Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Computer is Broken

So I get to buy a new one!

Blogging remains sporadic until I am securely up and running.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Currants soaking in cognac, and a mound of lemon and orange zest. The stollens are underway and I'm drunk on the scents.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday at Home

Two weeks ago at the One-of-a-Kind Show, I bought a new pair of sheepskin slippers. Now, as a bit of a polar bear, I don't feel the cold easily. But wintering in Toronto sometimes brings the sorts of days and nights that are just brutally cold. And wearing my new red slippers is like walking on marshmallows - so heavenly! I breakfasted in my pyjamas before the tree.

The big mug.

Night time twinkles... I can't get enough of my table top tree. It's five foot tall. My parents found one for their home (available at Metro, for you Toronto types) that's only two foot tall and already set in a holder - so cute! Apparently as my dad was carrying it home, people were stopping them to admire it, and - yes - even pet it. Small things have that effect. Of course I'll get pictures of it sometime soon.

Indulgent Saturday

I was drunk yesterday... on music.

It was the HD broadcast of Don Carlo (yes, Italian version) from the Met. We sat through all four and a half hours during the afternoon. The singing was superb, and Nicholas Hytner's production was clearly and powerfully directed. This was great operatic theatre. Don Carlo is one of my top three operas, so you can imagine how intoxicated I felt at the end. And I know the French version is more official but the Italian version was the one I fell in love with (listening to Giulini's recording) so I'm biased emotionally. Actually emotional bias is my most prevalent in any situation - it doesn't require rationalization. My favourite character in all opera is Rodrigo, so to see/hear him sung by the hotness that is Simon Keenlyside was a delicious treat. The rest of the cast wasn't too shabby: Marina Poplavskaya (Elisabetta), Roberto Alagna (Carlo), Ferruccio Furlanetto (King Philip), and Anna Smirnova (Eboli). Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted.

Earlier this fall we've seen René Pape as Boris Godunov and Anna Netrebko in Don Pasquale. And Rheingold in the Met's new Ring by Robert Lepage, with the amazing Bryn Terfel as Wotan. Not in New York? No excuse mate, not with these hi-def broadcasts. Yes, obviously, it's best to see anything live, but this is great performance made available all over the world. A whole new world - I love it. And the National Theatre performances are available from London too. We've missed the first two this year, but are getting tickets for the rest. I'm a bit of a convert as you can tell... heh heh.

More delicious treats after, with a visit to Yorkville, and walking past Pusateri's windows (they're a very fine food store).

Leering in their cheese window:

The destination, Trattoria Nervosa:

For Prosecco and clam linguine:

And home to let it all marinate in my happy mind and tummy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Garlicky Good Times

There are few scents more heavenly than garlic softening in butter.

I do this to the garlic before making garlic bread, to avoid any sharp bits.

Dinner for two on the sturdy coffee table: spinach salad with toasted pine nuts and pecorino, then a rosé vodka sauce over penne. And very buttery-garlicky, vampire-repelling bread.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Seriously, Those Neck Tendons Have Me Worried

Coronation Street is 50 years old today. I've only started watching consistently quite recently, so I don't know much about the real history of the street, but I know that Gail has a gift for picking lousy husbands and I'm wondering how long it will be before Deirdre's neck tendons snap.

Darkness Reigns

Is it any wonder that my blog is looking so dark these days? If I'm not at work, it's dark. It's dark when I awake, light for a short while in the morning while I walk to work, and dark when I leave. I shall endeavour to brighten things up this weekend with some day time photography, and a catch up of all the busyness.

I'm longing for the shortest day, and that turn of the solstice, and the soothing knowledge that days are lengthening.

Evening in the 'Hood

Meeting at friend at the Distillery District for tea at Balzacs, famous for... coffee. I love sitting up in the balcony, keeping an eye on the comings and goings, in my ace-girl spy fashion.

The Distillery District's huge tree with balls the size of my head, and I have a big head.

I love how this building ends in pointy fashion.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Delicious Evening

... listening to Chet Baker (with the best CD cover ever: see the hint of Eiffel Tower in the bottom right?) and Don Byas and drinking wine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Days are Flying

Last week was the Service of Lessons and Carols at St. James' Cathedral, and here were the lights in the beautiful cathedral gardens afterwards. You can sort of make out the light-entwined bandstand in the far background.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Shortbread Help Needed

My favourite catalogue has to be Lee Valley Tools. Their enthusiastic descriptions are wonderful bathtime reading. For a few years now I've coveted this, the snowflake shortbread pan. So, on a little Christmas shopping trip, I treated myself:

I tried the recipe included with the pan, even though butter wasn't the main ingredient (flour was). Here is the dough pressed into the pan and pricked all over with a fork:

It was easily turned out after cooling in the pan for 10 minutes, and cut into nine pieces:

Nom nom! Aren't the patterns cute?

But here's my dilemma. I don't like the recipe much. So can anyone provide me with a great shortbread recipe, with butter as the number one ingredient?

Yours hopefully,


I Have my Priorities Right

I went shopping and on the list was:

~ anise seed
~ soy milk
~ paper towel

What I came back with was:

~ bed sheets
~ chocolate
~ knickers

The desk drawer at work is back to how it should be, overflowing with goodness:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Saying "Yes" to the Universe... and Black Cats

On October 12 I took a vacation day from work. It was the day after Canadian Thanksgiving and a glorious weekend for fall colours. Taking inspiration from my friend Barbara, I'm trying to say "yes" to more.

Taking off on my own, I went - armed with my camera - to Riverdale Farm (more on that in a later post), which is in the middle of Toronto's Cabbagetown district.

The colours were outstanding. The sky was never bluer.

Across from the farm is the St. James' Necropolis.

I stepped inside the crematorium chapel, which was quiet and dark, almost a relief from the blinding sunshine and reflective leaves all around me.

I sat for a while, thinking. I thought about the fading away of my faith and how it might be reborn in a different form. I pondered my reading on Buddhism and particularly on meaningful meditation. Each morning on waking, prompted by what I have read, I whisper to myself, "This might be the day I die. Today... is a good day to be alive."

I thought of how my mind is too full of ideas and the future and the past. And I conciously (almost out loud, but not quite) said to myself: "How I would love 10 minutes, just now, to be completely in the present."

At that very moment I heard a small miaow. And a little black face with big green eyes popped in from the side door of the chapel. A young black cat, more teenager than kitten, came running down the aisle, hopped onto my lap and, purring, climbed all over me. I was enchanted. As he settled onto my lap, purring and making puddings with his paws, I thought, "Hold it, I've just been practically accosted by a black cat in a crematorium." Well I'm not superstitious but I did say something out loud. "Well, cat, if this is my last moment, if I'm about to drop dead, you know... it's okay. This is pretty good."

He continued purring, and I continued petting him. As he'd been climbing over my shoulders and down into my lap I got a couple of blurry pictures of him.

And then he dropped off my lap and gave himself a bit of a wash before looking back at me...

... and headed out the front door of the chapel. This was my last picture of him.

I'd asked the universe for 10 minutes of being in the present, right in the moment. I got them. And I don't know what happened that day, if I became more open to the gifts of the universe , or just a happier person, or was visited by a very sweet spirit in the body of a young cat, I just know that life has been better since then than ever, however many hours, days or years I have left.

There will be more thoughts on this, I'm sure, in later posts.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Christmas Countdown

I've missed my little blog. And it feels good to have a quiet evening and an opportunity to start the process again.

I've been busy, but even when I've had a bit of free time, I've felt uninterested in blogging for some reason. But it seems the long nights and the desire to cocoon has resparked my interest.

And speaking of sparks, do you like my advent candle? I was so charmed by this tradition when I read it about it some time ago on the lovely Zuzana's blog, that I felt compelled to start my own. I told Zuzana about my interest a year ago, but I hadn't found my candle! It took a while, and then found it by mail order from the U.S.

I've had it nearly a year, and tonight I lit it.

What joy it will be to sit in contemplation each evening for just a short while, while my candle burns down to the next number of the month, all the way to December 24.

Thank you, Zuzana!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Quote of the Day

"One recipe for happiness is to have no sense of entitlement."

From The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett (2007).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Honey and Chocolate, Part Deux

My beautiful big jar of raw honey was slightly crystallized. So I softened it in a panful of hot water. Googling the problem, to ensure I was remembering the solution correctly, turned up a wit:

Q: How do I soften old honey?
A: I buy her bottles of skin lotion regularly.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Honey and Chocolate

Got your attention?

Watch this space. Experiments of the most delicious variety are taking place.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wild Leek Sausages

Ralph's Butcher in Norwood, (and Warkworth) Ontario offer a wide variety of sausage flavours. We drive back through Norwood after cottaging.

They come four in a packet for $5.74 and they're BIG. Don't be alarmed at the packaging date. They remained frozen until this weekend, when - on our one day of no humidity - I grilled them...

... and ate with leeks wilted with butter, some slivers of mint and a sprinkling of parmigiano.

The other two types of sausages I bought at Ralph's were under-seasoned. I wondered if that was a mistake, seeing as when you're eating sausages you expect a healthy dose of salt. But the wild leek variety were delicious, and even more amazing at room temperature. What is it about cold sausage that is so perfect? I love them either sliced on a salad, or made into a sandwich with very good wholewheat bread and butter (nothing else). That slightly spicy, chewy, fatty, yummy goodness is perfection in a picnic panino. Must... have... more...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Incoming Kisses... NOT! (Sigh)

The softest place on earth: the top of Tibby's head. Except, when I visit him, I can't kiss him any more because I'm a bit allergic.


Hey... where are my kisses?

Instead, I swirl a finger in the axis of snorgleness, on Tibby's neck and cheek, the second softest spot on earth.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Lost Recipe

Have you ever had this happen? That you had a recipe that worked for something, and then you lost it or forgot which one in your crazy binder of recipes it was? That has happened for me and the lost recipe is for simple tea scones. This would not be an issue if I didn't have so many scone recipes. I'm working through them till I find the right one again. Here was yesterday's attempt:

Oh sure, they look pretty nice. But they're not it.

However we forced a few down with some fig jam. To make sure this doesn't happen again I'm chucking all the chocolate chip recipes, except for - you know - the ONE.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Grapey Goodness

I've been freezing grapes for cooling treats during this very hot spell. I also put them into my wine glass before pouring the Chardonnay. They work like ice cubes, see? See? Yes, I know, the whole world has known this trick, but me! Well, your secret's out now! Ha!

It feels good to be in the club.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cue the Venetian Blinds

One day of no humidity was a delicious treat, but now we are back to thick, heavy, smoggy days with terrible air quality and not a break in the heat in sight. I don't enjoy August for the most part.

Sunday evenings are the one night of the week I have to watch television, and now not just for one, but two, reasons. First we have the start of season four of the excellent Mad Men on AMC. It continues to be the stylish, brilliantly written creation we have all come to expect.

I've also started watching Rubicon which is another original series that has just begun, and it runs for the hour just before Mad Men. It's about a discreet spy agency in New York that seeks to discover what the bad guys might be planning, while potentially being infilatrated by other bad guys. Think along the lines of Three Days of the Condor and Enigma. So far Rubicon is intriguing and moody, with many shots featuring shadows of venetian blinds falling across the tortured and intelligently handsome visage of our hero, James Badge Dale. It also stars Miranda Richardson, always worth the price of admission. I'm a bit confused already in regards to a few plot points, but that's typical for me. I'll figure it out with a little help from my friends.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Cool Toronto: Islands Ferry

I love taking one of these... it's like a mini vacation!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

La nostra casetta

Non la sospiri, la nostra casetta
che tutta ascosa nel verde ci aspetta?
Nido a noi sacro, ignoto al mondo inter,
pien d'amore e di mister?
Al tuo fianco sentire
per le silenziose
stellate ombre, salir
le voci delle cose!
Dai boschi, dai roveti,
dall'arse erbe, dall'imo
dei franti sepolcreti
odorosi di timo.
La notte escon bisbigli
di minuscoli amori

a perfidi consigli
che ammolliscono i cuori.
Fiorite, o campi immensi, palpitate
aure marine, nel lunar albor.
Ah... piovete voluttà, volte stellate!
Arde in Tosca un folle amor!

Do you not long for our little house
that is waiting for us, hidden in the grove?
Our refuge, sacred to us and unseen by the world,
protected with love and mystery?
Oh, at your side to listen there
to the voices of the night
as they rise through the starlit,
shadowed silences:
from the woods, from the thickets
and the dry grass, from the depths
of shattered tombs
scented with thyme,
the night murmurs
its thousand loves
and false counsels
to soften and seduce the heart.
Oh wide fields, blossom! and sea winds throb
in the moon's radiance, ah,
rain down desire you vaulted stars!
Tosca burns with a mad love!

From Tosca, the opera by Puccini, with a libretto by Illica and Giacosa. I copied this out from the EMI recording (1965 with Callas), but there was no translation credit. Check out the labels for this post. Yum.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Favourite flask, with a William Morris pattern on it ("Daisy"). Thanks M!

Apple/sage sausage panino. The sausage came from the butcher in Norwood, Ontario. I used some apple jelly too, just a thin smear. Deelish.

Sweet Ontario yellow plums.

I love picnics for the tin plates... makes me feel I'm on safari or something. I found these palm tree ones years ago. The stainless steel tumblers were brought back from India for me from a friend.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Recent, and not so Recent, Films, and Some Vaguely Connected Ramblings, Dagnabit!

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."
(From The Go-Between, a novel by L. P. Hartley)

I recently watched Das weisse Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon - A German Children's Story, 2009) on DVD and it was breathtaking. From the opening scene, I was transported into this uncomfortable pre-WWI Germany, and, even when I tried to remind myself that I was watching actors and that there was a cameraman and crew standing by, I could hardly believe it. Michael Haneke directs this beautifully photographed, black and white film, in which the children of a small village suffer repression and punishment meted out by their elders, while a series of disturbing and violent events take place over the course of several months. Who is behind it all? The concept of a generation of angry and conflicted children growing up to become Fascists is lurking behind this film, without beating you over the head with it.

Speaking of the intriguing fashions and bad behaviour of 1930s Germany, this past spring I revelled in the Canadian Opera Company's disturbing and magnificent production of Wagner's Flying Dutchman. Although this romantic opera was premiered in 1843, it's been given a powerful interpretation by director Christopher Alden. The setting is a 1930s Fascist-powered village, and the production remains as chilling the third time out as when it first premiered in the 1990s. I complemented that viewing by starting to read Brigitte Hamann's biography: Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Hearth of Hitler's Bayreuth. Well, to be honest, I haven't finished it yet. I need breaks from the depressing aspects, as fascinated as I am by the characters involved. What a family! And now that Wolfgang (one of Winifred's sons) has died, the mantle of Bayreuth has passed to two of the family's women. Idea for a reality show: Wacky Wagners. I'd watch.

Speaking of repression, I'm listening, as I write this, to an excellent CD, Two Roads to Exile, which features works by two composers who suffered different exiles under the Nazis, and deserve to be heard widely and thoroughly: Walter Braunfels and Adolf Busch. It's recorded by Toronto's ARC Ensemble. I recommend!

The - for some - elegaic pre-WWI period is beautifully portrayed in The Go-Between (1970), Joseph Losey's film of a Harold Pinter screenplay based on the novel by H.P. Hartley. What a pedigree. The American-born Losey is God-like in my view from his Don Giovanni (1979) alone, and made most of his films in Europe after self-exiling himself after fleeing the House Un-American Activities Committee. An unusually hot summer before WWI is made even steamier by the clandestine relationship between the upper-class Julie Christie and a common labourer played by Alan Bates. Of course their affair is secretly carried out with an unwitting young boy (Dominic Guard) acting as a messenger go-between. I first saw this film as a teenager (I was nursing a bit of a thing for Edward Fox at the time), and it was on again recently on television.

More despair under the yoke of a shitty regime: El Secreto de sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes, 2009) is an Argentinean film which beat out The White Ribbon for the 2009 Oscars. (Whatever that means, for the Oscars have meant nothing to me since 1996 and the Brave Heart best-film-best-director joke-fest). The past may or may not be a foreign country for Ricardo Darín as Benjamín Esposito, whose piercing blue eyes, despite their bassett-hound lugubriousness, certainly hold some secret regrets and desires. But the past does turn up some shockers in this turgid, somewhat over-wrought film, that I'm very glad I saw.

Shocking only for how it takes a severe turn for the worse is Io sono l'Amore (I am Love, 2009). It stars the always fascinating Tilda Swinton as a Russian woman who has married into a wealthy Milanese family. Milan, and other parts of Italy, are shown as you might not have seen them before on film. Certainly the sun beams down on Tilda's golden head most becomingly, and sets off her stunning couture wardrobe, but thankfully it does so without the golden-syrup glow of the Merchant-Ivory films. All until the bizarre hill-side love scene which unfolds like an early 1970s soft-porn movie, all close ups of taut buttocks and soft nipples (hey! Continuity!) and dandelion blossoms in a soft-focus haze. Ugh. Pre-love scene the first part of the film is very good. And then... all goes horribly wrong as a story as old as time unfolds in the most unconvincing way. I was so disappointed, as great care and love had obviously gone into the making. One thing I appreciate about a great film score is when you don't notice it. It was hard not to notice John Adams' score that at one point was so over-wrought, that I nearly burst out laughing. The last five minutes were agony. I really, really wanted to love this, but I didn't, and I don't recommend it.

"She can't help it. She never had enough love."
(Timothy Spall as Maurice in Secrets and Lies)

Unlike Io sono l'amore, Secrets and Lies (1996) unearths a more modest British family, with humour and pathos, beautifully wrought. I caught it again recently on television and it made me laugh and cry in perfect tandem. Director Mike Leigh is another film God. Timothy Spall was wonderful in Pierrepoint (2005), the story of the last hangman in Britain. You have to be in the mood to see it, if one ever can be in the mood for such a grim, if brilliantly told, true story.

There were so many other movies I saw last year and didn't blog about. Here's a quick round up!
To correct my thinking, the film Sunshine Cleaning (2008) is no relation to Little Miss Sunshine (2006) except for the word "sunshine" and Alan Arkin, who is always a major appeal. Amy Adams continues to be versatile and heart breaking with the most vulnerable and beautiful blue eyes. Emily Blunt is fantastic, and I was surprised that she pulled off The Young Victoria (2009) so well, although I wished in that film they hadn't felt the need to add some artistically licensed drama. I loved Sunshine Cleaning: it was dark and funny and moving, and – at times – really gross.

District 9 (2009) was a classic tale of outsiders and suspicion, featuring an extremely unlikely hero and a real-life setting (Johannesburg) which seemed scarier than the alien beings themselves. Produced by Peter Jackson, but no Andy Serkis in sight. Depressing.

Weirdly enough, Star Trek (2009) featured the best-behaved (i.e. quiet) audience of my recent experience, either in the cinema or in the theatre. Opening night was packed full of remarkably young Trekkers and the movie was so much fun. I loved every minute of it, certainly it exceeded all expecations. I didn’t get all the time shifting and Vulcan-exploding subteleites. My companion, who had prepped me for some plot sublteties over dinner beforehand, assured me a sequel was in the works. I’m there!

"Religion is flawed because man is flawed."
(Armin Mueller-Stahl as Cardinal Strauss in Angels and Demons, 2009.

It was fun to see bits of Rome in Angels and Demons and this was definitely an excellent large-popcorn-empty-brain experience. They've fixed Tom Hanks' hair.

Alpha: Now, you must wear the cone of shame.
Dug: [hangs head] I do not like the cone of shame.

Bob Peterson voiced both dogs in Up (2009).

My favourite movie of last year, the first 10 minutes of Up had me crying in my popcorn. After that it was laughter and tears and a good time had by all.

Albus Dumbledore: You must be wondering why I brought you here.
Harry Potter: Actually sir, after all these years I just sort of go with it.

I'm still going with it too, and will till the very end. I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), but can't really wait for it all to be over.

Brüno (2009) was no Borat (2006), which made me laugh so hard I thought I was going to throw up.

LN: [to Roderick] They bought us a stroller.
Burt Farlander: What's wrong with a stroller?
LN: I LOVE my babies. Why would I want to PUSH them away from me?

Maggie Gyllenhaal as LN and John Krasinski as Burt Farlander in Away We Go (2009).

I almost really loved this film. But something, like that stroller, pushed me away. Some of the performances felt very true and honest. Others felt forced and hammy. The script was brilliant in parts, forced in others. I wanted to like it, I really did. Ultimately I was disappointed.

If you've reached this point in the blog post - good for you! It only seemed marginally longer than this year's Oscars.

Quote of the Day

Halloran: You don't want that junk. Diamonds would only cheapen you.
Margie: Yeah. But what a way to be cheapened.

Brad Dexter as Halloran and Gloria Grahame as Margie in Macao (1952), more famously known for being the second time that Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell co-starred. They should have made more.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cool Toronto: Hanlan's Point

Of the options available for visiting the Toronto Islands (North America's largest urban car-free community), my favourite is Hanlan's Point. At the busiest time, this quiet parkland is never crowded. And there are so many trees for hugging!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An Outing with Bruce

Easily distracted at home, I decided to take my writing to the Toronto Islands. Bruce came along for the ride. We took the ferry to Ward's Island, as I'd just missed the one for Hanlan's Point. The islands don't allow cars, so it's a pretty idyllic spot.

On the ferry.

We picked up a burrito at the Island Cafe.

At our table. The writing went well. Bruce sends a fond hello to his friend Harry the Bat!

A late-afternoon ferry back to the mainland.