Thursday, December 31, 2009

On the cusp of 2010, let me just say

Live each season as it passes;

breathe the air,

drink the drink,

taste the fruit,

and resign yourself to the influences of each.
Henry David Thoreau

Live daringly, boldly, fearlessly.
Taste the relish to be found in competition -
in having put forth the best within you.
Henry J. Kaiser

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise.
Seek what they sought.
Matsuo Basho

May your year be filled with happiness and good health.

And may all your wishes and dreams come true.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Carrot Parsnip Soup

This is for you, Jules.

Carrot and Parsnip Soup
(adapted from Good Friends Cookbook)

3 TBSP. butter
3 carrots, peeled and chopped (I use organic for this soup)
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 Vidalia onion, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 inch piece fresh ginger, chopped (or grated, if you keep it in the freezer)
1/2 tsp curry powder (or leave it out if you hate curry)
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (or parsley if you hate cilantro)

Melt butter in large saucepan, and add carrots, parsnips, onion, and potatoes. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Stir in ginger, curry and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Use a blender or hand blender (worth its weight in gold) to blend the soup until smooth. I usually reserve a small amount to keep a bit of chunkiness to it but you don't have to. Add cream and s/p, and keep it hot without boiling. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with Lottery Girl's featherlight potato rolls. If you have any left over, it's even better the next day.

Christmas Dinner and All That Jazz

Well the time is nigh and our Christmas dinner is coming together. What are we having, I hear you asking?

Haven't figured out an appetizer yet. Shrimp rings are sold out everywhere. I haven't figured out how to crack open my fresh coconut for my samosas sauce, so that's out. Maybe rare roast beef on thin baguette rounds with a dash of pesto and a sundried tomato on top?

To start dinner, there's a carrot parsnip soup with fresh ginger. I learned a little trick from a friend way back. When you are serving soup as a starter to a large number of people, try serving it in a tea cup. I have a large collection of bone china cups that I inherited from my mother and grandmothers. I hardly ever use them for tea, but they're perfect for soup. People can still wander around talking, sipping their soup and talking, and the cups hold just the right amount so as not to ruin appetites.

Soup is followed by a roasted free-range turkey stuffed with an apple walnut mushroom stuffing. This is a recipe that came from my client at VIA rail back in my advertising days. He took pity on me when my husband-to-be both introduced then volunteered me to make Christmas dinner for his family. Before that, I rarely cooked anything let alone something of this magnitude. My client came through with a stuffing recipe that proved to be a smash hit and I've made it every year since. (We'll forget that I tied the turkey with dental floss, the oven broke mid-roast and the flaming pudding set off the smoke alarm above the dining room table.)

The turkey is served with mashed turnip and sweet potato with maple syrup from our local woods and a dash of cinnamon, mashed potatoes with a bit of sour cream, broccoli with olive oil, garlic and sea salt and of course, cranberry sauce and gravy.

For dessert there's a plate of baked goods (shortbread, mini buttertarts, chocolate balls, etc.) and most importantly, my mother-in-law's amazing steamed carrot pudding with hard sauce (at least I think it's called hard sauce. It's sweet and white and thick and sweet.) Ooh, baby, pudding is spicy and thick and served piping hot with a dollop of this rich, sweet sauce that melts down the sides.

After that, we basically undo our belts and try to breathe.

You? What do you serve at Christmas?

Monday, December 21, 2009

RIP Gourmet Magazine

Gourmet Magazine has ceased publication as of its November 2009 issue. C'est dommage, but if you go HERE, you can get all the favourite cookie recipes going back to 1941.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Random Kindness Article Link

For those of you who kindly asked me to post the link to the Montreal Gazette article about Sarah's postcard adventure, you can find it HERE. (Although it's almost exactly as I posted it on this blog, with the exception that asked to use my daughter's real name. Then they got it wrong.)

I'm about to launch a massive clean-up effort in the house, do some last minute shopping, finish (okay, start and finish) the Christmas baking, whip up a lasagna for my boy who is bringing his girlfriend over for dinner tomorrow (before she flies back to Russia to spend Christmas with her family) so time's a wastin'.

Blog posts in the next couple of weeks will most likely be sporadic depending on number of guests in residence both at home and at our country cottage, alcoholic beverages consumed and late night board games played.

Stay tuned....

(Oh, wait, I just found this. Harry Potter fans, this is awesome.)

thanks, Fugly girls

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Meet Fred the Dog

Ah, this story really gets me.

Cyril Roy was a former forestry service worker, but ended up unemployed and living alone in a trailer in a remote area of Nanaimo, B.C. He was depressed and ill from complications of diabetes, but he had his dog Fred to keep him company. And for close to seven years, Fred did exactly that, as Cyril's devoted and loyal companion.

Just how devoted? On November 30th, police found Fred sitting by his late master's side. Cyril died three days before of a heart attack, but Fred kept his lonely vigil until he was rescued and brought to a shelter.

According to the people working there, it's unusual for family members to want to take a deceased relative's pet, especially when they live halfway across the country. But Cyril's family stepped forward to claim Fred.

There were many problems to overcome. Besides the expense involved and the difficulty of finding a crate big enough to accommodate him, they missed the deadline for transporting a dog on an airplane because at this time of year here in the Great White North, it is simply too cold.

Cyril's family in Quebec came together to work on ways to bring Fred home. They got calls and emails from people offering to help, including one from Fred Caron, the man after whom Cyril named his dog. He and Cyril had served together in the Grenadier Guards.

Enter Frank Palumbo, who runs a freight forwarding company and is a resident of my own teensy tiny town outside of Montreal. He has offered to both organize and pay for Fred's trip back to Quebec.

Last I heard, Fred has been bathed and groomed and will soon be leaving B.C. for Montreal by train, and not in a carrier stuck in the baggage car, which they felt would be too traumatic, but sitting with two handlers. This is meant to keep him calm and allow him to take frequent breaks along the journey, which is expected to take several days.

And when they arrive, Fred will join Cyril's sister who will make sure he is loved and cared for, just as her brother would have wanted.

And if that don't just warm the old cockles of your jaded heart, I don't know what will.

Welcome to your new home, Fred.

Apr├Ęs la pluie le beau temps.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Karl's Act of Kindness Makes the News!

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and his helper's name is Karl.

Remember the random act of kindness I wrote about last week? A fellow named Karl found the lost postcard I wrote to my daughter and he took the time to add a note and pop the card in the mail? Well, the story and the photo of the Postcard Wall is going in this Saturday's edition of the Montreal Gazette.

Three cheers for Karl, and for good people everywhere!

Our girl is on the train and heading home as I type this. Tomorrow morning I will pick her up at the station after her 17 hour journey, and we'll go out for a big breakfast at Chez Cora's and talk for a bit and get caught up in each other's lives. Then she'll probably curl up with Buddy and nap on the couch while I light a fire, play some carols, and bake some ginger cookies and pecan shortbread and buttertarts.

Ah, life is good when the kids all come home at Christmas.

Happy Holidays Karl, wherever you are. I hope you read the Gazette so you will know how much that seemingly tiny gesture was actually pretty grand.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why I Love Being A Canadian

1. Two-fours. Not to be confused with two-by-fours. Consumed on May 24th holiday weekend.
2. Mounties. With or without the trusty steed. Preferably with.
3. Cool inventions like the zipper and basketball. Yes, basketball is as Canadian as hockey, my American friends.
4. Discoveries like insulin. Almost as important as Hockey.
5. Tim Bits.
6. Maple syrup (sure it's made elsewhere, but Canadian maple syrup is the best because it comes from Canadian maple trees, which are the best.)
7. Excellent comedians like Mike Myers (don't judge him by his last movie, we all make mistakes, sometimes giant ones that smell bad when you get too close) or Jim Carrey (well....) and Dan Ackroyd (and he makes wine!)and Celine Dion (unintentional.)
8. Ice Wine.
9. Beavers. We like them so much, we've made them our national animal. Seriously.
10. Loons. We even put them on our money. Seriously.
11. We have a Queen, but it's a bit like having an elderly, hard-of-hearing aunt left in charge. Sure we love her, but she doesn't really do much.
12. If we had a woman and a black man running for office, we’d all vote for the gay Guatemalan-Scottish-First Nations-Tibetan monk performance artist with the limp.(That one came from Meg Fowler and it cracked me up mostly because it's true.)
13. Nature. We have a LOT of nature.
14. Also seasons that change, at least four times if not more. (There are only two seasons in Quebec - winter and road construction.)
15. Health care for all.
16. Lots of fresh water.
17. Did I mention hockey?
18. Poutine. Long live clogged arteries! (Remember, we have health care for all so go ahead!)
19. Buttertarts. I thought everyone knew about buttertarts, but they're Canadian, eh.
20. Saying "eh" at the end of sentences.

You know what? Just watch this.

Okay people, I need your help

A Novel Woman, AKA Pamela (that's me!) needs your vote. And I apologize in advance. Truly. But I cannot resist the challenge of coming up with a silly poem. Can't. Do. It.

I (cough) occasionally procrastinate and visit a blog called Go Fug Yourself. On this blog, the lovely duo of Heather and Jessica skewer those celebrities who don their gay apparel and walk among us mere mortals thinking they look oh so fab. What the fugly girls do is, to quote my grandmother, "bring them down a peg or two."

What means this word fug, I hear some of you ask. From the site:

""Fug" comes from "fugly," which is a contraction of "fantastically ugly" (or an f-word more prurient, if you like, but we are clean and delightful young ladies who don't engage in that kind of filth, dammit)."

Now comes the favour. Every Friday, they have a contest and ask for silly rhymes to go with a photo. I will warn you, this photo is a bit risque, unless you're a breast-feeding mother in which case it's old hat. This week I made the final three. Whoo hoo!

Your vote counts. So if you'd like to support A Novel Woman, go to the link below and vote for Number Two by Pamela (that's me) unless you prefer one of the other two poems, in which case, do the honorable thing and vote for them. (Damn my morals!) You must vote by Wednesday!

Are there big prizes involved? Uh, no.

Remember, this is not safe for work. And this site is seriously addictive.

Go HERE to vote.

The Perfect Christmas Dress

I'm handy with a sewing machine and I both own and know how to operate a soldering iron. How hard could it be to whip up one of these puppies before Christmas? Sure, one has to attach 24,000 LED lights, and the first dress I ever sewed in Home Ec. ended up with the sleeves turned inside out, but I don't think I should let that deter me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How to use your hands to make music

I know this has been around for a while. In fact, I may have even posted it before. (See previous post on my misplaced Christmas file.)

But it's still a wonderful video, and watching it makes me happy.

I sang in a choir when I was young, at school and at church. I'm not sure why I stopped because there is a sort of magic that happens when you are part of a group where all its disparate members join together to make something beautiful. And if it's a choir, you don't just hear the music, you feel it in your soul when everything just clicks into place. It's electric, it really is.

I joined our high school band for the same reason I sang in the choir.

It was not electrifying.

My instrument of choice was the clarinet which, like my dog Buddy, was a tricky little bugger to master. First step was retrieving a reed from the communal pot. I always gave it a good splosh in the jar of antiseptic solution (which I suspect was there more for show than efficacy, because the same cloudy solution resided in that jar all year, and the reeds were shared amongst all the students, oh the horror.) I then had to soak the reed in my mouth. (I still shudder at the memory.) And all the while I tried not to look around the room and wonder whose mouth had housed it before mine, and prayed it wouldn't split because that meant finding another one thereby increasing my chances of death by coodies.

Anyway, it was all moot because despite my best efforts and love of music, I could not conquer this instrument. I think if I had found a feral cat, wrapped it up in bagpipes and squeezed it like a wet dishcloth, it would have sounded better than the noises I produced. Try as I might, I couldn't avoid the ungodly squeaks and squeals of missed notes. The anticipation made me tense, which made my lips tighten, which produced more mistakes. The music teacher/band leader finally admitted defeat, and asked me to fake it. That's right. I was in the band but forced to "lip synch" with my clarinet. I moved my fingers and swayed in time, but produced no actual music, which was sort of the point of joining A Band. I gave it up after one year. The music teacher ended up getting fired anyway after he slapped a student. I still look at clarinets as instruments of evil.

Anyway, enjoy this choir!

And thanks to all of you who email me often to tell me you read my blog regularly and enjoy it, or in some cases, tell my husband right before he injects your Novocaine. (Yup, telling your dentist you enjoy his wife's blog is just good strategy!)

I'm not sure why so many of you email but don't leave comments. (Not that I mind emails. I love those too!) Are you shy? Is it the blogger policy of asking you to register? (It's free you know, and you can set it up so that it's anonymous.)

I love seeing the comments but mostly I love knowing you're here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dear Santa, how did you been?

I am both orderly and disorderly, in every sense of the word. To keep myself on the straight and narrow, I keep a Christmas file, a folder that goes back to 1984, the year I moved to Montreal to begin my life with Dr. Doug.

This year I decided was going to be one of the orderly years. I will send out my Christmas cards early, I decided. Sometimes I miss the deadline altogether, and one year, when I was a student, I sent out my Christmas cards in July (either very late, or very early, depending on your point of view.) Unfortunately, I often misplace this file and can't find it when I want it. Today is one of those days. I found part of the file, but the reason I need it right now - for the list of addresses I keep for cards - is nowhere to be found. Obviously, I had the brilliant idea to keep the card file in a better, separate, new and improved location, but now I forget where that is. I sometimes hide jewelry too, which is why my good pearls are temporarily misplaced. They're probably with the other half of my Christmas file.

It is kind of fun to rifle through the old papers on a nostalgic ride into the past. I'm a master list maker; recipients of cards and their addresses sent and received, Christmas gifts to be considered or purchased or carried over to the next year, grocery lists for Christmas dinner, background music, baking projects and recipes - it's all in the master file. It's amazing to see how the gift list and number of recipients has whittled down over the years. Nieces and nephews grow, friends move on or pass on. Addresses change, we lose touch, or friendships wither because of misunderstandings or simply because we outgrow one another.

But my recipes are constants. And even if I wanted to change them up, I am cautioned by my family not to deviate from the traditional menu - roast turkey, although now my daughters insist on an organic turkey, raised under a rainbow and massaged daily by its caregiver until it is led gently into the good night and into our oven, stuffing made from chunks of baguette, green apples, mushrooms and walnuts, mashed potatoes and gravy, mashed turnip with maple syrup and cinnamon, steamed broccoli, and my mother-in-law's steamed carrot pudding and hard sauce for dessert.

And the baked goods, oh, the baked goods: my grandmother's shortbread, chocolate balls, truffles, my mother's buttertarts, nut shorties, Fat Alberts (a recent introduction, these toffee squares are seriously addictive), amongst others. I can introduce a few new baked goods as long as they join the favourites, not replace them.

For Christmas breakfast there is always a giant Italian panettone, and no, I do not bake my own (haha, you're funny.) It's always a gift from one of my husband's assistants, arriving in a big hat-shaped box with a ribbon handle. The fun is shaking up the cake inside a plastic bag along with the powdered sugar. We serve it in big slabs along with bacon and eggs, a bowl of fresh fruit, OJ, jam and strong coffee.

I always get sentimental when I go through this file, remembering Christmases past when the kids were young. I found this today, and I hope you get as much of a kick from it as I did. My daughter was four and attended French school at the time. It's a bit of a polite meander, then right to the point.

In case you have trouble reading it, it says:

Dear Santa Claws!

How did you been?
Did you had a nice summer?
How's your life?
Give us all presents.

(heart) Sarah, age 4

Ah, yes.

Now I'm off to look for that damn list.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Camera Club Shots

I joined a local camera club last year with the express purpose of getting better at taking pictures. The best way to get critiques is to enter competitions and get feedback from the judges on what works and what doesn't, and more importantly, why. While some of it is useful, most of it is quite subjective and comments are dependent on what the individual likes or doesn't like (one may have an aversion to flowers and another only likes birds) or whether or not he's had a fight with his wife before he left the house that night. "Watch your corners" and the rule of thirds seem to be another couple of golden rules, but sometimes those too are challenged.

A few weeks ago we had a general, anything goes pictorial competition. This means no category, no rules in terms of what you could do to change the photos, and no theme per se. Here are my entries. The judges particularly liked the first one, saying it reminded them of a art nouveau magazine cover. It was taken on a foggy morning near here, and that's exactly what it looked like when I shot across the lake. They liked the spot of sun on the water and the shape of the tress on the left. One judge did not like that teensy little vertical branch wayp up on the upper right side, but short of finding a ladder, climbing the tree and trimming it (which the municipal workers might not appreciate and by that time, the fog would have dissipated) I had to leave it as is.

The second one was a milkweed pod, but they were kind of iffy on that one. I loved it, but maybe because it was a beautiful sunny fall day, and I kind of stumbled upon this little puff of a plant at the end of our cottage driveway. Usually a photo means something to the photographer and it evokes a mood or a memory of where they were and how they felt when they took it. Sometimes that can be communicated in a photo, and sometimes it's just another milkweed pod, my friends.

Then the third was a rock wall. This created a bit of a debate. One of the judges suggested it would look better if it was rotated. Oddly enough, that was the way I'd taken the original but I liked it better turned on its end as I feel it's more interesting that way and creates a bit of tension.

So I'm asking you. Which do you like better? The first one or the second one? You don't have to tell me why. You just have to agree with me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow

The view from my office window.
This time of year, I actually like the snow. It gets me in the mood to decorate and bake and just settle in like a hibernating bear. After Christmas I simply tolerate the snow, and by February I'm longing to get a break from it (and by March, well, I'm pretty much hanging on to my sanity by my fingernails.) But when I see a dusting of snow on the ground right around the beginning of December, it puts me in a New York state of mind (if you substitute "Christmas" for "New York")

So I'm off to buy fresh spices like allspice and cinnamon and nutmeg, some sage for the turkey stuffing, dark chocolate and butter and nuts and cream for truffles, wrapping paper and special ribbon, green boughs for the window box, and maybe a new Christmas CD. Look at me. I'm going all nesty!

Then I'm going to light a fire, pour myself a teensy eensy glass of Glenmorangie, and put on my ancient canvas apron stained with feasts of Christmas past and fill the house with the aroma of warm shortbread. Perhaps, if you put your ear against the door, you'll also hear the sounds of soft jazz and a gently snoring dog.

So, you ready for Christmas?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

No, seriously

A tee shirt that also functions as a rock guitar. Plays all the major chords and allows the wearer to strum all the big hits. My favourite function? The volume goes to 11. Bonus points for anyone who knows what that means.

Don't believe me? Looky here:

Think big and form a whole band. Did you notice the guy in the back? He's playing drums on his chest.

Wait, it gets better. At ThinkGeek there's a shirt with built-in personal sound effects. You can move through life with your own soundtrack!

A ring that functions as a bottle opener? A baseball cap that broadcasts free WiFi locations, an Albert Einstein action figure?

My Christmas shopping just became a whole lot easier.

I found ThinkGeek after reading an article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. They talked about ThinkGeek posting a link to a gag gift every April 1st, but the "gags" were requested in such huge numbers that they ended up selling them.

Read it here.