Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dinner Toasts

Great idea from the New York Times, Martha Rose Shulman, Recipes for Health.

Toast needn’t be just a breakfast thing. If you’ve got a loaf of wholesome bread on hand, you’ve got the makings of a quick, simple, healthy supper. Cut thick slices, toast them lightly, rub them with a cut clove of garlic, brush with olive oil and then pile something on top. That something can be as simple as the vegetable soup or ratatouille left over from last night’s dinner -- not enough for a real portion on its own, but too good to throw out. Or the topping can be something you make from scratch, like today’s recipe for scrambled eggs with asparagus.

Toppings for bruschetta, like those for pasta and pizza, can be conjured from almost anything — pantry staples to vegetables from the farmers’ market. But you should be picky about the kind of bread you use. Seek out whole-grain breads, which retain fiber and nutrients from the germ and bran. You’ll also find that whole-grain breads have a nuttier, more satisfying flavor than white bread.

Bruschetta With Scrambled Eggs and Asparagus
To get really creamy scrambled eggs, cook them slowly over low heat. The asparagus contributes vitamins K, A and C, as well as folate. In all this is a comforting, high-protein mix.

  • 1/2 pound asparagus, tough ends broken off and discarded
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat milk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon snipped chives
  • 4 to 8 thick slices country bread
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Steam the asparagus above one inch of boiling water for five to eight minutes (depending on how thick the stalks are) until tender. Remove from the heat, rinse briefly with cold water, drain and slice 1/2 inch thick.
2. Toast the bread, rub with the cut clove of garlic, and brush with olive oil. Set aside on plates or on a platter.
3. Beat together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Heat a medium nonstick frying pan over low heat, and add the butter. When it has melted and is just beginning to bubble, add the eggs. Cook slowly, stirring with a heat-proof rubber spatula, until the eggs are just set but still creamy. Stir in the asparagus and chives, and remove from the heat. Spoon onto the bruschetta and serve.
Yield: Serves four
Advance preparation: Steamed asparagus will keep for three or four days in the refrigerator.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Prokofiev (Symphony No. 5) and Ravel (Piano Concerto in G Major) were featured at the TSO "Afterworks" series last week. Music Director Peter Oundijan chose the pieces to play on the same evening because both are "big, late Romantic works, despite the occasional dissonance and angularity of the writing... They have a remarkable sweep that places them squarely in the Romantic traditional."

I get as much pleasure seeing the symphony as listening to the music.

The Ravel brought the Grand Piano to centre stage. Massive and gleaming, it was played by pianist Louis Lortie. Born in Canada, he teaches in Italy, lives in Berlin and maintains a home in Canada. When the Grand Piano is played by such a master it is truly a privilege to see and hear.

Prokovief's symphony was very dramatic with strong demands on the percussion section - I think I counted 7 seats - four huge timpani as well as the bass drum, snares, and cymbals.

Tom Allan hosted the evening and told some interesting back stories about the composers.

For example:
- Ravel was such a fuss budget he brought something like 20 pairs of pajamas and 54 ties along for a two month American tour. When he arrived he found his ties were about one inch too long for the U.S. fashion so he immediately had each one hand-shortened (the attention to detail is obviously a valuable trait in a composer but he probably wasn't much fun to live with!)
- Prokofiev returned to Russia and the rule of Stalin because he was homesick. The role of the composer was highly valued in this regime - to the extent that when cities were under siege the composers were placed under guard and taken to camps to produce. This particular Opus was written in the same camp Stravinsky was staying. I wonder if they felt like prisoners of war?

Utterly relaxing evening, I felt like I'd taken a holiday in the middle of the week.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The History of Love

Nicole Krauss' quirky characters are one of my favourite things about "The History of Love."

"People are desperate to communicate to others, to be seen and heard and understood... I guess human relationships are ultimately the goals of all my characters..." Krauss says in this brief You Tube clip.

As she draws her characters, she blesses them with endearing and defining quirks. Whether she is drawing a portrait of an old man in the form of Leo Gursky, a fourteen year old girl named Alma or a "lamed Vovnik," she bestows them with lovable and memorable tics and indelible yearnings.

For example Leo Gursky keeps the manuscript he is working on in his oven.... it tells you he doesn't use the oven or cook much for himself but it also becomes symbolic for what he is "cooking up," and just how fragile and vulnerable his work in progress really is - it could go up in flames with a misstep. Leo obsesses about who will find him when he dies and does things like drop change in public to make a scene and to be seen. He looks behind himself when he walks in the snow to see if he is actually leaving his footprints behind.

Fourteen year old Alma misses her dead father so much she does things she knows that he has done before her - like set up his tent in her backyard - until she's got it down to a matter of minutes.

Krauss also plays each of these voices to perfect pitch. Leo's eloquent speech is punctuated by frequent use of the abrupt phrase "And yet." Alma's voice is youthfully exhuberant and totally contemporary.

Both yearn to discover the nature and "History of Love."

Here is an interview with Krauss published in New York Magazine.

I was impressed when I read Krauss' credentials. A Stanford graduate with degrees from Oxford, she concentrated on writing poetry early on - which explains her lyrical voice.

The other detail that caught my eye was that she completed her thesis on Joseph Cornell, one of my all-time favourite artists. (But that's another entry!)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More Music

I heard Kevin Fox on CBC, doing 'Sweet Dreams' from his latest release 'Songs For Cello and Voice.' It was a cover of the Annie Lennox tune but I loved the fact that he was using the cello to present such a dreamlike melody... seemed to be a perfect match. I also started to follow Fox on Facebook to find out when he would next be in Toronto - it turned out to be Hugh's Room on March 21.

Fox has an unassuming quality that belies his talent. He gave unique interpretations of cover songs, like 'Sweet Dreams' and Mitchell's 'River' but also performed several original compositions.

Opening for him was Rachelle van Zanten, she played a wicked slide and alternated between electric and acoustic guitars. Powerful stage presence and playful sense of humour. Great original music. A raw quality yet somehow vulnerable at the same time.

The stuff on You Tube doesn't do these two justice.

Great show and great venue. Rob and I bought both their CDs and then got them to provide their autographs. That's something you can't get yet on Limewire!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Silk Road Project

Part of the joy of going to the concert for The Silk Road Project was seeing so many different instruments come together on stage - the cello, bass and violin with the more exotic pipa, tar and kamancheh - played by virtuoso musicians from around the world.

Yo Yo Ma is the Artistic Director and the group is celebrating their 10th anniversary. Toronto was the last stop on this year's North American tour.

Back in 1998 Ma began probing the musical connections between Europe and Asia in a think tank he founded and called the Silk Road Project. Today, the ensemble comprises 60 musicians from Asia and Europe, although performances by the group usually feature only about a dozen at a time.

The Globe and Mail review titled "Rich, Challenging - but more Ma, please."

To be sure, all the musicians in the Silk Road Ensemble are virtuosos. However, one player should be singled out - as a disappointment. Because the concert was billed as "The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma," some audience members may have hoped for more than a token showing from the group's illustrious leader. Ma played no real solos, spoke no words and made himself as unobtrusive as possible...... If this was a gesture of modesty, it was misplaced.
It's true, I originally bought the tickets because I am a huge Yo Yo Ma fan, but although he took a supporting role in the evening and never assumed centre stage, I forgot it was him I'd originally come to see, because the introduction to these other musicians overwhelmed any disappointment.

The Toronto Star reported "The program started with three instrumental pieces that mixed new music with opportunities for traditional instrument solos: the Chinese sheng (mouth organ) and pipa (lute) in Ritmos Anchinos; the Indian tabla (drums) in Sulvasutra; and the full melting pot in Turceasca, a new arrangement of traditional Roma rhythms and dances.

The rest of the meaty evening was devoted to a fresh take on Layla and Majnun, a 1908 Azerbaijani opera on a theme of doomed love. Featuring vocalists Alim and Fargana Qasimov, it was a case of love's loss being music's gain. If this is the future of world music, we have much to celebrate and look forward to."

One of the instruments new to me was the cajone. The percussionist straddles the drum as he plays... it made me think it must be a pleasure to make music this way.

You Tube has some great clips.
The Silk Road Project, The Road to Beijing has interviews with Yo Yo and many of the other musicians, as well as shots of many of the instruments.

Sandeep Das, tabla player, is effusive in his praise about how the music of other cultures opened his heart. This virtuoso has been playing the tabla since he was 8 years old but hadn't heard many Western string instruments before he was introduced to the Silk Road Project. Last night he filled the entire Roy Thompson Hall with the joy and passion he radiated through his tabla. When he palmed the skin it sounded like he was actually making it speak.

Wu Man is another maestro. She played relentlessly through the entire program and used the pipa to punctuate musical laughter or lay a bed of mystery. She also makes an appearance in the Beijing clip.

These few hours of introduction have opened the doors to a lot of new sounds and places... and future travels along the Silk Road.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

South African Wine Tasting

Ten 'Cult' status wines were assembled by the South African Wines Society cellar master for a tasting this evening at the University of Toronto Faculty Club. What a great opportunity to try a wide range of wines you might not normally buy. Bottles sampled ranged in price from $38.95 to $165.

Hey Beverly, thanks for inviting me!

This is the second event I've been to at the Faculty Club and it is a great venue, sitting in the dining room is like being surrounded by Wedgwood, so blue and so white.

Invaluable to try before you buy. And I have to say some of the pricier bottles really didn't seem worth the extra cost. Yes, "very tasty," but is it really worth $85 (the Sadie Family Columella)? It was also noted that many of the vintages were "closed" and might take a few more years to open to their full potential.

I think my favourite bottles of the evening were The Ken Forrester FMC Chenin Blanc and the Klein Constantia Vin de Constance.

The Chenin Blanc was granted 93 points by the Wine Spectator and was made in the Burgundian style. I loved the colour, like candlelight in a glass. Beverly said it reminded her of eggnog, and I got that right away. Spicy. Honey notes. A touch of cloves. An interesting statement was "wood is the frame around the wine... sometimes the flavour of the oak is used to hide a poor wine." This had the flavour of the wood but the wine was also lovely. At $55/bottle it was said to cellar well for another 3-5 years.

My other favourite was the Klein Constantia Vin de Constance ($79/bottle), very much like a Sauterne. Unique and distinct, sweet without being cloying. The bottle still has this slightly wonky shape evoking an Old World charm. Napoleon was said to drink Constantia by the bottle every day during his exile on St. Helena.

Baudelaire himself was inspired to observe
Even more than Constantia, than opium, than Nuits
I prefer the elixir of your mouth, where love performs its slow dance.

I really must read more Baudelaire!

There is some argument about whether SA wines are really New World - after all they have been produced for 400+ years and adapt the wine making styles and grapes of the Old World. None of the cult wines sampled this evening were pinotage, perhaps SAs only indiginous grape.

Neil Fortes led the tasting and encouraged diverse responses. I liked the fact that individual differences were honoured. There were lots of educated palates there (please note I do NOT consider myself in that category). They seemed to welcome my contradictory opinions. Although one of my table-mates did light-heartedly suggest I might be suffering from some type of taste-blind disorder, I found agreement for my point of view supported at other tables.

Lots of fun!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mutual Toasts

Getting around to posting these toasts from Robbie Burns Nite at the sailing club.
Late, but still true! Maybe I can manage to have them memorized for Sailpast.

A Toast to the Lassies
Lift your cup and drain it well,
For these are truths that I do tell.
No man is whole without his bride,
Without companion by his side.
A loving hand, an encouraging smile,
Someone to stay and bide a while,
Someone to keep him on the path,
Someone to curb his rising wrath.
A partner, loving, true, and good.
One he could heed as well he could.
A man needs comfort from all strife.
A man needs a lassie to be his wife.
I give you then, good friends and fair....
To the Lassies! And their constant care.

-Ian M. sent this toast to Ross W. originally, and Ian found it on the Internet from the Robert Burns Club of Milwaukee of all places. It was written by a guy named Shevie Kader in 2000.
The following reply was written by our own Jill Ramsay:

Reply To The Toast To The Lassies

To those among you sitting here assembled
Who wonder why on earth I have this role:
A Scot I’m not, but married one descended,
And as a fellow Celt, I share their soul.

Most noble gentlemen, it is my honour
To thank you for the toast you have designed;
Apparently, I now return the favour,
And firstly, I must flatter you in kind.

To those who know me, such a job’s not easy -
I’m not renowned for talking up the men!
I’ll do my best, although I might get queasy,
But starting off, this thought I will extend:

Most laddies think that they’re the senior member -
In name alone! We all know who’s the boss;
And something that they really should remember:
Our Commodore’s a lass they’d dare not cross!

Oh lads, I’m only joking, don’t be humbled;
You have your certain uses, let’s be fair!
We wouldn’t be without you at the pump-out,
And cleaning out the bilge - that’s your affair!

We need you to install our boat-show booty,
And get our galleys just as we’d expect;
Mechanical repairs we deem your duty,
(Those solo games of Twister 'neath the deck!)

But seriously, we beg you to believe us:
In truth, you are the captains of our hearts.
On land or lake, you perfectly complete us;
Both soul and ship mates, never wished apart.

So lassies, one and all, be now upstanding,
And raise your glasses to our gallant chaps -
Who (for the most part) prove themselves outstanding -
And quickly now, before we all collapse!


Monday, March 16, 2009

Trumpeter Swan

Charlie a.k.a. Whitey was also hanging out at Bluffers on Sunday. This bird is magnificent and stands at least 5 ft tall when he is out of the water and his neck is extended.

This is a great photo from Flickr but not our Charlie.... Hope I can get a photo or video of him in action soon.

Originally native to Ontario, the trumpeter swan disappeared from Eastern Canada early in the 20th century. Restoration efforts were initiated in the early 1980s to reintroduce the trumpeter swan to its former range. Through conservation efforts the Ontario population has reached 1000, with at least 131 breeding pairs, and the future looks bright.

Pintail Duck

Pintail Duck, originally uploaded by Films4Conservation.

Saw my first pintail duck down at Bluffers Park on Sunday!
Quite the beauty. You don't see them in the summer because they head back up North when the weather gets warm.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Vegetarian Dinner

The book Eat, Pray Love, the spelling and definition of the word onomatopoeia and the demise of the economy were some of the things we talked about at dinner last night with Ross and Virginia + Dave and Therese.

Ross and Virginia brought a bottle of La Ferme du Mont Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cotes Capelan 2005 over..... what a treat! The wine was perfectly balanced, it felt like it was floating in my mouth and past my palate. Very smooth.

We spoiled ourselves even more by opening up some Botrytis Affected Riesling (Henry of Pelham 2005) and then the Fonesca Guimaraens Port 1978 Rob and I were saving for a special occasion.

By this time we were all in high enough spirits to enjoy Rob's table-side demo of the use of a Neti pot.

I made some of the favourites from my Vegetarian Cooking class - Butternut Squash Bosc Pear Soup + Pumpkin Stuffed Cannellonli + Spinach Salad with Roasted Red Peppers and Blood Oranges.

I'm surprised Dave and I made it to our early Sunday morning yoga class!

Here's the recipe for the salad...

Spinach Salad with Roasted Red Peppers Blood Oranges, Asiago Cheese and Cashews in a Warm Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette
(yield 6 servings)

1 large bunch fresh spinach (about 1 pound), stems removed rinsed, well drained and spun or towel dried
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh Basil leaves, chiffonade
2 Blood Oranges segmented
2 roasted red peppers, skins and seeds removed, julienne
2 ounces asiago cheese, shaved
1/4 cup unsalted cashews, roasted
Warm Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 small clove of fresh, minced garlic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsalmic vinegar
zest of one blood orange (about 1/4 tsp)
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp fresh ground salt and pepper to taste

1. Sweat the shallots and garlic in oil over medium-low heat until softened about 2 minutes
2. Whisk in remaining ingredients rmove from heat and adjust seasoning if required. Cool slightly before tossing with salad

- Recipes Sara Harrel, The Veg Company

Friday, March 13, 2009

Nipozzano 2005

Another nice chianti! This one is a Rufina, 2005, from Frescolbaldi. 90 points from the Wine Spectator, which is what caught Rob's attention (plus the 2005 vintage, generally good for old world wines). Also DOCG, but no "Gallo Nero" emblem.... maybe the black rooster is just acquainted with the Classico region?
Guess that is something I will need to check with my wine buff friends!

The Discovering Wines book I have on my shelf makes this comment about chianti
There are two broad styles the lighter, younger, fruity Chianti (which always used to come in straw-covered flasks) amd the more serious, expensive type that has real depth of flavour, but also an austerity that needs time to soften (two to four years for non-Riserva and at least four for Riserva). Most of the more serious chianti's come from the Classico subregion (Chianti is divided into eight such regions).... the other important subregion for quality.
I am getting a slightly astringent taste from this but it is not at all unpleasant, it is balanced by a dart of sweetness on the very tip of my tongue and a general, overall deliciousness.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rocca delle Macie

Chianti Classico DOCG
What a great chianti. Easily cellared for 5-6 years.... oops...

But it tastes great now.

The winery is less than 30 years old and is producing great chianti in the Tuscan region, meeting the strict appellation standards for percentage of grapes, low yields, alcohol volume and aging.

Grapes: Sangiovese 90%; Canaiolo 5%; Merlot 5%.
LCBO # 741769 $17.95. Continuous availability at Vintages.
The reasonable price could be due to the fact the winery is striving to make a reputation for itself, so take advantage while you can!

Bottles sport the black rooster/cockerill trademark "Gallo Nero" that indicates a bottle of real Chianti wine.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy's art is mesmerizing, and although several books depict his work in photographs, documentary films do his pieces even more justice by capturing them in motion.

Here are two clips from the documentary, Rivers and Tides, "Salmon Hole" and "Wooden Web." (These aren't the official titles of the pieces but describe the content).

"I am so amazed at times that I am actually alive," he muses at one point in the 'Wooden Web" clip. His art is the gift of that experience.

Part of what is so haunting is the the ephemeral, fragile and impermanent nature of the installations.... being able to look on as the artist slowly constructs these works of beauty, and then witnessing them clatter to pieces or drift apart is pure, visceral poetry.

Power breakfast for one

1/3 cup flat oats

2/3 cup water


Nuts/dried berries/fruit of choice

Cardamom, ground nutmeg, cinnamon

Freshly grated ginger

Yogurt (live culture)

Honey (Dark honey has more nutrients than lighter varieties)

Microwave water and oats for 1 minute; stir; microwave again for 20-40 seconds. Add toppings.

Why this breakfast is so good for you:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

On Beauty

Zadie Smith's writing technique is fresh and funny. I particularly enjoy the physical descriptions of her characters:
  • "When placed next to men of his own age and class, he has two great advantages: hair and weight... he has easily the most hair of any fellow there."
  • "...long before Victoria arrived in the house, he was already in love. It was only that his general ardour for the family found its correct, specific vessel in Victoria - right age, right gender, and as beautiful as the idea of God."
  • "And all that time, while he spoke, and she tried, bewilderingly, to listen, his face was doing its silent voodoo on her, just as it seemed to work on everybody passing by him in this archway."

Her wry sense of humour had me laughing out loud in places:
  • "Monty's Rembrant book... had the great advantage of being bound between hard covers and distributed throughout the English speaking world, whereas Howard's book on the same topic remained unfinished and strewn across the floor.."
  • "(At her university) Zora was extremely fond of scheduling meetings about her future with important people for whom her future was not really a top priority. The more people were informed of her plans the more real they became to her."

This was not a unanimous favourite in my book club, but those of us that liked it, really liked it.

Some people see this novel as a commentary on racism, which it certainly touches on; but to me it seems to speak more of culture and class and the nature of physical beauty. What brings us together, what tears us apart.

Beautifully written!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tree Pose


Spring Awakening!

Stand with your feet just a hip-width apart and balance your weight so you are resting on the back of your heels while the bases of your big front toes are pressing down into your mat. Imagine your feet are growing roots right into the ground beneath you. Rest the weight equally on both your feet and then shift slightly to the left, raising your right foot and placing it as high as it can go on the inside of your left thigh, with the centre of your pelvis balancing over the left foot. Now take your arms and stretch them high above your head, as though they were the uppermost branches of the tallest tree you have ever seen.... Lift your chest up as well, and your trunk and your lower ribs and your waist and stretch as high as you can possibly reach and then reach even higher still. Press your palms together above your head and point your fingers skyward, as though the base of each of your fingers were twined together, and then begin to bring them down slowly in a prayer position, past your forehead, your nose your lips your neck and finally to rest at the centre of your chest.... Now clasp your fingers together and hug your right knee tight to your chest, and very slowly and deliberately, let your right foot return to the ground below so it can send roots down deep under the surface.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Hidden Life Within

The new Art Gallery of Ontario is free every Wednesday night so Rob and I popped by to check out the new space.
On display for a limited time in the Galleria Italia is the exhibition 'The Hidden Life Within' by Guiseppe Penone. (photo at the left is from Gavatron's Fliickr photostream)

The artist is essentially carving back in time to expose the tree that is hidden within the current form. The central theme of much of his work is the relationship between man and nature, often focusing on the tree. Currently Penone is exploring the similarities between leaves and the human eye, "they are both the same shape and both dependent on light to function."

Gehry's space is the perfect venue for this particular exhibit, with the natural wood and curved space seeming to play on the same themes. The main difference being that, "rather than imposing a form, (Penone) — in contrast to the architect — draws out an existing form."

And the gallery was crowded! Lots of people taking advantage of the free admission.
Ken Thompson donated 2000 works of art. The Canadian collection alone would have been a national treasure, but add to this the collection of model ships and the Reubens and you start to think the donation was modestly estimated at $200 million.

The curved glass cases were designed by Gehry to specifically display the model ships, some of which were made by prisoners of the Napoleonic wars. It seems a perfect complement!

It's mind boggling how one person could amass such amazing collections in his lifetime. It must have been an all-consuming obsession.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Arabian Nights

Marc Chagall's Arabian Nights is beautiful to look at... I want to read it as I fall asleep so I can get carried into the dreamscape.
He began to illustrate four of the stories in 1945 and they were published by Pantheon Books in 1948.
"In carefully choosing just four tales from the more than 300 in Arabian Nights, Chagall confessed to a quite special interest in their contents. Strong ties to the beloved, the fateful element of love, the separation of lovers and their reunion, as well as the meaning of death, are the most important features common to the four stories," (from the forward written by Norbert Nobis).

Allan Gardens

IMG_2149, originally uploaded by Things We Love.

These tulips look like goblets!