Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It was a very good year!

2014 was healthy, prosperous and joy-full!

Memorable highlights and meaningful milestones.

Some of the biggest events weren't really mine, but the men who help define my life. Alex moved out and Rob turned 60.  Time is flying by, and confirming for me that I am in the youth of old age.

All the more reason to enjoy small pleasures. Taking time to linger over great meals with friends and family, foodies and book buddies. Tasting some things for the first time, like coffee cupping, caviar and sake on the solstice.  Continuing to explore wine and cocktails.

And finally!  Getting around to updating the front room with comfy furniture and light-hearted touches that help it live up to the name, "living room".  Stopping to smell the flowers and enjoy my garden, whatever the season.

Rob and I took an iconic trip to Paris and London in September. Both cities were amazing, and I was happy we were able to spend 8 days in each place to get to see the sights and sounds. So much to take in, it was all a bit of a whirlwind. We took cruises on the Thames and the Seine, and checked out both their Towers and as many galleries and museums as our feet carry us.

I am continuing to enjoy sailing as weather permits. We took Yondering for a two week cruise East over the summer and spent most weekends hanging out on the Island. Also memorable was a five-day get-away to Wilson New York. Even if the boat is in the slip, it is still fun to get down to the club and enjoy the view from the deck or dock at BPYC.

My two different book clubs keep me reading, but more importantly,  help keep me connected to some lively and memorable discussions with some fabulous women.

I am also deeply grateful to be continuing with my daily yoga/meditation practice and adding in the sadhanas and workshops.

On the work front... Three different jobs testing my adaptability, thankfully still with the same employer. Something new to learn in each new posting, but all the same, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. I am grateful to continue being employed & employable but starting to look ahead to a time of retirement. How will I fill my days? Something tells me I won't have a problem figuring out what to do with myself.

Yes, I am grateful for a wonderful year and time well spent.

Here's to 2015.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sake on the Solstice - 2014

Sake has been enjoyed by the Japanese for at least 2,000 years. Farmers often gathered together in the winter to brew small batches of rice wine for the coming year.  How appropriate to have this tasting to honour the Winter Solstice! 


Usually, Stu conducts tours and sake tastings on site at the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company. Fortunately, he was open to making a home visit, and brought along five different types of Izumi sake, so we could sample the different styles and deepen our appreciation. He was entertaining and at ease as he guided us through the different styles.


Our small group listened to a quick overview before proceeding to the tasting. Three basic ingredients are distilled to create sake: water; rice; and koji. This basic trinity yields very different results, depending on the characteristics of each element, how it gets processed and then distilled. 


Water.  Izumi  uses Ontario spring water from Muskoka. In fact, ‘Izumi’ roughly translates to ‘spring water’ in Japanese.  The company first tried using Lake Ontario water, but the owner was disappointed with the results, and so trucks in water from a pure source. When sake is called ‘junmai,’ it means it is a pure rice wine, without additional alcohol or grain spirits.


Rice. Good quality grain is essential, but even more critical is the percentage to which each grain is polished and the outer kernel removed.  The lower the polishing ratio, the more premium the sake.  If sake is labelled ‘ginjo’ it must be polished at least 60%. 


There are noticeable changes at this level;  ginjo sake is usually lighter and more aromatic. Daiginjo means a sake that has been polished to at least 50%. Daiginjo literally means “big ginjo” and that’s a fair description of their relationship: they’re like ginjos, only more so. 


Some premium sake boast that as much as 85% of the outer kernel has been polished away, leaving behind only 15% of the inner core. Too polished? Many in the industry believe the industry is taking this to an unneeded extreme, an utter waste of perfectly good rice.


Koji. This is basically, rice mould. Izumi gets theirs from Nagano, Japan, from a catalogue of different structures dating back to at least 1662. Stu brought some for us so we could see what it looked, smelled, and tasted like (mushy stuff with a yeasty smell, very chewy and not unpleasant flavour).


The first sake we tasted was Nama nama, a nama-zaki style, which means it has not been pasteurized. This type is rarely exported from Japan, and because it doesn’t have much of a shelf-life, it’s ideal to get from a local brewer. Gauntner and other connoisseurs often prefer pasteurized styles because they believe the process “eliminates the veil-like set of characteristic aromas and flavours“.  Served chilled, this was delicious with prosciutto and melon.    


The second sake was Nama cho, once-pasteurized. Most types of sake are pasteurized twice – after pressing on its way to the maturation tank, and once again post bottling. This one is pasteurized after bottling. We tried it both warm and chilled, and it seemed as though it became two entirely different beverages. I was surprised by the way the aromas were neutralized when it was served warm.  Definitely delicious both warm and chilled, paired with sushi and sashimi.  In North America from the 1940s—1980s, lesser quality sake was served warm to disguise its taste, and many people formed poor impressions as a result.


Third tasting was Teion Sekura, with a white-wine-like acidity. Stu called this the distillery’s “gateway saki” that most generally appeals to North American palates. More koji, pasteurized twice, and very similar to a Gewurtztrameiner.  I served this alongside a mild bleu cheese, aged cheddar, and a washed rind ewe. The umami flavours paired really together surprisingly well.


Fourth up was Genshu, served with slow-roasted pork belly and apple compote. By this time, many of us were starting to get a bit of a sake-buzz, and the Genshu certainly helped us along. This sake is undiluted, no water added, 17% alcohol content, stronger flavour and drier taste. The Izumi had the strong aroma of pear and apple. If I had to pick a favourite of the evening, this would definitely be on the shortlist.


Last but not least, a chilled Nigori Junmai. There was a bit of sediment on the bottom, and when the bottle was shaken, the liquid became a cloudy-white.  This is a sweet sake, and so I paired it with dessert offerings (a raspberry tart, chocolate & goji berries, crystalized ginger, spiced nuts), although it would also have been great served with something spicy. 


The evening definitely expanded my appreciation of sake. I can see incorporating it into my drinks and menu pairing on a regular basis. Although I thought one style would emerge as a strong favourite, each was pleasing and distinct from the other.  I like it! And it was great to share this special evening with friends.


The truth? It is all a matter of whether or not you like it. It is all about preference; it is all hedonistic. Sure, there are greater and lesser levels of quality, but different sake suit different palates, and fit different situations. So first and foremost, ask yourself if you like it. This is deceivingly important, and just as deceivingly simple.

-         John Gauntner

 

Additionallinks...





Monday, December 8, 2014

Winter Solstice Tasting - 2014


I was dithering about what to do for the Winter Solstice Tasting this year, and then thought... Sake!

So I hunted down a sake expert to come to the house and found some kindred spirits to join me on the taste adventure.

We'll be trying five different types:
  • Namanam (unpasteurized)
  • Namacho (once pasteurized)
  • Nigori (cloudy)
  • Teion (white-wine-like acidity)
  • Genshu (undiluted)
At first, I was just thinking about serving the sake with sushi. A quick trip to T&T, grab some dragon rolls, wasabi peas & be done with it. Kaarina wondered, which fish with which sake (say that out loud 5 times).

Then Caroline sent me info on the "surprising affinity between Canadian cheese and sake." How irresistible is that? Apparently, since sake has a lower acidity than wine and no tannins, the resulting rounder flavours make it a complementary (rather than contrasting) pairing. Also, both cheese and sake are bursting with umami flavours, and the more umami in the sake, the more complementary it will be to cheese.

Although there are categories of sake, there are huge variations within each. For example, much Nigori sake is sweet and creamy in texture, but there is a variety "so chunky you will be tempted to eat it with a fork. Taste Buds and Molecules suggests pairing a chilled Nigori to calm the fire of capsaicin hot peppers.

SakeWorld is a fantastic introduction to the complexities of rice wine. That's where I found this handy flavour profile chart:



John Gauntner, founder of SakeWorld, is a world-renowned expert on the subject, and suggests pairing based primarily on acidity, umami and texture. In a post at Steamy Kitchen he writes,  "Fortunately, it is hard to have a real mismatch with sake: even if the pairing is not perfect, you have leeway. So feel free to experiment."

We'll need to find out a bit more about the sake we will be sipping before settling on the food pairings, but I'm already twirling around with some ideas.

Kampai!

Sake – Food Pairing Chart – Starting with Sake

Sake and food chart-3
Steamy Kitchen

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Long Nights Full Moon - December



The temperature and weather are very unpredictable right now. Below freezing in the early morning, warmish in the afternoon, flurries, freezing rain.

One thing that isn't unpredictable are the length of days. It's dark when I leave for work. Dark when I come home. I miss the sun!

The moon is always a welcome sight, but in the winter it seems more vigilant in its fight against darkness.


The moon was full 7:30 a.m. December 6.



Illustration

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Purple-y delicious

I had a craving for beets or cabbage today.  A little odd, I know. Maybe just needing some B6 or possibly potassium?

A shot of purple to feast my eyes.

In my recipe search I went through some old cookbooks on the shelf, and came across this curious description:

Every fall at the farmers' market I buy the biggest, heaviest green cabbage I can find. I wrap it tightly in a plastic bag and put it on the bed in my guestroom, which in winter I only heat enough to keep fruits and vegetables from freezing. Then almost every week I fetch my cabbage to the kitchen, carefully pull off a couple of leaves, and slice or chop them to make a salad... I wrap up my cabbage again and am grateful that it will probably last as long as the snow flies. Edna Staebler, 
Soups and Salads with Schmecks Appeal

Edna was born in 1906, died in 2006. The back of the 1990 book says she "lives in Mennonite Country north of Waterloo, Ontario, where she reads, swims, knits, and feeds wild birds, her cats, and her many friends." I think I would have liked her had I gotten a chance to know her.  Although I wouldn't have wanted to stay in her guest bedroom in winter! 

Normally I slice the cabbage,  exposing the rosette of colour, but then after awhile the white turns yellow and doesn't look very appealing. The cabbage dries up and ends up in the compost. looking shriveled and sad.

I love this peeling-the-leaf method! Just take what you need, and this humble .99 cent veg has the potential to last for months in the fridge.

I ended up making a beet and red cabbage pickled salad to satisfy my craving, and look forward to peeling leaves for the next few months. Next up: braised red cabbage with bacon.  

A memory from years ago: I ended up on one episode of a T.V. cooking show because Bob Blumer was casting participants from garden clubs. It was an entertaining day, mainly just sitting around waiting for a chance to eat an incredible meal prepared fresh from a community garden. No pretending was required when we finally got around to eating, the meal was delicious! A spectacular table had been set, which included slicing cabbage heads so they entirely covered the surface of the groaning table. Incredibly colourful! Even a few years later, people would say they saw me on T.V. Funny thing was I never did see the episode.

...
Cabbege:  In addition to being packed with vitamin C and anthocyanins, red cabbage is packed with fiber, vitamin K, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese, and also contains thiamine, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, and magnesium. It's the glucosinolates in cabbage that get the award for their "anticancer" benefits.

Beets:  Betanin and vulgaxanthin are betalains that have gotten special attention in beet research. Beets are also an excellent source of folate and a very good source of manganese, potassium, and copper. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin C, iron, and vitamin B6.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Club Catch-Up


I haven't been blogging much about my Book Clubs lately.

Too busy? Or maybe just distilling?
Just a quick catch-up here about the titles, the meetings, and some thoughts along the way. Mainly, I can't read everything, even though I wish I could. The classics, the best sellers, the recommends.... life is short.

November 

The Light Between Oceans, ML Stedman (BPYC Book Club)
This was Maureen's pick, and definitely a hit. The story hinges on a baby washed up on the beach of a lighthouse keeper and his wife. The newborn arrives in the boat with a corpse. Tom and Isabel, who recently suffered the loss of a stillborn, decide to take the child as their own without reporting their find back to the mainland.  Complications ensue. It turned out to be quite the debate, with people arguing back and forth about whether the decisions were right or wrong, defensible or not. Good thing we weren't a jury - or I am sure we would still be there. Raised voices, passionate pleas, and lots of laughter.

Shanghai Girls, Lisa See (Book Babes)
Virginia's pick turned out to be a bit of a dud for nine of the ten of us. This historical novel starts in China and then travels to San Francisco/Los Angelos. The story follows two sisters, privileged "beautiful girls" who model in Shanghai, as they escape a terrible war with the Japanese to arrive as immigrants in the United States. One is illegal, the 'paper wife' of a 'paper son'. The story is well researched, but not told with the same passion and empathy the author brought to her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Still, a good and frank discussion of the book.

The Massey Murder, Charlotte Grey (Heliconian
The author has been a frequent guest of the Heliconian Club in past years, and there was even a reference to the club's early days in her book. This historical novel is a  'true crime' that took place in Toronto almost a century ago, in February of 1915. Meticulously researched, it gives the reader a great sense of the times - the newspapers, the justice system, the class hiearchy, the role of women. Charlotte mentioned there was no record of the court proceedings, because the verdict was "not guilty," so for fact and context she culled from the media of the time. Smartly written, if a bit dry.

November insights:
So often we ask or respond to the question, "Did you like the book?" It is too short an answer, really, and I am going to try to avoid giving a quick response unless it is part of a longer discussion. You can have a good discussion about the book without really liking it, and you can learn something along the way if you finish books you don't like. (I didn't completely 'like' either Shanghai Girls or The Massey Murder). On the other hand, I shouldn't feel I 'have to' read something in the first place. Hmmmm.

I can't keep up with my reading!  Since I'd read Light Between Oceans during the summer of 2013, I didn't reread it for the discussion, and wished I had, because it would have been great to have all the nuances in mind for the discussion. On the other hand, I forced myself to finish Shanghai Girls, where at least a few people around the table just set it aside. Meanwhile, I hadn't completely finished The Massey Murder before hearing the author speak at the Heliconian.

October 

Memoirs of A Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah (BPYC Book Club)
Here's another book I forced myself to read. Quickly. To prepare for the discussion I started midway, at the point where Ishmael is taken to the Rehabilitation Centre, because I wanted to skip the bits with little boys pulling the triggers on guns.  Then I ended up reading from the begiinning. This is an important story and a riveting memoir, as much about how horrible we are to each other as well as how much we can help each other. Margaret picked the book.
 

Birding with Yeats, Lynn Thomson (Book Babes)
A lovely story about a mother birding with her son through the years he is growing up. Lots to relate to - Alex moved out just the month before; I'm a bit of a birder myself; and the setting is Riverdale, Toronto. Shared history and geography. Nicolette chose this because of 'disruptive technology', in the sense that eBooks are changing the way we experience text. For example, the version I was reading on my Kobo had links to descriptions of the birds, but when I read it on my laptop it would display photos of the birds.  The book renewed my interest in traveling to Point Pelee to take in the sights during a bird migration, although descriptions of the scenes were quite comical. The way the book was written made me think disaster was just around the corner. Nicki had the same reaction, so I knew I wasn't alone. Someone was just about to die or get some horrible disease - was it Yeats? I struck up a conversation with someone at the yoga studio when she asked what I was reading, and it turned out she knew Yeats (and the author), having worked at Ben McNally Books. She reassured me Yeats would be fine.   

Pastoral, Andre Alexis (Heliconian)
Nominated for the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction literary prize just days before we heard him speak at the Heliconian, Alexis’s Pastoral was called “a virtually flawless novel” by the jury, composed this year of Neil Bissoondath, Helen Humphreys and George Murray. Coincidentally, the announcement took place at Ben McNally Books, co-owned by Lynn Thomson with her husband Ben. It was interesting to hear Alexis speak about how he methodically embedded sheep, water, fire and clouds into most chapters and how doing this didn't confine him but sparked some creativity. Actually, I can't remember if was clouds or candles, but I did note to myself at the time he was capturing the elements. Feng shui writing?

October insights
This same month, I watched the film Boyhood, such an amazing movie that chronicles the life of boy coming of age. Followed by reading two very different memoirs dealing with boys growing up in very different circumstances. How much of our fates are dictated by where we are born, when, and to whom. Yet it is still the choices the individual makes in those situations that defines who they are and who they will become.

I've heard of Ben McNally Books before, I'm not sure why I've never made a visit.

September
In Paris and London this month. I may get around to reading these eventually, but probably not. I can't read everything!

Moloka'i, by Alan Brennert (BPYC Book Club)
The Devil on Her Tongue, by Linda Holeman (Book Babes)
Minister Without Porfolio, Michael Winter (Heliconian)


Friday, November 28, 2014

Sadhana 5

Sadhana 5.

30 days straight in the yoga studio. On the mat by 6 a.m. with a class until 7:30. I did my first in 2012.

This time around, I almost didn't sign up because it was already tough enough getting out of bed in the morning. Rising one hour earlier wasn't going to make my life any easier. My body felt stiffer than usual, and even simple poses seemed difficult. Nor did I stumble into bliss or feel a sudden connectedness with strangers like I sometimes do after intense practise. I said in an earlier post it was tough slogging, and it was. Many days I just felt stiff and cranky.  A few nights I was tired enough to land in bed by 8:15.

"Without Animosity, With Indifference" became a bit of a mantra for me, as there suddenly seemed to be jerks everywhere. Someone in an early restorative class took over my set up and sent me fuming looking for alternate props, agitating me for the rest of the practise despite the mantra. People everywhere sneezing and coughing without covering their mouths, drivers cutting me off in traffic. Was I a magnet for unpleasant, trivial and petty annoyances? Was I, in fact, someone else's unpleasant, trivial and petty annoyance?

'Stuff' comes up during intensives and it's not always pleasant. Some attribute it to physical memories on a cellular level. We carry things around in our bodies for years and sometimes even decades, and it is easier said than done, to Just Let It Go.

Yes, it was tough slogging. Do I regret signing up for the 30 days?

Not a chance.

postscript
After writing this entry I went back and read all (70!) of the entries tagged 'yoga.' Great to keep a record to be able to reference past the years. Although here and there I found some technical inaccuracies, most of the observations still ring true. I guess making the record has inadvertently become part of my practise, a gift to myself.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Solyanka


The photo caught my eye in last week's Globe, along with the description: "a soup that eats like a sandwich."

When I read the ingredients, I was skeptical. Smoked meat and pickle soup? Absolutely delicious, especially with the dollop of sour cream and dressing of dill.

Definitely tastes better once it has time to sit.

The recipe is from Lucy Waverman, who first tried  the soup on a cold winter's day in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Hearty enough for a cold and blustery day! 

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 oz (75 g) pancetta, chopped
3 1/2 oz (100 g) chorizo, chopped
4 oz (115 g) smoked meat, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
6 cups beef or chicken stock
1 tsp allspice berries
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 large potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
3 large pickled cucumbers, finely chopped
1/2 cup pickle brine
2 tsp capers, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Garnish
1/2 large lemon, sliced
2 tbsp chopped dill
1/3 cup sour cream or more to taste

 

Method

Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta, chorizo and smoked meat. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes or until the meat begins to produce fat. Add onion and carrot and sauté for 2 minutes or until tender. Remove meat and vegetables to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Discard fat.
Place stock into a large pot over medium heat. Put allspice, peppercorn and bay leaf into a tea egg or tie together in cheese cloth to form a pouch and place in stock. Add the cubed potato, tomato paste and paprika. Bring to boil and then simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat. Stir in sautéed meats, onions and carrots, then add pickles, brine and capers. Simmer soup for 15 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for several hours or overnight to blend the flavours. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed and plenty of black pepper. Remove the bag of spices.

Serve, reheated, with a thin slice of lemon, chopped dill and a dollop of sour cream in every bowl. Taste for seasoning again.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Joons


We took Alex and Penny out to celebrate his birthday, offering to treat at the restaurant of their choice. That's how Rob and I ended up at Joons in Koreatown.

I've sat at cooking tables before, but this is the first time I've tried Dak Galbi, a tasty marinated chicken dish that is prepared by the waitstaff at your table. A pungent mix of salty, spicy, sweet, cooked and fresh, crunchy and soft, hot and cold. Surprisingly for an Asian dish, mozarella cheese is added just before you dip your chopsticks in. Tasty!

Penny ordered the vegetarian bimimbap, which arrived in a very warm bowl that continued to cook ingredients once it was at the table. Very colourful.

The restaurant has mixed reviews on yelp, but our experience was great! Most of the other diners were Korean, and the meal was definitely value-priced.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cocktails

I raided the liquor cabinet for Rob's 60th and propped a copy of  'Old Man Drinks' at the bar, but it turned out the most popular cocktails were the most popular cocktails. Namely, martinis, gin and tonics, mohitos, and white wine spritzers.

We also had ingredients on hand for classics like Manhattans, Whiskey Sours, and even Gin and Milk.  I never did get around to trying the Monkey Gland, but love the backstory:
They say W.B. Yeats had monkey glands implanted in his scrotum when he was an old man, to help restore his sexual potency. That revolutionary procedure, which was all the rage in the 1920s, provided the inspiration for this cocktail, first mixed up by Harry MacElhone, owner of Harry's Bar in New York and Paris. The Washington Post pronounced it the smash hit of the 1923 tourist season, and it was later adjudged to be one of the quintessential cocktails of the Prohibition era. No representations are implied regarding this drinks - ahem - rejuvenating powers, although it is a fact that Yeats got his groove back soon after undergoing the procedure.

The Old Fashioned "may be the quintessential old man drink. It's so old, it was being called old-fashioned back in 1890. It's so old, one of the glasses we drink cocktails in is named after it. It's so old, some scholars believe it was the first drink to be called a cocktail."
Add caption

I must get myself a decent muddler so I can try some of these at home.

We also had some absinthe, and near the end of the night some of us were pouring Green Fairies, although I don't think we had quite the same knack as some famous devotees, well practised in the art.

I was secretly hoping to use up some of the liqueurs and mixers that get picked up for parties and never get quite finished, but those bottles came home again, to be poured into coffees and on top of ice cream for the coming holiday season.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wasn't that a party!

Rob 60? Unbelievable! After a bit of arm-twisting I persuaded Rob into having a party to celebrate. What a fabulous time! It turned out Alex and Penny's party room was available, a fabulous space with comfortable leather couches, a billiard table, shuffleboard, and a great bar.  All of Rob's siblings & their spouses were able to make it: Gord & Linda from Oakville; Brenda and Bill from Caledon; Lois and Mark from Matewatchen, and Sheila from Victoria BC.  Sheila's coming was truly a surprise, you could tell from Rob's reaction it took a millisecond to sink in that yes, that was Sheila coming through the door. Kathy, Al, my Mom, Penny's mom, Jeff, Sue. And nieces (Tina and Sarah) and nephews (Spencer and Ryan). Liz and Darcy. Ross and Virginia. Friends from BPYC, too... Grace, Kaarina, Dick, Maureen, Annika, Dino, Wendy and Raymond. It was wonderful to see everyone together enjoying each others' company.

There was lots of food (definitely too much, so many leftovers!) and copious cocktails (just a little too much), and a red velvet cake with cream cheese.

Best of all though, were the toasts. People shared funny stories and happy memories about Rob. And rather than just listening, Rob responded, so it was more like a mutual reminiscence. A great celebration for a wonderful person, husband, father & friend!


Friday, November 14, 2014

November garden


Nov 2nd
Nov 11
Mid-November, and it has snowed a few times but still melts quickly. The pots are readied for the winter; the cyclamen bulbs in the ground. Some plants are moving indoors, like the purple oxalys and begonia bulbs.

.... and there is a white rose and late nasturtium hanging on... snake root and toad lily blooms nodding in the sun.  The backyard is golden today.

In the front garden, the dragon's blood maple looks lit from within, while it could still be summer as far as the junipers and green grasses are concerned.

I am putting some souvenirs from our London trip out by the pond... some interesting pieces from our mudlarking by the Thames. Odd little nobs and indents worn by centuries of grinding with the tides; a bit of broken glass with a thickness that looks like it could be late nineteenth century; and a piece of old brick or a pottery shard. Hopefully these will enjoy our Canadian winter.


London mudlarking treasures

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sadhana Moon - November


Day 8 of the sadhana, and it is tough slogging getting up to be at the studio by 6 am everyday.  The plus side is, this time of year, the moon is rising a bit ahead of you and is perfectly placed in view for the drive to the studio.
 
Moon is officially full November 6th at 5:23 pm.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Yes Please


Thanking the Globe and Mail for publishing this excerpt from Amy Poehler's book, Yes Please.

I am a moon junkie. Every time I look at the moon, I feel less alone and less afraid. I tell my boys that moonlight is a magic blanket and the stars above us are campfires set by friendly aliens. I track lunar cycles on my iPhone and take my kids outside at night when a moon is new or full or blue. We call this “moon hunting” and we bring flashlights and moon candy along. The moon candy looks suspiciously like M&M’s, but so far neither of my sons has noticed.

On moon-hunting nights, I give them a bath and rub both of my boys down with Aveeno lotion and comb their hair. I spread Aquaphor on my lips and try to kiss them. Sometimes I chase them around until I catch one and throw him on the bed like a bag of laundry. Most times I am too tired. Then we head outside. We wear pyjamas, because going outside at night in your pyjamas feels like breaking out of jail. I watch their little fat feet and their shiny cheeks as they jump into the backseat of the car. These boys, they are delicious. I swear, if I could eat my children, I would. I’d consume them like some beast in a Hieronymus Bosch painting, but in a friendlier, more mom-like way. Their little bodies make me salivate. It takes everything I have not to swallow them whole.

I love my boys so much I fear my heart will explode. I wonder if this love will crack open my chest and split me in half. It is scary, this love.
I should point out here that I have a picture of them wearing underwear on their heads while simultaneously pooping. Archie is on the toilet and Abel is on a potty and they are facing each other and smiling like crazy people. I plan on using it for blackmail when they are teenagers and won’t let me hug them in public any more.

When your children arrive, the best you can hope for is that they break open everything about you. Your mind floods with oxygen. Your heart becomes a room with wide-open windows.
You laugh hard every day. You think about the future and read about global warming. You realize how nice it feels to care about someone else more than yourself. And gradually, through this heart-heavy openness and these fresh eyes, you start to see the world a little more. Maybe you start to care a teeny tiny bit more about what happens to everyone in it. Then, if you’re lucky, you meet someone who gently gestures for you to follow her down a path that allows you to feel a little less gross about how many advantages you’ve had in life. I was lucky. I met Jane. Dr. Jane Aronson founded the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO), which addresses the medical, social and educational needs of children living in orphanages in over 11 countries.

Even though I’m bossy, I like being told what to do by people who are smarter and more interesting than me. Jane asked me to host her next event. She spoke about her travels all over the world. I told her I would love to do that someday and she said, “Okay, then. We will.” I hosted an event for her that next year and we became friends. Then she took me to Haiti a year after, as she’d promised.
At the end of 2012, I was in the middle of separating from my husband and preparing to host the Golden Globes for the first time. I felt completely sorry for myself while simultaneously believing I was hot shit. Great things were happening in my career and my personal life had exploded. I was trapped in an awful spiral of insecure narcissism.

I was nervous and excited to go to Haiti with Jane, if only for a change of scenery. And so, I boarded a plane bound for Haiti on New Year’s Day 2013.

My first impression was of total chaos. The streets of Port-au-Prince were filled with dust and trash and babies. There was so much to look at. Everyone was busy carrying something.
I saw Haitian boys with bodies the same sizes as Archie’s and Abel’s carrying huge jugs of water. In just a few minutes you could tell which kids had parents and which were on their own. I kept trying to connect the small children and the adults they were walking next to. I was looking for comfort. I was uncomfortable. You know that horrible feeling when you lose your kid for a minute in a mall and your heart pounds and your ears fill with blood? It was that feeling. When I drove the streets of Haiti it felt like many of the children I saw were lost and no one was looking for them.

We arrived at an open field filled with young Haitian WWO volunteers. They wore matching shirts and led the kids in what looked like improv games. Some of the boys were playing soccer, and Jane tied her long-sleeved shirt around her waist and joined them.

I realized there was no getting out of physical activity, so I sashayed over to the small amplifier and started to DJ. A dance party broke out. The kids laughed at me at first until they realized I am a world-class dancer with moves of steel. Most of these children were used to living in the moment. Thinking about the future was a luxury. They took turns with their paintbrushes. There was no crying about sharing. There was no pushing or saying they were bored. Everyone was used to waiting.
A weird sandstorm kicked up and the dust swirled like a magic trick. We all paused together to watch, and I took a mental picture and time-travelled to the future. I thought about my boys being teenagers and playing soccer and dancing and sharing.

Those kids needed so much holding. Kisses and hugs and clothes and parents. They needed everything. The enormity of what they needed was so intense.

We ended up talking in the street with Jane, and crying. Jane was agitated and passionate. She talked about all the work left to do and all the small changes that can improve children’s lives. I was once again moved by her ability to steer into the curve. Jane was a big-wave rider. She didn’t make the mistake that most of us make, which is to close our eyes and hope the waves will go away or miss us or hit someone else. She dove in, headfirst.

Later that night we talked about animals. Wendy, a WWO supervisor, shared a story about how her daughter was caught in a stampede of elephants and lived to tell about it because she ran left instead of right. And because she knew one simple fact: Elephants leave the way they come in. We all agreed that elephants win for coolest animal, and I showed off by reciting my elephant facts. Elephants have long pregnancies and purr like cats to communicate. They cry, pray and laugh. They grieve. They have greeting ceremonies when one of them has been away for a long time.

I thought of this when I got back to my boys, the elephants and the greeting ceremonies. I told them about how one day we might ride an elephant and they climbed on each other to act it out, switching parts halfway through. I gave them a bath and put lotion on their skin. I realized how lucky my life is. And theirs. I lay in bed and thought about time and pain, and how many different people live under the same big, beautiful moon.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Making Calories Count

What is a calorie?
I'm keeping an eye on what I'm eating and drinking to drop a few pounds. It's a lot tougher than it was a few years ago to see results, but I am making progress and the scales are slowly tipping in the right direction.

I am still eating the foods I love and allowing for occasions like wine and cheese tasting, occasional restaurant meals, and family feastsPlanning ahead and 'budgeting' for a bit of a splurge once or twice a week.

Not every meal I'm making at home is low-fat and low-cal, but I am trying to eat more consciously. So when I do indulge, I'm making the calories count! 




Baked Potato Breakfast
Bake potatoes ahead of time, then scoop out the potato to make a little bowl. Break an egg into the hollowed-out potato, then add a bit of cheese & tomato. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 20-25 minutes (or until eggs are whitened).  Top with parsley and crumbled bacon just before serving.
.. with Stuffed Portobello
Scoop out two portobellos & mix with some of the potato filling & olive oil. Stuff, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and top with grated parmesan. Salt and pepper to taste. Microwave 4 minutes.

Magnificent 'Mayonnaise' 

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp white vinegar
  • 3 tsp stevia
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 17 oz Greek Yogurt
  • 2 tbsp Dijon Mustard
  • pepper

Directions

Combine white vinegar, Stevia, Dijon mustard and whisk until evenly mixed. Slowly add Greek yogurt and stir until well mixed. Salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Spread on a sandwich and enjoy!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Helen Lawrence

Helen Lawrence was a multimedia film noir theatre production. Very unique!

Set in Vancouver just after World War 2, it layered live action filming with computer-generated simulations to create a full cinematic experience.  I felt as though I were watching a film, but the action was unfolding real time.

Three to four cameras were positioned on the stage to catch the actors' performances, which were then projected onto a full-size movie screen. Visually, the audience saw the cameras and operators' silhouettes, the actors on the lower frame spotlit, and the full screen.  Full backgrounds were layered in to complete the staging and final image. While I could choose to look at one or two elements, the projected image was the one that drew the eye. The Big Screen, both real and unreal.

Very captivating, and I didn't really tire of the effect. Conceptually fantastic!

The performances were strong, costumes great.


The stage play embodied film noir perfectly. Some classics include Mildred Pierce, A Touch of Evil, Double Indemnity, and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

The femme fatale, bleak subject matter, inky shadows, sexual motivations, dark undercurrents. Scholars argue about the exact period of classic American film noir, but generally place it 1945-1958.  Then came the  homages and neo-noirs, so the genre has never really disappeared. Before the performance began we sat in a brief talk given by a professor from the Cinema Studies Institute at U of T about the qualities of film noir. I'd never really thought before about how the femme fatale in these films coincided with the rise of Post War feminism, but several dissertations have been written on the subject. 

Rob and I saw this Friday night with Kaarina and Mike. After a long week, I found myself actually nodding off during the play, adding even more to the dreamlike quality of the theatre production but making the complex storyline even more difficult to follow.  Preceding the show with a visit to  Pravda Vodka House at Happy Hour (and a couple of martinis) certainly contributed to my drowsiness. Delicious nibbles included smoked salmon canapes (complementary), charcuterie, mushrooms, blini-like-crepes, Russian meatballs... tasty indeed!


Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Book of Mormon

We saw The Book of Mormon in Toronto at the Prince of Wales theatre last week. It was on our list of things to do when we were in London this past September, but we just didn't get around to purchasing tickets.

Luckily, the Toronto production featured Gavin Creel in one of the lead roles. He won the 2014 Laurence Olivier Award for originating the role of Elder Price at the Prince of Wales Theatre in the London original.

Brought to you by the creative minds of South Park, this play is definitely irreverent. Laughing and being horrified at the same time is a curious emotional mix. The first half was hilarious, the second half continued the profanity and then inserted a bit of philosophy and wrapped everything up with a quazi-moral to the story.  I interpreted it as, believing is a leap of faith, and sometimes the end does justify the means.

The play didn't just insult Mormons. It insulted everyone, including homosexuals, Jews, Muslims, and Africans. Politically correct,  it was not. Here's a sample tune: Turn It Off. 

Nine Tony Awards, 4 Olivier Awards, and the acclaim keeps coming, with rave reviews wherever it runs. The producers didn't even bother to invite Toronto critics to the latest city staging, but that didn't stop the Globe and Mail from weighing in with a positive review.

Most curious were the three full page adds in the program, "You've seen the play... now read the book." Each featured a very wholesome looking person and the website URL for thebookofmormon.org.   I thought it might be an online parody, but it was in fact for the Church of Latter Day Saints. I couldn't help but wonder if the play was purchasing the ad space to help avoid a law suit, or if it had something to do with appeasing Donny and Marie Osmond, who are visiting the same theatre in December. Turns out the ads have been running wherever the play is produced.

Apparently the Church sees it as a good marketing opportunity:
Instead of complaining about a musical show that pokes fun at their religion, the Church of Latter Day Saints has chosen to capture the moment by launching a marketing campaign of their own... Whoever is advising the Mormon Church on their public relations and advertising strategy should take a bow. It would have been so easy to whip up a storm around the musical. The Mormons could have had all the publicity they wanted: demos, protests, questions in the House. But that would have been the wrong sort of publicity. The Independent (London)


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014


Lois and Mark hosted the clan up in Matawatchan for Thanksgiving with a full house. Gord, Linda, Sarah, Brenda, Bill, James, Ryan, Alex, Penny, Rob and I. Lots of laughter, an amazing sunset, a fantastic meal, a bonfire under the stars and waning moon.

When the fire was going strong, we tossed handfuls of sugar to boost the flames with a magical 'bam.' Then inside to play Cards Against Humanity. It seems most everyone slept pretty soundly, although someone said they woke briefly to a symphony of snores in the middle of the night.

In the morning, I opened my eyes to mist rising on the hills and three deer wandering in the frost. Breakfast, a walk in the woods, and then a leisurely drive home with Penny and Alex. We made a few stops along the way. A quart of honey from a roadside stand, a bunch of fresh garlic from a charming cottage called River House, and then apple-picking at Pieter's Appleyard. We stopped in Port Hope to watch the salmon run on the Ganaraska River, cheering for them to make the jump against the rushing water. Listening to music, playing 20 questions when we got bored.

A perfect two days!

One of the best-tasting Thanksgiving meals ever, partly because of all the vegetarian dishes. Lots of recipes for meals to come, to be served with side accompaniments of happy memories.




Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients:
6 extra large sweet potato (8 medium)
3 large eggs & 1 egg white
1/4 c brown sugar
1 c milk 
1tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
4 tsp butter melted
TOPPING:
3/4 c brown sugar
2/3 c all purpose flour
1/4 c butter softened 
1 and 1/2 c chopped walnuts
Note:  Bake the sweet potato rather than microwave and you'll have a sweeter potato but microwave can be substituted.
Preheat oven to 350 
Put the sweet potato's right on the rack.  (No need to scrub or peel.)
Cook for 90 min. Let cool slightly.  Cut the skins off.  
Whip up the eggs until nice and fluffy.  
Add sugar, melted butter, spices, milk & vanilla and mix in well.
Add skinned sweet potato to egg mixture and blend until smooth.
 

Spaghetti Squash

Bake or microwave Spaghetti squash halves (scooped out) over some water to steam them. (Cover dish with foil if baking. Do NOT use foil if microwaving, but poke holes in the top of squash halves with a fork if nuking. Microwave is great if doing a smaller dish - 8 to 10 mins on high. Details for cooking easily Googled.

String cooked squash into a bowl with a fork and add chopped Roma tomatoes, lots of fresh or dried basil, butter until it seems right, ground black pepper. Leave it all together in a bowl for flavours to mingle.

Place squash mixture on the bottom of baking dish. Add shredded cheese and top with grated parmesan. Cook.

Stir-Fry Veg & Tofu

Combine and set aside:
1/4 c. soya sauce
1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tsp. corn starch

Finely mince together and set aside:
1" piece ginger
3 cloves garlic
1 small onion (chopped more coarsely)
2 jalapeño peppers with seeds 

Chop, combine and set aside:
3 or 4 Portabella mushrooms (sliced fat)
Shiitake mushrooms if you got em
3 carrots sliced on the diagonal
3 celery stalks sliced on the diagonal
Green, Yellow or Red peppers sliced
1 bag mixed stir fry veggies (optional) 

Have ready on the side:
1 bag snow peas (I like to cut the top and string off)
Unsalted cashews (optional)
5 or 6 chopped green onions 
Sesame oil to drizzle 

1 or more firm or extra firm tofu brick, cubed 

Method:

Stir fry tofu in oil over medium high heat until brown, place on paper towels (takes longer than you think, about 12 mins?

In large wok, stir fry ginger/garlic mixture in a bit of oil until fragrant, about a minute, but don't brown it. Add mushroom/carrot mixture about 4 mins.

Add 1/2 cup water and cover (to steam the veggies). Reduce heat to medium low for about 3 minutes.

Remove cover and stir in soya/hoisin mixture until thickened. 
Add tofu, cashews and peas until peas just done.

Before serving add chopped green onions and a bit of sesame oil for flavour


Seven Layer Salad
(Gord's famous) 
1. One head of regular lettuce washed and pulled into reasonable sized pieces put aside to dry.
2. One average sized Vidalia onion chopped small.
3. Several stalks of celery chopped small and mixed with two tbsp. of sugar.
4. Light Hellmans mayonnaise enough to fully conceal the celery.
5. Cover to conceal mayo with frozen sweet peas.
6. Cover peas with shredded old cheddar.
7. Layer cheddar with generous Portion of cooked bacon.
If you have a clear 4" x 10" salad bowl it should all fit perfectly but if you have to improvise, it all compresses rather well.
You can serve right away but it always tastes better when left overnight.
So easy and so good.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ambition and Inertia


Tom Allen framed the evening's musical offerings as Ambition and Inertia.

Ambition

The Finnish composer Sibelius' first musical ambition was to be a virtuoso violinist. He picked up the instrument at 14, and although a fervent and dedicated student, his audition did not win him a seat with the orchestra. His heart was broken, but eventually he turned his talents to composition.

At 38 years of age, after great success, he wrote the Violin Concerto in D Minor (Opus 47), which  was first performed in 1904. Sibelius had a love-hate relationship with virtuoso violinists, to the point of self-sabotage.

Originally, the much esteemed Willy Burmester had promised to perform the concerto in Berlin, but one thing led to another and Sibelius changed the location of the premiere to Finland and then chose  a date Buermester was unavailable. The composer finished the concerto just in time for the premiere, and the piece was of such difficulty that it would have sorely tested any virtuoso. Given these factors, it was unwise of Sibelius to choose Nováček, who was not even a recognised soloist. Not surprisingly, the premiere was a disaster. Sibelius reworked the piece, and although Buermester offered to perform, he turned him down, once again choosing a lesser violinist.

As the program notes, "This is in many ways an unusual concerto. Though passionate and full of Romantic yearning it conspicuously lacks the sparkle and sensuousness of... Mendelshon... the music is often dark, gloomy, brooding..."

The TSO audience was treated to a performance by violinist Karen Gomyo, who played on a rare Stradivarius ("Ex Foulis" of 1703), that was bought for her exclusive use by a private sponsor. 

This Youtube video showcases Joshua Bell as the star performer of the Violin Concerto in D Minor. If you can, listen to the opening. Such yearning!

Inertia

Dvorak could have happily stayed in Austria for all his days, which is how Allen's label of inertia applies. This composer had to be lured by an incredibly generous salary from his home to New York City.

The patron responsible was  Jeannette Mayer Thurber, who wanted him to help develop a new musical school at the National Conservatory of Music America.  She essentially offered him an amount comparable to his annual salary every two weeks. Even then, it was Dvorak's wife and children who talked him into accepting the position overseas, in Manhattan, where he lived for three years.

From the New World is Dvorak's 9th Symphony. The melodies were so familiar because they've been borrowed liberally by Hollywood over the years, especially in Westerns. "... Despite its fame, (it) still sounds fresh and original. Its pastoral and elegiac tone and almost heartbreaking poignancy evoke unforgettably America's vast, desolate prairies... Throughout the Largo Dvorak's orchestration offers one extraordinary texture and sonority after another - right up to the very last chord, which is scored, to astonishing effect, for divided double basses alone." You can listen to the Largo here.



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Full Hunter's Moon - October


Hunter's Moon (Ojibway). Harvest Moon (Cherokee, Celtic)
Blood Moon (English Medieval).Kindly Moon (Chinese).

There was a full lunar eclipse between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Unfortunately, I slept right through it and must rely on photographic evidence.

The last lunar eclipse was April 15 of this year, the next eclipse of a full moon is April 4, 2015. I'll have to mark my calendar and try to stay up.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wine (and cheese) tasting

Kaarina organized a Cabernet Savignon blind tasting of six wines.

The 'best' wine has the honour of being  stocked at the BPYC bar.  The criteria is that a bottle has to be priced at under $15, but sometimes we throw in a more expensive one to shake things up a bit.

I love these blind tastings! I'm always surprised when we do the 'reveal' and see the labels.

We tasted, made our notes independently and then compared. 
  • Biggest disappointment: Robert Mondavi V, Napa Valley ($34.95). I thought this one would easily place first and was disappointed when it wasn't the standout of the evening. It was pleasant enough, but just didn't have much dimension. The 2011 vintage got rave reviews, but we uncorked the 2012. It didn't even make it into the top three. I expected a lot more, given the brand and the price point.
  • Another wine was unanimously eliminated for its slightly metallic taste and cloying finish: Montes Limited Selection 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile (14.90).
  • The fave:  14 Hands Hot to Trot Red Blends from Washington State. This was the first wine I tasted after a week without, so that may have had something to do with why I liked it so much. Delicious! And a velvety, sustained finish. No need to drink this quickly.
  • A close second: Sterling Vintner's from California ($13.95). Fruit forward, even finish.
  • The runners up: Les Jamelles, a vin de Pays from the South of France ($13.95) and McWilliams Hanwood Estate, from California ($14.95).
All the wines were enhanced by food. We tried Laura's scrumptious gougeres and a sampling of cheeses first. Then a classic pairing with veal stew. It never ceases to amaze me how different combinations of food and wine create such distinct taste experiences.

I'd done a bit of research beforehand to see which cheeses would best combine with cabernet sauvignon. Hard cheeses, and cheese with a sharp bite. The list I stuffed into my purse was tantalizing, so I was disappointed when Alex didn't have: Abbaye de Belloc, Ardrahan, Bra Tenero, Chalosse, Llangloffan. Le Moulis, Ouray, Reblochon, San Andreas or Tome de Couserans. Maybe next time.


Still found plenty of great samples. I lacked the willpower to stop at one or two and ended up with five incredibly tasty cheeses: Comte (cow's milk, AOC France); Aged Gouda (almost ochre in colour & unbelievably tasty with balsalmic); Don Helidoro (ewe cheese covered in Rosemary, from Spain); Linconshire Poacher (cow's milk with a nutty & fruity flavour, from England); and Robiola (cheese/ewe/sheep soft cheese from Italy/Piedmonte). All were hard cheese except the Robiola, which I purchased to have at least one soft cheese on offer. 

The Robiola didn't pair well with the cab sauv but I loved it for its own sake. A great combination of ewe/cow/sheep to complete the perfect cheese board, both creamy and a bit tart. 

At least I have a new excuse for my lack of restraint when t comes to cheese. Peter mentioned it actually has opium and morphine in it. That's right, 'Dairy Crack.' This explains a lot, now that I stop and think about it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Edward Rutherfurd's Paris


How could the cover not catch my eye? But when I opened the book at random and read a few paragraphs, I thought I'd pass. It looked a bit too much of a romantic saga, and at 809 pages, it was several inches thick.

A few weeks later I changed my mind and purchased an e-book to read on the trip to Paris. I'm glad I did! While it is a bit formulaic, it is a great formula with strong execution. Epic! The novel follows six different family lines through eight hundred years.

I found the book entertaining, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Incredibly well researched! It includes gossipy accounts about Louis the XIV's suspect parentage;  informed opinions on whether Hemingway was exaggerating the extent of his poverty as a young novelist; horrific details about the slaughter of Protestants in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre; the role of women over the centuries. Toronto and Canada both get mentioned, which I always appreciate.

Literary reviews of Rutherfurd's Paris are typically unkind, but I think they somewhat miss the point. They're so bitchy they're almost funny:
  • The Telegraph Review: This is history for people who can’t be bothered to read it, an 800-page whizz through eight centuries of Parisian life in which every character has swallowed a guidebook and no one is ever short of a round-eyed audience to bombard with the fact-cannon." 
  •  The Washington Post: He isn’t a novelist; he’s a docent, shoehorning facts into every scene and conversation. A passing painter describes what realism is. Monsieur Gustave Eiffel lectures young Thomas Gascon on the structural engineering of his new tower. The artist Marc Blanchard describes the history of Paris to an American friend: “So we have, for instance, the ancient Ile de la Cite, and the Montagne Sainte-Genevieve where the university is, which was once a Roman forum.” The characters may be French, but their native tongue is Wikipedia.
  • The Toronto Star: ...these books aren’t really stories. Rather they are histories with a spoonful of sugar provided by the narrative. Paris moves back and forth in time between several major periods and weaves together the lives of various family lines from generation to generation. But Rutherfurd’s characters are not really independent people: they serve only to be convenient witnesses for historical events, and as such their motivations are usually completely unoriginal and often completely clichéd.
You might not get to know the characters in much depth, but the moments of their lives you do share are distillations of the era. Besides, this is not any one character's story, it is first and foremost a story about Paris. And if you are in love with Paris you will likely love the book. Details about the cathedrals, the views, the streets, the art...

Now, onto London, a 2,000 year old tale touching on Roman times, the Tower, the Globe and St. Paul's.