Thursday, May 02, 2013

Brunch with Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss

So, this is pretty long, and there may not be many who will enjoy it. But if you've ever met one of your heroes, perhaps you will relate...

Yesterday I attended an event at a swanky hotel in downtown Toronto, Ontario. I found out about the event on Sunday. When I saw the announcement, I almost fell off my chair in my rush to email my bosses and ask if I could have Wednesday off. Then I waited on tenterhooks for 24 hours -- 24 hours!! -- for an answer.

Yes, sure! Take the day, came the answer.

I swooned with delight and rushed to send in my registration online. I opted for the premium registration, for which I would receive a free book and preferred seating at the event. It was ridiculously expensive, even for the regular registration, but I reasoned that I would possibly never have such an opportunity again, and I didn't want to cheap out and deprive myself of the full experience. We're talking about the level of event of a lifelong hockey fan meeting his hero, Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky, that's how big these guys are to me, and I didn't want to miss out on anything.

So, I drove down to Toronto on Tuesday night and stayed in a Holiday Inn downtown. In the morning I got up early and went to find the other hotel where the event was taking place (I couldn't afford to stay there, which would have been was $450 a night!). As I entered the hotel, who did I pass within two feet of but one of the two fellows I'd gone down there to see. Almost fainted with excitement and didn't have the presence of mind to say hello.

The next two hours or so were waiting to get into the event room and then waiting for things to really begin. The man sitting next to me had the same surname as I do (I guess the organizers thought we were related). Lucky you will see very soon. The woman across from me was doing her best to have a terrible time. The moment she sat down, all she did was sniff her nose at the measly trade paperback she got for free because it wasn't the hard-cover, colour, illustrated version, which she already owned anyway, and dug around in the little goodie bag we each got and criticized everything in it (it was a wee bottle of Magic Water...very cute LOL). She just sat there saying how cheap the organizers were and being a total cunt. I just watched her. I couldn't believe anyone could be such a high-toned bitch. Didn't ruin MY day though, no sir! LOL She probably went home and whined about everything. I went home walking three feet off the ground. Can you guess who had a better time?

Finally the big moment arrived and the two guests of honor walked into the room to a rousing standing ovation...there were only fifty or sixty people, so the noise we made was quite astonishing.

Professors Richard Dawkins, the British evolutionary biologist, and Lawrence Krauss the American theoretical physicist.

I almost wet myself with excitement. Richard Dawkins!!!! He of "The God Delusion" and "The Selfish Gene" and "The Blind Watchmaker" and many other wonderful books. One of the Four Horsemen of the New Atheist movement (the other three being Dan Dennet, Sam Harris, and the sadly departed Christopher Hitchens). The only way I could possibly have been more excited would have been if Hitchens was still alive and there in the room with us.

Lawrence Krauss was quite a thrill to see also. I have only more recently become aware of him. He's kind of moved in to fill the gaping hole left in the atheist community by the death of Hitchens. He's a wonderful communicator.

So these two men moved through the middle of the room and walked right past me to the front. (By the way, I was seated at the very front, centre of the room, just five feet away from where Dawkins and Krauss would be seated). SO glad I bought the premium ticket!!

As they reached the front, Dawkins did a double take at the man next to me who shared my surname and made a beeline for him with his hand out. "I remember you! We met in Oxford!" And so began a five or ten minute conversation between the two, with me sitting right there nodding and smiling and just totally basking in the fact that Richard Dawkins...RICHARD DAWKINS!! Was chatting with a guy right beside me. The guy, who said he was a friend of P.Z. Myers, another American biologist extremely well known in the atheist world, had gone with P.Z. to Oxford to meet with Dawkins to discuss their differences about evolution. Oh, how I wish I'd had time to chat with my seatmate about all that fascinating stuff.

Krauss eventually came around to our table also and used the empty part of it to sign peoples' books and stuff. I got him to sign my event agenda. He even asked my name and wrote his own name out in printing as well, as he knew people would doubt who it was since the signature itself was unintelligible LOL. See? Fangirl!

Eventually everyone got back to their seats and the formal part of the event began. Krauss spoke first, for about 15 minutes because he had to leave at 10:15. But I found him to be a wonderful communicator who was really enjoyable to listen to. His childlike excitement about the things he studies, about the wonders of the cosmos, was truly a delight to witness, and totally infectious. He's like the new Carl Sagan, I swear...but he's funnier than Sagan, which is really groovy. You could think of Krauss as the love child of Carl Sagan and Woody Allen (except without Allen's annoying self-deprecation). Small, very casual, and with a face so severely pock-marked by teenaged acne scars you can't help wondering how he even survived those years with the teasing he must have gotten. Pizza-face doesn't even begin to describe it. His skin must have resembled raw hamburger.

Dawkins presents a much more elegant picture. You could maybe call it shabby elegance. He wears his hair in such a way that it always seems to be floating around his head, a little bit uncontrolled, and his tentative smile is given out very selfishly, perhaps because of a ingrained British reticence, or maybe it's those bad British teeth. He has a very appealing, soft voice, very cultured...and don't British people always just *sound* smarter?? LOL

Dawkins was at the podium for at least an hour and a quarter, almost all of which was answering questions from the audience, which was really much more enjoyable than just sitting and watching him deliver a prepared speech. He does have an excellent sense of humour also...more ironic, dry and sardonic than Krauss's, but I guess that's to be expected from a Brit.

Truly, I barely remember a thing either of them said. I was just so thrilled to be there, hearing them speak live, interacting with the people around me. There was a guy there videoing the whole thing, so I hope that's available soon to be viewed online. If/when it is, I may post a link here.

After all the speaking was done, there was another hour or so of mingling. I got Dawkins to sign my copy of his book "The Magic of Reality" which I received as a gift for my premium registration. Squee!!! I was so excited I got tongue-tied just saying "So happy to meet you, Profess..fessor Dawkins." LOL

After a while, Dawkins went back to his seat at the head table to sign more books, and I noticed some people were giving their digital cameras and cell phones to the event photographer and going to sit next to Dawkins to have their photo taken with him. So, I braved up and did the same and now I'm tickled pink to have a really nice photo of myself sitting right beside him. He stopped signing and posed with nice. I'm going to have it printed on nice paper and framed. (It'll go right next to my only other famous-person photo, the pic of me with now-ex-Canadian-prime-minister Paul Martin on the day he took office).

I confess, once I got the photo taken, I didn't really see a point in sticking around. There were so many people crowding in front of him I couldn't see him anyway, so at that point I left. Driving home, I had this wonderful feeling of euphoria, which still lingers a little today.

There are very few people on this planet who I can say would affect me in such a way. If Hitchens were still alive and I got to meet him, I swear I'd probably break down and cry like a teenager at a Beatles concert (though I wouldn't scream...that wouldn't be seemly LOL). I saw Stephen King interviewed live in Toronto one time a couple of years ago, and I was just as excited to see that giant of my reading world sitting right there thirty feet from me on the stage. Got a little teary, I did! Dawkins and Krauss was so much better though because I got to meet them, shake their hands, get their signatures, say a word with them. So freaking awesome. I'll never forget it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Man, oh, man...that was goooood Chicken!

Yesterday being Tuesday, it was my weekly eat-some-good-food-and-watch-some-good-TV-with-Carol-and-John night (aka "LOST Night" for now). We all seem to really enjoy these evenings, but since I started working full-time hours at my biggest client's office, it's been a little difficult to organize myself for my part of the food contribution. Basically, I either have to cook it on Monday night and reheat it at Carol's, or bring the ingredients and prepare it at her place on Tuesday.

Either way works fine. But then there's the added complication that I'm, well...lazy. So I'm constantly on the hunt for what I call "super-easy" recipes that are really yummy. I've posted a few of them here already. And just found a new one recently, thanks to my new favourite website: Pinterest.

This was named "Man-Pleasing Chicken" by the person whose website the recipe originally came from from (she stole it from somewhere else). It's very aptly named. And so super-easy. It literally took less than five minutes prep time and 40 minutes mostly ignoring it in the oven with just one check-in to baste.

The combination of mustard, vinegar and maple syrup is out of this world. Very flavourful, and the meat comes out moist and amazingly delicious.

Be sure to use a good quality Dijon. I was pleasantly surprised by its rich, full but not overpowering flavour, which was beautifully tempered by the maple syrup.

The recipe, as I made it was:

1 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup real Maple Syrup
1 tablespoons vinegar (I used cider vinegar)

Or, the easy way to customize it for your quantity of chicken is:
1 part Dijon
1/2 part Maple syrup
1 tbsp of vinegar to each part of Dijon

Just mix the ingredients till smooth and pour over the chicken pieces in a baking pan (use one with sides, not a cookie sheet). Turn the chicken to get it well coated, and leave it skin-side up, and then bake for 40 minutes at 450 degrees, basting halfway through. No need to turn it during baking.

Don't worry if it starts turning black on top. That's actually what you want...and it tastes really good! It's just the sugars in the maple syrup.

I used thighs, because I like 'em, but we all agreed this would work nicely on any type of chicken, and probably REALLY nicely on pork...possibly even better than chicken. But if I was putting it on pork, I'd marinate it for a couple of hours.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Heroin Wings. Yeah, you heard me.

This is the wing recipe I made last night. It turned out great...really great. I'll definitely be making these again.


4 lb chicken wings
1/2 cup butter
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp paprika (I used smoked paprika and it was NOM)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper

First, preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the wings up into "drummettes". (Freeze the pointy "tips" for soup -- they make great broth!) Then combine the grated cheese and the seasonings. Line a shallow baking pan with foil. (Do not omit this step, or you'll still be scrubbing the pan come New Year's Day!) Melt the butter in a shallow bowl or pan.

Dip each "drummette" in butter, roll in the seasoned cheese, and arrange in the foil lined pan. Bake for 1 hour at 350°F. Kick yourself that you didn't make a double recipe!!

Description: "Once you try these, you'll understand the name -- utterly, totally addictive! You'll impress the heck out of your friends -- and wish you'd made more! They're great leftover, too." 

Source: ""500 Low-Carb Recipes: 500 Recipes, from Snacks to Dessert, That the Whole Family Will Love" by Dana W. Carpender"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some thoughts on what we are

"Our brains are ethical by design."

A while back, I read a book titled "Why We Believe in God(s) -- A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith." It was written by J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., MD with Clair Aukofer.

In my opinion, the book is brilliant, and explains a lot of things to me that never seemed to make sense before. It's all about how we humans have evolved, specifically our brains and body chemistry, to produce the kinds of behaviour we exhibit as modern homo sapiens. Obviously, from the title, most of the focus of the book is on how our brains and body chemistry function to make most of us susceptible to belief in higher beings for which no tangible proof exists.

This post isn't about atheism though. This post is about, well, about biology, I guess. What makes people people. How our brains work and why we are the way we are.

Anderson and Aukover's book has made me more convinced than ever that human beings are no more special or unique than, let's say, ants. Certainly we're far more complex. But we really are nothing more than bags of meat and chemicals that are programmed to react to the outside world (and the inner world too) in predictable ways.

I'm completely comfortable with this concept. I suppose being the hard-core atheist that I am makes me more predisposed than most to be able to accept that people are no more special biologically than ants or any other living thing. Evolution has given us abilities that set us apart from other creatures, but our ability to empathize with a fellow human being, or believe in gods, or write poetry stems from the same place as the evolved ability of birds to fly in flocks and never bump into each other or to find their way from their nesting grounds to a winter feeding ground and back again.

However, when I presented this concept to a group of writers I interact with regularly online...a very intelligent and open-minded group of people if there ever was one... some of the people who responded were outright offended by the idea and even those who weren't offended refused to accept that humans don't have some special "something other" that no other creature on the planet has. Even those who are also atheists wouldn't accept it. That blew me away. How can you call yourself an atheist and still sit there and insist that humans have "something special" that makes them somehow "more" than every other biological creature on the planet?

They almost seemed to think it was disrespectful of me to suggest it. Disrespectful to who?? To god, I guess, if they believe in one, or to humankind, if they don't.  Even the atheists were so protective of their precious status as the dominant species on the planet that they couldn't, or wouldn't, entertain the idea that we'd got where we are by simple chance and evolution.

I guess that blew me away as much as the concept that most of the people on the planet believe with all their hearts that there's some imaginary sky-god out there looking down on them, hearing their every thought and caring whether they eat a mollusk, say "goddam", or make love with someone of their own sex. To believe that humans are somehow more than collections of cells, chemicals, meat and bones, you cannot, in my opinion, truly consider yourself an atheist.

Excerpts from the book
Here are some of my favourite passages, that I'd highlighted in the book (don't worry, I didn't deface a book, though I'm not averse to highlighting favourite passages in printed tomes. This particular book was an e-book I bought through Kobo:

"Your snap judgements are millions of years in the making."

"Religious beliefs are basic human social survival concepts with slight alterations."

"Just to believe in a god, our mind bounces off no fewer than twenty hard-wired adaptations evolved over eons of natural selection to help us coexist and communicate with our fellow homo sapiens to survive and dominate the planet."

"Severe climate variation between 70,000 and 100,000 years ago apparently reduced our population to perhaps as few as 600 breeding individuals. That is what modern genetics now tells us. That means that every one of the 7 billion people on this planet is a descendant of that small group of hunter-gatherers who lived in Africa and survived the harsh climate change."

"The fact is, we never lose the longing for a caretaker." (This is in reference to the strong need of most people to feel someone is watching over them, even once they become adults.)

"It begins with our ability to mentally separate their [other peoples'] minds from their bodies, which in turn circles back to our ability not only to believe in what we cannot see, but also to interact with the invisible. We are born with the ability to read what others may be thinking even when they are not there to tell us. In a way, all of those to whom we are attached sometimes become imaginary friends."

"Belief in the supernatural is not something learned from our culture as we grow from infants to toddlers and more cognizant children. It is original equipment, requiring no social prompting."

"This human ability for self-deception is crucial to religious belief. If many believers could see their own minds more clearly, they would see that self-deception plays a role in their acceptance of faith."

"Most people live their lives as if there is no god. We stop at red lights, we put our children in car seats, and we act responsibly to protect our safety and the safety of those we love. If a person is religious, he is an atheist in relation to others' gods and the gods of history. He also will almost invariably live as an atheist in relation to his own worshipped deity." (In other words, we tend to behave as if there was no god protecting us even when we do we stop at red lights, not trusting that a god will save us if we go through.)

"We in the west have become so used to religious people not really, truly and fully believing what they say they believe, that we are startled when, as on 9/11, we encounter people who really do believe their religion and put their beliefs into murderous practice."

"At heart, we are all born creationists. Disbelief requires effort."

"The less you abide by scripture and the more you use your basic moral intuitions, the more moral you are likely to be. Genuine morality is doing what is right, regardless of what we may be told; religious morality is doing what we are told."

"We evolved to favour those with our genes over those without. Religions evoke and exploit kin emotions."

"Most religions are preoccupied with sex, and that in itself offers strong evidence that religion is man-made."

"The sacred is found between the ears." (Danish neurobiologist, Lone Frank)

"It has been documented for years that many individuals with temporal lobe epilepsy, which comes from electrical disturbances in the temporal lobes, have intense religious experiences, and that extreme religiosity is a common character trait among such patients." (he goes on the cite the following examples of people who are thought to have had temporal lobe epilepsy: St. Paul was having an epileptic fit when he was "struck down" on the road to Damascus; others: Ste. Theresa of Avila, Feodor Dostoevsky and Marcel Proust.)

"We often hear that if it weren't for religion, we would be immoral and unethical. Mirror neurons resoundingly refute this." (mirror neurons, put simply, are responsible for humans' ability to feel empathy. You'll have to read the book to get it.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"God, No" ...a book review

I've been reading Penn Jillette's new book, "God, No," and I'm loving it so much I just had to put it out there.

You'll know Penn Jillette as the big guy in the Penn & Teller magic duo. Penn is what he calls a "hard-core atheist." I'm stealing that one to describe myself too. His book is about being an atheist, so if that offends you, just don't read it. Or, maybe you should read it if atheism offends you, because you really need to get over that.

If you've ever seen Jillette rant on any of his videos (many of which can be found on YouTube), you'll know what I mean when I say he writes like he talks. His book is liberally sprinkled with the f-word and with a veritable feast of hilarious, pointed, brilliant metaphors, similes and descriptions. He meanders around his topic like an avid needleworker browsing the world's biggest needle crafts store, idly wandering from one story to the next, picking up a thread here and a thimble there, not always with any obvious connection, until coming back finally to his point. And all along the way you've been treated to a delightful, deliciously scandalous, funny ride with a point at the end.

The book is divided up into sections named after the ten commandments. In place of the real ten commandments, he offers his own versions, which I like very much. For instance, instead of "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy" and so on, Jillette's fourth commandment is:

"Put aside some time to rest and think (if you're religious, that might be the Sabbath; if you're a Vegas magician, that'll be the day with the lowest grosses)."

I like that.

If for no other reason than an appreciation of good humour, I recommend this book. I frequently laugh out loud while I read it. I shit you not. It constantly makes me wish I could write like that. It's funny, it's fun to read, and it has a lot of good points. But not only is it funny, it's often very touching too... as I found with his story about the orthodox Jew-turned-atheist who approached him after a show asking him to participate in a very special moment in his life. I actually found myself dabbing tears from my eyes as I read that story.

Great book. Read it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later - Remembering 9/11

Ten years ago today, I was at my office at the Ottawa Business Journal. For some reason I'd started work early that day, because I was at my desk when a commotion started in another part of the office. I got up to see what was going on.

Because I worked for a newspaper, there were a few televisions around the office. I noticed a group of people clustered around one of the TVs in the editorial department. There were two or three similar groups around other TVs elsewhere in the large room. I went over to the nearest one to see a scene on the screen of smoke billowing out of a tall of the world trade centre buildings, someone said. They said a small plane had crashed into the building.

I remember thinking at the time that was odd, because not too long before that, a small plane and a helicopter had crashed into buildings in other cities in separate incidents. What's going on with these pilots, I wondered?

This was the first view we had
of the second plane, just before it hit.
But then, as we watched, a second plane crashed into the other world trade centre tower -- and it wasn't a small airplane, it was a huge passenger jet and it was surreal. I stood there with my hand over my mouth. I  felt how wide my eyes were. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. The view we had at that point showed the plane going into the far corner of the building, and then fire and smoke immediately spewing out the other side.

"That was not a coincidence," I said out loud. "That was deliberate. This is terrorism." No one else said a word, but there were gasps and moans from all of us.

We all stood watching, horrified and worried. Soon after, the news outlets began reporting on the attack on the Pentagon and then the plane that crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I was scared.

It seemed like the world was tilting on its axis. Where would the next attack happen? When would it stop? Who was doing this?

We all stood and watched for a long time, but it was still a work day and, feeling disjointed and confused, I finally forced myself to go back to my desk and try to work. I made frequent trips back to the TV for updates. After a few hours, when no further attacks occurred, we all relaxed a little and started feeling safer. Because, even here in sleepy Ottawa, Canada, we feared we might be victims. We're not all that far away from New York, Washington and Shanksville. We are the capital city of a modern, affluent, democratic country that is best friends with the United States. We could very conceivably be the target of the kinds of people who'd highjacked those airplanes. We still could be.

Of course, as soon as I got home that day, I turned on the television and sat there all through the evening watching the horrific scenes and reporting from the three sites. I still couldn't really get my head around it. This was really happening. The things I was seeing just wouldn't square up with my understanding of reality, or even of what was possible in reality. I felt confused, frightened, unsafe. After the first shock of watching the live incident, it almost seemed to get worse and worse as the reports came in, and the steady stream of new film and photos that had taken a while to reach the news agencies.

The film and photos that horrified me the most, which made me burst into tears of shock and compassion, were those of bodies falling from the towers. People who were so terrified of burning to death in their offices, that they had leapt out of shattered windows and fallen to their deaths below. I couldn't imagine the terror that must have preceded such an act.

I was also intensely disturbed by the shot of a massive cloud of ash and smoke spewing around the corner of a building toward a group of terrified, running people. It looked like a giant monster seeking them out with evil intent, a live, solid, evil thing chasing them.

Of course, all the things I saw on television that day where shocking, disturbing, intensely unsettling. For days and days I couldn't watch anything else. Couldn't refocus on my normal life. I know that pretty much everyone else in North America and many other places felt the same way. The world was changed on that day. An act of unspeakable malignance and evil was thrust upon us. Not just on the over 3,000 people who lost their lives directly because of the attacks, but every single human being on this planet that was alive at that time, and who were and will be born since.

But it will always be especially personal for those of us who lived through it, whether in person or through the breathless reporting of every news agency out there, because of the ways it has changed the way we think, feel and automatically react to certain situations. I don't think I'll ever get over the automatic worry I now feel every time I see a low-flying plane over the city. I'll never again feel completely safe from people who hate the world I live in. I'll never be the same again.

I think the most profound and disturbing change that those events spawned in me, and I'm sure many, many others, is the regrettable suspicion and, if I'm to be completely honest, bigotry, that I now have toward people of the Muslim faith.

It shames me to admit it. I have always considered myself a very open-minded, tolerant, unprejudiced individual. But not as much any more. Not since my eyes were opened that day to the fact that so many people of that faith hate us, want us dead -- especially if we're Jewish -- want our way of life eradicated and replaced with their stone-age anti-culture in which women are barely-human baby factories and slaves, and men sit on dirt floors and excitedly plot the demise of anyone who isn't like they are. Not since I have seen how little was done to repudiate and vilify those events by others of that faith who claim not to hate us, yet never demonstrated that they hate the villains of 9/11. Not since the violence and the attackes have continued around the world. Not since the rejoicing in middle eastern cities at the news of the events of 9/11. Not since people of that faith tried to spit in our faces by trying to build a mosque within blocks of Ground Zero.

As an atheist, I reject all forms of religion. But now I particularly reject Islam and its followers, for it spawns hate and fear and backwardness, and puffs out its chest in defiance of civility, peace and love.

And I deeply resent their so-called "culture" (for Islam is not a culture, it's just a template for hate) for making me more like they are.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Johnny Walker: Black vs. Red

I watched a video online today...a 60 Minutes interview featuring my favourite atheist and intellectual, Christopher Hitchens. In it, they talked about his admiration for Johnny Walker as his favourite tipple. So, when I had a hankering for a tipple of my own this evening, I thought, what the hell, I'll try Johnny Walker. So, off to the Liquor Store I went.

I discovered pretty quickly that JW is a bit least to me. Plus, I wasn't sure which sort to get...there were a few. Then I noticed the 375 ml bottles of Johnny Walker Red Label and Johnny Walker Black Label. Perfect. Just right for a taste test. The black was about $23 Cdn while the red was $16. Right there, you have a clue as to what might be the better of the the distiller's opinion, at least. We shall see.

The immediate differences are, of course, the labels...very similar except for their colours and wordage. But the colour of the liquid inside is very slightly different too. The black is a slightly richer, warmer colour, more amber than the Red Label, which is lighter in colour.

The sniff test: at first, the two smelled identical, but on a second whiff, the Red Label has a bit of a smokey scent, which the Black Label lacks. The black label has more of a sweet, caramel aroma. If I had to choose right now, based on smell alone, I might choose the Red Label, as I really enjoyed the smokiness of the Laphroaig I tried several weeks ago.

Now for the taste test: Red Label...surprisingly thick on the tongue, and that smokiness is there in the taste as well. Not much burniness, which is nice. Very smooth. I like it. If that's the cheaper of the two, I may be in for a treat.

Hmm. Interesting. Pricier it may be, but in my opinion, it's not as pleasing (to me) as the Red Label. Seems to have slightly less body (though that's not a mark against it), but the flavor isn't as interesting. Not very burny, which is good.

Other sites I checked generally say the Black Label is better and that the Red is more suited to "long" drings...drinks which have other ingredients as well. But personally, I prefer the Red Label. Both are very nice though, and much, much smoother (less burny) than most of the other scotches, whisk(e)ys and bourbons I've tried. I may make this one a favourite of my own.

Thanks, Mr. Hitchens!

Family poem

I came across a pile of old papers this evening and found this silly little poem among them that made me laugh. I was probably sixteen when I wrote it, as it was among some journal entries written at that time.

My mother, whose name will be Julie
Is the best person, really and truly
She tries to be nice, which she gives me advice
And I listen to her, really and truly.

My mother is married to Jack
All he wants to do is hit the sack
But he works at his store, and he makes more and more
That poor man of my mother's named Jack.

I have a young brother named Casey
Who is chubby, selfish and lazy
I don't really mean it, and you could have forseen it --
He's a great little brother, my Casey.

I also have a brother named Ian
Who, someday, will truly be fleein'
'Cause he jokes and he teases, "I'm a weirdo," so he says,
I pity my brother named Ian.

I have a young sister - she's Karen
Who I see is ready and rarin'
To have a new phone, all of her own
That talkative sister named Karen.

An there's Andrea, who happens to be smallest
Who knows, maybe someday she'll be tallest!
She can be happy or sad - her mood changes aren't bad
For a kid who happens to be smallest.

And we have a dog - he is Kelly
Who has a rapidly growing belly
We feed him with food that he this is good
It's all people food, it's disgusting for Kelly.

LOL...Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I ain't ;-)

Friday, June 03, 2011

Easy Broccoli Chicken

Thursday nights have been a boon to my cooking experience. Every Thursday, I go over to John and Carol's and we have dinner and watch a couple of episodes of my all-time favourite TV show, Deadwood (and often stay up too late yakking). This Thursday it was my turn to make the main course. I came across this recipe on the Kraft site and we all liked it quite a bit. I had an unaccustomed second helping, and so did Carol...and John had thirds!
It's a good family recipe, as it's not spicy or exotically flavoured. Just real comfort food that fills your belly nicely. And the fact that it's sauteed and then braised made the chicken nice and tender and moist. It was super easy to make too, which is the first thing I look for in a recipe these days. Good after-work recipe...only took half an hour from start to finish with very little prep time. Could have easily fed five...there was plenty left over, even after all our seconds and thirds, for a large lunch portion.
Easy Broccoli Chicken 
  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 3 cups  fresh broccoli florets (or use any frozen veg you like, but the fresh broc was excellent)
  • 1 can (10-3/4 oz.) condensed cream of mushroom soup (I used cream of chicken)
  • 1   soup can water
  • 1-1/2 cups instant white rice, uncooked  
  • 1 cup  KRAFT Shredded Three Cheese with a Touch of PHILADELPHIA (couldn't find that, so I used the three-cheese Tex-Mex blend and it worked fine)
  • (Optional: I sauteed some chopped onion before adding the chicken to the pot and added a generous grinding of my favourite McCormick Garlic & Pepper Medley Grinder. I'd say almost any added seasoning you like would be nice)

Saute chicken in large skillet sprayed with cooking spray on medium-high heat 2 to 3 min. or until browned on all sides.
ADD broccoli, soup and water; stir. Bring to boil.
STIR in rice. Cook on low heat 5 min. Sprinkle the cheese on at the end to let it melt before serving.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Irish Whiskey Taste Test: Bushmills Black Bush vs Readbreast

This week's Deadwood Dinner (weekly get-together with friends to share a meal and watch a couple of episodes of Deadwood) landed on a Saturday for various reasons, and since no one had to get up and go to work the next day (sort of), we decided to indulge in a whiskey taste-off. John and I went to the Liquor store and mulled over the offerings and finally decided on Irish Whiskey for this one. Since I'd already had Jamieson's a few times, I suggested we choose two others. So we ended up leaving the store with a bottle of Bushmill's Black Bush, an attractive looking bottle of indeterminate age (that distillery's premium offering), and a 12-year-old Redbreast

Bushmill's is distilled at Ireland's oldest working whiskey distillery, first established in 1608. Billed as having an intriguing flavour and high proportion of malt whiskey, it is aged in former sherry casks, which gives it a slight sweetness and fruity character.

Redbreast, with a somewhat less high-brow approach to marketing, judging by the fact that I couldn't find its website, at least has a "vintage"...or "expression" as it appears to be called in whiskey circles. We tried the 12-year-old version, but we saw a (considerably more expensive) 15-year-old version as well.

In the tasting, both John and I were disappointed and wished we'd stuck with the scotch whiskys instead. As always, I started off with the sniff-test. Black Bush came first, but try as I might, no matter how deeply I inhaled, I couldn't really detect anything very unique about it, besides its very obvious smell of "just plain whiskey," except perhaps for a pleasant creamy smell. On tasting, I found it rather light, which was nice, but without any really distinguishing characteristics which we had noted last time in the scotch whiskys. It did have a rather burny effect on the tongue, but went down smoothly, albeit without that nice warming sensation you look for.

The Redbreast was somewhat more enjoyable. I really couldn't tell the difference between it and the Bushmills in the scent department, but the taste was somewhat more pleasant, with a detectable hint of sweetness, and just a hint of smoke, which I enjoy. It also seemed less burny, but that always seems to be the case with the second sampling, so I think it's more to do with your tongue getting used to it, than the harshness or smoothness of the drink.

So, overall, not really as impressed with these two as I have been with other single-malts I've tried so far. Then again, I'm no expert and don't really know what to look for. An article I found online suggested that the Irish whiskeys might have been improved by the addition of a spoonful of cold water, which is supposed to bring out the caramel and spice tones... I'll have to try that next time, as I have noted that the first couple of sips of bourbon on the rocks are always the best...owing to the temperature and the addition of a tiny bit of melted icewater.

Thufferin' Thucotash

It was Deadwood Dinner again tonight, and my turn to make the side dish. Carol suggested a carb, and my favourite carb (besides potatoes) has always been corn, so I went looking for a corn recipe...something better than just dump a can in the pot and heat it up.

The word "succotash" kept echoing in my head. So, after a few attempts to find something appropriate via google by searching "corn recipes" I just typed in succotash...and immediately got several likely possibilities. The one I settled on was actually not even via was in my Food Network app on my iPhone. It's called Not So Sufferin' Succotash.

....and now that I've just discovered that my iPhone is out of juice, I'll just wing the recipe here...because I didn't really follow it anyway.

I finely diced one large yellow onion and sauteed it in butter till it was soft and starting to brown. Then I threw in about a can and a half of peaches and cream corn, and about half a can of black beans. Really, the amounts just depend on how many you're feeding and what proportion of corn to beans you prefer. I like corn far more than beans, so I went easy on the beans.

Once I got all the veg cooking, I added about a teaspoon of ground sage and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Once they'd cooked for a few minutes, I tossed in about 2/3 of  half-pint of 35% cream (whipping cream) and then let it cook on medium-low (very light boil) for about 15 minutes, which reduced the cream to a thick saucy kind of presence in the pan.

So, super easy, very simple ingredients we all might have on hand at any given time (except for the cream) and very quick...chopping the onions was the hardest part. From start to finish, the whole thing took about half an hour....most of which was just left on its own to cook.

It went over very well at the table, and I must say it did taste really nice and made a perfect accompaniment to the very deelish pulled-pork barbecue that Carol made. The only thing I'd do differently next time would be to rinse the black beans better. I was lazy there and only gave them a cursory rinse, and they gave the dish a rather greyish cast that wasn't very appetizing. Didn't bother the flavour though, which was yummm.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Glenlivet vs Glenfiddich

In my last taste test, I compared Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, two bourbons you might call "low rent" perhaps. They conjure up images of road houses, well-worn jeans and good ol' boys.

This time, I picked up two very different sips... Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, two famous Scotch Whiskies with decidedly more high-brow pedigrees.

Upon first opening the bottles, I had a good sniff. At first they seem almost indistinguishable. But after a few good deep sniffs, a marked difference becomes apparent. The Glenfiddich has a much lighter, almost fruity aroma, while the Glenlivet has a richer, deeper scent, almost sweet, with a distinct, creamy caramel aroma.

Okay...on to the taste test. Glenfiddich first. It hits the tongue with a silky embrace, but the burn starts within a second or two. However, it's not a strong burn and doesn't burn going down. (Don't hold it in your mouth, though, or that burn will definitely intensify.) As suggested by the scent, it also has a light feel in the mouth. A nice flavour, lighter than bourbon, but still with that nice whisky taste. The fruitiness in the scent is not apparent in the flavour.

Now onto the Glenlivet.Definitely a heavier, thicker feel on the tongue. Smooth though, with a less stingy burn. The overall experience is of a full-bodied liquid. The flavour is rounder, creamier but still not as strong as a bourbon.

Between the two, I can easily say I prefer the Glenfiddich. One is silk and one is satin, but they're both excellent. The Glenlivet would have a definite edge on a cold winter night, while the Glenfiddich would be a nice summer sip.

Both definitely are a cut above the bourbons I've tried, and earn their reputation of being more refined drinks worthy of a place in a Scottish manor house library.

So, you've probably noticed a third bottle in the picture above and wondered if I've forgotten about it. Nope. But the reason it's there, and the reason I'm tacking on my comments about it at the end here, is because I didn't know I was going to be able to try it when I wrote the rest of this blog post.

Last night I was visiting my friends Carol and John. During the course of the evening, the subject of whiskey came up, and I told them about this blog post I was in the midst of writing, comparing Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. John jumped up and said WELL, if you're writing about whisky, you should try this one! And he pulled out a virgin, never-opened bottle of 10-year-old Laphroaig single-malt Scotch whisky. Oooh...great opportunity to try out a new tipple!

As it turns out, the Laphroaig is the Mama Bear in this tale of three whiskies.

With the initial sniff, I noticed a distinct smokey scent that I hadn't noticed in the other two whiskies. Otherwise, it seemed pretty much like the other two. The mouth feel hovered between the heavy satiny texture of the Glenlivet and the light silky feel of the Glenfiddich. The flavour was midway between the two also, making a really nice compromise between that winter-style Glenlivet and the summery Glenfiddich.

What really distinguished the Laphroaig from the other two was that smokiness I noted in the scent, which was surprisingly evident in the taste as well. I wasn't expecting that. Often with these things, the way it smells is one thing, the way it tastes is another. The round tube the bottle came in spoke of the "blue peaty smoke" flavour, and yep, it's definitely there...and it stays with you long after you've swallowed, which is also really nice. I can see Laphroaig as the perfect tipple to enjoy after a barbecue or a nice roast

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Aunt Avon's Cottage - A place in my heart

Like most people, I guess, I tend to remember childhood in many different ways. I remember my own childhood mostly as a series of mental snapshots of myself and my family in different situations. Many of my memories involve my mother or brother, or family meals, or time spent with my grandparents or at school.

One of the most common themes in these mental snapshots are places. Places seem to have a strong hold on my memory. This is quite ironic, considering the fact that most of the places of my childhood have disappeared or changed so drastically that they're not really the places of my youth anymore. The hospital I was born in was torn down and an old folks home put in its place. My public school still stands, but it's no longer a public school, it's the Ottawa Islamic School, with a schoolyard filled with little girls in hijab and little boys in knitted skullcaps. My high school has been converted to the Ottawa Adult School. And, years after he sold it to someone else, my step-dad's store, the famous Parkwood Hills Foodland (better known as "Jack's"), was demolished and another store erected in its place across the parking lot from the original.

"Aunt Avon's Cottage" from long before I ever knew it.
One of most important places from my childhood, aside from the apartments where I lived and my grandmother's house (which still stands, thank goodness), is the cottage where my brother and I spent many happy days as children.

It's been many years since I went there regularly. But even so, over the years I liked to drive down there every few years, when the place was empty, just to walk around and peek in the window and drink up the wonderful atmosphere of the place. Situated at the end end of the lake that gets all the best summer breezes, there is no finer place to sit in the porch swing, generously padded with sun-smelling cushions, and daydream an afternoon away.

The land the cottage was built on was originally purchased by my father's parents. I don't recall if the building stood when they bought the land, or if they built it afterwards. When my grandparents passed away, the cottage went to my Aunt Avon and my father...and possibly to my dad's other two siblings as well. Due to circumstances with which I'm not familiar, the cottage eventually became the sole property of my aunt, and thereafter I always knew it as "Aunt Avon's Cottage," or just "the cottage." Even though my dad wasn't part owner any more, he still went there as often as he could, and my mother even spent the summer there while she was pregnant with me. I guess the place is in my blood! If not for those circumstances, the cottage, or a portion of it anyway, might have been handed down to me through my father. I think that's something my dad will always regret.

Aunt Avon and my dad, possibly 1998.
The building itself is a pale yellow, wood-sided structure with a large deck around two sides and big windows lining almost every inch of wall on the lake side. It's one big room for the living space, kitchen and the huge dinner table, plus two small bedrooms and a bathroom along the back. There's also a bunkhouse nearby where we kids used to sleep when there were a lot of us around. The decor was what you'd expect at a family cottage. Simple, comfortable furniture, lots of places to sit and lounge and read or play cards or board games. Fun, kitchy nick-nacks were everywhere, and the ceiling was festooned with hanging plants and a flying wooden Canada goose.

I have so many happy memories of that place, and not a single bad one (unless you include the time I jumped into the lake in an unlined white bathing suit, only to discover what happens to unlined white bathing suits when they get wet!!). Swimming off the dock. Learning to waterski (badly). Lazing away the hours in the hammock, fishing for sunfish, learning to drive my aunt's powerboat, paddling around the cove in my dad's hand-made kayak (he named it Gemini, in honour of my mother), sitting in the shallows picking sharp-edged clamshells out of the lake bed so they wouldn't cut people's feet, sunning on the float, wondering if I'd ever have the stamina to swim out to the "big rock" (I never did find out). It was an idyllic, peaceful, restorative place to be.

But the best thing about the cottage? The thing that stayed the same, no matter what else changed? The smell. It was an intoxicating blend of sun-soaked wood and fresh-baked bread that swished me back to childhood every time I walked through the doors of that place. It was the smell my Aunt made just by being there, opening the windows and baking her bread.

Aunt Avon passed away in 2008, and the cottage passed to her oldest son and his wife. I was able to visit them there last summer, and while it was wonderful to be back, it just isn't the same anymore. The smell of sunny wood and baked bread is gone. The panelled walls have all been painted white. Almost all the kitchy nick-nacks are gone. It's just not the same, you know??

But, as much as it has changed, no matter how much it ever changes, that place will always be, in my heart, "Aunt Avon's Cottage."

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Bending over backwards - oy, my achin' back

Okay...fair warning. I'm about to deliver another of my rants which, I'm convinced, have given a lot of people the impression that I'm a neandertal when it comes to being politically correct, proper and compassionate.

Maybe I am, a little. Maybe I do sometimes fail to swallow whole those standards which are universally thought to be right and proper (right and proper, of course, being very fluid concepts that change from year to year like the fashions on haute couture runways).

In our society, we tend to bend over backwards to help people who are less fortunate than most. And that's as it should be. But I suggest...very gingerly...that sometimes we go too far in these efforts, and the result, in those cases, is that the vast majority of the population is expected to change behaviors or tolerate disturbances in order to accommodate a proportionally tiny group of those with special needs. Most of the time, the things we do to accommodate those less able than ourselves are quite easily adapted to. I remember when sidewalks always ended at regular curbs at intersections, rather than the wheelchair-friendly slopes we see everywhere nowadays. That was a good change to make. Helpful to those who needed it and disruptive to no one.

The particular bee in my bonnet tonight, though, is audible crosswalk signals. The good thing about them is that they allow vision-impaired individuals to safely cross the road without help. I support this. I have nothing but admiration for blind people who venture out with nothing but a cane and, if they're lucky, a dog, and make their way around the city without benefit of being able to see where the hell they're going like the rest of us. That's one ballsy, brave and admirable thing to do. And audible crosswalk signals allow them to do it more safely. It is a good thing.

The bad thing about them is that they add even more cacophony to the already severe noise pollution in this neighbourhood. There's one at the intersection very close to my apartment. It must have been installed this winter, because it's only in the last few weeks, since the weather's been a tad milder and I've cracked my windows now and then, that I've noticed it for the first time. It can be heard very clearly, even above the noise of cars driving by on the wet pavement. It comes on for 15 seconds, then off for fifteen. day and all night. It goes on whether or not a pedestrian at the intersection has pressed the Walk button. When the windows are open, I can hear it from every room in my apartment...including my bedroom.

It drives me insane. It's a terrible distraction. It annoys me so much it's all I can focus on, so it disrupts my work, it disrupts my ability to get to sleep. And I have no doubt that the disturbance is even worse for the people in the building next to me, whose bedrooms practically look right over the intersection. And I refuse to keep my windows shut all year in order to avoid the noise....just sayin'.

So, my question is... is it really necessary to install audible signals for visually impaired people which disrupt the lives of those living nearby 24 hours a day, when the occasions that they are really needed by the people they were installed for are exceedingly rare? I have never once seen a blind person walking around my neighbourhood alone (or accompanied, for that matter) in the almost five years I've lived here. But, as someone who lives and works in this space 24/7, I am subjected to the noise of a safety signal put there for those very rare blind pedestrians who need it.

I'm not suggesting the audible signal should be removed completely. But come on...the people it's for are blind, not deaf. It's not necessary to disrupt an entire city block of apartment dwellers for the occasional blind person who comes along. Surely the volume could be turned down and the signal changed to something less grating on the nerves (the current signal sounds like four repeating notes from one of those roving ice cream trucks (and don't get me started on THOSE!). Or maybe they could install special Walk buttons just for those who need the audible signal. I wouldn't mind that at all...even if it was just as loud or even louder than it is now. It'd hardly ever get used anyway.

So, yeah, maybe this makes you think I'm a selfish bitch with no compassion and no consideration for people who are less fortunate than me. I'm not...really. I'm just not afraid to say something on the occasional times when my opinion might be somewhat un-PC. I've resolved to phone the City in the morning to complain about the noise. I'll give them my suggestion about the special walk button. Because, the warmer weather is coming, and the windows will be open for months on end, and there's no way I'm going to put up with that racket.
Image: poster for Noise, the excellent movie starring Tim Robbins, about a man who does what I'd sometimes love to do... take a baseball bat to the noise-makers.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The insidiousness of the concept of "Fate"

This morning on CNN, there was an item about a new movie coming out called The Adjustment Bureau. It's about a politician who meets a woman he's interested in, but when he attempts to pursue her, these men in fedoras and overcoats keep coming along trying to stop him. They're from The Adjustment Bureau, they tell him, and they're just trying to keep him on his life's predetermined path .

According to CNN, the movie is raising a lot of questions and debate about fate, free will and predestination. Such things are, of course, the stock in trade of the Christian religion, if not others. I went to the CNN web page where a discussion is taking place between some of their viewers in the comments section. I've even contributed a couple of comments myself (under the name Patti, of course - I rarely use a pseudonym these days).

I was about to say that "as an atheist" I don't believe in fate. And I don't. But I'm not 100% sure that it's safe to say that that is a belief held by all atheists. Most, for sure. But, I have seen the occasional atheist science head claim that there are arguments to be made for predetermination from the scientific standpoint. I'm not even gonna go there.

Be that as it may... from either perspective, I find the whole concept of fate and predeterminism to be repugnant. The Christians say that their god has decided from before the moment of their birth, whether they'll wind up going to heaven or hell. Then most of them somehow twist in there the conviction that they still have free will in spite of this. They say they can decide how to live their lives, but their god will be sending them to the good place or the bad place based not on their actions during life, but on his decision made before their birth.

"Oh, but," they say, "He knew in advance whether you'd live a good life or a bad life. He gave you free will to do as you wished, but he knew already how you'd use that gift."

And this is where my repugnance comes in. What kind of twisted being would figure out in advance the untold billions of lives of every single human on the planet, not to mention every animal, every plant, every tiny turn of the weather or other "act of god" (because, of course, those things impact human lives -- and so-called "fates" -- as well), and then decide that this one is going to heaven, and this one is going to hell, and then setting them all down on earth, like so many wind-up toys, to chatter and hop and live our silly little lives while he watches benignly over us, knowing that no matter what we do along the way, our ultimate fate is already decided.

That's just sick. That's like an SS officer telling a Jewish concentration camp prisoner that he might be freed if only he works really hard and obeys all the rules, knowing all the while the exact day and moment that that prisoner will walk into the death chamber to be murdered. And if any Christian is reading this thinking "it's not like that at all"... well it is... just think about it for a minute and try to tell me how, when it comes to "fate", your god is any different from a Nazi butcher.

One of the commentators on the CNN page said that free will could be described as a spoked wheel, where each spoke is a decision, though all decisions ultimately lead you to the same destination.

How can anyone live that way? Seriously! Going through your life knowing that no matter what you do, you have no control over your ultimate fate. You could argue that none of us does. That, regardless of religion or lack thereof, we all end up in the same place... dead. But the religious believe that there's a life beyond death, and the most zealous ones are just trying to get through this life so they can get to that one. And that is another scary thought, because it means that, to a huge proportion of the humans on this planet, the world we live in is basically a throw-away...a way-station on the way to somewhere better. Kinda makes me think of roadside rest stops, with putrid toilets, over-flowing garbage cans and perverts and freaks waiting in the shadows to victimize the unwary.

But the world is not a way-station. This is it, this is all we have, and all we'll ever have, and I just wish so many people out there would stop thinking of it as a passing-through point.

A Christian might ask "then, if there's no heaven, no afterlife, what's the use of living a good life on earth? If there's no heavenly reward for being good, why would anyone bother?" And my answer to that is: if you have to ask, you're not truly a good person, are you?

The truth is that, no matter what kind of lives we live, we all go to the same place when we die: Nowhere. Our remains are buried or burned, and that's that. We stop. Here and now is all we have, and THAT is the best reason there is for exercising our free will with morality, goodness and decency.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shhhhh - the curse of noise pollution

Cultivate solitude and quiet and a few sincere friends, rather than mob merriment, noise and thousands of nodding acquaintances.
William Powell

Before I started working from my home, I never noticed the almost incessant noise and clamour that goes on around my apartment building during the day. I am a quiet person. I prefer silence when I work, and during most other activities around home. My neighbours are generally pretty quiet people too, which is nice. And, since the landlord fixed an astonishingly noisy plumbing problem (imagine the sound of God blowing his nose...a deep, booming brrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaPPPPP that frequently woke me from a deep sleep in the middle of the night), the building itself is quiet enough by any standards.

It wasn't too bad in the winter here either. Except for the frequent snow ploughs, which are annoying enough, because they usually get started around five in the morning.

But during the nicer weather, it sometimes seems that there isn't a minute that isn't spoiled by some kind of hideous racket outside. The lawnmowers and the gas-powered edge trimmers and the leaf-blowers. Add to those the seemingly constant exterior renovations going on, necessitating the use of brick saws, hammers, sand-blasting equipment, noisy trucks constantly backing up with their beep-beep-beeps or simply idling with the engines running outside my office window.

The buses go by every five minutes or so and their noise echoes off the building next to mine. They also create a weird, melodic whistling sound which mystifies me. There's a fire station just down the street, and as often as it seems to come into my driveway, the sirens still blare up and down till they're too far away to hear anymore. There are occasional police cars and ambulances too. Not to mention the loud-talkers who stand outside yapping their heads off, oblivious to the fact that someone's probably sitting near the window they're talking next to, listening (quite unwillingly) to every word they say. Have you ever realized how little of any value is said during quick conversations with your neighbours in the yard?

And the dogs. Oh my god, the dogs. I love dogs, okay? I adore them. But keep them quiet, dammit. There are so many people in these two apartment buildings who are constantly walking their dogs out on the grass (it's a toilet out there folks...stay off the grass around my place). And it seems that most of those people have no clue as to how to keep their dogs quiet.

I almost forgot about the car alarms. There is a special level of Hell reserved for people who have over-sensitive car alarms. And if they allow those car alarms to go off in the middle of the night...if those alarms go off every half hour during the middle of the night...if those alarms go off every half hour, every night for a week...well, then whoever owns that car will have to wait for their trip down to meet Beelzebub because I'm going to spend a little time with him first, and he'll look forward to the trip downstairs before I'm through with him. That's how car alarms make me feel, anyway.

I can't really complain about the sirens. They're just doing their jobs, helping people. And most of the traffic noise just fades into the background most of the time. I'm a lifelong city girl. You get used to it.

What bothers me the most, and what would, in its absence, make all the other noises tolerable (except the car alarms), is the constant noise created by the work going on outside here all the time. The lawnmowing, grass-trimming, leaf-blowing, brick-sawing, hammering, trucks idling god-forsaken DIN it all creates just drives me completely to distraction and makes me want to go out there with a baseball bat and shower down destruction on every bloody noisy contraption I can see.

I'm convinced that the guys who operate the gas-powered grass trimmers and leaf blowers really, really enjoy their toys. The way they rev the engines constantly rrr-rrrr--RRRRRR-rrr-rrr over and over and over again. What's up with that shit? I mean really! Just do the damn job and go away, already. Don't stand there wailing on the throttle like you're some idiot in a hot rod trying to impress some hot chick on the street corner. You know what kind of chicks are impressed by that kind of behavior, and you deserve anything you catch with that bait. And I do mean "catch."

I keep wanting to complain to the landlord, but I just know what he's going to say. It's work that needs to be done. Yeah. He's right. I know it. The place needs to be maintained. And it's just because I'm home all the time now that has made me so aware of all the daytime noise.

I just don't see why we can't just leave the edges a little rough, and let the leaves lie where they fall or rake them up. Seriously...leaf-blowing cannot be any more efficient than raking. Probably less so. Get a damn rake.

If I wasn't so averse to doing my own lawnmowing and snow-shovelling, I'd move to a little cottage in the middle of a cow pasture where the only noise I have to listen to is cows and birds and the occasional tractor in the distance. That sounds like heaven to me.

In the meantime, I just want some peace and quiet!!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Onion & Sage Bread

This bread is to die for. It's best while still warm, but still delicious once it cools off. You won't believe the incredible aroma that wafts through your home while it's baking. It's the heady smell of baking bread combined with that mouth-watering aroma of a Thanksgiving turkey stuffed with traditional onion and sage stuffing. And it tastes incredible!!

Thought I'd share it this weekend, in case anyone doesn't have enough cooking to do for Thanksgiving dinner! ;-)

Patti's Onion & Sage Bread

2 tbsp Olive Oil
2 large red onions, chopped medium coarse
1 1/2 tsp dried sage
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tbsp granular sugar
2 pkgs dry yeast
5 cups white flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp coarse salt
1 1/2 tbsp dried rosemary

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Saute the onions and sage and 1 1/2 tsp black pepper in 2 tbsp olive oil till soft. Set aside and let cool.

Add sugar and yeast to warm water in a small bowl to proof. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl, and add the cooled onion mix.

When the yeast mix is ready, add it to the flower and onions in the bowl. Stir to combine and then knead until well mixed. Knead on a floured board for 10-15 minutes. Coat the inside of a large bowl with oil, and then place the dough in the bowl and rotate it around to coat the outside of the dough with oil. Cover the bowl with waxed paper and then place a damp cloth over the whole thing and set aside. Let the dough double in size (about 1 hour).

When dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide into two. Form two loaves and place them on a greased baking sheet. Lightly brush the tops of the loaves with oil.

In a small bowl, combine 1 tbsp ground black pepper with the coarse salt and rosemary. Sprinkle this over the loaves. Let the loaves rise again, uncovered, for about half an hour.

Bake the bread in a 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Deep Well of Creativity

A friend of mine from my writers’ group recently inspired me to join a weekly life-drawing session with her at the Nepean Sportsplex. It’s been more than thirty years since I did any life drawing. Back in high school, you could have found me, on any given day, huddled over a large sheet of pastel paper, drawing from a live nude model in my life-drawing classroom. We life-drawing students had a bit of a mystique about us among the other students in the school. We got to sit and look at naked people as part of our education! Well, to be honest, the male models wore jock-straps. But most of the models were female, and they were totally nude. I can attest to the fact that women were much more hirsute in the late 70s, which is one of the reasons they didn’t need to wear any kind of covering for modesty’s sake.

There’s something absolutely glorious about drawing the nude human form. When you get it right you feel like a god! Every muscle where it should be. The bone structure evident in the proper lines and angles of the body. When someone…anyone…looks at a drawing of a person, they can instantly tell if it’s even just a little bit off. They might not always be able to identify exactly what is wrong, but they just know in their bones that something is wrong. That’s why life drawing is such a challenge. You can draw a pot of flowers sitting next to a bowl of fruit and no one’s going to know (or care) if the pot’s too big in proportion to the bowl, or if the apples aren’t shaped just as they should be. Life drawing is completely unforgiving that way.

I did a lot of life drawing in high school. I got pretty good at it too, after three years of almost daily practice. But, since graduating in 1977, I’ve only occasionally pulled out my pastels and done a drawing. You could probably count on one hand the number of times that happened.

And I know why. It was because, after high school, and every work day since then, I get up every morning and proceed to be creative on demand. I was just too damned burned out every day to come home and start drawing, to be creative some more, even in a way that I chose. And for the most part, I did very little freelance graphics too. Same reason. The most consistently creative thing I’ve done since high school, besides my jobs, has been creative writing. Even that practically dried up overnight ten years ago when I was hired on as the production manager at the Ottawa Business Journal. Not to diss OBJ…it was an awesome place to work, and I loved my job. But it was So. Intense. I’d get home after work and feel like an empty husk. I guess I just gave it all to my job.

Happily, now that I’m working for myself, there is much less stress and I’m finding the writing urge has come back and I’m actually more than a third of the way through the first draft of my first novel… The Bog.

And, thanks to my friend, Phoebe, I’m now drawing again too! And you know what’s amazing? It’s coming back to me. Even after more than thirty years of almost complete abstinence, when I pick up a pencil or a stick of conté in that odd way that artists use, holding it between the thumb and forefinger like you’re passing it to someone, something clicks back into place and…oh my goodness…I can still do it!

I can’t tell you what a thrill that is for me.

I’m quite rusty, of course. Not nearly as confident or skilled as I was when I graduated from high school. But it’s still in there. And it’s coming back. I surprise myself every time I pick up the tools and start to draw. Things actually look kinda right! It makes me so happy to see it.

I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying it to make the point that creativity doesn’t die inside you if you let it go, even for a long time. It’s like riding that proverbial bike. You get back on after even a long hiatus, and you may be a little shaky, but you stay upright and after little bit you’re whizzing along just like you used to. It’s quite astonishing, really. And so, so gratifying.

(P.S.: That picture up there is Bill Maher, the comedian. I was watching his stand-up comedy special and decided to try a caricature of him right from the TV.)

Friday, July 30, 2010


Less than ten minutes ago, I woke up screaming from a nightmare. That is a very, very rare thing in my world, thank goodness. I woke up so abruptly that I'm still having that feeling like my brain is getting tiny shocks every time I move my eyeballs. Very weird. And, even though I've been somewhat chilled all day, now I'm hot, and can't seem to cool down.

Gladly, nightmares have naever been a frequent occurrence for me. I suspect the majority of them I never wake up from or even remember. But the funny thing is, in spite of my lack of practice, it appears I'm getting a lot better at nightmare screaming. Until the last few years, if I tried to scream in a nightmare, I'd let out this pathetic little mewling that probably couldn't even be heard from the next room, if someone was there. This latest one, while not really a full-throated scream, was pretty loud -- the loudest one I ever had, I think -- and once I was awake, I lay there for a bit wondering if my neighbours had heard it. Would they call 911 because of the lady screaming? Probably the only thing that saved me was the fact that it came from my bedroom, and was fairly short-lived. And no...I don't have someone spending the night.

That nightmare was actually the last (blessedly) in a string of nightmares I'd been having since falling asleep tonight. All of them centred around intruders into my room, which, in the dreams, was a dorm room back at college...albeit much larger than the one I really had. To make matters worse, the room had not one, but two doors, one at each end. The dreams had all been about men coming through those doors, which I'd inexplicably left unlocked, or came unlocked because of shoddy workmanship on the doorframes. At one part of the dream, I was even visited by a security guard coming by to warn me to lock up tight, but didn't tell me why, leaving me to wonder. Which is probably why I had that last dream.

In that last dream, safely (I thought) tucked away with all the doors and windows locked and curtains closed, I'd gone to sleep. The intruder came in...get this...through a ceiling tile, dangling by his feet over my bed. The last image I was fighting off as I struggled to wake up was this crazy-man dangling above me, upside down. He had an evil grin on his face, and was dressed kind of like The Joker from Batman, right down to the black and white leather shoes and purple zoot suit (or was that the dude from The Mask?). He just hung there, grinning at me while I screamed bloody murder, and then he gave me this little shrug and tilt of his head as if to say, see? I'll get in no matter what you do.


It's been a long time since I dreamed about something like that. For the first few years after I moved into my first apartment, I used to be so nervous alone at night all the time. I even took a carving knife to bed with me once or twice. One time, I even piled a bunch of empty pop cans in front of the entrance door so it would make a lot of noise and wake me if anyone tried to come through the door. And that wasn't even because of nightmares. Just plain fear and nervousness. I didn't really get over that night-fear till sometime after my marriage ended. The first house I lived in after that was a big old two-storey place that creeped me out, being there all alone, but ever since that place, for some reason, I don't have that fear anymore.

Well, I have the fear, sure. Any woman living alone probably does. But I don't obsess about it like I used to. Thank goodness.

There's two possible reasons why this dream happened tonight. Maybe three. First, and least likely, I went to bed super early around 8:30. I was just bored, mostly, and didn't feel like staying up. I read for a while and then turned out the light. It took me a long time to drop off, so I couldn't have been asleep more than forty five minutes when the dream struck.

The next possible reason was that, when I came home last night from my writing session in Stittsville, the door seemed to give a wee bit too soon when I unlocked if it had already been unlocked. That brought back all the old fears about someone lurking in my apartment, waiting to leap out at me at any moment. I turned on all the lights right away and went around checking the place out. No one here, of course, and I had just imagined that the door hadn't been locked when I came in.

The last, and probably most likely reason is that it was an anxiety dream. My mother's in the hospital because of a bad infection in her leg from a surgery that was done on it over a month ago. I visited her there with my step-dad for ninety minutes or so this afternoon. She seemed pretty good, in spite of her situation. Very tired though...I think she was happy when the guy showed up to install her phone and TV and cleared Jack and me out of her room. No matter how good the likely outcome, it's never any fun seeing your mother in a hospital bed.

The deepest, most primal fear of my life is losing my mother. The second worst is being intruded on by a stranger with ill-intent in my home.

I guess all I can say is that I'm glad I didn't have a nightmare about losing Mum. If I had, it would have been a hell of a lot longer, if ever, before I'd have been able to sit down and write about it.

(P.S. congratulations are in order...this appears to be my 300th blog post on Live to Lounge. Too bad the subject matter wasn't happier!)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Christopher Hitchens: An admired voice in peril

I have recently been worried and saddened to learn that one of my favourite writers and commentators, Christopher Hitchens, is battling esophogeal cancer.

I've been a fan of his since buying and reading his book, God is not Great, (twice...once in paper and once in e-book format), and subsequently googling and enjoying many videos in which he butts heads with naysayers, or converses with other favorite atheists such as Stephen Fry and Bill Maher. I've also recently started reading his autobiography, Hitch 22. His writing style is elegant and intensely literate. Every sentence is a perfect, self-contained statement which says exactly what he means to say, and leaves no room for misunderstanding. I can only dream of writing as convincingly and articulately as he does. He is a brilliant communicator and an unapologetic critic of the things he dislikes, the most notable being religion and belief in supernatural beings.

One of the memes going around asks who would comprise one's guests at a dream dinner party. Christoper Hitchens would be the first name on my list, followed, in no particular order, by Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins, John Stewart, Bill Maher and Dennis Miller. Looking at that list, it's apparent that I have a penchant for funny-looking, outspoken, brilliant, often British, anti-PC atheists. I think every one of those men has some very important things to say to the world and I would hate for any of their voices to be silenced.

The fact that Hitchens is suffering from cancer of the esophogus in particular is ironic indeed. In many recent videos I've watched of him, he frequently clears his throat. Obviously a sign of the danger lurking within. For a man who makes his living so much with his voice, the coincidence is just too rich, and I'm sure the irony of it hasn't escaped Hitch himself. I'm sure it hasn't escaped his detractors either, though I've been deliberately avoiding reading or watching any of their vile gloating.

But I'd be lying if I said I didn't expect their reaction. "Turn the other cheek" is, I think, one of Jesus' least obeyed bits of advice. Judging from the reactions of Hitchens supporters who've commented on the wave of theist "told you so's", there's a lot of people who are happy that Hitchens is suffering this calamity. They think he deserves it. They think it's a punishment from god...a long-overdue punishment at that. It never seems to occur to them that their reactions are completely opposed to what their god and their church teach them to do, which is to forgive, tolerate, love and support, even those people you consider your enemies. They don't see their own hypocrisy at all. No wonder this world is so fucked up.

I admire Christopher Hitchens on many levels. As a writer, I admire his incredible skill with words, and his ability to express his ideas so clearly and concisely. He allows no literary chinks in the walls he builds through which debators might access vulnerabilities. I love his sardonic wit, which is delivered with such finesse and such confidence that I'm often left in awe of his brilliance. As an atheist, I admire his ability to speak his mind, without apology, without fear, without concern for the opinions of others. I like that he doesn't hold back. I wish I had nerve and wit and intelligence like his, rather than being yet another namby pamby atheist -- I'm 100% convinced of my stance, yet I usually try too hard not to offend anyone with it, so I might as well be an agnostic or even a weak believer for all the progress I make with my opinions. Hitchens inspires me and gets my blood going, much like King Leonidas of the Spartans inspired his small army. Hitch makes me want to change the world.

It's my true and fervent hope that Hitchens's cancer treatments are completely successful and that he will be back at his writing and debating and offending the true believers as quickly as possible. I suspect this brush with ultimate fate may influence him to give up some of the habits...the smoking and drinking...that probably played a major role in putting him in this situation in the first place (contrary to what the god-botherers would say, which is that his opinions and his mouth got him in this mess). But even without the ever-present fag and glass of amber mystery liquid by his arm, I know he'll continue to be a voice of reason and intelligence in this world that so often clamours with the insanity of unprovable superstition.

Patti's Beefy Nachos

Somehow, this recipe has never been posted on my blog! I was just sharing it with a friend by email, and when I couldn't find it here, I thought this would be a perfect time to rectify the situation!

This is a great recipe for fall or winter meals (so, sorry for posting it in the summer). But could be good for summertime too, maybe served with a nice cool salad and ice-cold beer. Oy...I'm making myself hungry!

Patti's Beefy Nachos

Amounts are to taste. If you like something a lot...use more. If you don't like something, omit. This is a very forgiving recipe.

1 packet low sodium Old El Paso Taco seasoning
1 to 1.5 lbs lean ground beef
chopped onions (cooked or raw...your choice)
chopped garlic (optional)
Shredded cheese

Additional yummy stuff:
Chopped olives and any other desired chopped veggies
Sour Cream
Scoops Nachos

If cooking the onions, saute them (and the garlic, if desired) in oil in a pan, then add the beef. Brown the beef till mostly cooked through, then sprinkle on the taco seasoning and prepare as per instructions on packet. I usually decrease the water to about 3/4 cup to make the "sauce" thicker. Simmer till sauce is thickened and beef is completely cooked.

Line a 9x12 baking pan with non-stick foil, or spray with Pam. Spread meat mixture to cover bottom of pan. Sprinkle your onions (if raw), olives and any other chopped veggies you like, then liberally sprinkle with shredded cheese (I use the pre-shredded Jack/Mozza mix). Place under the broiler till cheese is melted to your liking.

To serve, put a couple of big scoops of the meat mixture on each plate. Have your Scoops nachos and your salsa, guac and sour cream on the table so people can assemble each scoop with their favorite dress-ups.

I particularly love olives, so I use a lot, and sprinkle them right on the meat before broiling, but you could serve those on the side if you have guests who aren't fussy about them. I use the pre-chopped salad olives...they're just easier. Can go through most of a small jar for one recipe.

This also reheats well, because the meat and nachos aren't mixed till they're served. But you may want extra cheese when reheating, as the original cheese will tend to blend into the meat mixture in the microwave.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Newfoundland - Day 7 - Peace

Our last full day in Newfoundland has probably been the busiest of any day since we've been here. I can't believe how much activity we crammed into the last 12 hours.

Up at the usual time and out for breakfast around 10:30. There's a little cafe down the road that sits right on the RIGHT on the ocean...on a concrete pier, with a deck and dock out over the water. I had what was one of the most non-Newfie meals I've had all week (not counting the one I made yesterday), except that instead of bacon or sausage, I had Newfie steak for my meat (fried bologna).

After that, back to the house to use the facilities and grab sweaters and then we went out for a ride in Larry's speedboat. I think we went about halfway out towards the open ocean along the bay...up one side and back the other. We were keeping our eyes peeled for whales, but we didn't see any. I thought I saw one...and it might have been one...but all I saw was what I thought was the blowhole just sticking up a little bit from the surface. It was probably just a loon just going down, as I guess I would have heard and seen the result if a whale had come up for air. I've experienced it's unmistakable.

Coming back along the west side of the bay, we saw lots of bald eagles and gulls, and even a few other seabirds, which I think were terns. There were red cliffs in the shoreline, some with deep caves in them, which Larry says you can walk right into. He figures the ancient Indians probably lived in there during low tide seasons to fish. I also learned that most of Newfoundland is made of volcanic rock, with some sedimentary rock here and there (where you find the sedimentary rock is where you find the oil). Newfoundland's mountains are much older than BC's mountains, which is why they're all rounded and not quite as big as the ones in BC. I had the perfect tour guide to ask such questions, as Larry is a geologist.

I also learned that common here...are actually an introduced species, and not even all that long ago. Within the last hundred years or so, I think...during early 1900s. I guess they brought them here because their habitat is easier to reach, and therefore to hunt, than the native caribou of the island...which are still here too, though we didn't see any of those.

Susan and Barb were a bit nervous in the boat, so we had to go slow. But when we got back to the wharf, we dropped them off and Daddy and Larry and I went out for a fast toot around, just cuz it was fun.

After the boat ride we went back to the house again and changed our shoes and dropped off our sweaters and then walked over to Judy and Harold's house, which is right next door save one house (whose backyard we cut through!). Judy served tea. Let me tell you what "tea" means to Judy: Tea, coffee, soft drinks, and a host of homemade delights including freshly baked bread, partridgeberry muffins, cookies, chocolate cake, a pie, coconut balls, cheese and crackers, triangle sandwiches, and several other wonderful and delicious delicacies which were almost impossible to choose between. So I tried almost everything ;-)

Back to the house after that for a little lie-down. During our nap, Dwayne (Hilda and Harold's daughter's boyfriend) barged into the house and started yelling "Hello! Where y'at? Hello!!" at the top of his lungs. Happily I was still reading and didn't get woken up, but for sure my dad did. In his defence, why would Dwayne have expected a houseful of people to be asleep in the middle of the afternoon!

After naptime, we headed off for Larry's cabin in the woods. Susan and Barb and I in Susan's Camry, and Larry and Daddy in Larry's big pickup truck. On the way, Susan was worried about her son, Chris, so we made a couple of back and forths along the waterfront in town to see if we could find him, and there he was, with four friends, out in the power boat, zipping around like no-one's business, setting off a stream of "My Glories" and clucks and tuts from Susan like I've never heard in my life. But once she saw them safely ashore, she was satisfied, and off we went up the King's Point road towards the cutoff to the cabins, where Larry and Daddy waited with the pickup truck.

Larry and Barb and I rode in comfort in the cab, while Daddy and Barb sat in lawn chairs in the truck bed, as we bumped and tossed along the dirt road into the "pond" where the cabins are...about a kilometre or so from the main road. Some of the puddles in the old dirt road were so big and deep I was afraid we wouldn't make it through them, but we did...with no trouble at all. That road is actually a popular snowmobile trail in the wintertime, and they have these cute little roadsigns out in the middle of the woods, like mini highway signs, along the way. One even mentioned Tim Hortons, 15K. LOL

The blackflies and mosquitos up at the cabin were ferocious and attacked from all sides every moment we were outdoors. But once inside Larry and Susans cute little cabin, a feeling of profound peace and contentment came over me and all I wanted to do was sit quietly and soak it in. What a beautiful place. Looking out over the small lake (they call in the pond), I could imagine myself there, alone, for a week or so, working on my novel. I think Larry read my mind, because he said wouldn't this be a perfect place for me to come and get away on my own for a few days, and so I told him what I'd been fantasizing about and all of a sudden, it has become a completely realistic goal for me to plan ahead for. Sometime in the fall, when the bugs are gone...maybe not this year, it's too soon, but maybe next year...I'll come back and spend a week working on my book up at Larry and Susan's cabin. So that's now two trips I want to plan back to The Rock.

So we had some pizza at the cabin and then drove around the pond to Wayne and Hilda's cabin, which was just as nice. Wayne had caught half a dozen or so beautiful trout, which I think he plans to eat for breakfast tomorrow.

So that was it. A busy, busy day, and completely wonderful, fun, fulfilling and amazing. It'll be a long time before I have another day I can say was as good. I feel really sad to be leaving tomorrow. In some ways I wish I could stay here forever. While we were out in the boat this afternoon, I told Larry I thought I might have been a mariner in a past life, because I always feel so happy when I'm out on the water. And then that deep, deep feeling of contentment and peace that came over me when we were at the pond. In some ways I feel like I belong here. But then, I do love my home, and especially the people that are there, and I'm looking forward to getting back to them, and back to work. I've actually missed working this week, and that's the first time I've ever been able to say that - it means I've finally found the right job...working for myself.

It's going to take me a few days to formulate a post that will adequately explain what this week in Newfoundland has meant to me. But I will. And no doubt I'll be writing it in tears, because that's how moved I am by this place and these people.