Coins, Toasters and ToastmastersThursday, December 15, 2011
In 1965 my friend John Sullivan and I were both doing our military service in Buenos Aires. He was in the army and I was in the navy. Because of our English we both had semi-cushy jobs as translators - he in the Ministry of War, me with the Senior US Naval Advisory Group.
We had our tricks to work less. At the time I was staying at John’s house in Belgrano so we both took the train to the massive Retiro Station downtown. We had befriended the Jefe de Plataforma so he would issue us a couple of official documents attesting that our train had arrived 45 minutes late. We would then go to the plush, polished-wood-everywhere, circa 1930, English style restaurant (very much like the one in Scorsese’s Hugo. Waiters in pristine uniforms would serve us cafes con leche and tostadas with unsalted butter and jam. Tostadas are the Argentine version of toast. Huge, almost a foot wide loafs are sliced and then in half again. These slices of toast, without their crusts occupied a huge dinner plate. We would then plunge them into our cafes con leches. By the time we each arrived at our offices with document in hand there was nothing that anybody could do to punish us for our lateness.
Just the other day I was thinking of the great Brazilan star forward, Tostão (Eduardo Gonçalves de Andrade) who played in the early 70s for the Brazilian National Soccer Team. Unlike Pelé, Tostão was very white so I had my suspicion that his nickname had something to do with the joke that the pale one was lightly toasted. But that was not the case, I have recently discovered. The meaning of the word is a little coin or exactly a tenth of a Cruzeiro. It seems that as a young boy in primary school he scored 45 goals in one game! The goals came in like a shower of coins and is my guess for the origin of his nickname.
Some ten years ago I met local businessman John O’Sullivan through the business magazine Equity. O’Sullivan was championing then and now a special seismic gas valve,. It was ti be installed where the city gas line connects to your house and during an earthquake the valve will automatically shut off your gas using a simple device of a ball bearing that falls (and blocks the access of gas) on your line with any shake. At the time O’Sullivan was having problems with BC Hydro/Gas convincing them at the relative economy of the device. The problem, if I remember well, is that the slightest jolt would render the pilot light of your home furnace inoperative until Hydro showed up.
O’Sullivan’s talent was that of being a persuasive speaker. In fact he is one of our city’s best Toastmasters.
I remember that some 20 years ago I went to Kyuquot on the northern coast of Vancouver Island. It was a small fishing village that occupied a small island. It was an Native Canadian Reserve and I was there for a weekend to teach photography for Emily Carr’s Outreach Program. The island had no electric power except for very noisy generators that were turned on mid morning. This meant that for breakfast I toasted my bread on the gas stove. Anybody who has ever tried this will know that there is a peculiar (some like it, some not) taste and smell to gas-upped toast! When I was toasting my bread it brought memories of the process in our Buenos Aires kitchen in the late 40s. We had prepared our breakfast bread in the same way until my father arrived one day with one of those toasters that had two hinged doors on either side. To toast bread you could only do one side of the bread at the time. But the bread did not have that smell or taste of the previously gassed toast.
In Mexico I had to modify my Argentine Spanish. Tostadas, Argentine for toast, were fried tortillas. Toast was pan tostado. My fave was of course made from Pan Bimbo (¡Bimbo, pan Bimbo, que delicioso es Bimbo!). It was about then that I found out that dunking buttered toast in strong tea in some way enhance the taste of tea. Even now I sometimes put a bit of butter in my tea. It seems that the Tibetans have known of this for centuries.
It was in the early 70s that Rosemary and I would visit my Tía Fermina who had acquired from the US a toaster oven. We were jealous but enjoyed the crackers she would place in her toaster oven with Mexican Chihuahua or Oaxaca cheese.
When we arrived in Vancouver, we were able to finally get that toaster oven. I rapidly ruined the chrome finish of that one! I do not remember why it is that we no longer have one. I guess our oven is very efficient and we can place crackers with cheese of bread with cheese and do it efficiently. When I broil bread with my favourite German Gruyere type cheese I remember that Captain Aubrey and Doctor have their very own toasted cheese prepared by Killick, (Killick! Killick, there!” “Which I’m bringing the toasted cheese, ain’t I?”)on board the HMS Surprise before playing their violin and 'cello.
|Menu from here|
Last Thursday my friend John Lekich and I were invited for drinks at the Wedgewood Hotel. We met up with five very beautiful women (the one handsome man does not count here), all were blondes except for a redhead. One was a most interesting dental hygienist who resembled a heavy metal version of the Modernettes’s Mary-Jo Kopechne. The redhead gave me her card on which I read the enigmatic name, Divine Miss Jones. We would have lingered as the company was pleasant and very easy to the eye. But I had to leave. I had a romantic date with my wife to buy a toaster.
For close to 15 years my Rosemary and I have indulged in a daily ritual/routine of breakfast in bed. We alternate the making of the breakfast. We have a large and fine Filipino wicker tray. Besides our tea (me) coffee (she) and juice there is the toast. She has it with jam or honey and I have mine plain with unsalted butter. We alternate reading the NY Times and the Vancouver Sun, both made from dead trees.
Since the ritual began we have been plagued by bad toasters that either burned the toast or simply warmed the bread. And worst of all it took a lot of time in the process. I researched the subject and located a T-fal two toast toaster rated at 1200 watts and advertising as toasting in 40% of the usual time. In the picture here you can see the result. The upper English muffin took four minutes and the lower one 7.
John Lekich and I left the company of the women at the Wedgewood. I took John home and from there I picked up Rosemary and we both went to our romantic date at Canadian Tire where we bought our, we hope, our final and ultimate toaster.
|John O'Sullivan's valve|
I have never been able to locate my old friend John Sullivan but John O’Sullivan can still be found here. And he is still selling his miracle valve.
Addendum: In 1967 I was complaining to my cousin Roberto Miranda in Mexico City that I would never be able to become a photographer as I had no darkroom. He asked me, "What do you need?" I answered with a long list. He produced from his wallet an American Express Card and told me, "Let's go an buy it." Roberto had a good salary as he was the rep for T-fal non stick frying pans in the city. It was due to my cousin that I became the photographer that I am today.