Category Archives: 2021 Archive

MEASURES

Posted: Sept 1, 2021

I was cooking one afternoon a couple of weeks ago for our usual evening dinner with Malcolm, Martha, Gabriel and Gerhard and was watching the Olympics. I am a bit of an Olympics junkie, watching whatever event the live feed is spitting out  and absorbing all the minutiae offered whether about the athletes personal bests to date, their training regime, the diets, previous records or performing in different weather conditions. Now when the Olympics are not on, I have no interest in diving or running or throwing a shot put, but during the Olympics … well that’s anther matter.

So leading up to the Olympics I go into training. The exercise of watching hours of coverage is just the opposite of exercise so you need to be in shape. Nevertheless, by day three or four of competition my gut is large, my eyes the size of saucers and I should not be allowed to operate heavy machinery.

To offset these perils of binging the Olympics, I try to do other things while watching, like cooking or refinishing part of the mahogany on some of En Plein Airs trim. It is actually a nice combo.  While cooking and enjoying the heptathletes competing in the long jump I  realized how my relationship with measurement has changed over the years.  The Olympics is all about measurement of course. Whether it is the length they have flown through the air on a pole vault, thrown a javelin or the time it takes to run 400 meters it is all about those measures.

Growing up when I did (born in 1954) and where I did (Canada) we had a legacy of Imperial measures from before the enlightenment (when we changed to metric in April 1975) so like many of my age from Canada, I use a crazy mix of measures. I drive in Km/hr, do my carpentry in inches, think of temperature in Celsius and weigh myself in pounds. Add to this the other common  measures  – teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, half cups, B cups and C cups.   I envy the younger people who have a more streamlined life.

It got me to thinking about an old buddy who has an interest in measurement. He collects various old instruments for measuring and has a particular fixation on those measuring or calculation  devices that were the state of the art – until they were not.  Its tough to decide where his interests fit on the fetish spectrum. Watching the Olympics from Tokyo reminds me that the Japanese have a term Otaku which means: an interest that is more than a passion and less than an obsession. Good term if you don’t want to call it a fetish, I think.

Of course, he as an Astrolabe and a Sextant, the original GPS devices for sailors to determine where they were in the ocean from the location of the stars and would be seriously messed up on cloudy or rainy nights.

Slide Rule With Holster

He has several slide rules of course. The slide rule was the device that was the best tool we had until electronic calculators took over that role.  Right up to the early 1970’s  this was a compulsory math instrument for high school students. It was what many of the calculations were done on for the Americans to put a man on the moon. If you were an Engineering student in the 1960’s wearing one in a holster on your belt indicated you had a license to calculate.

This took on a competitive aspect of course when various universities would compete for doing calculations and these competitors would use both their eye/hand coordination, and muscle memory skills with much too large a mental processor to zip the sliding parts back and forth to come up with the answer in record time.

 

 

 

One of my buddy’s valued objects is a slide rule he bought from the University of Chicago Engineering School of computing.

Engineering Lab Slide Rule

It is almost eight feet long and was attached to a wall behind the instructor in a large lecture hall. The professor would demonstrate its use to the eager engineering students and they would follow along using their regular sized slide rules.

Tech Nerds In Foreplay

 

 

So what happened in 1974? Well, the electronic calculator cost had come down enough to make it suitable for general use by the public and overnight the slide rule was not only second fiddle, but was eliminated. Poof.

Some measurement devices do endure of course. He has an Omega Seamaster Professional Chronometer– the same one that James Bond had in one of those thrillers but my buddy claims his malfunctions because all it does is tell time. And the time it tells of course while not as precise as the least expensive of smart phones today is pretty damb accurate and based on a technology that has not changed essentially in hundreds of years.

I think that part of his interest in these technologies and their obsolescence is looking to find what are real measures that last and have meaning, like the measure of a person. Relationships, integrity, loyalty. It is interesting that none of these are really quantifiable yet are more highly valued as measures than the quantifiable ones.

When I worked on the food prep areas of cruise ships, we had to be precise in our measures so Mr. Mcgillicutty’s  soup would be exactly like Mrs. McGillicutty’s and so when he raved about it over cards, Dr. Garfunkel would  order it the next day and have the same dining experience.

And as a guy who likes to cook and occasionally bake, I get the importance of the use of measures, but increasingly I am drawn to those things that are more fluid or nuanced than precise. If you read many of my posts you will know of my bromance with Jamie Oliver and Jacques Pepin and the whole movement to experimentation, adaptation, and interpretation. Those concepts require some structure, and a goal but not as precise a measurement.  Now I am talking cooking here, not baking – and measures in baking are a bit fixed.

It was only after I wrote this and was relating to Ciara the focus of this piece, that Ciara pointed out the obvious.

Django’s Measuring Cup

I use a measuring cup that was given to me by my Bebe. Now, if you don’t know who that is I would suggest going back to my posts from 2020, 2019 and few from 2015 and earlier.  She is my paternal grandmother, from  a little island off of Brittany, who has now passed. She gave me an old glass measuring cup when I was first starting to work on the kitchens of ships and she mistakenly thought that my job related to making food, more than the truth of it which was working in a food preparation plant for pigs at sea. It was very tired even then, and over the years with use, and too much time in dishwashers, all the numbers have worn off completely but because it was from her it is one of the few measuring cups I have on En Plein Air, and it is what I use almost exclusively and  think of her when doing so.

But the point here is that it is reflective of my take on the world today. I know that when it is largely filled, its one cup, and when its about half full it’s ….well you guessed it – half a cup. It is important that we get things largely right and measure them properly but perhaps not as important that we be precise and beat ourselves up or beat up others for not being as precise. This “sorta measure” is where I am today in trying to understand how to move forward in understanding life, particularly life in Covid times.

After reflecting on this clear glass object a bit, I decided to introduce another item in the Django shop. It is the Django Bisous Measuring Cup. There are no measures, but you will still know how to use it. Coming soon….

 

Django

 

Measurement Park

P.S.

After posting this I received a note from the partner of the buddy who is into collecting all the measuring stuff.

I had called it an interest and his partner pointed out to me that when they moved to their current house they did so partially because the little park that is close to them is called MEASUREMENT PARK and has various measures shown on poles.

Ok, so that definitely puts his interest on the fetish spectrum.

 

 

FORTY-EIGHT

Posted: August 1, 2021

In the spring of 1973 I graduated from Champlain High School in Ottawa, Canada. That was forty-eight years ago. And about a week ago I received a note from my longtime buddy (and classmate) Jim H. who still lives in the Ottawa area, letting me know there was a movement afoot to have a reunion on October 2nd , the first for our year.

Wow.  A high school reunion. There are few things that conjure up such a mix of emotions. I know that for some the nine weeks from hearing of this until the actual event will be the period to: lose 40 pounds, get a facelift and win a Nobel prize for physics. Well, I never was much good at physics. Physics and a few of the other sciences did various cameo appearances on my high school F column with the regulars Math and French. Yeah French, and I have a French heritage. I am kind of squeamish when it comes to surgery so that puts the face lift out of the question for me as well. Forty pounds? I think it might be easier to get that Nobel prize in the nine weeks.

Now while high school is a pretty crazy time in the evolution of teenagers it was particularly strange in that period when I was there – 1968 to 1973. Yes, that is a five year period because at the time Ontario Canada offered a four year high school diploma for anyone wanting to pursue the trades or community college and a five year diploma for most people who aspired to go to university or had parents with such aspirations for their offspring. I had such parents.

And what was happening in that 1968 to 1973 period? Well at the beginning of that period the Cold War was still hot, the war in Viet Nam was heating up as both a war and effectively a civil war in the United States as well, and  Martin Luther King had just been murdered in April of ’68.  In 1969 gay rights in Canada were opened up, the Americans put a man on the moon, and by October 1970 the War Measures Act was used in Canada to try to manage the FLQ,  a Quebec liberation group. Women were fighting for their liberation, race relations were poor, particularly in the U.S., and as we now know, the Canadian Government with the Roman Catholic Church ramped up both the Residential Schools and the forced assimilation of our indigenous peoples with the sixties scoop. Shameful. It really was a very screwed up time on most fronts and many of us had parents who had no idea how to cope with the perspectives their teenagers were developing regarding many of these issues.

In contrast to those turbulent times the soundtrack for our high school life was amazing. It started with The Beatles releasing The White Album and then Abbey Road and the Stones releasing   Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed. Led Zeppelin was formed.  By the summer between grade 9 and 10 we had Woodstock. If you are new to this website you may want to look back in the archives ( MY VERY FIRST POST,  posted December 14, 2013) to Jim C’s Woodstock experience and the recent follow up to that  (WOODSTOCK: 50 YEARS LATER, posted August 15, 2019). Every week a new album would come out that today would be considered epic. And as if to celebrate our graduation in 1973, Pink Floyd released The Dark Side Of The Moon.

Of course, that flood of new music was also reflecting growth on some amazing music from before and I have great memories of sitting at Jim H’s living room listening to Gene Vincent Rock and the Blue Caps Roll, or his fathers Dave Brubeck albums.

And that’s the really fun part of memories. It is not just the music but the link of that music to what we were doing at the time.  I have fond recollections of lounging in the dark listening to the Moody Blues in Myles C.’s basement after a warmup joint outside, and singing along to The Who, Rush  and Black Sabbath  while riding in Bo M’s amazing Datson 240Z with the music just loud enough to have the whole city turn to listen.

Ahh, the cars. Bo always had a nice ride, as his dad was in that business and Bo would clean the cars and sometimes bring them home. Jim H’s parents had the ’66 corvette stingray fastback, and Steve Z. got a brand-new Corvette for graduation. The rest of us mortals, rode bikes, motorcycles, took transit, walked, borrowed our parents’ cars or had really old junkers. I had an 80 cc Yamaha motorbike, that spit and coughed and farted all the way to wherever I was going. My main man Jim C. had saved a lot  so that in January 1970 when we both turned sixteen, he had bought a three-year-old Volks Beetle  and drove it to the driving test – Yeah, don’t ask.  He delivered pizza with it part time and loved that thing. But one sunny Sunday morning in August  of that year on a tight bend near his parents’ cottage he rolled it.  That turned him on to doing autobody and worked on a lot of other guys cars over the rest of High school.

For some of us we did not do high school well. At the time, what we now call Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was in its early stages of identification and treatment,  and the confusion for most practitioners was that some inflicted with this had  a big attention deficit while others had not as much but a lot of hyperactivity. For most of us with it , the identification only came much later than high school, after some seriously disastrous experiences. I have ADHD but unlike my buddy Jim C. who was given an extra dollop of the H part I got an extra dollop of the AD part. It meant that I was laid back and identified as “mentally lazy”  and he was identified as “overwound”. I just cruised through high school failing stuff and for him the behaviors are as if you took  a regular kid, gave him a bunch of amphetamines, a couple of double espressos and send him off to school each day.

He channeled it into track and field – literally to run it off. I, on the other hand, would self medicate. Both of these techniques work to a degree but only partially. Each of us only figured out we had this later in life and much too late to have a very positive high school experience – at least academically.

Our high school  was a little weird as well. We had a real range on the socioeconomic front – some not very well off, some exceedingly well off and most of us in the middle. When we were in grade 10 the school board decided to turn our school into a Francophone school and the English school would be phased out. We were the second last graduating class as the year behind us was the last intake of the English students.  I think it was a Canadian application of the U.S. bussing program that had been so successful. LOL.

The result of this phase out of the school’s intake was that each year the scale of the student body dwindled, and as normal attrition was also occurring with some families who would move away, the number of students in our year also went down in size, as no new families moving to the area  could have their kids join us as this strange orphaned school.  There were positives to this small size of course in that we were a tighter group and could do some things that at the time were unique like moving the whole bunch of us (students, teachers, admin people)  to camp together, but in general we could not put together a football team or have as many extra curricular clubs etc.

Looking back over almost half a century is also scary. We look at the choices we have made, the experiences we have had since high school and how we might have done things differently. I spend a lot of time writing on this website  reflecting on life, looking back and looking forward. I think if this reunion happened twenty years ago I would have been pretty uptight about it,  but now it has been so long it is just a novelty that we have made it this far and will be fun to get reacquainted. But it has taken me this long to get to that point that I can see my high school years more  objectively and pull out those positive memories. It is as if over the years I have gone through a set of slides and year after year thrown out one or two of the bad memories only to be left with mainly slides of the good times and the positives that have come out.

Forty-eight years is a long time. That number has significance for Jim as he retired on his forty-eighth birthday and significance for me as the trip we did in June 2004  was En Plein Airs forty-eighth trip moving people to safe points as I described  in THE NEW MILLENIUM, posted March 26, 2017.

My buddy Jim C. has a lot of travel points and has got me a ticket to come over, see my doctor, dentist, and go to the reunion. The flight is by way of Ireland so Ciara is joining me for that leg as both of us need to sign statements at the police station regarding the death of her ex husband and then she is staying on for a few weeks as she needs to do something to keep up her medical accreditation. I will be in Ireland for just a day and then off to Canada for a few days of quality time with my doctor, dentist, and people I have not seen in about five decades.

I am now off to the library to sign out a bunch of physics texts.

Django

High School Django

P.S. As regular readers know I don’t usually put in pictures of myself as I like to keep a low profile but here is one of me from my high school days in grade twelve or grade thirteen. I am going to spend some time trying to find some images of my classmates and if they are cool with it, I will post them here as well.

JACQUES PEPIN – QUICK & SIMPLE

Posted: July 1, 2021

Regular readers will know I have  a thing for Jamie Oliver and not that long ago did a review of his new cookbook and something of a critique of his other books. Well, I have been known to get some cookbooks by other chefs out of the library too. This one, JACQUES PEPIN- QUICK & SIMPLE, is one I put my name down for some time ago and have watched over the months my progress on the list and a couple of weeks ago it arrived.

Jacques Pepin

So the rest of this little review is scattered with Jacques art work from the book just as the book itself has at times flourishes of art and at other times just little pinches.

To put things in historical context, in 1970, when Nigella Lawson was ten and learning some things in the kitchen, Jamie Oliver was not even born, and Gordon Ramsey was in his parents kitchen throwing knives at his teddy bear and screaming at the little bear that it had no place in his kitchen, Jacques had already earned his stripes apprenticing in French kitchens, worked as a chef at Maxims, been the personal chef to three French heads of state including De Gaulle, and had moved to the U.S.  The move to America was intended to be a short tack on his ultimate course but became a permanent diversion. He went on to a culinary teaching career and a new television career introducing the American public to great everyday cooking through various shows on PBS.

 

So how has this book stood up over time? Well even with the update and the artwork it is a bit dated. Two hundred and fifty recipes are still there but with not enough photos, by current measures, and many are so basic by todays standards you might not consider them a recipe at all.

With that said this book as a great starting point when learning what to do in the kitchen and for many, could work as the only cookbook they buy.

And that is because Jacques likes technique, so while you are preparing a recipe he is secretly teaching you technique. The recipe for Jamie Oliver is the deal, the use of a recipe as a way to teach technique is Jacques.

What the book is also pretty good for is one comprehensive cooking course from soup to nuts giving you lots of recipes but teaching you the methods of preparation along the way.

The table of contents tells the story: BASICS; APPETIZERS & SALADS; SOUPS, PIZZAS & HOT SANDWICHES; PASTA & RICE; LEGUMES & VEGETABLES; SHELFISH & FISH; EGGS, POULTRY & MEAT;  DESERTS.

As a result, when perusing the Bread section it is actually a little course in bread baking. Its not Paul Hollywood for 300 pages but it’s a great way for those of us who are not bread bakers to try it.

 

I have made a half dozen of the dishes now and one that stands out for me in this recipe technique businesses was Scaloppini of Turkey with Scallions. This recipe teaches how to sauté any thin meat – veal, turkey, chicken etc. Most of us think of grilling for several minutes, roasting or baking for an hour, but Jacque gently takes us through the process of sautéing for only one and a half minutes per side, then letting that cooking process finish off in a low temp oven (140f). Is the recipe simple -yes, is the little course in technique a good one – yes. That’s Jacques.

 

Scaloppini of Turkey

Another recipe I liked  a lot was Poached Cod with Black Butter and Capers. Poaching has a really nasty connotation for some of us over a certain age. It comes dangerously close to boiling meat – something that some of our mothers did.

Now strap in, I am going off on a bit of a tangent here.

When I was a young kid, some moms worked at paying jobs and were looked down on by regular moms, even if those working moms were discovering a cure for some disease or other noble cause. It is because after the war there were often not enough jobs for the men who were returning and taking those positions was considered taboo. Long after that rationale for the bias, it remained a snobby perspective.  Some moms did volunteer work and that was considered alright if they did not get paid. A mom’s job was as a homemaker and part of that was to keep the house organized, keep us kids on the straight and narrow, and to make sure there was always something good for meals on the table.

Yeah, they were pretty stupid times.

Not every woman was cut out for this limited scope of work, and while some absolutely relished it, others were absolutely terrible at it. This later group had no idea how to cook and would regularly produce the most awful of dinners.

Why am I off on this tangent? Well, its about the poaching. Some moms had no idea what to do with a nice roast and would boil it. The mom that comes to mind is Joey H’s mom. She was not a regular mom at all. To start, she looked like more of an older sister than a mom. She dressed like Marilyn Monroe and drove a Thunderbird convertible. Their house was not very traditional, both on the outside and the inside and was what today we would call mid century modern.

Joeys’ dad was always away on business. I mean ALWAYS away on business. I never met the guy.

The first time a few of us were over at Joey’s for dinner she was drinking a martini and about to go out with friends to dinner. Our parents only did that for their anniversary, but she went out at least once a week. She had bought this expensive roast at the butcher, because she and Joey always ordered food in, and he had asked her if she could get some stuff that would be like what his friends moms made. The huge roast was sitting in  a big pot on the top of the stove with lots of water in it and she had cranked up the burner so it would boil. She kissed Joey and left in a cab.

There was this big piece of meat in the pot with the water, a raw potato on the counter and in the fridge a lemon, some olives and some milk. She looked like a million bucks but wasn’t much of a mom.

Fortunately, one of the guys was Gino T and he told us to turn off the stove, get the meat out of there and he would be back. He came back with some olive oil, some pasta, Italian parsley and a big piece of cheese. I was told to cut the big piece of meat into little strips, joey was on the task of scrapping the big block of cheese to get  a big bowl of scrapings and Gino got the pasta going in the big pot Joeys mom had set out. The other guys set the table and turned on the record player. Gino found a skillet and put in some oil and the little meat strips I had cut and before long we were sitting down to a dinner that was better than I had at home usually, and Joey, Gino and the few other guys and I were pretty pleased with ourselves.

We all told Joey’s mom that we had loved the dinner and from then on about  once every couple of weeks she would get in a big roast, leave us to go out for the evening and we would pull out various things Gino had set us off to pilfer from our parents pantries during the week. When asked by the other moms what the secret was that we all loved when over at their house Joey’s mom would proudly announce the trick was that she boiled  a roast. Many a regular mom ruined some good meat after that trying to duplicate her boiled roast.

Joeys mom appreciated the positive comments and as a person with some of her own challenges in life, and with us kids liking our night out without any supervision, we all kept the secret, and she got to walk a little taller when seen by the other moms. She still wasn’t regular but now she was ok.

Until today the secret has been kept by Gino, Joey a few other friends and me. Sorry Joey but it’s been over fifty-five years that I have kept that secret but now its out there.

Poached Cod, Black Butter & Capers

So how is poaching different than boiling? It’s all about the timing. Poaching just heats up the protein quickly and while keeping it moist, then you get it out of the water dry it off and marry it with a nice warm sauce. For this to work of course it also is not a big roast but a delicate piece of fish in this Poached Cod with Black Butter and Capers example. Bring two cups of water to a boil in a saucepan, add the fish and bring back to a gentle boil then only leave it there for about two minutes (or up to an extra minute if the fillets are really thick). Dry off the fillets and put on some capers, shredded basil leaves and some brown butter sauce. If you have not made it before black or brown butter sauce is four tablespoons of unsalted butter, and one tablespoon of olive oil with a little salt and pepper, you have heated in a skillet until it has turned to a consistent light brown colour.

My baking skills are pretty rudimentary but I love to eat baked goods so I was very pleased with the Bread section in this book. This is basically a set of recipes to teach Cheats. Cheats I have referenced before. They are the short cut techniques used by commercial cooks and chefs to get to the finished result the easy way. The three very simple recipes for Fougasse (that leaf shaped bread), breakfast rolls and Focaccia are all really great ones for both the results and learning those cheats. I am going to be making these a lot in the future.

Fougasse & Breakfast Rolls

 

Is this book the new hottest thing? No. But it is a very worthwhile, large, comprehensive cookbook for novice home cooks to learn from, and for more seasoned home cooks to expand their skill set. Since handing back my library copy, I have bought my own, and that’s something for a guy with limited space on a liveaboard.

Django

PAIRING

POSTED: June 1, 2021

Everyone knows how sound travels over water. And proximity is also a pretty significant factor as well. So, the opportunity to really sleep-in when on a boat in a marina, located not very far from others  is often a rarity. While sleeping-in may not be in the cards it is not de rigueur for someone to move up the wake-up time with any extra noise. This rule is pretty universal in marinas where any liveaboards are moored.

A few weeks back that unwritten rule was broken.  An older lad, Andrew, who lives on an exceedingly beat up old keel boat a few docks over decided to dust off his bagpipes. He also got it in his head that it might be nice to practice first thing in the morning. YIKES.

I make a point of not putting pictures of myself out there on the internet, but trust me – I am a guy who needs his beauty sleep.

Now anyone who reads my  pieces regularly will know that I am more of an independent spirit than a leader but somehow, Ciara, Malcolm, Martha, Gabrielle  Gerhardt and a few others got it in their heads that I should speak to him. This was on the line of thought that because he had taken a course with me (Cooking For Leftovers) that I knew him. Well, he is a nice enough lad, but I didn’t really get to know him much as he was not very vocal in the course, but I took up the challenge.

Andrew is a very big guy but a quiet sort and well over there on the shy spectrum. He is a borderline recluse and does not have a cellphone, a computer or most other modern devices but seems to have books in abundance. His boat floats, but its not clear to me that the sails have been out in a long time, and the hull is covered and really looks like a high school science project. None of the wood details have any colour left as they are all grey, decayed or missing. I have never seen him hanging with other people and he seems to keep to himself a lot so I really did not know how it would go.

My buddy Jim, who made his living negotiating transactions, tells me that there are a lot of different techniques for negotiation. I went with the tried-and-true technique of taking a gift to open the door to a dialogue. Before dinner I made up a bunch of canapes, and Malcolm armed me with  a nice bottle of Spanish Rioja Gran Reserva, that could keep up with some of the more  spicy canapes and a French Sancerre to pair with the more delicate ones,  and I strolled over to his slip.

He was very pleased to see me, and we spent some good time chatting, eating and drinking. We have both had our first shots for Covid and stayed about a metre and a half to two meters apart.

I had the opportunity to talk to him about food and wine pairing and how well the two very different wines matched with the different canapes. It was a shameless introduction to talking about other pairings that work really well and some that are not as good.  This got us to the notion of pairing bag pipes with my morning sleeping schedule.

The meandering chat covered a lot of ground and as I had  consumed a warmup glass of wine before leaving En Plein Air to fortify my negotiation skills, and I think he had consumed a few beers before I arrived, a transcript of our dialogue would not be helpful here.

But some good ground was covered. The key thing that we established was that there are two pairing issues with his bagpipes. The first is that they are a piercing bit of auditory chaos at the best of times and best appreciated when fully awake. The second (and I take full credit for this bit of brilliance) is that it was not Andrews fault that the traditional bagpipe repertoire is more suited to a royal wedding, or the bestowing of a military honour, and is not up to his true musical capabilities. I had brought with me some sheet music of a song from a fellow Canadian, hoping that Andrew knew how to read music and as it turned out he did, having studied the piano as a kid.

He was really pleased with the ideas I presented and agreed that in these difficult Covid times playing something like that tune at about five pm would be a signal to everyone that we had collectively made it through another Covid day, and it was time to relax.

I went back to En Plein Air quite pleased with my outing and to prepare dinner for the little group that we eat with. Over dinner I did not share with any of them any details of our discussion, only that I was hopeful that the next morning would be quiet.

I awoke at the crack of nine the next day, feeling refreshed with no bagpipes to be heard. All day I lived with the anticipation of what might happen at five. And yes, at about 5:10, a little scratchy at first, but then really getting its momentum, Leonard Cohens Hallelujah came wafting across the water. It was like a call to arms and much of the marina was clapping and cheering when it ended.

It is now almost two weeks later, and Andrew has become the popular kid in the schoolyard. On a regular basis people are bringing him sheet music and bottles wine, and many now are seen sitting out with a drink, for the 5 pm ish piping out  of the day.

Its all about the pairing.

 

Django

P.S. While Hallelujah has become a regular, the range of sheet music he is getting is quite formidable and last night While My Guitar  Bagpipes Gently Weeps   was a crowd pleaser.

Earlier today, Martha just took him some Coltrane music, so we all live in anticipation of that.

WHAT IF?

POSTED: May 1, 2021

Lately I have spent a bit of time reflecting on the idea of What If? It is that  notion of the choice when we are at that fork in the road. In some cases, the concept is making us reflect on whether our past choices were the right ones,   congratulating us on the good choices we made, or challenging us to move bravely forward with a new initiative.

What if exists in all three tenses. What if I had chosen to join the circus,  what if I go back to university today, and what if I have a stroke in the future? But it is largely a decision linked to future consequences, whether looking back to when a decision was made or looking forward from making a decision today. The decision to do something or not do something is linked to the results that come from that decision. I wish I had known this in high school.

It is also a notion that can be applied equally by optimists or pessimists – What if I get cancer in the future, or what if they find a cure for my cancer soon?

Young people have more future based what if questions, older people have a disproportionate number of backward-looking questions about other paths they might have chosen.

When touring about I like to take photos of street art, graffiti, and signs as they often are simple yet profound statements or homilies that make us take pause and think about the topic. Like most good poetry they have usually been reduced to the essential elements without a lot of extra chatter.

The image shown here is one that I saw in Vancouver. It captures that notion of What if  fairly well. We all have the chance to change and evolve and if we don’t like elements of what we are, well -change them. Looking back at our mistakes or bad decisions, can either eat us up, or be a helpful tool to inform where we might go or how we might evolve for the better.

There is a woman who lives on a really small keelboat a couple of slips over. I don’t know her very well, but she was telling me one day when she came over to sign up for a cooking class that she runs marathons. I have seen her going out for runs and it always surprised me. She has one of those stocky builds that is not the physique of the traditional whisper thin, taut  long-distance runner.

One day many years ago she was pretty stressed from work, and decided that running would be a good way to both build up her tolerance for the stress and to potentially drop some weight. Well since that time she has worked up her performance to competing in marathons in Boston, London, Berlin and lots of other big name races. She is largely the same shape and weight but incredibly fit and able to  deal with the stresses and rigors of life much better.

Similarly, Janice, who had been home raising the kids while Jim was raising hell in the investment world, decided to go back to school. She had started life as a fashion designer after studying that at college. She and Jim worked at her fashion line together in fact. But working six to seven days per week when Jim was also exceedingly career focused was just not compatible with raising kids so she reluctantly gave up her fashion baby when she had her first real one.  By the time the kids were well into high school, and Jim was home, having retired early, she went back to university to pursue a degree in fine art. She had always been an artist but was a bit insecure about it and wanted to increase her depth of knowledge and perfect her studio techniques. It was also something of a personal test for herself. When she came out of high school and went to fashion college she did not choose the university route so pursuing a BFA in middle age was also an adventure and a challenge.

Beyond doing well with it and getting a strong fine art career going, in the academic side of the program she learned that she loved to write. That led to a certificate program in creative writing and poetry at the University of Toronto. The poetry interest really took hold and in her late fifties she decided to enroll in a graduate program – an MFA program in creative writing and poetry at the University of British Columbia.  She completed the program a few years ago, when most people her age are thinking of retirement.

It reminded me of a conversation on the topic  with one of my aunts. She did not have kids and as I was her only nephew we were quite close. She liked to share with me her life experiences and what she had learned over the years. One day when I was a teenager and almost ready for university myself but considering taking a year or two off before going that route, she told me of a friend of hers who was about her age and who had just been accepted to study engineering. Of course I was shocked and asked how old this guy would be when he finished. “The same age he will be if he does not go” was her wise response.

When I started jotting down these thoughts I was also quite dismissive of the people we all know who live in the dream world extreme variation of What if. These are the people who fantasize about winning the lottery or moving back in time. But even for them the concept has its applications. If the first thing you would do after winning a lottery is to quit your job, well perhaps you should consider what line of work you should be changing to and take action on that – not on buying lottery tickets.

Some things are not the big initiatives I have been chattering on about here. They may be the seemingly simple goal of being a better friend, having more tolerance, or thinking from a broader perspective. Sometimes these simple things however are tougher than learning to run a marathon.

I think all of these reflections, both negative or positive, and whether looking back in time or dreaming forward are all good. They are healthy ways to us to test what is important to us today and to ask ourselves the real key question: What if today I …..

Django

ONE ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE

Posted: April 1, 2021

A few weeks ago, I had nice email from my buddy Jim. He had included some pictures of his recent walks with Tuli their Shapendoes (Dutch sheepdog) in their local park. Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America but functions residentially as a collection of neighborhoods. Each one has its own little collection of retail storefront streets, and most feature a park as an important part of the community.

Where he and Janice live is close to the beach along lake Ontario so that beach and the two kilometers of boardwalk are the main park area but even with that they have another little park with some play areas, a bandshell and a couple of ponds. Those ponds are the home of ducks, turtles, frogs and birds in the warmer seasons and sit largely just as inactive frozen ice cubes in the winter. Not this winter.

Jim’s picture was of kids on the pond – skating, playing hockey, etc.  The part that impressed him the most was that in these times with the conventional indoor ice facilities closed and most of the outdoor rinks closed as well, and no organized hockey or figure skating going on, this little pond had become a place for kids of all ages to just go, lace up and cut loose from their isolation inside with their parents. Young kids playing with older ones or adults in pick-up games of hockey. The scene of older kids teaching younger ones to skate and everyone just enjoying an unorganized bit of athletic fun could be an image from a small rural village in the 1930’s from any northern community around the world.

Yes, it’s true there are not a lot of masks to be seen but for being outdoors, with a bit of distance and for all the mental health advantages, it really does seem like a good solution.

The aspect of the older kids working with the younger ones really struck a chord with me. I am an only child so my experience with siblings is artificial -the odd older neighbour kid, or younger family friend experience is really not the same as a sibling. But recently I have been going to one of our local parks that’s adjacent to the marina where I live and bumping into a family from the marina I know a bit. They are from Norway and were away for a sailing trip in the Mediterranean when this Covid nonsense hit a year ago. The decision was made to hunker down and stay in Malta until the summer (last summer) when Covid would be over, and to teach the three kids their schoolwork on the boat,  and then sail back to Norway. They have revised that by a year and are now planning on sailing home this summer. Over last spring and now through the fall and this winter they have been co-existing as a family on their liveaboard. What makes it work is the great climate Malta has. Their oldest, a teenager, “camps” in a large tent on the deck. When I was growing up in Canada it was the fashion for teenagers to move to the basement of their parents home to have more freedom and independence. Well, this is like living on the roof!

I know them all somewhat as all three of the kids have taken cooking classes with me. So when I saw them all working at a picnic table in the park, the mom came over to say hi and explain their school week. On Monday to Friday they all have school online in the morning and she and her husband try to get some of their own online work done. Then in the afternoon the kids work away on various school projects or assignments. The oldest one is getting a school credit for teaching the younger two – often being a resource really, more than teaching a class but at times teaching as well. By teaching you learn the subject yourself more comprehensively. Its sounds like the Norwegians have a handle on this online learning business.

She was also telling me how well it works for some subjects that are reading based  or even some subjects like history and geography. The whole thing is based on the layers of understanding. So while the youngest one is learning the names of cities and regions in the world, the middle one is learning more about the general politics and culture of the places and the oldest one is focused more on the culture and evolution of those centres or regions. Similarly when they read a story geared to the youngest one who is just enjoying the story and trying to read along, the middle one is more focused on the grammar, and the oldest one is trying to pull out whether there is a more hidden message or metaphor from the piece to share with the middle child.

Most days they do it in the park just to get a change from the boat and to let their dad or mom have some zoom time with the office, but on rainy days they do it in the pilot house. Large old powersailers like mine have a pilot house that is on the top level for seeing where you are and navigating, while staying out of the elements. Newer boats like theirs have a similar but more luxurious bridge level with lots of windows but enclosed as well. One advantage is that the pilot house or enclosed bridge are the brightest inside place on the boat, so it lends itself to a nice learning environment. In smaller boats this area is usually only really big enough for one or two people but on older boats or really large ones like theirs it is big enough that they have moved their dining table up to that area as these days their enclosed pilot house is not needed for its designed purpose and it is their one room schoolhouse during the day and dining room at night.

I had never understood how a one room schoolhouse could work before. At times each of these kids needs to just work on their own material but on other occasions they can all benefit from working on the same material in different ways.

While we all can readily list off a string of  negatives from Covid, I think in the hands of people who really put their minds to it, there are some real positives as well, particularly with focused and committed parents. My dad used to talk about growing up as a young person in the depression and how his parents, particularly his mom, my Odie, had made the whole experience something of an adventure. These kids may remember this time, despite all its terrible attributes,  as the best of their school years.

Django

INVISIBILITY

POSTED: March 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

SEEN, BUT INVISIBLE

Just about a perfect specimen.

Tall, well proportioned,

Relaxed but confident.

 

The look was complete.

The shoes, the shorts, the open shirt.

The youth.

 

Our eyes connected

And as we moved

Closer to the door

 

My expectations ran ahead

And my plans were with them

For a future ahead.  To relive the past.

 

“Let me get that for you ma’am”

The door was opened,

And the dream was closed.

 

 

Django

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

CHICKEN CACCIATORE WITH MUSHROOMS FOR VEGETARIANS?

Posted: Feb 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Django

BETTER WITH TIME: A REVISIT

POSTED:  FEBRUARY 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Better With Time

Began as boxing

And the relationship too

Became Ballet.

 

 

Django

JAMIE OLIVER SEVEN WAYS

POSTED: January 15, 2021

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Naked Chef, from 1999

Happy Days With The Naked Chef, 2001

Jamie’s Kitchen, 2002

Jamie at Home, 2007

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking Jamie’s Books

 

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

Django