Thursday's Child: Parliament Hill, Ottawa

Thursday, October 23, 2014
I’ve written before that travel makes the world smaller. That when tragedy occurs in a place we’ve been, we feel the story more personally than if we’re simply reading newspaper headlines.

That’s still true, but those tragedies don’t usually happen as close to home as they did on October 22, 2014.

A lone gunman shot and killed a soldier, Nathan Frank Cirillo, who was standing guard at the National War Memorial. The gunman subsequently entered our Parliament building with a rifle. After exchanging gunfire with police, he was killed before any more lives could be taken.

After a tragedy, our first response is to disbelieve it. To think, things like that don’t happen here. But, of course, they can. They can happen anywhere, even in a country that thinks of itself as peaceful, and that takes pride in the openness of its Parliament building and the surrounding area.


Ottawa is just a few hours drive from Toronto, and we took the girls there over the 2006 Christmas holidays. We did the things many families do when they visit Canada’s capital city. We went to the National War Memorial, we had our pictures taken outside the Parliament buildings, we toured the House of Commons and Senate. On our way into Parliament, we passed through metal detectors. My oldest daughter, then 12, set off the alarm by accidentally carrying her craft scissors in her pocket. We’ve laughed about it for years, but today it just makes me sad.

Cirillo was killed yesterday at the National War Memorial. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier now has a name and a face.

Sending prayers to the family of Nathan Cirillo.


Nathan Frank Cirillo; photo credit The Toronto Star


Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Frozen

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Frozen is the Disney movie that charmed everyone who saw it. It’s a story of sisterly love, and if you have a daughter under the age of ten, I’m guessing she wants to be either Anna or Elsa – maybe both. Frozen is officially the highest-grossing animated movie of all time, and the soundtrack is the best-selling album of the year. It features some of the most delightful non-human characters (Sven the reindeer! Olaf the snowman! Rock trolls!) ever to populate a movie screen. And it inspired the most engaging lip sync I’ve ever seen, that to date has tallied over 17.5 million views. I may be responsible for a few of those.

I’ve seen this movie twice, under very different circumstances.

My youngest daughter and I saw Frozen in the theatres shortly after it opened. The timing was appropriate – it was in January of one of the coldest winters we’ve had in years. We stepped from the cold of Toronto into the chill of Frozen’s Arendelle and didn’t miss a beat. Kristoff the ice-man would have felt right at home.

The second time I saw the movie was in the middle of July. When the girls came home from their camp jobs for a weekend off, my oldest daughter said one of her campers sang “Let It Go” at closing campfire. Right before her performance the camper got nervous, and my daughter promised to sing it with her, even though she didn’t know the words. She faked her way through, singing the chorus and improvising the rest with her version of interpretive dance. But she was determined to watch the movie before she returned for session 2. And that’s why she and I watched Frozen on a day more suited to Body Heat. We needed to use our imaginations during “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, but we appreciated the hour-and-a-half respite from the heat.


Clearly, today’s recipe had to be something frozen, and so delightful that it makes you smile. Chocolate-Dipped Frozen Bananas take less than ten minutes to prepare, can be made in advance, and can even be considered quasi-healthy since they’re 90% fruit. Making them could be that “act of true love” that would thaw the frozen heart of anyone you know.

Chocolate-Dipped Frozen Bananas
(inspired by Sugar Hero)

Ingredients:

3 large ripe bananas
200 grams good quality chocolate (semi-sweet, milk or dark chocolate), coarsely chopped
Assorted toppings: toffee bits, chopped pistachios, chopped pecans, flaked sweetened coconut, etc.

Directions:

Peel the bananas and cut them in half so you have six banana pieces. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and freeze until firm, about 1 hour. (If you like, you can insert a wooden stick in the end to make it easier to coat with chocolate. Even better, use a plastic knife, which you can then remove after it’s been coated for better presentation.)

Place chopped chocolate in a double boiler, and melt over boiling water. Put the toppings in shallow bowls beside the stove.

When your chocolate is melted and your toppings are ready, remove the bananas from the freezer. Hold one over the bowl of chocolate and use a large spoon to cover the banana section in chocolate. When it’s completely covered, dip it in your choice of topping, moving quickly as the chocolate will start to set as soon as it touches the cold bananas.

Bananas can be served right away or stored in the freezer in an airtight container in the freezer. If you’re refreezing them, let them sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before serving for best taste and texture.

Thursday's Child: Adventures in Food

Thursday, October 16, 2014
Haggis, neeps and tatties: surprisingly good!
I’m a blogger who writes about food and travel. So what's more natural than writing about meals we’ve eaten on holidays? Here are some of my favourite food memories from around the world:


We don’t often eat better than we did on our recent trip to Krakow. We decided to eat Polish food whenever possible, and we did brilliantly, enjoying beet soup, cabbage rolls, pierogies, dumplings and potato pancakes. You’ll be relieved to hear that this wasn’t all at one meal, and that we spent ample time walking off all that Polish food.


Local food we’ve eaten in restaurants around the world includes haggis in Scotland (excellent), llama kebabs in Chile (not bad, as long as you didn’t think about this) and cod tongues in Newfoundland (never again).


The most fun I’ve ever had recreating a historical moment was eating this jelly doughnut in Berlin. (“Ich bin ein berliner” … never mind, I guess you had to be there.)


One Sunday night in Venice, we had trouble finding a restaurant that was open for dinner. I checked my guidebook, and it recommended a nearby pizza place. It was described as a little upscale,  and we were dressed casually because of the heat, but we checked it out anyhow.

When we arrived, they told us men weren’t permitted to wear shorts. We were about to turn away when the manager told Andrew he could borrow a pair of pants. The girls were famished, and so Andrew acquiesced, changing from his tan chino shorts into a pair of white drawstring pants that could only be described as voluminous. They also would have been voluminous on Andre the Giant. And they were white. The girls spent the meal snickering and making John Travolta jokes.

It was the worst pizza I’ve ever eaten.



Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Cabaret

Sunday, October 12, 2014


“What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.”
- from “Cabaret”

Andrew and I saw Cabaret in 1999 in Toronto. Joely Fisher (daughter of Eddie Fisher and Connie Stevens) starred as Sally Bowles in this musical set in Berlin in the early 1930s. Sally is a cabaret performer at the tawdry Kit Kat Klub and, through her eyes, we see a snapshot of a city in its last hours before the world changes. The Master of Ceremonies at the nightclub evokes the Nazis who are becoming more powerful every day.

The performances were great, and we thoroughly enjoyed the show. Not really enough to write a blog post about.

Until this summer, when we visited Berlin.


Partly because of Cabaret, I envisioned Berlin as a whirlwind of music and entertainment. And it’s true – it’s been called the city with the best nightlife in the world. Andrew and I were determined to experience it.  Unfortunately, many of the clubs open at 1 am and stay open until mid-morning, which doesn’t really coincide with our inner clocks.

I briefly considered a post-breakfast club visit, but that went against the spirit of a “night” club. I kept looking, and found a jazz club a mere two blocks from our hotel. One that would give us a chance to get home by midnight.

The club was everything I’d imagined. More people were squeezed into a small, sweltering room than I could believe. Andrew and I shared a tiny table, barely large enough to hold our drinks, with a couple that spoke no English. We had beer that started cold and was lukewarm by the time it got to the table. We were an arm’s length from the stage.

It was magical.


The evening only got better when Azuleo took the stage. This amazing group featured performers on flamenco guitar, saxophone and flute, among other instruments. It doesn’t sound like it would work, but it did, beautifully.

Since we speak no German, we were confused when the group left the stage around 10:15 and the club cleared out. The show couldn’t possibly be over, could it? We remained puzzled until I looked out a tiny window, and saw the crowd huddled on an equally small strip of sidewalk, smoking furiously. Ten minutes later, we were all crammed into the club again for a fabulous second half of the show.

Life is a cabaret, indeed.


You probably saw this coming: the only recipe that could possibly accompany this post is one for Kit Kat cookies. I asked Andrew to help me describe them, and he said, “They’re like your chocolate chip cookies, except with Kit Kats added.” That is, indeed, completely factual. These cookies won’t necessarily evoke pre-war Berlin, but they will taste like chocolate chip cookies with Kit Kats added. You heard it here first.

("Recipes Inspired by Musicals" is a biannual feature on my blog. For links to previous posts, check the bottom of my recipe index.)

Kit Kat Cookies
(adapted slightly from Crazy For Crust)

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup Kit Kats, strips separated and broken into four or five pieces each (about 3 regular sized chocolate bars)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions

In a stand mixer, cream butter and both sugars until combined. Add egg, mixing completely. Mix in vanilla extract.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a separate small bowl. Add to butter mixture and mix on the lowest speed until just barely combined. Add Kit Kat pieces and chocolate chips; mix on low speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until incorporated.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough for 1 hour or longer.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Form into cookies and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Thursday's Child: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chichicastenango, Guatemala is the centre of Kiche culture, Kiche being a subgroup of the Mayans. The town is known primarily for two things - its twice-weekly market, and the rituals practiced on the steps of the Church of Santo Tomas.



Every Wednesday and Saturday evening, artisans and farmers arrive in Chichicastenango from villages in the neighbouring central highlands. They set up their booths the evening before sale day, and sleep there - often with their family - so they can open early in the morning. Since the town sits at an altitude of about 6500 feet, it's often a cold night for the artisans at the outdoor stalls.




On Thursday and Sunday mornings, the market opens at dawn for the highland villagers to shop. We arrived later in the morning, by which time the market was bustling with locals and out-of-towners. Vendors here sell an enormous array of goods, including masks, pottery, fruit and vegetables, chickens, incense, candles and tools. Huipiles, the traditional garments worn by Guatemalan women, are sold along with sashes, tablecloths, and other textiles.


The Church of Santo Tomas, which sits next to the market, is unique in the rituals performed by its members. This 400-year old Catholic church permits the performance of Mayan-influenced rites alongside the more traditional church rituals. Eighteen steps lead up to the church, one representing each month in the Mayan calendar. While we were there, we watched as the Kiche people offered rituals on those steps: they burned incense, lit candles, and spread flower petals. The odor of incense was overpowering, even though we walked in the church by the side door; the front door, shown here, is reserved for Kiche worshippers.


Cousins, part 3

Sunday, October 5, 2014
With Heather and Michael, Christmas 1968. I'm the one proudly wearing my brand-new Liddle Kiddle locket.
Heather and Michael lived in London Ontario, about an hour away from our farm. Heather was the same age as me, born in January to my November. And Gwen and Michael were June and December babies from three years later.

When we were growing up, I always thought how lucky we were, and how selfless our parents were, to let us spend so many weekends at each others' houses. When I became a parent, I realized that for every weekend we spent with the Ogletrees, my parents had some time to themselves, and vice versa. But that doesn't change the fact of how lucky we were.

Of all our Canadian cousins, Heather and Michael were the only ones who lived in the city. When Gwen and I visited, we got to see what life in a suburb was like. I couldn't imagine walking to my best friend's house, or walking to school. The variety store, the Piccadilly Dell, was right across the street from them. When we were young, we visited Storybook Gardens together, and when we were older I was thrilled by riding the bus downtown to see a movie.
Not even a cross-eyed Humpty Dumpty could terrify these intrepid cousins
They were probably equally amazed when they visited us in the country. We played in the corn crib and went for long bike rides down gravel roads. We may not have had a variety store across the road, but when we rode our bikes to Eagle, we bought two-scoop ice cream cones for 50 cents. On Canada Day one year, we had fireworks in our driveway. The sparklers were fun, but I remember Michael being especially keen on the Burning Schoolhouse.

There were probably times when it was fun being our parents, and times when it was not. In the former category, we cousins put on a play for them every time we got together. Sadly, most of the themes escape me, although I do remember a splendid variation on "Welcome Back Kotter".

On the flip side, one year when they stayed with us, Heather slept in the double bed with Gwen and me, with Michael on the pullout couch in the next room. We decided it would be a great idea to play Cowboys and Indians. Michael was the lone bowman who burst into our room pretending to shoot us, and every time we screamed with terror and delight. This went on until my mother convinced the young native that the pioneers needed some sleep, and he probably did too.

When Heather and I were in grade 8, their family moved to England for a year. We missed them terribly, but we wrote letters, and when the year was over, it was as if they'd never been away.

One of my favourite memories is of being on the swings at the local campground. We convinced the other kids that we were all siblings and our last name was "Bakertree". It felt like it was true.

Michael was the superlative good sport, playing in our games and gamely enduring the girl talk. Heather and I went on to be bridesmaids in each other's weddings, and when I was pregnant for the first time, she gave me her crib and baby clothes. Her daughter is expecting her own first child later this month. My wishes for her are many - and include a set of cousins as wonderful as the ones I was blessed with.


Roasted Autumn Vegetables

2 cups peeled, seeded, and 1/2” diced butternut squash
2 cups peeled and 1/2” diced Yukon Gold potatoes (2 medium)
2 cups peeled and 1/2” diced parsnips (1 – 2 medium)
2 cups peeled and 1/2” diced carrots
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp minced garlic (3 cloves)

1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the squash, potatoes, parsnips and carrots in a bowl and toss with olive oil. Add salt and pepper, and spread in a single layer on a sheet pan. Roast for 30 minutes, turning once. After 30 minutes, toss with garlic and roast for another 10 minutes.

In the meantime, melt the butter over medium heat. Add rosemary sprigs and cook over low heat until the butter begins to brown. Discard the rosemary and stir in the lemon juice.

To serve, drizzle rosemary butter on vegetables and serve hot.



Thursday's Child: Memories of Hong Kong

Thursday, October 2, 2014
Big Buddha, Lantau Island
Every day I read the papers this week, I check first for updates on the political situation in Hong Kong. The protesters' pro-democracy demonstrations are showing no signs of abating, and the Chinese government and police are showing no signs of giving way to their demands. I've been reminded once again what a privilege it is to travel, and to feel a connection with the people and places in the news.

While the world waits to see what will happen next, I can't help but think of our own trip to Hong Kong, six years ago:

At 15 hours in length, the flight to Hong Kong was the longest we've ever taken. And we were experiencing jet lag and general exhaustion after we landed. But there was no discussion about going to bed early - we had to stay up until 8:00 to watch the famous Symphony of Lights show. A combination of coloured lights, search lights and laser beams from both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island created a beautiful light show over Victoria Harbour. Every night, a local radio station plays the accompanying music, and we listened on the radio as we watched the show from our hotel room. The Salisbury YMCA (actually a hotel, not a traditional Y) is located next to the ultra-chic Peninsula, and had the same wonderful views for a fraction of the price.



The following morning, we set off to explore. We took the Star Ferry across the harbour to Hong Kong Island to visit Victoria Peak. The views over the island, Kowloon and the harbour were stunning, which is why this is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy a house. The most expensive houses in the Peak have sold for as much as $80 - $100 million. Not being in the market, we simply enjoyed the view, and the hazy but temperate weather.



Next we travelled to Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha, or Tian Tan Buddha. The statue and an adjacent monastery are a focal point of Buddhism in Hong Kong, and a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from all over the world. The 268 steps to reach the top were well worth the effort to admire the statue from up close and to enjoy a great view.

The six smaller statues that surround the Buddha offer gifts representing charity, morality, patience, enthusiasm, wisdom and meditation.



Hong Kong was our first stop on a trip to China, so part of the adventure was learning to use chopsticks. Whether they were used with two hands to eat noodles, or one hand to eat grilled cheese, there was no end to the amusement they provided. (Note the Orange Fanta in the second photo. For my youngest daughter, one of the joys of travelling was getting to drink orange pop, a treat we don't usually buy at home. Orange Fanta has helped us cope with jet lag issues on several continents.)

Kowloon's Gold Mile (Nathan Lane) at night
As I remember an evening spent walking down the energetic but peaceful Nathan Lane, my thoughts go out to the protesters, in hopes that that their request for electoral reform will be heard, and that no lives will be lost.