Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lost Voice (Chronic Aphasia)

Yes, I know. I have always known it and been ashamed of it, but I can’t help it. I wish it wasn’t true but it is. I talked too much.

There are worse than me, but I am guilty of excessive talking. As I aged and realized it, I worked to ameliorate my relations with people and my inclinations were, for the most part, kept in cheque. Plus, I took steps to channel my inclination and became a regular at The Flame, a storytelling collective.

Then, like penance, came my speech problem. I can’t remember when it started, but it was sometime around 1990. At first it was sporadic, happening perhaps every two years for a couple of weeks but by 2010 it was happening every year and for months at a time. Finally, in 2014 I went to the speech clinic.

Around February 14th I started having problems again. By the 16th, it was worst than it has ever been; by the 18th, it was gone. If I try to talk, I can only say one-to-three words and then my voice stops so I stop talking—just for a millisecond—after every couple of words and by doing this, I can communicate in a way that can be heard.

I call this “jerky” way of speaking, speaking in “robo voice.” And, odd as it seems, if I try to talk with a foreign accent, I can talk. This may strike you as funny but having no voice is not funny to me.

So this past week, I went back to the voice clinic where I went for an appraisal in 2014 and asked for more help and you know what? They wouldn’t allow me to make an appointment. I was standing there unable to speak and could not make an appointment. They said I had to go back to my GP for a requisition. The last time I did that (in 2014) it took eight months to get my appointment with them.

Last night, I decided to have some sushi for dinner. I went to my favourite place and ordered take out and I had to sit down to wait. Surrounded by people out having dinner with friends and talking, I started to cry. I am 68 years old and I was crying because I can’t talk. It was a moment—my first— of self-pity. Sitting there alone waiting for take out food, for the first time I worried that I may never be able to speak.

I can speak quite clearly if I speak very slowly. To me, it feels extremely slow but I can “pass” quite well in stores and on the phone. If I speak really slowly, I can speak like a normal person but I have to speak softly. If I get excited at all—you know, animated like you do with friends—absolutely no sound will come out of my mouth.

Speaking for me requires impeccable posture, no tension (my shoulders have to be relaxed) and slow speech but if I do all that, I can enjoy almost normal relations with people if we are in a quiet place.

This is the worst my voice has ever been. I have an appointment with my GP on March 7th. I have decided after these many years to ask him for help—it’s that, or accept this condition. I am disinclined to give up until someone knowledgeable about my situation says further intervention is pointless. If I were told my voice is irreparable, I would accept it with grace and learn how to adapt. Until they do I must persevere. The good news: I will never talk too much again.

Baby Shrimp!

My aquarium is a constant source of joy and learning. Late yesterday I was doing what I often do, just chilling looking at life in my wet garden, when I noticed movement in some plants and when I looked carefully I realized that something I had long suspected, had occurred: My shrimp are reproducing in my tank! I could not be happier. They are my gorgeous little red algae eaters.

You have to realize, the adult in the photo is about 15 mm long and the babies, maybe only six millimetres or so.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

New Radio

My condo is all Maple or birch wood. I love my wooden nest.

I have not  had a radio in decades. I listen to web radio from France, but a friend who loves radio had me decide to get one so I found this cutie for my place. It is small; I love it. It has a lovely retro look.

Every Budding Career Involves Failure: Bad Meringue

Either because I didn't whisk it enough or because of the colour I added, my meringue was too soft for this lemon/lime tart. This is an adaptation of Butter's recipe; the meringue firmed up under fire.

Baking & Pastry Skill Building Class #3

The classes continue to impress and gratify me. Today's theme, quick breads, are not my thing but I still had a really fabulous time. And great news: Here is the balance of the course material:
  • Class Four: Batter Up - Choux and macarons.
  • Class Five: Creams & Custards
  • Class Six: Pies & Tarts
  • Class Seven: Cakes
  • Class eight: Finishing Touches - Plated desserts
The ingredients (above & below) are measured and ready for us.

Raw muffin: zucchini and crushed pecans. 
Chive and asiago scones. Delish!
Blueberry muffins with oatmeal streusel.

The zucchini and pecan breads.

Busy Baker: Dough/ Starter/Curd/Oiling Tomatoes

The other day, I showed you my newly contained flours — scads of them — all in nice clean new containers at eye level and I mentioned how satisfying it was to organize them. The same is true of baking these grape tomatoes. I just love clearing the counter on a sunny afternoon, as yesterday's was, and cutting them into halves and then filling the pan with them — all face up.

I sprinkle them with salt and pepper and then, my OCD piéce de resistance — see that teeny weeny plastic pipette in the bowl of olive oil? I use it to drop just a drop or two of oil onto each tomato half. This is the kind of time consuming precision work that I love to do most. Dicing things into micro sized portions is also a favourite pastime. A madeleine is anathema to me.

Friday afternoon was spent prepping the tomatoes and onions for socca tomorrow. And then I made lemon curd. Both dishes I'm serving at the brunch tomorrow, I've made before. I find that if I make them twice, quite close together, and add notes to the recipe pages in my cookbook, I have making the dish down.

This morning, Saturday, I was up early. I made dough so that I can bake baguettes and serve them fresh tomorrow. It will be the first time in my own oven. And it took all my starter to made the dough, so once I put the dough in the fridge to rise, I started making some starter from scratch.

It's remarkable how effective these classes are for me. As I have said here before, I delight in learning by demonstration followed by a hands-on practicum. I am really excited about having done all the prep this morning before going off to class to bake scones and muffins.

I have a list of questions, of course. As a student baker, I am an eager student just as I was in school. Some students, I'm sure, thought I was sucking up at school but I wasn't. I truly love learning from a person. Not always; Latin almost killed me. But not only is this a great school and teacher, it matches my passion so nicely.

I went to Whole Foods to get my live yeast and they keep it in the fridge in the bakery. I went to the kitchen and saw all these student bakers working and it looked awful — truly mind-nummingly boring as a job, to be a baker. It's an ideal hobby in that there are endless choices and possibilities, but as a job baking sucks. It's endless routine, even at the top. Sad, eh?

Saw Betroffenheit last night and holy Jesus it is amazing. Jonathan Young and Crystal Pite have created a masterpiece and the audience, understandably, went wild. But I was a wreck. During the show, I felt little but I was mesmerized and intellectually highly engaged. Plus I was enraptured by the choreography and the dancing. But at the end, at the curtain call, I was weeping. I did not see Jonathan, the auteur/performer, I saw Jonathan, this amazingly talented man, who lost his daughter in a fire and it just crushes me. I even cry writing this.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

All My Flours

Today I went to the dollar store to buy a bunch of jars for my flower collection. I have potato flour, rice flour, hazelnut flour, corn flour, almond flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour, all-purpose flour, bread flour, whole-wheat flour and pastry flour. And today I bought a brick of yeast and a rather generous amount of malt.

My name is Chris. I am a bread and pastry maker.

I got rid a bunch of glasses and dessert vessels that I never use on some of my open shelves in my kitchen and put all my basic baking needs there within easy reach. I have a kitchen to die for. I have half a wall of natural light and it is terribly efficiently designed. My counter could land a 747 — and all in a one bedroom.

I also got a large square pizza stone on which to bake my bread and a metal pan and chain of metal balls to heat up with the oven when I am bread making. I will toss a half-cup of water into the pan and onto the balls to create steam each time I bake pastry or bread.

Now I am ready to try baking some bread in my electric oven. I have to be prepared for far less beautiful outcomes than I got using the professional ovens at school, but I am going to give it a go because je suis Chris, pâtissier et boulanger.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Canadian Navy History

In the Canadian Navy, when a mission comes to an end there is a raffle. The winner of the raffle can invite their partner to their arrival site for the official "first kiss" of returning sailors. A crowd gathered at CFB Esquimalt in Victoria, B.C. burst into cheers after Master Seaman Francis Legare walked off HMCS Winnipeg and toward his waiting partner, Corey Vautour. It was the Canadian navy's first gay male "first kiss." Swoon! I love my country.

Gourmet Warehouse / New Shoes / Pastries / Construction

This shot is of yesterday's moon setting in the West. The sky revealed itself yesterday morning in beautiful shades of purple. I took the photo out my office window. I cannot live without a view of the ocean. It is like a friend.

It stayed glorious all day, so I walked to Gourmet Warehouse for a first visit. I got bread making tools and had a thoroughly wonderful time checking out everything that they carry. Walking home with a huge sheet of square pizza stone put a lot of stress on my back. It was heavy, so I bought some fabulous new shoes. (I am Imelda.)

Yesterday I “fed” my mother — “mother,” being the starter one keeps for baking bread. It is moist yeast compound and I had never fed mother before. So I did as I had been instructed at school. I mixed together measured amounts of water and flour, and added a bit of the mother I’d brought home from school the week before. I put the new mixture in a sealed container on my kitchen counter.

This morning, there was mother all over my counter. The container had exploded. My mother is strong. So now it is in the fridge and ready for baking on the next day of rain.

I am still stoked by the outcome of the croissants, pain au chocolate and Danishes I made last week. The cross section of one almond croissant (above) revealed good structure. Part of their success is the professional oven at the school. When I make my first breads and patisseries here, I will face challenges. My oven cannot become as hot nor does it have an efficient misting system. So today I am off to Gourmet Warehouse seeking compensatory options.

Directly across the street from me —the view I look directly at — is an entire city block that is bordered by Burrard St. (West), Drake St. (S), Hornby St. (E) and Davie St. (N). This past week, Hydro has put the flags up on the telephone wires on those blocks and so I know construction is about to begin on the third largest building in Vancouver. There is likely two years of heavy construction noise and dust ahead. And for the next two summers, opening my windows open is going to be questionable policy. Pray for me.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Downton Season Six

Imagine being Julian Fellows.

Downton Abbey was not his idea. It was Gareth Neame’s idea. Mr. Neame runs Carnival Films and he conceived the idea of vastly more expensive version of the PBS megahit, Upstairs Downstairs; U/D had been a 1970s television phenomenon.

Naeme approached Mr. Fellows because Fellows wrote Gosford Park (one of my favourite films). Fellows was, at first, reluctant because Downton was so close in form to Gosford. Obviously he changed his mind and is a lot richer for it.

Mr. Fellows, bless him, had two years to write season one and it shows in the debut season episodes. And you can bet he had a précis for the arc of the show when season one went to air and became a monster international hit.

I assume Cardinal Films is a classically greedy corporation because they chose to turn Downton into a series instead of a mini-series. A series is open-ended; a mini-series has a defined number of episodes. With a mini-series, its needs define its length.

In a mini-series you know how much time you have to tell your story when you sit down to write the first word. You can feel in control as the writer. In a series, you have no idea where you are going or how long you will be telling your story. Poor (And rich) Mr. Fellows had to embark on a journey to somewhere. He had no idea where he was going, but he did know who his travelling companions would be — the extended Crawley family.

I was addicted at first and a passionate fan for three seasons but then my interest waned with each successive season. Sereis writing makes me “seasick” with all its endless will he/won’t she, is it/aren’t they — it is shabby and forced tension like the worst of soap operas.

Yesterday I started the torture that is season six. Poor Mr. Fellows’ characters are now clichés. Could someone please drown Bates and Anna? I see zero chemistry between Lady Mary and her beau. None. And his original précis is toast. As I asked at the opening of this post: Imagine being Julian Fellows. Once embarked on your journey, you are told you have to kill off two of your principal travellers, Lady Sybil and Matthew Crawley, because Jessica Brown Findlay and Dan Stevens wanted out of the show.

Had Downton been a mini-series it would have been better, but I admire Mr. Fellows. He has done a fabulous job of steering the ship that Mr. Neame captains. And Mr. Neame has done an incredible job as well. The sets and costumes are delicious — especially the exquisite Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary). The dress she wares at the racecourse (above) made me cry it is so beautiful; she was a magnificent vision in it.