letter

Here is where I confess an unpopular opinion: I don’t really love summer, at least not the way all other people I know seem to. Food-wise it’s the best — fresh fruit, ripe tomatoes, barbecuing, cold Hefeweizens — but here’s the thing: I HATE BEING HOT. It makes me terribly grouchy. This summer we’ve already had an especially hot and sticky stretch (okay, we live in western Canada, so I know it’s not that bad but the HUMIDITY, BLERGH).

I’m much more into fall, mostly because I love wearing sweaters and drinking dark beer. That being said, we have been eating some delicious things this summer and I wanted to share a few of them with you.

My friends Liz and Claudia came over for a weekend, and we planned their entire visit around Saturday night dinner. After much email discussion, we settled on the most amazing burgers of all time, which are extremely labour-intensive, but completely worth it. Once a year or so, at least. We made the romesco sauce and the aioli from scratch as well, and sought out the softest, sweetest brioche buns. I may have peaked in terms of meals for 2014. We paired it with a very simple tomato and burrata salad and had some delicious raspberry custard cups for dessert, though we subbed in tiny, juicy strawberries. All in all, an A+, 10/10, totally unforgettable meal.

burrata

custard

Other things:

– Since March 7, when Sona was born, I have had one of these granola bars every single day. Actually, technically, I eat them in the middle of the night when I’m ravenous and nursing the baby. It gets me out of bed. That, and Sona’s unignorable crying. I’ve settled on a combination of pecans, almonds, wheat germ, coconut flakes, dried cranberries and chocolate chips. I don’t use the corn syrup and sub in maple syrup or honey instead, and I leave out the sugar entirely. I don’t forsee ever quitting baking these.

Iced coffee is a must these days. I keep a big Mason jar of the concentrate in the fridge and mix it with milk and simple syrup as needed. If you’re feeling especially decadent, sub in some sweetened condensed milk for a faux-Vietnamese-iced-coffee-type drink.

icedcoffee

– I’ve had hardly any time to read since March, and when I do read it’s usually frantic research about baby sleep habits, but I purchased Waiting for Birdy for my Kindle the week after Sona was born, and by the time she was two months old, I had read it three times. I am officially in love with Catherine Newman and her lovely family. That book struck such a chord for me in those first, hazy weeks, when it seemed like all I did was nurse and eat. I love the book so much that I ended up ordering a paperback copy of it so I had one to lend to friends. I could not recommend this book any more highly and feel envious for anyone who gets to read it for the first time.

– We’re listening to a lot of kids’ music these days, mainly They Might Be Giants, and the amazing Laura Veirs album Tumblebee. I especially love this song, which is about (spoiler alert!) a fox raiding a farmers’ pen, stealing a goose and a duck, and bringing them home for his cubs to nosh on. I especially love the way she cheerfully sings, “and the little ones chewed on the bones-o”. Stellar.

Some snapshots from life these days:

sona1

spices

Elyse came to visit again! And her parents, but let’s get real, she was the real attraction. She and Sona together make my heart go pitter-patter. Sweet sweet girls.

sonaelyse

julieelyse

bestfriends

sonaelyse2

radkasona

Heidi and Alex adopted the cutest puppy in the world and named him Renly for a very gay Baratheon. He loves Sona, and he looooooves Luka, but unfortunately neither of them reciprocate much affection for him. But that’s okay, because I follow him around trying to squeeze him all the time. LOOK at this FACE!

renlypup

We took some family photos outside. Most of them were a bit chaotic, but I look at them and all I see is luck, luck, luck.

piasona

sona2

family

family2

marksona

No, really. Look at my people.

marksona2

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sonahoodie

Another whole month has gone by and I don’t really know what I’ve done. Mostly, I’ve been watching this girl grow and change at a rapid pace, alternating between feeling completely competent and utterly useless, and still — still! — trying to wrap my head around the fact of her existence. Maybe it’s because I’m a much slower learner than other people seem to be, but it always takes me a good long while to get used to a new situation. I finally feel like I’m just settling into this totally different life.

sona1

sona4

sona3

I turned 30 at the end of May and to be honest, felt exactly the same as before. Last year I had planned a big birthday party and ended up cancelling it because I was super-duper grouchy and not wanting to be around people (I later figured out that this maybe have been related to early pregnancy hormones or maybe I was just being a pill). This year I really did want to celebrate with friends and family, so we threw a super-classy barbecue where we forced people to bring their own meat and mostly just bought sides from Costco. There was also this delicious cake from the Lighthouse Cake Company, probably my favourite bakery on the island. It was supposed to feed 50 but it fed, um, maybe 25?

cake

gingersona

The absolute best part of my birthday was a surprise visit from my friend Julie and her daughter Elyse, who was born just three weeks before Sona. Mark had allegedly gone out to a business meetup, then called when he was around the corner, saying that he’d picked up a surprise and would I please go hide in my office. I went in there, and when given permission to come out, I was cursing the dog for barking and waking up the baby, plus wearing my most voluminous muumuu and no bra. I kind of stared blankly at Julie for a second and then started screaming. It was the best thing ever. My heart felt so full and I was so indescribably happy — for her company, then for her husband’s (he came out two days later with [way-too-good-for-me] Sauternes, because he knows I love them), but most of all for the opportunity for Sona and Elyse to meet for the first time.

sona5

They don’t live in the some city, or even the same province, but my dearest hope is that they’ll grow up together and have a friendship even half as strong as mine and Julie’s. I value it so highly and I want Sona to have a Julie, or a Liz, or a Heidi. I am so lucky that I have those three and many more besides.

faketwins

sonaelyse

elyse1

sonaelyse2

Life is slowly starting to return to normal, or at least a new version of normal. The weather here has been glorious, and we’ve been getting out a lot. This past Saturday we checked out the first farmers’ market of the year, and I picked up some amazing technicolour dream eggs.

colouredeggs

farmersmarket

I’m finally getting back into my office and starting to sew again. It feels so good to be doing that. To be honest, I thought I might never feel creative again; those first three months were just so all-consuming that I couldn’t imagine being able to make time for my little business. However, I’m very happy to report that I am slowly finding both the time and the impetus to make things again. This probably matters to no one else but me, but it does feel important. I already know I want Sona to grow up seeing both Mark and me taking time for ourselves to do things we love.

Speaking of things I love:

sonasmile

sona2

sonamonkey

And one more extra-dumb one for good measure:

beards

Back sooner rather than later, with a recipe round-up and hopefully some exciting news!

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sonagirl

I haven’t blogged in well over a month and I haven’t made anything remotely crafty in well over two. At the moment, my whole life is composed of dipe-dipes (diapers) and chub-chubs (Sona) and fat-fat (Luka) and coming up with stupid words for things, and sometimes frantically making and eating cookies.

wwchocolatechip

I had done so much intensive research about labour and birth and somehow didn’t really read much about the actual business of, you know, being entirely responsible for the life of a small human being. But really, even if I had, there’s no way I would have been able to comprehend how completely all-consuming it is. I feel like I’m just starting to emerge from the sleep-deprived haze of the last ten weeks, and finally beginning to understand and accept how drastically life has changed.

sonabonnet

To be completely honest, there are times when I really mourn my old carefree life. I’d always heard people say that raising kids was the hardest work they’d ever done, and I’d kind of dismiss it, or not even really think about what they meant, but now I can say with all certainty that there is no truer statement. She’s only ten weeks old and I already feel like I’ve been tested in so many ways. There have been nights that ended up with all three of us crying simultaneously, while the poor dog slips away to his bed and probably curses his woeful situation. There have been moments when I felt like my heart was breaking wide open, and I can feel myself resisting that, because it is so scary to feel that vulnerable and I know I have so much at stake now. There have been days when I’ve just thought, “Man, this is really, really boring” and wished for time to go faster, and then immediately felt guilty because everyone says to just enjoy it now because it does all go so fast and I know I’ll look back on this intense period of my life and wish I had been more present.

 sonasmile2

I know that we are actually blessed with a very easy baby, for the most part. She’s not always a great sleeper (neither is her dad), but over the past few weeks we’ve all been working really hard at it. I am the kind of idiot who has literally fallen asleep on the back of a motorcycle while speeding over pothole-strewn roads in Vietnam, so it is hard for me to relate to this. I just close my eyes and sleep, easy-peasy, no big deal.

sonasmirk

She’s really started to smile and laugh and coo and respond to us in the last couple of weeks, and that makes all the difference in the world. For example, I no longer believe that she solely thinks of me as a giant floating boob! The other night I was nursing her at 3 a.m., underneath her tree, and she looked up at me and broke into a huge grin, and I was so happy I thought I would burst. I am self-aware enough to recognize the complete cheesiness of that statement, but I swear it’s true.

sonasmile

Luka is mostly indifferent towards her, though he does give her a sniff and/or lick every once in a while. He’s just such a giant baby himself that I don’t think he’s capable of being especially protective or fond of her. She’s sleeping in her own room now, though, which probably helps. He does push her door open when she’s sleeping and he’s making his rounds of the house, determining that we’re all where we’re supposed to be. That might be as good as it gets with him, though.

lukacouch

I’ve been making a list of all the things we’ve been eating and reading, and I’ll post that next time. I’m starting to feel like myself again, slowly but surely, though definitely a different version of myself — one who sleeps half as much, does laundry three times as often, and loves infinitely more.

sonadad

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Mark is out for the night, at a bachelor party for one of his good friends that involved golfing and something called a “pickle” pub crawl. I’m in bed at the late hour of 9:34 after consuming more Nutella than I care to describe. Wild and crazy times at our house, as usual.

I’m just about to settle in with the People magazine about the new royal baby, something I’ve been looking forward to all day, but suddenly remembered a recipe I’d been wanting to share for a while. Let me start at the beginning. See this lovely, slightly skeptical-looking lady below? That’s my grandma, who I call Mama (pronounced “Mumma”, not sure why it’s spelled the other way, but that’s how it’s been for 29 years so stop asking questions, non-existent reader).

mama

I could write ten blog posts about her and how inspiring (and often maddening) she is, but I’ll save those words for later. Let’s just say that she’s pretty badass and probably the person who I am most alike in this world. We have a lot of similar quirks, like absolutely loving eating something spicy and drinking a hot cup of milky tea at the same time, a constant desire for hot water bottles, and the ability to fall asleep almost anywhere (her: standing upright, in the middle of a conversation; me: on the back of a motorcycle trip through Vietnam). We also differ in a lot of ways — she’s 88 and very stuck in her ways. There are things about her that drive me crazy (and vice versa), and oftentimes I think I speak way too fast for her to understand me so she just smiles and nods.

All that aside, she is, hands down, the best cook ever. I’ve been watching a lot of Masterchef recently, and besides thinking that Joe Bastianich is a total goober, I keep picturing Mama storming onto the set and blowing everyone else out of the effing water. Then I imagine the judges saying mean things and I get all indignant and mentally act out rants against them. Does anyone else do this? Sometimes when I’m showering, I also imagine being interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine, and I will, like, mouth responses to them. I think I may have said too much. (I also used to apply Bonne Bell chapstick and kiss a Taylor Hanson poster before bed).

ANYWAY. When I was little, we used to visit India roughly every other summer, and the foods I ate at her table are still my favourite things in the world. I could list these meals for hours, but the thing is, it could never mean the same thing to you as it does to me. How can I explain exactly why I love plain parathas and salted yogurt so much? It’s so boring and bland, yet I would pick it as my final meal. It just tastes like comfort to me. Mama also makes the most delicious Keralan-style fish curry, using a clay pot that’s held the same dish hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It is the only food that makes me immediately start salivating when I get a whiff of it, and the great tragedy is that I can no longer eat it, due to a fin fish allergy I developed as an adult. I can’t even eat the gravy. Thinking about it makes me want to cry a little.

But here is something I can eat: the South Indian breakfast dish known as uppuma (sometimes spelled upma). Bear with me when I describe this, because it sounds totally wacko, but believe me when I say that it is more than the sum of its parts. It basically consists of dry roasted semolina (I use Cream of Wheat from a box), fried together with mustard seeds, onions, green chillies, ginger, and black gram seeds (also known as urad dal; I have often made it without these), and curry leaves (again, I usually leave these out). After roasting everything until it’s nice and brown, you add some water and let it all cook together until it’s soft. At this point, you can eat it plain as a savoury dish, but I like to have it the same way I ate it as a child, and sprinkle it with a teensy bit of sugar, and then eat it with a banana. Yes, I realize this likely does not sound appetizing at all. Perhaps it won’t be to you. But I have this recipe, written in my grandmother’s words, and I’m feeling generous.

Ammini’s Uppuma (cut and pasted from an email; see notes above regarding omissions)

My Dearest Grand child Pia,
I am extremely sorry for not giving you the Uppuma recepe that you had asked for.  in my last letter, I am really very sorry about that, so I shall give it now.
Uppuma—    1/2 cup  semolina—-roasted  dry[  -no oil  ]   till not discoloured, set aside.
1 large onion -chopped fairly fine.
1/2inch piece ginger, 2 or3 green chillies-[according to potency and taste] chopped fine
curry leaves- few
mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp    black gram  seeds- 1/2  tsp
Oil-1tablspn or more- as you like it—— little ghee or butter may be added for extra taste!
Method-
Heatoil in fry pan or wok , pop mustardseeds, addblack grams    andfry till light brown, add the chopped onion, curry leaves, ginger, green chillies ,add enough salt and fry well on slow fire  till soft  and light brown add the  roastedsemolina fry together for alittle while more  then add1cup hot water, let it boil stir   and keep covered for about five minutes . Check  on waterandsalt , add more if necessary. Uppuma should be soft and moistwhen done.  You will know from the taste and appearence.  Little butteror ghee may be added to enhance the taste as per your wish . Finally garnish with a little chopped coriander leaves
You should try and let me know of the result.

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dad70s

Today marks six years since my dad died. I love this picture of him so much — fresh-faced and kind of looking like Elvis. I think he’s at the University of Kansas here, which he attended coming straight from Ethiopia at the age of 16. This still strikes me as super random. Also, those pants are amazing.

It took me a long time before I could remember my dad without only remembering the horrible last week of his life. I don’t know how common this is in other people’s experiences, but for many years, I would get very emotional thinking about him and just feel so sad. It’s only in the last year or two that some of that other stuff has started to filter back in, and now I would say it’s about 90% funny/annoying old memories, and 10% terrible hospital ones. I think that’s a pretty good ratio.

Like most people, I inherited a lot of traits from my dad, and also consciously chose not to inherit many. We both hate full parking lots and large crowds of people (most of my curmudgeonly side is directly linked to my dad, which I kind of love). We both make big decisions quickly, without a lot of fuss, and rarely regret them. We both love libraries so much that it’s hard for me to accurately express. I grew up going to the library — every single Saturday, almost without exception, from the age of three or four until I left for university (and then in the summers when I would come home), my dad and I would first hit up the library, then go out for lunch. Lunch was usually at the Great Canadian Bagel Company, where I would always, without fail, order a tuna sandwich on an “everything” bagel, mayo, no mustard. I always wanted to tell the cashier, “The usual!” but was too shy. Sometimes we would also run other errands, like on the twice-yearly occasions when he needed new shirts for work. We would go to some department store, he would ask me to pick out five or six shirts, not try anything on, and then buy them. The whole process took roughly 15 minutes. No joke, this is basically how I picked out my wedding dress, though I did (grudgingly) try it on first.

I no longer go to the library every Saturday, but I do go once a week or so. I think of my dad each time I walk into one, and I think I always will. This doesn’t make me sad at all, but rather the exact opposite. I can’t eat tuna salad anymore, due to a fin fish allergy that merits its own post of OH GOD WHY, and I live over a thousand miles from where I grew up. But I have a few photos, and I have this thick black hair, and I have the library.

piadad

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