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Archive for January, 2011

Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1884 (age 10)

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When I try to unravel the chronology of my interaction with Lucy Maude Montgomery I start to get a confused. I know when it started; Christmas 1989, when my cousin gave me the boxed set of the television miniseries. My cousin was very proud of this gift, as she should have been–it was a very generous and thoughtful gift for a teenager–but I honestly knew nothing about it. So we popped in the movies and started to watch, and the seed was definitely sown: I was now obsessed with Anne of Green Gables.

I watched the movie every weekend, once on Saturday, and again on Sunday, while my mother was working and my brothers were playing Nintendo. I took many trips to the library, and brought home armloads of Montgomery’s books. I read most of them, and cried often because she can be very sappy, and as a pre-teen I was vulnerable to the sappiness. When I wasn’t reading her books I was re-watching the movie. This went on for a couple of years.

Time changes our priorities, and soon I had essays to write and friends to keep up with, so Lucy and I took a break. But we are kindred spirits, and we soon reconnected. During my third year of university, I was in the rare book room, working quietly (there is absolutely no talking in the rare book room), when I heard the librarian come over to the only other person in the room and ask him if she had brought him the LM Montgomery manuscript he was looking for. He made some reply and took the hand-written document and started flipping through it. I stared; all thoughts of the suffragist movement were temporary forgotten as I stared at those hand-written pages. The only thought my star-struck mind could process was: “that’s her writing…she wrote that!” The gentleman noticed my staring and asked if I had read Anne of Green Gables. I replied yes (I was only able to pronounce single-syllable words at this point) and he invited me over to have a look at LM Montgomery’s first draft of Rilla of Ingleside. Even now my heart is beating, and I feel breathless remembering it. I went home that night and started rereading The Blue Castle, the only one of Montgomery’s books short enough for me to handle while I juggled my school assignments.

Montgomery and I were reunited at last, and we have never parted since for any real length of time. Though I was focused on Canadian literature, and one of the foremost scholars in the country works out of my university, I did not study Montgomery’s work formally, and I have no explanation for that. Instead I did my own research, watching and reading every biography I could find.

Montgomery’s life is often described as lonely and isolated. As a small child her mother died of tuberculosis. Not long after, her father left her in the care of her grandparents in Prince Edward Island, so that he could move across the country to Saskatchewan. Montgomery’s father never returned to PEI, though LM did spend a year living with her father on the Prairie. Montgomery’s childhood was strict and lonely, and it was during this time that she developed her keen imagination that would allow her to develop into a writer. As the years went on Montgomery became her grandparents’ caregiver, a position that required more time as they aged. She also excelled at school. She decided to pursue her teaching certificate, and studied literature at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

After university Montgomery held down a couple of different teaching posts; she also wrote and published a large number of short stories. Montgomery’s writing was profitable, and though she had established a comfortable life for herself she was aware that “marriage was a necessary choice for women in Canada” at that time. Following the death of her grandmother Montgomery married a Presbyterian minister named Ewan MacDonald, a man she’d been secretly engaged to for almost 10 years. They then moved to Ontario where she spent the remainder of her life. It was not a happy marriage, and Montgomery was lonely and isolated. She was also attempting to deal with the stresses of motherhood and being a minister’s wife, and she again found herself in the position of caregiver, this time to her husband, who suffered from mental health illnesses for most of their marriage. Montgomery died in 1943 in Toronto.

Montgomery wrote 20 books, 500 short stories, and a book of poetry, and edited her journals so that they could serve as an autobiography. Her best known novel is Anne of Green Gables, though some of Montgomery’s lesser known works include the beautifully written Emily of New Moon trilogy, The Story Girl and, if you’ve read Jenna’s blog this morning, you know she also wrote The Blue Castle, a more mature endeavor, and the only one of her novels set outside of  PEI.

Montgomery’s writing is considered children’s or young adult literature. While I see the appeal for the young, particularly as instructive novels and stories, I think Montgomery’s real appeal is that her writing is so emotionally evocative. Her paragraphs ooze hopefulness and love, and emphasize the important of togetherness and happy social circles. Most of her heroines are women and girls who are looking to feel like they are part of a group. This, I think, is Montgomery’s true genius, to create stories that acknowledge the loneliness and despair that some readers might be feeling, and give them hope that happier times lie ahead.

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No meal or party would be complete without a score and dessert. So first let’s talk about the dessert. Bene brought a lovely trifle. I’ve never had trifle before so I was really looking forward to trying it.

I think you’ll agree, Bene’s trifle was absolutely beautiful. I ate this for days after the party, and loved every mouthful.

I was feeling very creative last week, and I wanted to bring in another Scrabble element. So I found a way to make the tray with each player’s innitials. My friend has a really nice food blog with this recipe for a lemon yogurt cake, and I used sugar cookies with my guests’ initials as tiles.

Alright, so the cookies are way too big, but I still think the general idea was good. It was something nice for my guests to take home, and it was a great way to do place cards, and the cookies and lemon loaf were really good.

And the score? The Scrabble grudge match standings are as follows:

Bene: 181
Penelope: 139
W: 116
Circe: 73

Congrats to Bene, and thanks to all of my guests for a game well played.

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This is the story of the little  soufflé that could. If there is an ongoing theme of my kitchen it would be disaster. Do you remember the spanakopita where I dumped all of the “feta juice” all over the floor? Or the dozens of other baking and cooking experiments with missing ingredients, etc. This, combined with the  soufflé’s reputation for being a tricky dish, made it an unlikely choice for my ladies’ luncheon. But then I found this recipe from Laura Calder, my favourite food network personality. Laura said it was easy, and why would Laura lie to me?

The first thing that I did wrong was that I cut up the onion before putting it in milk. But that’s okay, it didn’t upset anything, though it did slow me down a little. While the milk and goodies were steeping I greased and parmeseaned my casserole dish.

Then I grated too much cheddar; the recipe called for 20g, and I grated nearly 300g. Oh well, you can never have too much cheese right?

From there I combined the flour, butter, extra cheese and herbs all into a pot. So far I was more or less on track. That’s when I almost went off the rails. I had separated out 3 eggs, so I had 3 egg whites and 1 yolk. I was supposed to add the yolk to my concoction, but I got confused and added the egg whites instead.

By this time Penelope and I were both standing over the pot trying to decide what to do; should we beat the cheese mixture, should we throw it all out and start over? That’s when W arrived. She told us to separate 3 more eggs and beat those.

Once the eggs whites formed stiff peaks W folded them into the original mixture, and then it went into the oven for 30 minutes.

And the result? Perfection. Very tasty, and so exciting for every one of us that day. This just proves that a good recipe and the help of good friends means that anything is possible, even salvaging a  soufflé when you make a [bunch of] huge mistake[s].

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Today at Sarvodaya's Early Morning meditation

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I was planning on writing a very nice post about friendship and soufflés today, but then I fell asleep at 8 pm last night, so no such post exists. Instead I’m going to take the time to review where I’m at with my goals for 2011. I’ve also decided that I should probably do this every month, otherwise my goals will be forgotten and 2011 will be a lost year.

1) Stay the course. CHECK! I’m just trying to be more mindful of caloric intake and caloric output.

2) Find inner peace (i.e. meditate). I haven’t started yet. One of my coworkers meditates and she promised to bring me some getting started equipment, it just hasn’t happened yet.

3) Dating. Can we just skip this one? I have signed up for an online dating site, but so far I haven’t really met anyone there I’d want to talk to. So I guess half a check. Does such a thing exist? Should I be talking to people I think are totally wrong, just to say I’m doing it?

4) Find adventure. CHECK! Penelope and I are taking the dogs on a winter hike this weekend, so I’m on the cusp of adventure.

5) Defrumpify. CHECK! I’ve been making an effort to wear makeup to work most days, and that little bit of extra effort has made me feel less frumpy for sure.

6) See the world. Well, I have been back to Brantford to visit with my family, and I am planning a trip to Guelph next weekend…wait, those places aren’t new. Maybe travel is best put off until the summer when the roads are a little less “iffy.”

7) Skate my brains out! CHECK! Well, I mean, I still have brains in my head, but I have been out skating twice already, and I plan to go again at lunch, and 3 times is a new season high. My goal is to make it to 25 outings this winter.

8) Also called 8. Adding Step Class to my routine. CHECK! I’ve only missed one class since Christmas, and that was because I had a migraine. I even went to class in that week between Christmas and New Years.

9) Balance the books. This is as embarrassing as the dating entry. I am bringing my lunch to work more often, and I have been thinking things through before buying them, and I haven’t bought much, but still I feel like there’s more I could do on this front. I hope to have better progress to report in Feb.

10) Edit. I have not edited this list, but I have been editing my home. I’ve already purged a whole bunch of stuff from my life, and I have planned a party with some friends to do more purging. (There’s one thing you should know about me, and that’s that everything is a party. I can, and do, plan parties for everything, including throwing away garbage.)

So that’s how the goals stack up at the end of January, and now I have a road map for February.

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As I mentioned Friday, this weekend was the holiday ladies’ luncheon and Scrabble grudge match. I know it’s just a gaming afternoon, but I wanted to try to make it special for my guests. What I really wanted to do was make the game come alive, and I wanted to serve a healthy snack. So I created an hors d’oeuvre that seemed to leap right out of the box. I wanted to created a healthy snack that screamed SCRABBLE! So I started by lining my table with paper, then I figured out the ratio of the playing board (I know, I’m still glowing with pride over that little mathematical feat).

From there I ruled out the individual squares on the board by using a saltine. I had intended to do a realistic board, but drawing the board to scale was a big enough time investment. Really, I’m not good at math, and I spent a lot of time working on the ratio alone. I also decided that drawing in the points system would increase the amount of ink that my guests would eat, so I don’t think it really mattered that the squares were left blank. I gave myself lots of time for this one. I drew the board on Wednesday evening.

On Saturday I prepped the food. We started by washing and cutting the peppers. The second step is very important. You need to make sure that the peppers are nice and dry, and cut into medium small pieces. As you can see, I chose two different kinds of hummus, the regular and the avocado hummus; both were delicious, but the avocado was very light and fresh — if you can find it I recommend trying it. The saltines did not stand up well, so if I were to do this again, I would look for something like mini malba toast.

Penelope came over to help me spell out some words, which I’m really glad she did, because it was time consuming, but lots of fun. It definitely provided the wow factor I was looking for.

Planning a party around a board game provides a lot of “wow” opportunities. The classic games have such iconic visual identities, there’s always a ton of opportunities. For example, if you’re playing Trivial Pursuit, you could make everything look like a pie. If you’re playing Battleship, you can do what my mum used to do, and turn deviled eggs into  “egg boats” by adding a leaf of lettuce on a toothpick. Happy creating! Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the other special touch I added…it’s less healthy. Oh well?

So, looking at the first picture again, do you want to take a stab at guessing the words that Penelope and I spelled out?

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As you know I’ve been watching Village on a Diet, and enjoying it. There was one scene in the second episode that hit me, and made me believe that I could make a small change to my own lifestyle. I LOVE chicken fingers. It started about 4 months ago. I was out to lunch with some of my coworkers, when I spied those tasty, fried chicken strips. That day I was good; I had a nice, light salad…very unsatisfying. Anyhow, I’ve been buying boxed chicken fingers and loving them ever since.

One of the things I’d like to do to improve my health is to stop eating so many processed foods. When I saw one of the participants make chicken fingers for her daughter, I realized that I could do that too. I did some research and found this delicious recipe. I love the taste, and I also love that they are baked instead of fried.

It was super easy. In total I think I spent 10 minutes prepping the ingredients.

In fact, I think I spent more time waiting for the oven to warm up than I did whisking the sauce, or mashing the cereal (yes, I used my potato masher to really crunch up the cereal) and finally dressing the chicken strips.

These chicken strips were just as good…no, they were better than the boxed ones, and I was able to freeze half the yield for a quick weeknight meal.

The strips kept really well in the freezer, even after two days they still tasted really good when I heated them up again. The only downside, and it’s pretty minor, is that unlike the boxed strips you have to defrost them before baking them. Anyhow, they were so good, I’ll definitely make them again

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Ice skating in Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto...

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TGIF everyone. I am exhausted today, so I have nothing interesting to say…but I’ll still do a post. 😀

The upside to this week is that I made it to both of my gym classes and I am going skating today at lunch time, so goal-wise this has been a very productive week.

I’m hoping to have a lot of great pictures for you next week; I’m having a little party tomorrow–Our “Ladies Holiday Luncheon and Scrabble Grudge Match.” Yes, I’m still wrapping up holiday activities. Anyhow, I have a ton of cool ideas for take aways and appetizers, plus, I’ve committed to making a cheese soufflé for lunch. So wish me luck. And I wish you the very best for the weekend.

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