Monday, December 31, 2018

Comfort and Joy


What a memorable Holiday season. Much feasting with loved ones and many memorable meals. Five Christmas dinners and just one traditional turkey.

Tonight for New Year's we are off to Liz' and Darcy's for a dinner to ring in the New Year and tomorrow there will be the New Year Levee at the club. All these festivities made possible through good fortune, and through planning, effort, and people coming together consciously to celebrate.

Yes, I am thankful for a full belly and aware of the bounty. Many of us are able to feast in splendour grander than the kings and queens of the past. And this is a time of peace for us, here at least. We are blessed and I am truly grateful, not just for the physical comforts and warmth, but for the deeper connections with friends and family.

Coming together on dark winter days for comfort and joy!


The BPYC Book Club annual celebration, complete with glogg and shortbread cookies. Thirteen of us gathered this year to create and share a special dinner of spiral ham and lots of sides. Very convivial.

In Caledon, Patricia was home from B.C. with her new husband, Duncan. Brenda, Bill, James, Gord, Linda, Christina, Addy, Sarah & her boyfriend, Alex and Penny, Rob and I. A full, long table and a wonderful meal of steak and chicken.

Christmas Eve I set the table for five at home: Rob and I; Alex and Penny; and Twinci. Pink champagne and rabbit pate; prime rib, potato and green beans served with a 2003 brunello; home made pistachio and dark chocolate fridge cake with cognac for dessert.

Christmas Day, Dave and Therese and Leo and Emma and Alex and Penny and Ameeta and Rob and I celebrated with vegetarian fare. Rob and I made this fantastic squash tart in the afternoon and couldn't believe how prettily it turned out. And so tasty - will definitely make this one again. Served with salads and rice. Therese brought a fabulous cheesecake for dessert and Ameeta prepared her famous chai to finish.

I swore no more tree ornaments but
couldn'r resist this little beauty
A few days later, I picked up a fresh turkey to cook in Kitchener for a traditional meal. There were too many of us to seat at one table, so it was buffet style for Diane and Rob and Alex; Kathy and Dan and Melanie (Chris came later with Ashley); Dave and Therese and Leo and Emma; Mike and Karen and Olivia; Alex and Sue and Jessie and Jared; Patrick (Robin and Luke came later). I forgot to take a photo of the turkey and trimmings, but it really did turn out beautifully.

Before serving, I made a toast to mom but wasn't quite able to finish due to getting so choked up. Our first Christmas without her, we all really miss her.

Instead of pass-around this year we unpacked boxes of ornaments to share with kids and grandkids, future mementoes for Christmases to come.

At the very end of the evening, just as people were departing, Pat spotted a box of envelopes with people's names on them - cards of thanks my mother had written the Christmas before. I'm sure she must have tapped Pat on the shoulder to make sure we all got our notes. Or maybe Pat just pretended and prepared for the moment? Who knows? It was perfect timing. And a precious gift of the season.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Solstice Celebration!

The absinthe fountain has graced the corner of our living room since last year, and when I was watching the Leonard Cohen Montreal tribute concert there was a scene of him with absinthe.

So there was a reprise of last year's theme to celebrate the Solstice and Full Moon.

When people arrived I offered a choice of four cocktails. Debra, Wendy and Kaarina opted for Death in the Afternoon; Liz and Chris chose Corpse Revivers; Virginia and I went for the Sazarac; while Nicolette and Grace opted for whisky. No one chose the Obituary (cocktail recipes follow below).

People brought nibbles for potluck and we filled our appetites before beginning the ritual of melting sugar cubes with absinthe under a slow drip of ice cold water.

An evening of great conversation! Grace had firsthand information on Scotland's distilleries, Nicolette about whiskey tastings in Ireland, Virginia talked about architecture in Berlin, Kaarina about an upcoming Hamlet with a signing performer in one of the roles, Wendy about her experiences learning British slang as a third language, and Liz about starting her day with ten deep breaths.

As she was leaving Chris handed me her info on female artists of the Belle Epoch... I had asked everyone to bring some facts they learned about absinthe and plan on parlour games, but then got so absorbed in the conversation, the evening seemed to come to a sudden ending.

At one point I looked around the room and thought how blessed I was to have known such interesting women for years. I look forward to many more spent in their company.

The Ritual

The use of a perforated absinthe spoon specifically for absinthe became widespread in the 1880's and 1890's. From the 1890'2 onwards, it seems, on the evidence of existing engravings and cartoons, almost all absinthes in bars and cafés were served with a perforated spoon.Place a sugar cube on the spoon.

Drip a few drops of water on to the sugar cube, just enough to saturate it thoroughly.

Then do nothing, just watch the sugar cube for a few minutes. It will spontaneously slowly start to collapse and drip into the glass, eventually leaving only a few drops of sugared water on the spoon. Then add the rest of the water in a thin stream.

The correct dose of absinthe is about 30ml – just over an ounce. Add three parts water to one part absinthe and then taste. For casual drinking (as opposed to tasting a rare bottle) you might prefer to add a little more water, bringing the ratio up to 4:1 or even to 5:1.

Overall, it’s worth taking the trouble to prepare an absinthe in the traditional way like this. The slowness and care required help put one in the right frame of mind to appreciate the subtleties of the drink, and it undoubtedly tastes better this way as well.

Absinthe Cocktails

Death in the Afternoon

This one came from Ernest Hemingway, who explained: “This was arrived at by the author and three officers of H.M.S. Danae after having spent seven hours overboard trying to get Capt. Bra Saunders’ fishing boat off a bank where she had gone with us in a N.W. gale.” Even under less dramatic circumstances, it’s a drink that packs a punch. (Pastis is often substituted for the absinthe, but if you want to be as Hemingwayesque as possible, stick to the original specs.)

Hemingway knew his spirits well: The minerality and sparkling texture of the champagne temper the intense herbaceous quality of absinthe, blending together to create a cool, silky sip that’s just the thing to calm the nerves and pique the appetite before dinner. Although the original recipe doesn’t call for it, a hint of citrus from an expressed lemon peel helps balance and brighten the two ingredients even more. Hemingway’s directions include the admonition to add champagne “until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness.

Drink three to five of these slowly.” An editor’s note, taking into account the tolerance of lesser mortals, adds: “After six of these cocktails, The Sun Also Rises.”

1.5 oz absinthe
4 oz champagne
Lemon twist
Pour absinthe into a champagne flute or coupe, add chilled champagne, and stir. Express a lemon peel over the top the drink and drop in.


Essentially New Orleans' version of the the classic whiskey cocktail (whiskey, water, bitters, sugar), the sazerac has been around since the middle of the 19th century. It is named after a brand of cognac called Sazerac-de- Forge et Fils, which was the original liquor used to make the drink. The modern version, which uses rye whisky instead of cognac, is the classic sort of cocktail that conjures a bunch of hardened newspaper men talking horse racing results in a smoke-filled pool hall. That is to say, it's not a drink for the faint of heart. But if you love a good whisky cocktail, especially one that's topped off with a splash of absinthe, then the sazerac is tough to beat. (Esquire)

2 1/2 oz. rye whisky
1 sugar cube
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters 1 dash Angostura Bitters absinthe
lemon peel
old-fashioned glass


In an Old-Fashioned glass (not a mixing glass; it's part of the ritual), muddle a sugar cube with a few drops of water.

Add several small ice cubes and the rye whiskey,* the Peychaud's bitters, and the Angostura bitters.**

Stir well and strain into a second, chilled, Old-Fashioned glass in which you have rolled around a few drops of absinthe (no substitute really works, but you can try either a mix of Pernod and green Chartreuse, or Absente) until its inside is thoroughly coated, pouring off the excess. 

Corpse Reviver

Popularized by the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock, this classic cocktail is part of a succession of "Corpse Revivers" originally devised as a hangover cure. An ice-cold nip of this elixir is refreshing, astringent, and strong enough to perk up the senses.

Bitter , Herbal INGREDIENTS: 20ml Hendrick's Gin 20ml Cointreau 20ml Lillet

20ml Lemon Juice Dash Absinthe


Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker and shake briskly over cubed ice. Double strain into cocktail glass.

The Obituary Cocktail

As the name indicates, the Obituary Cocktail is not a tame drink and it is the concentration of absinthe (which equals dry vermouth here) that is likely the source of the warning. That aside, it is a stellar drink that retains the opalescence of the traditional absinthe drink, simply bringing it into the classic Gin Martini mix.

If you are new to or rediscovering absinthe, this is the cocktail to try because it makes for a very fine tasting experience. Remember, don't skimp on the quality of the gin here either, because cheap gin equals a cheap (tasting) drink.

If you like or if they are simply more accessible, any absinthe substitute (such as Pernod) will do here.

2 ounces gin
1/4 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce absinthe or substitute

Steps to Make It
Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass filled with cracked ice. Stir well.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Winter Solstice Moon - December 2018

The Full Moon for December 2018 rises on the 22nd—very near the winter solstice this year! It will close to full (95%) on Christmas eve.

In Native American cultures which tracked the calendar by the Moons, December’s Full Moon was known as the Full Cold Moon. It is fittingly associated with the month when the winter cold fastens its grip and the nights become long and dark.

Monday, December 17, 2018


"When we live by the clock, the Greeks said, we are bound by chronos time. This is the time that races, marches, creeps, and flies. It is the life that T.S. Eliot measured out in coffee spoons and the thirty hours of leisure that John Robinson tallies on his spreadsheets. But kairos is the time of the "right moment" the eternal now, when time is not a number on a dial but the enormity of the experience inside it."  Bridgid Schulte, Overwhelmed

Tis the season! And there is lots on the calendar, lots to do to make the holidays special. It is easy to rush, and lose the real present of the season.

So much to savour at the feasts and in the company of friends and family. I am grateful that before the crush of starting a new assignment in January I have a time of slower rhythm to catch those moments.

illustration: A spiral clock represents the god of infinitely expanding time, Kairos or Caerus
From Lost in Translation:

Chronos’ ( Χρόνος), means measured time, a quantity, measured in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years.

‘Kairos’ (καιρός) on the other hand, an ancient Greek word, means; the perfect moment or timing, the opportune moment, the moment of truth, the defining moment, that fleeting moment, that comes and goes in in the blink of an eye, which must be seized and not let go.... ‘Kairos’ is quality, not quantity, it’s getting the timing right; to know when the time has come, and that everything has its time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Time Travel - Memoir

Proust's madelaine launched reminisces to fill 3,000 pages in his iconic "In Search of Lost Time" and food has been the subject of many another unforgettable memoir, so when it was my turn to host an Epitourist feast, I thought, "why not time travel?"

Everyone was asked to prepare a dish that brought back special memories of time past and bring a story to share about why they chose that particular dish.

The taste of food really can transport you to another time and place; perhaps remind you of the trip to Italy sipping limoncello or a childhood's summer night. Taking a bite of food is fleeting while preparing the dish can be like spending time with people you love.

And whiling away a whole afternoon eating and enjoying the dishes and memories with kindred spirits... what a Present!

Pizza bread paired with ginger ale
Wine Jelly and Brie
Sausage Rolls Revisited
French Onion Soup
Hawaiian Roast Chicken, Two Bean Salad, Coconut Rice
Lingonberry Soup

Diane's Momoir

I've been missing my mom so much this holiday season, I chose dishes that reminded me of her. So for me this was more of a momoir lunch. My mom really taught me a lot about resourcefulness, and as I grow older I appreciate her lessons more.

Pizza Bread

When I was about nine or ten, pizza was my dream food and I constantly pestered mom to order. Instead she showed me how to make my own. Simple fare: lightly toast white bread, spread with cheese whiz, smear some ketchup, cut up some wieners, add some cheddar and olives, and sprinkle with hot pepper flakes, and broil for a couple of minutes.

I haven't had this in years, and although I can't say it is the same as Proust's madelaine, it reminded me of late summer nights and staying up past bedtime.

Paired with ginger ale for the Epitourist lunch.

Wine Jelly

The first recipe written in my own hand in my little cookbook is for wine jelly, something my mom and I made together when Rob and I first started going out. I was about eighteen years old - so young! And so proud to share these as handmade Christmas gifts. Rob's mom was one of the recipients, I suppose I wanted make a good impression. Since then I've put the recipe aside and haven't made it until now, forty years later. How wonderful to have this simple recipe to evoke such strong feelings of love and nostalgia, from Christmas Past to Christmas Present.

Mementoes for the Epitourists of our time travel lunch.

Recipe for wine jelly from Certo + Tips for preserving with paraffin

Hawaiian Roast Chicken
As I was dithering what to serve, I mentioned my dilemma to Rob, who without missing a beat and without the benefit of options or prompting, came right out and said, "Hawaiian Chicken." This was a bit of a specialty of my mom's that she would make when I was visiting home from college. Although I didn't have this recipe directly from her I was able to find it on the Dole pineapple site.

Served alongside coconut rice and Ottolenghi 2 bean salad.

Paired with Gewurtztraminer.

Laura's Sausage Rolls Revisited

Given the season, it seemed fitting to choose a Christmas-past food memory for an appetizer.

Sausage rolls were a staple Christmas item of my childhood. I clearly recall the red and white tube of Maple Leaf Sausage meat that my mother would split open and mold into a long snake, placed along a piece of rolled out pastry. My mom made terrific pastry, but for some reason she never made her own for sausage rolls or her mince pies. She bought blocks of Tenderflake flaky pastry dough. I think it was perhaps because she made so many, which she froze to have on hand all through the Christmas holidays. She packed them into large silver film reel cans that my father brought home from work. They were just the right height and size.

As I baked my version, the smell wafting from the oven and watching the grease from the pork and butter ooze from the little rolls, transported me back in time.

Sausage rolls revisited:

I wanted to make my own pastry and filling. After much googling, I decided on this recipe from the Guardian:

Notes: Made about 25 small rolls.

Needed a little more flavouring in the filling. More salt and pepper and perhaps a bit more nutmeg and lemon.

For the pastry
225 g plain flour
Pinch of salt
2 tsp English mustard powder
175g very cold butter
1 egg, beaten with a little water and salt

For the filling
300 g port belly, skin removed, minced or finely chopped
300 g pork shoulder, minced (this can often be bought ready minced if you don't have a good butcher)
200 g smoked streaky bacon, rind removed, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Nutmeg, to grate
2 tbsp roughly chopped thyme leaves
8 sage leaves, roughly chopped

1. Sift the flour, salt and mustard powder into a mixing bowl, and grate in the butter. Stir them together with a knife, so the butter is well-coated with flour, and resembles a rough crumble mixture. Pour in enough ice-cold water to turn the mixture into a dough that comes away cleanly from the bowl - be cautious, it shouldn't be stickly - and bring together into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for half an hour.
2. Put the meats into a large bowl and mix well with your hands. Tip in the rest of the ingredients and combine, seasoning well with black pepper and a little salt (remember the bacon will be salty, so don't go overboard). Pre-heat the oven to 220C.
3. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to about a thicknexx of 1/2 cm, and cut into 3 lengthways. Divide the meat into 3 sausages, as long as your pastry, and place one slightly off-centre on each strip.
4. Brush one edge of the pastry strip with beaten egg and then fold the other side over to enclose the sausage meat. Press down to seal, and then go along the edge with the back of a fork if you like, to make a pattern. Brush with more eggwash, cut to the desired size, and prick each with a fort. Repeat with the rest of the pastry and meat.
5. Put the rolls on a baking tray, and bake for 25 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack, and serve warm.

Served with Alsace Vin Blanc

Caroline's French Onion Soup

I found Diane’s theme of Time Travel very challenging. The food of my childhood could not inspire me. The Canadian foods of the 1970s were pretty much meat, potatoes and iceberg lettuce. We lived in a tiny, remote village on the edge of the James Bay Territory. My mom cooked to feed her family and baked to satisfy her sweet tooth. It was a necessity, not a passion. Although I served a French Onion Soup for this Time Travel lunch, I wished I had made her aspic. It would have been fitting, fun, delicious, pretty and festive.

French Onion Soup

Serves 8

- 2 quarts of water
- one beautiful ox tail, approximately 1/2 kilo
- 1 carrot
- 1 stick of celery,
- 1 onion sliced in half skin on
- 1 clove of garlic smashed with skin on
- fresh sprigs of rosemary, thyme and oregano
- salt to taste (adjust salt at the end)
- 1/2 cup of white wine or vermouth
- 1/4 cup of Cognac
- 4 kilos of Vidalia onions thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup of butter
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- pretty sage leaf
- 8 slices of toasted crusty bread
- 2 2/3 cup of grated Comté cheese

Season and roast the ox tail in a 425○ oven for 30 minutes.

Boil 8 cups of water. Place roasted ox tail, boiling water and following 6 ingredients in a pressure cooker. Put pressure cooker on high heat and pressurize. Cook for 15 minutes under high pressure. Let pressure cooker depressurize naturally. In total, this entire process takes approximately 30 minutes. Using a sieve, strain the broth. Feed the veggies to the chickens and keep the meat for Monday night’s beef and barley soup! Return the broth to the pot, add white wine and cognac. Gently simmer.

Thinly slice onions to 1/8”. A mandolin slicer is handy here. Heat half of the oil and butter over high heat. Once pan is nice and hot, toss in half of the onions. Reduce the heat to medium. Place a lid askew over pan. It is key to slowly caramelize the onions. This step should take approximately 50 minutes. Stir occasionally and keep an eye on the temperature. Stir caramelized onions into the simmering broth. Repeat this step for the remaining onions.

Cube bread to make croûtons. Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toast in a 425 oven for 10 minutes. Set aside. Put a slight slug of oil in a pan. Heat to medium high. Quickly fry sage leaves until slightly darkened and glossy. Remove and set aside.

Laddle onion soup into deep bowls. Top with croûtons and 1/3 cup of grated cheese per bowl. Broil on high in oven for 5 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and starting to show browned/blackened spots. Remove from oven. Crown the beauties with a sage leaf and serve.

Kaarina's Lingonberry Soup

One of my most precious childhood memories is of my grandmother showing me the tiny blue pearls of muscari growing in our summer house garden about an hour’s drive outside of Helsinki. A spry 80-something, Mari-mummo took me along on her rambles through the nearby woods to gather berries, wild mushrooms and dry kindling for the wood stove in the old farmhouse kitchen.

We fetched our milk from a nearby dairy farm, walking through a meadow where the cows grazed among the buttercups and bluebells. A thick layer of cream topped the milk and mummo skimmed that off for our glorious summer desserts.

You could mark the passage of the summer by the fruit and berry soups - known as kiisseli - that appeared at the table under a blanket of whipped cream. Rhubarb and strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries, red and black currants and finally, just before it was time to go back to school in the city, lingonberries.

I chose puolukka (lingonberry) kiisseli for our Epitour Time Travel feast because its unique sweet and tart taste can transport even the most down-to-earth Finn back to grandma’s kitchen. And not least, because for the first time ever I found frozen lingonberries in a Toronto store. (Check ahead if they have some in stock.)

Puolukka kiisseli - Lingonberry Soup

2 cups lingonberries
4 cups water
3/4 cups sugar
4 tbsp potato starch (or cornstarch)
Half teaspoon vanilla
Generous handful of lingonberries
Heavy cream

Bring the lingonberries and water to a boil for 15 minutes. Strain and return the juice to the pot. Stir in the sugar and return to a boil.

Mix the cornstarch into 3-4 tablespoons of cold water, making sure there are no lumps. Off heat, pour the cornstarch into the juice in a slow steady stream stirring constantly. Return the pot to the element and heat until it bubbles but do not boil again. Add the vanilla. Cool in a cold water bath.
Scoop a generous handful of frozen berries into the bottom of a serving bowl and pour the kiisseli over them. Sprinkle sugar over the kiisseli to prevent a skin from forming over the top. Allow to cool completely. It is best enjoyed at room temperature on the day it is made. Serve with heavy cream, whipped cream, ice cream, creme fraiche, vanilla sauce, yogurt or rice pudding.

The tart red berries also grow in northern British Columbia, Manitoba and Newfoundland but little has been done here to grow them commercially. That could change. The long-ignored lingonberry is about to make its way into the Super Food category. Federal research is underway into health and nutritional benefits of lingonberries.
The little red berry could well provide future industry and new jobs for Canada’s economically challenged northern communities.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Theatre Highlights - 2018

Every Brilliant Thing,  Canstage, December 2
Ice cream, rollercoasters, the smell of old books — as a mother battles chronic depression, a child creates a list of everything that makes life worth living. As time passes and the list grows, what began as a naive attempt to deal with tragedy becomes an epic chronicle of life's small joys. Staged in an in-the-round setting, this touching, funny and intimate solo piece charts the lengths we will go for those we love.  Can Stage

I absolutely loved the premise. With suicide in the plot line I wouldn't normally consider the story uplifting, but it really did bring to the forefront all the things that makes life worth living.

Frustrating for me was that the play was done 'theatre in the round' style and the actor wasn't miked. There was a lot of audience interaction, and since they weren't miked it was also difficult to hear. I was so perturbed I phoned the Canstage box office to leave a message, posted on their Facebook and sent an email. They responded to let me know headsets are now available in their lobby for people hard of hearing. Good to know for future performances, although miking the performer seems the logical place to start.

Trace,  Canstage, November 9
Red Sky Performance

Trace is a sumptuous new dance and music creation that explores Indigenous connections to ancestral beginnings. Inspired by Anishinaabe cosmology - our star and sky stories - Trace maps our history and future evolution. We are traceable to the beginnings of the universe, our ancestral origins stretching across the Milky Way to the very atoms burning inside of us here on earth. Red Sky

This was so hypnotic. The Berkeley stage is big enough for a company of dancers and a trio of musicians, yet still small enough to feel intimate.

Many profound truths were enlivened by the dancers as visuals were projected behind them and live musicians sculpted sound. Beautifully choreographed. Memorable scenes: seeds struggle to open; star dust gives birth to human form; text from the Indian Act in 1921 strongly forbidding dance crumbles behind the dancers as their defiance grows stronger; human forms rise on the shoulders of those who have gone before; human sighs draw new constellations. Truly amazing! I am now a fan of artistic director Sandra Laronde and will watch for any new productions.

The Children, Canstage, October 13

There’s nothing better than watching the best actors strut their stuff. Actually, there is: wonderful actors performing in a superb play. Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children takes place at a cottage in England, near a nuclear power plant where there has been a catastrophic accident complicated by a tsunami – echoes of the 2011 disaster in Japan. Physicist Rose (Fiona Reid) is making a surprise visit to her former colleagues Hazel (Laurie Paton) and her husband Robin (Geordie Johnson), with whom she consulted on the plant’s construction decades ago. As the action unfolds, the true nature of the relationships become crystallized, the extent of the environmental disaster emerges and Rose makes a stunning proposal to the couple. (Toronto Star)

I puzzled a bit over the characters on stage. They were drawn so jaggedly it must have been intentional fragmentation. Appearing internally inconsistent they became predictably unpredictable, as though the playwright might have consciously modelled them do the opposite of their instinct.

Exploring the theme of what one generation owes the next, the mother stays to take care of her adult child; the childless woman braves a return to a broken nuclear plant to save future generations; the father makes an entrance with a tricycle, a Peter Pan who hasn't really grown up and likely never will. Three outstanding actors bring new definition to the meaning of character.

Portia's Julius Caesar, Shakespeare in the Ruff, August 28
Shakespeare in the Park

Outdoor summer theatre at Withrow Park. Shakespeare's Julius Caesar reimagined through the eyes of Portia and other female characters. Engaging and interesting but waaaay too long. Uneven performances in the sense that some were extremely one note (shouting every line), while others were delivered with more emotional complexity. Saw this near the end of the run, so maybe a few were a bit tired and ready to move along. Still, a wonderful way to spend a summer evening.

Midsummer Night's Dream, Canstage, July 19
Shakespeare in the Park

Outdoor summer theatre in the almost-round at High Park. This was a rather bawdy version with florescent coloured dildos being waved about. They could also pass for brightly coloured balloons to the kids in the audience. All the actors played several parts which led to some quick costume changes, especially for the actors playing Bottom/Oberon and Duke/Francis Flute. It wasn't until the cast took a final bow that I knew for sure they'd done double-duty.

Dead Talks, Fringe Festival, Tarragon Theatre, July 11
Original and in development

Interesting premise and lots of future potential for this play. I was intrigued when a talk-show angel welcomed the audience and announced we were all dead. This was just after the opening scene which has sadly become a bit cliche, where an older male publisher is plying a young female author with alcohol and starts coming on to her in his apartment. Cut to purgatory, where neither has a memory of the event until it eventually rises. I found the ending gratuitous, where the rape scene is re-enacted, because it was stuck so harshly and abruptly without a denoument.

Restless Spirit, Fringe Festival, Theatre Passe Muraille, July 10
Original and in development

A historical piece about a girl with a genuine gift for communicating with with the dead, around the time that spiritualism was finding an audience. Alex' longtime friend Dylan played the opportunistic villain, and did so alarmingly well.

Plays in Cafes, Fringe Festival, Poetry Jazz Cafe, July 5
Little theatre

This play was staged in Kensington Market, in a very small venue with a company playing to an audience of less than fifty. It was a fun concept, in that the audience could order moods off the menu, while the cast performed within the same small space. I got a chance to chat with the artistic director before the show started, and learned a little about how companies are guided through the production cycle by the Fringe festival, while volunteers and non-union staff help to keep the ticket prices so affordable.

Come From Away, Royal Alexandra Theatre, May 16
Just because it's popular doesn't mean it isn't fantastic

Why had I been avoiding this? A Canadian play with a triumphant Broadway debut returning to Toronto for sold out shows.

We finally went and it really was fantastic! More than a love story, thankfully. Yes, a "feel good" play, but in this world, these days, we probably need stories that remind us we can make a big difference in each other's lives that ripple out beyond islands.

The Overcoat, Can Stage, Bluma Appel, April 8
Do clothes make the man?

One of my favourite Russian short stories turned into an opera. Sur titles were appreciated, even though everything was sung in English. World premiere.

Akaky Akakievich struggles in his civil service job, with barely enough money to buy decent food and pay his rent. When his winter coat falls apart he finds a way to buy a new one - so beautiful it opens doors to parties and conversations with beautiful women and even talk of a promotion. Until, walking home from a party he is mugged for his coat. The police refuse to help and Akaky finds himself in dire straights. A straight jacket, in fact, in a madhouse. Gogol's story is as relevant today as when it was published in 1842.

Cottagers and Indians, Tarragon Theatre March 22
Cottagers and Indians takes a sincere and pragmatic look at the current conflicts between First Nations traditional water usage and property owners in cottage country who are looking to enjoy an undisturbed summer getaway.

Drew Hayden Taylor—a pioneer of Native comedy—turned to humour to better express his culture in the theatre. After hearing an interview with this playwright on the radio, we decided to check out the play.

Wild rice is being planted and harvested along the cottage shoreline. The story is based on actual events.

Love the Tarragon theatre space and we sat right up front. The performance we attended had a bonus treat of Q&A with the playwright and actors - we stuck around to hear a personal take. The performers talked about how every night is different, as different audiences laugh or gasp in different spots; they adjust lines and delivery accordingly.

The author repeated a line we heard on his radio interview, "humour is the WD40 of healing."

The Humans, Can Stage, Bluma Appel February 17
"Breaking with tradition, Erik Blake has brought his family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter's lower Manhattan apartment. As darkness falls, tensions reach a boiling point, and the unspoken pressures facing the Blake clan simmer to the surface. Winner of four 2016 Tony Awards, including Best New Play, Stephen Karam's breakthrough comedy-drama is a scorchingly funny and frighteningly timely snapshot of a family caught in the wake of a changing nation."

Job loss, unemployment, underemployment, health issues, affairs, break-ups, 911, lights flickering on and off - everything falling apart. It all seemed pretty dark to me. Black humour provided minimal comic relief. 

At the very end of the play, Eric stumbles in darkness and finally finds the door to the hallway, confronting the dark tunnel of his nightmares. He has no choice but to enter the darkness if he is to leave the apartment to join the rest of his family and journey home. There is an interminable wait at the threshold while he screws up his courage, a small pool of light spilling on the floor. I had to fight back the urge to holler, "leave already!!"

The stage was a life-sized dollhouse of a Manhattan apartment, complete with spiral staircase, bars on the window, a bathroom inconveniently (and brilliantly) located. Brilliantly because placing it there meant when characters had to leave the main gathering, they could be and would be talked about, providing interesting portraits of family dynamics.

King Lear, Groundlings Theatre Company, Harbourfront Theatre Centre January 27

"Widely considered Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Lear tells the story of an aging monarch’s loosening grip on the reigns of power and the slow, lonely descent into madness that follows. The Dora award winning Groundling Theatre Company follows their celebrated productions of The Winter’s Tale and Measure for Measure with an intimate and provocative Lear at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. Starring one of Canada’s most celebrated actresses, Seana McKenna, in the title role, this production promises to bring new life to Shakespeare’s classic tale, challenging our assumptions about familial loyalty and the fragile balance of sanity and chaos that exists within us all."

Casting a female lead may not change the overall story but it surfaces new dimensions, especially with the relationships between parent and daughters. Mother/daughter vs. father/daughter - is it becomes somehow more personal and less political? Why does the betrayal seem to cut so much more deeply, and the grief more physical? 

The stage was spare - 7 or 8 wooden boxes shifted around by players to suggest a changing landscape. A large drum half-concealed behind the curtain creating the sound of battle and storm. 

Marcus Roberts and his Trio

There's something about a grand piano, solo and centre stage. So elegant, with its high gloss black finish. Even without a player the instrument makes a statement, but under the hands of a talented musician it breathes a life of its own. This particular piano must have loved its reincarnation with Marcus Roberts. He is one of the most accomplished jazz pianists in the world, and what a master!

Roberts went blind at the age of five, and didn't touch a piano until he was twelve years old attending a Florida school for the blind and deaf. He is now a world renowned jazz pianist, composer, arranger, bandleader, and teacher.

He brought all those talents to Koerner last night. Although we didn't hear his original compositions, he brought his touch and improvisation to well known standards. He played solo for the first half of the concert, paying homage to jazz composer greats Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk, and George Gershwin as he introduced their standards.

We all became students of Roberts as he shared  interesting facts about the pieces. Gershwin's first version of one of his most popular songs was at a fast tempo, and Roberts played a few bars, but I couldn't identify it. Once played at a slow tempo the melody was almost instantly familiar, and then when the refrain came,  the lyrics to 'Someone to Watch Over Me' popped right into my head.

I also gained new appreciation for Duke Ellington, both as a composer and band leader. He managed to keep his team together for more than fifty years, with many of the same players, which is something of a feat in the music business. Duke said he wrote 'Mood Indigo' in 15 minutes at his mom's kitchen table, and the familiar tune was played every night for almost twenty years straight.

Then there was Jelly Roll Morton, whose compositions started and ended the set. 'Jungle Blues' and 'New Orleans Blues.' I knew Morton was an early jazz innovator, however I didn't know he made the claim publicly to have invented jazz. Such bravado.

For the second half Roberts was joined by drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Rodney Jordan as they performed 'Crescent' by Coltrane. Wow! That trio was tight! Roberts has played with Marsalis for more than 25 years and Jordan for more than ten. I absolutely loved watching them make music. The bassist was bending, stretching and embracing the curves of the wooden instrument in such a way I could imagine them as friends and lovers. All three had such an intimate touch with the instruments, it was almost a trio of six.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Wolfe Island Epitour

Caroline, Kaarina and I set off for Kingston, took a short ferry to Wolfe Island, and then drove the curvy roads to  Laura's new doorstep. Very picturesque territory.

It's not often I get to use the word bucolic, but it truly was such a sight, with mocha coloured and black angus cattle watching us with their big cow eyes as we drove past.

Laura has begun a new adventure, selling her city home and buying lakefront property with several acres. I'm excited for her and her husband Peter as they commit to a more independent lifestyle.

What a gorgeous property! The lake in front and a pond to the side. Acres to walk in the back.

Lots of birds. Raptors, ducks. Bird feeders front and back with visiting woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, bluejays. Freddy the cat was crouched on the counter for hours birdwatching and perfecting his attack technique, but the pane of glass made it all quite impossible.

In the mornings I did yoga in front of the wood stove while Ginger the cat circled my ankles. Tree pose, cow pose, cat pose, the morning sun rising. Perfect!

Laura is an Epitourist and as it was her turn to host, she invited the group to create a feast on Wolfe Island. We stayed two nights for a series of memorable meals.

When we arrived we enjoyed a snack of melted brie with warm blueberries. Dinner was tortiere from Cliffcrest Bakery, a mushroom kale salad with homemade ice cream and fruit crumble. After dinner, a scotch tasting.

A light breakfast the next morning, of fresh eggs from Caro's girls. "Lunch" turned out to be an eight hour extravagance. We paced ourselves, allowing plenty of time between courses and a nice long walk into the back woods after the main. Before dessert, we watched the full moon rise over the water and then finished with a cheese course.

Mont de chimay, beer washed le vieux pane, St. Agur blue, wine soaked goat
The next morning, a comfort breakfast of mushroom risotto.

A highlight of the trip for me was learning more about gourmet mushrooms.

We had also planned a tour of some Kingston artisans but decided to delay our departure to enjoy a leisurely morning before the drive back to Toronto.

Truly a wonderful few days escape from city life.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Scotch tasting

What a perfect way to relax in front of a warm wood stove.

Sampling a Glenmorangie taster set with Epitourist friends.

This single malt has never made it to my liquor cabinet, but the bright orange packaging caught my eye.

The Original and Lasanta were my favourites, and the Lasanta I think will be a wonderful finish to a Christmas holiday meal.
Glenmorangie Collection Taster Set is a selection of the 10 year old, with 50ml bottles of the Nectar D'Or, Quinta Ruban, and Lasanta. Excellent introduction to the top selling single malt in Scotland
Tasting Notes:
The Original 10 years (43%)ABV
Sweet citrus and floral notes with creamy vanilla and rich malt and orange peel.
The Lasanta (46%)ABV
Sherry and dried fruits with a hint of floral notes and a touch of honey.
The Quinta Ruban (46%)ABV
White chocolate with a floral infusion follwed by citrus notes and rich malt.. 
The Nectar D’or (46%)ABV
Mandarin orange and vanilla with hints of cinnamon, all spice and nutmeg. 

Gourmet Mushrooms

At a  recent Epitourist gathering, I had the fun of putting together a course that revolved around mushrooms, and took full advantage of Laura's proximity to Kelly's Gourmet Mushrooms on Wolfe Island.

Here's the recipe:

Sauteed and Roasted Blue Oyster and Shitake 

First take a tour of the mushroom growing operation and marvel at the science that goes into creating the right environment and conditions to raise gourmet mushrooms. Owner-operators Darren and Deb studied with world-renowned mycologist Paul Stamets to perfect their technique.

Choose 2 pounds of the freshest available mushrooms (in this case Blue Oyster and Shitake).

Realize they are too beautiful to shred and dice, so decide to saute and roast.

Lay out all ingredients
  • Garlic (2 cloves)
  • Onions (2 small)
  • Butter (about a 1/2 cup)
  • Mushrrooms (1.5 pounds)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh herbs (oregeno, thyme)
  • thinly sliced cheese (pick your favourite meltable)
Tear stems off shitake; slice the tips of the blue oysters but keep stalks attached. Melt some butter and cook a bit of garlic in a stock pot, then toss in the bits to make mushroom stalk stock for use at a later meal.

Thinly slice some garlic and onions and caramelize in a generous amount of butter. Enjoy the smell!

Begin to saute the mushrooms  - don't crowd the pan - take your time and saute in batches. Don't worry, this is a very meditative process and you are still under their magic spell. Don't fully cook as you will finish off in the oven. (I sauteed with a  generous amount of butter but next time will experiment with a dry saute).

Keep an eye on your onions!

Ten or fifteen minutes before serving, pop the mushrooms into a preheated 375 degree oven and finish cooking.

Take the thinly sliced cheese and layer on the plate so it melts underneath the warm mushrooms. Then place mushrooms in such a way that people can admire the shape and colour; drizzle with the caramelized onion and butter. Add your fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste.


The next morning, take the stock and 1/4 pound of the shitake mushrooms to make a comfort breakfast of Wild Mushroom, Pea and Pancetta Risotto from Melissa Clark's new book Dinner in an Instant.  Using the Insta-pot there is no stirring. I substituted scotch for the wine because we had a wee bit left over from our scotch tasting. It was quite aromatic in the pot but we couldn't really taste it in the final product. I also substituted bacon for pancetta. 

Go back to Kelly's Mushroom Farm the next day and pick up another two pounds of mushrooms to bring home. While you're at it, get a mushroom kit for your husband because you know he will love it (and of course he is a fun guy).

Make Creamy Mushroom soup with Shitake and Shitake Bacon for Sunday dinner.

Wait patiently for your Lion's Mane mushrooms to grow so you can try out more recipes.

Become a mushroom aficionado. In addition to being incredibly tasty, some mushrooms offer health benefits and healing properties. Passionate advocates say mushrooms can even save the world. It's not too late!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Full Beaver Moon

For Christmas, many moons ago, I bought my mom a moon light to hang in her room. After she died, we found it tucked away in her closet and I've reclaimed it for our bedroom wall. It casts a soft glow, the moon light.

As a free person I can always come and go,
Not caught in ideas of is and is not.
Not caught in ideas of being and non-being
Let your steps be leisurely.
Waxing or waning the moon is always the moon
The wind is still flying. Can you feel it my dear?
Bringing the rain from afar to nourish the nearby cloud
Drops of sunshine fall from on high to earth below
And the lap of the earth touches the clear vault of the sky.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

Barn's burnt down -
I can see the moon
- Masahide

Moon is full November 23, 12:41 a.m.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Mutual Interest?

Last spring, I was sitting in my financial advisor's office, and we got around to that part of the script where she tells me I should be investing more in RRSPs. The fact is, I had been, but it was with a self-directed account at a financial institution.

Was it me, or was she making me feel I was cheating on her? I'd been seeing the advisor for many years now, and was slowly coming to the realization that although I'd been sharing very personal information about my annual earnings and overall wealth and risk profile, I really wasn't getting the kind of advice I wanted and needed. She was in business to help sell me products from her firm, like insurance and mutual funds.

I've known for several years that if I did my own investing it would be a lot cheaper. Years ago I'd heard of 'couch potato' investing and it went straight to my to do list, where it languished. Then ETFs came on the scene. I wanted a cheaper alternative and since my advisor wasn't offering it, I tried another route.

Unfortunately the bank advisors weren't much better.

"I'd like to try Index Funds and ETFs so I can reduce my fees."

"Those type of funds can only purchased through the online brokerage account. Do you have one?"


"Well let me show you this fund, modelled on the Canadian Index." 

It wasn't until I took an investment course this past fall that it finally sunk in that front-office bank staff and mutual fund 'financial advisors' aren't licensed to sell anything else but mutual funds. What I wound up with from the bank retail discussions were  mutual funds that were modelled on index funds and even labelled as such. They referred to them as 'funds' so I wasn't really catching on. Misleading!

Yes, buyer beware, but I feel like my long-time advisor and my trusted financial institutions have taken me for a sucker.

The course I signed up for was a college night course, thirty hours over ten weeks, with an introduction to bonds, the stock market, options, trading etc.  Now, while I'm certainly no expert, I am less intimidated by all the lingo and finally got around to setting up that online account.

I am still a couch potato at heart. By the end of the course it was confirmed.

When I saw the title of this book by Larry Bates, Beat the Bank, it became a handbook for me to help with assembling my own online portfolio.

The book reinforced that Canadians are a loyal bunch, trusting in our banks and among the highest per capita to hold mutual funds. We are also charged the highest management expense ratios (MERs) anywhere on the planet. Percentages of 2.0 - 2.5 percent don't sound too bad until you start adding it all up. Over the long-term, those fees can eat up as much as half of your investment return! Infuriating! The author's website has a useful tool to help illustrate how much of your investment return you actually get to keep after paying out fees.

What's that saying? "Too late smart"? "Better late than never?" Or, "it's only too late if you don't start now"?

Monday, November 5, 2018

Writing Wild

I reconnected with an old friend this past summer via Linked In. Janine lives in Waterloo and while staying with my mother I popped by a few times to catch up.

We were high school poets and won some awards and recognition in our senior year, however we've both gone on to different careers to earn our living. I still love words, but haven't been doing much creative writing over these last decades.

So when Janine suggested we attend the Wild Writers festival, I thought it would be the kick in the pants I needed to write a few pieces, and bring them to the festival as works in progress.

I creatively avoided doing any creative writing and although I didn't have any works in progress, I was still happy to attend the festival as a poser.

Janine's invitation included a weekend stay at her condo, just a short walk away from the festival location, the Centre for International Governance and Innovation. CIGI is a great venue space, with a fantastic stage and lots of boardrooms and lecture halls for discussion and exploration.

The opening showcase  featured Sharon Bala and Rawi Hage in a panel moderated by Jael Richardson. When it turned to practical advice for new writers, both authors declined, which was a bit disappointing. However, the two workshops I attended the next day had lots of great tips for those aspiring.

The Creative Nonfiction workshop was with Jael, and she confirmed the importance of calling to all the senses to lift scenes from the page. She also shared practical advice given to her from Helen Humphries, which is to write from beginning through to the end before you start perfecting drafts. Save each draft as a separate version. Focus on just one or two things when doing your draft (dialogue or character or senses or...). Very useful.

How Research Shapes a Story was a panel with Liz Harmer, David Huebert, Pamela Mulloy, Clare Tacon, and Brent van Staalduinen. Here it was evident that there is definitely no one approach, with each author having a different take on the topic.

Writing Raw: How to Explore Personal Material that is touchy, dark, intimate, tangled, problematic, risky, taboo or downright radioactive was delivered in a very methodical way, which surprised me. First we attacked the question of what subjects made us most uncomfortable, then we listed some of the root causes, and next we read from a handout writer Mike Barnes included with some super-practical writing process tips.  Confronting fears of rejection and separation weren't neglected topics. Although surprised by the methodical approach, I really did appreciate how straightforward and demystified the process could be when deconstructed. It's true the best writing has a magical quality but sometimes we humans have a way of making things more difficult than they need to be.

Janine had signed up for the Poetry Masterclass, Writing New Poems from the Wreckage of the Old.  Participants were to bring books of their favourite poetry along with recent works. During the afternoon they explored techniques such as erasure, cento, glosa and text collages.

The next morning there was a Literary Brunch with Katherine Ashenburg (publishing her first work of fiction in her seventies), Claire Cameron (finalist for Roger's Trust Fiction Prize), and Michael Redhill (winner of last year's Giller prize).  Delicious food, writers reading from their books, and great conversation.

As a result of attending the literary festival, my reading list is now much longer! And I have renewed my interest in creative writing, too... since I don't have to earn a living at it, why not explore it as a means of self expression? The New Quarterly runs an annual contest with the winners announced at the Writing Wild festival. I think I will set a goal for myself to enter a submission in a category (or two). God knows I have enough raw material in the way of life experience.

It was also fantastic catching up with Janine and having a weekend get-together. Next time, to be held in Toronto!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Autumn garden notes

 Last April, the maple in our backyard was destroyed in an ice storm.  I loved its shade and we had done our best to tend to its health. Despite careful pruning by arborists, the tree was really struggling.

When it came down, the maple totalled the lower deck. Finally, after months of back and forth with the insurance, engineers, estimators and contractors, work has started on the rebuild. Six months! If it is done properly it will be worth the wait.

Last summer I held off any drastic changes to the back garden, not certain whether we'd get the go ahead. If we couldn't replace the deck, we'd have to rethink the entire bones - why have a winding path to nowhere?

Having the clearing in the backyard has opened up the sky, increased potential for more sun-loving plants, and helped create a feeling of lightness. There is still one corner of deep shade to retreat on the hottest of summer days.

The autumn crocus from Turkey planted last spring was a no show, and the autumn clematis I planted in early summer didn't thrive as I'd hoped.

The snakeroot has brightened the back corner with an abundance of white blossoms; the daphne has brought its scent and delicate ivory flowers right up to the end of October. There is a white rose in bud today, and I am hopeful it will be a late bloomer.

In red or deep crimson, there was coral bell, autumn sedum. Monkshood has finished blooming, it was almost a cornflower blue. The persicaria has been throwing purple plumes since September. It was so well-behaved in deep shade but has grown at an alarming rate, taking over the back corner and spilling down the hillside to such an extent I'm tempted to eradicate it from the garden entirely - and that's after trying to establish it for several years.

I love the nasturtiums, and they love all the sun they've been getting. Frost has not yet come and they are looking other-worldly, hiding bright petals under their broad leaves.


In the front yard, I spent a day or two transplanting. Moved the blood grass to where the euphorbia was, moved geraniums to where the sea holly had been, moved the sea holly behind the anemones.

The Japanese maples haven't yet turned their deep crimson colours. Last year there was no show, just a sudden deep freeze that turned the leaves brittle and brown almost overnight. We'll see what the late season may bring this year.