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 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.

Sixth Thursday

My turn to host, for the 6th Thursday of 2013.  I have realized after 6 weeks, the immense skill of food stylists and photographers in the magazines I love to browse.  No matter how delicious or fragrant the food we have eaten on Thursdays thus far in 2013, the photographs do very little justice.
This week, we dined on:
  •  "toast champignon", inspired by my trip to Leuven the previous week (De absolute bistroklassieker is een smakelijke toast champignon), washed down with a little bubbly to celebrate the recently completed country house purchase of Bobby and Mr. N......a dream regency cottage in Hastings county, which will only be enhanced by it's new owners.  
  • Abbachio alla Romano (Roman roast lamb).....I've been making this easy-peasy Valentina Harris iteration of a Roman classic for years.  This week, it was made with little lamb cutlets, as I couldn't find a roast to cut up into chunks. Results equally gusty and dee-lish.  It only contains 5 ingredients - a case of brilliant simplicity.
  • Meringue gelato cake.  This one came from "Nigellisima".  It's also very easy, and takes the prize for fewest ingredients, at a paltry four (cream, shop bought meringues, a dash of rum and some slivered chocolate).  Although not the most sophisticated dessert in the world, it went down very well, and the fact that it only took about 10 minutes to make mid-week, was highly appreciated by myself!

Toast champignon - recently consumed in the Flemish town of Leuven.

Roman roast lamb, with roasted potatoes and green beans.  This is a hearty, delicious and extremely easy meal.

Not exactly the "Belle of the Ball", but it was rather tasty.....Nigella's Meringue Gelato Cake.  The speed of preparation on a weeknight scored it some bonus points.......just need to work on the presentation!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Lovely Leuven

City Hall, Leuven
I had to forgo normal service last Thursday, as I was in Belgium for work.  The meetings I attended were held in the lovely Flemish town of Leuven, which I had not previously visited.  We were housed at a very smart hotel, the Martin's Klooster, a former convent which has been very stylishly re-purposed as a  hotel.  I had the good luck to be in one of the rooms in the old part of the hotel...lots of exposed beams, high ceilings and leaded windows.  Although the days were fully scheduled, I arrived the day before the meeting started and managed to get out whilst the sun was shining for a good walk around the city centre.  It's a very charming town, and I am pleased to say that in the couple of restaurants I visited, I was met with very attentive and pleasant service, and lots of help with the Flemish menu.  If you ever want a nice homely meal in the centre of Leuven, in a quiet and cozy spot that's obviously popular with the locals, try the Brasserie Foyer.

This church was adjacent to Martin's Klooster, and I love the highly decoratively pollarded trees, which were found in various locations with the city.

A lovely baroque church in Leuven

Beautiful turreted buildings
Look at the golden boy, striking the clock bell.

This church had beautiful clean lines and delicate decoration.
There were some very stylish shopfronts in Leuven.  Here, a lovely flower boutique.

Same flower boutique, different window.  A real visual feast.

Further down the street, another florist, with a wide variety of spring treats to tempt shoppers,

Wish my neighbourhood shops looked this cute!
I loved this display of hellebores and other hardy plants, that can survive in the relatively mild winter climate in Belgium.

After my trip to Belgium, I was able to fit in a flying visit to see my Mum and family in Scotland, which was fantastic.

We went for a muddy walk in the village I grew up in, close to Aberdeen.