Friday, December 27, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

More of Nature's Merry Christmas!

Couldn't resist just a few more pictures.

The view from inside...

Ice Storm of December 2013

As most people know, southern Ontario had a terrific ice storm on Saturday which has caused a lot of damage, cut power to hundreds of thousands of households and significantly changed the Christmas plans of many.

Our power was out for 48 hours but we were able to stay comfortable with a gas fireplace and the ability to cook food on our gas stovetop and outdoor BBQ.

This morning the sun is shining gloriously - a wonderful counterpoint to the last few days of gloomy darkness.

Here are a few pictures.

As the morning goes along everything just gets brighter and brighter. I'm running in and out with the camera.


 I wish I could capture completely the way everything is sparkling in the bright sunshine. Nature's Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Eve!

izismile  Sleeping in the grass with a Santa hatMerry Christmas Boxer in Santa Hat card  #christmas #cards #dog #boxer #boxers

Sunday, December 22, 2013

No Excuses, No Limits

Luca "Lazylegz" Patuelli: This amazing young Montreal man was on Ellen last week.

He made it to the finals of So You Think You Can Dance Canada in 2010. Keep some tissues handy.

Here he is on Ellen. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Born Weird

Born Weird is a quirky Canadian novel about a dysfunctional family, last name Weird. Five siblings have been blessed/cursed (blursed) at birth by their strong-willed but worried grandma (The Shark) who fears for them, possibly suspecting that the kids’ parents will not provide the protection and tutelage they will need in their lives. Richard, the eldest, has been given the gift of self-preservation, Lucy, the ability to know exactly where to go. Abba maintains hope, Angie always forgives, and Kent, though small, can always prevail in a fight. These gifts, though helpful in many circumstances, cause the lives of the five Weirds to be in such a stranglehold that they are unable to achieve lasting personal attachments so that happiness eludes them.

When the The Shark predicts the precise time of her own death in two weeks time, she charges Angie to collect the other 4 siblings from their various dispersed locations and to arrive at her deathbed if they wish to be relieved of their blursings which have unintentionally made life difficult for each.

The interaction between the siblings, the idiosyncrasies of their parents and grandmother all contribute to make this novel a delightful read. I was hooked from the beginning and was constantly being surprised by the twists in the clever dialogue and also by the gems of wisdom seeded within. What fun it was!

Andrew Kaufman is a Canadian author hailing from Alice Munro’s hometown of Wingham, Ontario. I’m sure he has drawn inspiration from Munro’s amazing body of work, but he has gone in a completely different direction with this whimsical fiction of lives in turmoil. It’s weird, but read it and enjoy.

Kaufman’s other novels (which I have not yet read):

All My Friends are Superheroes
The Tiny Wife
The Waterproof Bible

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Tree Pyramid of Color Light Up Ugly Xmas Sweater  Teachers often end up with these sweaters which they acquired to enhance Christmas and seasonal fun with kids at school. Some people, okay, most people, think they're ugly. I think some of them are ok, but a lot are really truly awful.

The baker who made these adorable cookies calls them "Ugly Christmas Sweater" cookies. Get the recipe and instructions at I Am Baker.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pro Infirmis

What is perfection and why do we care so much? Recently, on Dec. 3rd, passersby on Zurich's  Bahnhofstrasse were treated to an alternative idea of a Christmas store window mannequin.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train

Here's a book recommendation for you.

Do you have a fascination with Britain's royal family? Are you a fan of the novels of Alexander McCall Smith? Then this book is for you, especially if, from time to time, you enjoy a light casual read. 

 I would prefer not to give away the plot, so suffice to say that the main character is a fictional present-day Queen Elizabeth II who makes the astonishing decision one day to have an adventure out in the real world, alone, sans security, ladies in waiting etc. etc.  She manages surprisingly well, encountering all kinds of ordinary and helpful British folk. Of course, when The Queen goes missing from her sitting room, excitement ensues and the hunt is on. The frantic activity as the chase is launched is a distinct contrast to the quiet serenity of the missing monarch.

William Kuhn’s portrayal of the queen is honest, gentle and compassionate. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to find oneself in her kind of life – a life of privilege, yes, but also a life constricted in so many ways, with little room for creativity or spontaneity such as it has been for more than 60 years. Kuhn has The Queen and others remember significant events from earlier in her life and he even integrates some vintage photographs into the text . We, the readers, begin to get a feeling for what it might be like to be The Queen.

Her life-long experiences with people of all kinds have given The Queen an assortment of social tools which help her to cope with life “outside” at the same time as allowing her to maintain her anonymity.We begin to be impressed with her ability to adapt.

The members of staff, following/searching for The Queen are a diverse bunch, each with an interesting back story. They come together in unexpected ways and we can appreciate the way in which they (and we) can be enriched by those around us.

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train is a quick and captivating read. It’s hard to put down and at the end we wish we could follow the characters just a little bit longer. Maybe there will be a sequel, Mr. William Kuhn?

Finally, I found myself wondering as I made my way through this novel, whether the actual Queen would read it and if she did, would she be "amused"?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Check Your Doors

How do you catch a bobcat? Step 1: Leave your basement door open. Step 2: Deploy blinds.

This bobcat in Nelson, BC wandered into Leanne Kalabis' basement the other day when it found an open door. Well, wouldn't you be tempted to go in and have a look?

From her kitchen upstairs, Leanne heard a strange noise coming from her basement and thought maybe a neighbour's cat had found its way in, but when she and her dog went downstairs for a look, they found this beauty, which instantly freaked out when the dog started lunging at it. When it tried to climb a wall it got caught in the blinds and Leanne did what any Canadian out west would do - she called in the RCMP.

The responding officer assessed the situation, then managed to jig together a knife at the end of a pair of broomsticks to cut the bobcat loose, whereupon the cat tried to escape out two windows before it found the open door and took off.

Needless to say, Leanne will be keeping close tabs on her basement door from now on.

Don't Have a Sweet Tooth?

Try these alternatives:


They would also make a good gag (literally) gift. All available through

Sunday, December 15, 2013


For the first time in over 100 years there's snow in Egypt.

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Snow in Paris as well.
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Snow here in Ontario too.
A snow-covered Toronto street on Dec. 14, 2013. The storm is expected to leave a total of up to 25 centimetres of snow in areas.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pine Nuts

When they weren’t so expensive, I often bought pine nuts to make pesto and to decorate cookies. Pine nuts are wonderful additions to many dishes, from salads to main courses to sweets. However there’s some documentation that pine nuts from China may cause an oral problem, a bitter metallic taste, that may last for several days or longer, up to two weeks. The result is that other foods, both solid and liquid may not taste exactly as you are expecting – may, in fact, taste “off”. You will feel like everything you eat is poisoned. Not everybody seems to be affected in the same way – one person may be fine, with no effects and his/her spouse may think that all food has gone “bad”, all because of pine nuts, possibly from China.

This problem has been around for several years, but I just came across it when reading David Lebovitz’s excellent recipe for Italian almond cookies.

Next time you’re at the grocery store, standing in front of the pine nuts, before you throw them in your cart have a look at the originating country and reconsider if they are from China. Even reputable stores such as Trader Joe’s and Costco have pine nuts sourced in China, so beware! In fact, it might be a good idea to avoid any food product from China. They just don’t have the same standards that we are used to in Europe and North America.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Perfect Brown Rice

Brown rice is the way to go if you want to eat rice - more nutritious and tastier than plain white rice. The problem, though, is that cooked brown rice often seems a little too chewy - sometimes even gritty. Until now.

I recently found the secret to cooking perfect brown rice - whether short grain, long grain or basmati. It all comes out just fine when cooked this way and this method is a lot easier too.

What to do: (Plan ahead! You'll need a minimum of 45 - 50 minutes from start to finish)
  1. Place the amount of dry rice you want - no need to measure exactly - I usually figure on about 1/3 of a cup for 2 senior citizens - in a sieve and rinse well under running water, rubbing the rice against the side of the sieve. If I think of it in time, sometimes I let the rice soak in water for a couple hours.
  2. Place the rice in a good-sized pot (bigger than you might use if cooking the traditional way)
  3. Pour in lots of cold water - I use filtered water - right up to near the top. This method only works with LOTS of water.
  4. Bring it all to a boil - this might take a while, so leave yourself lots of time.
  5. Once boiling, turn heat down just enough to maintain a vigorous boil. Leave the pot UNCOVERED.
  6. Boil vigorously for 30 minutes, then drain the rice, using the sieve. (Do not rinse) Place the hot rice back into the empty pot, cover and let the hot rice steam, away from the heat, for 10 minutes.
  7. At this point you might like to add a little salt, if you usually salt your rice. My rule of thumb is ½ tsp. salt (or a little less) per cup of dry rice. 1 cup of dry rice makes about 4 cups of cooked rice.
  8. Serve and enjoy.
By the way, plain rice is ok, but boring. Much more interesting when sautéed vegetables are mixed in. And some of the water can be replaced by broth or wine or juice. My favourite rice is brown basmati, which cooks with a tantalizing aroma of popcorn. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Yummy Hogwarts

Last year it was Downton Abbey in gingerbread. This year.....



Crafted painstakingly over 100 hours by Jessica of Cherry Bay Bakery in Traverse City , Michigan. She used 50 lbs. of fondant to hold it all together. The windows are root beer barrel candies. Looks too wonderful to eat, doesn't it!

(via Foodiggity)