Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Wound-Up: local Mimico artist, Blair Fukumura's latest project on Kickstarter

If you like to find new ways to support creativity and the arts in your community, there's no better place to look than Kickstarter, which has finally arrived in Canada.  Using the "crowd funding" concept, it allows innovators and artists alike to pitch their projects, and seek support from the great online public, in a time targeted manner.   Do check out this project, currently seeking funding, by my friend Blair Fukumura, a highly talented, but unconventionally trained animation artist, whose previous work has been featured at multiple festivals, including LA Shorts.  Only a couple of weeks left until his target deadline, so check out the cool givebacks you could receive for supporting him in this endeavour.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Signs of spring

Wych hazel, or witch hazel if you prefer.  Brilliantly sunny demeanour on an early spring day.
We had a lovely weekend in Toronto - blue skies, plenty of sunshine, and temperatures a few degrees above freezing. The snow is finally melting, and since we had snow on the ground for several weeks this year, it actually does feel like spring is arriving quite properly.  In the last couple of years, we've had rather sparse snow cover, so the bite of winter was less harsh, and consequently, the joy of spring, whilst welcome, was somewhat diminished.

We had a quick visit to the Toronto Botanical Gardens this weekend, more just to stretch the legs rather than in anticipation of any flowers to see, but there were some nice drifts of snowdrops (too far through the bushes to photograph clearly), lots of bulbs poking their noses out of the soil, and some very cheerful wych hazel.  Naturally, a quick scout around the shop resulted in some impulse purchases, in the form of seeds and summer bulbs/corms.  The seeds are all "Renee's Garden" - not a brand I've tried before, but the very pretty watercolour designs on the packages reeled me in, and I snagged Painted Lady sweet peas (apparently dating back to 1737 and heavily fragrant), lacinato Kale (which I've had my eyes on for a couple of years, but never found seeds in Toronto), lemon cucumbers (no idea where I'll find space), a type of Italian salad leaf called "garden ferns" and mesclun mix named "Paris Market Mix".  On the tender bulb side of things, I got some classic "Lucifer" crocosmias (very common and popular in my hometown of Aberdeen, where they seem to grow like weeds despite being too tender to withstand a Toronto winter), two types of gladioli (Prince Claus and Byzantinus), some scented and exotic looking acidenthera, and another fragrant bulb, Polianthes tuberosa "The Pearl".  I haven't grown any of these before, but since I've had reasonable success in the last couple of years with tender bulbs in pots, and they are easy to bring down to the basement for overwintering, it seemed like a good idea!

The brook that runs through the Toronto Botanical Garden was in spate with melting snow .
These dogwoods were absolutely glowing in the sunshine.
Talking of overwintering in the basement, I started looking at what has been lurking down there since the fall.  The pelargoniums that I just dumped down there, still in the window boxes in which they were planted are springing up, and so it's time to get them properly into life.  See below for the method I've used in the last couple of years, which is very little work.  Cannas were also excavated from their pots and inspected.  They are all looking nice and healthly, and I've cut up the huge tubers into smaller pieces, each with several strong, fat buds and some good roots.  Will leave the cuts to dry off for a day and then should get them planted up.  Haven't got to the dahlias yet, but did see at least one good shoot poking up, so they will also need attention this week.  So much going on....fingers crossed for no more snow (good luck with that!).

overwintered pelargoniums in my basement (excuse the mess!).  Not much to look at, but signs of life are there.  A couple of years ago, when I didn't have time to mess around in the autumn, I just grabbed the window boxes, still full of geraniums and stuck them in a chilly (but not below freezing) and perfectly dark spot in my unfinished basement, with no further ceremony.  They sat there, looking dead all winter and I quite literally did nothing to ease their suffering (not even a drop of water).  As soon as the earliest signs of spring came, they started sending out new shoots.

Pots waiting to receive the awakening pelargoniums

Once I've got the poor things out of the soil, I soak the roots in water for half an hour or so.

After soaking, they are potted up in 6 inch pots.  I don't do any pruning at this stage, as in some of the plants it seems to be the final straw and they perish.  After a week or two on a sunny window, there are usually plenty of robust and healthy shoots, and then I do some pruning to shape the mother plants, and to supply cuttings for new plants.
These were the plants I overwintered, which in turn had been overwintered the previous season, to good effect.
Cannas, awakening after their winter dormancy.
A sturdy, if chlorotic leaf is emerging from this tuber.  I sliced the large parent into 4 good sized pieces, and will let the cuts dry out for a day or so before planting them up in pots. 
More Cannas - not sure where these are all going to go!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

First cardinal sighting of 2013

Although it's most definitely still winter here, and I awoke to see huge fluffy snowflakes slowly drifting downwards, I have a sort of "the end is in sight" feeling, and a sense that spring is not too, too far away.  Last year, spring arrived in early March, but it was highly atypical and I shouldn't really expect a repeat performance this year.

Yesterday, whilst chomping down my toast and marmalade at breakfast time, I had my first cardinal sighting of the year.  A lovely bright red, cheery looking little fellow was rummaging around in the garden, flitting here and there, and generally having a good scout of the area.  For the last few years, there has been a nesting pair in the neighbour's shrubbery, adjacent to my garden, and I always enjoy watching them busily working to feed and raise their chicks.

With thoughts of spring in mind, I did some winter sowing yesterday.  Have been meaning to try this for a few years, but never seem to be organized.  This year, I had saved up suitable containers, and had seeds at the ready (some self-collected, some purchased).  I've sown spinach, beets, swiss chard, thyme, tomatoes, platycodon & echinacea.  The last two will likely produce plants for my friend's new country house.

Here are a few spring photos from last year, as a reminder of what we have to look forward to soon.

Daffodils in my garden.  They have been in the wrong location for 3 years, so this year I really must move them after flowering.

These muscari have formed nice big clumps after a couple of years.

This combination of rich burgundy tall tulips with shorter bicolour ones between comes from the display at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Anemone blanda - I loved these when I saw them at the Botanical garden, and had meant to get some in the fall for my own garden, but it was forgotten.  Next year!

In a white scheme, some lovely, clean looking anemones formed a carpet under later blooming white irises.  I love the upturned habit of these particular anemones....the ones in my garden are lovely, but tend to have their heads cast downwards.

Stunning peony at Toronto Botanical Garden

Like the anemone blanda, I was really excited about these camasias when I saw them last spring.  Must remember to look for the bulbs this year.

Lovely blossoms!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Friday night dinner

Chicken fricassee, interpreted by Bobby, inspired by Joy of Cooking
Chocolate pie, courtesy of William-Sonoma "Baking".......YUM!

Friday was a dreary weather day, and fairly typical of February in Toronto.  Grey, with a snow/freezing drizzle mix, and a horribly slow commute.  Luckily, our routine Thursday boys night had been deferred to Friday, so at least I had a lovely dinner to look forward to after work.  We were treated to a comforting chicken fricassee, with a lovely mushroomy sauce, and a delicious chocolate pie.  We've decided to give Survivor a miss this season, but Bobby's Martha Stewart Living subscription provided a catalyst to my outrage, and got the conversation going with a rant from me.  Ah!  Good times!

If Martha Stewart does another bulletin board, I'll poke my eye out with a rusty skewer!  Why does every other edition of her magazine need another interpretation of the bulletin board?  How many bulletin boards does one need?  Does anyone even have a flippin' bulletin board?!?!?!

I was beside myself with this advert featuring Martha in an intimate bathroom scene.   It was so obviously doctored, and gave the impression of her face having been applied over some else's visage, sort of like those iron-on transfers from the seventies that you could apply to T-shirts.  Topped off with her Cheshire cat grin, I was on fire!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Back to Belgium, and Thursdays, sixes and sevens.

Chateau du Lac, Genval, Belgium

So, our Thursday night schedule for 2013 is "all to pot".  Last Thursday (number 6 of the year), landed on Valentine's day, so that clearly needed to be reserved for individual plans, and this Thursday (the 7th of the year) has been rescheduled to tomorrow - a real case of "sixes and sevens"! This week's disruption was my fault again, because I had another work trip to Belgium at short notice, and just got back this afternoon.  I was worried that I'd fall asleep at the dinner table!  I'll report on the culinary delights of tomorrow in due course.

Given the trip to Belgium, and the fact that my return flight didn't leave before 7am this time (!), I was able to pick up some fresh cream Neumann chocolates at the airport - yum!  I stayed at the Chateau du Lac in Genval, a quiet little village on the outskirts of Brussels.  It was rather a deja vu, as I had been there about 10 years ago...still quite charming, and we were treated to some wintery sunshine and so it was nice to have the chance to walk around the lake before meetings started.  I had a bit of a confused history lesson from my taxi driver (could have been the jet lag!), and was amazed to discover from some Googling back home, that whilst the "Chateau" was originally built as a spa, it spent a good chunk of the twentieth century as a manufacturing plant for Schweppes, producing India Tonic Water, and was only converted back to a hotel and spa in the eighties.  If only I had known, I would surely have had a gin and tonic to celebrate the illustrious past!

Le Lac de Genval

Blue skies, in February, in Belgium!

On first glance, I thought there was truly a stork on the roof of this boathouse. 

Beautiful waterfront homes in Genval

I finished reading "Great Expectations" on this trip, and this house, which was clearly once very beautiful indeed, with some very unique features (like decorative brick dove cots built into the chimneys), reminded me of "Satis House", Miss Havisham's decaying estate.  With it's lakeside location and very large garden, this looks like a perfect restoration project for someone with nice deep pockets!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Mission aborted

It was a bit damp and cold yesterday.  We were forecast for a couple of centimetres of snow overnight. I roasted a chicken for dinner - nice and comforting before heading out for an evening at the symphony.      The TSO were doing Beethoven's ninth....I was very excited, because although it's highly familiar to me, I've never actually heard it performed live!  I got all dressed up in best bib and tucker and went out to warm up the car.  I opened the door and my jaw dropped to the floor....we'd had about 5 inches of soft, fluffy snow and the road was absolutely covered in snow.  It was 7:25, and the concert was starting at 8pm.  It takes about 20 minutes in normal weather to get downtown and park at Roy Thompson Hall.  We set off, and within a few minutes, it had become quite clear that we were not going to make it for 8pm, that the roads were extremely slick, and given that the snow was still coming down at an alarming rate, we decided we needed to abort our mission.  Very disappointing!  I have a gap in my subscription until two concerts in early June.....should be no danger of an impromptu blizzard to foil those plans I hope!
This snippet of Leonard Slatkin conducting the famous "Ode to Joy" from the last movement is about as close as I'm going to get this weekend.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Snowy weekend

Three citrus marmalade...looks very pretty, but the jury is still out on whether a set was truly achieved.
Worked from home on Friday, due to inclement weather.  Actually, it was very inclement.  We had a snowstorm, the like of which we haven't seen in Toronto for several years.  It reminded me of the first few winters when I arrived in Canada in the mid-nineties.  Deep snow, and even deeper snow-banks!  It was however very nice to have a morning where all my time was spent productively working, and not being stuck in traffic with thousands of other commuters.

Stayed close to home all weekend....by the fireplace!  Eating hearty soup, watching Monty Don wandering around beautiful gardens in France, and breathing deeply of the smell of marmalade boiling in the kitchen.   I deviated from my penchant for Seville oranges this year, and went for a three citrus recipe of grapefruit, lemon and orange from "Food in jars".  Although I diligently monitored the temperature achieved with a thermometer, and double checked for a set with the old frozen saucer test (and did seem to have a good "wrinkle" going on), the jars don't seem to have much of a set at all.  Am hoping that a day or two for rest will be enough....will be very disappointed if a need to reboil.
Lake Shore Boulevard, Mimico...February 8th, 2013.  A good, old-fashioned snowstorm kept much of the traffic at bay.    I decided on a walk to the store to gather provisions....pretty at first, but exhausting overall.

This picture was taken about half way through the storm...even at this stage you can get the sense that we had quite a depth.  In the end, about 25 centimetres.

It's been a few years since the window ledges have been piled with snow.