Book Review – Cat Person by Seo Kim

catperson

Cat Person is a mostly charming collection of comics by Toronto artist Seo Kim. Full of cute, predominantly autobiographical strips about Kim, her cat Jimmy, her life, and her boyfriend Eddie, the book works either as individual strips, chapters (Jimmy the cat mostly appears in the first chapter titled Jimmy and Me) or an ongoing story with the appearance of of Eddie and his own cat Bubble in a later chapter.

Kim’s work, done in pencil and coloured in Photoshop is engaging although sometimes rough in terms of technique.

The cat chapter runs the gamut of life with a cat, from the feline obsession with running tap water to the way cat hair ends up on everything you own. Kim also references the various ways to hug a cat, head bonks, cat shapes (when they sleep all curled up) and fuzzy cat testicles. Fortunately, she switches gears right around the point when even the most ardent cat fan would start to get a little bored.

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Book Review – Overwhelmed

overwhelmedOverwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time
Brigid Schulte
Harper Collins 2014, 353 pages

Busy? Aren’t we all, right? Or maybe… we just think we are.

Time management is a skill that very few people are taught as kids, so as adults, we take on more and more responsibilities and succumb to what author Brigid Schulte calls “the overwhelm” only to find ourselves desperately stressed and unhappy.

In Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, Schulte talks to time management experts from around the world to try to discover what has happened to the average person’s leisure time, and why so many people join the rat race of gender-determined career paths in industries that value bums in chairs and daily face to face interactions instead of the myriad options that are available to us in the 21st century, such as working from home, job sharing and flexible working hours.

This is of particular importance when it comes to families where the “ideal worker” has priorities other than their job, and where kids can have a schedule as packed as their parents.

Schulte ultimately offers no solutions to the problem at hand. She’s learning as she goes, and experiences a fair bit of culture shock observing Danish families where kids are expected to help around the house and everyone is home for family dinner. The Danes have carefully avoided the helicopter parenting so prevalent in North America and it becomes obvious that anybody wanting to fight off the overwhelm might first have to have the nerve to buck the status quo.

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You’re Invited! Beer and Butter Tarts Launch Party!

party11

If I haven’t been around the old blog much lately, it’s because I’ve been working on other stuff – most notably, the first issue of Beer and Butter Tarts, a Canadian literary food journal, which features work by writers and artists from right across Canada.

If you’re in the Toronto-area, please check out the details below and come on by. Otherwise, copies are available by mail-order from Stained Pages Press.

We’re having a party to celebrate the launch of our first issue!

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014, 7pm
The Rhino Restaurant & Bar (skylight room)
1249 Queen Street West
free admission

Tasty nibbles, fab beer, plus selected readings from the first issue by contributors Dorianne Emmerton, David Huebert and others.

Copies of Issue #1 will be available for purchase.

Please join us!

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Lucky Dip – January 2, 2014

Yes, I’m trying this again. Shut up and enjoy the links.

octopus

I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get this for Christmas, but I’m sure it was just an oversight. Hubby’s probably just saving up for it. Or trying to figure out where, at 4ft across, we’d put it. This one-of-a-kind piece by Mason Creations is sold, but there’s always next year.

vincentprice

If you didn’t already think Vincent Price was awesome, here’s another reason – he wrote a book about his dog! Illustrated by Hirshfield, of course.Via Dangerous Minds.

yearbook Olde Tyme high school yearbooks, just as boring as current ones, except for all that hair! Via Twisted Sifter

smashscale

Ditch that whole idea of standing on your bathroom scale and feeling bad about yourself this new year. Instead – get all “Office Space” on that tyrannical appliance and savour the freedom behind the idea that numbers are meaningless. Via The Militant Baker

martinet

Steampunk? We’ve got your steampunk right here, Buddy. The beautiful nature sculptures of Edouard Martinet, made from spare parts.  Via Dangerous Minds

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

reader

Remember those essays? The first day back to school, the teacher was still setting up the year’s curriculum, ordering books, etc., and so you’d get handed a piece of loose leaf and a fresh new pencil and directed to start off the school year with the child’s worst enemy – the familiar essay.

We lived in the poor part of town. Nobody I knew came back on that first day of school with stories about Disneyland, or Europe. Camping maybe, but it was never one of those fancy camps where you learned French or how to play the oboe. It would have been a week at Grandpa’s fishing lodge (shack) getting eaten alive by black flies and leeches.

The rest of us spent the days at home, or at a grandparent’s or babysitter’s house if our parents worked. There would be trips to the lake (aka. a mile long forced march in the hot sun), or the beach (for this you definitely hoped for a drive, otherwise it was a 2-mile forced march in the hot sun, up a huge, steep hill to get home), but usually it was a “make your own fun” kind of summer where you spent the days in the woods, at the playground, in a wading pool in the backyard, or lolling around watching “stories” with Grandma in the cool of the living room with the blinds down.

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Book Review – Overdressed The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

overdressedOverdressed The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
Elizabeth L. Cline
Portfolio Hardcover, June 2012, 256 pages

On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself sitting in a restaurant measuring the cost of my meal against the cost of the clothes on my back. This entree costs as much as my shirt. This tiny dessert, more than my scarf. A multi-course tasting menu can ring in at more than a pair of really well-made boots.

Like most people I’m inclined to blame this disparity on the high price of food. But I am wrong to do so, for the problem is not that quality, well-prepared restaurant food is to expensive, it’s that the clothing that we typically buy in chain stores across the Western world is far too cheap.

As Elizabeth Cline points out in her engaging and delightfully well-written book Overdressed, we like cheap clothes. A lot. Most of us have more clothing than we can ever reasonably wear, and manufacturers feed into our desire for more by creating clothing as cheaply as possible. Who cares if a shirt falls apart after two washes when it only cost $10 to begin with?

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So I Made a Book

Most readers who follow this blog or follow me on Twitter probably already know that I spent the better part of this past year working on a book of food-related essays. Those of you who are not aware – hey, I wrote a book!

I’m posting about it now only because i realized that, in the flurry of activity getting stuff ready for the launch, I haven’t really said much about it here.

Publishing a book is a whole lot of waiting, interspersed with flurries of often stressful activity, in which you do all the grunt work that would be the responsibility of a publisher, should you be so lucky as to score a deal with a mainstream publishing house, which is more and more rare these days.

There are all the things you never think of when you sit down with the intention of becoming a writer, instead picturing yourself banging away at a typewriter, a cigarette hanging from your lips, a bottle of whisky at your side like William Burroughs; or perhaps imagining yourself sitting on the veranda of a hotel cafe in the tropics, watching the world pass by and scribbling away in a journal like Somerset Maugham.

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Why I’ll (Probably) Never Publish Your Cookbook

It happened again. My own book is still a couple of months away from publication and already, I am getting pitches from people wanting me to publish their book. Specifically, their cookbook.

The first came via Twitter. (Incidentally – do not ever do this.) A public message asking if I’d be interested in a fun, quirky cookbook. Besides the fact that you destroy any credibility you might have as a serious writer by pitching to a publisher via Twitter, it helps to actually visit the website of the publisher and learn more about them and what they’re looking for, or if they’re accepting submissions at all. That you came across an indie publisher on Twitter and contacted them doesn’t get you points for taking the initiative, it makes you look like someone who is clueless, can’t follow protocol or written instructions, and who probably doesn’t really care about how professionally things are done.

Far moreso in the US than here in Canada, successful bloggers have been able to translate their blogs into book deals. But Canadian publishers have never had a lot of money to do such things and tend to stick with the more tried and true – TV chefs or chefs from restaurants with a strong customer base. And while there are many publishers who offer a lot of cookbooks and obviously do well with them, I don’t want to be one of them.

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In Praise of Snarky Men

I’ve been reading a lot lately. This is about 50% procrastination (writers will do anything to get out of writing, especially without a firm deadline in place), 20% sheer joy at having time to actually sit down and read a book (during my TasteTO days, it was a rare occurrence if I finished a book in under a month, just because I had to read it in snatched five minutes bits due to being so busy) and 30% due to the fact that I wore stupid shoes and gave myself a super-bad case of plantar faciitis and have been trying to stay off my feet as much as possible over the past few weeks, because it hurts like beejeezus to walk.

During this time I thought to get caught up on the works of Steve Almond, a fantastic writer from Boston, probably most well-known for his book Candyfreak. He writes about stuff other than candy, though, and I recently enjoyed a collection of his ranty essays.

(Not that You Asked) includes a facetiously stalkerish set of letters to Oprah regarding inclusion in her book club, the story of Almond’s obsession with Kurt Vonnegut, stories of various sexual exploits, and oh yeah, the time he quit his job at Boston University over the announcement that Condoleeza Rice would give the keynote address at graduation, and the resulting shitstorm that occurred because he happened to send his resignation letter to a local paper. Almond found himself the whipping boy of all the right-wing TV pundits – you know the ones, those shouty guys who get all red in the face, with the veins in their foreheads looking as if they’re about to pop, the ones who don’t let the guest get a word in edgewise and who make you out to be evil because you voted for the left.

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The Processed Way of Eating

Despite my plan to avoid social media while working on my book, I’ve spent the earlier part of this afternoon over on FaceBook discussing meat glue (why yes, I am procrastinating, how did you guess?), and its implications in the greater food service industry, aside from its use in molecular gastronomy. Because it seems that there are a few restaurants and food supply companies that are taking chunks of stewing beef and mushing them together with meat glue to make what looks like a reasonable facsimile of a filet mignon.

These filet mignon, so far, seem to exist within the realm of large-scale lower-end food service – school cafeterias and catered weddings were two such examples given. I wouldn’t expect to see them at high-end steak houses or places that are known for the authenticity or terroir of their beef, but it’s reasonable to assume that they will eventually show up (unannounced, no doubt) on the menu of low- to mid-range restaurants across both the US and Canada.

(Note that the meat glue itself is perfectly safe. The concern comes from creating a “steak” out of various cuts of beef and then cooking it to less than medium well-done because of possible bacteria that may have been on the surfaces of the various pieces of meat that are now in the centre of the steak and might not be cooked to the appropriate temperature to kill said bacteria. A standard steak has no such problem since the centre is untainted and could not have come in contact with any kind of contamination.)

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Flowers from the Bird Lady

BIRDLADY from FORTNIGHT LINGERIE on Vimeo.

Parkdale, my neighbourhood since 1993, is known for its many characters. People who make the place unique and colourful, people who definitely dance to their own drummer. For 90 some-odd years, one of those characters was Annie Ross. Born in the building that stands on the south-west corner of Queen and Dunn in 1913, she lived there her entire life until her death in 2004. Miss Ross never married, instead running her family’s flower shop at the front of the building, and spending her retirement years in a small apartment at the back where she was known for feeding the local pigeons; thus her nickname, The Bird Lady.

Miss Ross could tell you stories of how Parkdale had changed and grown. She could remember when the lot directly across the street from her on Dunn was a field for horses. She could tell about how the buildings went up along Queen, or how the mansions along Jameson came down to make way for apartment buildings. And she could tell you about books. In a 4-minute short documentary filmed before her death, she talks about how she began keeping track of all the books she read in her lifetime, some 8,600 different titles.

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Won’t You Take Me To Hungry Town

Tom Fitzmorris’s Hungry Town: A Culinary History of New Orleans, the City Where Food Is Almost Everything
Tom Fitzmorris
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010, 224 pages

Anybody who has ever strolled the streets of New Orleans, lazy with the humidity and history, overcome by the wafting smells of magnolias interspersed with a blast of jambalaya, knows that the crescent city is a town that loves its food. From beignets and acrid chicory-laced coffee at the touristy Cafe du Monde to po’boy sandwiches served up at some place in the 9th Ward with no sign to even let people know it exists, New Orleanians like to eat.

Nobody knows this better than food writer Tom Fitzmorris. The man who has been writing about food in New Orleans since the early 70s is probably the most knowledgeable person in the world on the subject of New Orleans restaurants and Cajun and Creole food. To say the guy is high-functioning would be an understatement – he does a daily 3-hour radio show about New Orleans food (can you imagine? 3 hours a day – just about local food and restaurants?), writes reviews almost daily, hosts a weekly dining event and runs The New Orleans Menu, a website on dining in New Orleans that is updated daily.

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Book Review – What’s to Eat: Entrees in Canadian Food History

What’s to Eat? Entrees in Canadian Food History
edited by Nathalie Cooke
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009, 310 pages

I appear to have gotten seriously distracted from “book review week” but this is the last of the lot. I saved it for last because it’s actually my least favourite (which might explain the long delay in writing the review).

I’m not saying that What’s to Eat? is bad, it’s just very, very dry. While it runs the gamut of topics from First Nations cuisine to the introduction of chocolate in Canada to the demographics of cookbook usage in Quebec, this collection of essays about Canadian food is, at its base, a collection of essays, in food studies, that are approached from a predominantly clinical, statistical point of view.

So while the topics themselves are interesting; the rise and fall of red fife wheat; the debate on whether there is a “Canadian” cuisine, and what it consists of; the history of the tourtiere in Quebec, there’s not a lot of excitement in the writing itself. And I can’t help feeling that there should be.

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Book Review – Baking as Biography

Baking as Biography – A Life Story in Recipes
Dianne Tye
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 260 pages, $24.95

Most of us can look to a mother or grandmother as a cooking mentor; someone who taught us the basics of home cooking, and who shared their love of the craft and inspired us to try new dishes and expand our cooking repertoires. But what of the poor souls whose mothers didn’t cook, or worse, who didn’t cook well? What of the people who mothers cooked, but hated it?

Dianne Tye had one such mother. A minister’s wife in the Maritimes during the 70s, Tye’s mother was obligated to cook, not just for family, but for myriad church and community events, but never truly enjoyed it.

Tye herself went on to become a Women’s Studies professor at Memorial University, and tells her story in two distinct voices; first the clinical voice of science, observing trends in food and social norms during her childhood, and analyzing how they affected her mother, and in turn her family with regards to what she baked, when, and for whom. But when recalling specific stories about her mother, her baking for various events or a description of the dish, Tye’s voice becomes softer, more familial, verging at times on romanticized. This jump can be disconcerting as Tye attempts to distance herself from the information.

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Book Review Week – Feasting and Fasting

Feasting and Fasting – Canada’s Heritage Celebrations
Dorothy Duncan
Dundurn Press, 2010, 351 pages

Anybody who has every met Dorothy Duncan can agree on two things – that’s she adorable, and that she knows more about the food history of Canada than all the rest of us put together.

Arranged chronologically through a calendar year, Feasting and Fasting looks at the foods and food-related traditions that go with various holidays celebrated by Canadians. From Robbie Burns Day, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year to Thanksgiving and Christmas, every holiday includes specific dishes or activities that include (or exclude) food. Duncan also examines some seasonal activities that centre around food, such as the running of the maple syrup in early spring and events like picnics and garden parties in the summer.

Each entry offers a bit of history and explains the evolution of the related feast, particularly as it applies to new immigrants in Canada in colonial times who might not have access to traditional ingredients.

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Book Review Week – Out of Old Ontario Kitchens

Out of Old Ontario Kitchens
Christine Bates
Pagurian Press Ltd. 1978, 190 pages, out of print

My local used book shop, besides being supervised by one of the coolest felines ever and occasional guarded by Thor the Thunder Poodle, is a treasure trove of cool old stuff, and the food writing shelf almost always contains something that just has to come home with me.

I grabbed Out of Old Ontario Kitchens thinking is was the Upper Canada version of Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, a cookbook that I grew up with in Halifax. While it’s similar, the Nova Scotia book is straight-up recipes, while the Ontario book also has bits of history and anthropology that offer explanations of the many dishes included.

Christine Bates, at the time that she wrote this book in the late 70s, was a senior historical interpreter at Montgomery’s Inn, a historic museum just outside of Toronto. Bates began a search for pre-Confederation recipes and food references in conjunction with her work at the museum which boasts a working Victorian-era kitchen, and besides hosting tours, also hosts a variety of food-related events throughout the year.

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Book Review Week – 97 Orchard

97 Orchard An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement
Jane Ziegelman
HarperCollins, 2010, 254 pages

97 Orchard Street is known today as the New York City Tenement Museum. Built in 1863 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, over the course of 70 years, it was home to over 7000 people. Initially lacking in gas, electricity and running water, and some rooms having no windows, it was the lowest, cheapest, dirtiest housing available to new immigrants.

Lack of amenities, and often lack of access to ingredients they were familiar with meant that immigrant families living in the tenements of the Lower East Side had to adapt. Ziegelman traces the stories of five immigrant families (Irish, Italian, German and Eastern European Jews) and looks at the influence these cultures had on the foodways of New York City. From German-owned breweries, Russian tea rooms, Jewish delis and Italian restaurants, each successive wave of immigrants altered the local food culture.

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Book Review Week

Writers sometimes joke that being a writer is like doing homework all the time. The essays and book reviews we are relieved to be rid of when we leave school are a constant in our daily work lives. If someone had told me 30 years ago that I’d willingly write “book reports” for a living when I grew up, I’d have been one very unhappy girl. And choosing to write book reports doesn’t mean that writers don’t procrastinate, especially if there’s no deadline or pay cheque to act as an incentive. Which explains why I have enough books stacked up here by my desk to fill a week with reviews of books on food history. Perhaps a self-imposed deadline and announcing it to the world will do the trick.

Four of the five books I’ll be writing about this week are by Canadian writers, covering Canadian food. The last, while focused around the tenements of New York, shares enough parallels with the changes in Canadian foodways over the years that I’ve included it, as it also reflects the experience of Canadian immigrants and their contribution to Canadian food culture just as US immigrants changed the way people in that country eat.

Check back each morning this week as I review a new book, and get into the back to school spirit by doing homework without the incentive of pay OR a gold star.

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This Is the Chinese Cookbook You’ve Been Waiting For

I appear to have created a recurring series of food and recipe book reviews based on books I’ve found in my building’s laundry room. The Fabulous Chinese Cookbook by Harry K. Long dates back to 1965 and this particular copy has been much-used based on the dog-eared pages and splatters and spills, particularly for the “Broccoli with Beef” recipe. The previous owner appears to have been a smoker, so The Fabulous Chinese Cookbook won’t be staying in my collection as even flipping through it causes wafts of stale cigarette smell that give me a headache and make me nauseous. But I’ll endure for long enough to talk about it for a bit.

The preface about the author indicates that he was a well-respected Vancouver chef with a desire to share his recipes before he retired. It also indicates that Mr. Kam Long, who is presumably the Harry K. Long from the cover, “shares his experience in fine cooking by teaching you to prepare extraordinarily tasty and wholesome food, suitable for any diet and pocketbook.”

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Summer Reading – Lunch With Lady Eaton

Lunch with Lady Eaton – Inside the Dining Rooms of a Nation
Carol Anderson and Katharine Mallinson
206 pages, Ecw Press; April, 2004

When the first department stores opened across the country, they were considered to be (as they sometimes still are now) the death knell for small Mom & Pop stores that specialized in one niche market. And while some department stores like Wal-Mart continue to expand their grocery offering, higher-end shops have all but wiped out their food and grocery departments to specialize in higher-end luxury goods. But there was a time when Canadian department stores not only sold every dry good item imaginable, but they also made and sold food, both in their restaurants and as grocery items.

Case in point would be the long-defunct Eaton’s. The beloved Canadian department store chain began as a dry goods and hardware store under the guidance of founder Timothy Eaton. Early on, the store included coffee shops and restaurants in addition to a massive food hall. Eaton’s made their own baked goods on site, they owned dairies in rural Ontario which supplied the cream for the store to make its own butter, and by the early 1900s, the lunchroom of the downtown Toronto store was serving 5000 meals a day.

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