Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lamp It Up: Redux

So, it turns out my in-laws had an embarrassment of riches where lamps were concerned. My last project involved these beauties and I couldn't be happier with them. The shades from Restoration Hardware work perfectly and the clever little finials make me smile every day.

After boxing up the cottage, it turns out there was another set of lamps not living up to their full potential: A dusty rose, pleated bell-shade can have that effect on almost anyone. Once those were tossed these tall brass bases really shine. The tarnish is perfect making the metal look more like mercury glass. In lamp light they have a greenish patina, which works wonderfully in my living room.

The distance between the finial and the harp base is large, so these guys will require a really tall shade. Back when I was working on the marble lamps I was considering black drum shades; I think that style will work beautifully with these, so the search is back on! I think I've found the perfect finials too - check them out. Pretty over-the-top, but a little glitz never hurt anybody.

I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, I've got another project on-the-go. My boyfriend Jeff fell in love with an old wooden birdcage he saw at an antique shop when he was a kid. He proudly brought it home and it sat in the living room for years. During Purge Fest 2008 it went up against the Toss-Keep-Donate Jury.

I have a firm belief in taking meaningful objects and adjusting them to work in a contemporary setting. Like your Grandma's old piano - the cherry finish ain't working in your mid-century modern dwelling, but it holds a ton of sentimental value, so, for the love of God, have that sucker refinished! It's still the same piano, still full of memories, its precious ivories untouched. So make it work!

Because the honey-coloured wood and sad-Cat-Lady-overtones weren't working for me, I convinced Jeff to let me spray out the cage in a high-gloss black. I plan to hang a single old-school Edison bulb inside and - shazam! - our very own, ultra-cool, one-of-a-kind lamp, rife with Jeff's childhood memories but within the limits of our (read: my) personal style. Stay tuned to see the results!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Out With the Old

For several years we've spent summers, ski-weekends, and the days following Christmas up at the family cottage. Recently, however, it was sold to a new family.  They take possession in the New Year which means everything had to be boxed-up and moved-out last week.

Since losing Jeff's Dad, the cottage has meant much less.  Really, it was a place to enjoy red wine with him, to sit by a fire and argue about politics or the economy. The place holds a lot of memories.  

I only hope pictures will suffice.

(Photo by me, Georgian Bay, December 2006)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ending on a Sweet Note

So, I lit a fire under my ass last night and did some last-minute baking. A perennial favourite is the oatmeal applesauce cookie with maple drizzle. I found it years ago in the Martha Stewart Cookie Magazine and have made at least 8 dozen every year since. Incredibly, they've retained their deliciousness!

There are several factors that make a recipe a good one, for me. First, of course, the taste of the item. These cookies are chewy and sweet with an apple pie meets oatmeal cookie thing happening. Second, I love a high-yield recipe. This one will make about 4 dozen good-sized sweets. Third, and perhaps most importantly, I like a recipe that is easy. This one is ridiculously simple. No need for a mixer, no wrapping in cling wrap and pre-freezing, no slicing, no finicky business. They take all of 10 minutes to prepare and even less to bake. Easy-breezy!

Apple Oats and Maple Cookies

For the cookie:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 cups of Quaker oats
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup golden raisins

For the icing:

1 3/4 cups icing sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons water

1) Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Mix the melted butter and sugars until combined. Add the egg and the applesauce. Mix until well-blended. Don't be too precious about it. Mix in the oats, flour, baking soda, powder and salt. Toss in the raisins.

2) Drop the dough onto parchment-lined sheets. Like Whitney and Bobby, there should be some space between them. Bake until golden and just-set, about 9 minutes - But you know your oven best. Let them cool on wire racks you've set over wax paper.

3) To make the icing mix all components. Add water as needed to turn the sticky mess into a fluid icing. Pour the mixture into a pastry bag or Ziploc, snip the tip and decorate.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Ba-Humbug Lite

The last time I was sincerely excited about Christmas Nicole Kidman could conjure facial expressions.

As years go by I just can't get it up for the holidays. It's December 19th and I didn't even bake cookies this year. And I'm notorious, as far as cookies go.

I also canceled presents, much to my Mom's disappointment, I think. We only bought for our niece and nephews, because adults don't need things. The only thing anyone really needs far exceeds the predetermined budget, like a new condo or a bailout on our credit cards.

This is not to say that I'm a Scrooge - certainly not. I jam out to Barbra Streisand's hilarious version of Jingle Bells with the best of them. I just think I'm in limbo. I'm at the age where Christmas has lost that magic feeling and I'm not sure it'll come back until I have kids of my own.

But I have wonderful memories of Christmas. My sister and I were sneaky and clever, knowing all the hiding places. I'm not sure I ever received a gift I didn't know was coming. Sure, it's terrible to ruin a surprise, awful to dig to the back of your parents' closet, but, at 10, it was so worth it. I can vividly recall stealthily slicing the tape open on a mid-sized box to find the pair of brown Bluenotes cords I'd been hoping for. I tried them on before sliding them back into the box, secured with fresh tape and feigned surprise two weeks later.

For a handful of my pre-adolescent years, my grandparents came to our house on Christmas Eve so we'd all be together in the morning. My Grandma was as excited as my sister and I. The three of us could not fall sleep, though lost track of time somewhere in the night, only to be roused awake by a giddy senior at 4:30AM. Adorable. We hurried to our stockings, thrilled at a new toothbrush or trio of Bic pens.

My parents had just two rules: Do not wake them before 6 and there'd better be fresh coffee. Quite reasonable, in retrospect.

They were punctual, wrapped in robes, coffee in-hand. My Dad tidied as we went, coloured paper never overwhelming. I always played Santa, ensuring everyone had a gift. My Grandpa gathered errant bows and neatly refolded paper he deemed re-usable. My sister cracked the cover and began reading a new Bobbsey Twins immediately; I beamed, holding up a Cosby sweater, marveling at the endless acrylic rainbow and mockneck. It was all done by 6:45.

In recent years Christmas has necessarily changed. With in-laws on all sides, we divide our time democratically. Instead of hunkering down with a glass of something and the ones we love, we get in the car and do a cross-province tour, gorging on too-many-meals and not enough relaxation. No visit long enough, not even for thorough digestion. The whole season starting to feel like a series of appointments and slotted-in half-experiences.

This might have something to do with my lack of zeal.

Late last night, after at least three bottles of wine, Nick, Natasha and I decided that 2009 would be the year we do it our way. Instead of packing two days full of hasty relations, we will see each of them in a more meaningful way, perhaps three weeks early or two weeks late. No more jam-packed provincial tours, no more stomachaches on the car ride home. No more whirlwinds of obligated activity.

Our little group, the family we've chosen, will stay downtown on Christmas Day 2009. We will have a beautiful meal together. We will laugh and drink traditional beverages and drive nowhere. We will exchange thoughtful gifts of little to no value and we will love each other deeply and sincerely and with Christmas in our hearts.

Whatever the holidays bring you this year, I hope there's lots of love.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sweet High Hopes: The Best of 2009

I eagerly await the follow-up to one of 2006's (and perhaps all-time) greatest albums. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood firmly put Neko Case on the map and secured her a place in the canon of Great American Songwriters. Hers are perfect for snowy days, an auditory fireplace or a shot of whiskey. She's a roughed-up Aimee Mann, her songs literary and dark, brief odes to various characters in utterly visual locales. You can hear every breath on the record, no editing, recorded live rather than clipped together like so many do nowadays. She hands out gorgeous, sweeping moments sparingly, rarely does she beat a dead chorus, every song leaving you wanting more.

Download "At Last", a perfect minute and a half you can listen to 1000 times on repeat.

And March 3, 2009 will bring us Middle Cyclone. Start preparing now.

Taxi to the Bright Side

So, Martha Wainwright didn't make my list for Best of 2008. Her latest, I Know You're Married, But I've Got Feelings Too, didn't strike me as hard as her self-titled debut. But she's absolutely one of my favourite artists, one of the most remarkable live performers I've ever seen.

Jory Dayne, over at Jory Dayne, brought the Black Cab Sessions to my attention. A British troupe of music lovers snag artists they adore and have them perform one stripped down song in the cab as they cruise around London. Martha, among many others, are showcased in this really lovely way. Head over and check it out.

Friday, December 12, 2008

2009, Oh So Close

As I get older, time has started going so fast. Remember when we were tiny children and 8 weeks of summer vacation felt like a lifetime? I can practically sleep through 8 weeks nowadays.

I can't believe I'm seeing year-end lists. Are we there already?

Blender Magazine released its list of the 33 Best Albums of 2008. Strange timing, as some of the year's hottest releases are just coming out now (Beyoncé, Kanye, Britney) and I must say, there are some odd picks listed. I already expressed my feelings about Coldplay's Viva la Vida, and the rundown also includes Deathcab's latest (Narrow Stairs) which has got to be the least exciting release in recent years, Santogold's hit-and-miss self-titled, and Katy Perry's vapid attempt at "edge". No Estelle, no Aimee Mann, no Adele or Duffy even and they're the poster girls for 2008. I was happy, however, to see appearances by Robyn, Hot Chip, and Jenny Lewis. Rollingstone put out their list this week, a far more diverse list, everyone from Ne-Yo to Stephen Malkmus represented.

Here's my year-end roundup.

Kicking off 2008, a quirky Australian released her third album, Some People Have Real Problems. Save for a couple of tracks ("Academia" and lyrical-cringe-city "Little Black Sandals") Sia Furler doesn't miss with her mix of Sinead O'Connor wailing and organic, lush arrangements. Standouts are "You Have Been Loved" and "Lentil". I spent all of our trip to Mexico on the beach, her songs blasting in my ears.

The UK seems to be a breeding ground for the Old School Chanteuse, with Amy Winehouse, Duffy, and Adele making a mark this year. The latter has hit me the hardest with a fantastic album and even greater live performances (Conan, SNL, Ellen, to name a few). The whole record could have been a capella, her voice so incredible on its own. Listen to her version of Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" and try not to plan a wedding around it.

Much of the spring was given up to one album, Estelle's Shine. "American Boy" was one of the hottest singles of the year and it took a surprisingly long time to get sick of. A near-perfect album (my skip buttons entirely ignored), they managed to produce a current record with just the right touches of old-school. In a year of throw-backs and vintage sounds, Shine walked a careful balance.

If ever the word "fierce" was an apt description, Sam Sparro's self-titled debut never hurt a party. There's not a whole lot to say about it. Standouts: "Black and Gold" and the sass-loaded secret song "Still Hungry".

Hercules and Love Affair fit somewhere into this category, though slightly more cerebral. Antony Hegarty (of and the Johnsons) provides his special brand of vocals on these amazing disco-inspired dance songs.

Canadian pianist and DJ, Gonzales (AKA Jason Beck) is a friend and collaborator of Feist, among others. He opened for her at Massey Hall last year and I was blown away by his amazing skills and quirk-factor. I bought his 2004 album Solo Piano at that show and awaited more. He released Soft Power this year, a sort-of 70s era piano-pop album. At times harkening the Bee Gees, early Elton John, and some Billy Joel, it's perfect for a quiet dinner party.

An album with roots as far back as 2006, Robyn's self-titled international blockbuster really came to life in North America in 2008. I wrote thoroughly about it in May and it's one I continuously go back to. If I had to choose, it might be the album of the year.

Since discovering her in Magnolia, Aimee Mann hasn't disappointed. She released, perhaps, her greatest album to-date this year; the perfectly titled @#%&*! Smilers brought just enough of the concept angle from her previous The Forgotten Arm, and mixed it with her classic stand-alone storytelling. She gets better with age, her voice deepening the way of Joni Mitchell. If you haven't climbed onboard yet, start with 1993's "4th of July" (from the albu, Whatever) and go from there.

Summer brought us She & Him. Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward put their heads together to create what could be a one-off lark if it weren't for the title, Volume I. They've had massive success with the album, touring constantly and gathering fans all over North America. Definitely part of that throw-back category, this beach party doowop record never feels forced or inauthentic.

Speaking of, Jenny Lewis released the much-anticipated follow-up to her first solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat. The Rilo Kiley frontwoman turned a corner and left behind a pile of gimmicks on Acid Tongue. "Tryin' My Best" is one of the greatest songs of the year and wouldn't sound out of place on a Dusty Springfield record.

An album I keep going back to is Martina Topley-Bird's The Blue God. It reminds me of an electronic version of Emily Haines' (Metric) solo material. It's not perfect and hasn't drawn me in completely, but it's atmospheric and perfect for a cocktail party.

Jazmine Sullivan's first album Fearless was released in September. Some kind of mix between Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys, she's only twenty-one and under the wing of Missy Elliot. Another album where the skip button goes unused.

A couple of late-2008 discoveries have made a massive impression in very little time. Ray LaMontagne (where have I been?) has been around a while, producing slightly-Southern-sounding folk rock. His whisky-soaked vocals are lived-in and gorgeous. Fleet Foxes made #11 on Rollingstone's Albums of the Year prompting me to say "Who?!", which led to a quick download, and then constant play for the last several days. It might seem premature, but I'm putting them on my list. Something about them takes me back to days spent in the back of my parents' car, the local soft rock station playing CCR and Chicago. Iron and Wine comes to mind too. Wall-of-sound harmonies and swelling music. Works for me.

I know it's just an EP, but 5 tracks from him are better than 12 from almost anyone else: Antony and the Johnson's New World EP is fantastic. "Another World" is a beautiful, quiet meditation on global warming. Or about anything, really.

Rachael Yamagata finally released her sophomore album this year, Elephants . . . Teeth Sinking Into Heart. Her first album, Happenstance, is, perhaps, the most-played album in my entire collection. The follow-up was divided into two parts: the typical RY stuff on the first: melancholy, sweeping songs about love, and then more upbeat, rockier songs on the second part. Needless to say, I don't listen to that back-bit very much. Luckily it's a 2:1.

An admission: I'm an Alanis Morissette fan. Like, a real fan. Like, I read message boards and anticipate releases months and months in advance. She really divides people. Mostly to the side that find her incredibly irritating. I do not, but I see where you're coming from. Her new album Flavours of Entanglement (yes, annoying, I know) is actually good. Perhaps because it's hot on the heels of her breakup with Ryan Reynolds (hubba-hubba) and some of that rage people can't seem to let go of is back. Guy Sigsworth (Madonna, Imogen Heap, Robyn) is to thank, surely, for his production. Electronic and sometimes-epic, the album is cohesive and dynamic in a way she isn't always.

Wrapping up my list is Kanye West and his divisive 808s & Heartbreaks. I wrote about it recently, so will keep this short. If he wants to be the voice of a generation, I think an album like this will get him there. No one makes an impact by producing the same great album over and over again. A departure like this may be remembered by some as a great mistake, but history may reveal it as his own Sgt. Pepper.

Who made your list?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

These Roving Eyes

A blog I've recently discovered, Hollister Hovey, is constantly showcasing lovely things. Art and culture and even Bergdorf Goodman's Christmas windows. A recent post about her job in the medical field included several Dutch paintings depicting old-timey autopsies. I found one strangely sexy.

Head over to this great blog for lots of interesting tidbits.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Black, White, and Read All Over

I recently dug up a bunch of high school stuff. Essays and journals, photos, and several editions of our school newspaper. Sandi and I wrote an entertainment column, The Buzz With S & J. It's pretty sassy, as you can probably imagine.

In the memory of my life, I was proud of being the smart kid, but it seems, in dredging up these periodicals, it was all relative. Turns out I went to a school for retarded teen runaways, or some such thing. 99% of the stories in this paper are just atrocious! Among Zagat-inspired summaries of chic eateries (Subway and Wendy's) one person reviewed Nicole Kidman's 1995 sleeper-hit, To Die For. Allow me to illustrate the depth of this critique: "If you like flashbacks, Nicole Kidman, and a good movie, then this one's for you!" I, for one, hate a good movie.

But it was nice to be reminded that Operation Dumbo Drop was the 25th highest grossing film that summer, coming in behind The Bridges of Madison County and Dangerous Minds.

Our column, The Buzz, was a hard-hitting, pull-no-punches breakdown of the month in entertainment news. We were a couple of brassy 10th graders who discussed the birth of little Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon with ease and we reported on Ellen's historic coming out, proclaiming "It's the 90s and this should be accepted!" On the pop-culture-pulse, we slammed Michael Jackson: "What is it that attracts Debbie Rowe? Is it his rugged good looks, his good nature with children? We have to wonder who will take on breast-feeding duties and how much time MJ will spend next to the crib at night." Shockingly, our staff advisors allowed a couple of 15 year olds to print molestation jokes.

I don't think we knew how good we had it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Best Friends' Wedding

The apostrophe in that title is critical. On Saturday Nick and Natasha got married. Like for-reals married. Nearly 300 humans gathered in one place to celebrate it. It really happened. Three days later, I feel like I've been hit with a sledgehammer. The culprit: well, gin, first of all. But also that post-amazing haze, that melancholic aftermath, like Boxing Day. All the gearing-up, all the planning, all the talking about it for so long. And now it's over. It's something like sadness, really. Or perhaps just residual emotions running over with nowhere to put them.

It was a perfect day. Bookmarked by rain and grey skies, Saturday was bright and warm. The streets were dry, with no fear of splashing dirty sleet-water on our suit pants. The sky was blue and yellow, streaked with orange. It felt more like October than nearly-December.

She took the word stunning, bitch-slapped it, and gave it a new name. She walked down the aisle to "At Last", the Etta James version, of course, her small Italian babbo so proud. Hair in loose curls, red lips, a little hat and veil. And he was so handsome. Somehow, at almost-30, just finally starting to look like a man. Married. Married!

The first dance wasn't traditional. Choreographed to Chris Brown's "Forever", they tore up the floor, hot tamale train indeed. There were belly dancers. The Lion's Den of Iranian Men consumed all the tequila in the first 30 minutes and the Italians took care of the food. I heard so many people call it the best wedding they'd ever attended. I concur. The greatest day.

Some Fancy Pageant Walkin'

I've seen nearly every episode of Saturday Night Live since I was allowed to stay up that late. I've been a loyal fan, even through the inexplicable Norm MacDonald period. I was watching when Sinead O'Connor tore that photo. I was watching when a wide-eyed Molly Shannon debuted Mary-Catherine Gallagher. And I was watching when the broadcast was interrupted and Princess Diana was pulled from the car in Paris.

But it was at the turn of the century that things really took off. Tina Fey came out of the writing room and got behind the Weekend Update desk with Jimmy Fallon. I've loved her from the start, this is not bandwagonning.

While I've always loved celebrity culture (I watched Entertainment Tonight while my friends played video games or hung out behind the Catholic school), I'm not necessarily obsessed. I don't really care about meeting famous people and don't finagle my way into film festival parties. But, I want nothing more than to be close, personal friends with Tina Fey.

There is no one funnier. She's smart and deeply nerdy. Her infamous impression of Sarah Palin brought SNL its highest ratings in 15 years. She's relevant in a way that no one else is with all her fingers on the comic pulse of a certain kind of somebody - that blend of biting sarcasm and satire my generation loves so hard. She stood beside John McCain days before the biggest election in history and lambasted his running mate. And I think he liked it. She's charming in an old school way, able to get away with anything.

And then there's 30 Rock. Surreal in all the right ways, outrageous, yet classic and throw-backy, like looking into a funhouse mirror of vintage New York studio life. It's not a hit, even after the Palin thing and her household-name-status, but that's the beauty - It's not for everyone. It runs with Family Guy with wild cut-aways and obscure pop culture references and my biggest fear is an executive-ordered watering-down of Fey's genius in a desperate attempt for ratings. I'd rather see the show go the way of Arrested Development than lose its winking, inside-joke brand of humour. Each episode pushing a little further into Fey's zany geek brain. Alec Baldwin has never been better. The world is a better place with Kenneth in it. Million-watt guest stars (Jennifer Aniston, Oprah, Steve Martin) and Jane Krakowski in black face. I cannot. get. enough.

Click the image to read the fantastic new interview in Vanity Fair. And if you're the type who should be watching 30 Rock, get to it.