Monday, August 18, 2014

Cottage Bouquet

 When we arrived at the cottage this year, a lovely bouquet of wild flowers greeted us. Thanks S and S!

As the light shifted swiftly in the late afternoon, I lost myself in taking photographs. The closer I got, the more magical it was. I was lost in detail... in a good way!

Eight Days on the Lake = Three Words: Too Much Happiness

I have so many years of photographs, I thought this year I'd just edit some of the video I took. Here you go - there's even seven seconds of me, slinking out from behind the camera for a change.

Canada's cottage country... can't be beat.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gosh, I Love Donkeys

 When I was five years old, we were living in Kuwait. I was sent home to London after school ended for the summer as I didn't seem to be faring well in the extreme heat. One day my aunt and her boyfriend took me to The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon, which has become a model for donkey sanctuaries around the world. It was founded in 1969 by Dr. Elisabeth Svendsen and you can read more about how it came to be right here. I still remember that visit, learning that donkeys were still being horribly overworked and badly treated in many parts of the world, including Britain. I learned that when they were admitted to the sanctuary, they were paired up with buddies, which not only offset loneliness but also helped keep the donkey calm if it had to have veterinary treatment; if their buddy was with them, they were more relaxed. I also remember one particular field where there was a miniature grey donkey, rather like the one below on the left, and a larger white one. We walked with them and I can still remember my arm over the larger white donkey and how rough and warm his back was.

Several years ago my mum and I visited The Donkey Sanctuary in Guelph, Ontario, which has been set up along the same lines as the one in Devon. It's a beautiful spot. The donkeys have so much room, and are excellently cared for by the staff and a slew of volunteers who do an excellent job as docents as well as more of the behind-the-scenes tasks.

Two friends and I were back this summer and it really is a special place. We hung out in the barnyard with some donkeys and even got to brush them. I knew their ears were big, but I was surprised at how lovely and furry they were, quite thick and rough. Check out those bangs!

All donkey sanctuaries need financial aid and support in other ways, like fostering donkeys on your property, sponsoring donkeys (I'm helping support Ruby who is just about a year old!), volunteering, and signing petitions, including this one that will be presented to the mayor of Santorini to ensure higher standards for the care of donkeys who act as taxis for the town.

A Treat for you

If you don't know the music of Tom Sturdevant, as sung by Annie Sellick and the Hot Club of Nashville, then here you go. You're welcome.

Two Words: Chocolate Cupcakes

Royal icing is so deceptively soft and voluptuous when first made. It always sort of surprises me that it hardens up in a very useful way. This particular batch was lavender, one of my favourite colours. And then there were cupcakes... devil's foodcake chocolate cupcakes! And there will be more this week and then a fortnight from now. I love making them. But I don't eat them. I'm gluten free and don't have a sweet tooth. Dark chocolate is my only sweet weakness. And baking is my zen.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Three Days in Prince Edward County

This was a golden moment. The fabulous four were visiting Prince Edward County again, staying in the lakeside cottage that belongs to one of the party. We were touring around one day and a small general store had two piglets outside in a little pen. It turns out that the general store is run by local farmers, hence the pile of home-made pies for sale. I never got to the pies... I was squeeing too happily along with the piglets. There was one pink female piglet, one black male one. I asked permission to pick one up and was in heaven. So small and sausagey and firm. Look at those little trotters! Having a relaxed piglet laying on one's bosom is a pretty special feeling,

We had a joke that later I would be photographed cuddling a packet of bacon. We ate a lot of bacon that weekend.Sorry piglets.

We also had cocktails on the dock from where we watched a slow sunset. We visited our friend's friend's restored mill, a cidery, a country cemetary tucked away on a well-cared for rural slope (South Bay Cemetary, founded 1820), ate good meals in good company, and hung out with little Dudley, a sweet old doggy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Five-Day Road Trip to Chicago

It’s rare to find anyone that you really enjoy travelling with. It's rarer to find three such people. I am lucky to know three people who are not just easy to travel with, but are delightful and treasured friends of many years, and so, once again, the fabulous four hit the road for Chicago. Of course flying was considered but, with suggestions for locations of interest that could be experienced along the way, it was decided that we’d drive. The main purpose of the trip was to see the Tiffany glass exhibit at the Driehaus Museum. The only other time I was in Chicago was 2008. That was in middle of Hurricane Ike and for some reason I never found a decent place to eat. What we could only hope for this time was what we got: constant sunshine, mild temperatures, and the best food.

We set off from Toronto on Thursday morning, hitting the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts (above) by lunchtime. The Diego Rivera murals (above right), the Scarab Club (below), and so much more were very worth the trip.

Later that afternoon we visited a blog favourite, the Motawi Tileworks in Ann Arbor. We spent the night nearby after a very satisfying dinner at Zingerman's Roadhouse. I'd never heard of it before, but by the time I'd finished googling it after dinner, I felt like the last person in the world to discover it. It's a national treasure and I'm so jealous that their monthly bacon box, or whatever it's called, can only be shipped to U.S. locations. That night I was catching up on Twitter and noted that the great film director John Sayles was visiting the Detroit area, specifically the University of Michigan, at a symposium about his work among other events that also included screenings and the opening of his archive. I gnashed my teeth that I had missed this by a day. His impressive entourage for the visit included his life/work partner Maggie Renzi and actor David Strathairn (secret boyfriend!).

The next morning, before hitting the road, we decided the only logical place to eat breakfast was back at Zingerman's where I had the best breakfast of my life. Onions, potato, bacon and asparagus were sauteed together before being topped by a beautiful egg, and accompanied by the best gluten-free bread I've yet tasted. I'm still thinking of this breakfast.

We hit the road and I pondered that there seem to be only three types of highway billboards in Michigan: churches, personal injury lawyers and sex stores. One after the other we were exhorted: Injured? Call us! Jesus Saves! 50,000 Square Feet of Sex Toys! We pondered why the "50,000 Square Feet" was important as as selling feature. So when a billboard suddenly popped up advertising the Kalamzazoo Institute of Art's exhibition of Tiffany glass, it kind of stood out - big time. This is the joy of a road trip... the surprises.


Kalamazoo was full of charming, clapboard houses and good people. The exhibit was excellent. It didn't just showcase stunning glass and jewellery, but also detailed the way Tiffany and his artisans worked and how the glass was treated and manipulated before being cut into different shapes.

By mid-day we were in Chicago. What a great city.

Our first stop was back at the 2nd Presbyterian Church that we first visited in 2008. There was a jumble sale in support of the church in progress and I picked up two lovely green platters made in Italy, for which they tried to charge me only a $1 each. Yeah. They got more than that. The volunteers were fantastic, taking us into the church and turning on the lights for us. Even the organist appeared and gave us an impromptu recital. Of course the main attraction was the stunning collection of Tiffany and Morris windows. The moment I stepped into the church my eyes got misty. These windows are so stunningly beautiful, and the church is so short of funds. They're trying hard to raise money to restore what they can, when they can. Oh, isn't there a sensitive millionnaire somewhere who'd like to save and restore these works of art? Below left you see up into a vaulted ceiling, and a small patch of restoration work in prrogress. Below right, patched carpet.


In the afternoon we arrived in Oak Park, revisited Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio and wandered the streets taking pictures of some of his other designed homes before realizing it had been a long time since breakfast at Zingerman's. In a pub in Oak Park that evening, I fell on a lamb shank like a slavering dog (well, not really, just kind of) and it was - again - delicious.

Tucked into my very comfy bed that night, I caught up on Twitter. John Sayles and Maggie Renzi, that fantastic director/producer partnership behind such great films, had visited the Diego Rivera murals the day after I had. Great minds... what can I say? ;)

Saturday started with perfection. Okay, the Richard H. Driehaus Museum isn't a home that William Morris would have loved, and normally a gilded age American home wouldn't be my sort of thing, but it happens to be the most beautiful home I've ever been in. My pictures don't do it justice. There isn't a square inch that isn't lovingly honed. There is the perfect balance between marble, wood and other materials. Just visit it. After a drool and some shopping in the giftstore (I indulged in every museum we visited), we headed off to the Loyola Museum of Art for an excellent and comprehensive Edward Gorey exhibit. Charming and whimsical. And I got a lovely print of my favourite Gorey illustration ever. It's just waiting to be mounted and hung. We had amazing burgers at Chef's Burger Bistro then headed off to Navy Pier for more of the Driehaus collection of Tiffany stained glass and more besides. Hot and tired after this, we did the only thing that you can do when you are hot and tired in a big city: find a cool, comfortable hotel bar. We escaped into the Bellwether Hotel where they took excellent care of us, serving us perfect tea and warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies with vanilla icecream. I think after that we could have handled anything. As it was all we had to do was step onto a boat for a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise. Sailing under the first bridge and seeing those well-loved towers soaring above me surprisingly brought tears to my eyes. Our excellent tour guide shared her extensive knowledge and it was so good to sit and absorb for an hour or so. After that the two ladies of the party hit Nordstroms on a flying visit (I bought clothes!) before an evening of food and laughs.


I checked Twitter again that night. Well.. look who had visited Zingerman's that day and had also returned.... for gelato. I thought of titling this blog post "My Trip to Michigan with John Sayles" but thought that would be borderline creepy. Heh heh.

On Sunday morning we drove through Riverside, a community designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who knew what he was doing. We saw a FLLW property that is for sale and very decrepit. Hello? Millionnaires? We visited the Art Institute of Chicago as the contermporary wing hadn't been open last time we'd visited. We had lunch in the treed and scenic courtyard and then saw the Viviane Maier photographic exhibit at the stunning Harold Washington Library (you can see the top floor atrium below), and the equally impressive Palmer Hotel with its glamorous, palm-festooned lobby and the shimmering, mosaiced Chicago Cultural Centre. Seriously... a great city. One of our party hadn't seen the Bean so we went to play there and at the wonderful outdoor concert shell, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry. We then had to find dinner. The place we'd planned on eating at was closed, so TripAdvisor came to the rescue and we ate at State and Lake Chicago Tavern which is located... at State and Lake. Such good food. This is where my friend started with Coalminer's Poutines (which included guanciale and a fried egg) and continued for his main course to consume the Butcher's Bigger Brother's Beef Brisket Bacon Burger on a Bun, which give you an idea why he was feeling he'd overdone it at the end of the meal. My baked wings were incredible. The best I've ever had. My mouth is still watering. We then headed into the sumptuous Chicago State Theatre for Eddie Izzard's show, which he's touring around, titled Force Majeure. Izzard was stylish, witty, eclectic, and the huge crowd couldn't get enough of him. He was doing three nights in Chicago alone!

The next day was a slowish drive all the way home to Toronto with a lunch stop off in Okemos, MI to see some more FLLW. I don't dream of living in a FLLW home, but there is something I find endlessly fascinating about his work.

It was a splended five days in June.

So What's Been Going on Around Here?

Today the polar vortex seized Toronto and I shivered my way home in my summer get up, dreaming of hot soup. And as I flapped my arms to warm up in the kitchen while the kettle boiled after my chilly salad, I thought about my blog and how I haven’t really blogged this year at all, well… not to any significant extent.

After a long, cold brutal winter, we’ve had a cool and rainy summer. Now with the nip of fall in the air I feel the need to warm up by the heat given off by my aging laptop, to catch up with the blogosphere, to put into words the deeds I’ve done and the thoughts I’ve had.

Are we ready?

Would it sound more attractive if I promised pictures of food from my travels? Food like… THIS?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Okay, everyone needs to stop talking about the endless winter.

Let's instead turn moments into celebrations.

What was I celebrating?

Not burning the candle at both ends and waking up under the world's best-loved duvet.

How did I celebrate?

Breakfast in bed. Topped with figs. In a martini glass.

In an hour, I'll light all the candles, turn off the electrics, and day dream through Earth Hour.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Big Fat Cake Project 2014

It was cake time again this week! Wondering what I"m blethering about? Check out the cakes we've done in the past at this blog post and - for more detail on how each came together - throughout this blog.

This time, I proposed to the team a pattern based on red. I've had a bit of a red obsession the last couple of years. We settled on William Morris's iconic Strawberry Thief pattern (see left), available as wall paper and fabric, and - er - featured on my newest handbag. It comes in different colourways, but red it was.

The first challenge was deciding what elements of this very dense pattern were going to be rendered, and how. Then, what other elements might be alluded to. Then we split up to do the pieces of icing decoration that could be created ahead of time. The last two weekends were spent on that.

Items like the birds and larger flowery/leafy elements were made with the colour flow technique. A royal icing outline is then flooded with a softer royal icing. More royal icing work is painted or piped on. The colours were tricky but we finally found a Wedgewoody sort of blue and green which were pleasing to our eyes. The green was moss green food colouring gel with a hint of black. The blue was cornflower blue, again with a hint of black.

On Thursday night, I stayed up and baked layers of chocolate cake, three layers at 18 inches square. My place smelt like heaven. On Friday morning, Laura and James showed up with their stuff and we began to assemble. The previous week James (the strong man of the group) had covered the cake board with lightly tinted fondant (so it wasn't glaringly white). We put a chocolately frosting between each layer, trimmed the edges, and then spread a thin coat over the entire cake to help the red rolled fondant stick to it. That was a big job, trying to manouveur the layers around without cracking them, and ditto for the large piece of fondant.

With our more complicated patterns in the past, we've used buttercream as a background which is like a frosting, soft and spreadable. But with fondant, which is pliable and which you roll out, we were able to place all the pieces gradually, and when we were pleased with the layout, to stick them down with dots of royal icing underneath, working like cement. We made fondant leaves and piped more royal icing to make stems, birds' legs, leaves, etc. Small three-dimensional fondant strawberries were placed at each corner, and a twisted rope of green and red fondant finished off the bottom of the cake. We waited till we were at the venue to apply the dark green ribbon around the base of the cake board. That Friday we worked from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

And once again, it was a calm and relaxed process. There's never any worries or tension. Thank you Laura and James for your collaboration once more! Eleven cakes later, we're pondering taking a break. Perhaps waiting for retirement to take on another? Who knows. What this space! Oh, and by the way - it tasted great! Moist and very, very chocolatey.