Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Learning to Eat on A Bicycle

There's a lesson I learned a few years ago that I've only slowly started to practice. When I started going on longer rides I tried jamming protein bars down my gullet to power through. Eventually I learned to drink before I was thirsty and eat before I was hungry. In these days of bike computers and calorie trackers it was easy enough to know that you should take a snack every hour or 500 calories expended whichever came first. In time I also found that rather than try downing an entire power bar it was easier on my stomach and more efficient to just take a bite occasionally. When I grew tired of the bars (no amount of sugar or flavouring can cover the chalky taste of the whey and soya protein) I started packing bite sized sandwiches and snacks and casually snacking throughout the entire 4 or 5 hour ride.
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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Important Life Skill

For some reason I always refused to ever look up how to poach an egg. I guess because of its simplicity — how hard could it be? For years I believed the trick to be threefold: a teaspoon of vinegar, a swirling vortex and a portion of luck. Then one morning I accidentally turned off the wrong burner which reduced my pot of boiling water to a simmer, which made all the difference. I dropped the egg in and it formed perfectly. No vinegar or luck required. It still helps to make a swirl though and the little pre-boil trick mentioned in this video is a good one.

I maintain that the design process is a bit like perfectly poaching an egg. Everyone thinks it's easy and they can do it until they try it and inevitably screw it up. Design, like the poached egg, takes a soft touch, some slight of hand, experience, knowledge, a lot of energy and most critically, timing. Knowing when it's done is a skill in its own right. For chefs, the egg itself is a myriad of quandaries and complexities that takes skill and time to master (despite the now fool proof sous vide technique). Of course, people who don't understand the metaphor are probably people who don't understand metaphors. That's a problem for another day.

By the way, whenever I'm in St. John's and I poach an egg, my mother insists I use the 50-year old aluminum poacher — I used it once and the eggs stuck to the metal and tasted more of aluminum than egg. The bigger challenge in this kitchen has been the absence of a slotted spoon. How does a kitchen with a junk drawer full of all manner of tortuous looking pieces of equipment not have a slotted spoon? It's a true kitchen mystery.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Appropriate Seasonal Greetings 

Partridge Tree

I spent the last couple of days re-fashioning what I thought was a stylish Christmas card (based on a sixties / Alexander Girard-esque type graphic) but when it was done, it looked like the most politically castrated thing ever - until I added that tag line and it all made sense.

Thus, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, have a cwazy Kwanzaa, a salacious solstice, a Bacchanalian Saturnalia and a grand time all ‘round.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Solstice Playlist 


I guess this Solstice Sextodecimo (unlike the previous sextodecimos) is also a little bit of a requiem for Rdio, the streaming service I was using until it was acquired by Pandora and shut-down. Instead I'm kind of moving o'er to Spotify as the defacto non-Apple music provider. So here, for the first time is a Spotify Solstice playlist:

I actually had the Pogues' Fairytale in New York on here, if only to celebrate Shane MacGowan's new teeth (see: the Everest of Dentistry) but thought better of it. Apparently today is International Joe Strummer Day so having a Clash song on here seems obvious (plus the song keeps coming on whenever I go for a run so it's been in my head a lot).

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Monday, December 14, 2015

The Tyranny of Numbers 

A couple of weeks ago, I finally joined the gym at work (bravo for going completely not out of your way to exercise). Before you join they do a fairly cursory health assessment. Of course they take your weight with boots off but clothes on, which totally adds 3-4 pounds! I mean, c’mon, I'm fighting every ounce here! They measure your percentage of body fat, walk you through a simple survey about your health history and take your blood pressure. There were no real surprises; 152 lbs, 18% body fat, blood pressure: 138/80. Wait? What? Apparently anything under 139 is within normal ranges but it sounded dangerously high to me. I tried to justify it by thinking I just had a coffee, ran down to the gym and I’m pretty sure my sleeve was all bunched up underneath the bp cuff (I have no idea if that affects the numbers).

Since then I decided to forego any salt or salty treats or deli meats etc and have another go at this because I couldn’t get that number out of my head. Sunday morning I woke up early-ish (for a Sunday), weighed in at 145.5 lbs, 17.1% body fat, and went for a short walk to check out a new coffee shop, then a light swim (and soak in the “therapeutic pool” aka hot tub). Feeling sufficiently relaxed I dropped into a nearby pharmacy to pick up some vitamins. When I saw their customer self monitoring blood pressure machine I knew it was going to happen. I took a seat, put my arm in the cuff and pressed the button. The number came up as 111/80 right there in the “Optimal Zone”. Relief. The tyranny of numbers had ended, for now.

UPDATE: while hanging around the drug store waiting to get a flu shot, I again tested my BP and it came in at 115/77, still in the "optimal" zone, which isn't as cool sounding as the Danger Zone but is much preferred in this instance.

ANOTHER UPDATE: On a recent evening I was picking up some crap from the drug store and yes, I measured my BP again: 139/82 BLERG and cusses! Clearly, my afternoon/evening numbers after a commute suck. Note to self: if I'm going for a physical, book it for the morning and get there so early you're sitting around bored so when the doc slips that cuff on, your numbers end up in the lower part of the fluctuation.


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

St. John's Offset 

This is supposed to be a shot of St. John's Harbour at 7 PM local time. There's no way this is right but it must be at least from today given the snow on the hills and roofs.

It's pitch black by 5:30 pm here in Toronto (or earlier). By that time it's 7:00 pm in St. John's but apparently my little Webcam view from the Rooms overlooking the harbour is clearly not showing a live view. Instead it seems to be showing a view from sometime in the late afternoon. I don't know how often it updates but it definitely isn't every two minutes. Lately I've fallen into a bad habit of not going to bed until around 1:30 AM (every night I say I'm going to bed earlier then don't). That's 90 minutes later than I'd usually hit the hay. I'm offset by 90 minutes. Maybe if I just set my watch to Newfoundland Standard Time I could still go to bed by 1:30 AM and actually be in the land of nod at a decent Ontario time? Or not. My body knows and I'm always going to be off by 90 minutes.

I've had this problem since the clocks changed almost a month ago. I hate Daylight Savings Time and if I ever had the power to abolish it, I would. Until then I'll just have to claw my way back to a decent night's sleep.


Monday, December 07, 2015

Seen in November 

Basically I spent November ingesting Jessica Jones and not much else. Sure I could've binged on it, but I prefer the slow drip approach to my drugs of choice. There were some other things watched but not worth noting here.

Hayao Miyazaki and his assistant. Image via The Movie DB

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
The title of this documentary sounds much more interesting than it actually is. The film is a behind the scenes look at Japanese icon of animated films Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli that created classics such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke. It may come as no surprise that the Studio has a live-in cat who pads around freely, or a roof top garden where moments of introspection occur, or that Miyazaki loves little kids and is inspired by nature. The only real surprise is how poor his relationship is with his adult son which is not really discussed much but seems jarring nonetheless. Many nights we see the grand master sketching or writing until everyone else has left and he walks home to his nearby house. This isn’t really that revealing or inspiring a film but to fans of Studio Ghibli films it may be reassuring that these movies are thoughtfully, quietly and earnestly made with a sort of workman like love of craft and dedication that we rarely see anymore.

The Shop Around the Corner
As a consequence of bad news heard from every corner, I decided to lift my spirits by re-watching The Grand Budapest Hotel which is a meringue of a film as lovely as a treat from Mendl’s Patisserie. After reading that Wes Anderson was influenced by Ernst Lubitsch, a director who worked in the 30s and 40s, I sought out one of his more popular films. The Shop Around the Corner from 1940 is set in a little shop in Budapest, where two co-workers played by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, find each other completely annoying at work but through anonymous written correspondence are actually falling in love. The story was the basis for the modern remake You’ve Got Mail, with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks and is the sort of sophisticated romantic comedy Lubitsch became known for. It’s a pretty simple story with the kind of pitter-patter dialogue you’d expect from a film of this era in which an attempted suicide is dismissed as a case of over-worked nerves and the blues while upon the climatic reveal of the lovers real identities, the couple kiss and immediately decide to marry. Simpler times.

The latest installment of the Daniel Craig James Bond series is its most conventional. The producers of the Bond films oscillate between making Bond grittier than the Bourne series, bigger than the Mission: Impossible films and funnier than Kingsman: The Secret Service without succeeding at any of that. Spectre is a return to ridiculous stunts on ski slopes, crashing very expensive cars and convoluted plots full of red herrings and nonsensical characters (Léa Seydoux’s character is interesting and could have her own film but adds nothing to this film. Her character is entirely meaningless other than being a kick-ass babe for Bond to bed). The Daniel Craig Bond got an incredible kick start with Casino Royale as a well tailored spy who killed assassins in bare-knuckled brawls and got the job done with only a wink to his own PTSD, psychosis and misogyny. It wasn’t just a re-boot, but a re-boot in the arse. Yet this latest Bond re-enacts the dumbest stunts (why not chase a car in a prop plane down a snowy mountainous road?) and failed attempts at his reformed chauvinism (okay, so he didn’t date rape his drunken ingénue - bravo, Modern Man). If Skyfall represented the character’s (and perhaps filmmaker’s) mid-life identity crisis, then Spectre is supposedly the answer, which is unfortunately, a 70s era super-spy in a modern world of terror. To “fix” Bond, you don’t have to ditch the fancy cars, just ditch the fancy cars with flame throwers out the back. You don’t have to ditch the sexiness, just make his sexy counterpart his equal, you don’t have to intertwine four plots and international backdrops, just have one plot set against international backdrops. The really funny thing about this Bond film was the opposing reviews it received. British critics lovingly gave it glowing reviews crowing, “Bond is back, yay!” Meanwhile, American reviewers panned it as a hackneyed reversal of the series crowing, “Bond is back, ugh.” I fall somewhere in-between. It was an entertaining flick but the lack of originality really bothered me because Daniel Craig is a really great Bond and one of the better actors to have portrayed 007. Thus Spectre could have been so much more. Instead of being steak & frites it was steak & frites flavoured chips.

Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones. Image via The Movie DB

Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones is the latest Marvel hero to appear on Netflix. Her character was unknown to me but belonged to the Defender series which has enough history that I remember the other characters such as Luke Cage and Iron Fist from my childhood. The Jessica Jones character is an unlikely one to develop because, well, her story is kind of icky and difficult. Endowed with super-strength, Jessica gave up being a costumed hero after an 8-month long enslavement (sexual, physical and mental) under the influence of a mind controlling psychopath, Killgrave. Since that time, she has become an effective, if alcoholic, private investigator barely paying her bills. She also keeps her “gifts” under wraps. So what we have is a beautiful mess, played by Krysten Ritter, drinking her way through Hell’s Kitchen dive bars, in blue jeans and a leather jacket rather than a cape and tights. One of those dive bars is tended by another equally discrete, street-clothed-clad hero, Luke Cage. Marvel is pushing its catalogue of super-heros in ingenious ways using the unique platform of Netflix to achieve those goals. Like Daredevil, Jessica Jones is gritty, violent, foul-mouthed, dramatic, thrilling fun. I’m not even sure these episodes would satisfy the PG-13 ratings their cinematic cousins receive. What I love about this approach is they’ve found the core of the characters, grounded in a real place with real lives and asked, what if these people could do extraordinary things? It is the very thing that makes Marvel Comics different and unique from its DC counterpart. Another intriguing part of the Marvel/Netflix partnership is just the crazy and different characters they are planning to develop, including Luke Cage and Iron Fist. If they follow up with the other planned series their cast of heroes will include, in order, a blind lawyer (Daredevil), a rape survivor alcoholic woman with PTSD (Jessica Jones), a reformed (possibly framed) crook and street wise black American (Luke Cage) and a first generation Chinese American (Iron Fist). They would basically be one Spanish speaking American short of a full house. Despite how good Daredevil is, I like to think of Jessica Jones as the one of the best adaptations of a comic book I've seen since History of Violence, which really shouldn’t count because Cronenberg essentially ignored the source material. The only problem with this adult approach to super-heroes is they are so much like a dramatic series that when they veer into any cliché voice over or cheesiness you have to remind yourself that these are comic book characters and that this isn’t The Sopranos or The Wire.

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