Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July 29 – Them apples

I'm captivated by this apple tree. It's in the front yard of one of the best-kept houses on my street, and this is the first year that I remember its boughs being so heavily laden with fruit. It makes me think of my granddad's backyard, and Niagara's orchards, and autumn road trips in the Annapolis Valley. I don't know what they do with the apples. I do know that they have a marmalade cat who keeps watch over the tree from the front porch.

Seven months ago, walking around in the early evening after the worst of the ice storm, I saw this tree, bent down to the ground under layers of ice. I felt that I should be afraid for it – the street was littered with branches and debris from trees that hadn't weathered the storm – but it was too beautiful. It gleamed, a beacon in the night. The street was silent but for the distant sounds of ice sliding off buildings and breaking on the sidewalks and I stood and looked for a few long minutes as the night cooled down and the mist gathered. Everything was dripping. Everything was dark.

After that winter, spring was a revelation and so too was this tree, a riot of blossoms. Then the rains came, and the sidewalk was covered in trodden, soggy petals. Then nothing but leaves, for the longest time. And now fruit. If you walk by at the right time of the afternoon, the slanting sun hits the branches just right and the apples fairly glow.

Monday, July 28, 2014

July 28 – Tasks vs. purpose

Recently I interviewed someone for an article and he said something that has stuck with me for days. I'm paraphrasing here, but this is the gist:

In your work, you often have to focus on one task or another, but you need to remember that those tasks aren't your purpose. Never forget to look at what you're really trying to do – the big picture, your real mission. Don't lose sight of it among all the smaller things you have to do along the way.

Such a simple idea, but it's the first time I've heard it articulated. It's a good exercise in gaining perspective about any work you do that involves myriad small, pesky jobs in service of a greater objective, whether that's dinner prep (fresh salsa, I'm looking at you!) or striving to raise a baby into a self-sufficient human.

It made me think that I should be a bit more mindful about what my own purpose is (well, purposes are, really). Goodness knows it's easy enough to get so bogged down in to-do lists that you forget why you wanted to do all those things in the first place. That kind of thinking is dangerous, though: if I'm not careful, next thing you know it'll be all career changes and cross-country moving trucks 'round here. Look out.

In unrelated news, how great are these temporary tattoos?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 27 – Chop chop

Today was one of those days that sneaks up and surprises you: not with the rain they've been forecasting for days but with an afternoon that's dry and hot, the sort of heat that makes for a punishing walk home. Of course it would have been less onerous if I hadn't been carrying a massive red cabbage in my bag – not to mention the sack of avocados, pair of limes and the various other bits and pieces I needed for dinner. For someone who's only so-so on cilantro I sure buy a lot of it.

There are as many iterations of this dinner as there are shrimp in the sea, and the prep work dirties almost as many bowls. Here's what I did tonight:

Avocado spread: Mash an avocado with the juice of half a lime.
Slaw: Thin a dollop of mayonnaise with lime juice and season with pepper. Add finely cut red cabbage and julienned carrots; mix well.
Fresh salsa: Coarsely chop red pepper, tomato, green onions and a big handful of cilantro; combine. (This would be where you'd add minced garlic or jalapeño pepper if you were in the mood; I wasn't.) Add corn and black beans. Season with salt, pepper and lime juice to taste.
Shrimp: Sauté shrimp until bright pink; finish with pepper and lime juice.

I warmed the tortillas in the skillet – just till golden – and then layered avocado, slaw, salsa and shrimp. It was extremely messy, completely undignified and totally worth it.

For dessert, I made a bastardized version of Eton Mess: poured a bit of whipping cream into a jam jar, added a bit of vanilla sugar, and shook it till thick (whipped cream, the easy way). Then I added a big handful of raspberries and a couple smashed amaretti. Boom.

I ate it right from the jar as ominous grey clouds clotted above and thunder tumbled across the sky. The air was static with potential, and then the rain came. There's just nothing like eating dessert in the near-dark in the middle of a summer thunderstorm.

(Oh! I'm in possession of a handful of beautiful yellow plums. What's the best thing to do with them? Cobbler? Duff? Braise? Grill? Juggle? Ideas most welcome.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

July 26

They were calling for rain today but it didn't start till I was on my way home: sprinkles fell as the sun shone. A good-enough omen for me.

July 25 – Yesterday, today: three scenes

Friday: writing. Time disappears. First it was morning, next thing I know it's 2 pm. I've made tea, eaten lunch, made more tea: I know this because of the dishes in the sink. But mostly I've been writing. First not enough words, then too many. Now editing, crossing out big swathes of words at first (always the sentences I laboured over, the one I laid down first and used as guides for the next 700 words – they're the ones that have to go). Word count: still too many? Carve away a few more phrases. What about now? Now I'm deleting words one by one, winkling them out of their sentences the way you pry a bit of lobster meat out of its shell. Sometimes I hyphenate something just to trick the computer, but that's a type of magic you shouldn't overuse.

Deadline met, I walked up the street for gelato: my prize. I haven't been to that place for a year or so. I don't know how it stays in business, but then again, $5 for a tiny cup of ice cream? Maybe I do know. Sour cherry swirl and pistachio: I asked for the flavours in English and endured the eye-roll of the teenage girl behind the counter. They bring their Italian cousins over for the summer to work in the shop. She probably imagined a couple of months at the beach, but instead she's stuck on a middling strip of Yonge Street serving ice cream to yuppies while some Italian radio station blares, music echoing off the laminate floors and smeared aluminum table tops.

On the way home I stopped over in the park. It was full: dogs bounding through the grass, tennis courts busy, splash pad full to bursting with squealing kids. I sat on a bench under a tree and read my mail. Such mail! I sent some postcards out into the world a while back and now I'm reaping the rewards. Good mail is one of my favourite things. A breeze stirred the leaves overhead, wafting the smell of barbecued chicken my way. I headed home.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July 24 – Momentum

Only a week left of July and it's easy to tell by the weather – suddenly there's a cool undercurrent to the air that speaks of fall days to come. There are still plenty of steamy days in the works, I'm sure, but the season is definitely on the wane. I've got a summer shawl on the needles, and I'm up to here in partially knitted Christmas socks, but my mind is on autumn sweaters. There's still so much to enjoy about this season (my god, we haven't even got to the peaches yet!) but it's hard to reign my imagination in. When the sun drops below the horizon and the weather cools off, and there's but the faintest scent of woodsmoke in the air, it can't hurt to think about worsted weight wool and the simple rhythms of a cabled sweater. No, it can't hurt at all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July 23 – That night

One of the good things about living in Toronto, I suppose, is that it is full of little nooks and crannies that are just there waiting to be explored. Today I had coffee with a friend in the west end – I'd never have discovered that part of the city if not for her. Thanks, Carolyn! (We went to Hello, Darling – super cute.)

Much later, with dinner done and the dishes washed, all the laundry finally put away, I went for a walk in a more familiar part of town. The air was cool and the clouds that had dogged the day had mostly blown away. The sidewalks were busy and the patio at the local pub was packed, people wearing sunglasses against the setting sun. In the park next to the church, little kids played soccer.

I decided on a whim to walk home through the graveyard – if you're looking for an unlikely workout, can I recommend finding yourself in the middle of a cemetery at dusk?  The security guard rolled up in a car and told me he'd be locking the gates in five minutes, and I don't think I've ever hustled through Mt. Pleasant that fast in my life. I'm not worried about ghosts, but I'd really rather not get locked in there with the racoons and coyotes, thanks all the same.

The Beltline trail took me home. Trees arch overhead, mostly, but at one point it pops out onto a bridge that crosses Yonge Street for a hundred metres or so. In the clear evening air I could see almost all the way to the lake, the CN tower a beacon in the distance. What clouds there were, were tinged with yellow and pink; iridescent, like mother of pearl. Vapour trails crisscrossed the sky; subway trains rumbled beneath. It was a perfect summer evening.