Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Casual Empiricism & Climate 2

I don't deny global warming or its threat, but I'm appalled at how casually people join the green parade and demand monumental public policy change on the basis of a couple of mild months. Only four years ago, winter was so brutal that, for the first time in 20 years, Lake Superior completely froze. I don't recall many of my fellow Canadians claiming that they were "experiencing" the coming ice age.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Review: Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond is a compelling tale about a subsistence fisherman separated from his family and made a slave in a diamond camp by anti-government rebels in Sierra Leone. Once free, a Rhodesian diamond smuggler helps the fisherman find his family in exchange for information about a pink diamond he had found while panning at the camp. Filmed in South Africa and Mozambique, the movie introduces the sheltered North American movie-goer to the spectacular beauty of Africa while simultaneously scaring the wits out of him with that continent's violent routine. That this is the first Leonardo DiCaprio movie during which I haven't prayed for his gory demise is enough, on a go/no-go scale, to give Blood Diamond a "go".

Monday, January 29, 2007

Suburban Notes 2

Living in a new house is much different than the homes in which I grew up. The appliances lack power, light switch placement is counter intuitive, and the ground floor would only be useful if I operated a laundry business. It reminds me of the model home in which the Bluths live on Arrested Development. The poor insulation, however, facilitates my eavesdropping on neighbours and making up stories about their lives.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

From The Back Shed

My dad is building a beautiful wooden boat to be launched this summer after several years of toil in the back shed at the Bay. You can read about his work at From the Back Shed.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Casual Empiricism and Climate

We've had a week of nose-hair-freezing cold in southern Ontario. It was so cold in London that my classmate Lawrence, from British Columbia, spent Friday afternoon reading The Globe and Mail in a duffel coat and toque with a space heater perched beside him on the couch. Of course this means that we are in the midst of a global cooling crisis. Pardon me? The precision of sticking one's head outside during a warm December to confirm global warming only works one way?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Everything I Love: Propane

After a busy week at school, there's nothing like coming home and grilling a couple of steaks while the snow flies at 22 below.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Rant: Steelback Beer

The ubiquitous Frank D'Angelo promotes everything from Soo Greyhounds hockey to his band, the Steelback 2-4, but has anyone ever drank his Steelback Beer?

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Sideline Style of Bill Belichick

I don't for a moment question his coaching genius, and I'm not asking for Tom Landry-esque business attire, but can't Bill Belichick find something other than a grey hoodie to wear on the sidelines? There are high school coaches that dress more professionally.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Like-Minded People

I noted this week that fellow Nepean High School alumnus Jaime J. Weinman agrees with me that The Daily Show isn't funny, and Julian Fantino concurs that neither is OPP Sergeant Cam Wooley.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Chili Festival: Frank X. Tolbert's Bowl of Red

With some potatoes and sugar I rescued my over-salted Frank X. Tolbert chili and submitted it to our judges. I also threw in some kidney beans, which means it's wasn't genuine Texas chili. The feedback was positive - Lawrence enjoyed it immensely, though Uncle Al would have preferred more vegetables. My own feeling is that, for its simplicity and prominent chili flavour, this is one of the best I've had. I learned a couple of things in making it (aside from going easy on the salt). First, equal portions of oregano, cumin, and cayenne is the right ratio for the non-chili spices. I also think that these are all you need. Salt can be added at the end and spices like black pepper, cilantro, bay leaves, etc., are gratuitous. Second, if you have time, choose cubed meat over ground chuck. It tastes better and breaks down to the consistency of pulled pork. Third, my mother taught me to cook the chili powder first. Most recipes call for adding it after cooking the meat, but I cook the chili in the pot with some onions and oil at the beginning. I don't know why, but it's more flavourful. For next week's chili, my mom sent me a recipe that she clipped from Canadian Living. I'm interested to see what the cocoa powder does for the dish.

I'm cooking a pot of chili each week or so and submitting it to an international panel of judges in London, Ontario. Readers are invited to submit their own chili recipes or feedback if they're cooking along at home. The winning chili, to be announced in March, will be cooked out in the parking lot at the 2007 Palmer Rapids Twin Music Festivals.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Everything I Love: Old Matchbooks

Among the few pleasures in moving are finding long-forgotten knickknacks in old suitcases, pencil jars, and kitchen drawers. At the bottom of a clay pot, I discovered several old matchbooks that my grandparents picked up over the years. The combination of these promotions, memories, and the Internet gives us a peek at the past.

My grandfather was a member of Islington Golf Club in Etobicoke, where my brother and I would stuff ourselves with bacon and scrambled eggs at Sunday Brunch.... Joe's Oyster Bar had three locations in Tucson, Arizona in the 1980s, but apparently seafood in Arizona is a tough sell.... The Engineers' Club was a private Toronto club comprised of Canadian mining and financial leaders. In 1992, it took its art collection and merged with The Ontario Club, the beaver from its emblem now prominent on the Ontario Club's crest.... The Tudor-style Drawbridge Inn claimed to be a "stronghold of hospitality where people come first" and is still welcoming visitors in Sarnia, Ontario.... In 1988, the New York Times wrote that Toronto's "Amsterdam Brasserie and Brewery (133 John Street) serves unpasteurized beer made on the premises. It goes well with the light, spicy food, such as blackened hake with sweet pepper and garlic puree ($8). Dinner for two with beer in this converted warehouse will cost about $30". Amsterdam is gone and so are those prices.... Michigan's Bay Valley Inn appears to have been driven away by the Hampton Inns that line I-75, but at one point offered golf, tennis, and fine dining for visitors to Saginaw and Bay City.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Rant: Fundraising Priorities

  • 25 million Africans have AIDS
  • Malaria kills over 2 million children each year
  • Elderly British Columbians wait 12 months for a new hip
  • Over $4 million is raised to clean up Vancouver's Stanley Park
Talk about an opportunity cost.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Update: Ottawa River Catfish Kill

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has released its findings on this summer's catfish kill on the Ottawa River. The report supports the Ministry's earlier conclusion that the columnaris bacteria flourished in oxygen-deprived shallow water, killing between 2,000 and 4,000 juvenile channel catfish which tend to feed near shore. The authors are optimistic that, with only 2-3% of the channel cat population affected by the kill, the long-term health of this fishery is unaffected.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Review: The Queen

Accepting the Golden Globe award for best screenplay this week, Peter Morgan summed up his movie's plot, while simultaneously engaging in treason, "[When Princess Diana died], 2.2 million people went on the streets of London, sleeping rough, bringing the biggest city in Europe to a standstill so that a stubborn 70-year-old lady would fly from Aberdeen to London. What are we gonna have to do when it's really important? You have to believe that public protest counts for something." The hysterical ravings of this buffoon aside, any film starring Helen Mirren is worth seeing.

Despite its apparent intentions, the movie gave me, a previously-skeptical subject, a renewed faith in the monarchy. The film documents that, sometime after World War II, the British people evolved into North American saps who wailed for days about the death of a celebrity ex-royal. The Queen, a stiff-upper-lip WASP from the generation of Britons who endured the Blitz, couldn't quite relate to a country raised on People Magazine. Unfortunately, Prince Charles appears to be one of the latter, which does little to cement my new faith. On a go/no-go scale, I give The Queen a "go".

Monday, January 15, 2007

What's All This White Stuff?

After weeks of hand-wringing about global warming, central Canada is finally enjoying winter weather and, based on media coverage, you'd think it was the first snow Ontario had seen since the ice caps melted fifteen years ago. Thankfully Sgt. Cam Wooley is always there to remind us to drive slowly on ice.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Out In The Parking Lot Chili Festival

We're now well into chili season, with cold weather (almost) upon us and the best three months of television sports coming up. Few things go as well with NFL playoffs, the Daytona 500, and ice fishing as a piping hot bowl of chili. Between now and March, I'll cook a pot each week or so and submit it to an international panel of judges in London, Ontario. Readers are invited to submit their own chili recipes (if they trust me) and to recommend both beer and soundtrack to complement the dish. If you decide to cook along at home, please send in your comments and your feedback will be considered with that of the panel. The winning chili, to be announced in March, will be cooked out in the parking lot at the 2007 Palmer Rapids Twin Music Festivals.

To kick off the festival I chose the classic recipe of Texan Frank X. Tolbert, an ulta-simple dish of of beef and chili - no beans, vegetables, or booze - and still screwed it up. To start with, it ain't exactly red, and I caution you to go easy on the salt. The recipe I used (not the one linked) called for a tablespoon of salt which I foolishly followed. I'll attempt to salvage it by re-simmering with a potato and, if edible, I'll subject it to the panel and report back next week.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Everything I Love: PJ's Restaurant

The red roof of PJ's restaurant in Arnprior, Ontario, has greeted travellers and locals on old Highway 17 for the better part of a half century. It's an Ottawa Valley institution as memorable for its retro styling as for its diverse cuisine. A throw-back to the dark dining lounges of the 50s and 60s, its heavy leather chairs, red china, and Cutty Sark Scotch Whisky offer an atmosphere that's been in short supply in most places since around 1972. It's always been a place where you're as welcome in your Sunday church clothes as you are soaking wet after forked lightning has stranded you on the third green at the Madawaska Golf Club.

My mother tells me that PJ's is closed this month for renovations. One can only assume that the remnants of its long-dry waterfall and stream will be gone as will the anonymity of its dim corners. I have no doubt, however, that it will remain the best place in eastern Ontario to warm up over a steaming bowl of tomato macaroni soup, a classic clubhouse sandwich, and the Valley's biggest slice of coconut cream pie.

Read my review of the newly renovated PJ's here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rant: The Daily Show

Why do people brag about watching the Daily Show as though laughing at a mediocre comedian going slack-jawed at out-of-context news clips is today’s equivalent of reading Dostoevsky?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The American Accent

Canadians on vacation cannot help but meet many Americans. They, quite simply, are the nicest, friendliest people out there. It reminded me of how varied American regional accents are. We have different accents too, but aside from the Ottawa Valley and eastern Canada, they tend to cleave on an urban-rural basis, with Torontonians, Vancouverites, and Calgapeggers (h/t RH) sounding pretty much the same. That I rarely think about this is because American news anchors and actors all sound like urban Canadians. Outside Waterville, Maine, urban Americans in Boston, Detroit, New York, and Chicago have distinct accents that don't get much play away from the local Eyewitness News. My question is, do Americans find this strange, and do they wonder where the people on television actually live?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Review: On the Run - An Angler's Journey Down the Striper Coast

Who among us hasn't lost himself in the fantasy of walking off the job to follow a minor league baseball team, the NASCAR circuit, or a band? We all think it - and then mortgages, careers, and most critically, wives, douse us with the cold shower of reality. Unless you're a writer. Writers are actually paid to quit jobs and chase their passions, though they must out-divorce the rest of us 2 to 1. David DiBenedetto is one such writer who, in the fall of 2001, arrived on the Maine coast in a gleaming Ford Explorer loaded with maps, rods, and lures. From Maine, he chased the striped bass migration through New Hampshire, Cape Cod, New York City, the Jersey Shore, and the Chesapeake. He didn't stop until November when the bass were exhausted, he was broke, and that brand new (and borrowed) SUV stank of baitfish and musty waders.

The book's chapter on the annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is its highlight. There, DiBenedetto introduces us to genuine striper bums who spend the month-long tournament fishing 20 hours each day and tying flies for the other four. They sleep in the sand, red line their fishmobiles chasing striper blitzes, and practice counter-espionage to confuse fellow competitors. Other than the excessive use of "eponymous", my only complaint is that you don't get to know the various anglers and guides well enough. DiBenedetto's trip sometimes feels rushed as he hurries from one appointment to the next. Perhaps because of this, the book is an easy read for non-anglers and fishing obsessives alike. I warn you, however, reading this book in the dead of winter, far from the surf, will only compound your cabin fever as you await your own opening day. On a go/no-go scale, I give On the Run a "go".

Monday, January 08, 2007

Boise State vs. Florida

With the Gators devouring the Buckeyes in tonight's national championship game, I look forward to all the BCS-haters and Boise State fans lighting up the sports talk airwaves tomorrow decrying the travesty of undefeated Boise being denied the championship. Let's compare schedules:

In a schedule where they played only one ranked team, Boise State beat CS Sacramento, Oregon State, Wyoming, Hawaii, Utah, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, Idaho, Fresno State, San Jose State, Utah State, Nevada, and Oklahoma.

In a schedule where they played five ranked teams, Florida beat Southern Miss, Central Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Western Carolina, Florida State, Arkansas, and (probably) Ohio State, and lost to Auburn.

Now ask yourself, who's the national champion and who's the tallest midget?

Notes from the Suburbs

For the first time in my life, I am living in a true suburb and in a new house. I have spent the past week completing a move to one of Toronto's suburbs and I offer the following preliminary observations:

  • There is a Boston Pizza for every 100 residents
  • There is no Starbucks
  • There is a farm across the street
  • Globe and Mail delivery extends to Europe, but not Markham
  • Any water use unleashes a Niagara-like torrent along the length of your living room ceiling