Posts Tagged With: summer

Blaming Sardine Sandwiches & Summer

“They” say it takes six weeks to break a bad habit. I say it takes only six days to break a good one. My last post was written days after the seductive fog of  a week in Roatan, Honduras. Immediately after that I slipped into an unannounced blog sabbatical. I could lie and say I was diligently funneling my effort into a new venture or some ambitious writing project, but, nope. Meanwhile, Jann Arden has written a book, is in the studio recording a new album, finished filming a television series with Vanilla Ice and is gathering material for her radio show. Now I feel like a slouch. Can I not commit to a weekly blog post?

It all started when I walked down to the Bellevue Diner in mid April with a bold mission and the swinging arms to match. I was listening to Elliot Brood (rather loudly) and only slowing to take in signs that we had survived winter. Robins hopscotching across snow-bit lawns. Maples squeezing out leaves as fast as tulips popping out bold heads of butter yellow and blood red. Waterfalls of wisteria.

I had read rave reviews about the “Squirrel Sandwich” and by god, on that April day, I was finally going to eat one. Even if I threw it up soon after on some dainty lawn dotted with carefully orchestrated flowerbeds on the way back. The Squirrel had been on my list of peculiar things to eat (in the company of tongue on brioche with bone marrow and jam donuts to finish at The Black Hoof). The Squirrel, losing  a few adventure points after mentioning tongue and marrow donuts I’m sure, is still a gross mash-up: peanut butter, cucumber, hot sauce, cheese and–wait for it—canned sardines. On rye. For $10 it would be a cheap throw-up. It was reminiscent of something I would force upon my poor, unsuspecting kid sister with a sinister grin.

Kensington Market was its usual gong show of commotion: catwalk fashion, longboards scraping curbs, eco-gladiators in vegan shoes and bike bandits popping wheelies. I walked into the Bellevue much like that Joni Mitchell song, like I “was walking onto a yacht.” I eyed Guinness on the taps and asked for a pint and the famed Squirrel sandwich. I boasted that I had come all the way from the Annex for this very moment.

“We don’t make that sandwich anymore.”

The wind was sucked out of my sails. The lumberjack plaid-shirted server shoved a menu towards me and suggested the trout, it was really good. Trout? I wanted the inappropriate marriage of sardines and peanut butter and a Guinness to choke the quagmire down with. The  menu fell flat without the Squirrel option (but it is indeed worthy, I’ve eaten there before and swooned). I didn’t even want the Guinness anymore.

“Don’t you have the ingredients? Can’t you just make it, even though it’s not on the menu anymore? It’s still listed on the menu outside the door, you know.”

There was a quick conference and raised eyebrows with the matchingly plaid-shirted chef who marched out to see above mentioned menu for himself. Nope. Even though.

I left (politely, no slammed doors or dramatic Paris Hilton-esque rage scenes) and made my way back up to Bloor. I paused at Caplansky’s on College and contemplated a smoked meat sandwich piled so high I’d have guaranteed lockjaw. Then my hungry thoughts drifted to Chippy’s and their Guinness battered haddock as big as a cricket bat. The kind of fish n’ chip feed that makes you moan midway and long for a supine position. Nah.

I felt like nothing but that stupid Squirrel sandwich, which I could have very easily made at home. Instead I made my way back to the Annex, very glum, and popped open a Niagara blonde beer and stabbed at the last of my girlfriend’s mother’s sugary pickled beets. I was going to write a blog about the Squirrel sandwich and felt the material was snatched away from me faster than the paperback my grade 6 BFF Tyra and I were reading at recess that mentioned sodomy. Asking our teacher directly what “sodomy” meant was obviously pre-Google days. And not a good idea.

And then summer inched into my life and I gave way to a new routine that forgot about blogging. Yes, I’ll blame my hiatus on not having that sardine sandwich and summer. The soupy days when clothes transform into Saran Wrap on sweat-slick skin. When thunderstorms are so violent they rattle your bone marrow. Even the bone marrow in your donuts. When appetites give way to the flesh of robust fruit and the primal satisfaction found in grilled meat. The tart kiss of lime in mojitos. Sangria-soaked Sunday mornings. The distinct pleasure in gossipy nights on packed patios with beers sweating as much as those swallowing them.

The smell of hot heat, mown grass, gasoline. The day’s sun radiates up from the sidewalks pockmarked with flattened bubblegum. Dogs hang their tongues lower than the breasts of women who have decided they are already too hot to wear bras, or anything mimicking support. There is a thwack of flip flops on bare feet, fish belly white skin and skin pink and angry from the humidity.

Soon kids will be screeching like little dolphins at the public pools–the whites of their eyes the colour of cotton candy. Their mouths stained orange and purple from sucking on the lifeblood only a freezie provides. There will be tears over upside-down ice cream cones and skinned knees from poor finger and toe holds on beckoning hard-barked trees.

I’ve already been to the island and embraced the coconut-oil infused breathing space of the beach. Shoved a bathtub warm beer can deep into the sand. This is my quintissential summer moment. Drowsy with an open book, a brothy lake wind whipping at my face and tangled hair. Cocky seagulls questioning personal space. Awkward frisbee throwers causing concern. Salty chips in a ziplock. A sandwich with inevitable sand actually in it. And a unity.

It’s a truly Canadian moment when we tell our parkas and toques to F-off for a few months so we can scorch our skin and coagulate our blood and drink things with umbrellas and limes and do unpredictable things at drive-in theatres, despite not being teenagers anymore. We join an unspoken army that approves of burgers five nights out of seven, of grass-stained short bottoms, of putting off career ambitions and landmark decisions until September. And of thick milkshakes winning out over those protein shakes that taste like vanilla chalk and chocolate cement.

But, despite this carefree grace period, I will try to maintain my blog relationship. And if I can’t blame a sardine sandwich and summer, I’m sure I’ll find something else just as worthy to point a finger at.

Categories: Eat This, Sip That | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Summer Lovin’

Summer is a showcase of all that is good in the world. Midnight skinny dips in the lake, dripping gelato, burgers spitting on the grill, flip flops and 8:45 pm sunsets.

We are encouraged to lie prone in the sand, read thick novels in the shade, congregate on patios with boozy sangria and gather around bonfires. There are strawberries as big as clown noses, embarrassingly juicy peaches and blueberries that beg to be eaten even before rinsing. Make-shift roadside stands heave with a farmer’s pride.

I’m heaving because it’s all drawing to a close. The sun has been closing her show earlier and earlier each night and fall is lurking like a pop quiz. Just today I felt a shiver of trepidation as I walked down the aisles of the Rexall drugstore on Bloor—there was a sneak attack of back-to-school specials: Crayola pencil crayons, protractors and shiny lunch boxes. Nooooooooooo! Not yet!

I walked home, absorbing the traces of humidity that just weeks ago left Toronto feeling like we were wrapped in Saran Wrap at midday. I opened a Tankhouse Lager and read Jann Arden’s latest blog post about the onslaught of fall in her Alberta. “There is a dampness in the air. That subtle hint of orange and red and yellow leaves that fills your nostrils… The trees are looking in at me through the windows at night and counting down until their big sleep.” Noooooooooo.

There was an instantaneous flashback to the summers of the Torti elementary school years. When we could BMX for five hours on the sugary fuel of grape Kool-aid alone. When we wore wet swimsuits with saggy bums and swam in the murky irrigation ponds full of leeches and snapping turtles. Eventually we would be hauled inside to put on proper clothing, and if it was Friday—we were probably going to pick-up a pizza at Godfather’s in Paris. Equally thrilling was the prospect of stopping at the corner store on the hill that weaved into the sleepy downtown where we could each buy a pack of baseball cards. Our jaws ached from the powdered gum that came with the cards. It was as tough as silicone and as flavourful as a countertop wiped with a wet rag.

Waiting for the pizza, we’d trade cards, bicker and gloat. We lived in the country, and no pizza place delivered to our remote parts. So, we’d get in the Oldsmobile with a pile of blankets (to keep the pizza warm). Apparently this was before the microwave era? With my parents in the front, we’d surreptitiously steal bits of crust from the vents on either end of the pizza box. Dax would eventually complain about the fumes from the Oldsmobile and how he was getting increasingly nauseous. He’d insist on sitting in the middle of the backseat (“the Hump”), so he “could see out.” This supposedly helped his nausea. Much like those afflicted with seasickness, Dax had to see the shoreline. Kiley would get perturbed to be further away from the pizza box, separated from the good crust-stealing position. She would cry and/or cross her eyes and the gig would be up.

What made us all cry harder was when we would accidentally let our eyes fall upon the Bluebird Bus Company on Highway 53. En route to get pizza, we were all too preoccupied with anticipation to notice the horrible visual of hundreds of day-glo school buses parked on the Bluebird lot, just waiting for that grand day in September. Usually we were on high alert, and once we passed Schuyler’s apple farm, we knew to duck and count at least ten M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i-s before raising our heads again. If we didn’t see the buses, we truly believed in an eternal summer. There was no back to school if we didn’t see the bus that would take us to our doom.

Xanadu, Childhood Wonderdog

Lazy days of trading baseball cards, slapping pine sap in Kiley’s hair, whipping prickly wild cucumbers at our cousins and following Xanadu, our fearless dog leader into the cantaloupe fields would soon be a distant fog.

Our father would make us start “training our bodies” for the early September wake-ups (I never did successfully train mine). By mid-August we were so full of dread we all had morning sickness.

Desperate to cling to the carefree days and banana split breakfasts we had while my parents were working, we would set up camp in the backyard. If we slept in the tent until school started, surely, summer could last a little longer.  The canvas tent was big enough for three circus elephants. It was a Canadian Tire special, circa 1972, a garage sale treasure that my mom had probably bought for less than ten bucks. It came with 673 poles and plastic yellow pegs that could never be driven into the cement-hard ground of August.

Eventually the tent was erected (who knew my dad swore like that?), and aired out for a week. The inside was a potent smack of wet dog, mouse shit and sweaty socks.  But, it was a ritual that we insisted upon. We didn’t have Thermarests or any particularly high-end technical camping gear. No, we had the flashlight that was bigger than a transport truck headlight that took 18 batteries. We also had a bedroom lamp and three extension cords that ran into the house which we would enter on the hour for too-scared-to-pee-outside pee breaks and more snacks.

We drank warm pop, ate soggy chips and hid in our equally soggy sleeping bags that also smelled of wet dog, mouse shit and sweaty socks.  There would be ghost stories, mostly to make Kiley cry—but I was usually successful in scaring the life out of myself too. Pinecones would fall on the canvas roof of our circus tent and have us all paralyzed with fear. Then of course, we would get one last unexpected visit from my dad after he watched the sports highlights inside. I swear he tiptoed through the wet grass and used a voice suitable for a vendor selling peanuts and popcorn at a ballgame. “How you guys doin?” Before he even had “How” out of his mouth we were all on the ceiling of the tent.

Back to school fashions circa 1986?

Full of salty chips, ghosts and Archie comics, the lamp would finally be turned off. This is when the illuminated conversation started.  We’d talk about school (despite our zero zest for the idea) and our played-down hopes for cool new rugger pants, maybe a new kid in class? We’d lament on the important things, like the return of hot dog day and the first school dance.

As much as we expressed horror at the sight of the first school bus, we embraced the new beginning. From the first fat blister from sharpening all those Crayolas to the new pair of Rainbow jeans and KangaROO shoes with nifty zippers on the side.

Summers die so quickly, but fall promises that we are part of a circle, and these blissful days will come ‘round again.

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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