Category Archives: JANICE & JIM

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

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

BETTER WITH TIME

POSTED: DEC 1, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Django

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

BARGE PLANTERS & KEY WEST

POSTED: Oct  21

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

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

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

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

The Florida Keys

 

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

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

Key West Aerial by Rob O’Neal

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

I think they look great.

Jades Barge Planter

 

Jason’s Barge Planter

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

Now where did I put that cello….

Django

LEARNING TO SPEAK FAUCI & OTHER RANTS

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.

Django

FLAG

POSTED: July 25, 2020

I am always amazed at some things can be abbreviated in some way and we instantly know what the person is talking about or what the image represents. Sometimes it’s a logo or an acronym but very few things have as many layers of symbolism as a flag. History, culture, pride, or shame all get jammed into a piece of fabric.

 

The current wave of anger over the Confederate Flag in the (formerly) United States is about half a century overdue of course, but it is somewhat wrapped up in one of the elements of what the Stars and Stripes are – freedom, independence and liberty. Those three words have a different meaning for many in the United States. They once meant, and I believe still do mean for many Americans,  the positive and aspirational elements that we all associate with those words. But for some, and for a few generations in some cases, those meanings have been turned around and re- expressed as the freedom to act personally, regardless of how it affects others, the independence from the public interest and public health and safety, and the liberty to express various forms of hate and intolerance.

 

English, like most languages is a living thing and it grows and evolves with us, but this set of reinterpretations of these positive notions are very damaging. And it is those interpretations that allow the idea of the right to fly a Confederate Flag to persist as long as they have. We all understand why it is illegal in Germany (and most other places in the world) to fly a Nazi flag, or to display a swastika. It is because they recognize the horror of what those symbols represent and the associated stress for many who were directly affected. For some Americans today the Confederate flag carries no shame, only oppression by the “liberal” majority who have imposed these values on them. So removing the flag has not ended the racist nature of what it represents but is a step in the direction of delivering the message that those racist views and actions will not be tolerated. Better late than never I guess.

 

But, that is not the flag that this piece is about! No, the flag I am talking about is one that I designed many years ago and one that symbolizes something the opposite of the Confederate Flag. To understand its purpose you need to go back to my earlier posts explaining my life with Justin, Amy and Sven. If you have not done so, this would be a good time to make yourself a coffee and then sit down to the archives from my posts in 2017  regarding the activities the three of us were up to for about a decade starting in the mid 1990’s.

 

Those activities were illegal in some jurisdictions, and certainly needed to be below the radar everywhere as we were transporting dissidents, journalists, and some people who only were guilty of being gay in places where that could get you killed. We were taking them to safer long term locations. It seems simple enough but at times the stakes were quite high and to do this well we often used safe houses. Our most common ones were housing that could be large enough to conceal people for a day or two and  that could move on the water – live-aboard barges mainly. These were often just moored in one location and just used as safe-houses but other times were actually moved from place to place where we would take our cargo out when under a bridge, and have them get on another boat going the other direction to hide their whereabouts.

 

Our little team was tiny. Justin, Amy Sven and me. And my role was not an active one. I just kept some aspects of the boat functioning and did the food and the laundry, while they did the operative stuff. So with only three of them operating in the shadows their visibility after a bit of time was tough to keep under wraps. The solution was to use them as decoys and to use other means of identifying ourselves or safe-houses. Cell phones were popular at that point but the amount of cyber tracking by various countries was rampant, so cells were used as a decoy or distraction, not as very useful communications tools.

 

So that’s where the flags came in. They would identify the safehouse and would only be up for  short time when the person needed to find us. I had a couple of small ones made up that Amy or Justin would pin to their satchels or packs as well that just looked like flags from trips, when our cargo would need to find them in a crowd. We used five flags over the years, not including the first one I made. That first one, Amy asked me to make up and I thought it looked great but learned pretty quickly it could be confused with a flag from one of the Soviet Block countries. So it got pitched.

 

The next one I made is the one I am going to talk about today. Amy wanted something that looked familiar enough to not arouse suspicions but different enough to not be confused with a flag of a particular state like my first one did. So I got some old really dark jeans from Sven and an old canvas trench coat from Amy in yellow and used a green canvas bag and came up with the flag below.

Safehouse Flag 1

I don’t have the actual flag anymore as it is on the bottom of the Baltic Sea (to learn more about this check out the archives from my posts in 2017) so what you see here is from my memory.  Over the years, as each of the flags secret became compromised we retired it, but used it as a decoy at times. I think because of this one being the first one we used, it was my favourite one but at some point I will show you one that I designed and we used for a while that is reminiscent of my BeBe’s native Brittany.

 

 

So why have I been off on this chatter about Flags? Well part of it is the whole Confederate flag thing, and the other is that this flag is one of the first products we are going to offer for sale!  If you read my posts here often you will know that the decisions I made earlier in my life regarding financial planning, and the future in general were not been particularly good ones. Sometimes I would get a little money ahead and get En Plein Air painted or other repairs or  improvements to her, or go to see a dentist. The reason is that this old boat I have is pretty tired and has serious needs, so while I make some money from taking out tourists most of that money goes back into just keeping En Plein Air  above water, figuratively and literally, and not for improvements and not for much of a luxurious life myself.

When Jim and I discovered each other again in the neurologists office it was clear to him that I needed to start doing some charter work with En Plein Air, maybe offer some cooking classes and that I could also sell merchandise to people who are turned on by my life story. So on the production of merchandise originally I had the idea of getting Janice to show me how to stitch up some T shirts and then to silk screen some images on them but the whole process is rather involved, time consuming, costly and hard to do when you don’t have much space, or a sewing machine or any skills. So I have instead found a place who will produce to our design a variety of products and instead of having to stock a bunch of different sizes I have gone with things that are one size fits most!

So the starting point is this Safe-House flag!   Janice and Jim (well Janice mainly) became so enthralled by it they painted their house in Key West the same colours. they had to go through lots of approvals to do it but in 2018 they changed to a yellow, aqua and navy blue theme. Check out the image below.

J & J KW House

 

And there is another crazy bit I should tell you about the flag.

Safehouse Flag Red Square

Jim decided when in Russia recently to proudly display the first one of the flags  in Red Square. Janice snapped the photo here just before they were whisked away by the travel coordinators they were traveling with before the security forces came down on them. A little “good friction” is good in these matters. Russia is back to openly taking away gay rights, pushing on its neighbors borders, and now seemingly embracing going back to having a Tsar!

 

 

 

 

 

And on the theme of getting the flag “out there”, The image below is of Janice in Nyhavn, Copenhagen.

Flag in Nyhavn

 

Beyond the flag  in two formats, I am also offering two sizes of aprons, so you will be sylin in the k’tchin

At this point you need to envision me  in the Long Apron, moonwalking across the deck swinging  my arms outstretched in the air and a large ladle in one hand and spatula in the other!

So that’s it for my intro to THE DJANGO STORE. Go over to the Categories section on the right and check it out.

Django

JULY 7TH 2005 & THE CHEF UPSTAIRS

POSTED JULY 7, 2020

Most people can remember where they were when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the associated ones at the Pentagon. Most of the citizens of Europe and the certainly the U.K.  also know where they were when the London tube and various other locations were the subject of terrorist bombings on July 7, 2005.  That was fifteen years ago today.  Janice and Jim certainly know that second one well. They were on one of the bombed trains close to Kings Cross, two cars back from the bombing and had to walk out of the tube and then through the chaos, up to ground level. They were a bit dazed and confused (well that’s not unusual for Jim)  and once out of the tube station walked a long way until they could get a cab for a luncheon with chef Jamie Oliver at his Fifteen restaurant. They were on their way to see the place, meet Jamie and to run a crazy idea by him. That lunch occurred, and the rest of this piece is the story of what led up to it and what happened after.

When people retire, especially if they retire young, they are “full of piss and vinegar” to quote my aunt. For the first time they don’t have to worry about paying the rent, or mortgage but still have the energy to do things and often have a pent up demand to pursue some interests.

On Jims 48th birthday, January 24, 2002 he retired. Yeah, how rude is that. He did not retire wealthy, but was able to retire at that age and had a lot of things he wanted to do. One of the long list he had was going back to school – cooking college. While the college was known mainly for turning out chefs, him main interest was not actual cooking classes but the investment side of the restaurant business. He wanted to understand why restaurant businesses fail at an even higher rate than most small businesses do.

What he learned was that there are essentially five reasons restaurants fail. The section THE CHEF UPSTAIRS details these elements. His goal with this food based business was to solve for each of these variables and design a business that would reduce these five risks.

So in 2004 Jim set out to find a building to buy to renovate the second floor for this purpose. He found one on Mt. Pleasant in Toronto, bought it,  designed the space, designed the website, designed the logo, put together the business plan and the design for a two storey addition to accommodate the needs of the operation. This also involved the renovation of the ground floor for a second user in the building to pay rent to reduce overhead, and securing  the permits and approvals. And of course – building it.

During this time he and Janice also went touring around to see various chefs to run the concept by them. One such outing was to London to see Jamie Oliver, which I referenced at the beginning of this piece. Jamie was a little startled about the crazy morning they had experienced with the bombing but was very gracious and they had an exceptional lunch and conversation.

Jamie, Janice & Jim, July 7, 2005 London

The trip sounds extravagant to just go for lunch with Jamie Oliver but it was actually part of a trip to visit their son Jason who was doing summer studies at the University of Edinburgh and at Trinity College Dublin. So the trip was a bit of business but also visiting Jason in his last days at Edinburgh then traveling around Ireland and linking up with him again in Dublin to take him and a a friend out for another dinner.

As most things in their lives Janice was an important part of the design, and execution of The Chef Upstairs, but on this one Jim used the opportunity to teach Jade Autocad for the design work, and worked with Jason on part of the construction.  By spring 2006 they were opened.

So from 2006 to 2008 Jim ran it with a chef and tweaked the operation. Some events were as small as two people for a wedding proposal dinner, but more often the events were regular demonstration style cooking classes on various themes, sometimes corporate dinners where privacy was a  key feature, and often hybrids of this where the cooking class participants would be shown  the preparation of  a multi course meal and get to dine at the same time.

A big attraction was that because the space was only for the group that day or night, the tablecloths, napkin folds, music, and décor could be tailored to the group. There was also orchestration in the schedule where a group for example might work out a plan with the chef to have champagne and canapes on arrival, then have a little gap when someone would give a speech, then a first course followed by a presentation etc. For family get togethers the chef would duplicate grandmas famous chicken pot pie, or her apple crumble as best he could and do it in one of her dishes to make the whole thing a great alternative to having an event at home.

By 2007 it was successful, but by 2008 it was turning into a job, in contrast to a fun challenge, so Jim bought another building to do a second location on Queen Street in Toronto and found a buyer for the operation so he could build out locations for the new owners and rent them the space. Nice plan, but then the 2008 financial meltdown occurred. The new owners, were able to continue with the first location but could not expand.

Fast forward twelve years to 2020 and the business still continues under the skillful hands of the brother and sister team of Greg Heller and Lori Heller, who were the buyers at that time, and they have added a hands- on second location for cooking classes.  You can check out the current operation at: thechefupstairs.com

Ah but before I leave you there is a bit of a corollary to the Jamie Oliver story. While it had always been hoped that Jamie would fly over to Toronto one day to teach a class at The Chef Upstairs, that did not happen. What did occur however was that he did a book launch at the facility. Good on ya, Jamie. A couple images follow.

Jamie at TCU 1

Jamie at TCU 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s the story of what happened to Janice and Jim fifteen years ago today on July 7, 2005 and an introduction to The Chef Upstairs. I am working on that little section of the website to detail it a bit more than this as it was a big part of Jims life for a few years. Look for it in the next couple of months.

Django

COVID COMFORT FOOD

Posted: July 1, 2020

It is a bit strange that I am busier than ever when not allowed to do anything, but that seems to be the case. Jim has me working on the TorontoART section for this website and getting my input on the “shopping cart” that he keeps assuring me he is working on for the website as well.

I have also been collaborating with him on a course he designed when he and Janice had the cooking school The Chef Upstairs. It was called College Survival and it was an introductory cooking course for young people. I have had several emails asking me to do something like that as many people are cooped up inside and it’s a good time to move forward on personal pursuits.

So all that business is in the works and I am playing hooky from all of it to write a quick post on Covid Comfort food. I just thought I would put down a few thoughts from a meal I made for the little group I am now cooking for every day.

It has turned into a pretty good routine. A couple just down the dock I don’t think have ever cooked before. They are wealthy Germans.  Their routine before Covid 19 was to just go out to lunch, go out to dinner and much of the time go to a local bakery and coffee place for breakfast. The only appliance I have seen them use in their huge trawler is the fridge and the corkscrew but they told me they recently bought a coffee maker. They seem like nice folks but are just coming from a very different world. So they have an online grocery delivery service that they order online what I tell them we need. The grocery service buys the stuff, puts it all in a pull cart and brings to the dock to En Plein Air and I put away the food components other than some breakfast things and things like toilet paper and the two other couples just take away their respective bits.  The German couple pay for all of it and I make the breakfasts, lunches and dinners for Ciara and me, this older couple Malcolm and Martha and this German couple.

Malcolm and Martha order and pay for a case of wine each week and four bottles come our way and to the other couple each week and Malcolm and Martha have the last four. So our food costs are covered, our wine is supplied and all I have to do is the cooking – suits me!

A couple of times we have all eaten together while social distancing but most of the time Cierra just drops off the meals and we all eat separately.  I don’t know if I will ever really get to know the Germans, Gerhard and Gabrielle as they are pretty quiet and even more private. About all I know is they own, or once owned, a jam company and are generous.

In contrast I am really getting to know Malcolm and Martha and they are pretty cool Americans. They have a few more miles on them than I but they have been miles that have not been wasted. That may be the trick to life. I am rambling a bit here but you will see  their names come up again as  for me at sixty six, to spend time with someone like Malcolm who is almost old enough to be my dad  and not just my chronological senior but still able to be (by a far margin) my mental senior – well that’s something.

 

Now “comfort food” means a lot of different things and its really whatever meals or tastes we have in our memories from when we were kids for the most part. A safe time in a safe place with our folks who made simple, easy to prepare, and often inexpensive dishes usually from rote, and always adapted for the tastes of the various members of the family. Depending on what their cultural origin, those meals were usually ones that had been passed down from their parents and adapted to current tastes.

The French are damb good at it – all bistro food is comfort food. Steak frites, cassoulet, or the French Canadian tortiere – the list goes on and the mouth waters. But the French version of comfort food to do well still takes more effort than the average person is willing to muster.

The Italians are the ones who just do it without thinking. Almost every fancy Italian recipe has a simple rustic version that takes little skill, and as long as the ingredients are fresh can hold up against the most sophisticated dishes.  I will come back to fresh in a minute.

But for some of us, while we love all sorts of comfort food, the Brits have it nailed in their pub grub. Shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, well you get the idea. Now for those of you who have not been to the U.K. in the last couple of decades the real trend is the GastroPub. These are the places that the likes of Jamie Oliver got their start. They typically will do a modern take on a traditional dish.  I was in Scotland about ten years ago and in one pub the most popular thing on the menu was a Grand Marnier infused Haggis. Now if you can take on Haggis and win popularity you deserve to have a museum named after you.

So comfort food at a time like this is not only appropriate because it is a familiar thing in unfamiliar times but it also often uses food products that are readily available and ones that are easy to keep in a cold cellar for a long period of time. Just a nod to you hoarders out there.

Today many of us are returning to locally grown (200 km or 100 mile) produce. That means in most cases seasonally produced produce.

This is probably the place to introduce DJANGOS KITCHEN RULE # 3. SHOP FRESH, LOCAL & SEASONAL.

So the shopping fresh part everyone gets. The most basic of meals when made with super fresh ingredients blow away something that has “ripened” in the back of a truck over a longer period of time.

The shopping local is a good goal and one I try to live by, but it is tough, particularly if you are in a northern climate.  A few generations ago, if you were living in Europe or the northern half of North America no one thought of having bananas in the winter. It is even more extreme for those who live in even more northern climates – for those who have not noticed, the banana growing season in Norway is REALLY SHORT.   LOL.

So before refrigeration and inexpensive transportation were popular, if you were eating locally grown, it meant you were eating seasonally grown food and you start with the first harvest or unheated greenhouse harvest in the spring, gorge away all summer and put a few extra kilos on your gut and by fall would be preserving like mad and putting away root vegetables to survive on through the winter. So in winter you would have marmalade but no oranges and jam but no strawberries.  Most of us were not keen on the food habits of farmers in Victorian times so these ideas, while good ones to try to adhere to, are not realistic for most of us who value a good, well balanced, nutritionally correct diet today. So we buy fresh when we can, local when we available and buy the other imported bits as needed.

I have found that Covid 19 has made me think a bit more about these issues, partially because of shopping less often to reduce our exposure. Now that we have the arrangement  with the German couple it doesn’t matter as much but before that I was pretty spooked about the way we had to shop – flying through the store with a mask and gloves and not looking at whether the tomato was ripe or wizened and then trying to eat the fresh, very perishable produce first, and the longer life produce later in the week. It is the same with people who head off for an across the ocean sail – you can’t order a pizza when mid-Atlantic.

So If you are shopping every eight or ten or twelve days what does that look like?

Well, you buy some yellow bananas for now, some green bananas for later and some apples for the last few days of it.  Similarly, on veggies it’s the fresh green beans or French beans for the next few days, the broccoli after that and the Brussels sprouts, and potatoes for the last few days of the period. The wine you drink all the way through.

So back to comfort food.

The dinner I just made is my version of the British pub meal: Bangers and Mash. For those who don’t know it, the dish is simply bangers (sausages) with mashed potatoes. Like most dishes of this kind they would often have some other bits added based on what the cook had on hand around the kitchen.

There are essentially five things you will be working on with this dish – the sausages, mash, caramelized onions, and two other veggies.

I am going to break down how I do them in a small space on a boat, using very few pots and utensils as I know from experience many of my readers here are in the same boat, well not actually the same boat or they would be here with me but in a small kitchen space at least.

Sausages – I like to just put a little olive oil in a big pot, and after heating it up get some color going on the sausages. This is all about the visual, not about cooking them. Once we get some colour on them so they look like a sausage should, we can put them aside. We will actually cook them later.

Mash – Traditionally this was mashed potatoes of course. Most of us have eaten enough mashed potatoes in our lifetime that we don’t want to go back there. So here are the variations to consider.

The first, is a little more rustic a version – smashed potatoes. Just clean up some potatoes (brush under running water) then rough cut them up into pieces. Don’t peal the skins. Use whatever you have – russets, Yukon gold, baking etc.) Put them in the pot you just used for the sausages with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. When they are soft enough that they are getting close to falling apart, drain them and with them back in the same pot mash them up with a big spoon or fork or whatever you have for the job. Add some chives, parsley, lemon thyme or other herbs you have with some salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil and see how it tastes. You might want to add some butter, or more olive oil or more pepper etc. Some will also like to add some garlic.

Now I don’t do this smashed potato thing often. I will usually do the same approach but use sweet potatoes instead.  Sometimes I will leave the skins on but more often I will peal them when using sweet potatoes before cutting them up and throwing them in the pot to boil. With the sweet potatoes I also really like to focus my herb additions on just chopped rosemary and butter and olive oil as it just comes together as such a nice mash and mashup of flavours.

But last night I didn’t do either of these things for the mash. I occasionally visit Janice and Jim and on those occasions, we drink a lot and cook a lot and one dish that blew me away that Janice just nails is what she calls rutabaga puff. She works from a pretty precise recipe and likes to use a mixer to really get the rutabaga nice and puffy – not as much as a mouse but in that direction. I don’t have the room for a mixer so used a little hand blender so what I am setting out here is my “street version” of her “white tablecloth” dish.

Start with a large rutabaga, wherever you shop just get one of the big ones (about 1.5 kilo or 3 pounds)– use a peeler to get that waxy skin off then cut it up into chunks that are two or three centimetre cubes (one inch) and then give them the same boiling treatment as I described for their potato and sweet potato cousins.  Then after draining, do your mashing, or blending routine to try to get this down to a nice fine consistency and add a couple of tablespoons of unsalted to butter,  a little salt, pepper, olive oil etc. to taste.  If you find it still has too much rutabaga attitude in taste then you need to add some maple syrup if you have it and brown sugar if you don’t. Something like a tablespoon or two.

If you have the time and interest a small handful of walnuts in a pan with low heat  with some brown sugar, or maple syrup to put on top of that rutabaga mixture when serving will really amp up this humble little root vegetable.

So if you have learned anything here it is that you can make a mash with whatever root vegetables you have – parsnips, turnips, carrots etc. These are all things that you can easily and inexpensively buy, and readily store for a long while. By a long while I mean find some cold dark place in your home and they will keep pretty well for months if needed.  Not a bad staple for your pandemic pantry.

 

Caramelized onions

On a cruise ship I worked on I went for an extended period of time being the guy who (with a few other tasks) just caramelized onions. You might think it is because I was pretty good at it. Wrong – I had inadvertently attracted the attention of a server who had not entirely completed her relationship with the chef I reported to. Cutting up twenty or thirty onions in a big pot at a time is a something I still cry over.

So get a couple of medium size yellow onions or cooking onions or ideally nice sweet Vidalia’s, pull off their skin, cut them in half and cut off the stem. I like to cut them on the length to get long stringy bits, and this is rustic cutting – big pieces, not little chopping. Then throw them in the pot that the mash was in, as you have transferred the mash to another container and cleaned the pot. Put in a glug of olive oil and sprinkle with some pepper and crank up the heat and start stirring to keep those onions moving.

After a couple of minutes when the onions are looking a bit translucent but also getting some color from the heat and the stirring, cover, turn down the heat and watch them and give them a stir pretty regularly. You are trying to get to something that is beyond translucent, has a nice bit of juice and softness, and brown colour but is not burned.

It is at about this point when you taste them that you realize you should have done this with four onions, they are so good!

Transfer to something to keep them warm in.

Mushrooms

If you have button mushroom just do them whole but if they are ones with a diameter bigger than three or four centimeters (1.5 to 2 inches) cut on the length through the stem then cut in half through the stem as well so you have quartered them. Some people are in the camp of just brushing mushrooms but because I worked on a ship the protocol was to always really wash things well, and then wash them again, so that’s what I do. The sautéing process with mushrooms is easy. A couple little dabs of butter (15 ml) in the pot and some gentle heat for a while will do the job. After they are colouring and softening and the pot is not looking as wet with the moisture that has come out of the mushrooms, add a small puddle of white wine and swish around while they continue to sauté on very low heat.

Green Beans/ Broccoli/ Brussels Sprouts

You need to have something green on the plate for the visuals and in your stomach for all sorts of reasons, so clean up one of  the pots you have been using, chose a couple of these vegetable options and get your steamer pot going to add something green to the plate. Sometimes its nice to do fancier veggies but with sausages and mash and caramelized onions on the plate you need to keep the green component simple here.

Putting it all together.

At one point you will need to come back to your sausages. They look great but they have not really been cooked so you should now put just a pencil  or markers thickness of water in another pot – yes oh my god a second pot,  and bring that to a simmer and poach those sausages. No one likes a dry sausage so poaching them after giving them some colour is a great way to go. If on the other hand you have some pretty fat-laden sausages and you just like to grill them, particularly if you have an outdoor grill, then go for it.

Plate up your rutabaga or other mash, and if you have it – that walnut and brown sugar mixture on top, put a sausage on the plate with lots of caramelized onions on top, get those mushrooms and your green steamed vegetables  to accompany them on the plate and tuck in.

 

Vegetarian Option

If you have any vegetarians in your group this is a great dish. Replace the button mushrooms with a second green vegetable and substitute sautéed large slices of portobello mushrooms for the sausages. Just remember with those big portobellos that before cutting them into generous slices (2cm or ¾ inch) to spoon out those little brown “gills” or fuzz, then wash and sauté as above. I find it pretty cool that large beefy mushrooms like portobellos have a lot of protein, almost as much as chicken.

I think eventually we will all be vegetarians. Some of us still like our meat and poultry and seafood but I am really cutting back on the portion those products make up on the plate.

 

So that’s it. I often double the size of the recipe of the sausages, mash, onions and mushrooms and on the second day just steam more green vegetables for a fast second meal.

See I told you this would be a more happy post!

I am going to try to always post on the first of the month, starting today so people will know that even if I have done other posts one will appear then. Wow – am I getting organized!

Django

P.S. the image below is a sample of the masks Janice has been making for their local hospital. She had a goal of taking them a lot each week but I think about half have made it off to friends. I just received three for me and three smaller ones for Ciara this week. Now I’m stylin.

KAYAK

POSTED: March 1, 2020

For many of us, even the word KAYAK creates a sense of being alone with nature. Kayaks have been part of my life from as early as I can remember. My mom, being from Quebec, had both canoes and Kayaks as part of her heritage and life growing up. I keep two on En Plein Air for the getting out on the water. It may seem a strange notion for a person who lives on the water to want to get “on the water” but there is something very personal about being in a small craft with almost no displacement, sitting on, and in, the water and the freedom to move quietly into little shallow areas without disturbing nature that is very therapeutic.

There are some things that have just become universal in acceptance and we hardly think about their origins or heritage but they just fit in our lifestyle – pizza, the sandwich, bicycle, umbrella and I would put the Kayak in this group as well. Unlike the pizza pie from Naples or the sandwich from the Earl of Sandwich in England, the kayak was not from a specific place but the northern regions of the northern hemisphere and the indigenous peoples of what we know today as Greenland, Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, the Baltics and Alaska. They all used the vessel not really as much as a boat but almost an extension of themselves for hunting and fishing on the water. They were made not to a plan or set dimensions but to the size and shape of the user.

Perhaps that’s why even today they feel so personal and even when made of poly formed materials still create a sense of being a calm extension of ourselves.

Ok, so why are you rambling on about kayaks Django? Well, let me tell you.

Jim is a bit of a kayak nut. No, he is not out on the water every day but he and Janice keep four kayaks in their garage and live about a dozen doors from Lake Ontario so they go often. For him, like a lot of people, it is both the experience as well as the notion of the kayak that is important. In a busy competitive, efficient world it is a simple, calm, activity and one that just slows down the synapses that are usually firing away too quickly. It is also the link to nature that most of us need a regular hit of to keep from drowning in the modern world.

I have put in a couple of pictures Jim took when out kayaking with Janice one day. They live in the east end of Toronto in an area called The Beach and sometimes he goes kayaking there but more often does his kayaking down around the Toronto Islands which sit right off the downtown area. One day when kayaking with his son Jason an otter came up beside Jason’s boat. Now Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America and to be able to be out with the cranes and other birds, the big five-foot carp fish and various water mammals like lake otter, muskrats, and beavers is very special.

In Copenhagen, they have a really neat kayaking programme. You can use a kayak for free for two hours but the kayak comes with a little basket and the deal is that you get to use the kayak for free but are to pick up anything in the water that doesn’t belong there. Damb those Danes have their act together!

So what has triggered my inspiration to post this piece today is that Jade sent me an email with an image of Jim back working on a project he started many years ago but is only back to now.

When they had their cottage up in the Parry Sound area of Georgian Bay, the cottage was a Scandinavian style log building Jim had disassembled and moved a few hundred kilometers and reassembled on a nice waterfront lot on a little lake.

 

The cottage was really small, particularly on rainy days with the kids, so a few years later they built what they called the barn. And just to digress for a moment it was designed by Jim and built by him and his buddy John who is a contractor from Ottawa. John is the husband of Janice’s cousin Dawn and John is more kayak nutty then Jim. At last count John had about a dozen canoes and kayaks. Now to hear Jim tell it they built the building together and to hear John tell it, he built the place and Jim just got in the way. The same was the case for much of the reassembly of the log cottage according to John.

The barn was a one and a half story building with a little living area above where the kids had their own living room, as well as a pool table, ping pong table, and air hockey table.  On the ground floor was the workshop with about a forty foot workbench where they could do crafts and hobbies on rainy days. Janice would work on stained glass, jade would work on various sculptures and painting and Jason would either work on his own woodworking projects or do crafts or help Jim.

 

The Barn, is where Jim started the kayak project he is back to working on now. It is a scale model kayak he designed that is about 50% of an actual kayak so about two meters long. The chines and struts are all pine and the cladding is pine veneer laminated.

So after a couple decades from starting it he is back at it. The grand plan was that once finished he was going to podge on images of the various trips they took as a family.  He has always seen it as a bit of a manifestation of the “life is a journey” metaphor.  There have been lots of interruptions in the completion of the project, so perhaps not finishing it is also a metaphor. Naw, Jims not that wise.

 

So I have been rambling on as I am prone to do but stick with me a bit longer. Janice and others have expressed often to me that there are not enough pictures in these little posts I do so I harassed her and she is tracking down some of a kayaking trip they did when Jade and Jason were visiting a couple of years ago in a conservation area close to their home in Key West. Lemon sharks, and all kinds of fish in the less than meter (39 inches) of water below and lots of cranes, pelicans, cormorants, and Ibis in the trees and skies above.

She also mentioned to let people know that if they are planning a trip to the Florida Keys, and particularly to Key West and want recommendations on where to stay, what to do and the best Kayaking excursion companies just drop me a line at djangobisous@bell.net and I can send you out some notes from Jim and Janice.

Django