Sunday, October 31, 2010


Irresistible to post this evening, Hallowe'en, with young people in the house, one as a "sensible bear", the rest as university students, in other words not disguised, and me in shiny red pants and tails, a ringmaster kind of outfit. But I am not in charge and that's restful. They're dealing with supper with a mix of pizza and other offerings...

I posted yesterday about my plan to head to Grey County last night for contra dancing.. and am so full of the fun quotient from the evening that I have to post again. First stop was in Markdale where I dropped in on my aunt and chopped vegetables- leeks, sweet potatoes, carrots - then cooked them with a lot of minced ginger in butter, added water and things like salt, soy sauce, a good vinegar, and presto chango there was a winter soup, enough to eat some, freeze some, give some away.

From there I went in the dark dark night (stars bright points in the blackness) to Glenelg Township Hall on Baptist Church Road, and the dancing began. There were fiddlers, one from Cape Breton and the rest from Scatter the Cats, a fab group with flute and fiddles and guitar and drum based in and around Owen Sound. We made lines and stars and do-si-dohed and alamained, and danced patterns that seemed elaborate as we were walked through them, and then became clear as we danced them and danced them. There were kids and grandmothers and lots of us in-between people of various ages... We finally rolled out into the cold night around 11:30, sweaty and exhilarated under those sparkling stars, with no other lights to be seen. What a privilege to be in real darkness.

I headed back to Toronto with some apples and butter tarts as back-up, but didn't need them, I was so buzzed from the dancing and the happiness that came with it. Keeping me company was a CD with Zakir Hussein and John McLaughlin and with flute by an Indian guy whose name I can't remember right now. It was hauntingly great, a live concert, and each time the CD started again I heard new mysteries and liveliness in the music, so I let it play over and over as I whizzed along.

Somewhere in there, between Shelburne and Orangeville, I saw a small flash of light on the road, and another gleam in the darkness, so I slowed. Good thing too, for it was a tall deer, with antlers and healthy unworried unhurried grace, standing in the middle of the road. The gleam was my headlights catching the light in his eyes, or the moisture, perhaps. Yikes! I don't think I imagined him, but now a day later... how can I be sure?

As I came over the last hills that overlook Toronto, the sky turned a weird War of the Worlds pinky-tangerine from the city lights' reflecting onto a layer of cloud. Coming into the city, as I drove eastward toward the downtown skyline, there, just above it, was an outsized orange-yellow half-moon, on her back because she is waning, a thrilling sight at 1.30 in the morning, entrancing and unreal.

Reality of a kind struck a little later as I hit Spadina. The sidewalks were packed, and the crowd strayed out into the streets, most in costume and partying, adult partyers in wings and headdresses and impossible shoes and face paints and, and. What a scene! Hallowe'en has become the North American version of Venice's Carnival, costume and disguise, role-plying and fantasy. Don't we all need that at times?

The kids have now come and gone (the best was a little girl as a unicorn, with wings), and we're eating the remains of the candy. We've been playing Scrabble and my kids beat me, again...

Happy Hallowe'en. And have a look at the moon. Next weekend is the new moon, with the excitement of Diwali, the festival of lights that marks the new year for so many.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


The big winds of autumn came blowing through this week, whisking leaves off branches... The weather people gave us warning about the winds, so the morning before they swept in, I went for my run with an extra awareness that the glowing colours in the trees, the aureole of light that seems to radiate from them, are temporary and that I should make my farewells. As the wind picked up there were swirls of colour against the sky, tumbles of lovely gold and fawn and pink and orange and a kind of raspberry red from some kind of bush... It was all dazzling, a kind of fireworks of autumn in full daylight.

But we have not been completely bared: The ivy that covers the coachhouse out back is very sheltered and its large leaves turn a gorgeous colour, graduating from green to pink and pinksh yellow in the subtlest way. The leaves shimmer in the breeze, undulating in little unsynchronized waves of colour. And that's the lovely uplifting backdrop to life these days, for the leafed wall fills the view out the back windows of the house.

But outside things aren't as warm as that glowing colour. I ran in a windbreaker and fingerless wool gloves this morning, and long pants, and that was perfect. I did a long loop then stopped in at Kensington Market to buy a pumpkin (the view of the young people in the house is that we have a social responsibility to have a pumpkin for Hallowe'en, hand out treats, and generally participate - and I can't disagree). For $5.99 I got a huge slightly eccentric and knobby one that i could hold in my arms, just. So I lumbered on home with it, pausing at a couple of places to rest my arms. Next step of course is carving... I like to make two or even three faces on a pumpkin, with different expressions, and it's best if different people do different faces, for fun.

At this time of year Oaxaca has the Dia de los Muertes and in Fance it's the Toussaint holiday, All Saints' on November 1 and All Souls on November 2. So it's a time for thinking about those who have left us, and to appreciate the days years, minutes, hours that we have to engage with life and with each other.

I had a small personal jolt of that kind of reminder to enjoy life. A fall, but a lot harder than the fall of a leaf! It was just yesterday, as I was whooshing on my bike down a lane through the university. I caught a front tire on the edge of the curb, and over I went, sideways. Yikes! that's what jeans are for, I discovered. The denim ripped at the knee, but not a lot, and all I have (I did an inventory in the bathtub) is a burned/scraped patch below my knee and some bulging bruises, goose eggs I would call them, on a forearm, the other leg, one thigh. That's real luck. I could have broken a wrist or who knows what?

Yes, yes, "Ride with more care!" I hear you saying. But part of me loves the exhilaration of rushing along and nipping in and out and pushing myself and the limits of what I can do. It's a real adrenalin high.

And soon I'll be putting the bike to bed in the basement, for I'm heading to Thailand, and Burma too i hope, before the middle of November. So not only am I saying farewell to the leaves and the brilliant glow of autumn, but also to friends and family, for awhile.

This moment before leaving, when the "to-do" list gets long, can sometimes be a little anxious, heart-squeezing. But this time I've realised that it's up to me what I worry about. So if there's something I'm anxious about, I am trying to make sure that either I do it, or else I let it go with a "so what?" or some other letting-go phrase. It's working pretty well so far, this technique!

One of the to-do's was to tidy up the website. I'm doing two culinary tours this coming winter, from January 23 to 29 and then from January 30 to February 4 2011. For more info, please have a look at the Chiang Mai page of the website. I used to dread engaging with the tech in technology, but now I find I'm enjoying it. I could never have dreamed ten years ago that I'd feel this way. Robyn Ekckhardt persuaded me to tweet, so I'm now doing that as well, (@naomiduguid). And that's why I was talking about Twitter and e-technology generally, as a kind of hamster wheel in my last post, or the one before...

But if you're reading this you are probably way ahead of me with all this technology, not appalled by it at all, and using your i-phone or Blackbeerry fluently. I caught myself thinking this morning, during my run, that I should perhaps break down, spend the money, and engage with the I-phone. I could text and send photos and feel light about it? Would I? What do you do?

Right now I'm about to head north to say farewell to people in Grey County. There's a contra dance this evening at the Glenelg Township Hall, a lovely stone building with thick walls and wide window embrasures. It's important at these events to wear layers, so I can peel down to a sleeveless T-shirt as the room gets hot with the dancing. And then I'll have a long drive back to the city in the dark -more whooshing along, but less exhilarating than on a bicycle - so that I can wake up here in the morning, look out, and be warmed again by the glowing colours of the ivy out back.

Hope your Hallowe'en is pleasurable and that November looks promising in every way.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


The moon is bright bright and full, making sharp shadows in the garden. And as often happens at full moon in October, it looks like this is the first night we'll have frost. So I was out there in those sharp shadows an hour ago, pulling up, with regret, the huge strong basil plants in the garden. I have two Med basils and two Thai basils. They've kept us aromatic and intensely flavoured all summer. If I don't pull them up, I thought this evening, they may freeze and then be wasted, blackened and gone. If I DO pull them up then they'll last a little in water in the house and I can use them mindfully and process the last leaves in olive oil for a pesto base that I'll store in a couple of glass jars.

This really feels like the end of the garden... even though there are a few last tomatoes clinging on, not getting any larger but slowly ever so slowly changing colour.

I've been thinking about change these days... well truth be told change is often on my mind, but in this case I mean social change and social and economic mobility, what it means and what's involved. I have been talking to everyone, perhaps tiresomely, about Doug Saunders' new book Arrival City. Here's the link to the site for the book. A friend who heard the author interviewed on the radio said, "Well it's a pretty easy theory to understand so I don't see any reason to read the book." But I found it riveting, details about what works and almost more importantly what doesn't work in some "arrival city" situations, are clearly explained. And the history of places where immigrants land, immigrants from the countryside, or from other countries, and how they help each other and navigate their way into better lives, over time, if given the chance, is fascinating, from Teheran and Istanbul to (failed) arrival cities in Paris and Germany, etc.

I have lent the book out, and it's probably in the library too by now, but it is really worth owning, so you can dip back into it at intervals.

Another recent book is Sheila Heti's "How Should A Person Be?" She has such a distinctive voice on the page, it's so artful while seeming effortless. I heard her read the prologue aloud at a book launch and it was fabulous read aloud. Maybe the best books are? Not sure, but it's a good test of writing, to hear whether it is happy and interesting being read aloud.

On another topic, the unexpected, I had a quick brush with "disaster" the other day. I was running in the sunshine last Saturday, the leaves bright and my spitrits too, doing a long loop to end up in Kensington Market. I saw some guys far ahead of me in the middle of the street working on the street, but didn't notice what was right in front of me as I stepped off the curb to run across a side street... It was a deep patch of fresh cement, and there I was one foot, the second foot in to the ankles and then out again onto "dry land". Yikes! The guys working said apologetically, "We watched you run toward us - sorry not to warn you!" I assured them I'd be fine. "No they said, Go right over there to the cement truck (huge and rumbling). "There's a water hose on the back. Get those guys to help you. And so with a lot of running water I cleaned off all the wet cement and then jogged on squelching a little!

If only all unexpected "bad surprises" could be resolved as easily! I ran on feeling lucky to be unscathed, and able to laugh, rather than wretched. Not sure why I'm telling this story except that as always when events take an odd turn, it was a reminder not to take any joyous moment for granted. And also I guess a reminder that change is one of the few constants in life. Thus if things are going well they can and will turn, and we need to accept that and be ready for it. SImilarly, and sometimes very hearteningly, if things are bad, depressing, rotten in some way, then they WILL change, evolve, get easier. Keeping a reasonable equilibrium in all this up and down and unexpectedness is one of the main challenges and, with luck, the main pleasures of life.

And to turn another topic corner, I find, now that I have been pushed to tweet and participate in that 140 character hamster wheel, that it is sometimes rewarding (when there's an interesting link posted) but more often it is just another place to check, another way of procrastinating.... If I have enough places to check (two email accounts plus Facebook plus Twitter) that means that by the time I have engaged with each of them it's time to recheck the first one again. Do you find yourself doing that? It becomes a reflex, like smoking another cigarette used to be.

Are we just destined to fritter away the privilege of free time and choice on often-meaningless repetitive behaviours? Or are these just highly evolved or hi-tech work-avoidance techniques?

The first check of email in the day, like the first cigarette, can be pleasurable and fruitful, but the subsequent ones?

Some days I avoid the computer altogether, or else I label the day or the morning a non-internet zone. It's amazing how much else I can get done, then. And it's a little scary to find how long it takes me to settle into more focussed thinking or writing or reading, like a kind of necessary withdrawal period.


With colder weather arriving, and so less outside time, the risk of getting even more squirrely and online-hooked is real. Books are one great antidote, for sure. And that's one reason to be grateful that publishers are still, despite the warnings about the end of publishing, printing books, acquiring new titles, enticing us into deeper longer thinking and reflecting.

Some things don't change much, and one of those is my simple roast chicken. I've written about it before: I wash and dry the bird, then prick a lemon and put it inside, then drizzle on olive oil and scatter on salt. It goes in breast down for the first while, then I turn it, all at 425 or 450. Around it are sliced potatoes roasting, and also drizzled with olive oil and salt.

And this same old- same old is always a pleasure, succulent and satisfying and full of flavour. Next day's broth is also a treat to look forward to. Usually this roast chicken and potatoes combo is my Thursday night meal, after a heavy day for Tashi and before a heavy Friday for Dom. The guys cook other days, but Thursday it's my turn, a nice anchor in the week. I've come to enjoy this sense of routine, despite my dislike of predictability. Is this old age? Or is it just a realisation that some habits and routines are so pleasing that altering them would be a foolish waste of effort?

Friday, October 15, 2010


How can it be Friday already? The Thanksgiving holiday last Monday put all my internal orientation out of wack - and friends have said the same thing. So suddenly we're butting up agains the end of another week and yikes!! the to-do list is still pretty full to overflowing.

But the holiday was truly wonderful, so no complaining allowed, I say to myslef. We had fabulously good weather, I got out for a long bike ride and explore in Scarborough, the leaves brilliant and the sky an intense blue, then Monday went into cooking mode. I made bread for the first time in two years, baking it off on Sunday, but Monday there was time to enrich some leftover dough with butter, flatten it, and press chopped pears with sugar on top for a Baker's Fruit Tart. The other end of dough earned its keep under sliced potatoes, slat, and minced shallots, as a version of pletzel. The small Berkshite pork roast melted its fat nicely to cook the roast potatoes to a kind of dreamy perfection... And most amazing of all, the pumpkin pie effort was a huge success.

I wanted to give proportions and method, while it's still in my head: Cut top and bottom ends off 2 or 3 small pie pumpkins, so they sit up, but are still fleshy at each end. Bake at 400 for about 90 minutes, or longer, on a baking sheet. Let cool, then scrape out seeds and set aside, and scrape out flesh. Mash flesh as wellas you can with a slotted spoon, and set aside.

(Wash seeds thoroughly, discarding all stringy bits and flesh, and finsih the job by putting them in a sieve and rinsing them off well, then bake on a sheet in that 400 oven until just touched with colour. These were the best pepitas I have ever had. They've been a great snack for passers-by all week.)

You will need a blender for the next step: Use the proportion of 2 cups pumpkin flesh to 1 cup 10% cream; 3/4 cup sugar (I used organic cane sugar that was light brown); 1/2 teaspoon salt or so; generous teaspoon cinnamon; 1/4 teaspoon cloves; scant teaspoon dried ginger; 1/3 nutmeg clove grated. Put them all in the blender and liquify. You may have to stop and stir a little in between, but eventually you will have a smooth thick liquid. Set aside in a bowl and repeat with another batch.

Whisk six eggs (three per each batch of 2 cups pumpkin) and stir into the mixture just before using. I then got a little anxious so I stirred in, this will maybe make you laugh, about 3 tablespoons pastry flour: why? I had an obscure idea about thickening it I guess. No harm done, as it turns out.

This will give enough to fill three pies, and maybe some small tartlets too. I made a double recipe of pate sucree (6 eggs, 1/2 pound butter; sugar, salt, and a blend of pastry flour and all-purpose), prebaked it for 10 minutes at 375degrees, pricked and also weighted down with dried limas on a sheet of foil. After it had cooled, I poured in pumpkin liquid leaving more than 1/4 inch clearance, and baked it at 350 until firm. For tart pans I used one small thick (Calphalon) baking sheet (11 by 15 inches or so) and one pie plate. I had some pumpkin liquid left over for steaming the next day, and a little bit of remnant pastry that became a small batch of sablees, dusted with sugar and cinnamon.

The rectangular tart and the pie were both spectacular, tasted of pumpkin, subtle and good, not just of the spices or other additives. I was delighted. I am ready to do it again, in fact. Maybe for Hallowe'en??

The leaves on the huge maple tree out back are a blend of red and green, lovely, and changing colour moment to moment it seems. We're racing toward winter as the sun heads south. And we're squirreling away food, at least I have been: I collected black walnuts, taking them from the squirrels, you might say, from under a tree on my daily run and from under another on my bike ride last Sunday. What to do with them? Any ideas? They stain hands of course, but what about an eating idea? or should I just crack them open and enjoy them one by one with friends?

Saturday, October 9, 2010


As I sit here typing, the sun is golden and getting low in the sky, it's nearly 6 pm, but the air is so balmy that I'm still in short-sleeved cotton. This Thanksgiving weekend is like a reminder of all the wonderful weather we've had since June, a truly memorable summer for gardeners in Toronto. North of here, in Grey County, there was more rain and many market gardeners had too much wet weather and problems with mould and blight etc. But here in the Toronto area and down into Niagara, it was hard to find any complainers!

I should revisit the subject of Nuit Blanche, that I wrote about in anticipation last week. But really, there's too much to say, and I am not a reviewer. I'll just mention a wonderful installation called "The Big O",by Zilvinas Kempinas, a 7 metre diameter circle of magnetic tape that floated and rippled continuously, sustained and animated by six fans, three on either side about 5 metres apart. The piece was aspirational, optimisitic, and memsmerising. I thought "sight unseen" by Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer was memorable. And "Arrivals and Deparatures" by Michael Fernandes, a pair of large notice boards like those in European train stations, with horizontal lines closely spaced, on which all night people wrote, and erased and wrote more, in the form "I am arriving from...(Sault Ste MArie, or a place of depression, or Whitby...) and I am going to (hope, or Harbourfront, or Europe...)" was very effective and engaging; it perhaps sounds trite, but it worked...

And now here we are at Thanksgiving weekend, with the markets and farmers' markets jammed yesterday and today with optimistic shoppers, me among them. A bicycle is a great mode of transport, and imposes some good constraints. I do NOT have a large box or basket on mine, something I regret from time to time. But as I rearranged my load today, putting the pears and tomatoes and olive oil in my small day pack, and the lighter lumps like bread in an over-the-shoulder bag, I realised that I'm better off without a basket. If I had one I wouldn't be as restrained/constrained, and would shop even more optimistically and generously.

This impulse to buy because the vegetables are fresh and beautiful, and also just because there they are, is a fine one. But it leads me to a kind of hoarding mentality, "I'd better get a lot of X, just to be sure I have enough"; or, another version, "Maybe I'll take these dandelion greens too, because maybe the beets and the purple cabbage and the leaf lettuce and the celery root that I have already bought for this weekend won't be enough". It's crazy thinking. And it's predictable, especially at a farmers' market before a holiday.

Somewhere there lurks in me, and perhaps in many of us (I do like to think that I have company in my weaknesses!), some kind of atavistic fear of being caught short, not because of real threats of food scarcity such as invading armies or plague, but just because the stores are going to be closed for a day or two... (It's a little pathetic, phrased that way, isn't it?) So I stocked up on extra butter and eggs, in case i want to make a cake as well as a pie as well as, oh, perhaps a different pie...

It's lovely, picturing all these possibilities, but it also shows that I don't really want to pin myself down or have a plan. I want to play the whole weekend or holiday by ear, and have the freedom to decide at the last minute what I am going to cook and how I am going to cook it.

If I think of earlier times, when the challenge in the home kitchen was to work with a narrow range of foodstuffs and still make meals interesting or festive, then this wonderfully rich choice at Thanksgiving weekend is even more astonishing. No wonder my eyes are bigger than my planning!!!

Which leads me to, yes, the plan. What is it? Well in the last few days a kind of shape has emerged: I'm expecting a loose collection of various people over for an early supper on Monday. I have some Berkshire pork (a small roast from Sanagan's), and some merguez, and a little beef too, to grill, and there are potatoes and a rich assortment of vegetables that will get used and eaten, but I don't know exactly in what way. A friend called today to ask us over for a Thanksgiving meal, and I suggested that since there were already people coming here, she and her family join us. It sounded like a good plan to her, which is great. And so now after all there will also be turkey (not my favorite, but loved by many): She is bringing over a small turkey that she'll have roasted ahead.

I have a load of pears, a mix of Bosc and Bartletts, maybe for a cake? or a custard tart? And I have some small pie pumpkins that I'm baking right now, so I can use the flesh, appropriately mashed and processed and smoothed with coconut milk and spices and an egg or three, as filling for several tarts/pies, on Monday. So that should feel generous and festive, don't you think?

Saturday, October 2, 2010


It's quiet in the city at 5 am, even here by the university and the downtown. But tonight it won't be. From seven this evening until seven tomorrow morning it's Nuit Blanche in Toronto. That means the downtown and uptown streets will be thronged with people looking at, and looking for, art events, performances, happenings.

There's a Nuit Blanche guide online, with maps and explanations, numbered dots for each piece or performance or art event. But there are always a lot of unofficial happenings that "erupt" too; finding them is a matter of luck. In the last few days all around the city I imagine there have been conversations like the ones I've had with friends: what are you aiming to get to at Nuit Blanche? or "what have you heard is a must-see?" or "I'm going to ask my artist friend w hat she's heard about".

The buzz is fun, and I've found in the past that there are treasures of various kinds of insight, and just wondrous sights, to be discovered and experienced. But best of all I think is the energy, the feeling that this is one giant performance, that we are all, the more-than-a-million people who come out for it, performers in a giant happening. I love looking at people's faces as they come on say a wonderful video installation or an amazing street performance or as they wander, a little dazed, at two in the morning. The streetcars (trams is the word outsiders might use) run all night on the main east-west streets, connecting some outlying pockets of intense Nuit Blanche activity to the downtown. And those streetcars will be crowded and full of conversations, rather like those at the film festival: "did you see the one where...?"

Like many ambitious multi-strand human efforts, it all becomes a metaphor for life and living. There are the serendipitously discovered wonders that thrill; the pieces on the event map that I head to purposely and that are either as great as I hoped or a disappointment; there are the chance encounters with friends and with strangers in the crowd; I overhear snatches of conversation but catch only the middle of the story, not the end or the beginning; and I am propelled by a need to keep moving, to try to take it all in, to not miss a thing, even though I know there's a lot I will not see, for it's impossible to encompass it all.

By moving around effortfully and ambitiously, I will feel I've given it my best, but another form of participation would be to just hang out in one place where several things are going on/being performed, and watch people's reactions, watch my own changing understanding of the crowd, the performances, the event. It's a good idea, but I just can't do it. I am driven, as I am in life, with the urge to connect to, have a glimpse of, try to understand, as much of what is going on as possible...

And afterward, tomorrow as I'm making ChocoSol chocolate chocolate-filled flatbreads for the Slow Foods picnic, and through the coming weeks, I expect that images and sensations from this Nuit Blanche will be replaying in my mind's eye, reverberating, growing and changing.

Nuit Blanche goes on after dawn arrives. The images projected on buildings get shut off, the performance artists wend wearily home, but the energy and the ideas embodied in the strong pieces go on resonating in our imaginations, warming us and stretching us.

And for food? A solid early supper, probably Thai grilled beef salad, for the friends that will be dropping by, and sticky rice, and I don't know what else. Then plenty of bread and cheese and cake to snack on when i and they drop back in occasionally through the night. The other part of the instructions is of course to wear comfortable shoes, I wear my running shoes, and layered clothing, for inside places can be hot but outside there are light showers and cool temps.

here we go!!!