Friday, 19 December 2014

Delia Smith, an icon of the BBC Cooking shows.

During the year there are lots of Holidays and the food offered is usually the same. The dishes go with the idea or spirit of that holiday. It seems that turkey is always coming back and if not turkey then its burgers or hot dogs. I am thinking here of Victoria Day in May, that is the start of the Summer Season and Cottage opening time, so a Bar-B-Q is de rigueur. Then Canada Day again being Summer and July more Bar-B-Q meats of all kinds. At Thanksgiving in October it's roast Turkey or ham and the same at Christmas and or New Year. At Easter it can be a ham though I one point Lamb was a favourite, though Canadian Lamb is becoming quite expensive, New Zealand lamb is quite cheap but full of chemicals and so lately people have been cooking other dishes.  In Canada Tourtière is popular, the famous meat pie of French-Canada, though how it is prepared is important and what quality ingredients you use makes a difference. For some reason the Lac St-Jean version of the tourtière seems a favourite with some people or at least in popular mindset.

Personally, I am not a fan of turkey nor tourtière meat pie, so come any major holiday and I will not think of having either dishes on the table. As for ham at Easter, I like ham in a sandwich but not at a main dish for a feast, I am also horrified by the tradition of sticking pineapple and cherries on it.

So I am always looking for new ideas for Holiday meals, even if it is just for a simple Bar-B-Q in the Summer, I want something different.  Instead of turkey, why not Goose or Cornish Hens, instead of beef burgers why not veal and beef or mixed with some pork burger stuffed with soft cheese and mixed with herbs and a strong dry mustard. Of course you can also get dishes of Seafood, lobster meat (shelled) in a cream sauce or a mix of seafood served in timbale.

Delia Smith with her CBE

Here comes Delia Smith, who through the years has perfected Holiday cooking. I always liked her because her recipes are A, easy to follow, B, there are no mystery ingredients and C, anyone even someone with little experience can prepare her recipes. She proposes menus, from what type of hors d'oeuvres to prepare for a pre-Xmas party, to a dinner party during the Season to the Christmas day lunch menu timed in such a way as to leave cook with time to spare to relax and enjoy the day. By lunch time around 1:30pm all is ready. Of course Delia is an organized person and you have to be too. She will prepare her vegetables the day before, her desserts are also prepared a day or more in advance, so on the actual day only the bird and stuffing is left to be done. I liked her stuffing, a good mix of pork with fine bread crumbs and celery and herb mix. She also tells you to get a bird around 14 lbs no more, and shop around for a black turkey which is gamier and better tasting instead of the supermarket white one which is often very bland tasting. In her preparation of the bird she will smother it in butter and then place bacon strips on top. Placing it in a roasting pan builds a cover for it which allows for a cavity around the bird instead of having the foil wrap itself close and tight on the bird. This way while cooking air circulates all around and in the last 40 minutes of cooking you  remove the foil and let it roast to get that golden skin colour not forgetting to baste it.

She also cooks chipolatas and bacon separately this will accompany the bird and it is a very Bristish tradition. I do not know if you can get chipolatas in Canada.

This year for Christmas dinner I will cook Canadian Lamb filet (12 minutes cooking time) do some roasted vegetables and voilà. I have ordered my desserts and we also have the most wonderful home made Fruit Cake known as a John H. Special. Uncle Johnny has been making them for us for the last 40 years. I am not one to eat fruit cake usually but his Fruit Cake is really something to behold, it is home made and it is his recipe and a very nice recipe it is indeed. I also got a Stollen and we have nice cheeses,  a firm cheddar Goat cheese, some Stilton blue, and other cheeses with nice crackers and fruits like the big Clementines and a nice variety of apples.

Do have a look at Delia website, the one recipe I want to try because it looks so amazing ''Venison Braised in BlackFriars Porter ale and Port with Pickled Walnuts.'' If you do not like venison no problem substitute for beef instead. At any time in Winter this would make a fantastic dish.

Then there is one very light and wonderful dessert she makes which is perfect when your main dish is rich and heavy. This dessert is called, Champagne Jellies with Syllabub Cream and Frosted Grapes.
You do not have to use champagne instead use a Prosecco or a bubbly wine, much cheaper and perfect for this recipe.

Well my shopping is done for this Xmas so the next few days should be quiet, going to dinner at friends and cocktail parties.



Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Preparations and Shopping for Xmas

It is funny how until yesterday I thought we were 2 weeks away from Christmas and today by looking at the date I realize we were 7 days away. Time to get busy with getting menus and food.
I always like going to the Liquor store to see what they might have. There is not the variety we found in Europe, say London or Rome but there was quite a few wines I thought interesting. The sales lady was most helpful and in a very good mood, she was even wishing people a Merry Christmas, how very nice and old fashion at the same time.

So I got a good variety of Prosecco, white and red wines and a bottle of Zinfandel to make pears in wine which is always a nice Festive dessert and is served chilled.

As for food, I also want to make small Tarts with blue cheese and pears which are served warm, they are easy to assemble and you simply put in the oven at 325F for 10 minutes.

Then some puff pastry and fresh sausage meat, usually a mild Italian sausage will be used to make piggy in a blanket, always nice to have with a drink. On Christmas eve we will have Canadian Lamb
roasted, easy to make and quick. I found some nice Wild Pacific Coho Smoked Salmon to start. Then for the dessert I called Michael Holland of Cake and Shake at 229 Armstrong st. in the Parkdale Market area, who makes wonderful pastries the old fashion style. I ordered 2 Bûches de Noël, one vanilla with vanilla icing and the other carrot with orange icing.

All our Christmas wishes have been sent electronically or by mail. The house is decorated, so we can just sit back and relax. On the statistical side of things I note that I spent about 260 hours volunteering at the National Gallery of Canada and spent 40 hours at the Canadian War Museum on the Summer exhibit this past year. Something I really enjoy a lot.

'' God is not dead nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail. With Peace on Earth, good will to men.'' from the poem Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Noël in Canada, les anciens Canadiens.

In closing this picture of two little dachshunds in the snow, so very nice and makes me think of my two Nicky and Nora

Monday, 15 December 2014

More photos of Xmas preparation and Xmas puppies

Well we got our menu planned out for Christmas Eve, which will be dinner at home
starting with some Smoke Salmon and fixing and then Lamb filet with vegetables and
I will order the mini Bûche de Noël from Michael Holland. On Christmas Day we are going
to Le Café at the National Arts Centre, they have a very nice menu.

Drove by Parliament and the Christmas lights are amazing the National Capital Commission did a
very good job this year. It is spectacular to see.

This evening we watch on BBC Player on the Internet Chef Delia Smith who lives in Suffolk. She is 73 yrs old now and the programs are about 20 years old but nonetheless very well made and very interesting. She basically shows you how to make Christmas Pudding and Cakes and all manners of
other things for the Festive Season. She had one recipe for a fruit cake which can be made in minutes and takes 90 minutes to cook, very simple and perfect for anyone who has never made one. The one I really liked was the sticky toffee pudding cake and of course all those candied fruits and candied chestnuts, so very good. Now come to think of it we should have suggested to our friend Spo who wanted a recipe for Plum Pudding to watch Delia make one, very simple.

While she was mentioning the ingredients you need and even wine pairing, I felt nostalgic for those days when I would at the Holiday time fly through London on my way home to Ottawa and stop off and buy all manner of food stuffs. London prior to Christmas is a great shopping place and has so much to offer. Even Heathrow still has the real Duty Free shops not the make believe nonsense you find in most airports these days.

Such shows on the BBC really put you in the Christmas frame of mind.

Xmas puppies they sleep about 20 hours a day to prepare for the Holidays.

Holiday Table Centre

Silver snow flakes

this is such a nice Panettone, so good with a coffee.

Will's home made Ginger cookies

We also discovered on the internet radio RMF Classic 98.3 FM Warsaw, Poland. They have a 
very good selection of Christmas music. Music in Polish and English.

Projects in the Capitale as we prepare for 2017

Construction and renovations everywhere in Ottawa these days as we prepare for the 150th Anniversary of Confederation in 2017. Joanne Chianello had a article detailing all the projects in the Capital and she missed quite a few. Here are some of the numerous projects which will transform Ottawa completely by 2017 and beyond. She called it re-imagining the Capital and indeed she is right.

This year we have seen the re-furbishment of Lansdowne Park and the Stadium at a cost of $42 million dollars.

The New Arts Court building on Nicholas Street which will see the expansion of the Ottawa Art Gallery.
The new Arts Court which will complement the existing Heritage building.

The Innovative Centre at Bayview and the new City Library which is destined for that site.

The New bridge over the Rideau River at Stranheard and the new pedestrian walkway bridge on the Airport Parkway which serves as a gate to the Capital with its modern design.

New bridge over the Rideau River 

Foot bridge over the Queensway at the Train Station

Ottawa Airport Parkway pedestrian bridge

Then  the 2.1 Billion dollar Light Rail System under construction the largest project in the City since the building of the Rideau Canal in 1820.

The expansion of the Queensway which will continue this year, this highway crosses the City from East to West.

The total renovations of all the Parliament buildings and the creation of a Parliament precinct at a cost of 3.2 Billion dollars so far.

The 110 million dollar project to rejuvenate the National Arts Centre built in 1967 for the Centennial of Confederation.

The re-designed National Arts Centre of Canada on Elgin Street in Ottawa.

The refurbishment of the Science and Technology Museum at 88 Million dollars.

The Ceremonial Road (Confederation Blvd) on the Sussex drive area is also schedule to be completed after 2 years of total reconstruction and re-alignment.

Many other road projects, too many to name all are also in the works and then all the new condo towers being built on average 25 floors or more, which is a first for this City given that up to now 14 floors was the limit.

The Rideau Centre re-building and doubling in size should be mostly completed by March 2015.

The re-designed Rideau Centre (partial view) South-East corner

Chaudière Falls Windmill housing project and the LeBreton Flat area with a possible new large complex of National stature but details are sketchy on this one just yet. However it will connect the two city centres over the Ottawa River and the falls.

Finally 2 large monuments on Wellington Street, one to the victims of the Holocaust and the other to the victims of Communism. In both cases the Federal government is investing 3 million dollars each and the remainder must come from private donations.

The two monuments are somewhat controversial since the first one is not to all the victims of the Second World War but to just one group the Jews. Europe has had this debate where the war took place and being inclusive of all the victims appear to be the way to go. As for the monument to Communism and its victims it leaves out the victims of Fascism in Europe and it also appears to concentrate in its presentation only on the Polish victims of Communism.
Commemorative monuments should be for all involved and not create category of victims.

At any rate the Capital is changing very rapidly and becoming a great City no longer a town in Ontario. We have taken a long time to shake the small town mentality considering that changes have been happening since 1955, sometimes rapidly and sometimes at snail pace.

 Parliament in late Wintery afternoon seen from the West 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

End of the year reflections

I went shopping yesterday for the usual groceries and in the store they were playing Christmas music from an album by Maddy Prior, it is different from the usual mindless stuff found in stores nowadays, and it certainly got my attention. In Canadian groceries stores weights are officially in Kg but you still find a lot of things in lbs and it is very confusing to say the least. I needed to buy 3 lbs of chuck beef for stewing and I knew that in Kilograms it would be 1.36 Kg. The only thing was that they had packages of 0.380 Gr. To make it simple I simply asked the butcher if he could weigh it all for me.

I was also looking for a rubber ring which is the seal for our Moka coffee machine a Bialetti model. So I went to Luciano on Preston Street in Little Italy and sure enough they had, it no problem.

While shopping I suddenly started thinking about what a good year it had been all together, we travelled to Europe and Stratford, Ontario and we met friends, had many good times, I worked on a fantastic exhibit of paintings of the First World War by Otto Dix and AY Jackson and saw another great exhibit at the National Gallery on Gustave Doré.

We did one thing this past Summer which I found enriching and that was to work at the Shepherd of Good Hope, the big homeless shelter preparing and serving lunch to the hundreds of Homeless people in Ottawa. The poverty level in the Capital is far more serious and greater than one can imagine or than the media is letting on. Like all cities Ottawa has pockets of wealth and tony neighbourhoods but there are large areas of poverty and trouble. In the Lower Town on the fringe of the ByWard Market and below the University of Ottawa Campus where many shelters are located. I am not speaking of the ghettoes in Nepean or in the West of the City or around Heron road where mostly poor immigrant communities live, in such cases, Somali gangs exist and fight each other for drugs and territory. I am speaking of the working poor, those on minimum wage and the ordinary poor people and many native and Innu people you see around the downtown core, Bank street north of the Queensway and on Elgin Street or in the Market area or near King Edward and Rideau Street. They are just people who have a story, something happened to them and they were unable to return to a routine where they could support themselves. Some suffer from a handicap which makes them unable to work or suffer from mental illness. On that topic Ottawa is a singularly harsh city and the media feels no sympathy for anyone with mental issues. Recently a column in the Ottawa Citizen was openly suggesting that people with mental illness should be simply incarcerated forever on the basis that they could be dangerous to others.

During the Summer a friend of ours Denis S. asked us to help him at Shepherd of Good Hope during one of the long weekends, as a tradition he and his family volunteer on those long weekend holidays when most people leave town. Lunch still has to be served and a crowd will show up.

We went on July 1 and on August 1 to serve lunch. Arriving around 08:30am to start preparation, cutting meat, buttering bread, making sandwiches for the after lunch afternoon crowd etc...
I made 650 sandwiches one morning and then helped serve a hot lunch to 700 people, cleaning up afterwards. The manager told me that it was a slow day given that it was a holiday weekend. Usually they serve 1000 hot lunches. The food is quite good, if you wondered, and the desserts are very nice.
All of it is fresh and they have 2 cooks also volunteers who have been doing it for years. It is a humbling experience and brings home certain realities about life in the big city. If you are poor and homeless life can be very harsh and you die young. They have a small chapel at Shepherd and they will have services and prayers for those who die. It is shocking to see that mid-forties is the expected length of life while for the rest of us can reasonably expect to live in our mid-eighties.

I am grateful for Denis S. and his suggestion that we participate in helping out at Shepherd of Good Hope. This is one lesson of Life that I will remember when I think of 2014.

Further to this experience I met with the director of La Soupe Populaire in Gatineau, the City across the river from Ottawa on the Quebec side. This organisation is involved like Shepherd in feeding the poor on the Quebec side of the river where the needs are just as great. He told me a terrible story of people freezing to death in the National Capital Region during our winters, some 2 dozen in 2012, shocking. Again it is a topic you rarely hear about, the Media do not cover such topics it's not sexy enough and for sure would embarrass the Hipsters, Politicians and Suburbanites.

We are thankful at Thanksgiving in October and we should also be thankful at Christmas for all our blessings.


Saturday, 13 December 2014

What are you listening to at Christmas Time

When we live in Europe at Christmas time the radio stations did not play Holiday Music and stores do not in general have music on while you shop, this includes grocery stores, it is not part of the European cultural experience. It seems that this is a North American phenomenon and a phoney way to put people into the consumer crazy frame of mind.

What is truly funny is how the CBC or Radio Canada avoids constantly to use the term Christmas, they are so politically correct at the State Broadcaster despite harbouring people like our Gian Ghomeshi, until it was discovered that their superstar lived the Fifty Shade of Grey Life style. So it is all about Holiday Season, constipation is the word at the CBC.

I avoid the shopping malls all year round and do my shopping online. Unfortunately for me, yesterday I went to COSTCO, I know hard to believe but you know they have great prices on Stilton Cheese and paper products. I was in and out of there in 15 minutes. The COSTCO experience is like living in the world of Zombies or the un-dead, truly a twilight experience, I wonder about the employees there, what sin have they committed to be condemned to such a fate. I try to go only every trimester and stay only long enough to do what I have to do and get the hell out.

I am sure my dentist has some kind of crazy music on, he seems to think that it will take your mind off the idea of being at the dentist. He is addicted to Ellen and her cohorts of hysterical females who show up in the audience of her equally moronic TV show and scream at anything she says no matter how inane. I wonder where they get audiences like that, are they the same group of Furies you see in Shopping Malls?

Some of the many decorations for our tree

Then there is my own old friend and shrink the one I go on vacation with, Dr. Spo also known at Kontitonttu or Hustomte in Scandinavian, who is apparently haunted at work by cheesy Xmas music, you know the Chipmunks do Xmas type of thing. I wonder if this is the curse of Carl Jung unfolding as it should.

So to get back to what kind of Christmas Music do you listen to in the car or at home. Here is a selection of what I like to listen to at this time of the year.

Marc Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), Antiennes ''O'' de l'Avent

The Elmer Iseler Singers, Early Canadian Christmas Music from 1648 to 1907.

Michael Praetorius, Christmas Music 17th century.

Christmas Music from English Parish Churches 1740-1830

Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) Weihnachts Historie

A Venetian Christmas music by Gabrieli and De Rore 16th century

Michael Praetorius, Christmas Vespers

Marc Antoine Charpentier, Noëls and Christmas Motets (french-english music)

Michael Praetorius, Christmette, Christmas Mass of 1620 in the Lutherian Church, a favourite of mine.

Sir Thomas Beecham arrangement of the Messiah (1959)

Polskie Koledy i pastorali by the Warsaw Chamber Opera

and of course from my childhood the famous
A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi trio.

An eclectic choice but it beats the Xmas Muzak any time. I also discovered that the abbreviation of Christmas to Xmas is not a new thing at all. Apparently it started 1000 years ago, we did not invent anything and it is taken from Greek.

Venez Divin Messie, an old French-Canadian Advent carol, the composer is Ernest Gagnon, words by the abbé Simon-Joseph Pellegrin (1663-1745).

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Renewed National Arts Centre of Canada, vision 2017

It was announced this morning that the National Capital Commission will go ahead with a complete renovation of the NAC. The National Arts Centre was a commissioned building in 1967 to celebrate the Centennial of Canada's Confederation, one of many projects that year. Now 50 years later the centre needs to be refreshed and renovated, acoustically the Southam Hall is wonderful but it needs to be cleaned up and the look modernized, the 1960's decor is dated. As for the public areas they also need to be opened up and look less monolithic and in some cases claustrophobic. These changes are needed and will certainly make for a new look to our National Arts Scene.

Here is the video on what is going to happen at the NAC as announced by Mayor Jim Watson.