Just Discovered: Human Library Project

Saturday, 26 January 2013 is Canada’s National Human Library Day.  The Human Library is an initiative “designed to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding,” (Human Library, 2012).  I just heard about the national initiative on the radio, and it sparked my curiosity, so I looked it up.

For those who won’t click through to the links, the idea is that several people of varied backgrounds, histories and occupations make themselves available for a few hours in a public space to have 20-minute conversations with anyone who signs up to attend.  On Saturday, fourteen local Montreal people will be at the Atwater Library (1200, Avenue Atwater, Westmount) from 11:00 until 16:00.  These folks are a mix of journalists, religious leaders, sports figures and gay rights activists.

I have signed up for a conversation at 11:00am with Lela Savic, a journalist of Romani origins.  She is from the former Yugoslavia and makes documentary films here in Montreal (you can follow her on Twitter here).

When perusing the list of participants, I was particularly interested in meeting and speaking with Ms Savic.  Coming from Geneva, Switzerland, where there are, shall we say, “issues” with the Romani population, I am curious to hear her perspective and to try to understand a bit more about this group which seems to inspire so many different reactions: fear, mistrust, fascination (think of flamenco music!), romanticism, etc.

If you like the sound of this initiative, see if the Human Library is doing anything in your area.  You can also tune in to cbcnews.ca on Saturday between 11:00 and 16:00 Eastern Standard Time to participate in the live event online.  You can also follow CBC on Twitter and get updates about the event at the hashtag #CBCHumanLibrary.

It promises to be an interesting (though brief) conversation!  If any of you have questions you would want me to ask Ms Savic, feel free to post them in the comments.

It’s Incredibly Cold

A girlfriend who lived in Montreal for a couple of years warned me: “Les hivers sont extrêmement rudes.”  She wasn’t kidding.  Check it out:


For those of you who speak fahrenheit, that’s -9.4°F (and Mike Finnerty on CBC’s Daybreak just said the wind chill will make it -38°C!!).  Now, I don’t want to complain, but even CBC radio tells me that this kind of long, extremely cold stretch is unusual.  Normally it’s only about -16°C (3°F) during the day (pffff, tropical!).

In times like this, my instinct is to put the heat up as high as possible and stay bundled up inside.  But this is not the native Canadian approach, oh no!  There are people out there still biking to work (admittedly, even the locals think they’re nuts).  My short period of residence in Canada has taught me a few of the locals’ tricks:

  1. Window
    You can’t let sights like this get you down.

    Carry a big bag with an extra pair of shoes.  Wear your boots outside and change into your fancy-schmancy shoes indoors.  (And make sure your boots are easy to slip on and off – high lace-ups are NOT recommended.)

  2. Don’t let the cold intimidate you: go ice skating!  It sounds counter-intuitive, seeing as you’re surrounded by ice and cold, but the movement and constant fear of falling on your backside keep you warm.
  3. If you have a car, get a remote starter.  They are a gift from God.
  4. Memorize and make extensive use of the Montreal underground passages.  If you’re visiting or new in town and you want to learn about them, give this guy a call.
  5. Café hop!  My neighborhood, the Plateau Mont-Royal, is full of adorable cafés.  So if you’re not in a hurry to get from Sherbrooke to Mont-Royal on St. Denis street, you can hop back and forth across the road, going from La Petite Cuillère, to Café Universel, to Simplement D’Liche Cupcakes, up to Aux Deux Maries.  (Note: this technique might cause inordinate weight gain.)
  6. Wear lots of layers.  Because it’s so cold outside, indoor public spaces like the metro, supermarkets and others are overheated.  You need to be able to peel off layers so as not to suffocate yourself once inside.

On my own, I have come up with a couple of solutions: Fingerless gloves are wonderful for keeping warm while also being able to type.  Baking is wonderful for heating up the kitchen with the oven, and having a warmth-inducing hobby like crocheting helps tremendously.  How can you be cold when you have a blanket made of pure (and stinky) New Zealand sheep’s wool thrown over your knees?

This took me over a year to finish.

Despite the cold outside, it is true that the chilliest days of the year are also the sunniest.  So while we’re all freezing our tootsies off, we can at least enjoy beautifully sunny days in this lovely (though harsh) city.

Lessons from my Kitchen

In the past year, I have discovered cooking.  I have learned so much about this fabulous art, for instance: everything tastes better with onions and garlic.  Salt should be used sparingly.  Recipes do not have to be followed to the letter.  Baking powder and baking soda are NOT the same thing.  A turkey continues to cook when it is taken out of the oven.  These are just a few of the valuable lessons I have learned.

Another is this: Having fancy cooking tools does NOT make me a good cook.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had more successes than failures (and I think my Chico would agree).  However, there have indeed been a few flops.  But before talking about those, I’ll tell you about a few successes (just to make myself feel good).


First, there were my stuffed peppers.  They were so moist and delicious, stuffed with a very simple risotto (you can find the recipe here – I substituted peppers for tomatoes), and they were a big hit at the dinner table.  Then, there was my tortilla de patata (Spanish omelette) which received rave reviews from my Chico (and he should know, considering he’s a native!).  I fried the potatoes perfectly and (miraculously) succeeded in flipping the tortilla without (much) incident.  And my go-to recipe and crowd pleaser is this pesto-crusted fish dish that never fails to have guests ooing and ahhing over my mad cooking skills.

I have been blessed with many gifts of good kitchen equipment from family members.  A recent wedding gift from my aunt consisted of a fabulous set of Le Creuset pots (merci, tante!  I promise to send the thank-you  notes soon!).  A housewarming gift from my parents was an excellent set of knives and non-stick pots and pans.  These tools never fail to slice, dice and cook evenly.  The question is, can I keep up??

Sadly, the answer is sometimes, “No.”  For instance, an attempt at a roast sirloin tip last Friday was so fraught with miscalculations that instead of eating at 9:00pm as planned, we had dinner at 10:15pm (thank goodness there were no guests!).  The Le Creuset casserole and the oven cannot be blamed, for they are brand-spanking new!  Then, there was the time we had 8 dinner guests and I thought that doubling this recipe would be a piece of cake (hahahaa, cake is food–get it??).  Sadly, great quality as my pot was, it wasn’t large enough to accommodate twice the amounts, AND it turns out that you have to be careful when doubling spice quantities.  Heh, who knew?  Thankfully, the dish only turned out bland, which could have been worse.

The most spectacular near-disaster, however, wasn’t so much a question of equipment but more an issue of planning.  Trust me, folks, you should never EVER plan to pick up your turkey on Thanksgiving day.  Always get it the day before.  Especially when you’re dealing with a butcher who apparently can’t tell the difference between “fresh” and “frozen.”  But that’s another story for another time.  (Perhaps on Thanksgiving day 2013, when, after a successful meal, I will reminisce about the hilarious near-disaster of Thanksgiving 2012.)

For now, I suppose I will just need to keep cooking.  There’s nothing like trial and error, and I’ve got to get up the courage to try those failed dishes again.  The next sirloin tip roast I do will be glorious, I tell you!  Thank goodness for the internet and a mother readily available on Skype.  (If anyone has any Sunday roast suggestions, your feedback is very, very welcome…)  If anything, I know that thanks to my fabulous pots and pans, the presentation will always be flawless.  Here’s hoping the taste eventually catches up.