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Community in the City

Most of our cities are so large these days that there arises a suspicion of anyone who seems too friendly. Don’t smile at anyone on the street. Don’t answer their queries and if, like me one day, you ask if they can change a dollar into four quarters run away as if you’re stealing their soul. We are packed in tighter, in this new ecotrend of eco-density, which if anything raises frustrations and issues of not enough breathing space, but we don’t get friendlier.

Many people live in high rises and condos, or even single dwelling homes and may never get to know their neighbors. It’s more likely, if you have children that you will get to know neighbors who also have children. We might go through life, suspicious or concealed behind our apartment doors, doing no more than giving a nod to our neighbors.

I live in an area of Vancouver that is surrounded by blue collar industry. Our block is the only street with houses on both sides. One neighboring block has business buildings (foundry, fish factory, T-shirt manufacturers, stuff like that) and the other block has houses only on one side and a housing co-op. The homeowners range from those on one side of the street going from 30 years to 7 years ownership and on the other side from 7 years to a year. The house I live in and the adjacent houses are all from circa 1910. My neighbors like to garden and work on their homes.

Like me, we shop in our neighborhood, walking up to the Drive and going to local restaurants. I once in a while go drinking elsewhere but it’s best not to drive while drinking and walking up the street is easier, and cheaper than taking a taxi. We have quite a few local restaurants, a library, a bookstore, poultry market, several fresh veggie markets and coffee shops, bakeries, stationery stores, health food stores, clothing stores, etc. There are many areas in Vancouver that do not have these amenities in walking distance and people must drive or bus to them.

But in our area, this helps create a community. You see regulars in the shops and restaurant. There is a sense of knowing the denizens if not knowing them. But on our street, I can stop and talk over the fence to any one of my neighbors. We have keys to each other’s homes, should anything happen and a rescue is needed. If I don’t make it home I can call and say, pretty please will you feed the cat? We stop by at each other’s places from time to time and have a drink or watch a movie. A friend of mine who lives in a different area says that their neighbors cook outside on the boulevard in the summer and people wander up and down the street with drinks in their hand visiting each other.

In the winter, and one like we had in 2009, we end up shoveling each other’s cars out, or shoveling a walk. We can borrow cups of sugar, taste each other’s garden produce, pet and feed each other’s cats, watch out for each other’s property and generally enjoy a community camaraderie. I’ve come to not only appreciate this sense of community but desire it. It would make moving an extremely hard thing as these are my people. We might not all be bosom buddies but we get along, enjoy each other’s company and generally look out for each other.

This is community. It was what the earliest forming of “civilization” was all about: humans living together to bring strengths to the individual and pool resources, to share when times were tough and to help each other, to form a society. It’s too bad that in general our cities have become too big and too cramped, causing more and not less crime and people becoming so suspicious because the media over reports every crime until it fills every minute of your day.

But for me this community of shops and stores, of regulars in the area and of my street and the people who live there, that’s an important aspect of interacting with life. I’m not separate from but part of a whole and it’s been part of humanity has long as we’ve been civilized.

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Hot Off the Range: Speedcook Ovens

I’m travelling again so here is another old article from Technocopia.com. First published in 1999 or 2000.

The heat wave has arrived with the best of conventional ovens and microwaves blended with a pinch of something new.

Microwaves were popular in the 80s but never really caught on as an alternative to the conventional oven. They have maintained a place in most homes for warming leftovers, drinks and soups, and for making popcorn. The Wall Street Journal Europe (07/01/99) reported that “Just 19% of all home-cooked meals last year came out of microwaves, compared with 20% five years ago, according to NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, New York, market-research firm.” The problem with a microwave oven is that many foods lose their appealing texture; pizza crust becomes tough, cookies look unbaked, steaks turn into shoe leather and roast chicken has skin that looks like…skin.

Conventional ovens brown and roast and seal in flavors but they require preheating and longer cooking times. Cookies can end up burnt on the edges and raw on the inside. In today’s rushed world, whether you’re a single person with a hectic work and social life, or a family where members run on different schedules, there is often little time for a prepared, oven made meal. If only there was an oven that was fast yet kept the best of flavors and textures.

With those ideas in mind appliance manufacturers researched and came up with several alternatives. General Electric has introduced Advantium, which uses the newest technology of halogen light cooking. Three set-in lamps, which come with a 10-year warranty, emit intense heat and light. Along with timed bursts of microwave energy, a roast is cooked, browned evenly and juices sealed in, its cooking time shortened significantly. The meal has a superior flavor, even when compared to a conventional oven. One downside is that paper will burn and plastic dishes melt from the hot halogen light. In that way, the Advantium is more like a conventional oven than a microwave, but has an 80-meal preprogrammed menu.

GE, believing Advantium will be a big seller, has devoted a $50 million dollar budget for promotion. The Wall Street Journal (10/18/99) quotes Jeff Moody VP of GE marketing: “We expect a good selling season for this . . . and by the end of next year, we should be at a decent run rate… If it takes as long as a microwave did,” he says, “I’d be disappointed.” Advantium can also be switched to its microwave only mode.

KRTBN Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News (11/02/99) reports that “halogen light cooking has been available to the commercial food preparation market for about seven years.” GE chose to do studies and perfect their range first with licensed technologies from Quadlux in Silicon Valley. Quadlux introduced the FlashBake 120 last year for about $1600. It uses halogen flashbake technology but without the microwave burst. Through “thermal-pulsing” the FlashBake directs heat into and onto the food. FlashBake can be plugged into a regular socket like a microwave, whereas Advantium needs to be wired in like a regular oven.

Maytag, with TurboChef Technologies, Inc., has come out with the Jenn-Air Accellis 5XP. The 5XP stands for five times faster than a conventional oven. The Accellis works by jet impingement. Hot air is sucked out and recirculated at about 56 mph around the food. Microwave bursts make sure the interior is cooked. The downside is that the oven’s circulating fan is nosier than standard oven models.

Maytag promotes the easy, time-saving aspects of the Jenn-Air, and points to a “1996 survey by Working Mother magazine that said nearly 60 percent of women surveyed listed ease of preparation as their first or second most important factor in determining what to serve.” Associated Press (11/01/99) A “time wizard” interface allows the cook to choose from a menu for times and settings like a microwave. Maytag plans to market the oven at the beginning of 2000 and with a heftier price tag of $3500 compared to the Advantium’s $1300, it may be an item only for select consumers.

Thermador, with Enersyst’s (KRH Thermal Systems, San Bruno, CA.) commercial cooking expertise, has brought out JetDirect, which takes convection cooking one step farther and channels air into the food directly. Like most of these new ovens it has an automated “CookSmart” feature, which converts conventional cooking times to JetDirect’s. Thermador will also be producing out a “double-oven configuration, with the JetDirect located above and a thermal-convection oven below,” reports National Home Center News (07/19/99). At a cost of $5700 for the JetDirect models, it will be a while until the regular consumer will be using one.

According to Dealerscope Consumer Electronics Marketplace (06/01/99), Frigidaire has come out with its Speed Bake range that by a user-controlled fan system speeds up cooking time by 30%. It “differs from traditional convection in that it does not reduce oven temperature and requires only the flick of a switch.” It is price between $650-$750.

Amana Appliances is the final contender in new faster cooking ovens but doesn’t use microwave technology, reports Tom Robbins for The Times (07/11/99). Although Robbins mentions that the Wave uses only halogen technology like the FlashBake 120, their website only lists the EvenAir, which is a convection range.

All these ovens promote faster cooking times with better textures and tastes to cooked foods. Each one has some automated menu or time-setting feature for cooking, and the halogen ovens include conversion charts from conventional oven recipes. According to the Associated Press article (11/11/99), it may be possible in just a few years to download recipes from the Internet into the oven’s memory. With programmable menus and cooking temperatures, it will not take much more to add the chips to make this possible. Speed cook ovens are just another step toward an integrated, automated kitchen that makes the most of time and cooking easier.

COMPANY

BRAND

COOKS BY:

COST*

TIME CUT BY**

General Electric Advantium 3 halogen lights (4500 watts max) & microwave $1300

75%

Quadlux FlashBake 120 8 Halogen lights (1650 watts max) $1600

35%?

Maytag & TurboChef Jenn-Air Accellis 5XP Jet impingement (forced hot air) $3500

80%

Thermador & Enersyst JetDirect Hot air & convection $5700

75%

Frigidaire Speed Bake Convection? $650-$750

30%

Amana Appliances Wave (EvenAir) Convection

25%

*approx. prices **Compared to conventional ovens (approx. times)

COMPANY SITES
http://www.maytag.com
http://www.frigidaire.com
http://www.geadvantium.com
http://www.geappliances.com
http://www.amana.com (convection ovens—nothing on the Wave)

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Childhood Memories: Toys

I heard someone saying the other day, “I don’t remember anything about grade three.” The point was that she remember the grades on either side to some degree but nothing about grade three. And over time we forget a lot of the everyday, normal boring stuff. We remember the unusual, the good and the bad. Often, I think, we remember the bad best of all because it sears our memories like a branding iron, the pain making pathways we’d sooner forget.

So good memories become rarer in some cases. A few though, stay in our memories in various ways, sometimes in a back file that is triggered when you see something. Like the other night when in a friend’s attic there was a little wooden sleigh with metal runners. I remember having one like that when I was a child, which had been my older siblings’. And thinking of that makes me remember this big (about 6 inches long) red, metal tractor with large rubber wheels and a spring beneath the seat. It had been my older brother’s but could have been around even longer than that.

I had this little metal fridge. In my eyes it was about ten inches tall. I don’t know if that’s accurate but I really loved it. It was white and round and then one year I got a sleek new brown and black fridge, all rectangular with plastic vegetables. I still missed the original fridge, which had somehow even then, seemed to have more personality than the new gadget. I can’t explain why I was so attached to that old metal fridge.

And dolls. My sister was never into them but I had a doll in a purple dress with purple hair. She may have even been a walking doll, one that if you grabbed its hand and walked it would rock back and forth and follow. Actually now that I think of it, the walking doll was different and a couple of feet tall whereas the purple doll was about a foot tall. There was also a nurse doll, in a blue and white striped dress, a white nurse’s cap and a blue cape. It too must have come from my sister. My favorite was a Debbie doll. She was about 6-8 inches tall with short, curly platinum hair (kind of Marilyn Monroe-ish) and unlike Barbie dolls had proportionate plastic features.

The best thing about my Debbie doll was her plastic closet of clothes. They were quite a range and made fairly well. Compared to Barbie’s fairly trashy clothes, Debbie’s were very well made. Little cocktail dresses with a velvet top and red taffeta skirt, evening gowns, suits in various materials. I always liked dressing up dolls and paper dolls and would spend hours design and drawing fashion outfits in my early tweens. I briefly entertained thoughts of being a fashion designer but didn’t like sewing.

Dolls were a pretty big thing. I was pretty typical that way. My brother had asked for a G.I. Joe doll but my mother (maybe typical of her era) said that boys didn’t play with dolls. Riiight. So in his own way my brother, two years younger, maybe four years of age, found a way. He took all of my dolls, stripped off their clothes and threw them in a big pile. I imagine he danced around looking demonic but that’s just my imagination. But what he was imagining was that he was burning them or as my brother called it, “I’m firing them.” Shades of the Inquisition.

I remember the dolls because I played with them. I remember the tractor because it was so heavy and just always there, even after we were all too old to play with it. I think it was passed down to my nephew. I remember the fridge because in my mind it was special. These are all good memories and there were many bad ones in my childhood. But if nothing else, these paint the picture of the wonder and exploration of children.

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Joe the Pigeon

I’m not sure why I remembered Joe the other day. Maybe it was because of the raucous calls of crows, the saucy toks of ravens and the black murders that fly over every day at dusk. But Joe was a bird of a different color.

Joe was a pigeon, not a stool pigeon but a fellow most fowl. We named him Joe, really not knowing his sex. I mean, really, how do you figure what a bird is, look under their tails? It’s all hidden away anyways.

Joe was a tenacious pigeon who lived in a nest in the eaves of the house next door to my roommate’s and mine. From the kitchen window over our sink we could see the pigeons come and go. Pretty much they were an indistinct lot of cooers, doing what birds do, fluttering into the nest, leaving for work, napping out during the day, making eggs. I’m not sure how many were in that nest but Joe hung around a lot.

So much so that he always seemed to be there, sitting on the wooden strut above the nest and watching, and watching. He watched so much with that beady eye that we began to wonder. In fact, it soon became apparent that Joe hadn’t moved in weeks, which became months. The other pigeons obliviously came and went so Louise and I would carry out their birdbrained conversations, done in a slow deep voice:

“Hey, what’s wrong with Joe?”

“Dunno, maybe he’s mad at us?”

“You think? Maybe he’s depressed?”

“Yeah, he just sits and stares at us.”

“Downright creepy, if you ask me.”

“Hey, Joe! Joe?”

And there Joe sat for most of a year, never moving, protected from rain and snow and wind. It wasn’t until a big guster blew through one day, pushing its icy fingers between the narrow space between two houses. Joe took his final flight that day, literally, now as light as a feather. The wind tossed his body down to the sidewalk where it exploded into dessicated bones and feathers. There was very little to find because it almost instantly vaporized after that length of time.

I did find Joe’s skull, sans beak as it had dropped off too. I kept his skull with other prized bones for quite a while. Until the new kitten found it and thought it a great toy to bat around and chomp on. We remember Joe though for his vigilance, where even in death he watched over the nest.

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