Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dante groupies, holiday recap, and mushy gratitude

My first day of class was yesterday. It started with a bang: a meeting with a professor who has asked me to aid him with what he deems a mundane research task, and what I deem frakking awesome. Nonetheless, the day started with an early, pleasant meeting followed by my first course on La Divina Commedia at the Master's level.

Let it be known: I am a Dante groupie. I recently had the final line of the Inferno (part 1 of 3 of La Divina Commedia, the other two being Purgatorio and Paradiso) - "E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle" - tattooed onto me. I twice visited the Museum of Dante's House in Florence, though I didn't enter because I'm cheap frugal and, instead, posed in front of and photographed it and did likewise in front of the statue of Dante, which resides amongst the statues of other Italian greats, just outside of the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. I'd already taken a course on Dante in my undergrad, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take another course on his work, especially since, though I do call myself a groupie, I haven't read past the Inferno in the Commedia. (Gasp!)

Forgive me for the Dante rant. I just wanted to fully explain why yesterday's first class was an emotional one. Yes, my friends: just like my 10-year-old self cried at Backstreet Boys concerts, 25-year-old Christina chokes up reading Dante. Go figure.

If I haven't lost you in my sparkly-eyed teenage rant, let's see what happens when I rewind and return to December. On December 20, I left Toronto for Montreal, grabbing a cab on Bloor with - as far as I am concerned - the most polite, jovial, friendly, and compassionate cab driver I've ever encountered. What a blessing he was! I discovered, while aiding him to lift my luggage (which contained no fewer than sixteen library books, many of which were hardcover) into the trunk, that he had hurt his back less than a week prior. To prove it to me - not that I had questioned the authenticity of his pain - he flashed the package of Tylenol Back Pain that was managing his pain. He was grateful for the help, and I was grateful for his honesty, and we drove off. He asked me about my life and I politely inquired about his. He said "Thank you" a lot when I would express interest in the words he spoke. He was from Somalia, if I remember correctly, and a practising Muslim who speaks English, Arabic, and Somali. Though he didn't celebrate Christmas, his enthusiasm and appreciation for the joy that the holidays bring was positively contagious. I truly enjoyed his laughter, and his genuine spirit, and listening to his perspective on his own life and the city surrounding him of which he was an integral part.

All of this positivity was captured in the parentheses containing a 15-minute cab ride. This was as good of an indication as any that the following 2.5 weeks would totally kick ass.

I hopped onto the Greyhound bus to Montreal at 21:30 on the 20th; it was scheduled to arrive at 04:30 in Kirkland. Yes, that is 4 o'clock in th'mornin'. See, I'd told everyone in Montreal (save for a privileged two, because I simply couldn't keep it to myself) that I'd be arriving on the 22nd at 7 a.m., not on the 21st at 4 a.m. Surprise! I couldn't, however, commit the selfish act of calling my mum at that time to pick me up, nor could I accept the generous offers for lifts from those two individuals.

As though the Greyhound bus driver were catching onto the trail of optimism and positivity of the Toronto cab driver, Mr. Bus Driver offered to drop me off at the Tim Horton's closest to the bus station in Kirkland. I'd been planning on walking there from the terminal and spending a few hours there, but when Mr. Bus Driver discovered, through bringing up the topic himself, that I had no one picking me up at the terminal, he generously offered the alternate drop-off point. Bless him!

So, what does a sleepy, vegan, Master's student transplanted from the city back into the suburbs do at a Tim Horton's at 4 a.m.? Well, order a chai first, sans dairy milk, in French (woo! Toronto has not robbed me of my French!). Then, after trying in vain to do some schoolwork, which only made my eyelids droop, I did the next logical thing: watch six episodes of Community. And then I called my mum; I was home by 8 a.m.

I promise that I won't go into that much detail to describe my Christmas vacation, but suffice it to say that it wasn't a vacation until the 29th. Remember those pesky, weighty library books that helped gravity make my luggage fall in love with the ground? Those were for research, as I had two papers due by the beginning of January. The due dates were flexible, but I knew that I did not want to spend my entire time in Montreal doing work. I imposed a deadline for the 24th and one for the 29th, slept very little, snuck in some celebrating Jesus' birth or something along those lines, ate a lot, and laughed even more (with family - I swear! My studies didn't push me to that point). And, without fail, I snapped at the inquisitor behind every "Are you almost done?" or "How many pages do you have left?" My moody response, inevitably, was a firm "NO" or "I. Will. Tell. You. When. I. Am. Done" or, as my mum documented in a video she recorded of me in my natural habitat, i.e. surrounded by veritable piles of books, "I will shout it from the rooftops when I am done," and I did yell when I said that. It's a good thing that I have not yet shown my mum how to upload videos to Facebook...

When I finally finished my schoolwork and was able to truly, objectively appreciate the support that I had while I worked at home but also understand and achieve perspective on how valuable it is to study away from my familial core, if only for the necessary isolation it can provide (let's ignore the mania that results from the isolation of research, which only family can remedy or tolerate), I jumped into revelry: receiving friends and family at home over coffee or dinner, cooking for and spending an intimate New Year's with my other half (also known as my "sista from another mista", Maritsa), visiting family in Ottawa after New Year's, watching Chuck and kicking it 'til the wee hours of the morning with Pete, driving around town to visit loved ones over coffee or dinner, eating a lot of pie (see Maple Pecan Pie below; here's the recipe), overdosing on fried zucchini (also below), cuddling with Momma, catching up with cousins and my beautiful sister, having a slumber party and heading to Aux Vivres with my uncles, eating food from Pushap no fewer than four times... I truly could go on (stuffing my face with peanut butter tofu from Soupes et nouilles was a highlight, indeed). It was a fantastic vacation.

I'll let the photos, below, do the talking; before I do (I just can't shut up, can I!), however, I wanted to send a sincere expression of gratitude and love to those who made the time to catch up with me over the busy holidays, to the loved ones who went the extra mile (literally) to catch me between visits or papers, or (metaphorically) to make me vegan cookies (Zia Franca, your cookies are one of the many highlights of Christmas! Thank you!) or banana bread (AmandaHead, don't listen to him! That hefty loaf of banana goodness is hella good) or frosting-covered sugar cookies (Sara, those cookies left me speechless... mainly because my mouth was filled with cookies) or maple cake (Momma, you're the best); to those who unfailingly provided the extra millimetre or metre - trust me: every tiny bit helped - of support that I needed last semester. We laugh about it now, but my graduate partner in crime and Veggie Soulmate, Ally, very observantly and wisely remarked this morning, referring to the workload of a Master's programme, that, "If I've learned anything from last semester, it's that this is almost impossible to do." But, somehow we made it halfway. People have done it before us and people will continue to do it after us; MAs and PhDs are earned every year. If they can do, why can't we? Last semester, we learned, sometimes the hard way, about balance... and about being driven to research-driven insanity in style. Aww yeah.

Speaking of style (yeah, right: I have none)... If my weekend plans - seeing the American Idiot musical, hitting up Hogtown Vegan with the roomies, and letting the Windsor Arms Hotel restaurant, on Sunday morning with the Toronto Vegetarians Meetup Group, show us what fancy vegan brunch means, not to mention the upcoming poetry slams and visits from family and friends - serve as even a remote prediction of what this semester has in store, I'll be just as emotionally, spiritually, and physically (I just joined the gym!) satisfied as I was last semester.

So, to all those who, reluctantly or with complete joyous abandon, are jumping back into the academic groove or sliding back into the work routine, I wish you a year filled with worthwhile challenges, pleasant adventures, fulfilled dreams, vibrant health, warm hugs, bountiful love, safe travels, and delicious food. May we all remember to embrace balance and understand that we are blessed to be surrounded by individuals who believe in us when we've lost faith in ourselves, who see brilliance in us when we fail to see an inkling of intelligence, who love us despite, well, ourselves.

I love you guys.

Ok, put the tissues away - unless you need it to wipe away drool: there's lots of food porn to come. (Please forgive, once again, my lack of expertise [and time] in giving some of the pictures a good rotation, in addition to forgiving me for blogger's funny decision to reorder the photos.)

With love, blessings, and huge hugs,

Vegan in Suburbia

Sunrise behind my house in Toronto

Me, being silly with my mum over a meal of gnocchi - at my behest for my last meal in Montreal

Getting Vegan Pie in the Sky for Christmas: Exhibit A, Maple-Kissed Blueberry Pie, sliced elegantly by my uncle

New Year's dinner. Aww, yeah. We had seconds, too. We are beasts.

Downtown Montreal in a mild snowstorm. I couldn't have asked for more picturesque scenery through which to walk.

Sorry, Pie. It was your time.

The grand display of New Year's Eve's epic meal, created by me and Maritsa. We had Daiya mac and cheese (recipe here. I've been using this recipe for over 2 years; no other mac and cheese recipe comes close), stir-fried kale and garlic, fried chick'n tenders, olive bread, a variety of antipasto, veggie pâté, and, of course, Maple Pecan Pie by the goddesses behind Vegan Pie in the Sky, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.

Posin' with the food

Pretending to be a fancypants wine connoisseur, and, being far from it, I can't help but laugh at my idiocy...

Duuuude... Dude. I took this photo as a "just in case" photo; let me clarify: I had a feeling that I'd messed up something in the recipe, namely that, due to impatience, I added cold ingredients to boiling hot ones. I was correct: once we sliced into this beauty, the pie turned to goo. However, it was still delicious and, with enough chilling, it remains solid once it's sliced. I've learnt my lesson!

Christmas morning breakfast is maple pie and dates. Don't judge me.

Our lovely Christmas tree, decorated by my darling sister, her boyfriend, my cousin, and my best friend

When cupcake tops are cruelly ripped from their homely bottoms, you repair it with frosting, says the brilliant and beautiful @NessaToutSucrée! These were made to celebrate the submission of my last essay of the semester.

Pushap is my favourite Indian restaurant in Montreal. I had an insane craving for their food, so, like I said, I ordered from them no fewer than four times.

The charming Christmas Eve spread

My Zia Franca's delicious vegan shortbread cookies

My cousin Sara's addictive and outrageously tasty sugar cookies

The festive, wintry display that greeted me upon my return to Montreal

One of the tastiest sandwiches I've ever made: peanut butter tofu, sundried tomatoes, spinach, baba ghanoush, and avocado.

The same peanut butter tofu, chopped over salad

Peanut butter tofu, in the buff... ish

A poinsettia instead of a Christmas tree adds a taste of Christmas at home in my Toronto home

Fried zucchini. Holy moly, I cannot get enough of this. Ever. At all. No. It's not possible. (It's eerie how I can picture myself yelling that desperately while being dragged away from a plate of this zucchini...)

A little too enthusiastic about the sauce, Christina?

Gosh, I love French onion soup...

Naturally, I didn't read all of these books, but I consulted, at the very least, their indices. They were good to me, and I was good to them. And now they are home (praise the heavens), where they belong--in the library, that is.

COOKIE MANIA FOR CHRISTMAS! These are Isa Chandra and Terry Hope's Walnut Thumbprint cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, sans walnut, plus rosehip jam.

This is the chaos that ensues when I write.

A friendly visit from my veggie soulmate

Pumpkin friggin pie. Aww yeah. This was after Thanksgiving. When Ally (veggie soulmate, above) came over to study with me, I promised her and my roommates pumpkin pie, and I followed through on that promise.

A nice, hearty meal of sweet potato chili and Happy Herbivore cornbread. Both the chili and the cornbread freeze really well, so this meal kept me warm on many a night.
The mail that greeted and welcomed me back to Toronto. Somehow, in this small bundle, my mail managed to accurately capture my personality and interests.