Saturday, December 26, 2009

Babies, It's Cold Outside

(Billy, Elise, Ben and Jack.)

Merry Happy!

Just when I thought my body couldn't take another rich, decadent meal, Christmas Day was upon us and we arrived to the magnificent smells of Natasha's home cooking. We decided last year that we'd spend this day together, the four of us, with wine and food and good cheer.

And how.

The menu: Celeriac and cabbage soup with chorizo sausage, chives and parmesan cheese. A spinach salad with cranberry vinaigrette and manchego. Scalloped sweet and Yukon gold potatoes and green beans tossed with hazelnuts, shitake mushrooms and sauteed onions. Rib roast with a dijon mustard and rosemary glaze.

Followed by an amazing inside out blackforest cake. Let heaven and nature sing!

Friday, December 25, 2009

The 12 Days of Gorging

Tonight we had our second annual Christmas Eve dinner by T.J. He's a fantastically wonderful human and an extremely dedicated cook.

He started with an insanely rich shrimp bisque. It was puréed, but a grainy texture remained, so satisfying and tactile. Served with a dollop of sour cream, it was perfection. And he made Beef Wellington. All the layers, wrapped in perfectly baked pastry, served with green peppercorn sauce and a salad of bitter greens with honey vinaigrette. Chocolate bundt cake for dessert. With peppermint bark pieces scattered over a ganache icing. Whaa?!

Seriously. It was magic.

And it's officially Christmas, so how 'bout that. Have a lovely day with the ones you love.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Old Standby

One year ago today I was doing exactly the same thing I'm doing now. In a last-ditch frenzy, I'm making my favourite go-to cookies: The Apple Oats and Maple Cookies. Check out the ridiculously simple recipe here.

Tonight we're heading to our dear friend T.J.'s house. For the second year in a row, he's making us Christmas Eve dinner. I'll be sure to take photos - Every time he makes a meal, he closes the culinary gap between himself and Natasha. Yes, I only have friends who are restaurant-quality homecooks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All the Bells and Mistletoes

Another sign of getting older is the rapid movement of time. It seems like Christmas just happened, and here it is again. I haven't really gotten over my ba-humbugness - A simple trip to the mall two days before Christmas would knock the wind out of Saint Nick himself - but I'm kind of excited. We're doing it our way.

Natasha is making dinner this year. (Now we're talking.) We decided that we'd stop trying to cram 15 visits into one day, so we're hunkering down at home this December 25th. We'll sleep in and then spend the day with our DIY family: Nick and Natasha. Outside of our own kin, these two are our chosen family. And our bond, really, comes down to such animalistic qualities: we laugh, we love, we fart. It's so easy and beautiful to share a week or a day or a dinner with our Flubs and Tubs. I can't wait. (Expect detailed bloggery on her meal: it includes scalloped potatoes and reverse black forest cake. Whaa?!) Then we'll travel about the province, enjoying our time with all the ones we love. No pressure, no rush, just quality time spent.

But the one thing that can always forcibly extract my Christmas Spirit is gift-wrapping. This year's base materials are from Ikea. Adorable little gnome-elves stamped on standard-issue brown craft paper and an orangey-red solid. I always, always, wrap presents in brown craft paper, so this was right up my alley. So sweet and classic. And adaptable.

I like the simplicity of craft paper, because adorning my wrapped parcels in all sorts of little baubles is easy and it makes my heart swell.

I have no idea where it originates, but shiny red apples have always been a part of my Christmases. Ornaments (or bowls full of them) were always scattered about my Grandma's house in December. As a child, they felt autumnal, but also downright holiday. Inexplicably, my heart began to flutter when those lacquered red apples showed up in her seemingly-sprawling Victorian. Her house was magical year-round (Where else could you eat Jell-O for dinner?) but the weeks leading up to Christmas were something else altogether.

My Grandma is a lady who likes a tradition. December 1st means she can finally string garland across doorways, silver and sparkling. She can, unashamed, erect a small white tree in her dining room and a full-size green spruce in the living room. Suddenly, filling bowls with green and red M&M's seems appropriate and After Eight mints replace daily vitamins. Bowls of pine-scented potpourri spring up in every bathroom and her oven is at-the-ready, pre-heated and awaiting pie. Unabashedly she'll strap on a pair of reindeer earrings and trot off to the mall. She just seems so blissful this time of year.

My cynicism recedes when I think of back to my Grandma and her adorable little cardinals, pinecones and jingling bells: they went as far as the eye could see. Layers of bows and twine made her gifts difficult to open, but worth it, her eyes glimmering and proud as she watched you anticipate the treasures inside.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Right on Target

Aside from sunshine and rudeness, Canada lacks something else: Target stores. Whenever we travel to America, we take the opportunity to hit one up and we're generally pretty impressed. Disposable clothes, cheap toiletries and great home stuff.

When I saw this warm grey windowpane shower curtain, I knew it was just the thing our bathroom needed. It brightened up the whole room (moreso than its predecessor, a chocolate brown suede) and the pattern added much needed depth and interest. And it's just the right kind of masculine.

If you need a change in your bathroom, swap out your curtain; that much fabric will certainly have a major effect on the overall look. Avoid tearing out tiles and replacing fixtures: this will only cost you $24.99!

Your Roving Eyes: Haw-lin

I kind of hesitate to tell you about this one. It's like my special little secret and I love it so much, I want to keep it to myself. No frills to the maxium, it's an ongoing collection of such varied images. There's absolutely no information on the curator of the site, but it's a constant source of inspiration and wonder.

The image below is one that caught my eye today. So lovely. It makes me want to visit our cottage so badly. So chic and effortless, she is. Check it out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thank You For Being a Friend

This is where I've been all week, in a nutshell. Old white people doing a variety of quiet activities. Golf, cards, sipping unsweetened iced tea.

This woman was easily the cutest, though, her face fully made-up, her hair sprayed to high heaven. Though you can't hear it on this video Nick took, she's singing along to her little radio while lifting hilarious foam water-weights. Old-timey Charlie Chaplin songs and Christmas carols!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2009 in Music

We spent the morning like every other this week: lounging by the pool. The sun on my face, the smell of fresh cut grass in my nose, I revisited 2009 in music through my iPod, blissfully relaxed, the ones I love nearby.

Much like last year's list, this one covers a lot of ground: from the quietest independent music to the most bombastic pop.

At the absolute top of the list is Antony and the Johnsons' The Crying Light. Dark and dramatic have become his calling cards, but this one has a lightness and range not seen in previous work. It's not often that an entire album, start to finish, rocks my world. "Aeon" instantly became one of my all-time favourite songs and his cover of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" took his live show over the top. If you haven't discovered it yet, no better time than winter to get onboard.

Really, it's difficult to put any one artist on top. The moment I put Antony there, my mind flashed to Neko Case, Bat for Lashes, Gentleman Reg, Tegan and Sara, Lady Gaga --- It's been a good year.

Ms. Case took her 2006 beauty, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and raised the stakes, releasing more brooding and luscious alt-country, her voice bigger than ever, her spookiness too, on this year's Middle Cyclone. Telling stories like no one else in her generation, she channels old school country singers as if she's the lovechild of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline.

Bat for Lashes is the musical moniker of Natasha Khan, a young genius out of the UK. I've written about her at length over on (the neglected) These Roving Ears, so won't belabor it here: suffice it to say, she's fantastic.

Gentleman Reg gave us his first major label release this year, Jet Black. After a few listens, you feel like you've actually gotten to know somebody. It covers a lot of terrain, from punchy pop melodies to introspective ditties. I love him.

Tegan and Sara's follow-up to their incredible 2007 album The Con didn't quite live up to my hopes, but they are still light years ahead of most music. Leaning away from their singer-songwriter style, they produced a band album, rocky and jagged and rough. Start with So Jealous or The Con before diving into this one, it's not for beginner-fans.

Straight-ahead pop music had a good year too, with the rise of Lady Gaga and the re-release of her album The Fame, with 8 track add-on The Fame Monster, an EP that is far-and-away better than the original release. It's dark and moody and organic, while dancey. "Bad Romance" brought us one of the greatest music videos in quite some time, and a song to match. Instant pop classic.

Metric, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Dragonette each released an album this year. Like triplet sisters separated at birth, they each play a slightly different side of the same coin. Poppy and hiccupy and electronic. All good.

Kelly Clarkson hit us with a few more power ballads this year. Ain't nothin' wrong with that. I wouldn't go as far as saying it would suck without her, but she's a welcome addition.

One of my favourite songs of the year came from Joss Stone, "Could Have Been You" from her newest album, Colour Me Free. She rarely puts out a flawless album, but they're always great.

Similarly hit-and-miss, Alicia Keys just released The Element of Freedom. While far from perfect, there are a few great tracks ("Love is my Disease" and "Unthinkable"), while the rest are just sorta . . . boring and predictable. She is to R&B what Norah Jones is to Adult Contemporary.

Back to the quiet side: Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) released his first solo album, Keep It Hid; it's a stompy, sexy, Jack Daniels-soaked Ohio-blues masterpiece. Brandi Carlile covered the softer, gentler (though no less raw) side of that, with her third album Give Up the Ghost. She's been a favourite for years, flying under the popular music radar while she should be a huge star.

Diane Birch is a folksy, wide-eyed lady who writes pretty songs. Bible Belt is her first major release, and includes "Magic View" - a song so lovely it hurts. If you need a reference, she could be Rachael Yamagata's younger sister.

2009 Notables: Patrick Watson's Wooden Arms, Todor Kobakov's Pop Music, Music for Men by Gossip, Melanie Fiona's debut The Bridge. And Florence and the Machine and Mumford and Sons should be making England proud.

New for 2010: Couldn't be more excited for a new music from Rufus Wainwright, Sia, Sade, and Marina and the Diamonds. Hot Chip, The Watson Twins, and Amy Winehouse. And apparently Beyoncé is slated to release another. Fine by me. But I do have one question: Where are you, Justin Timberlake?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Eat, Shop, Relax, Drink, Repeat

(We hit J. Crew hard today, followed by gin and sunsets. All-things-purple took the brunt of it.)