Food, glorious food…

26 01 2014

1 2, 1 2…


Testing, 1 2…

Mary had a little lamb, the vet he was confused, ’cause Mary is a Jersey cow…

Wow – the editor seems to still work! I thought perhaps my connection to Quieter Elephant might have ceased. The conduit through which thoughts and opinions once flowed so readily might perhaps have healed over from disuse.

It’s been weeks if indeed not months since I sat here at my trusty PC and began to type more than a brief quip on some friend’s Facebook page, or merely share someone else’s original thought. I fool myself it’s because I’ve been short of ideas, or perhaps too busy. The truth I know is really that, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered. But I missed it. I missed the mechanics of sitting and expressing myself through the written word.

And the reason for my change of heart? Convoluted, I know… but it’s Netflix. They give you a free month’s trial when you sign up, and just before Christmas we did just that to see what we thought. Along with pretty much everyone else who’s tried it, we each “binge-watched” some series or other. I caught up on a couple of seasons of Dexter, checked out 4 seasons of Weeds and moved on to Californication. The latter, it seems, put me back in touch with my inner sex addict writer.

Hank, the lead character, is a novelist who (in between having sex with anything female that’s still breathing) is trying to regain his writing mojo. He loves the power of the written word, and somehow it spoke to my own sleeping wordsmith and prompted me to put forth some froth.

So then – about what? It’s not like I’m short of opinions, or stuff that I’m sure the world at large would be glad to learn. As is often my wont though, an idea sprung unbidden. A theme that binds together several threads that have brushed my life recently. In this case… food.

Food is a pretty basic need. Good ol’ Maslow put it right at the foundation of his triangle. Alongside the more mundane “breathing” and the much less mundane “sex” (unless you’re doing it wrong). Because it’s so necessary, we (at least those of us with enough access to wealth and spare time to have the ability to be reading drivel like this on the internet) often take it for granted. It takes something pretty major for us to take more notice of what we eat. Perhaps we find ourselves shipwrecked and starving… suddenly finding enormous pleasure in simple foods like coconut and fish. And rediscovering the hitherto underestimated benefits of toilet roll and domestic plumbing. Or perhaps, as in my own case, we recklessly agree when our wives suggest we have a new kitchen fitted.

Now, our house is about 30 years old – nothing in the brick-built suburbs of England. The house we left there was built as World War II broke out, and was more than 60 years old when we passed it on to its next occupants. It had witnessed bombing raids on Bletchley railhead, and potentially known the mathematical geniuses that worked round the corned at Bletchley Park breaking Germany’s Enigma codes. Our home in Canada though was built in 1982 – the year I entered university. It’s an all-wood construction. 60 years is nothing for a well-built brick house, but somehow 30 seems very old indeed for what is basically a glorified shed!

It’s done us well though, and had a few upgrades along the way – including a general energy efficiency update, double glazing, new roof and the like. The kitchen though… well, it was undeniably a bit “meh”.

When all’s said and done it has to be admitted… I am a male of the species (we can debate later which species). It had cupboards, flat surfaces to attract the usual flying motes such as car keys, paper clips, empty yoghurt pots and the like, a fridge, running water, electricity. What more could you wish for?! Well… quite a lot, it transpires. Several tens of thousands of dollars worth of “more” in fact.

I did my level best to appear engaged when asked if I preferred one cupboard door to another. One fridge to another. (You’ll recall we had a perfectly functional fridge already.) I was inevitably caught out every time though. When asked if I preferred A to B, I was reminded that not 2 minutes previously I’d given the opposite answer. I hadn’t realised these were scientifically designed double-blind questions! It was not one of my finest moments.

Men simply don’t care about such things! I suspect we’d not even notice if the doors didn’t match, let alone prefer one style to another. I know I shouldn’t generalise so much (or so often). I’m sure there are men out there whose sensibilities are easily offended by mismatched appliances. Likely they even select their daily clothes based on some sense of style. In my experience however, men often dress based on what’s clean (if they’re fussy) and closest to hand. It was only when my daughter reached her teens and felt bold enough to voice her opinions of me that I discovered that one can apparently wear too many stripes (shirt and tie) and that certain colours simply shouldn’t be seen together on the same body. This was a great revelation to me, and shattered much of my world view along the way.

I do admit the sink tap dripped, and it annoyed me immensely. I had changed the washer once, but it had not solved the problem fully, and the dripping to waste of possibly an entire glassful of water a year was simply too much to bear for a Yorkshireman! I agreed to the “reno”, and my life was changed forever.

The first issue was that the new flooring required the lifting of the old vinyl flooring. It transpired that under the easily removed vinyl there was another layer. This however was stuck like the proverbial excreta to the equally proverbial blanket. Worse… as was often the case in the 70’s and very early 80’s… the backing material of this earlier vinyl contained asbestos. Not the deadly blue stuff, but still not to be taken lightly or sniffed at (as it were!) For the removal of the stubborn layer by paid professionals, it would require the full HazMat gear, polythene isolation of the kitchen area for the duration… and the addition of several thousand dollars more to our line of credit. To do it ourselves was just time and effort… and the double bagging of the removed material for proper disposal at the city dump. Not really much of a tough choice after all.

It began with a borrowed hot air gun. It escalated after a day to a Dremel orbital scraper, but concluded, almost inevitably one might say, with the purchase of two crowbars and a new 2lb hammer. Yup – it was easier to remove the entire layer of chipboard than to unstick the vinyl from said wooden subfloor. Along the way I learnt how therapeutic a certain amount of destruction can be. That and how prone to heartburn I am when exerting myself in a bent position for prolonged periods after eating.

Even this subfloor had been glued as well as nailed to the plywood underneath, and so despite all the hammering and crowbarring, there were still small islands of chipboard that refused to surrender to brute force. Enter the next phase… the blade scrapers! These are basically devious inventions to hold an entire length of X-acto snap-off blades in a handy gripper, so you can use them to slice off layers of flooring. Basically like a viciously sharp paint scraper. Even this didn’t complete the job, and once the proper contractors showed up to begin things, they took pity and brought in a power sander to finish off our efforts.

And then it began…

We were already a week into “the upset” as I shall euphemistically call it, simply from the steady removal of the floor. The day before the contractors arrived however, I learnt a new secret about our old kitchen. It’s actually a TARDIS! (“Bigger on the inside”). The contents of that one room needed to be removed to allow the replacement of the kitchen. Not unreasonable. How then, I ask you dear reader, can the contents of that single room subsequently fill up every flat surface in the rest of the entire house? I mean EVERY flat surface! If I didn’t know better, I would swear that the neighbours had ganged up and disposed of all their unwanted kitchen accessories through our back door as we were unloading the cupboards through into the dining room.

All that stuff needs to go SOMEWHERE!

All that stuff needs to go SOMEWHERE!

But the guys that are doing the kitchen were professionals. Within a single day they had totally removed the entire cabinetry. Sink and all. And removed our much-loathed “sunshine ceiling” – a lowered area that housed 6 part-time functioning strip lights. Over the intervening couple of weeks they have steadily refitted new lights, rewired and re-plumbed the kitchen and replaced drywall over much of the kitchen. The new super-smooth sub-floor went in on Friday and I repainted the walls and ceiling over this weekend. As of Monday, the new cabinets start to arrive.

But… for two weeks now, we have had no kitchen. It’s a little like camping… but less organised. We still have the fridge/freezer in the “play room”. Rooms of a house gain labels very quickly and they outlive their original use. Our children were very young when we moved in. One room was assigned as their messy toy-strewn haven. It’s now largely a library/TV room, but still carries the name “play room”. Now it is dominated by a largely empty fridge. There’s a microwave and toaster in the dining room… but no free flat surface to actually prepare anything more complex than a tin of soup or the occasional bagel. Tea is readily on hand and everything else is a distant second. My son still lives with us and has suddenly found an ability to cadge various meals from the families of his close friends… on a pretty ingenious rotation I’ll add.

Suddenly then, simple foods have taken on a new pleasure. I really enjoyed a bunch of grapes the other day. The way Walker’s shortbread crumbles in one’s mouth was rediscovered. Of course we have occasionally eaten out, but that is an expensive strategy which is best avoided.

Contrast then my recent experiences in Salt Lake City. A week or so ago I attended a supplier’s sales kick-off meeting there. I arrived mid evening and was impressed at the suite of rooms assigned me. Even more impressive was the huge bowl of fruit. I really enjoyed the grapes, blueberries, oddly large blackberries and banana. As I devoured each layer of fruit, other delights were revealed beneath. I stopped though when I discovered several large strawberries. They were almost as large as the pear! Worse… the pear was the colour and texture of an apple. I have never seen a rosy red pear before. I’m sure they were totally fine, but the word “Mon-san-to” kept wafting eerily before my eyes, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being outlived by the contents of my lower intestine.

Strawberries just shouldn't be that large...

Strawberries just shouldn’t be that large…

After an internal struggle that included the discovery that my Netflix account gave me access to different options in the US than it did in BC, I eventually relented and went to the restaurant for dinner. I ordered the pork shank and was left with a plate of bread to while away the time. It was beautifully presented and the thin crackers were described as Lavash bread. They were interesting, though I’m not sure they were entirely authentic, since my understanding is that Armenian lavash bread is more like pita bread. I concluded with a lovely glass of 20 year old port (though struggled to make my desires known until the waiter scuttled off to find an English waitress to help translate).

A lavish Lavash spread

A lavish Lavash spread

The next evening, the company held a team building event at the Salt Lake City Culinary Center, and a great time was had by all. The staff guided us through the creation of what was essentially chicken strips and pasta, but somehow looked and tasted so much more intricate. Pumpkin seeds were involved. Handmade ravioli. There was wine too. Hence the sketchy details. No idea what the cost was, but if you live in Utah and are looking for a team event – do it!

At the other end of the culinary extreme was my experience of last Wednesday. I went to LA for the day. Less really – about 7 hours “on the job”. I was up at 4am for a 7am flight, and breakfast was a cup of tea at Starbucks in YVR. Lunch (and I use the term in the loosest of terms possible) was some burger thing from Jack in the Box. It hit all the expected pleasure sensors and was therefore almost certainly extremely bad for me. Afternoon tea was a pint of beer in some bar, and the several hours I had to wait in LAX for my flight home (delayed) were broken only by two more cups of Starbucks’ astronomically priced tea and some wood-carving that was masquerading as a sandwich. Still – I was tucked up in bed by 2am on Thursday, so it wasn’t all bad. Just mostly!

There was one small highlight to the day in LA though. Whilst we were sat waiting for some lights to change in Inglewood, I happened to look sideways and saw a doughnut stand. It was the very same one used in the opening credits of Californication. On Netflix.

And so the world turns…

Californication at Randy's

Californication at Randy’s