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Sean Speer: A new definition of ‘fiscal restraint,’ and ten more things we learned in Year Two of The Hub

Commentary

This week marks The Hub’s second anniversary in publication. For our one-year anniversary, we published ten lessons that we had learned over The Hub’s initial twelve months. In light of this year’s sustained period of high inflation, we’ve opted for eleven lessons for The Hub’s Year Two.

  1. We learned that sometimes you have to be lucky to be good. Last week’s historic indictment of former U.S. President Donald Trump just happened to occur the day before a regularly scheduled recording of our bi-weekly video and podcast series with David Frum. We couldn’t have planned it better ourselves. It gave us a prime opportunity to get David’s informed perspective on this extraordinary development which he characterized as “a very large political moment.” The Hub community seemed to agree. As of this morning, the YouTube video of our conversation had 14,167 views which is our most ever.
  1. We learned a new definition of “fiscal restraint” from Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and her recent federal budget. Apparently, it’s now defined as limiting new, incremental to a mere $40 billion. It makes us wonder how she’d define fiscal profligacy. We probably can’t afford to find out.
  1. More seriously, we learned that the past two federal elections and others across the country have been subjected to interference from interlocutors of the Chinese state. The immediate reaction to this explosive story has understandably focused on the political consequences for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. But as important as it is that we learn what and when the government knew about these allegations and why it failed to do anything about them, that itself won’t solve the fundamental problem. We urgently need a multi-partisan consensus in favour of fortifying our elections from these types of foreign threats. Some things must be bigger than partisanship.
  1. We learned that the case for “getting back to the office” as we argued in The Hub’s first and only unnamed editorial in September 2022 is far from universally held. We received unprecedented feedback and submissions in response to the editorial which we regularly published for several weeks in the aftermath. Reader reaction was probably, on balance, in favour of maintaining remote work and other flexible workplace arrangements though many seemed to distinguish between the public and private sectors. While we continue to believe that the costs and consequences of what we called “empty offices” are being underestimated by business leaders and policymakers, we were tremendously grateful for the honest, interesting, and respectful engagement from The Hub community on the subject. We intend to publish more reader reaction in Year Three.
  1. We were surprised to learn that there’s a decent-sized audience for The Hub’s Friday Roundtable podcast. We launched the weekly podcast with low expectations in February 2022. But it really took shape over the past twelve months and the response has been really positive. The podcast receives several thousand downloads each week. It must be Rudyard Griffiths’s dependable rants that keep listeners coming back for more. Thanks to The Hub community for your ongoing support.
  1. We learned that an extraordinary group of thinkers, writers, scholars, and even a few politicians is prepared to accept our invitation to join us as guests on The Hub’s twice-weekly podcast, Hub Dialogues. As the host, the past year was a huge thrill for me in particular because I had the chance to interview some of my favourite public intellectuals including Russ Roberts, Ross Douthat, Emily Oster, and Reihan Salam. We already have some great guests in store for Hub listeners in the next year of Hub Dialogues. Stay tuned.
  1. We learned about the massive worldwide decline of insects over the past few decades in one of our most unique and interesting episodes of Hub Dialogues with British entomologist Dave Goulson in October 2022. Even if I wasn’t entirely sold on his idea of extending “rights” to insects (though one wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court of Canada may soon discover them in its latest activist decision), I was left convinced that what he calls the “insect apocalypse” is something that we ought to be concerned about as individuals and a society. Keep that in mind next time you have an impulse to step on a bug.
  1. We learned once again how lucky we are to have such a talented and diverse group of contributors. Notwithstanding our budget size relative to larger media outlets, we happen to think that our content pound-for-pound regularly exceeds what one can find elsewhere. That’s in no small part due to the brilliant mind of Howard Anglin, the first-class economic analysis of Trevor Tombe, Richard Shimooka’s expert commentary on defence and national security, the thoughtful legal analysis of Joanna Baron, and the dozens and dozens more who’ve helped to solidify The Hub as a leading source of content on ideas, policy, and politics.
  1. We learned Malcolm Jolley was up to the task to turn his previously bi-weekly wine column into a weekly one due to the overwhelming feedback from readers that we received in Year One. I know several friends regularly consult Malcolm’s non-pretentious advice each week before they head to the LCBO.
  1. We similarly learned that our poet-in-residence Jack Mitchell has a seemingly infinite capacity to bring his talents to bear on everything from the Queen’s passing to the start of the baseball season to life as a father. Jack’s daily contributions help to enliven and bring joy to The Hub’s daily newsletter Per Diem. Getting access to his epigram of the day itself far exceeds the cost of a regular subscription.
  1. Finally, we learned of the ongoing goodwill and support from the thousands of people whose financial support, subscriptions, and growing readership have given our little enterprise such energy and momentum as we enter its third year. The Hub has grown bigger and faster than we even envisioned. Thank you. We quite literally couldn’t do it without you. If you’d like to join The Hub community and support our mission, you can sign-up for our free weekly newsletter or donate here.

We look forward to what the coming year brings. If the past twelve months are a sign, it’s bound to be an interesting, thought-provoking, and even fun ride. We hope that you’ll continue to join us for it.

Malcolm Jolley: Chaos, order, and finding bliss in the kitchen

Commentary

Review of: Kitchen Bliss: Musings on Food and Happiness (With Recipes)
Author: Laura Calder
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2023)

The story might be apocryphal. I don’t remember where I first heard it, nor can I find any reliable source for its veracity. I have repeated it as many times as I have heard it and it has become conventional wisdom in the wine trade of this province, though I suspect there is a version of it in every consumer wine market.

The story goes that there is a Liquor Control Board of Ontario memo somewhere on file in the monopoly’s opaque bureaucracy that states that the large majority (80 percent? 90 percent?) of the wine sold from their stores is consumed within two hours of being purchased. Documented or not, the idea tracks.

Firstly, 80 or 90 percent of the wine sold anywhere in the world would be just as well drunk within two hours of purchase. That’s what it was made to do and has no less business being put down than a bottle of Coca-Cola. Secondly, it jibes with modern life, that most of us might pick up a bottle of wine on our home from work, or on an errand if we work from home, and open it with dinner that night.

The point being that the natural habitat for a bottle of wine is in the kitchen and then the table. And these are the principal subjects of Laura Calder’s new book, Kitchen Bliss: Musings on Food and Happiness (With Recipes). Calder does not write about wine per se, but it’s there lurking on the table, whether mentioned explicitly or in the reader’s (my) imagination.

Full disclosure: I have known Laura Calder for some time and consider her a friend. I have followed her career as both a James Beard Award-winning author (for her first book, French Food at Home (2003)) and a TV personality, and more lately as a social media presence and Substacker. Kitchen Bliss, her sixth book, fits into the overarching civilizing mission of her career, which is to help her readers use cooking and the pleasures of the table to find more happiness in our lives.

I caught up with Calder recently, and we filmed a ‘fireside chat’ video about her book for her website project, A Place At My Table. Tables were, in fact a topic of our conversation. She said, “It’s right there waiting for us, in the middle of the room and a lot of people ignore it… but if you go there, your back is to the chaos of the world outside, you’re focussed in on good things, on people, and if you do that as a practice, it’s restorative.”

Kitchen bliss wasn’t originally meant as a “food narrative”, Calder explains. She had originally given her editor a pitch for a conventional cookbook, but was asked instead to write something like the book she delivered: stories about cooking with recipes. At first, Calder found the idea of being given this kind of carte blanche “terrifying”, but in the enforced solitude of the COVID lockdowns she became ever interested in why she (and we) cook, and what time in the kitchen has meant for her over her life to date.

Though it’s a kind of memoir, it jumps from different periods in Calder’s life over 37 short chapters, which address the challenges and rewards of keeping up a happy and functional kitchen and what it means to be a good host—and a good guest. 

Calder lived for many years in France, in Paris and Burgundy, and is something of an ambassador of Gallic ways to her English-speaking audience. Kitchen Bliss draws on that tradition, but more in terms of the tricks and sensibilities that the French employ to enjoy themselves with good food and company. She draws too on her childhood in the Maritimes, and her contemporary life in Toronto, with episodes in Vancouver, Munich, and other stops along the way.

Every chapter comes with two concise but detailed recipes. They are her recipes, in that they are tried and true and part of her repertoire. But they are also very often attributed to a friend or family member who has passed them on. Calder sees recipes as a kind of shared heritage: “I think recipes should be passed along, that’s what they’re for.”

Following the pause in hospitality that came with the pandemic lockdowns, Calder’s Kitchen Bliss re-introduces food and the act of serving and receiving it as a remedy for the malaise of modern isolation:

“I’m trying to take care of myself and other people. It’s important for mental health and it’s important for morale and, boy, did I ever realize that during the pandemic… We are nourished by food in more ways than physically.”

Calder says she wrote for “anyone who wants to think about how to use the simple things in daily life to live a better life.” She sees the table as a “tool for wellness”, explaining that, “if you approach it the right way it can really work wonders on how you feel about who you are and about your life.”

It bears mentioning that beyond Calder’s invitation to wellness, and health through mindful hedonism, Kitchen Bliss is a funny book and a fun book to read. The author is not above placing herself as the foil in an amusing anecdote and does not take herself overly seriously. Calder’s chapter on dishwashing is particularly wry as it makes the case for this underappreciated art of “making order out of chaos”.

It seems that there has been much chaos in the year and months since the end of the pandemic restrictions in Canada and across the globe. Many of us are still trying to figure out how exactly our lives are going to work in a world that is not quite like it was at the beginning of 2020. Kitchen Bliss offers a reminder that the pleasures of the table offer a constant and grounding respite from that chaos. To be enjoyed with a glass of wine or not.