Archive for March, 2012

What flavour is your caffeine?

So many choices…so many tastes.  But really, life divides us into so many camps.  Are you NASCAR or F1? Rugby Union or Rugby League? NFL or CFL? Paper or Plastic? Coke or Pepsi? Country or Western? Boxers or Briefs? Thong or Bikini? Superman or Batman? Cat or dog? And I eventually have to ask..

Darjeeling or Arabica?

Recently I viewed the photo-blog on tea at HappyCanadianHome.com and got to thinking about what a person’s caffeinated beverage says about them.

I must admit that I am predominantly a tea-man myself. I suppose my taste is a bit of a conditioning thing – as a kid I grew up on steaming mugs of Indian Chai, heavily flavoured by tea masala – a heady mix of cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, cloves and other spices only known to Mom. (Youtube hosts vids of a thousand different ways to make chai…) Life was simple back then; a day without tea was like a day without sunshine…

But then, as I moved away from home, I weaned myself off slow-boiled “sweet taste of heaven in a cup” and I developed the coffee-bug.  Why? Because Tim Horton’s, or fru-fru Starbucks, were much easier options and “The Man” looked dimly upon boiling chai on a hot plate in The Rez. So I became a Juan Valdez Junkie.

But eventually I grew up and bought a stove and tea was back.  And now, I am bi….yes, I am at one with my bi-caffeinality. But for those of you who are not bi-caffeinal, I would guess you probably fall into one of the four basic camps – yes, four:

  • The Coffee Drinkers
  • The Tea Drinkers
  • The Deluded Drinkers, those who think they “don’t do caffeine” because there is “none” in their Mountain Dew or Cream Soda or Diet Doctor Pepper. (For this group, I have nothing to offer – but to tell you to read the labels…they might offer an explanation for your shakes…), and finally
  • The Cold-Caffeine Drinkers, those who don’t give a caffeine-induced “constitutional” about coffee or tea – preferring to get their buzz through Diet Coke, Red Bull or Monster. I suppose they would respond by saying there is nothing  like the carbonated “pop-ssssshhh” of a pull-tab at six-thirty in the morning! (To this last group, you can stop reading too, as this blog has nothing for you – save what I think are some personal witticisms that pertain to the remaining 99.7% of the Earth’s population)

Tea/Coffee – coffee/tea? Interesting dichotomy. Both warm, both tasty, both invigorating – but yet so different.  The choice of poison says a lot about styles and tastes.

“How?” you ask. Well… let me share my detailed research and insight gained through years of observation and offer my take on joe versus brew…

  Coffee   Tea
Grooming and Apparel Gordon Gekko greased comb-back with power suit and wing tips – or a Hillary Clinton pant-suit (unless in Canada, where it is a plaid shirt covered in powdered sugar) Krameresque-afro, yoga pants, Nehru Collar and leather sandals (unless in the UK, where it is a neon Premier League soccer jersey covered in fish and chip grease and brown sauce)
Probable Pre-Beverage Frame of Mind Lethargic and cranky…like a teenager on a winter school morning…or pockets laden with so much cash that you can   afford to invest in a grandé skinny soy latte with a hazelnut syrup shot and   chocolate sprinkles… Frazzled and frantic…like a techno-geek at Best Buy on Boxing Day…or a person in desperate need of a few tracks of Norah Jones or Enya coupled with a thyme-scented Yankee Candle…
Post-Beverage Frame of Mind Buzzed, wired, frenzied, frenetic, hectic…kind of like Iggy Pop on speed. Check him out… Composed, unruffled, unfazed, calm, serene, mellow…like Dos Equis`s Most Interesting Man in the World
Preferred Accompanying Snack The two ends of the spectrum …anything with the word cake or cinnamon in its name…or anything covered in a sugar-glaze Cookies…period. (But nothing made with cinnamon or heaven forbid – raisins…yuck!)
Optimum Drinking Vessel A bio-degradable paper cup with a pretentious latin name like grandé or grandissimo…or perhaps a supersized cup in the 24 oz/710ml range…with a name like “Barrel’o’Coffee” or “Big Jitters”… A dainty little china cup, containing a maximum of three sips of tea, adorned with a picture of butterflies or beagles or antique cars or teddy bears –or emblazoned with the portraits of any Royal Couple…Charles and Diana circa 1981, anyone?
Mandated Preparation Methods or Equipment “Military Long-Boil in a Cheese Cloth”,   French Press, Turkish, Vacuum, Cold Filter, Drip, Percolator, Espresso Machine, Instant, Neapolitan Flip…and a personal favourite…chewing on Nescafe   crystals. A Teapot or a simply a cup…maybe a strainer if   you do not like to pick loose tea leaves from your teeth. It’s simplicity can only be described as Steeped – right Mom?!
Options Excluding flavoured coffees and those specialty coffee beans harvested from piles of cat-monkey shit… it is binary. Just two species – arabica   or robusta Only one species…camellia sinensis…but with three varietals (Chinese, Indian and Hybrid) and five types (green,   yellow, white, black and oolong)…and some wickedly cool names like Lapsong Souchong or Gunpowder Tea. Excluding herbals, tisanes and favoured teas, you still have a whole hockey-sock of options…(okay, maybe a bit of my tea bias is showing through)
Nicknames Cup of Joe, Mud, Mojo, Tar, Black Lightning, Java, Wakey Juice…and my favorite – a nice steaming cup of “shut the f— up”. Oh wait, that is not coffee… Cuppa or Rosy Lee (if you are a Cockney)…and…hmmmm…aahhhh…Okay. I give up. I could only think of “Tea”.
Aficionados Bach (apparently, he wrote the Coffee Cantatas   because he was an addict), SNL’s Linda Richman (Mike Myers’s Coffee Clutch… “talk amongst yourselves”) All of Led Zeppelin, and all five Beatles… I guess they needed something to wash down all the “creative” goodies…
Famous Quotes “I believe humans get a lot done, not because we’re smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee.” – Flash Rosenberg “There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.” – Bernard-Paul Heroux

When it comes down to it, just like everything else, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.  So whether you are a Twinings fan or prefer your kick from Folgers, enjoy your hot beverage.  There really is nothing like a great Double-Double coffee…unless it is a nice cup of Darjeeling….

So have your say, “What’s your preference?”

Later,

ASF

PS…There’s a fun graphic of complete UFI of the benefits of tea versus coffee …it looks authoritative, but who knows.  There’s all sorts of crap on the internet….  🙂  And here’s the link if your eyes are as old as mine –  http://submitinfographics.com/all-infographics/the-health-benefits-of-coffee-vs-tea-infographic.html

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I hate moving….

Orders are in.

Time to move again.

After finally settling in after three years, it is time to pack up the tent and load up the wagon. As we used to say in the Army of the West, “Feathers”.  Forget that I have finally got the internet to work in this house, or that I now understand how UK central heat works (or is supposed to work) and that I can figure out which channel is which on the TV…I  guess the roots are starting to grow vertically instead of horizontally, so it is time to go!

Moving…aaaah moving…

Moving is a double-edged sword.  I love living in Europe and will miss it a lot –  but I have missed Canada and Canadians and I am happy to go back to a place where I am not immediately asked if I am from America…

And a move means a new town, with a new job, a new house, full of new adventures and new challenges – all very exciting.

But a move also means a whole lotta moving nausea:

Piling, sorting, discarding, keeping, inventorying, packing, cleaning, cursing, disconnecting, closing out accounts, deconstructing,  disassembling, dismantling, unhanging, repairing, polyfilling, cursing, loading, shipping, travelling, redecorating, painting, opening  new accounts, cursing, reconnecting, unloading, adjusting, cursing, fixing, reconstructing, renovating, re-assembling, reconfiguring, re-hanging, cursing, rearranging, organising, reorganising, cursing…I am already tired just thinking about it.  Add in the beauty of  Customs and Borders – and a federally contracted global relocation specialist who is really only worried about the dollar –  and it just does not get better. Oh wait, I forgot to factor in the unknown about the shipping agent and the quality of the movers – and the worry that the sea container that will transport all your belongings is going to smell like fish.

And that is just the beginning.

Think of what happens when I hit the ground…the pain of adjusting to a new routine in a new place.  Facing the joy of discovery – learning how to recycle anew, when to put out the garbage, where the nearest “best of everything” is – coffee, breakfast, ribs, wings, movies, pints, pizza, chinese food,  grocery store, post office, drug store, dry cleaner…whatever.  And then having to find a suitable dentist, doctor, vet, kenneler, physio, optometrist, orthodontist, chiropractor, bartender,  banker, barber, hairdresser…looking for a car dealer, the best cell phone deal, interesting clubs; starting up the weekly paper delivery, changing the magazine subscriptions, sorting out utility deposits, providing references.

And don’t forget meeting the neighbours – trying to figure out which ones to keep seeing, which ones have the snow-blower, which ones will be simply a mutual driveway wave each morning, and which ones are just not for you.

And all the memorising…a new address, postal code, phone number, e-mail address, licence plate, combinations, which key opens what, which drawer the cutlery is in, which cupboard holds the glasses, the dishes.  Figuring out what days and times the stores are open, when the beer store closes…wait, I am not moving to Atlantic Canada, so the timings should be convenient!

I want to be Jeannie Genie from I dream of Jeannie, or Samantha Stephens from Bewitched (stay pure people, stay pure… okay I wish I had the powers of Jeannie and Samantha), and could just fold my arms or wiggle my nose, and find that I have been magically transported into my new house – sitting in my favorite chair watching the game on my high-definition flat screen, while drinking  a cold micro-brewed beer with my charming new neighbour –who owns a  cottage and a boat and  a box at the local stadium and enjoys the same taste in music and sports as me – as we wait for our pizza and wings (ordered on my high-speed internet connection).  I”d settle for the chair, TV and internet part of that …but how happy would I be if it just happened. I don’t mind moving – I just don’t want to have to do it.

But that ain’t the way it works.  So just as I waited impatiently for the official message telling me to pull up stakes and leave nothing but a memory where I have lived for three years , I must now accept that I must kick into gear, and get organised.  Time to get ruthless and start rifling through the house – a house that my parents, who haven’t moved in over two decades, think is lean and streamlined – but for a seasoned transient is just a little too “hoard-ish” and a little too full.  It is time to do what the Army is pretty good at – time to move quickly and efficiently and without too much fuss. (Note that there is no limit on profanity…)

But I am pretty sure that this is the last time…next house, I am cementing the garden gnomes into place (If i can find the ones below!). And then,  I guess I’ll just include them in the house listing if I ever move again!

So wish me luck…and to all my friends who are moving this Summer, I hope it is not too painful.  Safe travels this Summer and see you when we see you….

Later,

ASF

Hey, sweetie, is the oven the thing under the dials – or is that the stove?

When I was growing up, our house was a classic traditional division of labour.  While both my folks worked, my Mom was all about “cooking and cleaning” and my Dad was all about playing with the kids and fixing and repairing stuff. At the end of each work day, I remember Dad  walking through the door and after the requisite hugs, asking my Mom, “What’s for eating?!”

If I had to choose who did a better job, I would have to say that Mom won – there was only so much Dad could do with adjustable pliers, WD40, duct tape (gaffer tape for those in UK and Western Canada!) and Plumber’s Goop. But wow, did my Dad ever teach me to shovel snow and mow grass!

Throughout my early years and into my first marriage, I followed the same path. Grass, snow, garbage, leaves, plugged toilets, lightbulbs.  And if I tried to climb out of the glass cellar?…let’s put it this way, perhaps it is only men who can really appreciate that white has many shades of grey and pink.

But after being on my own for a while, I realised that I had to learn how to become a domestic demi-god out of necessity – I couldn’t afford to buy new underpants every week. But, perhaps  the pivotal moments centred on the fact that my apartment did not come with a full length urinal – I learned things like sitting on the toilet makes less mess and is a much more accurate method in the dark (for my new middle-aged tradition of 3 o’clock in the morning toilet breaks). The result, amazingly a less “gag-inducing” WC that was easier to clean every week (and a much cleaner bath mat –  just kidding – those around-the-toilet mats are so gross. Like carpeted bathrooms.) Why did I have to figure this out myself – why did no one ever teach me stuff like this…?

Now while I do not relish the cleaning aspect of the domestic routine, there is one that I wish I had picked up when I was younger.

How to cook.

Now Like most XYs, aside from the ancient male ritual of grilling meat on fire, making super-sized Dagwood sandwiches, and griddling up some chocolate chip pancakes on Sundays or after sleepovers, I was not really a whiz at food preparation.  If you couldn’t BBQ it or fry it, it wasn’t my lane or part of my skill set.  And how silly is that…because, I love to eat.

So there I was in my 40s before I realised that cooking was actually kind of cool and therapeutic.  Now for those of you who think that cooking is not very masculine…tell that to the Galloping Gourmet, Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver or Wolfgang Puck (okay maybe not Wolfang…)

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not into the Heston Blumenthalian “molecular gastronomy” or “snail-egg and bacon” ice cream kind of experience; and I hate finicky recipes – so I am not a Julia Childs fan (unless you count Meryl Streep’s Julia Childs who exclaimed that “fresh-from-the-boiling-water cannelloni was ‘hotter than a stiff …’ – well you can guess the rest.  And yes, I thought ‘ Julie and Julia’ was a pretty good movie – there I said it. Move on.)

But after developing some basic kitchen skills, I now believe it is fairly easy for a guy to do more than pierce the plastic film and push reheat.  I now think a guy should know his way around a handy-chopper, chopping board, garlic press and crock-pot just as well as he knows his way around a five-speed manual transmission, X-Box console, Mach III, or IKEA Allen Key (…if you do not know the difference between a Paring knife and a Santoku, you might be doing the culinary equivalent of taking your penalty shots with a goalie stick – you will probably get the job done, but man are you making it tough!)

I wasn’t always a Happy Cooker.  I was thrown into the deep end – all of a sudden – as I became responsible for feeding myself and “mini-me one and two” on occasion.  Approaching cooking like an Engineer, I said to myself, “Self, there must be an easy method to learn how to cook.” Hmmm…it was a sticky wicket.  (Sidebar – My kids will tell you about the hilarity of my early efforts – they still do not believe that meat and exotic fruit belong in the same dish. We call it the “Ugly Chicken Mango Quesadilla” incident. So much for my Pork Loin and Lychees…)  But to get back on topic –  a quick look at Cooking Schools yielded that you could shell out anywhere from $1K to $50K if you wanted to.  Who can afford that  – unless looking to make it big on Iron Chef?

So, I learned – through one book and the Internet. (Yes, I was just as surprised to learn the internet is good for more than just porn, boys…)

The book was the Joy of Cooking (and it’s on line site is http://www.thejoykitchen.com/) – note I wrote Joy of Cooking.  I’d have to say that the pictures are not as good as the ones in the other “Joy” self-help book (sorry no image for that one…not many fans of the ‘European look‘).  JoC is an old-fashioned book, containing over 4500 solid and time-tested recipes. Most importantly, it taught me the simple things that were instinct to some, but that were completely foreign to me. Like, how long do you bake a potato? What temperature do you roast a chicken at? What is in spaghetti sauce? Or, what the heck is tarragon? MInd you,  I don’t use all the techniques in the book, but when I am really lost, Irma Bombauer sets me on the right path.

As for the web, there are so many good sites, but a few of my favorites are:

There is one more tool that I have used since the start of 2012 – the Monthly Meal Plan, courtesy of, and as explained by, my friend Laura – author of www.happycanadianhome.com . Her meal plan concept has sure made life easier – no more six o’clock panic combing the fridge and pantry for meal ideas, no more rotting vegetables in the crisper at week’s end, and great eating every night – it is the greatest “mise en place”. Take a peek over at http://www.happycanadianhome.com/2012/01/making-meal-plan.html

I have to say that for me, cooking equals Zen.  Like painting, or playing the guitar, or the daily run, cooking relaxes me…and I feel great satisfaction in recreating a recipe – especially when eating it! The good thing is that eventually you develop enough confidence to use your new-found skills and talents and break away from the recipe book. You have then snatched the pebble, grasshopper.

But, if snatching the pebble is just too much work…just aim small – to quote Kris Kringle, “Just put one foot in front of the other.” Take a chance and break away from take-out “Chicky-in-the Basket Bork Bork Bork” eaten over the sink (c’mon, admit it…every guy has done that). Try something simple – like the time-honoured cheap and easy cooking techniques.  It’s a great start, too.

Happy cooking!

Later,

ASF

A Calvinist and Hobbesian view on life…

Sorry all…I have been absent as of late. But in my defence I will say that I have not been on the computer much, as I have been away from home.  But now I am done with airports and border agents and Euros – for a spell anyway – and I am enjoying a bit of a Dorothy moment…there’s no place like home!

So after ensuring the cats were alive, checking my e-mails, updating my Facebook etc, I was just “stumbling on” when I happened upon an article about comics that have had the most impact on their day and age (and seriously do not confuse comics with cartoons…unless you want to experience a “whole can of attitudinal micro-culture whoop-ass” from a plaid-shirt, unshaven twenty-something hipster). The article talked about the ones that were way before my time…Gasoline Alley, Little Orphan Annie…and moved to the contemporary ones like Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois. It event mentioned Family Circus – the “saccarhiney-aspertamey” tasting cartoon that I thought was, Ida Know, kinda boring.

But the timeline stopped before the author hit the Big Ones – the ones that I thought were most cutting, insightful and satirical – Doonesbury, Opus and my all-time “mostest favourite” – Calvin and Hobbes.  Now we all have our favourites, and I am sure you would defend the honour of your choice comic – but since this is my blog, I can say with impunity it is the best – and compared to the talking penguin, or the neo-politicos, the Little Precocious Sh*t Disturber with the Stuffed Tiger wins!

Take up the gauntlet and challenge me on that if you want….

Now, when I started reading this strip in 1987-ish, I immediately fell in love with it (coincidentally, I had no choice but to read it,  My dorm room was tidy AND clean, the laundry was all caught up, and the term-paper was still not due for a whole 16 hours…)  Being an amateur artist, the awesome art work hypnotised me – Bill Watterson broke all the rules as I knew them (or perhaps re-wrote the rules) – using the limited space creatively to captivate the reader’s attention.  But, that was not all. It was his writing that hooked me – hilarious, unconventional and really witty.  Watterson was a smart man, who found a great medium to express his views – particularly his satire – in a fun, yet thought-provoking way.

If you never looked at it like that, then check out these Calvin and Hobbes strips…

Now comes the favourite part of my blogs.  The suspense the reader must feel as they try to figure out where I am going with this.  I have set the hook, and now I am free to move off in any direction (I do love my tangents.). Giddyupppp…..

For instance – I could write about the symbology and very grown up notions swirling around Calvin and Hobbes.  Like how Calvin is named after John Calvin – a man who interpreted predestination to mean that God willed eternal damnation for some and offered salvation for others – and that our lives are nothing but a paradox contrasting inevitable fate versus delusional free will; or, that little stuffed tiger Hobbes is named after Thomas Hobbes, a Primitivist who wrote ,”during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man”. (That is from Leviathan, by the way – no plagiarism here…attribution, attribution, attribution )

But, man, that is a lot of heavy mental lifting on a lazy sunny afternoon while lounging about in a T-shirt and underpants, drinking green tea infused with orange blossom and lotus leaves…

So I will go fluffy – well, sort of.

To me, the best part of Calvin was that he was “Every-man” – or more appropriately, “Every-boy”.  Every guy, old or young – whether a student, banker, artist, athlete, engineer, salesman,  tradesman – saw a bit of themselves in a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon.  Once we chucked off the cloak of “responsible-ness” and the husk of our day jobs, we were all Fantasists and Day-deamers and explorers and smart-asses.  We were all Calvin.

And as I say over and over (to myself anyway), Everyone – even comic strip characters – can teach you a lesson – what to imitate and what not to.

Now there are many blogs on the interweb that illustrate how something or another taught the writer “all-they-needed-to know-in-life” – everything from kindergarten, to peanut butter, to yoga, to The Ninja Turtles, or even Will Ferrell. It is a bloated genre; but I will add to the bloat by writing about how  “All I needed to know, I learned from Calvin”.

Calvin taught me to…

Be curious.  What more can we say about Calvin other than to highlight his innate desire to learn more and to challenge the bounds. Interestingly, the Canadian Army is like Calvin,  It guides it members to,“ Pursue self-improvement”  – (it has a supporting principle – “There is no such thing as a stupid question”, which maybe true, but that argument can easily be neutralised with, “there are no stupid questions, just stupid people…”) – and Calvin, well he took the questions to new heights. He pushed the envelope, as we all should. And by virtue of the responses he received, Calvin also taught me that not all sources of authority have the right answer…sometimes you just have to figure it out for yourself.

Be adventurous.  “The more you think about things, the weirder they seem. Take milk for example. Why do we drink COW milk? Who was the guy who first looked at a cow and said, “I think I’ll drink whatever comes out of these things when I squeeze ‘em!”.  IOnce upon a time you just used blind faith and tasted birthday cake and ice cream – no idea if it was good or bad – and you probably discovered you liked it, a lot!  Everyday we face new challenges and opportunities – one of them could be the next cake and ice cream! (It’s an analogy – only cake and ice cream is cake and ice cream…and anyway, I don’t like either – I like gin…)

Be yourself – but learn how you fit into the big picture..  I am sure you will agree that Calvin was never afraid of expressing himself, or doing his own thing.  Now mind you, at times he seemed to break the rules ridiculously (in ways that I, as a parent, could never condone! Mimic, but not condone…); but conceptually, he espoused a great life philosophy. He was an individual, but he also showed us that community is important – though only 6, he was sure astute in realising that some rules are necessary…ask an ant (or read a Lehman Brothers’ lessons learned report…)

(By the way, my Dad taught me this one, too. His quote, “Son, do whatever you want to do when you grow up; but just do something that adds to society – don’t detract from it…”)

Push your limits.  It is easy to accept things as they are, but complacency can lead to stagnation.  As someone once said, “Only the mediocre are always at their best.” Shoot for the stars, they might be in reach!

The English language is amazing, and if you can’t find a word, make one up…a six year old using Scrabble-50-point-bonus-bingo words is amazing – even if it is fiction. As a twenty-something,Calvin and Hobbes taught me that a dictionary is one of life’s essential possessions.  Though expletives are great words with their own time and place, there are so many alternatives to “f*ck or sh*t – Calvin taught me to explore the other ~249, 998 words in the English language (excluding inflections and double meanings). And I am not even counting words like transmogrifier.

By the way, if you find a copy of the book in the image, it can fetch between $8,000 -$10,000!

Girls are G.R.O.S.S (Get Rid Of Slimy girlS) …well not really. But even six-year-old Calvin noticed that women are from Venus…and that we men just can’t help ourselves. We want to be with them, even if we don’t understand them. Ultimately, If a guy is lucky, he will find his own Suzie Derkins!

Wow, the list continues forever – how science rules, how we should take care of our planet, how pretentious talk really makes you sound stupid, how nothing is cooler than a dinosaur…and so on and so on. But I don’t have the energy to go on – and anyway I like to work in the Principle of Fives (like 59,  599, and 5879…they’re all prime number and have fives in them – two of my favorite things.)  Besides I could not think of another good example. And the sun is setting and my tea-cup is empty – so it is too cold to stay in underpants only…

Sadly,like all good things, the Calvin and Hobbes had to come to an end after a good 10-year run (and 3160 comics, which is not prime number and has no 5s) – and like the last episodes of many wonderful things – M*A*S*H or Blackadder or Cheers for instance  – it left the rest of the story untold – left to the follower to complete.

And so with a fresh fall of snow – a blank sheet of paper – and with a whole world to explore, joined by a happy tiger on a careening sled, we knew that Calvin would keep being Calvin…so cool!

Later,

ASF

Post-script.  Some deluded souls have tried to carry Bill Watterson’s torch further…Google “Calvin all grown-up” to find recent examples…but I warn you – what has been seen cannot be unseen. Some things should just be left untouched