Category Archives: Personal

Travel By Proxy

The joys of becoming a parent are immeasurable, but it does have a few small downsides. One of those is that we haven’t been on any trips for a couple of years. I have to admit that I’ve travelled more than my wife, but only because of a business trip to Florida and a trip to France which was not a happy one.

So until we can travel again (hopefully next year), I’m doing my travelling vicariously by reading travel books. I started with Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island, documenting in hilarious fashion his travels around Britain, followed by Notes From a Big Country, The Lost Continent and A Walk in the Woods, also by Mr Bryson.

Having exhausted my Bryson collection (apart from the Australia one, I wasn’t in the mood for Australia), I’ve now started re-reading The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux, another amusing trip around the coast of Britain. Theroux’s writing pulls one along at such a speed that I expect to finish the book very quickly, which exhausts my travel book collection.

So my fair readers, can you recommend some travel books that I can feed to my travel bug?

The Cupboard; Finally

The CupboardAlmost a year ago I started my foray into woodworking. My big project was the cupboard, which has been sitting in an almost finished state in the basement for several months.

I decided I wanted to have it on display for Xmas so I got to work finishing it. It didn’t take much; some bead board on the back and a knob on the front. It still needs a catch on the inside but the door stays closed without it so that can wait.

The frame of the cupboard is put together using dovetail joints and the inside shelves are in groove joints. The decorative detailing around the top was done with a router. The reveals at the bottom with a jigsaw. The door has two raised panels, raised with a table saw. The whole thing is painted with milk paint followed by a coat of linseed oil and some antique wax.

Click on the picture for the big version.

Curry and Schlocky TV

On Saturday night, him, her, him and her came over for dinner. As three of us have lived in Britain for at least part of our lives, I decided to prepare a traditional British meal. That means curry.

Starter was curried sweet potato soup. Onions, celery, red chilis, grated ginger, squished garlic, turmeric, coriander, mustard seeds, fenugreek, sweet potatoes, chicken broth. Cooked and whizzed up in the food processor. A can of coconut milk added at the end. I’ve made this soup quite a few times before, but this time I think I got the spice mix just right; spicy without being overpowering.

Main course was butter chicken. Onions, turmeric, cumin, coriandor, cardomon, grated ginger, squished garlic, cinnamon, chicken, canned tomatoes, ground almonds. Cooked for a while and yoghurt added near the end. Served with basmati rice tossed in a mustard seed and lemon infused oil. Oh and some slaw on the side, courtesy of the McGill Organic Food Co-op. There was also a loaf of spinach bread on the table during the meal, purely for decorative effect.

For dessert I departed from the Indian theme but stayed with the traditional British fare. Apple and blueberry crumble (ok, the blueberries aren’t so traditional, those were my concession to Canadiana). Apples and blueberries briefly cooked with sugar, ginger and cinnamon, topped with a mixture of flour, butter, sugar and maple syrup. Baked in the oven until tinged with brown.

The original plan was to follow dinner with either a movie or some silly games, but for some reason it turned into schlocky TV night. We watched Little Britain, Craft Corner Deathmatch (yes, it is as strange as it sounds), and Holiday Showdown. Oh and a little bit of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to demonstrate high-definitionness.

I think everyone enjoyed themselves, even John, who was still hung over from the night before.

Those wacky Dads

This should probably be a Father’s Day post, but I got inspired today so this year Father’s Day is November 8th.

My Dad started his adult life as a professional racing jockey. Since then he’s managed a tool hire store, travelled Africa and the Middle East selling cranes (the big machines, not the birds), run three pubs, managed a DIY store and started a bed and breakfast in France. He has renovated many houses (including one that started out with no roof), worked hard as a gardener and even a smallholder. Although my parents separated when I was young, he’s always been a big part of my life. I’m proud of all he’s done, and I’m glad I’ve had his love and support through everything I’ve done.

My Step-Dad is a carpenter. I’m still not sure what his original speciality was, but now he can put his hand to just about any kind of construction work. I’m sure he could build a house from scratch single-handedly. We don’t see eye to eye on all things, but he’s always accepted the choices I’ve made and helped me when I’ve needed it.

My Dad-in-Law escaped from Hungary in secrecy in the middle of the night during the Hungarian revolution. He is a renowned psychologist and a gifted and published poet well known in his home country. He is exuberant and eccentric to the point of constantly embarassing his daughter, my wife, who he calls Nifi the Extraordinary Boufi. He has accepted me into his family unreservedly, even though I never actually asked him if it was ok to marry his daughter.

My Step-Dad-in-Law was raised in wartime and post-war Ireland and he still has the accent to prove it. He spent many years of his life travelling the world as a marine engineer and met Jen’s mum while docked at Montreal. Now he’s settling down to a retirement in their country house. There he makes wonderful knives, cooks delicious food, makes his own booze, smokes his own meat and fish, taps his own maple trees, raises rabbits and collects his own firewood. He knows all the most disgusting poems and the best off-colour jokes. He’s a thorougly good man and I have the utmost respect for him.

Those are all my Dads. They are all amazing characters in their own ways. They are all so very different. They’ve all been and continue to be a big part of my life. I’m proud of all their accomplishments and honoured to call them my Dads.

Feeding the Visitors

Jen‘s brother Dan arrived on Thursday with his wife Susan and our one year old nephew Simon. We had a big family meal on Thursday night, for which I cooked:

Potato and Cauliflower curry: onions fried with a spice mix of mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cayenne pepper and cardomom. Fresh ginger and garlic added, followed by carrots, potatoes and cauliflower. Whizzed up tomatoes added for the liquid.

Naan bread: yeast in warm water added to flour and baking powder with some toasted cumin seeds, made into a stiff dough and kneaded for 10 minutes. Cut into pieces and rolled into Naan shapes, brushed with butter and cooked in a frying pan (in the absence of a brick oven).

Finished off with a delicious carrot cake which Dan fetched from the local bakery.

On Friday we had a bbq for the other side of the family, with marinated chicken and grilled veggies as well as some delicious hungarian style salads provided by Jen’s Dad.

Finished off with a delicious apple crumble pie which Dan fetched from the local bakery.

The rest of the weekend was spent in the country where Richard brined and smoked a chicken for us and Elisabeth hacked up her basil plants to make pesto.

Despite being only one year old, Simon is already sampling much of the same kind of food. I see a celebrity chef in the making.

Naked chest

My first attempt at furniture stripping happened a couple of years ago at the condo. We tried to strip a small cupboard which turned out to be painted with some kind of alien substance impervious to all known stripping methods.

chestI’m happy to say that last weekend’s attempt was much more successful. This chest, which we acquired from Jen’s mum, was painted a very nasty brown colour. Thankfully it all came off very easily. A quick sand, a couple of coats of linseed oil and a finish of antique wax, and we now have a pretty good looking chest of drawers.

More Surprises

Our second surprise party in two weekends happened yesterday, this time cunningly arranged by Jen and Tyler for Cara’s birthday. She was lured to our house under the pretense of a greeting card discussion and looked a little stunned when she walked out onto our deck to cries of “Surprise!”.

We were joined by:

  • Eddie, Manon, Raphael and Gabriel.
  • Shawn and Ellen.
  • Kevin, Helen and Benjamin.
  • Mike.
  • Chris and Pierre.

Large amounts of bbq food were consumed, including:

  • Baked beans – navy beans soaked overnight, mixed with fried bacon, chopped onions, chopped apples, whizzed tomatoes, brown sugar, maple syrup, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper and baked in a covered pot for 6-8 hours, uncovering for the last hour or so.
  • Chicken pieces marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, lime juice, beer, mustard, rosemary, salt and pepper.
  • Potatoes and onions drizzled with oil and tossed with rosemary, salt and pepper and grilled in a foil pouch.
  • Potato salad dressed with mayo, lemon juice, lime juice, mustard, oregano, pepper and a splash of maple syrup.
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved and mixed with sliced vidalia onions, oil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Hot dogs. From a package.

There was also much drink, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and an ice cream cake with a sheep and quite a few candles (discretion prevents me mentioning exactly how many) on it.

We even managed to squeeze in a few Magic games at the end of the day. Which was nice.

Oh, and we met a married gay couple for the first time. They were very nice and did not destroy our marriage.

The weekend

On Saturday we went up to the country to see Elisabeth and Richard for Richard’s birthday celebration. We enjoyed a chicken dinner made by Richard, a greek salad made by Elisabeth and a chocolate birthday cake made by me, followed by the obligatory gift un-wrapping. Richard got a Jamie Oliver book from us, and an inflatable boat from Elisabeth.

Richard and I spent a fairly large part of the following morning inflating said boat. After the launching ceremony, Richard tried to climb aboard in a dignified manner. He failed. He got on board, but it definitely wasn’t dignified. After watching him attempt to navigate the pond without any oars, we headed off home.

While we were there, Jen got a bit fidgety, and put it down to the lack of technology. No internet, limited TV. While we did watch the F1 race on Sunday morning, and I did go online briefly to show Elisabeth my blog, it was still a very low tech weekend for us. This made me wonder how long I could survive without technology.

I spent a week in Wales once, where they don’t have electricity yet. Well ok that’s not true, but the cottage we stayed in didn’t have electricity. I survived ok, even managing to listen to my Uncle’s stories with good grace, despite how often they got repeated. There was a pub to go to there though, so I don’t know if that counts.

I’m pretty sure I could survive quite a while as long as I had stuff to read, eat and drink. I would probably be itching to check my email after a few days, but I could resist that temptation. Couldn’t I?

The sharpest tool in the box

knives A year and a half ago I married Jen. My step-father-in-law makes knives in his spare time, and promised us some kitchen knives as a wedding gift. Last week he delivered on that promise. Not only do they look fantastic, but they’re a joy to use and incredibly sharp. Well worth the wait.

Thanks Richard, and happy Father’s Day, even though you will never read this. Happy Father’s Day to my dad too, and all the other dads out there.

Family randomness

My Mum is currently in Portugal, probably drinking “screaming orgasms” with “the girls”. I think it’s a second childhood thing.

My Dad just had an operation on his wrist. I’ve yet to find out why.

My Brother is a policemen in the Met, and just passed his response driver test. So if you’re in London and see a police car hurtle past with lights and siren going and a skinny lad grinning in the driver’s seat, it’s probably him.

My Sister is in the middle of a paramedic training course, currently inflicting her bedside manner on patients in various departments of her local hospital. I guess all those visits to A&E in her youth had an effect.

My Mother-in-law just spent the weekend practicing sleeping with her friends. Best not to ask.

So now I have to ask, in a terribly transparent attempt at getting more comments, what are your family up to?

Recent past and near future

Friday: We walked over to Cara and Tyler’s for an evening of good company, fine food, and Euchre. It was the guys against the ladies, and I’m pretty sure the guys won. We also took every opportunity (bathroom breaks etc.) to fit in a Magic game.

Saturday: We drove up to the country to celebrate Richard and Elisabeth’s 30th wedding anniversary. The party was at nearby friends of theirs, Candice and Brian, in a very cool house by the lake. We were joined by Nina and Luke and their two boys Eden and Gus. We enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, a delicious paella with salad and asparagus and a chocolate and raspberry cake that I only had room for about two mouthfuls of. Richie and Ebie were regaled with poetry and Eden and Gus kept us all amused.

Sunday: We had a belated birthday brunch/lunch for Jen, with pancakes and bagels and gifts of cushions, serving dishes and a wind-up penguin. It was a beautiful day so we went walking, then Richard, Eden and I went and re-tapped one of the maple trees and took a look around Luke’s sugar camp.

Sunday night: After coming home from the country, we headed out to Concordia University for Jen’s Dad’s 72nd birthday celebration. George thought he was coming to a student film festival, so he was quite shocked when he walked in and got a big “Surprise!” from all his family. It wasn’t a complete lie though, as Jen’s brother Julian had prepared a 45 minute documentary on George’s life for us all to enjoy. Jen was in tears by the end of it.

Tuesday (tomorrow) morning: We will be featured on CBC Montreal’s Day Break some time between 6:30 and 8:30 am.

Foodie Weekend

Despite the fact that Jen got sick on Thursday and is still sick, we still managed to have a busy weekend.

On Saturday we had Shatnerian and One Wanton Chickie over for dinner and a movie. We had curried sweet potato soup (onions, celery, sweet potato, curry spices, stock, coconut milk, cilantro) with croutons to start, followed by roasted pork loin with potato cakes and asparagus bundles (an old favourite for new friends).

We finished off the meal with blueberry dumplings: Throw some blueberries into a big saucepan with some sugar, a little water and a pinch of ginger and boil for 5 minutes. Make a stiff batter from white flour, buckwheat flower, brown sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, a tablespoon of butter and some milk. Gloop tablespoonfuls of batter on top of the blueberries then cover and simmer for about 25 minutes.

After dinner we watched Roman Holiday. I’m not a big fan of old movies, but I quite enjoyed it, especially with the MST3K style commentary that sprung up occasionally.

On Sunday we had Richard, Phyllis, Sarah, Clare, Luke and Granny over for a family lunch. We finished off the soup then had a big anti-pasti selection of salami, mortadella, roast pork, provolone, mozarella tossed in olive oil and capers, olives, sundried tomatoes, grilled asparagus and peppers, salad, roasted garlic and lots of bread. For dessert we enjoyed strawberries, ice cream, cookies and Richard’s peach and custard tarts. Quite a feast!

It’s a stepping stool!

Last night I finished all the cutting for my shaker style step stool and glued it all together. My dovetail joints were satisfyingly tight and everything came out more or less square and looking as it should. After leaving it in vices for an hour it was glued enough to take it home, gently.

I showed Jen, and she was quite impressed. Obviously it’s not finished yet, it still needs sanding and tidying up and finishing, but it does look like a step stool. Then we had this conversation, which is the perfect illustration of men and women being very different:

Me: So what do you think?
Jen: I like it. Maybe we can put plants on it.
Me: It’s a step stool! It’s for stepping on. You can use it to reach the high stuff in the kitchen.
Jen: Yeah… or I could put plants on it.
Me: ok then.

The Mallet

malletWe finished the mallet project in my woodworking class last night. The “homework” last week was to sand it to 200 grit, then the final step last night was to give it a couple of coats of linseed oil. I think it looks pretty damn good for something made by a complete novice.

We’re now working on a box for the sharpening stone, which is surprisingly quick and easy. Next week we’re starting on the major project, a Shaker style step stool. It’s off to Reno Depot at the weekend to buy my wood.

The loot

Both of our downstairs trees were completely surrounded by piles of presents when the opening ceremonies began. On top of that, everyone had stuffed stockings too so it was a gift extravaganza. It took two sittings to get through it all, but there were 15 of us so I’m not feeling too guilty. My loot included:

  • Northern Exposure season 2 on DVD
  • Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 on DVD
  • Blood Simple on DVD
  • A Dido CD
  • A Norah Jones CD
  • Various tools and implements required for my upcoming woodworking course (Jen called the instructor to find out what I needed!)
  • An orbital sander
  • Much chocolate and candy
  • Two sweaters from Mum in England
  • Some books from Kim, the Book Goddess
  • Magic cards
  • The America book by Jon Stewart

In-law festiveness

We went to visit my father-in-law George and his family (wife Mary, sons Julian and Stephan) today, arriving an hour early as we always manage to do. We chatted with Julian and Stephan while George and Mary ran around preparing a smoked salmon and bagel brunch. Dan, Susan and baby Simon arrived at noon and we all dug in to the delicious food. George always buys Boddingtons when I’m visiting, so I had a good beer too.

Mary is making a movie about George, so a lot of the rest of the afternoon was spent being directed by Mary while she or Julian operated the video camera. Apparently it was very important not to show any snow views because the movie was a “fall movie”. Not sure what that was all about… We all got interviewed with tricky questions like “George is Hungarian, what do you think about that?” and “How much influence has George had on Jen?”.

Simon was a happy smiley baby nearly the whole time, only getting tired as we were leaving. He did jump out of his skin several times at George’s barking ebullient laughter though.

Happy Birthday Dad!

DadIt’s my Dad’s birthday today; Happy Birthday Dad! He’s 3000ish miles away in France, where he’s busy running a bed and breakfast and raising pigs. I wish I could be there to have a pint with him on his birthday, but instead I’ll open one of my bottles of Lambic in his honour tonight. Oh yeah, that’s him in the picture, I wanted to put up the picture of him when he had a perm, but I can’t find it anywhere so I found the worst photo I have of him instead.

Thanksgiving Gastronomy

We had a slightly unconventional Thanksgiving / anniversary celebration meal here yesterday. Elisabeth, Richard and Loula joined us for:

Curried carrot and peppery Broccoli soups: onion, carrots, chicken stock, curry powder, cooked and whizzed in the food processor; onion, broccoli, chicken stock, salt and lots of pepper, cooked and whizzed in the food processor. Both poured into bowls from opposite sides for an attractive green and orange presentation (very Irish sectarian as Elisabeth pointed out).

Roast stuffed pork loin: Half a pork loin (rib end) rubbed generously with a bashed up mixture of fennel seeds, rosemary and salt and stuffed with a mixture of sliced red onion, ripped sage, sliced garlic, pine-nuts and sourdough bread. Roasted for an hour or so.

Sweet potato cakes: Grated sweet potato, grated onion, egg, flour, salt and pepper, formed into cakes and sauteed.

Asparagus bundles: sandwich an anchovy fillet and a rosemary stalk between six asparagus spears, top with a halved baby tomato and tie together with a slice of pancetta. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for 5-10 minutes.

Lemony pudding: cream a 1/4 cup of butter with 1/3 cup of sugar and the grated rind of one lemon. Beat in 2 egg yolks and 7 tablespoons of self-raising flour. Mix in a cup of milk and the juice from the lemon. Beat the egg whites until stiff then fold in to the mixture. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes or until spongy and golden on top (don’t let it burn like I did…)

Busy Saturday

The garage sale was a mediocre success. We didn’t make enough to retire on but we did get rid of some junk. Tara and Cyler got rid of their big stuff, much to their relief as they weren’t looking forward to schlepping it all home.

After the garage sale (yes I had to wait until it was over) I went to the marche de l’ouest to get what I needed for dinner. Last time I was there it was winter, and the place felt like a bit of a dive, but it’s transformed in the summer into a delightful open air farmer’s market. I picked up some very good corn, a big box of berries and salad stuff before venturing inside to pick up some parmesan and sausage-meat. Sadly nobody there had pine-nuts so I still had to stop at Metro on the way home.

The evening dinner went very well, so here are some recipes:

Avocado and tomato dip: diced avocados, diced seeded tomatoes, juice of a lime, tabasco and seasoning to taste. (probaby could’ve done with some red onion too but I forgot that part)

Fiery limey corn: Corn on the cob with husks. Remove silks and rub the inside with a wedge of lime, cover up with the husks again, throw on the bbq for about 10 minutes, remove husks, sprinkle on a mixture of 1 part cayenne pepper to 4 parts salt to taste.

Tastie taters: boil some spuds, toss them in a mix of mustard, honey, soy sauce and seasoning, thread onto skewers, cook on the bbq until crispy.

Mediterranean sausage burgers: sausage-meat, chopped parsley, chopped garlic, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, toasted pine-nuts. Mix all that together, season well, make into patties, throw onto the bbq for about 6 or 7 minutes per side until cooked through.

After dinner Tyler and I snuck off to play Magic for an hour or so. He’s picking the game up slowly, but he still has much to learn and I beat him resoundingly.

Happy things

A few family things to report:

Last night we went to The Keg for a belated birthday supper with granny Loula (she’s 92 you know!), which was fun. We were showing her the NZ pics until the battery on the laptop died.

My Mum recently celebrated her silver wedding anniversary. 25 years!! I’m still having some trouble believing it’s been that long. But hey Jen and I have been together for 6 years, and I’m counting those 5 years of living in sin damnit.

It was my youngest brother’s 21st birthday this month. Happy Birthday James! I always seem to be a year off, so I thought it was only his 20th.

The grandmother visit to Simon Oliver is going well. The giant tinker toy we got for them was an instant hit with Dan, but Simon probably isn’t so impressed just yet.

Montreal

Montreal, my city. I’ve lived here with Jennifer for four and a half years now, and I love the place. Montreal is a modern, cosmopolitan, vibrant and safe city with a long history in North American terms.

When I first moved here we lived downtown, which was a new experience for me, I’d never lived in the centre of a city before. I loved condo living, and I loved being so close to everything, but I guess there will always be a bit of country boy in me. Moving out to the ‘suburbs’, despite my initial resistance, has been just as good as living downtown. We’re not quite as close to everything, but twenty minutes isn’t that long, and the other advantages far outweigh that disadvantage.

We have a wonderful house on a large plot, which we probably couldn’t afford this close to any other large city. Although it is the suburbs, it feels more like living in the country. We are a short walk from Lac St Louis, a short walk from Angell Woods and a short drive from the Morgan Arboretum.

Every day I walk to work from the train station and back again, and I love the sights and sounds of the city around me. In summer Montreal is filled with festivals and a vibrant atmosphere. We’ve enjoyed the Comedy Festival, the Fireworks Festival and of course the Grand Prix.

Montreal rocks!

The In-laws

Today we drove up to the country to visit the in-laws. We decided to try out the ferry route from Hudson to Oka. It turns out the ferry is a barge pulled by a tiny motor boat. It was a busy day, so we had to line up for about 45 minutes before getting on the thing, but the journey itself was only 10 minutes.

It was the first day of the annual Route des Arts du Grand Argenteuil, and Richard was busy showing off his knife-making skills.

It was also the day after the Morin Heights Historical Society garden tour, of which Elisabeth’s garden was a featured attraction.