Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A letter of thanks to Eyjafjallajökull

I know you’ve been getting a lot of bad press recently, but I for one would like to say a great, big thank you. When I went to London for three days I had a list of things I wanted to do, and not nearly enough time to do them all. Sure, I managed to go to Notting Hill and see the beautiful food at Ottolenghi; fruit tarts striped with green pistachios, and piles of cloudy, billowy meringues. I browsed in Books for Cooks and Rough Trade in Notting Hill, ate carrot cake and red velvet cupcakes from the Hummingbird bakery at the water’s edge in Hyde Park, and was surprised by the deliciousness of smoked herring tostadas and huitlacoche quesadillas in Wahaca. And all of that was great, and I really enjoyed it. But if it wasn’t for you, Eyjafjallajökull, and your spewing clouds of ash which blanketed Great Britain and shut down airspace, there are lots of things I would not have been able to do.
I would never have made the trip to Brixton market and drank tea from a cup and saucer, poured from a giant gold teapot in Rosie Lovell’s lovely deli and cafe. I wouldn’t have had time to explore Borough Market, to watch the skilled butchers at the Ginger Pig prepare meat, marvel at the beauty of the cheese in Neal’s Yard Dairy, and learn a little more about Montgomery cheddar from their hugely knowledgeable staff. I wouldn’t have sat on the kerb and eaten a chorizo, piquillo pepper, and rocket sandwich from the infamous Spanish deli Brindisa, whose deliciousness left me in silent awe for a full five minutes. I might never have seen the amazingly large but perfectly chosen selection at Foyle’s bookshop, or discovered their beautiful jazz cafe, with its huge windows and plain wooden tables, and I might never have found out that the humble Barry’s tea (my own brew of choice) is seen as a rather fancy cuppa in London. I would never have had such a brilliant catch up with my friend Gill, and we would not have eaten veal stew and pork chops in the original London gastropub, The Eagle, watching the chefs cook the most amazing Mediterranean food on a single stovetop right behind the bar. I may never have gone for a walk in Hampstead and quite accidentally come across the grave of Penelope Fitzgerald in a quiet little cemetery full of cherry blossoms. Or gotten lost looking for a Primrose Bakery in Primrose Hill, but found one behind Covent Garden.
Without you Eyjafjallajökull, it’s very unlikely that I would have ever taken a bus from London to Dublin. And while perhaps being crammed into a vehicle with fifty tired and irate fellow passengers, many of whom had spent days sleeping in airports, wasn’t exactly fun, seeing little sleeping Welsh towns in the middle of the night was. So here’s a big cheers from me. Yes, you may have caused hundreds of thousands of air passengers to be stranded abroad, and in many cases pay extortionate amounts of money to get home. Sure, you may have cost the air industry millions, stopped international mail for a couple of days, and disrupted the everyday workings of life all over the world for a little while. But there were some silver linings, and I would like to heartily thank you for mine.
Alison x

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cake for Breakfast

I was thinking I would like to write about the rhubarb recipe that I made the other night, but then I realized that everyone. is. already. writing. about. rhubarb. Such are the dangers of loving the excitement and flavours of seasonal foods. So I'm leaving the virtures of rhubarb to others' capable hands. Why not focus on a different delightful subject.

I am eating cake for breakfast.

Cake for Breakfast (Gina) 2010.

I did it yesterday. I did it today. I will probably do it again tomorrow. And you know what? I am a grown-up (sort of) and no one can stop me! Granted, it is not an icing-laden monstrosity - more of a rustic snackcake... but Cake! for Breakfast! Luxury.

Akin to the joys of cold pizza or leftover Chinese food, these breakfasts that are not really breakfast are sometimes just the reward needed to get out of bed and start the day. Another guilty pleasure for the file.

What are you favourite non-traditional breakfast items?

(For more (healthy) breakfast inspiration I love the blog Simply Breakfast.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Life is a Musical: Flash Mobs, Glee and My Dirty Little Secret

I am infatuated with flash mobs. In fact - and here's the dirty little secret - it is a rare occurence when I watch a flash mob video that I don't get choked up... sometimes actually full on crying. I don't know what it is! I realize it is ridiculous, but something inside of me just cracks... perhaps it's the drama of it all, or the excitement of a large group of people coming together to produce an event that brings a bit of the extraordinary to the everyday.

Perhaps its just a throwback to the theatre-nerd I was in high school (and still a little bit today), but also I think it has something to do with the magical feeling that ANYTHING could happen.

This is the first that I remember watching, and it still makes me blubber. All the spectators are so happy, and I must say that it is one of the better choreographed of the bunch I've viewed (sometimes the crowds are too big and it loses the clarity of the whole event and starts to look a bit messy).

Tonight the long anticipated new epidose of Glee airs - chockfull (we can only hope) of hilarious antics, cheesy musical numbers and teenage drama. Despite my better judgement I have given myself over to this show, and was so excited to come across this flash mob that occured in Seattle this past weekend.

I also discovered the group Improv Everywhere through the delightful blog of one of their "senior agents" - Katie Sokoler of Color me Katie. This group has been at it for awhile, and they conduct all sorts of amusing "missions". Some of my favourites - true to today's theme - include their Spontaneous Musicals. So much fun.

I hope that the above links all bring a smile to your face. Or, if you're like a Gleek like me, a tear to your eye.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Daytripping: Galway

Galway has always been one of my favourite towns in Ireland. I think this stems from spending an occasional weekend there when I was growing up. Going to the Saturday market and eating potato curry from a stall felt terribly exotic, weird and wonderful street performers sang Dylan and breathed fire, and I even saw my first live gig here. (Ash in case you’re wondering.) Galway has always had a thriving cultural scene, with its annual arts festival reaching its 33rd year this summer, and this is reflected in the laid back pace of life and creative atmosphere you feel from the people and businesses which make this town such a great place to spend some time.

My first port of call on my recent trip was to a cafe I first visited a couple of years ago, Ard Bia, an Irish name which roughly translates as great food. The food here is predominantly locally sourced, and is a curious fusion of traditional Irish and Eastern Mediterranean influences. The dining room is sweetly ramshackle, and pots of tea come in vintage teapots with mismatched china. To give all the Torontonian readers a point of reference, it wouldn’t be out of place in Leslieville. My smoked chicken sandwich with avocado and peach chutney was deliciousness itself, while my dining companion declared a wholesome yellow split pea dahl with tatziki good for both body and soul.

Continuing through some winding medieval lanes we reached Sheridans Cheesemongers, which is bright and airy and full of wonderful things. There’s a fantastic display of both Irish and international cheeses on offer here, and despite eyeing up a quivering brick of membrillo, I left with a piece of Durrus cheese and a square block of Inch House black pudding, dense and squidgy as fruitcake. Dessert takes the form of Murphy’s ice cream from McCambridges, one scoop of brown bread and one of chocolate and whiskey. Both are delicious, and a taste of the Kerry cream variety is also heavenly.

No trip to Galway is complete without a visit to Charlie Byrne’s bookshop; a rambling Aladdin’s cave of, mainly secondhand, books. A new purchase in hand, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to Tigh Neachtain (or Naughton's pub) for a cold, creamy pint of the black stuff. A good natured discussion concerning the future of Irish politics is in full swing at the bar, the music of Nick Drake plays softly in the background, and the patio is full of chat and laughter as locals take advantage of the afternoon sunshine. Galway’s still got that old magic.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Chocolate Haze!

The Easter Tree (Gina). 2010.

We wanted to share some favourite things that are on our minds this long weekend. Hope you're all enjoying the Spring weather - be it April showers or April sunshine!
  • These table settings over at Design*Sponge, from Liz Belton's new book, have us geared up for warm-weather entertaining.
  • Bigos, a traditional Polish Easter dish, looks like a delicious meal for a rainy spring day. (via The Kitchn)
  • The trailer for the new season of Dr. Who is leaving Alison in anticipation, and Gina wondering if she should add yet another TV series to her line-up.
  • Watch your choice from a selection of awesome movies - for FREE!
  • What's more Easter-y than eggs? Boil eggs to your liking with this cute online egg timer.
  • Indulge in Easter candy without the chocolate hangover, by spending some time on the adorable Cadbury website. (Still fun, despite the recent drama.)
  • And who can forget... Hot Cross Buns!

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I Guess I've Got the Easter Blues...

Do you recall the Dean Martin song “The Christmas Blues”? Well this Good Friday morning I awoke with what I can only explain as the Easter Blues. I'd ended up with no long weekend plans, and upon realizing this immediately slumped into a solid sulk. Easter is not the most important holiday on my calendar, but it was unusual to have no plans at all for this weekend of beautiful spring weather. It was making me feel lonely.

So what’s a girl to do? Well, this girl first takes awhile to feel sorry for herself and complain over the phone to a loved one. Then once the whining ceases, decides to get off her heiny and take a walk through the neighbourhood. What wonders the first day of no-jacket-wearing can work! The bustle of Roncesvalles was pleasantly distracting and I got over my self-pity while poking around the shops that remained open for the holiday. Here are some things that helped to get me out of my funk:

Springtime Flowers on Roncy (Gina). 2010.
  • Bushels of spring flowers at the corner greenmarkets
  • The smells of the Polish bakeries dishing out delicious loaves and sweets for holiday dining tables
  • Flipping through books in a second-hand bookstore and scoring a copy of Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food for $10!
  • A late lunch in a restaurant I’d never been to before
  • Listening to the charming chatter of a family next to me (twenty-something son trying to explain a vegan diet to his mother, in anticipation of his new girlfriend arriving at the family celebration)
  • Fresh ground coffee beans
  • Looking for baby presents (as it seems the world has gone baby crazy – but more about that later)
  • Grabbing this week's NOW with their Top 50 Toronto Restaurants list, and indulging in my a guilty pleasure of tallying how many I’ve eaten at (13!), how many I’d still like to visit (7) and how many I disagree with (2.5)
Arriving home feeling much better, I discovered that my father was heading down the street on Sunday for a dinner with my aunt and uncle, and that I was welcome to join them out in the suburbs. All that wallowing for naught. Getting out of my own personal-space put me into a better head-space, and made me consider that good things come to those who seek them out.

What little things do you folks consciously seek out to turn a sad mood around?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Greetings from the Old Country!

Having lived in Toronto for the past year, I have just moved back to my native County Sligo, Ireland, and am (slowly) adjusting to being back. I miss a lot about Toronto; my lovely apartment, my local brunch spot, and most of all, the friends I had to leave behind. But although there were many things I loved about living in Toronto, I could never quite get used to being so far from the sea. Ireland is a teensy, tiny, island, and you’re generally not far from the sea on any side; be it the mighty Altantic, or that lesser body of water, the Irish sea. Coming from the North West Coast means that I always had easy access to the Atlantic shoreline. It’s a beautiful thing in any weather, as it charms while sparkling azure under the sunshine, or as it tumbles, rolls, and crashes fiercely against the Strandhill rocks on a stormy day. The weekend I arrived home I went for a walk along the shore, breathing in salty air and the smell of seaweed, watching dogs running and relishing their beachy freedoms, and playing chicken with a fast tide.

Photo credit, Alison (2010).

The sea also surrounds County Sligo in the form of lots of small bays and inlets, and I took advantage of a break in the rain to take a walk to Ballisodare Bay; past the church founded by St Fechin in the seventh century, the creepy/cool cemetery (there’s talk that the angel statue moves, but I’ve never seen any evidence of it), the quarry which still displays the housing of monks who traded salt in the area, and the cows who call the surrounding fields home.

Photo credit, Alison (2010).

The views are spectacular, showing off that very unique light of the West Coast. It may be impossible to get a decent loaf of sourdough, they’d think you were mad if you asked for a pitcher of beer, and by 8pm on a weekday the place is like a ghost town compared to Toronto’s 24-hour bustle, but there are some things which make up for having to move home.