Saturday, 31 January 2015

Best Steamies in Montreal

Montreal just capped off its annual Steamie Week.  Although the city is well known for its variety of superior comestibles and the French spin on many types of foods, when it comes to a quick and easy comfort food, the Montreal steamie - a steamed hot dog on a steamed bun - is one of the best available.  There are many places to choose from when seeking the time-honoured sausage, but be aware that the smaller restos tend to accept only cash.

Decarie Hot Dog, 953 Decarie Blvd
A small resto tucked in a corner near the Cote-Vertu metro station is easy to miss, but a visit is worth it for their hot dogs and fries.  The diner-style decor along with the friendly staff and prices that are easy on the pocketbook all contribute to the authentic experience.

Montreal Pool Room, 1217 Saint-Laurent Blvd
This greasy spoon has been operating since 1912 but sadly hasn't included pool tables in its decor for several decades after the original interior was destroyed by fire.  However the building itself is a historical gem and the restaurant's menu boasts hot dogs dressed as-you-like-it along with that "other" Montreal staple: poutine.

Lafleur Restaurant, multiple locations
If there's a place that specializes in Québecois fast food, this is it.  Established in 1961 on Lafleur Boulevard in the suburb of LaSalle, the chain quickly spread around the Montreal area.  A highlight of each franchise is the hand-operated potato press installed where customers can see staff cut the french fries.  Their most popular menu item is the "double-double": two hot dogs and two orders of fries.

Dirty Dogs, 25 Mount Royal Ave East
A tiny hole-in-the-wall spot in the trendy Plateau neighbourhood serves up gourmet hot dogs with many types of toppings ranging from chili to pickles.  Even though at times it can take a while for orders to arrive because they're cooked meticulously, the wait is rewarded by a juicy and filling meal.

Restaurant A.A., 3700 Notre-Dame West
If you find yourself out in the St-Henri district after the 3 AM bar closing and need a hangover remedy, the "Double A" is a good place to find some.  With decor straight out of the 1950's and a friendly but overworked chef, this inauspicious dive has a reputation for excellent hot dogs and other diner fare.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Believe or Else

"There is no text more barbaric than the Old Testament of the Bible: books like Deuteronomy and Leviticus and Exodus.  The Quran pales in comparison." -- Sam Harris

This morning after dropping off my daughter at school I was chatting with a neighbour who told me a disturbing story.  Recently she had taken her young son to a fast-food restaurant for lunch, and as she was leaving a man stepped up to her with a dirty look and dumped his garbage on her.  Why?  Because she was wearing a hijab - she's a practicing Muslim.

This woman is one of the kindest and soft-spoken people I know and would never hurt anyone. Unfortunately the perception is becoming more prevalent that all Muslims are a threat, just because of the actions of a few radicals.

Believers of the Old Testament might be familiar with the story of Onan, who was ordered to impregnate the wife of his deceased brother to ensure the continuation of the family line.  He refused to do so, and was punished for "spilling his seed on the ground".  This story is now used as a basis for the condemnation of masturbation and birth control.  Many Christians that I have known claim that this should no longer be applicable in today's society since mores change over time.  Of course, that doesn't stop the "true believers" from causing a fuss.

I would pose a question to those "true believers": have you actually read your holy text in its entirety and not just taken quotes out of context?  The Old Testament in particular is filled with incidents of violence against women and children, persecution of one's neighbours, and destruction of cities, all because of something that was or was not done.  God will supposedly punish all those who don't believe in Him - the inspiration for a joke that says every religion decrees that non-believers shall go to Hell, therefore the entire world will go to Hell.  And scarily, this might be correct.

Hypocrisy is rife in too many churches.  We need to step back and take a hard look at what humans have done in the name of religion.  A lot of it isn't pretty.  As long as religious extremism holds so many people in thrall, the world will never be the peaceful place that it could be.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Stupidity Epidemic

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it." -- Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black

It seems that not a day goes by when I read about or am a witness to something stupid.  Whether it's a man who sets his house on fire while trying to kill weeds in his yard with a flamethrower (yes, this happened!) or a kid who cuts a large hole out of a brand-new soccer net just for kicks, it appears that the majority of the people that we are surrounded by are not aware of or don't care about the consequences of their actions.

A prime albeit fictitious example is the National Film Board of Canada's animated short "Every Dog's Guide to Complete Home Safety".  A specially trained dog named Wally is assigned to the house of a toddler whose parents are complete morons.  Accidents and near-accidents happen at lightning speed, eventually forcing Wally to remove the toddler from the house.

"We have got soft. We are too kind. So we allow complete idiots to breed. Nature would not be so kind," commented a friend once.  I concur.  But it's not only that; there are now too many distractions from life to allow people to cultivate knowledge or improve themselves.  The very tools that were supposed to make people better or smarter have served in many cases to disconnect people from their environment.  Check out a book at the library?  Nope, read it on the Internet.  Hang out with friends at the mall?  Nope, chat on Facebook or Twitter.  Take in a stage play or concert?  Nope, watch it on TV.  And don't forget the folks getting hit by cars because they're too busy listening to their music player or texting on their phone to look before crossing the street.

We all do stupid things from time to time.  But if a person is stupid consistently, the law of averages will catch up sooner or later.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015


It seems that some people, as well as law enforcement agencies, are sweating the small stuff too much. Most people don't deserve to be treated like common criminals.

On a long airplane flight, a man had to use the washroom in a hurry but the aisle was blocked by the refreshments cart.  His polite request to use the washroom in business class was denied. So he pushed past the cart so he could get to the washroom. When the plane landed he was arrested and charged with assault because he grabbed the flight attendant's arm.  This at a time when some airlines were considering plans to make people pay to use the washroom.

A policeman prevented a man from entering a hospital to see his dying mother in law because he had run a red light on the way there. By the time the man had finished all the paperwork, his mother in law had died. The cop should have just let the man go and worried about the paperwork afterwards. The officer in question was later suspended without pay; he couldn't be fired because of union regulations.

Just the other day, an employee at a Montreal fast food restaurant was publicly humiliated after a manager posted a rude note saying that she had to speak French while on the job.  While the law in Quebec states that any company that employs above a certain number of people must require workers to speak French, the woman had only been speaking English to a colleague while off duty.  She subsequently left her job there.

The law shouldn't be abused like this to the detriment of ordinary folks. Nor should folks be able to sue each other for any trivial thing, especially if the perceived injustice was brought on by sheer stupidity. Everyone knows about the fast-food restaurant coffee burn incident. Let's all be smarter than that.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

For the Children

Our eight year old daughter drives us crazy.  We know she has issues, which is why we're having her evaluated for ADHD.  But we're thankful that we have an otherwise healthy child who's intelligent and capable.  Some might disagree with our parenting methods, but we do what we must to keep our child safe and educated.

However it seems that every other day there's news of something happening to a child somewhere.  A boy finds an unsecured gun in his parents' home and shoots his baby brother with it.  A girl dies because of her parents' insistence on using traditional medicine instead of taking a doctor's advice.  A girl has acid thrown on her face for the "crime" of wanting to go to school.

Whether by accident, ignorance, or willful malice, children everywhere are being hurt and killed through no fault of their own.  It's apparent that many people lack the common sense to realize that children are our future.  It is to them that we pass our legacy in the hopes that they do better in their own futures and the future of our planet than we did.

What message would this show to the ages?  That we are incapable of caring for our offspring?  That we are so desperate to keep control of our world that female babies are killed or abandoned in favour of boys, young women are mutilated, and dangerous weapons are kept in the household?

Yes, children should be educated about what's right and proper.  But we also need to educate ourselves and abandon "traditions" that are detrimental to the human race as a whole.  After all, our children will have to clean up the mess that we made.

Thursday, 22 January 2015


This past Tuesday I attended a visitation for a 14 year old boy, the son of a couple whom I've known for 25 years.  By all accounts he was a wonderful person: intelligent, active in martial arts and music, and innovative. His mother described him thus: " would have heard about him in 10 years as the creator of the car-mounted spud turret that targets red light runners, or the ice-melting laser apron bumper accessory, and the clean grenade.  I was really looking forward to the clean grenade: pull the pin, throw it in the teenager's room that needs it most, shut the door, and wait until the house stops shaking."

Despite such promise he had depression issues, which ultimately led him to kill himself in his bedroom while his unsuspecting family slept.  You hear so many stories of this happening but never expect it to happen to you or to someone you know.

Depression (and mental illness in general) is one of today's biggest taboos along with death, sex, and personal health issues.  Nobody wants to talk about it even though it's necessary.  It's "inappropriate" or "too embarrassing".  Only when a tragic event occurs do many people acknowledge its existence.  Then it fades into the background until the next time.

I am no stranger to mental illness.  My first husband's emotional and sexual abuse caused me to have a nervous breakdown, for which I needed therapy.  After my daughter was born I had postpartum depression that lasted over a year.  To this day I constantly struggle against my own inherent negativity.

There is hope: many schools, hospitals, and community organizations now have outreach programs designed to identify and help those who need it most.  The venerable Kids Help Phone has existed since I was a youngster.  However we still have a long way to go.  For Hilton Lee, as well as all others who are gone or who continue to struggle in the dark, we need to talk about it.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Best Poutine in Montreal

Poutine is a uniquely Quebec dish of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, coveted by many as a cold weather comfort food.  Local and national food enthusiasts have attempted to find the best poutine, but it's a very difficult task because just about any chef who makes it insists on high-quality ingredients.  Not to mention trying all the variations will clog your arteries in no time flat.  I freely admit that I'm one of the few people in my circle of friends who doesn't care much for poutine, but I do appreciate quality food when I see it.  Here are some of the best places in Montreal to find the delicacy.

1. La Banquise, 994 Rachel St East.  This small greasy-spoon boasts over thirty varieties of poutine that are guaranteed to satisfy just about anyone's taste.  A bonus is that the restaurant is open 24 hours a day and is well known for its after-hours clientele who come in to partake of poutine as a hangover remedy.

2. Maamm Bolduc, 4351 De Lorimier Ave.  Almost hidden on a corner of the Plateau district, it has been a neighbourhood fixture for 45 years and offers just about every staple of Quebec cuisine, including poutine.  The menu contains eight variants including Italian marinara and Vegetarian style.  Their "petite" size is comparable to what many places serve as "large"!

3. Au Pied de Cochon, 536 Duluth Ave East.  One of Montreal's finest and most decadent restaurants offers, among other things, poutine topped with foie gras.  Guests definitely don't want to count the calories in this.  Given the popularity of the restaurant, reservations are strongly recommended.

4. Poutineville, 1365 Ontario St East.  This is the place to go when you're feeling adventurous and want to build your own poutine.  Instead of a menu you can get a checklist of the kitchen's available ingredients from which to choose your toppings, from blue cheese to zucchini.  There are salads and veggie sandwiches as well to give the illusion of a healthy meal.

5. Gibeau Orange Julep, 7700 Decarie Blvd.  Everyone in Montreal knows the Julep, a bright orange sphere forty feet in diameter that is located beside one of the city's major expressways.  Serving freshly squeezed orange juice since 1932, the OJ serves the best in comfort food from hot dogs to burgers, and of course classic poutine.  Open 24 hours during the summer months.

6. Burgundy Lion Pub, 2496 Notre Dame St West. One would hardly expect an English-style pub to be serving poutine, but this is a surprisingly British twist on a French Quebec delicacy.  Its most requested variant is the “Watership”: classic poutine topped with chunks of mustard-braised rabbit, green onions, and honey gravy.  The pub also claims one of the largest collections of whisky in Canada.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Accommodation or Censorship?

As if we don't have enough to worry about.  Satirical cartoonists are being murdered for incendiary drawings.  Bloggers are being arrested and flogged for speaking against the establishment.  Journalists are kidnapped and beheaded for nothing more than pursuing the truth.  Now writers are being targeted, not by extremists, but by their own publishers.

A few days ago the venerable Oxford University Press announced that any references to pigs and pig-related products were banned from its books for fear of offending certain religious communities.  Any author who wishes to publish through Oxford must rewrite their stories.

What would E.B. White, the legendary satirist and author of Charlotte's Web (a children's tale with a pig as its main character) have to say about that?

Personally I think this is going too far.  Given how much variety there is in the media these days, my mantra is: if you don't like it, don't partake in it.  Nobody is forcing you to watch the movie Babe or read the story of The Three Little Pigs or eat sausage in a blanket.  Don't force your religious restrictions on the rest of us.

Some say that many publications are asking for it by reprinting the material that ultimately got the Charlie Hebdo journalists killed.  Being satirical is one thing, but being deliberately provocative is another matter.

However, as a good friend of mine said: "Obnoxious people don't deserve to die just for being obnoxious, and the offended are not entitled to kill."

I think I'll go and re-watch Boobs in the Woods.
Adeeb badeed tha that's all folks!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Application Anonymity

The job market is hyper-competitive these days and many employers are demanding applicants with a large skill set so they don't have to use valuable time and money to train them.  That's understandable.

However one thing I hate is not knowing where your application will end up.  Several times a day I see a listing that looks promising until I read: "Our client is looking for" or "We are seeking a (insert position here) for a leading employer".

Wait just a minute.  I don't like to send an application through an agency that has no interest in my particular skills and preferences, just to have it lost in some black hole of a web portal.  I prefer to deal with a company directly if at all possible.  At least then I know that my application has in fact gone to the right place.  More often than not, when I send applications through an online career site I don't get any confirmation that it was received.  (There are exceptions, however.)

Compounding the problem is that there's an increasing number of companies that put in their job ads "Please do not call the office" or "Only those applicants that have been selected will be contacted".  So how will I know if you've even received my documents if I'm not allowed to follow up?

The whole process leaves more questions than answers.  What are the selection criteria?  What should I put in my documents that will make me more likely to pass muster?  Will my application even be seen by a human, or will it be scanned by an automated processor and rejected if it doesn't have enough keywords?

For a long time I've felt that the system has been deliberately set up to make it as difficult as possible for people to find the job they want.  Some say that you need to know someone that already works with the company in order to have a chance at getting hired there - hence the popularity of sites such as LinkedIn that help with networking.

I wonder if it would be any better to go old school and deliver applications by hand or by mail.  At least then I'd know that my documents arrived at the right place.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Proper Communication

In this age of hyper connectivity plus the fact that the exchange of information is often limited to 140 characters, proper grammar has suffered.

I once read a joke that goes like this: A school teacher went to visit a student's parents to talk to them. A 6-year-old boy answered the door. "Are your parents in?" asked the teacher. "They was in, but they is out now," the boy said. The teacher was shocked. "Was in? Is out? Where is your grammar?" The boy said, "In the kitchen making cookies."

I read an online article a few years ago, about a man who had caught his 18-year-old girlfriend with her 48-year-old math teacher; there was a fight and the teacher was stabbed to death. It took several readings before I could ascertain this, because the article was written in a very confusing manner. The way the first paragraph was written, it appeared that the 18-year-old girl had been stabbed. However the second paragraph said that the boyfriend had killed the teacher. Further down, the article stated that the girl had been both a math student and a math teacher at two different schools. How is such a thing possible?

What was clear to me was that whoever wrote that article should have been sent to grammar school. Or at the very least, read the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, which is a rant against poor grammar and diction. Unfortunately schools are not doing their job of teaching the fundamentals, and the number of failures and dropouts is increasing. How can we be expected to understand each other and the world if people can't communicate properly?

The parody song "Word Crimes" by Weird Al Yankovic mocks online commenters and their poor grammatical usage.  Have a listen.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Waste Not, Want Not

I wrote a post along similar lines five years ago but it seems that nothing has changed.  It might even have become worse.

One thing that I cannot stand is to see things wasted, whether it be food, objects, or money.  There are so many people out there who live with practically nothing, and yet every day reusable or recyclable items are thrown into the garbage.  Restaurants serve huge portions that are not eaten and discarded.  Supermarkets overstock produce that has been shipped thousands of miles only to spoil on the shelf when it isn't purchased.

During the financial crisis of 2008, a bank in California received over $1 billion in bailout money, then turned around and laid off 450 employees, and treated its senior staff and clients to a series of luxury dinners and rock concerts. How can these folks be allowed to get away with stuff like this? The bank claimed that no taxpayer money was used and they could do as they pleased with their assets.  But that's not the point.

Really, it's downright insulting to ordinary folk for corporate bigwigs to go out and throw their money around when everyone else is having difficulties.

Where is the regulation?  The banks got in trouble in the first place because nobody was really keeping tabs on what they were doing. There were no clear instructions put in place as to how and where the bailout money was to be used.  As a result the CEOs and their upper management lined their pockets while the little people got shafted.

The wastrels out there need to stop and look at the short-term and long-term consequences of their actions. Otherwise they might one day find themselves out of luck.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Best Hot Chocolate in Montreal

Chocolate is one of the ultimate comfort foods during the cold months, or any time of the year for that matter.  Given the city's French history, it's clear that Montreal takes the confection seriously.  Chain coffee shops aside, there are places that make a cup of hot chocolate into an adventure for the taste buds.  Here are some of Montrealers' favourite places for a chocolat-chaud.

Juliette & Chocolat
1626 Ste-Catherine St West
This prime hot spot in the downtown core boasts a menu of carefully-chosen chocolate from Madagascar to South America.  The owner's continual quest for a concoction "like our grandmothers used to make" has resulted in a place that is dedicated to chocolate in all its forms.

Suite 88
1225 De Maisonneuve Blvd West
The space is modern and intimate, but guests can easily forget where they are and travel the world via the selection of chocolates that this chocolatier offers.  As soon as one enters, the rich aroma tantalizes the imagination.

Café Humble Lion
904 Sherbrooke St West
Wooden shelves bearing classic knick-knacks decorate this comforting spot in a dreary stretch of Sherbrooke Street.  Its menu isn't as varied as some other places on this list but it more than makes up for that with a relaxing atmosphere and delicious selection of coffees, chocolates, and desserts.

Aux Vivres
4631 St Laurent Blvd
For the health-conscious, this restaurant specializes in fresh vegan meals using high-quality ingredients.  Their mission to debunk the myths surrounding vegan food extends to their delicious soy hot chocolate, which is lovingly made for anyone to enjoy.

Cacao 70
2087 Ste-Catherine St West
Dessert pizza with chocolate topping.  That is one of the most popular dishes at this trendy café with a sweet-tooth overload menu of crepes, waffles, and of course chocolate in many forms.  With a selection of cocoa from 15 countries there's certain to be something to please even the most cynical person's palate.

Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois
162 St Viateur Rd West
Here is a place where small is better.  Tucked in a corner of the Outremont district, this shop is a "neighbourhood secret" known for decadent espresso-sized hot chocolate creations that are enough to keep any connoisseur satisfied.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Not an Auspicious Start

For all of us who had high hopes for 2015, sadly it has not started out well.

The mass murder of journalists at a satirical newspaper in Paris and a bombing at a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People in Colorado Springs has shown that we have a long way to go as far as tolerance and cultural sensitivity are concerned.

We are blessed to live in a place where we are allowed to say what we think and practice our beliefs freely.  Unfortunately there are countries where this is not the case: where women are persecuted just for being women, where speaking out of turn can put you in prison, where practicing your religion puts you in danger of death.

High-placed officials and clerics from these regions continually try to subvert others through the Internet which provides the perfect medium for their madness.  Therefore we must look at why many of our own young people are becoming influenced by them and then go on to perform heinous deeds in the name of their new "beliefs".

Perhaps they feel disillusioned with the world and their place in it.  They might have difficulty getting a decent job within a system that appears to be stacked against them.  A traumatic event in their lives could have propelled them to seek something greater than what they currently have.

Whatever the reason, it's clear that some aspects of today's society are at the root of the problem.  If you don't have money or connections you need to work at least twice as hard as everyone else to get ahead.  If you don't educate yourself in the "right" way you're woefully unprepared for a job market that's biased toward certain fields.  You can't get a job without experience but at the same time you can't get experience without a job.  Young people, particularly those of colour, are at a disadvantage.

This needs to be fixed.  However it probably won't be as long as those in power retain the Daffy Duck mentality of "Consequences, schmonsequences, as long as I'm rich."

Thursday, 8 January 2015

New Year Exhaustion

A mere week into 2015 and I'm already tired.  Not so much the physical fatigue that comes with the hectic events of the holidays, but a mental and emotional fuzziness that doesn't want to dissipate.  Ordinarily I'd laugh it off and attribute it to the cold snap that we're enduring at the moment but the reality is that I'm just disillusioned.

We're not starting the new year off well from a personal standpoint.  My husband has not been employed for over ten months.  He's had scores of interviews but no firm offers.  I have been looking for work for over two years and only had a handful of nibbles in all that time.  Scouring job sites and other resources has become a daily mind-numbing routine.  I've even gone old-school and hand-delivered applications to local businesses, to no avail.

I rage against a system that's purposely designed to route job applications into a computerized black hole, and against recruiters who don't have the courtesy to respond to inquiries.

Nothing changes.  And I'm fed up.

When I see friends of mine crow about how successful their self-built businesses are, I wonder if I could have done the same.  Unfortunately it's far too late for that; the market for hand-made merchandise is glutted, and writers of most stripes get little attention unless they're heavily controversial or they get extraordinarily lucky.  Had I been serious about pursuing that I should have started ten years ago.

More recently my husband has been luckier in terms of interviews, but the jobs he's looking at are in a place that I do not wish to live in.  I've visited that particular city a number of times but never liked it.  Logically I know that one must go where the opportunities are.  Many of my high-school and university classmates now live in another province.  Call me romantic but I don't want to leave home.

My great-grandfather took a job out west and sent money for the rest of his family to join him.  His wife refused to leave their home and ended up raising her family on her own.  My grandfather subsequently felt abandoned by his father and refused to speak about him for the rest of his life.  It makes for an interesting story but I would prefer that history not repeat itself.