Thursday, January 31, 2013

HAVING A GOUDA TIME! Or: Life is a Camembert

My friend and I were on the subject of diets and weight loss the other day when she told me about a psychologist she saw on TV who said we overeat due to four sublimated emotions. Her acronym for them was FLAB, which translates to: Frustration, Loneliness, Anger and Boredom. Apparently reaching for a bag of Cheetos is symptomatic of inner conflict. So, the psychologist advised, the next time you’re tempted to suck up a gallon of Rocky Road, you should ask yourself this question, “Am I actually hungry or is my (fill in the blank: husband, job, kid, mother) driving me nuts?” If you answer in the affirmative after this inner dialogue and, if you can honestly say you are seriously and for-real-famished, you should then ask, “Now, wouldn’t an apple be a better choice?”

This gave me pause. I have flab. But could FLAB possibly be the reason why? Hmm. I’m not particularly frustrated. I’m certainly not lonely. I’m irked occasionally. But angry? Not so much. And who has time to be bored? Not me.

And what about that apple choice? Would fruit really hit the spot? I’ve been thinking about it and I have to be honest here. My answer to myself is, “Yeah, an apple would be o.k. But it would be REALLY good with a nice BIG chunk of Gouda!”

That’s when it hit me. My mindset just doesn’t jive with that psychologist’s FLAB. I have more of a theme party mentality when it comes to dining – I tend to design with food; to embellish, to coordinate food experiences. That morsel of self-awareness led me to understanding my own version of the acronym. For me FLAB breaks down thus:

F stands for Food Network Fantasy. I imagine myself a chef on a food show; Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, to be specific. Wearing a large smocky shirt to imply a relaxed insouciance in the kitchen, I cook as though demonstrating each dish for a TV audience.  Like Ina, each plateful I bring to the table is an offering of love to my dear one.

L is for Live to Eat. Not for me the “food is just fuel” dictum. We are so fortunate that we have abundant resources; a bounty of wonderful food available to us. Under these circumstances, I consider an “eat to live” approach almost ungrateful. Cheese and French bread must surely have been put on this earth for our delight as well as our nourishment.

A stands for Amusement. My whole day, I look forward to 6 p.m. so I can start the evening meal: chopping and sautéing and marinating and roasting. I consider it my hobby, my avocation. I find great joy in browsing gorgeously illustrated cookbooks, shopping daily in our charming local food market, planning menus, blending flavors, combining textures and tasting dishes — oh, heaven!

B is for Banquet. As in, every bite is a banquet. Every meal is a gala  celebration. Each opportunity to dine a communion between food and spirit. Why just eat when you can feast?!

Has my FLAB acronym gotten me into trouble? Absolutely! Could I stand to lose a few pounds? Doubtlessly!  So, what about substiuting that apple for FLAB? Hmm. Sure I could have an apple.

But maybe with a SMALL chunk of Gouda?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Snow Suit-able

We’re having a January cold snap here in Dayton. Since moving to the US, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard this comment: “Oh, you’re from Canada! You're used to this weather!”

Well, yes. I’ll admit I grew up in a place with cold so profound that the locals have fifty words to describe “cold” – my favorite being, “FRICK!!! It’s COLD!!!!” My hometown of Winnipeg has been known on occasion to experience winter-time lows of -40° Celsius. That’s freeze-your-nostrils-shut, frost-bite-your-fingers, freeze-your-toes-in-minutes COLD!  Even on good days Winnipeg regularly gets temps below minus 20 for whole entire weeks in December, January and February. Growing up, minus 20 never prevented us from going outdoors to build snow forts or head to the skating rink. Our mothers said things like, “Go outside! It’ll put roses in your cheeks!” "That's frostbite, Mom." Never mind. We were expected to come home before we actually froze to death.

Nobody got a ride to school. We girls wore woolly bloomers and the boys wore Long Johns. Our Grade One teacher held our long scarves against our heads and spun us around to wind the scarf over our foreheads, mouths and noses and then she’d tie the ends together. The mini-skirt years in my teens challenged our common sense, but fashion won out and our high school finally relented on the No-Slacks-in-Class rule so that we didn’t freeze our knees on the walk to and from school.

In a climate like that you grow up appreciating the sparkle of sunlight on snow drifts that are taller than you are and the squeaking sound of packed down sidewalks that won’t show pavement for months. You learn to be cheery and promote the virtues of those high pressure zones that keep the air as brittle as thin ice, “It’s a Dry Cold!” you chirp.

So, although we survived to adulthood in a hostile environment and actually made the best of it, the irony here is that Ken and I spent 20 years in Vancouver, British Columbia, where winter is more wet than snowy and spring starts in February. We adapted quite well to that mild climate and ultimately turned into wimpy west coasters when it comes to wintery weather. So, consequently, I am no longer used to cold and shiver along with the rest of you Southerners when temps dip below freezing.

Take tonight’s forecast low of 2° Fahrenheit. That converts to - 16° Celsius in the Canadian metric system. That’s a respectable cold that nobody would sneeze at, even in Canada! I certainly take these temps seriously. But, I fear you folks in Winnipeg (and Edmonton, Alberta) would laugh at us for all the fuss this causes around here. Weather reports sound like the end of days is near! News stories tell people how to stay safe in such frigid cold! We are reminded to bundle up! We are told to bring our pets indoors! We are urged to leave a water tap running day and night to keep pipes from freezing! Oh, please! Try living in a place where Newscasters warn you that the minus 50 wind chill factor will freeze exposed skin in 3 minutes!

Ah, there’s the key: exposed skin. You don’t want it. Sure you can dash from your house to your car without a hat because you know if you put on a toque (Canadian for “wool hat”) your hair will stand on end all day from the static electricity. But don’t go without proper attire, say, at a bus stop. If there is one thing we Canadians are good at, we can suit up for the bus stop. I know this from experience: if your bus is running late, you begin to worry seriously that they will find you, frozen stiff like those poor cats that used to get stuck on chain link fences in snow storms.

So, Dayton, I am here to help. My advice: get your winter kit together. Here’s what you will need:

A hat: one that covers your ears and scrunches down over your forehead. If you really have to, you can get one of those wool caps with ear flaps like Elmer Fudd’s, but be prepared for everyone to ask you if you are hunting Wascally Wabbits.

A long scarf: one that you can pull up over your mouth and nose so that only your eyes are peeking out. Try not to tear up in cold winds. As my mother used to say, “You better stop crying, missy! Those tears are going to freeze right to your face!”

Mitts: So much better than gloves. Your fingers will keep each other warm inside a good pair of mitts. You can also keep your bus token in there.

Coat: one that’s long enough to cover your rear end, is wind proof and has something cozy inside. Down and fleece are nice, but animal hides are the ideal for serious cold. I’m sorry if that offends anyone, but fur is about the only thing that can actually keep you warm in 40 below. Or maybe a bison hide. In any case, I know for a fact that wool isn’t going to do it for you. I had wool coats from age 2 to 20, when I inherited my grandmother’s Alaskan seal which was two sizes too big, but I didn’t care, I was finally warm. When my mother would take me to Eaton’s to buy a coat, she’d stick her hand under the lining to see if it had a chamois inside. She called it a “shammy” and it was supposed to be a wind breaker but I knew that little rag of leather wasn’t going to make any kind of contribution to my warmth. Forget wool. Get down.

Underwear: Long Johns. Tights. Nobody is going to know.

Boots: Here’s where current fashion is sensible – UGGS are ideal. Sheepskin lining is warm. But I know for a fact that wearing them indoors all day is VERY warm. Have a pair of shoes at work you can slip on otherwise you will have sweaty sheepskin.

Now, I know most of you are not bus riders. But it’s a useful analogy for thinking about how you can stay warm in adverse conditions. In fact, you could test your winter gear by going out to your nearest bus stop and just stand there for a few minutes.  You'll laugh at the cold! You’ll thank a Canadian! We’re used to it!

The winter kit.

p.s. By the way, - 40° Celsius is the same in Fahrenheit.  At minus 40, the equation between Fahrenheit and Centigrade equalize. That’s cold in any language!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why, yes! I DO feel older!

Think: “Birthdays.”  How many times on your special day have you been asked this ridiculous rhetorical question: “So! Do you feel any older?”

I got the same interrogation every year from age 5 until I’m sure I was 35. When I was a kid, I was certain it was a trick question. I’d be thinking to myself, “Compared to when? Yesterday?”  But, because it was usually asked by an adult, like an aunt who talked too close to my face and radiated an aura of Scotch and “Evening in Paris” eau de cologne, I usually replied politely, “Oh, ha, ha! Not really!”

Now that I’ve turned the corner on my birthday week, and this is one of those “significant” numbers coming up, I can truly say that I don’t feel old. Not on the whole anyway. My left hip feels old. So do my ankles and my right knee. I can’t stand from sitting without making grandma noises. My upper arms have a life of their own. And the less said about digestion the better. But, old? Nah. I like to think of myself as a youthful pre-senior — a long way from accepting a word like “spry” or inviting assisted living home representatives in for a sales talk and a cup of tea.

These days, the most oft-asked question concerning “special” birthdays is, “What will you do to celebrate?” Perhaps this is because arriving at this age is considered an accomplishment that should not go unrecognized, kind of like, “Excellent! Held off the Grim Reaper for another year!” And I’m down with that. It is cause for celebration just to be alive after all!

Decade markers in these upper numbers seem to indicate a cruise to a lot of people.  Oh, I do hope not. Not for me. Too many old people onboard.

Or perhaps someone is planning a surprise party. This also gives me the heebie-jeebies.

It might be memories of childhood parties that make me shiver. They were mean little affairs in the olden days before kids got organized to demand their parents put on extravaganzas with water slides, princess dresses and paint ball.

Consider the song. In our youth, after the first chorus of “Happy Birthday” we got serenaded with the “second verse”:

Happy Birthday to You,

You belong in a Zoo!

You look like a monkey!

And you smell like one too!


And weren’t the games just so passive-aggressive? Pinning the Tail on the Donkey. Dropping a clothes pin into a milk bottle from your squeezed together knees. Passing a grapefruit tucked under your chin. Or an egg on a spoon. Marching around chairs to music battling for the last seat. All designed to inflict utter humiliation on the inept.

Then there was “A Pinch to Grow an Inch” which really began to hurt after everyone took their turn tweaking at your bare arm flesh. (Did this game survived metric conversion in Canada, I wonder? A pinch to grow a centimeter?)

 And who can forget “Birthday Bumps”? This was a sadistic ritual in which the assembled mob picked you up by your wrists and ankles and bumped your rear end on the floor to mark how many years old you were. Ouch! The 1950s and 60s were tough times, let me tell you!

The girl version of parties in our neighborhood were gatherings at our own homes with all our school friends invited — GIRLZ ONLY — except for the one boy who got invited to everyone’s parties. His name was Jimmy and, looking at my Grade Three class photo, I can see why. He was a real cutie; cherubic cheeks, neat, side-parted, slicked-down haircut, and little plaid bow tie. Not like the other boys who were just plain goofy. Each one of them would have guffawed when the birthday presents were passed around in a circle and they’d get to the inevitable packaged set of seven panties printed with the days of week on them that some Mom always picked out as the “perfect” gift. Jimmy didn’t laugh. Jimmy was a gentleman.

Hot dogs, cake, ice cream and soft drinks were always followed by some kid throwing up. For me, Orange Crush was a guaranteed throw up. I remember seeing a kid being rushed across a room at a party once when I was about eight, with the mom shouting, “She can’t even keep water down!” And I was thinking, “Wow! I didn’t even know you could barf water!” Good times.

I’m hoping Ken isn’t planning a surprise party for me this week, although it would be sweet if he is. Adults can mostly be counted on to keep the cake and ice cream down (mind you, it is flu season.) I’m just not sure it’s a good idea to surprise older persons, like me. And gifts are really not necessary. Especially boxed sets of day-of-the-week panties. Not in mixed company! Please!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Resolution Revolution!!

I am not a big fan of the New Year’s resolution.

I have never really ever made a resolution. I doubt I ever will. Maybe it’s my ADD, but it’s just not in me to keep at things for very long. I know I will never keep a resolution, so I resolve instead to avoid setting myself up for inevitable failure.

In this context then, I was thrilled to read a feature published recently in the Dayton Daily News that listed all the special celebratory days on the year’s calendar – all 365 of them. My birthday, January 17th, just happens to fall on “Ditch your New Year’s Resolutions Day.” Wow! I felt validated; as though the world is acknowledging that I am right; there is no point in promising all manner of self-improvement measures, because they will all be abandoned by mid-month. And if there is a day to celebrate that liberation, I’m in.

I read out a few other choice celebratory days to Ken at breakfast. Like, January 2nd is “Run it Up the Flagpole and See if Anyone Salutes Day.” Kind of like this blog; does anyone want in on this with me?

It’s clear what you’d do on September 19th which is “Talk like a Pirate Day.” But I’m not certain exactly what activity goes along with “Lumpy Rug Day” on May 3rd.  I’m also not sure what a person would do on “Take your Pants for a Walk Day,” on July 27th but at least it should be warm enough to go without pants if this is what is called for. I know a few men who might like to party on “Be Bald and Free Day,” October 14th and someone who shall remain nameless who won’t be celebrating April 5th which is “Read a Road Map Day.” Our pooch will like “Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day,” February 23rd, and personally, I’m looking forward to “Eggs Benedict Day” on April 16th.

“Say, Hon, did you know your birthday falls on “Captain Kangaroo Day?” I asked Ken.

“You’re not going to become one of those people that post a national day on Facebook everyday are you?”

“No. Not every day.” I’m reasonably certain I could promise that much. Hmm. I guess I could make that a resolution.

Not that I can’t use some self-improvement, heaven knows. But these celebration days gave me an idea. Being a person with very little follow-through, I like the thought of confining personal upgrades to manageable chunks, like holidays that are designated for them. For example, some of the ones on the list are just what the doctor ordered! I think I could manage to restrict my butter intake on February 16th, “Women’s Heart Health Day” and get some exercise on June 19th, “World Sauntering Day.” And I will certainly slap on some heavy-duty SPF on “Stay Out of the Sun Day,” July 3rd. See? I feel better about myself already!

Stress management tends to stress me out if I pursue it long term, so instead  I can contemplate the cosmos on “Look Up at the Sky Day,” April 12th, do some deep breathing on “Relaxation Day,” August 15th and take full advantage of “Lazy Day,” on  August 10th.

There are days set aside for improving relationships. For instance, I will now go out of my way to be pleasant to people on “Smile Power Day,” June 15th, and smooch with my better half on “Kiss and Make Up Day,” August 25th, even if we haven’t had an argument!

And of course, there are times when we all need a good, self-indulgent “Me Day.” Fortunately, those abound on my list, such as my personal favorite, the anti-resolution, “NO Diet Day,” May 6th. Or, how about “Start Your Own Country Day,” November 22nd? Or “Have a Bad Day Day,” on November 19th? And, just in time for winter doldrums, “Look at the Bright Side Day,” December 21st?

This is cheering me up considerably! Imagine – mini resolutions! Surely, we can all do something good for ourselves if it’s only for one day! I could start a New Year’s REVOLUTION! Who’s with me?