I Like Pi

 

Life_of_Pi_2012_Poster

“Don’t fear god,

Don’t worry about death;

What is good is easy to get, and

What is terrible is easy to endure.” – Epicurus, The four-part cure

“Illegitimi non carborundum” – Anon.

 

Happy New Year!  (I know, I’m a bit late.) If you’re like everyone else, your year has probably had its share of wins and losses, and 2013 will challenge you once more to find the balance between looking ahead with hope and making peace with where you are now.  Amor fati.

New Year’s Day seemed like a good day to think about grand themes, one’s place in the universe, etc.  It was also a good day to go to the movies.

I wasn’t sure what to see.  I thought about watching Skyfall again.  It has Scottish highlands, a beautiful, smart, flawed heroine, explosions, and Daniel Craig. One can’t really have too much Daniel Craig.  But a new year seemed to demand something, well, new.

Silver Linings Playbook has been getting good reviews, but what’s more depressing than a rom-com, unless it’s a rom-com with touches of Hollywood style realism?  Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper struggling to find love? Ugh, no thanks.

As much as I’ve enjoyed Quentin Tarantino films in the past, I’m currently wondering about the roots of his obsession with revenge, and whether he chose to tell his most recent story against the backdrop of slavery for stylistic or moral reasons. Pass.

Les Miserables was on the table, but  I wasn’t sure I was in the mood to listen to two hours of show tunes sung directly at the camera by a bunch of people who don’t normally sing. To quote Slate magazine, “There are very few performers who can pull off the trick of singing vocally demanding, hyperdramatic solos while a movie camera inspects their nostrils.”  But it’s based on a classic novel about the French Revolution, right?  So, maybe…mmm, no.

That left me with Life of Pi.  Dramatic, inspirational story?  Check.  A director (Ang Lee) with impeccable credentials?  Check.  Good rating on Rotten Tomatoes (89%)?  Check.  Oh, it’s in 3D – cool!

You’ve probably read the book.  Everyone did when it won the Man Booker prize in 2002.  It has a lot of haters but I enjoyed its blend of philosophy and imaginative storytelling.  If anyone had told me at the time that someone was adapting the book for film, I would have said, “Good luck.”  Fortunately ten years later, along came Ang Lee and some astounding computer technology.

Yann Martel has referred to the movie as a “companion piece” to his book, and I think that’s right.  It’s like an illustrated book come to life (there should be a pop-up book!)  – nothing is lost from the original, and the visual imagery adds a unique dimension.

The 3D effects were fun after I got over my initial disoriented, headache-y feeling.  3D isn’t really more “realistic” than conventional photography.  It’s heightened realism, and Ang Lee’s use of colour and light lends a painterly, children’s book quality to many of the scenes.  If Maxfield Parrish had made a movie, it would be Life of Pi.

Despite the charm of Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi, I found the framing device clunky, as many readers found the philosophical passages of the novel.  But in the movie as in the book, once that kid was thrown into a lifeboat with a tiger, I was hooked.  Brutal death, sunburn, storms, sharks and flying fish, man-eating islands and thirst and hunger and an inscrutable cat who won’t make friends – it’s a dramatic survival story realized with stunning visual poetry.

Everyone’s said it, and I’ll say it again: That CGI tiger is amazing.  There was not one moment when I did not find Richard Parker convincing as a real tiger.  More real, in fact, than Rafe Spall as the writer who annoyingly explains, “So, the zebra is…” in a Coles Notes style summing up at the end of the film.  So the emotional climax between Pi and Richard Parker worked for me – I might have cried.  I forget, okay?

Life of Pi didn’t make me believe in God, (as the movie claims Pi’s story will) but I was thinking about the film days later, which is a nice change from most movies where the emotional impact bounces off as you exit the theatre like a blob of grease hitting a squirt of Dawn dishwashing soap.  I would see it again for the gorgeous visuals alone – all those exotic animals and saturated colours are a two hour vacation from a dull winter day.  I wonder if you will have some of the same questions I did after seeing it?

Can you really find happiness just by telling your story in a different way?  How do you find the balance between facing reality and maintaining hope?  “To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away,” says Pi.   But in the words of Marcel Proust, “If we are to make reality endurable, we must all nourish a fantasy or two.”

So, I wish good things to you in 2013.  And if your dreams elude you and there’s a tiger in your lifeboat, I hope that you find a way to paddle on, and to tell your story with beauty and grace.

 

D’s Holiday Entertaining for the Lazy

Fireplace

 

“Sometimes there is so much to do that I get sort of a headache around the sides and partially under it” – Eloise

 

Christmas is less than a week away, and you’re probably rushing around with all those last minute Christmas errands, muttering Dickensian oaths under your breath as some twenty year old in a Mercedes sweeps into the last parking spot in the mall and masking your barely suppressed rage at endless cash lineups soundtracked with Michael Buble by taking a discreet nip from your flask.  I’m making croissants today, which is rather like war – “long periods of boredom punctuated by short periods of excitement”.  It takes all day to make croissants – two days if you’re pedantic about it, which I absolutely am not.  There’s enough wait time between “folds” that you can read a book.  Possibly an entire novel.  Maybe even write a novel, or at least a short story or a really good poem.  I’m reading an ARC of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson right now, which bumped The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (sorry, Haruki) when it arrived in my mailbox, crammed into the tiny space so tightly, along with a cable bill and two crushed Christmas cards, that it had to be extracted with obstetrical proficiency.

Of course if you are a partially employed reader/writer/book reviewer/blogger and food and publishing enthusiast, you have more time than most, and might feel the need to light some lights and invite close friends over for food, music and drinks. What’s a bit of effort once a year?    For you fully employed, participatory members of society, though, I have just the entertaining solution for you –  the  Timbit Holiday Tree!

What the Timbit Holiday Tree lacks in elegance it makes up in whimsical charm – more Manic Pixie Dream Girl than Martha Stewart.  Although even Martha  is sometimes a genius of simplicity.  Take for example, these plastic dollar store deer covered with glitter.  I was so entranced  I decided to riff on it with my own glitter critters.

Christmas Dinos

I feel certain that dinosaurs would have worshiped Our Lord if they had known about Him, putting aside any bitterness about asteroids or glaciers.

Anyway, the Timbit Tree is easy and impressively Canadian, and would be perfect for a brunch or  toboggan party or some such winter celebration.  My inspiration was Charles Phoenix’s Astro-Weenie Tree, which I and my lovely assistant also approximated for our recent party at the “Galhalla”.

D's Astro Tree

Really, I suppose you could serve anything in tree form – meatballs, marshmallows, mushrooms, what have you. But I opted for Timbits, and you can too, with minimal time and virtually no skill. Here’s how!

 

The Timbit Holiday Tree

Prep time: About 15 minutes, plus 20-30 minutes driving time.

You will need:

You will need

  • A styrofoam cone, 38 cm tall
  • Foil wrap
  • Honey, or peanut butter
  • Toothpicks
  • A decorative plate
  • 40  assorted Timbits
  • 20 assorted Timbits
  • 10 assorted Timbits
  • And 5 more Timbits

 

Wrap your styrofoam cone completely in foil.  If you have loose ends that won’t stay in place you can secure them with a dab of honey or a straight pin.  I used honey, because well, I’m lazy.

Step 1

Put some honey or peanut butter on the bottom of the cone and “glue”  the cone to the centre of a pretty plate.

Now you’re ready to make your Timbit tree!  Start securing your Timbits to the cone with toothpicks.  Work around from the bottom.  You can be choosy about the the colours and sizes, but personally I like the randomness of the different shades of honey, chocolate and snowy powdered sugar.  Mmm, powdered sugar.  Make sure it’s filled in nicely, but don’t worry too much about the spaces – the sparkly foil is festive!

Step 2

About halfway up, realize that you will need more Timbits.  Search out the closest Tim’s  and get in your car.  At the drivethrough, realize that you didn’t properly identify where you should order, because they changed it from last time, and put your car in reverse when you hear a tiny, faraway, “Can I help you?” from behind.  Wave your arms and utter a few oaths as the woman behind you honks her horn and refuses to back up.

When you get to the drivethrough window, explain to the very nice attendant that you got confused and ask for some assorted Timbits, one box of twenty and one of ten, assuring yourself that this will be plenty – the cone gets smaller towards the top, and you are halfway up, so how could you need the same number that you have already used?  It doesn’t make sense.

Gratefully thrust your change into the attendant’s hand and tell her she’s “super” and drive home.

Frantically start placing the rest of your Timbits on the tree, panicking because you only have three hours left and you still have to vacuum, make appetizers and shower.  Get within inches of the top and realize you need more Timbits!  Sonofa…next time your friends can invite you to a party.

Wrap your Timbit tree in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge (you may have to take out a shelf) until your Timbit saviour arrives with another box of ten. Christmas is a time of miracles.

Complete your tree with the remaining Timbits. Note to self: it takes 75 Timbits to make a tree.  Cut a slice of starfruit and secure it to the top with a toothpick.

Timbit Holiday Tree!

You are amazing and your tree looks festive and beautiful and Canadian.  Invite people over to admire and enjoy it.  Have a cocktail or two, you’re not driving.  Gosh, your friends are so great.  Really, what more is there?  Merry Christmas!

 

This Week in Proust: Happy Birthday, Marcel!

 

“For neither our greatest fears nor our greatest hopes are beyond the limits of our strength–we are able in the end both to dominate the first and to achieve the second.”

 

Today is July 10, the birthday of Marcel Proust, author of In Search of Lost Time.  I thought I should do something  to commemorate the occasion.  My first idea was to have a Proustian day of lying in bed, drinking coffee, eating croissants, perhaps writing a letter or two, and reading.  But then I thought that was best saved for a rainy day, maybe in February, when the days are shortest but the hardest to get through.  So, since it’s a birthday, my next thoughts were of cake, and I decided to make madeleines.

Madeleines are, of course, the cookie made famous by Proust in the first volume of his masterpiece, and have become synonymous with the concept of involuntary memory.  Did I say cookie?  Is it a cookie or a cake? Um, yes? It seems that once you decide to dive into a topic, there’s no end to the opinions on the internet.  What was the exact texture of the cookie Marcel’s narrator dipped in his tea?  It must have been kind of hard, maybe dry, because when it touched the tea, it kind of became crumbly, suggesting…etc etc.  Zut alors, people, it’s only a book.  We’re not trying to bring our ancestors back from the grave here.  So let’s bake!

But first, mon cheri, you will need a madeleine pan.     Usually I don’t like to have too many cake pans, as I’m not much of a pastry chef – I have kind of a cake anxiety thing.  I’m more of a bread baker.  Bread seems more forgiving and there’s such a vast difference between home made bread and store bought that your guests don’t usually care about the shape, or if it’s a bit dark on the bottom or whatever.  Anyway, I bought a nonstick pan that made 12 cookies, and I just got one because it was eighteen dollars, but if you wanted to make them all the time, or for a big crowd, you could splurge and get two.  I bought mine at Golda’s.

You have to be in a certain state of mind for cake making; that kind of zen thing where you’re alert, but not nervous, in the moment, and not worrying about the cat yowling or the phone call from that certain person that you’ve been waiting on for a few days.  What sports coaches used to call “the zone”. Music is good.  I was going to play something, ooh la la, like Putumayo French Cafe or Dexter Gordon, but in the end I opted for Stevie Wonder.  Chacun a son gout.  You can play what you want.

I settled on the recipe at epicurious.  Because of my cake anxiety, I prefer to think of a madeleine as a cookie, but I like eating cake, so I adapted the recipe a bit, following some of the comments from readers.  I added 1/8 of a teaspoon of baking powder to give them a bit of a lift, and I doubled the lemon because I like lemon.  You don’t have to.  Some people put almond extract in instead, which sounds divine, and some used orange flower water, which they said was more authentic.  I might try that some day.

The batter really does seem to be somewhere between a cake and a cookie – a runny cookie dough or a thick cake batter.   To keep it cakey (some people complained that they were too dense) I also beat the batter longer than the recipe suggested.  Even though my pan was nonstick, I buttered and floured it.  The flouring makes the outsides a little bit dimply, but I was taking no chances that my madeleines wouldn’t come out of the pans intact.  Most of the comments on epicurious said to bake them for less time than the original recipe, which was sixteen minutes, so I set my timer for ten.  Three seventy-five degrees is a pretty hot oven for a little cake.  After five minutes the edges start to brown and the smell of butter and lemon wafts into the kitchen.

The first batch was a little brown, but , Mon Dieu, the texture and taste! A buttery crunch on the outside from the butter and flour, then a, pale yellow lemon cake, dense, but light  – heaven!

Try eating just one, cheri, just try.  If you have any left, dip them in your tea tomorrow when they’ve dried out a bit.  Or put them in your freezer and impress all your friends when they drop by unexpectedly.  Happy Birthday, Marcel!

Summer: wild, sweet and cute

 

 

 

“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.”  – Lemony Snicket

 

I speculated recently that the universe was trying to tell me something, but that I didn’t know what it was.  I thought maybe it was, “Take June off every year”.  Someone suggested that the universe wasn’t trying to tell me anything, that it’s all random an’ shit, but I choose to ignore that philosophy for the moment for my own personal, selfish reasons. I believe this is how most religions are born.

Anyway, I really have some fantastic people in my life, and I’ve  had a lot of good advice from wise and loving friends.  Things like, accept your feelings and treat yourself well.  So, I’m doing summery things between writing, reading and checking job websites.  It’s slowed down the whole blogging thing, so I thought in the meantime I would just throw something together with food and cute dogs.

At the Brampton Farmer’s Market, dogs possibly outnumber babies, and in come in such a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, the infinite variety of the universe is laid out for you in all it’s majestic and adorable beauty.

Mostly I went to the market to buy strawberries.  I’m not used to the fact that in these modern times  you can actually buy strawberries for a good part of the summer.  To me, strawberries say “June” and when they are there, ruby red and fragrant, I eat them, because then I don’t have to eat the ones from the grocery store that taste like wood, with little bits of harder wood flecked through pretending they’re seeds.

It was a perfect day.  No wind to speak of, and no humidity either.  The sky blue, with soft clouds.  The market was busy, bright flowers and fruits everywhere, the smell of barbecue and basil and strawberries as you walked by the stalls, and a band playing Jane’s Addiction and Pearl Jam songs on acoustic guitars. And local growers, vendors and artists.  That’s the thing about a market – you can buy from local farmers and small businesses, and talk to the people who are making and growing your food.

This shortbread really is delicious, and it is made very close by in Caledon.  It tastes just like homemade, because it is made without preservatives and with very, very good ingredients, local when possible.  Keri also had some Hockley Valley Coffee for sale at her stall.  It’s organic, fair trade and roasted in Orangeville – super fresh, and delicious.  Mmmm.

I’m becoming a bit of a caramel freak – I think I would pick caramel over chocolate.  Stephanie at Keo let me have a taste of their salted caramels. Ymm. The flavour was amazing, toasty and deeply caramel-y.  And the texture  –  creamy, with just a little bit of resistance when you bite into it – wow.  They also had these beautiful home made marshmallows – like eating a cloud.

My eye was drawn to the pretty colours of the cookies and cupcakes at Macaronz.   They look so…french. Gorgeous and yummy.   You can buy them at the Brampton Farmer’s Market all summer, and at some local cafes.

Oh yeah, dogs!  Thanks to all the kind owners who let me interrupt their day and harrass them with questions and take pictures of their wonderful pets.

If you are some crazed dog owner who is randomly googling your dog’s name for some reason, I apologize if your dog isn’t here.  There were actually so many great dogs that I  approached some people more than once and my phone battery started to die.

Really, they’re so damn cute. Check out my dog page for a complete album of doggy adorableness. Oh, and next time I’ll talk about some books I’ve been reading.