Monday, July 14, 2014

Weight Watchers for those seeking heart healthy diet

With a failing heart and arteries showing signs of plugging up, I've been put on a Mediterranean diet. The hope is that a low cholesterol diet will help keep my blood cholesterol in check. But my doctors are not taking any chances; I'm also taking 10 mg of Ezetrol, a cholesterol absorption inhibitor.

I take Ezetrol in addition to 40 mg of Lipitor daily as the Ezetrol takes a different approach to cholesterol lowering than statins, which lower cholesterol by cutting cholesterol production in the liver.

By happy happenstance, my wife decided to start attending Weight Watchers at the very same time I was being placed on a low fat, low meat, diet. My diet and my wife's diet fit together like two pieces of good-health-diet puzzle. My wife has lost more than forty pounds and I have dropped about twenty-five pounds in the last few months. My doctors will be pleased when I next see them for a consultation.

Tonight we had spanakopita for dinner with a cucumber and tomato salad topped with slices of bocconcini cheese. On the side we had some broccoli florets lightly "buttered" with Becal margarine. My wife made a Weight Watchers' version of spanakopita -- a savoury mix of spinach and feta and low-fat ricotta cheeses wrapped with layers of flaky phyllo pastry. Each serving of the spanakopita was just four points. I enjoyed two pieces as I have a daily goal of 37 points.

I'd post the recipe but my wife adhered fairly closely to the Weight Watchers recipe. If you want the recipe, you'll have to join Weight Watchers. She did stray a little, she added a few roasted pine nuts to the spanakopita and a few slices of bocconcini cheese to the salad. I should note that this recipe did not call for eggs, not even yolkless egg substitutes, and parmesan cheese was also missing.

I admit, cheese is a bit of a no-no to those of us on low cholesterol diets. That said, I figure my daily intake of cholesterol today was well under 100 mg -- my personal cholesterol ceiling. My intake of saturated fat and total fat was also held in check. At the same time, I had lots of fibre while keeping my salt intake low.

Now to head out for a gentle walk about the neighbourhood. Light exercise is the final important ingredient in my heart healthy regimen.

ReThinking Heritage Districts

The City Hotel as it appeared in about 1895.
Considering how much of  historic London, Ontario, has been torn down and relegated to the history books, The London Plan devotes a lot of space to historic London

I've only lived here since the mid 1970s and yet I've watched a lot of historic London disappear. And I've been amazed at what passes for saving our architectural heritage. Think of the City Hotel, the Capitol Theatre and the Bowles Lunch building.

Today the City Hotel, later the Talbot Inn, is a facade with opaqued windows.

The City Hotel goes back to 1865. In 1886 it was extensively remodeled and enlarged. When I moved to London the name had been changed to the Talbot Inn. If memory serves me right, one could get a good Mexican dinner there along with a cold draft. At night one could catch some of the best blues musicians on the bar circuit playing next door. The inn barely escaped demolition when the other buildings making up the Talbot Block fell to the wrecker's ball. The streetscape disappeared to make way for a new downtown mall and hotel complex. (In the end, the mall/hotel complex failed to materialize despite the hasty demolition.)

The Talbot Block was a wonderfully intact row of historic buildings. It was possibly the most historically important block in the city. At one point, more than a thousand Londoners held hands to circle the block and loudly protest the proposed destruction. It was all to no avail. Everything was taken down. Only a poor imitation of the old hotel's facade remains as the exterior wall of the north-east corner of Budweiser Gardens, a sports and entertainment centre.

The London Plan proposes to protect our built heritage and revitalize London's downtown. The distinctive historical elements on our oldest buildings will be conserved according to The Plan. I say it is a little late to take the save-our-built-history approach. If there was ever a topic in need of rethinking, it's what to do with London's core and the remaining historic buildings.

Large chunks of the downtown have been demolished and rebuilt.

I propose a three pronged approach to creating an historic looking downtown core.

  1. Restore remaining historic buildings.
  2. Rebuild some of the easily duplicated missing historic brick structures.
  3. ReThink the core by finding historic buildings facing demolition in other communities, buying the facades, or at least the most important and difficult to duplicate elements, and bringing them to London for reuse.

I know the last two suggestions sound absurd but they really aren't. In fact, both have being done successfully in many places around the world. Think Williamsburg in the States or Old Quebec in Canada.

 Ada Louise Huxtable points out in her book The Unreal America: Architecture and Illusion that "approximately 730 buildings were removed at Williamsburg; 81 were renovated and 413 were rebuilt . . . The next step replaces the "wrong" buildings with the "right" buildings, moved, in turn, from somewhere else." Huxtable calls the result a stage set.

Old Quebec City, despite its fame, has a lot of faux heritage buildings. According to the Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America, Gérard Morisset, the art historian behind the reclaiming of the old city's past, believed "restoring a building does not mean maintaining it, repairing it, or rebuilding it; it means restoring it to a state of completeness that may never have existed." I personally saw some of the last Old Quebec heritage buildings under construction in the mid 1970s. The reclamation had been going on for about twenty years at that point.

The Capitol Theatre facade above left. The faux Bowles Building on its right.

London already has one handsome, faux heritage building: The Bowles Building. Originally one of the Bowles Lunch chain of diners, the building had a rich architectural heritage. It's clean, white terra cotta facade sported two large, ornate capital Bs on both sides of the second floor window. The terra cotta is gone, replaced by stone. The fancy Bs, difficult to replicate in stone, are also missing.

Deconstruction and skimming could repair London's core.
Detroit has a lot of once fine structures that are suitable for architectural salvage, both deconstruction and skimming. Deconstruction is the disassembly of buildings to their foundation to preserve up to 85% of the materials. Skimming, a less intensive method, salvages the easy-to-remove materials. The Architectural Salvage Warehouse in Detroit specializes in both deconstruction and skimming.

Cities are for people. At one time London's core was for people. The sidewalks were crowded day and night. If our city planners want to create a downtown heritage district, they are going to have to get busy creating. Otherwise, many of the remaining heritage buildings will disappear and the feeling The London Plan envisions will never materialize.

Heritage streetscapes are popular around the world.

Since writing this, the downtown core has lost another bit of heritage. Kingsmill's department store is closing and being bought and converted to use by Fanshawe College. One more reason to visit the downtown will have vanished. (My wife and I bought a lot at Kingsmill's.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Many artists love the suburbs

Recently I read a tweet pushing the notion that artists gravitate to city cores. A linked article stated, "Artists are unlikely to move their garrets to subdivisions – their districts need to be close to the high-density commercial core to function properly." I shook my head. I haven't done a scientific survey but in my experience many fine artists make their home in a suburb of a nearby large city.

In the '60s I went to what is now called the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. I loved that school and I admired my teachers – all successful artists in their own right.

Jay Holland lived in this neighbourhood.
I studied sculpture under the instruction of Jay Holland. Holland has been called the father of Detroit sculpture. With his powerful personality, he dominated the classroom and he did his best to mold students as he molded clay. His passion inspired students for 34 years. Holland lived in Oak Park. A suburb of Detroit.

Bruce Blyth lived in this suburban area.
Another instructor, Bruce Blyth, taught jewellery design. When my wife and I visited Bruce a few years ago, we found him living in a rather funky little bungalow in a neighbourhood I would guess was completely devoid of garrets. He lived in Livonia. A suburb of Detroit.

I could go on an on, listing artist after artist, all living in suburban communities, but I will stop with just one more example: Marshall Fredericks, best known to the average Detroiter as the man responsible for the Spirit of Detroit sculpture sitting at the foot of Woodward Ave in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. Fredericks lived for many years in Birmingham, Michigan, with his wife Rosalind until his death in 1998.

Fredericks was a very successful artist. I believe he owned the former Kresge Estate located in the area. If he didn't own it, he certainly controlled it – at least according to one of his sons. I went to a party there, thrown by the son, where I discovered a scale model study of the Spirit of Detroit tucked away in the old coach house and stable. 

I asked the son if he was worried about getting noise complaints from the neighbours. He laughed and said no. The neighbours leased their property from his father Marshall Fredericks. There would be no complaints, I was assured. The great artist had woven himself deep into the suburban fabric.

In my experience, many artists enjoy the suburbs. In writing this piece I learned that when Bill Girard, Jay Holland, Chesley Odom, Gordon Orear, Bill Rauhauser, Robert Vigiletti and Tony Williams gathered to chat, the seven artists met at Borders in Birmingham – a suburb of Detroit.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Masked hunter has nasty bite

The resolution isn't great but this image gives you an idea of what to look for.

Spotted by my wife at the bottom of bag just brought into our home, my wife called me to the kitchen. "What is it?"

It was big, almost an inch long. It had a sandy textured back and legs, a brown colour and looked strong with big, thick legs. My first guess was a stink bug but it didn't seem to have the shield shape I usually associate with the smelly critters.

I killed it with a tissue and then logged onto the Internet to discover what had hitched a ride into our home. I learned I had squashed a reduvius personatus or masked hunter. It was a good bug to kill as it can bite and the pain has been compared to that of a snake bite with the swelling and irritation lasting up to a week.

The name masked hunter comes from its habit while in the nymph stage of "masking" itself with bits of dust, lint and sand for camouflage. This proved the undoing of our masked hunter, also called an assassin bug, as it was easily noticed sitting quietly in a white-bottomed bag.

As adults, these European bug invaders fly and are attracted by outdoor lights glowing in the night. The adults have a sleeker look, no longer sporting the dusty, dirty appearance favoured as nymphs.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Small Yellow Lady's Slipper found in Ontario

The Small Yellow Lady's Slipper shown above was photographed growing wild at Inverhuron Provincial Park located a short distance south of the Bruce Power nuclear generating station.

This beautiful orchid was spotted growing at the edge of a small wetland beside a footpath leading to the dunes and the sandy beach bordering Lake Huron. Although we spent an afternoon exploring the park and found lots of interest, we took only photographs and left only footprints.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The London Plan: of vehicle zones and pedestrian zones

Many courts and cul-de-sacs in London act as hometown versions of Dutch woonerfs.

I am amazed at the claims made by the London planning department when it comes to their recent London Plan, the newest blueprint to guide urban planning in the city. I downloaded the plan and gave it a read. I showed it to an architect and sought his thoughts. He thought it was pretty thin on new thinking but filled with feel-good urban planning clichés and lots of wordy ways of expressing the obvious.

For instance, The London Free Press reports that in the future minor neighbourhood streets will have sidewalks on both sides of street. There is no mention in the article about courts, crescents and cul-de-sacs.

I assume the minor neighbourhood streets being discussed are those like Griffith Street. I was working at The London Free Press when the Edie and Wilcox designed subdivision in which I now live was created. Main thoroughfares like Griffith were intended right from the start to have a sidewalk on each side. Why? Because these routes would be the busiest streets in the subdivision. Bus service would use these streets.

Streets funneling traffic and pedestrians to the main thoroughfares would have a sidewalk only on one side. Why? Since these feeder streets carry mostly local traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, the demand for sidewalks is much less.

And small, short streets like courts, cul-de-sacs and crescents, carrying traffic generated only by the homes bordering the street, often have no sidewalks at all. I like to think of these streets as almost homegrown examples of the Dutch woonerf - a residential street on which vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians all share the pavement. Traffic naturally slows on such streets.

Sidewalks are expensive to build and to maintain. The sidewalks in my neighbourhood are not three decades old and yet whole sections have had to be replaced. As important as detailing where sidewalks will be installed is to telling us where sidewalks will not be installed. Detailing how to repair older sidewalks in a seamless fashion would also be a good idea. The repaired sidewalks in my area are a bit of a visual mess. We need a sidewalk standard. All pedestrian zones are not created alike.

After two years of work and supposedly lots of consulting with London residents, the city planning department has decided roadways are "Vehicle Zones" and sidewalks are "Pedestrian Zones." Brilliant? I don't think so.

The above graphic is from The London Plan.

After writing the above, I read a letter to the local paper posted to their website. The author bemoans all the confusing terms in the plans asking, "pedestrian zones" (aren't these called sidewalks), bike routes (aren't these bike lanes), connected with public transit routes (bus stops?), "layby" areas where cars can park (street parking?) . . . " I don't feel so alone.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

All the colour makes this a spectacular dinner

I added the pepper. The two chefs may give me a good scolding for being a bit too generous.

Sunday my wife and I had dinner with friends. The husband and wife are a both whizzes in the kitchen. Together they created an absolutely superb Sunday dinner. Actually, meals at their place are usually superb but this Sunday's meal was spectacular at first sight. It was gorgeous with an incredible mix of colour.

I had taken a picture and was setting the camera aside when my granddaughter passed me the heritage tomatoes topped with a sprinkle of chopped basil and slices of buffalo milk mozzarella. She insisted I take another picture. Forgive me but I already had generously peppered my dinner. Not the best move when taking food pictures.

The pork loin was gently grilled and served in slivers on the avocado mixed salad. A vegetarian could make this dinner by simply eliminating the pork loin. I don't believe the meal would suffer.

Since writing this post, I 've heard from the cooks. The recipe is not theirs. It is the Island Pork Tenderloin Salad posted on Epicurious. Check out the link. Just look at my picture and tell me that this isn't a great presentation. As a further bonus, my heart doctor would certainly approve - just go light on the pork.