Monday, 27 September 2010

cold nights.

autumn has come to london. yesterday was dreary in the way only london can be. and while i wax poetic about the greatness that is fall in ontario - i do love when this city does just what it is meant to. this is after all the place known for its fog, and its rain and the gray skies. and while all of that can really bring a girl down, it is also oddly comforting that the cool weather has arrived and it is now necessary to wear winter running tops, carry an umbrella at all times and pull out the boots. autumn, i am ready, you can have me.
tonight i wasn't feeling on top form, and i wanted something that would indulge my feelings of autumn - what better than the great british classic: beans on toast? well stepping it up a little, creamy mushrooms on spelt toast with some parmesan cheese to round it out sounded divine. it was.
photo courtesy of BFI.
i spent the rest of the evening putting away my summer clothes, organising my sock drawer and watching a new british period drama called downton abbey. the british do period dramas pretty much better than anything else, and i do love me a good one. i am happy to report, it does not disappoint. and maggie smith, as always, is absolutely brilliant.  based around an aristocratic british family in the early 20th century, the series is set to glimpse into the lives of both the lord and his family as well as the enormous number of servants who staff the house. it is a curious thing, to realise that life as we know it is so based in these moments, in this particular way of life, right now. period pieces remind us, i think, of what life looked like not even 100 years ago. it is remarkable.

in all, a lovely, autumnal evening. and now for the mushrooms on toast.

creamy mushrooms on toast (from bbc goodfood)

  • 25g dried ceps (small bag of dried porcini mushrooms)
  • 100ml hot water 
  • 50g unsalted butter 
  • 400g button mushrooms, thickly sliced (10 mid-sized mushrooms)
  • 142ml carton double cream
  1. soak dried ceps in hot water for 5 mins. strain ceps, keeping the liquid for the sauce. squeeze ceps dry, then finely slice. 
  2. heat a large pan with unsalted butter until it just begins to foam, brown and bubble, add the button mushrooms, and the ceps. sprinkle with salt if you want, then fry for 2-3 mins until lightly browned. 
  3. pour in the cep liquid and reduce until it becomes thick and syrupy. 
  4. stir in the double cream and boil for a min or so until sauce starts to thicken.
serve on toasted bread smeared with butter, at the last you can add a bit of parmesan cheese if you're really going to push the boat out. 

links: downton abbey : bbc goodfood
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Thursday, 23 September 2010

london rain.

london is known for a great many things: big red buses, 'mind the gap,' the way none of the streets seem to make sense, the queen, and rain. people generally believe that it rains a great deal in london. while this is not entirely untrue, it's not entirely true either. london rain might come almost daily in the autumn (fall) but rarely for the entire day. and often the rain is more like a mist or a drizzle. it's raining today, which is a shame because i'm planning to run this evening and i'd really prefer to do so in more favourable conditions. that being said, there is something incredibly prideful about running in the rain. scores of people hurrying under their inadequately sized umbrellas, desperately trying to avoid the numerous puddles on the pavement (sidewalk), playing a sort-of game of group hopscotch. predictably the downpour has subsided and it seems possible that the rain might just clear in time for running club - a girl can dream, no?

on my ride into work today, i realised that i had missed my fourth anniversary of london life. it was on monday. appropriately, i've just started reading bill bryson's notes from a small island, a satirical book about life as an outsider in the uk. the times review on the front reads: "not a book that should be read in public, for fear of emitting loud snorts." i'm pleased to say this is absolutely true, and i spent much of my commute trying to suppress laughter. bryson perfectly captures the way of the british in a manner that mixes teasing and admiration in such a way you realise that he is describing your own feelings for this small island. four years on, i feel i can honestly say i've lived in the uk. and i am richer for it.

bryson poignantly describes an area of london that i was coincidentally riding through while reading, and it sums up my feelings for this country and this city perfectly:

i can never understand why londoners fail to see that they live in the most wonderful city in the world. it is far more beautiful and interesting than paris, if you ask me, and more lively than anywhere but new york - and even now york can't touch it in lots of important ways. it has more history, finer parks, a livelier and more varied press, better theatres, more numerous orchestras and museums, leafier squares, safer streets and more courteous inhabitants than any other large city in the world.

and it has more congenial small things - incidental civilities you might call them - than any other city i know: cherry red pillar boxes, drivers who actually stop for you on pedestrian crossings, lovely forgotten churches with wonderful names like st andrew by the wardrobe and st giles cripplegate, sudden pockets of quiet like lincoln's inn and red lion square, interesting statues of obscure victorians in togas, pubs, black cabs, double-decker buses, helpful policemen, polite notices, people who will stop to help you when you fall down or drop your shopping, benches everywhere. what other great city would trouble to put blue plaques on houses to let you know what famous person one lived there or warn you to look left or right before stepping off the kerb? i'll tell you. none.
he's got it perfectly. along with all the other hysterical things you don't really realise until you've been here forever and basically started to accept them as fact - queueing and poorly stocked grocery stores and the constant polite conversation about the weather. but regardless, it's a love-affair i've not been able to shake, and it pleases me greatly to re-see the city through his eyes. so happy anniversary london, you've been good to me.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

dans les montagnes.

a few weeks ago jd asked me if he could take me to the mountains. the answer was a clear: oui! making the most of london's proximity to geneva, we left friday after work and arrived late in the night. in some ways, i think this is the best way to arrive in the mountains, you awake hours later to daylight and this: 

our view.

it's so spectacular, it's breathtaking. in every sense of the word. it is hard to imagine you have left behind  the hustle and bustle of the city for the still majesty of the mountains. i have been fortunate to spend time in the mountains before and regardless of where in the world, or how big, their relative enormity to everything else, simply astonishes me. 

les praz.

the weather on saturday was variable. mainly cloudy, a little rainy, and really not great for being up the mountain. so we amused ourselves with a walk into town along a mountain stream, hot chocolate, croque monsieurs and shopping. after salivating over gear we felt as though we were terribly restrained to only walk away with a pair of new boots and some running kit for jd and a new mid-winter jacket pour moi. 

the town of chamonix is amazing. it has a really relaxed feel to it, and while it is obvious that it is a mountain town and caters to all sorts of adventurers, it also really feels like a place where regular people live and work and get married (we witnessed two weddings!) 

we meandered back to the hotel and lazed the rest of the afternoon away, jd being particularly thoughtful and sourcing some local french cheese and charcuterie for a late afternoon snack. we then ate dinner in the hotel dining room, which by the way, had the most incredible breakfast! dinner did not disappoint and we supped at what is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the area. let's just say that it's a darn good thing that JD and i share an appreciation for good food. it really makes everything so much better. 

sunday morning we awoke the most amazing site: sun! it was perfect for going up the mountain and we were ready. chamonix is a valley town, surrounded by mountains, most famously, mont blanc. 

there are cable cars up the side of the mountain, a feat in engineering and audacity if you ask me. there's not much one can say about the mountains, mainly because they render you speechless. i am always in awe of the creator when i stand in the midst of his grandeur, and this was no exception. 

gondola up the mountain.

and amidst all this beauty, and the daring feat of man to tame the wilderness, you are reminded that really, it's all very wild. the sound of rescue helicopters is almost constant and it is clear that those climbing the mountain have a deep reverence for the power of nature, and for the potential for anything to go wrong at any moment. it is amazing to see people tackle these enormous, and terribly unforgiving peaks.

we spent time marvelling at the creation and taking the requisite photos. along the way we met a number of lovely people, most of whom seemed to have come from canada, or have a connection to the great white north, particularly, and not terribly surprisingly, la belle province.

it is simply the most stunning place. 

this could be an iphone advert.

i think we should be in the next brochure for the chamonix bureau du tourisme.

taking the gondola back to the mid-station we decided to hike back down the mountain. which, contrary to popular thought, it harder than hiking up. two days later, my legs are still feeling it. 

and so i came to a realisation, one which i have probably had before. one i am now writing down - i like to think of myself as a city girl. i love the rush of it all, the frenetic pace, the hustle and bustle, the access to  many of the greatest museums and theatre and restaurants in the world. but actually, probably, i'm much more restored in the wild-ness.  i connect with who i was created to be. i know myself more. and it was so great to get to know jd there also. to have those talks that define who you are together - who you want to be - who you believe god is calling forth. 

one of my all-time favourite songs from summer camp was spirit of gentleness: 

You moved on the waters, you called to the deep,
then you coaxed up the mountains from the valleys of sleep,
and over the eons you called to each thing:
Awake from your slumbers and rise on your wings.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

makin' for baby.

my world has recently exploded with babies and weddings. in the last two weeks two very good couple friends of ours have gotten engaged! we've got weddings galore coming up. and between august and october there will be four new babies...

i feel a little young to be friends with all these super responsible people, getting married, having children, buying houses. but i say if you can't join, make for them! friends expecting wee-ones get super easy to make, but always loved baby booties - it seemed that family should get a step up. (no pun intended!) the finished project will be revealed after the drop is made... we'll see how this turns out, but the wool that arrived in my office today is gorgeous, soft and super-wash. oh so ready for a baby to be snuggled in. i can't wait to see how it knits up. almost as much as i can't wait to see the little person that will newly grace our family in the coming weeks - how exciting, the first baby!

So thank God for his marvelous love, for his miracle mercy to the children he loves; 
Offer thanksgiving sacrifices, tell the world what he's done—sing it out! 
psalm 107:22 (message translation)
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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

let the light come in.

or stay out?

my rented room's roller blind was passable at best, but actually it was sad. very, very sad. frayed edges, sun bleaching, years of hands (not mine) pulling up and down. frankly, it was tragic.

but, a fine tutorial from one my favourite blogs: Design*Sponge and i was off to the races.

really, it was easy, taking less than an hour, a series of straight stitching seams and a little RadioLab podcasting to help pass the time. a major change in the room for less than £10!

i smile as a i enter my room now. regardless of time - day or night. and the whole thing just brightens my day.

Monday, 13 September 2010


there is little else that makes me simply happy than being industrious. and today i was industrious. managing to make and cook and create and experience loads of life today. however, i'm most proud of the preserving. the tomatoes just aren't ripening very fast on the vine, mainly because the sun seems to have stopped shining here in london-town. but this doesn't mean there aren't incredibly delicious things to be had. today i experienced the joy of green tomato chutney! it's a little sweet, but it finishes with an incredible kick at the end - and your taste buds tingle when it's all over, begging for just a little more.

this was my first foray into canning. and while i was standing over the large pot of onions and tomatoes and vinegar, i felt connected to the women (because honestly, it's mainly women who will stand over a hot stove, in the dog days of summer, preserving food for the future...) who have kept this tradition alive. a quick search of how to preserve food, turns up dozens of resources, but most are homemade websites, blogs and noticeboards. a little bit of science mixed in with a lot of what the sociological crowd would call 'indigenous knowledge' - those things we know because someone took the time to teach us how to do them, and i'm not talking about spelling...things such as gardening, and making a roast dinner, and cleaning a house, and painting, and writing thank you notes. and we return to our sources of indigenous knowledge to clarify and discuss - i should probably call grandma and have her clarify things, grandma put away half the summer every year, and pulled it back out in february. canned peaches and applesauce. heaven in a bowl. a small promise that the deep canadian winter would end eventually.

here's the recipe for the chutney.

and here are my basic instructions:

  • sterilise jars (i used old spaghetti and mustard jars which seem to have mixed reviews for 'safety', but my lids have sealed and are concave, so i'm praying it's worked!) by putting them through the dishwasher cycle on the hottest setting, removing from the dishwasher while still extremely hot - wear gloves!
  • make chutney per recipe 
  • ladle chutney into jars, wipe rims and twist on lids
  • watch for lids to 'suck' in - the popping sound the lid of an open jar makes should not be present
  • admire your handiwork. 
  • take pictures. this deserves to be recorded for posterity! 
  • eat. with cheese. on fresh bread. 
  • congratulate yourself on your truly incredible accomplishment and consider the next task ahead - consuming this vast amount of preserved garden goodness.

Thursday, 9 September 2010


maybe i should call it nesting. whatever it is, it's pretty clear that i'm taking a cue from the autumnal weather and making pockets of nested-ness. in my life. in my home.

i've rearranged cupboards - realising how space could be freed up for other things, that we don't need to fight to fit the drying racks and ironing board and cleaning supplies all in one narrow cupboard clearly designed for only brooms, it really is 'broom closet.'

and i'm listing projects, fall plantings for the balcony garden, finally repainting a piece of furniture i bought last year with just such an intention, re-doing the coffee table, a new cover for the ironing board and oh, oh, canning! i have a glut of green tomatoes that are begging to be used but probably won't all ripen on the vine, sun where did you go?

i'm feeling creative, and whether that's just me, or the turn in season, or this sense of peacefulness that's pervading my life, despite all the busy-ness, who knows? regardless, i'm seeing a weekend of creating in the offing, including a long-distance bus ride to IKEA, which I'm secretly excited about as it will give me some serious time with my current reading love affair: Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann. best quote so far:

There are rocks deep enough in this earth that no matter what the rupture, they will never see the surface. 
There is, I think, a fear of love.
There is a fear of love.