Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflecting on an amazing year

What a fabulous year 2010 was - one of my personal faves! Good fortune and great happiness.

Wonder-full, amazing.

I know I certainly can't expect all the years to be like this one - health and happiness at home, the trip of a lifetime, recognition at work, small daily pleasures and wonders galore. 

Indeed, I am very blessed and still I hope "...the best is yet to come"...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Feed the Birds!

The birds are loving the new feeders we hung in the back garden. The suet is attracting some real backyard beauties....  We had a cardinal, a downy-headed woodpecker and a chickadee all feasting at the same feeder at once.

Maybe next time I will be quick enough with the camera to catch the moment, but for now here are some of my fine-feathered friends in photos as credited below....

red-headed downy woodpecker


Late Harvest Vidal

The first pressing of grapes frozen on the vine yields a few delicious drops of ice wine,  and the second pressing is often sold as "late harvest".   So with temperatures well below freezing and the season of feasting upon us, it seems entirely fitting to enjoy a tasting of late harvest vintages. 

Nicolette and Desmond invited people to sample some great varietals and offered delectable pairings of smoked trout, pepper pate, and wonderful cheeses.  Two new cheeses to add to my list of favourites: a creamy Devil's Cave Blue from Sudbury and a goat cheese baked with lemon and pepper.

Thanks to the invite I was happy to discover how beautifully the pepper pate and smoked trout contrasted with the flavour of the Late Harvest Riesling.  I can definitely see this as a first course or aperitif, served in summer, with frozen grapes presented as a garnish on the side.  yummmmm
The popular favourite was the Chateau de Charmes Late Harvest Riesling which was pale straw in colour and surprisingly fizzy.  We found out later this won the 2009 and 2010 Gold Medal at the Ontario Wine Awards. Next favourite was Strewn, the colour of golden straw with a peachy taste and pleasant tingle in the mouth.  Both had a nicely balanced acidity so the sweetness wasn't at all cloying.

Dan kept everyone laughing with his descriptions for the personalities of the wines - one was an effusive Bryn Mawr graduate, another was "confused but not conflicted",  still another "burst rudely into the room unannounced and quickly departed without leaving much of an impression":

Nicolette also shared a 'mouth-feel' wheel she'd come across - a handy way to create a shared vocabulary for red wines that we referenced a few times - silky was a great description for Legends Vidal.

Way too many calories but lots of fun!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movie Time

Strong characters and the interactions between them make for great cinema this season. 
King's Speech:  Colin Firth perfectly re-enacts the 'original' King's Speech... breath for breath.  His empathetic portrayal of the king definitely makes him a contender for Best Actor at this year's Oscars.  Geoffrey Rush deserves the nomination, too.  Hard to say which is the stronger performance, because the two of them played off one another so well.  Great chemistry.  My favourite bromance!

Black Swan:  Intense thriller.  I left the theatre with knots still tangled in my stomach.  High suspense, gorgeous to look at, entirely spellbinding.  Young Natalie Portman must have practised en pointe for hours and hours,  dreaming of a career as a prima ballerina before becoming an actress.  Intriguing glimpses into the ballet world.  Alex and I saw this one together and had a great conversation after about the depth of Nina's delusion.

True Grit:  The Coen brothers' version casts Hailee Steinfeld's Matti in almost every scene.  She is the fulcrum of light that exposes the essence of each characters' traits.  Her idealism and steely innocence are the perfect contrast to Bridges' old and hardened US Marshall and Damon's patriotic Texas Ranger.  The original won John Wayne an Oscar, this version should win the leading lady a nomination.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas!!!

Feasting in the darkest of winter days brings comfort... and joy when you can celebrate with family. 

Such abundance.  I have been a busy hostess this year, with Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day dinners.  Menus planned weeks in advance.  So far, so very, very good.

Christmas Eve - Hotpot and sushi with Rob, Alex and Marian.

Brunch - Smoked salmon, bacon-wrapped scallops, bagels & cream cheese, fresh fruit.

Christmas Day Dinner - Close to mahem as ten of us crammed around the table.  Rob, Alex, Penny, my mom, Rob's Mom, Dave, Therese. Leo, Emma and me. First course of champagne & opening crackers, a salad course, Crown Rib Roast with apple and pancetta stuffing, sweet potato and cranberry, roasted vegetable.  Dessert cheese cakes, chocolate tarts, truffles and liqueurs.

..... The feasting and festivities continue.  Today,  for Boxing Day, Rob's brother Gord and his wife Linda are coming.  On the menu: planked salmon, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, new potatoes.

Fasting to follow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice - December Moon

Wow!  Full red moon on Winter Solstice.

Plus.... the first lunar eclipse occurring on Solstice since 1638 (thanks for the heads-up Giulia).... or   1554, depending on who's counting...

The eclipse starts around 1:30 a.m. in Toronto; the full moon officially clocks in around 8:15 a.m.

Thinking of different Christmas tunes naming moons, two oldies come to mind:
    • and Good King Wenceslas, whose melody is based on a 13th century spring carol, with the words penned in the 1800s.

Winter Solstice Wine Tasting - 2010

This year's Solstice Wine Tasting brought seven Book Babes together on a Sunday afternoon to celebrate the season with delectable pairings and an outstanding feast.

Before we got down to the business of tasting, people tested their noses.   I assembled some "smelly cups" based on the aroma wheel, to help put us in the right frame of reference:  lychee, cinnamon, honey, cigar, orange, pepper, plum, bread, blackberry and vanilla bean.   The objects were hidden inside cups, with holes poked through the top, so the aroma wafted out without people being able to actually see what was hidden inside.  The scents are so familiar but it isn't always easy to identify them by name. 

Another thing that constantly  astonishes me, is how the taste of the wine actually changes depending on how it is paired. The food people brought was delicious and a great chance to explore how the different flavours, textures and tastes each brought out something different in the wine.

Any one of the courses would make a great luncheon on its own. 

For future reference, then:

Japanese Plum wine  trifle and candied ginger chocolates
Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, Valdadige, 2009, Italy - This white wine is made from the red pinot grigio grape by fermenting it off the skins.  "Fruity", fresh-tasting, as light as a gentle summer breeze.  Served with samosa and foccacia.  Wendy

Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay, 2008, France, dry & fruity.  Nicely mingles oak and fruity flavours.  Served with a delicious fig and balsalmic baked brie plus an artichoke and olive tapenade.  Nicki

Anselmi San Vincenzo, Veneto, 2009.  Beautiful light golden colour. Served with an amazing cave-aged Gruyere cheese.   Outstanding cheese/wine pairing!   Christina

Rioja Bordon, Reserva 2004, Spain.  Brilliant ruby red, aged in American white oak barrels.  Definitely got the aroma of tobacco and spice.  Served with gildas of shrimp & olive + Majool date stuffed with spinach, blue cheese and walnut.  Elizabeth

Bierzo Petalos, 2008, Spain - my personal favourite wine discovery of 2010.  Served with Spanish cheeses, tortas and chorizo.   Diane

Indian Summer, Cave Spring Select Late Harvest Riesling 2006 Ontario ... selectively hand-harvested and pressed in a semi-frozen state.  Looks like amber, tastes like honey.  Served with a selection of sharp cheeses.  Nicolette

Gekkeikan Japanese Plum Wine Most of us hadn't sampled this before and it was unanimously enjoyed.   Served with chocolate covered candied ginger and trifle in wine glasses.  The perfect finish to a decadent afternoon.   Debra

If popularity is any measure of the tasting favourites, the first bottle to entirely disappear was the Rioja, followed by the Anselmi and then the Japanese Plum Wine. 

photo credit:  Oak King

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Serenity in the City

The incorporation of a beautiful green biowall in the meditation room satisfied the spiritual desire
for a connection to nature at the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Toronto (Design Build).
Wow - Toronto has so many intriguing nooks - it's always great to discover new places to visit.

The Globe and Mail features Serenity in the City and an interactive tour of sites that include  Balzac's Cafe in the Distillery District and (believe it or not) - the Thorncliffe Park Library.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Tree 'Present'

our Christmas tree 2010
The tree went up and was decorated last weekend.  I've been loving the smell of the evergreen all week long and watching the lights sparkle in the evening light.

Unpacking the Christmas ornaments is like unwrapping presents - literally.  I store them in gift boxes now, wrapped in tissue paper.  So decorating the tree calls for opening the presents I've stashed away the previous year...  and once the tree is decorated, the festive boxes nestle under the branches. No shopping required!

I love the idea of a Christmas tree, cut to bring into the house and decorated with lights and signs of plenty, protection against the darkening days. The pagan tradition seems to work, because once the offering is made, the days soon become longer.

o Tannenbaum!

Would Charlie Brown's Christmas have been special without the quest for the perfect tree?

And more particularly, would the Christmas Special have been the same without the Vince Guaraldi Trio soundtrack?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Barbera d'Asti

Barbera grapes are the most plentifully grown in Italy, with a family vine that twists back to at least the 13th century.  Although, you can quibble about the heritage because it didn't enter the 'official' books of Piedmont region until the late 1700's

I picked up a bottle of Barbera d'Asti after admiring the sepia-toned label from Bricco dei Guazzi:

This wine is a feast for the senses with loads of smoke, earth, spice, black pepper, mushroom, dark berry and meat on the nose. As if all that wasn't enough, the follow-through on the palate is lip-smackingly flavourful. This well balanced, dry, medium-bodied wine, with its soft silky tannins, will show well alongside grilled red meat and aged cheeses. (VINTAGES panel, Feb. 2010)

There are a few Barbera d'Asti labels.  To qualify for the DOGC ranking, 85% Barbera grapes must be used, and it must be made following the harvest but before March 1.  If you are fortunate to be born in Northern Italy, this could be your everyday table wine.

Nice finish.

Barbera Asti
A juicy glugger
tasting notes

Monday, December 6, 2010


I went looking for images of snowflakes to show how beautiful and unique they all are - early in the season it isn't hard to appreciate their fluffy beauty.

Came across this and it made me smile....

a most unlikely source

Friday, November 26, 2010

An unlikely friendship

Maelzel was quite the character.  He patented the metronome in 1815 - stealing the invention a man named Winkel had constructed two years earlier. Even today most history books credit him as the inventor.

1813 was an auspicious year for Maelzel, because that's also when he met Ludwig Van.

Beethoven unwittingly befriended the Austrian when he constructed some 'ear trumpets' to help him with his hearing loss.  The maestro obliged his new friend by writing a special composition for an instrument Maelzel invented called a 'panharmonican'.  Things turned ugly when the 'inventor' claimed the composition as his own.  Beethoven sued.  Pretty audacious.

By that time the con artist was well-practised.  He purchased an invention called the Automaton Chess Player in 1804 and had been touring it for many years. Players would sit at the table opposite the mechanized  'Turk'  whose arms would mysteriously move pieces to win matches on the board.  Edgar Allan Poe wrote a full account of the spectacle and great intellects debated the nature of mechanized intelligence.  The whole thing was exposed as a fraud sometime between 1820 - 1826 (depending on the source) when two young boys watched as a very small chess master climbed into a hidden compartment.  When it had finally been exposed, the Automaton had entertained audiences for over 80 years, 20 of them with Maelzel. 

Tom Allen talked about Maelzel at the TSO 'After Work' concert this week, and these other sources verify the facts:
The Metronome Guy
Joahnn Nepomuk Maelzel
Edgar Allen Poe's account
Scoundrels Wiki site 

Maelzel metronome owned by Michael Jackson

Maelzel's hunger to be recognized for genius would make a great film.  I see it now - opening scene - a man in his early forties sits at a piano,  playing chords ... a servant comes to the door to announce a guest but the pianist doesn't seem to hear... is it because he is engrossed in the moment?  No, the musician really can't hear... he is watching as the metronome ticks back and forth.  The servant must stand directly facing his master.  "Maestro Beethoven" he says,  "Herr Maelzel has arrived."

Beethoven's Eighth Symphony doesn't always get the attention it deserves, sandwiched as it is between the 7th and 9th.  It debuted in 1813 (there's that year again).  The programme noted "it was widely considered a letdown after the mighty Seventh.  Beethoven, however, when told that the Eighth had proved less successful than the Seventh, replied, 'that is because it is so much better.'

Music nerds consider this opus a comic piece, light-hearted, overly dramatic, with the "finish" lasting almost half as long as the last movement itself.  It was fun watching the music director conduct - a right jab, a left hook, bouncing lightly on his feet - he was getting a real work out!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Late Autumn

October 30 - waterfall Japanese Maple
 beauty late in the season....

October 30 - Clematis Henry

November 20th - Autumn Joy

November 11 - smokebush


                                                  November 20th - I can't remember ever seeing
                                                                                  this white rose bush bloom so late in the season

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cellaring Wine and Seductive Sparklies

Me, myself and I went to the gourmet food & wine expo.

I don't mind going places like this by myself.  Every once in awhile I think it might be odd, but then I can see them in the crowd, the 'others' who are also content to travel solo.

Anyway, we had a blast - me, myself and I.  The only disappointment was there was no Armagnac to be found anywhere on site, which was a bit disappointing as we wanted a sip.

Connoisseur's  Corner has tastings sponsored by the Independent Wine Education Guild and I took in several.

Here are my notes for future reference on  Cellaring Wine and Seductive Sparklies.

Cellaring wine
Picked up some tips from Tony Aspler about cellaring wine.  Rule number one:  cellar, but don't hoard!!! Most excellent advice.  Don't wait for an occasion so special you never uncork a finer vintage.  And be sure to cellar suitable wines (stay away from plastic and screw tops; look for wines high in tannin; keep tabs on good vintage years like 2005 and 2009 Bordeaux).

When cellaring:  keep corks wet, keep your bottles away from traffic and vibration; store apart from solvents; keep cool (55 degrees); store your whites closer to the basement floor where it is coolest; speaking of whites they don't cellar as well as reds (Riesling and Sauvignon Blancs do best as they have higher acidity and residual sugars)

... and now for some Tannin trivia: 
  • small grapes like cab sauv and sangiovese  have a higher ratio of skin-to-grape which yield higher tannin 
  • used to preserve hides in the leather industry  (hmmm)
  • tannin is a short chain molecule and can evolve into a long chain molecule; this can be done by aging or sped up by soaking the grapes in water (when this is done there is a compromise, sometimes resulting in a wine that is more 'jammy'  and not quite as balanced
  • the riper the fruit when bottled the softer the tannin
  • tannins are rough when new, soft when mature and can create sediment when well-aged
As important as tannin is, the acidic note may be the most important element as it prolongs the flavour. So essential for body you can think of it as the spine or skeleton. 

Seductive Sparklies
Any grape can be used to make a sparkling wine and some recent market entries include sparkling malbecs.  Popcorn made with truffle oil is a great pairing with sparklies, (including high-end champagne).  Of course, so is sushi and oysters.

There are three different methods to put bubbles in sparkling wine:  injection, tank and traditional. 

  • The bigger the bubbles the more likely they have been created by injection or "bicycle pump" method.  Nothing really wrong with that...  it would be a waste to use a fabulous champagne in a mimosa or cocktail. Generally this method produces the bubbles that tickle your nose (and give your headaches).
  • This category goes through a second fermentation process when the yeast releases extra sugar, dissolves back into the wine and then carbonates.   
  • Prosecco (Italian) is a great example of this
  • Santa Margherita  is great value at $18/bottle
  • The smallest bubbles and the silkiest texture are found in the high-end of this category.  Great champagnes qualify. Creamy, melt-in-your-mouth champagnes like Veuve Cliquot
  • If you are throwing a party on a budget  there are some fantastic labels made according in the traditional method that can be had at a fraction of the cost:  
    • try Hungaria Grand Cuvee Brut from the Torley house.  Only $12 a bottle!  Very small bubbles, better than  Friexenet if you are looking for bargain bubblies
    • this Spanish Cava, 'Segura Viudas Brut Reserva', made from three different grapes and consistently good at $15

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mad Moon - November

yes i know it is not Samhain, but still, great pic
And so the Full Mad Moon comes around again.

If you are feeling up to reading the science fiction story by the same name, first published in 1935, you can download the free eBook here at Project Gutenberg of Australia.  I think the author would get a kick out of the fact the book is now so freely distributed:

His head buzzed and whirled from the combined effects of ferverin and fever. It was an attack of blancha, right enough, and he realized that he was an imbecile, a loony, to wander thus away from his shack. He should be lying on his bunk; the fever was not serious, but more than one man had died on Io, in the delirium, with its attendant hallucinations.

And this Mad Moon is BLUE.  Although not the second full moon of the month, it is the fourth full moon of the season, so it qualifies.

Am I the only loony around here?  I hope not.

Fact vs. Fiction

Two book clubs and the Heliconian Lecture Series have me reading at a furious pace.  By coincidence the most recent have all touched on historical themes, which has got me thinking about the reliability of facts woven into fiction:
  • Mistress of Nothing, by Kate Pullinger
  • The Year of Finding Memory, by Judy Fong Bates
  • The Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Susan Vreeland
  • The Forest Lover, by Susan Vreeland
  • Girl with Curious Hair, by David Foster Wallace
Mistress of Nothing is set mainly in 19th century Egypt and won the Governor General's award in 2009 for fiction. Kate Pullinger based her novel on the letters of Lucie Duff-Gordon, after reading between the lines to uncover the story of her ladies-maid, who was fired after years of loyal service for the indiscretion of becoming pregnant. Her harsh portrayal of Duff-Gordon brought a lot of criticism from the great-great grandson, who felt the work was more fiction than fact.  When I saw Pullinger speak she said, "surely it is the work of all novelists, including those who write about history, to uncover untold stories and undocumented lives." 

Which is what Judy Fong Bates does in her memoir, The Year of Finding Memory.  In this case she is uncovering the untold stories of her own parents.  Written in a very formal voice, the author shares an account of the journey she makes to China, visiting living relatives and standing in the places where her parents lived before they moved to Canada.  It seemed an honest account, the author didn't try to paint herself in the best light (her reaction to her mother wasn't always the most charitable).  How ironic that she had to travel all that distance to become closer to her parents; and how sad that she wasn't able to accomplish this in their lifetimes. 

Luncheon of the Boating Party was a pleasure to read.  This was a glimpse into the France of the early Impressionists.  Lots of facts about  the artists, fashion, food and culture made me feel I had been able to dine with Renoir on the banks of the Seine.  Although the story took place with true historical figures and was based on fact, I didn't mind that the author took liberties with the dialogue or Renoir's inner thoughts.  I know the novel was primarily a work of fiction, and a fun one at that!

In fact, I liked the novel so much I went out and got The Forest Lover, by the same author, this time featuring the artist Emily Carr.  I felt uncomfortable with this work.  The author was so 'inside' Emily's head, it made me mistrust the story.  I can read Carr's own journals of Klee Wyck, in the authentic voice, so why bother with a manufactured one? I may pick up another of Vreeland's novels, but this one didn't appeal, although reviews say it improves near the end of the telling.

The Girl With Curious Hair is a brilliant collection of short stories.  'Little Expressionless Animals' is set in the late '80s, and the author gets into the head of some famous people that include Alex Trebek and Merv Griffin.  Another story, 'Lyndon', distorts reality in the the life of the past President: one of his aides has an unrequited homosexual love that is encouraged (maybe even exploited) by Lady Bird. Likely not factual, I have no trouble reading these short stories and enjoying them as works of speculative fiction.  I just wonder how Wallace managed to get away with it without being sued. Highly entertaining.  Hilarious, thought-provoking and poetic all at once.

Yes, my reactions seem inconsistent, but then this is a very complex issue, the difference between fact and fiction.  In literature and in life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mary Oliver

This poet's name keeps popping up in print for me this year.  

First, in  the Globe and Mail article, Sneaking Poetry into the Office - the perfect waste of time.  Then Ian Brown mentioned her again in his memoir Boy in the Moon.   A few lines were quoted in Suddenly.  And now again in this workbook on Mindfulness.

Serendipity, or synchronicity? Balm.  I'm happy to have 'discovered' this poet.

Reviews  at the The Poetry Foundation describe her work as lyrical, ecstatic, and one of my favourites, "Blake-eyed":
At its most intense, her poetry aims to peer beneath the constructions of culture and reason that burden us with an alienated consciousness to celebrate the primitive, mystical visions that reveal ‘a mossy darkness – / a dream that would never breathe air / and was hinged to your wildest joy / like a shadow.’”
A prolific writer, she publishes a new volume every year or two and has won the Pulitzer and National Book Award.

I will need to pick up a copy (or two) of her books to keep me company.


by Mary Oliver

I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It's like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
       full of moonlight.

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.


In this You Tube clip, Coleman Blake listens to her read and then comments, "I love those questions that she fills her poems with... and they leave me open, and empty, and pleased, to have no answers." 

Have a listen

Monday, November 15, 2010

Spanish cheeses

I don't need much of an excuse to go and buy great cheese.

Putting together a cheese course for a Spanish themed dinner gave me a chance to indulge in a bit of extravagance and check out some new types made from sheep and goats milk.

My favourite cheese shop - Alex Cheese Farms - always makes it easy to put a platter together, offering tasting samples and great advice. 

I googled what a cheese-lover was called, turns out "turophile" is the adjective for me!

Some new faves:

Don Heliodoro Roamrin is a semi-hard sheep's milk cheese. Wrapped in fresh rosemary, it is infused with this flavour.  Dense, firm and creamy texture with a lemony aftertaste. 

Murcia Al Vino - Drunken Goat - An enduring favourite.  Goat's milk, semi soft, it is bathed in red wine that turns the rind a rich burgundy colour.  Delicious flavour.

Montenebro (MON-teh-NEY-bro) Made in Avila west of Madrid, this goat cheese is bone white on the inside and creamy as can be.  Tangy, rich and peppery.

Valdeón (vahl-day-ohn) is a rich and creamy, full-flavored cow and goat's milk blue cheese, stronger than Stilton but less intense than Cabrales. Wrapped in sycamore leaves. Valdeón was named best blue cheese in a 2003 national competition in Spain.

Served with Ines Rosales Seville Orange 'Tortas de Aceite' Crisps by La Tienda. These tortas are a tasty Andalucian specialty made by hand with the same recipe Ines Rosales created almost 100 years ago. Women from the local village are still employed to hand-flatten and hand-wrap the tortas that are made in small batches.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tasty Tajine

I didn't feel like a trip to the grocery store so adapted several recipes to suit ingredients on-hand.

In fact, this is adapted so much, I guess it isn't a true tajine anymore:  there is no meat, no fruit and no tajine container.  Plus it is fast - not slow cooked.  But it certainly lives up to the 'tasty' adjective.

grapeseed oil
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp ginger
1tsp tumeric
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp fresh ground cumin
1 tsp fresh ground coriander
1/2 butternut squash, diced
1 can chick peas, washed and drained
1 can diced tomatoes

Heat oil.  Add onion, ginger and garlic when it is hot.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, then add spices, enjoying the deepening fragrance.
Add the chick peas and squash. Fold the bright colours gently into the spices. Heat thoroughly.
Then add the tomato, stir again.  Heat until it bubbles, then turn it down to simmer.
Ready to eat in 30 minutes.

I served with quinoa cooked in saffron.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day
A beautiful song by Mark Knopfler

On your maypole green
See the winding morris men
Angry Alfie, Bill and Ken
Waving hankies, sticks and books
All the earthen roofs

Standing at the crease
The batsman takes a look around
The boys are fielding on home ground
The steeple sharp against the blue
When I think of you

Sam and Andy
Jack and John
Charlie, Martin
Jamie, Ron
Harry, Stephen
Will and Don
Matthew, Michael

On and on

We will remember them
Remember them
Remember them

We will remember them
Remember them

Remember them

Time has slipped away
The Summer sky to Autumn yields
A haze of smoke across the fields
Let's sup and fight another round
And walk the stubbled ground

When November brings
The poppies on Remembrance Day
When the vicar comes to say
Lest we forget our sons

We will remember them
Remember them
Remember them

We will remember them
Remember them
Remember them

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Leon Redbone

I wonder if Leon Redbone is buddhist?
“What I do and what I record only work for the moment,” Redbone says in his unmistakably croaky drawl. “That’s basically all I hope for in a performance, because that’s what I think a song is: It has to reach out and grab you for one moment. It can even be a single note which defines the entire song.”
Okay, I somehow doubt he's buddhist, but his statement aligns with the philosophy.  Listening to his tunes slows me down, too.  In a good way.
“There are two ways of performing: One is to run out onstage and basically let loose and communicate with the audience on a personal level,” Redbone explains, “the other one is to completely ignore the entire situation and try to concentrate on what it is you are doing and at the same time, not dwell on it, disconnect from your physical surroundings—which is contrary to performing, really. So I don’t know if performing is necessarily a good definition for what I do. It may be closer to a séance than anything else.”
So I am off to the seance at Hugh's Room.

Here's a clip:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bas, Armagnac

Ever since reading the description of the Armagnac tasting in Luncheon of the Boating Party, I've been fixated on sampling it first-hand.

So I went out and got a bottle of Samalens, a reasonably priced Armagnac from Bas, the region said to be the best producer.  Both Cognac and Armagnac are types of brandy.  Guess what?  Armagnac turned 700 this year!

It's older than Cognac, distilled at lower temperatures over a longer period of time.  The Cognac and Armagnac Primer says that Armagnac is somewhat "less refined and more fiery".

A great tour of Samalens is recounted here at Will Lowe's Blogtails

At YouTube there are several afficionados imbibing.  It's fun to watch.

Me, I'm busy sipping.

Feasting at Asian Legend

Wendy and Raymond invited us to be among their guests at Asian Legend, and what a feast!   We ate for hours, talking about blue water sailing adventures and enjoying leisurely conversation.

The restaurant is nicely decorated and kindly lit, so it adds to dining pleasure. Bonus - for a meager corkage fee of $15 you can bring several bottles of your own wine.

Our hosts selected a menu with some of my old favourites, but also introduced some new.  What a combination of tastes, colours, and textures. 

Steamed Soup Filled Dumplings with Pork were wrapped in delicate pouches that exploded with flavour on the first bite.  They seemed like mini-magic tricks... how would you wrap soup in a dumpling?  By creating it with gelatin that turns to tasty broth when steamed.  Absolutely delicious!

Easily the best hot and sour soup and Moo Shoo Pork I've had in a long time.  Lots of fresh ingredients.  And now I know why I can never quite replicate those sauteed green beans at home.  Wendy explained they are actually flash deep-fried.

Finally got to taste Peking Duck after hearing about it all these years.  The duck was unbelievably tasty, the skin barbecued to a savoury crisp with underlying slivers of juicy meat.  Add hoison, lettuce, cucumber and wrap it up in crepes.   By special request, the rest of the duck was prepared for lettuce wraps.

Dessert was banana and apple deep-fried, and then brought to the table and dunked into cold ice-water to crystallize the honey it had been drenched with... absolutely decadent.  The counterpoint was a simple dough with red bean paste, mostly savoury and a great contrast to the fruit.

Take-out available!

I'm saving this list for when I go back for more later:

> Steamed Soup Filled Dumplings with Pork
> Jellyfish Salad
> Drunken Chicken

> Hot and Sour Soup with Shredded Chicken

> Peking Duck
> Duck and Tofu in Lettuce Wraps

> Sauteed Green Beans with Dried Shrimp
> Kung Pau Shrimp
> Sauteed Beef with Satay Sauce on Sizzling Hot Plate

> Moo Shoo Pork
> Spare Ribs Wuxi Style
> Sauteed Green Beans with Dried Shrimp

> Fried Dough Ball with Red Bean Paste
> Crispy Deep Fried Banana with Honey
> Crispy Deep Fried Apple with Honey

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Just finished reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Wow.  Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, and an amazing story. 

The fuku have cursed his family for at least three generations, bringing incredible pain and suffering that starts under the "kleptocracy" of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic in the 40's.  DR decades later is still corrupt, a place of terrible violence in the canefields.

Oscar's curse is to be obese, to suffer unrequited love, and potentially die a virgin - this is no laughing matter and brings him to the edge of suicide more than once.  His tenacity is fierce, he keeps trying.   This is no happily-ever-after love story, but in the end he does succeed, "So this is what everybody's always talking about!  Diablo!  If I'd only known.  The beauty! The beauty!"

Echoes of Marquez and Llosa, with liberal Spanish peppered throughout.

"It sounds like the most unlikely load of jiringonza on this side of the Sierra Madre."

Context speaks volumes, but still  a translation/phrasebook at the back of the book would have made it a bit more accessible.  Jian Ghomeshi asked Diaz about this and he was unapologetic, saying if people want to know they can go and find out for themselves.  If I had read an eBook connected to the Internet, I could have linked back and forth between Babblefish, maybe even getting the pronunciation, and flaunt the phrases español.

Luncheon of the Boating Party -2

Some of my favourite characters in this book were the beverages:  wine, champagne, cassis, pear brandy, burgundy, and Armagnac:

Charles raised his glass to look at it.  "A fine mahogany color with an amber surface."  He brought it to his nose to smell the montant, the strongest aromas.  "An abundant nose, not for the faint of heart."  He swirled it gently and watched it coat the glass.  He raised it again for the second nose, the full bouquet.  "Vanilla, plum, and spices."

Charles waited until everyone had enjoyed the aromas.  "The perfect sip is always the first."

"You're wrong, Angele said.  "The perfect sip is the one you're sipping."

"With a long, deep aftertaste of prunes," Raoul said.  "A far sight better than your young brandy in that country cask, you'll have to admit."
.... "D'accord."

Painting is Renoir's Lunch at the Restaraunt Fournaise (1875).  Another scene of conviviality, wine, food, and boating.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Luncheon of the Boating Party

Susan Vreeland paints a tale that revolves around the Renoir masterpiece, “Luncheon of the Boating Party.”  After all the heavy lit I’ve been reading lately this was a welcome confection. 
Along the way I learned some interesting background about Impressionism, Paris in 1880, and sailing on The Seine. 

If the author's interpretation is to be believed, it was criticism from Zola that drove Renoir to attempt this ambitious portrait of fourteen:
"If one is too easily contented, if one sells sketches that are hardly dry, one loses the taste for works based on long and thoughtful preparation.  The real misfortune is that no artist among the Impressionists has achieved powerfully and definitely the new formula which, scattered through their works, they all offer in glimpses... The man of genius has not yet arisen. We seek in vain the masterpiece that is to lay down the formula... they remain inferior to what they undertake; they stammer without being able to find the words."
Ouch!  And this about Renior, Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Degas, Cezanne, Caillebotte, Morisot.

The story takes place over the two month period it took to create the masterpiece, with background stories of the characters that sit as models.  The amazing luncheons they enjoy over 8 weeks of Sundays are described in mouth-watering detail:  salmon with mushrooms and dill baked in brioche bread; rabbit stew; crepes. After the light loses its magic, there is usually sailing or rowing to be done.

The cover of the book is the painting itself, and I found myself constantly flipping back and forth to study the characters and brushstrokes as I read about them in the text. 

As the painting takes shape and colour, each detail is brought to life:  how the red poppies came to be on the brim of one hat;  the awning waving in the breeze, the sailboats in the background.
“The sly, soft eyes of this one tipping her head coquettishly, the archness of her smile.  And the pert little nose of that one, her petulance, absorbed in her dog but knowing that Gustave is adoring her.  The feline charm of this one looking through the glass.  And the black gloves to this one’s ears, forcing us to speculate what she doesn’t want to hear.” ...and Gustave’s hand lines up with Angele’s, the woman looking at him... and the two hands on the chair of the right, the titillation of that.”...
“the luscious still life.  The face in the glass is far lovelier than Vermeer’s attempt.  The young woman loving her little dog - you’re quoting Fragonard there.  And the langor of the one leaning on the railing is pure Ingres.  You’ve given the masters a rebirth in Impressionist style and subject.”  (p 419-420)
Consider all the academic prose and art criticism the painting has inspired. Indeed, “a picture is worth a thousand words”..... or more....

Monday, October 25, 2010


Suddenly is published ten years after the Giller award-winning novel, A Good House.

In some ways it must be a bit of a curse for a first novel to win the Giller and be published to such critical acclaim.  Alice Munro's praise is quoted on the book's cover:"You keep finding more and more satisfaction in the unshowy craft, the unique vision of this writer who can tell you hard truths, hopefully."
It is only with family and friends by her side scratched out.  And peacefully, bravely, ready to meet her maker, all scratched out.  And then the word he was left with.  Suddenly. (p.235)
Thus the title is born.  Yet how could it truly be called suddenly, when people are taking shifts watching someone they love being consumed by terminal cancer?

Burnard's technical skill is displayed in this novel without question. Pages and pages of the novel are spent witnessing the horrible suffering that resides in mundane details like sponge baths, haircuts, meals...  I'd like to say it makes the memories of times past more poignant, and it does, but I also felt a bit manipulated.
The ragged pounding in his chest, a hammer, a claw hammer, is new and it is not what any man would call love.  He looks at her parched mouth and at her chest, as hard and flat and cold as a boy's, and at the weak expansion and shallow collapse of her lungs, that mock breathing.  Sheet or no sheet, he can see the body's ruin, the wasting and the bruising and the pale rubbery scars.
He doesn't care.  She could be inside out, he wouldn't care.
And then like a fearful boy put to a test that he has in fact prepared for, he is able to say the thing he should say.
"Love you, Babe," he tells her.  "More now."
(p. 194)
The Book Babes were in general consensus about the beautifully written prose.  Many of us  found the constant shifting difficult to follow.  There were a lot of paragraphs read and re-read to re-establish the person, the time, or the event that had occurred.  

This novel was a bit like a fugue, the way it weaves back and forward through time and points of view.  Sometimes two or three different time frames and perspectives within as many paragraphs. The journals kept over the years were a useful device to travel in and out of time,  through sickness and health, decades-long friendships, marriage, divorce, affairs.

Paragraphs with odd little twists that cause you to pause and re-read, like:
And Gus too wanted Kate protected from the world, from men and from herself, because when she was living at home with her mother there had been a bit of trouble.   Two guys once, smuggling up late at night to her room, their snorts of laughter giving them away and then their outrageous condoms offered to Kate's mother as evidence of their common sense.  And sixteen year-old Kate both laughing and enraged.  And strong.  And pounding her mother into the bed. (p. 109)
The book was not short on irony but the use of  humour was spare.  The only instance that comes to mind is near the end of the book, when "She Loves You," by the Beatles, is played at the funeral service, chosen by the daughter because she remembered her mother saying it would make a great funeral song.  "I’m not sure your mother intended that every single one of her words should be remembered,” her brother comments wryly. (p.284)

Friends that were held together through the web of association learn new ways to be with each other in the world.  The husband begins dating, with no interest in living in solitude.  Life goes on.  

Friday, October 22, 2010

Full Hunter's Moon - October

Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of October skies

And all the leaves on the trees are fallin'
To the sound of the breezes that blow
An' I'm trying to please to the callin'
Of your heart strings that play soft and low

 full lyrics to the Van Morrison classic

painting on right is from Robin Nash gallery

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Environmental Floral Design

wooly thyme, Autumn Joy
and hens & chicks in my garden
Some people just have the knack, it seems.  Mary Audia is one of them, and is famous in this district for her talents.  At the District 5 Horticultural meeting she gave a workshop on environmental floral design that was inspiring.

She used plants in her arrangements that I often overlook in my own backyard:  the purple sedum, a big hellabore leaf, hosta, geranium, eunomous, euphorbia, bergenia, cedar, barberry....

The Ikenobo philosophy nicely aligns with environmental design:
  • seasonal plants, locally grown
  • slight imperfections are acceptable, even desirable, especially if they 'speak to the season',  like a hosta leaf yellow with autumn colour or with a pinprick hole...
  • materials kept to a minimum

I ended up taking home the arrangement and container on the left (complete with kenzin).  The scent of lily is strong, but not too overpowering.

There was another fun design concocted from a scooped out pumpkin, and then filled with orange glads and dahlias (ornamental kale or cabbage, and mums could be equally striking).

What's not environmentally friendly comes as no surprise:  pesticides; floral foam (it's  non-biodegradable and full of toxins like formaldehyde); and transporting exotic flowers long distances, which produces carbon emissions.

So why not choose plants grown locally?  Or better yet, from your own backyard?  The only problem with taking cuttings from the garden is just that - well, you are taking cuttings from the garden.  One less bloom to admire.

Alex put his cactus in among the marigolds.