The People the Internet Forgot

For people of my generation or younger, basically anyone born in the mid-60s or later, it is expected that we all have some level of internet presence. Whether it’s a Twitter or Facebook account, or a history of posts made back in the days of usenet, our activity, our lives, has all been documented. Facebook’s Timeline even encourages people to go back and add photos and events from their pre-Facebook years to create a full picture. Pretty much everything we do is documented in some way.

But the generations before us, from the Boomers back, do not really exist online unless someone else puts them there. Either through genealogy resources, or someone who has taken the time to post old stories and photos, unless people are really famous (and thus deserving of continued adoration), we have no recollection of them other than our own memories.

I’ve been thinking of this recently because I’ve been trying to track down anything I can find about someone I used to know – someone who should, by rights, be famous enough to warrant some historical respect – but the internet continually tells me No.

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Hospital Food

This piece was written for my book, Kitchen Party, but somehow, in the transferring of 47 essays and images to the final manuscript, it got lost. I remembered/discovered it this past weekend and was very disappointed, because not only was it written specifically for the book, it is one of my favourite pieces. So I’m sharing it here instead. If you like it, please check out my book over at Stained Pages Press, which is full of similar pieces.

Donuts. Muffins. Trays upon trays of little bowls of pudding; today it’s vanilla. Pan after pan of brownies and carrot cake, both options on the regular menu for tomorrow. And, can it be? A three-layer birthday cake decorated with frosting roses and swags. “Happy Birthday Andrea”. I don’t know who Andrea is but she must be someone special to warrant a huge cake like that in a place like this.

So cold. I can’t stop shivering. The sleeves on my uniform are short, if someone doesn’t show up soon, I’m going to freeze to death. They’ll find me in the morning, asleep in a corner, discarded muffin wrappers around me, jam from the donuts in splurts down the front of my apron, my exposed skin slathered with the butter-cream from Andrea’s cake as an extra layer of insulation against the cold.

What time does the morning shift start anyway?

**

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Crazy Acorn Lady – Making Life Difficult for the Rest of Us

It read like an April Fool’s Day joke. Yesterday, the Toronto Star ran a story about a Woodbridge woman who wanted oak trees near her sons’ school cut down because her two boys are allergic to tree nuts.

The obvious rebuttals come to mind:

- acorns are not food, there’s no plausible reason for teenaged boys to be eating them
- they’re teenagers, not toddlers, and if allergic, should know enough to avoid oak trees during acorn season
- um… don’t roll around under oak trees?

On one hand, you’ve gotta feel really sorry for her kids who have enough stress dealing with real allergens (the article says they’re allergic to peanuts and their school – indoors – is nut-free), and now have to deal with being the spawn of crazy acorn lady.

But there’s also the risk now that the very real concerns regarding allergies – both of her kids and the rest of us – won’t be taken seriously because of the over-reaction and helicopter parenting of one woman who made the news.

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Fleeing the Flea

My family is not religious. Most of us have been baptized in the Anglican church, but aside from weddings, baptisms and funerals, as a child growing up, I can’t ever remember getting up to go to church. In fact, when questioned about religion, I’ve often joked that our religion was the flea market, because that’s where you could find us on any given Sunday morning in the late 70s or early 80s.

As far back as I can remember Halifax had a Sunday flea market at The Forum, an aging sports arena in the north end of town. But especially in the summer, the flea market motherload was just outside of town, in Sackville.

Originally held during the summer months at the Sackville drive-in, vendors would pull in, park their cars and open their trunks to willing shoppers. There was a parking hierarchy, with regular vendors of new goods (yay, tube sox!) taking the best spots by the entrance, followed by farmers, antique dealers and then the non-regular vendors who were looking to unload crap from their attic or basement. The ground got worse the further back you went, transitioning from pavement to crushed gravel to something akin to boulders near the back, but in the summer, there would be vendors crammed in, sometimes two to a space, selling everything under the sun. Literally – few people used tents back in those days.

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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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I’m so Sexy in this Pub

As a collector of pin-up art, and the wife of a beer writer, I am probably more exposed to, and less bothered by, cheeky and puerile beer labels and tap handles than other women. I don’t know if beer labels with cute (hot) cartoon babes actually sell more beer – that would be kind of a sad thing, actually – but they certainly are out there. Here in Ontario, we’re all familiar with Niagara Brewery’s Niagara’s Best Blonde, with the 40s era bombshell on the label. She is not scantily clad, mind you, in fact she’s downright wholesome, but I can see where some women would take issue with an image of a woman being used to sell and promote beer.

Of course, busty women have been a marketing default for beer companies for years, and it’s only lately, with the rising popularity of craft beer, that mainstream brewers have changed gears to be more inclusive of women, portraying them more as beer consumers and less as a set of tits in a bikini top, emerging from a lake to bring the man in the ad a crisp, cold one.

Oddly enough, the “sexy-making” in the beer industry has seemed to revert back to the little guy, with craft brewers, especially in the UK, using sexual imagery and innuendo to gain attention for their products in a market that is becoming ever more saturated with competition.

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Your Fat Makes Me Crazy

If you live in the western world, no doubt you’ve seen or heard about this video, created by a Wisconsin news anchor after receiving a letter from a viewer who was ostensibly “concerned” about her health and her ability to be a role model to viewers.

As a fat woman, I am fully supportive of Jennifer Livingston and her decision to turn the tables on her critic by taking to the air to rebut his passive-aggressive comments (according to the Toronto Star, the two exchanged emails back and forth but when contacted by Associated Press, the man claims to have deleted the email conversation.)

What is disturbing about all of this is that there are people out there who think they have every right to tell a complete stranger what they think of their looks.

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Macleans, Restaurants and Whiny Temper Tantrums

For anyone in the restaurant industry, this week the buzz is all about Maclean’s Magazine and their Canada’s Best Restaurants edition, in which a team of food critics led by Jacob Richler picked the Top 50 restaurants in the country.

Richler knew what he was getting into – the first line of his introduction makes it clear:

However much work goes into such things, they are seldom praised and always attacked – and gleefully.

What has been surprising is just how vehement those attacks are. I’ve seen no glee, just a level of childish pettiness that is embarrassing for the entire restaurant industry.

It would be idealistic to hope that food writers and the chefs and restaurateurs they write about would aspire to a level of maturity and professionalism in their interactions. That they would approach the work of the other with a realization that the “enemy” is just trying to do their job to the best of their ability with fairness and integrity, and that other factors (editors and readers in the case of writers; business partners and staff in the case of the restaurant owners) sometimes come into play. A restaurant review should never be personal, and should never be taken that way. At its best, a review is the perfect example of a symbiotic relationship where food writer and chef help and promote each other’s businesses (a review – good or bad – gives a restaurant publicity, and a popular review helps to sell copies or push traffic to a website).

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Those Who Like It… Have Probably Bought Into the Marketing Scheme

I am, in terms of family history and genealogy, a bit of a mutt. The name Kirby, derived from Kerr, and meaning “by the Kerr”; Kerr being a copse or wood, arrived in England with the Norman invasion and spread to most parts of England, Scotland and even Ireland. The Kirbys have both English and Irish tartans and crests. As far as I know, my family, way way back, came from northern England, around Yorkshire, but no one in our family has ever traced the tree back that far to say for sure. (There’s also a story that gets told when family members have had a bit too much to drink that links us to pirates but the veracity of this yarn is unproven. Still.. yarr!)

In any case, I spent my youth not really feeling as if I had a “culture” per se. Which was alright growing up in Nova Scotia, since most of us were pasty anglo-saxons who had little clue as to what part of the Isles we came from.

It wasn’t until I was older, and when someone else pointed it out as a positive trait, that I looked to my Nova Scotian upbringing as part of my own “culture”.

Living in Toronto, surrounded by ethnic groups where people kept close ties to the motherland and continued to live within their culture (through religion, food, music and even dress), I felt a little lost. Embracing my Nova Scotian upbringing was a anchor for me in a sea of otherness.

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She Works Hard for the Money

In my last post (really? August 24th? Whoops.) I ranted on about how bloggers shouldn’t solicit or accept payment for endorsed posts on their own blogs. And I still firmly believe that. But there is a way for bloggers, especially those with a specific area of expertise, to work with companies and corporations, and that is as a consultant. The oft-touted theory of “I deserve to be paid for my time and effort” doesn’t ring true when you’re being paid to say nice things about a product on your own blog, but when a company comes to you, asking for your help with something they’re producing, you most absolutely deserve to be paid a fair price for your work.

I bring this up now because I have been contacted, yet again, by a corporate entity that expected me to “help” them for free.

The person in question represented a very well-known show on the Food Network. The host of this show has a product line and endorsement deals. Their show is aired internationally. It is safe to presume that the major players involved are making a decent amount of money.

The request I received was for me to call the show’s researcher (long distance) and advise on some places in the Toronto area that would be appropriate for the show to visit on an upcoming trip here. I am familiar with the show only peripherally; I watched part of an episode once and didn’t much care for it, and since we cancelled our cable about six months ago, I haven’t watched anything on the Food Network at all. So I calculated how much research I would have to do to learn about the show and the types of places they covered, as well as how much work I’d have to do to come up with a short list of places that would be appropriate, and I replied via email stating a rate for my consulting services.

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Blogging 101 – Do You Need to Make Money at Blogging?

Allow me to direct your attention to my sidebar momentarily. What do you see there? Your standard archives, search option, a link to my Twitter account and one single solitary ad, for my own publishing company. What don’t you see? Ads for anything else. And that’s because this blog is not a business. I do it for fun, and to promote my own writing and other projects. I don’t expect to make money at it.

For many years, I ran a professional, blog-based website that was a business. It was done with the intention of making money. We ran paid ads in the sidebar. It was registered as a business; we paid business taxes, we had a business account at the bank. But this site, my personal blog, is not something I expect to make money on.

I point out this difference because I think it gets lost on a lot of bloggers. The project that they started out for fun, as a hobby, suddenly becomes something they feel they must make money at. They see a few high-profile bloggers get book deals or report massive traffic and high ad earnings and suddenly doing it for fun doesn’t cut it anymore. They attend blogging conferences where so-called “experts” give seminars on how to “monetize” their sites and all of a sudden they feel entitled to be paid for their time and effort.

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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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Seeing Red

If you watched the last episode of Mad Men this season, you may or may not have noticed a trend towards the use of the colour red strategically throughout the episode.  An article on Slate works on the theory that the red, used at some point to costume each of the female leads, represents female power, as Joan, Peggy and Megan all wear red as they move on to achieve goals or more important roles in their respective careers.

Studies show, however, that the colour red works in a very specific way on men (but not women) to make them amorous. To men, red is the colour of love (which might explain the marketing machine that is red roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates on Valentine’s Day). Photos of women wearing red, as opposed to other colours, were thought by men in the study to be more attractive.

In the restaurant industry, female servers who wore red got better tips from male customers. There was no difference with female customers.

The initial study took place in 2008, and the restaurant study earlier this year. But the phenomenon likely started long ago.

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The Group of 7 Chefs – Go Fish

I’m not sure how I failed to attend a dinner by the Group of 7 Chefs up until now. Timing, finances, their predilection for odd bits of the insides of animals… all may play a role. But when they announced they would be doing a fish and beer dinner, teaming up with Bellwoods Brewery and serving sustainable fish, Greg and I knew we had to go.

The Group of 7 Chefs is actually comprised of more than seven local chefs. Scott Vivian (Beast), Rob Gentile (Buca), Mark Cutrara (Cowbell), Kevin McKenna (Globe and Earth), Matty Matheson (Parts & Labour), Chris Brown (The Stop), Bertrand Alepee (The Tempered Chef), and Marc Dufour (Globe and Earth) are the main crew, but they have been joined occasionally by local chefs Nick Liu (GwaiLo), Guy Rawlings and others, depending on the specific dinner and individual availability.

The premise is that the chefs get together once a month, on a Monday, when they’re all off from their regular gigs, and work together to create a multi-course dinner. There are a few sous chefs helping out, but most of the work is done by the chefs themselves, with everyone helping to cook and plate each others’ dishes, and a grand sense of fun and camaraderie, despite the stress and hard work.

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Skydiving in Literary Form

So, as you probably know, I wrote a book, and I’m in the process of setting up a publishing imprint to self-publish it, and eventually, other books, maybe even by other people. When I tell people this, they often react with a note of awe in their voices. “Wow! That’s amazing, I could never do that.” I find myself confused by this, to be honest. Because writing the book, particularly this book, wasn’t really very hard. About half of the content is new, stories that I intentionally sat down to write for this publication, but about half of it is stuff that I’ve written over the past ten years. Compared to running TasteTO and writing 2 or 3 pieces a day at 500 – 1000 words each, writing a book of essays about my life and food was, well, easy and fun.

Writing a novel, which I did in 2005 (it’s sitting in a drawer, waiting to be published); that was a lot harder. But still not as hard as running a daily-updated website.

What is hard, and scary, and intimidating, is the actual work involved in publishing a book.

Normally, writers who deal with established publishers don’t ever have to deal with the technical aspects of putting together a book. They submit a manuscript, get galleys in return to do edits, and while they may have some say in the cover, or paper quality or overall design, they don’t literally have to set up templates or calculate signatures (those little bundles of sheets of paper that make up the pages of a book) to determine spine width.

I don’t think I have uttered the phrase “This scares the crap out of me!” so many times in my life as I have in the past few weeks.

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