Monday, December 28, 2015

Racist Memes, Andrew Coyne, the NDP's Disaster & more! -- The Top Ten Posts and the year on The Left Chapter in review

The Left Chapter was launched as a blog at the beginning of February of this year. I wanted to start an eclectic space that presented views, analysis and opinions from a leftist perspective but that also featured recipes, art, fiction and poetry, little bits of whimsy and whatever else it seemed fun or appropriate to feature!

The first year has been a success far beyond expectations in no small part due to the contributions  of several different writers and the feedback of readers and friends.

We have had political blogs about ISIS, the mythology around Naheed Nenshi, the LCBO, the uprising in Baltimore, a call for non-violence, an open letter to Tom Mulcair and an analysis of the the strategy of the peace movement in Canada among many other topics.

There were 323 posts of various types in total!

Today we are going to look at the top ten political posts of the year in terms of hits. (Watch for the top food posts of the year before New Year's Day!)

I want to thank everyone who contributed to the blog and to our readership for such a great launch and I look forward to what 2016 brings.

1) Stop sharing the false -- and racist -- Ontario niqab driver's licence meme

Have you seen this meme circulating around Facebook and the internet the last few days?

It purports to show a woman on an Ontario driver's licence  wearing the niqab -- a religious headdress a very small number of Islamic women in Canada wear and that is being shamefully used by some politicians as a dog-whistle in the current federal election.

Read More! 

2) Reinforcing male privilege -- The Trudeau cabinet, Andrew Coyne and the mythology of "merit"

You really have to love it when the beneficiaries of the greatest social assistance program in the history of Western Civilization and Canada -- the one that did and has rewarded white men for having been born white men since the day the country was founded -- talk about "merit" to bemoan newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to make his cabinet have an equal number of men and women, thereby reflecting the actual gender composition of the country.

Read More! 

3) Delusion continues to rule the day in Mulcair NDP

By Fraser Needham

In the 2015 Canadian federal election campaign that wrapped up earlier this week, the Justin Trudeau led Liberals won a smashing 184-seat majority government.

Perhaps what is most amazing about the Liberal victory is that the party started in third place in terms of both number of seats and in the polls when the campaign began in early August.

Read More!

4) Catastrophe: The NDP lost because it deserved to

It is, ultimately, astounding how facile and false political narratives come back to haunt those who insist on their veracity.

And so it has happened with the "government-in-waiting" liberal led NDP.

Read More!

5) BC NDP posts a meme about "foreign" workers -- Xenophobes show up in approval

There is a wing of the left -- and especially within the mainstream "social democratic" party, the NDP -- that thinks that the path to power is in part paved by pandering to what are traditionally right-wing populist narratives.

Read More!

6) NDP campaign enters panic mode

By Fraser Needham

If in politics a week can be a lifetime, a month can be an eternity – especially in an election campaign.

Just put yourself in the shoes of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s top strategists to see how much things can change over the course of four weeks. On a late August afternoon when members of the Mulcair team looked out on a bright and sunny day from the confines of the NDP war room, they must have been feeling pretty confident about themselves.

Read More!

7) Doubling down on disaster

In the wake of the catastrophic election result for the NDP -- an election that saw the party squander its position as official opposition and "government-in-waiting" and what seemed its first real shot at power -- comes news that the leader who "led" the party there, Tom Mulcair, intends to stay at the helm.

Read More!

8) The NDP's phony “credit card” analogy: a neoliberal conception of the public household

By Matt Fodor

In an attempt to shore up the NDP’s fiscal credibility, Tom Mulcair recruited Andrew Thomson, the fiscally conservative finance minister that served in the NDP provincial government of Lorne Calvert in Saskatchewan.

Read More!

9) Mulcair's NDP ran a great campaign! We know this because they say they did.

By Fraser Needham

It has now been almost three weeks since the NDP suffered a devastating loss in the 2015 federal election and the party remains shell shocked as to what exactly went wrong.

The Liberals are forging ahead on their mandate after winning the party’s first majority government in 15 years. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named his first cabinet this week with gender parity and significant minority representation. If early signs are any indication, it appears clear the Liberals intend to run a much more open and accessible government than their predecessors.

Read More!

10) Unintended consequences: Attacking Leadnow and "strategic voting"

As I have noted before, partisan political narratives often die very hard -- even when these narratives have begun to do far more harm than good to those who continue to espouse them.

One of these, increasingly, is the fixation by many New Democrat partisans on insisting that they are the only "real" "progressives" (while all the other parliamentary parties are supposedly the "same") as well as on attacking their old nemesis among progressive voters -- the Liberal Party.

Read More!

Thanks again for a great first year. See you in 2016.

Do you have a left point-of-view or opinion, a recipe or a story you want to share?

Send them to The Left Chapter via!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Stove-top Yankee Pot Roast

Today I am going to take a look at a classic New England home cooking recipe, the Yankee Pot Roast. This recipe works best for one of the cheaper oven beef roasts, like a chuck or blade roast, in the 2-5 pound range.

Unlike many pot roast recipes, however, I am going to do this one stove-top in a Dutch Oven.

Yankee pot roast is a terrific dish as the roast cooks in its own rich, tomato based gravy and cooks as well with vegetables that come out perfectly cooked as sides.

While, as any readers of my blog know, I generally like beef cooked rare to rare-medium, this is an example of a recipe where the beef is cooked for a longer period of time to make it very moist -- to the point where you can cut it with your fork!

To start you want to season your roast liberally on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then rub two tablespoons of olive oil and 4 minced cloves of garlic into the roast as well. Let the roast sit, seasoned, out at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.

When ready to cook heat some more olive oil in your Dutch Oven over medium-high heat and then brown the roast on all for sides for about 3-4 minutes a side. This will seal in the juices.

Remove the roast and set aside. Without removing any of the seasoning or liquid in the oven, add two medium chopped onions (and more oil if needed) and brown the onions for 6-8 minutes until golden, again over medium high-heat.

When the onions are browned, put the roast back into the Dutch Oven onto the bed of onions.

Pour in 3 cups of beef broth, 1/4 cup of ketchup and 1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce and stir. Then add to this 4 - 6 canned whole tomatoes that you have halved. Do not add any of the liquid from the can. I like to use canned tomatoes as they are peeled.

Bring the broth mixture to a boil, reduce heat and let the roast simmer on the stove-top in the Dutch Oven, covered, for around 2 1/2 hours or until tender.

At this point add 4-6 halved or quartered red potatoes (not peeled) and 1-2 chopped carrots to the liquid, cover again and bring to a boil. Again reduce heat and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Remove roast and let sit, in some liquid and with some or all of the vegetables, for 15 minutes.

Serve sliced with more of the broth gravy and the vegetables. Goes nicely with a side of some buttered egg noodles or rice, country style bread and, of course, red wine!


See also: Beef Shank Potato Carrot Dutch Oven Casserole -- Revisiting an 80's Leftover Roast Beef Recipe 

See also: Caribbean Style Goat with Potatoes in a Dutch Oven

Happy Xmas (War is Not Over)

As the days shorten with the coming of the holiday season many of us find ourselves more reflective and philosophical about our place in society and the possibility of personal salvation. It is a great time of year, but also a hard one for others as its themes of family and giving bring into focus conflicts with the way we, as a nation, treat some of our own citizens and the sense among so many fellow Canadians that they are powerless to influence even their own lives, let alone the fates of others.

Despite the obvious central message of self-sacrifice that lies at the heart of the story of Jesus, his name is used so often to purvey a message that holds this same selflessness in contempt.

In response to the progress of the '50s, '60s and '70s, the right in North America countered with a clever commingling of "individualism" and its antithesis, social conservatism. A toxic yet highly successful dialectical brew which rewards all forms of self-justification and self-indulgence by disguising them in a cloak of "personal freedom" policed by "family values".

For over 25 years worldwide we have witnessed the massive assault by the right on the post-war social compromise. We have seen the dismantling of social programmes and social safety nets with the active participation of centrist and social democratic parties. We have seen the destruction of the political idea of community and the notion that corporations and the wealthy actually owe something to those that they employ and that they sell products to. We have seen the rush to the bottom where jobs are outsourced and political parties of all stripes participate in the game of cutting services, budgets and taxes. We have watched as the corporations of the West turned from production to speculation, and as the disparity in income increased in lockstep with the cutting of the "tax burden" and the reckless and foolhardy deregulation of the economy and undermining of union rights. When the so-called left has had a chance to undo this... they have more often been partially or fully complicit in its execution. We live in a time where the economic platform of the "original" Trudeau Liberals in the '70s would appear almost unimaginably radical now. And, it was not even radical then.

Meanwhile we are confronted by the problems of climate change, a growing and very real undereducated, volatile and angry permanent underclass, the supposed decline of a middle-class that is now at war with itself, that is often one pay cheque away from destitution and that lives under the stress of terrifying debt, and the death of the traditional working-class in the "first world". The stations of social stratification are becoming daily more extreme and more disparate and are aided by the media's gleeful vilification of public sector and union workers.

Buoyed by the seemingly endless prosperity of deregulation and the free market, enabled by the usual pillars of apathy, indifference, and middle-class ignorance, this "vision" of the world has predominated for a quarter century of neo-liberal hegemony.

In the background were its underpinnings. The self-help crazes. The Anthony Robbins. The Dr. Phils. The TV preachers and the millions who sought personal healing and satisfaction in materialism, tokenism and, sometimes, evangelism.

We were told we could build a better life for ourselves and others if we ate well, took vitamins, made donations to acceptable causes, felt bad about suffering while realizing that we could not really do much about it.

Adopt a starving child. The song remains the same.

Above all, accept that things are as they are and that while God wants you to do what you can to love your neighbours he never meant the poor, gays and lesbians, the peoples of the third world or even your friend down the street losing their home.

In fact, it is always tough "love". This rightist brand of theological politics, accepted and embraced by large segments of the non-religious, claims that all suffering is self-inflicted. The poor are lazy. Minorities fail not due to oppression but their own inadequacies. Behind every welfare case is a fraud and a limousine. Unions are expressions of privilege and of elitism.

A world of people accepting no responsibility for their own lack of action.

Where has this led us?

To hundreds of thousands of broken lives, to mass poverty through much of the world, to the soulless pursuit of self advancement, no matter the cost.

We have seen the Gilded Age of massive "economic growth" built on the backs of nominal improved general material prosperity but with huge inequality, social instability, a lack of a proper social safety net, a lack of safeguards over banks and corporations, a reckless speculative economy, and an increasing social incohesion before. And it did not end well.

Hopelessness creates a sense of impending apocalypse in the minds of many and desperation breeds anger and hate. Solutions are often found in violent and totalizing ideological fictions. It is as if we are drawn, as moths to flame, to the social apocalypse itself.

We can, however, give ourselves and others a seasonal gift of real magnitude. We can save lives and make the day-to-day of so many much better. We can seek to find a measure of genuine salvation and an end to inner emptiness.

In the final analysis, we exist only as a reflection of our ability to effect the lives of others, for better or worse, and in our yearning, regardless of class, race, ideology or any other indicator, to be remembered, somehow, even if ephemerally or incidentally, as an agent of something of some significance.

This may be our children, our charitable work, our writings or our art.

It may even, in rare cases, be through what we produce, though most of us get lost in the workings of the wider capitalist machine.

But it will always come out in our actions as members of a broader tapestry, a true coalition, a general sorority and fraternity of people standing together, united yet not identical, and pushing, striving, aching for a better future through the ending of injustices, large and small. It will always surface in the backs of committee rooms, on picket lines, in church hall basements and in the countless courageous and largely forgotten moments of personal sacrifice by so many in so many disparate lands.

From those who will no longer sit on the back of the bus to those who will no longer deny their love. From those who have all too often died in the realization that they did it out of a love for humanity that stirs us all, to those who live to create a real thousand points of light, the thousand points of light that connect us to each other.

Malcolm X or Joe Hill. Rosa Parks or Oscar Schindler. Bishop Romero or The Bandit Queen. Rosa Luxembourg or Harvey Milk.

Jesus Christ, son of God or not, alone on Golgotha and the crucifix.

Chief Theresa Spence.

They all stand as a tribute to the triumph of the human.

And we all can too.

There is, in fact a road to the real spirit of this season. It is the road of re-engagement in politics. It is the road of expanding one's bubble beyond bank account, job, business or balance sheet. It is the road that turns, at long last, away from the embrace of the individual and toward the pursuit of common goals.

The politics and politicians of today tell you that there are only a very few possible outcomes and that "realism" dictates that essentially all points on the spectrum will bring the same basic result.

But this anti-democratic notion of an inevitable future is not true. And it can be stopped. We can stand up for union rights, worker's rights, social ownership of the means of production, public banks, "economic growth" that includes everyone, tax increases to pay for programmes, social inclusion and many of these other ideas...and the proof that we can do so lies in the fact that we have, here and elsewhere, done so in our past.

It is never too late to write the future. And it is never too late to turn the tide.

But if we do not, we need to heed James Baldwin's warning:

God gave Noah the rainbow sign,

No more water, the fire next time!

This piece originally appeared on my original blog and then on, in both cases in slightly different forms. 

See also: Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein

Thursday, December 17, 2015

20 Best Songs of 2015! A Left Chapter Roundup

2015 is drawing to a close...and the time is at hand for a holiday and New Year roundup of the best songs of the year.

Here are my picks for the Top Twenty.

Here is to holidays, beers, champagne, family...and good music!

#20  Kamikaze - MO

Infectious awesomeness!

#19 Chinatown - Girlpool

Wistful...charming...oddly sad. A great tune.

#18  Greg Holden - Boys in the Street

An truly moving song about homophobia, family and redemption.

#17  Coffee - Miguel

An intense, wild, amazing song.

#16 All Your Favorite Bands - Dawes.

"May all your favorite bands stay together." Indeed.

#15 Love Like Mine - Miami Horror

Take a moment from your day to watch what is easily one of the best videos (and songs) of the year!

Just fantastic. Crazy, weird, bizarre, fixed POV awesomeness!

#14 - Mr. Misunderstood - Eric Church

Not generally a big fan of this guy TBH...but this song owes a lot, in a very good way, to artists like Bob Seger, and has both a terrific message and a great, great old-style country-rock sound.

And..."She turned me on to back porch pick-ups, Jackson Pollock and gin" has to be one of the best rock/country lines in recent memory!

#13 bros - Wolf Alice

Wistful, nostalgic and awesome.

#12  SOB - Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

As good a drinking song...or song about I have heard for a very long time!

#11  The Eye - Brandi Carlile

Her latest album is just fantastic...and this may not be her only appearance on this year's list!

#10 - Make Up Your Mind Tonight - Hawksley Workman

For a song that goes on about "this is the way that we relax"...THIS IS THE LEAST RELAXING SONG EVER! Love it...Canadian rock artist Workman is back.

#9  Just Like We Never Said Goodbye - Sophie

Ethereal and haunting.

#8 Pedestrian At Best - Courtney Barnett

This song is like an anxiety attack that just keeps getting worse. A stream of consciousness nightmare of brilliance!

#7 Here - Alessia Cara

This claustrophobic and disturbing song has only grown in my estimation.

And she is an emerging superstar.


#6 Brownlow - Lapsley

A reflection in part, apparently, on rave culture, it is also an intense piece of song writing and of almost existential self-criticism. "I set the deal straight".

#5 Infamous - Basia Bulat

This is a terrific song from a great Toronto artist. Her music just keeps getting better...and this should be one of 2016's better albums.

#4 - The Things I Regret - Brandi Carlile

Such a great song from the best overall album of 2015. And so full of the angst of regret...that very worst of feelings.

#3 Gimme All Your Love - Alabama Shakes

This song gives me goosebumps. Incredible vocals, a simmering and explosive tone, that incredible part where they switch it up...just amazing.

Turn it up to eleven and disturb the neighbours! Put it on repeat.


#2  Her Mercy - Glen Hansard

WHAT A GREAT SONG THIS IS!!! Shows the influence of Van Morrison and folks like Jackson Browne...inspiring and stirring.

By one of the great singer-songwriters alive today.

#1  Sunday Candy - Chance the Rapper, "Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment"

This song is such a joyous, wonderful, uplifting and amazing ode. Everything about it makes you want to sing and dance (if I could do either I would!!!).

A love song about his grandma...and a love song generally. Hearing it makes me want to open the front door and yell "I love you all" to the world!

The video, which was done as a single live something to be enjoyed and savoured.

There is not one ounce of anger, cynicism or ugliness here.

Just perfect.

See you all next year!

(For a link to my Top 20 Countdown from 2014 see here:

See also: 10 Best Songs of far!

See also: 5 Great Songs for International Workers' Day! Featuring Paul Robeson, Billy Bragg, The Red Army Choir & more

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why Socialist?

So, why Socialist?

Living, as we are alleged to be, in the post-ideological, post-political era, why should we continue, as a movement, to fight for socialism? Given the abject and apparent failures of some supposed "socialist" regimes, given their appalling human rights abuses and their obvious inability provide a comparable standard of living to that enjoyed in many advanced capitalist countries, why would one persist in the belief that a socialist society is not only possible but is necessary?

The left, as much as the right, has a past to account for. In our zeal to defeat inequality and injustice many on the left have supported governments that enforced the worst forms of inequity -- through violence, denial of free speech and intimidation -- that the working class can face. We have been willing to turn a blind eye to the reality that workers in some of these supposed "socialist" societies had (and in some cases have) less freedom and power than their brothers and sisters in capitalist countries. We have confused the power that flows from the idea and goal of worker self-government and worker ownership with the false god of state power and oppression. Millions of dead later it is enough to make one embrace the notion that the "triumph" of free enterprise is a positive thing and that the only alternative to the anarchy of unregulated capitalism is the unregulated anarchy envisioned by the post-modernist, anti-electoral crew who seems to eschew government power altogether in the mystical hope that we can create a fair and equitable society for all without, presumably, a government of any kind.

And then there is apathy -- the sad and sorry mind set of so many that draws a line from work to home to whatever shopping outlet they feel will fulfill the empty promise of a consumer driven lifestyle. Or, alternately, the many who feel that "politics" is somehow boring or facile and that their own personal devotion to sports, fashion, television, materialism, mysticism, or whatever else is presented as "individual" choice by the purveyors of the latest trend the supposedly individualistic herd is to embrace this week.

On the left are those who feel that devotion to the ends is enough. Given the supposed resistance of the public to socialism why bother? Why not just abandon the idea and fight for social justice in general, cause by cause, letting labels drop? Ideology is irrelevant if we can get results!

But it is just not true.

Socialism is the idea that we can create a society whose primary objective is to generate economic and social justice for all by fostering conditions of equality in which each of us is allowed to thrive and pursue the dreams and personal objectives that they wish to, regardless of the fate of their birth, colour, gender, or any other systemic problems. It is the idea that every individual is entitled to the self-worth of personal actualization that is only possible when we create conditions that allow for an equal starting point. It is the principle that we have the right to be who we are, to love who we want, to express ourselves as we wish, without the state, the church or the arbiters of community values having the power to stop us. It is the sense that we should, through the democratization of the economy, allow for workers to play a greater role in running their companies and that the government, our government, should represent the interests of the vast majority of citizens ahead of the corporate few.

It is, at its heart, when removed from the base detours of the dictatorial left, the strident affirmation of individual and personal freedom in the face of the oppressive emptiness of the hollow pseudo-individualism of the "free market".

The great victory of the supporters of the capitalist system over the last quarter century has been their ability to create cynicism and apolitical attitudes in large segments of the population on the basis of the misguided and ultimately anti-democratic idea that politics is largely irrelevant and that the markets and inexorable economic interests of business will dictate social outcomes regardless of the will of the people. They have been aided in this by the actions of supposed left governments which have been the willing accomplices in the destruction of the social solidarity net of the post-war compromise. It is worthy of note that this applies to every single recent provincial NDP government in Manitoba, Nova Scotia & elsewhere, Clinton's Democrats, the Liberal Party of Canada and the Blair led Labour Party in the UK.

They have also been aided by the clever promise of the dramatic economic growth of the post-socialist era which delivered record profits and wealth at the expense of any notion of fair or reasonable distribution.

Yet this same era of growth corresponded with a technological revolution that allowed the vast majority of the citizens of the developed world to at least adorn themselves with one or another of the various trinkets that we have come to associate with "living well" whether it be a Playstation, a cell phone, a digital camera, an ipod or whatever other device we all now desperately "need".

Having successfully conjoined the politically reactionary onslaught against the post-war gains of workers with the remarkably wide spread distribution of token items of apparent material success and the total defeat in the North American media of voices of dissent and representatives of labour, an entire generation of people has grown up thinking that politics is either irrelevant or has nothing to do with their day-to-day lives or desires.

What this apparent ideological victory has failed to do, however, is to eliminate the basic flaw in the engine of unregulated capitalist growth, that of inequality. Quite the opposite. This era of unprecedented economic vitality has seen ever greater income disparity and the increasingly immoral and repugnant expansion of poverty and a lack of public services while the wealthy bask in the added personal surpluses brought on by disgraceful tax cuts. While the average worker sees their job security and income decline in ever more non-unionized environments, the corporate elite can rest assured of massive government or business buyouts in the event that they do a bad job running their companies! While the bitter sections of the disenfranchised rant about immigrants or those on welfare, the wealthy exist and thrive on government backed bailouts or "development" handouts delivered to their already overburdened bank accounts without any requirement for them to fairly treat their employees or to even pledge to keep their businesses in the jurisdictions that gave them them the cash!

Socialism, it seems, is just fine for the well-to-do.

The real socialist alternative, the actual dream for a better future, however, will never truly die for the very reason that, at heart, the human spirit cannot endure such appallingly unfair and egregious inequity without many millions of people feeling that there must be a better, a fairer and a more just way to create and distribute wealth. The human spirit cannot abide the disgrace of six-year olds going hungry or facing homelessness in nations that hand tens of billions of dollars out to corporate entities. The human spirit recoils at the violence inherent in the reality of our present state of social insecurity created by supposedly progressive liberals and democrats who, throughout the '90's, actively participated in the vile attacks of the political class on the the unemployed, unions, health care, welfare, public spending, education and more and who now stand rudderless and stunned in the face of the collapse of the very system that they engendered.

So why socialism?

Because socialism is the voice of the poor, the workers, the middle class, the disenfranchised, those who wish to express themselves without the oppressive weight of church or state, and those who stand against the terrible toll that economic instability takes on people and families. Socialism is an antidote to apathy and the irrelevance of a life that sacrifices security, justice and freedom for material reward. Socialism is not just an alternative, it is the only true alternative to our present course -- it is a vision of a better world that does not rely on hate, fear or religion, but instead takes the needs of human beings as its starting and ending point. It is, at its best a process that never reaches a conclusion because the human condition can and will always be made better by people themselves. It is a spirit of constant yearning to make a world with peace, equality and democracy for all, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or economic starting point.

It is a liberating and wonderful way to look at ourselves and other people.

And it is a way to say you not only care but that you truly want to do something about the terrible social and economic conditions faced by hundreds of millions of fellow citizens around this global community we live in. Something systemic, something total, something real.

This can only happen, will only happen -- despite all the rhetoric of the free market devotees and the neo-anarchist, anti-government left -- if we elect Socialist governments with a broad and coherent agenda for the creation of a socialist economy. Governments that are willing to accept setbacks and defeats on our path forward, but who, even when out of power, never cease to fight for the overhaul and reinvention of our society. Governments that will place the interests of us all against those of capital.

This piece originally appeared on my original blog and then on, in both cases in slightly different forms. 

See also: Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein

Monday, December 14, 2015

Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein

Originally published in 1951 in the debut issue of the American independent socialist magazine Monthly Review,  this short and yet very direct piece by Albert Einstein holds up very well in its call for a socialist economic and political order in the United States and the World.

It should not be underestimated the amount of courage it took at this moment in American history -- with the dawning of the Cold War and McCarthyism -- for such a prominent public figure to make such a strident and unrepentant call for an end to capitalism, which he describes repeatedly as evil.

In some ways the new order he envisioned seems even further away than it would have at the time.

And, yet, perhaps not. History and the people always have a way of surprising you.

Without any further ado, over to Mr. Einstein.

(Click on scans to enlarge)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Diner Style Breaded Pork Chops in Gravy

Today we will take a look at a comfort food classic -- breaded and deep fried pork chops smothered in a rich gravy.

To make this dish buy "fast-fry" thin cut chops. I made 10 chops for this recipe. They can be either bone-in or boneless, it does not matter which.

For the batter you first need to put 3 eggs into a bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste and 2 teaspoons of mustard powder and blend thoroughly. Meanwhile, on two separate plates or two broad bowls place around a cup each of bread crumbs and self-raising pastry flour. I like to use self-raising flour instead of regular flour as it gives pork chops a very satisfying texture.

To batter the chops you need to first dredge the chops in the flour, then in the seasoned egg wash and then in the breadcrumbs. You want the chops nicely and evenly coated with each.

Once this is done, heat around two inches of vegetable oil in a deep and wide frying pan. When it has reached a high enough heat for frying (this will take a few minutes) you put in the chops in batches (do this carefully -- hot oil splashes can be both dangerous and painful!) and deep fry them for around 1 minute a side, turning once.

You do not need to cook fast fry chops for longer than this! Longer than  this will overcook them. Remove the chops, holding them for a few seconds over the oil to allow excess oil to drip off,  and set aside on a platter with a lining of paper towel on the bottom. After removing the chops the batter will darken quickly to a nice golden hue.

After you have cooked all your chops, either cover to keep them warm or put them in the oven set at minimum.

Safely and carefully discard the oil from your frying pan. No need to rinse or wash clean. To the pan over medium heat melt 1 knob of butter  Add 1 clove of chopped garlic, 1 crumbled dried sage leaf, 1 /4 teaspoon of white pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, 1/3 teaspoon of mustard powder, 2 pinches of cayenne pepper and 4 tablespoons of flour into the melted butter mixture to make a roux. To this add 1/3-1/2 of a cup of milk, gently stirring it in as you pour it. Then add 1 cup of already boiling water.. Stir again thoroughly. Finally, if you have it, add about 1 tsp of Vegeta seasoning. This will add a saltiness and richness to the gravy. If you do not have Vegeta add salt to taste.

Bring this all to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes, stirring regularly until the gravy reduces and thickens to your liking. Add a bit of water if the gravy is too thick.

Strain the gravy! This will produce a smooth gravy, without any grittiness.

Plate the chops and pour the gravy over them. This dish goes very well with a side of egg noodles, mashed potatoes and some toasted rustic bread or garlic bread.


See also: Southern Style Chicken Wings Stove-top Deep Fried

See also: Maria's Pork Schnitzel with Oma Philomena's Potato Salad

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hallmark's Holiday Cocktails with Flaming Coffee, the Santa Claus Special, Glowing Wine Punch & more!

This charmingly illustrated little booklet was published by Hallmark, the greeting card company. Undated, it is, given its illustrations, likely from the 1950's or 1960's.

Nothing helps one through the "holiday season" quite like a good, stiff drink! Here are a variety of timeless classics like the Manhattan, as well as some more fanciful drinks like the "Santa Claus Special".

So, enjoy some Hot Buttered Rum or a Whiskey Sour and a Happy Holidays!

(Click on images to enlarge) 

(Editor's note: For the Christmas Eggnog I would suggest using pasteurized eggs)


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ukrainian "Scalloped Beef" Revisited

Back in September I took a look at a Soviet era cookbook that featured classic Ukrainian recipes.

Today I want to take one of the recipes from the book and put my own spin on it.

This one is for a dish they called "Scalloped Beef". It is a straight-up, literal "meat-and-potatoes" recipe.

I decided to make it using that lowliest of beef cuts, the thin "minute" steak. This will make it inexpensive, but, as it is going to be cooked for a relatively long time in stock, trust me when I say that it comes out incredibly tender.

For this recipe you will need about 6 minute steak cutlets.

First, take your minute steak, season with salt and pepper to taste, and dredge it in some flour until lightly coated. Brown the steak (in batches of course) in a frying pan in olive or vegetable oil for no more than 30 seconds a side. Set the steaks aside on a platter to rest.

Meanwhile, cut 3 medium sized potatoes into round slices, chop up 1 medium onion, slice up 1 stalk of celery and mince up 6 cloves of garlic.

Take out your Dutch oven and begin by putting two of the steaks side by side on the bottom. Cover these steaks with a layer of potato slices, 1/3 of the onion, 1/3 of the celery and 1/3 of the garlic as well as some more salt and pepper to taste. Add also 2 whole allspice cloves.

Top this with another layer of steaks and an identical layer of the rest.

Repeat one last time so that you end with the potatoes and rest on top, only on the final level do not add allspice cloves.

Slowly pour beef stock into the Dutch oven until it just covers all of the layers.

Put on to the stove top, heat to a simmer and then cover. Cook covered for about 30 minutes and then move the cover so that it is partially (about 1/4) open. Let the dish simmer for a further 1 1/2 hours for a total cooking time of 2 hours.

Let sit for ten minutes and then serve by scooping out serving size portions of the steak and topping with the potatoes, onions and broth.

This simple, country style dish is really delicious and very hearty and produces steak that is exceptionally moist.

See also: Ukrainian Cookery Recipes w. Borscht, Vareniki, Cabbage Rolls & more -- Vintage Cookbook

See also: Beef Shank Potato Carrot Dutch Oven Casserole -- Revisiting an 80's Leftover Roast Beef Recipe

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Farewell to a Bookstore

“The problem with books is that they end.” -- Caroline Kepnes

Back in November, 2001 my partner Natalie and I stood together holding hands looking around a large empty retail space that was to go on, the next month, to become the used bookstore that would be a central part of our lives for the next 14 years. At our feet in his car seat was our newborn son, Nathaniel, not yet a month old.

Even then we knew it was the start of an amazing new chapter and adventure in our lives.

To us the space that evolved was always simply known as "The Store". For its first near 8 years it was formally called Used Book Paradise and then, after it moved in 2009, Community Roots.

We opened it originally by the corner of Lake Shore Blvd. W. and 30th St. in the Toronto neighbourhood of South Etobicoke at the very start of what would be its slow revitalization.

And very quickly the store became a community hub complete with many true characters from all walks of life in this very diverse area. Days were spent stocking shelves and pricing items and doing all of the many often tedious and boring things that one does in retail.

But they were also spent chatting about what science fiction someone liked, what books we thought might get their kids interested in reading, debates about whether War and Peace was "better" than the Brothers Karamazov, searching through boxes brought to us looking at what would soon be out for sale, and too many other wonderful and yet seemingly ordinary moments to mention.

They became, despite how special they were, almost commonplace.

The space was always eclectic. Like the used bookstores I had frequented on Queen St. W. in the 80's and 90's (all now gone) it was a crowded and crazy place with stacks of books on the floors, on the shelves and atop other stacks! Its walls were covered with the art of Natalie (as well as the famous -- or perhaps infamous -- "creepy dolls" she makes) and that of other local artists. It also had copies of the Magna Carta, the Charter, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the countless "Paint-by-Number" and Naval art kitsch prints we collected.

As the years passed the store and our family grew. Our daughter Julia arrived in 2004 and our son Robert in 2007. Our neighbourhood family grew as well as we met many folks who would go on to become good friends. We saw readers who bought Hardy Boys or Mary Kate and Ashley books grow to adulthood and to return seeking out now different books entirely. We saw friends, sadly, pass away and felt the loss of familiar faces that we were not to see again.

The book collection grew ever larger and to it we, somewhat reluctantly, added movies and video games as the books alone were not paying the bills.

The store became a focus of political and social activism.

Natalie and I wanted it to reflect the values that we hold dear. From fights like opposing Toronto District School Board censorship of the children's book Three Wishes, to trying to be allies to courageous local LGBT activists, to distributing leaflets for the peace movement, free transit, worker's rights and many other causes, in our small way we never shied away from representing what we believed in even if it might have at times cost us business.

Bookstores, after all, are a labour of love. They are not about the money. Or at least ours was not to us.

The store would witness and be the headquarters for two municipal and two provincial campaigns and the site of countless political discussions and arguments.

Every year would see Natalie's Halloween window and my Christmas window. They would see sales and anniversary parties, events and meetings and even birthday parties.

It was like a second home. One that at times we would spend more time in than our real home. Inseparably woven into the fabric of our lives. It has, lately, hit me just how much a part of me and my family this place has been and how much of us literally cover its walls from the art mentioned above to family photos and our children's drawings.

It has also made me realize how sad I am that it will soon all be gone. After 14 years we will close a mere 3 days after the anniversary of our opening.

A bookstore is a special place to be a part of and to work in.

It is an amazing thing to be surrounded not only by the sublime but the ridiculous. To be able to pick up Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy or read a few pages from the transcendent Sounder and to then peruse a few paragraphs of a Conan knockoff or a really poorly written and raunchy Harlequin.

To have Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Shakespeare, Lawrence Block, Zane Grey and so many, many others be the names that populate your workday and the "product" that you are selling and that your customers are seeking out.

To have a place where Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes can lie atop each other or side by side in seeming harmony.

To have this great endeavour that is human learning, culture, entertainment and knowledge and that is so embodied in books be the basis of your job.

But retail has changed and we have changed.

While many have commented on the "decline of the book" of late, we have not found this to be the case. In fact our book sales have been steadily increasing over the last few years.

But what has changed is that as each year -- indeed even as each month -- passes a greater and greater percentage of these sales, as well as of DVD and other sales, occur online to the point where it seems impossible to justify the constantly increasing overhead costs associated with the physical store.

This is a trend that is happening across North America and not by any means to us alone.

The neighbourhood bookstore or used bookstore -- in all its many glorious variations -- is it seems becoming a forgotten thing. A generation will grow up without them playing the role they did in my youth. Many of them will miss out on browsing through the stacks, engaging workers and owners, moving one book to find a hidden treasure behind it and simply soaking in the wonder of having so many different thoughts, different minds, different styles -- different worlds even -- all around them in what is, after all, just a shop!

When Natalie and I made the decision that it was time to bring this journey to an end and to move the bookstore onto the internet it was not an easy one.

In fact it was, despite the reality of it being the right decision, a very hard one.

Looking back, so much changed over those years. That tiny little boy at our feet is now a young man who entered high school this September. Governments, wars, trends and lives have come and gone. And so many local bookstores, especially used bookstores, have slipped into that cultural memory chest alongside things like the record store and the typewriter.

When the lights turn off for that last time a hole, no doubt, will be there in our lives which will never really by filled. Whatever new adventures lie ahead in the pages of our lives this chapter has ended. This book has ended. This bookstore has ended.

Even as this holds the promise of new beginnings and the excitement of new starts, it also means that most awful of all things, the goodbye and the farewell.

Yet, whether said by Dr. Seuss or Gabriel Garcia Marquez "Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened."

The store happened. We were there. And it was a terrific story.