Category Archives: Food and Drink

You are what you nom

Posted on July 15, 2010 by

As a few of you may have seen, I occasionally Tweet at the end of my work day about whatever dinner I’m putting together. A few weeks ago, this behavior triggered an @reply from a buddy who lives in Burnaby: “Do you live so well because of where you live? Sometimes the suburbs are a pain.

I’ve been stirring through possible responses ever since. I wondered how gourmet those posts of mine sound, when much of what they boil down to is stew, salad, bread and leaves out of a box. I pondered what my lifestyle looks like through that little Twitter window. Is it fabulous and opulent, in a Martha vein? No idea.

In some ways, the answer to the question is yes, absolutely. You should all move to my wonderful urban neighborhood! That particular day, I had deli cheese from La Grotta del Formaggio, and bread from Fratelli‘s. The two are next door to Cafe Calabria, where I write so much of my fiction. More days than not I’ll pack up the writing, hit the Cave o’ Cheese and/or the bakery, run from there to the supermarket, and be at Chez Dua fifteen minutes later with dinner in my backpack.

If it were the case that I had no dinner plan at, say, three in the afternoon, I could run out the front door, hit the same places, and still have meal components in time to cook. That’s a definite neighborhood perk–especially since I don’t drive. But as it happens, that kind of scrambling rarely forms part of the equation. It’s timewaste-y, and like most of us I consider my minutes precious.

I don’t often notice it, but a lot of thought and energy go into my approach to fud*. In writing this, I’ve realized I go at food in much the same way I tackle writing. I leave the house every morning knowing what fiction I’m going to work on, and I often leave knowing what I’m eating from dawn to dusk. In my wallet is the list of whatever the grocery gods need to provide to make that happen.

It’s important to me that kelly-yoyoKelly and I aren’t screaming around at six, hungry, exhausted, trying to figure out supper and eventually settling on whatever’s fastest or closest to hand, even if it’s overly pricey, or not all that good for us. K is working the full-time job that makes it possible to do this with relative ease, to provide food that’s healthful, tasty and affordable. My doing so ensures that we aren’t eating take-out five nights a week or getting home at six, cooking until seven, and eating and cleaning up until eight. But–as every parent and homemaker knows–getting quality food on the boards, day after day, is no wee task. It is, in fact, something you can easily burn out on.

Doing it, keeping it going, and not getting bored or burned out, takes time and focus and… really, all the same things that writing discipline requires.

So, yes, my neighborhood’s location is choice. But I can’t ever imagine letting the food slip too far down the priority stack. Even when K and I both nine to fiving it, we managed to cook most nights. We gave up that couple of hours I mention above; we were also younger, and considerably more peppy. Still, I can imagine Alternate Us as a car-driving Dua, living in the wilds of the Lower Mainland, hitting the grocery hard every couple of weeks with a meal plan and a long list. It wouldn’t be market shopping, but even the Hinton IGA has boutique breads, olives and cheeses these days. It would be a pain to run out of things suddenly–to not have the 24-hour grocery two blocks from home, so close I call it “my pantry”–but I suspect we’d learn how to avoid such emergencies.

As for boredom… I don’t make a big cooking effort every single day. I have become a fan of the pre-washed boite of salad leaves. In wintertime, I make big batches of our favorite soups and freeze them in easily reheated portions. I read a McLeans article once that claimed the average Canadian family only had five stand-by recipes to draw from in a cooking pinch. I can beat that easy, I thought. Now I make a conscious effort to increase my repertoire of basic meals, the things I can make in under an hour, by three or so recipes a year. Since not all recipes are made of win, this generally means trying out something new every four to eight weeks. Not too onerous.

But challenges crop up. Routines get busted. (See, it is just like writing!) This year, spring sold out and extended its run for bleeping ever. It was cold and dark and rainy out, and I didn’t switch to our summer fare as early. All my new recipes, meanwhile, were winter things. I sensed a rut coming on…

… so I splashed out on a countertop grill and started experimenting with meat cuts and even stir fries:

Grill with chicken-veggie stir fry

Now I’m playing with grilling veggies and pre-skewered kabobs. Kelly made an amazing grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough bread (quite a light one, incidentally) with a filling of caramelized apples and onions.

My neighborhood is foodie paradise, no doubt about it. You really can amble down the Drive and grab dinner fixings in twenty minutes. But it’s just as easy to go a block, feeling all hungry and too tired to cook, and know that your evening won’t start until 7:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. if you do, and then end up in a one-slice pizza place. I try to regard that as a last resort. I’ve bent around the Drive’s abundance and convenience in a way that works for me… and I hope that if we end up in Bugeye, Saskatchewan one day, it won’t change what I eat.

Do you live so well because… is a huge question. It made me appreciate my neighborhood and my lifestyle anew. It made me think about how finely tuned some aspects of my schedule are. It made me worry that if I posted this I’d sound terribly pompous. (Why yes, I do live well, thank you so much for noticing!)

Mostly, it made me realize that the thing I really associate with living well on the Drive isn’t about groceries but about people. Ten friends within easy walking distance. Roots in the neighborhood that mean I get to say hello to some acquaintance on practically every walk to the Skytrain. The Parade of Lost Souls and the recent spate of soccer parties and the hairdresser with her growing kid and all the people who’ve been selling me cheese and bread and cat fud for nigh on twenty years. Marco, at Fratelli’s, made the cake for our legal wedding. The patriarch of the cafe, who gives me unsolicited fatherly lectures on… actually, on living a good life.

As for Wednesday night’s dinner? Grilled buffalo steak… imported from a grocery in Yaletown.

*If you’re thinking Fud is a typo, look here.

Memories served cold…

Posted on July 8, 2010 by

As I write this it’s Wednesday afternoon, three-ish, and the living room thermometer claims it’s about 85 degrees indoors. I am alternating bursts of work with little forays into emptying out our fridge and packing away the perishables in temporary cool storage. All this because kelly-yoyoKelly and I bought a new fridge about a month ago; between one thing and another, it is only just arriving today… sometime between four in the afternoon and bedtime.

I am thus trying to find the perfect balance between having to empty an entire fridge if the guys arrive early with taking the food out and then having to wait so long that, even in coolers, it melts. All while keeping enough of the kitchen clean to accomplish dinner.

The new fridge is black, energy-efficient, and a hair bigger than its predecessor, a lowend GE model with no Energy star rating whatever, chipped paint, two decades of accumulated grime, busted crisper drawers and assorted condensation/mildew issues. Since I’m allergic to mold, I’m thrilled to be rid of the thing on that count alone!

I am pretty sure I have never cohabited with a fridge that wasn’t on the old and wheezy side. The Moldebeast is the only fridge I’ve even owned.

The landlords of my youth, not surprisingly, favored disastrously cheap appliances. I can remember a weeks-long battle to convince our first BC landlord that food was rotting in our fridge overnight. He’d have kept fake-fixing that one forever while we fought food poisoning, if I hadn’t taken advantage of its single working feature–beautiful, well-oiled casters. I slammed it into the wall repeatedly one afternoon, until the various non-working bits were too busted up to sustain the game of pretend. The guy then got us a reconditioned fridge which was large and flesh colored and heroic and functional; we named it Cyrano.

Shortly after that we moved on to Chez Frank, whose freezer was supposed to be self-defrosting. It wasn’t, and so we had Frank up every six months or so to pull it out from the wall and power-thaw the bits we couldn’t reach. Since Frank sincerely cared and kept it working, we lived with it.

The first fridge I remember was in the house in Bonnyville. These rocks lived on it–they are rocks my grandmother Maudie picked up in the Nevada desert. She then cut, polished and glued them to tragically weak magnets. I am sentimental about them; I think the three-toned one looks like a lake with ice on it, and I cannot tell you how many hours I spent watching them all lose the war with gravity, sliding down to the floor.

That fridge handle, in Bonnyville, had a wicked sharp edge; just a little rasp of metal that would reach out to snag clothes or your arm. One of those dumb things, a pain, but not worth doing anything about. We all scraped ourselves on it at one time or another.

Anyway, cruising toward a point, I swear: as a tween, I had the job of clearing the dishes after dinner, and one night I was multitasking, by which I mean putting away food and, simultaneously, scrapping with my sister. I have no idea what we were arguing about or what was said, but soon enough she was lunging at me. This I remember as M coming at me in a classic X-men Wolverine lunge: body canted, head low (and of course she didn’t have claws like that).

I was opening the fridge door anyway, but I gave it a bit more arm. Malice aforethought: it’s embasassing to admit to premeditation, all these years later. I figured she’d hit the flat part and bounce. Haha, argument over.

Or… not! Instead of bouncing like a wacky cartoon animal, poor Sib cracked her bean open on the sharp bit of the fridge door. Chaos ensued. The magnets probably all hit the floor, but between the spray of blood, the screaming, and the sudden mustering of a Trip to ER, I don’t remember that. Three stitches later, the wound was sufficient to leave a small vertical scar right in the center of her forehead. Did I mention that my father nigh faints at the sight of blood? Yeah, it was a fun night.

So. Not one of my shining childish moments of humanity. However, I am a better person now and as proof I will point out that I did not name this post, despite strong temptation, “Fridge over troubled daughters.” (And if you read this, M–Oh! Still damned sorry about that! I cringe when I think of it!)

Ahem. Grandma’s fridge was green and had its own collection of fridge-rocks. Plus it was magic! You could find Hostess Ding Dongs and kid-sized cans of sarsaparilla soda in it.

Hammer hammer, saw saw

Posted on June 23, 2010 by

I converted to a WordPress site in June of 2010, with the goal of integrating the static site about my writing with the more dynamic content of my blog, which originated on Livejournal, and whose archives still live there. I have great plans for this site, and given my posting habits, I know that all of the areas you see in the menus on this site will soon be brimming over with new, up-to-date, recent, sexy content. I will continue to grab text fragments and post mini-reviews of books as I read them, talk film and TV, discuss the music I’m listening to as well as whatever I’m singing with my choir, and write about food, wine, cheese, and eco-consumerism.

I am also getting ready to launch an interview series, Journeys, which will discuss the career paths of various authors in the SF and fantasy fields.

I could dig up old posts on some of these topics and whip off a few new ones, if I wished, but I want this process to happen organically. I want to write good thoughtful posts, things you will enjoy, things that will make you hungry or thoughtful or maybe even mad once in awhile–things that will get you talking. In the meantime, this post is just a quick note to say I’m sorry there’s nothing more on point here just yet, and to beg your patience while I generate content that’s really worth reading.