“How are you doing, Mrs March?”

When I moved to Toronto to attend university, my first summer job was in the box office of a big theatre.

About once a week, usually at lunchtime, a woman named Mrs March would come in to pick up a batch of tickets. We all dreaded her arrival and would scramble NOT to be at the window serving her — she was grumpy, officious, and never satisfied. There was always something wrong with the order and she would unleash her considerable wrath on whatever hapless soul was on the other side of the glass from her.

3e4462c86b35287d4458b87e8bf8998cInevitably my turn came, and as Mrs March stood there huffing and blowing and looking at her watch, I became more and more unglued.

The computer system was especially slow that day (and this was in the very early days of computers to begin with) and the ticket printer was one of those clunky old dot matrix things that jammed frequently.

Predictably, Mrs March lost it.

And for whatever reason, instead of taking it to heart, I took a deep breath and said, “It sounds like you’re having an awful day.”

There was a pause, during which I confess I thought, “Oh shit. I’m in for it now…”


Mrs March’s boss, apparently.

And then Mrs March blinked and said, “Yes. Oh my goodness, yes, it’s been a dreadful day. It really has.”

She told me that she worked for an incredibly demanding boss who didn’t treat her very nicely — whenever she picked up his tickets from us and took them back to him, he would find some fault (the seats were not to his satisfaction, Mrs March had taken too long on her lunch-hour [!] picking them up…) and then belittle her.

As she spoke, and as I listened, I could see the tension and anger drain out of her. By the time the printer finished grinding and rasping and I handed her the packet of tickets, she was actually smiling a little.

She put the tickets into her purse and as she turned to go, she said “Thank you, dear.”


A good listener can be as soothing as a nice cuppa.

And I replied that she was welcome, and that I would see her next time, and she smiled a bit at that, too. We never had another problem, and Mrs March became someone we all actually looked forward to seeing. I always asked how her day was going, and sometimes it was terrible and sometimes it wasn’t. But our exchanges over the ticket window became something she clearly looked forward to now, and truth be told, so did I. She was actually a very funny woman with a dry sense of humour that I came to relish, and sometimes we’d be laughing like old chums as we waited for that infernal printer to finish its grinding and buzzing.

That was, of course, many years ago, but I think often about that lesson — how simply asking someone “How are you doing?” and then listening to the answer, can be so incredibly powerful.



Chef Smiter’s “Clean out the fridge” frittata

This is one of those things that I make every couple of weeks or so when I look in the fridge and realize I’ve got little odds & ends of things, little containers of this & that, and am stuck on what to make for dinner.


I’ve gotta frittata.

The recipe & instructions are below — just scroll down to the list & you’ll find it all laid out for you. But first, the basics, in case you’re new to the frittata game.

Since the basis for a frittata is eggs, you’ll need first of all to make sure you’ve got about eight of them.

The second thing is potatoes — usually my “Make a Frittata!” button is activated when I’ve got a container of cold leftover boiled potatoes.

Third, you’ll want a good, big, oven-safe frying pan — cast iron is ideal, but basically you just need a heavy one with a handle that won’t burn or melt in the oven.

The whole thing takes just under an hour from “Hmmm… what’s in the fridge?” to “OMG, this is TEH AWESOME! Nom nom nom…”.

What you need:

(All measures are approximate — tinker & add or subtract as ingredients & ideas present themselves)

  • About 8 eggs
  • 1/2 cup or so of shredded cheese (cheddar is great)
  • 1 1/2 cups boiled potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 good-sized onion, diced
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed & chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • dash of ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp each of dried oregano, basil & thyme (fresh is fine too)

Other goodies: crumbled cooked bacon; cooked spinach (drained / squeezed well); red, orange, and/or green peppers; chipotle or jalapeno peppers; kale, chopped and steamed; chopped tomatoes; broccoli bits, steamed…

What to do:

Preheat your oven to 375F.

  1. If you’re using bacon, cook that first in your cast-iron pan (on the stove top, obviously). When it’s done, roll it in paper towel to drain it and set it aside. You will use some of the bacon grease as the oil in your pan for step 2.
  2. Add the chopped onions and garlic into the pan and fry till just soft. If you’re not using bacon, then use vegetable oil to grease up the pan.
  3. While this is cooking, beat the eggs, salt and pepper in a big bowl. Smash the hell out of them. Stress release is good. 🙂
  4. Stir the cheese into the eggs. Keep an eye on the cooking onions & garlic. Fire is NOT good for stress.
  5. When the onions & garlic are just starting to sizzle, add in any crunchy vegetables you’ve got set aside — peppers, kale, broccoli. Cook these up till they’re just soft & starting to smell nice.
  6. Now put in the potato chunks.
  7. Add the spices. Seriously. Stir them around. (Someone taught me this tip years ago — adding the spices to the frying veg makes their flavours come out.)
  8. If you’ve got tomatoes, bung them in now. (“Bung” is a very scientific chef-type term. Aren’t you impressed with Dr. Smiter??)
  9. If you cooked bacon first, crumble that up & put it in. Forgetting the bacon is punishable by smiting.
  10. Have a look around the counters & other surfaces to make sure you’ve added in all the ingredients you set aside. (LET GO OF THE CAT, KARIN. That’s good. We don’t put our kitties in the dinner. Good Karin.)
  11. Pour the egg & cheese mixture into the pan with all the veg. Stir it up very gently. No more stress release for you here. (Chef tip: if you require further stress release at this point, your fridge probably contains a nice bottle of wine.)


    Anti-stress prescription

  12. Carefully slide the pan into the oven. CAUTION: the handle is going to be HOT. Use an oven glove. I learned this the hard way.
  13. Turn off the stove element you’ve been using (I also learned this the hard way).
  14. Set your oven timer for about 20-25 mins.
  15. Since this dish goes nicely with a side salad, now is a good time to prepare that.
  16. The frittata is done when it’s bubbling a bit on the top and a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove pan from oven (use oven mitt!), turn oven off (yes, learned that the hard way too), and set pan on a cooling rack or heat-proof board in a place where you won’t bump into it & burn the crap out of your arm or upend your dinner onto the floor.

Slice it the same way you would a pie. Amazingly, each slice will actually lift right out of the pan, especially those coated cast-iron ones.

Nice condiments for frittata, if you are in need, include salsa, HP Sauce, ketchup, hot sauce… again, whatever you like.

If you have leftovers, just lift them out onto a dinner plate, let them cool, cover with plastic wrap & store in the fridge. (Keeping stuff in a cast-iron pan is bad b/c your food will taste like an old shovel. Also it means you can’t use your pan…)

Serves 6-8, depending on how many teenagers you have in the house and how hungry everyone is. 🙂


  • 8 (2/3 of a dozen) eggs: maybe $3, depending on where you live / shop
  • cheese: maybe another $1, again depending on where you shop
  • assorted veg bits, onions: add another buck
  • bacon: add maybe 75 cents to a dollar, depending on whatever

So total is about $6.00, max, for a meal that serves either a single person for several days, or a family with kids for a night. Not bad at all.

Guten appetit!

~ Chef Smiter.





The long-lost cousin surprise


When I was a kid, my best friend was a boy called Scott.

From the age of about 4 on, we did almost everything together: riding bikes, fishing, hunting for bugs and bats, building forts in the huge field behind his house, and constructing elaborate bear traps. (The only — and best, and cutest — prey we ever caught was his little sister Sue, who stood patiently, if mildly outraged, in the 12-inch-deep hole we’d cleverly covered with sticks and pine needles, and waited for us to pounce on her.)

Me at Scott's sixth birthday party. I'm the one in the blue dress, and he's in the yellow shirt. I always coveted that watch.

Me at Scott’s sixth birthday party. I’m the one in the blue dress, and he’s in the yellow shirt. I always coveted that watch.

I was at Scott’s house almost constantly. He lived around the corner from me (his family still lives in the same house), and not only was his back yard the gateway to The Field, with its bugs, bats, rocks, trees, and endless hideouts, but his house had the coolest basement playroom I had ever seen: there was a playhouse that his dad had constructed (and in which poor long-suffering Susy was apparently tied up by Scott & his brother Mike more than once, netting her a lifelong fear of enclosed spaces — and of little boys armed with skipping ropes, I presume); there were fish tanks and books and rock polishing machines and tools and electronic things and toys and stuffies, and every board game known to humanity.

His mum also made the best meals and snacks: coloured popcorn swimming in butter, cookies, and bologna and mustard sandwiches that I would still kill for. More than once she turned a blind eye on Scott’s and my weird antics — trapping wasps in bubble gum and tormenting them to death with magnifying glasses in the hot sun, putting her Anne Murray record on 78rpm and then doing the “worm dance” in her living room to the sped-up version of “Snowbird”, and leaving Oreo cookies in the sun for the afternoon to see if the filling would expand. (It would. Delicious.)

On summer evenings, I would look up from dinner at my own (much, much less fun) house and see Scott and his younger brother Michael on their bikes, patiently waiting on my lawn for me to finish eating and join them. First stop was usually the corner store for candy, after which we’d go see what the local bully (a kid I’ll call “Stinson” because that was his name) was up to, or round up more kids for a neighbourhood-wide game of hide and seek that would go on till dark.

We were usually near each other in school photos. I like that he never made rabbit ears behind my head.

We were usually near each other in school photos. I like that he never made rabbit ears behind my head.

In a world where boy/girl friendships are viewed with a mix of hope and suspicion, it was assumed by all and sundry that Scott and I would marry. We discussed this one day, in fact, when we were 9 or 10 years old, and decided that while neither of us was really the marrying type, we would buy a house together and live in our individual halves: he would have his own messy half, I would have my own surreally tidy half, and we would each have our own laboratories, of course. We would meet on the veranda for meals and discussions, and possibly to peg crab-apples at the neighbours where circumstances warranted.

When we turned 13, though (Scott’s and my birthdays are 2 weeks apart), things came to an abrupt halt: my mum, who was fast losing her battle with mental illness, celebrated my entry into adolescence by proclaiming that all males were essentially rapists and forbidding me to play with, or even talk to, Scott ever again.

It must be clarified here that this had nothing whatsoever to do with Scott, who is about the least rapey human being you’d ever want to meet, and everything to do with my mother and the demons flitting about in her head. (Far be it from me to cast aspersions on people who live with mental illness; however, growing up at the mercy of a mentally ill parent is something else entirely. Most of my adolescence is a blur. I spent some time in a group home. ‘Nuff said.)

And for all intents and purposes, that was the end of that. Although I still thought of Scott every day, I wanted to put as much distance between me and my childhood and the city where I grew up as I possibly could. I bailed off to university and didn’t look back.

Except I did…

Fast forward a tiny bit now to me at age 21, when I met my birth mother (I’m adopted). We exchanged information and photos, and since we live in different countries and have little in common other than blood, we keep in touch mainly via the occasional phone call.

Fast forward a second time to summer 2011, when I joined Facebook. Among the folks who found me there was a guy named Chris whom I’d known in high school, although not well. He was in Scott’s circle of friends, and not mine — and you can see where this is going, can’t you?

Chris arranged a get-together with Scott and me and another friend in my old hometown (where Scott still lives), and it was like Scotty and I had never been apart. He walked into the restaurant and I almost knocked over my chair jumping up to greet him. He gives excellent bear hugs. It was one of the nicest things that’s ever happened to me. We were both older and bigger, and a bit more wrinkly about the jowls, but essentially nothing had changed. There may have been a fart joke or two at dinner.

I had some ‘splainin’ to do, however, about my absence. More than half a lifetime’s absence. I ‘splained. He understood, and I think it helped him to know that it was nothing he’d done. (This tore my heart out… it still does.)

But in many ways it was like no time had passed at all: since then, we’ve met a couple of times a month, typically. We go on day trips to used bookstores, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, and various model airplane shops and shows. Last summer we went to Point Pelee together to see the monarch butterfly migration, and this spring we went to Tobermory. We text each other most evenings to discuss Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead or whatever. It is an utterly platonic friendship — still unusual between men and women, granted — and it works. And how.

So this should be where my happy story ends, right?

Wrong. 🙂

About 10 weeks ago, I called my birth mother to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. During the call, I mentioned that I’d been to see Scott and his parents, and mentioned their last name: “I stayed at Mr and Mrs A’s house…”.

“Hang on a second — what was that name again?” my birth mother interrupted me.

I told her again. She said, “Do they have a relative called Linda?”

I texted Scott and his dad. The answer was immediate: Yes, they do.

And long (really long) story short, it turns out Scott and I are cousins.

Yep. Fancy that.

Cousin Lex.

Cousin Lex.

It’s taken a bit of getting used to. Although not as much as you’d think; it’s not like meeting strangers. His family are good people — very generous and low-key and welcoming (and also, his parents have this awesome cat called Lex) — and, well, it’s nice. It’s all still very fresh for me, and I still feel a bit dazed when I think about it all. I didn’t grow up with any sense of “family” or belonging at all, so using the f-word (the nice one) is going to take some time.

The hardest part? Catching myself saying “I was talking with my friend Scott” and subbing in the word “cousin.”My friend Ted suggested the word “frousin,” and I think I’ll try that for a while.

Here’s to friendship. And family.

The Cheap-Ass Gourmet: Steel-cut Oats, Smiter Style

Steel-cut oats seem to be all the rage right now: they’re tasty and nutritious and they stick to the ribs in the way that, say, Cocoa Puffs don’t.

Mornings. No.

Mornings. No.

Trouble is, they take forever to make. I don’t know about you, but if I have to wait 45 minutes before tucking into my breakfast, someone’s gonna get hurt.

An acquaintance of mine recently posted on Facebook that Trader Joe’s offers frozen “pucks” of steel-cut oats: they’re already cooked, so all you have to do is bung one of the things into the microwave and two minutes later you’ve got a nice tasty bowl of cereal.

And of course, this got Yours Truly thinking: if oatmeal can be cooked and refrigerated/frozen for later, what’s stopping ordinary shlubs like you and me from doing it ourselves and saving a few bucks?

oatmeal - 7Answer: nothing.

So I gave it a whirl, and I’m delighted to report 100% success.

Here’s what you do:


1) Obtain a tub of steel-cut oats. I use President’s Choice.

Double, double, toil and .. . oh, wait...

Double, double, toil and .. . oh, wait…

2) Cook oats according to directions.

3) Remove pot from stove and set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.

If just refrigerating:

a) Pour cooled oats into a handy Tupperware container (or storage thingamajig of your choice).

b) Refrigerate. Cut yourself a nice slice of oatmeal, as needed, and microwave in a bowl for 2 mins. Decorate with milk, brown sugar, butter, dried fruit, etc. Omnomnom.

If freezing:

Ready for deployment.

Ready for deployment.

a) You’ll need to make individual servings. Use smaller/single-serving Tupperwares (or whatever) and freeze.

b) Microwave yourself a serving, as needed (no need to thaw beforehand!), decorate and engulf (see above).

There, now. Wasn’t that easy?

Cost per serving:

1 container (approx. 6 cups) of oats: $4.99

To the microwave we go...

To the microwave we go…

So about 82 cents (1 cup) for a pot of oatmeal, which makes six or seven servings…

…and therefore about 13 – 14 cents per serving.

Unless you want to add in the cost of the water and electricity, in which case you probably should have a stiff shot of Scotch with those oats. 😉

~ Smiter out.