Category Archives: food

Playground of Lost Toys Interviews: Simmons & Dorsey

toys, childhood, nostalgia, fantasy, SF, fiction, short stories

Playground of Lost Toys is available through Amazon published by Exile Writers

Today’s authors are Shane Simmons and Candas Jane Dorsey. Playground of Lost Toys, by its nature and the guidelines Ursula Pflug and I set up, has many stories that deal with nostalgia and loss. Not all but many look at family as well.

Shane Simmons wrote “When the Trains Run on Time.” It’s a very clever play on time travel, and I have to say that I don’t overall much like time travel stories. Shane’s tale was so poignant and sad that it grabbed me and tugged on my heart. It is one of the darker stories in the anthology and definitely worth a read.

toys, trains, Shane Simmons, tragedy, SF, time travel

Shane Simmons draws and writes. Picture borrowed from Shane’s site Eyestrain Productions.

1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

The only good reason for submitting a story to an anthology: I had an idea that was on-topic and a story worth telling. Playground of Lost Toys was a compelling concept for a collection, and I knew I had to come up with something that would fit.

2. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?

It was very much inspired by a model train set I got for Christmas one year. Mine didn’t come with a tunnel that warped time, however.

3. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

Every kid can’t wait to grow up. Childhood seems to take so long, but before you know it you’re an adult and the years fly by.

4. Is there anything else to do with your story or the theme of the anthology that you’d like to mention?

A lot of my work has to do with twisted, distorted memories of my youth. I’ve made a living for years writing cartoons for kids, so when I’m writing material for my own amusement, it often explores the dark side of childhood.

5. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

I’ve had seven short stories published last year, with three more scheduled for 2016 so far, plus a novella. All the news about my career that’s fit to print can be found on my website, eyestrainproductions.com.

Candas Jane Dorsey’s tale “The Food of My People” has a very homey type of magic. It’s tied up as much in the person as it is in the rich visions of food. This story explores not so much the loss of a toy as the loss of something or someone special in a child’s life. (brackets are added by me)

fiction, fantasy, puzzles, Playground of Lost Toys

Candas Jane Dorsey brings us The Food of My People. Picture from Gigcity.ca

1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

I loved the idea of the anthology, and the editors are great, and I had a story in progress that I could finish in time! As people probably know, I am a slow writer, so I don’t usually write anthology stories to order for calls for submission. But I tried with this one–but it wasn’t this anthology–and of course, I missed the deadline. But the outcome was great. I was really impressed with the editors and with the publisher, so meticulous about catching the errors and typos and little bits of illogic that crept in unbeknownst. So first off, thanks to everyone involved!

2. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?

About half of Cubbie is based on my godmother. But my godmother was also really different: she was plump, yes, but rather more elegant, wore corsets and those black lace-up oxfords with Cuban heels, and her son was a diplomat so she was always going off to live in Japan or somewhere, and sending me presents from there (her daughter-in-law was in a famous diplomatic incident in South Africa actually, where she marched in an anti-apartheid march, but that’s another story). The half that is Cubbie is the comfort and love half. I meant to put in her candy jars but the story was already too long.

What is really based on my life is the food. It’s Alberta prairie family reunion food (non-Ukrainian variety–so alas, no pyroghy!) My relatives in central Alberta all had gardens, went berry picking, cooked well, and food was central to the experience. Jellied salads at family reunions–a staple food. My mother made an awesome flapper pie–though it’s a pain to make and you have to be in the mood–and used to whip up a bread pudding every couple of weeks to use up the stale bread. Saskatoon pie. Kraft dinner spun out with some “real” macaroni and some real cheese, but still that electric yellow-orange colour. Makes me hungry–even now it says comfort-food to my backbrain.

There was a lot of food I didn’t have a chance to include. Beets and beet greens–yum. The Galloping Gourmet’s curry sauce, so mild and therefore beloved by all the prairie food conservatives even in the 1960s. I just found out that one of my best friend’s mom made the very same sauce, from the same source. My mother is in the story as “the lady in the next bed” who was 99 and still telling stories, because she was both those things. That was one of the last things I put in. My mother died this spring (2015) at the age of 99 years 5 months. Even though she worked at home for years during our childhood, she wasn’t temperamentally suited to it. She always said “cook” and “bake” were four-letter words, and was a reader and historian and toponymist–but whatever she took on she did well, and I still remember her flapper pie and bread pudding. And a candy called “seafoam” that was really little meringues, and too hard to make more than about once a year. That was the first recipe I asked for when I left home. (Bread pudding was the second one I wrote in my recipe book in my own house, but I knew it from watching–it was never written down.)

And we had a jigsaw puzzle that was a big red dot. We did it. Once. (Once.)

3. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

My original idea was for an anthology Nalo Hopkinson edited called Mojo Conjure. I have always been annoyed at how fantasy writers who come from what’s now being called “settler” roots have taken over the voudoun and First Nations mythologies because they are “cool.” Don’t we have enough imagination to think about where our own cultures’ magic comes from? But at the same time, I am divorced from my own heritage by immigrant circumstances, so I have no idea what the Celtic or Anglo-Saxon stories from my family’s origins were either, even though my heritage is English and Scots. I am third and fourth generation on this land–but what is the magic of my people? So I decided to think up some “mojo conjure” of my own personal heritage, and this is what came out.

A lot later, long after I’d missed Nalo’s deadline, the image of the last red piece dissolving on Cubbie’s tongue came to me, and I realized then where the story had to go. When I saw the call for this anthology, I was delighted, and I pushed myself to finish the story on time. I sent it to Ursula (and Colleen) thinking that it was too long but it was too new to be objective about it so I told her she had to help me cut it! When she accepted it, then I was motivated, and I did manage to cut it back, a bit.

4. Is there anything else to do with your story or the theme of the anthology that you’d like to mention?

Reading the anthology when my author copy arrived was really a wonderful experience. Such a variety of works! I’m always surprised at how a story looks in print, so formal, after having ideas for it in the bathtub, or while half alseep. The readers can’t see the state my hair was in when I was writing it! I was really impressed with the range of ideas. Also how spooky some people think childhood is. That comes of all those years being the weird kids in the class, I guess. Or at least, I was. (Baby writers probably mostly were That Kid at the Back–or the Picked-On Kid…)

5. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year.

My novel Black Wine was recently re-released by Five Rivers Publishing, and is available as an eBook or paper book. Originally my novels were from Tor, and I also have two short fiction collections that are out of print at the moment. Five Rivers and I are talking about bringing some of those out again too, in the fullness of time.

In progress, I have finished two mystery novels about a nameless bisexual downsized social worker and her cat Fuc…er, Bunny-wit. She lives in the inner city and knows a lot of diverse people, and has gotten into two very different adventures, one with drag queens and religious fundamentalists, and one with software millionaires. I also have a YA novel about an intersex teen. All these are off in the slowly-grinding mills of the gods, being Pronounced Upon. I’m working on a Great Looming Serious Novel which may or may not be fantasy, and which I am completing with the help of a project grant from the Edmonton Arts Council which is finished soon, so I am off in a fog at the moment, thinking about scene order…

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Filed under Culture, family, fantasy, food, memories, Publishing, science fiction, SF, Writing

My Mother the Squirrel

Happy New Year, World! I hope we can see more peace and calm and less fanaticism this year, but it’s not looking likely. However, I’ll do my bit for compassion and understanding and remember, it’s the microcosm, your neighbors, your friends and your family that can make for a more loving place.

winter, pack rat, cold, hoarder, food

Creative Commons: Zeeksie @ Deviant Art

On that note, I traveled to the frozen wastelands (as I see it) of Alberta to visit friends and family over the holidays. While I’ve been back in recent years I’ve tried to avoid winter  because it is evil and bone-chilling. I decided to brave it for the winter festivity and because my mother is 91. Two weeks I spent, and overall the weather was only -28 for about three days. The rest was in the -5 range, balmy for Alberta.

It gave me a chance to visit friends, find some long lost cousins, and do the family thing. Staying at my mother’s, and with my organizer personality, it meant cleaning out drawers, cupboards or closets. Even my sister, who might be considered closer to the hoarder personality (she moved in the this summer, purportedly with boxes to the ceiling) felt my organizer bee abilities. We were driving all over the city to do some pre-Christmas shopping and as I sat in the passenger seat of the moderately messy car, she asked me to look for her Superstore card.

purses, overstuffed purse, hoarding, pack rat

Not my sister’s actual purse but a close representation. Creative Commons: http://jewelrypurse.blogspot.ca/

Grabbing that rather pregnant purse, I pulled out the overstuffed wallet. No card. Turns out there were two other holders with plastic cards. Still no card but I started to go through her bulging wallet, putting Tim Hortons (the Canadian doughnut gods) and Shoppers Drug Mart gift cards together. There was more than one and I have never seen so many store cards before. My sister could be the goodwill ambassador for commercialism and store marketing.

In the process of cleaning her wallet I found coupons that had expired and others that soon would. There was a forest of business cards, many for businesses she no longer frequented. In fact, this mothership of store cards had very little actual cash and took up most of the room in a moderate sized purse. When I was done, there was a small plastic shopping bag full of paper. Her wallet lost several inches in girth and actually closed by the clasp.

At my mother’s it was much as it had been two year’s previously. I exclaimed, “Mom, you’re a squirrel! There’s candies and nuts everywhere.” This time, as I started to clean up for Christmas dinner, I decided to inventory my mother’s squirrel hoard. To put some of this into perspective, my mother grew up during the Depression, in a small coal mining town. A treat at Hallowe’en was an actual fresh apple, something we would sneer at today. She traveled to a large city with her friend to find work. They slept in ditches with their one small suitcase and hitchhiked to get there, when it was much safer to do so.

squirrels, hoarding, food, pack ratss

This is not my actual mother but she stores food like the queen of squirrels. Creative Commons: http://theairspace.net/commentary/squirrels/

Going through the Depression and then WWII where rationing was practiced everywhere, my mother learned to appreciate being prepared. Long before the days of Costco she hunted out food wholesalers and would buy toilet paper and other items in bulk. After her divorce, she continued her frugality, and would buy day-old bread from a bakery, up to 24 loaves, which were then frozen. She also sold Tupperware, when we were very young and I remember my brother and I playing in the large container suitcase. So yes, my mother still has nearly three shelves of Tupperware, which, by the time I organized it, was only two.

She had five knife sharpeners (and nothing but dull knives), six cheese/food graters and more pots than a restaurant kitchen. In fact, she’s never thrown out a pot or handle-less cup since I was a child. A Taurus mug that I used when about 12 was there, the handle gone. I convinced her to throw out a few pots where the Teflon was worn but then she balked at getting rid of the two aluminum, electric frying pans that she no longer uses.

In cleaning out a spare closet I found crafts going back to the 70’s; unfinished potholders and head-sized balls of wool. One partially finished needlepoint of a forest, with the bag of woo, she told me she had bought it in England during the war, before any of us were born! She’d never worked on it since. There was a pillow cover, to be embroidered that had Canada’s flag, the Union Jack. That’s how old it was. There was a three-foot plastic bin of gifts for unexpected g, which she had forgotten about. Then there were the cosmetic bags, for traveling. Two were stuffed full, then a triple decker bag, extra deep, chock full of lotions, shampoo, conditioners and other small toiletries. Some were very ancient and dead. Others half used, and many unopened. She must have gone on a burglary spree of hotels.

I cannot name all of the things I cleaned and boggled at, such as health supplements in at least four places, or the spices in pretty much every cupboard. If you’re thinking my mother is going senile, you’re wrong. She’s pretty sharp still and has always liked to keep things, lots and lots of things. Like every scrap of wrapping paper ever used (I threw out a three–foot pile some years back), or enough bulbs to light half of the city, or coats.

Purdys, candy, chocolate, food, hoarding, sweet tooth

My mother’s not so secret love affair is with Purdy‘s made in Vancouver, Canada.

All of this pales  in comparison to the food items and not just any food, but chocolates and candies. My mother shrunk this last year to 4’9″ and she lost weight. She was never overly large but stores like a squirrel. In doing the inventory, I counted every bag or container that was open on the kitchen table (her place has two kitchens,up and down but she used the bottom one for eating) or on the table by the chair where she watches TV, or on the counter upstairs. There were the nutrolls in the fridge upstairs, and then in the deep freeze there were 17 boxes of After Eight mints. She claims she can only find them at certain times of the year and when her stomach is upset the mint helps (with chocolate of course). There were also another five boxes of Purdy’s chocolates.

Purdy’s should have a plaque to my mother: I’m sure she keeps them in business. The upstairs cupboard had the main squirrel hoard. There were hard candies, contained in bags or bought bulk. I pooled many into one container. There were Scotch mints and licorice all sorts, mint chocolate bars from Purdy’s, Jordan almonds, nougat (hard as a rock), and some Italian coconut confection, a few Smarties or M&Ms. I didn’t count raisins because they’re a natural food. When I thought I was done, I discovered a container of icy squares and of Ferrero Rocher in the closet. Then, as  we pulled dishes out of the china cabinet for Christmas dinner, lo and behold there were two large bulk bags of chocolate squares and a mega box of liqueur chocolates where the liqueur had dried up.

I thought I was done but I was looking in a cupboard for a pot and lo, there was a box of chocolate covered cookies. And then I looked in another cupboard and found another five boxes, plus some other cookies. My mother was given another two boxes of chocolates for Christmas and chocolate covered cookies, plus some Italian candies. And then three days after she bought a tin on sale. She said to me that she had all this stuff because if she got sick there was enough to carry her through. I told her, “Well, Mom, if the apocalypse comes, you’ll survive it on chocolate alone.”

Readers may recall that I did the apocalypse diet a year ago, and with the food in my place (no hoards of candy) I survivef for three months without buying anything. My mother would run out of real food in probably less time than I did but then I didn’t count her dry goods staples. However, the final count of cookies, candies and chocolates in my mother’s place was…ready for this? ONE HUNDRED AND SIX! Yes, indeed. The Guinness Book of Records needs to talk to my mom.

All in all this was a lesson to me. I determined there are three levels of “collector.” I’m the curator because I have many ornaments and tchatkas (like my mother…sigh) but I dust and you can walk through my place. My mother is the pack rat, because she stores things for unforeseeable disasters, and my sister is the hoarder, who keeps more than my mother but can’t find things. It’s a fine line between them and it’s a lesson to me not to hang onto things I no longer use or need. I barely escaped without a suitcase of chocolates.

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Fall Soups: Squash, Rice and Chicken

kabocha, cooking, recipes, squash, squash soup

Kabocha squash. Scoop out the seeds and roast them like pumpkin seeds. Creative Commons: Namayamsai LLP

When it comes to fall, I always make up a bunch of soups and freeze them. They’re good on a rainy or cold day, or when I’m tired and haven’t left time to make a lunch in the mornings. I have a great recipe book called The New Soup Bible by Anne Sheasby. There are several editions so the soups tend to be different in each one. They are also British and will list items like courgettes and aubergines (zucchini and eggplant to us North Americans) but measurements are in imperial and metric. Nutrition values are also given, which is helpful when I’m trying to watch my intake.

A couple of weeks ago I ended up making chicken stock because we’d had a Thanksgiving lunch at work. I can’t see a good chicken carcass go to waste and always make stock anytime I have one at home. So I hauled these babies home. I also keep cuttings from onions, celery and carrots to make veggie stock so I added these all in, with a bay leaf and some salt and pepper. I ended up with a lot of stock and a good selection of meat. So I had to make some soups. I’ve made succotash soup, and besides the cartoon Sylvester saying, “Thufferin’ thuccotash,” I actually had  no idea what it was.

Succotash soup is southern American (though it was first Native American) and the essential ingredients are corn and lima beans. The recipe I made is thickened with flour and comes out a light creamy yellow. So hearty is this soup that a serving is 500 calories though I saved mine into smaller containers. I didn’t take pictures of this but I have about four soups to make as  room appears in my freezer. I also made Chicken Coconut soup, with coconut milk, green curry and full on yumminess. I put a touch too much lemon grass in but otherwise, it’s super delicious.

Next I took a recipe for pumpkin, rice and chicken soup. The recipe calls for the following:

  • 3-4 c. chicken stock

    squash soup, fall soups, kabocha

    Stirring kobocha and leeks.

  • 1 wedge of pumpkin
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter (I used olive oil for the oil and butter)
  • 2 leeks chopped
  • 5 green cardamon pods (I used black pods)
  • 1/2 c. basmati rice
  • 1.5 c. milk (I used almond milk)
  • pared orange rind to garnish (I didn’t have oranges so skipped this)
  • salt and pepper to taste (I also added a bit of marjoram)

I wasn’t sure how much a wedge of pumpkin is since pumpkin comes in all sizes. I also didn’t feel like being stuck with a lot of pumpkin so I used a kabocha (Japanese) squash, partly because a friend had brought some to a Thanksgiving dinner and it was tasty. In fact, I ate one quarter of the squash one night with cilantro, lime and olive oil. You can also roast the seeds. I also ate the thin green skin. I’m a proponent of eating skins if they are edible because there are many nutrients that are lost when yams or potatoes (for example) are peeled. These squat green gourds are slightly sweet and more yellowy-orange.

The recipe calls for cutting the pumpkin into cubes and slicing the leeks, then sauteeing in olive oil in a pan. (They called for sunflower oil but I used what I have.) I had pre-cooked the squash in the oven with a bit of olive oil so I cut it up and added it in, with the skin, realizing when I pureed it that it was going to possibly be spotty and not that orange. I also could not find green cardamon pods so I bought black pods. I believe that, unlike the green ones, these are roasted. They had a smokey smell but I tossed them in. Once everything is tender, you add in half the stock and stir.

kabocha, squash soup, cooking

The finished soup, with rice, chicken and squash.

Before pureeing you remove the pods. I forgot and a small one got ground up. I just have a wee Magic Bullet so I had to do batches and the squash/leek paste was so thick I had to add some of the milk at that stage. While this is all cooking, I put the rice on. Again I didn’t have basmati rice but brown and red rice mixed together. Rice is rice for this soup.

I poured the puree back into the pot, added the rest of the chicken stock and chicken, and the milk. This soup was pea-soup thick so I increased the milk to 2 cups. I added the rice but decided that it was still too thick so I added several cups of water. You could make this as thick or thin as you wanted.

The appearance is a little more green and there are slight flecks of green from the skins. The taste is slightly smoky and not like green cardamon at all but I think it works well and is balance by the slight sweetness of the kabocha and the savory leeks. A successful and very tasty soup. Instead of 4 servings, I end up with 8. Nutrition breakdown for 8 servings is: 158 calories, 5.4 gm fats, 15 gm carbohydrates, 12.3 gm protein, 36 mg cholesterol.

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Mysterious Mushroom

puffballs, mushrooms, eating

From Tom Volk’s fungus site. This shows the scleroderma citrinum mushroom

Earlier this summer I was yakking to my neighbor when I looked down and saw a potato colored stone at my feet. It was the size of a small plum and, like the crow I am, I reached down to pick up the interesting stone and in the process recognized it as vegetable, or more accurately, fungus. I exclaimed to my neighbor, “Hey, it’s a puffball mushroom but I’ve never seen one that wasn’t wrinkly and puffing out its spores.”

mushrooms, edible fungus, puffballs

I didn’t get a picture of the full mushroom but you can see how tiny it was, and black inside.

I was intrigued. This little beast was firm and a light tan, like a new potato, with a wee tendril root at its base. I said I was going to eat it, to which my neighbor looked dubious. Oh, don’t worry, I assured him, puffballs are edible if they’re not sporing. But really, what did I know? I used to work upgrading hiking trails and got totally into trying to find edible plans. Chicken of the woods, those ripply fungi that grow on the sides of trees, were supposed to be edible and taste like, yes, chicken. But the ones I found were always woody and not the tender young things needed for chicken fungus.

calvatia cyathaformis, true puffball, cooking mushrooms

What do you do with a wee shroom? You fry it up in some garlic oil.
Hope it doesn’t kill you.

Being not a total idiot (or perhaps I was) I took the shroom inside and cut it open. I was very surprised by the black texture. Most puffballs are a solid white/cream mass, just like the outside of a button mushroom. My photos aren’t that good but it wasn’t solid black, more like what it would have looked like if you paced it tightly with black poppy seeds. Well, black guts! There was no way I was going to eat this without reading up more. Was it bad? Was it a truffle?

Neither, though truffles do have black interiors but look completely different.. It is indeed a puffball  earthball, of the variety Calvatia Cyathiformis, most likely scleroderma cepa. It’s hard to find pictures on the internet and most say that scleroderma are poisonous though I found a book on Amazon that says they’re edible.  The mushroom was very firm, and had no smell.

The puffball earthball was so small I thought I’d do a taste test and used mildly flavored garlic olive oil. I fried the slices for about then minutes and the color turned a bit more brownish. The texture remained firm, not like button mushrooms that can turn really soft. I survived with no ill effects. This was my first wild mushroom, picked by me, and it seems the internet lead me astray! Now I want to point out that I did several hours research before even contemplating cooking it. After all, I’ve seen The Forsaken and Clint Eastwood’s fungus embroilment. I didn’t want a repeat. Probably because it was so small it hadn’t developed its toxins yet, but I can tell you that after another two hours of searching on the internet that I can’t find the sites I read originally and that there aren’t a lot of great pictures. The skin was not scaly, there was no root and only a tendril. It wasn’t bitter at all but tasty.  The scleroderma cepa is used as a soil inoculant and while I don’t know what that means, it means any soil put in the yard could have carried these spores. So don’t eat these guys. Don’t try this at home kids. And just so you know, my neighbor’s gingko tree has been dropping apricot colored fruit but I will not be trying these even if you can eat up to five before you might be poisoned!

calvatia cyathiformis, frying mushrooms, cooking, wild mushrooms

My first taste of a wild mushroom. I wish I had more.
I’m glad I didn’t become one.

So maybe I am stupid after all. :-/ (Thanks to Hillary for pointing this out.)

 

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My Excellent Birthday Adventure

steampunk, the Drive, Vancouver, East Van

Steampunk often involves gears, bolts and brass. From: http://www.bloodyloud.com/steampunk-jewellery-jm-gates/

Last week, it was my birthday. I’ve lived in Vancouver for years, and in the same neighborhood, yet there are many places on Commercial Drive, or The Drive, that I have never visited. I decided this year that I would choose to wander The Drive and try to hit five places I have yet to enter. I was going to start at noon and have friends join me as they could.

My first stop was the Time Travelers’ Bazaar at the Britannia School. Being no more than a five-minute walk from my place, I thought I knew where it was. However, Britannia is a huge complex that includes the school, daycare, library, skating rink, pool, courts and other buildings. Even if you know your way around it’s not easy to find the right spot. I went toward the cafeteria but all the doors were locked. I ended up picking up three other souls wandering as lost as me. Luckily one of my friends had come from another direction and found his way in.

The Bazaar was just for the day and everything from Steampunk jewellery to hats and bonnets, guns, masks, fascinators, fabric and sundries. I wandered in there fro about a half hour but with three friends trying to find me and coming from various directions, I headed to the Drive and told them which corner I’d be on. We went north for a couple of blocks and found the Windjammer Restaurant. I said they’d only been there a couple of years and someone said no since the 70s. I do know my hood well enough to notice when something goes in. It turns out the cafe has been around since the 70s but used to be on Main until about three years ago. Eight of us didn’t fill it up but definitely gave them a Sunday boost. Fish and chips are the specialty with choices in cod, halibut and salmon, plus poutine and a few other dishes. The special was two moderate pieces of cod, with fries and cole slaw for $6. The meal filled us and tasted fine. I don’t know if I’ve ever had stellar fish and chips. but the ones in England last year were better. These were fine and worth the price but nothing to write home about.

Commercial Drive, Vancouver cafes, food, burgers

Cannibal Cafe specializes in meat and is one of the newest restaurants on the Drive.

We crossed the street at Venables and then moved south along the Drive, wandering in and out of shops I’ve been in before. But part of the adventure was for my friends as well. Some people left, others joined and we continued along the way. The second place I wandered into that I’ve never really noticed much before was the Mr. Pets. It’s a large pet store across from Mark’s Pet Stop near 3rd and Commercial. I tend to support the little guy and usually stop in Mark’s but I was looking for special kitty kibble to help my cat who doesn’t jump too well. The shop has everything from cats to canaries (supplies) though I could hear a few birds. I actually didn’t explore the full store but bought the kitty treats.

Having eaten late and feeling still full we just stopped for a drink at the Cannibal Cafe with decorations above the prep area of plastic knives and cutting instruments covered in fake blood. They have beer and cider on tap and specialize in hand-ground meaty burgers plus smoked meat, salmon and turkey, and of course poutine. While we only drank, a friend says the burgers are good. Prices look reasonable and I’ll come back some night for a bite.

head shop, bongs, Smokers Corner, the Drive

This creature is for smoking. Found at the Smoker’s Corner

We were now into late afternoon. We stopped in front of a store’s window display that held strange blown-glass fish monsters. It turned out these were bongs for smoking your favorite substance. The head shop is called The Smoker’s Corner and only one friend and I were brave enough to wander in and look at all the artistic glass pipes. The weirdest gadgets were gas masks with long, clear green or pink tubes. I guess it meant you could get stoned and get your fetish on at the same time. None of us smoke but it was an adventure in weird pipes, to say the least.

I also popped into the long-running Dr. Vigari Gallery. It’s not new to me but the location is so it counts as half a bonus point. The last place on the Drive that was new to me was the Mediterranean Specialty Foods. The Drive is known for its Italian flavor, sporting many coffee shops, the Portuguese Club, old Italian restaurants now revamped, stores specializing in pasta, olives and salamis and El Sureno, another ethnic food store. I’ve been in all the others and somehow missed this one. It was a treasure chest, with bottles of different oils and vinegars, olives and peppers, pasta and spices lining the shelves like a caravan of goods. Definitely a cornucopia for the foodie. I’ll be going back here the next time I’m shopping. There are more oil than all the other shops put together. I also have some friends who like to play with their food so this place will be great for gift shopping.

food, olives, oils, the Drive, Commercial Drive, foodies

Mediterranean Specialty Foods. Owner Jack Elmasu. From Montecristo Magazine

That was the last official stop and since it was Sunday all of the shops were closing. What else to do on a birthday tour? Why, stop somewhere else to get a drink. We stopped at the Dime Roadhouse, a remade restaurant where one of the old pasta restaurants lived for years. I’ve only been there twice before and the sound was so loud you had to scream. For whatever reason; perhaps the better than expected good weather, being a Sunday, everyone was hungover…the noise was at a lower level and we could actually talk at normal level. A few more friends joined as others left. We ate dinner there. The Dime’s food runs no more that $4.95 for a dish. You don’t get massive portions but I had butternut squash risotto with goat cheese and it was enough and fairly tasty. You can’t go too wrong. Another friend had nachos for one; again, a good enough size. And if it’s not enough, order something else. Since I had been at the Dime before, it doesn’t count, but I’d not been to the bathroom there before. 🙂

For a Sunday Birthday adventure I got to show some of my friends more of my hood and after a very long time of living there I found new places. It was low key and great day out.

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Costi Gurgu

alien worlds, world building, speculative fiction, science fiction, Tesseracts 17

Costi Gurgu’s “Secret Recipes” is both alien and sensual.

Today, I interview the last Ontario author in Tesseracts 17, but not the last author by far.

CA: Of all the tales in Tesseracts 17, “Secret Recipes” was perhaps the most alien. You use the senses in such a unique way that makes the story poetic. How did this idea come about?

A few years back I had a conversation with my Romanian agent about an article he just read, concerning the North American Science Fiction rules—One cannot write a story that happens in an alien world, having only a cast of alien characters. So, not having at least one human character to give the readers the human perspective on the alien world.

I told my agent I can break that rule and make it work. And so it started.

I wrote that year a short story that did just that. I sold it immediately to Anticipatia Magazine (major SF magazine at the time).  It has been awarded and reprinted four times.

After its success, I wrote my first novel, Recipearium, breaking the same rule. I sold it several years later; critics and reviewers wrote about it in numerous genre and literary magazines, and it brought me three awards.

The story in Tesseracts17, “Secret Recipes,” takes place in the same universe as the novel, breaking the same rule. In fact it is a prequel to the novel, introducing the main character and his quest.

CA: The story is quite complex, dealing with betrayal, familial honor, and individual accomplishment. Was there one strong ingredient in this recipe or was it a gradual blending that was a natural evolution?

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

I thought that no matter how “alien” the world and the characters, there have to be some things that are common to our civilization. That’s what should make the story work in the end—the fact that we can identify some of our values with some of their values and eventually understand and empathize with their struggles.

Family is one of those values. And yes, in their world the notion is quite different from here, but in the end that sense of belonging to a certain group of people and a certain place, to a certain system of values that one is exposed to within that group, the mutual feelings that grow inside the relationships of a family, all these are and have been for most of our history intrinsic to our way of living and shaping the reality around us.

So, it all starts with where my main character comes from. Who is he and why does he make the choices he makes?

CA: Do you think that if we ever met an alien species, even as diverse as the ones in David Brin’s Uplift universe, that we would be able to emotionally relate to them?

 To be honest, no. At least not in the beginning. And when I say in the beginning, I don’t mean the first year or so, I mean probably the first century or so.

Although when one says “emotionally” we think of this non-rational, spontaneous instinctive reaction, it is not completely so. That “instinctive” reaction is given to us by our system of beliefs, by the way we are educated to react to different stimulus.

“Alienness” is one of the toughest tests we always had in order to pass as civilized people. There are still humans who cannot emotionally relate to other humans of a different religion or ethnicity, which in a way goes back to a certain definition of alienness.

So imagine relating to beings anatomically different from us. Who have completely “alien” and questionable physiological needs. And that means only scratching the surface. Because then we’d have to cope with their spiritual and intellectual needs. And as we struggle to accomplish that, we’d encounter their philosophical and legal system. Their moral code and cultural code.

So, I think the answer is no. We’d need centuries of contact before some of us could really emotionally relate to them.

CA: What would you consider  as being your most difficult story to write in terms of worldbuilding and/or alien perspectives and perceptions.

You know when “they” say that one of the biggest problems of Science Fiction stories is that their characters don’t seem to have common human needs? They do not need to eat, use the washroom, make love, drink a coffee or do the laundry?

Noticed that I said make love and not have sex? It sounds nicer somehow. But truth to be told, sex is one essential component of human life and why not presume of any intelligent organic life out there in the universe. And most SF writers have really avoided the subject either by completely ignoring it, or by starting with a kiss and ending with “and after that they made sweet, sweet love.” But that’s a subject for another day.

Well, you could do all that in terms of worldbuilding and it would be fun, especially if there are aliens involved. But now imagine writing an alien love scene and I’m not talking about one of those poetic scenes that have nothing to do with sex. Like oh, the aliens were these giant butterflies and they loved each other flying majestically through a night sky full of spectacular moons.

No, love making that involves real sex organs and secretions and orgasm and the eventual transfer of fluids. All in the name of love… and procreation, hopefully.

It is hard enough to write a human love scene that avoids all that detail and gives the sense of emotional connection as well as physical pleasure. Then, what do you do when your aliens are not humanoids and not even cute little animals or plants, or birds for that matter. When they are really alien and seriously constructed creatures.

An alien love scene could be really difficult to write from any perspective or perception, without alienating your readers. So I could say…Recipearium, my alien only novel.

CA: What other stories are you cooking up?

New beginnings for me this year.

I’m in the middle of a Science Fiction comedy.

Now, this is also difficult to write as humor is so different depending on so many factors, that sometime one would think this should be the true test of emotionally relating to alienness.

I’ve been also trying my hand at screenwriting. Right now I’m working on a short Sci-Fi drama and a long Sci-Fi thriller.

So all things new to me and therefore so exciting that I feel this year was one of the best I had in a long time.

Costi Gurgu is an art director, illustrator and writer living in Toronto with his wife. He worked as the art director of Playboy Magazine, the French fashion magazine—Madame Figaro, and the women’s life-style magazine—Tabu. Costi was also the art director and illustrator of ProLogos Imprint, where he designed their visual identity and illustrated some of the book covers.

As a writer, Costi has published three books and over fifty short stories in Romania, Poland, Hungary, Denmark, England, United States and Canada. He has won twenty-four awards for his fiction. His latest sales include the Danish anthology Creatures of Glass and Light, the DAW Books anthology Ages of Wonder, the Wildside Press anthology The Third Science Fiction Megapack, The Millennium Books anthology Steampunk—The Second Revolution, and Tesseracts 17.

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Restaurant Review: The Absinthe Bistro

I live in East Vancouver (BC) and we have a large number of restaurants on the Drive. In the past year or two some of the standbys of many years (or even decades) have disappeared. Latin Quarter, with its lousy food, but good Latino music finally was driven into the ground. Stormcrow, the pub with cheap food for gaming geeks seems to be doing quite well in its place. One of the Italian places disappeared and the Dime Roadhouse, with its $5 food and college crowd atmosphere opened up. An Italian pizzeria moved in where a video store once was so we’re keeping our healthy balance of Italian restaurants in a once predominantly Italian neighborhood. There are Indian, Japanese, continental and Cafe Carthage as well as other types along the Drive.

food, French restaurant, absinthe, scallops, creme brulee

The Absinthe Bistro at 1260 Commercial Dr. lives up to French quaintness.

The other day I was on the Drive and noticed that Turk’s coffee house had disappeared (we have a glut of coffee places) and instead there was Absinthe Bistro. It looked tiny, yet quaint. Two of my friends and I go for “wings” throughout the year but since this is the holiday season we often look for something a little fancier. I suggested trying the bistro.

Run by a Cory and Juliana Pearson, the Absinthe Bistro has room for about 24-30 patrons. Cory trained with famous Parisian chefs for six years and then returned to Vancouver. Along with Juliana, they started the restaurant in August.  It has an open design and you can see right into the kitchen. We went on a Wednesday and the place was never full but had people coming and going. We stayed for about three hours and didn’t feel rushed. Cory and Juliana each had a person helping them in their respective domains.

abinthe, green fairy, alcohol, restaurants, The Abnsinthe Bistro

Ice & water are put in the top and the glass of absinthe, with sugar cube is placed beneath so the water runs over the sugar.

The floor is a raised white matte tile, with smaller black diamond shaped tiles between every four. This was repeated in the bathroom where one friend reported that the design worked well. The bistro had dark, straight-lined chairs and tables. Each table had a small flower bowl with a daisy floating in it. The walls are white with a few gilt framed mirros and posters. A simple elegant interior. There is a dark countered bar with a lovely water decanter used for absinthe. And of course, I had to have one (and I love absinthe). I asked if it was an original or a reproduction. Juliana said they had tried to find antiques but even broken ones were $2,000. The place also sports four impressive chandeliers.

The service was the right amount of attentive, and Juliana was very cordial. The menu features three appetizers, three main course and three desserts. You can mix and match with a fixed menu price of $35 for three courses or $28 for two, or order al a carte. With a small venue and giving attention to each dish, this is a wise choice and means everything is prepared fresh. The menu changes frequently.

For the appetizer, two of us had the tuna tartare with salad. The online menu says seaweed but ousr was a medley of greens. They will change the side dishes and their kitchen warrants. This tartare was amazing and a good sized portion about 3 inches square. My other friend had the soup of the day, which was carrot and cumin and he said it was very good. For dinner, two of us chose the pan-seared scallops with beurre blanc, sauteed spinach and potato puree. You might think that a potato puree is like mashed potatoes and I would have thought so too but I can say that these were the smoothest and tastiest potatoes I’ve ever had. The proportion was generous and I even gave the last two forkfuls to my friend because they were too good to be wasted. One might consider three scallops to be meager but these were good sized and perfectly seared. Considering what they cost (I made cioppino a few weeks ago and scallops are expensive) this turned out to be just the right amount, set with the spinach. The flavors were so well blended that you could taste each aspect individually and married together.

One friend ordered the duck leg confit with the same sides. He declared after he finished the he usually doesn’t like duck. I said, well why did you order it? He thought he’d try it again and he declared it excellent as well. For drinks, one of us doesn’t drink and he stuck with water, my other friend chose beer and I had a couple of glasses of wine after the absinthe. The menu specializes in French wines of course. This is probably the country whose wines I’m least familiar with. I asked Juliana what the La Vielle Ferme Ventoux was like and she described it so well that when I tasted it, it matched her description. This told me she knew her wines.

chocolate, lava cake, French cuisine, Absinthe Bistro

The lava cake is a chocoholic’s fantasy.

For dessert, two of us ordered the molten chocolate lava cake with house made vanilla bean ice cream, and I had the classic French vanilla creme brulee. My brulee looked huge but this dish was shallow so there was a large surface of crackle, which made each spoonful a smooth taste of creamy and crunchy. I tasted the lava cake and it had that bittersweet flavor of dark chocolate paired with the sweetness of the ice cream. They warned us at the beginning that they needed extra time to bake the cakes so they were fresh and hot, with oozing centers.

We stayed after eating and had another drink. Not one of us felt like we needed any more to eat. In fact I couldn’t finish the brulee. There wasn’t any portion of the evening that we didn’t enjoy. All three of us declared each dish as excellent. Juliana said their weekends have been very busy but the weekdays have not yet been full. I can say that this is the best food I’ve had on the Drive, or in any other parts of the city, in a long time and the Absinthe Bistro rates up there with the other five-star restaurants. I suggest not waiting to taste the wonders in this bistro because once everyone knows about it reservations will fill up fast. Congratulations to the Pearson on having a perfect blend.

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Cooking Without Fat: Indian Curry

diet, cooking, Indian curry, low-fat cooking, eggplant, yams, food, healthy eating

The great veggie goodness, before the chicken and mushrooms were added.

I’ve been doing a diet to kickstart my body into losing weight. This means eating low sugar vegetables (no beets, corn, carrots), low sugar, whole wheat grains (no potatoes, bread or white rice), low sugar fruits (no tropical fruits) such as berries or apples, white meat only (skinless chicken breasts, fish) and no fat at all. That means no olive oils, no nuts or seeds and no fatty meats. The warning with this type of diet is you have to do it under a doctor’s supervision because we need fat to function, both for nerves and our brains. By day four you can start to feel shaky or nauseous because the body is missing the fat and going into ketosis. You have to take potassium tablets while on it (available with a prescription) and it is only short term, two weeks at most.  Anorexics, if you normally feel shaky, nauseous, tired or foggy, it means you are starving yourself to death. Stop, before you die and damage your body permanently.

In some ways this diet hasn’t been a big challenge. I normally do a no fat, no grain lunch. This usually consists of a piece of meat, such as a skinless chicken breast, in seasoning, cooked in the microwave with a bit of water, plus some form of vegetable. Either a salad with lemon squeezed on or something like broccoli or bok choi. Sometimes I’ll add some avocado, which is a fat but a good one.

The challenge has been cooking, where I’m not using a microwave. I have a cast iron frying pan and find that if I put it on a low to medium heat I can start with cooking my vegetables a bit. Of course you don’t really “stir-fry” and have to watch for sticking, but I found it works okay for doing eggplant that takes a bit of time. Last night I decided to make a curry. Normally I would have used a pre-bought curry sauce but I realized that these have a lot of oil in them. No curries with coconut milk, which I love because it is high fat, though also a good fat.

The curry needed to simmer with the spices I was adding so I decided to use a pot on low heat. I chopped up yams (my carb for the day) and put the chunks into the pot with chopped onion, garlic, chive tops and Thai chili. The onion has enough water in it that this prevented burning. The key to cooking without fat is to never put the heat too high.

Indian curry, cooking, no fat diet, vegan, vegetarian, diets

The finished result. Worth using a spoon to get every drop.

I wasn’t sure how the baby eggplants would do if I just tossed them in to the pot, so I cut them in chunks, put on a grill, sprinkled with salt and stuck them into the toaster oven on broil to get them going. In the meantime, I added green beans, the last of peas in the pod that were too old and starchy, and celery.  I added curry powder, basil, cayenne, rosemary, dried chilies,  salt and pepper. I meant to add a touch of lemongrass powder but slipped; it turned out okay though. Because the curry powder can be a bit bitter I put in one sugar cube.

Once this was all mixed, I added half of a large can of tomatoes. That was my base sauce. By then the eggplant was browned and softened and I added that in. I let everything simmer for about twenty minutes until the yams were softened. Then I added sliced mushrooms and chunks of chicken breast. The eggplants break down to give a thicker base and adding the chicken at the end kept it tender.

There are probably gourmands out there shuddering at my culinary abuses but it worked. I had a tasty curry with enough for four servings. Without the chicken this would work for a vegan or vegetarian meal, and adding in some healthy oil isn’t a problem. I like my foods spicy so you can see I used three different types of hot in this.  I’m a concocter more than a cook and it’s why I could make my apocalypse diet work, because I could adapt. The recipe, as it is, follows.

LOW TO NO-FAT INDIAN CURRY

Garlic
Chive tops
Thai chili
White onion 2-3 slices, chopped
2 medium size yams
4-5 baby eggplants, chopped into chunks (any variety will do)
1 stalk celery
Green peas (optional)
2 cups green (string) beans, chopped to one inch size
6-8 mushrooms (chopped or sliced)
Skinless chicken breast cubed
2 cups canned, peeled tomatoes
½ tsp rosemary
1 ½ tsp basil
3 pequeno chilies
1 tsp lemon grass powder
½ tsp cayenne powder
1 ½ tbsp curry powder
1 sugar cube
salt & pepper to taste

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Gender Stereotypes and Food Don’t Mix

mancakes, cupcakes, food, baking, confections, gender stereotyping, taste, savory food

Bacon chili chocolate ManCake. Women, don’t touch!

Imagine this scenario; a woman is perusing the menu at a cafe and the waiter comes to take her order.

Woman: I’ll just have a coffee, black and the Whiskey Lime cupcake.
Waiter: I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t do that.
Woman: You can’t do that?
Waiter: No, sorry.
Woman: Why?
Waiter: Those are ManCakes. We can only serve them to men. And I’m afraid that only men drink their coffee black. I’d have to bring you cream.
Woman: What! I can’t have this cupcake because it’s only for men?
Waiter: Might I suggest the strawberry cupcake with cream cheese frosting and sprinkles?
Woman: Sprinkles?
Waiter: Yes, women eat those sorts of things.
Woman: Forget it. Just bring me a scotch.
Waiter: Sorry, can’t do that. That’s a man’s drink. Might I suggest a daquiri?
Woman: You know Hemingway drank that, don’t you?
Waiter: Pardon me?
Woman: What about that man over there? He’s eating a cupcake with sprinkles and sipping a drink with an umbrella in it.
Waiter: Oh, he’s not a man.
Woman: What?
Waiter: He said his name is Genevieve and he’s a woman so “she” received the woman’s cupcake.
Woman: Fine. Call me George and bring me a double scotch. And the friggin Rum and Coke ManCake.
Waiter: Do you really want to mix your drinks?
Woman: Just bring them!
Waiter: Right away, sir.

 

food, cupcakes, mancakes, manly food, gender stereotypes, eating, taste

Manly man food according to DragonBeak at Deviantart.com RaRrrgh!

Building on the sadness of yesterday’s discovery is another port closer to home that makes ManCakes. Sigh. And in fact, now that I found them, my comment about the radio announcer saying they were invented to be more manly actually refers to these ManCakes and not the ManPies. Whereas yesterday’s diatribe was about manly meat and other savory pies, today’s is about cupcakes that will not be called such a thing. Because, as the Port Coquitlam bakery’s creators (down as only Geoff and Jeremy) say of their previous buying experiences, “Shortly after purchasing these cupcakes we became acutely aware that we are men, and that we have taste buds. We don’t want frilly cupcakes with inches of icing smeared on top.”

So these poor guys didn’t even know they were men until they bit into a frilly cupcake. Perhaps they should have removed the paper lace doily first. And then those dastardly cupcakes of the frilly and overly iced variety awoke their taste buds, because, from that statement above, it seems that women don’t have taste buds.

manly man, food, eating, real men, cupcakes, baking, mancakes     Don't manly men

Don’t manly men want to eat babies and raw meat and dirt? Image of Sebastien Chabal by Pauce Photography

Remember how I commented on advertising gone bad? These guys actually move above ManPies by a mile. While the site shows some pretty interesting and delicious looking cupcakes, the whole manly man complaint just doesn’t wash and actually offends me. When I look at those cupcakes, I see many flavors that I’d be interested in trying and I’m not really a cupcake person.  I’m not a bacon person either but I know many women who are. Pink peppercorn and grapefruit, chocolate red wine and bacon chili chocolate (Chocolate base filled with ancho chili chocolate buttercream, topped with vanilla buttercream and crumbled bacon) all sound worth trying to me.

So why this need to say that women only want sprinkles and frills and things made gooey sweet but with no “concern for what tastes good instead of what just looks good”? Seriously, guys? Sounds like someone’s bought into the advertising hype. I get pretty tired of finding that cider is sweetened up to be what producers think women want to drink. In fact, I tried a rather sad, new restaurant/pub last night where when I asked about ciders the waitress told me that they had Smirnotff Ice, which is in no way a cider. Seriously, perhaps women in their 20s like the gooey sweet stuff but not all do of any age or any particular gender. Please don’t perpetuate this gender stereotyping. I detest it.

Like the ManPies people, these guys will probably do very well because well, food sells, and people like good and interesting food. Notice that I said “people” and not men nor women. I’d would try these cupcake (and really, guys, a rose by any other name is still a rose) because they sound interesting even though I’ve only ever entered one cupcake factory and that was in Seattle. I know one of my male friends once reverently carried a cupcake all the way back to Maine with him and he seems pretty manly to me.

I’m looking forward to seeing a new revolution of gender foods. I can’t wait to see the Woman Steak and the Girl Ribs. Yumm yumm, the zombies will be especially thrilled.

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Sexual Segregation in Food

cannibal, man pies, cooking, meat pies, food, culture, bad advertising, marketing gone wrong

Would Hannibal like his man pies with a side of fava beans?

There are brilliant marketing ideas and then really bad ones, such as lingerie football. The newest one that caught my attention was “Man Pies.” I’m afraid that when I first heard this term I thought of something akin to cowpies but made by humans. Then I thought of some delicacy that Sweeney Todd would make and a cannibal would like, manpies. Yum yum.

But no, this isn’t some wacky horror tale; it’s story tale of marketing gone wrong. But hey, maybe I’m wrong, maybe these man pies are made by men and someone thought that was a good idea for a name. The team of man pie makers consists of creator Bryce Sharp, Amy Burn and Daniel Henry. People often think some names are great without really sounding them out or looking at them from different perspectives. Besides the unfortunate associations of this name, there is a worse undercurrent to the reference.

man pies, food, meat pies, cooking, savory, cannibals, meat, bad marketing

What a man pie really looks like.

But what, I’m sure you’re asking, exactly are man pies? They’re meat pies, plain andsimple. The company is out of Bellingham and uses locally raised ingredients. These pies include such delectables as Indian Curry, Spicy Pork and Beans and Roasted Zucchini and Eggplant pies, to name a few. While the site shows healthy and the mouth watering pies, I’m a little aghast at the suggestion here that these pies have to be so named to get men to eat them. I first heard about this company on the radio and at least that’s the thrust the announcers gave. Make manly pies for manly men, because you know, men are just not gonna want to eat cream pies or lemon meringue. Really? Really? What, are these pies too girly and fluffy for real men to eat?

While I’m sure this company is doing really well with their wholesome and delicious pies, I really wonder at the need to bring the genders into food. Next we’ll see Girl Cakes, Woman Waffles, and Boy Burgers. Yikes! Seriously, folks, while you’re making a great product, you probably want to keep the cannibals away. Tasty food is great, but marketing in poor taste doesn’t help.

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