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Madrid exchange is a go — AKA breaking down to Shakira at work

Countdown to lift-off: 73 days

Seriously, it looks the exact same.

Look, it’s Daenerys in the red waste with her khalasar!

I will admit something I never thought I’d utter. Today I starting crying at my desk to Shakira. Thank god my supervisor was off this week so I could mop up my pathetic, latin music induced tears on my “dress-down-Friday” sweater. With a crappy tea in one hand and my dignity quickly slipping through the other, I sat there crying to “Te Dejo Madrid” by Shakira in what was supposed to be my own little happy celebration regarding the email I received this morning.

“Dear Student, 

Congratulations for your admission at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid as an international student!”

I was too cozy in the cocoon of warm blankets and too cranky at 7am to really process what the hell I’d just read. So it wasn’t until I played upbeat Shakira at my desk in an attempt to really bring it home that the full weight of what had happened dropped on me. I was looking at the collage of my family, friends, and my dogs when I realized… holy shit, this is really happening. I’m actually going to be living away from everything I know, alone, in a country I don’t speak the language and then will be travelling by myself for an extra two or three months.

Feel free to laugh. I mean the Shakira alone was ridiculous, but the concept of someone who loves travelling getting upset over doing just that would seem ludicrous to a more seasoned traveller. I invite you though to think of your own youth, or for those who are still young to imagine the future.

There is a time, I believe, in every life where some sort of monumental change is about to occur. You can sense it as if the feeling of foreboding could be physical and crawl under your skin. It’s a little like when you are outside and see large, dark rain clouds rolling in. Even if you love the rain there is a feeling that there is something larger than you, something big and potentially scary that looms over you, charging the very atmosphere. The choice you are left with is whether to take cover or to dance in the rain.

That’s how I feel right now as I enter the stage of starting to prep student visas and look into flights. Those clouds are rolling in and I can feel it and even though I love the rain the temptation to run for cover is there.

What if I can’t pick up the language and I’m lost in some back alley in Gran Vía, with an abuela screaming at me in Spanish? Or what happens if I’m so homesick I end up having a mental break down in the middle of a supermarket the moment I see maple syrup? Worst of all… what if my mother’s prophecies are true and I’m to end up as a skin suit for the real Buffalo Bill?

The face of my future imminent breakdown.

The face of my future imminent breakdown.

And yet… at the same time another part of me is screaming that this is my chance to experience the world. PUT ON YOUR BIG GIRL BOOTS AND LEARN THAT YOU CAN HANDLE ANYTHING! Stolen passport? Psh, you got it. Lost? So last year. Making new friends despite your crippling shyness when first meeting people? Eh, okay, maybe not anything.

Despite all my fears and apprehension about moving to Madrid, I want to dance in the rain (to extend an overextended metaphor). I want to take this experience for what it will be and milk it for all it’s worth. If I’m going to be stuck in Reykjavik for a twenty hour layover on my way home you better damn well believe I’ll be going to the Blue Lagoon. Life is too damn short to spend it worrying about the “what if”s, no matter how cliched it may sound. So screw it! I’m officially going to Madrid in 73 days and I’m going to enjoy it! ¿Entender?

And in the end if everything goes wrong, I will at least have the chance to become an alcoholic off of red sangrias.

Hello darkness my old friend.

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Body-Slamming Spanish Cuisine

Countdown to lift-off: 131 days

I’m not yet close enough to my departure for Madrid to be focusing on packing, getting visas, or any of that other boring and mandatory crap. Instead I get to do what I always love to do: over prepare to the point of insanity.

When the first Hunger Games movie came out in theatres in true mimesis form my friends and I—a bunch of then 18-year-olds—went around the parking lot after the movie pretending to impale each with arrows and ranting about how long we’d live. It came down to my friend Matt living the longest because of his bloodlust and ability to disappear for months at a time. Where did I rank and how does this have to do with travelling? Hush sweet reader, for I shall get there soon. For myself I loudly proclaimed I, with my ambition, patience and inflated sense of self worth, would surely get to the final four. “Oh no”, they claimed, “Christ, you wouldn’t even make it out of the cornucopia.” I demanded an explanation only to be told, “You’d rush right into the cornucopia and proceed to try and pack everything into your bag until you were gutted. You’d totally be like “wait, I may need these five different throwing daggers, this camp stove, maybe a spear—no wait, I totally will need two spears incase one gets lost”.”

On evaluation it was scarily accurate.

I’m sure there are many other people out there who have a similar problem and would be helicopter lifted out of the cornucopia along with me. As a previous entry mentioned, this really does bleed into my style of travelling and pre-travel planning.

So with Spain finally in my vision I am currently at the cornucopia of knowledge, shoving every fact I can into my hideous metaphorical fanny pack. My current unhealthy obsession is…

GIVE ME BOOKS ON CHEESE, GIVE ME WEBPAGES ON COOKING SCHOOLS IN MADRID, PLEASE SPANISH FOOD GODS LET ME DEVOUR EVERY PIECE OF KNOWLEDGE ON SPANISH CUISINE. I WANT TO DEVOUR SO MUCH PAELLA MY STOMACH SPLITS OPEN, I MUST DINE IN BOTIN, FEED ME JAMÓN AND PULPO A LA GALLEGA.

Ahem.

I’m pretty fucking stoked to be able to write about the food while I’m there, but in the meantime I’m going to mention some of the resources I’ve been ploughing through recently in preparation for the Spanish portion of my eight months abroad (Italy and Germany will be next on my hit list).

The first book I bought, which is applicable to all of my stops, is the “Food Lovers Guide To The World” by Lonely Planet. It is a fantastic resource with recipes, recommended culinary pitstops, where to find the best of the best along with food-related festivals in each of the areas it reviews.

Here is the introduction page for Spain, giving an idea of the super pretty pictures and information. (As a note, I will probably be including a few recipes from these books in a later post!)

And here you will note my bed duvet. First my home and now my sheets... I dare say our relationship is getting pretty serious.

And here you will note my bed duvet. First my home and now my sheets… I dare say our relationship is getting pretty serious.

The next thing I slit open my wallet and shook it’s near empty contents onto a counter for was “Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Costal Waters of Andalucía” by Jeff Koehler.

 

The photos in this book are incredible and while it may not have the level of information that the Food Lovers book does, it has so, so many recipes.

Look how colourful and pretty!

Look how colourful and pretty!

This is of course on top of web resources like About.com and Spain’s Official Tourism Website. I also bought “Cheese for Dummies” and have been studying up on different Spanish cheeses (who can believe that there is more than just manchego!?). If you have any other awesome books on Spanish cuisine of any kind, please do tell! This of course is on top of struggling, emphasis on struggling, to learn Spanish through Duolingo¿El perro come un niño? I fear for when I’ll ever need to use this sentence.

Pretty much in the past few weeks since I finished my huge chunk of exams I have been trying to really learn as much as I can about Spain, with a giant emphasis on its food. The only downside is the more I learn about their food, the more I begin to hate Canada and our lack of a cultural cuisine presence. Sure Madrid isn’t as fancy with their cocino and stews but it sure as hell beats poutine, maple syrup and ketchup chips (shhh, I’m so sorry poutine I don’t mean any of it). Then again, perhaps it is all about perspective. Having worked with many ESL students at my past job it’s surprising to hear about people studying up on so-called “Canadian cuisine” before coming here with the same fervour as I am currently studying Spanish cuisine. Maybe… just maybe… if I spent this much time learning about my own country I could learn about all the great foods that Canada has to offer….

Nah.

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Eat The Rude: Cooking your way through fandom

“Grilled snake, blood wine, Adiago mixed teas… this is the hobby I choose to love.” – Me 

First of all, what do I mean by cooking through fandom? With the introduction of Game of Thrones styled dinner parties this concept isn’t exactly new. The concept is to take either pre-existing dishes in shows, movies, games, books or whatever else you enjoy or creating new dishes based off themes in the show and cooking them up.

So if the concept of cooking or fandom causes your skin to chafe and get rashes please ignore the following post until next time.

Are the dubious gone? …. Sweet. Alright, then let’s resume!

This is a hobby I’ve had for around two years or so, or since I started to take cooking seriously and as something other than a chore my no doubt sadistic working parents forced on me as a child. As my obsession with Game of Thrones grew I started to learn about dinner parties people were throwing filled with all these incredible dishes from the books. This was how I came across The Inn at the Crossroads, a blog/recipe site dedicated to the dishes in and inspired by the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. As I started to read it I suddenly realized—

Holy shit. This is it. This is the pinnacle of nerdiness that I have yet been able to achieve. This is the final tipping point that will cause my parents to disown me.

So of course I went out and bought their book. While the formatting could use some work, the recipes themselves are fantastic. I had never made bread before in my life but their recipes on how to make that symbolic bread and salt (that couldn’t save the Starks from the Red Wedding) has inspired a sick bread fetish that my roommates can attest to.

One of my favourite, simplest, recipes is the apple salad. I was able to impress my family with this all while cackling darkly in the kitchen as they consumed my nerdiness and praised it. As with all their recipes it usually gives the “medieval” and “modern” version and is prefaced by the line from the books that inspired it. In the case of the apple salad it states:

“Cersei set a tasty table, that could not be denied. They started with a creamy chestnut soup, crusty hot bread, and greens dressed with apples and pine nuts.” -A Clash of Kings

My apple cutting skills were not up to snuff. Ramsay Bolton would flay my hands for that.

I’ve never found a recipe from the book I haven’t enjoyed, but there are some I just wouldn’t touch. Grilled snake, pigeon pie, locusts… while I appreciate the authenticity I will admit that I have shied away from the more adventurous recipes (or at least until I can find out where to find locusts in a Canadian mennonite town).

First attempt at braided bread, sans salt.

First attempt at braided bread, sans salt and locusts.

With the pages of my new cookbook splattered with the blood of my enemies and having been tested at viewing get-togethers with my friends I turned my attention to my other obsessions.

This wasn’t just a Game of Thrones thing. No, now that I was getting deeper into this world I understood just how deep this rabbit hole went. Suddenly I wanted to stick all my other obsessions in my stomach. In a weird, visceral sense I was literally trying to eat the things I loved. The next thing I knew I wasn’t just making Game of Thrones cookies but making Sherlock and John shaped cookies for the BBC Sherlock premiere. I was watching my highschool friend Jen staring in abject horror as myself and five other friends sat there eating cookies in the shape of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s faces. My ability to be part of normal, functioning society was slowly slipping away from me.

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From this…

Source: https://i1.wp.com/media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/c3/82/4f/c3824ff9688123fcd30ee940c10cc1d9.jpg

… to this.

I didn’t want mugs with my sigil, or t-shirts with my fandom on it, I wanted to cook the very essence up into a beautiful dish and stick it on my plate.  This ironically brings us to Hannibal.

It started innocently enough, or at least as innocently as a show revolving around cannibalism can be. I started to hoard Adiago fandom teas and had recently purchased the earthy, almost mushroom flavoured tea for Hannibal. I had made the habbit of consuming the tea whenever I sat down to watch it (excluding the time my friends and I watched Hannibal on an abandoned road).

Soon I’ll be able to open up my own fandom-themed coffeeshop. Stay tuned!

When the new season came I had gone through half my tea and had been following Feeding Hannibal, the blog by Janice Poon the food stylist of Hannibal, I realized this was more than just a Game of Thrones thing. Janice’s blog is spectacular. She talks about how they created and designed the deliciously disturbing dishes of Hannibal, discusses the hardships of being a foodstylist (like her fiasco of trying to get sea urchins out of season), and gives recipes for some of the meals seen in the show.

God, I wanted to “eat the rude” too! Watching Hannibal let out clever cannibalism puns while preparing these succulent and absolutely morally horrifying dishes would confuse anyone’s moral compass. I ordered silicone brain molds all with the intention of making panacotta brains for the season finale (which will happen, so help me God by the power of Thomas Harris).

Source: 1FineCookie

It was all spiralling out of control! I was planning dinner parties with friends, figuring out how I could get venison out of season, despite being a pescatarian, for authenticity. I was researching where to buy naturally dropped deer antlers to style my dishes like Janice does and enlisting friends in the hopes of designing invitation cards. I was like some awful version of dinner party addicts who force people into awkward conversation at their suburban houses sharing elbow space with people they barely know, but instead I was fantasizing of forcing my friends into fancy outfits where we would open origami paper containers containing braised tongue whilst talking about the newest episode.

It is an incurable disease, and once you are infected by the bug it only gets worse. With the fourth season of Game of Thrones coming up quickly and the finale of Hannibal in my future, my outlook has never looked bleaker… or more delicious.

I encourage anyone who is looking for something different and nerdy to try it out at least once. Make a party out of it, invite your friends, indulge in some of Sansa’s favourite lemon cakes or if you are like me and are usually existing in isolation, read up on an incredible example of food styling.

Overall, it’s an incredibly strange hobby but it is one I hold dear.

 

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5 places every Canadian should visit

Regardless of where you go in the world, so long as you have a Canadian flag sewn on your pack, you are pretty much guaranteed to be treated well — it’s not a secret that many Americans have taken to sewing our maple leaf all over their gear in order to sneak under the radar.

Some places, though, are extra special to us Canadians, and as a Canuck you are almost morally obligated to visit them at least once in your lifetime. Plus, even if you aren’t Canadian, they’re still awesome places to visit.

The Netherlands

Source: http://www.wallpaperstop.com/

After housing the Dutch royal family from German occupation in World War II and having one of their princesses born in Ottawa, Canadians liberated the Netherlands from the Nazis and thus the two countries became friends.

Canadians not only liberated the country, but also provided air drops to areas cut off from food by the German forces, and after the liberation moved in to bring much needed supplies to the troops.

Every year the Netherlands sends thousands of tulips to our country as a continued thanks for our help.

Vimy Ridge

Source: www.warhistoryonline.com

The Battle of Vimy Ridge occurred when Canada got tired of being in Britain’s shadow, kicked some butt, and became all-around badasses. We created new artillery tactics and stood on our own with all four of our divisions finally united, all while under heavy fire.

Vimy became a symbol of the birth of Canada as a nation, and going to pay your respects to the thousands of Canadians who fought and died there is something every Canadian should do.

Laura Secord’s Homestead (Niagara-on-the-Lake)

Source: http://www.niagaraparks.com/

Not only is Niagara-on-the-Lake beautiful, but it is also the location of Laura Secord’s house.

Who is she other than the face on that delicious chocolate? She is the woman who helped alert the British of an American attack during the war of 1812 by walking 20 miles through American-occupied territory. Although her story has become something of myth at this point, she is still an important part of our history. (Anne of Green Gables’ house in PEI is also just as valid a choice.)

Turks and Caicos

Source: http://4photos.net/

Last year there was a proposal sent out by an Albertan MP proposing that the British-owned islands Turks and Caicos should unite with Canada to become our 11th province.

Obviously that didn’t happen, but it still isn’t quite off the table yet, nor is it a new idea. In fact, the idea has been tossed around for almost 100 years, starting in 1917. Even in 2004, Nova Scotia voted unanimously to invite the islands to join. So go visit the beaches and get a small taste of what could have been, and what may still be.

Cuba

Source: http://latour.com/

Americans aren’t allowed to go to Cuba, and that’s reason enough to go and rub it in their faces while smoking Cuban cigars and exploring this fascinating country.

(Posted originally in my IMPRINT column “A Broad Abroad”)

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The (Conflicted) Happy Wanderer – Daily Prompt

What’s your travel style? Are you itinerary and schedule driven, needing to have every step mapped out in advance or are you content to arrive without a plan and let happenstance be your guide?

(http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/daily-prompt-the-happy-wanderer/)

I saw this prompt on my reader and was instantly hit with war-like flashbacks. Days of being in the trenches of Google Maps, scouring Trip Advisor for trip advice, and bookmarking anything I could potentially find useful. The “eight best types of mushrooms to eat in Europe” is probably something I’ll never need but I panicked and bookmark it “just in case!” Oh what grounds would I ever need to know the best types of mushrooms in Europe?

To answer the question (the prompt not the mushroom one), my travel style is caught between planning addict and spontaneity. It is the strange marriage between being paranoid as all hell before leaving and then once arriving, saying “fuck it” to months and months of planning. It’s a vicious, rather useless cycle that I always get caught in.

I even plan for trips that most likely aren’t going to happen. Look at this one for example:

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You know where I live now. This is like a trust exercise.

This picture has been rotting on my desktop for five months already. Dare we ask when this road trip to Texas and New Orleans will happen? Summer of 2016. Yes that’s right ladies and gentleman, without the knowledge of my travel mates (my two roomies) I have gone and planned what we will be doing on our last summer together.

I hope they like BBQs and cowboys.

When actually travelling though everything is off the table. While most of my current travel experiences involve trying to run away in Athens from my own family and being forced to go shopping for five hours instead of exploring some of the most beautiful places in the world, when I do travel with friends we just run with it. Quebec City was complete guess work where our plans consisted of either myself or my two friends Jayan and Steven mentioning something cool we saw and then just doing it.

While on Île d’Orléans we saw this cute little (very empty) cafe on the roadside. It was the kind of place that had an identity crisis between five different restaurants all at once. Out front there was an ice cream stand, inside a restaurant, and then tucked away was their little cafe/preserves shop. We stopped there to grab something to drink, and I got a green tea to sip on after stuttering my way through offensively broken French. After that my friends and I just sat there staring out at the view of Québec.

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I can say without hesitation that it was one of the most relaxing moments I’ve had in years. The weather was windy but warm, a small weathered art-filled cottage sat off to our right, and a small forest to our left. It was a surreal place where everything just melted into the background for twenty minutes. I claimed the land nearest the water as where I was going to put my summer home, and Jayan took the field. We were going to become french woodsmen and part-time art dealers!

The trend continued throughout our time on the island. We climbed up a random observation tower and used their equally as random playground, that probably hadn’t seen kids in eons, to inflict agonizing pain on Steven with the seesaw. We stopped at artisan bakeries, cider tasting stores that had geriatric wards shuffling through tours, and oil dealers in the old french villages all while imagining that we were the first settlers who had step foot on the island. The irony is not lost on me that the first settlers couldn’t have had fig balsamic tasting sessions. Finally, we walked along the shore as people wind surfed in the E. Coli infested waters (they should have mentioned that before we showed up to Baie De Beauport in bathing suits and towels only to be laughed at).

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I find that while planning is soothing and fun to do, when going on a trip the best thing is just to let things happen. Travel shouldn’t be something you need a vacation from. We spend most of our lives on schedules and hurrying to meet deadlines and the point of leaving home is to get away from all that. Sure, have fun and get excited by planning out what you want to happen because often it gives you great ideas, but if an opportunity arises be sure your plans are flexible enough to take it.

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The starting point

First of all, welcome. The fact that you are looking at this page means somehow you’ve come to this strange corner of the internet and found yourself saying, “well this isn’t the IKEA homepage, is it?” For those who have made that mistake, I have included a link to IKEA to get you back on track to buy the Lugnvik sofa bed and chaise lounge combo.

For those of you who are here with a purpose in mind, I will do my best to make it worth your while. This blog will exist primarily as a place for me to talk about the events in my life I feel the need to un-clutter (which would have been useful years ago while going through adolescence with a Justin Beiber-inspired haircut), taking on too many hobbies that I am not at all that good at (vegetarian cooking, soap making, drawing, being a tasteless cheese connoisseur) as well as my geeky musings (the North Remembers!), and finally but perhaps most importantly this blog will act as my diary as I embark on an eight month journey abroad.

And you thought I was kidding about the Bieber hair.

And you thought I was kidding about the Bieber hair.

Oh yes, I will take you along as I no doubt get drugged at a bar and skinned into a people suit—according to my mother—while going on a five month exchange to Madrid and then travelling for three months through Europe alone. As someone who is barely capable of driving down the road to get the mail without getting lost… my mother has about a 50% chance of being right and winning twenty dollars! So, she has that going for her.

Source: DVDactive

An accurate representation of what my mom thinks will happen to me.

As far as introductions go here is a quick list of things you should know about me. I like to answer all the awkward first date questions to get them out of the way. Here are some of the questions that I’ve been told you should never ask.

  • Do you want kids? Yes, I want kids.
  • Is that your natural hair colour? No, purple is not my natural hair colour. I was born squalling and slowly disintegrating in the early fall heat as my ginger skin peeled off from exposure to the sun.
  •  So why are you single? I have two exs that I know of, one of each gender. After the two-year relationship I decided to become a devout Satanist and devour the souls of innocents…. so dating has been put on the back burner for now I suppose.
  • Where do you see this relationship going? Hopefully towards reoccurring dates that end in one of us getting a restraining order.
  • My place or yours? Mine.

I promise though while sarcasm is my sickness that I also like to write serious pieces as well. To quote Ghost in the Shell, “overspecialize, and you breed in weakness” and I, in my obsession with taking on new experiences and hobbies, don’t want to pin myself as one type of blogger. That being said the blog will most likely be travel heavy, so consider this your gentle, loving warning.

I hope that you join me along for whatever lays ahead. I have no clue where anything is going to go… all I know is that, as my favourite author Chuck Palahniuk said:

“I want out of the labels. I don’t want my whole life crammed into a single word. A story. I want to find something else, unknowable, some place to be that’s not on the map. A real adventure.”