how i survived the great microburst of 2017...

[i wrote most of this last week, and proceeded to forget about it...]

i was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, minding my own business, when in walked my favorite animator to inform me that there was a thunderstorm warning in effect for the area. he went back to the studio to resume animation-related things, and i went back to minding my own business.

a short while later—seriously, like ten or fifteen minutes—the sky began to darken rapidly, and it started to rain. there may have also been a bit of wind, which grew windier by the second, until panic finally set in.

me: uhm... sweetie, you need to come see this. seriously. hurry!

now, having experienced a hurricane or two in my time, i recognized right away that this was no ordinary thunderstorm. we had crossed the line of "strong winds" and were careening toward that point where objects in the environment become projectile weapons. i was busy closing curtains to slow down the spray of glass should a window break, and he... well, he was busy standing right in front of the wall of glass in awe of the whole thing. 

then it happened. the top of the very tall, very old maple tree that shades our fourth-floor balcony from the sun most days, bent down suddenly and started smashing and scraping against the expanse of glass that occupies most of the living room wall. it was swishing back and forth like giant window washers from the sky, crushing most of our balcony garden plants in the process. the large mass of branches and leaves landed briefly along the railing, then disappeared over the edge in the steady stream of gale-force wind. bye bye, shade-providing top of the tree. 

the lights flickered a few times, before going out completely, then—just as suddenly as it began—the whole thing came to a halt. no exaggeration, it must have lasted no more than thirty to forty seconds... thirty to forty of the most surreal seconds in my experience. we were left wide-eyed and open-mouthed in a state of total shock, while the sky outside shifted dramatically to the gentle spray of a normal Summer day's rain. what the...???

we took a quick walk around the place to make sure there were no signs of broken windows, then he went downstairs to get a closer look at the damage. the power came back on just long enough for him to call upstairs on the intercom about a minute later.

him: throw on some clothes and come down here. you really need to see this. 

then the power was gone.

i made my way down to the ground floor in total darkness, clutching the railing with one hand and my camera with the other. this was what greeted me as i approached the front door. see all that shrubbery hanging across the front entrance? that is part of the (former) top of the maple tree that was moments ago pressed against my fourth-floor walls and windows. there was more of it out of view to the left, up against the front of the building, and some of it was laying in the middle of the road. good times. 

we walked about a building or two up the street before i snapped out of the shock long enough to remember the camera. this was the view behind us. all of that stuff to the left and in the middle of the road is fallen greenery, most of it from our tree. note also, the tree a bit further down the block that is perched at a precarious angle over the street. that one was standing up straight just a few minutes before. 

and that was nothing compared to the view looking the other way. note the police car parked at the intersection to prevent any vehicles from foolishly trying to enter our block.

the lesser damage was this smaller tree that fell across the hood of a car.

but the greater damage came from this ancient tree, which managed to crash-land across a total of four cars, with minor damage to a few other vehicles in the immediate vicinity.  

most of the damage was done to the three cars parked directly across the street. the car in the middle took the worst of it.

there is another car somewhere behind that line of green recycling bins buried beneath that mound of green, and they used to (also) be across the street. 

and if you look closely, you can see a navy blue car somewhere in all that green. we spoke briefly with the owner of that one, and he was pretty chill about the whole thing. no one was hurt, and that really was all that mattered in the end. 

this was a particularly old tree of the type that is frequently described as having 'lots of character'. see what was left behind? turns out that "character" was not the only thing it possessed.

this (mostly) hollow old tree was host to all sorts of secret activity. i am still trying to identify the potato-like fungi growing on the decayed wood. the largest one in this cluster was the size of one of those freakishly-gigantic potatoes you often find baked and stuffed with enough toppings to feed a small village.

then there was the nest made up of shredded bits of... everything. i do not want to know what creature called this home, but i sincerely hope (s)he does not come looking to move in to our tree.

we lingered for a bit, chatting with folks along the way. again, no exaggeration... i met more of my neighbors in that short time than in the entire two-plus years that we have lived here. i spoke to the lady in the apartment next to ours long enough to be able to identify her in a police lineup. i also (finally) introduced myself to the old lady (and her husband) from down on the second floor. we always refer to her as "the old Caribbean lady who cooks all the wonderful food you smell when you walk up the stairs". i even found myself nodding and laughing while she compared our crazy storm to Hurricane Janet (a legendary hurricane that inevitably comes up in conversation when speaking of storms to any Caribbean person of a certain age... by which i mean, old people).

we arrived at the head of the block, and we were about to turn back and go home, when someone asked if we had seen the local park. "trust me," he said, "you need to go see it," so we continued walking in the light-rain over to the park. we passed a few scenes like this, where a downed tree rested against the facade of a building. the building was usually across the street from where the tree used to be.

there was also the remains of this tree, which we spotted as we were crossing over the local expressway. this is a tree i look at almost every day, as it stands directly behind one of the lovely two-story houses across the street from our place. the top of the tree did some serious damage to their roof, prompting the fire department to declare it unsafe. they were given a few minutes to pack up some belongings before they had to vacate the building. still, no one was hurt, and that is always the most important thing.

the scene at the park was even worse. this was the first thing we saw as we approached the nearest corner. all the stuff that looks like bushes or shrubbery is in fact the parts of (or, sometimes whole) trees that were knocked to the ground. there are very few hedges or shrubs in this park. all of that is stuff that used to be up in the trees. i have tons of photos taken from my balcony of the sun setting behind what used to be a truly impressive line of large old trees. such a shame.

there were countless piles like this one, with road signs and even traffic lights mixed in between all the mangled tree remains. 

most of the older trees were either knocked entirely to the ground (like the one laying horizontally on the ground here) or damaged to such an extent that the city will likely have to chop them down.

this is the recently-renovated, complete with new walkway, south entrance to our humble little park. 

common sense had to prevail over curiosity, so we only got as close as watching from across the street, but there were a few people who could not resist the temptation. emergency workers were spread thin trying to keep the gawkers at a safe distance, as there were countless hazards everywhere. for example, this was part of one tree that was hinging upside down from another tree, suspended only by a small length of old power line. seriously, people... common sense!

we eventually returned home, rain-soaked and still in shock, to take a closer look at the damage to our garden. needless to say, it is pretty much done with for the year. the sweet peppers and chilies took a beating, but they were mostly okay. i rescued a few branches of tomatoes and put them in water in hopes that the tomatoes will begin to ripen before they begin to rot. 

there were so many broken branches dangling from our tree, that it was marked as a high-priority and the area below it was marked off with caution tape... which everyone proceeded to ignore as they went up and down the street. i actually yelled at one kid who ducked under the orange tape, and was about to walk under the thickest clump of overhead debris, then his mother showed up a few seconds later (pushing a baby in a stroller), and proceeded to do the same thing... so i had to yell at her too. self-preservation seems to be in short supply these days. 

a truck arrived just before sunset, complete with a dishy chainsaw-wielding arborist and one of those hydraulic cherry-picker contraptions that lets you get up into the top of large trees. he worked quickly to remove the worst of the damage in the waning light, and we gave him a smile and a cheer when he finally packed it in just as the sun was disappearing from view. 

the power came back on some time later, and i started to saute the ground beef that was going to be the base of our planned quick-dinner of beefy nachos with cheese. naturally, the power went out again before i could get that done. he mentioned something about finishing cooking the meat on the grill, but i opted for the fondue pot. so we ended up with an unplanned candlelit meal of a Tex-Mex cheesy-beef fondue, and i may have consumed a few too many boozy ciders before eventually falling asleep. the power came back on shortly before dawn, and we turned out the lights, and went right back to sleep. turns out there were over a hundred crews working through the night to get the power restored to this part of the city. all that fuss for an atmospheric disturbance less than a minute long. crazy. 

it was officially categorized as a "microburst". they are typically smaller than tornadoes, but quicker, and potentially more powerful. it is like an air bomb a few kilometers wide. we came across many people who were not in the immediate area during the brief storm, and they had no idea this had happened until they saw the damage first hand. most of them made comments like, "it looks like a bomb went off across the whole neighborhood". insane. 

it is almost a week later, and there are still piles of downed branches occupying parking spots along the street. they cleared all the greenery from the large trees and moved the massive trunks to the edge of the sidewalk (blocking even more parking spots), and the same is true for most of the neighborhood. the park still looks like a disaster area, though people are ignoring all of the fermé (closed) signs to go rambling through the fallen trees. the cleanup will take time, but i have not heard of anyone being seriously hurt (and that—as i keep noting—is all that really matters in the end). still, i am going to miss looking out at that huge tree at the corner of the park when i open the drapes to start each new day.

my favorite animator spotted some strange, large leaves outside our bedroom window on the morning after the storm. i am still trying to figure out how that burdock got there. seems like the squirrels had their very own balcony garden hidden up in the canopy of the old maple. i am officially afraid. 

i will end with a photo of my cats lazing next to guarding what remains of our storm-beaten tomatoes. [postscript: the squirrels ate all the orange/red tomatoes before we got out of bed this morning.]


delusions of Thailand...

[i just dumped a ton of photos on the 'puter, so that should (hopefully) provide some inspiration for a few posts in the coming days/weeks. no promises though, as i am not quite through my latest bout of stoicism, which is just a fancy term for being wholly underwhelmed by life. wrote this one last night...]

it is Friday (i think) afternoon and storming intermittently here in Montreal. i rather enjoy the lighting and rain, but heavy thunder tends to leave me feeling unnerved... or maybe it was the two double cappuccinos (which i have taken to calling a cappa-cappa) i had earlier in the day. either way, i am feeling equal parts anxious and excited. the former i blame (mostly) on the weather, but the latter is all about the wings.

let me pause to explain that chicken wings may just possibly be my favorite of all the major food groups. they possess the perfect blend of collagen-rich skin and tender, flavorful meat, making for what is—sans doute—the tastiest part of the entire chicken. while i am usually wary of genetic modifications in plants/animals intended for food, i fully welcome the prospect of chickens each bearing a dozen (or more) wings.

for now, we stuck with the standard two-per-bird wings, which were cut in half. note that i did not discard the little wing-tip section, as that tasty little nub may just be my favorite bit of the thing. don't judge me! my favorite animator gave the chicken a generous dusting of kosher salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika, with a dash of ground ginger, ground cumin, and five-spice powder, then placed them in a 425°F oven on a parchment-lined baking sheet. that combination of spices had definite echoes of the east, so i set out to create a sauce that did the same. 

the first step was to open the fridge and stare blankly at the contents while waiting for inspiration to strike. we occasionally purchase a pre-made sauce/dressing called Memories of Thailand which would have been a good starting point for a quick marinade. it is a Thai-style sweet chili sauce of such lackluster flavor, one would be left to assume that the person who invented said condiment once visited Thailand and found it to be a very boring place. surely i could make a tastier version of such a thing. 

the key to my desired sauce was a balance of sweet (honey and brown sugar), sour (fresh-squeezed lime juice), and spicy (sriracha and chopped pickled Thai chilies). now, let me be clear here... despite my very tropical background, i am something of a wimp when it comes to intensely spicy food. so, while this sauce was spicy, it did not possess the level of heat that earns you a t-shirt for surviving some sort of killer-wings challenge at your local hole-in-the-wall. that is most definitely not my thing. 

to this (moderately-spicy) mixture i added crushed garlic, finely-grated fresh ginger, a dash each of hoisin sauce and soy sauce, and a splash of toasted sesame oil. then came the controversial (in our household) ingredient. fish sauce. truth be told, i am not a fan. i totally get that there is a certain je ne sais quoi that relies on the presence of fish sauce lurking in the background of a given dish, but it tends to be too much for my liking, leaving the dish overpowered by the unmistakable quoi that is the essence of rotted fish

me: why do we even own fish sauce? i hate this stuff.
him: are you kidding me... it's awesome. we should put it in more things.  

i am fairly certain this is why couple's therapy was invented. however, i acquiesced and added a splash to the bowl, then offered up the resulting mixture for judgment. he stuck the tip of a (freshly-washed) finger into the bowl then gave it a taste. 

him: wow!!! it's like 'memories of Thailand'... but sooo much better! 

i took a taste, and i was inclined to agree. 

the chicken wings had by now been roasting for about half an hour, with a quick flip halfway through that time.

the bowl was a bit too small for the task, so the wings had to be coated in two batches, then returned to the oven. 

what followed next was fifteen (or so) minutes of what i like to call intense basting. this was his job, and it consisted of opening the oven every couple-few minutes to brush the wings with the sauce that remained in the bowl, until said sauce was all gone. i cannot begin to explain the delicious fragrance wafting through our place. it was a magical blend of garlic and ginger with the spicy notes of five-spice and chilies and the caramelizing honey and brown sugar, all enveloped in that unmistakable, effervescent burst of lime. it is crazy how fifteen (or so) minutes can suddenly seem like an awful long time. 

finally, they were done.

the objective here was not to (attempt to) recreate the crunch of deep-fried wings, but to produce something decadently sticky and sweet, with a glaze that looks/feels like warmed-up marmalade right out of the oven. that is some seriously sexy sticky stuff!

i served up the wings along with slices of cucumber and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro, and that combination proved to be absolutely divine. having never traveled to Thailand, it would be dishonest of me to present said sauce as a "memory", but i prefer to think of it as a "delusion" of something that just may be Thai-worthy.

this was a sticky, sour, sweet, spicy treat tailor made for a Summer day. the cilantro offered a lovely bit of herby freshness and the cucumber slices provided the right amount of cool to balance the (moderate) heat. this was a thoroughly perfect meal, and we were too busy coming up with terms to describe the incredible flavors to be upset that our poor tomato plants were being knocked about in the torrential rain and wind. he did have to attempt a quick rescue in the midst of an impressive display of lightning. after all the stress of caring for our tiny garden, every tomato counts.

it is now extremely late in the evening. i am catching up on my latest k-drama, in between working on a lovely, lacy, completely itch-free sweater for self. my multitasking skills usually allow for knitting while watching things, but the combination of lace charts and subtitles means i have to alternate my way through this project. oh... and i may have also recently finished my third cappa-cappa of the day. sad, but true. it should be noted—lest anyone assume i am running out to the coffee shop multiple times a day to purchase overpriced coffee drinks—that this stuff is a mix. a wholly, totally, and completely addictive mix that i literally find myself drinking all day. no... i do not have a problem.

i have tried it in three flavors so far: Cappuccino, Mocha, and Vanilla. it also comes in unsweetened, decaf, and Caramel Latte varieties, but that last one just sounds completely unnecessary. i prefer it with one pack each vanilla and (plain) cappuccino. not only am i fond of blends (i am a complicated lady), but two packets makes for just enough liquid heroin to fill my warrior princess mug. i do not have a problem.

most fun part? it foams up on contact with hot water. i am fairly certain that this stuff will eventually be shown to cause every known kind of cancer.

the frothy layer looks a bit less frightening after a stir.

so, that is my latest obsession, replacing my usual obsession of drinking four (or five) large cups of tea per day, plus the one (or two) normal-sized cup of herbal tea i frequently have before bedtime. no... i definitely... definitely... do not have a problem.