MARK HILL - writer guy

MARK HILL - writer guy

Knife skills

You don't need a chopper.

Or a shredder.

Or a blender.

Or a multimixer.

If you can handle a knife, that's all you need.


Vegetables

Dad is coming over for lunch.

I'm doing a veggie bake. Cauliflower, some sweet pepper, cheese and spice.

Simple stuff. Kinda rustic. But I think it's going to taste pretty good.


Microwave oven

If there is one item in your kitchen that you ought to throw away it is the microwave.

Over decades, we have been sold a bill of goods about microwave ovens - the idea that they are fast and convenient.

But, the truth is, microwave ovens suck all the flavour and most of the nutrition out of everything. Stuff comes out pretty much devoid of health and tasting of nothing.

If you want to warm up leftovers, buy a small toaster oven. You can re-heat slowly without running up your electricity bill.

But ditch the microwave; it kills your food.


Barry Manilow

People slag off Barry Manilow.

They dismiss him. They say he's camp and cheesy.

But, when you take the time to listen to his stuff, you realise that it's not junk.

It's well-written, well-produced and well sung.

It's good music.

How to walk like a model

Walking like a catwalk model is easy.

You only need to know three things.

First of all, make sure that, at all times, your hips are ahead of your shoulders. Throw out your hips and pull back your shoulders.

Second, cross your legs as you walk. As you walk, when you bring forward your left foot cross it over your right foot. Then, as you bring forward your right foot, cross it over your left. Keep this up as you walk.

Third, when you reach the end of the catwalk, pivot on the forward foot. Left or right, it doesn't matter, but pivot on the forward foot.

Then walk back. Again, hips over shoulders and legs crossed.

Thoughts on bread

I no longer buy bread. I like it, but I don't buy it.

I make my own bread.

Supermarkets make a fortune off bread. They take 10 cents worth of ingredients and sell them for three dollars.

At the supermarket the cheapest loaf is $1.50 and most loaves are pretty close to three bucks.

But, at the same supermarket, I can buy 2kgs of flour for about four dollars. And I can make a shedload of bread out of that.

This morning I was hungry. I tossed in a handful of flour and a dash of water and a pinch of salt. I mixed it up with chopsticks (I don't own a blender) and spread it out onto a pan. I dumped on some beans and veg I had in the fridge and cooked in a hot oven.

Doesn't look great, wouldn't pass muster at a poncy restaurant, but it tastes great, it's nutritious as all get out and costs next to nothing.


Mystery board cooking

I watch a lot of cooking shows, Top Chef, MasterChef, stuff like that.

And my favorites are what MasterChef calls The Mystery Box. The cooks are given a box of unknown mixed ingredients and have to concoct a dish out of it.

It's my favorite way of cooking. I do it myself all the time.

Anybody can pick up a recipe book and go down to the supermarket and buy all the ingredients and follow the directions and turn out a meal.

But a real cook is someone who can open the fridge and the pantry and look at what's there and what needs to be used up before it goes off and figure out how to take a mixed bag of stuff and make a decent meal out of it.

How to cook

Cooking has become a big deal.

Celebrity chefs have become, well ... celebrities - the new rock stars.

But cooking is easy. You don't need a $25 cookery book. You don't need to follow a complicated recipe. You don't need to carefully measure in a quarter teaspoon of this or that.

Just get some good stuff, mix in some spice and flavour, apply some heat and, when it looks done, eat it.

It's that simple. It's not rocket science.

It's just making food.

Punch

If you're ever in a fight, punch with your palm.

Keep your fist open and punch with your palm.

Don't make a fist and punch with it like they do in the movies. If you do that you'll likely break your wrist or your knuckles.

Punch with your palm. It will inflict as much harm as a closed fist, but with much less damage to you.

I'm an immigrant

I feel like I'm an immigrant.

After 10 years in Europe, I've returned to Canada.

But I feel like an immigrant. It's like a new world.

I like it here. I like it very much.

But, for me, it's a new world.

Nutrition

Food writer Michael Pollan has reduced nutritious eating to just 7 words:

Eat food.
Not too much.
Mostly plants.

I agree. Though I would add fish and seafood to that list.

I've decided to do that.

I gave away a bunch of sausages recently because I don't like them. I have a bit of chicken and a little ground beef that I will eat because I've bought and paid for it.

But once that's used up I'm sticking to fish and seafood, loads of vegetables, rice, noodles and beans. Loads of beans (they're incredibly good for you).

So I would modify Michael Pollan's advice a little:

Eat food.
Not too much.
Mostly plants, beans and seafood.
Plus a bit of crappy starch so you don't feel hungry.

Breakfast At Tiffany's

This is my apartment.




People ask me why Breakfast at Tiffany's is my favourite film. Why do I watch it when I'm depressed? Why not watch something more upbeat and cheerful?

But, when I'm down, I watch Breakfast at Tiffany's because it's about two people who are, in their own way, somewhat damaged.

But they find each other and appreciate each other and realise that while they may each have their individual faults they can come together and find love.

I like that.

Fish

Having a bit of, as Holly says in Breakfast At Tiffany's, a bit of the "mean reds". So I'm cooking myself a little fish to cheer myself up.


Smile

Somebody once wrote that every time you make eye contact with another person you should smile.

I've been doing that for a while now. And nearly every time the other person smiles back. Even on a short walk to the supermarket or the bank, I exchange smiles with a dozen or so people - young people, old people, pretty young girls, macho guys on mountain bikes, little kids - all sorts.

It makes me happy to receive these smiles.

And I hope my smiles give some happiness back.

Cooking stock

I always keep a pot of cooking stock on the go.

I put all sorts of stuff in it. Sometimes I put in a piece of chicken, boil it up, let it rest then brown it off in a skillet. Sometimes I toss in some pasta and cook it up. The stock turns ordinary pasta into something delicious. Right now I'm cooking up some dried beans. I'll sieve them out and cook them with rice. I'll use a little bit of my stock to flavour the rice.

The stock is too powerful a flavour to eat on its own. But the nice thing is that cooking things in the stock adds flavour to the stock and cooking things in the stock adds stock flavour to what you're cooking.


Fireworks display

The view from my balcony.




Rain

I like rain.

I don't care to be out in the rain. But I do like to be inside or undercover looking out at rain. I love lightening and thunder.

It's been raining all day. This is unusual in Ottawa. In Ottawa we normally get torrential rain for half an hour, then it stops. In England we get pissy little rain that lasts all day.

But, today, we had torrential rain all day.

And I love it.

Rain cleanses. It washes all sorts of bad things away.

And it produces life. It makes the grass grow and the crops thrive.

A rainy day is not a bad day. A rainy day is a good day.

I cry

I cry. Or weep.

I cry all the time. My tears well up at the slightest thing.

I cry at movies. I cry when I think about things both past and future. I weep when I read a sad story.

It's not the most manly thing in the world, but I cry.

Life changes

Here's something I've learned.

It is easier to make a positive change than to eliminate a negative.

It works this way:

If you want to eliminate a negative, you have to do it 24 hours a day and seven days a week. If you want to quit smoking or quit drinking or quit gambling, you have to be perfect 24/7.

Nobody can do that.

So focus on the positive. Because positive doesn't require 24/7. Positive only requires that, sometime in the day, you do something positive.

So maybe you go to the gym. Or take a brisk walk. Or cook a healthy meal and eat it.

All you have to do is find one small part of the day when you do something good.

You don't have to be perfect all the time. Just do one or two things some of the time.

And, if you do that, the good will drive out the bad. The classic film will drive out the urge to gamble. The walk in the park will drive out the the urge to smoke. The healthy meal will drive out the urge to drink.

Good drives out bad. So, if you have bad, don't concentrate on eliminating bad, rather concentrate on producing good.

SEO is bullshit

For those who don't know, SEO stands for search engine optimisation. It's all about getting your website high up on the Google rankings. There are consultants who will offer advice and guidance to help you do this.

And it's all bullshit.

Google has an algorithm called Penguin that deliberately seeks out these silly SEO tricks and, when it finds them, kicks your site down to page 10.

I don't know how many times I've sat in a meeting with some SEO bullshit artist blathering on about how much data he has about search.

And where does that data always come from? Every time - Google Analytics. These clowns always claim they can fool Google by using Google's own data!

Google has all the data. Google sees all the tricks. And Google doesn't like tricks. Google likes a good website.

So, if you want to get on Google's good side, shove those SEO clowns out the door and just build the best and most interesting website you can.

Do that and Google will find you and love you.

Social media is a waste of time

I don't do social media.

I've long since quit Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn.

It's all a waste of time.

I used to think I was keeping in touch with friends. But I realised that keeping in touch is about meeting up and sharing a meal or a cup of coffee. It's about sharing time together in each other's company.

It's not about clicking on a "like" button or re-tweeting some rubbish post.

So I've quit social media.

If you want to be friends, come on over for a cup of tea. Just ring the bell and I'll put the kettle on. Or meet up someplace for a coffee or a cold pint.

If you're in town and want to hang out I'll give you a key to my place.

I'm cool with all that.

But I want real friends, not click-friends.


Creativity

Where does creativity come from?

I think creativity comes from people who are a bit fucked-up.

Being a bit fucked-up is almost a requirement for being creative.

Look at the great writers and directors and painters and artists - they're all mad!

They're all killing themselves or drinking themselves to death or can't hold down a job or sustain a decent relationship.

Creative people are all a bit fucked up.

But, if not for fucked-up people, we would have no creativity.

Women

I'm starting to think that women should run the world.

Women think differently than us. They work differently than us.

When women get together to plan something or decide something, they seem to talk forever. And the men become annoyed at how long they spend "babbling".

But, by the time they're done, they have achieved a consensus that no group of men could achieve.

Women are generally more concerned about the overall good, in contrast with men who are generally concerned with personal gain.

Someone once wrote a book entitled "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus".

I think I'd rather live on Venus.

Chelsea Handler on Netflix

I have become a real fan of Chelsea Handler.

She's funny, but more to the point she tells things like it is (or at least the way she sees it) and holds nothing back.

In an age where everyone is so careful to present a perfect image, it's good to see someone who just blurts out whatever comes into her mind.

Her website is here.

And if you have Netflix, you can catch her show here.

Writers

I've been watching "Death In Paradise" on Netflix.

There's a bit where one of the suspects, a screenwriter, says "What you have to understand is, I'm a writer. Writers don't do things, we just sit behind our laptops".

Too true.

Apartment life

There's a nice thing about living in a central Ottawa apartment.

We leave things out for each other.

Not junk. Not rubbish. Good things that, for one reason or another, we no longer need.

In my building, we leave things in the side lobby near the mailboxes.

In my short time here I've picked up (and passed on to family) two nice shopping bags and a pair of winter boots. I have offered out a few books and a Chinese wok, all of which were picked up in minutes.

It's the best form of recycling and builds a sense of community.

I like it, hugely.


Fermenting

I've got into fermenting.

I ferment pretty much any vegetable.

It's really simple. You don't need any real skill or knowledge.

Today I had a fennel. It was so big that if I had left it in my fridge it would have gone off before I could have eaten all of it.

So I cut off the amount I can eat, then I took the rest, sliced and chopped it and put it in a plastic container. I added in some salt, vinegar, hot peppers and some water and gave it a shake.

I'll leave it in the fridge (with the occasional shake) for at least a week.

Fermented veg lasts pretty much forever and is a great way to preserve.

I've done it before with savoy cabbage.

It's kind of my version of Korean Kim-Chi.

Nice day in Gatineau Park with Dad & Heather




Jalapeno update

The first of my jalapeno peppers to turn red!


Sausages

This is about my freezer. My freezer is ridiculously full.

The other day, I realised that I don't much like sausages. Actually I like them cooked on a high heat. But you can't cook them that way in an apartment; it makes the whole floor smell and covers your little kitchen with fat.

But my dad has a barbecue which is perfect for sausages. So I gave them to him.

But here's the thing:

I pretty much had to empty the freezer to get the sausages. And, of course, I had to put everything else back in.

I took out a total of 27 sausages out of my freezer for my dad. So I figured that repacking the freezer would be a breeze.

No!

Even after removing 27 sausages from my freezer it took me twenty minutes of hard word to re-stock the freezer.

So, 27 sausages later, I'm still scared of opening my freezer door for fear I won't be able to close it again.

It's ironic. My freezer is so full that I'm scared to open it. So, rather than open the freezer and cook food I already have, I go to the supermarket and buy more food for my dinner.

But, of course, supermarket food is always sold in family-sized packs so, after making dinner, so I'm always left with four or five pieces of chicken or fish or meat that I have to wrap up individually and then force into the freezer that I was previously afraid to open.

It is a conundrum.

Chapters / Indigo

Why can't I get a job interview at Chapters / Indigo books?

There is a Chapters within walking distance of my place. There is an Indigo a short bus ride away.

But I can't even get an interview.

I have applied through their bizarrely complex online application system. I have personally delivered letters to store managers. I have spoken to a hiring manager.

In all cases, they don't even look at me. They all just say "go online and fill out an application".

And I try, but their website is rubbish.

But I would be a great Chapters / Indigo  staffer.

When I was a child, when the other kids were getting toys at Christmas, we got books in our stocking.

When other parents treated their kids to sweets, my parents gave me a 2-dollar bill to spend at the second-hand bookshop. You could get 3 books for 2 bucks and I would shop carefully.

I've written four books, not published but pretty close. Got me an agent in NYC and London.

But, for some reason, I can't even get a job interview at Chapters / Indigo.

I don't understand it.

Pretty girls

What do you do when it's summertime and you're a middle-aged man and all the pretty girls are out and about in their skimpy skirts and light summer frocks?

If you look, you feel like you're a middle-aged perv.

But if you don't look, you feel like you're an idiot, like the entire world is thinking "what's with you; you don't wanna look at a pretty girl."

I don't want to be a creep. I don't want to be a weirdo.

I don't know what to do.

My scarf collection


Comedy

Got back into some stand-up comedy.

Did this recently at Live On Elgin.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNUbwGlKODs&feature=youtu.be

My freezer

This is my freezer.

It's jammed full of food, mostly fish and chicken and frozen veggies.

It always seems full, but in the same way that an empty tube of toothpaste always seems to have a bit left, I always seem to be able to slip a little bit more in.

I thought my freezer was totally full, but I saw a deal on bream for three and a half quid so I couldn't resist and bought it in. It's sort of like a mackerel-ish,  sardine-eylike oily fish.

I'm thawing one for dinner, but I actually managed to jam five of them into the freezer!


Canada Day fireworks

Another view from my balcony.

Canada Day fireworks over Parliament Hill

video

Snowbirds

View from my balcony.

Canadian Forces air demonstration team The Snowbirds doing a Canada Day flypast over Ottawa.



Get out your sombrero, it's jalapeno time!

Massive growth spurt on my first pepper plant. And now three new peppers sprouting on plant number two.

It's gonna be a hot summer!



How to be Happy



As someone with a history of depression, I have been thinking about happiness.

Which leads me to thinking about people.

There are two types of people. For want of a label, I will call them practical people and emotional people.

Practical people are …, well, practical. They are organised. They fly airplanes safely. They keep the buses on schedule. They make sure the supermarket is fully stocked. They file their taxes on time and keep their homeowners insurance up to date. They are necessary people and the world would not function without them.

Emotional people are …, well, emotional. They are creative. They are the great writers and painters and filmmakers. But they are not practical and, aside from their creativity, are usually pretty much messed up. Ernest Hemingway changed the shape of the novel, but was a chronic alcoholic who ended up shooting himself. Virginia Wolf committed suicide. F. Scott Fitzgerald spent a lifetime in conflict with his wife. I could go on.

Practical people and emotional people are entirely different. Someone once wrote a book about men being from Mars and women from Venus. I would argue that the difference between practical people and emotional people is even greater.

The problem is that emotional people understand practical people but practical people don't understand emotional people.

Emotional people know what practical people can and can't do. We don't expect or ask them to write a great movie or do ten minutes of stand-up comedy or be the life of the party or write a great book. But when the sink is blocked or the car won't start, we call them.

But practical people don't understand emotional people. They are always trying to turn us into practical people. They are constantly haranguing us to become practical.

They don't get us. They don't understand that, for us, a walk along the Rideau Canal on a sunny day is more important than meeting the tax filing deadline. That we don't have to check the bus schedule because we can just chill out on Slater Street until the next 95 Baseline comes along. That if Loblaws is out of grapefruit we just grab some oranges and that two minutes of friendly banter with an affable store clerk is worth much more than a bunch of supermarket loyalty card points. That we can't work a smartphone and have never downloaded an app. That we cook by feel and never read a recipe.

Which brings me back to happiness.

I have a good friend who is a psychotherapist with the British National Health Service. We used to go down the pub and, as I found his work fascinating, we talked about it often.

And after all those chats, I have figured out that the key to happiness (or at least good mental health) is self-awareness.

It's not necessary to be perfect. You may even be a bit messed up. But so long as you are self-aware, as long as you can step back and see who and what you truly are you will be all right.

Emotional people, for all our faults, are generally self-aware.

Practical people, for all their perfections, are generally not.

So, to practical people, I say look in the mirror, step back, look at yourself and question "who am I and have I done anything really interesting recently?"

And, if you do that, we emotional people promise to file our taxes on time.

Ottawa: Creative Capital of the World?



Having recently returned to Ottawa after 10 years working abroad, I have been thinking about this city.

And I think Ottawa has the potential to be the creative capital of Canada and, perhaps, the world.

This may sound odd. Everyone knows that Ottawa is as dull as dishwater, everybody works at boring government jobs, and they roll up the sidewalks before the sun goes down.

But it's not true.

Ottawa is actually one of the coolest, funkiest places on Earth.

I have lived, worked or visited most major cities in the world and Ottawa has the best environment for creativity than any city I have seen.

There are two reasons: cost and freedom.

It doesn't cost much to live in Ottawa.

I currently have a lovely bachelor apartment in a fine, well-managed building in Centretown. For the rent I'm paying, when I lived in London, England, I would be hard pressed to find a house-share with half a dozen other people in a dodgy neighbourhood.

And creativity requires cheapness.

The Beatles came out of Liverpool because they could live there on next to no money while they honed their craft. The Rolling Stones popped up from East London when it was run down, but as cheap as chips.

Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and others moved to Paris in the 1920s, not to see the sights. They went there because they could live for next to no money and pursue their writing.

Ottawa is like that.

If you can get a full-time job, even at the minimum wage, you can support yourself while you do what you need to do to launch a band, become a painter, write a novel, a screenplay, or some music.

You can't do that in the major cities. Which is why, except for established big-name stars, there is no new creativity coming out of London, Paris or New York. You can't live in these cities working in a coffee shop. If you're not a high-income investment banker or a heart surgeon or some such thing, you can't survive.

But you can in Ottawa.

The second thing is that, of all the many places I have been in my life, Ottawa is the most free and open.

If you walk down the street in London talking to yourself, people look at you funny. Talk to yourself in Paris and the police will be on you.

Walk down Elgin or Bank in Ottawa and nobody cares. It's your business and you ain't hurting anyone so nobody thinks a thing about it.

And you can dress the way you want. In the so-called "world class" cities, everybody dresses the same. In London the girls are all in skinny jeans and the guys in cheap suits with expensive shoes. Paris is all about the latest look from the catwalk. Lisbon is frumpy but kind. Toronto is run-down and shabby. Vancouver is outdoorsy. Amsterdam is beautiful people in simple clothes.

But Ottawa is everything.

I look at people going by and they're in all manner of stuff – bike shorts, jeans, shorts, all manner of shirts, odd hats, interesting accessories, t-shirts with provocative slogans, flip-flops in January.

There is no single look. No pressure to conform.

It's Ottawa and you can do your own thing.

Which is why I think Ottawa could be a creative capital.

I would like to think that, at some point, we might get to a time where creative people across the country might think to themselves "I need a place where I can support myself while pursuing my artistic passion, so I'm headed to Ottawa."

Dare to dream.