Friday, 30 January 2009

Cooking in Canada

I am not a bad cook. In fact I'd go so far as to say I'm a pretty good cook. However, for some reason, ever since I got to Canada it all seems to have gone a bit wrong. As I wanted to expand my repertoire I brought a cookery book with me, eager to try some new recipes, and to save money Liam and I have been planning our meals very carefully. What we forgot to take account of was that many of the ingredients just aren't available here, and this has led to some unsatisfying conclusions about both cooking and shopping:

1. You cannot buy Halloumi, but you can get about 25 different types of Feta.

2. Havarti is not an adequate substitute for Halloumi, and will melt and burn all over your pans.

3. Strong cheddar is basically tasteless plastic, unless you pay extortionate sums in a specialist 'shoppe'.

4. Guessing the Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion is not a sensible thing to do, and proper calculations should be done (see nos.4 and 5)

4. Macaroni cheese (or Marconi cheese as we now like to call it) does not like to be cooked for too long in a too cool oven, or it turns into an inedible solid

5. Spanish omelette shouldn't be cooked in a pan that's too hot or it burns very quickly indeed, setting off smoke alarms and annoying the neighbours

6. You can't really buy decent cordial/squash here. Our first buy was "tropical punch" that basically tasted overwhelmingly of almonds, making me constantly suspicious that Liam was attempting to poison me

7. Cider vinegar is not a good substitute for actual alcoholic cider in cooking, and will burn your eyes in the process

8. 'Broiling' is actually grilling, despite what it sounds like, but the 'Broil' setting on our cooker doesn't actually work, rendering this discovery rather pointless

I'm sure I've left some off, and will no doubt return to the theme in a later post. I rather suspect that this won't be the end of my culinary disasters...


Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Ce n'est pas un Bonaventure

This cold weather lark takes a bit of getting used to. I knew it wasn't going to be nice temperate British weather but I had thought that the snowier-than-usual winter that we've just had in the UK would go some way towards preparing me for St John's. I was wrong.

As Liam has already pointed out, this city doesn't seem to be made for the pedestrian, with most pavements consisting of either huge hills of snow (redistributed from the roads), or treacherous ice-runs. The latter makes our regular milk run fairly 'interesting' as the person in the corner house never grits their section. How very un-neighbourly.

There are hidden dangers on the pavements. The worst being the compacted ice under the snow, which is often very lumpy, and can see your legs flying out in odd directions just when you think it's a nice crunchy safe bit. I have a fear, and that fear is that I will slide on the ice and my protruding leg be run over by a huge 4x4. This is, of course, fairly unlikely, particularly as Canadian drivers seem to be a lot more considerate, but it doesn't stop me worrying.

We have developed a few coping strategies, though, one of which is a sort of semi-skating manoeuvre that's particularly good for flat icy runs, but less good when any kind of slope is involved. Given that St John's is almost entirely made up of slope, this is therefore a problem!

We have been trying out various ways to get to campus in order to isolate the optimal route as regards distance and treacherosity. The most hated one of these so far is down Bonaventure Avenue. I can safely say that they (in the style of Greenland) have marketed it misleadingly. It is a fairly steep slope, a major road, and lacks any kind of supporting device (such as fence) to prevent you sliding uncontrollably downhill or into oncoming traffic. It is in no way fun or pleasant, though it is certainly an adventure, of sorts.

Worse than this, though, was my Downtown experience last weekend. We were out on an explore (I wanted to find my local yarn shop, which turned out to be an epic journey). On the way the heavens opened and we experienced our first proper NL rain. It was torrential. The fact that it was warm enough to rain, however, did not prevent all of this rain turning into ice. The pavements were bad enough, but stepping onto one road I discovered it was one giant ice sheet. Though I stood still on the edge of the road, I found myself sliding down the hill and had to do some ridiculous manoeuvres to propel myself across the road without falling on my arse. It was fun with a very small "f" (as my parents would say).

Today I am hoping to have experienced the last of the 'fear'. On our way to campus this morning we stopped at a drugstore and purchased 'clickers'. I don't know what the official name for them is (perhaps a 'traction device'?; there's a brand called YakTrax but I don't have those), but they are a marvel of modern science. As soon as I put them on over my boots I felt an overwhelming sense of wellbeing as my tension and panic subsided. It was kind of how I felt last Friday when I finally got myself a proper outdoor coat rather than relying on the trusty old Birmingham University hoodie I'd been wearing in -11 and wondering why I was a bit chilly.

I'm actually now looking forward to the walk home. Now all we need to deal with is the wind.


Saturday, 17 January 2009

There's no such thing as bad weather...

...just bad clothing.

I found this out to my cost yesterday. My first day in St John's we walked from Quidi Vidi Lake to Memorial Campus. In the snow it took about an hour, and during the course of the walk I realised that jeans are extremely inappropriate as a bottom half. As my thighs began to sting and I lost feeling in my bum I regretted being so unprepared.

Turns out that I arrived in NL just in time for one of the coldest winters in Atlantic Canada seen in a while. I can't even begin to think what it's like on the mainland in far lower temperatures. What did surprise me though is how the locals seem to deal with the cold. I expected them to be completely at home and skipping merrily across the ice in t-shirts. Instead people seem to drive everywhere and stay indoors. I've never seen a shopping centre so empty on a Saturday. I may have it wrong but it felt more like Sundays used to feel back in the 80s when nothing was open. Curious!

Anyway, I am now equipped with insulated troosers which should keep my nether regions suitably unbitten by frost. I shall report back on their efficacy ;o)


Friday, 9 January 2009


Turns out they sell Marmite in Newfoundland. Small jars, and very expensive, but at least I won't have to go cold turkey. I was getting the shakes just thinking about it...

Recycling office paper

I use an extraordinary amount of paper on a daily basis. In clearing out my office (see earlier post) I am currently on sack number 4 of office recycling. I've always tried to be economical with paper but I think an office job accumulates more than one person can deal with.

My first trick with old printouts is to simply gather them altogether, turn them over and stick a bulldog clip on them as a handy desk pad.

However, when the time came to leave this job I realised I was never going to use all of this up and so my mind turned to giving them away. I couldn't give them as gifts in the bulldog clip format so I started investigating making notebooks. There are tonnes of tutorials on bookbinding on the web, but I needed something where I didn't require specialist equipment of any sort.

I patched lots of different ideas together from various sources so I'll outline the rough process here. However, take a look at the great blog on Design*Sponge (always a great source of inspiration!).


What you will need:

Office paper printed on one side
Bulldog clips
Guillotine / scissors
Heavy-duty stapler
Double-sided stickytape or wheat paste
Cover materials (fabric, paper, wallpaper, old maps, etc)


  1. Fold your office paper so that the print is on the inside
  2. Stack them all into a pile with the folds all on the same side
  3. Cut two pieces of card the same size and put them at the top and bottom of the pile
  4. Ensure the pile is neat and then fasten the paper with bulldog clips
  5. Draw a vertical line down the non-folded edge of the top piece of card
  6. Use this as a guide to staple along the edge
  7. Stick double-sided tape around the four edges of the front piece of card (or brush on wheatpaste) and lay the notebook onto your covering material
  8. Turn over the book and apply adhesive to the back cover
  9. Gently turn the book and stick down the covering material to the back side
  10. Cut away any excess materials to give a clean edge to the notebook
  11. Fold the front page just in front of the stapled edge to allow the notebook to open cleanly

...and that's it! It's really easy. I used a load of wallpaper samples I had left over from when I was decorating the flat, but my favourite was one I covered with an old geology map of Lichfield I found during my clearout (it was actually a colour photocopy I think, but sadly I don't have a photo of it).

I also did different sizes. I found that using a guillotine to cut the A4 paper in half first, and then folding it to A6 size made for a great-sized pocket notebook.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Am I sick?

In going through my ancient history notes I found this quote about luxury and morality in Roman society:

"Men eat to vomit and vomit to eat. Their dishes are brought from every corner of the earth - and yet they do not even bother to digest them" (Seneca, Ad Helviam 10.3)

For some bizarre reason I quite like this quote, and so I looked up the first line on Google (as one is wont to do) and it appears to be nowhere on the web... until now of course. I was, though, rather peturbed by the sites it *did* offer me in recompense. I shan't outline them here, you have your own search engines I'm sure, though I rather liked the uncyclopedia entry!


Decluttering for fun and (no) profit

It's coming dangerously close to the time that I'm supposed to be escaping the UK but it still doesn't feel like I'm really going. The main reason for this is that I'm still waiting for my work permit to arrive and I can't book my flight without it :o(

Despite this, I've been furiously clearing the flat and my office, putting things into storage, and culling the things I really don't need. I am incredibly impressed with my ruthlessness even if I say so myself!

So far I have taken two very full car loads to the charity shop, though this was problematic as I was being turned away due to overflowing stock rooms! It makes me think a large section of the community can't be that affected by the credit crunch if they are getting rid of their stuff for free after getting lovely new shiny Christmas presents...

I've brought in bag fulls of various belongings to work (bags of fabric, toiletries, clothes, stationery, butane (!)) to foist them off on my friends, and another friend came round for dinner this weekend and left with a giant box of houseplants, baking ingredients, and ornaments.

It's extraordinarily liberating. Apart from the stress of having to do it to a deadline, I'm finding the whole process of house clearance good for the soul. When I started to tot up the actual value of what was going it became too scary though and I had to have a sit down and cup of tea. But then it was pointed out to me that I should just consider it a big charity donation and not worry about whether I'd have to re-buy everything I'd just given away. Anyone that knows me will realise what a big step this is for me. I am a hoarder, and a miserly hoarder at that.

The office is a whole other ball game. Six years-worth of photocopied articles, notes, books, out of date software, mystery cables, the list goes on. Whilst I kept all my photocopied articles from my PhD as I still work in that area, one of the hardest things I had to do was recycle my old university notes from my undergraduate course back in 1995-8. As I still work in archaeology I found it really difficult to think that, although I'd not looked at them since, that they might come in useful for planning my own teaching in the future (though was I ever really going to be teaching about Ancient Western Asia or European Prehistory?). Still, in the recycling sack they went. I've just filled my third...

As one of life's collectors I'm finding, surprisingly, that I'm really enjoying a life without "stuff". I'll be starting again with a clean slate (well... two full suitcases), and I'll be desperately trying not to buy. I'm finding it therapeutic, but not so much that I want to be doing it all again when the time comes to return!


Monday, 5 January 2009

All bets are off!

What a shame. The BBC has cowed to the teen market and hired a gawky boy to play the new Dr Who. I don't know if it's because I'm clearly showing my age, but I really don't like the idea of a Doctor that's younger than me. As seen by my previous post I was favouring PJ, but to be honest many of the people put forward would have been good. Call me crazy but he doesn't exactly look very inspiring. I want experience and a few wrinkles please...

PS - I wonder how long we will have to wait to get a male companion? It's been a while...