Beef Is A Vegetable

Yes, it’s true.  Beef is a vegetable, and today I’m going to give you a logical explanation as to why that’s so.

And as a special bonus, I’m going to address the age-old question posed by unhappy students ever since Plato and Aristotle started flapping their gums all those centuries ago:  “When will I ever use these grand principles of logic in real life?”

The answer is ‘frequently’… if you have a devious mind and a burning desire to justify unhealthy nutritional choices.

Hubby and I have both.

Frankly, I was a lot happier when I thought the four basic food groups were sugar, salt, fat, and booze.  But then I went and educated myself about proper nutrition, not realizing how that knowledge would cut into my enjoyment of the all the tastiest treats in life.

On my more cynical days, I figure cutting out all the best yummies won’t actually make me live longer; it’ll just seem like it.  But since my main ambition is to not die of my own stupidity, I generally make an effort to eat well.  And on the days when I don’t feel like doing that, I use logic to justify my poor food choices.

‘Cause, like, y’know, logic is like, all sophisticated and stuff, so that makes me feel smarter when I’m ingesting enough saturated fat to bung my arteries solid.

I’ve already discovered a few useful pre-rationalized vices.  I’m sure just about everybody has seen the one about how chocolate comes from a bean, and beans are vegetables.  And vegetables are healthy and an essential part of good nutrition, therefore it’s necessary to eat chocolate.

Or the one about how grapes are fruit, and wine is made from crushed grapes, therefore wine is just as healthy as fruit juice.

And barley sandwiches are a super-nutritious meal, too.  (For those unfamiliar with barley sandwiches, the main ingredients in beer are barley and yeast, which are essentially the same ingredients as bread…)

If you think that’s a weak argument, never mind – I have a better one.  Beer fights cancer, so it’s actually medicinal.  And I just re-read that article and discovered that they consider a ‘healthy’ intake of beer to be up to two or three units a day for women.  Dammit, I’ve been under-medicated!  Bring on the beer!

But the people who thought up those rationalizations are rank amateurs compared to my husband.  He has actually formulated a logic chain to justify eating gigantic quantities of steak:

Beef is a vegetable.  And vegetables are healthy.

I did point out the food pyramid to him, indicating where there was a clear differentiation between meats and vegetables, but he just shook his head with the patient tolerance of a Zen scholar and proceeded to enlighten me.

“It’s simple,” he explained.  “Cows eat grass.  Grass is a vegetable.  You are what you eat, so beef is a vegetable.”

I couldn’t argue with that even if I wanted to.

Is that the sweet, sweet smell of barbeque?

Feeling Green

The green stain has worn off my upper lip at last, and I’m here to tell you that a meal consisting of green beer and jalapeno-loaded nachos is extremely unkind to the digestive system.  Johnny Cash had obviously consumed that meal the night before he sang about the burning ring of fire.

Leaving that aside as TMI, I’ll focus on the other life-changing aspects of Monday evening.  Yes, for the first time in my half-century on this planet, I actually went to an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I am actually Irish on my dad’s side, and I’ve been proud of it ever since I was a kid.  I didn’t know anything about Ireland or its heritage then, but our family used to watch the Irish Rovers on TV every Sunday night and the Irish Rovers were cool, so there you go.

A couple of decades later I became the keeper of our family tree.  That’s when I discovered the Henders name could be traced back to County Wexford in 1765, and at that date the research hits a brick wall.  There are many reasons why a family might suddenly change its name, but I haven’t made an effort to trace it farther just in case the reasons involve prison terms or compromising positions with sheep.

But despite my (possibly misplaced) pride in my heritage, I’ve just never gotten around to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in the traditional manner.  (Well, the traditional North American manner, which has virtually nothing in common with Irish St. Patrick’s Day.)

This year our local Irish pub advertised no cover charge, green beer, Irish dancers, and (for some unfathomable reason) Scottish bagpipers, so it sounded like the place to be.  Or the place to avoid, if you subscribe to the notion that bagpipes were conceived by a drunk watching a farmer carry a squealing pig down the road under his arm.  I can’t remember who told the story, but I seem to recall it concluded, “Unfortunately, the instrument never managed the clarity of tone achieved by the pig.”

Anyway, we got some friends together and went.

The beer was indeed green.  So were my lips, teeth, and tongue.  And fingers, thanks to the bartender’s bad aim with the food colouring.  The Irish dancers were energetic; at least as far as I could tell by the bobbing of their heads, which was all I could see above the crowd.  The three pipers were earsplitting in the tiny space, but that was okay because the “background” music blaring over the speakers all evening was so bloody deafening I had my earplugs in by then anyway.

The conversation was probably enjoyable, but it was hard to tell by lip-reading.

Dazed by the din and the press of increasingly inebriated green-clad bodies, we staggered out at last and went home to eat ice cream doused with hot chocolate pudding – it was the best part of the evening.

All in all, it wasn’t one of our more enjoyable nights out, but I can mark it off the bucket list now.  And next year I’ll tip a few drops of green colouring into my beer while I listen to Frank Patterson at home.

Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day!

Did you mark the occasion?

I’m Only An Idiot. Whew.

A while ago, I discovered I’m an idiot.  That was a relief.

Let me explain…

I’m not exactly a gym rat, but I work out a few times a week.  I enjoy competing against myself, in a laissez-faire sort of way.  If I don’t do anything stronger or faster, I don’t worry about it too much, and when I do hit a milestone, I’m pumped.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

But on days when I really underperform, I can’t help feeling a little bummed.  That happened to me a while ago – I’d been keeping track of my running times, so I knew roughly what interval I should be hitting.  Then I ran a lap and stared in disbelief at my stopwatch, panting and wheezing like steam engine.  It was twice my previous time.  What a wimp.

Then the hypoxia subsided and I realized my earlier intervals had been half laps.  Oops.  So I wasn’t a wimp; I was just an idiot.  Whew.

The reverse happened last week.  I hurt my ankle kickboxing a while ago, so I’ve been doing my cardio on an exercise bike instead of running.  I do the random program for half an hour, and crank the intensity up to 10 so I’m working close to my maximum on the peaks.  (Sadly, this sounds more hardcore than it actually is – the top setting is 25.  But “cranked it up to 10” sounds good…)

Once the program starts, I turn my brain off and just go for it.  Last week, my half hour slipped away before I knew it, and I was coming into the final three minutes smugly congratulating myself because my workout had felt so easy.  At last, I was making progress!  I was a hero!

Until I looked closely at the screen for the first time, and realized I’d set the intensity to 9 instead of 10.

So I wasn’t a hero; just an idiot.  Oops.  Not so much of a relief.

But sometimes I really do get to be a hero.  I love working out when I’m travelling, because just about everywhere is closer to sea level than Calgary.  I get down into that nice, oxygen-rich environment, and I am a superhero at the gym!  I can run farther, faster, work out harder!  It’s fabulous!  (A side benefit is that I can drink twice as much beer at sea level before I feel the effects, so I look like a superhero in the pub afterward, too… but I’m pretty sure Marvel Comics isn’t going to be introducing “Middle-Aged Six-Pack Lady” anytime soon.)

Occasionally, I also get a belly laugh from my workouts.  The last time I worked out at a hotel fitness centre, I was doing my thing when a guy passed through on his way to some other equipment.

And he stared at me.  So I stared back.

So the guy holds eye contact, cracks off a long, rip-roaring fart, and then stumbles over a weight machine, still staring.

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that.  I suppose it would have been correct to return the compliment, but I lacked the necessary resources at the time.  There’s never a bean burrito handy when you need one.

I laughed myself silly after he left, though.  I guess that’s what they call a “core workout”.

At least I wasn’t the idiot that time.  Whew.

* * *

Postscript: Yesterday when I walked into the gym I encountered an elderly man on his way out.  He shot me a big grin, and with a heavy accent proclaimed, “Kickboxing!” 

I’m not sure whether I was looking like a hero or an idiot when he saw me kickboxing, but it made my day.

* * *

P.P.S. One of my blogging buddies, Charles Gulotta, has launched a line of everyday greeting cards that address the in-between-occasions of life with his usual quirky sense of humour.  Check them out here if you could use a chuckle!

P.P.P.S Another one of my blogging buddies, Tom Merriman, just made me a superhero for real!  (Well, kinda for real… as real as cyberspace ever gets…)  Check out Middle-Aged Six-Pack Lady here:

I’m Not A Cunning Linguist

By now you’re probably all familiar with my tendency to misread words.  But if you’re relatively new to my blog, you may not have read about the fact that I also tend to misspeak – often with embarrassing results.

A while ago I was getting ready to buy groceries in preparation for houseguests, and I called to ask what type of milk I should buy.  When informed that 1% was the concentration of choice, I blurted out, “Oh, that’s new.  Phill and Michael were always the homo guys.”

For the record, they’re both confirmed heterosexuals.  And I think I’ll say ‘whole homogenized milk’ instead of ‘homo’ from now on.

Some time later, I was enthusing to my friends about the Calgary International Blues Festival.  I go just about every year to soak up the sunshine, beer, and blues music.  It’s a long day outdoors and if one remains properly hydrated (or beer-drated, as the case may be), nature calls frequently.

If you attend by yourself, you have to decide whether to temporarily abandon your stuff while you sneak off to pee, or else haul everything with you into the cramped and increasingly icky porta-potties.  In music-festival euphoria, most people choose to trust their neighbours.

Last year, a photographer sat near me.  When he asked, I cheerfully agreed to watch over his camera gear while he did what needed to be done.  After a long day and multiple trips, he charmingly bought me a CD in thanks for my onerous duties.

Expounding to my audience at the pub later, I summed up the preceding paragraphs as follows:  “He asked me to watch his equipment while he peed”.

After a couple of beats of silence followed by uproarious laughter, one of my smartass friends asked, “Did you hold it for him, too?  No wonder he bought you a CD.”

I’m not the only one in the family with linguistic (or lingual) issues.  A couple of days ago, my sister and I were talking about her upcoming budget presentation at the Christian radio station where she works.  And this came out of her mouth:  “…that may vary depending on what the fucktuations…”

We both burst out laughing.

And I told her, “If you try to discuss income fluctuations in your meeting, you’re either going to say ‘what the fucktuations’ or you’re going to start giggling uncontrollably.  Either way you’re doomed.”

My sister also coined one of my favourite non-words:  ‘depissitate’.  She was describing miserable rainy weather that was starting to clear, and her tongue got tangled between ‘precipitate’ and ‘dissipate’.  And the phrase ‘It’s starting to depissitate’ was born:  The perfect way to describe a sleety rain shower.

It’s nice to know that she and I share the same language difficulties.  Or, as she once accidentally said when describing a different trait that runs in the family (I can’t even remember what the trait was now)…  “It’s a genital thing.”

To this day, the word ‘congenital’ makes me snicker. And I never use it.  ‘Cause I know if I do, it’ll come out as ‘genital’.

I’m just not a cunning linguist.

* * *

Many thanks to my good-natured sister and the radio station where she works for giving me permission to publish this.  As she said herself, ‘what the fucktuations’ was just too good not to share.

I’ll Tell You What’s Normal…

I spend my days skating on the edge of normalcy.  So far I’ve been able to avoid unwelcome attention, but that’s due more to good luck than good management.  I can get away with my quirks as long as I live in a nice neighbourhood and shower frequently, but put me on a park bench after a hard workout, and somebody’s gonna call the loony-catchers.

This was brought home to me the other day when Hubby was driving and I was sitting in the passenger seat writing dialogue in my head as usual.  He glanced over and said, “Writing again, aren’t you?”

I shook myself back to reality and asked, “How did you know?”

“Easy.  You had that thousand-yard stare.”

I have what I prefer to call an “expressive” face.  What this really means is that there’s a near-one-hundred-percent probability that if someone snaps a picture, I’ll look moronic.  Sometimes when I’m absorbed in planning or writing a particularly intense scene, I can feel my face twisting into expressions of fear, anger, or whatever.

Add that to the fact that I almost never know the date and often take two tries to correctly identify the day of the week, and I’m concerned that if I ever get hospitalized and asked orientation questions, they’ll lock me up permanently.

So in the interests of retaining my freedom, I decided it might be smart to write a short primer on what constitutes normal behaviour for me.  At least it’ll provide a basis for the authorities to shrug and say, “Yeah, she’s always been like that.  We probably don’t need to lock her up yet.”

So here goes:

  • It is normal for me not to know the day/date.  If I’m travelling, I may not always get the city/province right on the first try, either.
  • It is normal for me to lapse into an apparently catatonic state during which my eye movements mimic REM sleep and my face assumes various inappropriate expressions.  It’s also normal for me to be irritated when summarily roused from this state.
  • It is normal for me to suddenly and inexplicably groan, slap my forehead, and rush to my office to type madly for minutes or hours. This may happen at any time of the day or night, and includes bolting upright out of an apparently sound sleep and scurrying away to type in the wee hours.

With hallmarks like these, it may be difficult to determine what is abnormal behaviour for me, so here’s a handy list of danger signs.

I need professional help if:

  • I turn down the opportunity to go to a nice restaurant or a blues jam or a drag race.
  • I fail to fondle fabric when walking through a fabric store.
  • There’s a garden available and I don’t plant something.
  • I take my car in for an oil change instead of doing it myself.
  • I don’t bake when it’s cloudy/raining/snowing… unless I’m reading or writing (those activities trump baking).
  • I pass up an opportunity to shoot a handgun, rifle, shotgun, bow, slingshot, or any other projectile weapon.
  • I walk past an unassembled jigsaw puzzle.
  • I don’t dissolve into a revolting pile of sappy mush at the sight of kittens.
  • I spill beer.  That’s a danger sign in itself, but if I don’t show extreme remorse afterward, it’s already too late – I’m beyond help.

What are your danger signs?

It’s Like Fishing, But Without The Beer

The Christmas shopping frenzy is upon us, and I’m observing the usual gender division.  The women are out in the malls snagging the perfect gift for everyone.  The men are at home watching TV and telling themselves they have lots of time.

On Christmas Eve the tables will turn, and throngs of empty-eyed men will wander the mall ten minutes before closing, reeking of desperation and despair.

And at midnight outside a convenience store, two men will wrestle over the last pine-scented air freshener because it’s Christmas-tree-shaped and therefore vaguely appropriate as a Christmas gift, and they will ask themselves, “Why do women do this?”

Well, it’s like fishing.

If you’re starving and you have to catch a fish in order to survive, it’s not fun; it’s work.

But if you’re fishing for the fun of it, there’s no greater joy than being out on the lake just tossing in your line.  You might not catch anything; you might catch and release; you might catch a tasty fish you’ll enjoy for supper that evening; or you might catch the biggest Holy-Shit-Look-At-The-Size-Of-That-Mother trophy fish of all time.

It doesn’t really matter.  It’s all about the process.  And the bragging rights.  And your buddies.  And the beer.

Some guys would happily go fishing every day, even though their freezer is full and they’ll probably end up throwing away some of the fish.  Some women would happily go shopping every day, even though their closet is full and the clothes will probably be out of style before they get around to wearing them.

Recreational shopping is extremely similar to the actual process of fishing.  We cruise the mall, dipping into the places where our quarry is most likely to lurk.  But sometimes the shopping gods turn their backs, and there’s nothing worth buying despite our skill and patience (no catch).

Other times, we reel in lovely things that are perfect in every way, but we don’t buy (catch and release).

Sometimes, we choose to take that tasty item home.

And every now and then, we score the most amazing deeply-discounted, absolutely perfect article that will be discussed with awe among our peers forever more.  The great grandmammy of bargains.  The holy grail.

Like fishing, there’s much discussion of the one that got away.  Right size, right price, wrong colour.  Screaming deal, sublime colour, wrong size.  The almost-perfection of the item increases with each telling, inspiring heartfelt commiseration from our buddies.

Here’s where the comparison begins to break down for me, though.  Most women are just as happy in a crowded mall as most guys are out on the lake.  I’m not.  The act of shopping simply isn’t rewarding enough for me to put up with a crowd.  I’ll pay for an item or I’ll engage in a fistfight for the item, but I refuse to do both.  I suspect most guys feel the same.

But that problem could be easily solved.

What malls really need is beer.  A mall-wide liquor permit, so you could wander around with a cold one in your hand.  They could set up beer-and-snack kiosks here and there, and put nice little stands next to the changing rooms so you could put your beer down without fear of spillage when you went in to try on clothes.

With a reward like that, I bet even the guys would shop early and often.

Am I right?

Thinking About Drinking

It’s autumn, and I need a drink.

It’s partly because autumn is my least favourite season, but mainly because the crabapples are ripe.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember I mentioned I love food and I’m helplessly addicted to gardening.

The result of those traits is a back yard containing an apple tree, a crabapple tree, grapevines, raspberries, gooseberries, rhubarb, haskaps (a very cool variety of honeysuckle with fruit like blueberries on steroids), strawberries, asparagus, a hazelnut tree, and a greenhouse full of tomatoes and peppers.  My “real” garden is about 3,000 square feet of vegetables outside the city.

The back yard in mid-summer when it still looked nice

The star of the backyard show is the crabapple tree.  Every year, it droops under the weight of its crop –  deliciously sweet-tart, juicy blush-pink apples.  (The variety is Rescue, in case there are any other hungry gardeners out there.)  Every year, I cart away a couple of wheelbarrow-loads of crabapples.  I make jelly, fruit leather, applesauce, and spiced crabapples.  Then if there are leftovers, I ferment them into hard cider.

This process begins with an explosion of pulverized crabapples and ends with a product that ranges from rotgut to rocket fuel to rot (if I don’t get a high enough alcohol content).

Juicing was a laborious process until a few years ago when Hubby bought me one of those newfangled kick-ass juicers – yet another reason why he’s on the best-husband-ever list.  The new juicer works like a dream… except for one thing.  No matter how fast I slam the pusher into the chute after adding a handful of apples, the shredding action is so aggressive that bits spray everywhere.  The first time I used it, I was picking apple flecks out of my eyebrows and off the ceiling.

This year I wised up and did the juicing on the back deck where I could hose everything off afterward.  (The neighbours didn’t even bat an eye.  After the radish/toilet incident, they’re probably afraid to ask.)

Once all the juicing is done, it’s a glorious exercise in hope.  What yeast should I use this year?  What part of the process will I tweak to get the absolutely perfect batch of cider?  Then there’s fermentation, racking, fining, bottling with just the right amount of added sugar to get a delicious sparkle in the finished product.

Then there are months of anticipation.  It takes about a year before the final product is ready.

Then comes the first taste… and the final classification:  rotgut, rocket fuel, or rot.  But I keep hoping somehow, some year, I’ll magically produce something drinkable.  Well, something other people might consider drinkable.  I drink it anyway…

But in the mean time, all that work and hope has made me thirsty.  Think I’ll crack open a bought beer.  At least I know it’ll be good.

What’s your favourite autumn beverage?

Oh, and loosely related to gardening:  I can’t believe I actually managed to snap a bee in mid-flight in my garden a few days ago:

Bee in flight just below the smaller sunflower


It’s interesting to be Canadian.  As a nation, we’re generally regarded as the polite, low-key, boring neighbours of the superpower south of us.  We tend to define ourselves by what we’re not, instead of by what we are, and we may get quite impassioned about the whole thing.  Especially if beer is involved.

We’ve got a lot going for us.  We’re superpowers in hockey and curling.  Our military, while pathetically undermanned, is generally respected.  We are usually laid-back and polite.  Until you get to know us.  Then we’re potty-mouths (language warning on this link).

Despite (or perhaps because of) the abundance of off-colour jokes about our national animal the beaver, we are actually quite attached to the furry buck-toothed rodent.  And every now and then, the beaver gets revenge on its detractors, though this may only happen in beer commercials.

And speaking of beer, despite my high regard for our neighbours to the south, our beer is generally much better than theirs.  I have a sneaking suspicion that most U.S. beer is just Canadian beer that’s been warm-filtered through a kidney.

We’re a nation of oddballs who are perfectly capable of starting a violently destructive riot over a hockey game, and then getting sidetracked partway through:

After all, which is more important, a hockey game or getting lucky?  (Note:  If you are a Canadian male, this question will cause intense indecision.)

You know you’re Canadian when you put on your parka and go out to buy a Slurpee in -30 degree weather.  (If you’re not from around here, a Slurpee is a slushy drink composed of crushed ice and a soft drink).  Winter is a great time to drink Slurpees, because they don’t melt and dilute the flavouring, and your hands don’t get cold while you hold the cup because you’re already wearing mittens.

Maybe because we spend a lot of time sitting inside to avoid the cold, we’ve also contributed quite a few useful things to the world.  We’ve offered up handy-dandy stuff like insulin to treat diabetes (Banting & Best, 1922), basketball (Naismith, 1891), and the Canadarm for the space shuttle (SPAR Aerospace, 1981).

There are many reasons why I’m glad I’m Canadian, but a couple of weeks ago, we scored another notable achievement.  A Canadian stuntwoman, Jolene Van Vugt, set a new land speed record for the world’s fastest motorized toilet:  75 km/hr (46.6 mph).

Now I’m really flushed with pride!

Beer and Jiggs on “Da Rock”

I thoroughly enjoyed spending last week in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  It was my first visit to “Da Rock”, but I knew enough to be prepared for some idiosyncrasies.  Here are a few things the travel brochures don’t tell you.

Everyone who’s ever visited Newfoundland raves about how friendly everyone is, and it’s true.  Within a day, I’d been repeatedly called Honey, Sweetie, Darlin’, and Doll, all in delightful accents that ranged from lilting Irish to twangy down-home Newfie.  And that was just the women.

The men were even friendlier.  I got honks and waves, offers of rides, and one guy even offered me his hat (it was a windy day and my hair was flying).  Oddly, my husband didn’t get the same warm treatment from the guys.  Sheer coincidence, I’m sure.

Here’s the best piece of navigational advice I can offer:  Turn off your GPS while in St. John’s.  There are so many intersections where streets converge in a haphazard conglomeration, the GPS can’t keep up.  “Turn right” could mean any one of three possible options – and you will invariably choose the wrong one.

When your GPS’s voice starts to sound first miffed, then frantic (“turn right…” “recalculating…” “turn left, then turn right…”, “recalculating…” “turn right, then keep left, moron…” “recalculating…” “RECALCULATING…”) you know you’re doomed.

Paper maps are a better option, but we discovered the best solution is to follow a trucker through town.  You might not end up exactly where you wanted to be, but at least you’ll be on a main road and you can turn around and try again.

And now for a critical health warning:  Through careful research and experimentation, I’ve determined that Jiggs Dinner is highly volatile when combined with beer.  Do not, I repeat, do not consume this unless you plan to spend your evening in solitude.  This meal’s after-effects pose extreme danger to anyone within a thirty-foot radius.  On the upside, you won’t need to use your nose-hair trimmer any time soon.

For the uninitiated, Jiggs Dinner is a traditional Newfie meal composed of salt beef boiled with dried peas, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and sometimes turnips.  The result is delicious… but mixed with beer?  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

By my unofficial count, St. John’s has one church and one Irish pub per ten residents.  You’ve gotta like people whose priorities are that clearly defined.  And I’m not talking little churches – I’m talking huge stone cathedrals.  I was lucky to discover that the Anglican cathedral on Duckworth offers a free ½ hour classical concert on their pipe organ every Wednesday afternoon.  I crept into the chill, shadowy building to gape up at the lofty Gothic arches and soaring stained glass while the sonorous tones of the organ filled the enormous space.

One word:  Wow.

But since St. John’s has a total population of about 200,000, I can’t imagine why they need all those giant churches.  I’m pretty sure every person in the entire town could go to church simultaneously and still have room to spare.  That’d never happen, though, because they’re all in the pubs drinking beer and eating Jiggs Dinner.

Which actually makes sense when I think about it.  Those stone cathedrals get damn nippy.  They could use a bit of hot air.

Yep, those Newfies have it all figured out.

P.S. Seriously, if you ever get a chance to go to Newfoundland, go.  Stay in downtown St. John’s, and you can walk to virtually all the attractions (if you like uphill walks).  It’s the oldest city in Canada, with wonderful food, beer, people, and history… and we got to see an iceberg up close in Quidi Vidi Harbour.  Doesn’t get much better than that.