Saturday, June 17, 2017


So, I wasn't super psyched about my bday. The weather was shit (although it didn't actually rain), it was on a Monday and I ended up having to work though I had the day off. But strangely, despite that suboptimal constellation of events - it was my freakin' birthday and I made sure everyone knew so they would comp me things. (What? I'm not proud.) I also told everyone that I'm 47 so they would respond with the obligatory you look so young! I intend to work this angle indefinitely, irrespective of accuracy. Youth, people. It's an attitude.

(Brief Sidebar: Make no mistake, a reno is not good for one's youthful mien. I don't know how to quantify my level of stress because I don't have a classification system that supports it. In the words of my day job: this construct is not contemplated within the terms of my current level of experience. I don't want to lead you to believe that this is because its badness is beyond fathomable. I've actually felt more oppressively stressed on a number of occasions in years past. For example, so far - and I'm not taking anything for granted - having a reno is way less soul-crushing than having a baby. Because renos don't wake up screaming.)

At any rate, each year, my friend Nicole takes me on a garden tour. The tour moves around and we've been going for so many years (at least 12) that we've watched it travel out from the centre (the tiny, creative urban gardens that we love and can relate to) to the increasingly affluent "interior suburbs" as I call them. I LOVE the garden tour like a person who is twice my age - and, while we're creeping up on them, the tour is largely comprised of women of a certain age who like to apprise you, sometimes at length, about their own personal experiences of growing plant x. This year, a small dog followed me from garden to garden, who can say why?, to the great dismay of the volunteer staff who kept saying sternly: "Ma'am, your dog cannot enter the back yard." No matter how many times I advised that it was not my dog, that they were welcome to pick him up and remove him, I could tell the volunteers did not believe me. It was odd. Strangely, as we walked from one batch of gardens to the next, a woman going too fast in a big-ass German SUV, rolled down her tinted window and bellowed at me: "Have you seen a small black dog?" and it's not like I was the only one walking down the street. (Um, thought I, get your ass out of your car and start actually calling his name. Your dog ain't gonna know you're looking from behind a steering wheel.) Ah, rich people...

We wandered, on a beautiful, sunny, sweltering day from gorgeous home to gorgeous home, sneaking a peak at indoor swimming pools (behind the shubbery), admiring yet another elm or birch (or peony). Usually, I finish the tour with a heady sense of status anxiety. Don't misunderstand, I take it on for the joy of seeing the gardens, but I always feel vaguely crushed by my inadequacy in the end.

It's silly, I know. I'm generally confident. I recognize that I have a great life. I'm sure I have great taste :-) I have never had one moment of self-doubt when reading Vogue magazine though I cannot afford most of the fashion and all of the models are a foot taller and infinitely more waifish than me. In fact, some of my happy memories include dissecting Vogue with a bottle of wine and a bag of all-dressed chips. But, God help me, Home and Garden throws me into a tail spin.

As they say, age brings wisdom - whether one fights it or not, it would seem - because, this year, as I ambled and peered and petted the flowers amongst gorgeous, classical architecture - in a 'hood I knew intimately from my affluent youth (talk about triggers) - I was entirely unmoved. In fact, during this day, I felt that I saw but one house and one garden because everything looked EXACTLY the same as everything else. There was no creative impulse in this place (east Rosedale meets Moore Park, in case you're wondering). Not one home owner was there to show his or her personalized garden. I imagine they were all in Muskoka... There were no tiny gems, no well-won flowers, coaxed despite the climate. The hard scaping was all expensive and well-maintained - and apparently all acquired from one vendor that doesn't feel the need to reinvent the (elegant) wheel. And for all that, I didn't envy it. I didn't want it. I just didn't give a shit.

In fact, I was vaguely irritated that people of such means could be so inherently bland. There was so much squandered opportunity. Moreover, for the first time ever, I fully perceived the unending effort and money that goes into maintaining a grand, cookie-cutter Edwardian home - because one's primary goal is to look just slightly better than the neighbours (if homogeneously). For the most part, these people work and work and work (as do we all in this centre of commerce), and there's no time to do much more than to pay others to take care of everything. These people don't have energy for (or interest in) being creative, at least not according to their gardens. And that's just not me.

Who can say why I came by this joyous epiphany? Time is a teacher, after all. But I've been banging my head against this wall forever. What changed? Is it that I've finally undertaken the creative redesign of my dreams (or occasional nightmares)? That I finally feel empowered? Is it that I'm living rich-adjacent in my own right and, frankly, I'm unimpressed. I really don't want to live in a block party 'hood that fund raises for a dunk tank. What the fuck, people? I don't want to get to know you after a 10-hour day, though I'm very happy to wave and say good morning (and even to help you should you require it). I'm a downtown girl who finds tremendous pleasure in the standoffish oasis of the urban home. It's not big, but the bones are good. I can be anywhere in 5 minutes. When I want the best El Salvadoran food in North America, I walk up the block. It's right next to awesome Ethiopian and some damn good Nicaraguan too. Plus there's table-cloth bistro, when I'm feeling the need for oysters and cava, albeit in the other direction.

My (front) garden reflects my love of monochrome and tidy verdance. It's an expression of my obsessive compulsive nature, a metaphoric chess board. My former back garden (which will be recreated, post-reno, in a new motif because, why not?) was an ode to floral phasing, respectful of the limits of the landscape. It transcended what it was originally, a sad melange of concrete and lane way.

These spaces will never be perfect but they elevate what's there. Beauty is much more enticing for the the decay that surrounds it. I've always regretted that I see decay in everything but it's my way. Show me anything - I'll find its problem and then I'll solve it. I cannot skate on the surface, though often I wish I could.

My current reno is the very embodiment of this. We have unearthed what was submerged and now we're paying the price (in all the ways). But challenges are meant to be resolved. And homes are meant to be a reflection of the self, at least in my opinion. So that's the gift I got on turning 47. Not bad, I think you'd agree.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


There are different kinds of healthful eaters and I fall into a category that doesn't eat kale. That's actually not true. I eat kale whenever it suits me, which just happens to be rarely. I had a really bad experience with it once so I'm gun shy. What can I say? I'm not a tree-eater. Anything that reminds me of grass or trees isn't going to get my love, unless it's contained holistically in some dish that I enjoy.

I do like quite a few vegetables and vary them in my diet but, honestly, if you ask me about my food impetus, they don't rate. They're a pleasant accompaniment, a reprieve from the substantial.

Moreover, while I believe in eating vegetables for health (though I'm only motivated by desire), and while I know we need to treat this world better and consume less meat, I eat it or fish/seafood pretty much daily, in small amounts.

I'm effectively a person who doesn't eat sugar, processed food, beans (though I flirt with these because I like them) and grains of any description. My wine consumption is regulated, but I've hit a sweet spot.  Oh, and it happens that I'm not super into vegetables.

These factors can coexist and I am, nonetheless, a healthful eater- though some of you may be wondering wtf I actually do eat (read on). But, here's the thing, I've spent a shit ton of time over the past 6 months considering what food resonates. What food gets me off? Because, remember, when I started this thing I was beyond satisfaction.  I inhabited emptiness, or it did me, and everything was cavernously bland.

I'd been such a mess of sugar addiction that it affected my sense of taste. Sure, I'm a food discerner from way back, but there was always a fundamental disconnect between my appetite, my hunger - and the needs of my autonomic body. I was driven by an irrational, semi-regular compulsion to eat sugar in whatever form was easiest.

It sounds really bad when I put it that way...

So I made a decision. In my new landscape, I would only eat food that I want. If the thrill was elusive, my job was to find it. I've undertaken this with sincerity :-)

Foods I love to eat and so I eat them pretty well as much as I want, as often as I want (and I'm not known for my moderation):
  • Full fat dairy, theoretically, in unrestricted amounts (but I must remain mindful, in the scheme of things, to ingest this food group in balance with the others - because I could eat only dairy for the rest of my life and, let's face it, that wouldn't really be smart): butter, cream, yogurt, cheese, milk... Cream is my perfect dairy. Sometimes I drink 4 oz of heavy cream at a go, in one form or another. Dairy has a notable effect on my mood, it calms me the fuck down and it makes me happy. I just have to perfect my creme patissiere without grain sugar or flour (but 1 tsp maple syrup) so I can eat it for dinner when the mood strikes - and use it in dessert, natch. With berries. It's high in good mood chemicals, protein and fat. What's not to love??
  • Other oils - cuz if I'm going to eat vegetables (and I do appreciate them for their many gifts), they need to be oily. Also, oil is good on or in everything.
  • The coconut in all it's forms, but particularly the cream and oil (notice a trend?).
  • Meats that are on the more raw vs more cooked side. Preferably salty and saucy.
  • Potatoes - but not in large quantities and generally smothered in some sort of fat (or rich sauce). I particularly love roasted and mashed.
  • Cacao/Cocoa/Chocolate - Also ridiculous mood enhancer. It tastes like earth and when you mix it with fat, it's soporific. But without sugar, this is a totally different food than any choc bar (even the 80%).
  • Pistachio nuts (and I eat other nuts but these are my faves). Really salty or spicy ones.
  • Eggs for their spectacular versatility. They give richness to everything.
  • Bacon. Look, let's just give this one its own line item and move on.
  • Berries, pears, apples, stone fruits - the things that make the best crumbles
  • Coffee and wine - in moderation, but only because if I have more than 3 shots of coffee in a day, I start to shake (sad) and when I drink booze as I used to, it makes me feel sick. Note: It would appear, though I didn't realize it at the time, that I used to drink wine as a blood sugar stabilization mechanism. Now that I don't eat sugar, I don't find wine anywhere near as biologically compelling (though it is a beautiful accompaniment to meals).
With few exceptions, I eat for texture first. That's what makes or breaks food for me and rich textures are endlessly pleasurable. Next I taste for umami. Then sweet. With sugar, I want only a tease. I love the dense, fatty, saucy things (in proper proportions). I do live in a cold climate, after all.

Also, I don't love chewing unless I'm in the mood (which is strangely infrequently in the scheme of things). What do all of my faves (soups and sauces and mashed potatoes and mince and scrambled eggs and drinking chocolate and soft cheese and vegetables sauteed in sauce) have in common? You don't have to feel like chewing in order to enjoy them. Note: This isn't about my TMJD for the most part. It's about an undercurrent of physical revulsion at the thought of eating something that must be chewed/absorbed. Yeah, I agree, it's fucking weird. I used to mask my aversion with a constant infusion of sugar and simple carbs.

I've decided not to worry about any of this. This is how I'm eating right now. It suits more of me than it doesn't suit (which is more than I can say for my former eating styles). I only eat what I want. If I desire sweet things before savoury, I eat them. If I want a quarter stick of butter in my scoop-sized mashed potatoes, I eat it.  If I want veggies braised in bacon fat, I eat them. I do not restrict salt or spices or fat or protein. I also welcome fruit and sweet-aligned foods (cocoa, wine, coffee). I pair them with the most stupidly fatty and moldy cheese I can find.

Is this low carb or ketogenic or primal, I have no fucking idea. It seems that most of my calories come from fat but nuts, fruit, veg and dairy have carbs and I eat them daily, sometimes in substantive quantities. I drink wine sometimes. I make dessert many nights of the week. I just cut the sugar almost entirely, eliminate the grain and use beautiful dairy, fruits, eggs and spices. You'd be amazed by how dessert can serve as an decadent main when you do this well. I don't know if this is healthy on paper. I know it's healthy for me.

Is it immoderate? Well, maybe, if you don't like the idea of mainlining fat, but does that matter if the end result is feeling and looking better? One could say I am exceedingly moderate about the sugar and grains. I sense I'm a vegan's nightmare.

Is this a good idea for others? Who can say? It can't hurt to try if you have mood or memory issues, an arrythmia, chronic pain or an illness caused by systemic inflammation or degeneration. Bio-available fat stabilizes the nervous system. But who can say what impacts come to those with high lipids or fat-sensitive systems? We are not all the same. We shouldn't all do the same thing.

So, today's question: What kind of eater are you? Emotional, Whole 30, health nut, gluttonous, austere - define yourself in the moment :-) and let's talk!