Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Piecing the Puzzle

You are a piece of the puzzle in someone else's life. You may never know where you fit, but others will fill the holes in their lives with pieces of you.

My home is a mess and it's S-I-L's fault. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

With the seasonal festivities having ebbed and a few days off from work, I planned to clean house today; instead, I have spent the day in my pj's engrossed in a jigsaw puzzle that S-I-L picked out for me for Christmas. It's a beautiful Venetian scene that looks so similar to a favourite canal-side trattoria in La Serenissima. In real life and in the puzzle image I love the multiple layers of textures, so I'm hooked and only a minimal amount of housework got done.

Several times over the day I have sworn that the puzzle manufacturer had purposefully left out a piece just to drive me crazy. Yet, with a bit of patience each 'missing' piece has been found and put in its place to help me complete the big picture. I am figuring that there is a moral here that I am to learn. So housework can wait. ;-)

I am pleased to report that after 67 hours and 15 cups of coffee the puzzle is complete. There were no missing pieces -- after I gave the carpet a shake to find the 1000th one to be put in its place. I now face the dilemma of what to do with it. I could put it back in the box and create an annual post-Christmas tradition. Time will tell.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Boxing Day Rest

Rest and be thankful.
William Wadsworth

Boxing Day has been a day of rest for which I am thankful. Cat, too, seemed well pleased to be curled up with Mom on the sofa. My return to the ol' homestead this afternoon scored a box full of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, turnip, and brussels sprouts. A veritable feast that might just include a piece of pie or two. ;-)

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

It’s sharing your gifts, not purchasing gifts;
It’s not wrapping presents, its being present
and wrapping your arms around the ones you love;
It’s not getting Christmas cards out on time,
It’s sending any card, anytime, at the right time;
It’s not having the biggest and best Christmas light display,
It’s displaying the Christ light that comes from your heart;
It’s not Santa coming down the chimney,
It’s Jesus coming down from heaven,
and giving us the gifts of hope, peace, joy,  love and eternal life.

Family gathered at the old homestead to share the joy of Christmas.

A thick blanket of snow covered my hometown on Christmas eve. While driving was a bit tricky, the snow hushed the sounds of the city and smoothed over all the jagged edges into soft focus.

Earlier the children performed the ancient pageant. A young family and their newborn played the lead roles. As little voices sang Away in the Manager and a family in a forward pew entwined arms, tears glistened my cheek.

It's been a wonderful Christmas. My hope is that all my kind readers feel embraced - now and always - even in solitary times.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Lining things up for Christmas

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.
"Peg" Bracken, American author (1918–2007)

I am thankful to have been granted two lieu days off from work. They have provided time to finish my Christmas shopping, do some last minute baking and get the presents wrapped.

A Nutcracker (or two) under the tree is an annual tradition for a special someone. I admit to being an enabler to this sweet addiction. With a surprise find yesterday and a bit of paint and glue today, I'm quite happy that my little army of dashing soldiers has came together and will be lined up for duty on Christmas morning.

But you have to keep this is a secret until Christmas!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Festive Grapes

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas . . .
but if the white runs out I'll drink the red.

There's a chill in the air and Twenty Valley's winery halls are decked out for the season, providing lots of decorating ideas -- particularly through the lens of a wine glass.

A basket of colourful balls paired well with Angels Gate's Pinot Noir and beef slider.

The first stop of the day had us sitting lantern-side enjoying mini Yorkshire puddings stuffed with roast beef and mashed potatoes and drizzled with gravy at the newly re-named London Born Co. (formerly Aure). We left with a few bottles of its Gamay Noir for future roast beef and Yorkshire dinners so we were off to a good start.

Calamus Estate Winery offered one of the few sweet pairings but with a twist: they added bacon and chili powder to the basic brownie recipe. I will credit the new taste sensation as 'interesting' with the open acknowledgement that I am a traditionalist when it comes to brownies.

We enjoyed the savoury tart at Mike Weir Estate Winery alongside its chardonnay as we once more quaffed its expansive view of vineyards and the great lake.

Our last stop of the day found us at Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery. We can always count on its chef to create a fabulously tasty treat and he didn't disappoint. The juniper scented venison stew contained a healthy dose of the paired wine, a 2015 Reserve Merlot.

The Three Winos agreed that all the wineries upped their game for the 2017 Wrapped Up in the Valley event. The quality and quantity of the pairings at each and every one of the wineries was first rate. I am already looking forward to the spring event.

In the meantime, "Cheers" to a red and white Christmas!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A votre santé!

Wine can be considered with good reason as the most healthful and hygenic of all beverages.
Louis Pasteur, French microbiologist (1822-1895)

A votre santé! To your health! The Three Winos embarked on the first day of their semi-annual health regime with the first stop advising on corkscrew aerobics via a frig magnet. Works for me.

Greenlane winery's healthy green apple slaw atop a turkey slider paired with a bright chardonnay marked one of our favourite pairings in the Wrapped up in the Valley 2017 event.

Kacaba is a favourite (and frequent) stop in our regime so we are welcomed on a first name basis. We enjoy sampling its as yet unbottled vintages as much as the featured wine.

The gourmet Mac & Cheese with fried prosciutto and onions, garlic butter, cream and parmesan at Di Proprio winery likely caused our cholesterol levels to soar but it nourished the soul.

I'm exhausted by all our exercise today so I will sleep well satiated tonight.

A votre santé!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cookies Galore

If baking is any labor at all, it's a labor of love. A love that gets passed from generation to generation.
Regina Brett, American author

A lot of labour of love has been happening in the family kitchens as mom and I baked up dozens of cookies for the church's annual Mistletoe Bazaar. I think we did my maternal grandmother proud as she was the prodigious Christmas cookie baker whose footsteps we follow.

The bazaar has concluded with another successful fundraising result. I thought I would share the cookies baked by mom and I for the Cookie Walk. This post will help me remember what we produced and what sold well when we plan for next year.

A treat from cookbooks of the 1970s, Haystacks were made the night before the bazaar. I needed to redeem myself after first making them with uncooked chow mein noodles. They tasted delicious but I feared people would crack their teeth on their crunch. A much better result was achieved with fried noodles, but they were not a big seller.

The other last minute cookie, Ginger Lemon Creams, for which I don't have a photo, attracted much better attention. Another cookie lacking a photo are the Double Chocolate Merlot Cookies that appeared in an earlier post. Regrettably, I didn't separate each layer of cookies with waxed paper and they stuck together. This probably accounts for the abundance remaining. But they taste wonderful! Lesson learned for next year.

There was not one Toffee Triangle left at the end of the day.

Surprising there were about a dozen Hershey Kiss cookies remaining -- but mom probably made six dozen. These were a real favourite with the kids.

My Chocolate Crinkles went out onto the Cookie Walk table late in the day so that may account for the half box remaining.

Next year I must remember to cut the Raspberry Pinwheels thicker, then there won't be any left.

The Mincemeat Scrolls were so easy to make with prepared puff pastry and sold well.

The Figgy Orange Pinwheels have a yummy flavour but there were a lot leftover. I guess figs are not a crowd pleaser.

Nothing was left of the Cranberry Shortbread though.

Nor of the Triple PB Love cookies. I never did find lime jelly for a second batch so that will be on the list for trying next year.

The Shortbread Balls were a big hit.

The bin of Whipped Shortbread emptied. A friend provided me with its recipe telling me that they're a big hit at her church bazaar so they're proven twice over.

The Mincemeat Spice Cookies were well received.

The Toasted Coconut Lime Shortbread sold best when decorated with green holiday sugar.

The Funfetti Cookies sold out. Must remember to hold back on the funfetti in the batter so that there is sufficent to decorate the tops.

Chocolate Chip cookies are a staple.

Festive Fruitcake Cookies are a favourite of mine. I don't recall any leftovers of these.

Fruit and Nut Refrigerator Cookies sold well too.

The Smarties Cookies sold very well. Another kid pleaser.

The Italian Almond cookies looked nice. I cannot recall how well they sold.

Christmas Buttons sold out.

These Thumbprint cookies are a keeper. Not one left of them.

The Hershey Kiss cookies came in green too.

I think the Checkboards sold out. They were quite small and fit nicely to fill the little gaps between the bigger cookies in shopper's boxes.

The Cookie Walk tables were bountiful with an amazing assortment donated by numerous people in the church, including some who don't like to bake. All in all we can be proud of the results. For me, the baking created a connection to my grandmother and the love she put into her baking. It was a labour of love and I look forward to next year.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Fall Warmers

Friendship warms the soul.

A morning spent admiring lovely creations of paint, silver and fabric in a cozy gallery followed by a lovely lunch of harvest colours warmed the cool fall day, while the sharing of friendship and hospitality made it shine.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Raising the Macallan

Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.
Mark Twain, American author and humorist (1835-1910)

I couldn't pass up on an opportunity to quaff a few drams this evening at a Raise the Macallan tasting. Of the five variations, I favoured the final "Rare Cask" that retails for $400 a bottle. Suffice it to say, I have fine taste that is unlikely to be satiated any time soon. In any case, I enjoyed the evening's wee spot and am returning home in fine humour.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Once we hit forty, women only have about four taste buds left: one for vodka, one for wine, one for cheese, and one for chocolate.
Regina "Gina" Barreca, American professor of English literature and feminist theory and humorist
This week's bazaar baking combined two of my favourite things: chocolate and wine (perhaps not in order of preference). Surfing the web on an evening commute home this week, I happened upon Double Chocolate Merlot Cookies (recipe here). Chances are that after a stressful day at the office, the thought of a nice merlot and some chocolate soothed my soul and determined that the recipe be tested.

While my choice in wine might not be a true merlot (admitedly I was drawn to the label's image of Venice), I am very happy with the wine and the resulting cookie. Both provided a good antidote to a blustery, rainy afternoon.

I am counting on there being a number of 40+ women buying cookies at the bazaar who will appreciate the pairing as much as I do.

With the baking done, I am going to slice myself some nice cheese to accompany the leftover wine. Life is good! :-)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Triple the Pleasure

Spread love as thick as you would peanut butter.
Peanut butter formed one of my earliest food groups. At a tender age of not yet two, I persistently asked for peanut butter sandwiches. Regrettably, its smell would invariably bring on a bout of nausea for my poor pregnant mother. I still love my PB, so much so that I can't have it in my home to save my waistline. For this reason PB and jam on toast became my go-to breakfast option when staying at five-star hotels on business trips. I'm sure that I raised a few eyebrows but I would try to be as dainty and as grown-up as possible when spreading it on my expensive toast. I relished these treats.

Dangerously, the cafe at work recently introduced double-decker peanut butter cookies with peanut butter cream in between. Manna from heaven for PB lovers.

I was thus inspired on this holiday Monday as I got started on the baking for the church bazaar's Cookie Walk. An internet search provided the recipes for the cookies and cream and I'm very happy with the result (quality control required that I test one with my afternoon coffee). Now I am thinking of alternatives such as changing out the PB cream for strawberry jam or chocolate cream. I am just not sure that the Cookie Walk can handle that much PB-love all in one place.

Spread the love! :-)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Afternoon Pick-me-up

I'd rather take coffee than compliments just now.
Louise May Alcott, American author (1832-1888) in Little Women
A beautiful 'flat white' at Boxcar Social aleviates the 3pm energy dip. I had not heard of this coffee type before starting my lakeside job. I think it falls between a macchiato and a cappuccino in the espresso to milk ratio, but I'm no barista. The plethora of options makes my head spin . . . I need a coffee. ;-)

A presto!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Of Silk and Bows

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain), American author and humorist (1835-1910)

On every trip to Italy I indulge in one clothing purchase. I still wear a beautiful skirt and leather jacket bought in the '80s when I was blessed to be able to spend my summers on archaeological digs. And they bring back wonderful memories when I wear them.

Last week (was it only last week??), Bro and SIL made a little (OK, BIG) detour for me from Piazza San Marco so that I could visit the Banco Lotto 10 shop. This shop is special because it sells clothes handmade by detainees in Venice's women's prison as part of a training programme. Each item in the shop is unique and of finest quality and design.

Certainly clothes don't make the person, but my simple/elegant silk blouse makes me feel so good.


Monday, September 25, 2017


It is a big world, full of things that steal your breath and fill your belly with fire...But where you go when you leave isn't as important as where you go when you come home.

Lindsay EagarHour of the Bees

I am home safe although perhaps not so sound. Never mind the dream last night which had me crawling on my belly through a tunnel encouraging Bro and SIL to follow to some site on the other side. (They responded with a look of incredulity and pointed out that we could walk around the barrier.)

Never mind that my morning coffee tasted bad. It wasn't a cappuccino. We won't mention that the croissant was also absent.

Never mind that the weather is more akin to July than late September with a forecast of 29 degrees today.

No, it's even the little things like trying to figure out where I store dish towels.

Jetlag and a small grain of guilt over being away from the office for three weeks has me on an earlier train, so even the morning commute seems unfamiliar.

Oh well, I will no doubt get back into my routine soon enough. Rats! :-)

A presto!

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Magic of Venice - Day Two

Venice, the most touristy place in the world, is still just completely magic to me.
Frances Mayes, American author

Traffic filled the Grand Canal as we headed to Piazza San Marco after breakfast.

Similarly, the confluence of various forms of naval vehicles beside our vaporetto stop as we awaited our return 'bus' left us appreciating the absence of canal rage. Somehow, everything works out.

Our first stop was the palace of the Venetian ruler, the Doge. Venetians were so concerned that their leader might be corrupted by outside influence that he and his family pretty much lived under constant watch -- but what a view they enjoyed!

Every room of this home/seat of government is designed to impress. The might of Venice and her divine right to rule the world was messaged on every surface.

For example, on the wall behind the Doge's throne in Grand Senate Chamber, Tintoretto painted Christ surrounded by a host of some five hundred saints supporting the power of the Doge and the Senate. An incredible work of art.

On the other side of the golden ducat, however, was the system of denouncing fellow citizens anonymously with a slip of paper inscribed a name and an accusation.

Those accused walked this hallway within the Bridge of Sighs that leads from the hall of 'justice' into the prison.

We were lucky -- we got out. At the conclusion of our tour of the Doge's Palace, we enjoyed the Doge's hospitality of a coffee and chocolate croissant with a view.

Regrettably, photographs are no longer allowed inside the Basilica of San Marco, so I can only share a view of the multiple domes, one of the many Eastern influences in Venetian architecture resulting from its trading empire.

A Venetian glass maker performed an artistic miracle with sand and extreme heat, creating a beautiful decanter before our eyes in just a few minutes. 

Following my nose, I zigged and zagged through Venice's alley's and found the little restaurant that I have visited on my previous two trips here over twenty years ago. Good memories hold fast. For our leisurely lunch, we enjoyed fish soup, fish lasagna and grandma's gnocchi.

The food is delicious and the view from the window, past the flower pots, of gondolas passing by adds to the dreaminess of their tiramisu.

This evening we walked out to the Canal to see the sculpture that it part of the Venice Biennale -- a commentary on Venice's plight as it sinks and the water raises.

We went out to enjoy a Venetian tradition of appertivo. I didn't know that there was a wine named after me. It's a nice white.

We stood in the alley and enjoyed our vino and snacks, known as cicchetti.

This is the beautiful display at our second stop of cichetti-hopping.

We ended our evening and our trip with a gondola ride. Yes, it is expensive, but it is something that one must experience -- especially at night. Gliding through the quiet back canals is magical. Tomorrow marks the beginning of our trek home. I am sad to be departing bella Italia but I am taking with me so many new warm memories.