Monday, December 29, 2008

As a New Year Dawns, Remembrance of Things Past

In 1987 the film Aria was released, and it has stayed with me ever since. Ten film directors (including Robert Altman, Bruce Beresford, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell, and Julian Temple) took ten pieces of opera and set them to music, like a series of music videos. The results were as varied as the styles and approaches of the interpretations. I believe a new DVD was just released this year.

There is much to be said for most of it. The segement that infiltrated my imagination again this morning was "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise, directed by Derek Jarman, with a very young and radiant Tilda Swinton as the young woman and Leontyne Price singing. It's beautifully filmed, with a framing device of a lovely, striking old lady taking curtain calls, and remembering as she does, an early love - her first, if you take the words of the aria literally. It's magical the way the sparkles on her fan dissolve into the sparkles on the water. Is she an actress or is this curtain call an allegory for death? I like the latter idea. What a way to go that would be. Here's a rough copy of the video. Thanks YouTube and francescaxx!

Depuis le jour
(Music and libretto by Gustave Charpentier)

Depuis le jour où je me suis donnée,
toute fleurie semble ma destinée.
Je crois rêver sous un ciel de féerie,
l'âme encore grisée
de ton premier baiser!

Quelle belle vie!
Mon rêve n'était pas un rêve!
Ah! je suis heureuse!

L'amour étend sur moi ses ailes!
Au jardin de mon coeur
chante une joie nouvelle!
Tout vibre,
tout se réjouit de mon triomphe!
Autour de moi tout est sourire,
lumiére et joie!

Et je tremble délicieusement
Au souvenir charmant
Du premier jour

Quelle belle vie!
Ah! je suis heureuse! trop heureuse...

Et je tremble délicieusement
Au souvenir charmant
Du premier jour

Since the day I gave myself,
my fate seems all in flower.
I seem to be dreaming beneath a fairy sky,
my soul still enraptured
by that very first kiss!

What a wonderful life!
My dream was not a dream!
Oh! I am so happy!

Love spreads its wings over me!
In the garden of my heart
a new joy sings!
Everything resonates,
everything rejoices in my triumph!
About me all is smiles,
light and happiness!

And I tremble deliciously
at the delightful memory
of the first day
of love!

What a glorious life!
Oh, how happy I am! Too happy!...

And I tremble deliciously
at the delightful memory
of the first day
of love!

(Translation by Stacey Martin)

Friday, December 26, 2008

And verily, Blog Princess G went back on her diet

... so that she could wear this cap again, sans irony.

And Lo, it was Good... and Lo, I am Fatter

From our Christmas breakfast (while unwrapping presents) of buttered panettone...

... to Christmas dinner...

... I indulged and it was marvelous.

The menu was similar to last year's with some changes:

Chestnut and sweet potato soup (the recipe comes from this excellent blog)
Sage and cheddar biscuits

Maple-glazed ham
Turkey breast rolled with cranberry and cashew stuffing
Butternut squash crumble
Green beans and shiitake mushrooms
Cranberry, orange and port relish

Dark sticky gingerbread with whipped cream
Single-malt scotch truffles

Single-Malt Scotch Chocolate Truffles

(Makes 20 large or 30 medium truffles)

1 cup heavy cream
10 oz. dark chocolate (I used 75% Callebaut), chopped into small pieces
3 tbsps. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tbsps. single malt scotch or cognac, brandy or whatever takes your fancy
14 oz. dark chocolate for coating

Bring the cream to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and add the 10 oz. chocolate. Stir gently until melted. Stir in the butter until melted, then the liquor. Strain into a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap (touching the surface of the chocolate) and chill for four hours or overnight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Using a small ice-cream scoop, scoop up the mixture into small balls and place on the parchment. I find dipping the scoop into hot water between each ball helps the process. Freeze the balls for an hour prior to coating. For best results, temper the chocolate to be used in coating (I have yet to learn how to do this.) Melt the 14 oz. coating chocolate in a double boiler, dip the balls in using a fork and let them chill and harden on parchment. That's it!


There is something magical about the process of melting chocolate and cream together. At seems it just looks like pale murk... and then, magically, there is the darkness of the melting chocolate surging up...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Bruce and I hope you are warm, loved, happy and safe this Christmas. See you in a day or two!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cheddar-Cheese-and-Sage Biscuits

Christmas dinner preparation is underway. As they were last year, these biscuits are included on the menu. They're from Martha Stewart's magazine, December 2003. I really like this recipe... the biscuits are light, fluffy, flavourful, and freeze and defrost really well.


Makes about 16

You can freeze these biscuits once they've been baked, wrapped up well, up to one week. Thaw on counter and serve.

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
4 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp paprika
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 cups grated cheddar cheese (9 ounces)
2/3 cup thinly sliced fresh sage
2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten
1 tbsp heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and paprika. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cheese and sage. Pour in the buttermilk, and stir with a fork until mixture just comes together to form a sticky dough. On a lightly floured work surface, with lightly floured hands, pat dough into a 1-inch-thick round.

Using a 2.5" biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut out the biscuits as close together as possible. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

In a small bowl, stir together egg and cream. Lightly brush top of each biscuit with egg wash. Bake, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Not Being Coy About Weighing In...

It's just that my scales won't work. And no funny remarks as to why that might be the case.

As soon as they are working again or replaced, I will mark my progress. What's annoying is that I'm SURE I've reached the 25% goal.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Eagle Spreads His Wings Once More

A year and a week after his arrival, Tibby's mum and dad have their home ready and so he's off today to their new digs. I'm going to miss my ginger donut, but, as he's about a five minute walk away, I'll get lots of visits in.

Last night I poked my camera between the branches of my Christmas tree and got this shot of him watching the lights, as he seems to enjoy doing most nights.

Happy trails Inspector Tibblesworth!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nothing Says "Three Weeks 'Til Christmas' Like the Smell of Coal Car Stew

If you want to give yourself a delightful, whimsical treat, visit Cecil and Britches, where you can watch their new adventure, Coal Car Stew, and then two more seasonal stories (Crumby Presents and No Santa Today), starring my favourite sock-monkey/wooden donkey duo.

This is the most delightful stop-start animation and it just leaves me wanting more. :)

"One could say they've caught afire."

He Guards the Tree

Does he look like he's kidding?

Chocolate Gingerbread

(taken from Nigella Lawson’s Feast)

"Makes about 12 slabs. I'd never come across a chocolate gingerbread, and after making this one for the first time, I wondered why not. There's something about the glottally thickening wodge of chocolate chip and cocoa that just intensifies the rich spices of gingerbread. The chocolate chips add texture and nubbly treat within. This is very rich, very strong: not for children, but perfect for the rest of us.


For the Cake
175 g Unsalted butter
125 g dark muscovado sugar
2 Tbsps caster sugar
200 g golden syrup
200 g black treacle or molasses
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/4 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
2 Tbsps warm water
2 x eggs
250 ml milk
275 g plain flour
40 g cocoa
175 g chocolate chips

For the Icing
250 g icing sugar
30 g unsalted butter
1 tbsp cocoa
60 ml ginger ale


For the Cake
Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/170° C and tear off a big piece of baking parchment to line the bottom and sides of a roasting tin of approximately 30 x 20 x 5cm deep. In a decent-sized saucepan, melt the butter along with the sugars, golden syrup, treacle or molasses, cloves, cinnamon and ground ginger.

In a cup dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the water. Take the saucepan off the heat and beat in the eggs, milk and bicarb in its water. Stir in the flour and cocoa and beat with a wooden spoon to mix.

Fold in the chocolate chips, pour into the lined tin and bake for about 45 minutes until risen and firm. It will be slightly damp underneath the set top and that's the way you want it. Remove to a wire rack and let cool in the tin. Once cool, get on with the icing.

For the Icing
Sieve the icing sugar. In a heavy-based saucepan heat the butter, cocoa and ginger ale. Once the butter's melted, whisk in the icing sugar. Lift the chocolate gingerbread out of the tin and unwrap the paper. Pour over the icing just to cover the top and cut into fat slabs when set."

//My notes: I halved the slab, made the amount of icing and only coated one half of the gingerbread. I found the icing way too sweet, but - based on the reaction of my workmates - the icing was a very popular touch. I cut the slab into small squares like with brownies, which is what this gingerbread really is. This is a winner - I recommend!

Now Why Can't Our Weather Be Like This?

[whiny hand flappings]


It's true! It's true! The crown has made it clear.
The climate must be perfect all the year.

A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there's a legal limit to the snow here
In Camelot.
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
In Camelot.
Camelot! Camelot!
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot
That's how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Camelot! Camelot!
I know it gives a person pause,
But in Camelot, Camelot
Those are the legal laws.
The snow may never slush upon the hillside.
By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Song of the Day

Someone to Watch Over me

There's a saying old, says that love is blind
Still we're often told, "seek and ye shall find"
So I'm going to seek a certain lad I've had in mind.

Looking everywhere, haven't found him yet
He's the big affair I cannot forget
Only man I ever think of with regret.

I'd like to add his initial to my monogram
Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?

There's a somebody I'm longing to see
I hope that he turns out to be
Someone who'll watch over me.

I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood
I know I could, always be good
To one who'll watch over me.

Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome
To my heart he carries the key.

Won't you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh, how I need
Someone to watch over me.

Strange Harmony of Contrasts

(The quadrangle at Trinity College at dusk )

I entered December decidedly not in the Christmas spirit. Now, as it happens, Protege's delightful blog is one of my absolute favourites, and it was this and other wonderful posts describing her Christmas plans in Denmark - and past memories - that seemed to flick the switch in me, and get me excited at last for what is my favourite time of year.

It was a beautiful weekend... I bought my tree and decorated it, and Tibby was very intrigued by the process, and he is photographed below with the tree while it was still naked.

I got the gingerbread dough ready, baked the Christmas cakes and attended a service of lessons and carols at Trinity College Chapel, in the most excellent company. It's held by candlelight only, with everyone holding a taper. This makes the service more enjoyable for me as I have something to concentrate on, specifically not getting melted wax all over me, which is a challenge as I love playing with it.

Upon our return, we watched - as is my tradition - The Snowman (1982) and had a warming supper of - they're back! - lamb shanks in red wine.

And this week... a slight shift in experiences. I finished Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut) on the recommendation of a wise friend. This is a book to experience over and over. Billy Pilgrim travels through his own life, hopping back and forth along the time continuum; from his childhood to his adult life as a seemingly mild-mannered optometrist, to his blackly hilarious war experiences - particularly in the time leading up to the bombing of Dresden. This book will have to be revisited, and the book I bought with it, Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, is sixth in the pile of books on my bedside table. I can't wait to reach it! Strange little story: when I went to buy the two books, I found a sign on the fiction shelves where the Vs were, telling me that for Vonnegut I was to ask at the information desk. I did so. It turns out that all the Vonnegut books and Hunter H. Thompson books (the other author I was advised to try) were kept behind the counter as they were the ones most likely to "walk." Interesting.

I'm lucky to live within short walking distance of several different theatres and Wednesday evening took off to attend a play: Frank McGuinness's Someone to Watch Over me, a powerful work in two acts, directed by Tegan Shohet with a cast made up of three of Canada's finest actors: David Ferry, Ryan Hollyman, and R.H. Thomson. The play, first produced in 1992, tells the story of three men, an Irishman, an American and an Englishman (no joke), who are imprisoned as hostages in Lebanon of the early 1990s. The theatre was intimate and the set was a simple, stone-walled cell. The curtain music for both acts was Ella Fitzgerald singing - sublimely - the song for which the play was named. The relationships between the three men were inspired by the very real experiences of men like Brian Keenan and John McCarthy. I just read one review and it wasn't very positive, but I hardly read reviews any more, most of them are just a load of bollocks. I found the production moving and mood/thought-provoking. The relationships between the men were beautifully drawn and evolved so naturally over two hours, from hilarious to terrifying, tender and rage-inducing. There are moments I'll never forget, like the expression in R. H. Thomson's eyes as he looked from one of his cellmates to the other, seeking reassurance - one of the benefits of a small space. I felt very good coming home, very grateful at this season, and all others, to have a warm home and to be living in relative safety.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


It's bedtime, and I'm really in the mood for breakfast.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Little Shakespeare in the Night

Sonnet 99 (Shakespeare)

The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet
that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dyed.

The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair;
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;

A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both,
And to his robbery had annex'd thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.

More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
But sweet or colour it had stol'n from thee.

Don't be Frightened of the Fruitcake!

I'm not sure where this recipe came from, I just know it makes my favourite fruitcake. This is fruitcake for people who don't like fruitcake. Not too sweet, light in colour, and deliciously moist and with a heavenly fragrance. I am salivating just smelling the cakes I baked this weekend. Oh yes, that's the other benefit: you don't have to remember to start these months in advance.

Sherried Raisin Fruitcake

Moist dark fruitcakes usually need a longtime to age, but this one slices well in three days after baking. Nevertheless the flavour mellows the longer the fruitcake ages.

2 cups dark sultana raisins (Thompson)
1-1/2 cups currants
1 cup seeded raisins (Lexia)
2/3 cup sherry
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 tbsp each of grated lemon and orange zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tbsp fancy molasses
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup ground almonds

In a bowl combine the Thompson raisins, currants, Lexia raisins, sherry, carrot, and lemon and orange zests; cover with plastic film and let stand overnight.

The next day, toss the fruit mixture with 1/4 cup of the flour.

Grease an 8" springform pan; line the base and sides with parchment paper, then grease the paper.

Sift together the remaining flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the brown sugar until fluffy; beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in molasses and vanilla; add almonds.

Stir in the flour mixture, one third at a time; stir in the fruit mixture.

Turn into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.

Set a shallow baking dish half full of boiling water on the bottom rack of your oven. This will help keep your cake moist. Bake the cake on centre rack in a 250F (120C) oven for about five hours or until a paring knife inserted into centre comes out dry, covering loosely with greased parchment if it begins to crack. Let it cool in the pan on a rack until the centre is completely cool. Remove from the pan; wrap it well and store for at least 3 days or up to 1 month. Makes about 30 slices.

MY NOTE: Nowadays I make three small cakes out of the recipe. Takes about 2.5 hours and they are just more manageable as small gifts. This one below is one of those three cakes!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

23.97%... and counting

Thought I'd hit the ole 25% mark this week, make that 1/4 gone... oh well. I nearly didn't post this, but that's the whole point, right? Right.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Some Recent Films

This post contains spoilers... not really serious ones in my opinion, but... you heff been varned!


This is a film I'd been meaning to see for so long and I'm glad I finally did, on some wise advice! This is one of the few Coen brothers films I hadn't seen. It reminds me in some ways of Raising Arizona (1987). A big lug of a man finds himself up against big money and some tough guys, albeit, some pretty surreal ones. Jeff Bridges makes a great lug, "the laziest man in L.A. County", in his lounging pyjamas and unwashed hair. John Goodman is brilliant and virtuosic as his pal, a Vietnam vet, and Steve Buscemi is unsettlingly normal in his role as their soft-spoken friend. It's a great cast, including Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This is one I have to see again.

"That rug really tied the room together." (Jeff Bridges as the Dude)



I saw this opening night. In all my years I have only walked out of three movies. This was number three. I'd save your money and the two and a half hours you'll never get back. I won't go on about it.

"I don't have enough time left on this planet to watch the rest of this movie." (Blog Princess G)



Wow. Considering Marc Foster's CV, and based on how magnificent I thought Casino Royale (2006) was, I was really expecting something special. I was disapppointed. It may not be fair to compare everything in both movies, but on all counts this film suffers. The opening song is a bore. The opening credits are technically clever but the theme is a throw-back to the old 70s Bonds, with naked women illustrated in silhouette. Not my bag, baby. We also have that particular theme that I had hoped was gone from Bond films: sadistic treatment of women by powerful men. Oh boy. The settings are gritty and realistic, but I longed for a bit of Lake Como or Montenegro. Here we have the baking desert of Bolivia and the slums of Haiti. The world is not in trouble (although I'm not downplaying the seriousness of water monopolies), but this film seems to be acting as a set up for future movies, introducing Quantum as the new evil empire. The female lead (apart from the wonderful Judi Dench as M) is Olga Kurylenko and she was lovely and strong, but with none of the irony of Vesper. Sigh. The secondary female character is an odd creature, apparently a by-the-book underling from the local MI-6 office, but dressed in boots and a short trench-coat, looking more like a low-rent stripper. There is no sexual tension, but minutes after meeting, we gather that she and Bond have gone at it. Blimey. I really like Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter and Giancarlo Giannini as Mathis, but... well, I guess that's it really. Oh please, as this was a step back, let the next Bond be another step forward, as Casino Royale was... please!

"Take a deep breath, you only got one shot, make it count." (Daniel Craig as James Bond)



An interesting experience. Based on a true story, it tells its grim and almost unbelievable story very well, but little stayed with me. Angelina Jolie is gunning for another Oscar. She certainly manages to keep her white gloves clean from the vat of red lipstick she wore in this film. Her hand was constantly flying to her amazing lips in a gesture of despair. But somehow... no marks! Well, I'm glad I saw it. I like her and I'm a fan of Clint Eastwood and my loyalties run deep.

"Fuck you and the horse you rode on." (Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins)



Ah, now this was fun. As a vampire lover I was drawn to see this. And if I'd been 14 years old I would have fallen in love with it completely. As it was, it was a fun couple of hours, giggling at the deep self-importance of disenfranchised teen vampires, their battle with pancake makeup and lipstick (that's just the blokes), who to invite to the prom, and figuring out how to matriculate... yet again! Watching Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix (2007) last night, I recognized Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory, because he plays Edward Cullen in Twilight, the super-dreamy teen vampire who develops the serious hots (in his cold-skinned way) for lip-biting lovely Kristen Stewart. The film is visually stunning. The camera loves that Pacific northwest coastline. The 16-year-olds in the audience were sniggering a bit, but guess what? I'll be back for the sequel, if only to satisfy my inner 14-year-old. :)

"I know what you are. You're impossibly fast. And strong. Your skin is pale white, and ice cold. Your eyes change colour and you never eat or come out into the sun." (Kristen Stewart as Isabella Swan)



Werner Herzog, international saucepot, states at the start of his documentary of Antarctica that he is not here to make a cute penguin film. Part way through the film he caves as he interviews a long-term resident penguin expert. "Are zere gay pengvins?" "Have you ever seen a pengvin go inzane?" There is much to learn here and much to ponder. One young resident puts it well when he explains that it is as if all the people in the world who cannot settle where they are - if you give the world a shaking - they all fall down to the bottom. And that's Antartica. It's a fascinating place. I had no idea of the sort of underwater life forms that existed there. I highly recommend! And Herzog's narration is worth the price of admission alone.

"I voz not goingk to make a cute pengvin movie." (Werner Herzog)



Bill Nighy works for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but that is all he seems to have going for him in his rapidly aging existence. He meets a strange and lovely young woman in a cafe, and - as shy and hesitant as he is, manages in a short amount of time to invite her to be his guest at the G-8 summit, which is taking place the following week. Well, for some reason she needs no security or background checks before sharing his hotel room in Iceland, and having access to all his papers. He asks her nothing about herself (I was sure she was going to turn out to be a reporter but I was wrong, dagnabit), but he finds out a few things before the end of the film. Interesting stuff. Richard Curtis is a very successful writer/director (although David Yates directed this and he's doing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!) but why can't he let a good story just play itself out? Love Actually (2003) drove me nuts; any one of those mini stories bore telling itself in a full-length film, but it seems gimmicks always win the day. I would have loved to have seen this hesitant love story between a torturously shy man and a mysterious, damaged woman played out for its own sake, and not just been a wrapping for a (albeit highly worthy) piece of propoganda. I liked this film in parts, yet also found my toes curling.

"Ah, three hours next to the dullest man in Canada... and that's a pretty competitive category." (Penny Downie as Ruth. Hey... heyyyyy, just watch it!!)