Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Birthday, Amadeus

January 27th was Mozart's birthday, and we celebrated earlier in the month with a Casual Concert with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

I've never been to a concert where the conductor also played piano - but I imagine this is exactly what Mozart would have done centuries ago.

The conductor/pianist was Ignat Solzhenitsyn, and the Concerto was Number 18, written when Mozart was only sixteen in 1772.

Whenever I visualize Mozart, I think of Tom Hulce in Amadeus and hear that crazy-pitched laugh. What a memorable film. F. Murray Abraham's performance was exceptional. That's one film I'd love to see again.

Happy Friday

Beaujolais Cru, 2011
70 year old Gamay vines planted over a vein of amethyst, "every year, this terroir expresses itself with honey notes." The winemaker boasts that the art of making wine in his family dates back to the days of the French Revolution. (A lot of land then was "redistributed" from monasteries to communes, so his family was in good company). Released Jan 4 2014 and new to Vintages.

Love the busy bee on the label, a little grace note. Love the taste even more. Lingering finish. Waiting til the weekend to pour a glass of wine really helps me appreciate it all the more.

Before I started sipping this I was dipping shaved parmesan into aged balsamic. Decadent.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Living Room Makeover - In progress

The walls are painted. The couch has arrived. The carpet is out for cleaning.

Still to do: hang the drapes, and try to figure out what we want on the walls. Art? Some of our travel photos? The mirror?

Poor Griskit. Cats don't like their world turned upside down and that's what's been happening these last few weeks, first with books all over the floor and then a strange person putting sheets over the furniture and spreading a strange smelling substance all over the walls.

When the new couch came, she started using it as a scratching post immediately.

So we went out and got one of those cat trees to better suit the purpose. She was happy to use it on Saturday but is showing very limited interest in it today. The Forbidden Couch holds much more of her attention.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

So many books

I cleaned out my bookshelves in the spirit of purging and making space for the new. I was surprised at how hard it was to surrender shelf space, it was like parting with memories. So I tried to find them all good homes by sending emails to friends and listing the available (and free!) titles. In the end I only found takers for three. The rest were donated to Goodwill.

I seem to be on a bit of a lit binge this month, reading and reading but not really satisfying my appetite.

The last few weeks I've been keeping myself entertained in the evenings with my nose in  The Luminaries.  Well crafted. A great historic mystery with compelling characters. I'm halfway through the massive tome but may need to start over... this demands a close read and I find my mind keeps wandering elsewhere. I'm so tired at the end of the day I am actually nodding off and dosing while reading, so I'm not sure if in my dream state I've added in a few extra elements. This is likely just not the right time to read this Giller/Man Booker prize winner, so to be fair I am setting it aside for now.

April may be the cruelest month according to T.S. Eliot, but in my mind January/February compete for top honours. Which may explain my nonfiction choices.  A Brief History of Anxiety (Yours and Mine) by fellow Torontonian Patricia Pearson and Willpower, Rediscovering our Greatest Human Strength were both available for download from the Toronto Public Library, so I didn't even need to venture out to my local library. I am reading them right off the laptop, sitting at the table, lightly skimming.

Good thing I've also previously read my other two book club selections, so I knew it wasn't just January blues colouring my opinion.

I read The Night Circus last August to get ahead of my reading list. There was a lot to enjoy about the story but I didn't wholeheartedly love it. One of the most visual stories I've read in a long time. A bit too long, too meandering. I was in the minority, though, as the other readers loved the descriptions and unfolding of the tale.

It seems I was also in the minority with Suite Francaise, at the BPYC Book Club. Everyone was talking about how lyrical and insightful the writing was, and then Annika pointedly asked me what I thought about the book. Instead of answering directly, I asked a question instead, "If you didn't know the back-story of this novel, would you think it was as good?" In truth, I found this to be the makings of a beautiful book, and had Irene Nemirovsky had a chance to finish it, instead of dying in a concentration camp, it could have been a masterpiece. But the sad thing is, she didn't have a chance to finish it and although it has incredible fragments, it doesn't hang together as a work of literature. In my opinion, the story about the story is far more compelling. 

Both of the Night Circus and Suite Francaise are being made into films, and I'm interested in seeing how they make the transition from page to screen. That will make for some interesting follow-up discussions with my book buddies.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Boat Show

Finally got around to writing the test and got my boaters' license, so I will be legit on the lake next summer.

We also bought a new dinghy. As much as Rob tried to patch the previous and fix the rotting floor boards, it continued to be a soggy, sinking mess.

Toured around and checked out some of the brand new sailboats, far fewer models on display this year. Some of them seemed a bit cheap. Not in sticker price, but overuse of plastic and hardly any wood. Maybe we should just refurbish Yondering, get some new upholstery, tune up the engine, tweak the rigging and buy a new sail.

The tugboats were also appealing, a floating cottage but a bit pricey on gas to go long distances. Maybe in the future, if and when mobility becomes an issue.

Wandered through the floor and picked up info about sailing in Greece with a flotilla. Island hopping with someone who knows the waters looks like it would be fun.

January colour

Adding some colour to bleak January days... not quite a trip down South but a mini-vacation and reminder that Spring will come, eventually...

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Celebrating Chinese New Year

As soon as Wendy and Raymond invited us to celebrate Chinese New Year with a visit to Asian Legend, my mouth started to water.

A huge thanks for a memorable meal to what I hope is the start of an auspicious year.

Our noisy group of ten soon grew quiet when the food was served.

Sensational! And I mean that literally it was pleasing to all the senses...  Not just the flavours but the balance of contrasts, temperatures and tastes made for an absolute feast. Incredibly satisfying.

So I know what to order on my next visit:
  • Steamed Soup Filled Dumplings with Crab Meat and Pork: soft and silken noodle purses that, when you bite into them, explode with flavour and warmth (I like these so much I looked up their Chinese name, Xiaolongbao)
  • Drunken Chicken Soaked in Liquor: thin slices of chicken served chilled (these arrived with the warm soup dumplings to make a wonderful course)
  • Taiwanese Street Style Deep Fried Tofu with Garlic Sauce: crispy fired outside, smooth inside, with a spicy bite
  • Peking Duck: first serving is the duck's crispy skin that you wrap in a thin pancake with cool cucumber and hoison sauce; second serving is the duck, cubed and mixed with tofu, that you spoon into a leaf of lettuce and drizzle with hoison
  • Kung Pau Shrimp: spicy hot and crunchy, a known favourite
  • Sauteed Beef Sirloin with Satay Sauce on Sizzling Hot Plate: melt-in-your-mouth beef served with crunchy veggies
  • Sauteed Green Beans with Dried Shrimp: spicy, salty, crunchy and so fun to slurp into your mouth
  • Red Bean Pancakes: a savoury dessert, deceptively plain and strangely satisfying
  • Banana in Hot Toffee: tasty treats that caramelize in front of your eyes when dipped into the ice water bath at your table
We went to the Ravel Road location at Finch and Leslie

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Full "Old Moon" - January

With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?
- Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Wilde penned this in prison, shortly before his release. I can just imagine what it must have been like to see the moon again, after being deprived for two years of the vision.

The moon was at it's fullest today at 5:52 a.m.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Shiraz - Blind Tasting

Lucky for me Kaarina takes her duties seriously. She helps stock the bar at BPYC by recommending which wines to purchase. The only catch is that they have to be $15 a bottle or less.

So Friday night Rob and I helped her with her research and participated in a blind tasting of shiraz/syrah. We split the cost of tasting several different bottles. I've always wanted to experiment with a tasting like this!

Shiraz gets its name from the Persian city known for its flowers, poetry, beauty, and shirazi wine. Legend has it that winemaking originated there seven thousand years ago, and the grape came to Rhone during the Crusades in the 1200s.

This is one of my favourite varietals, and so I was looking forward to the tasting. We were to taste four different kinds, but I also wanted to throw another wild card into the mix.

I know I'm influenced by the perceived value of a wine. I typically go into the LCBO looking at labels and prices ranges, and will spend or splurge according to the occasion. I wondered.... if I put a $35 bottle next to the $15 bottles in a blind tasting, could I tell the difference?

Not so much. We tasted all the wines and the differences were pretty minimal. Deep red in the glass. Lots of legs. Peppery aroma. Soft, unstructured mouth feel.  

Although we quickly eliminated one of the wines because it was so wimpy. Poor aroma, lackluster taste, weak and unpleasant finish.

Then it came time for us to try to pick a favourite, and try to pick the most expensive wine. We ranked first, second, third. My favourite? The Rhone. I guess I am just an old-world girl. It had a lot more going on. A bit of a halo where the wine touched the edge of the glass, softening the colour. A complex finish.

My second choice? The $35 shiraz. Liked it a lot. Inky purple. It didn't hit a lot of different notes in the taste and aroma, but the blackberry it broadcast was quite delicious. Confession? Once the jacket came off and I knew it was the most expensive, it tasted even better.
Most people can't distinguish a more expensive wine from a cheaper wine when the labels are removed. And that includes top wine experts.
When people are given a glass of wine, and told that the wine is expensive, it triggers a specific part of the brain that registers pleasure. This effect has even been observed in an experiment when the wines were sipped inside an MRI machine that recorded brain activity.
People were given five wines to taste, and told the wines ranged from $5 a bottle, up to $90 a bottle. All the subjects unanimously agreed the expensive wine was better - even when they thought the $5 dollar bottle was the $90 dollar wine. They still experienced more pleasure and the MRI brain activity proved it. The Psychology of Price, Age of Influence

I'm heartened by our personal experiment. It reinforced that I actually like the old world complexities. And it also confirmed for me you don't have to spend a fortune to drink good wine. I went out and bought a whole case of the Languedoc this morning. There were only 100 bottles in all of Ontario, and we might not see this again. Which also adds to the perceived value - scarcity. Maybe I should have bought more?

My order of preference in the blind tasting
  • Chateau de Jau 2011, Languedoc, France  $14.95
  • Grey Label 2010, McClaren Vale, Australia, $34.95
  • Penfolds Koonunga Hill, Australia, $16.95 (Shirz/Cabernet blend on sale for $14.95)
  • Windham Estate Bin 555, Australia $15.95 (on sale for $13.95)
  • Cristobal 1492 Oak Reserve, Argentina. $14.95

Syrah/shiraz is one of the most popular grapes in the world, and widely cultivated. Depending where its grown, the tones and flavours change. The Rhones have always been my favourite, but it's hard to say no to a big-in-your-face Australian.

Australia and Shiraz are almost synonymous, but it wasn't always so.  Grapes go in and out of style, and in Australia back in the 70's, when white wines were favoured, whole vineyards of old growth shiraz were ripped out to make room for Chardonnay. Shiraz was deemed worthy for its fruit and used in muffin-making, so thankfully it wasn't lost entirely, because by the 1990's, South Australia became renowned for this Big Red. It is now the most commonly planted varitey in Australia (almost 40% of the red grape crush each year).

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Maj-Lis shared her delicious glogg recipe from our BPYC Book Club Christmas dinner. This is the best glogg I've ever had... maybe it is not just the recipe but Maj-Lis Swedish touch.

  1. Gently simmer the red wine, port wine, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and orange peel in a large pot set over medium-low heat. Stir in the sugar, rum, and brandy. Continue simmering 5 minutes more, stirring to completely dissolve the sugar, and the mixture is steaming but not boiling.
  2. Mix the raisins and almonds together in a bowl.
  3. To serve, ladle into coffee cups or Swedish-style small glass or ceramic mugs. Garnish each cup with a spoonful of the raisin and almond mixture.

total fat
sat. fat


vit C
2 g  
5 g   

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

'Tis the season

Feasting with the foodies on New Year's Eve, another memorable meal.
Caroline hosted and we time traveled to Paris in 1921 for a bit of mystery at the Tir dans le noir Cafe, to piece together the scene of the crime - the stolen Le Chat Noir. Costumes helped put us in the mood, and so did Dick's martinis.

Great company and an amazing meal, spread nicely over 5 hours, with champagne and dancing at midnight!

Pizza and Martinis
Oysters on the shell and sparkling wine from Chateau de Montgueret
Hearth-cooked lamb shanks, polenta with snowpeas and turnips and Gigondas Grand Reserve
Cherry clafoutis and Courvoisier

When I heard lamb was on the menu I went hunting for a French syrah and stumbled across a blend of Grenache and Syrah from Rhone, Pierre Amadieu Le Pas De L'Aigle.

The lamb was cooked perfectly, falling right off the shank, and the polenta recipe came from Joy of Cooking. I don't have a fireplace to cook lamb in, but the polenta is definitely something I'll try to cook at home.

The sparkling was from Loire, and very tasty. I'll remember the label and pick it up again.

We spent the night and woke in the morning, passing some time sitting by the warm fire and popping out into the kitchen to look at the visiting birds. A pileated woodpecker! Jays, and junkoes. A great way to start the first day of the New Year!