Thursday, December 23, 2010

The key to a good Christmas drunk... my mother's homemade egg nog.

Egg nog is the best of all possible drinks in my world. As an overgrown toddler who drinks milk by the vat every week, I love any excuse to down more dairy (I believe it is impossible for me to break a bone, so calcium-dense am I), and as a grown up who likes a tasty cocktail once in a while, the prospect of this brandy-rich tipple fills me with glee.

I beg of you, put DOWN the carton of storebought nog this year and make your own. You won't regret it. Just don't nog and drive.

Christel's High Octane Egg Nog
8 large eggs (double yolkers preferred but not necessary), separated
1 litre container 10% cream
500ml container whipping cream
cup of brandy
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp good quality, real vanilla extract (mum is very serious about this. The vanilla MUST be real.)
pinch of salt
nutmeg, if desired

Beat egg whites with pinch of salt and 1 tbsp of the sugar until stiff. Set aside.
Beat egg yolks with the rest of the sugar until fluffy and white. Set aside.
Beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Set aside.

Pour brandy and 10% cream into a large punch bowl or other suitable vessel. Carefully fold the whipped cream, egg whites and egg yolks into the liquid.  That's it! That's all there is to it!

Store the nog bowl in a cold place (we usually have it sitting outside the back door) with a cover on it. To serve, stir gently and ladle up the liquid into your glass, then top with some of the foam and sprinkle each glass with nutmeg if you like.

Keeps well for a day or two in a cold place and is really delicious for breakfast on Boxing Day.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

...and what have you done?

A few days ago, I remembered this post I wrote last year about that ol' Christmas feeling because, of course, I was suddenly struck anew with that lovely, slightly painful combination of joy and sorrow endemic to this time of year.

Did you ever watch Will & Grace?  I don't have an absolutely clear memory of this but I believe there was an episode where Grace decorated a department store window for the holidays in dark reds and warm blacks, rich velvets and twinkling candles. As another character stood outside on the street looking at the display, she said something along the lines of "It's perfect. It's dark and glam and luxurious. Just like Christmas."

At the time, although I agreed with the "glam" part, I thought it was a pretty pessimistic take on Christmas. Of course, I was young and likely wedged so far up Christmas' butt I spit tinsel, but I really couldn't see how Christmas could be considered dark.  Christmas is fun! It’s about food!  And gifts! It’s bright and sparkly, not dark and gloomy!  As I've gotten older, more sentimental, and less obtuse, I've realized how much the holiday season is tinged with sadness, stress and regret.  Of course, there's the push/pull stress of family and social commitments, and the financial impact of gift giving and all that, but the real sombre tones come from the inevitable review of events as the year comes to hurtling to a close.

All of this came bubbling to the surface last week as I sat in a concert hall, listening to an incredible, wall-of-sound, full orchestra and chorus performance of Handel's Messiah, just the kind of thing I like.  The thing about Messiah, as you all know, is that it's a work that features joyously overwhelming choral bits in order to make you forget about the huge musical lamentation in the middle.  And it was during that middle part that I realized I was close to tears, right there in the middle of Roy Thomson Hall*.

There's nothing like music to unlock whatever you've put away, and while the chorus and soloists sang about Christ's Passion, I could not stop thinking about events of the past year.  Of course, there are the small regrets (did I NOT say I was switching jobs this year?), the missed opportunities, the words said and unsaid, but more notably, there's been a real loss or two.

My friend Sally died this fall. I only saw her about 4 times a year for dinner, but there's a Sally-shaped hole in my world where she used to be, and I regret that I didn't have more dinners with her.  I regret that I responded to the news that the cancer had reached her brain with such pragmatism, even though she herself presented the prognosis with unflappable calm. I wish I had let myself feel more at the time of Sally's news, when she was there, for God's sake, before she left the planet so unbelievably quickly.  Because what's the point of feeling so much about it now that she's gone?Sometimes grief seems an empty gesture.

She was a lovely woman. Kind. Funny. Short. Endlessly enthusiastic and interested in all our stories. Strong. Brave. Really short. At least two decades my senior, Sally was a kind of proxy aunt, sister, mother and I guess I thought she'd always be around. I fear I took her grinning, low-key friendship for granted, and I'm sorry to have done so.  It tinges my grief with guilt.

I think of Sally often (just as I think of another lovely woman I knew who also lost her life to cancer last summer, though hers is not my story to tell) and am childishly glad to have an old clock on my wall that she gave to us as a physical reminder of our friendship.  While there's nothing that can bring her back or change the situation, I have learned a good lesson.  Thanks to these wonderful women, I don't need Jacob Marley and his ghostly friends to visit this Christmas.  Sally's absence will remind me to not take for granted the good things in life, to appreciate the very, very many people I know who make my life so extraordinarily rich, to reciprocate, to expect less, and to give more. 

Which, when you think about it, is the real luxury of our end of the year holiday celebration. The chance to learn a lesson before it's too late, before you wipe the slate clean with the change of the calendar. Sometimes, I guess, it takes until you're 40 before you really get the point of Christmas.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


*Be warned: they don't really lower the house lights for symphony performances like they do for the opera or theatre. You can silently cry your eyes out at La traviata or Our Town and no one's the wiser, but the symphony? Not so much.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Today's Top Five List of Unlikeable Words

5. slacks
4. panties
3. tot
2. moisten
1. gusset

Plus an honorable mention for ointment.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Today's Top Five List of Favourite Smells

5. Cat tummy

4. Cold butter

3. Dog paws

2. Ink, most especially lithography ink

1. The green husks of black walnuts


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ladies Nice Things

I stole a few hours this morning and went to the Christie Antique Show with my mother in law. I had no intention of buying, what with the husband and I already drowning in stuff, but of course I did.

The purchase of an old purse in navy leather started the ball rolling. It's not in great condition, but for $12 I just couldn't resist. I do love a good, proper ladies bag, especially one with a built in frame purse inside -- vay, vay cool. A few booths later, I found one of my favourite vendors of antique textiles (Jan Marriott, and bought a couple of gorgeous silk scarves (one from the 40s, one from the 50s) for $20. Then my mother in law treated me to a pair of thick, fluted milkshake glasses -- the perfect accompaniment to a pair of recently rediscovered green Fireking oval diner plates that have been buried in our basement for a few years. My final purchase was, of all things, a triple strand of fake pearls. I've never really cared for costume jewellery and yet, today, it was all I could do not to buy brooches and bracelets and rings by the bucketful.

Looking at my purchases all together, I think we can all come to the conclusion that I might be watching a little too much Mad Men these days...


Friday, August 6, 2010

Boy At Large

The other day I received one of those phone calls that can make a mother stop dead in her tracks. "Do you know where your son is?" said the voice on the other end of the line.

Okay, the voice was my husband and he wouldn't be calling just to ask where one quarter of his of spring were, just out of the blue.

I told hubs that to the best of my knowledge Junior was out for a bike ride. At the very least this answer should be good for part marks. My little man was indeed out for a bike ride, as a matter of fact he had gone all the way to visit dad at work.

I laughed and asked how he got there, ( I know he was on his bike, I mean what route did he take). Turns out he took the safest of all possible routes. Since it was near the end of the day dad was just going to keep him there and then drive him home.

My son, just for the record has just turned 9 years old. My husband works about 2.5 kms from our house.

As we told our friends who have kids about the same age about Mr. Man's adventure they were horrified. Did we ground him? Did we take his bike away? Was he ever going to be allowed to leave the property again.

To be honest I was shocked by how shocked they were.

My son is the only boy in the family. He has three sisters who are all girly girls. Our dog is female, to the best of our knowledge so are the fish. He really likes being a guy. He likes to do guy things. He likes to think that as a boy he is just more adventurous and independent than his sisters. We can debate how true that is another time.

The thing is, I grew up in a time and place where everyone spent summer (spring, fall) days out on their bikes. We knew our little corner of the world like the back of our hand. I kind of like that my son knows our neighbourhood. I feel better knowing that when he is out he knows several routes to get home.Plus he knows where all his friends, and most of his sister's friends live should he ever run into trouble and need help. Plus, little does he know, but I have watched him on his rides more than he knows, and even when he doesn't know anyone is watching, he wears his helmet, and crosses at the lights and obeys all the rules.

So he isn't grounded. He gets to keep his bike, and his independence.

Monday, July 19, 2010

and sometimes a window opens and dumps a good thing in your lap

Remember this?

Yeah, I'm so full of it. I learned a long time ago that the more righteously indignant I get about something, the more chance there is I'm the one who's wrong or at fault. Similarly, I've now learned that the more adamant I am about not doing something, the greater the likelihood that I'll be doing it anyway.

Because, I'm very excited to announce, next week I start a new job in (you guessed it) fundraising. Which I swore up and down I was finished with. However, this is a one year contract covering a maternity leave AND I get to work with a very smart, very funny and very stylish young woman I've worked with before AND it's for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (it's like the mothership calling me home!) AND it's just grantwriting . Which is my very favorite thing to do for money besides writing the occasional food piece for Vines magazine.

How can a girl resist?


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The world just doesn't need another food blog (but here's my favourite early summer dinner recipe anyway)

You know how there can be a dish you really love for a few years and then it somehow falls out of rotation and then you bring it back and it's so damn good you wonder why on earth you ever let it go?

Linguine with asparagus and lemon cream is that dish for us.

Shortly after we got married, Christopher came home with a Donna Hay cookbook that had been sent to his office. We both fell in love with it, enjoying the inspiration of newish, vaguely Asian flavours and loving the large format and excellent photo styling. One dish that caught our eye was this pasta with lemon cream sauce and asparagus, and I duly set forth to make it from the recipe.

Which is where the problem starts because I have some sort of recipe-attention-deficit-disorder and can rarely follow one all the way through. What I should do, of course, is make a particular dish to exact recipe the first time around and then tinker with it, and sometimes I do, but more often I get halfway through and decide to tinker.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure I did make the lemon cream pasta according to Hay's recipe the first few times and it kind of worked but never very well. There were always two issues for me -- (one), the sauce involves, if memory serves, equal parts cream and stock and the sauce always ended up thin and soupy except for the addition of (two) parmesan, which I always added when the heat was too high and would end up with those horrific strings of cheese that happen when the liquid is too hot, do you know what I mean? The only way I've ever been able to make non-stringy cheesy sauce is to make a proper white sauce with roux and then add the cheese, but that wouldn't really work here.

So, after throwing the book against the wall and starting from scratch using my instincts instead, I devised a simplified version of Linguine with Asparagus and Lemon Cream Sauce.

enough asparagus for two
enough linguine for two
zest of one lemon and the juice of half the lemon
tablespoon of butter and maybe, if you've got a really nice one, a dollop of olive oil
one clove garlic, chopped finely OR grated to slush on a microplane
1/2 to 3/4 cup of cream (I used half & half but go to town if you've got heavier cream on hand)
good parmesan
large pot of boiling, salted water
salt and pepper to taste

Trim woody ends off your asparagus and discard, then cut asparagus into 1-inch segments. Toss in boiling salted water and cook until crisp-tender. Lift out of the boiling water (you need the water for your pasta, after all) with a slotted spoon or similar tool and place in a bowl of cold water to stop it cooking.

Throw your pasta in the boiling water you cooked your asparagus in. In the ten minutes you've got while the pasta cooks, melt the butter (and the dollop of olive oil, if you want) in a sauce pan on low heat, then throw in the zest, garlic and lemon juice. Whisk to make sure everything's all melty together and then pour in cream, whisking to incorporate all the ingredients together. Let it cook for a bit on low heat.

Drain your pasta when it's done. Squeeze a bit more lemon juice from the other half of the lemon over the hot pasta and toss. Pour the garlicky lemony cream over top and toss to make sure every strand is coated. Drain your cooked asparagus and add to the pasta. Grate fresh parmesan over top and add some good coarse cracked black pepper. Plate up and serve with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy the adulation.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Life in Melonville

You know how people talk about six degrees of separation? I have a friend who likes to say that here in Melonville it is more like 3 1/2. Ain't it the truth.

I have a niece who recently began dating a new guy. Not a brand new guy, like not a newborn, the guy has been on the planet for a number of years now, he is just new to her. Okay.

Wouldn't you know it, his grandmother and her grandmother ( my mother) are church friends. Of course they are! This is Melonville! This Sunday after Mass my mom made her way to New Guy's grandma to celebrate yet another match that will keep the Melonville bloodlines intertwined.

My mother went on and on about what a lovely girl my niece is. His grandmother thinks he hung the moon.


Then it happened. New Guy's grandma, pulled my mom aside, apart from the crowd. She needed my mom to know that New Guy is indeed a peach. Lovely boy. Good job. Loves his grandma....but....BUT...she needed to know if my mom had seen him yet. No? Well, then she needed to know, and please remember he is a lovely boy, lovely, but well, seems he...have I mentioned what a peach he is? Because he is, it's just that he's ummm........



I kind of blanked out at this point in the story. For all I know one or more grandmothers needed to be revived with smelling salts and the priest may or may not have administered a therapeutic belt of altar wine.

And my husband wonders why I want our kids to spend as much time away from here as possible.


Friday, June 11, 2010

So yes, Kara and I did spend top off an unbelievably great day of kateandkara time with Eddie Izzard. Sweet Lady Gaga, but he makes me melt, you have no idea. George Clooney gives me butterflies, but Eddie MELTS me.

If there was any way I could get to NYC to see him in Race I would be there in a heartbeat....sigh.

Okay, see here is the problem. I had this really great rant in my head, and now I am all about the Eddie. Now I have to go and get some fresh air and have a tea and maybe go buy some groceries and try to refocus.

I'll be back later.