Monday, September 23, 2013


Beneath that goofy grin and charming personality beats the heart of a poet.

I'm speaking of Riley, of course. No mere doggerel, here are a dozen of his Haikus. He likes to think they give paws for reflection.


Nose stuck in down spout.

Chipmunk cannot climb uphill.
I can wait all day.

Snooty Poodle, wearing boots.
Couldn’t help myself.
Roll on a dead squirrel.
A scent to impress that girl dog.
But you gave me a bath.

Dinner was tasty.
Who forgot to scoop after?  
Backyard buffet – mm!

I stalk wild tigers,
Honoring my inner wolf.
The Petco jungle.

Howl at 4 a.m.
Like the Hound of the Baskervilles.
Cats invade my dream.


I notice your breath.
You had a cheese sandwich for lunch.
And none for me?

Golden autumn leaves,
Raked into piles at the curb.
I could pee on this.

They call this a bone.

Yet it has no meat or gristle.

Minty dog breath.

Go for a car ride?
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
The vet’s? Tricked again.

A cone, they said.

Didn't they mean ice cream?

I prefer Butterscotch.

The Joy of wet grass.
Pure pleasure of a good scratch.
No other reason.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Egg-stremely Social

I find it so interesting to learn about customs from other places, don’t you? I’m sure you will enjoy this one. I’m fairly certain that it is unique to my home province of Manitoba. If I am mistaken in this assumption I hope my Canadian readers will correct me.

I am speaking of course about “The Social.” Sometimes referred to as “The Winnipeg Social.”

Winnipeg Socials came to mind last week when I was writing my blog about cooking way too much food for pot lucks. That gave me an unhappy flashback to my early-20s, my pre-married, Winnipeg-girl days, when someone asked me to make deviled eggs for a Social. The organizer of this event delivered 12 dozen farm-fresh eggs to my parents’ house, where I still lived at the time. Being a novice cook, I boiled them, but made whatever error it is that causes the shells to stick to the whites and prevents them from peeling away cleanly. I stood at the kitchen sink for hours, peeling 144 eggs, one after another looking more wretched than the last with gouges the size of Volkswagens torn out of them. I was in tears over this culinary debacle. No eggs worthy of redemption. Should I surrender and start over? Should I admit defeat and let the organizer know I had failed to bedevil even one egg? I hadn’t the confidence in those days to let anyone know how badly I had bungled this seemingly simple gastronomic task, nor the budget to buy another 144, so I persevered. I smashed up yolks as though smashing Beelzebub himself, whisked them violently with mayonnaise and loaded up the hollowed-out, shredded eggs. They made a kind of lacey, scalloped effect on the plate. When I got to the Social, I saw what remains in my mind’s eye to this very day, long tables in that rented hall that stretched from here to Saskatchewan, platter after platter laid with hundreds of beautifully assembled, perfectly smooth devilled eggs. I stood gazing at them in quiet disbelief and mounting anger. The Social organizer came up behind me. I turned and asked, “What’s with all the freakin’ eggs?” He had invited no less than 4 other people to prepare 12 dozen deviled eggs each. That’s quite a number.  I calmly walked into the kitchen and dumped all of my raggedy eggs in one basket – the waste basket.

So now I that I have gotten that story off my chest, I can tell you about Winnipeg Socials.

In my youth,  Socials were held to celebrate couples about to get married. Girls had bridal showers. Guys had stags. But Socials were parties for the couple – and ostensibly to raise money for them, because, in fact, tickets were sold. Friends of the bride and groom would hire a hall in a community center or church, and then got the word out. Today’s social media-fueled raves have nothing on these events. Word spread like wildfire. Close friends and family could be counted on to attend, but so could most of your high school and half the population of Winnipeg, Transcona, St. James, St. Boniface, Fort Garry, River East, Teulon, Birds Hill and Selkirk. Beer and mixed drinks were served: rye and Seven, rum and Coke, vodka and orange juice.  A DJ was hired to play a mix of standard party tunes: pop, soft-rock, slow dances, polkas, the hokey-pokey, the bunny-hop and the chicken dance. If you were lucky, somebody’s uncle would get up to lurch around doing a passable impression of Herman Munster frugging to Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” And just as everyone was on the verge of getting way too drunk, one of two things would happen: food would come out, or a fight would break out in the parking lot between the groomsmen and  kids from a rival neighborhood who were taunting the groom with phrases such as, “Ah, she’s got ya whipped now, man!” A fight was not a guarantee at every Social but no one was surprised if one happened.  As for food, folding tables were brought out of storage mid-way through the evening. These were covered with white paper rolled off giant reels. Then, paper plates emerged from the kitchen. These were loaded with potato chips, dill pickles, cubes of cheddar and marble-cheese and kielbasa (in Manitoba we said, "Koo-Ba-SAW," not "Keel-BASS-a," as I hear in these parts of the US.) Everyone dived at the food, because if you didn’t act fast, you’d miss out on everything but the dills, which were not that tasty with your vodka and orange. The evening usually ended with a slow dance, maybe Tom Jones singing, “I’ll have the last waltz with you, two lonely people, to-ge-ether; I fell in love with you, the last waltz should last for-ev-ever!”

And that’s it, a Winnipeg Social. Although I never went to another one where they served 576 deviled eggs – minus 144, that is. Can anyone in Manitoba tell me if Socials still egg-sist?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Potluck Panic

Potluck dinners give me panic attacks. This is because I have no clue how to cook for crowds. I had an “incident” in my youth and subsequently developed a disorder that makes me overcompensate by fixing enough to feed the population of a small town.

Women who cook for families often comment to me, “It must be SO difficult to cook JUST for two!” Sometimes I wonder if they are just rubbing it in that they have kids and I don’t. “Not at all,” I reply, “I’ve been cooking for two for 37 years!” It’s true. I know exactly how much food to prepare for our meals. If I buy a pound of salmon, for example, I know we’ll eat about ¾ of it for dinner and I’ll get my lunch out of it the next day.

Cooking for 4 is easy: just double the amount. I can even handle dinner for six with this same algorithm.

But faced with a crowd, my math goes all haywire. For a block party a couple of years ago, I made a hash brown potato and mushroom soup casserole that actually had land mass. It was the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined.  How the heck do you figure out how much 35 people will eat?  What if 40 show up? Or 50? As it turned out, it was plenty. I took most of Oklahoma home again.

Apparently I am not alone in this miscalculation. Everyone brings enormous quantities of food to potlucks. It’s as if we all think that OUR dish will be THE one that everyone will love so much that they’ll dive in and come back for seconds. We seem to carry no memory of past potlucks where, with 35 dishes of food on the table, no one can possibly manage more than a sample of each unless they’re going for the Guinness World Record for Biggest Serving of Cabbage and Ramen Noodle Salad at a Picnic. Someone brought a huge roasting pan full of steamed broccoli to our street’s block party last weekend. Who brings broccoli? To go with hot dogs. Anyway, I don’t think I saw a single person with broccoli on their plates. The whole pan was barely touched. Maybe because it was broccoli. In any case, I think we all bring unreasonable quantities to these events because we’re afraid of the scorn other women will heap upon us if we don’t demonstrate that we can put out a decent Church Supper-sized entrĂ©e to feed the multitudes.  

Which brings me to the “incident.”  It was 1980. I was a young bride in my 20s, married only three years. Ken was working at a theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia where they had commissioned  Tennessee Williams to write a play. What’s more, there was going to be a party at a board member’s house and we were invited! Holy Cats! I was going to meet Tennessee Williams, icon of the American theatre! The man who’s “Glass Menagerie” ignited my love of literature! I was a nervous wreck! But it got worse. The board member, a woman 20 years my senior, called me a few days ahead of the party. “Would you be able to make something to bring?” she asked. I wasn’t sure but thrilled to be asked and I said I would try. For some reason, our host had decided that, being a Southern gentleman, Mr. Williams might enjoy Chili Con Carne, which was an odd choice seeing as how he was from Mississippi. Anyway, could I make a big pot of chili? Well, ok. She didn’t specify how much a "big pot" was, but did say that two other women were also assigned this main course dish. Normally I cooked what for us would be a “big chili quantity” in a thin, 2-quart tin pot with a Bakelite handle; one pound of ground beef, diced green peppers and onions, a can of tomatoes and a can of kidney beans. Barely any spice. Neither of us likes spice. I made my chili and took it, pot and all, as instructed, to the party. Our host was flabbergasted. “THAT’S what you call a big pot?” she shouted at me, which I thought was a little unkind. “It’s the biggest pot I own!” I replied, realizing I was way out of my depth when I saw the other two women had brought enormous stock pots full of spicy chili. She put all three pots out on the table.

I met Tennessee Williams. He shook my hand and I managed to choke out words something to the effect of how much I loved his plays. I might have paid more attention to the man, but my eyes were fixed over his shoulder at the table and the sight of my unseasoned chili in the 2-quart pot sitting pathetically between the two giants.

So, you see, that’s my excuse for tending toward overly generous quantities when called upon for crowd cooking. I now own two large stock pots.

I should have told Mr. Williams about my humiliation. He might have written a play about it. It could have been called, “Prat of a Tin Pot Goof.”