Baking memories

I haven’t done a lot of writing this holiday weekend. Instead, my creativity came out in the form of cooking. This makes a lot of sense for Thanksgiving Day, but for some reason the cooking bug is staying strong through the weekend. On Friday, I made piragi* for the very first time. Piragi are Latvia’s pierogis (I’m Latvian on my maternal side), and couldn’t be simpler: tiny bread rolls stuffed with bacon and onion. You read that right: Bread, bacon, and onion all in one bite. You’re welcome.

I remember eating these each time I visited my grandparents in Ontario (first in Toronto, and then in Millbrook where they moved to a small farm upon retiring). Thanks to the baking talents of Nanny, the tiny rolls were always there in a basket or large bowl, covered lovingly with a tea towel. Nanny and Pappa’s house always smelled like pirags (for some reason, they constantly left off the “i”), probably because Nanny was constantly working on a new batch, the last ones being devoured as soon as they were made. I remember watching her when I was younger, making my own little rolls with leftover dough; Nanny was pretty fussy about the pirags themselves turning out just right, so she rarely let the kids chip in with filling or rolling. My mother reminded me of my high-school graduation party where Nanny made over 100 pirags – twice. The first batch wasn’t perfect enough to meet her standards, the rolls not completely closed, or the egg brush glaze not quite right. Something small set her off, and so she painstakingly rolled out another 100 for the guests. Those were perfect, but never enjoyed because our golden retriever ate all of them. And so the imperfect batch was served to the guests. No one seemed to notice.

Last night, it was time to make pirags without familial guidance, without any expectations. Yet, I found myself comparing my efforts to hers, critiquing the size and shape, the taste of the filling. In truth, I can’t remember exactly how hers tasted, except delicious. I had a few challenges as I worked with yeast and rising dough for the first time, and as I tried to figure out how large a chunk of dough I needed to stuff and fold, but overall I claim success. After all, you really can’t mess up bread, bacon, and onion that badly, despite Nanny’s insistence.


Imperfect success! Delicious.

*Note: The link isn’t to my family’s recipe, just one I found online


Thank you

The house is still. The thick coat of morning frost is gone as the sun is bright. After snuggling in bed for a few hours, reading a mystery novel, I brave venturing out from under the covers and plod downstairs. The house is warm; one of the many things I am thankful for.

Morning is spent dusting and straightening. I turn on the television, and the house fills with the excitement of the football game – just like it does in thousands of households across the country. A weird national bond. A hometown touchdown, and the crowd roars. I check in with loved ones who won’t be joining me today, and read an online update from a friend whose struggle with cancer is going as well as we ever could have dreamed. I am thankful for the ability to do all of these things with the help of modern communication. I briefly think about the time when handwritten letters full of delayed news were the only means of reaching out and my heart aches a little trying to imagine the challenge of staying connected back then.

The house is clean enough. Now I sit, watching the game. A moment of rest before guests arrive to begin cooking. This year, we will feast on Ethiopian cuisine, forgoing the traditional turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Though we’ve never made any of these dishes before, Doro Wat, Gomen, Atakilt Wat, lentil salad, and a lamb stew will fill my table this evening. Six wonderful friends to share it with.  I am thankful for my friendships, and our willingness to break from the norm and use a major holiday to venture into the culinary unknown. I dug out an old, Latvian tablecloth for the occasion.

Books, warmth, friends, communication, food, heritage, courage, health. May you have these things, and more, this Thanksgiving.


A perfect day

I woke up when I wanted to

Stayed in bed until I was ready

Walked in the brisk air. It felt like winter.

Sipped fancy, creamy espresso and put some pieces together thanks to a friend who lent me his ear.

Lunch with family. They brought orange flowers for my living room.

Shrimp ginger dumplings, leftovers given to a homeless man.


A fire in my backyard, sharing time with neighbors.

Sharks won. So did Stanford.

I smell like a campfire as I get on the bus to see an old friend. It’s her birthday.

Reunited, we hug deep, authentically.

Karaoke with wonderfully warm strangers.

I sing Xanadu and drink my first hot toddy of the season.

Back on the bus and home again. I see frost on car windshields during my short walk back.

Tomorrow will be amazing too.


Holiday anticipation

The heater kicks on signifying that we’ve officially moved into the cold, rainy season. A little more than a month left of days getting shorter. Less than two weeks until Thanksgiving and the onset of a holiday season that I am looking forward to. Not sure why, or what I will do to make it special, but the anticipation of random parties and gatherings fills me with warmth and joy. I am going to get a  Christmas tree because I love the way they smell and dimly light up a room. Is it too early to think about this? Possibly, but it’s fun to look forward to it.

headless snowman

Christmas in my neighborhood a few years ago.

I am good with the idea of holidays with no set plans, but lots of possibility. OK, part of that isn’t completely true; Thanksgiving is partially figured out. As has been family tradition, for me Thanksgiving is about spending time with friends—the family not related by blood, but bond. Private karaoke will kick off the week (a first time for one friend!), then some workdays, all flowing lazily into cooking Ethiopian food and drinking bubbly – after all, that’s what we do. Then the rest of the weekend will just be like any other – or will it? That’s where the openness comes into play. Maybe I will be able to convince some to go on a walk, or random drive. A trip to mini Stonehenge perhaps? A wander around the city to look for murals? Shall we fulfill our mission to drive to Paisley, Oregon adorned in plaid and polka dots? Or maybe we will lose ourselves in a film or two. However we do it, I hope that exploration is part of the game plan. Not knowing what will happen is part of the fun.


At mini Stonehenge, summer 2012.

Veterans Day: One question

Today is Veterans Day in the US. As the child of Canadian citizens, this day doesn’t mean a lot to my family. To my knowledge, no one has talked of any military service performed by anyone on my father’s side, though I am sure, generations ago, that happened. On my mother’s side I come from former Soviet heritage – Latvian to be exact. Therefore, my grandfather fought against the Russians and with the Germans in hopes of gaining independence for his country. No, he was not affiliated with the Nazi party, but still, it is difficult to explain to people the complexities of WWII and why different people fought for different sides for different reasons. Therefore, I usually remain quiet on the matter, though I do have a Latvian pin or two that may have adorned his uniform at one point. They are among the very few possessions I have to help me remember him, even though they are far from symbolic of who he was, in my eyes, as I was growing up. So, on a day like today, I struggle to find ways to reflect and honor those who served in the past.


Photo taken at the Hoa Lo Prison (the “Hanoi Hilton”) in Vietnam.

I do have friends who have served our country. Like my grandfather, their stories about their military service are infrequent. I’m not sure if this is because they don’t see that time as a large part of their identity, or if they just prefer not to talk about it. Or, perhaps, they don’t think I or others want to hear about it. But today, their Facebook pages come alive with pictures of them in uniform, or other acknowledgement of their time overseas. But again, I see these friends of mine as a combination of many other characteristics and memories first, with “(former) military” far in the back of my mind.

No matter who I do or don’t know with a military background, millions went overseas to fight wars built on strange, some say false, pretenses. On some level the “why” matters a whole lot, but on another, it doesn’t because, regardless of the reason, many served and then came back changed and alone. Our lack of services – especially those related to mental health – for our Veterans makes me sad for them and the priorities of our country. Over twenty suicide deaths every day; most of these victims never received services from the VA health care system. Too many whys from access to stigmatism to name.

It’s not enough to say “thank you” and then just walk away, or even offer a free breakfast or oil change as some companies choose to do. Even if it’s only for today, the next time you see someone in uniform (or anyone else for that matter), if you are going to say only one thing to them, ask “Are you OK?” Then take a moment to listen to the answer. As simple as that sounds, that one question can go a long way towards supporting someone and even preventing suicide. Much more than a free coffee, anyway.

If you’re not OK (and that’s OK), reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (24/7). Press 1 for the Veterans line. You can also text “Go” to 741-741