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' 


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


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   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

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
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 


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.


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!


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.