Sunday, February 27, 2011

Magical morning

Waking up to winter mornings like this is such a welcome surprise.  Fresh white snow decorating everything like icing on a cake.  Before the Wind blows the snow to the ground, holding its breath for an hour.  The morning like a sweet hush.

Two months from now this will be budding green.

click to enlarge - you'll be glad you did!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Out Stealing Horses

Accolades for Out Stealing Horses are marked on my softcover, including:  Time Magazine Book of the Year, Winner of the Impac Dublin Literary Award, and One of the Ten Best Books of the Year (New York Times Book Review).

Written in Norwegian by Per Petterson and translated into English by Anne Born, this is a coming of age story, told through the eyes of a 67 year old man who has retired to the country to live out the rest of his years in isolation.  The events of one summer, of actions taken and not taken when he was 15, that would change his life forever.

Some of the sentences go on for lines:
But when you are in the swing, and all of you have fallen into a good rhythm, the beginning and the end have no meaning at all, not there, not then, and the only vital thing is that you keep going until everything merges into a single pulse that beats and works under its own steam, and you take a break and work again, and you eat enough but not too much, and you drink enough but not too much, and sleep well when the time comes; eight hours at night and at least one hour during the day. (p. 75)
His memories and dreams descend on him, he cannot put them from his mind.  The events are retold, not rationalized or explained.  He is puzzling out the moments that shaped him, the 'before' and 'after':
It was as if a curtain had fallen.  It was like being born again.  The colours were different, the smells different, the feeling things gave you right down inside yourself was different.  Not just the difference between heat, cold; light, darkness; purple, grey, but the difference in the way I was frightened and happy. (p 224)
The language is lyrical.  Mesmerizing in detail and insight:
People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are.  What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and lets you off the hook. (pp 67-68)
It is a poignant summer.  The sadness comes in looking back, over the years, because this person chooses to cut the moments of pain out from his life at the cost of creating a certain numbness.  His return to the forest of his youth brings an unexpected reawakening.  Although he attempts to isolate himself and shut himself off from communication with others, they seek him out; and he is all the better for it. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

High Park

Rob and I went walking in High Park on Family Day, and I found myself standing in the same spot I'd admired the Cherry Blossoms about 9 months ago.

I hadn't deliberately set out to stand in the same spot, but there was something familiar about the way the trees were lined along the path.  When I saw the plaque commemorating the cherry tree planting it dawned on me.... the miracle of Spring is just around the corner.

I am so excited.

I just spent about an hour hanging out in my Virtual Garden.  What fun to browse through seasons past.

Winter is lovely, fresh fallen snow and fluffy snowflakes can be spellbinding.  Walking in a park and seeing the footsteps of recent travelers is a treat.

But I am restless!  I want to see my crocuses popping their heads. 

This fat squirrel doesn't seem to mind a cold February day.  But that old guy carved into the tree, he's personifying how I'm feeling these days.  Enough of this cold weather already!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Comfort Food

One of the very first meals I ever remember preparing was Kraft Dinner.  I was 8, I think, on a camping trip with other Brownies. And I remember being so impressed that this was something I could make myself, outside, over an open campfire, with matches, a pot, boiling water, macaroni.  It was a revelation and seriously -  one of the best meals I ever remember making.

So, tonight.

Long day at work and I was very tired and working late;  I called Alex and asked him to take care of dinner and said I would be home in about an hour.  So, could you please get something on the table because I only have ten minutes to share a meal with you, and I really want to sit down to dinner with you before I head out for the evening.  Could you get a rotisserie chicken, grab a pizza, or make some spaghetti?

By the time I got home there was a hot meal and the table was set. Kraft dinner and grilled cheese sandwiches.  And seriously -  this definitely tied for the  'best Kraft dinner ever'  award.

How timely that just this morning I was enjoying that Bare Naked Ladies song, "If I had a Million Dollars", and smiling at the lyrics:

If I had a million dollars
We wouldn't have to eat Kraft Dinner
But we would eat Kraft Dinner
Of course we would, we’d just eat more
And buy really expensive ketchups with it
That’s right, all the fanciest ke... dijon ketchups!
Mmmmmm, Mmmm-Hmmm

Now I just need to work on the Million dollars part.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Triptych (plus 1)

Three different croppings of the same photo, plus a slightly different perspective.  I think my favourite is the one with lots of sky.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

David Wroblewski took 10 years and 12 drafts to see his story through to publication.  In 2008 it became a New York Times best seller and later that year, an Oprah Book Club Selection.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle made me wonder about the nature of animals, both human and dog.  And things supernatural.  There is definitely an eerie presence:  characters with the ability to see into the future and to hasten fate; ghosts that demand justice; the element of chance in science; the question of life's purpose.

Edgar is mute and compensates by developing acute powers of observation, which means there are beautifully rendered passages.  But the author also tells the story from a few dogs' points of view, and manages to carry it off with empathy, respect and imagination.

Rich and multi-layered.  Filled with suspense.  Technically brilliant.  Lots of great details about dog breeding and training and the dynamics of some very complicated relationships.

Secret Daughter

It's easy to see why this novel is a Canadian bestseller.  Yes, it is chick lit, but great chick lit.  Both my book clubs have it on the reading list, but BPYC reviewed it first.

This is the author's first novel.  The story is well crafted; the female characters are strong and fascinating.  Kavita, whose first daughter is murdered at birth, resolves to save the life of her second 'secret' daughter, by carrying her to an orphanage and giving her up for adoption.  The girl ends up in North America, well-schooled and well-loved, but always wondering about her biological mother.

The story takes place on two continents and weaves back and forth between the lives of the different families, generations and cultures.

The nature of motherhood is certainly a major theme, but not to the extent that the non-mothers in the group felt the book didn't speak to them on other levels.

Dualism, fate, destiny, luck, privilege, the notion of choice.

And some fun new words, like:
- futta fut (quickly)
- khush (happy)
- yaar (friend)

The group's only criticism was that the male characters were a bit one dimensional, used more as plot devices or catalysts and not as fully developed as the women in the story.  But then, this really was a story about the lives of women:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Taja Reserva

my tasting note on this one is :  yum!  That is about all I can muster tonight, it has been one long week.

So I am entertaining myself with some other descriptions on Google:

I'm a little peeved at this entry from the Canadian Wine Guy, though.  He loses me as soon as I realize we start right off with some fundamental differences:
I am not the biggest fan of Spanish reds as I find that despite the low price (for the most part) I am often left with a rough chewy experience.
......though he does redeem himself a bit later in the review:
This wine is a blend that often gets good reviews and is called one of the better “bang for the buck” out of Spain.
Anyway, I meant to write about how much I am enjoying drinking from this particular glass, shaped so prettily. I found two in the back of my cupboard (well, Rob did, actually).

For me the vessel really makes such a difference to the whole experience.  I like the stemless, thin Riedels, and oversized  reds, and champagne flutes.  And on occasion, a nice petite mason jar.  I admit to being a bit of a snob in this regard.  I can't stand plastic or acrylic glasses, even on the boat.  When I win the lottery, I will have a generous set of stemware, and set a table for 8 courses, each with a different shaped glass.  Lofty aspirations, I know. :-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Snow Moon - February

photo credit
My calendar says this is the Full Bear Moon.

I admit to never hearing the February moon called by that name.   Farmers Almanac says, "Full Snow Moon".   There's also:  Trappers, Budding, Bony, and Little Famine.  This one is descriptive:  "Moon when the trees pop" (Dakotah Sioux).

Speaking of descriptive... this week, on Valentine's Day, I pulled out Leonard Cohen's "Book of Longing".  I was so excited when it was first being released, I pre-ordered a signed copy.  And when the book arrived in the mail, his signature was the first thing I looked for inside its pages.  This was 2006, so not so long ago.  I read it, but I didn't really 'get' it, and I stuck it back on the shelf.

It's been awhile since I re-opened the covers, and it wasn't quite what I remembered or expected.  Much of it chronicles his spiritual quest into Buddhism and time spent with Roshi on Mt. Baldi.  There is some really funny stuff in there, and great sketches done by LC (lots of naked women appear in this particular quest).  Irreverent to say the least.

here is one:

The Moon
The moon is outside.
I saw the great uncomplicated thing
when I went to take a leak just now.
I should have looked at it longer.
I am a poor lover of the moon.
I see it all at once and that's it
for me and the moon.

and another....

Early Morning at Mt. Baldy
Alarm awakened me at 2:30 a.m.
got into my robes
kimono and hakama
modelled after the 12th-century
acher's costume:
on top of this the koroma
a heavy outer garment
with impossibly large sleeves:
on top of this the ruksu
a kind of patchwork bib
which incorporates an ivory disc:
and finally the four-foot
serpentine belt
that twists into a huge handsome knot
resembling a braided challah
and covers the bottom of the ruksu:
all in all
about 20 pounds of clothing
which I put on quickly
at 2:30 a.m.
over my enormous hard-on

Now..... for your musical entertainment on the eve of this lovely full moon (which officially starts February 18th at 9:35:45 a.m.)..... a little CCR... "Bad Moon Rising".

Great song, but really bad presentation.  The lips are out of sync and the band members look terribly, terribly uptight. I wonder if I am even being musically responsible sharing it here?

... on the Johnny Cash Show, playing Bad Moon Rising...

enjoy :-)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Brunello di Montalcino

Vino Pinino.  Saying that almost makes me feel I might be able to learn to speak Italian some day.

Pinino is a Tuscan winery founded in 1874, and I am particularly enjoying the 2005 Brunello di Montalcino Rob brought home Friday night.

Brunello di Montalcino (broo NEL lo dee mon tal CHEE no) is a red Italian wine produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino located about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Florence in the Tuscany wine region. Brunello, roughly translated as "nice dark one" in the local dialect,[1] is the unofficial name of the clone of Sangiovese (also known as Sangioverosso[2]) grown in the Montalcino region. In 1980, the Brunello di Montalcino was awarded the first Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation and today is one of Italy's best-known wines. Wikipedia

100% sangiovese grapes.  Brick red in the glass with touch of auberne dancing on the edge.  The look and smell made me think I'd be tasting  a 'big' jammy red, but this is not at all overpowering.  Tastier with every sip.   The tasting note says "best after 2011," so new flavours are likely to emerge in the coming years.

I am intrigued by the logo; don't know what it represents.

I wonder if it has something to do with the new owners of the estate; two families joined in partnership from Austria and Spain.  The Gamons and Hernandez' are four friends "with a common vision to produce 1st class wines." They purchased the property in 2003 so this is one of their first vintages.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Golden moments

The end of a very long week, I came home and Alex and Penny suggested a tea party.  They'd just picked up a nice selection and were eager to sample.  So we opened 'Jessie's Tea', a blend of lavender, roibos, coconut, and cornflowers.  What a scent!

We got out three golden cups and were enjoying the flavours when Penny noticed the tea cups were casting a golden sheen on our faces, the light spilling out from rounded curves.  Sudden magic.

Every once in awhile the golden glints would make a surprise appearance, adding a nice touch to an already special moment.

Winter blooms

The orchids are budding and blooming again, a welcome sight on winter mornings.
Underneath the skylights, they seem so tender against the vast blue sky, or defiant against the bare and leafless branches that lie just the other side of the glass.
Here they are under blankets of snow.....

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hey, look ma, no hands!

I gave this a try in my yoga class tonight.  Didn't think I'd be able to do it since I find the regular shoulderstand so difficult... but I could do it! 

We did quite a few poses to build to niralamba sarvangasanaa (unsupported shoulderstand), including several dog pose and headstand variations.

What fun!  I feel like I just did my first cartwheel.

(the photo on right isn't me, it's noa m on flickr, courtesy a google search.) 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Whimsy and wonder

Google is celebrating Jules Verne today with this whimsical graphic.

20,000 Leagues under the sea was the first 'science fiction' I read as a kid.  At the time it seemed factual, I was only mildly surprised to learn the author had imagined it all in 1870.  My grandparents stressed the point to me with wonder, and their wonderings were contagious.

So often these wild imaginings spark a scientific thinker to work out the art of the possible.... 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Comfort Food

Made choucroute for the first time; and it definitely won't be the last time.  Such a comfort meal!

I played around with three or four different recipes to concoct one for the slow cooker.  This is what I layered:  1 lb slab of bacon, cut into 1" cubes, 4 lbs well-rinsed sauerkraut, bay leaf, fresh thyme, juniper berries, mix of sausages & kielbassa (about 5 lbs), topped with potatoes and Fiji apples, 3/4 bottle of Alsace Riesling.  Cooked on high for 2 hours and then low for about 5 hours.  Easy!  Served with pumpernickel bread and some great mustards (fig and date balsalmic; hot horseradish; dijon).  This was dinner for 6 and there were a ton of leftovers.

Don and Ana brought a delicious squash soup with shrimp; and Liz and Darcy brought a side salad to round out the meal.

Dessert was blood orange, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries drenched in chambord & served with ice cream, biscotti and Spanish Coffee.

Ossau Iraty - absolutely delicious!
Before sitting down at the table we sampled cheeses.  I brought out an Alsacian Munster that was particularly stinky; a beautiful chevre (Tomme de Chevre 137)  and a great Basque sheep's cheese called Ossau Iraty.  A dark chocolate berry bread  provided a unique contrast for the Munster.

Next time I do chourcroute in the slow cooker I will change up the sausage for more kielbossa and/or chops.   Another possibility would be to go "whole hog" and toss in some pigs' knuckles, tails, or hocks.

Sauerkraut is something I crave every once in awhile.  This humble ingredient has a noble past:  it's kept sailors from scurvy and brought winter Vitamin C to Europeans for centuries.  Cooking it in the Riesling sweetened it incredibly.  I wonder how sauerkraut simmered in a nice porter would fare?

Something tells me this dish will become one of my winter staples.

Friday, February 4, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Happy Happy 4709!!!  Year of the Rabbit.

Money can be made without too much labor. Our life style will be languid and leisurely as we allow ourselves the luxuries we have always craved for. A temperate year with unhurried pace. For once, it may seem possible for us to be carefree and happy without too many annoyances. The Holiday Spot
I held off making New Year's Resolutions Jan 1, but today I am making some Chinese New Year's Resolutions:
  • Take a lunch break during the work week.  Stop working through lunch, with the illusion it makes me more productive.  Actually I think it just makes me grumpy.  Go for a walk....
  • Eat breakfast
  • Get back to my morning yoga practise
  • ......... get back on the Less is More Diet.
Essentially, get back to my good habits.

Right after the weekend.

photo credit

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thunder Soul

Listen to the song Kash Register below and you'll hear a great funk track from the 70's Kashmere Stage Band.

When you realize the musicians are a bunch of high school kids from the poor side of town, you understand what inspired director Mark Landson to make the documentary, Thunder Soul.

Conrad B. Johnson, the high school music director for the Kashmere players set high expectations for his students.   They went on to win the country's top band honours, toured Europe and then Japan. 

30 some years later circumstances converged to bring the documentary filmmaker into town to interview Conrad B. Johnson at the same time a group of the Kashmere musicians were returning to pay their tributes.

The documentary focuses on the band members as they practise and perform a concert for Conrad's 92nd birthday.   Just two days after their performance, Conrad died.  Which is three years to this very day, when the film was screened in Toronto.

Yes, it felt like Conrad was "in the house" tonight.

Mark Landson says it often felt as though there were a higher hand at work in the forces that brought them all together to make the documentary.  One of the biggest being that well after shooting and in the editing suite, when they were stuck with trying to figure out how they'd animate old black and white photos in place of historic footage, they discovered someone who'd captured scenes on 16mm film back in the day.  Now, on-camera interviews are interwoven with the found footage.

Great movie, great music, great moments.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Snow day!  Snuggled in, watching the winter storm.

And it's Groundhog Day!  The boughs of the fir tree in the front yard are heavy and weighted down.  It's cloudy, which bodes well...
According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.[1] Wikipedia

Mixed augery.  With a cloudy day and storm it is hard to predict what the groundhogs will do.  My cat could care less, but personally I hope the rodent is foolhardy enough to brave the wind so winter leaves within 6 weeks!

Here is a clip from one of my all-time favourite films, Groundhog Day.

Bill Murray makes this one easy to watch, over and over again. Here with German subtitles, in case you want to brush up your language skills: