Sunday, March 27, 2011

From Pillar to Post

If memory serves, something like 80% of wines purchased at the LCBO are uncorked within 20-60 minutes of purchase.

I didn't even need to uncork this screw-top Shiraz:
Pillar Box Reserve.  It was $20 in the vintages section, scoring 90 points from the   Wine Advocate and sitting right next to a $55 bottle with a score of 92. 

And it was poured within 40 minutes from shelf to table. Instant gratification.  "Pillar Box can be enjoyed in its youth, but will reward the patient." Definitely enjoyed sipping on this Friday and Saturday night.

Wine Advocate March 2010 
2008 Pillar Box Reserve Shiraz
90 Points
Purple– coloured, it delivers an alluring nose of cedar, lavender, pepper and blueberry. Concentrated and layered on the palate, it has more than ample succulent fruit, good balance and enough structure to ensure 4-5 years of pleasurable drinking.

Wine Spectator May 2010 
2008 Pillar Box Reserve Shiraz
87 Points

Ripe and spicy, with nutmeg and clove overtones to the dark berry flavors, lingering on the generous finish against slightly gritty tannins. Best from 2011 through 2015.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Just for fun

I've been reading and hearing a lot about Chi-gong lately and when someone at work offered a free lesson on this moving meditation, I thought I'd give it a try.  He offers it to colleagues on Thursdays at lunch - and finally, after about three weeks, I had free time when a meeting wasn't booked.  He led us through a few movements and I genuinely felt lighter and more energetic.  I can see this is something that would take a lifetime to master, but learning a few basic sequences would be something I could incorporate into my daily practice.

Also gave Zumba a try on Friday night.  I made plans with Therese to go, and if I hadn't made a commitment with someone I likely wouldn't have made it.  So many great excuses not to go!  Occasionally, I could get my legs to follow the steps.  Sometimes my arms.  But never my arms and legs at the same time.  Lots of fun, though. Despite being somewhat challenged in the dance department, I had a lot of fun.  This is something I'd like to try again.  The instructor was inspiring.  She was what could be called a "big" girl (maybe 40 pounds overweight?)  but incredibly fit and wow! could she shake that booty. Talk about "hip" notism. I think it would take me a few lifetimes to catch up to her level.

Maybe this will help me get to know the steps a bit better:

The Book

I have been totally engrossed this past week in putting together 'the book' of our Mediterranean vacation last year.

Over 3000 photographs and 30+ hours later, I'm down to about 44 pages and close to clicking the 'buy' button to order a hard copy.

It was so much fun going through the pics and thinking about the time in the sun.  I could feel parts of my brain lighting up with happy memories.

Next on my publishing endeavors  - 'My Garden' book! 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Super Moon - March

Rob, Alex and I hopped in the car to go to the Waterworks for the moonrise. There were about 20 other cars there as well - including a police cruiser.

What a great feeling to see other people drawn to the same place to take in the sight on a Saturday night.  I felt a kinship with these fellow moon-gazers.

What a show! The pink orb poked its nose out of the water's horizon and climbed rapidly in the sky.

This was a 'Supermoon' and it is closer to the planet than it has been in 18 years.

Alex took these shots.  Hasn't he got a great eye?

Full Worm Moon - March

This month is known as the full worm moon by some. 

Tomorrow is the first day of spring!

I was out in the garden raking up dead leaves.  Didn't see any worms though, not quite yet.....

Kiko and the lavender moon
(Los Lobos)

Out playing - makes believe
Nobody can see
And then he waits
And then he fakes
And then he bends
And then he shakes
He plays and plays
Still playing till he
Goes off to sleep

Kiko and the Lavender Moon Music Video
Kiko and the lavender moon
Out dancing making faces at/ A big black cat
And then he flies / Up to the wall
Stands on one foot / Doesn't even fall
Dance and dance / Still dancing till 
He goes off to sleep /
He always sleeps / Till the sun goes down
He never wakes / Till no one's around
He never stops / Can't catch his breath
It's always there / Scares him to death

Kiko and the lavender moon
Out dreaming 'bout green shoes / Haircuts and cake
And then he wishes / The world away
And then he kneels / As if to pray
He dreams and dreams
Kiko and the lavender moon


The 'official' music video for Kiko and the Lavender Moon couldn't be embedded here.  It is a weird and wonderful piece of art that I think pays homage to Day of the Dead, but it still seems somehow appropriate for this time of year.

Here's a clip of Los Lobos performing the song live at the Filmore:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Born to Be Good

Dacher Keltner was on Tapestry talking about his work as Co-Director of the Greater Good Science Centre at UC Berkeley and mentioned his book, Born to Be Good:  The Science of a Meaningful Life.

We assume 'bad trumps good', because 'good guys finish last' and you need to be tough-as-nails to engage in  'survival of the fittest'.  To win, someone must lose.  Compassion hasn't fared well in Western philisophy: Kant, Rand, Hobbes.

But there is another way to look at the world, and it is making its way into academic circles:  doing good just may be contagious;  it pays to be good; and positive emotions spread more quickly than negative ones.

When Richie and Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues had software engineers train in the techniques of mindfulness meditation — an accepting awareness of the mind, loving kindness toward others — six weeks later these individuals showed increased activation in the left frontal lobes. They also showed enhanced immune function. They may not have been donning the saffron robes of the monk, but at least their minds were moving in that kind direction.
Recent scientific studies are identifying the kinds of environments that cultivate compassion. This moral emotion is cultivated in environments where parents are responsive, and play, and touch their children. So does an empathic style that prompts the child to reason about harm. So do chores, as well as the presence of grandparents. Making compassion a motif in dinnertime conversations and bedtime stories cultivates this all-important emotion. Even visually presented concepts like 'hug' and 'love' at speeds so fast participants couldn't report what they had seen increase compassion and generosity.
Compassion is that powerful an idea. It is a strong emotion, attuned to those in need. It is a progenitor of courageous acts. It is wired into our nervous systems and encoded in our genes. It is good for your children, your health, and, recent studies suggest, it is vital to your marriage. In the words of the Dalai Lama: 'If you want to be happy, practice compassion; if you want others to be happy, practice compassion.' It has taken a sympathy breakthrough for science to catch up to this wisdom of the ages.
Ironically enough, compassion may be a prerequisite to the pursuit of self-interested happiness.  Excerpt from Born to Be Good is taken from Spirituality and Practice

This book helped to inspire the documentary, 'I Am' recently released in the States.

Google Tech Talks has a full hour lecture with Keltner which is well worth a listen.

Here's a two minute interview with the author to whet your appetite:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Canada Blooms 2011

I decided to skip the crowds this year and go for an early morning preview on the first day of the official opening.  I got there bright and early and ended up being the third through the door.  What a great feeling!  To have the floor relatively uncluttered and be free to move around and actually get perspective on some of the exhibits.

There was a cairn that reminded me of Andy Goldsworthy, but sadly, no attribution.  Lots of tulips and daffodils and a fair amount of heather. 

I've gone hunting for dogwood at the nurseries the last few years and never seem to find a compact variety.   I asked the Master Gardener leading our group about smaller versions, and he said it didn't really matter - just prune to your heart's content and  avoid the overly vigourous varieties.  

There is also a winterberry shrub that has been catching my eye on the way to work these cold, snowy mornings.  I spotted that among the specimens at Canada Blooms, too.  That would be lovely in the backyard.

I think it is time to tear out some of the non-native Siberian Elms at the top slope of the ravine; strip away the raggedy lilacs along the side of the property, and get some shade-loving natives to attract birds and bees. 

Also got a few ideas for embellishments.  There was a zen garden that made great use of some unique water features:   a floating bell fountain that could be moved indoors in the winter, and a  beautiful Japanese rain chain to decorate the eavestroves.

This year, as always, there were some incredible floral designs.  It irked me to watch the crowds arrive and overly-eager visitors stroke the petals on display.  At that rate there will be quite a bit of damage by Saturday and Sunday.

The mosaics were especially amazing!

The exhibit inspired me to give this a try... I will have to pull out my flower press again.  Hydrangea petals seemed to be used in many of the mosaics.  Small and delicate, they can be used to great effect.  Dried fruit, dried beans, chard, tiny red peppers... wow!

Lots of ideas and inspiration at the start of the garden season.  My fingers are itching to get started! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Water for Elephants

I can't remember the last time I cried at the ending of a book, but there I was in the plane with a stranger beside me, blinking fast to hold back tears.

This is the second time I've read Water for Elephants.  I enjoyed it the first time, but I don't recollect the end having the same effect on me that time around.

I re-read this for the BPYC book club.  The novel was enjoyed by all who attended, including fellow blogger and kindred spirit, Annika.  Everyone agreed Kaarina made a fine choice, and she served some great treats:  lemonade and burger sliders;  a wonderful sasparilla drink called sarsi; and an outstanding combo of caramel corn and a Jacob's Creek chardonnay/ pinot noir that was absolutely yummy.

Oh yes.... back to the book....

Photo credit
This is essentially a love story, set during the Depression in a traveling circus; but it is reminisced by the much older Jacob.  At 90 years old (or is it 93? even he isn't sure), the past is more real to him, and certainly more appealing.  He flashes back to memories of coming of age, and falling in love, remembering the characters he met along the way. 

One of the most memorable characters for me is Rosie, the elephant.  I think I may have fallen as much in love with her as Jacob did... with her skin the colour of a storm, massive ears, expressive eyes, wandering trunk.  A taste for gin and watermelon seemed to make her more endearing, as did her obstinate personality.

The author, Sarah Gruen, was a technical writer before trying her hand at fiction, and it shows in her attention to detail and descriptions of mechanics that make her telling vivid.  You feel as though you are there watching at some points. There is one scene in particular, of a striptease act in the cooch tent, that is especially memorable.

It will be interesting to see how much of the older Jacob survives the screen adaptation.

I'm looking forward to the movie. The author was on set for much of the filming, and remarked at the time that although she hadn't seen the edited version yet,  she felt what she did see being filmed was true to the book:  

Sunday, March 13, 2011



First glimpse of the snowdrops this morning! The peonies' red nubs are also pushing their way through the soil.

What a difference a week makes...

Just last Sunday everything was dusted in a layer of fresh, fluffy flakes.

Looking forward to Canada Blooms this week.

Irish in the Sky

Feasting with friends. An Irish flag set out to greet us, Dick in open arms and wearing a gigantic green felt tophat. Maureen adorned with shamrock earrings. A gorgeous table set with gold-rimmed china and oxalys as a centrepiece.

Caroline prepared mouth-watering appetizers with artisan bread, apple slices, and melted porter and cheddar cheeses. Homemade sodabread spread with 'ancient butter,' served alongside a delicious mutton broth with roasted vegetables.
Colcannon/photo credit

Dick and Maureen orchestrated the main:  a crown rib roast, done to perfection with a blush of pink, and seasoned with the taste of cumin, fennel, and pepper; served alongside a dressing of fig and cranberries. Yellow and green beans with toasted slivered almonds. I made colcannon as a side, using kale and a sprinkling of mace.

To follow, Rob made Irish coffees and carmelized the rims with demerara sugar, adding whipped cream on top.  We sat and enjoyed them in front of the fire.

Then back to the table to finish with a dessert duo prepared by Rebecca - a fluffy white cake with Bailey's icing and a wonderful bread & butter pudding - just in case we weren't full enough!  The bread & butter pudding is nice and simple:  in an oven-proof dish, butter stale bread 6-8 slices, add a thin layer of thick slice marmalade,  break into pieces and place in dish- mix 2 eggs and two cups of milk, splash of vanilla, pour over bread -push down with fork.  Cook 350 degrees until  top is golden.

Then, we sang a jig or two while Tom and Jim did the washing up.

... and I also discovered Dick is a fellow blogger...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Perfect yoga moment

photo credit
I was doing some morning poses, slowly moving into a forward bend and then staying there to find the moment of effortless effort, the point of balance, and then came up slowly and consciously.  Suddenly a brilliant pink glow popped into view - right in front of me, the sun greeting me as it rose on the horizon.

I didn't even realize I was facing east and it was an unexpected joy.

A true sun salutation!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How Do You Know

Back in Thunder Bay.  Ah yes.  Room service and a chick flick after a sauna, whirlpool and swim.

The movie was How Do You Know with Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson.  I was expecting a typical rom-com, so maybe it was easy to exceed my expectations.

But that was before I knew James L. Brooks was the writer/director.

I've always enjoyed his sensibilities  (Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets, Spanglish).  I'm guessing that the episodes he penned of Taxi and Mary Tyler Moore were among my favourites... he must have started young though, because he also wrote for the Andy Griffiths Show and My Mother the Car.

There is one memorable scene where Lisa (the character played by Reese) impulsively drops in on a psychiatrist and then just as impulsively leaves.  Just before she goes, she turns abruptly and then asks him, if he were going to give one bit of general advice, the kind of advice anyone could follow and it would make their life better, what would it be?  He says it is a good question, and then answers her seriously, "Figure out what you want and learn how to ask for it."

Good advice, indeed.

The characters all struggle for growth and honesty, and there are a lot of great moments in the film.

Lisa's dilemma is choosing between two great but flawed guys.  She has a natural sense of comic timing and balances the qualities of strength and vulnerability brilliantly.  I'm looking forward to watching her take on Marlena Rosenbluth in Water for Elephants.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Loving Frank

Long travel day today gave me enough time to finish Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, the Book Babes March pick.

The novel is historical fiction, based on the facts surrounding Frank Lloyd Wright's and Mamah Cheny's scandalous affair in the early 1900s.

This is before women got the right to vote, when divorce was only just becoming an option, and Frank was establishing his reputation.

After their trip to Europe in 1907, they returned to build Taliesen in Wisconsin, a beautiful home nestled into the landscape.


Although this is Horan's first novel, she has earned her living as a journalist and previously published a garden book.  She grew up in Oak Park, the suburb where Wright honed his Prairie Houses and first met Mamah.

There's a great scene where Mamah asks Frank to collaborate on a translation of Goethe.  I like it because it helped me understand the essence of what separates a brilliant translation from a stiff or mediocre one:

Frank looked skeptical. "But my entire vocabulary is nein and ja."
"That's not true.  You know gutan Morgen."
"It doesn't matter.  I'll tell you the literal words, and we'll figure out together how to say it best.  It's important that you're a good writer in your own language.  You happen to be a great writer.  And the poem is about nature."
"Is that how it works, translating?"
"Well, it's a little bit of alchemy, I think.  It helps enormously to understand the culture you are translating from, and then the one you are taking it into."

Mamah also translated the works of Swedish philosopher Ellen Key, a strong proponent of what was known at the time as the 'Woman Movement'.   Her ideas of love and marriage were ahead of her time in many ways.   She wrote "Love is moral without legal marriage.... but marriage is immoral without love."  Key believed in women's suffrage, and although childless herself, she also preached that a woman's true calling was to raise children; they should be paid and properly esteemed for this work. 

I did not see the end coming, I wasn't aware of the tragic, brutal facts.  I still can't believe it all really happened.  Lionsgate has optioned the film rights, but it doesn't look like it has hit production yet.

Here the author tours Oak Park and the house that was designed for the Cheneys:

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Packing for a work road trip, and laughing at some of the contents of my suitcase:  2 wooden yoga blocks, a kettle, a tea cup, and loose white tea.  Oh yes, and tea candles.

Well, why not?

The tea looks and smells amazing.  Almonds, coco nibs, goji berries and licorice.  'Secret Weapon' has an amazing palette that promises to kick-start my immune system.  Which would be handy right about now.  Cream, and light green, with dashes of cornflower blue, gold, red, deep brown, and sunny yellow.

Also packing Loving Frank and Water for Elephants so I can catch up on my book club reading; and downloading some of my favourite podcasts (The Moth, Buddhist Geeks, and New Yorker Short Fiction).

This roadtrip actually couldn't come at a more inconvenient time.  I made the commitment months ago and now things are insanely busy with my project.  I feel like I will be out of office at a critical stage, but the plane tickets are bought and the hotels are booked.  So off I go to Thunder Bay and Kenora, somewhat anxious about leaving things behind.  On the other hand, this could be "just the ticket."

In the cellar

Rob came back from sunny Florida bearing gifts from the New World:

Wente, Crane Ridge, Merlot, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay 2007
flavours of plum, berry, spice and vanilla
The Wine Enthusiast gave this one 92 points in Feb 2010.

Fess Parker, Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California 2008
spice, cranberry, light blueberry and strawberry

I'll have to plan some spring menus...


photo credit
Bordeaux is what I've been sipping these past weekends.  Average vintages produce over 700 million bottles from the region.

I'm trying to picture the quantity.  Is that halfway to the moon?  Assuming the average bottle height is about 12 inches. that would be 700 million feet which translates into 132 575.758 miles.  I just asked Google maps to calculate directions between Toronto and Bordeaux but apparently that was asking too much.. This distance calculator says 3740 miles from here to Paris (or 3250 nautical miles). So, basically, there and back again, 400,000 times.  I think, it's hard to keep track of all those zeroes. 

At any rate, that's a lot of bottles and I'm sure that two won't be missed:

Chateau Haut-Vigneau 2005 Pessac-Leognan

Chateau Pey La Tour 2007 (winner 2009 gold medal Concours Mondial)

The colour of the claret in the glass is absolutely beautiful.  I like how the indefinite edge becomes a blurr as it touches the far side; the liquid closest to me is a deep plum, almost black-red.  Smells like summer and tickles my tongue.