Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hot Dog Creole

I don't know about you, but nothing brings to mind Creole cuisine and culture like chopped up hot dogs on a bed of macaroni.
If you ever have any folks from Louisiana over this is sure to remind them of home!
The fancy side salad of sliced iceberg lettuce and a few olives must not be forgotten.

Why use real onions when you can use instant? 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Are the Greens a "progressive" party?

Are the Greens a "progressive" party?

While Green voters would certainly appear to think so, some New Democrat partisans would seem to say otherwise claiming they are little more than Conservatives with composters. Recently, as an example, Paul Moist, head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, in a letter critical of Leadnow and its strategic voting campaign stated “Neither the Liberal Party of Canada nor the Green Party are progressive...Both parties have very right-wing economic policies, do not stand for working families or public services. Only the NDP has a progressive platform.”

Is this at all fair to say, (especially when their economic policy platform is contrasted with that of the NDP's as this is what matters here) in the case of the Greens?

With the Greens having taken from the start a stronger and clearer stance on issues like Bill C-51 than did Tom Mulcair and the NDP, it is obvious why New Democrat partisans might be concerned that the Greens might appeal to some Canadian leftists and progressives, particularly given the NDP's own increasing and obvious economic centrism. 

Since Moist (and others) claim that the Greens are not progressive due specifically to their positions on economic policy, it is time take a look at those policies more closely.

The Green's open their "The Green Economy" platform citing in their preamble, among other things, the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) stating:

Unfortunately, employed Canadians are also among the most overworked citizens in the industrialized world. A report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) states that the richest 10% of Canadians are the only ones not working longer hours. The report concludes that, despite being better educated and working harder, Canadian families are now “running faster just to stay put and the bottom half is actually falling behind.” 
While presumably, and given that the statement came from a labour leader, a party that was not progressive and that was right-wing economically would be anti-labour, anti-worker and anti-union, in the case of the Greens that does not at all seem to be the case.

Under the heading "Labour" the Green's policy book begins by saying:
Canadians are among the most overworked people in the industrialized world. The Green Party wants to help restore balance in the lives of Canadian workers by increasing paid vacation entitlement at the federal level, and supporting provincial policies mandating shorter working hours.
The Green Party will raise the minimum paid vacation entitlement to three weeks. Many countries with minimum standards of four weeks and longer also have more productive and internationally-competitive economies than Canada’s.
It goes on to call for, among other things, establishing a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour under the Canada Labour Code, creating federal ‘anti-scab’ legislation, making changes to the Employment Standards law to provide equal protection to contract and temporary workers, strengthening non-union workers’ rights and protections to close the widening gap between union and non-union workplaces, increasing federal inspections and establishing stronger deterrents to illegal unpaid overtime work to achieve full compliance with Canada Labour Code standards, and re-establishing "in law the rights to equal pay for work of equal value".

It is very hard to see how this vision can be described as in anyway less progressive than the NDP's. In fact in certain key ways it is to the left of the NDP.

In the case of taxes sadly, just like the NDP but unlike Trudeau's Liberals, the Greens do not call for any personal tax increases on the wealthy. However, after decrying the logic of corporate tax cuts in very strong, and notably progressive terms, the Greens go on to pledge that they would "Return Corporate Tax rates, except for the Small Business tax rate, to the 2008 level", a policy that is at least as good as the NDP's on this front.

In fact, as the Greens do not, unlike the NDP, call for totally unnecessary and reactionary tax cuts for "small business", one could make a strong case that their tax policy is also to the left of the NDP's, though only very marginally.

The Greens call for ending subsidies to major corporations, especially in the fossil fuel sector, and use David Lewis' famous quip about "corporate welfare bums".

When it comes to debt reduction and balanced budgets, far from opposing public services or calling for austerity their platform states they would:
Set a disciplined schedule to gradually pay down the debt while maintaining public services and programs that meet immediate social and environmental needs, increasing debt reduction over time but starting with modest targets to permit investment in critical programs.
They call for "more effective antitrust laws in concentrated industry sectors" and for requiring "corporations to provide detailed information about their records of compliance with labour, environmental, human rights, consumer, health and safety, criminal, competition, and tax laws or policies" as well as for protections for corporate whistle-blowers.

The Greens want to see investment in expanding Canada's rail network and infrastructure, increasing "existing funding to stimulate a massive re-investment in public transportation infrastructure in all Canadian towns and cities to make it convenient, safe, comfortable, and affordable", creating an energy efficient national housing strategy, creating a variety of funds to support principles like a mass transit strategy and cleaning up toxic or brownfield sites, reducing "corporate control of the food supply", they have an entire platform plank promising to expand and enhance co-ops and credit unions, a policy supporting more open-source computer software and  any number of other policies none of which can, in my opinion, be described as "very right wing".

All the polices above, linked to or otherwise, are pulled directly from their election platform. You can read the polices for yourself on their website.

There are some typically centrist (and common to the Liberals and NDP as well) odes to "small business" and entrepreneurship, a call for "tax relief" for those with lower and middle-incomes, what I think can only be described as a muddled "policy" around income trusts, as well as, not surprisingly, a wide array of policies related to the environment, eco-tourism, creating a "green" economy, etc.

All of these policies are, to be clear, framed within what is a complete acceptance of the capitalist framework of the economy, but that is true of all of the mainstream political parties including the NDP.

There are no longer any anti-capitalist parties (even if only in theory) represented in Canada's parliament.

Again, given this, it is basically impossible to see how this program, while one might disagree with this-or-that given plank or priority, is any less "progressive" than the NDP's in any fundamental or meaningful way.

No doubt some will try to obfuscate with rhetoric about the NDP's historic ties with labour or about how the party emerged out of a socialist tradition. Both of these things could have also been said of the Labour Party of Tony Blair and are completely meaningless. In the here-and-now they are not at all relevant to whether the Greens are "progressive" or not.

Party election platforms matter, regardless of what a party may have been like twenty-five or fifty years ago, and they reflect how that party wishes to be seen and how it anticipates that it will govern. Taken at face value the Green platform is not a right wing one.

A cynic might state that the Greens won't really do what they say were they elected, but given the NDP's provincial track records with broken promises and shifts to the right once in power, the same cynic would then surely wonder how far the NDP can be trusted to do what they have promised as well.

Given the seemingly inexorable shift of their own party to the right and its rapid shedding of left-wing economic principle in its quest for power, it is understandable why New Democrats might wish to comfort themselves by continuing to portray the Greens as on the right, but this does not make it any more intellectually honest or true.

Even setting aside that, tactically, calling the Greens a right-wing party is perhaps not the best approach to attempting to appeal to Green voters, it also requires a hyper-partisan Orwellian feat of double-think to really believe and should be relegated to the realm of partisan fictions from which it emerged and to which it belongs.

See Also: Unintended consequences: Attacking Leadnow and "strategic voting" 

See Also: Do we really want to Stop Harper? The year ahead in progressive partisanship

Friday, June 26, 2015

Art: Janus

Janus - Acrylic and Pen on a Book Cover by Natalie Lochwin
Click on image to enlarge.

(Prints of Natalie's art are available, email theleftchapter@outlook.com for details)

BBQ Grilled Yellow Hot Peppers with Prosciutto & Cream Cheese

BBQ Grilled Yellow Hot Peppers with Prosciutto & Cream Cheese
Yellow Peppers
Today we will be looking at a terrific BBQ side -- grilled stuffed Yellow Hot Peppers. While larger size jalapeños can also be used, yellow hot peppers are widely available and are a perfect size for this. Those who do not want it spicy, or as a substitute for the kids, can use Cubanelle Peppers which are very mild.

Prepare the grill as usual. (For tips of charcoal grilling you can visit our post on the topic.)
Cut off the top of the pepper. Set the tops aside. With a knife you want to gently remove all the seeds from inside the pepper. Try to get as many as possible. The seeds are very hot, and while one or two left inside will add kick, in any quantity they will make the dish basically impossible to eat, even for spicy food fanatics such as myself.

Until you are used to the "seeding" I strongly recommend wearing kitchen gloves while doing this. Touching the seeds with bare skin is very unpleasant and it leaves oils that, if you then touch your eyes or other body parts, will cause a truly awful burning sensation that one need only experience once to not make the same mistake again.

After having seeded the peppers, take a slice of prosciutto and fit it to the inside of the pepper. Then take a cream cheese of your choosing, (for grocery store bought I like Western Dairy) and fill the pepper with it.

Put the top back on. If it will not stay on you can secure it with a toothpick. 

Put the peppers on the grill. I do them a few minutes a side around the edge of the grill -- so they are not directly over the charcoal --until the cream cheese begins to melt. Then I put them right over the red hot coals to char the peppers, turning constantly, for another minute or two a side or so. You want the pepper to char and its texture to change, but you do not want it to burn.

This nice summer treat can be served with just about any main or as an appetizer. As a vegetarian option, simply do not use the prosciutto. In this case I recommend using a cream cheese  with chives, or adding some chives or sliced green onion yourself.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

From Wisconsin with Love with a Beer-Cheese Soup and Fondue, the Hodag & the Packer "Crunch"! -- Vintage Cookbook TBT

Vintage Cookbook: From Wisconsin with Love by Laurie Gluesing and Debra Gluesing

Publication Details: New Boundary Designs, 1984

There are an entire category of cookbooks that are centred around specific geographic areas -- usually states or provinces, cities or towns, etc. The one we are looking at today is almost a love poem to the food and tales, some of them tall, of the State of Wisconsin.

I love this cookbook for many reasons. Its folksy illustrations, the fact that many of the recipes are prefaced with interesting anecdotes, and, of course, the fact that much of the cooking is centred around two of my favourite things, beer and cheese!

The food here is hearty fare, using usually readily available ingredients, and is, overall, really delicious. You find recipes like "Corned Beef with Horseradish Sauce" and "Wurst-Beer Salad". When the ingredients are a little more off-the-beaten track they cover things like "Venison Stew".

The book is divided into six sections and today we are sharing one recipe from each as well as the tale of the Hodag.

Also, as many of my regular readers may know, I am a big fan of the community owned NFL Green Bay Packers of Wisconsin. So, of course, I share a Packer related recipe as well -- the Packer Crunch!

(Click on images to enlarge)

The Hodag in all its fiery glory!

In honour of the glorious Green Bay Packers -- 
The only major league community owned team in the United States!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Nothing says "party" like a Chicken Cheese Ring!

When I think party...I think of a Chicken Cheese Ring! Your guests, I am sure, will be suitably impressed.

Almost as exciting as a Magnum P.I. episode!
I say, parsley paprika AND chopped nuts! Why not? 

Art: Grunge Kitty

Grunge Kitty - Photographic Print by Natalie Lochwin
Click on image to enlarge

(Prints of Natalie's art are available, email theleftchapter@outlook.com for details)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pesto pepper steak with sour cream & pickled peperoncini

Today I want to take a look at one of my favourite ways to jazz up a New York Strip Loin or a Sirloin grilling steak. This recipe is meant for these cuts, or boneless Rib Eyes, but does not work as well for bone-in cuts.

First, take the steaks out, salt them to taste and then give them a nice coating of freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil over them, then let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Salt, lots of freshly ground pepper, and a touch of olive oil! 
Cook the steaks to rare or rare-medium/medium rare using either the cross-hatched grill pan or charcoal BBQed methods I have described before. The dish works great with either of these two cooking methods. For the steaks pictured I used the cross-hatched method.

When the steaks are done, let stand for a couple of minutes.

Then top the steaks first with a nice coating of green pesto sauce. Take a scoop of a thicker sour cream (14% or, if you are lucky enough to find it, 30%...this dish is a treat so don't use the 5% variety. It is just not the same) and place in the middle of the steak on top of the pesto. Finally, top this with pickled peperoncini pepper and serve. You can use different peppers but these I think work best here.

The mixture of these flavours is truly spectacular and it is a highly visually appealing dish at a dinner party! It all goes perfectly with a nice Mediterranean style salad, crusty bread and, of course, a hearty red wine.


For another great steak topping idea try: Argentinian Chimichurri grilling sauce

Monday, June 22, 2015

Fiery Caribbean style peel-and-eat shrimp

Here I served the shrimp with the bonnet peppers for decorative effect.
Do not eat them! They are very, very hot.
This dish is delightfully spicy and delicious and is very, very easy to make.

It is perfect to enjoy in the backyard, on a patio or at the beach with an ice cold beer or some chilled white wine.

First you want to get a pound or so of fresh, uncooked large shrimp with the shells still on.

In a saucepan combine the following (remember, if you are making more shrimp, simply adjust accordingly):

2 cups water
Add shrimp uncooked and unpeeled
4 crushed or very finely minced cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons salt (or to taste)
1 tablespoon pepper
3 chopped green onions
4 scotch bonnet chilies halved and unseeded (do not remove the seeds)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons whole allspice

Mix ingredients and bring this to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Let the shrimp sit in  the broth, covered, for 20 minutes
Add the shrimp and bring to a boil again. Immediately remove from heat, cover and let the shrimp sit in the broth for 20 minutes.

Drain and discard the broth and serve the shrimp on a platter. You peel the shrimp as you eat them.

If desired serve with lemon wedges, a melted lemon butter dipping sauce (you melt a quarter cup of butter or so and mix with the juice of a lemon) or cocktail sauce.

There is no better eating for a hot summer evening!


You could wash this down with this fantastic beer-shrimp cocktail: Michelada con Camarones: Our take on a spicy beer cocktail!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Till the World is Bright (In Memory of the Rosenbergs) - A Poem by Edna May Quentin Laxer

On this day in 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on the barbaric electric chair by the United States government. 

In the anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthyist era they had been doomed from the start, regardless of their guilt or innocence (and it is now quite clear that in the case of Ethel, at least, her only crime was being Julius' wife) and despite calls for clemency from around the world that even included the Pope.

The execution of the Rosenbergs greatly affected my grandmother, Edna May Quentin Laxer, emotionally at the time. Edna was a member of the Labour Progressive Party, as Canada's Communist Party was called at the time, along with my grandfather Robert Laxer.

Having seen Ethel, a mother of two young boys, killed in this way made her feel that her family, and her three kids, were at risk in a very immediate sense as well.

As a 2010 Fifth Estate documentary that featured my father, James Laxer, discovered, she was entirely correct to be worried:

When James Laxer was growing up in Toronto, he suspected his family was under constant surveillance.
But he had no idea that the Canadian government had a Cold War-era plan in place that — if a national security crisis struck — would have seen him, his mother, father, sister and brother arrested and detained.
And that under the plan his family would have been herded on to a bus and shuttled several blocks from their home to Casa Loma, the historic castle where they would be kept until a permanent internment camp was ready.  
Edna died in 2002, fortunately never fully aware of just how right she was, but in 1953, after the execution, she wrote this poem that I share today in remembrance of the Rosenbergs and of the dangers that flow, now as well more than ever, from those who would use nationalism and fear to target certain groups and to suppress our liberties.

(Click on scan of poem to enlarge)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bon Appetit Appleby 1977 with Carrot Bread & Easy-Life Stew -- Vintage Cookbook TBT

Vintage Cookbook: Bon Appetit Appleby , Appleby College Women's Association
Publication Details: Published by the college, 1977

There was (and, though sadly to a much lesser degree still is) a whole class of community cookbook that was centered around an institution of some type or another; be they schools, associations, clubs, etc...

These cookbooks were usually put together by a volunteer(s) editor with contributions from people who had ties to the institution and they were sold as a way to raise money. 

The one we are looking at today is Bon Appetit Appleby which was put together by the Appleby College Women's Association in 1977. Appleby College is a private school in Oakville, Ontario and presumably this cookbook was made to raise funds.

The cookbook was also, rather touchingly, dedicated to a Hilda Chattaway, who was the school cook and had been for 48 years! There is a tribute to her at the beginning.

The cookbook begins with a set of recipes from the school kitchen staff themselves and then proceeds through rather standard sections like Appetizers, Breads, Desserts, Mains Etc. This particular one is heavier on the baked goods than some.

The recipes are a terrific assortment of standards, through to a handful of what are really "faux" Japanese or Chinese recipes, to some fascinating traditional ones, such as a recipe for making Gravlaks. Many, as did a lot of recipes in community cookbooks in the 1970's, incorporate multiple canned elements and are meant to be tasty and easy, with names like Hamburger Pie and Frank and Bean Sandwich.

We are sharing two today, and, as always, they appear exactly as they did in the original. The second one, especially typifies a very 70's "home cooking". It is also really good!

Carrot Bread (submitted by Bonnie Peart)

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup dried currants (optional)
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups grated raw carrot
3 eggs

Mix dry ingredients together. Add currants, coconut and nuts. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into 9 X 5 inch loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for an hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Easy-Life Stew (submitted by Annemarie Hodge)

3 lb. lean stewing beef, cubed
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 pkg. dehydrated onion soup mix
1/2 cup dry red wine
mushrooms or potatoes (optional)

Mix meat, soup, onion soup mix and wine. Cook in covered casserole in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours. One may add mushrooms for the last half hour of cooking time or peeled, whole potatoes after the first hour. Serves 6-8

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tom Mulcair, Bob Rae and balanced budgets

As part of Tom Mulcair's bid to eschew any hint of anti-capitalist radicalism on the part of his no longer Socialist even in theory New Democratic Party, he made a pilgrimage the other day into the heart of the Bay St. beast, Toronto's Economic Club, to attempt to allay any remaining fears that the titans of capital may have that he might do anything at all that would meaningfully threaten their power or profits.

After touting his deeply reactionary and totally unnecessary so-called "small business tax cut" (which is not really much of a tax cut for small business at all) and prattling on about the "middle-class", promoting growth and helping the manufacturing sector, he also took what seems an almost de rigueur swipe at Ontario's first, and so far only, NDP Premier Bob Rae for having failed to balance the books while in office -- in contrast, allegedly, to all those other fiscally responsible NDP provincial governments historically.

To much amusement and laughter amongst his audience comprised of the very same capitalist elite that worked so very hard to undermine and destroy the Rae administration from day one, Mulcair quipped that in contrast to these NDP governments "There was one exception. But he turned out to be a Liberal."

Very clever.

He echoes similar, previous critiques of the Rae government by others like Brian Topp and Andrea Horwath.

The problem is that while there are a great many things that lefties can and should be critical of Rae's capitulationist regime about, the fact that it chose to place services and jobs ahead of balancing the budget during the economic downturn of the early nineties is absolutely not one of them!

Rae's choice on this front was completely correct both from an economic and human point-of-view. It was a decision identical in its thinking to the demands for greater stimulus spending that led to the ill-fated coalition agreement between Jack Layton and Stephane Dion.

In fact it is the same reasoning that lies behind Mulcair's own finance critic's criticism of the Conservative government's fixation on deficit reduction.

It is a basic part of Keynesian, progressive or social democratic economic thinking that tries to not fight recessions on the backs of the people and to stimulate recovery through spending and it stands in stark contrast to neo-liberal ideas around austerity.

In the context of the time Rae was right to do what he did on this front.

Within the capitalist paradigm balanced budgets do avoid over-reliance on loans that do place governments in a situation where they are indebted to and sometimes beholden to capital. They also can cost government greatly in terms of interest paid to service existing structural debt. (Ontario pays $10 Billion a year to service its debt for example, which could be put to much better uses.). So there are valid reasons for left-wing governments to seek to avoid debt. (One notable tool in doing so, personal tax increases, especially on the wealthy, is something that Mulcair is actually opposed to).

But during an economic downturn, having a balanced budget as a principal or even secondary immediate goal makes some form of austerity measures inevitable and makes very harsh cutbacks to services and public sector jobs almost certainly necessary.

The problem is not the desire to balance the books when possible -- it is the fetishization of this as a primary economic goal to which government should aspire regardless of circumstance.

Continuing to portray Rae's decision as fiscally irresponsible and to laugh it up with the barons of Bay St. about it is not only wrong but also really does the left no favours in the event that they find themselves in power during a future downturn. Especially if politicians like Mulcair make what seem to be commitments to keep the books balanced even when the economy is in a tailspin, as it was in Rae's era.

Mulcair should keep this in mind given his aspirations. He might not find it not so amusing to be on the receiving end of a Bay St. intimidation campaign should he be Canada's next Prime Minister.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Art: Maoist Studies

Maoist Studies - Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas by Natalie Lochwin

An analysis in three parts

Click on images to enlarge.

(Prints of Natalie's art are available, email theleftchapter@outlook.com for details)

The best canned tuna or salmon salad sandwich recipe

Today I will be sharing my recipe for canned tuna or salmon salad, which I declare to be the best. If you wish to challenge this, I will tell you how you can at the end of this blog post.

Canned tuna or salmon are a staple for many Canadians & Canadian families as, especially if bought on sale, these can often be had relatively inexpensively. This makes tuna or salmon salad sandwiches a favourite of many.

While canned pink salmon is a little better, canned tuna is very dry and really, on its own, not terribly good. To make it more enjoyable, we often toss it with mayonnaise and some salt and pepper and, presto, you have tuna salad!

And this is fine! But, with a the addition of a few other ingredients, tuna or salmon salad can be made far more exciting.

Without further ado, here is my creamy, "deluxe" version. This version is for four normal sized cans of tuna or salmon. Adjust ingredients accordingly to make more or less.

Keen's Dry Mustard...one of my favourite secret ingredients!
4 cans of tuna or pink salmon
8 heaping  tablespoons of mayonnaise
2 heaping tablespoons of Tartar sauce
1 tablespoon of curry powder
1 teaspoon of Keen's Dry Mustard
2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper
1 small jar of capers
1 celery stalk finely chopped
1 green onion stalk finely chopped

Open and drain the tuna/salmon cans and empty into a large mixing bowl. Add the mayo, and tartar sauce and blend together. Add the curry powder, dry mustard, salt, pepper and capers and blend some more. Finally add the celery and green onion and blend. 

As an alternative to Tartar sauce, you can use 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard instead, but I slightly prefer the Tartar sauce. If you like some heat, add a few dashes of Tabasco or a hot sauce of your liking. 

Serve on bread of your choosing, though I like it best on toasted Rye, or, as an alternative, have it on Triscuit or Rye style crackers. 

This blend is really flavourful and helps to jazz up a classic.

I think this is pretty much as good as a canned tuna/salmon gets...but if you have a recipe that is better, send it to theleftchapter@outlook.com and I will make it and post it!

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Bright light.

My mother is leaning towards me, smiling, running her fingers down the side of my face, twirling the stray pieces of my hair...whispering...


Except my name is not Anthony.

Waking up there is a pure and perfect point of pain.  An intense searing violence that seems to be right in the middle of my brain. I feel for a moment, like I could just sit up and vomit all over the bed.

But, the feeling passes.

Looking out of the twenty-second story condo window, still very dark, a January 4:30 a.m. Toronto appears sterile and empty, as it does every morning, and reaching for the Camels I bought on the last junket I light the cigarette in a successful attempt to stave off the desire of my stomach to empty last night's contents.

Out of bed, naked, my chest hair itchy,  my arms and legs sore and my vision dizzy, stumbling to the shower. Ice cold water for a moment, then hot. The water feels like shit. It is like the shower is fucking attacking me. Why the fuck am I awake at all?

Somehow, seemingly seconds later, though that can't be right, right (?), I am in the condo gym, alone, happy it is open the full twenty-four. I am on that machine, the running one, running. And running. The gym windows are fogged by the cold and you could think that the city was a Impressionist painting looking through them. Almost beautiful instead of the dump that the daybreak will reaffirm it as.

An empty financial center full of empty financial people.

My watch says it is six. Six a.m. Too fucking early to go in. Too late to go back to bed.

Kicking open the main suite bar sized second fridge freezer  there is a little of the vodka left. I figure I have an hour to finish it.

Office open, 7:30 a.m. I am there a few minutes later, obligatory black coffee in hand. Receptionist barely registers me as I pass. I have come in before everyone almost everyday I have been in town lately.

Computer on, and I am at it. Activity slowly begins around me, volume level gradually increasing, hellos said, people filing past.

I don't care about any of it. At all. Of course, I say hello, you have to. But I can't wait again until they send me to Paris, Milan or fucking Topeka for that matter. If I never saw any of these people before the day I die, it would be too soon.

Except Alice. But she hasn't been by yet.

Alice, looking at me, eyes wide, "You know this can't go on..." Holding the back of my head as the cell phone bleats out a melody...her husband calling yet again. What was that book that you gave me Alice? That one by Graham Greene?

I walk out into the fierce January cold. Negative twenty today. Just sucks the air right out of your lungs. Going to eat shit knock off Indian food from some Yonge St. take out joint. Won't be there in a few weeks. They all come and go with interchangeably bland fare. People shuffling in line in front and behind me, all dreary looking. The young man behind the counter, handsome. But defeated, I think. He takes my order and he looks just so perfectly bored. Like he must count the seconds of every long and pointless day of relaying these orders to cooks who equally are doing time.

So many people, so many lives, spent doing this totally superfluous shit. When the vast improbability that is the universe decided to grant you the gift of this tiny instance of life, you ended up spending it doing this. Or that. Or what I am doing, also irrelevant.

Ask not if anyone will remember us 100 years from now. No one will care to remember us fifteen minutes after we are gone. Our pictures may be on the mantlepiece for a few years, but nothing we did will linger on. Because, we did nothing.

Up the elevator. The negativeness of this space. I hate the fucking elevator. Caged with people you don't know. All looking ahead. Or forced to listen to tiny fragments of conversations that you are not a part of.

At the desk again, more painkiller.

In the taxi, everything blurring by, down from Bloor to the condo. He is shaking me. Stay awake, buddy. We've been into the whiskeys. The good ones...every drink a bit of liquid gold. Two hundred twenty seven dollars later. Give me one of your obscure words....ok...we have had a jeroboam of whisky my fine asshole of a friend. How is that for obscure. He laughs.

It is noon now. Cell phone buzzes. My lawyer in Montreal. I ignore it.

Anxiety compels me to the bathroom. Lock the door and a few minutes later it feels numb again. My pills can do that to you. Numb but alert. The anxiety gone for now. There is no point in worrying about things that you cannot change or undo.

Jonathon comes down the hall. Ass kisser that one. But Jonathon has a soft spot for me.  He wants to see me at two. Jonathon, tell him I left at one.

He smiles.

It is a Thursday. I might have had somewhere to go.

The bottom of the Scotia Plaza. Small underground bar. Not underground in some revolutionary sense, but literally. No one drinking here at two in the afternoon is making less than $75K. But it is dark all day long. You can pretend it is always nighttime. My kind of place.

Bar is mostly empty. I get a Glenfiddich. Then another. Two tables over are two suits. Assholes you can tell. But that is easy. We are all assholes around here. The biliousness with which the one spouts his puerile reactionary nonsense is nauseating. One of these business know-it-all types. But he doesn't know a fucking thing. I contemplate walking over to his table and punching him right in the face when fortune intervenes on his, (or my?) behalf and I feel a slight touch to my shoulder.

I don't need to look. Its Alice.

She sits down. He's looking for you you know. I know. Why did you leave? What difference? He can find me tomorrow.

She smiles. I don't get you. But you don't need to get me do you? No, I guess not. Detente then. I won't try to understand your motives, and you won't try to understand mine.

A terrible feeling. Like something is bursting out of my chest. I am trying to slow down, but inevitably I will get there, no matter how slow I walk. Long institutional hallways. I am finally at the door. Opening it and the first thing I see is the bed.A few more drinks. I already have a headache. It will get worse, but then better. This is what always happens.

Let's go for dinner. Where? John and Mohammed are at Rodney's. Why not?

We walk down the stairs, Rodney's is packed. After work crowd now.

I order two dozen oysters and a very expensive Chablis.

Mohammed looks great in his blue double breasted. John is a picture of junior executive perfection. Fancy watch, lovely shirt and tie. Expensive cufflinks. I want to kiss them both.

Mohammed is circumspect. We missed you at the meeting today. Had to see a client. Silence. They know I am lying, of course. How did it go? It went as it always goes.

What do you think of Sandra's proposal? I laugh. Guys, do we really care right now?

What did you study? Was it hematology after all? Why did I see you there...that distance I traveled to be away from you? Looking out from the Via car window, you there on the platform awaiting another train to a separate place, and despite wanting to get off and to run back to you, all I could do was to look down at your overshoe.Then it is just Alice and I again. Walking so slowly almost to spite the bitter 10 p.m. air.

Why do you do it? What do you mean? Why don't you just quit? Everyone knows you don't want to be here anymore. They only keep you because you produce. But, Alice, where would I go? And why? Wouldn't anywhere else be just the same? If you have to chose between two identical places to wither, why not chose the one that you are already at?

She kisses me and hails the taxi approaching us. I must leave you my dear. He has become something of a martinet, my husband.

With Cassandra at the bar. She has seen many of my night's ends. The usual crowd is around. A few unknown faces. Cass serves me the draft and the double bourbon. She shouldn't really but she does anyway.

Trying to push through the crowd at the accident site. Coming back to see it. The rope has cordoned off the area around the parking lot and the curious strain to see the remains of what what once a young man. As I turn around, knowing now that what I feared was true, rushing to the stairs of the station, she pushes the Jesus Saves handbill into my chest.

Jesus Saves what?

It is near 2 a.m. Cassandra hands me my last drink. There is no one here now, save her and I. Cassandra, I love you. Now...now...you know I don't sleep with the customers. I know. But even if you did, I would never try. I don't sleep with people I like. What about Alice? Well, I tell you too much Cassandra, I suppose I do like Alice. Well, then maybe you are not so bad after all, I like her too. You only met her once. It was enough. She is married. We are all married to something. I'll call you a taxi.

I wanted normalcy. I wanted to dream the same dream you did. I wanted to be where you were. But we can't always help ourselves. I failed you. I failed you the moment we met. I could never be the person I told you I could be. You understood this long before I could.

Bright light.

My mother is leaning towards me, smiling, running her fingers down the side of my face, twirling the stray pieces of my hair...whispering...


Except my name is not Alexander.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cooking Favorites of Long Branch with Perfect Meat Loaf & Christmas Cake: Vintage Cookbook TBT

Vintage Cookbook: Cooking Favourites of Long Branch, Women's Committee St. Agnes Anglican Church
Publication Details: Self-published, c. 1970's

Cooking Favorites of Long Branch, the historic lakeside south Etobicoke community that I call home, is a nearly perfect embodiment of the old style community cookbook. Put together in the 1970's by the church Women's Committee to raise money for the local St. Agnes Anglican Church  (which was closed in 2005) it is full of folksy recipes and advice contributed by residents of Long Branch.

It is divided into the usual sections, like "Pickles and Relishes", "Salads, Vegetables and Soups", "Meat, Fish & Poultry", etc. In addition, it ends with a section dedicated to oven and time charts, ingredient substitution, measurement tables, etc, as well as a neat page of "Super Quantity Cooking" like doing Cabbage Salad for 175! (20 lb. cabbage, 1 1/2 qt. Miracle Whip, 4 large cans crushed pineapple, 2 bunches carrots).

The cookbook is full of advertisements for community businesses (some of which are gone, some of which remain) and has blank pages for the addition of new recipes one comes across.

As with so many of these community books, it really captures, almost like a snapshot, a tone and a feel for a time and place and the recipes speak to what people saw as "home cooking" and "comfort food". It is also completely free of pretension.

As always we are sharing the recipes exactly as they appeared and that reflect the feel of the book overall.

Perfect Meat Loaf 

Submitted by Prudence Smyth (Mrs. R.W.)

1-1 1/2 lb ground beef
3/4 cup quick cooking oats
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 - 8 oz. tomato and mushroom sauce

Combine first 6 ingredients thoroughly with 1 can tomato and mushroom sauce. Pack firmly into pan (8x4x3 inch loaf pan). Chill one hour. Unmould into a shallow baking pan. Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees F.) for one hour. Pour remaining sauce over loaf. Bake 20 minutes more until loaf is nicely glazed. Makes 6-8 servings.

Christmas Cake

Submitted by Eleanor M. Smith

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
5 eggs
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. each of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup grape juice
3 cups seeded raisins
1 cup seedless raisins
1 1/2 cup dates, chopped
2 cups mixed peel, chopped
1 1/2 cup candied pineapple
1 1/2 cup red and green cherries
1 1/2 cup almonds, chopped

Sift 3/4 cup flour over all fruit. Cream sugar, butter, eggs. Add liquid alternately with flour and spices. Fold in fruit and nuts. Put into greased paper-lined deep pan and bake at 250 degrees F. to 275 degrees F. for two hours.

Tory led city council continues Toronto's tragic transit farce

The tragedy and farce that is Toronto's political capitulation to the cult of the car continues unabated.

Mayor John Tory -- despite the recommendations of the city's own planners and health officials, former mayors and many others -- has managed to narrowly get his "hybrid" Gardiner Expressway plan passed by Toronto City Council and to see the Boulevard plan of basically all experts (less narrowly) defeated.

This is yet another installment in the long and terrible history of the love affair that Toronto's politicians have with cars at the expense of public transit and good sense.

In this case an extra half-billion dollars will be used to ensure that a very small number of drivers will have a very, very slightly shorter commute (approximately 3 minutes) instead of using these funds to, for example, help desperately needed TTC expansion or even just upkeep.

Even worse, there are plans to look at the idea, proposed by Councillor Josh Colle, of possibly leasing or selling the entire Gardiner to the private sector, which would be a doubling-down-on-dumb given the fiasco that was the privatization of Ontario's Highway 407 and that has been privatization in general.

Far from an enviornment where there is a "war on the car" in the city, as former Mayor Rob Ford infamously claimed, the city is at war with its transit users to facilitate even the most minor of conveniences for suburban and other drivers.

Year-after-year one disastrous detour after another is placed in the way of expanding a transit network that in many respects is one meant for a city half its size as Toronto falls further and further behind cities across North America.

From embracing the  Scarborough subway; to a total unwillingness to understand what an LRT even is; to continued and grotesque under-funding and over-reliance on ever more onerous fares as service continues to decline; to, as one nearly perfect example, the most recent Toronto budget that contained an average tax increase on Toronto home-owners that was actually lower than the increase in annual fares on regular transit users; to the hideous eyesore disgrace that is the very Gardiner itself, separating a city from its waterfront -- Toronto is a city beholden to some vision of cars and commuting that hearkens back to an era before we knew just how terribly socially, economically and environmentally destructive this fixation on it was.

It is a situation whose horribly circular reality means that it is only destined to get worse, for it is the very pandering to cars and drivers that creates the stifling congestion that these same politicians rhetorically claim they are trying and are determined to curtail.

See Also: 42-2: John Tory, Toronto City Council and the austerity consensus

Unintended consequences: Attacking Leadnow and "strategic voting"

The Leadnow strategic voting meme
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.

Recently a group calling itself The Real Vote organized a petition calling on Leadnow, a group dedicated to the defeat of the Harper government via an Anything But Conservative (ABC) style "strategic voting" campaign, to stop advocating for voting Liberal in ridings where the Liberals have the best chance of defeating the Conservatives on the grounds that as the Liberals voted for Bill C-51 they are not "progressive". They are suggesting Leadnow, which is "non-partisan" in its efforts to defeat Harper, drop Liberal candidates from its strategic voting campaign; which would mean, in practice, an endorsement of the NDP in all but three or four ridings in the country.

Previously in April, Paul Moist, National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) also attacked Leadnow on the same grounds -- though he was at least openly doing so as an NDP partisan, as he included the Greens (in spite of Elizabeth May's steadfast opposition to Bill C-51 from the start, unlike Tom Mulcair) as also not being "progressive". At the time he said that Leadnow's strategy was "mistaken" and would lead to "unintended consequences".

Yet even if one accepts their premises in whole or in part, these attacks on Leadnow are, in my opinion, profoundly misguided.

If you are a New Democrat they are even misguided from a purely partisan point-of-view.

In fact, despite intentions, saying that “Neither the Liberal Party of Canada nor the Green Party are progressive”, as Moist did, not only implies differences between the progressive parties that are far greater in the minds of NDP partisans than they are in reality, but, far more importantly to those who wish to aid the NDP's cause, serves only alienate many "progressive" voters that the NDP absolutely needs to win government!

In any honest strategic voting effort or narrative (as I have argued previously) the NDP are certain to be the primary beneficiaries as even a cursory analysis of the existing parliamentary reality, as well as recent polls, shows.

Even if one rejects strategic voting as a concept (which I absolutely do -- in fact I support none of the mainstream bourgeois "progressive" parties, the NDP included) the point is that attacking a sincere desire on the part of progressive voters who are inclined to vote for the Greens or the Liberals for "strategic" reasons to defeat the Harper regime, or denouncing the parties that some progressives are normally inclined to support but who may be leaning to voting NDP this time, far from making them more likely to switch over to the NDP, is quite likely to have the opposite effect.

There are some rather obvious reasons for this.

First, as the last Ekos poll showed, a far greater number of Liberal voters, 45%, see the NDP as their second choice as opposed to those who see the Conservatives as such, which is only 12%. Three times as many Green Party voters have the NDP as their second choice (24%) as opposed to the Liberals (7%) or the Conservatives (8%).

Regardless of how leftists and New Democrats may see these Liberal and Green voters, what is important is how they see themselves -- and many of them quite clearly see  themselves and the parties to which they are primarily committed as progressive.

Telling them that they are fundamentally wrong (or that all the other parties are the same) is, frankly, a truly bad "strategy" -- especially given that, to any objective observer, the NDP and Liberals have never been closer ideologically. They are almost like wings of the American  Democratic Party.

This is also a bad strategy irrespective of how one feels about strategic voting and is true even though there is no doubt that leftists and New Democrats should always be critical of specific positions taken by these parties, most especially the appalling and pandering position, now backfiring terribly it seems, taken by Justin Trudeau on Bill C-51.

The point is that the focus of the NDP, ( and, one might note, the party's strategists do seem to be increasingly getting this) should always be the Conservative government and not its opponents, as not only is this what an opposition party that truly sees itself as the next government would do, but also because it sets the NDP up as the natural alternative to the Tories in a way that is not designed to drive swing voters the NDP needs away from the party.

This is part of how the NDP and its partisans can reframe the strategic voting narrative. It will not happen by talking about how the Liberals and the Greens are "not progressive" (even if you cling to the notion that the NDP is fundamentally different) or by attacking groups like Leadnow whose supporters are committed opponents of Harper, which is, if nothing else,  a clear starting point in trying to get them to "lend you" their vote.

Ultimately, any strategy to attract the needed Liberal/NDP swing voters is not really about the Liberal Party at all -- it is about these voters!

And the ones that are important to the NDP are dedicated to seeing Harper defeated.

In the last Ontario election, the ONDP and its partisans almost seemed to go out of their way to alienate progressive voters like these using a similar line of reasoning to Moist's about the Liberals (and, one supposes, Liberal voters) as well as some odd notion that the really important objective was to win over Conservative "swing" voters -- an absurd miscalculation, even though the Liberals were the government (albeit a minority one), that would only be more absurd with a Conservative government.

This did not turn out particularly well.

The strategy's fundamental flaws continued to be revealed in the recent Ontario by-election in Sudbury. 

There can be unintended consequences to every strategy -- and this one could easily drive Liberals and Greens leaning to the NDP right back where they came from.

See Also: The NDP and the strategic voting narrative

Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and the Spartacus League: Leftist TBT

In June of 1916, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were imprisoned by the Imperial German authorities for their steadfast opposition to World War I.

They had split from the Social Democratic Party, which capitulated to nationalism and backed the war and the German war effort, and they had formed the Spartacus League in January of 1916.

50 years later East Germany released a stamp set to commemorate them and their bravery.

Both went on to participate in the founding of the Communist Party of Germany on December 30, 1918. A mere fortnight later both were murdered by the authorities after an abortive uprising.

Karl Liebknecht's final cry for a better tomorrow, written on the very day of his death, still rings out today, despite all the detours, defeats, setbacks and disillusionments of the last hundred years.

It is never too late to write the future!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Art: Welcome

Welcome - Acrylic on Canvas by Natalie Lochwin
Click on image to enlarge

(Prints of Natalie's art are available, email theleftchapter@outlook.com for details)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Pesto Encrusted Boneless Leg of Lamb

Let sit covered in the pesto, at room temperature, for 1 hour
Boneless leg of lamb is a great family or dinner party main anytime of the year...not just at Easter!

Today we will take a look at one of my favourite ways of preparing it -- by covering it in pesto and roasting it at two different temperatures. The method works for any size leg, though the one pictured here was 3 1/2 pounds (so a somewhat smaller one). What I particularly like about this method is that it creates a nice "crust" on the lamb and also results in there being different levels of cooking within the roast so it can cater to more tastes.

First, take out your leg of lamb and cover it in the pesto (you can make your own or use a pre-made). Cover and let sit a room temperature (not in the fridge) for an hour. Boneless legs usually come in a string mesh. Keep this in place during cooking and until carving.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

After cooking, let rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes
Place the lamb on a roasting pan with a rack (this works better than on a flat pan) and roast on the middle rack for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 and roast until it reaches your preferred level of "doneness".

I like it rare, though most people like medium-rare or medium. As always, if you must cook it well-done, I don't want to hear about it!

The best way to gauge this is using a cooking thermometer of whatever type you own (the best are those where you do not have to open the oven).  For rare you want to remove the lamb when it is at around 120, for medium rare 125 and for medium 130.  This will take (not including the first 15 minutes of high heat roasting) around 10-13 minutes a lb for rare, 13-17 for medium rare and 17-20 for medium -- but really, using a thermometer takes out the guesswork.

It is a beautiful thing!
When done let the leg of lamb rest at room temperature before cutting for between 30 and 45 minutes depending on the size of the roast.

This pairs very well with rice, a nice pasta salad, mint sauce and, of course, a good bottle of red wine.