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The Green Party sign on the lawn

Ontario is in the midst of a provincial election, as evidenced by the lawn signs popping up around town. In our neighbourhood, the PCs were out first, and I’m surrounded by them. The NDP were next; they’re further up the street. Haven’t seen too many Liberal. Then on my way home yesterday, I’m like hey, there’s a Green Party sign.

Then: Wait, that’s on my lawn.

They actually shouldn’t have done that. I get why they thought they could—because at some point in the past year or so, I donated to that party. So few people donate to political parties, I can understand them thinking that, for sure, it must mean that I plan vote Green.

Except that I’m that rare weirdo who will donate to a party just to encourage them, secure in the knowledge that I will get 75% of my donation back at tax time. If donating meant that you could automatically plant signs in my lawn, in some cases, I would have had three or four different parties’ signs on my lawn. But still only one vote.

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Signs of the indecisive

The Greens didn’t ask me if it was OK for them to put a sign on my lawn. So I could by rights call them up and ask them to take it away. Or more simply, just take it out myself put it in my garage.

Having it out there feels like a lie, as though I’m saying I plan to vote for this party, and you should too. When really, the only thing I’m sure of in this election, is that because of Doug Ford, I will not be voting PC, and I wish that others would not, either. But as to whom I or anyone else should vote for instead…? It’s a tough one.

This is a sentiment difficult to express with any lawn sign.


Voting in an Ontario provincial election is very simple: Using a pencil, you put your x beside the name of one candidate from one party (or an independent), and you’re done.

But it’s a fairly complex set of factors you have to consider when deciding where to put that x.

Which party has the best leader?

It’s unfortunate that in our parliamentary voting system, where each party leader is just another elected MPP, that leaders have such focus and importance. But that’s the way it is.

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Provincial party leaders Doug Ford (PC), Kathleen Wynne (Liberal), Andrea Horwath (NDP), and Mike Schreiner (Green)

As I’ve said, I don’t think Doug Ford is qualified to be Premier. I don’t want to go on a big rant about it, so I’ll keep it to a little rant. His only political experience is a Toronto city councilor, where he was frequently absent, and always uninterested in learning the details of policy. Which is probably why the PCs are basically running without a platform. All evidence suggests he’d be a terrible Premier. (See: https://www.notdoug.com/)

“Vote for this guy, his worst ideas are so terrible the courts will save us from them and she’s just the worst” isn’t as novel a platform as it used to be and we’re already seeing how it plays out down south, but let’s give it another go up here. What could possibly go wrong?

Doug Ford’s politics of indulgence by Tabatha Southey

But who’s the best other option?

Would you rather vote for the incompetent incumbent, the profligate wildcard, or the fake conservative who refuses to show his work?

— Robyn Urback, being cynical

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not on the “I hate Kathleen Wynn” train. The woman is impressive. She’s smart and decent and qualified. Here I’m going to quote Christie Blatchford, a conservative I often disagree with:

…it’s why the decision facing Ontario voters on June 7 is so freaking difficult — or rather, she’s why.

Kathleen Wynne is so clearly heads and tails smarter, better informed and more capable than Doug Ford that it borders on the ridiculous.

Smarter, more capable Kathleen Wynne

But, the NDP’s Andrea Horwath is having a good campaign. Last election she came off as angry and aggressive, and it was rather off-putting. (I also thought the NDP platform then was dumb.) This time, she’s sounding much more positive and putting herself across in a reassuring way. These Paul Wells assessment is probably fair:

She has richly earned a reputation for being one of the least exciting politicians in the land. But there is something fascinating in her old-fashioned willingness to answer a question in detail.

Just how far can Andrea Horwath go?

The Green’s Mike Schreiner suffers from being excluded from a lot of debates, so I suspect the average Ontarian knows nothing about him. But I’m again that sort of weirdo who will make the effort, and he also comes off well. Here’s a report from a forum he was allowed to attend [and how much do you love that they also included the None of the Above party?]:

Perhaps neophyte fringe candidate Paul Taylor, representing the None Of The Above Party, summed up Thursday’s night’s all-candidates forum best.

Seating arrangements on stage at the Italian Canadian Club had the affable Taylor sitting to the right of Green Party candidate Mike Schreiner’s, meaning Taylor had to repeatedly address a question after Schreiner’s energetic, precise and crowd-pleasing responses.

“Oh shit. I should have sat down there,” said Taylor motioning further down the table.

Schreiner led the pack at the first local public all-candidates forum. He has been campaigning for months, he is by far the most experienced of the bunch and he is well versed on the issues and his party’s stances on them.

Schreiner shines at first all-candidates forum

If I lived in his Guelph riding, I’d have no doubt about my vote. Or the appropriateness of a Green Party lawn sign.

But I don’t live in Guelph.

Who’s the best local candidate?

Individual MPPs don’t matter as much as I think they should, but that is who we are actually voting for. And in this case, I have an answer to the question: NDP candidate Catherine Fife. She is the current MPP, running for re-election. And she has always been an impressive politician: articulate, well-informed, charismatic. If the NDP did manage to be part of some sort of government, she’d likely be in Cabinet.

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I did hear a debate between her and the local Liberal and PC candidates, and the other two sounded good as well. Just not necessarily better than Ms. Fife.

As for the Green candidate, I have yet to catch a debate that includes him, and I know nothing about him. (Except that he puts out lawn signs without asking.)

Who’s most likely to beat the PCs in my riding?

This is the strategic vote angle. If all I’m sure about is that I’d rather not have a PC government under Doug Ford, then I should vote for whoever is most likely to beat that party.

And in this riding, no doubt that means voting for Catherine Fife of the NDP. Despite this not being a traditionally NDP riding, she’s managed to win the last two elections with margins of 7% to 8%. One of those was a by-election, but the other case she managed to win despite it being a fairly disastrous election for the NDP as a whole. This time the NDP  is so far polling much better than last time, making her the horse to bet on with your anti-PC vote.

Who has the best platform?

Oh yeah, that. Which party’s policies do I most agree with?

According to the CBC vote compass poll that I took, that would be… The Green Party of Ontario.

This blog post is already running to novel lengths, so I’ll just touch on three policy areas where the Greens impress.

Deficits

Not always a bad thing for a government to run deficits, but Ontario is in a bit of a precarious financial situation and none of the major parties are being honest about what that implies.

First of all, they are starting with numbers that are likely bogus, according to the Auditor General (see: Bad books: How Ontario’s new hydro accounting could cost taxpayers billions). Nevertheless, the Liberals plan to forge ahead with a number of new drug, dental, childcare, and mental health programs, along with a commitment to high-speed rail which (lovely as it sounds), just isn’t economically viable (see: Kathleen Wynne’s pledge to spend billions on a bullet train makes zero sense).

The NDP would do similarly things, but differently. Like drug plans for everyone, instead of only those of a certain age, but excluding those who have employee coverage. And not committing to high-speed rail. To pay for their commitments, they would increase taxes on the wealthiest and larger corporations, but that wouldn’t make much of a dent in the deficit.

The PCs? Their “plan” involves spending more (in certain areas) and reducing government revenue (lowering various taxes, getting rid of cap and trade). Oh, and they wouldn’t lay anyone off. How will they pay for that? Wave their hands and say, “efficiencies”, apparently. They unsurprisingly haven’t released any costing for this impossible plan. People sort of assume they care about the deficit, but there’s no evidence of it.

The Greens also support spending in new areas, but they at least have some proposals for how to pay for it: congestion taxes, parking levies, tobacco tax increases. “Even with a better range of public services, our projected deficit will be almost one third of the deficit projected by the Financial Accountability Office for the 2018 Ontario Provincial Budget. No other party has accounted for these higher budget deficits.” Source: Green Party platform

Hydro

Ontario’s hydro system has been mismanaged (mostly under Ontario’s previous premier) and a lot of people (not me so much, but) are angry about their higher utility bills. The Liberals, as already noted, are doing some accounting hocus-pocus to put off some hydro bills til later, even though that’s going to end up costing way more in the end. The NDP plans to bring Hydro One back into public hands, which may be is a good idea, but unlikely to be as easy to accomplish as they claim. The PCs will just lower rates, somehow. I don’t know, and I don’t believe they plan to undo the hocus-pocus.

The Greens, meanwhile, have a really specific idea: “Ontario can save $1.1 billion per year by closing the Pickering Nuclear station on schedule in 2018. We can replace high cost nuclear power with low cost water power from Quebec.” Is there something wrong this plan? I don’t know; they’re the Green party, nobody bothers to analyze their plans. But it certainly sounds more sensible than anybody else’s.

Marijuana

Canadian Senate permitting, marijuana will become legal this summer. The Liberal plan is to sell it only through government stores, à la LCBO, pushing out the small producers who have, for years now, supplying the product for medical marijuana users. The NDP have rightly criticized the very small number of stores the Liberals plan to roll out, but haven’t proposed a different approach. Doug Ford has mumbled something about supporting the free market there, but as always, without any details.

Whereas the Green Party were hot off the presses with an alternative plan to regulate and license small businesses to sell cannabis, way back in September.

Can you read the signs?

Clearly, I would like some sort of ranked ballot to better catch these nuances (and only the Greens support that). But in the current one-vote world? Three weeks to decide…

 


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Visiting l’accent de l’Amérique

Our next destination after Prince Eward County was Québec City—currently branding itself as l’accent de l’Amérique, which is kind of clever. The 6-hour drive there seemed rather long, and a bit of a waste of another nice day, but we passed the time listening to the audiobook of Ready Player One, a fun, near-future sci-fi novel recently turned Stephen Spielberg movie. (The audiobook was read by Will Wheaton, which made one detail in the novel especially amusing.)

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Guess what was playing in Picton while we were there? Didn’t see it, though; didn’t want to spoil the book

We had booked a room at the fancy and historic Château Frontenac, which was having anniversary specials. So we had the door man, and concierge services, and a great, central location. The room was just one of their “basic” ones, but it was still a good size and comfortable.

Chateaux Frontnac lobby

Our modest little hotel

And the outside of it. It’s huge! You can get lost in its corridors.

We had wanted to have dinner at Toast, but—cue the jokes—Toast was closed due to fire. So we booked (or really, had the concierge book for us) at their sister restaurant, Simple Snack Sympathique, or SSS. We found it just as delightful as we remembered Toast being, with creative food combinations and lovely presentation. I had the Québec Exquis special, which was a prix fixe of three courses all incorporating maple syrup in some way. (Québec Exquis was a one-week period in which Québec restaurants featured three-course, prix-fixe menus built around items from québecois food producers .)

First up for me was snow crab, then duck (the maple sauce was amazing), then maple éclair. Jean went with the regular menu for foie gras, smoked pork, then fromage fermier (farmer cheese!) for dessert.

Tastes as good as it looks

We enjoyed a selection of wines from the Languedoc region with that—also part of the Québec Exquis special. (By the way, we had no idea before leaving that all these restaurant specials would be on.)

Jean took to getting up early for photos, while I had more leisurely mornings. Worked out for both of us.

How the world looks to morning people, apparently

Our first full day there, after a joint breakfast (not at the hotel), we walked down rue St-Jean, the shopping street outside the Old Town. This time we didn’t find too many treasures worth buying, though: just a bargain-priced collection of sheet music, for me.

We’d never been to Ile D’Orléans before—an island about a 30-minute drive from Québec—and had been planning to visit it this trip. But after driving around Prince Edward County, which is nearly an island, visiting various food-related destinations, we weren’t sure if we wanted to get back in the car and do the same here? On the map provided by the hotel, though, I noticed that there were bus tours we could take to the island. So we signed up for La route des saveurs, starting at 2:00, and running for 2.5 hours

Joining us on the tour—which started right at our hotel—was a friendly couple from Carolina, on an anniversary vacation, and two young women from South Korea, in Canada for what seemed like an absurdly short time for such a long trip. We found out that a popular South Korean show was filmed in Québec City, leading to an increased number of Korean tourists going there and looking for the “red door”. (CBC story: How a popular Korean soap opera is drawing Asian tourists to Quebec City.)

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Not the red door, but still a cool shot of Old Québec

Our guide was a lively young man with an enthusiasm for both Québec and the culinary products of Ile d’Orléans. Being early spring, with snow still in the fields, the island landscape wasn’t as lovely as it presumably becomes when plants are in bloom. So, we don’t have too many photos from this part. But, we did enjoy the tastings at each stop.

  1. Chocolaterie: Your typical artisanale chocolate shop, except that they also had an ice cream shop with chocolate-dipped cones. We enjoyed the chocolate maple sample, and bought another set of maple-based chocolates for later consumption, but resisted the ice cream, figuring that would give us a sugar overload too early in the tour.
  2. Maison Smith: A coffee shop where we sampled a maple latte. Normally I don’t care for sweetened coffees, but this one had a very light touch with the maple, and I quite enjoyed it. The owner gave an interesting overview of his business as well. We bought some ground coffee here, for planned use at our Ottawa accommodations.
  3. Sucrerie: Probably the most interesting stop, as the maple syrup was currently being gathered here and we got an overview of the whole process. We tasted various strengths of maple syrup and the maple jelly, which we bought a jar of.
  4. Cidrerie Bilodeau: Here they make dry and sweet apple ciders of various types, from dry sparkling to iced apple, any of which we were able to sample. We bought a cassis / apple blend that we figured could make interesting kir-like drinks. And also a jar of the most delicious apple butter I’ve ever had. Should have bought more. [There was no obligation to buy things at each stop. We just did.]
  5. Nougaterie: Run by an originally European couple who immigrated to Canada and established this business. They had nougat in an extraordinary range of flavors, all super-fresh as it was made on the premises. We restricted ourselves to purchasing a single salt caramel bar. Amazing-tasting caramel, though.
  6. Cassis Mona et Fille: Probably the most famous destination on the island. They make a range of products based on cassis (black currant), and gave us an overview of them all. In the summer, they also run a restaurant that is supposed to be quite good. All the drinks were lovely, but we especially blown away by the creme de cassis, which we bought (more kir!). We also got some cassis mustard (yes, it’s purple).

All that eating did not stop us from going out to eat later! We went back to an old favourite, Thai restaurant Apsara. We had one of the set menus that is a real bargain, even when we upgraded the included wine to be a Blanquette de Limoux. Each course was fresh and delicious. And the ladies got a lovely change purse as a gift at the end.

Assortment of Thai desserts—and note the cool teapot

The next morning we spent more time wandering in the Old Town, as we’d previously been rushing through it.

 The afternoon we spent at the Québec Art Gallery, which has only modern and contemporary works. Our favourites were the Inuit sculptures, which were just amazing. The building was formerly a prison, and we also had a look at the old cells. Not big!

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One of the exhibits at the Quebec Art Gallery. (Photo by me, hence the blurri-ness.)

Our last dinner in Quebec, on a somewhat rainy evening, was at Le St. Amour. We’ve always loved Le St. Amour. It’s in this gorgeous, high-ceiling roomed with a sunroof. And the food is always amazing. It didn’t disappoint this time, either.

We started off the evening trying to work in French—French menus, speaking French to the waiters (an ongoing amusement of the trip was Québecois complimenting Jean on how good his French was, for an Ontario. Well, I hope so.). But we detected a bit of an anglo accent from one of our waiters—bit unusual in these parts—and it turned out he was originally Australian! And still had that accent in English.

L’amuse bouche at Le St. Amour. Or as they call it in English, the amuse bouche. (Food just sounds better in French.)

So he was happy to English-it-up with us, and then we were hopelessly back in English-land with everyone, with even the native Québec waiters. Oh well!

This part will come as a shock to you all, but I had the Québec Exquis special, while Jean ordered off the regular menu! For me this meant a main course of escargot and Jerusalem artichokes, a main course of duck, and a chocolate mousse-themed dessert.

Dessert

Jean started with foie gras, then had a lamb leg and ground lamb ravioli, and concluded with a cheese plate. We shared a bottle of Languedoc red, a Grenache-Syrah blend (no Mourvedre). With dessert I had a red banyuls (“a little French love letter to chocolate”, is how this wine is described) while Jean was recommended a sherry, which he enjoyed.

Cheese for dessert

A great capper to a very enjoyable visit. Our next stop on the way home was Ottawa.


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Traveling between storms

This year in Ontario, the spring thaw was very much delayed: March and April were just persistently cold, and occasionally snowy. (Apparently, this was somehow due to melting in the Arctic, pushing the cold down to us.) It was capped off, April 14 weekend, with a terrible ice storm that made driving treacherous and caused power outages. (and wasn’t even that pretty). The only sensible thing to do was hunker down at home. Fortunately, we had no plans anyway, so that was pretty easy for us to do (and we luckily did not lose power).

April Ice Storm - under delivered

The ice storm produced more clear, deadly ice than the pretty white frosty (though also dangerous) kind

Then this past weekend, large swatches of southern Ontario had crazy high winds that knocked down trees, shingles, fences, road signs, and bus shelter frames. Again cue the power outages (including us this time, for about 2 and half hours), followed by (in many cases, including ours) Internet and cable outages.

So it was fortunate that our vacation occurred between there, during a week of pretty normal spring temperatures: pleasantly warm (even if a jacket was still required), with the occasional bit of rain (timed such that it didn’t really interfere with our activities).

Our first destination was Prince Edward County. Though just starting their tourist season, it was already pretty busy—it was challenging to find weekend accommodations. We ended up staying in the Picton area, instead of the usual Bloomfield, due to the Picton County Inn having room for us. We figured we’d take advantage to spend more time in that part of the county, which is bit smaller in population and sparser in the number of wineries.

Picton, looking moody

Our first stop was at the original Prince Edward County winery, Wapoos. We had lunch there—fish and chips for Jean, mushroom risotto for me, both of which were good but not great—and noted that their wine list featured a number of unusual grapes. We enjoyed the wines we tried at lunch enough to then visit the tasting room (after walking the lovely grounds). It was a nice experience, and we emerged with a Seyval Blanc that we’d had at lunch with the fish, a Geisenheim (see what I mean about the unusual grapes? This one tastes like grapefruit!), and a 2017 Shiraz of county grapes, which was a huge contrast to their 2015 Shiraz of Niagara grapes (the county version being much lighter).

Dinner that night was a late one at the Merrill Inn—we weren’t able to get in before 8:30. They were having a County-licious three-course prix fixe dinner here, which is what I had, while Jean ordered off the menu. (This would prove a theme for the whole trip.) We enjoyed the meal, with good service in a nice room, and well-prepared food. I had a salad and cioppino while Jean went with gnocchi followed by osso bucco. We shared my included dessert of affogato (and despite it being walking distance, were very responsible on wine: just one glass each).

Exterior view of the Merrill Inn

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Interior view, during the appetizer round

We attempted breakfast the next day at our Inn, but it was packed, so we walked up the street to Lydia’s Cafe, and had very nice breakfast there: They had Montreal bagels! We also picked up some yummy wild blueberry chocolate fudge (for later eating, not for breakfast. Although, you know, fruit…).

It was quite a nice day, so we then drove off to do some hiking at a bird sanctuary—even though we don’t know much about birds. Indeed, it was a bit early and there weren’t that many types of birds out, but we saw some, along with snakes and frogs. Really it was the sound of birds, and frogs, that was most striking there, this time of year.

This guy—or gal—was kind enough to pose. Wonder what kind of bird it is. (I’m kidding!)

We then visited what would be the highlight winery for us: A small one called Exultet Estates. They’re especially known for their Chardonnay, which they were out of, but everything else we tried, we really liked as well. And it was some unusual stuff: a dry apple wine (be good with chicken or pork), and an apple port. A white wine made of Pinot Noir grapes (would work with fish). An orange wine made of Pinot Gris grapes. A lovely red Pinot noir (could have this on its own), and a Pinot noir rosé (in a dry, food-friendly style).

Anyone interested in drinking more than just big reds (none of their wines are of that style) should consider a stop here, even though their small-batch production means some higher prices. We left with nine bottles.

After an aborted attempt to lunch in Millford (the restaurant Google suggested wasn’t open yet), we went back to a creperie in Picton for that, which worked out fine. We then headed out to one more winery: Del Gatto. At this time of year, they only had two types of wine available for tasting: an off-dry Riesling and a red Frontenac. Both pretty good, but we bought the Frontenac, as that’s yet another unusual grape. We then made a stop at Fifth Town cheese, which is small and somewhat crowded, but does have wonderful products available for sampling. We came away with quite a haul from here. (We had a cooler, and fridges in our rooms on this trip.)

Our dinner at Blumen Garden Bistro, at the more normal hour of 7:00, was even better than our Merrill Inn one. I started with beet soup, followed by delicious rabbit gnocchi. Jean started with a bison appetizer, then had the roast duck, which he liked, but he was even more impressed with the vegetable sides.

We walked the 2.2 km there and back, which allowed for enjoying a bottle of Pinot—especially Jean. He insisted we each get dessert, and he had a really delicious banana pudding thing. I had a chocolate marquis with raspberry.

The next morning we managed to have breakfast at our Inn (it was all right), and then it was off to Québec City. (More to come.)

 


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Loloan-ing for a dining experience

More on this later, but we’re back from a vacation that was a success, particularly from a culinary perspective. From tiny Picton (population 5000) to romantic Québec City to Canada’s capital of Ottawa, we had no bad dinners and at least four outstanding ones.

Back at home, I’m feeling a little deprived on that front. Now, I can feel my friends from Northern Ontario rolling their eyes at that comment, and will admit that we do have places where you can get a well-prepared meal (like Solé, Janet Lynn’s Bistro, Gilt, Belmont Bistro, TWH Social, and so on. And if you’re willing to drop the big bucks, Langdon Hall.)

But ever since Verses closed, it’s just been a challenge finding that One Wonderful Place where the food is always amazing and everybody knows your name. Marisol came closest for a while, but then that closed. And The Berlin’s been closest of late, but guess what? They’re closing May 15, and reopening two weeks later under a new name and new menu: a tavern replacing the fine dining. Sigh.

(And again, Picton, population 5000, has two excellent restaurants. I guess KW just doesn’t get enough tourists?)

Anyway. This is all to explain why were so excited to hear about the new Loloan Lobby Bar restaurant. This is a second venture by the owner of Bhima’s Warung, another of Waterloo’s better restaurants. Since we heard about it, me and my friends have been anticipating it: When will it open? How will it be?

Earlier in April, after it had been open about a month, we went to find out.

Situated in the lobby of a condo building, it’s a lovely room, half of it devoted to bar space, the other to a sit-down restaurant. Service was attentive and eager to explain the menu, which featured some unusual ingredients. Food was served with a certain amount of ceremony:

It's Pouring Soup!

Pouring out the lobster bisque

Seafood Terrine

Seafood terrine with accompaniments

That was all very nice. And the food? Well, it was fine. Nothing really special, but fine. The only problem with that being, it was priced at a level that you’d expect something more than just fine. It should have been special.

I don’t think we’ve found The Place.

Altbough… Dinner did end on a high note. We ordered the petit fours assortment for dessert, and those were actually… Really amazing. Along with the delicious (decaf) French press coffee, served with timer to ensure I didn’t drink it too soon.

Dessert

All these little desserts were excellent

So, you can at least count on a lovely coffee and dessert experience here. It will have to do as I continue my quest.


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Finding time to listen

I have found a new (to me) podcasting app Pocket Casts and it’s very good. It has solved all my podcasting problems: It gathers all podcasts in one app, whereas before I was bouncing between iTunes, Google, SoundCloud, and a browser. It keeps my spot in each podcast I’ve started, even when switching devices or playing through Sonos or Chromecasting. It can even cut silences out of each episode, making it each one slightly shorter.

Wait, did I say it solved all my podcasting problems? There’s one it’s likely only exacerbated, even with the seconds or minutes saved by cutting out silences: finding time to listen to all the ones I’d like to.

the-best-podcasts-of-2017-so-far

Some people do this by listening on what they call chipmunk speed, playing it at a faster speed than recorded. I tried that, but I just don’t like the weird sound that results, even at only 1.5x faster.

I can’t attend to a podcast while reading, or having a conversation, or working (because fortunately my job’s not that boring), or writing, or anything else in which I have to attend to my thoughts. My commute is extremely short, which is wonderful in most ways, but means that it’s really not enough time to make much of a dent in a podcast episode.

And I just don’t want to give up my daily habit of listening to music while making dinner. I also don’t think they would be as good as soundtrack to my Monday night cleaning routine as my “high-energy songs” playlists.

“Know what would make my life better? Listening to music less often.”

— No one, ever.

So I found myself seeking out extra chores I can do, for which a podcast would be a useful adequate. Now, anything that can motivate me to do some tidying up is beneficial. But I still prefer cooking to tidying, so I also find that I’m now trying out more dessert recipes. The value of that is debatable.

(On the other hand, you can definitely overdo this podcast thing, as revealed in this article: I Listen to 35 Hours of Podcasts Every Week. Is That … Bad? Answer: yeah, kind of… And towhich I say… 35 hours a week! Jesus. When do you do… anything else?)

There seems to be podcasts about every topic under the sun, and I’m not always sure how I stumbled upon the ones I try to listen to semi-regularly. But here’s a sampling of them and what I like about them.

Psychology

These are nice because, being less attuned to current events, you can more cherry-pick through them and feel less pressure to listen to them soon after their posting date.

Under the Influence

Good old CBC Radio—the original podcaster! This particular series is by Terry O’Reilly and is on the subject of advertising, or “the art of persuasion”. Recent episodes have covered jingles (with a WKRP reference), use of celebrities (early Ellen Degeneres!), brand myths (no, little Mikey from the Life cereal commercial didn’t die of pop rocks + coke. In fact, he’s alive and works in advertising). I’ve always loved this show, but rarely catch it on the radio. Podcasts to the rescue.

Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain is by NPR: the CBC of the US! This is how it describes itself:

Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.

One three-part series that actually changed my own behavior a little was on the subject of sleep: The “Swiss Army Knife” Of Health. It makes a pretty compelling case that while sleep feels like a waste of time, it’s really important. And that while those who routinely get only 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night might think they’re managing just fine, they actually aren’t. They just no longer notice how tired they are all the time. But they are chronically under-performing, both mentally and physically. To be at your best, you need an “uncompromising 8 hours of sleep.” Every day.

Pop culture

Pop culture stuff is timely, but not that timely, especially since I almost never see movies on opening weekends, read books when they first come out, or watch TV live (love my PVR). So I can go back a few weeks on the pop culture ones without them feeling irrelevant.

Backtalk by Bitch Media

This one, hosted by two young women, looks at all aspects of pop culture—music, TV, movies, podcasts, books, magazines—from a feminist perspective. I’ve gotten some really good recommendations from it, along with some great insights; for example, their episode about the movie Get Out pointed out a whole lot of racial metaphors and symbols that I had missed, and made me admire the movie even more.

The only issue? And I don’t know how to say this without coming across as a disapproving granny, but wow, they sure swear a lot. I know, there’s a lot for American women to be angry about right now, and you gotta speak your truth. I just feel the arguments might be a bit more effective if the colorful language was applied more judiciously.

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The Americans Podcast

Where Backtalk is very broad; The Americans Podcast is super-specific. It’s not about all the people living in the country to the South, but about the FX TV series by that title that tells the story of Russian spies in 1980s who pose as an all-American couple, complete with all-American children. As previously reported, Jean and I love it.

It’s currently in its sixth and final season, and I have just discovered this podcast, which contains interviews with the cast, crew, and creators of the show, and thus is strictly a post-episode listen, as it’s rife with spoilers. This season is setting up to be epic.

Politics

Political stuff, especially American, is just moving with break-neck speed these days. These are the ones I don’t like to wait too long after post date before listening.

Lovett or Leave It

Crooked Media was a response to the election of Trump. Most of its members used to work for President Obama in some capacity. So they’re not unbiased, but the aim is to have “better conversations about politics.” They have a ton of podcasts, and I’ve sampled various ones. But my favorite is Lovett or Leave It.

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Some sincerely cool Crooked Media merch

Lovett or Leave It is taped live Friday nights in front of an audience, who participates in some segments. It’s a humorous, improvised look at the week’s stories in US politics. To add to the many other sources of humorous looks at US politics. What’s different here, I guess, is that it’s a lot of super well-informed people cathartically doing things like playing a clip from Fox news, saying “OK, stop”, and responding to the stupidity. Or turning the ridiculousness into a game. Or spinning a wheel to decide which topic to rant about.

It’s partly informative, it’s partly therapy.

Oppo – Canadaland

This is a relatively new one, and it’s about Canadian politics! I was drawn to it because they seem to be especially covering wonky issues I get somewhat obsessed with, like carbon pricing, why doesn’t the NDP seem more viable in Ontario, and what’s up with Sikh politics.

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It features journalists Justin Ling and Jen Gerson, who are supposed to in “opposition” from left and right positions, but it took me two episodes to realize that was the idea, because neither of them is really that extreme or partisan. Which I think is good (and also kind of Canadian).


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Dinner in an instant (pot)

An Instant Pot is a Canadian-manufactured pressure cooker whose claim to fame is that it can also be used as a slow cooker, steamer, saute pan,  and yogurt maker (!). It’s been a hot seller, and already available in baffling variety of models, with a great number of supporting cookbooks and web resources.

I at first wasn’t interested in the device, as it was described as a handy one-pot option for people who don’t like to cook. I got more intrigued with the reports of the speed which you could cook certain things—baked beans, brown rice, whole squash. Maybe it would allow me to cook those types of dishes and foods more often.


I used some birthday money to take the plunge. This required first doing some research into the varieties of models available to figure out what I wanted. I thought that maybe I would want to make yogurt some day (?), so I’d go to at least the Duo model, instead of Lux. But I didn’t really see the need to be able to control the thing with a phone app (!), so I wouldn’t spring for the “Smart”.

I then tasked Jean with figuring out where to buy the Duo from. We ended up getting it at Best Buy: The 6-quart Duo Plus.

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There’s a bit of a learning curve to this thing. I did read the manual, and some web resources, but Jean and I were still fumbling our way through the first recipe we tried, honey-garlic chicken. Like, first we had to sauté, and we missed that we were supposed to wait until the indicator said Warm before adding the food. Then it was on to pressure cooking, and it took a few tries to get how to set the cooking time, and how to tell when it was actually cooking. And then we had to decide on a technique for “releasing” the pressure cooker five minutes after it was done.

So all in all, this supposed 30-minute recipe took over an hour. It was, however, absolutely delicious.

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And did kind of look like this. Photo courtesy the Diethood blog.

Since then I’ve also tried:

  • Adapting my Mom’s baked bean recipe to the Instant Pot
  • Making roast potatoes with rosemary
  • Steaming basmati rice
  • A momo meatballs with cilantro chutney recipe
  • Cooking whole beets
  • Making pina colada rice pudding

And so far I’ve learned:

Mentally add in a 10 to 20 minutes preheat time to each recipe

Long-grain rice in 4 minutes? Baked beans in 40? Well, not quite. Because recipes will tell you how long to saute or pressure cook something, and how long to let it sit before releasing, but will never estimate the preheating time—perhaps because it can vary with the model or how hot it got in the previous phase. So in addition to prep and cook time, you have to consider that preheat time.

It’s not always faster

Baked beans, chicken with bones, brown rice, beets—even with the preheating, all of these were definitely faster in the Instant Pot than they would have been in the oven or stove top. But for long-grain white rice…? About the same. And, you have to make a lot of rice at once, which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to limit carbs.

It doesn’t do crispy

It’s been terrific at producing tender meat, creamy rice pudding, and flavorful and tender baked beans. But in roast potatoes, I prefer more crispness than you get cooking them this way (though I still might do it again if I were low on time).


What I’m most eager to try next is a macaroni and cheese recipe (from a book) and a chicken adobo. I’m looking forward to trying risotto (which I’m too lazy to make the traditional way) and seeing how it does with whole squash.

Oh, and I guess one of these times I’ll have to try making my own yogurt (!).

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Case where the Instant Pot definitely beats the alternative (from https://www.motherearthnews.com/)


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I have not completely forgotten how to read

This Globe and Mail article, called I have forgotten how to read, was posted some weeks ago now, but the opening sticks with me [bold added by me]:

Turning, one evening, from my phone to a book, I set myself the task of reading a single chapter in one sitting. Simple. But I couldn’t. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. No stroke or disease clouded my way. Yet – if I’m being honest – the failure was also not a surprise.

Paragraphs swirled; sentences snapped like twigs; and sentiments bled out. The usual, these days. I drag my vision across the page and process little. Half an hour later, I throw down the book and watch some Netflix.

Out for dinner with another writer, I said, “I think I’ve forgotten how to read.”

“Yes!“ he replied, pointing his knife. “Everybody has.”

“No, really,” I said. “I mean I actually can’t do it any more.”

He nodded: “Nobody can read like they used to. But nobody wants to talk about it.”

I identified with the gist of the remainder of the article, which is that the Internet has rewired our brains and made it difficult for us to focus on extended text, such as a book. Heck, even a brief Internet outage (maybe 2.5 hours) one Sunday left and my husband and I feeling like lost, disconnected souls, missing our regular jolts of online distraction.

But still, that opening example… You literally can’t sit and read one chapter? That just seems impossible. Like, how boring was this book you were trying to read? Maybe don’t go for Moby Dick or Middlemarch. Try some hot fiction. A lively bio, maybe.

On the other hand, if actually true, it’s made me feel slightly superior, because despite my web-addled brain and Twitter addiction, I still manage to read a book chapter pretty much every single day.

Sure, it takes a bit of conscious effort. No screens in the bedroom (other than an eReader), TV off by a certain time. And quite deliberately having at least two books on the go, so that my Internet-addled brain has variety and choice. Normally, I try to make sure it’s at least one fiction and one non-fiction on the go.

Here’s a few I’ve gotten through—or am working on—recently.

Caught by Lisa Moore

Nobody I’ve talked to seems to have of this book, even though it was supposedly a best seller. It’s a Canadian novel, set in 1978, about a young man convicted of drug dealing who escapes from prison. He then connects with his former partner in crime, who evaded incarceration, for another possible job. But he might not be evading the law as well as he thinks….

This was a well-written novel, with each chapter acting like a short story in itself, with its own suspenseful arc.

I was pleased to see that CBC has adapted the novel as a mini-series, and even more pleased that they’ve changed some plot elements in an interesting way. Now I don’t know how this version will end, as I’m thinking it can’t be the same as in the novel…

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Yes, it was about time I read this, and yes, it came to mind because of the popular mini-series, even though I only watched the first episode of that, because then the free Bravo preview ended, plus I found it kind of dark.

Compared with that one episode of the mini-series, the novel was not as depressing as I’d expected. The episode quickly presents the story of Offred’s capture and “orientation” into the life of handmaiden; the novel spends more time with her immersed in that life, with flashbacks occurring only later on in the book. And it’s overall less graphic, I suppose.

I “enjoyed” reading it, if that’s the right word? It kept me engaged, anyway. And not having seen the rest of the mini-series, I didn’t know how everything would play out.

Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK by Bonar Menninger

This a non-fiction work about what I think is the most convincing take on the Kennedy assassination: that the President was accidentally killed by one of his own security men. It documents the work of ballistics expert Howard Donaghue, who was asked to prove whether Oswald could possibly have fired three times in the necessary time span for him to have acted alone. Donaghue managed to replicate that feat, but wanted to do more research before giving his own stamp of approval on the official account. Hence begins years of research.

He discounts some of what conspiracy theorists insist prove their case; the “magic bullet” problem. He explains that by how Kennedy and Connolly were seated relative to one other, and by the type of bullet used. But he couldn’t buy everything about the official account, either, concluding, for example that the first shot did ricochet onto Kennedy but not Connolly. And he was especially troubled by the fatal head shot: both its trajectory and its effect. Leading to his eventual conclusion that it was actually fired from a different location and type of gun.

I know exactly nothing about gun and ballistics, of course, but the evidence laid out here just works better for me than any other I’ve heard. The official story, about one deranged man acting alone, makes it hard to explain why so many officials did act in such weird, suspicious, cagey ways—breaking Texas law by stealing away the body, later losing the President’s brain (!). But arguing that Oswald was either just a patsy or a party to some government conspiracy doesn’t work that well, either; he really did seem the deranged loner type to try something like this, and he did murder officer Tippet.

But that Oswald alone tried to murder the President, and that one of the security men reacting to the shooting tripped and accidentally fired? And that officials didn’t want the world to know that accident happened? Yes, that makes sense to me.

There was a documentary made about this theory in 2013. (The book was published in 1992.) Trailer below, but the whole thing seems to be posted on YouTube.

My Real Children by Jo Walton

Someone had recommended Jo Walton to me as an author, and I picked this particular novel because it was the only one immediately available for borrowing (as an ebook) from my library. It’s a novel about a woman whose life starts off on one trajectory, then splits off in two directions based on a pivotal decision. After the setup chapters, the book alternates between what happens when she says “yes” versus what happens when she says “no”.

It’s not only her own personal life that veers in different directions in each case, but world history itself. Early on we learn that in one case, President Kennedy (him again!) was killed, while in the other he was not. So you initially think that one life will take place in “our” world vs. an alternative one. But no. Kennedy is killed is different way, and a whole other history follows (such as his brother not being assassinated and instead becoming President himself).

With the mix of two personal stories and two alternative world histories, I got totally caught up in this. My original plan was to read what I could doing the three-week borrowing period then check it out again later, but no, I found I really wanted to finish it! The only downside to that was that it meant reading the later chapters in rapid sequence, which got pretty confusing—there was so many characters (friends, children, partners, grandchildren), not to mention varying historical facts—to try to keep straight in each “life” at that point.

I was wondering how this would all come together in the end. The answer wasn’t entirely satisfying, but I didn’t regret the journey one bit.

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

The current read, one I am still working on. (Plus, it’s a book club book, so discussion is to come.) Early part is a really sad story, told by a very funny person.

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

Just anticipating this will be my next fiction read, as that is the Oscar-nominated movie that really had my heart this year. Whereas my brain said Get Out might have been the best in terms of ideas. But the Academy thought Shape of Water, of course—it was also good. Jean and I liked The Post also, but it was more conventional than the other five nominated movies I saw.

I did not watch the actual telecast, beyond the opening monologue. I had reading to do.