St. Lucia’s Day

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today is December 13th ,which means that it’s Saint Lucia’s Day in the Swedish-speaking parts of the Nordic countries! (Finland, like Canada, has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish). What I love about this day is that it is celebrated to bring light into the darkness of winter, which is surely needed when it is this cold and dark outside! (Here in Toronto it’s -8 at the moment)

Lucia’s Day usually consists of a mass, and a parade with the elected Lucia, wearing a crown of candles. She is followed by a choir of girls with white gowns and red belts (to symbolize the blood of the original Lucia) holding candles, and boys with stars to symbolize the star of Betlehem and the three wise men. But the day is also combination of older traditions that precede Christianity. The 13th of December was traditionally believed to be the longest night of the year, which meant that all sorts of evil things were out to get you; witches, trolls and all that! These stories, combined with the tale of Saint Lucia bringing light into the dark catacombs, fighting the dark, was something that people took to heart and so Lucia’s Day is celebrated in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark as a day of light before the approaching Christmas festivities.

Here are a couple of clips from the Lucia mass and celebrations, first from Stockholm’s Storkyrka, the main cathedral in Stockholm.

“The” song for Lucia is an old Italian song, which most of you will probably know as not a Christmas song. The original words to the song have nothing to do with Christmas or even winter, but the Swedish and Finnish lyrics are all about snow and glistening stars! (When I was 19, I was one of the choir girls in a smaller Lucia celebration like this one! I can’t believe it was over ten years ago!)

This is clip shows Helsinki’s Lucia from last year, filmed in the main cathedral in Helsinki (you can also see the main building of University of Helsinki to her left when is she walking down the cathedral stairs).

And last but not least, here’s a clip of a Lucia celebration from Norway, with some local Norwegian Christmas customs as well. Happy Lucia Day, lots of light and warmth to every house and home!

Mujaddara

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Today I thought I’d share a recipe (or, as you will soon see, it’s more of an attempt to describe how to cook something. Calling it a ‘recipe’ is a bit too much, since I don’t even have any proper amounts for ingredients!).

Mujaddara is a Lebanese dish that is super cheap and easy to make. Like everything in the Middle East, this dish has a biblical story behind it. If you recall the story of Esau selling his firstborn birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of ‘stew’, it was for a bowl of mujaddara (hopefully I am not sounding like some strange Bible chef! – I assure you I’m not!).

What you’ll need is: Rice, brown lentils, salt, olive oil and onions as the basic ingredients. There are as many ways to make mujaddara as there are people, and this is my version. However, I have seen mujaddara made in many way more complicated ways; with multiple pots, cooking things separately, and then combining them. I use just one pot (less dishes to clean :-).

First, caramelize finely sliced onions in a generous amount of olive oil. The onions serve as garnish and should become sweet and brown. onionsWhen the onions are done, scoop them out of the pot and pour in the water (usually 2-3 times the amount of grains). It’s not a problem if the amount of the water isn’t quite right, just add more during cooking if it looks like there isn’t enough. If I have stock cubes (vegetable or chicken) I usually throw one in for flavor, but you could do without as well.

When the water is boiling, add a generous amount of washed lentils and salt. I use equal amounts of lentils to rice, but some might prefer less lentils and more rice. Cook until the lentils are approximately halfway through their cooking time before adding the rice (again, check the cooking times from the packages, usually lentils take longer to cook). Here I used just basic white jasmine rice, but you could use any long grain rice.

For flavor, add the tiniest drizzle of cayenne pepper (not to make the dish taste hot), generous amount of black pepper, allspice and finally sumac (ground red sumac berries), and perhaps some extra olive oil.

How sumac looks like. Mine is straight from Lebanon.

Sumac we brought with us from Lebanon.

Sumac is the magic ingredient in my version of mujaddara and I use quite a lot of it since it adds mostly acidity to the stew (the berries are not spicy), but most other people do their versions of mujaddara without sumac. You can also add cumin, garlic, and cinnamon, but the dish is not supposed to taste like a spicy mix, so just spice it enough to add a little bit of flavor so that it will not end up tasting bland.

Some people prefer their mujaddara more firm, some mushy, depending on the cooking time. The finished dish can be served with greek yogurt and the caramelized onions drizzled on top, or, you could even add some flat-leaf parsley and toasted pine nuts to make it look a bit fancier than mine does here! mujaddara

About Writing Down Words of Wisdom

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

The day after Nelson Mandela’s death the media was blooming with quotes attributed to him:

A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/n/nelson_mandela.html#W6Xdorc27XTmtZ1s.99No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Great words from a great man, no doubt, and even I have some of his words written down in my little notebooks where I collect quotes that I like. On the day of Mandela’s death however, Imad and I also watched Stephen Colbert do a short tribute on his show to his mother who had passed away last summer. In his speech, Colbert mentioned how Lorna Colbert, a theatrically trained actress and mother of eleven children, would fake faint on the kitchen floor in order to teach the kids how to do a proper stage fall. What really touched me was that of all things her son could have spoken about, he chose to mention her making him laugh by falling on the kitchen floor. A simple memory of a simple moment.

After my mum died, for years I mourned not only that she wasn’t here, but that I didn’t have any of the things she had said written down: The mind wipes away a lot of things, making room for new experiences and information, and things that you think you will remember forever, you remember just as “she said something important, wearing a purple robe and eating a croissant, we were laughing, that song was playing in the radio… but what the heck did she say?”. One favorite moment of mine, I actually remember my mum joking that I might forget our discussion, to which I answered “of course not”, and then nothing. Blank. I have no idea what we talked about, but I know it was important! My mum taught me how to make things, the importance of books, honesty, creativity, and everything I know, and yet the things I can quote from her are simple and small, even silly, despite the beauty of the things she said when she was alive. The best memories I have are totally non-verbal, much like Lorna Tuck Colbert’s stage falls in the kitchen.

There is one quote from my mum that I do remember, and that I actually have written on the wall here in front of me as I write. It is not fancy, and it is not complicated. In fact, it is probably the simplest quote in the world. When everything seemed to go to a horse’s rear end, this was the one little phrase my mum and I would say a lot during her last years: “It will be good”.

We were assembling a flat pack dresser and half the pieces were missing – it will be good! Taking out the garbage, and the bag breaks – it will be good! Even when she was in the hospital for the last days – it will be good. To be honest, there were years when I wasn’t sure if that was the case. Will everything be good? Life is suffering and all that, as the great philosophers like to say, and yet it will be okay? These simple words that were a mantra for bad times are the words I remember most vividly, and in a way, the words I treasure the most. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how much life might suck at times, in the end it will always be good. Things might not be exactly as you have always dreamt, but they will be just good enough to carry you through. So although Nietzsche and co might turn in their graves, for me this little quote has become much more meaningful than it sounds. Don’t sweat too much over the small things, it will be good. Sure, there will be an end to things, but so what, that too will be good.

Many times I have wanted to remember things that my mum said that were more beautiful, more substantial in words, but I can’t. Stephen Colbert’s mum would fake faint theatrically, mine would suddenly say “let’s dance” and waltz with me in the kitchen. It is often the simplest things we will end up remembering about our parents and grandparents. There are no great quotes to read. No books to go for advice when we would need it. Despite years and years of discussions, the actual verbal memories are reduced to their smallest, simplest form. I guess this is my encouragement for everyone to write down words of wisdom as you hear them. I know it might not seem important now, but someday, it just might be. I am not sure what inspired me to write about this today, but I feel that with the holidays approaching, this time will be an opportunity for many to spend time with parents and grandparents, and so taking a notebook and asking them for their thoughts might be something worth doing this year.

But, as my mum would say, if you don’t write it down, it’s okay too. Life goes on and it’s all good.

Hansel and Gretel, Come Out Come Out Wherever You Are…

Tags

, , , ,

gingerbread carouselIn my head the only truly proper Christmas decorations are those that have been there since my childhood or given to me by a friend. So, I guess it is understandable why I find it difficult to buy Christmas decorations: Nothing in stores feels quite right. Today I went to different department stores, hardware stores, and even supermarkets and exhausted myself trying to find any decorations that I liked. Finally, I decided just to get some Christmas flowers and make a gingerbread house. The entire Operation Gingerbread took pretty much the entire evening, although this was the first time I bought one of those pre-made gingerbread kits with readymade pieces. A little bit less creative maybe, but I really enjoyed making this thing: It’s a gingerbread carousel with reindeer! I used to make gingerbread houses, or rather gingerbread villages, every year until my mum passed away, and after that I haven’t made a single one until today.

There are people who enjoy collecting miniatures, trains and things, painting and building them, but I was never quite that person; I don’t like the idea of making something and then having a figure out where to keep it! Gingerbread houses work perfectly because they satisfy the little builder in me, and afterwards we can just eat the whole thing and it’s gone. No waste and nothing to store in my closet… The perfect decoration!

A Lazy Sunday

Tags

, , , ,

Since I am still feeling a bit unwell, this Sunday turned out to be a very lazy one. I am afraid I really don’t have anything interesting to write about today! But, since everyone (or almost everyone!) loves cats, I’m going to leave you with photo of Miska that pretty much summarizes my mental state of the day as well.

Hope you have a had more energetic weekend, and that the beginning week will be a good one!

sleeping cat

 

Christmas Music From Sweden

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Christmas songs are a sure sign that Christmas is just around the corner. Here is one of my favorite festive songs of the season, Nu tändas tusen juleljus. There is also a Finnish language version, but this is the original. It is a beautiful song in either language and always puts me in the Christmas spirit. The song talks about the star of Betlehem bringing light into the darkness of the world, to every house, home and heart, and of lighting a thousand Christmas candles.

Piano is played by Benny Andersson (from Abba!). In the background of the video you can also see a Nordic Christmas custom; Saint Lucia (the girl with candles in her hair) and the children with their candles (which I will probably write more about on Saint Lucia’s Day next week! Update: Here is a link to my Lucia’s Day post where you can find more Scandinavian Christmas music as well).

Nu tändas tusen juleljus
på jordens mörka rund,
och tusen, tusen stråla ock
på himlens djupblå grund.

Och över stad och land i kväll
går julens glada bud,
att född är Herren Jesus Krist,
vår Frälsare och Gud.

Du stjärna över Betlehem,
o, låt ditt milda ljus
få lysa in med hopp och frid
i varje hem och hus!

I varje hjärta armt och mörkt
sänd du en stråle blid,
en stråle av Guds kärleks ljus
i signad juletid!

Fashion Friday: Vincent van Cough

Tags

, , , , , ,

The past month hasn’t been the best for me. Three weeks ago, I got sick with bronchitis and went to the doctor’s after the first week of being sick. At first it seemed like I was getting better, but today, three weeks later, I got fever again and my cough is worse than ever. Also, sleeping is difficult because I wake up to cough every half an hour. My sleep cycle is all over the place, and little by little, I feel like I have become this vampire-like creature that is able to only eat, sleep, and cough (anyone looking to hire a professional cougher?). The worst part is that I actually feel okay; that I’d like to do things, but I just can’t breathe properly. The antibiotics and steroids clearly didn’t work, and I have tried the natural route as well: Echinacea, honey, lots of vitamin C, garlic and ginger.

Well, enough with complaints – they’re of no use anyway. On the positive side, I have had plenty of time to doodle and today it resulted in a Fashion Friday. I am sure we all have these days sometimes. Here is the complete look of my Very Fashionable Day:fashion friday by Mari Ferzli

3 Bad 90’s Films From The Jungle

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

There are some films that are so bad they are good. It is an art really; to create a film that is not trying to be intentionally bad, to take itself so seriously and thus create a wonderful serving of entertainingly good badness. Making films is not easy, but sometimes just enjoying the hilarity of it all makes some bad films real gems. Here are a few of my favorite bad films and since it is wintertime, they all take place in the tropics to warm us up:

JURASSIC PARK: THE LOST WORLD (1997)

The original Jurassic Park was entertaining, frightening and just a good all-around family adventure. And then the sequels happened. Number 2, The Lost World, is so bad and goofy that I just have to rewatch it from time to time, and of course my favorite scene is this (summarized perfectly by the Nostalgia Critic):  

MORAL OF THE STORY: In case you find a baby t-rex, please don’t bring it inside. Also, if you end up on an island inhabited by dinosaurs, remember to bring lots of friends with little or preferably no personality to be served as dino appetizers. And remember, dinosaurs have feelings too: They have families, they care!

CONGO (1995)

I saw this film about killer gorillas in the cinema when it came out in the year of the sword and the axe (as the Finnish saying goes), and I remember being quite frightened by it. Especially the scene where the evil apes throw a human eyeball at one of the characters gave me the chills back then (ooh scary – an eyeball!). A few years ago I saw the film again on tv, and really this film is hilarious: The villains look “evil”, the ape costumes look bad, and the talking ape, Amy, is just beyond annoying.

MORAL OF THE STORY: The rich guy from the former USSR who speaks like a villain, looks like a villain and acts like a villain, most likely is the villain. And we all know what villains only care about: Diamonds!

ANACONDA (1997)

Anaconda makes my list for two (short) reasons, which both make me laugh: 1)

(What’s wrong with me :-)!)

And 2) the scene where Jon Voight is eaten by the giant snake, vomited out later, and winks at Jennifer Lopez.

MORAL OF THE STORY: It is okay to be eaten by giant snake, you can still come out a bit gooey but alive.

I’m open to suggestions for more good bad movies! After all, they can teach us great things 🙂

Animal Stories: The Doppelgänger

Tags

, , , , , ,

I thought I ‘d share a little animal story today that sort of proves that what you leave behind, you’ll find ahead. In the woods. Saying meow.

A few years ago, Imad and I decided to rent a cabin for the weekend to escape the city. This meant that we had to leave our cat Miska behind, which she wasn’t too happy about. Miska has a very particular look for a cat: Her body is long and lean, with a bit of a belly, elegant grey and white coloring, pink paws and nose, and green eyes that begged us to take her in our backpack as we left Toronto for our long car ride into the Canadian wilderness. However, we did not cave to all the catty cuteness, bid her farewell, closed the door behind us, and went to pick up our rental car.

The cabin was located far north, in a secluded area far from towns or villages. Finding the cottage took a while since there were no road signs or proper maps of the area. There was no electricity or running water either, other than the nearby Magnetawan River, which was as wide as a lake and ran right behind the cabin. Outside our temporary home, we discovered a fire pit and some logs, and decided to make a fire soon after we had arrived. It was nightfall as we were sitting by the fire, surrounded by the forest, when suddenly from the darkness and smoke a small creature appeared: It was a cat, a complete Miska doppelgänger with grey and white hair, white markings on his face, pink paws, nose, same body shape and size and green eyes as Miska. We had driven for hours, leaving one cat behind only to be greeted by this exact duplicate of a feline at our destination.

We were far from civilization, in an area where I would have more likely expected to see a bear or a moose, than a cat, and even if by some miracle there should be a cat, I would have expected it to be less social and more of a forest type, as we were literally in the middle of nowhere. This one, on the other hand, was social and an exact copy of our Miska. After a while by the fire, the cat disappeared but emerged again as we were going inside for the night. It followed us inside, as though it had been our cat all along. We named him Nykä (pronounced ‘New Ca(t)’ – how imaginative, I know). Because the cabin wasn’t ours, we encouraged him to go outside but since it began to rain, Nykä felt it was much better to spend the night indoors and stayed with us. I was completely baffled by this doppelgänger of a cat and could hardly believe it when Nykä climbed into the bed and, like our Miska, slept at the foot of the bed comfortably for the entire night. In the morning he asked for some breakfast, and went out for his business, only to return soon again. For the entire long weekend, Nykä lived with us as an exact copy of our cat, and I naturally started to plot about taking him with us back to Toronto. There were things to consider though: Nykä could have been abandoned, in which case taking him would the right thing to do. But, if he did belong to somebody, it would be awful of us to take him. Also, I wasn’t sure if he would have been so fond of changing his freedom to living in a small apartment. So before leaving, we asked the man who came to pick up the cabin keys about the cat. Apparently, Nykä had not been seen by anyone but us, despite many visitors (i.e. he didn’t live close to the cabin). After the man assured us that he would find out whose cat Nykä was and that he would be okay, we decided to return to Toronto, catless, leaving the little doppelgänger behind.

When got back home and saw the familiar grey tail greet us, I had to wonder if Miska had more of these lookalike spies to keep an eye on us while we were gone. Or, perhaps there indeed is a galactic wormhole through which only cats can travel – from cities to wilderness and back. Miska refuses to answer my questions and to this day the mystery of the doppelgänger cat remains unsolved.

First Advent Weekend, First of Many Posts

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Happy December! I just made an impromptu decision to blog everyday in December, and though technically I have already failed (it is December 3rd today, although the WordPress timer says Dec 4th!), I thought I’d go for it anyway. I’m going to write one post every day, no matter how small, until January 3 and revive this blog from its unintentional hibernation!

So, let’s begin with a Christmas tree from the Distillery Christmas Market…IMG_2233We got a visitor from New York this weekend; Imad’s cousin Sami. In good company the weekend went by way too quickly and I wish he’ll do another visit very soon! First on Saturday, we went to the TIFF Bell Lightbox (home of the Toronto International Film Festival) just to quickly tour the building, and afterwards took the streetcar to the Distillery District and the Christmas Market. There we discovered a local sake brewery called Izumi and since we enjoy all things Japanese, spent a good while sampling sake and chatting. This was my second time doing a proper sake tasting (first one being with the Japan Foundation a few years ago), and all I can say is that there really is a world of difference between good sake and ‘just’ sake. I also spotted some pretty tasty-looking turkey legs sold at the market, and will mostly likely return there to try one of those closer to Christmas (I feel like I want to have the Obelix-experience of walking around chewing a huge a turkey leg! Very ladylike, as always :-)).