Saturday, July 18, 2020

Feels soooo good.

It just took me almost nine and a half minutes to drive our black VW Beetle from the Toronto train station to our house, located in the southwest corner of Toronto.
Don't let me hear you say you don't learn
stuff here at Pete's Blog&Grille.

I know how long the trip was  because I was listening to the album version of the Chuck Mangione hit "Feels So Good" and it's just shy of 10 minutes. The first oh-so-familiar horn phrases cried out from the speakers just as I was heading up the ramp on to the expressway and the last tones faded as I turned right on to our street.

Man, was it a fabulous 10 minutes.

About seven minutes in, if you were in the next lane, you could have glanced over to see me use the back of my right hand to wipe a tear off my left cheek. I was and this is no exaggeration, moved to tears.

Here's why.

Or first, maybe I'll explain the tears part.

Several members of the Carter family and I could name names cry when they see or hear emotional stuff. My dad once said I had a bladder where my tear ducts should be. He should talk, he was a crier himself.

I cry every time I watch Fiddler on the Roof. Or when I see kindergarten grads get diplomas. My eyes well up at the very first bars of "On Eagles' Wings" which they sang at my father's funeral.

One time last year, I was driving my motorcycle to work and listening to an old album called "Men of the Deeps." The Men of the Deeps is a choir comprised of coal miners from Cape Breton Island.

At one point, the choir was singing ''Rise Again" and I was thinking of my late mom Huena who was raised in Cape Breton and who introduced that choir into our lives. And then...and then... I realized I was biking immediately beside the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, where my pal Jim Cormier is buried.

Cormier, who died at 39, was also part Cape Bretoner,  a Men of the Deeps fan and in fact wrote about them for Equinox magazine. I'm still mad at him for dying so young and I'd be lying if I told you I'm not getting teary-eyed writing this.

On my bike that day, I had to lift my visor, wipe the tears and deliberately think of something else because crying while motorcycling can be very dangerous. Tears blur your vision. I think you catch my drift. (That's a miner joke. A drift is a part of a coal mine. Jim and Huena would have laughed and laughed.)
I might still have that blue hoodie somewhere.

A second ingredient for the great ride home just now?

Driving a modern VW with the stereo cranked up is like sitting inside a pair of giant quadraphonic headphones. You can hear every guitar note and feel every tone dripping from Mangione's flugelhorn. You can almost see the drummer's cymbals sparkle and you get the feeling that if you glanced in the rear view mirror you might spot Chuck Meeks, the bassist on "Feels So Good."

The fidelity and frequency response of a modern car's sound system are something we all take for granted but border on the miraculous.

"Feels So Good" was also playing on the radio. I hadn't heard it in a long time so I welcomed the piece the way you would a surprise visit from an old friend.

I hope "Feels So Good" made Chuck Mangione a lot of money because it is one of those pieces of music that made this planet a better place to live and raise a family.

That it was at its height of popularity when I was turning 20 means it was playing on Peter's soundtrack at a key time.

"Feels so Good" is an anthem to optimism.

Everything was possible. I was young; there were places to explore; big concepts to discuss, and countless people's lives to learn about. I knew that if we all got to know each other better, most of the big problems would be lessened if not licked. I was idealistic and as an aspiring writer, I felt my best work was ahead of me.

Of course, what's really weird is I still feel the very same except for the being young part.

And "Feels So Good" just keeps getting better with time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Parsing Huena's pickles with relish

I don't get radishes.
said my mom, never.

I know lots of people do and that's okay, and sliced ever so carefully radishes can make lovely little decorative additions to a table; but of all the things that are available to eat, I rank the taste of radishes at the bottom.

Maybe if we are down to foraging for food.

But until that time?

Here's what I think of when I think radishes. When I was in university, one of my  housemates, Stuart Ziegler, took me to his family home for Passover and it was to this day one of the richest experiences in my life. Part of that meal was "bitter herb" which, Wikipedia tells us, "symbolizes the bitterness of slavery in Egypt... 'and they embittered their lives with hard labor, with mortar and bricks and with all the bricks and with all manner of labor in the field'..."

That's not only what bitter herb tastes like. Radishes do, too.

Radishes also remind me of when I was a kid growing up and my parents had company.

My mom, Huena, put out, as appetizers, little glass trays, which were never used for anything else, covered with what people called "pickles."

The glassware contained a variety of bite-sized foods that included radishes, olives, little white onions, pieces of red pepper and always, a green goopy sort of home-made wet grassy creation that mom called "pickles." ("Ooo" somebody would say, "Your aunt Kaye pickled these herself! They're delicious!" Somebody was lying.)
SECRET INGREDIENT: Maybe guests appreciate this more
if they're a little pickled themselves. 

If you were a nine-year old and actually liked anything that was on that "pickle plate," you probably also enjoyed homework and going to bed at 9:00 p.m.

I admit I was spoiled and an extremely fussy eater and didn't like anything that wasn't candy, french fried or covered in ketchup.

The only vegetables I remember enjoying (beyond corn on the cob) were "raided" from one of the local gardens  For some reason, swiped carrots tasted great. It was good to grow up in a neighbourhood filled with new Canadians.

I'm happy to report that my mom, a registered nurse, never ever once said, "You'll eat everything on your plate." She was far more likely to ask us what we wanted for dinner and then make it for us.

As far as I can tell, her nutrition M.O. was the same as mine: "Eat food that makes you happy. Happy people live longer."

What's really weird is this, despite that, I still don't like doing homework or going to bed at 9:00 p.m., but I might be the least picky eater you've ever met. If you showed up this very second -- it's just before 1:00 p.m., with one of those pickle plates, I'd likely down the whole thing.

Except of course, the radishes.

And the lesson in all this?

Don't blog on an empty stomach.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

You say potato; I say we're good to go

But does anybody know what English fried potatoes might be like?
When I was a teenager, I thought it would be cool to be a writer for a big magazine. And when I got older, I was fortunate enough to find myself on staff at Canada's most recognizable publication, Chatelaine.

And it was indeed great. Here's why.

Chatelaine was located in a downtown Toronto office building at the corner of College and Bay streets. (My nephew and Godson Hugh Carter once commented that everybody around there must have great lips, and I was like "Huh?" Hugh responded: "Colagen Bay!"... ladies and gentlemen? My nephew.)

Anyway, Chatelaine was on the eighth floor of 777 Bay and down in the basement of the building was a very diversified  and substantial food court.

One of my favourite things to do was go to a certain French fry joint in that food court and order "a large fry."

The fries that that chip stand produced were like the fries that came off the chip trucks I grew up with in Northern Ontario. Sometimes, the Northern Ontario chip trucks were  buses, but never mind that. They had all been, at some point, vehicles.

The best was in a village called Sturgeon Falls, which was about 60 miles east of my hometown of Sudbury.

Lucky for me, my bilingual sister Mary attended a French boarding school in Sturgeon and inasmuch as I love Mary to pieces, what I remember most about the times Dad drove us to visit was sometimes, he'd stop at a chip truck not far from Mary's school so we got some of those deeply oily, salty, crispy French fried potatoes, covered with ketchup, salt and vinegar.

If I thought long and hard or if I phoned Mary and asked, I'm sure we could come up with the name of that chip joint but that's not the point of this story.
HERE'S THE SCOOP: You are allowed to
make a whole meal of fries and nothing else. 

What I'm getting at is, the fries from the place downstairs Chatelaine were almost the same high-quality product as the Sturgeon Falls fries. Perfectly crispy and maybe just a tad singed on the outside yet soft but not mooshy on the inside. The best ones had potato peel still stuck on.

I would swear in court: Chip truck fries are nature's most perfect food.

But back to the Chatelaine building. Plus I just remembered something.

One time, after the chef  handed me my cup of fries, I walked to the ketchup dispenser. It was one of those complicated affairs with the pump thing that you push like a plunger on top and the ketchup comes out of a long curved skinny spout. I held my fries under the spout, pushed the plunger and the equivalent of two drops came out. I did it again--nothing. The guy waiting behind me said, and this true, "somebody upstairs must be using the ketchup."

Clearly his house had the same plumbing as every place I've ever lived.

So after I bought my chips, I'd  go back to the Chatelaine office where all my health-conscious colleagues were, and hear them, one by one, say exactly this: "Oh those fries. They're like s-o-o-o-o-o bad for you. And they smell so good."

I would say "want one?" And 100 times out of 100 times, my colleague said, "Oh I shouldn't. But okay maybe one. Or two."

That's why it was so great working at a big fancy magazine.

Of course the reason I'm telling you all this is that during this weird time (there's something going around) a lot of people have embraced fulfilling projects, like physical fitness and sourdough.

We here at Pete's Blog&Grille have taken to making French fries from scratch. And we've nailed it.

Best thing is, should editing ever dry up, I'm pretty sure I know where I can get a bus.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Pete's Acme Canada Day Crossword Puzzle Story

I just made, from scratch--really--a blank Excel spreadsheet and a bunch of  bad puns--this Canada Day crossword puzzle. When I was younger, the devil found work for my idle hands? These days? Not so much. The crossword puzzle clues are in the story. Happy Canada Day everybody!

A few years ago, I visited my niece in The 11D (and yes, we nipped over to cross-border shop in Michigan) but flew back to Toronto and landed at Billy Bishop 6D at high 10D. That evening, I had plans to go to the 18A or whatever it’s called these days—maybe 12A something—to see Shania 17D. Guess who was in the arrivals area? None other than the orange-turbaned politician 16A just in from 7D (I hope he didn’t think I was 5D I couldn’t remember his last name. He just 15D and shook hands. Speaking of celeb sightings, I once spotted Michael 22A on Yonge street. He was like, “junowme?” Another time, I ran into a well-known comic, went over, and said “I’m Peter, and…” but he cut me off and said “Nice to meet you, Pete,” so I was like, “Nice to meet you …20A!” Speaking of names, did you know that lovely Mennonite-rich town 12D isn’t actually called after somebody who’s been canonized? True fact. It was just one of the earliest settlers’ first name! They added the holy part to make it sound pretty. Which reminds me. After I’m through with this colossal waste of brain power, I shall pour my energy into composing an extremely simple tribute to a War of 1812 hero called “The 2D C-chord Blues.” And I just found out those eponymous candy stores are owned by a couple of Quebec guys! There’s still some seriously Canadian product out there! I wonder if the main ingredient in their 1A products comes from Quebec, which is also, by the way, home to the fleetest-of-foot 4D rollers on the planet. Come to think of it, I’m certainly glad Canada held its own in that 1812 war. Otherwise, we might be the 51st state and although I have endless admiration for all the Americans I know personally, if they’d won, we’d probably have to pony up a mitt full of twonies every time we go to the 1D. (I know a lot of folks who would 19D all day about that). What’s more, the world would never have had an 8A at Come From Away! Our Home Depot flyers would be delivered by somebody besides trusty ol’ 9A; if we were lost in France and a direction-giver told us to turn 13A or 14D, we wouldn’t understand and might end up driving into the Mediterranean 21D. Or when your Plymouth beater cacks out up near Fort Mac, 3A, you couldn’t summon those automotive guardian angels 22D! And finally, we wouldn’t be able to claim musicians and tasty treats such as 23A as our home and native brands.