Category Archives: 2020 archive


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.



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.




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.



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.


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.


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


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.


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”.


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.



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.


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.



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.



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….



POSTED: OCT. 1, 2020

I am not really a bird guy. But for the last few weeks a crazy big sea bird has been coming by and visiting En Plein Air. After pulling out one of my bird books I went over to where he likes to sit on the fore-boom and got up close to examine him with my book in hand. He twisted his head as if to see what I was looking at.

“Yup, you are a Shearwater” I exclaimed aloud. He just sat there.


Most days he comes by in the morning when I am out watering the little potted vegetable garden and herb garden I have. The first day he took away part of my toast, but left my coffee alone. Another day he ate part of Ciaras hard boiled egg. That just seems weird to me.

Now he appears to be hooked on the coffee. He sits not very far away and watches me. He seems to know when I have stopped drinking the coffee and there is just a little left and I have gone off to do something else its ok to get his beak in there. Both Ciera and I have started using wider mugs and not finishing our coffee and leaving the mugs on the table on the deck. I have also taken to getting out my camera and my bird friend has taken to picking up on that and flying off.


A buddy of mines parents moved to their cottage on a lake when they retired. Part of their routine was to go for long walks at dusk. A young fox got the idea this was a good thing and would come within sight of the cottage door and watch for them and they would watch for him before starting off. The route they took was always the same through some trails in the bush and back to the cottage and the fox would come and go and appear at various points on the walk as if checking on them. At times the distance from the fox to the couple was big and at other times smaller but never very close. By the end of the walk the fox would make his final appearance and then disappear into the forest again until the following evening in time for the “walk”.   In the spring, summer, and fall it happened during their walks and in the winter during their cross-country skiing of the same trails.

There is no big epiphany here, but just to say that these animals sometimes hang out for food and sometimes just because they don’t see people as a threat, and they find us interesting and its part of their routine.  I think they are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

The two bird books I have, with a few cookbooks and letters are some of the only written luxuries I keep on the boat. On a regular basis I do go to local libraries wherever we are moored at the time however.

My bird books came out of a funeral I was at not many years after high school. I was back in town from working on the cruise ships and a friend’s dad had passed. I went to pay my respects and because I knew a lot of my old classmates would be there. Sort of a morbid class reunion.

His dad I did not know well – just a regular dad.  But at the funeral I learned of his interest as a teenager and then young man in racing pigeons. These “homing” pigeons were all the rage at one time. The owners would release them long distances from their home and they would make it back to their little pen with their own built in GPS programmed by Mother Nature.  At one time this was so popular that various “pigeon fanciers” as they were called would always have a spare safe spot or two for pigeons who were making it home from where they were released – a sort of pigeon hotel chain.

Because it was an Irish wake it was a bit of a scene. Two days before, the family had all assembled and the guys went out to the back garden and garage to build the rough box for the casket. With each saw cut or hammering in some nails they would tell stories of the fellow who had passed and have another swig of Irish whiskey, Canadian Rye whiskey,  or beer. My buddy told me there had been a lot of laughing, crying and drinking and while all this was going on the women were in the house cooking and baking for the wake and funeral day, and also laughing and crying and drinking.

At the time of the funeral there was a crazy amount of food, a lot of booze and a good number of people who had spent a couple of days reflecting on who the deceased was, what he meant to them and what life would be like going forward without him. So they were all well into the process of grieving and recovery, and quite reflective, while some of us, like me, came into it a bit unawares.

So when I asked a woman about the mans interest in pigeons she spent a bit of time telling me about Rollers and Tumblers, Dragoons, Black Grizzle’s and Kings and the ins and outs of the hobby. She was elderly and had known him when he was a young man and had shared the pigeon interest with him, but had largely lost track of him later in life. She knew of him so well and spoke of him in a such a way I think she might have been a girlfriend in high school.  And then she stopped and looked me in the eye and said of this dead old fellow who had raised homing pigeons as a young man: “His father was an alcoholic, and nasty to his mum and when be was old enough he left home in his mid teens to make his own life. The pigeons were a hobby but their desire to find their home is a sense that he shared with them.”

I was a young guy, and her sincerity and insight was a bit overwhelming for me and it has stayed with me for all these years. She was probably about the age I am now or maybe a bit younger.

A few days later I went over to see my school friend in a context that was more upbeat than the funeral, as I was heading off to the cruise ships again and the family was having a garage sale.

I bought two of the bird books and even though I have never really had much personal storage space, and even today don’t have much space on the boat they have traveled around with me.

The Pigeon, Wendell Mitchell Levi, 1945

They are quite old and tattered now, but unlike novels or other things that come and go with the fashion of the times, nature isn’t making new versions of these birds, so I can still look them up and find out a bit more about them, but every time I crack open one of these old puppies or even look at them on my little shelf, I think about that woman’s comments about the original owners of these books looking for home and think that in a little way I am helping these books find their own home.

Brocks Book On Birds, 1929


The book with the descriptor of this family of birds called Shearwaters had some pretty interesting details. These birds who share a general category with Albatrosses, are called Shearwaters (at least in English) as they like to fly so close to the surface of the water they appear to shear the tops of the waves.


They fly thousands of kilometers a year in migration and some dive into the water over seventy meters (over 225 feet) deep to feed on various fish. The book said nothing about them enjoying coffee so I will keep that to a minimum.



But its almost 9:00 and I had better get a bit of dry toast and some coffee and go and see if our new friend is on the railing of the deck waiting for me.


p.s. The image at the top of the page is not my own. I have been trying to get a picture of my feathered friend but he has eluded me pretty well so this is an image from the Malta Tourist Office.


POSTED: Sept 19, 2020

En Plein Air is an old wooden boat and the two key words here are old and wooden. There are lots of jokes out there about a boats just being a way to dump money into the water, and while that is somewhat true with new fiberglass and other composite boats, it is very true of old wooden boats. Now for those of you who come to this website often you will know that on the electrical and mechanical she is absolutely state of the art using a hydrogen generator to drive a super quiet electric engine but the rest of her, what everyone sees, is pure vintage boat. Vintage here I will translate: high maintenance. But keeping her up is part of the relationship, so we carry on.

When we were at work with various bookings most of them involved a sail, so she would get out to clean off part of the hull on a regular basis. But not this year. Other than our crazy dash to north Africa, and Cape Verde and back to Malta we have been at rest in Malta. The above water line stuff, largely on the deck, I keep up fairly well, on a rotation of small sections of wood that is tidied up and gets new protective coats, but the hull is a different matter. While it is a bit less of a problem when in use, regardless of getting for a nice good run in the ocean the buildup on the hull is relentless. It is easy to take her out under power on a calm sea for a little outing but a real sail is something we have not done in months.

Part of the problem is that this is not a nice boat to sail alone or even with two people. Modern boats are amazing in their ability to be handled by two people easily, but one like this I have seen Captain Sven, and Captain Ciara handle alone but its not pretty and at one point I had to do a run alone and that was just foolishness.

So the guck on the hull was starting to get to both of us. Partially because both Ciara and I love this old boat, and partially because in these stressful times we start to project out to the future with nightmares of eventually two inches thick of dense guck killing this creature we have been entrusted to look out for. This is not the only thing that troubles me when I think about the future but it is one that I am reminded of every morning when I get up and look over the side. When Jim and I discovered our same medical problem many years ago we challenged ourselves to be more like the other – him more laid back and me with a bit more focus on the future. Well, thanks a lot Jim. Now I think about the future, which I never did before, and Covid has put that into hyper-drive.

So when two talented lads with hull cleaning gear came by to ask if we would like to get the hull cleaned for fifty euros for each of six guys I jumped at the chance.

Where we sit is in a marina that is adjacent to a real shipyard. There are power hookups and pump outs, and showers and picnic tables and grilling units and some fire pits and laundry facilities. Everything is well kept and clean but not luxurious. In the office there are some basic services and for a fee we can do scanning and faxing and they have a pretty good wifi that covers most of the marina. And what’s nice is that adjacent to it is a real shipyard so in the event we needed a haul out that’s there, if needed. So it’s a nice set up but this is a marina, not a yacht club

So these two enterprising lads had spent their summer off university doing hull cleaning. One of them has an uncle with a big live-aboard trawler that in exchange for cleaning his hull once every six weeks gave them a snuba system. If you have not seen one of these it’s a pretty cool rig that has an air compressor that sits on a small zodiac with long air hoses to feed multiple regulators so “divers” can go down to about 30 feet with an unlimited amount of air. You are still tethered to the zodiac so for experienced divers I think it would feel freakishly restrictive but for applications like this it is fantastic. So they bring as many other guys as the size of the boat warrants. For En Plein air they brought an extra four.  These two guys do the underwater cleaning with big waterproof oscillating brushes (think electric toothbrush’s for dinosaurs) while one fellow mans the zodiac, and gets them whatever they need. Two other guys sit on semiboyant “chairs” in the water cleaning the waterline that gets the worst of it, and one fellow is running around on the deck and at times at the water getting the other guys gear and repositioning things

It was pretty impressive to watch, but I was spending my morning prepping for lunch. The deal I had with them was the pay of course but they had said they could probably have it done by 1:30 or 2:00 if they started at 7:30 and I had said I would serve them lunch and then we could all go for a sail and really give En Plein Air a chance to run.  All six of the guys are sailors.

So what do you feed six hungry guys after working for a “stretched” morning? Fresh homemade pizza. With one oven with three racks in I could do three pizzas at a time and at 450f the oven time is less than twelve  minutes so in doing seven large pizzas it was all about the prep.
















I sometimes make my own dough but not often. Most good ports will have places to buy a prepared fresh dough and I just put my time into the toppings. These days I don’t use peperoni but have opted for turkey kielbasa. The veggie ones are sundried tomato, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and capers but in each case lots of herbs and a nice drizzle of olive oil and a brushed oil edge and sitting on a scattering of corn meal.

I have had a long relationship with Pizza. When I was a teenager, just a bit younger than the guys working on the boat, a number of us worked at a pizzeria called Cicero’s in Ottawa, Canada. The term worked is one that involved one or two of us with shifts and the rest of us hanging out in the place much like those leeches at Starbucks who arrive early with their laptop and buy one tiny coffee and stay all day at “the office”.

Eventually all but one of us were not only fired but were also banned from entering the place. I think the guy who ran it was partially upset with the decline in business as the general market conditions for “real “pizza as in the early 1970’s frozen pizza at the supermarket was a simple way for busy parents to cook dinner and a lot of people stopped being prepared to fork out the extra cost for something edible.

The following summer three of us worked for one of the guy’s dads who had a signage shop. We came up with the brilliant idea to make decals to put on frozen pizza boxes as a bit of a prank. I can’t remember how many we printed but we were able to sneak most of them onto the frozen pizza boxes for sale at our local grocery store.

There was a little trouble with the grocery store owner, and with my friends dad for misusing the decal machine, but it was sufficiently funny at the trashing of the quality of frozen pizza at the time that the fellow who had Cicero’s eventually forgot the ban on us and we could go back to buying pizza there and even hang out a bit.


Ah, but back to the pizza at hand.

With the range working at such capacity I did not have a way to heat the plates which is unfortunate, but Ciara had enough chilled beer on hand that the guys were happy.

The six lads did a great job but both with us, and working together they had to be reminded about the two meter rule and none of them had masks. Over lunch we had a bit of a glimpse of their perspective on this pandemic. At least two of the guys saw it almost as a joke, and only one took it at all seriously. Everyone saw its potential to harm but at ages like 19 to 22 they all found it hard to really respect the power of this virus.

Only two of them said they had any real conversations with their parents about the future which seemed strange to me until I remembered the inane conversations about movies or sports I would have with my parents instead of anything meaningful. Every day is a new one for them, and the vision of the future is more focused on what they are doing right then, or that night, not the years to come.

Both Ciara and I are painfully aware of how this virus could strip away a year or more of what are not a lot of really active years left. That idea that when shared, came as a major epiphany for these lads.

En Plein Air

Because we follow these covid protocols pretty literally Ciara had planned for our afternoon sail to be based on a “station” style where each person doesn’t move much from where they are “stationed” but with this bunch that all broke down but at least they gave her and me some space.

This post might not be as interesting as some, but for both Ciara and me it was a significant day. We watched some hard working lads do a great job, cleaning away the guck on the hull and cleaning away some of our anxiety with it.


En Plein Air had a good run that afternoon and we came away with an understanding of how this current pandemic is (not) affecting some people, while most people over a certain age are totally anxiety ridden, almost incapable of performing basic functions and waiting for the end of the event to come.

It reminded me of two similar situations at two very different times. Janice had a military dad who was seconded to the U.S. military (from the Canadian Forces) and they were living in Key West during the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis. All the school kids were told that if they heard the sirens to get under their desks and to stay there until someone told them to come out. They did drills for this regularly.

The other situation was related to me by a woman I have gotten to know in recent times. She is about ten years older than me and shared that when she was a little girl during the war her father was a scientist and they lived in “The Secret City” of Oak Ridge Tennessee, and her father was one of those scientists working frantically on “The Project” -what we now know was The Manhattan Project.  At the schools in Oak Ridge they told the kids (even really young kids) that if they heard the sirens they should immediately run out of whatever building they were in and up into the wooded hills surrounding the town, find a large tree and to hide behind it facing away from the town. They were told that when it became safe again someone would come to get them.

So like everyone else right now, most of us over a certain age once again are under the desk, or behind the tree, holding our breath figuratively and literally. I don’t know who that someone is – a smart millennial at Oxford or Harvard or in Mumbai or Beijing who finds the path out of this, or maybe the someone is us individually in our behaviors, or our collective selves in respecting others?

But getting the task of cleaning up the hull completed, watching these young guys truly love the pizza and beer, and reminding us that perhaps one day at time is ok at times, was in itself a way to dial back the anxiety.



POSTED: Sept  1, 2020

The evening started simply enough.  Over these months in a little marina bubble, I had been getting to know both Martha and Malcolm over our various encounters when the very private Gabrielle and Gerhardt asked if there would be a way for us to mix things up a bit and all have dinner together on shore. While we had experienced dinner “together” a couple of times before it had been on the boat dock and we were at a distance both physically and more significantly on sharing thoughts. I had not been stressed by this – I have known a lot of people who are just very private, but when the idea of dining together was raised by Gabrielle I must have looked shocked as she asked me with her pleasant German accent “shoe di call da cardiologist?”

Gerhardt was in charge of the fire pit, Gabrielle and Ciara organized the dinner plates and cutlery and cleaned the picnic table, I prepared and cooked the dinner and Martha and Malcolm brought the wine and wisdom.

Without getting too far off track here let me tell you a bit about the meal.  I love to work away on my own recipes but sometimes I will come across a dish by someone else that I might tweak a bit but it is so damn good I just find it hard to improve upon.

Because we were going to have this nice fire in a fire-pit, and I did not have a lot of lead time I did a recipe by Jamie Oliver that is a real crowd pleaser. This lad nails it so often and this is one of his best, simple, fast meals that never fails to please. It is also one cooked in foil so it lends itself to cooking on an open fire, gas grill etc. if you are outside. I love the fact that you can do all the prep ahead and then just be with everyone else enjoying the conversation and when its ready you just unwrap it, serve it, and that’s it.

The recipe that follows is straight up Jamie, not Django and my variation is there as well. I have put in the directions for using a regular oven as my “fire pit 200 c (400 f)” may be different than yours!



Salmon on Green Beans in Foil

You will need whatever number of nice-looking salmon pieces for individual servings and a lot of green beans. By a lot what I mean is that the main dish here consists of green beans and a piece of salmon so a good single handful of green beans for each person. Wash the green beans well, cut off and discard the stems, and set aside to dry. If you are doing this with a range instead of a fire pit preheat your oven to 200 c (400f) if you are going to be cooking them right away.

Pull out about two thirds of a meter (yard) of foil and fold it over to double the thickness. Place a nice handful of green beans for an individual serving – not organized like a haystack or Boris Johnsons hair, but like logs ready for the mill, side by side, and a few rows high. Place a piece of salmon across the beans (skin down) then put on a good dollop of basil pesto. If you are well equipped and in the mood you can make up your own pesto with basil, roasted pine nuts, olive oil but for most of us, a high quality store-bought pesto can do the job. The squeeze of a lemon, some salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil on top and you can fold up that foil container and repeat for the next one.

Salmon in Foil Prep

It does not take very much time at all to put these together. Put those in the fridge for cooking later if you’re not cooking them right away. This is uncooked salmon and it would be a terrible thing to die during a pandemic of something other than Covid 19.

So that is probably the best place to introduce Django’s Kitchen Rule #4.  With a dinner that would need to be carried a distance to the fire pit and where we would be sitting, and Gabrielle’s desire to open up to us a bit I did not want to miss any of the conversation running back and forth to my little galley kitchen. It was those factors that led to the choice of the salmon on green beans that could be prepared ahead, easily executed without much effort and then platted right at the firepit meant that I could do a more elaborate starter, again all ahead.


My situation cooking on a boat where I am trying to minimize the heat from the stove and where I am working with only one stove of course and only limited counter space has me usually scribbling down a little time-line ahead. The other key component is to convert everything that is to be cooked to a standard cooking temperature. With that done it is simply a matter of working back from when it is to all come out of the oven at the end. So for example I might set a timer for forty five minutes if that is the time for the component that cooks the longest (eg. Meat or root vegetables), and then at various points over that forty-five minutes you will put in other foods that take less time. It is not perfect and sometimes you will need to take one component out a little early as it is ready and just keep it warm but for the most part this technique works well for small one range kitchens.

In this case I had decided to add some nice little (golf ball size) roasted potatoes around the edge of the plate so I washed them up, let them dry, cut them in half and mixed them with some olive oil and fresh cut rosemary and some thyme, and seasoned them with salt and pepper, and they all went into a foil packet as well. If doing it in an oven I would have put this not in a packet but just in a flat pan or baking sheet into the oven during my preheating process as small potatoes you have not blanched will need a bit more time than the salmon.

So if you are doing this in the oven, get that pan with your potatoes in there, start to preheat to 200c (400F) and when your range gets to temperature pop in those salmon and green bean packets for fifteen minutes if the salmon pieces are thin and about twenty minutes if they are thick. At about the half way mark turn those potatoes over with a spatula or if doing them in an aluminum packet on the outdoor grill or spit, turn the packet over but leave the salmon packets upright. Another little tip – if you are cooking on a fire pit, its not a bad idea to move your pieces around a bit just so they get cooked evenly. After the fifteen or twenty minutes get them off the heat and let them sit for a couple of minutes, then pull apart those packets and plate it up.

But the really simple thing here is prep what you can earlier in the day. Clean up your kitchen and your tools and it will set you up nicely for the main event.

And I told you at the beginning of this piece about the variation I like to do. Some people are not salmon fans so for them and without adding too much complexity to my prep I will use a meaty white fish like Mahi. For people who are not fish fans, its not flakey or oily and has a density closer to lobster than most fish. I match that with not the traditional basil pesto but with a tomato pesto and still on that nice bed of green beans. I don’t have good image to put in here but will come back and put one in the next time I make this dish.

And if I have any vegetarians in the group, the salmon is replaced with a couple of big, thick slices of Portobello mushrooms, with no pesto but a little pat of butter on top. Sometimes to liven that up and make the vegetarian meal have more flavors I will also put a several grape tomatoes mixed into the green beans and give the whole thing a heavier drizzle of olive oil. There have been many a time someone presented with the salmon will clearly have a look of “damb, I should have had the vegetarian option!”

For most dinners when it is not a big entertaining thing, I usually put most of my efforts into the main course and will often not have a starter or just do a simple green salad or caprese salad. This night I was actually planning on doing a simple caprese salad with my fresh tomatoes and Basil from my little deck potted herb garden and making some nice bread sticks with it, but decided because I had the time and had purchased some local beets and the arugula in my little herb garden pots, on the deck had gone from baby to full size to monster I changed course and went to a beet salad instead.

To prepare a simple beet salad, the only real exercise is cooking those beats. You will need one large beet for each diner. Cut off any tails, give the beets a fast wash, put them in a pot with them completely covered in water and get it to boiling. Then turn it down to a little rolling boil and leave it for about half an hour or forty-five minutes. Then drain off most of the water leaving about 2cm (3/4 inch) of water in the bottom and transfer to a stove at 70 – 100 c (160-200f) for an hour or so. The test is when the beets can be pierced easily with a fork. Then drain the water off and scrape the outer layer of the beets off with a knife or spoon.

Beet Salad

It will come off really easily but best not to be wearing your chef whites when executing this!  With the beets done they can be put in the fridge for later when you are assembling the salad. Much like the salmon packets you can do this messy step ahead and just pull out the beats close to the time you are going to have dinner.

For assembly, simply cut each beat in slices about one cm or ½ inch thick. Place on an individual plate for each diner, throw on some washed arugula, some feta cheese and crushed walnuts. Drizzle on some reduced balsamic or if you don’t have any, just some olive oil and balsamic, give it some salt and pepper and you are good to go.

The idea of the breadsticks had slipped my mind so some nice toasted rye bread was the substitute. One day I will set out the breadstick recipe but for now, I need to get back to my story.


It turns out that Gabrielle, in addition to being Gerhardt’s life partner and business partner in their jam business is also something of a crazy artist. Now I have known a few artists and they come in the full range of types of people and there is a full spectrum of artistic mediums for them to explore. One day I will do a piece on Janice’s work which is a pretty cool, hard edge, sort of Victor Vasarely style. You can see her work in the Links We Love.

Gabrielle’s work is influenced by her background in art and industrial design, and is full of mental twists and the art is the starting point for discussion. The piece that triggered this part of the conversation that night is one that I had seen her working on for a couple of weeks.

She had taken an obsolete laptop and with her Dremel tool had cut out those pesky electronic components to create a space for a conventional paper notebook and pen. So the laptop becomes a briefcase of sorts for the low tech paper and pen. She claims it will never have a virus. It is a bit of a response to back to simple tools in a time when everything is anything but simple, and it is also something of a withdrawal from, or response to, the technologies that dominate our lives.

Minimalist MacBook

And yes, that is a wireless mouse in the picture.

Laptop with Pad, Pencil, Delete Device & Wireless Mouse

Over the course of the evening Malcolm made various trips back to his boat to get more wine and as the evening wore on, we learned more of Gerhardt and Gabrielle and why they were in this little harbour with us.

It seems that many years ago Gabrielle had cancer, beat it, and then it came back in a different form, and she beat it again. She is a very tall woman in her fifties and is hopelessly fit – she runs, she swims, she works out, she does yoga.  But the various bouts with cancer and the associated therapies and chemical cocktails have taken their toll. They sold the jam business and were on a bit of a meandering world sail when Covid hit.

Like most of us at this marina, they had been moored off the little island of Gozo, or the even smaller island of Comino where the water is clear, the seclusion is conducive to naked swimming and the beaches are nice. But Comino has very few facilities and while Gozo is a pretty complete little place on its own there are more resources on the main island of Malta. In our case only the main island had a good source of methanol for our generator that powers En Plein Air.  So like us, when hunkering down for an undisclosed period of time a better equipped location was on the big island. By the way, Comino is the location of The Blue Lagoon, the Crystal Lagoon and a variety of interesting caves. It is a great destination anytime other than during the summer crowds.


Over the evening she also showed us another project that I had also seen her working on. It was an old rotted out wooden rudder that was left at the marina, from some small sailboat – probably about a three or four meter (12-16 ft) dingy format.  She had fabricated a new laminated rudder in mahogany and maple to match the old dimensions and fittings. It has no current purpose, other than as a decoration on the wall as a nice object, but true to her other art pieces it is a metaphor – you can’t do much on the water or in life with a broken rudder. 

This post is pretty long so I wont detail the discussion flowing from a question raised by Martha but actively engaged in by Gabrielle and Ciera, about whether waterproof glue or conventional glue had been used for the wood fabrication. The gist of it is whether she (the rudder) would hope to see the water again (requiring a waterproof glue) or whether her new life with regular glue, and hung on a wall,  she would be satisfied as an admired object, but with her sailing adventures relegated to her past. After the first ten minutes or so it was clear the glue was only the catalyst for this discussion and Malcolm, Gerhardt and I  just sat back, drank wine and listened.

Related to this, Malcolm and Martha shared a story about a recreational carpenter friend who keeps an old level that has lost its liquid (so no longer finds balance) and also keeps an old steel square that is bent. He does so because these tools, hung prominently in his workshop, remind him that we all need the right tools in life. The carpenter also has them around to keep him humble. I need to spend more time with Martha and Malcolm. Between the two of them, with their knowledge and experience, there is not a lot else to know.

At about midnight, after too many smores and just about the right amount of wine, Gabrielle told us of her more ambitious and ongoing art project.

Gabrielle has a real expectation that while she is “remission”, she only has a fixed amount of time left on the planet. For some people that idea triggers them getting out to do all those things they have always wanted to do. For others, its more a matter of trying to firm up the memory of what they have experienced over their life.

Gabrielle seems to be in both camps, so this stop in Malta, because of Covid, is part of their “big adventure sail”, while she tries to document her life with Gerhardt and their two boys.

For most people that amounts to putting together a scrapbook or USB drive with images from our past. Not Gabrielle. At one point in Berlin where they lived for a while, she had gone back to art and industrial design school, and had held in the back of her mind an idea of how to record your life but had not acted on it until recently.

Pinoccina 2

It had been an extension of seeing some art while on a university trip to Budapest. She had gone to an art show of recent graduates at an art college there and was inspired by one young artists work.

This young Hungarian student from Pec had found at a fair, an old life- size moveable marionette who looked much like herself. She made some modifications and changed its hair and made the marionette up to look like herself and then put it in all sorts of situations she would usually be in – having coffee, watching tv,  on her bike, in a hammock.

Now here is the crazy first coincidence. That art show and that artists work I had seen the final project when I was visiting Hungary in September 2009 as well. It was called Friss, (Fresh) 2009.



Artist Gajcsi Blanca relaxing with Pinoccina, Budapest, Sept 2009


So inspired by this artists’ project, Gabrielle, who had just recovered from her first bout with cancer, had hired a sculptor to make molds of all of her body pieces, had them reproduced in carbon fiber so they would be light and strong, and then created the engineered joints using a 3D printer to make this mannequin a duplicate of her. Did I mention she was German! LOL. The project was completed over several years and after her most recent medical challenges she completed the “doll” and brought it on their epic cruise.

She dresses up the mannequin and has been taking pictures of this copy of her in some cases doing things she is not prepared to risk -hanging off the Eifel tower in Paris for example. But this has a bit of weird twist as well – she has taken pictures of Elle, that’s the mannequins name, in bed with Gerhart, with some really garish makeup and outfits etc. She is kind of acting out with this character. Gerhart is a pretty good sport with all of it and is just happy to see her engaged in a project and not focused on the nasty nature of the term “remission”. It’s also a way for her to start to distance herself from her body, as in recent times her body has let her down.

So that’s the second coincidence here. When Jim and I met again after all those years in that neurologists’ office (for those who have only come to this website recently, check out the ABOUT section), it became pretty clear that we each became the others mannequin – both trying act a bit like the other without either of us committing to go to far, but just far enough to manage our mental health, to feel connected, and perhaps to live a little longer.

Malcom put it pretty well that night: “We all want to be loved and we all want to be remembered.” I told you he and Martha brought the wine and the wisdom.

It was a great night and Ciera and I  learned a lot about Martha, Malcolm,  Gerhardt and Gabrielle, Elle, and ourselves.


P.S. Gabrielle is pretty private about her Elle project so while she was prepared to share it that night and let me talk about it here, as well as letting let me include pictures of her laptop and her rudder projects,  she did not want to share pictures of Elle.

Also, the images earlier about the art of Gajcsi Blanka are mine, but please, if you are reproducing them, reference the artist. Check out her current art at:


Posted: August 15, 2020

We are all stressed during these crazy times and for some of us it just bubbles over. So I get this call from Jim at about midnight his time and about 6 am my time. Yeah 6 am. That is in “time speak” the equivalent of scientists talking about “black holes” – they may exist in theory but most of us have never experienced such a thing.

Covid 19 has Jim and Janice reading papers, watching the BBC World News, the first fifteen minutes of the PBS News Hour and their own National CBC newscast to keep up. And sometimes Jim gets a bit overwhelmed and despite his best efforts otherwise, turns to wine to enhance the news experience. Such was the case a couple of nights ago.

Now fortunately for you, I speak Jim, and pride myself on my ability to understand the dialect of Inebriated Jim and can translate for you the thoughts of this drunken monkey from that night.

The American people have had to put up with this idiot who is doing permanent damage to U.S. culture, basic human rights, its diplomatic role in the world and now they all are expected to learn to speak Fauci.”

So for anyone who has been living under a rock for the last six months  Dr. Anthony  Fauci is an American immunologist who has run the  National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for many decades and is highly respected in both the United States and among other immunology  geeks around the world. He knows his stuff. But what my man Jim was referring to is that Dr. Fauci works for a nutbar and has learned to rephrase questions so either Trump wont understand or his response to a question  is sufficiently nuanced that he can speak the truth without the President having the guillotine sharpened and at the ready. The American public is in on the farce and learning to speak Fauci.

There is a glimmer of hope that the caretaker will go to sleep and let the talent take over.”

I did not write about it at the time but I had a similar call some time ago from Jim when Joe Biden was chosen to run for the Democrats. Terms like Nice Man, Honourable, and Trustworthy  were thrown about and its clear he would be good with Joe as a brother in law but its also clear that “America needs more than a caretaker – it needs a leader and what the Democrats chose was a predicable, steady as she goes fellow who will plod along”. So the choice of Kamala Harris is the glimmer of hope that may drag the U.S. into some basic social safety net for income, some enhanced version of universal health care like the rest of the world, and perhaps a new vision for what to do as the school yard bully internationally.

And now the village idiot is going on the birthing thing with Kamala Harris when he was probably never born, but hatched, or excreted.”

Ok so this one is pretty easy to understand.

When Jim was ranting on about some of these things I could hear Janice in the background at one point say “Trump is going to tweet that Joe Bidens running mate does not know how to spell Pamela”  and at another point “Why do we need a Vaccine  for a hoax? LOL”.  She enjoys her wine too, but in moderation.

The rant on “standing under the falling statues” was a bit of an emerging poem he is working on and I actually found pretty interesting as he takes some personal blame for Canadas treatment of the indigenous population and systemic racism in all its forms.  When he sobers up I want to chat with him further on this one and come back to it as a post with my own thoughts one day this fall.

It may seem like my drunken buddy is pretty focused on the U.S. and it is hard not to be these days, but his rant moved closer to home at one point when he went with “Trudeau is becoming a Kennedy”.  The reference here is to the American President who was exceedingly flawed, and made some incredibly stupid mistakes domestically and internationally on his way to doing more for racial equality in that country than anyone since Lincoln. So it’s a complement, and not. For those who have not been noticing that massive country with the little population that is north of the U.S., Justin Trudeau, now for the third time in his tenure, has been cited on ethics issues, while taking on the challenge to reconcile the terrible treatment of the indigenous peoples, with mixed results, and managing a pandemic and associated pending financial meltdown very well.


So what have we learned today?

Well I for one am going to turn off my phone when I go to bed.



Posted: August 1, 2020

Now it would be easy to think that I never leave En Plein Air, and that is largely true. But sometimes I do leave to get some exercise, and do some chores. During Covid 19 I am largely on the boat, on the marina slip or in the nearby park. I keep two really nifty and horrendously expensive fold up bikes on the boat, courtesy of a British couple who thought they could run out without paying their bill after a four-day weekend last year and forgot to take their bikes. I still smile at that bit of justice. So I get out on one of those sometimes.

Yesterday I was at the park beside the marina and playing Petanque with Ciera and it got me to reflecting how much that game is a metaphor for our current times. If you don’t know Petanque it is game played like the much better known ball game of Bocce. The scoring and many of the rules are the same but the key difference is that the Frenchman who came up with this fairly new (1910 ish) game thought of, in contrast to Bocce is that you don’t need a court. Bocce is played on a nice level court with little walls you can grace the ball off, and the predictable surface, and consistent width and length or court, makes playing it a skill. Watching talented Bocce players coax that ball around other balls on the way to its destination close to the little Cochonnet or Jack ball  is a thing of beauty.

And just to stay with Bocce for a minute the image below is a bit whimsical. When I was in Key West visiting Janice and Jim last time we went out to their local Bocce court and played a game. In Key West, play is regularly interrupted for either the feral chickens running through or one of the huge iguanas sauntering across. Crazy place.

Iguanas at Southernmost Bocce Club, Key West

So Bocce, and British Lawn Bowling for that matter is this refined pastime played politely on tidy courts. Petanque in contrast was invented to be played wherever you have the space – on gravel, on grass, with a slope or even on sand. Steel balls about the size of tennis balls are used instead of the larger resin Bocce balls.  Petanque is not as much a rolling game as an underhand throwing game to get close to that little Coche or Jack ball.  There is significant skill involved of course in getting your ball to fly through the air to get close to the target, ideally with a little backspin to keep it from rolling too far, but because it is played on an irregular surface that irregularity is a great equalizer.  Just a little bump in the ground from a root or stone can humble a good player. So in that regard if Bocce is chess, Petanque is backgammon with that roll of the die to add an element of chance.

Parenthetically I should add that I think to play Petanque according to true French tradition you must have a baguette, some cheese and wine also on hand. This also equalizes the quality of play!

The use of a beret and French sailors stripped shirt however will just get you laughed at.

So why do I think this is a metaphor for our current times? Well, Bocce is predictable. You do certain things in a disciplined way and the outcome is pretty easy to forecast, even if the chickens and iguanas have messed up the court a bit, because once they pass, things are largely back to a normal surface. So in life, you study or learn your trade, you work hard and employ good discipline and behavior and pretty regularly your career or life works out.

Petanque has that crazy bumpy surface with roots and stones that makes every throw a new adventure. I think that is where we are right now.  Some have hit a nasty bump and lost their incomes, their jobs and in the extreme cases, their lives. Some have had their business fail that not only takes away their livelihood but their nest-egg and crippled their plans to sell the business and retire one day. Some have hardly noticed the effect of this pandemic financially and are just enjoying so much take out food. In general it has been very bad for the poor but randomly unpredictable for everyone. I see it here with some losing their boats, while others are excited by the buying opportunities,  and for some a certain thinking that with the world at an end – anything goes.


The only stocks I buy are stalks of celery, but when I hear people in the financial worlds talking I know that the conventional wisdom is that in a down market you buy to get your average cost per share down and your dividend yield up, and in an up market you sell to harvest the yield from your earlier good buying discipline. But this may well be a different time. Some will benefit I am sure from that old strategy and some of the “smart” money will do well but just as some people made money in the early days of tech and the early days of legalized cannabis, some lost everything in both of those sectors.

Certainly it is a time when lots of people are experiencing some changes in their lives that while not positive, have some positive elements and ones they never would have experienced voluntarily.  Slowing down, spending more time together, evaluating what is important in life are all things we see happening all around us, and those are positive trends.  The most common response I get when asked what someone will do when this is over? Hug a friend.


I think any of us who chose to continue on the planet are at some level optimists. But I also  think that most complex things are not as binary as that.  We may be optimists on personal growth and pessimists on financial security. Or pessimists for the short term prospects and optimists for the longer term. And those of us who are on the wrong side of a certain age have seen enough to be cautiously optimistic, or pragmatically pessimistic. Experience counts, and some of us have the knowledge that we don’t have the time left to get some of this wrong so we may be quite positive in attitude but make decisions to protect ourselves if we are wrong.

This post has truly been a bit of ramble, but I think we can learn a lot from the game of Petanque.