House with a good looking lawn

Are professional lawn care services really worth the cost?

Does Lawn Care Services Companies offer exceptional service?

The short answer based on my experience and opinion is Yes.

Professional lawn care may turn out to just be the best value because:

Simple tasks such as the pruning of limbs and hedges are simple and quick, but complex tasks such as reseeding a lawn can take a significant amount of time but can dramatically improve the appearance of the lawn if done right.

During the summertime, when the lawn is dormant, the filter Must Grass Humidifier is really efficient at supplying the essential requisite water and nutrients that are required for the lawn to get going again.

Fertilizer can be applied in small amounts one or two times a year to improve the appearance of your lawn and also help the grass to grow faster because the rate of spread of the grass is much greater than in spring and fall (depending on the climate conditions). Fertilizer can be applied directly to the surface of the lawn or can be applied in spray form, with convenient hose addition, which can be applied to a lawn shortly before the sun has the chance to get to it. Professional lawn care services can do this for you efficiently rather than doing it on your own.

Front Yard Lawn

How hard is it to maintain your lawn?

The lawn should be fed properly, employing the appropriate nutrients, the frequency of applying it, what lawn products sold at the local nursery, how to find the best lawn products, and if local, the manufacturer who installed the artificial grass, and the cost of the product.

The lawn should be worked on with a specially formulated mixtures of chemicals that are safe to use and are safe to the environment; keeping lawns looking their best and looking their best, not harming lawns or the environment in the process. Fertilizer or the mixture of weed killer, insecticide, and fertilizer is spread or applied to the lawn.

Pre-emergent regrowth treatment for the lawn weeds’ helps the lawn stay free from weeds and helps keep a healthy-looking lawn. 

Overseeding is also done, to ensure the grass gets a fresh start by adding another little bit of seed over the original.

Watering is done at a regular interval just as any other landscape. Spot treatment for weeds like dandelions and crabgrass is done, just as the other plants. The lawn should be mowed and sliced evenly to promote healthy growth.

Remember that the lawn grass does not grow all by itself, a lot of cutting and keeping requires maintenance however it requires less than the actual water and fertilizers. All those mentioned above are just some of the list that needs to be done to maintain your lawn.

Yes,  you can do your own lawn maintenance but this will depend on your circumstances. If your time is limited, or doing yard work is just not something you are willing or able to do, a lawn-care company can be the answer.

Back Yard Lawn

Is the cost for lawn care maintenance really worth it?

Many people feel that the majority of the cost when hiring a lawn service is the price. This is true, of course, up to a point. For example, lawn care services in Hagerstown MD will range between $200 to $1,000 but it will all depend on the job that you need to be done. Plan your budget carefully and think about what you need to be done before you hire a Landscaping Company.

Finding a quality landscaping company can be difficult. With so many companies to choose from, how do you know which one is the right one? Surely it is a good idea to have several companies put in bids on a project. Count the cost of supplies and materials, break out the labor costs, and add that to the price of the job. Then compare the percentage of the bid of the total price. This includes the price of all materials, the price of the labor, and other fees and taxes.

Make sure the price includes the cost of the lawn equipment. Many companies won’t provide the equipment unless the price is high for that particular equipment. If possible, talk to the companies when they do provide equipment to see if the price is fair for that particular equipment. Be leery of high, isn’t it high, when in fact it will be much more expensive to purchase soil nutrients yourself. Without a doubt, the price of the equipment will in part determine the marketability of the job. The extra cost for the equipment may “go toward” developing it. Before you proceed, try to determine if this was really necessary. Determine how much if any manpower is necessary for preparation, hurried work, and for the crew or crew personnel. A good landscape can increase the value of your home by several thousand dollars which will offset the adjusted costs of labor and equipment.

If you do decide to hire a professional landscape company then be sure to consult with Landscaping Consumers facts about contractors.

By following the facts presented here you should be able to determine the who, what, and how costs in a developing project for a new residential yard on a reasonable budget.

Home Repair in Salem Oregon

Should You Hire A Handyman To Do Some Repairs Or DIY?

Having your own house is a big responsibility in keeping it in good condition. Over the years you will experience broken things in your house and I am guilty of putting things aside due to my busy schedule. I have a lot of overdue home repairs that need to be done soon. Here are just some of the repairs that I needed to be done:

  • Window Repair
  • Window Screen Repair
  • Furniture Repair
  • Gutter Repair
  • Deck Repair
  • Plaster Repair
  • And a lot more in my to do list

I know this list is long but it has been years since I had a handyman do some repairs in my house.

The Dilemma

Gutter Repair in Salem Oregon

Now due to the pandemic I have a lot of time in my hands. The question is should I hire a professional Handyman to do all the repairs or should I just do it myself? I am really over the fence with this. Half of me is saying that I should just do it given the situation now I need to save money and just spend the time while half of me is saying that I should just leave it to the professionals so I can be sure that it will be done well and save myself from possible injuries or maybe money as well from mistakes that I might make since my home repair skills are below average.

The Decision

After doing some research and several days of thinking I have decided to hire handyman services in Salem Oregon instead to do all the repair works on my list. Here are some of the reasons why you should hire a handyman instead of just doing it myself. This will also help if you are just wondering if hiring a handyman is essential:

Saves Your Time and Effort

Hiring handyman services can save you the effort it takes to track down the repair materials, correct instructions and tools as well as the time you have to set aside to address the problem. Furthermore, a handyman can bring experience to these tasks, ensuring the repair is done efficiently and quickly. A final thing to consider is that most handyman stands behind their work and are proud to provide a guarantee of customer satisfaction.

Reduced risk of potential injury

Home repairs come with the potential of exposing you to injury. There are some home repairs that are simply more difficult, or dangerous, for you to handle on your own. Don’t get yourself frustrated trying to balance on a ladder and clean out your gutters, replace missing shingles or touch up paint. This occurs because we often lack the experience to fix those domestic repairs. For this reason, you need someone with the experience to do this without exposing you to related risks. This is where handymen step in to assist.

A handyman has a variety of skills to complete different tasks

Just because you have several home repairs it doesn’t mean they’re all related skill-wise. Most people don’t have a full set of tools ready to go to tackle every job that arises, let alone the skill to handle them.

The advantage of hiring a handyman is they are skilled in multiple tasks and can handle a variety of home repairs easily. They have all their own tools too. If you’ve got a list of repairs that cover a wide range, like touching up paint, caulking, or replacing shingles, handymen are ideal.

Boost Your Properties Resale Value

When you intend on reselling your home or some of your property, handymen help in sprucing it up for those property photos and viewers. By fixing what you want to sell, they help in boosting the overall appearance as such fetching more income.

Save Yourself From Stress

Are you having a family gathering or a party in a couple of days and you’ve just had a burst pipe? No worries, hiring a handyman can help to get your pipes back to normal before your big day. Saving you the stress of having to cancel on all those family members.

Whether it is a simple window repair or a kitchen remodel project save yourself from the hassle and stress by hiring a professional handyman to do the job for you. Also do not be like me who likes to procrastinate and set things aside. I learned the hard lesson because some of those simple repairs that I have neglected for years which would have only costed a small fortune are now unrepairable and needs replacement which is very costly.

handyman macon ga

My Experience with a Handyman in Macon GA

I usually write reviews here of books and other things that I am interested but this time I would like to share my experience of visiting my hometown after several years.

I recently visited my mom who is living in Macon Georgia. It has been years since I last visited my hometown and a lot have changed in the place where I grew up. It brings back nostalgic memories of my childhood. I visited some of the places where I used to hang out with friends and some have already been demolished and converted into commercial establishments. This place will always have a special place in my heart.

While I am with my mom I noticed that her house already needs some fixing. It is old already and the signs are showing, we have not had a major renovation since I was still living with her. I said to myself that I will make myself productive while I am there so I decided to have all those broken things in the house get fixed. I wrote a list of all the things that needed repair like some electrical sockets not working, doors that are creaking and some windows that are stuck and really hard to open and flooring that needs to be repaired. I searched on google for a local handyman in Macon & Warner Robins Ga and called the first website that I saw. I stayed away from thumbtack and porch since I wanted to talk directly with a local handyman. I told him all the things that I wanted to be done and he quoted me an hourly price and an estimate of how long will it be done which was reasonable to me so I agreed and we scheduled it that afternoon.

The repair took 3 days since I have a long list and the floor repair took longer. I was talking to the handyman whose name was Chris and I later found out that he is a cousin of one of my classmates in Highschool. Small world, I know! We talk about his cousin who was a close friend of mine and had some small talk. He was very professional and I have no complaint about his work. He told me he had been running his handyman business for the last 6 years now and that he always makes sure that all his customers are satisfied. Indeed he did well and my mom was very happy with the result. I told him that I am a writer and that I run a blog and that I would mention him in my blog.

After a week I went back to my home in Vancouver. It was refreshing and I feel energized just to be back in my hometown even just for a few days. Thanks to Chris of Handyman Macon GA for fixing my Mom’s house and for doing a great job!

Acting the Giddy Goat Book Review

Book by Mike Tanner

Mike Tanner’s first novel is funny, full of life and remarkably original. There is more than a hint of early Tom Robbins as quatrains from the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam are posted on lamp posts in downtown Toronto. Or when Martin, a philosophy PhD temporarily employed as a kindergarten teacher, “got himself an airhorn, which he pulled from his bag and blew the following morning when he appeared among the whirling, shrieking mass of tiny bodies. The sound was deafening, and its effect immediate and dramatic: the noise stopped, and the kids looked at him with wide eyes, startled, curious and with a new respect.”

Tanner introduces hiss characters at a corner table at the Horse and Groom, an imaginary Toronto bar. They are a bunch of disparate people get together Thursday nights to listen to Johnny Raccoon and his band play covers and some original material. They’re in their late 20s, early 30s: well educated, some married, most not, employed gainfully, but not gleefully.

Brewmaster Bill jots notes for a book as he works at the U-brew Palace. Susan Harris wonders whether five-inch heels and switching her name to Susie will help her snatch Drake Liedermann, an aspiring film director, from the ample embrace of Tracy the waitress. Most of Tanner’s characters are putting in time waiting for the last step to adulthood. Some have been waiting for a while.

Tanner’s characters are struggling with the question that lies at the threshold of maturity: “Should I settle for this?” At 40, Johnny Raccoon has got a two-record deal – the first real money he has ever had. It means he will no longer have to race Jin-Dong Choi, the marimba master, for the prime busking spot at the Pape subway station. But it also means he has to accept production direction from Bobby G, late of funky Philadelphia, who has no idea at all what Johnny’s music is about.

Tanner has a gift for detail, he keeps the beer orders straight and, a professional musician himself, is authoritative writing about “the transition into the final B-flat, C, D-minor section”. But it is not all beer and guitar licks: Tanner gives sensitive, smart and convincing portraits of two marriages, one happy, the other heading for trouble.

Toronto is the background throughout the novel. This Toronto is actually a pretty interesting place to live – Toronto on the cusp of Spring, south of St. Clair, downtown, where the crazies on the TTC pass unnoticed by the suburbanites in the golden towers. Tanner’s descriptions of getting around in downtown Toronto, whether driving in Johnny Raccoon’s aptly named car, the “Roach” or weaving on to the last subway train after a half-dozen too many drinks get the pleasures of the city just right.

The collisions between reality and dreams at the heart of Acting the Giddy Goat reach their climax as one of Toronto’s wonderful, fierce, thunderstorms purges the city. Tanner is not trite enough to resolve all his characters’ destinies as the electricity flicks on and off. Instead, Dionysus runs rampant, Rebellion Ale is drunk by the jug and, in the un-air-conditioned
dark of the Horse and Groom, a wonderfully hedonistic full-on party breaks out.

Acting the Giddy Goat avoids most of the mistakes that mar first novels. Tanner has lived enough and done enough to have lots of material. In his early forties, a world class field hocky player, a veteran of literally thousands of bar gigs with his own cover band, a new father, Tanner has a perspective that 23-year-olds rushing their creative writing projects to print do not. Most of all, Tanner just loves writing and is damned good at it.

There are set pieces in the novel – Adam Allman going to his gym to be assailed by the ghastly Grunt Brothers who make repulsive noises as they pump iron, Johnny Raccoon racing for his busking spot, dinner with the most revolting Canadian family I have encountered in print – and each is spun out to let the reader appreciate the characters and their point of view. Even the passages of Brewmaster Bill’s journal that talk about writing – an almost certain kiss of death in a first novel – are amusing, lightly handled and true.

Very occasionally Tanner seems to lose his thread. There is, perhaps, a bit too much about the tribulations of Johnny Raccoon and his band, but these last no more than a couple of pages and often Tanner’s writing is such fun to read that being a bit lost is no great hardship.

The answer to the question, “Should I settle for this?” is often, “Why ask?” Some of Tanner’s characters get it, some don’t, some need more time. Most are working like the sculptor Henry Moore who, according to Adam Allman, asked how he’d sculpted an elephant out of a block of ice: “He said it was easy. All he had to do was to get the block of ice into his studio and chip away everything that didn’t look like an elephant.” Adam goes on, “Have to chip away everything that doesn’t feel like my life.”

Acting the Giddy Goat made me laugh and made me think: Novels don’t get better than that.

Entanglement: The Greatest Mystery in Physics Review

Book By Amir Aczel

Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

Most people with a smattering of scientific knowledge know this critical speed limit. They may even know that it is a necessary rule in Einstein’s reworking of Newton’s universe.

Nothing can break this speed limit because as something gets close to the speed of light its mass begins to increase. As its mass increases the amount of energy required to increase its speed rockets upwards towards infinity and, at the edge of the speed of light there is simply not enough energy in the universe to accelerate the infinitely massive object over the light speed limit.

Up until 1935, this notion of locality, of a speed limit, fit observed phenomena and all of the thought experiments the world’s best physicists could come up with. By 1935, the action and Nobel Prizes in theoretical physics had shifted away from Einstein’s relativity to the weird world of quantum theory.

Quantum theorist Niels Bohr, famously remarked “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.” Albert Einstein for one was shocked to discover that quantum theory implied what Erwin Schrödinger, of popular dead/not dead cat fame, referred to as “entanglement”. Einstein wrote a hugely influential and very controversial paper suggesting any theory which implied entanglement had to be incomplete. He saw entanglement as implying action at a distance and simply too weird to exist in Nature. (“Einstein has once again expressed himself publicly on quantum mechanics…As is well known, everytime that happens it is a catastrophe.” wrote Wolfgang Pauli.)

Einstein was wrong. Nature really is that weird.

Amir Aczel is a mathematics professor with a talent for taking really complicated bits of mathematics and physics and trying to make them intelligible to interested lay people. His very successful Fermat’s Last Theorem proved even esoteric issues in mathematics can make compelling reading. With Entanglement Aczel takes a huge risk: simply explaining what physicists mean by “entanglement” is enough to make your head hurt. But here goes, I quote Aczel,

“For example, two photons emitted from the same atom as its electron descends down two energy levels are entangled. (Energy levels are associated with the orbit of an electron of an atom.) While neither flies off in a definite direction, the pair will always be found on opposite sides of the atom. And such photons, produced in a way which links them together, remain intertwined forever. Once one is changed, its twin – wherever it may be in the universe—will change instantaneously.”

To Einstein instantaneous change across the universe was absurd. It had to be wrong because it violated the one essential principle his theory of special relativity required: nothing could travel faster than light.

The direct implication of quantum theory was that something instantaneously changes the state of one entangled photon to exact state of the other even if the other was a billion miles away. This “spooky action at a distance” which troubled Einstein.

As Aczel details, Einstein’s error gave rise to a series of mathematical speculations and then physical experiments to determine if the light speed limit or entanglement were right. The critical theoretical work was done by John Bell, a Belfast born particle physicist whose interest in quantum theory was more or less a hobby. Bell recognized the predictions of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s speed limit could not both be true and suggested an elegant mathematical construct which could, in principle, be tested experimentally to find out which was right. Aczel describes “Bell’s inequalities” but the real action lay in the experiments.

To test the reality of entanglement meant, in outline, creating entangled entities, splitting them and then changing the state of one part of the entity and seeing if it effected the state of the other part.  But the experiments also had to ensure that there could be no local, sub light “chatter” as between the various pieces of the experimental apparatus. In the early 1970’s researchers began to build apparatus which definitely confirmed that quantum mechanics are “non-local”, that information is somehow passed faster than light could travel. But these experiments, while suggestive, were not utterly conclusive. And if you want to prove Einstein’s speed limit is wrong you need knock down evidence.

As a graduate student Alain Aspect, performed three experiments using lasers to “pump” calcium atoms so that they gave off a steady source of pairs of entangled photons. Aspect’s apparatus changed the polarity of one photon and detected the instantaneous change in the other. And, using a switch which could alter the state of a polarizer in less than 43 nanoseconds, Aspect was able to change the apparatus while the photons were in their 13 meter flight. Each of Aspect’s experiments provided rigorous confirmation that entanglement was real and that there was no purely “local”, that is sub-light speed, phenomena, hidden variable or signal which could account for the instantaneous transformation.

In the early 1990’s a Swiss scientist, Nicholas Gisin, arranged what stands as the final confirmation of the reality of entanglement and thus action at a distance. He set up an experiment using a sixteen kilometer fiber-optical cable. On this apparatus a signal from one photon to another informing it of its state would have to travel 10 million times the speed of light. Which means it is now certain entangled photons are not communicating with each other. Instead, paradoxically, they are simply in touch.

This is where my brain began to sweat hard. Because the implication of the entanglement experiments is not only that the Einsteinian light-speed limit is void but that the entire notion of physical separation is a fiction. Or at least I think that is what the experiments imply.

To a degree Aczel is defeated by the sheer oddness of the material he is dealing with. Defeated by the fact the concept of entanglement does reckless damage to our day to day sense of how things work. Like Einstein we tend to believe that what we see and what we can measure is real. But at the quantum mechanical level measurement is voided by the uncertainty principle: merely by looking we change the outcome.

Reading Entanglement I kept thinking I actually understood the concepts only to realize, a page or two later, that I had entirely missed the point. This is not Aczel’s fault. He has written without diluting the truly bizarre and unintuitive implications of quantum theory generally and the weird facts of entanglement in particular. It is a book which I’ll keep rereading and referring to for a long time; but I doubt I will ever actually accept this strange probalistic world.

I console myself knowing Einstein didn’t accept entanglement either – and he could do the math.

You can buy the book HERE which is available in Hardcover and Audiobook version.

The Killers Within Review

The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug Resistant Bacteria

Book by Michael Shnayerson and Mark J. Plotkin

This is a good book to read now especially with the current coronavirus that is spreading across the globe.

It was front page news when drug resistant bacteria invaded BC Childrens Hospital’s intensive care nursery. But the hundreds of thousands of drug resistant staph infections which occur annually in hospitals throughout the world never make it into the paper. Yet these infections can make routine surgery and hospital stays dangerous and unpredictable one patient at a time.

For three and a half billion years bacteria have been adapting to unforgiving environments ranging from our stomachs to boiling hot outflows miles under the ocean. Antibiotics have been used for a little more than sixty years. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are disappointing and frightening; but the resistance is not surprising.

The Killers Within is a well researched, engagingly written book detailing the worldwide rise of multi-drug resistant bacteria in hospitals and in the community. The rapid evolution of  toxic bacteria –Streptococcus pneumoniae, Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus among others – is a deadly but fascinating tale of adaptation.

Twenty years ago infections like staph were routinely eliminated with inexpensive, very effective, antibiotics. Now many of these infections are multi-drug resistant and, if they can be beaten at all, require new, expensive and often toxic drugs. At least 40,000 Americans die each year as a result of drug resistant bacterial infections. That number is growing.

Over prescription of antibiotics, patients’ failure to follow the full course of antibiotics prescribed, the use of antibiotics as “growth promoters” in the cattle, swine and poultry industries have all contributed to resistance. Resistant strains spread in hospitals because health care workers don’t wash their hands between patients or because the bugs survive on not quite sterile instruments, catheters and bed sheets.

The immediate causes of drug resistant bacteria are important but The Killers Within makes a larger point. Bacteria’s ability to rapidly evolve under pressure suggests that antibiotics’ astonishing success over the last sixty years has been illusorily.

The discovery of penicillin followed by the broad range of antibiotics created an evolutionary bottleneck for  bacteria populations. For a few years a drug would kill almost all the target bacteria. The key word here being “almost”: with every drug a few bacteria survive. These survivors are slightly more resistant to the drug and this slightly resistant population is the only one which breeds.

Bacteria generations are measured in hours so evolution is fast. Drug resistance rises and is encoded genetically. In a single decade “bacteria reproduced 50,000 times, trying each time, in some soulless but utterly determined, Darwinian way, to adapt in order to prevail.”

Drug strategies which did not take bacteria’s rapid evolution into account were doomed to fail eventually.

In Nature bacteria do not multiply unchecked. There are a variety of natural anti-bacterials: frog peptides and Komodo dragon saliva kill bacteria very efficiently. Synthesizing these natural anti-bacterials promises highly effective anti-bacterials in the future. Vaccines, naturally occurring or genetically engineered also hold some future hope.

For the moment, the authors see the most promising approach as weird little viruses called phages. Every bacteria seems to have a phage which has co-evolved specifically to feast on that particular bacteria. Phages inject their DNA directly into a bacteria. This DNA takes charge of the bacteria and forces it to make more phages instead of more bacteria before it dies. These daughter phages go and colonize more bacteria.

The anti bacterial action of phages was discovered by a French Canadian named Felix d’Herelle around 1915. He published his results in 1917 to the amazement and frank incredulity of the scientific world.

d’Herelle’s work was largely ignored in the West, particularly after the discovery of penicillin, but continued behind the Iron Curtain at the Eliava Institute in Tbilisi, Georgia. Hundreds of different bacterial strains had their phages discovered and catalogued at the Institute which is still in operation.

Phages offer a more sophisticated ecological strategy for bacteria control. They only have the capacity to commandeer their particular bacterial cell and are unable to attack other species of bacteria or human cells. And phages are likely to mutate right along with bacteria as they have been doing through the whole of geologic time.

For the last sixty years we have used a single approach to anti-bacterial warfare: antibiotics.  The Killers Within details the tragic but inevitable failure of that approach. Antibiotics have bought us is a little time to invent new ways of dealing with the ecology of bacteria. But that time is fast running out.

Four Best Books About Food

You do not have to be a foodie to admire the sheer exuberance and delight chef Jeremiah Tower brings to writing his own extraordinary life. Yes, it does help to know who James Beard is and it also helps to know that the epicenter of the American Culinary Revolution was a small restaurant in Berkeley California called Chez Panisse.

California Dish

California Dish (Free Press hc 320 pp $39.50) will tell you all this and a great deal more about wonderful food and extraordinary wine; but its real story is about a man who fell in love with food as a child and somehow made a life which let him deeply indulge his childish passion. Tower is a man who can write about the famous expert on French food, Richard Olney, “After we got the sex part of our affair out of the way, we got down to business. The long winter nights were filled with single-malt whiskey, old French music-hall records, and talks about food.”

This is a book of menus and people and the very freshest ingredients, lightly cooked and served in original ways. “The squab’s breast meat was served in its juices, the leg and thigh meat chopped into a puree with sage leaves and served on grilled garlic toasts.” Grills, salsas, the re-invention of the pizza: Tower was in on all of it.

Tower grew up a largely neglected child of a rich, sometimes abusive American father and an artistic, alcoholic beauty who lived in Jean Patou suits and grubby gardening clothes. Tower’s childhood consisted of eating his way through some of the best restaurants in the world and being kicked out of school. His parents stayed in grand hotels and room service became Tower’s hobby. In his early teens he often took over the kitchen from his over martinied mother and finished dinners for dozens of guests. At Harvard he and a friend had six course dinner parties finishing with 1884 Maderia and fresh off the plant marijuana.

Tower’s break as a chef came in the early years at Chez Panisse where he ran the kitchen for which, as he points out, Alice Waters, took the credit. But he left Panisse and rebuilt the Sante Fe Bar and Grill for investors before opening his own Stars in San Francisco. And then on to Hong Kong and Singapore.

What sets California Dish miles above most chef’s memoirs is Tower’s tremendously humane and beautifully educated sense of style, taste and simplicity. He can embrace Eastern cooking styles, high French cuisine and the very best America can offer. His writing is elegant and perfectly evocative of the tastes and places which have formed his palette and his life.

Slow Food, The Case for Taste

Where Tower mixes fresh ingredients, rare wines, the discovery of America as a culinary region and celebrity dining, Carlo Petrini celebrates the pleasures of the kitchen table and the little café. Slow Food, The Case for Taste, (Columbia University Press, hc 155 pp $__.__)is as much a polemic as a discussion of food.

With its snail logo, Slow Food is as much a social movement as a particular cuisine. It began in 1986 when Petrini, aghast at McDonald’s plans to build near the Spanish Steps in Rome, armed himself and some friends with bowls of penne and protested the bland, the quick and the homogenous.

In a world driven by price and standardization, fast food – the lump of meat on a bun with tasteless lettuce, a squirt of special sauce served in a styrofoam box – quickly becomes the default cuisine. A cuisine which drives local producers, market gardeners, cheese makers and the little “ma and pa” restaurants out of business. Taste is overwhelmed.

Slow Food begins with the idea that taste matters: tiny tastes, specific tastes and tastes of the territory. For example, Slow Food wanted people to know and appreciate that while there are 1,300,000 rounds of Asiago cheese produced in Italy annually, there is an “especially good kind that is produced in small quantities: Asiago Stravecchio.” There are only 10,000 or so rounds of this long aged cheese made a year; but Slow Food’s logic is that if people know about the cheese they will buy it, which will create demand and ensure more is produced.

Slow Food bogs down in more organizational detail than is really needed to drive home its simple message: by paying a little more for food which actually tastes good we are ensuring tasty food will continue to be produced. Slow Food, the book and the movement, are a weird marriage of ecology, aging socialists, gastronomy and pleasure invented to counter the flattening of flavour and the eclipse of enjoyment created by purely commercial cuisine.

Mr. Chilehead

Mr. Chilehead (ECW Press, sc, 222pp, $19.95) is one demented puppy operating on the fringes of gastronomic Hell. There is nothing tiny about his tastes. Alter ego to writer James D. Campbell, Mr. C takes his pleasure in the sweet pain of really hot chillies, sauces and dishes. He goes to Mardi Gras and Sante Fe in search of the burn. Mr. C wants the sting, the heat, the third degree burns inflicted by the hot sauces of what he calls Painland.

Like most forms of masochism, eating scorching hot condiments has evolved its own strange rituals, fetish items and language. Mr. C explores them all and, along the way, provides a comprehensive guide to the painfully hot for the novice. There are a lot of novices. In 1992 salsa replaced ketchup as America’s number one condiment.

Salsa, even killer hot salsa, is really for wussies. Mr. C explains that hot sauce fetishists have their own scale for ranking heat: Scoville units. Those jalapenos on your nachos, 4500 Scovilles, Tabasco sauce 30-50,000 units; but for real pain you start at habanero chile at 350 – 500,000 units. Sort of like eating pepper spray (made from the sissy cayenne weighing in at a mere 40,000 Scovilles.)

Mr. Chilehead is well written in places but there is a distinct tang of filler. 20 pages of “You know you’re a chilehead if….” are 19 too many for anyone who isn’t. Many of the chapters work as magazine pieces but the book as a whole is a text for the converted.

A Slice of Life

A Slice of Life (The Overlook Press, hc, 400 pp, $40.00) is just what its subtitle says it is: Contemporary Writers on Food. From Umberto Eco’s reflections on the sheer physical impossibility of eating on airplanes to historian Rachel Laudan pouring cold water on “Slow Food” and the rest of the Culinary Luddites who long for a past which never was, A Slice of Life is a glorious sampler of food writing broadly imagined.

Its editor, Bonnie Marranca, wants to capture glimpses of what she calls “geographies of taste”. Readers have the appetizing choice of reading M. F. K. Fisher writing about a wanton woman’s menu or Isabel Allende’s perfectly discursive contemplation of a naked chef, “There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill.”

While a few of the pieces are over egged with sentimental memories of mother’s chipped blue bowl, most are crisply written reminders of taste and place. Russell Baker leavens the loaf with a perfect pastiche of pretentious food writing while describing his cuisine du depression.

I am not sure what Jeremiah Tower would make of Russell Baker’s “beans in bacon grease”. I am sure that anyone who loves food will enjoy grazing in the company of writers who can put that love into work.

Better Than Life Book Review

A book by Margaret Gunning

At ninety Min Connar is more mischievous than elderly. Cared for by her less than ambitious, ex-alcoholic, son Aubrey, Min regularly pretends to die and is planning the biggest birthday celebration cum reunion the little Ontario town of Harmon has ever seen. She’s survived the Depression, her kids and now the late 1960’s and she owes herself a party.

Where many first novels are about growing up and getting out of small towns as fast as possible, Margaret Gunning’s Better than Life is about the sort of people who stay. They led everyday lives, are convinced that the Kentucky Fried Chicken opened in the Centennial Year is simply the best thing in the world and they gossip.

Min’s children give the town lots to gossip about.

Statuesque Eileen Connar, knocked up by the town’s only writer and married off to one of its two nancy boys to hide the scandal, now on her fifth marriage with her eleventh child up the spout herself has steeled herself to the buzz of disapproval which greets her in every store and café. Min’s twins, Dwight and Barlow, live as refugees in Hogansville just down the road, married to sisters. They had, or so the story goes, “been driven out of Harmon by that awful sot of a brother, that Aubrey who wasn’t even married.”

Gunning gets the warm glaze of gossip as it winds around Harmon from Guillaume’ Belgian bakery, “social nucleus of the entire community which wasn’t really Belgian at all.” It’s the same gossip Min has been hearing all her life.

The mainspring of Better than Life is the arrival in Harmon of a rather fine young man named Bob who, while a good deal cleaner than the hippy kids who have taken over the town park, and a hard worker to boot, is very much a child of the sixties. Spouting Kilhal Gibran, Bob is charming, into macrobiotics and just charismatic enough. The Reverend Ninian Sanderson over at St. Andrew’s United cautions his congregation to beware false prophets. Just as he is telling them to “Rigorously question the motives of anyone claiming to have holy powers…” in walks Bob. The congregation is moved to tears by a perfectly ordinary hymn. As Gunning puts it, “They had so wanted to believe in Bob. A distant, too-exalted Christ was so hard to hold on to.”

While Bob is a remarkable carpenter and shakes some of the town people out of their ruts with a combination of common sense and the sense of possibility, he is not the Son of God. He has enough troubles of his own.

Gunning, perhaps as a result of having reviewed literally hundreds of Canadian novels, has a resolutely light touch. She gets on with telling her story without a great deal of authorial meditation or flowery description. Which is exactly right for the rich roster of characters who have to chose between the delights of Min’s ninetieth birthday reunion and the revived Horgie Days down in Hogansville, replete with Bobby Gimby (“One little, two little, three Canadians” was beaten into my innocent elementary school head as surely as it was into Gunning’s”).

Better than Life is a delightful celebration of acceptance. Min’s 90th is full of surprises, not all of them pleasant, but all drawn from the first things of a life well lived: children, marriage, love and redemption. Min sits on her throne, “as heavily made up as Barbara Cartland”, presiding over the Connar clan, watching ancient feuds being replaced with new ones and knowing the dance of life will continue long after she’s gone.

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