Getting started

Don't expect words of wisdom or earth shattering revelations, just my thoughts and observations about living in Ottawa, being a public servant and trying to live life every day to its fullest

Monday, May 23, 2011

Meat and vegetables - It is the May long-24, the first official day of the Canadian planting season. I put in a few vegetables last weekend and hope to have home grown lettuce and tomatoes, as well as some herbs and cat-nip. The farmers markets are now open as well, and while I am looking forward to the selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, what I will miss is my monthly meat delivery.

Last fall, a friend of mine and I signed up for to share a cow. We technically didn't get the WHOLE cow, just choice cuts from her friend, Farmer Paul, who spent last summer raising these beautiful bovines, and this year will be raising even more. A few things that rocked about my shared cow:
  • It was honestly some of the BEST beef I have ever had in my life. Purests will tell you that great meat should never be frozen, but I beg to differ. I defrosted a Porter House to open the BBQ for the season, and with very little marinating, the steak just melted in my house. It was fresh and juicy and a moment of pure bliss ... times like that I am glad I am single; I don't have to share it with anyone!
  • Farmer Paul drops it off all through the winter. When I first started looking into whole beasts purchased from local farmers, I found that they often just give you half the animal. How am I supposed to store that much meat? Receiving a drop-off every month, meant that I only had enough to eat through the month and didn't have to worry about losing choice cuts somewhere deep in the bowels of a chest freezer.
  • No tyranny of the cow. I once signed up for a vegetable box and I felt that every week I was beholden to the goodness in the box ... there was just too much to consume and sometimes produce had to be disposed of. It was heartbreaking and a huge waste! With a shared purchase, there is only a small drop-off with a variety of cuts every month for six months. Three-to-five pounds is more than enough to keep someone satisfied for a month without feeling beholden to emptying the freezer before the next delivery and giving me the space to eat other things during the month.
  • No commitment. Paul did door-to-door deliveries once a month, but sometimes I was just not around to receive them ... but with a shared purchase, someone is bound to be home on the cold Saturday morning when the meat is delivered. It resulted in the freedom to enjoy winter to its fullest without having to worry about being around to receive the monthly drop-off.
  • Variety every month. On the whole, we knew what was coming in each box, but as it was shared some months I would get mince - leading to wonderful spaghetti sauces - and just as I was getting tired of that, a new box would arrive and this time I would have a roast and sausages. There is something fun about not exactly knowing what you will get this month, that leads to creativity in the kitchen.
  • Sharing brings you closer to your friend. Winter can be cruel, with people disappearing for months either because they revel in every second of the season or they are holding tight waiting for spring. Sharing meat with a friend means you get to see them at least once a month. You can share recipes, barter over cuts, invite them over for dinner to help devour the roast.
This summer, I hope to actually meet the cows that will sustain me over the winter at Grazing Days farm. And  I plan to share a purchase again this winter. To summer, and the produce it will bring us, the rain, the sun and the cows that will grow healthy over the next few months so that I can make sauces, stews, sausages and steaks through the winter months.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A moment of pure bliss - Ah vacation ... how I miss you, the ridiculously long flights (over 46hours on an airplane over 2 weeks), living out of a suitcase, the lack of clean laundry, the fantastic food, the cheap massages ($5.00 for an hour), the home coming in Hong Kong, the usual sights and real public transit! My two-plus weeks in Hong Kong and Bali (Indonesia) were really needed. It was fantastic, but I was numb leaving Hong Kong and realising that I had to come back to "reality" soon.

The homecoming is always bitter-sweet and suddenly the lack of hot-water and water pressure in that hotel on the beach seems quaint, the mosquito nets and haphazard air-conditioning seems like fancy extras and the total disconnection from smart-phones, e-mail and computers in total a release. There were no moments when I felt home-sick, where I wondered about home or work, where I thought about my bed - NONE. I was 100% there and just living it fully. But there were a few moments, that were the perfect moments. Moments I will not forget.

108-foot under water
I had two criteria when I invited friends to join me; Hong Kong and scuba diving, everything else was negotiable! I got five days of diving on a remote beach in Bali, in a tiny town called Amed, the closest ATM was 30 minutes away by car, the sea was calm and the locals friendly. On day four, there were other divers, but none could join me on "the wall" because they were not experienced enough (note I was always with an experienced local Dive Master). The wall was over 120ft deep and teeming with life, from pygmy seahorses and cheeky clown fish to cuttle-fish and giant hump-nose Napoleon fish. But one thing always lures me - the vastness of the deep. Swimming away from the wall and just watching the blue - wondering what is out there and what might appear. The world isn't quiet when you are 100ft underwater but out there, beyond the wall there is a different quiet and an emptiness that is full of life. It excites me and scares me and something about just waiting thrills me and makes me feel alive.

Alone on the beach after sunset
On  night number six in Amed, I was alone - the others had gone on ahead to Ubud. My usual after scuba diving ritual included a late lunch, a swim, a massage, another swim, a shower, drinks watching the sunset and dinner. None of this change except that I was running behind "schedule" and ended up on the beach with a cold beer after sunset. The sea off Amed was calm, like glass, and reflected the full moon the first few nights, but this last night, the moon never made an appearance, instead the perfect stillness reflected the southern stars. As I lay on the beach-chair gazing at the upside down star-scape, I watched a distant thunderstorm slowly move north from over Lombok, across the ocean - just on the horizon. Each bolt of lightening shadowed the monstrous thunder-caps, and yet where I was there was no breeze, no rain, no sound - only stars.

I am now basking in the joy of an Ottawa spring, the weak sunshine and early morning bird songs, but often I think back to my seven days in Amed and how peaceful and uneventful life was, and yet how alive I felt.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Best City in the World - It has been a while, but my excuse is that I have been out of the country. Vacation (or a home coming - whichever you prefer)! I spent over a week in my favorite place on earth and my real home; Hong Kong. Now I sit in Canada and wonder what it is that keeps me here when my heart really is halfway around the world.

I grew up in Hong Kong and until 2003 my family was based there full time. Hong Kong has always been where I feel most at ease. But more than just home, Hong Kong is a vibrant city with lights, and food and public transport. There are vast expanses of forest (over half of Hong Kong is parkland mainly because it is too steep to build on) and beaches that could compete with Thailand or the Caribbean, there are cheap shopping deals and rat-warren like markets next to New York style streets filled with designer brands. Hong Kong has restaurants where meals can cost more than a down payment on a house and restaurants where you can eat your fill for the cost of a Canadian bus ride. There is always something to do and people around, and yet when you know where to look you can find solitude and calmness.

Now I live in Ottawa, a city which claims to have one of the highest quality of lives anywhere in the world, and I would have to agree. Everything I love about Hong Kong is missing here in Canada's Capital - and yet I love it for that. I like the cleanness, the consistency, the calm quiet and the pace. I love the hidden gardens and fresh water features throughout the city. I love being able to bike around the city or walking home from work (even in the middle of summer) and I love seasons that go from gray to green in a few fast days. Here in Ottawa, I can slow down and take time to just watch the world slowly go by or I can be on the skihill 30 minutes after I leave work!

So what is the best city in the world? Well - I suppose it depends on what you are looking for and I think this changes over time. I lived in Toronto for about 7 years and for that point in my life, it was a great city. The question for me is when will Ottawa no longer be enough and will I ever make it to Hong Kong. If I am truly to live a life of no regrets, I have to go back - I have to live the rush of uncertainty, and yet there are qualities about Ottawa that I am loath to give up. So right now, I am going to focus on how lucky I am to not only live here, but to have the choices on where to live.

To find out more about Ottawa, join Jane's Walk (May 7 & 8) and explore this great city on foot for the weekend - To find out more about Hong Kong, buy me a plane ticket and I will play tour guide (references available - I speak more Chinese that you would guess!)

Fun fact: Hong Kong has 7+ million residence in a land mass a third the size of Ottawa, ON