Tuesday, December 29, 2009


It's been so good to take some time off. I'm relaxing into a most delicious rejuvenation, with the occasional nap in between slowly performed tasks, long walks, and time for reflection.

My eyes have had a rest too, because, instead of reading, I'm listening to one of my favourite presents this year, the unabridged recording of Brideshead Revisited, narrated by Jeremy Irons. If you saw the magnificent series from the 1980s (I haven't been able to bring myself to see the movie version from a couple of years back), you'll remember Irons' voice over. It's that same languid tone he uses here, except he's performing all the characters and he does a really fine job. There are 10 CDs and the box cover features imagery from the recent movie - a bit of cross-over promotion.

Sitting in my study wingchair, with my eyes closed, the occasional sip of hot tea, and some pieces of Soma's irresistible chocolate shortbread, I'm in heaven. And feeling very grateful.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Winter Poems"

... is the name of this wood engraving by Gerard Brender à Brandis, which hangs above my desk.

And as I sit at my desk, a little like the one in the picture, I, too, look out at snowy boughs. The first real snow of the season has fallen on downtown Toronto. I don't think it will settle long, as impressive as it looks right now.

It's certainly a night to be warm and cosy. And as I drink my tea I'm perusing a book of poems by Wallace Stevens. Here's an appropriate one for tonight.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the jupiters shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas in a few Pictures

The last of the shopping was done during lunch at the Distillery.

Where I picked up a gift for my mother, a tea towel by Emma Bridgewater. It was well received! Rowrrrrrrrr...

I finished rolling and wrapping beeswax candles (after a last-minute dash to the shops to find some more wick, dagnabit!)

I like traditions that can evolve and change. One that has been solid for a few years now is watching the masterful Alistair Sim in A Christmas Carol. (1951) on Christmas Eve.

"Can you forgive a pig-headed old fool with no eyes to see with and no ears to hear with all these years?"

It was different this year as I enjoyed it with a 19-pound turkey tabby on my chest.

Another tradition: buttered panettone for breakfast as we open presents. But we shifted from drinking prosecco... there had been a bit too much celebrating the afternoon and night before.

Presents opened, I roasted some chestnuts for the soup.

And - new this Christmas - made some rosemary bread, which scented the place well.

Christmas dinner was topped with my mother's incredible trifle, a much-loved, three-year-old tradition around here.

And today, a blustery walk to Cherry Beach to take in some much-needed oxygen, burn off some calories, and clear my head after some wonderful and busy days.

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's Just Past Midnight Here...

Merry Christmas everyone!

I hope you are warm, safe and loved tonight.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Three Moods of Inspector Tibblesworth

There's something interesting happening! Is it worth me moving?

Smoooooove T.

Love me.

I visited Tibby and his (and my) folks on Saturday to give him his Christmas manicure (I wasn't up to tackling the pedicure) and he was in fine form. I'm biased, but - seriously - what a good-looking cat!

Tree Ornament of the Day #18

A velvety, gold-topped jester's boot is today's tree ornament, purchased from one of the very fine Stratford Shakespeare Festival's shops during intermission several years ago. There are so many good memories of attending theatre in Stratford, and next season's line up is looking good. I have to get myself organized with tickets sooner this year.

In the meantime, how did it get to be the day before Christmas Eve? It's ridiculous how quickly it comes around, and it certainly gets here faster each year. I'm almost of the mind to want to celebrate it every other year. But maybe it's me who needs to slow down and look from side to side instead of steadily onward. Life is short... but wide. I drink to that tonight with a nip of Cardhu and a dark Lindor ball, or three.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tree Ornament of the Day #17

Isn't she cute? About two inches tall, this little ballerina mouse was another purchase many moons ago at a peformance of the National Ballet of Canada. Here she seems to be dancing among the trees. I'd like to be among the trees right now... tramping through softly fallen snow on my way to my little cabane au Canada.

There are chesnuts tonight (prepping them for Christmas Day soup), but they are roasting in an oven... and the fireplace is on a dvd. But the music is good and I'm feeling grateful.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Solstice and Tree Ornaments of the Day #14, 15 and 16

The parallel traditions around the time of the winter solstice fascinate me. The reversal of the shortening days for our ancestors called for celebrations and other gatherings to honour the ideas of birth and rebirth. These often involved dancing, singing, feasting and bonfires. These gatherings helped dispell the fears and sadness that marked the short days and long, cold nights. By slaughtering livestock, our ancestors wouldn't have to feed them through the winter, so there was plenty of meat to be eaten. And as the sun began to appear for longer each day, it was natural that a light-celebration was part of the solstice festivities. Is it any wonder then that so many religions and traditions have light as the centre of the rituals of this time of year, and that we gather together so enthusiastically?

Tonight I toasted the solstice with single malt scotch and some gingerbread, depicted here in solstice-worthy, quasi-pagan images of anatomically correct gingerbread people. Oh, there's a snowflake and a boot too.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tree Ornament of the Day #13

The idea behind this ornament is the same as for the Nutcracker... pull on the string and his arms and legs fly up and down!

This hinged teddy bear is very important to my mother and I. She has often noted that it is at this time of year, during the period just before the solstice, that accidents and other tragedies seem most likely to occur. She believes we are at our lowest ebb, that our defences and instincts are slower than at any other time. And it was at this time, several years ago, when she suffered an accident, that - thankfully - was not as serious as it might have been.
She had been Christmas shopping and had just picked up this little ornament for me. She was crossing the road, and was knocked down by a van, who hadn't seen her. She was not at fault, but in these situations it is the pedestrian who takes the damage. It shook her up badly, apart from sustaining some physical damage. Luckily she's always been a strong, healthy woman, and she bounced back within a few weeks, although her back and neck were bothered badly for years to come.

Each year when she visits and sees this ornament, she reminds me, with much amusement, that in that strange moment, when she was struck and falling, and everything seemed to slow right down, she was worrying that this little wooden teddy bear might be broken and that I wouldn't get to enjoy it. Odd thought for a life-threatening moment, but I think our minds often work that way in those instances.

So, truly, of all these little tree ornaments, this is the most imporant to me, as it reminds me of what is most precious in my life: the people I love.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tree Ornament of the Day #12

This year's One-of-a-Kind Show purchase was a little stained glass mouse which came with its own nice round hook. I don't know the lady's name, but Kidogoasis is the name of her studio where she produces these very reasonably-priced ornaments. I bought a couple more for presents, of course!

Quote of the Day

"It's time to go to where I'm planning on being."


Friday, December 18, 2009

Tree Ornament of the Day #11

... another little Russian lady, who reminds me that - in between about four other books - I'm reading Vladimir Nabakov's memoirs still, "Speak, Memory", and his imagery is so powerful, and he speaks about a Russian way of life long gone.

This one looks a little more reserved than yesterday's lady. Could this one be Anna, Phil?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tree Ornament of the Day #10

I bought this little Russian doll years ago at the opera. What impressed me most was the detail on such a small ornament, especially in the face, which you can see better below. Does she look like an Anna Karenina? Or a Tatyana? Either way, she's ready for the snow, which is still holding off here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tree Ornament of the Day #9

This ornament is one of my very favourites. It's the most delicious rosy pink and the string that it is suspended on is finished with a silky tassel. It's quite light for a ball of its size, with a sort of William Morris pattern, which is appropriate because I bought it at the souvenir shop at the Delaware Art Museum. This excellent gallery has the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in North America and it was that brotherhood of artists with whom Morris was closely associated. I'll be returning next year, and will visit again its very attractive shop.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Damn, I Love Cute Overload

My snort dainty laugh of the day.

Thanks Cute Overload!

Tree Ornament of the Day #7

Well this glass ornament should come as no surprise. This blog boasts some major food groups such as lamb and pomegranate, but dark chocolate is king. And I learned again why I really need to keep up with the news, as I saw that the Toronto Star had a feature on Soma, my favourite (and handily local) chocolatier. Hooray!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

First Time Stollen... Thanks Martha!

This Martha Stewart recipe is one I've wanted to try for a while. It yields four big loaves and, as I discovered today, is pretty straightforward. The result is a delicious yeast-raised German Christmas cake, moisty, fruity, and not too sweet.

11 cups sifted all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground mace
½ teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
2 cups warmed milk
¾ pounds unsalted butter, plus 4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 ounces dry yeast, or 2 ounces cake yeast; dissolved in ½ cup warm water
6 large, lightly beaten eggs
2¼ cups currants, soaked in ½ cup cognac
2½ cups golden raisins, soaked in ½ cup orange juice
peel of 4 oranges, diced
rind of 2 lemons, grated
½ pounds citron, diced
½ cup dried apricots, chopped
2½ cup blanched almonds, chopped
confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Sift together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the milk and 3/4 pounds butter. Add the dissolved yeast and eggs. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead until fairly smooth. Mix together in a bowl the currants and raisins in their liquid, peel, rind, citron, apricots, and almonds, and then work them into the dough. Continue kneading for about 10 minutes. If the dough is sticky, knead in more flour, but be careful not to overwork. Place the dough in a large buttered bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours. Punch down the dough and cut in to four equal amounts. Roll each piece into a 12" x 8" rectangle. Brush with the melted butter, then fold one long side to the center. Fold the other long side over the first, overlapping it by 1 inch. Turn the dough over, taper the ends, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise again in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the stollen for 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a rack and dust with confectioners' sugar.

1. I have loose dry yeast in a jar, so I discovered that a one-ounce packet of dried yeast is 2-1/4 teaspoons. That's what I read online and it worked.

2. I forgot to get fresh nutmeg so I just used ground. I assumed all the butter was to be melted and that worked fine too... you need that 3/4 pound melted butter as liquid for the dough.

3. Orange peel versus lemon rind threw me. So I just used my microplaner to get the zest of all the oranges and lemons, and, again, this worked just fine.

4. I haven't dusted them with confectioner's sugar yet, and I'll only do so with the ones I'm giving away as I like the cake just fine without, not having a very sweet tooth.

5. The mixing in of currants, etc. into the dough was hard work and I did it all with my hands, not having a dough hook, let alone a stand mixer, and, guess what, no probs. My hands are tired, but it feels very satisfying.

6. I went out to a Christmas dinner after the first dough raising, but it didn't seem to affect the second raising that I left it so long.

7. I'll be doing this again next year!

Shopping was half the fun.

The dough after kneading. I'd worried I'd overworked it slightly, but I was okay.

The soaked fruit and nuts.

After a raising, I punched the dough down and shaped into loaves for a second raising. Then I went out to dinner.

The second raising worked a treat and here are the baked stollens.

Wintery Walk in the 'Hood

It was a cold day in Toronto, but there was holly to buy and legs to stretch.

A sad rosebud in St. James' Cathedral gardens, with the old Town Hall in the background.

The bandstand is wrapped with lights.

And somewhere nearby, a bride was awaiting her transportation.

Tree Ornament of the Day #6

This little ornament reminds me of the National Ballet of Canada's beautiful production of The Nutcracker. It's choreographed by former artistic director James Kudelka and designed by Santo Loquasto, who's worked on many of Woody Allen's films, in a long and varied career.

It's the visuals of this production of Nutcracker that entrance me. It's based on a Russian theme, with the ballet opening on a party scene in the lovely barn of Marie and Misha's home.

There are many thrilling theatrical moments, such as the skating bears, the magical growth of the Christmas tree to fill the entire stage, and the opening of a huge Fabergé egg to reveal the Sugar-Plum Fairy. My favourite sequence of all is the scene with a flock of little lambs which are played by the littlest children in the National Ballet School. They are dressed as small Victorian girls, with ears attached to their bonnets and small gloves that make their hands look like little hooves. They are all in pale pink, except for - you guessed - just one, who is in black. The audience melts when they come on stage. This link has pictures and videos of this delightful production.

As for my tree ornament, I bought him at the Ballet Boutique, the company's lobby shop that is open during performances. I never attend the ballet without buying something tree-worthy there, and I'll be showing more of those purchases that now reside on my tree in days to come. You see the tassle between his legs? You pull that and his arms and legs go up and down. Okay, that sounded saucy. Excellent! This blog has been sauceless for too long!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Quote of the Day

"To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides."

David Viscott, How to Live with Another Person (1974)

Tree Ornament of the Day #5

This was given to me by my friend Mark, with whom I have sat over many a cup of tea discussing all matters that might interest a couple of friends. A cup of tea has often ended a delicious meal together. Either way, no conversation is complete between us without mention of The Simpsons and William Morris. This small, ornate ornament is a special reminder of a very special friendship.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Odile Chocolat

At the One of a Kind Show recently I picked up some truffles by Odile. They're beautiful to look at I had to photograph them. And so delicious. I've just read they use 54% Callebaut chocolate so that's no surprise. If you click on the site and visit "offerings" you'll see what else Odile has to offer. And I see she has a retail outlet, not just selling in other stores. Excellent.

Top left: Truffle Mexicana - Tequila, candied lime peel, chipotle pepper
Top right: Cognac Truffle (I love this pattern)
Bottom left: Canadian Icewine - Cabernet franc, late harvest
Bottom right: Wild Canadian Black Trumpet mushrooms (Forbes product)

Tree Ornament of the Day #4

This little brass-toned lantern has a sort of Middle-Eastern flair and brings to mind the years I spent there as a child. I wish I could remember where I got it. It's placed with one of the tree lights inserted to ensure maximum twinkle factor.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tree Ornament of the Day #3

I picked up this little ceramic bell in Taos, New Mexico. It was the only time I'd really travelled on my own and I had the best time, managing to fall completely in love with this remarkable state. I'll be back, but in the meantime, this ornament reminds me of the beauty of New Mexico at any time of year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tree Ornament of the Day #2

This-blown glass grandfather clock has a matching small glass mouse that hangs beside it. This is one of my bigger ornaments, about seven inches long. I have a fondness for grandfather clocks. In my grandparents' home there was one in the front hallway. I can still here its sonorous tick-tocking and the chime it made on the hour, and the whirring just before the chime. It was a comforting sound to hear if I woke in the middle of the night.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tree Ornament of the Day #1

I've been enjoying photographing the Christmas tree and its individual ornaments. This year I have a lot fewer out because my tree is so much smaller and I don't like to inundate it. I'm going to be posting one picture each day. This little mouse I bought at last year's One of a Kind Show in Toronto. He's hand-painted by a charming (I think Russian) lady.

Quote of the Day... Plus a Bit of a Food Rant

“As to the more substantial part of the Christmas cooking, the turkeys and goose must go to their inevitable fates in the oven. Every year …. the thousands upon thousands of English women cooking, for one week of the year, as if for their very lives, patiently chopping and pounding…” Elizabeth tells us that these women, skinning, mixing and stuffing, with their “mountains of brussels sprouts, cannot but command respectful admiration.” Lukewarm praise for those gargantuan efforts. Elizabeth cannot hide her distaste for English Christmas fare and in confirmation gives recipes entirely untypical: pâtés and terrines. The fact was that she hated Christmas turkey, loathed Brussels sprouts, and had said before and was saying again, by implication, that English women would do better to look to the quality of their simpler daily fare rather than this impressive annual burst of effort.”

Elizabeth David, a biography by Lisa Chaney.

I've been pondering that recently, the fuss and bother over a single meal, not to mention the preparations for all other entertaining over the Christmas holiday. I consider the hours and hours that go into making a full-out Christmas dinner, for - what - an hour's worth of sitting and enjoying the meal, if you really stretch it out? What I have come to so far is that our Christmas dinner will be a simpler affair to prepare, but it should be an excellent meal. And, yet again, I'm not doing turkey. Although I'm considering roasting a piece so that we can have left-over sandwiches, which - for me - are the best part of the whole turkey deal. Last year it was ham and stuffed turkey breast, the year before it was ham and game pie. I'm thinking of doing this blog's favourite meat: lamb. But whatever happens, there'll be pictures!

What are your holiday food plans? If you're blogging about them, please let me know.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


The new Wes Anderson film Fantastic Mr. Fox is not your every day animated film from a children's classic book. The film maker has taken an already extraordinary story by Roald Dahl (and not one suitable for most children) and given it a fresh, inventive and quirky interpretation. The stop-start animation has a distinctly retro feel to it - think of the classic Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer Christmas television special. The voices are superb. I had no idea how expressive and varied George Clooney (Mr. Fox) could sound. I suppose when we're watching him in a live-action film, we're usually taken up with his dark chocolate eyes or his roguish smile. Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox and all the other wonderful actors do a superb job of a clever and very grown-up script. All the usual Anderson touches are there: the cross-section of almost any structure, the sudden cutting from angle to angle, and the usual cast of suspects including Bill Murray and Owen Wilson.

I loved it and am giving it a BPG big thumbs up.

All this was enhanced by a highly successful, pre-movie, gift-shopping trip at Indigo...

... and dinner in the company of a pint of Guinness and two excellent friends.

I'd better get wrapping.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Stomping Good Times in Toronto

I took a walk this evening on my way to the theatre.

Yorkville used to be the smartest place in Toronto to shop. It's become rather more ordinary the last decade or so, as other parts of the city have become more interesting, but it still maintains a certain charm.

A close up of a light-wrapped tree.

Walking past the disaster that is the ROM addition. A friend accurately described it as an expo building, one that you really isn't expected to last too long. What was it, $380 million? I've heard it leaks.

And finally to the theatre. It was the opening night of The Mummer's Masque, held in the chapel of Victoria College. Inspired by the mummer traditions of Newfoundland, composer Dean Burry created a rollicking piece, incorporating traditional carols and songs, sewn together in a madcap mummer performance, directed by Derek Boyes. Somewhere in the merriment lurked the legend of St. George and the Dragon, St. George's subsequent love for the (bearded) Princess Zebra and his fight for her hand with a Turkish knight. We were left spent from laughing, clapping, stomping, cheering, hissing and singing. The amazing cast consisted of four of Canada's finest opera singers, two delightful dancers and a bevy of adorable "Wren Girls". The orchestra was in top form, and consisted of violin, fiddle, flute and penny whistles, uilleann pipes, accordian, double bass, bouzouki and percussion, all led by Toronto Masque Theatre's artistic director and founder, Larry Beckwith.

They're performing till December 6 only!