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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Drunken Cookery

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This post could perhaps be a mistake, seeing as I'm working on glass 2 of a nice oaky chardonnay. Of all the white wines out there, I actually love a super duper oaky flavoured chardonnay. Perhaps this is because I am a red wine drinker, but nonetheless, this is tasty.

Sadly, we were out of red wine, and I had a real hankering for a nice glass to sip away at....I worked late tonight, fiddling with photoshop and all that fun, so I thought I deserved a nice break.

I also thought hubs deserved a lovely meal. You see, yesterday, I promised him a lovely meal, but sadly, failed to deliver on that promise. :( Yesterday, I got home from work, and my stomach just started to burn. I hadn't eaten much yesterday (very unusual) and I just spent the evening on the couch, groaning. Couldn't fathom eating or creating food.

Today wasn't much better - I actually didn't eat until dinner (I think that was like 35 hours without eating......something that has never happened to me before, and probably will never happen again)....just sort of burned my way through work.

So I thought that my lovely patient hubby deserved a nice meal tonight. I actually wanted to go out for dinner (lazy me!), but a quick bank account check convinced me that wasn't really the brightest of ideas....he suggested a vegetarian night in. And then a little light flashed in my food-starved brain....a remembered a recipe that I'd seen a year ago (or so) for spinach walnut canneloni.

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm......all of a sudden food seemed appetizing again. Colourful, delicious, full of texture, silky nuttiness - what more could a gal ask for?????

So we had a quick stop at the grocery store (social conscience also kicked in - sent hubs around with a mission to buy groceries to put in the food bank bin) and I got all the things I needed. Of course, you know that I am incapable of following a recipe as written....instead of canneloni (which in the recipe is actually LASAGNA - not the same thing people!), I opted for jumbo shells.

For most people, I wouldn't really recommend this recipe for a weeknight (takes about 1.5 hours) but for the patient, I think it's well worth it. The recipe could use a little tweaking, but the idea is FAB. Walnuts and pasta were made to go together. I can still remember the decadent texture of the walnut pasta I tasted in Siena on our honeymoon........droooooooool. It was this luscious cream sauce (definitely not low-fat) and this beautiful al denta pasta....OMG amazing.

Anyway, I also had a small chunk of goat cheese left (from the stuffed potatoes) and threw that in. I also added wee dollops of tomato sauce too. My personal verdict is that this recipe needs more flavour. Some fresh herbs (basil?) would be nice, and I actually prefer tomato sauce to the cream sauce the recipe calls for. That said, hubs loved the recipe, but suggests more cheese on top. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner, and the amazing scent that just perfumed our entire house was totally worth it. Yum. I'm the messiest cook ever, but still managed to snap a couple of photos for you. :)

Here is a photo of the stuffed shells (yup - messy cook!).

Stuffing shells isn't exactly my idea of fun, but it's easier than manicotti or canneloni (both of which are an absolute biatch to stuff! MEH). I, as always, got stuffing on the outside of the pasta, but no one notices this kind of worries! The beautiful thing about this recipe is the sheer amount of calcium it sneaks into me (I added a lot more milk to the sauce), and the fabulous amount of spinach. Can I just say how much fun I had chopping that stuff? Usually I'm lazy and use the frozen stuff, but this time I actually followed the recipe and wilted fresh spinach, and chopped away with my AWESOME chinese chopper. I feel super-duper pro-star when I use that knife.

Anyway, I topped the shells with a bit of tomato sauce and some grated mozza and parmigianno. Yum.

The tasty shells baked away, while I slaved away making another lazy caesar salad that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Anyway, that's all for today. I have class tomorrow so hubs is on his own, but we will have a nice romantic dinner Friday night, and if I can get away with it, I'll be sure to take pics.....of the dinner. No pics of romance, sorry. ;)

Thanks for reading - as always, I live for comments. :D

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Culinary Intertextuality

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Feeling geeky today. (pushes glasses up nose – ignore the fact that the glasses are pink, rhinestone-studded Versace for a sec…)

Food is a source of inspiration for me. I find it’s an opportunity to show creativity, artistic talent even, and to just enjoy myself. But in reading another blog – – the subject of original recipes came up.

Is there such a thing as an original recipe?

Probably not.

But when you come to think of it, is there such thing as an original anything? Exploring my favourite literary vein again, let’s go back to Homer’s Odyssey (or the Iliad). Many consider this to be one of the first written works of fiction (or legend or what have you) in the Western world. But as my comp lit prof so often told us, there was nothing original with Homer. He was taking thousands of years of oral tradition and merely putting them into a new and less metamorphosing form. Something concrete, at that point in time.

Virgil came later and tried to surpass what Homer did, by writing the Aeneid. And then Ovid tried to turn it all topsy-turvy with his Metamorphosis. Fine, dandy.

Then you get real nutcases like Boccacio who, for example, uses a crazy frame-work to turn the structure of fiction on its head (holy story within a story in that one batman) to build a canvas for his fiction or not fiction, depending on what frame you see.

And this just continues in modern times – you can look at experimental fiction today and really, is it that much stranger than The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (which dates back to 1759)?

The real crux, however, is that nothing is being done that hasn’t been done before. There is nothing new. Very rarely do we truly innovate, in the literary sense. The tools change, the context changes, but the people-vs-people interaction remains as it always has been. You can’t separate yourself from what you already know and what you’ve already done, and hence this is the nature of literary intertextuality. People do not exist in vacuums and all you do is influenced by who you are and what you’ve already done.

Is food any different?

Probably not. Is it possible to create a new recipe that hasn’t been influenced by anything you’ve ever made and tasted before? No way. So this is what I like to call culinary intertextuality, or really, the impossibility of culinary innovation.

That said I don’t care. :)

I revel in the fact that all of the amazing cuisines I’ve had the fortune to enjoy are as we speak revolving around my little brain, influencing how I create a meal. It just makes it SOOOO much more fun. The cosmopolitan nature of today’s food economy means that now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to be exposed to how others throughout the world prepare food. I love seeing how surroundings influence the flavours of the dishes – the spices that are used, the way the food is eaten, everything.

I just enjoyed a yummy meal of homemade chowmein, and am now sipping on a delightful cup of chai tea. The world at my fingertips, indeed.

On Sunday, I ended up with an impromptu mini dinner party, and had a good time getting that together. Had a little too much time on my hands and hubs had invited a friend over to work on some sort of project, so I suggested that the friend stay for dinner as well.

And then spent the rest of the afternoon having a little fun in the kitchen.

Homemade foccacia was the first thing that I made. It wasn’t that hard! I was inspired (see??!!??) by the ACE bakery rosemary foccacia I had enjoyed the night before. I LOVE that stuff, but I just can’t foresee spending $4 for a teeny loaf of bread that hubs and I will devour in a matter of minutes (it’s that good – the lazy among you should buy it and eat it!). I opened up a cookbook and found myself a recipe. Foccacia is a time-consuming bread to make, but not terribly labour-intensive. First you make a “sponge” (warm water, flour and yeast) that is technically *supposed* to stand overnight. I only had a few hours to let it stand, and it seemed to work just fine, though the fermented flavour would probably benefit from a longer standing time. After you’ve made the sponge, you add more flour, water, a bit of snipped rosemary, and some sea salt. Also pretty simple. The somewhat yucky part is kneading for 10 minutes (I could not ever knead again and die happy, but I guess that is the price we pay for tasty homemade bread). Let rise for a while (tip: cover your dough, put in a cool oven, turn on the oven light, and voila, you have the perfect warm draft-free place for your bread to rise!)……then you dump it out of the bowl onto a baking stone (if you have one, which I don’t) and let rise for some more time. The fun part is spreading it out, dimpling it with your fingers, and then brushing with olive oil. At this point, I also snipped more rosemary and sprinkled sea salt and then baked my way to salty, chewy, crusty perfection. I love bread.

We also had Caesar salad, but I was very lazy with this – renee’s light dressing, jarred (real) bacon bits, boxed croutons…..and some fresh parmigiano-reggiano to try to redeem it. It was tasty.

Main course was also very tasty. I had lucked out a couple of weeks ago finding striploin steaks on sale, so I stocked up. Pulled a couple out of the freezer, and trimmed of visible fat (I hate fat on my meat! Blech!). These were bbq’d to perfection by my cute hubby (with some montreal steak spice). I topped the steaks with a mixture of caramelized onions, marsala and cracked peppercorns. I have to say cracking peppercorns is one of the most fun things put them in a little baggie and then go at them with a meat mallet. :) It's like therapy, but free!

I made these delicious twice-baked potatoes from epicurious - Potato Recipe I used whipping cream instead of half and half (I had some leftover from last week’s dinner party), PC peppercorn goat cheese, skipped the butter and topped with a sprinkling of paprika. I suggest adding salt, and perhaps some garlic for a little more flavour, but the presentation is quite impressive (yay for the good old icing gun!) and they are very easy to make. Two thumbs up. I also added some stir-fried veggies – matchstick carrots (leftover from some other recipe), green beans, peppers, onion and mushrooms, along with some olive oil, garlic, sea salt and rosemary. Yum!

And it was a success. Hubs’ confirmed bachelor friend is now re-considering his status.

Have two more dinner parties on the near horizon. A low-key one next week for the in-laws (it’s on a weeknight) and one next Sunday for some friends of ours. I’m always bittersweet on in-law dinners. On the one hand, I love preparing things that I know they will like, but on the other hand, they make such a HUGE kerfuffle about me not fussing that it has a somewhat vampirish effect on the joy I take from cooking. I mean, I *could* serve them plain baked chicken and potatoes with boiled veggies, but I wouldn’t serve that to myself! So why would I serve it to them????? It’s funny how a woman who seems to derive pleasure from keeping her house meticulously clean (a pleasure that I, clearly, do not share), would not understand the pleasure that I get in preparing tasty food for the enjoyment of others? They're awesome people, but not inclined to indulge themselves....

So I will make the whole dinner on Monday night, so when they arrive for dinner on Tuesday, all is taken care of, and we won’t need to order in (which is what they want to do…they’ll treat, but I’d still rather cook).

For our friends, I’m thinking Moroccan. Not sure why, but I think it will be fun. I think I’ll do a little research over the next little while – I’m thinking like Moroccan/French fusion something – so it’s exotic, but not too much so. The french colonial link makes me think that there could already be some great fusion ideas out there.

I want to make something with a "foam" just because I never have and it sounds cool. And I think apricots will somehow have to be involved. Any suggestions?

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What goes up, must come down

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After such a luscious evening of overindulgence and rich cuisine, there really was, culinarily speaking, nowhere to go but crashingly, horrifically, down.

I'm of the opinion that you can't always be "ON" when it comes to your martha-esque attempts. Consistently trying to outdo yourself day after day is just not a good idea. It's exhausting.

Not to mention expensive....I think I spent about $130 in groceries for dinner last night, not to mention an additional trip to the liquor store. But it's always so enjoyable.

But the food today was perhaps not as universally enjoyable.....

One of hubs' favourite snacks is roasted pumpkin seeds, and I'd like to think I make some pretty darn awesome roasted pumpkin seeds....every Hallowe'en, we clean out the pumpkin, wash the seeds, and then I toss them in olive oil, cajun seasoning, hot sauce, garlic, pepper and worcestershire sauce. Bake at 350F for about an hour, stirring every ten minutes. They are AMAZING.

But since hubs was still craving pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin season was long over, I thought I would try to "fake" it. I bought the plainest pumpkin seeds I could find (just plain roasted ones from Bulk Barn), thinking that I would do the same thing, and just re-roast them. So I tossed a whack of them in EVOO and seasonings, and put in the oven at 350F for 10 minutes.

When I came back to the kitchen, it was filled with smoke! I managed to absolutely burn the crap out of the very very sad. It's been 5 hours and it still stinks.

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I know they look like coffee beans, but they're actually charred, smoky, nasty pumpkin seeds. So sad.

Spurred on by my minor disaster, I just didn't really feel like making real food (also, while I've done a couple of dishwasher loads, I've yet to do any handwashing). I desperately wanted to go out and have Mexican, but hubs wouldn't go for it. Meanwhile, I was secretly imagining the delight of a yummy burrito, draped in luscious melty cheese surrounded with pools of refried beans and other such yummy goodness.

And I had KD. I will confess to adding half a chopped shallot and some grated extra-old cheddar, but it was still KD in its packaged, powdery glory. Yum.

The funniest thing is that I never had it growing up (mom's homemade mac&cheese being a family favourite), but now that I am supposed to be a 'grown-up' I often revert to the perennial childhood favourite. Not sure why it has such an appeal, but it somehow does.

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Look at that. All shiny and orange, and most definitely unnatural....but enjoyed nonetheless. :) I ate a whole box.

Found out today that my mom will be dropping by I have a little more tidying to do tonight....meh.

Anyway, I'll leave you with a picture of Darwin, because he was cute and wanted to say hi. He too, has dreams of being an internet star. hahahaha

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Success.....for the most part

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I have way too much fun planning these parties. I could seriously have one every second week and be ecstatic about it. It's so much fun to plan and execute the menu, and then see everyone enjoy the food. :)

And I think it was enjoyed! :) I won't lie and say it wasn't a ton of work - I probably spent about 4 hours on Friday night in the kitchen, and then another 4-5 hours on Saturday....but I think it was worth it. It was nice to have everything ready ahead of time so I didn't have last minute fussing - just things like, reheating sauces I had already made, etc. Highly recommend this sort of approach to making food for other people.

I often lament that the formal dinner party seems to have fallen by the wayside...people don't like to plan them, don't like to host them, etc....but I will tell ya, I never have problems getting people to come to them. ;)

I'll go by course and give you a little rundown and analysis. The first little snack I had for folks was the little roasted red pepper bocconcini sticks. This was very easy and quick to put together. I had a *minor* moment earlier on Saturday, because I opened my container of bocconcini and it smelled like feta. Bocconcini should NOT smell like feta. I made the mistake of sampling one of these slightly sticky balls....and then suffered a few moments of angst regarding whether or not I had just inadvertently poisoned myself...but I think I'm okay. Anyway, I chucked that container, and hubs was kind enough to buy me another container. One I had the non-feta-scented bocconcini, I just tossed it in purchased pesto. Then I threaded it on toothpicks with (purchased) roasted red peppers. I arranged it on the platter and then drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette (not purchased). All were eaten, so I think they were enjoyed. Here is a pic!

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Tastiness. :)

The next course was the salad. I REALLY loved the salad (see previous post for recipe). I modified the dressing a bit, as per suggestions of reviewers on epicurious - used less oil, added a bit of red wine vinegar, more lemon and a touch of honey. I used mache instead of arugula - mache is very mildly flavoured and textured, and I much prefer it to a more strongly flavoured leaf....for the orange, I discovered that clementines are now in season (YIPPPPEEEEE!), so I cut the peel of several clementines, and then sliced horizontally to make beautifully tasty pieces of orange. The pomegranate was a bit of a pain to seed, but so brilliantly coloured and flavoured that I think it's worth the effort. It has such a beautiful jewel shade that it really just looks gorgeous on the plate. For goat cheese, I was at a bit of a loss, because I really don't eat it....I thought I wanted one coated in cranberry or something else that would complement the salad, but the cheapest cranberry one was like $10.....and the PC brand coated in peppercorns was only $3 (on sale!). So I went cheap....and you know what....I actually really enjoyed it. It was creamy and nice, with a bit of a different flavour, but nothing overly goaty.

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I definitely recommend making this salad for company - it looks very pretty on the plate (I tossed the mache in dressing, plated it, and then topped with the pomegranate/orange and goat cheese). Easy to make too.

The soup was definitely NOT easy to make. Whenever I roast peppers, I always swear up and down afterward that I'll never make roasted peppers again. What a huge pain in the ass. I'm really glad I made these soups on took about four hours, all told. So much roasting, peeling, etc. BUT, they did look lovely. And yellow peppers are so gorgeous...

Both unroasted:
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And roasted:
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As I said before, I didn't bother straining the soups - the texture was pretty much even, so I just experimented with adding more chicken broth to make sure that the soups would work together.

I was a bit disappointed to find that my tomato soup was not the brilliant red I was hoping for....and must confess to adding several drops of red food colouring to get the nice colour I wanted....heehee. I have to say that it's a trick I've used before (for things like thai red or green curries....we can't stomach enough of the chilis to give it a nice colour so I just bump it up a bit....I'm sure the restaurants do this too because their curries aren't any hotter, but are always much more colourful). So there....that is my soupy confession.

The only disappointment with the soup is that my serrano cream was much more dense than the soup, so it sunk right to the bottom. So sad. :( Next time, I would try thinning out the cream a little bit so it would be less dense. The flavours were quite nice....not spectacular, but the presentation was so cool. My soups were thick enough that the two soups STAYED separate, which was kinda cool. I recommend making this if you have a lot of time on your hands and you want something different and cool.

Main course also turned out beautifully. I bought the fillet mignons from M&M (about 6 ounces each, for $10.99 for two). The size is just right for a nice amount of tasty tasty steak. The only thing I would change is that I also would have bought some bread to have on the table. I think the boys maybe could have eaten more (they had seconds) and bread might have filled them up a little better. The wasabi mashed potatoes were awesome. I think I did about 3-4 pounds of yukon gold potatoes, 3/4 c. homogeneized milk, just under 2 T wasabi powder (you could use more) and some butter and whipping cream to round it out. I made these up ahead of time, whipped them, and then just reheated in the oven when the time came. I had NO luck finding skinny beans, so I frenched the beans I did find.....steamed them in the rice cooker. Yum. And the peppercorn sauce, as always, was a big hit. I love that recipe!!!!!!!!

But the dessert was quite a disappointment to me. :( The flavour of the panna cotta was delicious and the sauce was amazing (I really didn't think that port, balsamic vinegar, sugar and raspberries would be so good!), but the texture of the blasted panna cotta was so tooth-suckingly gelatinous that I was quite disappointed. I made the recipe according to directions, 2T of gelatin powder (I was actually a little bit short) and it was WAY too much gelatin. Yucky. It was easy to make, but I would be tempted to use half the amount of gelatin and see how it went. If you don't already have a copy of the latest Food&Drink, you should find yourself a copy, because there are some great recipes in it!

Anyway, it's now 3:30pm, I'm still in my robe and I have a whole whack of yucky, congealing dishes to get through. Thanks for reading!

I will leave you with a couple of pictures of the room.....

Here is the living room, all done up
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Here is the fun centrepiece I made (yay for $10 flowers! I did a couple of other little arrangements through the house, all out of the same bunch!)
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And the table set-up.....
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PS - I just tried to use the blogger spellcheck for the first time (figuring I might try to compensate for my atrocious brain-to-fingers reflexes) and it blows goats! It didn't recognize clementine, feta, arugula, bocconcini, or basically ANY food words....not very helpful!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Cleaning vs. thinking

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Thinking always wins. Hubs and I are having some friends over for dinner next week, and since we haven't had a dinner party or company in a while, I'm all excited, planning the menu. I *should* be perhaps cleaning, getting dressed....or any of a number of things that would actually accomplish something.

But I'd rather revel in my be-robed bliss, with a rich cup of dark roast next to me. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....... and then think about food, of course.

I haven't had these friends over for dinner yet, so I'm not really sure of preferences. I sent out the request for likes/dislikes, and the only thing I have is seafood and mushrooms.

So I thought I would plan a meal with the theme of passion - some red to every course, and just a hint of exoticism...

The menu....

Amuse Bouche
Bocconcini red pepper pesto bites (VERY simple - roasted red pepper wrapped around a mini bocconcini with some pesto) - nice basic flavours and easy prep for me. Just something for people to nibble before dins....

This will be a showstopper. It's a roasted yellow pepper soup, along with a roasted tomato soup, drizzled with serrano cream. The beauty of this is that you pour in the brilliant yellow and red soup from opposite sides of the bowl, to the presentation should be magnificent. Very excited. Puréed soup is one of my favourite things ever. This recipe is from epicurious - SOUP RECIPE and though I don't plan on putting it through a sieve, etc., I think it will be wonderful. The soups can be made the day before.

Arugula salad with pomegranate seeds, oranges and goat cheese - also from epicurious - again, I thought the jewel tones would go with the theme and pomegranates are just so cool. I can make this up earlier in the day and dress at the last minute. SALAD RECIPE

6 oz fillet mignon with peppercorn brandy sauce, served with wasabi mashed potatoes and skinny green beans. Nothing is yummier than grilled beef with peppercorn sauce. *just in case* I end up with non-beef-eaters, I'll defrost a chicken breast or two....but hubs can cook the beef to everyone's liking so hopefully they will enjoy. Wasabi mashed is awesome. I always loved horseradish, but hated how it overpowered the meat - this is a more subtle version, with an exotic and surprising taste. I'll use yukon gold potatoes for an extra rich, golden colour. The beans I will just drizzle in a bit of butter, sea salt and pepper. I'm really hoping to find the skinny kind though, because they are just more elegant on the plate. The peppercorn sauce is amazing. It takes WAY longer to thicken than the recipe indicates, but I can make it earlier in the day, along with the mashed potatoes. Beans and steak are last minute finishes, but are relatively unfussy and quick. PEPPERCORN SAUCE REcIPE

Crap. Just found out one of the guests is a pseudo vegetarian.....I *think* I will make some stuffed peppers for her. Again, they are something I can make in advance, I can use veggie ground round for protein, and they are quite tasty. It's just a bit of a challenge to find a straight meat sub for this particular meal, because the meat is quite central, and I just don't feel that a bbq'd hunk of tofu is an adequate sub. Yuck! I think peppers might be okay, though I worry it might be too much 'pepprage' for a single meal. Then again, she may prefer a boneless chicken breast, which would also be quite tasty with the peppercorn sauce....we shall see. Now that I think of it, I could actually make the stuffed peppers for dinner on Friday, and just not cook a couple of them. They would keep fine in the fridge, and then I could cook them on Saturday....hmmmmmmmmm.....
Steak demands a chocolate finish. I don't think anything else could hold up to the rich flavours and lingering red wine. I found a really yummy-looking panna cotta recipe in the new LCBO magazine. Bittersweet Chocolate Panna Cotta with Raspberry and Port Sauce. holy yummy decadence batman. The panna cottas can be made ahead of time as well and are just plated and drizzled with sauce at the last minute. I like that it won't be too sweet.

So hopefully it will be enjoyed.....I enjoy planning it out and making it, and this menu doesn't leave me with a lot of last minute fussing, which is key to having a fun evening. It's not that fun for the guests when the host is off hidden away in the sweat shop ( and slaving away. An open kitchen would be ideal for entertaining, but I think this menu will be fab.

I'm super excited to try the just sounds so gorgeous, and really not that hard to make. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

SO yeah, day off work, should be doing something, not doing a darn thing and loving it!

Thanks for reading! Any suggestions on the menu? :)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

NCC, are you listening?

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Happy Sunday.

So, Remembrance Day was yesterday - and I hope everyone was able to remember in whatever way turned their crank. :)

Hubs and I headed downtown to the National War Memorial to pay our respects, and I have to say I have a MASSIVE beef with whoever plans this out.

One would think that the planners would want a large crowd so all the video/photo that will be published shows a massive display of support. One would think.

Now, it's also important to keep in mind that the layout of the National War Memorial is not exactly ideal for large gatherings. The memorial itself is at the top of a gentle slope, and where the crowd is, it slopes downward. So basically, unless you're in the first row of people, you can't see a thing. This is fine, and I knew this beforehand.

I've actually been in the first row a couple of times, but it does involve getting downtown at least an hour or two ahead of time, which wasn't so likely to happen on a rainy, cold Saturday....

So anyway, they do have video and sound set up so that those of us who weren't there are 9AM actually have something worth seeing or hearing. But IT DOESN'T WORK! The placement of the video screens was nonsensical, and compounded by the fact that the one most people could see stopped working about halfway through. But this isn't a huge issue as long as you can hear.

But the sound system royally blows. I could hear any music - i.e., the bands, the lone bugler, the piper, the choir - we could hear that relatively problem-free, but anything that was spoken was completely inaudible. So it means that you don't get hardly anything out of your show of support.

So my question to the NCC (or whoever plans out the logistics of this) - why do you not make it relatively worthwhile for people to come out and show their support? Seriously, I would have got more out of it if I had stayed home and watched it (and heard it!) on TV. I WANT to go downtown for Remembrance Day, but if it just means that I'm standing ina bemused, confused, and otherwise uncertain crowd, it really doesn't have the kind of meaning that it should.

So PLEASE, FIX the sound system so people can hear! There are experts in this type of thing who would be more than happy (I'm sure) to show you how to do this....use their expertise!

Anyway, aside from that I was happy that we could be there to show our support and respect for the individuals who are facing a constant threat right now. As I said, I don't know if I support the war, but I absolutely support the individuals who are in such danger right now.

Otherwise, yesterday was not otherwise exciting. I napped all afternoon, after a tasty lunch of homemade mushroom soup and baguette. Skipped dinner and headed to a party (perhaps, in retrospect, a bad idea....), enjoyed far too many blackfly coolers (YUMMY! and finished the night off with a 3AM buffalo chicken sandwich at Elgin Street Diner. :)

Am currently debating whether or not my shaky tummy is ready for more food.....

Am not currently debating whether or not I should do laundry - my lovely, lovely hubby is doing it for me! Is he an absolute prince or what???!!!???

Friday, November 10, 2006

A New Generation of Remembrance

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With Remembrance Day being tomorrow, I can’t help but delve into the reasoning and motivation that shape our approach and understanding of this day. The current military activities in Afghanistan have brought new relevance to the idea of remembering sacrifice and devotion to one’s country. And with these great sacrifices, our faint memories of past sacrifices have become less fuzzy, less black and white, less grainy; now rendering themselves in sharp focus, surround sound and the haunting lament of a lone bagpipe. I have a few Remembrance Day stories I’d like to share, if only to bring you some thoughts to ponder….

For me, November 11 has been a time of remembrance and reflection for as long as I can recall. As a child, the memories are less clear, but they are nonetheless there. Impressions of sadness, of solemnity. John McCrae’s words splashed overhead on a yellowed transparency. Gluing black to the centre of a big red poppy. Stiffness from sitting cross-legged on the gym floor. I doubt that I truly understood what was going on, but I knew that it was important.

As a teenager, the images of memory are less ambiguous. Adolescent remembrance brings feelings of cold, of trembling, of more solemnity and deeper sadness. It also brought me a new appreciation for this day as I had the good fortune to actually speak with veterans. Through an involvement in cadets, I can remember the brave and proud columns of veterans. I remember the wizened world war one veterans, marching as proudly as their age would allow. The group, already decimated by memory, grew smaller and lonelier every year, until there were simply none of these brave men left. I remember that legions of world war two veterans, honoured and strong. And I remember thinking that if these brave people could survive the horrors of war and still be out there in the cold every November, then it would be least I could do to support them out there.

Learning about Canadian history brought a true clarity to what I was supposed to be remembering. To this day, I can’t hear place names like Passchaendaele, Vimy, Juno Beach, Flanders, Ypres without thinking about the great sacrifice that happened there. A gifted teacher brought the grainy, colourless past to life for us. By this time, we knew dates and places, but this illumination added a human side to the historical ledger – a picture of suffering and a deeper respect for all involved. We imagined what it would be like to be in a trench, to endure endless rain and mud, to fear mustard gas, to face an endless barrage of fire and yet break bread with the enemy in the Christmas Day truce of 1914. We felt the pride of being Canadian when we learned about the great success of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. By the end of that year, Remembrance Day was more than a vague impression of sadness, but a true sense of admiration.

At the same time, not everyone understood. I stood with the veterans, I played the Last Post so many times… letting its poignancy ring through an otherwise silent crowd. But not everyone had this. If we go back in time about a dozen or so years, say 1995, we’ll find me, sitting in a 10th grade classroom, valiantly defending the relevance of Remembrance Day to the apathetic adolescent masses. I remember classmates questioning the relevance of this day…questioning the relevance of war in general and wondering why they were supposed to care and why we were celebrating war. But you see, the thing is, we’re not celebrating war. We’re not glorifying war. What we’re doing celebrating the resiliency and endurance of humanity, how the devotion to one’s country can mean an ultimate sacrifice. This sacrifice needs to be remembered. We need to appreciate those young men and women who died and who were injured – they are still relevant. But in 1995, not so many could see the relevance. Our southern neighbours had Vietnam to bring relevance to this day, but we saw war as only a distant memory. Something better left untouched.

I spent some time on Parliament Hill, where I gained even more cognizance of Canadian sacrifice. I saw the books of remembrance, where the names of the dead are inscribed. Over a hundred thousand Canadians have been killed in action and this was something that shocked me. I found myself imagining a group the size of a city all being snuffed out, and it really brought home the depth of sacrifice that happened. I saw the massive paintings commissioned by Lord Beaverbrook on the walls of the Senate, including the cloth guild in Ypres (which I later saw first hand in Belgium).

Fast forward to Remembrance Day 2001. Exactly two months after 9/11, I found myself at the foot of the war memorial of Vimy Ridge. This ridge is almost surreal in its ability to convey meaning and relevance. Somehow, before I visited, I vague impressions in my head about troops hiding in the base of a giant white stone edifice. Not exactly what happened…and probably not what I was supposed to think. But allow me to just try to paint a literal picture of this scene and I can only hope to bring a fraction of its depth to you. The approach to the ridge is via a wide, tree-lined avenue. In rural France, the formality of this avenue seems almost out of place, but yet the natural arch of foliage just invites to continue your exploration. It all seems serenely beautiful until you notice the barbed wire fence keeping you on the avenue, and the abnormal number of sheep munching their way through the wilderness. The ground behind the fence is strangely pockmarked, and very uneven. You’re actually seeing the deep scars of war, nearly 90 years after the fact. The sheep are the only thing light enough to walk in this space, as it still suffers the deadly legacy of artillery shells.

Nearing the end of the avenue, you round a bend, and everything is clear. There is nothing before you but an expanse of green and a gleaming white monument. I was lucky enough to be able to approach the monument in complete solitude, and able to just take everything in on my own. I climbed the steps of the monument, and then I saw. And I understood. Sometimes, it can be difficult to comprehend why a particular battle or a particular sacrifice was of such importance. But the minute you can see over the ridge, you can see why this battle was a pivotal point in the war. Overlooking the Douai plain, whoever controlled this ridge, had control of the Douai plain, and all of the vital coal this to this day is still found there. I saw the statue of Canada, as a young nation, cast in stone as a young woman, mourning her dead. I heard the stories of how Canadian soldiers approached the ridge under the veil of a rolling barrage to surprise the enemy. I learned of the 10 602 Canadian casualties, with 3 598 paying the ultimate sacrifice. These people deserve our appreciation and respect.

But it took the deaths of four Canadian soldiers in 2002 (the “friendly-fire” incident) for Remembrance Day to regain widespread relevance. Since 2002, 43 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan and each new casualty brings with it a wave of support to our troops. Do I fully support our war in Afghanistan? You know what, I’m not really sure. I haven’t been there, I don’t know what we’re doing, I haven’t seen what’s going on. But do I support the men and women whose lives are threatened on a daily basis? Absolutely. I think all Canadians should support these people – many of them are so young and so full of life, and to think that it could end at any time is, I would argue, deserving of a minute or two of your time.

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