something to look at for wednesday

You can look at this imperfectly framed macchiato served in a demitasse at the Yellow Fender Coffee House in Christopher Lake, Saskatchewan.

Yellow Fender Coffee House

Yellow Fender is one of those places that feels like it’s been lifted from some cosmopolitan downtown and dropped into an unexpected location.

Are you tired of looking at a macchiato? Perhaps this one then, taken at LiG Korean Barbecue.

lig bbq wall

I hope you don’t get tired of looking at that wall. Because once you’re tired of looking at walls, you are truly tired of life.

I'm a Maple Vinegar Expert and So Can You

I'm ripping off that title from somewhere. I don't care. You go look somewhere else while I rip things off.

You cannot rightly call yourself a foodie unless you're a pretentious douche an expert on some obscure subdomain of the food kingdom. Someone out there knows how to make a fluffy pancake from pine needles and dried porcini mushrooms. Someone else can whisk a sullen puddle of egg white into a five foot replica of the World Trade Center (hold on, that's going to come back later). But I? I can make maple vinegar.

Because it's really easy if you have the recipe. Actually, if not for the presumed necessity of precision in the mixture, you'd have to be downright touched not to figure out how to do it. A couple of hints and it's off to the races, if you like the idea of racing with vinegar.

maple vinegar bowl

Making your own vinegar requires only a few ingredients: something sweet, something alcoholic, and vinegar. That's it. There's some finesse in the storage, and it helps to buy a glass jar big enough to hold your mixture (who would skip such a basic step and end up turning the kitchen inside out in search of a suitable container? Hmm), but that's pretty much it. Put those ingredients together and the fermentation process will grab hold of the sugars and hustle them into an alcohol and then into an acetic acid.

The only weird thing about making vinegar is that you need vinegar. Do not think about this for too long, or the abyss of infinite regress will open up and you will fall screaming its ever-multiplying void, Vertigo-style. How was the first vinegar created? In the same way that the origin of fire is a mystery,* no one knows how the first vinegar was made.** But I hear there's an Indiana Jones movie in the works about the mystic origins of the substance.***

maple vinegar ingredients with cat

For my maple vinegar, I used the recipe in Kamozawa & Talbot's book Ideas In Food, which is largely devoted to the chemical and physical reactions of ingredients when you mash them together and apply heat. The recipes in their book are more like signposts than destinations, but there's nothing to say you can't rest beneath these signs for a while and enjoy the shade they offer. But don't linger too long - there are bandits on those roads, and while the signposts are metaphorical, the bandits are real. Ever had your metaphorical wallet grabbed by a real bandit? It's confusing.

Here's what I used:

maple vinegar ingredients

Canada no.1 Medium Organic Maple Syrup (3 cups)
Goslings Black Seal Bermuda Rum (1 1/3 cups)
Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (2 1/2 cups)
Water (7/8 cup)

I used Goslings because I have fond memories of the stuff from a childhood spent partly in Bermuda (not that I drank rum as a child). You'll notice that the vinegar label proclaims 'with the mother,' which is not poorly translated French or anything (it's poorly translated Hippie). The vinegar 'mother' is what makes it 'live' and spurs the fermentation process. Don't bother using a bottle of plain white vinegar, which is often just acetic acid in solution.

Combine those ingredients in a glass bowl or jar, cover with cheesecloth - which you will also see in the photo above - and then cover with a loose-fitting lid. The idea is to let the mixture breathe, because it's alive and it needs oxygen to do its disgusting biological work.

There's a cat in the picture as well, but you don't need a cat in the recipe. In fact, you want to keep the cat the hell away from your mixing site, but these are headstrong cats and there's nothing I can do about them.

This part of the process is, quite frankly, not much fun. It's expensive, inexplicably more laborious than it should be, and it's over in minutes. Plus there's a cat. It's annoying and not long enough to justify the amount of irritation derived  (see: the opening monologue from Annie Hall). I recommend you make some bread at the same time, just to muscle out your anger out on some innocent Globolink of dough.

Once all that is finished, store your proto-vinegar in a cool dark place. Test it out after four weeks. I made my batch today, so that means it should be ready on September 12, 2011, one day after the ten year anniversary of 9/11. Everyone is invited over for some commemorative maple vinegar.


*No it isn't.

**Yes they do.

***Not in the least.

The Lovely Carrost

Yesterday we went a-shoppin at the nearest Safeway. The woman at the till was more cheerful than a substitute kindergarten teacher. Her entire face was built around her smile. Her fluffed-up helmet of hair rested on her cheeks, which were held in place by a constant upturned mouth. I'd never seen someone whose face depended upon a constant supply of cheer.

What's more, she was enthusiastic about the products she was ringing through. Her enthusiasm must have been genuine, because once you reach the till lineup at a grocery store, your purchasing is pretty much done, bar the occasional Archie digest or tube of chapstick. If you're going to buy a silicon grooming glove for the cats or a sealed package of bacon shavings, you've probably made the decision by that point and thrown it in the cart.

She was particularly enthusiastic about the carrots: "Aren't these carrots just lovely?" she said as she rang them through. I can't lie, they're pretty nice carrots, colourful and sweet:

With regulation size kazoo
Having no geologist's pick, I threw in the kazoo for scale.

Anyway, the next thing she ran through was the butternut squash.

And she had absolutely nothing to say about it. I think the smile even faltered for a moment.

The Right Coffeemaker for your '70s Style Orgy. Trust Me.

Today, a Tassimo coffeemaker arrived in the mail. I don't know how we ended up with it. Schmutzie knows, and periodically reminds me why we have it, but there's no room in my brain for those kinds of facts. So once again, thirty minutes after finding out the whole back story on this machine, I am befuddled by the Tassimo. Which is serving us delicious coffee and creating its own landfill of waste with every cup.

The Tassimo came in three boxes. First, a featureless cardboard box containing packing materials and another featureless cardboard box, which fit snugly around the proper Tassimo box. Our kitchen is littered with boxes, which now contain alert and curious cats.

Anyway, here's our new Tassimo, with a little plastic soldier in a wine glass for scale.

If you don't know what a Tassimo is, it can best be described as a coffeemaker for people who are insufficiently impressed with their current state of home coffee technology. Filter drips? Auto shut-off timers? Indicator lights? Screw all that. With its barcode scanner, mode dial and 'T Discs' of ground coffee/ tea leaves/ powdered milk/ hot chocolate/ beagle snouts, the Tassimo is a brave new step in the wrong direction for kitchen gadgetry.

The Tassimo is an impressive device that mildly resembles an espresso machine in form and function. Hot water is forced through a portion of coffee grounds, which comes in a dedicated packet called a T Disc. The T Disc has a barcode that provides your machine with instructions to produce the desired cup of coffee. It's a coffeemaker that encoded a barista.*

Tassimo doesn't produce a good, great, or even the best cup of coffee. It makes optimal coffee. Actually, it brews your optimal drink. The entire concept behind the Tassimo is embedded and readable in that one phrase: your optimal drink. Why does it have a built-in water filtration system? Because hard water can interfere with the brewing of your optimal drink. Why does it have a descaling program? So as not to screw with your optimal drink. Why does Tassimo produce more waste than any other coffee brewing device I know of? It's all got to do with that drink of yours and how it should be optimal.

Over the last decade or so, kitchen implements have taken a turn for the artisanal. Sure, there's some fancy tech in your toaster, and maybe your gas range shuts down and calls the police if it detects a hot-knifing in progress, but the thrill in kitchen tools has rested in their Luddite flair, their cast-iron will to simmer, their alchemy of metal and precision curvature. The balance of each implement, the way in which that ice cream scoop just slides right in to that frozen block or that hand held grater is just so damn geared to that block of Parmesan, bespeaks the expertise of its maker. Good kitchen tools provide a pretentious but satisfying experience, a sense of connection to old traditions. Even if you grew up eating casseroles from recipes off the back of a Bisquick box.

Tassimo gives you precision, but the thrill comes from the other end of the field. There's a utopian guilelessness about the machine, a promise that the classy world of cafés and bistros can be yours at the press of a button. It's going for that European classiness (even though it reminds me most of those automatic coffee machines in Australia that spit out flat whites on demand). It's like a Star Trek replicator in a Kitchen of Tomorrow. Except the kitchen is straight out of 1972, and the Bistromatic2000 One-Button Coffee Brewer is right next to the fondue pot and the electric wine muller, and the first guests are just about to arrive for a sophisticated evening of melted cheese and mutual groping. Get Your Orgy Started The Optimal Way, With Tassimo!

I recommend the little Starbucks T Discs. That is one smooth, erotic brew.

*And now that barista is trapped in the electronic landscape of the Tassimo, forced to battle light cycles on an infinite neon grid.

Palinode on Prairie Dog: Tangerine Food Bar Review

Not many of you know that, in addition to appearing at the top of this web page, I'm the restaurant critic for Prairie Dog Mag, the local alternative paper. Why do I do this (besides the money)? Because if I didn't, no one in this city would eat anything. I know, it's weird.

Of all the dishes I tried, the North Star of Tangerine’s rotating firmament of foods was the chorizo, mushroom and chicken stew. The dish seems expensive — $6 for a small bowl, $10 for the large — but the price is more than justified. This tomato-based stew is as crowded as a New York subway platform at rush hour but considerably more tasty. Too often, dishes like this will dole out a few chunks of the main attraction as if a particular ingredient aspired to celebrity status and could not be bothered to put in a full appearance at your table (check out some Greek salads in this city where the appearance of an olive is newsworthy). 

Check out my full review of Tangerine at the Prairie Dog website. You may also, because you care, want to view my review of 2b Theatre's play Invisible Atom - because the only thing better than live theatre is people writing about live theatre. Amirite? No? Okay then, I'll sit here on my luxury yacht purchased from the proceeds of my writing career. It's got a lid, a sink, a couple of busted halogen lamps and everything. Wait, did I say yacht? I meant dumpster, but whatever. Semantics.


Yesterday I walked* to the Italian Star Deli to pick up a sandwich and some dried porcinis** for my tomato sauce. On my way out, having also picked up some tuna fillets and kippers, cans of romano and white kidney beans, lamb sausage and a jar of salsa from Mexico - damn that deli - the guy at the till spotted the cane and asked me how I was doing. I told him briefly about my back surgery and my recovery.

— You know you're feeling better, he said, when you're cooking again.

Well, damn straight. He also pointed out that my recovery would be much more difficult if I were old, or morbidly obese, or made of titanium prosthetics. Wait, he didn't mention the prosthetics. And now that I think about it, my recovery would go way better if my torso were adorned with super-light diamond-hard prosthetic limbs. But I'm getting off-topic.

To celebrate my return to cooking form, here's a recipe. I adapted it from the Red Beans with Meat recipe in Mark Bittman's awesome How To Cook Everything. It is almost but not quite for vegetarians (I've included some alternate ideas for a vegetarian version). If you make it, you will be a better person for the experience. Plus you may not want to read my recipes again, because they are maddeningly imprecise and overstuffed. But anyway.

The Beans of Palinode

1 19oz can of black beans - You may want to choose your bean style for this. Maybe you like white or red kidney beans. Maybe you're all over the black-eyed peas (which I only recently discovered were beans - serves me right for thinking that peas had eyes). I like black beans for this recipe, because black beans mesh nicely with my active lifestyle and modern tastes. And they're black, which makes them mysterious.

some stock (optional) - That's right, some stock. 1/2 cup should do, or just use a small chunk of a cube, or a 1/4 teaspoon of powdered stuff. Chicken, mushroom, vegetable, beef, whatever. Homemade, bouillon - I leave it up to you. I've worked too hard to become somebody's stock nanny. Do I look like a stock nanny to you? I don't know what I'm talking about.

1/2 pound good sausage - If you go to the supermarket and pick up some pale-ass strips of breakfast sausage for this recipe, you have failed. Go to a butcher's shop or a deli and find some good, locally made sausage. I recommend spicy Italian or Cajun for this recipe. The level of heat in the sausage will determine the spiciness of the overall dish, so go according to your tolerance. I like food that makes me sweat and cry because extreme spiciness is a middle-class substitute for labour and endurance, but you may prefer meals that allow you to keep your composure.

1 large onion, chopped

2 bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped - The peppers are an important element of the texture of this dish, so don't chop finely or in thin strips. You want little squares of sweet pepper. As for colour, I prefer one yellow and one orange, but if you've got green and red peppers kicking around, be my guest. And if you're my guest, I'll be doing the cooking.

1 tablespoon minced garlic - Oh yes, you will reek of garlic the next day.

4 or 5 sprigs of thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme - That sounds like a lot of thyme. And it is, especially if you're using the dried stuff. You'll throw it in and the smell of thyme will smack into your nostrils and you'll think you've ruined the dish. Don't panic. The flavour will blend nicely with everything else. And use the fresh stuff if it's available.

2 bay leaves - These are the most lacerating foodstuffs I have ever known. I'd like to go back in time and witness the first attempts to cook with these things. There was probably blood and tongue tips everywhere.

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice - I never have allspice around, so I substitute a blend of equal parts nutmeg, ground cloves, cinnamon and black pepper. I like grinding up the cloves in a mortar and pestle, because hey - free clove smell.

1 1/2 cup diced canned tomatoes - Drain if you like. I recommend cooking off the extra liquid if you don't drain them, because this dish is one goopy mofo.

salt and pepper to taste

minced fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish - Schmutzie hates parsley more than anything else, except for cilantro, so I've never bothered with this step. But if you like parsley or cilantro, then this can't hurt.

hot sauce if you want

1. Place the sausage in a large skillet and turn the heat to medium. Cook, turning occasionally and pricking the sausage a few times (heh heh) to release the fat (also, heh heh, but only because I like to scream out "Release the fat!" when I'm making this). When the sausage is nicely browned, remove it. Don't worry if the sausage is cooked through. Cut it into small chunks.

2. Cook the onion, pepper and garlic in the sausage fat, stirring frequently, until the pepper is softened, about 10 minutes. Remove. Return the chunks of sausage to the skillet and cook, turning occasionally, until the sausages are browned all over. Return the vegetables to the pan, along with thyme, bay leaves, allspice and tomatoes. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes break up (10-15 minutes).

3. Combine the beans and the stock (optional) in a small pot and heat on medium-low, stirring occasionally until the beans are hot and slightly tender. Most canned beans will be soft right out of the can, but black beans are often a bit chewy. It is not fun to encounter chewy little beans in every mouthful. Stir the sausage and vegetable mixture while the beans heat up.

4. Throw the beans into the skillet with the sausage and vegetable mixture and continue to cook at medium-low until moisture (tomato juice, bean juice, ingredient juice) is reduced. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaves, because they turn into little whirring blades of death in your mouth. You may also want to pick out the thyme sprigs. Stop cooking. Eat. Use hot sauce if desired. Have it with rice if you're a rice-having sort.

If you've done it right (by which I mean, the way I like it) you'll have a dish where the beans and onions provide a basic mortar to hold together the peppers and sausage. Ideally you should be able to build a model of Devil's Tower at the table out of this meal (don't forget to say 'This means something' and then start weeping uncontrollably), but that's the ideal. The reality is, the sausage chunks ruin its architectural qualities.

For a vegetarian option, double the amount of onion. Cook vegetables and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until softened. Add chili powder to taste when you put in the bay leaves, allspice and thyme. Use 2 cups chopped tomatoes. Use mushroom or vegetable stock with the beans. Alternately, you could just crawl into a twenty-pound bag of textured vegetable protein and go crazy.

By the way, I'm a big fan of eating dishes cold the next day. Take it from me - this dish is horrendous served cold. I've tried twice now and it made me sad. I'll do it again, but that doesn't mean you should. Take a minute to heat the stuff up.

*'Yesterday I walked' is an incredibly important and liberating phrase for me. After months of being unable to walk further than half a city block, I love being able to lay claim to a stroll.

**Usually I take a moment to read up on an ingredient before I go out and buy it. Not so for the porcinis. I picked up a one-eighth ounce bag for three dollars. When I came home I looked in How To Cook Everything, and he had the following to say: "Buy from a reputable dealer in quantities of at least an ounce at a time; the small packages of one-eighth ounce for three dollars are among the world's greatest rip-offs". Pwnd.

why january sucks: a true story

Yesterday I took my recovering body out for a walk.

Walks, when you're rebuilding muscle and nerve, cannot be aimless. You need a specific goal. Otherwise, you'll find your body perilously close to giving out on you in the middle of a block, with nowhere nearby to rest. In my case, it's my left leg that I can't rely on; because the nerves are damaged, it's hard to gauge how much strength and endurance I've got.

Instead of measuring by distance, I measure (out my life) in coffee shops. Abstractions Café, where the coffee is hot and the zataar comes in sandwich format, is far and away the best. Second best is the atrociously misnamed Exotic Coffee World. Even though the place is festooned with signs about not allowing 'table games' and reminders about management's right to refuse service, it will do. The sandwiches are disappointing but edible, with half a loaf of rye protecting a few embattled slices of swiss cheese and luncheon meat. Beyond Exotic Coffee World, the options dip dramatically in quality, featuring places that serve coffee weak and tasteless as hot water, and food that should not be spoken of. And then there's the hospital cafeteria, which has good Chinese food on Wednesdays. Stupid semi-gentrified inner city. When will the yuppies come?

I walked the five blocks to Abstractions, but I hadn't bargained on January, that godforsaken month when cafe owners close their doors and jet off to their luxury island retreats. A polite sign on the door told me that Abstractions was closed until the sixteenth. Exotic Coffee World, when I reached it, was also closed for the holidays.

I had gambled and lost, lost horribly. The only two places left in walking range were Just Bean Brewed, a 24 hour coffee place catering to the schizophrenic runoff from the mental ward at the nearby hospital, or Value Pizza, a little spot next to a closed-up laundromat. I hadn't walked into Value Pizza since New Year's Eve 1998, where my girlfriend at the time had taken me for the purposes of ending our relationship. I thanked her for her time, left and promptly took a lot of drugs with another girl. I remember showing up at someone's house and playing Trivial Pursuit with a troupe of Christian camp kids as the chemicals took hold of my brain and recast my situation (dumped, gaming with Christian pre-teens) as appropriately absurd and itchingly, screamingly funny. Anyway, Value Pizza was all full of memories.

If ten years had elapsed outside, the interior of Value Pizza had ignored the passage of time completely. Same blue fabric in the booths that made it look like you were eating in a Greyhound bus, same hotel art prints on the walls. Same signboard with the Sprite advertisement above the cash register. And the same atmosphere, a kind of first-glance tidiness that starts to unravel by the time you've already ordered your food: stains on the walls, peeling trim, the woman in the corner booth who may be thinking or just sleeping. Or dead.

The woman behind the till seated me in a booth and brought me a cup of coffee and a menu. It is axiomatic that there are no good choices in a place like this; the best I could hope for was something so deep-fried that any harmful bacteria or radioactive isotopes would be long destroyed. On that basis I chose the pork cutlet sandwich and hoped for the best. As for the coffee, it tasted chiefly of soap, but behind the emulsion of cream and detergent you could make out the distinct flavour of something or other. Another sip and the coffee gave up its secret: instant.

I could hardly wait for the pork cutlet sandwich.

What arrived at my table in a few quick minutes was not really food. It was the token of an agreement between myself and the restaurant, a compact involving money and mastication. Pale regular fries that went straight from extruder to freezer to frier to mouth. Instant gravy the colour of milk chocolate, from a freeze-dried and hermetically packaged powder that could have travelled safely into space. Was this an agreement or a put-on?

And then there was the open faced cutlet sandwich: a slice of lightly toasted white bread - itself another con at food - and a corpse-grey patty of reconstituted pig bits, an assembly of slaughterhouse scrapings that a just society would have blasted into orbit. Luckily for me, the manufacturer had blasted it with enough heat to kill any bacteria, as well as any resemblance it may have once had to animal flesh. I wondered if it wasn't a put-on so much as a compromise: I couldn't be sure that my cutlet would nourish me in any way, but I could be pretty certain that it wouldn't kill me.

Wallace Stevens said that a poem should almost successfully resist the intelligence. There turned out to be a similar principle at work between my food and my knife. The toast came in handy for this, providing a spongy non-slip backing for the penetration of my pig bits.

[Here I've reached a bit of a crisis. As you can expect, the cutlet sandwich didn't taste very good, but it was kind of crunchy and kind of salty, and you're probably wondering why I didn't send it back or maybe order something less disgusting in the first place. In the immortal words of Jesus: 'I have no adequate response to that.' But that's not the crisis. Like a child genius who comes up with a revolutionary case for quantum-classical parity, I have witnessed the moment of my peak. I will never again uncover a sentence with the phrase 'spongy non-slip backing for the penetration of my pig bits'. Now I'm trudging down from the peak, and already the clouds are moving in to obscure the flag I planted there.]

Later that evening I told Schmutzie about my encounter with the cutlet sandwich. I told her about the distance to various coffee shops, how they were all closed, and how it was that I chewed my way through a frightening fake of a meal.

That's really, it's just, that's so gross, she said. Why do you always choose the grossest thing on the menu? I mean, I eat some gross foods, but you always go a step further.

Yes, I said. I will always be one cutlet sandwich ahead of you. And I felt my stomach start to twist, as if a ball of metal foil had begun to unfold there, into some unfathomable shape.

There's a moral in there somewhere. Something about proper diet, industrial food production and the wisdom of ordering things called 'cutlet sandwiches'. But I forget what it is.

Oh right: I hate January.

there's no such thing as a free lunch, unless your wife is recovering from a hysterectomy

This is not a long story, but it’s a shameful one. Today I ate lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant, which is one of those places with edible cutlery. No, really.

Because of its peculiarities - at least from a North American perspective - Ethiopian food requires at least a few minutes of practice and some basic hand-eye coordination. The menu items are all varieties of wot, which is Ethiopian for oh you tasty goop. Standing in for forks, knives, chopsticks, skewers, tongs and lunch hat is injera, a flat, spongy fermented bread that comes rolled up on a plate, as if you were being served old medieval manuscripts for lunch. You tear off pieces from the scroll of injera and nab the wot from the plate (which is also made of injera). It’s as close as you can get to eating with your hands in a restaurant, outside of a fast food hut or medieval theme joint.

Our waitress turned out to be a friend. I’m making it sound as if I expected the server to be an enemy, or maybe even a nemesis, but it’s more accurate to say that I had no particular expectations regarding the identity of the server before I walked in. Actually, that’s not true. I had thought it might be the woman with the big curly hair and the long face, or maybe the guy with the tiny deep-set eyes and the beaklike nose, so when I saw my friend approach the table with a water pitcher and a tray of glasses, I was surprised at the betrayal of my unconsidered expectations. Hey, maybe this is a longer story than I thought.

The owner of the restaurant (the woman with the curly hair and the long face) evidently overheard the conversation I had with my friend about Schmutzie’s surgery, because she wouldn’t take my money. She pinned my twenty dollar bill on the counter under her long-nailed index finger and slid it back to me. “That’s fine,” she said, and turned to the next customer before I could protest or ask for clarification. "Are you sure?" I said. "Yes, yes," she said, waving her fingers at me.

The best feeling in the world is the hard-won bliss of spiritual enlightenment. The second best is the unexpected grace of free restaurant food. Nonetheless, it feels odd to be getting a free lunch out of my wife’s hysterectomy. Part of me wants to go from restaurant to restaurant to see how long I can survive on free food. Eventually (by which I mean the end of the week) I'll end up at KFC at two in the morning, tearfully begging for a cup of coleslaw. Maybe I’ll wear a T-shirt that says “my wife just had a hysterectomy and my back’s totally gibbled and we’re very, very decent people, with two cats and budding literary careers. Have you seen my pirate imitation?”. If the hysterectomy thing doesn’t get me some gratis French fries, I guarantee you they’ll give me anything I want to keep the pirate imitation under wraps.

tea and toast

Palinode: I made a fine pot of tea last night.

Schmutzie: Did you?

Palinode: I’m clearly going to make some more tea right now.

Schmutzie: Oh, clearly.

Palinode: It’s pretty obvious that’s the way things are going.

Schmutzie: I really like the green tea with the toasted rice flavour.

Palinode: (slight pause) That’s not the tea I’m referring to, with regard to making some more.

Schmutzie: I know, but I really like that toasted rice flavour. I think I just like that flavour of toast with anything… tea…

Palinode: Yup.

Schmutzie: Ice cream…*

Palinode: That’s good ice cream, with the toast flavour.

Schmutzie: And toast.

Palinode: Toast flavour pairs well with toast.

Schmutzie: We should sell bread with that flavour!

Palinode: Bread that tastes like toast?

Schmutzie: You wouldn’t need to put it in the toaster for that toast taste!

Palinode: I don’t think that would sell.

Schmutzie: I think people would eat it, like, at least twice.

Palinode: I think people would throw up, like, a lot.

*Toasted sesame ice cream. Available at Japanese restaurants.


Recently Matthew Good reminded me of Tony Pierce's most important, or perhaps most vital, blogging guideline: Do what you fear most. And then do it again. Okay, what I fear most is Photoshopping pictures of my head onto topless pictures of Raymi. Actually, that sounds like the funniest thing ever. What I really fear most are two things:

1) being boring; and
2) the fridge.

These fears dovetail nicely. My fridge illustrates the great gulf between my ambitions and my achievement, between my ideas and my near-total incapacity to focus and follow through. Four weeks ago I woke up with a craving for pad thai and the strange conviction that it would somehow change the course of my life. You know, if I made a big ole wokful of pad thai, then success in all areas of my life would follow. So I sat on the conviction for a week, imagining how good the pad thai was going to be, and all the awards that my writing would get following my noodly success. Three weeks ago I actually went out and bought the ingredients.

Then I found every single reason on earth not to make a simple fucking plate of pad thai. I was too tired; I was going out to see friends; I was wasted drunk; Schmutzie had gone out and I wanted her to be there; I used up the garlic; I used up the lemon juice; once I had too much tofu (I seriously thought one night that I had too much tofu on hand. I don't understand that one either).

We got back from Christmas vacation on Friday, and I began to figure out new reasons not to make the goddamn pad thai. Today I decided I would make spinach and roasted winter vegetable soup, but the local grocery store was out of butternut squash. I came home with half the ingredients for the meal I was going to make.

I plunked down the groceries and thought Fuck It. I'm going to make some pad thai. The recipe called for shrimp. No shrimp. Fuck it, I'll throw in more tofu. I needed lemon juice for the fish sauce-sugar mixture. Again, fuck it, I'll use lime and cut down on the amount a little. No sprouts. Whatever. It's all optional. I started mixing and cutting. I got out the bag of Planter's chopped roasted peanuts. I scooped some out and took another look. The chopped peanuts didn't look right. And they smelled wrong: woody and bitter. I looked at the bag.

I'd bought a bag of chopped walnuts. Chopped walnuts were a deal breaker. Peanuts are not optional in pad thai. Walnuts were for baking. Walnuts went into hideous Christmas cookies and inedible cakes made by unloved aunts. Those little brown nubbins of bitterness heaped up in the measuring cup were telling me that I was a complete failure, an asshole errant bound for a hell where I would eat walnut shortbread cookies dipped in fish sauce for all eternity.

At Schmutzie's sugestion, I threw some frozen Amy's meals in the oven. She had the palak paneer, I had the teriyaki bowl with the brown rice and the parquet flooring tofu. The remaining pad thai ingredients went back into the fridge, except now I don't have enough lime juice for the next batch.

So the fridge and the cupboards are full of all kinds of ingredients, but none of them quite enough for the things I want to make. And I know that if I look my fridge squarely in the shelves and really take stock of its contents, I could make something awesome. But that's scary. Some of that stuff is old. Some of it is covered and you just don't want to open that lid to see what's fermenting within. Some is stuff that you thought you liked, but when you brought it home you never touched it, and now you can't bring yourself to try it on or throw it out. Stupid fridge.

The problem is that taking stock is not only potentially painful, but boring. When you consider every item closely, make decisions about details, enumerate and qualify, it slows time, thickens the air, bloats out each moment until you feel waterlogged and sick. I hate that feeling. I recoil from it. I avoid situations that call for that kind of concentration whenever possible (don't ask me to read out the minutes at a meeting, I start babbling and feeling sleepy).

This is the crap that's in my fridge, top to bottom.

And here's a red cabbage wrapped in plastic wearing a strainer for a hat. It's jaunty. It's dirty. It's all for you.

I'm going to make soup out of that damn thing, just you wait.

neighbourhood vintages

Impark Parking Lot at 13th and Halifax 2004
This unassuming vintage is the product of long warm days and mild nights, with only a little rainfall to wash away the dust and pollen. Enjoy the body of Japanese import cars, gravel and urine, with afternotes of exhaust and scraps of paper.

Basement of the Bartleman Apartments, 14th and Cornwall 1998
The taste of paint flakes and abandoned appliances dominate this dark damp wine. A nightmarish maze of tunnels gives this vintage its draughty flavour, with the warmth of the door to the boiler room thrown in for a bit of the old unheimlich.

McDonald Building Elevator, 10th Street NE, across from the Kensington Roastery 1995
Inexplicable flavour of wet dog lingers on the tongue and permeates this antique vintage. With the fine taste of muddy bootprint on high-grade lino and the exhalations of depressed Calgarians. Definitely unoaked.

the worst meal i've ever eaten, part 2

The next few working days in the Philippines set a pattern: wake up early, meet Dindo and the entourage in the hotel lobby, spend the day shooting and doing interviews in and around Manila. Dindo taught me how to say hello, goodbye and thank you in Tagalog. His protegé Anthony, a guy with wavy feathered hair and an air of 1970s-era insouciance, gave me some phrases for picking up girls in the Philippines. It did not faze him one bit when I told him that I was married. "So?" he said. "Man is for woman, and woman is for man!" Then he would point at the nearest young woman. "Look! When she walks past us, you say, 'Heeey, magandan babai'!" I thought that Anthony was twenty-five holding on to eighteen. I found out later that he was forty, and unsurprisingly, still single.

On the third day we shifted from Manila to the Taal area in Batangas. Dindo could be a little exhausting, especially in combination with the constant humidity and heat, but so far he had been everything that other guides had not: reliable, punctual, and helpful. When the foreign office had no idea who we were, Dindo smooth-talked them into issuing us press passes (I still have mine). When the police pulled our van over in a routine play to shake some money from us, Dindo told them that we were foreign journalists working at the behest of the government. And so on.

The lunch in our honour was being held in someone's backyard. As we pulled up, Dindo explained that there were many prominent people in attendance, and they were all expecting me. Greg and I began to feel a bit underdressed for the occasion, I in my jeans and light shirt, he in shorts and T-shirt, but Dindo waved away my anxieties. No problem, he said, this is a traditional Easter brunch, it's not formal. And anyway, he continued, some people there will not know who you are.

It turned out that no people there knew who we were. The brunchers were wearing what I suspected was their Sunday best: the men in pressed dark slacks and starched white barongs, the women in floral summer dresses and hair set in loose but rigidly held curls. Dindo went from table to table, assiduously introducing us to the the mayor and his family, to various council members, and to anyone he deemed important enough to deserve an introduction. Without exception, they greeted me with polite blank smiles and gentle nods, welcoming me to the Philippines and the town of Taal. They were friendly, gracious people who had clearly had no idea who I was or what I was doing there. No one invited us to sit down.

We sat down anyway, at the only unoccupied table. It was set off in a corner apart from the rest of the tables, under the shelter of a dead tree with curious brick-red bark. As soon as we took our seats I could see why no one else had chosen it. The chair seats and tabletop were covered in a layer of sticky damp dirt, with a few ants and other insects crawling on the surface. I brushed off my seat discreetly and sat down. Dindo and Anthony did the same. Greg gave me a glance that I had come to know as his "What the hell are we doing here?" look.

The lunch itself was a buffet-style meal. The most readily identifiable items were pieces of sushi, but I had no idea how long they'd been sitting out. I took two pieces that did not appear to contain raw fish and began to pick at random from the rest of the table. I couldn't tell what I was putting on my plate, but the entire buffet seemed to made of casseroles.

I tried a piece of sushi. Despite the overwhelming moisture that crept into every single thing in the country, the rice was chokingly dry. I swallowed one piece and moved the other to the side of the plate. Anthony and Dindo had not eaten their sushi either, but they were tucking into the casseroles readily enough. I tried something that seemed to be raw pink meat with a crust of corn flakes.

No good. My tongue couldn't figure out what I had just put in my mouth. My jaw refused to move. I had to reach into a core of calm, a near-Zen state of tranquility, just to unclench my teeth and bite down again. I couldn't even interpret the taste; all I could register was the raw texture, the overripe softness of whatever it was I had agreed to eat. I wanted to ask Dindo what it was, but he was ignoring me. He had picked up on my unease and had chosen not to talk me through it. I swallowed the food and readied myself for the next bite.

That's when I spotted the dog. It was making a thin yipping noise, somewhere between a bark and a whine, constant enough that I had effectively ceased to hear it a few minutes after arriving, but a sharp peak or break in its cry had punctuated its presence. I turned in my seat and realized that the dog was under the tree only a few feet from me, a tiny starved mutt in a wire cage so small that there was no room for the dog to move. It had twisted its body around to bite at its own hip, which had gone bald and raw. The thing was staring at me from its cage, eyes nearly rolling back in its head, baring its teeth at me before remembering to bite at its hip again. Its body was covered in little sores.

I looked at Dindo and Anthony to see if they had noticed the dog as well, but they had gone to get another plate of food. I leaned over to Greg, who was carefully moving pieces of his food back and forth around his plate. He hadn't taken a bite.

"Do you see the dog?" I whispered.

"I hate this place," Greg replied.

Dindo and Anthony came back. "You're not having more?" Dindo asked. "Go on and have some more". I explained that the traveling had killed our appetites, but in the interests of politeness I put a bite of something else in my mouth. Raw fish? I honestly couldn't tell. By this point I was starting to look forward to the breakfast at our hotel, which I had been told was a local specialty: pork gristle covered in chocolate. At least there was coffee and pineapple.

Then something stung me.

It felt like a little drop of something like boiling water on my foot. I looked down and saw a bright red mark, a rapidly rising little welt of fire. And then another. I took a closer look and realized that the ground was busy with red ants. These were probably the source of all the little spots on the poor dog. I stamped absently on a few ants. Then I felt one bite my wrist, and then another on my upper arm, and then on the back of my neck. Shit, I thought. The ants have crawled up the chair or the table leg. And then, sweet lord, I saw one land.

The ants were dropping on me from above.

I looked up at the overhanging branch and saw, to my complete horror, that the tree did not have the red bark that I'd thought. It was coated in a living, crawling crust of red ants.

Somehow I didn't scream "HOLY LIVING FUCK!" and bolt. I had reached into that same calm center that had allowed me to eat the raw-meat-and-cornflake casserole, and I'd decided to have a rational conversation about it.

"Mr. Dindo," I said, "I think we've got some ants at this table". As indeed we did; enough ants had dropped from the tree by this time that they were clearly visible, scurrying over the table and hunting down scraps of food.

"No we don't," Dindo said with a dismissive wave of his fork.

"No, Mr. Dindo," I said, "we do have ants at this table. We have ants, and they are biting me".

"No, they're not," he said, and went back to his food.

When I saw him slapping at an ant that had bitten his arm, I realized that my good relations with Dindo had reached an impasse. We had a week to go.

ask palinode: seafood edition

Who wants the conclusion to the Worst Meal Ever story? You do! Part Two features a dog in a cage, biting red ants and something pink and unidentifiable that may have been fish, but may also have been... I just don't know. Part Two comes tomorrow. Now for a slice of delicious Ask Palinode!

All Ask Palinode questions are generally held in queue, but sometimes a question leaps out at you - no research or consideration necessary. In just a few words, the question bodies forth its own response, growing in its medium like crystals in oversaturated sugar water. This is one of them.

Aaron asks:

What fish will I eat in 2048?
Aaron, that is not the right question. That is, you want to know what kind of fish you will eat in 38 years' time. You do not imagine an individual fish, say a cod named Frank. You imagine a class of fish, a species or a range. Grilled tilapia, you think, licking your lips. Sole in red curry sauce with leeks. Braised mahi-mahi served on a giant clam shell at a raw bar somewhere in the Keys. A trout.

But even that is not the right question.

Better to ask what, what will the fish tell you to eat in 2048? When, in the aftermath of the Marine Wars, the fish emerge from the ocean in their terrible machines to destroy the bulk of humanity and leave a wretched few to slave in the fish flake farms, what meals will be on your plate then?

When you shuffle your broken body back to the barracks and lay your head down on your thin lumpy pillow, will you cast your mind back to the distant days when we sat contented at the center of the food web? Or will your brainwashing be so complete that you will pull your scratchy blanket over your chest and thank the fish gods for granting you another day of life? Will you pray for baleen?

Of course you won't pray for baleen. Baleen is for whales.

I know. You don't want to believe what I have just laid out for you with the vivid descriptions and startling drawings of advanced fish technology, and the whale. You think, They're just fish; they exist to be eaten by humans or placed in little plastic cups, right? But who can plumb the salt depths of the fish mind, or gauge the ambitions of creatures that suspend themselves in watery darkness, staring day by day at the light above, watching the shadows that cross the surface - and hating them?

That's why I recommend a preemptive strike against all fish immediately. We don't want the smoking gun to be one of those machines. We must build massive freezers to store the bodies of our enemies for future consumption. And just to be on the safe side, we should probably kill the Finnish. They're deeee-pressing.

Update: It turns out that Aaron's question is topical. Scientists with their gleaming coats and beakers have determined that fish stocks may vanish by 2048 if humanity maintains its current level of consumption. This is why we must strike now, before the fish catch on and rise from the ocean in their terrible clanking machines.

Update: Via my friend Aaron, I found a video of a prototype fish machine. The end times, why they are already here.

More update: Sample sketches of fish fashion for the holidays.

Tired of the straight talk and plain speech that hides the truth? Untwist yer knotty perplexings with Ask Palinode. Email me at askpalinode @ gmail . com.

the worst meal i've ever eaten, part 1

A few weeks ago published "Bad Taste", (requires Flash ad or membership to read*) a six-part piece on the worst meals that the various contributors had ever experienced. There are tales of foetal ducks and oven-baked steak in a washcloth (which somehow seems worse than the foetal duck), but the stories have as much to do with the horrendous circumstances surrounding the meal as they do with the quality of the food itself. Take Michael Ruhlman's tale of a meal at a restaurant run by Rocco DiSpirito, in which the chef's attempt to impress with off-the-menu cuisine goes seriously awry. Ruhlman manages to catch the quality of what makes a particular meal bad:

Seven years later, the memory of that meal remains sharp in my mind not so much because the food itself was a travesty -- everybody but a brain surgeon is allowed to have a bad day. But really our worst meals are ultimately about sadness...
Or in my case, ridiculousness.

My worst meal was served to me - or rather, I served it to myself at a buffet-style lunch in a sweltering courtyard - in the Philippines in late summer 2004. I was a field producer at the time for the show Disasters of the Century, a formulaic but popular program on floods, volcanoes and the most crushtastic engineering failures that the world has to offer. During the selection for the international component of season five, one of the researchers found information about the Taal Volcano.

Taal holds the distinction of being one of the world's smallest and nastiest volcanoes. It had killed hundreds of people in the twentieth century, periodically spewing cannonades of magma and boiling mud on the people who shared an island with the thing. Ever hot on the trail of old stories about the long-dead, my company sent me in to investigate.

In the course of the show's run, Disasters of the Century covered around eighty stories, of which about twenty-five were international (ie, non-Canadian). Often we would pick stories based on the amount of 'disaster infrastructure' that had been built around the event - are there museums? Historians and experts? Records that will lead us to survivors and descendants? Web sites? And in countries with significant cultural or linguistic differences, are there guides (or as I came to think of them, showboating fixers)?

If you intend to conduct interviews in countries where the populace speaks little to no English, a good interpreter can make the difference between an enjoyable time in a foreign place and an endless nightmare of stomach-clenching anxiety and rage. My production company refused to spend money on a professional interpreter, so we usually ended hiring someone who had been recommended by one of our contacts. These people were invariably useless, unemployable freaks who seemed to take pleasure in working against us. There was the one who smelled of old sweat and didn't show up for most of the interviews, the one who showed late for each interview and took offense when I mentioned it, the one who antagonized the interviewees, the one who dressed exclusively in leopard print, the one who kept bursting into tears every time someone brought up the topic of head injuries.

And then there was Dindo Montenegro.

Dindo was our tour guide and cultural interpreter, a flamboyant fixer who seemed to do a little bit of everything. He met us at the airport with a van and a driver, which I had expected. He was also accompanied by two smiling young men (I wish I could remember their names) whom we had apparently hired as well. I checked the call sheet - these two weren't scheduled to show up until the next day. I was immediately on my guard; my company had held so closely to the bottom line for this trip that any unexpected expenses would tip the budget into the red. I did not want to end up broke and phoning home from some Pacific Rim country.

Not to worry, Mr. Eye-den, explained Dindo with much waving of arms, this is part of the package, it is all worked out with your office, you and your companion (the cameraman) are guests here. The two smiling men took the luggage and equipment from us, in some instances prising the cases from our surprised hands. I discovered that Dindo's main talent was rapid smooth talk, effusive explanation and a semi-clandestine whispering that gave mundane details an inexplicable edge of excitement. As we threaded the streets of Manila at rush hour, Dindo informed us that we were to be guests of honour at a luncheon three days hence.

Part two tomorrow. Sorry to break up the story like this, but I blame NaBloPoMo. I also blame NaBloPoMo for global warming and the decline in quality of moving picture entertainments.

*Salon will make you watch a brief ad to get a "Site Pass," which gives you twenty-four hours of trouble-free reading. In Internet Explorer, though, Salon can be still difficult to navigate - try navigating back if you don't believe me - so my free advice is to get Firefox, install the Greasemonkey extension, then grab the Salon Premium Pass script from It makes for some trouble-free times. However, if you like Salon enough, you'll want a Premium membership.

trying not to write too much about buffets and not succeeding

Today: a Sunday. Bad day. Sundays are never great, but today was worse. I don't generally write about my day - who wants to know what I've done with my average afternoon? - but I'm getting all revved up for NaBloPoMo, and besides, the only way to see clear of the pain, to walk through its dense thorny thickets, is to hack through it with the old blog machete and end up on the other side. Where the Highway of Achievement feeds into the Quiet Suburb of Thank-god-that's- done-with.

Today was not bad because I took my wife out to breakfast with my ex-fiancée, although that sort of thing is dicey at the best of times. It's not bad because I woke up to snow, or because a cold had floated in on the usual viral vectors and inhabited my sinuses. It was bad because I didn't pay attention to the furious restaurant snob that lives inside me and rages at brunch buffets.

Fucking brunch buffets. Ever-congealing, colours converging, a thousand choices knit together by one flavour. If a buffet were a person, it would be the kind of person I would kill and gladly go to jail for. The courts might convict me but I would be a folk hero. Thomas Pynchon would show up at my cell and shake my hand. He would reveal his face to me, and lo, it would be myself, a time traveller returned to the twentieth century to write really bulky, obscene, boring novels - okay, this fantasy is not only too complicated, it's not even making sense.

Some people point out that buffets at really fancy restaurants carry a better class of food than, say, a Best Western breakfast smorg. It doesn't matter, people: any buffet, no matter how glorious, no matter how many fine fruits from overseas or how many fresh ahi tunas decorate the tables, perverts the ethos of restaurant going.

A restaurant is there to gratify your senses. It is designed to reverse the ancient order of food procurement, in which you woke up miserably hungry and went out hunting/foraging/ farming to ward off cruel starvation. Neolithic hunter-gatherers did not dress up in their finest hides to go eat a sabretooth steak at their local Stonehenge. Man, I bet I could get a movie made with a pitch like that.

When you go to a restaurant and sit down and tell other people to bring you food of your choice, in exchange for nothing more than money, you are telling the entirety of human history to go piss up a rope. Are you implicitly calling in a favour from the military-industrial complex of the western world when you order a slice of pie made with apples from New Zealand or peaches from California? Oh, undoubtedly. You are born into this privilege, and you may spend your life attempting to repair its routine violations of nature and human dignity, but the ease of restaurant-going remains one of the signal pleasures of progress. The buffet, with its agribiz-subsidized mountains of cheap wheat-and-beef and its wrongheaded system of making you get up and go to the food, combines all the worst aspects of modern consumer life, in which you are paying to serve yourself what is usually the cheapest of crap.

Although the buffet has a history going back to eighteenth century France, the meal in its modern form is owed to Las Vegas, where the "all you can eat" version was introduced in 1946. Casino buffets are traditionally cheap (although not as cheap as they used to be) because they pull in the crowds of cornfed tourists who, having been blessed with a minor excess of disposable income and a tremendous excess of appetite, will shove food in their mouths and coins in the slots until they end up, in another reversal of historical conditions, fat and broke at the same time.

The all-you-can-eat buffet system makes less sense when you remove it from a subsidized setting and isolate it in its own restaurant. When that happens, the buffet can no longer be a loss leader. The restaurant need to ensure the buffet's profitability, either by cutting every conceivable expense (eg. food quality, staff wages, faith in humanity) or by having a buffet only for Sundays of for 'special occasions,' when people decide to go out with their families and spend their hard-earned money on bulk-cooked cheap food sitting its own grease - which they need to go up and serve themselves. How have we been convinced that slopping food onto our plates is a privilege?

I shouldn't ask questions when I already know the answer. People like buffets because they can see the food. Because they can heap up five different desserts on a plate, eat a bite of each, and haul their butts back over for a few leaves of lettuce in a quart of oil. Because a buffet carries the promise of abundance, of limitless choice and affordable entitlement for people who quietly believe that the material privilege granted to them is not enough, that the house and car and pool table in the basement comprise only a portion of their birthright, that a restaurant which hands them a printed card and awaits their decision is only holding back what is rightfully theirs, which is everything. Chicken wings, roast beef, eggs benedict, black forest cake, cinnamon buns, perogies in butter, ribbons of bacon and pale shiny sausages, a giant loaf of eggs, potatoes sliced and hashed, cubes of cheddar and mozzarella in radial attitude with salami rounds, and all it of renewable, endlessly refreshed, from ten am to two. And then they're closing, so pay at the front and get out.

And if you go the place where I went today with my wife and my ex-fiancée, go with the eggs benedict but avoid the turkey. You seriously couldn't tell the difference between stuffing and bird.

upside-down potatoes

What passes for Canadian Thanksgiving around the PaliSchmutz household is passing. Long afternoon, cold air leaking in under the windowsill in the spare room, Schmutzie in the shower, potatoes in the oven. Palinode walking down the hallway.

Schmutzie: What time is it?

Palinode: Ten to two.

Schmutzie: Can you take the potatoes out of the oven?

Reassuring Potato-removal noises coming from the kitchen.

Palinode: Hey...

Schmutzie: Yeah?

Palinode: There's a problem with the potatoes.

Schmutzie: What's wrong with them?

Palinode: They're upside-down.

Pause from the bathroom.

Palinode: The potatoes are -

Schmutzie: What does that mean?

Palinode: It means that all the potatoes are upside-down.

Schmutzie: I don't understand what you're saying to me.

Palinode: All unwonted, the potatoes are upside-down now.

Schmutzie: That doesn't make any sense. Potatoes can't be upside-down.

Palinode: Sure they can. You just turn them over.

Schmutzie: Did you turn them over?

No noise from the kitchen.

Schmutzie: I said, did you turn them over?

Palinode: No.

Schmutzie: Then how -

Palinode: That's just it. I don't know.

chips and choice

Before we do anything else, let's first dispose of the fact that this post mentions the city of Moose Jaw. Take a moment out to sit back, call the wife and kids over, guffaw some, shout "MOOSE JAW? WTF? etc.", snort a sip of Starbuck's out your nose, and generally do what you have to. The fact is that Moose Jaw is a pretty place with an awesome spa and the best Thai restaurant in the Western hemisphere. There's a glass noodle dish that kind of looks like a bird's nest and leaves you incapacitated with heat, but it tastes so good it's like nibbling on God's beard. Plus there's a waitress there who, even if you show up once every six months, will remember you, the people you came with the last time you showed up, what you ate and what you thought of what you ate.

Once I ordered the noodle dish and it was so hot I was dripping sweat from my forehead, panting like a dog and emptying sugar packets on my tongue just to take the next bite. The waitress came out and apologized, explaining that the chef/owner was having a bad day and had taken it out on my food. But I was transported, riding the capsicum dragon to happy land, sweating diamonds of joy. I told her it was okay. The rest of the day was kind of a blur.

All this is by way of background. Another piece of information for the foreign readership concerns the Canadian Broadcastion Corporation, our state-sponsored radio and television broadcaster. It is known for purveying, by and large, the best radio and worst television programming in the country. Whether or not you agree with this statement - after all, some of you out there may enjoy Air Farce marathons, but you are sick sick bastards - you may be willing to concede this: that a state-sponsored broadcaster should, by its very mandate, provide news that is of some use to its citizens.

Guess not.

Bring back junk food, Moose Jaw students ask

Fifteen-year-old Peacock High School student Ashley Isbister recently circulated a petition that collected more than 300 signatures calling on the school to reverse its ban on pop, chips, chocolate bars and other junk food sold in vending machines and school concession stands.

When school started last month, all those treats were gone from the premises.

"A lot of students are upset the school board's taken away our choice," said Isbister, who presented the petition to the school board Tuesday.

"We're not allowed to choose any more what we want to eat."

First let me say that I pity these children who have been told repeatedly that they live in a democracy, only to be stuck in an institution about as democratic as a sweatshop factory floor. If you can make it through school without noticing that the pedagogical mode is more "shut up and sit still" than "one voice, one vote", then you were not paying attention.

Nonetheless, the students at Peacock High, like most people in post-war North America, have been raised to imagine nearly everything in their lives as part of the rubric of 'choice,' a catch-all that somehow welds purchasing options to a set of assumed rights. Chips=choice=rights. When did the indisputably tasty but useless potato chip become any part of human rights? Don't torture. Don't invade privacy. Don't deny the kids their chips. Meanwhile, schools corral children into little rooms, regulate their movements, search their lockers, hand out punishment and promote a mindset in which rights nominally granted to adults exist in a soft, degraded state.

Students still getting their junk food from nearby convenience stores, anyway, Isbister added.

Yes indeed. You can also get bags of shake from that guy with the smelly dreads who lives in that boarded-up house on Thatcher Street, but that doesn't mean he should sell it in the school parking lot.

But one adult sympathetic to what the students are doing is Darrell McDougall, who used to keep the schools supplied with potato chips and other snacks. Now, he said, the schools are no longer happy to see his brightly coloured truck with the Lays chips logo.

"They've gone the healthy choice," McDougall said. "It taken a big chunk out of the business I do. It kind of hurts."

I weep for you, Darrell McDougall, junk food pusher. Great salty tears I weep for you and your inability to make schools happy with your brightly coloured truck. What will you do, now that your bright truck is making schools so unhappy? Who's the bad man that did this to you?

And there's the word 'choice' again, but it carries a different meaning in Darrell 'Junk Trucker' McDougall's mouth. He's talking about institutional will, as opposed to the aggregate will of individuals in a constituency. He's also unconsciously referencing a brand name, which only shows that companies like the one that McDougall works have branded themselves onto our brains in ten foot high words of fire. What astounds me is that my mind is forming words like 'aggregate' and 'constituency' in response to a story about potato chips.

Meanwhile, here's the school taking the time to explain its decision, which is absurd, because they shouldn't have to:

Sandi Kitts, a school superintendent, said the schools are trying to align their practices with what they're telling students.

"We are teaching it in many of our classrooms, yet offering junk food in our concession," she said.

While the school board in Moose Jaw is planning to make every school's menu junk-food free by next June, it said it will take the student's petition seriously.

Please, Moose Jaw School Board, don't do that. If I were school superintendent Sandi Kitts, I would have sent out a man in a hooded robe to intone "IT IS DONE" and then solemnly withdraw to leave reporters to chew on those three syllables. That would learn 'em.

In other news, The Wrestling Boosters take great pride in their concession stand. A taco in its own little package? IT'S TRUE!!!

burnt anakin cakes

Normally I don't talk about the Google searches that land people on this page, since so many of them are so inappropriate that when I read them I feel slightly ashamed, as if I'd deliberately set out to mislead web surfers. People use the web for a million practical uses, to help them shop, to give them factual information, to provide guidance and help them get on with their day. Aside from my bracing Ask Palinode series, I provide precisely none of these things. Imagine wanting to find a home remedy for your son's fever, only to find one of my nonsensical rants about robot vaginas or how much I hate Rapid City. I really want people looking for Nan Goldin photos to find Nan Goldin photos. I also really want people to stop coming here looking for photos by 'Nan Golden'. That person does not exist, or if she does, she's no photographer. The lesson to be drawn: the kingdom of Google does not believe in puns.

Today I checked my referrers and found my favourite Google search yet: "burnt anakin about to become darth vader". The search will lead you to a leaked photo of a crispy Hayden Christensen that made the rounds in the months preceding Sithy Revenge, but my site comes in fourth. Out of all the thousands of sites that regularly churn out info, opinion and speculation on Star Wars, my snarky-ass blog gets fourth place in the Burnt Anakin sweepstakes. I don't want to disappoint further Surfers for Burnt Anakin, so here's my contribution to the noise.

Burnt Anakin Cakes

  • 2 cups flour from Naboo or some ridiculous made-up bullshit like that

  • 2 tsps galactic baking powder

  • 1/4 tsp salt from that hot red planet at the end of Revenge of the Sith

  • 1 1/2 tsps melange, the spice that grants awareness of other dippy sci-fi franchises

  • 1/4 tsp ground Jawa

  • 1/4 cup chopped Anakin arm leg damn, there's not much of him

  • 2 eggs from spacebeast like the one that swallowed the Millenium Falcon

  • 1 cup sugar from that planet where - oh, screw it, just use sugar

  • According to Lucas' notes for the intro crawl to the unfilmed Episode 7, sour cream is under embargo by the Trade Federation, so use 1 cup healthy plain yoghurt

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda with midichlorians

Sift flour, galactic powder, hot red planet salt, melange, jawa. Lightly stir in the screaming, raging bits of Anakin, tossing to coat. In a trash compactor, beat those big eggs until light. Add delicious sugar.

Combine yoghurt and baking soda; stir into raging Anakin mixture. Avoid Force.

Preheat Sarlaac to 375 degrees. Placate Sarlaac with hapless troopers, aliens, whatever. They're disposable props in the funhouse of George Lucas' imagination. Bake cupcakes in greased baking tray for a thousand years of pain and suffering or until cupcake surface bounces back lightly to the touch (~25 to 35 minutes). Do not overburn. Cupcakes may destroy you.

the wrong sandwiches

starved lion on rye with hot mustard

peanut butter and febreeze on white

gentlemen's club sandwich

on-fire sandwich

ab salad sandwich

tuna felt

any Scandinavian sandwich

beef dick (with au jus for dicking)

grilled cheese and damn

po' boy po' boy sandwich

sloppy seconds Joe

gluten burger

Monte Fisto

last night on a bun of shame with cheap wine aioli and fries

soup-salad sandwich

zero sandwich

a radish

sandwich kings, sandwich queens

O long afternoon, O office light, by fiber of file folder and grey grain of ceiling tile, you try us. You try our souls. You try on our souls and walk off with them. But then Schmutzie calls.


Schmutzie: How are things working out in the new job?

Palinode: (confidential and dull), but even better than that are the coffee breaks. All the analysts and coordinators go the Sears cafeteria for their breaks.

Schmutzie: Why the Sears cafeteria?

Palinode: Partly because civil servants gravitate towards weak crappy coffee and cafeteria-style restaurants. It satisfies an urge to queue. And because you can get there by a series of second story walkways and thereby avoid the hideous direct sunlight.

Schmutzie: Do they have a plethora of food items?

Palinode: A plethora, of course. But what's really weird is the fact that the ham and cheese sandwiches are the most expensive sandwiches they've got.

Schmutzie: But that makes no sense.

Palinode: Exactly!

Schmutzie: What kinda twisted logic are they working on?

Palinode: I've taken the opportunity to suss it out. Sears cafeteria sandwiches exist in a strict three-tiered heirarchy based on ingredients. Would you like details?

Schmutzie: I would appreciate your cogent sandwich heirarchy analysis.

Palinode: Oh yeah. At the lowest tier, the peasantry of the sandwich world, squat the egg salad and the cheese sandwich, generously gifted with margarine. Note that these are not strictly meat but meat byproducts, attempts by animals to generate and nourish. They are diverted in their attempts by human industry. Condemned by their failure, they cower between slices of bread and endure the squalor that naturally accompanies their lot. You follow me so far?

Schmutzie: I do. Please tell me about the next tier.

Palinode: The second tier of sandwiches represent the merchants, artisans and early sandwich capitalists. Or something. They are distinctly and proudly primary protein. Roast beef, chicken salad, turkey breast. But here's the weird thing.

Schmutzie: Something's different than weird here?

Palinode: On the top tier, the $4 elite of sandwiches, two sandwiches, king and queen, reign both. One is salmon, plutonian lord of long-chain fatty acids. The other is ham and cheese.

Schmutzie: A ham and cheese sandwich cost four bucks. That's ridiculous.

Palinode: Now we see the brute arithmetic of sandwich society. Cheese is at level 1. Ham is at level 2. 1 plus 2 naturally equals 3, therefore ham and cheese is the queen of all sandwiches.

Schmutzie: And salmon is king.

Palinode: Of course. Do you think they'd be ruled by two queens? Sandwich society is pretty conservative.