Monthly Archives: July 2017

Fake cooking news: just stop, already!

If you want to give away Brandied Fruit for a Christmas gift, you need to start in July. There are no Ontario strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or currents to buy in December.

More than 30 years ago, when I was just a novice cook (well, I started cooking when I was eight years old so I was not exactly a novice cook; maybe more of a novice gourmet) I bought the December issue of Chatelaine magazine with a cover photo filled with home made gifts you could make for Christmas.

The most appealing photo and write up on the recipes was Brandied Fruit. It looked luscious and colourful and was packed in a mason jar with a ribbon and a lovely label. I was so excited to make some Brandied Fruit, and give it away as a gift!

Then I read the recipe, published in December.

“Clean a quart of fresh strawberries,” it read. “Rinse a pint of blueberries, raspberries and red currants….”

“Well, for cripes’ sake!” I exclaimed in disappointment. “The ONLY way you could make this recipe would be if you started in July!”

I won’t say the Chatelaine Magazine was a complete waste, as it did motivate me to organize myself to get out and get picking all the berries required the following July. But advertising Brandied Fruit as a “home made gift” you could give away for Christmas, in December, was pretty misleading.

July in Ontario….is there anywhere better on Earth?

It is no wonder young cooks get discouraged.

The entire reason I started shooting cooking videos is because I so despise the current batch of cooking shows. They are all stressful to watch, with young chefs getting cut, chopped, fired and insulted, running off of the set in tears. This is NOT what cooking is about, not at all!

I grew up to believe cooking was a wonderful thing, work done with love for people that you love. My mom and my sisters were patient, persistent and purposeful, involving me in every step of numerous processes so that I would understand cooking.

When I was eight years old, my mom handed me a box of Jiffy yellow cake mix and a chocolate frosting mix.

“Here,” she instructed me. “Make this.”

She only returned to the kitchen once, to tell me not to try to frost a cake hot from the oven.

“Let the cake cool before you frost it,” she told me, before she disappeared again. That cake was actually pretty good, which is kind of amazing when you realize I only learned to READ the year before; and now, I was reading instructions including measurements and oven temperatures.

My sister Jeannie taught me how to brown hamburger meat. “You never put raw hamburger in spaghetti sauce or chili,” she told me. “First, you brown it, and drain away the fat.”

My sister Mary, who worked in food service her entire life, made endless Easy Bake Oven cakes with me and taught me about the fact that food can go bad. I had no knowledge of this before the day she sniffed a container of potato salad and exclaimed, “This stuff smells raunchy! Throw it away!”

Mary, who worked in the kitchen of St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged at Cornwall and Cadieux from age 12, came home from work one day and informed me that the public health inspector had visited the home that day.

“He took a swab from underneath everybody’s finger nails!” she described dramatically. “THREE PEOPLE had germs under their nails that could make residents sick!”

So I learned early on to follow instructions, to fully cook ground meat, and wash, wash, wash my hands.

Also I learned how happy it makes people to arrive home to a meal cooked with love. All of my older brothers had newspaper routes and were gone early in the cold, dark mornings to deliver bike loads full of copies of the Detroit Free Press.

On weekends, I was happy to stand in front of the stove and fry eggs and potatoes for each one of them as they returned from their routes. They ate with such gusto and appreciation, I felt I must have been the most brilliant girl on Earth, that I managed to get a plate of good, hot food in front of them moments after they entered the door.

One of the first winter Saturdays on which I took over the stove, I was dismayed that the potatoes had turned an odd orange colour – I did not know what I had done wrong, and was quite embarrassed at my failure.

“I’m so sorry,” I confessed when I served the plate of eggs, ham, potatoes and toast to my brother Wally. “I do not know why the potatoes are orange.”

“Rita, honey!” he laughed. “These are golden brown! They are perfect! This is exactly how you want fried potatoes to be!”

That’s how I learned about “golden brown.” Who knew? I was eight, and did not know from “golden brown.” I knew how it felt to be loved, and to share love, though. To this day, I believe this is what cooking is about.

Now I see that cooking has become a combination of complicated, competitive, and confusing.  I subscribe to a number of channels that deliver a new recipe to my email box every day, and many of them are simply wrong: the photo of the finished meal cannot possibly be achieved with the steps described.

The worst offenders are crock pot meal recipes. The photo provided often displays crisp, caramelized meats which can ONLY be achieved by broiling or barbecuing. Nothing that comes out of a crock pot ever looks like that! It is so unfair to mislead new cooks this way.

Then there are the almost-impossible “simple” recipes demonstrated in 30 second videos which skip half of the steps required. A friend recently commented on my fresh Ontario strawberries, which are – as all real local strawberries are – much smaller than the giant, woody imported berries she bought at the grocery store.

“I was trying to make Jello shooters I saw on a video,” she described. “I was supposed to hollow out the inside, and then flatten the bottom. I hollowed out the inside, but by the time I flattened the bottoms, the filling was running all over the tray. It was impossible to do!” she moaned.

“It was a stupid idea, which has probably never worked anywhere but on that video,” I comforted her. “Cups are cups, and strawberries are strawberries. God did not intend for strawberries to be cups, I promise you. Just enjoy the strawberries; make a daiquiri, if you want. Pour it in a cup.”

When I was a teen-ager growing up on the Bruce Peninsula in rural Ontario, we got two TV stations: CBC and CTV. The CTV affiliate, CKCO-TV Kitchener, had a cooking show and a sewing show which aired weekly. Each show was half an hour long and featured a mature woman, who clearly knew what she was talking about, teaching something that was sensible and helpful. By the end of half an hour, I had learned something new and had a hope of re-creating it.

There was nothing complicated, competitive or confusing about those shows. They used ingredients or materials we could buy locally; nutrition and value for money mattered; the women were friendly and informative.

Nobody ever got fired, or ran off the set in tears. No one was ever required to make a “mystery basket” recipe including fish and pineapple. There was no swearing and no insults.

I realize that we will never go back to those simpler times; however, I still feel sorry for young cooks who will grow up thinking that cooking has to be difficult and challenging. Cooking should be about love, whether you are cleverly whipping up a paella or just frying some eggs.

Enough, already, with the Fake Cooking News.

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Trump Jr. trauma a trigger

Donald Trump Jr. had to learn the hard way that determined, aggressive lobbyists are attracted to election campaigns as bees are to honey.

I have had to stop listening to the news this week as it is focused exclusively on the fact that Donald Trump Jr. received a meeting request from a Russian lawyer during the election, and he gave her a meeting.

Round-the-clock, saturation coverage of this meeting keeps triggering me and giving me flashbacks to the endless interminable meetings I have had with Falun Gong members on every campaign on which I’ve ever worked; there is no end to the requests, no end to the meetings, the letters, and the ambushes at events.

If you are managing an election campaign, the Falun Gong becomes part of your life every single day.

During one federal campaign, four Falun Gong members showed up at the campaign office on Election Day and refused to leave until they got a yet another meeting with the Campaign Manager (me).

“Buddy, we have a Get Out the Vote program to run today,” I finally exclaimed in exasperation. “GET OUT and do not come back!!!!”

“You don’t understand…” he continued speaking, completely oblivious to reality.

When I can finally shake off the Falun Gong memories, I cycle into the Tamil memories, and the rotating cast of characters from various groups that spent two months asking for meetings so they could warn me darkly to keep my candidate away from Tamils who belonged to other groups who were, I was told, dangerous liars, prone to violence, and certain to doom my candidate. Every Tamil group said this about every other Tamil group. I learned that I could predict the harshness of the threats I would hear by the cryptic urgency of the meeting requests: “Rita, I must speak with you personally about a very important matter…”

Poor Don Jr. Now he’s learned that election campaigns are to determined lobbyists as honey is to bees. Apparently, this Russian woman actually had no dirt on Hillary Clinton but instead wanted to lobby him on the Magnitysky Act. The fact that she lied to get a meeting is just so 100% politically perfect, Campaign Managers across the land must be shaking their heads in silent sympathy. Poor schmuck. Now look at the mess he’s in…there but for the grace of God go all of us.

So I’m taking a break from news for a while; yesterday I switched to 80s music on my Sonos and danced around to “Footloose” for a while. It was good therapy.

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Big dogs can be a bruising experience

Ouch. Ow. Ouch! The scrapes and bruises really hurt – thank goodness for ice packs! And, Forest really, really loves me and only wants to protect Leia – but his best intentions are sometimes painfully incorrect.

I hesitated to write this post because generally, I don’t write sad posts to generate sympathy. Also I cringe at “injury” posts: “Does this look infected?” Eeeeewwww….

Dogs bring so much joy.

However, I post so many happy, funny photos and stories of Forest and Leia that I realize I am at risk of being one of the Facebook users who only post good news, never bad. This could leave readers with the idea that news is always good and never bad – especially where large dogs are concerned.

Louise Drowley-Harris, an amazing and prolific dog rescuer, notes that the biggest reason young, large, healthy dogs are given up to shelters is because their owners had no idea how much of a physical challenge they can be (most likely, WILL be – which is not news to anyone familiar with dogs).

So to balance all the hilarious and fun Forest and Leia videos, I think it is also fair and responsible of me to post this week’s photos, which is the divot in my forehead and the road-rash on my face that resulted from Forest pulling me off of my feet on my driveway on Friday evening.

We were returning from a 90 minute walk on the Durham Waterfront Trail. It was really hot out and I was tired and sweaty, but pleased we had finished our second walk of the day and were headed inside for good food and cold drinks. I was so happy to be home, I did not notice that a family with stroller, toddlers and a dog was approaching on the opposite side of the street.

Both of my dogs were on leash, as is de riguer on our neighbourhood streets (not so much the trails).

Forest, who has become more protective and growly since Leia arrived (it is his job to protect her, I have learned ) barked and lunged forward. I was not prepared. He pulled me right off of my feet and I did a face plant on my own driveway.

I scrambled to my feet, collected up both dogs, and shoved them through the front door of my house before I realized I was bleeding. I picked up the clean “dog towel” I keep on the front porch and sat pressing the wound on my forehead for a while before my neighbour Christy, from directly across the street, approached me.

“You are really bleeding a lot,” Christy pointed out, looking at the towel and my forehead.

“Am I?” I asked, completely disoriented.

“Yes,” she said. “I think I should call 911.”

“Really? OK,” I replied, in a daze.

The paramedics arrived, cleaned my face, bandaged the wound and offered to take me to the hospital. After some conversation, lots of bobbing flashlights and commitments from neighbours to check in on me, they left me at home. Christy lived up to her word and turned up at 9pm with a chocolate cupcake for me, just “checking in.”

So, it’s been a painful weekend (four wounds that I can see on my forehead, eyebrow and in my hairline) and a giant, shining black eye (“You look like you got punched out!” Grampa Trent from Price’s Market told me cheerfully today. “Just tell everyone, ‘You should see the other guy!’”)

You know what’s the craziest part of it? This is the FOURTH time this has happened to me in my life. Twice with my lab/Great Dane Moose and twice with Forest. It’s the first time an ambulance was called, but the fourth time one of my big happy dogs knocked me out cold and left me with bruises, black eyes and scars. It always comes as a giant surprise; and yet, WHOOPS, there it is.

Our first errand today, Monday, was to go to Pet Valu and buy a “No Pull” harness for Forest (Leia already has one, and it works GREAT. I just did not think Forest, who is seven years old, needed one. I was wrong about that).

I asked my neighbour Stefani to try to get a shot of Forest modelling his new No Pull harness, and as a bonus, to try to get my bruised face in the shot. I think we got more of me than Forest, but anyway, I guess that’s the point of this post.

Warning: the puppy on the right is much closer than he appears to becoming the full grown dog on the left.

Puppies are SOOOOOOO cute. 8 week or 10 week old puppies of any breed are adorable. Labs rip your heart out. Boxers and Mastiffs look so clumsy and cute. Shepards and Rottweillers with the irresistible eyebrows and the wiggly bums…how can you say “no”?

Well, unless you have 3 hours per day to commit to a young dog, you have to say “no.” The walking, the training, the grooming, the walking….it is real work. Totally worth it, mind you – and if you luck into adopting an older dog who is already trained and needs a bit less exercise, it is easier.

Young, strong, healthy large dogs are a serious commitment of time and money and as you can tell by the photo above, can also be a “bruising” experience. Keep my face in mind next time you are looking at photos of “irresistible” puppies!

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Fake news, around forever

Pardon my fake news photo….this one was taken at Jarvis Collegiate, not Holy Name, however the set up of the Jarvis Collegiate photo was much the same as the Holy Name photo which featured my son Tom. I could not locate the Toronto Star/Holy Name photo, so I’m faking it with this one.

Fake news?

In 1998 when my son Tom was in Grade 8 he attended a special program at Holy Name School at Danforth and Carlaw in Toronto.

I was working for the Minister of Education in the Mike Harris government. It was a chaotic time, but I always felt my kids supported me.

One Friday morning, I pulled all the newspapers in from the front door and was shocked to see an enormous, half-front-page, above-the-fold photo of a protest at Holy Name School, as students were protesting the Harris government.

There, smiling brightly in the middle of the photo – one of the tallest kids in crowd, right in the front row – was my son Tom. I was gobsmacked.

I paced around for a couple of hours before everyone got up and out of bed to get ready for school.

When Tom finally came downstairs, I was waiting for him. I cleared my throat and spoke carefully:

“Honey….” I began tactfully, “What are you doing on the front page of the Toronto Star protesting the government I work for?”

“Ha!” Tom exclaimed, laughing skeptically. “Ma, that was no protest. The principal came on over the PA system and told everyone we were getting an extra recess and that we should go to the playground. So we all went to the playground, where a teacher directed us all to collect up along the fence. A photographer was waiting there to take our picture. After that, we all got an extra recess which everyone thought was pretty cool, so there were no complaints. There was no mention of any protest.”

While I was relieved to learn I was not being protested by my own son, I was disappointed to know the Toronto Star and the teachers would do such a thing. But you know what? It was a great learning experience for all three of my kids. None of them have ever read a news article without a healthy dose of skepticism since that day.

In fact, that same month there was an “education fair” at which students were invited to throw bean bags at a plywood cut-out of Mike Harris. This also earned the front page of the Toronto Star; when he saw it, Tom crowed in disgust: “Look at all those students, totally hypnotized by teachers!”

There has always been fake news.  It used to be called “Yellow Journalism,” and then “propaganda,” and next “advertorial,” “sponsored stories,” and then “native content.” (What a devious description THAT is! Or as Tom Smith would snort, “Could you be a little more vague?”)

Trump re-purposed a fake news clip from a fake wrestling match shot years ago…it’s not just fake, it’s meta-fake. It’s also very funny.

Now we have CNN reporting Russian hacking stories based on no evidence; the New York Times denying its own headlines to support a new narrative. Donald Trump’s efforts to blow up this entire ossified media infrastructure are to be supported and applauded; he is providing a giant service to everyone. At the very least he’s delivering a great wake-up call. At the best, he is yanking up the standards of serious journalism in North America.

The video tweet of him wrestling CNN to the ground – a fake fight scenario making fun of a fake news station at a fake boxing match with a fake promoter and a fake executive – is hilarious and brilliant.

Or as Tom Smith might say, “Look at all those viewers hypnotized by media.”

He was “woke” at age 13. We all should be by now.

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