Saturday, October 31, 2009

Splendor in the Grass

It's great to have a venue like the Cinematheque in town. This fall it's featuring the retrospective 'American Outsider: The Films of Elia Kazan.'

Splendor in the Grass is part of the series, and one of those classics you hope is never 'remade' - the original is so pitch-perfect.

It must have caused quite a stir in 1961 as the young Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty depicted the sexual confusion and repression of the times in their roles as Bud and Deanie.

Although set between the years 1928 -1932, the issues were still particularly relevant, more than a generation later. That's what makes the film brilliantly subversive; it provokes an entire generation to judge the previous generation of an hypocrisy it owns itself.

The desire Deanie and Bud have for one another overwhelms them, but nice girls simply don't do things like "that." Which leads Bud to experiment with someone else, which leads to Deanie's identity crisis, sexual rejection, suicide attempt and institutionalization. Pretty heavy stuff. This was before the Pill and the 'sexual revolution,' and it was groundbreaking to question the sexual mores of the time.

I found the movie particularly insightful about the penalties woman paid for this sexual double standard. Bud's sister Ginny is the embodiment of a female delighting in carnal pleasures but she pays a price none of the men would suffer at the time. The actress playing the role, Barbara Loden, played it brilliantly (she ended up marrying Kazan shortly after the film was made).

These lines from Wordsworth are recited three times in the course of the film, most poignantly at the end:

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass,
of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

School of Essential Ingredients

This month Book Babes' selection is School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister. The first novel has gotten great press and the author's website is billing it as an international bestseller, NPR favourite and Indie Pic.

I liked it because it made me want to cook again.

Erica gained an appreciation of slow food when she lived in Northern Italy for two years, and it comes across in her descriptions.

There are strong connections of food to landscape:
  • Lillian liked the dips and dents (of the potatoes), even if it meant it took more time to wash them. They reminded her of fields before they were cultivated, when every hillock or hole was a home...
  • The polenta was a cauldron of summer, vibrantly gold against the black of the pot.
... and the simple pleasures of cooking & eating:
  • When the pieces of onion began to disappear into the butter, Lillian quickly added the ginger, a new smell, part kiss, part playful slap...
  • The flavour opened like a flower across his tongue, soft and sweet.
Each chapter is a self-contained short story about a particular student in the cooking class, so if you don't have time to read the whole book, a segment or two might still inspire you in the kitchen.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Food as Aromatherapy

Wet, rainy and cold. Nasty day for Rob to haul out the boat at Bluffers, but a perfect day for me to get to work and fill the house with delicious smells to greet him when he comes back home!

Boeuf à la Mode with Quatre Épices & home-baked bread is on the menu.

There must be more than one hundred variations for the spice mixture quatre epices, but I used this version with a touch of cinnamon for the aromatherapy value: 2 tablespoons ground white pepper, 1 tablespoon ground ginger, 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg, 1 tablespoon ground cloves.

The stewing beef came from the Chopping Block in the Beach because I wanted something hormone & drug-free.

Also took the bread machine out of hiding in the basement & dusted it off. There is nothing like the smell of fresh-baked bread to warm the house on a cold day! Hope the machine still works, it's been way too long since I used it.

I plan to serve this with a Valpolicella Ripasso. We tried a Classico Superiore from Remo Farina recently that was great value for under $20, so if I see this is still on the LCBO shelf I'll grab a few more bottles for the cellar.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The September Issue

Doc Soup opened this season with the Canadian Premiere of The September Issue, followed by a brief Q and A with the director RJ Cutler, courtesy Skype.

The movie focuses on the making of the September 2007 issue of Vogue, which broke records when it weighed in at four pounds and sold 13M copies.

There are moments in the film that are laugh-out-loud funny. Egos writ large become highly entertaining.

Cutler's other films include The War Room and The Perfect Candidate. He admits the subjects of those documentaries communicated more strongly with words, and as a result the shots generally had more in the frame. The September Issue revolves around visual, non-verbal communication - when Anna Wintour looks away from something, it speaks volumes. As a result, much of the film is told in close-ups, conveyed through sidelong glances and subtle gestures.

Wintour agreed to the film before The Devil Wears Prada came out. Cutler said that she essentially saw the same film the audience did, and not much changed, even though Wintour made numerous "suggestions" after she saw the cut. She stayed true to her word and allowed him full creative license.

Wintour acknowledges that her brothers and sister find her career amusing. Her daughter tells the camera she has no plans of entering the world of fashion, she wants to pursue more meaningful work. But this is no lightweight industry - it generates $300B annually worldwide.

The movie is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the fashion world, where surprising to me at least, so few people show up to work in a glamoured state. Unless it is part of the job description.

Most interesting was the relationship between Wintour, the editor, and Cottingham, the creative director. Fire and ice; art and commerce. The push and pull between the two is likely what makes Vogue such a success. It certainly makes The September Issue worth watching.

Reminds me of another recent fashion documentary - also highly engaging because of the behind-the-scenes relationship. The Last Emperor featured Valentino and his long-term partner Giancarlo Giammetti. The dynamics are strangely similar - two seemingly polar opposites relying on each other for balance and realization.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Polenta Without Fear

To the list of imported dishes that are easier to make than we have been led to believe, you can add polenta. When the luxuriously creamy, pale yellow cornmeal mush first began to appear in cookbooks and in upscale Italian restaurants here about 35 years ago, we were (incorrectly) told that to prevent the cornmeal from forming lumps as it cooked, the cook had to stand by, stirring constantly for a half-hour or longer.

Here’s how to make polenta a regular, no-fuss part of your meal plan.

Yield 4 servings

Time 25 minutes

For creamy, soft, mouth-filling polenta, stir in butter and Parmesan -- the more the better. If you want something more flavorful but still a little austere, add herbs, like marjoram or thyme, along with a handful of parsley or basil, and a couple of tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil. For polenta firm enough to grill, broil or sauté, cook it until the creaminess is gone and it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot, then turn it out onto a plate or a board and let it cool until firm.

  • 1 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
  • Salt
  • 1 cup coarse cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup or more freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste, optional
  • 1. Bring milk to a boil with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan and add a large pinch of salt. Adjust heat so liquid simmers. Add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking as you do to prevent lumps. When it has all been added, let mixture return to a boil, then turn heat to low. Polenta should be just barely simmering.
  • 2. Cook, stirring occasionally and being sure to scrape sides and bottom of pan, for 15 to 20 minutes, until mixture is creamy and cornmeal tastes cooked. If mixture becomes too thick, whisk in some water, about 1/2 cup at a time.
  • 3. Taste and season polenta as necessary with salt and pepper. Take pan off stove, stir in the butter or oil and the cheese if you are using it, and serve, passing more cheese at the table if you like.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Last sail of 2009

Beautiful wind and gorgeous sun made the sail over to Toronto Island on Saturday one of the nicest of the season. It was certainly one of the fastest trips! Swells on the lake seemed to give us an extra push, with speeds close to 7 knots.

Thought I saw the head of a loon, but I wasn't sure until I heard its call.

Very chilly, though! My toes were frozen by the time we got to Hanlon's, so I borrowed a pair of Rob's wool socks to put underneath my cotton ones. Brought no gloves along for the trip, so I ended up wearing another pair of socks on my hands.

The heater worked like a charm as we warmed ourselves with some hot chocolate.

Sunday wasn't quite so cold, and we rode our bikes to the beach and walked along the shore.

The sail back to Bluffers was amazing. A blue heron flew overhead when we went past Cherry Beach.

I was toasty warm out of the wind, and the rhythmic 'sploosh' sounds the boat made cutting through the water were extremely relaxing.

Rising and falling, rising and falling, as we rode the swells on the lake.

We took our time bringing the boat back, throwing in a few extra tacks for the fun of it.

When we got to our dock, the sails came right down and out of their rigging, and we folded them away for use next season. The mast comes down next week, and then the boat gets lifted up and into her cradle until next spring.

It was a great season, and I'm thankful for all the times we spent enjoying the lake... it's just that May 2010 seems awfully far away just now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Uncomplicated and Delicious"

I like the phrase, "uncomplicated and delicious" and it suits this wine perfectly: Elderton Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2006.

I've been to a few tastings where the sommelier took pleasure in the fact that New South Wales Australia suffered a few terrible drought years, the bright side being that the price of Yellowtail would go up and people might finally discover other Australian wines worthy of purchase. This winery is from the same neighbourhood, maybe even close enough to share a few vines - but it is definitely a better glass. Or two.

Slate has an interesting piece about "How Yellowtail Crushed the Australian Wine Industry," detailing how the marketing of the brand denigrated the whole continent by association:
The biggest problem is that Australia has made itself synonymous in the minds of many drinkers with cut-rate, generic wines.... However, what was good for Yellow Tail wasn't so great for the Australian wines as a whole. For one thing, Yellow Tail spawned a legion of imitators, and retail shelves were soon crawling with "critter" labels featuring penguins, crocodiles, and other regional fauna. At the same time, Yellow Tail's success prompted rival Australian brands to focus even more of their efforts on the budget category. As a result, consumers came to equate Australia with wines that were flavorful but also cheap and frivolous, a perception that became a major liability when those same consumers got interested in more serious stuff; rather than looking to Oz, they turned to Spain, Italy, and France.

This label is taking a different marketing approach and dissociating itself from any cute critters. But more importantly, it tastes a whole lot better.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Griffin Poetry Prize

How do you skew awards? By making sure you skew the judging panel. Unfortunately it happens far too frequently.

One case in point: The past few years the Griffin Poetry Prize ratio has been skewed to more male judges than female... and guess what? In the past few years far more male than female poets have been nominated. We'll see in April 2010 whether it makes a difference in the line-up.

Judges are Anne Carson, Kathleen Jamie and Carl Phillips. Short bios available here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


PA041981, originally uploaded by Things We Love.

Late bloomers! These dainty pink cyclamens poked their heads up to surprise me... I really didn't think they'd survived the spring transplant. I wonder if they are hardy cousins to the orchid?

Monday, October 12, 2009


Apple picking, originally uploaded by Things We Love.

As part of our thanksgiving tradition, Rob, Alex and I head over to Pieter's Appleyard and pick a bushel for the pleasure of being outside in the autumn colours. This year we were doubly blessed because it was so bright and sunny.

Sometimes I have the energy and ambition to put down chutneys, apple butter and dehydrate apple rings. This year, an overly intense workload means I'm sticking to the 'raw foods' method and simply storing the fruit so we can enjoy it later.

I also picked up several quarts of cider - the perfect antidote to cold days or stressed out weekdays: warm up some apple cider with cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and star anise. Pour into your favourite mug. Inhale deeply and enjoy the smell. Sip slowly and remember the orchard, and picking apples with the people you love!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Jerry Springer: The Opera

Harvey Keitel starred in the Carnegie Hall production of Jerry Springer: The Opera, and enjoyed a two day run in NYC. The Canadian premiere at Hart House didn't have quite the same star-power.

Talk about over-the-top. About 15% of the audience didn't return after intermission. They missed witnessing the Devil and Jesus feuding in full-contact Springer fashion.

Parts were hilarious. The recurring Valkyrie as Singer's conscience, the lascivious studio audience, the operatic manifestations vs. Springer's calm demeanor. Definitely a memorable evening.

Something to offend everyone! Lots of politically incorrect references and in-your-face scatological humour. More than a few absolutely disgusting references. For me the absolute worst came in the form of a transvestite, cross-gendered star-crossed lover sticking his hands down his pants and yanking it 'till it bled - and then waving his dripping hands at the audience with proof of evidence.

This review at Broadway World provides a synopsis of general praise (although I wonder what might have been snipped out):
The opening act is such a continual 'hoot' that at one point I was laughing so hard, I uncontrollably broke wind. -Ontario Arts Review

The Hart House production is polished - you get what the fuss is about. -The Globe and Mail

The 20-odd twenty-somethings careering around the stage and auditorium appear to have stumbled into the deep humanity that lifts Thomas' show from easy satire into something both raunchy and noble at the same time. -The Toronto Star

From men in diapers, tap dancing Ku Klux Klan members, to Jesus, and Adam and Eve, the show is not for the faint of heart but leaves audiences chanting "JERRY, JERRY JERRY!"
Jerry Springer-The Opera
Be offended all over again
Return of the Canadian Premiere

I guess if I take anything away from this evening at the theatre it's wonderment how something like this actually gets produced. The amount of energy required to get the funding, the costumes, the cast... Really, how would you get people to believe this would be a worthwhile endeavour? How would you convince people to put their hearts and souls into trying to make it a success? I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at those pitch meetings: ".... that's when the grown man comes out dressed in nothing but a diaper and sings his heart out about how he wants to poop his pants."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Not Yet

I have a pretty origami butterfly on my desk, folded by Wayson Choy.

It is the perfect memento of an evening spent listening to this gentle spirit speak about his experience of almost dying - twice. Although as the title would suggest - Not Yet. As Wayson joked, you need to buy the book to see whether he survives the ordeal or not.

The memoir begins and ends with the two different encounters with death, and in between the pages we learn about reasons for living.

The author stated one of the themes of the book was "family is who loves you." The voices of the elders in Chinatown often admonished him about his bachelorhood and warned him he would die alone. Later in life, as a gay man, he described himself as lucky to have two families to share his life, to be with him through his ordeal and to abide with him as he faced death. He was not alone.

Another thread in the book is that of luck... buying a winning lottery ticket; having his second heart attack in the doctor's office; being "lucky" in having two families choose to include him as a vital member, if not a biological one.

Although he did not speak directly of it tonight; flight is a recurring motif. Why else choose to have a hummingbird on the cover and imprinted on the page following the end of the story? Why else would you fold origami butterflies for people whose books you sign, "For Diane, in flight."

The first time he faced death he was in a coma and in the weeks afterward, there were times he found himself in an altered state observing the moments as a writer. He was heavily drugged and not physically capable of holding a pen to write, so in telling the tale relied on flashbacks and the reminiscences of family members to help pull the fragments together.

When I spoke with him I remarked he must have had to relive the experience in order to write about it, so in fact he had almost died far more than twice - he told me some scenes just poured from his pen and he has flashbacks, still. He had to tell the story, in part, so he could share the understanding of just how potent a force love can be.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tanya Tagaq

Traditional throat-singing is a playful contest where the female singers face each other and sing into each other's breath until one breaks into laughter or someone gives up.

I saw Tanya Tagaq in performance with the Kronos quartet in 2008 as the throat-singer duelled against their string instruments. She clearly won the contest.

The physical effort required was bursting her gown at the seams as the bow of the violin nearly snapped in two. The musicians worked themselves into an ecstatic frenzy.

Recordings don't do this sound-conjurer justice... they just can't capture the energy she transforms in the shared space. So if you can, go see her in person when she performs at this year's imagineNATIVE festival on October 15.

Visit the site for the full program of events:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Nuit Blanche

Ghost Chorus 1, originally uploaded by JeffStewartPhotos.

A ghostly chorus, a giant rabbit, an invisible parade, blindfolded wrestlers, and digital graffiti artists were just a few of the scenes I witnessed last night in the streets of Toronto's Nuit Blanche.

It was a fun night of challenging perceptions. It's good to turn the world inside-out every once in awhile, so you can look at life with a fresh gaze. It was also interesting to feel how audience participation (or lack thereof) impacted the experience.

Audio Parade: Field Recording: The inner courtyard at the Old City Hall was blasting the sound track of a parade, but there was no one marching. When I first came into the space there were hardly any people there, and it felt like I was standing in the middle of someone's memory. The more people came into the space, the more the atmosphere changed, until it felt like I was standing at the back of the crowd, unable to glimpse the passing bands. It would have been a great twist to pretend to become a member of the parade, too bad I didn't think of it at the time!

Battle Royale: The wrestling match taking place at the Grey Coach bus terminal was a real attention grabber. A huge cage was set up in the middle of the terminal and a bare-chested wrestler paced menacingly inside - although the fact he was wearing a blindfold made him appear a lot less dangerous. Volunteers entered the cage and also put on blindfolds. Then, basically, people commenced bumping into each other; with the bare-chested wrestler sometimes maneuvering willing participants into the ropes.

The Art Gallery was open until 3 a.m., with access to the Steichen exhibit, The Conde Nast Years.

After a few hours of walking around in the cold drizzle, I welcomed the chance to sit in the TIFF Cinemateque and enjoy vintage films by the Lumiere brothers and George Meilies, accompanied by live piano. The films seem crude by today's standards but the stories are captivating. And once you can imagine a rocket to the moon, it starts to become a possibility. This film was created in 1902, and in 1959 the Soviet's launched their first rocket into space. I can imagine a budding scientist awakening to the possibility at a screening of Meilies' film:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Harvest Moon - October

Technically, the 'Full Harvest Moon' is the one that falls most closely to the equinox on September 21... so this year, it's October.

Harvest Moon
by Ted Hughes

The flame-red moon, the harvest moon,
Rolls along the hills, gently bouncing,
A vast balloon,
Till it takes off, and sinks upward
To lie on the bottom of the sky, like a gold doubloon.
The harvest moon has come,
Booming softly through heaven, like a bassoon.
And the earth replies all night, like a deep drum.

So people can’t sleep,
So they go out where elms and oak trees keep
A kneeling vigil, in a religious hush.
The harvest moon has come!

And all the moonlit cows and all the sheep
Stare up at her petrified, while she swells
Filling heaven, as if red hot, and sailing
Closer and closer like the end of the world.

Till the gold fields of stiff wheat
Cry `We are ripe, reap us!’ and the rivers
Sweat from the melting hills.

Photo credit: Harvest Moon by scienceduck


Some summer beauties to remember in the winter.....