Monday, August 30, 2010

This year we enjoyed one of the warmest and most consistently-beautiful summers we've had in recent memory, and it's been a dream.  

Since mid-April we've spent 42 days up north.  12% of the year.  With a few more weeks of reasonable daytime temperatures and manageable nighttime ones, we should be able to make that 50-odd days before we shut it down for the season.  Not bad.  

(And that's the end of cottage calculations; I don't want to start crunching numbers where gin-consumption or red meat are concerned.  Or the sum-total of tonic that's gone through me.  Shit, that stuff is bad for you!)

So, enjoy these terminal days of summer, dear Reader.  Get your money's worth; take a boat ride or have a picnic or dip your feet into a natural body of water.  Something - anything! - that you may cling to as the days get shorter and the chill in the air deepens.

(Cottage moments with Nick and Natasha.  The end of another Muskoka-season draws near.)

Ryan at Pacing the Panic Room has a project that's awfully exciting.  He's curated a fantastic album of songs for kids and their parents.  Anyone who's spent any time listening to kids' music will know how horrendous and awful it is.  Take a listen below, click over to iTunes and purchase it.  Not only will you entertain yourself and the kids in your life, but you'll be supporting a great cause.   

SMS (Smith-Magenis Syndrome) is a childhood developmental disorder about which we know very little.  100% of the proceeds from this project will go toward a fund (created by Ryan with PRISMS - Parents and Researchers Interested in Smith-Magenis Syndrome) to be made available to grad students who decide to make SMS their field of study.  Amazing, right?  Not only will it help the kids, but it'll help broke-ass grad students too!

Take a listen.  Click to buy.  Or click to donate.  I mean, you'll spend $9.99 on something today, so why not this?   Watch Ryan's video below, too, to get to know a little about him and his family.  One of the cutest I've ever seen, for sure.  Ryan thanks you, I thank you, and cute little kids everywhere thank you.

(All content courtesy of Pacing the Panic Room and the beautiful mind of Ryan Marshall.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

(Three-and-a-half years ago, Elise was just a wee little days-old baby with inky beautiful eyes.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

I promised myself it wouldn't happen.  But it did.  We moved into our apartment a year-and-a-half ago and I vowed not to fall into that rut of putting everything in its place and then not moving anything ever.  I unpacked, set-up, fussed for a day or two, and that was that.  

But with only 613sqft, it's hard to make a lot of changes, short of painting or blowing a hole in something.  I mean, even changing the furniture arrangement is impossible.  Everything fits in here one way only.

When I was a kid I moved my bedroom furniture around monthly.  It made me feel alive to wake up facing  another direction. I would always do it by myself, no help needed, moving each piece a quarter inch at a time, shimmying around the 12X12 room, sometimes ducking under the bed or climbing over the dresser to get to the other side.  I'd finish up, run the vacuum across the 10 square feet of visible carpet, and proudly throw the door open, showing it off like a real estate agent: "And Mom, you'll see here along the south wall I've placed this shelf I repurposed from the family room; doesn't it showcase my pen collection beautifully?"

So, recently I got a hankering for change.  With the weather shifting, it seemed a good time for a little nesting. We've had this blank wall just inside the apartment.  The plan was to hang a large-scale giclée print of this image, a favourite from our trip to Cuba.  But, you know, that was probably never going to happen.  For now, a bit of a photo wall.  

In our old house I hung my photos everywhere.  We had the space, and they looked quite lovely all over the place.  I restrained myself a bit here in the apartment.  But no longer!  I chose a few from over the years and clustered them (each 16X20, so fairly large) on the empty wall.  It certainly gives the eye something to land on, and is more balanced with the other parts of the room.  The stark emptiness always bothered me.  I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it, but now that there are holes in the wall, there they will stay.  

Thursday, August 26, 2010

It's the end of August and that thing happened.  You know, the thing that happens overnight, all of a sudden and without warning.  A chill in the air, the sun plummeting from its highest summer heights down to that midrange place in the sky.  The first moments of Autumn.

So it feels like it's time for pasta and mashed potatoes and red wine.  Heavy, comforting food and thick rich sauces.  I wore pants for the first time in months this week.  (But I'm avoiding socks, so doing that Miami Vice thing with the barefoot in the dress shoe.)  

Tonight I made veal for the first time.  Beautiful, young, supple veal.  (Oh, vegetarians, sorry.  Uhh, spoiler alert?)  It was utterly tender and oh-so-gently-flavoured, perfectly paired with a dollop of mashed potatoes and some crispy green beans, part of the incredible August harvest going on in these parts.

A note on the meat: Seasoned with only salt and pepper, I seared it quickly in a pan and then cooked it in the oven.  It took just fifteen minutes at 375°F.  (Before sliding it into the oven, surround it with chopped garlic, shallots, and a bit of ginger.) Pull the meat from the pan and allow it to rest under foil while preparing a red wine jus with the flavour-soaked mash left behind.  Add 3/4 of a cup of red wine, a few tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon of grainy mustard.  Let it come to a light simmer and burn off that booze, stirring often.  Separate the jus from the mash (giving each diner a saucière of their own) and stir the garlic, ginger, and shallot-mash into the potatoes with a solid half-cup of whipping cream and some butter.  Holy shit yes.

A note on the wine: One of my all-time favourite whites is Villa Maria's Sauvignon Blanc.  Well, they do other stuff too.  Their 2007 Pinot Noir (LCBO, $20.10) is perfect for this time of year, the twilight zone between Summer and Fall.  It's heavy enough to support the veal but light enough that you don't feel weighed down.  Bright and fruity, serve it just the slightest bit cold.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jeff and I are at the stage in life where the gap between childhood and adulthood seems vast.  We look back on the minutiae of the 80s through a hazy lens: it all seems so long ago.  

We both have siblings to whom we are uncommonly close.  Growing up you live a parallel life (See: The Best is Ready to Begin, August 2008).  You relate to your parents in essentially the same way; you eat the same food; you take the same trips and gather the same harvest of school supplies each August.  I wore a blue sweatshirt, while my older sister had the pink.

You see what I mean.

And for many years, this is how it goes. You consume the same stories, you experience the same family fights. So much goes unsaid: all aspects of your life are unspoken certainties instead.  A simple glance could communicate all that needed to be said.  I could pad into my sister's bedroom (having had one of my all-too-common night terrors) and she'd wordlessly throw back the sheets, making room for me, nothing more than her sweet breath on my face, a scent I can conjure to this day: the (somehow-pleasant) smell of room-temperature milk.

For an absurdly verbose pre-adolescent, it was at my most-vulnerable I didn't have to find a single word.

I moved out of our parents' house when I was 18, to go to photography school.  My sister lived there a few years more while attending the local University. And while I only recently realized it, this is when our paths diverged. The moment the U-Haul pulled from the driveway we could no longer count on our short-hand, our shared-experience behind those walls.  At Thanksgiving and Christmas we, for the first time ever, had to spend time "catching up" and reacquainting ourselves. Behaviours were suddenly unpredictable, reactions to things once commonplace were now different.  It was odd and jarring, uncharted territory.  I think we weren't sure what needed to be said.

And those paths have become wider with every year, gaping at times. We no longer know each other like we did as kids. We are just people now instead of Boy and Girl Hudson. Differences have become glaring, resentments building out of nowhere, the chance to hash things out over breakfast, gone, instead choosing large family functions or misguided emails. It was easier when we simply sucker-punched each other or when I kicked her in the vagina (See: Becky, January 2008).  

But I think this is normal. I also think it's sad and a bit startling, as I sit here, putting it into words.

Jeff and his siblings (a brother, one year older, and a little sister, 7 years their junior) seem to be experiencing the same thing, as I imagine most do at this juncture.  Choices and changes and lives that no longer share a common course.  All those years of easy-understanding long gone now. No chance to shake the anger with a bit of sibling rivalry or thinly-veiled barbs over Cheerios.

Where once spending time together was the default, we need, now, to redesign our relationships out of sheer desire, rather than familial obligation.  We need to choose. We need to decide to love each other in a new way.  And we need to make sure we don't end up like so many of our parents: without the simple joy of fraternity.

And this is getting older.

(A photo you've seen before of Becky and me.  Jeff and his brother at about the same time in history.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sarah Harmer recently released her fifth studio album.  Oh Little Fire doesn't stray far from what we know, but that's a good thing.  I've been trying to write this review for some time now, but I find it difficult.  She's not splashy.  There's nothing, really, to grab hold of and sell.  She's not Katy Perry.  After years and years in the business, she'll still play a quiet little show at a tiny dive, or hop on stage and play guitar with one of her buddies, so perfectly down-to-earth.  Ultra-Canadian.  

So the real pleasure of her music is in the tiniest details: the subtle harmonies, a barely-audible accelerando or a thumpy bridge that seems ill-fitting at first, until you listen on headphones and realize the thump was there all along.

Harmer has perfected the two-and-a-half-minute city mouse/country mouse balancing act, her reverence for both worlds clear and beautiful.  A favourite track, "The City" bounces along, as much about the love she describes as the city itself.  It feels like one of those quintessential Toronto-songs, though I'm not sure it is.  But it conjures images of houses and streets and places I know so well.  It feels like those post-college years of wandering at night time, a little tipsy, through alleys and shortcuts in the Annex, maybe sharing a joint with a friend, free-wheeling and soaked in reminiscence.  "The city's got its stake in us," she sings, "it's keeping receipts of our hello's and our hi's."  

I can't think of much more than this to say, strangely, because each of her albums is the same: perfect and thoughtful and full of charm and heart.  Every year when I bake Christmas cookies, I tuck my iPod into my apron and hum along to every song she's ever recorded.  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jeff and I used to live in a little-known neighbourhood called Corktown.  It sits a few blocks east of the city-centre, and south, towards the lake.  The rowhouse we lived in was built in 1895 and served as low-income housing for employees of the Distillery District, which lies along the southern end of the neighbourhood.  Toronto's Distillery Historic District accounts for the largest remaining collection of Victorian Industrial architecture in the world, outside of England.  Cool, huh?  (This area deserves its own entry, someday.)

Corktown is up-and-coming, as they say, and will soon explode with new development/gentrification.  The original neighbourhood is only a few narrow little streets, really, so they will shine with historic charm when surrounded by newer buildings.  

The shift began a few years ago when the Distillery began a massive restoration project.  They brought the buildings back from the brink of collapse and turned the area into a bit of a high-end artists community, with galleries and artists' studios.  This moved north a block or two and started to shift Corktown, taking it from a dilapidated non-neighborhood to one that now houses cute shops, auction houses, and restaurants.  

The Gilead Café is owned by Jamie Kennedy, one of Toronto's premiere (and most swoon-worthy) chefs.  Much like Mark McEwan, he's known for high-quality ingredients, local sourcing, and a total lack of affordability.  But you certainly get what you pay for.  (Especially if Kennedy himself happens to be around. Gush!)

A couple of years ago he took a leap of faith and opened a small café in a back alley in Corktown.  It started as a catering/production kitchen for his other restaurants, but also offered lunch and a few foodstuffs (housemade and packaged cured meats, croutons, sauces, etc.) The décor is lovely and simple, his preserves lining the walls, ready to purchase or use in his seasonally-appropriate menus.  The Gilead is now open for dinner, when it shifts into Bistro-mode, though I haven't yet had the pleasure.  

Yesterday I had lunch at the Gilead with the brassy Cameron MacNeil - He's a designer, blogger, and design editor at Canadian House & Home. (You might recognize him from the Ask a Designer™ column in the magazine.)  It was nice to sit down with him and have a chat over delicious sandwiches and that flakey-amazing butter tart.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

As if a weekend at the cottage isn't glorious enough, we brought our own chef.  Natasha, as loyal readers know, is hands-down the greatest undiscovered culinary wonder I know.  I was more than happy to play sous chef and food stylist last night as she designed and executed the most incredible five-course meal, complete with wine pairings which we selected during an epic trip to the liquor store.  Two bottles of prosecco, fifteen bottles of wine, and two beautiful bottles of pink Veuve Clicquot.  

Drunk and satisfied doesn't begin to describe how the nine of us felt when we finally went to sleep last night.

We started with Curry Coconut Shrimp, baked on the BBQ, and served with a spicy orange marmalade dipping sauce.  Yeah, seriously.  It paired perfectly with our standard-issue Italian sparkling (Prosecco di Valdobbiandene, $14.10).  Jumbo shrimp, expertly cooked, swathed in sweet flakes of toasted coconut with the kick only curry can provide.  The sweet marmalade was a worthy counter to that bit of heat.

Next we moved onto Ginger Soy Chicken Lollipops, served with a lime, honey and ginger mustard.  Spicy and tangy, charred on the grill.  She paired the chicken with grilled cantaloupe and prosciutto and served with an icy-cold rose (Château la Cour L'Evêque, $18).  The way Natasha frenched the drumsticks put the whole thing over-the-top.  Talk about high-impact details.

A welcome break from the kicky spice of the first two courses, she followed the chicken with Belgian endive; a dollop of crème fraiche, a few slivers of smoked salmon, cracked black pepper and a smattering of fresh chives. Doused in lemon juice, it was a bright, fresh and delightful.  The bitterness of the endive was countered with a fruity chardonnay (Bonterra Vineyards Organic Chardonnay, California, $18.95

And with that out of the way, Natasha pulled out the big guns.  Panko-breaded and pan-seared lambchops served with a mustard roux.  I mean, really.  I feel like that says it all.  But she took it up a notch with a deconstructed Greek salad; cucumbers, kalamata olives, and feta cheese doused in an oregano-infused olive oil.  An unexpected side of black currants were a perfect match, providing a tart bite.  Served with a suitably-fruity and rich California merlot (Cellar No. 8, 2008, $17.95) this course had all of us freaking out a bit.

And to bring it all to a decadent finish, we put together what we're calling Beef Tenderloin á la Caprese.  A walnut-crusted, balsamic-glazed tenderloin of beef, sliced and served alongside heirloom tomatoes, market-fresh bocconcini and basil from Natasha's garden.  With a full-bodied California red (Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007, $35) we were done

(Oh, if you're wondering, we drank the pink Veuve with dessert: Salted-Chocolate Cupcakes with Lemon zest Cream Cheese Icing - I was too far gone to capture those final moments.  Needless to say, they were delicious.)