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Best of Times with Friends

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – Julia Child

“Life can be enjoyed at many times in many ways, but, to me, the best time in which to enjoy life is dining with friends.” – Me

My Beloved and I just held a lovely dinner party. We love to entertain, but there is also joy in the preparation: the planning of a dinner party; whom to invite; which days can all come; who doesn’t like or cannot eat what; choosing what nibblies for their arrival; what courses to offer; what wines to offer; what party favours to give them as they leave;  and yes, even joy in cleaning up afterwards with My Beloved.

The mixture of guests has to be planned with knowledge of each one’s personality. Consider the style of humour of each. One given to racy jokes cannot be mixed with another who is more conservative. If one is garrulous, will others be able to opine? Maybe one who becomes more and more verbose as more and more wine is consumed should not be invited. We didn’t have to disinvite anyone!

So, after changing the date and bringing it forward, all our chosen guests managed to be free on the same, but different Saturday from the one first chosen. How fortunate was that! We chose three couples, so we were eight in all, but My Beloved and I were the only ones who knew them all. No couple knew any of the other guests, yet it worked out as we had planned and hoped so very well. Everyone contributed to the evening’s conversations, which, while some of it may not have been sparkling, none  was jejune, yet nor was it esoteric and, to add to the entertainment value, there was much mirth.

My Beloved and I worked together on the menu, but she, and she alone rules her kitchen at such times, prepared the entire meal from nibblies to dessert; my sole contributions being mashing the potatoes and coming up with and preparing the party favours. Oh, and making of the wine. I suppose that counts a little toward the success. Although, with today’s safety consciousness, people do not drink as they used to when we were wild sixty years ago. I could make a really entertaining From time to time... on that subject.

One other small contribution I claim was to ensure that a roaring fire was going in the fireplace by the time the first couple arrived. If I say that one good lady hogged it warming her back to it for some minutes on arrival, despite the fact that the temperature was well above freezing, I say it only because I recognise a fellow hogger. I love to stand in front of a fire with my back to it – in fact, frequently, after getting up of a morning, I stand with my back to our en suite French windows letting the sun play warmth on me before getting into the shower. No, you don’t want even to imagine such a scene.

img_20161112_1809338Nibblies comprised an assortment of nuts, barbecued and others, a cheese ball and crackers, and peppery pâté on cucumber slices. Some drank white, some red wine, one chose a beer, and one chose not to drink any alcohol, just iced water from our well.. There was some ‘getting-to-know-you’ conversation and some surprise chuckles before we were called to the dinner table.

No nonsense about where to sit around our dinner table: you sit where you find your nameplate, having been carefully chosen by your host and hostess. And, hey! they all got along with no food fights. No throwing of the soup or the bowls. But what was the soup? Butternut squash and apple soup. Mmmm! Rather tasty.

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They’re not smiling as they wanted to get back to their main course – or was it their discourse?

The main course followed, consisting of pork tenderloin with pear and cranberry sauce, carrots, peas and mashed potatoes. I must admit that in enjoying the food and conversation so much, I almost let the fire go out. Ah, but the Boy Scout in me returned in time to save the fire.

Nobody seemed to complain about the dessert, a luscious dark chocolate mousse. Oh, I have a sister-in-law who cannot stand chocolate, but she is the only person in the whole world I know who does not like chocolate. Her loss!

Coffees and teas and more water all round before one couple had to leave. Usually, that is the sign for others to leave, but not that evening. We sat around discussing the planet’s problems, from ecological to political to social. I cannot be sure we solved any of them, but we had a good time and laughs trying to do so.

Eventually, all good things must come to an end and, after giving the departing guests their individual favours of spicy hermit bars in neat little party bags, My Beloved and I cleared the table, save for some cups which would not fit into the dishwasher, and packed the mashed potatoes and tenderloin left overs away, set the dishwasher going and sat down with a glass of wine each. And, I let the fire dwindle to a nice glow.

Our friends are all so nice; we love them all. They are such gracious and loving people. As I said at the beginning of this essay, the best way to enjoy life is dining with friends. We thank God for them.

Then, feeling very satisfied, we went to bed the next day – yes, after midnight.

I can tell you, I did not get up a few hours later and stand with my back to the sun, as it was a foggy morning, so you don’t have to imagine anything unappealing.

 

 

 

 

Remembrance Day – Why I am proud to be Canadian

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The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is reserved in 52 nations of the Commonwealth, mostly territories of the former British Empire, as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day.

And here in Canada, all Government offices, most businesses, all the large stores, virtually all enterprises except some restaurants and pharmacies are closed today. This is what makes me so proud to be Canadian, that much of the country shuts down to honour the Canadians who died in, and the veterans of, the Great War 1914-1918, Second World War 1939-1945, Korean War 1950-1953, Persian Gulf War 1990-1991, Afghanistan War 2001-2014 and the many UN Peacekeeping missions. And honour them we do.

Thousands turn out for services at the local cenotaph or legion and, in Ottawa, tens of thousands attended the National War Memorial service where dignitaries laid wreaths, followed by other organisations and, of course, the Silver Cross Mother. The Silver Cross Mother is chosen by the Canadian Legion from the ranks of grieving women who lost a child serving in the Canadian Forces.  This year she is Colleen Fitzpatrick of Prince George, BC. Her son was wounded badly in Afghanistan when stepping on a roadside IED. He died back home in Edmonton, Alberta, two weeks later.

Commentators are saying this year that, as they have been watching the Ottawa ceremony over the past two decades, the interest and crowds are getting larger and younger, with many of the millennials attending. If this is so, then Canada has much of which to be proud.

Were I a cynic, I would say that all the businesses shut down just to make a long weekend: that is false, however, for in other years when Remembrance Day does not fall on a Friday or Monday, the same stepping back from day-to-day business in order to revere and honour those who sacrificed themselves and the veterans who served their country is shown.

Which is why I am so proud to be a Canadian.

Why don’t I post more frequently?

I have ideas. I enjoy writing. I can write.
So, why don’t I write more frequently?

They say you must write about things you know. And that makes sense. So what do I know?

I know our business of Risk Management Consulting – but no ordinary, sensible lay person wants to read about that.
I know the English language.
I know German, French and some Spanish. And a smattering of Latin.
I know the foods My Beloved and I cook or eat dining out.
I know quite a lot about music, particularly classical and church.
There may be one or two other subjects about which I have good knowledge, but I can’t think of one of them at the moment.

I could write post after post on one or other of those subjects, so why don’t I?

Because, when I sit down at the computer, I get involved in something else, such as, first and foremost, reading, answering, even deleting some without reading, many of the fifty or so emails I receive every day. After all that energy has been expended, I need a coffee, so I get up and switch on the Keurig, only to find it needs more water. So, after filling it, waiting for it to get hot enough, selecting which sort of coffee I want, only then do I return to the computer and search for some food recipe I have seen on a food TV channel. Or maybe look at the weather forecast. Or look up on Google maps a town I had heard about on the news.

By then, I realise it’s time for lunch. And after lunch, I must take my nap. My Beloved likes to watch one of the food channels, which she does. But, oh no, when I awake from my nap, she is into her nap and I dare not push the footrest on the La-Z-Boy down for fear of waking her. Perfect husband I am.

It is now mid-afternoon and we have to think about either getting dinner (usually) or getting ready to go out to dinner. But, first, I must check to see if there are any more emails to read, answer or delete. And, of course, there are, so that takes more time.

By this time, somewhere in the world, and certainly in our part, the sun has gone over the yardarm, so I pour our drinks. White for her; red for me. Unless it’s a hot summer day, when it is likely a Spritzer for her; a Gin and Tonic for me.

And now it depends on who is cooking. Usually, My Beloved cooks; if we are barbecuing, it is I who cooks. Sometimes we sous chef for one another, but not generally. We like to do our own thing. But the other’s duties are to set the table and clear the dishes away after the meal. Seems to work in our house.

After dinner, we find we return to our respective La-Z-Boys to watch – or take another nap – some idiotic program on TV. What else has there been to watch over the past two years except the well-documented truly idiotic exhibition of how Americans elect their President? Well, recently, that has been (almost) usurped by the equally American sport of baseball and whether a team which hasn’t won the World Series since 1908 and a team which hasn’t won the World Series since 1948, is going to win. The one which hadn’t won since 1908 won. And everyone, it seems, was happy. Even the other team.

But, did I say World Series? The only place baseball is played is in America with some fringe players in Japan. Oh, some say that is the world. Certainly one of the candidates for Presidential election this year believes so.

Soon it becomes ten o’clock. We watch the CBC National, or part of it, and then retire to bed.

That’s why I don’t post more frequently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like dining……more gourmet than gourmand

I like dining in. I like dining out. I like dining.

The word I have used above is “dining”. It doesn’t say food; it doesn’t say snacking. While I like food, I am not much of a snacker and my food has to be delivered in relatively civilised and refined places. I am not one who will buy a hamburger at a food truck and eat it standing on the street. I am one who might buy a hamburger in a well-known chain of restaurants and sit down and eat it there. My preference, however, is to enter a restaurant with or without a reservation and be seated by the maitre d’ in order that I can then “dine” well.

Or, I do not have to ‘dine’ in a restaurant, as it could equally be in a home, could be ours, could be someone else’s, and dine on well-prepared food. Food that has been chosen by someone and prepared by someone for the relaxation and refreshment of others.

I like to think of myself as a gourmet rather than a gourmand. Perhaps a number of decades ago I might not have minded the moniker of gourmand, but not in recent decades. The difference is that I no longer eat when I am full, see food and continue to eat, as is the habit of a gourmand. Gourmet, epicure, gastronome, bon vivant might more appropriately be applied to me, although bon vivant sometimes includes one who enjoys parties. That’s not really me, although once I am there at a party, I seem to enjoy myself. It’s the getting there that is ofttimes a challenge.

Let me provide an example of fine dining I recently enjoyed very much.

It has been a few years since we last dined at Gio, in Halifax, so we thought it was about time that we returned there. A daughter and her 11-year old son were staying with us, My Beloved and I were all going to the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo and Gio, being a short walk from the BNS Centre, was a good choice.

IMG_20150702_170201Christy, who took our phoned reservation, was at the reception desk when we arrived. She very cheerfully greeted us and proved to be a delight throughout the entire two hours of dining. She was very knowledgeable about the menu items and the wines.

After preliminary drinks of Kir Royale for our daughter, Pinot Grigio for My Beloved, a sort of Virgin Singapore Sling concocted by the barman for our grandson and a bottle of 2012 Cotes du Roussillon VillagesIMG_20150702_170219_hdr – a Grenache, Syrah, Carignan blend – by Carmel & Joseph for me, although I, of course, shared it with the ladies after they finished their preliminary drinks, we looked around. Everything impressed. The ambiance was attractive and totally different from that which we remembered several years ago. And now splendid! Bright, cheerful and well-spaced tables, although we were seated at a booth at a large window. And beautiful lights.

IMG_20150702_173412_hdrWhile we were waiting for the drinks, Christy brought us an amuse bouche, cucumber tomato gazpacho with arugula pesto in IMG_20150702_174747_hdra bowl.

As appetisers, our daughter chose the poutine with polenta fries. She found the poutine gravy and cheese tasty, but the polenta fries disappointed: nice and crisp on the outside, but as soon as they were touched by fork or mouth, they crumbled under the crust. She assigned an A for trying, but a C for result. We all sampled the fries and agreed with her summation.

IMG_20150702_174718_hdrOur grandson and My Beloved chose the seafood chowder and declared it was full of different seafood, including several mussels. And was deliciously creamy. It was definitely not a stand-up-your-spoon-in-it sort of chowder.IMG_20150702_174656_hdr

I elected to sample the catfish tostada, which was pan-fried catfish on toast with refried beans, guacamole, jalapeno crema, and a grilled lime on the side. I thought I had made the best choice, but that’s only my opinion.

15 - 16Christy was at all times attentive to our needs and brought us some focaccia bread for dipping with some olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. The bread was excellent and obviously homemade.15 - 24 (1)

Following the plates being cleared, Christy appeared with yet more complimentary items, three for the adults and one for our grandson. They comprised a very tasty little shotglass of sorbet to clear the palate and the grandson downed his as if it were a shot!

15 - 26The menu is very extensive, the Chef being innovative and adventurous, and it had taken us all a little while to decide on our mains courses. However, our daughter chose the Beef, seared tenderloin  and tempura cheek, with pancetta-stuffed roesti potatoes, Brussel sprouts, and sauce chasseur. Although it was all very tasty, she said she just couldn’t get enough of the potatoes.The tenderloin was tender, and just cooked and rare – just as requested! Our daughter prefers her Brussels sautéed: however, these were steamed.

Our grandson and I both ordered the Elk, which came having just been seared, leaving it IMG_20150702_181907_hdrtrue blue on the inside and double-wrapped on the outside with bacon. It was exquisitely tender, tasty and not at all gamy. The accompaniments were beet and Beemster (a cheese) pierogi, lemon and caraway crème fraiche, cabbage, elk sausage (small pieces in addition to the tenderloin), oyster mushrooms and sauce soubise (a sort of onion sauce based on Bechemel). Everrything made my mouth water for more.

15 - 30My Beloved chose another appetiser as her main, the Wild Boar, cornmeal crusted tenderloin, with corn relish, blue cheese egg yolk and apple walnut butter. She declared it to be very good.

Christy again appeared with some complimentary extras comprising a pineapple-orange soda soufflé for each of us. Wonderful server and wonderful service.15 - 31

IMG_20150702_185146_hdrThe grandson had to have some dessert, of course, and selected an ice cream concoction with wafers and seven or eight miniatures of the soufflé.

It was a superb dinner, made all the better an experience, as our daughter treated us to this feast fit for a Gourmet.

Air conditioning is the cause of divorces

In most homes in Nova Scotia,there is no air conditioning. After all, how many days in the year does it get above freezing?

But they have heaters, maybe forced air, which could be fueled by oil, gas or electricity. Or, maybe the home may be heated by electric baseboard heaters.. And a few unfortunate homes may have only wood fired stoves.

But few indeed would have air conditioning. Anyway hot air rises and cold air sinks, so our floor vents and baseboard heaters would have to work mighty hard to get cold air up to the ceiling. Oh, if you are rich enough, you would have air conditioning, but only for status. No real Nova Scotian would admit to wanting air conditioning for the two days in the year when the temperature rises above “pleasantly bearable”.

But things are different in Palm Springs, California, where we spend our winters to get away from the ceaseless cold and damp. Yes, here the outlet for the air conditioning is in the ceiling for the reasons I said above: cold air sinks.

But My Beloved does not like air conditioning, so we wrestle at night in the bed – no, we are not experimenting 50 Shades of – but what to do with the duvet. I throw it off: she pulls it back. We get down to some nights when even she throws the duvet off, but then we are left with a sheet and a blanket. I throw the blanket off: she pulls it up around her neck. I throw the sheet off: she complains I’ve left her shoulder out in the cold. Those are the nights when My Beloved wants the doors to the patio to be open, leaving just the screen doors closed to stop those marauding insects and creepy crawlies and to let in the desert night air. Which, I admit, is frequently cool.

But for the past February and March, the day temperature has been high twenties and now in the upper thirties – Celsius. Or, in other terms, approaching triple digit, as the meteorologists here say, Fs. And that’s when the desert nights stay much warmer, I would love to have the air con on, but…. Yes, you know, don’t you? If we have the air con on, then the doors must be closed and My Beloved ends up with a stuffed up nose: if we leave the air con off, then I am throwing the remaining sheet off.

If we were not so compatible and so much in love, we would be looking for a divorce lawyer. I would venture to say that the air con manufacturers are in the marriage business selling recycled wedding gowns. Some university should award a huge grant for some professor to write a paper and a study on the marital stress caused by air conditioning in the USA and resulting divorce rate. Isn’t that what many of these university studies are? Professors getting grants to study common sense issues and proving something the communi hominum. or we average Joes, believed all along. We wouldn’t need that study in Nova Scotia for aforementioned reasons that nobody has air conditioning.

Quod erat demonstratum, the divorce rate in Nova Scotia is mightily lower than that in the USA and air con is the reason for the higher divorce rate in the USA..

It’s almost a year now, but love of her stays in my heart

How we grow attached to our cars! They are inanimate objects made up of thousands of pieces of metal and plastic or, if you are lucky, wood, too. Yet they are sexy. We caress the steering wheel, we stroke the hood, we don’t let anyone smoke in them and, yes, we even talk to them, gently, sometimes angrily. And we love them.

Thousands of pieces of metal and plastic were brought together in a Chrysler plant some time in 1997 and  the sum of all those pieces was delivered to a dealer near our home.

I fell in love with her one summer day.

There she was, in all her silvery glory in the dealer’s yard, her lovely eyes appealing to me. Yes, we knew at once that we were meant for each other. She had a sliding roof and all sorts of electronics. I weIMG_20140513_132252ll remember the salesman taking My Beloved and me out to her and pressing the key to unlock her. “Oh,” he said, “there must be something wrong with the alarm, for it should have sounded when I pressed the key.” “Not at all, ” responded My Beloved, “He’s already found out how to silence that while you were putting the papers together.” If there’s one thing I cannot stand with alarms, it is that they make rude noises when you approach or leave the car doors. I consider such noises impolite and a lady, such as she I had just purchased, should never have to utter such rude sounds.

This 1997 Chrysler LHS (then Chrysler’s top of the line auto) had no name and we could not come up with one which seemed to suit her. Until, a few days later, we drove across the continent from Nova Scotia, to pick up My Beloved’s sister and husband at Seattle airport and immediately on to Victoria, British Columbia, for our son’s wedding. We had crossed into Maine, passed through Hartford, Connecticut, the Adirondacks, by-passed Chicago, and entered Montana, all at sort of around the legal speed limits. However, Montana had no speed limits, so….

……yes, you guessed it. I had to discover what this LHS would do. So, foot pressing on the accelerator, she moved up quickly from a sedate 130kph, through the 150s, then through the 160s and 170s to 180. She was flying along, so she and we agreed on the name Fly.

But, again, as she got to 180 kliks,….

…..Oh no! The engine cut back and she slacked off to 170kph. I depressed the accelerator again. And again, like the beautiful woman she was, clockwise went the needle until, once again it registered 180kph. Oh, no! The engine cut back and I realised she had a governor preventing her from showing me the full extent of what the lovely 4.2 litre heart under her hood could do.

Despite having a governor, Fly was fast enough for us generally. She did Trojan work for us and we enjoyed the wondrous ability she had of traversing the continent seamlessly from Nova Scotia to Palm Springs, California, with a fully loaded trunk and back seat, a round trip of 17,000 kliks, including detours to visit family in Atlanta or Denver or Vacaville, six times, including one memorable trip along the real Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Fly flew other long trips to Montreal and often to the neighbouring province of Prince Edward Island and served us magnificently, whether we were travelling near to or far from home.

But, there always comes the day when, as she grew older, much like us humans, she had aches and pains, some of which cost a lot of money in the auto hospital. And there is no national health program for distraught cars, so we had to pay for the fixing. Then came the day, the very sad day when it was just not worth the money to fix Fly, who seemed to have died overnight, peacefully in her sleep. We phoned the car funeral home; the hearse came, loaded her beautiful silver body on to the back of it and…..

……we teared up as we saw her depart down the driveway, through the trees, and off to car heaven.

Our sadness is ameliorated by knowing that all her parts are donatable to other cars and will live on.

RIP Fly – 1997-2014

What do you say in an elevator?

I had a friend, Barry, who would stand, while waiting for an elevator, as close to the door as possible without touching it. When the doors opened, the individuals would be greeted by this face staring at them and saying “Good morning, all!”

Of course, he didn’t always get a laugh or a reciprocal greeting, but he never got punched in the face.

So what do you say when riding in an elevator? Do you say , “Good morning,” or “What a great day it is,” or do you just turn around and stare at the floor numbers as you ride up or down? The point is, we should all be taught from childhood that small talk is acceptable, useful, courteous and, often, fun. Yesterday, I was in the Dollar store buying a box of Beef broth My Beloved needed for a sweet potato salad. I chose the line in which just a couple of young woman were buying a stick each of chewing gum. So, I should be out quickly. However, it developed that they were in the line-up really to buy three gold balloons and three other balloons, all of which had to have the helium injected by the cashier. Oh, my! This is going to take a while, I thought. I turned around and faced the man, a Spanish American, and said to him, “I always seem to choose the slowest line!” He responded by saying he did, too. And we started a little conversation. Then a voice from the next cash desk said, “I can take the next person.” As a result of that little friendship we had struck up, the gentleman backed up out of our line, smiled at me, and asked me to go over to the new line, holding back others behind him, before he himself followed me.

It was gracious of the man. But would it have been the same reaction had I not introduced some small talk? I think it may well have been different.

Back to the elevator, so many people are afraid to offer even the smallest bit of small talk. Or, they might feel embarrassed; or they could be in a bad mood. What is small talk? A dictionary definition misses the point, I believe, when it defines it as “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.” [Emphasis added]  In my opinion, while it is useful on social occasions, it is more necessary in day to day contact with people whom we do not know or those whom we may know from work, but who are not our friends. More than one article has been written about the necessity of small talk in business, particularly in two situations: in interviews for a job; and in negotiations. The person who is able to open up with commenting on a current news event, the traffic hassle getting here, how the Leafs actually won a game, or even the traditional standby, the weather, is going to be more interesting for the interviewer or other party in a negotiation. The interviewer can get a better feel for the person inside the body sitting in front of him or her. The atmosphere will more likely become more friendly and, in the case of a negotiation, who doesn’t prefer to do business with a person you like, a friend, rather than someone other.

Small talk is not a waste of time: it establishes a good first impression and imbues a person with confidence. When you talk about movies, travel or the concert you attended last night, it shows you are a friendly person, one who is easy to talk to or converse with.

So, next time you negotiate a ten million dollar deal, make sure you look the person right in the eye (eye-contact is important) and say you murdered your grandmother last night. It is reported that President Franklin Roosevelt occasionally greeted a guest by saying that and the response was usually a polite nod of the head, until one person actually replied, “She probably had it coming to her!”

So, next time you are in an elevator, look around at all other passengers, speak up and say a big “Hello and good morning!”