Category Archives: DISPATCHES & RAMBLINGS

INVISIBILITY

POSTED: March 1, 2021

Sometimes I enter writing and poetry contests. And occasionally I even submit to various literary journals and other publications when there is a call for submissions.  It is an important thing to do, given my relationship with the publishing industry. I submit, which gives me something to do, and they reject, which gives them something to do.

Occasionally one of those publishing tricksters will actually accept my work, which puts the whole nature of the relationship in peril and makes me question the otherwise perfect harmony of the symbiosis.

So recently I saw a call for submission from a literary journal I like very much, and one that has not broken the perfect relationship of submission / rejection. It was on the topic of Invisibility, something I have some familiarity with, being largely unpublished.

The submissions could be in a variety of forms – essay, poetry, prose.

Some ideas on the topic were swirling around in my head one evening when I headed off to bed to be comforted by The Collected Prose of Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop of course is the Pulitzer prize winning Canadian/American poet. Her prose is not as well known but much of it is based on her own life so reading it is really a window into who she was, and where she came from. But I am rambling again.

While brushing my teeth some elements of a poem started to gel, and I scribbled them down on a pad I keep handy for just such occurrences.

A busy Covid schedule kept me from returning to the task for a few days but I then sat down at my cluttered desk to come back to it, and appropriately enough – the little piece of paper with the scribbled poem was invisible. And this is another aspect of invisibility I have familiarity with. Something that is there but not seen.

Like everyone on the planet, I have characteristics. I have a colour, I have an age, some gender characteristics and I present in a certain way, at times revealing my heritage, character, and perspective, and at times not. When I am with others who share many of my visible characteristics I blend in or disappear as we all look the same to at least some.

When I am with others who don’t have some of those visible characteristics – I am seen. Sometimes in a good way, often not.

I was having a drink with a friend about a year ago, when we could still do that, and he was telling me about a role he had played about a year earlier in a very popular Bollywood film. He is a part-time actor, part-time barista, and full-time gadabout, and was living in Mumbai at the time. He showed me on his phone the credit he had in the film: “OLDER OVERWEIGHT WHITE MAN AT BAR #7”.  Yes, that certainly is something for the resume!

As I age, I have come to respect the thoughts of my aging friends (particularly female friends) who have long talked about their invisibility. Once you are over a certain age you seemingly disappear to the general public, and certainly as a creature with any sexual content. It is the reason eyeglass companies and hair colouring salons stay in business. It is a way for people over a certain age to say to the public – “Hey you, look over here, I have red glasses, matching red shoes and blue streaked hair and I am not what you are pre-supposing about me – I am an individual, with thoughts and ideas and a character. And yes, maybe I am even a bit attractive.”

And what of that poem. Well, that’s the thing about invisibility – if you can look beyond what you see, sometimes you find some amazing things. In my case I found that little sheet of paper on my desk, right where I left it.  Here is the poem.

 

 

SEEN, BUT INVISIBLE

Just about a perfect specimen.

Tall, well proportioned,

Relaxed but confident.

 

The look was complete.

The shoes, the shorts, the open shirt.

The youth.

 

Our eyes connected

And as we moved

Closer to the door

 

My expectations ran ahead

And my plans were with them

For a future ahead.  To relive the past.

 

“Let me get that for you ma’am”

The door was opened,

And the dream was closed.

 

 

Django

As always, I am good with people reproducing my work, but please attribute it to me.

CHICKEN CACCIATORE WITH MUSHROOMS FOR VEGETARIANS?

Posted: Feb 15, 2021

I did a little review of the book, JAMIE OLIVER 7 WAYS several weeks ago. As I make it through the recipes some that are particularly good I will do a little shout out on. I have made about a dozen of the recipes from this book to date and one that stands out for me (I have now done it a few times) is in his Mushroom section – Chicken Cacciatore with Mushrooms.

My experience with cookbooks is that most recipes you make the first time faithfully to the recipe. The next time you adopt it for your own tastes or what you have available. If it is something you enjoyed or saw some potential in, and are going to make it a third time you don’t pull out the recipe, but just reproduce it for memory and that’s when you really start to find which ones will come back into your repertoire regularly and you start to adapt them to you, instead of taking what’s offered.

In this dish, Jamie seasons up six chicken thighs, throws them in a large pan with a lid with a tablespoon of oil for ten minutes. After flipping them a few times, he then marries them up with a couple of handfuls of ripped apart mushrooms, about four sprigs of stripped but not chopped rosemary, half a cup of  red wine, a couple of red onions finely chopped, and a jar of roasted red bell peppers  and keeps it on the burner for about ten minutes. He then puts in a couple medium cans of plum tomatoes,  bakes it in the oven at 175 c or 350 f for about an hour. It makes four servings and it’s a good dish, but I found the first time it needed to be put on a little bed of rice to really flesh out a meal.

For me what I found I enjoyed more was rough cutting those onions instead of finely chopping them, and adding a can of mixed beans (lima, kidney, pinto, black). The effect is a bit of a really quick mock cassoulet. This way it also doesn’t need anything else if it is your meal, other than perhaps a nice piece of baguette or two.

 

This variation  also allows you to throttle back on the chicken thighs.  There was a time when vegetarianism was a binary thing – you embrace it whole hog – (oops -whole potato?) or you remain a Fred Flintstone type of carnivore. But today, the merits of vegetarianism are not lost on many of us who still eat meat, but have dialed way back on, or eliminated our red meat, and go with a pretty small portion of any kind of animal protein on the plate. So, a dish like this lets you find that place on the carnivore- herbivore spectrum you fit. Perhaps those six chicken thighs can be four or three. You are still getting lots of protein in those beans we have added.  At four thighs, this dish is producing four servings so that is a good way to get that animal consumption down but keeping your proteins and complex carbs up.

Next time I am going to see about substituting some big (chewy protein) Portobello mushroom strips or some tofu for the chicken.

Django

BETTER WITH TIME: A REVISIT

POSTED:  FEBRUARY 1

As you know from previous posts, I am quite taken with the things to be learned from others and I am always astonished with the nuggets of knowledge or insights that seem to fall out of some people.

Lately I have been observing the ages of the people I admire.  Some of the athletes, musicians, artists, writers and advocates that as kids we would call our heroes were usually older than us by at least ten years, but in recent years I have replaced many of those heroes with many who are much younger than I am. A few anomalies exist of course as at times I am impressed with the ideas from people much older than me. People like Malcolm. He is old enough to be my dad, and I can soak up a lot just being around a person like that.

It is also true that sometimes when around these people others are not as noticed yet may also have amazing thoughts and ideas. So when Malcolm’s partner Martha was strolling by En Plein Air one day I was pleased to get to spend some time with her over a coffee. It is always a bit stressed and weird these days maintaining a couple of meters, especially on a boat, but the interaction, in whatever form we can get it, is even more cherished in these times.  I think she was out for a bit of change of scenery. Malcolm is quite a thinker but a bit intense and living with him and his various ponderings, prognostications, and pontification’s I would think would  could be a bit of a challenge.

She had dropped by when I was writing the post Better With Time and she asked me what I was up to and I let her read it. Most people I have day to day contact with don’t read my posts, or don’t admit to it, as its kind of close to home – like having a personal relationship with your doctor, therapist or parole officer. Other than those I am close to I don’t even reference this website as my writing is not for everyone.

She read it, told me she enjoyed it and we went on to have a good conversation about lots of other things. That was about two months ago.

Today she strolled by for a coffee and with some specific thoughts in mind. She had been reflecting on that Better With Time piece and wanted to share some observations on the notion of “Better with Time”, but not with the same ideas but very different ones. She was thinking specifically about her relationship with Malcolm in all its various phases and all the changes they have been through and how their relationship has grown and become better over their time together. They had met in academia and she had been a graduate student and he was her prof. so the phases of that relationship with this older man have taken a variety of forms.

It was a rambling chat and one that totally engrossed me as she was very candid in her thoughts.

She described her time with Malcolm to me in its various phases of the relationship: Life as a student, life as a muse, life as a partner, and most recently, life as a parent.  The challenge of being the younger, less experienced one, and often in the shadow, to being an equal and then with the aging process being the one to make the key decisions and hard choices. I expect this is a common evolution in relationships of people of significantly different ages. That crazy imbalance on some fronts that with the passage of the years and the experiences shifts the balance beam.

Her description of the evolution of their intimacy was quite detailed as well, not in a graphic way but as a poignant description of two younger people satiating the needs as a physical pairing,  who age together and the relationship both physically and emotionally evolving in a similar way. [ I am hoping that descriptor was cryptic enough for underage readers to not understand]

When she left, I scribbled down a short poem (almost a haiku, but without enough attention to the syllable count) on the topic of that intimacy intertwined with their relationship and got her thumbs up  before posting hit here.

 

Better With Time

Began as boxing

And the relationship too

Became Ballet.

 

 

Django

JAMIE OLIVER SEVEN WAYS

POSTED: January 15, 2021

I usually have a bunch of ideas on the go for my posts. Some are things I will start and then let sit and simmer for a while as if they are a stew, or bouillabaisse, while others just slop out. For some time I have had a little post on the go on cookbooks. The range of topics they can cover, some weird ones I have seen, some recommendations etc. The problem is that I have gotten off track on a regular basis – that pesky U.S. election last year for example.

So now I am off track again and that’s because of Jamie Oliver and Jacques Pepin. They both have new cookbooks out and I have borrowed them from the library and am consuming them like mad.

 

Now this discussion of Jamie’s new book Jamie Oliver Seven Ways,  is not a very objective review. I love this guy. So the most critical I get with him is in comparing one of his books that I LOVE in contrast to another of his books I might LIKE.

Janice and Jim’s daughter Jade does book reviewing for her regular gig and brings lots of insight and depth of knowledge to bear so the reader is not only introduced to the book but often many of the same genre or focus or at least a few that she will use to compare and contrast. So I am going to try to do that as well.

So where do we start?  He has written twenty-four books including this one. Of those, some are just his regional diversions – Italy, America, Great Britain, Food Escapes etc. I like those as reading about the area as a bit of a travelogue and intro to the regional or cultural aspects of cooking.

 

Some are theme based: Superfood, Christmas, Friday Night Feast, Save with Jamie, Ultimate Veg. These are all good reading and interesting and fall into my LIKE category. He does as good a job as most current celeb chefs on these topics.

But where this guy really comes alive is in teaching self confidence in the kitchen and that just oozes out in his books on bigger themes. In this regard three of his early ones really stand out.

The Naked Chef, from 1999

Happy Days With The Naked Chef, 2001

Jamie’s Kitchen, 2002

Jamie at Home, 2007

Jamie’s Food Revolution, 2008 (UK) 2009 (everywhere else)

I referenced earlier Janice and Jim’s daughter Jade, the book reviewer. Several years ago when she had just moved into her first condo, a very small studio unit, she would come home each Sunday to Janice and Jim’s big kitchen and make a dish or two to get her through much of the week for her main dinners. She worked from Jamie’s Happy Days With The Naked Chef.  It was when the movie Julie & Julia had just come out and those Sundays were called Jade & Jamie Sundays.

Most of those other books I referenced in the LIKE Category were written during the period 2004 to 2016.

 

Then in 2017 he wrote the book that I think  he will be known for long after he is gone. It is the one that I recommend to anyone who has not spent much time in the kitchen and really wants to enjoy themselves and produce some great meals with not a lot of effort: 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food. If you are buying just one Jamie Oliver book – this is it. If you have the space and money for a second one – Happy Days With The Naked Chef would be the next one to get. Later in this piece I will do a bit more of a ranking of his books.

So where does this new one fit in?  Well I think Jamie scared himself a bit with the 5 Ingredients book. He was on a regular thing producing good cookbooks on various themes and running a business and being a good dad and all that and then that 2017 book just flowed out of him and bam – he was back at what he does best – building confidence in the kitchen in lots of people new to this cooking hobby. In it he takes five conventional ingredients and makes a fabulous dish.

Since the launch of the 5 Ingredients book he has put out four books the last one being Jamie Oliver 7 Ways. It is really (and he acknowledges this in his intro) a sequel to 5 Ingredients and building on many of the same elements. Instead of starting on the premise of only using five ingredients in a dish he has identified the 18 ingredients most of us keep on hand and then packaged each of them up in chapters with seven recipes featuring each of those individual ingredients.

He has structured the book with a good index at the front organized as : Fakeaways, Onepan wonders, Traybakes, simple pastas, Salads, soup & Sandwiches as a quick reference to the recipes. But the body of the book is built around each of those 18 ingredients most of us have: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Avocado, Chicken Breast, Sausages, Salmon Fillet, Sweet Potato, Eggplant, Eggs, Ground Meat, Potato, Peppers, Shrimp, White fish Fillet, Whole chicken, Mushrooms, Steak, Pork.

The list would suggest a lot of carnivore  dishes but the reality is that about half are vegetarian.

What also makes it attractive is that for the most part he is focusing on ingredients that are not expensive, prepared using simple cooking techniques and as always teaching a lot of “cheats”, those shortcut tricks that every person who has prepared thousands of meals commercially has learned. Traditionally for example cookbooks from celebrity chefs never referenced a freezer for anything other than chilling your sorbet. Well Jamie gets it – we are busy or we live in places that don’t always have fresh components on hand and being able to take something from the freezer to make a great meal is a lifesaver.

For some time Jamie’s books have been formatted with the text on the left hand page showing the ingredient list, the technique & description and a generous image on the right page, and that format continues with this book. On the bottom of the page with the text the components of Fat, protein, sugars etc. are detailed.

So what’s left to tell you? Well, at this point I have made several of the dishes and they have all been crowd pleasers.

The image below ranks Jamie’s books from my perspective.

Ranking Jamie’s Books

 

I have a few other posts I am working on but sometime in the next few months I will review Jacques Pepin’s new book. I am just starting to try some of the recipes.

Django

YEAR END LETTERS

Posted: Jan 1, 2021

Well, this crazy year is almost behind us. I know for many that it has been an exceptionally bad one.

I don’t believe that we are all in this together.  Some have died from Covid, some have been affected by their friends or relatives passing, and others have lost their jobs or their businesses. Many have had delayed surgeries or critical diagnostics on other medical issues. Yet some have prospered or hardly been affected. There is a lot of inequity in the world and that has been highlighted over the last nine months.  So, I don’t really think we are all in this together, and for most of us it is difficult to look back at those nine months with any fondness.

But I am wired as an optimist and because of my circumstances in life, both good and bad, that silver lining seems to just jump out at me. Most real friends have become closer. In most families and friendships, petty differences or old grudges have been put aside and most of us have shared in this experience, not equally but shared some common experiences.

It is at this time of the year that I report on the various emails I have received and answer some questions that come up. I do respond to every email I receive, but the one-off types of questions I just respond to individually and if something comes up that has been raised by two or more readers, I respond here. If you look at my last emergency post about two weeks ago, that was a time sensitive response to two people looking to make Christmas dinner for the first time.

The questions below are my rewording of questions that have been posed by more than one reader, and in some cases rephrased to capture the general topic.

 

HOW DO I PRONOUNCE DJANGO AND CIARA?

This only comes up with people who have only seen this website as anyone I meet in real life hear our names pronounced.  Django has a silent D, so it is:  JANG – GO

Ciara is Irish and her name has a fine heritage in Irish Gaelic as dark or dark haired, and to some a warrior princess. That is certainly how I think of her as well.  Ciara is pronounced:  KEE – RAH. The pronunciation of it is significantly enhanced and more authentic after a couple of pints of Guinness.

 

YOU ARE GETTING BETTER AT PUTTING IN PICTURES BUT WHY ARE THERE NOT MORE OF YOU, CIARA AND EN PLEIN AIR ?

When I worked with Sven, and Justin and Amy, we were involved in activities that had us placed on lists by some pretty questionable countries and those lists don’t go away with time. This all predates 9/11 of course, but the events of that day just made things worse for anyone who had already been flagged. I was just the cook and general helper in the whole operation so was not a target for these countries we had smuggled people out of, but I still have problems travelling and my experience with this has me keeping as low a profile as I can reasonably do, while still functioning and growing as a person. So, in my case when I have had to supply a picture for writing contests, Jim has stepped in and supplied his photo. I appreciate him doing it, but it is a bit insulting as he looks a lot older, and more tired than I do, but it’s not for a fashion shoot. LOL.

Ciara for the longest time was hiding out from her abusive ex-husband and kept a pretty low profile for that reason. He is now gone but his family are still pretty focused on her demise, so she has continued to keep her exposure low as well.

But there is a third character here that you mentioned. En Plein Air has the same problem I do – She is a very distinguishable boat in design and scale, but we try to keep her identity confused by changing her name periodically, and when I show the rare image of her here, it is not in a colour she is currently wearing.

So, I will continue to try to have photos, but that’s why you won’t see many of Ciara, En Plein Air or me.

 

WITH COVID, A LOT OF US ARE STUCK INSIDE, BUT YOU CAN SAIL AROUND. WHY ARENT YOU DOING THAT?

Ah this is an easy one. Yes, its true that this is the longest we have ever been moored in one place. There are two reasons for this. First, while we made some very good money when we did the run with the doctors at the beginning of Covid (see posts in March and April, 2020) and that put more money in the bank that I have ever seen, my finances have always been for immediate consumption to put a polite spin on it. I am rarely ahead by much. With this situation of Gerhardt and Gabrielle buying our groceries and Malcolm and Martha paying for wine in exchange for me doing the food prep and cooking of the lunches and dinners, our only costs are for our moorage and a few incidentals.  To offset those costs I give a demonstration cooking class each week and Ciara does a little med clinic for people living at the marina on a pay-what-you-can basis. The result of all this is that at this point we are not eating further into that lump of cash we got for the doctors job, so at this rate could live here indefinitely!

The second reason we are here is because these are emotionally scary times, and we have a little community we are now part of and that feels really good.

 

WHATS IN STORE FOR 2021?

Well, some things we can say with certainty and some, well not so much. But here goes.

  1. Stay healthy. At the end of most of the big wars, there were both military people and civilians who died after peace was declared. There are now some vaccines about to be administered and I don’t want to step on a land mine before I get the vaccine. So vigilance will continue to be practiced.
  2. Roll with whatever Covid dictates. I don’t know when I will get a shot of the vaccine, when lockdowns will stop, and when I will feel comfortable hugging again. But Covid sets the agenda and the schedule, and if it turns out that we are in a hot zone and can move to an area that is not, perhaps that’s what we will do, or will just lock down again.
  3. At one point in 2021 Ciara has to go back to Ireland – something to do with her medical accreditation and several months ago I agreed  to drop by the police station in Cork to do a statement regarding her Ex’s suicide. But that depends on Covid as well.
  4. In terms of posts, I am working on some book reviews – Jamie Oliver Seven Ways and Jacques Pepin’s new cookbook. I miss getting to move around and so I am going to do a few more pieces on travel – the first one will be on Cap Brun. Beyond that I have some more stories and poetry I am working on.
  5. Sales in the Django store have gone much better than planned, and I am working on two interesting additions for 2021. One is in a trial production run right now but a little held up because of Covid. Stay tuned for that.

 

PICTURES FROM READERS

Now I don’t get a lot of emails, but every now and again someone will send me a picture or two of images of things they have from The Django Store. If you have bought from there and want to send a picture, please do, and next year I will post them here. If you want to write you can find me at djangobisous@bell.net

Django Apron             James H.                  Kars, Canada

Flag Image           Patrick C.             Key West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s it for 2020. Stay safe and see you on the other side. My buddy Jim’s new favourite saying is “2021 is going to be a real shot in the arm.” Well even a blind squirrel finds some nuts sometimes, so perhaps he will be correct.

Django

CHRISTMAS DINNER FOR THE NOVICE

Posted: Dec 17, 2020

I was just minding my own business working on my next post, a review of Jamie Oliver’s new book Jamie Oliver Seven Ways, when I received an email from Andrea in Chicago. She was pretty stressed about this Christmas. Her parents are on the wrong side of seventy and her dad has experienced some respiratory issues in the past so her usual routine of going to their place and showing up with a very nice Sancerre and a bottle of prosecco is not going to happen.

I would not have been concerned about the note as much, and was just going to send her back a response but I had received a similar email from Luc in Lyon not that long ago on the same topic. Again, his problem is that Christmas always happens at his grandparent’s place and this year he will just be with his partner and they eat-out, order-in and otherwise just pick-away at leftovers a lot.

So this is an emergency post to all those novice cooks who, in a conventional year, at Christmas show up at a relatives house with a contribution to a big Christmas meal, and this year will be eating alone or with a partner or a couple of room-mates.  IF YOU ARE A SEASONED COOK (I mean experienced, not really seasoned, LOL) YOU CAN STOP READING, BECAUSE THIS IS CHRISTMAS COOKING 101, AND I DON’T THINK YOU WILL GET MUCH OUT OF IT.

So Andrea, Luc and anyone else out there who is doing Christmas for the first time, here we go.

  1. HOW MANY PARTICIPANTS?

If you are away from home and at university for example and living with some other people, make this an event you all do together. Either divide up the various tasks – shopping, cooking, serving, clean up, or have each participant do one dish. I like the former as in these days of Covid you should really just have one person out doing the shopping. The number of participants will determine the amounts you are going to prepare.

What follows here assumes two people with leftovers for a couple of days, so if you are one person, you will be able to pig-out for a week, and if its three or four you won’t have any leftovers unless you double the recipe.

  1. THIS AINT YOUR GRANDMAS CHRISTMAS DINNER

Typically, Christmas is an excuse for an all-out feast, and depending on where you live, that will take on a variety of forms but it almost always involves some special dishes, sometimes passed down from one generation to the next, some serious scale involving a monster turkey that will barely fit in the oven, or some level of exotic such as pheasant, quail, etc. I have been at events with a pig on a big spit over a fire on the beach, and others with whole pheasant stuffed with bread and olives and rosemary.

This, is not that. This is an easy but very enjoyable Christmas dinner.

You need to figure out if anyone in the group is a vegetarian, vegan, has allergies to shrimp or doesn’t like mushrooms or your hair style and design a dinner around some of those considerations. I love that so many places now prepare various great vegetarian options if you want to mimic the carnivore meal. An alternative is various veggie pies and veggie quiches as good easy ways to go in that regard as well if its only one person who you are satisfying. But if most of the group are vegetarians, I would just focus on it being a veggie Christmas feast and not try to mimic the classic Christmas dinner.

Beyond the vegetarian consideration, I would also think about whether it’s a time you just want to have something that you don’t usually splurge on to make the meal special. A great lobster dinner is something a lot of us won’t spend the money on most of the time but perhaps it will be a special thing for this Covid Christmas. If you are going that way, do your planning, go shopping and enjoy. But if your still with me, the rest of this post is on how to do an easy but traditional Christmas dinner.

  1. EASY TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS DINNER

At one point in 2021 I am going to do a post on cooking for leftovers, and from when I started doing these posts I have been meaning to get back to doing a post comparing Jim’s Nanas tourtiere with my grandmother Bebe’s tourtiere. But today, its all about turkey & trimmings.

TURKEY

Turkeys, like all birds have a lot more of everything than you want to eat. Yes, its true that if you’re into it you can use many of those excess bits for making turkey pie, or stock and some people like dark meat etc. but our goal here is to focus on the simple. So don’t buy a turkey, buy a turkey breast or two turkey breasts. It will cost more per pound but you’re not buying as much bone and other mischief. I prefer bone in, skin on, but no bone or no skin is fine.

So buy a breast that is about three pounds for a couple or three people.  While its great to buy it fresh, these are nutty times for accessing stores and if its your first time doing this I would instead buy it now, freeze it and the day before you want to cook it let it defrost in the fridge. Many stores will have frozen Turkey breasts and they are usually smaller (under 1 kg or 2 lbs.) so you will need one of these minimum for two people without much left over, but more realistically you will want three of these for four people and that will generate some leftovers.

Three Small Turkey Breasts Seasoned

I am going to talk about cooking times later but to prepare the turkey breast, wash it, dry it, and once fully dry rub it on all sides with some olive oil.  Season with salt, pepper, and fresh herbs if you have them (rosemary, thyme, oregano- whatever you like) or just sprinkle with a prepared mixture like Herbs De Provence (rosemary,  sage, fennel, thyme, basil, marjoram, lavender) or an Italian mixture (oregano, basil, rosemary, marjoram, coriander, savory, thyme and sometimes with garlic or onion salt).

Now in commercial kitchens they will use a steam oven to keep the bird nice and moist but a simple home cooks cheat to duplicate that is to put the bird on a rack in a roasting pan and fill the pan with water almost up to the bottom of the meat. One that I like as well or better is to put it on the rack over the roasting pan and to put a little chicken or vegetable stock, or orange juice and some olive oil in the bottom of that roasting pan.

 

Then put another pan below all of this in the oven with lots of water in it. As the turkey cooks and looses its juices they drop into the upper pan mixture, making a pretty nice juice to pour over the meat later, or to use to make a gravy.  The lower pan with the water is creating the nice steamy environment to keep the whole thing moist.

ROAST POTATOES

You may want to not roast potatoes if you are going heavy on dressing and on other root vegetables. But I really like roast potatoes and you are already going to have the oven on for some extended time, so they are easy to do.  I like working with little round ping pong ball size new potatoes or Yukon gold ones, but its visually great to also use various heritage ones in different colours.

You will need about five of these little guys per serving but remember you will want leftovers so double whatever number of people are going to be dining.

Just wash them up, let them dry, then put in a bowl with a glug of olive oil, give them  a hit of pepper and if you have not used rosemary on the turkey some nice rosemary is nice on these. Put them on a pan with some parchment paper or in an oven proof glass pan and they are set to go. I will cover cooking times later.

 

RUTABAGA PUFF/ SWEET POTATO MASH / SMASHED POTATOES

In the post from July –  Covid Comfort Food, I did an introduction to these three. They are easy to do and any one of them can really do the job here, but if you are doing the roast potatoes (easiest) you might want the rutabaga puff, but certainly don’t need it, and the other two are certainly root vegetable overkill if you are doing the roast potatoes. Some will substitute a Yorkshire pudding for the roast potatoes or any of these root vegetable options but that’s a topic for another day.

DRESSING

To start, dressing and stuffing are the same thing. Stuffing is the mixture that goes into a whole bird, dressing is the same mixture cooked on its own.

I usually make dressing from scratch, using a good home-made chicken stock, a selection of nice day-old multigrain breads etc. but that’s not how you are going to spend your time if you are doing a Christmas dinner for the first time.

If you can buy a nice prepared dressing from a high end food shop, that you just put into an oven safe dish and heat – do it.

If that’s not available, then buy a prepared box of dressing, and follow the instructions, but instead of using the prescribed water use a good low sodium chicken stock (vegetable stock if you have vegetarians in the group) a handful of  chopped walnuts, an onion, a large carrot cut shredded and chopped up a bit,  and a stalk of celery chopped up to have it mimic a homemade one.

The next  time you do it just replace that box of ingredients with some day old cubed multigrain bread, that you have put in the oven at 175c or 350f and watch until they are dried out, turning a couple of times. Let them cool, and then use these with some dried herbs a  30 ml of butter and the walnuts, onion carrots and celery and you can eliminate that box and start to play with different herbs to make it your own. But I am getting ahead of myself – I am now talking about next years Christmas.

OTHER STUFF

To complete the program you will need a few more things. A nice whole cranberry sauce, a packet for a poultry gravy (its not worth the time working on a homemade gravy, but you will mix in the juices from the bird into the mixture).

With all that root vegetable and dressing action going on you will need to add something green to break it up – green beans are easy to just trim, steam and serve without much effort. Trim and wash them ahead and just steam them when everything else is ready.

You will probably have enough on the go to not prepare a desert so I would either buy a desert or make some shortbread or sugar cookies ahead. This is particularly good if you have others involved as that can be their contribution.

You will need some nice decorations and a Christmas table setting, with candles, lots of wine and some non-alcoholic alternatives, and get out your Jimi Hendrix Christmas album. Again, put someone else on this stuff if there are many of you.

 

PUTTING IT TOGETHER

Most people only have one oven so that is what I am going to assume here. If you have two ovens, set one to 60c or 120f and treat it as a warming oven. Put a bowl of water in it to keep things moist.

Everything is worked backward from the time you want to serve your meal. If you are new to all of this write down your dinner time, work back each component from that and it will help you stay calm through the process. It also helps to not consume too much wine until the food is on the table or you might be ordering pizza!

The turkey is going to take the most time so it will dictate the schedule. Plan on it to cook for 30 minutes per half kilo (or one pound) at 175C (or 370f). So that’s going to set the timing. Work back from the serving time you want to have dinner for a time to put it in the oven and allow some time ahead to pre-heat the oven.

Note: if you are cooking multiple small turkey breasts instead of one larger turkey breast, you will want the turkey breasts to be about the same size and it will be the size of one breast that will set your approximate timing, not the total weight. So whether you are putting in one, two or three of those smaller  1 kg (2 lb) breasts, your calculations will be 30 minutes  [per .5K (1lb)] for those  1k (2lb) breasts= 60 minutes.

Roasted Turkey Breasts

Ovens really vary, so if you are using one with a fan assist or convection setting, go with that and you wont need to cover the breasts but if you are using a more basic oven sometimes it helps to loosely cover the turkey breast with aluminum foil for the first half of the time, and then take the foil off for the last half to help the skin crisp up without really turning it into charcoal.

If you have not done this before I would just put the potatoes and the turkey in at the same time and if the potatoes are ready early then take them out and cover with aluminum foil and if you have that warming oven put them there. Otherwise, they will be fine once roasted just sitting out but covered with the foil. The potatoes will take less time so if you want to get the Turkey breasts in then prepare the potatoes and put them in that’s fine too.

When you are getting close to the end of the time the skin on the turkey breast should be browning up. Put in a thermometer and see how it is cooking. Its only ready when it gets to an internal temperature of 165f. If its not there, let it go another ten minutes and check again at the thickest point in the breast. If you don’t have a cooking thermometer- get one, or plan on ordering a dinner!

The dressing will keep its warmth and you prepare it on the top of the oven so once you have the turkey and potatoes in the oven you can get your things prepared for the dressing but not start it until about twenty minutes before the scheduled end of the cooking time for the turkey.

Set the table and get your serving pieces ready – a bowl for the gravy, a small bowl for the cranberry sauce, large bowl for the dressing and a serving tray for the turkey, and a bowl for the potatoes.

Christmas Dinner For The Novice

This will hopefully set you up for a pretty nice Christmas dinner, and generate a number of leftovers. It will also turn you on to how much work your Grandma or parents or whoever else usually prepares a feast for you to just show up and enjoy.

So next time, when you are invited for a regular Christmas get together, volunteer to bring that rutabaga puff or a fabulous desert and put some serious effort into it and nail it. That’s Christmas.

Django

 

BETTER WITH TIME

POSTED: DEC 1, 2020

I really like wine. I mean I REALLY LIKE WINE.  But during these anxiety-ridden times it has scared me a bit how much.  I will drink then eat, then drink then eat, and if I am with friends it can get out of hand.

Some days I will say to myself – “no wine for you tonight Django” and not have a drop for a few days, but then once I have a glass – yikes, right back at it. Now you have to understand, this is not an alcoholic talking here. Some people have some serious medical problems and I have seen how bad it can get. This is not that. But it is still worrisome how one glass can lead to three. I am rarely incapacitated, never hung over and the magnitude of my consumption is three glasses. It just is a bit scary how easy it is to do that and how often the anxiety about the world and the future makes it happen these days. So I try to be disciplined but don’t beat my self up if it doesn’t always happen.

One thing I have been trying to do is to buy better wines and drink one glass of a really fine one instead of multiples of bad ones. I was sharing my thoughts on this with my buddy Jim, as he suffers from the same gaps in discipline and he related the story of his wine cellar.

When he was working in the investment industry, he was a fiduciary. For those who don’t know this stuff that’s someone who is entrusted with acting for others and protecting their interests. He managed money for big pension funds. As a born again Marxist he interpreted this as Nouveau Marxism and working for the greater good of the common man because all the investments income, other than a small management fee,  was going to the pension funds and in turn to the workers relying on that income in their retirement. Ok. A bit of a stretch but I guess it got him through the night.

In managing investment funds for big pension funds he dealt with two groups. Clients – the pension funds he invested for (what he called upstream) and the people and opportunities pitched to him by the investment community to buy (what he called downstream).  His time was divided equally to  these upstream interests to keep his clients happy and his downstream activities to keep feeding the machine with good investments to achieve that happiness and with his partners managing his team to make that happen.

So as a fiduciary he could not accept any gifts from the downstream investment brokers or property developers he dealt with. The most that he could accept would be a nice dinner or something else that could be consumed like a nice bottle of wine. Every time his little (later to become medium and then huge) company would do a deal he would go to an expensive dinner or get a nice bottle of red wine, as these would be collector wines that would improve with age. The suggestion of course is that the investment he had made would stand the test of time as would the relationship with the company or individual they had transacted with. You know -shameless symbolism.

Jim likes red wine, but he likes Janice more, and during much of this time she was having issues with occasional migraines and she was not drinking much wine at all and certainly not the tannin filled reds. So the nice bottle he would receive would be lovingly placed in a very nice cool dark wine cellar for a future time when she might want to enjoy it with him. I guess this is one of the secrets to four decades of marriage.

Time would pass and the collection grew and going into the wine cellar with Jim was a trip down memory lane as he would talk about the person he dealt with, the transaction involved, the pension funds who participated, and how the investment fared over time. He must have consumed some of the wine as all of the stories were about positive returns if not exceptional returns.

As time went on the various bottles were aging along nicely until one day, not that long ago, Janice got it in her head to have nice glass of red wine having been migraine free for a few years. Jim was thrilled and went to the wine cellar to open one of the oldest, best “old world” wines, from the 1980’s.  The way he tells it there were several trumpets, red carpets, decorations and endorphins involved as a celebration during the removal of the cork, and then some decanting and into two glasses and …. it was awful. Not only well past its peak, but not even consumable.

Clearly this was an anomaly, and a second bottle was opened – anomaly two… then anomaly three. At this point he was in the wine cellar frantically opening bottles with Janice looking on in disbelief. I think the guys with the trumpets and red carpet and decorations had gone home.

The anomaly was the norm. All the really vintage ones were bad. As they worked their way through to finally hitting a good one my buddy really started to get it. Like me, he is desperately trying to understand what life is about. Some things that you put off to enjoy another day you build up too much expectation for. Deferred gratification is good but in reasonable doses. Deferring too long just misses the mark. Some gratification is needed now.

He hated pouring all that wine down the drain but loved the learning in the experience.

 

Django

P.S. and a tip of the hat to all our friends from Down Under: The old world (Italy and France) “big reds” – Amarone and Cabernet Sauvignons etc. were the ones that did not hold up but the New World Australian reds (shiraz in particular) were past their peak but very good.

COVID & ELECTORAL COLLEGE VOTES

NOVEMBER 3, 2020

 

I was not adjusting to my Covid life very well as you know, and like most other people don’t have a big tolerance for anything that is not as I expect it should be right now. A misplaced glass of water is a big deal these days to me.

So I don’t know how I would react to this American election in “normal” times and don’t know how the U.S. electorate would vote in those “normal” times.

While the outcome of the presidential election is not yet known we do know:

  1. Mitch McConnell was elected again to the Senate
  2. Lindsay Graham was elected again to the Senate
  3. A substantial number of voters with Latin American heritage believed Trumps lies that Biden is a socialist.
  4. About half the U.S. electorate voted for this racist,  homophobic liar, who is committed to keeping the poor under their thumb, and the wealthy in control.

I am a Canadian living in Europe and I am gutted by this. I cant imagine life for all those Americans who think beyond their own self interest and were hoping that more of their fellow voters would repudiate the Trump regime. That did not happen. The last four years saw such a deterioration and regardless of the outcome of this election, it must be very challenging to the psyche of those people to know that about half of the population are  Trump supporters.  I once had a real tyrant for a neighbour and it affected much of my life until I got a slip some distance from him. I cant imagine a situation where half of your neighbors potentially are this screwed up in their beliefs. It is a terrible way to live.

Django

My next post and for several more I am only going to write about positive things.

PRE-ELECTION EAVESDROPPING

POSTED: November 1, 2020

This social distancing and self-imposed isolation protocol is driving me nuts. Ciara too. I like her a lot, she is a great captain and a wonderful person, but this huge boat is much too small at times. She feels the same way. Its not that either of us get on each other’s nerves its more that we are each getting on our own nerves and the other just happens to be living there too. UGGGGGG.

So sometimes we get it in our heads that we will go ashore and do something different. There are some things that we don’t want to put on the food orders that Gabrielle and Gerhardt pay for that are pharmacy and hardware related so we decided to take the little fold-up bikes and panniers and go to the pharmacy and a hardware store that has a lot of home improvement, household and gardening stuff. We checked in with Malcolm and Martha for their little pharmacy and hardware list, and with Gerhardt and Gabrielle and a few other people and off we went.

It felt good to be doing something “normal”.

After our grand shopping trip with both pairs of panniers filled and a couple of extra bags as well, we decided to have a take-away pain au chocolat and café au lait and sat down in the park at a picnic table.

Were we ever in for a treat. The table next to us had six university students who were having coffee and talking politics. One had a German accent (might be from Switzerland or Austria but we assumed German) one with a Scandinavian (difficult to tell if Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, or Finnish) accent, one Brit, one Dutch, and two Americans. They were well into a dialogue about the upcoming election in the United States.

At that point I didn’t know if these were theatre arts students cleverly placed by the cosmos to entertain us, during our rare trip off the boat, or just some very politically engaged young people but it was really interesting to hear. Ciara was totally into it as well so she did not find it strange when I asked her to help me move our table closer to theirs notionally to be “in the sun” but really so we could close enough to catch all the dialogue without being so close to catch the virus.

Eavesdropping I don’t really have an ethical problem with when people are out in public spaces talking about topics that are not personal to them. One of my high school friends, Linda was unbelievably political, even more than Jim, and like Jim and other young people with a “political core”,  all worked on political campaigns for the parties they were supporting. Some of them were scrutineers at polling stations, but all worked on the door knocking, handing out literature and that kind of thing- very junior, but equally very necessary tasks.

But Linda, she was in a league of her own. She did all of those things but also rode the bus. I don’t mean the campaign bus, I mean the local bus. Living in Ottawa, which is the capital of Canada, most people were civil servants, in the tech industry or in services businesses dependent on the civil service so most people in that city had a keen eye on the issues, and the various candidates nuanced positions on things. The polls were one measure of how people would respond to questions but when Linda had heard Jim talk about his one and a half hour bus ride twice a week to go to his track and field club that happened at the military base next to the airport and related how much discussion there was on the bus about politics, she was all over it. Her starting point was just riding the routes that were longer express type routes as those had people who were captive for a longer period and would get into longer more complex conversations. At times she would just write things down but on other occasions she would ask the odd question or volunteer a comment to steer the direction of the conversation.

I think she turned this into a fine art when she started comparing the results from her trips in working class neighborhoods vs. the higher end. Her other big extension of this was riding the routes at the end of the work-day that originated at government buildings. Secretaries and assistants, analysts and researchers would at times casually say to a fellow worker how they were burning out from working on a particular project and various little nuggets would fall out. Occasionally she would take a friend and “seed” a conversation with a dialogue on a controversial political issue.

She shared the results but not the methodology of how she was collecting this information with the people she reported to in the campaign and looked like a wizard to them as the polls would often come out a week later reflecting what she had already surmised from her bus reconnaissance. Linda went on to a big career in advertising.

So back to our eavesdropping in the park yesterday. The topics ranged, some of the references to contemporary music and social media stuff neither Ciara or I got but here is what I have as a summary of our eavesdropping.

BLACK LIVES MATTER

Not exclusively an American thing, but largely an American thing. The difference is that while racial discrimination exists everywhere and is institutionalized in many more places than just the U.S.  as most black people in other parts of the world are not the descendants of slaves, the depth of the impact of racist acts and comments is less in other places. Most other western democracies have also admitted the atrocities of the past, and are trying, with very mixed results,  to move on, so racists are the outliers and not allowed to actually have as much political voice in the mainstream parties and are relegated to fringe political parties or hate groups.

The non- American students were somewhat dumbfounded at the idea of defunding the police, but the magnitude of the incarceration rates (particularly of the non-white males) in the U.S. and the enormity of the budgets for responding to the effects of the inequalities instead of just allocating the resources to reducing inequalities had most of them just shaking their heads and uttering insightful comments like “fucked up”.

POPULIST POLITICAL MOVE TO THE RIGHT

I had never heard the term “Time Warp in Reverse”. It is a reference of course to the songs lyrics from Rocky Horror Picture Show,  íts just a jump to the left, and if played backward… well you get the idea.  Ciara had to explain it to me. Unfortunately, some of the more contemporary references to music, film and culture were lost on  both of us!

The whole movement to the right or extreme right perspectives in Europe, and in the U.S. has a terrible chill for many and certainly for this group of students. Whether its LGBTQ rights in various places in Europe, the big drive in many U.S. states to abolish a woman’s right to chose to have an abortion, or a bunch of old inward looking Brits choosing to piss away their children’s future with Brexit, there is a strong movement to the right. A different kind of Horror Show.

The discussion was also interesting because of the references to the range of political parties in Europe, with many places having a spectrum of parties from the extreme left to the extreme right and it usually being coalitions of these various political parties that form governments so those governments reflect the general mood of the population to the right of where they were previously or to the left, but the coalitions are such that those measures are not as binary as in some two party states, like the U.S.  The general consensus among this group was the same as everyone else who does not live in America, the Democrats are way off on the right and the Republicans are further right. One of the students was wearing a “Feel the Bern” T Shirt and another had a Bernie button on her bag.

Kamala Harris was acknowledged as young, smart, black and a woman but dismissed as a disappointment for still being so damn right wing in her views and her inclusion on the ticket as a half step by the Democrats in actually trying to think about America moving forward.

 

UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE

I thought this was going to be a good topic when it came up but it hardly got any response. All but two of these young people were Europeans so the debate of whether universal health care is a good thing is a bit like trying to find someone to debate the merits of Cancer.

Some of Bernies thoughts on education for all was brought up but for these European students it got the same reaction as universal health care – something that is self evident in any civilized society.

Kanelbullar in Malta

Ciara had gone off to the washroom in the café and came back with a couple of really fine Swedish style cinnamon rolls. The pain au chocolat had been excellent and these looked just as good. I love the way various traditional cultural dishes have travelled around the world and can be so faithfully reproduced elsewhere. One taste of these little rolls could take you right back to sitting at a café in Stockholm. If you find yourself in Sweden one day, get a coffee and ask for a Kanelbullar.

It seems that I am off topic here, but Ciara reported when she came back that while waiting for the washroom she had a chat with one of the people from the group we were eavesdropping on. They were a group of students who were all studying at a university in the Netherlands in a masters program in Comparative Culture. The program was conducted in English so attracted lots of international students and like most graduate programs the assumption is that a participant will learn as much from their fellow students as from the coursework itself. So this bunch had been off for an inexpensive mid-term holiday to Malta in March when Covid hit and just stayed and were working from here online in their own little bubble and while living together in another culture were experiencing their own cross cultural experience.

WHO IS MORE DAMAGING THAN TRUMP?

Well this would appear to be a rhetorical question wouldn’t it? Ah but not for this insightful little panel of political aficionados. They were downing some beer at this point and we actually moved our table back to where it belonged as the volume had increased and the potential risks of contracting the plague had as well.

So who is more damaging than Trump?  First up was the reference to Mitch McConnell and his band of self-interested Republicans in the Senate and in some ways this relates to George Floyd. The Dutch girl referenced that the officers who were standing by when Derek Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd are as guilty if not more guilty than he was. When in an intense situation like that she argued that we might imagine that the adrenaline gets flowing really well and can overpower good decision making. But if you are one of the ones who is not in the active fight for control its your responsibility to get your fellow officer off of the person they are trying to subdue. The accomplice in this context may be worse than the person committing the act.

Similarly, Donald Trump doesn’t know the intricacies of the geopolitical world, the interconnectivity of so many political and economic elements or the laws that govern the United States or even the conventions that govern human behaviour. Mitch McConnell does. So for the Senate Majority Leader to chose to ignore the terrible actions, tweets and policies of the tyrant in the White House simply because of the desire to cling to power is more unacceptable in a seasoned politician, the head of the senate majority and a trained lawyer.

Parenthetically one of the American students pointed out that he may be a trained lawyer but is not a house- trained senator. It was not clear to me if this was a joke regarding house trained as in a pets house training or an insight relating to the House of Representatives trained.

There was some clear agreement by the picnic table panel that this year could be identified as THE YEAR OF THE ACCOMPLICES.

The second response to the question of who is worse for America than Trump is the capitalists who fuel not only the Republican party but much of the Democratic party as well. Within sight of our little park there was a bit of graffiti on a building that got some discussion.

Corona & Capitalism

Here is the summary: Capitalism works when its on a small scale. I’m a plumber, you make furniture and someone else is a baker. We all work hard, and all of our kids swim in the same lake. So we don’t dump chemicals in the lake, and we respect our neighbors who work at our business. But if its big publicly traded multi-national capitalism however, our motivations are not with the people we live with in the town, or who work for us,  or the customers who buy our bread or furniture or plumbing services but the shareholders. And the shareholders don’t care about the lake, don’t care about the workers and if we can’t deliver good investment returns for them they will find someone who can.

Covid has revealed that terrible truth in the United States of how if you don’t work you don’t have health care, and there is a bit of the idea in America that perhaps that’s the way it should be. The massive lobby and political financial support by big pharma and the insurance companies to keep the existing private health insurance arrangements in place are only outranked in their bad intent by the NRA in their control of the system to keep guns on the streets. Big funds go to both the parties to keep change from really occurring.

While the stones were being thrown at the Americans in this regard and their extreme disregard for environmental stewardship and sustainability, it was not aimed exclusively at them. It doesn’t matter if you are Canadian Mining company operating in Indonesia that hides behind a local governments week environmental policy or a U.K. company that hides behind very low worker rights standards in some developing countries,  the issue is the same.

At this point there were lots of others standing around in the park listening to the debate and some had sat down on the grass and were enjoying it as well.

And that brings in the third response to who is more damaging than trump – anyone who votes for him. It is those people who are sufficiently self interested that they support him out of their own greed or  personal goals. They want lower taxes instead of better health care, more freedom instead of more self control and less government instead of a fair society. These are the people who  can’t wear a mask. Public health is not for your health – its for everyone else’s.

I am really with these students on this. My sense is that if most republicans and Democrats in the U.S. were surveyed and asked if they could choose between being better off personally or something that would benefit society (end disease, eliminate hunger, reduce inequalities, better health care or education or…..) that the majority of both groups would choose self interest. Yes there would be serious differences between the two parties, and yes some real variations depending on socio economic position, age, etc. But if you went back and did the survey thirty or forty years ago, I bet that the number who would choose self interest over the public good would be significantly lower. Kennedys inauguration speech in January 1961 about asking not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country was pretty self evident at the time, and not at all self evident today. This sadly seems to be the trend throughout the world today.

The exception to this rather self evident truth? I think its the millennials and other young people. The support for Bernie Sanders, and other presidential nominees on the left side of the Democratic party was fueled by their support and energy.

 

A RIGGED CONSTITUTION

For the most part the two Americans, a black young man, and and a white young woman, sporting an LGBTQ shirt and a Feel the Bern button on her satchel, had been among the quieter of the group, but came alive on this topic.

The gist of this was that while the United States has all of these problems they are all the secondary results of not having a constitution that was designed to protect and govern the people, but a set of arrangements to continue to perpetuate the control by the ruling class. When a constitution is written that way at a time when slavery was a fundamental part of the society, white women were only one step above that and when it was self evident to those drafting it that America was tied to  trusting not its own political decision making but its one Christian God, the demand for equality that would come with the passage of time would quickly outdate this self interested set of rules.

A big discussion point on this was the  ongoing challenges of a Supreme Court appointment of someone who answers to her god first, and believes that her country needs to answer that way as well because that is what was drafted at the time the “rule book” was written up. Even the tools to amend the constitution are unworkable. It has resulted in where the United States is today on social welfare, gun control, a woman’s right to choose and even democracy itself. And the limits of the Supreme court to “interpret” the constitution cant turn a game of checkers into a game of chess.

I had not realized until that eavesdropping session yesterday  that in some U.S. States black women only got the unfettered right to vote in the mid 1960’s.

Liberty Leading The People. Delacroix, 1830

While others participated in this constitutional and senate appointment segment,  these two young Americans had come alive and I had visions of one of them re-enacting Delacroix’s Liberty Leading The People right there on the picnic table!

It had been a full day for us. We were stimulated, and bit drained and rode our little bikes that were bulging with our shopping, back to the marina in time to work on dinner. That night Ciara  and I related all of this over a dinner with Malcolm, Martha, Gerhardt and Gabrielle on the dock. I was still trying to process the day and did not have the time or energy to prepare a multi course meal so just made pasta with super colossal sized grilled shrimp, and a baguette we had bought that day.

Over dinner, as Ciara and I related it to the others,  many of the ideas presented gelled for me, mainly because of the thoughts that the others brought to the discussion that night.

Martha was commenting that democracy in application comes in many different forms, ranging from a true reflection of what people think and want, to a rather contrived version as in Russia. Her take on it as an American, is that for all of the United States sense that democracy is a notion they are the great example of, their version is a very limited vision where the two electoral machines that the two parties have become are somewhat separate from the people. She also was reflecting on how for all the promise that democracy suggests, it is also the opportunity for the public at times to elect true demons.

It was at this point that Gerhardt weighted in. Gerhardt is usually quiet or very jovial. I think that is just his nature but I think at least part of his upbeat spirit is to keep Gabrielle on a positive note. So when he rarely comments on serious matters the words take on an aura of gravitas. His comment, which took on more significance at least for me with his heavy German accent, was: “Both Hitler and Trump were duly elected.”

We had all been enjoying the wine that Malcolm and Martha had brought and some of the discussion and these last comments had the real possibility of taking us into a serious downward spiral. I find myself having to work at not spiraling down many days since Covid became part of our lives, so as I topped up his wine glass,  I posed a question to Malcolm: “ tell me something good that will come from this election”.

Now this guy thinks a lot. Has been a professor  at some of the top U.S. universities and being on the wrong side of eighty he has seen many things come and go. He had little hesitation and some very clear thoughts I will try to convey as accurately as possible.

First, the conclusions of the students we had eavesdropped on yesterday were correct in their conclusion of the “winner” of the upcoming election – America lost.

Second, in the application of the classic pendulum theory of politics if the Democrats are elected and then make it to a second term that will start to rebalance both policy and the courts and redefine their positive role in international affairs.

But third and most importantly, with the election of so right wing and uninspired a Democrat to the White House there is a real possibility of a new split in each of the two parties. The progressive Democrats will vote as a block and force the rest to embrace some positive changes in social welfare, taxation and human rights. If the party as a whole does not change a new more progressive party will splinter off or at least a group of independents with similar views will leave the party and vote as an independent block.

Similarly, the Republicans being defeated in the election will each blame the Democrats publicly, but privately will blame the other portion of their own party that was too liberal or too conservative. The Tea Party will re-emerge on the right which will free the more progressive of the Republicans to get their party back and potentially even move to a more enlightened place in the political spectrum.

Malcolm and Martha both went into many examples in Europe of how this very process occurred, and how the party differentiations continue to evolve.

So for the election in the U.S. in 2024 we may see four parties or at least more very credible, respected independents. Of course all of this change is also happening in the United States at  a time when a revolution is going on in race relations, and the world is in the midst of a pandemic.

The day had been a big one and as I settled in to bed that night I had a much more positive take on the world that is in conflict, and under siege from a virus, but that has had a long history of learning and relearning how to grow. And just to put things in perspective I had a nice day out with Ciara, and dinner with friends, exercised my mind, and had a couple of nice coffees that are better than I can make, a very nice pain au chocolate and a fabulous kanelbullar.

Django

BARGE PLANTERS & KEY WEST

POSTED: Oct  21

Yes, you read correctly. Sometimes I write about meaningful things, and sometimes I write about …well…. planters.

But before I get to planters you have to understand how this relates to Key West. For those of you who have not been it’s a bit of a special place.

It is located a three and half our drive south of Miami and is closer to Havana than it is to Miami. At one time there were regular ferry crossings to Cuba, and the birthplace of PanAmerican Air lines was in Key West as they flew what look like pretty rickety bits of mischief from KW to Havana.

The drive down is a really interesting one as you have the Atlantic on your left and the Gulf Of Mexico on your right and mainly just palm trees, bridges, causeways and little islands (Keys) all along the drive. The upper keys are “cottage country” for some from Miami as far down as Key Largo. As you get further down to Marathon and Islamorada the big focus is fishing.

The Florida Keys

 

As you drive from Miami to Key West over more than three hours, you also have a sense that you are shedding the real world as you go, paring down to a more basic life. That is largely true.

This little two by four mile island is only about sixteen feet above sea level so its really flat. If you have a three-speed bike you have two, too many. For Americans especially, as the southernmost point in the continental U.S. it also feels a bit like the end of the world or at least the end of of the line. The highway US 1, starts here at Mile 0 and the various keys north of Key West are marked at their mile markers from this point. Marathon for example is at mile marker 50.

Key West Aerial by Rob O’Neal

As a result, a lot of the people who live in Key West have chosen it as an alternative to living a more conventional life. This has been the case for a long time. The people of this little island thought that prohibition was an ill conceived notion so during those years (1920 -1933) they largely ignored the restrictions. Similarly the gay community found they could live in relative peace long before their rights began to be protected in the rest of the country.

So the collection of writers, musicians and various misfits from around the globe interact on this little island where everyone walks or rides a bike, and most cars sit parked most of the time.

Ibis and chickens run wild in the streets, and there are lots of iguanas but unlike the chickens they tend to avoid the crowds.

Much of the housing on the island was built in the late 1800’s with various small houses brought intact from the Bahamas (that’s where a lot of the sand was also barged in from) or built by ship carpenters.

The social conventions in most “civilized” places keep people from decorating the outside of their houses to the full extent of their imaginations, but in a place where alternative is the norm, and conformity is rare, its not uncommon for people to paint their houses pink and aqua and yellow. So a logical extension is that decoration and ornamentation runs the full range. Most houses in the world are clothed. The ones in Key West also have jewelry. So exterior ceiling fans and baskets and hanging fixtures with orchids and marine paraphernalia, and painted up old bikes, and the odd skeleton from Halloweens past are pretty common sights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how does all of this relate to barges Django? Well, for those of you who have been paying attention, the use of barge accommodations during my days with Amy and Justin and Sven was pretty important. If you have not read any of those early posts you might want to go back to the archives  to the ones from the end of 2016 and into early 2017.

Now Jim is pretty taken by barges, my boat, and almost anything that you can live on that floats. He and Janice have had six houses, a ski place, a cottage and their place in Key West and while Jim thinks they might have a barge in the future, I think that Janice is going to keep them a bit more anchored to shore than that. She already has the challenge of keeping him anchored to reality.  We will see how that one pans out, but in the meantime Jim got it in his head a while back, to do a decoration for the front of their place in Key West that would be a wooden planter shaped like a Dutch live-aboard barge.

He made it out of ten layers of  2 x 14 cm (1 x 6 in) poplar, and then did some carving and shaping and some folk art painting. So today that sits at their place in Key West on the front porch when they are home and on the back deck by the pool, or inside when they are not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So fast forward to last (2019) summer. When Jade and Jason were visiting their folks in KW in the winter  of 2019 they saw the barge that Jim had done and they thought that it would be nice to work with their dad and make one each. So the two barges they made were  a bit shorter in length and not constructed of the laminated  poplar but instead of 14 x 14 cm (6 x 6 inch) clear cedar and are fully carved other than the roof on the top. Jason is still working on the folk art painting on his so I will update this note when that’s done but Jade only has a bit more painting to do on hers.

I think they look great.

Jades Barge Planter

 

Jason’s Barge Planter

These days as we all try to self isolate, and are holed up in our homes everyone seems to be baking, painting, sewing, woodworking and generally doing all those things they have either been meaning to do (take up the cello) or get back to doing (making bread) so I thought I would share this little palette cleanser between my heavier posts.

Now where did I put that cello….

Django