Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon - December

Happy New Year!!!!

What a great way to celebrate, by ringing in the new year with a Blue Moon.

I will take this as an auspicious sign of good things to come in abundance.

One of my favourite songs is Blue Moon, originally written by Rodgers and Hart in 1934.  Since then it has been recorded by literally hundreds of musicians, all who put their unique stamp on the melody and lyrics.

There are so many delicious cover versions on You Tube:  Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Elvis, the Marcels, the Mavericks, Bobbie Vinton, Richie Valens, Cowboy Junkies, Stephane Grappelli.  There is one of a whole pub singing the song in Times Square, called 'Halton Blue Moon Song', which is jiggly camerawork but lots of fun.  And independent versions like 'Gindrick's Blue Moon Blues' that are definitely worth a listen.

Here is Rod Stewart in concert.  The twist are the subtitles underneath. Go ahead, try singing along in Spanish! Maybe someone on the other side of the world will be singing along....  "Lua azul...."


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dessert Wine Tasting

I enjoy late harvest vidal or icewine as an occasional treat, so it was an unusual opportunity to be able to compare different vintages and tastes in the same evening and at the same table.

Canadian dessert wines starred at the wine tasting hosted by Nicolette and Desmond. With the exception of a cabernet franc, the grape featured in all the picks was vidal:

Igluu Late Harvest Cabernet Franc
Igluu Late Harvest Vidal
CEV Late Harvest Vidal
20 Bees Late Harvest Vidal
Southbrook Vidal Icewine
Magnotta Vidal Icewine

We tasted each wine on its own and then paired it with different cheeses:  chevre, stilton, guiness, leicester, triple brie, and sauvagine. I have never tried the sauvagine before but it is now on my shortlist of favourites; deliciously creamy.  The word translates to 'udder'  (I'm sorry, I can't help myself, but it was 'udderly' delicious).

It constantly amazes me how quickly the character or flavour of something transforms when it is paired with another taste.  The same wine with a stilton, followed by the sauvagine, totally changes its complexion.

Colours ranged from the palest straw to golden auburn, with the dominant flavours being caramel and dried fruit.  Much variety between the selections; sometimes the caramel took on more of a honey or toffee overtone.  Apple in one glass, apricot in another, there a touch of pear.  Silky, smooth and chewy were all useful adjectives.

We made our notes on tasting sheets and at the end of the evening Nicolette pulled out the 'official' marketing/tasting notes; it was fun to compare and see where we had shared vocabulary with the vintners.

Very sweet of them to host! (sorry again, must be all the sugar causing these bad puns).

Falice navidad!

Liz P. treated us to one of my favourite riojas and some tapas.  What a great combination of tastes and colours!  Thanks for the wonderful evening and for sharing the recipes...

Herederos Del MARQUES DE RISCAL Rioja Reserva 2005:  In the 1800's, this became the first winery in the region to use the Bordeaux method.  Reserva is made from Temporanillo grapes coming from vines at least 15 years old, and then spends two years in American oak.  The result is a wine with intense ruby colour, fruity aroma and taste with a hint of oak and tobacco.

Anchovy, olive and chile sticks
- salty, spicy and umami flavour bursts to wake up the palate

Gilda means lollipop, and the classic Gilda is a simple assembly of a guindilla (Spanish chile pepper), an anchovy and an olive.

Ingredients for 12 servings, local substitutions easily made
- 3 1/2 oz marinated anchovies in olive oil & vinegar - Mild White Anchovy Fillets, 3.17 oz
- 10 oz guindilla chillies, cut into 3/4-inch pieces Tangy Basque Peppers in Wine Vinegar - 4.5 oz
- 8 oz pitted green olives
PreparationCurl up each anchovy and thread it onto a cocktail stick, along with two or three guindilla chillies and an olive. Stack the gilda onto a plate and serve immediately.

Brochetas de Gambas y Bacon

The Spanish love bacon, which they cure and air-dry in the same way as their famous jambon. This combination of prawns and bacon is very popular, and can be found at most Tapas bars.

Ingredients for 12 servings
    * 5 oz thinly sliced bacon (jambon or proscuitto could be substituted)
    * 24 medium to large uncooked, headless prawns, peeled
    * Freshly ground black pepper
    * 1 tablespoon olive oil
    * 2 lemons, quartered


Cut the bacon into pieces which will wrap generously round the prawns. Place the wrapped prawns down flat on a board and skewer them through the fattest part and the tail. Season generously and drizzle with the oil.

On a high heat, griddle, grill or barbecue the prawn and bacon brochettesfor 2-3 minutes on each side, so the bacon crisps up. Alternatively, roast in a hot oven (425ºF) on an oiled baking tray for 8-10 minutes. Squeeze over the juice of the lemon wedges and serve immediately.

Ensaladilla rusa (Spanish Potato Salad)

This traditional tapa is served throughout every region of Spain, with little variation. A poorly made version will taste like a mouthful of mayonnaise. On the other hand, a well-made ensaladilla rusa is a perfectly balanced mixture of potatoes, hard-cooked eggs, and vegetables, using the mayonnaise solely to accent these other flavors. This colorful salad is served at nearly every tapas bar.

Ingredients to serve 4
    * 3 medium (16 oz) potatoes
    * 1 large (3 oz) carrot, diced
    * 5 tablespoons shelled green peas
    * 2/3 cup (4 oz) green beans
    * 1/2 medium onion, chopped
    * 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
    * 4 cocktail gherkins, sliced
    * 2 tablespoons baby capers
    * 12 anchovy-stuffed olives
    * 1 hard-cooked egg, sliced thin
    * 2/3 cup (5 fl. oz) mayonnaise
    * 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    * 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    * Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    * Chopped fresh parsley, to garnish


In a saucepan, cook the potatoes and carrot in lightly salted water. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer until almost tender. Fold in the peas and beans, and cook until all the vegetables are tender. Drain the vegetables and transfer them into a serving platter. Add the onion, pepper, gherkins, baby capers, anchovy-stuffed olives, and egg slices.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine the mayonaise, lemon juice and mustard. Add this mixture to the serving platter, mixing well to ensure all the ingredients are coated. Sprinkle with pepper and toss. Garnish with chopped parsley and refrigerate. Allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour immediately before serving to enhance the salad's flavor. As any dish made with mayonnaise, ensaladilla should be refrigerated and will not keep for more than 1 to 2 days.

NOTE: So simple, and utterly fantastic. Slightly al dente potatoes and carrots, a 1-2 minute addition of frozen peas and fresh beans in the roiling water. A drain and a cold water bath. Laid out and ready to add the dressing when ready.


For me, the magic moments of Scrooge and the Grinch are when they discover how big their hearts can be... yet the images that usually come to mind are the faces of their pinched, unhappy, miserly and mean characters.  What about the Scrooge that tosses money down for the turkey, or the Grinch that cuddles the littlest Who?

The true heart of the holidays for me is realizing that the love you feel is what makes it real. Not who loves you - but who you love - and feeling there might be no limit.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy Holidays!

2009 was a wonderful year!
 Soon it will be time to ring in the new. 
This funny little dog has been helping us celebrate for many years. 
One of the first things we do when we bring out the ornaments is wind him up...
He's become our holiday cymbal!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Wine & Cheese Tasting

Several of the Book Babes got together at my place for the second annual Winter Solstice wine tasting.  Everyone was asked to bring a wine and cheese to share and no one was stingy about their picks. A great afternoon, with wonderful wine, outstanding cheeses and fabulous femmes.

Louise brought Veuve Clicquot champagne and sushi.  This combo was so much fun because the champagne was tickling the inside of my mouth, and the wasabi, soy, and pickled ginger all adding their unique sensations. More of a mouthfeel than a taste experience, but it really woke up the palate.  Truly 'sense-ational' pairing!  It was interesting to learn how sushi evolved on its way to North America from Japan, changing shape (adopting its current form of rolls), adapting local ingredients, and catering to tastes by using a sweeter sushi rice.

Liz P. treated us to two different types of Riesling, two different types of Canadian cheddar and a venison pate.  We tasted an Alsace Trimbach 2007, followed by a Mosel-Saar Ruwet Studert-Prum 2004 called Wehlener Sonnenuhr (Spatlese).  The second was the general favourite.  On either side of the river the soil is steep and slatey, so in addition to a fruity taste there is a hint of minerality. 

A very 'clean' taste. The cheddar and venison seemed the perfect pairing - but as Liz pointed out, Riesling will go with just about anything. I had forgotten how outstanding a good Canadian cheddar can be.  We enjoyed a 12 year old orange cheddar and a 7 year old white. 

Nicki shared a Canadian wine but paired it with a French cheese.  Flat Rock Cellars 2007 Chardennay was totally unoaked - or "unplugged" as the winery says, "no special effects here, just our sincerest gesture to a very noble wine".  The vintner is part of the VQA Ontario appellation of the Twenty Mile Bench (along the Niagra Escarpment).  The cheese was Loirier (goat), with a white pine ash.  Most of the goat cheese I've had is very white and crumbly, like chevre or feta, but this was semi-hard.  Absolutely delicious!  Another reason to love goat cheese is that it has fewer calories and is much easier to digest than cow or sheep's milk cheeses.

Debra's pairing was a Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore, Zenato 2007 with a Pecorino.  The wine is made from the corvina grape varietal.  As soon as the fermentation is completed of the dried grapes for Amarone, selected lots of Valpolicella are then “re-passed”.  The second fermentation slightly increases the alcoholic content and gives the wine deeper colour, increased extract, and complex aromas.  It is more affordable than Amarone but hits many of the same notes.  The chunk of salty pecorino was a great complement.

I did the Barolo Fontanafredda 2001, but ended up matching it with two different Italian cheeses.  When I went to Alex Cheese Farms to pick up the black Italian truffle cheese, I found out it was from southern and not northern Italy, so it really wasn't from the same region at all.  I ended up finding what couldn't have been a more perfect match:  a Testun Barolo cheese from Piedmont that ages for 4 months in a small oak barrel under the residue of Nebbiolo grapes.  The skins of the grapes encase the semi-hard milk cheese, adding a nice crunch to the taste experience.  Totally decadent.

We finished with Nicolette's choice of Taylor Fladgate First Reserve Port and selection of two artisinal blue cheeses.  The port was a beautiful deep garnet, had the scent of licorice and tasted of stewed fruit.  Very nicely balanced.  The finish lasted long enough to colour the taste of the blue cheeses and soften the strong statement.   A very classic pairing with a well-deserved reputation!

Friday, December 18, 2009


I've been looking forward to my Winter Solstice wine tasting for weeks! Actually, ever since I decided to host the 'second annual.' Last year the solstice fell on the weekend, and it was a great excuse to invite a few of my favourite women to share wine in a blind tasting. This year the idea is to pair wine and cheese.

My choice is Barolo with Italian black truffle cheese.

I started by picking my favourite cheese and then went on a bit of a hunt to find a matching wine. Champagne came to mind. Then at the Food and Wine show, I asked Vines editor Christopher Waters what he would recommend, and without any hesitation he said something from Piedmont, adding that the nebbiolo grapes would complement the truffles. And the wine and cheese would likely be from the same region, which generally makes for a solid match.

Happily I just happened to have a bottle of Barolo tucked away that I picked up a few years ago, with the instruction to 'drink after 2007': a DOGC Fontanafredda Serralunga D'Alba 2001. This sommelier detects a note of porcini mushrooms among the layers of taste.

Barolo - the wine of kings and king of wines. Fontanafredda is one of the oldest producers, with Italy's first king, Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, said to have hunted on the same terroir many centuries ago.

I know shockingly little about my favourite cheese, only that when I am feeling in the mood for an outrageous treat at St. Lawrence Market, I end up at Alex Cheese Farms and stammer my request. That's where I will be tomorrow morning.

Truffle-hunting looks pretty labour-intensive, no wonder the underground mushrooms are so pricey:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Happiness Project

I stumbled across Gretchen Rubin's blog about her Happiness Project on a day last February when I was feeling particularly down. Her intent was to spend a year "test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy--from Aristotle to Martin Seligman to Thoreau to Oprah".

Well the year is over, and the memoir is about to be published on December 29th. I've got the book on order.

I find the book and blog fascinating. Not just because this is one of my favourite subjects. It's also the fact that although the content is available online, it isn't deterring me from purchasing the book, it's whetting my appetite to put a 'friend' on my shelf. In fact, the author has already built a following of 13,000+ fans that will likely get her books onto the bestseller list in short order. Her blog will continue, but now the emphasis will be on speaking engagements and trying to ignite happiness projects in others' lives. Gretchen is in new territory, popularizing the integration of media for her personal brand. Go, Gretchen!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Carols

It's been years since I've been out with a group of people to sing Christmas carols.

When I was a kid, I was part of the folk choir and we sung at weddings and on Sundays at the 'folk' mass. There is something very soothing about joining your voice with others in song, the rhythm of breath uniting with the same inhale and exhale.

I was 11 when my father died suddenly, in early November. In early December, the choir Director decided to go Christmas caroling. I showed up for every practise, taking comfort in being a small part of a big, beautiful sound.

The night we went Christmas caroling, it was snowing white-fluffy-fat-flakes. We sang and knocked on doors the distance between the church and my house - walking the same mile I took back and forth every day to school. Doors were flung open and people were happy to see us and hear us sing.

... and then we got to my street... and my house... and my mom opened the door. To my wonderment, the whole choir stepped inside with gifts for my brothers and sister and me. It was one of the kindnesses that helped my family get through the first Christmas without my Dad.

Truly in the spirit of Christmas, and one of the nicest memories I have about the true spirit of giving.

This is one of the carols we sang that night, and one of my favourites, still.

Lyrics to Angels We Have Heard On High
(French carol, ca. 1862)

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing over the plains
And the mountains in reply,
Echoing their joyous strains.
In excelsis de-o
In excelsis de-o

Shepherds, why this Jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?
In excelsis de-o
In excelsis de-o

Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee
Christ, the Lord,
The newborn King
In excelsis de-o
In excelsis de-o

See Him in a manger laid
Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth!
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
With us sing our Savior's birth.
In excelsis de-o
In excelsis de-o

Sunday, December 13, 2009

O Christmas Tree!

The fun part of decorating the Christmas tree is pulling out ornaments from Christmas' past.

Rob and I each have a handful of ornaments from our childhoods, and then so many others we've gathered through 30+ Yules.

The lights are strung, and then the baubles:
this is the ornament my mom gave us our first Christmas, this golden sailboat came from Rob's mom, the Christmas stockings that Alex blanket-stitched, these antique foils came from Lou, here is that funny pink elephant, the birds to nestle inside the branches, the bows from presents past, winking St. Nicks, manic elves, a New Orleans gator, miniature trains, tiny violins and drums and hearts and candycanes and golden orbs and green apples, and don't forget real cinnamon bark for the smell...

Just a jumble of joyful, exuberant, twinkly, sparkly, fun.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chianti Rufina

Rob knew I'd had a tiring week and picked up some lovely reds to help me unwind.

We uncorked the DOGC first:
Fattoria Selvapiana, Chianti Rufina, Vendemmia 2006, expecting a treat, and I was surprised by the smell of wet dog fur. At first I thought it was my glass, but when I gave it a chance to decant it became a bit more like leather. Very earthy aroma. The taste was different from the smell... how does that happen, anyway? A wonderful and affordable Tuscan wine (about $25).

Google image search on Vendemmia brought me to a series of whimsical oils by artist Marc Lesini, showing some viticultural scenes from Chianti.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Favourite Cockroach

Archy made his first appearance in print in 1916 on the keys of Don Marquis' typewriter. First published in the New York Sun, Archy was originally a vers libre poet whose soul migrated into the body of a cockroach:
i did not believe in the
doctrine of transmigration of
souls but after it happened how could i refuse to credit it

George Harriman's illustrations nicely captured Archy's quirky personality.

Forced to dive at each key separately, the little bug couldn't operate the shift key at the same time as a letter key. As a result, none of his poetry had the benefit of capital letters or punctuation.

Marquis shared this observation about Archy: "After about an hour of this frightfully difficult literary labor he fell to the floor exhausted, and we saw him creep feebly into a nest of poems which are always there in profusion..."

This is definitely one of my favourite Archy missives:

the lesson of the moth

i was talking to a moth
the other evening

he was trying to break into

an electric light bulb

and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional

thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered

candle instead of an electric

light bulb you would

now be a small unsightly cinder

have you no sense

plenty of it he answered

but at times we get tired

of using it

we get bored with the routine

and crave beauty

and excitement
fire is beautiful

and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter

it is better to be happy
for a moment

and be burned up with beauty

than to live a long time
and be bored all the while

so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll

that is what life is for
it is better to be part of beauty

for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever

and never be a part of beauty

our attitude toward life

is come easy go easy

we are like human beings

used to be before they became

too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before I could argue him
out of his philosophy

he went and immolated himself

on a patent cigar lighter

i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have

half the happiness and twice

the longevity

but at the same time i wish

there was something i wanted

as badly as he wanted to fry himself

- archy

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More Bordeaux

Drinking the last bottle in the Yvon Mau tasting tour of Bordeaux.

Chateau Picoron, Cotes de Castillon, 1998: a blend of 82% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 7% cabernet franc and 1% malbec.

There was a little sticker proclaiming this blend won a bronze in '04 at the 'Challenge International du Vin' - a very generic honour, to be sure.

1998 was a good year for Bordeaux, but I have to admit I was a bit suspicious.... Before I opened it I thought Mau might have tried to package off an inferior Bordeaux from a lesser house, a bit past its prime.

It was worth the modest gamble. Maybe it is the dash of malbec, or maybe it is the the year of the varietal, but all in all it was very satisfying, with a long, pleasant finish.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Broccoli Soup

Lots of inspiration for simple, seasonal meals.

My mom would get together with people from her church and prepare soups from this cookbook to share with others in the community. She raved about the recipes so much I asked for a copy for my birthday.

There is something comforting about soup.

For this particular recipe I used roasted garlic instead of fresh and served with home made bread.

Broccoli Soup
  • 1 lb broccoli
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 6 cups water
  • 6 parsley sprigs
  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 (6oz) can of tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated cheese to taste (Parmesan or Gruyere)

  1. Wash the broccoli thoroughly, slice in small pieces (save the tough part for a stir fry). Chop the garlic, parsley and bacon.
  2. Pour the olive oil into a soup pot. Add above ingredients and saute for a minute or two. Add the tomato paste and 2 cups of water. Stir well. Cover the pot and allow the soup to cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining water and cook the soup over medium heat for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper and simmer for a few minutes.
  4. Just before serving puree in a blender.
Soup can be served hot or cold. If served hot, garnish with the cheese to taste.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sweet potato gnocchi with fried sage and shaved chestnuts

Absolutely delicious!

The recipe is from the October issue of Gourmet magazine, which ceased publication with its November issue. Their website is still going strong, but the recipe appears below (just in case).

Making gnocchi is not as intimidating as I first thought. In fact, rolling the dough is almost therapeutic. The first time I made this I didn't have chestnuts on hand, but pecans worked quite well. Wonderfully colourful on the plate!

For tips on making the dough from a real Italian nona I visited You Tube. Don't worry , the footage is a bit corrupt in the middle but rights itself soon enough. She speaks in Italian but the demo is easily understood.

Frying sage leaves is easy and provides a real wow factor. The sage and chestnuts make an ideal foil for these pillowy gnocchi. View more of our favorite recipes from this issue.
  • 1 1/4 lb russet (baking potatoes)
  • 1 (3/4-lb) sweet potato
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus more for serving
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup sage leaves (from 1 bunch)
  • 1/3 cup bottled roasted chestnuts, very thinly sliced with an adjustable-blade slicer or a sharp vegetable peeler
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

    a potato ricer or a food mill fitted with fine disk


  • Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle.
  • Pierce russet and sweet potatoes in several places with a fork, then bake in a 4-sided sheet pan until just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Cool potatoes slightly, then peel and force through ricer into sheet pan, spreading in an even layer. Cool potatoes completely.
  • Lightly flour 2 or 3 large baking sheets or line with parchment paper.
  • Beat together egg, nutmeg, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a small bowl.
  • Gather potatoes into a mound in sheet pan, using a pastry scraper if you have one, and form a well in center.
  • Pour egg mixture into well, then knead into potatoes. Knead in cheese and 11/2 cups flour, then knead, adding more flour as necessary, until mixture forms a smooth but slightly sticky dough. Dust top lightly with some of flour.
  • Cut dough into 6 pieces. Form 1 piece of dough into a 1/2-inch-thick rope on a lightly floured surface. Cut rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Gently roll each piece into a ball and lightly dust with flour.
  • Repeat with remaining 5 pieces of dough.
  • Turn a fork over and hold at a 45-degree angle, with tips of tines touching work surface. Working with 1 at a time, roll gnocchi down fork tines, pressing with your thumb, to make ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi as formed to baking sheets.


  • Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Fry sage leaves in 3 batches, stirring, until they turn just a shade lighter and crisp (they will continue to crisp as they cool), about 30 seconds per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season lightly with salt.
  • Fry chestnuts in 3 batches, stirring, until golden and crisp, about 30 seconds per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season lightly with salt. Reserve oil in skillet.


  • Add butter to oil in skillet with 1/2 tsp salt and cook until golden-brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.


  • Add half of gnocchi to a pasta pot of well-salted boiling water and stir. Cook until they float to surface, about 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to skillet with butter sauce. Cook remaining gnocchi in same manner, transferring to skillet as cooked.
  • Heat gnocchi in skillet over medium heat, stirring to coat.
  • Serve sprinkled with fried sage and chestnuts and grated cheese.
    Uncooked gnocchi can be frozen (first in 1 layer on a baking sheet, then transferred to a sealable bag) up to 1 month. Do not thaw before cooking.
  • Chestnuts can be sliced 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at cool room temperature.
  • Sauce and topping can be halved; make full recipe of gnocchi and freeze half of it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Long Night Moon - December

This is the month when the winter cold fastens its grip and the nights become long and dark
. Also called the Frost Moon by some Native American tribes.

December 31st will be a true 'Blue Moon'. What a way to ring out the old and bring in the new!

Monday, November 30, 2009


Exactly one year ago I started this blog, with the intention of recording 'things I love,' the intent being to bring focus and attention to what is positive in my life. I know I am blessed with a lot to be thankful for, but it doesn't hurt to remind myself on a regular basis. After all, the things we spend our time thinking about shape our brains and our lives. And also, just as importantly, "like attracts like" (pun intended).

So I am thankful that I 'stuck' with this practice for a year, recording the day-to-day events that make me smile.

Blessed with so many happy mundane moments with Alex and Rob: great conversations with Alex, or just sitting and floating on the boat with Rob. Warming up hot chocolate and sharing it with them for dessert. So many other moments unrecorded: sitting on the backyard bench taking in my garden; sunny days, rainy days, cold days and cozy blankets; waking up in the middle of the night because a bright moonbeam shone down through the skylight; great music and interviews on the radio; days where I made the bus and subway connections; drinking water with cucumber or lemon zest and clinking ice cubes.

Sometimes it seems, all is right with the world.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Not so random events

Listening to the radio on the way home from yoga, hearing an interview snippet with someone sharing the realization that you can never truly get inside someone else's being and know what it's like to be them, and to live their life... but it is the work of authors and readers and human beings to keep trying.

Toasting the life of Allan Hoyne at his memorial service, one of the members of BPYC, and learning about how this remarkable man spent his multi-faceted 81 years. I knew him to see him, wave and say hello, and of course I knew he was passionate about sailing and helped to build the club. But I didn't realize he fenced, enjoyed fly-fishing, lovingly
cared for his sick wife, or served in WWII.

I've been to a few funerals recently and people have talked about 'the dash' in between the years we're born and the years we die, and about how that seemingly insignificant mark is the real measure of someone's life. The poem that inspired the sentiment was posted alongside Alan's photos:

The Dash Poem

by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak

At the funeral of a friend

He referred to the dates on her tombstone

From the beginning to the end

He noted that first came the date of her birth

And spoke the following date with tears,

But he said what mattered most of all

Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time

That she spent alive on earth.

And now only those who loved her

Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not how much we own;

The cars, the house, the cash,

What matters is how we live and love

And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard.

Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left,

That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough

To consider what’s true and real

And always try to understand

The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,

And show appreciation more

And love the people in our lives

Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,

And more often wear a smile

Remembering that this special dash

Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read

With your life’s actions to rehash

Would you be proud of the things they say

About how you spent your dash?

©1996 Linda Ellis

Friday, November 27, 2009


The LCBO has a boxed set of six Bordeaux nicely packaged for the holiday, so I thought I would splurge myself to a bit of Christmas in the present, get in the holiday spirit, and learn a bit about Bordeaux.

If I can't actually get to France in the near future I can at least explore the fruit of vineyards so near to Paris.

Yvon Mau has presented the collection in a nice wooden chest that will get a second life on the boat next season. All the wine inside is AOC Bordeaux. Unfortunately, no 2005 vintages. Although it is commonly said there are no more bad vintages in this region anymore, 2009 is supposed to be one of the best in 60 years. I know it was a good year for me, too.

The first bottle I opened was Chateau Haut Biraud, 2007. Or as Rob called it, 'Hot Broad.' Not one of the better chateaus in France but now for me at least, one of the best names. The wine itself was surprisingly opaque in the glass, a nice deep garnet, and great legs when swirled (just what you'd expect of a hot broad). Wonderful aroma and nicely balanced. No finish to speak of, though. Blend 55% merlot, 30% cab sauvignon and 15% cabernet franc.

Next was Chateau Boutillot, 2007. I'm guessing when Rob sees this label he'll dub it 'Boot a lot'. The tasting notes say, "a gracious Bordeaux blessed by nature and terroir... produced by a certified sustainable agriculture estate." 51% merlot, 41% cab sauvignon and 8% cabernet franc. I prefer this to the first, although it isn't as nicely balanced and is a bit sharp on the first taste, it has a very lasting, satisfying finish.

Three of the six bottles are 2007 - a year the Wine Doctor calls 'the Hollywood vintage': prolonged desperation through a chilly summer with no apparent hope of reprieve until almost the last minute, a miraculous change of fortunes when all looked lost, and it all - well, almost all - turns out alright at the end:
  • Early but irregular budbreak
    Followed by irregular flowering and ripening, requiring a lot of work in the vineyard.
  • Cool and drizzly summer weather
    Delaying ripening, encouraging disease, requiring even more work in the vineyard.
  • Miraculous recovery
    When all hope seemed dashed, warm September weather meant that there would at least be wines to be made.
At the Food and Wine show I went to the Lifford booth and tasted a luscious 2005 Bordeaux, Chateau Marjosse ($40). Right after I visited the Wines of France & tasted something they were promoting as 'good value' ($12)- so light I thought they'd mixed it with water. So far the wines from this case are solidly in between, as far as taste and price go. I can't help but wonder what a really fine bordeaux would taste like, a fine recent vintage (1990, 2000 or 2005) from a chateau like Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux or Haut-Brion? Must buy a lottery ticket!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Toronto Symphony - After Work Series

Dmitri Shostakovitch may have saved himself from Stalin's wrath with his Symphony No. 5.

According to Tom Allen, who introduced the After Work concert, the morning first after Symphony No. 3 debuted, an anonymous review was published in the national paper. It was rumoured Stalin himself had written it, openly speculating the third symphony's dark spirit was a subversive challenge to the spirit of the revolution. Shostakovitch actually feared he might mysteriously disappear as so many of his contemporaries. He was called in for questioning. Life became difficult.

His Symphony Number 5 may very well have saved his life: "people wept during the Largo and stood during the finale; the ovation lasted forty minutes." It was deemed politically acceptable, with a fierce march repeated throughout and a jubilant finish. It was the most popular of his symphonies in his lifetime.

I wonder what it would have been like to be in the audience for the very first performance in November 1937. I imagined the percussion was a grounding element keeping my feet solidly touching earth as my heart pounded in determination... the wind section providing the inspiration that kept me on the march.

Those Russians sure know how to keep the percussion section busy! Gongs, kettle drums, xylophone, snares, base drums - all got a serious workout. The wind section was a soaring contrast, with the score being written for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, e flat clarinet, 2 bassoons, contra bassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombone and tuba. I could almost feel the breeze, even way up high in the cheap seats.

Stephane Deneve was guest conductor, James Ehnes featured as first violinist.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crow Lake

The BPYC book club kick-started its inaugural meeting by singing Happy Birthday to Rebecca. Then we all enjoyed a champagne toast for the auspicious beginning. Gathered around the table were Annika, Maureen, Joan, Rebecca, Caroline, Robin & I, ready to begin our discussion of Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson.

I'd read it before and my intention was to refresh my memory with a few reviews before the meeting. What's the expression? Oh yes, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions".

Turns out this wasn't the plot line I had in mind. It doesn't start with a 60 page account of a walk from Canada's west to east coasts. Oops. I went to grab Maureen's copy of the book to skim through the pages but had forgotten my glasses at home.

As people started to talk about the book and characters, scenes started coming back to me in quick bursts. After the two hour meeting was coming to an end, I'd finally pieced most of it together. I can honestly say it was one of the oddest intellectual experiences ever. I wonder if this reconstruction is like what an amnesiac experiences?

Anyway, great book and great discussion. Kate is narrating the story as both an adult and child. As a child she is full of wonder; as an adult she looks to books for life answers. She's grown into a bitter academic, full of critical judgements about people. Her lack of empathy has destroyed one of the most important relationships of her life and is likely to end a promising love affair. She is the only one with the power to unlock her own heart - will she be able to meet the challenge?

From Wikipedia:
Crow Lake is a 2002 first novel written by Canadian author Mary Lawson. It won the Books in Canada First Novel Award in the same year and won the McKitterick Prize in 2003. It is set in a small farming community in Northern Ontario, the Crow Lake of the title, and centres on the Morrison family (Kate the narrator, her younger sister Bo and older brothers Matt and Luke) and the events following the death of their parents. Kate's childhood story of the first year after their parents' death is intertwined with the story of Kate as an adult, now a successful young academic and planning a future with her partner, Daniel, but haunted by the events of the past. In among the narratives are set cameos of rural life in Northern Ontario, and of the farming families of the region.