No contest: spicy every time.
Running. (revved back up in 2017!) Bowing. (some beautiful music!) Cooking. (in a new kitchen!)
It’s been two years since I wrote a week of lists, but I thought I would start this last four months of 2016 with revisit to that old meme. So, starting on the first, the eighth edition of the Week of Lists begins, called the “Turning 40ish Edition” with deep and engaging topics such as this one…
There is this annoying and common trope in popular culture: the dumb dad.
You know this one: Dad can BBQ fine, but dad burns cereal. Dad feeds the kid KD because dad is a bumbling fool who would go to work in his socks & underwear and eat cold pizza for three meals every day if it wasn’t for the level-headed common sense of mom.
But see, I’m not trying to sell you laundry detergent or scented chemical misters for your house, so I get tell you instead that most dads either (a) are not the dumb-ass bumbling morons you tend to see in yogurt and beer commercials or (b) only seem that way because they are striving to fulfill the role that has been handed to them by our dumb-ass consumer society.
That said, from where I stand I think this marketing ploy has created a world where the fine skillz of home cooking are rapidly becoming a dying art form. Cooking has, after all, been shoved into our faces as one of two extremes: the exclusive domain of this imaginary housewife persona… or as this angry and hyper-aggressive, fast-paced kitchen-factory macho power-chef thing. It’s really neither.
The modern household probably eats out more than it eats in, but families that do cook at home are bucking the marketing role and are like as not to share the duties, managed around a jigsaw of busy schedules. I cook a lot. And I cook well. *buffs knuckles on collar* Myself, I have a dozen or so fallback, week-night recipes that I can shop for and cook quickly and without referring to the documentation. I do morning pancakes on Saturday. I can pull together a wicked egg and cheese burrito on five minutes notice. And anything that comes out of my garden has earned a memorized shortlist of preservation or other fresher serving techniques… if any of that produce even makes it that far.
But approaching 40ish, it strikes me that there are some other less-obvious standard bits of cooking knowledge that are worth having closing at hand, like…
5. Something to Bring to A Potluck
Because you don’t want to be the guy who always brings buns or that tub of dip that you picked up from the market as you drove to the party. Plus, having to sort through recipes or plunge into the deep dark corners of one of those recipe archive sites to find a group-friendly dish that you can pull together in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable amount of money and that will actually be eaten by a reasonable number of reasonable people (so you don’t wind up bring all but a few polite scoops of your luke-warm dish home at the end of the night) this is a cooking power-move. Find a fast, tasty, cheap dish that everyone will scarf down. Make it your specialty. People should say “Brad always brings those hot & spicy meatballs… invite them.” And you should be able to pull that together in an hour’s notice without spending 55 minutes of that shopping.
4. A Road Trip Meal
Eventually you are going to be driving somewhere and you are going to have more than few hungry people in your car and the only option for food is going to be “Flo’s Diner & Truck Stop” for a club sandwich and stale coffee. Or you can stop at that little grocery store you saw as you drove into the one-horse town and put together a tailgate picnic. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Flo’s Diner as much as the next guy. But sixteen dollars for a club sandwich? In this economy? Really. C’mon Flo… if that’s even your real name. But, did you know, however, that any guy in his 40s should be able to walk into a grocery store with nothing but a wallet, pick up one of those little plastic baskets, and come back out with the ingredients to pull together a roadside picnic to rival even the most expensive small town club sandwich with fries, and for a third of the cost.
3. A Baching-it Dinner
There will be a day for any guy, married, single or otherwise, when all you really want to do is order a pizza and flake out on the couch for the whole evening. But if you’re like me, a kid packed into all manner of extra-curricular time-fillers, occasionally –or weekly, on Tuesdays from 5 until 8 pm– you’ll find that you have the whole house to yourself, and that you need to cook for a party of one. The first time you indulge on some calorie-rich, fried uber-sandwhich. The second time you get a little lazy and grab a container of something on the way home. But by the third time: uh… you just want something normal. Having that meal-for-one plan ready, a dish that you can cook without excessive leftovers, a hot sandwich or a nice steak with a slab of garlic toast on the side, or a grilled bit of spicy chicken with some pasta: these are the meals that remind you that you’re not twenty-something in college anymore… and that’s a good thing.
2. Sick Food
No. I’m not talking a about food that’s sick or food that makes you sick. The opposite. This is something you’d want to eat when you are sick, after barfing your guts out all night. Or hung over. Or after surgery. But something generally warm, mushy, and bland with lots of nutrient density. The things is that when you reach 40ish the number of people who are right in the middle of (or on the verge of) depending on your middle age adult-ness to ensure their continued survival is only going up. Kids hitting those precious years of braces and random infections, bringing every disease home from school for the next decade. Aging parents. A wimpy sick spouse. Even the occasional sick friend who may land on your doorstep. Having a recipe in your back pocket for something besides just a package of that salty chicken soup mix and crackers is going to make you the man to know when the serious shit flies. Literally.
1. Your SI’s Favorite Food
Married? Dating? Someone who lives in your house and eats your food on a regular basis? By the time you hit 40ish you should have figured out one simple thing: you tend to make yourself better by lifting up those people around you. If you can’t feed someone the thing they love most in the world, then you’ve just made that road a little bit steeper than it needs to be.
And you won’t seem like just another stereotype of a dumb dad, either.
June 12 – Something You Are Learning
aka. Post 12 of Those 30 Posts in June Blog-Every-Day Posts
Did I mention this already…?
Ha! You can admit it. You’re getting really tired of all these bread posts. But secretly you love it. Secretly you’re thinking of how wonderful it might be to have that fresh-baked bread aroma filling your own house each weekend. Secretly you’re pondering the joy of a crunchy loaf of delicious sourdough on your own counter top on a Sunday morning. You know you are.
The breakmaking continues and with each loaf it gets a little better, a little fluffier, a little more “Mmmmm!” and a little less “Hmmmm?”
I guess that means I’m learning right? I guess that means that somewhere, deep inside the hollow, bubbly spots of my brain knowledge is fermenting and blossoming into a usable skill that directly translates into edible food.
And that’s a good thing.
Spicy, smoked meat, swiss cheese, a lot of crunch greens, and some grainy mustard — toasted.
I’ve never been a huge fan of potatoes, actually.
Guilt-free chocolate chip pancakes… in various fun shapes. Oh, wait. That’s every Saturday morning.
I guess you know it’s been a good Christmas day when you finally get to settle into the couch at eleven o’clock at night, with just an hour left until midnight, and all that you can really recall of the day is that you ate a lot, drank to match, played some games, talked a bunch, ate some more, watched bad movies, read, relaxed, and otherwise did nothing resembling work. That said, I think I’ll keep the best details for myself. Now, where did I leave my eggnog?
I enjoy listening to various podcasts when I work out, when I’m on the stationary bike or even when I’m running!
One of the channels that (almost always) climbs to the top of my playlist each week is Freakonomics, an economics podcast by the authors of that book with the same name that you’ve heard about, maybe even bought, but probably haven’t read.
Yet, if the prospect of an economics podcast just sent shivers down your spine, then put on a sweater and give a few episodes of this one a listen. I suspect you may face your fear to positive effect.
One episode I would suggest for runners is the recently posted “The Cheeseburger Diet” which while it does talk a lot about cheeseburgers, is actually less about cheeseburgers and more about the tangential observation that humans are interesting creatures and we do strange things… like this thing called compensatory behavior.
I’ve heard some of you compensating with my own ears
Compensation: You do it, too. I know you do. Because I’ve heard some of you compensating with my own ears.
So, the podcast led in with a story about one woman’s obsession with finding the ultimate cheeseburger. She sounded like my kinda gal: not because of the cheeseburger obsession, but because of the analytical, over-thinking process she went through of setting up a process, schedule, a grading system, and then (essentially) writing a book-length document chronicling the results and her adventure (which she has no plan on publishing, of course.) In the context, you think the story is leading to something about a new fad diet of eating cheeseburgers and fries twice a week as a model of some unexpected outcome relating to weight loss, but it turns out to be a little more mundane and grounded than that. (Get it? Ground-ed? Hamburger? Oh, never mind.)
As it turns out she followed some classic compensatory behavior. Just like salivating over a fresh burger, this is the stuff that makes human economists drool.
“If you take on some extra risk in one area of your life, you might need to compensate by adding some precautionary behavior in another area. Some of us are certainly better at this than others, but it is a nice act of faith, isn’t it? Faith in ourselves, and our ability to self-regulate, as opposed to relying on some top-down guideline that may produce the behavior you’re hoping for — or, given the power of the law of unintended consequences, may produce the opposite behavior.”–Freakonomics Podcast, Episode 230
Cheeseburger Lady did not actually end up gaining a hundred pounds over her year of eating greazy burgers. Why? Because she made up for it in other parts of her diet: she ate healthier for the other nineteen meals of the week, as she put it, rather than just adding a more fast food to her menu. She compensated for one increasing health risk by consciously reducing another.
All Of You Runners?
Runners do this. I know we do this, because (a) we’re human, and (b) I’ve done it and (c) I’m therefore extrapolating my observational data to include all runners in the entire universe. Can you believe I actually have a university science degree?
Sarcastic exaggeration aside, I’ve noticed that many of us seem to do this in both positive ways and negative ones. We do this in ways that usually relate back to eating more because we’re running more. We do it by saying (stupid) things like: I’m burning more calories by training so I deserve a desert today. Or, I just ran ten klicks so I’m going to have a great big cookie at coffee afterwards. In fact, I’ve heard one particular refrain come from the mouth of many of my fellow runners at one point or another: “I run because I like to eat.” You know that one? I know that one? I may have even said it myself.
eating all the cheesyburgers
In the podcast, Cheeseburger Lady had managed to maintain her healthy weight over the year of her cheeseburger quest, and in fact improved a few other health factors like her cholesterol counts, and the reason proposed was that she had been compensating for a new risk factor (eating all the cheesyburgers) by behaving better in the rest of her life (walking more & eating less other junk.)
As the podcast concluded, it was revealed that Cheeseburger Lady’s biggest struggle came when she stopped eating two burgers per week: she no longer had reason to compensate, perhaps. Her discipline wavered. The balance she’d found between risk-factor extremes had unbalanced, and…
The takeaway lesson, at least I think so, is simple to understand (if not-so-simple to implement.)
We run. We fuel. We eat. We train. We burn calories. We consume some more. And in this complex mathematical dance of calculating optimal caloric intake to meet the ever-changing requirements of a casual fitness schedule we find a narrow path down which one side is hunger and the other side is over-eating. Straying from that path is as easy as under –or over– compensating. And when we compensate as a matter of course, as a purpose for the effort itself, that compensation in either direction becomes an excuse. In other words, if we learned one thing from Cheeseburger Lady it’s that we should not let compensation become justification.
December 3 – Because she asked me the other night, “Dad… What is KFC?” And I spent ten minutes explaining to her about how we –they, everyone– used to call it by a much longer name when I was a kid, but because people have gotten savvy to healthy eating, mostly, the company changed their name to hide the part that talked about “Fried Chicken” though it never really tricked anyone. So I took her to KFC for chicken, yes, for the first time in her eight years on this planet, and she got to chow down on eleven herbs and spices wrapped around the leg of a dead bird, and you can judge me for having denied her the experience or you can judge me for exposing her to it at all now, on a random day in December, but the look of pure glory and joy on her face as she scarfed down her dinner was worth the price of admission. No regrets. And then she thanked me — four times: “Thanks for taking me to KFC, dad.” It makes you wonder what the heck they put in that food. “Sure,” I said. “But it’s a sometimes food… k?”
In August 2015 we spent two weeks cruising the British Columbia asphalt: a family road trip back to our old haunts around Vancouver, the lower mainland, and Vancouver Island. Along the way we saw some familiar sites, ate some long-missed food, and caught up with many folks who’ve migrated west in recent years. These are some of the highlights.
On Familiar Streets & Old Haunts
We opted to camp in Burnaby. All this talk of Vancouver (recently and a decade past) and we so rarely mentioned that we didn’t actually live there after Karin moved out to the coast. We relocated no the (very) nearby City of Burnaby, butted up right against Vancouver and barely noticed when passing from one municipality to the next, but a different city nonetheless.
So in the name of old haunts (and cheaper hotel rates) we booked at the very same hotel where the parents often stayed when trekking out to the coast to visit us all those years ago, a quiet little inn located in an out of the way corner of the corner of Burnaby.
Our decade absence left much behind for us to be nostalgic about, but the residents of our former residence have been busy building in the last decade and a lot has grown and changed.
We went for a number of walks during our visit — our old neighbourhoods, near my old office, around Granville Island, to shop in familiar malls and into once-frequently-traversed train stations. And it was all familiar, or at least familiar enough that Claire was quickly (though reluctantly) engrossed in her parents own “Great Nostalgia Tour of ’15” — but the changes were almost as abundant as the hazy memories.
Urban density had increased, obviously. More businesses as sprouted below new towering condos. The old mall where we would wander too frequently was being “revitalized” in a process that involved an excavation site that could likely be seen from space. And the little forested area I walked past each day on my commute from the train to the old apartment was now a groomed shrubbery bordering a few-hundred-unit walk-up condo.
On Trees Forts & Fish Tanks
Between reminiscing meanders through the Vancouver and Burnaby streets, however, we did find some time to play tourist.
We had a short but lovely Granville Island lunch with Jess, who in the turning of tables way of life is now happily encamped in the Vancouver lifestyle while I am the one stuck back in Edmonton (it was the other way around about a decade ago!) On the same little adventure, we bought Claire some art supplies at the Emily Carr school art store and some actual art at an island gallery — a piece that was dated during our tenure in the City and became our delicate bit of luggage for the rest of the road trip.
We also spent a quality afternoon at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which has expanded greatly since my last visits. It used to be a short stop with a wander across the bridge and back. It is now a kind of adventure park, with tree-top platforms, a vertigo-inducing cliff walk, and a few kilometers of beautiful trails. It took us a solid three hours to get it all done.
Our third day in the City was started with a previously documented run in Stanley Park (my sea-wall-bucket-list run) followed by an air-conditioned wander through the Vancouver Aquarium, which captivated Claire if for no other reason than I gave her a camera and, yes, she used it.
And yet those were just the big name stops. We navigated traffic and tracked down another half-dozen little places to explore, if only for a half hour break here and there, or to get out of rush-hour traffic for a bit.
On Sushi, Seafood & Ice Cream
And, of course, we ate.
The only thing that outnumbers Starbucks in Vancouver is probably really good sushi restaurants. Karin was pining for sushi. We lived on sushi when we inhabited the West Coast. We landed in the city, went for a quick walk, and then Karin walked to the first sushi place she saw and grabbed a few rolls (for a fraction of the cost we’d have got the same in Edmonton, of course) and we munched them down in the hotel room (in a taste comparison that would have kicked ass on anything we could get at home… *sigh*)
And speaking of nostalgia we tracked down both (a) the hole-in-the-wall sushi shop that supplied the bulk our addiction when we still lived in Burnaby (unfortunately closed on Mondays!) and (b) the all-you-can-eat place in uptown Vancouver on Granville (now renamed but the same sort of deal) where we took our last meal in the city.
To avoid mentioning the glut of various food joints we checked out on our multi-week adventure to the coast I’ll mention now that Vancouver started the trend of seeking out what amounted to a week-long diet of nothing much more than mostly sushi, seafood, and ice cream.
Now thoroughly entrenched as Albertans, one of short-list of regrets from leaving the coast has been that we’ve cut off our supply to fresh, quality (and cheap) seafood by living in a landlocked province. My seafood dining inventory for the duration of the trip ranged from a selection of fish and chips, to seafood platters, to all-you-can-eat sushi menus to delicious chowders, to food truck fish tacos, heaping bowls of mussels, and a sampling of nearly anything that used to live in the nearby salty waters.
And of course stops for ice cream in between… probably a few more times that I dare to disclose here.
June moves into the home stretch! And onward we push through those thirty posts nearing the end of what I’ve been writing every year this month. For the fifth year in a row I’m back to a month of daily blogging: each day a new post on a new topic, but on the same blog-per-day topic as last year, creating another set of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be about something that I want:
To Taste… Festival Season
It’s the first full week of summer, tomorrow is the last day of school (for Claire) and one of the first big outdoor festivals of the season has taken over Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton for the week, filling the air with the smells of food trucks and other greasy delights.
It’s that time of year again.
We did a quasi-work meetup in the square at lunch. I say ‘quasi’ because it was a broad-sort-of come-if-you-want invite to the roughly forty people who are the most entrenched in web doodling at that place I work.
I hit up the “Attila the HUNgry” truck and tried myself a “The Peacemaker Burger” …a Handmade HUNburger patty, Thai peanut butter, strawberry Sriracha jam, and crushed peanuts, on brioche bun. It was pretty good. But I was later informed that apparently the Duck Tots are to die for.
Sadly, we get only a few good days of outdoor festival eating in this city so when they are here you really need to tuck in with gusto and keep your wits about you: try new things, order off the deep menu, and don’t tolerate the carnival vendors disguised as true festival cuisine. You know who I’m talking about guy selling packaged ice cream treats!
I’ll be diving in and out of the various foodie festivals this summer again, dabbling through Taste of Edmonton later on and then culminating with a weekend likely balanced between working and eating at the Heritage Festival in August. Oh, and the Fringe… if we’re nearby.
Either way, the taste is on… I guess I’d better add a few more klicks to my running schedule.