Archive for the “Challenges” Category

Those who know me (and not even just those who know me well) are very familiar with my less-than-healthy eating habits.  My love of microwaved hot dogs (4 at a time, no less) served on slices of white bread is legendary, as are my tastes in the decadence of fast food.  Let’s not even talk about my love of potato chips.

Now that I’m in my mid-30s and a dad, all of that is catching up with me.  With my activity levels dropping over the last year, I’ve noticed two things growing at an alarming rate; my general sense of lethargy and my waistline.

This week I began the small steps on a new path to feeling and looking better by cutting WAY back on the garbage I eat.  I’ve committed to bringing homemade lunches to work, cutting back on my evening snacks and drinking more and more water and milk and less pop and sugary drinks.

Since I only started on Saturday, early indications of better health are probably more psychosomatic than anything, but I do think that my digestion is improving and I feel more rational levels of hunger at more appropriate times.

The next step will be to slowly reintroduce regular physical activity into my daily routine in the hopes of being able to play some soccer this winter without dying.  My daily routine already includes quite a bit of walking, which is great and something I enjoy, but I need to step it up a bit with some running and general fitness training.

Hopefully I’ll start to see some tangible results over the coming weeks that will fuel my desire to keep going and even step things up a notch.

So, if you see me out and about cheating on myself, feel free to slap that greasy burger out of my mouth and demand I drop and give you 20.  Just make sure it’s actually me, cause I won’t bail you out of jail.

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Dear friends (and others),

Some of you are stalwarts at this annual event, while others are hearing about it for the first time.  Rest assured, you are all being cordially invited because you are human and eating food is a requirement for life, and if you read this blog you might just be disgusting enough to get a kick out of this food in particular.

Of course, I’m referring to the annual pilgrimage to Dangerous Dan’s Diner on Queen Street East (at Broadview) where we will try our best to take down Coronary Combos in the battle to show those uppity vegans who’s boss.

The seventh annual trip will take place on Sunday, November 20 at 4:00pm.  In keeping with tradition, this year’s trip will be on the same day as the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, so keep that in mind for your commute to the holy shrine of beefdom.  In case you’re wondering why, we’re holding it in the afternoon to avoid both the lunch and dinner rushes, and so that everyone taking part really only has to have one meal that day.

For the uninitiated, these burgers are ridiculously huge, but not altogether untasty.  To get an idea of what you might be in for, check out 2009’s public invite and the photos that followed, after we rode the burger bus.  Then, tell me that you wouldn’t love a photo like that for your Facebook or Twitter profile pic.

As always, spectators, friends and significant others are more than welcome (this event is open to all genders), but we encourage anyone not taking part to be supportive rather than judgmental.  After all, consuming these combos is a feat of arms, as it were.

Feel free to forward this along to anyone who might want to take part, watch or even document this event for future posterity.  If you know anyone with first aid skills, or who is particularly handy with a defibrillator, they would be welcome too.

Mark the event in your calendar, share it with your friends, make sure your camera (and stomach pump) are charged and ready to go and for goodness sake, start training now.  I hope to see you all in the land of beef in a few short days.

If you’re coming, just leave a breif comment here to let me know.  The folks at the diner have asked we provide numbers so they can have enough cows killed ahead of time.

Thanks, and see you there!

PS: I have every intention of bringing my son to witness this annual feat, and also to compare how big he is compared to the burger.

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Yesterday I promised photos of the disgusting annual pilgrimage to Dangerous Dan’s Diner, and let it be know that this blog does NOT disappoint.  Well, at least when it comes to photos of people gorging themselves on ridiculously huge burgers.

Let the evidence of feasting begin!

[Click on any photo to see it larger in a new window]

Jared, Danielle, Matt and Dalton

Jared, Danielle, Matt and Dalton

We had a spectacular turnout with 17 people, most of whom are pictured here, but some got left out.  Sorry, my bad.

Joel does some jaw stretches

Joel does some jaw stretches

Joel’s was the first burger to show up, and you can tell because of how excited he looks.  The look of excitement doesn’t last long though.  It takes a LOT of concentration to take one of these down.  I mean, it’s hard enough just keeping it in one piece in your hands while you eat it.

Three dudes awaiting their fate

Three dudes awaiting their fate

Karim, Alex and I had a brief chat about how far we could go in taking down our combo.  Here’s a spoiler; they took it TOO far.

Two more dudes await their fate

Two more dudes await their fate

Dalton and Rob brought their A game, but before the burgers showed up, there was some doubt.  I won’t name names, but the owner was calling these guys out, almost by name.

Kenneth has an appetizer

Kenneth has an appetizer

Joel had a good head start on his burger before my hands got so gooey I couldn’t take any more photos, but I managed to get this one of Kenneth enjoying a “normal” burger, no doubt as an appetizer before the big show.

A delicate balancing act

A delicate balancing act

I tempted fate by opening up the hood on mine and eating some toppings off to make it easier to get my hands around.  It worked, but only because I had a more highly engineered basic burger structure than usual, thanks to the cook.

Not the recommended way to eat one of these

Not the recommended way to eat one of these

Karim got a great photo of my first bite with his iPhone.  This picture made its way onto Twitter in just a matter of seconds.  Isn’t technology grand?

Steve lookin' artsy

Steve lookin' artsy

Steve honestly looks scared of his burger.  Terrified even.  It was his first time and he fought and won a valiant battle.

Fries come last

Fries come last

Once the burgers were done, it was just a matter of cleaning off the table.  Fries and gravy.  Karim and Alex actually drank their remaining gravy so they could say they finished their entire combo.  I declined.

Dalton's greasy palm

Dalton's greasy palm

You’ll probably have to click on the larger version, but check out the underside of Dalton’s hand to get an idea of just how greasy these burgers were.

Sure, they were greasy, but they were also tasty.  Due to an improvement in the quality of bacon and better-cooked patties, this year’s burgers were unanimously declared the tastiest so far.

Room for dessert

Room for dessert

Karim and Alex each opted to top their meal off with a little something sweet; in this case a deep-fried Mars bar with ice cream and whipped cream topping.

No room for dessert here

No room for dessert here

For organizing the event, Mrs. Dangerous Dan presented me with this slightly NSFW dessert, which I enjoyed only a tiny bit of.  It’s a deep fried banana served with ice cream and whipped cream, and while it’s not my idea of a remarkable dessert, I appreciated the gesture, if not the innuendo that came with it.

Thanks again to everyone for coming out and for getting into the spirit of the event.  I would say that I can hardly wait until our next trip to Dangerous Dan’s, but I think once a year is just right for this kind of gluttony, especially as we’re all getting older.

If this looks like the kind of thing you’d be into, stay tuned next November for an invite.  I can’t promise there will be as many mustaches around the table, but the beef will be there and ready for you to dive in with both hands.  Just plan ahead and have some Tums or Rolaids at home for afterwards.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m getting hungry.

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In keeping with today’s earlier post about insanely fatty foods, I’m cordially inviting you to come and eat yourself to an early grave in what has become an annual event.

Each year, on the same Sunday as Toronto’s Santa Claus Parade (and the Sunday closest to our friend Marty’s birthday), we venture to Dangerous Dan’s Diner at Queen Street East and Broadview (northeast corner) to enjoy the Coronary Burger Combo.  Here’s how it’s described on the menu:

“2 8oz Patties, 4 Slices of Bacon, 2 Slices of Cheddar and a Fried Egg on top. Served w/ Fries and Gravy, Can of Pop and Mayo as a garnish for sure!
Only $ 14.95”

Note the pop can for size reference. YIKES!

Note the pop can for size reference. YIKES!

The fried egg takes a bit of work to get around, but the rest is mighty tasty and is well worth the meat sweats you’ll be having for the rest of the day.

We’re going to “meat” up at Dangerous Dan’s at 2pm on Sunday, November 15 so wear your stretchiest pants and make sure you have someone responsible on hand to keep an eye on you for the rest of the day. It might be a good idea if that person has and knows how to use a defibrillator.

In case that didn’t tempt you enough, here’s some more vile photographic evidence of what we’ve consumed in the past and what you can hope to consume in your very near future.

Marty prepares to dive in

Marty prepares to dive in

Im reacting to the fried egg

I'm reacting to the fried egg

Jared dislocated his shoulder keeping it upright

Jared dislocated his shoulder keeping it upright

The three amigos begin the feat

The three amigos begin the feat

So, if you’re man or woman enough to test your mettle in battle of wills against a giant burger, come on out.  Everyone is welcome, including mere spectators.  Bring cameras too.

There’s an event created in Facebook too, if you want to officially join there.  Photos and video can be uploaded there after the event, and I’ll share some of the choicest shots in here the week after.

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There was a time when I thought baking bread was probably the hardest thing in the world.  It seemed like the kind of thing professional bakers or pioneering homesteaders could do, but not a guy like me.  Then, a few years ago, I asked my grandmother to show me how to bake bread at home, and I found out just how easy it is.

So, from my grandmother to you, what follows below is an idiot-proof illustrated guide to baking your own bread or rolls in the comfort of your own home.  The only really specialized tools you’ll need are bread pans, but you don’t need those if you want to make delicious dinner rolls instead, just use muffin tins.

I won’t assume any culinary knowledge whatsoever, so don’t be intimidated at all by this process, and if you DO have some skill in the kitchen, just enjoy the read and the photos, and take from it what you will.  The entire recipe is after the jump, and if you want to see a larger version of any photo, just click on it.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Here at my office, I’m a ‘budget guy’.  I spend most of my day with my nose in binders of invoices, or my eyes glued to insanely complex Excel spreadsheets with an occasional break spent modifying a Powerpoint presentation.  It’s a glorious life… for a CA or an Actuary, but is it the life for me?

To clarify, I don’t hate my job.  I find it quite rewarding and I work on a great team in a remarkably creative office (given that I work in the financial services industry), so it’s not like I’m playing Russian Roulette at my desk every morning praying for the sweet smell of cordite as the lights go out.   Still, when I think about the classic question asked by high school guidance counselors, “What would you do if you were rich and didn’t have to work for money?”, the answer most likely would not be to be a ‘budget guy’.

I guess that not being rich and having to work for money is the hook that keeps us all employed (or many of us at least) and as I get older, the talons of a career sink themselves deeper as financial commitments pile on.  So is there a good time to get out?

For years now, effectively since shortly before I started working full-time in a “real” job, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to just step out for a bit and focus on writing, to see if I’ve got what it takes to make a go of it writing fiction, magazine articles or TV scripts.  So, do I?  The fact that I still entertain the idea leads me to believe that I think I can, but the adult in me always weighs in with the classic list of pros and cons.

Pros:

  • A sense of fulfillment that comes from being creative and using my inherent and learned skills in a job I enjoy.
  • Can have the following conversation:

“So, what do you do?”
“I’m a writer”
“Oh yeah!  Have I read anything you’ve written?”  (This is as far as I’ve ever gotten in this conversation before I have to explain that not all professional writers work for MacLeans or Penguin Books)
“Why yes, I’m sure you have!

  •  Get to hang out in coffee shops and libraries frantically writing notes, character sketches and generally procrastinating while looking brooding and serious.
  • Can wear jeans and t-shirts every day.  EVERY… DAY!!!

Cons:

  •  Financial instability.  As two words, this seems a gross understatement.  Writers tend not to know when (or if) their next paycheque will show up, how large (or small) it will be and have few financial backup plans short of tending bar or serving tables.
  • Professional isolation.  I like water-cooler talk and having meetings. I like interacting socially and professionally with my peers and giving and receiving feedback regularly, and not just with editing.
  • Becoming one of those writers.  Every profession has their own snobs, and writers can be some of the worst.  They insulate themselves in an ‘us vs. them’ world where they think no one else understands what their craft requires and as someone who is already a snob when it comes to music, literature (don’t get me started on Oprah’s Book Club) and politics, I could easily become one of these people… and I don’t like these people.

That’s just a shortlist made up from notes in my writing journals going back a few years.  Every time I find myself considering making the jump, I tend to come up with roughly the same list, regardless of changes to my life.  So, what does it take to make ‘the jump’?  Has anyone out there done a big one like this?  Is it like jumping off a cliff into a cold lake, where it’s best to just close your eyes and leap?  Am I overthinking this WAY too much (which could be true regardless of the answer)?

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Now that Indiana Jones has jumped the shark (or nuked the fridge, as it’s now being called, thanks to him), I’ve been on the search for a new hero; someone who can inspire me to great things and who is full of pithy sayings.  Well, I think I may have found that new hero and her name is Christine Jeavans.

I’ve never met Christine Jeavans, and it’s unlikely I ever will, but it’s safe to say I never would have met Indiana Jones either.  The likelihood of meeting someone has nothing to do with their status as one’s hero.  I have digressed.  Christine (as I will call her from now on) is a contributor to the BBC and she has challenged herself to not consume any plastic for the entire month of August.

I don’t mean ‘consume’ as in ‘eat’.  I’m sure she won’t do that either, but she won’t buy anything that comes in plastic or is made from plastic.  She’s going to have one heck of a month!  Especially considering she has an 18-month old child who is still in diapers (or nappies as they’re called in jolly old England) and because she lives in England, which is notorious for overpacking food at the grocer’s (like individually wrapped bananas).

You can read up on her plans in her article “A Month Without Plastic” and keep up with how she’s doing by reading her blog, “Not My Bag“, which is actually a really clever title.

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So, as promised, here are photos of all our hard work. They’re really low resolution to make loading them in your browser earlier, so you might not get the full effect, but the full size ones will be up on Facebook shortly, or you can invite yourself up to the cottage to see it in person.

Here’s what it looked like before:

So saggy...

Notice how much lower the floor is on the right side of the window than on the left. If there wasn’t newspaper stuffed under the wall trim, you’d see daylight streaming through a large gap. The floor has been slowly pulling away from the wall since about 1950, so this isn’t a new development, but it’s gotten much worse lately. In the foreground, there’s a square cut out of the floor. That’s from a previous attempt at shoring it up.

So we pulled up the floorboards and saved them (because they’re old and look awesome) and pulled up the subfloor (which was just some newspaper and tarpaper over old barnboards) and Ash jumped in to take a look at the rocky, muddy swamp that is the ‘basement’.

The man in the floor

The two support beams in the foreground were so rotten, we basically just pulled them apart with our hands. On the right, there was nothing holding them up or into the foundation (which has long since collapsed), so we realized we had our work cut out for us.

What lies beneath

Here’s a peek under the floor. After decades of shoring up the foundation, the house will finally get the TLC it needs! In the centre, you’ll notice the cinder blocks holding up the beam we cut out. You may have to squint to notice that those blocks are sitting on another set of blocks that are mostly submerged in some icky mire. The water under the house was musty and grimy, but on a hot day, that’s what keeps the ground floor so cool.

Windows help keep bugs out

With the foundation still holding up the house at two corners, the wall is must be pretty solid not have cracked in half like an egg with this much pulled away from it. This was just such a weird scene for me that I took a bunch of photos. It’s the outside on the inside!

We put a board under the outside wall and shored it up with three concrete posts (of sorts) and then tied this frame into the existing unrotted beams, but rather than following the natural slope of the house (which is WAY off), we levelled it out a bit.

A message to the future

We left some messages to future generations of my family, and this is one of them. I’m pretty sure that no one will see this for a loooooooooooong time.

subfloor

Once the frame was in, it was time for the subfloor. It may not look level but that’s because the far wall was painted with the trim on when the floor was already out of whack. If you eyeball the floor to the window, you’ll see that it’s pretty good.

The finished product

We hid most of the sketchy pieces of flooring under the stairs and matched the flooring as best we could. It’ll need some wood putty and a coat of paint, but it’s not going to fall down anytime soon. Note how the floor meets the trim under the window on the left and how it meets the base of the stairs under our feet. There’s no longer a trampoline at the bottom of the stairs (or on them) and everything is wicked solid. I really couldn’t be happier.

Thanks again to Rob (pictured left) and Ash (pictured top, giving the ‘thumbs up’) for working so hard for so little. You guys will always be welcome at the house, especially when it comes time to fix the foundation on the shed. To everyone else who conveniently had something on last weekend and couldn’t come help, I’m not bitter. You’re still welcome at the cottage… you just can’t walk on our fancy new floor.

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