Pondering the Pineapple Express

The “Pineapple Express” isn’t just a stoner movie that’ll have you hitting the Cheetos, it’s a weather phenomenon that instills dread in the hearts of West Coasters.

It’s days of unseasonal warm weather coupled with dreary heavy clouds, battering rains, and sometimes winds. It’s not like monsoons in the tropics, it’s just medium-to-heavy rain that seems endless, for days. With the humidity between 90–100%, it feels like you’re walking around in a wet paperbag for three to six days straight.

There’s some localized weather phenomena that affects where I am, Victoria, BC, where “the shadow of Mount Rainier” is said to save us from about 50% of the rain that falls in Vancouver. We might be just across the strait, less than 100km from Vancouver, BC, but they’re a rainforest, and downtown Victoria ain’t. Half the rain, baby.

Between the rain, back in 2013 on Victoria's Clover Point.

Between the rain, back in 2013 on Victoria’s Clover Point.

But you wouldn’t know it on days like these. Not because of all the rain, but because all the clouds sock us in and that moisture’s still THERE, it’s just holding out to put out for Vancouver. I guess Victoria doesn’t drive a flash enough car to woo the likes of this rain.

Still, like a school boy on a hot date, those clouds are fit to explode, and I feel the pressure as it slowly rolls overtop this island, starting its dump further up the coast as it lays into Vancouver.

It pounds behind my eyes and the back of my head. I can even feel the little shifts. Clouds clear in a patch above me momentarily, and so will my head. Rain resumes, so does the foggy brain. It’s baffling.

They call these “low-pressure fronts.” It’s evident even in the people. We trudge and grumble. There’s a “rainy-day hunch,” too. We don’t even know we’re doing it — it just happens when walking down the street in heavy rain. It’s a forward slouch with a hunching of the shoulders, and it effectively ensures more like a 60–40 rain-split, where your back gets most of the wetting action.

Cept those days where you’re walking into a headwind and then you’re just screwed, bro. Done. Those are the days you get rain-soaked straight up to mid-thigh. God help you if you’re not wearing water-resistant clothing, or better yet, Goretex. I’m not the only former Vancouverite who’s had 2–3 layers of clothes all get soaked under a “rainproof” jacket on the very bad, no good, wrong rain day.

One of THOSE days. I dared to shoot photos in the wind and rain. Luckily *my* gear worked. But 95km winds will give you THIS face.

One of THOSE days. I dared to shoot photos in the wind and rain. Luckily *my* gear worked. But 95km winds will give you THIS face.

We grumble and whine and moan, but this rain becomes a part of us. Day after day it grows prohibitive and inconvenient, not to mention mind-numbing and depressing, but the odd heavy rain becomes something we almost cannot live without.

I loved to the Yukon in 1994 and spent the year living in Whitehorse. When you think “Yukon,” you think endless snow, so naturally it must get quite a bit of moisture, right? But you’d be wrong. It’s incredibly dry. It snows in October, then pretty much just stays dry and sunny and cold until April, when it rains a couple times and the snow finally melts.

I’d moved there in October, after Vancouver’d had a three-month dry spell. By the time I saw and smelled rain again, it was the following April and I hadn’t seen rain in 10 months. I cried, I was so happy to see it.

So today as the rain pounds and batters the streets, and I sit with all my windows open while enjoying the unseasonal warmth, I’m loathing the dreariness despite enjoying its idle, and dreaming of when I will live in a place with more sun than rain in winter, and wondering if I might miss these Pineapple Expresses one day.

After all, there’s a catharsis that comes with rain. Like if it rains any harder it’ll even wash away my sins. It’s soul-soothing and permissive. My inner-Catholic is a big fan of rain and all its symbolic cleanliness.

I feel I’ll be betraying all my lineage by escaping this climate. From the Barra Islands Camerons in the Outer Hebrides to my Viking MacNeills, Irish Monks, and my Breton line, they’re all foul-weathered people. They overcame the challenges of the land, sea, and skies, and thrived in it.

I have the luxury of failing them all and wimping out. City-folk. Pah!

As a result, I’ll be letting the rain dictate my weekend. Food, cleaning, writing, sloth, Netflix, drinking, reclusion. All fine and glorious things. All behind the rain-streaked windows, wearing comfy jammies and sporting bedhead.

No shame, man. No shame.

Letting Go So I Can Move On

Today is the day I allow my Victoria blog domain to die. Now it’s just another lowly wordpress.com site.

Writing-wise, it was like a bad pair of jeans. Sure, it gave me something to write about, but it would always feel wrong.

Despite that, Victoria has been where I’ve reconnected with writing after losing my inspiration for nearly five years. I’ve tried on many genres of writing while here — for money and otherwise.

With both paid and unpaid writing, I now feel that life is too precious to spend it earning money doing things I don’t love, and even less worth it when money ain’t involved. I haven’t figured out the secret to only getting paid to do what I love yet, but I’m getting closer. I can feel it.

Girl checks out the sunset on Victoria's Dallas Road. By me. Some rights reserved.

Girl checks out the sunset on Victoria’s Dallas Road. By me. Some rights reserved.

I was never gonna be the Victoria-it-place girl. I’m glad the one blog post on about lepers got a lot of recognition and was reprinted in the Huffington Post, but the rest of the blog, I found it hard to give a shit about it.

Learning that it’s the genre and type of writing that was bumming me out is a big thing. It’s the opposite of inspiration, that. Other people can write about food joints and place trends, but it ain’t me.

I’m now learning the writing I want to do can’t be done in one spot. It’s like an REM song — I can’t get there from here.

I can’t explain it to you, but you’ll know it when you see it.

I shot this on day five of living in Victoria. March, 2012. Sunset at Victoria's Ogden Point Breakwater. I will miss this place and its special feeling after I'm gone.

I shot this on day five of living in Victoria. March, 2012. Sunset at Victoria’s Ogden Point Breakwater. I will miss this place and its special feeling after I’m gone.

In future adventures in writing, I see more observational, contemplative work. That’s my jazz. I also want to try fiction again, which I’ve only written for classes before, but that I may have a knack for. After all, inside my brain is a dark and bizarre world at times. I’ve begun cobbling out the plot for an unreliable memoir of a serial killer, for instance.

I’m sure there are those who’ll scoff at the notion that I can know what my “missing piece” is and where I’ll find it, but there aren’t a lot of times in our lives when we have an unmistakable pull telling us where to go, what to do. For those of us lucky enough to decipher that code, there’s this weird undercurrent of certainty that battles the fear of change.

I may be terrified of my five-year world-travel plan, in some ways, but I’ve never had more certainty that a risk I was taking is the right one. Believe me, I’ve thought of all the freaky what-ifs, but the core of certainty remains.

Certainty” is an iffy word for it, but I can’t find a better one.

It’s like that scene in Donnie Darko where Donnie sees that strange orb of pre-destiny extending from other folks’ torsos, in that split moment before they commit to a direction or action, affirming for Darko Dr. Roberta Sparrow’s theories on time travel.

The global nomad thing just feels that way for me and my writing. What I seek, it’s out there. It feels almost like I’ve accidentally mislaid a piece of my soul and need to go retrieve it.

I remember when I was younger I used to think relentless wanderers were people running away or seeking something. I know it’s more complicated now. Today, I feel like some of those wanderers are plugged into a bigger picture, they’re not running from anything — they’re embracing everything.  “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Abroad, writing will become a kind of clearinghouse for me. I will absorb, process, and relate everything I’m experiencing in the moment. Like French cinema, I may not get it when I’m in the theatre, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy the imagery and I’ll appreciate it more in the days to come.

I look forward to trying all kinds of writing exercises, seeing what fits and what doesn’t. Same with cultures, landscapes, and cuisines.

So today I allow one more thing to fall away from me, a passing of my time here in Victoria. In ways that will remain known only by me, that blog was part of how I came to realize my nebulous dream of being a global nomad was absolutely doable. It was how I learned my limits, that living on, and writing about, life on one island was not gonna be enough for me.

Milestones are cool. For me, this is a good one. There’ll always be the WordPress.com version of the blog anyhow.

And so the slow goodbye to Van Isle begins for me today.

I Fought Depression & Won. I Was Lucky.

It’s #BellLetsTalk day and while I hate giving free advertising to a company, it’s a day that does inspire a lot of conversation, and for that reason I feel obligated to say my part.

My feeling “obligated” to share my mental illness battles stems from being someone who’s been through both biological and situational depressions and who knows first-hand how hard it is to climb out of that, but that it’s possible (for some).

These days, I still get angry at people who suggest depression is a matter of discipline and keeping your appointments. “Oh, do X, Y, Z, and talk about crap with a professional, and you’ll be tickety-boo.” Right. As if.

Sunset in a cemetery.

Sunset in a cemetery. By Me.

Sometimes There’s A Reason

I know now, from this early-greying side of 40, that many of my mental issues probably stem from the fact that I had four concussions in the decade prior to a traumatic brain injury. I don’t know that I’ll ever walk away from anxiety and mood-swings completely. Maybe that’s a part of me now. It’s been 11 years since my head injury, but I’ve had leg bruises take 6 months to heal, so who knows about the brain, right?

I do know that I’ve overcome the worst of it. It’s like finding your legs at sea –a new normal can be found where one realizes their ups/downs and the triggers thereof.

Sayings like “knowing is half the battle” become truisms for a reason. Knowledge changes everything, particularly in the mental health battle.

It was life-changing the day I learned that some 80% of TBI sufferers go on to experience serious depressions in the decade following their traumatic brain injury. It really was life-changing, on a #BellLetsTalk day, no less. Two years ago.

In Good Will Hunting, here’s a scene where Matt Damon keeps getting told by Robin Williams that “it’s not your fault,” and Damon doesn’t get it until he “gets it,” and then he breaks down in tears.

This wasn’t quite like that, but finding out there was probably a physical cause for how I got so very fucked up, it was so empowering and disarming. It wasn’t my fault. I was “injured.” Until then, I didn’t realize how much I had always blamed myself for my depression.

But it really isn’t my fault. It isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s not our fault that science can’t explain these things better, or that we’re only really now studying the brain and making advances.

What if There’s Always Been a Cause?

I’ve seen news recently too where medical experts are beginning to wonder if there can be a bacterial cause or infectious disease behind the growing spectre of depression. There is evidence that this is potentially true. What if it’s a “bug” you caught as a kid that’s made you depressed all your life? What if it really can be “cured”? This is an amazing idea.

It’s also a dangerous one to latch onto. Depression is such an insidious beast that easy antidotes are a cruel tease. False hope can literally be a killer.

For me, I know now to expect lethargy, anxiety, depression, overeating, overdrinking, and every other negative under the sun when I’m enduring the short days of a Canadian winter. I’m one of the 20% for whom “SAD” could be a very serious affliction. So much so that my heart sings at the idea of being a nomad next winter and taking off to the south of Spain in January. Oh, yes. Positively giddy concept, that.

The Road Back

Reprieve will always excite me, even if it’s just me running away to a Spanish winter.

I’ve been through hell and back on the inside of my brain. It’s just a thing. That’s depression for you. For those of us who’ve come through to the other side, life is a surreal and powerful experience. Sometimes overcoming depression can be as simple as a decision, but those are the lucky and the few who enjoy that choice.

I often have moments when I look around the world and know it’s largely the same when I’m happy as when I’m depressed, and I’m all too aware of just how dramatically differently your brain can process things, and sometimes by fluke of chemistry or just seasonal weather. It’s astonishing once you see both sides.

For most, the road back from depression is an inexplicably personal journey, one that cannot be replicated, faked, or mass produced. For most, there is no easy answer, no one-size-fits-all trick. For most, it is a grueling, tiresome, troubling, exhausting journey where two steps forward come with one step back, but eventually, if lucky, they succeed.

Happiness, it turns out, is a process of elimination in which one of many factors is simply luck.

And if folks don’t succeed on their “road back,” they sometimes end up like Robin Williams, at the wrong end of a rope.

That’s depression for you.

Use Your Words

Whatever it is we don’t understand about the brain and its chemistry, the one thing we do know is that, for some baffling reason, just using your words, opening your mouth, and saying something to someone, anyone, can sometimes be the thing that saves your life.

It saved mine in August, 2006 when I called a psychiatrist and said I was scared for what I might do to myself that day. Because I was terrified of the “what if” that afternoon.

Since then, I’ve never again felt that kind of hopelessness. Never again. Never, really.

And I think that’s a potential outcome for many people who today might feel there is no future or hope. Maybe they just need to open up and admit they’ve never been lower than now, to tell someone, anyone, and start that journey. Maybe that’s all it will require.

Hey, it’s a start” has never had as much potential as it does when you put a name to the unthinkable beast that’s been keeping you down.

Trust me. Knowing really is half the battle. Put a name to your beast. Then get your fight on. You can do this. I did.

In Vino Veritas: Of Writing, Reading, and Travelling

Television. I’m loving it. It’s a limited-time offer, so act now! I’ve paused during an American Masters biography about Alice Walker. Man, she kicks more ass than I thought. I love a smart, confrontational woman.

These lazy nights with movies and TV, they’re an indulgence I know I’ll be foregoing within the year. When I’m travelling, I won’t be watching much TV or film. I’m really seeking a “writer’s life” abroad. I’ll be hopefully working about 30% fewer hours in my editing dayjob, down about 50% overall since a decade ago, and that may help with reading.

There are two things I want to do more — be still, and read. Being still is self-explanatory. Put down the phone, be in the moment. Stare at whatever’s ahead of me.

Reading’s another beast altogether. My dayjob really gets in the way of wanting to read. I edit and read all day long. Between reading the day’s news on the web (which I do a lot of) and work, I don’t have books left in me.

The whole point of going abroad is that I want to try to live well for $2000 a month, not the $3000 or so it can be here. While I want to save more, I also want to work less. Work for for other people less, that is. Read more, write more for myself on projects of interest to me. As I said, the latter isn’t “work.”

The Unreading Writer

snoopy-writing1I have a lot of ideas. A murder mystery. Short fiction. Non-fiction series ideas on food and terroir. But mostly I want to journal and write about life and the people and experiences that come with. In another lifetime, they’d have called me a diarist. In this, I’m a “blogger,” for good or ill.

When I was a Duthie’s bookseller (RIP), I used to read probably three books a week and four newspapers a day. Nothing quite like the joy of a job that lets you read while you work, right?

I don’t read now. That’s not oversimplifying it. The things with pages? They don’t happen here. Every now and then that scene flashes across my brain, where Matt Damon rants at Robin Williams that he doesn’t “understand” the people who surround themselves with all these books, and they’re “the wrong fucking books.”

I have the right fucking books but they’re going unread in lieu of digital media. I used to be the kind of writer/reader who always said profound and snazzily-worded things at engagements and now I’ve become the type who needs to drink a couple glasses of water just to be sure I don’t mumble like some anti-social reject.

Ahh, the old days of being literate as a matter of course. Good times!

On the Clock

So I’ll be abroad, where I’m sure there will be many who bedazzle me with their command of English as a second language, but then there will be many who make my soul weep as the ancient language of my peoples gets bludgeoned into oblivion. I’ve taught ESL. I already know this feeling.

As an antidote to the bludgeoned lingo, I will forego filmed entertainment much more, and turn to words, words, words.

It’s pretty enthralling to think of writing abroad. I think some people travel so they’ll have something to write about later, but I’ll push “pause” and fulfill my promise of writing daily.

I have no illusions of how lucky I am to be able to do this. And by “be able to do this,” I mean simply choosing to do so. I’m not the only person who works from home, isn’t in love, and doesn’t have kids. Others could do this, they just don’t. Or it hasn’t occurred to them.

But I can. I am. I recognize that the only thing holding me back is people I see maybe a handful of times a year and some material belongings. There’s an entire planet full of amazing opportunities, cultures that are changing by the minute, landscapes that are here today maybe gone tomorrow, and my clock is ticking. My mother had 16 years left in her life when she was my age. 16 years. That’s it, man.

Aging Like a Bad-Ass

I’m a first date and a driver’s license away from her death. That’s not a lot of time. Of course, my granny died at 88, so those are the genes I’m hoping I scored. Piss, vinegar, a great smile, and persistence, my granny Mae in a nutshell.

I’d like to be one of those old ladies owning her white hair, great glasses, a caftan, and smoking a bong, laughing with similar-minded old writers and artists in some secluded community, like I’ve seen in documentaries. I love those old artist types. “Fuck you, I’ll say what I want! I’m an artist at 80. My friends are all dead and I’ve earned the right to speak for us all.”

I’m not as good of a writer I can be. I believe writing is an ever-improving craft and it’s not just about the words. It’s about all the stuff that bubbles under my skin and whether I have the guts to go in there and pop the bubbles. The stuff that scares us and provokes us and enrages us, that’s what we need to tap into. Not just _____ character in ______ setting. It’s that inner-battle that makes anything worth reading about. Give me pathos and passion.

The School of Travel

I suppose that’s what my travel plans are. Pulling back all the safety nets, distilling life down to a few tech gadgets and a single suitcase, going full-on “no fixed address,” it’s all a way to really see what lurks within. I can’t wait to see what comes out of my head when I’m in 24/7 newness, with cultures confronting my own preconceptions of the way things be. I want to see what overcoming fears, adapting to new situations, meeting people I couldn’t have imagined, and busting through personal barriers results in as a writer.

I can’t know. You can’t know. That shit’s like alchemy. You put it in the pot, melt it down, and wait. You get lucky or you don’t. I personally don’t see how this could make me a worse writer, though. That shit doesn’t compute at all. It’s not a factor. Not possible.

That’s not cockiness, that’s just reality. There isn’t a person on this planet I don’t think could benefit from travelling through other cultures and trashing their prejudices. It makes us all better — writers included.

My Not-So-Secret Life as a Recluse

It’s funny, because in some ways, it’s like I moved to Victoria in 2012 and pressed the “pause” button on life. I haven’t sought out new friends, I’ve barely lived beyond a five-square-kilometre area here.

But I mean, seriously, if you asked me five years ago how I would feel about living a life where I didn’t have to see anyone, didn’t have to go anywhere, and didn’t have to work in an office, while having the freedom to walk to a beach, downtown, or to a world-class park, all while avoiding buses and not owning a car, I would’ve laughed at you and said it was a no-brainer, sign me up.

This life I’ve led of virtually no one, no events, no obligations, no belonging — it’s been a kind of dream come true too. I may never, ever have this opportunity again. I’m sure other people would go “But how much did you miss out on? What have you NOT seen?”

I’ve seen hundreds of sunsets or sunrises. I’ve eaten great food. I’ve heard silence often, and for long stretches. I refound my love for writing. I rediscovered photography. I’ve learned more in cooking. I doubled my income. In a year where I wrote under 50 things, one was read by 200,000 people. It’s been a great ride here. It’s been the ride I needed to have.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve grown here, how much wisdom I’ve gained, how much I’ve lowered my expectations on what I need back from life — in a way that makes happiness easier to have and enjoy.

No, I’m not “happy.” Not yet. I work too much, I’m tired, I long to travel, but I’ve found a creative solution to that, haven’t I? I want to “work” as much as I do, but I don’t consider writing like this to be work. This is more like waking up and being myself. That’s personal time spent in a way I love to spend it.

There’s a whole planet out there that I’ve only seen two-dimensionally. I feel like my life’s about to go from black-and-white to Technicolor.

As a writer, man… phew. That’s got me wound right up. It’s not often in life that we have the privilege of knowing when fast-paced personal growth is ahead of us, let alone what the catalyst for all of it is. Even more seldom is when our whole life becomes something that’s more play than work, for years.

I’m going to travel the world, bitches. For years. I’m going to flip the switch, become one of the most social people you’ve ever seen, and be a true woman of words on the road. I just cannot wait to see the other side of who I can be. What a fun ride is ahead.

And now, back to my scheduled program.

My Kicked-Up Cocoa-Chipotle, Espresso Stout, Black Bean, & Bison Chili

I’m a cooking nerd. I have a cookbook for sale (prelaunched last summer, it’ll be “relaunched” in the late-spring, and if you get the Gumroad PDF, you’ll get a free update when one comes out in the next three months).

This is my latest invention in the kitchen and it’s pretty awesome, plus super-healthy.

Bison is basically the highest in protein and lowest in fat when it comes to meat, and when it’s grass-fed local free range bison, you’re talking seriously flavourful low-fat high-protein. I’m trying to nix the inflammatory things in my life (like beef) and replace them with better choices (such as bison).

Bison & Black Bean chili with homemade skillet cornbread (see NY Times recipe for maple & brown butter skillet cornbread -- yum) and a lime-cilantro yogurt.

Bison & Black Bean chili with homemade skillet cornbread (see NY Times recipe for maple & brown butter skillet cornbread — yum) and a lime-cilantro yogurt.

I doled out $13 for a pound of bison reared less than an hour from town. I had a couple 19-oz cans of $2 organic black beans, two 19-ounce cans of high-grade organic tomato pulp from Italy, and a $7.90 bottle of local craft beer, Hoyne Brewing’s Voltage Espresso Stout — a seriously coffee’d beer.

All that translates to a batch of chili ringing in above $30. Zoinks. This won’t be a regular occurrence at my house, but ohmigod, hello, happy place.

Thus I would like to share with you my labour-of-love long-stewed uber-expensive chili that will make you think maybe there should be a little more high-end chili on the menu in this hipster joints around town.

Without ado:

Steff’s Kicked-up Cocoa-Chipotle,
Espresso Stout, Black Bean, & Bison Chili

Best made in a cast-iron Dutch oven. You’re gonna need a 5qt thingie for cooking this. Lid, too.

  • 1 pound bison (or organic beef or pork)
  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat or olive oil or butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin*
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander*
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder*
  • 1–2 canned chipotle peppers chopped finely — 2 is VERY spicy, 1 medium, go for ½ if you’re timid
  • 1–2 teaspoons adobo sauce from the canned chipotles (same heat scale — 2 very spicy, etc)
  • 750 ml espresso stout (or other strong stout but the espresso is a nice touch, beef stock if you avoid booze)
  • 2 x 19oz tomato pulp or diced tomatoes (not puree or sauce)
  • 2 x 19oz cans black beans (drained and rinsed well)
  • generous salt (taste as you go; salt absorbs over time and the flavours change, so taste it after 2 hours then every one hour, and adjust each time. Overall, I used a couple tablespoons of coarse sea salt.)
  • chopped or diced avocado to garnish
  • lime-cilantro strained yogurt (see recipe following)

Brown the bison. Reserve. Don’t bother straining the fat; there’s very little and it’s the “good” fat, plus: flavour.

Heat your bacon fat/butter/oil in the same pan. Add onions. Cook for about 5 minutes over medium. About halfway through, add your spices, cocoa, chipotle, and adobo and cook for a couple more minutes. Add the garlic, cook another minute. Deglaze the pan with your bottle of beer. It seems like a LOT of beer, but you’re cooking it down for HOURS and all that’s left is the espresso-stout flavour, not liquid.

Let it cook for 2–5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bison, black beans, and a whack of salt. Let it come up to a light boil, then simmer on LOWEST HEAT for the next 4–6 hours. After 3 or so hours, start to cover it. Stir it regularly. It’s done when your wooden spoon stands straight up for at least a minute and the flavours seem to make a symphony of yum in your mouth.

See below for lime-cilantro yogurt.

See? The spoon stands up. It was still standing three minutes later. This is when you know it is done. Seriously.

See? The spoon stands up. It was still standing three minutes later. This is when you know it is done. Seriously.

Lime-Cilantro Strained Yogurt

You can do this with sour cream too, but I’m assuming you’re spending $13/lb for grass-fed bison because you’re trying to be healthy like I am, so let’s go for yogurt.

Now I believe in the “healthy fats are fine” axiom which means my yogurt’s a 6% fat minimum. Use Balkan Style or Greek yogurt. If you’re going for low-fat yogurt, seriously, just skip it, because that shit’s not even good for you, and the lower the fat content, the less strained yogurt you’ll have to work with. Similarly, the higher the fat, the less wasted whey to throw out at the end.

Either go for the fat and eat natural food or skip the processed low-fat crap. Sorry, but someone’s gotta straighten people out and I volunteered.

Anyhow, to make strained yogurt: Line a sieve with thick paper towel, position it over a bowl, dump your 750ml of full-fat Balkan or Greek yogurt into it, let it strain for 4 hours, and it’ll be thick and rich and you’ll not miss sour cream at all.

  • 750 ml full-fat Balkan or Greek yogurt (rinse and keep the container for storage; expiry date = yay!)
  • Juice of a large, heavy lime (heavier = juicier)
  • Cilantro to taste (I used ½ a medium bunch, plus stems)
  • Salt to taste

Puree this all together, season it, and refrigerate until needed. Good until the yogurt expires or cilantro tastes funky.

Use as a topping on chili, tacos, baked potatoes, hash browns, etc.

*If you’re scared of HOT stuff, just cut back on the chipotle and the adobo sauce. The * spices won’t really move the Richter scale. They’re all about flavour, and you like flavour, don’t you?

In Which Steff Gets Nerdy About Genealogy

Down the rabbit-hole I go.

Genealogy, which I’ve been interested in for the last few years for some reason, is starting to be a thing, officially.

I’ve learned in just the last 24 hours that my family, Clan Cameron, fought on the side of Robert the Bruce in the Scottish wars of independence, 1314. I’ve learned that my Cameron in particular emigrated to Canada on a ship called the Rambler out of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, 1806 by Clan Cameron records but recorded as having left their island in 1790 by my family’s records. They had lived on the Isle of Barra, southernmost inhabited island of the rugged, isolated Outer Hebridean islands, and possibly they moved to Mull for a while, or elsewhere, before ultimately taking on the new world in 1806. This coincides with the Highland Clearances, so perhaps it wasn’t an “optional” departure.

Okay. Best family war cry EVER, right? SERIOUSLY.

Okay. Best family war cry EVER, right? SERIOUSLY.

There’s even a Clan Cameron DNA project! And we have a MUSEUM, bitches.

We have Irish blood on my father’s side too, the Monks. Some of my family have opened relations with the Monks remaining in Ireland, which I didn’t know, and now I might be able to have a whole new kind of adventure in the British islands, one filled with meeting kin I never knew I had. Gosh.

Leaving Home to Find Home

Then there’s my mother’s side, which I know others have compiled information on, which hail from both Ireland and France. Normandy! Brittany! In my blood. Hers was the first generation to not have French as their first language, a fact which troubles me even now. But still, all of these people were a coastal people. I’ve always said saltwater was in my veins, but it’s proving more true now than ever.

I cannot tell you how exciting it is to start having a sense of these things. I didn’t know it would mean so much to me. I’m thrilled to go digging over the next couple of years. The idea of being able to investigate church records and archives on the ground in communities that my families have had ties to for centuries makes me bubble with giddiness.

It’s funny how it seems like only one generation in the whole of my father’s ancestral history might have moved off of an island — he and his generation. Our people moved from the Outer Hebrides’ rugged isolated island to Prince Edward Island, famous for similarly brutal winters, and there they farmed for the next two centuries. Many of my family remain there and throughout the Maritimes.

My father was the first to move to terra firma mainland, but here in the next generation, both his children have moved to a new island, where I am today. My brother and I are both now living on Vancouver Island. Both of us report feeling more “at home” than we have in literally decades.

Are these things really imprinted on the DNA? Are we truly islanders at heart, and have we been for centuries, if not millennia? Is that why it feels like “home” to be separated by a ferry from the Mainland again, after a generation of having been backwards about it?

I don’t know. But I’ll love finding out.

History Is Cool

Later this year, once my trip plans are solidifying, I think an expedition to the UK looms for next spring, summer, and fall, to learn who I am, where my family heralds from, and what the history entails across all branches of my family tree. Eight families, eight histories.

The modern Clan Cameron crest. The motto is "Let us unite."

The modern Clan Cameron crest. The motto is “Let us unite.”

History will be a huge theme in my travels anyhow. I want to stay in all the old buildings — I’ve already found a 15th century Tuscan farmhouse, Spanish villa from 1683. I’ll wander Roman ruins, gape in awe under massive cathedrals, pore through museums. If you want to find me, wherever I’m visiting, head for the Old Towns. It’s there I’ll likely be.

I really do dream of tracking my Irish family as well as my Scots side. I want to learn how the potato famine affected my people, whether we were in workhouses for the poor. I want to know if we were shit-disturbers from ages ago. It seems to run as a theme in my family, where we’re all straight-spoken sturdy sorts.

We’re also survivors. Hard-workers who overcome adversity and roll with whatever life presents us. No doubt a necessary trait for people eking out a life on a scrub of a rock in the southern Outer Hebrides, staring off into the gaping maw of the Atlantic for possibly centuries of wind-battered struggle.

I don’t expect to find fame and fortune in my line. I expect a lot of adversity and challenges, social conscience and diligence. There’s no shame in being the hard workers, the line fighters.

Will I feel my life more validated by knowing the history that precedes me? For whatever intangible reason, yes, probably. I don’t know why that is. We’re a tribal people, I guess, and that sense of belonging is just another attribute of our DNA, perhaps.

In any case, Steff the Sleuth gets to don her inspector’s cap this year, with the help of cousins and other family members, and get to the roots of her family tree.

I’m a very happy camper about this. I’ll tell you some tales as I learn them and share some of my methods with you.

If you’re curious about your family tree, definitely take to social media and ask about it. Your loose connections with family on Facebook may have done far more research that you realize! After all, it’s 24 hours later and I now have a stack of papers with four lines of my family’s names in front of me. Monks, Hynes, and Whites… I’m comin’ for ya.