An old girl in the garden. This one in magenta, a shade of lipstick your nan might wear. I'll admire them if they're in your front yard (and sometimes trespass to get closer). These flowers towered over me, crepe paper petals dusted with pollen dander. It was mid-August, and fat bees were nudging stamens, acting on the rhythms of nature.
I don't run headlong into flannel season. Letting go of late summer is hard. I know it will come around again. I'll be standing in someone's yard next August. Inshallah, as my friends say.
Who can look away from the events of this week? The images of feminine courage. The fight for autonomy. There's a brute masculine force trying to dictate the terms of women's existence.
You might want to seize the opportunity to read Al Jazeera if your news comes from a singular North American source. There's something beneficial about widening the lens — getting a global perspective.
Here are links to people talking sense and taking action:
It's easy to frame egregious human rights violations as a problem happening elsewhere. When there's plenty of evidence of toxic masculinity all around us.
I chose songs of love. They found me in explore mode on different nights. They've been an antidote to the harshness of the week. I danced in the kitchen on a night there was no reason to.
The sound of the summer of '75 — good medicine.
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." — Elie Wiesel
June 17, 1975
I made a sprint for the finish line. There are four songs this week. The thought of hitting 100 songs — finding music to fit that many occasions — makes me happy. It's been a big part of the fun of this. Music's a place of magic and solace.
You want to know how it feels to talk about myself? In a way that conveys I'm interesting? At 59?
'today' began May 4, 2021, with this post. Having a space for creative writing that's non-monetized and with only select external input is delicious. I've tried new things.
The loneliness of the pandemic was too real at times. The long and short of it was I wanted to talk to you.
Here's some other stuff that makes me happy:
The Hollies, Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress). Is there a better song? It makes me want to pull on roller skates.
The sunrise on the railroad tracks that run parallel to Geary Ave. At the level crossing. There's more of it to share at the end of the year.
The quiet of the late night. When you're all asleep, there is peace.
The hot fudge sauce recipe in the Boulevard cookbook. I add espresso powder.
Bare tree limbs against a Lawren Harris blue winter sky. Admiring them with my grandmother, Theo, out on a country drive near Fonthill. She planted that seed. And so many more.
Bubble baths, very long ones sometimes.
My cat has always let me sleep in the morning — like he was custom-built for me. He lies on my chest for snuggles when I wake. Sometimes he stands up and puts his full weight on my sternum, which hurts. He sleeps in the middle of important stuff on my desk while I write.
Raspberries and apricots. I fantasize about having an Eastern European jam garden-orchard. Sounds like more work.
Playing Yahtzee with my mother over FaceTime. Look at this sweet picture from a week ago.
The bay window in my studio apartment. My desk faces a heritage Catalpa in the front yard. It's a tree native to Ontario and was likely planted at a time when this end of Bloor was farmland. It has a unique life cycle — shedding white blooms in late spring and long bean-like seed pods in the fall. By parks and recreation's standards, they're messy.
A mostly unscripted wander in the city on a weekend afternoon. Stopping to write notes. Or record voice memos.
Cortados made proper. It's not a small latte.
My Trek bike with the panniers full of groceries.
Full-fat anything, dairy mostly.
Standing in front of the four Kandinsky panels commissioned by Edwin R. Campbell at the MoMA.
Two scoops of ice cream in a sugar cone. Rum and raisin...blackcurrant...
Kayo O’Young’s porcelain. I have three small bowls, one a gift from my dad. The cat hasn’t broken them, yet. A fucking miracle.
Dahlias, because I grew them in Stratford in the first year of recovery. My addiction counsellor told me to plant something. And I obeyed.
Meals you've cooked for me.
The Humber River. I've walked it in all conditions — external and internal.
Good perfume (and cologne) worn discreetly.
Going to see movies in a theatre with popcorn. All kinds of stuff.
Baba au rhum with crème Chantilly served in a chilled silver bowl — condensation droplets dulling the surface. Eating it all without apology. Two are forever in my heart. Tobey's baba at Edulis and the way she elegantly fusses with it. The other at Abel, a bouchon in Lyon. I gasped at the mound of cream. It felt like I'd found my people.
Linen sheets in the summer. Flannel in the winter.
The smell of something good cooking in the deep fryer. Duh.
The photos of your babies on social media.
Summer evening lane swims in a city pool.
Ripple chips because the crunch is where it's at. I like dip too.
Refreshing adult beverages of the non-alcoholic kind, like Alchemy Pickle Company's kombucha.
Settling in at a French restaurant, opening the menu and considering the nature of my hunger in relation to what's on offer.
Figuring out my part. And owning it.
Lonely Days. The BeeGees. Maybe I saw them first on The Andy Williams Show or Merv Griffin. Andy Gibb, all the way.
Madame Benoît's Rum Baked Beans.
The cards, art, and gifts in my mailbox over the past three years. The generous spirits who sent hope.
Tuna salad sandwiches with pickles, celery, and green onions.
A band with a horn section — orchestral depth. There are more of those songs lined up in the near future. My dad had a nice stereo and liked Chicago. Feelin' Stronger Every Day.
Clouds. I took the photo in Bronte while acting as an amateur driving instructor with Jessica in the summer of 2020. Destination ice cream.
Having secret creative projects.
My membership on team lemon tart.
Takin' it to the Streets. The Doobie Brothers. Can't get enough of it, again.
Big hugs to anyone who has read what I've written here. And to those of you who send messages. The conversation and connection are welcome.
April 17, 1972
November 6, 1970
June 23, 1973
March 19, 1976
The photo was taken in my grandparents' living room on Lyons Avenue in Welland, Ontario. My dad looking through the lens and catching me in the act of opening a Christmas present. I don't want to tell you what album it is. Something I wanted at age 13. Harry, my grandfather, hamming it up with a sweater.
My teen years were difficult. I know some of the best of you can relate. Anxiety was in high supply. The medical community at the time was asleep when faced with the symptoms in children. Help was not available, and the culture was tilted toward shame and secrets. My survival instincts were quick. I was always ready to fight for my safety. There's more to say but consider this a start.
Gosh, to sit beside Harry again. A mostly stable male with a pleasant disposition.
I watched all the music shows growing up. Late Friday night and early Saturday afternoons — The Midnight Special, American Bandstand and the far superior Soul Train. The sound of Don Cornelius' baritone. At 11 and 12, I danced in front of the television in the basement to the Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire, James Brown, Gloria Gaynor and The Jackson 5.
I was fat and self-loathing, with puberty approaching like a freight train. We were living in a new, much smaller town. I could cut a slice of loneliness. Music and dancing gave me a temporary sense of belonging.
The best radio station on the dial in Goderich was broadcast across Lake Huron — CKLW out of Windsor. The lights of the Detroit skyline across the river at night. I'd drift asleep listening to Motown and R & B on a transistor radio. In the quiet, it helped drown the noise of my feelings (and on some nights the sound of my mom being thrown around).
Frampton Comes Alive was released in 1976, the year I turned 13. I tried a lot of stuff for the first time during that 12 months. In a state of rebellion, on the express track to maturity. I felt sure growing up would change the way I felt about everything. And I had a sense of youthful optimism about how long that would take.
Chuck pulled hard enough on the reigns that I could taste the metal bit. He played offence with any male attention that came my way. Under his control, I missed out on a young women's experiences, like dating. But I came to this planet and my family with a Big Will. His battle was futile (there's a grand finale story).
By 1 a.m. on Friday nights, I was home in the basement, buzzing on a substance I'd ingested earlier. Had to pass my dad reading in the living room as I came in, trying to avoid eye contact — mine were glassy with pinhead pupils. I'm sure the moss-tar scent of hashish trailed me some nights — inhaling the vapour that rose from between two red hot knives. In the days when an ounce of Mexican cost thirty dollars. I once came home mid-acid trip, which I do not recommend.
By then, I was listening to rock anthems. I have a soft spot for drum solos and guitar players with mad skill.
Wolfman Jack was the affable host of The Midnight Special. All The Bands were on the show. For a girl like me, it was a perfect musical nightcap.
Peter Frampton's appearance on Friday, September 5, 1975, is a classic performance. Ten whole minutes for one song. Maybe that's the first time I saw him perform. His skill as a guitarist. A beloved studio musician.
Afterward, I'd flick the lights off on the three short flights of stairs up to my bedroom, where the walls were plastered with Creem and Hit Parade magazine posters. Long-haired rock stars, Frampton among them. His blond curly locks and pink satin pants inspired some nocturnal fun.
"Do you feel?
Do you feel?
Like we do.
I want to feel you."
Forty-six years later, I still love the sound of the audience clapping along and the crazy-wavy drone of the mouth organ. Double album, remember those?
The way Helen Reddy flicks her bangs while introducing him. Girl!
Friday September 5, 1975
What apprenticeship taught me is there's beauty in progress.
It began in 1986 and lasted about 14 years. A bit long, but I was a woman in a still mostly man's world. Working in French kitchens at the top of the business. It was highly competitive.
When I returned from the River Cafe in 2000, I knew I'd graduated.
My skills are stellar, and my knowledge of French culinary history spans decades.
In case you didn't know that about me.
French cooking has been like a good lover.
I sacrificed for it — long term-partnership and children. I never had strong feelings about the latter, which doesn't mean I don't like kids. I do. Some a whole lot.
Do you know the feeling of falling in love with your career? That's what happened. I did something men were allowed to do. My singleness of purpose got in the way of developing some personal partnerships. What to do with a woman who wants so much for herself?
So it's been a solo journey. And plenty of it has been wonderful.
The night André Donnet slipped a pan-fried sweetbread to me — butter froth residue on its surface. The gesture was nurturing. Without missing a beat, it was in my mouth. I shot to heaven and came back, just like that. Nothing was the same after.
On Queen Street West in the late 80s, killing lobsters at Le Bistingo. The horror. Nothing felt humane about it. Ingredients flown in weekly from Brittany. What is the name of the supplier? He made deliveries Thursdays in Toronto and had a small white truck. He'd come through the swinging kitchen doors with wooden crates of Fine de Claire oysters, samphire, and Valrhona chocolate for sorbet.
Claude's sea scallops à la nage — shedding silken tears at the thought — and the tarte fine aux pommes with Calvados sabayon. I got an advanced diploma in whisking that year. Claude's career was peaking, and his personal life was tanking. The things I understand now.
Fast forward to killing so many lobsters at Rundles. I'm certain retribution of some sort is inevitable in the afterlife.
I've eaten in enough Michelin Two- and Three-Star restaurants to say it was Two-Star. Hands down, perfect. Where I spent a formative five years of my life. Worked every station.
I want to eat a boozy sherry trifle, put a walnut drop on my tongue and let it melt, and snap a jewelled florentine in two. Neil Baxter trained as a pastry chef. I still use his recipes — you can't imagine how hard I worked for them.
His talent was not limited to sweets. There were pommes boulangèr, rabbit sausage, and, oh my god, the sauces.
He was not an amateur electrician. I returned from a Sunday afternoon break once, put my hands on the proofer while preparing to bake sourdough rolls, and got a shock that scared us both. Neil had been doing some tinkering while I was out. His laughter broke the silence. I wondered if it was intentional. If you worked at Rundles, you'd understand.
Ann Marie Moss and I once had a competition to see how many crème brûlée we could eat in one go. It must have been late summer to run with that crazy idea — probably during an after-theatre shift on a Saturday at the end of August. All of us punch drunk. I can still see the two of us laughing. Wearing our kitchen dresses — like Upstairs Downstairs. I think we made it to three each.
And then Bryan Steele, graduate studies in being a good human and cooking like a master. Our family meals were off the charts. Bryan would braise rabbit with green olives and tend a pot of polenta like he was cooking for his nonna. I admired that spirit in him.
I'd wear the gears on the blender emulsifying extra virgin olive oil into tomato sauce, channelling Marcella Hazan. I hope the thought of that pasta brings a smile to some of your faces. We ate at a picnic table under an umbrella, beside a koi pond, in the Prune's glorious garden — the loving work of Eleanor Kane and David Scott.
Study was a part of a traditional European apprenticeship and my stages were world-class — in a Michelin Two-Star restaurant on the Côte d'Azur and with Lydia Shire, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. The careers of all four chefs were peaking. Gault & Millau had just crowned Jacques Chibois, France's chef of the year. Catherine Deneuve ate in the restaurant opening night of the Festival de Cannes. Her mirrored Rolls Royce at the hotel entrance — glittering like a diamond with each camera flash.
Stages were always international, lasted six weeks, and were financially sponsored by the restaurants I worked for in Canada. It did not require a year of my life or wealthy parents (all good things). And there were not more than two or three stagiaires in the kitchens I visited. A stagiaire should come away with a sense of a chef's singular approach.
There was an application process — formal letters were sent by mail. Staging is culinary diplomacy — creating goodwill between restaurants. It's an investment in a developing cook and a reward for loyalty and hard work.
The thrill of working with women whose work I adored. I hope you know that feeling. My anticipation walking the footpath from Hammersmith station to the River Cafe along the Thames the first morning.
An imprint. All of it.
I've been thinking of getting a tattoo. Something to honour the experience. But where to begin?
Also, this turned up in my Instagram stories this week. It's hilarious. Is it a sign?
The pressing question is how to write about the hard stuff. My apprenticeship was real — not a fairy tale. There are things about me and others that might need to see the light of day.
What's helpful is talking to friends. People whose opinion I want to consider. One of them sent me a note yesterday morning — the thing I needed to hear. Going it alone holds no appeal.
I've been brave up to this point. And am currently working up more courage.
Left: Twenty-five-year-old me in the kitchen of L'Escargot. Hand on my hip — heart beating mad fast.
Right: At a Stratford Chefs School gala in the basement of Centro restaurant. I was training for my first marathon at the time. I can't remember who took the photo, but they captured some of my spirit.
How big, how blue, how (beautiful)
How big, how blue, how (beautiful)
How big, how blue, how
So much time on the other side
Waiting for you to wake up
So much time on the other side
Waiting for you to wake up
Maybe I'll see you in another life
If this one wasn't enough
So much time on the other side
I eat a lot of meals alone. That's how it is as a single woman.
There's nothing sad about it. Do you know what's on my table? Most nights it's pretty nice. Rattling the pots for myself is important, and I'm worth it.
I don't often notice the absence of others. I like my company.
Then I began having dinner once a week with a large family.
Here was a thing I was missing. It made me happy. Having someone cook for me. The intergenerational conversations at the table — I'll never forget one night and the talk about high school civics. The kids trust me and consider my opinion.
Two nights ago there were seven of us, including a darling little girl who's a bonafide heart softener.
Like all families, the talk can get raucous — the back and forth between teenagers and parents in Arabic. Because I miss the context sometimes, I'll ask, "What are you talking about?"
I'm often the last one at the table. Squeezing everything out of it. Scooping up the last bits with torn pieces of pita. I don't think I've ever left anything on my plate. Appreciation is visible.
I can smell dinner as soon as I exit the elevator before I knock on the door with the red heart wreath. Ghaithaa cooks like an angel. I peer into the steam when she lifts the lids on simmering pots. We talk about cooking and recipes in a mix of Arabic and English. Understanding runs between us.
She is a sister to me.
On the way home, there's always a bag of leftovers on the subway seat beside me. At midnight Friday, it was fresh lamb, toasted and ground coriander and cumin, and a container of Molokhia made with fresh jute mallow bought at a store in Mississauga. Their excitement at finding ingredients from back home. The stew of chicken and greens is pure comfort — ghee and lemon emulsify into a creamy broth.
And there are the new-to-me traditions like eating at sundown during Ramadan. Barbecuing kebabs in the park — smoke and the aroma of spices rising to meet the dusk.
For giving a little in a time of need, I received.
A new family. A place at a dinner table.
An absolute glut of love.
Nothing takes the past away
Like the future
Nothing makes the darkness go
Like the light
You're shelter from the storm
Give me comfort in your arms
Nothing really matters
Love is all we need
Everything I give you (Everything I give you)
All comes back to me
All the time.
So fucking boring.
I went to Venice at 30.
First trip to Europe. On scholarship.
In a water taxi. Speeding along the Canal Grande. From the Santa Lucia train station to the Peggy Guggenheim museum.
A glorious April day. Powder blue sky. Woolly clouds.
'How did I get here?'
Straight to the American Abstract Expressionists. The paintings and sculptures. That period in New York cultural history.
Left my bag at the coat check.
Had so many firsts.
Seeing a Calder. Amorphous puddles of colour hung like lures on fishing rod wisps of silver. The shadow-cast play on white walls.
Jackson Pollock. Willem de Kooning.
Do you know the feeling? Having an out-of-body experience. Standing in front of an original.
Something you've seen in books. Or in an art history lecture — dark room, slides shuffling in the carousel.
I cried at the Musée d’ Orsay. In a state of rapture.
Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe. Édouard Manet.
Spanish teenagers on a high school trip squeezing in on me.
Food is good.
So is painting. And pottery...music…poetry…photography…movies…theatre…family…friends…bike rides…ice cream…clouds…beaches...trees…bird song...
Where does the list end?
Spent a Venetian night in a convent.
I always thought my grandmother, Theo, made a snug bed.
The nuns made getting between the sheets a form of penance. Like putting on skinny jeans right out of the shower.
I went to markets and restaurants.
But the first few hours. I still carry in my heart.
Two new-to-me songs from this week.
Yeah, we’re related.
The eyes. Chuck had them too.
Sitting at the bar at the Slanted Door. 2010. Late afternoon snack.
The day began in line at Tartine. Then we drove over the Golden Gate in her convertible. Top down. Head back.
Marigold metal. Delphinium blue sky.
Don't let it end.
Aunt Pat. My dad's sister. Theo and Harry's daughter.
She’s celebrating this week.
I want you to know. How much I love her.
My mom was ill. Went away for six weeks.
When I was three.
My dad could not look after me. And work too.
Pat took me in.
She told me I was quiet. At first.
Sat on her couch. Leafed through magazines.
While my cousins' played.
Trying to add up. In my little head.
Why my mom and dad left.
I could be better.
My memory of that period is blank.
I knew none of this until I was in my thirties. My dad told me one night at dinner.
Coins clink. Pinball game lights up.
Why I liked being with her. She always had time for me.
Once, we spent a day watching classic films from the 70s. Started with Midnight Cowboy.
That kind of time. Peak happiness.
I have a photo from that period.
I could not look at it. For a long time.
These are my hands. I see worry.
A psychiatrist told me it would be hard to heal. That it might not happen.
Last sheet on the prescription pad.
And yet here I am. Dealing with it.
This is part of me.
And it's not everything.
I wish I could hug you. Hope anyone reading this wants to do that.
There's a jar of strawberry jam in my kitchen. With your name on it.
Damn, it's good.
It's been a few brilliant weeks in music.
Maggie Rogers. Shooting Star.
Beyonce's tribute to Madonna.
"You are a masterpiece genius.”
A reason to get up and dance.
July 29, 2022
July 26, 2022
Have you had that experience?
Maybe it's me.
Who owes you.
Working through it. Letting go.
I carried an apology for 28 years.
It's a fasten your seat belt story.
I want to tell it. To a room of people I know will understand. And love me, still.
I worked on it again in 2021. For the hundredth time.
Finally. Found freedom.
Long-term sobriety. Good guidance. Got me there.
It's hard to find accurate words for gratitude.
I'd sometimes get up with the summer birds in Stratford and cycle back country roads alone.
Azure sky. Gold lame sun. Green corn. White felt clouds. Black liquorice road.
It felt like that.
What took so long?
Breaking patterns. Takes muscle. And time.
Like wrestling in a hot room.
Accepting the lesson. Seeing the importance.
Aiming for humility. Missing it. Sometimes.
I don’t apologize for stuff that’s not mine.
That's a bad habit.
All people. Every human on the planet.
Has used furniture in their backyard.
And the right to own or ignore it.
A good story. With one side?
"All people are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong."
I know I can be colorful, I know I can be gray
But I know this loser's living fortunate
I know you will love me either way
My dad was pro-life for a period. He didn't talk about it.
Once, he came to Toronto with a group of catholic men — business-clad, plastic pen holders in white shirt pockets — to proselytize at Yonge and Dundas. Holding placards with graphic images. Sweaty palms pressing pamphlets into teenage hands.
Juicy-ripe girls and boys.
What I felt at the time. Still do.
I hitched a ride. A day in the city.
1978 or 79. Fifteen or sixteen years old.
I hated the church. And my father.
Telling me not to do stuff.
Which I did immediately.
Gold standard guarantee of fun.
A priest who got sick of watching me sit in the back row of youth group meetings told my dad to cut me free at thirteen.
The man of the cloth could see I didn’t think much of his culture.
Who can get past it?
The patriarchy. The absence of women. The omnipresent disapproving old white guy. Sex for procreation. The virgin birth. The sanctity of unborn life. The coat hanger deaths in back alleys. The denial of sexual identity. The corporal punishment, sexual abuse, and deaths of children. The commitment to the doctrine of discovery.
Every fucking year a new horror.
Cancer. On a global scale.
I went off to SAM’s. Might have bought this AC/DC album.
Got lost in the Eaton Centre. Ate at Mr. Greenjeans.
Then the sinner and saviour drove rural highways — corn lined up like alter boys at midnight mass — back to small-town Ontario.
Shortly after, my dad left the church. He didn't talk about that either.
The catholics have got that down.
Eternally grateful to my mother for putting me on birth control early.
"Because I wanted you to be free," she told me recently.
Wiser than her husband.
My parents knew I was changing in ways beyond them the first time I put this album on.
No stop signs
Nobody's gonna slow me down
Making crepes this week.
Standing at the stove. Soft heart.
Remembering twenty-five-year-old me.
In the kitchen of L’Escargot. Near Grange Park. In Hamilton, Ontario.
Working four pans. In a circular rotation.
The caramel smell of sugar, butter and toasted wheat.
Stacking them high on a plate. Crisp crinoline frill edges.
Cooking was everything. Anything was possible.
It felt like a dream.
Just out of McMaster University.
English literature major. Art history minor.
Taking third- and fourth-year classes.
Got two grade A papers. That year.
One on the painter Kandinsky. The other on Chaucer.
‘You are what you eat in the Canterbury Tales.’
I could have gone further. Academically.
But I couldn't see a future.
Working for Leslie at Bold Appetite catering. On weekends and at night.
She saw it first. Pointed straight at my talent.
Talked to me about taking another route. Closing the books.
Deep in me. It made perfect sense.
She held the door open. Sent me off into a French kitchen.
I'd like to hug her. Right now.
Two songs I heard twelve-hours apart.
Thirty years between them.
They work together. Maybe just for me.
But when the night is falling
You cannot find the light (light)
You feel your dreams are dying
You've got the music in you
Don't let go
You've got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don't give up
You've got a reason to live
We only get what we give