Something Different

D and I both come from suburban backgrounds. Quaint places.

The kind of places where people leave their doors unlocked. Where modest homes with lovingly manicured lawns line the streets. Where the two and three kid families reign supreme. Where hot dogs, birthday cake, chicken pox, bicycles, inflatable pools filled with icy cold water in the summertime, swing sets in the backyard, friendly neighbours, and sidewalk chalk are absolute certainties in your life.

Our meals were square. At least, that’s what the parents always said. “Mmm, now that’s a good square meal,” they’d say as they plopped an overflowing plate in front of you. It was always heaping. A heaping plate of pot roast with mashed potatoes, and carrots/peas/green beans/corn/broccoli/brussel sprouts/cauliflower. That was how it worked. You got a meat, some sort of potato side, and a vegetable side. Usually some bread ‘n’ butter too. Gotta make sure you’ve got the four food groups all present and accounted for. Then maybe you’d have dessert. Something mom had baked that day, possibly.

It’s the classic suburban formula for a good square meal.

Our parents didn’t deviate from it often. If they did, a pizza was delivered. Or if you wanted something really different, you’d order Chinese food. Sushi was something that wealthy weirdoes in movies ate. Nobody had ever heard of tapas before. There was no differentiation between Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, or Japanese. That stuff fell under the all-encompasing “Chinese” umbrella. Mexican consisted of Old El Paso taco kits. And Indian? What are you even talking about?

2% milk, red meat, white bread, and potatoes. Those were the staples in every suburban grocery cart. Terms like “organic”, “gluten free”, “locally sourced”, and “free range” weren’t part of the vocabulary back then. We weren’t so aware of our food or conscious of our consumption. We just ate. And we ate what we knew.

In my school days eating was hedonistic. The four food groups had been reduced to a mere two: pizza and beer. We were 18, we didn’t care. We thought we were invincible. Immune to the pitfalls of a predominately carb based diet. The summer sojourn at home eating my ma’s square meals was like a stint in rehab. Shocking myself back to health with proteins and vegetables.

When it came time to grow up, move out, and start cooking for ourselves we were awakened unto a world of possibilities beyond pot roast and mashed potatoes. It was daunting at first. The landscape had changed. Suddenly, there was a lot more choice at the grocery store. We didn’t have to stick to the square meal blueprint of our childhood. And we wouldn’t program the number for the local pizza joint into the speed dial. We were gonna have to learn to feed ourselves. Honest to goodness adult meals.

D does most of the cooking. He’s good at it, and he likes it. I like dreaming up cool things for us to eat. But when it comes to the kitchen I’d much rather draft the plans and watch someone else bring my ideas to fruition. And then of course, savour the success.

Some of our recent successes include:

Butter Chicken

Indian is the shit. Straight up, I dare you to eat some butter chicken and not fall madly in love. A creamy, dreamy tomato based sauce and some spicy basmati rice. We’ll usually make some samosas to go with as well. It’s a killer combination, and it’s easy to make. Or so D says. Sweet + Heat = Greatness. Indian food is very fragrant though. Not only in taste, but in ambience. Your apartment will have a distinctly Indian smell for the remainder of the night. Of spices and curry galore!

Butter Chicken and Basmati Rice

Butter Chicken and Basmati Rice

Pierogi & Calabrese Salami

Credit for this meal goes directly to my girl Joce-Force. We feasted like kings on these one night at her place, and I’ve been hooked ever since. You see, most people serve them with bacon. But Joce had a stroke of pure brilliance when she paired them with the Calabrese salami. The pierogies have a nice crisp outside and a tender potato center. That Calabrese gets so crispy. Just a few minutes in the frying pan and it is perfection. It’s got some kick to it though. Again, it’s that magical combination of subtlety and heat. And if you really want get nuts with flavour all up in your tastebuds, dip a bite of it in tzatziki. I insist, you simply haven’t lived until you’ve tried it!

Pierogi!

Pierogi!

Asian Five Spice Stir Fry

This is something we’ve had to experiment with a lot. I’m very picky when it comes to rice. Unless it has that exact right flavour I’m looking for, then I don’t feel compelled to eat a lot of it. But, after many trials and tribulations, I think D has nailed it. I don’t know what goes into it, but I sure as hell dig it. The only thing I know for certain is that D started putting Worcestershire sauce into the rice. And it seems to have been the crucial ingredient when it comes to pleasing my palate. We’ll also cheat a bit and make some frozen spring rolls, for the crunch. But I decree frozen spring rolls perfectly acceptable in my kitchen. Also, please note that my portion is entirely devoid of broccoli. That’s very important. No Broccoli, you shall not pass!

Stir Fridays

Stir Fridays

I have one specialty in our kitchen. One thing that I can make that will knock D’s socks off. But we don’t eat it very often. That’s because it is a major indulgence. When you just want to carb the fuck out, come see me. I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.

Smash’s Gut-Busting Calzones & Cheesy Breadsticks

You can’t even get through the title of that dish without clutching your stomach can you? Well, just wait ’til you see the pictures!

Calzone, Smash's way

Calzone, Smash’s way

Carb overloading

Carb overloading

And, I’ll even share my secrets with you lucky readers. One time only!

I get some dough, and let it rise. Then I roll it out to an acceptable thickness for pizza. I generously sauce one side of the dough, and then load it up. With pepperonis and cheeeeeeese! And usually some mushrooms and green peppers for D. We use turkey pepperonis, and they are delicious. They’re nice and thin, so they warm through quickly in the oven. Once it’s been stuffed, you fold over the other side of the dough and pinch it shut with your fingertips. Pinch, pinch, pinch! You’ve gotta pinch it firmly shut so it doesn’t bust and gush all over the tray when it’s baking.

Right before they go in the oven, I brush them with garlic butter. The butter is heated to a fluid consistency. It absorbs nicely into the dough and spreads easier that way. Set the oven to 400 and bake for as longs you like. If you like them crispy, keep them in for a solid 20-25 minutes. If you like them a little more soft like we do, 10-15 minutes should suffice.

And while the calzones are baking, I take the leftover dough and twist it into breadsticks. I twist out the dough, then douse the pieces lovingly in the leftover garlic butter. Shredded cheese is then sprinkled on top. These bad boys only take about 5 minutes or so. And they are worth it.

Better than crazy bread

Better than crazy bread

Cheesy heaven

Cheesy heaven

And the trick is, to save some of the sauce you used inside the calzones. Dipping these breadsticks in the savoury tomato sauce is a rare delight.

I’ve successfully weened myself off of pizza pops, but when I’m feeling just a touch nostalgic I’ll make my grown-up version of them instead. My supernova-sized, overstuffed calzones. That hits the fucking spot, man.

We’ve come a long way from our little sheltered homes in the suburbs. Grown up some. From square meals and ramen noodles in the dorm to delectable dinners crafted by our very own hands. There’s no Pot Roast Tuesdays at our place. Our meal planning hinges on my many whims and our passion for experimentation. Not to disparage our backgrounds, or our respective parents’ cooking. I do still love me some meat and potatoes with a tall glass of 2% milk. But more often than not, I’m seduced by variety. Enchanted by change. That’s always the way isn’t it? After much monotony people like to get them some strange. Do something different.

And trust me, strange has never tasted so good.

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Student Loans

I’ve been miserably sick all weekend. Out of nowhere I was hit with this dreadful cold, so I’ve been a sniffling, snotty, coughing mess since Thursday. I booked Friday off months ago because I was going to give myself an awesome long weekend to cap November off. So it would make perfect sense for my mutinous immune system to jump ship right before my glorious plans could even get out of the harbour, right? I wasn’t even planning on posting this week because my mood has been so foul. Best laid plans have been foiled, so fuck it. Instead of scampering through the streets with gleeful inhibition, I’m a hostage in my own apartment until I can pay the hefty ransom of 10,000 sullied kleenexes to my captor, this bitch of a cold.

Pretty grim stuff, I know. How could I possibly put a positive spin on anything right now? I can’t even remember what it feels like to breathe normally, unhindered by the shroud of nasal congestion draped around me.

Then I remembered something while looking at the calendar on the fridge. Friday November 30th was the last day of the month. My student loan payments are due on the last day of each month, and I started making payments on the debt exactly two years ago as of November 30th. I have been making regular payments on my student loans every month for the last 2 years. Wow, I know this is cliché, but time really does fly when you’re dutifully living the dream, responsible adult styles.

I remember feeling so confused and overwhelmed in the fall of 2005 while I waited in the seemingly endless line at the student loan office with Marion. The office opened at 8:00am, but we got up at 6:00 so that we could get a “good spot in line”. Turns out a “good spot in line” meant that we’d only have to spend half of our day waiting. We packed a deck of cards to pass the time, and snacks so we wouldn’t be tempted to leave the line when hungry. There were so many other students. Hundreds of kids, all waiting in line to sign the forms that would put them in debt with the government for the next decade of their lives.

One by one we would take our turn handing over our void cheques and signing on the dotted line. The curmudgeonly women reviewing the details on our forms not offering the slightest encouragement. They were magnificently robotic in every action, and had zero tolerance for questions. “Sign here, date here, initial here, you’re done. Next in line!”

I was glad that Marion was with me. She was orderly and organized, she knew what needed to happen, and was able to answer all of my questions. When we were finally finished, I felt so disheartened. Just days before when I’d moved into my dorm, I was excited. My life was just beginning and I was on the brink of something spectacular. But the stark realization that I was taking on a tremendous amount of debt, without a career guaranteed upon graduation, made me feel so insecure and anxious.

How would I ever pay this loan off? For every semester of education earned, I had to shoulder more and more debt. Was it really going to be worth it in the end? I come from a modest family, I’m one of five kids. I knew that pursuing this education meant I’d have minimal help from my parents. They were supportive in other ways, sure. But they couldn’t afford to put Marion and I through school at the same time. If I wanted to get a degree, I’d have to find a way to foot the bill myself.

I wrestled with those niggling feelings of insecurity and anxiety for months after getting my loan. I was only able to subdue those worries by telling myself that graduation was really too far ahead in the future to fret about. It would be ages before I needed to seriously think about a repayment plan. I was just a kid. Kids don’t worry about budgets and debt. Adults do. And I would have plenty of time for those things in adulthood.

Plus, if I couldn’t find a way to pay off the debt I had a Plan B in mind. I would run from it!

No job? No problem! Take what little clothing and money you do have and hop a bus, train, or plane out of the country. You’ll sever ties with everything and everyone you’ve ever loved and vanish into thin air. You’ll become an insanely brilliant ex-patriot writer, putting extensive volumes of your genius to press under an intriguing and beguiling pseudonym. You’ll have torrid affairs with handsome foreign men, and never tire of roving the globe. You will have a remarkable life of hedonistic adventure, free of any debt or obligation. Then after many years have passed, when it’s finally safe, you’ll return home. All prior debts having been miraculously expunged during your absence.

Plan B is not for the timid. But I was still hopeful that it wouldn’t have to come to that. And thankfully, it hasn’t yet.

I just kept working away. I’d go to classes, write exams, pay my bills, and head down to the student loan office to sign for my loans every semester. Time passed, and I graduated. Sure, I still had heaps of debt to my name. But I had grown leaps and bounds since that first semester. The confused teenager overwhelmed with the stress of supporting herself had gradually transformed into a mature, self-sufficient adult woman. I had gone through so much in my time at school. I tackled any and all challenges with gusto. Sometimes I succeeded in my ventures, sometimes I failed. When I failed, I learned. When I learned, I grew. I didn’t need to run away from my problems, because I was more than capable of tackling them head on. The ill-conceived Plan B need not come to fruition after all. And I had a six month window between graduation and my repayment due date to find a job.

Needless to say, I accomplished that goal. I’ve been going to work every day since September 2010, making my way in the world. When the day of loan repayment finally arrived, I wasn’t scared. I confidently dialled up the National Student Loan Service Centre and made arrangements for my monthly payments. I worked out an amount that was good for me, and I’ve been making payments every month since. Every payment I’ve made has been with money that I’ve earned entirely on my own.

While it would have been a great blessing to have a wealthy family taking care of all my financial needs, I consider it an even greater blessing that I’ve been given the opportunity and ability to provide for myself. I used to envy the kids that had everything in life handed to them. I don’t envy them anymore, I really don’t even give them much consideration at all. What we’re born into is merely chance. How we carry ourselves and what we make of ourselves is choice. All I know is that everything worth having in my life, I’ve earned. And I’m allowed to be proud of that.

I’ve been paying this loan off for the past two years, and I’m not even close to being done. I’ve made a hell of a dent so far though. It’s going to take a lot of time, and a lot of effort on my part. But it’s cool, because I know I can handle it. I’m not some superhuman overachiever spreading myself too thin, and stressing myself to the point of a nervous breakdown.  I’m also not an apathetic slacker. I’m just a regular kid, who needed help financially so I could earn my degree. If I can do it, anyone can.

Was it worth it to sign away a significant chunk of my earnings for the first decade of my career? Would I do it all over again if I had to? Fuckin’ A!

I gained so much more than I ever hoped to in my time at school. The friendships, the memories, the life experiences, the freedom; it’s all so invaluable. In the larger scheme of things, that loan of mine is peanuts and it’ll be paid off in no time.

I may not have had a very good weekend, but I can at least smile about that.