Friday, December 21, 2012

A Bit of Christmas

Some of you know my friend who signs on as "Kathy Down The Road" or just KDTR in the comments section. Since we moved downtown, my friend and neighbour of twenty-four years is no longer "down the road" except in spirit.

My daughters have tended Kathy's garden for years, which was great for me, because it allowed me to photograph the results of all their hard work without actually doing any of it. It was a win/win. Well, it was a win. Sometimes KDTR and I would sit in the shade and drink coffee and watch whilst my offspring turned the compost  or pulled weeds in the vegetable patch. That was surprisingly satisfying, I have to say. Most days though, Kathy would prepare a hot breakfast for my girls - eggs, toasted English muffins, a variety of jams and freshly ground coffee - and chat them up before they got to work. I did not have jobs like this when I was a teen. I scrubbed floors and toilets for minimum wage (at that time, $1.35 an hour) in the local A&W after the bars closed and all the drunks came for their midnight feeding. It was not pretty.

Anyway, while our house was up for sale, I frequently had to skedaddle with the dog while agents showed potential buyers around. I got sick of walking or driving around in circles for hours, so one morning I asked KDTR if I could sit on her back porch for a bit until I got the all clear to return. She couldn't be there, but said "go on back and make yourself at home." Waiting for me was a chaise lounge and a tray with the morning paper, some baked goods and a thermos of ice water and sliced limes. That's the kind of friend and neighbour, oh yes, is my KDTR.

As if that weren't enough, every year at Christmas, KDTR makes cookies and distributes them to all her friends. And when I say makes cookies, I mean by the hundreds of dozens. This year alone, there were thirty-two varieties of cookies in each tin or box. If cookie baking were a competitive sport, she would be a gold medalist. Don't even think about competing. She would take you down.

Just gaze upon the splendour. See the doggy on the top of the box? That was no coincidence.

 Let's take a peek, shall we?
 Oh, baby. Come to mama.
 Do you see the ones that look like mice? Mice! With ears made out of almond slices and tails of licorice whips? I'd show you the coconut mound thingies dipped in dark chocolate, but you'll have to make do with a photograph of thirty-one varieties because I ate them.

And to continue the Christmas theme, here are some of my ornaments. If you post photos of your ornaments, let me know in the comment section. I love seeing how people decorate their trees. Are yours hand crafty? Citified and all fancy? Do you do tinsel or no tinsel? Coloured lights or white lights? Big lights or small? Twinkling or just on? I lost the lights battle again this year. I wanted little white fairy lights, but Doug insisted on these mini-twinkling ones that harken back to disco days in their intensity.

Oh yes, that is the Budster, immortalized in plastic resin

The "tart angel" who has been straddling our tree since the kids were babies. Not sure where she originated, but we've referred to her as The Tart Angel as long as I can remember.

Buddy was unimpressed.

All ready to light the fire.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What goes on in your public parks?

Because we have some badass birds in our park.

Dr. David Bird, our local bird expert (not kidding, that's his real name) says it's an osprey, not a golden eagle, and that it may be a hoax. May.

It looked real to me.  I'm going to keep a close eye on Buddy so he doesn't end up as some bird's dinner.

UPDATE:  Yup, total hoax. A project done for a film class as a challenge to see how films can quickly go viral. I don't think they were expecting this much attention.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Balls. Christmas Balls

I spent approximately four hours on the phone with Amazon and UPS and former neighbours trying to sort out one eensy problem. Seems one of five separate Christmas orders ended up at my old house address. Even though I'd called Amazon a week ago to make sure this didn't happen.

It happened anyway.

Amazon was at fault. They were very nice about it, but they were at fault.

To their credit, they did their best to correct the problem and sent a second order ASAP so that I could have it before Christmas, though no firm promises. But that too was handled incorrectly which meant yet more phone calls, emails, and website surfings later that took a huge chunk out of my day. A day set aside for baking.

Meanwhile, I noticed our radiators were stone cold this morning, but there was no time to hunt down our building super. That's never just a quick phone call. I have to find him and tell him in person, because any question, no matter how minor, involves a series of inept pantomimes on both our parts because he's from Sri Lanka and speaks almost no English or French and I speak no Sinhala. It always ends with both of us throwing up our hands and him nodding his head which translates roughly to, "I have no clue what you are saying to me madam but that was very amusing to me ha-ha."

In the midst of my Amazon kerfuffle, several large men with thick, Eastern European accents (not sure why that matters, but it helps set the scene) followed by my tiny super showed up at the apartment door, and pushed past me swinging buckets and rags to "bleed" my radiators. The rads didn't so much bleed, as spew black oily water all over the floors. Meanwhile my daughter and I grabbed underwear out of the way and tried to keep the dog from bolting.

Once the little buggers were relieved of all their trapped air (the rads, not the heavyset men) things warmed up nicely, the Amazon thing got settled, and it was time to tackle the baking.

Which is when I discovered I was missing a few key ingredients. Which meant a trip to the store on what can only charitably be called The Crappiest Day Of 2012. It's gray, wet, and miserable. A day for curling up with a shortbread cookie and cup of tea by the fire. Except I was out of flour.

Picture me in my earflaps hat and black, down-filled coat, wild-eyed and on high alert, leaping over small lakes of gray slush at every corner, keeping a wary eye on passing motorists who, from the looks of them, were expressing their pent up anger at being on the road by deliberately hitting the puddles and sending them arching over the sidewalks at their prey. Quebec drivers are crazy psycho drivers at the best of times, but this kind of day sends them over the edge. And ice on the road does not slow them down, not one bit. If anything, it's like waving a checkered flag.

I learned timing was crucial, and moved along the sidewalk with stealth, crouching along lines of parked cars wherever possible in the hopes of avoiding a slush bombing.

I ended up on a wild goose chase around the city core looking for graham cracker crumbs (seriously, Quebec? Are they not staples in the rest of the country?? And forget Lyle's Golden syrup.) My pants were so heavy and wet at the bottoms that they dragged a few inches behind me by the time I got home.  I had homeless people nodding at me in recognition. I am not kidding.


Christmas Idea #492

I do not know of a writer who has not dreamed of having something like this. 

Isn't this cool?  I wonder if it would fit in my stocking...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Nifty Christmas Gift Idea

If you're looking for a really great Christmas idea for that special someone who has every kitchen gadget there is, consider this banana slicer.

Just check out the Amazon reviews highlighted in this CBC story and see for yourself.

It will enhance your life in ways you didn't think possible.

Even if you don't have monkeys, if you are the kind of person who is routinely ingesting one to two bananas a day, this device will save you so much time that experts have calculated if you buy a banana slicer and use it religiously, you will have added at least 37 minutes on to your life. Think about what you would do with those extra 37 minutes. Exactly. What couldn't one do?

I have my daughter to thank for bringing me this bit of holiday cheer.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Amanda Palmer, on cancer and friendship

The amazing Amanda Palmer has canceled her year of touring to be with her friend Anthony, who is about to start treatment for cancer.

You can read about it here.

Anthony tells stories, and one of the best I've ever heard is below.

Take heed, and listen to it in a quiet spot, because it will likely break your heart.

This, my friends, is the power of story.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What's worse than a new John Travolta album?

There is a plethora of tasteful gifts on the market this Christmas.

There is the "Santa's Farting Butt Travel Pillow"  because it's not enough to keep a treasure like this at home, you'll want to take it on the road with you and "crack up" your fellow travelers. Guaranteed to become a family heirloom.

Ditto this nose gel dispenser which just screams upscale spa.

How about a Christmas ornament that looks like a cat poo?  (I wish I was making this up.)

And still, as tasteless as these are, none of them compare to the new John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John Christmas album.

Just when I think holiday music can't get any worse, we get these two crooning to each other. You know how when you have a sore tooth, and you keep poking it with your tongue even though it hurts? Try listening to a sample or two.

If anyone buys me this CD as a Christmas gift, I promise you I will glue my ears shut then hurl myself off a bridge. I would rather lather up with nose gel and deck the halls with cat turds.

(I would, however, wear a raw turkey hat as an homage to the inimitable Mr. Bean...although I guess technically, if I wore it I would be imitating him...)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Glug Glug Jug

Also known as a Glugglejug.

I have one. It's dark green, and it's my new best friend.

It was a gift from my friend Sylvia, who said it's a traditional housewarming gift. I thought it was a Swiss tradition, but now I think she meant New England.

In any case, I can't stop using it.

It makes me laugh every time I fill Buddy's bowl or water my plants or fill my coffee maker.

It is so going on my Christmas table.

If it's good enough for Prince Charles, it's good enough for me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tartiflette AKA The Heart Stopper

When the weather turns cold, my thoughts turn to tummy-warming recipes. These are usually things I don't make often as they're rich and filling, but once in a while I reckon they're okay and they make the long, cold, dark days of winter bearable. Take tartiflette for example.

Recently I found myself in the Atwater Market, a farmer's market housed in a beautiful Art Deco building next to the Lachine Canal and close to where I live. It has butchers, bakeries and cheese shops, and all kinds of fruit, veggies, fresh flowers even local wine. It's a glorious place to visit.

I wandered in to my favourite cheese shop and since they have over 750 kinds of cheese, I asked my cheesemonger what would be a good cheese for scalloped potatoes besides the usual Gruyere. There happened to be a chef standing beside me, waiting for his cheese order (which confirmed I picked the right shop) and he suggested I try a dish called tartiflette. "But you need to get a reblochon cheese. It must have this cheese because it makes the dish." 

Reblochon comes from Savoie, France. It's a soft, creamy, rich cheese with a yellow crust covered with a fine white powder. It's a bit like a wheel of brie, but has more of a nutty flavour.

Reblochon, according to legend, was first made in the 13th century in the Thones Valley of France. Farmers at that time would rent pastures from the wealthy landowners, and they gave them some of their milk as payment. When they were calculating exactly how much rent was to be paid, the farmers would not milk their cows completely in order to rig the quantity produced (which would therefore lower their rent, the crafty buggers.) Of course, once the landowners took off, the farmers would do a second milking which produced a milk very rich in butterfat. This was the milk they used for the reblochon cheese, which literally means "to milk again." This story pretty much sums up Quebecers and their views on the taxman. We even have commercials that urge us not to pay "under the table" which everyone ignores owing to the fact that we all are in agreement we pay too much tax. Because we do.

But I digress. We're talking about cheese.

I agreed to take a wheel of reblochon cheese, and only then found out it was $32. For CHEESE.  I couldn't lose face in front of the chef so I took it. Begrudgingly, I have to admit.

Well, I made my tartiflette, and luckily for that chef, it was amazing. You can find various recipes on the web, but basically it's potatoes, bacon, onion and the halved reblochon on top, baked in the oven so the cheese melts and melds on to the layers below. Oh My. Now if you can't get reblochon cheese, or you don't want to spend that much, you could I suppose substitute brie and add a bit of Gruyere or cheddar or something else. But if you can, you should try it with the reblochon at least once. So worth it.


3 pounds or so waxy potatoes, like red or Yukon Gold
1 large onion, minced (I used a Vidalia)
1/2 pound bacon, about 6 slices, cut in pieces
2 TBSP butter
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper
1 Reblochon cheese, 500 ml (about 1.1 pounds) nice and ripe

Preheat the oven to 400F. Bring water to a boil. Halve the potatoes, and boil them for 15 minutes or just until barely cooked. You can slip them out of their skins at this point, or leave them on, as I did. Cool slightly, then cut them in thick slices. While the potatoes are boiling, cook the onion and bacon in butter until they're soft but not brown.

In an ovenproof, earthenware dish (I used my Le Creuset oval dish, which I lurve) rub the bottom and sides with the cut garlic clove. Place half the potatoes on the bottom, spoon on half the onions/bacon mixture and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the rest of the potatoes and onion/bacon. Pour the cream on top. Then halve the reblochon cheese through the middle and place both halves, crust side facing up, on the potatoes. (You don't have to use cream, but it looked a bit dry to me and it worked out just fine, so do as you wish.)

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F, and bake for another 25-30 minutes or until it's brown around the edges. The cheese will melt and bubble all around the potatoes. Do not think how many calories are in it. Just plan on a long walk in the snow knowing this dish will keep you warm. For days. Maybe weeks.

Serve with a green salad. Don't even think about dessert with this.

Monday, November 19, 2012

To My American Friends and Family

A little something to help out with your Thanksgiving preparations.

Check out Helen's list of rules for a happy Thanksgiving dinner.

Ah, Margaret and Helen.

You kill me.

 I want to be just like you when I grow up.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

And Now, A Word on Gifts and Giving

Never make reciprocation
 a condition for giving.

"A gift will 
come back to you 
on its own."

Ha. I call bull.

Send me presents! I love presents.

(AIEEEEEE!  The second I typed that, a spider crawled up my arm, right on the tender, white, vulnerable underside of my arm! If you know me, you'll know I have a deep, abiding spider phobia, but that would have made anyone jump out of their chairs.)

Okay, Universe. Got the message.

I take back everything I said.

Giving good. No reciprocity. Got it.

I don't like it when the universe slaps me upside the head like that.

Or tickles me under the arm.

(Shudder.) Off to find my heart. I think it leaped out of my chest, crawled under my desk and is cowering behind my slippers.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

City Walk # 146 The Fort Around the Corner

How many of you can boast of having a fort in your backyard?

Montreal is steeped like a teabag in history and culture. Take this, for instance. It's mere steps away from where I live, in the heart of the city:

Bastion # 1

Interior, seen through the little red door

Collège de Montréal, right behind it, founded in 1767

View down Fort Street, taken from the footprint of the original fort, looking down toward the St. Lawrence River

These are the two remaining bastions of Fort de la Montagne, also known as Fort des Messieurs de Saint Sulpice or Fort Belmont.

Bastion #2
Back in 1683, over 200 aboriginal people (Iroquois, Algonquins and Hurons) lived on this site, literally around the corner from my new flat. Then the Sulpicians showed up, and in order to protect themselves from Iroquois attack, the priests built this fort in 1685. Everything was destroyed in 1854 except these two towers which still stand today.

These towers, each 43 feet tall, were part of that mission, built under the direction of, and personally funded by, one François Vachon de Belmont, a wealthy Burgundian and Sulpician i.e., a member of the Society of St. Sulpice in France.

Sulpicians attest they were mostly concerned with the academic and spiritual formation of priests. They also played a major role in the formation of Montreal and bought huge tracts of land. They (and the government) out and out deceived the Mohawks and took their prime hunting land on the St. Lawrence River. The Mohawks had been established there since the 16th century, and other tribes can be traced back to over 1,000 years, so to have been conned out of it is something that rankles to this day.

(Kanehsatake remains a Mohawk settlement, one of the Seven Nations of Canada, and self-governed by the Mohawks. They continue to fight to maintain their rights to their land. The Oka Crisis is the most recent example of this ongoing battle. This was a 78 day stand-off brought triggered by the neighbouring town of Oka attempting to extend a private golf course not only over an old pine grove, but also a sacred burial ground. Not cool.)

Anyway, this explains the need for the bastions so the priests could have a little hide-out when things got heated.

My goal is to get inside one of them. And the chapel in behind. Not sure if that's allowed, but you know what they say - where's there's a Pam, there's a way.

I haven't even shown you the old section of Montreal yet. So much to see and do here in La Belle Province!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Site Specific Extrovert

People who have met me in person might have a really hard time believing this, but I would actually describe myself as an introvert. I can turn on the switch in a social situation and become what Mike Myers describes as a Site Specific Extrovert, but I crave quiet most days. Social situations tend to exhaust me, whereas they energize extroverts. But hey you'll strike up a conversation with anyone with a pulse, I've been told. That's mostly because I'm shamelessly nosy about other people's lives. But if you put me at a table with strangers and ask me to converse, I'm more likely to convulse from nervous energy, then expire.

So how about you? Extrovert or introvert?

Friday, November 2, 2012

City Fact #457

If you dress like this in the city, even if it's pouring rain and you have to walk your dog because you no longer have the option of lolling about in the morning in your pajamas whilst the dog does his business and frolics in the fenced-in backyard but hey I'M NOT BITTER ABOUT THAT PART OF APARTMENT LIVING, and even if you gussy up said plaid jacket and Sandals baseball cap (read:classy) with a colour coordinated silk scarf, people will avoid looking you in the eye nor will they stop to pet your dog.

Montreal women do not dress this way.


They wear chic little outfits like the woman I saw yesterday. She was wearing Coach rubber boots with corset type laces up the front, black tights/skirt/jacket, carrying a silver bag, smoking an improbably thin cigarette and carrying a baby sling housing a Chihuahua in a black vest with sheepskin trim.

But would she win in a bar fight?

I think not.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Country Walk #296

I seem to have a certain penchant for finding naughty bits in nature.

I don't go looking for them, they find me.

Who remembers this little puppy that popped up in my backyard a few years back? This is a real mushroom, as in, it occurred naturally, as in, I didn't go to the local nursery and say, "Hey, that looks like a really fungi."


I think Mother Nature must have popped another kind of mushroom on the day she created this one. Then she probably sat around eating brownies and said to herself, hey, why not  rectangular pupils for goats and octopuses, and a Bombardier beetle, which shoots boiling hydrogen peroxide out of its bottom.

Both true statements. The second part. The brownie part is pure speculation.

Here it is, all dressed up in its lace collar and ready to get its sexy on for Elizabethan Night at the local club with his friend Ben Dover.


You can go HERE if you'd like a refresher. I don't know what it says about you lot, but a post about a penis-shaped mushroom generated the most comments ever.

I thought that would be the end of body parts lurking in the woods, but as I frolicked amongst the fall leaves a few weeks ago, I came across, well, a photograph says it best.

You be the judge. Also, really Mother Nature?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ring the bells and break out the beer

I've broken the 100 followers barrier!  Hey, it's a big deal to me. Thank you, one and all.

Whoo hoo. Let's head for the cold room for beer.

You can grab one of the following (I happened to see all of these last weekend):

From a local brewery on the east coast of Canada.

I was there to attend my daughter's first solo art exhibit. I can't show you all her paintings due to copyright issues, but I can show you a couple of them. The first painting is the one she used as a poster for her show. I thought at first it was an old photo, like a collage, but no, she painted the whole thing, including the cool background design that looks like wallpaper.

The second one explains why she insisted she had to buy a taxidermied magpie from the UK on eBay. It was a tough sell for her father, until he saw the painting. When you give birth to an artist, you must accept the wild and weird which follow. They really make life interesting, in the very best sense. If you are willing to accept a house full of dead stuffed birds.

It was a stellar night, lots of people came to the opening (including her older sister who flew in for the night.)  I was even asked to be part of the exhibit. I was instructed to give "mom hugs" to everyone who came to the exhibit. Conscious of my role as a Gallery Installation, I eschewed the whisky I bought for the occasion because I didn't think it would go over well to have some random, florid, boozy woman flinging her arms around students. Only when the crowds thinned did I allow myself a wee dram, and it was at that moment my daughter's professor showed up. I don't know if you've ever smelled whisky on someone's breath, but one sip makes you smell like a distillery with a leaky cask. I apologized and hugged him anyway. I'm hoping I didn't just consign my daughter to a D-.

Only one fellow refused a hug. The rest of the attendees, well, some were uneasy with the whole idea. Once they were persuaded to just "lean into the weird" (to quote the Bloggess) I could feel their bodies relax as they gave into it. Others - mostly young girls away from home, but some boys too - welcomed it and ran at me with open arms, some even getting a bit weepy and admitting it made them miss their own moms back home. Some asked for extra hugs goodbye when they left, saying it was a particularly rough time at school so they needed one badly. Some confessed quietly it had been a long time since anyone had hugged them, even their parents. They seemed shocked at how good it felt. I get emotional just thinking about it, actually. So I hugged, and rubbed backs, and whispered "there, there, you're okay, everything is going to be okay" until it was time to go.

We laughed, we cried, we ordered hotdogs and milkshakes and listened to the jukebox in one of the best, original diners in Canada:

We tried to find Peter Mansbridge, who was staying in our inn (he's the top news anchor in Canada) but no luck. All in all, a great weekend. I'm just hoping they stay high and dry.