Friday, July 30, 2010

Roomies on Road Trips

Back when I was living in Toronto, many moons ago, one of my roommates and I decided to take a road trip down to NYC. Now, normally this would be a trip that you might plan out in advance, but in reality it was more like this:

Me: "It's my friend's birthday so I was thinking of driving down to visit and could use some company, are you interested?"
Adam: "Sure, when are you going?"
Me: "This weekend, do you think you could get off Friday?"
Adam: "That's soon, I'm not sure about that."
Me: "Can you check?"
Adam: "Yeah I guess"

As luck would have it, he got the time off and we hopped in my *trusty van, which looked something like this:
GMC Safari

It did the job for getting band equipment around Toronto, as well as helping a bunch of people on moves around the city. It also had a weird wiring in the stereo that didn't like it to be driven too hard or too much bass or treble. Sometimes the volume would start turning up on its own. This was the only trip outside of Toronto that the van ever made without breaking down**.

New York is a long way from Toronto (8.5 hours with no stops), so my lovely mother offered to make us a care package to take us through. We left Toronto at about 6 or 6:30am and hit the road. That put us in Burlington (where my mom lived) at between 7-7:15. I think that was a bit early for her, but luckily she loved me a whole lot, so she was awake and had a package of fruit and drinks and vegan chocolate for us. I don't remember exactly, but I think she had a pot of coffee on for us as well.

So we took off from her house at about 8ish, we didn't want to get to caught up in mid-day traffic if possible. We were about a kilometre away from my mom's house when some songs that were ripped off a vinyl came on Adam's Ipod. Songs that you take from vinyl to the computer tend to sound more tinny and have less bass once in mp3 form. I wanted to listen to it and didn't like the sound, so I went to turn up the bass. Adam said, "are you sure you want to do that?", to which I replied, "yeah it sounds like crap". Well, POP!. The radio blew; turned right off. Nothing we could do would turn it back on again. We tried hitting it and yelling at it, but then we were out of ideas. We were barely an hour into our trip and without music to accompany us.

Well we couldn't have that. So Adam started making some rhymes about it, which turned into rudimentary freestyle rap. We were 'beatboxing' ( I use quotes, because we weren't any good at that either) and rhyming about whatever we could think of.

After about two hours of that, we arrived at the border, which for obvious reasons temporarily put our rapping on hold. After crossing we chatted for a bit before getting frustrated and trying our hand at hitting and yelling at the radio again. Turning it off and on quickly (like an original NES when it won't work). No dice. At some point in northern NY state, Adam started singing "She'll be comin' round the mountain", possibly spurred by the low mountains and hills we drove past, though I'm not sure. After the first verse I let out a big sigh and he stopped....for a minute before singing "she'll be riding 6 white horses". After that, we decided to return to freestylin'.

Now, whenever you practice a lot at something, sooner or later you become alright or even good at it. I don't think we ever got into the good realm, but by the time we got down closer to Manhattan, we were getting much better than when we started. We passed through Catskill, NY and came up with gems like "Cats kill or Cat skill which one is that? Shootin' one down or break dancing with a cat?" I hope there are better ones that I am not remembering, or we definitely didn't get any better.

After many hours and a few refuelling/eating stops, we rolled into Mamaroneck just before dinner hour. There we picked up some beer (30 for $16!!! Way less than the legal cost in Ontario) and visited my friend Perry to wish her a happy birthday.

As we pulled back on the road, we tried again at the radio and miraculously it worked! We decided to shy away from the Ipod and opt instead for local radio. We found a station called 'WE BE 108" that was playing a lot of instrumental funk, which became our beats for our newly well-honed skill.

Around 7 or 8, we rolled into our hotel north of the city (White Plains). We had a coupon we had picked up from a service station 200 miles or so north of there. It turned out to be a hotel I had stayed at on a previous trip while on tour. We went to our room with the intention of resting a bit and going out to see Hot Snakes in the city. We kicked back on our beds and woke up at 9:30 or so, not realizing we had fallen asleep and decided to get some food instead. We went to the restaurant in the hotel, but it offered nothing for vegans, so we ducked out while they were getting us water. We drove out to a 24 hour A & P, but it was closed. Why was it closed? I don't know. All the lights were on and there seemed to be some workers inside, but none of the doors were open. Maybe they closed it for inventory or something. Now we were really hungry, but the only thing we could find open was a Walgreens. We bought some polaroids for our camera and some 'just add water' thai food. One thing we didn't think about at the time was how we were going to boil the water. We got back to the hotel and there was no kettle. Being the geniuses (Genii?) that we are, we ran the coffee machine empty to get our hot water. Don't ever do that. The water didn't really boil, it just got hot. And then the thai food was crunchy and tasted like old coffee.

The next day we ventured into the city to take in a few restaurants and hang out. Just as we got into town the van was rumbling. Some cars honked at us and finally one yelled out our window pointing out a flat**. This is where things got a bit heated. Adam and I very rarely argue, but he was concerned about screwing up the rim beyond repair and I was just trying to find a place to pull over (the streets in the city are lined right around corners. He was saying "dude you gotta pull over" and I was saying, "YEAH WHERE?". And then I saw a garage that looked open and said "OH. THERE I GUESS".

It was pretty stressful, but eventually we got a plug put in and went on our way. We parked the car and headed out on foot. We ate at Angelica's and Caravan of Dreams, two of my favourite restaurants in NYC. Actually amongst my favourite anywhere. We intended to find another place to stay because we lost the other coupon we had, but ended up resorting to the same place. Turns out the coupon was under my seat (which it turns out, is often where the things I'm looking for are). We decided to take the night easy and go to a movie. Just as we pulled into the theatre parking lot, a transformer on an electrical pole blew up in huge sparks above my head. It scared the crap out of us and I was swore that I felt the electricity from the sparks, but Adam assured me I was an idiot.

On our last day there, we went down to hit some museums. To our dismay, the MoMA was in the midst of a majour overhall and closed (to re-open the following weekend). So we just went to the Gugenheim, where I bought my family some art (....from the gift shop). We checked our 109 Million lottery ticket and we didn't win, so we decided to just head on back to Toronto.

Roadtrippin' to NYC

*Over the time I had the van, it was only mildly trustworthy, and it happened to be on this trip.

**See second reference to this symbol...I don't really count that as a breakdown, but worth a note, I suppose.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Recipe: Shredded Potatoes, Garlic Beans and Tofu

Last night I scrambled to make something quick and somewhat one-handed (I had a baby on my shoulder for some of the time). I had some tofu that had been sitting in the water for a few days and some beans and that I hadn't used yet. Since we're going away this weekend, I decided to cook up the beans (I didn't make the garlic kind, but they are more interesting than stemed beans from a recipe standpoint, so I am writing about them).

Shredded Potatoes Ingredients:
2 Large or 3 medium Red/White/Yukon Potatoes (if you are using a smaller pan, use slightly less. Also, using a mix of potato styles is nice)
Olive oil (enough to just coat the bottom of the pan)
1/2 tbsp Vegan Margarine (gives it a slightly 'buttery' flavour)
Kosher Salt (to taste..I like a decent amount)
1/2 onion Julienned (optional..I use sometimes, sometimes not...didn't this time)

Heat the oil over medium heat in a pan and add the margarine. While the oil/margarine is heating/melting, wash and shred the potatoes using the large holes of a shredder. Arrange the potatoes in a thin layer in the pan (should look like this).

Shredded Potatoes in the pan

Shake some salt over the top of the entire potato mixture. After a few minutes, the bottom of the potatoes should be browned, and you can flip it over as a unit (much harder in larger pans). The ideal is if you have 2 of the same sized pans, you can put some olive oil and margarine in the second pan and flip the mixture right into that pan. With a smaller pan, or if it browns sith some consistency across the bottom, you can flip with a spatula.

Once it is done on the second side, you can reduce the heat and cover, to cook the potatoes in the middle well (should flip once more to avoid one side being burnt...should be about 5 minutes once browned).

Voila! Nice yummy change of pace from other ways of preparing potatoes.

Garlic Beans
2-3 cups of beans, washed
3-6 cloves garlic, minced
(depending on your tolerance)
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch salt

There are two ways to go about this. If you like them al dente, you can throw them right in the pan over medium heat and add the garlic and salt when the beans are coated in oil. If you like them a bit softer, blanch or steam the beans for 1-2 minutes in boiling water and then cook like above.

For the tofu, I just grilled some up and put some Thai Chili Sauce and some sliced orange tomatoes on them. I forget the exact way to make the chili sauce, but they sell good ones ready-made in the stores.

Finished Product

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Vegetarian Compromise Tree

I'd like to start off this post by clarifying that I don't care whether you eat meat, or fish, or chicken, or eggs, or cheese, or milk, or zebra, or whatever it is you want to eat. Diets are a personal choice and I know that nobody likes to be hassled about what they eat any more than I do. It is my own choice to be vegan, as I think the lifestyle can make a difference to the environment, my health and help prevent animal cruelty. It isn't my place to force those beliefs on others, though, especially if they didn't ask for it.

However - I have an issue with people who falsely label themselves.

You wouldn't believe the amount of times I have had this conversation:
Chicken and Fish Aren't Vegetables
WHY DON'T YOU JUST SAY YOU DON'T EAT RED MEAT??? Is there anything wrong with that? Lots of vegetarians start off that way. Like lots of vegans start off as vegetarians (I did, but I didn't want to...that's a story for another time).

In fact, that's another conversation I have had multiple times when someone figures out I don't eat meat, but don't know I'm vegan (like if I order something in a restaurant and ask for no meat, or talk about the veggie food fair or making meatless food).

Person: "Oh you don't eat meat? I'm a vegan!"
Me: "Yeah, me too. That's awesome. How long have you been vegan?"
Person: "7 years....and....well...I eat cheese, but I drink soymilk and try to stay away from eggs."
Me: "Oh, that's cool."

What, so you would have kept up the charade if I were a "lowly" vegetarian, but since you found out I'm a vegan you might as well come clean? I reiterate: I don't care if you're not a vegan, I don't care if you're not a vegetarian. I'm not sure anyone cares what you eat, or what I eat, or anyone else eats.

However, I am a man of solutions, so I have solved the problem.

I call it the Vegetarian Compromise Tree create a happy medium between omnivores and herbivores.

The Vegetarian Compromise Tree Grows Chicken and Fish!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Record a Week: AC/DC - Back in Black

I managed to get both AC/DC records listened to before Karen returned, thus saving her from the 'noise pollution'.

Back in Black

Release in July, 1980 as a tribute to former lead singer Bon Scott (deceased 5 months prior to the release), Back in Black is AC/DC's best selling album to date and the second-best selling album of all time, behind only Thriller.



Well, there you have it. I didn't have to look very far for an AC/DC record with 3 or more hit singles on it. Had I not been half asleep when I wrote that I would have realized that this record has 6, if not 7 commercially successful songs on it.

It just so happened that I went from a band that began just before the disco era to one that started during it, and brought on a mixture of hard rock and heavy metal. However, they have stated they do not consider themselves to be anything but rock and roll.

Right from the beginning this record made a statement. It pays tribute to Bon Scott, while saying that AC/DC wasn't done just yet. It starts with epic bell ringing and slow, powerful guitar on Hells Bells and finishes with a song declaring that rock and roll will never die. What lies between is the foundation for 30 years of Brian Johnson fronted rock music.

This record reminds me of a band I played guitar in during high school. During which I would watch my more talented bandmate play all the Angus young parts as I lagged about a half bar behind playing the Malcolm Young parts.

I like this album a good deal, but never listen to it because the local radio station overplays the hell out of most of these songs and my wife hates them. I was glad to revisit this one.

Friday, July 23, 2010

This is Not a Movie Review

So I went to see Inception tonight. Of course, it's been talked to death, so no need to get into that. On a side note - I loved it.

What I am writing about is what happens AFTER the movie is done. As the credits begin, everyone stands up and leaves. Fairly standard protocol for the end of a movie. I myself have always enjoyed watching the credits. It's a fun way to figure out who played that one character, because you saw her in something one time and that bothered you for a whole bunch of the movie and then you can have your aha moment.

Mostly, though, I feel like all of those people put in a lot of hard work into making the movie and it wouldn't be quite as good if Joe the microphone holder let the boom mic fall into the shot. Or if Sue in the editing department hadn't fixed that issue when it did happen. People design the sets, the costumes, they do the make up and create the story. They cast the actors, they help them work on accents or learn other languages. They record the audio, they compose the music, they edit and mix the audio, they edit the film and enhance the colours. They add special effects, they perform stunts, they add the CGI. They are the best boy, the gaffer, the key grip, or any of those other things that leave you wondering exactly what their purpose is.

It is, of course, by no means necessary to do this. No more than is someone obliged to stay for the entire movie, or even attend it in the first place.

(I struggled with whether or not to call this next part a spoiler or not and came to the conclusion that, while being a small mention, it plays a huge role in the perception of the movie. So don't read on if you haven't seen it, or if you do read on, don't get mad at me because I warned you!)

For the first time tonight, I experienced being the only person in the theatre who stayed, and it was strange. Most times people file out, but there are a few other people left who stick around for whatever reasons they may have. This time though, I was left alone with the staff who were waiting to clean up the mess and prepare for the next screening. Well, actually there was a couple in the front who stayed, so I thought I wasn't alone. However, I don't think it counts as it turns out they were only staying because they thought after the credits were over, the spinning top would fall over.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Record a Week: ABBA - Greatest Hits Volume 2 & AC/DC - For Those About to Rock

So I was going to do this only on Saturdays and I'm sure that will usually be the case. However, I have the house to myself for a few days and I was downstairs playing Mario Galaxy 2 and popped on a couple of records. I figured it was a bit of a cop out to do two back to back ABBA greatest hits records, but that's the way it goes. Also, Karen hates AC/DC, so I figured I would get one of those out of the way for her sake.

Greatest Hits Vol.2

Released by the same label, Epic, in 1979. This record encompasses music from the latter half of their career, this album contains a good deal of the hit singles ABBA had that weren't on the first one.

GIMME! GIMME! GIMME! (A Man After Midnight)

I WONDER (Departure)

Gone are the remnants of the hippie movement; enter the sounds of disco and show tunes. The best way I can describe this album is that it plays like a musical set in a disco hall. It kicks off with some slap bass and dance beats, moving into the familiar hooks of songs like Knowing Me, Knowing You and Take a Chance on Me. The record touches on some darker sounds, but not for extended periods (much like a musical!) The second half starts off with a big hit in Dancing Queen (Second Act??) and moves through a couple of what I would call 'B' hits (fitting that they fall on the B-side). Finally it ends with Thank You For the Music, which really drove home the musical theme for me, since it sounds like a large group number that would end with a bang and a curtain drop.

This record feels more complete to me than the previous one, but perhaps that's because I am more familiar with the songs, or that the production was better. They employed more of the overdubbed vocals to create a thicker sound. Disco doesn't sit well with me, but the hits remind me of when I was young and my sister was into them (She would have been in high school or so) and I like that. I also enjoy a bit of the darker stuff and appreciate the way they used a real finishing song.

For Those About to Rock

Released in 1981; one year after the heavily lauded Back in Black, which was Brian Johnson's first album as the replacement for the deceased Bon Scott. "For Those About to Rock" was the bands first number one album in the U.S.



Oh, AC/DC will you ever stray from your album making formula? I can do a recipe within this post for an AC/DC record. Step 1: Write 1-3 discernible songs to release as singles (3 is a stretch and may never have happened, I will have to look into that). Step 2: Fill up the remainder of the album with cookie-cutter AC/DC songs (you know, booming drums, endless guitar riffs, slow parts where the guitar picks one note and then strums 'epic' power chords over top and of course the raspy yelling vocals to top it off).

As simple as that. Even they will admit that in their 35 years of releasing albums, they have only had to write 15 or so completely unique songs. But man, can they bring it in a live performance even 30 years after Back in Black made its first appearance in their shows.

I enjoy the title track the most, but the rest of the album is certainly solid. The lesser known songs on any AC/DC album still have Angus Young, after all.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I HATE YOU (but I hope you're okay)

I don't know what it is, but when something bad happens to someone who has been shitty to us, we feel the need to sympathize with them....or maybe it's just me.

I worked with this late 50s or early 60s guy who pretends he is much younger. A Harley-riding, Extreme mountain biking kind of guy. At work he was a mean in a Castro-esque kind of way (although not in charge of anyone so maybe not like Castro). He would yell and scream at us all and say we were a team, except that all of his issues must be a priority. I understand that our customers need material on time to do their jobs, but he wouldn't accept minute delays or any sort of compromise. I tried my best to get along with him to try and ease the situation. I asked him about his bikes and loaned him my Bjork CD (which I think he might still have). It didn't matter.


But then one day he arrived at work, sat down at his desk, stared at his computer and sort of mashed his keyboard. He got up to get a drink and couldn't position the cup to catch the water. After a while, some co-workers took notice and took him over to the hospital. Turns out that while he was Extreme Biking he turned his head weirdly and it broke a blood vessel in his brain, causing a stroke. As strokes can do, it damaged the left side of his body, which is devastating to a lefty like him. He has been off work for a couple of years, and his rehab has been going very slowly so he may not be back at all. He came in the other day and I found myself feeling sorry for him. He could barely lift his left hand and his left leg was drag-behindy. <- new word, feel free to use it.

Why do I feel bad for a guy who was always on my case or putting me down? Since he has been gone, although my job isn't the best, nobody else gets in my face the same way. In addition, his being off has allowed everyone to move up a rank, thus me getting a promotion into a job I had coveted for some time. Is it just human nature?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Recipe - Sorbet

I decided to try my hand at making my own sorbet, since Baskin Robbins only has one flavour I can have.

The two I made were Blueberry Peach and Strawberry Cherry.

Blueberry Peach:

1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups Peaches (roughly 5 medium peaches)
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups Blueberries (use 1 1/2 cups for the flavour you want stronger)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 tbsp Mango or Citrus juice

Boil peaches in water to loosen skin; peel and slice (freestone peaches are easier for this.) Process cut peaches and blueberries in a blender or food processor with juice.

In a pot, bring sugar and water to a boil over medium-high and reduce to roughly 1 1/4 cup of syrup. Add together blended fruit and syrup and freeze in a large ceramic dish (the larger it is, faster/more even it will freeze.)

When it is frozen but still soft-ish (1 1/2 hrs or so), take it out and spoon into blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour into freezer safe container and freeze. When frozen, take it out and enjoy! Best if let sit for a minute or so to soften before scooping.

Strawberry Cherry

1 1/2 cups Strawberry (stems removed)
1 1/4 cups Cherries (pits and stems removed...I left skins on, it's much easier)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 tbsp Mango or Citrus juice

Use same process!

Vegan Sorbet
(this picture looks the least like an internal organ)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why I Love My Wife

Wife: Hey, you've been parasailing before, is it scary?
Me: You going parasailing?
Wife: No, but my friend is and she wants to know if it's scary.
Me: Well, you went skydiving with me, it's less scary than that.
Wife. Okay, so from zero to skydiving, how scary is it?
Me: So is the scale numbers or words?
Wife: Zero would be like lying on the floor.
Me: Like a four? Three?

Wife: She wants to keep the scale to more of a zero to Drop Zone.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Brunch - Vegan Pancakes w/ Maple Caramalized Bananas

The pancakes are the easiest things ever. I used to use a recipe with oil in it, but was taught this one by my friend Chris and her daughter and have never turned back.

1 cup flour
1 cup soy milk
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
Fruit (optional)

Mix the baking powder and baking soda into the flour and then add the soy milk. If you are going to add fruit, add it with the milk so you don't over mix the pancakes. That can make them heavier.

1-2 cut up bananas
1/2 tsp oil
1/2-1 cup maple syrup

Heat oil over medium heat and add bananas. When they start to soften up, add the maple syrup and stir occasionally until it makes a thick sort of chunky sauce.

Pour over pancakes!

If you want to make stuffed pancakes, add a bit of fruit, jam or the caramelized bananas when the pancake is ready to flip for the first time and pour more batter over top...then flip the pancake.

I didn't actually make these today, so here's a random photo of pancakes.

Vegan Pancakes

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Record a Week: Abba - Greatest Hits

I went to the basement this morning, wondering which record was first on the shelf, brimming with much excitement to get this project started.

Well that was short lived. What I forgot is that like many people, I have my record collection alphabetized...which under normal circumstances can be very helpful.

Ergo, the first record I pulled out was this:

Greatest Hits

Before love songs came out as power ballads or pop-punk songs, ABBA was writing songs in a post-hippie style that held with them throughout the disco era. Released in 1975, this was their first 'Hits' album and was released years before they finished writing new material.



The whole album, as expected, had the same snap-your-fingers stuck-in-your-head-even-though-you-may-not-want-it-there style that made them famous worldwide. Although it's not my thing, I can see how the mass appeal that carried them through the 70s and their recent revival.

If I had to pick some favourites, I would say Mamma Mia and Fernando stick out. However, I feel it imperative to mention that my 2 month old daughter really liked Nina Pretty Ballerina.

Recipe - Late Spring-Early Summer Easy Tomato Sauce

I've made this one a few times now after discovering wonderful garlic scapes at a local market. They are the shoots from the tops of garlic that have a milder flavour than garlic cloves. However, their time is short, so out of season, I suppose you could substitute 1/2 the quantity of minced cloves.

4 Garlic scapes (or 2 minced cloves)
5 Ripe field tomatoes
1/2-2 tbsp Hot sauce
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tbsp Olive oil

Boil a pot of water big enough to cover all the tomatoes. Cut up garlic scapes into small pieces (I lay them down and shave off pieces about 1/2 width and 2-3 inches long, rotating sides to get lots of exposed cut area) and saute in large pan over medium-high. while they are frying, remove stems from tomatoes and boil for 30 seconds-1 minute (when skin becomes loose.) drop tomatoes in cool water and remove skins. Cube tomatoes into large chunks and add to pan, lower head to medium-low. When tomatoes start breaking down, add hot sauce and salt.
Sauce is done when tomatoes are completely broken up.

Tomato Sauce w/ Garlic Scapes

Serve over grilled kabobs or Tofu or whatever else you'd like!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Don't forget to....

I have this issue with lists and notes. I make them for everything and write them on anything. There's to-do lists, grocery lists, reminders, to-pack, to-call, or orders placed/pricing/contact numbers if I'm at work. They might be on blank paper, lined paper, scraps of paper, work notepads, backs of receipts, paystubs...basically whatever I can find nearby. These lists are the culmination of years and years of forgetting things.

The problem isn't the lists, though. The problem is one or both of the following:

1. I never dispose of the lists. They end up in either my car or the pockets of my pants, which in turn makes my laundry room look like this within a week.


2. I forget the list altogether. Leave it at home/work, in the car or go to the store but don't take it out of my pocket. I like to think of the that last one as a challenge to remember what I needed without consulting the list, but really I just forgot I had it. Leaving it at work is the worst, though, because when I come back in the morning it's sitting on my desk, staring at me as if to say 'you didn't do any of this did you?' Or, if it's a grocery list, 'you don't have any lunch today!!! HAHAHA!!!'

I'm not sure how to combat this issue, but I'm hoping that this will solve it once and for all.