Monday, November 28, 2016

Kids Love Crayola Washable Paints and So Do Parents

There's a lot of talk about Hatchables this Christmas. I'm not impressed. One parent told me that it took 20 minutes for the toy to hatch and that was too long for their child. The kid lost interest, left the room and missed seeing the toy begin to hatch. The little tyke cried.

Reminds me of the Furby my oldest granddaughter had. Its voice changed and this frightened her. There was no way to control the damn toy. It had become a toy in need of an exorcist. My granddaughter was terrified. We put the toy in a closet and it has stayed there ever since. It is not forgotten but shunned.

I've found some of the simplest toys are among the best. All my granddaughters love making art. This means washable Crayola paints. They come in a number of formulations and oodles of colours. Shoppers Drug Mart sells these and the Crayola paint brush kit at very reasonable prices

Kaleidoscopes have it a little harder when it comes to holding a kid's interested. But I find if I'm enthused and excited I can get the kids keen on these toys too. I love the kaleidoscope images and the kids love to take pictures of the constantly changing geometric patterns. A kaleidoscope plus a digital camera equals hours of entertainment but those hours will be spread over many weeks.

Hatchables? Humbug.

Individual Angel Food Cakes are Heart Healthy

Mini angle food cake baked in a small ramekin.
I have a bad heart. The problem is a severe arrhythmia and not hardening of the arteries. Still, my doctors have me on a heart healthy diet. One serious heart problem is enough. If the doctors and I can keep my arteries open, we will be somewhat ahead in this game.

Dinner tonight was pasta with fresh, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, hot peppers, sweet green peppers, grilled mushrooms and soft, low-fat, goat cheese. Dinner was healthy.

To follow such a heart healthy dinner,  my wife settled on angel food cake with three kinds of berries: black berries, raspberries and strawberries.

Tip: Keep an eye open for mini angel food cake pans. These hold about 2/3 cup of angel food cake batter. One box of angel food mix will make up to ten mini cakes. The best little pans have the traditional tube in the core. This helps to insure the middle of the cakes are cooked.

That said, the cake pictured was baked in a ramekin and it worked just fine. My wife is a superb cook.
I often hear folk complaining about being forced to eat healthy. They have no imagination. Healthy is fun. Healthy is delicious. Healthy is only way to cook.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The quietness of softly falling snow

I love winter. I like spring, summer and fall as well. Each season has its strong points. But winter are different. It stands proud, beautiful and apart. I'm surprised that such a wonderful time of year attracts so much bad press. Recently, columnist Larry Cornies went on an I-hate-winter rant. The piece was titled: No welcome mat for Old Man Winter.

Cornies has a rather depressing view of winter. It's a slushy-faced, drunken monster casting a dark shadow over all and sundry. He admits he didn't always feel this way but he was not too old when he began turning against one of God's fair seasons.

Cornies ends his rant by reprinting a poem by Thomas Hood, a 19th-­century English poet. I wondered if Cornies associates this poem with winter. If he does, he has attached the wrong poem. The poem is a downer, Larry. Allow me to suggest an more upbeat alternative.

When I was in grade school we memorized a poem with a much different tone. If memory serves me right, the poet was Dame Edith Sitwell who once said: "Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home."

The poem I associate with winter is: "Christmas Snow."

 The night before Christmas
’Twas quiet all around;

’Twas quiet on the hills
And quiet on the ground;

’Twas quiet up above, 
And quiet down below;

And the quiet was the quietness
Of softly falling snow.

Whenever it snows, I recall that poem and smile as I look forward to the unique pleasures of winter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Real life is filled with surprises

Recently my wife had our granddaughters, Eloise, 5, and Fiona, 7, making chocolate chip cookies. The two kids rallied to the task. They made some of the best tasting chocolate chip cookies I have ever had. The girls did not go light on the chocolate chips and I think that helped.

Now, about the hats. The kids didn't have hair nets and so to keep stray hairs out of the batter the two wore their outdoor winter hats. It worked, I guess. There were no hairs in the cookies.

When I look at this picture, I smile. This is a picture of two young kids making cookies. It is not a posed moment. Today if a newspaper is illustrating a story on kids making cookies, they might run a stock image rather than spend the time and money to shoot their own art. The image would work on the page but it would never show a neat moment like this one.

Stock photos reinforce stereotypical thinking and such thinking should be the antithesis of the thinking of a journalist. Sadly, today this is no longer the case.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Craig Silverman speaking at Western; worth a listen

This coming Monday, Craig Silverman is speaking at Western. He will examine spreading truth in this age of viral misinformation. Silverman, the founding editor of BuzzFeed Canada, has taken a great interest in misinformation and fake news and how the main stream media makes the problem worse.

To decide whether or not to attend this lecture, I googled Silverman's name and found an article by the man himself: How Lies Spread Faster Than Truth: A Study of Viral Content. I was amazed to discover that Silverman lays much of the blame for the spreading of false information on the MSM. A good call, in my book.

Silverman is a bright guy. Most editors I have known are. If I have any criticism of Silverman's work, it is that he does not go far enough. The MSM not only give Internet rumours legs, the MSM are the original source of some of the worst false news. I say worst because a falsehood spread widely by the media can be far more damaging than an erroneous post uploaded to a Blogger site.

When the MSM make a false claim and it gets carried by both papers and television news, the story can quickly take on the patina of Truthiness, to use the Stephen Colbert term. Think UFFI or head lice or even going topless at a Canadian beach.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Medical wait times in Ontario

Some people I know who live in the States tell me my original post was grossly out of date. Thanks to what is being called ObamaCare, the coverage problems being encountered in the States have changed since my last visit to the States.

For instance, the big increase in premiums related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is big news. According to the Harvard Gazette, some ObamaCare premiums will rise 25 percent in 2017. This sounds scary but it isn't as bad as it sounds. The article reports the premiums going up are for a very specific subset of the insured: only those getting their coverage through the health insurance exchanges. It’s not about the premiums people pay for employer-run plans or for Medicare or Medicaid coverage.

The Gazette points out most people getting health insurance through the exchanges are heavily subsidized, with premium and cost-sharing subsidies. In other words, the cost to the federal government is increasing.

Hmmm. Increasing government health costs. Sounds like a familiar problem. One being faced by governments around the world.

I believe the right approach to solving our health care issues is to keep an open mind. And I am willing to admit that I too am guilty of closed-mind thinking. We must be both creative and willing to learn from others as we tackle the problem of providing health care in a world where the costs are constantly rising.

The Province of Ontario has a problem and the City of London has the same problem but bigger. The problem? Hospital wait times. The London Free Press has been running an excellent series looking at the lengthy wait times endured by patients waiting for hip replacement surgery.

But as bad as the problem is, and it is bad, I would not be too quick to toss the entire Canadian system and embrace the U.S. model. In 2010 my wife and I crossed the States by car. We stayed in bed and breakfasts and we chatted with a lot of Americans. One lady we met had been waiting more than a year for her joint replacement/repair surgery and she saw no end to the wait time. The boondoggle? Her insurance company.

On that same trip I had a heart event that put me in Marin County General outside San Francisco, California. I was lucky. Marin General is a great hospital serving one of the most affluent areas in the States. Although, I spent less than 48 hours under medical care, I ran up a bill of about $30,000 U.S. And all that money, all the sophisticated tests, didn't find the cause of my heart problem. I was given some pills, metoprolol, and discharged to drive the thousands of miles between me and home in another country on other side of the continent.

Back home, the doctors discovered the cause of my heart problem and an ICD/pacemaker was inserted into my chest. My direct cost in Canada: essentially nothing. My cost for treatment in the States? This too was essentially nothing but it took some eight months, or more, of back and forth with the insurance company and a U.S. based collection agency before all was settled. I had to take some long, difficult phone calls and I had to listen as I heard our retirement security threatened.

If I had been an American, even with insurance, it is possible the source of my heart problem would never have been discovered. I might have fallen through the cracks, as they say. The insurance folk would almost certainly have fought to find a way to drop me from any health plan and with no money there would have been no solution. (Today, with the Affordable Care Act in place, some of this has changed.)

To go full circle, let's return to the problem of wait times and hip replacement surgery. In London, Ontario, the wait time has become indefensible. But as bad as our system is when it comes to this surgery, I wouldn't be too fast to hold the much-faster-on-paper U.S. system up as a gold standard.

Please, follow the link to Free Money for All: A Basic Income Guarantee Solution for the Twenty-First Century by Mark Walker. (If the link fails, google the book and do a search on the word "infinite". You are looking for page 38.)

Walker points out that at the time he wrote his book a sizable percentage of Americans were unable to access the fine U.S. health care system. Being neither rich nor insured, they found themselves unable to pay when it came to elective surgery. They were trapped outside the Amercian health care system to suffer indefinitely. These people were sitting on what I have heard Americans refer to as the infinite wait-list. The wait times endured by these people were not measured in months, the times were not even measured in years. The wait could be infinite.

Has Obama changed the American medical system? Yes, but infinite wait times are still a problem for some Americans and the ranks may grow under a Trump presidency.

 Source of above graph: Commonwealth Fund (Wednesday, November 16, 2016)

Note: The above graph illustrates a complex problem. Use care when interpreting. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Working on recipe using Bonachia spinach fettuccine

The picture doesn't do tonight's dinner justice. I don't see any walnuts in the picture, and there were lots, and the Bonachia spinach fettuccine can only be seen poking around the tomato and spinach. I'm working on this recipe, fine tuning it you might say, and when I get it right I'll try and take a picture that does it justice.

I'm trying to come up with a relatively inexpensive but very healthy dinner. The Bonachia spinach fettuccine is the most expensive item in the meal. I'm going to try and find some on sale.

The spinach doesn't cost two dollars for two meals. The feta cheese comes from a giant block purchased at Costco. It is mild for a feta made from goat and sheep milk but then it is only Greet style. It comes from Stratford, Ontario. And it when used in small amounts, a few ounces at a time, it is inexpensive. There are not too many tomatoes, nor too many mushrooms, but enough of both to make a tasty, simple sauce.

The next time I'm going to hold some of the feta and some of the pan-roasted walnuts back in order to sprinkle them on the top of each serving. There really are a lot more walnuts and far more feta than it appears in this picture.

The fresh corn was an afterthought. It was only a buck at Remark and may be the last local corn of the year that I buy. It was fresh, sweet and delicious.

Do not tamper with reality.

There was a time when tampering with reality was questionable at papers.

Back when I worked at The London Free Press I was asked to shoot a quick picture of strawberries to illustrate an article on the ripening local crop. I deked out for some berries; they were from California. I told myself that berries are berries. Editor Sue Greer disagreed. Sue rejected my picture. The berries were not from Heeman's, the berry farm mentioned in the story. I drove across town to Heeman's for some berries before reshooting the picture.

In the early days of my career in the newspaper industry, faked and doctored images were always 'questionable'. I use the word questionable carefully. The pictures might make it into the paper or they might not. Such pictures always raised questions. No more.

Today pictures are all too often filler, page art, illustrations. The idea that pictures are simply shims on a  page has never been more true. I have tried to broach this subject with local journalists but have found they completely ignore my comments.

When I got into the newspaper business there was a distrust of those with degrees in journalism. The editors at the first paper at which I worked believed many graduates had picked up bad habits at school along with big egos. It was difficult and time consuming retraining them on the job. A graduate with an English degree was preferred over one with a journalism degree.

The clown image that accompanied a local news story.
Today fake pictures abound in our papers and online and our university trained journalists see no problem with illustrating their stories with stock photography.

Recently in London, Ontario, high schools were threatened with trouble from clowns. The police arrested two kids too young to even attend high school. The paper should have seen this coming; kids, not clowns, are often the source of such threats.

The paper illustrated the story with a cliché image of a horror story clown and my guess is that neither the award-winning, degree carrying, journalist, nor the local university that once granted MAs in journalism saw any problem.

And why is the clown image so wrong? Because it illustrates not just a story but an attitude. And that attitude leads to stuff like the stock art photo used on the left. It's certainly not a news picture. I'd call it soft porn.

And once the ability to question has been blunted the next logical step is faking pictures in-house. When a Sun Media paper couldn't find topless sunbathers at the local beach to illustrate a story, the paper simply hired a couple of models. 

The models took different poses, with one being posed topless, but it was all very tasteful. The topless model was always shown shot from the back. The resulting pictures got wide play. One even ran in The New York Times.

And some at newspapers wonder why more and more readers are questioning the decisions being made by our newsrooms. Heck, if the folk in the media won't ask the questions, some readers will.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Send in the clowns

The news picture depicts a clown, a terrifying clown with a white face streaked with blood and a smile marred by long and pointed teeth. One tooth is blood stained. It would be a great piece of photojournalism if it actually was journalism. But it's not. It's photographic clip art.

Clowns have been in the news lately. Well, at least talk of clowns. It seems clowns, in fact, haven't actually done all that much that's news worthy. It's often kids that are being arrested, if anyone is arrested at all.

For instance, in London, Ontario, after online threats to kill teachers and kidnap students were made, police arrested two kids not yet old enough to be in high school.

So, the London clowns were kids. A picture of a couple of kids laughing and texting on an iPhone would have been a more accurate image than one shown but, as it wouldn't have been the actual kids, it still wouldn't be journalism.

I decided to google this recent clown craze. I found a Slate article titled: The Wave of Evil Clown Sightings Is Nothing to Worry About. It Happens Every Few Years. I learned:

  • May 1981, Brookline, Massachusetts: Elementary school children report two clowns driving a black van offering them candy. A rash of  sightings follows but no clowns are found.
  • March 1988, Louisville, Kentucky: Across a three-county area, children suddenly begin calling police with stories of a malevolent clown offering rides and, in one case, pursuing a child on foot. No arrests are made. The clown vanishes without a trace.
  • Oct. 1991, Chicago: The city police are overwhelmed with reports from  schoolchildren of a man dressed as Homey D. Clown from In Living Color. The clown offers them candy to ride in his van. Children variously report the van to be blue, white, or red, an eighth-grader claims to have punched the clown in the nose and an adult reports seeing a clown abduct a girl. Before the epidemic subsides, clowns are reported in Evanston and Joliet as well as Chicago.  As the panic over clowns drew to a close, not one clown had been placed behind bars.
  • Sept. 1992, Rock Hill, South Carolina: A wave of terrifying clown sightings comes to an end when four teenage boys are arrested. The boys aren’t charged; authorities cannot find a law that has been broken.
  • Oct. 1992, Galveston, Texas: An evil clown reportedly attempted to kidnap a little girl. The police and media are flooded with sightings. A police investigation leads to no arrests.

Yes, I have been selective. And, yes there have been cases of evil doers dressed as clowns. But, if an evil clown is sighted, I would not bet on its veracity too quickly. I'd let the paper to that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Courtiers and the Tyrants: Chris Hedges

The Courtiers and the Tyrants: Chris Hedges: We must not confuse the political elites who function as courtiers to corporate power with the tyrannical leaders who actually drive corporatism. Our real enemy, lurking behind the curtain, is usually faceless and anonymous.
- 2016/09/18

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My best fruit fly trap.

This trap is easy and quick to make, costs nothing and is easily disposed of. At which point, make another.

I have made a number of fruit fly traps following instructions found on the net. All traps had problems. I was not satisfied. Now, I've made my own and so far it seems to be working very well. I may have a winner.

  • I took a 2 litre pop bottle and cut it in two.
  • I poked a hole in the attached cap. It was easily done with the point of an open pair of scissors.
  • I poured a little cider vinegar into the bottom half and dumped the peel from one apple in as well.
  • I flipped the top over and wedged it into the bottom.
  • Finally, I used masking tape to secure the top edge to prevent the escape of any small flies or tiny larvae (maggots). Yes, fruit fly eggs hatch and miniature maggots appear. Ugh.

After the pop-bottle-fruit-fly-trap had been in use for only a few minutes, it contained half a dozen fruit flies. When I checked after dinner, I found no sign that the little critters were finding their way out. I may be a little quick on this announcement, but I believe I have a winner in this fruit fly trap design.

Why is this so important to me? Well, I have had it with fruit flies. Thanks to all the fruit sitting on my kitchen counter at this time of year, I have a veritable fruit fly invasion on my hands . . . and on the kitchen counter. Ugh. If the fruit is fresh and firm with unbroken skin, the flies won't burrow into the fruit. But they will lay eggs on the surface of the fruit and on surrounding surfaces. Ugh. This is one reason to wash fruit before eating.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

It's all about quality of life

My doctors tell me the reason they are doing all the medical stuff is to give me a better quality of life. It has been made very clear that I should be out enjoying life and not wasting precious time worrying about tomorrow. My doctors will do that for me if I just let them.

Today my granddaughter had a birthday party. Pizza was served. I had two narrow slices. There was also birthday cake. I had a small slice of that too. Too many calories and maybe a little heavy on the animal fat thanks to all the cheese. I excused my conduct by explaining I was simply following doctor's orders and enjoying life.

Dinner provided a time for redemption. I stuck with salad: lots of baby spinach with chunks of a sweet Royal Gala apple, a little, very little, halloumi fried in olive oil with garlic, gently candied pecans (I used maple syrup), pan roasted sunflower seeds, dried cranberries with pumpkin seeds, diced green onions and just a little, about an ounce, of chopped grilled chicken (The chicken was a leftover.). I tossed all with a sweet, raspberry dressing, Rootham Raspberry Razzle, that I buy at Remark. I use it very sparingly. I find too much is too sweet.

I'm sure my heart and stroke doctor would groan at hearing about the pizza, two slices is pushing it, but I believe my dinner would put me back in his good graces. He would even give me a thumbs up when it comes to my four ounces of wine with dinner. A glass of wine a day is both a part of my heart healthy diet and a step towards that fine quality of life I should be pursuing.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Two tips: Fall squash and Paese Mio Bruschetta Calabrese

Locally grown fall squash is ready. Move fast. It isn't on the shelves all that long. I've been buying mine at Thomas Bros. Market on hwy 4 south of the city. They have lots of other fresh, locally grown stuff as well. Their field tomatoes are excellent even if they are a little light on the acidity. I fear milder tomatoes are the flavour of the day.

The picture at the top of this post shows spaghetti squash topped with a homemade sauce of fresh field tomatoes plus locally grown mushrooms, sweet peppers, garlic plus some real Greek feta cheese - the kind that comes swimming in a mix of whey and brine. All vegetables are chopped into large, chunky pieces. Lots of flavour and looks good too.

I fried the garlic for possibly a minute, added the sweet peppers, then the mushrooms and finally the tomatoes. The exact proportion is up to you. With fresh ingredients one can hardly go wrong. The squash was halved and placed peel side up in a baking dish with a quarter-inch of water. It was baked for 20 minutes at 375-degrees. When cooked properly, the spaghetti-like squash is easily scraped from the baked squash with a simple fork. One large squash should feed up to three people.

I have left out one ingredient and, unlike the others, it isn't fresh. It's Paese Mio Bruschetta Calabrese. This is a bottled mix of oodles of stuff, all good, with hot peppers dominating. Use caution when experimenting with this. It can be hot. Very hot. But it is good.

Paese Mio Bruschetta Calabrese can be found in London at Unger's Market on Gainsborough Rd. Unger's is open 8 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday. Saturday the market closes at 6 pm and Sunday Unger's is closed.

While we're talking about hours, I should mention that there isn't even a month left before Thomas Bros. closes for the season. Despite the drought, it has been a good fall for fresh vegetables. I'm going to miss the sweet corn.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Camden Terrace not the only historical structure under threat

Recently I read in The London Free Press that "the city was poised to lose a vital part of its history." A grouping of 140-year-old row houses known as Camden Terrace may be torn down. When I tried to talk to others about the impending loss, all too often I simply got a puzzled response: "Camden Terrace? Where or what is Camden Terrace?" People who didn't get the paper didn't get the question.

The brouhaha surrounding Camden Terrace raises issues the London planning department and others in the city should address. For instance: what is a heritage building? Why is a heritage building important? How many changes can be made before a heritage building stops being a heritage building? And should we be saving single buildings or complete heritage landscapes, areas and districts?

I was surprised that some consider Museum London, despite its relatively recent construction, to be a heritage structure with a "B" ranking. This is a ranking no better than that of Camden Terrace. The London Free Press award-winning writer, Randy Richmond, told readers, "Raymond Moriyama's original design evoked the river, the historical significance of the forks . . . The large arches were painted blue . . . and inside was an airy fan design. . . . "

The dynamic shapes that originally filled the arches are now gone. The fan design disappeared at the same time as blue colour. Today, the museum is dark grey.

If London cannot maintain an architectural treasure for even a few decades, why are we surprised when row houses which have stood relatively unappreciated for more than a century are now facing demolition.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pay attention when buying salmon fillets

The salmon was tasty but I won't buy it again. I discovered it was most likely farm raised salmon taken from pens off the coast of Norway. Like so many other areas with numerous salmon farming operations, the Norwegian ones have sea lice problems. (If you want to know more about sea lice, go to the bottom of this post.)

That said, the salmon fillets were about an inch thick and were firm but flaky with only about seven minutes of searing in a medium hot pan. I served the salmon topped with a mildly hot gremolata. Gremolata usually contains only lemon rind, garlic and parsley but this recipe added chopped pistachio nuts, chopped onion and a few hot peppers.

For the recipe follow this link: Boston Globe recipe.

Today I saw an article being distributed on Quartz: The gross reason you’ll be paying a lot more for salmon this year

Click the link above to read the whole story. The following is from the article.

Sea lice are the farmed Atlantic salmon industry’s most expensive problem, costing around $550 million in lost output each year, according to Ian Bricknell, an expert on the parasite at the University of Maine.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Dining in retirement isn't as expensive as newspapers insist

I am always reading how difficult it is to feed oneself on a budget in retirement. Not true, at least that has not been my findings.

Tonight my wife and I had potato gnocchi with green and yellow beans flavoured with a light coating of two tablespoons of tomato sauce spiked with a couple of teaspoons of Paese Mio Bruschetta Calabrese. I added a couple of bottled artichoke hearts as well. The artichoke helped to dilute the heat from the bruschetta Calabrese.

The broccoli served on the side, like all the vegetables, came from a roadside market on Col. Talbot Rd. south of the city. We find Thomas Bros. carries fresh vegetables at a fair price. Perfect. I love late summer in Southwestern Ontario.

As a finishing touch, my wife sprinkled grated Parmesan cheese on top. This cheese can be expensive. We buy ours at Costco. The price is right, the taste is great and one gets enough to last months if kept wrapped in aluminum foil and tucked into a corner of the fridge.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Let's put on a show!

I love the enthusiasm and imagination of kids. Fiona, left, and her three-year-old sister, Isla, decided to stage an active fashion show the other night. they wore different outfits and danced to music supplied by the radio. It was fun and somewhat revealing of their personalities. For instance, I had no idea that they could put as much thought into an outfit as they did.

When I took Fiona to see Pete's Dragon the other day, I left Isla at home with grandma. Strong imaginations and dragons are not known to always co-exist well. I didn't want to risk Isla having nightmares.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pete's Dragon: Fiona gives it two thumbs up

I took Fiona to see Pete's Dragon Saturday. She loved it. For her it was a feel-good boy and his dragon story. As we watched the movie, more than once she gave me a big grin and the thumbs up gesture.

I liked Pete's Dragon, too, but I saw the story as having roots reaching all the way back to the '50s science fiction film Forbidden Planet. That film featured a monster from the id. Morbius, played by Walter Pidgeon, conjures up the monster from the depths of his subconscious.

My gut feeling is that Pete's dragon is more symbolic, more allegorical, than flesh and blood. How such a creature comes to life is the question.  But like the animated snowman Frosty, only children have any understanding of such magic. In other words, at its very heart, this is a story but a story with a lesson at its core.

Pete names the dragon "Elliott" after the puppy in his favorite book: Elliott Gets Lost. The dragon Elliott is, at least to me, reminiscent of a large, green, oh-so-furry puppy. When the two, the dragon and the boy, splash about in a large, mountain stream, the bounding, frolicking dragon is at its most puppy like.

Early in the movie, Pete's mother tells her young son, "I think you're the bravest boy I've ever met." Near the end of the film Grace, the Forest Ranger who becomes Pete's adoptive mom, tells him, "You may be the bravest boy I’ve ever met." And I believe it is Pete's bravery and determination that conjures up a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't dragon. Pete's dragon has the ability to fade from sight, to become invisible.

The little boy lives alone in the forest for six years, alone but for his dragon and his bravery. He not only survives but flourishes. Living in harmony with nature, Pete has a depth of understanding of the wild world that easily surpasses our book learning approach. He lived where no one could and thanks to his experiences the boy sees and appreciates the magic that is Nature.

Everyone, even the greedy Gavin, who originally only wanted to cut down the forest to sell the lumber, everyone who comes in contact with Pete learns to understand the unseen and to appreciate the immense value of the natural world. And there is a corollary: mess with Nature at your peril.

In the end, it is not only Pete who sees a dragon. His adopted family, Grace, Jack and Natalie, also see the once invisible flying beasts. Once one learns how to look, how to approach the invisible, the world is filled with dragons.

But one must be brave.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Unscrambling the Truth About Eggs

Unscrambling the Truth About Eggs: Articles from Dr. Carney on multiple topics of health.

Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque

Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque

The prevailing tendency to ignore dietary cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary heart disease requires reassessment, including the consumption of cholesterol from eggs. . . . findings suggest that regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease. . . .

Source: Spence JD, et al., Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque, Atherosclerosis (2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2012.07.032

Avoiding Cholesterol Is a No Brainer

Avoiding Cholesterol Is a No Brainer

Egg Cholesterol in the Diet

Egg Cholesterol in the Diet

Whose Health Unaffected by Eggs?

Whose Health Unaffected by Eggs?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

There's a lot of joy in being a grandparent

I haven't thought of my Cat in the Hat hat in years. But my six-year-old granddaughter found it and loved it. The hat was magic. It brought my two visiting granddaughters to life just like the top hat placed on Frosty the snowman. Although, I must admit that winding up my granddaughters for a bit of singing and dancing is a lot easier than moving old Frosty.

With the hat as the inspiration, a song and dance show was soon being improvised. Isla was happy to prance about in her PJs with only the hat as a prop but her sister, Fiona, went all out. She found some old duds and was soon dressed for the stage. Both sang:

Here we go go go go,
on an adventure!
The Thing-a-ma-jigger is up and away.
Go go go go,
on an adventure.
We’re flying with the Cat in the Hat today!

I'd have gotten some fine pictures if it wasn't for the performers insisting on the lights being dimmed during the performance and banning flash photography. It's as tough shooting entertainers at my home as at the Budweiser Gardens.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

It may have been a generation of booming good fortune for some, but not for me.

I have to agree with The London Free Press columnist who recently confessed he risked generalizing when writing about life as a baby boomer. His memories are not my memories despite my being a baby boomer. And a chat with some of my friends confirmed that his memories are not theirs either. I think his fears were realized; he slipped into generalizing.

A quick reading of this columnist's piece left me with the feeling that the writer believed baby boomers are a privileged generation. Boomers are about to inherit an estimated $750 billion from their "more frugal" parents, we learn. In one sense, he's right. My parents were frugal. They had to be. They were poor. And both died decades ago. When my mother died, she was living with my wife and me. She had to. She could not afford to live on her own. My mother wasn't one of the privileged class.

My earliest boomer memories are of growing up in a Wartime Housing neighbourhood. Wartime Housing Ltd. was a federal crown corporation that built and managed some 32,000 rental homes between 1941 and 1947.

Our Wartime home was cheap. The walls were scarred with thousands of deep, round dimples left by the hammer heads wielded by the drywallers who pounded in those nails with far too much haste. No smoothing plaster hid either the drywall nails or the tape. Our home had gone up quickly, maybe too quickly.

Our porch was made of two by fours as was the walkway up to our home. A large, coal-burning, black-iron stove sat in the corner of the living-room. The stove wasn't connected immediately to a chimney but first the hot exhaust gases meandered through a torturous maze of pipes. This was ugly but the long length of exhaust piping encouraged the transfer of heat, the better to warm our poorly insulated home. As a young boy, I was well acquainted with Jack Frost who decorated my bedroom windows each winter with thick swirls of icy crystals.

Our coal stove was a bit of a throwback. Many of my friends had oil stoves. But when it came to our fridge, I had the bragging rights. Many of my friends' parents were still using ice-boxes. The  blocks of ice were delivered by men driving horse-drawn wagons as was our bread and milk. The lady who dropped off our eggs once a week was the only delivery person to use a car.

And as for cars, no one in my neighbourhood had a new one. Most cars were at least a decade old and some went all the way back to the twenties. I liked riding in a rumble seat whenever I got a chance. Cars seemed to last longer then. I've heard it was because in the early part of the last century not as much salt was spread on snow-covered winter roads as is done today.

My parents got their furniture second hand. I still have a table that my dad and I found at Goodwill. It sits in the hallway of my Byron home. And the dining room set my wife and I use today is the one my dad and I picked up used back in the late '50s when it had already seen some three decades of use. I can see that set still in use at the century mark.

The London Free Press writer tells readers, "When the boomers needed schools, governments built them." He makes all boomers sound spoiled. Maybe he was spoiled but not me. My public school was opened in 1922 and my high school in 1929. The high school still had the same seats and desks screwed to the classroom floors that it had had when the school was built more than three decades earlier. As an early boomer, growing up in the fading shadow of the Great Depression, the old desks just seemed right. Why buy new when the old still works?

My first real job, not just a summer job to earn tuition money to pay for art school, was as a newspaper photographer. It paid $90 a week. Taking inflation into account, that converts to about $560 today. Unlike The Free Press writer, I did not fall easily into a good-paying, full-time job. In fact, I got my first good paying job when the photo department of the newspaper unionized. Our salaries just about doubled overnight. It took workplace militancy, not good luck, to get a decent wage. The silver spoon has constantly eluded me.

I credit unions for more of my supposed good luck than my birth-date When I was injured on the job while still a student, it was the union that fought the company for me and won for me some much needed compensation.

And it was the union that made sure no other workers would be injured in the same way that I had been. The union got the workplace rules changed. All this came as no surprise. When I worked in a plastic injection plant, it was the union that fought for a safe workplace, forcing the company to supply workers with the protective gear to safely perform certain dangerous jobs.

When I stopped working at factories I felt blessed. It was hard work and dangerous work, at least at the factories with which I was familiar. My time on the factory floor left me with a great admiration for skilled factory workers, and yes, factory workers are skilled. Often their skill is very focused but it is a skill nevertheless.

Boomers "largely benefited from decades of steady inflation," according to The Free Press. Maybe for the writer but inflation has been an unsteady bugbear for me. Over my lifetime, inflation has averaged 3.8 percent. I don't believe the Bank of Canada would call that good.

But there was a period, stretching over some nine years, when inflation was out of control. It hit almost 11 percent in 1974, dipped down to 7.6 percent two years later, only to start climbing until it hit 12.5 percent in 1981.

Those were scary times. If you were making $10,400 in 1973, you had to be making $24,430 by 1982 just to stay even with inflation. Tonight, one of my retired friends told me that back then he and his wife had to take out a mortgage at an annual interest rate of 18 percent. Those nine years instilled in him a fear of inflation that I find similar to the fear of another depression that my parents developed during the '30s.

I should say that the writer focused many of his comments on the year 1967, the Centennial year. Somehow, he forgot Bobby Gimby's Canada Song. My wife calls it upbeat and fun. She liked it. I guess I was a curmudgeon even then because I didn't. Thankfully, The Canadian Railroad Trilogy by Gordon Lightfoot, mentioned in the newspaper article, had more staying power. Listen to both and see what you think.

I must say, I was proud to be Canadian in 1967 but then I was proud to be a Canadian before that and after that as well. I'm not big on pomp and circumstance. I cruised through 1967 without giving much thought to the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill or the world's fair in Montreal.

As a boy in the early '50s, my friends were also boomers and some of them were foreign-born boomers. Some of these kids referred to themselves as a DP -- displaced person. They had come with their parents from Europe to start new lives in a new country, a country which they saw as filled with hope and promise and not the rubble of war and the strife of ethnic divisiveness. Their upbeat, positive take on Canada was contagious.

It's funny. I wasn't smiling when I started this. I found The Free Press piece a little off-putting. Kind of pollyannish. But as I sit here, recalling my childhood and my little boyhood friend with leather embroidered pants, I smile. He and I didn't require a commemorative bronze coloured medallion to remind us that Canada is a good country. He, and I, had Canada to remind us.


I'm posting this but tomorrow or the next day I will add the links.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Link to proposed class action settlement in VW TDI fiasco

I've have a 2011 VW Jetta TDI. I loved the car until diesel-gate hit the fan and then the fun stopped. The value of my car dropped like the proverbial rock. As a fellow who tries to be green, driving a car famous for its polluting ways was aggravating.

Today the proposed settlement to the class action fought in a California court was released. Volkswagen Canada has indicated that it may follow the guidelines detailed in the American ruling. Gosh, I do hope the Canadian arm of VW does just that. According to the settlement, my 2011 Jetta TDI could have a buyback value as high as $18,347 U.S.

If you'd like to read the settlement, here is a LINK. There is a table showing the proposed buyback values for the affected vehicles. And if you would like to read what exactly Volkswagen Canada is saying, and it is not a lot now that the Yanks have shown their cards, here is a link to the Canadian site: We're working to make things right.

Eat healthy while having fun

I've talked about this in the past but tonight's pizza was just so good that I must share. It was healthy, lots of vegetables, and delicious with bits of hot pepperoni spicing up the presentation. Plus, it was not expensive. Perfect for two seniors on fixed incomes.

Watch the Thursday food flyers. When Dr. Otker pizza is on sale at less than $3.00, buy a few. We used to buy just the four cheese kind but my wife and I have found many of the others from the good doctor also make good bases on which to build great pizzas.

Usually, we add gently fried pepperoni, fried mushrooms, bottled artichokes, a mix of sweet peppers (green, orange and red) and black olives. I may add some minced garlic to the mushrooms while frying. The frying removes excess moisture from the mushrooms. I always wrap the fried pepperoni in a paper towel to absorb any oil released by the frying.

These pizzas cost less than $3 a slice but taste like a million dollars. They are low in fat and low in cholesterol but high in fibre and all the other good stuff contained in the rich mix of vegetables.

The pizza looks big in the picture but it is actually just large enough for two. We enjoy our weekly pizza with a glass of boxed wine. Our favourites are either the merlot or shiraz from Jackson-Triggs. Again, watch for the sales. Don't pay more than $40. We usually pay about $1.50 a glass for these wines. We have a budget and we stick to it.

Being retired and on a fixed income does not have to translate into eating poorly. Life's got to be fun. And with that, I think I'll have another sip of merlot. Cheers!

Monday, June 27, 2016

My obit picture has been taken

My granddaughters all love to shoot pictures. I think this is just part of discovering the world and the stuff we find in it. Cameras are not just something to discover but they are also tools of discovery. It just doesn't get much better than this for little kids.

Isla wanted take my picture. I gave he my small, point and shoot Canon S90. I love the image that resulted. It's me. Old but not too wrinkled and tired. She has captured my sparkle. I hope I have sparkle. I certainly do when I'm watching a cute, little three-year-old take my picture with love and affection.

And how happy I look. Maybe even content. And, in truth, I am both happy and content. She's nailed it. I've told my wife I want this image as my obit picture in the local paper. (Maybe they can lighten the mid-tones just a little before publishing. Open the shadow end of the scale.)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Media spread myth

Isla, 3, sprinkles coarsely chopped cashews onto her peanut butter sandwich.

I thought it was a cute picture. It shows my granddaughter Isla, 3, making "the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the world." The claim might be a little overstated but I was somewhat surprised by one response. I was sent a link to a Post Media story claiming "Butter is alright, but margarine just might kill you, massive Canadian study finds." And yes, that was the headline.

I was sent the link by a fellow I respect. He often posts interesting stuff. For that reason, I follow him on Facebook. Does he believe the Post Media story? I don't know. If he does, he would not be alone. The confusion surrounding the health dangers of margarine has taken on the patina of what Stephen Colbert calls "truthiness."

Simply stated, in the past margarine contained a lot of partially hydrogenated oils. These fats contain lots of trans fats. Trans fats are bad. How bad? According to the American Heart Association, "Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes."

But, and it's a huge 'but', today's soft margarine is not hydrogenated. Hydrogenation makes margarine solid so it can be sold in sticks like butter.

Becel is soft and sold in tubs. It is a non-hydrogenated margarine, made with 68% canola oil, 6% olive oil and 6% modified palm and palm kernel oils. The palm oils mildly solidify the margarine without creating trans fats. Unfortunately, the palm oils add a little saturated fat to the final margarine mix.

Why the media cannot get the hydrogenated oil story right with any consistency is a puzzle. I could take a guess but it would be just thata guess. And taking guesses, rather than spending the time finding answers, is what drives the media into promoting "truthiness" and "urban legends."

The media loves to form organizations which award member for all the great stories published or broadcast over the past year. Maybe one of these organizations could add another award to their long list: The Truthiness Award, given the media outlet or group that did the most to spread the urban myth that inflicted the most damage on its readers or viewers.

Recipe for Isla's "World's Best Peanut Butter Sandwich"

2 slices of whole wheat bread (bread cannot be made with refined flour)
1 Tbs of pure peanut butter (This stuff separates. No added sugar allowed.)
1 Tsp of pure strawberry/peach jelly (This can be tough to find.)
2 thinly sliced large, fresh strawberries (These are in season in SW Ontario in June.)
2 coarsely chopped, roasted cashews

If the cook is three, like Isla, one adult to supervise, or lend a helping hand should an emergency arise, is not optional.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Egg Creations make a very good omelette

Omelette made with Egg Creations from Burnbrae Farms with salsa sprinkled on top.

As I've stated in the past, I'm not allowed whole eggs. No egg yolks in my diet. It's the cholesterol. Just two egg yolks can deliver ten times the cholesterol I aim to consume over the course of a whole day. Yet, I still enjoy omelettes. I leave the cheese out but I can still make a mean omelette.

I do this by using Egg Creations, a cholesterol and fat free whole egg replacement. My wife has found that Egg Creations Original can be used anywhere whole beaten eggs are used. I didn't find it surprising when these eggs in a carton made great scrambled eggs and fine omelettes. But I was surprised when my wife had great success using them in her baking.

Why do Egg Creations taste like eggs? Because they are made from eggs, from egg whites. They are eggs but minus the yolks. And best of all, they are pasteurized. So they can be used uncooked in Caesar salad and mayonnaise.

If you can't eat whole eggs because of the cholesterol, try Egg Creations. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Folks threw out less trash 60 years ago

The figures change from source to source and country to country but one thing seems certain, there was less trash 60 years ago. I began googling the question of trash because London, Ontario, city council is debating whether or not to lower the waste collection day trash bag limit. It may drop from four to three.

Three bags still seems like a lot. Today was collection day and I only put out one bag and it wasn't full. When I was a young boy in the early '50s I cannot recall my mother ever putting out three cans of filled with trash on collection day. I don't think we even owned three of those big, old steel containers with heavy lids. And we never put out our waste out in a green, plastic bag. Never.

When I was born, the green, trash bag had not yet been invented. The creation of the bin bag or trash bag is often credited to Canadians Harry Wasylyk, Larry Hansen, who worked on the project together. Frank Plomp, working on his own, also developed a plastic trash bag but he was not as successful at marketing. Hansen had an in, he worked for Union Carbide in Lindsay, Ontario. Working with Hansen and Wasylyk, Union Carbide began manufacturing green Glad Garbage bags for the home in the '60s.

Without inexpensive green garbage bags what happened to trash in the dark ages of waste removal? The simple answer is the we didn't generate as much of it and so removal was not as big a problem. The solutions from the '50s may hold promise for folks today. Here are five things commonly done when I was a boy.

  • We bought durable goods and repaired them.
  • We bought beverages in refillable, or recyclable, containers.
  • We bought  items with minimal, or even no, packaging.
  • We composted yard waste and often simply ignored the grass clippings.
  • We reused more often than we do today.

Today, I still try to do all of the above but it is tough. We have become a bag it and toss it society. Heck, we even bag yard waste like the leaves that fall from our trees. We place 'em in huge paper bags beside the road to be trucked away. That's nuts. I just run my electric lawnmower over the leaves and mulch them with my lawn clippings. All just disappears.

Spare coffee carafes and more.
Today, when we buy small appliances like coffee makers, bread machines and the like and then the coffee pot breaks or the bread pan paddles cease to turn, we immediately toss the appliance into the garbage. That's nuts but have you ever tried to buy a replacement coffee pot or bread pan? It can be damn difficult. And that's nuts, too.

I've been known to break glass coffee carafes. When I found a source for replacement carafes, Rowland's Appliance Sales, I bought a couple of extra carafes. I'm confident that they will eventually see use.

Rowland's also sells replacement bread-maker pans for my now out of production WestBend machine. I've gone through two pans and I have one replacement pan still sitting in my basement. It's a good bread-maker. No sense parting with it over a broken paddle.

If you look closely at the picture on the right, you will see that the replacement carafes are sitting on a waffle maker. It was a gift. If I had my druthers, I'd simply make pancakes. But, I have a waffle maker and when the plastic knob broke, it was difficult to control the heat. I went online and found a replacement knob for sale.

You are getting the idea. We should all be repairing stuff rather than simply chucking broken stuff out and buying new. My computer monitor and keyboard are holdovers from a Dell computer I once owned. I now get my computers from a fellow who makes computers in his basement. He reuses the old computer cases and whatever else does not need to be replaced.

I'd post a picture of the lovely watch that my wife bought me some years ago but I can't. I took the watch to the nearby Young's Jewelers and it is away being fixed. I hope to keep that watch going indefinitely.

Refinished used table.
The table in our front hallway came from Goodwill Industries. I didn't buy it. My dad did. And he bought it some sixty years ago. Back then Goodwill took donated old furniture, like the table, refinished it and re-glued it and resold it in their shop. The operation created employment while keeping stuff, like the table, out of the dump.

Although Goodwill Industries no longer does furniture restoration, there are businesses that will do it for a fee. I've had both our sofas reupholstered by Finns Upholstery on Oxford St. E. And our dining room set, my parents bought it used many years ago, was refinished, reupholstered and re-glued. That set will soon be 100 years old.

We have to find ways to keep stuff out of the dump. We have to be creative. Tossing stuff out should be our last option.

The lamp shade is an old beer glass.

Forty years ago I bought two bedside lamps from a Nordel's Furniture, I believe that was the name, on Wellington Road near Baseline Road.

When I broke the glass lamp shade, I could not find a replacement. My wife determined that the base of the shade was the same diameter as that of some old beer glasses we had and rarely used. I took the glasses to London Glass and Mirror and had them cut to fit the lamp base. I got a couple of spare shades made and those aluminum base lamps should be in use for many, many years to come.

I'd go on but you get my point. Changing the three bag limit misses the point, although that's not to say it's a bad idea. But what really needs to change is our attitude. It is society that must be changed.

We need to learn to repair, reuse, recycle.

For instance, glass is almost infinitely recyclable. But, we make so many different types of glass. Take colour alone. There's a ridiculous number of colours. Why doesn't society settle on a set number of colours and on  set number of formulations for glass, and maybe we could up the percentage of glass that is recycled to something approaching 100 percent.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Heart healthy meals need not be boring

"No red meat" was what the stroke specialist ordered. Stick mostly to fish, chicken and turkey -- the white meat, not the dark. Smoked salmon is on the approved list.

So for tonight's dinner, I served smoked salmon on a Montreal-style bagel. My wife hates fish, or so she claims, but she loved tonight's dinner. The secret: high quality fish.

The bagel came from Farm Boy on Beaverbrook Avenue just off Wonderland Road North. This grocery brings Kettleman's wood-fired bagels in from Ottawa. These bagels are made in the traditional Montreal bagel manner and they are delicious. These are not just puffy, doughnut-shaped hunks of bread. These  bagels are slightly sweet, dense and chewy.

The smoked salmon came from Remark on Hyde Park just south of Oxford St. W. Although it was frozen, I thawed it carefully in cold water. There was too much fish for two simple sandwiches, so I cut the salmon in half while still frozen and placed half in a zip-lock plastic lunch bag to thaw. The rest I returned to the fridge for later. When thawed, I squeezed a little fresh lemon juice over the salmon.

The fresh dill also came from Remark. I mixed a tablespoon of finely chopped dill into 60 grams of light cream cheese. I also mixed in some finely chopped red onion.

To assemble, I spread a quarter of the cheese mixture on each bagel half. Next, I placed a very thin slice of red onion on each half bagel and placed half the salmon, about 50 grams, on two of the bagel halves. I sprinkled the capers over the salmon, dusted all with a little coarse pepper (optional) and finished by placing the remaining bagel halves over the salmon.

Since asparagus is still in season, I served fresh, steamed asparagus as the vegetable. You can use butter on your vegetables if you like, I must use non-hydrogenated margarine. I choose Becel with olive oil. As there was still juice in the lemon, I squeezed some lemon juice onto both my wife's and my asparagus.

I should mention the restaurant that inspired this meal: Little Red's in St. Marys. Little Red's Pub and Eatery is the latest restaurant from the team of chef Chris Woolf and his wife Mary. Chris is simply an amazing chef and his wife is a delightful hostess. Everything they serve  is made from seasonal, and mostly local, ingredients. The pub is a little gem, a real delight. We'll be going there again for lunch before the summer is over. Click on the link and check out their Web page.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Lorrie Goldstein: Think Monty Python, not Tobe Hooper

I'm not a fan of Lorrie Goldstein. His opinions do not mesh with my opinions. And it's no wonder as his take on the world doesn't mesh with mine. For instance, where he sees a "scare" tactic, I see a famous example of a failed attempt at extreme humour. The failure of the little promo, which turned out to be an anti-promo, is something we can all learn from.

In a recent opinion piece, Goldstein mentions an ad created by an environmental group in the U.K. that he claims used the tactic of fear to promote the group's stand on climate change. He claims the film showed school children having their heads blown off for refusing to take part in a climate change initiative suggested by their teacher.

The resisting student explodes, completely annihilated.
Not true. It's worse. The students are completely annihilated in the explosions. They are obliterated.  It is all very messy.

The short, No Pressure, was written by one of Britain's most respected comedy writers, Richard Curtis. The writer of Blackadder, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and more. The short was suppose to be funny. Some thought it was. Many didn't.

The film was removed from the 10:10 group's website just hours after its release and the 10:10 group found itself forced to issue a statement saying:

We wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue (climate change) back into the headlines whilst making people laugh. . . .
At 10:10 we're all about trying new and creative ways of getting people to take action on climate change. Unfortunately in this instance we missed the mark.

When I worked in the newspaper industry, there were editors who were amazing. The amount of stuff with which they were familiar was a source of constant amazement. I can think of a couple of editors who would probably have known immediately the film to which Goldstein was alluding and would have known Goldstein's take on the film was open to question. They'd have removed the reference to the film from opinion piece.

If Goldstein had made an issue of being edited, these editors might have told Goldstein that his attack left hardly a scratch on them and if he wanted to continue his attack they would bite his legs off. Why might they say such things? Because making reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail might be the perfect response in such a situation.

I do have to thank Goldstein for one thing: He made me think about the 10:10 group. The film cratered but it did not take the group with it. If you care about the world, if you consider yourself green, you might find their Website interesting. When I posted this link, the 10:10 site was proclaiming there were "real signs of a brighter future. . . . We're collecting signs of the shift to a low carbon world."

In the group's own words, the stories the group is posting are about "things going right." Whatever one believes about the tactics the group used in the past, scare tactics are certainly not the tactics the group is using today on their Website.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Independent cheese producers are a dying breed

My wife and I have been buying locally produced Bright Brand cheese.

Recently, a local journalist surprised me by tweeting: "Really wish @LoblawsON would stop displacing quality Canadian products like Armstrong Cheese from its shelves with yet more PC brands."

I was surprised for three reasons: One, I've never been all that fond of Armstrong Cheese. Two, I'd assumed  Armstrong Cheese was what I call an industrial cheese made by either Saputo or Parmalat. And three I would not be surprised to learn that both the PC cheese and the Armstrong cheese are from the same cheese producer. (I'm not saying they are. I'm only saying that it would not surprise me.)

As a boy, my parents used to vacation in eastern Ontario. My father was raised there and after he married my mom they had a farm so near Alexandria that the town railway station could be seen from my parent's farmhouse. One of my uncles stayed in the area and my parents still had lots of friends living there and so we visited regularly.

One of my parent's friend was a cheesemaker. I loved going to his cheese factory and sampling the still warm cheese curds floating in the remaining whey. I was a kid who understood well what Miss Muffet was enjoying when surprised by the spider. She was eating squeaky cheese.

Today, that cheese factory is gone. It was bought and closed by Kraft Foods, I was told. My dad's friend made out O.K. Kraft paid him a fair price but the factory and the local jobs it provided disappeared. It was a loss for the community and for the area.

The story of Kraft Foods is a whole other story. Follow the link. It's an interesting tale. Kraft is credited with inventing processed cheese. I had a friend who worked for Kraft in Montreal and he was amazed at the magic the company could perform with cheese. It was good cheese in and Velveeta out. An amazing, if somewhat backward, process.

Today the three big names in the cheese industry are Saputo, Agropur and Parmalat. When I think of Saputo it may not be fair but I think of cheese plant closures and loss of solid, long-time, community jobs. Saputo bought the Armstrong cheese company some years ago, moved production to Abbottsford, BC, and closed the century-plus operation in Armstrong, BC. 73 local jobs were lost.

The closure in Armstrong was not the only Western Canada closure announced at the time. A total of 254 workers were affected, the CBC reported. Recently, Saputo has been busy closing dairy operations in Eastern Canada. In March the Cape Breton Post reported the closure of the Scotsburn Dairy in Sydney. "It was such a sudden announcement that people are mostly in shock . . . . " 100 workers were affected.

Along with the Sydney closure, other closures were announced in Princeton, Quebec, and Ottawa. In all, 230 workers will be laid off. According to the company, it will realize a savings of approximately $23 million annually after all the closure expenses are covered.

So do you buy Saputo products? Think: Alexis de Portneuf, Armstrong, Baxter, Dairyland, Danscorella, De Lucia, Dragone, DuVillage 1860, Frigo, Kingsey, La Paulina, Neilson Dairy, Nutrilait, Ricrem, Saputo, Stella, Treasure Cave, HOP&GO!, Rondeau and Vachon. Is that the whole list? Not at all. For instance, late last year, Saputo acquired Woolwich Dairy, famous for its goat's milk cheese and Saputo may by the cheesemaker behind many private label products.

If you, like me, thought Black Diamond had the earmarks of an industrial cheese, you may have been surprised to see Black Diamond missing from the above list. Don't be. Black Diamond appears on the Parmalat list of holdings: Astro, Balderson, Beatrice, Black Diamond, Lactantia are all Parmlat-controlled brands.

From the long list of cheese brands all being produced by only two giant cheesemakers, it is clear that quality cheese can be made by the big outfits. So, it is not the quality that is the issue for me. It's the jobs. It's the way of life that is being loss.

So, what does one do? Me, I try and buy from a smaller, independent producer. I like Bright. This is cheese  made by a co-op located in the Bright, Ontario, area near Woodstock. The Bright plant has been in the same location since 1874.

I've even introduced my granddaughters to the fine flavour of a grilled cheese sandwich made with Bright extra old cheddar. I don't make a big fuss about the flavour, I don't draw attention to the fact that this cheese is different, and the two little girls respond by loudly proclaiming their cheese sandwiches are "delish." Of course, it also helps that the Bright cheese I use is a reassuring orange.

The Springs Restaurant: a good luncheon choice in London

My wife and I went to The Springs Restaurant for lunch. I've been wanting to sample their fish and chips lunch. Judy went along and even order the same. We both had a plate full of calories for lunch.

The fish portion was large, the beer batter flavourful, the french fries crispy and the pickle just the right degree of sour. All in all it was exactly as anticipated. Now the ale, that was a pleasant surprise. I had a bottle of Ransack the Universe IPA from the Collective Arts craft brewery in Hamilton. It was just as advertised; It was crisp, but not bitter, with overtones of citrus. The citrus flavour was clearly evident but not overpowering. Loved it.

But the best part of the lunch was our waitress. She was a delight. We'll be returning next month for another lunch. There are two items on the menu that caught our hungry eye: Teriyaki Prawn Penne (Jumbo prawns and forest mushrooms sautéed with a julienne of peppers and sweet onions tossed with a spicy sweet teriyaki cream sauce. Served mild, medium or yeow.) and Grilled ‘Northern Harvest’ Cilantro ‘Tzaziki’ Salmon (Served with a tomato/cucumber quinoa salad with sautéed kale.)

One of the sandwiches also caught our attention: Grilled Avocado Buttermilk Chicken Sandwich (a sumac scented chicken breast with a creamy fresh avocado & buttermilk dressing, onion sprouts, greens and sliced beefsteak tomato on grilled sunflower bread.)

Like I said, we'll be back.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Dr. Oetker pizza dressed for dinner

Tuesday night is pizza night for my wife and me. It has become a bit of a tradition. Whenever Dr. Oetker pizzas go on sale for less than three bucks, we buy four or five. With a Dr. Oetker 4-Cheese pizza as the base, we add our own toppings

The pizza tonight had diced hot turkey pepperettes from Oegema's on highway 4 near Talbotville plus red, green and orange sweet peppers, mushrooms, black olives from Remark off Hyde Park south of Oxford St. W. The artichoke came from Costco and the rings of hot peppers are Loblaw's President Choice brand.

I try to keep my cholesterol below 50 mg/dL for the day. According to the nutritional info on the box, two slices of this pizza contain only 40 mg/dL of cholesterol. The stuff we added is mostly plant stuff and plant stuff doesn't contain any cholesterol. The turkey sticks are incredibly low in cholesterol. That's why we buy them. This is a heart healthy dinner.

And why the Dr. Oetker pizza. It's made in London.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The true breakfast of champions

Before getting into today's post, let's make a few things clear. One: I am not a doctor. Two: I do not have, and never have had, a serious diverticulitis event. And three: If you a senior, do not make big changes to your diet without consulting your doctor. Increasing the fibre in one's diet is generally not recommended for those presently suffering a severe diverticulitis event. Whether fibre is good or bad for those attempting to fend off another event is an open question.

Yesterday I had a fierce chest pain. It doubled me up and left me somewhat dizzy and out of breath. I told my wife: Mistake number one. At her insistence, I called our family doctor: Mistake number two. When I mentioned the pain started in the front of my chest and moved to my back, I was ordered to go to the hospital. It was recommended I call an ambulance. I was ordered not to drive myself. I had my wife drive me.

On entering the hospital, blood was taken almost immediately and rushed to the lab for analysis. With the blood sample taken I was off for a CAT scan. A dye was injected into my arm making me feel hot and flushed. For a moment I forgot the chest pain that was now a nagging ache.

It wasn't long before the emerg team knew I was not facing my immediate demise and they lost interest in my medical problems. There were others who needed immediate care and so I was wheeled into a screened off area and left to age like a fine cheese. It would take some time to get the complete report from my CAT scan and blood test. Until the report was ready, I was pushed to the side. I didn't mind. I was relieved.

It was after five when I got the report. It was an extensive, three page document. I will give a copy to my family doctor and to the lead doctors on the medical teams that keeps me alive. I'm not an easy case. I have an ICD/pacemaker in my chest for my arrhythmia and bradycardia, I have micro-bleeding in the brain, I often have TIAs, commonly called mini-strokes, and those are just the three most obvious medical problems I face.

On page three of the report I read: "Very mild sigmoid and descending colon diverticulosis." Diverticulosis means one has small, bulging pouches forming in the digestive tract. These pockets are called diverticula. The greatest number of diverticula develop where the colon is the narrowest, in the sigmoid.

According to the Harvard Medical School, diverticulosis is one of the most common medical problems in the United States. Two-thirds of Americans have it by age 85. This wasn't always the case. A hundred years ago diverticulosis was rare and it is still uncommon in the developing world. Why? Diet. The typical American diet lacks sufficient fibre. In other words, North Americans eat too many refined carbohydrates.

According to Harvard:

 "dietary fiber is a mix of complex carbohydrates found in the bran of whole grains and in nuts, seeds, fruits, legumes, and vegetables . . . dietary fiber has little caloric value — but it has plenty of health value." 

Dietary fibre keeps the colon healthy by drawing "water into the feces, making the stools bulkier, softer, and easier to pass. Dietary fiber speeds the process of elimination, greatly reducing the likelihood of constipation." The Harvard medical folk couldn't say enough good things about fibre.

Steel cut oats go well with fruit and chopped nuts.
Which brings me to my breakfast. It's healthy, packed with fibre, delicious and inexpensive. Meals like this keep diverticulosis from developing and if it does the fibre may prevent the progression to diverticulitis and irritated, inflamed, possibly infected pouches.


  • 1/4 cup steel cut oats
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 peeled, cored, and coarsely diced apple
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 20 grams dried blueberries
  • 2 Brazil nuts
  • 5 or 6 cashews
  • 1 mashed banana
  • dusting of cinnamon



I boil the water in my microwave at high for 2 minutes 10 seconds. When boiling, I add the steel cut oats, swirl the oats in the steaming hot water and put the mixture in the microwave to cook  for five minutes at 40% power.

While the oats are cooking, I measure 1 tablespoon of Qi'a (a chia, buckwheat and hemp dry cereal) into a small bowl. I add two tablespoons of 1% milk to soften the Qi'a. While the dry cereal softens, I turn my attention to peeling, coring and coarsely dicing an apple. I add the apple chunks to the bowl of Qi'a and dribble one tablespoon of maple syrup over the apple.

At this point the microwave is beeping. I stir my oats and hot water and put the mixture aside for a minute to cook the Qi'a topped with apple chunks and maple syrup for a minute on high. After the apples have softened with the slight cooking,  I return the oat mixture to the microwave for another four minutes at 40% power.

With the oats again gently cooking, I coarsely chop 20 grams of dried blueberries plus a couple (2) Brazil nuts and five or six salted cashews and I mash a banana.

If the oats need more cooking, I give them from 45 seconds to a minute on high in the microwave. At the end of this time all the water should be absorbed with the oats looking very moist, almost soggy. I add the Qi'a, milk, apple and maple syrup mixture, the blue berries and nuts, and finally I add the mashed bananas and stir. If the mixture isn't hot enough, I heat all on high for an extra 45 seconds. It's done, I stir it to get rid of any hot spots the microwave may have created and it is ready to eat.

My doctors tell me a breakfast like this fights diverticulosis. As my problem is still in the early stages with the diverticulosis described as very mild, I may be able to avoid progressing to the more serious diverticulitis with inflammation and possibly infected pockets. It's a pity I didn't eat like this all my life.

Sadly, when I was younger I used to eat stuff like "the breakfast of champions." Humbug.

(According to the Website Fooducate, Wheaties is low in fibre. The cereal still earns a rating of B+ overall but in the fiber category it is a dismisal D+.)