Gerard’s Blog: See-Food Diet

Free Willy is on my mind.  Listening to the turmoil in my guts is bringing back to my consciousness all the sounds of the poor whale in distress.  In fact, it even feels as if Willy is inside of me, searching for escape, pounding against the delicate lining of my intestines.

It’s been almost two weeks off “The Program.”  I’ve been bathing my body in unrestraint.  Eating without thought.  See-food diet, some might call it. Cherries, oranges, kiwis, bananas, sweetened yogurt, ice-cream, bread and bagels and cake.  And then, more bread.  And literally, testing the waters with coffee, beer and wine. And according to the weight scale and belt, my body has been sucking in the calories with all the haste of a bear anticipating an early winter.  Eight pounds in thirteen days.  Not bad, if only one was a bear.

But, aside from the weight, this new experiment with consumption has had other notable effects.  I’m feeling pushed and pulled, chemically altered.  Instantly, the effect of caffeine hits my head, creating urgency where none is required, disrupting the calm.  After three or four cups, my heart races and my pulse skips.  My stomach bloats, twists and groans.  My intestines are rushed and my prostate feels like a single sandbag against the relentless floodwaters of a Red River spring. Yesterday, I had to run to the washroom and then passed water for so long that I could have squeezed in a decent nap. And I have zero tolerance for alcohol.  It too, goes straight to my head, sending it in a spin, making me feel otherworldly, strange and unfamiliar.

And while I feel pushed by caffeine and alcohol, I am more notably pulled by sugar.  For this “honeymoon” phase at least, sugar owns me.  I can eat a sweet, feel full, and then have absolutely no inclination to stop eating.  How’s that for successful marketing!  And the same holds for wheat and pastry products, all of which my body seems to recognize as recent deprivations in disguise. It has been nice to spice things up with a little salt and pepper.  And we have eaten a few restaurant meals, giving us all a break from the domestic routine.  But the new tastes are not what I thought.  They are not better, and in many cases, they are significantly worse; just coated with spice and sugar and fat.

The new diet admittedly offers more variety and complexity, but these tastes are also more confusing.  It is difficult to identify what I am ingesting, and all too often something that is really inferior is hiding under the sauce.  I guess, through all this, we have discovered the origin of the phrase, “sugar-coated.” So, perhaps the takeaways are to become a more discerning eater, to become alert to the sugar-coating, to be aware of the empty calories which are most appropriate for the pre-hibernation phase of a bear’s life, to learn to enjoy the simplicity of high value and nutrient rich foods, and to maintain variety and occasional liberties.  

And remember to listen when your body talks back to you, because under no circumstances should there be a whale living in your intestines!

Gerard’s Blog: Opining the Fridge

Just a couple of days left on “The Program.”  Regardless, I expect that much of our diet will remain unchanged:  we will continue to support local agriculture as much as we can, not only because the quality and nutritional value is superior, but also as a means of economic support for those locals who are making the effort, despite the unlikely odds.

But there is still this unshakable craving for convenience and sugar and salt.  I can’t recall whether this preceded “The Program” or not, but I have taken to late night cravings.  I find myself drawn to the kitchen, looking for that little something to cap the day off.  Something that says, “Well done, now enjoy this!”  A treat.

And usually, a quick survey of the fridge immediately discloses to me those food items of low interest.  Sometimes I just can’t place that unmet desire, and I then go through the process of elimination, trying one thing at a time in a desperate attempt to hit the nail on the head. And it is clear to me that we are not all wired the same. 

Last night, as I stood forlorn in front of the open fridge, all I could hear was the quipping of Suzanne, “why don’t you have some of that moose liver pate?  It goes really well on that bread I made.”  (The bread is hard, dark, flat, dry and about 2 weeks old.)  Then, without losing breath, she lists off my options in a speedy staccato: “Go down to the pantry and get some bottled moose meat so you can boil up a soup.  There are chicken carcases in the freezer that you can boil up to make a nice broth.  Try a mug of hot water; maybe you’re just thirsty.  There is some kefir in the fridge. Have you given any thought to the possibility that your late-night cravings might actually be the body’s misrepresentation of just being tired?  Why don’t you heat up some milk and froth it?   I don’t understand why you don’t like frothed milk when you readily eat cheese, yogurt and ice-cream by the gallon, and they all come from the same cow.  Why don’t you like frothed milk?  Why don’t you learn to like it?  I don’t understand!”

Meanwhile, I’m still transfixed in front of the open fridge, looking deep for dietary inspiration.  All I can see are various mason jars of partially decipherable identities and dates.  Many seem to contain whey, while some have meat products in them.  Others have floating berries in a cloudy fermenting solution, the only thing lacking being the skull and crossbones identifier.  There is something wrapped in cheese cloth, and intuitively, I highly suspect that I will not quench my craving by indulging in the contents within.  There are two jars of promising-looking cream but unfortunately, both are labelled, “SAVE!”  Two large gallon jars are filled with milk, clearly needing to be skimmed before being subjected to late-night culinary impulse.  There is a whole chum salmon thawing on a cookie sheet.  There is fresh Market Garden produce galore, including onions, zucchinis, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, radish and lettuce.

And in the deeper recesses of the fridge, there are the really dangerous things; the things that were failed experiments, still awaiting their final opportunity for recognition as potential marvels.  These nearly-missed-miracles-of-creation are obviously too precious to toss, regardless of their age.  Why, everyone knows that one more day of fermentation might be all that is required…

These are the items my eyes are casting over, while my ears are being assaulted by Suzanne’s diatribe about the easy access to perfectly valid snack material, all just at my misguided fingertips.  There is clearly a perceptional disconnect at play here.  It became poignantly obvious when, just as I thought these very same words, they were uttered by Suzanne: “I don’t understand!”

Gerard’s Blog: Dish Soap Opera

I counted them!  Crazy, I know, but it goes to show the depths of madness that one can descend into, given the right circumstances. It was the dishes, I counted. With my own silly encouragement, the family headed off to the Dempster to do a few days of hiking. I needed everyone out of the house so that I could wash and re-surface the sad and neglected wooden floors of our home.

With all the domestic industry over the past year, the floor of the kitchen was worn right down to the bare wood.  In front of the tired old stove the floor was scalloped from the friction of our children’s feet, a consequence of enslaved hours in the name of processing local food.  A sort of work-to-eat program for them.  Which, in turn, resulted in a varathane-to-eat program for me.  I think all the money we saved on food went directly to the suppliers of floor repair products.

So, back to the count.  When the early morning mayhem ended and the family was happily on the road, I settled down to tidy up the kitchen.  Having finished a huge stack of dishes the previous evening I was comforted with the expectation that, since breakfast was the only interim meal, there would be a modicum of toil ahead of me.  I was never more wrong!

A quick glance at the clock showed that it was only 7:30 am.  A glance at the kitchen revealed a culinary apocalypse. There were 2 frying pans, 4 pots, 3 cookie sheets, 6 dehydrator foils, 4 zip-lock bags, 3 mason jars, 2 one-gallon milk jugs, 1 ice-cream maker, 2 cutting boards, 1 blender, 3 chopping knives, 2 metal spatulas, 3 wooden stirring spoons, 2 rubber scrapers, 1 potato masher, 1 cheese cloth, 1 garlic press, and for some unexplainable reason, each and every one of our complete set of measuring cups!  And, as for my expectation of breakfast dishes, there were only 4 plates and 4 forks…

I still don’t know how this happened.  Everyone was up till midnight.  I slept till 7:00 am.  Did anyone else sleep or was this all Suzanne, fueled by summer and a pressing deadline?  Was she up all night, making ice-cream, dehydrating food, cooking for the trip?  Was she simply experimenting with each and every one of our cooking utensils, searching for their individual pros and cons?  Or did she just want to leave a lasting impression of her industry in this year-long pursuit, something that perhaps, I might write about?

Gerard’s Blog: Contemplating Culinary Control

It only took 30 hours. An overnight trip to Whitehorse, medicinally supplemented with a few coffees and Monster drinks to maintain energy and alertness, and then back on “The Program.” And the price has been two days of caffeine withdrawal headaches. It seems that our bodies adapt more readily to the intake of nutrients and chemicals than it does to their removal. How unfortunate.

Simplistically, it helps one understand addiction and the inherent struggles with recovery. It took my body only 30 hours to adapt to, and depend on, the regular consumption of coffee. Meanwhile, it took months for this same body to accept even a diminished intake of sugar and grains. So much for mind over matter.

I’ve mentioned before that one of my ambivalences about coming off “The Program” is the potential for loss of thought about food choices. On the one hand, I look forward to the ease of eating indiscriminately. On the other, I worry about the loss of taste discrimination and the loss of altruistic thoughts about food security.

It was nice to be able to eat at a restaurant in Whitehorse. But, the barbequed ribs were not barbequed at all. They were simply bathed in barbeque sauce, which on first bite, tasted bold and delicious to my virgin taste buds. Scrapping away the sauce revealed overcooked and tasteless pork, much worse than the “happy meat,” to which I have become accustomed. The fries tasted like a crusty conduit for bad grease, hidden beneath a generous dousing of salt, the ubiquitous masquerader. The small piece of corn-on-the-cob was tough and tasteless, suggesting that the chef decided it was best to pawn off the remnants of last year’s stock, before the fresh, delicious, new stuff arrives…

Makes one think that taking control of one’s dietary intake does have its merits. Another distinction of eating conveniently from stores, and one that is also worthy of reiteration, is the production of garbage that this entails. With virtually every individual item coming in its own designated package of single-use plastic or Styrofoam or tin or paper or cardboard, this rapidly adds up. Again, I had generated an embarrassingly notable bag of garbage by the end of my short trip, about the same as our whole family now produces in a week.

And while eating conveniently on the run feels decadent on the one hand, there is the undeniable lingering question about the wisdom of our course. Sure, we all want to do less dishes: washing out zip lock bags, jars, and plastic containers for repurposing, is neither convenient or fun. Just ask my kids. But, aside from the individual desire to minimize effort, it is time to re-evaluate the sustainability of the current retail business.

Hey, my headache is gone! Perhaps, just perhaps, there was more to it than caffeine withdrawal, after all…

Gerard’s Blog: Appreciation Depreciation

Yesterday, I ate a tomato.  And today I ate a radish.  While I was luxuriating in the taste, it dawned on me that for the majority of the local population, this would not necessarily be a treat; that most people would not have gone many months without those foods.  Most people use stores.  And stores facilitate the access of foods from all over the world, regardless of the season.

I have to admit that eating local brings with it the excitement of renewed tastes as we immerse ourselves into the summer.  It is great to have fresh haskaps again.  And salad greens.  And the steamed turnip tops are to die for.  And each day unleashes a fresh supply of abundance and variety.  It feels magical and decadent after a winter of waiting for the onions to run out.

Strange, but I’m starting to feel that my appreciation for food might suffer when we return to the non-local diet.  Maybe it will all seem too easy, too undeserving. Will I really savor the taste and value the opportunity to eat fresh strawberries in February?  Coconuts and pineapples in Dawson?  Or will the process of shopping and eating become mechanized, without much deliberation or thought?  Will thoughts of local opportunity, unnecessary transportation, food storage and seasonal limitations all be forgotten?

I did not enjoy using my living space as a storage silo, so that I won’t miss.  But maybe I will miss a part of what comes with living with your food supply: the awareness of knowing exactly what you must make do with, the appreciation of limitations, the necessity to find creativity within those limitations. 

Everyone who enjoys camping and backpacking is essentially enjoying exactly that: a time when you must persevere with what you have, a time of restraint, and a time of discipline. The coffers have food aplenty with only three weeks to go on “the Diet.”  And with the forest and gardens producing, there is no anxiety about scurvy or beri-beri.  We will make it. 

I expect there will be a shock effect from that cold beer on a hot afternoon, or with the dough that has yeast added to it, or with that salt brine lathered on top of a roast.  It will seem weird to eat in public or go to a restaurant.  But this will pass. 

I remember that when we returned from our winter in the bush there was a similar transient sense of disbelief and undeserving, when a simple twist of the tap produced hot running water. I am looking forward to the ease of eating and the convenience of unrestricted access.  I am ready to not talk about food, or to think about it.  I’m really looking forward to a glass of wine and a banana, for some reason.  It feels like I have no memory of ever having experienced the taste of an orange. 

So, there is always room for reflection, but for now, it’s almost time to bring out the coffee!

Gerard’s Blog: On Weighty Matters

One month to go, then back to normal.  Or, have I got that wrong?  This “local” diet has been the mainstay of human sustenance since the first green shoots erupted in the Fertile Crescent?  That which we now consider normal, is in reality, a modern expectation that stems from a cheap and well-organized transport system.  It begs the question as to whether this current food delivery style is either normal or sustainable.

The beginning of each month heralds “weigh-in day.”  Suzanne has been logging the entries dutifully.  Once a scientist, always a scientist.  Looking for logic in numbers, searching for correlations.  The weigh-in day is a reminder to me that this is, after all, just an experiment.  It too, shall pass.

A glimpse at the numbers reveals that in the second half of this “game,” the male members have steadily gained weight.  The women have either lost or held steady.  So what can be deduced? As for my son, well, he is in that teenage anabolic stage of life, when the simple act of looking at a calorie equates to muscle growth.  How unfair, I say to him, that at his age he only needs to sleep and eat to get better at everything he does, while those of us from the older generation can only measure success by the slowness with which we deteriorate.

During the first three to four months of the program, my weight dropped like gold in a sluice box.  About 10 pounds per month.  The wasting was so profound that if it wasn’t for my insatiable appetite and for my increased vigor, I would have worried more about some sinister disease lurking in my inner depths.  Still, the thought did cross my mind.

As winter encroached, the lack of body fat became a problem: I simply could not stay warm.  With virtually no grains in my diet, I turned to fat, sugar and starch.  The hunger stopped, the cold intolerance disappeared, and the weight returned.  My skin-folds became thicker than that on the back of my hand.  My ribs, once again hid from view.  My pants and underwear resisted the embarrassing pull of gravity.  The beard was no longer essential to hide the hollow in my cheeks.

There has always been an abundance of animal fat in this relatively protein-rich diet.  I increased on this by upping the amount of ingested cream:  homemade ice-cream, berries with cream, anything with cream.  The sugar came primarily from birch syrup.  Added to cream, added to sauces, added to waffles and increasing doses of breakfast clafouti.  The main contributor of starch was the potato.  It became a winter staple, a daily part of supper and a frequent part of the fried breakfast concoction.  My potato dependence has given new appreciation to the profound devastation of the blight of Ireland in the mid 1800’s.

So, to those of you wanting to gain weight, my advice is simple:  either increase your intake of sugar and starch, or revert to adolescence.

Gerard’s Blog: Blender Splendour

There’s one tool that’s proving to be indispensable on this diet program.   And, I’m happy, even proud, to say that it was my foresight that brought said tool into our house.

A few years ago I went through a stage of craving smoothies.  And our ancient Value Village blender was not making the task of home-made smoothie production either easy or fun.  The ice cubes would not shred and there would be surprise clumps of fruit obstructing the straws and gagging the palate. A detailed online research repeatedly directed me to the Vitamix, so to heck with the expense, off to the store I went. 

It was one of those purchases that I felt required no justification or explanation: the best is the best. My wife thought the expense was extravagant and needless.  I battled her taunting by immersing the family in offerings of smoothies.  Smoothies for breakfast, smoothies for desert, smoothies on hot afternoons.  Smoothies on winter movie nights and smoothies as a way of disguising leftovers.  Smoothies, I learned, could be the vector for injecting green vegetables into a sweet snack.  Smoothies, in short, were the embodiment of dietary excellence, wrapped in a package of convenience and decadence.

Perhaps I overdid it.  Soon, I couldn’t pay enough for the kids to accept a smoothie of questionable content.  Perhaps, I had taken the nutritional thing a step too far. Too many green smoothies.  Too many dried bagels dissolved and disguised in the body of a smoothie. So, the blender took a rest.  It started to live the life that Suzanne had predicted from the beginning.  It became a red and black decorative piece on a counter that was designed for function, not fashion.  It was in the way.

But then … then came “The Diet!”  And this new sugarless life was fertile ground for a yearning for something sweet, something different than another baked potato.  And so, the blender has throttled back into action.  Gentlemen, fire up your engines! Now, the blender is a daily contributor to our nutrient load.  We still have berries from last Fall in our freezers, and we have access to yogurt and milk, and birch syrup is our sweetener. 

So, smoothies are back!  And not only that, the blender is now used to make butter.  You can tell that we have entered the world of mechanization by our forearms, which are shriveling back to normal human size. So, we have come full circle.  Nothing like a little winter of deprivation to teach the masses about the benefits of a great blender. 

And, in the process I feel vindicated for that extravagant purchase so many years ago, clearly now a harbinger in disguise.

Gerard’s Blog: Nuclear Fishin’

I’m awake early.  Sounds of ocean waves crashing against stubborn granite fill the air.  I’m at home, in the Yukon, far from the ocean.  I pinch myself; yes, I am awake. It’s the new thing, apparently: sound recordings to lull babies to sleep. 

My daughter is here visiting with her baby daughter, so the ocean is pounding through the night at our house.  I wonder if this is not so much about sleep as it is my daughter’s subliminal desire to firmly entrench our Newfoundland heritage into the makeup of the next generation.  Lest we forget… 

Perhaps my daughter secretly wanted a mermaid.  Or a fish?  In any event, if there is a remote chance that sound can influence the genetic composition of the young, then I expect any day now to see scales. But more than anything, the sound is filling me with a yearning.  I’m missing the water.  My boat is in the repair shop and so my Spring fix is being agonizingly postponed.  And, I think this feeling of incompletion is worsened because of the withdrawal from my daily sojourns to the river over the winter. 

I hadn’t realized the paradox, that by fishing for burbot in the winter, I too was being hooked, lured back into distant familiarities.  To fish is to be fished. One notable thing about the Yukon is the dramatic seasonal changes.  And with that comes new perspectives, new activities and new recreational pursuits.  It’s time to put burbot thoughts aside.  Time for trout and grayling.  Time for fresh greens and asparagus and radishes and tomatoes and strawberries.  Time again to roam the forest and munch on spruce trees!

And maybe, when my daughter is unsuspecting, I can expose the next generation to enough Yukon delights such that this too, will forever be as entrenched within her as the sounds of the ocean.

Gerard’s Blog: A Question of Compromise

I’ve been away for a bit.  Living the life of the normal mass of humanity.  Eating salt and sugar and chocolate and coffee and bread.  Lots of bread and pastry.  Relishing in croissants, light and fluffy, laced in butter (the salted type please!).  Cereals for breakfast.  Taking full advantage of the utility of commercial stores, buying food and consuming food while on the move.  Rediscovering the sheer decadence of  grabbing an ice-cream bar when a bit peckish on the road, marveling at not having to peel a potato and watch it boil as the stomach growls in wanton anticipation.

Sometimes we wonder about human progress.  We wonder about the cost of convenience, about skills that have been abandoned, then lost.  We marvel at the rise of dough in a pan or the conversion of agitated milk into butter.  We love to see fresh garden shoots, sprouting from inert seed to vibrant life, made possible with the magical combination of dirt, sun, soil and water. 

It is easy to sentimentally linger in the past, easy to feel that we have become disconnected from the entanglement of chemistry which defines life. But the human quest for convenience is not a recent event.  We have always strived to make life more comfortable, to anticipate future needs and to mitigate risks.  Thus, societies were born, and dependence on agriculture offered more predictability than the nomadic life of the hunter/gatherer.  To grow, harvest and store food with increasing efficiency is to be human.

So, it is no surprise that we have evolved into our current state, where food is  processed, packaged and shipped prodigiously.  And while we can all agree that this process allows for some nutrient loss as well as the addition of some unwanted preservatives and additives, we cannot deny the necessity.  We can’t all go shoot a moose.  Nor can most of us grow and store our own food, regardless of how good it tastes or how nutritious it might be.

So, modern life must be about compromise.  Be attentive to our food and make the most practical and healthy choices we can.  Enjoy our indulgences but try to keep them infrequent enough such that we do not suffer from the health consequences that so often accompany them. And did I mention that adding a few spruce tips to a mug of boiled water is a pleasant drink with which to start the day? .

Gerard’s Blog: Fishing for Complements

What are the chances that the burbot are concerned for my welfare? They’ve been offering themselves up with some regularity over the past month or two.

Graeme Gibson, in his book, The Bedside Book of Beasts, refers to the fact that amongst many species, one individual will sometimes offer itself for the slaughter when there is an obvious threat to the group. And all of us who have hunted can recall at least one incident when something other than our hunting prowess accounted for our success. Luck? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it was that particular animal’s chosen destiny.

So, do you think the word is out amongst the burbot and they are worried about our extinction, a painful and slow starvation on this local diet? Is that why they have been generous with their personal sacrifices? Or perhaps they’ve gotten wind of the fact that they contain more mercury than most fish and are compensating for their shortfall by way of this generosity.

After all, it wouldn’t demand much research on their part to learn that humans are not in the least deterred from eating foods which contain a multitude of toxins! So what’s a little mercury? Or, possibly the mercury has gotten to them, affecting their higher cognitive functions, and they know not what they do, for they are all buzzing about, literally as mad as a burbot!

The burbot meat, by the way, is delicious. It is white, flaky and light, with minimal smell. It’s great when fried or added to stews or soups. The fried liver is reminiscent of a lightly cooked scallop. It is a very easy fish to eat, preferable to most other fish. It is unfortunate that the mercury intake recommendations suggest eating no more than one serving per week.

Success at the fishing holes has recently fallen off. Is it the fact that there is competing food available for them? (Still, their stomachs are usually empty, despite the fact that the water is now teeming with larvae). Or could the new water turbidity be affecting their desire to take the lure? Or the change of light? Temperature? Increasing current? Just plain tired of the same kind of bait, day after day, with no change in the menu? Or, could it be that they are avoiding my hooks because they know that break-up looms and they feel it is high time to get off the ice?

You see, my hunch was right, they are concerned for my welfare after all…

Gerard’s Blog: Watching Winter Wane

Yesterday, it felt like being at the fishing holes was the best possible place on earth.  The sun burned on the skin.  There was a free display of ice in all its forms, something unappreciable in low light and deep cold.  Crystal ice, as clear and transparent as glass, jumped out for recognition.  There was ice impregnated with sticks and debris, bringing new appreciation to its depth and genesis.  And the recent  surface water was freshly frozen, splintering like broken glass in all directions as I walked;  a cosmetic distraction from the treacherousness of spring travel.  There was no wind and all was quiet except for the gentle swishing from yet another burbot on my line.

By my definition, we are now in the third and final stage of winter.  This is the time when I do not want winter to end.  We still have enough snow and ice to allow efficient travel.  We have intensity of light paired with ever lengthening days.  It is cold enough to keep the bugs at bay.  It is warm enough to encourage outside work but not so warm as to make it insufferable.  And all is clean, the inevitable mud still biding its time.

I consider the fall months to be our introduction to winter.  It is the time when the bulk of snow accumulates and our bodies adapt to the increasing cold.  It is a time when the concept of winter is still novel and we preoccupy ourselves with new recreational opportunities.  And we are distracted from the progressive darkness by the imminence of Christmas.

The second phase of winter is heralded by the dark, cold months.  The euphoria of the Holiday Season has ended, and we gauge the progression of our lives by how long we have endured the most recent cold snap.  We worry about how much wood our stoves are gobbling up, doing the mental math of consumption rate versus supply every time we fill the wheelbarrow at the woodshed.  We wander through our houses, taking note of the drafty spots, making the familiar false promises to ourselves that, come this summer, we will most definitely rectify the situation.  We forget to shave and cut our hair.  We confuse night with day.  Those that can, are off to exotic lands….unless they particularly enjoy despondency and morbid introspection.

But then, our “spring winter” is suddenly upon us and the melancholia melts away.  We forget about the empty woodshed and mounting fuel bills.  We toss the parka and walk with a spring.  We speak in full sentences again.  We plan for summer.  When asked by the returning folks how our winter was, we minimalistically respond, “great, just great!” And off we go to soak up the beauty at the burbot holes …

Gerard’s Blog: Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow

Setting rabbit snares was a common adolescent pursuit when I grew up in rural Newfoundland.  We often set our “slips” as a side interest when fishing for trout.  It was the era of self-created recreation. And my mother was totally supportive.  She would regularly buy rabbits from whomever came to the door with them for sale.  “Two dollars a brace.” 

I still have memories from my pre-school years, holding rabbits up by their hind legs while mom skinned and gutted them.  It was an intimate time, each of us tugging against the other, laughing at the foulness of the smell.  And at supper time, mom would relish in the repulsion of others as she picked at the cooked heads on her plate of stew.

I thought it would be an easy and natural transition to set snares here in the Yukon during this winter of eating local.  It was, after all, a skill I had not totally let lapse.  When I worked in Northern Saskatchewan as a young doctor I often set slips.  I would check them before work in the early mornings with a flashlight, as headlamps were yet to become the normal northern winter adornment that they have now become. 

It was an opportunity to endear myself with the older generation who were familiar with subsistence eating.  It gave us common ground, an opportunity to lighten the conversation before launching into the drama of their personal illnesses.

Back then, as if living in a remote northern community wasn’t rustic enough, I liked to “get away from it all” by going on short bush stints.  I developed a proficiency in building quincys and “bow-whiffets.”  I would go with whomever I could convince, on a weekend excursion of cold, physical exhaustion, disrupted sleep, meager food intake and uncertainty. 

Of course, success with the rabbit snares was part of the calibrated need.  My buddy Bob, some thirty years later, still laments the time that we were on one such trip.  It was -43 and we were hungry and cold, sleeping in a tiny quincy that was too shallow to even allow us to turn on our sides.  Checkers, the dog that was with us, later succumbed to pneumonia.  We set a number of snares and had only one rabbit. 

As we hungrily approached the last snare, we realized that there was a living rabbit, loosely caught.  In my effort to dispatch the critter, I accidently cut the wire, giving us the dubious satisfaction of watching the happy rabbit lope away.  So impacted by the event, Bob reminds me of these details on each of our reunions.

So, I had full expectations of providing the family with wild rabbit this winter.  But all I have to show for my efforts is the loss of my good ox-head axe.  Not a single rabbit.  Not even a slip that was brushed aside.  Seems that these rabbits were not interested in using runs predictably; they kept slipping the slips.  It became laborious and tedious to do the daily checks without reward, so I accepted defeat, haunted by the scorn of my friend, Bob.

But, “what goes around, comes around.”  We were rewarded for catching no rabbits.  After expecting nothing from the Easter Bunny during this year of sugar deprivation, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he made an exceptional effort for our household.  I was awaken on Easter Day by the sounds of glee from my youngest.  There were hidden treats throughout the house:  birch syrup toffee, dehydrated berry packages, and carrots galore! 

And, I appreciate the carrots the most, since I know that they represent the greatest personal sacrifice from the perspective of The Bunny.  All things happen for a reason…

Gerard’s Blog: Thought for Food

I once read that a significant contributor to the modern day North American obesity epidemic is genetic memory from the years of starvation during the American Civil War.  Essentially then, we have been on the rebound for a couple of hundred years, pouncing on the bountiful availability of food.  And by all physical appearances, we are well along the path of annihilation of that genetic memory, hell-bent on the creation of genetic bliss.

But what if our genes also have a short term memory?  What if this dietary experimentation of Suzanne’s has the same rebound potential?

I have been out of Dawson for more than a week now, taking in the Arctic Winter Games.  I’m off the diet, grazing as I go on whatever seems edible.  I’m amazed by the ease of eating without consciousness, of eating whatever is accessible, of eating without deliberation. 

And there is the re-found convenience of packaging:  I am able to carry food with me now, whether that is a package of muffins, or a bag of chips, or a can of root beer, or a handful of chocolate bars.  Because of packaging, I find myself always with food, no longer having to cope with a begging tummy that somehow feels forgotten and abandoned in the melee of life.  My tummy and my genes are happy.

I was sitting with my son the other day, watching the gold medal table tennis match, when I noticed a wrapped sandwich in his hand.  I said rather unconvincingly that it was nice of him to bring his starving father some food from the athlete’s cafeteria.  He responded that he is experiencing the compulsion of grabbing food whenever he sees it, regardless of the need, and regardless of hunger.  I said that I also, was succumbing to a “see-food” diet.  Seems that we are both on the rebound. 

And I somehow doubt that this new shared phenomenon of food hoarding has much to do with the American Civil War! And all would be fine if my food selection was reasonably healthy.  But what I’m noticing is that my temptations are unabashedly succumbing to the lure of empty calories. 

For three days in a row, I found myself choosing from the “sale” bin of chocolate bars at the Northern Store.  Similarly, I was magnetically attracted to the pastry section, where I could buy muffins by the six-pack.  I found myself mesmerized in the chip and Dorito section, internally debating the flavors and prices, deluded by the prospect that there might be any true “value” in the purchase.  And after an eight month abstinence, and perhaps as a way of assuaging my growing guilt about poor food choices, I could not seem to get enough bananas.

I’ve noticed that my waistline is expanding, despite increasing my exercise.  And I’ve noticed that I experience no real hunger with these foods of high glycemic index.  Contrastingly, in the Fall, when my diet contained no sugar and no grains, I felt constantly chilled and hungry, and the fat melted off my bones.

So,  my take-home message?  Enjoy feeling hungry.  Not necessarily constantly, but for some portion of every day I will tolerate the awareness of an emptiness within.  And if nothing else, it will bring a closer connection to my famine-suffered ancestors of old.

Gerard’s Blog: Social Deprivation and Isolation

There are times when I wonder about this project. Like when there is an event involving food or drink. Which seems to be continuously, in Dawson. So, I find myself in a constant state of wonder and doubt.

Obviously, the festive holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving pose a problem, not so much in the hampered ability to celebrate in our own home, but in the ability to eat outside the home. And I was surprisingly blindsided during the last hockey tournament when, after looking forward to the banquet, it suddenly dawned on me that there was absolutely no point in attending a banquet without being able to either eat or drink. So home I went. And likewise, during the day of games as hunger was entrenching, I was unable to just pop out to the concession for a quick bite. So, hunger I endured.

Of course, these examples are all surmountable; with a little preparation and foresight, I could pack lunches and pre-empt such pitiful notions of deprivation. But, I don’t. No good reason, I just don’t. So, I am left to wallow in a state of self-imposed social isolation, for I am more aware now than ever, that almost all social functions eventually involve food and drink.

For many months I was enjoying the novelty of letting my beard grow thick and wild. I had not realized that this was made possible because of the lack of social eating. It simply did not matter that, through the mass of fur, food could not find its way to my mouth! Nor would there be risk of embarrassment because of food debris being trapped in the facial fuzz. Just another benefit directly attributable to “The Program.”

I miss chocolate and so does Suzanne. It was only fitting therefore, that on Valentine’s Day, I gave her an “up-cycled” tin that once was the bearer of chocolate. In it were colorful candy wrappers, each containing pieces of dried zucchini and meat jerky. This whole thing was her idea after all!

Gerald’s Blog: Ode to a True Survivalist

If only humans were part burbot.  With our current medical knowledge, we might live forever if we were fortunate enough to have appropriate additions of burbot DNA.  And I have little doubt that burbot DNA infusions would be a sure-fire way of toughening up the human species. 

One would, of course, have to exercise due precaution in the dosing:  too much infusing might not only disqualify one from the category of “human,” but could also contribute to deleterious effects such as growing barbels where once there were beards, or preferring to mate in the darkest, muddiest, coldest confines.  Hmm, come to think of it, based on some visible human behaviour and phenotypes, perhaps there have already been some surreptitious burbot-to-human genetic transplantations …

You see, burbot do not like to die.  Obviously, they are tough, thriving in the coldest of silty waters, enduring months of minimal food, living under ice in the darkest of conditions, only then to survive the relentless grinding of house-sized ice floes and spring floods, protected only by a slimy skin and a solitary barbel.  Clearly, the burbot is the quintessential survivalist. You can bonk a burbot with a wooden mallet till its eyes bulge.  You can dislocate its neck and break its back.  You can stick a knife into its heart.  Then, hours later, there might still be a twitch of the tail.  Or, a slow contraction of the excised heart.  I have even felt the contraction of a fresh fillet in my hands, minutes after its removal from the skeleton.

As a child in Newfoundland, my mother would pay the boys 10 cents per eel. They caught them under our wharf and would deliver her a bucket of slithering, reptilian-like creatures, much to Mom’s delight.  It was a win-win arrangement:  the money was well appreciated by those kids in rural Newfoundland in the 60’s where fishing was one of the main forms of recreation for youth, and mom, although she liked to eat eel, certainly did not like swimming with the teeming hoards that seemed to reside under our wharf!

I have emotionless memories of mom dumping the eels in a sink-full of water, grabbing one at a time, chopping off their heads, cutting them into inch-long segments, and squeezing out the offal.  She would matter-of-factly place the offal and gasping-mouthed heads back in the bucket so they could later be fed to the remaining eels under the wharf.  A reward for their troubles, I suppose.  Perhaps a deposit, expecting growth with interest. She would then wash the segments more thoroughly and toss them into the hot buttered frying pan. 

During the entire operation, the eel pieces would be squirming.  They would be wriggling in the sink, flailing on the chopping board, twisting in her hands and twitching in the pan.  And through all this my mom might be dispassionately talking about the weather or asking us questions about school.  Any exclamation or indication of alarm from us was met with the same pragmatic response, “My mother used to always say that eels don’t die till after sundown.” And that was that. 

She grew up on a farm. She was equally dispassionate about boiling live lobsters.  We ate a lot of lobster, since at that time in rural Newfoundland there was minimal commercial market for lobster and much of it was used for garden fertilizer and bait for marketable fish.  My mom seemed to have endless seasonal access to lobster.  As they were plopped head-first into the pot of boiling water, lid held tight against the thrashing tail, the usual stoic utterances could be heard as we waited for the silence.  “Reflexes.” “Nerves.”  “Death throes.”  

My dad, on the other hand, was more skeptical about the humanity of this, preferring to err on the side of caution by bonking each lobster behind the eyes immediately before pot insertion.   Later, he developed the technique of “hypnotizing” the lobsters by balancing them on their heads and stroking their backs until they found their equilibrium.  On lobster night, one would have to tread carefully in our kitchen because at any one time there might be a half-dozen lobsters on the floor, all asleep on their heads, tails arched backwards, oblivious to what was awaiting them.

So, the fundamental question is whether or not this can somehow be translated into a debate about the definition of life, consciousness, pain perception and morality.  Or is it just impossible to extrapolate our sensibilities to other animals?  Obviously, it sits best with all of us to assume that pain perception and the definition of life is somehow inferior in those species that we eat.  It is our way of remaining carnivorous.  It helps with our relentless expansionistic existence, where the needs of any other species are deemed less important. Truth be dammed.

How can it be that humans are so fragile when compared to many other species?  And even more puzzling is our lack of humility in the midst of this knowledge.  For instance, a quick internet search suggests that the “zombie bug” or tree weta, is capable of surviving after being completely frozen; the lung fish can recover after months without air or moisture; the decapitated head of a snake will still strike at prey; the frog can continue to hop without its head; the headless male fruit fly is an effective courter (apparently because he is easily outwitted by the female!). We have much to learn and there is much to marvel at.  The question is whether we choose to continue on the path of convenience or whether we embrace the uniqueness of living organisms, learning as much as we can along the way.  In the meantime, I’ll still eat burbot.  I admire the resilience of their reptilian brain and I am increasingly humbled in its presence.  And maybe, if I eat enough, some of that burbot fortitude might just rub off!

Gerard’s Blog: The Reason for Freezin’

Gerard's Blog: The Reason for Freezin' “Enny meeny minny chum, Catch a burbot with my thumb, If I holler, let me run, Back to home where fishing’s done!” Today was a re-baiting day at the burbot holes.  Being relatively “warm” at 15 below, I felt that I could easily change the bait on site.  So, off I went with my bag of freezer-burned chum slices.

Shortly after arrival, the slight breeze was notable on the wet, exposed fingers.  Nevertheless, I persevered through the several hooks that required removal of the old bait and reapplication of the new. It wasn’t till my thawing fingers were back home that I noticed the multiple red dots on the tips of my thumbs and index fingers.  A gentle squeeze revealed the tell-tale ooze of blood from each dot and alas, the mystery was solved!

Apart from the obvious benefit of catching burbot, this “dietary program” (which Suzanne now simply refers to as a “shopping choice”), has reminded me of the origin of the medical use of the word “freezing.”  For generations, cold has been effectively utilized in the medical arena for the purpose of diminishing pain.  The analgesic effect of a mouth-full of ice chips was well known to the earliest dental surgeons.  Similarly, many a limb was amputated under the chilling bite of a cold pack, when there was an absence of either whiskey to be drunk or poppy leaves to be chewed.

I’m feeling quite thrilled by the realization of the absolute analgesia I experienced  with my frozen fingers.  The next time my hands get that cold, I will glance at the filleting knife and then give serious attention to that cyst on my knuckle, thinking, “could this be the right time?”

Gerard’s Blog: Gone F-f-f-fishin’

Tastes like cod, looks like eel.  We’ve added the burbot to our diet.  Not the same as ling cod, I am told.  This is a different species, Lota lota, isolated to cold fresh waters.  It goes by many monikers, including the Inuktitut word, Tiktaalik and my favorite, for this bottom-feeder, “the lawyer.”

The Yukon River is home to the burbot and catching them has added a new distractor to the winter.  My very first hole yielded nothing other than dirt, as my auger plunged through the three feet of ice!  Hard on the blades and all the more reason to not borrow an auger from your best friend! But once you get out of the dirt, there is much to discover. 

Water depth, hole location, current tolerance, inside or beyond the “mud line.”  Bait.  Keeping the lines from freezing in.  Daily checking.  Chiseling.  Filleting. Then there is the human factor, chiefly, keeping ones fingers attached and functional.  Protecting the ears and nose, although less critical to the task at hand, is another desirable objective.  The cold has been relentless, and at -35 I pulled the lines.  Retreated like a whipped dog to the comforts of home, nursing the scabs of flesh on my cheek. 

Surprised by that “beat up” feeling.  Surprised to be content to add another log to the fire and monitoring the weather from the inside of a window.  Surprised at the length and depth of cold this winter. But it has been worth it to have burbot in the diet.  Very tasty, and the “cod-ness” brings me back to my childhood on the east coast.  And we have been frying up the livers for vitamin D.  Even tried some raw!  And raw burbot liver is not offensive like the cod liver oil of my childhood memories.  It is rather bland, but still, unmistakably like raw liver…

As soon as temperatures allow, I’ll be back at the burbot holes.  Its funny that eating “the lawyer” might be the very action that brings added justice to our diet!

Gerard’s Blog: Getting the Dirt on My Daughter

The onions have returned to the living space of our house.  For a few pleasant weeks over Christmas they were relegated to boxes in one of the cooler, yet accessible places in the house, under Kate’s bed.  Not good enough. When the precious onions began to sprout, it was time to spread them out and keep them dry.  So, back came the drying rack, a lovely addition to the room decor.

You can hardly blame the poor onions.  They like to grow in the dirt and clearly, they agree with me that there is plenty of that in my daughter’s bedroom!  I’m hoping that the incident will help with my daughter’s adolescence-induced blindness.

I’m also thinking about patent options:  maybe I could market something called, “the dirt detector.”  All I’d need is a few onions in a box, and people could place them strategically around their homes to locate the dirt.  They could be positioned in those places not readily seen or reached, like under beds, in closets, on the top shelves, etc. They could be marketed as a house-cleaning time saver, such that one would only need to clean those areas where onions sprouted. 

What child would complain about checking to see on the growth of an onion?  They would become eager participants in the search for domestic dirt.  And in so doing, their intrinsic adolescent blindness would be cured!   

Who would have guessed that the tear-inducing onion would prove therapeutic for teenaged eyes?

Gerard’s Blog: Tolerating Tolerance

The relaxation phase of my retirement is being disrupted this morning by the jarring sound of dueling coffee grinders. For Christmas, Suzanne gave me a T-shirt that said, “Retired, now I chop vegetables.” But, the reality is that I don’t generally get to my “second calling” until some time in the afternoons. I like to reserve the mornings for luxurious non-productivity, lounging in the dawn darkness, awed by the masses of productive workers, awed that it was not so long ago that mornings were my most productive time.

But this morning things are different around here; my harmony is shattered. Suzanne and Leigh are concocting in the kitchen. They are gathering samplings of the omnipresent hanging herbs and plants that adorn our home, grinding them up, and test-running various combinations. So, the re-purposed coffee grinders are in action, as is the blender, and the steamer.

The noise is intrusive. I’m learning that one of my main roles in this experimental year is to embrace tolerance. Eating entirely local was not my idea of a year well spent. It is something to engage in when there are no other options. Sort of like the glib answers I used to get when asking patients about their exercise habits: “sure, I walk… when my car is broke down,” or “I would run… if something was chasing me,” or “the only reason to swim is to get yourself out of a pickle when your boat sinks.”

So, through tolerance, I must accept and appreciate that Suzanne feels that this project is critical in highlighting the issues of food security in the North. Tolerance does not demand that I agree with her. Nor does it necessarily demand that I participate. But, for now at least, I appreciate that her success in this endeavor is more certain if all the family members participate. So we will.

Now, I’ll head downstairs and see whether the inspirational drinks the girls just created are capable of converting my thoughts ….

Gerard’s Blog: Handing It to the Stick, Sticking it to the Hands

My memory of last night’s hockey game was that my stick felt like a noodle in my hands.  Every shot was wide.  There was no power. Passes felt soft and uncertain, even indifferent.  It was as if my stick had an alter ego, as if it did not want to be a hockey stick last night. How does a hockey stick get an alter ego, anyway?  What would inspire it to have another personality? 

Since this is the “dark” month, the month of cabin fever, it would not be outrageous for me to go downstairs and have a heart-to-heart with my stick.  Or would it? Instead of talking to my stick, I took on the equally concerning tact of examining other influences that might have caused the noodle-like behavior of my stick.  That brought to mind, my hands.  Now, that sounds more logical. 

Yes, obviously the noodle intrusion was hand-induced. Yesterday, was a day of sadness.  Rotting squash were discovered in the cold room.  Not so much rot, as soft.  One gentle squeeze from Suzanne (when I wasn’t the recipient), and she proclaimed, “freeze spots.”  As with the pumpkins, we had run the temperature too close to the freeze mark during this last cold snap.  And now we were witnessing the price.

So, to the cutting board and kitchen I went.  Cutting and scooping.  Cooking the salvageable parts. It was the spaghetti squash that were most affected.  The ones closest to the cold air intake.  So, I spent a portion of the afternoon chopping and cooking and scooping the noodle-like squash. And recalling that afternoon activity, was my Eureka! moment. 

Clearly, my hands had adopted their “noodleness” from the spaghetti squash!  There was a transference of energy during the handling / cooking process, something that seems entirely plausible in January, in Dawson City, in the Yukon, just after a long dark cold snap, when one is feeling a little down, a little needy, a little trapped, and when one is looking for an excuse for poor hockey performance!

But, now having re-read the above, I find myself searching…  Clearly, my hands are controlled by my brain.  Could it be that the problem did not lie with my hands, but that my brain ….

Gerard’s Blog: Seeing Double Benefits

My day started auspiciously with a double dose of sweetener.  First, in my sleepy state, I grabbed the near-empty container of cranberry sauce, boiled some water, and proceeded to stir and slurp.  A spoon was helpful to capture the swirling bottom-lurking lumps.  This was followed by my lucky strike into the empty honey (yes, local!) jar. 

Honey is a particularly valuable asset, as the adhesive qualities mean that an empty jar is never really empty.  I added hot water and drank greedily, rapturing in the wealth in remnants.  I’ve since hidden the jar for an afternoon pick-me-up.

So, my day was off to a wondrous start.  And, my actions translated into fewer breakfast dishes, a job that most often falls on my list of responsibilities.  I call these win-win situations, double benefits. But, not everyone understands the life efficiencies that are intrinsic to double benefit opportunities. 

Take, for example, my children.  They walk to school, love sports, and devote significant time and effort to improve their athleticism.  But when it comes to my helpful suggestions about the double benefit potential of the wood pile or of the snow-shoveling, they then become miraculously deaf.  Selective hearing, it seems, is not an affliction of married men only.

Over the holiday season, Suzanne immersed herself into cooking and baking, taking on that responsibility with all the precision of a scientist on the verge of a world-changing breakthrough.  Science, it turns out, is a gold-mine for double benefits.  Each day, there seemed to be burned sugar beet syrup, or soft muffins, or cookies that just didn’t work with pumpkin seeds and cauliflower as their main ingredients. 

I readily adopted the double benefit role of consuming all these experimental failures.  And, to keep them coming, I offered my purely scientific observations as fuel for initiative. And through all this, there were some diamonds in the rough.  For example, I found a lovely wine-substitute for Christmas dinner in the pot liquor of boiled vegetables.  Nothing drained, nothing gained. 

And the double benefits!  I no longer have that empty belly feeling, or the perpetual chill, or the problem of my underwear slipping over my absent buttocks.  Science has been good to me.  Now, where did I put that honey jar?

Gerard’s Blog: Patchy Pumpkins Pose Problems

Who would have guessed that “the diet” would become a vehicle for enhanced weekend variety?  Previously, I had mentioned that driving kids to Whitehorse for recreational opportunities is a weekend pursuit familiar to me, as well as to many Dawsonites.  But last weekend I shirked that responsibility, displacing the schlepping responsibility to another unsuspecting parent. 

And why, you might ask?  Well, the truth is that another task of joyful potential was imminently presenting itself to the arena of daily responsibilities. Suzanne had been dutifully storing the year’s supply of pie pumpkins in our cold storage room, which really isn’t a cold storage room at all, but rather, my otherwise cozy workshop / recreational room, which has been repurposed “for the greater good.” 

Now the room stores food, and my main purpose for the space has been diminished to a cold storage place for my coat, boots, and hockey gear, so that my climatization process might begin well before I even step outside. So, with grave urgency and a voice of impending doom, Suzanne woke me, advising that her inspection of the food stores revealed a situation of calamitous proportions.  There were “soft spots” appearing on the pumpkins.  The dreaded soft spots that we all live in fear of.  The harbingers of rot, the messengers of mold, the precursors of peril.  And with all the vitality of Saint Nick on Christmas Eve, I leapt from my bed to save the pumpkins.

So, the initial examination revealed that 45 of the 75 stored pumpkins were in need of some sort of resuscitation, presumably tainted by a touch of frost.  Suzanne did the initial triage, finding only a few code blacks.  These were quickly dispatched, put out of their suffering by cold immersion in the great outdoors.  We set to the code reds and yellows with some haste, fearful that the warmth of our working kitchen would disseminate the contagions, contaminating all that we have worked for, diminishing the project to a wasteland of sorrow.  We put the code greens aside for the next day, knowing that they were not in immediate danger, reconciling that this was an undertaking with great magnitude.

Perhaps it is my training as a doctor or perhaps it is just human nature, but there is immense tactile joy when you insert your hand through the mold of a pumpkin, pulling out the diseased mush.  In some ways, extracting the soft spot of pumpkins is better that dealing with human rot, as it does not have the same intensity of smell, which is unmistakably pervasive in the case of humans.

Anyway, back on track … the process was extensive.  There was the washing, the debridement of mold and mush, the separation of salvageable parts, including those seeds that were not black, or tainted in a cobweb substance that reminded me of the dendrites of neurons, as demonstrated in electromagnetic images of the brain. There was the scrapping of the pulp, the peeling of the skins, the chopping, the packaging and finally, the freezing for future processing. 

We roasted seeds the whole while, using them as nourishment to fuel the event.  We collected the discarded parts, marveling that there was not so much waste after all, and that most of it was being commissioned as food for the pigs and chickens of Dawson. And at the end, using the logic that we were already in chopping mode, Suzanne pulls out more of the ubiquitous sugar beets for washing, peeling, chopping and boiling …

Since I retired, one of the common questions I field is, “so, what are you doing with all your free time now?”  The truth is, the surgical part of my job is not much changed, it is just that my patients have.

Gerard’s Blog: Weighing In On Temptation

I feel like Pandora’s Box has been opened.  What with the great cooking from Miche Genest, the effective grinding of flour reintroducing grain into the diet, and the discovery of my wife’s “freeze-up” stash of birch syrup ice-cream, all on the tails of months of hunger and craving, there is now a flood of dietary temptations to which I am succumbing.

Today is weigh-in day.  On the first of the month each household member must step on the scale, the scale of truth, transgressions and temperance.  It is a little like the confessional booth, each of us enticed to tell all, once the weight is announced, collectively rejoicing in the euphoria of cleared conscious. And for the first time since committing to “the diet,” I have added a few pounds to my atrophied skeleton. 

Of course, this is hardly earth shattering news, so I am not really letting the cat out of the bag about the propensity of dietary grains and sugars to round out one’s figure. And I could tell, even without the scale of truth, that things were changing.  My belt was a little tighter, my skin folds a little thicker, and there was an absence of the constant emptiness.  But my cravings are still relentless, well beyond the normal cyclical changes of winter that most of us northerners are familiar with.

All this has me now wondering about rebound.  Are these the first days of my new self?  Will I keep growing and growing?  Should I submit my Christmas clothing wish list now, or would it be best to wait, monitor my growth daily, plot it out so that I could have a more accurate estimation by Christmas Day?

In the meantime, I smell fresh bread, and like a burbot after rotting meat, I am out of here!

Gerard’s Blog: Rinse and Repeat

This “diet” is an inspirational opportunity, a chance to demonstrate creativity, an exercise in economy of action.  Clearly, life would have been amiss without it and I would have felt like I had been abandoned in a black hole for eternity.

Lately, I’ve found new joys in drinking dishwater.  Sans the soap part.  And also sans the multiple and varied particles that typically inhabit true dishwater.  So, to ensure that I am communicating properly (and in order to be politically correct), let’s just call this “false dishwater.”  Or, to be even more politically correct in the nostalgic eyes of Canadian baby-boomers, we can condense this to F.D.

So, F.D. has become one of my staples.  And the variety of flavors and textures offers enough intrigue that it competes with the best of the addictive alternatives.  I’ve referred to F.D. in the past, so as a refresher, this is how I recommend it:  take an “empty” birch syrup container, add a bit of hot water, swirl, pour into the cup that was once your treasured coffee cup, drink lavishly and selfishly of the elixir of F.D.  When finished, repeat the process for an entirely different richness of flavor.  Keep repeating until the original container is virtually clean (and thank whomever that the days of wooden kegs is all but past!). 

So, while experiencing a variety of unique and flavorful drinks, one can do the family a favor by cleaning dishes using F.D. There are an abundance of missed opportunities; the joys of ingestible F.D. can be found everywhere in the kitchen, literally awaiting discovery and daring.  For a more savory mid-afternoon winter tea, try F.D. from a pickle jar.  An experience in globular texture can be readily had through F.D. yogurt.  Or if that is too stimulating to the regurgitating reflex, then one can tame it down by trying the more subtle and less distinct curds of F.D. milk.

With time, tolerance overrides tact.  I sometimes find myself unscrupulously indulgent, thinking selfishly that there are no other cravers of F.D. in the room.  Why, just the other day, I casually picked up the nearly empty pot of stew, added some boiled water, swirled, and proceeded to drink directly from the pot, entirely skipping the stage of soiling a clean mug. 

My kids were appropriately aghast: clearly I should have shared my bounty.

Gerard’s Blog: Liquid, Solid, and Gas

Another weekend of “balls and braces” has passed.  This is my new term for those weekends that I take one or more of the kids to Whitehorse for sporting events and orthodontic work.  There have been many such journeys over the past couple of years;  so much so that when people ask about Dawson recreational opportunities, I glibly respond that on weekends, we like to drive to Whitehorse.

Another notable aspect of these trips is the inherent opportunity for dietary transgressions.  What could be more stimulating, after prolonged periods of personal restraint, than experimental observation of the effects of self-indulgence?  Who could have ever imagined the joys that this year would provide?

Coffee is generally one of my first dietary infractions when I find myself succumbing to temptation “on the road.”  And with alarming consistency, the taste of real coffee is always less enjoyable than that conjured up in my memory.

But soon enough, I find bread, and that’s a different story.  Whether it is a bun with butter, or garlic toast, or a muffin, donut or morning toast, it doesn’t matter.  All forms of pastry are absolutely enthralling, urging me to have just one more…  And so I do! The grains are satisfying, quelling the emptiness that is so familiar to me now. 

But, the downside is some bloating, which unfortunately is paired with enough gas to make the concealment of dietary misdemeanors problematic.  Between the caffeine and the grains, my guts awaken!  The grumbling and gurgling, I feel, is almost orchestral.

Sadly though, my family is disinclined to appreciate the musical genius contained within my body.  And to this, I remind them of the notable scientific advancements through personal experimentation, and that my gas production affords them a critical role as participants in this ongoing process of discovery…

Gerard’s Blog: Showing Some Humidity

Our house is dripping.  The windows are sweating and there is rime on the outside soffits wherever the moisture has found breaches in the vapor barrier of the house.  Opening the door releases a cloud of humidity into the starkly contrasting cold world outside, engulfing everything in a fog dense enough to cause nightmares in a Newfoundland fisherman.

Three of the stove-top burners are blasting away at pots of boiling sugar beets.  The stove fan is humming, desperately trying to do its job of ridding the house of moisture.  Our daughter’s fiddle is out of tune.  There is a new scrape under one of the doors and another needs unusual persuasion to close properly.  Suzanne’s hair is a mass of tight ringlets.  Everyone’s skin is nice, wrinkle-free, offering a glimpse of our appearances a decade ago.

We have had another assembly line of production.  Sugar beets have been double washed and scrubbed.  Then peeled and sliced thinly or grated.  Then boiled to extract and concentrate the sugar.  And there is so much boiling that I worry that our ancient repurposed camp stove might take an early and unexpected retirement, even before it runs out of propane. Or that the outside of the house begins to resemble a quinzhee as the inside becomes resurfaced in slime mold.

I’ve taken to closely examining my appendages for early signs of webbing.  Last night I awoke in a sweat, dreaming that the pain I felt in my leg was the first indication of its metamorphosis into a mermaid’s tail.  After reassuring myself of the nonsensical nature of dreams, I feel comfortably back to sleep, only to awaken this time in a panic, thinking I was a goldfish trapped in an aquarium.

And so it will continue today; another assembly line of working children is planned.  But first we must wait till they surface for the day and swim out of their rooms to demonstrate their new adornments of scales and slime.

Gerard’s Blog: Contained Culinary Creativity

I’m an uninspired chef these days, attempting to navigate unfamiliar territory. The problem is that I am the type of person who needs visual cues to achieve inspiration.  Normally I would shop by walking every aisle, identifying the things needed or wanted as I see them.  I pack for trips similarly, wandering from room to room, recognizing things that I might need.  And if I don’t see them, then there is a high probability that there will be no spontaneous reminder of the need.

And similarly, I’ve always cooked that way … browsing through the cupboards and fridge, praying for visual cues and inspiration, looking forward to getting this duty over with. But now, when I open the fridge, I am met with an unknown terrain. 

Certainly, I can identify the cheese, the eggs, the 4 containers of milk and the vegetables.  But then, things get challenging.  Almost all that remains in this packed fridge is an unrecognizable assortment of containers.  And even though they are dutifully labeled and dated with strips of masking tape, I still have trouble navigating my way through, to find any relevance to my plans for meal preparation.

This is an example of some of the items in the fridge: two containers of chicken broth, bottles of pickles that do not resemble pickles, bottles of kephir grains labeled “do not throw out,” (for which there is neither worry of me throwing out, or of ever, ever, using them).  There are bottles of apple cider, rhubarb vinegar, two creams, one yoghurt, tomato sauce x 2, the very dark colored “ketchup,” sausage water, and water kephir (whatever that is!). 

To continue, there are containers of spruce tips, separate containers of boar fat, bacon grease and butter.  There are 3 buttermilk containers, all with different dates, and one with visible separation and worrisome coloring.  There is one labeled “moose thickener,” which I imagine is a body-building supplement for the aspiring young moose. 

And it continues:  there is one labeled crushed tomatoes, another called ghee, another of boar “scrunchions,” and one of “moose in veggie stock,” (who I imagine is praying for his eventual release, much like a genie in a jar, or a man on a restricted diet). It could be just me, but this is a difficult supply list for my creative juices.  So, I resort to the very recognizable and mundane vegetable and meat.  Sorry, family.  But I intend to make up for all this. 

Having recognized all the masking tape we are going through for labeling, I intend to buy shares in the company.  With this new-found profit, I will have a celebratory feast when these difficult times come to an end!

Gerard’s Blog: If the Juniper Berry Could Talk

Moments of unscrupulousness sometimes have the redeeming quality of offering insight into one’s behavior.  I seem to find or create many such moments in the normal course of my day. Suzanne and I share the meal preparations so I decided to marinate some moose steaks a couple of nights ago. 

First, I grab the rhubarb “vinegar” from the fridge, only to be redirected to the rhubarb juice department.  The vinegar, I was instructed, had a separate specific purpose. Then I grab the container of juniper berries, take a liberal portion, and proceed to crush them, adding them to the lovely evolving marinade. 

This was duly noted. Suzanne suggested that the flavor could be enhanced if they were ground in the now repurposed coffee grinder.  When I did not respond to this suggestion enthusiastically, she tried once again, stating that the supply of juniper berries was perilously scant, and that grinding them would make them last longer.  But by this time, the deed was done, berries stubbornly crushed and added.

In the time it took for the unmoved grinder to gather an infinitesimal modicum of dust, I was offered a generous portion of humility.  The visibly upset Suzanne delivered a composed and articulate commentary on the scarceness of juniper berries this year, which I had clearly not appreciated. 

She outlined the cold and prickles she endured, and reminded me that she bore the lone responsibility for gathering those berries.  As I said earlier, the only redeeming aspect of the moment was the personal insight I acquired.

Clearly, this was about more than juniper berries.  This was about respect and appreciated effort and shared commitment to a course.  It was about meaningful communication and the need to understand potential ramifications before acting.  It was about the value we place on personal involvement in the acquisition of security, and how even the simplest of tactile tasks can foster feelings of tremendous individual engagement and ownership.

So, the things we grow, gather or build have more personal value than their monetary value would suggest.  Might this explain the disproportionate satisfaction we enjoy with a shed full of firewood?  Or a freezer full of moose, or berries, or blanched broccoli?  Might it explain why we build our own boats, or shelves or sheds?  Why we crochet, knit or needlepoint?

Given that, then why has our society increasingly moved away from the joy we could acquire through manual tasks?  What will be the price for this evolution?  And what would it say, if the juniper berry could speak?

Gerard’s Blog: Digesting Individualism

Just in case you are wondering, this project is about more than eating local.  Much more.  This is a ferret into social behavior and individualism, tolerance and will.  And of course, it is about hunger and stupidity.

All our lives we have heard the mantra: humans are a social animal.  But what does that mean practically?  It means we hunt and gather in groups, we live in groups, and we eat together.  We work and play together.  We help one another. We share.  We concern ourselves with the less fortunate. We set standards and rules which are acceptable to the group, preferring group safety over whimsical notions of individualism.

So what happens when individuals become non-conformists, breakers of tradition?  When does the novelty of individual exploration and challenge wear off?  When does it become an annoying expression of self-indulgence to the friends?  What is the tolerance within a society? And of course, a huge part of social structure is communal eating and drinking.  And now even more, since social smoking is all but banished. 

So, what happens to the dynamic when people do not share the same food?  When does it become uncomfortable, or even intolerable, to demonstrate one’s dietary defiance? Who would have thought that “the diet” would have opened a pathway to a more profound understanding of one of the forces behind cultural segregation and assimilation?

Gerard’s Blog: Be It Resolved …

Three months into this “lifestyle change,” and I’ve been testing my resolve.  And of course, the risk is that there is not much resolve to test. The other day, I chatted with someone who was sipping on a well-deserved cold beer, while I dutifully nursed a cup of freshly boiled water.  Surely, I was enjoying myself more …

Last night, there was an office celebration of my retirement (this, of course, could be interpreted in more ways than one!).  As per many social festivities, there was food involved, and while “the diet” can compete with most main course offerings, desert is a completely different matter.  You see, the relative absence of sugar is probably the most notable hallmark of this altered form of sustenance.  And deserts, by definition, tend to be sweet.

So, I decided to tackle the temptation head on: I planted myself right by the desert selection.  There was a wide variety of displayed decadence, from puddings to pies to pastries.  My survival tactic was to watch others with full undivided attention as they sampled the multiple options of sheer deliciousness, while allowing myself the pleasure of slowly gnawing on a piece of dry moose meat.

It was an experiment really.  I was hypothesizing that close physical approximation to such rapturous consumption, might somehow endow me with a vicarious experience of equal proportion.  Much to my chagrin, the hypothesis was not substantiated through the course of the experiment.

So, this morning I’m re-evaluating the relevance of the Scientific Method in my life. Clearly, this logical deductive process demonstrates overtones of dispassionate indifference to the relevance of my personal pleasure.  I’m feeling abandoned by science.

Gerard’s Blog: Just Off the Bloat

It’s late, and I’m not anywhere near ready for sleep.  Could have been the sugar.  Could have been the day’s dosing of several coffees.   Could have been the incessant gut rumbling and sense of bloating following the spree.

Let’s back up and start over.  I’m just back in Dawson after a 36-hour absence.  I had to dash to Whitehorse with my son for a couple of errands, and in my typical state of rush, “forgot” to take food.  So road food it was. 

We avoided the deer, grouse and lynx, which were all seemingly offering themselves up to us, and decided to dine on commercial goods, which paradoxically in today’s world, might be deemed more “traditional” than the real meat of true road-kill. So, here I am, wondering what to do with this bubbling bath of energy in the early morning hours.  And as I was clearing out the trash from the truck, I thought that some of you might be interested in a qualitative analysis of my brief dietary splurge.

First of all, I’d like to say that I am amazed by the volume of trash generated from food wrappers over this relatively short time:  there is a plastic grocery bag filled with wrappers, plastic and styrofoam.  This is more trash than our whole family has been generating over weeks on “the diet.”  Hmmm…

A search in this bag helps my recollection and tells the story.  There is a styrofoam cup that once held road coffee.  All in all, it was not a very satisfactory beginning to a  breach of caffeine absenteeism.   And of course, I knew better, but this experiment was not so much a deliberate act of temptation with the very best offerings that earth can present, as it was a simple indulgence in the type of foods that could easily be passed off as normal or acceptable daily intakes.  And sadly, every single subsequent coffee was disappointing, whether it was the “free coffee with gas” (which I now understand more fully the meaning), or the fill-ups with restaurant breakfast, or the bought coffee on the run.  Nothing to miss there…

There are more empty packages that once contained the likes of sweet chili Doritos, hickory sticks, an ice-cream bar, a “family pack” size of sushi, road-side popcorn, a milk shake and monster drinks.  We’d all have to agree that these choices are not quite consistent with the recommendations of the Canada Food Guide and that there is plenty of room there for dietary improvement, but the truth is that I could once eat this with impunity.

Not now.  I’ve been buzzing for the past day, and probably even through this medium, you can hear me.  I feel bloated and for the first time in awhile, no longer have that familiar emptiness in the tummy. 

But, I do not feel satiated:  I feel thirsty, unsatisfied and strangely… hungry. I think the hunger is simply a disguised craving for more strong flavors.  And that was the most striking observation.  The flavors were so overwhelmingly intense, whether that be salt or sweet or hot spice, and this intensity seemed to successfully sabotage my ability to differentiate between need and desire.  In a world where that is the benchmark, how does the subtlety and nuance of real and nutritious food stand a chance?  And how will we even begin to make gains on the obesity epidemic?

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying the simplicity of my hot cup of water right now and I look forward to the search for gentle and genuine flavors tomorrow.

Gerard’s Blog: Give Us This Day Our Daily Onion

It’s the rationing that will be my undoing. 

All summer and fall there has been an abundance of harvest coming through the house.  And when working outside, a simple stroll through the garden yielded tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and the odd berry, which could satisfy those peckish moments enough to get a person through till the next meal.

Now, things are tightening up.  The other day, I was preparing a nice broiler of moose meat, lavishly garnished in onions and garlic, a decadent gesture in celebration of the successful hunt.  Suzanne strolled by, peeked over my shoulder, and did not deliver the expected awe in regards to my culinary efforts.  Instead, she took this as an opportunity for a discussion in realism and restraint.

She reminded me that we had limited stock for the winter, equivalent to “one medium-sized onion and one clove of garlic, a day.”  What we have is what we have.  Till summer.

I quickly realized that there is no room in that calculation for decadent delights.  And that’s when the fear started to crawl into my persona.  You see, my calculations suggest that we often have potato pancakes and scrambled eggs for breakfast, both accented with onions and/or garlic.  Naturally.  Then, a nice on-the-fly winter lunch could be canned moose meat fried up with a little…onion.  And/or garlic.  Something that could sustain a guy through the woodpile at 20 below.  And then there is the supper for a family with almost three teenagers.  That medium-sized onion is going to require some serious divine help.

And then there was last night.  As you know, Suzanne has been making birch syrup ice-cream fairly steadily recently, preparing for freeze-up which is the time when the cow becomes inaccessible.  So, last night she pulls out the ice-cream as a treat.  We all had some, and as a respectful gesture of appreciation for fine taste, I motioned for another round.  No luck.  That would deplete the stock.  What we have is what we have.  You can have today if you don’t mind being without tomorrow.

The problem I’m having is that I really care so much more about today than I do tomorrow.  We are talking ice-cream addiction here.  What has tomorrow got to do with anything?  Eat now.

You see, this is the kind of thing that comes naturally to Suzanne.  She enjoys calculated restraint.  Not everyone does.  She doesn’t know that.  It reminds me of a ten-day hike that she took me on years ago, before kids, when we walked the old Yukon Ditch from Dawson to Tombstone.  She took care of the logistics and food.  I had the simple job of lugging everything. 

Every day, in fact every moment of every day, I was hungry.  Suzanne had “done the calculations,” but the tiny meal allocations and the meager desert allotments of “either one square of chocolate or this sliver of fruit cake,” were not making any impression on my constant state of starvation. It was not till we returned to the land of food and sustenance, and after realizing that we had each lost one to two pounds per day (!!), that a re-punching of the numbers revealed that the calculation was quite incorrect.  No kidding.

So, this whole experience is starting to feel that it could be a déjà-vu opportunity, a chance to test our mettle, and perhaps a chance even for Suzanne to brush up on her math…

Gerard’s Blog: A Sense of Loss

With no intentional self-indulgence, I have occasionally glanced at myself when walking by a mirror.  This simple act offers explanation as to why my pants are slipping over my hips and shirts that were once small seem to have stretched over the years of storage.  I’ve lost weight.  No denying it. 

And I can’t say that this has been intentional, but rather, a direct consequence of “The Diet.” But, let’s not refer to it as “the diet” anymore, since the word, diet, is in this modern time, suggestive of a concerted and deliberate effort to lose weight.  This has simply been a change in the way of eating, or more specifically, a change in the types of foods eaten.

I am always eating something, spurred on by an insatiable emptiness in my gut.  Carrots are my “go to” snack food, followed by yogurt, whey, cheese, and any leftovers that I can find in the fridge.  I eat eggs daily and in quantities that my body has never experienced.  There are fried potato cakes daily, and often sausage or bacon added to the breakfast menu.  Every evening we have meat or fish or pork, along with an accompaniment of assorted vegetables. 

There is no shortage of food. And the food is good.  The veggies taste great, just as they are.  The milk is decidedly sweet.  All the local protein is nourishing and seemingly endless in quantity.  And has anyone tried the dehydrated yogurt?  It is like sour candy—something unique, special, and quite pleasing to the palate. 

And the other day, for my birthday, Suzanne pulled out an ice-cream cake, lathered with a birch syrup/cream concoction of sheer decadence.  That large platter went in one sitting. But yet, the weight is falling off. 

And the only disappointment of all this is the realization of the power of my delusion, the delusion that I was not over-burdened, that I was not harboring such flab, that my physical package of power was unchanged, just a little padded over these past years.  But the mirror and clothes are not lying; over the years my body has been relentlessly replacing muscle mass with fat. And for that revelation, I am grateful to “The Diet.”

Gerard’s Blog: Gone Yesterday, Hear Today

The noise, the noise, the noise!

Now that I brought them back to civilization, my ears are being assaulted.  There is the constant drone of our homemade dehydrator, working away at the tomatoes and celery leaf and meat. There is the whir of the fans that are drying our onions upstairs and the beets and herbs downstairs. 

The stove burners are hissing away, concentrating tomato sauce.  The juicer is pulverizing celery and rhubarb into salt and vinegar substitutes.  The fridge and freezers are audibly straining to keep up with demand that comes with harvest time.  One kid is vigorously frothing hot milk for Suzanne, her new comfort drink to replace the Red Rose tea.  Another kid is making ice-cream…stocking up for freeze-up when the cows will be on the other side of the river and we will be rendered dairy-free.  Someone is scrubbing, banging and rattling the relentless supply of dirty dishes. 

And, as if that is not enough, everyone is talking, despite the radio being on in full competition.  With their ears being that much more sensitive than mine, there is no wonder we don’t have any moose in our own backyard!

Gerard’s Blog: Cat-and-Moose Game Ends

Originally written on Oct. 5th in the bush during Gerard’s Hunt

Perseverance has brought me home.  Success on the hunt finally came after a grand finale of a day, with multiple sightings interspersed amongst the erratic transitions of nature from rain to wind to sun.

It was providential that I got this young bull.  Circumstances beyond my understanding brought him to me, giving room for ethereal musings, even awe.

It had started as another day of frustration: cow after cow.  The only visible reminder of this earth’s existence of bulls, were their telltale tracks.  And those tracks are seductively dangerous, for they lure one further and further into the land of impracticality, the places where one man alone should not shoot a moose.

This was just not working, so I blasted off to another region altogether, a little archipelago of islands, a little oasis off the big river.  Instantly, I saw a huge bull…much larger than I wanted or thought I could handle.  But, despite that, after him I went, exhibiting all the logic of manhood. 

I tried sabotaging him from the back of the island.  I tried calling him out.  I tried motoring upstream, then quietly and unsuspectingly drifting back.  I gave it a rest and went elsewhere, saw another cow.

Then the weather turned nasty.  Rain and wind and a black sky were the harbingers of what was most certainly snow. As it was getting on in the day, this was incentive enough to seek shelter, set up camp, and brace myself for the storm.  Quite fortuitously, my search for ideal shelter steered me back in the neighborhood of the large bull sighting.

I called a little, while setting up camp.  I was surprised to hear the bull rustling and grunting in response, something new to this year’s experience.  So I sat in the moored boat, gave a grunt and watched the bull come running towards me.  But, it was not the large guy at all.  Rather, this bull was young, of manageable size and intent on walking close to the water’s edge.  He was clearly offering himself and I thanked him when he fell.

It wasn’t until the next afternoon that the work was done and I left for home with the dressed moose in the boat.  During the whole process, I couldn’t stop thinking about how fortunate I was that this guy showed up.  If I had shot that monster moose, there is a good chance that I’d still be there…

Gerard’s Blog: The Lull of the Wild

Back on the river, Gerard’s writing from Oct 4th:

I’m writing this using a carpenter’s pencil I found in my jacket; a subtle reminder of my unfinished shed project.  The paper is the unused margins of the 2017 Yukon Hunting Regulations booklet.  Don’t say I’m unprepared.

It’s a glorious afternoon to drift on the river.  For the moment, this is my new stealth tactic, after failing at motoring, tracking, climbing, spotting, calling and calling and calling. I feel that this will work.  Why wouldn’t it? 

Everything else has only improved the lot of local moose, as they inch their way to the end of the hunting season. It’s cold and a bit windy.  I do calisthetics to keep the monotony and chill at bay, something my father passed down from the generations of sailing and fishing in Newfoundland.

I saw two more cows this morning.  No sign of the bull after tracking for a couple of hours.  These are evasive creatures, capable of silently disappearing in the smallest droke of trees.  Amazing.

There was no trampolining mouse last night, nor were there owls.  In fact, other than the hopeful raven and eagle, the river is practically devoid of birds.  The rare Merganzer, no geese, two paired swans.  It’s late in the season, I’m guessing.  Maybe late for moose, even… 

But, the land is big, capable of harboring a wide variety of hidden life.  I saw a small brown bear that seemed to be this year’s cub, yesterday.  No mother in sight.  This morning, I saw a large grizzly.

There is a wisp of orange on the tops of the cottonwood, and some willows are hanging on to their foliage, in stubborn denial of the season.  It’s a game of patience, this. 

One swings from despondency to hope, simply by the sighting of a moose, or even a burst of sunshine through the grey overcast.  My mood is fickle.  Food might help.  I think I’ll try that thing called Tomme, which looks like a dairy derivative.  Maybe it’ll make my spirit soar.

Gerard’s Blog: An Equal and Opposite Inaction

Back on the river, Gerard’s writing from Oct 3rd:

This morning was full of no such thing as the expected action.   Instead, I was awaken by dueling grey horned owls, each trying to out-perform the other…  hoot-a-hoo, hoo-oo…

And peculiarly, in the night, I was perturbed by either a carnivorous or fun-loving mouse, who repeatedly attacked my tent. He would scramble up the side of the tent, only to slide down.  He did this repeatedly.  I consoled myself with thoughts that it  must be a joyful mouse, excited by the frosty canvas that was offering a moon-lit opportunity for pre-snow sliding.

Now, I’m sitting down to another breakfast of eggs and burger, washed down with mugs of boiled, delicious, silty water.  The owls and mouse have settled down for the day, just as mine is gearing up, demonstrating that this earth provides space for a living opportunity unique to all.

Gerard’s Blog: Big Game Games

Back on the river, Gerard’s writing from Oct 2nd:

Tonight I’m camped in a most unlikely location. 

From that you might surmise that I’m hunting again.  On the river again.  It’s my third night, this stretch, and I’m not sure how long I’ll be out.

This is the first year that Suzanne was really interested (invested) in my success with getting a moose, so she essentially sent me packing.  Said, “there’s not much point in you coming back till you get a moose.”

So, out on this beautiful river I sit, drift and explore, suffering through a man’s duty or living the dream, depending on perspective.  And Suzanne was kind enough to throw a few things in the cooler.  Good thing, since grouse is off the menu after I realized I forgot the .22 bullets. 

I’ve got a couple of packs of moose sausage, three dozen eggs, two packs of moose burger, something called Tomme, and a whole bunch of carrots and potatoes.  I’ve just finished my third consecutive supper of burger/ potato soup, and perhaps because of the paucity of options, each supper tasted better than the last.

I was thinking luck would be on my side, and I’d be eating fresh tenderloin and roasted rack of ribs all month, till I felt like ending the holiday, proclaiming that, “I just got him last night.” But, the way things are going, I might just be here for the winter and suffer a lingering slow death as I run out of food.

Sure, I’ve seen moose.  But no shots fired.  They’re skittish, grouping up, uninterested in my calls, running on sight so quickly that I haven’t even seen an antler.  No inquisitiveness in me at all, despite having a red boat.  I guess “seeing red” doesn’t mean the same to Yukon bulls as it does their Spanish relatives.

And what’s worse, is that moose seem to be fully versed in the general regulations about hours of operation.  This morning, a cow and (possible?) bull presented themselves in the early dawn, too soon for certain identification.  Tonight, two cows and another possible bull, provided me with a tantalizing glimpse just at dusk.

Which is why I am camped here.  Right across the slough from that last sighting, on a steep bank, back-dropped by a grassy viewing slope, and just enough “flat” ground for my small tent’s footprint.  I’m so close to the boat, I might as well have slept in it. 

An unknowing observer might think that I’ve deliberately parked the boat this way as a safety, such that if I was to roll off this precipice in the night, I would land in the boat and be saved from a chilly, wet drowning.  They would not know that this site was not so much chosen as provided.

Tomorrow there will be action.

Gerard’s Blog: Old Man River Can Be a Real Son of a Gun

At 3:30 p.m. today I flung my rifle into the river.  This was immediately followed by my body.  This, like most of life, was more circumstance than deliberation.

I was feeling rather sprightly and adept, much like I would have felt after shooting a moose 20 or 30 years ago.  But sadly, today there was a great absence of moose.  And I am no longer as footsure as I was 20 or 30 years ago.

I had untied the boat, coiling up the painter as I approached it.  As the current was strong, I had to quicken my pace towards the bank, taking that fateful (non-sprightly) leap onto the deck.  The landing didn’t go so well, and in an effort to save myself, I inadvertently flung the rifle off my shoulder and into the river.  Stupidly, my reaction was to plunge an arm in after it, thinking I suppose, that the rifle might be floating there, awaiting a rescuing hand.  There was nothing for it but to jump in after it.

Thankfully, the water was only about 2 feet deep.  I groped at the bottom and found no rifle.  But the boat!  It was adrift and even more of a priority than my trusty old 30-06.  So, I floundered after the boat, grabbed the painter, tied her off, then retraced my steps upriver, in the water.

Now, over the years this family has lost a thing or two in the silty and opaque waters of the Yukon River.  Once I dropped the fuel cap for my boat in 2 feet of water.  I spent a good hour scouring the riverbed to no avail.  One of my daughters was momentarily distracted while washing some mud off her shirt, only to turn around and find it gone.  Another daughter lost a pair of pants the same way.  The river gobbles things up and doesn’t spit them back.

Those were my thoughts as I rummaged around in this grey, swirling milk.  I wondered how the pull of the 5-knot current might affect a rifle, whether things tend to get dragged to the deep or slide straight downstream.  I worried about kicking it deeper, felt it best to start downstream and deeper, working towards the estimated  point of entry.  And I worried that whatever the effect the river was going to have on the rifle, it was going to compound with time.

After only a couple of minutes of frantic dredging, my hand blindly seized the precious tool! 

Not this time, Mr. River, not this time!

Gerard’s Blog: Of Moose and Man

Isn’t it funny that some behavior patterns don’t change?  Like for instance, I always eat the non-yoked half of a boiled egg first.  That’s what comes to me as I sit on a log, eating one boiled egg after another, awaiting the furtive moose that I’ve been calling since yesterday.

Why sit?  Go after him, you might say.  Well, yes that’s one way.  Hunters have choices and I’ve tried that.  You see, yesterday I found this place: fresh tracks, wide open shooting ranges, unobstructed views in three directions.  No wind.  Quiet!  Beautiful conglomeration of willows, water, gravel and sand.  No mud!  It’s the place where I want to shoot a moose.  Unfortunately, it seems that it is not a place where a moose wants to die.

Yesterday, I called and called here, sat in disbelief that the moose wouldn’t expose himself in this perfect spot.  I examined the empty tracks, tracks of yesterday’s  history making, hoping they would fill with moose before my very eyes.  Disillusioned, I finally left.

In spite, I decided that it would be fitting retribution to the unslaughtered moose if I went for a “drive-by”… cruise the river, check out a few other spots with hopeful sign.  Did that, no luck.   Just loneliness and hopelessness. 

And because there was no better place to field dress a moose and load my boat alone, I came back before dark, set up camp, roasted three moose sausages on a stick (no dishes!), called and called, and was asleep by 10pm, knowing that Mr. Moose would awaken me in the morning.

To my dismay, he did not. I called some more, scanned till my eyes crossed, then started the fire.  As I was boiling the eggs I thought, how convenient:  hot water to drink, hot water to wash up with, hot water to boil eggs, and no dishes!  Genius at work.

But now, the eggs are gone and it appears that the moose has also.  I pack up, drink some hot water, decide that there is no point in wetting my face with the water when the rain and tears of the day will do that anyway.  So I toss the water and head to the boat.  I’ll search for the moose of circumstance, interrupted by a man of circumstance.  You can’t linger over tracks.  Tracks are a euphemism for life: you can’t dwell on the past.  Time to move on and try something new.  

The next time I boil an egg, I’ll eat the yoke first.

Gerard’s Blog: The Cauliflower Hour is Upon Us

What a fun-filled evening!  It was Suzanne’s idea, not mine.  She suggested, since the last couple of cauliflower-processing family marathons did not really result in happiness all around, that I should do it alone tonight.  Perhaps she had nothing but benevolence as her motive, thinking that the multi-tasking exercise would help keep my looming dementia at bay.  Perhaps she just wanted to affirm how advanced my decline might be.  A test, in other words.

Her cited reason for me “putting away” the cauliflower was almost as transparent as the family’s need for a dough-substitute.  She simply stated that everyone else was busy,  what with the two oldest tackling the ubiquitous mound of dishes, the youngest shaking her innards to the point of potential harm in an effort to produce butter, and Suzanne boiling down two pots of tomatoes and juicing up celery for God knows what.  That left me with free hands.

So, I clear some working room and get to it. Chop some cauliflower, blanch it in the steamer (“for precisely four minutes” — ha!), cool it in a basin of cold water, place it in the blender, transfer it into a cheese-cloth, squeeze out the liquid (“save that for soup stock or as a nice hot drink”), transfer the paste into zip-lock bags, remove the air, seal, label and date, freeze.  Repeat.  And repeat.

But what happens is that some stages take longer than others, so in the name of efficiency, new batches are started, until eventually all stages end up going simultaneously. There is nothing more to it than moving the body around the stations, using the mind to keep track of those “precise four minutes” and, well, using the mind.

It wasn’t long before the unattended blender started producing unusual whining sounds, and the cold immersion bath was hot, and the “precise four minutes” became anytime really, and the squeezing station was backing up.  Then someone said, “Is something burning?”

Putting away food is a peculiar activity, possibly designed by the desperate, or by those who are into the aesthetics of touch and texture.  When all was done, the counters (and floor) cleared off, the blender and cheese-cloth cleaned and rinsed, the black charcoal scraped and scrubbed off the previously perfectly functional steamer, I had a reflective opportunity while cradling my hot cup of cauliflower drippings and the five little baggies of dough.

Earlier in the day, I had put the tin on my shed roof.  I had also repaired my boat and test-driven it. But tonight, following a similar investment of time as those earlier endeavors, I processed enough cauliflower that we could have five whole pizzas! Makes you wonder why I don’t spend more time in the kitchen …

Gerard’s Blog: Breakfast is the Most Impertinent Meal of the Day

Breakfast today was beyond definition.  It was a three-way compilation, which, as a word of warning, can happen when a man is left alone in the kitchen, bleary-eyed and hungry. It started with the simple observation that there was a pot of leftovers obscuring all else in the refrigerator.  Removal of said pot revealed a container of cooked cabbage.   Digging deeper revealed the eggs, as well as other containers harboring mysterious concoctions. Creativity is like that.  Some of the greatest inventions are crafted from the aggregation of necessity with available resources.  And of course, blind optimism helps. When all things were stirred together, mixed with “local” boar fat, made into little patties, and fried up on the grill, it was surprising to me that the neighbors were not lining up with their plates and utensils in hand!  And the memory will be forever embellished by the fact that this recipe will not be replicated by any, except possibly the very brave, or the blind. Addendum by Suzanne: I asked Gerard this morning what the ingredients were in his “pancake” creation.  He was elusive. It was then that I noticed that the vase of wilted and forgotten flowers was missing.  Hmmm.  I may never know.   But at least they were all edible flowers.

Gerard’s Blog: Getting Back to Our Roots

There are signs that the season is ending.  Our green lawn is replaced with yellow leaves.  There is a zip in the morning air, felt again the moment after the sun sets.  There was a magnificent showing of Northern Lights the other night.  The tomatoes are developing thick skins.  The garden leaves are yellowing and drooping, begging reprieve.  And the tired watering can sprung multiple leaks in defiant obstinance, kicking the bucket before our very eyes.

We’ve been digging and processing.  The dehydrator has not stopped.  The newly built onion drying rack was overwhelmed the moment after its completion.  Similarly, I’ve been advised that regardless of the dimensions, the ‘’shed  of optimism” is guaranteed to be too small …

I learned the other day that there was once a communal root cellar in Dawson.  And of course, there were multiple other root cellars, both personal and commercial.  Now, the only large-scale root cellar that I am aware of is at Kokopellie Farms in Sunnydale. 

It’s another example of how perfectly logical approaches to regional sustainability are quickly forgotten in a world of expedient transportation.  Do we have to wait till the transportation becomes compromised before regenerating some of those time-proven skills?

Gerard’s Blog: Where Once a House Stood

Our house is a warehouse.  It is nothing more than a vessel of storage.  There are onions covering the downstairs floor, awaiting my construction of a commercial-grade drying rack of immense proportions.  Upstairs, there are green plant-like things looking tired, dry, and done, hanging upside down from every possible tie-off.

Upon close examination of the house, there are indicators of the original intent of a home.  A peek past a wall of canned tomatoes reveals what most likely was a perfectly functional kitchen.  A simple reshuffling of buckets of kale exposes a passageway, which in all likelihood, was explicitly intended to guide the weary to their sleeping quarters. 

These were once called bedrooms because the rooms generally contained beds that were not hidden behind more buckets of fluffy white stuff that approximates some wistful northern attempt at cotton.  The dining room table hides beneath the “yield of the day.”  This could be bags or buckets or boxes of produce. 

And we are talking serious quantity here, not one zucchini and a handful of carrots, fresh from the corner grocer.  No sir.  Our table is starting to buckle in the middle, and if it doesn’t implode soon, then it will be a miracle.  Do I need to mention that there is no room for eating at the table?

All through late winter and early spring, I tolerated our living room and comfortable seating area in the sun, being owned by wooden planks bearing none other than rows of seedlings and the ubiquitous watering can, so that I could make myself useful should I ever wander into the living room.  No room for humans (“what do you think this is, a house?”).  I felt that this imposition was a mere temporary inconvenience, hardly worth the bother in the greater scheme of things. 

But looking at life now, I wonder how differently things might have transpired had I been more assertive, had I for instance, suggested boundaries as part of the bargaining process which pre-dated this project.  Would it have been unreasonable of me to expect to return to a recognizable home, after toiling away the day for a handful of berries so the children can have a “sweet” before bedtime?

And the worst is that it doesn’t end.  The other day, in a desperately furtive attempt to open up some living space, I started to pack the grow light up to the shed, when Suzanne caught me and stated without uncertainty that she needs the grow-light imminently to start the “Indoor Garden”!

Gerard’s Blog: Savour Flavour

It’s happening.  I’m developing a taste for the subtle flavours.  I can eat a boiled vegetable with no seasoning.  I love the taste of a tomato off the vine. Try a kohlrabi today; peel it, slice thinly, eat slowly, savour the crispness and rush of liquid as it flows across your parched and desirous palate.  Meat and fish are great, as is, seeping in their own juices. Skip the gravy; save it for the nearly rotten meat, when you need to hide the rancid taste.  Use gravy in the way perfume was once used to disguise body odor.

Salt is a cover; it is there to disguise flavour, not enhance it.  Same for sweetness.  And pepper and curry and cinnamon and nutmeg and all the rest.  Rise up people and revolt!  No longer allow yourselves to be chained to culinary tradition, which encourages the bathing of food with herbs and spices, such that you will be indifferent to the plethora of food mediocrity.  Good food has its own good flavours.

Gerard’s Blog: Unnatural Born Killer

Maybe I’m not cut out to live off the land.  I’m certainly not taking full advantage of the opportunities which are being presented to me.  This morning I swerved the truck to avoid a few young grouse, filling their gizzards with pebbles from the road.  And a couple of weeks ago I nearly sunk the boat in my effort to avoid a gaggle of darling ducklings that darted in every direction I steered.

Why is it that I am not searching out these circumstances as opportunities, as gifts to me, the purported self-provider?  Is it innately instinctual to exhibit this aversion to dietary road-kill?  How can it be that we are almost willing to die in avoiding a collision with an animal, only to go home and load the gun for a fruitful hunt?  How interestingly peculiar (note that I did not say, “hypocritical”?) that we might spend weeks nursing an injured rabbit back to life, only to spend another portion of our recreational time in the pursuit of snaring rabbits.

As a minimum, we might wave away this peculiarity with the suggestion that it is powerfully compelling, and certainly endearing, to nurture and love; on the other hand, for the omnivores and carnivores amongst us, there is apt justification for the phrase, “food for thought.”

Gerard’s Blog: Animal Kin-dom

I’ve got a sore forearm today.  Reflecting back, it’s the rhubarb to blame.  Or maybe the size of the knife.  My advice is that if you have to spend all morning chopping 5,000 times in rapid succession, then choose a small knife.  Better still, build a factory.

So, we need a ton of rhubarb.  This is washed, chopped, packaged, weighed, frozen.  Then, most is juiced into a vinegar-substitute so that we can have cheese.  Today, my arm is questioning the relevance of cheese.

In fact, this project is making me question eating.  Sometimes I feel as if more energy is utilized in the gathering and processing of food than what could ever be sequestered from the consumption of that produce.  As I shrivel away, with the gnawing background of unrequited hunger always lurking, I feel that this journey is going backwards from what nature intended. 

Don’t bears just eat and get fat for winter?  You don’t see them chopping rhubarb, thinking this will be really delicious in January.  And moose just eat, get fat for winter, deal with whatever as it comes along, tolerate and expect the more lean diet of winter in trade for a delicious Fall of gorging and growing and whatever else moose do in the Fall. 

It is a sad day to realize that, in life, we don’t so much emulate the great beasts of this planet, as we do this one pesky critter, as we “squirrel” away food for the winter.

Gerard’s Blog: Road Rave

So, it’s official: Suzanne is the only member of the “100% club.”

These trips out of town are just not conducive to the local diet.  I lasted till the kids had wings and yam fries and pizza at Earl’s, when the combination of hunger and weakness of conviction overpowered me.  And the food was, well … delicious.  It was zesty, and the relative newness of the salt was notable enough to surprisingly create an evening’s worth of thirst.

And for breakfast, I tried to delude myself into thinking that the eggs and sausages could be local.  But again, the salt kept the truth not far from the surface.  And since the cat was out of the bag, I tried coffee.  It was surprisingly unrewarding and the taste rather alarming, so I soon reverted back to my cups of straight-up hot water, Zenning in the bestowed purification.

I thought there would be more guilt.  And likely, had I “cheated” while in Dawson, there might have been cause for reflection, personal evaluation of self-worth and the like.  But, travel presents a practical excuse for indulgences of this sort.  Thank goodness for travel.

The kids were quick to indicate to me that dietary guilt was an imperceptible emotion for them, nowhere on the radar.  And, of course, that is the way it should be.  This is not so much a challenge; it is really only an exercise in discipline, designed to inspire thought and conversation, designed to promote the healthy benefits of regionalization, but designed also to teach us appreciation for an infrastructure that allows such diverse dietary options.

Gerard’s Blog: Momentary Meltdown

Last evening presented an opportunity for us to explore our inner emotions.  And our motives.

It came on the heels of a heavy load of processing cauliflower into paste, to be used as a dough substitute.  And then a huge topping of dishes before bed.  This was all tempered with the message that was intended to be optimistic but proved catastrophic, that we would only need two more such evenings to provide us with enough “dough” to allow us the privilege of one pizza a week for the next year.

A notable benefit of childhood meltdowns is the necessity, eventually, for a rational conversation.  We actually experienced that benefit rather soon, perhaps too soon for the “rational” part.  But life, after all, is not scripted.

All kinds of cathartic comments were delivered during that evening of emotional venting.  Sam kept saying, “I didn’t sign up for this”, which was then followed up with, “it’s a good job that I have a summer job, so I can afford to eat now, but how am I going to keep from starving when I go back to school?” 

Tess revealed that her recent walks to town were for the primary purpose of acquiring a cheeseburger, to dampen the craving fire in her belly. Kate was dreaming of chocolate.  All were feeling victimized and wanting escape from the extra chore burden.

As always, the morning presents a more encouraging future.  The promise of less mundane chores is acceptable.  The imminent trip to Whitehorse for myself and the girls will come with a welcomed reprieve from the diet.  And most importantly, everyone has been heard, and there is an understanding that despite the circumstances of the day, we are united in our efforts to sort this out together

Gerard’s Blog: Moo-vers and Shakers

Don’t be surprised if you notice that our children have Popeye forearms.  It’s the cow that’s responsible.  And that’s even without the milking responsibility.

Once the milk enters the house, the action begins.  One sentry awaits the definition of the line, as the cream rises.  Then there is the careful skimming and separation of this precious, precious stuff.  Some of it will be destined for creamsicles, some for ice-cream, some for butter.

After appropriate warming, the jar of cream is shaken vigorously, for longer than you want, the contents first turning a tinge of yellow, then magically transforming into clumps of butter.  This needs separation from the buttermilk, washing and containment.

Meanwhile some of the skimmed milk is warmed, stirred continuously, and kefir is added.  The watchful waiter of the next few hours has first dibs on yogurt. And then there are the frothers.  Milk is heated, stirred and frothed with vigor.  Everyone likes hot frothed milk.

So this house is comprised of skimmers, stirrers, shakers, frothers, and scrubbers.  Kudos to the cow.

Gerard’s Blog: Can’t Take It Out on the Diet

There’s a problem with this diet.  There is no capacity for fine restaurant dining, nor even for terrible take-out.  There can be no “just get yourself a snack at the bakery” comments … unless those words are truly meant to hurt and torture.

There can be no utterances of “we’ll pick up some highway food on the way out.”  There can be no energy drinks or Red Bull to help on those late-night, wintry returns from Whitehorse.  There can be no bag of grapes or chips or Doritos or Cheezies, just sitting on the passenger seat, awaiting the ultimate fulfillment of their anticipated destiny as you devour them. 

Let’s make no mistake about it, there will be no devouring. And what about travel?  Should I book an extra seat for the cow?  Are you allowed, even in the depths of thirst, to milk a cow on the plane?  How can I politely decline the warm Air North chocolate chip cookie with a smug demonstration of my bag of carrots? 

No one will understand.  Not even me …

Gerard’s Blog: Confessions of a Serial Diluter

I’m on a dishwater diet.  Our fridge is a ready source of jars and containers, all of which get emptied, cleaned and refilled, on a regular basis.  So my new thing is to search out the nearly empty containers, add some hot water, stir or shake, then drink it.  Yum! A

nd when that is emptied, I serially add more water, each time diluting the contents and virtually gifting myself with an altogether new flavor.  Then I move on to the next surprise jar.  The variety is endless and sometimes the experience can be downright exhilarating.  Everyone should be doing this!

Of course, I’m mostly (but not exclusively) referring to dairy products, since our fridge is now devoid of store-bought staples.  But, since I’m being so open, I’d best give full disclosure and right now admit that this dishwater diet is not entirely a newly acquired skill.  Even before Suzanne’s influence on me, I was known to indulge in the “serially diluted experience” (a.k.a. “SDE”) with the ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, jams, honey, blender contents and virtually anything in the mixing bowl.

Generally, and needless to say, this is a privilege of the dishwasher of the day, which means that once this secret is out, no family will ever again have that age-old struggle to find volunteers for that duty.  Problem solved!

Gerard’s Blog: The Body’s Hunger Games

There’s an emptiness in my belly.  Some might call it hunger, but I feel that the word “hunger,” is not quite complex enough to explain what I feel.

There is an abundance of food in the house and I seem to graze on carrots and broccoli all day long.  We’re going through the better part of a dozen eggs a day.  There’s moose and fish and even sheep.  Tomatoes, radishes and lettuce stalk me wherever I go.  My wife keeps suggesting that we have to eat more cabbage and that turnip greens are good too.  And she likes to remind me that while working in the yard, I can nourishingly nibble on the wild strawberry blite… which seems to be actually everywhere, once your eyes are trained.

So, I am experiencing a disconnect, a personal quagmire:  while gorging on food, I feel as though I am suffering from starvation.

I think it’s the salt.  Or the sugar.  Maybe it’s the bread, the pastry, the cereals, the grains, the bagels, the toast, the chips, the cookies, the muffins, the chocolate, the coffee, the nachos, the pizza.  Basically everything! 

So, the only option is to embrace the subtle tastes, of which there are many, while ignoring the lure of the strong, flavorful tastes, familiar to me from a long life of culinary decadence.  That should be easy.

Gerard’s Blog: Innovation Appreciation

I am learning so much. It is consoling to come to the realization that all is not lost; as my body shrinks, my mind expands.

I am increasingly appreciating the value of societal structure. Take farming, for example. We, as you know, have already spent some effort at berry picking, fighting the wilds and relentless foes, while never being certain of the profitability of the venture.

Most recently, though, we have been exposed to the greatest invention of all time: just bring the berries to your home and cultivate them there! These people have it all figured out. Bigger and better and more berries can be grown right on your doorstep. What could be wrong with awakening in the morning, stretching your arm out the window of your home, returning it with a handful of juicy berries, lovingly growing right outside your window?

And, of course, the same can be appreciated of chickens, goats, cows, pigs and all the garden vegetables. Clearly, people’s adaptations have been driven by need. I wonder what interesting adaptations this house will witness over the winter …

Gerard’s Blog: Finding Out What’s In Store

What I’m learning is that stores were invented for good reason.  They were not invented singularly as a retail opportunity.  Like banks, they were invented with the needs of the community foremost.

Right now, I’m suffering from the lack of a store.  The problem is the sheer bulk of produce that is available at this time of year.  So the store’s purpose of “storage” is desperately needed at our house.  Our living quarters are being overrun by heads of cabbage. 

I look for a pot and find it filled with forgotten string beans, well along in the process of ripening the very air I’m wanting to breathe.  In deep hunger, I open the fridge only to be confused by the unknown array of jars and containers, in some stage of experimentation.  I close the fridge and eat a carrot, which I happen to find on the stairs, or in a pocket of one of the starving children.  For thirst…well, there is always water. The math is frightening. 

Normally, stores protect the public from math, so without them, we must do our own calculations.  And what I’m learning from this preliminary research is that we simply do not have the room to do this.  We will need hundreds of pounds of fruit and vegetables.  We have three freezers.  Does that mean that we have to process and condense and dehydrate and generally desecrate every bit of texture and flavor in order to survive this trial?

Suddenly, this food experiment of Suzanne’s is taking on a whole new flavor.  Not only will the house become our store and warehouse, but the people in the house will become pickers and packers and washers and sorters and canners. But only if we want to eat …

Gerard’s Blog: I’se the B’y That Catches the Fish

I grew up in Newfoundland.  I ate fish every day.  When we had free time, we fished.  Alternatively, we would collect mussels or clams, or if we wanted something different to do, we would hike into the hills to go fishing for trout.  As young men, when we went camping, it was up the river to fish for salmon. The beginning of summer vacation was always hallmarked by parties at Caplin Gulch, while we fished for … caplin.  If the caplin was in abundance (as it always

was), we would use the surplus in our vegetable gardens as fertilizer.  Or we would add seaweed to the soil, which was a “byproduct” of our fishing.

Breakfast was most frequently fish. My mother loved to fish and we lived on the banks of a salmon river.  Throughout the summers she would often fish early in the morning, so we could awaken to the smell of frying trout.  Failing that, she would fry up cod’s heads. Or salmon.  Sometimes, there would be “fisherman’s bruise,” made from the leftovers of the previous evenings supper.  Since we ate fish every day, it always gave us a moment for reflection when others would specifically mention how they were having fish because it was Good Friday. 

For us, every day was Good Friday. So you can imagine the shock when I came to the realization that I don’t like to fish.  I’ve been thinking the thought for a few years now.  I’ve been reminiscing about my exploits of the past and I’ve been wondering whether it was the fish I was seeking, or just the food, or perhaps the camaraderie of my buddies.  Or was it just the expectation, the alternative of being a “non-fisherman” being too sacrilegious to even contemplate?

I’ve been trying out the words lately, saying things like, “I only like fishing when there are fish.”  In other words, I’ve been fishing for responses, testing the waters before coming out of the closet with the admission that I don’t like to fish.  So, that’s it then.  I don’t like to fish.  Can’t help it.  Ancestors, don’t roll in your graves, or haunt me tonight (or for all eternity for that matter!).

Because of this diet thing, there has been a certain amount of pressure for me to fish, since fish is local.  Tried a couple of times for whitefish.  None.  Tried for grayling, but could not disguise the fact that mostly I just want to drive the boat.  It’s hard to catch fish if the line doesn’t touch the water…

But last night, last night I caught two grayling!   And we fried them up and ate them and they were delicious and they brought back a flood of fond memories and now I think I’ve got grayling figured out and so am thinking about fishing, looking forward to it actually. 

So now I am confused, my conviction is being tested.  Could I, in fact, enjoy fishing?

Gerard’s Blog: Berries Bite Back

I’m having renewed doubts today. We spent a couple of hours yesterday, hunting for raspberries. And raspberry picking, as most of you will know, is not necessarily joyful picking. The raspberry’s preferred terrain is mostly upturned mounds, often around deadfall, stumps, and hidden ankle hazards. And then they immerse themselves amongst the nettle and the roses and other prickly deterrents. Oh, and as if that is not enough, they arm themselves with thorns, and guard their territory with a mass cooperative of thousands of stinging insects, all working in noisy unison to minimize my joy with the process. The whole thing feels conspiratorial, personal. And afterwards, while soaking our feet in the healing river, we look in the pails, dreamily thinking of the jams and pies, when all this becomes ruined by the horror of the moment. Less than a liter apiece is our yield! And that is even before we remove the twigs and leaves and abundance of bugs and spiders. There are definitely going to be some desperate evenings come January…

Gerard’s Blog: Symptomatic Addict

I’m up early today.  While I’m sipping enviably on a sweet cup of steaming kohlrabi, it isn’t that which motivated my arising.  It was the myalgias; the pains in my hamstrings and low back were relentless, nagging and unrelievable. No caffeine for one week. Just to ensure that I wasn’t ignoring my body’s indication that I was in the last throes of the dying process, I googled the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.  It’s all there.  The headache (which has now dissipated, thankfully).  The profound sleepiness.  The constipation (which we’ll just acknowledge and move on…) The lack of concentration (Ah-ha! So that’s why my boat hit that rock in the river yesterday.) And the muscle pains and cramps.  There, in black and white for all to see.  The affirmation that the source of this pain, my pain, is identifiably harmless, and that all this will be temporary, is reassuring.  All I need now will be positive affirmations and indifference to taste, to make it through the next 51 weeks.

Gerard’s Blog: Everything in the Kitchen Sink

It’s the dishes that are the killer.  No one saw that coming.  Tubs for gathering, bowls for holding, cookie sheets for drying, pots for simmering, slow cooker for condensing. But nothing compares to the dairy processing.  Jugs for milk, containers for cream, yogurt, kefir and whey.  There are containers to be shaken for butter and jugs to be skimmed for cream.  Then there are containers to store these things.  Not to mention containers for cheese of different varieties.  The cows own the fridge! And everything needs to be washed.  That’s where the children and I come in (Yippee!). The only alternative is a kitchen without room, a kitchen with every conceivable counter space occupied by some reminder of food preparation.  A kitchen with splatterings of ketchup in the making, a kitchen of strainers and cheese cloth, a kitchen of pots and bowls and jugs. And all this is awaiting a miracle, a miracle that falls squarely on the shoulders of the kids and me!  (Did I mention that Suzanne refuses to own a dishwasher!)

Gerard’s Blog: What’s Up, Doc?

I’m on my fourth cup this morning.  Not coffee.  Not tea.  With the nagging headache of caffeine withdrawal foremost on my mind, I have been searching for that ideal substitute.  I’ve learned that heat is important to my constitution, so the kettle is on.  And while hot water works, it is rather bland, with just a hint of sweetness in the boiled water. (Is that true, or is it possible that my taste buds are already adapting and searching for something … anything?) My current cup is flavoured with a carrot.  Previously today, I’ve tried broccoli, spruce tips and cauliflower.  I am immensely reassured by the experimental power within my range.  I’ve learned that, while always surprising, the flavors are never distasteful, perhaps because of the familiarity to those foods.  And the flavors are dose dependent:  more carrot, more flavour.  Furthermore, the flavours continually change during the steeping stage, such that every sip offers a fresh surprise. In the mornings I need liquids, so the extent of this tasting extravaganza is limited because of my consumption haste.  But by afternoon, I will take the time to sip and steep.  Perhaps I will invent something and call it soup.

Gerard’s Blog: I Found No Thrill On Blueberry Hill

I read a quote the other day, which fairly represents the current state of things in our house: “She wanted a puppy.  But I didn’t want a puppy.  So we compromised and got a puppy.” So, last night, after Suzanne prepared a delicious supper of local everything, we were instructed that there was no time to relax.  Why, ripe blueberries have been spotted in the hills!  All hands on deck!  Man your posts! Fortunately, part of the preparation for this year involved gorging ourselves with “store-bought” ice-cream, so there are no shortage of plastic tubs in the house.  Empty tubs.  Tubs that are supposed to be filled.  By us.  Oh, joy upon joy! So, off we go.  Lovely evening. Beautiful on the hill.  No wind, few mosquitos.  And there were berries, yes. Patchy. Small.  But, berries undeniably.  We set to work with dreams of bounty that would supplant any winter cravings for oranges or grapefruit or pineapple or grapes.  Why, we would imminently be rich in produce, capable of spending a winter of movie-watching with blueberries as our popcorn substitute. The problem with gathering is the concept of value for time.  My time.  Is this a real problem or merely a personal misconception?  Or could it perhaps be familial?  After an hour I found one of the children sitting on the moss, dreamily listening to her audio-book while petting the dog.  I found another sprawled out on a sunny bank, the telltale sonorous breathing explaining all.  Meanwhile, I had taken a preference to looking for the mother-load of berries, hiking and exploring, being lured by the adventure, actually doing something.  As for berries?  Needless to say, we will be returning to the hills.

Gerard’s Blog: On Day One

I woke in a sweat this morning, feeling like I had missed the plane or like the phone was ringing in the middle of the night.  No plane.  No phone.  Just “Day One” of Suzanne’s year-long local diet commitment.  Just the beginning of sacrifice and hunger.  Just the beginning of caffeine withdrawal, bread dreams and sugar cravings.  This is just the beginning.  So, I sweat. But it does make one wonder why anyone would commit to this and toss away a perfectly comfortable life.  And then drag the rest of the family into this nonsense with luring promises of renewed appreciation for quality food, and improved health, and all the meat you can eat.  And the unforgettable opportunity to browse in the forest for anything edible. Are the rest of us committed to this?  Not really.  The kids mostly want to support Suzanne, and I mostly want to, well, support Suzanne.  But total adherence to this diet?  No salt?  No chocolate?  No cake or pie or bagels or pancakes or cereal or coffee or burgers or pepper or nuts?  This is nuts!  It was Bob Dylan who wrote that “people who suffer together have stronger connections than those who are most content.”  I guess we’ll see about that.