Scrapbook #4: In Praise of Breakfast

I’m writing this on a quiet Saturday morning. Everyone is asleep. I peeked out onto Laurier and there was no one walking by, and even the cat was sprawled out and snoring. I wanted to sleep in this morning – preparation for tonight’s Nuit Blanche (Montreal’s city-wide all-night art festival) – but found myself wide awake at 7 am. I read for awhile and then I gave up and went to the kitchen. Last night I’d put a cup of oats into a bowl and covered them in buttermilk for this oatmeal pancake recipe from Orangette. Maybe I woke up because I was excited about pancakes? The batter’s mixed, but I’m letting it sit. I like the way pancake batter gets kind of bubbly when it rests, but I’m also waiting for a more reasonable Saturday morning brunch hour to start making them.

Breakfast at Naz Wooden Inn

So many of my favourite travel memories center around breakfast. This picture was taken in Istanbul. Our hotel was a wooden inn on the edge of the tourist district, next to the railroad tracks. By the end of our stay we’d figured out the best route to take to avoid store owners trying to lure us into their shops with persistent Yes please‘s. We’d eat breakfast on the roof: boiled eggs, dried apricots, simit, a ring-shaped sesame bread. And then we’d venture out into the city, stop for tea, set out for the day.

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Uninterview: Catching up with Darcie

The first time Darcie and I met for a little chat, it was late August. I was in Athens, she was in Kelowna, and our manuscripts were still electronic files with our publishers. In the subsequent months they were turned into real books. There were launches, there were some reviews, there were nerves and gratitude, but mostly life continued on the same as it was before. Darcie and I kept meaning to chat again and we finally coordinated our schedules. It was a Wednesday night, me in Montreal, she at home in Kelowna, and we had a fun little talk about our thoughts and feelings. Let me tell you things I’ve learned about Darcie: she’s humble, she works hard, and she frets. She was telling me about a possible review in the Globe & Mail, and how she was anxious about it, afraid it wouldn’t show up, despite being told otherwise. If we hung out in real life, I would probably tease her about this a bit more, how writerly her neuroses are.

DarcieDarcie! (And hey, she’s even reading the G&M)

The Wednesday night chat was good, but the timing was off by exactly one day. On Thursday the Commonwealth Prize nominations came out, and there buried among Giller prize nominees was Darcie Friesen Hossack for Best First Book. That Globe & Mail review eventually came out too, and it’s so effusive and full of praise that it’s almost comical. Darcie, neuroses aside, had nothing to be worried about.

Because of the nomination, I felt like our chat was unfinished, so we met up a few days later to discuss recent events. We’ll publish the Wednesday night chat at some point too, but I wanted to post this first while the excitement is still fresh. Talking to someone about good news is always fun and enthusiasm is the best kind of contagion. And, there’s just something fascinating about learning about the machinations behind Big Awards – most of us have no idea how they work and come together, so there’s a little of that in here too.

Excuse the abundance of exclamation points, but dude, it’s exciting. After the slog of writing and publication, it feels good to talk about celebration for a bit.

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Clarity

Acropolis

The sky is brightest around the edge of antique columns. And no line is sharper than the one dividing a column from the sky that frames it. There is a simple, entirely irrational explanation for this: what separates the column from the sky has been worn down – has become thin and therefore sharp – over time. The sky is as close as can be while still remaining distinct. This absolute separation between the timeless man-made and eternal is never as pure as it is in the ruins of Greek or Roman antiquity. That is one way of looking at it. The other – a different way of looking at the same thing – is that the distant past is brought into sharp adjacency with the present.

The ruins were bathed in a perpetual present – a version of eternity – of which the golden light and stalled moon were the perfect expression. I moved from place to place, arranging the intersections of columns, sea, and sky in new ways, new angles. Perhaps the simplest lesson of antiquity is that, after a time, anything vertical – Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, whatever – commands admiration. Ultimately, though, the lure of the horizontal will always prove irresistible.

(From Geoff Dyer’s essay “Leptis Magna” in Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It)

A good feeling is when you’re reading something you’ve been looking forward to reading for awhile and then realize that so much of it coincides with things you’ve been thinking about or trying to write about.

The Perils of a Split Sauce

After some lacklustre eggs benedict at a restaurant last weekend, I resolved to make my own at home. The last time I’d attempted a hollandaise sauce was a few Christmases ago, but it was a bit of a disaster – the sauce split and I’d decided to poach the eggs using a method I’d read about online, by cracking your eggs into twists of saran wrap so that the whites wouldn’t disperse and the eggs wouldn’t have the hockey puck shape you get when you poach them in an egg cup. This trick would’ve worked brilliantly if I hadn’t used cheap plastic wrap that melted in hot water upon contact. Oops.

Somewhere

A few weeks ago I saw Sofia Copolla’s latest movie, Somewhere. I was disappointed by it (I tried hard to feel something for the main character, but whatever I felt was closer to irritation and boredom than sympathy.) My favourite scene, though, is when his daughter wakes up early and makes them the most gorgeous eggs benedict – there she is in the picture above, fishing out the eggs. It was immensely satisfying to watch her as she snipped chives over the pale yellow, creamy sauce with kitchen shears.

So, hollandaise sauce. I would try again. In the meantime I’d made mayonnaise, crème brulee and lemon curd, and they’d turned out okay, so why couldn’t I do this? The recipe is simple enough: you whisk 3 egg yolks and a little lemon juice over low heat until it thickens. You whisk in some melted butter (by “some” I mean an entire cup of it). Ta da.

I’d blocked out the exact details of how a sauce splits, what it looks like. I whisked the egg yolks frantically over gently simmering water and kept wondering if it was happening. If it was splitting. There’s this magic moment when you’re making a sauce when you realize that it’s thickened into something that, as the recipe says, coats the back of your spoon or ribbons away from your whisk. Whenever this happens to me, I feel like I’ve done something alchemical, like I’ve conquered a complex physics problem. It’s more intense than the feeling I get when I bake – with a cake the magic happens while it’s shut away in the oven; I don’t see it before my very eyes.

The egg yolks finally thickened and I cheered and then I had to dribble in the melted butter, which was more awkward than I thought it would be. I was whisking and dribbling, and the bowl was spinning in circles. I persevered and there it was – a hollandaise sauce! A little too lemony (I enthusiastically squeezed the lemon directly in instead of measuring), but it was still pale yellow and pretty. I’d been so focused on the sauce (and also afraid that it would fail) that I hadn’t bothered preparing the rest of the meal, toasting the English muffins or cooking the ham or poaching the eggs, so by the time that part was done, the sauce had cooled down. I reheated it slowly and spooned it over the first plate of bread, ham and eggs. I set the bowl aside above the pot, and made the plate look pretty. I admired it and patted myself on the back and felt as accomplished as Cleo in Somewhere.

And then I went back to the sauce and realized that resting the bowl above simmering heat hadn’t been a very good idea. The image of a split sauce came flooding back and I grabbed the whisk and started stirring, but it was too late. A split sauce looks like the worst parts of what it’s composed of – oily fats and spongy yolks. The reality is that you are coating your eggs in more eggs and lots of butter. It’s like eating bacon with a side of bacon. The rest of the bowl went in the trash, and Andrew and I shared the first plate, which despite the half-success of the meal, was still delicious. Ta da.

Go team!

Pre-Christmas cupcakeCupcakes for everyone!

A few times a week I’ll receive emails from the women on the Humber mailing group I belong to. Recently the chatter has been a little more exciting than usual. For instance:

- This is a biggie: our very own Darcie Friesen Hossack, author of Mennonites Don’t Dance, was just nominated for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book. She’s up there with Giller nominees, guys. You may remember Darcie on this site from our uninterview in August. We have the second uninterview forthcoming (which we did the evening before the nomination when Darcie had absolutely no idea what she’d wake up to the next morning). Kim, another member of the email group, recently wrote a fantastic review of the book on her blog.

- Lisa McGonigle, who’s from Ireland, currently living in New Zealand, but a Canadian ski bum at heart, just published her first book, Snowdrift, a memoir about her time in the Kootenays in BC. I’m eagerly waiting for my signed copy to arrive in the mail. I can’t wait to see Lisa’s warmth and hilariousness translated into book form. I wish I could’ve gone to her book launches out west, which involved lots of drinking, live bands in bookstores and general revelry.

- Susan Toy does an amazing job promoting books, and recently shared her wisdom at a talk at the Calgary Public Library. For those of us who couldn’t attend, she was kind enough to post the text to “Marketing Yourself and Your Work”. Read and learn!

- Susan Calder will release her first book, Deadly Fall, very soon, and was recently namedropped in the latest Quill & Quire in an article about the increasing popularity of mystery fiction.

- Oh hey, some of us (Vicky, Carin, moi) have taken on “literary voyeur” roles for Seen Reading. So, Montreal/Ottawa/GTA, don’t be alarmed if you see someone looking over your shoulder and taking notes about what you’re reading and what you look like. Okay, maybe be a little alarmed, but this is for a good cause.

Not too shabby, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some accomplishments. Also, this doesn’t even convey the general enthusiasm and support we provide each other. I have to say I’m quite proud – go ladies!

Scrapbook #3: Heart-shaped ravioli

I’ve been writing all afternoon, or trying to write, and words are hurting my head.


Ravioli

I’ve only used my pasta roller Kitchenaid attachment once, and on a cold winter evening it sounded like it would be fun to finally use again. Some flour, eggs and water for the dough. I don’t have a ravioli cutter and thought I could use a glass instead, but the edges were too dull and didn’t cut through the layers cleanly. So, I broke out the cookie cutters and heart shaped raviolis were born. And they were good.



I’ve been listening to this song too much.

Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson

You should do this sometime: drive an hour outside of the city to a lake that’s frozen solid with an 8 km path cleared so that anyone can skate along it, or take walks with their dogs or their families or by themselves. If you don’t have skates it costs $5 an hour to rent them. Resolve to buy your own skates afterwards.


The Inbetweeners! Why didn’t I know about this show before?

Chronicle Herald article

Woke up to a fresh, fluffy layer of snow on the ground and a profile in the Chronicle Herald about Invisible Publishing, Rememberer and Bats or Swallows. Good things to wake up to, no? This followed up by brunch at the always bright and delicious Boite Gourmande have made for a pretty bang-up morning.

The article also reminded me of how much I’ve loved getting the chance to work with Invisible, who know how to do things right. Thanks to Megan Power for writing a comprehensive and generous article and for saying that Alice Munro, the Queen of Canadian literature, would be proud of my stories <3