Monday, September 29, 2008

Apple, Peach and Pear Crisp

I made my first crisp today.  Apples, peaches and pears sucker punched by cinnamon and buried under oats, sugar, and butter.  There's really no way this could fail.  After 35 minutes in the oven, the fruits were soft to the fork, but the topping wasn't very brown or carmelized.  Lacking the integral crisp, it was more like an apple, peach and pear semi.  I cranked on the broiler and let the oats and sugar get nice and crunchy before pulling the sweet beauty out.  Topped with vanilla ice cream, it's like the BBQ peach I made in August, but amped up.

Apple, Peach and Pear Crisp

2 apples, peeled and diced
1 pear, peeled and diced
1 peach, peels and diced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup water

1 cup oats
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ cup melted butter

1) Peel your fruits, dice and sprinkle them with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and the water.
2) Combine the remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl; add melted butter and mix until crumbly.  Lick your fingers!  It's amazing.
3) Pour your fruit into a 9X9 pan and sprinkle crumb mixture on top of the fruit.  Bake at 375°F for 30-40 minutes or until the fruit is tender.  Note: Inexplicably, I don't have a square pan so I used two 9X4 inch loaf pans.  This worked just fine!

Fall On Your Knees and Slurp

With a potato masher in one hand and a fresh supply of Vitamin D in the other, I officially ushered-in my favourite of all seasons: fall.  The weather has shifted, that icky-sticky all but gone from the air.  Leaves are changing, ever so slightly, and sweaters have replaced sweating.  I love it!

And what better way to ring in the new season than with a tried-and-true soup recipe.  Like Fred and Ginger before them, carrots and ginger go together like nothing else.  This creamy smooth soup is delicious with a great meal, or on its own for lunch.  And, if you know me, you know I can't stand a recipe with more than 5 ingredients.  Who's got that kind of time?  This takes less than an hour and smells-up your house deliciously.

Carrot Ginger Soup

2 tablespoons of butter
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 medium potato, chopped
5½ cups chopped carrots
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
1½ quarts chicken stock (1o cups)
7 tablespoons whipping cream
a good pinch of nutmeg
salt, pepper

1) Melt the butter in a large pot.  Add the onions and celery and allow them to soften for 5 minutes or so. 

2) Stir in the potato, carrots, ginger, and stock.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, cover, and allow to cook for 20 minutes.  (Full disclosure: I use baby carrots.  They require no cleaning or chopping and measure out so easily.  It takes exactly one large bag to make this recipe.  I feel no shame.)

3) Pour the soup into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.  Return the soup to the pot through a strainer to ensure ultimate smoothness.  Stir in the cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Serve some and jar the rest for easy lunches.


The Whole Wide World

I have a thing for maps and globes.  Always have.  I could sit for hours with my atlas marveling at the tables and charts along the margins, wondering how so many people could fit into such small places.  I remember when I discovered that Spain was in Europe and not South America.  I remember when the U.S.S.R. turned into Russia and its tiny,  consonant-laden bits and pieces.  I loved colouring maps, the best countries were mid-sized, pressing hard with my pencil crayons along their borders and shading lightly their fleshy centers.  To this day I could spend days searching, but now with the added bonus of Google Maps and detailed satellite imaging.  

I got a new globe yesterday, and I think I'm in love.  It was $10 and is a strange size.  Globes the size of volleyballs are fairly common, but this one is smaller, perhaps comparable to a cantaloupe or a child's skull.  It's colours are rich and vintagey.  The equator has been fastened down in a couple of places, the tape yellowing.  These are the things that make me happy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sing a Song For Me

It seems I'm only updating about one thing these days. Well, there's a lot going on right now in the sweet, sweet world of music.

A couple of years ago, Jenny Lewis (lead singer of Rilo Kiley and little-known member of the Troop Beverly Hills) went the way of Gwen Stefani and Beyonce®: solo. She billed herself just above a duo called The Watson Twins on her first foray, Rabbit Fur Coat in 2006. While great and listenable, this album felt a bit forced, a bit gimmicky. On her new CD, Acid Tongue, it seems she has settled-in as a solo artist. On songs like "Tryin' My Best" and the title track she channels the old school white soul artists that inspire her. There's a twangy Patsy Cline tone there too. It never verges on the one-off vanity album vibe (like the excellent Volume One from She & Him) and feels entirely genuine. I'll be listening all winter long.

My music-consuming patterns are often very seasonal. You won't hear a ton of dance beats between November and March through my headphones. To the constant dismay of my boyfriend, my winter playlist includes dreary and drippy songs with lots of strings and wailing vocals. I live for this stuff.

Topping the list this winter is Antony and the Johnsons' new album, The Crying Light. A sneak-EP will released on October 7th, but you can get the first single, "Another World" here. It's a stark and creepy song about, among other things, climate change. If you know anything at all about Antony Hegarty (lead singer and sometimes-strange bird) you know that he sounds like an avant-garde Nina Simone who sings seemingly simple songs about gender and family. Friends and collaborators include everyone from Rufus Wainwright and Nico Muhly to Lou Reed, Bjork and the Euro-disco-dance-machine Hercules and Love Affair. Some people laugh when they hear him, but I do not.

Another album about to drop is the long-awaited sophomore release from Rachael Yamagata. I hate to categorize or oversimplify music, but for the sake of description she falls into that Fiona Apple slot. Girl at a piano. Moody and introspective. But she does it with well, unlike, say, millions of other sad girls. She is an artist I listen to year-round, every year, constantly. Her songs are poetic, but straightforward. Melancholy without being whiny or immature. She is honest and alarmingly candid. In "Even So" (from 2004's Happenstance) she writes about cheating on her boyfriend and says, "For I love you like you'll never let yourself be loved again," succinctly breaking the heart of every listener. Her second album promises some of the same, and with a second disc of more rollicking material, something new too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nobody's Daughter

While we're discussing musical genius, I thought I'd mention my potentially-surprising adoration of Courtney Love.

Sandi and I listened to a lot of Hole in high school. We watched her go from grunge rock idol to respected actress to designer-muse and back again. She had hits and misses, musically, like the massively popular Celebrity Skin and the commercial bomb that was America's Sweetheart. The former is one of those albums that floods my mind with memories of adolescence, thinking back on the amazing cover of "Malibu" Sandi performed with our school's rock band.

Head over to her MySpace where she's streaming three great new songs. There's something about them that was missing from her first solo album, 2004's America's Sweetheart. There's an old-school swagger and a confidence that doesn't cross the line into egomaniacal crazy-talk. It's amped-up folk-rock, somehow. For the first time in a while, I'm excited to see what she's got going on when Nobody's Daughter is released in early 2009.

'Til We Lose Control, System Overload

Kanye West is at it again. He performed a new song on the recent MTV Music Video Awards called "Love Lockdown". It was one of those great performances, all lights and live drumming and pomposity. I loved it.

Click the image to download this song. It's kind of dark and unlike stuff he's done before, and it gets me real excited for his new album, expected before the end of 2008.

In a recent post I wrote about the plight of the gay man, how we often yearn to be macho in ways we aren't. David commented "That is the great unspoken truth of modern homosexuality -- the silent, internal distrust of our masculinity." But I have to wonder, am I past attempting this gender sleight-of-hand? When did I stop trying to pretend or modify my behaviour?

As years go by, I fake it less and less. I don't attempt to play sports a) because I can't, and b) because I don't care to. There was a time when I'd pretend to enjoy a round of basketball or a quick trip to the hardware store. I felt it was my duty, as a boy, to find joy in these things.  I do not feel that need anymore.  I admit, though, I sometimes find myself altering the way I walk when I'm in small towns or stores that sell auto parts.  It's deep-seated, this quelling of flamboyance. I might slump my shoulders a bit, or toss a hitch in my gait implying a football injury from high school. And when I catch myself doing these subconscious things, I often get resentful, instead tossing my hair or cocking a wrist, just to prove I'm not ashamed.

Coming out was as much that thing as television and movies make it out to be. While I try not to over dramatize such events, it certainly did change my life. Suddenly I wasn't a boy trying to pass as straight and I could do the things I'd always been compelled to do but stopped myself just this side of jazz hands. Like wearing fitted clothes. And sitting with one leg draped over the other. And copping to an adoration of Broadway and Nicole Kidman's shoes. It was so freeing to finally be what I so obviously was.

Perhaps when a gay boy inevitably comes out of the closet, the pink elephant in the room takes up residence there.

I grew up in a house where phrases like "toughen up" and "don't be so sensitive" were fairly common. For some reason, we don't like it when our boys have emotions.  My sister now has two boys of her own and we talk about these sort of gender issues all the time. How amazing it is that anyone would discourage "sensitivity", though it happens constantly. We are, as a people, obsessed with our centuries-old gender roles.  What a shame we can't be well-rounded people with traits of all kinds, masculine and feminine combined.  

2008 marks my full acceptance of myself.  Not only do I walk how I walk, say the word "fabulous" without hesitation, and cry openly during commercials, but this coming November I will proudly attend our best friends' wedding as the Maid of Honor.  I'd like to think I'm doing it like Patrick Dempsey, but know it'll come off more like Rupert Everett.  I'm okay with that, I'm gonna do it my way.  I might not go as far as having ringlets ironed into my hair, but I'll definitely cry when I help Natasha into her dress.  I'll spend the night adjusting her hair so it's just right.  And when she throws a bouquet I will join that group of girls and I will slaughter them.  I'm next, bitches, so step off.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Notes on Aging

Just briefly, I want to tell you about two new and unwelcome traits that have befallen me. Suddenly in the past six weeks I've become an allergy sufferer (ragweed, I assume) and, apparently, now I'm someone who wakes up at dawn with the unshakeable need to pee. Either I've got diabetes, or my bladder is aging at a rapid rate and cannot keep it together. Either way, I'm not happy about this.

Who have I become?

Monday, September 8, 2008

GLBT on Multigrain or Transamerica's Next Top Model

If ever there was a guilty pleasure, it is the hot-mess trainwreck known as ANTM. Tonight was the 2-hour season premiere of America's Next Top Model, Cycle 11.

Be assured, I want so desperately to hate Tyra Banks. She's one of the most ridiculous people in all of popular culture. Her desperate attempts to be nü-Oprah, her over-the-top emotional outbursts (see: "I have never yelled at a girl like this!") and her heavy, scratchy wigs. She's absolutely infuriating. But when she starts coaching the models, I just cannot deny her talent. She knows how to model. She can smile with her eyes like nobody's business. When she wants someone to exhibit aggressive despair, she can demonstrate. The only real error in her ways is the misguided belief that these skills are credit towards a PhD in human psychology. She's a deeply-disturbed megalomaniac after all, so you get what you pay for.

With each new crop of wannabe models, she ups the ante somehow. A few "cycles" ago it was the ultra-controversial "plus-sized model", tearing up the scales at a monstrous 140 lbs. At every opportunity she made all normal-sized women everywhere feel plus-sized, and considering the percentage of Americans who are downright morbidly obese, I can't imagine this had a great affect on her viewers' confidence.

What next, you ask? What part of our culture can she exploit now? How about the transgendered.

I thought this would be the perfect time to sound-off on something that has bothered me for years. This might not be news, but I'm a homosexual. (In fact, Albert Schultz - Canadian actor and overlord of my professional life - once announced to my colleagues that my astrological sign is the little-known "fagatarius". Human Rights Lawsuit pending.) But however homosexual I may be, I resent the term "GLBT" - Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered.

Why, oh why, are transgendered people lumped-in with the gays? Sexuality is not a gender issue. I understand this confusion, but fear it only perpetuates an idea that is simply untrue.

Below I will dispel some myths and let you know what isn't cool.

1) Gay men do not want to be women, we only covet their extensive footwear options.

2) We have no interest in removing our penises. In fact we, as a people, hold them in very high regard, perhaps even more than the average straight male.

3) Feminizing a gay man can be highly offensive. Unless you know this person well, do not refer to a gay man as "girlfriend", "missy", or "sister". Or "Mary". For the love of god, do not call me Mary.

4) Never ask a gay couple: "Sooooo, which one of you is like the woman?" Profoundly offensive. I've been asked this question dozens of times. It would be like randomly asking a black couple which one of them drives the getaway car.

5) It doesn't mean your son is a transsexual if he wants to play with Barbies® or crimp his sister's hair. He's definitely gay, though.

6) On top of having no interest in being a woman, the average gay man yearns to be macho and manly in ways we rarely are. The highest compliment you can pay a gay man is: "I totally thought you were straight for the first 6 months I knew you!" So satisfying.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog, in no way, represents a lack of respect, admiration or support for people who are transgendered. Also, I do not want to take credit for the hilarious renaming, Transamerica's Next Top Model. That goes to Brian who is back from his time in Australia and southeast Asia, where he did not have sexual reassignment surgery to become a ladyman. He was tempted.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Blogs and Black Bananas

Another blog I frequent daily is Orangette.  It's written by a supercharming girl named Molly in Seattle.  She writes about food, but cleverly buries her recipes and tips into fantastic stories about her life.  

I've been reading for more than a year, but until today hadn't tried any of her recipes.  I'm a sucker for banana bread and the one she wrote about last week paired well with the blackening fruit on my countertop.  

Molly suggests lining your pan with parchment and I couldn't be happier with this tip!  Isn't it cute, all Little House on the Prairie rustic?  I bet a yummy muffin would love to be wrapped in parchment rather than those tacky pastel liners!  You could just put the whole still-warm muffin pan out on the buffet for your next brunch.  Charm-city, USA!  

Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping
(as adapted by Molly of Orangette from Bon Appétit, September 2008)

For the bread:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3 medium bananas)
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup honey
¼ cup water

For topping:
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2½ Tbsp. packed dark brown sugar

Preheat to 350°F.
Spray your 9x5 inch pan lightly and line with parchment.

In a medium bowl whisk together your dry ingredients.  In a larger bowl whisk together the wet.  Mix the dry into the wet.  In a small bowl mix together your topping components.  Pour and scrape the batter into the load pan lined with parchment.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter.  Bake until a tester comes out clean.  It took 45 minutes in my oven.  Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before slicing.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Why We Tell Stories

So, the world wide web is quite the place. We've all fallen into a Wiki hole or gone searching for a Golden Girls clip on YouTube only to end up, hours later, watching a brunette Alabaman perform her own home birth. Or something. It can be a long and winding road. One can slip into the same kind of chain reaction in the vast and varied world of blogs.

If I'm reading about drapes or custom-tailored suits from French Guiana, I often link to other people's little corner of the universe. I've stumbled upon many which have entered my daily check list. Just a few days ago a young man from Utah commented on my blog. I can't tell for certain, but there was a familiarity to his comment, as if he'd been reading for months and decided today would be the day he'd say something. I've been there, lurking in the shadows, reading at my leisure. And then, one day, I think to myself, "I should say something. She doesn't even know I'm here!"

His comment, of course, led me to his blog, a mix of the thoughtful and the whimsical, the deep and the very shallow. I like it. He posted a lovely poem, and I generally do not enjoy poetry. But it reminds me of my sister, one of my favourite storytellers. And perhaps it sums up why people have blogs, which at times seem so insurmountably narcissistic.

So, like he before me, I will post this poem for you to read.

Why We Tell Stories

Lise Mueller

Because we used to have leaves
and on damp days
our muscles feel a tug,
painful now, from when roots
pulled us into the ground

and because our children believe
they can fly, an instinct retained
from when the bones in our arms
were shaped like zithers and broke
neatly under their feathers

and because before we had lungs
we knew how far it was to the bottom
as we floated open-eyed
like painted scarves through the scenery
of dreams, and because we awakened

and learned to speak

We sat by the fire in our caves,
and because we were poor, we made up a tale
about a treasure mountain
that would open only for us

and because we were always defeated,
we invented impossible riddles
only we could solve,
monsters only we could kill,
women who could love no one else
and because we had survived
sisters and brothers, daughters and sons,
we discovered bones that rose
from the dark earth and sang
as white birds in the trees

Because the story of our life
becomes our life

Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently

and none of us tells it
the same way twice

Because grandmothers looking like spiders
want to enchant the children
and grandfathers need to convince us
what happened happened because of them

and though we listen only
haphazardly, with one ear,
we will begin our story
with the word and

Docking, For Beginners

My boyfriend Jeff loves him some electronics. Be it surround sound speakers or a GPS system in the car, he's a sucker for expensive gadgets. (That being said, we're still watching television through a tube and I'm typing this on a 16GB computer. I'm pretty sure my ninth grade scientific calculator was more sophisticated than that.) We're not the Rockefellers, afterall, so we can't have it all.

We recently celebrated 5 years as a couple. This warrants a bit of spending, no? Jeff came home with the one item we've been talking about for years. The Bose Sound Dock. We listen to a lot of music and we entertain a lot. Last summer we bought outdoor speakers from the Home Depot. They were very cheap and sounded terrible, but we wanted music on our back patio. And every summer we go to the cottage and sit on the deck out near the water. We've attempted to drag a stereo speaker out across the lawn, wires trailing, becoming hazardous as the aforementioned mojitos start flying. We've always known the best option would be the compact, high-quality Bose. An iPod could hold our entire collection and we could travel the world with our own little jukebox.

The new generation Sound Dock is portable. Wireless! Rechargeable lithium ion! This pretty much sealed the deal. The battery lasts for hours, charges quickly, and the sound is better than ever. A ghetto blaster for a new generation. Small enough to rest on your shoulder while pimping hoes and convenient enough to take out to the deck on a holiday Monday.

25°C, Georgian Bay, Chelsea Handler's best-selling Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea. Add some music and a snappy gin-based-beverage and I can't think of a better way to spend a day.

All Shall Know the Wonder of Purple Summer

If you're anything like me, you like to drink in the afternoon.  Especially when you're at the cottage for the last weekend of the rainiest summer on record.  There's a compulsive need to pack the days full.  As dusk rolls in at 4:30, you run circles in the grass, pleading with the sun to stay, just a little longer. Swinging madly in the hammock, it feels more like a marathon of activity than it does relaxation.  But that's what Labour Day Weekend is all about.  Packing it in.

This means, to make the most of your day, you've got to get your chores done early.  With mint growing in every ditch from here to Saskatchewan, it also means you might be too far gone on mojitos to prepare dinner with a clear head.  I find the best way to combat this is pre-emptive prepping.  Get everything you can possibly get done out of the way before the booze and wine flows at cocktail hour.  Or at noon.  Or whenever yesterday's hangover subsides.  

I'd be hard-pressed to find something that can't be cooked on a barbeque.  Some things, though, like green beans, asparagus, and finely chopped herbs and spices, are too small and fall beneath the grill to a charbroiled death.  This is why God (and Dollarama) made pre-formed tinfoil trays in various shapes and sizes. Good for cooking the hard-to-cook, and also for the early preparation.  Sturdier than a simple tinfoil wrap, these little packs of delight are easy to handle, easy to serve from and totally reusable!  

A bit of oil, some chopped rosemary, 30 minutes on the grill, and voila!  We always do our green beans this way in the summer.  Never has a bean tasted so good than sizzled in olive oil above a smoky flame.  This weekend I also cut the kernels from three cobs of corn, added heaps of butter, salt, and pepper, and used one of these trays to steam the whole thing right on the grill.  Try it while you still have time!