Birthday weekend

IMG_00000149My cat and I share today as our birthday. How weird and wonderful is that? It’s 44 years for me, and seven for my black bear, Moe. Of course, it also would have been seven for his jolly, tuxedo-wearing brother, Joe. We still miss him so much. The birthday weekend started out with some well deserved sloth on Friday night. Moe and I curled up for some old episodes of Frasier and laughed our heads off. OK, I did. Moe just chased mice in his sleep on my lap. We had a good sleep in on Saturday, then cozied over coffee and breakfast. I got the housecleaning done – the vacuum being the low point of the weekend for Moe – and headed out to buy a new TV. Yay! running shoesNext stop was the gym where I ran 11 km – the furthest I’ve ever run. I’ve done the 10 km race in the Blue Nose Marathon several times, and this year, I’m training for the half. I’ve been hampered by high hamstring tendonitis but I think I’ve hit my stride with one long training run per week, increasing the distance by 2 km per week, and keeping limber with yoga, aerobics, water jogging, and walking through the rest of week. So far, so good! 11081209_10153768478330663_9158455327660808308_nOn the way home, I stopped at Flip Burger to celebrate the run and Halifax Burger Week with my usual…cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, pickle and garlic mayo. Moe got a small taste of local beef patty and curled up on my lap for another couple of episodes of Frasier. We had a delicious sleep and woke to glorious sun streaming in the windows this morning. After coffee and breakfast – tuna for Moe, bagel with light Laughing Cow cheese and pear for me – I rolled out my yoga mat in a sun spot. I don’t normally practice at home; I prefer the guidance of a class. But today, as I looked out the window at fresh beautiful snow on the trees (not resenting it in the least, even though we’re officially a week into spring), I found myself saying to the world, “Thank you for having me. Namaste.” IMG_20150329_121625Then I went sledding. Seriously. I love spending time with my friends and their adorable monkeys. And you couldn’t ask for a more perfect day for sledding. Fresh, fluffy snow, sun, and temperatures above zero. I think I actually got a mild sunburn on my face. Home for a cat nap, then off to the gym again for deep water aquafit. I love a good water workout, plus it’s great for loosening up legs that are remembering yesterday’s run. I made my legs practice good running form while also giving them a break by making my arms do more of the work. Home to a dinner of tossed salad and salmon cakes. Yes, Moe got some salmon, too. It was a great fish day for him. Topped it all off with a steaming mug of Baileys hot chocolate. And now, I’m feeling pleasantly well spent and ready for bed. Tomorrow, we’ll wake up and find out what the next year brings. a ps – The TV is still in the box!

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La vie en vélo

IMG_1924Well I’m a little browner and a little leaner since my last post. A week on a bike will do that.

Just spent a glorious vacation cycling aux Îles de la Madeleine, with the rolling hills of Prince Edward Island on the way there and back. It was fantastic to be back in the saddle again, riding along with friends old and new.

I revelled in drinking in all the heady scents of wild roses, clover, Queen Anne’s lace, mossy forests, and of course, the salty ocean air. I wish I could bottle these scents, but since I can’t, I make a point of taking a great big inhale every time I see a clover field or bank of wild rose bushes, and guarding the scent memory to make me smile some day down the road.

IMG_1910My sense of taste was equally well treated. The majority of our 14 cyclists tented for most of the tour, and cooked our meals in the great outdoors. We’d often start with happy hour, pooling our nibblies and raising a motley array of beverage containers to the day’s adventures. Then as evening set in, it was time to get cooking.

For me, camp cooking does not mean beans and wieners. Why eat a completely brown meal when you can enjoy sautéed scallops with snow peas and grape toms tossed with pasta, garlic and parm? Nothing fancy or difficult about it, and it sure beats dinner from a can.

While breakfast tends to be on the modest side, my friend Karen and I thoroughly enjoyed pancakes one rainy morning in the dry comfort of a shelter. I supplied the instant pancake mix, syrup and stove fuel while Karen supplied Greek yogurt, peaches and blueberries as well as good old Java Blend coffee. It was delicious, filling, and a great way to while away the wet morning.

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There were also lots of good eats to be had at local establishments. We had a group breakfast on our first morning at Pas Perdu…don’t you love that little play on words?

IMG_1904While some preferred good old Tim Horton’s, most of us made multiple stops at Boulangerie Madelon. A word to the wise: you always can count on cyclists to find the best bakery.

Most of us occupied a place at this table at Café La Grave at one point or another over the space of a couple of hours. If you ever find yourself there, you can’t go wrong with the orange or the chocolate cake.

Yes, the break from the day-to-day routine and the food were fantastic. But the things I cherish most from this week on the road are the camaraderie of cyclists through sun, rain, wind and hills, the reconnection with old friends and building connections with new friends, the ‘life stuff’ conversations with caring souls, and the deep gratitude that I am able to live la vie en vélo.

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Basil ice cream

IMG_20140801_140604Seriously. Basil ice cream.

You’d think after my first successful foray into ice cream making that I’d go for double fudge chocolate or praline butterscotch swirl.

But a co-worker told me about basil, and I just happen to be growing a bunch of it on my balcony.

IMG_20140731_191050So I gave it a go. This recipe is more involved than the strawberry I first tried. It involves cooking the milk and basil mixture, pouring it slowly into the beating egg yolks, then cooking some more and straining before the ice cream maker even comes out of the freezer.

It turned out beautifully. Creamy, not too sweet with the bold freshness of basil.

I’m loathe to leave it behind as I head out for a week of cycling. But sadly they’ve not yet invented compact, lightweight refrigeration for bikes.

On the up side, I have something to look forward to on my return.

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I feel like Tom Hanks

cast-away-pic5Ok, that should really say I feel like Tom Hanks’s character in Castaway when he finally gets a fire started. You know the scene, right?

“Yessss! Look what I have created! I have made fire! I (gesture, gesture) have made fire!”

If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about, here’s the clip on Youtube.

Now, I haven’t been rubbing sticks together for hours while looking at a volleyball, blistering up my hands in a desperate attempt to eat something other than fresh coconut and raw crab on a deserted island.

No, I have not made fire. Quite the opposite. I have made ice cream! I (gesture, gesture) have made ice cream!

It’s about time, really. My dear friend Nat sent me the ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer as a birthday gift…was it last year, or the year before? Either way, far too much time passed before taking it for a spin.

strawberry ice creamThis week, the timing is right. The weather is hot, I finished a research paper early, and I think I deserve something creamy, cold and delicious. I looked for an easy peasy no-cook recipe and settled on strawberry as the crowning glory to another wonderous season for these fresh, sweet little jewels of Nova Scotia.

It’s a pretty simple process. The ice cream maker attachment needs at least 15 hours in the freezer to be cold enough, so I put it in last night. I also mixed the ingredients and left in the fridge to chill so I could get right down to business as soon as I got home tonight. Set up the machine, turn it on, pour in the ingredients, and wait for the clicking sound that signals readiness for freezing. That’s it!

The result? Well it’s only been in the freezer for two hours – the recipe says two-four. I couldn’t stand to wait until tomorrow night to try it, so I’m gobbling down a bowl right now. Still a bit soft, which could be the recipe, some fumble on my part, or it simply needs the full four hours – I’ll report back after my second taste tomorrow. It’s a much more delightful shade of pink than this poorly lit photo would suggest, though. And top marks for flavour. Hands down the best strawberry ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

Bottom line: I can’t promise Nat there will be any left when she visits next month. But I can always make more.

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Outdoor research

summer lunchIf you have to write a research paper on a gorgeous sunny weekend, you might as well move the whole operation outside. And ensure sufficient seasonal fuel and hydration.

Here in balcony-land, fuel consists of a lovely salad of mixed greens with fresh Nova Scotia strawberries, a crumble of feta, a sprinkle of toasted sliced almonds, drizzled with a simple dressing of 3:1 olive oil and balsamic with a dash of sugar.

Hydration with the added bonus of light caffeination delivered via homemade iced tea. None of this powdery sugary crap. Just a straight up pot of Red Rose left to steep and cool through the morning, then made delightfully refreshing with the addition of ice and lemon.

Now, let’s get at that paper…

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A filly named Yellow

bike and beanFirst bike ride of the season today.

I’m a little slow out of the gate. Ok, a lot slow. I used to start riding as early as the end of March, weather depending. I’d be commuting to work on most dry days, and also riding on weekends with Velo Halifax.

Life has been a bit upsidedown the past few years, though, causing me to be out of the cycling habit. And it can be hard to re-establish a habit, even if it’s something you love.

The deterrents on the commuting front include getting a bike out of a storage room that I can barely turn around in, and down three flights of stairs. (Have I mentioned I’m not fond of condo living?) I’ve been pondering the safest routes to get on and off peninsular Halifax during rush hours. (Have I mentioned I miss living on the peninsula?) Now that my YMCA has closed for rebuilding, I have to get used to a new location for locking up and showering which requires hauling around toiletries and a towel. (Have I mentioned how much I already miss my beloved Y?) And then there’s the daunting prospect of a ginormous hill climb to get home at the end of the day, followed by carrying the bike back up three flights of stairs and into the cramped storage room. (Have a mentioned the reaction I got when I suggested at the condo AGM that we install a bike rack in the huge waste of space that is our lobby?)

Same storage closet and stairs issues for weekend rides, although at least with a lighter bike. Plus I’m up to my armpits in school work so taking a whole day for a Velo ride is quite an indulgence.

bike and bean via rail trailsBut today I broke free. (This is where you should hear Queen as the soundtrack to this blog.) I got out on Yellow for a few hours. We had a zippy ride along the BLT and St. Margaret’s Bay rail trails to the Bike and Bean coffee shop. It’s a converted train station, with a bike shop in the attached caboose. It was crawling with hungry, caffeine-gulping cyclists, including a couple from my club.

Oh, I suppose I should introduce Yellow. She’s my touring bike. Her name is Yellow. Because she is. And she’s a she. My Giant mountain bike is genderless, but Yellow, a gorgeous Cannondale, is definitely a she. You can tell just by looking at her. It was love at first sight, right there in the middle of Cyclesmith. She’s a sturdy little filly, serving as a fine pack mule for touring. But she also loves speed. Apologies for not obeying the 20 km/hour speed limit on the trails. It’s not my fault. Yellow’s gotta do what Yellow’s gotta do. She’s been cooped up for too long.

We flew along the trails, enjoying the quiet breeze, nodding hello to everyone we met. (Well, I nodded.) I had several delicious moments of riding under leafy canopies, feeling like I was pedalling into a secret. Even with lots of folks at various points along the trail, these moments made me feel like it was all mine to be discovered.

bike and bean lunchLunch at the Bike and Bean was delicious, too. A turkey, provolone and cran mayo panini and Java Blend’s always reliable Fog City coffee. And a peanut butter ball. Mmmmmm, peanut butter balls, mmmmmm.

Only 36 km. Laughably short compared to the distances I used to do all the time. But a good little spring warm up. Even if it’s officially day two of summer.

Better late than never.

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