Category Archives: Uncategorized

Skillet Enchiladadas with Black Beans and Butternut Squash

Yum, yum, yum, yum. This is super easy and ridiculously delicious. Thanks to Ambitious Kitchen for this one.

A healthy vegetarian Mexican-inspired dinner — butternut squash and black bean enchilada skillet. Ready in less than 30 minutes! 13g fiber & 16g protein per serving!

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 cups 1/2-inch-diced, peeled butternut squash (from about a 2-lb. squash)
  • salt and pepper, to season
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 – 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 8 yellow corn tortillas, cut into thick strips
  • 1-15 ounce can red enchilada sauce
  • 1 cup reduced-fat colby jack or mexican cheese (or whatever you prefer), divided
  • cilantro and low-fat sour cream, for serving

Instructions:

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in large oven-proof skillet. Add onions, garlic, and jalapeno and cook 2-3 minutes until onions become translucent and garlic is fragrant. Add cubed squash, cumin and chili powder and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is slightly tender, 10-13 minutes. You want the squash to be fork tender, but not so tender that it starts to fall apart and become mush.

Next add the black beans, corn tortilla pieces, and can of enchilada sauce and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and sprinkle in 1/2 cup of cheese. Stir again and simmer for a few minutes. Turn on your oven broiler to high. Sprinkle an additional 1/2 cup of cheese over the top of the enchilada mixture and place in oven under broiler for 3-5 minutes until cheese melts and tortilla edges become a tiny golden brown. Remove from heat and serve immediately. Feel free to add in cilantro. Serve with sour cream, guacamole, or hot sauce! Enjoy!

In full disclosure, I didn’t add the corn chips to the mixture. I add everything except the chips, grill it and then serve with wraps.

Check out Ambitious Kitchen for more delicious recipes!

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Poem of the Week: The Copper Beech, by Marie Howe via Alison McGhee Poetry Mistress

The Copper Beech, by Marie Howe

Immense, entirely itself,
it wore that yard like a dress,

with limbs low enough for me to enter it
and climb the crooked ladder to where

I could lean against the trunk and practice being alone.

One day, I heard the sound before I saw it, rain fell
darkening the sidewalk.

Sitting close to the center, not very high in the branches,
I heard it hitting the high leaves, and I was happy,

watching it happen without it happening to me.

 

A big thank you to Alison for finding and sharing these beautiful poems.

For more information about Marie Howe, please check out her website.

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@alisonmcgheewriter

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Poem of the Week: Calling Him Back from Layoff, by Bob Hicok via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

Calling Him Back from Layoff, by Bob Hicok

I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones

hear?

 

A big thanks to Alison for sharing these heartbreaking poems.

For more information on Bob Hicok, please click here.

To listen to Words by Winter, my new poem and storytelling podcast, click here.

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Scallop Tom Kha Thai Soup

I tried this last night and loved it! Of course I changed the recipe and used prawns instead of scallops and added garlic and onion and served it with brown rice. But that was it!  It’s definitely a keeper. Wait a minute I also substituted chicken for veggie stock and I used only one can of coconut.

This was passed on from a friend who found it in Coastal Living magazine.

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How to Make It

Step 1

Combine stock, coconut milk, lemongrass, and ginger in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand 10 minutes. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer, and discard solids.

Step 2

Return coconut milk mixture to pan; bring to a boil over high. Stir in mushrooms, sambal oelek, lime juice, fish sauce, and honey. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until mushrooms are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat, and immediately stir in scallops, 2 tablespoons of the basil, and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro. Divide mixture evenly among 6 bowls, and top with remaining 2 tablespoons each basil and cilantro. Drizzle with chili oil, if desired, and serve immediately.

 

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Crispy Tofu with Peanut Sauce

My sister introduced me to this and now I can’t stop making it. You can find this and some other fantastic recipes on her website here. For anyone who ever wondered how to make crispy tofu, put the oil away. This is easy, fast and super delicious.  I’m what my brother calls a ‘radical’ cook, a nice way of saying I can’t follow recipes. For this recipe I used tablespoons instead of teaspoons for the marinade.

Happy Eating!

Ingredients

Tofu

  • 14 oz extra firm tofu (preferably organic, non-GMO)
  • 1 tbsp Bragg’s
  • 1 tsp chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • cornstarch

Peanut Sauce

  • 2 ½ tbsp creamy peanut butter (or other nut or seed butter)
  • 1 tsp Bragg’s
  • 1 tbsp chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (204 C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
    Start pressing tofu using a tofu press, or wrap in clean, absorbent towel and set something heavy — like a cast iron skillet or books — on top to press out the moisture. Press for about 15-20 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, prepare peanut sauce by combining peanut butter, Bragg’s, chili garlic sauce, lime juice, maple syrup, and sesame oil in a small mixing bowl and whisking thoroughly to combine. Set aside.
  3. Cut pressed tofu into 3/4-inch cubes and add to a large plate. Top with Bragg’s, chili garlic sauce, sesame oil, and maple syrup. Gently toss to combine using hands or a spoon. Let marinate 2-3 minutes, stirring/tossing occasionally.
  4. Use a slotted spoon or your hands to transfer tofu to a paper bag. Add cornstarch 1 tbsp at a time and toss to coat. Continue adding more cornstarch and tossing until tofu is coated in a gummy, white layer.
  5. Transfer tofu to the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 20-25 minutes, flipping at the 18-minute mark to encourage even baking. It should be firm to the touch, firm on the edges, and slightly browned on the exterior once removed from the oven. Bake slightly longer if needed.
  6. Heat a large metal or cast iron skillet (12 inch) over medium heat. Once hot, add tofu and the peanut sauce. Toss to coat. Stirring frequently, sauté the tofu for about 2 minutes, or until the tofu is hot and well coated with peanut sauce.

 

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Pandemic Daze

I often find myself dreaming of pre-pandemic days, that three weeks in, already feel so far away. Maybe a part of me knows that nothing will go back to normal. There will be a new normal that we will all quickly adapt to.

I already know so well how to walk amongst others outside- giving way on narrow forest paths so we can maintain the 2 metres of separation. I know to cover my mouth if a jogger passes by too quickly, to not take the elevator, to wash my hands over and over and over again until they’re almost raw.

Photography – Dave Vanderkop

Like Ebenezer Scrooge I take a deep account of the virus that inhabits our invisible world.

This is how I know things have changed.

Every evening at 7:00 o’clock when my neighhourhood erupts into applause, and somewhere I hear drums and a distant saxophone, someone else is beating on a cake pan (maybe Nancy on the 4th floor), and occasionally the boats out front sound their horns in honour of the frontline workers who risk themselves and their families hour after hour, day after day, to help others.

It’s the vulnerability of the new world that strikes me as well. The small businesses collapsing after only weeks of economic shutdown, entire lives, savings and dreams lost. They scramble to offer goods and services in a way that assures the public they are implementing the strictest of social distancing measures and still they struggle. Everyone wants to stay home.

And then there is the gentleman we passed the other day coming out of his beautiful home, an Audi and a Mercedes parked out front. He was clutching his dog as he opened his door and we said hello.

“How are you?” I said too late to notice that he wasn’t fine and he answered, please don’t ask and off he went into the early evening clutching his small dog.

I think about the days just before the pandemic shut down the world and the global economy.

In January we sang together over a thousand strong at an old theater in Vancouver with Choir Choir Choir. The theme was the sound of the eighties, our song was “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. Our voices were raw at the end of the night but the feeling of community of coming together in song was powerful. When Choir Choir Choir invited their fans to join in a socially distanced sing along, I grabbed my computer and sang alone, together with many thousands from around the world, my voice ringing out loud and hollow inside my home.

I met a colleague at his office just over a month ago, he shook my hand and gave me a hug. “Did you read the news?” he said wide-eyed. “Yes,” I said. “Scary.”

“I won’t be going to China soon.” he answered.

And then we went to a small meeting room and chatted about the project we were working on together. And I think about how foreign that feels now even though it happened just over a month ago.

I remember walking with my sister. I wanted to show her Reub’s swimming hole, the path we walked together with him for years. I knew her new toddler dog Houston would appreciate this walk. So we met, hugged and walked together down the winding forest path, to the quick running river where Reub used to swim.

We hugged afterwards and she thanked me for showing her this great new place. We promised to see each other again soon. We had a date to go to the theatre and dinner at a great Lebanese restaurant.

I remember talking to Dave about doing a trip in the fall to celebrate my birthday. Cuba? I had gotten dancing lessons for Christmas. Now we’re hopefully thinking to go to Ontario to see family again but we won’t hold our breath. Who knows where the world will be in October. It’s a landmark birthday and you have to live every moment as best as you can as the years behind me are greater than the ones in front.

I went “pandemic shopping” just before everything was locked down. I came home with two large bottles of wine, a jug of vodka and French cheeses. “This” I announced to Dave, “Is my pandemic shop.” We both laughed.

I think about the last time we ate dinner with friends, how we talked about how some of their friends were too nervous to meet this way. We laughed and said it can’t be that bad.

But with the dawning realization of people dying, and others risking their lives for those who were sick, and with my own yearly battle to have my lungs survive the annual flu, we have double downed on our own responsibility to ourselves and others.

Now like millions around the world we are practicing social distancing. Dave, the exemplary caretaker in the best of times, has gone into overdrive. I am watched and spritzed with disinfectant regularly . We gather close as a family in the simple rituals of living well together but with a heightened sense of the dangers of the invisible world.

I often think about my 93 year old friend Inge who has been socially distancing from the get go. At 93 she told me over the phone, I’m at the higher risk end of you know what…

Photograph by Dan Toelgoet

But she has quickly put a plan in place to manage her loneliness in these loneliest of times. “I found my phone book and I’ve started phoning every single person in the book. I just spoke with friends I haven’t spoken with in YEARS and they were delighted to hear from me.”

Last when I called she couldn’t chat. She was hosting a socially distanced picnic in her backyard with an old friend and would have to call back. Did I mind? I smiled. Here’s a woman who has lived through the holocaust, lost her parents, was orphaned at a young age and with grace and dignity is now living through the latest in the strangest of times, a global pandemic.

When I think about the wet markets and the distress of those animals gathered in small cages, one on top of the other waiting for an ugly death, having lived unnatural lives, stolen from the wild or raised on farms, when I think about our rapidly heating world, the plastic filling our oceans and the devastation of a mass extinction that will tip the ecological balance of the world that will certainly up-end the global economy, and all of us who are a part of the social systems that sustain it, when I think about all of what we have gotten ourselves into, I can’t help but think that the natural world is sending us a big reminder, a gigantic fuck you, that the eco-systems of the world will prevail and adapt one way or the other. It is more than just the vanishing wildlife and eco-systems that will suffer. The final cost will be one that we human beings will have to bear and it will be the most vulnerable of our species that will bear it.

As I despaired to a friend who works on elephant issues with me he ended the call with something that I’m choosing to continue to think about…there’s opportunity in everything, he said. I’m going to hitch my North Star to that thought. There’s opportunity in everything.

Stay safe.

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Help End the Ivory Trade in Canada Today

If you are Canadian, you may be one of the many people who aren’t aware that that Canada allows the legal trade of ivory. Elephants will be extinct in the wild within 20 years if all countries don’t implement strict bans on the sale of ivory.

If you would like to ADD YOUR VOICE, click here to send your MP a pre-written letter asking to close the legal trade.

The federal Minister Catherine McKenna has already received a petition and a letter from Elephanatics. The petition is now over 300,000 and the letter was endorsed by 95 national and international scientists, conservationists and animal welfare organizations, including SPCA, Jane Goodall Institute, Born Free and Wildlife At Risk International.

The Minister has not responded.

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Kate Brooks, director of documentary film The Last Animals, states, “It’s absolutely imperative that every country on the planet enact legislation to combat the global wildlife trafficking crisis and stop stimulating demand for ivory by continuing to trade. I hope Canada will join the countries that are standing up for elephants and the rangers who put their lives on the line trying to protect them.”

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Several US states, France, China, Philippines, and the United Kingdom have banned the sale of ivory within their borders. The Netherlands will close its raw ivory market in 2019; Taiwan will ban its ivory trade by 2020; Hong Kong will follow in 2021; and Singapore is considering the most stringent ban to date.

It’s time for Canada to do the right thing.

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Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

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I was looking for something to read and I found this book on my night table. I’m not a big consumer of non-fiction unless it’s news so I wasn’t sure how I’d like this. The good thing is that I really liked it. Erik Larson weaves a tale of intrigue, filled with historic details and characters that come to life under his pen.

The historic details lend themselves to suspense. A luxury cruise liner leaves its New York harbour to sail for Liverpool in May 1915. The ship would sail through enemy territory where German U-boats were sinking enemy ships. In spite of the warnings by Germany that the seas around England were a war zone, the Lusitania sailed to Liverpool with barely a thought that it would be the object of a German attack. Little did they know that the rules of war were changing.

Larson gives a vivid snapshot of the wealthy passengers including theatre folks and book dealers, and established wealth on board the ship. You get to know the families, and why they’re there, how the children occupied themselves, and how many tried to survive the sinking of the ship.

Chapters alternate between the different elements of the story giving the reader a 360 degree view of the unfolding of events that culminated in the sinking of the ship.   The strength of the book lies in discovering  the characters behind the historic fact. The reader is introduced to the Captain of the U-boat, the characters who occupied the office that decoded German war messages, Winston Churchill makes an appearance as does Woodrow Wilson.

If there is a weakness in the book it’s in the portrait of Woodrow Wilson who appears as a grief-stricken love-lost bumbling idiot. The author definitely seems to have it in for him! Aside from that I found the book a compelling and great read.

My personal takeaways are:

  • that well-researched  non-fiction can be fabulous and all the more interesting because it happened.
  • In war people will  be pawns.
  • Details are important like knowing how to put your life jacket on properly. Many people lost their lives unnecessarily because of this.

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Random Musing: “Little Things” 2018 Highlights

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My list of 2018 highlights….

Little things

I’m grateful to end my day with Dave in bed beside me and Bean beside him. In preparation for sleep we accuse the other of snoring and how beatings will ensue. Then like synchronized swimmers we insert our ear plugs and don our eye bras, kiss each other good night and drift off to sleep but not before I hear the train across the water which reminds me of long ago.

I am very thankful for my friend  Anna who  agreed to help me rescue the crow even though I knew she’d rather have gone to the  mall like she had planned:)

If I’m lucky enough to make it to 96 I hope I have as many renaysances as my wonderful friend Inge who is full of impish delight, humour, wit and generosity.

Last year I did the Polar Swim to raise money for elephants. Dave and friends stuffed me full of waffles, cheered me on and then warmed me up when I came running out of the ocean. For a nanosecond I felt like a coddled elite athlete. So thanks for my Olympic moment guys!

I was dispatched to Vietnam by work and randomly thrown on a bus with a bunch of fabulous nutbars.

After a massage a young Vietnamese woman hugged me. That hug collapsed oceans of difference between us.

Summers here now mean smokey skies. But on Salt Spring the smoke was laced with the scent of heavily ripened black berries. If I remember nothing else I hope to remember this. Late afternoon naps with Dave and Bean. Slow walks down the winding blackberry lined road. Early morning, mid-afternoon and night time swims in St. Mary’s Lake with my family.

I have a small circle of guy friends. They keep it light even when you’re stuck in a car for 6 hours straight trying to get through the border to a baseball game and have to  pee or you’ve been having a bad day. They’re like “Sit down. Bee-atch! Grab a drink and  chill yourself out. “They spiral it up. So thanks boys.

My sister-in-law, reminded me of the time when we were 18 and we had climbed to the top of a barn and drank wine for hours. Unfortunately (mostly for Alison) this was the exact moment I discovered my terror of heights. We still can’t figure out how we got me down but I imagine it was something along the lines of her  carrying me down on her back with a glass of wine in one hand and a smoke in the other. I think this best sums up our lifelong friendship.

I love  little conversations. The big ones are like major parentheses. They’re always there. But the little ones get me through it all. My sister and I are fierce in the morning. We hurl made up song lyrics at each other, frequently trying to rhyme our almost impossible to rhyme names. “Mia bom bia is a tree-aa. Oh ya- ah. “We rage at traffic and shake our fists at the sky. I regale her with my Seinfeldian office life. And  when the sads hit we listen, or get feisty. Humour is a fishing rod for our sads. There’s no sinking to the bottom of the ocean when you have the option to be hauled up by a life rope.

There’s a poem that Alison McGhee shared by a man called Tony Hoagland. I’ve read this poem over and over and over again and each time it makes me emotional. But here are a few lines that I hope will encourage you to read the poem in its entirety.

“Hotel of earth, where we resided for some years together,”
I start to say, before I realize it is a terrible cliche, and stop,
and then go on, forgiving myself in a mere split second
because now that I’m dying, I just go
forward like water, flowing around obstacles
and second thoughts, not getting snagged, just continuing
with my long list of thank-yous,
which seems to naturally expand to include sunlight and wind,
and the aspen trees which gleam and shimmer in the yard
as if grateful for being soaked last night
by the irrigation system invented by an individual
to whom I am quietly grateful.”

This “hotel of earth where we resided for some years together” is such a beautiful image. My own “hotel of earth” is given meaning by the little things. Sitting with my brother and his wife in our living room.. The years of knowing each other gives way to ease of being that’s earned through time and forgiveness and just plain having fun together.

This year we got rid of stuff. We’ve emptied our house of things gathered over the years. We are down to the essentials. I feel like it leaves more room to fill the house with more living of us,  rather than living of room. This is the place where Dave makes me laugh, where sometimes we dance, where we spend countless hours jut staring at Bean. “My gosh, she’s just so cute.” We say to each other over and over again.

This year, I hope like Tony and his beautiful poem that I go forward like water and flow around obstacles and second thoughts. I hope to remember all minutiae and the moments in between. I am eternally grateful to everyone who is a part of my hotel of life but mostly I thank Dave and Bean who carry me through the seasons with their steadfastness and love.

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Poem of the Week: Distant Regard by Tony Hoagland via Alison McGhee

This is one of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read.

Distant Regard by Tony Hoagland

If I knew I would be dead by this time next year
I believe I would spend the months from now till then
writing thank-you notes to strangers and acquaintances,
telling them, “You really were a great travel agent,”
or “I never got the taste of your kisses out of my mouth.”
or “Watching you walk across the room was part of my destination.”
It would be the equivalent, I think,
of leaving a chocolate wrapped in shiny foil
on the pillow of a guest in a hotel–
“Hotel of earth, where we resided for some years together,”
I start to say, before I realize it is a terrible cliche, and stop,
and then go on, forgiving myself in a mere split second
because now that I’m dying, I just go
forward like water, flowing around obstacles
and second thoughts, not getting snagged, just continuing
with my long list of thank-yous,
which seems to naturally expand to include sunlight and wind,
and the aspen trees which gleam and shimmer in the yard
as if grateful for being soaked last night
by the irrigation system invented by an individual
to whom I am quietly grateful.
Outside it is autumn, the philosophical season,
when cold air sharpens the intellect;
the hills are red and copper in their shaggy majesty.
The clouds blow overhead like governments and years.
It took me a long time to understand the phrase “distant regard,”
but I am grateful for it now,
and I am grateful for my heart,
that turned out to be good, after all;
and grateful for my mind,
to which, in retrospect, I can see
I have never been sufficiently kind.

For more information about Tony Hoagland, please read his obituary.

Thanks to Alison for sharing these beautiful poems far and wide.

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