Saturday, April 23, 2011

Waiting for Good Joe - the existentialist search for a decent cup of coffee

On one end of the accessibility spectrum are good coffee, fresh vegetables and unsweetened bread !  On the other, rather delightfully, are oranges, seafood and avocados.  Some of this polarity can be explained by agricultural limitations, by culture and regional tastes or by commercial drivers.  The reasons don't matter as much as knowing that all the stuff you need to make lemonade is around. And in fact, that you may even stumble upon some premium quality lemons you didn't even know you wanted.

Rather than stew in my disappointment and food snobbery, I rush headlong into appreciation of the
yin and yang of it.  What are we, anyway, without the balance of light and dark, good and evil, espresso and arabica.  In fact, it's this balance and opposition in the world that keeps us able to survive as a people.  Let's think about it.  (This is where those faint of tolerance step away from their screens for a moment of patriotism -just some soft apologetic patriotism: I am Canadian after all).  If Canada were not so cold and dark for so much of the year, we would be hot and overpopulated.  We might not be so famously polite as we elbowed people to get through the throngs that would invariably feature in our streets and subways.  Indeed, we probably wouldn't even have subways.  Here I am facing a similar balance question.  Maybe if Florida had good lattes and a native root vegetable or two, all these marshy miles between condo developments would be even more full of residents with long arms and aggressive elbows.

There's an expression my mother uses a lot as a metaphor for compromise "putting water in one's wine". I find that an appropriate turn of phrase as my current compromise takes the form of symbolically taking water OUT OF my wine.  Or more literally putting more coffee in my coffee so that it looks and tastes like coffee and not the water in which I would soak my paintbrushes...if I had paintbrushes.

As a result of having sussed out this first survival strategy (i.e. ordering a triple whatever at any coffee dispensing establishment from Tarpon Springs to Talahassee), I sit comfortably caffeinated and equipped to go on and tell you about the bread, the vegetables and other food yarns..... I found it downright foreign that no major grocery chain within three counties has bread that doesn't feature some form of sugar in the first three ingredients.  And as bread should only really have five or six ingredients, well, don't get me started. After what I believe to be thorough searches of boutique food marts, eco-elite grocery joints, health food shops, and artisanal bakeries, I have come up short again and again.  The upshot of all this is a monthly trip with a very specific list of things I can't find anywhere else - including sugarfree bread - to the distant far away land they call Whole Foods. Yes, it's quite a drive but making the long trek, re-useable shopping bag in hand, reaps bonus rewards.  That they have devoted a good 25% of retail space to an impressive collection of wines is only a small part of that bonus.  I look forward to the chortles and the resulting endorphins that are all released when I peruse those endless aisles of wine in knowing I will happen upon something like this:

or this playful red...

 or a fractious brew like one of these guys.....

Even without the extra diversion provided by label trolling, the long trip to Whole Foods can be justified by the fact that it's relatively lower priced than its shishi cousin in a posh part of the city back home.  There is something economically stabilizing about everything being housed in a strip mall. Rich or poor, we all shop within stuccoed walls.

So. Coffee and bread. Check.

As all my pals on the food security beat know, accessibility sometimes refers to availability and sometimes it refers to price.  Why such a vocal, almost litigious society would stand for paying an average of $3.50USD for a bunch of broccoli, I don't know for sure.  I can only speculate that it's because they don't eat it.  I'll save pedantic lectures about nutrition for another post (don't panic - I probably won't get around to it) but will just say, the shelves in the store are brimming - yes brimming - with fresh vegetables which everyone is passing by in favour of the aisles and aisles of endcap refrigerators. Albeit, they do contain pizza pockets and 'tater tots, they also contain frozen broccoli, brussel sprouts and peas (which will be on my shopping list so we can eat something that has grown in soil as opposed to shrink wrapping without declaring bankruptcy).  So, is everyone eating frozen vegetables because the fresh stuff is so expensive or is the fresh stuff so expensive because no one buys it and instead buy the frozen stuff?  Which came first: the frozen chicken nugget or the egg substitute?

Hold the phone - things are getting 'ugly'. I left my blogging for a minute when a message came in from a local grower about heirloom ugly tomatoes she is giving away to fellow Freecyclers.  Ahh tomatoes and community - what a glorious combination.  This new development dilutes what I have said above, somewhat.  So, take it with a grain of salt.... or a swig of coffee.

Time for the yang.  It's not as if fish and seafood grow on trees or anything but fresh good quality aquatic fare is obviously much more available here given the proximity to the sea.  And since seafood is something easily cooked at home, I can by-pass my neighbours' preferences for breading and frying everything and cook it up à la me. I don't deny Canadians' worship of fried food (we go one better and sprinkle the fried item with sugar) but I  have never seen the likes of this North of the 49th

In any case, I depart from my countrymen here when I declare my love for a plain grilled fish - gills and all over a breaded, fried one. So, even if you don't eat anything that still has its eyes, I am sure you can appreciate the sublime goodness of food that comes to you looking much like it did when it was harvested, soon after it was harvested, and from just next door - or close enough.  Not even a trip to my favourite fish market at home would promise such variety.

Oranges, tangerines and grapefruits - oh my.  It should not surprise anyone that oranges in Florida are available, not very expensive, varied and delicious.  I like oranges.  But what I have become really  obsessed with is my daily fix of FSOJ.  I have it so often now that I need an abbreviation (to save time saying it so I can spend time squeezing it!)  Freshly squeezed orange juice is something I would have splurged on occasionally at brunch at a hip Riverdale joint up North.  Here, I indulge every day in either FSOJ or FSRRGJ (fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice).  I am nothing if not flexible.

Oh - one more thing. The extensive time I have spent in Mexico without having picked up on this coupled with my deference for all things California make the following declaration unexpected: From this day forward ne'er a California avocado will pass my lips in favour of its flavourful, meaty Mexican cousin (that sounds dirty). They cost a buck or so each and the flavour alone makes all the nutrients you get hit with a bonus afterthought. So, I would like to add to my daily list of staples, along with juice, fish and industrial strength coffee, a beautifully hand smashed guacamole, salted and dressed with a squeeze of lime at its last possible unmarried moment before it is joined - in love -  with a crisp corn chip.  Ah bliss....

So, as long as abundance, ingenuity and compromise can run along the same path for a while, we will find a way.  Between navigating the grocery conundrums like fresh vegetables priced consistent with 14k gold and anemic coffee, I think we can make this little life of ours work here. Now, I will have to excuse myself to go and pack my day bag and some lunch for the long journey ahead. We're out of bread.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I couldn't resist penning a verse or two about our experiences refurbishing the apartment we moved into in order to make it seem more like our home. Although the space is small, the square footage of kitsch loomed large. There is still work to be done but some of the bigger design mistakes have been undone and never to be spoken of again......after the recitation of the below, of course...

There once was a puke-green wall colour
that we walked in to on day one in horror
not six coats of paint
could remove the taint
of the hue choice of residents, prior

nowhere to hang you
O jacket, keys or purses
on the floor you lay, til spring

Wallpaper borders
lurk in my dreams with foreboding
if bursts of colour join
repurposed TV stands and makeshift counters
would it were for perpetuity
why then do carpeted floors appear?
broadloom nightmares
despite the tiles that belong
on our path
on our floor
thoughts of new bathroom fixtures
fridge doors that open
and ovens that heat
remain in my heart
until we can rebuild

Nothing is red
and so we're all blue
for all is coral and shell-shaped
it's Florida - what's new?!

You were never right for the room
although the previous owners erred
too large, too pink, too past your bloom
for a new thrift shop life, be prepared
the corduroy journey that all who sat took
enveloped in your cushion and fold
has furrowed your form with a weather'd look
burying your confident, clean image of olde
under the burden of overuse and kids' bouncing
stray remnants of red wine and spaghetti sauce
lurk in the seams that will soon hide the trouncing
now a secret shared by me, thee and the GoodWill shop boss

If this be your fate, I weep.  Though with haste
I abandon you to someone with bad taste!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Part II - Renovating on a Shoestring....When All You Have are Flip-Flops

Most kids recognize the golden arches of McDonalds or perhaps Mickey Mouse's iconic giant disc ears.  Not ours.  Luca announces proudly, as we pull into the parking lot and the sign appears, "...that's the Home Depot!"  So frequent became our visits to the store - after thrift shops came up empty and our dreams were repeatedly dashed - that he became familiar with the logo and the orange and white sign.  In fact, I even thought I heard him say to us one day when we were visibly concerned about the potential success of a project, "Mummy, Daddy - you can do it, they can help".  OK, maybe I hallucinated that, but it's no wonder, considering we lived and breathed with renovation on the brain for weeks.

Once we moved on to question #2 "How can I re-purpose what is already here so that it is not hopelessly ugly and/or useless?", we knew we could not do it alone.  For example, would any sane person attack - on his own - turning this..

into something- anything at all- that makes any kind of design sense?  Of course not, I hear you say. And I wholeheartedly agree.  A team of warriors was required for this: warriors in the form of coats of thick white primer paint, a working circular saw (second- hand and ready for a fight), fine grade sand-paper, clean white mitre-cut trim and the gift of Gavin's eye equipped for any spacial relations task you throw at it.  After one or two strategic planning sessions and a few trips to Luca's favorite DIY depot, this ugly green, so-called entertainment centre turned into this:

 I'll give you a minute to scroll back up to the "Before" shot.

Yup - that green monstrosity did, in fact, turn into this.  This is recycling of the finest, fanciest order.  However, I am remiss if I don't let you know that afore-mentioned list of tools needed for this - and other projects- is incomplete and simultaneously draw your attention to the (almost empty) bottle of tequila on the top shelf of the finished product.

While I'm at this "before/after" thing, I'll show you the couch of horrors below that was replaced by the sunny orange delight above.

OK, indulge me: one more and I'll stop:

Dig the groovy border at the ceiling.  Its grapes and flowers!

In the middle of the kitchen is that drafting table I talked about in a previous post.  Not bad right? And in true makeover fashion, in the same way that the "Before" shots show the subject standing with terrible posture, no makeup on and frowning, in our "before" shot,  we have strewn clothes and messiness-making objects about the floor randomly to heighten the sense of despair and disarray.....

Renovating changes you at the very core.  Seemingly overnight, my aversion to decorative pillows (especially on beds where there are several layers of them to be peeled away when access for actual sleeping is needed)  has changed into an affinity for fluffing and placing them just so. Sigh..