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My Fun And Often Futile Relationship With Food

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Food is Fun.

Given a carefree choice, with no negative repercussions, I would happily live on junk food… probably? maybe? ummm…

Yes, I truly could hungrily wolf hamburgers, feast on french fries, slurp milkshakes, gobble pizzas… inhale chocolate, and devour cheesecake. Ad libitum

The perfect atheist Heaven for me would be a hybrid McDonald’s and Cheesecake Factory that served me fat, sugar, and sodium-laced breakfast, lunch, dinner, and multiple snacks in-between.

My early childhood was replete with the chemical and technological wonders of 1950’s and 60’s-style technology.

This was mostly new-age junk food fed to us under a strange and implicit (mis)understanding that it was actually the best food for the human body… created by humans, sent into the world and marketed with a message telling us it was the easy-peasy, modern road to health using the very best scientific knowledge of the day (and yup, a lot of that messaging still exists).

Cruddy pseudo-food was sold on radio, TV, and magazines presented alongside esteemed doctors preaching from on high about the healthiest cigarettes you could smoke. It was a Mad Men diet filled with truly terrible choices like Cheez-Whiz, Spaghetti-O’s, and Pop Tarts. Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam…

My loving mother doted on me by making chocolate chip cookies and muffins each week that I happily scarfed down resulting in my “husky” size as I entered my teen years.

One major truth in my life is that despite being a very active sports and fitness guy… sadly… I’ve always been able to easily out-eat my exercise compulsions, even while training intensely for Ironman races.

So, like a zillion others, I face a day-to-day love-hate relationship with food.

In this perpetual war (I’d like to call it the Hundred Years War, but that is still TBD!), I lose many battles. My weigh scale and I have been mortal enemies at times…

But also, to my good fortune, I win back a few food’ish battles too (kind of reflects the Russia/Ukraine scenario doesn’t it?).

The end result over my many decades is that I tend to hover – back and forth – in a BMI (Body Mass Index) category that sits in the category called OVERWEIGHT.

I say good fortune, but I’ll accept personal responsibility like a good adult for whichever direction the needle wavers on the weigh scale.

When the needle creeps up, I’m usually not surprised. French fries or potato chips twice in one week + movie popcorn + a light beer? Especially when I could have the side salad in their place? BAM… another pound.

A second (or… third!) piece of chocolate cake at a birthday celebration? What was I thinking? Yup, another BAM!

This is never good for someone who is striving to join in the Centenarian Olympics. But it is human nature and I love myself despite these weaknesses!

A New Era?

In the past year or two, I’ve been intrigued and captivated by the Intermittent Fasting trend (fad?).

The judgment of science on this nascent movement is in limbo, but common sense at least says that fewer hours spent eating usually means fewer calories going down.

So these days I typically adhere to an Intermittent-Fasting-Lite approach to eating.

Twelve hours on, 12 hours off. No special adjustments to what I would normally eat otherwise, EXCEPT… No evening snacks or anything else passes my lips other than green tea until the following a.m.

For me this is doable, and doesn’t – in typical DIET fashion – feel like a struggle or an imposition. It’s become a habit like regular exercise and eating lots of vegetables, which is what I want.

And most importantly, my weigh scale rarely – almost never – tells me I’ve strayed. We hardly ever argue anymore. Sure, we don’t vacation together or share inside jokes but the expletive deletives have dropped right off!

Food is life. Food is pleasure. Food sustains us but it is so much more.

Food is like sex. You can do it fast or you can do it slow. Both have their enjoyable moments, both can be wrapped in guilt…

… and thankfully, both are highlights of the human condition that we savour.

A Pinch of Galloping Gourmet, A Cup of Anthony Bourdain…

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Welcome to another “change-of-scenery” guest post from my young-old friend Jim Ferguson.

This time out, James is casting his “Oregon eye” on some very interesting cuisinery experiences he’s had the rare opportunity – and gustatory courage – to try out.

Feel free to share back with Jim some of your more intriguing food experiences.

So now friends, without further delay… here’s Jim.

……………..

Once again, Sir Lawrence – has asked me for a guest blog contribution and as usual I am happy to bail out my old friend and give his brain a rest for a week or so.

It is timely too because I have been pondering my grandmother of late and that has opened the door to some ponderings on eating etiquette and food experiences.

How in the heck do you make that leap you might ask?

Well, you are just going to have to read on for the answer. I suspect you will read on because who doesn’t enjoy a good discussion about FOOD, n’est-ce pas!!!

Like many children, I was a bit of a messy eater. Okay! I was more like the Muppets character Cookie Monster devouring his cookies when it came to my childhood eating habits.

My poor mother was a saint for having to clean up after my older brother and me after meals.

My father was oft heard to say “Geez…were you born in a pig sty?” In fact, I heard that so often in my childhood that the whole stork theory ranked second behind the pig sty theory as to where babies came from. I was convinced that just maybe I DID emerge from a pig sty!

I guess it is reasonable to assume that most babies and toddlers are a bit messy when it comes to the finer points of eating. Back then, it wasn’t about taste but more about quantity and how fast you could shovel in the food – pure unadulterated gluttony!

As I grew older my dear Scottish grandmother contributed her sage advice towards refining my eating etiquette as only Scottish grandmothers can.

Wee youngster Jim and Grandmother Nina in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Nina, as we called her, was a stout Scot who made her way across the Atlantic to marry my granddad in the late 1920s. Nina arrived in Quebec City and shortly after was married and suddenly she found herself pioneering in the Lac St. Jean region of Quebec.

She always had a bit of an “edge” to her and maybe this was born of her harsh life in the Quebec wilderness. I could get a smile from her from time to time but they were few and far between.

She was prim and proper and an imposing figure to this wee lad. Nary a hair was ever out of place.

She and granddad would occasionally visit us when I was growing up in Nova Scotia.

I have vivid memories of Nina telling to get my elbows off the table otherwise there could be profound social repercussions. When Nina spoke-I tended to listen!

I could not imagine what social repercussions were so important that I had to get my elbows off the table, but my grandma set me straight. I can still hear her words of wisdom saying to me in her Scottish brogue “Awe Jimmy, how do you ever expect to have supper with the Queen if you keep putting your elbows on the table?

Queen Elizabeth had been making trips to Canada regularly back in the 1960s. In fact, she came through Halifax-Dartmouth area in Nova Scotia where I spent my younger years and had been taught the “wrist-wrist, elbow-elbow” wave that was appropriate for Her Majesty.

However, never once did I for a moment imagine that HRH was going to stop by 27 Penhorn Drive in Dartmouth to invite me for supper.

That wasn’t on my radar and, in fact, if she had stopped by, I suspect I would have run in the opposite direction screaming (think Kevin McAllister from the Christmas classic “Home Alone” running with flailing arms, screaming up the stairs, hiding under his parents bed…yup….that probably would have been me).

Now, if HRH had been a Montreal Canadiens hockey fan and brought my favourite player – Yvan Cournoyer – with her, well that would have been a different story all-together…

Well… I am now 64-years old and still no supper date with the royals on the horizon. My life is incomplete.

Still… I have learned other food pearls over the course of my lifetime as, no doubt, you have too.

I suspect Larry has more to share on this theme as he and Maureen are much more worldly-wise than I with their globetrotting over the past few decades. I did, however, learn a few choice pearls along the way besides keeping my elbows off the table.

During our Yellowknife days, Larry was quite the chef.

I recall him “relishing” (pun intended) in knowing his way around the kitchen (why else would Maureen ever have married the lad from Hamilton, right?) and in fact I was on the receiving end of his cooking talents and can attest to the fact that Chef Boyardee has nothing on Larry.

For my part, I learned how to make stew in the Arctic town, Yellowknife, in the mid-1970s.

I was living with a First Nations family at the time. Roy was Ojibwe First Nations, and Rosa, Dogrib First Nations, from a village just down Great Slave Lake from Yellowknife.

They had 4 kids but still opened their home and hearts for me to stay with them for several months.

Roy and Rosa taught me how to make a great stew and that very few ingredients were off limits.

I was never a fan of stew and so my first inclination was to politely decline the offer, but I’m glad that I allowed myself to experience Roy and Rosa’s stew. There were lots of vegetables and spices, and of course gently-browned beef tender to the bite. It really was delectable.

We were all part of the Yellowknife Baha’i community and the group used to host a unique event called the “caribou unity stew”.

The Baha’i community of Yellowknife, always looking for ways to bring people together, would host caribou unity stews 3-4 times annually where we would rent a public hall with a kitchen facility and invite as many people to come as possible with the idea that everyone had to bring something to add to the stew pot.

The Baha’is provided the caribou and everyone else brought the other ingredients: potatoes, celery, corn, rice, carrots, etc.

It was lots of fun and I have from time to time held similar events over the years but never quite replicating those fantastic Yellowknife events.

It was always a mystery what would end up in the stew because one never knew what special ingredient guests would bring. The stews were delicious and during the winter months the meat was freshly harvested and cooked to perfection. If you recall the Galloping Gourmet – Graham Kerr – savouring every morsel of his creation, well, you get the picture…

It was also in Yellowknife that I was exposed to my version of poutine.

I was living on very little money and would go into the old Yellowknife Inn and amble along the cafeteria line and order a pop and a plate of fries with brown gravy and cheese to which I would add ketchup. I think that experience not only added a few pounds to my girth but tested my gut constitution to the max… All-in-all, my Yellowknife days were filled with food experimentation opportunities.

A number of years later, in the mid-1990s, I spent 2 months in the Republic of Guyana in South America helping with a rural health project.

Guyana has a large segment of the population from India living in the capital city of Georgetown.

I fell in love with many of the traditional foods and spices from India. Still, to this day, just the thought of a lamb vindaloo meal starts my mouth to watering. It was also the first time I saw people plunge their hands into food with gusto.

That was a huge “No No” in my family.

I was taught to NEVER launch hands first into food but in Guyana I overcame this family norm and “dove right in”. As the old saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Well, in Guyana, I did as the Guyanese did.

When I left the big city of Georgetown to go to the remote Rupununi region to participate in the health project, I learned about eating food right out of the fire – mostly freshly harvested chicken, beef, pork, or fish. If you wanted to eat, you had to eat simply. Rice was the staple with every meal with some meat or other and lots of spices.

Later on, in Alaska, I learned to sample foods that were way off my food radar.

There are traditional foods consumed by the Eskimo peoples of NorthWest Alaska (they refer to themselves as Eskimo so I will use that term).

These foods included “black meat”, seal oil, whale blubber (muktuk), whale meat, seal, walrus meat and blubber, and exotic local bird (murre) eggs, to name but a few.

As Larry will attest, I am sure, when in a different culture, if someone offers you food you humbly accept with gratitude (at least for a taste). Well… in Alaska, I was offered all the above and sampled it all on more than one occasion.

Much of the harvested food was dipped in seal oil. Seal oil was such a staple of the Eskimo culture that it was not unusual to smell the oil emanating from the skin pores of the people who consumed this on a regular basis.

For someone who was not a regular consumer of the traditional Eskimo diet, I learned that many of these foods were an acquired taste, especially the “black meat” which was mainly seal, walrus, or reindeer meat left to dry on a rack for a week or longer until blackened and then eaten with seal oil. The meat was often tough to chew – like eating jerky – but the seal oil helped soften it up a bit.

Muktuk was made more palatable by dipping it in teriyaki sauce, a trick I learned from the locals. It was rubbery in texture. Sushi lovers would have a field day with much of the traditional cuisine.

My first experience cooking murre eggs was quite a shock.

The murre lay their eggs in the cliffs near the village and these are collected at great risk by the village folk. I was given the large eggs regularly.

I was told not to fry them like a regular egg, but… I had forgotten this important advice. I threw on some bacon and fried up an egg (they are huge) and soon discovered it was just like eating fish! Surprise! Surprise! The murre survive by eating fish so why would I think the eggs would taste otherwise? If you boil the eggs, they taste less fishy. Lesson learned.

Today, here I am at 64-years old, retired, and no longer with elbows on the table.

I still sit by the phone waiting for the Queen to call me for our long overdue supper date.

COVID-19 has curtailed any international travel plans thus limiting my exposure to new and exciting gustatory opportunities.

I am, however, left with wonderful memories of what has been.

I also know that as a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, I can, at least, plan a trip to Summerland, BC one of these years (Covid permitting) for a home-cooked meal from the kitchen of the “musical gourmet” – Sir Lawrence – in return for an evening of mandolin and guitar playing and lots of singing.

Now I wait for Larry’s call – let’s just hope he isn’t in league with the Queen.

Peace, Jim

Do Astronauts Eat Cold Oats?

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Have you ever had a wet dream over cold oatmeal?

I know I’m a bit old for this, but I think I’ve come close.

Yes, Cold Overnight Oats are THAT good (here’s a simple recipe).

Remember last week when I said I was having difficulty in unearthing subject matter to write these posts? I will totally forgive you for thinking that this post might perfectly exemplify that statement.

OK, moving forward…

… Food, glorious food…

In the 1960’s, I grew up on simple, new-age chemical foods. The wonders of modern laboratories. Tinned peas. Astronaut drinks. Spam. TV dinners. All eaten to the soundtrack of Honey (Bobby Goldsboro) and I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Marvin Gaye).

Even babies were fed “nutritionally superior” food from a can or bottle. Women no longer needed breasts, while some of the chemicals we consumed helped men grow breasts, go figure.

When I look back on my childhood and compare it with today… well… the food choices, l’idée du moment, the sheer variety of ingredients, and exposure to ethnic foods has exploded in 50 plus years.

In the early to mid-1960’s I had yet to lay eyes or teeth on a green pepper… a dragonfruit, a passion fruit, a kiwi, a mango, a yam, sushi, turmeric, yogurt, cumin, soybean anything, wild rice, couscous, rotis, lentils, the list continues on to the horizon.

Here I am, half a century later… 50 years in the life of edibles and… food has changed BUT so have I. (A small aside: in 1960, the average Canadian consumed about 2800 calories daily, today it sidles in at close to 3400 calories per person (International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).)

For most of us today, the health consequences of what we eat is far more front-of-mind than it was 50 years ago; the impact that we have on animal life and the health of soils and eco-systems that grow our sustenance is increasingly more important to us.

Ultimately, what we eat, what we enjoy… are flavours, colours and textures that tempt our senses. While some eat to live, most days I live to eat. Sorry Socrates…

Enjoying, savouring food is one of our greatest human characteristics. The popularity of food shows on our TV’s is a pretty fair testament to our love of delicious foods and the company of those we love to be around while eating.

Time for a gustatory journey…

Let’s go on a small time-travelling tour of the evolution of my food half-century and peek in at some of the changes both to the world I live in now and how I too have changed.

CAUTION: Some of the things I once consumed are a bit scary… PSYCHO of the Cuisine Scene!

13 of My Favourite Foods of 1971 and 2021

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1971

  • 1. Peanut Butter and Jam sandwich on white Wonder Bread
  • 2. Chicken à la King
  • 3. Sweet & Sour Chicken Balls with Egg Rolls
  • 4. Roast Beef with Oven-roasted potatoes
  • 5. French Onion Soup
  • 6. AlphaBits cereal
  • 7. Lipton Onion chip dip
  • 8. Tang orange drink
  • 9. Spaghetti-O’s
  • 10. Jello 1-2-3
  • 11. Cheese Fondue
  • 12. Tuna Noodle Casserole
  • and my all-time favourite 13. Tomato Aspic (YUK!)

2021

  • 1. Peanut Butter and Banana on Crusty Whole Grain
  • 2. Chicken Rogan Josh
  • 3. Steamed Dumplings and Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
  • 4. Moroccan Tagine
  • 5. Squash Veloute
  • 6. Cold Overnight Banana Blueberry Oats or Bran Flakes
  • 7. Tangy Mango Salsa with Tortilla Chips
  • 8. Freshly Prepared Fruit Salad
  • 9. Pasta E Fagioli
  • 10. Fruit Pizza
  • 11. Chicken Enchiladas
  • 12. Seafood Paella
  • 13. Greek Salad

Back to the future: It’s almost as if I’ve returned from space after 50 years like a modern-day Marco Polo with a cargo bay full of new, pungent spices, and fresh produce, and a lot less chemical additives.

Going forward, I think I could be happy blasting off to Mars with Elon, exploring the cosmos but only so long as I can take along my cold overnight oats (and lattes!) and leave the Spaghetti-O’s and Tomato Aspic behind!

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.

BEYOND MOO, Cluck, Oink, Gobble, and GlubGlub…

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The bloodless revolution is in full swing… load up your tofu fork now…

The meaty secret is out of the bag – the world is awash in major transitions in a hundred different areas… and one BIGGEE that strikes us all every day is in what we eat.

Now I’ve talked here before about the challenges I’ve faced in inviting guests into our house and feeding a group that sounds like the making of a CLUE game: Ms. Vegan, Professor Celiac, Lady Lactose Intolerant, Colonel Keto, the list of characters goes on and on…

Today though, I want to delve a bit into the shape of our future as it pertains to MEATY Matters.

North America/Europe/Asia/DownUnder have all led us down the cultural belief-street of the wonders of protein from animal sources.

Family beef roasts were as much a part of my Sunday WASP upbringing as the United Church minister’s boring sermon. I love succulent beef. I savour rich Yorkshire Pudding. Gravy? Mmmmmm….

Meat is convenient and pretty darn easy for the average consumer.

So long as we are willing to cultivate animals (and their products) and then kill/harvest them (or better still, have someone else do the killing), we have a handy source of accessible protein to feed our muscles and bones.

It’s life sustaining for humans.

Watch out though, because, my friend:

As the present now

Will later be past

The order is

Rapidly fadin’.

And the first one now

Will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’.

(Bob Dylan)

Yes, I can see the future in my shiny crystal ball… times are a-changin’, and it will not look like the past, although hopefully, it will taste like the past.

We are entering the Twilight Zone… the relatively new phenomenon of non-animal based protein sources that mimic or reproduce animal foods sans animal. Moo-free meat!

You can’t visit a supermarket or read a news journal without a sighting of non-meat information.

Beyond Meats, Impossible Meats, Soy Curls and Tofu-this-and-that are a mere beginning of what will land on our plates and palates in coming months and years.

Wishful thinking my Carnivore Compadre!

One day you and I will find “steak” and “chicken breasts” and “shrimp” that resemble what we are accustomed to seeing and relishing from the farms of our lush countrysides… EXCEPT:

Those “meats” will be products of food laboratories and industry farms that use miraculous tools of technology to bring us the flavours and textures of cow and chicken and pig… Wagyu beef without the intermediate step of birthing a cow. No heartbeat. No suffering.

My own set of beliefs on the use of meat are in constant flux as we travel this pathway of transition.

We can agree or disagree on the ethics and challenges of these products (and we surely will!)… but… we will not hold back the tide just as we can’t hold off the tsunamis that bowl us over in other areas of our lives.

We can affect the management, politics and morals of it, but we’ll not successfully prevent or outlaw the wholesale use of these sciences.

Here we sit today in a transition period just as the internal combustion engine is in an age of transition… we all need to get used to it and adapt.

Soon, cows and chickens and pigs will celebrate in the streets…

…yes, the bloodless revolution is underway… beet the drums, lettuce make merry… VIVA LA REVOLUCION!