I can hear birdsong even in the busiest parts of the city. The natural world is within my hearing range these days. Is this what happens at 60? Listening for bird chatter and stopping to admire trees?
I recommend getting older. As a woman, there's a new freedom. It comes down to the personal work I've done over a lifetime and the work I did during the pandemic. The quiet activities of reading and writing play a role too.
Here are a few of life's pleasures right now:
I get to eat with others at work. I live alone. It means a lot to me. I've met some lovely people. Gold-star standard bearers of the hospitality industry. Sitting to eat as a cook is important. I got into cooking because I wanted to eat. Period. And nourishing the spirit and sharing ideas and culture outside of the kitchen with others is rich — like good gravy on a plate of golden fries.
I saw the film Past Lives, a beautiful and life-affirming love story. It's up there with Moonstruck for me. Celine Song, the writer and director, is Korean-Canadian.
Reading a book on the subway on the way to work. Thirty minutes of uninterrupted time before I've had coffee or breakfast. Right now, in my backpack is Under the Sea-Wind by the American naturalist, Rachel Carson. At 6:30 in the morning, speeding east across Toronto, my imagination is steeped in New England coastal birds and maritime aquatic life.
I like it when my mom tells me she had pie at PJ's in Strathmore. She loves their pie. Mostly she orders lemon meringue, chocolate, and coconut cream. It makes her happy. I can hardly wait to have a slice with her. It's been almost two years.
Knowing the hollyhocks will soon be back. And if they're in your garden, I'll tramp through your yard to get closer.
Good eggs fried in the fat from roast chicken — when the white gets a crisp bubbly frill.
A summer day to myself. Packing up my journals and a book and heading out for a walk and one or two Cortados. Creatively, this is a freeing practice for me. Good things happen when I leave the house (the words of a wise friend). The quality of my week is measured by how much time there is for writing. And time for getting out.
I've shut down comments on my website and YouTube and my contact form on my website because of comments and emails I've received since the start of this year. I keep a file with details. Do you do that? It's par for the course when you're a woman with authority and opinions. At this point, I protect my voice and ideas.
I'll spare you the distressing stuff, mostly because my mom reads this. Ten days ago, I got an email from a stranger I had to block on Twitter. It was awful and again, anonymous. Below are two minor examples of online interactions. Always these individuals operate behind the veil of anonymity — approaching me incognito — like creeps.
Why do you need to create an identity to share a link to an article? (Left image) Walton.john64 had zero followers and posts and was following no one. His alias was Samuel the Prophet. There's no human connection, no friends in common, and no context. It's not normal behaviour. I don't read on command. Share the article as yourself with a few nice words of introduction, or take a pass, please. This is not Watergate, and you are not Deep Throat.
Months after this piece ran in the Washington Post, these comments appeared on a YouTube companion video. (Right image) I was torn about leaving them up. I'm not ashamed of this discussion. I told "Davey" that I pitched an idea, an editor bought it, and I was paid well.
I covered Regan's alcoholism in a piece I wrote in 2018. Frankly, I don't find relapse interesting, and I say that as someone who's spent almost 30 years in recovery. It's a regular, everyday occurrence in my experience. It's not extraordinary. I say that without judgment. I want people to do whatever it takes to be free.
If you have a story angle, go sell it. Write about alcoholism and relapse, or wrap something else around it. I'll probably read it.
What I loved the most about Fieldwork was how Regan was maturing as a writer. And a second book is always interesting. Most chefs and restaurateurs only have one in them. The focus also reflects where I'm at as a writer. I covered it beautifully.
I also believe in privacy, especially for someone who's written a memoir. In sharing themselves candidly — showing up as human — the writer has been of service. They don't owe us more.
Why did I break the golden rule and respond? Because I'm human, and it triggered me. I've spent a long time dealing with strident individuals in recovery. And a lot of alcoholics believe they're fascinating.
"The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring their way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead." Real depth and gravity there.
I'll take "Davey" is jealous for $500, Alex.
I'm grateful for the social media community I've built. I'm mindful. I've been curating it for many years, and it's full of culture, broadly speaking. People talk real and nice. It's mostly peaceful.
It's safe to be me. I'll do whatever it takes to keep it that way.
Voting is a vital tool of democracy. Can we please make it cool again? Do it this Monday in Toronto, please. There are one hundred and two candidates. Go fucking crazy.
Turn this song up.
I like making jam. And I’m good at it. Some of you are lucky enough to know. It’s my obsession, a stand-in for sourdough. A conduit for bread. Which I like a lot too.
I always laugh when someone asks if I sell my jam. The cost of making it without pectin and paying close attention to the details is insane. The international jam makers I admire charge a lot. And it’s still not enough. How do you account for the labour and knowledge?
At corporate grocery stores, jam is mass manufactured with natural flavourings and liquid sweeteners. It’s made quick with liquid pectin, so profits don’t evaporate. A knife can stand up in it. Capturing the fleeting taste of ripeness is left to the marketing department. It’s what billionaires spread on their price-fixed white bread. Think of it like a duck decoy from Home Hardware. Or a cottage country gas station lure. It’s not worms, and it doesn’t quack. And the sad thing is it establishes a value in people’s minds.
I make jam to give away. My best work is gifted.
I still like being an apprentice to something — jam or writing currently. My sole goal is to get better doing it. When it comes together just perfect — a few times a year — it makes me smile. That’s the feeling I’m chasing. The big deal.
It’s an adventure. A skill tester. The means to measure. Jam demands I pay attention to the season. Here’s what I learned about rhubarb in 2023:
Sometimes I rush the season and use forced rhubarb. The colour is gorgeous, like rosy peonies, a seasonal garden companion. But rhubarb grown outside produces a better texture — it sets to a soft gel that clings to translucent bits of fruit and it's glossy. The technical mastery of jam is achieving a nice texture (and a fruit forward flavour). Rhubarb from a local patch is superior in that regard. Maybe I’ll try to play with a ratio of the two next year to perfect the colour.
The method I use comes from the Alsatian queen of jam, Christine Ferber. During the summer Mes Confitures is often open on my kitchen table.
Cormac McCarthy will always be a master of dialogue to me. He created until the end as an artist and didn’t do it for accolades and awards. He left us with riches.
I had dinner last week with a woman I met in high school. Time fucking flies. One day we're sitting around a campfire at Point Farms Provincial Park, howling into the starry night sky, holding brown Crystal stubbies high on a summer Lake Huron holiday long weekend. Fast forward 45 years, and we’re in a Korean restaurant talking about our teenage home life and arthritis and remembering people — some long gone.
Steve Miller is for us, Linda. Glad to know you. And Edgar Winter bending gender in the 70s.
In the 70s, when my grandfather's boat, the E.B. Barber, came into Toronto during the summer season, it was a family event. He was chief engineer on that lake boat and was away from us from March to December. We'd drive into the city and spend a few hours with him. My grandmother Theo would do the same. All of us circled the wagon and spent time together in restaurants.
I remember having lunch at Shopsy's on Spadina. There was a steam table to your right on the way to the dining room — a panelled room with black and white celebrity photos nailed to every square inch. I remember matzo ball soup. Thinking of that lunch makes me feel light and sweet. Food brought out the best in most of the people I loved. And then there was the fun of being with Harry. I was sure he loved me. Before going to the restaurant, we bought bagels and cream cheese from a Jewish dairy in Kensington Market.
I'm here because last Saturday, under a periwinkle late May sky, I stood across the street from what once was Sai Woo restaurant. I was filled with happy memories of being a kid. And there was a bittersweet twinge in my heart about the passage of time.
Theo loved the restaurant, and again, when Harry's boat was in Toronto, we would sometimes meet them there. The room and food were grand and elegant to this seven- or eight-year-old girl — plus ultra.
It was above street level. You went through the doors to the left of the building and up the stairs to a waiting area. It was always busy. There were a few round banquets in that large room. The extraordinary restaurateurs were Bill and Mary Wen. Look at this photo of Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins and Bill.
That's where I had sweet and sour soup the first time. My memory was starting to get good about food. The hot earthenware oval dishes and the round plates with the colourful band came piled with bright, saucy, lacquered goodness. Learning to eat with chopsticks was a challenge. Having so many delicious things to eat all at once was a delight.
Sai Woo is long gone but remains forever vivid in my memory. Do you have a restaurant like that?
I have despaired over the whittling away of Chinatown since before the pandemic. It could be a natural evolution. But consider Queen Street West between University and Spadina to see how quickly the culture and character of a place can be stripped. Corporate encroachment is heart breaking. I hope there's another way. After more than a decade of mediocre leadership in this city, maybe we'll vote for the kind of mayor who will make haste to grant Chinatown heritage designation. History and culture are worth protecting.
Someone put the idea of Tom Jones in my head this week. What a performer. His show was one hundred percent a reflection of 70s chauvinism. The way he moves — channelling Billy Preston.
Also, this new The Weekend, Madonna and Playboi Carti’s song is a perfect summer song. I love the Festival de Cannes backdrop (and The Weekend in a tux). It's been thirty years since I was on the Côte d'Azur during May and June — a forever golden life experience. The review of opening night this year in Vulture is *chef's kisses.* It’s mandatory reading for anyone wanting to be a critic.
Madonna: You can't take my soul without a fucking fight
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