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