The subject is forced

So people have been whining that I haven't blogged since the bike trip. Well, cycle camping is the bomb and has kept me going for the past couple of weeks, but, yes, I acknowledge that it's been a while and it's about time to be updating Liminal Me. Unfortunately, besides some really long work days, not much is new. So instead, I'll return to something tried and true.

This evening, it being Friday, we've reverted to an old habit from last year. We made a last minute reservation at Henry's. Henry's is a crazy kinda place, located in a strip mall nearby (Oak and King Edward) and serving mostly Italian goodies but with some surprising Asian influences scattered across the menu. For example, you can dine on penne putanesca with escargots to start, and finish with a banana chocolate spring roll. Alright, the restaurant is in a strip mall. Alright, their idea of interior decor is those crappy painted roosters you can buy at Winner's. But, the food is seriously, seriously now, really super tasty good.

Rocco and I both ventured away from our usuals today (bolognese and primavera, respectively). Rocco tried the boeuf bourguignon and I opted for the "seasonal vegetable platter". I knew it was a risk. Though I quite adore the spaghettini primavera because the sauce is very good and the vegetables are usually, ok mostly, fresh, I was betting that a "seasonal platter" might throw the chef for a bit of a loop. I was wrong. I admit it. I'm a food snob and the painted chicken was giving me the beady eye. The seasonal platter of veggies was terrific! They offered mushrooms with parsley, perfectly steamed carrots and broccoli, some delicious ragout, roasted tomatoes with a sundried tomato sauce, braised green beans, and maybe a few other bits I've now forgotten. Really, it was delicious. To offset the lack of starch in my dish we ordered Henry's cheese garlic bread (heart attack platter but necessary) and a starter salad of radicchio, escarole, glazed walnuts, grapes, and cambozola. Yum! After dinner, since we still had some Las Rocas grenache left to finish, we didn't bother with dessert, and, in fact, we're usually too stuffed and sated to bother with dessert at Henry's.

Maybe I shouldn't go into the dinner conversation that mulled over where the division lies between art and craft, between intention and creation. It's enough to say that a fantastic meal can be had in a strip mall and you should all try Henry's. We're happy to take visitors and locals there anytime you please. They specialize in fresh fish dishes (Rocco had the salmon once, and now denies it, but I recall him saying it was quite tasty) but everything on the menu is produced with a great respect for the ingredients.

Henry, we love you!


Autumn feasting

Autumn has definitely arrived in Vancouver. The day after we got back from Galiano last week both Rocco and I noticed that suddenly the city was experiencing Fall. A nip in the air, multicoloured leaves, that soft but crisp light that filters through red and orange and yellow leaves... it's gorgeous around here lately.

This kind of weather makes me want to cook! Last week we had a mid-week extravaganza with barley pilaf, sauteed swiss chard (thanks, mom!), Tuscan white beans with sage, baked portobellas with oregano and mozarella - oo la la. Visiting the farmer's market yesterday inspired me to cook another blow out. Tonight we've invited friends over to help us eat zucchini and heirloom tomato casserole (again, my mom's recipe), roasted sunburst squash with sage, lentil loaf, boiled new potatoes with parsley butter, and Rocco's cooking some organic mustard chicken for the carnivores. Sunburst squash are so super cute (see pic). They're about 1.5 to 2" across and are soft enough that you eat the rind, like zucchini. I chopped them into quarters and tossed the chunks with olive oil and dried sage. Roast for about a half hour and they're good to go. Here are the directions for the remaining dishes we're devouring tonight.

1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 tsp each chopped fresh (or ½ tsp each dried) oregano and basil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground pepper
3 medium zucchini
2 large or 3 medium tomatoes
¼ cup butter or margarine
2 to 3 tbsp finely chopped onion
½ cup dry breadcrumbs

Combine cheddar, Parmesan, herbs, garlic, salt and pepper. Thinly slice zucchini and tomatoes. Butter or spray an 8 x 8 or 9 x 12 pan.

Arrange half the zucchini slices in the pan and sprinkle with ¼ of the cheese mixture. Add half the tomatoes and sprinkle with another ¼ of the cheese mixture. Repeat with zucchini, cheese, tomatoes, ending with cheese.

In small skillet, melt butter and sauté onions until translucent but not browned. Add crumbs and stir well. Spread evenly over top of casserole.

Cover loosely with foil and bake at 375 for 30 mins. Uncover and bake for 20-25 mins longer, or until top is crusty and veggies are tender. The idea is to dry up any liquid during cooking.

Parsley butter
1 cup (packed) coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons (packed) grated lemon peel
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

Finely chop parsley, lemon peel, and garlic in processor. Add butter and process until well blended. Season parsley butter to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)

Boil potatoes in just enough salted water to cover. Drain when potatoes are just tender (~25 or 30 minutes), then toss with a few tablespoons of parsley butter.

Lentil Loaf (made up by Me as an amalgamation of online recipes viewed)
1/2 cup shallots, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 can lentils, drained and rinsed
4 Tbsp quick oats
2 Tbsp Heinz chili sauce (like ketchup)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp marjoram
dash of salt and pepper
1/4 vegetable broth
1/4 cup Heinz chili sauce

Sauté shallots in oil over medium heat until translucent. In a mixing bowl, lightly mash lentils then add oats, 2 Tbsp chili sauce, eggs, and spices. Mix well. Add shallots and broth and mix. Pack into a greased loaf pan then spread 1/4 cup chili sauce over the top. Bake in 375 C oven for 1 hour.

There were virtually no leftovers! Tonight we'll just have the few remaining potatoes, another piece of mustard chicken for himself, some tofu for myself, with salad and steamed broccoli. I don't think I have the autumn cooking bug out of my system yet though, so there may be some good soup this week, and maybe lasagna next week. Have to take advantage of the harvest season!


The wheel of the future

Last weekend we went cycle camping on Galiano Island. Holy smokes! Cycle camping is the best! It is...the wheel of the future! Well, I think it's in our future, because we really enjoyed it. On the ferry home I was already scheming to design another cycling holiday - three weeks of cycle camping (with some B&Bs and maybe the odd hotel) around Italy in the summer. Not next summer, but in a few years maybe. How great would that be?

Friday morning we traveled by bus down to Tsawwassen ferry terminal and caught a morning ferry to Galiano. Our reserved site at Montague Harbour Marine Park was in the walk-in and cycle camping area so no cars or generators in neighbouring sites to annoy us. The site overlooks Montague harbour and is a 10km ride from the ferry terminal. The camp site view:

One thing we knew but hadn't internalised before the trip is that the Gulf Islands are hilly. Those 10km took a while and we worked up an awesome sweat. We borrowed panniers from friends and it felt great to not have a backpack making the sweat situation worse, but, man, bikes loaded with a weekend of gear + island topography + a set of commuter gears on Rocco's bike (they are missing the lowest gears, designed for city riding) made the going tough. But, it's so worth it! The big difference we noticed between backpacking and cycle camping is that when you arrive at camp, your feet don't hurt from hiking and you've been sitting all day on the saddle, so you still have leg energy to set up camp, do your cooking, and explore around a bit.

Since we had beautiful clear blue skies and summer heat, we sat on the beach for a while then took a meander around a nearby point. This tree was delicately balanced in the water, forming a kinetic sculpture that we shook hands with. It also looks like a shark. Maybe a megalodon. Rocco had heard all about arbutus trees but couldn't remember having seen one before. This shot is of the blood red arbutus bark molting away. That first night we made it back to the beach just in time for a beautiful sunset. The camera never captures it completely, does it?, but here is the requisite shot anyway.

It has been a terrible summer for us in terms of getting outside and getting any tent time. We kept getting foiled by sick cats, broken cars, exams, blah blah blah, so this weekend was all about quintessential camping. We built fire. Lots of fire. I brought Jiffy Pop, and we used fire to make Jiffy Pop. Hallelujah, it doesn't get any better!

Saturday morning dawned a bit cloudy and breezy but dry. We had kind of a lazy morning, savouring fantastic camp pancakes, then cycled out to see the island. Mount Galiano is 341m elevation and we climbed up for an amazing view of the South Gulf Islands, the San Juan Islands in the US, and Vancouver Island. There's a panoramic shot on the camera but it isn't stitched together yet. Here's a sample:

On the hike up to the viewpoint the trail leads you past the wreck of a small plane! Rocco figures it might be a beaver, and that it's been there for at least a few decades. We couldn't find anything about it on Google when we got home so there's finally proof that Google is fallible and will never know everything. Mwah hahahahah!
After the hike (we guessed it was about 6km round trip), the clouds cleared and we cycled up to the Hummingbird Pub for a late lunch and a beer on the sunny patio. The resident cat Bart joined us as we basked in the sun. The Hummingbird Pub runs a shuttle service from the campground every hour on the hour, so for future reference, it's an excellent pub with great food and good tap choices plus they'll drive you to and from your camp site. Brilliant.

But of course we were on our bikes. Saturday night we were back at the campsite for another fire and star gazing since the night was completely clear. Again, an almost empty campground even on a gorgeous Saturday night.

Sunday morning we had the option of breaking camp quite early to make it to the ferry for a 9:25am sailing, but that sounded less like a holiday schedule. Instead we lazed about in the dry tent, listening to the rain on the fly. Sweet! Eventually we got up and made breakfast (and another fire) in the group shelter down the lane. Here's a pic of everything packed up and on the bikes, ready for the ride out, and a very grubby Me showing three days of hard, sweaty work and no showers.
I think we traveled even more lightly than we would have if we'd been backpacking. We did have extra space leaving Vancouver so could have brought a few more things but we did have everything we needed. It's surprising how compact it all gets, packed into panniers and strapped to the rack. Leaving the campsite, we had a few hours to kill before the 5pm ferry sailing (yes, only two a day at this time of year!) so we checked out Bellhouse Park for a bit. Saw some seals, or maybe sea lions, cavorting in the waves, and some crazy rock formations.
After the park, we headed back to the Hummingbird Pub and spent most of the rainy afternoon playing travel Scrabble, cuddling Bart, and generally relaxing. The trip home was uneventful, we made all our transfers between ferry, bus, and bus, very smoothly although it did take us ages and hours to get home. Being at home in our own bed with loving cats last night felt fantastic after such a superb weekend.

Here are the stats: 52kms cycled, 6km hiked, 1 pair of long underwear worn (me), 2 deer spotted (Rocco), 3 or 4 seals or sea lions, 2 pub lunches, 3 campfires, 1 Jiffy Pop, countless stars, and wild ambition to do it again! The distances don't look that impressive, but remember that it is a small island, and we wanted to ease our way into cycle camping with a plan that was not to strenuous. I tell you, it was a perfect weekend, and cycle camping is the only way to go.


Feline Figaro

Apparently, the following is a very famous You Tube video that never hit our radars. It's pretty damn cute, and the sequel is even better. What's super weird is that they have made merchandise around this cat playing the piano. Some people will stop at nothing to achieve kitty fame and fortune.


Running Related, Part II

Another running blogger/podcaster is a guy calling himself Steve Runner who hosts Phedippidations. Steve focuses on running tips and techniques, fueling, heart rate monitors, the technical side of running. To tell the truth, I find the phedippidation podcasts boring since they only ever talk about running, but he has another project on the go that is truly fantastic.

Steve Runner organises the Phedippidations World Wide Half Marathon and 5km and this year marks the second race in the annual series. The PWWHM tagline is Think Global - Run Local. Here's the deal, you sign up at www.worldwidehalf.com then run a half-marathon or 5km distance in your local area any day between October 6th and October 22nd and record your time at the site after your race. If there's no race locally within those dates, organise a run among your friends along a 13.1 mile or 5km route you've mapped out. I love the tie-in to sustainability issues, and the way the event tries to bring together runners all over the world to share their running experiences. It's totally free and you can pledge funds for a charity already listed or list a new charity that is dear to your heart. You can form virtual teams if you like, and PWWHM offers a virtual goody bag of discount offers and other stuff that entrants have donated or suggested.

As usual, I'll be running the Royal Victoria Half Marathon on Thanksgiving long weekend which falls within the date range of the World Wide Half. It's not truly local since we do have to take a ferry and a few buses to get there, but there's at least no flight involved and I'm already registered, so there you go. I registered for the PWWHM last week and, surprisingly, I'm the first Vancouver entrant. That really surprises me. So I'm going to promote it locally among the folks I know who run. Maybe we should start up a Vancouver team.

Another cool thing that PWWHM have organised around the virtual event is a website (The Extra Mile Podcast) where entrants can record a short, 2-minute podcast describing their training or their thoughts and feelings about the upcoming races. I'd like to try to record one of my own to submit; I'll let you know if/when that happens. You can hear the submissions on the blog or subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.

One more thing, did you know Rocco is running now? He's been following a Running Room program to train for a 10km distance and as it turns out, he really likes it and is quite good at it. At the Victoria weekend they also offer an 8km race. Rocco and Dora will be running the 8km. Yay! I'm sure if they wanted to they could track their 5km time on their own and enter their results at the World Wide Half site for the 5km distance. It's like accomplishing two races by running one, see? Clever.

In my opinion, a great initiative to support. Maybe next year we'll skip the RVM and organise a 13.1 mile and 5km group in our neighbourhood. I'd likely spend way, way too long designing a t-shirt though and the whole thesis thing would be thrown out the window. Huh, maybe this isn't such a great idea after all... Anyway, Think global - run local!


Running Related, Part I

Against the advice of elite athletes and their supporters (Toni, I'm looking at you!), I do usually run with my iPod Shuffle. Of course, when I'm lucky enough to be running with warm blooded panting partners, I leave the Shuffle at home, but my long runs are getting up around the 20km mark these days and that's a long time to entertain yourself when I have to run alone. I used to check out audio books from the library and rip them to my iTunes to listen while pounding the pavement. That got tedious, especially since public media like library CDs get treated like shit and are often scratched and useless. I got with the times - I found podcasts.

Virtually anyone with a little internet knowhow can create and distribute a podcast, and the running community got on board fairly quickly. Now I subscribe to a few running podcasts from people like Nigel at Running From the Reaper and I get virtual company on my runs. You can hear the podcaster breathing and hear his or her feet striking the ground, and outside noises like birdsong and traffic often get confusing since it can be hard to tell if they are in your own environment or were previously recorded in the British countryside by Nigel. I really enjoy the running podcasts and they often are very informative about running tips and upcoming races or events; more often they are just good company though the 'conversation' is at the mercy of whatever the podcaster is thinking about that day. I also find that my pace adjusts to match the pace of the podcaster, which usually means I speed up a bit to match Nigel's pace.

I also subscribe to a few podcasts of radio shows, from CBC and from NPR. On CBC I like Quirks and Quarks, even though the summer has been a season of reruns of shows I listened to in January and February, and Ideas. On NPR I now subscribe to This American Life, a show devoted to the uncanny inanity of life in the northwest hemisphere and often featuring the hilarious David Sedaris, and Fresh Air, a more political and somewhat serious show that hosts interesting people covering a variety of topics, some topical and some random. This week, This American Life looked at romantic break ups. I really enjoyed the podcast so I thought I'd host it here for some of you to listen to while you're doing the dishes or flying to Ghana or cleaning up cat puke or even, dare I say it, running!

The MP3

The podcast features a girl who is trying to recover from a bad breakup. She claims the relationship was the most cheesy, corny relationship ever, even to the point that they listened to Phil Collins together and eventually both honestly began to appreciate the Genesis band mate's romantic croonings. So, somehow, the girl gets a hold of Phil Collins' contact info, and phones him! She tells him about the breakup and asks him about his heartbreaks, and decides to write a breakup song. Eventually she writes and records a song, and phones him back to play it for him. This segment was really quite hilarious. Who the hell phones Phil Collins? Anyway, the podcast also includes a child of divorced parents recorded twenty years ago and now, at the age of 29, a father who is currently divorcing his wife, and some other minor contributions. An interesting listen. I hope you appreciate it too. If you have any trouble listening to the MP3, you can search for This American Life on iTunes Podcasts. Shouldn't be hard to find.