Unfamiliar Territory

Walking alone on this barren highway sporting a gimp knee and a broken cellphone has me wondering how I’d gotten myself into this ridiculous predicament. I like to consider myself a street-savvy intellectual, or at least a guy with more common sense than your average bear. It’s not in my nature to have my judgment clouded by the presence of someone else, especially if that someone is of the opposite sex. Thought I’d learned THAT lesson after finding out my ex was moonlighting as an “exotic dancer” downtown instead of working night shifts as a hotel receptionist.

            But alas, here I am, bruised up and freezing my dick off in the middle of nowhere because of some broad. It’s a murky mid-December night, just a week or so before Christmas, and it has to be at least negative twenty Celsius. It’s snowing, and not that light fluffy flurry kind of snow but that nasty, wet, heavy kind of shit that soaks right through the “waterproof” fibers of the coat you spent two hundred clams on. Fucking SportChek. I guess it’s better this situation went down before the holidays and not after, saves me buying the bitch a present.

            You may think that sounds a little harsh, but once you hear the reasoning behind my vulgar language; you might understand where I’m coming from. Her name is Trisha. We started out just like most mid-twenties lovebirds do, you know, you meet that cute guy/girl at the party, have a few laughs, get a little drunk and decide it’s a good idea to have sloppy unprotected sex in the closet. All right, maybe that’s not how MOST couple’s start out, but it happens.

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            Her robin egg eyes flash out from behind thick mascara and Geisha fan lashes. Her matte ruby lips curve up into a permanent semi-smirk that looks different depending on what side of her face she favors that day. Her most striking feature is the one she takes the most pride in, her runway-model eyebrows that make women envious and men intimidated. Crazed ink-black hair frames her sharp features, tumbling down onto her old band shirt and ripped plaid button-up. She has an edge, but her singsong tone and playful arm touches give you that shimmer of hope that she might be a nice girl to bring home to your folks. Such is not the case, as I would soon discover.

            “You make me smile, I like that,” she cooed, smoke trailing from the corners of her mouth. It was a crisp fall day a couple of months ago. We’d been seeing each other for a few of weeks, and I figured I’d managed to land myself the perfect female situation. Nights at each other’s places alternated from one day to the next, binge-watching Netflix while having beer chugging contests and fooling around on the couch in between spliff sessions. I would breathe in her scent on my pillow after she’d left, cigarettes and green apple shampoo. She was fun and unpredictable, a serious change of pace from my last relationship.

“I want to tell my friends that I’m seeing somebody. I want to be yours,” she stated, her wolf stare seemingly piercing it’s way into my thoughts. This was only a week after she’d said she wanted to take things slow. I was constantly confused and generally irritated, but she had me pegged. I did my best to play it cool, but she sliced through my nonchalant front like a knife through butter at room temp. There was nothing I could do.

“You’ve always been mine, baby.” I crooned slyly. She rolled her eyes and sparked another butt, keeping me in her sights. She didn’t take any of my bullshit. I liked that.

And I was hers.

Things intensified quickly. We’d be laughing one minute and screaming at each other the next, from things as simple as me asking her to put her mug in the sink to her accusing me of leaving her place early to see another girl. One day she would wake me up by stroking my chest and making me coffee, and the next she would be gone before I’d opened my eyes.

“You should come over.”

She was hammered. I was walking home from my buddy Cory’s place when she phoned me. I held my gaze on the caller display for a second, pondering what it could be about this time. She’d said that morning when we woke up that she was going to her friend Jenna’s place for hot tub drinks.

This made me cringe because the last time she was there I received calls throughout the night from the two of them. Topics ranged from “We’re in the hot tub…and we don’t have our bikinis on,” to “You should come over. And bring your camera.”

I know what you’re thinking.

 You’re thinking, dude, why the hell wouldn’t you strap on a jetpack or steal a nearby derby horse and get your lucky ass over there? Ill tell you why.  I didn’t go over there because I knew they were full of shit.

You see, Jenna is essentially just like Trish, minus the brains. She’s like a bimbo Barbie version with bigger tits and eyes with more glaze than a Krispy Kreme original. Get those two together with a bottle of Sourpuss and you’re in for a mindless, ear drum-busting time. So, yeah, I didn’t end up going, mostly to preserve what little sanity I have left.

Anyhoo, let’s get back to the story. She had just called and asked me to come over.

“Uhh, sure,” I replied with caution, “Is everything ok? I thought you were at Jenna’s.”

“Just shut up and come over, ok?” she hissed, and then her tone dropped to an innocent-yet-seductive drawl,

“I need you.”

Have you ever been annoyed and turned on at the same time?

I have.

“Alright, I’ll be there in twenty,” I sighed, shaking my head with a stupid grin on my face. I swear this girl was turning me into some kind of bipolar whacko with an emotional imbalance. Or maybe I was just pussy-whipped. Either way, it disgusted me, but I was far from able to break her spell.

I showed up outside of her apartment just as her friend Garrett pulled in with his Miata. He’s had a thing for her for years but is so deep into the friendzone that it hurts. I almost feel sorry for him, but in the grand scheme of things, she’s probably doing him a favour.

She hopped out of the car and slammed the door without saying a word. He looked dejected, but unsurprised, and peeled off with a screech, the smell of burnt rubber singing my nostrils. She locked eyes with me and swayed her hand in front of her for me to hold. Of course…

I obliged.

Her fingers weaved themselves around mine and she rested her head on my shoulder, rubbing her nose into my collarbone. Her green apple-whisky scent swept away the remains of Garrett’s great escape.

We made our way to the elevator. “Was everything okay at Jenna’s?” I asked, “I thought you were gonna crash there.”

She glowered at me from behind those lashes, her purple eye shadow intensifying her spectacular blues and aquamarines. 

“Why can’t you just be glad I called? Maybe I just got bored and wanted to see you…” she trailed off with a half eye roll. Her lips morphed into a pout, that kind of pout that you know is false, but one that you’d do anything to fix.

 In case she really was broken.  

“Of course I’m glad,” I said, placing my arm around her shoulders “Let’s head upstairs.”

We hit the couch hard, making out furiously. As my hand started to slide slowly past her tailbone and under her belt, she pulled back and locked me in her Basilisk stare, slowly undoing my fly buttons, one by one. I was ready to grab her by the waist and flip her over when she stopped. Her face changed from sex-crazy to deep thought mode, and I could already feel the immanent blue balls setting in.

I picked her up and put her beside me with a sigh, , thinking of anything I could to settle my raging…hormones.

Before I could ask her what was wrong, she clutched my face and got really close. She definitely wasn’t looking for more smooches.

“We have to go on an adventure. Right now.”

I knew from the start that Trisha was an impulsive person, and any other time she’d wanted to go on an ‘adventure’ I would take her down to the beach. We’d get stoned and go skinny-dipping or something. I knew this time would be different.

She stood up and did a ballerina pirouette, “Let’s go hitchhiking!”

I laughed. She didn’t.

“Oh, you’re serious,” I said when she became stone-faced. “Where, exactly?”

She looked at me like I had some kind of growth sprouting from the top of my head. “Uhh, wherever we feel like? It’s called being spontaneous.”

I took a deep breath in, “Trish, I have responsibilities here. I have a job. I have bills to pay. How am I supposed to just up and leave?”

She stared at me for a second, and then looked down, shaking her head.

“Whatever. You’re obviously not who I thought you were. If you’re gonna sit there like some kind of clueless pussy, you can just leave.”

This idea was insane. She was insane…

And so was my next decision.

It was three days into our little excursion. We’d managed to get from downtown Ottawa to a town close to the New Brunswick border. It was a good -10°C and sheets of wet snow were frosting me like a coconut cream cake. Trish was working her thumb magic, still managing to look enticing with a thick parka and hood on. The day before was warmer so she was able to lure drivers in for a closer look at her cleavage. It was an advantage to say the least.

The trip had actually gone pretty well so far. Aside from the standard bickering over stupid little things, like the necessity of stopping to buy makeup or the grossness level of pissing in a bottle, we were getting along swimmingly.  That is, until Jeff picked us up.

And by us, of course, I essentially mean he picked up Trish. I just happened to be there. He didn’t like it, and I didn’t like him. He looked like a modernized 80’s glam rocker, with flowing blonde locks tied up in a ‘man-bun’ and soulful brown eyes. His face stubble was perfectly even and free of patches, and he was dressed to impress without looking pretentious.

I guess I’m biased. I think everyone rocking a man bun has a much higher chance of being an asshole. It also didn’t help that he was naturally hilarious and had a speaking voice that sounded like a mix of Morgan Freeman and a fucking angel. Or that Trish took a visibly obvious shining to him as soon as we got into his mint F-150. Yeah, I was jealous. Whatever.

We’d been on the road with Jeff for a couple of hours and I was ready to jump out of the truck onto the middle of the highway. Trish had elected to sit shotgun instead of in the back with me after a quick rest stop. They were talking and laughing and having a grand ol’ time up there, and I was in the back playing the one-man quiet game. Any time I tried to add to the conversation, one of them would cut me off. It was like high school all over again.

Eventually, I’d had enough.

We stopped at a gas station to fill up, and Trish had gone to take a leak; but not before giving Jeff’s shoulder a little caress on the way there. I waited until she was out of sight and approached him at the pump.

“Thanks again for helping us out man,” I began.

“Not a problem big guy,” blurted Jeff, cutting me off once again, “Who could resist picking that up.”

He jutted his thumb in the direction Trish had just walked in. This didn’t make me happy.

“I think you should watch your mouth,” I sneered, “She’s with me. Show some respect.”

He guffawed, and the jolly twinkle in his eye faded away.

“If she’s yours, why does she clearly want me?”

 My hands clenched into fists and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. My face was so close to his that I could feel him breathe through his nose.

“Say that one more time you David Bowie-looking bitch.”

He put the pump back in its’ holster and calmly turned around to face me once again, whispering “She. Wants. My. Dick.”   

I saw red.

The next thing I knew, he was on his back and Trish was screaming at me. I didn’t know what she was saying because I was just starting to come-to and my knee was killing me. Jeff must’ve got a couple good shots in. I tried to calm her down and explain what he’d said, but she wouldn’t have it.

“I knew doing this with you was a mistake,” she screeched “You’re so fucking predictable! I can’t believe you hit him!”

Jeff was on his feet again, and got back into the truck.

“Come on Trish, let’s leave this duster to fend for himself. He obviously thinks he’ll be fine on his own.”

I wished to have a baseball bat more than anything at that moment to give Apple Auto Glass some business. Trish swiped my cell out of my hand and hopped into the passenger side, slamming the door and rolling the window down.

“We’re done,” she called out, “and this is just to make sure that I don’t have to deal with any more of your shit!”

She whipped my phone at the ground, smashing the screen and popping the battery out. Jeff tore away at top speed, laughing his ass off.

And she was gone.

So here I am, in the middle of some shitty French-Canadian town with a gimp knee and a broken cellphone. I would blame this all on bad luck, but I know it’s my fault. Moral of the story: don’t fall for crazy people. It’ll come back to bite you.

Oh and also…

Don’t rock a man bun.

Only assholes rock man buns.

Chef, writer, musician and wild child, an avid adventurer in the world of gastronomy. Alex has a passion for food, and expresses that passion through cooking, writing and teaching. His body is a temple, built on brioche, burgers and bourbon. He refuses to serve a steak well done.

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Savoury Salmon

During the years of my early childhood, my parents and I would travel to York Beach, Maine every summer. This little town is the setting for some of my most cherished memories. Picnics on the shore, Skee-Ball at the old arcade, and saltwater taffy at the Goldenrod restaurant were all integral parts of growing up for me.

However, what may have had the biggest impact of all is the connection I developed with the ocean over the course of these visits. Not only did I fall in love with its crashing waves, invigorating briny smell and vast expansiveness, but also the bounty that the ocean provides. Maine was where I was first introduced to seafood, and since then, if you’ll pardon the expression, I’ve been hooked.


The first seafood dish that I can remember having was crispy maple and mustard glazed salmon. Not exactly something that one would consider being a child-friendly dish, right? Keep in mind that my palate as a kid wasn’t exactly on an average level. I was ordering roasted free-range chicken and quinoa while everyone else my age was munching on chicken fingers and fries.

I remember being amazed by the salmon’s flavour, the colour and the variation of textures. It was sweet, salty and rich, its moist centre contrasted by a beautiful crisp skin. With just a squeeze of lemon to add brightness and acidity, the humble salmon filet had become something magical. This may have been the moment that I realized not only my passion for seafood, but food in general. I wanted nothing more than to know how to make it myself.

Somehow, my dad managed to get the chef to let me into the kitchen when we went back to the restaurant the next day. It felt like I’d just crossed over the plane into some kind of wonderland. I was enveloped with the sounds, smells and heat of the line, and I was ready to learn.

The chef patiently showed me how to cook salmon and achieve crispness on the skin. After oiling the pan and getting it nice and smoking hot, the fish, upon being seasoned with salt, pepper and Old Bay, is laid gently into the pan skin-side down. The high heat cooks the skin quickly, essentially creating a sear. You know it’s crisp when it can slide around the pan freely. The filet is then flipped, and the pan is placed in the oven to cook through. After a few minutes in the oven, the fish is glazed with sauce in the pan, and served skin-side up.

It astounded me how simple a process it was, and I believe learning it first-hand is what ignited my love for cooking.  When I open my restaurant, I’ll already know what the first item on the menu is going to be…crispy maple and mustard glazed salmon.

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Chef, writer, musician and wild child, an avid adventurer in the world of gastronomy. Alex has a passion for food, and expresses that passion through cooking, writing and teaching. His body is a temple, built on brioche, burgers and bourbon. He refuses to serve a steak well done.

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Steak Science

The word "steak’" has the ability to conjure up several images: Fire, charcoal, blood and sizzling fat - these words can make the mouth of any true carnivore water. There’s also a word that may not seem like it relates to steak, but it’s the key to the perfect finished product.


To grill up the perfect piece of meat, you need to know the science behind it. Achieving that perfect medium rare, with a delicious browned exterior and precise seasoning is essentially a scientific formula. My family and friends have dubbed me “King of the Grill,” and I’m about to tell you the secrets behind my fame.

The first goal you need to reach in the quest for perfect steak is a balanced and flavourful seasoning blend. This not only determines what the crust of your steak is going to taste like, it will also affect how well you are able to sear the meat. Getting a proper sear is what seals in the cut’s precious juices, and is how you achieve the perfect textural contrast. The right amount of salt, enhanced by flavours such as black pepper, chili powder and espresso (my favourites), will extract the natural sugars of the meat. These sugars are then browned, or "caramelized," and develop a crisp crust with intense flavour.

After I crustify my steak, (usually rib eye; I like the richness that comes from its heavy fat marbling,) I turn the heat down to low and place it on the top rack. Indirect heat is the only way to cook the interior of the meat slowly enough to gauge its temperature effectively. My method for hitting that gorgeous dark pink medium-rare is old school. I press the tip of my middle finger into my thumb. The firmness of the ball of my hand is the firmness that I want to feel when I touch the center of the steak.

The final and potentially most important step in this process is allowing the steak to "rest."  When meat is taken off the heat, the interior juices are still agitated. Cutting into it too early will release these juices, drying out the meat. Allowing these juices to settle into the proteins of the steak will ensure tenderness and moisture, with that ever-evasive but wonderful deep pink colour.

Happy grilling, carnivores!

Chef, writer, musician and wild child, an avid adventurer in the world of gastronomy. Alex has a passion for food, and expresses that passion through cooking, writing and teaching. His body is a temple, built on brioche, burgers and bourbon. He refuses to serve a steak well done.

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Indian Spice and Everything Nice

Indian cuisine is one of the most diverse on the planet. Not only is it different depending on what region it comes from, but it can be combined with many other cuisines to create fusion. Indian food is all about bold flavours and creating a balance between heat, richness and acidity. Butter chicken, an iconic Indian dish, is made with butter and cream for richness, tomato for acidity and spices such as cayenne and chili for heat. Striking a perfect balance between these three elements is what makes dishes like these so popular and versatile.

No matter what kind of regional delicacy is being crafted, chances are that its base flavour is rooted in a hot, savoury spice blend known as garam masala. The beauty of this pungent concoction is that each one is different depending on who makes it. Garam masala is typically a family recipe, handed down from generation to generation. It is the pride and joy of Indian chefs and home cooks alike, and the ingredients are usually kept secret.

The reason garam masala can differ so much from one blend to the next is that so many spices can go into it. Essentials include cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. Custom additions may include ginger, garlic, star anise, saffron, mace, bay leaf, turmeric and many others.

It is also important to toast the garam masala before use in order to bring out the oils and fortify the flavour. This process is similar to that of caramelization in which the sugars in a product are extracted and darkened by heat, which intensifies its flavour profile and adds sweetness.

Garam masala can be made into two forms; powder or paste. Powder is the easiest to make and is the most common. It is usually added to a dish later in the cooking process. It’s done simply by grinding each individual spice and mixing them all together. The paste version is made by cooking down the powdered spice blend with water, vinegar or coconut milk. Garam masala paste is usually integrated into the dish at the start of cooking because it provides such a concentrated flavour.

For recipe ideas, follow this link and try your hand at using one of the most popular and versatile spices in the world!

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Chef, writer, musician and wild child, an avid adventurer in the world of gastronomy. Alex has a passion for food, and expresses that passion through cooking, writing and teaching. His body is a temple, built on brioche, burgers and bourbon. He refuses to serve a steak well done.

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Supreme Shawarma

As a proud Canadian and self-proclaimed foodie, I marvel at the cultural diversity of the cuisine found across Ottawa. Being an avid cook and culinarian, I’ve done my best to stretch my time and budget in order to try as many different restaurants from assorted cultures as possible.

In the sea of gastronomic options, one rises above the rest when it comes to eateries per square mile. Shawarma shops can be found on practically every street in the city, and each is unique in its way of sandwich preparation.

Some are definitely more authentic than others in terms of ingredients and technique. These places, Castle Shawarma on Rideau for example, attract loyal regulars that will proclaim it as “the best in the city” and refuse to eat shawarma anywhere else! This probably has something to do with the large Lebanese community based in Ottawa. If anyone would know authentic Lebanese food, it’s someone with linked cultural roots!

Many ingredients go into a proper shawarma, but three in particular need to be prepared perfectly if the sandwich is going to be spot on.

Pita bread is the first thing you bite into when eating a shawarma. It’s what holds everything together; it’s what keeps your sandwich safe. Respect the pita -- and respect its textural purpose. A good pita should be just thick enough to retain all of the shawarma’s saucy gloriousness. It should have a pleasant chew, taste fresh and, most importantly, have a crisp exterior. All of these elements together are what make shawarma so deliciously portable.

Best Pita: Shawarma Palace on Carling. Fresh and crispy.

Shawarma usually comes with two meat options, beef being one of them. But any pro knows that chicken shawarma is king, and if it’s going to be fit for a king, that chicken better be juicy and well-seasoned. Every restaurant has its own blend of spices, usually stemming from an old family recipe. Moist chicken with a tasty, spicy bark from the rotisserie is essential.

Best Chicken: Shawarma Heaven in Barrhaven. Juicy and flavourful.

Finally, the crowning achievement of great shawarma joints everywhere: garlic sauce. It should be thick, creamy, well-seasoned and packed full of garlic. This is what makes shawarma craving-worthy.

Best Sauce: Castle Shawarma on Rideau. Comes in three varieties: regular, spicy and oregano.


Chef, writer, musician and wild child, an avid adventurer in the world of gastronomy. Alex has a passion for food, and expresses that passion through cooking, writing and teaching. His body is a temple, built on brioche, burgers and bourbon. He refuses to serve a steak well done.

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