Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Holidays

The Timmins evacuees arrived and departed in waves: first to get there were Jean and I, the evening of December 22; then my older sister, Joanne, followed shortly by my younger sister Michelle and her family, on December 24. Boxing Day was the first departure, by Jo; then Jean and I drove back on December 27; then Michelle’s family flew back the following day. Some small departure delays due to weather and a bit of a close call getting through the very crowded luggage drop-off at Pearson were the extent of the travel issues.

The influx of people made gave my Dad some stress in keeping us all fed and finding everyone a place to sleep, but it all worked out. It helps that Dad’s a very good cook, and yes, we all pitched in with grocery shopping, baking, food prepping, and cleaning up. Michelle and Jackson kindly volunteered to sleep on couches the two busiest nights, so no one had to check into a hotel.

Big Guy!

Even Santa was helping with the food

The 23rd we had a great visit with our Timmins friends (all two!) and Christmas Eve offered a succession of family Réveillons.

Only the Kid's can get this exited about Christmas

Lefebvre great-nieces excited for Santa

Santa!

Père Noël appreciates the adulation

The little gift exchange theme this year was “ornaments”. Jean’s made the biggest splash: He Etsy’d his own ornaments starting with old photos of his siblings, converted into luggage tags then ribbon’ed by hand. My contribution of ornaments made by Peruvian artisans landed well with Jean’s sister, who had just returned from a trip there. Jean ended up with these rather cool bird ones.

The facets' of Christmas!

New ornaments for our tree

Christmas morning at McNair’s we did the stealing game again. This was after much email discussion, during which we’d decided that each person would get an age-appropriate gift. Of course, the kids don’t really do their own shopping for this.

My brother, for whom there is time like the last minute, was copied on all emails but didn’t really dig into them until about Christmas Eve, when he was off to do his shopping. He checked with Michelle: “I have to buy gifts for my own kids?” he asked. “Really?”

Yes, really.

This didn’t really work out with Sarah-Simone, though, who—even after “her” present was available—simply couldn’t resist going to the pile of presents to try again after some adult  kindly “stole” the present she had. Even though, as she pointed out, most of the presents “sucked” for a 10-year-old.

Her package :)

Another gift not entirely suitable to its recipient…

Things eventually got sorted through final trades.

The Stealing Game :)

Or in my case, earlier, by stealing this fine wine collection from my brother

Jean ended up with the item I had contributed, a coffee infuser. It’s not fast, but it does make a nice smooth brew!

We also got out for some snow shoeing on this gorgeous winter day.

Winter Wonderland!

Jean and my brother-in-law went again on the less-pleasant Boxing Day, coming back with a harvest of chaga tea (which looks like dirt mounds, but you clean it and brew it and it’s apparently full of anti-oxidants. Pretty mild-tasting.)

Slaying the dragon and making off with the Chaga!

Slaying the dragon

The days between Christmas and New Year’s, Jean worked while I sat around and ate bonbons.

Not really. (Well, maybe a few bonbons.)

New Year’s Eve, we returned to The Berlin, one year after first going, for their four-course dinner. City buses are free that night, so we decided to travel that way. We did the whole route-planning thing on the transit website, and found the perfect trip. As long as all buses were exactly on time.

However, the first one was three minutes late, meaning we missed our transfer by about two minutes. And faced a 28-minute wait, 30 minutes before our reservation.

Fortunately, seeing our expression, the bus driver asked where we wanted to go, then helped us get there. Her route had another stop with a downtown connection. We had very little wait for that bus, and we were arrived at the restaurant just five minutes late, so all good.

New Year's Eve Menu

We sat in view of the kitchen for the first time, which was pretty interesting. (And not only because chef Jonathan Gushu is kind of a babe.)

The Kitchen Crew

It was busy night there, of course, but everything we had was just delicious, and the wine pairings were creative and uniformly excellent. Service was a bit scattered at times—running off with menus before actually finding out what we wanted each course, for example (“I can’t believe I did that”, he said)—but generally they have their timing down now. (We just have to accept it’s not as luxuriously paced as Verses used to be.)

Eying my Roe!

Amazing starter

As appetizers, I had the lobster ravioli and Jean the terrine.

Terrine - Pulled Pork and Foie Gras mmmmmmmmm!

To cleanse the palate, they gave us a pineapple sorbet in sparking wine.

Pinnaple Granite in some bubbly :)

Then it was duck all around, with a really interesting Italian wine, that not everyone got (we’re special 🙂 ).

Duck Breast and Ragout, with Honey Mushrooms and Heart Nuts served with a great pairing wine from the Canary Islands

And Jean concluded with the pear dessert, I the hazelnut nougatine (with a vermouth). We also received a touch more dessert for the road.

Hazelnut Nougatine!

We took a taxi home. 🙂


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Things more Christmas-y

As my seasonal gift to you all, I will set aside the “political update” blog post I’ve been puttering away at and instead write about things more Christmas-y.

Though in the same province, my home town is far from where I live now. (Even Canadians get surprised at how far apart two cities in the same province can be.) Though we try to get there for Christmas, that’s normally the extent of the winter travelling to the north.

This year, however, we were lured there a mere two weeks before Christmas by Jean’s Mom celebrating her 90th birthday. She’s doing rather well!

Mom_90th_Birthday_161210_(19of20)

Gosh, I think I took this photo. Yay, me.

Also occurring around the same date were my Dad and my brother’s birthdays, so while at it, we celebrated those as well.

Dad_81st_Birthday-161209(0006of0006)

The combined ages of the two birthday boys

A snowstorm in the southern part of the province delayed our arrival back home (by plane) til the next morning, but it was a nice visit.

Being away for an extra December weekend meant condensing the amount of Christmas cooking I did, both in terms of time and quantity. (It also meant even more online gift shopping than usual.) This past Saturday I made my single tourtière, using a recipe that is now traditional to me, though not to the rest of my family. I was unable to find the ground bison that I usually combine with the ground chicken, so I tried lamb instead.

The distinctly lamb-y smell of it made me worried while preparing the dish, but in the end, it really didn’t overwhelm everything. And the crust turned out quite remarkably flaky and delicious.

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Tastes better than it looks!

Sunday was when Jean and I celebrated “our” Christmas. I decided to roast a duck, not having done that in a while. I’m amazed by how many people are totally intimidated by the idea, when it’s really the same principle as cooking a chicken: stuff  the bird if you want, then put it in a roasting pan in the oven at 350 or so until it reaches 165 F. Only real difference is where a rack in the roasting pan might be optional with chicken, you really want to use one with duck, because so many fat drips out of it. You don’t want your bird floating in it.

For the duck, I consulted a Jamie Oliver recipe that involved stuffing it with ginger, rhubarb, and sage, then serving it with a broth / red wine (didn’t have masala) sauce and crisped sage on top. As sides, I made roasted Brussels sprouts with apple while Jean handled the mashed potatoes. It made for a delicious combination of food in the end.

Duck, Brussel Sproutss, and Mashed Potatoes!

Serving it with 2010 Chateau-neuf-du-pape didn’t hurt, either

For dessert I cobbled together a nice-looking tray (if I do say so myself) of items mostly not made by me:

Desert Tray

As tasty as it looks!

The sucre à crème in the forefront was my doing (sugar, sugar, and cream: with a little butter, because why not). But the rum balls were a (homemade) gift. And the ginger cookies were President’s Choice. All rounded out with some foil-wrapped chocolates.

Happy holidays, everyone.


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 Some good news (non-political)

My very talented husband has won first place in the Recreation category of the Grand River photography contest. It even came with a cash prize! This was the winning photo:

He walks on water!

Refer to the Grand River Conservation authority’s website, Facebook, Twitter, or Flicker accounts in the coming days for more information.

Earlier in the year another photo of his was selected for inclusion in an advertisement about Waterloo Region that ran in Moneysense magazine. That would be this one:

Milling about the Park

Cork restaurant in Elora also asked to use one of his photos on their website, a few years ago.

(And sometimes he just finds his photos used on websites, by people who didn’t bother to ask.)

He’s won so many photo prizes from his canoe club that they had to change the rules to spread the wealth around more. I can’t include all those here, but I personally liked this one so much I added it to my collection of desktop photos on my work laptop, even though I wasn’t on this trip with him.


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25 / 50

We’re not the most romantic couple in the world, and don’t tend to make that much to do about our anniversary, but with the 25th looming next year, seems like we should do something.

Something.

keep-calm-it-s-only-our-25th-wedding-anniversary-4

The family asked about us having a party. Possibly because I mentioned to my sister about possibly having a party. “Don’t the kids organize the party?” asked my brother. Funny brother. (We don’t have kids, for those who don’t know.)

My friends assume we’ll take a trip somewhere. But, we kind of do that every year, don’t we? “A special trip.” Hmm. What would that be—and what’s not special about our current trips?

Also, does that mean my friends wouldn’t come to a party?

Actually, geography makes the whole party idea a bit tricky. Family is mostly up north. Friends are mostly not. I don’t see the bulk of either group travelling the 10 hours needed to get from one place to the other, so it’s a choice of family party or friend party.

Or, having two parties.

Hmm. What does Google say.

google-anniversary

Let’s look at Yahoo: 10 creative ideas for celebrating your 25th anniversary

  1. Change things up at home. Paint the bedroom wall or rearrange your living room furniture.

Because, sure, what is more wonderful and romantic than doing home renovations.

  1. Do something especially romantic at home. Read poetry to each other by candlelight, for instance.

Yeah. No. Big no.

  1. Have a day of service — to each other. If you usually cook and your spouse mows the lawn, switch jobs for the day.

Again with the doing chores, Yahoo? And anyway, after 25 years, if you haven’t figured out your household labour division in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling resentful and wishing you could switch, then I don’t how you made it that far.

  1. Have a day of service — to others. Do something charitable, whether it’s making a donation somewhere, or serving dinner at a shelter.

OK, I’ll drop the snark, as that is a lovely idea. For better people than we are.

  1. If you’re going to travel, make it an adventure. Hike the Grand Tetons, go whitewater rafting, or learn to scuba dive.

Wait, did Jean write that one?

  1. Have a party, but make it sort of retro. You were married in the 1990s after all! Event planner Jason Jani, owner of the SCE Event Group, suggests making a playlist of songs from the year you were married and showing videos from the wedding. And if you still have your dress, wear it.

… Hmm, I don’t hate this one. But it in no way solves the geography problem. And I can’t see planning two nineties parties.

Suppose I’ll just put off thinking about this again, for now.

Did I mention that I’m also turning 50 next year?

google-50th-birthday.png


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The Christmas after

For our Christmas travels I’d lost the argument about flying this year, so we drove off after work on December 22 and made it to Huntsville, then finished the journey the next day. Our unseasonably mild and snow-less winter made for a good drive, fog being the only challenge at times.

Timmins did have snow, albeit far less than usual, and it seemed almost freakishly warm (up to +3 C!).

My younger sister and family flew to Timmins without issues, but my older one had the unpleasant experience of her flight getting all the way to Timmins, then refusing to land due to fog! (Though other airlines were landing in the same conditions.) So she ended up spending Christmas in Toronto after all.

Celebrations began on the 23rd with a belated 80th birthday party for my Dad, held at my brother’s. Pretty well-attended, considering the busy time of year.

Gerry_McN_BDay2015_(14_of_43)_151223

The birthday boy (foreground)

December 24 brought very high winds, then widespread power outages to Timmins. But power was back most everywhere by mid-afternoon. We attended mass at my Dad’s church, then headed off to Réveillon celebrations, first at my cousin’s, then at Lefebvre’s.

Dad's gonna PieFace her! .. or he takes one for her :)

The “pie in face” game was delighting the kids this year. (I abstained from play.)

Always too much food! ... it' s Christmas

We didn’t lack for food

The “left / right” gift exchange theme this year was “computers,” and the price limit is pretty modest. That meant a lot of USB sticks going around.

and the Grrraand Prize goes to Come, he also get's the clown.

But some people were more creative (and no, Jean did not come up with this mouse pad himself)

Christmas morning was at McNair’s, where we tried a new approach of the “stealing” game.

Caleb showing enthousiasm ;)

This resulted in some kids getting items they were less-than-enthused about

Master Skyper John!

The Toronto folks participated via Skype

A round of trading afterward produced more satisfactory results, at least for some. (I took the mini-Cuisinart off my nephew’s hands and he got my cool gift pack of gourmet popcorn and DVDs.)

A few specific gifts were handed out as well.

S-S modeling her

You’ll never guess who gave my niece this Buffy T-shirt

Champagne instead of coffee in the morning ... That's how you know it's Christmas :)

And we enjoyed the morning Champagne

The afternoon was consumed with helping Dad prepare the Christmas turkey and fixings. We had 13 people over for dinner, and everything turned out great.

On Boxing Day we resisted the sales, but managed to get together with some Timmins friends at a local coffee shop, which was very nice.

We departed the following afternoon, and except for the car having a mysterious battery failure (solved with a boost), the two-part drive home was uneventful. We even found a very good restaurant in Hunstville for dinner (3 Guys and a Stove).


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Movie review: Inside Out

Armed with a gift certificate, we made our way to the unfamiliar confines of the big, glitzy Galaxy Cinema to see the well-reviewed Pixar film, Inside Out.

Turns out that the “Pre-show” for a General Admission film means a great deal of tedious talk about kid’s movies. Much as I have found Wallace and Gromit amusing in the past, that was way too much talk about Shaun the Sheep! Then we had to sit through commercials, then yet more trailers for kid’s movies, including, of course, freakin’ Shaun the Sheep!

So when the animated short that preceded Inside Out finally started, the little Lewis Black’s inside our heads were firmly in charge of the control panel.

Pixar's Anger

Inside Out largely takes place inside the mind of a young girl named Riley. Riley has great parents, friends, love of hockey, and a comfortable middle-class existence. Her various emotional states are played by five characters.To this point in her 11 years, Joy (Amy Poehler) has mostly been in the driver’s seat. But others step in when needed. Fear (Bill Hader) helps keep her safe. Anger (Lewis Black) defends her against injustice. Disgust (Mindy Kaling) prevents her from being poisoned. And Sadness (Phyllis Smith)… Well, nobody’s too sure what Sadness is for.

Insider Out characters

When Riley’s parents uproot her from Minnesota to San Francisco, however, Joy has trouble maintaining control. All the pillars of Riley’s life to this point, depicted as island’s in her mind, seem to be crumbling away—old friendships fading, family stressed, school now strange and scary, hockey no longer a refuge…

Riley’s experience of all this emotional turmoil is depicted as an interior journey. Joy tries to keep Sadness at bay, but that just leaves openings for Fear, Disgust, and finally Anger to take over.

As if often the case in Pixar movies,there’s a lot here that would go right over kids’ heads. You have to see to appreciate how they depict the inner workings of our minds, such as the management memories—core, subconscious, fading, and just… gone. And the characters’ scary trail through abstract thought (“we’ve become two-dimensional!”). And the peculiar timing and persistence of ear worms. And the even more peculiar production of dreams. And losing one;s train of thought.

To add to the fun, we also get glimpses into the mind’s of other characters. (I especially liked that every adult women seemed to have her own fantasy boyfriend in there…) And be sure to stay for the credits to see more.

Sure, Joy and Sadness’s journey back to headquarters (get it?) might have gone on a bit long, and main character Joy could be a little darn annoyingly cheery.

But overall, I didn’t care. The whole thing was on the main so delightful. And so effective in explaining the role of Sadness. Even if doing so caused Sadness to take over my mind as well, and make me wish I’d brought far more Kleenex. (At least I managed not to sob. Whole theatre was so quiet at this point in the movie! Everyone so busy trying not to sob!)

My only wish was that we could have spent more time in more minds. But at the end, mine was still filled with Joy.

Inside Out trailer


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Chasing the original high

Just let me feel the rush like the first night
Wanna breathe it out cause I’m going out my mind
Gotta feel the touch like the first time
Cause I’m
Chasing the original high
….
I’m trying to buy a fix but there ain’t no price
I try to feed the hunger that keeps me up at night
We were on a trip trying to replicate
But the highs I hit just ain’t doin it for me

Remember back in Hollywood?
The medication flowing through my veins was you…

— “The Original High”

The Original High: Adam Lamber

The title track of Adam Lambert’s new album The Original High suggests that we spend much of our adult lives in a possibly fruitless quest: To rediscover the rush and excitement of the first time we experienced something great, whether that be drugs, sex, love, applause, success, or what have you.

It’s an interesting idea, particularly when considered in light my own Adam Lambert fandom. Why am I obsessing over this guy? What am I gaining from it? Am I chasing some original high here…?

”Remember back in Hollywood?”

Before there were actual boyfriends in my life, there were celebrity crushes. Those were much safer. You could have the thrill and excitement generated by reading about, listening to, or watching these famous strangers, without the risks of real conversations and physical contact with actual, unpredictable people.

Then of course, there were the boyfriends. And that could be very exciting, often in unexpected ways.

And then I found the one, who eventually transitioned from boyfriend to husband. The love and passion I feel for him hasn’t died with the passage of years, but it has changed. Improved, in many ways. But what hasn’t lasted is that initial, mind-blowing, almost insane obsession. That overwhelming high of falling in love.

Because you can’t live a whole life in that state. You wouldn’t want to. Remember that Pepsi commercial? “Is there anything else youthful you’d like to experience?” “Yeah, I’d like to make out like we used to” And then:

Make out like we used to Pepsi ad

“On second thought…” Exactly!

But you can certainly retreat to your harmless old pastime, the celebrity crush. For that safe, remote facsimile of the thrill of a new relationship.

“Just let me feel the rush like the first night”

Adam Lambert posing

The current style

Adam Lambert performing

Performing

In this limited capacity, Adam Lambert is fulfilling the chase fairly well. For all my recent defending of old rockers, it is nice to be into a young, healthy guy. I love his recent style, with less makeup, a more natural hair colour, the torn skinny jeans, the great shirts and jackets. The man always looks amazing, whether arriving an airport, doing a radio interview, performing, or all dressed up for the red carpet.

He is fun to look at.

And having listened to, read, and watched a ton of promotional interviews these past months, gotta say that Adam Lambert also seems to be one of the sweetest, most charming people on the planet. Many of the interviewers are great, but he also handles the uninformed or intrusive questions with a lot of grace, humour, and intelligence, And he’s a good sport about the many absurd little quizzes and activities he’s asked to participate in (Juggling! Dancing like Carlton! Giving the weather forecast! Drinking cheap tequila!)

Adam on Alan Carr Chatty Man. Not necessarily the best interview, but certainly one of the funniest

“But the highs I hit just ain’t doin’ it for me”

So have I achieved celebrity crush nirvana? Well, hmm. I just wish… I just wish… I loved his new album.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the new album. The songs are very catchy. The lyrics have some intelligence. He’s never sung better (on a studio album). The production—the sound quality—is great, crisp, well-mixed. There aren’t any songs I actually dislike.

It’s just that… I don’t really love too many of the songs, either. It all feels a bit… light to me. Lacking in angst, maybe. In emotional power, somehow.

And it’s very odd for me to have this disconnect between the artist and his artistic output. I like listening to The Who’s music every bit as much as I enjoy looking at Roger Daltrey’s pecs. I appreciate Spike’s cheekbones and snark in the context of one of my favourite TV shows of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sure, a song here, an episode there isn’t as great, but overall… Awesomeness.

Whereas a week of listening to Adam Lambert music and I’m like, wow. I need some Elvis Costello, or something.

“Cause I’m chasing the original high”

Now, I really want this album to be a success (though I don’t know what success is in this age of limited music sales), because if it is, he’ll tour. And I feel absolutely certain that I would love seeing him in concert, even if he doesn’t do a single cover song.

Because I do have considerable fondness for his second album, Trespassing. It’s true that the lesser songs on it are weaker than anything on The Original High. But the highs (there’s that word again)… “Trespassing” is probably my favourite song of his ever, an exuberant gay anthem with lyrics ambiguous enough for many other interpretations, and always a lovely ingredient in a remix. And I’m almost as fond of dance-oriented “Pop that Lock”, of angsty ballad, “Outlaws of Love”, of the beautiful, haunting Underneath, and of dark yet rousing bonus track Running.

But as for The Original High, it does contain “There I Said It”  the big ballad, and the one song in which he does seem kind of angry and defiant. (“I won’t apologize to you anymore!”) I do love that song. I’m also rather fond of the sexy, R&B infused “Underground” and I must say that if I’m not sick of single “Ghost Town”  after so many listens (and I’m not), there’s gotta be something to that dance track, also.

And I feel I should end with this blog-post inspiring song, “The Original High” which, yes, I do like very much. It’s an absolutely infectious pop song with smart lyrics.

This is a fan video—with bonus Hungarian subtitles!