The Secret Garden

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In a secluded corner of a large open field, tucked behind a suburban university residence, lives an oasis of thriving vegetables and herbs. It’s hard to find unless you know exactly where it is and what you’re looking for. I’d even say it’s a secret garden.

On summer and early fall Tuesdays and Thursdays, this collective teaching garden opens a teeny farm stand to the public, selling bunches of whatever it has enough of that week. Today there were zucchinis as large as my forearm and delicate bundles of mint. I opted for an imperfect cucumber, a bright yellow summer squash, a wad of yellow and green beans, and some mixed lettuces. Four lonely zucchini blossoms tempted, but I’ll wait for next week when hopefully the crop will be larger – this week’s torrential rain wiped out most of the delicate flowers.

With the recent heat and humidity, cooking has not seemed appealing. I’d completely forgotten about the nearby veggie patch; this week’s local crop has inspired me again. Thank you, secret garden.

Party Sandwiches

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There is no rational explanation for my obsession with party sandwiches.

Small rectangles of the most boring soft, crustless white or whole-wheat bread, layered with chopped egg salad or canned tuna or salmon, some in double-decker combinations: there is nothing remotely exciting about party sandwiches. You could easily make them yourself. And yet if you try, they never taste the same.

Bland comfort food at its finest, trays of party sandwiches have consoled mourners at post-funeral gatherings in my family ever since I was a child. When my maternal grandmother died I made sure to order plenty for everyone who came to pay their respects.

If I’m sick and my tummy is not up for the usual curries or sushi or tacos, I crave a plate of party sandwiches.

More recently, party sandwiches have become my go-to travel and pre-trip food. The night before an early flight, they serve as a light supper. Perfect plane food, too. Small and compact, and not too smelly.

Party sandwiches are plain. They are unassuming. They don’t make a fuss.

In the end, they’re just sandwiches. But like anything that’s greater than the sum of its parts, they’re also so much more.

Party sandwiches, potato knish, dill pickles

Tiny Creature

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I thought it was dead at first.

A tiny creature, just a few inches long, dark grey or maybe brown, attached to a larger organ of some kind by a thin tissue fibre.

And then the little thing squirmed and let out a few plaintive meeps. And I knew it had to be a kitten. A newborn kitten.

It lay just behind the latched gate of a daycare centre. Shane asked if I had a scissors or knife on me so he could sever the fibre tied to the organ – we weren’t sure what it was, a placenta, maybe? With one hand on my phone to call the SPCA to see if they were open, I walked around to the daycare centre’s front door to see if anyone was around. The door was locked, and I couldn’t find a doorbell. The SPCA website was not responsive and it was next to impossible to find the phone number on the tiny mobile version.

I rounded the corner back to the kitten, but it was gone. Shane explained that in the moments I’d been out of sight, the mamma cat had come looking for its baby, gave the human interloper at “WTF?” stare, popped the kitten into her mouth, and walked off with baby and attached placenta.

Shane looked bereft.

Over Indian food, he told me that we’d nearly gone home with a newborn kitten to add to our menagerie of three felines.

Maybe next time.

Remembering New School

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Last night we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the New School, an alternative program at Dawson College based on principles of humanistic education. At the same time, we paid tribute to Greta Hofmann Nemiroff, retiring longtime teacher and co-director of the school.

I got a chance to experience the New School in its heydey, when it still occupied two whole floors of an Old Montreal office building. After an unhappy high-school experience where I’d ended up in advanced science and math classes despite not a shred of interest in those subjects, I was finally in my element. We had darkrooms, film editing labs, art studios, a ceramics kiln, and a black-box theatre. Apparently we even had our own library, though I don’t remember it. Classrooms felt more like living rooms, complete with grubby homey couches. We brought mugs to make tea in the common spaces, where plenty of plants added to the cozy feel. I became addicted to Earl Grey.

broccoliI felt like a whole person at the New School, respected and valued for qualities beyond my academic performance. We “shopped” for “learning groups” at the start of each term and created our own curriculum. These groups were later matched with official government-sanctioned course names in a strange ritual called “course matching.” I would look at my transcript every semester and have no idea what courses I actually took.

Everyone participated in twice-weekly “bands” in which the subject was our lives. We talked a lot about process, about our feelings, about how we interacted with each other. We did self-evaluations and group evaluations. I learned to become self-aware. We were very earnest and idealistic.

There was a saying at New School, emblazoned on a T-shirt:

There is no broccoli at New School, but if any showed up, we would accept it for what it was.

You probably had to be there.

I met people from all walks of life and made lifelong friends. I learned the art of the potluck and discovered hummus. I listened to Kate Bush, Suzanne Vega, Jane Siberry, Joni Mitchell. I became addicted to the toasted tomato sandwiches served in the basement cafeteria.

One semester, I facilitated a learning group and we put out three issues of a school newspaper, in the era just before desktop publishing became commonplace. We cut up typewritten newspaper articles, pasted them up with scotch tape, and photocopied and stapled them together. We ran a bake sale and car wash to raise funds for photocopy costs. I wrote this piece for one issue:

What a New Schooler Sees

I pursued my passion for theatre and soon discovered an even greater passion for film, encouraged by a mentor in the form of teacher Simon Davies. (I went on to study film and TV at university.) Through Greta and my peers, I discovered feminism and activism, became even more unafraid to go against the tide, and learned how to articulate and speak up about things that were important to me.

At New School, I thrived, and it helped shape who I am. I wish New School all the best for the next 40 years.

Smoothie Adventure

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Blender

There sat the word on my “Things to Get” list for well over a year. As a smoothie-lover, my $40, 14-speed Osterizer just wasn’t cutting it anymore. Barely crumbled ice cubes, lumpy date residue… I needed to face facts: my smoothies were sad.

During a trip to warmer climes this past winter, our living quarters were graced with some positively kick-ass blenders. They whirred like a boss. Frozen drinks abounded. I quickly became spoiled.

With the return of hot and humid weather in Montreal, I’ve been motivated to find out just what those magical blenders were, and where I could get one.

Several emails and one Amazon order later, the Oster Versa Performance Blender is mine. It’s got 1,100 watts of mighty melding power. And I’m in smoothie heaven.

Chocolate Banana Smoothie

  • Servings: 1
  • Time: 5 minutes
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1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 pitted date (for sweetness, you can use another type of sweetener if you prefer, like honey)
1 frozen banana chunks
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. nut butter, any kind (I like trying various nut-butter combos from Nuts to You)
1-2 ice cubes (optional, if you have a high-performance blender they’ll give your drink a more slushie-like texture)

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

I have this smoothie for a quick breakfast at least a few times a week.

This recipe is a variation of the original Vegan Chocolate Milkshake from Food52.

Pineapple Mango Smoothie

  • Servings: 1
  • Time: 10 minutes
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1/3 cup fresh pineapple, cubed (I’m sure canned would be fine too)
1/2 cup frozen or fresh mango, cubed
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (you could use water, regular milk, or orange juice if you prefer)
3 tbsp. orange juice (optional)
1 tsp. honey (or your preferred sweetener, like agave or cane sugar)
3 ice cubes

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

This smoothie has a delicious Creamsicle-like flavour. I may try a few drops of vanilla next time to boost that impression.

This recipe is a variation of the original Tropical Smoothie from the Oster Versa Fresh & Fit Recipe Guide.

Got a favourite smoothie recipe? I’d love to know about it.

Getting Comfortable With Child Themes

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When I get excited about something to do with WordPress, my usual inclination is to create a presentation to share my enthusiasm with others. That’s what I did for child theming, a handy way of making changes to a pre-made theme for a self-hosted WordPress site – without losing all your tweaks the next time you update the theme to its latest version.

I’ve presented this talk at a couple of WordCamps, and the video from last year’s event in Montreal is now online. Curious about child themes? Check out the talk – about 35 minutes including audience questions – and slides below.

Hand Model

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When I was much younger, I used to bite my nails and cuticles. Perhaps from stress, possibly just a bad habit. Then one day for some inexplicable reason, I no longer felt the urge to bite my nails anymore, and I stopped.

Having messed-up hands as a kid, I never ever would have expected that one day a talented jewellery designer would ask me to model some rings for her new website.

And yet, it happened! My friend Rachel Dhawan needed some hand models, and a gathering of friends was the perfect opportunity to have some of us lend a hand – literally.

Here’s how it went down.

It was a fun experience… but I don’t think I’ll give up my day job.