Thursday, February 28, 2013

"to everything there is a season"

This picture was taken Feb 27, 2011, on another magical morning but it also could have been today.

Heavy snow weighing down the branches, no wind, everything dusted in white. Quiet. Quite. Then chunks of snow tumbling down, too heavy for graceful branches to bear. Bending.

I enjoyed a leisurely coffee and wondered at the view. Snapped a few photos. Then off to a full day at work.

I wonder how long it will take the first crocus to pop, and whether I should start inspecting to see if the witch hazel's Magic Fire is beginning an appearance. The seasons repeat themselves and still spring seems a distant promise. I will keep my eyes open.

"to everything there is a season"

I've always thought this passage from Ecclesiastes is comforting, so I was surprised when I googled it to see it interpreted as pessimistic.  So much depends on your point of view.

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun? 
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever. 
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises. 
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course. 
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again. 
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say. 
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing. 
 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
- Ecclesiastes 1

Artful tasting

There was a special tasting event at Frank, pairing Tuscan wines with food.  It was staged to complement the exhibit Stories and Secrets in Florentine Art, that opens at the AGO March 16.

At the beginning of each course, a sommelier said a few words about the wine, and executive chef Anne Yarymowich talked a bit about the food. Perfetto!

The food was absolutely delicious and plated with a perfect eye, like the solitary leaf of parsley that decorated the plate of prosciutto, fig and parmesan. Balanced for the palate/palette. Best prosciutto ever! Satin sauces. Complex flavours. Unique combinations. This was the kind of dining I'd hoped for on my trip to Italy, and to have it served on a cold-hearted winter night in Toronto was like a mini-vacation to the Tuscan hills.

The wine was also outstanding, so I couldn't believe that I actually left some Brunello and Barolo behind. Totally sated, I couldn't take in another drop.

The menu:
  • Sparkling Lombardia (Majolini, Franciacorta Brut 2008) with prosciutto, fig and parmesan cheese
  • Dry White (Le Corbinie, Toscano Bianco 2011) with spinach and ricotta gnudi with gorgonzola sauce
  • Chianti Classico (Podere Elisa, Tuscany 2008) with chicken liver crostini with chianti poached prune
  • Colognole (Jacobo Blondi Santi, Sassoalloro 2008) with red wine braised octopus on a bed of fagiolo puree with garlic and rosemary
  • Brunello (Roberto Cosimi, Brunello di Montalcino "Annata") with wild boar ragout and potato gnocchi
  • Barolo (Cascina Adelaide Barolo "4 Vigna" 2007) with venison medallion with truffled polenta
  • Vin Santo (Lomano del Chianti Classico) with chocolate panforte
The private room at the back of the restaurant only seated about 40 guests. When this was publicized it sold out within a few hours, so I was fortunate to have a friend with a watchful eye. (thanks Kaarina!).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

11/22/63 - Take 2

Tonight the Book Babes got together to talk about 11/22/63. Judi's pick.

My earlier predictions were fallible, only about a 20% accuracy rate. At least as far as this novel is concerned.

The story was entertaining, although most of us agreed it was a bit longer than necessary. But if you were Stephen King's editor, would you have the nerve to argue? And why would you argue with success?

Other interesting points raised
  • this might be King's attempt at social commentary, with the 50's/60's being painted as less than idyllic
  • King's short stories are technically superior to his longer novels
  • the ending was re-written at the suggestion of King's son... how did the first version end, and why and how was the author convinced to change the outcome
  • the book is just as much about changing the events and trajectories of lesser-known lives
  • more private and personal tragedies might have as strong an influence on major historic events (the "butterfly effect")
  • did the author's brush with death influence his choice of topics
  •  did the book make you wonder about choices you may have made in your own life in the past, and how events might have unfolded differently based on your earlier choices?
On my reading list: King's short stories. He has such classics, like Stand by Me, and Shawshank Redemption. King said at one time, " a short story is a different thing altogether - a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger." Interesting metaphor.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Full Snow Moon - February

Snow Owl Full Moon (Jack Brauer

Full Snow Moon
3:26 pm

Northern Norway, a full moon over the mountains with dancing Aurora Borealis

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar Picks

My absolute favourite film of the year was Life of Pi. Spectacular visuals!  I want to see this in 3D again. And again. I loved the novel and was dubious it could be made into a film. Ang Lee did not disappoint. Truly innovative in its adaptation. And it is a Canadian co-production! I don't think it will win Best Picture, not because it doesn't deserve to win so much as because most of the voters in the Academy are rumoured to be old white guys.

We all have our biases. Personally, I have absolutely no desire to see Django Unchained... way too violent, and way too long. So when Rob went to see Django, I was in the theatre watching Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis was outstanding. He portrayed Lincoln with a bit of a hobble, and I couldn't help but wonder if he had studied a pair of the dead President's shoes with an informed cobbler's eye (one of Day-Lewis' hobbies is shoe-making).

Anna Karenina was definitely worthy of the big screen.  The transitions were brilliant in the way they layered behind-the-scenes against the stage. The scale of the story and the sheer magnitude of some of the scenes demanded a large frame. The music, costumes, and sets were meticulously rendered. The adaptation of the novel must have been intimidating; it is such a long work and so well known. I walked out of the movie with a new perspective of the characters and their place in time. 

Amour is the Oscar nominee I've most recently seen. The actress' portrayal of the end of life is incredibly real. It must have been an exhausting role to play.
Of this year's nominees  I've also seen The Master, The Impossible, Argo, Hitchcock, and Moonrise Kingdom. 

So here are my Oscar picks... let's see how close I get:

Best Picture: Lincoln
Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis
Best Actor (in a supporting role): Robert De Niro
Best Actress: Emnanuellle Riva (Amour)
Best Actress (in a supporting role): Sally Field
Foreign Language: Amour
Make-up: Hitchcock
Cinematography: Anna Karenina
Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Director: Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Production Design: Les Mis
Music (original score): Anna Karenina
Music (original song): Sky Fall
Sound editing: Argo
Sound mixing: Les Mis
Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Writing (adapted Screenplay): Anna Karenina
Writing (Original): Amour

I've not seen: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, Sky Fall, Flight, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Hobbit, Chasing Ice, The Avengers, Prometheus, Documentaries, Animated Features or shorts, most of the Foreign Films

Expanding my repertoire

This month I tried lots of new recipes out and discovered some new dishes that were wonderfully tasty and easy to prepare.

This Warm New Potato and Smoked Mackerel Salad is very yummy. I think the aim with this dish is to nicely balance the five different tastes (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami) and then use the simple contrast of warm and cool to add extra dimension. It's very easy to prepare and made a nice first course but I can see this being a meal all by itself. I didn't have creme fraiche on hand for the creamy dressing, but Greek yoghurt substituted nicely. Also, no horseradish, so added a bit of aioli for a bit of tang.

Another easy meal: mussels. I've never made them at home before because I thought it required a special trip to a place like Diana's Seafood. But there they were, in the grocery store, right beside some salmon fillets. You Tube was a good source for recipes, and I found a great cooking demo that inspired me to steam them with leftover white wine, garlic and top with fresh tomato and Italian seasoning. Served with fresh baguette warmed in the oven. Delicious!

One thing that was reinforced in my culinary adventures this month was how important cuts of meat and poultry are to the success of the meal and the chosen method of preparation.

I had planned a pan-roasted chicken breast with sage-vermouth sauce. When I went to the grocery store, they didn't have chicken breast bone-in, skin on. I thought I could improvise with thin fillets. It was okay, but I think it would have produced far better results with the bone-in. Later in the week I used the pan-roasting technique with some drumsticks: browning first on the stove top and then finishing in the oven. Crispy skin and delicious meat!

I'm not quite sure what instigated my craving for roast duck, but my search yielded a recipe in Cook's Illustrated, The New Best Recipe that finished with a port wine glaze. Off to the St. Lawrence Market in search of fresh duck - and I lucked out in finding Muscovy. Usually the frozen kind is Pekin, which Cook's Illustrated warns is quite fatty. Since the Muscovy duck is much leaner, I ended up ditching the original recipe in favour of a whole duck slow roast.

The slow-roasted duck was absolutely beautiful when we took it out of the oven. A rich dark colour. The legs and thighs were moist but the breast itself was a tad overdone. An apple/pear chutney immediately helped address the problem. The next day, the duck was an absolutely delicious snack. 

In the New Best Recipe version, they call for cooking the different cuts for different lengths of time, which is a good solution.  Downside (or upside, depending on your point of view), is that you don't get to carve the bird at the table.

I saved a few ounces of the rendered duck fat for future use. According the the Hungry Mouse, it keeps for months in the fridge and comes in handy. I'll be sure to try some of these soon:
  • Duck fat is a glorious companion to potatoes. 
  • Add duck fat to mashed potatoes instead of butter.
  • Rub a whole chicken’s skin with it before roasting. It’ll add a good, deep flavor to your bird. (A chicken in duck’s clothing? I’ll take it!)
  • Slather it on root veggies and roast with garlic, salt, and pepper.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Storyteller

The Storyteller, by Antonia Michaelis, is a novel for young adults originally published in German. The English translation was chosen as a BPYC book club pick for February. 

The story revolves around two 17 year olds. The privileged and brainy Anna, from a good home, with two loving parents, and Abel, a troubled soul doing his best to look after his six-year-old sister without the support of either a mother or a father. 'Mature content' seems a euphemism for a murder story that includes rape, prostitution, and paedophelia in the lives of two high school students.

A quick search at imdb doesn't indicate the romantic thriller is optioned yet for a movie - if it isn't yet, it should be. A bit too threatening for middle America, though, as some of the parental book reviews note, Anna calls her parents by their first names and drinks with their permission. Shocking!

The story kept me guessing almost right up to the end. I couldn't help hoping for a happy ending for Abel, but it wasn't offered. I suppose if it had been, it would have felt like a cheap trick.

Leonard Cohen's songs and lyrics are pivotal to the plot. I was happy to see the poet's work referenced  in another language and to another generation. Proof of his international influence.

The plot unfolds over the winter months and the author made me appreciate snow again, and how beautiful it can be to sit in a winter garden, or lay on your back in a field of ice to gaze up at a night sky filled with stars. 

Here's a great review at the Readventurer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Last night at yoga we had a challenging class. Stand in half lotus then bend forward to uttanasana;  seated shooting bow pose; tripod headstand; shoulder stand combined with full lotus.  Three times in a row I felt and actually heard something shift in my cranium when standing on my head.

On the bus ride home there was a strung out crazy-looking guy that kept shouting 'show me the money! show me the money!' He couldn't walk a straight line and looked like a starved Santa on a bender. Nicotine yellow beard to mid-chest, forced-wide blue icicle eyes. Threatening and dangerous presence. People clapped when he stumbled off the bus into darkness.

Woke in the morning sore from yoga the night before. Slept in, no time for a shower. Big zits on my chin. Subway to work, standing room only and delayed trains.

Morning dentist appointment. I waited a full hour in the chair before he saw me. Spent an hour and a half with my mouth open while he tinkered to replace a crown. Rushed back to the office late for appointments but stopped for a quick bite because I was so hungry. Had a sandwich for lunch and the temporary crown popped right out.

Missed a key meeting because of the delay, and my back-up ended MIA due to transit problems.

At home I'm greeted by mail that includes bills and notices forwarded from Marian's estate. She's been dead now for more than a year and I still miss her, the mail is a nasty reminder.

Oh yeah, work's not so hot these days either.

No energy to make dinner, just spaghetti and sauce from a jar.

Yeah, some days make you wonder about the meaning of it all, the pointless struggle.

Just sayin'.

I  inhabit my aging body but dammit if it still doesn't work pretty damn good. The crazy drunk guy got off the bus and no one suffered any physical damage. I stuck to meditation and yoga in the morning despite running late. My dentist was doing the dental work for free, I salvaged the temporary crown and it was re-installed on my way home. Work colleagues understood about missing the meeting, it really wasn't the end of the world. I have a job. I have a home. I ate dinner with Rob and Alex. It may have just been speghetti and sauce from a jar but we shredded some fresh parmesan cheese on top and added some red pepper flakes.

Just sayin'.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Indian Feast

Leftover chapatis warm up nicely in the toaster the next morning for breakfast! I'm having one with Caroline's spinach paneer and Maureen's appetizers.

What a feast we enjoyed last night. The food and company were perfect antidotes to a trying week.

A leisurely meal enjoyed over 6 hours.

For starters: aloo bonda, samosa, pakora and sambal.

Then we rolled our own chapatis, and to my surprise, most were perfect circles. There was one heart-shaped, very pretty, but it didn't puff up as nicely over the flame.

We sat down to a very colourful table. For the main Caroline brought lamb kabob with a pomegranate reduction, raita and homemade spinach paneer (including paneer from scratch). This complemented the curried vegetable, chicken biryani and red lentil spinach dal. Every dish had a unique flavour and texture and yet it all seemed to go together.

Sweets from BJ Supermarket in Little India for dessert.

Shiraz, Gerwurtztraminer and Kingfisher beer paired well with this meal.

My recipes came from Mangoes and Curry Leaves, one of my favourite sources for Indian recipes and gorgeous photographs of the subcontinent.  'Indian food' spans a vast territory of unique regions and our dinner represented several:  Bangladesh (veg curry); Afghanistan (dum-style biryani); and Punjab (spinach paneer) to name a few.  Rice is typically served in the south and dal in the north, driven by sources of local agriculture.

Shrimp Sambal

Red Lentil Spinach Dal

The red lentil dal recipe is one I picked up from Marion Kane, 2005 in the Star. I didn't pre-cook the spinach, just added to the bubbling tomatoes as I figured they'd wilt nicely there and not overcook. It worked out just fine skipping the extra step.

A superb meatless, protein-packed dish inspired by Jill Dupleix, British-based food writer for The Times. Red lentils are easy to find, cook quickly and turn gorgeously pink when cooked. You could use green or yellow lentils; just cook them longer.

1 cup red lentil rinsed and drained
3 cups water
1 can diced tomato
1 bunch fresh spinach (stems removed, washed)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger root
1 jalapeno or Serrano chili
1 tsp each: ground cumin, ground coriander, salt, garam masala
1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp cayenne
chopped fresh coriander

In medium saucepan, bring lentils and water to boil, reduce heat to low & simmer (skim off scum) 15-20 minutes or until soft
In skillet or saucepan, cook spinach over medium heat in water until wilter, 3-4 minuts
In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and ginger; cook about 5 minutes.
Add chili, cumin, coriander, tumeric, pepper flakes and cook about 3 minutes
Add tomatoes cook about 3 minutes
Stir in cooked lentils, garam masala & chopped spinach.
Cook until heated through.
Garnish with coriander


Friday, February 8, 2013

Winter blahs

The winter blahs strike again. With fierce regularity! I have marked my perpetual calendar with a warning for late December through to February: make an effort to fight the winter blahs!

This year I felt like I needed a lift or to do something different with my 'look', so I went to the hairdresser in December and asked for a change. When I opened my eyes, my hair was a lot shorter. It took a bit of getting used to for me.

Then Boxing Day sales came, and I took advantage and grabbed some new coats, I was very sick of wearing dark colours so picked a nice red wool coat and soft gray down. Some new blouses, a peplum dress.

Early January I was walking by a salon and saw the ad for eyelash extensions so went in. They said it would only take an hour. I thought, 'why not?' Four hours later I emerged feeling like Carol Channing. Most people pretended not to notice or else chose not to comment on my sudden vanity. Of course, it is quite possible people didn't really notice either way. Rob did, though... he squinched his eyes up and laughed, "what's up with your eyes?"  I can't say I'm a fan, it feels odd. To grow them out I'll have to be patient, and put up with an awkward phase where some will have fallen out and others will be flying sideways. Brings new meaning to the expression "googly-eyed".

I know part of what I'm going through here is just confronting the prospect of aging. Who is that person in the mirror? Then I reconcile myself with the older version of my reflection, and carry on. Weeks or months later, it's the same thing again... what the hell!? o well. what the hell.

I can see how people - especially women - succumb to Juvaderm, Botox, liposuction. I'm tempted myself! Years ago, I was horrified when Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett started showing up on late night tv looking like cadavers. Now it is Madonna, Nicole Kidman and Susan Sarandon starting to look like parodies of themselves. Helen Mirren and Diane Keaton both appear to be aging gracefully, but is it because they are using the same techniques, just with more restraint?

Luckily I know more than a few ladies who are aging well, into their sixties, seventies and eighties.

We just need more cool old ladies in the public eye.

For Rob's birthday, I gave him some life drawing classes at the AGO. His model last week was a patrician looking woman 80+. Rob and I wondered about her "back story". Does she tell her friends and acquaintances about her part-time job? Did she always work as an artist's model or come to it late in life? Is this an act of final acceptance, standing naked under the gaze and scrutiny of strangers, comfortable in the presence of being yourself?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


I'm reading this month's Book Babes selection on an e-reader, a suspense story by Stephen King, and right in the middle of a murder scene, suddenly

the charge gave out.

Frustrating! This is a real page turner. Very ironic that a novel about time travel would just suddenly konk out.

I'm only 30% of the way through but guessing at how the plot twists this time-traveling suspense novel will angle and unravel. King first came up with the idea in the early 70's but abandoned it because he found the research aspects daunting. He admits the internet has made the task much easier.

Here are some predictions
  • Jake will get trapped in the past because something that he does or changes between '58 - '63 interferes with future events to such an extent that he doesn't discover time travel in the 21st century... something to do with Harry
  • One of the lives he 'saves' between '58 - '63 will actually be responsible for a terrible calamity 
  • The 'yellow card man' aka orange card man aka black card man is actually a fellow time traveler gone raving man, not a homeless alcoholic
  • Al, who dies of lung cancer in 2011 will somehow be 'saved' by being convinced to quit smoking earlier in life
  • Jake will adopt the Guardian Angel personae to his advantage (so far it is just a projection that two insightful players make to explain his interventions.
It's fun second-guessing where and when the characters will end up.

Although I haven't read a lot of Stephen King, what I have read, I've enjoyed. He is a great storyteller, prolific (50 novels. 400 short stories) and under-rated as a literary talent because of his astounding commercial success.

In a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal Stephen King confessed, "When i was a kid my mother used to say, think of the worst thing that you can and if you say it out loud that it won't come true, and that's probably been the basis of my career....."

Here he is on You Tube, reading selections from the novel at the book's launch held at JFK Library

He's not just scary, but funny. Entertaining. Confrontational. Thought-provoking.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Weekend get-away

Rob and I spent the weekend in Ottawa and Quebec, getting together with old friends he's known since high school and I've known now for almost thirty years.

Many of his friends are newly retired. Seeing them adjust to new rhythms makes my own retirement planning seem a lot less theoretical. Although Monday morning sometimes comes quickly for me, or a work week seems overly long, mostly I still enjoy working for a living. Which is a good thing, seeing as how I'll need to keep it up for another decade or so :-)

Of course, there was great food! Friday night, we arrived a bit late for dinner but that didn't stop me from enjoying leftovers.  To try at home:  pan-roasted chicken breasts with sage sauce (from The New Best Recipe) risotto, and  tapinade rolled in phyllo. Saturday night: prime rib, Yorkshire pudding, delicious cheeses and port for dessert. I won't have to eat all week!

It was extremely cold and the canal wasn't in great shape, so instead of skating we chose to hang out Saturday afternoon at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

What an amazing planet we live on!
The Scream

The Bird Gallery dedicates a whole floor to thoughtful exploration. It was a bit like visiting an aviary, with a display that included samples of bird song, looks at nests and habitats. I learned about some new Canadian species, including an owl that burrows in the ground in the prairies. I also found out that I weigh about the same as 4 wild turkeys, or 5,000 hummingbirds.

The Nature Unleashed special exhibit was humbling. I hope I never experience tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes or floods first-hand. Awesome beauty, to be sure... Edvard Munch's famous painting, The Scream, is a fairly accurate depiction of what the skies of Norway looked like after the eruption of Krakatoa.

The  Earth Gallery showcased minerals, gems, and semi-precious stones. Natural, exquisite sculptures that were works of art in themselves: amber, amethyst, lazurite. Rocks that glowed in the dark, and others that seemed to bloom with pillows and plumes.

I could have hung out in the Water Gallery a lot longer, staring at footage of 2000 belugas gathering in the Arctic.  They are such beautiful creatures. Unfortunately, the Wild Beluga Cam that was set up was blown away by a storm and I can't find the footage on You Tube to share, so you'll just have to visit the Museum of Nature to see the film for yourself (which is still a whole lot easier than trekking to see them in the Arctic).