Author Archives: kathy

Book Review of “Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking”

Quick quiz: Can you “amen” all three statements?

  • I rarely follow a recipe exactly as written
  • I’m a pretty good cook
  • I always have flour, eggs, butter/oil, and entire drawers full of spices (many of which I’ve forgotten I own) and would like some easy baking tips?

Or, ever wonder how bread, pie, pasta, and biscuits can be so different from one another yet are all made out of basically the same four ingredients: flour, liquid, fat, and maybe salt? Or wish you had the universe of salad dressings instantly at your fingertips?

Kitchen nerds, foodies, and anyone who loves a good thinking model, meet, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.

Michael Ruhlman has pulled together a kitchen magic tome: it’s equal parts fundamental ingredient ratios in cooking and baking, an anti-recipe cookbook, and for anyone searching for beginner cooking tips, this little nugget is a great place to start.

It is, essentially, a periodic table of elemental baking and cooking basics turned into a book with wildly helpful insights, all by an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America who is also a talented and engaging writer.

It’s based on the deliciously simple idea that once you know the essential ratios and a few fundamental techniques (happily supplied in his book) of any general category of food, the entire universe of flavours is yours with which to futz.

Wish I’d read it years ago… it would have saved us a ton on cookbooks. (Well, probably not… Rick is a  yuuuge fan of beautiful coffee table cookbooks.) But it sure would have made my life in the kitchen easier and way more fun,
The staff of life, for instance, is essentially a 5:3 deal: five parts flour to three parts water, most preferably determined by weight, since flour density can vary widely based on local humidity.
Up until now, I hadn’t thought of our kitchen scale as one of our top ranking contenders in the home baking equipment and tools, but there is, apparently, a lot I don’t know.


Given that measuring by weight make the ratios so much easier, Ruhlman says that of all the kitchen gizmos that should have a permanent place on your kitchen counter, a good electronic kitchen scale with a tare function (meaning it can zero out the weight of your container and just weigh the ingredients) should make the short list.

The OXO Good Grips 11 lb Food Scale with Pull Out Display (above) is the current Cook’s Illustrated best rated digital scale. We have the My Weigh KD-8000, which has served us well for the past eight years, but whatever…. As long as it’s reliable, can tare, weigh in grams as well as ounces, and looks dashing on your kitchen counter, run with it.

This ability to weigh the ingredients is what allows you to cook for two or adjust for twenty (but it won’t help with the dishes). It’s the ratio, plus some standard techniques that Ruhlman explains simply in the book, that distinguishes your pizza from your pasta and allows you to easily adjust the proportions to suit your volume: 1000 grams of flour to 6000 grams of water will get you roughly the same quality results as 500 grams of flour to 300 grams of water, or 5 ounces of flour and 3 ounces of water.

In the field of home cooking tips, it doesn’t get much easier than that.
5 : 3 = bread.
You also have to add some yeast and salt, but here the amounts are determined by the technique.

No-knead overnight bread needs a long, slow rise, so use less yeast–1/4 tsp–and more salt (to inhibit rising), up to 1.5 tsp.

Regular kneaded dough has a much faster rising period, so more yeast–up to 2.5 tsp– and less salt–1/2 tsp–gets the job done.

What isn’t flexible is the ratio of flour to water for bread: 5 : 3.  That’s it. And when you think about a food that has been around for thousands of years across almost every culture on the planet, it’s not surprising that it should be that simple. The infinite number of nuances on the subject, however, are what makes cooking and eating such a soul-satisfying experience. Food texture and flavour both connect us to the past and tease us into innovating the future. It’s the difference between my Granny and yours.

Hankering for a piece of homemade pie?
How to Make 3:2:1 Pie Pastry

The baking ratio for pie is three parts flour, two parts fat, one part ice water, added gently to each other in that order until the fat gets worked into pea-sized lumps into the flour, and then the water has homogeneously dampened the mixture to the point where it holds together. Start with 12 ounces of flour: sort of the right amount for a double pie crust.

Shape the dough into two flattish disks, wrap in plastic, and chill for a half an hour.

Roll each disc out on a floured surface. Fold the first circle at the center, place it in the middle of your pie pan with the edges hanging over the side, unfold the circle, and pat gently into place. Fill with something delicious, and top with second circle. Cut extra pastry from edges, pinch bottom and top together, cut some slashes in the top to let the steam out, and pop into a hot oven (375 degrees, usually) until golden brown and astounding.
Pining for pasta? 3 (flour) : 2 (eggs), Mix well, knead for about 10 minutes, wrap in plastic and let rest on the counter for half an hour. Roll out on floured surface until super thin but still even thickness across the sheet, cut in whatever width noodles appeals to you, drop into salted boiling water and cook for about two minutes.

This ratio even comes with a handy serving guide: one egg per adult at your table.

These are cold leftovers from dinner Friday night. It was so amazing that we went all “power of now” and became one with the chicken parm and fresh noodles dressed with olive oil, red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt, and some fresh parsley.

Even though I had made the noodles based on the ratio and technique outlined in Ruhlman’s book and knew I would be writing this post, it didn’t occur to me until yesterday when Rick pulled the leftovers out of the fridge for lunch that I hadn’t taken a photo.

So, this is basically a photo of cold leftovers. Imagine then, how incredible it was steaming hot and fresh?!

The bottom line is that cooking with ratios frees us to innovate successfully with fresh, local, and Muse-friendly ingredients until we’re eating like the French, with each meal savored for the singular experience it is.

Unless there are leftovers, in which case you get to enjoy it twice.


2016 Rearview Mirror

The snow blobs are falling straight down this afternoon, just like they did on that magical day earlier in the Christmas season.

New Year’s Eve… For me, it’s an afternoon for reflections, mostly about the people we love, the places we’ve been, and what I’ve learned in the past year.

With family spread out literally from coast-to-coast and across two nations…

… there will always be some precious moments we miss in person (thanks, Helen Overholt, Kate’s friend on Facebook, for all your wonderful photo sharing of the past year) …

… and some that we’re there for.

The trick to it all is to be where you are…

… and enjoy who you’re with…

… and cherish ALL the loving moments that come your way as they unfold.

Give back to your community when you can.

… be grateful for mind-bending, world-changing work when it comes your way…

… and travel for as long as you’re able…

…with as many loved ones as are willing, and especially those who enjoy a big fat martini at the end of a long day.

I still have many stories left to tell of 2016, of travels to Alaska…

… and more moments in India…

… but also of travels closer to home…

… and of those right in our own back yard. (Hint: brilliant green ferns, fresh snow, and majestic cascading waterfalls probably mean we’re somewhere within an hour of our house on Vancouver Island.)

I could write more about all the amazing dining out we experienced this year…

… or blab on further about all the fresh delights that came out of our own kitchen…

… or how this was the year that all grandmothers everywhere discovered the latest fountain of youth: Snapchat filters…

… or remind us all about the nasty consequences of poodles believing they can fly. (He’s better now.)

But my biggest lesson of 2016 was what it takes for me to witness and harvest opportunities for beauty…

… and creation…

… and peace.

May 2017 bring blessings to you and your household that will make you blink twice.


Merry Christmas 2016!

I can tell you exactly when it happened: November 26, 2016, at 11:52:14 AM. (Says so right in the time stamp of the photo.)

It was a Saturday morning in downtown Courtenay on 5th St. at the world’s best bakery/chocolate store, Cakebread.

We had stopped in for a latte and a baguette, and got smacked upside the head with the Christmas spirit.

Full blown, just like that. Boom! Merry Christmas.

No idea what was on this wall before the this adorable 3D mural appeared, but now I can’t imagine anything else there.

Yes, many things were the same: the amazing olive oil sampling wall was still there…

… as were the lovely ladies waiting on the line up for artisan breads and monster sandwiches…

… and the generally talented buskers who are almost always somewhere on the block.

But there really was this penguin-induced “Joy to the World” vibe in the air that was even more delicious than the latte and warm classic palmier cookie we shared.

So that was the start of it.

This year we had enough time to slow things down and savor each element as its own Christmas treat.

Finding just the right place for each decoration was like seasoning our home with a wash of family, sweet memories, and an earnest prayer for Peace on Earth.

BTW, the Santas have now finally been tweaked into their final position in front of Rick’s painting, unless he’s been poking away at them again.

I even learned how to wrap a gift like a grown up, AND enjoy the process. (Tip: buy the wrapping paper that has the grid lines on the reverse side to help with planning how much paper you’ll need and how to cut in a straight line.)

A great Christmas playlist, some fun new (to us) music by The Good Lovelies, and a wrapping buddy helped make the season bright.

There was leisure to futz with the fiddly bits and plenty of bandwidth to luxuriate in ALL the smells.

We even took time for a puzzle or two along the way when the parcels were ready.

We spent more time out in our extended community this year as well, with a couple of nights in magical Victoria, window-shopping fabulous Ford St. after the sun went down.

There’s nothing like a train set running in a hobby store window at Christmas to whet the appetite for what might be under the tree.

Our nautical neighbors are enthusiastic about the season as well.

Even the unadorned trees, heavy still with fruit to keep the birds going through the winter, speak kindness and optimism into the expectant calm.

I don’t know from whence the winds of Christmas cheer blow, but this year, I know for sure where they landed: in our hearts. We’re so grateful for each other, our wonderful family and friends, this beautiful world, and of course, all of you.

Merry Christmas, and here’s hoping you have a Most Amazing New Year!

Rowing Machines: Consumer Reports vs Amazon

Want a gentle, back-friendly, total-body workout that doesn’t feature pounding, twisting, or dependence on just one major muscle group to elevate cardiovascular effort? There may be a rowing machine in your future. The good news is that it’s a fairly easy decision to make.

Dig into the world of rowing machine reviews in search of the best rowing machine, and you’ll quickly learn one thing: you’ll basically be deciding between the Concept2 Model D  and something else.

The Concept2 rowing machine is THE industry standard bearer. The company has been in business for 40 years and the Model D has a huge fan base. Amazon awards a whopping 4.9 stars from over 1000 reviewers and, with an overall score 85 from Consumer Reports, it’s their highest rated rowing machine for 2016 out of the six machines they tested (top two runners up listed below), measured in the categories of:

  • How well designed is the pedal restraint system? (excellent)
  • How easy is it to see and operate the display and fiddle with the resistance level? (very good)
  • How well made is it? (excellent)
  • How safe is it to use? (excellent)


Even the Concept2 page on Amazon knocks all the others out of the park, with a series of super-thorough but short videos broken down into manageable bites of rowing machine advice on everything from how to use a rowing machine, proper technique, intensity and pause workouts, and more.

As my dad would say, these Concept2 people know their onions.

However, as is often the case at Chez Rick and Kathy, the Consumer Reports highest-rated gizmo isn’t the one we ended up buying. We landed on the Xebex Air Rower instead.

So… why the Xebex?

That’s what Winston wants to know.

(Or maybe he’s just wondering if he’ll ever get a turn.)

Rowing Machine Decision Factors

In addition to the four variables Consumer Reports tested, the pertinent factors for us also involved cost, storage options, seat height, a touch of arthritis (or whatever the hell it is that’s making my left index knuckle huge), and my delicate tail bone/backside.

We’re definitely a “zero pain but ALL the gain” kinda couple. So, why did we go with the Xebex?

Rowing Machine Pricing

The Concept2 Model D and the Xebex are (as of this writing) priced almost exactly the same: both come in at $945 on, with the Xebex currently shipping an additional free “conditioning pack” composed of “Back Saver Pad, EZ Speed Rope, 20-pound Premium Wall Ball, and 15 pound Slam Ball.” Beyond the extra goodies, however, the two machines are not equally matched, feature for feature, and this is where our path diverged from Consumer Reports.

Space and Storage Requirements for a Rowing Machine

Where to operate and store a rowing machine was a huge care-about for us in our not huge home.

All rowing machines need roughly 9 x 4 feet when in use, which actually isn’t that much to ask in an average room. It’s sort of the conversation space between facing furniture. We simply don’t have ~40 feet of unused space in our house, however, to dedicate permanently to a piece of exercise equipment. We needed something that stored upright and was easy to move into place.


The Xebex has an easy-to-use hinge system. You just pull out the pop-pin, fold the unit neatly in two on to its four sturdy wheels, and whistle it into a corner and out of the way. If you can lift a 12-bottle pack of Perrier into a grocery cart and wheel it to the checkout, you can handle this.

It’s also a much sturdier unit than the Concept2, which means that even at maximum intensity by a big guy it feels solid and locked in place. It also means it’s a much heavier unit than the Concept2. However, with the fold-up design, handle, and four wheels, it’s also much easier to move around, and we don’t plan on carrying it up or down stairs any time soon.

The Concept2 Model D separates into two parts for storage, so it can also compress into a tidy footprint when not in use. However, we liked that the Xebex stays in one piece and has a solid base of four wheels to lightly skootch around on. It just seems like an easier set-up/tear-down system to us after about a month of use.

Rowing Machine Seat Height and Comfort

The Concept2 Model D has a standard seat height of 14″ from the ground, where the Xebex has a higher seat of 21″, or roughly the same as that of a normal chair. This makes mounting and dismounting the machine and getting your feet into the adjustable foot pads easier. For Rick at 6’1″, this is more important for him than for me at a piddly 5’8″, but still… my theory is that anything that makes exercise easier and more enjoyable is worth consideration.

Here’s where the pricing game came back into play.

Concept2 also has a newer model, the Model E, that sells from roughly $200 more than the Model D, and one of the big differences is… you guessed it! The seat is positioned 20″ from the ground.


Plus, the Xebex comes with a nicely padded seat (as do I, so that works out well). If you’re looking at rowing for 45-60 minutes a day, that extra seat padding can make a huge comfort difference. After all, the lungs can only benefit from what the bum can endure.

Of course, you could buy the Concept 2 Model D and for about $50 more, swap the original seat for the cushy upgrade by the aptly-named company, “EndureRow.”

Rowing Machine Handle Comfort

There’s extra padding on the thick rubber Xebex handles as well, and while there is much less wear-and-tear on your hands than I would have expected (if you’re rowing correctly, which means you’re holding the handle loosely with the ends of your fingers like you’re carrying a suitcase, keeping your wrists flat), the handle on the Xebex is light and comfortable. No issues with that lovely knuckle of mine.

Of course,  you could always just add a pair of these Neoprene/leather workout gloves to your cart: 1000 Amazon reviewers have given them a solid 4.4 stars. Note: in the reading and videos I’ve dived into on correct rowing technique (a few good resources listed below), I’ve never seen anyone recommend this particular grip. Maybe it’s just to show off the rowing gear here:

The Xebex Rower Display

The tiltable, battery-operated display on the Xebex doesn’t have the back lighting offered by the Concept2 “Performance Monitor 5” (PM5). This isn’t a huge issue for us as the display is still reasonably visible as you can see below.

Although the Xebex display is more limited in terms of fancier tracking of split times, etc., we don’t care. We’re not in this to compete, so the more feature-rich display doodads actually only serve to confuse the user (me). It tracks distance, speed, time, watts, paddle width, calories burned, and with the addition of a compatible heart-rate monitor, heart rate. Just hit “start” and begin to row, and all the metrics start tracking with the first pull. There’s even a programmable interval function, but as I manage this with the order of songs on my rowing playlist (below)… meh.

While Rick says it was a breeze to unbox and assemble (took him about 45 minutes), the user’s manual is helpful only from an entertainment perspective. For example, the first point in the section describing how to set a target distance reads as follows:

“Distance will gleam value at Distance field. DM will be time remnant. Time will be the time how long have user exercised. Others will blank.”

Yup. I blanked all right.

Fortunately, as mentioned above, it’s pretty intuitive, and for the non-gym rats/serious outdoor rowers among us, hitting “start” and rowing will get you all the info you need.

Finally, the webbed straps that keep your feet anchored to the foot rests tend to loosen a little over the course of a rowing session, so occasionally you might have to pause to give them a yank and cinch them up again. However, in conversation with other rowers, I’ve come to the conclusion this isn’t a problem unique to the Xebex as others report the same minor irritation with other models. That said, it is easily fixed: just attach a couple of stick-on velcro pieces to the strap ends.

Other Rowing Machines Rated by Consumer Reports

The H2O FitnessSeattle Wooden Rower WRX1000 tied for 2nd place in Consumer Reports with a score of 72.

This model uses a water flywheel to replicate the feel and sound of the real deal. What I love about the Xebex wind-resistance approach is, well, the wind. It’s a self-rewarding system: the harder I exercise, the more of a breeze I create for myself. Close your eyes, put on one of those “spa water music with seagulls” CDs, and there you are, skimming gently down the stream… (Or use my own custom playlist below if you want to keep your strokes per minute (SPM) between 23 and 30.)

Our local fitness equipment store mentioned that they get feedback that the webbed “chain” doesn’t get as high marks from their customers as does the actual chain style.

One reviewer on Amazon commented: “Leaks,” which shouldn’t be a problem as it is currently unavailable. Maybe they’re looking into the leak thing.

Also tied for 2nd place is the WaterRower A1, score 72.

Others besides Consumer Reports seem to like this model: it scores 4.7 stars across ~170 reviewers at Amazon. Having lived with the lovely breeze that a wind resistance model supplies–plus the possibility for heading downstairs for a quick row and encountering a soppy mess–makes us unlikely candidates for any water rower, regardless of the ranking on Consumer Reports or Amazon.

Rowing Playlist

I find listening to appropriately tempoed music has always heightened my enjoyment of any workout experience. (Masking the sound of my gasping for breath seriously amps my ability to slide into the “fun!” zone.) But believe me, it isn’t easy finding a rowing machine playlist already pulled together for a 50-something rower who wants to keep her heart rate in the 100-130 beats-per-minute zone. For me, this translates to roughly 22-30 strokes per minute, depending on if I’m warming up, zooming along at coasting speed, or indulging in the occasional sprint for some interval work.

It is, admittedly, a very eclectic mix, which works nicely for me. Want a more strenuous (or gentle) workout? Futz with the wind resistance damper until you find your sweet spot, then hop on for the ride!

Do You Remember?” by Phil Collins. 23 SPM

Byzantium Underground,” by Jesse Cook. 27 SPM

Baby Seat,” by Barenaked Ladies, 26 SPM

Girl With The Red Balloon,” by The Civil Wars, 26 SPM

Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” by KT Tunstall, 26 SPM

Yes, I’m Ready,” by Jeffrey Osborne, 26 SPM

I Can’t Get Next To You,” by Annie Lennox, 27 SPM

Love Will Come Through,” by Travis, 27 SPM

Breathe,” by Anna Nalick, 28 SPM

Walking on Broken Glass,” by Annie Lennox, 29 SPM

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” by Michael Jackson, 31 SPM

Love Gun,” by Ceelo Green, 30 SPM

That’s Right,” by Jesse Cook, 28 SPM

Take Me to the River,” by Annie Lennox, 27 SPM

And finally, for when you step off the rower and ease into a lovely stretch routine (you do stretch, right?): “Hello” by Adele, or “At Last,” by Etta James, no SPM for either one. Just three minutes of gentle anti-aging body care that’s as important, if not more so, than your time in the seat.

Trust me on the stretching.

 Rowing Machine Tips, Techniques, and Tools

Rowing machine poster

Sometimes it helps to have a visual reminder of what, at the highest level of abstraction, matters the most about a subject. Flashback: my teen-aged bedroom plastered with David Cassidy, Michael Jackson, Davey Jones, and a brief ill-advised flirtation with Donny Osmond.

This poster is actually way more helpful than any of the above ever turned out to be.

Row Daily, Breathe Deeply, Live Better

A great starter book for those stepping up to a rowing machine for the first time, or for the rest of us who just arrogantly hopped on and figured we knew everything there was to know about this mighty machine. It’s a little quirky, but enjoyably so, and full of helpful tips on how to row, the benefits of rowing, how to think about keeping your body fit for the rest of your life, and a bunch of stuff in the middle.

The Complete Guide to Indoor Rowing

According to Amazon reviewers, this is a much more technically sophisticated tome for those interested in improving their on-water technique, achieving their PR (Personal Record for athletically-challenged among us), and so on. I’ll have to take their word for it. I’m still grooving with the “Zen of Rowing” vibe, the “rowing for fitness” mind-set, and the white-haired model reflected in the “Row Daily” book above.

Bottom Line

Consumer Reports chose not to include the Xebex at all in their most recent testing, so it’s hard to compare apples to apples without putting it through its paces in their lab. However, recent conversations with our local gym buddies and fitness equipment dude in town, along with the price point, higher and more cushy seat, padded handle bars, sturdiness of build, and ease of mobility around our guest/TV room convinced us that this workhorse deserved a chance, and we almost always root for the underdog.

Just a little piece of gym trivia for you to whip out at the water cooler (because I stumbled on it during my research and hate to waste it):

Indoor rowing machines were originally called ergomachines (or “ergs,” by the cool kids) as they measure the amount of work performed. Why ellipticals or any other fitness machines that measure calories burned, distance run, etc. aren’t also called “ergs,” is because the rowing machine got there first. They’ve been around since the 4th century BC as onshore training devices for inexperienced oarsmen, but they weren’t known as ergs until the early 1960’s when they became the first piece of equipment that could precisely measure human power output.

You’re welcome!

A Day To Remember

It was an ordinary day, in the way that all our ordinary days are filled with small miracles (SMs) and screw ups (SUs) we hope no one notices.

It started with Rick serving orange juice, toast, and eggs sunnyside up on authentic (Costco) home-baked hash brown patties: piping hot and as if McDonalds had recently changed their deep fat fryer oil.

Not that we’d know about such things. Just guessing.

The bread (SM) was from my baking yesterday.

It was not ordinary.

I’m embarrassed to say because I feel I’m a more humble baker than this, but it was FREAKING perfect. Crust 18 layers deep but only 1/8th of an inch thick. Crumb to make Mrs. Patmore weep. Able to absorb triple its weight in butter.

Give us this day our daily bread, hallowed be your name, etc.


The eggs weren’t ordinary, either, unless you live in a world where fresh duck eggs, bought yesterday from the hobby farmer neighbour and almost 75% bigger and twice as nutritious (SM) as chicken eggs are normal fare at your breakfast table.

How have we lived this long (collectively, almost 120 years!) and not once have either of us eaten a duck egg until this morning? Rick was a little worried he wouldn’t care for them, as he doesn’t like goat products.

This will make perfect sense to those of you who like some (but not all) foods to be consistent with the standard bearers of their grocery aisles.


Creamy, intensely flavorful in a non-goatlike manner… They were the Rolls-Royces of breakfast eggs, and calorie for calorie, about half the price as their free-roaming happy chicken counterparts.

Like all ordinary days, not everything rolls out with edges as smooth as a well-deserved Kahlua and cream after the last dishes are done on Christmas Eve.

We decided to paint the top of our little table for our north deck so it matched (more or less) our red Adirondack (Costco!) chairs with their gray-black-and red striped cushion. We had some snappy red marine-grade polyurethane paint left over from the canoe repaint this summer, so why not?

Let’s just jump right in to this thing!!

SU alert…

Apparently, sometimes a good sanding and coat of primer are advised between mixing two completely different furniture finishes.

Ironically, it looks sort of cool, in a distressed, couldn’t-have-done-that-in-a-million-years-if-we’d-tried kind of way.

Looking for input here: leave it as is, with maybe a second light coating to smooth the divots, or acknowledge the total fail and start over after inquiring into recommended steps? Leave a comment if you’d care to weigh in.

I didn’t mean to create Farah Fawcett hair (SU), either, although I am pleased that in case the style ever returns to planet Earth, I have finally mastered the look.

SM: Aforementioned bread, neighbour Rob Sawyer’s grilled artisanal hand-crafted frankfurters, Rick’s home-made wine sauerkraut, and French’s mustard for lunch.

Best. Frankfurter. Ever.

We’re considering initiating a Kickstarter fund to finance a consultant to help us figure out, for the good of humanity, how to coerce Rob into going into the processed meat business full-time.

Went for a walk with the dog (SM, how beautiful everything is in a rain forest community in the middle of September), chatted with neighbours, cleaned the bathroom sink…

Then in a transition moment, I drifted to the north porch to gaze into the woods beside our house for a moment, looking for inspiration on how to spend the rest of the day. I leaned my head around the huge post on the corner of our new deck.

It was weeping.

My first thought was “Huh! Sap.”

My second thought was, “Wow. It looks like it’s crying. I wonder if the wood is homesick?”

And my third thought was, “I wonder if buildings and the ground they stand on hold the essences of where their materials have come from, or what they’ve collectively become, or the memories that are created within them?”

And then I remembered today is September 11, and I remembered the buildings, and the numb horror, and the tears, and the sorrow and gratitude and resolve resonating at Ground Zero in New York City today.

It’s a good day to remember.

New Deck Photobomber

A Letter From Winston:

Dear Admirers,

My photography staff has been irksomely distracted of late.

New Deck Photobomber-1
I suppose I shouldn’t complain too strenuously as they seem to have finally clued in to the disgraceful lack of proper guarding posts from which to keep tabs on the neighboring riff raff. But what with the obsessing over engineering drawings, hand-digging trenches for the roadbed gravel to support the stone underdecking, dry stacking 90-pound Allan blocks, and so on, they have simply let my modeling career slip sideways.

Sometimes I think this world is going straight to the people.

Well, I’m a forgive-and-forget kind of poodle, and they seem to be back in the  saddle, so let’s just say no more. I’m anxious to return to the craft.

New Deck Photobomber-2
And I do love my job.

One of the best parts of a shoot is the thrill of seeing that camera come out. Man, the adrenaline just flows!

It’s SO exciting to have to make those snap calls on how to set myself up for maximum lens interception to ensure a flattering result. For me, even small details that others might overlook, such as how to accessorize to set the mood, bring joy to my journey.

New Deck Photobomber-3
For instance, take this dazzling yet relentless execution of perfect right angles, re-angles,  di-angles, and so.

One glance, and my inner knowing spoke to me: the scene just screamed for a rancid, broken-down, mud-infused tennis ball to soften the emotional focus.

New Deck Photobomber-4
Sometimes, all that’s called for is a subtle touch. In fact, some of my best work has been done by mere shadows and the dust of my footprints in the snow.

(If you’re interested, there’s more of my portfolio here, here, here, here, and here. Riveting stuff, really, even if I did let them ghostwrite a few.)

No matter the motif, the thing is to Stay. With. The. Task.

New Deck Photobomber-5
I believe that more Model Artists fail to get that critical last 10% by giving up on the potential of a shot, one shot too soon.

You just can never tell when the money shot will magically appear.

New Deck Photobomber-6
Take the above, for instance. What if I had said, “No… no… I’m simply too exhausted to continue.”?! The world would have been denied the perfect intersection of grand luck and great execution.

No, my friends, do not give up before the Muse picks up her Kong and goes home.

However, there’s no denying it: super modeling is not only very physically demanding, it’s also intellectually taxing, what with sorting through all the decisions regarding best angles, lighting, poses, accessories etc.

New Deck Photobomber-7
Better sign off now and tap a power nap. I need ALL the blood back in my head so I’m fresh for tomorrow’s shoot.

Love, Winston

Nori Sushi Nanaimo Restaurant Review

At 1:20 on a Saturday afternoon, the hostess put down the phone and called out to the staff at large, “No more reservations tonight!”

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Nori Sushi is just that kind of place. The chefs call out genuine greetings to patrons as they cross the threshold, orders are sung out from the other side of the room, the phone rings frequently, and there’s a constant happy burble of delighted diners chowing down on amazing Japanese food. And the place was already sold out for the night.

In Nanaimo. On Vancouver Island. In early April. I guess offering the best sushi and sashimi on the Island in a casual ambiance with a welcoming vibe at fair prices will do that for you.

Tip #1: Make a reservation for a Saturday night dinner.

Yesterday they had red tuna available, so the tuna tataki above was even more melt-in-your-mouth outstanding than usual.

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We had the pleasure of sitting at the bar where we could watch Kenny and James pull culinary magic out of plain rice and raw fish. Well, perhaps there’s a bit more to it than that.

It’s the perfectly cooked, slightly warm rice and fanatically-fresh cool fish. It’s the palpable pride in their craft, and the enthusiastic and upbeat front- and back-of-house teamwork. These are what make Nori TripAdvisor’s “#1 in Restaurants in Nanaimo.”

I really hadn’t planned to write this review when we first decided to nip in for lunch, so I let the delicious miso soup and tuna karrage appetizer drift away with our idle chitchat about shopping for brass hose bibs and onions.

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I even neglected to take note of the brand of warm sake we ordered. (Gekkeikan, it turns out. And I’ll just leave this right here in case anyone’s taking note of Christmas gift ideas for us.)

At $8.99 for the medium bottle shared between the two of us, it was a GREAT choice with our meal.

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But then James set our Dragon Roll down in front of us, and I started to pay attention.
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At first, I was just taken with the delicate (and delicious!) flash-fried lotus root chips, and how much I was looking forward to the slightly salty “pop!” each one of those red and black flying fish roe would make in my mouth. Why, I wondered, did James use two different colored roe?

Then I looked again and saw the dragon, with its mouth open wide and its lotus-root wings furled out at the base of its long neck.

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I asked James, and he explained that the “red” (they look more orange to me) are the regular “tobiko,” and the black are the same thing, just dyed black with octopus ink.

I learned something important about sushi yesterday: there’s more to the art than slapping around some sticky rice, fish, and seaweed and calling it “maki.”

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There’s art…

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… and propane torches.

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James explained that the heat works to quickly pull forth and meld the oils from the fish, avacado, and their house-made Japanese aioli. He also said several other things about why they do it, but by this time, I was into full blown “photo composition” mode and missed it.

Sorry, but trust us: this is, bar none, the best sushi we’ve ever eaten, and if James says “torch it,” then torch it.

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If you’re a foodie at all, the sushi bar at Nori offers front row seats at a live Cirque Du Inspiration.

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I would just be thinking “Oh, no you didn’t!” and be snapping surreptitious iPhotos (at least, I hope I was a little surreptitious and not a complete pain in the patooty to my fellow diners) and be ready to burst into wildly inappropriate applause, and James would quietly say, “Not done yet.”

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I have no idea what this thing of beauty is called, but I’m going to show them this picture next time we’re in and say, “This, please.”

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And more of this, too, please.

Tip #2: Go easy on the soya sauce and wasabi “dunk,” or at least try a piece first as it’s delivered to your table. The chefs at Nori take great care to marry just the right flavors, textures, and temperatures in their offerings, and if a dish needs wasabi, it’s already there under the fish. If you habitually drown everything in super salty wasabi soup, you’ll be missing a whole world of wonderful.

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In sushi as in figure skating, chefs are scored on originality as well as degree of technical difficulty. Nori has obviously put in their 10,000 hours of practice on both.

James is proud to be there. He told us he was there to learn everything he could from John, the gregarious and high-energy owner, and that it all starts with the quality of the fish.

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We asked James how they source their fish, and he says that it’s delivered to them, but they make their vendors compete to ensure they are always presented with the highest quality fish that’s available in our market.

This salmon nigiri tiptoed on to our taste buds in silk-bottomed ninja slippers.

No words.

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Thanks, John, and your staff, for another great meal.

Just one final question: when are you going to offer a cooking class?

6750 Island Hwy, Unit #203 (Right in front of Costco)
Nanaimo, BC V9V 1S3

Phone: 250-751-3377

Wednesday & Thursday: 11:30 – 2:30, 5:00 – 9:30
Friday & Saturday: 11:30 – 2:30, 5:00 – 10:00
Sunday & Holidays: 12:00 – 2:30, 5:00 – 9:30
Closed Monday & Tuesday. (I love that their staff gets two predictable days off every week.)