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