Yearly Archives: 2010

RIP, Isabelle Caro. Damn you, Anorexia.

Isabelle Caro passed away a month ago, but it’s only being reported now.

You likely know her… she’s become the face of what we perceive anorexia as. Here’s a disturbing photo array.

I want us to remember her for her bravery in speaking out against an industry that virtually encourages anorexia, even now. Remember her for the struggle she waged and her ability to be profoundly public in her vulnerability.

Most of all, I want us to remember that there was no motherfucking reason a beautiful woman like she once was should be dead before 30. And why? Because she was pressured to keep her weight at an unrealistic level.

Sure, the fashion industry has stopped using quite as thin models, but let’s not kid ourselves — we still expect women to be thin to be beautiful, because Vogue and Cosmo and FHM and every other magazine insists on perpetuating that image.

Whether it’s hearing about a 13-year-old who’s gone temporarily blind from dehydration and starvation, because she doesn’t want to be “fat” like her mother (like a contestant on The Biggest Loser), or an amazingly beautiful woman who dies because she simply won’t eat, we need to accept that we’re fucked up as a society when it comes to food.

From morbidly obese citizens to deathly-thin models, what the hell are we thinking?

What happened to just living normally?

As the diet ads fire up and the media obsesses about “taking off that holiday weight”, remember that loving ourselves might be the first step to improving, as we decide we’re worth the effort and time it takes to live a reasonable life.

Remember that self-hate and loathing of one’s actions are what drives the extremes we see killing our obese family members and even beautiful women like this — or Brittany Murphy.

Dieting is dangerous. Instead, live more accountably.

RIP, Isabelle Caro. We hardly knew ye. Thank you for your bravery.

Merry Christmas to All!

From the 1945 Fireside Book of Christmas Stories that's been in my life since birth.

I wish all my readers all the best.

Whether you’re alone or with family or friends this holiday, I hope you do something special for yourself. May Christmas be a wonderful day for you.

And may you strive to keep its ethos year-round.

Merry Christmas, readers, and may we all have a wonderful year ahead. Thanks for sticking around.

Christmas, Que Sera Sera-Style

It’s the day before the day before the day before Christmas, and all is not quiet in the house of Steff — except for the mice.

The stockings ARE hung with care. There are no children nestled in beds, but Quatchi’s snug in his hangout place.

A funny cartoon by Mary Nadler. HoHoHo.

Menus are compiling and nerves are a-rilin’. Christmas eve will soon be nigh, and I’ll be the hostess with the mostess for some good folkses.

I’m tired. Antsy. Panicky. But this is me pre-big-entertaining week. I panic my way through and then I kill it. Next week I play Santa Steff in a breakfast I’m hosting for kids. I giggle every time I think of having four little toddlers running around here. I’ve never had more than 2 at once, and one was just this lame baby that did nothing (snicker).

Toddlers? I’ll be drinking ALL day. So, yup: Giggle!

Ahh, but that’s next week.

And if I wasn’t strung out enough this week, there’s been a full moon. Plus I’ve just been visited by my monthly friend.

I’m basically the pharmaceutical industry’s wet dream today — twitchy and anxious. Medicating works for me. Thanks, anatomy! Yer a pal!

And despite all that kerfuffleness, there’s a smile on my face. It’s Christmas! We’re less than 72 hours! Know what that means? Coffee, good effort, and whatever the fuck happens, happens!

If you don’t knock it out of the park, who cares? It’s almost out of our hands, so hang the hell on and have fun, kids!

And that’s the thing people always forget. No matter how panicky and nutty we get before it all comes down, usually it just doesn’t matter.

You get your mulled wine or whatever the hell you drink, have good folks around, get the heat turned up, lights twinklin’, laughter echoing, and NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. That’s what alcohol’s for!

Somewhere around 6:30 on Christmas Eve, that starts to sink in, so skip all this crap and get into that mode. Que sera sera, as the man sings.

I was right, you know: Making gifts? Hard work! But so rewarding! I’m still not done and that’s fine, it’s still awesome. It’s been entertaining.

Christmas feels fun this year. How many malls have I gone into? Um, none since November 18th, except for walking through one to catch a train yesterday. Take THAT, malls!

I’ve even gotten to pay my bills. Post-pneumonia catch-up: Done, 3 days before Christmas. Big sigh. Happy sigh. And working again some.

Oh, I know, this domestic-happy Steff is a bit JARRING, I’m sure.

I’m not some Martha Stewart-like YAY-CRAFTS! person, but I’m telling you: Finding a way to simplify Christmas next year, if you didn’t manage to do so this year, might be the smartest thing you ever do.

And THIS Christmas is the perfect time to set that stage. When you exchange your gifts this year, bring up the idea of simplifying. Pledge to Make Christmas Simple. Then you can look forward to next year, not dread the finances. It makes December so much more fun when you have a plan.

Personally, I’m profoundly happy I’ve gone this way. Even my Christmas dinner will be different. A new friend is joining my best friend and I. And I’m finally taking Best Friend’s advice after all these years and Simplifying. It’s a meat pie that’s about 1/4 the price of a turkey. Making all traditional fixin’s and Quebecois “poor man’s pudding” (pouding chomeur) for dessert. It’ll be soul food, Quebec-style. (I have French heritage.)

My hope is that I’m not alone in having fun THIS week, that others are running on a little more gas as the finish line nears, and that we all make merry and feel delight.

If you are alone this year, make sure you cook yourself some beautiful food, or pick some up, pour some wine, and celebrate the fact that you fucking rock.

In case I’m too busy to write again — very likely — I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. I am thankful for all the strange and often difficult experiences I’ve had this year, the growth I’ve enjoyed, the bucket-list items I’ve checked off (public speaking and ziplining!), the awesome new people in my life, the odd doors that appear to be opening for my future, and everything else that has come my way.

Gratitude. Learning. Growth. All good.

Nothing has been what I expected of my year, but it’s been a hell of an interesting ride.

Thank you for coming along. Ho, ho, ho.

A Christmas Candy Story, by Steff

This Christmas, people in my life are getting simple gifts. I’m making candy for most people. Fiscal Frugality is probably wise in my world — and in most worlds.

Look around, right? The economy’s fucked. I could overspend, but I’d rather use my time and efforts and put ME into my gifts than injecting concern into my life. Makes sense.

It’s probably why I’m having so much more fun this Christmas. I can afford what I’m doing. I’m having to do it from my heart, too, because I want the candy to be awesome, not just some phoned-in treat.

Candymaking is all about the temperatures, that controls texture.

Friday, I got to play Santa Steff as I took my first batch of candy around to people. Tonight, I’ll be making another 11-12 pounds of the convection, with a good chunk of it being used for charitable purposes–my small way of giving back to a valued member of Vancouver’s social media community. I figure elbow grease turns into a donation from someone else. The circle of good.

But this isn’t just any candy.

This is the kind of candy that comes with a story.

Isn’t that the BEST kind?

As a kid, my mom always made us this homemade brown sugar candy. She called it “fudge,” so we did, too. Supposedly it’s “brown sugar pralines,” but there ain’t never been a batch that had pecans in it at my house, man.

She died in 1999, and that’s when I learned that it’s not the big posthumous regrets that weigh down your soul — it’s the little shit. Like childhood recipes.

When I realised her death came and I’d never gotten the recipe for brown sugar candy from her, it broke my heart. No one in the family could find it, either. She’d kept it secret.

But then, 10 years later, a friend of mine, ZoeyJane, helped me “purge” my home. I was made to go through all the old papers, sort all my boxes.

Another friend came over and we were goofing off, and I showed him my big purge-find of the day: My 1983 Girl Guides & Brownies Cookbook.

My friend starting flipping through the pages–thwap-thwap-thwap– “CRANBERRY JELL-O MOLD? This is totally 1983! Oh, hey, here’s yours–Brown sugar pralines.”

WHATWHATWHAT? LEMMESEETHATLEMMESEETHAT.

I snatched the flimsy recipe book from him, and lo and behold, there it was. Mom’s candy.

My eyes watered and my heart pounded. There was a piece of my childhood, RIGHT THERE. It DIDN’T die with her.

I was elated. Over the damn moon. I planned to make it soon. I’d need a candy thermometer. Duly NOTED.

A couple days later, I’m walking to work. Looking down on the sidewalk in Yaletown, there’s a candy thermometer in its package–$2.49. A fissure crack made it useless trash, but I picked it up and fell deep into thought as I found a bin to toss it in.

Later that day, I bought one myself.

That Friday, I took a deep breath and set about rekindling a part of my childhood. It was time to make some candy.

Immediately after I pour my first batch into trays to cool, the phone rings. It’s my brother. He’s with my dad. They wanna pop by.

I’d lived here 10 years, then. It was the first time ever they just “popped” by.

So, they came over, happy to know the “fudge” awaited. The candy was made of fail. I didn’t hit the right temperatures. It’s not cooking, it’s alchemy–and I had much to learn. My candy that day turned into a taffy-like chewtoy one could spend hours nom-nom-nomming but never melting down.

But it took us all back to a place that spoke of Monopoly nights with candy and a fire in the hearth, pizza delivery, pajamas and goofing off.

When my folks’ marriage started truly failing, the candy stopped making appearances. It became increasingly rare. Mother always made a double batch and put half away, hording it for herself. She had false teeth. (Obviously.)

In the 16 months since I found that recipe, I’ve really made it my own. I never make it plain as Mom did. Now it’s a vehicle for great flavours. I’ve made it with bacon and whiskey–a small circuit of the American deep-South barbecue circuit speaks of it like a barbecue urban legend, thanks to a friend who bragged about my work in competitions down there. But it’s the peanut butter-vanilla one that’s really popular with friends and family.

This Christmas is a new version and is my favourite. I think Mom would have loved it: Browned butter, toasted walnuts, and Butter Ripple Schnapps. It’s toasted and carmelized goodness that’ll make you understand the value of a good dental plan.

There were a few things I could’ve made to gift this year, with much less work, but my brown sugar candy is closer to my heart than any of ’em.

Don’t ask for the recipe. The Next Generation Cameron will carry it on: Nephew knows now what’s involved in making it. One day, Nephew too will be a Candymaking Ninja. But, for now, the alchemy eludes my little grasshopper.

Mother would be pleased. She’d love knowing her candy made Christmas special in two provinces last year, since I sent it to other family too, but she’d be more thrilled to know she played a part in candy-for-kindness and other Christmas goodness this year. She liked it simple-but-generous, life.

My folks went the extra mile to make Christmas memorable when I was little. One day, I grew up and the season became shrouded in the cynicism that makes stories like A Christmas Carol resonate 170 years on.

This year, being frugal, using my time and energy to make old-fashioned candy, is the first time I’ve really felt seasonal “joy” in a good 15-plus years. There’s something about returning to the simplicity of the traditions.

Being single and childless, that’s more easily accomplished than it’d be for others, but what a fantastic choice I made. I’m so glad.

Well, then… girl’s got some candy to make. Today’s most-epic-batch-ever requires a 20″ whisk, 24-quart stockpot, and a 24×18″ bun roll sheet with 1.5″ high walls. And, you know, 90 minutes of whisking.

Pray for me.

Ho, ho, ho.

If you can’t attend the fundraiser here in Vancouver tomorrow and you’d like to do a random act of kindness to support a couple good folks financially-felled by health crises for months in the past year, here’s a great place to drop five bucks and do just that.

The King’s Speech: Film Review

I seldom do movie reviews, but want to tell you about The King’s Speech, coming out on Dec. 22nd.

It’s one of those rare profoundly moving movies that leaves me believing in who we are again.

It’s such an inspiring story, so well acted, so seamlessly made, that I’d encourage anyone who likes GOOD movies to see it.

The nutshell?

King George the VI, Queen Elizabeth’s pop, was never supposed to be king. His brother fell madly in love with a Nazi-sympathising American divorcee and abdicated the throne, leaving Albert to assume the throne as the first-ever English king to rule while his predecessor was alive, well, and no longer ruling due to conundrums of his own making.

Problem: Albert, who never should’ve become king, had a profound speech impediment.

Bigger Problem: He was the first truly modern king expected to make regular live radio speeches, including the first wartime monarch’s national radio address.

So, you can see, the whole speech-impediment thing was quite a big deal.

Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth turn in amazing performances, with Firth’s being a virtual LOCK on the Oscar this year. So compelling and moving. Helena Bonham Carter’s acting is also of stellar quality. Everyone’s is.

Tom Hooper’s direction is effortless. With music used very sparingly throughout, the silences become powerful — reinforcing every design concept about the power of negative space.

It’s the silences that choke the future King George VI that so clutch at us and break our hearts. It captures fears and insecurities we all can relate to, and everyone involved in this movie understood how powerful those fears/insecurities can be for each of us.

It didn’t need big sets, flashy editing, dramatic music, or overbearing light work.

It needed to simply exist on screen as nothing more than it is — a story about a man called to be greater than he thinks he can be, at a time when nothing less than succeeding will do, which requires his overcoming life-long struggles and fears in the face of everyone’s pity and lowereed expectations.

In those silences, and the muscles twitching in Colin Firth’s neck and his trembling lips as the words fail to form and he can’t “just spit it out”, we all identify with moments we’ve frozen, failed, and simply fucked up.

It is a rare and beautiful movie, lacking of pomp and circumstance, belonging in the class of simple and inspiring films in my little collection, like You Can Count on Me, The Station Agent, and The Visitor.