Monday, October 10, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Some thoughts about Canadian Thanksgiving or as I call it, Thanksgiving.

This is one of those odd holidays that means a lot of things and many of them aren't particularly nice. Even if we accept the narrative that indigenous people welcomed the Europeans to the New World with a feast, it is still shameful what happened afterwards. Even if you are someone who believes in finders keepers, there is an inherent meanness to treating those that showed you hospitality and how to survive here the way that the Europeans did.

Even the bitter and racist saying of "Indian giver" hints that somehow there was a big misunderstanding that went to the benefit of the white people. So, Thanksgiving as a celebration of that one nice dinner party we had that time with those nice folk, and gosh, whatever happened to them? doesn't cut it for me.

A second, more generous interpretation of being an ongoing festival of harvest time sits a little better. I remember these days well where you pulled up the last of the garden and canned and celebrated the final warm days before winter. It seemed like a time to show gratitude. In our case, it was God, the church and the crops. We have lost our connection to the soil and so much is now bought in cans, packages and wrapped produce but still not all is so glum. Even if you are the staunchest atheist who believes that humans are all self made, you must be thankful that the science, culture and civilization that got us here still hasn't destroyed us all. Hubris and pessimism is a tough row to hoe and it yields very little productive crops. Still, we are where we are and that is at least something to be grateful for.

For me, there is a third theme that underlies Thanksgiving. Every year, around Christmas, my former spouse and I would invite friends for a chosen Christmas. It was a leftover from my days of living in a house with my friends when we would invite over all of our friends to share a meal and party. Part of that was that it was the first time that we could all breath and relax during university and partly, as a way to share with those few friends who were not going home. Sometimes it was due to work, being too far away, being estranged or any other reason. My former spouse and I invited people who were our friends in the same way. It was a way of sharing and showing our gratitude for their friendship. In the last few years, I have not done any of this and it makes me sad to not have that moment to thank everyone.

This year, I made a mini feast; stuffed turkey breast, boiled turnip, roasted potatoes and a pumpkin stout cheesecake. I shared it.

When I was at my mother's this year, we had a ham. One of my sisters and I made the supper as Mom had had surgery about a week before and couldn't do all the cooking. It was a simple meal made better by us all helping and that the surgery had gone well. Small, simple and generous.

I still have most meals with the kids around the table and I am thankful every time I sit down. Not in the Hallmark card way but a genuine sigh of contentment. There is something about just existing and enjoying the moment that makes me want to share it with people who are close to me but are unable to share it with anyone.

I think I will do a Christmas dinner party this year and maybe start to think about how I can get back to those moments of grace once again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Passing of a Restaurant

I have been blogging for a while now and eating out at new restaurants for way longer. I am linking to one that has recently closed nearby. If the link breaks just know that it was a local cafe that served rotisserie chicken.

Brickyard Grounds.  It is one of the many that I have reviewed over the years. Here is an excerpt from when I reviewed it.
Further down the strip, Brickyard Grounds has high gloss wooden tables, coffee and light fare. The light fare part is important. The whole place, in the best way, reminds me of the converted Coffee Times. Now hear me out. When I came to Toronto, the cafe scene was a little odd. The only places that felt as if you had a community were these ex-franchisees of Coffee Time. I wrote a post about how each was a reflection of their owners and the community. This is a great thing. The light fare reflects the area in the offerings. There are flavourful and pronounced spicings available. They sell rotisserie chicken and are working on getting local craft beer -- on TAP! It is an updated Mom and Pop Greek shop. This is a place to come as family...
...Will all of these places still exist when I get around to posting a third update? In short, I think they all serve a particular community. There is not much in the way of difference for the product they are supposedly serving, coffee. None of these will win barista awards or become destination eateries. The real value in these neighbourhood places is in the community they bring and serve. A friend recently talked about how she needed a new cafe in the neighbourhood so that she could talk about the women who frequented the cafe where she usually went.
So far this is the first of the four places mentioned in that review to close. I still stand by the idea that each of these places served a particular need within the community but somewhere along the way, this place started to go down a hard path.

Firstly, there seemed to be doing well until a fire shut them down for a while. When they came back, some of the momentum and steam had left. When you, as a business, start to falter and become a little unreliable, the good will built will dissipate. It will take a while to get it back.

But there is a pattern to failing restaurants. Menu items start disappearing or not being available. Substitutions are made for more inferior items. Staffing is cut. Hours are cut and erratic. And finally...

So, they re-opened with a modified menu and brunch. Each time I went there for brunch it was packed. Service could be a little odd and disorganized but it seemed to work for a small shop. The hardest thing for a small business is the people aspect. Staff started to leave but not at first. First the coffee began to be tweaked in major ways. The coffee began to taste more 'robust'. Menu items began to change.

Already, the hours had been cut for the shop times and it was erratic. It seemed as if the place was already cutting corners. At first, customers don't notice but eventually, after a few times of showing up at the door and finding the cafe unexpectedly closed, I stopped going.

There is no malice here. It is just another story of a business that chose to start cutting corners where the money was instead of where it wasn't.

If the place had opened earlier in the morning and wooed the morning crowd and tried to stretch into the families in the area, it may have done a little better. If rotisserie chicken is offered for supper then make sure to stay open late enough for those coming home from work to get it. Find where the money is and exploit it.

I genuinely liked the owners and wished them well both then and now. The restaurant is a hard, fickle business and it is easy to armchair quarterback. It is just to see so many places come and go with the same pattern, it becomes easier to see where it is headed. There is something great about watching a family business thrive. Those successes are nice when you can say that 'you knew them when' but no one really takes much joy when they fail.

Good luck to the owners of Brickyard Grounds. I wish you all the best in whatever you do.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pumpkin Blondies: A Study in Plagiary #1

Okay, I took a recipe and modified in such a minor way that I am calling myself a plagiarist but hear me out. I promise not to trot out the same excuses that others have used. For example, the blondie recipe is an old one and how can you even make it new? Anyone publishing the full recipe is just changing a
few parts and who can blame them?

Also, seeing pumpkin spice everywhere; today alone, pumpkin mini wheats, pumpkin creme cookies and pumpkin Flaky. So, just got a hankering for that spice. I will go back for the Flakies because, just because.

Anyway, in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday next weekend, following this link for pumpkin blondies and then look at the changes I have made and come up with some of your own.

So, I changed the spices: added a little cayenne, used freshly ground allspice, fresh grated ginger, omitted nutmeg, and added garam masala.

Instead of the three cups of added ingredients, the chocolates and pecans, I substituted coconut, semi sweet chocolate chips and walnuts. If I had thought harder, I would have went out back and gathered the black walnuts that fell off the tree but if this turns out, then I will.

I guess if you look at that recipe there are three broad components; the dry mix with spices, the wet mix with the sweetener and pumpkin, and the dry extras. It is really safe to swap the spice mixture and dry extras. Where I worry is playing with the wet ingredients. It may have been cool to add coconut milk but then there would have to be an adjustment to probably the butter and the dry ingredients, so I left that for another day.

I am scared of baking but taking a few steps like this makes me more confident. I'm sure there will be failures but not today. Should have added that chocolate banana ice cream to the cart to serve with this beast.