Monthly Archives: April 2011

Step right up and be the first on your block to read this

As a follow-up to my last diatribe on the called-for Food Gestapo I go back to my suggestion that if folks would actually sit down to a family meal on a regular basis our eating habits would improve vastly and junk-food related medical conditions would abate.

In that context I include as follows an excerpt on family meals from my recently completed (this morning) and still unpublished (see ‘this morning’) manuscript concerning my childhood and youth in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.

I include this for two reasons 1) because it’s mine and so I can, and I want it to gain exposure so my words get comfortable in a public purview and 2) because it offers some insights on how different mealtime was when I was growing up. And we weren’t much different from any family of the era. So, I hope you enjoy.

Meals in the family home were basic in nature. Granted, there wasn’t a lot of money in most households of the day, but even so, there was even less inventiveness or sense-of-adventure. Meatloaf, sausages and mashed potatoes, repellent canned peas, pork chops, macaroni-and-cheese (which was served far too often, leaving me disliking it to this day), and then the big Sunday roast. Sometimes beef, but more usually pork or lamb because they were cheaper. Maybe a chicken on rare occasions and, for some odd reason, chicken was considered almost a gourmet treat.

I’ll give my mother credit in matters culinary. In the first place she was a good cook and secondly she honestly tried to educate our reluctant palates to dishes she’d either heard about, or had found in Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s or Family Circle, and she would attempt to foist the concoctions on her wary family, only to be greeted with:

“What’s this stuff?”

“It’s called Beef Stroganoff.”

“I don’t like it.”

“You haven’t even tried it.”

“I still know I don’t like it. It looks like dog-food and smells like puke.”

At which point my ultra-sensitive mother would often flee the room in tears, leaving the rest of us feeling like rats, but still disinclined to eat the stroganoff.  As an aside, I thoroughly enjoy stroganoff today, along with many others of her ‘experimental’ dishes like the aforementioned lasagne, or even boeuf bourguignon, which struck me as being suspiciously reminiscent of plain old beef stew.

We didn’t dine out much when I was a kid. We certainly never went to fancy restaurants and Burnaby did not offer a proliferation of dining options in those days. There were some basic places, a couple of Chinese joints (too foreign for Dad), and our mainstay. This was a place on Edmonds near Kingsway called Rob Roy. I doubt if there was a Scottish connection, somehow.

Anyway, I recall their slogan was “Coffee till the pot runs dry.” Not much of an enticement for me, since I didn’t consume coffee at that age. Anyway, if we were to go out en famille, it was generally to Rob Roy for some fare like the aforementioned meatloaf, porkchops, or maybe a ‘hot roast beef sandwich’ on white bread, smeared with gloppy cornstarch thickened gravy. Never a hamburger.

For some reason we never went for burgers when I was a kid. I didn’t even have my first one until I was about eight and was out with an aunt and uncle of youthful, bon vivant tastes.

 

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Ve haff vays of makink you pay for gluttony

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, said old Kris, and I am not about to argue with a guy who’s still cool at the age of 97 or something.

Anyway, the fussypants ubergauleiters of the forces dedicated to protect us from ourselves have come up with a new ploy to keep us safe from sin. They want to make us ‘pay’ for our trespasses. They want to stick a big tax on what they deem to be ‘junk food’ in order to thwart mass gluttony on the part of — well — the masses.

One Sonia Grandi, a cardiology and clinical epidemiology researcher at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal (the people in your town seem to cause a lot of trouble, Jazz) writes in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that officialdom must do what it can to thwart our tendency to stick too much shit-food in our gaping maws, and since tobacco and booze are taxed up the ass (and oh yeah, that’s really working) then crud food should be equally excoriated with their own mark of Cain.

She says a junk-food tax or “sin” tax would help to reduce our consumption of high fat food and drinks. “Anything that contains a certain percentage over the recommended level with regards to fat our sugar, then they would be taxed a certain percentage,” she blithely states. She then glowingly refers to countries that have implemented taxes of up to 25 per cent on sodas and chips. Man, that will be good news to shareholders of Pepsi and Old Dutch.

The article goes on to state that despite the public outcry if a junk-food tax is brought about, people will eventually come to appreciate that it is for their own good and they will embrace it. Well, that is likely true and equally likely is that the pigs saved from the hotdog industry will no doubt sprout wings.

Well, you know I’m not exactly a paragon of self-discipline, but I’m not a consumer of crap, either. I probably drink about 4 cans of soda pop a year, and when we’re on vacation our gag reflexes kick into action after the 2nd crap food emporium and we look for decent eateries. Ideally we seek accommodation in places with kitchen facilities so we can prepare our own grub. So, I cannot relate to those who obsessively scarf crud, or stuff that has been arbitrarily deemed as crud.

And I do know that there is a certain scourge of gluttony around and a lot of lardasses are having an impact on our health services, but I also object to supercilious arrogant attitudes that want to establish yet another control over our lives.

There are too many issues involved in the consumption of food for me to go into here, and I am well aware of most of them, and we endeavor to follow food guidelines faithfully in this household, and we generally succeed. OK, so some don’t. You can’t bully people into good behavior. The ‘noble experiment’ of prohibition proved that.

But, most of all, don’t endeavor to make everybody pay for the sins of others. I like the odd item from Mickey-D, so I don’t think I should have to pay for the musings of the Food Nazis. I’m taxed enough, thank you.

‘Bunting’ was to me back then a colorful bird species

I was living in England at the time of that ‘other’ royal wedding. You know, the one that really brought the crowds out with more enthusiasm than the one that takes place (I think, though I haven’t been paying much attention) this week.

The wedding I was in place for was the Charles and Diana Spencer one. The wondrous and beauteous and winsome Diana captured the imagination of many, especially many of the red-blooded male sorts, of which I could still claim to be one at that time. I fell madly in crush with her and was gobsmacked by her silly untimely death.

But, Charles and Di it was then. Ultimately, as we know, that grand relationship turned into ‘Upchuck and Die’, as a comic said about the couple during their subsequent domestic histrionics that led to the Queen developing a case of Annus Horribilis. Oh, and the comic made the comment prior to Diana’s demise, so it wasn’t in terrible taste.

Dear Daphne, my landlady of the time, came over to our bungalow on Green Lane one morning near the wedding date and asked if I was going to put up any ‘bunting’ to mark the grand occasion. I was perplexed. As a damn colonial I didn’t know from bunting. Anyway turned out that people up and down Green Lane were hanging out commemorative items of royal and patriotic symbolism like Union Jacks etc. because they were so thrilled by the wedding. Well, I didn’t have much in the way of bunting at my disposal. But, I did have a supermarket plastic grocery bag that was Union Jack festooned (for the occasion as well) so I hung that from the porch light. Worked for me.

We didn’t have a street party on Green Lane on the wedding day. But other streets in the area did host such festive gatherings. And that was fun. Wandering about drinking too much beer and delighting in the antics (especially) of young females who had also consumed too much been and began to fret about the absence of loos in the vicinity. I loved it all. It gave me a slice of English life the average tourist doesn’t get to take part in. But I, as a temporary resident, could.

This time around, however, there isn’t quite the enthusiasm that the wedding of Will’s Pa and Ma evoked. And, Will, it was really all about your Ma. Charles was already kind of a pill and proved to be a greater one was time went by. Of course none of us knew back then about the (shudder) Camilla factor. What, Chuck, are you nuts? Oh well, it’s not all about the splendid esthetics, is it? I’ve found that out in my life, too.

Personally, I think if I were Will and Kate, I would’ve just eloped and then moved into a trailer park quietly.

Oh, and speaking of trailer parks, there is something of a deal being made of the fact that Kate is ‘common’. Well, as one columnist said, if Kate is common, then why is she marrying ‘down’? Let’s face it, the Royals (with the exception of the Queen) don’t have a hell of a lot to recommend them in terms of sterling behavior throughout their history.

Anyway, for us North Americans, ‘common’ in Kate’s sense doesn’t mean she snaps her gum or breaks wind in public, it just means she’s not of Royal or aristocratic lineage. Diana, you see, had aristocratic claims regardless of some of the low-lifes she chose to hang out with near the end of her days.

Kate comes from a good and solid bourgeois family and it is a family that has more pounds at its disposal than any of use could ever imagine possessing. So, not exactly common as dirt, is she.

Anyway, I wish the kids well – especially Kate in her lovely hats. Kate, me darlin’, you have taken on a tall order and I do hope you’re up for it. It isn’t going to be easy. But, make allowances for the lot you’re marrying into. There’s a lot of ‘stuff’ to deal with there, and you aren’t allowed to have an opinion about it all.

Just ask auntie-in-law, Fergie, or erstwhile great uncle Tony Snowdon.

What could be more reverential than an Eastertime mini-rant?

First off I have to get a gripe off my chest. All over so-called ‘Christendom’ (now there’s a descriptor you don’t hear a lot these days thanks to the forces of PC who maintain only ‘other culture’ festivals are worthy of commemoration, but never Christian ones) the tendency in recent years has been to mark the Christmas season with Handel’s magnificent Messiah.

Oh, and about the ‘Christendom’ point, I wrote that as the bloody heathen that I probably am, but fair is fair and I don’t think that those who prescribe to Christianity are necessarily treated fairly in these days of so-called ‘inclusivity’.

But, back to my original point, the Messiah. Each Christmas season churches and concert halls are filled with people ‘Hallelujah-ing’ all over the place. But, my nitpick herein revolves around the fact that Herr Handel composed it to commemorate Easter and the resurrection of Christ, not the Christmas birth. And that’s about all I have to say about that in a world of icky Kardashians and other vile nonentities. Hey, maybe Sheen could work that factoid into one of his substance and paranoia-fueled stupid rants.

I love hearing undertalented zillionaires whining about how hard done by they are when other, actually decent folks are losing their homes.

Off subject again.

This is about Easter. In our house when I was growing up Easter was sort of a ‘Christmas Lite’. You know, you didn’t get really good stuff. Just chocolate eggs and a little purple and yellow ersatz straw filled basked that also contained multicolored chicks. Not much to do with the chicks, so my brother and I usually had them fight until their little beaks got knocked off and their eyes fell out. Then we ate the chocolate.

Some years, if my mother was prepared to put up with the mess, we colored hard-boiled eggs. That was kind of cool. And then I got to have stinky HB eggs for school lunch for the next two weeks, as did most other kids.

Other than that, nothing much else happened. Oh yeah, we were ‘made’ to go to church on Easter Sunday. Even my old man was. My mother insisted we understood the ‘true’ meaning of Easter. I think ‘true’ was used a bit advisedly. I would merrily point out that bit of information to my mother.

And that’s about all I have to say about Easter other than I hope you are having the one you wanted.

So, HAPPY EASTER!

OK, I’m 65.2% happy. That’s not so bad, is it?

Happiness?  That’s nothing more than health and a poor memory.  ~Albert Schweitzer

Are you happy? No, I won’t ask you to clap your hands. No, but really, are you happy? Can you define it? If I were to come up to you on the street and ask you: “So (insert name here), are you happy?”

Not that easy, is it. Am I happy this morning? Well, I awakened and everything seemed to be working OK, so I am happy about the relatively reasonable state of my well-being. The house is still standing. We have food enough to feed ourselves and Max, so that’s good. The sun is shining, and that’s very good. I think we can pay our mortgage and bills this month, and there is no big conflict between the two of us. So, all in all, it’s fine, so I guess I must be happy.

And there is wisdom in Schweitzer’s comment. If you don’t have your health, then it is difficult to attain happiness. And if you have a poor memory then you can forget all the crap of the past that might drag a fellow down. Some things are just better not remembered, or at least remembered selectively.

So, there I was feeling relatively good about my personal happiness. Then I took a test I found at http://www.indicedebonheur.com/home.htm. Well, that just screwed my joyous mood because I found, after answering the queries as honestly as I could, that my happiness quotient only came in at 65.2 out of 100. Well, that’s barely C-plus. Oh, what the hell do they know? But, give it a try and see how you do.

Some elements of life do make me happy, however. I mean, not all the time, but much of the time, unless I’m really pissed-off and then nothing much will work. But that is rare.

So, here are my sources of happiness. Let me know what yours are and maybe I can pick up some hints:

–         Living in the home I do, in the neighborhood I do, and the town and country I do, despite the fact they infuriate me at times.

–         Being in a generally healthy relationship with somebody I love. Took me a while to get to this place, but I did.

–         Being relatively healthy and having access to clinical aid when I’m not, and being able to pay the sawbones.

–         Having all my own hair if not all my own teeth.

–         Being just a smashing looking dude who looks at least a decade younger than he is and hence still wows the babes. OK, so lying to myself can boost my ego and that makes me happy.

–         Having a good sense of humor.

–         Having few vices left. Oh well, maybe that’s just an age thing.

–         Enjoying the few that I do have left.

–         Making love with somebody I love. Well, mainly my spouse since she’s likely to read this.

–         Owning the Wonder Dog.

–         Going off on a trip to somewhere wonderful, or even just OK.

–         Having been to a lot of amazing places in the world.

–         Having known (and still knowing) some amazing people of both sexes whom I love dearly.

–         Having some very special friends (whom I also love dearly)

–         ‘Giving back’ either as a volunteer, or with moral support for a person in need, or financial support if I have the wherewithal.

–         Living in the country I do rather than some unfortunate war-torn shithole. Canada may have its problems, but compared with some spots, it’s paradise.

So, what are your sources of happiness? Where do you sit on the scale? I’d be delighted to know.

Many ‘brilliant innovations’ are useless, but some are more useless than others

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love — they had 500 years of democracy and peace. And what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Orson Welles as Harry Lime in Graham Greene’s ‘The Third man’.

They (the Swiss) produced the cuckoo clock, but also the fondue set.

So, the question in this context is, what is the most absolutely useless item in your household? You know, something you either received as a gift, or that you felt was a ‘must-have’ during some fleeting moment of materialistic insanity, and has now sat on the shelf in the basement or garage for years, decades even? In a poll taken in the UK (but it could just as easily have been taken here) the answer is the fondue set.

When I got married for the first time, my wife and I received two fondue sets. And, in those days people had fondue parties. You would invite another couple over. You would fire up the fondue burner. You would crack far too many bottles of wine and you would eat and drink for hours and hours. Sometimes you got two fondues going. One with hot oil for cooking meat, shrimp, etc., and one with melted cheese for dipping chunks of bread. If you could muster up a third set (not difficult in those days), you could even do a dessert fondue with melted chocolate and fresh strawberries. It was fun. It was a moment in time. And, as is the case for all things that seemed like a good idea at the time — it was a good idea at that time — and seemingly only at that time. We did the fondue thing for a while — maybe a year, and then the set(s) got put away, never to emerge. I don’t know if my ex-wife still has our originals. I’ve never had any desire to purchase another to make up for the ‘loss.’

But, fondue sets were not the only ‘flashes in the pan’ (as it were). Also topping the list were ice-cream makers (I had one of those until recently when I gave it away to a friend who expressed interest in having it if I wasn’t using it. I kissed her in gratitude. That was because it had sat in the garage for years — and years — and years, unused. It made great ice cream, but I never used it. I still eat ice cream. I buy it at the store.); on the same list of ‘good ideas at the time’ would be toasted sandwich makers, and especially exercise bikes.

Exercise bikes. I had one of those, too. It seemed like a good idea. And, for the first couple of encounters, it was almost fun; a challenge. I would increase the tension to see what I could endure. I would chalk up miles on the sonofabitch, and watch that little odometer go up (ever so slowly). And then that was it. It got boring. It got so excruciatingly boring. I did try to persevere with it, however. I tried variations to ease the boredom. I would read the newspaper while ‘riding’. I would watch television, to pass the tedious time. I would chat with my wife. I would do anything I could to keep from focusing on the inane fake riding. I thought of trying to have sex on it, but I reckoned that would have called for a degree of dexterity and athleticism that I probably wouldn’t have been able to master. Finally I decided that going for a real bike ride, or just a good walk, would be doing me considerably more good, and cut the boredom factor down radically. So, I got Max and gave the freakin’ exercise bike away.

One item that fails to make the list of good ideas turned bad is the electric bread maker. That’s because they are ‘good’ ideas.
“It’ll be just like the exercise bike,” said my ex-wife when I vouchsafed the idea of buying a bread maker many years and marriages ago. “You’ll use it three times, and then it’ll end up in the garage, never to be used again.”

And that is what happened — for a time. It was sort of a breadmakerus interruptus, in which it did end up in the garage — actually for years. And then, years and marriages passed, and I found it one day after a long and dustry hiatus. I hauled it out. I found some recipes. I fired it up. The bread I made was wonderful. Wendy and I actually used it so often that it wore out, and we bought a newer, considerably improved one. We use no other source of the staff of life. I resent it if we are traveling and I actually have to ‘buy’ bread. The bread I make is so much more wonderful, and it costs literally pennies per loaf.

Thank you, Black & Decker, you can now pay me for the plug. And now I would be interested to learn about the item(s) you find the most useless. Pinklea, I suspect you’ll have some thoughts on this.

 

This blog is especially not about that wedding thing

 

It’s just another manic Monday, and I’m stuck. Nothing of genuine inspiration is coming my way blogwise. I have some topics I’ve speculated on and have decided arbitrarily they aren’t sufficient to really go anywhere. I can decide such things arbitrarily, you see, because it’s my blog and it’s one of the few areas in life in which I have that sort of freedom.

So, what to write about in a time of intellectual and creative torpor? You know, I’m a soi-disant social commentator (aren’t we all?) so it should come easy because there’s a world of stuff. But sometimes I think that if I haven’t said it ‘all’, then somebody else has.

Anyway, as follows are some musings that haven’t taken flight. If you see one that tickles your fancy then I will gladly expand on it, but at this juncture the subsequent offerings are merely germs of ideas.

–         Environmentally sensitive kids: It’s widely held that it is the people of the older generation who are crass and unaware of the nasty legacy we’re leaving in terms of waste and effluvia, and the tiny tots are sensitized to the future they will soon be inheriting. Well, that’s nice, but somehow the message about littering seems to have escaped them, since the roadway leading to our local high school is vile with litter and crap along the track leading from fast-food outlets to the school. Hmm.

–         I’ve got them wedding bell blues: Suppose you held a royal wedding and you just didn’t capture the imagination of the public the way the hucksters and hipsters predicted you would? You know, the Kate and Will thing that is happening sometime or other in the near future. Turns out that 70 percent of Canadians couldn’t give a flying (act of sexual intercourse) about it. Why would anyone have thought otherwise, is a question I have? And even in the UK the amazing boring couple has driven a third of the population to try to book holidays abroad on the wedding day.

–         Janis: I was in the car the other evening listening to a CD of Joplin’s greatest hits, specifically Piece of My Heart, her signature song that I absolutely love. But I realized that listening to Janis always makes me just a bit sad at the waste of her all too short life and the snuffing out of her amazing talent. The premature death of Jim Morrison doesn’t bother me at all. As talented as he was, he was also an asshole. But, for me, Janis was different.

–         Dr. Wolf and his coconut-bra bimbos: When we were on Rarotonga many years ago we were looking for a souvenir calendar to take home with us. The only localized ones we could find on the lovely tropical isle were ones produced by a local medical practitioner we christened Dr. Wolf. He was also a self-professed ‘glam’ photographer whose signature offerings were Polynesian maidens in coconut shell bras (which must have been uncomfortable) of various permutations. “Hey, check out the size of the shells on that babe!” Like I said, charming but still a bit limited in scope.

–         Well-fed munchkins: Distress over all the junk-food stuffed little porkers in our schools today. I look at my class photo from the first grade. We look like scrawny waifs from a refugee camp. There’s a statement there, folks.

–         Signs of increasing fogeydom: Periodically I notice things that indicate to me, despite my best intentions, I am getting older. Then I decided the topic was too depressing.

–         Politics: No, not for this particular blog. I’m feeling nice this sunny Monday morning and I’d like to retain that feeling for as long as possible.

–         Max’s best dog pals: Should we invite Cola, Abby, Ben and Jake over for a playdate or would they all get drunk and out-of-hand? I’ll have to ponder this one more, but I do like the fact that due to dog pals we’ve gotten much better acquainted with some very nice people. Dogs as social lubricant, hmm. Has possibilities.

Enough.