Friday, June 29, 2007

My Pie Won First-Place Ribbon at the Harvest Fair... Honest!

At last the strawberries are in!

We wait all year for this. In mid-June the Ontario strawberries are ready for harvesting and because it's for such a short time, we savour them all the more. The rest of the year we make do with bloated, watery, imported monster fruits. But for two or three weeks in June/July, we get to relish the small, sweet, Ontario gems. It's like eating candy!

Today I bought a quart, rinsed them and let them drain. I just managed to snap these pictures before I fell upon them and devoured them. They are so sweet, so small, in fact you can see how small by the bottom photograph, where one is pictured beside an ordinarily-sized plum tomato.

Each year I vow to go to one of these farms where you pick your own, or at least buy a large amount from the farmers' market, rinse, trim and flash-freeze them for the winter to come. But I never do. And I suspect I won't this year.

Which reminds me of a story...

Inspired by a strange nostalgia for a life I've never known, I'd always wanted to be able to say that "my pie won a ribbon at the harvest fair."

One year I got my chance. The Cabbagetown Harvest Festival was taking place one weekend in July and they were having contests in preserves and pies, etc. There was a category, "Fruit - Other" that I figured would work well for my strawberry-rhubarb pie (by all accounts a pretty good pie). I was going away the weekend of the fair however, so I barely had time to drop off my pie in the morning before driving out of town. I heard nothing the following week so thought nothing of it... until Dave, when I was visiting his cottage up north later in the week, mentioned that he'd visited the Festival that previous weekend and congratulated me on winning first prize! I refused to believe him! But... he insisted he wasn't teasing.

When I got back to town that Sunday, I could hardly wait till Monday. I called the organizers first thing and they asked me to come down and pick up my ribbon. I did. They offered me the remains of the pie too, now 10 days old, but I politely declined. I got my ribbon, a modest one (not a rosette or anything fancy like that) and bashfully asked how many entries there had been.

"You were the only one."


I had to come back to work and - my workmates were eager for the full story - send the promised e-mail to the entire company:

"My pie won first place ribbon at the Harvest Fair. [scroll down] I was the only entry."

DOUBLE D'OH!!!!!!!

Now here's the clincher. My dad, inspired by my pie dreams, decided for that same weekend to enter in the "Men's Apple Pie" category. Now my dad, excellent cook that he is, had never made a pie before. He made it, he entered it, and when I was picking up my ribbon, I asked after his results. He'd won too! And... when I asked how many entries there were in his category, they were a little unsure, but they knew there was at least one other, who had one second place. Well, as far as we're concerned, there were most likely at least 30 or 40 other entries.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Marmite... Black Gold

How could I go so long without a post on Marmite?

Years ago there was a cafe (I'm fairly sure it's no longer in existence) in downtown Toronto, near or on Charles Street, just off Yonge. They served a sandwich called "Prince Charles' Favourite" or words to that effect. And it incorporated Marmite the way it was supposed to be eaten: thinly smeared on buttered bread, with a strong cheddar cheese and lettuce. On the big chalk board in the cafe which listed the fare, there was an asterisk by the word "Marmite" and at the bottom, the asterisk went on to explain thusly: "As Satchmo said, if you has to ask, you won't like it."

They had a point. Unlike chocolate, fennel, olives and single malt scotch, I have never met someone who has "come over to the dark side" in regards to Marmite. It seems you have to at least have been born in the British Isles to get the appeal. Even then, it's not a sure-fire guarantee that you will be able to stomach the stuff. And I think that possibly coming to it as an adult doesn't work either.

So what is Marmite? Wikipedia puts it well: "A British savoury spread made from yeast extract, a by-product of beer brewing. Marmite is a sticky, dark brown paste with a distinctive, powerful taste that polarizes consumer opinion. This is reflected in the company's marketing slogan: "Love it or hate it"." Warning: it's salty, it's dark, it's thick, it looks like something you'd scrape out of an old car engine... it's heaven!

I think the problem for most people, is a heavy hand in application. This isn't Nutella. You don't open the jar and stand there spooning it into your mouth (not that I've ever done that of course, but I've heard of such carryings-on. Speaking of which, have you ever tried Nutella on a toasted crumpet, oozing into all those steamy little holes? Boutros Boutros Golly!). Marmite heavily applied would be vile. The secret is to thinly spread it. Here is your ideal sandwich:

Put the kettle on and get some good tea brewing.

Generously butter (unsalted) two slices of good wholewheat bread. On to the bottom one, thinly apply a translucent layer of Marmite. Gently does it! You can experiment with adding more to future sandwiches, but be extra gentle the first time. Add thin slices of good, aged cheddar. Add very crisp lettuce. Place the second slice of bread on top. Gently crush the sandwich in a loving way to let it know you are boss, and as a promise of the shared pleasure to come. Cut into four.

Pour the tea, sit in your favourite chair. Turn on the Archers. Sit back. Take a sip of hot tea. Mmmmmm. A minute later bite into your sandwich. Feel the good chewy bread, the crispy, refreshing lettuce, the sharp cheese, the cool, sweet butter, and finally.... the salty tang of that marvelous black gold.... Marmite.

Options: check out the Marmite site for other recipes. My boss's wife has it on buttered toast, with a mound of scrambled eggs on top.

As for nutrition, I really couldn't care less. All I know is I love it, it's 11 o'clock at night and I'm salivating.

Feeling brave? Well, Loblaws, for one, carries it... if you dare.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Racing Form and Meatless Burgers

I went to the races for the first time this weekend. Thoroughbred racing. No matter how often I do or don't see horses live, their power and grace never fail to leave me in awe.

Of course I did the first-timer thing and bet on horses because their names appealed to me. I'll study the form a bit more closely next time, and maybe one - just one - of my horses will do okay! Poor Big 'n' Bold... his review said he had trouble with turns. Or rather, had had trouble with the turn in his ONLY OTHER RACE. But I bet on him at 20 to 1 (and how often have I heard that phrase so just had to try it). He was leading down the first straight, then I lost them at the turn... they appeared again and he was... DEAD LAST.

I felt so bad for him. I wonder if horses get embarrassed? I'm sure animals do. Tibbles the cat is like that. He'll do something silly like inadvertently fall of the sofa, and immediately walk to the edge of the room, his back to all of us, earnestly licking his paws as though to say, "Stop laughing please... I meant to do that." I hope Big 'n' Bold doesn't feel too bad about it.

Either way, he's unlikely to end up in my hamburger, seeing as we're not big horse-eaters in this country. But... as it happens this weekend I tried PC's World's Best Meatless Burger. And lo I cooked it, and lo I ate it and... lo it was GOOD.


Friday night Mark, Sam and I went to Cinematheque after an early dinner. Cinematheque Ontario has its showings at the Art Gallery of Ontario (currently being overhauled to a design by Frank Gehry). The theatre is small and perfect for movie-viewing. Only bottled water is allowed and any kind of whispering is discouraged and the lights go right down, so you are not distracted by anything. It's an ideal environment for letting yourself get lost in a movie.

First up was Johnny Guitar (1954), a bizarre Western with Joan Crawford as the terrifyingly self-contained saloon-owner, Vienna, whose ex-love, Johnny Guitar, is played by Sterling Hayden, whom she has summoned to town to protect her and play his guitar in her saloon. Basically she's pro-railroad and progress and all the other characters in the area are pro-cattle, anti-railroad. Mercedes McCambridge plays the uptight Emma Small who is obsessed with destroying Vienna. The acting is surreal - huge facial and body reactions (reminiscent of Eisenstein) that are punctuated by crashing musical chords (music courtesy of Victor Young who pulled out all the stops for this one). This movie has the flat, vibrant colours of souvenir postcards from the period (although this picture is only black and white). Joan Crawford goes through about five vats of lipstick and a non-stop array of well-fitted, mannish attire, except for one scene where she wears a very against-type, super-feminine white dress, which retains its pristine condition even after holding the bleeding Turkey (a man, not an animal) in her arms. I'd like to know more about this movie, including why anyone found Crawford the slightest bit appealing and cast-worthy. She's quite terrifying. Maybe it's some sort of bondage appeal. She does spend a lot of time in black leather. Hmm. Well, I don't get it. I liked Sterling Hayden though. He could drop by my desert island anytime.

The second movie was Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), very appealing for its nostalgic 1980s fashions, especially the shoes! I had shoes like that! And what a title in the original: Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios. This was my first Almodovar movie. I had kind of held out, for some reason thinking I probably wouldn't enjoy his work, but this was so much fun - wacky, wonderful, neurotic fun, which is all the more charming in rapid-fire Spanish. Two of the characters happen to be voice-over artists, and at one point are dubbing scenes from Johnny Guitar into Spanish (hence the connection and the clever programming by Cinematheque). Apparently Almodovar considers a particular scene between Crawford (Vienna) and Hayden (Johnny) as possessing the most romantic dialogue ever, so he found this clever way to incorporate it into his own movie.

Johnny: How many men have you forgotten?
Vienna: As many women as you've remembered.
Johnny: Don't go away.
Vienna: I haven't moved.
Johnny: Tell me something nice.
Vienna: Sure, what do you want to hear?
Johnny: Lie to me. Tell me all these years you've waited. Tell me.
Vienna: [without feeling] All those years I've waited.
Johnny: Tell me you'd a-died if I hadn't come back.
Vienna: [without feeling] I woulda died if you hadn't come back.
Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.
Vienna: [without feeling] I still love you like you love me.
Johnny: [bitterly] Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Unfortunately there seemed to be something wrong with the air-conditioning and it was overly warm. I ended up falling asleep during the bit in Johnny Guitar which is then dubbed in Women on the Verge, so I thought that maybe Crawford and Hayden had appeared in another movie together. The guys set me straight though. Thanks guys! And thank you Mark for organizing the evening. Your taste is impeccable as always.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mmmmmmm... Pork Chops

Tonight I rubbed two small pork chops with olive oil and some crushed anise seed, salt and peper. Quickly browned them both sides, added some red wine and let them cook. Then I took them out, let them rest, and added a little bit of cream to the sauce. I made a romaine/fennel salad and then served up the pork chops with the sauce drizzled over. I poured myself a glass of the wine and sat down to enjoy my dinner.

And I did! Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

Question of the Day and Mere Christianity

Well, my post about the top ten actors I would like to be stranded on a desert island with got the most number of comments. So... here's another question:

What character, real or fictitious, historical or contemporary would you most like to be stranded on a desert island with?

I'll ponder that one today.

Also, I'm now in a one-off, two-person book group with Captain Luke. We're reading C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. Neither of us have read it before. Captain Luke is a believer, I am deeply confused. This should be interesting. The upside is this is the sort of friendship where we can disagree deeply on certain matters and still be great friends.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My REAL Bible

Tom Hodginkson's How to be Idle might be my bible, but my actual bible is this one. It was given to me by Palestinian friends of our family when I was just a nipper. I put very little worth into material possessions and never worry about breakages, spills etc. For me there isn't enough time on this planet to worry too much about it. But there are a few items I hold dear to my heart. This is one of them. It's printed on the thinnest paper, and features colour photographs of places of religious significance. It's bound in wood and then covered in white leather and finally both back and front covers are completely inlaid in mother-of-pearl. I love to hold it and see how it reflects the light and colours around it. Should a holy book be this - albeit modestly - showy? I don't know, but I do like it... a lot.

Last Girl Before the Sahara

The headline of this post was the wording of the sign I threatened to post on my bedroom door a few years back. My bedroom is a little Middle Eastern as you will see by this photograph of a corner of it. I was reading this evening with a glass of wine (well, I am reading The Story of Wine by Hugh Johnson). The sun was setting and I have sheer curtains that are sort of coppery in colour and the main curtains are made of lavender sari fabric. So the light coming in filled the room with a hazy warm glow. I quickly snapped a picture and there you have it. This is my restful haven.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Daily Views of Our City... and Others

I check this site each day, Daily Dose of Imagery, for images of Toronto and other cities on the photographer's travels.

Friday, June 8, 2007

By Grabthar's Hammer!

In the 1990s in Toronto, a great time was to be had visiting Big City Improv on Queen Street West. A regular improv show was followed by an interval and then - for the hardcore fans - a Star Trek (original series) spoof.

I remember the first time I visited... the lights lowered until we were in complete darkness. A man's voice came over the amplification system... "Space... the final frontier..." As it continued, a man with a foot-long model of the original Enterprise strapped to his head came running down one diagonally-positioned aisle, holding two flashlights at his head to illuminate the spaceship. Whhhhoooooosh... Then he ran down the other aisle in an attempt to recreate the opening sequence of the tv show. It was brilliant and hysterically funny. I remember one night actually having to be held onto by my friend as I was falling off my chair with laughter.

You didn't have to be a big Star Trek fan. The best thing was to go with some real fans. They could explain the irony of what was going on. I seem to recall that a specific original script was used from which the improv could take off.

Around that time a group of friends, most of whom had some understanding of the Star Trek phenomenon, went to see the opening night of Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (1992). I don't remember anything of it. I just remember that it was at the Eglinton (at Avenue Road), one of the great old cinemas of the city that has now gone (sob!). The theatre was packed with Trekkers and there was a hum of excitement in the air. The pre-movie murmuring suddenly subsided as a single line of copy came up on the screen: "Dedicated to the memory of Gene Roddenberry." One of our party, who knew nothing really of Star Trek lore, whispered somewhat loudly, "Who's Gene Roddenberry?" You could almost feel the shudder of horror go through the audience. That was the best moment of the entire evening.

And then there was Galaxy Quest (1999). This is one of my favourite comedies ever. The cast of an old Star Trek-type series is relegated to making personal appearances in their old uniforms at sci-fi conventions and shopping malls. They are bitter and washed up and taken seriously by only their die-hard fans. When a group of real aliens (who have mistaken transmissions of their old shows as "historical documents") come to ask for help against an evil empire, the cast members are suddenly flung into the acting roles of their lives.

Tim Allen is priceless as the self-centered actor who played the Captain, Sigourney Weaver gorgeously against-type as the blonde bimbette, Alan Rickman full of self-loathing as a classical actor who sold out early, and Sam Rockwell in an early, movie-stealing role as the actor who played an un-named crew member in one episode of the old show. As such he is convinced that fate will kill him off.

"I'm not even supposed to be here. I'm just "Crewman Number Six." I'm expendable. I'm the guy in the episode who dies to prove how serious the situation is. I've gotta get outta here."

Tony Shalhoub, Enrico Colantoni and Justin Long are among the large supporting cast.

Alan Rickman has the best signature line in the movie, a line he hates quoting during those long years as a has-been, but one that he gets to emote once more with full meaning and resonance:

"By Grabthar's hammer... by the Sons of Warvan... you shall be... avenged!!"

Thursday, June 7, 2007


There is sad news today. Barbara and Derek's lovely cat Ubu has passed away. Ubu (pronounced "Oo-boo") was with them for 19 years, since she was just a few months old. She was a very pretty cat and so small - especially so the last few years - that the times I had her on my lap, I could hardly feel her there. She had a sweet miaow and a gorgeous face and was very loving and gentle. She couldn't have been more loved by Barbara and Derek and I'm sure Marmie (sole cat of the household now) will miss her too, as will we all.

This picture is by Barbara.

Movie number 11: "Breaking Away"

Someone in my building had put some books out today on a table to give away. One caught my eye. It's called Summer Crossing and it's by Steve Tesich. I couldn't recall why his name rang a bell, but then there at the bottom of the cover were the words "A Novel by the Author of Breaking Away." Argh!!! How could I have forgotten this movie when creating my top ten list? I can't think where to place it yet so here it is, number 11, although I'm sure in a day or two I will move it up the ranks.

Breaking Away was the first movie I heard of referred to as a "sleeper," in other words a film that was not expected to do well, but that somehow caught the imagination and reached a great many more people than had been anticipated. It also won the Oscar for screenwriter Steve Tesich. It's directed by Peter Yates, and - for you sports nuts out there - a 2003 issue of Sports Illustrated put Breaking Away number 8 on the top 50 sports movies of all time. This movie is a gem: it starred a quartet of young men who all went on to do a lot more work, most famously Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern and - latterly - Jackie Earle Haley who was recently nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Little Children (2006). Dennis Christopher is the lead, all lanky, cycling eagerness: who couldn't love a young guy from Indiana who sings opera in a blisteringly awful Italian accent to impress a girl? Dagnabit - he even pretends to be Italian the rest of the time.

Someone asked me once why I love movies about young men coming into their own in small town U.S.A., i.e. Breaking Away, Diner (1982), and Napoleon Dynamite (2004) ("He's out to prove he has nothing to prove!" - what a tagline), to name three off the top of my head. Well, that's not entirely accurate. What I love about those movies is that the endings are not fairy-tale. There's a reality to them, a sort of understanding that these people aren't necessarily going to go very far, in the way movies define successful people. And I applaud a movie where people can dare to be average and be happy at the same time! Some good coming-of-age movies deal with people in groups, like Breaking Away and Diner, and others with a more solitary character, as with Napoleon Dynamite. A superb one about a young woman alone is Ruby in Paradise (1993), with Ashley Judd in her first movie. She's beautiful but real. I highly recommend it.

Oh yes, I took Summer Crossing and will be reading it soon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

My Bible

I'm not exaggerating. It is.

It's called How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson, who is my new hero. And I am embracing his sleepy call to revolution.

Tom H. is the editor of The Idler magazine. And in his book he takes 24 areas of life, matched to 24 hours and shows us the way to anarchic, joyful living. He shows us the pleasures of the Slow Food Movement, siestas, late rising, day-dreaming, idle sex and resisting the urge to work and be useful. In it he quotes great, creative idlers through history, Dr. Johnson of course being one of the greatest examples.

Now I might not be the most obvious person to embrace this new religion. But I recognize in myself the urge to do too much and this book is just what I needed right now to set me straight and to bring me back to my original path of languid complacency. I thank my dad for giving it to me a couple of Christmases ago and - I believe - I am to receive Tom's new book How to be Free for my birthday!

Here is the preface to How to be Idle:

It's good to be idle. The purpose of this book is both to celebrate laziness and to attack the work culture of the western world, which has enslaved, demoralized and depressed so many of us.

Doing nothing, however, is hard work, as Oscar Wilde pointed out. There are always so many people around trying to make you do things. This is why I have tried to create a kind of canon of idle writing, from the philosophy, fiction, poetry and history of the last three thousand years, to give us idlers the mental ammunition we need to fight the fight against work. The sheer number of great idlers in history proves also that we are not alone.

Being idle is about being free, and not just being free to choose between McDonald's and Burger King or Volvo and Saab. It is about being free to live the lives we want to lead, free from bosses, wages, commuting, consuming and debt. Being idle is about fun, pleasure and joy.

There's a revolution brewing, and the great thing is that to join it all you have to do is absolutely nothing. So join us, Liberty Lads and Liberty Girls. This should be the most enjoyable revolution the world has ever seen.

And here is the manifesto of How to be Free:

The Freedom Manifesto:


Be Free!

The Archers and Private Passions

Since 1951 there has been a radio soap opera playing in Britain called The Archers. Every day, from Monday to Friday for 15 minutes, everything stops for a great number of people as they listen to the latest instalment on BBC Radio 4. My aunts and grandmother were very tied up in the farming saga of the little village of Ambridge. And so a few weeks ago, I was perusing the BBC Radio website and came across.... the Archers home page! I've been listening ever since and am getting quite caught up in excitement. I admit I'm 56 years behind, but even I trembled at the choice facing Jennifer: would she agree to raise her husband's child - the offspring of his affair now the other woman is tragically dying of cancer? Who will tell young Alice when her exams are over? Golly!

15 minutes is perfect. Enough time for a cup of tea and a Cardhu truffle. And why aren't there more radio plays? I love them! You can get on with other stuff while you listen. But they have to be good. The Archers isn't great radio theatre, but it's compulsive as most soaps are. What I do is listen once a week to the 75-minute omnibus edition on Sunday AND I have the episode synopses e-mailed to me each day. Yes... yes, you could say I'm hooked.

I also love listening to Private Passions on BBC Radio 3. The host is Michael Berkeley and each week he has an interesting guest come in to talk about their favourite music, their influences, etc. It's a bit like Desert Island Discs... except it's not. He had Liz Calder on last week, from Bloomsbury Press and she had all sorts of fantastic Brazilian music as her choices: mostly repertoire and musicians I'd not heard of. What a privilege to learn something new.

But now my guests are about to arrive (my place is finally clean!) and I'm going to hide the Cardhu!! Hee hee. Just kidding.... not.


Here is my favourite scotch: Cardhu, distilled in Morayshire, Scotland. Just a few years ago the small batch that is created each year was bought up by the Asian market, so I discovered you can't get it here in North America anymore. Imagine my delight then last summer when my dear aunt and uncle - on their first visit to Canada - retrieved a bottle of it for me from their luggage. We'd just returned from picking them up from the airport and I don't think we'd even had our first cup of tea. They are so thoughtful - they had perused my last Christmas newsletter and apparently (I can't believe I did this) I had bemoaned the Cardhu situation in it. So, they ordered a bottle from their local liquor store. I photographed that same bottle tonight and as you see there is about an inch left. GULP! Actually, I don't gulp, I sip. Sigh. I also have a bottle of Dalwhinnie, but I must admit I haven't touched it since the Cardhu appeared in my drinks cabinet.

Last Christmas I decided that instead of cognac truffles I would make single malt scotch truffles and - yes - I used some of the Cardhu for that. Can you imagine? Dark chocolate, cream, Cardhu. What sublimity! Well, the thing was, as you know, I can hardly be trusted at Christmas to keep things like quantity and prices in my head, so I apparently made way too many truffles. Many were given as gifts, but I ended up freezing the uncoated truffle balls in little ziplock bags. Well, a few weeks ago I tried eating one to see how they'd held up. Magnficently! A momentary coolth in the mouth, followed by melting, warming Cardhu/chocolate heaven. Well... I've sampled over and over. Just a truffle every few days. And I keep finding more ziplock bags hidden under the frozen edamame. How many did I make?? I have no idea, but they are all going to a good home, one by one. Yum yum.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Top Ten Actors I'd Like to be Stranded on a Desert Island With

Now, right off the bat, by "top ten actors" I do mean "top ten male actors". Let's be honest, this could be for years. I mean, who knows when the next tramp steamer comes by. And let's just assume they're all alive!

This was tough. I mean, I've changed it three times already... and I know this list will change, but here goes:

Just off the list: Tom Berenger. I used to call him Tom "Lips" Berenger for obvious reasons. Not sure what happened to him. I hope he's okay. And if he's not, I hope it's nothing a cup of tea won't fix. But I'm not sure there's much of a sense of humour there.

10. Ed Harris - proving once and for all that being short and bald is no hindrance to being very sexy. I think putting him to work on our shelter will be good for his earnestness and I'll get to watch him sweating in the sun which is how I plan to spend the next few years. And being diminutive he'd be closer to the ground than I am so would be handy for picking things up that I might drop.

9. Bob Peck - Boutros Boutros Golly! Did anyone see Jurassic Park? The man had the best thighs in the business and there are some great shots of them. Also, the bit when he knows the raptor is going to get him and he turns and says "Clever girl," - well, I can see that happening a lot on the island. I'd find another grove of banana trees and he'd say "Clever girl." Same when I learn to weave us sarongs or find a red light-filled grotto to swim in. Plus all sorts of other tricks I have up my non-sleeves.

8. Dennis Haysbert - very tall, which is good for reaching up to higher branches on those pesky fruit trees; also possesses the most melting voice and has a face I could gaze upon for a very very long time. Hold the tramp steamer, I need years to tap his resources.

7. Rufus Sewell – so sexy it hurts. A husky-voiced English sex god who could recite Chinese fortune cookies to me and have me writhing in paroxysms of joy. Yes… yes, I think he’d be just lovely to have on the island.

6. Jeff Goldblum - Seriously... again, did anyone see Jurassic Park? The bit when he's been injured and is laying on the table propped up on one elbow like the sculpture's model for a Greek God? I like his athletic nerdiness. And he looks like he'd be great to have long, fascinating debates with well into the night. Yeah, that's the ticket.

5. Michael Kitchen - kind of a Claude Rains type. Also possesses the number one quality I look for in a man which is the ability to raise one eyebrow slightly in an intelligent, insouciant manner. Okay, so not helpful in a desert island setting, but this is all about me and what I want!

4. Liam Neeson - not sure if he has enough of a sense of humour but I bet he will after a few weeks with me. Did you see Rob Roy? The man looks fine in a kilt so you can bet he'll look even better in a sarong. Plus, remember the bit at the start when he bathes in the loch? Yep, good naked too, so scrap the sarongs, I have no time to learn to weave, I have a Neeson to ravish!

3. Jeff Bridges - he plays a guitar so he could keep me entertained and he has a general hotness that goes beyond type in my book. rrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

2. Bill Pullman - the man loves planting fruit trees! I think he'll be good at making sure the bananas keep propegating and with all the peanuts we can grow, I think we'll be in good shape! I also think he's very sexy, in a kind of delightfully nerdy way. Taught Michael Kitchen how to raise an eyebrow by the looks of things.


1. Jason Isaacs - ....................................... THUD

Clever girl.

Satiated on Somerset Maugham

When I was about 15 I read The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham. In it a shallow and selfish English woman marries - for all the wrong reasons - a timid man, who is devoted to her happiness. They move to Shanghai where he works as a microbiologist and she starts an affair with a handsome, married man. Her husband finds out and - timidity fading - gives her an ultimatum: if her lover promises to divorce his wife and marry her, he'll let her go, otherwise she has to travel with her husband into the interior which is rife with cholera. Well, it goes from bad to worse; not only is she terrified at the prospect of getting ill and dying, but her husband, meek and gentle no more, is the more terrifying for his newly developed spine and subtle emotional torture, something no-one could have forseen.

I read it many times over the next few years and I always found it very filmic. I could see every scene in my head so clearly. I knew there was an old Greta Garbo movie version of the story but I never got to see it and so I was very excited when the new version of the movie came out last year. I finally saw it last week with Barbara (on her recommendation) and even though it was not the way I had imagined it, it was so much better than I thought it was going to be. The film stars Naomi Watts, Edward Norton and the stunning Chinese landscape. There are some minor sways from the story, but it stands alone as a really watchable film.

Later in the week Turner Classic Movies showed three productions made in England in the 1940s/50s. Quartet (1948) dramatizes four Maugham short stories: The Facts of Life, The Alien Corn, The Kite and The Colonel's Lady. Trio (1950) portrays three more: The Verger, Mr. Know-All and Sanatorium. And finally Encore (1951) with The Ant and the Grasshopper, Winter Cruise and Gigolo and Gigolette. I had seen these films years ago and I taped them all and Ange and I watched Trio and Encore this weekend. I especially love The Verger and Sanatorium, which inspired one of our rare, unfinished tandem tales, called The Patient of Wildhaven. We wrote 34,000 words dammit - we should have finished it!

Then last Thursday, by crazy coincidence, TCM showed the original Painted Veil from 1934 with Garbo. I only managed to catch the last half hour. What a laugh! Garbo, in full magnificent makeup and nurse's veil, her low, accented voice so completely inappropriate to Maugham's shallow, selfish heroine. AND... *SPOILER ALERT*... it has a happy ending! ARGH!!!! Unreally awful and very missable apart from seeing the incomparable Garbo looking beautifully sad. What a face!

Ange is reading all the short stories this year and I think I shall do the same.

Peanut Butter and Friends

When I was a little girl going to school at the English School Shuwaikh, there was a wonderful book that I used to read - I think it was a regular text that we all had access to - and it contained short biographies of many different kinds of people through history. Two really stuck out for me: one was Mozart, and the other was George Washing Carver. His story - born into slavery, fighting for an education and then inventing and developing so many wonderful ideas in his work as an agricultural chemist - had a lasting impact on me, and - trust me - not much does. Part of that work he did was in peanuts. When we came to Canada, one of our discoveries was peanut butter. How exotic it seemed! And then there were peanut butter and jam (could never say jelly for jam) sandwiches. We rarely had those as my mother had come up with her own creation: peanut butter and cucumber sandwiches. The North American and the English combined. It's a good combination. The crisp coolness of the cucumber helps to cut the stickiness of the peanut butter and it is still one of my favourites. I recommend it. What I had never tried until this morning was the much-extolled peanut butter and banana sandwich. I couldn't imagine it. But this morning, faced with not much time, a ripe banana and an opened jar of peanut butter (unsweetened, 100% peanuts), I went for it. What a sensation! As I told Dr. M. later, it's like eating cake! But I think it's a bit too sweet for me, especially in the morning. Since I have given up most sugar and am now a dark chocolate consumer, a lot of things have become a bit too sweet. Amazing how the taste buds change.