Monday, July 14, 2014

Daily Ramblings 2: Goodbye individual, hello team*

images courtesy of and

*Moving forward,'daily ramblings' will change to 'random ramblings'. Why? Because 'daily' assumes every day, and trust me I'm not planning to ramble every day - or wait, am I doing that already? But I digress. So from this point on, I will post a random ramble whenever a topic I feel like babbling about pops into my head. Which brings me to the current topic rumbling 'round my brain - the importance of teamwork.

Back in my culinary school days and working in various kitchens, I was taught the fundamentals of cooking - techniques, culinary terms, equipment, kitchen safety - all of it. But one thing that was constantly reiterated by my instructors and head chefs at work, was the importance of teamwork and/or working as a team. In the kitchen, there is truth to the adage "safety in numbers". If you want to be a participant in the culinary game, you have to learn and be able to work together with a variety of people and personalities. There is no such thing as independence - well, eventually, but certainly not at the beginning of the cooking career. No, it's all about teamwork.

Now I'm sure I'll have a slew of articles sent to me by my reader that feature writings about a number of top chefs who have gone onto fame on fortune by forging their own culinary path. There is no denying that happens, but every single one of those chefs could not have arrived at their current destination of success without a lot of people helping, guiding and working with them - side by side.

There is no question that this business can and does celebrate the singular, massive ego of a great chef, but make no mistake - that ego was fed in part by a hunger to be number one, but also by the participation, support and 'buy-in' of people who embraced that chefs concept of great cuisine, and wanted to be a part of that world. Together. Along with plenty of tears, tantrums and freaking hard, hard work, they all created a team atmosphere that was conducive to success. You will need it if you're going to make it in this business.

So is talking about teamwork really just a random ramble? Well now that I've written the piece I'm thinking perhaps this shouldn't just be a random piece after all, but something that needs to be repeated - and often. In a world where individualism is encouraged and celebrated, and personal development revolve around the 'me' word, we sometimes need a jolt and a shake to remind us why being part of a team is noteworthy, necessary and needed.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Daily Ramblings Topic 1: Pride, freedom and the joy of safety

picture courtesy of Raymond Helkio

So last week I was walking through the gay village during Pride Week in Toronto with my good friend Mike. We're talking, having a laugh and of course enjoying the 'scenery'. I have to say how incredibly gratifying and awesome it is being in a safe area where you can look without fear. A place where you can be who you are, be among likeminded people and again, be safe, knowing that looking would not be misconstrued as a threat that may cause you bodily harm.

I know that the visuals for Pride, thanks in part to the media, can be misconstrued by the general population as just an excuse for some to shed their clothes or "throw gayness in their face", but it's so much more than that. So much more.

It's about history. It's about recognizing the struggle it took to even reach the point where a million people are gathered to safely celebrate just being alive in a world that really doesn't appreciate you being 'different'. It's about being able to express yourself in a safe environment with other people just like you, the way that you want to, with no shackles, no fear.

If you haven't already noticed, I have made a point to constantly repeat the 'safety' word in this post. The reason is clear: it's extremely important for people to understand why gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexuals need to be able to feel safe and more importantly, loved for who they are. We have one defining moment a year where it can be done in a very public way without fear. So lets celebrate it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Let them eat water cake

Got your attention? Good, because this post is about my favourite topic - cake. And not just any cake, Japanese water cake. Now I can understand if your initial reaction to that was "what in hell is he babbling about now," but this is a serious topic. Semi-serious. Ok, not serious but very interesting.

Browsing the internet is always a trip. You really have no idea what you're going to stumble across. One minute you reading the latest about Archer, and the next thing you know you're on a site featuring desserts. I just about fell out of my chair when I saw the article and accompanying photos of this eclectic dessert. Literally fell off my chair. Yes, I was THAT surprised. I'm exaggerating just a smidge, but I was surprised and completely fascinated (as I always am by Japanese cuisine) by this dessert. Look at it:

I know. I was thinking the same thing you are. That it's completely crazy and amazing that someone came up with this - an actual dessert that looks like water but has the consistency of cake. In Japan it's called "mizu shingen mochi" and it's made from rice flour and water from the Japanese Alps. The images of the cake have already taking twitter by storm, and the taste has been described as having “a pleasant natural sweetness…(and) goes incredibly smoothly down your throat.”

God I love Japan. I mentioned on this post before that in my honest opinion, Japan truly sets the standard and culinary benchmark for the world. Always innovative, beautifully presented, and so, so good. I'll bet the cake tastes *mouthwateringly (*there is a bit of a pun with this word - do you see it?) amazing. I want to go back there right now and eat that cake. Actually, I want to go back there and eat everything. The end.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Revisiting India: Curry madness and trucker hats!

It's recycling day, so I thought I'd highlight one of the more popular posts on this blog. Why did this post resonate? Well it could be the food pics that may make your mouth water. Maybe it's the chicken curry recipe I included and that I highly recommend you try out - if you're in the mood for curry. Perhaps it's the picture of me wearing that hot blue trucker hat in the kitchen during my training at the beautiful Shanti Home Hotel. Whatever the reasons, I thought what the hell, lets step back in time and reminisce. Enjoy!

I'm paying close attention - pen and pad in hand with Chef Vinay Koushik. Looking good in my ahem 'Chefs whites' eh?? Clearly a very casual classJ That is NOT my hat.

Now I needn't remind myself the name of this blog, nor the main reason why I decided to take this trip around the world malarkey, but remind myself I will. I wanted to, in order of importance:
1. See the world.
2. Experience the cuisine, and;
3. Learn how to cook at least a few dishes!

Since I've been in India, I have been gorging on curries and naan, and loving every second of it. So it was with HUGE excitement that I finally made my way into the kitchens of Shanti Home Hotel in Delhi to work with the Chefs, and learn how to make a great (at least I think so) Indian curry, among other recipes. Word of warning: I won't say that this is the ONLY way to make it, as techniques will differ from place to place, region to region, even home to home. I did, however, learn some pretty cool tips, so I thought I'd share some curry recipe information. I even went out and bought myself some traditional copper serving dishes that Indian restaurants and homes used to serve the curries and rice, you know, just to give myself that extra incentive to cook this at home. Not that I needed it!

The picture below gives an idea of a typical mise en place the hotel uses for preparing chicken curry. I'll try to be exact with the amounts of ingredients used but I may be off mostly because Chef just sort of threw it in and I had to make an educated guess (I liked doing that though!). I'm also using the US measuring system (cups, tablespoons etc) instead of the metric system I learned at school (and should be using now) to make it easier to follow. Now let's see if my culinary writing skills learned at school haven't entirely left me.

Starting from the back, left to right:

Back row: 1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces, with bone (you could probably substitute the chicken for beef too); tomato gravy (very easy to make – just cook 1 can of tomatoes with 1 chopped onion and puree - it freezes quite well too).

Third row from front: Dal lentils (separate recipe); spinach puree (separate recipe); tomato and onion mix, roughly chopped).

Second row from front: julienned ginger; paprika; pureed garlic and ginger; Kitchen King Chicken Masala (store bought powder – I know, I was surprised too!); Garam Masala spice.

Front Row: Kasouri Melti (herb); whole spices plate featuring two large cardamom pods, three small cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 bay leaf, 2 Maize (also called javitri)pods, 4 peppercorns; Tofu (separate recipe – they call it cottage cheese); turmeric powder

Not included in the picture: Tomato puree (cooked tomatoes, onion and cashews pureed); turmeric sat – salt and turmeric powder mixed together; vegetable oil, and; about two cups of water.

What to do:

Heat about 2 tablespoons of veg. oil in very hot iron skillet.

Add all the whole spices to the oil and cook for about 2-3 minutes.

Add chicken to brown; add about two teaspoons of turmeric salt and additional two teaspoons of turmeric to the chicken. 5-6 minutes.

Add garlic and ginger puree (about two teaspoons) and cook until golden brown. 1-2 minutes

Stir in tomato and onion gravy, about a cup, then add about half a cup of water.

Add in garam masala and Kitchen King masala – two teaspoons of each.

Add about a half cup more water, turn down heat and simmer for about ten minutes

Finally, add in tomato puree, about two - three tablespoons, and a sprinkle of Kasouri Melti herb. Cook an additional 5 minutes. Salt to flavor.

Serve hot!!

Should look like this:

Mmmm looks good eh? Tasted even better!

Thank you Chef(s) and Shanti Home for the fantastic opportunity to learn a lot more about Indian cooking and cuisine!Should anyone decide to make their curry dish this way, please let me know how it turns out!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pride and cheescake

Rainbow cheesecake..yeah, I know...

This is it. Yes, it's that time of the year again - it's Pride in Toronto. And this year I decided to do something I haven't done in a very long time: actually attend Pride. For years I would avoid it, leave town or just generally prefer not to acknowledge it. I thought since I'm clearly out and proud, will going to a parade really make a difference to me or anyone else? Turns out yeah, it's really good to be a part of it. So I'm glad I changed my mind, because this years pride is truly a world event.

The 2014 Toronto World Pride will have all the great things the regular pride weekend had, but this year, the events, concerts, all the activities will showcase the contributions of Lesbians, Bisexuals, Gay and Transgendered (LBGT) not just from Canada, but from around the world. People are coming from places like Japan, Uganda, Iceland, Jamaica, Colombia to name a few to celebrate this event. So I'd say this particular pride is even more of a big deal this year that it usually is.

Events kicked off last Friday night, June 20th, in Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square. There were messages from event organizers and local politicians. Kathleen Wynne, our first elected lesbian Premier gave an amazing speech. It was one of those moment that I truly wished my deceased partner Robbie could have been alive to see just how much things have changed in the world, particularly right here in the province of Ontario - these past six years since he passed. Truly a wonderful/bittersweet moment.

The pride flag was unveiled, there was a special Aboriginal blessing and we sang the national anthem. Live music was provided by Melissa Etheridge, Deborah Cox and Steve Grand. It was amazing to be among so many people and it was one of those clear, warm Toronto nights, but woe betide the organizer who honestly thought three (3) porta potty's would be enough for 30,00O well-lubricated gay men and women. The topper? Apparently the porta potty's ran out of toilet paper too. Oh the puns that could be had just from reading that paragraph eh?

With so many amazing people, events - everything happening, what could I possibly do to contribute into making Pride a truly personal celebratory moment. Well, you do what anyone else does when they want to celebrate - you make a cheesecake! And since I was invited to a BBQ, I thought that's the perfect place to take it and share with friends.

The pics above tell you how it turned out. And if you guessed that the cheesecake looks quite colourful, it's because it was. Very colourful, one would almost say, like a rainbow - ahem. It was a rainbow cheesecake, a recipe I found online. It was delicious, and there was no leftovers for me to take home which is always a good sign. I'm smiling as I write this because I'm aware of how over the top it is/was, but yet it just seemed very fitting for me and my friends. Oh, and that is not a crack in the cheesecake. That was the result of the tinfoil cover ruining the sour creme icing surface, I swear.

Now I'm sure my reader is very curious as to where I found the recipe. Click here:.

I'm looking at the pics of the cheesecake and of course it would not make the cover of gourmet magazine, but help regarding my woeful picture taking abilities is on the way. I will be attending a food journalist association conference (I just became a member) in Memphis, Tennessee in a few months, and one of the conference topics is food styling using your IPhone. We'll hopefully see some (major) improvements in my food porn abilities.

Happy Pride everyone.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What are you: A Traveller or a Tourist?

Let me start with a warning: I've been thinking (aaannd now he hears the groan of his reader) this over and had to address it. So what am I? Am I a traveller? Am I a tourist? Is there a difference? Is there a preference? Does anyone even care?

As it turns out yes, there really is a difference, and there is a preference and yes, some people care quite a bit whether you call them a traveller or a tourist, I'm just not sure I'm one of those people. After doing some research online, I've found that travellers really want to make the distinction very, very clear. Travellers differ from tourists, because they aren't on some pre-packaged adventure. They are s.e.r.i.o.u.s about travel. Travellers do not want to be lumped in with people who visit a place only to stay in the hotel, or just lie on a beach and venture out to a bar or restaurant - preferably in the hotel, at night. There are cultural implications to a travellers argument. They believe they aren't like tourists because they get "right in there" with trying to understand whatever country they visit. They spend time with the locals, eating their food, soaking in everything they possibly can.

Of course, to a casual eye, a 'real' travellers argument can sound quite elitist. Looking down your nose at tourists for simply wanting to escape their homes to go to a place where everything is taken care of, and they can relax in whatever environment they choose isn't great for their 'cause'. And after reading the viewpoints of travellers, I tend to think I may have gone on a tourist version of world travel rather than as a traveller. But, I'll add that I think or thought there were definitely some traveller elements to the trip! Mind you, anyone who chooses to read this blog - particularly the posts from 2010-2012, may have a different opinion about that.

That's ok. I couldn't care less if I'm considered a traveller or a tourist. But I do have to admit it was fascinating reading peoples opinions regarding the differences between the two. I can't quite believe it's been about about two or so years now since I embarked on my 'round the world' travel adventure. Wow. Every once and a while I'll just sit back and remember (or blog about it, kind of like what I'm doing now) the enormity of that trip for me. I've said many times on this blog and out loud to whomever was listening, that the trip was incredible. That it was tough too - mentally, physically and emotionally. And ultimately, it doesn't matter if you're considered a traveller or a tourist, just taking the time, not to mention being able to afford the opportunity to visit somewhere that isn't your home country, is going to be an experience you won't forget.

Whenever I have moments of self-doubt, I think of that trip and why I created this blog - even why I keep it going. When I complain about what I may be lacking or missing in my life, I think of that trip and shut myself up right away. I have had the privilege of doing something unique and amazing, whether it was as a traveller or a tourist. I've seen things I will never forget - good and bad. It's all a part of me now. I am the world! Ok, maybe that went too far.

Friday, June 6, 2014

All about bee(s)

Do you ever get the feeling we've become inundated with doomsday scenarios? That's probably because we are. Name the issue: it could be the environment, or the planet in general. It could be rapid population growth, or the decline of whales due to overfishing. Just name the issue and there will more than likely be facts, figures and infographics that illustrate just how dire the situation may be. Admittedly, there is a great deal of truth to these warnings, but there is one issue that is just as important as the ones mentioned, but yet it lingers under the human awareness radar and remains frustratingly low on the information noise meter. And the issue is bees.

It's all about bees. Not wasps or hornets, but bumble bees, honey bees, worker bees - various varieties of bees, all under threat of extinction.

And now that I've revealed the issue, I'm sure that I've lost my reader (ha). That's ok, I'm still going to write about this.

A couple of years ago I visited Australia and did a tour of the Mornington Peninsula - a region close to Melbourne. The area is famous for its wine, weather and incredible scenery. My friend, Chef Jason Goldengay, was my guide and he took me to the farm where he keeps his bee hives. That wasn't officially part of the tour, but he asked if I wanted to see them and of course I said yes. I was dressed in the proper bee protection uniform, but I did not get too close to the hives (only because I couldn't climb the damn fence to get to them, which is different story for another time). We had a long chat about the importance of bees to his farm, a brief discussion about what's happening to bees worldwide and why the deaths of active bee hives will greatly effect the foods we eat and take for granted that will always be there.

I have no idea how this happened, but the issue of saving the bees has really started to become a personal crusade for me. I mean we're talking about someone here who was very upset that the beehive growing inside my Mothers house walls last summer had to be destroyed - crazy eh? When I was obtaining my public relations certification, one of the projects I created was a "save the bees" campaign. I went all out, writing a media release, a brochure and a lengthy speech about the issue. Although initially the idea popped into my head strictly for school purposes, the more research I did on the subject, the more concerning it became for me. That concern grew to alarm after reading how changes in the way bees have been utilized for farming purposes are killing them. It opened my eyes to the way we, or should I accurately say - huge food conglomerates, are not only changing the way we eat, but changing the way food is grown. The outcome of these changes have not only meant an increase in obesity for human beings, but a decrease in numbers of the very insect - bees, that provides us with the ability to have a variety of food in the first place.

It's been reported on the Mother Jones website, that scientists may have solved the mystery of why beekeepers worldwide are experiencing serious decline - called colony collapse, in the number of hives they maintain (see the article here). Scientists believe that it's due to an increase in pesticide use and radical changes in farming methods and crops that are killing our bees. This recent news, however, does not change the fact that beehive colony collapse continues to be an important and very life threatening issue not only for bees, beekeepers and farmers, but anyone who wants to continue to eat.

I think the picture at the start of the post explains everything in regards to just how important bees are to human nutrition. Scroll up and take a good look. Bees are not just for providing human beings with delicious honey. It's mind-blowing how much we depend on bees for the pollination of flowers, plants, trees - the list is endless. When I take this issue into consideration from the viewpoint of how badly I'd like to have a voice in the food industry, I can't help but be of two minds in regards to my career pursuit. On the one hand, I want to use the skills I've accrued over the years to become part of a incredible , dynamic sector. Yet, I also know that becoming a part of that sector, means accepting that I will also play a part in an industry that continues to create products resulting in serious health and environmental implications for humans, animals and general life on this planet.

As with any issue, being informed means listening to both sides of the story. It's understood that profits are a benefit to a company in order to stay competitive and afloat. It pays the salaries of workers. It pays for the research and development to improve the foods we eat. For the food industry, increased profits could also mean an increase in food security for people around the world. That's what we are told, and for the most part believe.

The methods used to increase profits in the food industry, however, has become increasingly responsible not only for the destruction and decimation of insects, wildflife and the environment, but to us - humans who were supposed to benefit from these "advancements". It's horrible to see see what carelessness and the pursuit of the alimighty dollar can lead to, yet it's a tired cliche. We know what this can lead to, yet it's a lesson we just never seem to learn. And with the continued loss of the one thing that truly sustains us and our ability to produce the food we desire, we are still messing around with nature, all in the name of "creativity".

I could go on forever about the plight of the bees, but I'll stop here. If you do care to know more about this issue, please visit this site. And please note that I am not affiliated in any way with this or any bee-related site. I just want to do my part in raising awareness.