Monday, February 24, 2014

5 x 5

5 different palates, 5 different bottles in the blind tasting. At the table: Kaarina, Laura, Rob, Mike and me.

I don't often have the opportunity to taste different wines side by side. Thanks to Kaarina for organizing... it's a fun way to educate my palate, even if it is a bit of a shock to my biases.

We were trying different Italian wines and picking the best value for the dinner and the BPYC bar.

It is hard not to be influenced by others' comments and observations. The labels were covered. Maybe next time we should try not to say anything, just taste and then later compare notes?

One was a clear favourite. The Peppoli Chianti Classico was the top choice of Kaarina, Laura and me. Full bodied, satisfying and lingering finish. At $20, a bit too expensive for the bar, but we might be able to push the budget for dinner.

Next up was a bit of a tie, to me at least: The Monti Garbi Valpolicclla tasted better than the Barbera, and in fact seemed to outdo the chianti when paired with the pizza. Spicy notes and a long finish. I've always reached for the sangiovese as the more food-friendly grape, but the Corvina blend of the Valpolicella won out.

Although I preferred the aroma of the Barbera, it came third on the overall taste. A very close third.  Barbera is the everyday wine of Piedmont, and some call it "Beaujalais with attitude". The Ascheri D'Alba DOC, at $15 a bottle, was very well priced.

Both Rob and Mike favoured the Masi Possessioni. Not a 'true' valpoliccilla, but close enough, and within the club price range of $15 or under. (listed on the LCBO website as MASI SEREGO ALIGHIERI ROSSO VERONESE). The label boasts the grapes are grown on the estate run by Dante Alighieri's family for 22 generations, and knowing this makes it taste more delicious.

Monte Antico is a label I've picked up for the last three years as a value-priced Tuscan (15.95, now on sale at 14.95). And it is that. But of all the five, it was quickly eliminated with a finish that too quickly evaporated. I couldn't believe it when the blind tasting label was removed and my ready favourite was exposed. Ah well, live and learn. We all have our off-years.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Taming Wildflowers

There is beauty in the world
So much beauty in the world
Always beauty in the world
So much beauty in the world
In betwen
Notice the blue skies
Notice the butterflies
Notice me
Stop and smell the flowers

The song was playing to a slide show of flowers, complete with a little bouncing ball to the lyrics, at the Taming Wildflowers presentation at TBG.

How wonderful to be reminded on a winter's day that Spring is around the corner, and to stop and smell the flowers. I could almost feel the snow melting. You can see a shortened version of the video here (thanks to Anonymous for the comment below)

We were there to hear Miriam Goldberger talk about Wildlfowers... how beautiful they are, and how important for the soil, pollinators and the planet. After the lecture I wandered over to the Book Launch.
This book celebrates the beauty of wildflowers... masters of erosion control, soils engineering, water management, pollinator-enticement, climate adaptability, ecosystem coordination, carbon sequestration, habitat protection - and that's just a start... As happens too often in our history, we humans don't fully appreciate the value of something until we are about to lose it... we are perilously close to losing the presence of wildflowers in North America... what can you do to help? Plant wildflowers, of course!

I've always been a fan of native species and wildflowers, and the more I learn about them the stronger my desire to plant even more. There are some stunners that need more space and sun than I can provide: wild quinine, golden Alexander, Butterfly weed. I'll just have to admire those on my summer travels. But Pasque Flower sounds like it might be comfortable in my front yard; late spring, long bloomers that do okay in part shade and give way to interesting seed pods.

I am not an attentive summer gardener, taken with sailing pursuits. So adding more July/August, drought tolerant bloomers suits me just fine.

I love Mirian's inscription in my book, "May you walk among the wildflowers all your days!"

pasque flower seed pod in the rain

Get the Jump on Spring

I could have sworn that last year at this time there were crocus. Maybe so, but if there were, they were under snow. Impatient for spring, I'm bringing the garden in with cut flowers and plants in pots.

Therese brought tulips when she came for dinner and the flowers lasted a full week.

Spent Saturday at the Toronto Botanical Garden's annual Get the Jump On Spring.  Just what I needed! I came home with visions of lavender farms and entertaining thoughts of taking up beekeeping as a hobby.

Ran around the garden with Paul Zammit as he took a group of us along snowy paths to admire some winter-hardy specimens, like paperbark maple, tamarisk, and midwinter flame dogwood.

We stopped to look at a few Japanese maples and talked about pruning. Now is a good time to scrutinize where boughs may be rubbing or crossing over... tie off where the cuts should be made with green gardening tape and prune in early spring. Imagine making space for butterflies to pass. Also in early spring, give browned cedars a light shave. Prune dogwoods in spring, too, and remember the new growth generated will be more colourful than older stalks.

A final reminder, not to go into the garden too soon after the melt. Compacting the soil can have a negative impact on new shoots making their way. (hmmm, now I think I know what happened to some of my other specimens).

Picked up a few tips at a flower design demo with MaryAnn Vercammen, Floral Designer and Judge:
  • Accessorize containers by using putty or glue to adhere glass chips or stone to make them feel less stark and draw the line into the base... for that purpose, any material could do the trick (a flower, leaf, feather etc.)
  • Consider containers or bases that are less traditional, like a strip of sturdy bark
  • Oasis has fallen out of favour but is essential for some designs, like this prize-winning piece of cake done pave style... When using an oasis, you can also use a straw in the bottom, to draw from a water sourc.
  • Dry artichokes for use in arrangements... their great shape can add interest when you stick them in with houseplants or cut flowers. Barbecue skewers can be stuck right into the bottom stem when the artichokes are still fresh, which can give extra height and versatility. 
The seminar on Growing Lavender caught my attention - and my imagination! Christine Moore presented information about the types that are most winter hardy (lavendula angustifolia and L x intermedia). Outside of Provence, there other destination-worthy places to visit, including Sequim, Washington, just south of Juan de Fuca, Blue Lavande in Montreal, Beach Lane Lavender Farm in Nova Scotia. Closer to home: Prince Edward County Lavender, Weirs Lane Lavender (near Hamilton), Terre Bleu (Cambellville). has a full list of farms. Flowers bloom in early July and are harvested mid-summer.

Stopped by the beekeepers association booth. Legally, my backyard is too small and close to neighbours to have a working hive. Maybe I can join some kind of co-op? Or just visit, to catch the buzz of the bees. These pollinators are in serious jeopardy, so choosing the right flowers and plants can really help them on their way. Luckily, Taming Wildflowers just happened to be on the day's agenda, with a full list of wildflowers beautifully suitable for the purpose.

Speaking of bees, I ended up bringing home a beautiful little honeypot, made by a local potter with a nearby studio.

Also renewed my East York Gardeners membership, and picked up some plants on my way out the door. Now I have some hellebores and a weeping pussy willow wintering indoors that will find their way into my garden come spring.

Can't wait for gardening season to begin! Luckily, Canada Blooms is just around the corner....

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


My turn to pick the BPYC book this month, and I chose February by Lisa Moore. In part, because it actually is February, but also because I've been wanting to read this since it was longlisted for the Man Booker and won the Canada Reads competition last year.

1982.  A Valentine's night storm sunk the oil rig Ocean Ranger off the coast of Newfoundland, taking the lives of all the 84 men on board. That's the night Helen lost her husband and was left with four children to raise on her own. Grief-stricken, she moves numbly through decades.
She listens for his voice or a sign or advice. But there is nothing. She lives through the disaster every night of her life. She has read the Royal Commission report. She knows what happened. But she wants to be in Cal's skin when the rig is sinking. She wants to be there with him.
Moore's gift with language is powerful. It's not just in the chosen words, but their rhythm, their ache, and their empathy.

The moments and metaphors:
On their wedding night he broke a full length mirror... he must have touched it, knocked it in some way, but it seemed to spread with cracks all by itself... It broke by itself because Cal had glanced at it and all the bad luck to come was already in place. Everything was in that glance and it smashed the mirror.
This Globe and Mail review begins by asking if Lisa Moore is a buddhist, because the mindfulness in each moment is so strong. There is also the compassion she brings to the suffering.

I had this Reader's Guide on hand but our group touched on most of the topics in the course of the evening's discussion.

Moore's talent to reproduce the way thoughts meander is brilliant. The story feels impressionistic, with important details omitted while others are juxtaposed against crystal clear descriptions.

Not everyone 'liked' this novel. It is definitely not a conventional story. A few people admitted they felt Helen's character stalled and the story lost momentum in the telling. Helen's pain and loss are constant, her healing only begins when her own son, John, accepts responsibility for the child he fathered. This new life strikes a chord in her that opens her to new beginnings, including a romantic partnership. At the story's end, approaching 60, she is no longer sewing other people's wedding gowns, but enjoying her own wedding on a beach, with family joined in celebration.

Every February deserves a happy ending... and a new beginning.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


My framing challenge: having more paintings than wall space, and boards that are painted front and back. My grandfather is the artist, so the paintings have special meaning. While some have been on display, others have been stashed in the closet, waiting to see the light of day. It seems a waste to hide them away. My grandfather would be the first to admit they might not all be 'frame-worthy' - but I can't stand the thought of banishing a single painting.

I'm not sure why it took me so long, but I've finally gotten around to a solution.  Choosing the three most common sizes and having frames made to order so I can switch up the boards inside and keep updating the arrangement.

Although I appreciate an uncluttered  environment I definitely feel comfy in ordered chaos: rows of books, layered texture, multiple patterns. So... a wall of paintings in the den.

Choosing the frames was fun. In the end I decided on having a touch of gold in each, instead of having all the frames match exactly.

In two weeks, they should be ready and I can start fussing about the hanging and placement.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Full Valentine's Moon - February

February 14th, Full Snow Moon, 6:53 pm

Happy Valentine's Day!

The earliest known romantic valentine verse was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife in the 15th century:
Je suis desja d'amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée
[I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine


True love is like a fine wine, the older the better.
- Fred Jacob

Shall we compare our hearts to a garden -
with beautiful blooms, straggling weeds,
swooping birds and sunshine, rain -
and most importantly, seeds.
- Grey Livingston

An old man in love is like a flower in winter.
- Portuguese Proverb

 A bell is no bell 'til you ring it,
A song is no song 'til you sing it,
And love in your heart
Wasn't put there to stay -
Love isn't love
'Til you give it away.
- Oscar Hammerstein, Sound of Music, You Are Sixteen (Reprise)

Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke.
- Lynda Barry

illustration credit

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Viva Vino Italiano!

Hosted a decadent Italian feast, complete with Aperitivo, Antipasto, Primo, Secondo, Contorno, Insalata, Formaggie e frutta, Dolce, Caffe, Digestivo. Perfetto!

We were eating and drinking for more than 5 hours, but the portions were small enough to keep people from feeling over-stuffed. The meal was a "thank you" to repay past hosts, but it was also a way to inject some colour and warmth into what is proving to be a very long winter!

I picked the Italian theme as much for the wines as for the food. Although most ingredients were Mediterranean, I did veer off into English style short ribs and some Scottish cheddars.

  • Bottega Vino dei Poeti Prosecco served with almonds, salami, olives, roasted artichokes for the Apperitivo/Antipasto
  • Fattoria La Ripa Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 (Tuscany) served with fresh pasta for the Primo.
  • Fontanafredda Barolo 2009 (Piedmont) served with the short ribs, seared lemons, and white bean salad.
  • Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico 2011 (Tuscany) served with insalata of spinach, blood orange & pine nuts with a simple olive oil/red wine dressing
  • Castelgreve Vin Santo del Chianti Classico served with formaggie e frutta (figs drizzled with honey, strawberries with balsalmic + inverloch cheddar, pecoro pepato)
  • Rialto Grappa (Veneto) with Dolce  (chocolate raspberry truffles, amaretto cookies)
  • Caffe & biscotti
  • Lemoncella for Digestivo
 I hadn't tried Vin Santo or Grappa before, their distinct characters added nice notes to the meal.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Five of us gathered at Nicolette's to discuss Willpower, by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister. The smaller group made for lively conversation.

Great book! A few concepts stick with me. Ego depletion, for one, and how masking or intentionally magnifying emotions has proven to lead to interesting consequences. Such as the study that showed people were far more likely to give up on solving a difficult problem after they'd been asked to manipulate the display of their feelings. Which makes me think about the demands of work, and why some days may seem harder and longer than others.

Useful advice...

The likelihood of people completing everything on their 'to do' lists in a month's time was better if people gave themselves monthly lists vs. daily tasks, because it allowed for more flexibility in the long run.

Having a tough time making a decision? Is it because your glucose levels are low and you need to replete your stores? Have some protein and come back to the problem in a half hour.

Dieting was described as a 'perfect storm' because depriving the body of food also drops blood glucose levels, which seem essential to storing up reserves of willpower.

"If you're serious about controlling your weight, you need the discipline to follow these three rules:
  1. Never go on a diet.
  2. Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food.
  3. Whether judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower."
Some defensive strategies include the postponed-pleasure ploy. Tell yourself you can have X later if you still want it, and in the meantime, eat something else. It's less stressful on the mind to say later rather than never. In the long run, you end up wanting less but also consuming less. Remove temptations from your immediate surroundings (don't bring the high calorie stuffs you're avoiding home in the first place). Set realistic goals, like a 5% - 10% overall loss of weight, over a longer period of time.  Weighing yourself every day, vs. once a week, helps to keep the weight off.

This next bit could be why Weight Watchers seems to help so many: "Besides monitoring your body, monitor what food you put into it. If you conscientiously keep a record of all the food you eat, you'll probably consume fewer calories. In one study, those who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight as those who used other techniques."

Alcohol lessens self control in two ways: by lowering blood glucose and by reducing self-awareness.

Stress Less

People with higher levels of self control consistently report less stress in their lives. They use self-control not to get through crises but to avoid them. Realistic goals. Enough time to complete projects. Taking the car to the shop before it breaks down. Avoiding procrastination, which may zap more energy than completing the task at hand.

"While you're depleted, frustrations will bother you more than usual. You'll be more prone to say something you'll regret. Impulses to eat, drink, spend or do other things will be more difficult to resist... The best way to reduce stress in your life is to avoid screwing up, but when you're depleted you're more likely to make mistakes that will leave you with more bills to pay, more relationship damage to repair, more pounds to lose... Beware making decisions when your energy is down, because you'll tend to favour options with short-term gains and delayed costs."

I ended up taking a brisk walk home in the cold, the snow crunching and squeaking underfoot. Bright white sparkles under the streetlamps, white-limbed branches reaching into the dark night sky. A nice way to end the day. Walking is one of those things I wish I had more willpower to do regularly, like my daily yoga & meditation. I think it would help me stress less. Using the principles of the book would be to turn it into a habit, something done more automatically vs. than by decision. Willpower is a finite resource, the more you use, the less you have. Spend carefully!

Sunday, February 2, 2014


I aspire to the William Morris aphorism, "To have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

It's almost as hard to get rid of stuff as to acquire it in the first place.

Since the start of the new year, I've gotten rid of several boxes of books, bags of clothes, miscellaneous household items. Considering some odds and ends today.

George Carlin's perspective on stuff is hilarious in this You Tube video

Some great tips to declutter here, and there and everywhere.

Yes, to toss an old demo reel (so old I'm not sure the 3/4" format is around anymore), of videos I produced in the early 90's. Don't have the technology to play these anymore and although it might bring back memories to watch it (if I paid for the transfer), it's all work-related anyway. Very dated. Likely disintegrated.

No to tossing a journal from '99-'02.  Useful chronicles if only to serve as a reminder of mental clutter. Although long ago I tore out the 'toxic pages'... at one time I would pour out negative thoughts onto paper on the theory that it would help clear my mind. It didn't really help. I ended up tearing and burning the pages they were way, way too negative. What's left are mundane accounts and worries that I recognize in present-day fixations & monkey-mindedness. How things change, and don't change, over time.

Tackle next: old paper files and financials.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Great Upheaval

The Great Upheaval bears witness to how dazzlingly fruitful an eight-year period can be….In the brief interlude before the outbreak of war, original ideas sprang up in such profusion that a single metaphor cannot contain them: they skyrocketed, snowballed, mushroomed, and multiplied...
Ariella Budick, Financial Times
Featured artists include Mondrian, Modigliani, Picasso, Delauney, Chagall, Kandinsky, Matisse... What an incredible collection. It was my second visit in two months and I hope to return for more before it leaves town March 4.

Such a bleak, cold January, I so needed a visit like this. Colour! It's like art touches a whole different part of my brain and presses some kind of reset button.

I could sit and stare at Franz Marc's Yellow Cow for hours. His aim in this painting was to create a metaphysical realm. In 1911, the year this painting was completed, he joined with Kandinsky to found the Blue Rider, a loose confederation of artists devoted to the expression of inner states. I felt so uplifted drinking in its images and colours, it almost brought tears to my eyes.

... and The Football Players by Henri Rousseau, with its odd perspective. It turns out that Rousseau was a 'Sunday painter' who could have faded into anonymity if it weren't for his friendships with artists like Kandinsky who admired his "naive" and primitive approach.

It seems that two of my favourite paintings from the exhibition have a common element: Kandinsky.  Here is Pastorale, one of the last paintings he did with an attempt at representational form. I appreciate his later abstracts for their kinetic quality, but there is something special about his earlier expressionist works, so evocative. This page from the Gugenheim Online is an interesting snapshot of his progression between the years 1908-1944.