You Get What You Ask For

A few weeks ago,during a routine physical, I mentioned to my doctor, in an offhand sort of way, that sometimes my heart feels funny. She said, “What do you mean? Are you having palpitations?” I said, “I’m not sure. Sometimes it feels like every very few beats my heart pauses or hiccups, you know, like it goes off for a little coffee break, and then I feel a whoosh, like it came back and dropped the mug.”

She said, “Really? Let’s check it out. I’m going to set you up with a holter monitor test. It sounds like you are having PVC’s. Premature Ventricular Contractions. Don’t worry. They’re very common.”

Premature Ventricular Contractions? This is exactly the combination of words NOT to say to a hypochondriac. Don’t worry? Doesn’t she know there are 237,000 sites I will have to read to get up to speed on PVC’s? My vocabulary has now expanded to include the terms ectopic heartbeat, ventricular fibrillation, paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia and something called “Marfan syndrome” which is a disorder of connective tissue, the tissue that strengthens the body’s structures, and I have a really bad feeling about it.

In the Cardiac Clinic at the hospital, Claudia, the technician, speedily pasted a bunch of gooey stickers on my chest, attached a set of multicoloured wires to the electrodes, and then hung a leather pouch around my neck. The stickers immediately started to feel itchy. The multicoloured wires poked out of the top and bottom of my t-shirt. Before I could change my mind about the whole exercise, or mention my concerns about Marfan Syndrome, Claudia coldly scooted me out of her cubicle with a warning that I must not get the pouch, the wires or the electrodes wet so NO to baths or showers. For 48 hours. This statement caused, no doubt, the first cardiac “event” on my monitor.

Minutes later I learned that 30 minutes in the hospital parking costs $7, causing the monitor to record another jagged spike.

Driving home, I reconsidered my schedule for the next two days. Appearing in public could be a mistake as the wires and bulgy pouch covering my torso might cause someone to mistake me for a suicide bomber. I could be one short 911 call away from a SWAT team surrounding me at Costco. I went straight home to hide.

On the way into the house, I bumped into my son. His eyes widened on sight of the electrodes and wires emerging from the top of my t-shirt, and he said, “Wow. I knew it. My Mom is a robot.” I ran upstairs to my closet to find my purple pashmina and wrapped it around me.

Since I wanted to try to make my heart do the pause-whoosh thing, the plan for the rest of the day was to consume plenty of stimulating nutrients, like coffee, wine and chocolate. And then go to the gym for a work out. In a large purple pashmina.

Of course, for the next 48 hours my heart acted my car when I take it to my mechanic about that intermittent grinding noise from the engine: a steady ticking, no sticking.

After two nights of pseudo sleep – you try sleeping in a tangled nest of wires after consuming twelve cups of coffee, six chocolate bars and a bottle of Shiraz in 48 hours  – I ripped the mess off my chest and, tossing aside the pashmina, returned the monitor to the clinic. Hopefully, the results will be normal. Certainly my heart withstood some major monkeying around without so much as a murmur. In the meantime, if any other body part, like say, my butt, ever feels funny, I will think seriously hard about the possible consequences before alerting my doctor.





My Recipe for Moules a La Mariniere

There’s nothing like cooking up a big mess of mussels on a Saturday night. Tonight I discovered the trick to making a most excellent and way-delicious broth: sauté the onions and leeks r.e.a.l  s.l.o.w with bay leaf, lots of butter and garlic, while you send hubby to the store to get the forgotten celery. Celery isn’t absolutely necessary for a Moules a la Mariniere broth but sweet potato fries are, kinda. (Not in the broth, on the side, dummy) Usually I serve regular potato fries because it is the right thing to do (because that’s how they do it in Brussels, and the Belgians know about these things okay?). I have convinced myself that sweet potato fries are healthier because they are orange, and everyone says we are supposed to eat colourful veggies. We shall not speak of the carbs or the blobs of mayo that go on the fries. Back to the celery, which adds great flavour to the broth and it’s all about the broth isn’t it?

To get a great broth, one that will throw down the likes of Bobby Flay, use a decent Sauvignon blanc. I went with a Chilean — the Santa Rita Reservo  which is pretty good value for the price, and not a bad quaffer.

In a sommelier course last year, I learned one thing that I now think is important, and probably should have been more self-evident, but I know I am not the only one in the class who thought that you could use up a bottle of crappy wine in a recipe that calls for wine. Wrong.

It stands to reason that crappy wine will also make your food taste crappy. Throw away the crappy wine. (The teacher also said don’t be silly about it, you aren’t going to toss a $50 bottle of wine into the pot when any well-priced, frisky, dry and well-balanced wine will do.)

(BTW, no, it isn’t illegal to run shitty wine down the drain. I have done it many times and no one came for me.)

So, open a GOOD bottle. And the other thing is this: do not put all of it in the cooking. God, no. Pour a copious glass for yourself and one for your hubby, who, after all, was nice and went to the store to get the celery.

While the fries are in the oven, chop a stick or two of celery and add it to the well-sauteed leeks and onion. By now you are on your second glass of Sauv Blanc and it is going down real well.

And I mean CHOP the celery, don’t dice — because you want to know what that green lump is — if it looks like a nice little celery crescent, and tastes a bit crunchy, then you got it right. Once the celery softens, add the liquid: I used 2 cups of wine and two cups of water. My recipe says put 3 cups to 1 cup of water but I wasn’t about to sacrifice that much of the bottle to the broth. No way.

Get it all to a boil, and add the cleaned (rinse them and pinch off the seaweed beards) mussels. How many? Man, you ask a lot of questions. A bunch. 132. Or 27. A kilo, or a couple of pounds, if you are into that kind of accuracy. Put in as many as you can fit in the pot. (I used my red Le Creuset which makes the whole operation look very chic and classy.)

All afternoon, those poor mussels have been quietly awaiting their fate in a sinkful of cold water (you do know they are still alive right? At least they better be. The bad evil thing about cooking mussels is you have to boil them to death in a broth of wine. I am pretty sure they would prefer to go in their sleep. Try not to think about it.)

You checked those mussels (that you bought fresh today) to see if any were broken or smelly or open, and then you threw away a couple that wouldn’t close just to be on the safe side and not have to die in your sleep tonight. Really, what you are going to do is not eat the ones that don’t open wide in the minimum 5 minutes of steaming in the broth they will get.

Put the lid on and don’t steam them for too long or they will be tough. Enjoy with a salad and the last lick of that wine.

I took a big chance sand served this meal (sans wine of course) to Alex’s new friend who is 11. It has never happened before (at my house anyway) that any of my kids’ friends ever ate a single bite of my cooking. Usually they stare at their plate with horror, and mutter something like, “Uh, I don’t like [fill in the blank]. Do you have any sugar? Like, in a bowl?”

Matthew said, “I LOVE mussels.” Both boys ate two bowls’ full. And went for seconds on the sweet potato fries.

I am awesome!


Who’s Afraid of a Downward Dog Now?

Who’s Afraid of a Downward Dog Now?

yogaI recently signed up for a 200-hour yoga teacher training at the Flow Yoga Studio in Port Perry. Taking this step was a long time in coming. I had thought about deepening my yoga practice for several years. But I was afraid. What if my application were rejected? If I was accepted, what if I couldn’t keep up? What if I was the worst student in the class? What if the teacher frowned at me and scolded me for joining a class in which I was clearly not good enough? What if I have to do a headstand? What if I am a total yoga fail?

The moment I settled onto my mat on the first day, my fears evaporated. Maria Carr, my teacher, is far from scary. With her gentle, supportive and encouraging approach, she embodies the spirit of yoga. Maria began the class by reminding us that yoga is a disciplined way to stretch not only the body but the mind and spirit too. Yoga is not about comparing yourself to the other students in the class: it is about showing up to the mat. It is not about performing the best headstand or twisting your body into a pretzel. On the contrary: it is more about getting straight up, with yourself and others.

Looking around the room, I saw the faces of the other students and realized I wasn’t the only one breathing a sigh of relief that there was nothing to be feared here. I remembered what I told my son when he started grade one: “You don’t have to know how to read and write already. That’s what you are going to school to learn. But better yet, you will get to meet new friends and play and there will be snack time and singing and plenty of fun. You will see: the teacher will teach you what you need to learn, when you need to learn it, one step at a time. And you will practice and you will learn and soon you will look back and say ‘what was I worried about?'”

Now that I have completed 20 hours of classroom training (in addition to a few hours per week of homework and practice) I think of all the things we have studied thus far: yoga history and philosophy, anatomy and physiology, Sanskrit terms and meditation as well as the finer points of poses like downward dog. But more importantly I think of the fun of sharing this learning journey with a group of wonderful new friends. Maria, Dawn, Aprille, Karen, Heather, Allison, Jessica and Tara are all amazing women who possess a wide-ranging abundance of knowledge and life experience. We practice yoga together and cheer each other on as we attempt to teach a pose or a breathing technique. Most important, we support each other in our victories and sometimes when the tears come as we share some of our most personal challenges. I can’t wait to see their smiling yogini faces each week. If there is a word for failure in Sanskrit, we won’t be learning it in Maria’s class.