11/15/2018

On being … like nails on a chalk board


By Ingrid Sapona

The other morning, the bus I was on drove past the sports centre where the Toronto Raptors (the local NBA team) practice. It was pitch dark outside but on the side of the building was a huge, lit billboard emblazoned with the Raptor’s slogan: We the North. I bristled when I read it.

We the North has been the Raptor’s slogan since 2014 and whenever I hear it – or see it – it causes a reaction in me that’s similar to hearing nails on a chalkboard. For starters, it’s grammatically awful. Sports connotes action – would it have killed them to throw in a verb? But beyond that, it just seems so forced. I can’t help think that the ad agency that came up with We the North was trying to channel the creativity behind the most elegant three-word slogan of all time: Nike’s “Just do it”. But, while brainstorming, someone must have mentioned Doug and Bob McKenzie and the Great White North comedy skits of the 80s and the “creative” team couldn’t get past that. So, what three-word winner did they come up with? We the North. Ugh.  

But clearly, I’m in the minority when it comes to hating that catchphrase. In a 2016 business article I read about the slogan, they talk about how popular it is. According to the woman in the Raptors organization who oversees the brand, the slogan’s been “embraced” because of its authenticity. Authentic? Really?

As I mentioned, part of what bugs me about We the North has to do with the grammar. But, there are some slogans that are grammatically or factually flawed that I don’t bother me. For example, I love “squish the fish” – the rallying cry Bills fans chant when their division-rival Miami Dolphins come to town. But, the charm of the rhyme is lost on my oldest sister (a teacher) who cringes as she points out, “but dolphins are mammals, not fish!” I get her point, but the slogan always makes me smile!

There are a number of popular tropes that bug me because I can’t get past a literal interpretation of them. “No worries” is a prime example. Have you noticed how in some contexts, that phrase has basically replaced, “you’re welcome”. If you doubt me, say thank you to some restaurant server sometime and I’ll bet the response you get is “no worries”. But it’s not the fact that no one says “your welcome” anymore that bothers me. It’s that when someone says “no worries” to me, I want to look them in the eye and ask: “how do you know – maybe I’ve got lots of worries!”

I know from chats with my friends that being literal isn’t just a trait that runs in our family. When Trump first rolled out his Make America Great Again slogan, a friend of mine invariably complained that he wished someone would ask Trump WHEN exactly he thought America was great. Point well taken, I thought.

“It is what it is” is another popular saying that really grates on me. I think it’s the defeatism inherent in it that bothers me. Of course something is what it is – but does that mean you have to live with it that way? The implication is yes – only a fool would think or behave otherwise. But, but…

Another popular phrase that I find really irritating is, “Been there, done that”.  I can never tell if the person saying it is bragging or being dismissive. To me it says “I’ve already done that or experienced that and I’ve moved on, but you can go ahead and try it for yourself, if you must.”  I know, I read a LOT into things!

But reading things into an expression isn’t necessarily bad. One of my favourite au currant catchphrases is “You got this”. Sure, it sounds a bit like a daily affirmation that Stuart Smalley (a character portrayed by Al Franken on SNL in the 90s) might have said. But what’s wrong with a using a phrase that boosts confidence or shows support?

What about you? Are there any pop expressions that grate on your nerves? Or any that you especially like? Do tell…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

10/30/2018

On being … process improvements


By Ingrid Sapona

Last weekend was haul-out at my sail club. Fancier clubs own travel lift cranes and use paid staff to launch and haul out boats. Our club hires two cranes and crane operators and the members pitch in to haul all 340+ boats over two days.

This was my 17th year working haul-out. There are all sorts of crews to work on. Some of the jobs are strenuous and physical, and some rather cushy. The kitchen crew works hard keeping everyone satisfied with coffee, morning and afternoon soup, and a hot lunch, but at least they’re inside all day. Most other crews are outside, regardless of the weather (which can be pretty miserable this time of year)! One thing all the work has in common: there’s a lot of hurry up and wait.

This year I worked on the parking crew. With every boat owner on hand at some point during the weekend to bring their boat over to the crane, there are a lot of cars around. And, once you start putting boats on cradles, the yard fills up pretty fast. Plus, there’s a lot of heavy equipment – things like forklifts and boats on cradles – being moved around by amateurs. So, making sure cars are not in the way is important.

Parking within the yard usually fills up pretty fast. There have been many times when I was there by 5:45 a.m. to work on a crew but I was turned away because they had already run out of parking space. That meant parking in a nearby public lot for the day, which was not ideal. This year the planning committee re-configured where boats would be placed on that first day. As a result, a whole new area was available for about 25 more cars. Plus, over the summer, the club repaved a roadway down the side of the yard and they added a gravel shoulder. That meant space for another 25 or so cars. These two changes meant we didn’t have to turn away a single car this year.

During our down time on the parking crew, I was listening to a book about managing teams. Though I wasn’t particularly into the book, it did help me focus on refinements I’ve noticed different crews have made to the launch and haul out process over the years. For example, years ago someone had the idea of renting a golf cart for the weekend. The property is quite big and a golf cart is easy to drive, it fits in small areas, and it makes schlepping things from one end of the yard to the other much easier. This year there were three golf carts zipping around.

The kitchen crew also has been honing its processes. In years past, they brought the soups out  the cranes. This year they served the soup under our large main tent – it’s easier for the kitchen crew because it’s closer to the clubhouse and there’s a dry space under the tent for everyone to sit while they warm up with their soup.

A bunch of us also noticed that there were fewer snacks (cookies, muffins, candy) than in years past. Some speculated that the cutback was due to austerity measures. Others attributed it to poor planning by the new kitchen crew chief. I prefer to think that the folks in charge had our health interest at heart.

Over the weekend, the parking crew came up with some changes for next year. For example, we have a large motorcycle parking area that often has 4-6 bikes parked there during the summer. On haul out weekend only one bike was there. Next year we’ll make sure that bikes tuck in somewhere else on the property for haul out weekend so we can put cars there. And we’ll do things differently near the fire hydrant. The pavement near it is painted so that no one parks there. But, on Sunday morning we let one car park there, but asked him to be sure to leave half the space free. Later, when none of us were watching, someone else slipped in next to the car. Clearly, they thought that if one person can park in the marked area, they could park in the other half. Next year we’ll used a couple lawn chairs to block half the space. Live an learn…

In the clubhouse, a team was experimenting with tracking each crane’s progress (boat-by-boat) on an iPad and then projecting the results on a screen in the clubhouse. This way, boat owners don’t have to guess when it’s time to go to their boat to bring it to the crane. If this works, we may stream the progress on the internet so members can check it from home or from their phone. That would be very helpful.

Over the weekend I also noticed some bitching and moaning about some things that were being done differently this year. But, resistance to change is almost as inevitable as change itself. Personally, I admire the thought and effort my fellow club members have put into improving the launch and haul out process. Sure, some of the changes may not have been as useful as hoped and so we may go back to the old way. But, I applaud the willingness to try new ways. After all, you don’t know if they’re an improvement unless you try them.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

10/15/2018

On being … into the weeds


By Ingrid Sapona

Autumn in Canada always brings a marked change in the air and people’s behaviour. The days seem to suddenly become shorter so it feels like you’re headed to work in the middle of the night. The landscape, which normally occupies the background, suddenly takes its bow at centre stage with yellows, oranges, and reds. The drop in temperature sends us digging deep into drawers and closets to pull out sweaters and corduroys.

Normally, the only uncertainty about autumn in Canada is when these changes will happen. This year, however, one autumn day will change things across all of Canada: October 17th. That’s the day recreational cannabis (marijuana, as it’s more commonly called) becomes legal here.

Legalization has been on the horizon for some time. But, in these last few days before the 17th, there have been multiple news stories about it daily. Here are a just a few headlines from the Toronto Star this past week:
  • ·       The weed man of St. John’s – about a guy in Newfoundland (a province with its own time zone out in the Atlantic) who hopes to be the first person in Canada to legally sell pot for recreational use.
  • ·       Expect cannabis shortages across the country, Aphria warns – a business story about concerns raised by Aphria, a licensed marijuana producer, about supply chain problems and product shortages.
  • ·       Ontario pot-sale plan raises health concerns – about warnings that legalized marijuana may promote a generation of addicts.
  • ·       Toronto police face strict pot use rules – about the Toronto Police force’s announcement that officers will be banned from using recreational marijuana within 28 days of being on duty.
  • ·       Cannabis awareness campaign imminent as legalization looms – about a government ad campaign on the rules, regulations, and health and safety matters related to pot.


Closer to home, my condo Board is grappling with rules related to cannabis use in and around the building. The Board surveyed owners on whether to allow pot smoking on balconies and within one’s own unit. The majority of survey respondents would like it banned everywhere in the building. The Board has the right to pass a rule about things like this unless at least 15% of owners demand a formal vote. Well, that’s happened, so the matter will be up for vote at our November Annual General Meeting.

In principle, I don’t care if pot is legalized. I’m not a user and I can’t see myself becoming one – it’s just never interested me. But, given how popular marijuana use is, I figure the government may as well profit from it. If it seems cynical to think that’s one of the motivators for this change, you need look no further than a postcard the government sent out to tell us about the ins and outs of the Cannabis Act. One of the eight bullet points on the card says: “Legal cannabis has an excise stamp appearing on it.” So, rather than the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, if there’s an excise stamp on it, you can rest assured the government’s share of the proceeds have been accounted for.

Since the summer, I’ve started thinking more seriously about how legalization of marijuana will impact people’s daily life and society in general. In Ontario, the rules that apply to smoking cigarettes will also apply to pot. At my sail club, for example, there are quite a few smokers. Though Ontario has rules that say no smoking inside, or on covered patios, or under party tents, the reality is, it’s pretty hard to stay up-wind when groups of folks are enjoying a smoke near the Club’s Gazebo bar.

Over the summer I was invited to someone’s house for a BBQ. I didn’t know most of the people there, and a few of us brought some desserts, which were put out as a buffet. As I reached for a brownie, I couldn’t help wonder whether – in years to come – I’d be more hesitant to choose something from the dessert table if I didn’t know who the baker was.

And of course, there’s the question of the impact THC (the ingredient in marijuana that gives you the buzz) will have on people’s general behaviour. From what I’ve read, there are a lot of unknowns. We all learned defensive driving, which is where you watch for others drivers’ erratic behavior. Now, besides watching for others driving, maybe we’ll have to pay more attention to erratic behavior by everyone on the street. (Mind you, with people walking and doing things on their mobile devices, having heightened attention to everything that moves is probably a good idea regardless.)

I remember the fuss about Y2K and how that ended up being a nothing. And I’ve also read articles about what society was like when Prohibition ended and it seemed that was a non-event too. Maybe a couple years from now I’ll look back on my trepidation with a touch of embarrassment. Hell, maybe it’ll end up being just what’s needed to get us through the Trump years…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

9/30/2018

On being … a civics lesson


By Ingrid Sapona

When news broke that a woman accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, there was wide-spread speculation about her motivation. I wasn’t concerned about her motivation for coming forward, I just thought she was crazy. After all, though Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s a few years younger than me, she’s old enough to remember how Anita Hill was treated before the same committee. (Talk about déjà vu – though the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing was over a quarter century ago – some of the male senators who were on the committee back then are still on it.)

On Thursday, Dr. Ford testified under oath before the Senate judiciary committee and she addressed the issue of her motivation head on. In her opening statement, Ford said that she came forward because she felt it was her civic duty to make public this information about someone who may be appointed (for life) to the Supreme Court. After noting that she was terrified to be there testifying, Ford then carefully, and in detail, described the sexual assault and the lasting impact it’s had on her life.

Like many watching, I admired Ford’s bravery and poise under stress. Most people would have a hard time talking about such a painful experience in private, to people who aren’t there to judge you. Imagine being willing to tell it to a room full of people who are sceptical, if not outright antagonistic. Despite assurances from people like Senator Dianne Feinstein that Dr. Ford was not on trial, given that she was under oath, had to hire lawyers, and was questioned by a seasoned prosecutor, I’ll bet it felt like it to her.

Dr. Ford’s willingness to put herself (and her family) through the whole thing speaks to her both character and her belief in the importance of the Supreme Court. In coming forward, Dr. Ford may not have swayed members of Congress about whether Kavanaugh’s past behaviour makes him unqualified to sit on the Supreme Court, but she reminded women that victimization is perpetuated, in part, through silence. In an era when ego and self-interest trump everything else (no pun intended), the idea of a civic duty is so rare that it’s remarkable and that it sets an example that I so wish everyone will learn from.

Of course, Ford’s behaviour was not the only lesson delivered on Thursday. Judge Kavanaugh’s and Senator Graham’s bombast, fury, antagonism, and blaming also set an example to men and women around the world. They made it loud and clear to everyone that when a man is called on to answer questions about his behaviour vis-à-vis women, he should come out swinging. And, if he does, odds are that other powerful men will come to their defense to keep women in their place, if not quiet.

But, the clearest lesson of the whole two-day affair was delivered on Friday by two sexual assault victims who stopped Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator. Ana Maria Archila said to Flake, “I have two children. I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years, they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?” That encounter apparently helped Flake see the light and at least lobby for further investigation, which is better than nothing. (He could have voted against allowing Kavanaugh’s name to go to the full Senate, but he didn’t.)

Regardless of the outcome of the FBI investigation into the questions raised by Ford’s testimony, the underlying civics questions remains: is Kavanaugh suited for the Supreme Court? For the answer to that, we need look no further than to Kavanaugh himself. On Thursday he showed his true colours under pressure. He was belligerent, pompous, and partisan.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford thought it was her civic duty to raise concerns about Kavanaugh’s suitability to become a Supreme Court justice. I guess now we’ll see what the Senators make of their civic duty regarding who they allow to sit on the highest court in the land.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

9/15/2018

On being … able to


I’m sure you heard about Cosby show actor (Geoffrey Owens) who was working at a grocery store when a shopper recognized him a couple weeks ago and snapped a picture of him. But that wasn’t all she did. She then shared the photos on the Internet. It’s not clear to me whether she posted them on regular social media (like Facebook), or whether she sent them to so-called celebrity websites, though she says no one paid her for the photos. In any event, shortly after she posted the pictures, a UK tabloid ran them and interviewed her about them.

To start, the idea of intentionally taking a stranger’s photo is really odd to me. It’s one thing if you’re taking a photo of something and there are anonymous people in the picture. That’s innocent enough – kind of like seeing someone walking on the street in a Google Earth photo. But to surreptitiously take a photo and then post it, you have to wonder why?

I realize that, thanks to cell phone cameras, taking pictures is a regular thing. And I know that people post all sorts of things on-line. Indeed, that was basically the rationale given by Karma Lawrence, the woman who took the photos and posted them. She said, “I figure everybody does it.” My immediate reaction was that her mother probably never chided her about not jumping off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it.

Anyway, after the initial “shock” that a once well-known actor was working in a grocery store got out there, the focus of the story shifted to Karma and her intent in posting the photos. Lots of people accused her of “job shaming”, which she denied.

By the end of the week, the tawdry tale ended up as a good news story, of sorts. Owens took the high road throughout the kerfuffle. He politely explained (not that it was anyone’s business) that he took the job because he needed to pay bills and support his family and because it offered the flexibility for him to go to auditions and the like. He also stressed the dignity of honest work, regardless of the pay or the status. A few days later, word came that he accepted a role on Tyler Perry’s TV show. So, all’s well that ends well, at least for Mr. Owens, so it seems.

The most ironic twist of the whole tale doesn’t relate to Mr. Owens. It relates to, Ms. Lawrence – Karma – and the fact that she seemed surprised by the backlash and nasty comments directed at her. After the incident, she was quoted as complaining, “So much hate. So much nastiness. Oh, it’s been terrible”. (I guess her mother never told her that what goes around comes around… Perhaps she figured naming her Karma would be enough of a hint.)

The reason I wanted to write about this story is because of what I think it says about normalized behaviour. Actually, I was going to say “acceptable behaviour”, but that’s what I think the problem is. I’m concerned about behaviour that’s questionable – or wrong – but that people feel comfortable doing because it’s somehow become acceptable.

I jokingly commented that it seemed Karma’s mother never warned her about not following her friends off a bridge, but that really speaks to simply avoiding the herd mentality. Though that’s clearly at play, what concerns me more is that there’s no shame in shaming people.

More and more these days, people’s behaviour is governed simply by what they are able to do (like taking a photo and posting it). It seems people don’t stop and ask themselves whether what they’re about to do is right or wrong, or what the repercussions might be – to others or to themselves even. (Hence the surprise Karma Lawrence had about, well, the law of Karma.) 

And, with the president of the Unites States exhibiting no impulse control and relentlessly engaging in bullying, shaming, defaming, and mocking people, countries, and institutions, it seems more and more people feel empowered to follow suit. Indeed, I think that’s the legacy from the Trump years that will do the most damage.

Maybe all those folks who support Trump, or who dare not contradict him, figure that eventually the law of Karma will catch up to him too. I imagine it will, but between now and when that happens, I wish people would remember that just because you can say or do something, it doesn’t mean you should.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

8/30/2018

On being ... private


By Ingrid Sapona

The news of Aretha Franklin’s death this week was sad and interesting to me. When a friend asked if I was a fan, I said yes. I quickly prefaced my answer, however, with the admission that I don’t have any of her albums (or CDs, if we’re being specific). When it comes to musicians, I think that whether you have any of their albums is a sort of litmus test of fandom. But, I also added that one of the most memorable concert-going events I had was when friends and I waited two+ hours to hear her when she played a free concert here in Toronto in 2011. 

Of course, her passing was newsworthy and every news organization published or aired obits about her. I loved seeing the pictures of her through the years and the clips of her belting out various hits. Though I’d never really thought about it, when that friend asked, “But what was with the minks?” I smiled and said I thought it was kind of her signature. Actually, thanks to the endless playing of the clip of her singing Natural Woman when the Kennedy Center Honored writer Carol King, I realized it was really her way of letting the furs fall off her shoulder that was her signature.

Like most fans, I knew a bit about her background. I knew she was the daughter of a well-known preacher and that she grew up in Detroit, which she also called home for the second half of her life. I also knew that because of her father’s fame, she met many African Americans who were prominent in politics and in the music industry. I also knew that she toured via bus because she didn’t like flying. I don’t follow the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions, but I assumed she was in there. But, until her death, I didn’t realize she was the first woman inductee. As is often the case when someone dies, through eulogies and other tributes, you learn things about them that you never knew.

In the case of Aretha, on her death, I was surprised to learn that she had four sons. But that surprising revelation was nothing compared to how blown away I was to learn that she had her first child at 12 years, and two by the time she was 14. I can’t even imagine that…

After hearing that, I realized how little I knew about her life beyond her hits. So, I watched various shows about her with renewed interest. One that I found particularly noteworthy had a video snippet of Barbara Walters asking her what the hardest time of her life was. Good question, I thought. Well, Ms. Franklin clearly didn’t appreciate the question. Stone faced, her response was something like, “I think we all know the answer to that, and so it’s not something we need to talk about…” They didn’t show any more of that interview, but I’m guessing Ms. Walters took that as her cue to move on.

Though I’d have loved to have heard Aretha talk about her personal life, I admired her for drawing a line between her private life and her public life. In this era where oversharing seems the norm, it’s nice to be reminded that true R-E-S-P-E-C-T is based on talent and achievement, not simply notoriety.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

8/15/2018

On being … an ambassador


By Ingrid Sapona

Last week a friend emailed me a link to a story from the Buffalo News. From my quick peak at it, I guessed the link was to a travel piece about Buffalo. There had been a travel article on Buffalo in the Toronto Star that week, so I figured some syndicated story was making the rounds. Good for Buffalo, I thought.

Because I was in a hurry when the email came in, I didn’t read the story. But, I didn’t delete it either. Later, when I came across the email again, I clicked on the link and read the story. Turns out, the Buffalo News article wasn’t a travel piece at all. It was a feature about why the Times of London’s newly appointed assistant travel editor chose Buffalo as her first place to write about.

Yes, there was something odd about that angle, I thought. You mean, even the Buffalo News couldn’t imagine that a London newspaper would do a travel piece on Buffalo? Well, it was the most delightful story. Indeed, after reading the Buffalo News piece, I went on-line to find the actual Sunday Times travel article about Buffalo and it was good – but not nearly as interesting as the story behind the travel story.

Apparently, in 2010, Julia Buckley, the Sunday Times writer/editor, lived in Las Vegas. During her year-and-a-half there, JetBlue was running a deal where you could fly to any of the airline’s destinations. Curious about Buffalo wings and knowing that Buffalo was the stepping off point to visit Niagara Falls, Buckley thought it would be fun to fly to Buffalo.

On her first flight to Buffalo, Buckley ended up chatting with a flight attendant who was from the Buffalo area. The two hit it off so well, the flight attendant invited Buckley to stay at her home. They have remained friends and, since then, Buckley has made other Buffalo friends. So, when asked where she wanted to write about, she chose Buffalo because what really stood out to her during past visits was the friendly, genuine nature of the people.

As it happens, a couple weeks ago I was in Western New York for the wedding of the daughter of friends from Buffalo. It was a surprisingly international affair. I knew there’d be some folks from the UK because the groom’s a Brit. But there were also folks from further afield, including people my friends got to know through AFS, an international youth exchange program.

In high school, my friend (the bride’s father) had done a summer abroad through AFS. It made a real impression on him and so, when his kids started high school, they got involved with AFS as a host family. As well, their daughter (the bride) went overseas as an AFS student – I’m sure that experience had something to do with the fact that since graduating from university she’s lived abroad.

I always admired how generous my friends were with their AFS kids. In addition to providing food and shelter to the students for the entire academic year, my friends went out of their way to make sure the kids had an unforgettable experience. Every year my friends would even bring their AFS son or daughter here to Toronto to visit, making sure to take them to a restaurant that serves food from their home country. My friends ended up becoming quite close to some of the families of their AFS kids, and my friends have visited many of them overseas.

Because AFS is primarily for high schoolers, since my friends’ kids are all grown, I figured they were no longer involved with AFS. But, last week my friend mentioned they had just run the orientation program for the new crop of AFS students who’ll be calling Buffalo home for the next 9 months. When I expressed my surprise that they’re still involved with AFS, my friend had a very thoughtful explanation. “As we tell the kids during orientation, it’s all about reaching out and making change, one person at a time. I really believe that,” he said.

These anecdotes share more than just a Buffalo connection, I think. We’ve all had an experience where we’ve “clicked” with a stranger – as that flight attendant no doubt did with the travel writer. But that flight attendant took a leap of faith and went further than most of us would. She opened her heart – and her home – to a virtual stranger. In doing so, she made an indelible impression – one that ended up reflecting well on all of Buffalo. Similarly, the graciousness my friends have extended to the exchange students has helped change the way they – and my friends’ family and friends – relate to others in the world.

I think the main thing these stories have in common is that they both are about the influence each of us can have on how others see and experience things. They helped me realize that in every interaction we have with strangers, there’s an opportunity to be an ambassador – to show – and share with – others the things we value in our lives.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

7/30/2018

On being … chef-y


By Ingrid Sapona

As I was sitting down to write today’s column, it dawned on me that readers may end up thinking I’m a chef wanna-be. My immediate reaction to that is a simple No. But then I realized perhaps I should reflect on that a bit, as maybe there’s something to it. So let me get back to you on that later…

I don’t know about you, but my friends and I seem to share more meals over the summer. There’s something about sunshine and all the fresh fruit and vegetables that inspires me to invite friends over and to trying new recipes. And, this summer I’ve been working on upping my game by trying to be more “chef-y”. Ok – that’s a term I’ve coined – but I’ll explain what I mean.

Obviously, chefs have specialized training and know a whole range of things about food. They also know where to find all sorts of exotic ingredients. For example, not too long ago I had a pasta dish that had little teeny tear-drop shaped peppers that I had never seen before. Turns out they were Sweety Drops from Peru.

But, I’ve observed a handful of things chefs do that I think end up making a big difference and I’ve been focusing my energy on these. The first has to do with planning the meal. I used to decide what I wanted to serve and I’d go in search of the necessary ingredients. The past few years I’ve taken a more chef-like approach. Now I narrow it down to a few different recipes and I don’t make the decision until I’m at the market. Then I choose whatever seems the freshest and best value. It seems a no-brainer, I know – but it does require a level of flexibility.

I’ve noticed that chefs also pay a lot of attention to texture in dishes. For example, a sprinkling of pine nuts on a plate of pasta or a handful of shredded cabbage tucked inside a pulled pork sandwich is probably more about adding crunch than about adding flavour.

Colour is also something I’m sure chefs consider and it’s something I’m paying more attention to too. While you won’t catch me adding squid ink to make my risotto a dramatic black, I do look for ways of adding colour. For example, I may add sliced red pepper on top of a green bean salad, or a spear of roasted carrot alongside a scoop of rice. I also try to make sure there’s colour contrast between the main and sides.

Another chef-y thing is how they combine interesting, unexpected flavours. Pickled veggies seem to be a favourite way of adding a bit of tang, while chutneys and compotes are often used to add some heat. While I enjoy some chutneys, I’m not keen enough on them to bother making them. But, I’ve been playing around with quick pickling things ever since I read somewhere that it’s a great way of using up leftover veggies. My current favourite is adding quick pickled corn to arugula salad – it adds colour, zest, and interest. Very chef-y, don’t you think?


Mind you, some combinations chefs come up with seem to work better on paper than in reality. The other day, I ordered a burger because I was intrigued by one item in the description: tomato jam. I’d never heard of that and so I was curious to see whether it was just some fancy catsup. Turns out it was truly a jam – very sweet. I’m not a fan of mixing sweet and savoury, so it kinda ruined the burger for me. So, it’s not something I’m going to try to imitate, but I don’t mind saying it’s nice to know that not every combo a chef comes up with is necessarily a winner either!

And of course, there’s plating the food, which chefs have raised to an art form. Whether it’s a thin streak of pesto along the edge of the salad plate, or a carefully sculpted pyramid of saffron rice next to a flakey piece of fish – chefs clearly have an artistic vision for each dish. And, when they plate something, they always manage to add a few little grace notes – perhaps a couple wafer thin radishes or a curly garlic scape for good measure.

Of course, because a restaurant menu features many different dishes, a chef has all sorts of interesting ingredients on hand that can be used to add pizazz. It’s a bit more of a challenge to have a variety of little things to add to make a plate look interesting when you live alone. But, if you were to peak inside my refrigerator this summer, you’d see that I’ve been making quite an effort in this regard.

So, I’ve been having fun playing around with all these things – from planning the menu, to adding texture, to trying unusual combinations and being more creative in how I plate things. But, does all this mean that somewhere deep down inside I wish I’d have become a chef? I honestly think the answer is no. I love learning about cooking and I enjoy trying to make different things. But, I wouldn’t want it as a career because I’d hate for it to start to feel like a job. Instead, I’m happy just trying to be more chef-y.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona