Heathrow and Helsinki

I don't remember much of my last trip through Heathrow. I think it was sometime in the early 90s. Later trips between Pakistan and Canada ran via Frankfurt and Zurich. So I didn't know what to expect. I got off my plan at around 6am London time on 29 August-with about 5000 other people (not all on the same plane, of course). But we did all go through the same security check, forming a long, zigzagging line demarcated by green webbing. Green seemed the colour of the hour. Some clever designer had fabricated delightful green outfits for the security attendants. The ladies, "manning" the x-ray machines wore dreadful, plain knee-length skirts, ill-fitting and tasteless, topped with some ancient print vests. They all seemed roughly the same age and displayed the same complete lack of interest in anything. The grudgingly faced the screens displaying the contents of thousands of handbags. Shoes and belts off, march through the metal detector, get frisked, move on to your terminal of departure.

Heathrow (terminal 1, at least) is busy, messy, smoky and bored. But I survived the 7.5 hour wait for my flight. Then it was off to Helsinki, crammed into a BA commuter jet filled with ruddy British business men. And once at the airport, the pilot pulled in about 5 feet past the jetway, delaying us for about 15 minutes while we waited for a push back into the correct position. . .details.

My friend, from who's computer I write, picked me up and we bused back to the city.

Finland is a small country, set off in a quiet corner of the world. Education standards are sky-high along with living standards reflecting a social-centric system that works extremely well. Like the Gauls, they have only one fear, that Sweden will fall on their heads. Similarities between Finland and Canada run deeper than this. I look out the window of my friend's apartment (located in the city) and see only thick forest on pre-Cambrian shield. The weather is never far away in conversations. Hockey is the new religion.

No pictures today, but I did take some. Maybe tomorrow.



What's a trip around the world without a good visa scare? Procrastinator that I am I left my visa application for Afghanistan just a little too long. Fortunately for me, when you call the Afghan Embassy in Canada, someone answers who can help you, within minutes. And so I was able to express my concern and they were very helpful. So my passport is once again in the air, on it's way back to me.

This past week has been obscured by a flurry of e-mails sorting out whom I will stay with in the places I will be traveling to in September. It's finally registering that I will see all of these people in just a short time. Now that I'm not fretting about my visa, I can focus on what's ahead.

I look at this trip as one of the first independent things I've done in my life. I don't really feel like I've been very stretched in terms of asserting my independence as an adult up to this point. Of course I'm "independent"-I have my own car, a real job and have had my own place to live and I have an education, etc. . .but during the last few years I feel like I've been lulled into a comfortable place, too comfortable, almost numbing. And so I look forward to taking this trip, having my consciousness roughed up a bit, being forced to stand on my own feet and being allowed into a different space from which I will have the privilege of looking back at my life here and imagining it in a different way.

5 days to go.



So Heathrow has loosened its security restrictions somewhat. Passengers are now allowed one small piece of hand luggage each. That's a relief! I was imagining the 20 hours between London and Sydney (scheduled for the end of my travels) with nothing to amuse myself but my pocket-sized wallet, keys, passport and ticket.

Recently I've given my blog address to two people who had never heard of a blog before. I guess the form is not as pervasive as I had thought.

My palate had a renaissance of sorts at the find bistro "Cru" on West Broadway in Vancouver. I tasted, for the first time, goat's cheese in a sweet dish, cheese cake to be exact. It was sublime. I continue to scrounge for new flavours in the bit of cooking that I do. Last night I concocted a tomato sauce: sauted onions, garlic and mushrooms, tomato puree and vegetable stock. Then I added paprika, red chili powder and grated chocolate. The chocolate gave the sauce a rich, mellow quality, taking some of the edge off the tomato acid. Later I garnished the plated pasta and sauce with goat's cheese, toasted almonds and larger flakes of the same chocolate. A mouthful of all of that, the chocolate and goat's cheese melting together, was a rich experience. Almost too rich, but fascinating, something new and tantalizing.

I've become a flavour fiend, interested, but never satisfied, searching for more complexity, more suprises.

The parallel with music is strong. I respond in much the same way to the flavours in food and the textures, harmonies and rhythms in music (particularly jazz). A musician can be great, the trio melding perfectly and I'm bored, because I've heard the same sound a hundred times before. And then I hear something new (to me): Bill Frisell turning "Tennessee Flat-top Box" upside down through dissonance and electric distortion with his trio.

Why is it that humans continue to seek out perfection (as each one interprets it)? We can't stop creating, layering and rearranging, always seeking something more beautiful and intoxicating.


ravioli lessons

18 days to go.
passport en route to Ottawa again.

It's been a while since I've written, but people keep visiting the site. Thanks. I saw there was a hit from Kabul this past week.

When Rachel and I sat down to determine a date for our second meal (for a description of the first, click here) we found there was only one day that would work for both of us before I left: Sunday, August 6. So that's what it was.

We decided that the entree would consist of three ravioli courses. Rachel had been to this amazing restaurant in Woodstock, NY and wanted to re-create the meal, which included ravioli stuffed with ricotta and served with grilled pear and toasted pine nuts. But of course, one ravioli would never do, so we opted for three, continuing on the fruit and meatless theme. By Sunday was had decided on two more combinations: sauted eggplant and cilantro filling with tomato cream and cardamom sauce and walnut, fig and blue cheese filling with a balsamic reduction sauce. This menu, we realized, was quite ambitious, not only because of its breadth but also because neither Rachel nor me are ravioli experts.

The first thing we learned about ravioli involved the pasta dough itself. Although the Naked Chef is right about most things, he seemed to have erred when recommending that the sheets of pasta be spaced with damp tea towels after rolling. He didn't mention that the dough might stick to the tea towels (he didn't say anything about spelt pasta dough with seemed to have a strong desire to fully integrate itself with the tea towels that sandwiched it). So off came the pasta, back into a ball to be rolled again.

Finally we had our sheets of pasta layered with wax paper ready to go. Once the fillings were complete we started filling, ending up with 18 of each type.

The next lesson was: watch out for overly moist fillings-they tend to render your ravioli unfit to boil. So out went the 18 ricotta-filled past pockets. Thankfully Rachel's quick thinking saved us. She substituted wanton wrappers for the next attempt and they were deemed successful by our guests.

A few of the pockets opened, but for the most part we were able to produce, in total, 27 plates of ravioli for our 7 guests and us.

Following the ravioli came another rip-off from Woodstock (well done Rach), a great salad featuring chevre, diced mango and candied pecans. For dessert (the course where Rachel's knowledge, creativity and experience far exceed mine) we experienced fresh basil puree on strawberries and cream over shortbread cookies and, to close the meal, small scoops of olive oil and vanilla bean ice cream with black peppercorn biscotti. Our Italian-Mennonite friend provided the espresso. Wine was selected for each of the ravioli courses by the good staff of Banville and Jones here in Winnipeg.

I was going to write something about post-modernism and watermelon, but I'll save that for next time.


no idea what to title this post

It's nice to know I have some regular readers. Feel free to comment. For example, you could write: "boring post, if this is a travel blog, why are you writing about other stuff?". Or you could write: "good point, but I think your dead wrong." Or, you could ask for clarification on some point like: "why isn't the horizon level on the telephone post picture in the "Under the Big Sky" post?". You could even write: "if you posted more often, I might read your blog." Finally, you could take Rachel's cue and post some very kind words, if you particularly liked something.

So 26 days remain. It's really hard to focus on what I have to do at work these days. I have my weekends booked up for the rest of August doing this and that: wedding, cooking, cooking, breakfast, lake, etc. Lot's of cooking.

Last weekend I was out at Hecla Island with my dad's family. Our trip there to car camp at the provincial park campground is an annual tradition. And it usually involves food. Food preparation and eating it, of course, is one of the things we do for entertainment. My group cooked up a 3-dish Thai meal: green mango salad with cilantro; yellow curry with squash and sweet potato and spicy eggplant with Thai basil. It turned out great and kept us busy for a good 4 hours.