Sunday, December 6, 2015

cardamom french toast tea


My kind and crafty mother sent me and my roommates an advent calendar counting down the days until we go home for the holidays. Beautifully presented, she wrapped 12 days worth of tea into a row of festive wrapping papers. It reminds me of my childhood where each December 1st we would put out our advent trees (hand-made by my - once again - crafty mother), and every morning for 25 days we would wake up excited to find the little ornament left for us by Santa's elves.

Now that I'm in my twenties, each day since December 1st we remove the top layer of the festively wrapped bundles and enjoy a new type of tea with each rotation of the sun. Today's tea was called "Cardamom French Toast". It's just heavenly. Black tea, cinnamon, lemon peel, coriander seeds, cardamom, coconut sugar, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavouring. It's warming my soul as I lock myself in my room for the evening, preparing for the five exams I have ahead of me in the coming week. Sunday night blues intensified; but drinking this hot cup of bliss - with special love from my mother - makes everything seem more manageable.

David's Tea says:
"Something about cardamom just puts us in a festive frame of mind. We love its rich, fragrant taste any way we can get it. One of our faves? The buttery, cardamom-scented Christmas breads popular in Sweden and Finland. And cardamom toast is great, it only stands to reason that cardamom French toast would be out of this world. With black tea, cardamom, cane sugar and cinnamon, this rich, sweet blend tastes just like the decadent breakfast of our dreams. Only this is one brunch item you’ll be wanting all day long."
mmmmmmmm, thanks Cheech!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Sauna

I've been feeling under the weather for the past few days. Mostly just nonfunctioning vocal chords, and a mild case of physical body exhaustion and soreness. I have been doing lots of sleeping and exceeding my monthly quota of movies watched.

As the temperature has suddenly dropped to minus two degrees in the past few days, I feel my tired and sore body craving some heat - an escape from the cold. Sitting through the seven hours of class I have on Mondays, my mind kept wandering to the image of the sauna that I would be visiting later in the day. 

I was first introduced to saunas during my time in Norway. As you may or may not know, Scandinavia has a big sauna culture; I would imagine due to their cold harsh climate, and because Finland claims to be the inventor of the sauna. In fact, sauna is the Finnish word for bathhouse. Throughout my five months living in Norway, I became well acquainted with the sauna culture. I fully embraced the sauna practice.

Sometimes after a day spent skiing the slopes (or the flat), us shredders would take our battered bodies for some rejuvenation in the heat. It would be the absolute best feeling after a fantastic day in the snow, to converge with all the ladies, in the steam. In Canadian culture, after a day on the hill, it would be customary to hit up the bar for a drink of two. Since the Nordic model has taxed alcohol so that a single beer at 70 Norwegian kroners (roughly 10 Canadian dollars) does not accommodate the ski bum budget. Instead, Norwegians engage in a much more wholesome post-ski activity; the sauna. Although I absolutely cherish the idea of après-ski beers in my ski boots, the sauna experience is something else. When you have rosy red cheeks and a fired-up face from a combination of windburn and the cold-to-warm contrast, that bathhouse brings you to an almost altered state of total relaxation. A feeling of pure bliss. 

Since there was a sauna exactly twenty-five paces from my apartment building in the Fantoft region of Bergen, Norway, it became a routine practice to visit the sauna after any outdoor recreation activity. While Norwegian culture promotes a very active style of living, I could not bear the idea of exercising inside a "treningssenter" when you live in a city known as The City of the Seven Mountains, and whose tourism slogan is Gateway to the fjords. Needless to say, my gym membership was only utilized under circumstances of extreme weather conditions, and of course, for access to the sauna. 

The next sauna that I had the pleasure of visiting was during my trip to Nesodden, a municipality across the Oslofjord from Norway's capital city. I was there visiting the first-cousin of my grandfather, Svein. Throughout the entire weekend, Svein gave my friend Jane and I the most authentic experience of Norwegian culture. He cooked us skrei (seasonal Norwegian cod), he fed us Aquavit (a Norwegian spirit), and he translated for us as we watched the Nordic World Ski Championships from the couches of his little red home. Perhaps the most Norwegian experience of all, however, came from his invitation for us to join his Saturday morning routine. Each and every Saturday throughout the year, members of the Svestad community meet down at the fjord - the men first, at 9am, and then the women at 10- for their weekly sauna social.

Their sauna ritual is as follows; get hot and sweaty in the sauna, quick dip in the frigid fjord, back into the steamy sauna, and repeat. The temperature shock of the fjord water not only feels unbelievable, but it also has many health benefits. Jane and I were explaining to the lovely Norwegian ladies in the sauna, that in North America, we associate swimming in cold water in February with catching an illness. The women giggled and explained to us that actually, it improves blood pressure, reduces the risk of coming down with a cold, increases exercise endurance, relieves arthritis, and can assist in treating mild depression. Some of these women perhaps in their late 70's and still swimming in fjords in February... they must be doing something right! And I can tell you, that for the rest of the day following the sauna-swim-sauna-swim sequence, I was feeling pretty incredible. Refreshed, rejuvenated, relaxed.

Jane and I after our first fjord dip! brrrrrrr
Svein was one of the visionaries behind the community sauna. He, with the help of a friend, built the sauna on the edge of the fjord. They installed a wood burning heater, and are now responsible for heading down to the sauna ahead of the others to light the fire and get the heat going. Over the years, the sauna has become a community hub for social gatherings, for chatting, storytelling, laughing and coffee drinking. It's a beautiful custom and a unique community-building activity that Svein is very proud to be a part of. Jane and I were most grateful and honoured to share the experience with the lovely community of Svestad. Although everyone seemed a bit confused as to why Svein had brought two English-speaking girls with him, they were all extremely warm and welcoming and curious about our travels.

Svestad's sauna community enjoying some coffee after the sauna
The third and final sauna I visited during my Nordic adventure was during my fieldcourse in Latvia and Estonia. It was the last night of our two-week course where roughly thirty students from Iceland, Finland, Norway, Latvia and Estonia got together to learn about the impact of second-home ownership on local communities throughout the Baltics. After visiting Riga, Tallinn, Tartu, Häädemeeste, and back to Tartu, we spent our last night in Otepää. As the "Winter Sports Capital of Estonia", we naturally stayed in a beautiful log-cabin style ski resort. So after a long day of finishing up our final reports, we spent the evening engaging in the Finnish students' activity of choice... of course, the sauna. 

lakeside sauna in Oteppää, Estonia
As a true Finnish sauna experience, this was even crazier than I could have imagined. For starters, the sauna was hotter than any I'd ever been in before. Secondly, the Finnish drink beer before, during, and after using the sauna. And thirdly, because the beer fridge - just outside of the sauna - was fully stocked, courtesy of the Finnish professors facilitating this field course. For some reason, in Canada, I think that might not fly.

This sauna, as you can see in the picture, was set in the most beautiful location. Isolated from the rest of the resort, overlooking a lake and surrounded by luscious forest. Beautiful setting indeed; but what was even more beautiful was the fact that we were sharing precious moments in the sauna with people who just two weeks prior had been total strangers, but who now shared such a strong connection. 

Inside the bathhouse was a "sauna master" who was performing sauna treatments for anyone interested. After a few warm up rounds, alternating in and out of the sauna, you lie down with your front-side against the wooden benches of the sauna, and the treatment can begin. The sauna master begins by taking birch branches, drizzled with hot water and some sort of natural therapeutic oil, and gently beating them against your lower calves. Slowly and methodically, he moves up your legs to the lower back, and eventually reaching your shoulders. All the while, the temperature of the sauna is getting increasingly hotter and the beating is getting progressively harder. At the moment when you think your body can't take a single extra degree of heat or any harder smacks of the birch branches; that's when the sauna master will take you outside to the lake. The journey there is surreal... your body is so lethargic that it's hard to believe your legs are carrying you. The sauna master spots for you as you gently lower yourself into the lake using the ladder. Your body is so hot that you don't even mind the contrasting temperatures. Energy is rushing through your body and your mind. The next step in the treatment is to lie on your back - outside of the sauna - in total stillness to fully absorb and embrace the benefits of the treatment. In this phase, you begin to feel a complex array of emotions. It was an experience that I'll never forget.

And of course, in good Finnish style, we finish it all off by lounging around in our bathing suits or towels drinking beer. Across the room from me sat Ilka, the big-bellied Finnish man who organized this field course, a few beers deep, in his speedo, and doing his hearty, contagious laugh. I looked around the room - within the walls of this log cabin on the lake - and listened to Finnish, Icelandic, Estonian, and Latvian. I watched as the professors tried to open beers with a spoon, with no success. I saw friends of two-weeks sharing laughs, giving massages, running out to the lake to catch a glimpse of the double rainbow. It was one of those moments where I couldn't quite fathom how everything had fallen so perfectly into place that I was sitting right there in that very moment. Overwhelmed with gratitude and awed by the world, all I could do was sit there in my towel, lake-water beading off my skin, beer in my hand; and just smile.

Double Rainbow magic. 

So as I sat in the sauna tonight, in the pool-house of the Dalpex, I was reminded of all these beautiful memories and unforgettable experiences. Once again, the sauna lead me to an overwhelming sense of gratitude for where the past year has taken me. There are moments where I think back to Bergen, and I feel a strong yearning to be back there right now. I miss it. I miss the people. I miss the mountains. I miss hearing Norsk on the train each morning. I miss my cross-country skis and the DNT cabins. But then I am brought back to the sauna - and the sauna in Fantoft, and Svestad, and Otepää - and I remember that travel is a transient thing; it can't last forever. But the memories you create while on your adventure, that is what you can keep forever. Travelling changes you. You will carry little pieces of the places you visit with you wherever you go. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

the trick is growing up without growing old


A few weeks ago, my friend Scott and I are pedalling our way around a dark and empty roundabout; lap after lap. He yells up to me; curious... "I wonder if part of being an adult is not biking home from the bar?" ...

And just the other night I found myself wondering... 'is there going to come a time where I stop putting brain-shaped ice cubes into my wine?'

There's a lot of talk around me these days about graduation. Most people that I started school with are in their final year of their undergrad. They'll soon be university graduates. Possessors of undergraduate degrees. That's very grown-up. A university graduate.

So here I am. Surrounded by near-graduates, and yet I don't feel like a grown-up. I don't think I ever will.

This has got me thinking. Why have we come to associate growing-up with seriousness, with having no fun, with organization, ..? I'm not grown up because I bike home from the bar and I put brain-shaped ice cubes in my wine?
... okay, also because this morning I was at the grocery store check-out buying a stick of butter and a mango, only to realize I didn't have any means to pay for them... Had my whole wallet, yet no cards in it, nor any cash. Organization. And also, because I've gone commando for three consecutive days now because doing laundry is never something that crosses my mind. Responsibility. 

The recreation student in me will say that growing-up certainly does not require having less fun. Maybe a little more organization could do. And a touch more responsibility. But I've studied various 'theories of play' enough times now to confidently say that play is important throughout all stages of your life. From the infant stages until the day you die.

So to answer Scott's inquiry... if part of being an adult is not biking home from the bar? No. Growing-up is about continuing to laugh, continuing to play, to have more fun than you've ever had before. Organization and responsibility, yes. But growing up isn't all bad.

"The trick is growing up without growing old." - Casey Stengel   

With all this being said; tonight I sit here worried about how my exam is going to go tomorrow. Worried about my future plans. Thinking about how growing-up is no fun at all. But then again; tomorrow I leave for a cottage weekend with some of my best pals. A weekend on Fox Point Lake; frolicking in the kayaks, laughing around the fire, dancing under the moonlight, jumping naked in Fox Point's waters. Excited for what tomorrow brings. Thinking about how growing-up is a true blessing. 

I constantly return to the words of an old friend of mine; "you'll never be this young again, but this is the first time you've ever been this old." Two sides of the same coin.

This is a very interesting TedTalk; "Play is more than just fun", by Stuart Brown.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Portugal


Here's a glimpse of what I got up to in Portugal....

Pictures can only begin to describe the sights that I saw, the experiences I had;
but words wouldn't do justice in capturing my adventure either.



song credit: Lord Huron- Brother, Current Swell- Youth and Able