my mum’s house was peanut butter toast and a Diet Coke.

So today, we celebrate toast. Make yourself toast, without frills. Don’t fuss. Don’t complicate ANYTHING. Just get some really good bread (and if to you that is white Wonderbread, then you just go ahead and get yourself some damn Wonderbread.) I went with Challah bread, but that’s because I’m fancy and vaguely pretentious at my core, and this is all about who you REALLY are.

Cinnamon and sugar in the shot glass. This is the key.
Now, I’m not going to boss you around here, (although that is a trait I possess as well) but I am going to strongly suggest, nay, URGE you, to get thick-sliced bread. Or, better yet, slice your own. (Okay, I know I said you don’t need to get fancy, but you could certainly indulge yourself a little.) This means you will not put your toast in the toaster, unless you have some sort of highly professional toaster. Mine is not, mine is from Wal-Mart, and therefore I toasted my bread in the oven, under the broiler.

I made a Cheese Dream, with sliced tomato and the oldest cheddar money can buy. I also did a peanut butter toast with wildflower honey. Finally, I made the best thing of my childhood- cinnamon sugar toast. Butter, sprinkle of cinnamon, sprinkle of sugar. White sugar. Processed, bitches. The secret to this recipe (and it is a recipe) is that you absolutely must mix the sugar and cinnamon together before you put it on the toast. When I was 15, this seems like an extra dish to wash, and I always skipped it. However, I assure you, this is the secret to this recipe.

The cinnamon-sugar toast gets highlighted in the article about the Trouble Coconut and Coffee Club too. Apparently many mothers on earth know this recipe, (perhaps it’s a pre-requisite) but I was pretty certain my mother, the best mother of all mothers, had invented this recipe. And it is so good. Of course, every single slice of toast was slathered with the Normandy-style butter from PC Black Label. Salted. Do it.

It's making you nostalgic right now, isn't it?
The idea of food, the kitchen table, and gathering around it are important in the work that I do. Each program is incredibly different, and yet we always meet at the kitchen table. I literally sit at four or five different kitchen tables each week, and meet with about twenty different women at those tables. We live very different lives, (and sometimes not very different at all) but we can always come together over a discussion of food. And while the women I know may not have the same wonderful childhood memories as I do from their own kitchen tables, I’m motivated knowing that every time my volunteers and I sit with them to do a résumé, an essay, or homework, we are helping to create new, happy memories at the kitchen table. Maybe it’s time I started serving some toast, too.