It’s “Say something nice on the Internet Day.”

I like a lot of people from the Internet but I only had 8.5"x11" and I drew all those hearts, some of which now seem superfluous. Also my face looks like a melon here.

I come from the Anthony Bourdain school of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, make it witty.” I can be deliberately contrary, especially when I’m bored. Is it possible to be charmingly obstinate? In retrospect, probably not.

These are character flaws (or not, if you’re laughing), but they are traits that do not have malice behind them. I’m sarcastic, but I’m not mean. I think I’m funny, but I genuinely feel bad if I’ve hurt your feelings. I try never to do that. There’s a line between wit (even scathing wit) and outright assholery, and if I occasionally cross it I will be awkwardly apologetic and uncomfortable in my skin until you say it’s all okay.

But that line is blurry on the Internet, and strangers can be awful to each other. Anonymity makes beasts of people who might otherwise be nice humans, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the comment sections of blogs and news sites, anywhere where an opinion is offered up for debate. I have been fairly lucky – this place seems to mostly attract good people. But there are a lot of meanies out there who seem bent on just pooping all over everything.

So today, given that it’s Say Something Nice on the Internet Day, I’m taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming to tell you that your stories are interesting, and your perspective is important, and that no amount of online snark should keep you from telling the world what you have to say, whether that’s “OMG SAMMICHES!” or “These pretzels are making me thirsty!” or  “I fed my baby gravy and he liked it!”

Rather than argue with each other (“You fed your baby GRAVY? The only right answer is exclusive breastfeeding for the first 12 years or you hate your child. He is always going to know instinctively how you’ve failed him.”) or criticize each other (“Nobody cares what you had for lunch! And there is no M in SANDWICHES.”), let’s just support each other. There will always be someone out there to whom our stories are interesting. That anyone talks to me ever is testament to that.

I was lucky to spend most Fridays during my grandmother’s last years sitting at her kitchen table. She had a colourful personality and a salty tongue, and when we spent time together she would talk and tell me how things used to be and how I ought to do them going forward. She had read everything and she is still one of the smartest people I’ve known. She would tell and retell the bits and pieces that made up her more than 70 years. To her they were just snippets, ephemera that applied here and there to whatever the subject was at the time. But to me, they formed a narrative that spans a lifetime, and she lives on in every funny story I tell about her. Someday I will write them all down, and then she will live forever.

So forget those jerks who don’t have anything nice to say. Leave comments when you’ve enjoyed reading something somewhere. And tell your stories. I promise you that someone out there will really enjoy them.

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Mushroom and butter bean ragù

By mid-morning, there was chaos. The baby has been sick and only seems able to comfort himself by wailing, though he will pause briefly for food – but only briefly.

The cat needs her nails done but won’t sit still for it, and if she’s not hanging off the seat of my pants by her claws she’s attempting to bury her wet food under the mat in the hall or scratch holes into the garbage bag that’s waiting to go out to the bin. When I finally got the baby down for a nap I came out to find the cat licking my sandwich.

“You’re all a bunch of jerks!” I yelled at no one in particular, and foraged a lunch of stale Bugles and a glass of white wine that may have been sitting out on the coffee table since last night. I glared at the cat but she has made it clear that apologizing to me is beneath her.

Six weeks ago I joined the Learn to Run clinic at the local Running Room, partly to get back into shape. It was not a great idea because I don’t enjoy running – what’s the point unless you’re being chased? It means rushing out of the house on Monday evenings after Nick gets home from work, and we end up eating dinner late while having to juggle laundry and any mess left over from the weekend. I usually dread it but tonight I couldn’t wait to go. These past few days I have come to understand why someone might go out for a pack of cigarettes and just not come back.

So, you know. There are highs and lows. And sometimes there is enough time in the day to linger over the stove, and some days dinner comes together in a few hasty minutes after the kid goes down for the night. Tonight was one of those hasty nights, and I’m calling the result a ragù even though it contains no meat and did not simmer for very long at all – I loaded it up with the kind of things that make it feel like it simmered long (oaky wine, soy sauce, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese), but it was only 15 minutes, while the pasta cooked. I don’t think anyone’s going to argue with me today.

If you can’t find canned butter beans, use one cup fresh or frozen lima beans or any other canned white bean.

Mushroom and butter bean ragù

(Serves 4.)

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup oaked white wine, such as Chardonnay
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 14 oz./398 mL can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 14 oz./398 mL butter beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 lb. fettucine

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, sauté shallot, carrot, celery, and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat until vegetables have begun to sweat. Add rosemary, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, black pepper, and mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms have released their moisture, about two minutes.

Add wine and bay leaf, scraping the bottom of the pot to ensure no bits have stuck to the bottom. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until liquid has reduced by half, one to two minutes.

Add tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, Parmesan cheese, and soy sauce. Simmer another five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add fettucine, and cook according to package directions – five to seven minutes – until al denté (or cooked to taste).

Add butter beans to the ragù, and continue to simmer until fetuccine is cooked. Drain pasta, and add to the ragù. Stir well. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Add parsley, and serve.

Green tea and Meyer lemon jelly

When you have a baby in BC, they send a public health nurse to come and make sure you know what you’re doing and that your living room isn’t a meth lab, and with the little pork chop, things were no different. And while the nurses at the hospital were amazing and lovely and I wanted to bring each of them home to live with me, the public health nurse sucked.

I am sure that she meant well. She contradicted everything the hospital nurses said, and then went on to list the things I was doing wrong and the things I shouldn’t do wrong in the future. And then she gave me some pamphlets, and a DVD about purple crying, and told me I should let the baby decide our schedule because wanting to get more than an hour’s sleep in one go is selfish and his needs are sensitive. Did I want him to have abandonment issues? Did I want him to be an emotional eater, a problem drinker, or an Adam Sandler fan? I am sure that she meant well. Or maybe she was just kind of an asshole.

Either way, figuring that she knew best, I tried to follow her instructions so as not to permanently ruin the boy. I was never able to get him off the bottle so he will probably be obese and emotionally distant. One thing you find out pretty quickly is that every nurse, doctor, or person with children is an expert and is happy to offer his or her opinion, and each of those opinions contradicts all of the other opinions you’ve already heard. And that everything you do wrong will eventually be the reason why your child grows up to be a nihilist or a crackhead.

Piece by piece the public health nurse’s advice unravelled. He preferred the bottle, and we preferred sleeping three hours at a time, and then four hours, and now sometimes seven. We run the bath a little warmer and he doesn’t cry, and we let him watch TV sometimes when one of us is making dinner and the other has to go to the bathroom. The last warning she offered was about putting the baby to sleep on his stomach – you’re never supposed to put a baby to sleep on his stomach.

The kid wouldn’t nap. He was tired, and he would cry and cry about it, and it was, quite frankly, tiresome. We both knew that he needed to sleep, but he had to sleep on his back which was the rule. And so every single day, we would battle over naptime, and I would put him down to sleep as he rubbed his eyes and his fat bottom lip quivered. And he would cry and I would give it 25 or 30 minutes and then I would pick him up and the two of us would sit down on the couch and he would complain about how I was mistreating him and I would agree that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here.

We did the whole nap-on-the-back thing today, and it went the way it always does. But today, after I picked him up and pat his back and told him that we do like him, we just like him better when he’s rested, I put him back in his crib, down on his stomach, and within 30 seconds he was asleep, and though I checked him every five minutes to make sure he wasn’t dead, he slept nearly three hours.

The baby napped today. THE BABY NAPPED TODAY.

So I did what I like to do when I have some time alone. I made a little treat, and read a little bit of book, and had a full sandwich uninterrupted and it was everything I thought it would be.

The little treat was a little bit of jelly. The sun has come out the past few days this week, and there are Meyer lemons at the public market, and for the first time in months I felt like something cool and fruity instead of something hot and chocolate. A little lemon juice, some sugar, and a pot of green tea turned into something pleasantly bitter and refreshingly tart – the kind of thing one might enjoy during a few fleeting moments of quiet.

If you can’t find Meyer lemons, use regular lemons but increase the sugar to a full cup.

Green tea and Meyer lemon jelly

  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 packets of unflavoured gelatin
  • 2 teabags of green tea
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice (from two or three Meyer lemons)

Bloom gelatin in 1/2 cup of cold water. Scrape into a pot with the rest of the water, the sugar, and the tea bags. Heat until sugar and gelatin have dissolved, but do not allow the liquid to boil.

Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and let sit for five to ten minutes, so that the tea can steep to taste.

Divide between six ramekins, and refrigerate until set, two to six hours.

And if you have the time, a nap and a treat will brighten your mood right up.