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!