Thursday, March 31, 2011

Taking Some Time

... to get out from behind my computer, and out of the kitchen, for some face time. Back soon!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Big, Fat Cake Project

The inspiration for this year's big cake project was Red House, designed by Phillip Webb for my personal hero, William Morris. J and L and I worked for three days to make our Ginger Red House (heh heh). The original is pictured below (I borrowed this picture from the Victorian Web). The house is now in the care of the National Trust and is an icon of the Arts and Crafts movement.

J and L made an amazing prototype of Red House out of card, so that we would have the individual pieces to make out of gingerbread.

They even sourced the floor plans. We built the house on a piece of acetate, that sat on the plans. The acetate was the only piece of the whole cake that was not edible.

The walls took one whole day.

And here is the finished cake. It sits on a three-layer chocolate-cherry cake. In front of the house sits its well and the Morris family (just one baby at this stage) sitting on a Willow pattern inspired carpet. The grass is made of food-coloured shredded coconut.

This overhead shot shows all the pieces of the roof... which itself took one whole day. Very fussy!

A few more photos.

Making the little fondant figures were fun, as it was - for a change - a small, not-too-messy job. That's the end of my pinky finger to show some scale.

A view of the front entrance.

The side...

The cake was 5" tall and 17" x 17". I was worried about making it too soft to hold up the gingerbread house, and I made it a little dry by mistake.

The cake at the event.

The gingerbread was both tasty and strong. I used my favourite recipe, found here. We used 38 eggs for the entire thing.

Thank you J and L for being such great collaborators! We worked for three days and it was smooth sailing all the way through.

And thank you William Morris, for the constant inspiration!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cake Project

Well, I have a post sort of ready, but it won't format properly. Watch this space.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Yum Yum!

Buttercream... icing sugar... cake... back soon!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unforgettable Monster

The National Theatre's live HD transmission of Frankenstein (written by Nick Dear, directed by Danny Boyle) is stunning. I urge you to attend the second transmission on March 31. If you know the real Frankenstein, the brilliant and tortured creation from the mind of the 19-year-old Mary Shelley, then I believe you'll love this. And even if you don't know the book, you'll get a pretty good idea of what Shelley's monster was all about.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller are sharing the roles of Frankenstein and his monster, an interesting experiment played onstage in the past by actors sharing Otello and Iago, or Don Giovanni and Leporello. The psychological possibilities are endless. This is great theatre, and makes for great post-theatre conversation. And I know this will haunt me for a long time to come.

I saw Cumberbatch as the monster, one of the finest performances I've seen in my life; and Miller was Frankenstein. In the second transmission the roles will be reversed.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The Untold Want
By Life and Land Ne'er Granted
Now, Voyager
Sail Thou Forth to Seek and Find"

(The Untold Want, Walt Whitman, 1892)

A friend of mine returned from a two week cruise on Cunard's Queen Victoria. He said he felt the whole time as though he were in a movie. I'm saving my pennies!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Big Cake Project 2011, Part One

The last of the shopping takes place this lunchtime, and then I should be in good shape. Last night, on my way home from the movies, I purchased 48 free-run eggs and four pounds of unsalted butter. "Guess what I'm to?" I asked the checkout lady cheerily. She gave me a wan smile.

Still the One

Sitting at a performance last week of Mozart's Don Giovanni, I started pondered its standing in my heart. I first got to know it through the strange and wonderful 1979 Joseph Losey film of the opera with its stunning photography of Palladian villas and its echoey soundtrack. The opera, with its wealth of wonderful music remains the one I'd take to a desert island if I only had the one choice.

I certainly didn't have time to think on that question during last week's performance. The young cast at the University of Toronto's Opera Division were very fine, with some particularly outstanding voices, including Aviva-Fortunata Wilks as Donna Anna, a very witty Fabian Arciniegas (no awful hamming) as Leporello, and Geoffrey Sirett in the lead role. There was invigorating direction by Allison Grant and conducting by Miah Im. It is so refreshing to be witness to the energy of a young company.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Palely Loitering

There is no charm in the Toronto Transit System, although I always enjoy riding the streetcars through the city. But at Museum subway station (which disgorges you in front of the Royal Ontario Museum) they have attempted to make things a little playful. While palely loitering there a few days ago, I took some shots.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Almost... There

"Rainpools in the woodland, water to my knees,
Shivering, quivering, the warm breath of spring"

by Gordon Lightfoot (Pussywillows, Cat-tails)

Yesterday... the first little bulbs appeared.

Im lucky to live a stone's throw from two great theatres in the city. An industrious man was cleaning up the front of Canadian Stage yesterday, and by day's end their large pots looked quite outstanding.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

There and Back Again

I never get bored with Cherry Beach. Sunshine at last, and melting ice, and sparkles on water. I was a very happy girl yesterday, as I did a quick stroll there and back again on my lunch hour.

And the artwork of Gregory Alan Elliott.

Thank you Mr. E. You've made a dreary bit of Cherry Street more special.

As If...

I needed more reason to extoll the joys of the St. Lawrence Market...

Placewares is situated in the middle of the ground floor, a fun, colourful space packed with so many of the doodads one would want in their kitchen. The staff must be the owners themselves as they are so on top of things, and very friendly. I never come out of there without some new, highly useful gadget.

This week it was Easter cookie cutters.

I'll be back.

Monday, March 14, 2011

At Last

Sunshine after six days of grey skies and rain. Thank you.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Good Evening

Miserable, sleety and cold Toronto streets were melted from my conciousness once I was warmly esconced in my red, velvet chair in the Elgin Theatre. I don't recall them being so nice and squashy!

I was there for a performance of the Toronto production of Barrymore, starring Christopher Plummer, who had played the role of film/theatre legend John Barrymore several years ago on Broadway, for which he won the Tony. Plummer is over 80, and not to sound ageist, but the man is a marvel. He's sprightly, wry, sexy, bears impeccable timing and has great legs in tights. The script, by William Luce, was highly quotable, very witty... I shall have to see if I can purchase it. It's by turn sweetly sad, naughty and insightful. And, by the way, Plummer does a great Lionel Barrymore impression as well!

Afterwards, we ended up at Mercatto on Toronto Street... perfect for post-theatre dining. A glass of Prosecco, some light and perfect arancini (small balls of risotto filled with cheese and lightly fried), and the fluffiest gnocchi I've ever had in a delicious lamb/basil sauce. I slept like a baby.

As Long as There are Trees to Hug

As usual when there is a disaster such as the earthquake/tsunami nightmare in Japan, I venture into a regular train of thoughts... I send out my prayers, guiltily count my blessings, ponder the devastation, wince as I consider humanity's insidious effect on our planet and its environment, and shiver to realize how close any of us are to a potential similar disaster.

My next thought is usually a fatalistic one, beyond the possibilities of real optimism, and that is that earth will one day, sooner than later, rid itself of the pesky cancer that is slowly and surely destroying it. To save itself, earth will rid itself of us. We've been not so much guardians as pillagers. I don't think this in an angry or frightened way, but - as I said - somewhat fatalistically. And it's almost comforting when I think, in centuries, or millenia to come, that the earth will start to replenish itself, a beautiful big, blue/green marble, floating in its Milky Way.

Reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman set me on this path of fatalistic prediction. It's a compelling read, one which haunts me constantly, in a good way. Did you know that each piece of plastic you have handled in your life time - the packaging your first barbie doll came in, the broken toy truck which your parents through away - is still with us? That even if we were to all disappear overnight, it would be millenia before much of the devastation we have caused to our natural world would be righted, and that much of that devastation never can be, so powerful and deadly are our chemicals? There are too many of us and we all want too much. At a post-theatre dinner last night we talked animatedly about the scourge of our age: entitlement... we want it all, and I believe we'll lose it all.

Of course, thoughts like this are always married with the marvel of what we have created in art, architecture, thought and learning. It's intriguing how our species comes together in groups, in communions, to share art together, to worship together, to help each other. Of course you have the mob mentalities of the Hitler rallies and other such negative forces... so you see how it goes, my mind jumps around, the scales dip and weigh. I believe that those scales will right themselves at the end, and I do believe that we're doomed.

But hey! It's Saturday morning, I'm alive, there are eggs in the fridge, and there are sweet blogs to catch up on. I will buy myself some trivial item from the shopping list today such as new cloth napkins for the Easter table, or some padded clothes hangers.

After four days of rain, there is sunshine in the forecast and climbing temperatures, there are friends and trees to hug, so I'm feeling very lucky... while it lasts.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A BPG Recommendation!

Every year at the Christmas time One of a Kind Show here in Toronto I stock up on the amazing Coach House Shortbread. Hand-made by the multi-talented Carl Stryg (I believe he has been a ballet dancer and opera singer at different points in his career), they sport butter as the first ingredient, and an array of wonderful flavours besides.

A couple of nights ago I was hosting a meeting at home and cracked open the last packet... dark chocolate and fleur de sel. Not only are they meltingly delicious, but all of Coach House's packaging is exquisite, making them the perfect gift. They make savoury flavours too... let me recommend the stilton-and-rosemary shortbread, but make sure you buy two packets. Your guests will embarrass themselves by how greedily they scoff them down. I'm not attending the spring edition of One of a Kind, but Coach House Shortbread will be there. Try them, you won't regret it. As for me, I've only sampled about three of their flavours. There are quite a few more to try.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Enough Already

There are parts of the world, not too far from here, where it's spring, with bulbs bursting forth. In Toronto winter has been long and tiresome and now we're in the grip of horrible bout of freezing rain/snow, which means that walking is treacherous, rain is horizontal and I'm fed up.

There had to be warm food tonight, or I might have run amok. And there it was. The chicken was exotic and tender (I marinate and freeze lots of batches ahead of time for such ghastly nights), baby bok choi was plentiful, all atop some fragrant rice. I'm happy now.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

That Time Already?

Yes, indeed. As I get older, Christmas comes around so much faster. So does the annual big cake project. It's here! Watch this space as plans are firmed up.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

By Grabthar's Hammer!!!

Last year I gave up chocolate for Lent, but it turned out not to be a big deal, and I succeeded happily.


Giving up bread for Lent a few years ago proved to be the only time I failed to keep my Lenten promise. I don't like failing, so I'm having another go.

Farewell dear vessel of cheese, marmite, jam, prosciutto and all the other great substances you have carried to my waiting mouth... until we meet again, dear carbohydrate.

By Grabthar's hammer, I will prevail.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fine China

It's Sunday morning and I'm getting going, after a leisurely dim sum breakfast at home. T&T supermarkets has a branch on Cherry Street (part of my regular walk, as this blog well knows), and it's one discovery after another. This huge space is packed full of mostly Asian product. Aside from the long aisles of regular produce, there's a great hot-food deli area, and tons of frozen dim sum items begging to be taken home and steamed into submission. My freezer is full once more! I took some pictures of the charming packaging (how I love seeing produce that I'm not used to, especially with wording other than English), but was pounced on and told I wasn't allowed to. I'll be sure to photograph some of my purchases and post them some time.

Friday night I was at opening night of Yellow Face, playing at Hart House till the end of next week. This play by the Chinese-American writer David Henry Hwang (M Butterfly) premiered in 2007 with the playwright in the lead role, playing... himself. Friday night's performance was the Toronto premiere, and Hart House presented it in partnership with fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company. I enjoyed this tremendously. The set was a simple wooden frame giving a distorted perspective. The costumes were identical: all the men and women were in grey suits (jackets and pants) with white shirts and a small red pocket square - very effective, and allowing some of them to play multiple roles with zero confusion. I'm not sure if this was a fully professional production or not, and it's been my experience that this doesn't always matter anyway. There was some range of strength in the actors, but outstanding in the cast were Kristoffer Pedlar, David Fujino, and especially Emily Opal Smith, who brought to mind the great comic Hollywood actresses, and who I hope to see on stage somewhere again, soon.

The play, which is based on autobiographical experience, reflects on David Henry Hwang's participation in the protests when Jonathan Pryce was brought to Broadway to play the Eurasian pimp in Miss Saigon. What happens next is funny and heartbreaking. The themes of race, what we claim as our history and identity, even what we look like, is examined in Yellow Face. Memorable quote after quote kept leaping out at me. It's a script I'm going to buy and treasure...

... unlike Miss Saigon, whose book and music I hope never to experience again. I saw it last summer. The performances were very fine, with the excellent Ma-Anne Dionisio in the title role. But the music... the agony of one over-wrought, mawkish ballad after another... I would have left at intermission, only I couldn't believe it wouldn't get better. It didn't. The production and the cast were so far above the material. If you want the original, done well, with only a touch of mawkishness, I recommend a good performance of the original work, Madama Butterfly, but good luck finding a good performance of that - it's a tough one to do well. Act II is like a non-stop aria for the soprano, who also has to carry off a most sensitive acting job. Outstanding was the COC's production a couple of years ago, with Yannick-Muriel Noah.

Yellow Face brought up a lot of thoughts and questions, and I found myself pondering two other performances I'd seen recently: two different productions of John Adams' opera, Nixon in China. One was live, the Canadian Opera Company's production here in Toronto; the other I saw in the cinema, the live HD transmission from the Met in NY. Different, but both very strong. And like any good piece of art, I am pondering it still, and the music stays with me, as do some of the words, just seeping up from my subconcious every now and then. I'd see it again. I'd see Yellow Face again, too.

And, on a glibber note, I'll be enjoying my steamed dumplings again.

Quick Dinner, Early Night

I'm still making my Thai chicken satays. I freeze them once they're in their marinade, and then defrost what I need, when I need it. I usually have them with steamed baby bok choy. A bowl of warming goodness, which is just perfect after a tiring day in the middle of a cold snap.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Shopping... blah blah blah... shopping

A week of power shopping came to an end with a great bargain: long black leather gloves for $20, at the St. Lawrence Market of all places. I like the "long" part. My wrists are warm once more.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Little Blog!

And quite an impressive vocabulary for a four year old!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Song of the Day

We're all Alone
(Boz Scaggs)

Outside the rain begins
And it may never end
So cry no more
On the shore a dream
Will take us out to sea
For ever more
For ever more

Close your eyes and dream
And you can be with me
'Neath the waves
Through the caves of ours
Long forgotten now
We're all alone
We're all alone

Close the window
Calm the light
And it will be all right
No need to bother now
Let it out, let it all begin
Learn how to pretend

Once a story's told
It can't help but grow old
Roses do, lovers too, so cast
Your seasons to the wind
And hold me dear
Oh hold me dear

Close the window
Calm the light
And it will be all right
No need to bother now
Let it out, let it all begin
All's forgotten now
We're all alone
All alone

Close the window
Calm the light
And it will be alright
No need to bother now
Let it out, let it all begin
Throw it to the wind my love
Hold me dear

All's forgotten now my love
We're all alone...

(The lyrics are slightly different, depending on who and when this song has been recorded. This version works for me the best. I love the sublimely warm voice of Rita Coolidge singing this.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cueing the Curtain

I believe that one sign of true progress for our species will be when we - safely and of sound mind - can choose to die of our own choosing. A wise person said that we do not ask to be born (actually a lot of grumpy teenagers say that too), but that we do have a choice of when we die. I'm not talking about suicide brought on by mental illness, disturbance or depresssion. It's a fine line of definition, but I'm referring instead to a gentler end to those who are in pain/suffering and who do not have a way out. It seems to me that there have been great strides in understanding how to keep ourselves healthier longer. But, as another wise person said, we've also made the dying process one that is unnecessarily prolonged. My thoughts on this are still movable. And I understand for many that God would not approve of such a thing. No God of mine could condone the suffering of someone who has come to the end of a well-lived life, only to face days, weeks, months, maybe years of agony. I couldn't want that for anyone I love, or anyone at all for that matter. I'd rather die younger than suffer too much when old. I hope I get to choose. Feel free to weigh in.