A True Sports Fan’s Guide to Playoff Hockey

So, your hometown team didn’t make the playoffs.  In fact, they went from being an absolute lock for a playoff spot and a contender for the Western Conference title to pathetically stumbling to the finish line with a team being held together by some scotch tape, glue and probably a lot of cortisone shots.

Now what? Pack up and go home for the summer? No, not this girl. I may not watch nearly as avidly or intently as I would during the regular season, but if it’s a good match up, and the potential for a knock-down drag-out series, I’m all over it. (See: Chicago v. St. Louis, Boston v. Montreal). I will get my butt out of bed for the crazily scheduled 10AM game on a Saturday morning. Hockey is hockey, and I for one think you should take what you can get, while you can still get it. (I’m looking at you, Gary-ye-of-the-lockout-happy-Bettman).

Sure, I could watch the Memorial, or World Championships, but the calibre of hockey would still not be as high as in the NHL. And, arguably, the guys playing for the Memorial or the World Championship title would MUCH rather be fighting for Lord Stanley’s Cup. I’m serious.  There’s a reason the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. There are no first-round byes in hockey, 16 teams are in contention from the go,  MLB has 8 by comparison. You have to win 16 games to come out on top, or play up to 28. That is a LOT of hockey, if you factor in overtime, where 2 and 3OT is not a rare sight. That’s 2 60-minute games, in one night.

It takes a team to win this championship, a clutch 3-pointer, 70 yard end zone run, or home run isn’t going to seal the deal. The entire team, physically and mentally needs to persevere with each round, facing tougher opponents and ever-ailing bodies. 82 games a year, and another 28 in the playoffs at full throttle will wear on the best, and it certainly does. I mean seriously, who plays for a championship with a broken rib, separated right shoulder and a punctured lung? Hockey players, that’s who.

Stories like these of the injured players fighting as hard as they can, and their superstitions are the reason I still watch hockey this late in the year. I like to see who is arrogant enough to lift or touch the conference trophy on the way to the Stanley Cup Final, how their personalities change in locker-room interviews the closer they get to the holy grail. Call me a nerd, a geek, a silly fan (if you call me a puck bunny, you have another thing coming), but THIS is what hockey is all about. And this is why I don’t pack up and hang out by pool all summer, like Junior over there.

Playoffs

How To Torment Your Dog, As Seen By A 13-Month Old

Last week, I had the pleasure of being able to stay home and look after my sister’s family, and her adorable 13-month old daughter, who had a bad fever and ear infection. Before I get into the havoc she unleashed on the family pet, Bauer, I’d like to make a note of a few more random observations made this week.

Firstly, taking care of a sick child is like playing a game of chicken with a super-illness waiting to attack you. There is no where to run and hide, you WILL get sick, this is inevitable. You can immunize, shore up your vitamin C defences all you like, but all of it is futile. One tiny human managed to get 3 adult humans sick in the span of 24 hours, to varying degrees of potency. This transfer of illness has still not left us, and it’s been a week, thanks child.

Second, if I had to do this full time, I would be run ragged very quickly, so huge props to all the parents, and single parents out there reading this blog. For my week, I had two “kids”, the tiny human and Bauer, between the two of them, naps, diapers, feeding, cooking, and cleaning by the time 5 p.m. rolled around I probably would have paid someone to take over for an hour or two.

Now on to how my niece decided to occupy herself at home this week. As I mentioned, Bauer has been around the family for some time. He’s three years old now, and an old hand around the house. He runs this show. Correction, he ran this show. He has had three years to stake out his space, preferred space on the couch and general routine. Sorry buddy, the tiny human just railroaded your hard-plotted plans. 

My niece started off the week trying to hesitantly creep up to him to pat him. A harmless action and a pretty easy-going pup, it’s a win-win. He let her get just close enough and then scampered off to freedom. She then grew slowly more confident. I caught her belly flopping on his bed forcing him out of his own space. He didn’t complain, just found somewhere else to go hide out. A couple hours later, she figured out that he had the ability to walk like her, trouble was brewing.

The tiny human proceeded to chase him from place to place giggling all the way. She really upped her game though, when she realized that if she clapped her stackable cups together, in his face, he happened to move a little quicker. Queue the toddler chasing dog around the house banging cups together and laughing maniacally all the way. I admit, I do feel bad for him, he’s had all this time to himself and the peace and quiet, and “it” comes along and throws a wrench into everything.

Day three, she still hasn’t gotten enough amusement. B’s sleeping and snoring the morning away on his bed, and in walks the tiny human, who decides it’s her bed too. She belly-flops right beside him and catches his tail. A giggle and a bark arises, and soon, I see a tricoloured tail bolting past me to go anywhere that wasn’t here.

Another golden moment when I realized B was really just over having the tiny human around was playtime in her room. Sprawled on the floor reading books and babbling away, the tiny human was in her own world until she set her sights on him. I have to hand it to him, he’s a smart pooch. Crawling behind the rocking chair in to the crevice of space between the chair frame and the wall to hide, he’s little patch of serenity now. She tried as hard as she could, and just could not reach him, tough luck.

I’m sure the older and more dexterous she gets, the more tormented he’ll be. In the meantime, I’ll continue to document her reign of terror.

And She Walked Down The Aisle

A few weeks ago, I stood by my best friend’s side as she said “I do” to her husband.

This was an enlightening experience on many levels. Of course, the most obvious being that I am unimaginably thrilled for her to begin this new and exciting chapter of her life. It also made me realize that this was just a part of the inevitable tsunami of weddings and babies that accompanies someone in their mid-to-late twenties.

Every where someone in my “age-box” looks, there’s a couple getting engaged, walking down the aisle or procreating. It’s a bit unnerving, to say the least. Weddings are one of those things “grown ups” do, so coming to the conclusion, as a spectator, that I am no where near that phase of my life was a bit of a check and balance moment. The usual laundry list of questions floods your brain:

  • Am I where I thought I would be at [X] years old?
  • Is marriage something I want to do?
  • Would I be good and nurturing as a parent?
  • What about everything I wanted to do BEFORE  all of this grown up stuff had to happen?
  • Does this mean I have to start thinking about mortgages, gift registry listings, and retirement residences?
  • Oh good God, do I really have to get those people a wedding gift?
  • Wait, a blender costs how much?
  • The bride gets whatever she wants, right?
  • Are these guests silently (or not so silently in some cases) judging the single-me in attendance?
  • Those baby “necessities” are how much?
  • Pay rent, or show face at an acquaintances wedding and great a free meal/open bar?

Some, if not all, of these questions have flooded through my absent minded brain in the last twelve to eighteen months.  To varying levels of intensity, I’ve tried my best to answer them. That’s when I came to the conclusion that some times, not having an answer is OK. (In other times, yes, you do have to give them a wedding gift, and yes that blender’s price tag is $300.)

These life milestones come in waves, some people are just more comfortable to dive in sooner. I am firmly in the second wave, the group that holds out for a while. It’s a realization that was not easy to come to grips with, especially given my last year. But having faced it, I know it to be true. Things will happen when they do for my friends and I in our time. Just because we’re not on the fast track doesn’t make it any less worthwhile or fulfilling.

In the mean time, we collectively wish those diving in sooner the best in their new adventures, while relishing the time we have left to experience life on our own terms, for just a little bit longer. I have a few more things to cross off my checklist before diving forward too!

Relationships, hockey and fandom: Why they don’t mix

Every year, around spring, My friends begin to pledge their fickle allegiances to hockey teams. I have one such friend in Ottawa, we’ll call him Mr. C. His is not a fickle allegiance, it’s a relationship with a hockey team. They were there for him through the good times and bad, and he’s returned the favour by never having a wandering eye, ever.

It is for this reason that for the last month of regulation hockey, Mr. C’s friendship with me takes on a probationary phase, pending the outcome of the season, and fully dependent upon just how much I gloat and boast about my team. You see, Mr. C’s team, the Ottawa Senators, has constantly had to fight, and fight hard for a playoff berth, they are a “bubble” team. That means the pieces of the team didn’t really start functioning until sometime in January, and as a result they’ve got to bust their balls to play through till summer. Every game remaining in regulation is a must-win or somehow, they find themselves in Maple Leaf territory: great in theory, bad in practice.

I have already made it quite clear that not only am I a diehard Vancouver Canucks fan, but a true fan of hockey, a sucker for a great story. This brings us to Mr. C and my most recent disagreement. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators are currently playing. Mr. C is of course, rooting for the home team. I on the other hand, and throwing my mojo behind the Pens. Why root for a US team? Simple. Sid-the-Kid. Few players in the present state of the NHL are true game changers. Datsyuk, Stamkos, Richards and Crosby. That’s about all of them. Sidney Crosby has just rejoined his team after about a year away from the game due to a severe concussion suffered New Years Day 2011. What’s the result of his resurgence with his team? They are 9-0-1 and could steal the #1 spot in the East from a team that had been leading for the majority of the season.

Mr. C, upon being told of my preference in today’s game, purely replied with: “our friendship is on hiatus pending a review after this game.” Hockey stifles relationships. Or, more succinctly, fandom kills friendships. This of course is not the only example of when being diehard sports fans can ruin lives (check out Fever Pitch), this is just my example. Mr. C is not the only friendship affected, either.

Sibling rivalry takes on a whole new meaning between my sister and myself once or twice a year as well. She, as I have stated before is a Toronto Maple Leaf fan, some of the worst people on the planet. Our rivalry is graciously limited to a couple meetings per season between our teams. Her husband, on the other hand, is a Red Wings fan. Game days are often accompanied by a good-hearted bet of sorts between family members and some harmless trash talk from my mother. I genuinely fear the possibility of the Canucks and Wings meeting in the playoffs. I fear the trash talk will become personal, the pranks plentiful and relationships tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage. Team allegiances become paramount and whomever loses will hear about it for at least a month.

It seems trivial to invest so much time, energy and passion into a fan-relationship with a sports team. I can fully admit that it is crazy. However, crazy or not, I know deep down in my heart, I could never fully love someone I was dating if they were cheering for the wrong hockey team. Especially if they were a Leafs fan, Rangers, Flyers, Sharks or Bruins fan. Just saying. It’s good to know the deal breakers heading in, right?

It is with this sense of clarity and admission of craziness that I can now excuse myself to begin my pre-game superstitious rituals. Trevor Linden t-shirt, Canucks jersey, hair down, glass in hand, first period on mute.

Mr. C, no doubt has some superstition himself, though I’ve not figured it out in our 6 years of love-hating. Until then, best of luck to his bottom-of-the-barrelers. I’ve got a championship calibre team, missing their #1 player that needs me and my mojo in twenty minutes.

 

 

A little perspective…

*This is a completely off-the-cuff post. It is interrupting a pre-scheduled and outlined posting purely because I am in a good mood.*

I love questions that make you think. As much as I shy away from them, and attempt to give the stock-pile answers, I love being challenged to come up with a truly honest response, if posed by the right person. You all know where I am coming from with this: you’ll engage in a hearty debate, if you feel free of judgement, providing wrong answers, or coming off as a court jester. It’s for this reason that I love my friends. (No offence meant to the family reading this, but it’s true). It’s just a different feeling to verbally spar with someone on the same page as you, mentally, emotionally, life-wise.

It was an ordinary conversation I had with an extra-ordinary friend that got me thinking about all this. We were just doing the rounds, catching up on love, life and everything in between, when for some reason, they asked me if the series of fortunate events that led to our meeting hadn’t taken place, did I think we still would have met? In a perfect world, (and in reality) my immediate answer was yes. I held out hope, that some way, some how we would have crossed paths. They countered with, “think about it, so many different factors had to fall in to place for us to meet. One missed bus, a wrong turn, deciding to forego a concert. All of these would have halted us meeting. If not at that concert in the winter of 2010 in downtown Vancouver; when else, given what we know of each other, where or how could we have possibly met?” They had a point. We would not have met, end of story. Nothing about the lives we were leading at the time in any way intersected. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly happy things turned out as they have, but I shudder to think of life sans said friend, which could have been a real possibility.

Let me outline this series of “fortunate” events, so you can truly grasp how much luck had to do with this. In order to do so, we have to go back to Ottawa, in 2005, in a dorm room. Early in to the fall semester, I came to the upsetting realization that I lived across the hall from a musician. I love musicians, you all know that. However, this one played the trumpet, at strange hours of the day, without a mute. Writing a paper, I was fed up with the sounds of brass passing through 4 shut doors and a hallway, and marched across the hall to let the culprit have it. It was then he turned down a DVD he was watching of a British jazz musician. I grabbed a chair, and finished watching it with him- I was hooked. Fast-foward to March 2010, I find out that the British jazz musician is coming to Vancouver for a show, and look up that long-lost hall-mate from Ottawa. Yes! He’s living in Vancouver, and would love to go. We agree to meet, outside the venue in line to get in. March 20th, the day of the event, I rush downtown, barely making it at our determined meet time, he’s in line, and chatting to someone whom I think is a friend of his. Outgoing as I am, I hop into the conversation, hit it off with the random friend, and we all head in to the concert together. Ladies and gents, that random friend was no friend at all. The two had met in the line outside, maybe 10 minutes prior to my arrival. They were chatting about the artist we were going to see, and a shared passion for jazz, and their mutual trumpet playing prowess. Turns out, that random stranger is now the extra-ordinary friend of mine.

Damn, they were right, looking back, a lot of things had to align for us to have met, and I just covered my side of the story. Forget theirs’. When you add in the fact that my extra-ordinary friend was visiting from the UK, and made a last-minute decision to attend the concert, the odds are slim to none this would have worked out as it did. I wouldn’t have it any other way, that’s something we both can attest to. It is truly one of the great, and organic “meet-cute” moments we get in life. I can only say that I am thankful we had the ability to keep it going, and forge, what I hope is, a life-long friendship from it.

Who would have thought a concert would mash together two people, in similar places in life, with similar personalities (flaws and all)? I sure as heck did not. I most certainly did not think I would turn to that person for reassurance, the odd ego check, and advice. Above all, I did not think they’d be the one to call me on my shit, given that is usually a duty reserved for family (*ahem, sisters*).  Sure, some of my friends reading this do that as well, (and I thank you for it), but not from 8000+ plus miles away, and purely from the intonation in my voice when we’re having a discussion. That eerie talent, leads to some truly frank conversations. No sugar-coating, no letting me figure out my mistakes; rather just pointing them out as I make them. This Brit just calls it, as it happens, regardless of the consequences it may have, of course, this is reciprocated. If anyone is going to give you the truth, it is going to be a friend. Your family will try to put it nicely or use a metaphor to help make their point. I respect that as well, but more often than not, your true “a-ha” moments come from within, or with a little help from your friends.

Tonight was an “a-ha” for me: realizing that when something amazing is put in front of us, it’s up to us to do something about it. To reach out for it, nurture, and develop it. Moments like the one I just outlined, I believe are in all of our lives. I’m sure one or two of you have something just as quirky as this one of mine, or are in the process of having one. Perhaps it didn’t work out as you would have liked, or it evolved into something bigger or better. Wherever you are, and whoever you are, I hope you take a second to think about my story. If you have someone as amazing in your life, or think you do, to take a moment to appreciate how you met them, what led to them popping into your life so unexpectedly, and why not having them around in some capacity would be terrible. If nothing else, it’s Christmas, so stop writing cards, baking, shopping and watching sappy movies for 5 minutes. Think of yourself, check your ego at the door, and seek out a little perspective on your life.

That, friends, is what the holidays should be about. Strip away the parties, the dinners, and religions. Let’s face it, if we were all poor, down trodden, or low on luck, it’s going to be that friend who helps you through. Yes, your family will be there, but there is something about an having that one objective person, who you know will always be in your corner, ready to throw a punch on your behalf, that is the ace up your sleeve we all could use once in a while.

To that extra-ordinary friend, miss you, love you, and I hope you’re still laughing so hard that you started crying when I said something so ridiculous, that neither of us could keep a straight face, this evening.

xo
Meera

And so, it begins.

It’s been a while since my last post, but I swear, it’s with good reason! I’ve been in the kitchen. Quite literally, if I wasn’t running errands of sorts, this past week I’ve been getting re-acquainted with my stand mixer and oven. “Baking Season” as I refer to it, doesn’t actually start until I dust off my Love Actually DVD and watch it in the background while I start prepping my kitchen. Don’t ask my why that is, I just seriously have a love on for that movie, always have. Once it’s run it’s course, and I’m all prepped, I crank some of this and get going.

This past weekend has long been known as the holiday party weekend. For most, it’s the kick off to the season’s festivities. A fact that was not lost upon my sister and brother in law. They held (what I hope to be an annual thing *hint*) their Christmas party on Saturday night. And in an effort to pull my weight and lend a hand, I offered to pony up a few dozen cookies for the dessert table. My menu this time round included: Mocha Bites, Sugar Cookies, Checkerboard Shortbreads and Pepernoten (a request from one of my faithful followers). Starting my venture last Tuesday, my plan was to make one type of cookie per day heading into the weekend, decorating the Sugar Cookies the morning of the party. I didn’t really anticipate how adventurous an endeavour this was until I factored in other commitments I had as well. I pulled it off, obviously. I’m just stating that the old saying “no rest for the weary” is a true statement, considering how fast I KO’d on Saturday night, and the fact that I was out until mid-morning Sunday.

Let’s start with the first cookies I churned out: Mocha Bites. This recipe was 100% hi-jacked from my sister’s cookbooks. Mocha Bites are a sort of coffee-infused short bread, so here’s what you’ll need:

Starbucks Mocha Bites 
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup Christmas Blend coffee (available from Starbucks in the winter)
4 tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 cinnamon
raw sugar for coating

Equipment
Electric Mixer
Knife
Baking Sheets
Parchment paper/Silicone Baking Mat

So, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl or electric mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment), cream together your butter and icing sugar until smooth, then stir in the coffee and vanilla. Next, sift in the all purpose flour, cocoa, salt and ground cinnamon and mix until your dough starts to form. Turn the dough on to a board that is lightly dusted with icing sugar. Divide your dough in half, and shape into logs. Slice the logs on an angle, in about 1/2 inch slices, and place your “bites” upright on a parchment lined (or silicone mat lined) baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes. While warm, toss your cookies in a bowl filled with raw sugar, and allow to cool. 

I packaged up a few of the finished Mocha Bites to hand out to friends and family, presentation is key.

Next up, I slaved over some totally delicious Checkerboard Shortbreads. I originally learned how to make these holiday favourites in 2005, watching a re-run of Martha Stewart (guilty!) These cookies not only look amazing, but have the taste to match. This is the third time I’ve made them in a large batch, and each year, it seems I cannot make enough to keep up with demand. They are worth all the effort, trust me. I made a triple batch this year, the dough can be refrigerated for about 3 days pre-baking, or frozen for several weeks, so no excuses people!

Checkerboard Shortbreads (yields about 4 dozen)
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp pure lemon extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 1/2 cups sifted, all purpose flour
3 tbsp Dutch process cocoa powder
1 large egg

Equipment:
Electric mixer
Ruler
Rolling Pin
Sharp Knife
Pastry Brush
Cling wrap
Parchment Paper/Silicone Baking mat
Baking Sheets

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with your paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together, until smooth. Add vanilla and lemon extracts, and salt. With your mixer on a low speed, gradually add your flour, not forgetting to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Turn your dough onto a clean work surface; at this should it should be a little crumbly and loose. Knead your dough by pushing small amounts away from you with the heel of your hand. Once your dough has formed, divide it in half. Sprinkle one half with cocoa powder, kneading it continuously until the cocoa is fully absorbed.

Now, place half of the kneaded dough between two sheets of cling wrap. Using a rolling pin, shape the dough into two 7 inch squares, about 3/8 of an inch thick. Take your knife and ruler, and slice each squares into nine 3/4 inch wide strips.

Whisk together the egg, and 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl. Grab another piece of plastic wrap, and place three strips of dough on the plastic, alternating between white and chocolate strips. Brush the tops and sides of the strips with egg wash, and gently press them together. Repeat, forming second and third layers, making sure to alternate colours to create your checkerboard effect. Once you’ve finished your third layer, wrap this log in plastic, and start your second, repeating the process. Refrigerate 30 minutes, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Line your baking sheet with parchment paper. Take your logs out of the fridge and on to a cutting board. Slice each log into 1/4 inch thick slices, and place onto the baking sheet. Bake for about 10-12 minutes. When you take your cookies out of the oven, be sure to leave them on the tray for 2 minutes, to ensure they are settled, otherwise if you transfer them to a wire rack too soon they will disintegrate.

Enjoy!

This next cookie is a new, and fast becoming must-do recipe for Christmas. A certain reader, based in Amsterdam, asked that I make a traditional Dutch cookie for the holidays. So, we made a deal, I bake the cookies, blog about them, and he blogs about Christmas- Dutch style.

Pepernoten (yields about 50)
50g unsalted butter
1/2 brown sugar
1/2 white sugar
2 1/2 tbsp milk
1 cup sifted, all purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Speculaas spices:
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground anise

Preheat your oven to 320 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl or electric mixer, cream together your butter and sugar, then add your Speculaas spices. Mix until well blended. Gradually add the flour and milk, until your dough begins to form. Roll small marble sized balls and place them on an un-greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. Cool, and enjoy!

Once out of the oven, they will have flattened out slightly, and should have a crunchy exterior. The spices give you a totally different flavour in an otherwise totally sugar dominated cookie season.

This of course, is just 3 of the delights I made this time around. I’ll stop here, purely because I don’t want to bore some of you to sleep. Well, that and I should probably catch some shut eye as well.

Until the next, good eats!

Meera