musings, suspended in aspic


My son has a friend over tonight for a sleepover.  I’m going to make my world famous Broccoli Forest mac’n'cheese, toss it into a casserole dish and into the oven.  Thirty minutes at 350 will do it.  We’ll have dinner, then sometime later after the Leafs start losing their hockey game we’ll make a big bowl of popcorn, plunk ourselves down on the couch and watch an illegally downloaded Battle of the Five Armies Hobbit movie.

Casseroles make life easy and they look great in the right dish.  In the last few years we’ve bought a lot of vintage Pyrex bowls and dishes not so much because we needed them but because they’re neat.  Most of them are too small for tonight’s dinner, but they look damn fine in our cupboard.  The older the better, they come in vintage green, gold and orange which would have looked lovely on a 1950s dinner party table.

The 1950s.  What a time to be alive.  What a time to eat! It was an era of prosperity, the war was over, people had money, they lived in the suburbs and did their entertaining at home.  Every man had a job, bought a house for his family while his wife stayed home raising their 2.6 children.  She would cook and clean and buy stuff from Avon. She’d smoke and serve coffee and tea to neighbourhood wives who would stop in after the soaps were over.  Soon after being left at home all day in the middle of the suburbs without a car she would start popping Miltowns because her stultifying routine was causing her to lose her mind.  The martini she served her husband when he came home and announced “Boy are my dogs tired” wouldn’t have been the first one she made that day, but the third.

They would have dinner parties.  These would be more formal affairs than the ones we have at our house where I sometimes serve our guests with slippers or Crocs on my feet.  They didn’t do that then. They wore proper shoes around the house, the men in Florsheim loafers and the women in pumps that matched their accessories.  They wore fashionable dresses, the men wore their best suits and Brylcreemed their hair.  No doubt convo was light and lively, especially after a few G’n'Ts.  Keep ‘em coming, Mabel!

How fun!  Eventually they would sit down to eat at tables laden with ostentatious food creations, flamboyantly adorned with colourful dressings and gaudy decorations.  All colours would be present in the dishes – green, yellow, orange, white, red, the more colourful the better. Deviled eggs, meatloaf, tuna casserole, baked Alaska, with meats so abundant and varied that the the whole barnyard would be represented. Especially steak! And finally, no table was complete without at least one serving of something suspended in gelatin or aspic.

Gelatin and aspic.  I don’t think there is anything more disgusting than the renderings from boiling the skin, ligaments, tendons and bones of animals.  Gelatin was used more often for sweet things; aspic was just gelatin mixed with a consommé or meat broth, used more often for savoury dishes.

Just gross. 

I have a problem with some food textures.  The thought of biting through gelatin to get at a piece of fruit sends my stomach roiling; the thought of biting into the same substance to get at a chunk of boiled pork is gag-inducing.  Almost as bad as biting down on a piece of gristle in the days when I ate meat.  Anything that my teeth bounce off of has no business being in my mouth.

Check out these glorious creations.


eat what you can

I’m sitting on the couch beside my sick, sleeping daughter while my son plays his new Batman 3 Lego video game.  It’s 2:30 in the afternoon, a lazy Saturday with a blue sky outside that belies the frigid Toronto temperatures.  My partner is out for a run, a habit he’s returned to since taking a break after completing not one, but two triathlons last summer.  When he comes home he’ll take the dog out for a walk.  As for me, I don’t have much energy to do anything.  ’Maybe tomorrow’ has been my New Years mantra.

I usually buy into the New Years resolution thing and feel motivated to change my bad habits and adopt some new ones but so far no luck.  It’s not for Santa’s lack of trying.  On my right wrist is a Fitbit bracelet, an innocuous gadget easily forgotten about until it buzzes me or flashes its little lights at me. Not sure what they’re for.  Every few days I go on the website to track my progress and see that I moved around a lot in the morning when I got up and went to work, and that I moved around a lot at the end of the work day when I came home.  Nothing surprising there.  What it doesn’t show is me moving much any other times of the day, which is because I’m not. The website is a baffling head scratcher, making far too many assumptions about my diet and fitness goals to be believable. I’ll take over this any day. I still have to do all the work (which would ideally include biking and running), and the logging in of meals, but at least it doesn’t claim to be anything other than a tracker.  While I might be failing at this, the food eaten in 2015 has been very good.

During the last year we’ve heard the deep whirring of our neighbour’s Vita mix every morning.  We’ve wanted a high-speed blender for years but have been loath to spend the $700. It turns out that the good folks at Blendtec will sell you a re-built model for considerably less, with a warrantee and a new BPA-free jug.  Since Christmas it’s been used two or three times a day.  This beast can handle anything that we add – organic soy milk with carrots, apples, oranges, frozen cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, avocado, dandelion and beet greens, kale, spinach, banana, almonds, walnuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds.  Best yet, my son loves them, and he doesn’t mind knowing he’s drinking swiss chard. Thankfully he’s also colourblind, which means the putrid-green colour of some of these concoctions looks a more palatable orange instead.
The other gadget that found its way under our tree this Christmas is a canner/pressure cooker.  We’ve canned our own tomatoes for a few years but have been inspired to can other things like beans and other low-acid foods.  We are avid soupsters so it would be nice to be able to save some of our marvellous creations for posterity, or at the very least for convenience.  The beans are soaking as we speak, and tomorrow the canner will make its maiden voyage.  As our jars of tomatoes are used up from last summer’s tomato-fest, the empty shelves will be filled with jars of soups, beans ‘n’ tomato sauce, chick peas, kidney beans, chillies, salsas and sauces.   A way to avoid buying stuff in BPA-lined cans, it’s also fresher and cheaper.
By the time of my next missive I hope to be able to tell you that I’ve at least gone for a walk-run-walk-walk-walk-run-walk.  My next goal will be to replace the walks with the runs.  Then over time I’ll get rid of the walks altogether and only run.  I’ll run everywhere.  To the bathroom.  To Starbucks.  To the grocery store.  Watch for me on Facebook.  I’ll be the holier-than-thou uber-athlete, healthy and fit, not motivating others but pissing them off with details of my daily hours-long workouts.  Don’t worry folks, no sanctimony here.