Sunday, January 25, 2015

La Notte Grande - a dinner 19 years in the making....



Let me paint a picture for you.

It's 1996, Barry and I have rented Big Night on VHS (remember that?) the wonderful Stanley Tucci/Tony Shalhoub movie about two brothers trying to make a name for their struggling Italian restaurant by making and serving their signature dish, Timpano.


Big night.jpg

We were enthralled.  Not only was the movie marvelous, spectacular, entertaining, but the meal prepared in the movie was mouth-watering.

As Roger Ebert says, in his review of the movie:

The movie works smoothly and deeply to achieve its effects, which have to do with more than this night or this feast. The surprises in the plot involve not only secret romance but heartbreak and long-held frustration, for if genius is great, it is nevertheless not easy to be genius' brother. By the end of the movie, we have been through an emotional and a sensual wringer, in a film of great wisdom and delight.

For Christmas that year, I bought Barry a cookbook written by Stanley Tucci and his family, and of course it included THE recipe.




Once in a while we would read the recipe and sigh.  "Too hard, what would we do?"

What I didn't realize is the universe was working behind the scenes for me.

How so?

Well, I became a good cook in the intervening years.  I even started to make my own pasta.

But more importantly, the universe gave me an Italian friend.  And not just any Italian friend, but an Italian friend who cooks like an angel.

Take a bow, Ben.

So at some point last year, over a couple of bottles of wine, Barry and I began to regale Ben and his lovely wife Ger (who is responsible for bringing us all together!) about the movie and this infamous recipe.

"Let me see the recipe," Ben said.  We hauled the dusty tome from the bookshelf, where it had stood silently for almost twenty years, waiting for Ben to arrive.

"I can make this."  Now, that might have been the wine talking, but we jumped.  Off Ben went that night, carrying the book with him.

On Friday night, we arrived.  In honour of this long-awaited night of nights, we had brought a very expensive bottle of wine, although if truth be told, it was only marginally better than Ben's uncle's homemade wine, made from grapes shipped over from the old country.

As expected, it was a lot of work.

The pasta prepared the day before:




Into the pan:



When we arrived it was cooling, ready to be flipped:



After some tense moments pre-flipping that required the three parties involved to have an extra sip for the heroic task:



Perfetto!!!

And then the big moment:



A thing of beauty!

We ate and we drank, and we finished the evening with my friend Ger's Tiramisu, which I unfortunately have no photos of because frankly, by then I was a little snookered.

Just like in the movie...


Another thing crossed off the bucket list, and I now feel brave enough to try it myself...

someday....

Grazie, Ben & Ger!  ti amiamo!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Where it Matters, we are all the same...


I planned to write this post on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but well, life got the better of me.

I like that MLK was a Capricorn.  It explains all that tenacity!  I haven't seen Selma yet (it hasn't come to my little neck of the woods) but from what I have read over the years, Dr. King was a complex man who at his very core, knew right from wrong.  And when he saw wrong, he did something about it.

Sounds so simple, huh?  Lord I struggle some days not to say all the stupid shit that hops into my head.

Some days I do say it.  And then I have to say "do better, Wendy" and I try again.

But that life and death stuff that Dr. King and the other champions of Freedom then and now did and do, well that's in a league of its own.

But I let it inspire me, because if we're going to have role models in this life, they might as well be ones worth having, mightn't they?


Martin Luther King press conference 01269u edit.jpg


I am reminded daily that angry thoughts against oneself and others are a form of violence that should be curbed and sanded away as much as possible.  That energy has to go somewhere and it doesn't help.

But surely, the ongoing racial and religious intolerance of this world can't help but engender such thoughts.  I know it does in me sometimes.

Then I am reminded of Dr. King's words and know that I have to let those feelings go and find positive ways to make a difference, and the first way is always the most personal - being careful and kind in the things I say.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

I recently read the amazing book, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

Front Cover



Winner of a National Book Award last fall, the book is Jacqueline's retelling of her childhood, in verse.

It is amazing.

And while some will say this is a children's book, I think this is the most eloquent beautiful book and should be read and treasured by every age.

Her use of language to evoke images is haunting and inspiring.

In the poem called Ghosts she writes:

In downtown Greenvillethey painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,except on the bathroom doors,they didn't use a lot of paintso you can still see the words, right therelike a ghost standing in frontstill keeping you out

Stories and poems are often the best way to touch us I think.

As I read my way through the book I thought of how Jacqueline Woodson is exactly my age.

I thought of how she grew up in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement, then moved to New York City as a young girl.

I thought of how I grew up in a small town of almost all white people in Canada.

And yet, every single poem resonated with me.  So many of our life experiences of childhood were the same.  I could feel what she felt, I could smell it, I could taste it.

Once we step in another's shoes, really step in, we are forever changed, part of us cracking open, even the tiniest bit, letting that ray of understanding and love shine in.

Tomorrow I will try and do better.  That's all we can ever do I guess.  And mostly what I will try and do better at is forgiving more and being kinder.  And open my mouth about things that aren't right when I need to.  But in a firm, loving way, just like Dr. King did.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;only light can do that.Hate cannot drive out hate;only love can do that.

The journey is long, but it's worth taking, and it's not so bad when you have friends along the way...

xoxo wendy

Monday, January 19, 2015

Saving with Jamie (and Wendy)



First off: Many thanks for the lovely birthday wishes.  It was a wonderful week and I was so thankful for the kind regards.

Today is a bit of an update of a post I wrote this time last year about my desire to spend much less on groceries and to stop wasting so much food.

It seems I am not alone.

Jamie Oliver, he of the thrusting tongue and cheeky demeanor, has a show playing on Food Network Canada right now called Save with Jamie, the companion to his cookbook.



I realize this is not a new cookbook, but the show only recently started airing here and I can tell you, I am learning so much!

I fancy myself a good cook.  I fancy myself someone who tries to clean out the pantry,  But still, I miss things and end up tossing the odd thing, which is very frustrating and very wasteful.

Prior to a year ago, we were tossing way too much spoiled food and I vowed to change our ways.

I can tell you that it made a difference.  In 2014, our budget for food and dining out came in $6,000 lower than the year before.  I plan to reduce it even more in 2015.  It takes a little more work and a little more planning, but it makes me feel good to see us doing our bit.

Now I am no Janet, mostly because in our neck of the woods we do not have access to some of the higher end cheap places that exist in the states, but I keep working at it and I certainly aspire to be more Janet-like in the food expense area!  There are typically 4 to 5 adults eating here every day, but I am positive it can be reduced further.

What I like about Jamie is his intense desire to teach people how to eat healthy, how to cook tasty food and how to waste less.  Given the state of our landfills and the fact that millions of people the world over do not have access to adequate, healthy food (I can hear my mother's voice in my head here), we owe everyone to try and do better, don't we?

Tonight's recipe, to use up the rest of yesterday's roast chicken and catch the ginger and onions before they go bad, is a home-style chicken curry.  This is a well-loved recipe at our place.

Home-style chicken curry


I highly recommend it and you can find the recipe here.

I wonder how much lower I can get my food bills given our current family composition.  Will keep you posted!  Do any of you have good tips that would help?

One thing I have noticed that makes a difference is to buy veggies and milk as required.  Much less wastage.  But I really look forward to your secrets!

xoxo wendy



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Look at the stars, see how they shine for you....



Look at the stars
see how they shine for you
and everything that you do
Yeah, they were all yellow
Coldplay, Yellow


I woke up early this morning and was rewarded with a sky full of the most delightful, twinkling stars, little diamonds set in a freezing cold January morning sky.

It seemed apropos, since today is my 52nd birthday.

It was a gift to be reminded that even as the years pass, there is some permanence, at least in my lifetime; that same sky passing overhead on this cold morning is likely the spitting image of the one on January 14, 1963.  There is a lot of comfort in that.

I am reminded constantly of the many blessings I have and I am not embarrassed to own my age and my life.  I have been the architect of it all, with help along the way from my many friends and my wonderful family, as well as the odd stranger.  Oh and the people who taught me how NOT to be - the mean-spirited, the whiners, the nay-sayers - they were a gift, too.

The one thing I am most mindful of as I begin my 53rd year on this planet is that you can embrace life or let it happen to you.  The choice is always yours.  Personally, I have been an embracer, but that instinct is becoming ever-stronger as I get older and realize that my life is what I make of it and is no one's responsibility but my own.

I am sure I will get some lovely presents today (and I already have a couple of wonderful ones!), but truly, the stars this morning were in a class of their own.

While I was lying there, I was reminded of the wonderful quote by Robin Williams' character in Dead Poet's Society:

Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

And we will all define extraordinary differently, won't we, which is what makes this world such an exciting and unknowable thing.

For me, that is a good way to start a birthday....

******************

And speaking of cakes (were we?) I must share a find!

Before Christmas I picked up this wonderful cookbook:



As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it, because the directions were just so darn easy to follow and the recipes looked wonderful.



We had friends to dinner and I baked The Strawberry Meringue Cake, a variation of the old Eton Mess.

It was truly one of the best cakes I've ever eaten, and the other three or four recipes I've baked to date were equally good.




So Yay Jane Hornby!  You give good recipe!  Now I must buy her other cookbook, What to Cook and How to Cook It.

Have a most delicious cake and remember: those stars shine for you, too.  Seize the Day!

xoxo wendy

Monday, January 12, 2015

Boyhood


Credit: boyhood.be


I was thrilled to see Boyhood win Best Picture and Director and Supporting Actress nods at last night's Golden Globe Awards.

By far, this was my favourite movie (though Grand Budapest would be close behind) and since I watched it it has stayed with me for days afterwards.

I have loved Richard Linklater's movies since Dazed and Confused.





And as I have raved here many times, the "before" movies - Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight are among my favourites for their unforgettable storytelling.

Taking twelve years to tell a story is a risk.  It requires the ability to adapt and improvise all while staying true to your artistic vision.

We watched it together as a family, which was interesting, as the boy that the movie is based around is exactly the same age as my son, and his older sister the same age as my daughter.

And so when I tell you that the dialogue, the activities, the way those kids acted was true, I am speaking from a place of knowing intimately.

But even if I didn't have kids that age, I would have loved this movie.  Our lives are made up of a million decisions and small moments.  Lots of things happen to Mason in the movie, but there are no car chases or aliens or grand moments.

And at the core of the movie is a performance by Patricia Arquette that is so compelling and true it will make you weep.

We hope when we go to the movies that we will learn something, be swept away, be entertained, be enthralled, be moved, see something we haven't seen before.  I doubt anyone will try this kind of movie again - it has certainly been touched on in documentaries like 7-up (which Linklater credited with helping plant the seed in his mind) - but it is a joy to watch and a real visionary piece by a really creative guy.

Just as in Grand Budapest I felt I had never seen some of the things I was seeing, I felt that Boyhood is just as wondrous, but in a mundane, every person kind of way.  They are fantastic bookends of movie making at its best!


If you haven't seen it, now would be a good time before the Oscars...

have a great day!

xoxo wendy




Sunday, January 11, 2015

One Outfit to Rule Then All....



I haven't written a style post for a long time, as frankly, I haven't bought clothes in awhile and likely won't until March.  And i am not dressing up much (am actually writing this in my plaid flannel PJs and it's lunchtime here!)  I blame it on the wine last night....

However, I thought of you all while I was getting dressed for a dinner we were hosting for friends (no risque banter  GSL - I'm watching you and will send in Freshy if need be!!!!) last night.

I put on an outfit that is nothing fancy:


  • Black long sleeve cashmere t-shirt from J Crew
  • jeans
  • my old Cole Haan patent loafers
  • big silver earrings

I'd need to make that a tee in the summer...






And I thought (and this is a direct quote) "I love it when I wear this.  I think I could wear this every day for the rest of my life if I had to)

And I was immediately struck that

a) I am pretty simple

and

b) I am channeling Michael Kors

Michael Kors, Photographed by Ed Kavishe for Fashion Wire Press.jpg
I know, i need the jacket, but I was home after all....

And this got me to thinking: I wonder what outfit everyone here would choose as the outfit they'd wear every day for the rest of their lives; a cousin post to Janet's Forever Wardrobe one that I loved!


And I realized that those black loafers, which are nicely broken in, but probably need a newer mate, are the shoes that make me the happiest in my closet.  What does this mean?????  I have much more expensive shoes, but these are the ones I would grab in a fire!!!

So I want to know about you all - what's your outfit?

******

And now, a small public service announcement:

THE GOLDEN GLOBES ARE ON TONIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Which means:




I don't think anyone makes me laugh more than Tina Fey and Amy Poehler!

So I am counting the hours till the opening monologue, chilling my Prosecco, and getting ready to laugh.  I might even wear my favourite outfit....

Have a happy day!

xoxo Wendy

Friday, January 9, 2015

For Paris, because I love you....




Our history on this planet is one of very wonderful things happening and very terrible things happening.  

As a sociologist, I can give you a hundred good reasons for the last few days.  A psychologist could give you a hundred others.  As could a priest, a counter-terrorist expert, a militant.  All would be right and all would be wrong because they would be trying to quantify, clarify, something that seems to  be so absolutely un-quantifiable.  

And so I think I will leave the sifting through the horror to others, the planning for the future, the trying to figure out why things are they way they are and how we might make them the way we want them to be.

What I know is that love is all there is.  

And when I think of Paris, I think of love - love baked into croissants and macarons, loved poured into fine wine, love painted into amazing art, love carved into beautiful churches and buildings, love in the joy of living, love locked onto bridges.



And so I send my love to Paris tonight.  

But not just to the nooks and crannies I have discovered thus far.



I send my love to every part of it, a soaring love, a creeping love, a grieving love, a weepy love.

One that is directed at all of Paris, but especially to those who are in pain, those who are in sadness, those who are angry, those who are disaffected, those who feel hopeless. 

For what else is there to do if you love Paris?

Hope' is the thing with feathers


'Hope' is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

Emily Dickinson

bird, eiffel, freedom, paris


Paris, je t'adore...

xoxo wendy