Sunday, November 30, 2008

we're doomed!

i've just started some reading about ecologically friendly beauty products and have already learned:
  • dying your hair darker is more dangerous than bleaching it, because the darker dyes have been linked to bladder cancer
  • the most commonly used anti-dandruff shampoos usually include irritants (SLS) that dry out your scalp
  • antibacterial products have triclosan and triclocarbon, which could create a carcinogen if in contact with sunlight but are not completely filtered out of our water systems so may end up back in farmer's fields, essentially fertilising our food with the nastiness
  • body sugaring or threading are the most environmentally friendly method of hair removal (i've been meaning to talk to you about my moustache...!)
  • all b.o. preventors seem to be bad for you, but what is the option? to stink? sweat stains?
  • 'hypoallergenic' is not a government regulated term so it means nothing. same with 'allergy tested' and 'dermatologist tested'

all these interesting bits come from a book entitle Ecoholic, a good source of information even if a little simplistic and narrowly focused. the cbc also covered this story years ago and still has hods of info on their website.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

i'm trying

this came straight from oprah's mouth by way of a friend. not exactly a direct quote, but you get the idea.

'whatever someone did to you in the past has no power over the present. only you give it power.'

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

just filling the space

it is day 5 of my new job and man, is this different than anything else i have ever done. more on that to follow.

in the mean time, here are some bullet points:
  • i picked up my new car this past weekend and he is lovely and his name is dieter, which befits his german heritage. he even has bun warmers to keep your buns warm during cold weather drives.
  • so the calgary stampeders won the grey cup. i was at a grey cup party where i believe i watched 0.7 seconds of the game. i am not a fan of football and am not as thrilled with the win as the local newspapers are.
  • i got a delivery of cupcakes the other day from a friend in ontario who has never even had a crave cupcake. it was a pretty nice surprise.
  • i also got to visit with my favourite resident canadian in alaska and although it had been years, it felt like were still in that same psychology laboratory in 2003 with those dreaded rats.
  • i need a hair cut, but i am torn between getting a trim into a reasonable style (as opposed to this mop that i am sporting) and growing it out as much as possible so i can put it up for my sis's wedding in february. but it is really driving me nuts today - i think dorothy hamill called and she wants her hair cut back.
  • i almost wrote off the eggnog latte because the first one i had this season was poor to medium, but i gave it another shot and was pleasantly surprised.
  • even with the red cups, i am not feeling any discernible christmas cheer.

sorry about the combination of my previous behemoth posts and then such an unimaginative list-type post. but i AM at work (where i get, but not my web-based email or facebook) so this will have to suffice.

Monday, November 17, 2008

judeo-christian reading

by design or by chance, i have recently read a few books that have the theme of religion threaded throughout. all of them are worth a read, but my recommendations for each are for very different reasons. interesting that they are all non fiction reads.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
it took me awhile before i decided if i liked greg or not, but his story is captivating regardless of how you feel about his values and focus. the short version of his rather long story is that he fails to climb k2, happens across a poor village in pakistan, makes a commitment to return one day to build a school, and that is the beginning of an ngo that builds schools in northern pakistan and afghanistan.

the book fascinated me as it challenged and confirmed some of the opinions i have about international development, but even more, it is a excellent and user-friendly historical account of pakistan and afghanistan in the 21st century.

i have never spent much time researching and studying that area of the world and have just assumed it is very complicated and an outsider would never be able to grasp the influence that ethnicity, religion, and clan-based governance systems. but this book puts a stop to that type of fatalist thinking and just gives you the story of a man who wanted to build schools for people who couldn't build them for themselves.

have you read it? i would love to know what other people think about how greg neglects his family and own health to achieve his goals. is it worth it? is he a martyr for an unwinnable cause? does his wife get enough credit in the book? i would love to have a book club-type conversation about this book!

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
the true story of a somali girl who lives in somalia, saudi arabia, ethiopia, kenya, and the netherlands is also fascinating. ayaan writes a book that challenges islam and those liberals and muslims who defend its values and practices (and has lived with death threats because of it). i have personally struggled with elements of islam and it was refreshing to read that someone else had done the dirty work of dissection and investigation and presented them for you to either accept or reject.

i also like her description of eastleigh in nairobi and of the smell of sukuma wiki. (fun fact - sukuma wiki is an inexpensive spinach dish in kenya and swahili literally translates to 'pushing the week' because it is what you eat when you are trying to stretch your shillings to the end of the week). ayaan's telling of her experience with unhcr and with the social welfare system of the netherlands also challenges what you thought you knew about refugees, social assistance, and the acceptance of foreign cultural values in western societies.

it's long, but it is worth it. and another book i would love to discuss with other people!

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
i just finished this one and it was much more lighthearted than the previous two, but still interesting in its obvious religious subject matter. aj attempts to live as close to biblical scripture as possible for one year. as a secular jew, he focuses first (and most) on the old testament then moves to the new testament, consulting numerous self-proclaimed experts along the way.

i don't think that he digs too deep to get to the bottom of the different interpretations of the bible, but he does give a bible virgin like me a watered down version of the seemingly incomprehensible chapters and verses that are somehow supposed to tell you how to live. he provides a lot of background and information on various groups who interpret the bible throughout the scale of literalism and like the other books, it did challenge me to think about the bible and the ways it can enhance your life if you let it.

if i had one criticism of this book it would be his lack of organisation and slight self indulgence. i would have liked to see his thoughts and revelations throughout his year of eating the bible a little more coherent. and in the same vein, i think that some things he throws in are simply a self-indulgent documentation of his own actions and even though it was a memoir of sorts, it was a bit distracting after his 12 months.

on the brink of collapse or already collapsed

i read a headline in today's calgary herald that said the president of somalia is concerned the country is on the brink of collapse. i thought, brink? it collapsed 17 years ago and has been chaotic ever since:
  • kidnappings and killings of foreigners have become increasingly common
  • there are regular pirate hijackings off the coast of somalia and kenya
  • there has not been an effective government since the overthrow of siad barre in 1991
  • somalia is oft cited by academics as a prime example of a failed state
  • the refugee camps in kenya are overflowing with the numbers of somalis fleeing the humanitarian crisis in their country
  • recent suicide bombings in mogadishu and hargeisa have forced the un to shut down many of its operations and international staff have been pulled out (including friends of mine who were doing some pretty phenomenal stuff)

the snipit of the article i saw said that somalia was crumbling, but the reality is that the transitional federal government that has been more or less governing somalia and trying to sort out the many and varied problems in the country is now being taken over by islamists, leaving those who have tried to govern powerless.

i am not sure why i am writing about it now, but it is difficult to read those stories after working closely with refugees, the somali community in nairobi, and having just finished the book Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

i would imagine that the logical response to this post or to hearing the stories of humanitarian catastrophe in somalia would be 'what can i do?' or ' what can be done?' i do not claim to be an expert in international humanitarianism or international development (or of failed states or the horn of africa, for that matter), but i think these news stories are so devastating because i really do not think that anything can be done until the rest of the world starts caring and forces somalia to sort out its chaos. the idea of forcing another country to take a new direction against its leaders' will or ability is generally against all of my opinions on international development, but isn't 17 years enough? it needs to be sorted out and it seems that those with any power in somalia are unable to do it. chaos, indeed.

Friday, November 14, 2008

hello Privy Council Office!

someone googled (remember when google wasn't a verb?) 'jason kenney' from the Privy Council Office in ottawa and found my blog. eek. weird. i sometimes forget that the internet is for everyone and that this little piece of it that i have carved out is not just for me and the people i know.

i wonder if they hire people to monitor blogs because i could do that!

i also get a lot of searches for

  • starbucks london fog (hint, starbucks does not sell a London Fog but does sell an earl grey tea misto with a shot of vanilla which is exactly like the second cup London Fog)
  • marks and spencer snowy balls (which still makes me laugh)
  • right bank/left bank in paris
  • swahili or habari
  • sea urchins
  • shavasna (om)
  • things to know about [fill in blank with whatever random piece of information i have written about in the past]

i will be really impressed with myself when someone googles 'gonads' and gets here. or better yet, googles 'gonads and jason kenney' and gets here!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

arias and gonads

when a friend asked if i'd be interested in joining her for an evening of opera at the jubilee auditorium, it took me only a few seconds to respond with a resounding yes. i imagined fancy dresses, posh socialites, and a few pretty woman moments.

calgary opera did not disappoint in their rendition of Faust. i had shivers at the high notes, i was transfixed by the singers' voices, and i got to try out a new smokey eye that i learned from Too Much Daytime TV. 6th row tickets were not too shabby either. and the subtitles were surprisingly not distracting, nor terribly necessary.

but the best part of the night was during one of the intermissions when i tried to convince my opera date to go up to the special guest of the evening, calgary mp jason kenney, and kick him in the gonads. she wouldn't even do it for the $50 on the table, but it was still funny to say the word 'gonads' while wearing a fancy new purple dress and a smokey eye!

if you have the chance, go to the opera! what a treat.


i think i have had reverse culture shock in previous eras (like when i moved home from an exchange in mexico when i was 19), but lately i have been feeling rather immune from the challenges of returning to your home country after spending extended periods of time in a foreign place. even if that foreign place is a developing country (i think the the guilt and anxiety felt from returning to mega-consumption, waste-production, and the paradox of choice after living with less is more difficult).

but i have determined my current challenge in this readjustment to north american life. i have become used to giving cheek kisses to greet people from living in the uk and then with people from all over the world, including oft kissed nations. the only challange was figuring out if the other person was a once, twice, or thrice kisser.

i have now been home for 2 months and have had the luxury of seeing friends a number of times, but i find the greeting bit of any activity mildly awkward as i have been so used to hugging everyone (it has usually been the only time i get to grace them with my company). now, it seems a week apart is not enough for a hug, yet cheek kisses are not in vogue in canada.

small issue, but something that crossed my mind as i met a friend for dinner last night.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

yes they can!

wow, i can finally go to bed after being glued to cnn all day (except for when i went out to get a massage and then went shopping). that was something. this will be something. and what a speech!

Monday, November 03, 2008

vegetarian 100

The Vegetarian Hundred
same deal, but now with veggies. the original list can be found here.

1. Real macaroni and cheese, made from scratch and baked
2. Tabouleh (yum, yum, yum)
3. Freshly baked bread, straight from the oven (preferably with homemade strawberry jam)
4. Fresh figs
5. Fresh pomegranate (one of my favs)
6. Indian dal of any sort (my favourite was my malaysian friend's grandma's that she froze and sent to him at uni)
7. Imam bayildi
8. Pressed spiced Chinese tofu
9. Freshly made hummus
10. Tahini
11. Kimchi (i have always wanted to try this)
12. Miso
13. Falafel
14. Potato and pea filled samosas
15. Homemade yogurt (made some for grade 4 science fair)
16. Muhammara
17. Brie en croute
18. Spanikopita
19. Fresh, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes
20. Insalata caprese
21. Stir-fried greens (gai lan, bok choi, pea shoots, kale, chard or collards) (used to live with 3 chinese girls and they loved to fry the greens)
22. Freshly made salsa (viva mexico!)
23. Freshly made guacamole (otra vez!)
24. Creme brulee (la joie de vivre)
25. Fava beans (or at least i think so)
26. Chinese cold sesame peanut noodles
27. Fattoush
28. New potatoes
29. Coleslaw
30. Ratatouille (made it for the first time last year)
31. Baba ganoush
32. Winter squash
33. Roasted beets (i love a boiled beet too)
34. Baked sweet potatoes (but blech)
35. Plantains (i think i mentioned this before, but thank you africa)
36. Chocolate truffles
37. Garlic mashed potatoes
38. Fresh water chestnuts (i think, maybe there were not fresh?)
39. Steel cut oats
40. Quinoa (i really, really want to try this complete protein, but have yet to do so)
41. Grilled portabello mushrooms
42. Chipotle en adobo
43. Stone ground whole grain cornmeal
44. Freshly made corn or wheat tortillas
45. Frittata
46. Basil pesto (homemade! but not sure if all that processing was worth the output)
47. Roasted garlic (is sort of like a 5th food group in my diet)
48. Raita of any type (indian flatmates, woo who!)
49. Mango lassi
50. Jasmine rice (white or brown)
51. Thai vegetarian coconut milk curry (but not my favourite, that coconut milk)
52. Pumpkin in any form other than pie (fritter style in rsa)
53. Fresh apple pear or plum gallette (no, but my little bro was just eating one tonight, perhaps by tomorrow i will be able to bold this one)
54. Quince in any form
55. Escarole, endive or arugula (or rocket, as i like to call it)
56. Sprouts other than mung bean
57. Naturally brewed soy sauce (maybe, is the stuff they give you at fancy sushi restaurants naturally brewed?)
58. Dried shiitake mushrooms (i have mixed opinions on dried mushrooms, but i wouldn't turn them down)
59. Unusually colored vegetables (purple cauliflower, blue potatoes, chocolate bell peppers…) (sometimes the vegetables in kenya don't come the way you are used to seeing them...)
60. Fresh peach ice cream
61. Chevre
62. Medjool dates
63. Kheer
64. Flourless chocolate cake
65. Grilled corn on the cob (sold on street corners throughout central america and africa)
66. Black bean (or any other bean) vegetarian chili (i actually made chili with meat for the first time this summer)
67. Tempeh
68. Seitan or wheat gluten (sick, and not the way the kids are using the word 'sick' these days - i lived with seventh day adventists for a few months and they ate this stuff like it was candy)
69. Gorgonzola or any other blue veined cheese (i have recently developed a love for the mouldy cheeses)
70. Sweet potato fries
71. Homemade au gratin potatoes
72. Cream of asparagus soup (and i made it myself)
73. Artichoke-Parmesan dip
74. Mushroom risotto
75. Fermented black beans
76. Garlic scapes
77. Fresh new baby peas (if you must eat a pea, it better be fresh)
78. Kalamata olives
79. Preserved lemons
80. Fried green tomatoes
81. Chinese scallion pancakes
82. Cheese souffle
83. Fried apples
84. Homemade frijoles refritos (they are a staple in mexico and something i learned to love) 85. Pasta fagiole
86. Macadamia nuts in any form (some from a macadamia nut farm in guatemala. don't try them raw, they are not nice)
87. Paw paw in any form (but i call it papaya)
88. Grilled cheese sandwich of any kind (cut into 4, of course)
89. Paneer cheese (as mentioned before)
90. Ma Po Tofu (vegetarian style–no pork!)
91. Fresh pasta in any form
92. Grilled leeks, scallions or ramps (i love leeks, plain and simple)
93. Green papaya salad (i have yet to try this but i once lived with someone who had lived in thailand and swore it was the best ever)
94. Baked grain and vegetable stuffed tomatoes (but yum)
95. Pickled ginger
96. Methi greens
97. Aloo paratha
98. Kedgeree (the original Indian version without the smoked fish, not the British version with fish) (nope, only the fish version, which was quite good)
99. Okra (=slime)
100. Roasted brussels sprouts (never roasted, but i would gladly try it because boiled or fried, i love them)

and i was hoping to try out my new trick of the strikethrough, but alas, things made out of vegetables are much easier for me to imagine putting in my mouth. i may see another meat vacation in my future...

i think the thing that i love about lists about food (thanks again k for this one!) is that i enjoy the memories that come with food. i can so easily remember what i ate, where i was, and who i was with when a food is mentioned.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

omnivore's 100

i stole this from k this late sunday evening when i am not in the mood for bed, or for writing much else (as witnessed by my inability to post for the past few weeks). it is the omnivore's 100 and was fun to do. i copied it from her and deleted all the hyperlinks, but check her blog out if you want to know what half this stuff is (i had to look up a bunch).

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. (except here they are red because i cannot figure out how to strike anything through)
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos Rancheros
4. Steak tartare (just the other day and i loved it)
5. Crocodile (it tastes like salty chicken and is gross)
6. Black pudding (surprising considering my proximity at times to the places that eat this 'delicacy.' but no, i wouldn't try it.)
7. Cheese fondue (but i don't know what the big deal with the fondue is)
8. Carp
9. Borscht (i don't think i've ever had beet soup, but i surely would try it)
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich (raspberry j is best)
14. Aloo gobi (i am not sure i have had exactly this, but things very similar to it)
15. Hot dog from a street cart (my most recent one was a sausage in a bun in prague and it came with a pickle!)
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (i think so, but cannot remember an instance and i'm sure i would not like it)
19. Steamed pork buns (nothing about pork excites me and if i were to eat it, it would have to be some sort of pork roast)
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes (a life without tomatoes would not be worth living)
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras (i don't know a whole lot about foie gras, but have heard of some unethical farming practices to get those livers to grow so much. and liver, ew)
24. Rice and beans (it is a staple is so many countries i have been in and has its own name in cuba, but i cannot recall it at the moment)
25. Brawn or head cheese (had i wanted to try it, germany would have been the best place, it is everywhere)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche (one of my favs in mexico)
28. Oysters (raw or smoked, delicious)
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda (but yum!)
31. Wasabi peas (i once ate a few bowls of these in the coolest restaurant in hamburg, germany - then proceeded to steal a beer glass)
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (i have this issue with soggy bread)
33. Salted lassi (i have never liked the idea of the lassi and have yet to try one)
34. Sauerkraut (again, the germans)
35. Root beer float (the best kind of float!)
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (but not together, so i don't think that counts)
37. Clotted cream tea (in the lake district in england... so rich and so good)
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail (twice in the last year - south africa and paris and i enjoyed it much more than i thought i would)
41. Curried goat (i have eaten goat in many forms - thank you africa - but never curried)
42. Whole insects (chapulines in oaxaca, mexico. blech, but i did it)
43. Phaal (maybe i would try a bite)
44. Goat’s milk (not just plain milk, but cheese made with it)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (i had a scottish flatmate, he introduced me to nice scotch and hot toddies)
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala (just not with the chicken)
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (heavenly, and i don't typically like doughnuts)
50. Sea urchin (no, but i did have one stuck in my foot for weeks)
51. Prickly pear (mexican street food includes cactus)
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone (there is some nasty poaching going on with this stuff in south africa, and i am pretty sure my former next-door neighbour was in on it when i lived there and when he pulled hods of it out of his freezer, i politely declined)
54. Paneer (my favourite is the paneer tikka from hashmi in nairobi - if you go there, order it!)
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle (something i should have tried while i was in deutschland, apparently)
57. Dirty gin martini (i had my first last year and it is surprisingly delicious and dangerous...)
58. Beer above 8% ABV (i think)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores (back in the brownie camp days)
62. Sweetbreads (like maybe if i was on amazing race and this was the only thing keeping me from being a millionaire, then maybe)
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst (funny, i read a lot about this this past summer and there is even a museum devoted to the stuff in berlin, but it did not appeal to me so alas, i have not eaten it)
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (mmmmm..... churros)
68. Haggis (in Edinburgh and it was pretty tasty)
69. Fried plantain (hello africa, and not too bad, but i am off bananas because of the many and varied uses of all things banana-like in east africa)
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (no, no way)
71. Gazpacho (i made it once and described it as tasting like blended salad, but it was good blended salad)
72. Caviar and blini (wait, not together, but this one confuses me)
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu (and mostly because i am afraid of exported food products from china at the moment)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail (and one time in paris, which was so parisian and delicious)
79. Lapsang souchong (sure, i like tea, just doubt that i would like a smoky tea)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum (sounds nice)
82. Eggs Benedict (hollandaise is not my favourite, but the avenue diner in calgary does a fantastic version of these eggs)
83. Pocky (no, but i have had a very similar italian treat)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (oh, yes please!)
85. Kobe beef (what do you think the chances of the kobe beef fast food at u of c is actually kobe beef?)
86. Hare
87. Goulash (my mom made this a lot when i was growing up and i never cared for it, but had it again in hungary this summer, not bad, not bad)
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam (unless i ate it when i was little, i don't think i have ever eaten spam)
92. Soft shell crab (never the soft shell variety)
93. Rose harissa (not yet, but i will)
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano (i did not like this one bit and have no idea how the mexicans go so crazy for this national dish)
96. Bagel and lox (i think i have lived off of this for days on end at times)
97. Lobster Thermidor (never the thermidor variety)
98. Polenta (the first time at an italian dinner party and i only give it a medium)
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (is that like code word for marijuana?)
100. Snake