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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Candy Freak

One of the cool things about writing a book about a particular food item is that, whether you consider yourself to be or not, other people will look to you as an expert on that topic, and will heap free samples upon you in the hope that you will write about them. I met author Steve Almond as he was being gifted with container after container of free organic cotton candy. Despite his polite insistence that he couldn’t possibly carry six tubs of cotton candy home on a plane, the manufacturer wanted him to try every flavor.

Almond was in Toronto this past spring to give what he thought was a reading at the unfortunately named Canadian Sweets Expo ( Badly promoted and equally poorly organized, what was meant to be on par with the big candy shows in the US turned out to be a sad collection of local vendors of mostly waxy chocolate, oddly flavored jellybeans and some crazy chocolate-flavoured energy balls that made me extremely ill. Also present were a few Canadian Food Network celebrities, a face-painter (for the kids) and a circus troupe. Not exactly the type of forum where a well-known author and creative writing professor is going to be known for his non-fiction work on rare US candy bars.

Which is too bad, because CandyFreak is a sugar-laced tour of the rare, the wonderful and the delicious. It’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, minus Johnny Depp. A self-defined candy freak, Almond traveled far and wide to learn the story of some rare and wondrous local favorites. From the southern icon the GooGoo Cluster, to the darling of Boise, the Idaho Spud (which yours truly has never tried but desperately wants to – readers in Idaho, help a poor Canadian gal out, won’t you?), Almond tours factories, talks to chocolatiers, and waxes poetic about enrobers.

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How Sweet It Is

At first, we weren’t sure we had read it right. Scrolling across the screen on the 24-hour news channel was information about a Sweets Expo at the Toronto Convention Centre. It took some investigating to finally find the website: No, Beavis and Butthead, not “sweet sex po”, get your minds out of the gutter. Sweets Expo, aka, a room full of candy.

Bright and early, there we were, headed into the convention centre, the smell of sugar surrounding us. However, had it not been for two things, the Sweets Expo would have left a rather sour taste in my mouth.

First of all, it hadn’t been especially well-promoted, as far as we could tell. That fast-moving news scroll was the only mention we had seen of the thing, and judging by the turnout, not many other people knew about it either. And apparently, the same amount of effort that went into promotion went into attracting exhibitors. It was considerably smaller than we expected, and with a couple of exceptions the calibre of product wasn’t that great. None of the many Toronto area chocolatiers were present; Stubbs, Soma and JS BonBon were not to be found. There were also none of the chain, or indie, candy stores – no Sugar Mountain, Tutti Frutti, Nutty Chocolatier or Candy Island. Also, no big brand names – no Nestle, no Cadbury.

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