Doing The Things 2017: My Well-Being

In the back of my mind, I earnestly thought I was going to start 2017 on the right foot, food-wise.

Who was I kidding.

What actually started my year was a ton of holiday leftovers: turkey, ham, shortbread cookies and homemade Jamaican patties from my mom …

And two sandwich bags full of homemade lemon loaf and French toast (which I normally never eat), brought home from a New  Year’s Day brunch I attended.

The post-holiday food festival continued with dinners out – my Kryptonite, because greasy restaurant food is soooooo tasty. Add to that a wicked sweet tooth, which is a challenge all by itself. So of course, my waistline is paying dearly.

I have to get my appetite (and bank account) in check. I also don’t want to encourage my body to start growing more fibroids so soon after my recent surgery, because of my eating habits.

And after two tiring days in supermarkets and my kitchen this is, I hope, the start of my rehabilitation:

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I want to give myself less of an excuse to hit the food court/vending machine/fast food joint when I’m at home or work. I don’t cook sophisticated meals, plus I hate the amount of time it takes to prep food for meals. But perhaps keeping my freezer stocked with something, anything, could slowly reduce (not eliminate, because that’s impossible) my terrible food habits, and help me to enjoy cooking, not see it as a huge chore.

(One future goal: to cook and freeze a meal or two before I go travelling, so that when I return, I don’t spend my post-travel recovery period eating burgers and pizza, as I have in the past.)

In the exercise department … my physical activity has been non-existent during the last five months (save for walks). Two or three of those months were due to post-surgery recovery (hence the walking). The rest was because of a complete lack of motivation (save for exercises during my physio appointments).

So last Tuesday afternoon, I got off my backside, put on my workout clothes, and trudged to a fitness class. Then on Thursday morning, I huffed and puffed my way through another class.

This is where I’ll start, to re-establish a routine. Upcoming travel plans will disrupt my exercise schedule until March, but some activity’s better than none, right?

It’s going to be tough. I’m going to fail. Hell, I’ve already failed this week.

But if, for each time I fall off the wagon, I can cut down on the amount of time it takes me to hop back on, those will be small victories I’ll gladly take.

Haggis, Anyone?

Scotland_HaggisThe first time I heard the name “Robbie Burns”, I was eight years old, and my parents were signing me up for piano lessons at a local music school.

I guess it came up when the head of the school – testing my aptitude – was chatting with my folks, and they mentioned when I was born.

“Oh!” he said. “Do you know who else shares your birthday? Robbie Burns!”

As a little black girl growing up in the 1980s, the only Burns I’d heard of was George. I can only imagine what facial expression I wore as this man told me about this guy I was clearly supposed to recognize.

Through the years, I came to learn bits and pieces about the man whose birthday I happened to share, and the little nerd in me found it interesting.

So to simply say Robert Burns is A Big Deal for people of Scottish descent, is a wee bit of an understatement.

In several days’ time, dinners (all over Canada and abroad) will be held in honour of the Scottish bard, filled with music and poetry. There will be scotch, even whiskey tastings. But it won’t be a Rabbie Burns night without one signature dish served:

Haggis.

Yep, that most Scottish of dishes, consisting of lamb or sheep parts, oats, and spices, mixed together in a type of pudding (not the dessert kind), and encased in a sheep’s stomach.

(There are even vegetarian and vegan versions out there, for a different spin. And these lovely folks are hosting a vegan Robbie Burns Day here in Toronto – they’re just about sold out!)

For people like me who’ve never had haggis (the meat-filled version, at least), that doesn’t sound — or look — all that appetizing.

But yesterday, I came across this article by writer Andrea Chiu, in defence of the dish.

She makes a valid point:

“We will pay high prices to taste rich and creamy foie gras, but wrap some lamb liver and hearts with a sheep’s stomach and diners of all ages are finding ways to politely decline the dish.”

I mean, if I can try a camel burger or freshly-caught-and-prepared conch salad (with comically terrible results, in the case of the latter), surely I should give haggis a try?

It’s probably too late this time ’round, but maybe I can give haggis a go at a later date, or perhaps on one of my future birthdays.

It’s the least I could do for Robbie.

 

Social Flutterin’

I’d like to think I’m a socially-inclined kind of person.

Usually though, it involves a restaurant with a menu and drink selection. Or (more rarely, now)  a DJ who plays a beat I move to.

Recently, I decided to change that by attempting to take advantage of some of the social events this city has to offer – a decision that was primarily prompted by two things:

(1) The increasingly warm weather.

(2) The beginning of summer-vacation-season at work – which always meaning possibly endangering my newly-acquired weekends off.

(3) The fact I squandered the previous two summers, by working instead of enjoying my non-work life.

It’s tricky and at times frustrating, due to my unpredictable work schedule. But I think I got off to a good start in May, with three distinctively different events I attended.

Street Food Block Party. This event was a very yummy collaboration between the Toronto Underground Market (which has been holding monthly events for months now), and Food Truck Eats, held at  Toronto’s Evergreen Brickworks, a community environmental centre nestled in the Don Valley.

I met up with some friends at this event, which took place at the beginning of May. There was a Cinco de Mayo theme happening, so there were a few stands set up with tacos or Mexican-themed offerings.

But the food! SO. GOOD. In addition to tacos, I sampled lobster rolls, Indonesian and Egyptian street food, even having just enough food left over for hibiscus juice and sweet treats.

The only small downside – despite the controlled crowds (you could only enter with a pre-purchased ticket) were the lineups. The first sampling we lined up for, was for street food company La Carnita.  One hour and 20 minutes later, we finally got to taste La Carnita’s squid tacos. Good, but not worth queueing for 80 minutes.

Overall, a great event for foodies and foodies-in-training. I’d definitely go to another TUM or Food Truck Eats event.

Friday Night Live @ ROM. I think this is a fantastic idea. For 10 weeks (this started back in May), the Royal Ontario Museum’s opened its doors to young folks on Friday nights for a little social interaction between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Wannabe attendees purchase tickets to enter the museum, where one can attend short lectures, explore some of the exhibits, or opt to have a drink or three (purchased at one of the two bars, with ROM bucks), nibble on some fancy street food, or sway to the resident DJ for the evening.

Each week also has a different theme: photography, film, music and so on. The theme usually determines the size of the crowd.

I went to back-to-back events, but didn’t get the full experience. The first Friday, my friends and I arrived about half an hour before the bar closed; the second Friday, work thwarted my attempts to get there at an acceptable time – but still early enough to try the food and imbibe a little (mmm! dinner!).

I think it’s a great idea: getting bodies into buildings normally not inhabited, perhaps encouraging young folks to become young patrons … it’s something that perhaps other landmarks in this city should consider. (Casa Loma, are you reading this? Archery clinics and teddy bear picnics are nice and all, but still … )

This is on until June 22nd, so check it out while you can, if you’re so inclined.

Anime North 2012. Ummm … so. This wasn’t … exactly … MY idea.

Backstory: One of my Ottawa-based friends has a 23-year-old brother who was planning on coming to this. Long story short: all four siblings – plus a cousin, a husband and a girlfriend – decided to make a weekend trip out of it. And we figured this would be the only time I’d get to see her, so … yeah.

At least I can NOW say I’ve seen the inside of an anime convention, so anything I say from here on in can be based on experience.

First of all: the lineup to get in, made the La Carnita queue at the Street Food Block Party look like a really inconvenient lineup for the ladies’ room. And from there on in, it was extremely crowded.

Second: there’s a weapons check. (I’m serious.)

Third: The attention to detail in some convention-goers’ costumes, even the poses struck when complete strangers stopped them to take pictures, was almost a bit astounding.

Fourth: Anime raves? Just watching is tiring. And it made me feel like a crabby, old chaperone at a Halloween high school dance.

It was … an experience. But for me, not one worth repeating. I also have a new understanding for folks who go to Fan Expo or other sci-fi conventions. (In fact, if given the chance, I would actually consider going, to see the difference. In plainclothes, of course.)

I only hope this is the beginning of an event-packed summer … to experience new things and boldly go where … erm, you get the idea.

Photos: Street Food Block Party image, courtesy Caroline Aksich for Toronto Life; ROM photo, courtesy Grant Gaspari for The Grid.

Eating My Way Down

Last weekend, my friend Dee came up from New York to visit.

It was wonderful to see her – she looked great.

I also got to see her boyfriend, another friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in months.

But his appearance shocked me.

He must’ve lost the equivalent amount of weight, to that of a small child.

I’ve known him for years, and from what I know of him, he is a BIG foodie. Burger joints, izikayas … you name it, he’s probably eaten it. Even now, I’m sure he doesn’t NOT eat at a restaurant. Which is why his super-slim figure shocked the hell out of me.

I don’t recall how – perhaps another friend of his was complimenting him on his new shape – but I caught wind of the secret to his success: apparently having a very regimented diet during the week, only allowing himself to cheat on weekends.

For all I know, maybe that’s BS, and it’s the cigarettes keeping him skinny.

But it definitely got me thinking – particularly about my OWN eating habits.

I know over the last two years, I’ve put on even more weight than usual. It’s probably not as noticeable to my friends (or if it is, they’re kind enough not to say anything).

But it’s noticeable to me, in the way my pants fit a little too snugly (or fray and rip in a matter of months), the way my lungs feel like they’re on fire after I (occasionally) go out dancing, or the comments my mom makes when I go to visit.

I sometimes look at myself in the mirror, or in pictures. And while I’m not out-and-out unhappy, I know I can do better.

I think work has played a factor, and has made me more of an emotional eater – eating when I’m bored, frustrated, angry.

Things started getting to me after I returned from Costa Rica. I just couldn’t get back into the habit of making time to cook more lunches.

I was buying more takeout from Popeye’s, eating more of those super-sweet cookies from Starbucks, buying more Fudgie-Os from the drugstore late at night – just because I could.

So in the last few weeks – especially because of the work-related fatigue I’ve been feeling – I’ve been trying to cut down on the fried foods and eat more salads with my pasta. I still can’t do without sweets as of yet, so I’m trying to shrink the amount I do eat – or find a low-fat/calorie-friendly way of satisfying the cravings.

I still haven’t gotten a leg up on the “make my own lunch” scenario, but I’m trying to make more of my own dinners again.

I know I also need to exercise, but I want to get the food thing sorted out first.

And who knows? Perhaps I can eat my way down a little in the weight department. It would be nice to lose a little extra baggage before summer officially starts.

Pizza, Wine and a Man Named Tony

Friday night following the play (see the previous entry), I walked up Ossington Ave. in the rain, in search of dinner.

My friend suggested Pizzeria Libretto, where she’d gone for a meal earlier that evening.

Entering the front door, I was immediately hit with bright lights and noisy chatter. The place was close to packed.

It took me several minutes to get the attention of one of the wait-staff  to ask about seating. Luckily for me, there was one left – right up at the bar.

So there I was, sandwiched between this borderline-hipster couple to my left and this older man at the end of the bar, to my right.

Somewhere between placing my order and getting my Margherita pizza and fruity spring wine, the older guy strikes up a conversation.

By the end of my meal, I found out more about this newly-minted regular, named Tony …

How he came to become one of the pizzeria’s patrons in the first place. (His friend was being a jerk, so he sent him on his way.) 

What he does for a living. (Works at a hair salon in Yorkville.)

Where he’s originally from (Sicily), and where he used to live in Toronto (near me! near ME!) before living downtown.

And even though I was stuffed, he insisted I try the panna cotta for dessert which – having never eaten it before – I didn’t expect to be so light, or tasty. He even paid, which I didn’t want him to do, but he insisted upon anyway.

I left the restaurant with a full belly and a smile on my face.

Unless I take him up on his offer to one day drop in at his hair salon for some cappuccino and a chat, I probably will never see Tony again.

But for that small period of time, it was nice to meet another good, kind stranger in this busy, sometimes frustrating city … just out for dinner, with no weird turns in conversation signs of craziness.

From The Hammam To the Market

Friday, March 27.

Before I hit the hammam (with tour-mate Sally), I head over to a nearby internet cafe.

I haven’t checked my e-mail for days. And (sadly) it’s feels weird. It should feel liberating. But instead it’s almost as if my brain’s a goldfish -it’s  finally used to having its own bowl with fewer fish around, and now it’s been pulled out of its solitude and dunked into that huge tank with schools and schools of other fish it left behind almost two weeks earlier.

This feeling takes hold as I open my e-mail and read about the imminent  job cuts announced at my workplace while I’ve been away.

I also get an e-mail from my long-time friend, who also happens to work in the same building, in another department. Her contract wasn’t renewed, so she’s out of work.

I return to the riad a little sobered and a bit sideways,  and hurriedly pack my backpack for our trip later in the afternoon to Marrakech.

I rush downstairs after to meet Sally and a young woman from the hammam. We walk down the main street nearest to the water and catch a cab that whisks us away from the old part of the city to the more modern, suburban part less than 10 minutes away.

We’re dropped off in front of a nondescript block of white buildings where the hammam is located. Once inside, it’s another matter.

We start with one-hour, full body massages. We assume we’d be getting these AFTER the hammam. But whatever – it’s absolutely awesome. 

Following this, we enter a small, tiled, bathing room. We each lie on adjacent heaed slabs, as a woman (the one who gives me my massage) individually washes, exfoliates, and soaps our bodies, covers us in scented paste, rinses us and washes our hair.

We feel like we’re five years old again. But it’s a worthwhile experience that leaves us feeling relaxed and understandably dazed.

We’re completely mellowed by the time we head back out into the harsh sunlight, grab a taxi and return back to Essaouira’s main square, where we both have some well-deserved gelati.

We return to the riad, collect our things and load them into the carts of porters waiting by the front entrance. We’re taken to the bus depot, where we wait for our bus to arrive, then cram into the first 10 seats once it arrives.

It’s a packed bus on the way to Marrakech, but I’m feeling too dopey to notice. When I’m not trying to record trip details into my travel diary, I’m fast asleep.

We pull into Marrakech ’round 6:30 p.m. The sun has started to fade; everything seems sepia-toned and dusty. It looks like it’s about to rain.

And the streets are congested – cars and scooters going every which way. Men on scooters. Young women on scooters – probably the most I’ve seen all trip.

Getting off the bus and walking towards our accommodations, we feel raindrops spordically pelting us; I hope it holds off until we can take shelter.

morocco-march-2009-5301Our hotel isn’t in the medina –  where I assume most travellers and tourists would stay to get “the authentic Moroccan experience” – but in the newer part of town, in a hotel about two minutes’ walk from the train station.

For the second – and final – time, I get my own room. Pros: big bed, clean towels, a bathtub complete with towels, a shower rack and those little wrapped soaps, a TV and a shower all to myself.

Cons: the big neon sign right outside my window. Meh. You can’t win ’em all.

(While I’m casing my room, tour-mates Nikki and Alex – who’re right next door – apparently look our their windows and witness an accident involving a woman hit by a car. I’ve no idea how the situation resolved itself, but I got the impression the woman was all right.)

morocco-march-2009-531For dinner, the group walks from the hotel to the Djemaa el-Fna, the square and marketplace within the walls of the old city – the beating heart of the district.

 There are all sorts of people hawking their wares; street performers galore during most parts of the day and night; and – in the evening, when we go – there are food stands lined up beside and across from one another, with benches to sit at and eat.

We feel a few droplets of rain as we approach the food stands; just after we find stand #42 and take our seats, the heavens just open up. The rain pelts the ground, forming huge puddles under the benches and pooling in the plastic tarps above. The skies even toss down some hailstones for good measure.

morocco-march-2009-535There is no set meal. All we do is sample dish after dish after dish … plates of salty fries, sizeable shrimp, salad, grilled eggplant (or aubergine, as Alex would say to correct me, ’cause that’s the British way 😉 ), vegetarian coucous, meat skewers, pastilla … 

I didn’t think it would fill me, but I am surprisingly stuffed by the end of it.

Following dinner (which includes the guy who runs the stand hovering over us for tips), we’re given a bit of time to explore. 

From the time we congregate near the juice stands, I finally experience the in-your-face nature of the market. It’s almost a bit too much, even on a full stomach.

We pass by aggressive henna ladies calling out for a sale, and vendors in their stalls farther away saying things like, “Hello! Australia! Hello, Obama! Rasta!”

(Oh NO he didn’t.)

Out in the main square, people are gathered around various dimly-lit performers, whether they were musicians, snake charmers, or just odd witch-doctor types with even odder things on display … all hoping to get your attention, and your money. This includes the odd pickpocket spotted nearby, trying to blend in with the crowds watching the performances.

We leave the Djemaa el-Fna and are back at the hotel by 10:30 p.m. It’s been a long day. And we’ve got just one more left.

Pistachio Etiquette

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Yesterday afternoon, I was walking through the halls at work and came upon three co-workers sitting in one of the common areas.

One of them – a friend named Errol – was picking through this container of nuts.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Trying to find some pistachos,” he explained.

“So are those communal nuts?”

“They were – or at least, I thought so, ” he said. “But someone ate most of them and then put the empty shells back into the container.”

“I don’t see what the problem is, ” said Al, Errol’s co-worker, who sat to his right.

“But why would someone do that? You eat the nuts, you throw the shells away, ” I said. “That’s just not right.”

“I know,” said Errol. “And now you have to hunt for them, but you might just end up with empty shells.”

I think they were all kidding around. But seriously, folks. Isn’t that a bit lazy and uncouth not to just throw the empty shells away? Who wants to work to eat some nuts?

Discuss among yourselves what the proper etiquette is (and comment if you like) …

But as someone who considers herself a lazy non-forager who doesn’t like going far distances for food …

Eat the nuts, then toss the shells.

I’m just sayin’.