Monday, September 26, 2016

Where I Don't Talk About Cake

Canada has never been a melting-pot; more like a tossed salad. – Arnold Edinborough
So, I'm super-conscious of the fact that my last two blogposts had cake in the title. I feel the need to clarify that I do not actually eat cake all of the time, but when cake presents itself, one must partake with modification... or with gusto, depending on how many hills you've walked up that day.

We're in Montreal this week. I have a week off work and we're spending that time exploring this city for the first time. We arrived late on Saturday night after a long enough flight to watch three episodes of Downtown Abbey and to get a bunch of knitting done. We stayed in a hotel near the airport, then moved to an Airbnb apartment yesterday afternoon. So far, it's been a pretty nice visit:

I think it's interesting to visit other parts of this country. Each place feels different, and I'm not just talking about the climate. Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Regina, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal all feel distinctly different from each other: different people, different atmosphere... like different little countries all of their own. Montreal is in Quebec, where French is spoken more than the other official language of English. One of the reasons I wanted to try Montreal was because I had a feeling it would be like visiting France without the exchange rate, and with people who don't get as irritated if you don't speak perfect Français. So far, I think that's a pretty good estimation of the place.

It's enough like Canada to have people who care passionately about hockey, to have maple syrup in every tourist shop, and to be amazingly (and wonderfully) multicultural, especially in its city centres.

It's enough like France to have cafes that serve perfect cappuccinos (i.e. not piled to the stratosphere with fluff), pastries made with real butter, and to stick up a middle finger to non-smoking signs.

I say that with a smile.

We went out last night to a nearby grocery store get a few things for breakfast and snacks, but I got distracted by this:

... but again, I am determined not to talk about cake again, so instead, I focused on interesting architecture that we saw today:

And quirky features:

We walked up several steep hills around the Mount Royal area, and took a break by the little lake there, that I think must be turned into an ice rink in the winter time:

As evidenced by these seat/lockers I found in the building at the end of the lake:

After that, we decided to try to find the Marché Jean-Talon (Jean Talon Market). I am always so happy to find a market wherever we travel. I delight in the colours and scents, and it reveals so much about the people who live there:

On Vancouver Island, we're lucky to have so much local produce. This region is also blessed with a long growing season, and therefore, so many beautiful fruits and vegetables, even late in September:

The fall veggies are in full swing. I watched jealously as a woman paid for one of those lovely pumpkin squashes and put it in her bag. They're a bit big for the ol' carry on bag, but I'm thinking I'll need one get one when I get home:

I am not a cauliflower fan, but have you ever seen such psychedelic ones? Did you ever think cauliflower would ever be so interesting? Did you ever think you'd see "psychedelic" and "cauliflower" in the same sentence?

And do you think they'd look at me weirdly if I wore a strand of garlic on the plane ride home?

With some chilli pepper earrings?

Needless to say, with all the hill-walking and after being around so much delicious food, I had to partake in an egg, ham, cheese, and potato crèpe (French) with a side of maple syrup (Canadian):

The thing is, there were cakes everywhere:

And, well... I did walk for hours today... including all those hills, so...

Sigh. It's just the way things are, I guess. There's no point in fighting it.

At least I'm almost done my knitting project, so the NEXT post will be nothing about cake. Really, it won't. I don't think so. I think...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Beer Cake, What Else?

A great many things can be resolved with kindness, even more with laughter, but there are some things that just require cake. --Unknown
I do believe I have found the never-ending project. Yes, I know I've said that before, but seriously: when was the last time I actually FINISHED something? I'd check, but I know the answer is AGES ago. Long enough ago to type it out in CAPITAL LETTERS. SO LONG AGO.

This is what comes of knitting a lace project with nearly 1000 yards of silk laceweight yarn on size 4 needles. It's like trying to mow an acre of grass with nail clippers: doable, but why would you do that? Ain't nobody got time for that...

Perhaps one of the reasons that I haven't made much progress is because of all the distractions life keeps throwing at me. Take this cake for instance. No, don't take the cake. That's my cake:

It's a cake shaped as a huge mug of beer. My cake. Mine.

Cake is mine.

I did share it in the end. It came from one of my work friends who wanted to repay me for all the times I saved his neck this season. "I owe you one," he kept saying.

"You owe me a cake or a beer," I kept replying.

And then, he walked in with that cake. It was chocolate. It was tasty. I wonder what I should ask for next?

In truth, I have made great strides in my knitting over the last couple of weeks. My mother-in-law was in town visiting from Belfast, and that forced me to stop whizzing around the house in the evenings doing chores and my stretching exercises to actually sit down and socialize on the couch, knitting in hand. I managed to get through all the yarn that I'd re-wound after ripping out the last project, and by the time she left on Thursday, I felt like I'd reached the point in a top-to-bottom shawl where each repeat would gobble up scads of yarn. I thought I was on the home stretch. Halfway through the last repeat, I weighed the ball of yarn. It was 63 grams. "I'll have used at least 10 grams by the end of this repeat," I said to myself. "Then, I could probably do one more and then start on the border. I'll be done in a few days."

I finished the repeat just now and weighed the ball, slightly worried that I'd worked too many repeats and that I'd be running out of yarn for the border now. I read the scale:

60 grams. Hm. I guess it's not gobbling up yarn so much as it's nibbling the crust. I guess I have a few more weeks to go.

Still, we had a good visit with my mother-in-law. She likes a lot of the same things I do. We went to the theatre to watch a play and we enjoyed it, but I was totally distracted by the pretty shoes that one of the actresses were wearing in the second half. I knew I'd seen them before, and when I got home, I went straight online to find them. They're currently sitting on my wishlist on Amazon. Yes, I'm stalking the shoes. Yes, I believe that is a totally normal thing to do.

My favourite part about her is that she likes shopping, which was a nice excuse for me to go as well (twist my rubber arm, why don't you). And, whenever we're visiting with each other, she sees me knitting, and that gives her the urge to take it back up again as well. I gave her a couple of my knitting books and magazines to look through, and she found a couple of tops she thought she liked, so we copied them for her. She went into town and got herself some skeins of yarn, and I'm hoping that she got a good chunk of knitting done during the nine-hour flight back.

She also left me the copy the new Vogue Knitting. which means that, along with the latest Interweave Knits I got for myself, I've got plenty of reading material to distract me from my never-ending project now:

The next thing I have to look forward to is a week off from work. I'm so looking forward to it. I'm feeling pretty worn out these days... it felt like a long summer this year. Maybe it's because I've been working through this injury, which is still causing me grief, or maybe I'm just so relieved that it's finally sweater-knitting time that my mind is just ready to curl up under a blanket and day dream about sweaters and hats and mittens...

... any project that isn't 1000 yards of laceweight yarn on size 4 needles. Sheesh. Best be knitting now. Later, y'all.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Cake, Wine, and Knitting: A Study of Proportion

Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance. ― Anne Sexton
Even after all these years of making my own garments, I find it strange that I can knit a sweater to fit me, especially considering that I have no sense of proportion in most other aspects of my life. For example: if I want ice cream, my instinct tells me that I must fill the entire soup bowl to the brim with ice cream in order to be satisfied. I look over at my hubby, and he has spooned out the exact recommended serving size into his bowl, as prescribed on the box, without measuring, purely by instinct (it's half a cup, if you don't know). He eats it, and he is satisfied. I eat mine, thinking the whole time about how much I would like another bowl right after.

Yes. Proportion: not simple.

Another example: freebie fruit. I got wind of a fellow in town who had far too many apples and pears from his trees and was offering them for free. I asked around to see if anyone wanted any, and I determined that I would get just enough for myself and two other people.

Well... I guess I don't know what "enough for myself" looks like:

We've been bravely working through them, but the fruit flies were setting up a condo in the fruit bowl, so I put a lot of them into the fridge, turned a bunch of the apples into applesauce, and then decided that some of those pears should become a cake. I used one of Joy the Baker's recipes, which turned into a gloriously puffed up cake with some crumble on top. In case you're wondering: I used a mixture of plain non-fat Greek yogurt and skim milk in place of buttermilk, and I reduced the sugar by 1/4 cup. I at least try to have a tiny bit of proportion in my life:

Example two: Last Monday, the hubby and I went on a wine tour in the Cowichan Valley here on Vancouver Island. I got the tour on a special deal online, and it sounded like a nice day out. It was a beautiful day: not too hot, but sunny and pleasant:

The first winery we went to served us our sips of wine with enough time to sit and think about what we were tasting. We also got lunch there, and we left with a bottle to take home. The other two were nice, but we noticed that they served us our samples one after another after another... which was a bit fast for us.

By 2:00pm, I thought I was a pretty hilariously interesting person. I'd be worried about what the others on the tour thought, but they all felt the same about themselves. We were a jolly group by that time, to say the least, especially for a Monday afternoon. I noticed one of the winery cats watching us with proper disdain:

But the grapes were beautiful to look at, and ready for picking:

And the views were spectacular wherever we went:

And then, there's my knitting. I've been feeling a bit worried that I was losing interest altogether in the craft. This is probably due to the fact that I've been chipping away at this skein of silk that, try as I might, does not seem to get any smaller. I suppose it would help if I did some good long sessions of knitting, but I'm getting terribly bored with it, so much so that I didn't want to post a blog entry because I was so disenchanted. I felt like throwing in the towel and deleting this blog and sitting in the corner and pouting. Forget it. No more yarn, no more knitting, I quit and all that:

But the other day, I saw a girl walk past with a beautiful knitted top on that I couldn't stop looking at. That seemed to be just the ticket. I went straight home and started pulling magazines and looking at my yarn stash to see what I could use to try to make a version of it. It felt good to feel inspired by a project. I don't know if I'll pull it off, but I at least feel like finishing my current project now.

I think I might have a bit of chocolate and get on to my project now... just a bit... not the whole bar... not all at once, anyway... ahem... Happy Labour Day, everyone.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Peter Pan, Pink Flamingos, and Applesauce

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
I am in battle with my body these days. Each muscle has been taking turns in protest. It means I end each day feeling tired and sore. It has been a very tiring time.

When I broke my foot last May, I had no idea that it would be this difficult to get back to my normal self. It's not that the bone is bothering me: it's the effect of wearing the air cast for three weeks. The muscles in my right leg are taking a long time to regenerate, and the rest of my muscles are taking a long time to re-adapt to moving normally.

I've been able to walk and swim and do a bit on the elliptical and row machine since about mid-June. I've been seeing a physiotherapist since the middle of July. Last week, I started training myself to learn to run again using this program given to me by my physiotherapist. I've been alternating each day with other activities: swimming, walking, rowing, cycling... whatever I can think of. When I wake up in the morning, my right hip and glute are so tight that I have to spend half an hour warming up and stretching so I can at least walk without a limp. This morning, I ran the fourth program (6 minutes of running in total). By the end of each program, I can feel my foot tightening up, which means that's a good time to stop. It loosens up as I walk for the 5 minute cool down.

The rest of the day, hips tighten up, then my IT band, then my psoas, then my glutes, then my hamstrings. At least they're considerate enough to take turns trying to cripple me. It's quite civilized of them to give each other a chance to express their opinion on the matter.

I've set a reminder to get up and stretch every hour. I spend at least 30 minutes each evening rolling, stretching, and massaging each part so I can go to sleep without any discomfort. I also have been doing lots of balancing and conditioning exercises to encourage the muscles to re-learn some muscle memory so they won't freak out so much every time I try to move. I spend so much time balancing on one leg that I'm considering getting a part-time job as a flamingo... as long as I don't have to wear pink.

It has been a lot of work, but I'm trying to keep my mind open to notice the good stuff through it all. I was entranced by the sun coming through the window before I left this morning. The cut glass made this pretty pattern on the curtain, which I think I might try to knit into some lace sometime:

And I met this deer on the trail early on Friday morning at the start of my run. I gave her lots of room, the sweet little thing... not that she would have had any trouble getting away from limpy ol' me:

I have been further distracted by the bounty that the summer season brings. I got a bit excited last week when one of the local farms offered a "Pop Up Produce" box. I could not resist the opportunity to bring local organic produce home.  That rhubarb is just ridiculous, isn't it?

I've been slow-roasting the tomatoes on the barbecue with each meal this week. It goes great with the basil from a plant that came in my veggie box earlier in the season:

And the apples have been put to good use. I took advantage of a cool day today to try making some apple turnovers with some puff pastry I had in the freezer:

I had no idea what I was doing, but it was a pretty good result. They tasted the part, even if I did burn my mouth during the taste test:

I decided to make some applesauce with most of the other apples. I found some tips on making it with my slowcooker, which meant that I wouldn't have to stand by the stove and fret about burning it t. I decided to leave the skins on because 1) I am too lazy to peel all those apples and 2) the pectin in the skins allow it to congeal just right. Thus, a crowd of apples started out like this:

And then they puffed up into this after two hours on high with 3/4 cups of water and a sprinkle of cinnamon:

And then, it turned into this lovely caramel-like stuff after I blitzed it with a hand-blender. 
How do ya like dem apples, hey?

I was sitting on the floor the other day after yet another stretch session, feeling tired and defeated, but I know that there are people out there dealing with a lot worse. Right now, it seems impossible that I could ever, ever run for 10 minutes, much less do anything like a 10k again. But, as Peter Pan said, the moment I believe I can't do it anymore will be the moment I WON'T be able to do it anymore. I guess I just have to go and have my good cry each day, and then get up and try again.

But first, I think I'll have an apple turnover and go find my knitting. I don't want my knitting muscles to wither away next. THAT would be a disaster.

Have a good week!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

When You Hide the Burned Bits

When it's brown, it's cooked, when it's black it's "fooked." -- Gordon Ramsay
It's been quite warm here recently. When it's warm like this, we usually spend our weekends either swimming at Lake Cowichan or kayaking in the nearby harbour. Today, I didn't really feel like either. Instead, we went for a walk along the trail that I normally like to go for a run on. I hadn't been on the trail much this summer, so it was lovely to be there today, under the cool shade of the trees, listening to the creek trickling past:

It's amazing how many more things you notice when you're not concentrating on your breathing or on your footing. It's the first time I noticed these dome-shaped spider webs:

I have no idea what kind of spider spins them, but they were fascinating:

I've been cleared by my physiotherapist to start running again... and when I say "running," I mean jogging for one minute intervals, interspersed by one minute of walking, and only for a maximum of three times. Three whole minutes of running.

I'm ecstatic at the prospect.

It's not that I'm one of these people that gets the "runner's high." Running is hard for me... always has been. It's never, ever been what I would call "fun." It makes me tired, hungry, and sore. I curse it while I'm doing it.

But, the thing is: I've been feeling like an utter failure without it.

See, the thing is: I lost a bunch of weight. During that time, I became really physically active. People started calling me an athlete: me, the life-long chubby girl, the one with the "pretty face and great personality." Being an athlete was never a possibility, ever. And then, suddenly: I was.

But what I also found out was that people were expecting me to fail. People went up to my parents and said things like, "Oh, she'll probably gain it back. Most people do." My parents balked at them (because they are better human beings), but knowing that it had been said stunned me.

People were expecting me to gain it all back.

So, when I broke my foot, I got really, really depressed. I went through the cycle of comfort eating, and then getting more depressed about eating, gaining weight, and getting depressed about gaining weight, and then really, really hating myself. My trousers are really tight at the moment. How could I let it happen? Why can't I just control myself? I'm going to fail... just like everyone said I would.

I haven't talked about it here... but today, I feel compelled to spill my guts... to prove that life is not rosy for anyone, no matter what face they put on for people.

Everyone's hiding their imperfections.

Case in point: I decided I'd take some apples that I got in my veggie box this week and make something with them. I don't know what kind of apples they were, but they looked like cooking apples to me:

So I made some apple pie filling (I used only a 1/4 cup sugar, by the way - I hate overly sweet filling):

I took some thawed phyllo pastry and folded them into samosas (which was really easy, by the way. I've watched enough tv chefs make them that folding them felt somehow instinctual). I brushed them with some butter and put them on a tray and put them on low on the barbecue, because it's so hot outside that I didn't want to turn the oven on:

And, bim bam boom, I had apple samosas:

But here's the thing: they're burned underneath. I had one of those moments while standing by the barbecue when I said, "Hmm, they're doing alright, but I'll just turn it up a touch..."

Famous last words.

They still taste great (they're nearly black, but not charred), but I had visions of some lovely, brown, crispy, perfect things, and I would take the photos, put them up on the blog, and make people drool.

My ambitions are a bit low, I know. But I'm still not showing the burned sides. I bet even Nigella Lawson has burned bits. I should email her and ask her.

Meanwhile, the spinning project from my last post is well... gone. It was just not working out: it was overspun in places, snapping every time I tried to straighten it out, while some places were falling apart where I had tried to join the roving sloppily. It was just awful.

So yeah, I'm hiding that, too. (Actually, I threw it out. Not showing that either).

In the meantime, I have picked up the Silk Handmaiden I had started knitting a few months ago. I was not at all happy with the pattern I had chosen, so I gritted my teeth and ripped it all out. I think I'm happy with this choice. It's called the Going Places Shawl, and I think it's suiting the yarn much better. I think this might be the fifth pattern I've tried with this yarn, but this one doesn't work out, that's it. It's going in the naughty corner:

Also: I cropped the heck out  of this photo, hiding all the stains and crap lying around on the deck... just like everyone else's deck.

Ain't nobody perfect. No-bah-dee.

So yeah, this is the post where I showed my burned bits... the shame and the insecurity that has come along with a summer of being injured. But, as Brené Brown says, "Shame cannot survive being spoken." So it's out there, and maybe somehow it'll start to wither and not have so much power over me. And maybe it'll be a way to combat the perfect Facebook lives we all see around us.

First run day tomorrow. Wish me luck.