Winter Blues in Chicago

This is the time of year that can start to feel a little bit tedious if you’re not an avid winter lover…well, or even if you are. I appreciate the winter, and can certainly see the beauty in the snowy landscapes and cozy indoors. After living in Dublin for a while, I can say that I developed a warm glowing memory of well-insulated and cozy Canadian homes. But that’s the picturesque idea of winter we develop when we spend some time away. Though I admired the icy countryside this week on my way to work, I can relate to others who start to feel ready for spring when this time of year feels as though it’s maybe dragging on a bit.

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So I had a little sojourn to Chicago to visit a friend, and this proved a much-needed diversion from my life here in Ontario. Many Chicagoans remarked on the less than ideal time of year that I’d chosen to travel. And although I could imagine the energy of the city during warmer months, I also liked exploring Chicago in the off-season. Late night jazz bars and fantastic wine and conversation during happy hour made the chilly evenings memorable and heady; while frozen toes waiting in line for zip-lining in Millenium Park, spending hours at the Art Institute, record hunting, and spending a day at the University of Chicago for a law conference made my days interesting and engaging.

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There are places I’ve visited where I’ve felt that I was heading home in one sense or another. I experienced that when travelling to Germany, and even more so on later trips once I’d developed friendships. But I think there are places in the world that speak more to each of us in different ways and for different reasons. We could discuss those reasons. I have some ideas. But I’ll try to stay on track here…. so though I felt largely at home when I was in Germany, there was something that struck me even more strongly when I was in Chicago that I was home, where I was supposed to be.

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No, the above photos are not where I imagine myself, but I did fall for the architecture, especially the lovely little turret-type rooms on the edges of buildings. There are a lot of beautiful and simple appealing brick buildings in Chicago. I took few pictures, but spent a good deal of time at a local coffee shop writing and thinking -what better way to spend a day? What better way to spend time?

Sourdough, Starts and Stumbles

It seems to me that a natural extension of my interest in fermenting would extend to sourdough and bread-making. My dad likes to remind me that I wasn’t always as health-food conscious as I am now; at potlucks as a kid I would pile my plate high with fresh Portuguese buns and ciabatta, and a bit of the other foods, but just to flavour the buns. And my interest in bread has not waned, though I appreciate a ‘heartier’ loaf these days over the ones I would have coveted when I was younger. As I have travelled I have had the great pleasure of coming across a handful of memorable breads; there was the freshly baked croissants and morning breads in a small village in France; the bread a grandmotherly Italian woman prepared at a bed and breakfast in Bruges; the long-fermented rye from a bakery in Dublin; the Slow Food-famed bread for which I trekked across Berlin; the old-fashioned dense pumpernickel from Ottawa; and then most recently the natural fermentation-leavened loaves from the CSA here in London, whose knowledgeable baker graciously allowed me to witness his process for a day.

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Berlin, Slow Food Bakery, 2015

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Yet despite my keen interest in tasting the bread, I always felt intimidated by the seemingly magical process that I knew looked so simple but involved much finesse. And this intimidation was not squelched when I witnessed the wood-fire baking process, though my interest in trying to bake my own loaf was certainly piqued. So I began to read and read and read, but could never quite work up the courage to begin my own bread-making. However, over the holidays when my family came to visit, we did a few Ethiopian meals that were based around fermented flatbread, injera. My aunt and uncle came bearing their spice blend berbere that seasoned most of the dishes that were piled on the injera. Despite the wonderful toppings that were coming together we had neglected to start the fermentation of the flatbread, a lengthy and crucial aspect of making traditional injera. As a family we decided to experiment, as we do, and tossed some old kefir whey into the batter to speed things along. And later, after shaking the batter on the pan, waiting for the edges to curl, then steaming the top by putting a lid on, we somehow ended up with flatbread resembling the taste, texture, and look of injera, even if we still had a ways to go. Subsequent attempts were not quite as successful, but no less experimental, as cousins joined with other dietary requirements, prompting me to do a mix of teff and buckwheat instead of teff and red fife. There’s something to be said about just giving it a go, and troubleshooting later. It can be a fun way to learn about the mechanics of it all, even if it means you try a few less-than-perfect dishes in the meantime.

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Injera, third time around.

So I had eased myself into fermenting flours by starting with the flatbread first. I’m not much of a measurer, which isn’t so bad when you’re nurturing a sourdough starter…mix flour, water, wait, add, mix, wait…and then add more, salt, mix, wait, bake! And my first attempt wasn’t a complete failure. Actually, I was pretty thrilled, and figured things could only get better. So with one sort-of success behind me I felt confident that my next loaf would no doubt succeed. But it didn’t. It fell. Very flat. Even so, it was still edible and deliciously sour. So despite my two somewhat polarized attempts, I’m envisioning years of home-baked bread and experiments before me. Plus, another wonderful perk is that you can make these pretty phenomenal savoury sourdough pancakes using the starter (a tip from Katz) and grate in any root veggies and pile on the krauts, kraut-chis, kefirs, and what have you. So there’s a silver living despite taking one step forward and falling (haha) back.

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Hearing in the Capital

A couple weeks back I had the opportunity to sit in on an environmental law class at Ottawa University, where I was excited to be present for a discussion on the right to a healthy environment. I found it interesting to learn about political openness to changing the constitution, and developed an understanding of why opening the constitution to add the right to a healthy environment is more complicated than I had previously thought, such as the concern over what else might get weaseled into the constitution while it’s open. Though I had done my own reading on the precautionary principle and progression principle in their relation to environmental law, I was fascinated to learn about the public’s access to environmental decision-making, and the potentially nontransparent process.

Recently, on November 17th, I had the opportunity to further my understanding of such transparency issues when I sat in on the hearing for judicial review on the Genetically Modified (GM) salmon case. The case focuses on AquAdvantage salmon, which the Minister of Environment approved; this approval means that the company AquaBounty Technology could transport GM salmon eggs (modified for faster growth) from PEI to Panama for grow out, and then sell the salmon for consumption within North America. The federal government is being accused of failing to assess whether this GM salmon has potential risk for becoming invasive and toxic. Though the (up to 100,000) eggs have extra chromosomes that make them sterile, the range of sterility is around 95%, meaning that 5% may be fertile, and the Ecojustice lawyers representing the Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society are claiming that this means there is risk involved and the GM salmon may be toxic or are capable of becoming toxic. Of course, this approval raises a host of biodiversity concerns. Furthermore, the government is accused of not giving proper public notice and transparency of the waiver that was granted. This, Ecojustice is claiming, is unreasonable.

Though there were certainly times when the legal jargon went right over my head, I found it exciting to be able to sit in and watch the action. The process is fascinating, and at times almost feels comical because of all the pomp and ceremony. But there was a thrill in being present for the process that may change the trajectory of the first GM animal approved for human consumption.

Berlin, Take Two

I arrived back in Berlin and was hit with how happy I was to be there. It’s such a cool place to be, and yet I know I’ve only just scratched the surface. It was the end of my holiday, which had started in Prague with Dresden in the middle; Berlin seemed a suiting place to end my journey, as I knew it would be a good combination of solitary time but also time spent with friends and meeting new people. Visiting with friends proved just as wonderful as I anticipated -rooftop picnics, urban foraging (courtesy of http://mundraub.org/map, which directs you to free food), sitting along the Spree, and lots of wine and wonderful food. I was also introduced to others whose company we enjoyed -refugees who shared stories that were difficult to comprehend and new words we were eager to learn, and other travellers who shared their own stories of adventure and thoughts about the world.

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My time alone was important as well, as I feel I’m reflecting on my own experiences, and have grown comfortable with being solo. I have come to a new appreciation of solitary time, and was grateful to reclaim some of it in Berlin. I could have spent an entire day at the Käthe Kollwitz museum; though she had a profoundly sad life and experienced much loss, she seemed to remain hopeful and maintained an appreciation for life and energy. I felt drawn in to her work in a way that made it difficult to tear myself away from some of her prints and drawings. There is a quality to them that kept me rooted to the spot. Kollwitz is a remarkable woman, and I found her views on pacifism interesting, as she said it is not about waiting, but “work, hard work”.  And the fact that she worked very hard and advocated for hard work was evident. Her ability to express depictions of and fight against social inequality were impressive and moving, and will certainly stay with me.

Though Berlin was a haven for someone interested in sustainable food movements, Dresden surprised me for its own innovation and projects. An especially amazing place is Lose (http://www.lose-dresden.de/), a food store that avoids waste by having customers fill their own re-usable containers with food instead of purchasing packaged goods. I was giddy with excitement, and loaded up on hemp hearts in my travel container as I inquired about the difficulties the owner faced when she opened and what it has been like for her since then. It’s such an exciting concept, and one that raises my hopes as well as many questions.

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I enjoyed Dresden, with its very disparate areas on either side of the Elbe. I landed myself in a really cool neighbourhood that had a bohemian and lively vibe, even late at night; it was bursting with veggie restaurants, market stands, coffee shops, and bars. The atmosphere was energetic yet easy-going, and it was amongst the little shops and brightly graffitied buildings that I had some of the best organic rye bread…until I had some in Berlin from SoLuna Brot und Oel…100% rye with sunflower seeds…with a deliciously sour taste.

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And, in this reverse narrative, I will end with Prague, where I couchsurfed with a woman who teaches at a kindergarden where I was lucky enough to visit! I was in the Vinohrady district, a welcome change from the old town which was packed, though of course still holds its own charms. The streets in Vinohrady were steep and cobbled, making the city an unwelcome one for cyclists, but charming for ambling pedestrians. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the booming health scene in Prague, and even more impressed by the raw food dinner I had at a restaurant close to my host. It is a city with a seemingly unlimited amount of stunning views, and brimming with many treasures to discover, such as the many cafés with incredible coffee and little food hideaways….like Vrsovicky Zahradni Klub where there’s a little bar with funky music, organic produce from a local farm, and various events bringing in artists from nearby.

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Berlin, Take One

Lately I have been reflecting on the connections we make while travelling, and the friendships that sometimes develop. I have met people in Dublin who I now consider very dear friends, and some that I believe I will stay in touch with throughout my life. There is something very special about meeting someone who you feel you have known much longer than the brief period that you have known them. One such friend is someone I met at a dinner in Dublin that was raising money for a local charity. We talked as if we were old friends just reunited, and since then we have been very close.

I have also had a couple recent couchsurfing experiences that introduced me to some amazing people…in Berlin, I stayed with a fellow veggie who was a fantastic cook with a great outlook on life. We shared food, stories, music, wine, walks, drinks, and relaxing moments in the park. It is amazing to arrive in a new city and begin learning from a local about the food practices, the co-ops nearby, food advocacy initiatives, and the challenges as well as pleasures of caring about your food and where it comes from. My host introduced me to “food sharing”, an initiative that links people to restaurants, bakeries, and various food-producing places around the city that have excess food they have no use for. While I was in Berlin I had the pleasure of sharing a vegan meal with my host and her friend that was sourced from such a Food Sharing restaurant that had loft-over food from a brunch. It was incredible…to eat good food of course, but also to become aware of such a fantastic program!

I also heard tell of public fridges in Berlin where food from Food Sharing is dropped off, and where all sorts of people can go and benefit from the bounty. I was bowled over by the simplicity of reducing waste in such a way, and though I had a host of questions, it seems to work, and that is such a wonderful thing to behold.

It was special to visit a city and feel like I was visiting  friend instead of being in a new city on my own for the first time, as I was. Berlin is a city full of relaxing parks, colourful graffiti-ed buildings and walls, a wonderful slow food culture, and, I feel, is a city to discover as a leisurely pace; so, I will return!

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Simple Eats, Pensive Walks, and Clarity

After some humming and hawing over my most recent adventure, I decided to take the plunge and take a week’s vacation on my own, and what a delight it was! It was difficult knowing what I needed before I left, but it quickly became apparent to me that I needed some time to myself to walk a different city and experience a change of pace. I’d been to Paris once before, but it’s a city that feels so full of history and vibrant with current happenings that it’s a place that you could return to time and time again and still feel that you’ve experienced new things and learned a bit more.

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I had some amazing food while in Paris, and many of my meals took the form of a picnic by a canal, the Seine, or in a park. They were simple affairs, but accompanied with a bit of French wine they were always delicious and very fresh. I picked up lots of my food at markets, where I often lost track of time wandering through the stalls and admiring the heaping piles of food. 
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Sometimes it takes a step back or a change of scenery to gain some clarity of mind. There are certainly aspects of Ireland that I appreciate, and I have made some wonderful friends, but I’ve never felt settled here or like it is where I belong. As I travel I feel drawn to some places more than others, and my time in Paris really helped me realize that it’s time for me to move on instead of trying to push myself to enjoy a place that I feel ready to leave.

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“Until we are all free, we are none of us free. ”

What a wonderful week to be in the Republic of Ireland! There have been many toasts, tears, and positive vibes pulsing through the city after the recent majority victory for the Yes side. It was really cool to see so many people with Yes posters by the canal leading up to the vote, and very heartening to hear them engaging with people as they walked or cycled by. The No posters were difficult to see and very hurtful; but more interesting I think were the responses that challenged the No dialogue and the discussion and passionate responses that the posters generated. Not only do laws need to change, but attitudes do as well, so let the conversations continue!

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Terra Ferments

I’ve been thinking a lot about settling in to new places and becoming comfortable with new living routines. For me, a big part of adjusting to being in a new place is finding new foods that I like and new food sources. I always relish the thrill of discovering a new produce farmer, or foods that have been produced locally, especially the ones that have been created with an eye for sustainability and the interconnections between our food, the environment, and the many beings on this earth. There’s also a joy in settling in to a place enough to be able to begin tackling more food projects, such as ones that entail dehydrating, soaking, sprouting…or all of the above. When I left Canada I also left behind little jars of fermenting food and cultures that I hope are still thriving; but since arriving in Dublin I haven’t been up to my regular fermenting speed. Most of that has been because I’ve been moving around so much, but now that I have flatmates that tolerate my composting, bean soaking, and constant cooking of often unheard of foods, I have been delving back in to the world of fermenting a bit more.

I’ve never made milk kefir, likely because I rarely have dairy, but since I’m working at a health food store that sells raw milk, and am working with people who are all sharing cultures, SCOBYs, and water/milk kefir grains, I decided to give it a shot. And I can say that I’ve had success! For some reason, the less I fuss about my ferments, the more successful they seem to be. So I just let the grains do their things, and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Here is a happy little pile of kefir in an old sauerkraut jar…

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Spring and the Causeway Coast

The season has begun to shift toward spring; though it’s not quite as dramatic a shift as what we experience in Canada, the longer days and warmer weather are certainly welcome and bring a new energy to the city. There are daffodils sprouting and many trees that are in new bloom. I can’t help but miss Canada at this time of year…though as I’ve heard you had snow on the ground recently, so I’ll save my nostalgic feelings for when it becomes a bit warmer.

Joelle and I visited the Temple Bar market for the first time, and I was quite impressed. I had been told that it wasn’t a “true” farmers’ market, and while that might be true in some ways, there are a couple gems that certainly make the trip worthwhile. Plus, on a nice day, the trip is worth it just to enjoy the buzz downtown, the sunshine, and possibly street musicians. The McNally Family Farm booth is my favourite, as they have plentiful fresh greens, which are rather hard to come by here…purslane, spinach, chard (!), dandelion leaves…I’ve come home with a huge green bouquet. Tonight’s meal was a lovely dandelion veggie stew with week-long fermented rye sourdough. I think I’ll be eating greens with all my meals for the next few days 🙂DSC05454DSC05452

We headed for a weekend visit in Belfast and the Causeway coast. We lucked out with wonderfully warm weather and blue skies. The differences between Belfast and Dublin were interesting to note; for example, we found that in Belfast the roads were wider and many buildings were modern and were also taller. The Botanic Gardens in Queens University were splendid, with many blooming flowers and people enjoying the sun. There we also visited the Ulster Museum, a fascinating place housing powerful history exhibits. The World War I posters were a reminder of the pressure placed on Irish men to enlist and they portrayed the guilt tactics and promises of pride and glory. Many posters were also aimed at women, pressuring them to tell the men to go to war and not hold them back. It was an unsettling view into a time in history that I can scarcely imagine. The museum also housed a very moving exhibit on The Troubles, which are a part of the not so distant history of Belfast. The city has a sad and horrific history, and it was strange to stand at the waterfront and imagine the Titanic departing over 100 years ago.

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The countryside and seaside North of Belfast is very beautiful; Giant’s Causeway is impressive and breathtaking, and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge area was just as stunning, and provided a peaceful and calming place the kick off our shoes and sit for a while.

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Visits

Well it’s been a while since I last wrote, and I’ve certainly been feeling the itch to do a blog post! My parents came for a visit this past week and we had a grand time together…drinks in pubs, walking the city, exploring museums and historical sites, a visit to the Galway region, and lots of good food and company.

It was fun showing my parents around Dublin and being able to navigate…though it’s become apparent that my sense of direction is not all that great and I tend to underestimate -ok, vastly underestimate- how long it will take to walk from one place to the next. In the first few days we walked the city, visited the Archaeology Museum, the Yeats exhibit, and took a short day trip to Greystones and the wonderful Happy Pear restaurant, and of course shared pints at cozy Irish pubs. Ah, and I’ve finally made it to the iconic Temple Bar (can you spot me? photo courtesy of photographer Paul Duchene :-).

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We took off for the weekend to Galway where we rented a car and drove the countryside. After a quick stop at the Galway market for nibbles in the pouring rain we went for a drive to Ross Errilly Friary. We arrived and were the only people there, which made it feel much more peaceful than when I was there last. The wind was howling away and it was a struggle to walk against it at times, but the noise the wind made as it wound its way through the friary was haunting, mournful, and melodious. What a beautiful and preserved place. When we left the friary we took a winding road which eventually led us to a crumbling castle and moored boats on the Lough Corrib that were quickly filling with rain water.

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When we headed out the next morning the rain was pouring down, but it quickly turned to snow. So we drove around a bit until it subsided slightly and then we got out to explore a little village. As my dad said, if you don’t like the weather then wait five minutes. Blue sky began to peak through in the afternoon and there were many beautiful stops on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. The whole area is majestic and impressive, and the cliffs were certainly no exception. I loved watching the waves crash against the rocks and we were delighted to discover that ocean spray was carried up from below to shower us in droplets and mist.

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On our last day in Galway we went out for a walk by the ocean. I will never ceased to be impressed by the stone walls in the countryside.

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Upon arriving back in Dublin city we met up with Joelle and her parents. We enjoyed a trip to the Guinness factory, Dublin castle, and some great trad music at our local pub. It was a wonderful visit and I will certainly miss their company.

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In the last couple of days in Dublin we’ve been enjoying sunny days in the teens 🙂 How about you, Canada?