Monday, May 26, 2008

Away, Part One

I've decided this year not to take my vacation in one big chunk, but to break it up into individual weeks.

This week I am off to Stratford, a small city (pop. 30,000) set in a beautiful rural setting in southwestern Ontario that is very close to my heart.

The motto of the city is "Industria et Ars" and this sums it up pretty well. It was named after England's Stratford-upon-Avon, and indeed, the river that our Stratford sits on is also called the Avon.

Due mainly to the efforts of a local-born journalist, Tom Patterson, a Shakespeare festival was founded in 1952. Tyrone Guthrie came over from Britain as the festival's first artistic director, bringing Alec Guinness who was the title role in the first play to appear, Richard III. It is a major festival now, running April to November each season.

The mandate of the company is still to produce mainly Shakespeare (and that has recently been re-emphasized), but there is much else that fills out the season, from ancient Greek to contemporary, with the festival's musicals being highly popular as well. There are four theatres in all. The main one is the Festival stage, a very special place, designed by Tanya Moiseiwitsch, which features a thrust stage that incorporates the shape of both a classical Greek amphitheatre and Shakespeare's own Globe. It's a wonderful space to witness a great show. The actual building is designed to resemble the original tent that was the festival's first home.

As for what I'm up to... well - as little as possible. I'm being treated to a week of deep relaxation (no computer): long walks, massages, reading, and a few theatre tickets. I shall report back with my reviews on my return, on this you can be sure. Heh heh.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The 'Hood, Part Deux

Welcome back to my 'hood!

We leave St. James' Cathedral gardens (this time in sunlight)...

... and pass by St. Lawrence Hall, a very lovely building which is home to Opera Atelier and beautiful spaces that are rented for all sorts of special occasions. It also houses Biagio restaurant, which is an elegant spot to eat.

Walking south through a little pedestrian mews between King and Front streets, we turn back and see the spire before entering Front Street.

Looking west we see the lovely flatiron building, behind which you see the CN Tower, the world's tallest building (553 m, or 1815 ft tall).

The flatiron is having some work done on it I guess. I love this place, and it's home to a nice pub. In a week or two, if that work is completed, this building will be surrounded by an outdoor patio and lots of flower boxes.

Turning back east, here is my local liquor store, housed in part of Front Street's elegant facade.

And further east again, this is the St. Lawrence Market. From 1845 to 1899 it served as the first city hall. Since 1901, it has been Toronto's premiere food market, housing dozens of vendors specializing in every kind of food, from fresh, to ready-to-eat. I visit it several times a week, usually in off-hours, the best time to go. On Saturday it's very crowded but anytime is good: be sure to visit it if you come to town.

A couple of inside views:

Freedom from want:

The view from the north market (being renovated soon) towards the St. Lawrence Market. This is a delightful pedestrian walkway which houses a great health supplements store and a small cinema.

We have some stunning lilac out just now: pinks, purples, white. I buried my nose in this particular blossom for about 10 minutes, getting drunk on the perfume.

Lilacs and blossoms:

Okay, back to my place for a cup of tea and a madeleine. (I made them again for tea, by popular demand.)

Quote of the Day

That ukele king, and my personal hero, Tom Hodgkinson, has titled the ninth chapter in his great book How to be Idle: "4 p.m.: Time for Tea."

"The calming ritual of tea is another of those idle pleasures that have been sacrificed to productivity and profit in recent years. Whoever first conceived the idea of taking it at four o'clock was a genius. This is because 4 p.m. marks the point in the day at which one's energies are turning. The long, listless, flat hours between two and four, when it is impossible to do much and when the sensible idler has taken to his bed, have come to a close, and our brains are once again stirring. It's time not to do, but to think about doing."

And later...

"An early apologist for tea was Dr. Johnson. There was none of the oriental refinement in the way he drank it, and the custom of tea at four or five o'clock had not yet been invented. Dr. Johnson's attitude to tea seems to have had more in common with an inner-city crackhead than a Zen Buddhist. Here is how Johnson describes his habit:

[I am] a hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who has for many years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool, who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning.

Johnson became renowned for the sheer quantity he drank and the graceless speed at which he drank it."

Speaking of which... I haven't decided what we'll have at tea time today. Sunday afternoons... Mmmmmmmmm.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Another Two Hours I Won't Get Back


So what was somewhat right with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?

1. Cate Blanchett, but let's face it, she illuminates everything she does. She is wonderful as the gorgeous Russian villain, complete with riding boots, jodphurs, gauntlets, a sword by her side and a saucy Louise Brooks-type black bob. But even her (by her standards) regular performance stands out like a Sahara in the bleak desert of the rest of the film.

2. Indiana's house is really cool. This is a bad sign. I mean, when you see a live theatrical piece you hate, the only thing you can generally say is "Great set!"

3. Harrison Ford can't say "nuclear" either, so that was the big laugh of the film. Hmmmm.

4. My dislike of the movie was such that I quite enjoyed the post-show discussion.


What was wrong with it?

1. Achingly predictable from 10 minutes in.

2. Obvious steals from The Mummy movies and the National Treasure movies.

3. Karen Allen - although endearing - is not much of an actress.

4. CGI is distractingly obvious.

5. Harrison Ford looks good for his age but any charm is gone. He gives a joyless performance, deeply evident in the scene in his house with Jim Broadbent. His eyes are dead, his smile is forced. I had to wonder if he is deeply depressed?

6. Credulity is not stretched. Credulity is taken out the back and beaten to a bloody pulp. A few examples:

- a snake, given enough of a tug, will snap.

- Russian villains can hear people shouting for help in a quicksand when not more than a few yards away.

- A lot of very freshly-shampooed hair, and no pomade in sight. Not very 50s.

The Amazon rainforest is not full of clear, jeep-sized paths, that stretch (parallel to each other) for miles and miles at a time.

7. The cutes. This is a horrible touch. Cute groundhogs making cute sounds. Cute monkeys being cute. Cute, awful near-kiss from the two lovers. Cute family. Thanks Mr. Lucas.

8. The scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Karen Allen kisses Indy everywhere he hurts sent an adolescent me into paroxysms of lust. But apparently, as older people, the couple of the film have to be instantly de-sexualized in case anything - you know - unseemly happens. Hence having their dread offspring interrupt a kiss, etc.

9. The wedding. I'm a romantic, but give me a break. This was awful. These two would not have got married that way, but halfway up a mountain, or on the edge of a volcano.

10. A movie that has to have all the villains be foreign is outdated and offensive.

11. The character of a brilliant triple-agent-archeologist spy, or whatever the hell he was, is probably not best served by casting Ray Winstone, who delights in moronic remarks and dopier actions.

12. The most ugh-worthy soundtrack in years. The Indy theme is rammed down our throat quite violently and on many occasions. The worst part (see #7) is the cute version of the theme, when little animals appear. Where's Snow White when you need her? (I love that movie.)

13. Indy's got an instant family. So now we know that everyone is going to be justtttttt fiiiiiiiiine.

14. Really weird, golden light on everyone when there is a bit of emotion in the offing. Kind of creepy, especially during the saccharine wedding scene.

15. A lame script. They really seemed to have given up part way through. "Legend says that a crystal skull was stolen from a mythical lost city in the Amazon, supposedly built out of solid gold, guarded by the living dead. Whoever returns the skull to the city temple will be given control over its power." So original it hurts.

16. ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They got my $12!!!!!!!!

That's the lot... for now. I'm tired of bad films. Off to bed.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Song of the Day

I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart

I want to be a cowboy's sweetheart
I want to learn to rope and to ride
I want to ride o'er the plains and the deserts
Out west of that great divide
I want to hear the coyotes howlin'
While the sun sinks in the West
I want to be a cowboy's sweetheart
That's the life I love the best


I want to ride Old Paint goin' at a run
I want to feel the wind in my face
A thousand miles from all the city lights
Goin' a cowhand's pace
I want to pillow my head near the sleeping herd
While the moon shines down from above
I want to strum my guitar and yodelay-hee-hoo
Oh that's the life that I love


I want to be a cowboy's sweetheart
I want to learn to rope and to ride
I want to ride o'er the plains and the deserts
Out west of that great divide
I want to hear the coyotes howlin'
While the sun sinks in the West
I want to be a cowboy's sweetheart
That's the life I love the best


Okay, enough yodeling already. I don’t know much about country-western music, but I love this one. I first heard it featured on the soundtrack of Lone Star (1996) - it plays during the closing credits. This was written by Rubye Blevins, better known under her stage name of Patsy Montana. She recorded this in 1935 and it was the first country-western song by a female artist to sell over 1,000,000 copies. It has since been covered many times by other recording stars, but I’ve never heard them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"She cooks as good as she looks"

I know I go on about the lack of good thrillers on the screen and yet I still fall for the promise of a chill-ride. Recently I saw 88 Minutes (2007), a last-minute error; and Deception (2008), lulled into feverish excitement by the combination of Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman, the latter only taking his shirt off once, the handsome rotter! Awful movies. Combined, that makes about four hours I’ll never get back.

At the same time, I caught the original Stepford Wives (1975) on TCM. Now that’s a good thriller. I hadn't seen it in years. We sat there and hardly moved a muscle until it was over.


The interesting thing was that apparently Ira Levin, the author of the original book (which I never read), wanted the wives of Stepford in more overtly sexual outfits, sort of like Playboy bunnies. But director Bryan Forbes wanted to go with the more obviously docile and feminine look, all 70s floppy hats and voluminous, white frilly dresses. Yes, the latter look is pretty twee but much more plausible. A town peopled with Playboy bunnies is going to get a worrying amount of attention from the outside world, and surely it is the fear that the Stepford husbands feel that bring them to Stepford in the first place, to tame their wives into docile dream dolls and keep them from the outside world. Well, Forbes won and I think it a good thing. The extreme femininity, like most extremes is scary… the men are scary… Stepford is terrifying. So, when a remake was in the works I was most intrigued. The result was horrible. They did away with the ballsy chilling film that Forbes gave us, and instead came up with a goofy comedy with an upbeat ending. I suppose the attempt was to make a Hollywood blockbuster. But think of the possibilities if they had played it straight and sought to frighten us: set in a gated community: Stepford Acres. Eek!! I'll hide under the bedclothes tonight.

It was the same creative tragedy with Spoorloos (1988), a terrifying Dutch film, remade into The Vanishing (1993), which gave this horror an upbeat ending, and basically killed it. I won't tell you what happens, but only watch Spoorloos if you are not alone and are not sleeping alone. Seriously.

Another Kidman film that jumped the shark the minute the story was approved is The Invasion (2007), a dreadful, tepid remake of the two earlier Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies (1956 and 1978). The minute you see that our heroine has a cute, blond, tow-headed youngster, well, you know it’s got to have a happy ending, right? Nothing bad ever happens with a child around. Remind me to borrow a cute kid next time I take plane anywhere. Shameful premise, ghastly film. But how could I not see it? Daniel Craig, my secret boyfriend, was in it too, dashing in his corduroys. Years ago, an actress friend of mine remarked that the camera loves Nicole Kidman. It still does. She has a rare, removed love affair with the lens that is still there, despite the work she’s had done on her face. Maybe it’s that reserve that keeps that love alive. Certainly I find her fascinating and will see her in almost anything.

And finally, hunky Jackman and fascinating Kidman together at last! I found this link on Eagle Wing's blog: the trailer for the new Bazz Luhrmann film, Australia. I can't wait till November!

(Title quote: Peter Masterson as Walter Eberhart in The Stepford Wives, 1975.)

Quote of the Day

"3 p.m.: The Nap" is the title of chapter eight of How to be Idle, that great little book by my hero, Tom Hodgkinson. In it he quotes Winston Churchill:

"You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That's what I always do. Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one - well at least one and a half, I'm sure. When the war started, I had to sleep during the day because that was the only way I could cope with my responsibilities."

Thanks Mr. H. and Mr. C.! This chapter is very close to my heart. I have become a proficient napper. I look forward to these little escapes into the arms of Morpheus, and feel all the better for them when I awake, stretching, yawning, idly gazing out of the window as I let my body wake up in its little stages. It is soothing, comforting, healing, indulgent, sensual, and my absolute right. I embrace my freedom to nap!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Quote of the Day

“They both had a good wide rump and slope from hooks to pins, but what carried it was the udder.”

Timothy Bentinck as David Archer in The Archers, (May 13, 2008)... Britain’s rurally-set, radio soap opera, on air since 1951.

UPDATED: with correct terminology courtesy of Cattle Judge. Tanks mon.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Food: Good. Hunger: Bad

Cooking has been very dominant on my blog lately. I'm deriving some real relaxation from it, almost like a zen experience as I lose myself in the process. Today I tried two new dishes - Salmon en croute and Betsy's Chewy Pecan Cookies - and one old favourite: Steamed Lemon Treacle Sponge.

Salmon en Croute

This recipe is from French Food at Home, hosted by Laura Calder, on Canada's Food Network.

1 x salmon filet, about 1-1/2 pounds/750 g
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed
1/4 cup crème fraîche
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Zest of 1 lemon
1 lb. sheet puff pastry (2 sheets)
Salt and pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten

Skin and bone the salmon and set aside. Heat the oven to 450°F\230°C. Cut the tips off the asparagus, and poach in boiling salted water until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well, refresh in ice-cold water, then drain again, leaving to sit so that all the water comes off. Purée and stir through the cream, dill, and lemon zest, to blend. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Lay the puff on a damp baking sheet with the long edge facing you. Lay the salmon on the pastry, like a picture in its frame. Season with salt and pepper. Lay the raw stems of asparagus on top of the salmon, like pencils. Spread the purée mixture over top.

Brush the margins with the egg wash. Lay the top pastry over the salmon and press the edges to seal, like a giant ravioli. Trim the edges, leaving a 1-inch/2.5 cm border. Press with the tines of a fork, then, with the dull edge of a knife, scallop the edges. Make two or three slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Brush all over with the egg-wash glaze and bake until puffed up and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool five minutes before slicing to serve. This dish is also good at room temperature.

MY NOTES: I can't get crème fraîche here, so followed Delia Smith's tip by mixing 1/2 whipped cream with 1/2 greek or balkan plain yoghurt. It worked a treat. This was the first time I'd worked with puff pastry, so I didn't get all the scalloping, etc. but it worked out well basically, although I found the bottom a bit wet after cooking. Any tips anyone? We served it with baby greens and a fresh dill/lemon/safflower oil dressing. The portions were big and we were very happy. I will definitely be doing this again, maybe serving at room temperature next time, as it is likely to be in the middle of the summer.

Just out of the oven:

First cut: I originally cut a piece off the wrong edge, which is why you don't see it. It looks much better cut this edge, so you see the little asparagus ends, AND it doesn't fall apart.

For pudding, we had an old favourite, rarely indulged in:

Steamed Lemon Treacle Sponge

This dish is a very traditional English steamed pudding. It is served hot, and releases the most delicious sweet, lemony aromas. It is infinitely indulgent and comforting.

2 to 3 tbsp golden syrup
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 oz. butter (one stick)
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp lemon zest
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 -1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
milk to mix

Lightly butter the insides of a two-pint pudding basin. Mix the syrup and lemon juice in the bottom. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the beaten eggs and the lemon zest. Add the flour mixture to this and mix well. Add some milk until you have a soft "dropping" consistency. Turn it into the buttered pudding bowl. You will notice the syrup/lemon mixture ooze up the sides as it is displaced - do not be alarmed. :)

Cover well with a double layer of parchment or aluminum foil (I use one layer of each, parchment closest to the food), folded to create a steam allowance. Tie off well with string, with which you should also fashion a handle so you can remove the bowl later.

Place the pudding bowl in a large pot with simmering water, which should not be allowed to reduce to lower than the level of the pudding batter, no less than 2/3 up the level of the pudding basin. Steam for 2 hours.

When turned out, slice and serve with your choice of custard or whipped cream (the latter was our choice tonight as we had some left over from the salmon dish.)

I was able to take lots of pictures of the pudding process as I have done it many times. But so excited were we to dig in, I forgot to take a picture of an individual serving. Guess I'll just have to make another one. Hee hee.

And here is the second new recipe of the day: Betsy's Chewy Pecan Cookies. My mother has already declared these her favourite cookie of all time. Thanks Betsy!

With a bite taken out of it: I love playing with my camera's macro feature, in case you hadn't noticed. :)

Rainy Afternoon + Cool Simpsons Game = New Look

Stevyn's blog directed me to this site. Hee hee!

Rainy Afternoon + Cat + Brush = New Look

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I was at some crummy party somewhere, and here's my agent talking, and he says, 'So, what do you do?' I said, 'You're my agent!' I'll never forget him saying that."

Bruce Robinson (writer, director, actor, and one of my secret boyfriends)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Not my Bag, Baby

I started watching the repeat of the Met's HD broadcast of Roméo et Juliette, with Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna but I stopped pretty quickly. Here are my reasons:

1. They had no chemistry
2. He was wearing baby-blue velvet or something. Ugh.
3. He has a coarse voice, not at all suited to the role. We need an Alfredo Krauss type here.
4. She is so ravishingly beautiful but her ball gown was so grown up, she looked far too mature for the part, yet still played it somewhat girlishly. Odd combo.
5. We're spoiled here in Toronto with the COC's chorus. I find the Met chorus very wobbly. I'm not sure what their procedure is for weeding out the tired voices, but they don't seem to be.

I'm going to bed with J. J. Cale. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Blog Princess Presents the King of Cheeses

I have already referenced my discovery of Colston Bassett stilton on this blog. Here is the full story and tonight's update.

A couple of years ago I was at a dinner party of all artists (two opera singers, one director, one pianist), all except for me - however we were all food appreciators. On the side board was perched a stunning piece of stilton and the hostess said to me, "I hope you'll be trying that later." I replied "Oh, listen, it looks great, but I really don't like strong cheeses." I went on to explain that I hadn't actually tried stilton in years. She replied with, "Do me a favour: just try a small piece."

And so after dinner I did. I couldn't believe it. I was so used to an eye-watering variety of smelly vileness, but this cheese, although very strong and smelly, had a rich, creamy smoothness that had me under its spell.

Then our hostess told us the delightful story of being in the Neils Yard store at London's Covent Garden market and asking them where in North America she might purchase Colston Bassett stilton. They fetched out a small box with hand written cards in it, and informed her that a certain Alex Farm Cheeses in the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto carried it. This was great luck indeed as this wonderful market happens to be about a five minute walk from where our hostess works and from where I live.

It wasn't more than a few days later when I showed up at Alex Farm Cheeses and made a very expensive purchase of the stilton to take to visit my parents over Easter. I've been a fan ever since.

And tonight we treated ourselves to a very rich and easy meal: Delia Smith's recipe for Stilton Soufflé Omelette. Here it is, transcribed:

This is a great recipe for one person. It's quick and easy, yet special and different. If you want to make it for two people, use a 9 inch (23 cm) pan and double the ingredients. It is excellent served with a tomato and basil salad.

Serves 1

3 oz (75 g) Stilton, crumbled
3 large eggs, separated
½ oz (10 g) butter
1 level tablespoon freshly snipped chives
salt and freshly milled black pepper

You will also need a 7 inch (18 cm) solid frying pan.

First pre-heat the grill, then put the frying pan on to a medium heat. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and leave them on one side while you beat the egg yolks in a separate bowl and season them well. Now melt the butter in the hot pan, being careful not to let it burn, then quickly fold the egg yolks and half of the Stilton, plus the chives, into the egg whites.

When the butter is foaming, pour the mixture into the pan, shaking the pan to make sure the mixture is evenly distributed – don't be tempted to stir it, though, or you will knock the air out of it. Cook the omelette for about 1 minute and then slide a palette knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan. Now scatter the remaining cheese all over the surface, then place the pan under the grill, 4 inches (10 cm) from the heat, and let the surface cook for about 1 minute, until it is lightly tinged brown and the cheese is melting. Then remove the pan from the grill and, using the palette knife, carefully loosen the edges, fold one half of the omelette over the other, slide it out on to a heated plate and serve immediately.

This recipe is taken from
Delia’s Vegetarian Collection. It has also appeared in Sainsbury's Magazine (Dairy Collection).

MY NOTES: I multiplied the ingredients for three people and about doubled the cooking times. I also used a 10" pan. The servings were very generous. VERY generous. This recipe is easy and so delicious. A real keeper! I'll try it again with different flavourings.

A hunk of beautiful cheese:

The mixture shortly after being poured into a hot pan. It was already incredibly fluffy and, with a hot pan, the mixture stayed this way:

The omelette has just come out from under the grill. Gently goldened and still wobbly-soft:

The omelette was folded over before being cut into servings. At its thickest it was about 4" tall and meltingly fluffy. We ate it with a very simply dressed salad.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Quote of the Day

In his book How to be Idle, my hero Tom Hodgkinson (editor of The Idler) titles chapter seven, "2 p.m.: On being ill." Now bear in mind, he's not talking about life-threatening situations, just those nasty old colds and such like. Willow, I think you might appreciate them.

Not just one quote, but three:

"When ill, you can avoid all those irksome tasks which make living such hard work. You don't even have to get dressed, for one thing. You can pad around the house in your dressing gown like Sherlock Holmes, Noël Coward or our friend, that hero of laziness, Oblomov. 'The dressing gown had a number of invaluable qualities in Oblomov's eyes; it was soft and pliable; it did not get in his way; it obeyed the least movement of his body, like a docile slave.'"

"When ill, you are the master. You do what you like. You can wander over to the record player and put on your old Clash albums. Stare out of the window. Laugh inwardly at the sufferings of your co-workers. You can surrender to delirious netherworlds as you fall in and out of sleep. You can even imagine yourself to be a latter-day romantic poet, pale, consumptive, surrounded by beautiful, adoring young girls."

"What happened, I wonder, to the doctors of the turn of the century, who used to recommend long periods of inactivity on the South Coast for minor ailments? These days doctors just sell you pills, but there used to be a wonderful medical prescription known as the 'rest cure' - in other words, the only way we can cure this is for you to do as little as possible for as long as possible. When the sickly, velvet-coated dandy Robert Louis Stevenson fell ill in 1873, aged 23, the diagnosis was 'nervous exhaustion with a threatening of phthisis' and the prescription was a winter on the Riviera 'in complete freedom from anxiety and worry.'"

Tom Hodgkinson: Such is my devotion to you that I could say that if I were less lazy and somewhat inclined to have children, I would want to bear yours. But truthfully, I'd rather just hang out with you and listen to Clash albums in our dressing gowns.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Up for a Walk?

There are two types of places I am happiest living in. One is deep in the downtown depths of a city. The other is right outside in the country. For now I am living in the former. I’m in Toronto, as is obvious, and, as I like to say, if I were any more downtown, I'd fall into Lake Ontario!

For exercise I take long, brisk walks (okay, brisk-ISH), and there are several which I do in rotation. Some of these are not pretty, part of the reality of living in a city. But some are gorgeous and occasionally on this blog, I am going to highlight some of the interesting spots I pass. Here is my immediate neighbourhood as it appeared yesterday, in the full, ardent embrace of spring. I can feel my sap rising just looking at these blossoms. And could this city get any girlier right now?

A few minutes later, and I'm puffing my way along King Street East, between Jarvis and Church streets. Here we find St. James Cathedral and its lovely gardens, so beautifully illustrated on Bachelor at Wellington’s blog, courtesy of his new Toronto friend. We look north and see the fountain and part of the gardens.

A close up of one of the dickie birds that seem to prefer this fountain to Lake Ontario, just a bit south of here, and one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world. But more on that on another walk.

And a close up of the base of the fountain. I think these are cormorants, which are birds creating some real trouble for the Toronto islands, but more of that on another walk too.

Then we turn south and look at St. Lawrence Hall, the second floor of which was a beautiful ballroom and concert venue for visiting artists in the 19th century. Part of it is now the home of Opera Atelier, and is also the venue for wedding receptions and a very excellent restaurant. One of the charms here is the real gas lights that still burn outside it. I shall get a picture at dusk and post it soon. Honest guv.

We finally turn west and see the splendid cathedral. The first Anglican service was held on this spot in 1793, when the Town of York was established (now Toronto). The fifth - and current - iteration of this building opened in 1853, after the devastating fire of 1849 that destroyed so much of the city. The architect of this Gothic Revival cathedral was Frederick Cumberland, and two more of his buildings were completed the same year and still stand. More on those on another walk.

The gardens here are a delight in all seasons and a beautiful spot for contemplation. The bandstand is often a shelter at night for some of the less fortunate of our fellow citizens. Well, I reckon if you have to sleep rough, this is a good spot for it.

Well, I'm pooped. Let's head back to my place for a wee dram of Cardhu and some good bread and cheese. Good idea?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Quote of the Day and a Mum for All Time

Isaac: I got a kid, he's being raised by two women at the moment.

Mary: Oh, y'know, I mean I think that works. Uh, they made some studies, I read in one of the psychoanalytic quarterlies. You don't need a male, I mean. Two mothers are absolutely fine.

Isaac: Really? Because I always feel very few people survive one mother.

Woody Allen as Isaac and Diane Keaton as Mary in Manhattan (1979).


This is not the case for me. My mother is the most loving, fun-loving, generous, free-spirited, youthful, capable, smart woman I know. By the way, she's on the left. :)

I love you Mom... Happy Mother's Day! (She's not a blog reader... so fingers crossed she'll see this.)

Happiness is...

... this love letter to New York.

Top Ten Lines from Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979), in no particular order.

Isaac: Chapter One. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Beneath his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. I love this. New York was his town, and it always would be...


Party Guest: I finally had an orgasm, and my doctor said it was the wrong kind.
Isaac: You had the wrong kind? I've never had the wrong kind, ever. My worst one was right on the money.


Isaac: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? Y'know, I read this in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, y'know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.
Party Guest: There is this devastating satirical piece on that on the Op Ed page of the Times, it is devastating.
Isaac: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.


Mary: Don't psychoanalyze me. I pay a doctor for that.
Isaac: Hey, you call that guy that you talk to a doctor? I mean, you don't get suspicious when your analyst calls you at home at three in the morning and weeps into the telephone?
Mary: All right, so he's unorthodox. He's a highly qualified doctor.
Isaac: He's done a great job on you, y'know. Your self esteem is like a notch below Kafka's.


Isaac: What are you telling me, that you're, you're, you're gonna leave Emily, is this true? And, and run away with the, the, the winner of the Zelda Fitzgerald emotional maturity award?


Isaac: Why is life worth living? It's a very good question. Um... Well, There are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. uh... Like what... okay... um... For me, uh... ooh... I would say... what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing... uh... um... and Wilie Mays... and um... the 2nd movement of the Jupiter Symphony... and um... Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues... um... Swedish movies, naturally... Sentimental Education by Flaubert... uh... Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra... um... those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne... uh... the crabs at Sam Wo's... uh... Tracy's face...


Isaac: You're God's answer to Job. You would have ended all argument between them. He'd have said "I do a lot of terrible things but I can also make one of these. And Job would've said "OK, you win."


Isaac: They probably sit around on the floor with wine and cheese, and mispronounce allegorical and didacticism.


Yale: It's just gossip, you know. Gossip is the new pornography.


Tracy: Not everybody gets corrupted. You have to have a little faith in people.

Something Gingery and Sweet

No, not another picture of Tibby...

I decided to bake the weekend's treat a little early and to use one of my new honey purchases, Vipers Blugoss (borage honey from New Zealand) and Tasmanian lavender honey.

This recipe is new to me: a friend of mine brought me a slice of cake to work that really tickled my tastebuds. This was spicy, not too sweet, and very much the sort of thing you could eat at almost anytime: breakfast, tea, or after dinner. The recipe is from Regan Daley's excellent In the Sweet Kitchen. It's called a sticky gingerbread, but I would describe it as a very moist, spicy cake.

I've copied it here, with my notes at the bottom:


Black Sticky Gingerbread

Serves 10 to 12

Dark, moist and not overly sweet, with that almost-burnt caramel and spice flavour, this is the ideal anytime (read: breakfast!) cake. My grandmother would never forgive me if I didn’t recommend whipped cream as an accompaniment

1 cup unsalted butter
½ cup water
¾ cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses
¾ cup flavourful honey, such as a dark wildflower, berry or chestnut
1 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves
3 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup 2% milk
1 packed tbsp grated fresh ginger root

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a 9" x 9" x 2" baking pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper that has been cut to hang over two opposite edges by a couple of inches. This overhang will make removing the cake from the pan clean and simple.

2. Combine the butter, water, molasses, honey and brown sugar in a medium non-reactive saucepan and place over low heat. Stir the mixture frequently until the butter is melted, and all of the ingredients are well blended. Remove from the heat, pour into a large bowl and set aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, all spice and cloves and set aside. When the molasses mixture feels just warm to the touch, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the milk and stir to combine. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter in four additions, using big, long strokes. Don't be concerned if you can't get all the lumps out - settle for most of them! Stir in the grated ginger.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the centre of the oven for 1-1/4 hours to 1-1/2 hours, or until the top of the cake springs back when touched and a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then, using the overhang of parchment, lift the cake out of the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Well-wrapped in plastic, this gingerbread actually improves with age. If stored at room temperature, it will have a sponge-cakey texture and will keep for about 4 days. Refrigerated, it becomes stickier, denser and wonderfully chewy and will last at least a week. Allow the cake to return to room temperature before serving. This cake is fabulous warm, and the only adornment it needs is mounds of softly whipped cream.


I baked this in buttered bundt pan and the time was much less than 1-1/4 hours, in fact it was exactly 50 minutes. I also left out the grated fresh ginger, but I'll try this next time.

Captain Luke on the Case

There are many aspects to Captain Luke's persona: son of Delaware, salt-encrusted dreade pirate, and now, it seems, ace boy spy. In my post of May 7, something didn't ring true for the brave captain, and so - after some digging around on the internet- he came to the conclusion that Mr. Larry Lamborghini had at least one more alias, along with his penchant for great Italian sports cars.

I didn't believe him at first... but the pictorial evidence is most intriguing.

Here is my postcard of Larry "Lamborghini", as he saucily names himself:

And here is what Captain Luke dug up online... two photographs of a Mr. Larry Ferrari, as he boldly named himself on an official headshot...

and on his Christmas album of organ favourites.

What do you think? I was all very "pish posh" when Captain Luke gruffly approached me with his theory, but, having closely examined the eyes, the smile, the nose, and most certainly the eyebrows, I am almost convinced that he is correct!

What do you all think?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Eros versus Morpheus

One reason I enjoy opera is the noise and action. As an audience member I like action. If I’m at a lecture, I need a good slide show if I’m expected to stay awake. But put me in a comfortable seat, a warm room, dim lights and some beautiful music but no action, and I’m gone. That's usually okay with me and with my neighbours because I’m still, I don’t snore and I’m pretty sure I don’t drool (at least if I do the evidence has been wiped away by the time I wake).

Now, if you google Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande you will find many adjectives. I am quite keen on adjectives and I would have to concur with the following list:

subtle ~ haunting ~ mysterious ~ elusive ~ magical ~ fatalistic ~ shimmering ~ beautiful ~ fleeting ~ ethereal ~ obsessive ~ ravishing ~ elusive ~ erotic

But I would have to add one more that I feel sure I would have found before long on my search results:


Is there any solution to this, in my opinion, unstageable opera? Orchestrally, three fairly brilliant composers have taken a crack at Maeterlinck’s Symbolist play (from 1902): Schoenberg, Fauré and Sibelius; and one operatically: Debussy. I’ve given Debussy’s opera several attempts now. But it always works the same way. I listen to the first ten minutes, all shimmering, haunting, slightly-creepy music and a minimum of action and then… zonk, I’m out like a light. I’m not just dozing. I’m gone!

I won’t go into the details of the production I just saw. Okay, I’ll fess up: I don’t feel I can comment fairly because, apart from the fact that the bits I heard sounded pretty good (okay, Russel Braun was fantastic), I was asleep for about 80% of it. I don’t have sleep issues, I’m not overly tired. But this opera is one long lullaby! As for the eroticism, I caught moments of it when I woke. “Wha~? Oh. Oh!… mmmm… snooze.” Never was eroticism so vaguely out of reach, so fragile and annoyingly delicate. When the opera premiered in 1902, a Paris Conservatory professor criticized its “filthy score”. That might give a hint to a possible solution (she intoned hopefully). I’ll bet a bar of Soma’s Madagascar/Conocado chocolate that a really naughty production of Pelléas et Mélisande keeps me awake.

It's HERE!!!

Summer is here, no matter that it's a cool night.

Not five minutes ago the tinkling bell of the ice-cream truck came calling to me from down the road. As a kid, I always had to have the soft whipped ice cream dipped in that miraculous chocolate-like coating AND ideally with a flaky bar stuck in the side. Mmmmmmmmm... Later I fell for those rocket ices (what was the name?), with the red/blue/white stripes. Later still, I'd have an ice cream sandwich, the large chocolate cookies sandwiching the firm vanilla ice cream.

I'm not going to partake, having a Lindor ball instead. BUT... I love that delightful, tinny melody.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Come for a Visit

What's not to love about a postcard featuring potted palms and a pocket hankie?

And on the back, the credit: