Archive for the ‘Food For Thought’ Category

Traditions lost: My virtual graduation

In Food For Thought on June 11, 2021 at 1:33 pm

For parents and students alike, there are few milestones in life as eagerly anticipated as graduation day. Whether you’ve completed high school, earned a college certificate or university degree, it’s a time of celebration and a day to mark your achievements. 

As someone who just received a master of fine arts, I realize I’ve come to the end of one road, but it’s the start of a new journey. Like all recent grads, I hope it leads to greater job and earning prospects in this ongoing pandemic economy. As writers, we can all dream. 

Yet somehow as I settled down in front of my computer, and navigated the various Facebook live and YouTube links, by the time they called my name, it all seemed very anti-climactic.

It certainly wasn’t the graduation I had envisioned when I signed up for grad school at the University of King’s College two years ago. As a finale, it was the opposite of my undergrad years at Ryerson decades ago. I still remember that sunny day: Nervously I rushed to pick up my gown at the assigned time and meeting point. Each graduating class lined up in alphabetical order and shuffled off to our seats where we patiently waited. Before it was our turn to parade across the stage and collect our parchments, there were bagpipers playing and inspiring speeches. A day filled with formalities – the epitome of pomp and ceremony for the benefit of all the students who had persevered with their studies, and friends and family who came to witness this acknowledgement of our accomplishments.

Without the companionship or comradery, one would expect for such an important ceremony, there’s something surreal about a virtual graduation. It felt like a symbol of traditions lost. There was no procession in academic regalia, no skyward tossing of mortarboards, no barrage of outdoor photos, no after party. It seemed strange to join hundreds of casual onlookers who tuned in live when I did, while others like my mom watched the replay. Did these fellow students huddle alone before their screens? Were they lacking a crowd of supporters and like myself informally outfitted in sweatpants? I wondered. 

In any case, the online event managed to inspire a sense of reflection and I found myself in quiet contemplation afterwards. On completing the arduous task of achieving our graduation goals, no doubt some students felt triumphant, refreshed and invigorated, while others may have felt cheated, and instead experienced melancholy and sentimental thoughts. 

If this pandemic has taught us anything, we have learned that even the loftiest of ivory towers can dismantle their centuries-old models and re-envision new practices. If one of the oldest academic institutions in Canada can pivot to an online learning model in record time, there’s no telling what other shifts can be made to affect important reforms. Although virtual classrooms are not for everyone, they have created more opportunities to access education without the additional costs of travel and residence. While affordable tuition continues to be an issue, these feats alone are worth celebrating. 

During my degree some of the most memorable moments happened outside of the classroom before lockdown interfered with the lives of countless students. Unexpected expanses of knowledge were somehow absorbed through osmosis, distilled through an opportune coffee break or chance meeting. Though I would have preferred to continue participating in person rather than be holed up inside my home office and tethered to a digital portal, I’m forever grateful to the university faculty, my mentors and classmates – fellow seekers on a voyage through reading, writing and higher learning.

I plan to return to those halls of academia sometime in the near future – if only to revisit the place where this journey began. Of course, this experience won’t be forgotten any time soon (my student loan payments will provide an ongoing reminder). Despite all these disruptions our eyes have been opened to limitless possibilities. Education has been our conduit to new ideas and innovation. Will we leave behind a legacy of positive change or a lasting impact for the better? It’s something to consider as we rush out into the future.

It’s 2020 at last!

In Food For Thought on January 1, 2021 at 6:40 pm

At times it seemed there was no end to 2020. Akin to Truffaut’s classic film 400 Blows, I often wondered, what else can happen this year?

With the sudden passing of my cherished godmother just after Christmas, there was no time to shop for Japanese groceries. Besides without our annual Oshogatsu festivities on New Year’s Day to attend, did it matter if I didn’t have mochi, azuki beans or gyoza at the ready?

Our New Year’s Day udon feast

Luckily I found a package of udon and added teriyaki tofu, tempura broccoli and roasted corn toppings and finished with a miso broth. Certainly a huge contrast to our usual all-day eating fest! And that’s not a bad thing. 

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu! Wishing you all the best for a healthy, happy and prosperous new year. May these dark days fall away from us and become brighter with each rising day.

NAJC Awards Grant

In Food For Thought on September 1, 2020 at 2:51 pm

We’re thrilled to announce Suzanne Hartmann is this year’s recipient of the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) Endowment Fund. Hartmann is a University of King’s College student in her second-year of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program and editor of Old Sage Hands. She has been awarded the 2020 Sports, Education, Arts Development (SEAD) grant for her MFA project titled Minyō Memories: Celebrating the Postwar Japanese Canadian Community in Toronto. 

Dancers celebrate Obon with traditional bon odori (Image by alphabetmn)

The project involves research and writing about the postwar Japanese Canadian community’s cultural and historical contributions to the Toronto landscape. Minyō Memories is told from Hartmann’s perspective as a mixed-heritage, fourth-generation Japanese Canadian (JC), and the work of creative nonfiction incorporates stand-alone personal essays combined with extensive research. This unique next generation story is based on recording her early memories, including participating in minyō (folk dance) at Obon (a summer Buddhist festival), and explores culture and the arts through annual events and traditions specific to the Toronto JC community. 

Established after the historical Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement signed on Sept. 22, 1988, the NAJC Endowment Fund’s SEAD program provides grants to Japanese Canadians furthering their studies and skills in the visual or performing arts, sports, or academic fields. For more information on the grant, please visit the NAJC website: najc.ca.

Celebrating Earth Day – 50 Years Later

In Food For Thought, Our Earthly Paradise on April 22, 2020 at 1:11 pm

After enduring a rollercoaster ride of weather conditions from pelting snow to misty and cold mornings, I was keen to embrace today’s sunshine. Earlier in the day, I walked through my neighbourhood with my dog Ivy happy to be greeted by the shining faces of daffodils, narcissus and forsythias sporting their cheerful yellow blooms. Magnolia sprouts appear ready to burst as crocus and small blue flowers carpet the grass. Busy robins are working the field searching for their breakfasts as we pass. These telling signs signal – spring is officially here. Despite the torrential rains that have transformed the garden into a mud bath and those whipping gusts of winds rattling the windows, seeing the bright blue skies reminds me how sun starved we are.

It’s been a long and dreary winter complicated by the recent lockdown here in Toronto and the threat of COVID-19 throughout the world. Many of us may recall the adage April Showers bring May flowers – it’s a positive reflection, no doubt created to provide a glimmer of light during dark days. It’s no wonder people get spring fever at the first rays of warm sunshine.

Rural country side

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow remarked in his poem The Rainy Day:

“Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.”

We’re all experiencing degrees of darkness now because of the pandemic. If April’s rain is a metaphor for tears, it’s because the whole world is crying: Tears of anguish from sickness and losing loved ones, failing businesses and economic hardships. On the bright side, there are tears of joy for the positive environmental changes we’ve noticed: Smog has lifted, water has cleared and animals have returned to places after long absences. While the month of May is just around the corner, it’s not likely we’ll see a deluge of the quarantined rushing back to work or steady streams of insatiable shoppers hungry for retail experiences.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and, in this rare moment of repose we’ve all been granted, it’s a wonderful opportunity for deep reflection on the world we live in. It’s reminded me how grateful I am for fresh air, clean water and nutrient-dense food. Yet how often do we take these key elements including our own good health for granted? Will we return to our wasteful and polluting ways? Or will we have learned important lessons? We’re all connected whether we believe it or not.

Outside of preventative measures such as handwashing, few are looking at eliminating the actual sources that grow these preventable pandemics. One widely accepted school of thought links these new crops of infectious influenza outbreaks directly to our food systems. There’s no shortage of information from films such as Food, Inc., and books like Big Farms Make Big Flu on how this era of food production prizes profits above all else and endangers the lives of unwitting consumers. Food producers have created ideal breeding grounds for these dangerous diseases in factory farms and wildlife markets where animals live short, miserable lives in cramped, squalid conditions. Stamp out the source and stop the spread.

To respect the earth and return to balance, we need to extend our consideration to animals – both wild and domesticated – and put an end to factory farming and the wildlife trade.

If we can hang on a little longer, the skies will shine bright again. When we finally re-emerge from our dens after this forced hibernation, will we have gained any clarity of vision? Will this crisis have given us the hindsight on environmental issues we’ve been lacking all along? And more importantly, will we finally heed the call to act and effect lasting change?

Our ancient Mother Earth has issued a message: Every day should be Earth Day; she needs our help now more than ever.

Welcome to 2020!

In Food For Thought on January 1, 2020 at 2:52 pm

furoshikiWhere did the last decade go? As we usher in this new era, there’s a certain comfort in maintaining family traditions year after year.

Yet there’s something to said about breaking free of limited thinking. Who says we can’t do things differently? Life is change.

This will be the first Oshogatsu where we celebrate the day at my aunt’s condo, instead of at my grandmother’s in the same building. About a month ago, there was a reluctance to even consider such an idea – how far we’ve come with this dramatic turnaround.

Before I posted this, I had a look back over previous years and I noticed while there are a few mainstay dishes, I’ve mixed things up. No surprise here as in my family, I’m not known for being conventional. Rigid attitudes have always struck me as going against the whole idea of enjoying time with family and friends.

Interestingly this new decade coincides with the Year of Rat, which is the first animal in the Chinese zodiac and marks the beginning of a new 12-year cycle. The featured element for 2020 is metal, so it’s a metal Rat to be specific. Rats and metal represent money, wealth and surplus.

Our annual feast always includes symbolic dishes. I’ve prepared my celebratory azuki gohan (red rice) but with an eye on attracting more abundance, I’ve included two versions of money bags – boiled vegetable dumplings and fried vegetable gyoza. Asians can be a superstitious bunch so anything that brings luck and fortune is welcomed.


Have an amazing new year. Wishing you all good things for 2020 – health, wealth and happiness.

A New Journey Begins…

In Food For Thought on August 5, 2019 at 5:00 pm


Who would have thought I’d spend the Civic Holiday, or Natal Day here in Halifax, sitting in a classroom? I keep having to remind myself that it’s really happening – that I’ve started my MFA in Creative Nonfiction at King’s College University.

It’s incredibly beautiful in Halifax and while I’d love to be out sightseeing, instead I’m hitting the books with nose to the grindstone.

IMG_1906 Ok, there have been a few diversions – in my search for coffee yesterday, I discovered this quaint coffee shop called Lucky Penny – they even had some vegan desserts! A must visit if you’re in the area.

While I’m sure there will be loads of work ahead and long hours reading and writing – no doubt, there will be stories to tell along the way.

And hopefully for those readers sharing my journey, the writing will improve, too!


Every Day is Earth Day

In Food For Thought on April 22, 2019 at 11:20 am

Blue sketch of city skyline by water at night

Do you remember the Toronto blackout back in August 2003? I’ll never forget the peace and quiet that evening.

The subway wasn’t working and my aunt walked all the way from downtown to our house. Fortunately, we have a gas stove so we were able to cook a light dinner and then gave her a lift to the TTC lot, north of us, where her car was parked.

While it’s rare these days to lose power for any length of time, not everyone is so lucky. Is there one thing you could do today to honour the earth and save a bit of energy, food or water? We forget sometimes that these things are crucial to our survival – so it’s a great day to remind ourselves that there is no endless supply of clean air or water.


Happy Thanksgiving!

In Food For Thought on October 8, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Wishing you a wonderful holiday filled with food, friends and family. May your cup overflow with abundance and gratitude.

Doo Doo’s Night Off

In Food For Thought on October 5, 2018 at 5:47 pm


There are creepy, scary clowns and there are happy, fun clowns. But few are as famous as Toronto’s beloved Doo Doo the Clown. Kids know him from the Daniel Cooke Show on Treehouse TV while adults may have seen him on Jay Leno or in the movie Billy Madison with Adam Sandler. “I sing in the movie… and there isn’t a show that I do that someone doesn’t know that song,” says Doo Doo (aka Shane Farberman).

So, when Halloween rolls around, what does someone who dresses up for a living do?“I go as myself,” says the father of three. Behind the nose, it’s all about family, and for the last 20 years that means hosting an unbelievable show masquerading as a house party. “Halloween was big when they were kids. It’s always an exciting time to let the kids enjoy.” Beat boxes, stilt walkers and loads of candy greet his trick-or-treaters – just don’t expect to see Doo Doo. “I’m in costume, year round. It’s what I do.” Certainly, this hard-working clown has earned a night off.

And once the party is over and All Hallows’ Eve has come and gone, it never fails, there’s one old joke that people never seem to tire of – someone will see him in costume and yell out: “Halloween’s over buddy!”

All laughter aside, it’s serious business running Farco Entertainment for the last 35 years. After a video of him rescuing two women being attacked in downtown Toronto went viral three years ago, Doo Doo found himself fielding calls for interviews from around the globe and was hailed as our hometown hero.

These days, he’s got all kinds of acts lined up for near and far, and a team of performers to share the stage with. From parties to store openings and promotions – Doo Doo does them all. Plus, you can catch his show at events and fairs like the upcoming Woodbridge Fall Fair, Camp Spooky at Canada’s Wonderland, and the Royal Winter Fair. For this clown, he’s just doing what he loves:

“Every day I get to make people smile – it’s a good thing.”

Time Warp

In Food For Thought on August 14, 2018 at 1:11 pm

After the long weekend, my watch broke down. Not sure if the battery went or the mechanism died but it was a cheap watch and deemed not worth fixing.

Turns out none of my spare watches were working either… dead battery or some other unknown issue. So here I had to face the week without a timepiece. At first, it seemed awkward – I’d catch myself looking at my naked wrist with no watch to keep time. For someone who prides themselves on being prompt – I felt lost. As the days passed, it was strangely liberating… I was freed from the prison of time.

For those modern types, who are always tethered to a phone or computer, there’s a clear and prominently featured record of the time marking your every minute or second depending upon the chosen display. My need to know the correct time was easily filled by these ever-present digital reminders.

clockfaceIn a throwback to a civilized age, I must confess that I had already made it a habit not to wear a watch at all. Mind you, this was only the case on weekends and other social occasions, where one doesn’t want to be rudely glancing at the time throughout the day. In fact, I find it’s quite a luxury to be able to simply have the freedom to enjoy passing the time. Try it sometime and break free. Liberate yourself and leave the schedule behind. At this rate, I may never get another watch. Ah, to be a lady of leisure…

Disclosure Notice: We participate in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program, which earns fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites. Our participation does not influence our content decisions but helps to offset the costs involved in maintaining this website.