Saturday, December 29, 2012

Wintery Summary

My holiday season is proceeding happily.  I hope that you can say the same for your own.

As always, I spent Christmas eve with family, celebrating my grandmother's birthday.  This is my younger grandmother - a mere spring chicken at 92.  My older grandmother is 96.  And a half.  She says that when you get very old, the halves start to matter again.

Christmas day was spent at Ken's mom's house, with his two brothers and the younger brother's fiancée. It went as usual: my MIL and BIL (the younger one) seem happy to have me there as an audience for their stories, but they show absolutely zero interest in any conversation that I volunteer. I'll tell a brief, funny story, and by the time I'm on the second sentence my MIL will be fiddling with the food on the table and my BIL will be playing with his shoelaces.  When I hit the punch line they don't even pretend to smile.  Nice.  The fiancée seemed to be taking her cues from them.  Ken's older brother isn't really in the equation as he is mentally disabled and is approximately the social equivalent of a three-year-old.  It made for a rather long lunch, although I must say that my MIL put out a lovely spread of smoked salmon, fancy cheeses, fancy crackers, sliced baguette, olives, and (the big crowd-pleaser) a large hunk of duck pâté with blueberries.  I mean the blueberries were in the pâté, as though it were a muffin.  You'd think it would be gross, and it did look a nasty bruised shade of purple, but it was delish.

We didn't have any plans for Boxing Day, however Ken could not resist browsing the Birks website. Of course they had a sale.  Ken had not given me a Christmas gift, which I didn't mind whatsoever, however when he offered to take me shopping at Birks I'd have been a fool to refuse, right?  I am now the proud owner of a gorgeous matched set of earrings and a necklace.

On Thursday I went back to work, thinking that my holiday fun was over for a couple of days.  However, my girlfriend who lives in British Columbia (in a little town in the mountains) was in town with her husband and three kids, and she called me mid-afternoon to invite me for dinner at her in-laws'.

I love spending time with this friend and her family.  I've known her since we were in the first grade together, and we were best friends from grade 4 through grade 8, almost inseparable.  I've known her husband since we were all teenagers, and consider him a friend too.  They have three great kids, two boys, (10 and ? 8 maybe?) and a little girl who's now 4 and is the cutest little munchkin you can possibly imagine.

My friend's MIL is one of those old-fashioned-type ladies who always has her hair up in a kerchief, an apron tied around her waist, and never stops fussing and puttering around the kitchen.  When we arrived (my friends picked me up at the train station) she had finished feeding the kids dinner, and was preparing our dinner.  It was no small affair either: roasted potatoes, three different kinds of vegetables, seasoned tilapia, spicy rice casserole with beef, and a delicious homemade soup.  She never sat down and ate.  She was constantly back at the stove warming up more food, squeezing a slice of lemon over your fish, offering beverages, offering napkins, dropping ice cubes into your glass, worrying that you wouldn't like the food, assuring you that you didn't have to eat if you didn't like it (of course it was all fantastic).  After dinner there was tea and sweets.  And then, just when I thought dinnertime was done, she started all over again making dinner for her daughter, who prefers to eat late.  I wasn't sure why there was a smoking pan on the stove until she rolled up a ball of from-scratch dough in order to fry a fresh, homemade roti.  (She had to season the pan first.)  Woah!  I don't know if I would have found her attentiveness enjoyable if I lived there (it was a bit much) but for a one-evening treat it was great.

And so it continues.  I'm looking forward to dinner and games with friends tonight; brunch with other friends tomorrow; and a wild all-ages, child-friendly New Year's Eve party.  I tell you, no one gets excited about shouting HAPPY NEW YEAR! like a crowd of hyper-excited kids who are up several hours past their usual bedtime.  It's all good, so very good.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

'Twas the day before the night before Christmas

With mixed feelings, I went downtown today.  I was a little worried about getting smushed to death by frantic last-minute shoppers.  However, I needn't have worried.  It was a beautiful, sunny day!  And everyone was stupendously cheerful and friendly!

I think it helped that I was in and out of the Eaton Centre mall before noon.  It hadn't yet filled up to the brim with anxious, desperate people.  Instead, I saw young parents walking their small children around the mall, oohing and aahing at the window displays and decorations.  A tickled-pink baby waved hello to one of the giant reindeer-made-of-lights.

I was at my parents' house for dinner yesterday, where I hung out with my furry little brothers.

My mom was test-driving a new dish: roasted, mixed winter root vegetables.  She's planning to serve it for my grandmother's birthday on Monday.  She wants me to arrive early to help her prepare the dinner.  This is all well and good, except I realized immediately that I'd be stuck peeling a big pile of carrots, turnips, parsnips, beets, and potatoes with her absolutely useless, ancient peeler.  My hands hurt just thinking about it.  So I stopped in at The Bay and bought a fancy new peeler for her kitchen.  Kind of a "for you for me" gift.

I didn't have to wait in line long to pay, and when I got to the counter the cashier was in fine spirits.  I can't remember how we got on the subject, but I told her how I'd just been in Dundas Square patting a reindeer.

There were two of them there, munching hay in a small enclosure, overseen by two miserably cold handlers.  Another clerk perked up his ears at this news.  I explained how the reindeer were smaller than I'd imagined, between the size of a goat and the size of a donkey.  Also, their antlers were impressive and their fur was very soft.  (Yes, petting was allowed.)  Both cashiers got pretty jazzed about the idea of going to meet the reindeer on their break.

Next stop was the Annapurna restaurant, Toronto's oldest vegetarian restaurant (est. 1974) and "dedicated to the oneness-world vision of Sri Chinmoy."  I had arranged to meet a friend there for lunch.  I love Annapurna's simple, healthy food and the calm, pastel atmosphere.  Ken finds the food bland, and refers to the oneness-world vision as a cult.  Cult or no, they make a fantastic peanut-butter-chocolate-chip cookie.

And that was enough excitement for me for one day.  I headed home for a nice warm nap.  Now Ken has just called to me from the next room "Want to go to Mandarin for dinner?"  Oh, yes, yes, and double yes.  I'm outta here.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eating All The Foods

Last year, when I wasn't doing well, I developed some eating problems.  The list of foods that I was comfortable eating shrank down to a select few.  I wasn't happy eating food I hadn't prepared myself.  I didn't want to try new things.  I feared contamination.  No wonder I lost my butt!

As I got better, I pushed through my anxieties and started eating a wider variety of foods again.  I'm now eating more freely than I have at any time in my life.  I don't mean huge quantities.  I start eating when I'm hungry and I stop when I'm full.  I'm not paying too much attention to counting calories, except to make sure I don't under-eat by accident (which is easy for me to do).  And I'm enjoying my freedom quite a lot.

Today I ate sushi.  And I don't mean California rolls.  I ate raw salmon on rice.  It was excellent!  I also had red bean ice cream (delicious) and some questionable baked goods that my grandmother had been storing in the back of her freezer for God only knows how long.

Last week I ate pork that I hadn't tested with a meat thermometer when it came out of the oven.  (Ken had taken our digital probe thermometer to work in order to test the hot water temperature at a newly constructed building.  He also took our silicone spatula.  I'm not sure why he took the spatula.)

I'm still a little compulsive around hand-washing.  For example, when I was a teenager I wouldn't have thought twice about eating a hamburger and french fries with my hands after shopping around the mall all day, without scrubbing up first.  This never seemed to harm me.  However, I would have a very hard time doing that today.  I can't help thinking of all the things I touched: door handles, money, the plastic tray you carry your food on...   I read of a study that showed that plastic trays in food courts have as much poop bacteria on them as the average toilet seat.  Now, we never knew that until just recently, and I think it's fair to say that over 99.9 % of people who eat in food courts suffer no ill effects.  However, I will not eat a sandwich with my bare hands in a food court, no thank you very much.

(How do I get around touching food in a food court?  a)  Wrap the item in paper.  b)  Use a fork and knife for items that one would normally consider "finger food".  c)  Don't order anything that needs touching.)

How fussy are you about food?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Mother's Kitchen

Ever since she retired, my mother has spent most of her waking hours in her kitchen.  She's a good cook (although she does tend to over-salt things when she's flustered).  She's one of those Jewish mothers: Eat something!  You're too thin!  Take anything from the pantry!  Have more!  No really, what can I get you?

It's quite lovely, actually.

On my shopping list:  Potato peeler for mom's house.  Of course I want to help out when I'm over there for a family dinner, but anything with a blade in her kitchen is as dull as a letter opener.  Sharp blades are dangerous!  You might cut yourself!  Ken brought over one sharp knife, which she keeps separately in its original plastic sleeve and never uses.  Her potato peeler is one in name only.  You may as well rub the the side of your finger against a raw potato to get the skin off.

My mom never had a microwave oven in her kitchen until she moved last year.  The new house has one built into the cabinetry.  She's afraid of using it, the way some people in the late 19th century were scared of using electricity.  I tried to show her how to at least use it as a digital timer, but I don't think she's got the hang of that either.

In her old house, my mother used a small telephone desk at the end of the kitchen counter as command central for all her papers and plans.  No matter that she had a proper desk in a study.  That room was used for storage only.

Her new house is bigger than the old one.  She no longer has to share a study with my step-dad; there are more than enough rooms in the house for them to each have their own office.    However, she consulted with Ken (who has a good head for design) on how to cram her computer desk into the kitchen.  Yes, you read that right, she wants her computer and main paperwork area in the kitchen.  It's not as if she uses the internet for recipes or cooking how-to tips.  She just likes being in the kitchen, because it's cozy, and that's where the tea is.

I think that Ken and I, between us, may have convinced her that putting her desk in the kitchen is a silly idea.  I mean, her main complaint has always been that she doesn't have enough space for herself and her own projects because my step-dad likes to spread his papers all over the house.  She could have a whole room to herself with a door that closes!  Why cram herself into a corner if she doesn't have to?  And why expose her fancy computer to the humidity, grease, heat, and spills of the kitchen?  Ken, after lengthy arguing against her plan, may have persuaded her, or she may change her mind back again.

All these eccentricities aside, I am always happy to hang out in my mother's kitchen and be fed.  Her cats feel the same way.