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Archive for March, 2010

The Frittata

Okay, you’re on the ground floor with this one. You are on the threshold of culinary history. Jamie What’s-his-name, the well-known chef, begged to work with me on this one, but I wanted to keep all the fame for myself. Are you ready for it?

Last night I cooked . . . . a Frittata.

Bought a book the other day: “Omelettes, Soufflés, and Frittatas” (which should actually be “Frittate” if you want to be Italian about it). The book gave complete details, so I calculated it would only take me two or three hours. Anyway, I figured I’d shoot for that … provided my wife didn’t shoot me first.

Kind of disappointing, though. The book’s frittata consisted of sun-dried tomatoes, onions, Parmesan cheese, and a bunch of eggs. Well, I’m of the Garbage Can School of cooking: If it doesn’t have at least 35 different ingredients it’s not worth cooking. Still, simplicity (as well as brevity) is the soul of wit, and I guess it works for cooking, too.

LAUNCH PAD FOR A FRITTATA. Hardly seems enough, even for a snack. (Chef is off, stage right, ready for Grand Entrance)

It crossed my mind that I might even go on TV and become one of those celebrity chefs, like Jamie What’s-his-name. I figure I’ll bill myself as The Ultimate Chef—I won’t use any ingredients at all! Much easier for me, and there’ll be absolutely no calories, trans fats, cholesterol, or even nutrition. A real winner. I could make it a diet thing. “With my regime you are 100% guaranteed to lose weight.”

I might also be guaranteed to lose viewers.

Well, after supper I modestly didn’t want to say the frittata was one of the Great Dishes Of The Western World, but when you succeed beyond your wildest dreams, you know you’re doing something right. Did you hear the applause? A friend of mine in Winnipeg said he heard the applause; you must have heard it, too.

I even made a mistake—put the tomato stock into a sizzling pan instead of putting it into the eggs and then into the pan—but when you’re on a roll you can’t do anything wrong.

My wife is of two minds in this matter of me doing the cooking. She hasn’t decided whether to pack a bag and divorce me, or to sit back with a drink, put the feet up, relax, and read the newspaper while I smash around in the kitchen.

The betting is that she’ll take the easy way.

But then … which will she decide is the easy way?

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Furnace

Whenever I call the serviceman to check/fix/adjust my gas furnace, I am reminded of the oil stove in the bunkhouse where I was living during my Arctic time in Frobisher Bay (Baffin Island, 1953). At the time, the stove seemed the very apotheosis of backwardness. It was, even then, a dinosaur. No electronic controls, no power supply of any kind, no moving parts; the only thing that moved was the oil as it dripped into the pan at the bottom of the stove where a totally silent flame flickered.

There it is, crouched in the basement, waiting for the next snow storm so it can break down, dramatically.

In hallucinating contrast, when you open the front panel of my present gas furnace you are faced with a confused mass of wires — every colour imaginable — and a wealth of connectors, secondary and tertiary capacitors, valves, semiconductors (and full conductors, too, somewhere), intergalactic transmitters, dozens of little labels reading “DO NOT …” and “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES …” and, half-hidden behind a large cable, the tiny label that says “Danger – 40 million volts.” In the bottom left-hand corner there is an automatic e-mail connection to the manufacturer’s head office so that, in the event of a problem, they can pack their bags and skip town before my lawyer sues them.

But these ancient stoves: Every home should have one. My wife’s family had one in their apartment, about 100 kilometres east of Montréal. It was completely silent, warming the house regardless of the ferocity of Québec’s winters. I can remember quiet December evenings, relaxing in the living room after a substantial supper of more calories than a steel mill’s blast furnace, and looking out across the quiet street to neighbours’ Christmas lights. I could see the neighbours’ homes only because we were on the second floor. At ground level, along the sidewalk, you stood in a white tunnel of snow at least two metres high that prevented any other view but snow. Your eyes had the choice of either snowbanks or the night sky. Temperatures reminded me of the Arctic.

But inside, our dinosaurian oil stove banished winter’s snow, winds, and storms. And not a gas furnace servicemen in sight, which had to be the best of Christmas gifts.

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Money, more or less

Some people call us greedy because we spend all our money on ourselves — you know, like food and clothing and taxes and all that personal greediness. These people are bitter because we don’t give our money to them to satisfy their agendas, charities, groups, clubs, and other much more deserving activities. At this point we have to ask ourselves: Hey, hang on there, just exactly who is the greedy person here?

And here we see the golden daughter of King Midas, sad product of the king’s greed, murmuring her Last Words: “But Daddy, money isn’t everything!”

And then there are the poor people, always greedy for more (when you don’t have anything, “more” is the only way you can go), and then there are the rich who, for some inexplicable reason, still want more. Taking all this into consideration, you come to the surprising conclusion that wealth and poverty are simply degrees of greed.

Money (which is generally the focus of all this greed) is pretty important stuff, though I have to say I don’t have that much contact with it, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Trust me; it’s important. A lot of people love it, seem frequently to desire more of it, and want to hang onto it longer. Though I think most people would be satisfied with enough … if others didn’t have more. Quantity appears to be the criterion; “more than” and “less than” seem to be the operative factors: Joe has more than Mike, so Mike must desperately strive for more. Yet, when he gets it, is he happy? Maybe not; maybe it breaks his heart, and to paraphrase Liberace, you can hear poor old Mike crying all the way to the bank. Could it be true what people keep telling us, that “Money can’t buy happiness”? Well … I don’t know. Usually those people haven’t had much experience with either. I know I haven’t, especially with finances. Probably because I didn’t have much of an education. Was I in the top half of my class? No, I was in the group that made the top half possible. So, without a solid education I have always been pretty poor. But I’ll tell you one good thing about being poor: It sure cuts expenses.

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Remembering May

I felt like an idiot, really, preparing to set up our patio table, complete with (Ho, ho, ho) sun umbrella, while dressed for the occasion in a down-lined anorak, gloves, and wool hat. I almost put on the snowshoes I’ve been wearing since 1948 it seems. I walked to the mail box today and I’ll tell you I was glad to get home. As well as standard clothing I had only added a parka and long johns, and almost froze. Needed a double scotch to avoid hypothermia. I don’t think I’ll go out anymore until next winter. It’s bound to be warmer then.

The weather these days reminds me of last year, early spring. May, was it? Yeah, the merry month of May. Remember May? Nice month, usually. We used to be able to expect a bit of sun, some warmer temperatures after the cold dark days of winter. Not anymore, apparently.

Dark clouds move overhead as rain sweeps across the parking lot. That’s me shouting from behind the third car on the left.

In May last year my wife and I went, on foot and pushing the shopping cart, to the small mall about a mile away, to pick up a few groceries. The need for groceries is just as arrogant as the weather: Neither waits on the other. Looking north we could see the sky, a very high sky extending all the way to the moon, and a very irritable sky, huge black October-ish thunderheads reached up, twisting angrily, and moving visibly toward us.

Over the rising wind I shouted to my wife “This is the merry month of May!” To anyone across the street it must have looked as if I were abusing the woman. “Think ‘May Flowers’! You know, the things that follow April showers!” I ranted, and when I’m on a rant I keep ranting. “Though I didn’t notice any April showers, did you?” My voice fought with the gusting winds. “Couldn’t see them because of all the snow!” I shouted, “and the 20-below temperatures!”

Meanwhile, back at ground level, we got a soaking from the rain. But that’s May for you; the only thing you can rely on is that it’s going to be unreliable. And, at the moment, the other good thing about it is that it’s still almost two months away. Fortunately, last year (and this year, too, probably), we also got some wet groceries, but at least we got them, the only plus of the day.

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Medical Art

“No,” the kid is saying, “the doctor’s office is THAT way.” **

Whoever designed my doctor’s office wasn’t Canadian. Maybe from the west coast, but then he’s not Canadian, he’s British Columbian.

The pictures on the walls were the product of a sadist’s warped imagination. You have to remember it was 20 degrees below zero outside, the side I walked through on my way to the doc’s office. Though, I understand that because we are in the month of March, according to the weather forecast we can expect mounting temperatures, supposedly later this week. Yeah, well, I did a fair amount of weather forecasting myself in my earlier years, and I can attest to the value of those broad pronouncements. More hopeful than helpful.

The very illustrations we like to see on a cold winter day: Krieghoff, who apparently never saw a summer day in Canada. The fellow on the left must be pointing toward the doctor’s office.*

In my doctor’s office the first things I see are the paintings, the designer’s idea of appropriate office décor. Look at that one there: A mountain lion, up to his tummy in snow (“Better you than me,” thinks I). Beside him — in a snow-white frame, too — a pair of Canada geese, the very symbol of the icy north, are standing around a hole in a frozen mountain lake, discussing the possibility of fish. Or maybe they’re wondering if it’s not too late to catch the last flight to Florida.

———

*“The Ice Bridge at Longue Pointe” by C. Krieghoff, 1847–48. The National Gallery of Canada.

** “Winter Landscape, Laval” (detail) by C. Krieghoff, 1862. The National Gallery of Canada.


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For many, Spring is a favourite time of the year, the bitterness of the Canadian winter is past tense, icy winds have been re-born as brisk refreshing breezes, and morning temperatures are no longer double digits with a minus sign in front of them. Skies are a brighter blue, not winter’s harder grey-ish blue — the unforgiving blue that keeps its stormy promise. And yet, is there ever a boon that does not carry its price? Every rose has its thorn. Even a smile can reveal sharp teeth.

Sweet Spring, indeed, is blond, blue-eyed;
In sun and shade will softly glide
And banish mem’ries of the day
When snow and icy winds held sway,
And ’neath the covers I would hide.

I start to leave my hat inside,
Catch cold, but take it in my stride,
Because March colds will always say
Sweet Spring indeed.

But now, instead of snow outside,
A million blades of grass abide;
The lawn mower calls: “Today’s the day!”
“And next week, too!” the grass will say.
The adjective is misapplied:
“Sweet” Spring, indeed.

No, it’s not a World War One battlefield, it’s Spring in the making.

Okay, maybe Spring is not all doom and gloom, but it’s not all beer and skittles either. Take a glance at your early Spring lawn (your lawn, not mine; mine will only depress you, even more than your own). The squirrels have done their work well, burying everything but your car; there are broken branches from every single tree on your street; and even the weeds seem to have forsaken it (for the moment; Spring has just arrived; give the weeds a day or two). In the accompanying photograph notice the harsh no-nonsense nature of the afternoon sun, a lot of sharp edges there.

Nice, eh? Just what you’ve always wanted: Squirrels, assorted branches and débris, weeds; the rigid unrelenting sunlight — a comprehensive bundle of good things to which you can look forward with … well, maybe not enthusiasm … I don’t know many people who are enthusiastic about lawn maintenance. Most use the word “resignation.”

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Gloves

My wife was a member of The Costume Society of Ontario, and as such she received their quarterly Journal. At one time the publication carried an article on hand-knitted gloves (is there a veiled pun in there somewhere …?). These were not ordinary mittens like kids wear on a winter day, with the cord going up the sleeves from one mitt to the other to prevent loss. No, these gloves were dress gloves; there’s no other word for them. Not for royal receptions, perhaps, but very definitely “dressed to the nines” gloves. Even I — who never touches a knitting needle except to punch holes in paper when I’m too lazy to look for the 3-hole punch — even I found the article fascinating, as the author traced the arcane designs back to some isolated hovel in the Orkney Islands of 150 years ago.

Catchers’ mitts for Girls’ Softball Leagues

I wonder sometimes, when I have absolutely nothing to do, about the origin of gloves. For warmth? In the colder latitudes, when you lost a hand to advanced frostbite, you quickly saw the beauty and utility of gloves. Wise people, considering warmth, subsequently rejected the five-finger variety and developed the mitten of the mid-1300s.

Warriors would have recognized the benefit of heavy gloves garnished by metal greave-like plates across the upper parts of the fingers. The Middle Ages saw greaves protecting the shin, and even a moderately smart warrior would have taken the idea a step further to protect his fingers, after seeing Charlie, subject of a vicious enemy sword-thrust, lose his fingers (and not incidentally his life, and the battle).

When buying, insist on a 20% discount (only half the fingers)

The whole idea of gloves spread quickly from one creative mind to another: The Regency fop adopted intricately embroidered gloves to keep his delicate hands clean; today’s medical profession uses latex gloves to protect themselves against us and our germs (though an uncharitable person might suggest that the reverse is quite as valid); and just try taking those broken branches and brambles out to the curb for the chipper using your bare hands. Fashionable ladies even introduced what might be called a “reverse-engineered” glove by removing the fingers altogether for dexterity and (for manipulative women) greater manipulation. Even unfashionable women have adopted the same type of fingerless glove so they can enjoy their cigarette while standing outside the office freezing to death on a cold winter day. And to suggest to a six-foot-three 250-pound baseball catcher with a lot of attitude that his glove should rightfully be called a “mitten” … well, if you want to tell him, go ahead. Better you than me.

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