Nancy Wake

It is sometimes interesting how thoughts may progress. I was reading an article about Alexandra Champalimaud, the head of Champalimaud Design. The article explained how the Portuguese-born Champalimaud had taken a decrepit Connecticut summer camp and turned it into a (pretty funky) residence. As an aside, Ms. Champalimaud dons a wet suit each morning and swims across her lake. But more importantly for me, the article mentioned that Ms. Champalimaud had worked on designs for such high-end hotels as the Bel-Air in Los Angeles, the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, and the Stafford in London, England.

That is Ms. Champalimaud at her “camp” in the foregoing. Obviously a woman of some style. But it was the reference to the Stafford Hotel that kept me on a path. The Stafford is home to “The American Bar,” pictured here.

The American Bar was a haven for servicemen during the Second World War. It was also a haunt for Nancy Wake, both during the War and in her later years, when Nancy was a resident at the Stafford. Apparently Nancy would start early at the Bar, enjoying during the course of the day, a half dozen gins and tonic. OK if you pace yourself, although for me, I would simply pass on the tonic.

So here we are – Champalimaud to the Stafford, on to the American Bar, and then to Nancy Wake. Ms. Wake, as it turns out, was the most highly decorated servicewoman of the Second World War. She was awarded the George Medal (Britain’s second highest civilian honour; the Medal of Freedom from the United States; the French Legion d’Honneur and three Croix de Guerres.

Here is Ms. Wake enjoying a little refreshment. She lived at the Stafford from 2001 to 2003, before moving on to a retirement home, where she passed away in 2011 at the age of 98.

Ms. Wake was born in Wellington, New Zealand, and moved to Australia early on. Her father, whom she adored, “was very good-looking … but was a bastard.” He sold the family home, ditched the family, left them destitute, causing Nancy to run away at age of 16. She landed in London and moved on to continental Europe where she found work as a journalist. There she witnessed the rise of Nazism in the early 1930s. In 1939 Nancy married a wealthy French industrialist – barely 6 months before the Nazis invaded France.

Nancy was quick off the mark. She used her social status and wealth to ferry downed Royal Air Force pilots from France to Spain and on to Britain. That landed her on the Gestapo’s most wanted list where she was known as “The White Mouse.” She was captured, tortured but mistakenly released, and she made her way to London. Her husband was not as fortunate as he was captured and killed by the Nazis, but never gave up Nancy’s identity.

That’s Nancy above in a war-time photo.

She didn’t hesitate to return to France from London and became a resistance leader; blowing up Nazi supply depots, sabotaging factories and train tracks, and at one point killing a Nazi soldier with her bare hands. There is much more to her story and it is worth reading her autobiography, “The White Mouse.”

Dinner Again

Fisherman’s Stew

Looks inviting, does it not?

This recipe was inspired by the Fisherman’s Stew served at the Ajax Cafe in Port Hadlock, WA. Port Hadlock is just 15 minutes north of Port Ludlow on the Olympic Peninsula. And the resort at Port Ludlow is a very nice place to stay. The Ajax is a friendly, funky, noisy family restaurant with an assortment of hats on the walls (you are invited to choose one for the evening) and, to add to the wonderful chaos of your visit, a guy might be playing the piano and singing through the din.

I have modified the recipe, and it turns out to be a more than reasonable version of the Ajax recipe.

Using a Dutch oven, briefly toast 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds, stirring to prevent burning, then remove when darkened, and set aside. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in the Dutch oven, adding 2 or 3 cloves of garlic (minced) and 2 or 3 tablespoons of minced shallots. Why 2 or 3? I like to err on the high side.

Stir in a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of dry white wine, and a cup of fish stock or clam juice. Simmer over medium/low heat for 30 minutes, having added a teaspoon of lemon zest, salt, pepper, a pinch of saffron, if you have it, and two teaspoons each of savoury, thyme, marjoram, tarragon and rosemary. Then use a wand to blend the mixture. This base may be prepared and refrigerated a day or two ahead of your dinner party.

The seafood comes next (just prior to serving). With the soup mixture over medium heat, add a dozen clams and a dozen cleaned and de-bearded mussels. Give them 5 minutes. Then add 1/2 pound large scallops (cut in two); up to a pound of halibut (cut bite size); up to a pound of salmon (cut bite size); and a half pound of prawns (Argentine prawns work well, tails removed). The seafood will cook quickly – probably fewer than 10 minutes.

Just prior to removing from the heat, add a half cup of red wine, and a half cup of heavy cream. All of this should easily satisfy you and three of your guests.

The Ajax is quite unassuming, and you can drive your car right up the front entrance!

You will want some nice bread to sop up the goodness. Nothing wrong with a baguette or garlic bread, but I have included a recipe for a loaf of artisan bread. All it takes is some time, and it turns out perfect each time.

Artisan Bread

This is a “no knead” bread featured on the allrecipes.com website and again, is something I have slightly modified. You need to plan ahead for this one – about 18 to 24 hours ahead – perhaps about the same time you put your stew base together.

In a large bowl, mix together 3 cups of all-purpose flour, a tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of herbes de Provence, a teaspoon of active dry yeast, then 1 and 2/3 cups of warm water. Mix to the point where it all gets quite shaggy looking (remember those shag carpets from the 70s? That kind of shaggy). Seal the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for the better part of a day.

In the early afternoon before your dinner, unfold the shaggy mass (which will be quite bubbly, yet will still look unappetizing) onto a well-floured surface. Form it into a ball, add flour to the top, and cover with a non-terry cloth towel for 2 hours. Place a Dutch oven in your bigger oven and heat to 450 degrees F. Once you are at 450, take your dough, again forming a ball; and with seam side down drop it into the Dutch oven. Bake with the lid on for 30 minutes. In the meantime, pour a teaspoon of sea salt into a small bowl containing 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and mix together. When your 30 minutes are up, pull the Dutch oven from the bigger oven, remove the lid, and use a brush to spread the oil/salt mixture over the surface of the bread. Put the loaf back into the bigger oven, without the lid, and bake for 15 minutes more. It should come out golden brown and have a hollow sound when tapped. Place your loaf of artisan bread on a cooling rack before slicing. It will look something like this.

Will you need 2 Dutch ovens? No. You can make your bread earlier in the day, well ahead of the time you put your stew together.

What else to do? Dessert? No. I will propose a salad, and leave dessert to another blog entry.

Salade Lyonnaise

Lyon may well be the food capitol of France. Parisians may disagree, but there is something about Lyonnais restaurants and their food that sets Lyon apart. Casual? Friendlier? Yes to both. Certainly the “bouchons” – traditional Lyonnaise restaurants – are more likely to offer simpler fare. And very likely the owner will come around to your table at some point during your dinner. This recipe for salade Lyonnaise is very close to what I was served at a bouchon in Vieux Lyon several years ago. The base of the salade is bitter greens – usually frisee. Maybe not to everyone’s taste, so you can use a mix of frisee and romaine, two cups of each, torn. I like to take the romaine off the spine, because I want the greens to wilt under the dressing. In a skillet, heat 1/2 cup olive oil, then add 1/2 pound bacon (cut into good size chunks from a slab rather than from rashers). Cook the bacon until crisp, then remove from the skillet. The oil/bacon fat mixture stays in, as the Lyonnaise are not shy about fat. Chop a shallot and sauté until soft, then add 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard. Keep warm on low heat.

Plate your greens together with your bacon and start your poached eggs. The idea is that each guest will have a soft poached egg that once broken, will seep through the salad. I have a real problem with doing a good poached egg, and some guests don’t like their eggs runny, so I cheat a bit. I use a non-stick muffin top pan (not an exciting photo but that is the pan below), spray each cavity with some Pam, break the eggs and gently place in each cavity. I bake these for about 10 minutes in a 350 degree F oven, et voila! The result is 4 eggs sunny side up, and all done at one time. Before you pour your warm vinaigrette over the plated greens and bacon, top each plate with some finely chopped onion and garlic, salt and pepper. Once the vinaigrette has been poured, add the egg.

Cervelle de Canut

Cervelle de canut literally translates as “silk weaver’s brains” and could be considered an insult or a tribute to those who worked in the silk industry of Lyon many years ago. Not sure why. Because it is soft and mushy? Or were they known to be good cooks? Regardless, cervelle de canut is a delicious dip – one that I had at the end of a dinner at a bouchon in Lyon. The recipe calls for fromage blanc, but you can substitute cottage cheese, or in this case, ricotta. You will need the following:

  • 2 cups ricotta cheese (I mash the ricotta to strain any liquid)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 tablespoon chives chopped
  • 1 tablespoon parsley chopped
  • 1 green onion chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon walnut oil (if you don’t have it – use a bit more olive oil) 

Put all the ingredients except the ricotta in a small food processor and mix thoroughly. Then add the processed ingredients to the ricotta and mix well. It will be soft and mushy. Add sea salt and pepper to taste. I used a pepper medley that gave the dip some bite. Just before serving heat the dip briefly (30 seconds or fewer) in a microwave. Garnish with tarragon leaves and invite your guests to spoon the dip onto fresh slices of baguette. I prefer to serve cervelle de canut prior to dinner – very nice with a glass of wine.

Wabi Sabi – An Artful Way of Life

Our friend and neighbour, Debra Kuzbik, is an accomplished photographer; actually much more than accomplished in my opinion. It is no surprise then that Debra was attracted to “Wabi Sabi.” She has very kindly offered to explain Wabi Sabi here, in a guest blog post (while I am going to take the opportunity to insert some of Debra’s photographs – starting with this one). Much of what follows comes directly from Debra.

“The term Wabi Sabi has been called the heart of Japanese culture. Rooted in Zen Buddhism, it arose from separate words that were later combined. Originally, Wabi meant poverty, but poverty by choice, a detachment from wealth – a hermit living in harmony with nature, growing his own food, appreciating the cycle of the seasons.”

What were once ostentatious tea ceremonies in the 15th and 16th centuries, in which aristocrats would flaunt ornate tea vessels, “over time the tea ceremony was made simpler … (with) emphasis placed on relationships among the participants, the warmth of hospitality and conversation …”

“Sabi was first used to describe the muted and subtle beauty of 12th and 13th century poetry. It originally meant loneliness and evolved to mean aloneness in, and appreciation for, nature that is best described as the somber longing or melancholy ache you might feel watching a flock of geese preparing to fly south, or observing the autumn leaves as they become muted and begin to fall.”

“The Seventeenth century revered haiku poet, Matsuo Basho, is credited with combining the two words and infusing the phrase with new meaning. Wabi Sabi evolved to become a sign of humble grace, elegant simplicity and an appreciation and acceptance of the beauty in the transience of life.”

“The busyness of modern Western living often obscures or even eliminates the sense of wonder, curiosity and connection to the world that we are all born with … (as) I watch my grandson examining tiny shells on the beach, studying baby crabs as they scuttle about waving their miniature pincers at him or tracing the pathways carved in the sand by the receding tides … for him Wabi Sabi is a way of life.”

The “American author and artist, Leonard Koren, was one of the first to bring the concept of Wabi Sabi into the Western aesthetic” with this definition, “Wabi Sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.”

Debra goes on to say, “We see the influence of Wabi Sabi … (in the) shift to organic food, the farm to table movement, conservation, tiny houses, forest-bathing, electric cars … and interest in living a considered life that minimizes impact on the Earth.”

“Wabi Sabi has also had a profound influence on Western art … the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi … defines beauty through the rustic, the simple, the imperfect … and believes art to be all the more beautiful for being flawed and aged.”

“As a photographer, I have always been drawn to the visual design elements inherent to Wabi Sabi. Organic forms and shapes, asymmetry and interesting textures have always attracted me as subject matter, The colours associated with autumn – rust, pumpkin, mustard, berry, gold and the muted shades of brown as the season progresses – are my palette of choice.”

“Unlike painting, which begins with a blank canvas or paper to which subject matter and visual design elements are added, photography is a subtractive process in which all nonessential elements are eliminated to connect the observer to the observed … I attempt to create images that honour the transient beauty of the moment through simplicity, restraint and clarity.”

“ … Wabi Sabi is not something to be understood intellectually, but rather, when fully realized, it is a way of being that is lived through the heart.”

And what follows are my words, (and I thank Debra for her blog entry – which is so inspiring). I have added more of Debra’s photographs that capture Debra’s art and through her art how she has embraced Wabi Sabi.

And not to forget that winter approaches, at least in other parts of the country.

The Oregon Coast

If you live in British Columbia, as we do, it is but a short trip to enjoy the pleasures of the Oregon Coast. From the time one crosses the border at Blaine, WA, it may take fewer than 6 hours to reach Seaside, OR. As it happens, we chose this October to stay in Gearhart, OR, a very small “city” (population fewer than 1,500) just 3 miles north of Seaside. There are plenty of places to stay in Gearhart. For short visits there is the McMenamin’s Hotel, just off the beach and just above the Gearhart Golf Links. The McMenamin brothers own a score of properties throughout Washington and Oregon – properties that they have revitalized (vintage hotels, older school buildings, etc) and made them welcome destinations. The Gearhart property is no exception; a funky hotel with a cosy bar/restaurant. And then there is the golf course just below the hotel. Makes you feel as if you are in Scotland. The Links are advertised as the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi River. The course dates back to 1892, albeit a 3 hole course at that time. A good test made greater by the 18th hole, which can be stretched to 640 yards (I played it at 588 yards, making it a nice par 6).

We stayed in a house just down the street from the hotel. The house is a weather-worn salt box, sitting atop the appropriately-named Gin Ridge, and with a nice view of the ocean. It seems also to be a favourite hang-out for elk. It is not unusual to see a herd of elk on the golf course, but on a rainy, foggy afternoon the elk – about 30 of them – decided to surround the house. Here they are, remarkably obeying the traffic sign, waiting for a car to pass.

The Gearhart herd numbers about 180 and the herd wanders freely. Must be careful where you step.

These apparently are Roosevelt elk. The females weigh up to 600 pounds; the bulls can weigh in at some 1100 pounds. By comparison, the more commonly seen black-tailed deer buck may weigh in at 200 pounds.
The elk then are huge and as a further testimonial to their size the mounds of poop they dispense seem to be the size of lava domes.

This is the rutting season, so the testosterone-fuelled males can be aggressive. Two young bulls were seen jousting with antlers, and as I wrote this a number of females were parked in grasses just in front of our rental. The ladies looked exhausted.

But on to other things. Gearhart is just up Highway 101 from Seaside. Seaside is a bustling beach town with scores of gift stores (I could never bring myself to buy a sweat shirt with “Seaside” written across the chest) and restaurants. The restaurants, fortunately, outnumber the gift stores. Nonni’s Bistro is listed by Trip Advisor as Seaside’s number 1 restaurant. Not to be disputed, as on consecutive evenings we hit Nonni’s for dinner. Noisy, friendly, great service, and even better food. I had the Baby Gem’s Caesar salad (best ever) and the BVP (beef, veal, pork) meatball stuffed with fontina cheese and served over mascarpone, marinara and asiago polenta. I had the same dinner again the second night – it was that good.
The couple at the table next to us (and now it seems our new best friends) had the cioppino as seen below. She ate the whole thing.

Prior to our first visit to Nonni’s we did a road trip to Yamhill – about 90 minutes from Gearhart. Our real destination was the Lenne Estate Winery. Lenne is owned by Steve and Karen Lutz. Karen and I worked together more than a decade ago in the pharma business and have stayed in touch. Steve and Karen have fashioned an accomplished winery in a beautiful setting, producing outstanding pinot noir, and now a superlative chardonnay.

Lenne Estate is named for Karen’s father, Len, a chicken farmer in England. It was Len who provided a down payment on the Yamhill property, and it is Len’s likeness that adorns the labels. Lenne got its start in 2000 and as noted in the winery’s website that the one truth “is that great wines come from poor soil.” So true with Lenne wines.

Here is the winery with the tasting room at right.

And Len’s likeness on the label of Karen’s Pommard.


Cannon Beach is a must visit. Quaint main street with lots of good restaurants, plenty of places to stay (but stay away in the height of summer – tourists, traffic, high prices) and then there is Haystack Rock, the most famous of monoliths that dot the Oregon Coast. We had lunch at Mo’s on the beach, with a view of Haystack. The fish tacos were also amazing!

A trip to the Oregon Coast is mainly about food and drink, and of course, some golf thrown in. On a stunning day we again made our way to Cannon Beach for another glimpse of Haystack Rock. This 235 foot sea stack of basalt dates back 10 to 15 million years. There was some time for shopping and brunch. We stopped at the “Lazy Susan Cafe” on a recommendation from Mrs. DB. She also suggested we try the gingerbread waffle. We settled on quiche and an omelette, but the very young lady at the next table ordered the waffle. It comes with pears and lemon sauce. She ate the whole thing.

Ok. We are out of here. But not by choice. Time to go home. Just a wonderful place to spend a week or more. Everyone we have met has been more than obliging. The beach, the food, the wine, the golf, have all been memorable. If you choose to come this way, do it late in September or early October. Miss the tourist season but capture some good weather. We leave you with this … a nice photo looking down at Rockaway Beach.

 

Shackleton

It must be at least 15 years ago that I saw the documentary film “The Endurance.” Until that time I was not all that familiar with Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton – he was barely mentioned in my high school class on British history. British history as I recall it being taught seemed to emphasize religion, royalty and medieval conflict. Better to have skipped the class and spent the time several decades later watching “Game of Thrones.” No essays to be written, no year end examinations, yet leaving in place medieval conflict.

Back to Shackleton. Ernest Henry Shackleton was born in 1874 into a farming family in Ireland. His father, when Ernest was a young lad, made the natural transition from farming to medicine, and after a brief stint in Dublin, moved the family (Ernest was the second of ten children) to London where he practised as a physician for 30 years. Ernest, still a teenager, joined the merchant marine, and after 10 years joined Sir Robert Falcon Scott in Scott’s quest to be the first to reach the South Pole. The year was 1902, when Scott (with Shackleton in his party) came to within 400 miles of the South Pole – the farthest south that anyone had ever traveled.

That is Scott in the preceding. Scott did in fact reach the South Pole in January of 1912 (without Shackleton), but was second, having been beaten in the race to the Pole by an expedition led by the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen. It was on the return journey from the South Pole that Scott and his expeditionary party perished.

But again back to Shackleton. His early experience with Scott spurred him to undertake his own quest for the Pole, and in August, 1907, Shackleton and his party, headed out of New Zealand bound for Antarctica. Their ship the “Nimrod,” a vessel purchased in Newfoundland, had to be towed to the Antarctic Circle to save on coal. That is the “Nimrod” in the image preceding. Aboard the ship, apart from the crew, were 10 Manchurian ponies (??) and just 9 dogs (???). The ponies proved to be useless, except that most were eventually shot and eaten, thus critical in helping to prevent scurvy. The expedition got to within 100 miles of the South Pole before a shortage of provisions and failing strength forced Shackleton and his crew to return to the ship. What might appear to be a failed effort resulted in a knighthood for Shackleton. He did after all, travel farther south than any other human.

With both Amundsen and Scott having reached the South Pole, what was left for Shackleton? In 1914 he set out to cross Antarctica, a journey of a mere 2000 miles. The crew totaled 28 men. No ponies this time, but the expedition included 68 dogs. The dogs were imported from Gimli, Manitoba. Gimli is a little more than an hour from Winnipeg (my home town).

The irony is that neither crew nor dogs ever set foot/paw on Antarctica. Shackleton’s ship, the “Endurance” was trapped by pack ice after entering the Weddell Sea. Over 11 months the ship was crushed by ice, leaving the explorers just 3 twenty-some foot boats. That’s the “Endurance” above in somewhat happier days.

Below is an image of what was left of the “Endurance,” demonstrating the force of pack ice. Gotta love the guy with the pipe, probably wondering, “now where did I leave my tobacco?” Or, “why did we name this thing “Endurance?”

In any event, the ship was lost in November, 1915, and the crew spent the next 5 months on icebergs floating away from the Antarctic continent, finally arriving at Elephant Island. This was an arduous journey that meant the demise of the dogs (they were a serious drain on food), subsistence on dog pemmican (maybe not what you think – it was pemmican “for” the dogs, and not “of” the dogs), but then on the dogs as well. The dietary mainstays were seals and penguins. At one point the crew were able to capture some 300 Adélie penguins, which served them well. Cute little things and apparently good eating.

As their floe neared Elephant Island and as the ice began to disintegrate, the order was given to launch the boats, and the crew made its way in rough water to land after 497 days on ice and ocean. And this was only the beginning. Shortly after arriving on Elephant Island, Sir Ernest announced that he and a small party would set out for South Georgia Island some 800 miles away. Shackleton knew that the South Georgia whaling stations would provide assistance in rescuing all of his crew. The journey was to be undertaken in the 22 foot “James Caird” in what was now winter. After four days of preparation the party of six left Elephant Island on April 24, 1916, with provisions to last four weeks; and leaving behind the remaining 22 men of the expedition. It is difficult to imagine spending 4 hours on a 22 foot boat in the roughest of seas, let alone 4 weeks. Despite stormy seas, the six men aboard the “James Caird” landed on the southern shore of South Georgia. Unfortunately, the whaling stations were on the northern shore of South Georgia. Rather than risk putting their small boat back to sea, Shackleton decided to cross the mountains (32 miles) with two of his crew. They managed the trek in 36 hours with boots that had screws inserted to provide traction, 50 feet of rope, and a carpenter’s adze (a short, light, type of axe). You get an idea of the terrain from the photo following.

Shackleton was able to send a boat to pick up the three men he left behind on the southern shore of South Georgia, then set about to arrange the rescue of the 22 men on Elephant Island. But in the meantime, Sir Ernest and his two crewmen each enjoyed a hot bath for the first time in two years. Yikes! Within a matter of days Shackleton and his crew set out for Elephant Island in a British whaler, the “Southern Sky,” only to be thwarted by sea ice. It would take three separate tries, and finally with Shackleton and crewmen aboard a tug steamer, the “Yelcho,” provided by the Chilean government, they were able to get through to Elephant Island. By then it was August 30.

For the 22 men left behind on Elephant Island, life had not been a picnic.
They fashioned a hut (below), using what driftwood they could find, penguin skins for shelter, and employing the two remaining boats as windbreaks. For four months they endured blizzards, bone-numbing winds, frostbite, only a rare day when clothing or sleeping bags were dry, and a diet of seal and penguin. Blubber provided fuel for their stove.

Shackleton, in a letter to his wife, stated, “I have done it … not a life lost and we have been through Hell.”
There appeared to be little interest back home in this monumental achievement. Europe was at war, with millions of lives lost. Shackleton made his way through South America (where he received a warm reception).

There is much more to this story (for example, Shackleton had to make his way back to rescue the party stranded on the other side of Antarctica – the party that was to establish depots with provisions for the so-called Trans-Antarctic Expedition); but I don’t want to lose your interest.

Shackleton volunteered for the British Army in late 1918, and was discharged a year later with the rank of major. In 1921, Sir Ernest undertook another Antarctic expedition, this time without a well-described objective (perhaps the circumnavigation of the continent?). But shortly after arriving at South Georgia Island, and not without some irony, he suffered a massive heart attack and passed away. Sir Ernest Shackleton was 47 years old. He was buried on South Georgia. Here he is – a study in courage, determination and leadership.

One more thing …

About Antarctica. It is big, cold and classified as a desert. There is very little precipitation, yet 98% of its surface is covered by ice. Temperatures have been recorded at colder than -120 degrees F. And Antarctica is twice the size of Australia; larger than Canada. It was just begging for exploration …

Anthony Bourdain

I am not sure what leads people to take their own lives. I have had friends commit suicide and for the most part they had been diagnosed as “bipolar.” Invariably they were over-achievers, but perhaps in their own ways of thinking, their efforts and accomplishments fell short of their expectations.

Robin Williams, and more recently Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, decided to end their lives, and their decisions leave us shaking our heads. Certainly I do not have the answers, nor will I attempt an explanation. But to accentuate the positive and spend a few minutes here on the life of Anthony Bourdain.

And here is Anthony – he always seemed to have a rumpled look – enjoying a wee dram.

Anthony was the quintessential New Yorker; born there, educated there, worked there, and travelled with a view of the world that comes from being a New Yorker. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, in 1978 and went to work. By 1998 he was the Executive Chef at Brasserie des Halles, a very prominent New York restaurant, and very French-looking. Unfortunately, now closed.

In 1999 Anthony wrote an article for the “New Yorker” entitled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” a sort of exposé of the restaurant scene in NYC. My friend Dave Crowley provided me a copy of the article (which inspired this blog page) and with it some of the insights shared by Anthony, including:

  • The chef orders seafood for the weekend on a Thursday; it arrives on Friday morning with the hope that it will sell out by Sunday evening. As he says, “the Monday-night tuna has been kicking around in the kitchen since Friday under God knows what conditions.”
  • “In New York, locals dine during the week. Weekends are considered amateur nights – for tourists, rubes and the well-done-ordering pre-theatre hordes.”
  • “Save for well-done.” Like your steak well-done? According to Anthony what you will get is “a particularly unlovely piece of steak – tough, riddled with nerve and connective tissue … and made a little stinky with age.” Go with rare or medium rare.
  • Anthony quickly dismisses “brunch” as “breakfast” and goes on to say that, “Even more despised than the Brunch People are the vegetarians. Serious cooks regard these members of the dining public – and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans – as enemies of everything that’s good and decent in the human spirit. To live life without veal or chicken stock, fish, cheeks, sausages, cheese or organ meats is treasonous.” A little harsh perhaps, and with apologies to my vegan friends.
  • Anthony was not a fan of chicken – “it bores the hell out of chefs.” He says, “Pork, on the other hand is cool.” “Pork tastes different, depending on what you do with it, but chicken always tastes like chicken.”

There was much more to the article and it seems to start Anthony on a different path – one that broadened his interests and his appeal. There were the requisite cookbooks (do we need them anymore?) and he kept those to a minimum as he moved into food journalism. The best of Anthony Bourdain were his forays into television; shows like “A Cook’s Tour,” “No Reservations,” “The Layover,” and “Parts Unknown.” The latter two shows are currently available on Netflix – worth your time.

Dinosaurs

I expect that everyone’s favourite dinosaur is Tyrannosaurus rex. Well, maybe not favourite, but always recognizable. An adult T. rex could grow to 42 feet – about the length of a transit bus – stand 15 to 20 feet tall, and weigh 6 or 7 tons. T. rex, the King of dinosaurs, started out as a hatchling, emerging from an egg perhaps the size of an inflated football, but would grow quickly – gaining as many as 1700 pounds a year.

I was attracted to the subject of dinosaurs while listening to a CBC radio interview with Steve Brusatte. Dr. Brusatte is an American paleontologist who received his PhD at Columbia University and who currently teaches at the University of Edinburgh. I was so intrigued by the interview I went out and bought Dr. Brusatte’s latest book, “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs.” And that brought me to this blog entry.

Here are some interesting observations about T. rex, according to Dr. Brusatte:

  • T. rex made its appearance in western North America some 68 to 66 million years ago (I will dwell on references to “millions of years” later on).
  • T. rex had bone crushing jaws and teeth set in a disproportionately large skull; massive thighs and somewhat incongruously, very small arms. But what need of arms when T. rex had jaws that could probably bite through a car?
  • This dinosaur had very acute senses of smell and sight and sound, and contrary to what the Jurassic World movies suggest, standing still and silent would not necessarily save you from a T. rex.
  • Tyrannosaurs like T. rex were pretty smart. Dr. Brusatte refers to a measure of intelligence called the encephalization quotient (EQ) – a measure of the size of the brain compared to body size. Humans like you and I have an EQ of about 7.5; dolphins are 4.0 to 4.5; chimps 2.2 to 2.5; and T. Rex 2.0 to 2.4. Not bad. Dogs and cats range from 1.0 to 1.2. Some politicians might come in at 2.2 to 2.5 (my estimate – not Dr. Brusatte’s).
  • Dr. Brusatte calls T. rex the “James Dean of dinosaurs; it lived fast and died young.” Maybe a life span of thirty years. Scientists look at bone rings, much as one might look at tree rings, to determine the age of a dinosaur.

Pangea

I will come back to dinosaurs, but I thought it reasonable to go off on a tangent for a while. The earth may be more than 4 billion years old, and as recent as 240 million years ago there existed Pangea – a supercontinent that welded together all of earth’s current land masses (as depicted in the image following). There were no Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, just one ocean that wrapped around Pangea. Eventually Pangea started to crack and the continents that we know today gradually began to form. When I say gradually, this may have happened over 40 million years. There were massive volcanic eruptions producing lava and the release of noxious gases, followed by intense global warming. According to Dr. Brusatte this caused a mass extinction, with perhaps 30% of all species wiped out. But this seemed to be a signal for dinosaurs to thrive. Despite the break-up of Pangea and environmental chaos, dinosaurs diversified, multiplied and grew bigger, simply edging other species, such as a once dominant crocodile-like reptile that never survived the break-up. Thus began the Jurassic Period.

The Rise of the Dinosaurs

It was the Late Jurassic Period when dinosaurs became dominant on earth. A mere 150 million years ago. As impressive as T. rex might have been, the plant-eating Brontosaurus cannot be ignored. This “sauropod” came in at perhaps thirty tons – a figure arrived at through bone analysis and computer modelling.

Not sure who the guy is, but he gives you an idea of the size of a Brontosaurus.

As the Late Jurassic Period transitioned into the Cretaceous Period, about 125 million years ago, cooler climates, some fracturing of the Pangea, lower sea levels that produced more exposed land, all helped to produce a different set of dinosaurs. The beloved Brontosaurus (below) went extinct, replaced by even larger sauropods.

For example, the Argentinosaurus was 100 feet long and weighed in at 50 tons – the weight of a Boeing 737! Over time – and again, time measured in the millions of years – there emerged giant carnivores (lots of fattened sauropods to eat it would seem) called carcharodontosaurs, that spread around the world (as the Pangea had not fully fragmented).
These hypercarnivores remained on top for a while, before being displaced by smaller, faster, smarter (remember EQ) tyrannosaurs. In 1902 in Montana, the bones of the first Tyrannosaurus rex were uncovered, and estimated to be 66 million years old.

Chicxulub

Not sure how to pronounce “Chicxulub” and when I first saw it my immediate impression was it must be a chain of Mexican car lube businesses (think “Jiffy Lube”). Chicxulub though, is a small town on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico very close to the massive crater caused by the impact of either a comet or asteroid or meteor that struck earth about 67 million years ago.

According to Dr. Brusatte, among others, the asteroid/comet/meteor was 6 miles wide – approximately the size of Mount Everest – and moving at 67,000 miles per hour. A Boeing 747 moves at about 570 miles per hour and will fly from New York City to London, England in 6 hours and 25 minutes. Riding this asteroid/comet/meteor would get you to Heathrow from NYC in the time it would take to fasten your seatbelt.

And then there was the impact. Dr. Brusatte says the asteroid/comet/meteor hit the earth with more than a billion times the force of 100 trillion tons of TNT, or the energy of a billion nuclear bombs. It penetrated the earth’s mantle to a dept of 25 miles and left a crater 100 miles across. Importantly, he says, the effects on wildlife on earth, with few exceptions, were almost immediate. The impact produced changes in weather patterns, including extreme rains and winds that exceeded 600 miles per hour; and earthquakes that resulted in massive tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. These all came together to accelerate the demise of the dinosaurs. There remains ongoing controversy about this single event extinction theory – for example, about the same time there were massive volcanic eruptions in what is now India – but regardless, in short order (and in the context of millions of years, it is difficult to define “short”) the land dwelling dinosaurs were gone. Birds (and they are dinosaurs) and small burrowing or water-oriented animals were all that remained.

The Chicxulub crater is re-produced in the preceding image.

This has been called the Cretasceous-Paleogene extinction event, and of course leaves a multitude of questions, even with those of us who are amateur observers. First and foremost; would a single catastrophic event such as this lead to the demise of most of the living things (plants and animals) on earth? Would this event, and in the context of dinosaurs having roamed and ruled the earth for millions of years, caused their almost immediate extinction? And would this object from space, considering its size and the velocity with which it hit earth, have moved the earth from its axis and/or re-routed its solar path, possibly and almost certainly, affecting serious changes of climate? And, perhaps most intriguingly, were it not for this event, would the dinosaurs still dominate? Would there have been a time or room for man?

Lucy

So here we have “Lucy.” A reproduction and obviously not a dinosaur. Known as Australopithecus afarensis, Lucy dated back some 3.2 million years ago. The remains of Lucy were discovered in Tanzania in 1974. Lucy was petite – just under 4 feet tall and weighing only 64 pounds, and with an EQ of 2.4 (think politician again – male politician I might add). She was an important archaeological find as her skeleton was the most complete among early human relatives at that time. Lucy was bi-pedal (walked on two legs) and derived her name from the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” The discovery of Lucy signalled to many archaeologists and paleoanthropologists that man split from his primate ancestors far later than previously assumed.

And what has this to do with dinosaurs, you might ask? Absolutely nothing. But I started to think that dinosaurs were around for hundreds of millions years while hominids and finally humans, by contrast, for maybe a couple of million or several hundreds of thousands of years. Homo sapiens may be just 200,000 years old. Truly, dinosaurs were the most dominant of creatures on earth.

It also brings me back to “millions” and how to put millions of years in perspective. Is a year like a grain of sand on an endless beach? Or a star among an endless galaxy of stars? Hard to fathom. And aside from those questions, there is again the all-important question, “would man have evolved if not for the cataclysmic event, or events, that brought on the demise of the dinosaurs?”

Daisy Kadibil

In March of this year, Daisy Craig Kadibil, aged 95, passed away, with seemingly very little notice, at least in North America. Her passing was noted in the June 27 edition of the New York Times. Daisy was an Aboriginal Australian, born in 1923. Her mother was of the Martu people (native to central western Australia), and her father was Thomas Craig, who was English. At the age of eight, Daisy, her older sister Molly, and her cousin Gracie were forcibly removed from their family homes in the Jilalong Community by the Australian government and sent to the Moore River Native Settlement. The Settlement was near Perth, and some 800 miles from Jilalong. Daisy, Molly and Gracie were not long for Moore River. The three girls stayed but a night before deciding to return to Jilalong. It took them nine weeks, on foot, evading the authorities, and surviving in the Outback, to return home. They followed Australia’s rabbit-proof fence as a sort of compass to lead them north from the Settlement. The following is a photo of Daisy, later in life, together with her note that very simply and humbly, depicts her journey.

The Rabbit Proof Fence

This needs some explaining. Let’s start with the rabbits, of which, it seems, there may be no end. Yes, rabbits are prolific. A female over her brief lifetime may produce 1000 offspring. This apparently was lost upon Thomas Austin, an England-born Australian settler who introduced the rabbit to Australia (releasing 24 breeding rabbits) stating that “the introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting.” The year was 1859. Within three decades Australia had a major rabbit problem that among other things, had devastating effects on vegetation. This is Mister Austin below – he passed on in 1871 – leaving behind several million rabbits that would provide more than a “spot of hunting.”

As the sign above would indicate, a rabbit proof fence was completed between 1903 and 1907. It ran north and south with the premise that the farmlands of Western Australia would be protected from further invasion by rabbits – albeit ignoring the capacity of rabbits to burrow and jump. Oops – just had the thought that a wall separating the U.S. southern border and Mexico could be scaled by ladders and tunnelled beneath. What is it with rich, old, white men in government who seem to be absent the logic gene? Just one more interesting aspect of the rabbit proof fence; it was constructed using some 350 camels as work animals. Yeah – camels!

Rabbit-Proof Fence – the movie

In 2002, the director Philip Noyce (noted for the films “Clear and Present Danger” and “Patriot Games”) released the film “Rabbit-Proof Fence” to much acclaim. The New York Times reviewer, Stephen Holden, while calling it a “sturdy, touching movie,” also described it as “a devastating portrayal … of the disgraceful treatment of the Australian Aboriginals” and referring to the Australian government practice of “legalized kidnapping.” Who, in this age, would possibly think of a forcible mass separation of children from their parents?

The movie featured, among others, Kenneth Branagh (recently as Hercule Poirot in “The Murder on the Orient Express”) in the role of A.O. Neville, chief protector of Aborigines in Western Australia. It was Neville in 1937 who asked the question, “Are we going to have a population of one million blacks in the Commonwealth, or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget there were any Aborigines in Australia?” Definitely would not want Neville as my protector.

In the following image are the young actors portraying Molly, Daisy and Gracie. The movie was based on the book “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” written by Doris Pilkington Garimara. Doris, since passed, was the daughter of Molly, Daisy’s older sister.

The Stolen Generations

Also known as Stolen Children, these were the children of Aboriginal Australians who were taken from their families to live in reserves and compounds and to be re-programmed as it where, to embrace Western “culture.” There seemed to be an early distinction in which some children, who were referred to as “half-castes” or “cross-breeds” were “institutionalized” with the stated mission of the government “to convert the half-caste to a white citizen.” Soon after, there was the move to send all Aboriginal children for re-settlement. There are conflicting estimates of how many children were taken from their families – the numbers range from 25,000 to 100,00. The children would be released from government control at age eighteen. The practice remained in place into the early 1970s. Residential schools anyone?

Daisy

Molly and Gracie pre-deceased Daisy, who worked as a housekeeper and cook, married and had four children.
In her 80s she moved into a nursing home suffering from dementia, and passed away March 30, 2018.

Anne Perry

No, this young lady below is not Anne Perry. This is the actress Melanie Lynskey as she appeared in the movie, “Heavenly Creatures.” I will come back to the movie (and Melanie) a little later.

Anne Perry is a noted author, having written more than 50 novels, collections of short stories and Christmas stories. She was born in London on October 28, 1938, and having been diagnosed with tuberculosis as a child, was sent to the Caribbean and South Africa to recuperate, eventually landing in New Zealand with her family. Ms. Perry’s first novel, “The Cater Street Hangman” was published in 1979, and she built a writing career comprised of historical murder mysteries and detective stories. I have to admit to not have read any of Ms. Perry’s novels, but many have as she has reportedly sold more than 30 million books. Victorian murder mysteries are not my cup of tea, quite frankly, and I lean more toward Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series and the international intrigue that sprouts from the imagination of Daniel Silva. What follows is Ms. Perry in a fairly recent photograph. Seems like a nice older person.

However, there is more to Anne Perry than meets the eye. She was born and raised as Juliet Marion Hulme and it was shortly after her arrival in New Zealand that her life started to unravel. In her Christchurch high school Juliet became fast friends with Pauline Parker. The friendship appeared to border on an obsession and when it became apparent that Pauline’s parents were separating and that Pauline would move to South Africa, there seemed to be a provocation for action. Juliet, not quite 16, and the teenaged Pauline devised a plan to kill Pauline’s mother. On the 22nd of June, 1954, the girls beat Mrs. Parker to death with a brick in a stocking while the three were on a walk in a Christchurch Park. Juliet and Pauline were charged with and convicted of murder and sentenced to five years in an Auckland prison (they were fortunate that New Zealand had only recently rescinded the death penalty). The school girls below, with Ms. Hulme on the right.

In 1959 Ms. Parker and Ms. Hulme were released from prison, forbidden to have further contact with each other. Ms. Hulme returned to England, subsequently moving to the U.S. and eventually settling in a small village in Scotland to live with her mother. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) and by all reports leads a relatively spartan, albeit productive life.

And that brings me to and “Heavenly Creatures” and Ms. Lynskey. Ms. Perry had lived under the radar until 1994, with only a few knowing her true identity. But the film, written and directed by Peter Jackson (yes, he of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” fame), followed the story of the two school girls from the time of their first meeting to the murder of Mrs. Parker. Ms. Perry was thus exposed. As painful as that might have been, it seems that Ms. Perry survived her infamy, and she continues to write (two or three books a year). As for Ms. Lynskey, here she is with her co-star in the film, none other than Kate Winslet (as Juliet Hulme). Both Ms. Lynskey (as Ms. Parker) and Ms. Winslet made their film debuts in “Heavenly Creatures” with Ms. Winslet then going on to win on Oscar for her performance in “The Reader” in 2008 (plus six other nominations for Academy Awards). There is no question Ms. Winslet is a superb actress, but pray she doesn’t win another award. She won a Golden Globe for “The Reader” and gave the longest, gushiest, most cringe-worthy acceptance speech in recent memory.

Not to forget Ms. Lynskey. She never lacks for work, and you will know her from the television series “Two and a Half Men” as Rose, the neighbour who (hilariously) tormented Charlie Sheen’s character over something like 60 episodes.

The real Ms. Parker? She lives in a small village in England as Hilary Nathan.

Dinner

I wish I could say that this is an entree at my house, but alas … no. This is an offering at El Celler de Can Roca, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Girona, Spain, about an hour northeast of Barcelona. El Celler is run by the three Roca brothers, the eldest of whom, Joan, prefers to describe himself and his brothers Josep and Jordi as artisans, rather than artists. Regardless, their approach in the kitchen is artistry, and as the three Michelin stars would indicate, the food must be pretty good. Just for fun, I went on-line to see when I could get a Saturday night reservation for dinner at El Celler. Nothing available through the end of April, 2019.

That brings me to our kitchen. Not much artistry, but the emphasis here is to make it GOOD.  There are thousands of recipe books and thousands more recipes that can be sourced on-line, but I will share with you an abbreviated dinner menu that I have served many times.  It was at the suggestion of my son Greg that I post the details.  I will leave the appies, salad and dessert for you to add to the mix, and go right to the beef.  Years ago, at a restaurant in La Jolla, CA, and in the company of good friends the Bains, I had my first taste of beef short ribs, done well.  Since, I have been on a mission to try to match those short ribs and I may be getting close.  This what my short ribs look like (I borrowed this image because my photo skills are somewhat lacking); served over mashed potatoes, with a veggie on the side. 

I will get to the mashed potatoes in a moment, and will leave the veggies to you.  Here is the recipe for short ribs.

Beef Short Ribs

Start with 4 pounds (more than enough for 6) of thick-cut boneless short ribs.  Place them on parchment paper in a shallow pan and roast them in a 350 degree F oven for 40 minutes.  This will help to get rid of some of the fat.

Separately, start the sauce.  I mince a medium onion together with 2 or 3 tablespoons of minced garlic and add three or four cups of hot water, together with 3 tablespoons of “Better than Bouillon” beef flavour.  I use a wand to then blend in a can of diced tomatoes, 6 ounces of tomato paste, pepper, and a tablespoon of either Italiano or herbes de Provence spice mix.  No salt needed as there is plenty from the bouillon. 

Once the ribs are roasted and some of the fat is removed, wash the ribs under warm water to get rid of more fat, then place them in a cast iron pan.  Pour the sauce over the ribs so the surfaces of the ribs are showing.  Braise them in a 325 degree oven for 35 minutes.  Take them out of the oven, turn them over in the pan, and braise for another 35 minutes.  Repeat the process in 35 minute increments for another two hours or so.  If the sauce is reduced too much, add another cup of water with bouillon.  Take the ribs from the cast iron pan, and place in a covered container.  Refrigerate overnight.  Put the sauce in a separate container and refrigerate.  This is the end of DAY ONE.

On DAY TWO the ribs will need another three or four hours of cooking.  Wash the meat again (I really want to get rid of as much obvious fat as possible) and place them back in the cast iron pan.  A fatty yellow layer will have formed on the surface of the sauce.  Remove that layer and pour the sauce over the ribs.  Back into the oven, working with 35 minute increments at 325 degrees F, turning the ribs to again to just show their surfaces (which will get pretty dark brown – that is what you want).  The sauce will reduce and here is where I cheat.  I pour a can or two of beef gravy over the ribs when needed.  And I add a little water each time I add the canned gravy.  It is not unusual for me to use two or three cans, depending on the consistency of the sauce and/or the quantity of meat.  I do add a half cup or more of red wine as well.  In the end, you want the sauce the consistency of gravy – not too thick but rich looking.  Cook the ribs until they are just about falling apart. They should be fork tender and with very little fat. 

I don’t hesitate to encourage dinner guests to sop up the sauce with bread.  Not good table manners, I suppose, but if the sauce and the bread are GOOD, why not?  I enjoy making bread, and it can be so easy, especially the “no-knead” versions.  I don’t have a bread machine, and I certainly am not averse to kneading by hand or using a food processor, but no-knead bread only requires a little time.  And the results can be very satisfying.  Below, no-knead beer bread. 

The beer bread recipe that follows is a variation on a recipe from “allrecipes.com” – a great resource for would-be chefs (or “cook” in my case).  I like to use Guinness, as it gives the bread a nice warm colour and more depth of flavour; and I often add some herbs.  I have also changed this recipe on occasion to substitute a bit of rye flour (1/2 cup will do) and some caraway seeds.  But here is my go-to beer bread …    

No-knead Beer Bread

  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 12 fluid ounces Guinness (at room temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (optional)

Stir together the yeast, 1/2 cup flour and the warm water in a large bowl.  Cover and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Add the Guinness, the rest of the flour, salt and the herbes to the bowl.  Mix together until a very sticky dough forms.  It will look very shaggy (think shag rug – ugh).  Cover and let rise for 2 hours.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a well-floured surface, flour the top and shape into a loaf.

Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal and move the loaf to the baking sheet.  Add more flour to the top of the loaf and cover with a non-terry cloth towel.  Let it rise again for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and place a small pan of water on the lower rack to keep the oven humid.

Slit the top of the loaf with a utility knife and bake on the rack above the pan of water for 30 to 35 minutes.  The loaf should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.

Once down, place on a cooling rack.

This will be a large loaf, and more than enough for your dinner party.  But fear not – this makes great toast for the morning after.

Mashed Potatoes

I won’t provide a precise list of ingredients here, but I will say this:  I tend to make a lot of mashed – much more than a dinner table of six might consume.  I use yellow potatoes, because they don’t have a lot of spots on them and I don’t peel them.  I wash them and cut them in half, coat in olive oil, spread them cut-side down on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper and bake for 45 minutes.  I find if you boil the potatoes, they retain too much water. 

Separately, I dice and sauté a medium size onion, together with two tablespoons of minced garlic.  Once I start mashing the potatoes, I add the onion/garlic mixture, along with butter (two tablespoons or more), and sour cream (enough to make the mashed smooth).  I will add maybe a half cup of grated parmesan to the mix, along with at least a tablespoon of salt.  I spray an oven-proof bowl with Pam, add the mashed and top the potatoes with bread crumbs and some more parmesan.  You can make the mashed well ahead, refrigerate and pull the potatoes out and bake for about an hour (at 350 degrees F) before serving.  The potatoes will come out with a nice crust and are ready for the short ribs.  And yes, there will be lots left over …  

 The photo following is not really exciting, but I couldn’t think of what else to do.

But I won’t leave you with potatoes.  Following is an image of El Celler de Can Roca.  The restaurant has a wine cellar holding 60,000 bottles.  The tasting menu will set you back about 200 bucks (U.S), exclusive of wine.  By contrast, on wing night at Eaglecrest Golf Club you can get 10 wings for just under 5 bucks (Canadian), plus a beer for another 5 bucks.  No need to get on a plane, as Eaglecrest is right here in Qualicum Beach.