Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Grilled Moroccan Chicken

Mmmmmmmm... grilling season is upon us, even though our spring has cooled off quite dramatically. What am I talking about saying "practically"? Canadians are a hardy bunch who often barbeque all year round, defying the cold and snow.

Last summer my colleagues and I hosted a Moroccan barbeque in this lovely spot. The following recipe was on the menu and it was very tasty.

Grilled Moroccan Chicken

1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 large chicken breast halves with skin and ribs, cut crosswise in half
4 chicken legs
4 chicken thighs
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

Whisk first 8 ingredients in large glass baking dish. Add all chicken; turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap; chill 4 to 6 hours. Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Place marinade-coated chicken on barbecue. Grill chicken until just cooked through, occasionally brushing with any remaining marinade, about 10 minutes per side for breasts and about 12 minutes per side for leg and thigh pieces. Transfer chicken to platter. Sprinkle with parsley.

(This recipe was originally sourced from

Teddies Online

My teddies have become dedicated followers of Bob's Diary. I fear they now find their lives sitting on my boudoir sofa quite boring. The pressure is on.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


That saucepot, Ms Betsy, she of the lovely new picture, has tagged me to list seven random or weird things about myself. My problem, I think, will be limiting it to seven.

Here goes, some random, some weird:

1. I am extremely slow to anger, but injustice and inequality make me wild.

2. When I wake up in the morning, I lay very still at first, but energetically wiggle my toes. It feels great. But it can be a surprise to someone who doesn't know about my little routine and thinks I'm still asleep but having a toe "situation". Hee hee.

3. Peacocks have eaten out of my hand.

4. My left elbow is very rough unless I constantly slather it with lotion.

5. When I'm doing house-cleaning I often interview myself about my best-selling novel (yet to be written).

6. As a child, when my parents told me we were moving to Canada I had a couple of sleep-walking incidents. On one occasion I walked into my parents bedroom (I was fully asleep), pointed at them and "Those two will do. I'll take them." In my 20s, when I set to leave England again for Canada (long story) I had a dream that I was removing all the pictures from my walls and making a pattern on the floor with them. I woke up... and I had done just that. I haven't done it since then. Phew. But it kept me wearing nighties at night for quite a while, just in case.

7. I don't wear a nightie any more.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bones of the Dead

Quote of the Day

"I can afford a blemish on my character, but not on my clothes."

Vincent Price as Shelby Carpenter in Laura (1944), probably the most-often quoted film on this blog.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

À la recherche du temps de lire "À la recherche du temps perdu"

"Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?'

In Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of things past, 1913 - 1927), the writer recalls the moment that triggered a lifetime of memories. The moment was in his childhood and the trigger was the taste of a small cake dipped in tea: Proust's famous madeleines.

I might not have time to read his seven-volume masterpiece, but this afternoon I took the time to use my new madeleine pan and they are pictured above: small, soft, cakey and lemony, with just a touch of icing sugar sprinkled on top. They call for tea, ideally with a slice of lemon in it. Mmmmmmmm...

(The excerpt above is from a translation by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, from volume 1, Swann's Way: Within a Budding Grove.

And here is the recipe, from French Food at Home (hosted by Laura Calder on Food Network Canada):

Lemon Madeleines
(Yields: 24)

1 cup of all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2/3 cup + 1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup + 2 tbsps sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp brown sugar
4 eggs
zest of one lemon, more to taste

Grease the madeleine tins and set in the freezer. Heat the oven to 400 F / 200 C. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Melt the butter and stir in the sugar and honey. Lightly beat the eggs, and temper them into the butter mixture. Whisk into the flour to make a smooth batter and add the zest. Pour into the moulds and bake until the cakes are puffed up, golden around the edges and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, without opening the door during cooking.

MY NOTE: My first batch was quite dark underneath. The second was perfectly golden, but I had reduced the baking temperature to 375 F and only baked them until they smelled done, which was about 8 minutes. I used the zest of two lemons plus about a teaspoon of lemon juice. :)

Cat Conquers Summit of Coffee Table...

... in successful attempt to attract attention.

"The scolding is worth it for all the kisses and cuddles that come after," explained the handsome, ginger-haired quadruped. "The confused attention is what I seek and I have seen increased success in this area of my endeavours."

After speaking to journalists and photographers, Signor Tibbolito took a little tuna-flavoured refreshment and collapsed in his favourite armchair to recuperate.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hey... what the ~ !?

Have other bloggers noticed that suddenly the word-verification feature on the comments page has become more challenging? I was commenting on some of my favourite blogalicious sites today and found myself a tad flummoxed by the new super-confusing letters.

Or maybe it's just me and my Saturday morning languor?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Song of the Day... for the Inconstant Moon, Which Bewitches Me Constantly

"Song to the Moon"
(From Rusalka, music by Dvořák, libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil)

Silver moon in the deep dark sky,
Through the vast night pierce your rays.

This sleeping world you wander by,
Smiling on men's homes and ways.

Oh moon ere past you glide, tell me,
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?

Tell him, oh tell him, my silver moon,
Mine are the arms that shall hold him,
That between waking and sleeping he may
Think of the love that enfolds him.

Light his path far away, light his path,
Tell him, oh tell him who does for him stay!

Human soul, should it dream of me,
Let my memory wakened be.
Moon, moon, oh do not wane, do not wane,
Moon, oh moon, do not wane....

This ravishing opera was inspired by three fairy tales, Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid, Friedrich de la Motte Fouque's Undine, and Gerhart Hautpmann's The Sunken Bell.

Here is Renee Fleming singing this beautiful aria.

The photograph was taken on Lake Huron in 2005. We walked the beach every night after dinner until the sun was set. Mmmmmmmmm... bliss.

Quote(s) of the Day

Where do I start? Where do I stop? William Morris speaks wisely and truly to us now as he did over a 100 years ago:


"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."


"Simplicity of life, even the barest, is not a misery, but the very foundation of refinement; a sanded floor and whitewashed walls and the green trees, and flowery meads, and living waters outside."


"I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few."


"One man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman: two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and peace upon the earth? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer that question."


"No man is good enough to be another's master."


"It is right and necessary that all men should have work to do which shall be worth doing, and be of itself pleasant to do; and which should he done under such conditions as would make it neither over-wearisome nor over-anxious."


"I love art, and I love history, but it is living art and living history that I love. It is in the interest of living art and living history that I oppose so-called restoration. What history can there be in a building bedaubed with ornament, which cannot at the best be anything but a hopeless and lifeless imitation of the hope and vigor of the earlier world?"


"I hope that we shall have leisure from war, - war commercial, as well as war of the bullet and the bayonet; leisure from the knowledge that darkens counsel; leisure above all from the greed of money, and the craving for that overwhelming distinction that money now brings: I believe that, as we have even now partly achieved liberty , so we shall achieve equality , and best of all, fraternity , and so have leisure from poverty and all its griping, sordid cares."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Long Way From Sicily

In my early teens I discovered an old 45 record in my parents' collection. It was "Voi lo sapete O Mamma" from Mascagni's opera, Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry). It was sung by Maria Callas and there was a very glamorous black and white photograph of her on the small record sleeve. I put it on their record-player and listened, transfixed, to this live recording, one that made every hair on my head stand up in a sort of horrified ecstacy. There was such anguish, her voice like an open wound. I had to discover more and so I did.

Set in a Sicilian village in the 19th century, Cavalleria’s title is a melancholy irony, referring to the bloodthirsty defence of honour that takes place during this one-act opera. It’s Easter Sunday in the heat and dust of the village and – amid preparations for the religious celebrations – a love quartet plays out its jealousies and complications to a gruesome end. Santuzza, a local woman, has been loved and abandoned. In “Voi lo sapete”, she confides her story to Mamma Lucia, the mother of her ex-lover.

Callas holds nothing back, and her character’s pain comes through with every note. For me she belongs in a very small group of artists that also include Janice Joplin and Billy Holiday. As a teenager, the music of these three women (and some heavy guitar rock) was the only thing that really expressed that occasional emotional rollercoaster I rode those years.

Cavalleria is divided into two dramatic scenes, and between them you have the Intermezzo. This starts quietly, but is full of passionate fatalism. You can feel the sun on you, and the heat under your feet. There was a televised concert from High Park in London a few years ago… not my bag usually, but I watched, as thousands of Londoners braved the cold drizzle for the free performance. When the Intermezzo played, the cameras left the stage (the orchestra alone not being camera-worthy I guess!) and panned over the audience. At one point, it settled on a group of people, burrowing into their rain jackets, their umbrellas (if they had them) aloft. Slowly, one by one, they began to realize that they were being filmed. Their pale, wet faces lit up, they began to wave. Slowly it spread, and as that beautiful, yearning music built to its lusty climax, so the drenched, happy Londoners waved at the camera, to us all around the world. It was such a wonderful moment… I hardly know why.

Last week I bought a new CD, the full length Cavalleria Rusticana, a live recording from 1953, and gave it to my mother. My parents both recognized the recording and put it on to listen to the first few minutes. An hour later, we were all still sitting there, dinner postponed, listening transfixed to that incredible live performance with Callas in her prime, Tullio Serafin on the podium leading the La Scala Orchestra and Chorus, with Giuseppe di Stefano, Rolando Panerai, Ebe Ticozzi, and Anna Maria Canali rounding out the cast.

That’s the power of music I guess: a wet London summer and a cool Canadian spring transformed by the blood-soaked sand of Sicily.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I'm Too Cool for this Post... NOT

So a friend e-mailed me and, in this missive, quipped that my altered profile name sounds kind of hip-hop.

Blog Princess G.

I think I know what they mean. So then I thought that I could make it more hip-hop.

Sort of like....

No. No I can't. I'm not hip enough to figure it out. Any ideas anyone?

Quote of the Day

“The three-martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snootful at the same time?”

Chapter six of Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Idle might be my favourite. It’s titled: “1 p.m.: The Death of Lunch.” In it, he extols the Slow Food movement, spurns the gourmet coffee chains as giving off the “unpleasant aroma of efficiency” (not at all related to the great loafing centres that were coffee houses of the 18th century) and - above - quotes the late American president Gerald Ford. Hodgkinson also asks: “And why has such wit and light humour disappeared from presidential discourse?”

Sophie and Reggie

A couple of years ago my friend C adopted Sophie from Canadian Chihuahua Rescue and Transport (CCRT). She was an older girl (14) and had heart trouble, but she found a wonderful and loving home and was a great character to all who knew her.

Here she is, the perfect ambassador at the CCRT tent at Woofstock, an all-dog street festival that closes down a portion of downtown Toronto each year for a full day.

Just a few weeks ago, Sophie passed away. C didn’t think she’d want another pet, having lost her beloved cat Nellie last Christmas day, and being quite devastated by the loss of two such sweet friends in just three months.

But… that was not meant to be and last week C adopted Reggie, a seven-year old boy who was in need of a loving home. He’s certainly got one! Isn’t he lovely? Those ears!!! He has a lovely nature and is all settled into his new home.

The people who run and volunteer for animal rescue organizations are wonderful. And I know, when I next get a pet, it will again be through one of them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cupcake Seeks Lemony Goodness

There might be less baking now that the warm weather is here. Well, the occasional fruit pie of course. Ah... who am I kidding? Unless it's uncomfortably hot, the baking will continue. Here is a little lemon-yoghurt cakelet from French Food at Home, whose host, Laura Calder, provided this recipe to be made for children. She finished it by spearing the top gently with little holes (using a fork) and pouring a lemon syrup over it. I just wanted to eat it like a cupcake, but without the syrup it was a little too bland. I'll be trying these again with more lemon, as the texture is lovely.

By Popular Demand… Well, One Request Actually

I have been asked to post the chocolate/cherry brownies recipe from March 28, so here it is:

Green and Black's Chocolate and Cherry Brownies

300 g (11 oz.) unsalted butter
300 g (10.5 oz.) dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
5 large eggs
450 g (1 lb.) granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
200 g (7 oz.) all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
250 g (9 oz.) dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / gas mark 4. Line the baking tin with parchment paper.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a heatproof bowl suspended over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together in a bowl until the mixture is thick and creamy and coats the back of a spoon. Once the butter and the chocolate have melted, remove from the heat and beat in the egg mixture. Sift the flour and salt together, then add them to the mixture, and continue to beat until smooth. Stir in the dried cherries.

Pour into the baking tin, ensuring the mixture is evenly distributed in the tin. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the whole of the top has formed a light brown crust that has started to crack. This giant brownie should not wobble, but should remain gooey on the inside.

Leave to cool for about 20 minutes before cutting into large squares while still in the pan. The parchment paper should peel off easily.

(The recipe also recommends that you take care not to overcook the brownies. As a rule, when you start to smell them, they’re close to being done, and if you take them out and find they’re not, you can return them to the oven with no harm done. I underdid mine, so I’ll watch a bit more carefully next time. The book also suggests serving them with a dollop of crème fraiche for a more elegant situation. I think I’ll just whip up some cream. Drool.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Four of my Favourite Things... on a Sunday Afternoon

Poem of the Day and Amusing Illustration

Oh Rose, thou art sick!

Oh Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
in the howling storm
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy.
And with his dark secret love,
does thy life destroy.

(William Blake)

I took this photograph on my early-morning walk today... poetry among the jonquils.

Little Goddess

This little goddess figurine was made by a Scottish sculptor friend of mine. She is very small, about three inches long and fits perfectly in a gently closed fist.

My friend reports that these objects are a source of fascination for children who see his work at art shows. But more often the parents scold their little boys for touching them. What a barmy attitude.

The original goddess carvings of this size must have been a soothing talisman for our ancient ancestors. One night not long ago, waking to a bad bout of vertigo (and it is distressingly disorienting in the dark) I took her in my hand and held her there as I thought of the earth and my connection to it and how one day I would return to it. These thoughts soothed me as I slowly fell back asleep.

Quote of the Day

In Chapter Five of his great book How to be Idle, Tom Hodgkinson addresses "Noon: the Hangover".

"I have found that the way to deal with a hangover is to abandon oneself completely to it, not to try and function like a normal person... The hangover should be embraced as a day off, time out from reality, a chance to live in the moment. Ideally, the hangover should be spent at home, with endless cups of tea, friends who are in the same state as you, a daft film like Zoolander (we watched it on New Year's Day and I cannot remember anything so hilarious)."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Another Bass-Baritone

Whereas Eugene Onegin was limpidy moving as it cannot help but be, the COC's Barber of Seville was wonderful silliness... as it should be.

The set is traditional: very Spanish, dappled sunlight, wrought iron and geraniums everywhere. The costumes, just what you would expect. It's an older production that's been given fresh life, not just in the set and costumes, but in the action on stage. The stand out for me of the whole thing is the American bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi. He's a young man, but plays the old, conniving Doctor Bartolo with great wit and charm. His face is naturally an attractive one, but it has a delightful rubbery quality to it and two very expressive eyebrows. The results are wonderful visually, including the obvious padding out of his costume. Vocally he's just a joy. His tone is warm and charming, and the humorous patter is flawless. I've heard it a few times now and my jaw drops each time he goes into it.

Performances are - yet again - sold out. But if you can get a ticket, he's worth the price of admission... in my opinion.

Quote of the Day

"Blues men are all about the sad.
Rock 'n' roll guys are just looking to get laid."

(Captain Luke)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Num Num!!

And look what just came out of the oven. Willow's Mexican Chicken Casserole! It's cooling. I can't wait. It's late and I'm SO hungry and it smells SO good! I didn't have chives. Next time. :)

//UPDATE: We pigged out. Soooo full, but we just couldn't stop eating it was so yummy. Thanks Willow! This will be a repeat recipe.

Bistro Brilliance

At the last photo shoot in Montreal, we celebrated those long, intense days with dinner at L'Express Bistro, a classic spot on Saint Denis. What was brilliant about this place, apart from the wonderful bistro atmosphere and the lovely kerfuffle of humanity in the Plateau district, was the fact that one of the dessert choices was three small chocolate truffles. So for those, like me, who didn't want a large, rich dessert, this was perfect.

I hope other establishments follow suit. I suggest it as often as possible. ;) In the light of the dark chocolate obsession that has struck so many food types, it surely is a good idea?

One charming feature of L'Express is that the only sign to mark it is embedded in the pavement outside.

My next stay in Montreal will be at a friend's place in the Plateau, just a few minutes walk from Saint Denis. I can't wait. As soon as the vertigo is passed and I can fly confidently again, I am THERE.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes

Chocolate cupcakes with Callebaut ganache topping and bought sugar flowers. Next time I'll make my own flowers. We were taught to make the cutest pansies in cake decorating class.

Extreme cupcake closeup! Arghhhh! Oh... they're not attacking. That's okay then. Although I could think of worse fates.

Quote of the Day

"Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive."

From the novel Damage, by Josephine Hart.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Top Ten Scents

10. Vanilla
9. Lavender
8. Lemon verbena
7. Baking bread
6. Sun-toasted skin
5. Clean babies
4. White fresias
3. The crook of a man’s neck
2. Balsam
1. My loved one

// UPDATE: Oh... and woodsmoke of course. D'oh! So many lovely scents to choose from.

On Pictures

I took two lovely posters to be framed today. It's one of my favourite things to do. My framer is a shy, silent, somewhat taciturn man, who really knows his frames. When I was getting The Meeting on the Turret Stairs framed, I had no idea what to choose. I'd never asked his opinion before, but now I did, and he just silently took a frame down and held it to the picture. I would not in a thousand years have picked out that frame, but it was absolutely perfect. Since then he has shyly come out of his shell and now we have a very happy time picking frames.

I used that same frame when I got a print of this wonderful painting that hangs in the Art Gallery of Ontario.

It's titled L'Épee (The Sword). It was painted in 1896 by the Frenchman Arthur Agache. The words at the top right read "Pro iustitia tantum" ("On behalf of Justice only"). I think it's very powerful. It hangs in my bedroom where I see it before I leave each morning and I feel inspired by it. The woman in the painting reminds me somewhat of the wonderful French actress, Fanny Ardant.

I can't wait to get my new posters back, and decide where they are going. One is a Ricordi poster for Tosca, the other is Arizona Opera's photo-illustration for The Flying Dutchman. I also have their La Fanciulla dal West, another Puccini. Oh, and they're all opera-based, I just realized that.

Some of my wall adornments are original art, but there are paintings I will never own that I need to have around me, to inspire and delight me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Time Flies When The Acting's Great

I can't believe it's been six years since Adaptation (2002) was released. So far, from what I've read and heard, you either love it or hate it, and that goes for the other work of the creators: director Spike Jonze, and writer Charlie Kaufman. I love it for how it delves into creative souls, and souls in general; the structure; making fun of its own lack of proper structure. It's generous, humane, shocking and unlike anything else I've seen recently. There is so much prefab pap out there... even the independent stuff is becoming cutily independent.

Of course my number one reason for loving this movie is Chris Cooper, who is also an actor's actor. The first time I saw the wonderful Colm Feore on stage was in the Canadian Opera Company's Oedipus Rex with Symphony of Psalms, in a speaking role. At the same time Feore was interviewed and he said that if he could emulate anyone's career, it would be Chris Cooper's. And this is Feore speaking, who already has a remarkable career. And great taste.

Trillium Cake

The three-petalled trillium is the emblem and official flower of Ontario, and it is a most wonderful, welcome sight in spring. Walking the Bruce Trail not too far north of the city, I have come across woods of silver birch that are carpeted in these lovely white flowers and an occasional purple variety.

In keeping with the spring weather that has descended on our part of the world, I made a cake on Sunday for a special occasion yesterday. Four rolled fondant trilliums at each corner and more fondant ropes around the base. The filling and icing were all dark Callebaut-based... I am completely addicted to it.

Click on the pictures for bigger versions. A real trillium:

A fondant trillium (photographed by a friend):

The complete cake:

Ready for the official cutting (photographed by a friend):

OH! And for doubting Captain Luke... here is my new NIV leather-bound bible (on the right) next to my old King James mother-of-pearl bound one on the left (which is well camouflagued by the white bedspread). Next... to actually start reading them. Gulp.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cosy Chili Dinner

A Readers’ Recipe Contest in Alive magazine declared the following recipe the winner. It was submitted by Eliza Leahy. I’m transcribing it here and I hope she doesn’t mind. I’ve made it lots of times and it’s really yummy. And you don’t miss the meat at all. I use Mexican-flavoured ground tofu and I make a double batch each time in my big stock pot. It says "Serves 4" for one batch but I get about 10 lunches out of it… if I’m not being too greedy!

Tonight, the dining-room table was covered with cake-in-progress, so we ate at the coffee table with guacamole, sour cream and grated cheddar in small bowls. Also a big bowl of tortilla chips. And Corona beer. A very fun and cosy dinner.

Hearty Veggie Chili

1 tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oegano, dried
1 jalapeño pepper, finely copped
1 tsp basil, dried
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
28 oz. can of diced plum tomatoes with juice
12 oz. package of seasoned ground tofu
19 oz. can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed.

Over medium heat sauté butter and onion until onions are clear. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, jalapeno, and basil. Sauté for 1 minute, stirring to mix. Add carrots, celery, and green pepper and sauté for a few minutes to soften. Stir in remaining ingredients (tomatoes, ground tofu, and beans) and bring almost to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 1 hour. The longer it simmers, the better. Adjust spices to taste. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese and serve with crusty bread (garlic bread is good, too).

Serves 4.

New Pantry Stock

My weakness is food shops, especially those of more unusual ingredients. Below are my latest purchases:

1. Marmite, available everywhere, but this is really big jar from Lively Life in the St. Lawrence Market, a wonderful shop to visit, in a magnificent market.

2. Pink peppercorns, which were harder to find. Can't remember the name of the store! D'oh.

3. Organic Madagascar vanilla. Yum! (Same forgotten store)

4. Pure gold stars, not "edible gold" which is often flakes of copper, but the real McCoy. Hopelessly expensive, but will look amazing on next Christmas's cognac truffles and maybe the next batch of cupcakes. Yes! I want to try GUINNESS cupcakes from this wonderful blog. Don't they look incredible? Stay tuned. The gold stars were purchased from McCalls.

I wanted to show you how small the gold stars are. See below. It's so tiny... the star I mean, not the sausagey top joint of my little finger. Actually, my little finger isn't sausagey at all, it's just huge behind the tiny star, plus I like saying "sausagey." Or any variation there of.

Sausage, sausage, sausage.

A Classic from Elizabeth David

This is one of my favourite recipes. Very tasty with a lovely crisp skin.

"Tarragon Chicken
(From Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking)

Tarragon is a herb which has a quite remarkable affinity with chicken and poulet à l’estragon, made with fresh tarragon, is one of the great treats of the summer. There are any amount of different ways of cooking a tarragon-flavoured chicken dish: here is a particularly successful one.

For a plump roasting chicken weighing about 2 lb (900 g) when plucked and drawn, knead a good 1 oz (30 g) butter with a tablespoon of tarragon leaves, half a clove of garlic, salt and pepper. Put this inside the bird, which should be well coated with olive oil. Roast the bird lying on its side on a grid in a baking dish. Turn it over at half-time (45 minutes altogether in a pretty hot oven (200 C / 400 F / Gas Mark 6) or an hour in a moderate oven (180 C / 350 F / Gass Mark 4) should be sufficient; those who have a roomy grill might try grilling, which takes about 20 minutes, and gives much more the impression of a spit-roasted bird, but it must be constantly watched and turned over very carefully, so that the legs are as well done as the breast).

When the bird is cooked, heat a small glass of brandy in a soup ladle, set light to it, pour it flaming over the chicken, and rotate the dish so that the flames spread and continue to burn as long as possible. Return the bird to a low oven for 5 minutes, during which time the brandy sauce will mature and lose its raw flavour. At this moment you can, if you like, enrich the sauce with a few spoonfuls of thick cream and, at la Mère Michel’s Paris restaurant, from where the recipe originally came, they add Madeira to the sauce. Good though this is, it seems to me a needless complication. Serves 3 to 4."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Poem of the Day

Sonnet 27

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:

For then my thoughts - from far where I abide -
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:

Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.

Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

One of my favourite sonnets. As for the image... isn't he dashing? My new Shakespeare finger puppet has sort of squashed Dostoevsky to the back... momentarily.

Quote of the Day

Chapter four of Hodgkinson's How to be Idle is titled "11 a.m.: Skiving for Pleasure and Profit." In it Hodgkinson quotes some greats, including this passage from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer:

"Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it - namely, that in order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. It he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would have now comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to undersand why constructing artficial flowers or performing a tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money, but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and they would resign."

My weekend is not too idle: cleaning, shopping, cooking for the week ahead, another cake, writing, and some work-work. Still, I cling to the philosophy Hodgkinson espouses and try and incorporate it more and more.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Another... Quote of the Day

"Chi a una sola è fedele, verso l'altre e crudele."

Sung by the title character in Mozart's Don Giovanni... my desert island opera, if I truly could only pick one. The libretto was by Lorenzo da Ponte, who died in New York, was buried in Manhattan, later moved to Queens with no marking of his grave, rather like poor Mozart himself.

Da Big Book

So... if you recall, over a month ago, I stated: "At last, I am going to read the bible."

From today's correspondence:

J: This little snake in the garden will survive our neighbour, who is definitely anti-snake. Not all the others did.

Me: Puir wee snakeys. Well, anyway, that’s my attitude until I get to the Garden of Eden bit. You know… in the bible, which I’m reading. :)

J: You started??

Me: Er, well, no not exactly. But I will be tomorrow after I buy the NIV. Honest guv. I’m going to read it hand in hand with the King James version. I have to admit I'm kind of jittery about this bible reading. [Pause] In a good way, like stage fright.

J: lol. How so?

Me: I might convert. GULP. I mean, not convert but be, you know… won over. Okay, that sounds awful. I mean I suppose it’s okay if I am, but I’m a bit nervous.

J: Not awful. Natural.

Me: Okay

J: It’s a scary thing not to be in charge.

Me: Well, it’s like this: it’s as though I want to read it with my hands in front of my eyes with a small gap in between my fingers, just a small one, as I do when I’m watching a scary movie.

J: It’s a Jesus thing.

Me: Indeedly Doodly? ARGH!!! Did you read what I wrote?? I'm turning into Flanders! It's working already!

Cap’n Luke: lol

(He is very patient, even with all the Simpsons' references. I shall report back tomorrow on my purchases.)

Quote of the Day

The third chapter of Tom Hodgkinson's How to be Idle is entitled "10 a.m.: Sleeping In."

The author ponders the great and creative minds that have developed their ideas while laying about in bed, counting among them John Lennon and Dr. Samuel Johnson, who he quotes as saying:

"The happiest part of a man's life is what he passes lying awake in bed in the morning."

I would have to concur wholeheartedly, Dr. J.

And... tomorrow is Saturday.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Quote of the Day

In his great book "How to be Idle", Tom Hodgkinson notes that before the Industrial Revolution...

"Work and life were intertwined. A weaver, for example, might weave eight or nine yards on a rainy day. On other days, a contemporary diary tells us, he might weave just two yards before he did 'sundry jobs about the lathe and in the yard & wrote a letter in the evening.' Or he might go cherry-picking, work on a community dam, calve the cow, cut down trees or go to watch a public hanging."

This is part of chapter two, entitled "9 a.m.: Toil and Trouble."

Daffs and Tibbs

This morning the daffodils, already tied together loosely to keep them somewhat upright, were in major flop mode.

I came home this evening and it took a minute to figure out what was holding them up.

Apparently my favourite wooden spoon had been put to good use.


The wooden spoon was my idea. What do you think?

Tibby's diet is working very well. I estimate he must be close to a pound lighter. He is being much more kittenish and playful. Yes... the energy levels are back up.

I'm It!

The charming and yummy Caked Crusader has tagged me for a simple (Ha!) "Six-Word Memoir."

Here is is...

1. Write your own six-word memoir.
2. Post it on your blog (and include a visual illustration if you’d like).
3. Link to the person who tagged you in your post.
4. Tag five more blogs with links.
5. Remember to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

I’m tagging to participate the following:

Phil, of A Vagabond's Sketchbook
Willow, of Life at Willow Manor
Edward, of Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy
Betsy, of My Five Men
Tumbleweed, of Wandering Amongst Flowers

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Sleep is a powerful seducer, hence the terrifying machinery we have developed to fight it. I mean, the alarm clock. Heavens! What evil genius brought together these two enemies of the idle - clocks and alarms - into one unit? Every morning, throughout the Western world, happily dreaming individuals are rudely thrust from sleep by an ear-splitting ringing noise or insistent electronic beeping. The alarm clock is the first stage in the ungodly transformation that we force ourselves to endure in the morning, from blissed-out, carefree dreamer, to anxiety-ridden toiler, weighted by responsibility and duty."

From Tom Hodgkinson's great book, How to be Idle, Chapter One, titled "8 a.m.: Waking up is Hard to do." Hodgkinson is subversively brilliant. As for me, most of those who know me might not agree with my claim to idleness, but those who have lived with me closely know that it is very much a fact. Large bouts of activity, broken up by protracted periods of sloth.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Quote of the Day

"A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines."

(Frank Lloyd Wright)


The duduk (doo-DOOK) is an oboe-like, double-reed instrument, of which there are several variations belonging to different countries. The only one I’m acquainted with is the Armenian variety (it’s also Armenia’s national instrument), which is traditionally made of apricot wood, although mulberry trees can be used as well. The thought that it comes from an apricot tree is so delightful. Those small, sweet, velvety-skinned fruits… and to think the tree then provides the means for this wonderful music. Is it any wonder I am such a shameless tree-hugger?

The first instruments of this kind first appeared approximately 3,000 years ago, and the Armenian version was probably developed about 2,000 years ago. I first heard it playing in the background while at a wonderful dinner at the home of my lovely Armenian friends/honourary aunties. I bought a CD shortly afterwards, featuring Djivan Gasparyan (I was informed that he is a very well known exponent of the instrument), and it’s had a lot of playings. The sound is hauntingly vocal, almost human, as if you could combine the sound of an oboe with a human voice. There is a soft reediness and deep woodiness to it as well. The result is mournful and unforgettable. Over lunch with another Armenian friend, I was recommended another CD, this one featuring Gevorg Dabagian, which is equally enjoyed. I especially like playing this music very late at night, just before going to bed. I sit with a small nip of Cardhu or Dalwhinnie, and listen to that woody, haunting, sensual sound.

I bet there are some examples on Youtube, although the sound would suffer. It’s quite common now in film soundtracks, the most recent I could find being in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When Mr. Tumnus, the faun, plays a lullaby to Lucy, that’s a duduk you are listening to.

Speaking of oboes, my quest for a good teacher has flagged of late, but must be picked up soon. Yesterday at the opera, during Tatyana’s letter scene, the first eye seepage began as the oboe introduced the main theme of longing… sigh.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Song of the Day

Edward's latest post helped me remember this song, that has been haunting me for days. It's one of my favourites... even though I couldn't recall it properly!

Where or When
(Rodgers and Hart)

Sometimes you think you've lived before
All that you live today
Things you do come back to you
As though they knew the way
Oh, the tricks your mind can play!

It seem we stood and talked like this before
We looked at each other in the same way then,
But I can't remenber where or when.
The clothes you're wearing are the clothes you wore.
The smile you are smiling you were smilimg then,
But I can't remember where or when.

Some things that happend for the first time,
Seem to be happening again.
Amd so it seems that we have met before
and laughed before
and loved before,
But who knows where or when.

Brekkie Num Num

Overhead shot of buttered-toast soldier being dipped in soft-boiled egg. Willow, this is all I mean by "soldiers". Und now ve ze eggy morsel to ze waitingk mouth transport.

Quote of the Day

"Let me perish, but first
let me summon, in dazzling hope,
bliss as yet unknown!"

Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's opera, Eugene Onegin. I saw a very good production of this today from a prime seat. The music - yet again - was ravishing. My goose pimples had goose pimples. And those goose pimples were so goosepimply they hurt. I cried. I sighed. I floated dizzily home awash with romantic longing. Just perfect.

Macro Moment of Happiness

"Happiness does not lie in happiness, but in the achievement of it."

(Fyodor Dostoevsky)

This small happiness has been achieved: I've been sitting at my desk figuring out the macro feature on my camera. Embarassingly easy now I know I have it. I haven't actually perfected it yet, but here is the first attempt: My Dostoevsky finger puppet peering out through the prison bars of my Austin Powers pencils. The upside down pewter frog is the non-business end of a letter opener.

And here is Dostoevsky released, free to roam the Steppe of my study, all the while firmly planted on my finger.

(I can safely say that the former sentence is one I have never composed before, either in my head or in writing.)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Ms Davis's 100th

"Nothing can hurt us now. What we have can't be destroyed. That's our victory - our victory over the dark. It is a victory because we're not afraid."

The incomparable Bette Davis as Judith Traherne in Dark Victory (1939).

Phil reminds us that today is Bette Davis's 100th birthday. There is no-one to touch her. She could be fragile, vicious, terrifying, endearing, heartbreaking, beautiful, unattractive, compassionate or cruel.

She is a constant inspiration and a wonder to me. The following titles are just my favourites among a very long list of great performances:

Jezebel (1938)
Dark Victory (1939)
All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
The Letter (1940)
Now, Voyager (1942)
Mr. Skeffington (1944)
All About Eve (1950)

(Bette Davis photographed by the great George Hurrell in 1940.)

Charming Things

~ a small boy of my acquaintance, approximately nine years old, upon me telling him that I'm taking up oboe lessons and believing it to be a tricky instrument to master, replies soothingly, "Oh don't worry, you'll be fine. You'll be jusssstt fiiiiine."

~ a shop keeper, on learning that my friend and I are purchasing the same item, but don't need as much as in the packet, recommends we buy one and split the contents.

~ a friend calls "just to hear your voice."

True Story

A friend of mine was sitting with his wife and four-year-old daughter in Macdonalds. The little girl was asking about the planets, about what's in them.

Little Girl: "What's in Venus?"

Parent: "Lots of rock..."

Little Girl: "What's in Saturn?"

Parent: "Fire and more rock..."


Parent: "You know there's another planet called Uranus."

Little Girl: "What's in Uranus?"

[parents snort with laughter]

Little Girl: "What's in Uranus??"

[parents laughing... child getting really irritated]

Little Girl [shouting]: "WHAT'S IN URANUS???"

Parent: "Er... Hot gasses."

Two of my Favourite Things

Marmite, cheddar, lettuce sandwich with tea... on my TinTin plate and mug.


Quote of the Day

“My mouth is an altar where your kiss is god!”

From a big love duet in Puccini's much-overlooked opera Manon Lescaut, and a high point in the life of The Silliest Girl in the collection of Very Silly Girls in Literature. Poor little Manon not only tosses over life with the young, handsome, devoted des Grieux for a life of riches, BUT ALSO manages to mess things up with her rich lover too. Silly, silly girl!

I think the reason this opera is not often performed is the challenge involved in making the title character more heart-breaking than irritating. A good production can do this, bringing out her inexperience and endearing foolishness. A bad one is just a horrible experience. The music is unabashedly romantic and Puccini provides YET ANOTHER love duet that is basically sex-disguised-as-music.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Proust Questionnaire

This questionnaire – answered at two different times in Proust’s life – is featured, in an edited form, at the back of Vanity Fair magazine each month.

Here are my answers... then I hope my dear readers will indulge me by answering these questions as well.

Your most marked characteristic?
My intense love of harmonious surroundings and a romantic esthetic.

The qualities you most like in a man?
Compassion, humour and a strong libido (plus a big nose).

The qualities you most like in a woman?
Compassion and humour.

What do you most value in your friends?
Compassion and humour.

What is your principle defect?
A lack of self discipline

What is your favorite occupation?
Laughing in bed.

What is your dream of happiness?
To be a published author at last.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
To get lost in the little details.

What would you like to be?
A published author.

In what country would you like to live?
Where I am right now: Canada.

What is your favorite color?

What is your favorite flower?
White fresias.

What is your favorite bird?
English robin.

Who are your favorite prose writers?
George Eliot

Who are your favourite poets?

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Jamie Fraser (The Outlander Novels….. rrrrRRRRrrr)

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Lyra Belaqua (His Dark Materials), Claire Fraser (The Outlander Novels), Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice)

Who are your favorite composers?
Mahler, Mozart, Gershwin, Janáček

Who are your favorite painters?
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Wolf Khan, Ian Rotter, Tom Thompson

Who are your heroes in real life?
My parents.

Who are your favorite heroines of history?

What are your favorite names?
James, Blyth, Isidoro

What is it you most dislike?

What historical figures do you most despise?
Stalin, Hitler, and the usual cast of soulless sods.

What event in military history do you most admire?
Lord Nelson’s victory over Napoleon. Mainly because of That Hamilton Woman with Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier.

What reform do you most admire?
Hard to pick one, but being most concerned about those most vulnerable, I would have to say mental health reform in the last century.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
I would love to play the piano.

How would you like to die?
In my sleep.

What is your present state of mind?
A bit grumpy from all these questions.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
My total lack of will power and also a propensity for judgmentalism. The former I embrace. The latter I am fighting.

What is your motto?
Free was I born and free shall I die. (Paraphrasing Carmen.)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Moment for Reflection

I have cause to pause and to consider.

I had a new "portfolio" added to my job all of a sudden last September. It really added a chunk to my day and I let it cause some stressful times all through the Fall and the run up to Winter. As of last night it didn't so much come to an end, as reach a form of completion. I mean, it's never really complete, always ongoing, but there is a sense of: this is the moment I was working towards, apart from the other responsibilities of my job.

So, without boring you with all the details, it's done. And it feels good. The feedback has been wonderful. Now I find my mind shooting in all directions. Do I continue with this path? Do I move on after many years with a company that has been so important to me? Do I stay and take on another interesting project (that is burbling in the background)?

I don't have the answer yet. I do know that I will shift the life-work balance. As I do that it makes me ponder the importance of my career. For someone who chose not to have children, it is a huge part of my life. I would venture to say that also for many women who choose to have children, their careers are often a huge part of their lives. I mean... we spend more waking hours with our work mates than we do with our families, for the most part. So what we do for work is something we'd better love. I do. I love my work. I enjoy my colleagues. I believe in what I do. Outside of official work, I have some volunteerism, my writing (one day to be published if I have anything to do with it, dagnabit), and other one-off projects.

But still my life outside of these interests is of paramount importance and it is still my own, and I guard it jealously. I love my friends and family, and how patient most of them were and supportive as I worked many long nights, and sent cheery messages of encouragement over the last few months.

I am still bothered by my vertigo and concomitant complications, but I believe that to be something that is either fading, or that I am getting used to (can't really tell which sometimes!) It hasn't affected my work too much, but all remaining energy has gone into dealing with it. The easing of that will make a big difference, as I relaunch myself on the unsuspecting city and all the cultural and vulgar attractions it has to offer.

Truly, I am in a blessed place. I can move on, stay where I am, kick back a bit, or take another challenge between my teeth. I have much to enjoy now, I have more to look forward to. Maybe another country? Another city? I have had a couple of interesting offers.

I shall see. In the meantime, I am going to pause, read my book on Buddhism, try not to think too much.

Yeah... we'll see how that works out. Hee hee. (Mmmmmm... thinking again.)


So, I scanned this delicious picture from an Alitalia magazine, and sent it to a few girlfriends who I knew might appreciate it. Next thing I know I get two separate e-mails back, both from women referring to "my boyfriend Clive Owen."

But Clive Owen is my boyfriend! [whining sounds and hand flappings]

Then I tell a woman this story and she whips out her camera and shows me shots of Clive on a red carpet premiere, where the man himself stood about eight feet from her at one point. Turns out Clive Owen's her boyfriend.

[More whining and hand flappings.]

Heyyyyy... what gives?

The whining, hand flapping, and boyfriend talk reminds me of when I was a wee nipper of eight, already incorrigible and romantic: my best friend and I were both deeply in love, as only eight-year-olds can be, with the same little chap from our class. But we also didn't want to not be friends. So we called him on the phone and informed him that he was heretofore our boyfriend and that we would have him on alternate days. I think we decided after much anguish to take Sundays off and let his mother take him off our hands.

So, in the true generous spirit of Mrs. G and her wonderful blog, I am willing to share my boyfriend Clive Owen with the world. There you have it. My gesture of goodwill for all womankind.

Quote of the Day

More quotes from the wonderful Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker in Laura:

"How singularly innocent I look this morning."

"Love is eternal. It has been the strongest motivation for human actions throughout history. Love is stronger than life. It reaches beyond the dark shadow of death."

"It's lavish, but I call it home."

"My dear, either you were born on a extremely rustic community, where good manners are unknown, or you suffer from a common feminine delusion that the mere fact of being a woman exempts you from the rules of civilized conduct."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Quote of the Day

"In my case, self-absorption is completely justified. I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my attention."

This line was given by the wonderful Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944), a great, stylish, film noir with a cast featuring the lovely Gene Tierney in the title role, Dana Andrews as the rough-hewn detective, Judith Anderson and Vincent Price. The greatest star of the picture is probably the theme song, penned by David Raksin.

It's a lot of fun, although I was always bothered, even as a young girl, by the fact that Laura's portrait was the dominant feature in her living room. It seemed a bit de trop. I have to watch this one at least once a year.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Drink of the Gods

No, not yet another post about Cardhu.

This is about an amazing chocolate concoction from Soma (they still have a lousy website, but don't be deterred from visiting!), my favourite chocolatier. Their Mayan "Drink of the Gods" is a hot chocolate drink made with chili peppers, ginger, orange peel, Madagascar vanilla and "a unique blend of spices." At the store, you can sit at the bar and have a "small intense shot", or you can have a drink diluted with steamed water or milk. As you can guess, I take the former. And you can make it at home... so tonight for the first time I made it myself. My folks have arrived back from their two-month sojourn in the magical San Miguel de Allende, looking leaner, browner and bearing gifts. To celebrate I broke out the Soma hot chocolate mix and made it thusly:

Two measures of the gorgeous nuggets to one measure of unsweetened soy milk (just because I had it and wanted to enhance the health benefits of this drink, which must be many, beginning with the antioxidants and the ginger.)

Whisk gently to heat and melt, over a double boiler... or just in a saucepan as I did. Just be careful not to let it scorch.

Until... it's smooth! See how thick it is?

I make a very small amount, as they serve in Soma. Trust me, you couldn't chug-a-lug this down, unless you are Montezuma, Emperor of the Aztecs who partook up to 50 times a day to keep his libido boosted for the benefit of his considerable harem. One or two would more than do that to modern man, or woman, in my opinion. ;)

It's so thick that when you are finished letting it slide down the edges of your cup and over your lips, there is quite a lot still hugging the sides of the cup. So then I get in there with my longest digit and clean it out.

All gone! :(

The Aztecs knew a thing or two. And the modern version of this magical elixir is hot, thick, spicy and creamy. It will soothe and entice and send a delicious rush to your brain.

Quote of the Day

"Vote for me and your wildest dreams will come true."

Efren Ramirez as Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite (2004).

Hee hee