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The Day My Music Died And The World Became Real… Walls and Windows

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Fifty-nine years ago this week, I can vividly remember…

… coming home from my Grade 1 classroom at Glen Echo School, and sitting in my family’s living room in Hamilton.

I sat there on the couch beside my Mom in silence, watching black and white TV coverage on the big wood-encased console TV that sat in the corner of the room.

Together we stared at the grainy images as a shocked world responded to the death of a man I had no idea existed before that day.

But many millions of others did know him and were dream-walking in a cloudy state of distress and disbelief. It was how the adults around me reacted to this that I remember most.

Mom sat forward on the couch, elbows propped on her knees, gazing intently at the screen. There were no tears, but I knew something wasn’t right.

What little I knew about the world was different from that day forward. An explosion had occurred and the world suddenly became real to a little 6 year-old… me.

The date? November 22, 1963.

Yes, I’m… ahem… old enough to remember the day of JFK’s assassination. U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

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Not to dismiss the deaths alluded to in Don MacLean’s classic song American Pie, my life hit its first wall of sorts on November 22, 1963, which in a way created my first window of memory, followed by a great number of other walls-and-windows-of-memory later on.

Memories are fascinating things, aren’t they?… how we experience thousands of moments each day, yet almost all hit a wall and slip quietly to the floor, never to be seen again. I typically remember very little within 24 hours without concentrated thought.

And yet…

… not everything strikes a wall and falls away.

There are also windows of memory, windows filled with remembrances that we see, feel, hear, and taste for the remainder of our lives.

Honestly, I don’t know the details of the complex brain chemistry that preferentially keeps and stores those visions that can feel “alive”, as if they happened yesterday.

I know it can all be explained by chemical elements, hormones, and synapses, still I find it a mystical part of brain magic.

With great detail, I can experience over and over the exhilarating births of each of my children, I can feel the panic of nearly drowning when I was about 7 years old and had stepped into an unexpected dropoff in a Parry Sound lake, I can hear the voice of my mother reminding me when I was 15 to apply for a McDonald’s job the night she died, I can viscerally feel the elated exhaustion as I crossed the finish line of a 1990 Ironman race.

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There are lots and lots of these vibrant memories, but they represent only a miniscule amount of the bank deposits that have been passed through my accounts.

Each of us possesses a myriad of wondrous memory “windows”… most are of great import to our lives, our formation… and strangely, a few minor episodes slip through, little escapees of the forgotten prison, for some unexplainable reason.

Walls and windows – blessings and curses, curses and blessings… are not only a part of our physical homes of comfort, but also of our inner mansion of memory comfort and discomfort.

JFK’s death was only the first of many windows constructed as I began building my lifetime home.

The HOLY Trinity of Blog Writing… Women, Sex, and God

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Know your audience…

Just so you know… I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, perhaps one fry short of a Happy Meal, and to quote a “friend” drunk-seriously looking me in the eye, “somewhere there’s a village missing its idiot“…

but… after 10+ years of consistent weekly writing, I know a little bit about you and my other readers on this voyage of self-discovery aka blog writing.

No, I haven’t been snooping in your windows at night… and I really don’t have the foggiest notion of what you look like naked… and I really really don’t want you to know what I look like naked… this isn’t supposed to be a horror blog site.

However… drawing from my former science-based career, I can surmise a reasonable sense of those things I talk about that resonate with many of you, and others that smack head on, like some crash-test dummy, into a brick wall of indifference.

With some tools provided me by this blog-hosting site (WORDPRESS), each day I can see which country my readers live in, and a basic count of the numbers of visitors… that’s it… no reveal of your hometown/city, your identity, gender, age, or whether you dye your hair blue or green.

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Fortunately for me, my livelihood today, unlike many others who do this, is not in any way dependent on drawing you into my blog-writing world consistently so that I can extract money from your pockets, or those of advertisers who would like to extract dinero from you.

Which means, I choose to write about those things each week that strike a chord (musically, or otherwise) or arouse my curiosity for a minute or two… SQUIRREL!!

This is why, just like you, I’m all over the place in topic choices and themes, week to week. The only difference perhaps, is that I sit down and pound it out on a keyboard, like it’s a religion (the new Atheist denomination?)

Now where was I?

Ah yes… my knowledge of you and the things that interest you.

I can’t read your mind, but there are some themes that catch a fair number of eyeballs.

Here’s a brief list of those things I write about that gather the most interest over time:

  1. The rising prominence and power of women. Those posts where I discuss and promote the desirability of women vs men in positions of political power are my number 1 draw. Just this week, soon-to-retire US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi waxed on about the outsized gains of women in the US House and Senate during her 20 years of leadership. This trend is a global one, and not a mere outlier blip. This is the direction of our future world, and it can’t come soon enough, alongside enhanced worldwide opportunities for women’s education (although we have to be very careful to not leave men in the dust to avoid toxic animosity).
  2. Anything that is sexually-related. No surprise here folks, we almost all feel a magnet when it comes to the world of sexuality. As an aside, I’m perpetually intrigued and in some ways, disgusted, that our TV and movie screens are replete with graphic scenes of violence, murder, rape, war… and yet… (preferably) loving scenes of sexual encounters are largely hidden away. From a blogger’s perspective, I know, without doubt, that if I include the word sex, or anything that infers a sexual theme in the title… BOOM! Readers!! No, it’s not because my writing content is so titillating, or evocative, or mind-bending… it’s the search engines (eg GOOGLE) where folks are actively seeking out anything that takes them down the rabbit hole of sex and sexuality. Sex is the lazy person’s way to bring eyeballs to their internet world. Sex sells, they say. Hell, YES!
  3. GOD and Religion. It’s no secret that I am a non-believer in a deity. However, I can’t possibly know with 100% knowledge of whether I am correct in this belief, just as I know that no one else knows the “truth” either. And so, I write about this, fairly often actually, in what I hope comes across as a viewpoint of tolerance. I know and respect that we all have deeply held internal beliefs that guide us through our lives. IMPORTANTLY, so long as we hurt no one with our belief system, I’m all for it. Free choice (with hefty spoonsful of tolerance and open-mindedness) can cover a lot of ground.

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That’s it… this blogger’s trinity.

Of course, my mind wanders madly off in all directions, so my view of the trinity is often, like the fata morgana… illusory, and far in the distance.

No need to worry my friends… I may know you a wee bit, but as for seeing you naked… I learned my lesson at 9 years old when I blew away my dollar on x-ray glasses from a comic book so I could “see” my Grade 3 teacher better.

SUCH a disappointment… see, sex sells!

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Oxymorons

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Gotta love the word… OXYMORON…

While its true meaning is funny in itself, the word (an excellent Scrabble point’s grabber)- to me – implies an idiot catching his breath.

Whatever… the important thing is I laugh when I hear the word.

The word is derived from two ancient Greek words: oxys, which means “sharp,” and moronos, which means “dull” or “stupid.” Yes, even the word oxymoron is an oxymoron!

The days are getting oh-so-short here in Slumberland… the weather is way-out-of-character cold… and I’m sweeping the dust bunnies out of the nooks and crannies of my noggin searching for a hidden challenge … something to invigorate my snow-globe clouded mind… because, as you know, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

So, to drag myself up, up, and away into the blue skies of mental magic today, I’ve decided to write a simply complex oxymoronic tale, a silly, bittersweet story of incredibly bad dialogue, terrible plot-lines, and sad attempts at oxymoron’isms. Properly ridiculous, would you say?

The hills are alive, let’s go twerking in the Austrian Alps…

The Silliest Sounds of Music

Good grief“, she uttered through the clamorous hubbub of 7 excited children, staring off into the distance, dreaming of a warm holiday, perhaps the French Riviera or southern Spain… this was nothing like the working vacation she had envisioned coming into this bone-chilling Austrian winter.

Maria would sooner be a happily disgruntled nun than look after this unruly band of Butt-Heads, this small crowd of hoodlums otherwise known as the Von Trapp children.

Did the Captain even have the foggiest notion in his unconscious awareness that 16-going-on-17 Liesl was sneaking out at night to earn tips sliding and shimmying as a pole dancer in the Salzburg Barrel Haus? Yes, fellows WERE falling in line, those eager young lads, rogues and cads who were offering her food and wine, and much much more.

Months before, when Mother Superior told Maria, implored her really – in a detailed summary – of the opportunity to shed her habit and become a student teacher of sorts, she jumped at the chance. After all, it was an open secret at the abbey that Maria was a devout atheist.

Perhaps, thought cheerful pessimist Mother Superior, nannying a gaggle of defiant ragamuffins and a curmudgeonly Captain would help Maria to climb ev’ry mountain, ford ev’ry stream and find God.

Some of her sister nuns saw this as seriously funny, while others cast their eyes upon her in a pretty ugly way.

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But how had Maria ever ended up in a secluded Catholic convent, this place of sweet sorrow, where desperate freezer burnt women huddled in endless, quiet prayer?

It was old news that the Nazis had plans to forcefully conscript members of the Austrian militia to aid in their efforts to control the entire planet.

Before entering the convent, Maria had belonged to a militant pacifist group, a small crowd of bohemians that believed an Austrian civil war could be avoided, if they could only convince the general population to adopt a peaceful resistance of intense apathy. The unsophisticated group firmly believed that doing nothing could be the saviour of the motherland of Austria, at least until the Nazis took brutal control.

Maria had clearly misunderstood the mood of the populace.

Loud whispers grew in the underground faction, of her naive complicity with the German invaders and other ne’er-do-wells. With each passing day, she could feel the walls closing in upon her and her pacifist movement; if nothing was done soon, she would likely end up behind bars, perhaps even disappear like so many others she had heard of, in the night.

You must hide yourself away from these slimy Nazi bastards“, implored her equally-naive freund Gertrude with a sad smile. “They will steal your guitar and your do-re-mi… I read a wonderful little story by some English playwright the other day who said, ‘Get thee to a Nunnery!’. I think this is fine advice. Take your guitar and skip away Maria.” It seemed her only choice.

In the dark morning light when the co-conspirator Austrian police and German army officers crashed through her door to arrest her, a deafening silence could be heard as the police realized she had absconded.

Drat“, they exclaimed, Maria had been found missing. She truly was a wise fool they collectively agreed, as they nibbled on jumbo shrimp sent along by the wife of one of the police lieutenants.

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Time was running out and Maria and the Von Trapp family soon found themselves between a soft rock and a hard place. Both the Austrian police and the German army declared that climbing trees while wearing gaudy curtains was tantamount to treason and would be punishable by internment in a travelling marionette show run by lonely goat-herders.

Though the Captain had recently been in ill health, the family knew the writing was on the wall. Escape was their only avenue.

In order to raise the funds needed to mount a hike over the snow-covered Alps in the dead of winter, Maria and the Captain signed a contract for a live recording of their journey with a reality show producer that Liesl had met while lap dancing at the Barrel Haus.

This terribly good tale of the VonTrapp family comes to a close as we view a drone-shot of the group, twirling and singing in melancholy merriment as they traipse through waist-deep snow, like frozen zombies of The Walking Dead, enroute to Switzerland and lucrative deals with Swiss Chocolate and Watch makers.

  • Fade to black

Brrr… Culinary Comfort Brings A Warm Embrace

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Chill temperatures have finally dropped into the Okanagan Valley, a frosty parachute jettisoned from the northlands.

Late summer miraculously held on and on, grasping tight to a steadfast overnight +10ºC until… last night when… it didn’t.

BOOM! Winter! -6ºC this morning.

Birch and cherry trees shivered like they had a COVID fever and immediately began rapid-fire chucking of their still-green leaves to the emerald grass below.

Childish chickadees and juvenile juncos huddled noisily around the feeders like itinerant depression-era hobos surrounding a burning barrel, gorging on black-oil sunflower seeds, little ADHD nomads flitting back and forth from the cedar and yew hedges on the yard’s edge.

Safely ensconced behind my window glass I clasp a steaming cup of tea to my chest, vicariously absorbing signs of winter chills that bring on the inbred desire for fireplace coziness and … comfort foods.

Bears hibernate, Monarch butterflies wing south, hares and ptarmigan turn white, and we humans… turn to the desire for comfort foods that is sewn into our DNA.

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We all embrace an individual set of edibles that constitute our comfort food… for some it’s stews and shepherd pie, for others, Yorkshire pudding and baby back ribs saturated in thick, sweet sauciness, yet others crave a spicy curry or steaming vegetable-laden soup.

I’d happily dive into any of those choices as temperatures take a dive of their own.

Something I’ve noticed is that comfort foods largely tend to go by passionless names (eg. meat loaf, lentil soup), what I might call “diner” names, not Michelin 3 star restaurant descriptors that dazzle us with colourful imagery and unpronounceable titles.

OK, enough talk… lets head for the warmth of my kitchen where I’ll share just a few of my own preferences of the delectables that are like a cozy pillow to embrace within my inner guts.

I’m putting on my apron and sharpening my knives. Let’s cook up… some good old northern comfort…

(NB. While almost all of these contain meat or animal products, any can be quite easily customized to accommodate the vegan palate)

  1. Chicken and Dumplings – one of my Mom’s go-to’s, simple fare with down-home farm ingredients.
  2. Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup – a lunchtime staple on snowy days, even if the soup comes from a can (although I’ll be using San Marzano tomatoes from my garden, ripening in the cold room).
  3. Chili Con Carne (o sin carne!) – this was actually one of my Dad’s favourite things to make after he retired. Silly me – I didn’t know he could cook anything until he hit 65!
  4. Sloppy Joes – many comfort foods fall into a “sloppy” category, does this say something about winter blues perhaps?
  5. Pastitsio* (see recipe at bottom of post) or Lasagna – anything that is topped with caramelized cheese is food for the gods in my book.
  6. Slow Cooker Rogan Josh or Butter Chicken (served with fresh naan) – I have a lot of immigrant friends and families to thank for the food scents that permeate my home in recent years. How did I live my first 40 years without cumin, fenugreek, or turmeric?
  7. Blueberry Bread Pudding – simple breakfast (dessert) fare that covers all the major food groups, AND the extra one that nurses my major addiction …. sugar! (Of course, any fruit can be subbed, fall apples are a great choice)
  8. Pad Thai – it took me a long time to come to a realization that peanut butter goes well with something other than chocolate or bananas (and shockingly, that fish sauce is a fantastic umami contributor to lots of dishes)
  9. Pierogi and Sausages – I grew up in a heavily ethnic Hamilton neighbourhood where many Ukrainians settled after World War II, bringing their unique foodstuffs along for the ride to share.
  10. Wor Wonton Soup – broth with everything included except the kitchen sink… shrimp, vegetables, mushrooms, egg… sesame oil and ginger combination at its best.
  11. Cinnamon Buns with Maple Cream Cheese icing – is any dessert item more enticing and winter’ish than tender-as-marshmallow dough laced with warm cinnamon, brown sugar, and cream cheese? ME ME… I’ll answer… NOPE!
  12. Pork or Chicken Schnitzel – fork-tender meat sautéed in a lightly-seasoned crumb coating. Delectable with or without a mushroom or tomato sauce.
  13. Beef Stroganoff – more fork-tender slow-cooked meat in a mushroomy sour cream sauce. I’m not at all pleased with the Russian government but I love this contribution from their kitchen.
  14. Boston Baked Beans – we all know that legumes (so many beans, so little time) are great for our bowel and general health, so why not enjoy it with a tantalizing smoky tomato sauce. For those worried about contributing to global warming via flatulent methane production, humans produce a paltry 1 L of flatus per day, only 7% of which is methane… which is less than 1% of what a single cow produces daily. So nosh as much on beans as you like and the only one who can reasonably complain is your nearest neighbour.
  15. Chicken Cacciatore – my good ole Hamilton friend Denise made the best chicken cacciatore I’ve eaten when she gamely visited me in Yellowknife over 40 years ago… the memory and great flavour of that dish still lingers.
  16. Irish Beef Stew (with Guinness) – I’ve always loved stews at this time of year… and there are so many variations… one of which (see below) I gorged on in Dublin just this summer at the The Girl and The Goose Restaurant.

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Of course, our food tastes are constantly evolving, and with the availability of ingredients from around the world throughout the year… well, we can keep on adding to our comfort menu for chilly days and long nights.

OK gang, let’s put down our knives and mixing bowls now and cheer on the shorter, colder days from which we draw culinary warmth.

I don’t know about you, but, just thinking about all of this, I’m famished!

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*As promised, some comfort goodness for 4… I made this dish this week…OPA!!

Pastitsio (Greek Pasta Bake)

Greece’s answer to Italian Lasagna! This traditional Greek dish is made with layers of pasta topped with a rich meat sauce perfumed with a hint of cinnamon and clove, topped with a thick layer of cheese sauce.

For neat layers. arrange the pasta so they’re all going in one direction, and rest the baked Pastitsio for 15 minutes before slicing. Excellent for making ahead (keeps for 4 to 5 days in the fridge) and freezes very well!

Prep Time 30 mins

Cook Time 2 hrs

Servings: 4

Calories: 597cal/serving

Ingredients

Meat Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 garlic cloves , finely minced
  • 1 red onions , finely chopped (sub yellow or brown onions)
  • 0.5 kg / 1 lb beef mince (ground beef)
  • 0.38 cup dry red wine
  • 400g / 14 oz canned crushed tomato
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 0.5 tsp white sugar
  • 0.5 bay leaf
  • 0.25 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 0.5 cinnamon stick (or extra 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder)
  • 0.13 tsp ground cloves
  • 0.38 tsp salt
  • 0.5 tsp black pepper

Greek Bechamel:

  • 50g / 3.5 tbsp butter , unsalted
  • 0.38 cup flour , plain/all purpose
  • 0.5 litre / 2 cups milk , whole/full fat best but low fat ok
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 0.25 tsp salt
  • 50g / 1.5 oz Kefalotyri Greek cheese (sub. Parmesan or Romano), finely shredded
  • 1 egg yolk (egg white is used in the pasta)

Pasta:

  • 200g / 7 oz Pastitsio No. 2 pasta / Greek bucatini (sub. small ziti, penne or normal bucatini)
  • 60g / 2 oz feta , crumbled
  • 1 egg white (yolk used in Béchamel)

Topping:

  • 37.5g / 1.5 oz Kefalotyri Greek cheese (sub parmesan or Romano) , finely grated

Instructions

Meat Sauce:

  • Heat in a large pot over high heat. Add garlic and onion, cook for 2 – 3 minutes until onion is softened. Add beef and cook, breaking it up as you go, until it changes from red to brown.
  • Add wine and and cook until the wine has mostly evaporated – about 3 minutes.
  • Add remaining Meat Sauce ingredients. Stir well, bring to simmer, then reduce heat to medium / medium low so it’s simmering gently. Cook for 45 min to 1 hour until liquid is mostly gone, stirring every now and then. It should be a thick mixture with little liquid, not saucy like Spaghetti Bolognese.
  • Remove from stove and cool. Preferably to room temperature, otherwise for at least 30 minutes before assembling (lid off).

Greek Béchamel (Note 5):

  • Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir for 1 minute.
  • While stirring, slowly pour half the milk in. It should turn into a wet paste. Then again, while stirring, pour in remaining milk – the paste should easily dissolve so it’s lump-free. If not, just whisk vigorously.
  • Cook, stirring so the base doesn’t catch, for 5 minutes or until thick enough so it coats the back of a wooden spoon thickly and you can draw a path across it with your finger.
  • Remove from stove. Stir in nutmeg, cheese and salt.
  • Leave to cool for 5 minutes. Then whisk in egg yolk quickly. Place lid on and set aside. If sauce cools and gets too thick to pour, just reheat on a low stove until pourable.

Pasta (Note 6):

  • When you’re ready to assemble, cook the pasta per packet instructions, minus 1 minute.
  • Drain, then return to the pot. Leave to cool for 3 minutes, then stir through egg white. Gently stir through crumbled feta.

Assemble and bake:

  • Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F (all oven types).
  • Place pasta in a baking dish (33 x 22 x 7 cm / 9 x 13 x 2.75″), arranging them so they are all going in the same direction as best you can (for visual effect when sliced). Make the surface as level as you can.
  • Top with Meat Sauce, then smooth the surface.
  • Pour over Béchamel Sauce, then sprinkle over the cheese.
  • Bake 30 min or until crust turns golden.
  • Cool for at least 15 minutes so you can cut neat slices with the layers neatly visible. Serve!