Thursday, March 5, 2015

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.

~Mark Twain

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Still Life Vase With Flowers on the Window Sill 
by Paul Gaugin

Monday, February 23, 2015


Word on the street is that clarified butter, also known as ghee, is better for cooking and better for your health than most processed oils or margarin. Luckily, it's easy to make, lasts forever a long time in a jar on the counter, and resists burning when used in the frying pan, all things I can attest from my own kitchen experience.

Start with half pound block of good quality unsalted butter melting in a sturdy pot on medium/low heat. I like to use a cast iron pot on my wood stove just because I adore the all around heat transfer of cast iron but really, any pot will do.

It will melt, sputter and foam for a while. How long depends on the heat level and the quality of the butter. Inexpensive butter contains more water and impurities so it will take longer to render. Give it anywhere from 15 - 30 minutes with a close watch to see that it doesn't brown, although brown butter has a nutty flavour and is quite tasty too. My little pot here is on a wood stove in my kitchen, which has been burning everyday this winter on account of the beastly Ontario weather we've been having. But this all works perfectly well on the stovetop, too.

Once the sputtering calms down the foam starts taking on a crusty texture the liquid should be quite clear and ready to pour through a small sieve into a crock or heat proof glass jar.   The crust will stay behind in the sieve and should be thrown away. The ghee will cool down into a smooth solid that will be ready to spread or spoon into whatever you are cooking.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Crime and Punishment in a Nutshell

Although I read Crime and Punishment a few years ago and like it well enough, here's a hilariously snarky review  boiled down to eight key elements.

It is possible, though, to read this weighty tome for no other reason than to enjoy some international time travel of the armchair variety, with excitement and drama provided by unseemly characters in thorny situations. The Russian authors of old are quite accommodating in this regard.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

First with Magic Mountain and now with Buddenbrooks, this German author has just sealed his place in my reading heart as one of my all-time favourites. Boom. Hands down. He has all the elements I adore and appreciate - he's straightforward and thoughtful, using words efficiently to convey his scenery and characters without bogging the reader down with endless flowery descriptions as so many other writers of his era did. He can be deep and philosophical as well as lighthearted and witty. Interesting and funny, he's the kind of author I'd love to have a conversation with over a bottle of wine.

So, for those in need of a Downton Abby fix between seasons, or even just for a peek at life from a hundred-odd years ago, get thee to a bookstore for a copy of Buddenbrooks to help you through. Ditto War and Peace. I know when I finished that particular book I was bereft for weeks. Such drama and characters and scenery! Such literary spectacle! Truly wonderful.

There is also a 2008 German movie version of this book, which looks pretty good if only I could find the full movie here in Canada, either online or DVD -with subtitles too would be nice- but alas.

(back cover)
First published in 1900 when Thomas Mann was twenty-five, Buddenbrooks is a minutely imagined chronicle of four generations of a North German mercantile family - a work so true to life that it scandalized the author's former neighbours in his native L├╝beck. As he charts the Buddenbrook's decline from prosperity to bankruptcy, from moral and psychic soundness to sickly piety, artistic decadence, and madness, Mann ushers the reader into a world of rich vitality, pieced together from births and funerals, weddings and divorces, recipes, gossip, and earthy humour. 
I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books.
~C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lost in a Good Book

We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page; we begin to see images.

~John Gardner

Monday, February 16, 2015

Basic Crunchy Granola

This recipe is so simple and crunchy that I can't believe it's taken me so long to figure out how to make it. I'm quite particular about my breakfast cereal - it has to be a crunchy mixture of granola, raisins, chopped fruit, yogurt, and some kind of milk. My current favourite is flax milk but I also like almond milk and rice milk.

Moving on...

Here I have 4 cups of rolled oats (a mixture of quick cooking and large-flake)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 Tablespoon of ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

In the measuring cup is 1/2 cup maple syrup and 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir to mix all the dry ingredients first, then pour in the liquid and mix it all up until everything is coated.

Then evenly spread all that oatmealy cinnamony goodness onto a parchment lined baking sheet and pop into a 300 degree oven.
Set the timer for 7 minutes...

...pull it out and turn over the granola with a spatula to mix it up so that it toasts nice and evenly and doesn't burn around the edges.

Put it back in the oven and set the timer for another 7 min. and repeat.

Put it back in the oven and set the timer for another 7 minutes and repeat again.

Then pull it out and mix one last time, turn the oven off and put the granola back in the oven for 5 more minutes.

When it's done it should be well toasted and oh-so fragrant. Let it cool like this completely to achieve maximum crunch.

Once cooled, I store it in an old glass cookie jar (above) but it also stores well in a ziplock bag or plastic container.

This is a base recipe and can be halved or doubled with many substitutions.

I've used...

-Rolled spelt and rolled barley along with the rolled oats. Probably other rolled grains work just as well, but I haven't yet tried.

-Honey in place of maple syrup is also very delicious. Ive used molasses too but find it makes the granola too dark and strong tasting. It's not bad, just...strong.

-Pecans and almonds, chopped.

-Pumpkin seeds, flax seed and sunflower seeds, although I rarely use seeds because it makes the granola chewy instead of crunchy, and for me it's all about the crunch.