Sunday, May 27, 2012

In one piece

Greetings and salutations!

I have arrived in Italy in one piece, and I do mean that literally—that is, a piece that was supposed to travel with me is still sitting in Toronto, or even Montreal. Of course, I am referring to my luggage. Ah, yes. I’d heard many horror stories (well, horror is a bit of an exaggeration, unless people are carrying live companions, human or otherwise, in their luggage, which I’m fairly certain is illegal) over the years about misplaced or, gasp, lost luggage. This happened to my sister a few years ago, and she recovered it after many a telephone call to the airline in question (it was an American airline, but I fail to recall the name, so I don’t want to point any fingers unjustly. Plus, this type of unfortunate event can happen to any airline, I am sure, so it would be unfair to say “don’t ever fly with these people! They lose stuff!”).

I flew with Air Canada for the first time—the first time because my usual transatlantic flights are booked with Air Transat, the cheaper alternative. Transat, however, provides direct flights to Rome only until the late fall, and Air Canada flies year round. So, by necessity, because my return date is in December, I had to book a flight with Air Canada, and my experience with them was stupendous. I mean, a flight’s a flight, leg room is leg room when you’re 5’2’’, and free water or tea is usually a given. But—yep, you guessed correctly: I will be basing my naming Air Canada “stupendous” based purely on food. Allow me to explain: I ordered a vegan meal for my flight, and I’d truly expected that, like Air Transat does, they infallibly provide an Indian meal (which is rad; I’m definitely not complaining) for dinner with a bread roll (which I devour, because I may have a weakness for airplane bread rolls) that is served with margarine that is most likely not vegan, so I don’t use it. Then, for breakfast, they have no vegan options, so I end up eating whatever I packed from home. What really floored me with Air Canada was not only their providing an Indian meal (surprise!) of lentils and basmati rice, with a side of decent canned vegetables, and a bread roll that was tasty but slightly inferior in quality to Air Transat’s (it wasn’t as smooshy, and smooshiness is an important quality for me when it comes to bread. My boyfriend witnessed this firsthand and was either awestruck or horrified a few weeks ago when, in an Italian restaurant amongst friends, family, and strangers, I grabbed a fresh bread roll [fresh enough to burn fingers. Mmm…], ripped it open, and devoured the steaming, fluffy insides before anything else); what wowed me was that my meal was served with… wait for it… a Sweets from the Earth chocolate chip cookie. Whoooooaaaaaaa. I all but squealed when its familiar packaging stared up at me, and had anyone been watching the emotions that my eyes betrayed, they might have stepped back, bewildered by the excitement flashing across my face when no apparent, logical trigger could be found in the immediate vicinity.

Cookies, man! Vegan cookies are all it takes to make a vegan lose her shit (forgive the expression). Take note, Other Airlines—either to avoid making headlines with stories of vegans seemingly inexplicably passing out from sheer cookie-related delight on your airlines, or in order to induce such spontaneous behaviour and garner repeat herbivorous clientele. Whatever. I didn’t eat the cookie on the spot because my meal was abundant, but I did consume the deliciously sweet baked good on the train ride from Tiburtina, in Rome, to Terni, my penultimate destination, sweeping the last crumb from my lap right before a train operator checked my ticket and told me that I was sitting in first class when I should have been in second. Woops. My bad. (Hahaha.)

Okay, Air Canada. You get 389 points for the vegan cookie, but it’ll take a lot more than baked goods to make me love you fully and prevent a brutal decline in your point count. See, my baggage didn’t arrive with me yesterday, like I said, and it was only by fluke that I squeezed a few extra items of clothing into my carry-on luggage. No, I wasn’t trying to prepare for such emergencies as that of an airline misplacing my luggage (that would have been too smart, and I would have selected my items more wisely); my luggage was a few pounds overweight, so I stuffed heavy items into my backpack and purse. Even with that, I had to surrender one of my favourite sweaters to my mum and aunt at the airport. Sniff. How ridiculous to have such an attachment to an article of clothing! Anyway, I asked three members of the flight crew whether, when I landed in Toronto, I had to pick up my luggage and check it in again, and, even after confirming three times that that would not be necessary, I ended up waiting in vain for a giant piece of luggage that never did peek its overwhelmed head through the door-flap of the baggage carousel. One other dude from my flight was affected, though his situation was a little bit more tricky, as he would be floating from hostel to hostel, and it would be difficult to get his luggage to him.

As for me, I’m staying in one place, and it seems like my luggage is, too: I called Air Canada this morning and my luggage did not make an appearance on the flight from Toronto that arrived before noon. Where are you, loyal friend? You contain toothpaste and facial moisturizer and precious Serbian peppers and sweatpants and a tea steeper, only the first item of which I was able to replace last night, along with a toothbrush. 

I must admit, though, how curious it is that “things happen for a reason”: I was dreading having to lug that bad dude up and down stairs at the train stations here, which have no escalators but sometimes elevators that you inevitably behold only once you’ve perspired a marathon’s worth of sweat in under a minute of stair ascension. So, on the plus side, once my suitcase has been located, it’ll be delivered to the hotel where I am staying, without requiring any awkwardness on my part (5’2’’ girl carrying luggage into which she could actually fit [I know from experience]) or the public’s (witnessing a 5’2’’ girl carrying luggage into which she could actually fit is probably comical or maybe just pitiful… which would explain why I’ve always been offered help, and I bow respectfully and gratefully to the Universe for putting these individuals in my path).

But, then there’s the awkwardness of wearing the same shirt for a few days. Sigh.

But then there’s the fact that I’m, you know, in Italy, in the countryside, surrounded by greenery and chirping birds and fresh air and delicious coffee and I’ve reunited with a group of friends who definitely rank amongst the coolest, most generous, and brilliant individuals I’ve ever met. We shared tonnes of laughs yesterday, so many that my stomach literally ached, and despite how tired I was, it was a fantastic day, and I know that countless others exactly like it lie ahead. So, it could be worse.

My new digs, which I will share with two artists two days from now

My literature, to which I've already added a book that I had ordered from an online Italian bookstore before I arrived

The shiny bathroom with my fancy vegan supplements—fancy because the supplements help me stay healthy. If that's not fancy, I don't know what is!

One of the many breathtaking views from the monastery where I'm living. Better and more numerous photos will appear at some point.

My room in the morning, bathed in sunlight

Now, let’s just hope that Air Canada values their point ranking, still at 389 for a single cookie, and delivers my luggage that I know is out there… somewhere… (Cue the music for “Somewhere Out There” by Our Lady Peace!)

Much love,

Vegan in Suburbia

Sunday, May 13, 2012

And then there was food porn

As promised, here is a collage of the food items that filled me with the calories that allowed me to bike, read, write, think, eat, and, well, cook. I hope that you enjoy them. And, while I'm here, I'd like to thank you for reading my previous post. You are wonderful—yes, I'm talking to you!


Vegan in Suburbia

I literally went through a half-litre container of this baba ghanouj every week. Here, I spread it on Happy Herbivore cornbread.

After Christmas, my mum sent me back to Toronto with Aux Vivres's veggie butter. Praise the Heavens.

Poutine with two types of potatoes (mmhmm) and Daiya mozzarella-style cheese. Oh, and St. Hubert's accidentally-vegan gravy (it goes by the very appealing name of "brown sauce"). Bazinga!

The Fries at Hogtown Vegan. Dude. Just... dude.

Oops. I took the photo a little late; we'd quickly devoured the Tofu Wings at Hogtown Vegan, but, well, here ya are.

My mum got the Unchicken Burger at Hogtown Vegan...

... my sister got the Mac and Cheese and Unchicken Fingers...

... and I got the Unchicken Caesar Wrap. Holy mother.

A vegan dish of risotto and grilled eggplant that the chef concocted at an Italian restaurant in Mississauga. (Forgive me: I forget the name of the place.)

If you go to Live, would you please do yourself a favour and order these cannelloni? Guys, this is a raw dish, and it blows minds.

Vanessa (@NessaToutSucree) ordered these luscious zucchini noodles. Che bellezza!

Seriously, though. Are these cannelloni not fabulous? Omnomnom.

We didn't have room for dessert but... Who am I kidding? There's always room in one's dessert stomach. Vanessa ordered a parfait; I, something maple-y (they say variety is the spice of life, but I will often stick to what I like. Maple pleases me, so I stick with the maple. Here, I was not disappointed [I am endlessly disappointed by tea that attempts to be maple-y, but that's a story for another day]).

Gnocchi and pesto: the quick, fool-proof meal.

My room-mate's coloured plates prove that I ate this dish on several occasions. I promise you that leftover gnocchi, refried in a bit of olive oil, is possibly the greatest meal that one could ever consume—greater than gnocchi that is not left over.

My mum and I celebrated Valentine's Day together over Skype, and she treated me (thank you, Interac e-transfers!) to Thai food; she ordered Chinese food in Montreal. This is Spicy Eggplant with Thai Basil.

Pad Thai

Tofu and Peanut Butter Sauce. Alas, I hadn't found, in Toronto, any restaurant that could replicate Soupes et nouilles's greasy, flawless rendition of the meal. One day...

How pretty is this eggplant?

This lasagna provided endless quick, delicious, dense, and nutritious meals at the end of the semester, and it froze and reheated magnificently. It was filled with tofu ricotta, slices of eggplant, handfuls of baby spinach, and sundried tomatoes, and it was topped with tomato sauce and Daiya cheese. Drop me a line if you'd like the recipe; I improvised it all, so I hope that I can be somewhat helpful.

I felt inventive one night, as well as defeated, so I made stuffed red peppers with béchamel sauce. I say "defeated" for this reason. Though I have often been annoyed by the absurdly high price of organic peppers, and, naturally, never purchased them, I one day saw a price that I thought reasonable, so I picked up not one, but two of these devilish veggies. When I arrived home, checked my bill, and saw that each of these bad boys cost me four dollars, I was beside myself with dismay. Four dollars for one vegetable?! I could buy sixteen organic, fair-trade bananas for that price! Blurgh. I was determined, then, to make something—prepare for an overused adjective that is now devoid of meaning—epic. I whipped up some rice, mixed in some veggies, herbs, and spices, and put together some vegan béchamel, a recipe I obtained from an old vegan cookbook that I'd picked up in Italy some years ago. Et voilà! :) It was really tasty, though the béchamel was a little oily.

Magic Oven pizza? Trust me: It's phenomenal. And they're inspiring, to boot!

They call this the Black Magic, and it truly was nothing short of magical. And then, really: vegan pizza delivered to your doorstep? Sure, it's expensive as sin, but is it ever delicious! Plus, if you're a member of the Toronto Vegetarian Association, you get 10% off! And, if you're a genius, like I am, you'll forget about this discount and pay the full price—like I did!

When my sister visited me in the late winter, she regaled me with my mum's cabbage rolls. Oh, were these delightful.

On another occasion, my mum, sister, and I had dinner together on Skype; my mum, like on Valentine's Day, treated me to Thai. Thanks, Mamma!

Glass noodles and funky mushrooms = smiles

Simple and delightful: ciabatta with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea-salt crystals... with a side of pasta.

Okay, I'm kidding: the bread was a side to this whole-wheat penne, garlic, spinach, nutritional yeast, and Mum's tomato sauce.

I had a tonne of vital wheat gluten to use up before I moved back to Montreal, so I did what any self-respecting vegan would do with such an abundance: make Veganomicon's Chickpea Cutlets. I submerged these flavourful cutlets in tomato sauce and melted Daiya on them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Challenging the Unknown — but allow me to introduce myself first

I feel like I should introduce myself.

Hi, guys and gals. My name is Christina, but I go by the names of Kris, Vanilla, Steens, Christintian, Seena, Vanipants, and La Vegetaliana, amongst others. I have a habit of disappearing both virtually and literally (unless you appear at my house, where you'd typically find me inelegantly perched over a book and gripping a highlighter like the hilt of a kitchen knife) during the academic semester, surfacing ever so quietly and thirsty for contact with the non-academic masses.

So, uh... hey, everybody. How have you been?

Just two weeks ago, I arrived in Montreal from Toronto after submitting my penultimate assignment for my Master's. Having given up on submitting something of which I was indubitably proud, I settled on, well, simply getting rid of  my final assignment, submitting it to my professor in Italy mere minutes after midnight a few days after my return to Montreal. Marks'll be posted in eight days...

I'm free—totally, completely, wholly, deliciously free. It's a strange feeling, fellow students, is it not? What do we do with ourselves? It's funny, because that question has echoed in my ears several times over the past few weeks. "So, what do you do with your day?" Well, I'm still doing work for a professor of mine; then, I enrolled in an online, 120-hour TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course with i-to-i; I've been working out, meditating, and spending precious time with loved ones. I attended three concerts in four days, something I've never attempted before but that was made possible thanks to my handsome and generous companion. I've been to Aux Vivres twice, Café Juicy Lotus for the first time (and, oh! How I've been missing out!), and have been getting my fill of Indian food from Pushap. Oh, and I've been reading—reading! Oh, what a blessed novelty. And not only have I been spending time flipping pages of books that I choose to read, but the words on these pages are—gasp!—written in English. English! Oh, Mother Tongue, I have not forsaken you! (Quick recap if you didn't know in what I was specializing in my Master's: I've been studying Italian, at three institutions, since 2003. Also, if you're wondering what I'm reading, wonder no more! The Great Typo Hunt has stolen my heart and made me laugh out loud on several occasions.)

I've been free, like I said, yet these past two weeks could rival some bad weeks during my MA in terms of how stress- and anxiety-riddled they were. As some of you may know, I applied to do my PhD in Italian Studies, a feat to which I was whole-heartedly opposed barely half a year ago, but which has taken on the guise of a masochistic adventure that has made itself comfy in the abodes of my heart and mind. The only downside: instead of commencing in September 2013, I'd have to start in January 2013, moving back to Toronto only three short weeks after coming back to Montreal for Christmas.

Coming back? Yes, yes, of course. Four months away from blogging will do that—you know, have stuff happen in them as time goes by. I have more news: I leave for Italy on May 25, working with the fab, brilliant, wonderful, and talented artists at the Art Monastery Project once again. I am psyched to be working with them, though we've collaborated on some odds and ends over this past year via e-mail and Skype. Nevertheless, this departure comes with its own brand of anxiety... but I've already shipped myself some almond butter, maple syrup, and Genmaicha to mitigate any such feelings at least while I'm there. (I really did.)

Like I was saying with regards to starting my PhD early, I wasn't completely seduced by the idea of leaving my loved ones so soon after returning. I spent many days debating internally, meditating to stave off the anxiety and to bring clarity, bouncing ideas, concerns, and doubts off of friends as well as family and even professors, and, in the case of yesterday, not obtaining more than a few successions of winks in my period of slumber and, in daylight hours, taking those precious winks and watching helplessly as tears manifested, seemingly endlessly. This is easily, well, the most difficult decision that I've had to make. A PhD is five frakking years long, for cryin' out loud! I have one more week to make the decision, but, having received an extremely reassuring e-mail from a prof of mine late last night, I can say that, although the decision to skip over to Toronto—my fair Muse, heartbreaker, and heart-stealer—would be made with a heavy heart and by no means without second thoughts, it may now be rendered slightly less complicated and will be characterized by more certainty than confusion.

In the wise words of a very dear friend of mine, though, "anyone who is 100% certain of anything is insane." In other words, doubt is normal and should be welcomed: it means we're cognizant of other options, possibilities, opportunities; it means we're not walking blindly into one idea or activity but taking our surroundings into account. What good is a walk through a verdant wood if we have only our destination in mind, never taking a moment to be distracted and entranced or even beguiled by a prancing deer or the rays of sunlight peeking through the branches overhead? What I've known and believed all along but seemingly forgot because of my obsession with being certain about what comes next? has been echoed in the voices of my loved ones around me: nothing in life is certain, so why not just jump in with both feet? What is meant to be will be, and, clichéed as it is, everything will fall into place. I've taken this approach in both my professional and my personal lives, and, sure, it can end in heartache, but the benefits and advantages by far outweigh the potential negative consequences. Why not take non–life-threatening risks? Sure, you won't see me bungee-jumping any time soon, and that downhill bike ride in Florence two years ago that saw me leaning farther over my handlebars than I would have liked is not an adventure I ever want to replicate, but you can't die from scraping your metaphorical knees when you jump into the lake of opportunity only to discover that you are greeted by shallow waters after you misjudged the depth of the aqueous expanse.

Just jump in. What better way is there to learn, grow, and love?

I think that that pretty much covers the update I needed to make. I'd provide more details and fun stuff about my last four months in the cement landscape of Toronto, but I'll offer you photos instead—coming up over the next few days; I pinky swear! Suffice it to say that, having jumped into my Toronto adventure, I learned, I grew, and boy, did I ever love and be shown love: I received visits from friends and family from Montreal; was picked up in the midst of snowstorm in order to spend two precious hours sharing spicy dosas at Bombay Choupati and attempting to still our beating hearts; had my day brightened by Skype chats, e-mails, telephone calls, text messages, and snail mail and consequently felt less isolated in the sea of books that surrounded me; shared a wicked apartment with two of my closest friends. I got to be within biking distance of some of the most decadent vegan locales in Toronto (Hogtown Vegan and Poutini [featured in the photo above], I'm looking at you); make lots of new friends and reconnect with old ones; marvel at how close and accessible everything is when you live in The City (I did one day come home from the post office that is located a mere 20 seconds from my place [I may or may not have put sandals over my socks and thrown on a sweater over the shirt in which I'd slept the previous night] to positively freak out about how excited I was to not have to hop into a car to get stuff done); grocery shop at one a.m.; have original poetry recited to me in a vegetarian Jamaican eatery; walk home from a bar; fall off my bike and still attend the poetry slam to which I was headed; fall in love; get a Master's.

Yeah, I've had some good times, and I hope that you have, too. Please feel free to let me know what you've been up to! If you made it this far, thank you for reading, and thank you for your patience, your understanding, your visit, your love, and your encouragement. Vegan in Suburbia turned into Vegan in the Big City for a while, but as I settle into my old surroundings in this Montreal suburb that I both love and despise, it'll soon be time to become reacquainted with Nature when I become—drum roll, please—Vegan in the Mountains.

Hahahaha. I'm totally kidding about that title; it makes me sound like a mystic sage who wears nothing but a loincloth and subsists only on berries and listening to the alternating chorus of wind and twittering birds. That's so not me—how could I exist without books?!

Whatever my title or my choice of garments are, I hope to see you soon. I intend to write more frequently, although the rhythm and schedule of my future days at the Art Monastery will not be crystallized until I arrive and am entrenched in my new role's daily functions. Before I go, though, since we were speaking of sages and wise advice, please allow me to share some wisdom that I received this very morning:

"I once heard somebody refer to life as the little dash between your birth
year and death year... In other words, the two numbers at the front and
end of your life years are basically meaningless... that it's all about the
dash... so, what do you want your dash to be?"

In the spirit of uncertainty and embracing the unknown, here's a song that strikes the right note (and gets me every time): "Challengers," by the New Pornographers. We are the challengers of the unknown.

Jump in with both feet and love hard, darlings. Until next time,

Vegan in Suburbia