Worth Reading: Volume 4

It's a rainy day prefacing a long weekend here in Ottawa, and though I have a to-do list as long as my arm to get done before end of day, allow me to procrastinate just a little bit and share with you some of the gems I've read lately. Perfect leisurely patio reads for the rest of the weekend? Maybe. 

The Prettiest Girl at the Party

If you're interested at all in the inner workings of the news media, you may have noticed all the talk about Jill Abramson's departure from the New York Times this week. More than any other article I've read, this piece by Rachel Sklar really resonated with me. Beautifully written, it tapped into some of the ideas that so many people struggle with when leaving a job; whether by choice, or when the choice is made for you. Some of my favourite bits: 

Abramson was let go in this way not because of a failure of business or journalism — the point of the enterprise, lest we forget! — but because Arthur Sulzberger is himself a bad manager, and managed this situation spectacularly badly.

Your power does not come from luck. Your power comes from you, and what you invest in it every day, in the work and the sweat and the giving a damn. That is what you carry around with you, even as you walk out of your fancy top job for the last time. That is what you carry into the next thing, and there will be a next thing, because you are good and because that’s what you do. That is your capital.

Diary of a 24-hour dive bar

"Dive bars are inherently patient places." I very much wish that this patient place was in my neighbourhood, too. 

The Ghost Files

Often, when looking in a box of diplomatic records, he would find a single sheet of paper, slipped in between the others that described the rough outlines of a document that appeared to be missing. 

Storytelling Is a Magical, Ruthless Discipline

Zadie Smith on storytelling, at the Moth Ball Gala earlier this month (via The Li.st on Medium). In a time where so many people call themselves "storytellers" (I'm looking at you, marketing communications), it was nice to look at storytelling in a different light. 

Storytelling is a magical, ruthless discipline. The people who tell stories are often tempted to create a hierarchy in their lives, in which stories come before everything else, including people.

The New Playlist for Productive Work

I'm going to stop procrastinating now, and turn up some Super Mario Brothers to get things done. Until next time.

 

European Eats

Ok - diet over (sort of)! Now I can tell you all about what led us to it in the first place...our European travels (and everything we ate along the way). 

Our trip started in Oldenburg, Germany, a small town about two hours from Amsterdam (West) and Hamburg (East). I didn't spend a lot of time here but caught up with Brett at the tail end of a work trip, after he'd already figured out where to eat (and drink). On my list of things to try were Spaetzle and Schnitzel. Both were a great success! Brett's German colleagues directed us to a local "Schnitzel hotspot", which in Oldenburg, was a basement bar "bustling" with about 8 visiting Canadians. Maybe it was an off night. I was seriously exhausted from my sixteen hours of travel so I skipped photos and tried not to fall asleep in my beer instead. Schnitzel verdict: worth a repeat!

The next night, I made my Spaetzle wish come true when we stumbled upon a place that featured it on their menu. Success! Also, Oldenburg was home to the largest "pint" I had ever seen. This 1L glass made my ordinary beer look teensy in comparison.

Also worth a mention is a dumpling-esque traditional German dish called Germknödel, which I didn't get to try, but was very popular with all of the visiting Canadians in Brett's office. This followed an odd event called a Kohlfahrt, which I have to admit I'm very sorry that I missed. A drunken Kale-themed walk in the woods makes for an excellent adventure. Next time, Germany. Next time. 

On to Amsterdam! 

I had a list as long as my arm of things I wanted to eat in Amsterdam since this was a return trip for me, and a first trip for Brett. Broodje haring! Rijstaffel! Maoz Falafel (why can't we have one in Canada already?!), pannakoeken, frites, Dutch craft beer, licorice drups, stroopwaffels, Gouda, and the list goes on. But first! Poffertjes! I first became addicted to these puffy miniature pancakes drenched in powdered sugar and butter (no syrup, please) when I visited Amsterdam for the first time in 2006. So delicious and so cheap, and you'll find them at small stands throughout the city. I briefly thought about how to smuggle a poffertje pan into my carry-on but it'll have to wait for next time. 

Next on the list - rijstaffel! I had read excellent reviews about Restaurant Blauw, and even though it was a little bit outside the city centre, it seemed worth the trek to avoid the touristy restos. Blauw it did not disappoint. If you're not familiar with Rijstaffel, it's essentially a multi-dish, family style indonesian meal. Ours were vegetarian (and SOOO good) though you can also get meat or fish versions depending on your preferences. A server brings somewhere between 10 and 15 dishes to your table, with a hot plate to keep some dishes warm, paired nicely with their cooler counterparts and a few rice options. Our meal at Blauw included caramelized potato chips (think Hickory Sticks but sticky and 100% more delicious), some beautiful indonesian curries, and deep fried bananas. It was unbelievably delicious. Brett was skeptical at first, but it didn't take long for him to become a fan. 

In addition to the food we were seeking out, we had a few surprise finds that made me very happy, like these open-faced sandwiches from Vlaamsch Broodhuys. Dutch Gouda is far superior to North American Gouda. Also: open-faced sandwiches. This needs to be the new food trend. Who wants to open an open-faced sandwich shop with me?

After Amsterdam, and our fill of Maoz falafel, Albert Heijn smoothies, and tiny cans of Heineken (and a tour of the Heineken Brewery), we moved on to our next stop -- Gent, Belgium. Home of many many Belgian beers, and the birthplace of the Belgian Waffle. We had to go to Max's for waffles, natch, though Brett skipped the waffles and settled on apple fritters, belgian style. I couldn't resist the classic waffle instead, with just a simple dusting of powdered sugar. North American waffles can't hold a candle to these light, crunchy airy treats.

There's also a great frites and fried food culture in Gent, including an accidental discovery - De Frietketel (below), where the frites are veggie friendly. In fact, the whole city was pretty veg-friendly, including this fascinating Ghent veggieplan - map that shows you everything from Veg-friendly restaurants to hotels and more. Gent was so great -- we'll definitely be going back again.

As we made our way across the city, we discovered a couple of local treats, starting with these Gent Noses and ending in Teirenteyn-Verlent Mustard, which is so special and secret they won't tell you what's in it, and it's only available in one tiny shop in the middle of town. I'm sending my parents back for some more later this summer. 

We arrived in Paris late in the day, having hopped on a train from Luxembourg (the only food of note were the Brie Nuggets from - of all places - McDo, which we couldn't resist buying on a lark. Luxembourg food verdict? Keep moving.). We were starving, and after checking in to our Paris AirBnB, we headed south in the 3eme to L'as du Falafel, which is, of course, an ESSENTIAL Paris stop. It was the only line I stood in in Paris that was absolutely worth it. While I prefer a Maoz Falafel for its freshness, this was an experience. And delicious, too! 

Paris was really where the eating got serious. Two doors from our apartment was an organic wine bar. And their cheese selection looked like this: 

I fell in love with Les Hauts & Les Bas Chinon in this place, and drank it steadily until the wee hours of the night before we left. It appears to be impossible to get here in Canada, so now I'm sad I didn't smuggle it into my luggage for the return trip (especially since this wine bar conveniently sold bottles, too). 

Aside from the wine, Paris was a parade of sweets. Giant meringues as big as dinner plates, mille feuille and tartes au caramel at Jacques Genin (swoon!), Macarons géant (so large!), mulled wine, delices aux framboises at Carette, croissants au beurre, pain au chocolat, and so much else. By the end of the trip, coming home to a diet was starting to seem a bit exciting. ;) 

This post wouldn't be complete without a little shout-out to Pierre's (La Pierre du Marais) on rue de bretagne, our adopted corner espresso bar in the 3eme. After just two visits, we were regulars for the rest of our stay, cozying up to the bar for a déca pour moi, and a regular shot for brett. The bar was the best spot to catch a glimpse of regular every day life in Paris, though it was warm enough to linger on the terrasse outside as well. People grabbing a quick café en route to the office, paired with a croissant, or in some cases, a glass of rosé (if you were our regular bar stool neighbour) to get the day going. North America has got coffee culture all wrong. I'll take Pierre's over a Bridgehead *every* day. 

Post-Europe Detox: Eliminating all the Things

After a solid three weeks of non-stop Schnitzel, Belgian beer, Dutch pancakes, French pastries, and SO MUCH WINE, we knew when we got home from Europe (more about that later) that it was time for a serious detox. We took advantage of our empty fridge and pantry and filled them with only things that are Whole30 friendly. This means we excluded all grains, sugar, dairy (mostly - I've kept full-fat greek yogurt for protein), legumes, alcohol, and anything that we would otherwise consider to be processed junk. I made a MASSIVE grocery list (I think 90% of it was eggs and avocados).

If you're not familiar with the Whole30, it's essentially a more restricted version of Paleo eating for a set amount of time (30 days), designed to give your body a chance to reset and eliminate things that may not be so great for you.

Those who know me already know that I'm not much of a diet person. I eat what I'd like, though we tend to lean towards pretty healthy foods anyway. Most of our diet is vegetarian, with the occasional piece of meat or fish at a restaurant, and of course, every almost-vegetarian's weakness: an occasional slice or three of bacon. 

List in hand, we headed off to Farmboy to collect a ton of fruits, vegetables, eggs, and nuts. In addition, we added cans of coconut milk, piles of herbs, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and some frozen berries for good measure / emergency smoothie supplies. 

The Prep

In all of the reading that I did about this diet, one of the things that people stressed the most was prep-work and how important it was to have things ready for snacking/eating vs. "hey, I'm hungry -- in an hour or so I can have some roasted squash". Since you're making all of your meals from scratch, prep-work is essential in order to avoid living in your kitchen and makes deciding what to eat so much easier. The night before we started this adventure, I caramelized some onions, roasted beets, segmented oranges and grapefruits, and put a few cans of coconut milk into the fridge to chill. The next day, I made salad dressings, sliced up carrot and cucumbers into coins, and toasted nuts for easy snacks and salad toppings. I also hard boiled a dozen eggs. Our knives have definitely gotten a workout this week, and some extra sharpening.

The Meals

There are a few staple meals that were already part of our diet before embarking on this adventure that fit the Whole30 bill -- no sugar, grains, legumes, additives, or dairy. Our freezer has been well-stocked with Curried Butternut Squash and Coconut-Pea soup all winter long, and they were the first things to disappear.

Some other things that have been regulars at our dining room table for the last two weeks:

Over the course of the last two weeks, we've gone through four dozen eggs (I KNOW), five butternut squash, two pineapples, five bags of spinach and other salad greens, three bags of carrots, 1L of almond milk, a bag of frozen raspberries, twelve oranges, eight heads of broccoli and so much more.

The experience so far

For the first few days, I really struggled with what to eat, despite having done a lot of prep work. I defaulted to scrambled eggs with caramelized onions, hot sauce and an avocado for breakfast, salad for lunch -- usually roasted golden beets with spinach, toasted walnuts, orange segments and radish slices -- and soup with a salad for dinner. I was hungry ALL. THE. TIME. Without sugar or grains, my body was not really sure what I was up to, and it rebelled by putting me in a constant bad mood with a serious snack craving. I had at least a few dreams about warm-from-the-oven bread with homemade butter. But then: DAY 5. 

On day 5, I stopped feeling hungry. And cranky. And wanting to snack all the time. I felt full, and fantastic all of a sudden. I slept wonderfully, straight through the night and waking without an alarm. My clothes were loose and my mind was crisp. I was extremely productive.

On day 8, I met a friend for breakfast at a local diner. Thank goodness breakfast is always full of egg options. 

On day 9, I played hooky and went to Le Nordik for the day (self-employment has its perks!). While my friend sipped wine, I sipped fizzy water with lemon, and snacked on a green salad. It was an exceptionally boring meal, I have to admit. My seat-neighbours cheese plate was killing me. Le Nordik? Not Whole30-friendly, unless you really like green olives and green salad as your only options. 

On day 10, I started having crazy headaches, but they quickly went away when I figured out that my blood sugar was out of whack. A little more fruit every day did the trick.

On day 14 (today!), I got on the scale and discovered I had lost ten pounds in two weeks. TEN! Take that, week of eating macarons and drinking mulled wine in Paris. My jeans no longer fit (in a good way). 

With two-ish more weeks to go, we're starting to get more adventurous with our meals, and I'm finding it way easier to improvise and end up with something delicious without having to try very hard. We've got lots of prepared, pre-cut, roasted items in the fridge that let me assemble a great salad or a stir-fry in 15 minutes or less. And I've been obsessing over my indian cookbooks -- determined to make a curry or two that follows the rules before our time is up.

The Lessons

When we first started talking about this diet, I hadn't really thought much about what it's impact would be on my eating habits. I thought I would follow the diet for the 30 days, and then go back to eating things like toast, and having glasses of wine with dinner like nothing ever happened. 

Except it doesn't work like that. Now I think a lot about what I put into my body. I think quite a lot about how great I feel without grains, sugar, and cheese (I still really like you, cheese) and I don't think I can just "go back" to how things were last month. Now I'm less hungry, and I'm full of good food. I feel stronger, and more alert, and don't have 3pm sugar crashes, since there's no sugar to let me down. It doesn't help that I watched Lunch Hour yesterday. Just thinking about the impact that a constant dose of pizza has on small kids makes me want to minimize carbs and eat leafy greens for ever. 

Will it be easier when our 30 days are over? Sure. I won't have to obsessively review restaurant menus to figure out what I can eat when I'm heading out to meet a friend or a client, or walk into a Loblaws store and feel lost among the twenty aisles of processed food that mostly contain added sugar (truth be told I avoid Loblaws whenever possible anyway). I can open one of those bottles of wine we brought back from France, and I can stop meeting all of my girlfriends for tea instead of proper drinks and mid-week catch-ups. But I don't know if I'll ever go back to eating the way I once did. And that's a good thing.

Worth Reading, volume 3

One month into the new year and my pocket app is overflowing with things both read and in the queue. This is just a few of the ones that have delighted me over the last few weeks. 

Nobody's Son

I'm not sure why but I have been reading a lot about grieving lately (ed note: no you do not need to be worried about me). Mark Slouka's Nobody's Son was equal parts touching, inspiring, and made me think a little longer about what I thought about death. "Don’t be stupid, he says. You don’t love me less by living more. Live! Live like you mean it." Indeed.

Gentrification may actually be a boon to longtime residents

If you, like me, live in a neighbourhood that used to be a not-very-hip place to live, you would have talked about gentrification and how it changes your 'hood at least once. We all talk about how gentrification is bad (or we assume it is) because all of the "rich" people make everything more expensive and inaccessible for the people who aren't like them. This NPR article says we had it all wrong. 

Goodnight. Sleep clean.

"As your body sleeps, your brain is quite actively playing the part of mental janitor: It’s clearing out all of the junk that has accumulated as a result of your daily thinking." And we all have more junk than we probably think we do. 

The Secrets of Bezos: How Amazon became the Everything Store

I enjoyed this excerpt so much more than the entire book, and learned a thing or two in the process. Also, question mark emails. I simultaneously hate and love them. 

90% of American's don't know about Ctrl + F

How do they find anything? And how did the rest of us figure this out? It's baffling to me that most people still haven't figured out how to really use their computers. And Search Anthropologist sounds like I job I would really like to have.

We like you so much and want to know you better

Modern employment conundrum, or just super creepy futurism? I can't decide but reading this piece made me glad I shut down one of my major social media network accounts at the end of last year. Because, this.

Forever

Rookie Mag isn't just for kids -- we can all find something useful, delightful, or insightful. December's editor's letter is all the proof you needed. "One way to avoid killing your heart is to decide that you will spend your whole life growing up." Good advice we could all heed. Keep growing up folks -- life is just so much better this way. 

Vanilla Bean Scones with Mango-Raspberry Jam

It almost never fails, if I have a relaxing Sunday at home. Around 4pm, I'm struck by an irresistible urge to bake something, and today was no exception. With a couple of bags of fruit in the freezer, and some extra heavy cream kicking around in the fridge, the idea to make some vanilla bean scones and some homemade jam wasn't hard to come up with. 

I've never been a big fan of jam from the store, sticky and sweet - so sweet it makes your teeth hurt. But instant jam at home? Always a winner. All of the hard work for this recipe happens in 30 minutes or less, and there will be hot scones on your table within an hour. 

Mango-Raspberry Jam

  • 2 cups frozen raspberries 

  • 2 cups mango chunks 

  • 1/4 cup sugar

  • Juice of one lemon

Combine everything in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally while the fruit thaws and begins to soften. After about ten minutes, when the mango chunks are soft, mash gently with a potato masher. Reduce heat and simmer until jam thickens (it should coat the back of a wooden spoon and stay without any trouble). Pour into a mason jar for storage, or a pretty bowl for serving. Will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge. 

Vanilla Bean Scones (gently adapted from this Chow recipe)

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder

  • 1 tsp granulated sugar

  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

  • 1/4 tsp fine salt

  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter (1/2 stick), chilled

  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 tsp vanilla paste (available at most food specialty stores)*

* if vanilla paste isn't available, a scraped vanilla bean will do

Preheat your oven to 450-degrees. Combine all of the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, salt) together in a large bowl. Finely dice the butter, and add to the flour mixture, blending the small pieces into the flour mix with your hands so they are well-coated and separated. 

Whisk together all but 1 tbsp of the heavy cream, the vanilla paste and the egg in a small bowl until the egg is broken up. Pour it into the flour mixture and mix briefly with your a wooden spoon until the dough just comes together, about 2 minutes. If you're using a stand mixer, a little less.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (I use parchment paper). Knead for 1-2 more turns to help the dough stay together, then form into a ball. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough until it is about 1/2-inch in height. With a 2 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out as many scones as possible. Re-roll and cut until you run out of dough (this should be about 12 - 13 scones). Place on parchment paper on top of a cookie sheet.

Using a pastry brush, brush remaining cream over the tops of the scones. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes, or golden on top. Remove from the oven, and serve warm along with the jam.