Saturday, 3 May 2008

Saga of the Grill Press

As the Teflon controversy finally crawled into my skull and convinced me to slowly place less dependence on their non- stick qualities, I turned back to the old reliable cast iron wear hidden somewhere in the jumble of items too valuable to toss, but not used enough to keep at hand. Rather than rely on the old frying pan – needs a lot of work to bring back to its former glory – I purchased a pre-seasoned 9” square griddle pan with ridges. I confess I’m addicted to those pretty grill lines perfectly crossed on steaks, pork chops, chicken breasts and various vegetables that we prefer not to boil endlessly in water. Testing the newly purchased cooking utensil with some chicken breasts brought to light a couple of problems. One, it took longer to cook than I preferred – fussy. Two, due to the extra time on the grill, it left a slight, but noticeable burnt taste which we decided was objectionable. How to rectify these minor dilemmas?
Somewhere in the back of my mind lay the answer. Ah, yes! I remembered seeing a grill press – that cast iron item about 8” in diameter with a wood handle – perfectly formed to place atop whatever was in the griddle to speed up the cooking time; and as an added advantage, it was reputed to be excellent for squeezing out excess fat (told me on the cute advertising tag). How could one go wrong? Quick, run over to the gourmet shop and pick one up. Once home, it takes only a moment to realize the press is light grey in color and both the pre-seasoned griddle and the older frying pan are black. So I recall that in the past you were expected to season your cast iron at home the old fashioned way. Wash it with hot water, slather on some cooking oil and bake in the oven for 45/60 minutes and let cool. With loving use, the new item would eventually darken and take on the preferred black patina treasured by cooks. At first the wooden handle seemed to preclude placement in the oven, but on further examination I discovered it was easily removed by removing the two holding screws. Therefore, after the wash, the light application of oil and placement in a 350’ F oven, I awaited the buzzer announcement that I would be able to use my newest utensil for the preliminary test.
As I relaxed in my Lazy Boy reclining chair, intent on completing the New York Times crossword, a weird odor arose from the kitchen causing some concern as it definitely was pouring out of the oven. Why would such a foul smell arise from a bit of cooking oil? Smack upside the head! Suddenly, I remembered reading an article online which indicated that manufacturers were now coating cast iron with a protective wax finish before shipping. Ran to the kitchen and hauled out the grill and sure enough, the waxy coating had shrivelled in spots and was clearly visible. No problemo – as they say in Mexico. Left it to cool then attacked it with steel wool and plenty of hot water until the sticky substance was committed to history. And then: began the process anew, oil, oven heat etc. Tremendous success on the second try, once cooled you could feel the smoothness and eye the slight patina already in evidence.
Happy to report, the initial use of combined griddle and press was a total success. If I neglected to mention before, I relied on the use of an electric indoor Teflon covered grill – okay, I confess, a George Foreman special, quick and easy until the Teflon wears off – hope I do not half to burn up my apron a la “Hell’s Kitchen & Gordon Ramsay”. Cooked in almost the identical time and did so without sticking. Plus cleaning up cast iron pans somehow connects you even closer to the joy of the cooking process.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Odds and Ends #6

Fatty Acids

Just when I thought I had it organized and under control; along pops up information to mess things up or so I thought. Let’s recap: try and achieve a ratio of 2:1 to 4:1 of omega 6 fatty acids to omega 3 fatty acids to permit proper utilization of the latter. Too much omega 6 spoils or prevents the chemical reactions of omega 3 into required compounds. Apparently this was much easier to accomplish before the advent of packaged foods – read filled with the wrong oils and loaded with preservatives. All I had to keep stuck in my brain was to eat plenty of cold-blooded fish, actually fish from colder waters like sardines, salmon etc. to attain a nutritional balance. On a quick glance at the headline, I assumed the new class of fatty acids would somehow have received a numeric designation to fit in with the existing 3 and 6 families. And therefore, I would be forced to learn a whole new set of ratios together with additional food combinations. What a relief to discover they seemed to have only discovered some previously unknown type of bio-machine oil. Now the meal planning for the next year can proceed as laid out in the Excel spreadsheet produced on New Years Eve.
As my finger hovered above the keyboard to send me to another site in cyberspace, I drew back in deep thought. Maybe better to hold on and tag the article for future reference. When my bio body eventually begins to break down, science has promised a plethora of cybernetic replacements to keep me going ad infinitum. Once I get the mechanical parts installed the sensors in the newly discovered fatty acids will help to relay information to my new-fangled on board computer monitoring the efficiency of my substituted limbs and organs. Plus the computer can arrange with the hospital for an oil change appointment.


Anything that helps me to locate my misplaced glasses immediately warrants my attention; so this item titillated my interest. That is, until I hit the first paragraph indicating my place in the universe might be amongst the ‘slower-witted’ or why else would I have succumbed to the enticing headline. When an article starts off suggesting I may be lacking in cranial acuteness, my anti-advertising awareness indicator pops up and warns me someone may be trying to sell me a remedy for what ails me. So now doing the odd sudoku and the New York Times crossword every weekend may not be as effective as computer based puzzles which tend now to come in plastic clad packages complete with $60 barcodes. And does throwing your weight behind a computer based system mean you have oodles of stock in the company? Probably! Not only that, but they proved me wrong and out-of-touch. Once on the MindFit site, I discovered the asking price was close to $150 – I wasn’t even close – MindYou, shipping is free! Unfortunately, I’m too slow-witted to understand the purchasing procedure; and therefore, unable to place an order. Talk about a Catch-22: in order to get smarter, I first need to order the MindFit program; in order to order the MindFit program, I must first get smarter. Help, I’m developing brain freeze without the benefit of an ice-cold drink.

Greener than Grass

I applaud anyone who allows their landscaping to reflect the natural condition of the land and refuses to worship the establishment of an anal retentive, manicured grass lawn. Over the years, I’ve tended to avoid being a slave to the dictates of the perfect green carpet: weeding, watering, fertilizing, mowing, de-thatching, rolling, aerating, raking, topping, reseeding and then starting over at the top. Unless you resort to hiring lawn service professionals for monthly upkeep, count on three to four hours hard labor for every hour relaxing on your greenery.
After being faced with almost a quarter acre of lawn to care for in my first house, I turned about two thirds into a vegetable garden which not only halved the upkeep, but provided enough produce for almost the entire year.
At another dwelling, while I was deciding what should be done with a barren back yard, nature took over to provide a year round display of greenery. For close to nine months, a tremendous variety of wildflowers went through their natural cycles presenting a constantly changing tableau with no need for any interference. Despite the absence of noxious weeds, the neighbours frowned upon the seeds being borne on the wind to settle on their putting greens.
And I’ve experienced the value of a moss lawn with its laissez faire approach to landscaping when I lived outside the city on a smaller acreage. Faced with a poor sandy soil – heavily infiltrated with rocks and stones – surrounded by cedar trees dropping needles adding to the already acidic earth, I watched as various weedy plants sprouted across the bare expanse and realized delicate grasses would never establish themselves without year long care (luckily snow covered it for four months to solve the blight temporarily). But with the aid of liberal areas of shade and the unique dampness of British Columbia, at least two types of native moss gradually began to spread outward from the trees and crept silently to attain full ground coverage by the third year. Left to its own devices, the mosses even crowded out the naturally occurring weeds, preventing any sunlight from encouraging their growth. Once thickened, we could enjoy a permanently lush green carpet without an ounce of effort or care.


For some reason I expected the headline ‘Dwarf Cloud Rat’ to relate to astronomy as in dwarf star or Magellanic Cloud and assumed the word rat had been co-opted as a new technical term. Little did I realize in other areas of the world rats make their homes in trees much like their sticky-pawed, bushy tailed cousins do in my neighbourhood. Most of my experience with rats has been confined to observing them scooting in and out of garbage piles. On the odd occasion, I’ve watched them slither up stucco or cedar siding gaining access to bird feeders or lapping up barbeque drippings on apartment decks. While I have picked and handled a couple in laboratory settings, never did I have the urge to keep them as pets or explore their habitat. Bad enough the Norway rat has managed to sail its way around the world to spread disease and set up shop as a local pest; the last thing I want are fuzzy rats hanging above me as I navigate the city streets – our northwestern crows problem enough. So if you choose moss over grass for your lawn as per the previous entry, beware permitting the moss to cover your trees for fear of inviting unwanted guests!

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Buy My Vote!

Rather than allow the Kokanee Corporation to use my free vote for their own advertising campaign; I’ve chosen to permit either the Ranger or the Sasquatch to purchase my vote for a miniscule sum – to be revealed at the conclusion of this story.
Years ago, we decided our next mountain top venture would be to conquer Bald Mountain (prior to the erection of a lodge barely outside the park boundary and the hordes of out-of-shape tourists) in Glacier National Park, and stay overnight for a rustic campout. Now this is not an extremely high vista – 2317 meters – and not a huge elevation gain – 1130 meters – and only a middling distance – 17 kilometres one way. So because it was to be two day venture, we didn’t hit the trailhead until one in the afternoon which left plenty of time to climb up to the designated camping area near the upper ‘Ranger’ cabin, pitch the tent on the side of a barely trickling streamlet and put together a one-pot supper before turning in at dusk. Bless the mountain weather. Less than two hours later, a walloping storm blew in bringing not only gargantuan downpours, but a thunder and lightening show on a cosmic scale. In moments the wee stream became a six foot wide creek, lapping at the edge of the tent which had decided to give up and allow the rain, propelled by sudden swirling winds, to enter at every possible seam. Gathering our stuff, leaving the shelter to its own devices, we scrambled over to the cabin which had a small covered front deck where hay was stored. Being on the east side out of the wind, we used the bales as a mattress, wrapped ourselves up in our sleeping bags and lay back to enjoy the spectacle. Very interesting to watch bolt after bolt of lightening, not only skyward above Copperstain and Moonraker, but hitting constantly down below in the Grizzly Creek valley. A couple of the closer strikes were only about one hundred meters distant which tends to leave a jagged pattern of light seared on the eyeball for quite a few seconds. Once the storm abated, we were able to grab some shut eye and awoke to a gorgeous sunny day.
After a quick breakfast, we headed up to the summit, realizing why it received the appellation ‘bald’ and spent three or four hours enjoying the tremendous view of the Selkirks, with Mount Sir Donald right in your face. Interestingly, we spotted a large, hairy creature disappearing into the undercover as we passed the ‘Ranger’ cabin on the way down. While we assumed it must have been an elk, over the years the tale leans toward the sighting of the elusive Sasquatch. Then it was an easy return trip to the vehicle and over to the park headquarters at Rogers Pass to check in. There we learned from one of the long term employees that the storm was considered to be one of the most intense in the past forty years. Deciding to salute our own accomplishment of braving the extreme elements, we headed to the Glacier Park Lodge for a victory supper. Opting to quaff a couple of ales, we were introduced to Glacier Light – direct from Creston and the Columbia Brewing Company. Then and there, we decided the attainment of future peaks were to be rewarded with the downing of a Glacier Light, a ritual to be upheld through the ensuing years. Unfortunately, some misguided marketing type chose to eventually re-brand our traditional beer by sticking a great big Kokanee on the cans and bottles while reducing the glacier and light to secondary importance.
Therefore, in order to receive our votes, either the ‘Ranger’ or ‘Sasquatch’ must convince management to return Glacier Light to its former glorious position in the pubs of BC; and once accomplished, deliver one dozen properly chilled cans to a British Columbia peak of our choosing to celebrate our summit party.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Odds and Ends #5

Moose Miracle

While I was waiting for the page to load, I was chastising myself for having missed any previous articles concerning the intelligence of moose. Up to that moment, I was unaware they even had the ability to add or subtract; never mind learning to multiply. I was immediately in awe of those stoic Scandinavians being able to herd these high strung ungulates into a classroom; and then instilling in them the basis of mathematics and the opportunity to become partners in the worldwide capitalist society. After all, years ago Mr. Ed could only add and chimpanzees have been restricted to short pictorial sentences, with a lot of food rewards for encouragement. So I eagerly anticipated reading the complete story as soon as it flashed on the screen.
Drats. I was sucked in by a cleverly worded headline. Moose in Scandinavia are no smarter than their brethren in Northern British Columbia, except they may be more amorous – how else to explain the multiplying.

Robot Rollouts

What the good professor is not telling us? Robots are loose among us and not only the benign ones building the cars and vacuuming the floors. Already, the competent companions for the elderly population and the happy helpers for the playschools and daycares may have been instilled quietly, with little fanfare, into our society at the behest and backing of our federal government. The head mechanical man is already well placed to continue infiltrating his kin into our population with the complete cooperation of our national ministries and departments. And who is this chief architect of our introduction to widespread robothood and possible ‘big brothers’ – why our very own Prime Minister Stephen Harper! What else could explain the slow, deliberated body and brain movements? None-the-less, rumour has it he is concerned about the appellation ‘dumb’ machines as applied to his extended family in the linked article.
Somehow the moral and ethical dilemmas concerning the future of robotics fail to get close to the top of the current impending doom list of troubles facing society. Concerns about climate, energy, food, and terrorism are but a few of the problems; living in fear of an ankle biting vacuum cleaner hardly hits the top one hundred.
BTW, if a robot doctor examines and operates on your prostate, will he/she/it be offended if you request that he/she/it warm up their hands or claws or snippers?


What a revelation; once again science triumphs over common sense. Anyone who has ever laboured in a dead end job, a repetitive function or non-stimulating atmosphere can attest to the fact of wandering focus. And in most cases, we know ourselves our attention begins to dart ever more swiftly among many competing thoughts and are entirely aware of our drifting concentration. The answer, of course, involves adjusting those in monotonous positions into regulated lab rats. Stick a beanie on them, insert wired probes into the brain mass and punish them for misplaced thoughts or inappropriate day dreaming. Given the opportunity to machine enhance the human species; science will continually opt for an invasive solution to problems instead of altering the task to better suit our psychology.
From my observation, it may be over concentration producing the same negative results and an electric impulse fired into the brain may not have the desired effect. Not long ago, I happened to be in a hospital emergency department where I was watching paramedics bring in a person who had suffered from a fall or possible heart attack. The patient was on a stretcher and breathing through an oxygen mask hooked up to a stationary tank. One of the paramedics began to adjust the intravenous needle in the crux of the man’s arm and casually pulled the stretcher over into the light. Unknowingly to the attendant, this wrapped the oxygen supply tube around the victim’s neck and pulled tight enough to restrict his breathing. Even though the gasping became audible the paramedic was so involved in replacing the needle properly, he failed to respond. Moments later, the other paramedic returned and initially began to help with the needle. As I started over to warn them about the man’s discomfort, the second paramedic finally became aware of the problem and moved the stretcher back to loosen the tube. Had a brain machine restricted their focus to the importance of replacing the needle correctly; the patient could simply die from lack of oxygen.
Personally, I have reservations about injecting fish genes into the DNA of tomatoes, and like experiments; so any unnecessary enhancements to my brain requiring relinquishing my decision making to a machine are presently rejected.


In a hockey centric city like Vancouver, it will be more than strange to find the lowliest member of the team structure – the stick boy - have more experience and knowledge than the newly installed General Manager. After mumbling through a press conference on the firing of Dave Nonis and explicitly acknowledging the need for a seasoned professional in the driver’s seat, the team ownership, led by Francesco Aquilini, opted instead to install a bobblehead figure in the front office. Based on previous interviews, the Aquilini’s have left no doubts as to their desire to micro manage the team themselves and are unlikely to tolerate independent underlings. Once they have Gillis totally indoctrinated, he will become the perfect figurehead to send to league meetings, handle the press and preside at photo ops. Be sure to take special notice if both Mike and Francesco are together at the same functions – are Aquilini’s lips moving when Gillis pretends to hold court? All in all, a very tactical and intelligent move. Should the situation not improve and the Canucks continually denied the glory of a Stanley Cup triumph; simply fire the underperforming general manager who was given’ carte blanche’ to build a contender and failed. Should a miracle occur and the cup come to Vancouver, make no mistake- all the credit will be claimed by ownership for their prescience in taking a hands on approach.

Thursday, 24 April 2008


Not necessarily in that order, but I’ve wondered about the transition zones and, in particular, whether the run/jog question depends on the individual. I used to believe only two methods existed: either you walked or you ran. And without the benefit of a degree in kinesiology, most people if put to the test would agree on which is which just from watching. However, watching the Olympics some years back introduced me to the sport/pastime/athletic endeavour of race walking, a seemingly mechanical or robotic approach to moving quickly. No matter how often commentators explained the rules – I think a part of one foot must always be in contact with terra firma – it remained a mystery how the sideline referees managed to detect rule violations on route. Even with the benefit of slow motion, spotting violations appeared difficult and I began to suspect the officials were surgically altered with eagle eyes. Besides I can’t help thinking the awkward motions must put undue strain on body parts. It does, however, suit the description of a transition between jogging/running.
Most runners I’ve talked with seem to agree a difference exists between jogs and runs, although most of the explanations tend to a personal view rather than based on science. For some time, my division rested on the amount of bobbing I witnessed in other runners – if up and down motion seemed almost greater than forward motion; then I described it as jogging. With faster forward movement and the upper body seemingly almost stationary above the churning legs, I elected to call it running. My system works well when viewing other runners, but was difficult to apply to myself. I’ve heard others try to base the transition on pace which is okay if comparing high to low, but as one approaches the middle this begins to get fuzzy. Finally, I settled on taking note of how my body would sway slightly from side to side when I went for slow runs and opted to call this point the transition from running to jogging.
Since I don’t race the question is solely academic, merely another random thought momentarily bouncing around my brain cavity until it fades and ends up replaced by important concerns such as ‘what’s for dinner’.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Follow Up #1

Rodent Renegades

Had I known of such aggressive behaviour amongst the squirrel clans, I may have reacted with additional care when I was a party to their eviction from my attic space. A bear killing carp should be expected – bands of irate blood-thirsty squirrels are another kettle of fish so to speak. Only by chance while generally wasting time surfing did I happen on the old report of squirrel mayhem in the depths of Russia. Since the breed of dog is never mentioned, one would assume a yappy, lapdog - like a Chihuahua - would be at risk; any larger mutt should be able to defend itself unless it is too old to run. And still, I’ve never witnessed bands of squirrels roaming the city parks plotting havoc against larger foes. Normally I notice the little pests chattering and madly chasing each other in order to defend their territories. Since the females run the males away from the nesting area (apparently they have a penchant for disposing of their offspring) before the pups are born, the males could be cloistering in groups bemoaning their fate, but becoming marauders seems beyond their genetic make up. Yet, I hope the Russian rodent mob are not yet internet savvy or cell phone wielding enough to send messages to their brethren here in North America fomenting revolution halfway around the globe. To be on the safe side, I will refrain from standing near trees engaged in any loud or threatening conversation. Also, a few pine cones stuffed in my jacket pocket could serve as ransom if I do find myself cornered.

Where are the Tillandsias?

Not long after I wrote this entry, I decided to head off to the local garden shop to purchase another type to add to my collection. After wandering around for some time, I was unable to spot any displays – the indoor plant area had been rearranged – so I asked an employee where they might now be hidden. Turns out they had none in stock owing to the nursery suppliers also being out of stock. Apparently, all the air plants are in short supply, but nobody knows whether it may be due to an importing problem from the United States or some growing or breeding difficulty. Visiting three or four other outlets, the plants were still unavailable and the reasons identical. Deep in the dead flower department of a local supermarket, I did come across a few bedraggled specimens of Ionanthas – comforting to know the air in a grocery store may be toxic to air plants ( in truth just a lack of water). Thank goodness my blog entry was not the cause of hordes of people rushing out to corner the market. As if anyone is actually out there in cyberspace grinding through the onslaught of thousands of blogs per hour. However, I suspect a conspiracy in the works: all the tillandsias have been stripped from their supports and tossed into the chippers to become the next source of biofuel.

The Lost Book

Once I learned my requested book had been declared missing-in-action, I assumed I would be waiting for a new copy to be purchased or the return of a copy on loan. Less than two days later, I received notification via e-mail the book – ‘The Mindful Way through Depression’ – was ready for pickup at my local branch. As I had extra time to waste the day I went to pick it up, I decided to query the librarian on the whys and wherefores of the wandering text. Expecting an explanation to the lost days in the life of the wayward tome, there was none to be had. It had seemingly turned up at her work station as if by magic. Apparently, before she even had the chance to launch an investigation, it had been placed close to her computer where she found it the following morning. She surmised one of the part time employees working the previous evening had located it elsewhere, by accident, realized there was a hold on the volume and did not return it to its usual shelf position. Such a banal ending to the story of its disappearance – hardly worth writing about or coaxing a blog entry out of my fingers. More likely, the book elves were having their fun moving the book surreptitiously from place to place right under the noses of the book herders. Now, I just have to buckle down and read the book while hoping the most important pages are intact and not torn out!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

H is for Haas Avocados

Cheating on this one because it could have been used under A, but then I would have lost the applesauce and sacrificed a guacamole recipe. Why have a guacamole recipe? Because I’ve been blessed with a spicy gene flowing down through the years from one of my ancestors and it needs to be expressed. Excellent for dipping taco chips, for fajitas, on top of huevos rancheros, alongside grilled chicken breasts, even smothered over pork chops. Unless you’re lucky and bought your avocados a few days previous, they are usually hard as rocks when picked up in the supermarket. Buy them anyway; drop them in a paper bag with either an apple or banana and they will ripen in a couple of days and be soft enough to mash up. Anticipation will make the end product even tastier.

4                          avocados ripe about 2 pounds
½ cup                 tomato peeled, seeded and finely chopped
¼ cup                 red onion finely diced
¼ cup                 cilantro
3 tablespoons     lemon juice or lime
1 clove                 garlic minced
1/4 teaspoon      cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon      salt
1/8 teaspoon      chile powder
2                           jalapeño peppers seeded & minced
  • Peel and pit the avocados; then use a fork to coarsely mash them in a bowl.
  • Mix in the lemon juice and then the remainder of the ingredients. Stir until well combined, but do not over mix into a smooth paste. Using a food processor tends to turn the mixture to mush.
  • Chill for 30 to 45 minutes before serving.
Mince up 2 additional jalapeño peppers into a small bowl so the more adventurous can add heat to their taste.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Odds and Ends #4

Crocodile Tears

Is it only me or does everyone else notice the trend for public figures to burst into tears at the slightest provocation to engage our sympathetic responses? Poor J.K. Rowling, sobbing before the trial judge over the grand theft of her ideas, the possible loss of a few thousand dollars from her billion or so and her total loss of creativity due to the ongoing strain. But wait – then the defendant takes the stand and lets his tear ducts loose in the courtroom. Can we expect the judge to deliver his verdict in a veil of tears a la the Anna Nicole Smith custody trial? And not only have the entertainment figures reacted in this manner. Current vogue even for financial industry CEOs, chairmen and senior management after losing billions in mortgage scams is to shed copious tears at the terrible market place for the ruination of their hard work and good names.
Shouldn’t all these people be banned to their vaults to endlessly count their money like Scrooge McDuck?
Almost forgot to add that crying worked well for Hillary Clinton the first time, but fell rather flat the second – maybe a warning for the rest.

Blame it on the Mortgagee

Now that the spin doctors have been given the chance to respond to the sub prime mortgage meltdown, you could expect the blame to be lifted from the shoulders of the captains of the financial world and thrust onto the true creators of the crisis – the evil mortgagees. After all the scams convincing people to overbuy, coercing them to falsify their income stream and assuring everyone house values would reach the heavens with never a downturn, the mortgage brokers, salespeople and lenders will reap the benefit and sympathy from government bailouts.
I love this.
Quote:   "witnessing a dramatic change in the behaviour of borrowers in California where there had been "significant" increases in defaults as house prices fall.  They warned that "the propensity to default rises dramatically" once equity in a borrower's property falls to zero, with further increases in foreclosures on the horizon.” End quote.

So there you have it. Borrowers are guilty of bad behaviour: lenders are just doing their job in good faith.

Head Miswiring
As if internal arguments and lack of communication in the brain were not problems enough, now we have the belly fat chiming in to screw up the signalling system. Up to this point, all evidence suggested wiring in the brain was responsible for indicating when we were sated, and then sent the crystal clear message to disengage from the knife and fork. Now instead of patting the stomach to indicate the pleasure of a fine, satisfying meal, we are attempting to shut up the fat cells that are still screaming for food and cajoling us into shovelling down ever greater amounts.

Safekeeping the Spoils
Easy to just write this one off as a weird coincidence, but it does leave a couple of questions unanswered.
Shouldn’t a bank employee have learned not to keep valuables at home where they are open to theft?
Could we consider the thief to be intelligent in his bid to safeguard his plunder; since you never know when your home may be the target of a cat burglar?
Do we now find the criminal (alleged) slightly less brainy because he failed to contact his victim to ascertain where he did his banking, in order to avoid a conflict of interest, not to mention possible discovery?
Moral of the story is not to do your banking in the same area you conduct your entrepreneurial business.

Vodka Tales
Wonder what the blood/alcohol reading would have been on this one? At some percentage, the booze in the blood stream must turn into a beneficial coagulant to prevent blood loss or it may only occur with vodka. I know puncture wounds tend to seal around the piercing weapon, but this guy was also on the move trying to work and travel home, conditions which normally would cause at least a bit of oozing. Guess when you’re that soused a knife driven into your back only feels like a friendly slap!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Price of Rice not Nice

And it is not just rice: corn, wheat, soy and other cereal crops are bumping up the price hike ladder. Plenty of reasons expounded for the sudden increases:

  • Droughts and crop failures especially in Australia where the explanation lays the blame almost entirely on climate change, as though localized lack of precipitation has never been experienced over the millennia.
  • Reduced government stockpiles, particularly in Asian countries, which worked to smooth out yearly production bumps in the past. Now capitalism and the invisible hand of the market rule.
  • Too much grain fed to livestock to support the surge in meat consumption in China. Too many McMeat restaurants springing up.
  • Increasing trend of farmers, in North America and Europe, raising crops solely for processing into bio-fuels, despite current scientific evidence suggesting it may be more damaging to the environment than oil production and wastes too much energy to manufacture.
My theory: once the hedge funds and insiders milked billions for themselves from the sub-prime mortgage fiasco – leaving taxpayers to clean up the mess – they are now driving up the price oil, gas and foodstuffs on the commodities markets to further siphon off wealth. Even as the demand for oil has either stalled or inflated at below 2% per year the price continues to vault to new records.

Actually, the initial indication for the fast price jumps came when I was in one of the larger, warehouse type, local grocery outlets. I noticed three of four people struggling to the check outs pushing carts loaded with ten to twelve 40 pound bags of rice, bad luck if you had one of the sticky wheel ones I usually pick. At first, I wrote it off to coincidence, just happenstance running into a number of small restaurant owners stocking up at a cheap price. And then, I received my own lesson in the world economy when I headed over to grab a 10 kilogram bag of flour – whole wheat, not organic, but still better for you – and ran into sticker shock along with a sign from store management explaining the soaring price. Once home, I was able to check back on old bills to document the upward trend.

Flour 10 kilogram bag:
  • Sept 15/07      $5.98
  • Jan 11/08        $6.98
  • Mar 30/08     $10.58
According to my cool scientific calculator, that is a 76% increase in retail price since last September and the wholesale cost increases almost daily.

Ways to handle the crisis:
  • Purchase dedicated hand held vacuum to clean up dusting flour on counter and return to container.
  • Strategically placed jar to hold wayward rice grains picked up from floor.
  • Check out price of ‘Brent light crude’ for use as salad dressing before olive ‘oil’ converts to bio-fuel.
  • Use wild rice – yes, I know it is actually a grain – as it becomes cheaper to replace normal rice.
  • Purchase kitchen grindstone appliance to mill grains gathered surreptitiously from roadside farms after midnight.
  • Switch from the documented healthy Mediterranean diet to the just announced cheaper, bland Starvation diet.
  • Seek out lower cost alternatives such as potatoes – oops, too late. New potatoes advertised at ‘only’ $1.69 per pound.
All prices in Canadian Dollars.
Feel free to attempt novel solutions of your own.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Spring has Sprung

Finally last Saturday a true hint of spring reached Vancouver rewarding us with some clear skies, sun and temperatures in the teens. Couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate than a hike part way up one of the local mountains; and so we scooted up the 550 meters to the viewpoint overlooking Buntzen Lake. Even under the heavy canopy, there was plenty of sparkle from the invading rays of sunlight dancing through the treetops and the steadily increasing warmth soon had us in t-shirts. With last winter’s heavier than average snowfall, the trail was still covered for the final 80 meters of elevation with about a foot of snow – treacherously slippery in the well trodden spots, but easy going just off to the sides. A few minutes stopped at the lookout gazing across to the North Shore mountains, sipping some water and snacking on a energy bar, before wending our way back to the parking lot. Not only lots of fun, but we get to add 2 hours of vigorous physical activity to our weekly total – take that Participation Canada! Pretty well everyone we met trekking both ways were in exuberant moods enjoying the sudden climatic change, all except for the unhappy soul, in a rather gnarly mood, escorting her unleashed snappy, lapdogs. Yes, the trio were very much alike in both temperament and appearance.
Meanwhile back at the vehicle, our choice was to prowl the nearest supermarket for a couple of handfuls of Portobello and Shitake mushrooms. With the grocery shopping accomplished, a pleasant day was finished off with platefuls of Linguine con Funghi and some generous glasses of Shiraz. Now what is on the agenda next weekend in order to scoff down a decadent meal?

Friday, 11 April 2008

Odds and Ends #3

Knut the Killer

Makes me wonder how many post graduate degrees are required before somebody realizes Knut is a polar bear – aka a wild animal – basically doing what his mother should have taught him. Stop chucking food into his enclosure; he will quickly catch on to the tastiness of raw fish and other moveable feasts. As for his howling for a friend, maybe the media reporter carping about a bear who "senselessly murdered the carp" can volunteer to sit across the table from Knut to discuss their mutual psychological problems.

Fabulous Feet

Almost positive some of the under socks I use for hiking are laced with silver threads making my feet much more valuable than the rest of my body. Last quote I remember was $13 per ounce for silver so I’m planning to wash my feet each time into my gold pan and attempt to swish out the silver, instead of allowing my foot odour to become part of the toxic sludge problem. Then I recalled that the Borg were heavy into nano technology and am beginning to suspect we are being assimilated despite our protestations. Trust the big corporations to have been taken over by aliens, right under our noses while we worried about malodorous foot scents.

What about the Bags?

For years we have been treated to the sight of millions of plastic bags waving throughout the countryside and quivering like sea kelp over acres of dump sites. All of a sudden, the garbage police have discovered evil contents within the confines of the plastic beast – tons and tons of unused foodstuffs reeking and fermenting, inundating the atmosphere with tons and tons of obnoxious gases fuelling the spread of greenhouse warming. Since I eschewed the use of plastic, I’ve been driven to carting my putrid leftovers to the bin wrapped in my best Sunday shirts (they are washed in non phosphate detergent and hung on my balcony to dry despite the protests of neighbours) which are manufactured with organic cotton in approved factories somewhere off world. Now I’ll have to take a course in fruit wine making, to prevent the unneeded produce from being discarded, even if it means I spend all my spare hours getting soused.

Stonehenge Spa

Over the past decades this stone circle has been explain in many ways: an astronomical observatory, pagan ritual site replete with human sacrifice, Neolithic convention center for end of harvest celebrations, alien landing zone (von Däniken theory?), and now it is a healing place. Unless an error in reporting comes to light or I’ve just read the reports incorrectly, I’m amazed that among other findings the archaeologists have unearthed some Roman ceramics from the sockets under the bluestones. While over the past decades, there have been numerous readjustments of the timeline of construction due to carbon dating inaccuracies; the general consensus suggests the total building period stretching from 3000BC to 1600BC. – give or take a couple of centuries, but whose counting. Historically, the Romans visited here during the first century BC and naturally proceeded to slaughter enough of the inhabitants to ensure adding the bulk of the island to the Empire. Therefore, barring the ability of the roman centurions to time travel, how does some of their dinnerware show up under mammoth stones placed over two thousand years before their arrival?

Green Screen Relay

Not even going to take sides. But does it make sense to have an Olympic torch relay when the spectators are lining a different route. You might as well hold it in front of green screens deep in the bowels of the ‘Forbidden City’ and add the background of cheering people from a Santa Claus parade, the rose bowl festivities or the gay-pride celebrations. It would be in keeping with the Communist iron fist ruling party plus save the bother of rewriting or re-video taping history to show the true wonder of the Olympics held in the Middle Kingdom.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

G is for Green beans

Grapefruit leapt to mind, but never cooked – either a half in the peel topped with a couple of dollops of honey or squeezed into a glass. Next up were grapes, usually tossed into a summer salad, although there is a decadent way to cook them. Halve red or green seedless grapes and poach quickly over medium heat in some Marsala; then heap around a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.
So I ended up settling on green beans, also known as string beans or French beans or haricots vert – the latter still rolls off my tongue having grown up in Quebec. The following is a quick way to put together a side dish for grilled chicken breast.

1/2 pound fresh green beans with ends snipped off
1/2 large red bell pepper, julienne into 1/4” strips
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
Pepper to taste

  1. Using a large pot , bring 2 quarts of water to a rapid boil, add the green beans and return to a rolling boil to cook for 6 to 7 minutes until they are tender but still crisp. Pour the beans into a colander, rinse under cold water to stop cooking and set aside.
  2. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast pine nuts until lightly browned. Remove to small bowl.
  3. Add oil to the skillet. When the oil is hot, sauté the red peppers for 5 to 6 minutes until almost softened. Then add the green beans, juice and pepper – stir gently for about three minutes to reheat the beans. Toss in the pine nuts and heat 1 more minute. Serve.
Important in this recipe to prevent the green beans from cooking too long, becoming soft and flabby, losing the slightly crispy snap and the textural difference with the softened peppers. As an added treat slice red onions into rings and cook at the same time as the red peppers.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Anagram This

Just as I was tossing out Saturday’s paper – oops, make that consigning to the appropriate recycling bin – I realized I had been doing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle for over a decade. Since the Vancouver Sun publishes the weekend edition on Saturdays, the puzzle is a week behind although that appears to be the norm in publication. In fact, it is the sole reason I even buy a newspaper once a week; news has become much easier to access online with the added opportunity to compare multiple points of view from varying countries.
When I began attempting to solve the puzzles, I was lucky to complete half of each without resorting to the dictionary, thesaurus and online assistance over a period of days. Now, I can usually polish them off in a couple of hours except for the odd time when pesky three letter clues or abbreviations escape me. There are moments I definitely come close to fire off questioning e-mails, but attribute the difference of opinion to regional preferences – everybody knows the West Coast is the true center of the universe – and variances in cultural usage. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t consider deciphering the puzzles contributes to preventing deterioration of my cranial cavity and its contents or increasing its elasticity. After a while, you simply develop crossword solvers brain and begin to think like a crossword designer, although there are nuances between different series and editors. On the occasions I try my hand at the Saturday Times puzzle, I find it helps to use an differing mind set to gain the solution and understand the way the constructor provides the clues.
Normally, the main hint for the puzzle becomes an important aid as you begin to comprehend the deviousness for many of the longer or highlighted clues. Once you grasp the trick, it gives a head start on the others. Alas, this Saturday ‘mixed feelings’ was completely lost on me and even with a couple of solutions, I remained without a clue. In the end, it did not prevent me from polishing off the puzzle and putting it aside. Only later as I glanced at one of the shorter sets of circled letters did it finely dawn on me that they were anagrams; hence, gear rearranged is rage, epho is hope etc. Obviously, solving crosswords has done nothing to improve my vision.

Friday, 4 April 2008

The Peripatetic Book

Despite the ‘wealth of information’ online, I continually skulk about a couple of branches of the municipal library searching for reading material. However, I find it easier to access the collection online from home to place holds on tomes whose titles I’ve gleaned off websites or my feeds. Requesting ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child’ – already in cold storage – was to follow up on the book Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. The e-mail notification showed up a couple of days later. On the same evening I entered a second request for an item currently in the branch so it was a lock to be there the following day when I could pick up both books. So I was mildly surprised the next morning when the Julia Child cookbook was sitting on the shelf awaiting me, but the second volume was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, I surmised, it was still early and maybe no one had yet had a chance to pull it from its assigned spot. No problem. Headed over to the library computers where I quickly located the call number and hustled over to the correct aisle. No luck. Aha, I reasoned, it was simply in between shelves and one of the staff was busy logging it through the system. After all, the computer said it was there and it is difficult to argue with a computer. Therefore, I concluded, I should talk to the kindly librarian who would clear up the matter in a flash. Not so. Not only did she have the request print out in front of her, but she had checked for the book to discover it was....well missing, even though it had been returned to the library the previous day and scanned in via computer. Obviously, since it had never been returned to its allotted location, there was no opportunity for some dastardly, light-fingered bookworm to purloin the text, so logically it had to be somewhere in the vicinity. So I headed back to see if it had been misplaced close to its supposed resting place, while the librarian did a check of the behind counter spots and non public areas. Success, I anticipated, would shortly see me with both of my holds and heading out the door. Wrong again. Back at the information desk, I found a very puzzled librarian who had not only been unable to locate my book, but had discovered another four missing volumes. Not much rationale in requesting an explanation and we agreed I could wait while another copy was forwarded in from another branch. Maybe library books eventually tire of the constant pawing, page pinching, spine bashing and coffee dribbling; at which point they sprout little legs and run off to the old book home? Lucky for me, my missing choice was not critical to my well being and only a follow up to my interest in meditation, since I’ve found it an excellent method to corral my brain after running off simultaneously in multiple directions. So it was interesting to discover Jon Kabat-Zinn had contributed to ‘Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)’ which was described as 80% meditation and 20% cognitive therapy towards the alleviating the effects of chronic depression. Only one of the texts on the subject - ‘The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness’ – but the particular one I located online and which caught my interest. Apparently, in Britain the costs are covered under National Health Care which may explain its popularity and wide spread referral by general practitioners. As for me, I was left to wonder if the universe in its infinite wisdom had conjured up an esoteric message disguised as a personal Zen koan for me to solve – ‘What is the sound of no page turning?’

Friday, 7 March 2008

Odds and Ends #2

Dogs against Piracy

Gone are the days when a dog jumping to sniff your crotch was simply discovering your family identity and kinship. First, canines were trained to ferret out your grass stash, and then taught to discover contraband you might have in your luggage, and now, man’s best friend has graduated to exposing your DVD theft - be forewarned and learn not to carry discs in your undies. Only a matter of time before your seemingly docile pet gathers evidence on all your nasty habits and finks on you to the authorities or the thought police.

Idiots up Front

For years I wondered why traffic heading in either direction over the Port Mann Bridge in the Lower Mainland suffered from the stop-and-go syndrome in the absence of any accidents or stalls. Once you’ve hit the initial slowdown, movement alternates between 70 KPH spurts, crawling forward in idle and complete stops. Craning your head to see the road ahead rarely reveals anything other than a long, long vista of slow moving vehicles; not the sight of flashing lights, overturned cars or emergency equipment to explain your lack of progress. However, as soon as the halfway point of the bridge is reached the flow immediately thins out and returns to highway speed. My suspicion always centered on the drivers who either could not handle the curves on the initial section of the bridge or were afraid to pass the semis on the bridge deck. This study pretty well confirms drivers with a ‘brake fetish’ are at fault.

Where are My Readers?

One more gathering of the literati lending credence to the urban rumor of bastions of higher learning morphing into diploma mills to fill the coffers. And in the wink of an eye, half of North America will wave the newly minted, creative writing sheepskin in the air and commence to chasing down their assigned reader from the uneducated half who will unfortunately turn out to be ileterite. Must be all the bloggers!

What’s Behind a Door?

Once I got into playing the game a few times, I realized I’d forgotten to mark down my totals for each try. So the explanations fell on deaf ears. Rationally, I am aware of my irrationality on many occasions, but often attempting to bang square pegs into round holes excites my endorphins, creating pleasure rather than distress – sort of a situation of going with the flow and learning from the experience. It ended up as just another excuse to wreck havoc on my mouse finger and send it into spasms.

The Golden Touch

Occasionally I’ve heard of using gold plated faucets to impress your guests with your wealth or lack of good taste, but a throne of precious metal speaks to a Midas complex. Besides the obvious initial expense there are other considerations:
• Scouring away your investment with abrasive cleansers
• Removing bite marks from the rim
• Removing stains or does gold not stain?
• Preventing reactions with hydrogen sulphide gas
• Does Miss Manners suggest a seat cover before use?
• Are guards necessary? Maybe a job for Oddjob?
• Does a green ring on the butt mean you’ve been ripped off with pyrite?
• Can ‘poochie’ still use it as a water bowl?

Before this water closet gets sent to the foundry for meltdown, I’ll bet the buyers are lined up at the door – not to use the facility – cash in hand to purchase this one of a kind, must have toilet unit for the castle or mansion. Almost guaranteed this prized loo ends up on the auction block where it will undoubtedly fetch many times its weight in gold.

I wonder if Goldfinger had a hand in its design.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

F is for Fennel

Cannot recall seeing fennel – often mistakenly labelled as anise - on the grocer’s shelves only a few years back; it may have been in the city’s parochial era. Or maybe an interest in Italian cooking naturally leads to locating and partaking of this herb type vegetable. However its discovery happened, it has become a regular item due to the delicate nature and pleasing liquorice taste on the palate. For salads remove the stems, fronds, any tougher outer skin and the core from the bulb before slicing it very thinly – a mandolin is helpful – directly into the bowl. The stems and fronds can be chopped up and added to the water for boiling pasta. After cooking, remove the stems and larger fronds, and then use a bit of the strained water to add extra zip to the sauce. The lighter taste complements roasted vegetables without overpowering them as can occur with onions.

•Potatoes         1 ¼ pounds medium size, peeled and quartered along the length
•Fennel bulb    ½ pound trimmed and sliced vertically into 5 or 6 pieces
•Carrot             ½ pound peeled and sliced into ¾ inch chunks
•Garlic              4 cloves peeled and flattened
•Fennel seeds  2 tablespoons
•Olive oil           3 tablespoons
•Lemon juice    ¼ cup
•Salt                  ¼ teaspoon
•Pepper            ½ teaspoon

Preheat 8" x 12" glass or other baking pan with 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in 400' F oven.
Lightly toss together in a large bowl all of the ingredients with the remaining tablespoon olive oil until well coated.
Transfer into preheated baking dish and spread out as much as possible.
Turn vegetables every 10 minutes to brown evenly.
Add small amounts of water or oil to prevent excessive burning.
Cook for 45/50 minutes until potatoes brown and vegetables are easily pierced with a fork.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

The Tree

The Tree: From the Sublime to the Social
Vancouver Art Gallery
February 2 to April 20, 2008

In a right handed world, given a choice of proceeding left or right at the top of a stairwell – with no indicated directions – one may assume the majority of visitors will commence their viewing heading to their right which may have occurred to the curator of this exhibit or maybe not. And in this case you would move from the sublime to the social as dictated by the title; however, veer to the left and you experience the exhibit from the social to the sublime. Does changing the direction of viewing alter the perception of the artworks and lead to different conclusions at the end? Maybe a question for the psychologists in the crowd.

Jochen Gerz: White Ghost #1-9

A very arresting group of large black and white photographs, which were taken on Cortes Island featuring nude islanders standing individually in the midst of fallen trees. Each has been documented with a personal quote that reveals the thoughts and feelings of the participants. Unfortunately, it was difficult to understand the significance of the two dozen or more semi tropical plants placed throughout the room; cedar, pine and fir nursery stock would better represent the clear cut timber, and the scent would have been evocative.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptan: MacMillan Bloedel: Eco system……..

Primitivism as an art genre……If the artist had yet to attain his teens, these pieces could have a voice……Sticking to vocal raging against the intruders on a looped tape has more potential……

Gordon Smith: Varied

The large canvases appear to be from the same series as displayed in the Equinox Gallery last year - deep, thick, lush coast forests: nearly every square inch covered by giant trees and impenetrable undergrowth. Yet each hints at hidden elements barely concealed, never revealed to the eye, but gently caressing the mind.

Kevin Schmidt: Fog 2004

Two back to back projected slides, approximately nine foot by nine foot, in an otherwise quiet darkened room. Remembrance of countless hikes and treks through the coastal mountains, waiting for sunlight to break through and lift the dampness from the still air.

An enjoyable exhibition, even if too heavily weighted to environmental concerns. Continued pressure on the industry to reduce the size and deleterious effects of clearcuts remains an important priority, but has to be tempered by societies need for this resource in all its varied forms and the economic benefits. The Vancouver Art Gallery has over the years been supported by the logging companies both monetarily and through gifts of art; so one should expect a balanced portrayal of our relationship with our trees and forests.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Northwestern Cacklers

Never mind the appearance of the first robins of the season; our permanently resident northwestern crows have begun to display their early pre-spring assertiveness, heralding the lead-in to the mating and nesting cycle. Rather than a short flight away on approach, they hop and skip into their comfort zone, casting a baleful eye towards the intruders. In particular, groups who are feasting on chafer beetle larvae are reluctant to move more than a couple of meters away. Even when not engaged in eating, there is more squabbling and bickering interspersed with short frantic chases which may be preliminary stages of mating behaviour.
With crows, one may wonder what criteria are involved in making a choice. In many bird species colour and conspicuous plumage can be an attractant or maybe a sweet song warbled in the treetops. Since all crows seem to be blessed with the identical set of feathers, beauty must be in the eye of the beholder. And any of the varied utterances issuing from their beaks could hardly be mistaken for a romantic, melodious come hither invitation. In spite of this, they obviously begin to hang out in pairs and begin their nest building in anticipation of egg laying after the nine week gestation period.
During this time, the skies become quieter during the morning and evening, since they are far fewer crows heading to and from the communal roosts; in addition, they are less likely to congregate in midday, suffering everyone with their cacophonous assault on the eardrums. However, once nesting is established the pairs become highly territorial and extremely defensive against any and all intruders. So walking or running, especially under or close to coniferous trees, the sought after nesting sites, can be an invitation to an open air dive bombing attack across the top of your head. Shrieking close enough to make you aware of the air movement can cause an immediate ducking reaction, in fear of having a two inch sharp beak protruding into your skull. While I have never heard confirmation of a direct hit, one can imagine an older, vision challenged bird making direct contact instead of a fly-by. And occasionally, one of the more demented defenders will maintain an ongoing assault far past the nesting site before finally giving up and glaring from a tree branch or electrical wire. Maybe just a momentary lack of control due to onset of avian air rage.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Odds and Ends #1

Movie Extras

While scrolling through an online employment site, I was intrigued by another of those talent companies trolling for movie extras. Besides the usual head shot this outfit required, there was also this request.

Please list in detail the following applicable information:
- Wardrobe: Business, Tuxedo/Gowns, Traditional Costumes, Uniforms, etc.
- Equipment: Snowboard, scuba gear, bicycle, skateboard etc.
- Specific Skills: Motorcycle, Military, Weapons, Equestrian etc.
- Vehicles: please list the make, model, year, and color of the vehicle.

Wonderful! They are only willing to pay minimum wage for movie extras yet expect them to have the resources of millionaires. The film industry after paying the stars does not have enough left over to handle wardrobe, recreation equipment and also expects film fodder to provide vehicles (and please ensure the tank is full – no reimbursement). And don’t forget the ‘agent’s fee’ of 15% still to be clawed back if and when the pay checks are ready. Lucky for the agencies there are so many people willing do anything on the off chance they are discovered.

Plastic Bags

Judging by the number of news stories lately, one could easily believe these bags are the greatest threat to human existence since the sabre toothed tigers scoffed us up as hors d’oeuvres. And the experts cannot agree on whether paper or cloth replacement carriers meet environmental criteria. When presented with the sight of thousands of plastic bags full of garbage and dog excrement covering the surface of landfills, I pause to consider how this refuse will then be handled. It could be amusing to watch pet owners scooping up doggie leavings with their bare hands and carrying it home in their jacket pockets. And then, they can use the living room composter to turn the offerings and kitchen waste into fine soil amendments. Just maybe most of the media reporting could be branded as overkill.

Opium Poppy Production

Somehow the drug problem in Europe and North America rests solely on the shoulders of the growers in Afghanistan. Stop them and we save the entire world from descending into a drug crazed hell. If the Afghanis grew plums and exported them to the western world where people rejected them; they would be quick to halt production and experiment with other crops. A better question is why more and more westerners are succumbing to drugs to get through life – are they not happy with their lot in life? And secondly, we are led to believe the billion dollar drug trade is solely supported by non-working, back-alley dwelling, east side residents. In reality, most of the cocaine and illicit drug trade has been supported by high rollers, top income earners and pillars of society. One only need look to the entertainment industry and the sporting world to see the buyers and consumers of the majority of drugs both illegal and legal.

Conrad Black

Imprisonment couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. After a few years, he will be allowed to request a cell with a view. Wonder how the guards will deal with his arrogance?

Shell Game with Oil

One of the better articles questioning the soaring crude oil prices in spite of almost negligible increased demand. The financial manipulators keep dreaming up new methods of concentrating the wealth into fewer and fewer hands. But, there are always rational reasons for the fluctuations, even if it was only a sneeze from a Saudi prince reacting to pepper laced caviar.
Remember, the rising price of oil is not a conspiracy, price fixing, collusion, manipulation: it is the law of supply and demand working at its finest – the controllers of the market demand money and maybe will supply a pittance if they are so moved. Courtesy of the financiers of the world, they plundered some of your money and savings in the meltdown, and then grabbed more with the easy money mortgage schemes, and now intend to drain the balance of your cash through your veins if necessary.

Friday, 29 February 2008

Paradise and Küba

Kutlug Ataman: Paradise and Küba
Vancouver Art Gallery
February 9 to May 19, 2008

Riding the narrow elevator to the third floor of the old courthouse, it was impossible to escape the echoing cacophony emanating from the Küba installation. All that was missing were the sights and sounds and smells of the marketplace to provide a more hospitable welcoming. And then, you discover your self midway in a small sea of recycled televisions and broken down seating, seemingly stripped from the Turkish community itself. Being attentive to the subtitles requires intense concentration to block out the competing voices, even though for most, they will be unintelligible. Since the video content totals twenty eight hours, listening or reading becomes a hit or miss affair and how one chooses may reflect ones own personality or beliefs. Allotting myself an hour, I listened (read) to twelve story lines for about five minutes apiece, trying to balance between male and female, young and old, and three or four simply because I was drawn to them for unknown reasons. Without benefit of the history of the shantytown or the Turkish nation during the period the town came into existence makes it difficult to attain any truly coherent understanding. However, what came across for me was the sense that the interviewees were surprisingly content, and even happy, considering the circumstances of living in a shunned neighbourhood. Much of the narrative concerns family, its importance, its ability to bind people together and the continuance of life in spite of hardship. Whether this is merely a façade to sublimate underlying resentments or a chance to enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame with the artist or is truly a reflection of their everyday existence remains a mystery unless the viewer chooses to decide.

Meanwhile, across the rotunda awaits the sterile village of paradise: twenty four silent plasma screens, flawless titanium-like supports and identical benches to support the earphones. Again it is a hit or miss affair choosing a screen, donning a pair earphones, closing off the outside world and retreating into the closed communities of one. Most of the denizens of Paradise displayed coolness with the subtle warning to keep at a distance because only the worthy are welcome. Here, individuality runs rampant, freedoms are relinquished to permit living in the bardo worlds or astral planes, and table flower arrangements more important than the meal. The disparate members of this society do take comfort in knowing there are others out there almost like them, but exude relief at never having to touch or suffer the indignity of having personal space violated. But throughout there is an undercurrent of whining and dismay at having yet to achieve the perfect happiness. Never-the-less, the exhibit should draw in the Boomers by the SUV load to permit their egos to connect to the center of the universe.

In reality, comparing and contrasting the two installations may be unfair as I doubt this was ever the intention of the artist. Counter pointing Küba with a middle class working town or even an upscale enclave in California would not draw American patrons into the galleries – it would be like gazing at one’s reflection in the early morning mirror. So instead we are treated to the caricatures of the ‘West Coast Dream’, a mythology existent in California since the dawn of the Hollywood lifestyle, the talkies and the spectacular. However, in keeping with the artistic nature of the exhibit, recalling the final character in the Californian tableau solidified the legend of the west coast, as he quietly exhibited his pride in his suppleness to enable his performance of auto fellatio. The epitome of Paradise turns out to be the ability to be both self-loved and self-absorbed.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

E is For Eating

Hmmm! Coming up with a pertinent vegetable or fruit starting with E to prepare a recipe proved more difficult than I imagined. Elderberries were a possibility, but wines, jams and herbal concoctions are out of my league. Besides, the red varieties are reputed to be poisonous and my preference runs to blueberries, huckleberries or blackberries. My second hope was eggplant. I’ve had eggplant moussaka, however never made it. On a couple of occasions, I’ve had it cooked on the barbecue: slice the eggplant into 3/8” slices, salt generously and set aside for 20 minutes to allow the moisture to bleed out, lightly brush on olive oil and grill on both sides for two to three minutes. Great with lamb chops.
And then the thought floated across the face of the screen – E is for Eating – which made me consider the loose rules I follow for nutrition and the intake of gastronomic delights.

• Try not to eat alone. Dining is one of humankinds social functions, both the preparation and consuming is eminently more pleasurable when in the company of family or friends.
• Breakfast is important. Running through the morning on an empty tank heightens stress. Apparently, eating some whole grain products in the morning can also facilitate the regulation of blood sugar over the balance of the day.
• Three meals a day minimum. Even better idea is to reduce the size of meals and spread it out during the day – also known as grazing.
• Varied food sources. While some may scoff, using the government food pyramid guides provides an excellent template to ensure a balanced diet.
• Nutrients. Not easy to ensure proper uptake of vitamins, minerals, fibre etc. so here is a site chock full of info.
• Caloric intake. Touchy subject, so the only suggestion is the 15-30-55 (protein, fat, carbohydrates) rather than any fad method. As people age the tendency rises to decrease protein, so a good way to avoid this problem may to make more use of plant protein in the form of peas, beans or other substitutes. Every once in a while when I’m checking my calories, I’ll use NATS to keep track for a week.
• Fatty acids. Trying to maintain the correct 2 to 1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids presents a challenge. Either indulge yourself in a lot more fish or drastically reduce reliance on pre-packaged foods plus kick out the trans fats.
• Slow it down. Reliable evidence suggests taking your time, chewing food thoroughly and some conversation will aid in digestion. Not only will this aid in reducing digestive problems, but also allows the fullness receptors to signal stop before you have a chance to overeat.
• If you really don’t like it, don’t eat it!
• Moderation. Follow the French notion – leave some of the éclair on the plate, the bakeries will bake plenty of fresh ones again tomorrow.
• Good eating is habit forming.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Golf on the Decline

Can’t help myself on this one. Having been in business (construction), I find it easy to take issue with the whining of golf course owners both private and public. Chasing after the dollars, it was so easy to overbuild capacity as though every last person was going to pick up the clubs and spend every last cent on the golf greens. And skiing resorts, along with other outdoor activities, also believed an endless supply of well heeled customers would forever generate enormous profits, fuelling even more rush to provide ever increasing amount of facilities. Whoops, all of a sudden people found differing sources of entertainment – perhaps at reduced expenditures – and drifted away. Now course owners expect the taxpayer to pick up the tab in order to maintain their profitability. They are quote: “seeking tax breaks, on the premise that golf courses, even private ones, provide publicly beneficial open space.” No they do not! Unless you are playing rounds of golf even public courses will have you removed from the premises, with force if necessary, due to so-called liability issues i.e. you may get dinged by a golf ball and react by suing the owners. Much the same rationale extends to ski areas attempting to prevent backcountry enthusiasts from passing through leased public land, unless of course, they purchase lift tickets etc. even if they do not use these items. If municipalities succumb to this blackmail, then any private citizen who sustains a reduction in their income should receive a property tax break on their home – hey, their front and back yards provide publicly beneficial open space. Going into business requires taking risks which are meant to be handled by either the owners or shareholders, not by the general public.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Museum as Creche

Perusing this blog from the Guardian online caught my eye as I focused in on the word ‘creche’ which I initially read as crepe; thereby raising visions of crinkled cloth or fancy desserts, and subsequently the expectation of a performance art article. Thumbing through my Webster’s, I discovered the British definition – a day nursery – or more simply a day care centre.
So on first read, I almost agreed with the writer’s viewpoint, but on further consideration I decided mandating five hours of cultural activities each week has merit. Reminded me of my last visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery during the final days of the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition when there were scattered groups of eight year olds (just a guess , I could easily be out a couple of years on either side) on both the main floor and top floors. Yes, there were some ribbons, laughter and general running about as they went back and forth to their colouring pencils and paper strewn on the floor. But the scene was in sharp contrast to the ‘Monet to Dalí’ exhibition a couple of months previous. Even with a staggered admission schedule, the procedure compared to leading cattle from pen to pen onward to the slaughter house: necks craned, low murmuring and a studied trek to the final gateway. At least for the gallery patrons, it was not the end of the road. They are encouraged to purchase mementos from the final convenient store before being ushered out onto the rain drenched streets.
Over the last ten to fifteen years art galleries have relied heavily on the superstar shows; nothing like name dropping Picasso, Monet, da Vinci to pull in the paying crowds and top up the coffers. While from a money making point of view, this is good business, unfortunately for most of the visiting hordes there is scant opportunity to truly understand or appreciate any of the art presented. Not that it matters because for most people, being there becomes just another notch in one’s journey through life. This year see the Mona Lisa: next year the Super Bowl. Was it the lack of exposure to culture preventing them from yielding to the art and seeking its raison d'être?
An advantage of youth is the seeming ability to learn and acquire by apparent osmosis – simple exposure to stimuli somehow locks into memory – so continued introduction to culture may provide the foundation for future understanding. Thus, thirty years down the road we can anticipate a greater number of forty year old men, and women, who appreciate, comprehend and support art in all its many forms. The experience, of either suddenly or slowly over time, deciphering what an artist was attempting to put forth or elucidate, can offer us moments of true wonder and perception.
As for the playgrounds, I vaguely recall reading an article in the Times or another British paper commenting on playgrounds designed for and restricted to seniors. Too bad for all the forty year olds; they will have to wait another twenty or twenty five years to go out and play!

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

What's for Lunch?

My first thought on reading the article was the service would not have taken so long if the staff were not all busy passing grade school notes back and forth to each other.
My second thought was assuming a younger, technologically savvy group of workers would be able to operate the computerized billing without such an error coming to light.
My third thought revolved around the dinner party having to pay a 10% service charge to acknowledge the extra service accomplished by the waiter in adding the comments to the bill.
My fourth thought was why the patron complained about how they were spoken to since I’ve yet to hear a talking bill?
My fifth thought - where was Gordon Ramsay when the patrons needed a linguist to retaliate in kind?
My final thought is an eyebrow raised at the prices for the starters, but having endured any number of English cooking shows, even the lowliest of greasy spoons gets to overcharge at will.

‘Journey of the Money’

This one really got by me as the revelation to the world was made on January 28th, but since it has yet to depart on its luxurious, first class jaunt across country, comments, on the ‘Journey of the Torch’, are thus far, not behind the times. One has to be amazed only $31 million dollars have been earmarked for the production and handheld propelling of the torch, replete with iconic emblem, from ‘sea to shining sea’ and as yet venues unknown. As the news release has scant information on the exact route, it would be a shame if the Torch does not visit the shores of the third sea – Arctic Ocean – although maybe this is one of Vanoc’s penny pinching efforts or a lack of hardy volunteers willing to brave the northern icebox. Still, I surmise that organizing committee, together with a couple of well heeled sponsors; have no concern with the costs involved – a mere pittance of $2583 per person or $886 per kilometre – 35,000 kilometres seems overwhelming - to ferry the Olympic flame hither and yon. Before anyone points out the money comes from companies, might I remind everyone who purchases a Coca-Cola product pays for the trip and RBC will reduce the interest on savings to finance their share. And let us not forget, Vanoc’s share gushes straight out of the public purse – the old tax bag.
But alas, this represents only a partial accounting of the true costs involved in staging this world class spectacle: the tab for security was neglected for the initial cost analysis; therefore, add in the expense of innumerable members of the RCMP, provincial and municipal police for the over 100 ‘shining days’. Remember most of the hours involved will be at premium overtime and not even gas is cheap these days, even in Alberta. And don’t forget the politicians, with their retinue of staff, taking time off their rigorous duties to attend the functions as they pass through their individual bailiwicks. Opportunities for ‘photo bites’ do not always fall so easily into one’s grasp; and as such, cost takes precedence over fiscal responsibility. Of course, these additional expenses will not be considered Olympic debt, but simply written off as petty cash charges allotted from countless slush funds. Might I pass along a suggestion to VANOC? Since the torch relay falls into the realm of Olympic business, prevent anyone – under threat of fine or imprisonment – except authorized photographers and cinematographers from capturing the sights, sounds and glory of the pageant; and then, sell these items and memories back to the public under the Olympic banner to provide bonuses for the hard working committee members and blatant handouts to the IOC.

Monday, 18 February 2008

D is for Dates

Neither dates nor figs have been high on my list of must have foods. After a debilitating experience with overeating pounds of dried apricots as a kid, I decided fresh fruit was the only way to go; besides which, gnawing through leathery produce leaves a lot to be desired unless it is your final meal. Mind you, there are outlets now carrying fresh dates and figs, lovely when extremely fresh, as the city becomes more cosmopolitan. In addition some brands of dried dates are exceptionally edible when reconstituted for use in date squares which are exceedingly tastier when made fresh and eaten within a couple of days. Oodles of sugar in this recipe, but a religiously followed running program will melt away any excess pounds.

5/8 cup margarine, softened
5/8 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 cup sugar plus1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup water
7 ounces dried pitted dates, chopped into 3/8” chunks

  1. Combine dates, white sugar and water in pan and cook over medium low heat for at least 10 minutes or until thickened sufficiently, consistency of peanut butter, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool.
  2. Combine margarine and brown sugar in bowl until fluffy. Add flours, oats and soda. Mix thoroughly together with spoon.
  3. Spoon 2/3 of flour mixture into 8"x8" glass baking dish and press down. Add in cooled dates and level out evenly. Spread remaining flour/oat mixture on top and lightly press in to dates.
  4. Cook on center shelf of preheated 375' oven for 30 minutes or until nicely browned on top.
  5. Remove from oven to cool. Slice into 16 squares while still warm.
  6. Store in fridge up to 6 days.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Birthday Greetings


Love Gramps.

Although your birthday is the 13th, party day seems more appropriate.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Is Anybody Up There?

Who would have thought? All those times someone caught me talking to myself, I was actually hard at work growing hair on my head. Having only a rudimentary knowledge of cell biology – I was under the impression cells spend all of their hours either intaking ‘food’ or pushing out ‘waste’ – little did I realize they were in fact conducting periodic information exchanges and gabfests. Sort of like the crows gathering around lunchtime to discuss garbage piles, compare road kill and aggressively caw their heads off. Obviously, for the hair ‘challenged’, nobody up there is carrying on a dialogue resulting in the expansion of a bald pate. Chances are it starts out as a minor disagreement allowing the shedding of only a few stray hairs, but before long settling into a silent war of attrition dooming the follicles to barrenness. Alas, evolution appears to have overlooked the necessity of a ‘Freudian’ gene or cell to mediate internal disputes with a view to equitable resolutions.
As for me, conversation up there must be reasonably amicable. Coverage has barely suffered through any recession, although some minor thinning has occurred – likely a cultivation technique to allow the remaining follicles to grow stronger. Communicative genes may be passed down the generations. Dear old dad, not that I ever knew him that well, left this earth with most of his follicles intact maybe as a consequence of the voices, not only caring for his hair rejuvenation, but also having direct tête-à-têtes with him. Apparently, this was not a medical condition, rather a peculiar choice in light of his preferred lifestyle and choice of residences. But I digress. As an issue of self-interest and taking cues from perusing myriad health articles, I’m off to dose myself with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids; thereby treating my head cells to fine dining in hopes of encouraging their continued friendship and talkative nature.

Thursday, 14 February 2008


If you reside in a small apartment or high rise condo, trying to find a couple of living plants to liven up the décor can be difficult. Most choices have a tendency to grow and grow, requiring more of limited space, plus they want a bigger spot for their roots which means the hassle of re-potting. As if storage space wasn’t already a problem, now part of it is taken up by half used bags of potting soil, the older pots (just in case you decide on one more plant to go through the growth cycle) and various small tools apropos to the plant world.
Next time you experience a hankering for a new plant, try one that typically has a limited size, lives on water and air, has no root system of importance and requires no soil so never needs the re-potting drama. Tillandsia, an epiphytic member of the bromeliad family, more commonly referred to as an ‘air plant’ may just be the answer. On a whim, I bought one half dozen specimens – each a different variety – over four years ago and still have five healthy remaining plants. The really, funny velvet to the touch one never quite got its legs, so as to speak and gradually faded out to brown. Both of those in the photograph have more or less doubled in size, so there appears to be little danger of morphing into ‘triffids’, and have seemingly reached their mature size. Although placed fairly close to a window, a north facing one, I doubt there will be adequate natural light to cause them to flower any time soon. The ionantha variety did have ‘pups’ without flowering and the mother plant is still alive two years later although the offspring are now equal in stature.
Finding objects with the right size crevices for the plants to sit in turned out to be trickier than first contemplated. Using a shell as most sites suggest works like a charm, but I figured more than one would reduce my creativity, so I turned to rocks which were plentiful and free. Not that it was necessary; I drilled 3/8 inch holes, about the same in depth with a concrete drill and a bit of oil for coolant, not to push the plant into, but to provide a better holding surface for the adhesive. Best glue I found was ‘shoe goo’, any brand used to repair runners; it doesn’t require too much time to set up (sprinkle fine sawdust, preferably cedar, around the base before it dries for decorative appearances) and does not breakdown from the watering or sunlight. Gluing them to driftwood is another choice; however I’ve been too lazy to pick some up.
Caring for the tillandsia is a breeze. As the air in most living quarters lacks the dust and particles normally used for food, my choice was a liquid fertilizer designed to be weak enough to use every watering without danger of burning. Every second day with a very heavy misting, making sure to also do the undersides of the leaves, accomplished over a sink and then lightly shaken. Twice a year I plop them in the sink and almost cover them with water for an hour or so – that’s where being attached to rocks comes in handy – and it really perks them up. Going away? Fill up the tub with 3 inches of water and leave them in there with the lights left on – I’ve left them up to ten days with no apparent problems. Good site with lots of pictures and information.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Squirrel Saga – Part Five

My initial thought was I’m tired, I’m hearing things, it’s the birds in the trees, it’s an echo from next store or it’s a malfunctioning instrument in the attic I know nothing about. Sure enough, the noise abated quickly and disappeared. I remembered to convince myself there was nothing to cause concern and re-entered my silent realm. And just when I felt it was safe to stop worrying again close to a week later, all my past inconveniences came back with a vengeance. Scratching and clawing could be heard above my head, over in the corner, in the bedroom and high up near a skylight window. Not just in one location at a time, but in at least one other if not two spots as if an entire family had suddenly moved into the attic suite. And we’re hearing goings on very early in the morning and even after dark which leads me to suspect an invasion of Norway rats (why is Norway not protecting their wildlife and recalling them home to Europe?) who are nocturnal. After searching the web for answers – thousands of pages on squirrels, who would have thought they were so popular – I settled on the theory that a mother and two kits (is that the right appellation?) had chosen the vacant quarters as their new abode. Apparently, dad is not welcome at home due to his habit of killing the kids so mom is more amenable to having some fun in the sack. Anyways, since the clattering started to become almost constant as the family rarely went out together, I had no choice but to inform management of my newest pests. Since I had proven the existence of the squirrels due to my excellent subterfuge in capturing one before, they immediately agreed to attack the infestation with vigour and prompt action. Needless-to-say, the old, failed exterminators were out and a brand new team was contracted for the job. Now, according to their card I was in the capable hands of a pest technician, I took that to mean they had handled a trap before and were experienced in setting it up so that it would actually work. To begin ‘my technician’ suggested locating the cage on the flat roof portion, but over the past few days I had inadvertently discovered the true front entrance. Watching from ground level, I realized the squirrels were gaining entry via a small, rotted out portion of the fascia, next to the concrete block firewall, which could not be seen from the deck as it was hidden by a rain gutter. Once this was pointed out to the technician, he simply hung the trap up in this spot advising me to call if the trap was sprung.
Talk about quick action! Now, it ended up as easy as picking cherries. Set the trap in the morning, have a visitor spring the door in the afternoon, and wait for the techie to drop by in the morning, remove the unwanted tenant and reset the trap. Bang. Bang. Bang. The first two days snagged the kits, which were pretty quiet, and the last bagged momma herself who was in a spitting mood, not at all motherly. Don’t ask because I’m not privy to where these varmints end up once gone with the techie and he didn’t seem interested in discussing their fate. Using a small l-shaped piece of metal flashing affixed with a couple of screws permanently sealed off the entryway. At long last, peace came to my condo unit.
Now about the pileated woodpecker who has decided to punch a hole in the cedar siding next to the window searching for bugs!

Monday, 11 February 2008

C is for Cucumber

Another one of those – is it a vegetable or a fruit? Because of the reproductive seeds, it is botanically a fruit, just like the tomato, but don’t ever expect to discover them in the fruit section of your local supermarket. Oddly enough, cucumber slices are employed as a beauty treatment in spas by being placed on the eyes surrounded by facial mud packs. Whether this affords any beneficial effects, other than providing moments of visual relief from stress, I do not know. If you opt to try the eye patch custom, I advise disposing of the leftovers rather than reusing them in cooking! But don’t consider cucumber as only a salad item, also consider: pickles, sushi, grilled, in sandwiches, tzatziki, and relishes are a few other ways to make use of this ‘vegetable’. That being said I’m awfully partial to Greek salad, with the delightful combination of red onion and cucumber, as a tasty break from lettuce based dishes.

  • Tomatoes                        3 medium
  • Cucumber                       ½ English hot house
  • Sweet green pepper      ½
  • Red onion                        ½
  • Feta cheese                     ½ cup crumbled
  • Kalamata olives              16 pitted
Dressing.     Combine 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 clove minced garlic, pinch of sea salt, ½ teaspoon dried oregano and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Whisk together until well mixed.

Slice tomatoes into ½” wedges. No need to peel or seed the English cukes, slice in ½ lengthwise and cut into ¼” half moons. Coarsely chop green pepper into bite sized ½” chunks. Thinly slice red onion and separate into rings. Toss together with olives and dressing. Sprinkle feta cheese on top.