Monday, 17 December 2012

Culture & Recreation-The Xmas Edition

Thinking of taking last Friday's frenzy right through to the New Year.   Never venture to the mall after Nov 30th.  I've been traumatized ever since Canadian Black Friday when I went out for Movember chocolate moustaches. Chaos.  And I wasn't anywhere near the mall.  This time I was sans gloves and you can just imagine what I must have come into contact with.  Was it smart to do this on the eve before a Christmas party?  No. Who in their right mind uses a communal pen at the Post Office and then eats lunch? Tells you something about the state of my mind.

More shopping for Xmas treats.  And before anyone takes exception to my using an X instead of Christ, the X is a perfectly acceptable substitute.  Dust of your Britannica and look it up.  Xmas cakes were on tap this weekend and after perusing the latest Hamilton giving the milk chocolate and sea salt covered bacon a whirl.  Salted bacon? Yes, because clearly bacon needs more salting.  The cakes are a 48 hr project and care and attention must be paid.  Prepped the kitchen, sedated myself with a little Horlicks and somehow lost track of three hours which I still can't account for. Did the martini(s) have anything to do with it?

  1. Fry bacon
  2. For every pan of bacon, save one slice for yourself for snacking purposes
  3. Prepare bacon and eggs while you wait for subsequent batches to cook
  4. Drain & cool what's left
  5. Melt milk chocolate
  6. Drizzle over cooled bacon
  7. Sprinkle with sea salt
  8. Chill
  9. Resist temptation to eat

Saturday. Took a very civilized breakfast; a little pate and baguette to start the day.  Dave had presented Morley with a decorated pear tree; one of my favourite stories.   Took about three hours to mobilize as the cold symptoms had materialized overnight. No choice but to snooze. Eventually left for the downtown core; four hours before dinner. 
If you remember my last trip downtown, I was laid low afterwards with some kind of plague. Wanted to do a little reconnaissance.  With one-way systems, no on-street parking and lane closures, a little tour of the neighbourhood is advised if you want to get to dinner on time.  We were headed to Seven Windows at Aberdeen & Dundurn.  I can confirm that there is no sign on the front door; no neon "OPEN" to guide you in off the street nor is there any parking signage  Found a small lot but wanted a back up plan in case it was full come dinner hour.  Seven Windows is a restaurant and lounge located in a converted bank; there is a vault available for private dinners.

Whirlwind tour of the library; took the stairs-only exercise this week.  No fourth or fifth floor anymore.  Well, no books on those floors anymore.  On tap this week are Douglas Coupland's Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young Children, Emma Donoghue's Room and Sarah Selecky's This Cake Is For the Party-short stories.  From last month, I'm recommending Naked by David Sedaris-short stories; funny stuff.  Also, two plays; Marion Bridge by Daniel MacIvor-should take you a couple of bathroom breaks to read (now on dvd if you can't be bothered reading) and Belle Moral by Anne Marie McDonald (at Shaw a few years back).  How to describe this one?  Think it's best if you just read it.       

Usual cast of characters on the drive down.  Most striking was the woman in zebra striped pants and fur coat.  Will I go bold with the wardrobe as I enter the late middle age?  Read a piece the other day which discussed the idea that, never mind age 65, you become invisible at 25.  So most people will think you're just batty and ignore you when you pop to the store in your funky boots and leopard prints. Or, they just won't see you at all.

Had time for a quick visit to the Art Gallery~AGH-Napoleon.  From the first room, painted a regal red, Napoleon comes off as something of a rock star.  Long, flowing tresses and baby face features.  His signet ring, snuff box, watch and hat are on display.  Napoleon controlled every aspect of his reign and I started to think of our beloved Mr. Harper.  (I bet Napoleon's hair didn't move either.)  There's lots on display-paintings, dinner ware, beds, and a very fine gold toothbrush.  Will return when I have a little more leisure.  Runs 'til May.

Finally reached an age when no one calls to ask what you're wearing. Sandwiched myself into something that wasn't a Little Black Dress. Ah, the miracle of Lycra.  Telemarketer at 17:00  At this time of day?

Despite the earlier reconnaissance, I missed the restaurant and drove 'round the block to double back.  As I said, no signage.  Good vodka martini. Started with the chicken liver pate which was precisely the right temperature; served with crispbreads and onion relish.  Followed this with soup-Indian with apple.  Very tasty.  At last, a restaurant that doesn't serve shrimp cocktail with red seafood sauce! Excellent presentation with everything.

Venison for mains-tender slices served on top of sweet potato, carrot, beet, sprout and chutney.  Everyone enjoyed their mains which varied from halibut to chicken to lamb to filet.   Nearly poached my neighbour's potato-apparently, they don't "do" potato. Theirs came cooked in chicken fat which sounded rather tasty to me.  Seemed a shame to waste them.

Pastry choices were Pavlova, Ice Wine creme brulee, flourless chocolate torte (which met with rave reviews) amongst others.

Now the only fly in the ointment is the service.  Overall, service was fine, but it lacked the full attentiveness you would expect with this kind of restaurant.  Is the water glass empty?  Is the wine glass empty?  A dessert menu that includes digestifs would be nice so you can take your time ruminating over the course and not left guessing at what's behind the bar.  And worse, in one case, having to accompany the server to the bar to have a look at the whiskey choices.  Overall, it deserves a second go 'round to see if this is the norm or were they having an off night?

I had the privilege of chauffeuring the younger crowd back into town.  And where did they pick from all the choices?  Hess Village.  Now apart from lunch a couple of years back, the Village isn't somewhere you'd venture past the age of twenty-five.  It's full of micro skirt /platform shoe clad girls who look identical to one another and men in baggy pants, the occasional woolly hat and loose fitting shirt or hoodie.  They spill out onto the road at 2:15, blood coursing with liquor.  A fight or two ensues, police are called and it starts all over again next weekend.  Time was the village was a good spot for the thirty-five plus crowd.  It was home to the annual Jazz Fest.  Great music, good pubs, good food.  Slowly, the nineteen year olds took over.  Pubs became clubs and it went to pot(no doubt literally in some cases). 

For people watching however, you can't go wrong.  There is a Hortons on the corner and it's a good spot for watching the aftermath if you don't want to venture onto the cobblestones. The fascinating world of the under 25's.  Took our place at the side of the stage of The Lazy Flamingo.  We stood out like the proverbial thumb-dressed in our suits, dress and overcoats. The Great Divide were in mid set.  Divide was a fairly accurate name as two of them looked as if they'd just walked out of an early incarnation of Joy Division and the other two out of a commune, circa 1970.  They split the set between originals and Hendrix, Lynrd Skynrd and so on.  The band did a great job and if anyone knows of a good hearing specialist, drop me a line.

One of our party ventured to the WC but no one else went in after he reported back on the conditions.  As 2 AM approached, panic set in with the natives;  like closing time at Club 54.  There was a woman of about fifty chatting up the guys.  One was mortified that someone of her "advanced" years should choose someone like him.  They have yet to stare to death in the face and think they're going to live forever.  She eventually found herself a "dance partner" who was about twenty years her junior and, once again, we had to get the oxygen out for the young lads.

Sunday. Having gotten home at 3AM, was in no mood to tackle Stage One of "The Cake" and was a little delicate for most of the day.  Listened to Tapestry and a interview with the winner of Most Eloquent Person of the Year.  Oh to be so calm and collected.  Must find her name. Somehow found enough drive to prepare dinner for The Pater.  In my stupor, I neglected to add a critical ingredient and it took about 24hrs to figure out what it was.

Out to another game of minor league hockey with the five year olds.  Had been a few weeks since the last game and there was marked improvement in the skating.  Was that strategy at play? Thought there might have been a gas leak at one point; turns out to have been my seat mate's Bits & Bites snack pack. 

Monday. Challenging day.  In my defence, the whole nation is down with some kind of flu or cold.  Don't think my lack of health had anything to do with Saturday night.  Oh, how the hours dragged.  Cake making, Phase 1,  and then bed.


Tuesday. A blur. Cake making, Phase 2. I dosed myself with the juice of three lemons, honey and many cups of herbal tea. 

And finally, Wednesday mid morning tea break. Very pleased with the results. A moist Xmas cake; no doorstops here. Put the recipe in your arsenal. See below.

What’s in the VCR this week?  Xmas chestnuts, of course. Watching them on the portable, I might add.  Oh, the humanity!  Bill Paterson in Comfort and Joy (1984).  A Glaswegian disc jockey finds himself as the go between  of two rival gangs of ice cream merchants.   A Child’s Christmas in Wales with Denholm Eliot (1987 adaptation from Dylan Thomas), A Muppet Christmas with Michael Caine and A Christmas Story-don’t think this one needs any explaining.
Don’t forget to try Soulpepper’s A Christmas Carol.  It’s running until December 29th.
Onwards and upwards with the holidays; the idea is to have as little to do on “the day” as possible while at the same time maintaining sanity before hand.
(Editor’s Note:  That's what President’s Choice is for. Just give me a great big basket of Black Label goodies.)
And so Dear Reader, a very happy and healthy holiday to you.  Enjoy yourself. 

Edible Xmas Cake (good brunch partner)

Apricots, prunes, currants, cherries, figs; chopped to make 2 CUPS
1 CUP sherry, port or other
2/3 C unsalted butter
1 C Demerera sugar
2 eggs + 1 yolk
1 TSP vanilla

1C flour
1 TSP baking powder
1 TSP salt
½ TSP cinnamon
½ TSP nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 TSP lemon zest

Day One 

Heat sherry; add chopped fruit and simmer 10 mins.  Let stand for 24hrs. 

Day Two 

In mixer combine: butter, sugar; add eggs one at a time; add vanilla;  combine dry ingredients and add to egg mixture; add zest & bake 375C for 45 minutes in well buttered and floured loaf pan.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Does Star Wars count as a Christmas activity?

Ah, the intoxicating aromas of the Bulk Barn(BB).  Well, intoxicating is perhaps too strong a word for the spice section of a bulk food store.  Does wonders for the car; more natural than Febreeze.

I had pored (no pun intended) over the latest Food & Drink and decided on the Ginger cake.  Who amongst us doesn't covet the Food & Drink Holiday edition?  You've got to time it right, though.  Visit the LCBO too early or too late in the season and the shelves are bare.  Lunch hour run to the BB to stock up for the Christmas cake(I have an edible version), the pistachio and cranberry bars and truffles amongst other things.  The Widget Makers are partial to sweets and one feels the obligation to take their mind off the inevitable noon hour Subway sandwich. 

The BB is a black hole and a labour intensive one at that.  I emerged with the notion that I still had a half hour to indulge in the much sought after burger. "A burger?", you ask.  Not to be, as the hour had gone.  I went in for $2.00 worth of product and wound up with a trunk load.  Finished up consuming a partially cooked baked potato slathered in bacon marmalade and Parmesan.  Questionable choice.

For the first time in nigh on six weeks, I felt sufficiently revived to contemplate the painting, baking and tree trimming.  The Pater was scheduled for Sunday dinner and I couldn't look at the replastered wall any longer.  Perhaps if the GP had actually allowed me take an appointment, this whole farce with the eyes would not have taken so long.  Next time, I'm storm-troopering in there.  Self control be damned.

Delivered the neighbours' cards in the evening.  They looked at me puzzled and questioned why I was delivering Xmas cards on December 7th.  It is customary to graciously accept cards and not question the sender's motive/time of season.  Not here.  You have to tread carefully with "first generation".  I believe they send theirs on Xmas Eve. I like to get my money's worth.   Xmas cards are a dying art.  I like seeing a red, green or silver envelope in the mail box. Refreshing to open something that isn't a bill.  To the grocery store again and returned with a tray of sushi which was very nicely done. I'm on a Mike Leigh bent at the moment.  Picked up Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh a couple of weeks back.  Leigh dissects all his movies with the interviewer and it's been good revisiting them after the read.  Finished the day with Leigh's Vera Drake. An outstanding period drama with Imelda Staunton.

I detest painting but having gotten started again after a six year hiatus, have the drive to continue with the remaining rooms.  I can sleep at night now; not that fitful tossing and turning, waking with a cold sweat as the mind turns over the TO DO list.  I like to work with a small sponge roller-control is what you're after here.  Use a large one and next thing you're painting ceilings and baseboards and where does it end? The bottom of a large bottle of red wine.  Try and see if you can find a podcast for This Is My Music on CBC.  Ivars Taurin's turn and he presented a very fine selection of music.  Just the thing to ease into the day.

Ventured into the crawl space to get the tree. Germaphobes don't handle dark, dusty spaces well.  In fact I'm getting heart palpitations as I write this.  Putting less and less on the tree each year.  Thinking more in terms of keeping clean lines than sheer lack of ambition.  Remember, it's all got to come down again.

Finished the night with Leigh's Naked.  Raw would be a good word to describe this movie. I've seen it many times. If you're looking for laughs, this is not your movie, but I think you need to enter the world of Mr. Leigh once in a while.

Found just enough counter space next morning to make a cup of tea.  Vinyl Cafe was in holiday mode with a repeat of the Hawksley Workman show; saw it live last year.  Second time seeing Workman live.  If you have the opportunity to see  The Vinyl Cafe  or any of his guests in concert, do so.

A clipper was forecast and thought it prudent to make a start.  For the uninitiated, a ginger cake batter performs a little differently than your typical Duncan Crocker.  It doesn't flow out of the bowl into the cake pans; you have to drag it out, kicking and screaming.  A ginger batter will not self-distribute in the pan.  You have to do it for it.  Finally smacking the tins on the counter five or six times to cancel air pockets.  How do you now if this has been successful?  You don't.  It's a matter of faith.  This is a well seasoned cake-ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, cloves and is great for a miserable rainy day, like Sunday.


The frosting was a dismal failure and I'm sure, with time, I'll come to understand what went wrong.  It's butter and icing sugar-how difficult could it be? The icing has separated from the buttery mass and remains to this day, a sticky pool in the bottom of the bowl.

Soup was successful and I recommend this if for no other reason than the garnish.  Lemon juice, garlic, paprika, olive oil.  Dress the soup with a generous amount of cheese, garnish and parsley.  See below for recipes.

The Pater is partial to pastry(alliteration, anyone?). Why do we wait ‘til Xmas Eve before cracking open the nuts and pastry trays?  If you narrow the season down to 1.5 days, you’re depriving yourself.  Forced a small Ceaser at cocktail hour; celery nice and crisp.  (Note to hosts: please peel your celery.  Who wants to see guests trying to discreetly retrieve a string of celery from their back molars?) What else but grilled cheese with the soup ? Try to elevate the lowly grilled cheese to new heights.  Get creative.  And don't wait 'til you're hungry to start any cooking.
Coffee finished and the Pater took his leave. It was time to wrap up the Xmas correspondence.  Had taken an espresso after dinner and the energy level was running high. 
Flashback to Fall 2011.
Finally watched the Star Wars saga from start to finish. Yes, I found the rock quite comfortable, thank-you very much.

Went to see Star Wars in '77 and stopped there; never going back to complete the saga. Since that day, caught bits and pieces of it at the holidays, but it is simply not possible to sit through the commercials.

It would be a gross understatement to say that the Widget Maker is a fan. Deeming their Star Wars dvd collection surplus to requirements with the acquisition of Blu-Ray, I came into possession of the series.  I diligently sat through every movie, having momentary deja vu from the glimpses I'd seen every Christmas. I steadied myself and completed my education.

And then comes along Camille Paglia, who feels that George Lucas is the greatest living artist of the modern era. Revenge of the Sith as high art? Paglia recently released her book Glittering Images and during the writing process, was undecided as to its conclusion. Was there any modern art that was worthy of her final chapter? Apparently so.  Paglia was blown away by Sith.

I'm partial to Rembrandt. To consider Lucas' output high art might be a bit of a stretch. 
And so, high on the lingering paint fumes and helped along by the espresso, I popped Sith back into the machine for another look.  I focused primarily on the final two chapters. The movie has a very Gothic feel and the music added to this.   The landscapes throughout the series were reminiscent of Bosch. 
Is computer-generated work art?  David Hockney would say, yes.  Although I don't know what he thinks of Lucas.  Should Lucas be crowned king?  I would argue, no.    There isn't consistency throughout the movie (or series).  Flashes of genius are not enough to claim the crown.  Was I blown away, like Paglia?  No.  Perhaps Star Wars was too new for her? I think most people were surprised someone of Paglia's ilk deigned to watch.  (I do like when Vader gets fitted with his helmet and we hear that first breath.)  Perhaps I'll take another look with the next round of caffeine.

The movie aside, I don't think we need to place people at the bottom or the top. We are entering that dangerous time of year-the ubiquitous Top 10 List.

Bleak mornings these past few days and the only thing getting me out of bed was the lure of a little piece of ginger cake after breakfast.  Presented a plateful to the Widget Makers and they promptly inhaled it.  What's etiquette on the last piece on the plate?  If you are mere moments away from dining out at lunch, do you take the piece or leave it for someone else who isn't eating lunch?  In this case the piece disappeared.  But, this takes me into a whole other post.

Until next time.

Ginger Cake-Holiday 2012

3 cups flour
1 TBSP baking powder
½ TSP baking soda
2 TBSP ginger
2 TSP cinnamon
1 TSP allspice, nutmeg, black pepper
½ tsp ground cloves & salt
1 C butter
½ cups brown sugar
3 eggs
½ cup fancy molasses
1 C milk

Blend first nine ingredients.
Beat butter, adding sugar until well combined; add egg; add molasses.
Add ¼ flour mix, followed by ¼ milk until all combined.

Coax the batter into pans. Smooth surfaces.   Bang pans on counter to remove air pockets.
Bake 40 mins at 325C.

Cauliflower & Potato Soup-Holiday 2012

Recipe not terribly essential here. Go with your instincts. This is soup, after all.

1 diced onion
1 stalk celery
1 head cauliflower
3 potatoes (any)
1 TBSP butter and oil of choice
1 clove garlic
1 litre chicken stock


2 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1 ½ TSP paprika

grated cheese (any)
chopped parsley

Dice vegetables; sautee a few minutes; add stock; boil and then simmer ‘til tender.
Stir garnish ingredients.
Add  cheese to soup bowl, drizzle with oil mixture; top with parsley.

Hearty soup and a very tasty drizzle.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Crossing Borders With Cheez Whiz

What's in the box?
Cheez Whiz, again?  You can't be serious.

Adventures in caker land continue anew.  I heard from Jenny who writes from  in the UK which is a blog devoted to recipes of the stars.  Stars, as you would obviously expect, from the silver screen era.  This is a very nicely designed blog and good fun.

What was absent from Jenny's English pantry?  Cheez Whiz.  Mr. Francis' had peaked her curiosity.  I proposed a trade.  Most UK products are available locally but one thing that has been discontinued here is the Luxury line of Baxters Soup.  I was after a tin of Highland Game. Who amongst us does not like a little wood pigeon in their soup?

I'm sure you've seen Baxters on the store shelves but the Luxury offers a little bit of decadence for a first course.  Smoked Haddock (sold under the name, Cullen Skink) or Stilton & Broccoli amongst others. I believe the Lobster Bisque is still availabe.

So the parcel has been shipped and we'll see what Canada Post and The Royal Mail can do.
Will I be opening a tin of Luxury next year or will I be out in the woods, clad in camouflage, hunting pheasant, partridge and grouse for my own creation?