Supper’s ready

Posted by Marlinee on Oct 6, 2017 in Middle Age

It all started with dropping the lid of the slow cooker on my foot. No wait a minute, it actually all started with the idea of baked beans. Seeing as how I would have my hands full getting Thanksgiving dinner under control, I decided it would be a good plan to get Friday dinner off the to-do list by delegating it to the slow cooker. I gave the beans a good soak overnight, then packed them away to bring to the cottage on Thursday. So far so good. When I arrived, I loaded them into the cooking device with the appropriate fixings and congratulated myself on a job well done: Friday dinner would be done, dusted and in the fridge before bedtime.

Except for some reason the slow cooker went berserk and started belching smoke just before the beans were done. At which point I snatched the lid off, which promptly slid off the counter and intercepted my ankle. Once the air stopped turning blue, I salvaged the beans, which didn’t look too worse for wear. I then used up all the ice cubes I had been hoarding for T-day cocktails to try to mitigate the elephantine proportions of my ankle.

On Friday morning I checked out the state of the beans: hard as rock, but if I do say so myself, in a rather tasty sauce. So much for an easy Friday dinner. But that was not my key concern at the moment. My key concern was to get the day’s pre-work done so that Saturday would not be an ultra-marathon of cooking. First up: pumpkin pie and apple pie. Being the super organized person that I am, I had roasted the pumpkin the week before and the processed innards were already waiting in the freezer. Come to think of it, I could have saved myself some ice cubes by just using the frozen pumpkin ziplock for first aid, but I digress.

Since both pies need prebaked crusts, in the interest of time I decided to do both at the same time. When the penny started to bid a fond farewell, I started keeping them to build up a pie weight collection. You will see where I am going with this in a moment. Anyhow, I prepped the pie shells with parchment paper and penny pie weights and popped them in the oven. Now normally, I put pie shells on a cookie sheet so they are easier to get in and (more importantly) out of the oven in one piece. In my own defense, my cookie sheets were otherwise occupied with my stuffing bread at that moment. Eleven minutes later my oven told me to take the naked pies out of the oven, at which point one of them collapsed and broke, spewing pennies all over the oven. Nothing more could take place from a pie perspective until the oven cooled enough to take all the racks out to retrieve the pennies…

Luckily, I had another pie shell and as it happens, my recipe for pumpkin pie advises that for optimal results it is best to put hot filling into a hot (prebaked) crust – a step I was planning on skipping in the interest of time. So in goes the third pie shell, now on a baking sheet (fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, double shame on me) while I tended to the filling. Since the clock was ticking louder and faster, I decided that it seemed silly to heat the cream and pumpkin before adding the eggs. Why not whisk the eggs into the cream and save a step? Why not indeed? Well, because It turns out that even over low heat, eggs cannot resist becoming scrambled. But I had no more pumpkin. So I strained out the lumps as best as I could and carried on. And made another dessert just in case.

Now it’s just a small matter of getting the turkey cooked without incident, but given my track record so far this weekend, I’m thinking the odds aren’t the greatest. At least I think I can manage to make more ice cubes without incident. Stay tuned.

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The story of civilization

Posted by Marlinee on Sep 17, 2017 in Middle Age

While browsing random content on the internet the other day (as one does) I happened across ‘The 7 Things You Should Never Buy at Costco’. This is a great example of prime clickbait headlining: you must use an odd number (but not too high an odd number or it will seem like too many things to bother with) and the topic must be something to do with something cautionary or something that most people have a morbid fascination with. Anyone who has been to Costco will know it fits the bill on both counts.

Anyhow, this ‘article’ (and I use the term very loosely) focused on the bulk items that do not save money in the long run because they will spoil before you get to the bottom of the ‘club sized’ vat. Most of them were pretty much what you would expect: large packages of delicate produce, industrial cans of ketchup (it comes in cans??), etc. So that’s not what struck me about this particular collection of interweb ‘information’. In order to bolster the gravitas of the edict not to buy olive oil at Costco, the article offered the factoid that the average American household goes through 1.5 bottles of olive oil per year. I am guessing this equates to about 1.1 litres, assuming a 750 ml bottle (but who knows how they package these things in the U.S.)

Many people would read this and then move right on to ‘11 Ways to Take Better Selfies’ without further ado. I am not one of those people. This random piece of data stopped me in my web surfing tracks. That’s because I go through at least a litre of olive oil per month and I don’t think that’s because I’m several standard deviations up from average. Based on the shelf space allocated to olive oil at the average grocery store (or even below average grocery store for that matter), I’m guessing most of us could get through a gargantuan can (or maybe it’s sold in six packs of bottles or some other conspicuous consumption variation) of Costco EVO without batting an eye.

You would also think that, given the proliferation of cooking shows and even entire cooking channels, olive oil would have earned a bit more stature in the average American kitchen. In which case you would be wrong. People who watch cooking shows don’t actually cook – they just like the idea of cooking and aspire to the notion of cooking if only it didn’t require buying and processing raw ingredients rather than buying something already prepared that kind of looks like you might have cooked it yourself.

In the most recent ranking of the best (and worst) countries in the world (from a living in perspective), Canada ranked number two behind Switzerland, the same position we occupied in 2016. The U.S. has fallen from number four to number seven. We all know what happened in the interim, but I think that’s just part of the problem: no country with such a paltry consumption of olive oil could possibly be considered completely civilized.



September, we’ll remember

Posted by Marlinee on Sep 10, 2017 in Houses

We are barely into the double digits of September, but already Fall is encroaching on the final weeks of summer. I had to pick my meager crop of green tomatoes (that is, the crop was meager not the green tomatoes – in fact, precious few of my tomatoes made it to red in their natural habitat) to dodge the frost warning. The jury is still out on whether they will ripen prior to rotting.

Then there are the birds. A huge flock of black birds has been relaxing in the trees for the past few days, swooping randomly around the island making a sound like a helicopter taking off. I first thought they were solid black but they also have a band of bluish purple around their necks. Purple martins maybe but maybe too big. Anyhow, there were dozens of them but now they have moved on in a southerly direction. Another thing that’s moved south is the water temperature (on the thermometer, that is). Last week the lake was still on the good side of bearable and then bam: see you next Spring.

The cats are in full chow down for winter mode. I could feed them every five minutes and they would still be yelling for more. The cure for this is to feed them every five minutes.

However, the hijacking of September does not mean it is time to throw in the cottage towel just yet. That would just be rewarding the weather for its behaviour. But it is perhaps time to concede defeat to the things that could have, might have, possibly have gotten done this summer but never will.

For example, I did not sew my needlepoint into cushions. In my own defense, the needlepoint part has been completed for some time now, it was just waiting for a sewing machine to show up. The sewing machine did indeed show up in May. It is a marvel to behold: it does stitches I never knew existed, it threads the needle itself (if I could only figure out how), and it has a built-in button hole feature. It also has a manual as thick as a brick. But maybe I’ll rally forth and knuckle down in October. It could happen.

There is a set of Siamese twin Muskoka chairs (the kind joined in the middle by a shared table) languishing in a state of partial assembly. I was very gung ho at the beginning of this project (which, to be honest, began about six years ago). I painted each piece before starting to put them together, I got the chair parts almost finished before I realized I messed up and ended up with places screws needed to go but no predrilled holes. So this year I was going to drag them out of the overgrowth that has sprung up around them, power wash them, repaint them, drill holes where holes are required, and be done with it. Maybe there is still time before the snow flies…

Yet again, I did not make a quinoa salad and I even have quinoa in the cupboard (anyone know how many years you can keep quinoa?). I think I will draw a firm line in the sand on this one: quinoa you are dead to me. And September, you are on notice. Unless you pull your socks up you are dead to me too.

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My friend Walter

Posted by Marlinee on Sep 3, 2017 in Middle Age

Okay, maybe Walter Becker wasn’t really my friend but I’m guessing you didn’t spend a week with him. Okay, maybe I didn’t really spend a week with him per se, but I did spend a week at the same place he was at, had dinner with him several times and hiked the same morning hike every day. He happened to be at my favourite Mexican spa along with his personal physician. He was just a regular guy. I’m guessing maybe the attraction of said spa was the focus on activity, mindfulness and organic vegetarian cuisine. And definitely no beach bar with Margaritas.

I have to admit I wasn’t really a fan of Steely Dan when they arrived on the scene in the early 1970s. I did not mind Can’t Buy a Thrill but not much of Becker/Fagan was in my regular rotation. Anyhow, to honour Walter’s untimely death today, I thought I would do a bit of research and provide you with some Steely Dan facts you may or may not know.

1. Prior to forming Steely Dan, Becker and Fagan were part of a cover band called the Leather Canary, which also included Chevy Chase. Needless to say, fame and fortune did not ensue at that point.

2. Barbra Streisand covered a Becker/Fagan original called “I Mean to Shine” on her 1971 Album Barbra Jean Streisand. Fame and fortune still did not ensue.

3. Although a key part of the song writing duo, Becker did not actually play on a Steely Dan album until Pretzel Logic. Also, although Fagan is lead vocal on many recorded tracks, he refused to sing live. Kind of like if Paul never played on a Beatles track and if John never sang in a concert. Although come to think of it, who would have known since no one could actually hear them over the screaming anyhow. I also learned that Fagan said in defense of the session musician modus operandi that the Beatles regularly used pitch hitters in their recordings (Billy Preston on the keyboard comes to mind, but also Eric Clapton standing in for George on many occasions). But I digress.

4. Michael McDonald and Jeff Baxter were both part of the Steely Dan crew until they left to form a little known band called the Doobie Brothers. Fame and fortune did ensue.

5. Anyhow, eventually Steely Dan caught on, selling 40 million albums worldwide and gaining a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

6. I guess it’s the jazzy nature of Steely Dan that was at odds with my musical taste at the time. But I have found Becker and Fagan to be kind of like olives: an acquired taste best left to grownups, or at least best left to those old enough to drink martinis. And that is exactly what I shall do at cocktail time tonight, while contemplating the wisdom of Bodhisavatta.

7. I still don’t know why Rikki shouldn’t lose that number and silly me, I never thought to ask Walter.




Posted by Marlinee on Aug 31, 2017 in Middle Age

When Pamela Paul was 14, she started keeping a journal of every book she read. While this is certainly what one would expect of someone who would later become the current editor of the New York Times Book Review, I couldn’t help but have a huge twinge of envy accompanied with stern admonishment to my teenage self for not having done the same because my book based on my journal would be on the bestseller list instead of hers (and likely be in the New York Times Book Review). At least I’m pretty sure that would have happened.

But maybe it’s not too late. I have had lots of time to read this summer. My ereader says I have finished 41 books since May and if you add the analog versions I have ploughed through it adds up to close to 50 so far. Now I know it’s a little late in the game to be recommending a summer reading list, but just to show Pamela I have potential, here is a baker’s dozen of books I have digested (some with gritted teeth, some with interest, some with abandon).

1. Toni Tennille (fittingly by Toni Tennille) Now I don’t usually read the celebrity biographies (auto or otherwise) but I did like Keith Richards’ book (while remaining rather dubious that he actually wrote it himself). I don’t know why I decided to read up on Toni, however it wasn’t half bad. I learned several new things about the Captain (I did not know he played keyboard with the Beach Boys) and Tennille (she wrote the hit songs, and was also a backup singer for Elton John, Pink Floyd – on the Wall, no less, and Art Garfunkel, and in her spare time took over from Julie Andrews in the travelling edition of Victor Victoria). Anyhow, light and lively reading with a good bit of dirt on how weird Daryl Dragon is.

2. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. This is of course about the genesis of the North American women’s movement in the early 1970s but also about the civil rights movement before that. Generally there was too much discussion about American politics for my liking, but I did learn that Gloria’s father was a travelling salesman. She is also 83. Yikes! But juicy details were otherwise AWOL.

3. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Elizabeth Strout is also the author of Olive Kitterage, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize and which you must read if you haven’t already. You should also read Lucy Barton. I think one of the things I liked most about it was that Lucy is a writer and writing teacher. One of her own writing teachers tells her “You will have only one story. You will write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You will have only one”. And this I believe to be true.

4. On Writing by Stephen King. I don’t remember whether I read this before or after Lucy Barton (sorry, Pamela) but this is a wonderful summation of the craft of writing (fiction or not) and offers very common sense advice. For example, King says “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write”. Two major takeaways for me were that I’m not wasting my time reading, I’m really building a better foundation for digging into writing (and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and that I already know the things you need to know to be able to write so no excuse not to just get on with it.

5. Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. This is pretty much what you would expect: a history of the show and analysis of its impact on the pop culture of the day. You know, two standup comics have a conversation in a Korean deli and turn it into a pitch for a show, and yada, yada, yada, the rest is history. I liked it.

6. Delancey by Molly Wizenberg. If you follow food blogs, you will know Molly Wizenbert from Orangette. This book is a memoir about opening a pizza restaurant in Seattle with her husband, while knowing not much about pizza or running a restaurant. Synopsis: husband drops out of PhD program in astrophysics (or some other likely to be lucrative career – I forget which one – sorry Pamela) and decides to learn how to make pizza. For most of us this would end up in a few pizza meals for friends. But Molly and Brandon go big or go home, so a restaurant in some derelict part of Seattle seemed like a good idea. Mayhem ensues.

7. February by Lisa Moore. Now we are back in a literary groove. I did not read this when it won Canada Reads and did not know it was on the Booker Prize shortlist, my bad. It is set in the aftermath of the sinking of the Ocean Ranger but it isn’t really just about that. Suffice to say I need to read more Lisa Moore.

8. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I had never heard of Neil Gaiman before, although he is a very prolific and well-awarded author of both children’s and adult books of many different genres, including comics. I stumbled across American Gods in a bookstore display as a tie-in to a TV series on Starz. It is not even a new book – published in 2001. Anyhow, it is a little difficult to describe because it features mythical gods clashing with 20th century gods (e.g. technology), but I really liked it. Be warned though, it weighs in at about 500 pages so might suck up your entire vacation.

9. The Girl Before by JP Delaney. This is one of those books you see advertised on the subway. At least that’s where I saw it. I guess it was a good ad because I immediately put a hold on it at the library. Synopsis: creepy landlord, creepy electronic house, villain you think is the villain doesn’t turn out to be the villain, you figure out what’s happening before the big reveal. JP Delaney is a pseudonym. Beach bag potential, but pack another book just in case.

10. Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi. I picked this one up mostly to get some dirt on Salmon Rushdie (in case you missed the connection, Padma was his fourth wife) and Padma does deliver on that score. Apparently, Salmon is a grumpy narcissist. There – I have saved you some reading time.

11. Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong. Back to light and lively territory. Weird, secret community somewhere in the north. Weird people, who all have a secret past. I liked it and have since devoured the sequel. Hope the series gets much longer.

12. The Saucier’s Apprentice by Bob Spitz. Bob’s claim to fame is writing biographies of the Beatles and Bob Dylan (two different books, mind you). This one is about his midlife crisis spent trying to learn to cook via a variety of dubious cooking schools in Europe. What I learned is that perhaps there are only dubious cooking schools in Europe and also that Bob is a bit of a know-it-all. Took me a while to get the joke re the title. It does have a few recipes in it though.

13. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. I gave this one a miss for a long time. Apparently, Joan Didion once said that to be a writer is to always be ratting someone out. There is some of that in this book but I agree with the reviewers that there isn’t enough. There also isn’t enough about books. But I did read it to the end.



Bon voyage

Posted by Marlinee on Aug 24, 2017 in Travels

NASA recently announced that the Voyager 1 spacecraft has moved into interstellar space. This journey has taken forty years and that is merely a drop in the bucket when it comes to the time it would take to actually get somewhere tangible beyond our solar system. People that know these things say in about 300 years it will reach the Oort cloud (which is apparently an icy shelf just beyond the reach of our solar system, but of course since no one has actually been there, there is no proof of icy-ness or shelfage-ness that I can accurately report) and then spend a leisurely 40,000 years to only get within 1.6 light years of star Gliese 445, which is at present in the constellation Camelopardalis but has a nasty habit of moving around so may not even be in the neighbourhood once Voyager 1 finally gets within hailing distance.

But although its itinerary is interesting, Voyager’s travelogue is not our topic for today. Our subject of interest is the gold record it carries with messages for the Camelopardians. This record is state of the art for 1977, which was unfortunately before CDs, DVDs and USB drives existed.

Unfortunate because whoever intercepts it will think we are still stuck in the analog era (although at least it carries a message from President Carter not President Trump, who probably would not have provided a message because the Donald doesn’t believe in the universe or thinks he is the universe), and also unfortunate because of the storage limitations of the record which meant substantial triage was required to determine what to put on it. So they ended up with some photos and sounds of our environment (likely a bit of false advertising at this point), some greetings in 55 different languages (likely very confusing to any alien since according to Star Trek they all speak only one language per planet), and some music including Mozart and Chuck Berry (likely also very perplexing, especially the Chuck Berry part since there were all kinds of other options available in 1977 including a little band called the Beatles).

Anyhow, it would be an interesting exercise to decide what would go on the record substitute if Voyager was starting out today. Here is my vote:

1. Episodes from the Walking Dead. That would prevent any aliens with bad intentions from messing with us, because either way, the zombies or the zombie apocalypse would make them wait until we had annihilated ourselves completely before swooping in to take over the little blue planet.

2. On second thought, a message from Donald Trump would be a good idea if we wanted to keep random outer space creatures away.

3. And if we are being more positive, I think we should load that sucker up with Van Morrison, Coldplay, Blue Rodeo, Ella Fitzgerald, K.D. Lang, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Paul Simon and Elvis Costello. Just sayin’

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Yellow Bird

Posted by Marlinee on Aug 21, 2017 in Middle Age

I was walking home the other day and saw a yellow bird. But of course there is much more to this story. I was walking home on Oriole Parkway, a Toronto street in an otherwise leafy and urban area with a volume of traffic and illicit speed that makes it more like a major roadway, although it is lined with multi-million dollar houses (but come to think of it, every street in Toronto is lined with multi-million dollar houses, but I digress).

Anyhow, as I passed one of the driveways I noticed a whole bunch of those little brown birds that are kind of like a smaller, cuter pigeons because they spend all their time scavenging on random pieces of pavement. Except one of the small brown birds was yellow. Really yellow. Like canary yellow. Like maybe even a real canary. I don’t know if this was a case of a swan mistaking a flock of ugly ducklings for his peeps, but I do know that this yellow bird was not where it should be. However, I figured there was no practical way to rescue it and by the time anyone saw a posting on Craigslist it would be long gone. So the mystery remains.

But that is one good thing about taking the time to observe the world around you when you are walking – you never know what you will see. Yesterday I think I thwarted some spy’s secret mission by picking up a USB drive that was lying under a bush near a park bench very close to a midtown subway station. It makes perfect sense that this would be an ideal ‘exchange’ point: lots of people going to and fro. I haven’t looked at what’s on the drive yet, so I don’t know whether or not I need to go into hiding. Stay tuned (although come to think of it, if I decide I need to go into hiding perhaps it would be a good idea not to broadcast it to the internet).

While out for a walk one day last spring, I found a huge floral arrangement on the curb. Obviously, somebody had received it for some occasion but who knows what? Birth? Birthday? Wedding? Death? Retirement? Hard to tell from the flowers themselves, although the preponderance of lilies might indicate more of an end of life thing than a beginning of life thing. Anyhow, there are several strange things about this. Usually any situation that calls for flowers results in more than one arrangement, yet only one was kicked to the curb. Plus, the flowers were all in perfect condition. I carted it home and cobbled three vases full of floral profusion that lasted nearly two weeks. And made my house smell like a funeral parlor.

There are many other mysteries you can encounter simply by walking around. What’s with those single shoes? A single glove I understand, but how do you misplace a shoe? And why would you be carrying a small fold up ironing board on the train? Anyhow, now I feel guilty about that bird…

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I hear music

Posted by Marlinee on Aug 13, 2017 in Middle Age

You know you are getting old when you start hearing some of the music of your youth that was considered edgy at the time wafting gently out of the speakers while you are at the grocery store. I swear I heard ‘White Rabbit’, ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, and ‘Dead Babies’ all in the course of a single shopping trip.

I don’t know if you have noticed, but elevators don’t actually have elevator music anymore. What you have now is the disembodied voice that tells you which direction you are going and what floor you have arrived at, and a video screen that makes it legitimate for everyone to look blankly at a spot on the wall and pretend to be very interested in the weather and traffic (even though they have already arrived at work and therefore neither subject is particularly relevant). But I digress. Today we are going to delve into the phenomenon of Muzak.

Apparently, the concept of piped in music was first invented in 1910 but it didn’t really start to catch on until a company called Muzak was acquired by Warner Brothers in 1937. Here are some fun facts about ‘elevator’ music.

1. The initial commercial use for Muzak was as a productivity aid, piped into offices and factories. The ‘music’ was programmed in 15 minute intervals that gradually increased in pace and volume. I’m guessing ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ was one of the more popular tunes. Not surprisingly, once workers caught on to this productivity initiative it started to have the opposite effect.

2. Remember the soothing music piped into the space station in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’? Well that was actually a real thing. In the 1960s, NASA used Muzak on space missions – although I think they probably kept to the soothing kind as opposed to the manic kind. Here is another U.S. government Muzak factoid: Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to pipe it into the West Wing. I’m guessing if it is still piped in today, it’s the manic kind, not the soothing kind. Just sayin’.

3. There is a difference between background elevator music and foreground elevator music. The background kind is the classic Muzak – instrumental only and mostly indistinguishable as specific tunes. The foreground kind has lyrics and is recognizable as a particular song. On a related note, one of the most outspoken non-fans of Muzak is Ted Nugent, so I guess we won’t hear either the background or foreground version of ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ in the mall any time soon. Nugent even tried to buy the company to put us all out of our misery, but alas his bid was refused.

4. However, maybe Ted was on to something when he said “Muzak’s been responsible for ruining some of the best minds of our generation”. Muzak was eventually acquired by a company called Mood Media. If that doesn’t sound subversive, I don’t know what does.

5. Perhaps the one consolation is that you can be pretty much guaranteed that rap will never be converted to Muzak because of course the main prerequisite is the music part.

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American pie

Posted by Marlinee on Jul 30, 2017 in Middle Age

You may have missed the latest eruption of severe first world problems. If that is the case, I am happy to be of service to fill you in. It all started in Iceland, of all places. Usually Iceland is pretty well behaved (except for Bjork of course) and doesn’t get on the radar much unless its volcanos are busy disrupting air traffic. However, the genesis of the whole thing was a comment made by the president of Iceland that pineapple did not belong on pizza and he would ban it if he could.

This hit particularly close to home here in Canada because we invented the Hawaiian pizza. Or actually Sam Panopoulos, a transplanted Greek and pizzeria owner in Chatham, Ontario, is credited with first putting ham and pineapple on a pizza. Mr. Panopoulos says he was inspired by the Chinese food he also served (in the grand tradition of the small town pizza, Chinese takeout, and ‘Canadian’ food emporium).

Regardless of where you stand on the fruit on pizza thing, most of us would be content to let the toppings fall as they may and agree to disagree or even agree to relegating any offending ingredients to one side of the pizza. But that is not what happened here. What Guðni Jóhannesson started way back in February fueled an Internet storm that still rages five months later, surely a record in the fickle world of the Internet’s attention span. Everyone from Gordon Ramsey to Justin Bieber has weighed in on the subject (by the way Gordon is as against it as you can possible get, while the Beebs is way cool with it). Apparently, the Hawaiian is the most popular pizza in Australia (based on frequency of takeout orders), while in the U.S. pineapple is among the top three most hated toppings, right behind anchovies. So clearly there are some cultural divides at play.

But the most definitive cultural divide is between Italy and the rest of the world. If you have ever been to Italy, you know how they stand on messing with the top of a pizza. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find anything other than tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (in any combination you like) on offer, although a handful of arugula tossed on after it comes out of the oven seems to be acceptable. That’s because like most cuisine that migrates across the pond, pizza lost its way.

Or one could argue it found its way – free of the arbitrary restrictions in the name of purity, it could branch out and become all things to all people. North American pizza is truly the most democratic of foods. Don’t like thick crust? Then have it thin. Don’t like tomato sauce? Have pesto or even no sauce at all. Don’t like bread dough? Wait, maybe that’s taking things a little too far… But I don’t think we can stop the argument just yet. That can only happen when the Americans can come up with a good explanation for putting ‘Canadian bacon’ on their Hawaiian instead of ham.



Go for a soda

Posted by Marlinee on Jul 13, 2017 in Houses

I feel guilty about my fridge and it’s highly likely that you should feel guilty about yours too. That’s because I have a box of baking soda sitting in the nether regions protecting the good name of my housekeeping skills by silently absorbing the sins of sour milk, sauerkraut and stinky cheese. In case you missed the press release, there is currently a dire shortage of sodium bicarbonate in North America. And I might be part of the problem. Or maybe not. Maybe all the blame sits squarely on the hefty shoulders of Arm & Hammer.

The invention of sodium bicarbonate goes way back to some French guy in 1791. Then there was a lull of about 50 years until some enterprising bakers derived baking soda by combining sodium bicarbonate with carbon dioxide and as the saying goes the rest is history. Except maybe not the history you think you know.

Shortly after baking soda debuted as a kitchen marvel, a company called Church & Dwight began manufacturing it and packaging it for sale under the Arm & Hammer brand (Mr. Church and Mr. Dwight being clearly enamored with the ampersand). Now you might think it a little foolish to base your consumer products empire around a simple chemical compound that virtually anyone could produce but Church & Dwight did just that. In fact, with 92% recognition, the Arm & Hammer logo is one of the top five trademarks in the U.S., right up there with Google and Coca Cola.

Everything went swimmingly for Arm & Hammer until the early 1970s when women stopped baking cookies all day and started to work outside the home. That’s when the marketing folks swung into action inventing new and better uses for the product. The first one was an alternative to store bought toothpaste. And the second was as a deodorizer for refrigerators and freezers. And now please forgive me for bursting a very big bubble: it has never actually been proven to work. But that did not deter the savvy marketers at C & D. They needed to make sure that there would be adequate churn on the box in the fridge so they decided to say it was only good for 30 days, after which you had to pour it down the sink (bonus: it also cleans drains!) and buy a new package.

But back to the shortage thing. Even if the deodorizer is just a placebo effect, there are several very legitimate uses for sodium bicarbonate outside of the baking thing, one of which is as a sterile injectable to treat a condition called acidosis and to help stabilize organs that are failing, and as it turns out this is the portion of the market experiencing a supply problem. But it is also a key ingredient in a common form of fireworks (strangely enough another key ingredient is sugar, which begs the question of how none of us have managed to blow up the kitchen while making banana bread…) and it is kryptonite to cockroaches, a fact I wish I had known when living in some of the dodgier areas of town.

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