Saturday, August 8, 2009

eat my words

Everything I love about baking are the same things I love about writing ads.

With food, my audience takes what I've made into their body, and it becomes part of them. The molecules dissolve and enter the bloodstream. The integrate themselves with the body. My work is consumed.

Writing ads, the reader takes my thoughts into their minds. The concepts weave themselves into the mental structure of the reader. It can become an integral part of how they view things. My thoughts are consumed.

Both kinds of work can take a few mere moments to prepare, or can be crafted over a period of time. I need to spend time thinking of who will be consuming my product. What are their likes and dislikes? What are the best things I can put into it.
Baking is like chemistry. You can't just double your recipe in all cases. Your results will vary. You need to have an iunderstanding of the finer principles, but so much also relies on technique, which comes with hours of practise.

The first class for Patissier I was puff pastry. And involved in it was a layer of dough, a block of butter, and the fleshy side of your hand. We needed to learn how to cut the butter into the dough, chopping the butter down with the side of our hands into an even layer inseparable from our dough. It was intimidating. It was ridiculous, as the first time any of us tried it, aside from the instructor, huge knobs of butter would come off, leaving gigantic lumps that would tear the dough or even slip and fly off. It became clear that day that simply having a recipe in front of oneself is not enough. One must generate the muscle memory. And the only way to do that is through physical repetition.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Nice pants

Buy one half, get the other half FREE!

I came to the horrific realization the other day that I’m one of those people who give more detail than you ever wanted to know.

More specifically, when it comes to clothes compliments or commentary, I’ll give you a full update on the item in question.

For example, tell me I have a nice shirt. Go on. Tell me. My response will likely be "Oh this? I got it for $10 at Old Navy."

My pants? "I picked them up in Sault Ste. Marie when I went to a friend’s wedding and realized I didn’t bring any casual clothes."

Why I feel compelled to tell people this is beyond me. I suppose part of me wishes to communicate my assets, such as savvy shopping, or my ability to cope in a strange town when a crisis arises.

For some reason, I can tell you the purchase price of almost every piece of my wardrobe. I can’t remember names for the life of me, but purchase price of a black t-shirt from Old Navy, versus the Purchase price of a black T-shirt for the Bay? ($11.50 v. $12.50 respectively).

And given the chance, I’m likely to drag my purchasing history into conversation. I don’t know why. It’s not like you can go pick up a pair of the same pants that "I bought on a whim… and they were only $10!" And it’s not like I want you to.

You don’t care where I bought something. You don’t care how much it cost. And you likely don’t care how long I spent shopping around for "Just the right belt… and a month later I finally found this one!"

But it just tumbles out of my mouth the moment someone says "Nice belt."

I suppose the appropriate response would be "Thanks." Sounds a bit short to me. Like I’m gloating over the fact that I have a nice belt… maybe nicer than any belt you may have.

My other subconscious tactic is to deride the article in question. "Oh this? My mom picked it up at the Sally-Ann for me. I’ve had it forever!" Or even worse…"The pockets wore out but see… I got my sewing machine out and mended up the pockets."

I imagine you can tell a lot about a person my how they react to a compliment on their clothes.

Nice pants.

Thanks. I got them at for 50% off. — I’m thrifty.

Oh these? I’ve had them forever. – Why haven’t you noticed before? Or,

Oh these? I got them at this exclusive sale my friend told me about — I’m a savvy shopper and have the connections to get great deals.

Oh these? I got them for $12 at the Mendocino clearance. The place was packed! — Aren’t I lucky?

Thank you. I like them too. — Of course they’re nice! Thank you for reaffirming my good taste, which was obvious to all.

Thanks. I like yours too! — I don’t want you to think I’m lording my good fashion over you. I want you to like me.

Mind you, I think I would be put off by someone who respond with a simple "thank you" and just let it hang I the air. Unless it’s the bride on her wedding day, simply accepting a compliment and letting it sit there seems completely self aggrandizing to me.

Perhaps my focus on adding more information about the item is to deflect some of the complement without being self-effacing. Or at east not directly. More often than not, my response can be translated to "Aren’t I thrifty? Aren’t I Lucky? Aren’t I resourceful? Aren’t I creative?"

in praise of adequacy

meh, not my best work

“My goal today is to exceed your expectations.”

It seems that no one who monitors customer service is happy with simple adequacy these days. The drive in the service industry is to exceed expectations as a course of business. Good enough just isn’t good enough anymore.

The problem with this is we are in the equivalent of a service arms race. If you are not completely satisfied with the service you received today, talk to us. We are pushing service people to go the extra mile when simply meeting the original request would be enough.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we tried to exceed expectations every time, in every situation?

Imagine trying to execute this is your own home. Dinner would need to be a three-course meal every day, with luscious appetizers, entrée and dessert. The portions would need to be particularly fulsome, yet not overwhelming. And the menu would need to change to avoid the traditional pork-chop night.

But still, like a stay at a 5 star all-inclusive resort, after some time the novelty and selection would wear. There’s a reason so many celebrities like a fast-food burger.

Hours would be spent in preparation of a meal that was nutritionally balanced, wholesome and delicious. The effort that would go into exceeding these expectations would be taxing. There is a reason not every meal is a thanksgiving groaning board. And the joys of macaroni and cheese may never be revisited.

Macaroni and cheese can be a truly beautiful thing. Predictability and routine can be comfort for folks. Exceeding expectations can put customers outside of their comfort zone.

How can we exceed expectations when the simple ask is for a cheeseburger happy meal? I don’t need you to ask me if I need anything else. I don’t want you to offer me an apple pie. I want you to simply fulfill my request efficiently, politely and let me get on with my day.

In fact, that added touch that goes into trying to exceed my expectations is just ticking me off. I don’t want you to call me up two weeks after my oil change and ask if I was happy with the service. I especially don’t want it if I’ve been coming to you folks for every oil change I’ve needed for the past 4 years. I’m happy. I’m still coming to you, aren’t I? I don’t need you to give me a reminder call, because it always comes way too late.

Sure, every person in a relationship may have felt that twinge of insecurity that not all is right with the relationship. But this is business. If you’re so damn interested in learning if I’m happy, check my buying behaviour.

The pressure put on service people to “exceed expectations” gives them added stress, and in turn, can make them less effective in serving my simple needs for adequacy. I don’t like doing business with puppets. People or machines, yes, but not puppets.

And another thing – adequacy doesn’t mean efficiency. When I go to a fast food joint and place an order, I have something in mind, and my own thoughts on efficiency. Sure, ask questions to clarify, but don’t cut me off in an effort to get me to order your way. I don’t care if you call it a venti – I call it a medium coffee. At the food court, I know you need to know if the item is “for here or to go” so I specify right up front if the order is for here or to go. “I’d like, to go, white rice with beef and broccoli.”

If I’m ordering a pizza from a chain, and you have my order history on file, sure, let me know if I always order thin crust, but forgot to specify it this time. But don’t ask me if it’s pick up or delivery if I always have it delivery. Especially if I said “I’d like to place an order for delivery,” when I first called.

Things like this – this isn’t exceeding expectations. This is meeting my expectations. Maybe I have a high expectations, but it seems to me being treated like a human being shouldn’t be “exceeding.”

black russian roulette

We now join this nic fit in progress.

God I miss smoking.

A little shy of 6 years ago I parted ways with the devil weed. We had a good ten years together. I hated it. I loved it. I miss it. Immeasurably.

She and I parted ways just over ten years ago. Our lives crossed paths several times as I grew up. I have recollections of my mother smoking like a chimney when I was very young. I would curl up behind my mom's legs and watch TV as she would puff away and do crossword puzzles. I couldn't stand when the smoke would sting my eyes, The ashtray smelled awful. I have an especially vivid memory of a babysitter offering me a cigarette when I was young, and telling her no. I did not wish to try smoking.

Then in high school came my first kiss. The boy was a smoker and I recall thinking "Wow the first boy I kissed smokes. Didn't expect that."

Then time passed and I graduated. Went to university. Childhood friends smoked, and at parties I wished to try it, but they refused to share.

I met a man in university. Or someone on the verge of being a man anyway. I recall he smoked a brand that I associated with my grandmother. Not for me. I bummed a couple of smokes from him, and the effect was intoxicating. He and his friends were reluctant to share smokes, as we were all in the grips of student poverty, and the ability to shell out for a pack was passing.

Then finally I bought my first pack of smokes. A pack of Dunhills. I bought them before a party I was hosting at my parents' cottage. The thick blue smoke filled my lungs, yet somehow through the powers of youth I could ingest amazing amounts of alcohol and smoke great volumes of cigarettes and skirt that delicate edge of sensory overload and nausea.

The boy of my affections faded away to be replaced by another. And my brand of cigarettes did the same. I switched brands and switched beaus. I toyed with the idea of quitting smoking. I was still in the lean years of student poverty where I could not afford my own bed, yet somehow scraped together the money for a daily moccaccino and a pack of smokes every few days. Then every couple of days. Then, well. At this point I should buy them by the carton. They're cheaper that way./

There's a few milestones for a smoker. The first cigarette. Buying the first pack. The buying the first carton. So I bought them by the carton load. After all. One needs to be fiscally responsible. Then, I tried to slow down. Another smoker's dilemma. The decision to try to quit.

I tried several times. Beaus came and went. Jobs came and went. The ability to say I'm going out for a smoke made it possible to slice off 15 minute segments of my day for a walk away from my desk. Without excuse. Without justification. The "I'm going for a smoke" was rationale enough.

This carried me through many late nights at the university paper. It carried me through tedious days at the sign company. It provided bonding moments for housemates who spoke very little English, yet smoked. We had that commonality enough. So we would venture out on the balcony, and the sum of his discussion was "money for this, money for that." A new immigrant trying to earn enough money to bring his family over, I could understand the demands of money. I was a recent university grad with a $10- an hour job in a field where I had technical skills but very little talent.

Later I would go back to school. College. The cigarettes allowed me to bond with classmates. Make new friends. Meet new people. Make an excuse to spend time with another object of my affections. Again I found (on limited funds) a way to pay for my habit. A few half-hearted tries at quitting drifted off into oblivion. I was warned of the evils of having a portfolio case that smelled of cigarette smoke. And while I had no safe haven to store the sum total of what would convince a person to hire me, I still smoked.

Finally, my first job. Then my second. I worked at Eaton's during its final days before its bankruptcy. All advertising was cancelled for the year, yet we needed to still show up to work every day or else no severance for us. You could still smoke in restaurants at that time. And the Eaton's restaurant was only one floor below, beckoning with simple pressed aluminum ashtrays and coffee that sometimes held promise of freshness.

Jobs went. Time passed, employment changed. All through it I somehow found the way to buy my precious cancer sticks. That's what you start calling them when you feel you've surrendered to them. Why fight it. Yes I'm killing myself slowly. Why would I want to deny it. This silly little stick of leaves and paper and filter is the only thing that keeps me from wanting to end it all. It gets me out of bed in the morning. And it puts me to sleep at night.

God I miss smoking. Did I mention that?

My new object of my affections was a smoker too. Not my brand. As it should be. We don't wear the same underwear either. We shared a love with one another. Then shared an apartment . Then moved into a house. Our house was to be a smoking house. After all, we paid for it with our own money, so why should we need to smoke outside. So unfair. So uncivilized.

Then life changed. I lost my job. I had problems with breathing. Perhaps there was something in this new house that set off new unknown allergies.

I went for a chest x-ray.

They asked if I smoked.

I said yes. And I felt the weight of my decisions on the cold plate in front of me,

I would try again to quit smoking. And so I bought a book.

This was going to be it. I was unemployed and now being supported by someone I was unrelated to (aside from our common relations in our shared bed). We were already short on cash, and then I lost my job.

And I kept applying to jobs. With no avail.

So I decided I'd do it.

For some reason the investment in the book seemed like a greater investment than the one I was making weekly in smokes. After all. Cigarettes were a necessity. How could we get by without them?

If memory serves, the joint account covered the smokes. I covered the cost of the books.

I followed the instructions of the book to a tee. I switched brands. I switched my smoking frequency. I switched my rhythm. And I had gaps in my smoking.

Then I bought another book on quitting. It fascinated me as well.

I kept following the initial plan. No smoking within a certain period of eating. Of drinking. And then, as I neared the end o the second book, but entered the third week of my quitting smoking, I discovered that, for the last two weeks, I could have had a coffee with my cigarettes.

I had denied myself something I so craved. And I placed blame squarely on the poor instructions in the book. I decided to give up giving up.

I finished the other shorter book and had my last cigarette. I sat in my great grandfather's chair, in the parlour of our home, and had that last smoke.

It was, as old Billy Shakespere would say, such sweet sorrow.

I put the balance of the pack for cigarettes in the freezer just in case.

A few weeks later, after not making the shortlist a job I really wanted, I was wallowing in self pity and thought of the pack in the freezer. I took the pack out of the freezer. I ran it under water. I rung it out. And I put it in the garbage.

My career was pretty much in the toilet. If I couldn't get this two-bit place to hire me so be it, but was dammed if I was going to pick up smoking again.

And that was it.

Until recently.

I'm back pursuing the career. And I miss it. It's been 6 years, and I really want a cigarette again.

I watch Mad Men and they're all smoking.

I play music from my college days and would kill for a cigarette.

Tonight, I poured myself a black Russian. I just took the last sips. And I would love to have a cigarette.

There is nothing I want more, than my beau, than any former crush, than any Hollywood flash in the pan, than, dare I say it, any award. There is nothing I would like more than to go to my beau's bedside table, grab a smoke, bring it to my lips and light it.

It has been 6 long years. It was so hard to quit.

And I really want it so badly tonight.

But dammit. I've worked too hard for this.

I've saved too much money to fall into this trap. If my quit meter is to be believed, I've saved over $15000. And that's in 2003 prices.

God only knows where all the money went. But I know I didn't spend it on killing myself.

Tonight's Black Russian was definitely the trigger.

Another night it was listening to the Crash test Dummies

The triggers are still there. They lurk under rocks, around corners, in little ditches and behind chairs I wouldn't expect.

I just spent 4 pages of continuous typing about smoking. That's how bad I want one right now. I bet in this time I could have smoked a whole cigarette. I could be lighting my second.

But I will be DAMNED if I'm going to let some stupid craving, be it for love, for fame for recognition, or just for nicotine... I will be damned is I will let this be the end of me.

a cost-benefit analysis of sleepless nights given the current fiscal climate

i owe myself some credit.

I read recently that one of the biggest fears today is the fear that we will not be able to maintain the same standard of living as we have in the past. The fear of a global depression.

This, to the surprise of many, need not be the end of the world. The loss of money is not the loss of life. If you’re an investor who comes to realize you’ve lost your family’s wealth, don’t go and off yourself. It won’t get the money back. And you’ve likely suffered great changes in standard of living and survived quite nicely.

There once was a time in most people’s lives where they need not earn a penny to support themselves. All financial needs were attended to. And then the cold reality of life came to bear: leaving home, leaving school, and getting a job. Not necessarily in that order.

This change is embraced by many, because they see independence from family as a great thing. Sacrificing the comforts of home for a sense of self determination. In my case, my standard of living changed to smaller quarters, less free time, and greater stress. How was it for you?

Maintaining a standard of living indeed.

Standard of living is subjective. I cannot imagine willingly allowing my hard-won independence to be ripped from my grasp by 7lbs. 8oz. of screaming, writhing, defecating flesh.

I’m mystified as to how so many choose to sacrifice their current standard of living for a sense of immortality that comes with knowing your genetic material has been duplicated and is now off to make its way in the world. Yet millions of people do this. Arguably, procreation is what we were put on this earth to do. Most would assert that the addition of the bundle of joy has improved their quality of life by reframing it.

The birth of a child comes with a dramatic change in lifestyle, not only monetarily but in freedom of movement and sense of self direction.

It’s a choice to no longer live for oneself.

People make bad decisions every day. They choose convenience over wealth. They are blind to their own ability to change their actions and optimize their monetary efficiency.

Consider this: There is a white label bank machine one minute away – in the convenience store. Your bank machine is about 3 and a half minutes away. If you use the white label machine, you may spend as much as $2.50 go get your money out, plus a potential $1.50 charge from your own bank for withdrawing from another service provider. If you were willing to walk the extra 5 minute round trip, you could save $4 - the equivalent of $48/hr.

I’ve colleagues who surely earn less than $96,000/year, but I am sure they would not make the walk. Yet they will walk the same or greater distance for a cup of Starbucks coffee.

Yes, I have a fear that I won’t be able to maintain my current standard of living. I shudder to think of losing my job. But we have survived economic struggles in the past. When our income tumbled to half of our original income, we made it through. Really, during the time we made changes and tightened things up. If we had to sell our home, we still would have gotten the $ we put in back. Had we been paying our rent since we’ve moved into our house, we’d have spent $150,000 and had nothing to show for it. Losing our home would indeed suck. But we’d still be further ahead than we were in 2001. If we had to sell our things, they’re just things. We aren’t the sum total of our possessions.

I have no desire to move into a single room and eat tinned beans. But were it to happen, it would be survivable. I have done it before. It was not awful. It was life. In fact, since it’s in the realm of the known, it’s really nothing to fear.

Now winning several million dollars. That would be outside of the realm of my experience. Maybe that’s what we should all fear instead.

feelin' groovy

A month of a different elk.

Rut: Noun
1. a groove or furrow
2. a settled and monotonous routine that is hard to escape
3. a state or period of heightened sexual arousal and activity

It happens almost every year. What I affectionately refer to as Rutting Season.

In the Spring, my heart swells and aches in a fashion that I find hard to explain. The gnawing seems unbearable. Every fibre of my being feels alive and fully charged, wishing and aching for something that simply cannot be. Rationally I am astounded at my mental state, and often wonder "what the hell is this all about?" but emotionally there is no question... just inconsolable ungratifiable indefinable ache. Since I left high school, the object of my obsession varies, but there always seems to be something to fill the void.

I do think it began in high school, or perhaps in the last year of grade school, with the approaching end of every school year. It would mean two months I would not see the object of my obsession. Two long months where the high-school routine of anxiety and fear would be shelved, and the world of possibilities would open up.

Horrible horrible freedom. Freedom without the daily stimulus of the object of my obsession.

I knew that with every approaching summer, I was one summer closer to never seeing him again. How it could be? How it could happen that this one person with whom I was so enamoured would never share more than one ridiculous Grade 8 dance with me? How could this world ever really end and the door close on the possibility, no matter how infinitesimally slim?

I can remember the last time I saw him. I was attending university. He had stayed back for an extra year of high school, as he had realized in physics class that he wanted to study electronics technology.


Over the last two years of high school I'd gotten enough nerve to try to talk to him casually. I'd dialed down the open stalker level to 9 (from 472). And he seemed to be polite about conversation in the final year.

In my final year, I took physics with him. I took it only to be in the same class as him. I'd had a chance to see the books he needed, and then figured out what classes he was taking that I might take. I re-arranged my classes in my final year of high school so I would see him as much as possible.

It was in our physics class that we had a speaker, and he seemed to have the sudden revelation of what he wanted to do for a living. It would require him to spend another year at high school, and so he did.

I tried to latch onto this. I tried to rationalize that my leaving high school would not be the tragedy I thought it might be. I was "obviously" completely misguided in ever having such an attraction to him. Five and a half years of sleepless nights and pointless affection, aching for something I would never be able to have. How could I possibly moon for someone who could make such a clearly irresponsible choice... to stay at school another, a sixth, year?

He's a fool. He's a flake. He simply could not mean as much to me as every fibre in my being had led me to believe.

And I knew that it was impossible for me to rationally stay another year. I was sorely tempted, but I instead left for university. Just as I dated others as I carried this torch, I knew I had to get on with my life.


So it was the fall, and they were distributing the yearbooks back at the old high school. I decided to go back to get my yearbook and to possibly glimpse him one more time. Perhaps I would even ask him to sign my yearbook. Four years I'd asked him to, and four years he'd turned me down

I picked up my yearbook, and was walking down the hall when I saw him. I knew I needed to talk to him. This was it. This was the closest I would ever have to forever. I could not pass the opportunity up.

So I walked right up to him, virtually jumped in his path and said the only words that seemed appropriate.

"Hi. I've come back to haunt you."

It was then quickly followed by a lame question of did he know where a mutual acquaintance was, and a thanks, good to see you. And that was my goodbye to the safe, constant, reliable, and only once rivaled object of my affection during rutting season.

It took me another year to learn that the fun of rutting season is to revel in the ache. To wallow in the pain of emotions that are never to be requited. To fool oneself into thinking they may be requited is dangerous, for once rutting season ends, the desire often collapses, with disastrous results for all involved.

Rutting season is fleeting. It is like a dog chasing cars. The fun is in the wanting, not the having. And a shiny new jag to some poor whippet is completely useless.


it's not a mid life crisis... I'm just finally getting around to some things I meant to do

The big relevation I had from jumping out of a plane was that I am, indeed too hard on myself.

And yet, I would still assert: perhaps I am not too hard on myself — perhaps everyone else is too easy on themselves.

Many friends have said I'm too self-critical. I still don't know if I believe it though. I think it's truer that I'm just generally a pretty critical person. Harsh of everyone. Somehow I can maintain a balance of thinking the worst of people and the best of people simultaneously.

I realise I should delight in my parachuting accomplishment - jumping out of a plane on cue. However, I'm still critical of forgetting what I was supposed to do: arch, count.

Yes, I knew precisely how to address a minor malfunction ... indeed, a minor parachute malfunction at 3,500 feet and I kept my wits about me! I should be very proud. But had I arched I likely would not have had line twists.

And in case I'd forgotten, they talked me through it on the radio anyway.

As I fought the wind for position in the doorway, I had actually accepted "Yep... this is it. If I'm gonna die jumping out of a plane, so be it."

It wasn't to be death by parachute malfunction, and in some small way I'm a little surprised.


There's a lot of "shoulds" in my small-minded hypocritical little world. I should have accomplished more by now. Yet I also think I expected to be dead by now. Perhaps if I'd taken more risks I would be more accomplished, yet less breathing.

Caution has been my sherpa. Caution with my body, my money, my career. I'm pretty darn self-protective. It's served me adequately. I've stayed reasonably alive, but have surely sacrificed some highs and lows.

Without this cautious approach to life, I'm sure I would be disease-riddled, lame, destitute, and unemployed (or possibly self-employed in the sex trade).

However, there are trade offs.

Those I know who have lived life less cautiously may have been incarcerated, hospitalized, fired multiple times and penniless. But they have better travel pictures.


My hypercritical estimation of those who are less cautious, who aren't following the shoulds, who aren't flossing or buckling up or saving for retirement: they're making the world a worse place for all of us.

No, I don't floss regularly. And yes, I feel guilty because it makes a world a worse place. Because don't floss, I end up getting more cavities, so I miss work, cost the company benefits plan more... rates go up for everyone. I drive more to the dentist, resulting in more pollution. All because I wasn't willing to take a moment for oral hygene.

This kind of flagrant disregard for the rules is making everyone's life harder... including my own. It's causing heartache and pain for those of us who are cautious.

I'd love to grab everyone in the world and give them one big shake and say "What the hell are you thinking? Can't you signal your turns? Can't you wash out your containers for recycling?"

And I'm sure the world would like to give me a shake and say "It's not the end of the world if you press the wrong button in the elevator"