Friday, December 17, 2010

Smelling the roses

Hi my name is Ron and I’m a graduate student. I’ve been on this path towards the increasingly popular PhD for almost five years and, quite frankly, I’m tired of it. For a while now (let’s say four years) I wanted nothing more than to join my former undergraduate mates in the workforce. Working nine-to-five or, in many cases, eight-to-four, or in some cases, seven-to-three, going home and enjoying real free time. Doing things like cooking, going to movies, spending all of that hard earned cash.

Recently, I decided to scratch my employment itch and get a part-time position within the federal government. For 10 hours a week I work in a cubicle with grey walls and grey carpeting, situated within an office painted grey and office workers wearing grey suits with dye jobs to hide their grey hairs. Occasionally I walk to the window to get a glimpse of outside through what seems like grey tinted glass. The work that I do is mundane and trivial. I eat my lunch at my desk while browsing food blogs and fantasizing about leaving early.

For undergraduate students, December is the month where the semester’s stress culminates into a cess pool of sleep deprivation, too much coffee, and way too much cramming. For graduate students, December is equally as busy grading term papers and exams. While grading I sometimes feel like I can smell the stress hormones that somehow steeped into the pages while the students’ were writing their term tests.

Just yesterday I finished my grading for the term- phew. I was walking across campus after having dropped off the graded exams with the professor responsible for the course. It was a snowy grey day. As I walked, I overheard a conversation behind me.

It went something like this.

Girl- “Wow, that was a rough exam”
Boy- “Yeah, I should’ve studied harder”
Girl- “Me too. Oh well, it was great getting to know you this term”.
Boy- “Yeah, likewise”.
Girl- “Say, do you think you’d like to have coffee with me sometime? In a date kind of way? I’ll understand if you are seeing someone already, I just thought you seemed like a really nice guy and I’d like to get to know you better.”
Boy- “Yeah, I think that would be nice. Maybe it would be best after exams but I would really like that”

*end scene*

So I’m a stalker and I admit it, but this exchange turned a grey day into a brightly coloured one. It was like something out of a Hollywood romantic comedy and I witnessed it first hand. In that moment, it occurred to me that University is a very special place to be. Young people are finally given the freedom to learn about topics that interest them. They are learning about themselves, and, in some cases, finding love. I have been going through the motions of meeting with students and even teaching them, never really thinking about how pivotal this time period is in their lives. What a privilege to be part of something so important.

It sure beats a grey office cube.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Adventures in kitchen appliances

Anyone who knows me understands that I am quite seriously obsessed with kitchen appliances. My focus is generally on the small countertop variety such as blenders, espresso machines, and food processors. But I also quite fancy their larger cousins, the dishwasher, stove and refrigerator. I often stay up late at night, after my partner has gone to sleep, scouring the internet looking for that little something that, once given electricity, will help facilitate my culinary masterpieces.

Since I’m obsessed with kitchen appliances, one would think that I would have every single kitchen gadget on the face of the planet. Au contraire! We don’t have a lot of storage space in our apartment nor do we have a lot of extra ‘dough’ hanging around. So I a) have to be highly selective about the appliances I buy and b) like to get a really good deal. By really good deal I mean I decide that I want to purchase an appliance and then patiently await the perfect deal to come along.

For roughly six months I have been entranced by the ubiquitous Kitchenaid stand mixer, the ultimate symbol of domestic prowess. I have been fantasizing about seeing its iconic design on our countertop. Whenever I pass by them in a department store I take a few minutes to admire their colour and form, go through the motions of removing the attachments and setting the speed. I place my hand on the smooth shiny lacquered body that reflects the overhead fluorescent lighting. And, by the way, think of all the fancy things I could make!

Incidentally, some of my best childhood memories took place in the kitchen with my mother on one side of our stand mixer and me on the other. We prepared all kinds of cookies and cakes with our little mixer. One day, while we were mixing the ingredients for my grandmother’s famous chocolate and beer cake the mixer started to smell like smoke and metal shortly before it stopped dead! In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t so surprising as it was a Sunbeam. My mother never replaced the mixer and that sort of represented the end of us baking together.

After thoroughly researching all of the models I first decided on the tilt-head design because it is a more compact machine and seems less cumbersome than the bowl lift models. Next, I decided on the Artisan model because it offers more power and a larger bowl than the other lower end tilt-head models. The only problem is that the Artisan mixer is expensive! It ranges from $300 to $500 in retail stores.

The other day, however, I was on the Kitchenaid online store, and there was a sale on white Artisans for $169! Because I live in Ottawa, and their site was American, I cleverly thought to ship the mixer (for free!) to the nearest boarder crossing. The result was a super inexpensive stand mixer anda road trip from Ottawa to Ogendensburg, New York! I paid the toll for the bridge ($3) and $5 fee to pickup the parcel from the local UPS store. That was that!

It was great to spend some quality time with my partner during the drive and, when we got home, I made Flax Seed Bread from It was deelish!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


A few months ago my partner and I were shopping for produce at the supermarket. He placed a bunch of bananas in our cart. I scrutinized them closely and asked, “Are there any organic alternatives”?

You see, at that time I had just finished reading Michael Pollan’s In defense of food and the notion that organic produce was not only better for the environment but nutritionally superior was still at the forefront of my mind. He smirked, rolled his eyes and insinuated that I was simply “jumping on the bandwagon”.

I, understandably, became quite defensive. It felt like my identity as a freethinking and independent young person had been shattered. With great indignation I proceeded to list all of the benefits to consuming organic foods and, once I had finished, I cited all of the evidence proving that I was anything but a “bandwagon jumper”. This conversation carried on until the dairy isle where, still deep in my diatribe, I opened a large freezer and selected a large tub of no-name chocolate ice cream, which I placed in our cart.

My partner interrupted me, “That’s not organic.” To which I responded, “Oh, ice cream doesn’t count.” He smirked.

After reconstructing the shards of my identity over the coming days, I realized that he had a point. I sometimes do things that others are doing and, as such, I suppose one could say that I jump on the bandwagon. But, to be more precise, I would replace jump with climb cautiously and bandwagon with some other less populated pull-cart. Let’s be honest. As an elementary school student I wanted nothing more than a Northern Reflections sweatshirt, only because most of my peers wore them. And then in high school I absolutely needed a pair of Tommy Hilfiger Jeans, only because the cool kids had them. As an adult, I bought a MacBook because it was pretty and my friend had one. I similarly ordered an iPhone without even understanding what it could do beyond making phone calls. This behaviour is clearly a simple manifestation of repressed childhood desires to be accepted by others fit in.

And I think I’m okay with it. So I happen to buy organic food that proports to be better for the environment and more nourishing for my body. I own Mac products that, despite their high price tag, are aesthetically pleasing, highly functional and may even improve my productivity. Maybe there is something to the bandwagon beyond simply being a mindless sheep following a heard. In some instances, adopting the behaviours of others around you may enhance your own life. Oh and, of course, it can facilitate acceptance by peers (repressed childhood anxiety!!!).

Which brings me to this blog. I’ve been interested in contributing to the blogosphere for quite some time. I’ve been partly inspired by the Ottawa foodie blogging community and partly by movies like Julie & Julia. Beyond sharing my ideas and inspirations with others, food blogging appeals to me as a way to stay motivated with regards to learning about food and cooking. I mean, come on! How can one resist getting into the kitchen when reading about others’ fabulous experiences with food and seeing pictures of their creations?

So there it is: an over-justification of my desire to maintain a blog. Whether its simply to climb cautiously on the bandwagon, to facilitate my own learning, or to be accepted by others, I’m convinced it will be an interesting adventure.