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And Now For Something Deliciously Different…

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You gotta eat… right?

OK, well, other than Karen Carpenter… What? Too soon?!

Food for me is like the rest of my existence… it’s an ADHD kind of thing…

I detest mealtime rehashes (at least in the short term).

Every meal, every night… better be something very different from last night or the night before or the …

And something else… you could be forgiven for thinking that as a former lab guy, I would be extremely precise and scientific in my cooking adventures.

That I’d follow recipes to the T like some Julia Child or Child of Julia… BUT, sadly… you would be wrong.

Perhaps I was born to be a lab researcher because I’m constantly tinkering with food preparations… add some turmeric here… more tomato paste there… definitely another teaspoon (although WHO uses an actual teaspoon?) of cinnamon…. less cumin today but let’s throw in some fenugreek leaves.

………….

A man who measures life, never knows his own measure”… from Today’s Special (movie)

………….

And of course the magic ingredient to any dish – savoury or sweet – is a smidgen of sugar.

There’s still more lucky magic for this spoiled late-model westerner…

… beyond my early-life acquaintance with WASPy European cuisinery styles, I’ve been exposed to a hodgepodge of ethnic approaches to cooking through neighbours, friends and relatives…

… but also from various journeys afar to play in the kitchens of cooks from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua to Havana, Cuba, from Marrakesh, Morocco to Udaipur, India, from Cusco, Peru to Xian, China.

Guinea pig (cuy) in Cusco, Peru
Curry preps in Udaipur, India
Chicken Tajine making in Marrakesh, Morocco

But this COVID era has metaphorically abducted the frying pan from my hands, so I thought I’d review and reflect on some of my favourite “victuals” movies … food flix are a socially acceptable form of sensual porn, don’t you think?

Just this morning, after deciding to write about this topic, I shockingly realized that I’ve missed out on a cornucopia of delectable comestible cinema… why have I missed so many of these yummy selections?

Sure, I’ve absorbed Ratatouille, Fried Green Tomatoes, Chocolat, The Hundred Foot Journey, Julie and Julia… plus most of TV’s Anthony Bourdain, Stanley Tucci in Italy, and The Great British/Canadian Baking Shows… sorry Gordon Ramsay… your food porn is too much like a sexual assault to make it onto my food-lovin’ playlist.

Today, for fun, I thought I’d list a mere few of the movies for you to consider watching that different sites and reviewers think are the Best of the Best, Most Delicious of the Delectables, Chewiest of the Chows.… with a helpful international cuisine guidepost so you can pick your favourite dish from a country of your choosing.

So, here goes… some wonderful calorie-free cinematic morsels for you to chew on and digest:

FRENCH

Babette’s Feast

Julie and Julia

Chocolat

Burnt

Ratatouille

ITALIAN

Big Night

Dinner Rush

MEXICAN

Like Water For Chocolate

Tortilla Soup

CHINESE

Eat Drink Man Woman

BBQ

Fried Green Tomatoes

Uncorked

INDIAN

The Lunchbox

The Hundred Foot Journey (French/Indian)

Maacher Jhol

Nina’s Heavenly Delights

Today’s Special

KOREAN

Always Be My Maybe

Antique

CUBAN

Chef

JAPANESE

Tampopo

The Ramen Girl

Sweet Bean

GERMAN

Mostly Martha

• And finally… to finish off this culinary erotic expedition… a movie about PIE!!

WAITRESS… who could go wrong while sampling these classics… MARSHMELLOW MERMAID PIE, FALLING IN LOVE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE PIE, NAUGHTY PUMPKIN PIE, OLD JOE’S HORNY PIE

… try feasting your palate on some of these cooking movies… a lusty love story in every bite.

Happy (Your Choice) Holiday

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I unilaterally declare November 1 as the first International Pet Peeve (IPP) Day!

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve discovered in writing this post that there is actually a Pet Peeve Week… the second full week of October… who knew!?)

Everything out there seemingly has it’s official day and flag (although I haven’t gone so far as to draw up a symbol for IPP yet).

This is a Lilliputian rant lamenting a change in our world. It’s a grain of sand in my shoes… a pea under my mattress… a first world problem, you get it.

And if I describe you in this post (heaven forbid!), please know that I accept and honour your choices and health needs.

We all have a part of us – larger or smaller- that rejects change; change irritates because we get comfortable in our patterns and routines… who wants to change their belly button fluff clean-out day from Tuesday to Thursday?

Anything new that makes us think deeply or differently, or creates a bit more labour for us is a nuisance, a fly in our soup. COVID is a full colony of flies in our soup!

Hear me out: I want to accept and embrace change where it leads to an objective improvement in the world.

I want to accept the many many rightful protests of those (you know most of them by now) whom have historically been under the thumbs of rich, white men (like myself minus the rich part).

So as I chastise you here – perhaps – for making my life a teensy bit more challenging, this is not authentic drama.

Let me move on and explain before you fall asleep…

One of my life delights, a passion you might say, is cooking. You too? Excellent!

Since the very first time I made fried rice as a 10 yr. old without realizing that rice should actually be cooked in a liquid before frying, I’ve loved to play in the kitchen.

Slicing, dicing, and piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that is a delicious ethnic dish (or baked good says my Sweet Tooth inner voice) of any sort is my “big boy sandbox” fun…

… lots and lots of ingredients and a healthy melange of various spices – although not too spicy hot in my latter years.

A good part of the joy comes in the sharing… inviting family or friends to join in on a hopefully succulent meal with maybe a splash of wine… well… this is likely the greatest reach towards heaven for me.

Here’s where my pet peeve kicks in… it’s the change part.

We are a global citizenship of 7+ billion folks with a similar number of likes, dislikes, nutritional requirements, and ailments that need attention, like the child excitedly calling out for Mommy’s awareness as she dives into the pool.

The internet (and some legitimate medical professionals) has untold stories of the horrors of dairy, grains/gluten, meat, chocolate, nuts/seeds, alcohol, the list is longer than Santa’s Naughty and Nice scroll. In millennia gone by, we were just too busy fighting the Huns and other hordes to question: Was Attila celiac? Or lactose intolerant? Or allergic to nuts, or vegan or ….

Part of our desire to live in a healthy state to 100+, as well as our desire to treat animals with respect has altered our collective perception of what we can put into our mouths and tummies.

And so… when we invite guests to share a meal nowadays, the puzzle pieces I can play with often don’t belong to the same boxed set as yours.

I scramble (but not eggs) to accommodate a lengthy list of do’s and dont’s that change with each visit. This tour of my table might require a lack of cheese, whereas the next drop-by says no chicken or perhaps tofu.

So let me say: I love you and understand your needs, but I’m sorry to say, a good deal of my “sandbox” joy has been sucked away by this Dyson vacuum of allergies, intolerances, and choices.

Like all changes thrust upon us, I’m adapting. I’m Yoda trying…

But also know when you drop in for a meal that the thinness of hair on my head is not only from my –granted – advancing age, but from the hair pulling I go through to make sumthin’ that, against growing odds, tastes like heaven for us all.

Happy IPP Holiday!

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Sugar-Free, Carb-Free, Meat-Free … Is THIS Freedom?

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unhappy chocolate

 

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Charles M. Schulz

Has everything become verboten?

Everyone should have the liberty of free choice.

I’m 100% invested in freedom. All for it.

For millennia (and today still) we’ve worked and struggled and evolved, fought wars, disease, and terror … much of it in the name of freedom… freedom to do and be who we want.

But.

A little piece of this wonderful liberty scheisse is sending vexatious ants into my Calvin Klein’s. It shouldn’t, but it does…

FOOD.

Yes, glorious food. I love food.

I love food of almost every origin, every ethnicity, every food group, every farmer’s field or pasture from Dewar Lake, Saskatchewan to Cusco, Peru to Marrakesh, Morocco and beyond.

Childrens’ entertainer Fred Penner sings a cute little ditty about food… well, sandwiches to be truthful … but I’ll amend his words a wee bit for my purposes:

Food is so beautiful, food is so fine –
I like food, I eat it all the time.
I eat it for my supper and I eat it for my lunch;
If I had a hundred types of food, I’d eat them all at once!

.
Food is sustaining of life, the scrumptious repast for 7 billion human souls, but it’s so much more than that, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be?

.

Food is family, food is flavour, food is fuel, food is love, food is passion, food is sharing.

………………………….

Humour keeps us alive. Humour and food. Don’t forget food. You can go a week without laughing.”
Joss Whedon

.………………………….

.

So, if food is all of these wonderful things, what’s your beef (get it? beef!) Larry?

I’ll get there soon, OK?

I have this zeal for cooking … especially cooking for others.

Cooking is a key part of my socialization, my way of connecting with others. Booze helps too, fo shizzle, but food is the real glue.

Nothing warms my heart more than a group of family or friends at our decorated table with smiles and gustatory enjoyment, relishing a meal I’ve prepared.

Oh sure, I get kidded by my kids about the old Uncle Buck line :

cooking garbage

But … in the past few years my Joy of Cooking has begun to slowly melt away when it comes to having guests. Julia Child shrilly mews from the beyond.

Today, every meal prepared for visitors seems to require a “non-consumable” list from each attendee – the list of allergies, sensitivities, likes, dislikes, dietary peccadillo-of-the-week.

If all of our society migrated like Wildebeests in the same direction simultaneously, I could handle that.

But no, each individual is just that… individual. Each plate set at the table comes with a unique dietary request.

What was once a treat for me – cooking and preparing a celebration of flavour – has become an arduous serpentine journey through esoteric cookbooks and websites in search of the acceptable meal-du-jour.

I get it, I do. We all want to feel our best … if food is a helpful adjunct to that end result, I’m happy for that.

Vive la liberté!

All this freedom, while emancipating and gladdening, has meant that at least some of us pay the price of less enjoyment when it comes to the group repast … the giddy moments of pleasure I used to feel in dreaming up culinary delights … now diluted and slipping away in the murky mist.

In today’s world, it kinda appears that food enjoyment comes more from the ubiquitous Instagram snaps of each picturesque meal, rather than the pleasure in tasting.

Change is the constant, right? Adjust and move forward.

I still thrive on making new and old dishes that encompass different ingredient choices that sometimes circumscribe and confine.

This old dog merely has to keep learning new culinary tricks.

That’s my sob story and I’ll just have to eat it.

cooking dog.jpg

Rain… Fall… Food

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rain in the pines.jpg

Thick, juicy plums of rain are falling on the grass surrounding the towering Ponderosa Pines outside my window. Incessant… drop… glop… plop…

The overnight stream has brought out a mass congregation of nasty Flickers and Starlings that terrorize the songbird woodhouses and my peoplehouse with their stabbing sword-beaks.

Their frontal assault began at first light and may not diminish until the first chirpy sounds of evening crickets begin their nightly symphony.

A solo humpty-dumpty magpie causes a large limb to dip and sway like an ocean liner in a sea swell as orchardist neighbour Devon roars past on his space-age enclosed tractor, sending up a fine cloud of misty rainspray .

This combination of rain and the official commencement of fall (I prefer the word AUTUMN – “fall” makes me envision little elder ladies on city streets tumbling to the sidewalk beside their unsteady walkers) trains my eyes inshore, into the ovenly warmth of the bright, now inviting kitchen.

Hot summer kitchens are best used for short social visits, the throwing together of light airy salads and icy slushed drinks – then rushed to the outside patio for immersion in the sounds and perfume of summer.

Fresh, citrus-laced lettuces, spinach, and juicy grape tomatoes generously layered with light amber olive oil and feta… ahhhhhh …. yes, I already lament the dwindle of summer, even a campfire-scented smoky one like this year’s in the Okanagan Valley.

OK Salad.jpg

But, let’s return to the autumn kitchen… inviting and open-arms ready for laughter and aroma, thin and thick sauce lines, slipping from summer gewurtztraminers into more autumn’ish pinot noirs, drawing us inside the world of culinary dance, the friendly tangle of spice upon spice, gossamer walls of taste…

My autumn and winter kitchen revolves on a daily basis around a global trail of flavour.

I was raised in a WASP’y home of routine Friday evening bacon and eggs, Sunday roast beef and oven-browned potatoes. Ham and scalloped potatoes, meatloaf, shepherd’s pie.

One flag flew over our repasts and it was the stolid Union Jack. Hail Brittanica!

Today, multi-toned flags are drawn down each evening, changed, and raised anew each day in my kitchen. The Maple Leaf and the Union Jack are mere temporary apparitions, akin to AirBnB guests.

My restless taste buds, like Anthony Bourdain’s culinary travels, wander the continents and back alleys of dusty towns.

The thought of some routines is comforting, but when it comes to food choices, I crave a unique flavour palette each day that doesn’t come back around for at least a week, preferably longer.

The decision gets harder and harder in recent years as more and more ethnicities contribute to the menu board. A short 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of my home floating with the scents of:

  • Morocco
  • Peru
  • Nicaragua
  • Korea
  • Cuba
  • Thailand
  • Syria

And yet, here I have this autumn, a cupboard jammed with spices, sauces, grains and noodles whose names I can barely pronounce.

In my younger days, my international standards were “exotic” French Onion Soup and Italian Lasagna. A pinch or two of oregano, basil, garlic and thyme were sufficient spicing for these delicacies.

I saw myself as a crazily adventurous cook when I prepared an Indian Lamb Rogan Josh, Mexican Chorizo Frittata con Queso, Spanish Paella Valenciana.

paella

My 1960’s family would have thought we were living in a Back to the Future world if presented with these nose-bombing dishes. Eyes widened in a disbelieving shock and awe. I would be playing Marty McFly in real life. Cue Huey Lewis & The News…

But here we are in the 2010’s and the local horn-of-plenty is literally overflowing with pungency and aromatic bouquet beyond belief.

What does Martha Stewart say again? And that’s a good thing!

Of course there is a down side to this cornucopia.

Having a wide range of ingredients and spice combinations as well as the decision of including meat protein or running the vegan road, makes choosing a dish du jour über challenging.

So, whether it becomes Beef Vindaloo, Indio Viejo, Sushi, Falafel, Moros y Cristianos, Lomo Saltado, Bibimbap, Vegetable Tajine, Perogies, or Tourtière just don’t matter a wit. The end result is always (OK, usually!) a thrilling delicacy of flavours.

When the drizzles, showers or torrents of water descend from the September or October heavens and the daylight grows smaller, it just feels saintly to cocoon and welcome a sliver of some other culture into my kitchen.

You could spend thousands of dollars to jet to the culinary locale of choice… get the full adventure… or go the budget route and knock the price down to a mere few bucks. And for that handful of moments, experience the backstreets of Delhi or Cusco or Casablanca in the heady scents emanating from your oven.

So yeah, so long summer … bring on those autumn rains!

tea in the rain.jpg

 

How to Make Trump Soup

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I have nothing to put in my soup, you see,
Not a bone or a bean or a black-eyed pea,
So I’ll just climb in the pot to see
If I can make a soup out of me.
I’ll put in some pepper and salt and I’ll sit
In the bubbling water–I won’t scream a bit.
I’ll sing while I simmer, I’ll smile while I’m stewing,
I’ll taste myself often to see how I’m doing.
I’ll stir me around with this big wooden spoon
And serve myself up at a quarter to noon.
So bring out your soup bowls,
You gobblers and snackers.
Farewell–and I hope you enjoy me with crackers!

… with apologies to Shel Silverstein

Trump Soup.jpg

Donald Trump stood in line at the Penticton Soup Kitchen (Soupateria) one morning – I think it was Thursday – this week.

It’s true. I saw him with my own eyes.

Of course, I could be mildly confused but that’s a different story for another day.

It was a sunny (-less) day without a cloud in the sky, but no obvious sun either… a fog of forest-fire grey smoke still hung throughout the Okanagan Valley like damp laundry on the line in a “No Campfires Allowed” provincial campground …

But not only is there 50 Shades of Grey haze hanging out, but there’s also a ubiquitous orange-scoured miasma that’s been persistently hanging on and blanketing the entire planet since, well, I’d have to say mid-January.

Scan the news, pick up a paper, open your ears, the stinky cloud is everywhere.

The bouquet of excrement is strong.

Anyway, I saw him standing there in the lazy, disorganized line that was gradually forming by the glass-fronted doors of the soup kitchen. There were little pockets of quiet chatter amidst the shaggy group. One or two were talking to themselves.

The Donald caught my eye with a hostile gaze as I passed by, taking a few empty cardboard potato boxes to the recycling dumpster that sits like a quiet blue elephant nearby the front entrance.

donald t.jpg

Before I could turn away or pretend we hadn’t had a “moment”, he latched onto me and began bellowing through his rectal-pursed lips.

“Look… I’m coming into the kitchen and getting you guys organized.

It will be so simple. We’re gonna make a huge pot of my new recipe… Trump Soup.

It’s gonna be fantastic. Best ever. Everyone loves it and they haven’t even tried it yet.”

I tried to pull away and sneak in the back door but he was on me before I could close and bar the door.

There we both were, Trump vs Billy Bush-style, in the narrow back hallway, jammed between trays of day-old bread and boxes of freshly picked Sunrise apples.

Nervously, I melted away from his toxic breath. I felt afraid that he might grab me by the pussy (hmmmm, something doesn’t add up here!).

Fine!

In resignation, I lead him through the door into the main dining area set up with about 2 dozen long, blue-grey tables. Bread crumbs littered the beige vinyl floor where the sandwich makers had just finished their task.

We veered to the right and into the production kitchen. Delicious smells sifted quickly into my nose.

I reluctantly prepared to introduce him around the industrious, knife-wielding group of volunteers attired in purple and navy blue aprons.

Donald didn’t lose a step, brushing me aside with a shove of his arm, while totally ignoring all of the volunteer staff busily chopping carrots and onions.

He headed straight to the huge 35 L. soup cauldron simmering over a gas flame. A delicate vegetable broth scent rose up to meet his gaze, his interrogation of the soup.

Listening closely I heard him mumble under his breath… “Natural Gas stove, hmmmmpf… no jobs there… we’ll change it to coal.

A quick dismissive sniff and he decisively turned on his heels.

Then, raising both of his little hands and making zeros with his thumb and forefinger, he addressed the group.

People, this soup is terrible, it’s a disaster.” Sneer.

Five or six confused helpers raised their eyebrows, checking each other out for reactions.

“We are gonna repeal and replace this soup…

… this stuff is worse than the Holocaust… and one other thing!”. 

Ceiling fans spun furiously overhead to dispel the rising heat wave sweeping the stainless steel laden kitchen. Localized global warming?

He lifted an eyebrow and angrily spat: “It’s those fruit-picking “Kweebeckoys” Frenchy kids outside with their long braids and hippie clothes. They’ve gotta go back to where they came from. And the Mexicano guys too.”

quebecois kids.jpg

“Before we open the door for lunch, we’re gonna build a wall to keep them outta here. And dammit, they’ll pay for it to be built with the money they stole from OUR local farmers.”

“Let’s put the good folks in the lineup out there to work – the ones who were born right here and not in Kenya like that other wacko President – we’ll get them back to work so fast, it will be a beautiful beautiful thing.”

“Back to good-paying jobs in the orchards picking and packing. They’ll love us. I guarantee it.”

A glow of White Nationalist pride lit his chubby face – JOB accomplished – while pink-tinged embarrassed looks shrouded my and my co-volunteers’ faces.

“Ok everyone… I’m heading back to Air Force One… I’m leaving you to make this new Trump soup… lots of stinky garlic and onions, you decide, I don’t do details… doesn’t matter … what matters is that we repeal and replace that other soup.

“I don’t care how good it is or how much people have enjoyed it for years here. Doesn’t matter.”

“And you, over there…”

He pointed and glared at John, an elderly stooped gentleman born in Poland 80 years earlier.

Good John, who has diligently helped out in the kitchen twice each week since his retirement 17 years ago.

“I like you, but I don’t think you’re contributing enough. You’re fired.”

“Thank you for your service.”

“Let’s make this soup kitchen great again!… Look I have baseball caps with that emblazoned on them for you to wear.

Course, you’ll have to pay for them.”

……………….

Hands

Friends, we’re all in this soup pot together on this beautiful blue planet.

We can cry. We can stew. We can fester. And we can laugh.

But we can’t ignore forever.

History has already written that story.

………..

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. (1958)

Martin Luther King

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller

 

The Children’s Smiles of Karauli… India Part 2

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Musician in the streets of Jaipur

 
Struggling with feelings of doubt or low self-esteem?

I have just the place for you. 

After settling into a picturesque, bougainvillea-festooned Maharaja’s estate in this small town of Karauli, not far from Agra, India, our group of 10… Brits, Americans, Aussies and we Canucks… wandered out the front gates of the palace, clambered aboard flatbed carts attached by long wooden poles to large camel-toned… you guessed it… camels. 

Two carts, two camels, 5 pale-white tourists per flatbed and we were off. 

The mid-afternoon sun settled over us warmly as the camels began slowly trodding forward into the narrow streets of the town. 

Sitting immediately behind the behind of the camel, its rump muscles shifting smoothly up and down like pistons, I’m a bit surprised there isn’t a stronger animal scent to this 7 foot tall creature. The stinky part must be in the spit! 

The beasts of burden ambled forwards, regal with their red-flower adorned noses held high as if they were kings of a civilization. 

Like all the Indian towns and cities we’ve seen so far, the sides of the rugged roads are heavily jammed with small shops and stalls, groups of people gathered, children running and playing, dark-skinned, wrinkled elderly adults crouched on haunches in small circles beside stalls piled high with long carrots, red onions, fresh turmeric and cabbage, apples, bananas, oranges and limes, household items like light bulbs and metal bowls and PVC pipes. 

And cows. Sacred cows. Always cows. 

 

Motorcycle or Massage Tool?

 
Young men on Honda Hero or Mahindra motorcycles or bicycles with one, two, three, maybe 4 passengers, roar up the one-lane wide streets. As always, the activity and sound is overwhelming to our ‘western’ eyes and ears but the real distraction amid this maelstrom quickly becomes… us. 

Our camel-cart parade route is lined on both sides, plus front and rear with intrigued and smiling admirers. 

Excited kids beam smiles our way and call out “hello”, “hi”, “namaste“…  

Young mothers clad in bright red, orange, and green saris holding babies close to their faces smile shyly…. adult men grin and wave in an almost embarrassed way, but can’t hold back their friendliness at these white-skinned wonders passing through their streets, through the tight corners and dusty lane ways leading up the hillside to the massive castle above their village. 

Along the route, fence tops and roofs are lined with drying cow patties, pancake circles of cow dung that, once dry are used as fuel for cooking. Some patties are layered up in artistic cylindrical piles, almost resembling braids. 

Vegetable sellers look up from their rusty weigh scales and smile as they carry out their business. Throngs of children chase behind our rustic carts as we feel each bump of the road on our tender backsides. The camel-tenders occasionally hop down from their perch and run to the front of their animals, carefully guiding them around extra tight corners or narrow stretches of laneway. 

At the finish of our enthusiastic 15-minute trek through the town we arrive at the substantial wooden castle gate. Sliding our bumped-up asses off the carts, we’re surrounded more so by eager, excited kids, jumping up and down, calling to us, shaking our hands. 

Yes, if you’re feeling down or unloved, Karauli is the one stop refresher for your blues. 

………………..

Our journeys this week have carried us from Delhi to Agra and the Taj Mahal, then onwards to Karauli, then Jaipur, and now Bijaipur.  

It’s culture shock of a huge magnitude with the unending crowds of people, the traffic noise, the combination of Hindu religion and Muslim and Christian…. the overwhelming mass belief in the religious and nationalist traditions that govern every moment of every day of the residents. 

One of the most difficult things -for me- in visiting a country such as India is to shed the judgmental gene that constantly wants me to wonder why… how… people can live so poorly and yet believe so strongly in the bountiful grace of their Gods. 

To see countless towns and cities where groups of young men and old, sit squatting in circles, badly underutilized to my eyes, passing time. Agricultural methods seem rigidly tied to practices of 50 or 100 years ago so that more men, more women, can remain employed. 

To see a world where women are mostly relegated to subservience to their fathers and husbands. 

The western glasses I look through make me shake my head in amazement. I try to remain open-minded but it feels a strain. 

…………….  
 

Movie theatre in Jaipur

 

To attend a Bollywood movie in Jaipur, a city of about 6 million souls, our group, divided into men and women, entered the theatre through separate doorways, then immediately re-congregated on the inside. 

We slid into comfortable seats of the modern, gargantuan theatre complex, and munched popcorn through the 3 hour drama of the movie, DANGAL, a true story about a young woman’s quest to become an Olympic wrestler, told only in Hindi language but easily understood by non-speakers. 

When the young heroine of the flick wins a Commonwealth Games’ medal and the Indian national anthem plays, the entire theatre crowd of 600 or 700 stands for its playing in the middle of the movie. National pride. 

………………..

Stopping in a central city Hindu temple at prayer time in the early evening was both mesmerizing and almost frightening to the uninitiated. 

A mass of children and adult men and women stood on concrete floors, facing the altar in front, then raised their arms overhead and pushed to the front of the temple. Loud bells swung in the arms of priests, clanging at almost ear-shattering volume, over and over, then doors on the raised dais were flung open to expose religious icons and artifacts. An audible ‘oooooohhhh’ arose in the crowd. 

The congregation of souls began flowing into underground tunnels that circled behind and under the altar where magnetic forces are told to originate and emanate to energize their lives. The crowds circled under, around and back to the front of the altar where the bells still loudly clanged. 

Soon, priests begin dipping their hands into holy water and spraying it into the crowd where it is caught and rubbed over the worshipper’s head. 

The bells suddenly go silent and the people quietly leave the temple. 

Tomorrow, they will return both in the morning and the evening to re-enact this same religious ceremony. 

……………..

Finally today, Food. 

Indian spices. Indian curries. A Wonder of the World. 

A portion of this journey is dedicated to learning a bit about the cooking of various regions of central and southern India. 

A tidbit… 

In Jaipur we spent an evening in the middle-class home of a lovely young Indian woman Pooja, along with her gracious husband and son. Pooja is a petite woman in a sweater and jeans, red lipstick highlighting her pretty face. The interior of the house was clean and modern looking, not unlike a typical small western home. 

Welcomed into the front room, we were served small samples of potato (aloo) pakora and chai as Pooja explained to us about her knowledge of Indian cooking and the business of cooking for large Indian weddings. 

Next followed a short tour of her modest upstair’s kitchen, and then we were guided to the basement where a large cooking demonstration area sat. 

 

Pooja spins her cooking magic…

   
Pooja took us through her spice collection contained in a circular plastic container… 6 or 7 spices, coriander, chili, salt, cumin, turmeric, garam masala, cinnamon. Other spices such as fenugreek and cilantro and mango powder were nearby for more occasional use. 

This evening’s demo would include 4 dishes: Dal Pachrangi – lentil and ginger/garlic dal, Gatta Curry – boiled chickpea dough in a spicy yogurt-based sauce, Rice Pullow – basmati rice with cinnamon, cloves, and onion, and finally Zeera Aloo – cumin potatoes… all would be vegetarian. 

Almost like in a TV cooking show, Pooja showed us her methods of preparation. While gently stirring garlic-ginger paste into hot oil, lofting warm scent into the air, she threw in little tips for substitutions, and had us assisting in stirring sauces and rolling out chappattis to accompany the meal. 

Finally, all the dishes were hot, fragrant, and ready for us to sit and enjoy. 
After sampling each of the dishes, our lips stinging lightly from the heat of the foods, Pooja’s gentle husband served us each a small bowl of sweet semolina pudding, the perfect finish to an evening Indian meal. 

Interestingly, as the days of our Indian excursion add up… as much as I enjoy Indian cuisine… I find myself reminded that too much of ANY good thing grows tiresome. 

After 9 days of complex spiced curries and dals and aloos, I find myself dreaming of a respite of salad, or pasta, or plain meat and potatoes. Do I sound like a stereotypical North American tourist, or what? 

Next stops… Udaipur, Mumbai, and Goa where we expect the heat in the air will begin to resemble the heat in the foods.

Bake Me A Cake

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For god’s sake let me turn off the Great British Bake Off.

It’s the darkest doldrum days of Canadian winter and I’ve been baking cakes this week.

It’s those damned U.K. crooked-teethed bakers in an emerald field‘s fault.

Welcome to my test kitchen.

Chocolate cakes. I’ve been baking chocolate cakes and internally ruminating about making cinnamon buns and hot cross buns. Warm, comforting scents waft in swirls, mixing lightly with tinges of pine smoke from the woodstove. Currier and Ives and Norman Rockwell would stand proud.

Maybe my sugar craving is psychological lust in disguise… porn in a more socially acceptable guise. Maybe I’m a man whose mind lies in the erotic X-rated gutter looking for sexual connections to everything, I don’t know.

I know I love chocolate. I love chocolate cake. But I don’t need to eat chocolate cake.

What I need is to run more and bike more and swim more. That’s not a New Year’s Resolution. But it should be.

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There was a movie a while back called WAITRESS, where Keri Russell made pies in a diner, lots of pies. She’d make a different pie every day – a pie that matched her mood and what was happening in her world… pies like :

BAD BABY PIE – Quiche with egg and brie cheese with a smoked ham centre… (made when she becomes pregnant by her abusive husband.)

MARSHMELLOW MERMAID PIE – From when she was in her mermaid stage. “Biblically good!

I HATE MY HUSBAND PIE – “You make it with bittersweet chocolate and don’t sweeten it. You make it into a pudding and drown it in caramel …”

One day, setting a piece of Strawberry Chocolate Oasis pie in front of Old Joe, her favourite customer (Andy Griffith), he oohs and ahhs in ecstasy at the first forkful, and she says, “It’s just a pie“.

Just a pie! It’s downright expert. A thing’a beauty … how each flavor opens itself, one by one, like a chapter in a book. First, the flavor of an exotic spice hits ya … Just a hint of it … and then you get flooded with chocolate, dark and bittersweet like an old love affair …

Just a pie. Just a chocolate cake. Not just just anything.

Yup Old Joe, it’s like a chapter in a book.

My cakes are filled with messages and meanings that go miles beyond the floury-sugary material ingredients blended together; cakes with memory fillings, creamy whipped childhood playgrounds and frosted wedding ceremonies and family-layered funeral gatherings.

Food – especially sweet food – is special in our lives. It’s like the weather. Good. Bad. Indifferent. We talk about it constantly.

Yup, Old Joe, it’s like a trip to an exotic spicy locale that invigorates and inspires you.

My cake tastes better when it travels too. It’s both literal and metaphorical.

Doesn’t any food you eat when you travel taste better than the same thing eaten at home?

A plain old havarti cheese sandwich on a crispy sourdough baguette gulped down at your kitchen table magically tastes so much better when sitting on the Spanish Steps in Rome, or on a massive rock parapet overlooking Machu Picchu.

Food mingles with personalities and visual perspectives on the horizon like fine sparkling wine pairs with fresh fruit.

My cake will transport you down an elm tree-lined journey into your past and a meal you shared with your best childhood friend in your backyard.

Treasured Mom moments.

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The power of cake.

Now that a new year has dawned, I think I’m drawn to making cakes because I’m celebrating the birth of a new seasonal effect, the lengthening of daylight. I’m looking outwards to the exciting creation of experiences, activities and new life stories.

But I’m also connecting with past wonders and the sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy memories of family dinners, weddings, funerals and celebrations.

Or maybe… just maybe… I truly am addicted to sugar.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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The Scent of Love Floating on Air…

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I want a little sugar in my bowl
I want a little sweetness down in my soul
I could stand some lovin’, oh so bad
I feel so funny, I feel so sad”
Nina Simone

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A warm wafting garlic scent intermingled with fresh tomatoes, oregano and cumin hang-glides like a heavenly wispy cloud, drifting insistently through the walls and under doors into bedrooms beckoning lovers like a magnetic force, irresistible, trance-like.

There is a sensuous beauty in cooking a scrumptious meal. Cooking… at its best… is like making delicious love while standing.

Chicken Shawarma, Aji de Gallina, Lemon Risotto, Rogan Josh, Guinness Irish Stew, Lamb Tajine, Roasted Red Pepper Lentil Soup, Moros y Cristianos, BBQ Ribs, French Onion Soup… such sweet carnal names that call out so insistent and charming.

Cooking is Patrick Swayze with his arms cozily wrapped around Demi Moore (or vice versa in my personal dream), caressing wet, slippery clay in their hands together… absorbed in the flow of warm moisture, the sinewy ooze between interlocked fingers, the light texture of warm soothing breath on the back of the neck…

Preparing a meal is foreplay where the pleasure is in the process – the cinnamon smells, the coriander tastes, the soft melding of complementary spices and oils…

There’s the lovers’ experimentation of trying this and that, seeking out a variety fun-pack where slower or faster pacing of the preparation become critical components of the whole experience… the joy of new discoveries.

And finally the moment arrives, everything is laid out in anticipatory beauty, that moment where shared pleasure heightens as we sit together as a group or face-to-face, smiling, sipping deeply-tinted Cabernet Sauvignon, nipping at summery Pinot Gris, the swirling stream of conversation weaving with the flavourful blend of colour and texture on the plate, on the fork.

Messy, noisy sucking of succulent tender meat off the rib bone and the rich feel of it melting, coating the inside of our mouths, the tangy sweetness rising through our nose hitting all the pleasure centres in the brain.

All we need to complete this delicious metaphor is a taste of something chocolatey or some other sumptuously sweet “climax” to bring the whole erotically lustful event to a satisfying finish.

A truly happy ending. With hopefully no buns left in the oven afterwards.

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Cooking is like investing or really almost everything we might do in life… each year that passes makes us more experienced, more in tune with the magic that makes it work and what doesn’t.

Fine cooking improves in our personal aging almost like a well-cellared wine.

All of the experimentation, the trials, the errors, the frustrations. And finally the successes.

You want trial and error? How about the fried rice I made at the age of 11 for a family gathering. As a young culinary neophyte, I lacked the knowledge to cook the rice in liquid first before frying – yup… CRUNCHY!!  Big Oops!

But the frequent failures blend with the successes over time… the 80:20 ratio of failure:success which was unsettling and frustrating has now flipped to a debatably 80:20 ratio of success:failure.

When my kids visit now and vocally remind me about how I’m”cooking the garbage”, I’m pretty sure they’re saying it tongue-in-cheek. Or perhaps I’m just delusional…

The 10,000 hour rule of mastery plays its part, in cooking as in our other passions.

I’ve known a few really wonderful cooks in my life beginning way back with my Mom and her incredible deep-brown caramelized roast potatoes followed by delicious flaky-crusted Northern Spy apple pies at our family Sunday night dinners.

My sister-in-law Lois was a superb cook with an amazing arsenal of ethnic food dishes learned while living in countries like Malaysia, India, Egypt and Nigeria.

My good friend Denise who, despite growing up in a British family (Brits can’t cook, can they?!), has developed a wonderful and richly-deserved reputation as a cook extraordinaire.

In the past year or two I’ve worked alongside a few other creative, skillful chefs in the Greek Restaurant where I bartend occasionally; also, even surprisingly in the soup kitchen where I do some volunteer work. I’ve discovered that great cooking doesn’t only waft in the air of kitchens in high-end spots. Passion for cooking can flow from any kitchen, any locale.

The best I can do is to watch and learn from all of those who take pride and delight in their cooking. And then mostly, I learn from cooking.

Again and again. Try this. Try that.

This flavour combination is marvellous. Oh, that one really sucks! How could I have never used fenugreek before?

I’m pretty lucky to live in a time where I have access to an amazing assortment of food ingredients. Ideas for recipes and flavour delights surround and hug me like wonderful foamy bubbles in a large bathtub.

I can prepare meals today that my parents and grandparents would never have dreamed of in their lives. Meat and potatoes are my heritage but not a major part of my current reality.

Cooking is an act of love we share with our friends, our families, our lovers.

That love may be fraternal or familial, but sometimes… when we want that sweetness down in our soul, the scents and flavours spin and whirl and twist in the spicy evening air in erotically, sensuously charged pleasures.

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Cooking With Surfer’s Momma … Starry San Juan del Sur Nights …

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Teodora takes us to the markets to find the fresh ingredients needed for Indio Viejo …

Are You Hungry?… Me Too … Let’s Eat!

If you stop by my house for a meal, be prepared to dine on the cuisine of my latest travel venture:

  • Aji de Gallina from Cusco, Peru …
  • Moros y Cristianos from Havana, Cuba …
  • Chicken Tajine from Marrakesh, Morocco …
  • Tapas from Barcelona, Spain …
  •  or in today’s case … Indio Viejo from Teodora’s kitchen in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. 

Just a few days ago, we spent a few hours in the steamy (31 degree C) markets and kitchen of Teodora, a friendly lady who’s spent her entire life running restaurants and hostels in San Juan del Sur, on Nicaragua’s northern Pacific Coast.

A quaint little tourist town, San Juan has fantastic wide, white sandy beaches and lots of tiny T-shirt shops and seafood restaurants overlooking the beach and the sparkling ocean. A grand white statue of Jesus looks down over the town and ocean from atop a nearby hill.

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SOYA… a hostel owned by Teodora and the name of her vegetarian restaurant … today’s meal breaks the house rules and uses beef …

After introducing ourselves to Teodora, and asking her to please speak slowly in Spanish (“despacio, por favor”) so that we can understand, we toddle behind her into the town’s streets – market stall to market stall, neighbour to neighbour – sourcing the needed items for preparing a classic Nicaragua beef stew dish called Indio Viejo (yup, The OLD INDIAN)

First we locate a tiny wood-shack tortilla shop where we pick up a small plastic bag of Masa (corn flour dough for making tortillas, but today it will be used as a thickener in our stew) from an elderly woman in the smoke-filled shack.

We meander further along the noisy, bumpy street and step into a busy set of market stalls.  Moving from one stall to the next, Teodora selects fresh cilantro, tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, garlic, and sour oranges, passing a very few Nicaraguan Cordobas (local currency) to each of the lady shopkeepers.

Vegetables in tow, we head back into the streets and trundle along a few blocks, stopping once in a while to have a friendly visit with local ladies pushing their sweet children in little “car”-shaped strollers – lifelong friends of Teodora’s. Of course, their Spanish chatter is too rapid for us to gather more than a few ideas of where the conversation is leading.

Our final stop is at a glass-fronted Carneceria (meat shop) where we pick out a couple of small pieces of res (beef) that are bagged by the young boy behind the counter.

All the ingredients we need now are in our bags, so we head back – in the typical tropical plodding walking pace – to SOYA, the hostel-restaurant owned by Teodora.

It’s time to start cooking.

Entering the hostel’s front opening, we pass through a dark, narrow hallway into the back area that blossoms into a small square that opens to the skies. On the perimeter of the square are rooms cheaply available for rent to tourists, and from what we can see, mainly backpackers of varying ages.

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In the centre is a square room with a door that opens into a congested kitchen – the room jam-packed with pots, pans, bags, coolers, vegetables and fruits – there is scarce room for any sort of food preparation.

Teodora, accustomed to the conditions, shows no signs of concern, and pulls out a ceramic soup bowl to place on the little bit of space by the sink. She also places a large teflon-lined pot on the stove, strikes a match to light a propane burner underneath, and begins explaining the preparation details of this dish.

Along with the essential cooking directions, Teodora includes little snippets of information about her sons (her one son Saul – she affectionately calls him Saulito – was actually my surfing instructor on Playa Hermosa the day before) and grandchildren, often flashing a bright gold-toothed smile, showing her pride in her family.

She talks quietly as she washes and cuts the beef, the vegetables, the sour oranges (I’ve placed the recipe ingredients and details at the bottom, so I won’t get terribly detailed here). I love it when we add a toothpaste-sized lump of rust-toned achiote paste to the masa dough and the entire stew takes on a rich orange-brown colour.

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There’s barely a square inch of space available amid the pans and dishes and clutter … Teodora cuts vegetables right in a bowl by the edge of the sink…

After about an hour of cutting, boiling, stirring, and sautéing a salsa garnish, the finished dish is ready to sample.

Each of Teodora, Maureen and myself, scavenge up a bowl amid the counter clutter and scoop a ladleful of the rich, thick stew into our bowls. We squeezed our way out of the tiny kitchen – two other travellers, one Romanian, the other Mexican, had begun preparing their own meals alongside us as we chopped and stirred.

We plunked ourselves down on a long concrete bench that runs along the length of one of the inner walls of the compound and try our first taste of Indio Viejo.

Mmmmm … the tangy sour orange combined with the strong garlic, corn flour, and cilantro flavours to make a full-flavoured, heat-free dish with tender chunks of beef that I’m looking forward to recreating in my – just slightly less cluttered – Canadian kitchen.

So, please drop by and we’ll enjoy some together.

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Nighttime in San Juan del Sur

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The brightly lit 24 metre-high white statue of Christ of the Mercy peers out at us from the north hill overlooking little San Juan del Sur.

Stately coconut and royal palms rise over this resort town that attracts tourists – mostly beautiful young things – by the throngs.

To a lesser degree, it’s a bit like spring break week in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. At night, pairs and groups of people migrate down the middle of the narrow, uneven streets into bars and restaurants pumping out loud music in styles of jazz, or salsa, or rock.

The town is a living organism with a heartbeat that picks up as the night moves on.

This evening, there’s a touch of magic in the warm night air – delight in eating fresh seafood with our group while sipping fluffy rum drinks and cervezas in the wide beachfront restaurant … a romance in the night sky as Jesus looks down over us, stars twinkling overhead. Our travel mates laugh and play in a light alcoholic haze around a circular table perched right on the beach sand.

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Dinner on the beach at San Juan del Sur …

 

It’s a great group we’re travelling with, although – full disclosure, I have to say this as some of them might just read this! But, honestly, we blended pretty harmoniously.

Travel company gAdventures thrust us together as we arrived in Granada, Nicaragua from regions around the globe.

Before we knew it, we were meandering throughout hot and humid northern Nicaragua as a troop containing an even 10 of us – 5 Canadians, 1 American, 1 Belgian, 1 Aussie, 1 Brit, and 1 Costa Rican (Esteban, our guide).

It was a wide-ranging selection of nationalities, genders, accents, ages, religions, and interests. And yet we somehow came together and melded well despite our differences.

Many activities we experienced and saw as a group … at other times we headed off in diverse directions as our interests and palates differed.

And I’m going to share a secret with you after this latest journey… come closer and I’ll whisper …

I don’t usually enjoy travelling in groups.”

I like taking odd detours and finding side streets with local interest that draws me in – group travel is usually just too regimented to provide the freedom and flexibility that I crave. And, for sure … there always seems to be a personality or two that drives me bonkers. Although, to be totally fair, it might be MY personality that gnaws at the others!

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A nighttime visit to see glowing lava inside the Masaya Volcano, near Granada …

 

One of the small joys of travel, for me, is that I often find myself meeting people that I may not approach or stumble upon in my own little circle, my town, my country.

I like to believe that many travellers are explorers seeking to open their minds and hearts to what the world has to offer, as well as discovering hidden parts of themselves that they don’t really understand just yet. There are minute-to-minute stresses and challenges that enlighten us about ourselves.

Travel is both an outward and an inward journey of discovery. 

…………………………

As the jets thrusters roar up for us to make the final taxiing turn onto the nighttime runway, I look out the small airplane window, soaking in the final views of a foreign landscape, and I ask myself,

How many vistas are lovelier than a lit runway at dusk, cold blue and warm yellow lights leading off into the far distance, hinting at a destination exotic and far off … or … just reminding me that I’m coming home.”

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INDIO VIEJO RECIPE:

Ingredients:

  • 1 and a half pounds of beef (or chicken, pork, or … tofu even)
  • 1 pound of corn flour or “masa” (pre-made corn flour dough)
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of fresh cilantro
  • 1 bitter orange (you can use lemon as a substitute)
  • 2 or 3 tbsp. olive oil or butter
  • Achiote or annatto (needed for coloring, although you can use sweet paprika as a substitute)
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • Approximately half a gallon (2 liters) of water

 

Cook cubed beef in the olive oil with garlic, diced onion, tomato and julienned bell pepper.

Add the water and boil with the lid on the pot until the meat is soft (about 1/2 hour).

Add some water to the corn dough in a bowl and mix until the dough is blended into a smooth paste. Add a tablespoon or so of achiote or annatto to make the corn dough slurry look slightly red. Add this to the beef/vegetable pot and mix it all together on medium heat.

Add the juice from the bitter orange, and let it cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until the mixture is thickened and boiling with large bubbles.

Serve with rice, and/or fried plantain.

2015 The Year To Be Great – Part 2, The Sequel

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Some days I feel a bit low and there doesn’t seem to be any explanation.

Gun Man

That is, until I look more closely inside myself and realize that the get-up-and-go-gun isn’t loaded.

What good is a gun without fire power?

Actually, as a peaceful kind of guy, I could debate this with myself, but let’s not go there today, OK?  When my gun is unable to blast away I know I’m lacking gunpowder – a fervent feeling, a drive of passion.

I love passion in all its forms.

Passion is what makes me – like my investing guru Warren Buffett – tap dance on the sidewalk with glorious abandon …

Give Me PURPOSE! Give Me GOALS!

NOW I have a Loaded Gun!

I am rarely happier than when I’m working and playing with purpose.

Give me a road to travel on and headlights to show me where I’m headed, and I’ll have a smile on my face. But it’s up to me to make the power to run those headlights.

That’s what makes this such a great virtuous circle … I feed power to the headlights with goals that give me purpose and passion –  and the purpose and passion light the way forwards towards achieving my goals.

PRESTO … I’m on a supercharged highway with great spin-off effects … an autobahn with no speed limits …

Examples of how this might play out:

  • a 10k running race event in May gives me the initiative to work out and train hard for 4 months leading up to it … A strong, healthy body is a side effect of reaching my goal.
  • I sign on to perform 2 songs at a local summer festival … so I practice and write music until it all sits comfortably inside my muscle memory so that when I get on stage, when the nerves rise up, the music is there inside me even if my head is too jangled to realize it.
  • I listen to people speak and really listen and praise them for the little things they do right (we all have some things we do right) … it makes them feel good about themselves and this makes me feel good about myself … another virtuous circle in action. Our relationships with others are always better, stronger if we take the time to make the other guy/gal feel good about themselves, rather than knocking them down with a competitive response… “oh sure, I did that a long time ago, what took you so long?”

My blog post last week spoke of what happened in 2014 … now it’s time to look forward and plan … after all, you do know that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail“… sorry, I swear I’ll lose kitschy cliches in 2015!

So, does 2015 have a THEME? Hmmmm, what would my theme be?

2015 The Year of Simplify

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SIMPLIFY. SIMPLIFY. SIMPLIFY. Sometimes, I try to take on too many goals and I lose focus and concentration. This year I think I’ll choose fewer goals and work harder to make each of them happen.

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2015 GOALS

BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and LFEG’s (Little Fuzzy Everyday Goals)

1. PHYSICAL/HEALTH

a) Climb Mount EverestHaaa, not quite what you’re thinking, although I like that idea too.

No, this Mount Everest is a cumulative hill climb that equates to the distance needed to surmount the king of Mountains. Mount Everest is what? … let’s Google this… 8,848 metres (or 29,029 feet) high.

My local Summerland “mountain” called Giant’s Head is 296 metres in height from the lower parking lot to the summit overlooking the picturesque Okanagan Valley.

I’ll have to summit Giant’s Head 30 times in 2015 to make the equivalent climb to the tip of Mount Everest. That means a weekly average of 2 climbs bottom to top and I can plant a flag at the top of Mount Everest. My friends Jennifer and Pam are taking this challenge on too which will give us all some motivation.

I think this is going to be a stretch challenge … I like stretch challenges!!

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Peak of Giant’s Head… er… my Mount Everest…

 

b) Run 2 Half Marathonsjust like last year, 2 half-marathons will be my “big” running events for the year. I’ll probably throw in a few 10k and 5 k events too, but they will be the little siblings to the main objective of running 21 k in the half-marathon event. Usually I set time goals eg. sub 2- hours for these, but as I age and become more … let’s say “mature”… I’m going to simplify and relax and make completion of these runs, regardless of time, my HAPPY PLACE.

2. CHARITABLE

a) 10% Charitable boost – adding 10% to my monthly automatic charity contributions is a great goal because it requires next to no sacrifice or sweat. Two phone calls (hang on a second … there … done!!) and the year’s objective has been met.

b) Volunteer Time – In the past few months I’ve begun volunteering some time at the local soup kitchen, and assembling Christmas hampers at the Salvation Army – my goal here is simple (see? Simplify!)… keep on keeping on. Chopping vegetables and making sandwiches a couple of days a month is fun for me (I love to cook) and there’s a warm and fuzzy factor that settles in when I survey the tables of folks chatting and enjoying a steaming bowl of soup. The downside (there’s ALWAYS a downside) … these poor unfortunates have to eat MY cooking!

3. WRITING

a) 50 Additional Blog Posts + 75 views/day on blog – Writing blogs is my therapy and my routine. In this post-paid-work world I now inhabit, there’s a big need for day markers and deadlines, otherwise couch-dom and sloth become my best friends (well alright, La-Z-Boy is already my best friend). But I’m not just physically lazy, my mind needs the push of writing blog entries to keep it fine-tuned like a Maserati that just happens to motor along more like a Rent-A-Wreck version otherwise …

2014 brought an average of about 54 views to this blog each day. My fragile male ego would be really swollen in gratitude if enough new folks came along to bring this to 75 daily.

4.  MUSICAL 

a) Purchase 12-string guitar this carryover from last year will be looked after soon dear friends, I promise. I’ve done most of my homework, now I’ll only need to haggle for price and terms eg. does it come with guarantees of perpetually perfect tuning (after all, 12 strings is a lot to keep tuned, right?)?

WAIT... I said a Taylor 12-String Guitar... not a Taylor Swift guitar!

WAIT… I said a Taylor 12-String Guitar… not a Taylor Swift guitar!

b) Build A Guitar – This is a brand new idea that powered its way into my head this past year. There are a number of places worldwide that offer the opportunity to build your very own guitar over a 2- to 4-week period with lots of instruction and expert guidance. What could be cooler than to craft your own musical instrument and add Luthier (no, not LOSER!) to your resume?

c) Write more Songs and perform original songs publically. I hesitate to give a number as far as writing my own songs goes (SIMPLIFY), but I know I have momentum pushing me in the right direction. So rather than choose a number of songs to write as a goal, I want to press myself to make the pieces as high a quality as I can manage … great, meaningful lyrics enshrouded in wonderful, harmony-laced melodies with a fantastic chorus that draws one in and sets the happy or melancholy emotions aflame.

Stepping further into the musical abyss, beyond the writing lays the performing side. Here I’ll need to kick myself in whatever direction gives me an opportunity to throw myself at the public audience.

5. TRAVEL 

a) Visit New-To-Me Central American country – learning and improving Spanish has been on my agenda for about 5 years now (hence “school” trips to Peru, Spain, Cuba). But we’ve never touched ground in any of the Central American countries, so this is the year to say HOLA to one of Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, or Guatemala.

b) American States? I think I’ve managed a visit to about 26 states of the little country to the south. I’m barely past the halfway point of my goal to see ’em all, which means I’ll have to live to … oh, about 110 years old at this pace. I’d better find a way to get my puny Canuck ass into another state or two. Maybe a visit to those old carved Presidential dudes on Mt. Rushmore is in order, or a whirlwind tour of  tornado alley to catch up on Dorothy and Toto.

6. FINANCIAL

a) 15% returnI spent the first 30+ years of my working life saving and accumulating a financial base. Now it’s time for that base to pull its weight. Slavery has found a home in my investment account.

I can live indefinitely with about a 7% average annual return, but I enjoy the research and stimulation of investing, so why not be entertained and make a few bucks along the way. Besides, the better investor I am, the more I can drop into my charitable contributions bucket. I’d call that a WIN-WIN…

My investing hero...Warren Buffett... hey, wasn't he in the movie "UP"?

My investing hero…Warren Buffett… hey, wasn’t he in the movie “UP”?

My 5-year average annual return is looking a bit light of my 15% goal at 12.2%.  Intriguingly, my 10-year average is now identical at 12.2% also.

Despite a bit of underachievement here, these numbers don’t make me unhappy. After all, the 10-year record includes a pretty precipitous drop in 2008. But I’m thinking that as I get older and wiser, maybe I should be capable of bringing that average up a bit without bumping up the risk levels.

So… help me out here please, OK? Perhaps if each of you could buy just a few more APPLE products and drop by MCDONALD’S for the occasional BIG MAC while making sure to chat/text with your friends on your BELL CANADA cellphone? Am I asking too much?

8. FOOD & EATING

a) Study Cooking for One Day in any Travel Destination – I’ll make reasonable attempts to catch at least one day of cooking classes on local cuisine for any locale to which I travel. Last year was TAJINE in Morocco… maybe this year, GALLO PINTO in Nicaragua.

c. 2013 www.GretchenAlms.com

b) Develop a Repertoire of Egg Recipes – the chicken palace under construction in my backyard should be finished by early spring. This means an abundance of fresh eggs by summertime. I’ll want to get innovative and creative and ply friends and relatives with fabulous frittatas and Green Huevos Rancheros and Ham.

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Look Into Your Crystal Ball and Read the Tea Leaves of Your Tarot Cards (huh?)

In 2015 I’m trying to release any pretensions of perfection as part of my SIMPLIFY theme. And it truly is pretension – I’ve never approached perfection in any segment of my life. I discussed my simple thoughts for this in an earlier post about my 1,000 hour rule.

This life “thing” is fascinating. Each year I find out something new about myself as bits of inner flotsam are released and rise to the surface where I can see them. This is one of the very cool things about aging – and aging is a concept and process I struggle against. One of these years I’ll likely have an epiphany and gracefully accept the creaking ship that is life.

But for now, I’ll be who and what I am and run madly off in all directions in search of adventure in all its forms.

Adventures that come in physical form such as building things, cooking things – maybe even skydiving – and also mental adventures in the form of ideas. There are a ton of great ideas out there that set my heart and mind on fire just waiting to be plucked and mated via idea sex.

I’m seeking a simple, balanced life that accommodates an ADHD kind of personality like mine.

So … simply tomorrow … take in a boot camp class but not snack (physical), write a thank you email to my sister for her Christmas gift (emotional), come up with 10 ideas for future blog posts or songs (mental), spend 10 minutes in meditation feeling grateful (spiritual).

Load up your gun with all of the passion and goals you can muster and let’s head into 2015 together, OK?

 There are worse ways to start …

… or finish … a New Year. 

2015 goals

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