Power Success

Well, we’re back to the 20th century (we’ll get to the 21st in a few more days, I think). The power came back on at about midnight last night. So far, the only permanent damage is a lot of spoilt food in the freezer and fridge. Most of the clocks have been reset (except for the Rice Cooker – who thought of putting one on that? Oh, right, some people set it in the morning to cook rice for when they get home from work).
The computer seems 100%, but the TV is still dead. Actually, it died a day or two before the power failure, so it’s not related, as far as I can tell. Too bad that it didn’t magically heal itself when the power returned.
The reason for the power not coming back in our building (when it did for the rest of the area of South False Creek that was affected) was that our Main switch blew (and that is to say ‘sploded!) when the current started flowing again. With little or no communication (some of the landline phones were out as well) we relied on the old fashioned game of telephone. Rumours were running rampant as we came and left the building. “It was a huge rat that got torched.” said one neighbor. “It’ll be down for 4 or 5 days.” said another. I’m surprised we didn’t get stories circulating of aliens or zombies in the Generator room.
Having showered, shaven and reset most of the radios and clocks, etc. I now have to get to the task of throwing out all of the bad food. It could have been much worse; this week we had less leftovers than we usually do in the fridge.
I still chuckle over the fortune cookie (which I tweeted last night) that we got at the end of dinner: NOW IS THE TIME TO DEPART FROM YOUR REGULAR ROUTINE. Yes, Mr. Cookie, it was indeed. Now, I’m just hoping to get back to some semblance of that routine, if you don’t mind.

Lights Out

I was in the middle of an email early yesterday evening (about 7PM), when *poof* all the power went off. It wasn’t as much of a shock to me as it was to Pam, who was downstairs in the basement storage room, but she was able to feel her way out in the total dark – emergency lighting kicked in after a minute or so, just as I was making her way to get her, should she have become locked in. There was a Blueberry Buckle in the oven (it’s off now, leaving the dessert about half-baked. I had already made a light dinner of tuna salad and some hot rolls (which were, fortunately, done).
I checked with BC Hydro periodically, and yes, they were working on the outage, which spanned about 6 streets (5th thru 11 or so), in roughly a 15 block area from Hemlock Street to Yew or so (we are at the farthest eastern point of the outage. The other side of Hemlock to the east is fine — Doh!). They first posted that it was a cable problem and would be fixed by 7 PM. Then the set it to 11 PM. Curiously, they said the outage only affected 1100 residents, but since we know for a fact that there are 500 in our block of Hemlock thru Granville, that number is seriously out of whack.
We ate dinner, located some candles and flashlights, took a walk, got back and went to bed. Still no power. I checked again (although my phone was starting to run out of power), and BC Hydro had updated to their estimate of when power would be back to 2 AM. Then this morning, we got up at about 6:30, and still no change. I went to the nearby Wicked Café to get some coffee (since making our own was out). Apparently power was restored at 2AM to every other building but ours. Great. Our building manager is out of the country, on vacation, so that might account for the problem, but it doesn’t help, either. Another call to BC Hydro reports that it is ‘A problem with Customer Equipment’ and that the time they estimate that power will be restored is 4 PM, but given that the history of this set of missed milestones is starting to sound a bit like BP in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m not holding my breath.
So, it’s about 9:45 and I’m writing from Waves downtown. I plan on heading to the library at 10 when it opens, and have an appointment about 3PM, which I will attend unshowered, unshaven (no hot water) and in whatever clothes I could put together. I’m hoping that my computer will come back with all drives and that not too much food in our fridge and freezer was spoiled, but it’s hard to say how much damage has been done.

Did She Just Say That?

Happy July 4th to all of my friends and relatives back in the US. Pam and I tuned in this morning to the news and political talk shows, expecting a pretty uneventful roundup of pre-Fireworks chatter, and were surprised to see some newsworthy items. One was a final reaction by pundits to the Republican National Committee’s head, Michael Steele. For the past couple of years, Steele has been ‘the gift that keeps on giving’ to Liberals like myself, and it was always hysterical when he came out with one of his either undignified or ridiculous statements. The latest one, however, seemed to go over the line. At a fundraiser in Noank, Connecticut, someone caught Steele in the following video that became one of those gaffes heard round the world:

“The [General] McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical. I think it’s a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders has with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those areas of the total board of foreign policy [that was at least?] that we would be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops. But it was the President who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should in Afghanistan. Well, if he is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Alright, because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed, and there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan…”

Now I won’t go too much into how wrong that is on so many levels (not the least of which is that it’s historically inaccurate – there was no ‘choice’ involved and the US, led by George W. Bush, attacked Afghanistan after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001), but the condemnation from Democrats and Republicans has been pretty severe, with the exception of the always-surprising Ron Paul, who said that Steele, “has it right and Republicans should stick by him.”
At any rate, we did a double-take when we heard this from Cynthia Tucker, the Pulitzer prize winning reporter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Wow! It’s not often you hear someone deliver as blistering a critique as that. In fact, I dare say if anyone else had said what she said, (particularly someone who wasn’t also black) they might have been accused of being racist.

It’s pretty clear that Steele is toast. As I hinted earlier, that’s a shame for Democrats (Al Hunt a few moments before this clip suggested that Steele was actually a Democratic Mole). However, he (and Ms. Tucker) did provide some early fireworks for this July 4 morning.


July 5 is also a big date, at least for Pam and me. On this date, 5 years ago, we left Cambridge, MA and began our journey to Canada. While I’m always a little pensive on the 4th, remembering those long afternoons on the bank of the Charles river getting ready for the fireworks and singing patriotic songs, I also remember how excited we were to be starting a new chapter in our lives. These days, I don’t introduce myself as a ‘new Vancouverite’ any more. I now consider the lower Mainland my home, and despite more than a few glances back at the US, we have no plans to return to living there. The July 4 of 2005 will probably be the last one we spent as US residents.

Happy Canada Day 2010!

It’s that day of the  year again, when we all wear red and white T-shirts with Canada on them, head down to Granville Island to get temporary maple leaf tattoos and celebrate Canada Day (or as it was originally called, Dominion Day).

Thanks to Heather for some photos of us in our regalia (well, the T-shirts anyway). The island was jammed, despite less-than-perfect weather. It sprinkled on and off all day, but that didn’t dampen the spirits (and appetite) of people, who chowed down on all sorts of goodies: we got some oh-so-traditional barbecued squid and tofu and bubble tea; others had Chow Mein noodles and Pork Dumplings, Vietnamese coffee, hot dogs, shaved ice and Butter Chicken. I’m always thrilled at how so many people born in Canada and  immigrants like us celebrate and share in the good fellowship of ‘Our Home and (nearly) Native Land.’
Pam and I show off our Canada Day Tattoos

Pam and I show off our Canada Day Tattoos

Canada Day on Granville Island

Canada Day on Granville Island

The Seal pokes up his head

The Seal pokes up his head

Canada Day Cookies

Saw these cookies cooling off a few days before

A Bit of an Ode to Granville Island

Entrance to Granville Island at Dusk

Entrance to Granville Island at Dusk

I often tell people that living near and shopping regularly for food at Granville Island has ‘changed my life’. It’s true, and I thought I’d spend a little time trying to explain how and why.

First of all, it’s changed the food that I buy. I rarely get food that comes in a box or is pre-processed, and get mostly fresh meat and vegetables. The things I do buy that are cooked or prepared include sausages and other meats and paté from Oyama Sausage company, soup from the Stock Market soup kitchen, the occasional pie (dessert or entree) from À la Mode, and bread from any of the 3 bakeries (French – La Baguette & L’Echalote, Artisanal – Terra Breads, or English/North American – Stuarts). I try to buy what’s in season (although that can be hard in January or February), and look forward to certain months when I know something will be appearing and gradually (or swiftly) going down in price. We are about to hit the summer fruit season, and I love seeing the arrival of peaches, apricots, plums and blueberries. Because of this, I’ve learned which vendors have the best of each variety of fruit, vegetable or meat. While I do get some organic vegetables (onions and potatoes), I also try to buy things that are grown locally. Again, this makes the winter months a time when I have to compromise a bit, but most of the year it’s quite possible.

We are very lucky in that we live a short walk from the market, and I quite frankly can’t imagine living farther away from it. The fact that we walk there and carry our groceries back adds just a little bit of exercise (or at least the excuse to go outside and get some air, even if the weather is rainy or simply dreary.) For the vast majority of visitors to Granville Island, the market is a curiosity, a kind of living museum of the way people used to shop for food (and still do in many other countries outside of North America). I’m always amused to see someone taking a photograph of a stack of cherries or strawberries (although they are pretty); They’re getting a snapshot of my grocery store, and in a few cases where they flood the aisle and are oblivious to the rest of us, I wish they’d just get out of the way and let me get on my shopping. That doesn’t happen too often, but some days, when a tourist bus lets off, the market has to walk the thin line between attraction and grocery store.

I shop at the market often, and nearly always bring a sack. Since I’m there so much, I’m recognized by nearly all of the merchants, and am on a first name basis with several of them. I’ve also learned about their families, heard some stories, found out their likes and dislikes, and think of them as people, not just someone at a cash register. I’m impressed with the close-knit families who work in the Market, and am often been cheered up (or calmed down) by simply entering the market, especially when it’s not crowded with tourists, which unlike a Supermarket, is not lit solely by fluorescents. (I should add that on Foursquare, the social media ‘game’, I’m the mayor of Granville Island Market, and have yet to be replaced by someone who checks-in there more.)

Speaking of Supermarkets, I do go to Costco about once every 2 months or so for a few items (olive oil, paper goods, maple syrup), and also go to an organic grocer on Broadway (who used to be the Dan-De-Pak home office, or so it seemed) for rice, the odd box of breakfast cereal or crackers, etc.) I always feel kind of disappointed and maybe even a little depressed when I walk into a cavernous Safeway, IGA or Save-On Foods, all lit by those fluorescent lights, and very cold from the frozen aisles.

Back to the Granville Market: In addition to the people, the food and the light, there are the smells. I can nearly navigate the market by my nose. In the fish market, I can smell the brine of today’s catch. There’s frequently the aroma of freshly baked bread by the bakeries (and La Baguette has that marvelous yeasty smell of pain de mie nearly all of the time). The food court (which I must confess, I sometimes go to first, in order to eat before I shop, which helps stop larger purchases made when hungry), there are areas where you smell pizza, curry, or falafel. In several spots in the building, the smell of coffee and tea wafts out into the aisle, and you can understand why there’s such a line at J J Bean.

In the summer, there is the extra treat of Thursdays, particularly in the morning, when local farmers truck in their produce, and sell some of it outside, next to the Market. In recent years, some farmers have specialized in Heirloom Tomatoes, and I’ve actually tasted celery (yes, celery!) that is actually mind-blowingly sweet and tasty. Some of the farmers stay all day, but most of them are there mainly in the morning, so Thursdays are particularly good to get early and get the best produce.

I’ve discovered new fruits and vegetables at the market. We’ve tried Stinging Nettles as a side dish, and boiled down elderberries into syrup. I’ve cooked sour cherry soup, and after our trip to Southeast Asia, have made Ataulfo Mangoes (Manila Honey Mangoes), Dragonfruit, Rambutans, Longans, Lychees, Pomleos and Passionfruits a treat for breakfast or dessert. Nearly all are available (although not cheaply most of the time) at the market. I’ve frequented the Asian Food specialty shop in the market, The South China Seas Trading Company, where I’ve finally learned to appreciate the finer points of coconut milk, fresh tamarind, little red chiles, lemongrass, galangal, and even fish sauce. I’m thrilled to have found great fish that is cheap (Rockfish – big, red, and ugly, but they’ll filet it for you for free, so you have a lovely, firm white flesh for curry or soup), and am surprised at how good the turkey is. I’ve cheated a little, and gotten pre-marinated Maui Ribs, as well as Cornish Game Hens, and one of these days this summer we’ll make a Caribbean Goat stew with the fresh goat meat we sometimes see them cart in. The spot prawns are in this week, and every year I look for fiddlehead ferns (in the Spring) and Okanagan pears (in the Autumn).

All in all, Granville Market has expanded my diet, made me more in tune with the passage of the seasons, lowered my blood pressure (at least when I’m visiting, I think), and provided me with a sense of connection to my food with the people who grow it and sell it. It’s helped me learn to cook new and more complicated dishes, and also let me off the hook when I’m stumped and just get a homemade turkey pie or soup. I feel as if I’m richer and my life is healthier and fuller with the market in it, which is about the most one can say about any activity, especially one as mundane as food shopping.

Heirloom Tomatoes at Granville Island Market

Heirloom Tomatoes at Granville Island Market