It took me a while to figure out an answer to the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (By the way, I’m not sure if I have grown up in spite of being what is politely called “middle-aged.” When people claim I don’t look – or act – my age, I have this answer: “Hair dye and immaturity keep me young.”)
With a talent for languages, I obtained a degree in Russian and French straight out of high school. Realizing that being an interpreter at the U.N. was not going to happen, I explored various other job options: social worker with the Province of Alberta; assistant director of a teen centre in downtown Edmonton; owner of a clothing store in North Bay; baker of apple pies in Toronto; being a waitress (okay, a server to be politically correct) in various restaurants, and teacher of ESL to adult New Canadians in the Jane-Finch area – and yes, I obtained the B.Ed required.
I managed to squeeze this eclectic career path into a space of a dozen or so years. This includes having my first child, Esther, at the age of 24. At that tender age, I was as clueless at being a mother as I was about finding my vocation.
And then it happened. In the mid-70s, a friend was leaving her position at Toronto Life magazine where she was a contributing editor for what was then called The Gourmet Guide. I had been writing restaurant reviews for her on an infrequent basis when I got her job. A budding foodie who loved to cook, I also began writing freelance pieces for various publications including travel stories for the Toronto Star about food-focused trips to Russia, Ireland and the south of France.
In 1983, a friend called to say they needed a food writer at the Toronto Sun. Pat McCormick, a lanky fellow with curly hair and a good sense of humour who was the Lifestyle editor at that time, recommended they hire me. Although I had never used a computer (the Sun newsroom had huge, clunky word processors in those days), I took the job, mostly because of the dental plan.
In 1989, I moved to the Toronto Star as food editor after they wooed me for several months. I stayed there for 18 years. I had found my passion, my talent – and, career-wise, I was growing up.
I became friends with Julia Child (see the rest of my web site and my book “Dish”), I interviewed Joe “Dogs” Iannuzzi, author of “The Mafia Cookbook,” by phone from parts unknown while he was under the witness protection plan, I discovered and penned a feature piece on a fledgling Jamie Oliver when he first appeared in Canada on TVO, and joined firefighters in their downtown firehall to cook dinner. I also made it my mission to write about the politics of food, hunger and poverty. In other words, to share with my roughly 1 million readers stories about those who don’t have enough food.
I have been freelancing for a few years now after resigning from the Star in 2007. That has included a stint as resident food sleuth on CBC radio’s flagship show Q, a cookbook called “A Pinch of This” produced with residents of the downtown Toronto community Alexandra Park, much travel always with a culinary mission, regular food blogging and my most recent pursuit: creating audio podcasts about food with my wonderful producer Meagan Perry. A state-of-the-art FlashMic is my new indispensable tool.
After five years living in the rural Ontario city of Stratford during which time I found out that small town life is not for me, I returned my favourite, feisty and former Toronto neighbourhood: Kensington Market. Here, I live in a compact house with my soul-mate and man-friend Ross Whitney.
Which brings me to the theme of this blog: my new office.
I get cabin fever when I’m at home during the day for more than a few hours. I’m used to the hustle, bustle and collegial spirit of a newsroom (okay, so it wasn’t always that collegial but never mind). So after trying to work at home for several months, I’ve rented a space at the amazing Centre for Social Innovation on Spadina Ave. near Queen not far from my home.
The name is self-explanatory and there are all kinds of interesting projects germinating and flourishing in this amazing space. I’m part of a network of people working at creative solutions to make our world a better place.
My office is small – not nearly as big as it looks in the photo above – but cozily furnished with the mandatory burgundy and leopard.
Keep in touch with my blog for more food sleuthing news!