Monday, December 30, 2013

Oscar Wilde

Last month Wendy lent me The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde and I've been gobbling it up all through the holidays.

I forgot how much fun plays are to read. The dialogue on the page is everything, and you become director, set decorator, and casting agent.

Wilde's quotable quotes are memorable and I spotted them quickly in his society comedies.  These are some of my favourites:
  • 'Every woman becomes their mother. That's their tragedy. And no man becomes his. That's his tragedy.' (The Importance of Being Earnest)
  • "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."  (Lady Windemete's Fan)
  • "In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst." (Lady Windemete's Fan)
Here is a man who was born to privilege, who was at the absolute height of his success and much admired by fashionable society. The Importance of Being Ernest had just been performed February 14, 1895 at the St. James Theatre. The Marquesse of Queensbury (his lover Lord Alfred Douglas' father), publicly accused him of sodomy on February 28. Fifteen weeks later Wilde was in prison.

Wilde retaliated on Queensbury by suing him for libel, and then the father turned the suit against Wilde, proving in court the accusations were true and further making the case that the older man had debauched innocent boys. (An interesting aside, Queensbury is the one and the same who established the boxing rules.) Wilde's reputation was ruined, and he was bankrupted. Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, only wrote once or twice when he was in prison, and never visited. 

The first half of De Profundis is a long diatribe to his lover, accounting in detail how Alfred was his Ruin, and was written near the end of his two year prison term. Upon release, the two lovers reunited for a short time in Rouen, France. I can't help but wonder if Wilde picked the location just for the name.

De Profundis accounts their dysfunctional relationship and Alfred's deplorable shallowness of character, but after detailing all his lover's sins, Oscar acknowledges Alfred loved him and then offers him total forgiveness. In the second half, Wilde  talks about his spiritual journey in prison. "I want to get to the point when I shall be able to say, quite simply and without affectation, that the two great turning points of my life were when my father sent me to Oxford, and when society sent me to prison. I will not say that it is the best thing that could have happened to me... I would sooner say... I turned the good things of my life to evil, and the evil things in my life to good." 

"...for the first year of my imprisonment I did nothing else, and can remember doing nothing else, but wring my hands in impotent despair and say, 'what an ending! What an appalling ending!' now I try to say to myself, and sometimes when I am not torturing myself do really and sincerely say, 'what a beginning! what a wonderful beginiing!'" Wilde envisioned then, and hoped, that his best literary works were before him. He was, unfortunately, wrong. Upon release he'd rarely find the inspiration.

However, the Complete Works also included two letters he wrote to the Daily Chronicle detailing the need for prison reform, a subject he knew intimately firsthand. Wilde's accounts of how children and lunatics were treated are shocking, and his pleas on their behalf are urgent and touching. Progress has been made in the past 114 years... we no longer "lock everyone up" together, and provide better food, conditions and medical care. His was an early and needed voice on the subject.

Sadly, Wilde died just three years after his release from prison. He was only 46. His reported final words? "My wallpaper and I are fighting to the death. One or the other of us has to go."

additional sources
Wikipedia Lord Alfred Douglas
Wikipedia Oscar Wilde

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Food Pairings: Solstice Wine Tasting 2013

Wine Folly
Part of the challenge of the Solstice wine tasting is deciding what food to pair with the wine.

Taking a regional approach suggests the wine be matched to the foods usually available in the area e.g. chianti and a nice tomato sauce; or shiraz and grilled kangaroo.

There's also mirroring, where you match the colour, flavours and 'weight' of the wine with ingredients in the food e.g.white wine with fish or chicken; red wine with beef.

Food pairing tree, Pinot Noir
It's fun to read the experts' approaches, like sommelier and Wine Diva Christine Ansbacher's  'White Cuffs," chef Jerry Comfort and his 'Progressive Food Menu," or Francois Chartier and his "molecular gastronomy."

The website Foodpairing has come up with thousands of foodpairing "trees" with fascinating illustrations and contemplations on some surprising matches.

But experimentation and direct experience are always the most reliable of guides. An afternoon concentrating on one of life's most simple and basic of pleasures, eating and drinking, is what makes the Solstice tasting such a treat.  Being able to try a good number of combinations in fairly quick succession helps to hone in on what you really like, and broaden your repertoire of favourites at the same time.

Eat and drink what you like. Like what you eat and drink.

Here are some notes on the food/wine pairings from this year's tasting, with recipes if available....

Blue Cheese, Candied Ginger, and Pralines with Fortified Wine
Nicolette chose not just any old blue, but Devil's Rock Blue from Thornloe, with its creaminess and salty kick. I brought the pralines and candied ginger, which paired together nicely even without wine.

The candied ginger offered a nice hot spicy bite with the ice wine but came on a bit too strong for the Tokaji.

The blue was a wonderful match with both the Tokaji and Riesling Ice. I especially liked the crunchy pralines with the creamy sharpness of the blue. Multi-layers of flavours, tastes and textures.

Spicy with Riesling
Grace brought samosas, dips and veggie chips to try with an Old World Riesling, and Margaret paired salmon and rice wraps with a tangy sauce with the New World. The spicy tastes enhanced the crisp, chilled Rieslings.

Onion Tart and Bordeaux
Debra prepared onion tart for the Bordeaux. Eggs are one of those foods that are difficult to match with wine, because the creaminess of the yolk can become a bit of a shield against your taste buds... maybe the onion counteracted the effect, or maybe it was the tanin in the Bordeaux that did the trick, but this pairing definitely worked! 

Grilled Pork and Merlot
Ann M. brought some tasty toasts topped with shaved beef and carmelized onion. Great combination with the wine! 
Marinade for pork:
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1/4 c honey
1/4 c brown sugar
1/8 c soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 c fig preserve, wine jelly or other sweet preserve
1 tsp 5 spice powder
salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients and marinate for 2-3 hours. Then grill on BBQ or sauté in pan till cooked till slightly pink in the middle. Rest till it cools down then slice thinly.

Foccacia bread
Thin layer of plain goat cheese
Thin layer of caramelized onions (Ann used red onions caramelized for a couple of hours with some vinegar and brown sugar
One large basil leaf
Top with 2-3 thin slices of grilled pork

Pork Tenderloin, Mushrooms, and Russian River Pinot Noir
On its own, the Russian River Pinot Noir was tasty enough, but the food choice was a really memorable match and an outstanding example of how food enhances wine.

Kaarina combined recipes from several different sources.  The recipe for the pork tenderloin (served with Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir) came from a Russian River Winery website. She used teriyaki sauce instead of Hoisin sauce to better blend with the mushrooms, which were adapted from Chef Jose Andres book "Tapas — A taste of Spain in America." She used a mixture of shiitake, Cremini and Portobello. and half-and-half sweet sherry and brandy.

White Mushrooms with Garlic and Parsley, as made in Logrono
6 tbsp Spanish EVOO
1 pound mushrooms
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 cup manzanilla sherry
Pepper to taste
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley

Heat EVOO in karge saute pan over medium flame. Brown mushrooms, turning over three or four times until all the mushroom water has evaporated.
If the pan seems dry, add more olive oil, Add garlic and thyme, stir until garlic turns light brown about half a minute. Take care not to burn garlic.
Pour in sherry and cook about one minute until it almost evaporates. The pan should contain a nice brown sauce of reduced sherry and mushroom juices. Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Equally good hot or room temperature.

Then she spread a little mayo on slices of baguette and piled on arugula, thinly sliced pork, mushrooms and a sprinkling of orange zest.

Mushrooms on Baguette with Burgundy
Pinot noir seems to blossom when paired with mushrooms. They complemented the Burgundy so well, too.

Laura said she doesn't have a recipe but shared the method:  Sautee sliced mushrooms, chopped garlic and chopped fresh thyme in butter and olive oil. When liquid from mushrooms has evaporated, season with salt and pepper. Stir in soft goat cheese (chevre) until melted and creamy. Serve on toasted baguette slices.

Fondue with Syrah
Caroline warmed up fondue to go with the St. Joseph. It was fun to stand up and dip the bread on the forks into the warm, cheesy goodness of the fondue pot. This pairing made me think that it is not just what we eat, but how we eat it, that adds to the experience. Pairing fun with food and good wine!

Sharp Cheese and Meatballs with Shiraz
Christina brought an old cheddar that stood up to the shiraz.
Maj-Lis paired brochettes/frikkadels (spicy meatballs).

Common elements here were strong flavours and dare I say it, "fat", both which added another dimension to the wine.

Much maligned, fat really does taste good. We're hard-wired to enjoy it. Why not indulge, at least in moderation, and use it consciously for the good of all, like a food super-power. It certainly worked magic in the next dish...

Seared Scallops with Herbed Butter and Champagne
Wendy skipped the shallots and used white wine instead of vermouth (click on the link for the full recipe and method).

Another example of the pinot noir grape loving the taste of umami. The scallops were an absolutely brilliant match for the champagne! Not just the taste match - champagne seems to 'go' with everything. Sensory contrasts, of chilled champagne and warm scallops. The mouthfeel of the dancing bubbles and the tumble of textures with the scallops, so crispy outside and tender inside. Outstanding!

An epic afternoon! That night we would all be  plunged into the Great Ice Storm of 2013, leaving most of us to more primitive cooking methods and ingredients in the coming days and nights.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ice Storm 2013

The evening of the winter solstice, already the longest night of the year, the Ice Storm hit Toronto.

The sound of tree branches cracking and falling in the ravine woke us, and through the skylights we could see unnatural flashes of light - transformers blowing up.

No power.

Checking the damage in the morning there was only one large limb down, over the chairs in the corner. But by the time we got home from work at the end of the day, the big maple in the back had lost a major branch that had fallen on the roof (no apparent damage to the house, thankfully). A few days later and it looks like the Beauty Bush may only survive with some serious pruning. Trees in the city have been devastated by the storm.

300,000 without power, and we three a small number. I was happy to be with my family. Safe and together, keeping warm. Evenings we hung out in the living room and lit candles. The gas stove was working so we could get our meals ready and boil the kettle for tea.

Two nights and three days passed without electricity or working communications. The things I missed most were hot, running water. And real coffee from our espresso machine. And the Internet. And traffic lights.

Driving was nuts. What were supposed to be treated as 4-way stops met sporadic compliance. The busiest intersections seemed especially prone to certain people who felt waiting their turn applied to everyone else. Scenes like this made me realize how quickly things can fall apart, given the right (or wrong) people at a certain time and place.

Thankfully this emergency seems to have passed, but it is a good reminder to take precautions and have some essentials on hand.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas! 2013

Picture-perfect Christmas Day. Big fluffy flakes floating. Nowhere to go and nothing to do for several hours, except relax and enjoy the company of Rob and Alex.

Griskit is having a ball playing with the boxes and bags, and Rob has constructed a 'cat-a-comb' for her into which she's disappeared for several hours.

The Christmas tree didn't get decorated until Christmas Eve. We left it until Sunday to buy the tree, but the ice storm had hit and the places we usually buy our trees were shut down and without power. We found some stores open, and then the challenge was finding a tree at all! This was the best of the last three we could find, that weren't frozen popsicles. Bargain price: $10.  I don't think we've ever spent so little on a tree, except for the year we cut one done from our front yard. Alex paid for this one and carried it out to the car, where we stuffed it into the trunk, ferried it home and set it in its stand so the branches could settle.

A bit smaller tree than what we would usually have, but also fuller and fatter. Only half the ornaments made it out of the boxes, but our favourites are there. The glass bell my Mom gave us the first Christmas Rob and I moved in together; the red Christmas stocking Alex stitched in 1999; the foil birds and sequined bows. Decorating the tree is such a tradition I wonder if it would feel like Christmas without the ritual?

It definitely wouldn't feel like Christmas without feasting with friends and family. Liz, Darcy and the boys came over for dinner with Rob, Alex, Penny and I and we enjoyed prime rib around the festive table, yacking into the night. Tonight, Christmas dinner at my brother Dave's. Tomorrow, Christmas dinner at Rob's sister Brenda's. Saturday in Kitchener with my Mom, sister and other brothers. I never take it for granted, but this year, the Ice Storm and a few days without power made me appreciate modern conveniences like indoor heat, running hot water and electric ovens all the more.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice Wine Tasting - 2013

More light!  I need more light! The solstice is here and longer days are worth celebrating.

What a great afternoon. My book-buddies put such thought into their choices and pairings. Tasting the old world right next to the new, it did seem to confirm that new world wines are 'bigger,' fuller bodied, sweeter, and higher in alcohol content. Old world seemed subtler, and more 'food friendly,' (at least to me).

People have promised to share their recipes, so there will be more on the food pairings in a future post. For now, just the wines, recorded for future reference:
Cabernet Sauvignon
New World: J. Lohr, Californian, 2011
We used this balanced wine to experience how the tastes of sweet, salty and sour on the palate actually changed the way we experienced the taste of the wine. Some people were adamant that wine could change the flavour of food.

A bit of salt, a sip of wine, and the wine tastes more flavour-full. A bite of apple, a taste of wine, and the wine tastes somewhat bitter. A lick of lemon, and the wine somehow tastes ‘bigger.’ What happens when you squirt some of the lemon on the apple and sprinkle with a bit of salt? Balanced food meets balanced wine. A whole different experience.
Old World: Tokaji Aszu, Hungary, 2003
New World:  Reisling Ice Wine, Ontario,
Often fortified wines end the meal with dessert. Why not mix things up and serve them as an aperitif? This was a great start to the old world/new world theme. Both very different styles of wine and very different tastes.

Both wines are made from grapes sweetened naturally on the vine, Tokai’s fruit, touched by botrytis or ‘Noble Rot’ vs. the ice wine flavours that concentrate when frozen. Once nature works her magic, the grapes are harvested individually so the winemakers can begin their alchemy.

Old World: Bollig-Lehnert,  Mosel, Germany, 2011
New World: Cave Spring. Ontario, 2011
 Similar grapes, grown in similar conditions, with vineyards situated near rivers, grown in clay soils and very cold climates.

Spatlese means ‘late harvest’ in German, so this old world vintage was a nice segway from the previous course. Also a wonderful selection, with the Wine Spectator giving it a mark of 93 and the promise it would be good until 2023. The New World chosen was one of Ontario’s own, from Cave Spring. Refreshing, citrus-y taste.

Old World: Christian Moueix, Bordeaux, 2009
New World: Beringer, California, 2011
The French Bordeaux was offered as something tasty, with an accessible price point, although the Beringer Founders Estate Merlot was also nicely priced. Both bottles could be had for less than $20.

There was definitely a difference between the two. Some admitted a prejudice for New World merlot over Old before the bottles were even poured, saying they preferred the fruitier and bolder flavours. After comparison, it was agreed there was a strong distinction between the two but the ‘favourite’ was not unanimous.

Pinot Noir
Old World: Albert Bichot, Bourgogne, 2011
New World: Rodney Strong, California, 2011
 This course had a French vs California theme going once again. Old or new, 2011 seemed to be a very tasty year, indeed.

It's not hard to spend a lot of money on an old world Burgundy and much more challenging to find a well-priced 'picnic' wine. The Grand Cru varietals can command hundreds of dollars. This is definitely a bargain and something I will put on my own ‘essentials’ list.

Here there was a very pronounced difference, with the New World much spicier, producing a longer lasting finish.
Old World: Domaine Mucyn, Saint-Joseph, 2010
New World: Peter Lehmann, Portrait, Australia 2011
New World: Killerman's Run, Kilikanoon, Australia, 2011
France vs. Australia in the syrah/shiraz pairings.

Saint-Joseph is in Rhone and Decanter gave this varietal a mark of 90. Absolutely delicious!

Then we compared two Australian shiraz from the same year, but different parts of the country. I expected to find more similarity between the two, all things considered, but there were variations in colour, aroma, taste and finish. Definitely brought home that different styles of wine-making yield entirely different results.

Old World:  Nicolas Feuillatte, Brut Reserve, Champagne
Tiny, abundant bubbles that kept on bubbling… the mark of a good champagne.

An absolutely perfect way to end the afternoon tasting.

Friday, December 20, 2013


I'll be bringing Tokaji to the Old World/New World Solstice tasting.

A royal decree in 1757 established this as one of the world's first appellations, pre-dating Bordeaux (Chianti was the first in 1716). There's evidence of viticulture in Hungary dating back to a vast system of cellars that were carved out of solid rock between 1400 and 1600 AD. Even earlier, a petrified grape found in the region from about the 3rd century. So Tokaji is definitely Old World.

The Tokaj terroir consists of clay on volcanic subsoil in a mountainous region, with grapes that are grown on sunny, south-facing slopes in close proximity to the Tisza and Bodrog rivers.What gives the wine its natural sweetness, though, is Noble Rot, and the microclimate is conducive to the proliferation of Botrytis and the subsequent desiccation of the grapes.

As with the first person to have eaten a lobster, it took a brave soul to have first made wine from grapes infected with Botrytis cinerea, the noble rot. The fungus attacks the fruit, absorbing water and shriveling skins, and a metamorphosis takes place as ripe, healthy grapes shrink into a ghastly, desiccated mass.

But a nectar so sweet it is referred to in the national anthem of Hungary.
To try a good Tokaji aszu (pronounced TOKE-eye-ee AHS-oo) for the first time is a revelation. The color of a wine of recent vintage, say six or seven years old, is already a shocking orange bordering on red, and it can be rich, thick and lavishly sweet, with the flavors of dried apricots and oranges. Yet a high acidity keeps the wine in a thrilling balance, teetering between cloying and syrupy on one side and overly harsh on the other. Though far sweeter than a Sauternes, a Tokaji aszu will generally be more refreshing because of the higher acidity.  New York Times
This pale gold dessert wine has a lifted nose of apricot, honey, spruce needle and orange marmalade. It's mid-weight, medium sweet and braced by fresh acidity and bitter orange on the finish. Quite elegant and lively and not sweet enough for dessert. Bring on the orange, nut loaf and creamy cheeses. Score - 90. (David Lawrason,, Nov. 2011)


Christmas Dinner

Roast beef, shortbreads, homemade cookies, Christmas glogg, cava...

Even better, conversation with BPYC Book Club friends, sparkly lights and holiday trimmings.

A wonderful evening!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter Fun

The snow is so pretty. Spent Saturday watching the fluffy flakes falling and enjoying the view, appreciating being warm and comfy inside the house. Snapped these on Sunday while everything was still fresh and white. Buddha looked like he was balancing a big snowball on his head, or trying on a huge fur hat to keep himself warm.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Full Cold Moon - December

Yup, it's cold. And very snowy.

Down at BPYC this night to enjoy a Christmas Dinner with Book Club friends.

December 17th, 4:28 a.m. the moon is full.

photo credit

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Old World New World Wine Tasting

Getting ready for this year's Winter Solstice Wine tasting.

My theme this year is Old World/New World, and guests will be bringing sparkling, riesling, merlot, pinot/burgundy, shiraz/syrah and fortified wine. We will pour a glass of the new and a glass of the old, and have a chance to sample the two styles of wine making side by side.

When I first chose the wine list, I thought it would be fun to do an old world chianti and new world sangiovese. Maureen came back with the news that trying to buy a new world sangiovese in Ontario is like insisting on buying a banana grown in North America. Possible, but not likely to produce good results. Argentina grows a good sangiovese and there are pockets in California, but yields are so small they are generally not available in our LCBO. So chianti is off the list.

I'm debating whether to mix things up a bit and serve something made in the style of the 'New World,' but from the Old.

Maybe a Super Tuscan?

The term is a bit scoffed at on some of the sites I'm googling. I guess the category was over-marketed a bit, or perhaps some of the more traditional producers saw it as a passing fad. Imagine, mixing French grapes with Italian!

Cabernet – Merlot – Sangiovese is the composition of many of the 'Super Tuscan' wines of central Italy. The one I chose for the tasting is Rocca di Frassinello. The consultant I was speaking to suggested it, partly because it was in my price range. Doing due diligence at home, though, I see mine was bottled in 2009, with the release date November 26. It will be 'just' ready, with the recommendation to drink between 2014 -2021. I think I'll wait a couple of years for this one to mellow.

Interestingly, 2009 was the first year we went to the Mediterranean, and we almost didn't make it because of a volcanic eruption... which also made it a fantastic year for old world wines. When we were in Tuscany in 2011 we went to a tasting and enjoyed the chianti, brunello, and Super Tuscan right at the vineyard. Loved them all!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas

A night of Christmas caroling at BPYC, and it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

It was a great turn-out for a Friday night, the room filled with BPYC-ers. An added bonus - we've ditched the old wine labels and replaced them with some of Kaarina's choosing. I think my favourite was the McWilliam's Hanwood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a great buy.

The potluck was very convivial. I think the most stunning dish of the night was Wendy's brandy-soaked raisins, which she flamed as she brought them around for tasting. The warm fruit was delicious. Snap Dragon, she called it, because of the accompanying sound.

I had a front row seat to enjoy Grace on violin, Ross on Bass, and Ross W on kazoo/guitar/vocals. Dick joined in on guitar for a tune or two, too. Bob J was sitting at our table and filled the room with his baritone.

It's fun to sing the old standards, and I don't really get much chance to sing in public & in company these days. There is something about singing with other people that feels just great. O what fun to fill your lungs for a G-L-O-R-I-A or a bit of fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-LAAAA.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Living Room Makeover

Since we've enlarged the walk-out to the backyard, we've been spending more time in the living room. As much as I appreciate the antique couch, it has a limited seating depth which makes it more of a perch than a comfortable seat for most people. After a bit of a search, we settled on a sofa that was a bit bigger, but still kept the curves I love.

The fabric will be a mossy green.

While we wait for delivery, we're trying to decide what colour to paint the living/dining room. The bright green has been on the walls for more than 15 years. Time for a refresh!

Since we only repaint every couple of decades, we're taking our time picking out something new, and actually took home a couple of small jars of paint and did a few large test strips so we could check things out under different light conditions. What seemed a negligible difference on the paint chip in the store became much more pronounced when we were able to judge with a larger panel.

It's hard not to be influenced by the marketing names, like Florentine Plaster or Manchester Tan, which sound so appealing.  Shaker Beige sounded boring and dreadful, but looked very classic. So far, Harmony is the colour of choice, with nice warm undertones that beautifully complement the rug. The final test will be matching it with the new upholstery fabrics.

Harmony on the right

Sunday, December 8, 2013

And so it goes

Sadhana finished more than a week ago and I've returned to my regular solitary practice in the mornings. I feel a bit lost left to my own devices.

Sadhana = "accomplishing", spiritual discipline

Twenty minutes meditation/pranayama and twenty minutes of poses now leave me feeling a bit like a slacker. Wonder what the sanskrit word for that would be? Google result: A slacker way of saying...

“Nah, I'm gonna stay” = Namaste  Very funny.

Every morning we would read from Light on the Yoga Sutras. A translation of course, but peppered with sanskrit, and then BKS' elaboration on the meaning of Patanjali's sutras. My mind would often drift in easy distraction.

The original recorded text is composed of 196 aphorisms that have been translated and interpreted exponentially. Potent stuff.

Sometimes I think it would be easier, alone in a cave, or cloistered away, to reach a state of enlightenment. No one to test your patience and no need to chase a dollar. From my solitary 40 minutes in the morning, I understand of course, that's not true, you just enter the realms of 'man against himself' or 'man against nature'. 

Samsara  = the finite world of change, as opposed to the ultimate Reality (brahman or nirvana)

From a glossary of sanskrit words

Akasha  = "ether/space", the first of the five material elements of which the physical universe is composed; also used to designate "inner" space, that is, the space of consciousness 
Maya = sanskrit for 'the great illusion'
Neti-neti = ("not thus, not thus"), an Upanishadic expression meant to convey that the ultimate Reality is neither this nor that, that is, is beyond all description

It seems most sanskrit words end in soft and open vowels, sing-song in cadence, the sounds we make in wonderment, pain, confusion "ahh" "oh" "ee"  "au"

.... coupled with the sound of pleasure, satiety, ponderment... "mmmmmm"




Saturday, December 7, 2013

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Crawled out the Window and Disappeared

The book that has sold 6 million copies worldwide has also inspired a movie that will be released in Sweden December 25th. The film's trailer is hilarious, half in Swedish, with English and German tossed into the mix. The author, Jonas Jonasson, has a taste for the absurd.

Characters in the 100 Year Old Man include the centurian, an over-educated hotdog vendor turned chauffeur, a murderous elephant, Einstein's siblings and third world dictators. Mix with ludicrous plot details like bootlegging liquor in a prison camp, and drinking presidents and dictators under the table.

Allan Karlsson is the 100 year-old man who has wreaked havoc around the globe his entire life. The story pops back and forth between his present day escapades and past adventures. Allan is apolitical and actually a bit amoral, so along with suspending disbelief readers are asked to take life and historical events a bit less seriously.

This was Debra's pick for the BB's club this December and she was the only one in the group that didn't really enjoy the book, not liking either the story or the way it was told. My 'other' book club discussed the novel last March, where it was much-loved for its whimsy and light-hearted humour.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Art of Leadership

'The Art of' is a series of conferences that bring thought leaders to Toronto to present their ideas (and their latest books) to an interested community. Attendance has grown from hundred to thousands. The last event attracted 3000 people who gathered to listen to Colin Powell and Chris Hadfield, in a line-up that also included the author of Freakoknomics, and professors from Harvard and Wharton Business Schools.

This was a work-related event, and I heard a lot that day that widened my perspective, not just on the art of leadership, but the art of living.

Colin Powell surprised me with his egalitarian views on healthcare and access to education. I'm sorry to say I had pegged him entirely to the right of the political spectrum and figured he'd been born into a life of privilege. In fact, he grew up in Harlem and worked his way up through the ranks to the top jobs of Chief of Staff and Secretary of State. An excellent speaker, he had the talent of making his talk to 3,000 people feel as though he were addressing a much smaller room. One of the things he spoke about was the stark contrast of being Secretary of State one day, and the next returning to life as a civilian. His latest book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, has been dubbed a trove of wisdom for anyone wanting to turn their dreams into reality.

Colin Powell didn't grow up wanting to become Chief of Staff of the United States of America, but Chris Hadfield wanted to be an astronaut from the age of nine, when he watched the Apollo blast off into outer space. For me, despite seeing countless images of astronauts, space travel was the stuff of movies and fiction. But it became very real, hearing  Chris Hadfield's accounts of take-off and re-entry. He brought along photographs and video clips and his personal accounts were riveting. Years of focus and dedication went into becoming an astronaut and again preparing for the flight into space.  An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth is definitely on my reading list!

Both Powell and Hadfield successfully pursued dreams that seemed larger than life and now, what comes next? Life on the speaking circuit, wielding their influence and inspiring those of us with more ordinary lives. Although I never set my sights on being a four star general or celebrity astronaut, I'm certainly interested in what these men have to say about Living.

I wonder if they were Givers or Takers? Wharton Business Professor Adam Grant talked about Give and Take and shared some fascinating information about who gets ahead in the business world.  Sadly, many 'givers' don't manage to get ahead, but there are others who end up out-performing everyone. Grant's research analyzes why. Of all the books, this is the one currently on my bedside table. How to best create a work culture that promotes collaboration and support?

Amy Edmondson talked about Teaming in an environment that is constantly shifting. Her years as a Harvard Professor have also been spent studying successful project-based teams. Her advice for teamwork on the fly: speak up; listen intensely; integrate different facts and points of view; experiment iteratively; and reflect on your ideas and actions. Not surprisingly, the Harvard Business Review lists her as one of the Top 50 Management Gurus today. These clips on You Tube elaborate on some key points.

Another Management Guru, Stephen Dubner, first made the bestseller list with Freakonomics. During his presentation he shared an interesting case study about someone who approached a hot-dog eating contest to more than double the world record. Dubner also cautioned about government incentives, talking about how one government's cash bounty on rat carcasses to reduce an infestation backfired, and instead resulted in a booming underground industry of rat farming. True tales - stranger than fiction.

Lots to ponder and reflect, and lots more books now on my reading list!