Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Curator of Self

I've grown up in an age where computers came to maturity at the same time that I did. I can't imagine today's generation, babies playing with cellphone toys, learning the ABCs from a computer screen... While I will have to wrap my head around it by the time I have children, I consider myself lucky to have known an age before texting, facebook and constant cellphone accessibility. I think it has allowed me to be doubly aware of my sense of self.

I do admit, that a lot of the wisdom and caution that I have towards the internet has trickled down through my mother and her own precautious and skeptical behaviour (although she embraced eBay 1000%). When it comes to my self and sharing of myself online, (un)fortunately (depending how you see it), the picture of who I am now stretches to the online realm.

What I write in my blog, what I share on Facebook, these are all statements as to who you are and what you stand for. I've found myself skeptical of supporting certain groups or campaigns online, calculating my future as if I were running for office (although I don't plan on it). The New York Times Magazine published a feature article last year entitled The Web Means the End of Forgetting and it is all too true. This age of cyber everything demands a new sense of self awareness.

Part of me doesn't want to care, part of me just wants to share. I guess it's like a yoga class, I just want to go and abandon myself to my practice, but that's not how it works. I need to have the same self awareness all the time. Sure at first it can be a nuisance, but I'm sure that in due time the self awareness will just become a unconscious good habit.

And it is also an opportunity (or a type of (performance) art, used time and time again, I am the curator of my identity. I create a constellation of facts, photos and tidbits that complete an image of who I am (or who you think I am). It can be quite a wonderful creative process, but, as with any exhibit, it is in the interpretation, in the spaces in between that the true feeling, the true soul comes to life.

(A neon work by Tracey Emin, currently on display at Hayward Gallery, which I think complements this reflection nicely)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

If at first you don't succeed, throw out the dough and start again

Flour and I don't seem to mix. At least not the first time around.

Throughout this year, Tess & I have been making bread. And when I say Tess & I, it really is more like Tess (& I) or, to be very brutally honest: Tess. Tess goes through the routine of making bread while I provide the company and watch her make her magic.

Yet after four weeks of not having her around, I decided, finally, to give it a go. First time around, I think I used plain flour. I could tell that something was amiss. When I went to incorporate the yeast the dough ended up feeling very heavy. And after waiting 30 minutes, no rising. So I pitched it.

When I was home for the holidays, I had somehow been infected with the need to bake and tried my hand at making pie for Christmas dinner. I must have tried 3-4 times to make the dough, each time failing, something in the chemistry was wrong. Turns out I was severely misunderstanding what shortening was (ie margarine NOT oil). Somehow I persisted, and I came out victorious in the end, my pie garnering a round of applause at dinner.

Anyhoo, so as with the pie, so with the bread. I pitched batch number one and hoped I wouldn't need to repeat as often as I did the pie dough recipe. I went out and bought proper bread flour and some more yeast and decided, screw Tess's instructions (which are a little laborious and involve 4 hours of waiting and working -- I'll try it next time), I'm going to follow the bag.

Thus, following the instructions on the bag. I could tell immediately that things were going better. The consistency of everything was just so much more breadlike.

And after a bit of time resting, beautiful airy risen dough. And after time in the oven... voila! bread! crusty! delicious!

Somehow I've got this tenacity when it comes to baking, this need to succeed. Breadmaking is a beautiful process of creation, it's therapeutic and reliable, and nourishing.

So fail with big broad beautiful mistakes. Take a moment and start over again. The results will be incredibly satisfying.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hold the Cheese, Please

I do hope that this blog isn't going the way of a pasta blog, but hey, good things need to be shared.

And a recent good thing which I do quite love is Lemony Cashew-Basil Pesto from Dreena Burton's fantabulous (extra syllables, notice?) cookbook Eat, Drink and Be Vegan (there are things in there that make you want to CONVERT to veganism).

I've made it before and the people who've eaten it are floored to discover that there isn't any cheese in it. Well it's true, believe it.

But don't just believe it, make it!

Lemony Cashew-Basil Pesto on Pasta

1 large clove garlic
3.5 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 tsp dry mustard (I just use regular mustard, well, whole grain mustard)
3/4 tsp sea salt
pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water (it doesn't seem like much but somehow it works)
1 cup + 2 tbsp raw cashes (can use almonds, just add more water)
2 3/4 cups fresh basil leaves packed down
225-340 g dry pasta (whatever you want really)
olive oil for finish

In a food processor (or a blender), combine garlic, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, oil and water, and puree until fairly smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.

Add cashews and basil and puree (leave as much or as little texture as you want)

Cook your pasta and drain, toss with pesto (it can be a bit of a paste but be patient, maybe add a bit of the pasta water).

Season with salt pepper and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Re-collect: Rome.

I trekked to Cacio e Pepe, guidebook in hand. I had starred the restaurant as a place to try. A table for one, alone. I decided to try the restaurant's eponymous dish. Cheese (pecorino) and pepper. Plain and simple.

I remember being transported by this dish. The fresh pasta. The simplicity of its sauce. And filling. When the waitress came to ask me if she could get me anything else, I was saddened to say no. But truthfully I was happy to give my high praises and thanks for a delicious meal. A delicious memory.

*Re-collect may just become a regular feature/snippet, resurrecting old photos, recalling old memories. Re-collecting those memories that remain twinkle every now and then in the mists of memory.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Inner Peace? Well yes, among other things

Recently Ed Halliwell wrote an article debunking the everpresent peace of meditation in his article in The Guardian, Meditation is an Emotional Rollercoaster. How true he is. And it got me thinking to my yoga practice.

I've often come to the mat eager to get that sense of buoyancy that comes from immersing myself in my practice. Just let go and give in. But yoga really isn't about that. The practice, for me, is so much about awareness, attuning to my environment, inner and outer, and zero-ing in on the intricacies of my body. It's not about being flexible, if you think so you've missed the boat, or, rather, you're going to have to wrestle that expectation to the ground for a K.O. Some days I'm flexible, other days I'm tight. I've got to accept where I am from day to day, from moment to moment. No matter how much I hang on to routine, every day is different.

Recently I have awakened to the yogic practice as constant corporeal vigilance. The moment I sink in, ie forget about all those bandhas and all the muscle and bone alignments, I've lost it. Can yoga make me injury free? Sure, but I've got to remain awake to my body. It's about getting into the habit of constantly kindling the inner fire. Sure I can achieve some peace, but I can also deal with lots of frustration along the way. It's like going into the body and turning on all the switches and making sure they stay on. Only then can I truly shine.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Our New Friends

Welcome to the 21st century where websites have become our friends. I chuckle and smile when Google reminds me of important birthdays and anniversaries - an informative friend full of "did you know...?" facts. Websites sometimes update their look, and everyone notices. Come April Fools, Gmail and YouTube play practical jokes on us. How fun that our Internet lives are infused with personality and not the stuff of futuristic robotic nightmares.

So with that, Google just informed me this morning that it is the 76th birthday (or would be, were he alive) of Roger Hargreaves, the creator of the beloved Little Miss and Mr Men series. Here, Little Miss Shy:

Smile and enjoy (you can go to Google and click refresh repeatedly to see all the other doodles...)!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Life According to Polish Proverbs

Between when I went to sleep Monday night and when I awoke again on Tuesday morning, Canada learned its election results.

When I awoke, out of habit, I rolled out of bed and onto my yoga block to sit meditation. But my mind was already curious and active, not able to be silent for the duration of my practice. I then spent the good part of ten minutes gasping at this historic news (each party had made history in one way or another during the election) and continued to read and listen to news stories . Caught in this whirlwind of news from home, my morning derailed a bit. My bed was a mess, abandoned in a pile, and I was already off schedule for my morning coffee and to get to The National Arts Library.

In Polish, there is a saying that my mother loves to quote: Jak sobie pościelesz, tak się wyśpisz (You rest the way you have made your bed). And as the day continued, I found the proverb to be more and more true, my day was turning out to be a wild abandoned messy heap.

I went to the library and researched, my mind still twisting with the news as one party leader after another resigned from leadership. I hit a lag of motivation, adrift in a miasma of big ideas. Later that afternoon I would meet with my advisor to discuss the first draft (a very drafty draft) of my dissertation.

Researching back at The Courtauld, I received a phone call. I had been offered an interview for a job on which my heart was set. All of a sudden I was motivated again, excited, seeing a task ahead, a goal. I zipped through the article I was reading and went home to prep for my advisor meeting. And, suddenly, somewhere in that advisor meeting, I got lost again in my mess of dissertation ideas - I had too many images, I didn't have a clear enough focus. I started to feel sick. So the rest of the day I spent coming back down to earth, relaxing, recentering, shaking away the off-kilter feelings.

The funny thing about this dissertation process is the independence of it all. I have a half hour meeting with my advisor maybe once every two weeks. The rest of the time, the rest of my week, I am left to myself and my ideas. When I struggled with my draft I realized all the things that were wrong with my draft. And, really, it comes down to me, my standards, my dedication to clear writing and presentation. So having this sick-to-my-stomach crisis this "early" in the process (with 5 weeks to go) is a good thing, snap me back into things. Anchor down. Get concrete. Set a course for success. Lay down the basics, stay visual, refine my focus and get cracking. Now for an outline.

But before the outline, waking to a new day, I've set my bed, shaken out the duvet and laid it flat. And so the rest of my day, according to the Polish proverb, should unfold smoothly.