Zen and the art of cookery

I love to cook. I never had any formal training. I picked up the basics from my mother (who claims she never showed me, but I was observant) and from my first real job, which was working in a restaurant kitchen. I have picked things up over the years, notably from a friend who is a chef and is one of those people who can create a great meal out of whatever is in the fridge, which looks like nothing to start with. I've also watched a lot of cooking shows. I learn from just about any good source I can find.

Most of what I make starts as a recipe. My Ken Hom's Chinese Cookery is one of the most well-used (and well stained) cookbooks I own. We have a few others that I go to fairly often: a low-fat Mexican cookbook, Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, a notebook of pasta recipes, a collection of recipes from newspapers, and a growing pile (that needs to be put in order) of recipes from the interwebs. These days, that's where I tend to go first, along with the books useful for general techniques: The Joy of Cooking, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, and James A. Beard's American Cookery.

There is rarely a recipe I use that I haven't modified in some way. For Caesar salad, I start with James Beard's recipe, but I cut way down on the oil, and we've decided that even though anchovies are fine, we don't care if we put them in Caesar salad, as long as there's plenty of garlic. I modify recipes by experimentation: this needs less salt, but this one more; that's a ridiculous amount of oil; and "medium" on this burner is hotter than they're expecting.

Sometimes, I've had to substitute an ingredient and have never gone back to the original. I wanted to make a tourtière (pork pie) once and didn't have any white potatoes (my family recipe uses potatoes), so I used yams instead. I also put in some garlic. Both are terribly heretical, and nothing that a Québécois housewife would ever have done, but the pie tastes awesome! I even served it one Christmas to my traditional pork pie loving extended family. It was met with generally good reviews, and it disappeared before long.

I whip things together on my own as well. I don't need a recipe to make pasta primavera, and I'm glad it comes out different every time. I love being able to rescue food, vegetables especially, before they turn into science projects in the fridge. I love when I try something new and it works out, and if something goes wrong (not often, but sometimes), I learn from my mistakes and so better next time.

There are few places where I find a really calm centre like I do in my kitchen. Truly, I can have several things going on at once, all of which have to be done at the same time, and I don't get rattled. I've learned to move fairly quickly but not hastily (haste is what leads to knife cuts and burns). I get such enjoyment out of making food! And I have a very appreciative audience of one, and occasionally more. An audience of two, really, because hey, I like my own cooking! I'd better.

Of course, I like a break as well, which is why I usually make sure we run out of ingredients by Friday. Then it's time to let someone else do the cooking! Much as I love to cook, I also love to be served good food, especially kinds that I don't make myself. And even then, I'm learning.


Best of one

So here we are, just as Electronic Arts predicted: Game 7 in Vancouver. The Canucks won all three home games by outplaying the Bruins but barely outscoring them. The Bruins cumulative score in Boston was 17-3. What now?

It's generally acknowledged that the Stanley Cup is the most difficult trophy to win in professional sports. For a team to hoist the Cup, they have to play an 82-game season and finish no lower than eighth in the conference standings. They must then win four best-of-seven series.

Playoff hockey is almost like a different game. It's faster and more intense. Sudden death overtime periods are up to a full 20 minutes long, with no shootouts. Hits are harder, and thus often injuries are more serious. And any injury might deprive a team of a key player. There is little margin for error. Skill tends to win World Cups and Olympic gold medals. To win the Stanley Cup takes skill plus seemingly superhuman endurance.

Teams that finish well in the standings don't necessarily do well in the playoffs. Some teams have that "extra gear" and some don't. Some can shift into playoff mode, whereas others seem not to be able to. That was the Canucks in recent years—doing very well during the regular season, but surviving one round, if that, of the playoffs.

This year was different. In typical Canucks fashion, they let the Chicago Blackhawks take the series all the way to seven games after beating them in the first three. These lads always like to do things the hard way, but in the end they advanced. They played more solidly against a grinding Nashville Predators team, and then looked like winners as they dispatched the San Jose Sharks.

Now it's down to one final game in Rogers Arena. Despite kicking Canuck ass all over TD Garden (ironically, named for a Canadian bank that is making inroads into the United States), the Bruins have not had much traction in Vancouver, and the Canucks have looked strong. Tim Thomas had some bad nights against Tampa Bay, but we haven't seen that in this series. Roberto Luongo, however, in contrast to the embarrassments in Boston, has led the Canucks to two shutouts at home and given up only two goals in three games.

This entire crazy metropolitan area hopes it will be "two Sedins, one Cup." Whatever happens, I think I'm done writing about hockey for a while.


Hockey mad

I moved to Vancouver only about two months after the riots that took place after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final to the New York Rangers in seven games. I remember seeing the news that June and wondering what the heck I was moving to. I knew about hockey riots in Montreal, but I had thought Vancouver was more laid back.

As it turns out, hockey riots aren't really what they seem. The damage is caused mostly by vandals who use the large gatherings of people as cover for doing what they do. It's not hockey fans who do the real damage, or at least hockey is not the reason they do.

Still, it was clear to me that Vancouver was crazy (sometimes literally) about its hockey team. The Bruins have a lot of fans in Boston, but Boston is first a baseball town (Red Sox), second probably a basketball town (Celtics), then a football town (Patriots, even though they play south of the city), and finally a hockey town. Hockey is actually big in the area—at local arenas, in some high schools, and at universities. Quite a few National Hockey League players come from New England. But the Bruins are for fans. The Canucks are for the entire city, less those who really hate hockey.

I grew up with the six-team league, and like one of my favourite aunts (who used to slip away from family reunions to watch or listen to the game), I was a Bruins fan. I liked the Canadiens second best, but not the Maple Leafs for whatever reason. I remember the first expansion that added teams like the Blues and the Flyers, then the second expansion that included the Canucks. That might have been the first time I'd really heard about Vancouver, and being a Canadaphile, I thought another Canadian team in the NHL was a pretty cool thing.

I didn't follow the team though. When I went to university, I stopped paying much attention to hockey. I got into music and other things. It wasn't until I moved to Vancouver that hockey reasserted itself in my consciousness. It couldn't be helped. It's practically a requirement for citizenship! And of course the CBC would broadcast at least two games a week, very different than the hit-or-miss coverage in the States.

So I became a Canucks fan. They were my home team now. And after Sweetie moved here after she finished grad school, it wasn't long before she was screaming at the television too, and we started going to the occasional game.

Most of those years since the last Cup run in 1994 were pretty lean. The team would finish out of the playoffs. Or the team would finish in playoff position but would be eliminated in the first round. There were so many changes: Marc Crawford as coach, Marcus Naslund and Marc Messier as captains, Brian Burke making the deals. Trevor Linden, Alex Mogilny, Mattias Ohlund. Seemingly good teams that still lacked something. Then things started to come together. The Sedin twins, genuine snipers. Roberto Luongo, a playoff-calibre goalie. Young players coming up through the system or being obtained in trades. More playoff first round exits, then a second round exit, back to first, and finally this year—the President's Trophy (best record in the league) and the first Stanley Cup final since I got here.

At this point, the Canucks are in tough. They won the first two games at home by only one goal, but they looked brilliant doing it. They stunk up TD Garden in the next two games, doing everything wrong that they had done right in the first two games. Game producer Electronic Arts predicted a seven-game series with each team winning at home, and so far that has been the story. But the character of the losses compared to the character of the wins is troublesome.

The Canucks of the regular season should win. The Canucks of the Western Conference playoffs should win. The Canucks of the first two games of the final should win. But then they don't just lose, but lose spectacularly. And it harks back to the first round when, after going up three games to none, didn't just lose the next three to Chicago but lost a couple really badly.

I still think they are a better team than the Bruins, my former home team. But now they have to prove it. And we'll be watching, waiting for a celebration we deserve. But please not a riot!