Friday, January 30, 2009

Slum Dog Millionaire

Bollywood meets Hollywood..... but it's not a bad thing. Actually, Slum Dog Millionaire is more Brit than LA. Director Danny Boyle of 'Trainspotting' fame and Beaufoy, scriptwriter of 'The Full Monty,' met international aclaim when it played at the Toronto Film Festival in 2008. Now nominated for ten Oscars.

I love the soundtrack, the dancing at the end, the culture clashes, the depiction of the slums and squalor juxtaposed against the slick set and manufactured suspense of the 'Who Wants to be a Millionnaire' sting.

d. It was written.
(and written well!)

Jamil learns most of the answers the hard way, except of course, the final answer, which is his best guess. His millions comes at great cost... not just the life lessons, but the loss of his brother, whose final actions bring redemption.

I'll definitely have to pick up a copy of the book that inspired it all.... Commonwealth Writers' Prize nominated novel by Vikas Swarup, Q and A: "Narrated in the first person, the novel follows the life of the young waiter as he explains to his sympathetic lawyer, Smita Shah, just how he managed to answer twelve random questions, by pure luck. As he says, 'Well, wasn't I lucky they only asked those questions to which I knew the answers?'"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Last Night

If you want to hear an amazing short story, please check out this New Yorker podcast.

You can either get it through iTunes or the New Yorker site. Truly, it is incredible. Maybe I was just in an unusually receptive mood, but honestly, I can't remember a short story that has such memorable impact since the first time I read Raymond Carver.

Great rhythm, great twists and turns.

So go to iTunes, do a search for New Yorker Fiction and then scroll down the list. What you are looking for is
author: James Salter, story "Last Night" read by Thomas McGuane
release date, 1/9/2009
length is 33 minutes for the story and conversation

If you do listen, let me know what you think.....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Suite Francaise

Suite Francais was written by Irene Nemirovsky while France was at war, and the story about the book is almost better than the book itself.... the novel was created while the author was sequestered by Nazis in the French countryside and the manuscript was only discovered decades after the author's death in Auschwitz.

The prose is a bit heavy-handed in parts, "Christian charity, the compassion of centuries of civilization, fell from her like useless ornaments, revealing her bare, arid soul. She needed to feed and protect her children. Nothing else mattered any more." But there are also deft portrait sketches, "He had a unique way of thinking - he didn't consider himself that important; in his own eyes, he was not that rare and irreplaceable creature most people imagine when they think about themselves."

Nemirovsky doesn't hesitate to show the dark side of personalities, but unfortunately any redeeming qualities are few and far between. Unlike Frankl or Wiesel she didn't have the luxury of time to process the experience and look back on events. As a result there is a real visceral quality to the writing but it sometimes also seems a bit predicated. What I mean is, when you read the Appendices, you can see notes she made to herself about technique, "If I want to create something striking, it is not misery I will show but the prosperity that contrasts with it," sometimes you are very aware a technique is being employed (like seeing a magician's Book of Tricks tucked up her sleeve.)

This work would likely have been a real masterpiece if the author lived to finish it, if she had been able to complete her creative process of draft, rewrite, polish. Instead we are left with glittering fragments.

If you don't read the book at least read the appendices, they show the true genius of this great writer.

Monday, January 26, 2009


orchid, originally uploaded by Things We Love.

Thanks to Rob's attentions, this is the 6th or 7th time this particular orchid has come into bloom... it's so much fun watching the petals burst.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Robbie Burns Supper

Rob and I went to a Robbie Burns Supper at our Sailing Club celebrating the baird's 250th birthday. I've never seen so many men wearing kilts in one room before, they sure do flatter the masculine figure...

The clubhouse was well decorated, with tartans on the tables and dressing the walls. And some great flags brought in by collector Malcolm P. (including a Black Watch flag from the 1890's).

"Speeches and Ploys" included the piping of guests to table, the piping in of the Haggis, the address to the Haggis (performed with flair by Malcolm P.), and an appearance by none other than Robbie Burns (who looked remarkably like Ian M.) The toasts to the 'Twa Lands' (Grace M.), 'The Lassies' (Ross W.), 'The Reply' (Jill R.) were all original. I had no idea we had such poets in our midst. Dick G. was the MC for the evening and was as engaging as ever.

Bill o' Fare
(prepared by members, with the exception of the Haggis, desserts and Usquebagh)
Some hae meat, and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Haggis, Warm Reekin, Rich
Champit Tatties
Bashed Neeps
Roast Beef
Drunkin Cake & Other Sweets
A Tassie of Coffee
For toasting... Athol-brose and Usquebagh

(Athol-brose is is a mixture of oatmeal brose, honey, and whisky.
Tatties and neeps are potatoes and turnips.
The Haggis was surprisingly delicious. I think I prefer this description of it, "..... a haggis is a small animal native to Scotland. Well when I say animal, actually it's a bird with vestigial wings - like the ostrich." According to this source it also has great aquatic ability!)

When the meal and speeches and ploys were done, we were entertained by the bagpipes and celtic drums of the Tartan Terrors and watched some Scottish dancing. Rob even had the pleasure of one of the dancers perching on his lap... with lots of photos to prove it!

I ended the evening with a better appreciation for Burns and intend to learn a bit more about his life, works and poetry. This looks like a good place to start... The World Burns Club.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Zohan

Not really the type of movie I would go out of my way to see, but someone brought the DVD home and I have to say this was hilarious - and a touch subversive.

You Don't Mess with the Zohan is a 2008 American/Israeli comedy film, directed by Dennis Dugan and starring Adam Sandler.

The soldier has a dream to leave his war-torn country and travel to the States to become.... a hair stylist!

I welcomed the depiction of lusty older women, (including octogenarians), which was funny without being misogynist. Too often in comedy this is treated as something distasteful and not even to be considered, forget about welcoming advances or even acknowledging it might be something fun.

The other surprise was the treatment of the warring factions in the streets of NYC. In the end, they realize a rich landlord is planting seeds of discord to create unrest and drive them out of the neighbourhood. I'm sure any parallels to the situation in the Middle East are purely coincidental!

Adam Sandler really pulls this one off. Totally over the top! Love the Matrix-style effects and all the various uses of humus. What a treat. I haven't laughed this hard watching a movie in a long time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Conscious Eating

Mark Bittman is at Hart House tonight promoting his new book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, one that Beppi Crosariol described as "part diet plan, part lifestyle manifesto and - the author being the author - part cookbook." In it he makes a strong argument to choose plant food over meat. I enjoy Bittman's New York Times column and blog, too bad I wasn't able to make it over to hear him speak first-hand. But his blog has tons of great recipes, along with video clips & demonstrations.

This particular recipe is from my Vegetarian Cooking class, tried & tested & true...

Mexican Polenta Lasagna with Fontina and Chillies

This dish is a great winter meal. Using the polenta instead of noodles is a nice touch... This lasagna tastes better the day after, giving some time for the flavours to set.

The thinly rolled polenta is tasty even before it goes into the lasagna, I'm thinking it would be an incredibly tasty base for a pizza-style presentation, with toppings of portabello mushroom, roasted peppers and caramelized onion! mmmmm A google image search proves I'm not the only one to have thought of this idea!

Polenta Layers
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves pureed garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano
5 cups low sodium vegetable stock or water
1 ½ cups cornmeal (250g)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
-salt and pepper to taste –

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pureed
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper diced
4 green onions, chopped
1 x 4.5 can mild green chillies, chopped
2 x 14 oz. kidney beans, drained and rinses
1 x 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
12 oz. canned corn, drained
1 ½ Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 ½ Tbsp dried oregano
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 large eggs, well beaten
- salt and pepper to taste –

8 oz. Fontina cheese, grated
8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Make polenta layer Heat olive oil in large saucepan over low heat, add garlic and oregano and sauté a few minutes or until garlic is softened. Add stock, raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and whisking constantly, add the cornmeal in a steady slow stream. Cook until the cornmeal pulls away from the sides (a couple of minutes). Stir in butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread thinly on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper (the dimensions of your lasagna pan) and allow to set, about one hour.
  3. Prepare filling In a large pt heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onions, sauté one minute and then add green and red peppers and continue cooking until peppers have begun to soften. Add remaining ingredients (except eggs and cheese) and cook uncovered for 10minutes or until mixture is thickened. Temper eggs with filling (by adding a bit of the hot mixture to the beaten eggs, stirring and then quickly returning the egg mixture to the filling, stirring constantly until thoroughly incorporated). Adjust seasoning and remove from heat.
  4. Prepare cheeses Toss the Fontina and Monterey Jack cheese together
  5. Layer Add a few Tbsp of the filling to the bottom of a 10 x 14 inch lasagna pan. Quickly but carefully flip one layer of the polenta into the lasagna pan. Add half the filling, half the cheese mixture, one more layer of polenta, the remaining half of the filling, and the remaining cheese. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until mixture is hot and bubbly (if cheese starts to brown too quickly cover with tinfoil). Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting into squares and serve.

- Recipe Sarah Harrell, The Veg Company

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Healthy Pleasures

In 1990, when I picked up a copy of the book "Healthy Pleasures," by Robert Ornstein, it was one of the few books that looked at the scientific research about happiness and wellness. Most research up until then was focusing on mental illness, not mental wellness, and this book pointedly asked, "What makes people happy?"

Almost twenty years later, this basic observation still holds true:

The most healthy people do not follow the correct advice about health… some
assault the government's dietary guidelines at almost every meal… they salt
their foods… they love dessert… they drink a few glasses of wine everyday… the
exercise they get (to paraphrase Mark Twain) is as pallbearers at the funerals
of their overactive friends… They are keenly aware of their senses and relish
opportunity to indulge in sensory pleasures; savoring a tasty meal, listening to
favourite music or bird songs… they expect good things of the world and they expect pleasure in much of what they do.

Here's a preview of some of the pages in the book.

It was interesting to read in the February 2009 Psychology Today article Happiness, How to Turn it On that "happiness literature" has since exploded - last year 4,000 books were published compared to only 50 books released in 2000. Now the pendulum is swinging back - with the observation that "...our preoccupation with happiness has come at the cost of sadness, an important feeling that we've tried to banish from our emotional repertoire." Academics are observing the phenomena and publishing titles such as, "How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder."

The article presents a 'Greatest Hits' list that's of interest and there is an accompanying piece featuring a "passle of pedestrians" answering questions about what makes them happy. If I were one of the passers-by I would have talked about trying to find happiness in the pleasure of everyday moments, instead of looking at happiness as a place or destination or the consequence of something I own.

The 1990 title, "Healthy Pleasures" is still relevant, talking as it does about the importance of meditation, taking "music baths," deepening sensory experience and spending time recognizing simple pleasures like a good meal or spending time with friends. This book receives a 5 star rating in my Google Library because it changed not only how I look at the world, but how I live in the world.

Incidentally, I've noticed that since starting this blog I'm more aware of savouring these moments and pleasures, and yes, I guess I'm much happier in general, so here's a toast (with a cupfull of great wine) to 'Things We Love." Because they are so good for us.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Using Passport to Prana, I'm trying different studios around town, and different styles of yoga. Yesterday I visited Rainbow Body and took a Sivananda class in the Tibetan yoga tradition.

We started with some pranayama, and then moved into sun salutations to warm up our bodies before doing 12 basic postures. The sequence began with headstand and ended with triangle, almost the exact opposite of what I'm used to.

I left feeling euphoric, happy to watch the big snowflakes falling from the sky.

Although there are many Asanas (8,400,000 according to yogic scriptures) the practice of the 12 basic postures provides the essence and all major benefits of this system.

These 12 Basic Postures are:
Headstand (Sirshasana)
Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana)
Plough (Halasana)
Fish (Matsyasana)
Forward bend (Paschimothanasana)
Cobra (Bhujangasana)
Locust (Shalabhasana)
Bow (Dhanurasana)
Spinal twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Crow pose (Kakasana) or Peacock pose (Mayurasana)
Standing forward bend (Pada Hasthasana)
Triangle (Trikonasana)

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Ultimate Gourmet Veggie Burger with Goat’s Cheese, Roasted Red Peppers and Caramelized Onions

Absolutely delicious!
notes - save mushroom stems to make a vegetable or mushroom stock

- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ¼ large sweet onion, slided
- 2 medium Portobello mushrooms (about 4-5 inches in diameter), cut into ½” slices, stems removed
- ½ tsp thyme
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 340g package of Ground Soy (i.e. Yves Veggie Ground Round Regular flavour or PC TGTBT)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 cup of bread crumbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
-1 130 gram package soft goat’s cheese with herbs
- 1 large baguette or 6 buns (split in half and lightly toasted)
- Roasted red peppers
- Caramelized onions

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced onions, Portobello mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Saute for a few minutes until lightly browned, then reduce to medium heat. Add parsley and cook for a few more minutes or until onions and mushrooms are soft. Remove from heat and place in food processor with ground soy and beaten egg. Pulse until just mixed. Placed entire mixture into bowl, stir in bread crumbs, and season to taste with salt and pepper. For into one large oblong or 6 small patties.

Cook a few minutes on each side either on the bar-b-que, in a lightly oiled skillet over medium high heat, or on parchment paper in a 325 degree F oven for 20 minutes until heated through. Top with goat’s cheese and return to heat just until cheese is warm. Serve on the bread of your choice, topped with red pepper and caramelized onions.

- Recipe from Sara Harrel, The Veg Company

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book Buddies

We started a circle of ‘Book Buddies’ to get together at work to share our favourite books. Now, almost two years later, we all work at different places so don’t get a chance to meet as often. We recently got together to swap titles and review.

As you can see, we're a pretty eclectic bunch...

Scarpetta. One of the latest in the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell
* * * 1/2
The detective series lost its mojo for awhile but now it is back on track!
Kay Scarpetta accepts an assignment in New York City, where the NYPD has asked her to examine an injured man on Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric prison ward... the story he has to tell turns out to be one of the most bizarre she has ever heard.
Further reviews

Outliers The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)
* * * *
Always great food for thought, this latest title is no exception.

Malcolm Gladwell poses a provocative question in Outliers: why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential? …
Further reviews

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, edited by Charlotte Mosley.
* * * *
More than 800 pages of letters provide an engrossing, deeply personal group portrait of six idiosyncratic sisters whose political views varied as much as the trajectories of their famous - often notorious - lives. (Kirkus Reviews)
Further reviews

Twilight (Stephanie Meyer)
* *
Wanted to check out book in light of its phenomenal success, but it doesn't seem to be as well-deserved as some other best-selling youth titles, like the Harry Potter series.
Further reviews

The Host (Stephanie Meyer)
* * *
The grown-up version is definitely more interesting as it explores the connection between host and vampire.
Further reviews

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill
" I haven’t felt so horrified by a book since reading Alice Sebold’s Lucky. This one is fiction, but I can’t help thinking there’s a lot of truth to it."
Further reviews

BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher
"... Since picking up these books, I feel much more confident modifying recipes... I know what roles the ingredients are playing. The only trouble is that I now want to stock my kitchen with five kinds of flour, pick up a stand mixer, etc etc
Further reviews

Mister Pip, by Lloyd James
* * * *
I find it magical that the author is a white man telling the story of a black girl hearing the story of a white boy told by a middle-aged man more than a century ago (and read by me, a white woman “of a certain age” on the other side of the planet).
Further reviews

The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill
* * * *
Abducted as an eleven year old girl in Africa, Aminata becomes a slave in South Carolina and eventually returns to the coast of Sierra Leone in a back-to-Africa odyssey with 1,200 slaves. Based on true, historical events.
Further reviews

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fabiano Valpolicella Classico Superiore

Really tasty, a nice sipping wine.

Tasting notes: Garnet colour, Aromas of sour cherry and spices; dry, medium-bodied, soft and silky red displays intriguing flavours of ripe cherry; long-lasting finish.

$18.95 at the LCBO.

The LCBO responded to my enquiry about why the wines promoted as 'Best Buys' in Bon Appetit magazine's December issue are so much more expensive here... if they are even available in Ontario at all.

Here's an excerpt (for full reponse click 'comments' below):

You have asked about cross-jurisdictional price differences for the
products you have identifed. By way of explaining these, we would first like to note that our retail prices are based on prices charged to us by our suppliers. To these supplier prices, standard federal taxes and provincial markups and taxes are applied. We have attached a copy ofour current Pricing Examples to illustrate them. We do not have details of the tax structures that apply to beverage alcohol in the various U.S. states.
However, the differential in prices you have cited is likely due to a difference
in the tax structure applied to wines in Ontario versus that applied to wines in
the U.S. state or states in which the magazine has sourced its prices... The
profits from the sale of our products are turned over to the provincial
government. These revenues help pay for Ontario's roads, schools, hospitals
and other important social programs and infrastructure projects.

Good, at least I know some of the money is being put to good use.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Mixie, originally uploaded by DianeBickers.

Snow - she loves it but she hates it!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lawrence Hill

I went with fellow Book Babes Nicki and Virginia to hear Lawrence Hill read from The Book of Negroes. There were about 30 or so of us in the library of the Toronto French School, and we listened as this middle-aged man transformed his voice into that of an old, black woman. He held the book in his hand but it was only a prop, the words of the opening pages fully committed to memory.

And what a story! Based on real events from the mid 1700's, Aminata Diallo is abducted from her native Africa at eleven and eventually becomes part of a back-to-Africa odyssey of 1,200 former slaves. It took five years to finish the book, three to complete the first draft and two for painstaking revisions. During this entire time the author read no fiction, but focused on historical writing, particularly first-person accounts of slaves, abolishonists, "baby-catcher" midwives and others. When unsure of his facts, he had them vetted by historians.

The book is dedicated to his daughter Genevieve Aminata, in part because he was able to feel more fully the events when he imagined them happening to his own child... How much like an alien abduction it would have been to be taken from African soil and transplanted to an entirely different place...

This novel has won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for 2008 and was short-listed for the Giller. A Canadian bestseller, the book is sold in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as Someone Knows My Name. In Canada, using the word 'Negroe,' simply demonstrates you are a bit out of touch. But in the States, the same word in the same language has an entirely different and inflammatory connotation... saying it aloud is like inviting a punch to the face. The author came to see the wisdom of using a different title, especially after 100+ African Americans approached him at book readings, saying they would never have purchased the book with that word on the cover.
Lawrence Hill spoke with CBC Arts Online about the history and his novel. You can read the interview here.

Book of Negroes

I went with fellow Book Babes Nicki and Virginia to hear Lawrence Hill read from the Book of Negroes. There were about 30 or so of us at the reading, in the library of the Toronto French School. A real privilege to hear the author speak in the voice of a character he'd cultivated for so many years.

I closed my eyes and listened as a middle-aged man turn into an old black woman. What a story...

Abducted as an eleven year old girl in Africa, Aminata becomes a slave in South Carolina and eventually returns to the coast of Sierra Leone in a back-to-Africa odyssey with 1,200 slaves. Based on true, historical events from the mid 1700's.
The book is dedicated to Lawrence's daughter, Genvieve Aminata. He said he found the central voice of the character by imagining what it would be like for his child to undergo similar events. Being captured in Africa at that point in time would be like being abducted by aliens, it would be something so unfathomable.

During the five years it took to write the book, he read no fiction. Lots of historical information, especially first-hand accounts from abolitionists, baby-catchers (mid-wives), slaves and others. When uncertain of his facts he had them vetted by historians.

Interestingly enough, The Book of Negroes is known by a different name in the States. In Canada, using the word 'Negro,' simply demonstrates you are a bit out of touch. But in the States, the same word in the same language has an entirely different and inflammatory connotation... saying it aloud is like inviting a punch to the face. The author came to see the wisdom of using a different title, especially after 100+ African Americans approached him, saying they would never have purchased the book with that word on the cover.

When we first arrived at the reading, the author pulled up beside us in a mini-van, and I was struck... no, not by the van... (lol)... but how ordinary the arrival was. Where was the paparazzi? This guy won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature and met the Queen, for goodness sake. A bit incongruous, to add such riches to the world and be so incognito. On the other hand, what else do you drive with 5 kids in your family?

Book of Negores

Fellow Book Babes Nicki and Virgina and I went to hear Lawrence Hill read from the Book of Negroes.

I closed my eyes and listened as a middle-aged man turn into an old black woman. What a story! Abducted as an eleven year old girl in Africa, Aminata becomes a slave in South Carolina and eventually returns to the coast of Sierra Leone in a back-to-Africa odyssey with 1,200 slaves.

The book is dedicated to Lawrence's daughter, Genvieve Aminata. He said he found the central voice of the character by imagining what it would be like for his child to undergo similar events. Being captured in Africa would be like being abducted by aliens, it would be something so unfathomable.

During the five years it took to write the book, he read no fiction. Lots of historical information, especially first-hand accounts from abolitionists, baby-catchers, slaves and others. When uncertain of his prose he had it vetted by historians.

Interestingly enough, The Book of Negroes is known by a different name in the States. In Canada, using the word 'Negro,' simply demonstrates you are a bit out of touch. But in the States, the same word in the same language has an entirely different and inflammatory connotation... saying it aloud is like inviting a punch to the face. The author came to see the wisdom of using a different title, especially after 100+ African Americans approached him, saying they would never have purchased the book with that title.

There were about 40 or so of us at the reading, a fairly intimate environment. A real privilege to hear Lawrence Hill speak in the voice he searched, for so many years.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Book of Negroes

I went to hear Lawrence Hill read from The Book of Negroes with fellow Book Babes, Nicki and Virginia.

When he read the opening few pages of his novel, I shut my eyes and heard a middle-aged man turn into an old, black woman.

What a fascinating premise... an eleven year old child is abducted in Africa and transported to work on a plantation in South Carolina. Being abducted into a new world could be compared to an alien abduction.... how could a young black girl in Africa imagined life in South Carolina? How could anyone carry on, after something like that, without falling apart. But she does, along with hundreds of others, and eventually returns to Sierra Leone in a back-to-Africa odyssey of 1,200 slaves.

Lawrence Hill took three years to write the first draft of this novel and then spent the next two years reworking the flow. He said the first draft bears little to no resemblance of the final published work. During that whole time, he read no fiction, but devoured historical information and first-hand narratives that could inform the story... portraits of baby-catchers, slaves, abolishonists, home remedies.

The book is dedicated to one of his five children, Genevieve Aminata. He found his central character's voice when he imagined events through his daughter's eyes.

I asked him if the book was available on audio casette - the way the story is told, it makes sense to be read as an oral history. He said it was available but he had never listened to it, he had no desire to either narrate the story or to listen to the recordings. Ten drafts later, he didn't want to hear anymore. He also didn't want to hear a voice that would be so different from his imagining.

I had heard the book went by a different title in the States, that 'The Book of Negroes' was too inflammatory. At first it seemed a bit of a cop-out, but as the author talked about the 100+ African Americans who approached him on tour, saying they would never have purchased the book with that title, in the end he recognized the wisdom of the publisher. The same word spoken in another culture, even when spoken in the same language, has an entirely different impact. In Canada, someone using the word "Negroe" is a bit out of touch, but in the States, "Negroe" is uttered with slanderous intention. It is not just politically incorrect but incendiary.

There were only 35 - 50 of us there at the Toronto French School, so it seemed like we were in someone's living room, it was very intimate. Lawrence had a very gentle and soft-spoken demeanor, but when he spoke as Aminata, I heard a definite shift in tone, a different musicality and lilt that hadn't been in the voice before. He recited the first few pages from memory, the book a mere prop in his hands. He literally became someone else before all our eyes.

Comfort Soups

Some wonderful, nourishing soups to brighten up these dreary winter days...

- cook and freeze extra portions of the roasted butternut squash to use later
- if freezing the soup, don't add the whipping cream (it tends to separate after freezing
- if using a blender instead of a food mill, remember to only fill up the blender to half full, remove the top cylinder and then put a tea towel over the hole (prevents burns and scalds)
- another combo to try in substitution would be roasted sweet potato for the squash, or apple for the pear... voila! now you have 4 soup recipes (adjust seasonings to taste)
- serve a chilled glass of whatever dry white wine you chose to cook with to accompany the soup (but don't go too high-end if it is a very special wine, don't cook with it)

(from my Vegetarian Cooking course)

Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

- 1 butternut squash (about 2 - 2.5 lbs, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
- 1 Tbsp of olive oil, divided
- 1 medium cooking onion, diced
- 3 Bosc pears, peeled, pitted and cut in 1/2" chunks
- 2 x 946 ml cartons of Imagine brand "No Chicken" stock
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 tsp. fenugreek powder (or mild curry powder)
- 5 Tbsp whipping cream
- salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

  2. Lightly brush both sides of cut Butternut squash with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Place on a non-sticking baking sheet, cut side down and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and when cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh from shell, put in bowl and set aside

  3. In a large stockpot heat remaining Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, pears and sweat for ten minutes (until soft but not brown). Increase heat to high and add the stock, white wine, fenugreek and the roasted butternut squash. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20-30 minutes.

  4. Pass through food mill on the finest setting. Return to heat and stir in whipping cream, if using. Adjust seasoning, garnish with chives and serve.

Creamy Tofu Pea Soup with Crispy Shallots

Crispy Shallots
6 shallots
Light vegetable or peanut oil, for frying

2 tbsp light vegetable oil
1 cup minced shallots
¾ tsp garlic puree
8 oz new potatoes, diced
1 x 946 ml vegetable stock
¼ tsp salt
3 cups frozen baby peas
3 tbsp minced fresh parsley
4 oz silken tofu
salt and white pepper to taste

Crispy Shallots
Minced fresh parsley

1. Make the Crispy Shallots: Slice the shallots crosswise into very thin rings. Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it begins to lightly bubble; add the shallots and fry until they are browned, a minute or two. Stir the shallots occasionally while they are cooking to make sure they brown evenly. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt, if desired.

2. Make the Creamy Tofu Pea Soup: Sweat garlic and shallots in oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, “No Chicken” stock and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, 8-10 minutes. Add baby peas and parsley and cook another 2-3 minutes. Puree in a blender with tofu. Return soup to pot and heat through. If you desire a thinner consistency, add a bit more stock or water. Adjust season to taste with salt and white pepper.

3. To Serve: Ladle soup in bowl and garnish with crispy shallots and minced fresh parsley.

- Recipes Sara Harrel, The Veg Company

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Love 'em and Leave 'em

I’m talking about books. Or more specifically, “bookcrossing,” a way to promote literacy by making the whole world a library.
Bookcrossing is actually defined in the Miriam Webster dictionary...
n. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.
members: 737,542
books registered: 5,318,754
good karma: priceless

The "3 Rs" of BookCrossing...

  1. Read a good book (you already know how to do that)
  2. Register it (along with your journal comments), get a unique BCID (BookCrossing ID number), and label the book
  3. Release it for someone else to read (give it to a friend, leave it on a park bench, donate it to charity, "forget" it in a coffee shop, etc.), and get notified by email each time someone comes here and records a journal entry for that book. And if you make Release Notes on the book, others can Go Hunting for it and try to find it!

The site’s FAQ is candid……

.... The truth is that we never know what happens to a wild book — that’s its
karma. Sometimes, a person who loves to read will find a book that speaks to
them — that’s serendipity. Sometimes, people take them and never make
journal entries — that’s frustrating!! BookCrossing is about letting go and letting your book find its own way in the world.

I plan on releasing a copy of Water for Elephants at the Hart House library (a local Bookcrossing Zone) to see what happens...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cooking School

Signed up for Vegetarian Cuisine 1 at the George Brown Chef School. Not going meatless, just having meat, less.

Tonight was the first class, and the menu was Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear Soup, Tomato/Bocconcini Salad, Smoky Wild Mushroom Risotto and Hazelnut Biscotti. Nothing complicated, but simply delicious! These basic recipes can all be very easily adapted in a variety of ways by substituting some of the key ingredients (Maccadamia Nut Biscotti comes readily to mind).

All the recipes were great, but I especially liked the

Smoky Wild Mushroom Risotto...

  • 946 ml package vegetarian stock (Imagine brand or homemade recommended)

  • 1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms reconstituted for 15 minutes in 1/2 cup warm water (strain and reserve liquid)

  • 2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil, divided

  • 1/4 cup minced shallots (about 2 small)

  • 2 small cloves garlic pureed, divided

  • 2 medium sized Portabello mushroom caps, sliced and cut into 1" lengths, gills removed (not necessary but keeps risotto from becoming stained)

  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, divided

  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley

  • 1 cup arborio rice

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter

  • 2.5 oz. smoked cheddar, very finely grated

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Garnish 1.5 oz. smoked cheddar, very finely grated + chopped fresh Italian parsley

  1. Combine vegetarian stock and the reserved liquid from reconstituted porcini in a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and keep warm.

  2. In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add one pureed garlic clove and Portobello mushroom caps. Sear and cook until mushrooms are cooked through. Stir in one teaspoon thyme leaves, reconstituted mushrooms, a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat.

  3. In a large pot, heat remaining Tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots, remaining garlic clove and saute a minute or two, until shallots have begun to soften. Add arborio rice, and saute one more minute. Add stock, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed before adding the next ladle. Continue until all the liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked al dente. (the entire process should take 20-25 minutes)

  4. Stir in remaining teaspoon of thyme leaves, fresh parsley and butter. Stir until butter is melted. Stir in grated smoked cheddar and stir until cheese is completed melted. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with additional cheese and parsley, if desired. Serve immediately.

Leftovers? Next day you can roll the risotto into balls and stuff cheese in the centre, or flatten into rice cakes, and reheat in a pan or bake in the oven.

I'd like to try this recipe using a nice Italian truffle cheese and some truffle oil. I bet it would be amazing.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Back to Work

First day back at work in the new year. Felt unusually long for some reason. Must be Christmas-cookie-withdrawal.

Before I left today I put a roast into the slow cooker and by the time I came home, it was ready. Just needed a few sides to make a complete meal.

A few months ago I purchased 4 briskets from 'Fresh from the Farm,' a butcher that offers hormone-free meats delivered from Mennonite Farms. Then I prepared and froze them for later... sure makes cooking after a full day's work a little easier.

I do quite a bit of batch cooking, some recipes are better than others. This one is great!

Pot Roast with Apples - 4 Meals

4 Beef Pot Roasts (3-4 pounds)
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp pepper
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp ground cloves
12 apples
4 cups of sliced onion
2 cups of apple cider
4 Zipper Bags (large)

Label Bags- Pot Roast with Apples
Slow Cooker (5-6 hours on high or 9-10 hours on low)
Oven 2.5 hours covered at 350 F
Defrost before cooking.

Place a roast into each large zipper bag.

Combine remaining ingredients and distribute evenly among all bags. Remove excess air, seal bags and freeze.

- from the book, The Big Cook

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy Baby Pose

My favourite pose in yoga class today!

Happy Baby Pose

Hot Pot

Mmmmm, Tom Yung Kung yummy!

Our neighbours Dave and Melanie had us over yesterday for a delicious Hot Pot, and they invited us back today to help finish off the leftovers. Very happy to oblige.

You take chicken or vegetable stock and add whatever flavours you desire (Tom Yung Kung makes an excellent base). Then you bubble your broth in the centre of the table in a 'hot pot'.... a butane stove nicely serves the purpose. Once the broth is piping hot you add the bits you want to cook into baskets and let them simmer in the pot until done to your liking. Then enjoy your bite-sized freshly cooked food with a tasty dipping sauce.

For these Hot Pots we enjoyed three different kinds of bok choy plus salmon, beef, chicken, talapia, scallops, shrimp and pork, served alongside three different sauces (hot, barbecue, and peanut) for dipping. We've also tried bean sprouts, enoki mushrooms, quail eggs, fish balls or whatever strikes our fancy at the Chinese market.

When you are done the main course you follow with a bowl of the broth, which has by now taken on all the flavours of the cooked morsels. Absolutely delicious!

Fruit for dessert makes a perfect ending.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Eve

Wow! What a night!

Thank you Ana and Don for hosting another memorable occasion.... food, wine, music, family and friends, both new and old.

The house looked fantastic, with helium balloons and fresh flowers setting the mood for the festive celebration. We were in the lap of luxury with a long table set with white linen & china, and all the different stemware waiting for wine to match the different courses.

Everyone helped create the feast... Liz and Darcy, Joe and Dianne, Rob and I and of course, Ana and Don. Courses/wine pairings were

> appetizers including French cheeses (St Agur Blu, Basque Etorki, a gold medal winner from Chaource Hugerot of unpasteurized sheep's milk and some chevre)
> Cauliflower soup paired with Pinot Grigio
> Fresh greens with pomegranate & oranges, paired with Sauvignon Blanc
> Pasta, Roast Pork dressed with Rosemary, Sage & Thyme & pan-fried apples, paired with Alsace Riesling
> Prosecco at midnight
> Truffles and cupcakes for dessert

Our sons joined us at the table for the main course and to cheer in the New Year. Later in the evening Don and Joe treated everyone to some live music and song with their duelling guitars.

What a way to honour the passing of the old year and coming of the New, a very special occasion and one to remember for years to come.