Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Snow Day

Few things in this life are nicer than a Snow Day. There is absolutely no way to get up Burnaby Mountain today, so I am happily at home, still pyjama'd, looking out at a soft snowy world. Above, Winnifred's picture of the ice on the pond at the Sun Yat Sen Gardens, taken Sunday. Today, assuming that ice thickened up a bit, it is probably under six centimetres of snow. Below, some astonished-looking dead fish at a Chinatown market, gorgeous in their loopy rigidity.

I am using my day of freedom to do some planning for an upcoming conference; to write an overdue book review; to read; to blog; and to do the laundry. Time will also be made to drink hot cocoa and to do sudoku. The soothing sound of Someone Else scraping the accumulated ice from the front walk is just about enough to send me back to bed for a late-morning nap.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Last month when I described a rather odd chocolate bar and its even odder product insert, I promised to follow up once the product had been both eaten and researched.

Just to refresh our memories, this was basically a large chocolate bar made of nothing but chocolate, hemp seeds and almonds. The strange thing about it was that it made a pretty amazing number of health and happiness claims, all of them in 10-point type on a full sheet of paper. That kind of thing, you will recall, lead me to think that it's more of a proselytizing effort than a food source. One of the claims was that one half to a complete chocolate bar should be eaten for breakfast, after which you probably won't need to eat again for quite a while, ergo you will lose weight.

Reader, we ate it. It was absolutely impossible for either of us--generally considered "healthy eaters"--to eat as much as a half of it at one sitting. Hemp seed, I should have remembered from many delicious meals at the table of the Chocolate Lady, sticks to the ribs. I have no doubt if you managed to eat a whole one of these babies you could do without food for much of the day. You might need to take a long nap also. We each ate, for example, a quarter of the chocolate bar before going to the gym, where we worked out for more than an hour, then came home and didn't eat another meal for several more hours. So the first claim, one made by implication, that it is very filling: check.

Also important to note: quite good tasting.

Will it help you lose weight? Well, it's 1220 calories, which is well more than my usual breakfast and lunch put together. It's possible it is filling enough, if you can choke the whole thing down, to make dinner virtually unnecessary. But it would be just as effective to simply make it a habit to eat a salad for dinner every night.

The second half of my research, into the potential cult-status of the manufacturer, has met further frustration. The business librarian at work helped me search a few databases of Canadian companies. Apparently privately-held companies are not really required to give much information about themselves to anyone. We did not find them listed. We tried to find information regarding their Nutritional Health Claims license number (that's the license that allows them to claim the product cures diabetes and celiac disease) but couldn't get even a mailing address. The company identification number, 299614 Alberta Ltd., gave me the only real insight. One of the things I found was this: www.cannabishealth.com/issue11/Issue%2011.pdf

Well, you don't have to click on that link to see what it's about. The comment left by a few of our readers made a joke about hemp. But perhaps they were all too right. Maybe it's not a cult, just a company with a second product line they'd rather keep out of the limelight. Which might mean the writing style, which I took for an excess of religious enthusiasm, could be nothing more than what happens when you let a stoner write your PR.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Splice "Which": Where You At?

Among the ways I amused myself when we were living in Brooklyn was finding things I said that they couldn't understand, or identifying things they said which I found odd, amusing, or useful, and previously unknown to me.

Here are some of the things I found myself saying that elicited confusion in New York:
  • a change is as good as a rest
  • to tear a strip off of somebody
  • to go up one side of somebody and down the other
  • to twig to something/be twigged to something
  • Bob's your uncle
  • grotty
  • SOL
  • beater (old car)
  • pastry (pie crust)
  • take a boo
  • tickety-boo
  • heel (of bread)
  • laid on (provided by the host)
Honestly, I don't know how they get by without these guys.

Some things are simple idiolects but might still be recognizable to other Canadians. Whenever there's any kind of extreme weather, Winnifred and I say to each other, "the wind she blow on Lac St. Pierre," a reference to a poem memorized by generations of Canadian school children and still alive in the popular consciousness. Never mind the poem stopped being taught well before I went to school; and never mind that our "quote" doesn't actually appear in the poem. Somehow, you say, "the wind she blow on Lac St. Pierre" (with a fakey Quebecois accent) and it makes sense. "Gee that's a heck of a wind, eh?" Nobody thinks anything of it. Say it in Brooklyn, however, and people think you're strange.
On the opposite side of the equation are the terms and usages we found exotic. The famous "all right" pronounced with no consonants provided many hours of amusement as we attempted to mimic it. We took tips from strangers on the subway (or "train" as they say) and tried to elicit it from locals of our acquaintance. The New York-ism we have most fully adopted is what Winnifred calls the "splice which." Neither of us can remember if this is a term she heard or read somewhere, or if she made it up. There might be a better way to describe it. At any rate, it goes like this:

She's yelling at me for coming in after curfew, which that's not even fair because my brother does it all the time.

She's yelling at me for never cleaning my room, which it's none of her business anyway.

See how useful that is? It is so much more emphatic than a grammatical "which isn't even fair" would be, and much more urgent and immediate than starting a new sentence. They just splice it together with a "which" and Bob's your uncle. We use it all the time now. I could not say why our examples are both from the realm of teenage unhappiness, except perhaps that teenage distress is a natural breeding ground for linguistic novelty.

Then there are instances where the same phrase means one thing in Vancouver and something else in New York. In New York, "Where you at?" is a request for simple factual information. "Where are you right now?" Where as in Vancouver, "where are you at?" (we're a grammatical bunch) would mean, "what is your psychic/emotional state at the present time?" There are instances in popular culture when both meanings seem to be present, but in New York I only ever heard it used to mean literal geographic coordinates. So last night when Winnifred and I were meeting up with my mom for dinner, I called her as I got out of the train--pardon me, SkyTrain--and asked "Where you at?" and she told me she was just parking in front of my mom's house. Another Vancouverite would be likely to say, "oh okay, you know, hard day at work, etc."

Monday, January 7, 2008

Who Are You and What Have You Done With the Real Students?

I just need to share that today was the first day of the semester and by noon the library was full--crowded, even--with students studying.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Borscht Of Unusual Size

Normally we think of our ancestral homelands (those on both the Jewish and Goyish sides of the family) as the locus of large beets that might account for the amount of borscht I just made. But the problem was not in fact the beets, of which I had three (3) smallish ones. The problem was all the other stuff I kept thinking of to put in the pot that would make it good.

In general, I would say a borscht can be said to be any soup which starts with a beet and an onion. All else, you might say, is commentary. But you know, there has just been a lot of eating at my mom's; eating out; not eating; filling up on the obscene amount of chocolate the holidays brought us; etc.; and meanwhile the vegetables in the fridge were not getting any younger. So I thought, I'll make me a quick borscht to use up those beets; plus you can put carrots and potatoes in borscht and I've got some of those sitting around that might want eating.

Then I noticed some celery and green peppers. Then I remembered that some people think walnuts are the perfect thing to go with beets, in whatever form. Then I read on the internet where you can use grated apples as a borscht garnish. Then I thought I might as well try that roasted beet style instead of the regular boiled beet thing. And so on. It got bigger and bigger; it took half the night; anyone want some borscht?

I know I read somewhere about borscht being the food of love, Yiddishly speaking, but I just can't remember where I saw it. No doubt due to the colour and the variety of extravagant presentation styles it engenders.