Posted by: Scott | February 19, 2010

Exploding Pizzas, Sweaty Dogs and Comfort in a Cold Glass

The new ‘Breakfast of Champions’: coffee, chocolate almond milk and Leonard Cohen, of course!

Food has particular meanings and memories for people, and I’m no different. I have recently rediscovered a part of my childhood, one I thought I’d never get back. And just what have I rediscovered? Comfort food, in the form of chocolate milk – or, at least a new twist on the old favourite – chocolate almond milk. Hallelujah! (Okay, I’m really thinking here of the Leonard Cohen song, with thanks to k.d. lang for reminding me of its beauty, but my discovery of chocolate almond milk was certainly a revelation, pardon the pun.)

The origin of this story, as is the case with most comfort food stories, goes back to childhood. My mom, seemingly always aware of my mood, would ask me how my day at school went. My non-committal answer (“Oh, okay”) never really disguised my disappointment or pain, and so in minutes she would prepare for me the near-miracle cure for my blues: a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of chocolate milk. Yum! Falling through the cracks between the cliques at school didn’t feel so bad after a little culinary indulgence. Comfort food indeed!

I know what you’re thinking: you’re reading the words of a depressed, coronary bypass patient-in-waiting, but one need not worry. Lactose intolerance keeps me from overindulging in dairy products, so grilled cheese sandwiches are a once-in-every-few-months treat at best. Yogurt or a small cube of cheese I can handle, but milk or cream – deadly. Further to that, I (try to) eat a largely vegetarian diet these days. Further still, my mom – whose grilled cheese sandwiches simply cannot be duplicated – died three years ago, and I no longer have anyone to spoil me when I’m having a bad day. Lastly, I just don’t have bad days like I used to, and if I do, I write about them instead. It’s very therapeutic.

Anyway, the chocolate almond milk is divinely delicious, especially mixed with a little coffee (an almocha?), which is my real indulgence or addiction. The long and short of it: that chocolate almond milk is a happy reminder of someone sorely missed. Thanks, Mom.

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Staying on the subject of food, here’s a funny story. For the duration of the Vancouver Olympics, I’m promoting Canada’s non-Olympic public broadcaster to a pleasantly receptive audience Downtown. I say ‘pleasantly receptive’ because if you take on face value the impression left by the private media in this country of their state-owned rival, you would think the public broadcaster with the exploding pizza logo is some kind of alien invader, bent on corrupting our American (oops, I meant Canadian) values. By the way, thanks are in order to private network sports anchor Brian Williams for plugging his former employer on air. “It just slipped out. Honest.” Mm-hmm. It goes to prove some old habits die hard.

So anyway, I’m plugging local news shows and encouraging people to get their faces on live broadcasts, as well as handing out free stuff, in the form of buttons and flags. The flags are really popular, and they have an interesting dual message: one-half statement in patriotism, which Canadians don’t come by easily, and one-half exercise in unabashed self-promotion. (Guess whose logo is on the other side?)

Back to my job. On my second shift, a rainy Saturday night, my partner and I are assigned to cover the corner where a hotdog stand has set up. Apparently, it’s a good location to catch crowds travelling to and from hockey games and concerts. The aroma is difficult to ignore, and I get hungry before I want to be. Guess what I had for dinner that night?

Just before 11pm, the proprietors of the hot dog stand start to pack up. They give my partner a bag of assorted smokies, wieners and buns that they had cooked but couldn’t sell. They tell us we should have no trouble giving the leftovers to some homeless person, if we choose not to eat them ourselves. I’m not that hungry, and my partner is a real vegetarian, as opposed to the oughtabe me. My partner hands me the bag, suggesting I put them in my backpack until our shift is over. After some squishing, the bag of edible gifts is no longer visible to passersby. Smell is quite another matter.

So here I am, conversing with Jane Q. Public about our public broadcaster while surrounded by the distinct aroma one gets from living on a diet of grilled sausage meat. You have to wonder what people were thinking as they passed by. (Good thing Homer Simpson isn’t real or I would’ve been attacked!) I decided to try, as suggested, and give the orphaned meat and bread combos to the first homeless person I could find. As it would turn out, of course, there wasn’t a homeless person to be found in our part of Downtown when my shift ended at midnight. Oh, well. I would have to satisfy myself with imagining the confused look on some homeless panhandler’s face when I gave them the bag of still-warm but sweaty hotdogs.

I ended up putting the bag on top of a garbage can near a Skytrain station where I know some homeless people tend to hang out and headed for home, tired and a little sore from standing on my feet for eight straight hours for the first time in months. It felt good to be working again, employed indirectly (and ironically) because of an athletic-cultural-political institution I had been critical of for months. Yes, I can feel the hypocrisy, but I’ll revel in it for seventeen days, thank you very much, and then everything will be back to normal.

Well, my Vancouver kind of normal.      

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