Blog Birthday!

Neglected… that’s how my little blog has been feeling. No “stories” since August and the last new recipe was in November! Most readers will know that is because of my new gig as restaurant reviewer for The Hamilton Spectator.

I’m determined to get back to blogging and this entry is prompted by a special occasion. February 7 – Kitchen Bliss is 4 years old!

In four years Kitchen Bliss has shared 162 recipes and 51 stories. A year ago many of you had great comments on my Dinner Party reflections. Two years ago it was all about the secrets to happiness with reference to social media being dominated by the hashtag #f*ck2016. (Really!? We thought 2016 was a bad year?)

This is a terrible time to be a political junkie. Humour may be the best antidote.

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This post will also have to serve as a (belated) Happy New Year greeting. The year flew by – they all fly by. 2019 will mark seven years since I retired – not hard to remember that number - it has also been seven years since my Dad died. He’d be 92. He always liked “a good feed” and it would have been fun if he could have been my dining date for a restaurant review!

Resto reviewer sounds like a dream job – the fun of eating out and reconnecting with friends who offer to be dining partners. But, true to form, I have stepped up to the plate and proved that for each weekly review I can make the work expand to fill more time than one would imagine, or hope for.

I have to figure out where to go – aiming for some balance of resto type and location. Do some research on the resto and the chef or owner. Drive and dine. Do a post-dining interview, and then write. In the words of the Food Editor – “Just barf out the first draft and go from there.” So, that’s kind of what I do and I always end up with 1200-1400 words which must then be cut back to 800. All those lovely words falling to the floor… I’m learning to not become too attached to any of them. Then there’s photo editing and the paper trail to keep myself organized. It’s been a “full circle” life activity. I am back to earning 75 cents per hour – my wage when at age 15 I first began working as a “duster” in Sherwood Drugstore. (Do they even hire people to be dusters anymore??)

I have passed my probation period and have no idea how long this will last. I already know that once it’s over the best part will have been the people. It is startling and heartwarming, week after week, chatting with young entrepreneurs who love Hamilton and see it as a thriving, happening kind of place. So much of my life has focused on Burlington, Oakville, Toronto and New York. Now I am re-discovering my hometown at a time when there are exciting changes.

If you’ve read any of my reviews you’ll know that each week I hunt for the story behind the restaurant. I love stories, and story-telling. In The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit says “We tell ourselves stories in order to live… We think we tell stories but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind.” Telling stories about food - and those who passionately prepare it - is often about love and seeing things anew.

The unexpected resto gig has helped me keep on track with many of the so-called secrets to successful retirement. Stay busy, be a lifelong learner, give back, get social. A world that was shrinking has suddenly become bigger – eating out weekly, exploring new places and cuisines, sometimes re-connecting with people I’ve not seen in years, and forging new relationships with people of varying ages. Inter-generational experiences are, as promised, good for you. Researching for some reviews sends me down rabbit holes learning new things. And opportunities for giving back pop up. Just this week I was a judge for Hamilton’s 17th fundraising SoupFest. Fun – but after tasting 20 soups I don’t want to see soup for a wee bit.

I remain humble about this role as a reviewer, and hold no illusions that I personally am “an influencer”. But people do seem to read the GO section of the paper and more than one resto has been in touch with me saying that they have had their best day, or best month ever of sales. That’s got to be a good thing, right?

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Let me take this opportunity to thank all who have sent along kind words about the reviews. That’s always appreciated – though never consider it a compulsory reading assignment!

One last bit of trivia. There is little room in this house for another kitchen toy, but… we just got one. No, not an Instant Pot – so far, resistance on that front has not been futile. With our annual sausage making day coming up, we got a vacuum sealer to prevent freezer burn on the frozen sausages - or any frozen thing - because… well… check out the cartoon. Say no more.

I always end a blog with a recipe. Here’s my recipe for the famous, iconic Hungarian confection – Zserbó Szelet. In all honesty, I suspect few of you will make it, but it will be waiting online for the day that someone else in the family wants to re-create this sweet that has been part of Xmas memories.

[PS. I have been sharing links to the resto reviews via my newsletters. Subscribe to them here. I promise one day soon I’ll add links to the Resto Page in my site – another section that has been neglected.]

There are blossoms on the west coast – 40 days to Spring!

Whatever happened to postcards?

Decision Fatigue. I experienced that almost daily a year ago when emptying the house my parents bought 51 years ago.

Decision Fatigue is a real thing – with research showing that as a day filled with decisions progresses, the quality of decisions made later in the day decreases and/or we postpone the decision. This so-called “decision avoidance” may sometimes have a silver lining.

That’s what I’m thinking as I look at the box of postcards from their house. As I sorted through “stuff”, you can guess what the daily onslaught of decision options were – keep, donate, trash – we didn’t bother with “sell”. I bet my first impulse was to trash the postcards. A few were written by me, to my parents. Most were actually blank. Was it decision fatigue or good sense that I kept them? There were many days when unable to make a decision, I brought things home. Now, a year later I am slowly sorting through all the stuff that was added to the clutter in my house. It’s clear to me that trashing the postcards a year ago would have been a failure of curiosity, and I would have been robbed of all they made me ponder and explore.

I begin by wondering how many people remember when postcards were part of normal life? 

Source : ZITS Comic Strip: April 29, 2018

Source: ZITS Comic Strip: April 29, 2018

There was a time when it was neither easy nor practical to call family or friends while traveling. “No news” would have been “good news”. In my mother’s case, receipt of the first postcard reduced her anxiety once I shared the license number of our rental car. She had this idea that if anything ever happened at home, she would call Interpol or some such authority and tell them to find us.

It was fun to receive a postcard. Sending a postcard was– in my memory – not so much fun. It could be like an albatross around your neck. The annoying burden of purchasing the cards, the stamps, carving out time to write them, finding a post box for mailing them. All this required that you remembered to bring addresses for all who “expected” a postcard – and there could be people in one’s life whose nose would be out of joint if they didn’t get a postcard. On shorter trips, the timing was critical. More than once we arrived home before the postcards did.

I recall sending them only to family and close friends. I was gobsmacked to see that my parents had received postcards from neighbours! In one case, neighbours from over 60 years ago! Either I never grasped the level of friendship they once had with these folks, or sending postcards to a neighbour was at one time “a thing”.

That some of the cards were blank did not surprise me. They may have been purchased and not used, but often people bought postcards as souvenirs. If you did not have a good camera, were a poor photographer, or could not get into a helicopter to get that perfect shot – on a sunny day – then postcards were a welcome addition to a souvenir / photo album.

There are two postcards I stare at every day. Each of my guys did a Europe trip when in high school. Each sent a postcard from Paris. We were camping in Paris when we decided to start a family, so I have always been touched by their postcards from that spot on the planet.  I trust that you, dear reader, don’t think I am crazy to still have those postcards on my bulletin board some thirty years later. (I must have inherited the "postcard-keeping" gene.)

I also found one of the most memorable postcards I ever received. It was from Hugh R. Geldart, a work colleague, who sent a hand drawn postcard from Amsterdam. It still boggles my mind that I got to work with such creative people.

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So, what did happen to postcards? Have we become lazy? Have we so much bought into the idea of “getting away from it all”, that we are self-centred on holidays? Are we socially isolated, not even knowing our neighbours, let alone sending them a postcard? Are postcards outdated in the age of Instagram and social media? If so, they have had a good run.

The world’s oldest postcard dates back to 1840 – so sayeth "deltiologists" – those who collect and study postcards. As it turns out, there is much to study and enjoy. Even when viewed only online, old postcards can capture many aspects of history – buildings, events, people. It's a history that included periods when the cards were used for sexual imagery, and sometimes even banned. I assume those postcards were never mailed, even though postage for postcards used to be cheaper than for regular cards and letters. “Naughty, bawdy” postcards even received government attention. In England, “in the early 1950s, the newly elected Conservative government were concerned at the apparent deterioration of morals in Britain and decided on a crackdown on these postcards.” [Source]

Today you are more likely to find postcards in tourist areas than your local corner store. Some are even “artisanal”, as in creative and not mass produced. In fact there is a subscription service that sends you artisanal postcards each month.

Ever wonder if the mail carrier reads the postcard? These days, I’d say doubtful, given the state of people’s handwriting. After years sitting at a keyboard, mine has become increasingly illegible. In any event, the digital “postcards” on Instagram are there for all the world to see, so "postcard" privacy may have always been a non-issue.

Interestingly, the “public” nature of postcards has been combined with the “private” in the Post Secret Art Project which since 2005 has weekly been publishing postcards on which anonymous senders reveal a secret. The project has been the focus of controversy with some edgy and bogus postings, along with occasional pathos. 

Of more interest - a bit of internet searching reveals that there are, today, postcard clubs, archives, museums, collectives – even a podcast. Google ‘postcard projects’ and be prepared to be bowled over by the number of projects people have taken on – for example, sending 1000 postcards to people. There are even postcards from the future.

From time to time, I suppose we all still receive some form of postcard – the “save the date” types, some from politicians or real estate agents.

On the day when I was dotting i’s and crossing t’s on this post, the postcard below arrived in the mail! Spooky coincidence… but a real treat.

Postcard from Japan, where foxes have mythic status in folklore.

Postcard from Japan, where foxes have mythic status in folklore.

Maybe I’ll have to start my own postcard project. Meanwhile, I’ve come to the point where I share a recipe linked to my blogpost. Since I have a postcard from Amsterdam, how about if I share a cake that uses Dutch-processed cocoa! Click here for the recipe – Chocolate Quinoa Cake.

Any postcard stories? Click on the word "Comments" below - or.... send me a postcard :-)