Saturday, 20 September 2014

Lampedusa and chicken dumpling soup

Now I am sure you wonder what on earth has the Prince of Lampedusa and chicken dumpling soup in common.  Well this week in Ottawa has been terribly, unseasonably cold, nights near the freezing point and day times full of cold late fall sunshine, a certain crispiness in the air. But wait we have not arrive at the end of Summer yet that only happens after the 21 September. Well if truth be told we have not had much of a Summertime at all this year. It has been cool not hot and many days it was rather cold. So now all too soon it is Autumn, the pumpkins are out ''en force'',  so today I found a new translation of the book of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa entitled The professor and the Siren. Lampedusa a nobleman of Palermo, Sicily who wrote the famous book The Leopard which then became a famous movie with Burt Lancaster. I have never heard of the Professor and the Siren and am looking forward to reading it. It will remind me of the more temperate and warmer climes of Sicily, a place one should visit and appreciate for its beauty and very rich culture. I am very happy that we had the good fortune to visit the island by car a few years ago. What a treasure trove it was and how unknown it is to most people, maybe it is better this way, it will not be spoiled by mass tourism.

Of course the cold weather has also ignited my interests in winter dishes and in soups and other hearty meals. Will has started making dishes in the crock pot, one being his Bolognese meat sauce which is rich and unctuous. Today I discovered this recipe for Chicken dumpling soup, very easy to make and just the thing to keep you warm on those cold days. I also want to make Parmesan Biscuits, another easy recipe or Pasta al Forno which is easier to make than most think. Will has already made a very good vegetable lasagna.  Because they are still in Season barely, how about Watermelon pudding with Pistachio.

Just thinking that Nicky and Nora enjoy going out now but come Winter with ice and snow, they will not like it so much, with boots and coats to keep warm.  How I am not looking forward to it at all.

So no there is no link between Lampedusa and cooking, but it was just an easy association I made on this chilly evening.

Thursday, 18 September 2014


Referendum day has come and I am listening to the BBC World Service running commentary on what is happening. It is odd really listening to this event taking place, shows how little I knew of Scottish politics in the UK.  It appears that the turnout is high or very high more than 88% in rural and suburban areas whereas in the Cities the turnout is much lower around 75%. Scotland is hoping to have as high a turnout as in the Quebec referendum of 1995 which was 93.5%. It looks likely they will achieve that given the importance of the vote and the question. The big story tonight is how incredible the voter turnout has been. Usually during British general elections the turnout is around 65% the numbers tonight are very high in comparison.

The population of Scotland is small at 5.2 million Scots, somewhat smaller than the population of the City of Toronto. This does not count all the Scottish diaspora around the world, who cannot vote in this referendum. Scotland is portrayed as more left leaning and liberal than Britain. Because of its small population it cannot influence Parliament in Westminster and has little say in the budget. Scottish Labour is seen as unable to disassociate itself from the free-market and austerity policies of the moment, which makes it unpopular. By tomorrow the results either for or against independence, one thing appear certain the old certainties of the past will be dead and gone. The consequence for Cameron and the Conservatives are huge, it would probably mean the government will fall and Cameron will have no choice but to resign. As for Labour it will also be a shock and their future will be also uncertain. No Prime Minister wants to be remembered as the one who lost the Union. However watching the vote results come in Scotland appears divided, there are strong opinions in either camp.

Either way Britain tomorrow morning will be a different country. What I like about the coverage is how there is talk now even before the final results are in of change and how Westminster needs to change, respect for the aspirations of the Scots. It will be interesting to see how this evolves between now and 2016. What is also impressive is the level of respectful dialogue between people on either camp, except maybe for Ukip. There is none of the insults and bad language and immature attitudes we so often find here in Canada when there is differences of opinion after elections.

I would agree with commentators that Canadians and people in Quebec all have a lot to learn on how to run a referendum on such questions, much more mature and respectful in this case.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Reading, what am I reading now...

I have several books waiting to be read either in paperback or on Kindle. I am a slow reader by nature and will often leave a book and then pick it up again a few days later. Of course there are books you cannot put down and those I will read and often reread again. I had bought in May, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck written some 80 years ago, it is or was a bestseller and she won the Nobel Prize for Literature I only got around to reading it this past August and then read it in 3 days.  I enjoyed the story about a Chinese peasant in the last decades of the Empire before the revolution of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, his family, the land and the role of women in China in those days. Though Pearl Buck was an American citizen, the child of Christian missionaries in China. She captures all the flavours of China and its people. The story now read some 80 years later with our knowledge of what happened in the decades afterwards with the Japanese invasion of China, the Second World War, the Civil War and the Communist take over, you can appreciate the complexity of the story and of the people it represents, their complicated relationship to each other and their humanity.

This book is well known and I had heard of it for decades, it is often quoted as an example of life in China before 1925. It also always reminded me, I do not know why, of a movie made in the 1950's entitled Love is a many splendored thing about a women Eurasian doctor (Jennifer Jones) and an American reporter (William Holden) in ChungKing, the Provisional Capital of the Nationalists nowadays called Chongqing.  The period is the Civil War between the Nationalist of General Chiang Kai-Shek who have the total support of the USA despite the fact they are hopelessly corrupt and loosing the war, the Americans really know how to choose sides, against the Communists of Mao Tse Tung.  I know that the book of Buck and the movie have no relations but nonetheless it was an association for me.

Come to think of it, Canadian Foreign Policy towards China was also largely influenced by Canadian Christian Missionaries who convinced the Political Establishment in Ottawa, i.e. the Liberal Party in the era of Pearsonian Diplomacy that Canada should recognized the People's Republic of China in 1969. Rooms in the Embassy of Canada in Beijing are named after them, Chester Ronning, Arthur Menzies, John Small and Ralph Collins, three of them served as Canadian Ambassadors to the PRC in the 1970-1980 period. What I did not know and maybe should have, given I served in China (2004-2007) was that the One China Policy was a Canadian Idea, a compromise of sort, devised by Pierre E. Trudeau which allowed us to recognize the PRC in 1969. He argued that since the mainland represented one third of the population of the planet Earth, it was silly to not recognize them. Taiwan on the other hand was a nasty dictatorship with a population of a few million people. Taiwan was no more democratic than the Communist PRC. In the geopolitic sphere the People's Republic had more weight and Canada should open up to this new relationship. Thus the problem of the Chinas was solved by recognizing the greater number of Chinese instead of the lesser number. Then other countries of the world, including the USA with Kissinger as Foreign advisor to the President, simply followed suit and did the same thing.

Man reading by Farr

Another book I read recently is The Once and Future King: The rise of Crown Governments in North America by F.H.Buckley is an interesting comparison between systems of governments in Canada, USA and UK. All three have their peculiarities on their development and practices and the central idea from which they evolved. There have been several books lately on how democracy is evolving towards ever greater powers being given to a single person, either the Prime Minister or the President. In Canada Executive system, Cabinet which is the composition of various ministers and the Prime Minister around a table come to a consensus on political decisions and it is or was a collegial affair. Nowadays it's a one man rule, the Ministers are informed later or are a simple rubber stamp. The same is true of Parliament, where matters like the Budget are voted on without much discussion and most Members of Parliament do not bother to read the thousand page document.

It made for an interesting read except that I found that much of what was said about Canada needed revision given the style of our current PM Harper who has taken us down the road of one man rule.

I am now reading in French, L'art d'avoir toujours raison by Arthur Schopenhauer (the art of always being right). I do not know if anyone still reads Schopenhauer. An interesting book on conversation and how to present arguments and either get your opponent to agree with you or deflect his arguments. I can see how this is done in French but in English I do not think I would be able to do that. An interesting read nonetheless.

I am also reading all of Aesop's Fables which I never read before, it is highly entertaining and something everyone should read, if for no other reason that it is amusing.

But that is not all, I still have 3 other books to start on various subject, one being how modern archeology was invented just 300 years ago, another on Stalin, a river of blood, Hitler looks like a boy scout in comparison and yet another on the diseases that killed famous authors or at least made their lives miserable, sort of a mystery novel, since in many cases no one knew what they were suffering from.

So as you can see it is a very mix bag of topics and not one airport bestseller in the lot.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Weekend Pleasures

A beautiful weekend it has been. Friday night we had a violent thunderstorm again with high winds and many trees felled, strangely enough the very old and very large tree, it is at least 90 meters high, at the front of our building on Cartier Street which is full of holes where the squirrels have established homes, stands impervious. I always expect it to come crashing down one fine day and given the size of it, I do not want to be around to see it.

Our summer balcony on the Rideau Canal were we have our meals.

So I walked to Lansdowne Park named after Lord Lansdowne who was Governor General of Canada at the time. I wanted to see this great piece of land return to its park like state. It was originally some 120 years ago well outside the City of Ottawa, a racetrack for thoroughbred horses and a great park for agricultural fairs held every year. Major cities in Canada had them, to help farmers with new implements and show off the best in animal husbandry and farm produce, this included a big flower show. Toronto had the Canadian National Exhibition and Ottawa had the Central Canadian Exhibition. In the last 50 years Landsdowne had become a tawdry place where a carny show was held, the main buildings had become ruined shells even the football stadium was in a ruinous state, no one cared it was mediocre and every year it was a grotesque show to all that a National Capital should not be. A few years ago the City Council finally closed the park down cancelling the Ex which was no longer attracting anyone. It promoted the revival of the whole area, which was now well in the centre of he City a terrible eyesore on the Rideau Canal. This new redevelopment was not achieved without major opposition by the navel gazing gang in the Glebe, privileged upper middle class entitled yuppies who opposed the re-development for the simple reason that it might bring people from other parts of the city to their neighbourhood. The judicial wrangling was carried out to extraordinary length, at one point the media and the police were called out to protect bird nests and squirrels. Committees set up to adopt a squirrel and the CBC even had a campaign on it. For anyone who lives in Ottawa it is well known that squirrels are so numerous that they are a pest we tolerate.

After a multi-year fight the re-development went ahead and the final result is pretty impressive. A new stadium for the new football team called the Red Black, the old Horticultural building has been moved on rails from one end of the park to the other and completely renovated, it is built in the Prairie style school of architecture. A new apple orchard has been planted, there is a new underground garage, the Aberdeen Pavilion known as the Cow Palace has been restored to its former glory, to think that 25 years ago when the current Mayor Jim Watson was just a young councillor, he spear headed the fight to avoid its demolition, good thing he did. Where use to be the old asphalt parking lot is now an immense field of green the size of the one on Parliament Hill, hundreds of trees planted everywhere. There is a large play structure for kids, an artificial skating ring and a new Water Park Sculpture which will be ready in the fall.
It is truly beautiful, it is a real urban park, there are also new shops and 2 condo towers facing Bank street.
New Lansdowne Park 

 The green which use to be a massive parking lot

Modern light sculpture still under construction with the new Stadium behind it

Renovated and re-positioned Horticultural building at Lansdowne Park

The partial view of the apple orchard with the Aberdeen Pavilion in the background, the Farmer's market will be permanently relocated inside the Pavilion in a few weeks.

We also did a bit of cooking this weekend with squash, peaches and tomatoes, apparently Dr. Spo tells me that tomatoes do not grow in Arizona where he lives, poor things, living under the dictatorship of the Tea Party and bourgeois reactionaries. We went to Brewer Park which is located on the Rideau River next to Carleton University Campus, a very nice area of the city that I do not know well. There are lots of nice neighbourhoods in Ottawa, quiet and leafy and this is one of them.

 What would a Farmer's Market be without the bake goods including doughnuts freshly made
I thought of Dr. Spo who is a famous doughnut connaisseur from AZ. That picture is for him.

The Farmer's Martket at Brewer Park is moving, it was only temporarily at this location while the whole of Landsdowne Park was being re-built and re-made into a green area.  In the coming weeks the Farmer's Market will return to Lansdowne Park and will be housed in the Aberdeen Pavilion, a giant place and much more convenient since it will be protected from the elements.

Will's creation an Ontario Peach Schnitz pie 

Some of the variety of tomatoes we bought at Brewer Park to be used in various recipes in the next few days, I think we have about 8 lbs or 4 Kilo in total. 

Aubergines and Patty Pan Squash which will be used in recipes also in the coming days.

A whole pot of fresh garlic about 2 lbs or 1 Kilo of it in total, very fragrant 

Will's famous roasted tomatoes a recipe by Marcella Hazan, wonderful with any meal.

 portion of BC Red Snapper and Rosemary accompanied by Yellow Spaghetti Squash dressed with tomatoes, parsley, Basil, yellow pepper and walnuts

More tomatoes for the spicy tomato soup

Dinner of Shrimp Tempura with roasted tomatoes

We also attended the last lecture of the Gustave Doré Exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada. The lecturer was Dr. Eric M. Zafran the Curator of the Susan Morse Hilles European Art collection at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford Connecticut,  a well known authority on art from Doré to Calder. His lecture was on Doré and the Bible, the artist Gustave Doré illustrated the stories of the Bible and it became a worldwide best-seller in the 19th century. The Bible Society of New York has a large library with many wonderful examples of those bibles which were translated in many languages.
The lecture was as well attended as my own Mercredis Culturels program at the NGC.

I also purchased a few other books on Doré and his illustrations, I also got a book of posters of the First World War 1914-1918, entitled the Art of selling War and a book of Charles Perrault (1628-1703) with comments and notes on his fairy tales with illustrations by Doré. The NGC shop also has a wonderful collection of calendars for 2015 and thinking of how Van Gogh was influenced by Japanese wood block paintings got a calendar on that topic.

War is heck, Prosit!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Cooking with recipes, Autumn and September

Late August means the start of harvest time in Canada. Fruits and vegetables in many varieties appear  at the Farmer's Markets around the Capital. I bought a basket of Ontario Peaches and was looking for a recipe to make a cobbler. Will said he had a recipe in one of the books where we collect our favourites. Could not find it at first and then saw it wedged as a page marker in one old cook book, I also found recipes on little photo like cards for various dishes.

One was Spinach sautéed with Indian spices another was Carrot and Parsnip purée or a winter crudité salad. All pretty simple and things I like to make for dinner.  Canadian Thanksgiving is one month away, will we be at home or will we go to Merrickville on the Rideau Canal like we have done in the last two years for lunch.

So I went through the books we have, most are fairly old cook books bought because we loved the recipes. I also found cards with hand written recipes. One is for Fennel Parmesan bake, another for Egg Potato and Prosciutto Pie, that one is really good on a Fall or Winter morning. Or what about Chicken Curry Tea Sandwiches, I remember this one from my Beijing days where we use to go downstairs to my colleague's place, Caryl A. and she made those sandwiches while we sang Karaoke, Bridge over troubled waters was my hit song, Unforgettable was another. There is also Crunchy Turkey Cranberry Pie and I did find the recipe card for Peach Schnitz Pie, Will was looking for.

I also found in my Mom's handwriting, she had a lovely hand and her handwriting is very easy to read. Her Campbell Tomato Soup Cake with cream cheese icing, I really have to try this one, she wrote it out for me years ago and the paper is all yellow with age now. A sentimental memory, the first anniversary of her death comes on 28 September.

If you want copies of these recipes let me know and I can send them to my readers/friends (only).

Sunday 31 August was also the day of a spectacular storm, high winds, crashing thunder and lightning, heavy rains with sunshine and what I call 18th Century clouds a la Canaletto with the most vibrant double rainbow I have ever seen. Afterwards we had fresh air and a beautiful sunset.
Which got us to talk of the Gustave Doré (d.1882) exhibit at the National Gallery which ends in 2 weeks. I have seen this exhibit 5 times and attended 3 lectures on it.

Doré lived in 19th Century Paris but also travelled to England and Scotland, his art is full of the romantic style of the era and false religiosity which looks so kitsch to us today. White clouds are transformed in swarms of Heavenly Angels descending to do God's work.  From the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco the 3 ton bronze, 156 feet high and 81 feet circumference, Poem of the Vine is on display. It came to Ottawa on a flat bed truck.

Poème de la vigne. A spectacular piece 

So this being the last long weekend of Summer it is still summer until 21 September, despite the fact that kids go back to school tomorrow and Universities have re-opened. I only hope that the old Almanac is correct and that our September-October months will be warmer than usual, this past summer has not been exactly the warmest.

I continue at the War Museum until 18 September and then return to the National Gallery for the Season, now as a Docent and Cultural Conference convener (les mercredis culturels). A Season of training and learning, not to forget the school program Vive les Arts for the 6 to 12 years old, a tough crowd who likes the moderns.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Stratford as a town

Stratford has a lot to offer as a town, the Theatre Festival is now more than 60 years old and employs one thousand people year round in various tasks connected with the  Festival, a huge enterprise. I have been looking into our move to Stratford, now that I am retired I really see little point in staying in Ottawa. I came here for study and work, I never planned to die here. One factor to consider though is our friends and we have a lot of old and dear friends in Ottawa, people we have known for 30+ years. We do not know anyone in Stratford and would have to start over which can be difficult at our age. But Ottawa is a very expensive town, oh yes, it ranks up there with Rome and London, I am not exaggerating, I was involved in price comparison studies and Ottawa is not cheap, food, rent, gas and general expenses reflect the fact that it is the National Capital. So how do we entice our old friends to move or at least visit us. I should do a separate entry on this topic of why I am inclined to leave Ottawa.

But I digress, Stratford functions also outside the Festival and has been mindful to keep in mind that it must be more than one industry town. At one time and for more than 100 years Stratford was a major railway hub and international quality furniture maker. Today the furniture industry is gone and the railway is greatly reduced. The Festival brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue which profits to all local businesses, hotels, B& B, restaurants and many shops. To meet the demand of the many tourists and travellers who come to Stratford there are 3 fine chocolate makers with an incredible array of quality hand made chocolates. One is Rheo Thompson beautiful quality chocolates and candies. The other are Barr Chocolates and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. All are worth a visit because of their in house specialties.

 a very large piece of Fudge with nuts, it weighs about 6 Kg. 

 We actually bought this Creamsicle Fudge it has an orange taste and is quite nice

There is also for the gourmet some 15 fine dining establishment where Chefs outdo themselves with wonderful culinary delights. There are 8 real estate offices, 8 Art galleries, 7 fine coffee houses each one catering to a clientele who prefers good coffee in a relaxed atmosphere. In that category I like Revel Caffè on Market Place. Also 5 bookstores offering a lot of service to its clients in the old fashion way bookstore use to cater to the reading public. I shop at Fanfare Books on Ontario street which has a wide array of books for all taste. For those who love old things 4 antique stores, you can find some real gems often from old Estate sales.  There is also numerous professional services, lawyers offices, Medical doctors, numerous banks, etc... The city does not die during the winter Season as of November, some business have reduced hours but on the whole life goes on.

Of the restaurants we enjoyed Pazzo Taverna is a favourite, the Italian cuisine and service are very good, staff are knowledgeable about the wine list and the house specialities. You will not find lasagna or spaghetti on the menu, the chef follows original Italian recipes found in various regions of Italy.

Pazzo Taverna on Ontario Street

There is also an excellent Indian Cuisine restaurant Raja on George street, the atmosphere, food and service are excellent.

For after dinner drinks and a bite to eat where you are most likely to run into the actors and theatre staff Down the Street Bar on Ontario Street.

Another favourite restaurant is Mercer Hall Inn on the ground floor is the restaurant and  above there are two floors of well appointed rooms and suites, we stayed there and loved it.

We also discovered a new restaurant Bijou on Erie Street, they have no menu, just a blackboard and you read it and choose what you want to eat, there is a prix fixe of  2 plates for a set price and 3 plates for another set price. So it is very simple and good again the service was courteous and knowledgeable.

Stratford is part of what is now called the Nouvelle Ontario Cuisine, focusing on local ingredients and what is in Season. Ontario also has a lot of very good award winning wines. So it makes for a great combination.

Stratford also has many beautiful streets and old homes, it is a town with character.

Stratford Court House

All along the streets arrangements of either fresh herbs or a variety of flowers

What is interesting to note is the display of colours and arrangements everywhere in parks and along streets, a great deal of care has gone into this display throughout the city.

Ornamental fantasy gate in the city centre.

Street scape note that the tall facade were built to impress, the building is in fact not very deep as it can be noticed on the Stratford Tourism building.

Homes on Lake Victoria across from the city centre