Monday, October 27, 2008


We're heading out tomorrow morning early, on a flight to San Francisco.  We're giving a talk and slide show at an event at Draeger's, in San Mateo, tomorrow night.  The next day Jeffrey continues west, to Thailand, and I turn around and come back to Toronto.  

How strange, that we can fly around like this, transporting ourselves around the globe.  It is a little unsettling, and it should be (and not just for carbon footprint reasons).  The moment we start taking travel for granted, we're in big trouble.  It still has a magical feel to me, even trips like this, to a place in North America that I have been to a number of times...  

Maybe it's the possibility of encounters with strangers, unexpected conversations, glimpses into other lives.   That for sure is a big part of it.  And perhaps too it's just the remarkable transplanting that happens when we arrive by plane somewhere completely other, and then are able to walk and drive around as if we'd always been there.  Surely it should show, I sometimes think, the fact that I've just stepped off a plane and am finding everything new and different here.  But it rarely does, or at least not so that anyone would notice!

And of course it's always good to remember what a small proportion of the people in the world ever get to fly in a plane.  This Tibetan nomad girl, whom we met in the Changtang, the huge plateau of western Tibet, probably never will, for example.

On another subject, our friend Kaz dropped by today, a lovely surprise.  She's begun to write poetry again. As she says, it comes from an entirely different place than prose.  I find myself envying that deeply sure artist's confidence of hers, and also grateful that she is enriching the world for all of us.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Last night Jeffrey and I drove to Waterloo , about 75 minutes west of Toronto, for a book tour event for Beyond the Great Wall (and without specific directions I managed to get us to Cambridge and Kitchener, before we finally made it to neighbouring Waterloo).  We were in plenty of time, so it wasn't stressful, just a lot of extra driving for Jeff, and two askings of directions for me.

The event was very pleasant, and fun for us too.  WordsWorth books put it on, and it was held at a charming restaurant called Hannah's Bella Bistro, on King Street, right downtown.  Hannah is a young chef-owner with years of restaurant experience under her belt already.  She made a lot of recipes from the book.  She picked Tajik Nan as the bread, then several starters: Cheese Momos, with a side relish of Lhasa Achar, made with pickled daikon radish shreds and so delish; and a fresh Tomato Salsa.  We moved on to three beautifully presented salads, served on a long plate for two, from which we could help ourselves.  The salads were the Dai Pea Tendrils, a Uighur Salad from the Silk Road oases, made with red bell peppers, and a cucumber salad dressed with black rice vinegar.  Mains were equally interesting and diverse: A Mongolian Hotpot, made with beef simmered in a light lamb broth with mushroons and pressed tofu, and served with condiments of minced ginger and fresh chile salsa; and a pulao of chicken with punpkin, succulent and rich-tasting, smooth too.

It's always a treat for us to see what cooks and chefs pick from the book, and how they interpret the recipes for their own particular needs.  Hannah's take was fresh and inventive, and pleased the room.  

Thanks to everyone there for making us feel so welcome!

Monday, October 20, 2008


Thanksgiving weekend was spectacular, soft and warm, the leaves glowing on the trees.  Meant to dig up the last of the potatoes at the farm, but instead got distracted by working in the woods, taking photos with our new digital camera, so that now I feel comfortable with it.  I've got a long way to go.  I also did some line editing of Jeff's novel.  It's so engaging, the world of characters and events that he has created.  Next step is to print it, photocopy it, and hand it in.  And then we'll find out if there's an editor who likes it and wants to publish it.  I'm confident.  
Meantime Jeff can't wait to start writing a second novel.  Amazing.

I don't intend to make this about food, at least not about recipes, but I do want to pass on how delish green tomatoes can be when stir-fried.  I heated peanut oil in the wok (could have used olive oil, but because of the spices opted for peanut), tossed in mustard seed until it popped, then nigella, and fenugreek, then some chopped onion, minced ginger, and a chile from the garden.  When the onion had softened I added the chopped green tomatoes and stir-fried them.  I added a splash of water at some point, covered them and steamed them briefly.  I seasoned them with salt and a dash of soy for depth.  They were tender in about ten minutes, and ended up a cross between a vegetable side and a condiment.   Next day I had the leftovers on rice, with a fried egg on top.  What could be bad?

On a related green acidic vegetable: Fabulous Potz, at Food 4 Life in Kensington Market, told me he cooks tomatillos under the broiler, a good idea if you don't want to grill.  I usually poke them several times with a fork and cook them in a pot with a splash of water.  Once they've softened, a little salt, some chopped coriander leaf, and if you want, chopped onion or a chile...  Again, like the green tomatoes, they are a treat on rice or as a side with grilled meat, or a base for a fried egg, always my default option!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I'm out on book tour this week, first in Ottawa and then in Montreal.  I grew up in Ottawa, so it's deeply familiar, even though it has changed and grown a lot since I last lived here.  I get taken by surprise by how different some street corners look...yet can still find my way around town as if by instinct.  I find myself the remembering the fire that took out that building, and then startled by the new construction that has finally replaced it.

This evening I gave a talk and slide show about Beyond the Great Wall, our new book.  The event was at Nicholas Hoare books on Sussex Drive, shop with loads of books that call out to be bought and read, and stacks of CD's too, all enticing.  Better still is the feel in there, welcoming and comfortable.  We sipped wine and chatted, then we dimmed the lights and I talked about people and places beyond the great wall to the thirty or more people who'd come. I'd recognised one old friend in the crowd before we started, but then when the lights came up there were several more.  And there we were, all older, maybe wiser, but still recognisably the same people as when we'd first met.  The person who went back the farthest was Flora, whom I have known since we were both ten years old.  That's a long time ago! 

And like the whole process of being in Ottawa for several days, visiting my Alzheimers'-afflicted aunt and being reminded of events and people long gone, seeing old friends and acquaintances was both sweet and disturbing.  It's a reminder of the passage of time, of our mortality and the impossibility of stopping the rushing on of the years; it's also an affirmation that we aren't alone, that others do know us from times past and remember us, and even make the time to come to an event to reconnect.   So this evening my thoughts are jumbling around: I'm thinking about my long-dead parents, and I'm remembering, in quick flashes, trips across town in the car when I was a child that I haven't thought about for years.  And then my mind moves to the future, to ideas about the details of our Chiang Mai cooking classes (see the chiang mai page at our website:   Strange to be caught up in thoughts about the past and also tangled in ideas about an imagined future.

I'm reminded that even when we can't travel in a physical sense, all we need is our imaginations to travel in our heads.  And sometimes that kind of travel is the most strenuous and surprising of all.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Here we are three weeks into our new website ( and realising that we need to have blogs, rather than trying to treat our individual pages ("jeff's place, naomi's place) as blogs.  

I find I want to add little extras: I think of another book I'd like to recommend, or have a thought that is travel or food related or something, and now I realise that that kind of entry is more easily kept track of in a blog format than on the website.  There will be interplay, and I may move or copy entries from the blog to the site., I imagine.

On blogspot, as in other similar hosts, the blogs have a table of contents and it's easy to search back to look at earlier entries.  On the website, if we continue making entries without deleting others, things could get cumbersome.  So I will continue to make changes on my page (and other pages) on the website, but will be doing more writing here.  This page is linked to "naomi's place" on the website, so hopefully it will feel like a seamless extension of that page.  We'll see.  Once more we're in "nothing ventured, nothing gained" territory!