Thursday, April 28, 2011


The leaping green here, after only one warm day, is astonishing, especially in the cold and winds of today. Mother Nature is running to catch up, for everything is a week late or more. Today I saw magnolia blooms struggling out, a blue haze of scillas in several front yards, the first green leaves on the crabapple tree out front (hurrah!), and daffodils waving yellow in the gusting April winds. It's all so heartening, even as we all walk with our faces tucked in to keep them out of the intermittent cold rain and chilly winds.

Someday soon we'll be able to relax again, look around, and say "Oh, spring really IS here!" Does living in a four-season climate with cold winters and unpredictable springs make us tougher? more tenacious? Or does it just help us perfect our whining and complaining skills?? Hard to say!

As we come to the end of April (usually a softer month after March, but this year their roles were reversed), I'm ready to heave a sigh of relief that we're through it. Taxes are in and done with for another year, the last exams are being written today at the University of Toronto, leaving only marking and stray papers to be finished, winter coats and boots are partly put away, and then there's the garden. I've put manure onto the back garden, need to put on more, and am hoping all the rain is washing it in. The digging will be next week, hopefully in sunshine and warmth.

When May first comes, the worker's holiday celebrating labour all over the world except in North America, I'll be thinking of le premier mai in Paris. It's the fete des muguets, when everyone is buying and giving small posies of lilies of the valley and the air is perfumed, even the stale dusty air in the old Metro stations. My lilies of the valley in the front yard have been so shell-shocked by the cold that they are only just getting their pointy little shoots above ground. I'll let you know when I see the first blooms, but it won't be for another ten days, I'm betting.

Still on flowers and spring, today as I was finishing my run (two shirts, long pants, and a winter vest! to keep out the raw wind!) I came on a squirrel discard: a broken-off tender barely unfolding stem of chestnut leaves with an attached bud of chestnut flower. It's pale green and delicate, the infant foretaste of the confident tall "candles" of horse chestnut flowers and broad strong green leaves that the trees on my street will be flaunting in about three weeks.

Amazing to think that contained in the tender small bud and leaf of today is the full expression of leaves and flower and hard spiky chestnut. I guess it's no more amazing that the infant becoming the child... But it reminded me of how much I glance at without seeing. The wonders of spring, the foretelling of summer glories and autumn bounty, are all around us in this brief moment, if only we have the eyes, and time, to see.

Just saying!

I hope May is generous with you. And as I plod along with my Burma book, writing, editing, testing, I continue to be delighted to be working on it. The food is so creative and interesting, and distinctive, as well as delicious. I still don't have a title: any suggestions? Please feel free to make suggestions...

The other day I made two soups, both of which I'd been shown how to make in people's kitchens. A friend came by (my favorite situation: recipes tested and someone other than me to taste them!) and had a small bowl of each. She liked the first (Tashi loved that one, a Kachin Soup made with chicken and garlic and toasted rice powder) , and loved the second one (a bean thread soup, the broth flavoured with dried shrimp, the large dark red ones, and shallots, the noodles slippery and pleasing, definitely one of those "greater than the sum of its parts" magical soups). She's now asked me for the recipe. Now THAT feels good!

Happy end of April everyone.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Just a quick note, on a day of rain and mist and flowers and birds pulling up worms. There's been a lot of talk about this being the twenty-fifth anniversary date of the Chernobyl disaster. Where were you when you heard?

I was in Lhasa staying at the Snowland Hotel. We had a little battery-operated short-wave radio and it was when listening to the BBC world service news that we heard about Chernobyl. It seemed unimaginable. And there was something about being huddled under quilts up on the "roof of the world" that made us feel far away from the dangers of Chernobyl.

We were wrong. No-one is far away from environmental dangers. As we watch the events unfold in Japan, we slowly come to realise that we're all in this together - what hurts you hurts me and hurts us all.

It's sobering, yes. But also a reminder that if we all have responsibility for each other, the other side is that we are not alone.

It's a good thought to warm ourselves with when catastrophes happen, or when we're feeling afraid.

And back at Chernobyl, the site has become a tourist destination. Hard to imagine. But then so is the concept of Auschwitz as a tourist site....

Meantime I've done another recipe count as I work my way through the draft of my Burma cookbook. I polish here, write a headnote there, rewrite and edit an introduction somewhere else. SO thrilling to be this far along. But as with a sewing project, or a carpentry project, the finishing takes an inordinate amount of time, and is less visible, than putting the basic structure in place. It's up to me to get all that tweeking and polishing right, with life and good energy, as well as good judgement and clarity.

Speaking of energy, it's hard to imagine the rigours of the campaign trail for the politicians out hustling here in Canada as we head into the final days of the election campaign. Amazing to see that the NDP is rocking the Conservatives. I am thrilled. But I'm not a good sports-fan, and nor am I a good political person: the suspense is awful, the idea of a Conservative victory is nauseating, and I have to admit to some deeply anti-democratic impulses when I think of Mr Harper and the Conservatives.

So here's hoping that the NDP win big, and that the Liberals also manage to unseat some Conservatives. I hope Elizabeth May and the Greens get some members elected too, and that the Bloc Quebecois is routed in most of Quebec.

Sorry for the local politics stuff, all of you who live elsewhere. But this is turning into a horserace, we hope, with a real chance to unseat the right wing destructive party that has been in minority government for what seems like ages. I voted on the weekend, at an early poll. And now we hear that turnout at the early polls has been very high. It's wonderful that people are voting and discussing and getting engaged.

Without proportional representation, elections in this fragmented multi-party country are always going to be frustrating. This one at least has turned interesting and energetic.


Sunday, April 24, 2011


It's a cloudy Easter Sunday here in Toronto. I'm just back in from my run, a longer leisurely one that's left me sweaty and happy. Funny how getting the blood moving usually gets the happiness current, the emotional qi, flowing too.

We had a celebratory supper last night, early because there was a small person E with us. The guys lit the Weber and we grilled bavette and then lamb, each drizzled with fish sauce and a little olive oil first. The lamb was in "steaks", cut from a leg, so there was a round of bone in the centre. It's a great cut, recommended to me by Dawnthebaker and her partner Ed. I'd also bought merguez from Sanagan's Meats. Those went on the grill and then we cut them up and dressed them with lime juice, fish sauce, and chopped shallots, making a kind of Thai salad, with mint leaves too, for colour and freshness.

I can imagine you thinking "that's a lot of meat!" Well, yes. Some of us like all of it; my kids don't love lamb, so the beef was aimed at them; and one friend can't eat chiles, so she had to skip the merguez. But we all had appetite.

As for the other elements: There was sticky rice, some black mixed in with the white so it was a lovely purplish handful, handy for scooping up a slice of lamb or beef or a piece of merguez with shallot. We oven-roasted beets and served them coarsely chopped, unpeeled. Jerusalem artichokes from QUebec roasted up quickly, and went out plain, looking like oddly shaped small potatoes. I made a sprout etc stir-fry, a made-up dish of chopped potato fried in mustard seed and turmeric oil and then joined by shiitake mushrooms from Ontario, and sprouted chickpeas and a new kind of sprouted seed combo now on the market here: fenugreek, lentils, and something else. It's a wonderful blend of soft (spud) and chewy, with great depth of flavour, especially when heightened with a splash of wine near the end.

At the sweet end, a friend D brought a chocolate pound cake she'd made with creme fraiche, that went quickly, thanks to the four twenty-somethings at the feast. Dawn had made a tart, a cross between cheesecake and custard, with ricotta, mascarpone? I think, and eggs. Delish. She put out a jar of poached apricots and we just balanced the fruit on the slice we were eating, each of us. It felt very sunny and Easter-renewal-ish that tart, and indeed the whole meal.

New sprouts, eggs, lamb, garlic chives from the garden that I chopped into a kumquat chutney, all these symbols of new life and springtime are heartening. But they'd have been a little sad and lonely if the weather had stayed as grim and chilly as it's been for most of April.

We got lucky yesterday though, with bright sun and temperatures at 19 or 20, T-shirt weather! I gardened in the back, cleaning up leaves and branches and packing them into recycle bags. It was too hot out there for clothing, so I worked in my jogging bra and pants, feeling the intense April sun beaming into me. Yes yes I need to be careful about UV on my skin, mustn't overdo it and all that. But oh the tonic of spring sun!

No wonder we had appetite last night for a good meal with friends and long discussions into the night. The other end of the evening came after midnight, when the Russian orthodox church down the street had its annual Easter Saturday procession: candles, priests in golden vestments, a huge crowd of people walking past carrying candles and icons and singing in Russian.. We stood by the edge of the road watching as they walked by, children and grandparents and everyone in between. Another year, another marker...

One of my kids asked me if I ever wished I believed so that I could take part in rituals like the one we were witnessing. "Not at all!" was my answer. It's remarkable to see people acting in concert, with an apparently common mind, but it is also at some level disturbing, don't you find? The coercion of the crowd is powerful and potentially very oppressive.

So, no thanks!

But a huge "YES" to spring and birdsong and short sleeves and bicycling, and children playing in the park, and strolling people chatting late at night in soft warmth.

Bring it on!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


How many of these blogposts have I written while in transit or on the road? I wonder. This afternoon I'm in the Ottawa ariport, waiting for a Porter flight back to Toronto Island. Outside we've had wind and rain and hail for two days, in intermittent and overlapping cycles, not great weather for flying in a small plane, but oh well!

I was up here to speak to a meeting of the translators and Interpreters of Ontario. No, I wasn't talking about language, strictly speaking, not the way translators use it, with precision and under pressure. I was talking about the language of food, and food as an aspect of culture and a window into culture. I made them noodles with sesame sauce, and a little side salad of diced cucumber with ginger and chives and coriander leaves, a fresh little contrast to the chewy noodles and rich savoriness of the sesame dressing. Before they ate they engaged with the noodle dough, shaping it into long stretched strands and little orecchiette shapes, etc, just a few of the noodles described in Beyond the Great Wall. And then as a digestif I showed some images from that part of the world...a way of putting different ideas in people' minds for when they hear the word "China". It was a lot of fun.

I realised though that these kinds of talks with food and images are a whole lot easier when there's good backup and in this case I had great backup, from the organisers of the event, from the chef whose kitchen I was in at the Cordon Bleu (Yannick Anton, a lovely guy), and from my friend Cameron Stauch, a chef and traveller, who had worked a full shift at Government House before he came and helped with all the prep and plating and clean-up at my event. Thank-you Cameron!

We went out after, with a couple of translator friends Po and Ilse, to a restaurant called I think Navarre, on Murray Street. Nice place. Then I headed out to Dunrobin to stay with my old friend from high school, Lianne, who is also trying to getting a weekend immersethroughfood program going on Grand Manan Island (have a look at my website on the Grand Manan page).

The roads were sheets of water and sand, dirty and disconecerting... Lucky I am comfortable navigating in Ottawa, for everything looked creepy and kind of sinister in the rain and wind. Maybe it was just my tiredness, after a morning flight on Porter and a day of seeing my Alzheimers-afflicted aunt (in a very good mood, which was great) and good friends who live out on the farm that used to belong to my mother. It WAS a long day, now I recount all that, but full and satisfying too.

It made me realise again though that the over-anticipation that I wrote about recently is much better when it's kept under control. This time I tried to ride out the day,moving from thing to thing, and leaving a wide margin so I was never at risk of running late, but otherwise not worrying about the next thing while engaged with the previous one. It was GREAT. I just need more practice at it. And as always, it was a huge treat to see friends and loved ones...every time could be the last, and every time must be savored, right?

Of course without the good luck of having Cameron to help with prep, I would have been much more pushed for time at my event. So perhaps I should have been more worried ahead of time. But what good would worrying have done in any case? It achieves nothing, it just makes you tired.

Bring on this new era, I say. Let me start living more and more in the now. Yes, I have to plan what recipe I need to test tomorrow, and think ahead to buy the necessary ingredients, but I don't have to think and rethink it all, just make a plan, write out a note, and then do it.

Tomorrow I'm going to try to make Burmese-style rotie (flatbreads) and on Tuesday a Rangoon-style pulau, with goat or chicken, not sure. Maybe there should also be a vegetarian one? These are the questions that come up!!

And after that it's back to text, the intro, the chapter openers, the stories...and the history at the back of the book. It's all going well, and it's exciting to be in the middle of it, thinking about Burma past and present and future, and stories and places and people. But I can't linger, I have to keep moving.

Send me clearheadedness for these next six weeks please, a some more luck too. I know I'm going into debt here in the luck department, but...!

POSTSCRIPT: My cousin Jen, always clearheaded, reminded me yesterday that NOT anticipating can leave me a little short sometimes. In this case she meant that I should have told the translators and interpreters about the immersethrough sessions I'm doing in Chiang Mai next winter. The translators are a group who know about cultural immersion and engaging with another culture. Of course I forgot to say anything about immerse and, another of course: I don't even have business cards for immersethrough. So, another to-do to add to my list. Thanks for the reminder, Jen.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


In the warm optimism of yesterday's sunshine, springtime finally announcing itself, I drove out of Toronto and through the swooping hills north to Grey County. I had a great visit with my lively and wonderful aunt in Markdale and then headed over in the sunny late afternoon to Durham.

There was a contra-dance last night in the town hall in Durham, a lovely chance to catch up with friends. We danced and danced, to lilting music by Scatter the Cats of Owen Sound and area: fiddle, mandolin, double bass, irish flute... instructed and called to so that we found ourselves moving pretty confidently through the complications of the dances, getting hot and sweaty and happy as we did so. "We" were about 75 people, maybe more, of all ages, from small children to grandparents, of all descriptions, all there to have fun and also to help raise money for a local Waldorf-ish school called Edge Hill.

I spent the night at friends' whose house is in a forest. This morning, instead of yesterday's sun we found ourselves in dripping rain, with occasional flashes of lightning and rolling thunder. There are still no leaves on the trees, so the forest was all vertical lines and soft autumnal tones. Well, not entirely autumnal. There's a quickening in the trees, heavy buds on branches, a warmth to the bark on the willows, the occasional strand of green peeping up already from under the damp brown-tan-purplish layers of last year's leaves.

We had a sauna this morning, seven adults sitting on benches in a hot wooden room, the stove hissing when we tossed a little water on it. Every so often one or more of us would go out to stand in the cool dripping rain radiating clouds of steam. Fun! And such a cleansing feeling, all that sweat and open-pored skin in the cool moist air.

After a huge drink of water I headed down the misty road in the little red Honda Fit, feeling light as air. The last patches of snow were brilliant white against the soft tones of the damp fields. And rising from each snowy patch was a fine mist, the moisture in the air condensing in the colder temperatures above the snow. It's an eerie effect, that trailing mist. In the low-lying patches, at dips in the road, and over pools of water still ice-patched in places, there was swirling thick fog. Fields of corn stubble were rows of pale yellow on dark, like some ancient hand-writing on the curving landscape, with gleaming black crows as punctuation. And there were newly ploughed fields, the soil not brown, not black, but again that purplish brown-black of spring, promising life and fruitfulness.

I know that when I drive those roads again in two or three weeks there will be brilliant colour, not the muted tones of today, and no mist, no snow, no skims of ice still floating on shaded small ponds.

It all got me thinking about impermanence. Of course as I drove through it, my view of the landscape was constantly changing. But even if I'd been standing still, my view would have been melting and moving and transforming before my eyes. In these northern climes all of nature is change, especially at these "shoulder" times of year, when we lurch out of the grip of winter and into the promise of new life. It's miraculous.

Back in the city now I know that I must start digging up the back garden, feeding it some manure, and thinking about where to plant the early lettuce seed. I had problems with tomato blight last year, so I need to move things around. The tomatoes have to go somewhere new. But how to do that? there's a very small space, and not all of it with good sunshine. hmmm

My cousin Jennifer sent me a link about blight and suggested that I could grow tomatoes in bags of soil, so they don't come in contact with the infected soil in my garden. That takes more planning and discipline than I'm used to putting into my gardening. My approach tends to be more haphazard. But I should be treating the garden with more respect.

I had a conversation last night at the dance with a friend named Diane who is part of the seed-saving movement. Her task this year is to grow more than twenty plants, tomato plants of a particular heirloom variety, in a place at least 100 feet from any other tomato plants (to ensure the seeds from the new crop are not-contaminated by cross-pollination). She's on a farm, so she has the space, but she still has to cultivate and develop a whole new area of garden, a huge amount of work. If she can do that, and the other seed-savers can put their efforts into protecting heirloom varieties for the good of us all, then the least I can do is take good care of my small tomato crop. Right?

And finally, on the Burma book front: This evening i retested the balachaung recipe (a great side-condiment, with tamarind, fried shallots and garlic, lots of dried shrimp ground to a powder, all cooked together into an umami-laden must-have condiment. My mouth is watering as I write this!). And I made a deceptively simple staple I learned about in Kengtung, in the Eastern Shan States (just near where the earthquake was a few weeks ago). It's made of rice and peanuts cooked together and then ground into a smooth texture, rather like a polenta. Tashi loved it.

A couple of days ago I printed out a draft of all the recipes, organised by chapters and looking pretty complete. It's thrilling to have the recipes in a three-ring binder, easy to annotate as I retest. I feel I've turned a corner, and am on the home stretch.

As I write this Dom and Tashi are also on a home stretch, a different one, which is made up of exams and term papers, as the university year comes to an end. I'm on cooking duty for these weeks, my small contribution to their efforts. And they thank me and say they'll take good care of me as I get really close to my June deadline. I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, April 9, 2011


It's just past midnight on Friday night. I meant to be in bed before now, but somehow... You know how these things can go, I'm sure.

This last week as I've been going places on my bicycle in the slightly warmer weather, rather than walking, life has taken on a whole new rhythm. And it's forced me to realise how much time I spend anticipating, rather than being in the moment. The most basic kind of anticipation, for me, is when I know I have to be somewhere at say ten o'clock, to meet someone or for an appointment, and that commitment becomes a big obligation in my head, one that I work to not mess up. "Messing up" means being late or forgetting whatever it is that I'm supposed to bring with me or remember. And so as a result I spend an undue amount of time making sure I have what I need, and then leaving way too early so as to be sure I'm not late.

How silly is that? And if I am going to wherever it is on foot, then there's an even larger chunk of time lost. But now, on the bicycle, I can leave at the relatively last minute and still make it to a meeting or whatever on time. No waiting for the streetcar, no half-hour walks...

The other day when I found myself leaving home late and still, after zipping along the busyness of College Street on my newly refurbished bicycle, five minutes early to meet a friend, I realised that I need and want to change my mental patterns and habits. I want to shed this sense of, yes, let's name it, this sense of urgency I have that makes me try to anticipate the future so "nothing goes wrong". It's ridiculous to be so bound up anticipating that the things I want or need to do right now don't get attended to. And I think it's pretty destructive too, in the long run.

I suppose it's some kind of control issue, do you think? And perhaps underlying it is an anxiety? Sounds about right.

As I was out for my run this morning (now there's something I don't have to think about ahead, just do!) I found myself trying to imagine how I would go about changing this pattern of over-anticipating. It seems to me that I need to look at what I am protecting myself against by doing all this obsessive anticipating. Is it the "dreadfulness" of being a few minutes late? of forgetting something and having to fix it later? So what? The world will not come to an end, after all, if I am late. So why am I acting as if it might?

The prescription, I think, and here I must apologise ahead of time to friends, is to deliberately try to stop caring about my own punctuality. I need to figure out how to let go of this thing. hmm

And if I aggravate some people by being late, well, it's not intentional, not directly. It's just part of my trying to learn how to live in the present more reliably. For as things are now, I feel I'm always struggling in the present to ensure that things go well later on in the day. But in all that anticipating the "now" gets lost. I've come to realise that this is why I often have extremely unproductive mornings (apart from my run and often some cleaning up). I can't seem to settle down to work because I'm thinking ahead to things I have committed to that are scheduled for later in the day.

Talk about fruitless.

This is an odd post. I'm not sure If I'll publish it or not. I'll just go back and have a reread, and then decide.

Before I do I should tell you that I did have a breakthrough today: I printed out new versions of all my Burma book chapters, and now have an updated hard copy of all my recipes to make notes on. It feels great. I can't work from the computer when I'm in the kitchen. It's just not the same as scribbling a note in pen on a piece of paper (usually the page the draft recipe is on).

Today I made the simple and magical sweet that is traditional in Burma at this Water Festival (next weekend) time of year. It's a rice dumpling, rice dough wrapped around palm sugar, then boiled until translucent and tender (they look like peeled lychees). When you bite in, the sugar inside is molten, smoky-tasting, and shockingly good. Aha!

I also made new supplies of pantry staples that I'll need for testing in the next couple of weeks, things like roasted rice powder, fluffy dried shrimp, roasted chopped peanuts, fried shallots, etc.

Armed with these I should be able to keep my momentum.

Once on-task and with a list of recipes to test, i hope I can avoid too much over-anticipating and keep my brain and ambition focussed on the immediate "things to do".

WIsh me luck!

And if you see me pedaling past quickly on my red Diamond Back, you'll know that I've managed to cut things fine, and now am hurrying to make up for not having anticipated!

Saturday, April 2, 2011


We're now past that big signpost April 1. Thirty years ago I started working as a lawyer in Toronto, for a firm now called Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, doing union side labour law. April 1 seemed like a good start day. Loved the people I worked with. That first year was hugely stressful; I doubted myself a lot and didn't dare tell anyone. Of course I discovered near the end of my first year, from a friend I finally confided in, that almost every lawyer in her or his first year of practice has these doubts and fears. it's not easy, doing things for the first time and feeling like huge errors lie in wait to ambush you!

Maybe all that stress is a good lesson for the rest of life, as in, nothing ever feels impossible again...or, "if I could do that and survive more or less mentally healthy, then I can figure out how to survive other things that life will throw at me..." You get my drift.

Warm weather has reappeared, though still with chilly temperatures at night. My friends up north say the sap has started running again (for awhile it got too cold and the flow stopped). I last wrote here on Friday, the day before I headed north for a cross country ski and lively supper with friends.

The ski was magic, with warm sun, melting snow but enough to cover the forest floor as I slithered along a stretch of the Bruce Trail. Shadows were sharp-etched on the snow, rabbit tracks and the odd fox or coyote track too showed that the still of the forest hid life of all kinds. By the time I turned and retraced my steps/glides/tracks the air had chilled a little, so the tracks, slightly melted in the sun on the way out, had re-iced. My trip back was much faster! - zippy and thrilling at times. I had one small fall and one near catastrophe as I slipped and nearly fell into a small rivulet I was trying to cross. No harm done, and that shot of adrenalin warmed me in the cool and gave a fun little edge to the end of the ski.

What is it about the pleasures of adrenalin? Of course I don't want that edge all the time, but the odd shot is a treat and a trip. I suppose it's like any other drug: harmful in overdose or over an extended period, but a real pleasure, sometimes a guilty pleasure.

I have written a little about this before, mostly because of bicycling. Now that the season has started for me (I am NOT hardy or agile enough to cycle in heavy snow) I'm reminded of the pleasurable edge I get from bicycling in the city. It's a rush to be so alert, so pushing myself. And I find it really satisfying too. A friend tells me it's the guy in me. Not sure if that's a full explanation! But there's certainly a competitive edge to it, me against the world? It's fun, completely fun, and leaves me speedy and exhilarated.

I just finished reading a remarkable wonderful history of Burma, written by U Thant's grandson and called the River of Lost Footsteps. He's a historian, raised Burmese but mostly in the US, so he tells the story from a Burmese perspective, but also set in a wider world context, and starting from the region's the earliest history, rather than just with the colonial wars. It's too easy to explain things in terms of just the last hundred or hundred and fifty years; doing that puts the analysis on the wrong track. I had had inklings of this truth, but reading the book gave me such a good perspective.

Burma has been a crossroads, and is certainly a geographical crossroads, but at the same time there have been periods of isolation and closed-offness. Now, with the full panorama to contemplate and digest, I have a better idea of the whys and wherefores.

I think I want to do some recipe retesting this week, to reground myself in the concrete, and to give myself time to take a distance from the history book. Only then will I be able to figure out what to say as background for the cookbook. Why do any of it? you ask. After all, for example, what italian cookbook deals with the history of Italy? So why do I feel compelled to engage with historical and geographical and cultural details??

Well because I think there's an interplay between history and politics and culture. And to understand the food culture of a place and a people, it helps to have a context, a wider and deeper context. We assume that people have a context for or knowledge of Italy or France (maybe we're wrong! Who was Cavour anyway? I can imagine someone asking, and why should I care?) and that therefore we don't need to be explicit about the historical and cultural background.

Southeast Asia is far away from North America and the western world. To the extent there's knowledge of Burma, it's mostly of the colonial and post-colonial kind, falsified by a focus on the immediate, perhaps, seen through a post-colonial lens, and usually filtered by non-local interpreters. I guess in a small way this Burma book will make me part of that cavalcade of outsiders writing about Burma. That's why it feels important that I anchor it in the specifics of food and then give it a framework that goes beyond the culinary and into the human landscape past and present.

One of the dishes I'm looking forward to working with this week is from the Kachin. It's unusual and hauntingly good, made of cooked small chunks of beef that are then pounded with spices and dry-fried. It's hard to describe, but not difficult to make. The end result is a deeply flavoured tender semi-pemmican, not a powder but in aromatic pieces. The Kachin, who are based in the north of Burma, Myitkyina being the capital of Kachin State, use herbs such as Vietnamese coriander and sawtooth herb in their cooking, and have many dishes that rely on steaming.

By the way, if you are heading to Rangoon, go have supper at Myit Sone, a Kachin and Shan restuarant near the Children's Hospital. (Myit Sone means confluence, for Myitkyina lies on the irrawaddy River just south of the confluence where its two source rivers emerge from their mountain trenches and join to form Burma's most important river.)

This post has somehow strayed from adrenalin and skiing and cycling to a restaurant recommendation in Burma. Oh well! Better than my dwelling on taxes, which is the other task that needs finishing. I've got a good start. I figure another day's work and then an evening to type things up, and I'll be ready to see the wonderful accountant who actually does my taxes.

Such a pity that the arrival of spring coincides with coercion, isn't it? There are exams when we're younger, and now there are taxes! But then I think to myself, what other time would be better? And there's no answer!