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Archive for July, 2010

My Own Lentil Salad

I’m sitting at my dining room table, mortar-and-pestling (did I just invent a new verb?) cumin seeds for my lentil salad…my own lentil salad.  Cumin was a last-minute idea, and will join the rest of the salad waiting in the fridge.  This is a lovely cold salad with a Mediterranean touch.  I believe that must include wine, therefore I have a glass of very cold white wine conveniently at my left side.  Yum.

The recipe:

1 cup green lentils (cooked, yields about 3 cups)
1/4 cup each red onion and yellow pepper, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup chopped black olives (green or kalamata would also work…or, a mixture of all three, although green are fairly salty, and kalamata might be lost to sight against the lentils, which tend to have a brownish cast when cooked)
1/2 to 1 cup each chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley and cilantro (I love the intensity of these fresh herbs so tend to use the full cup)

Dressing:
3-5 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
dash of salt
1 tsp dried thyme (I would have used fresh, but didn’t have it on hand)
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed

To cook lentils:  1 cup dried lentils to 6 cups water – bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes (taste at the 20-minute mark; I find lentils cook faster than the package instructions indicate, and I don’t like mushy lentils, at least not in this salad)

Let lentils cool.  Sauté garlic, onion, and peppers for two minutes on fairly high heat; allow to cool.  In large bowl, mix together lentils, onions/peppers, chopped herbs, olives, and tomatoes.  Toss with dressing.  Serve cold.

Notes:

1.  I use canned whole pitted black olives – I always keep them on hand, as they are perfect for adding to tuna salad and add a delicious saltiness to al dente stir-fried cauliflower, broccoli, and zucchini with garlic (all of which sop up olive oil and garlic intensely!).  Canned whole pitted black olives are also cheaper than those sold fresh, and they keep well in the fridge once the can is opened…no, I do not want to know that they maintain their freshness because of preservatives…!  They are not what I would want to munch on, however…they require mingling with other foods.

2.  Other vegetables that would work with this salad are fresh zucchini, finely diced; any fresh peppers, diced (red, green, orange, yellow); sun-dried tomatoes; and you could substitute green onion for the red, although I would not sauté the green as I think the crunch and bite of them would be lovely here (cooked, they tend to be wet and almost tasteless).

3.  Fresh chopped mint would add a really nice flavour and a summery freshness, although 1/2 cup would be sufficient as mint can be overpowering.  Not everyone likes cilantro (hard to believe, I know…to me, it is a food group in itself).  Flat-leaf parsley is just so much better than curly parsley, which tends to be woody.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

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A room without books…is unimaginable.  A life without books would be unbearable.  I have books in every room, even in a storage room – that’s where the books go that I no longer want but can’t bear to throw away.  🙂   I hate clutter, but books cannot be lumped into that category…ever!   There is something calming about seeing a pile of books, haphazardly sitting one on top of the other, perhaps on the floor…I have just such a pile in front of a speaker next to the TV.  I have at least two books on the coffee table, one for visual reading pleasure:  Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Needlework, the other for both visual pleasure and inspiration:  Antonio Carluccio’s Italia – the recipes and customs of the regions. And I fully intend to make his Strascinate di Cascia (pasta with pancetta and sausage) and Frittata alla Menta (omelette with mint and pecorino).

Then there is my small shelving unit in the dining room – that one contains books I love, plus my school books:  contemporary Brit lit such as William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault, W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, Michael Frayn’s Headlong…classic Brit lit like Shakespeare (the Norton tome!), Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest and The Italian, deQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and other Christmas books…to name a few!  Interspersed among them are books on gardening, my collection of dictionaries – English (Oxford, of course), French, Italian, Spanish – a thesaurus, books on writing, delicious murder mysteries – P.D. James, Agatha Christie.  There’s a nod to Italy:  The Cambridge History of Italian Literature.  A few whimisical touches – a small Halifax Regional Police “bear”, rocks gathered from Lawrencetown beach one day, copies of my own short stories and novel in-progress…there’s even a skipping rope, waiting for me to begin the cross-training I promised myself I would start!

On my dining room table is an Italian dictionary – used recently to refresh my memory about a verb tense.  Cookbooks in the kitchen, of course!  The ones I actually use on the countertop nestled against my folder of homegrown and familial recipes; cookbooks I “might use someday” in a drawer.  And two novels on the go:  Hardy’s The Return of the Native and a dual-language short story collection of Italian masters Machiavelli, Pirandello, Moravia, and others.  Bookscases in Liam’s (the cat) room, stuffed to the rafters (can bookcases have rafters?), boxes full to the brim with books I have no room for putting on display, books in drawers, books on the floor.  Then there is that storage room…  The side tables in the bedroom are full of books – piled enticingly, acting as holds for water glasses, or just sitting alone.  There are books in the bathroom – on the tub, in the vanity.   I could even have books on the walls, if I wanted to:  I found a beautiful painting of…books on a shelf…that was it!  I almost bought it. 🙂

I wouldn’t have this any other way.

Growing up, we were permitted unlimited access to books – we could read any book in the house (and there were plenty!), and going to the library every third week was something I could hardly wait for!  It was one thing I got to do with my father – often it was just the two of us, and he never hurried me, never limited the number of books I could borrow…that’s a wonderful memory; it was rare to get alone time with our father.  I remember when the bookmobile came to school – grade 6; we had to line up outside, waiting our turn because they could only let in so many students at a time.  That was sheer torture!  I remember the feeling of awe as I scanned those shelves, touching the spines of the hardcovered books…I still love to touch books, to feel the pages beneath my fingers.  I cannot conceive of e-reading – the very thought makes me shudder.

I had only a vague idea who Cicero was…I just liked the quotation, but then figured I should check my sources (good English student that I am!)  He was a Roman philosopher, lawyer, politician, and writer of public speeches and letters who apparently influenced Petrarch (Italian scholar) enough to credit Cicero’s writing with his (Petrarch’s) formation of the Renaissance movement.  So it seems I can e-read, for a minute…but I’d much rather reverently turn the pages of a real encyclopedia.

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My entire family reads.  We had unlimited access to books, growing up.  I’ve been fortunate to have had wonderful academic professors share their passion for literature with me…in English, French, and Italian.  To quote an American president, Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without books”…nor would I want to.  One of my greatest concerns is the state of illiteracy of Canadian youth these days; it’s appalling.  And so sad that children and young adults are missing out on some absolutely beautiful writings.  I cannot imagine my childhood without the Bobbsey Twins, Sara Crewe, Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Trixie Belden, or Pippi Longstocking.  Or Hilda, The Wednesday Witch – I still have this one!  And Sara Crewe, too.  When I had devoured all those, I was allowed to read anything laying about the house and so was introduced early on to Ngaio Marsh, Erle Stanley Gardner, my friend Agatha, and Daphne duMaurier.  Any of those, a few crunchy Gravensteins at my side, and I was content to sit for hours…still am.

My sister and I began a bookclub 9 years ago that continues to this day – it was actually September 2000.  She had read a book and enjoyed it so much she wanted me to read it so we could talk about it; ironically, the name of it escapes me, and it’s not written down in my list of bookclub reads!   We decided to have lunch at a pub, specifically to discuss the book, and the next month I chose a book (The Electrical Field by Keri Sakamoto).  After that we decided to expand and a friend joined us for While I Was Gone by Sue Miller.  In 2001, we moved from the pub to the dinner table, with each of us creating part of the meal – with Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquival, we had a fairly simple meal of some dining standards:  escargot in garlic butter, French onion soup, Caesar salad, and crème brulée, all washed down with (probably) white wine.  This was fabulous!

We began to have full-course dinners that reflected the theme of the novel and/or the country of origin of the author:   Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton takes place in South Africa; we researched and made authentic African cuisine: boboties, African salad with tuna (confession: this one was storebought from the Highlite Cafe, an African restaurant in Halifax…unfortunately no longer in business), and pumpkin fritters.  We eventually added a fourth and then a fifth member, and moved to books that had films made of them…by this time the dinners were more gourmet, and even our wines had to be from the country where the story took place.  One of my favourite books is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – that was a marvellous meal of canapés, salade avec les oranges, boeuf bourguignon, courgettes, and a lovely mousse au chocolat, and we watched the film to boot.  Unfortunately, much wine was consumed by all, but with rich food on top of it, watching the film often resulted in a few sleepyheads no longer participating in the discussion!  So, we had a choice:  get rid of the gourmet meals, or the wine.  We’re not stupid:  we got rid of the meals!  🙂  But change is good, and we moved on happily.

Now, we are a group of five and we meet about every 8 weeks – about 5 times per year plus a Christmas non-book-related get-together with significant others and a summertime get-together for margaritas and munchies, and we each host the club at our homes.  The hostess serves appetizers and munchies, and we each bring a beverage.  This works out beautifully, as we are all busy, busy women with full lives, but we do not want to give up this fun thing we have going.  We’ve been able to read books we never would have considered, we’ve explored genres we never thought we’d like, and even if one or some of us absolutely did not like a particular book (it happens!), we are all the better for having expanded our reading repertoires.   We’ve all been guilty, as well, of…ahem…not finishing the odd book, or two!   Usually it’s because we’ve let life get in the way, but sometimes it was simply a matter of a book’s theme being completely unappetizing…rare, but it happens.

Our bookclub has certainly evolved, and it’s been an interesting and fun ride all the way through.  Wow, heading into a decade!  So what makes a bookclub a bookclub?  Two friends, two sisters…anyone wanting to discuss a good read.   Doesn’t have to include a full-course gourmet meal or a film; it can be as simple as sharing a pot of tea on someone’s patio.  Workplaces often have lunchtime bookclubs.  I do miss those gourmet meals, but that’s because they satisfied the cook in me…hmmm…maybe my next pick will be Nigella Lawson’s Feast – then we’d have to cook, too, right??

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What is it about writing, especially creative fiction writing, that makes us so hesitant (afraid?) to say we do it?  I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember…grade 4, Findlay School in Dartmouth…Mrs. Payzant’s class – I had an orange Hilroy scribbler carefully labelled in pencil “Composition”.  I loved that scribbler, and I saved it; took it with me when we moved to CFB Borden.  Sadly (and this still irks), it disappeared in the move after CFB Lahr back to Dartmouth…somewhere along the line an entire box of my personal treasures, mostly from childhood, is now just a memory.   But I digress…

I specifically remember a story called The Witch Candle…yes, about a witch candle, but not just any witch candle; this candle came to life!  And another about some members of a family who lived in Australia – my sister was living in Oz at that time and my parents visited her for a month…quite an event in the life of a ten-year old!  Worth writing about, apparently.  I loved anything at school that involved writing – book reports?  Bring them on!  In grade 9 we had to submit 10 book reports per term…I was in heaven.  I believe the one that received the most comment from Miss Poirier was on a children’s story called The Blue Cat…Miss Poirier was quite amused at my spunk (or was that “cheek”?).  High school – grade 10, editor of the DHS newspaper; I even “reported” on (interviewed!) a band that played at one of our weekly dances.  And of course there were the ubiquitous teenage poems…but I remember showing them to my English teacher (Miss Poirier again…she moved to my high school – best teacher ever!) who said they were good and reminded her of songs.

Real life came into play, and the writing was put aside.  Later, I took some creative writing classes through the old Dartmouth continuing-ed night classes (too bad those were discontinued  – that was a very popular program!), at which point I wrote a few short stories and began a murder mystery called The Game.  That story is still unfinished, but sits on my computer’s desktop as a reminder that it is still percolating in my writer’s mind.  Yes, I’ve finally claimed the label! 🙂   And I’m working on The Game.  I’m pretty sure an editor would suggest a title change, but that is to be seen if the novel reaches the publishing stage.  Fingers crossed.

I love my main character, Alex.  The story is interesting from a technical writing perspective in that it is written in first-person and the main character is a male, with the author female.  A former creative writing instructor said this is very difficult to do, or to do well, and she enjoyed what I had done.  I’m also enjoying it.  Alex is fun.  He’s a cad, but there is a reason for it; the reader sympathises with him, and he’s very likeable, and really, really funny.  (I can see why authors hate to send off their work…stories are like children – all your emotions are invested in them and it’s impossible to send them out in the real world without feeling a knot in the pit of your stomach!)   Alex is named for a famous author and has some of the same heroic characteristics as a character in one of the author’s most famous books.   Alex’s motivation is to set right an injustice done to the love of his life; he is loyal and believes in justice…even if he has to break some rules to achieve it!  I think he is a hero for our time…I think we could use one right now.

The fun part of this for me as a writer is that I get to go beyond my boundaries…it’s a murder mystery!  People will die, gruesomely.  My writing heroine is Agatha Christie – if she can cosh bad guys over the head and have all be right with the world at the end, then I can certainly try.  Unfortunately, and even with AC’s books, sometimes even good guys get coshed…but that’s where heros like Alex come in.

…now, I need a handsome detective to enter the picture…oooh, that means murder must be afoot!  Better get coshing…I mean, writing.

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In the words of the inimitable rockband, Crowbar…oh, what a feelin’, whatta rush!  Just returned from a solo run, and I feel as high after this 8K effort as I have done after some of those wonderful 12Ks of recent weeks.  For one thing, I ran solo – I don’t exactly like running solo, despite the great feeling of accomplishment I always feel afterward…somehow running alone seems more difficult but, conversely, can often be more rewarding, than running with a partner.  My partner couldn’t run tonight, so I had a choice:  don’t run, or run anyway and run alone.  Believe me, I vacillated!  Running alone won out, and that mainly because I reminded myself of how much I had been anticipating tonight’s run all day.  I knew the sense of disappointment I would feel in not running would be more than I wanted to deal with, especially if it could be avoided.  And hey, I had those brand-new gel insoles to try out!

I decided that since the run was a bit out of the norm, I might as well make another foray and change my route; usually we run in the South End of Halifax, and I have even been known to drive there and do my solo runs in the same area just because I’m comfortable running there.  But today, I decided to run in my own neighbourhood, Clayton Park.  It felt a little weird sauntering down my own street in my running gear, but as soon as I hit Dunbrack I was off, and the rain showers started!  It made me laugh 🙂  I ran all the way down Dunbrack to the Kearney Lake Road; the last bit downhill was a blast…the return uphill not so much, and needless to say I only ran halfway up.  That’s okay – the goal is to just do the the distance; you don’t always have to run every single moment of it.  I ran all the way back to my street, walking a wee bit more if I felt like it, and just generally enjoying the run, and the rain.  The rain picked up as I arrived back at the start, at which point I happily did the final 2K – running all the way down Main Avenue to Titus and back to the bottom of the hill.  That is one good hill!  I walked back up all the way…rain streaming down my face, gear soaked – it felt great!  Interestingly, my eyes stung like hell – I think it was the rain, and at one point I thought I’d have to stop but then I realized I still had all that distance back home, so I might as well keep running.  Once home I had a liesurely and congratulatory stretching session outside my building.  I should run in the rain more often – my hair looked awesome when I finally got inside to dry off my face!

All this is just to say:  you never know how things will work out, and all you can do is make a plan and be flexible if it doesn’t pan out as you had anticipated.

…now I get to EAT!

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I wrote last week that I had inadvertently deleted my first literary-prize-winning post.  It turns out that I hadn’t deleted it; I just hadn’t noticed the hard-to-miss-but-apparently-not-for-me PUBLISH option at the right of the editing screen, ergo when I logged-out, I simply e-walked away from my post.  I also hadn’t noticed the Save Draft or Preview options, nor had I noticed my categories all lined up there, waiting for me to make the executive decision as to which one applied to said posts, ergo my Cooking post ended up in Uncategorized.  Ah, I am such a newbie at this blogging thing!  On the other hand, I am teaching myself how to manoeuvre around here, so let’s give credit where its due.  Which means giving WordPress.com its due – of course they would not expect their clients to cut-and-paste from Word!  Sorry, WordPress.  🙂

I’ve managed to make some changes to the site, to organize my Categories and get the right posts in the right sections.  I’ve deleted some extraneous stuff that came with the site but which made it too cluttered for my taste, and I’ve added some links and sites to the Blogroll – more to come!

KISSing and savouring the pleasures of this (it’s a lot of fun!) and my persistence is paying off.  Thanks to all of you who commented here or who emailed me with comments.  🙂

Next:  All About my Bookclub, and The Misadventures of my Writing Journey.

Ciao, tutti.

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Running All Over Town

I am anticipating my run this evening.  So far the skies are grey and, I have to say, on humid summer run days in Halifax I hope for clouds!  For runners like me, humidity is a guaranteed energy drainer.  “Runners like me”…it still brings a smile to my face to acknowledge that I am a runner.  Running has been a huge part of my life for over a year now, since April 13, 2009 when I joined the Running Room’s “Learn to Run” program.  I knew how to run; I did a lot of running in my 30s and early 40s.  But, I had gained weight over a three-year period…on my 5’2″ small frame that wasn’t good.  I had also never been overweight in my life and no longer felt comfortable in my own skin…well, why would I?  It didn’t feel or look like my own skin anymore.  In January 2009, I decided I was not going through another spring and summer covered up in clothes designed to hide my body – for one thing, summers here are humid but, quite simply, I had had enough; I wanted to feel good about myself, become active again (I used to run, weight train, and for a number of years I was involved in karate as well).  I knew the weight gain had been primarily from becoming sedentary.  I decided to go with what would immediately make me feel better about myself – healthier eating habits.  I’ve always been a semi-vegetarian, am a good cook, and love to prepare meals.  I lost 10 lbs between January and April 2009, prior to the Running Room clinic, and another 10 lbs between May and September.  In October, I contracted H1N1 and lost 7 lbs…that experience deserves a blogpost of its own!   I never did re-gain those 7 lbs, and I then lost a further 3 lbs.  I’m small again, but not skinny – I have sufficient curves – and I like myself this way.

The Running Room courses are set up so that you meet with your group once a week in the store for a seminar led by seasoned runners and health professionals from the local community – we had experienced runners give us tips on running in cold/hot weather; a recreation therapist spoke on cross-training; a massage therapist showed us proper stretching techniques; and a chiropractor assessed our body alignment; among other interesting and motivating sessions.  Then it’s outside – the course began with running one minute/walking on minute, the next week was running two/walking one, with progressions up to the final week of running ten minutes/walking one.  These “ten-and-ones” as they are called, are how we still run.

Our course instructor was Marilyn Webb, an exceptional leader who voluntarily met with us not just on Mondays, but three times a week!  The Running Room has ‘free runs’ on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings; she could have simply advised us to attend those.  Instead, she was there Monday for class, and Wednesday and Friday nights (I know…!) I’m sure Marilyn could have been happily at home with her husband, feet up on the coffee table, sipping red wine instead, but, as she told me, “beginning runners need attention and support”.  Her enthusiasm never waned and it was a strong core of about ten who completed the course as motivated, injury-free runners.  Marilyn, you are still an inspiration to us!

I say “us” – let me introduce you to my running partner, Cindy:  Cindy was in the Running Room group and, like me, took advantage of those Friday night sessions.  When the course was over both of us wanted to keep going and so continued meeting on Monday and Friday nights, then on Sunday mornings…and we’re still running together.   I would not have progressed as I have done if it were not for Cindy!   She’s an inspiration and a friend.  We now average 10K runs each time we go out, about three times per week.  We even managed to maintain our fitness level during this past winter, and to our surprise found it’s actually quite pleasant to run in -12 degrees!  10K takes us, literally, running all over town.  I wish my parents were alive so I could tell them where we run, how we go from Quinpool/Oxford up to Almon, down Robie to South Park, down Young Ave. to The Park, through The Park, back out to Tower, down to South Park again, up Spring Garden, to Summer, to Veterans’ Memorial, to Jubilee, all the way down to the Arm (that’s fun!) and, sometimes, just to prove to ourselves we can do it…we run up Pryor.  Running all over town.  I get to do that!  How wonderful.  How fortunate I am.  How grateful I am.

Yes, anticipating tonight’s run as I cut my Dr. Scholl’s gel insoles to fit my well-worn running shoes.

Here’s a link to the Running Room’s clinics listings – http://www.events.runningroom.com/hm2/

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