Tag Archives: family

A New Year Starting with Chaos; Ending with Thanks

By Jason Menard

You’re never too young or too old to learn. And as we welcome 2014, I’d like to offer a few lessons that I’ve had the fortune (both good and bad) to learn — and, in some cases — relearn as I say goodbye to what ended up being a life-altering 2013.

I’m not a woe is me guy. On this blog and in my social media feeds, I tend to avoid talking about my personal life. You’ll never read a “sigh” or see an open-ended statement that begs for a sympathetic response. What I do is try to offer solutions based upon my experiences — and while I prefer to talk about my professional or political interests, every once in a while it’s worthwhile to share something a little more private. Continue reading

In Hockey, Life, There’s No Place Like Home

By Jason Menard,

Whether your name is Dorothy or Dmitri, there really is no place like home.

In the wake of Alexander Burmistrov’s return to the KHL and Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision to forsake $77 million US to return to his homeland, the Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen looked into whether teams should be concerned about drafting and investing in Russian players. Continue reading

Delusions of Culinary Grandeur

By Jason Menard

I’ve discovered that the greatest thing those TV cooking shows serve up are delusions of culinary grandeur in people like me. But for every cooking nightmare they spawn, they’ve also helped to foster a dream-like world of excitement, flavour, and exposure to a world of food influences.

I admit it. I’m a Food Network addict. I can while away countless minutes watching any manner of food presentation on television. From Giada De Laurentis to Anthony Bourdain, from the Iron Chef to the Surreal Gourmet, I’m hooked on the concept of food preparation – and now I’ve deluded myself into believing that I can emulate what I see on TV.

After all, it seems so effortless. The fact that these people have honed their craft through years of slogging through the culinary trenches doesn’t seem to register to the average viewer like me. If we view it, we can do it.

Maybe I’m hearkening back to my youth, when Martin Yan would exhort, “if Yan can do it, so can you!” Of course, back then I was content to let mom and dad handle the cooking duties, so that latent passion for cooking lay dormant for many years. Even in my university years, when long days working at the student newspaper meant take-out took precedent over home cooking my idea of cooking was to pour some salsa over a chicken breast. When I got married, my wife ruled the kitchen – although I was a willing assistant who had my own set of meals in the rotation.

In the end, necessity truly is the mother of invention. And its father is clearly access to information. A few years back, my wife and I were involved in an accident that has left her with severe pain issues. As such, I’ve gladly taken up the slack in the kitchen and the Food Network has fuelled my delusions of culinary grandeur.

A recent meal? Tandoori chicken with saffron-infused basmati rice. If the ends justify the means, then the meal was a success – but the process of preparing the meal certainly didn’t come off as smoothly as the Man-Made Food broadcast made it seem it would. And that’s often the case. Exotic ideas that celebrity chefs pull off with flair and élan often don’t have the same sense of romance when you try to transfer that experience from the television screen to the dining room table. Yet despite the challenge (and the mass clean-up that resulted), I know I’ll be back in the kitchen trying out something new.

But at least I’m not alone in this passion. It seems that our increasing access to culinary television has broadened our perspectives on food as a whole. Meals and presentations that were once the exclusive domain of high-end restaurants have been demystified and made accessible to the average family. Ingredients once considered exotic are now commonplace on the local grocery store’s shelves.

Best of all, people are no longer will to settle for the status quo. My generation has truly embraced the foods and influences of a broad spectrum of cultures and our palettes have been improved because of it. We grew up in a Canadian society that was becoming increasingly multi-cultural. As such, we were able to take the staples we grew up with and accent them with ethnic influences that we were comfortable seeing as they were the ones our friends were growing up with. For us, it wasn’t about experimenting with food – it was about embracing our peers’ cultures as we embraced them as friends.

And we’re seeing that change commercially as well. Where not all that long ago Italian and Chinese restaurants were considered ethnic, we’re now inundated with a delectable panorama of dining options ranging from Lebanese to Peruvian to Ethiopian to Indian. Our culinary passport is now only restricted by our own threshold for experimentation!

So as our cultural influences expand, we’re introduced to new influences in our food. And then when you combine the proliferation of food-based television designed to make cooking accessible to the masses, you have an equation that allows average guys like me to believe that cooking for my family can be an event, not just a chore.

In the end, not all experiments turn out well, and I’ve had my fair share of disappointments. That will happen when one’s aspirations exceed one’s talents. I know I’ll continue to grow in the kitchen. Already I’ve come leaps and bounds – moving from dry chicken with salsa to hand-made Chicken Kiev or Marsala dishes. But the great thing is that there will never be a point where we’ve done it all.

There’s always room to grow, there’s always room to learn. Too often we shovel our food down without appreciating it. We take for granted what we’re eating, when we should be savouring it. And if food television has taught me anything, it’s been that food should be an experience.

So I’ll continue to emulate what I see on TV. After all, the worst thing these delusions of culinary grandeur can bring is a failed cooking experiment. But the potential reward that comes from making food an experience is one that my family and I can enjoy for years to come.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Matter of Perspective

By Jason Menard

One of the great things about life with my wife is the difference in our backgrounds – and our relationship has helped me to broaden my perspective on life. Oddly enough, I was reminded of this by the news that a new reality series focused on the creation of a new Menudo was in the offering.

That’s right. Menudo. Trust me, this will all make sense.

My wife is the daughter of a former diplomat. As such, much of her youth was spent living abroad: Algeria , Niger , Brazil , and Mexico . She spent a number of years in Mexico City , living at the embassy, but able to immerse herself in the language and the culture – a culture that included the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo.

For young pre-teen and early teen girls in that area of the world Menudo and similar band Timbiriche were music idols. Unfortunately, for young pre-teen and early teens in this neck of the woods Menudo’s impact was felt in a significantly different manner.

This first came to light when we were going through our collection of vinyl albums. Sifting through a stack of appropriately named dust jackets, I came across my wife’s collection of old albums. Our reactions were quite different — her eyes misted over with youthful memories; my eyes were wide with shock.

Now, it was at this time that I realized that I take my youthful influences for granted. Popular culture references that, to me, are common are, in fact, restricted only to a certain sub-section of people who lived during a specific time in that specific area. I had always, to a certain extent, assumed that because my wife and I are both Canadians and of the same age, we’d share many common experiences – much in the same way that I could easily relate with other friends and acquaintances that I had met. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I believe my, “I can’t believe you actually own this,” was met with an icy cold stare in return. Once that look thawed, it was followed by her asking how it was I knew of Menudo, growing up in the Great White North.

And here’s where our perspectives differed greatly. To many Canadian kids of a certain age, our exposure to Menudo was limited to breaks between Saturday morning cartoons. After getting fit with Mary Lou Retton, we’d then be subjected to perfectly coiffed, pastel-wearing young boys galavanting about in highly choreographed routines. To us, Menudo was nothing more than a cheesy, kid-friendly, boy-band precursor. But to my wife and her friends in Mexico they were so much more.

A band that was a source of mockery for us was an object of reverence for them. While we viewed them as disposable filler to be endured until Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends came on, in fact they were filling concert halls throughout the Latin world. We cried tears of laughter, they cried tears of idolatry.

Since that moment, the tables have been turned time and time again between our youthful experiences. Movies, music, and films that I view as iconic touchstones of my youth and carry the full weight of being cherished memories pass over my wife’s head as if they were light as a feather. Pop culture references, key literary experiences, and other character-defining moments are met with a quizzical look and quiet acceptance.

And, very quickly, it reinforced the notion that while two people, both of whom were born three months apart and only a few kilometers apart in Montreal, may arrive at the same destination, our perspectives can be drastically different based upon the route we’ve taken to arrive where we are. No version is right, no version is better – and the sharing of these journeys have allowed us to grow as individuals because we’re able to see beyond our own entrenched views and be more appreciative of the diversity and complexity of life.

But in the end, if we end up watching the Menudo reality show, we’ll probably still do so for two separate reasons. And while she’s recapturing fond memories of youth, I’ll probably be doing my best to stifle any grins and chuckles. After all, I’ve learned to respect her perspective – even if the view is slightly different than my own.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved