Thursday, August 19, 2010

OK, I started off writing a book review....

Although Jeff and I do watch TV and movies, we never watch “idle” tv – that is, we never sit ourselves done in front of the tube and check to see if anything is on. We have our shows, typically 2 or 3 at any given time – typically we PVR them or watch them “on demand”. We watch them and then turn off the tv.

Instead of idle tv, we read books together out loud in the evenings. This may well be my favourite activity. Over the last couple years, we’ve read Paradise Lost, Shadow of the Wind, 2666 (that was a months’ long waste of time!), the Steig Larsson trilogy, Ann Marie MacDonald’s  Where the Crow Flies (I think our favourite so far) and Fall on your Knees, Kavalier and Clay, Bonjour Tristesse, The Sparrow (which I love and Jeff doesn’t get), one of Lawrence Hill’s books, a vampire book whose name is escaping me, and various others whose names aren’t coming to me this instant.

Last week, we finished up The Cookbook Collector – A Novel, by Allegra Goodman. I’m not sure how many pages this book is, because we read it on the Kindle App for the iPad, but we wailed through it in about two weeks, which is pretty darn quick. Jeff indulged me – I couldn’t put it down.

Reviewers say that is it is a bit of a Sense and Sensibility riff, which it may well be. The characters are extremely engaging. I think my favourite is George – a Microsoft millionaire who falls in love with the “sensibility” sister, Jess, and fantasizes about the meals he’s going to cook for her. It practically breaks his heart when he finds out she is a vegan, but he comes around eventually and finally seduces her with a gorgeous ripe peach. I get George.

I also relate to Emily – the “sense” sister. She is calm and level headed no matter what happens, until, events unfolding, she is pushed out of her self-protective shell and forced to confront her emotions and learn to live with them.

But the thing about this book that really drew me in was the milieu. It takes place among software people, starting during the early 90’s tech bubble and ending shortly after 9-11. I had to explain all the inside jokes and tech company rituals to Jeffry, but I enjoyed doing it. Reading the book was like re-playing my previous life.

I worked at Castek. At that time, Castek was in a shooting star growth phase. The feelings the folks in the book have – feeling invincible, optimistic, like the whole world was there to be seized BY US… I had forgotten that feeling – the incredible excitement of going to work every day, the optimism about what your shares would be worth, the insanity of the growth curve and trying to take in new employees fast enough to meet the customer demand, everybody working 15, 18 hours a day, the all nighters. The talented, generous people. It was fun. I think with everything that came after, I’d forgotten the sheer fun of it. If nothing else, I got the memory of the fun back from reading this book.

The Cookbook Collector is also the first novel I’ve read that talks about 9-11 in a personal and non-ideological way. In the book, Emily’s fiancĂ©e Jonathan is on the flight from Boston to LA, and he is killed.
I had the exact same reaction to finding out about the twin towers as Emily did. I was managing the claims project - sitting in my nook concentrating on a spreadsheet. Amanda (who had been my Project Assistant and then promoted to Business Analyst, because she was too smart to waste doing my admin) stuck her head in and said, “a plane has flown into the world trade centre”. I looked up, slightly annoyed at the interruption and said “What a horrible accident” and went back to my spreadsheet. Same words as Emily. I have to imagine that was a pretty common reaction – at least at first.

Everything else that day is a blur. Some might ask that since we aren’t Americans how could we possibly be hit hard by the attack? Well, all I have to say about that is that Toronto is a LOT closer to New York than LA is. There were rumours that the CN Tower was going to be attacked next, that the attack was a prelude to an invasion of the US, that it was hoax, a conspiracy, an accident. The tall office buildings in the financial core were evacuated and men and women in dark suits were milling all over the streets. Many of our colleagues were in the states and we didn’t know where they were. Our COO lived in New Jersey and was beside himself. All of our clients were in the US. Many of us knew people who worked in the World Trade Centre, or who lived in New York City. We watched everything unfold on CNN on our computer screens. No-one did any work that day. The people on my team were mostly young, and they were scared. So was I. Mostly, I remember thinking that I just had to be calm and make sure my team was ok. I really wanted to talk to my mom, so I called her.

The novel continues into the aftermath of both the “bubble” bursting and 9-11. I remember that, too! After 9-11 the tech market really tanked. Although the “bubble” had burst prior, it hadn’t effected us too much, because we weren’t public yet. But after 9-11, insurance companies had no money for or interest in big software. Things went downhill rapidly. Although it wasn’t “over night”, it seemed like it. We laid people off. Work got hard. It wasn’t any harder in the literal sense – it just wasn’t fun anymore, so everything seemed to take more effort. We weren’t young, brilliant winners after all; we knew now that we weren’t going to rule the world, so things that we just sucked up before became annoyances, people started to move on. Everything we touched seemed tainted by the miasma of disappointment. Eventually, the company shrunk down to something like 20 people (from over 300).

The upside, is that I got laid off while my stock was still worth something. I used the money plus my package to put a down payment on my first house. Another upside, I never had a time in my life where I learned more, or where I cared more about the people I worked with.

I haven’t thought about those times for years. I’m glad I read this book. I think because I was part of the life described in the book, I found it all very compelling. Jeff liked the book as well, but he was much more interested in the relationships. Would Emily really marry that jerk, Jonathon? Would awkward but wealthy and almost middle-aged George figure out how to woo and win the quixotic and delightful young Jess? Would Jess fall out of a tree? Would the evangelical rabbis convert everybody? Who was Emily and Jess’s mother? Would Karen sell the cookbook collection to George? 

And most important, what is everybody having for dinner?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sexy Summer Love - my new favourite recipe

So the vegetable garden is burgeoning and I have a problem - what are two people supposed to do with 8 really big eggplants? So I did a little research on the internet and found... heaven- but sexy heaven! Heaven in a roasting pan.

The dish is called Imam Bayildi, which is usually called in English "The Parson Fainted" - even though we all know that an "Imam" isn't the same thing as a "parson". Before I ate this dish, I was charmed by the three speculative reasons given for WHY the Imam fainted - was it because the dish was so delicious? was it because he found out how much olive oil was in it? was it because it looks like female genitalia?

I don't know where the female genitalia comparison comes from. There is really no resemblance, although my experience is that when things really, really taste good, people often think about sex.

There is a lot of olive oil (3/4 cup!), but that's not something you would know unless you made the dish yourself.

Its the deliciousness. Believe me when I tell you, the taste of the dish is utterly swoonish. It tastes like every good memory of summer you  ever had, flavoured with tarragon and a little lemon and waiting to be devoured. I suppose it would taste good with store bought vegetables, but there is something truly magic about eating food that you've grown yourself, every single ingredient at the peek of ripeness.

Here is the recipe, which (being me) I have modified slightly from that of Helen Sand - who I don't know, but wish I did - because she is a good cook:


  • 1-2 medium-size eggplants, sliced lengthwise in three
  • 5-6 roma tomatoes, whole (or 20 cherry tomatoes, or an equivalent some other tomatoes - whatever you have in your garden)
  • 2 medium-size onions, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 peppers (red, yellow) sliced lengthwise in 1/2-inch strips
  • About 10 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • several generous dashes of fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup olive oil for baking
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • Garnishes: Chopped Fresh basil, thyme, and/or tarragon; pine nuts or saltless shelled sesame seeds
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Pour 1/4 cup of olive oil in a frying pan, and fry (see steps 3,4,5) the vegetables one at a time, but removing each from the oil and then reusing the oil. Add up to another 1/4 cup oil as you go along if you need to. The eggplant soaks up a lot of oil.
  3. Fry the eggplant until golden on medium high. When golden, remove to a flat roasting pan or baking dish. It doesn't have to be cooked through - just browned on the outside.
  4. Fry the onion until translucent on medium. 
  5. Remove the stems from the tomatoes and fry them whole in the pan until the skin bursts (on high heat).
  6.  In a baking dish arrange the eggplant with the onion a on top and the tomatoes interspaced. Poke the tomatoes to make sure the juices will escape into the pan.  Sprinkle the garlic all over the dish. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper, and the water. 
  7. Add the ¼ cup of oil in dashes across the assembled dish.
  8.  Cover and bake for about 40-50 minutes, or until the eggplant is very soft when poked with a fork.
  9. Let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle your tarragon, basil and thyme, and nuts on  top of it and add another couple dashes of lemon.
I didn't expect to fall in love, so I didn't take a picture. I'll post one next time I make it. Jeff said I could make it every day if I wanted to, so I don't expect it to be very long!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Body Image and Inspirational Female Athletes

Since I'm putting some focus on exercise and nutrition these days (a.k.a. "back training") (well, not actually back training this very minute, since I am so sore I can barely move!), I wanted to share these amazing and inspiring pictures of female athletes.

One of the difficulties with being a woman is that how we look is important. As someone who is overweight, I am well aware that people often see me as "that fat chick", and they discount me or underestimate me. I am also well aware that folks who value substance over looks generally find me to be interesting, intelligent, capable and kind. In some ways, being overweight screens out potential friendships with superficial jerks. What can I say? Everything has an upside!

Women are bombarded by media images of the "perfect woman" - usually she is 16-20 years old, 6 feet tall, weighs about 110 pounds. She's likely Caucasian, has the hair of the moment, and a wide mouth. It takes 2-3 hours to make her up for a photo shoot, and every single imperfection is photoshopped out afterwards. Since this woman doesn't actually exist, and since obsessively trying to be like her anyway breaks female spirits everywhere, I'd love to see women adopt a different kind of role model.

These pictures are of female Olympic Athletes. What I love about them is how gorgeous they all are - but none have the body of the media's "perfect woman". In fact, the pictures celebrate all the different kinds of healthy bodies there are for women to aspire to. Reality is that no matter how much I weigh or how much I work out, I'll never look like DeLisha Milton, Amy Aculf or Tara Lapiniski. But in peak condition, I can conceive of a body like Jennifer Parilla's  or Tobey Gifford's (Ok, my now not secret fantasy is out!)

And of course, these pictures are ideals, and are of women who are at their peak of fitness. Most of the women I know will never be that buff. Its unlikely that I will. But as role models - they eat highly nutritious food, they work out and they achieve great things. This takes tremendous discipline and commitment. To me, this is a much more valuable role model for grown women than a waif-like 18 year old whose only accomplishment is genetically perfect skin and a pretty smile.

So praise for gorgeous women athletes!  (these images are from the now defunct Sports Illustrated for Women via stumptuous.com)

My new favourite iPad app and why I joined Twitter

This morning I happened across a new iPad app which I downloaded and immediately fell in love with. Basically what it does is access your Facebook and Twitter accounts and finds all the articles, pictures, videos, etc that people share, and turns them into a news magazine, with pictures, pull quotes, multiple articles per page. It's a LOT like reading say, Time magazine, except the articles are all about things that I and my Facebook friends care about. It fills up otherwise empty spaces with a selection of folks' status updates, which are presented like "news in Brief" in the newspaper.

The presentation is SO appealing. I often don't read articles that folks post - usually I just scan through and see how people are doing. Today I read every article, looked at every video, opened every photo album. And it was all so interesting! What a total difference an interesting graphic presentation makes.

After about 15 minutes of "flipping" through my magazine, I decided that I needed more... so I did something I had previously sworn I would never do! I opened a Twitter account, and became a follower of as many  people (whom I know!) as I could find. So now all the articles that have been shared over twitter are part of my very personal news magazine.

As well, there are also a selection of real magazines you can include. I added Bon Appetite, TED Talks, Fast Company and a few others.

Main thing missing? I'd love it if Flipboard went to Live Journal and BlogSpot and could include the blogs I follow!

Thing that could be improved? The TED Talks app gives you the title of the talk, and a couple sentences about what it is about. Flipboard just shows the still of a person on a stage with a triangle for "play" - so no idea what the talks are about. Since they are usually about 20 minutes, I prefer not to invest the time unless it's a topic of some interest to me.

Two last things to say here:

1. Please do not expect me to start tweeting or whatever its called. At least not until I get used to the idea of even having this account. I know I'm not normally such a luddite about things, but for whatever reason, this whole twitter thing gets under my skin. But who knows, maybe once I've tried it, I'll be a convert!

2. Check out Flipboard at the App Store, or at www.flipboard.com. It's free!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lean Eating

As of today, I am starting a new fitness and nutrition program. I'm pretty excited, as I have done this program before with amazing results. I injured myself about 8 months ago and haven't been exercising. But now I can, so now I'm going to!

For more information about the program Lean Eating for Women, check out Precision Nutrition. They also have a program for men, and I couldn't recommend the organization, the people or the program more highly!

Everything starts out easy nutrition-wise. All I have to worry about this week is taking my omega 3 oil and a multivitamin. This I can do! The workout on the other hand is going to be hard. It will get easier in the sense that once I start working out again, my system will adjust to it, but it's going to be a tough week. An then it is going to be a tough six months. If my previous experience is any indication, the work outs are hard core!

Anyway, I'm not planning to belabor the program on this blog, but my plan is to a weekly update taking stock of how I am doing.

But first, the garden....

I actually have relevant things to say today, but first, I have to provide an update on my vegetable garden.

Everything is growing! So far, I've harvested many huge cucumbers, a few cherry tomatoes (with about a million to come!), some thai chili peppers, peas, fava beans and one red pepper. And young lettuce.

So far, everything is growing well and I haven't had any huge failures - although I'm not too confident about the corn. I think the corn may not have gotten sufficiently pollinated - next year, I'll pollinate it by hand. But I have nine ears in progress, so maybe I'll get enough for a dinner at least, anyway.

The tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, herbs and cucumbers and eggplant have gone berserk. I think I'm going to end up with about 10 eggplants. That's a lot of eggplant! I think they are getting to the point where I could harvest one, but I'm going to wait and see how large they'll get. the one in the picture is about 6 inches in diameter.

Anyway, although most things aren't yet ready to harvest, I have been able to pretty much stop buying vegetables - I manage to glean a day's worth of delicious organic produce from my (apparently) "very now" urban container garden!

A couple more pictures below. The first cauliflower I've ever grown, and the basil that thinks it's the star of "Little Shop of Horrors". I'm not sure it's physically possible to eat more basil - I cut it down by a third, the next day, it's back