Feeding the Brain

Writing can be an isolated life, especially when you’re deep in the writing zone–-or what I call the Zen level.  This is the level where all the background noises and disruptive interruptions fade away and there’s only your characters interacting and creating their own mass destruction while your fingers type frantically to catch up. Good place to be. And of course, it needs nourishment—like Michael’s decadent Mount Hood cookies, Mary’s home-baked chocolate vanilla cake and my Moka-House’s “Dark Chocolate Mystery Brownies,” loaded with a smattering of pecan pieces, chopped sour cherries, the elusive hint of orange peels, mixed into a very dark chocolate batter and later, while still warm from the oven, spread with a thin layer of 72% dark Belgian chocolate.  Totally mind-blowing and perfect nourishment for any writer.

I read somewhere that brain-work depletes a lot of energy. In layman’s terms, it means brain-work sucks up a heck of a lot of calories so a person needs to replenish at regular intervals.  It’s written in very fine print on page ninety-two of the “Ethical Writers’ Manual for Good Work Habits.”  Being a writer gives you few privileges and the need to regularly nibble and nosh is a good one!

Of course your snacks or form of nourishment has to be healthy.  I mean, what’s the point of keeping your strength up if you nibble stuff that may poison your body? My list includes lots of dark chocolate because dark chocolate not only lowers the blood pressure but leaves you with an euphoric feeling—nothing will make you frustrated, depressed or blue even if you’ve just “killed off” your so-called hero/heroine.  Be sure to have fruits and nuts in the cookie/cake or handy on its own.  This gives you fibre and protein to keep moving–I mean, writing.  Most of all, make sure you feed every 2 hours–any less and there won’t be any work done. And, if you make it longer than 2 hours, you may not have the strength to carry on coherently.  It’s what I call fine-tuning, very sensitive–timing is everything. Everyone has their own favourite nourishment to keep them writing, you just have to find your own.

Oops, I think it’s my nibble and nosh time—a few pieces of Purdy’s “Dark Chocolate Dipped Apricots”–healthy fruit that just happens to be wrapped in dark chocolate.  Life is good. . . .

When You Need a Haircut

Until I got a married, I never realized how difficult it is for a guy to find the right barber to cut his hair. All I knew  was when I found a good hairdresser, I was willing to travel across the City to get to her and I wouldn’t divulge her name to anyone. After all, when I needed an appointment, I didn’t want to be on a 6-weeks waiting list.

Each time we moved, it was a challenge to find someone in the neighbourhood who could cut men’s hair well. Hubby’s haircut isn’t anything elaborate or fancy—just a simple short trim on the sides and back, the top left a bit longer resulting in a nicely shaped head.

When we lived and worked close to the downtown area, there was a barber along our route. Jack was fresh out of barber school and eager to please. Short on the sides and back? You got it.  A bit longer on top? Got it.  Jack was a great listener and he tried. It took him 45 minutes with very deliberate and precise snips, but he eventually achieved the end result. Enroute home, Hubby and I discussed the fact that maybe next time, I could disappear for a cup of coffee or something rather than sit and wait. And since Jack already did the head once, maybe—like memory foam—he would remember the style without any distracting chit-chat. So, the next barber visit, I went for a cup of coffee, ate a slice of chocolate almond roll, browsed through several interesting boutiques, checked out the discount bookstore and eventually wend my way back to the barber.  Jack was still delicately snipping.

Next time, we decided to try another place on our way home. Rosie was a stylist, an unisex stylist.  Since the haircut was considered a basic cut, we figured it wouldn’t take any time at all.  It didn’t, but the difference between a “barber” and a “stylist” is about $45. We didn’t go back to Rosie.

A few years ago, we moved to a little house in a neighbourhood surrounded by local businesses including three supermarkets, a huge Home Depot, several eateries, a library, post office. stationery store, medical services, pharmacies and a barber. Highly recommended by several of our male neighbours, Hubby decided to give the shop a try.

Okie is a cheerful person with limited English and a hair-cutting system uniquely her own.

“Okay, how you want it?  One finger, two-fingers or three-fingers?

“Sorry Okie. What do you mean?

“I wrap hair around one-finger or two fingers or three fingers before I cut.”

“I just want it short on the sides and on the back; a bit longer on top.”

“Okay, I do.”  And she did–sort of.  Hubby was informed that he had a one-finger cut and that was the one to ask for next time he returned for his haircut.  When the next time came, Hubby cheerfully said, “One-finger, Okie.”  It was short.  It was one of the shortest haircuts I have ever seen on my husband’s head. In fact, even though the two people ahead of us asked for “2-fingers”, it all came out the same—very short. And forget the tad longer on top, it was very, very short.

On the walk home, Hubby decided it was a language problem. On his next haircut, he would guide Okie on the length he wanted. When he emerged from that haircut, it was perfect—short on the sides and back, slightly longer on the top and nicely shaped.

“That’s perfect, Okie!

“Okay—next time you ask for 3-1/2.”

“3-1/2?”

“Yes, that style I do for your head. I have new system.”

The next haircut is looming in two weeks. We’re not sure what the differences are before or after 3-1/2.  However, Okie’s customers are happy and chatty while waiting; the price is fair and she takes only 7-minutes of your time.  Thank goodness, Hubby has a beautifully shaped head for no matter how short his haircut turns out, the whole experience has been an adventure, a very entertaining and hairy one!

The Look

I think every family with more than one off-spring has it—you know, The Look. It’s hard to describe as every family has their own version. I know my family has it. The look ranges in various degrees. The mildest is like a warning and the strongest is a “time out.”

I remember growing up as the middle child—that’s having a Big Brother and a Little Sister. Being in the middle sucks big-time. You’re either ranked as “too young” for the privileges of later bedtimes and curfews like Big Brother or “old enough to know better” for not stopping Little Sister from doing something she shouldn’t have.  And, in the midst of this confusing age-thing, earning the parental look.

Reflecting back, I think we all got the look at various times during our childhood. During our playful ruckus and noisy sibling squabbles, one or the other parent would stand in the room, quietly say our names and give that look. It always worked–like a switch had suddenly turned down the noise. Note, I said “turned down” and not “turned off.”

The look worked especially well in a room full of company. At family dinners, if the pushing/shoving/giggling became too much at the table, one of the parents would look over and give the family you-know-what.  I noticed that my aunts and uncles also did this with my cousins. We would all stop except for the feet kicking under the table.

I was thinking about the family look when my cousin glanced over at his two children, noisily wrestling each other over the mini-racing cars in the toybox. He gave his sons the look without uttering a word. The noise level dropped. My sister is a natural teacher and the look was an easy one for her. It must be passed along in the DNA because the kids learn the meaning of a parental look before they can talk.

I never knew I had this ability to give the look until my little granddaughter looked up from happily bashing her wooden blocks on the kitchen floor. For three nano-seconds she stopped her happy squeals, then threw me a big smile and a “luff you PoPo” before resuming her noisy activity. I think I need to practice this look some more, but not right now. . . .

Choices

Hubby couldn’t believe I was at the grocery store for two hours getting a few things. You know, the usual meal things, a few cleaning supplies and the normal plethora of stuff.

Why did it take me so long? And, I’m not talking cashier lineups. Well, let me tell you–it’s all about choices and there are just too many on those store shelves. The cleaning supplies come in a multitude of scents and types. Do you want powder cleanser, liquid cleanser, gel or spray? Environmental issues move me  along to the Green Products that still come in an array of choices. Whatever happened to Mrs. Murphy’s liquid cleaner that made everything smell like clean soap? My final decision came down to  my clean home smelling like fresh lemons, a pine forest or fresh mint. I couldn’t believe I had just spent 20 minutes agonizing over cleaning supplies. So, this is where my extensive education takes me—to a major decision on cleaning supplies?

Onwards to the dinner question–did I want to cook poultry, beef, pork, lamb or seafood? If poultry, did I want to consider turkey, duck or chicken? Did I want whole, half or parts? What dish would I prepare if I got parts? And, if parts, would it be thighs, wings, breasts or legs? Boneless, skinless or neither? Maybe I should check out the seafood—salmon, halibut, sole, basa, smelts, tiger prawns, local spot prawns or fresh local oysters? The possibilities are endless and why did I forget my list!

When I finally escaped the meat/fish counters, there were veggies to consider. Should I keep it simple and make a huge salad or cook fresh vegetables? The produce looked so inviting:  long English cucumbers or the mini-ones that are just as tasty but cute; Roma tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, hot-house tomatoes or field tomatoes; red, green and orange peppers or a package of mini-ones; mounds of  red and green kale, iceberg lettuce, curly lettuce, butter lettuce, endive, Romaine, spinach, baby bok-choy, tender young gai-lan; slender green beans from California, small green zucchinis; red beets, purple beets and red/white striped beets; purple topped turnips, red potatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, Russet potatoes, sweet potatoes and so much more. The produce aisles with its mountains and masses of colours, textures and smells lure shoppers further into the maze of choosing, of making choices.  I was feeling overwhelmed–or maybe hungry–and I hadn’t even reached the fruit aisles yet!  Heaps of apples, at least 15 varieties, all buffed and polished; piles of bananas, mountains of oranges, 5 kinds of pears, 3 kinds of grapes and berries that are a feast for the eyes–plump blueberries, juicy strawberries. sweet raspberries and more. It seemed too decadent to be faced with so many choices. Yet, in this 21st century, it seems we expect all the varieties of fruits and veggies., locally produced and imported from all over the world. In a blink of an eye, it is possible to buy fresh lichee, jicama, star fruit, mangoes, papayas and pineapples at the local supermarket. Exotic choices for sure.

Indeed, we are very fortunate to be able to access all these wonderful choices in foods and products. I didn’t venture into the toothpaste and shampoo aisles as it would have added another hour of agonizing over frizzy teeth or gingivitis hair. Just make sure you have ample time to shop, consider your menu, carry lots of money and don’t forget your list!

Pickles

For any new readers who haven’t experienced “Pickles” from an earlier post.

I like pickles. If I was offered a sweet pickle and a dill, I would go for the sweet one first.  I’m very particular about my pickles. It has to have the right crispy crunch and that nifty spurt of juice that squirts into your mouth when you bite into it. “Bubby Rose’s Bakery and Café” serves these fat kosher ones with their sandwiches if you request it.  Although these aren’t sweet pickles, these pickles fill the bill with that crispy crunch and spurt of juice that tingles your palate.

Yes indeed–pickles should be part of the healthy food requirements since it started as a vegetable. Then again, anything that tasty would have limitations and restrictions set by some pickle-face-know-it-all, sitting in some dusty old office.

Pickles are very versatile and can be healthy too. When my Mom did her pickling, she tossed in cauliflower pieces, sliced carrots, pearl onions, red and green peppers and cucumber spears. There, you see–a nice assortment of veggies.

Pickles can be paired with a number of simple foods, elevating the ordinary into the lofty heights of exotica. I like peanut butter and sliced sweet pickles. And, how about grilled cheese with sweet pickle relish? I think a crunchy dill fits nicely with a fat, juicy hamburger. Sweet pickled relish mixed with a prepared mustard brushed on sautéed chicken thighs makes the chicken cheerfully tap-dance from the pan to your plate. And sweet pickle relish paired with diced pineapples, added to stir-fried chicken pieces, served over steamed rice, is simple, tangy and delicious.

I think words are like pickles. Waltzing through a thesaurus can add needed zest and zing to ordinary words. But like any well-meaning spice, use sparingly. You know those tedious Victorian scenes where the Heroine heaves her bosom, flutters her lashes and coyly shows an ankle? Well, if she crunched a big, juicy pickle first, then the scene easily changes to the Heroine lovingly grabs her Hero and adoringly flips him on her couch with a demure sigh. Wait, maybe the pickle shouldn’t be used for that scene–after all, that was the Victorian age. . .

Anyway, pickles definitely have its uses. It gives confidence, perks up the ordinary and encourages extraordinary behaviour. What other vegetable offers so much to so many?

Fortune Cookie Future

(With a few minor changes, I am re-posting this story for new readers to enjoy.)

Fortune cookies are one of my secret weaknesses. I know it’s very non-Chinese of me because honestly, fortune cookies were never a genuine Chinese tradition–only in Chinese restaurants as a gracious way to present the bill. I hate it when these restaurants offer the obligatory fortune cookie to each person at the table. This means you only get one grab at a fortune. But when you get a bunch of tasty fortune cookies in your own bag, then your chances of getting a decent fortune increases tenfold.

You know, when you have one of those moments when you crave something less potent than dark Belgian chocolate and a lot more than healthy snacks? This is one of those snack attacks when chips and Cheetos just won’t do, but you definitely don’t want a rice cracker either. Well, when all else fails to entice, then it’s a bag of fortune cookies for me.

I had the fortune cookie craving the other day. I felt I needed some fuel for walking the hilly 4-mile route around my neighbourhood. Reading the fortunes always spurred me on as I snacked while tackling the hills. Besides, I could burn off 2000 calories, maybe even 3000, by the time I completed my route.

The first hill is a killer because my knees practically hits my chin as I make my way up the top, munching three fortune cookies during the climb. Before descending the other side, I read my fortunes. Number 1 said: Beware any obstacles. As far as I could see, I had two more hills before the route leveled out and got me home. Fortune number 2 said: Smile and the World smiles with you. Just knowing I had two more obstacles made me groan. Who could possibly smile? Fortune number 3 said: Your efforts will pay off.  Now, that one was a keeper. I wanted to look great in my new dress and by gosh, by golly, I will! Tucked this fortune in my pocket and chucked the others in the trash bin.

Downhill was a breeze—a fast pace downwards, a block of level ground and then the start of hill number 2. This one is a sneakier hill because it’s a gradual upgrade, then steep near the top and a slow drop down the other side. Because the route is longer here, I ate five more fortune cookies. Finally reaching the peak, I sorted through my fortunes and noted two were the same: Stop and smell the roses.  Not yet, not until I complete the last hill. The next fortune predicted:  Today, indulge your craving. Tomorrow arrives soon enough.  Whoa, was that some kind of dire warning? My last fortune said: The sky’s the limit ; reach high!  I liked that and tucked it in my pocket.  But wait—five cookies should have five fortunes. One of my cookies arrived empty, or did it? I didn’t think I had dropped a fortune and I sure as heck wasn’t going back to look.

Trudging down the gradual decline, I waited until I got to the final hill before I ate my way through the last four cookies. This was actually a medium hill with a medium incline and then a running decline. Finally, a block from home, I checked my slips of paper.  Laughter is the music of one’s soul.  Hmm-mm, that sounded nice. The next slip of paper said:  Fortune has a fickle heart and a short memory. Guess that meant my lottery ticket didn’t win—again. The final two fortunes were identical and whoever wrote these had a terrific sense of humour:  Fortune smiles at those who help themselves; but sometimes Fortune needs a good kick in the pants to recognize you.  Never mind that I had devoured a bag of fortune cookies. Of course Fortune was seeing the future thinner Me. That 4-mile walk had to have burnt off 3000 calories. Whoever said, “Never trust a fortune cookie” just didn’t know what they were eating–I mean, reading!