Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Snowing

I'm home for the second day in a row, felled by some dreaded lurgy.

And it's snowing.


Then I saw this, and cheered right up.

A Walk to Cherry Beach, Part the Zillionth

Again... a few weeks back. Now all is leafless and grey.

Oh, and the Cirque du Soleil big top.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Trees, Quakers

On that same day trip to Uxbridge, we also stopped at the Quaker Meeting House (that also took part in one of our car rallies). It was a perfect day to see the last of the fall colours, which have been particularly yellow this year, giving a golden light to all around.

Thomas Foster's Taj Mahal

As you drive north of Uxbridge, Ontario, you'll come across a gob-smacking structure, the Thomas Foster Memorial Temple. Built in 1935, it was inspired by the Taj Mahal, holds the body of Foster, his wife and daughter, and plays host to weddings, concerts and other events. A stunner in every way, it caught me and my friend Dave off guard the first time we saw it. We included it in one of the three car rallies we organized, and have never forgotten it. On a day trip recently, I visited it again with my friend Barbara and, not able to get inside (and it's amazing in there) we took a load of pictures of the outside.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


It rained today, with that soft, permanent feeling that made me think of England. I spent happy hours in my study.

Years ago I collected, as is my way, a fine supply of fallen birchbark (never to be peeled off the tree, that would be like skinning it! Ugh), and pinecones, both big and tiny. They have sat in a paper bag for a long, long time.

Today I took an ugly glass vase and covered it in birchbark. I love the result. My nature treasures have transformed a useful, but plain, object, bringing more of the outdoors that I love into my very urban, ninth floor home.

Making the mess was half the fun. The little pinecones have inspired me... I'm seeing a small gingerbread house with pinecone shrubs around it, and pussywillow thatch atop it.

The bark peeled in layers, revealing the soft pink within.

The lovely red paper bags that you get when you shop at the Bay make wonderful storage for things you want to let breathe. There's also something... oh, very reminiscent of the outdoors about that brilliantly reinvigorated brand. I hung some mini cones from the top of the vase.

A copse of little cones.

In its place.

Lunch was vegetarian chili, the left of the big batch I made and froze. With it I enjoyed some vegetarian Indian chickpea treats. So nummy.

Dessert was the last of the dainty and strong lady apples, seen below against a honeycrips. I love apple season! They're so small, these lady apples, which proves again how small versions of almost anything are adorable: cupcakes, babies... etc.

On my walk there were very few bursts of colour. This was one of them.

And now... a nap is in order.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cottage Weekend

It was a few weeks back now...

"Within 20 years of Susanna's and Catherine's summer trip in 1872, the whole area had acquired a new name, the Kawartha Lakes (a corruption of the Ojibwa word kawatha, meaning 'bright waters and happy land'), and become an established part of the summer cottaging ritual for many Canadian families."

From Sisters in the Wilderness by Charlotte Gray

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Song of the Day

What a treat.

Wish I
Written by Tom Sturdevant
Performed by Annie Sellick and the Hot Club of Nashville

Milk, Music, Nature, Art, Inspiration

Last summer I had the good fortune to see Le otto stagioni at the Sony Centre. Otto stagioni (eight seasons) was made by adding Piazzolla's Las cuatro estaciones porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) to Vivaldi's Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons). So, four seasons plus four seasons equals eight seasons. The seasons were sort of... mixed up, and the Italian Baroque met the tango deliciously well, and - as much as I'm not a fan of mixing up pieces like this in a sort of wackily melodious salad - I enjoyed it, as performed by the La Scala Chamber Orchestra.

Now, as it happened, a few weeks before that I also saw a wonderful documentary called Milk War, which has won the James Beard Foundation Award (sort of food Oscars!).
It tells the latest instalment in Michael Schmidt's story, as his organic dairy farm is raided and he is charged with criminal offences, namely the distribution of unpasteurized milk.

It's a chilling viewing. The arguments against Schmidt are uninformed and backwards in thinking. Schmidt argues for choice in the matter of milk, and standards, which - currently - are not in place, opening up the possiblity of something going very wrong, sooner than later.

Narrated by Colm Feore and made for not very much money, it's a must-see for anyone out there worried about the food they consume and the big agri-business behind so much of it.

Coincidentally - and I love links like this! - Michael Schmidt is not only a bold and determined and somewhat eccentric farmer, he's also an impresario, hosting music performances in his farm's magnificent barn. Symphony in the Barn is a Durharm county highlight. I only attended once (I'd love to go again), and the performance I attended?... Le otto stagioni! It was magical. Sitting there in the barn, the music began, played by black-clad, barefoot young musicians in the rafters, accompanied by the songs of the birds that congregate up there. The musicians slowly descended from the huge beams, and the performance began, with the participation of two very striking tango dancers. Nature and art together. Perfection. And what Schmidt does with his milk, with his compassionately raised and slaughtered meat is another sort of art, and one I hope he can continue expressing for a long time. The man has a battle on his hands and I hope you will read up on the links in this blog post for more information! By the way, unpasteurized milk is legal in the U.K. The Royal Family supports it.

Another fine food documentary I saw this year was Kings of Pastry (2009) or, as I like to call it, The Anti-Food Network Show. Every four years (like the Olympics), competitors vie to win the celebrated red, white and blue collar, indicating that they are MOFs (Meilleur Ouvrier de France, or Best Craftsman in France). As you can imagine, great pastry chefs from all over come to compete, but not against each other, as there is no limit to how many MOFs can be created each four years. They are battling againt themselves, time, humidity, and just plain luck. The support they give each other, as stressful as the three-day competition is, was a relief to witness after the depths to which so many TV cooking shows have descended... food as specatator sport, accompanied by bleeped bad language. (Bad language should just be left in; who hasn't heard it all by now?) No evidence of that in Kings of Pastry. When one contestant sees his breathtaking sugar scultpure go crashing to the ground, the judges themselves (all MOFs) tear up. I teared up when one contestant, during his practice months back home, tossed a multi-layered cake of exquisite proportions... into the trash. Noooooooooo!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

White Chocolate and Rhubarb Cheesecake

I'm a fan of rhubarb and had a fair bit of it that I had frozen in the summer. I'm not a fan of white chocolate, and I had no idea why there was so much of it in my cupboard. I got to use both in this recipe from the LCBO's excellent, free Food & Drink magazine, Spring 2002 issue.

I made it twice this fall, and it stood in well the second time on Hallowe'en night, as "Blood and Brains Pie"!

Cooking the rhubarb:

For the crust, I used Betsy's excellent ginger cookies, that I have learned make great cookies and great cheesecake and tart crusts!

Dolloping the rhubarb in the white chocolate filling before swirling:

Post swirling:

Yum yum:

White Chocolate and Rhubarb Cheesecake

This tastes best at room temperature, so remove it from the fridge about an hour before serving.

Rhubarb Swirl:
2 and 1/2 cups (625 mL) thinly sliced rhubarb, about two to three stalks
1/3 cup (75 mL) granuluted sugar
2 tbsps (25 mL) orange juice

1/4 cup (50 mL) melted butter
1 and 1/4 cups (300 mL) graham wafer or ginger cookie crumbs

White Chocolate Filling:
Three 8-oz. (250 mL) packages of block cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch
3 eggs
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
2 cups (500 mL) sour cream
8 oz. (250 g) white chocolate, melted

1. In a small saucepan, stir rhubarb with sugar and orange juice. Cover and set over medium heat. Stir occasionally until rhubarb is very soft, about 10 minutes. Uncover and stir frequently, mashing with the back of a spoon, until rhubarb forms a thick purée, about five minutes more.

2. Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

3. Lightly butter bottom and sides of a 9.5" (24 cm) springform pan. In a small bowl, stir crumbs with butter until mixed. Press onto bottom of pan. Bake in centre of preheated oven until set, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely. Leave oven on.

4. Meanwhile, using electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add sugar and cornstarch, beating until well combined. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down sides as needed until incorporated. Beat in vanilla and salt. Stir in sour cream and white chocolate just until mixed.

5. Wrap the underside and halfway up the sides of the springform pan with a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Pour half the cream cheese mixture into the pan. Drop half the rhubarb purée by spoonfuls over cream cheese. Using the tip of a sharp knife, swirl rhubarb into cream cheese. Fill with remaining cream cheese mixture and rhubarb purée, swirling remaining rhubarb with the tip of a knife.

6. Set pan in a larger ovenproof dish. Fill larger dish with enough hot water to come about 1 inch (2.5 cm) up the sides of the pan. Do not fill water higher than the foil. Bake in centre of preheated oven 45 minutes. Leaving door closed, turn off oven and leave cheese cake in oven for one hour. Remove pan from water and discard foil. Run a knife around outside edge of cheesecake. Cool in pan on a rack at room temperature for one hour. Refrigerate overnight. Cheesecake will keep well refrigerated for several days or can be frozen. Serves to 10 to 12.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Leslie Street Spit

The Leslie Street Spit is a landfill success, a place for wildlife and people to get away from the traffic and crowding of downtown Toronto. My favourite time to walk it is in the winter, where there is less chance of being mown down by bikes.

We took this walk in the late afternoon a few weeks ago. Much of the foliage was past its prime, but was we basked in was the hazy melancholy of an aging year.

The most beautiful blue I think I've seen in person.

A lone boat. On the other side of the spit sits a busy marina.

This more recent landfill project attracts migrating birds and waterfowl in general.

Downtown Toronto in the distance. See the CN Tower on the right?

Good work, beavers!