Friday, 2 October 2015

A prop for Ferdzy at SeasonalOntarioFood

A bit of a departure here, but an important one. One of my favourite all time blogs that I keep an eye on is SeasonalOntarioFood, brought to us by Ferdzy. Ferdzy has been maintaining a gardening, seasonal eating, and fantastic recipe blog for many years. I have been following Ferdzy's recipes (particularly, but not exclusively, those related to canning) ever since I became a home owner and gardener (not all that long ago really)... and on the DL as I figured I was a learner and not a sharer or a teacher. However, because gardening, harvesting, canning and sharing are an important part of who I am these days - I want to share Ferdzy's talents with all of you. And I will post some photos of recipes of Ferdzy's I have successfully transferred to my canning cupboard (which, by the way, NAILS most of my gift giving needs for a calendar year, although I beef it up with shortbread and truffles...ok and homemade liqueur... during the December festivities). Ferdzy, thank you for all you've done for me over the past few years, and I apologize for being a silent follower. During my first few years of following, I was certain I'd embarrass you, which is why I kept my efforts to imitate you to myself. PLEASE don't stop sharing about what you grow, create, harvest and concoct. You are one of my constant inspirations.

Pictured here are my efforts on Ferdzy's recipes for salsa (I love it because it uses lime juice instead of vinegar), as well as my attempts at dilled carrots and cukes, and finally some jams including Ferdzy's Slightly Lemony Blueberry jam and Vanilla Peach (both of which have been favourably reviewed by my family and friends).

Monday, 28 September 2015

Update: Literary

When I first started this blog several years ago, I planned it as a celebration of the written word and all things literary (my own efforts and those of others). I realize that I have cross-pollinated quite a bit with some of my other passions, namely music. However there are cables and threads that link artistic pursuits (which is why we have Broadway musicals, rock operas, and Raccoons on Ice) so I don't feel I'm being untrue to my chosen theme by sharing notes on my film and musical projects. That said, I am going to try to package the content a little more comprehensively. Today's update - long overdue - is myself as a book club of one, sharing what I took away from some of my most recent reading experiences.

I read books like sugar junkies binge on candy. Most of the time I have several books on the go at once, and I also frequently re-read my favourites. For many months over the past year, I was battling some anxiety and nerve issues which made it very difficult to concentrate properly, so I was doing more re-reading than new reads. Re-reading a familiar and well-loved work is soothing to me, and I don't feel like I'm missing much if I zone out for a few paragraphs or so. This summer's re-reading list included such behemoths as Gone With the Wind, Game of Thrones (I have the 5 novels on my Kindle and just keep going back to the beginning and reading them all again...endlessly entertaining), and It's So Easy (and Other Lies) by Duff McKagan, one of the founding members of Guns 'N' Roses.
I've read many rocker autobios over the years and this is one of the best. It's well-written (unlike many such books which literally come off as some attention-deficit prima donna ranting stream-of-consciousness blatherings into a tape recorder), it's amusing, and it's encouraging. We have a bass player in one of the top rock bands of its time, who partied and drank so much his pancreas exploded -- he bounces back to become a high performance athlete, has several successful musical off-shoots for which he writes and performs all the songs himself, and he becomes a successful business graduate on top of it all. Highly recommended by yours truly.

On my new-reads list, I have scored some wins and some misses. Let's start with the biggest miss of the season, Emily Giffin's The One and Only.

 I was drawn to this book because of Ms Giffin's prior reputation as a best-seller, although I personally haven't sampled her other work yet. This one, however, was a total let-down. I won't launch any spoilers here if I can help it, but I'll have to discuss the plot a bit in order to explain my low opinion of the story. Before I decided to let loose about this, I checked some of the other criticism for this book at various sites online. Clearly I'm not alone in disliking this book, but not for the same reason as many other readers were dissatisfied with it. Most readers dislike the relentless theme of college football that underpins the whole environment of the book. I'm not a sports fan particularly, but the football focus didn't put me off. Rather, I came to enjoy learning a bit more about the game - the author is a skillful storyteller who doesn't hammer the theme down your throat, she eases it down with tie-ins to why football is so important to the protagonist, and I didn't feel it interfered with the plot or character development. Where the story failed for me was in the other aspects of the characters' portrayals: I didn't believe in the characters, I didn't particularly care about them, and I didn't for one second believe that the two key relationships that were portrayed would ever play out like that in real life. The two main romantic entanglements that the protagonist becomes involved in - which, next to football, are the key ingredients of the plot - were both completely incredible to me; the author did not succeed in persuading me that they were plausible on any level. Suspension of disbelief = epic fail for this story.

While I tend to purchase more ebooks these days in order to conserve real estate on my bookshelves, I couldn't resist a foray into McKay's Used Books and CDs in Knoxville when I was there last month. It is an incredibly awesome store packed with used books, CDs and DVDs in excellent condition at affordable prices.  Go see them if you're in the area.
I scored several readables there (I would have bought more but I travel light and my one bag was already overtaxed), including Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. There is a movie out for this as well which has somewhat overshadowed the book; I haven't watched it yet, but I'm keen to see how it would come across on film. The novel is amazing and I urge you to read it even if you've seen the film. Too many plot twists to count, and the author is not afraid to dive into the most unpleasant places in the human mind, which I thought was quite brave and edgy. I'm looking forward to catching up with her other titles.

As the band has a show this weekend, the next post is likely to be more musical than literary. Have a great week!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Shameless Act of Cross-Promotion

On the musical side, I encourage you to check out my band's Web page and Facebook links. We are playing a pre-Hallowe'en show this Wednesday and are setting up more dates to come. Feel free to contact me if you know of anyone that wants to double-bill with a Southern Ontario shock/goth rock ensemble   >:-}

First instalment: PI / Crime fiction

Meet my latest protagonist: a substance abusing female fledgling private investigator who drinks more than she breathes, lies to everyone except her cats, and has found that sleeping in a coffin is the best cure for insomnia. I promised this instalment awhile ago so I'm making it an extra long one to apologize for the delay. This story will hopefully be completed before December as I'm entering it in NaNoWriMo this November. Read on:


I woke up alone, hungover, in Archer Portnoy’s coffin. Just a typical Saturday morning, another day in the life.

Archer Portnoy’s coffin is huge. If it were a car, it would be a Hummer; if it were a home in a trailer park, it would be a double-wide. And it is tricked out beyond all belief. If MTV decided to scrap Cribs and do a show about deluxe coffins, Archer Portnoy’s would be first on their list. If there were a TV show called Pimp My Casket, the producers would give Archer Portnoy’s coffin a two-hour special feature.

Archer Portnoy’s coffin is easily the most luxurious item in my otherwise low-key apartment. The exterior is made of burnished mahogany, with polished nickel fastenings (not silver – silver tarnishes way too quickly, especially six feet underground). Inside, it boasts a deluxe sound system built into the satin-tufted side panels with state-of-the-art surround-sound speakers delivering tuneage throughout the burgundy interior.  One of the long lateral panels conceals an insulated compartment just the right size for storing a bottle of champagne and a couple of glasses; a shorter panel at the head of the coffin slides open to reveal a box of tissues, a bottle of water, and a small assortment of books. The lid of the coffin is usually open and there is a clamp-held lamp on an adjustable arm attached to the rim, permitting the occupant(s) to read in comfort if the mood strikes.

The coffin sits on a large, sturdy marble platform that rises to about waist-height on me (I’m five foot four). Like the coffin, it was custom built. To get in, simply snap open two strong nickel latches that hold the long edge of the coffin upright; it hinges downward and you can scootch your butt onto the satin and slide yourself in. Raise the panel, flip the latches closed and there you are.

Archer Portnoy thought of everything when he designed this baby (well, everything but the bar and the sound system: those modifications were dreamed up by yours truly); but the truth is, he kind of had to. The man weighed over 400 pounds and, at the age of thirty-four, he realized two things. One was, although he was by most standards still a young man, in his state of health a sudden death was not unlikely. The other was that given his incredible size, dispatching his remains with proper dignity and ceremony would present some challenges.  Fortunately, he had the money and the brains to navigate a solution.

In the mid-1990s, Archer Portnoy was a very rich young man who’d conceived and launched a graphic arts studio in Ottawa. He loved computer games and cartoons, and he built up an excellent stable of artists and computer whizzes at the peak of the high-tech craze. Unlike other companies, which became wedded to chip and wire technology, Archer Portnoy’s company managed to stay ahead of, and even forecast, many consumer trends and was constantly shifting its products to address the rapidly evolving business landscape. Archer expanded from supplying graphics and animation to external clients to designing his own programs, and launched some apps exclusively for hand-held devices which pretty much cemented him as a primary player on the scene. However, with success came pressure and apparently Archer’s favoured method of stress-busting involved cramming high calorie snacks down his neck practically non-stop. That, plus the tendency of people in his line of work to do nothing but sit around tapping computer keys all day, contributed to his becoming what society delicately likes to call “a lard-ass.”

The way I heard it, Archer Portnoy’s physician gave him a complete crapola score on a routine physical somewhere around 1999, and told him that there was so much fatty buildup in his arteries and around his heart that he could have a coronary if he so much as sneezed unexpectedly. Archer Portnoy may have been a fat guy, but he had a well-developed sense of what was and was not dignified, and he quickly decided that it would be most undignified for him to snuff it suddenly, leaving his heirs with the tiresome task of removing the roof of his house so a helicopter could airlift his dead bulk off the premises. Ergo, he commissioned this coffin, and the marble platform on which it rests, so that he could sleep in it every night and spare his loved ones the unpleasant necessity of having to find someone strong enough to heft him off the bed should he die in his sleep. The platform, when Archer owned it, had lockable wheels so his heirs could easily glide him from his house to the funeral parlour, much like a hospital stretcher; and as he spent most of his time in a scooter chair with a hydraulic seat, it wasn’t difficult for him to raise himself up to casket height and simply roll in each night.

A rational person would now ask me why Mr. Portnoy would have put his considerable intelligence and considerable money into this casket to house his considerable earthly remains, and then not be buried in it? I asked that question too, at Archer Portnoy’s estate sale. And nobody could tell me. “Mr. Portnoy’s final wishes made it very clear the casket was to be sold,” the estate agents said.

I didn’t give too much of a damn at that point, because I was in desperate straits and Archer Portnoy’s coffin looked like a darling solution to a dire problem.  I had the money (odd but true…and that is a story for another time). As soon as I looked at its beautifully tufted satin and its confining vastness, I saw both safety and luxury. Kind of like when you’re driving a Mercedes. In fact, aside from my last car (and I haven’t owned a car in nearly a decade), Archer Portnoy’s coffin is the only thing I’ve ever bothered purchasing insurance for. Money aside, I value it very highly: that box is the only place I can catch a decent night’s sleep—and by decent, I mean more than three hours at a stretch.

I wish I knew where Archer Portnoy was buried, because I’d like to take him some flowers. I want to thank him for saving my sanity by giving me the best nights of sleep I’ve ever had in my life.

On this particular day, having risen reluctantly from my coffin, I shlumped into the bathroom and spent a ridiculous amount of time urinating. It actually hurt my head to pee. It’s like my body was so dehydrated, it grudged even that waste water abandoning the desiccated wreck it had become. As soon as I’d flushed and rinsed my hands, I sloppily shook my toothbrush out of the mug by the sink and filled the mug with water from the faucet. It tasted like old mint and dust mites but I drank two mugs down anyway.

There are hangovers you have to sleep off, hangovers you have to walk off, hangovers you have to eat your way through, and hangovers where you wander aimlessly through the rooms of your small apartment, tearing at your hair and groaning periodically, because sitting down, lying down, or eating anything are all completely out of the question. This hangover was of that latter variety. As the apartment isn’t very big, I was soon travelling the same ground and groaning louder each time I looked out the window or (even worse) looked in the bathroom mirror at my own reflection, and realized that nothing felt any better. Or looked any better. I tripped on the cats every second or third circuit.

After an hour or so’s painful pacing, I felt steady enough to attempt some food. I got the coffeemaker going and once that toasty smell began to circulate, I immediately began feeling that there was a possibility I would live through this agony after all. Feeling adventurous, I poured myself some water (into a clean mug from the kitchen, this time) and swallowed two extra strength Tylenol. As soon as the coffeemaker quit burbling I fixed myself a giant mug of brew with some evaporated milk (so thick and rich and yummy) and threw in some brown sugar for good measure. The first sip was absolute manna, and holding the warm mug against my face made my headache feel better.

Two big cups of coffee made a massive improvement in my general health and well-being, and enabled me to tackle the delicate matter of introducing food to a stomach that still felt as though it was pickled in vodka. I started off nibbling some lightly buttered toast; this actually made me feel awesome. In fact, the few bites of toast awakened a raving hunger beast in my guts that suddenly began craving everything from BLTs to pizza and wings, but since all I had in the fridge was bread and eggs I had to make do with a couple of fried-egg sandwiches (toasted, with lots of ketchup on the side for dunking). Does that ever happen to you? Going from queasily hungover to ragingly ravenous like that? It happens to me all the time. One of the reasons the ass of my jeans is getting to be rather too well filled-out, I imagine, but fuck it: no food tastes better than the stuff you eat after a really good session of get-yer-drink-on. And a nice big pig-out can help a hangover in ways you wouldn’t believe…or maybe you would. In any case, on this particular day, it set me up just fine and helped beat back the headache pretty well too.

Now that I was fed, caffeinated, and reasonably sure I was going to make it through the day without projectile vomiting, I decided I should check on the gentleman I’d been out with the night before to see how he was holding up in the aftermath of our excesses. My phone’s a mobile one with one of those headset gadgets so I continued pacing while I waited for the speed dial to kick in. It was six or seven rings before a groggy voice answered the call.

“What do you want?”

“Really, Dale,” I said. “Where are your manners?”

“Fuck you, Cousin. I feel like whale shit today and it’s totally your fault.”

“How do you square that?”

“Because you took me away from a quiet, innocent evening at home and poured beer down my throat til I practically passed out. Then you brought me home – at least I think it was you who brought me home – and left me on the fucking floor. Which, now that I think of it, might have been an act of charity. It would have really sucked to regain consciousness at six this morning to find myself puking in my bed.”

“You puked on your floor?”






“Gross. Okay, now you’re making me feel bad.”

“I hope so.”

“I don’t mean guilty, I mean physically bad. I’m barely getting over my own nausea, I don’t need a Dayglo description of yours.”

“I don’t care. I hope you feel bad. I hope you feel worse. I hope you puke in your stupid coffin and drown in it.”


“So what do you want?”

“Just seeing how you are. Say, what are you doing tonight? Feel like coming out with me?”

“Tonight I’m going to do what I was planning to do last night before you came over and nagged me into keeping you company.”

“You mean you’re going to sit on your gigantic ass and play Diablo online with nerds you’ve never met.”


“Dale, that’s pathetic. You spend way too much time alone. You need to get out more.”

“You say that, but your liver isn’t the size of a Crown Victoria this morning. Or maybe it is. It should be, that’s for sure. Either way, I’m not doing jack with you tonight, I’m staying in. I’m staying in all day. God, I feel awful.”

He really did sound terrible. I began to feel rather sorry for him.

“Listen,” I said, injecting a soothing and caring tone into my voice. “Stay in, you probably should if you’re feeling that rotten. But let me come by and take care of you. I’ll bring you some food and aspirin, and at least get you on your feet. And I’ll leave you alone after that to do your dumbass gaming or whatever it is shut-in sociopaths like you do when their cousins aren’t adequate company.”

“Nah,” he answered, sounding a little less grouchy than previously. “That’s cool of you and all, but I’ll get over it. Seriously, Tryx, I don’t want any company today. I’ve taken some Advil and I’m going to phone out for a shawarma or something once my gut settles down a little. I’ll be fine.”

My instinct was to bully him until he gave in. I could picture Dale, unshaven, slumped in his big recliner with his eyes half closed and one huge hand resting protectively on his wide, grumbling tummy. After all, it was partly my fault that he was ill and I realized that leaving him alone to barf on his floor the night before probably hadn’t been the smartest decision…my only real defence being that I had been too messed up myself to realize he was in worse shape than I was. It would soothe my guilt a little to go over to his small, cluttered apartment and nurse him back to a reasonable semblance of normality. However, I wanted him to keep liking me and perhaps a little absence from my company would make him appreciate me better next time I called. I decided to give in.

“Arright, have it your way. But listen, call me if you need me, okay? Anything you need, or just some company. Don’t suffer in silence.”

Dale yawned. “Fine,” he said. “I’m sure I won’t need to, but it’s a nice offer. I guess I’d have to call you at the office if I need you?”

I frowned. “The office? Dale, why would you call me at the office? It’s Saturday.”

There was a puzzled silence at Dale’s end for maybe five seconds. Five seconds, during which a cold dread began leaking into my guts as I glanced at the wall clock in the kitchen. The hands stood at twenty minutes to eleven.

“Tryx,” Dale said patiently. “It’s Friday.”

Cursing wildly, I threw the phone at the charger and tore out the door.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

More free fiction to come

It has been a long time since I posted anything story-related (my musical and film projects took front stage from mid-2012 til the end). As you know, I love posting story fragments here and I have a big one brewing. My favourite private investigator, "Tryx," will have an instalment on CawsICan shortly. I hope you will enjoy getting to know this dysfunctional PI as much as I've enjoyed writing about her. Stay tuned and thanks as always for reading.


Sunday, 3 June 2012

Farewell, old friend

This week I retire my four-year-old Motorola cell phone. It has been my exclusive mobile device since August 2008. I kept it till it was literally on its last legs, as you can see from the photo. In addition to needing the rubber band to hold the flipcase shut, the membrane on the directional keys has completely flaked away and the exterior finish bears numerous battle scratches.

In my present state of mind, I can only recall that I was on this device when I received some of the worst news of my life. I know good calls must have taken place as well, but I really only remember the bad ones, and while it's not the phone's fault that the past four years have been rife with bad news, let's say I am not sorry to be taking this baby off its rubber-band life support system and giving it a proper funeral.

In fact, I thought it would be fun to have a nutty destruction ceremony (setting it on fire, dropping it onto the O-Train tracks or similar, and filming the results). However, there is evidently some sort of recycling program whereby I can send my phone to Fido Heaven and they turn it into food for the hungry or development programs for the disadvantaged. I'm all in favour of reversing the weird karma around this phone so off to Fido it will go.

Regardless of the nature of calls that took place on this phone, I would like to thank it for four years of tireless service. It has literally been everywhere and has served me well.


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

New Month, New Projects

Hope everyone had an appropriately spooky Hallowe'en.

November has never been one of my favourite months, and this November is no exception. However, there is a lot to look forward to this year, with NaNoWriMo being one of the fun things on the horizon. For various reasons I've been unable to participate the last few years, but have made a commitment to go for it this year and use it as a platform to complete a long work that has been hanging over my head for a loooonnnggg time.

For those of you unfamiliar with the project, NaNoWriMo is an onlilne challenge to complete a novel in one calendar month (emphasis on word count rather than word quality...the idea is to write write write and get something finished -- you can always edit and tinker later). Many well-known authors will be sending you messages of support and encouragement on the way, and you can join a 'support group' in your hometown to aid you on the journey.

The official kickoff was yesterday but you can join at any time:

Best of luck to everyone!