Fire Damage

Match

The history is not written in my face,
and even if you looked you would see ash
erasing what I was before my shame.
A wicked thing, old wives beside the fire
agreed. They had no pity for the tears
I wept when I knew what our love had broken.

My sister’s son once took a bow he’d broken
and laid it in the temple, in his face
a frenzied hope the gods would see his tears
and make it whole. Later he took the ash—
some priest had, thoughtless, tossed it on the fire—
and gave it to the winds. So with my shame.

I wonder sometimes if a man knows shame
the way a woman can—her body broken,
talk consuming her like hungry fire.
Do strangers count your missteps to your face?
Remind you that your value is but ash?
Believe your guilt and disregard your tears?

At first, with you, there was no need for tears;
my love was such I did not think of shame
when stolen torches burnt their way to ash
and we lay still, the starlit silence broken
by our heartbeats. I still see your face,
its shadowed mystery by the dying fire.

I did not know then that you are the fire,
and that no stormcloud heavy with old tears
could put the flames out once I’d seen your face
stripped of its mystery. This was my true shame:
that I believed the promises you’d broken
and not the one that turned my flesh to ash.

There is a tale of birds born out of ash:
their feathers crimson, scarlet, glowing fire,
and when they die they rise again unbroken,
so for these birds there is no grief or tears.
Their beauty puts all lesser lights to shame—
and such a light will shine in our son’s face.

What will the ash-born be, welcomed with tears,
veins hot with fire and his mother’s shame,
the broken story written in his face?

Posted in Birdsong

Tea and Chocolate

ChocolateTake several generations of immigration, add a few international marriages, stir in various food allergies and some occasional vegetarians, and you end up with a family with few holiday food traditions left intact.

I dearly love traditions—what more can one expect of a classicist?—and as a result am often the one campaigning to preserve the diminishing number of traditions. “No!” I will cry. “We can still make mince pies! I’ll make a gluten free pastry crust and a filling without sugar.” The turkey was the first to go; it survived my sister’s hatred only to succumb to my uncle’s dishearteningly specific allergy.

At one point, my zeal even extended to establishing traditions where none had existed. For a few summers, I tried to pack my family, immigrant and distrustful of nationalism, off for a Fourth of July picnic. The day remained stubbornly remarkable only for coming between the third and the fifth.

For traditions, by definition, cannot be created ex nihilo. They must be connected to the past and the future by chains of repetition. That repetition can be driven by force of habit, religious ritual, nostalgia, but it must be organic, not the result of a single family member’s desire for Tradition with a capital T. Perhaps, when I have a household of my own and am the one in charge of cooking and planning for holidays, I can turn the tide of tradition ever so slightly. I can ensure that there is pie, if not turkey, at Thanksgiving, whether it is in October or November. I can pack picnic baskets and giant jars of pink lemonade on the most unbearable weekend of August, and make sure that there is barbecue on Labour Day.

For now, I’ll have to content myself with the few traditions my family has that are real traditions. Like the chocolate and the mugs of herbal tea that my father will bring to me and my mother when we are home, every evening, without fail.

It’s not a holiday tradition. But any tradition makes something holy out of a day.

 

Posted in Adventures & Announcements

Berbere

KingI was going to use a picture of the Washington Monument, or perhaps the FDR Memorial (by far my favourite on the National Mall), but, in light of the events that have been unfolding in the week since I visited Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. seems more appropriate. This is not a political blog, so I will just say here that this week has been a shocking reminder of how far Dr. King’s dream is from being a reality.

A few days before the shooting at Ferguson, I climbed on a train in Montreal and set out for my summer adventure. Fifteen hours through beautiful countryside, and, later, busy cities, brought me to the US capital. Up through my connection at Penn Station, the trip was the same one I took a year ago—but so much has happened since that I’m not sure it can be called the same trip at all. This time, I was travelling on my own, to meet some friends I’ve never seen before for a weekend of sightseeing, good company, and a gloriously awful Lifetime movie.

BerbereSeasoning

Washington—or at least what I saw of it—is a beautiful city, with lots of green space and interesting people. The zoo is a free public park—no gates or lines or tickets, just plenty of human and animal families enjoying the day. The National Mall is rather like America itself: enormous, not quite sure where it fits in, and full of people from every corner of the globe.

At the end of a long day sightseeing, we made our way to an Ethiopian restaurant, touted by our local host as a highlight of the city. It was my first time eating Ethiopian food, but it certainly won’t be my last! I’m never one to say no to spice, and injera (the traditional bread cum spoon cum plate of Ethiopian cuisine) is often gluten free.

It was a truly wonderful trip: I’m so glad to have seen the friends I’d never met before, and will think of them each time I cook up a batch of wat with my own berbere spice mix.

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Posted in Sauces, Dressings, and Condiments

Blueberry Pie

BlueberriesThis time of year, the markets are a riot of color. The deep red of tomatoes. The black-purple gloss on eggplants. The delicate peaches and apricots. The greens and wines of the lettuce.

What caught my eye on this particular visit was the line of blueberry baskets, bloom-veiled and dark.

The time had come for a pie.

SliceofPie

I’ve joked with my roommates that this summer I’m making up for the pie deprivation of my childhood: my mother doesn’t particularly care for pie, and my father doesn’t particularly care for anything sweet, so there was never pie around. If we were rolling out pastry, it was always for a quiche. Double crusts were also out of favour, so my first experience of British meat pies was a heavenly steak and stilton affair in an Oxford pub at eighteen.

Now I’ve discovered a love for pies of all kinds, and I’m making up for lost time.

BlueberryPie

When I pull out a pie at a potluck or picnic, people tend to be surprised that I’ve managed to make my pastry gluten free. Tell it not in Gath, but here is a place where gluten-free flours actually make things easier. Pastry gets tough when you overwork it and develop the gluten; because there is no gluten to develop here, there’s no risk of tough pastry.

What are your favourite pies, dear readers? Where should I next turn my pie-hungry gaze?

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Posted in Snacks and Desserts

Lazy Day Chicken

Geranium

When I first left California, someone expressed envy. “I wish I had all the free time you do.”

It wasn’t the most sensitive thing to say. I was sick, exhausted most of the time, and my days were filled with anxiety about the future. “My ‘free time’ costs a lot,” I wanted to say, but bit back. I would have given almost anything to be healthy and run off my feet with work. What others saw as liberty was in fact a prison.

Now I have almost served my time in that prison: with rest and some discoveries, my health has improved enough that my days are starting to look more like “free time.” With the first hints of returning energy, I started to plan major projects. Now, before I go back to school, is surely the time to race through a first draft of the novel I’ve been working on. I should be reading a list of books the length of my arm. I should be writing my own cookbook. I should be sewing a new wardrobe.

I sincerely doubt any of these projects will be finished by the time September comes. One reason is that I still don’t have all my strength back. At a deeper level, I have been learning a lesson about myself: I am a person who works best with a demanding schedule. I wrote more poetry and invented more recipes while I was in school with five classes, two jobs, and rehearsals five nights a week than I have in all this sea of “free time.” I am very good at getting all my readings done in between seven hours of class and other appointments; I am not so good at filling a whole day with projects I want to do. Time is lost to daydreaming, to summer novels on the porch, to friends.

LazyDayChicken

Let me rephrase that. Time is not lost to these things, it is given to them. Because somewhere inside this lesson about schedules and productivity is another lesson.

This summer, I have learned how to rest.

One part of resting has been cooking more simply. Oh, if I have friends to cook for I’ll spend an hour and a half making homemade pizza or a gluten-free pie. But most of the summer, I’ve been cooking for lazy days.

Then again, perhaps someone else is looking for something to eat on a lazy day?

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Posted in Fish and Poultry

Fragment

IMG_4071

I hadn’t thought you’d let me fall
till memory soaked the floor,
till sunset washed with measured grace
what I had loved before.

Posted in Birdsong

Strawberry-Rhubarb Breakfast Crisp

RealCrisp

“Here, make yourself a treat.”

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Posted in Breakfasts, Snacks and Desserts

Spring Favourites

columbine

Spring has sprung! Time for a favourites list.

  • The weather’s getting warm and I’m dreaming of these Double Chocolate Crispy Frozen Dessert Bars.
  • Rhubarb on the mind: with quinoa.
  • With rosewater.
  • In pie.
  • Pie in general should be showing up with some frequency: the crust recipe from Gluten-Free Girl Every Day is magnificent. I just made apple, and am planning on blueberry lemon, peach, and cherry as the summer progresses.
  • Joy the Baker recently put up a recipe for cherry pie bars, though, which looks delicious.
  • What a lot of desserts! My savory hit-list includes Kulsum Kunwa’s chicken jalfrezi
  • And this simple frittata from Sprouted Kitchen.
  • Wishing for Joe Yonan’s book of single-serving vegetarian recipes.
  • I’ve just finished Micha Boyett’s Found—beautiful!
  • May also saw me stampeding my way through the Graceling Realm books, which I highly recommend.
Posted in Favourites

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

Sister

Spring has come suddenly, a last-minute sprint from a long winter into full-blown early summer. Leaves that were barely buds a week ago are stretching in the sunlight, full and lush. Daffodils and crocuses had barely a heartbeat in the spotlight before being overtaken by tulips, cherry blossoms, dandelions, magnolias.

MoreBlossoms

Victoria Day this year corresponded with my sister’s birthday, meaning that I had an entire day to spend with her, unencumbered by French classes. She is twenty—twenty!—and we spent the day walking outside in the sunshine, with St. Joseph’s Oratory as our nominal destination. She hadn’t yet been to see the church, with its crutch-lined crypt and sanctuary shining with stained glass. But most of our time was spent in the garden, wandering around the stations of the cross and basking in the light.

Sunlight

We returned home for my attempt at a birthday cake—birthday brownies, really, and sadly far from the Nanaimo bars she’d wished for—and a viewing of The Princess Bride. “It’s still a good movie,” she declared when we were finished. “Buttercup is completely passive, and there’s other problematic things, but it’s still a good movie.”

Tulips

My sister’s love for Japanese language and culture is as fierce as mine for the ancient world and its tongues, so the day ended with homemade sushi, beautiful rolls stuffed with tamagoyaki, avocado, cucumber, carrot, sesame…

Happy birthday, my sister, and I hope the year ahead is exactly as you wish.

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Posted in Snacks and Desserts

Shipwreck

Seabirds

they told me the charts had gone down with the ship, no prospect of land,
our barometer falling like a gunshot swan and above all

no prospect of land. they told me the lifeboat forgot how to swim
and our oars had all snapped in the uncanny storm that went

down with the ship and fondled her deep in the velvety salt.
they told me your eyes were pearl-white and famished, your skull

unmistaken since the day ten minutes ago you forgot how to swim
like a gunshot swan, your teeth turning quickly to coral

in the uncanny salt. they told me to pray for the tolling of bells
and for radio signals not lost in the storm and for charts

borne up by dolphins and for mercy on our bruiseless souls
and some prospect of land, but the barometer plunged in the breast

of our ravishing ship and your eyes wouldn’t turn back to flesh
I hope you were borne up by dolphins and mindful of all

you forgot, but I would not lay down in the velvety salt
to cherish you, and I could not sing as your gunshot swan.

Posted in Birdsong