Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tori Amos concert review : Toronto : Sony Centre for the Performing Arts : October 23, 2007

With significant anticipation, I went to my 2nd Tori Amos concert last night. I had been keeping an eye out for onsale dates for these tickets because, more than anything else, I was interested to see whether she'd be playing at somewhere other than the Air Canada Centre (ACC) when she came to Toronto on her latest tour in support of her new album. The last time I saw her, it was at the ACC in 2003 in support of her Scarlet's Walk album, and I didn't enjoy it so much. At the last show, the crowd was very energetic (it was one of those concerts where you could feel the energy from the crowd -- a tangible energy brushed by you when Tori first appeared on stage), but the acoustics were just so terrible that I could barely hear the piano at all; and when I could, it sounded far too chorus-y and just not to my liking. So, I was happy to find that, this time, she was playing at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts; formerly known as the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts; formerly know as the O'Keefe Centre. Since I knew the acoustics would be at least decent at the Sony Centre, I went ahead and got the tickets. I don't need much of a reason to go and see Tori.

Because of my prior experience, a lot of what I saw this time around was in comparison to what I'd seen the first time. In nearly all respects, it was a better show. So, my little review will be, at least partly, a comparison of the two.

Opening act: Yoav
The show was opened by a pleasing South African guy named Yoav, who doesn't yet have an album out yet but said that he had one planned for early 2008. He also mentioned that he had some EPs made, but that they were confiscated at the border. Don't these border guys have anything better to do than to take a bunch of demo tapes off a struggling artist?

Yoav's concept was to use the electric acoustic guitar for everything -- percussion, rhythm, and melody. He was essentially a one-man band with the aid of technology: he had some looping equipment hooked up to a pedal that allowed him to play one part, loop it, and then play on top of it, and so on.

Interestingly, a very similar, though not as advanced, concept was used by Howie Day when he opened for Tori Amos the last time I saw her. At that time, the audience didn't really "get it" and a lot of people seemed to think he was lip synching because they didn't catch onto what he was doing with the electronics and pedals. Howie Day, though, didn't follow through and use this concept on his albums, which were quite bland. It seems that Yoav is this concept, and we can expect to see this style on his album when it's released. This is a good thing!

Yoav was far more creative than what I saw from Howie Day, although I have to admit that the effects he used are not that advanced. Multi-tap delays, which is what he used here, are a very easy way to get a catchy tune going, and they're not very challenging to employ. If I had to describe his sound, I'd say it was a combination of Cary Brothers (because of the use of multi-tap with guitars), Sigur Ros (eery background vocals), and dance/techno influence from people like Pet Shop Boys (he created some impressive pseudo-arpeggios with the guitar and multi-tap). I'm not sure how much guitar-playing talent was displayed here. There wasn't much. The electronics did a lot of the work, although it's an impressive concept. It sounded great, regardless.

So, on to the main event...

Concept: American Doll Posse
Tori's latest album, American Doll Posse, is another concept album. The concept consists of five "dolls" -- Santa, Clyde, Isabel, Pip, and... Tori, each one with quite a different personality and based on five Greek goddesses that express various facets of feminine character. Each of the "dolls" come out on the album because each of the 23 (!) songs is sung by one of the dolls and is reflective of the particular facet that that doll represents. The associated concept for the concert was that one of the dolls other than Tori would appear first and play a few songs, and Tori would then finish the rest of the concert.

Pip opens the show... :(
Sadly, for me, Toronto's concert was led in by the doll Pip -- a confrontational "warrior woman" based on the Greek goddess of war, wisdom, and strategy; and also one of the more raunchy dolls. Swearing and strange grinding against the piano bench were part of this set. In fact, the piano bench was used like a dancer's pole for much of the set. I felt embarassed to watch it, honestly, and I was glad it didn't last very long. The music, too, was very loud and overdriven and I don't think I heard a single piano note throughout the whole thing, despite the fact that Pip was very clearly playing the piano throughout.

Pip left the stage with a spastic half-seizure moment, a torrent of foul language and a middle-finger salute. Good riddance. I guess this is why you want these alternate personalities to be integrated, and on that we can agree.

Audience: more laid back than before
The audience was quite subdued until the two encores. Not many people around me were that overtly "into it", although I'm not that type, either, and I was very much into it. So, I shouldn't judge. But it was far more laid back than the ACC concert. Perhaps it was the venue -- a rather nice, carpeted concert hall. I did "sleep" through a few songs that were just too dramatic or acoustically unkind that I just shut down for a bit.

I know many people don't see what this next part has to do with anything, but I can't help noticing these things and this is my blog, so... I noticed with interest that the make up of the audience fit roughly into these categories, in rough order of frequency:

  • gay and lesbian couples: I had no idea that Tori's audience was so heavily slanted in this direction, but it so clearly was.

  • gay men with a female friend: this one may have been more common than the gay couples. Not sure.

  • single, straight guys that looked like they'd have been beat up in high school on suspicion of being gay: just a thought...

  • straight couples attending on mutual agreement: about which I had internal dialogue: "represent!"

  • nonchalant guys that their significant others forced to come along: these guys had a permanent frown as if they were worried about the hockey scores and lack of permissible alcohol and looked generally discontent to be there

  • aging hipster: middle-aged guys with their middle-aged wives. The types of people that you expect to see en-masse at reunion concerts.

  • straight, single women

  • me: tongue in cheek. I hope you realize that I'm just being silly with this analysis. It is not mean-spirited.

My personal experience was that I was sitting with a lesbian couple on my left, a gay man with his female friend on my right. A gay man with a female friend behind me, and a gay male couple in front of me. At my North-Northeast, there was an adorable, plain-looking girl by herself. Plain-looking girls are the best, and I've always had an affinity for them.

Tori comes on stage
Tori was greeted very warmly by the crowd, and was her usual public self: quite playful, yet professional.

With the band: guy #3 didn't do anything for me
Most of the songs were played with the band, and the acoustics were hit-and-miss. The usual suspects were present: Jon Evans on bass, and Matt Chamberlain on drums. There was a third guy on guitar who, really, didn't add very much to the appeal from my perspective, although his contribution was evident. The band didn't seem particularly tight or have any real chemistry, although Matt Chamberlain did an excellent job drumming, as always.

Acoustics: an improvement!
The piano was frequently overpowered by the bass guitar and drums from where I was sitting. The only notes that really cut through the mix were the bass notes, of which Tori is masterful. The other notes peeked through the mix once in awhile and, like the adorable smile of the girl with the pretty smile that doesn't smile very much, they were much appreciated when they made an appearance.

During the solo set, the acoustics were great, the piano sounded very good, and as good as you could ask for with a concert configuration like the one they had.

The songs: nearly all good. Something old; something new.
The only songs that I really, really look forward to hearing live are: "Precious Things", "Gold Dust" (which hardly ever gets played), "Butterfly", and "Take To The Sky". Precious Things was the only one played -- and well-played it was, although it was missing the grand crescendo -- but there was a very good substitute that I don't think I'd ever heard before, called "Take Me With You", played during the solo set.

"Winter" was played. It's a very emotional piece, and a very selfish fan in the peanut gallery interrupted the quiet height of the song with an overbearing "I LOVE YOU TORI!", to which someone in Orchestra joined in. Tori dealt with them appropriately, but as an artist I can only imagine the disappointment that comes when your supposed fans interrupt a moment like that.

Most of the songs were great once Pip was off the stage. I really, really didn't "get" or appreciate the Pip segment.

The improv: a shot at Madonna
A rather funny improvised segment had Tori singing a song about book-shopping at Chapters with her young daughter, who at the end of the song concluded that, although her Mom had concerns about her book selection being beyond her age range, that the daughter was ultimately smarter because if Madonna was the one that wrote the book, she must be able to read it. When you compare the depth of the two artists, this was a very appropriate jab.

The solo segment: T & Bö
Bö being a reference to the Bösendorfer piano that she seems to take everywhere. As mentioned, this was a great segment in the middle of the two band-driven segments, and was a chance to see Tori "unplugged" which, in my opinion, is when she's always at her best. There's more freedom to wander because of the lack of interdependence with the band, and she always makes good use of the opportunity.

Tori plays a Bösendorfer piano. I think it's a Model 290 Imperial Grand, which has an extra 9 bass notes (97 keys) beyond what most pianos have.

In conclusion
A great concert! With the amount of energy in her shows, I'm amazed that she can put out what must have been at least a 2 hour concert, including two encores, with no intermission.

Good & Bad

The good

  • much better, acoustically, than at Air Canada Centre. Particularly during the solo segment.

  • few songs that I disliked

  • I heard a new song that I really liked

  • great improv

  • very interesting opening act

  • Plain girl, NNE

  • did not feel like bad value, and this was significantly more expensive than at ACC. ACC did feel like bad value.

The bad

  • Pip: I didn't get it

  • the two inconsiderate fans that put a damper on "Winter"

  • acoustics could still be better during the band segments. I think most people go to hear the piano first and foremost, not the bass guitar!

Overall, a great night out. I would definitely go again if she comes back to a non-ACC venue!

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Bread machine trials and tribulations

So, I finally got myself a bread machine.

Like most things electronic, this market has been somewhat cheapened to the degree that you can get bread machines for well under $100. I assume you get what you pay for, but not necessarily in direct proportion to what you pay (i.e. although I believe that a $200 machine will be better than a $100 machine, I don't necessarily believe it'll be twice as good). But, I generally don't have confidence in things that are too cheap: I tend to feel, however stupid, that if I haven't paid enough for it then I don't have much of a right to complain when it breaks down 1 day after the warranty period expires and I also don't like to support a throwaway society that encourages planned obsolescence. I'd rather buy something once and have it work for a long time. Not only that, but I don't like returning things to the store (I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've returned something to the store for reasons other than defect), and I hate dealing with customer support telephone service. So, I like to get it right the first time.

Anyway, back to the story.

So, I ended up getting a Zojirushi Home Bakery Mini Breadmaker (BB-HAC10). They have a larger one that I found really interesting-looking because you could actually modify the lengths of some of the preparation phases and it also made traditional horizontal loaves but, sadly, it only makes 1.5 and 2.0 pound loaves because of the horizontal pan, which is too much for a single guy like me. So, I went with the smaller machine, which does the typical weird-shaped bread machine loaves but seems very solid and compact -- much more compact than most bread machines I've seen. About $250 from Golda's Kitchen in Mississauga (conveniently located on my drive-home-from-work route -- they have seen me many times). Relatively expensive, but... highly-regarded in this category and, well, you know: as above.

I was hesitant to get a bread machine because I've been doing bread by hand for awhile and really enjoy the process. It's quite humbling to be forced to wait through the whole process while the yeast does its job on rising the dough. You attend to it, but it in its warm place, and go back to what you were doing, remembering to come back in another hour or so and tend to it again. It's a natural process. It's exercising for your arms during the kneading phase when you're beating it up to get maximum penetration of the ingredients. It's so satisfying to see the finished product after about 4 hours of waiting: it's amazing to create something so great out of so few ingredients. The result comes from work and attention and knowledge, not from technical or chemical wizardry. There aren't many things that are that basic anymore.

So, I like making bread by hand.

And, by getting a bread machine, I was worried that it might come to an end. Although I'd undoubtedly make more bread with a machine, I was worried that I'd stop doing it by hand altogether because the motivation would be gone. I was worried that maybe the bread machine would be "good enough" -- I knew it wouldn't be as good because it just can't be. But, sometimes things are good enough and you just let them go.

But, in the end, I'd just had enough of supermarket bread. It's pretty devious stuff, and I had started to fall back into the habit of buying it again because I didn't have enough time to go through the whole breadmaking palaver each and every weekend. And, with the cold weather approaching, it's a bit harder to rise the dough because I don't keep my house very warm, and you need a warm place to get the yeast going and doing the best it can.

So, I got the bread machine.

I already feel a bit disappointed, having just loaded the first ingredients into the machine and started it on its way a few hours ago. What have I really done here? Not much. The machine is doing it all. I added the ingredients and pressed "Start". And it'll probably do an OK job and I'll feel that yet another one of my fun skills has been replaced by a machine that will be "good enough" for most people.


It reminds me of that old Betty Crocker story from Don Norman's book, Emotional Design. When Betty Crocker first introduced the packaged cake mix ("just add water"), people were really happy with the resulting cake, but the product did not sell very well after the introductory period. Upon further investigation, the company found out that the people buying the cake mix did not feel much accomplishment in having baked a cake from a package because all they had to do was add water. They didn't feel like they'd really done anything. So, what did they do? They required people to also add an egg to the mixture before baking. The product instantly became much more popular because the people using it felt as though they were actually baking something to which they'd added some kind of personal touch. I'm not saying that this is exactly the same as here because, with breadmaking, you are genuinely doing a lot of work. But, making bread with a bread machine just feels... far too easy. You once were useful, and now you're not.

Anyway, I just took the first loaf out of the "oven" and it's not bad-looking. It's soft, puffy, and has a nice colour. We'll see what it's like when it's cooled down. It doesn't have a proper oven crust, of course, because it wasn't cooked in a real oven, on a real baking stone, with real steam.

I can get so sentimental about bread sometimes.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Tim Hortons tea biscuits at home

I'm not trying to say that the Tim Hortons tea biscuits are particularly good. But, if you really must go to Tim Hortons, they're one of your few options if you're looking for something that isn't too sweet.

And I think I've found the recipe:

It's based on this recipe , but I made the following modifications/clarifications:
  • raisins soaked in hot water for about 10 minutes to puff them up
  • organic butter instead of "margarine or butter"
  • I rolled the dough thinner to make a smaller biscuit, and the cooking time was shorter -- about 10 minutes
  • I didn't brush the tops with butter after baking, which maintains the coarse, dry surface.

If you're looking for a Tim Hortons-style tea biscuit, the only critical change there is to not brush the tops with butter because, in fact, the Tim Hortons biscuit probably uses the cheapest ingredients possible -- you are not going to get organic butter or Fleur de Sel in a Tim Hortons tea biscuit!

Also, I'd add the following notes to the recipe:

  • as you are working with this as if it's a dough, as in breadmaking, keep an open canister of flour nearby so that you can dust the dough and dust your hands. The dough was very wet to begin with, and needed quite a bit of dusting, as well as some handling with re-floured hands
  • it says to "cut in" the butter until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. I did this by hand and just scrunched everything together over and over again, rubbing it between my fingers, until it resembled fine breadcrumbs, and then did some light lifting and fluffing of it all (similar to what I see women do when they're putting the finishing "lifting" touches on their swank hairdo) so that it wasn't too compressed
  • instead of a "greased baking sheet", I used these really great reusable baking liners that my Great Aunt sent me from England. They look like some kind of Teflon-coated plastic -- almost like reusable parchment paper. I prepared it on a baking peel and slipped it right onto an oven rack. The idea here was to avoid burned bottoms on the biscuits. The bottoms didn't burn, but I don't know if the liner was essential to that result or not.

So, that's about all. Like I said, there's nothing special about Tim Hortons tea biscuits, but I couldn't help but notice the strong resemblance.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Making movie theatre popcorn at home

Microwave popcorn may be convenient, but there are a lot of unknowns lurking in that bag of mystery joy. For one, they have to use some kind of cooking oil that's solid and stable at room temperature, yet melts when under heat. And, it can't have lots of saturated fat because the label on the box wouldn't look very good. So, it'll be a franken-fat of some kind that's been modified every which way to suit a nutritional and taste profile based on ingredients that suit the manufacturing process well and have a good shelf life. Healthfulness will be the last consideration because it's the least visible ("good" nutritional labels, in my mind, are not necessarily equivalent to healthy food).

You could air pop your popcorn, but who really wants to eat that crap?

It's actually very easy to make movie theatre-style popcorn at home, and it'll be a lot more realistic than microwave "movie theatre" popcorn because it mimics the same process that they use in the theatre (and uses the same ingredients). It's a bit more time consuming, but you learn a few things and save quite a bit of money over microwave popcorn (buying popcorn kernels is very cheap!).

So, you need:

  • 1/4 cup popping corn

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (don't bother with the unrefined stuff because it adds a coconutty taste to the popcorn -- unless you like it like that)

  • 1 tsp butter salt (you can get this at places like Bulk Barn in the spice area)

Put a large saucepan on the stove and preheat it on a medium heat. I use a stainless steel one; non-stick may not tolerate the heat involved, which would be dangerous, but I haven't tried it. Once it gets hot, add the coconut oil and let it heat for about 10 seconds (if it's not that warm in the house, the coconut oil may be solid, so let it melt before continuing). Add the butter salt and swish it around to make the butter salt dissolve into the oil.

At this point, take a few kernels of popping corn and put them in the saucepan. Remember how many you put in. Put the lid on. Now you want to wait until you hear all of the kernels you put in pop. This will tell you that the oil is at the right temperature. So, wait for the test kernels to pop. Once they do, add the rest of the popping corn and put the lid on.

Once the popping corn is in the saucepan, you have to keep the corn moving. So, every 10 seconds or so, give the saucepan a swirl (don't take the lid off -- just give the pan a bit of a swirl). Once the corn starts to pop, keep moving the saucepan as before and add a few shakes now and again to get the unpopped kernels to sink back to the bottom. Keep doing this until the popping slows down such that you're not getting much more than about 1 pop per second.

The saucepan will be very hot at this point. Carefully take off the lid (don't put your face over the pan because some last-minute kernels may pop into your face) and dump the contents into a popcorn bowl. You're done!


  • Once you've done it once or twice, you can adjust the amount of salt as needed, or experiment with other oil flavourings such as regular salt. I wouldn't use straight butter because it will burn. But, you could always melt some butter and drizzle it on after popping.

  • Coconut oil is something I consider healthy and a digestive aid, but it is also nearly 100% saturated fat. Personally, I don't care because this type of fat has a far greater history of human use as a cooking oil than, say, Canola oil and it goes down very easily. It's very easily handled by your digestive system and so is turned into readily-available energy rather than being stored as fat. However, you can get away with using Canola oil. Movie theatres use coconut oil, so you'll lose an important part of the taste by doing this. I wouldn't use olive oil because it will probably burn.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Feminism as a sanctuary for lazy folk

Violent Acres has a post on why staying at home and raising your kids to the exclusion of everything else in your life is not the behaviour of a sane or genuine feminist.

I tend to agree somewhat.

I greatly respect women who decide to stay at home and raise their children by themselves. It seems to me that, since we discovered the importance of "the first three years" and the associated tenuous belief that children are generally best raised in a daycare by professionals that can maximize the stimulation in these years, kids have been getting measurably more intelligent -- the metrics look great -- but realistically less capable, and generally less able to do for themselves or have a connection with where the things that they need for sustenance come from and why they're there. They're great cogs, and they make great paper children, but where's the rest? Time will tell, of course. We need more evidence. But the first signs don't look good to me.

So, again, I have a huge respect for women that decide to take the lives of their children into their own hands and stay at home with them during their formative years.

But, I think there's a large contingent of women that don't decide to do this. They do it because they don't want to do anything else, and they use the feminist umbrella to hide their intentions. How many women are staying at home with the kids because they can't be bothered to get a job? And, how many of the same say that they chose to do it when, in reality, they just didn't have any other options? I think you know the type I'm talking about.

"I chose to stay at home with my kids" has quite a different connotation when you've been jobless and unemployable most of your life, compared to someone who strived toward a career or some other ambition and set the fervour of that ambition aside for a number of years to do the right thing by their children.

The logical complement to this argument is that there are some women that have no choice but to work, and put their children in daycare. Many single mothers simply could not make ends meet. And, many families these days can't get by without a dual income. And, we shouldn't condemn or criticize these women that must go out and work. They're doing what's best for their children in their particular situation. But, we can't also necessarily deem them ambitious, motivated career women. They did it because they had no choice.

V's point is solid, I think, because the women that genuinely decide to stay at home and raise their kids -- and decision implies that you had conviction in deciding between two or more alternatives -- are not likely to be the ones that nullify their own interests and abilities by spending their spare time sitting in front of American Idol. The ones that do the latter are the ones that can't be bothered to do anything else and, in truth, had no legitimate decision to make.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Oatmeal with Ontario peaches, prunes, and maple syrup

Peaches are in season at the moment in Ontario, so I found a way to include them into breakfast. Seems to work well.

So, you need:
  • 1 Ontario peach: I suppose they don't have to be Ontario ones, but they taste very good and they usually have a consistently good balance between firmness and ripeness when they're in season. If they're hard, let them ripen a bit first (this normally only takes a day)
  • 1/3 cup Rolled oats -- the long-cook kind: cooking times don't bother me much. There's not much difference to me between 3 minutes ("quick cook oats") and 10 minutes in the morning, because there's so much else I can be doing while they are cooking. The long-cook kind aren't as processed and retain more of their nutrients.
  • 3 Prunes: I get these from Bulk Barn. They're not complete dry, but kind of sticky and shrivelled
  • 1 cup water
  • salt
  • maple syrup: use the real stuff; not artificial. I like the Mennonite stuff from St. Jacobs.

Add a pinch of salt to the water and get it on the stove until it comes to a boil. Add the oats, reduce the heat (to a simmer), give it a stir, and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes.

While the oats are cooking, slice your knife into a peach until it touches the stone, and draw a line around the circumference of the peach with the knife (basically, you want to cut the peach in half with the stone still intact, holding the two halves together). Hold both halves of the peach and twist. One half should come free from the stone. Pry the stone out of the other half with a knife, or just use your hands. Then, dice the peach into medium-sized chunks. Add the peaches to a dish.

Slice the prunes into small-ish chunks. Add the prunes to the peaches.

Drizzle the fruit with maple syrup.

Give the oats a check. If they're going dry, add a little bit more water. Once the oats are done cooking, remove them from the heat, cover, and let them stand for a few minutes. Then, with a spatula, scrape the oats into the dish, covering the peaches and prunes. Use the spatula to fold everything together.

And, that's it. The oatmeal and maple syrup both have foundational, earthy tastes that work well together. The peaches add the sweetness and acidity at the opposite end of the spectrum. The prunes fill the gap in the middle.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Scrambled eggs with tarragon and chives (modèle de Matt)

I got tired of the usual scrambled eggs, so I came up with something a bit different. I used to slow cook the stuff in a saucepan, mix cheese and pepper in with it, and serve it on toast made with the cheapest bread I could find and add something silly like HP Sauce. Kind of bland, and not as healthy as it could be.

But, now, it's not so simple because I came up with the following method. I'll put specifically what I use, although the organic stuff is obviously optional and the regular variety can be used instead. For one serving, you need:

  • 2-3 chives: grown in the back yard, so it's easy to go out and pick a few

  • 1-2 inches sprigs of tarragon: grown in the front window, so this is also easy

  • 2 large free-run eggs: can use any eggs, as long as they're from a chicken

  • 1-2 tbsp. 3.8% organic whole milk: you can use any milk, really

  • 1 knob of butter: you could probably use margarine, but I'd have to kill you! If I wait long enough, though, the margarine itself will do it for me :)

  • slice of bread: I prefer something fluffy, toasted on the surface only. Store-made French/Italian bread will do. Would rather not use the industrial bread (i.e. Wonder) because of the preservatives.

  • sharp Cheddar cheese for grating: I'm using 3-year Balderson. Older cheddar grates better and is sharper.

So, first, heat a frying pan to a medium heat. While this is heating (assuming electric heat -- gas will be instant), do the ingredient preparation because you'll have to keep the eggs moving once they're in the pan.

Get the bread ready for toasting in the toaster (don't start toasting yet), combine and finely chop the chives and tarragon and set aside. Crack the eggs into a bowl, add the milk, and scramble with a fork or whisk.

Now, add the knob of butter to the frying pan and let it sizzle and melt down. Start the bread toasting. Give the milk/eggs one last whisk and, once the butter is melted, add the milk/eggs to the frying pan. Now, keep the eggs moving in the frying pan so that you don't end up with an omellette. At first, you'll have to keep chopping them up and folding them over with a spatula or something, and after that, you can toss them in the frying pan or do whatever else you prefer. Once the eggs are solid and not runny, turn off the stove and remove the eggs.

Put the toast on a plate, add the eggs, sprinkle the chopped herbs on top, and grate the cheddar over the top with a coarse grater.

The chives and tarragon go well together. Tarragon has a licoricey sort of taste that goes well with eggs, and chives are oniony, which goes very well with the cheddar cheese. The milk makes the eggs a bit lighter.

One of my favourites these days...

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Grain cereal with pineapple and maple syrup

I can't believe I'm making a blog entry for this. But, I've also been known to not believe in Santa Claus despite convincing evidence that he does, in fact, exist; so... I will press on.

I put this interesting combination of flavours together today for breakfast. It's probably not original, but since I didn't get it from a book, I'll put the recipe here... just in case:

  • prepare a hot grainy cereal. One of those ones you have to cook for a little while and, preferably, soak the night before. I used 1/4 cup (dry) of Bob's Red Mill 10-grain (available at Loblaws/Superstore, and probably A&P). You can probably use quick oats if you're into that kind of thing, but it doesn't save you much time in this context and won't taste as good. The Red Mill stuff takes about 10 minutes to prepare.

  • while the cereal is cooking, cut a couple of thick slices of pineapple off a fresh pineapple, remove the core and skin, and cut into dice-sized pieces

  • when the cereal's done, put it in a bowl and add the pineapple on top

  • drizzle with medium maple syrup

Pineapple and maple syrup together: excellent. And the hot cereal adds texture and an underlying, dare I say, hearty base to it, and the heat from the cereal brings out an extra dimension in the pineapple.

I'll state again because I think it's important to health, generally speaking: use the real ingredients! You could use quick oats, canned pineapple, and Aunt Jemima syrup, and you'd never know how bad it tasted if you never tried the "real" way. But I don't consider those things healthy. Forget the nutrition labels: how do the ingredients get processed by your body? How has the pre-processing affected its readiness to be processed by your body? How do the processed ingredients interact? Are the nutrients in a state that's readily absorbed by your body? That's what's important, and the label doesn't say.

So: basic, ground cereal. Fresh pineapple. Real maple syrup (preferably the Mennonite stuff from St. Jacobs. I haven't found any better in this area, although I know I'm pushing it by getting this specific). You get complex flavours from the raw, ground grains. You get extra acidity and another layer of taste from the fresh vs. canned pineapple Lovely.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Baby lettuce and grapefruit salad

I'm going to interrupt the regularly scheduled programming with a recipe, based on something I slapped together for breakfast yesterday.

First a bit of a pre-amble... it's great to grow vegetables in the summer. Lettuce is a good one that grows easily in my nook of the bollock, but, being single, it's difficult to go through so many lettuce when they reach maturity without having them bolt and become bitter and culinarily useless. So, I tried a different approach this year.

I picked up one of those half-whiskey-barrels last year for use as a planter, filled the bottom of it with drainage gravel, and the rest with soil. I then scattered about 3-4 packets of lettuce seeds (all different varieties) over the very small surface area provided by the barrel. This is way too much seed. But, what I now have is a dense carpet of baby lettuce leaves covering the barrel, so much so that you can take a salad's worth of lettuce and not really notice that you took anything away. They're almost like mature sprouts. So, with that in mind, the recipe follows.

  • handful of aforementioned lettuce leaves
  • about 3/4 cup of yogurt (homemade, in my case)
  • freshly cracked flax seeds (optional, but why not?; cracked with a grinder)
  • grapefruit (I am using Israeli grapefruit; if you're Arab, find a substitute, I guess)
  • honey


  • wash the lettuce leaves (particularly using my style, because they have soil attached to the roots when you pull them out). Dry them in a salad spinner or some other way.
  • peel the grapefruit, divide into halves, and slice along the width
  • toss the lettuce leaves and grapefruit together
  • grind the flax seeds over the top
  • throw the yogurt on top
  • drizzle with honey

Like I said above, I did this for breakfast. I didn't count the food groups or anything, but it's probably not bad.

As Jamie Oliver would say: genius!

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