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December 2013

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Back to the grind (Part 2)

Women’s Post Contributor Liesl Jurock is a writer, a career educator, and a mama.  

Many moms are surprised by what they find when they return to work. Although your life has completely changed while you’ve been away, your workplace may seem much the same as when you left. What stressed you out before is now not as important and the work itself may seem easier after being responsible for a new human being. Despite this, it can be quite a stressful time getting back into the swing of things. Here are some tips on readjusting back to office life:

Re-introduce yourself. Unless they are also parents, your colleagues probably don’t expect that you’ve changed much and your boss may be unsympathetic to your new priorities. Make time to reconnect with the people you work closest with and rebuild those relationships. Give them a sense of the new you, but also refrain from only talking about your kid. You may prefer to put blinders on and get straight to work, but making time for those around you will garner you support when you need it.

Be sensitive to time. Remember that woman who used to annoy everyone because she booted out of the office at 5:00 on the dot to pick up her kid from daycare? This is now you. The need to control your time becomes critical now that you are juggling work with parenting. While you may want to set new boundaries, you don’t want to alienate yourself either. Find ways to strategically display your commitment: send e-mails when you are the first one in the office or working over your lunch time, offer to do research for the team that you can tackle after your kid is in bed, or do extra prep for meetings that will save time for everyone.

Find allies. Seek out the other working parents around you. You can recognize them by the bags under their eyes and the encouraging smile they now give you when you arrive frazzled and milk-stained. They can be great support and offer advice about surviving this readjustment period, may know about policies that impact parents in your workplace, and might actually enjoy hearing about your child.

Be present where you are. Of course you are thinking of your little one while you’re at work, but if it’s a guilty pull that distracts you from getting anything done, then what’s the point of being there? If at all possible, try and compartmentalize your focus so that you are present where you are. Work at work, and mommy at home, and try not to waste your valuable energy reserves feeling guilty about the other.

There’s no question that heading back to work is full of mixed emotions as you negotiate how to make things work best for your baby and your family. But in the craziness of it all, don’t forget about yourself as well. The old adage is true: You can’t take care of anyone if you don’t take care of yourself. Find a few minutes a day or a couple of hours here and there that are just yours so you can recharge before the juggling act begins again.

RECIPE: Judging the perfect pie

By Mary Luz Mejia

Pie. For me, the very word conjures up images of warmth, comfort and the most delicious way to end a cool weather meal. Given my love of pie, you can imagine my delight when I was asked to be a judge at the Chudleigh’s first annual Apple Piefest Baking Competition in Halton Hills, Ont.

I was joined by fellow writers, bloggers and magazine editors on a rainy, cold autumn day. Our task? To taste-test and judge over 20 pies. We were wisely split into two teams of three, with each team picking the top three pies in their section. In the final round,all six judges congregated to taste the top six pies.

The competition was stiff and we were charged with awarding points for creativity, texture, appearance and presentation, flavour and consistency. The only fruit allowed was apple, but no apple crisps or crumbles were admissible – they had to be pies with a pastry bottom.

The winning pie was what you’d imagine grandma lovingly prepare for her brood: flake-perfect crust and a sweet, cinnamon-nuanced filling that was juicy without being liquid logged like some of the varieties we sampled.

But my personal all-round favourite was the cheese-speckled crust pie containing Chudleigh’s Wealthy and Cortland apples, a hint of cinnamon, vanilla and raw sugar. To my palate, it was the perfect marriage of savoury and sweet. It was also the most creative, delicious pie on the block with pastry apple cut-outs glistening on top.

The most amazing part is that Alex Rundle and her friend Cailin had never made pie before they entered this beauty. I wish I had that kind of “beginners luck”. My pastry just isn’t up to scratch. But the girls have shared their recipe with me so that we can all savour their second place winning entry!

Alex and Cailin’s Wealthy Cortland Cheddar Pie Recipe

Pie Crust:

2 ½ Cups Flour
½ Tsp. Salt
½ Cup Cold Butter, Cubed
½ Cup Cold Lard, Cubed
¼ Cup Ice Water
3 Tbsp. Sour Cream
1 Cup Grated Cheddar Cheese

Whisk flour with salt in large bowl. Cut in butter and lard until only a few large pieces remain. In a separate bowl, combine water and sour cream. Pour over the flour mixture and mix. Divide in half, refrigerate for 1 hour, or overnight. Immediately before using crust, mix in the cheddar cheese.

Pie Filling:

4 large Chudleigh’s Wealthy Apples
4 large Chudleigh’s Cortland Apples
¾ Cups Sugar
2 Tbsp Cornstarch
1 Tbsp. Cinnamon
1 Tbsp. Vanilla
1 egg yolk
3 Tbsp. Coarse Raw Sugar

Peel and core apples and cut into slices. In a small bowl combine sugarcornstarchcinnamon andsalt. Toss apples with vanilla, then coat with sugar mixture.

Instructions:

1 Egg Yolk
3 Tbsp. Coarse Raw Sugar
1 Chudleigh’s Apple Shaped Cookie Cutter

Roll out half of pastry on floured surface. Fit to pie plate. Make ventilation holes with fork.  Add apple filling mixture. Roll out remaining dough. Whisk egg yolk. Brush over pastry rim. Use cookie cutterto cut apple shapes in pie crust. Fit crust over pie and brush with remaining egg yolk. Add more holes with fork. Sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake 10 minutes on bottom rack of oven at 450F degrees. Reduce heat to 350F degrees, cover pie with tin foil and bake for 60 minutes.

Enjoy!

Back to the grind

Women’s Post Contributor Liesl Jurock is a writer, a career educator, and a mama.  

You’ve spent the last year devoted to your new little one. Maybe you’ve been in maternal bliss, enjoying every moment of the dreamy rhythm of motherhood. Or maybe you’d welcome some intellectual challenges again. Either way, your maternity leave is up and you’re not sure how to get ready for the grind. Here are some tips to prep for the big change:

Start transitioning early.Whether it’s daycare, your in-laws, or Daddy who’s going to take on caregiving while you’re at work, it’s a good idea to start practicing for both your sakes. Your child will certainly need to adjust to changes to routine, care, and being without you, but so will you. Leaving your child for a short time and building up over a period of two weeks to a month will allow you to focus on their transition before having to deal with your own.

Prep for the power struggles. If you’ve been the primary caretaker over the past year, letting go of all the decision-making and responsibilities may not be easy. Although you might feel like you know how to take care of your child best and want to coordinate every detail, you have no choice but to allow others to figure out what will work for them. While power struggles may ensue, you likely all have your child’s best interest at heart, so try to establish some open communication around their care that can continue once you are back at work.

Outsource responsibilities. You don’t have to be supermom and do it all. Whether it’s calling a maid service to clean your bathrooms or arranging for Grandma to cook dinner once a week, it’s okay to get a little help if you can. Your free time is limited now and it’s reasonable to want to spend whenever you have with your little one. You may prefer being in control of everything, but if you can get or pay for support once in a while so you don’t burn out, do it.

Explore your options. If you really can’t imagine being away from Junior as much as you used to, see what you can do about it. Some organizations will allow mothers to take additional unpaid leaves as they already have a trained staff person in place to cover the position. Flexible schedules, working-from-home partially, or taking a pay cut for fewer hours or less responsibilities are also possibilities.

Of course, you may feel conflicting thoughts and a great deal of anxiety about the upcoming transition because your life is very different now than when you left. Do what you can to minimize the worry and prepare ahead of time, but realize that you won’t truly be able to imagine what it will feel like or how it will all work until you are doing it. So, enjoy the final days of maternity leave and then give yourself and your family time to adjust.

RECIPE: Easy sipping with Spanish sangria

By Mary Luz Mejia

Living in Madrid and visiting Spain subsequently really jolted my taste buds out of their slumber. I discovered dishes throughout Spain that, while simple to prepare, insist on being made with the very best and freshest ingredients. The trick to making great food, no matter where it’s from is simply that: Using what’s in season – fresh and flavourful – to let ingredients shine.

Spain is blessed with a terrain that gives its cuisine the option of just-fished seafood, acorn-fed pigs, sun-ripened produce, and some of the world’s finest olive oils and wines. The Spanish are a gastronomically fortunate lot, and they know it.

Luckily for us here in Canada, there’s a lot to celebrate come summertime, too. There’s nothing better than gathering your favourite people to celebrate warm, long summer days and nights on your patio, dock, cottage, dining room table, or in a park with the Mediterranean flavours of tapas.

Cities like Toronto have a history of “tapa-ifying” everything from fusion fare to food that’s just over-priced for what you get. So in the generous spirit of Spain, I offer you some simple Spanish recipes I learned in the country of my mother’s ancestors. I hope they bring you as much fun as a tapas bar crawl through Barcelona.

SUMMER SPANISH SANGRIA

If you’ve ever been to Spain– or most of Europe for that matter – you’ll know that they’re by and large traditionalists who don’t like to add extra ingredients to dishes that have stood the test of time. Adding red pepper to a Spanish tortilla? Never, if you ask a Spaniard, and the same principle holds for Sangria. I’ve tasted recipes where pineapple juice and fruit punch were added. I find them too sweet and my Spanish friends would just say “That’s not Sangria!”

Here’s a version that’s refreshing, not too sweet, and perfect for quaffing with tapas. It goes down very easy – just be forewarned.

Ingredients:

1 bottle (750 ml) chilled, dry, medium to full bodied, preferably Spanish red wine with fruity characteristics (for example, a decent bottle from the Rioja region such as  Tempranillo or Garnacha would work – and don’t spend a fortune on a bottle because you’re making punch, after all).

2 ½ tablespoons sugar

¼ cup brandy

¾ cup of good quality orange juice, with or without pulp – your choice)

1 medium pear, diced (a sturdy Bosc Pear works well here)

1 orange, washed and thinly sliced

2 Ontariopeaches, cut into wedges

1 small lemon or lime, sliced cross-wise

Handful of green, seedless grapes

2 cups of Ginger Ale

1 cup of soda water

Block of ice to put in your punch bowl

Preparation:

Add the sugar and brandy into a large punch bowl. Stir to combine until sugar is dissolved. Add the red wine and the fruit. You can let fruit macerate for an hour or so.

Add all of the other ingredients and chill. If you have guests coming over ASAP, pre-freeze a block of ice (use a small, shallow bowl for example) and use that instead of ice cubes. The melting ice mass won’t water down your punch as quickly and, according to mixologists, “softens” the tones of the punch more steadily than individual ice cubes.

Ladle into cups and garnish with a fruit wedge if you’re so inclined.

TOSTADAS ALAGUACATE

Let’s call this Spanish Guacamole with a twist. Popular in Toledo, the creaminess of the avocado paired with the toasted cumin seeds gives this a modern update. Perfect for unexpected guests or a tasty tapas option in a hurry. This recipe serves 10.

Ingredients:

1 egg

2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 ripe avocado (Haas does the job)

3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ teaspoon of lemon zest

½ cup of fruity Spanish olive oil, plus some for drizzling at the end (Tip: I recommend an Arbequina olive oil ideally – like Gasull or the coupage-blend – in Dauro, which contains Arbequina olives for example)

½ teaspoon of sea salt

Pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 teaspoons of cumin seeds

1 good quality baguette – you’ll need 20-30 slices

Chopped chives

Preparation:

Use a blender or food processor to whirl the egg and garlic together. Peel, seed, and then cut the avocado into chunks and add it to the blender or food processor along with lemon juice and zest. Pulse until smooth.

With the motor running, slowly drizzle in ½ cup of olive oil, salt, and both peppers. You can cover and refrigerate until ready to serve for a few hours maximum (avocado mix starts to oxidize so don’t wait too long).

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a hot, dry skillet toast cumin seeds over high heat until they start to jump across pan. Put in bowl and set aside. Thinly slice baguette, arrange on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes.

You can make these individually portioned by spreading some of the avocado cream on each slice of bread and top with cumin seeds and chives or arrange rounds around a bowl full of the cream that’s been topped with cumin seeds and chives for dipping.

Living a breathy life

By Jelena Djurkic

When I sat down with Mary Walsh recently, I was expecting to find the same bubbly comedian we’ve all seen tackling down politicians on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. But the 58-year-old got serious when it came to talking about her family’s experience with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

COPD, which includes diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is a long-term lung disease. It damages your airways; the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs, making it harder to breathe. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue and frequent chest infections.

As the Canadian Lung Association’s spokesperson on COPD, Walsh had been up since 3 a.m. when we spoke Wednesday, hoping to raise awareness of this little-known disease. It was also World COPD Day.

A recent study found that 90 per cent of Canadians have never heard of spirometry, a simple breathing test used to diagnose COPD. Some people aren’t even aware of the disease. But while the average Canadian may not know about it, many are affected. About 1.5 million Canadians are living with COPD.

Why should you care? There is an increased prevalence of COPD in women, says Carole Madeley, a respiratory therapist and director of respiratory health programs at the Ontario Lung Association.

“It’s a matter of encouraging people to get tested for the first time. People just aren’t aware,” said Madeley. If diagnosed, COPD is treatable. “You could live a very normal life or you could have a very disabled life.”

Walsh has three family members who have been affected by the disease. Her sister Laura has a mild case, but lives a relatively normal life. Her cousin Mary’s COPD, on the other hand, is more severe. At a recent family wedding, her cousin had to bring four oxygen tanks along with her in order to attend the wedding.

“She’s enslaved to an oxygen tank,” said Walsh, who has had her own respiratory problems over the years including episodes of pneumonia. “People need to know about this (disease).”

People over 40 and who smoke or live with smokers are at a greater risk for COPD and should be tested. A spirometry test can take from 10 to 30 minutes. Patients blow into a machine to measure how much air they can blow out of their lungs and how fast they can do it.

“You should be able to live your life and make enough changes to live a long, reasonable and breathy life,” said Walsh.

For more information on COPD or to find a local spirometry clinic, visit www.lung.ca or call 1-866-717-COPD (2673). In Quebec, call 1-866-717-MPOC (6762).

Healthy meal ideas

By Christine Blanchette

With the holiday season finally here, former Olympian Diane Clement, anaward-winning author of eight cookbooks, says, “Sunday is our family day, so I enjoy surprising them with one of my international menus and a favorite dessert.”

Diane’s husband, Dr. Doug Clement, is a two-time Olympian himself and has also co-authored two of her lifestyle books.In Start Fresh, she shares some of her favourite dishes, beginning with Max’s branberry muffins.

Max’s branberry muffins
Makes 1 dozen small muffins

3/4 cup (180 ml) brown sugar
3/4 cup (175 ml) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (125 ml) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 ml) whole wheat bran
1/4 cup (60 ml) wheat germ
1 tsp (5 ml) baking soda
1 cup (250 ml) blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup (125 ml) seedless raisins
1 tbsp (15 ml) orange zest
1 large egg
2/3 cup (150 ml) plus 2 to 3 tbsp (30 to 45 ml) buttermilk
1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil. Mix together the brown sugar, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, bran, wheat germ and baking soda in a large bowl. Stir in blueberries, raisins and orange rind. Whisk the egg with buttermilk and oil in a separate bowl. Add to dry ingredients all at once, mixing well. Add 2 to 3 tbsp (30 to 45 ml) more buttermilk, if necessary, to bind the batter. Spoon 1/4 cup (60 ml) of batter into each muffin cup and bake about 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the muffin comes out clean. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 217 calories 5 g protein 6 g fat 37 g carbohydrate 5 g fiber 114 mg sodium

For brunch: Spanish omelet and tomato relish, with a tuna olive tapenade appetizer.

For a dinner party with friends, Diane suggests you start with Italian antipasto platter salad (from your local deli), featuring a mozzarella and fennel salad and a tusan chicken and orzo entree. For dessert: Italian gelato, biscotti.

Diane says most recipes can be done in advance and the ingredients are available in food markets across Canada.

She adds, “We have a loyal following across Canada. From my first Chef on the Run,printed in 1982, to Doug and my first lifestyle book Chef and Doctor on the Run to our present Start Fresh lifestyle book,” and acknowledges her contributions to the culinary arts.

 

Breakup on standby

Jen Kirsch is a pint-sized, blonde, bronzed, twentysomething from Toronto.

It’s nothing to be proud of, but it is so very true: the courage and final push for us to commit the act of breaking up, is the knowingness that we have someone waiting in the wings on standby.

Breaking up is hard to do. The idea of not having constant company, a plus one for the events that fill up our agenda, and of course, consistent sex, is reason enough to hold on to our other half when we know our time is done. Plus the idea of breaking the heart of the person we love (and loathe) is never easy. But I’ve got to tell you, it comes much easier when you know that there is someone else interested in you, when you’re not taunted by the ‘I’m going to be alone forever’ kind of thoughts.

So, who is on standby on your flight or love and when do you decide to take off?

The word ‘standby’ can be interchanged with ‘rebound,’ both being one of the same. This is the guy who we look to to fill our to-be-expected void. He acts simply as a distraction and if we are ever in that ‘I’m lonely, maybe I shouldn’t have broken up with whatshisname afterall phase’ we can call him instead, avoiding pain for us and our former flames (as good as ex-sex is, it’s never worth the emotions that are certain to follow suit.)

When a relationship is winding down, it’s difficult to maintain our confidence. We are filled and fueled by doubt and confusion. But having someone else in our lives who is on the outside of our inner turmoil is refreshing. They offer us something different than our partner does. They offer us a sense of calm and a fresh outlook and perspective. Staying in relationships longer than they are meant to run often causes unnecessary pain for both parties. Remembering how you guys started, how he pursued you, the honeymoon phase, the fights, the stabs, how did it come to this?

Having a go-to guy on the side makes us feel wanted. No, he doesn’t know our quirks, our habits and the behaviours that come out over the course of knowing someone and interacting with them overtime, and that’s what makes this so perfect. It’s superficial and it’s ok. Who are we kidding heartbreaker, you’re not ready to move on quite just yet.

Have fun with Mr. Distraction. Flirt, fantasize, feel out the personality and excitement of a new person, but don’t let yourself fall for him. He is just a symbol of someone who allowed you to bite the bullet on something you were putting off. Give yourself time to come to terms with your breakup, investigate in why it ended, learn from it, grow from it and then move forward. We’re always in such a rush to move forward but the best part of an end is a fresh start.

TRAVEL: Wine, beer, and flirting in Piazza Campo Del Fiori

By Tania LaCaria

The flirtatious energy was palpable. The sounds of music bouncing off the stone facades of buildings, the smell of fresh tomato sauce wafting through the square along with the sight of liquid gold pouring out of freshly corked bottles of white vino was mesmerizing. As I stared at a jovial busker who was entertaining a crowd of curious bystanders, I realized the “rumours” I’d heard about Piazza Campo del Fiori were true. This was a special place to spend an evening.

I made my way over to the town square after a more-than-satisfying dinner in the city of Rome. I was told by locals that Piazza Campo del Fiori is THE place to be if you’re looking for an authentic Roman experience; which I was. I only had three days to experience the city and I wasn’t interested in wasting what short amount of time I had revisiting all the tourist sights that I had seen years ago (like the Coliseum, the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, etc). I was on a mission for an authentic experience, in search of my very own Roman Holiday escapade, and I was trying my damnedest to be as charmingly elegant as Ms. Hepburn (although opinions on my success are varied).

The side streets that led to the piazza were narrow and unevenly paved in medieval cobblestone. Neon bar signs overhead helped light my way, and once I could see the well-lit square in the near distance, I could already hear the whining notes of a nearby accordion wailing in the square. As I emerged from the shadowy alley and stepped into the official piazza area, I felt as though I had walked into an entirely different city.

Allow me to set the scene:

There were happy, drunk, young people (most of whom seemed to be deeply in love or on the verge of falling in love) everywhere.

A group of teens were hanging around the centre of the square sitting on the steps at the base of the infamous statue of Giordano Bruno – a man who was burned at the stake in 1600 for heresy. I watched the young crowd playfully tease one another in between exaggerated bouts of flirtatious laughter. It looked like a scene out of an Italian version of the Breakfast Club’s detention montage (there is nothing more entertaining to me than watching youth attempt to connect with the opposite sex).  They sounded like they were having so much fun; their laughter became infectious and I soon found myself smiling and chuckling along, as if I were part of the gathering myself.

The perimeter of the square was lined with restaurant after restaurant, with the occasional café-cum-bar venue shoved in between. Just like most of the other piazzas in Rome, beautiful people enjoying robust dishes of pasta or meat occupied every single table; their glasses of ruby red wine and sparkling water twinkled in the candlelight. I could feel the positive energy vibrating off the canopied awnings – this is “the place” to go to on a first date, but also “the place” to take your sweetheart on your 10th wedding anniversary. Love was in the air.

And so it seemed I had successfully accomplished my mission as there were very few tourists around. I noticed that most of the locals who were at the bars where nursing drinks and mingling with one another; everyone seemed eager to make new friends and expand their social circles. “Do people come here to make new friends?” I wondered to myself? Then I noticed a group of well-dressed women taking photos outside the front of a swanky lounge (surely a birthday celebration), while a nearby group of hunky men watched with respectfully lustful anticipation. Suddenly, it all made sense. The reason why one would visit Piazza Campo del Fiori is quite simple: the place was a meat-market. A sophisticated, good-natured hang-out spot where the goal was to meet that special someone to dance the night away with.

As I walked around and tried to choose a bar where I could enjoy a glass of Valpolicella on the patio by myself, I could feel a set of eyes on me. I casually glanced around and noticed that a tall, dark, handsome (Italian) guy with a beer in tow was watching me. My previous trip to Italy taught me that Italian men are not shy to stare, so I smiled to myself and averted my eyes… even the slightest eye contact can be misinterpreted as a sign of interest, and I already had a tall, dark, handsome (Canadian) guy of my own back home. I was enjoying soaking up the scene and listening to the nearby accordions when suddenly Mr. (Handsome) Beer Bottle was standing in front of me, and was clearly much older than I had initially estimated. Oh my goodness, I thought to myself, “Could this be my very own Gregory Peck!?” Maybe in another lifetime where my Roman Holiday fantasy stood a chance. I mustered up a shy smile, muttered a “buona notte” and decided to continue on my way to visit another “authentically Roman” destination on my list.

What a place.  The frenetic energy that I love so much about the city of Rome seems to be centralized in Piazza Campo del Fiori.

I look forward to returning one day with my (Canadian) guy so we can sip red wine and have a romantic dinner together and contribute to the overactive hormones that seem to hover above everyone’s heads like a cartoon cloud.  The energetic and amorous atmosphere of Piazza Campo del Fiori has contributed to my infatuation with the magical city of Rome.

RECIPE: Cherry tomato red clam sauce with linguine

serves 6

Ingredients:
Salt
1 pound linguine
3 tablespoons EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
5 to 6 anchovies
1 red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pint small cherry tomatoes
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 sprigs of oregano, leaves stripped and finely chopped
A handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
Black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
3 pounds Manilaclams, scrubbed
½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water, and cook the pasta to just shy of al dente.

While the water comes to a boil, heat the EVOO in a large pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add the anchovies and melt them into the oil.

Add the onions, garlic, and tomatoes to the pot and season with the red pepper flakes, oregano, parsley, and black pepper to taste.

Sauté until the tomatoes burst and the onions are soft, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the wine and reduce for 1 to 2 minutes, then melt the butter into the sauce and add the clams. Cover the pot and cook the clams until they open, 6 to 7 minutes.

Discard any unopened clams and add the pasta to the pot. Toss the linguine with the sauce for 2 to 3 minutes so the pasta absorbs the flavors. Add the basil, taste to adjust the seasonings, and serve.

Excerpted from Rachael Ray’s Look + Cook by Rachael Ray Copyright © 2010 by Rachael Ray. Photography Copyright © 2010 by Ben Fink. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Spray it, don’t say it

Joana Duque is an occasional Women’s Post contributor and freelance writer.

Have you ever taken a good look at the streets of Toronto and wondered what it would look like without graffiti? Without what is better known as a true representation of our culture and our community? Most Torontonians see street art, otherwise known as graffiti, as a destruction of our streets and our city, whereas it should really be seen as a true form of representation of the people that embody Toronto and make it what it is today.

Recently, a proposal by Beaches-East York Ward 32 Councilor Sandra Bussin was made in regards to cracking down on graffiti within the city that would prohibit retailers from selling markers and spray paint to minors – a proposal that Toronto mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti seems to agree with. When it became alright to categorize spray paint under the same regulations as beer and cigarettes is beyond me. But if this is the stance which both Bussin and Mammoliti seem to be taking in order to crack down on graffiti, then maybe we have a bigger issue here.

Granted, the problem with graffiti is that it is vandalism, but there are so many different incarnations of it out there that to classify all graffiti as an overall offense to have splashed on our meant-to-be-perfectly-untouched-brick-walls is to imply that politicians know art better than artists do. The history of graffiti is a long and respectable one. Graffiti first began primarily around the 1960s by political activists to make statements and gangs to mark territory – something that is still going on to this day. It could even be argued that graffiti dates back all the way to Egyptian times. But the truth of the matter is that passing a law that would render minors unable to purchase spray paints from retailers is unrealistic.

Take Bansky for example, a British street artist with an international reputation for his black-and-white paintings hidden away in downtown back alleys. Or Funktion Gallery, who, according to their facebook page, are “a collective of Toronto-based artists that host art shows, live music, live painting and poetry readings.” These are the kind of street artists that embody what graffiti is truly about and who respectfully use graffiti as a proper art form, yet their work ends up being discredited by those who use graffiti as a means to pass on a hateful message or cause rifts amongst each other and so forth. It is within this dichotomy that the system becomes flawed.

If anything, it is the gangs that pose the problem. And so what city councilors like Bussin and Toronto mayoral hopefuls like Mammoliti should be focusing on is setting up programs that could render obsolete the problem of negative graffiti in the form of vandalism, and perhaps teach minors a better understanding of how to use graffiti to make a difference within the community. There have been multiple projects within the city of Toronto where graffiti was used as a means to raise awareness for an important cause or even to raise funds for charities that needed it.

All I know is that there is no beauty in something as plain as a white brick wall and there is definitely no easy fix to the problem of vandalism within our city through a mere proposal of banning minors from purchasing spray paints from retailers. What it comes down to is knowing that city councilors such as Bussin view the passing of a law to ban the present issue from reoccurring as the cheaper and easier alternative to setting up potential housing programs for minors that would aid in not only fostering their growth but also teaching them the negative effects of their actions.