A Weary World Rejoices

Monday, December 24, 2012
O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
'Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees,
Oh, hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born.
Oh night divine, Oh night, Oh night divine.

Thursday's Child: Aarhus Cathedral, Denmark

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Aarhus Cathedral, in Aarhus, Denmark, is notable for a few reasons.  It is the largest church in Denmark and has both a stunning altar and a set of golden gates that separate the choir from the nave.  But its most striking features are the frescoes on its walls.  Only a few remain, but they indicate what this cathedral must have looked like in its prime.

We knew nothing about Aarhus before we disembarked at this port on our Baltic cruise last summer. The girls had begged to go to a beach somewhere on the cruise.  Most of the destinations gave us no time for a beach - even two days in St. Petersburg were barely adequate - but Aarhus was the one destination that had no must-sees, and thus it became our beach day.

But after a beautiful morning at the beach we still had a few hours left, and I remembered reading about the glorious cathedral that towered over the rest of the town.

Construction on the cathedral began in the late twelfth century, and was completed around 1350.  Later, it was redesigned in the Gothic style, and between the years of 1470 and 1520, the walls were covered in frescoes.  Many of these lovely frescoes were lost during the Reformation movement but a few remain.  Those that survived cover over 2000 square feet on the interior walls of the cathedral. The largest, shown at the top of this paragraph, depicts St. Christopher and St. Clement, the latter of whom was a pope in the early church and patron saint of sailors, and to whom the cathedral is dedicated. 

One of the beauties of travel is discovering the unexpected.  We've been fortunate enough to see some of the world's great cathedrals, and they truly are spectacular.  But once in a while, it's a joy to stumble upon a place that you never knew existed.  Built to glorify God, Aarhus Cathedral, with its vaulted ceilings and colourful frescoes, was a true pleasure to visit.

In memory of the victims at Sandy Hook

Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Blue Sky Mausoleum, Buffalo, New York
"When it rains it pours and opens doors
And floods the floors we thought would always keep us safe and dry.
And in the midst of sailing ships, we sink our lips into the ones we love
That have to say goodbye.

"And as I float along this ocean,
I can feel you like a notion
That won't seem to let me go.

"And every word I didn't say, caught up in some busy day
And every dance on the kitchen floor, we didn't have before
And every sunset that we'll miss, I'll wrap them all up in a kiss
And pick you up in all of this when I sail away.

"And as I float upon this ocean,
I can feel you like a notion
That I hope will never leave."

- from "When I Look to the Sky"

Thursday's Child: Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

Thursday, December 13, 2012

St. Petersburg's Church on Spilled Blood is one of the most stunning places of worship I've ever seen.  It also has one of the most dramatic histories; there aren't many buildings that have survived near-destruction as many times as this one.   

Even its beginnings were violent.  The Church on Spilled Blood, also known as Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.  And like so many great buildings in Russia, it was badly damaged in the twentieth century.  In the first world war, it was looted.  In the second world war it was used as a temporary morgue during the German Siege of Leningrad.  It was also used as a warehouse for vegetables, which explains its nickname "Saviour on Potatoes".

The exterior was built to resemble Moscow’s St. Basil's Cathedral, and it is striking.  But it’s the interior that really dazzles, as it is covered with over 75,000 square feet of mosaics.  Numerous biblical stories are played out on pillars, arches, walls and ceilings. 

Restoration work began in 1970 and finished 27 years later, although the church was never reconsecrated.  It is designated as a Museum of Mosaics.  But given its tumultuous history and breathtaking visuals, it could only be known by a moniker as dramatic as Spilled Blood.

Bucking the trend

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Every other blog in the universe is posting dessert recipes this month.  I’ve lingered over many of them – delightful confections featuring gingerbread, peppermints, chocolate and many other holiday flavours.  It’s the season to enjoy sweets in any form, and not think about the consequences until the New Year.

So why am I posting a recipe for soup?

For one thing, as the title suggests, I do like bucking a trend. I’ll probably post my dessert recipes next summer when everyone else is making salad.

But in a month of occasional decadence, I also wanted to remind myself that eating simply can often mean eating very well.  Take this Cream of Mushroom Soup with White Wine and Leeks.  It’s delicious and surprisingly quick to make.  And it’s filling enough that, after eating a bowl, you might make one less trip to the dessert buffet.

Speaking of which, don’t worry – I’m pretty sure I’ll post at least one dessert recipe this month.

Cream of Mushroom Soup with White Wine and Leeks

4 Tbsp butter
1 cup sliced leeks
1 1/2 pounds sliced mushrooms (I used cremini, but button mushrooms would also be good)
3 Tbsp flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup white wine
1 cup half and half

Melt the butter in a large skillet.  Add the leeks and sauté for 3 – 5 minutes until tender.  Add mushrooms and sauté until they just start to soften.  Do not overcook.

Remove 1/4 cup of the mushroom mixture to use for garnish.

Add the flour and mix with remaining leek and mushroom mixture.  Cook for 2 – 3 minutes.  Add chicken broth and white wine, and bring to a gentle boil to thicken.

Reduce heat and add the half and half, cooking just until warm.  Garnish each serving with a spoonful of the mushroom and leek mixture.

Thursday's Child: Helsinki Cathedral

Thursday, December 6, 2012

This month I’ll be writing about some of the beautiful places of worship we’ve seen, and I’ll start with Finland’s iconic Helsinki Cathedral.  Known in Finnish as Tuomiokirkko, the cathedral began its life in the mid-19th century as an Orthodox church. 

When Finland was annexed by Russia in 1808, much of Helsinki was destroyed in a fire.  The Russians took on the job of rebuilding it, and a major part of that reconstruction was this church, built as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.  As a result it was known as St. Nicholas’ Church, until Finland gained independence in 1917.  It has since been renovated and renamed Helsinki Cathedral, and is now a Lutheran church.

Although the church has some interesting historical significance, it really is its beauty that makes it a standout.  As we cruised into the Helsinki harbour, the elevated cathedral was the first thing we saw.  And it’s the first place most people visit in Helsinki.  These photos are completely unretouched – the sky really was that blue, and the church really is that white.

Helsinki was a city that I knew almost nothing about before I started planning the trip, and it was one of the loveliest surprises I’ve had in my travels.  I’ve written about Helsinki’s Rock Church and Sibelius Park, both of which were breathtaking and utterly unique.  But it was the beautiful Helsinki Cathedral that first welcomed us to the city.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

luminous flask,
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.”

-       from “Ode to the Onion” by Pablo Neruda, translated by Stephen Mitchell

One of the reasons I love Pablo Neruda is because he writes so beautifully about the most common items.  His ode to onions is one of his best, praising the simple vegetable that is both accessible to the poor and essential to the finest meals.

Onions might be the ingredient I use most often in my cooking.  They are humble, indispensable and delicious.  And I can’t think of a worthier subject for a poem.

“Star of the poor,
fairy godmother
in delicate
paper, you rise from the ground
eternal, whole, pure
like an astral seed,
and when the kitchen knife
cuts you, there arises
the only tear
without sorrow.” 

Balsamic Onions and Blue Cheese Salad

3 small red onions
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar
1 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp minced shallots (2 large)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
3/4 to 1 pound crumbly blue cheese
2 heads red-leaf lettuce, washed, spun dry, and torn

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the onions in half and slice 1/4 inch thick.  Place on a baking sheet and toss with 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the onions are tender.  Remove from the oven, toss with 2 more tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and let cool to room temperature.

To make the dressing, whisk the shallots, mustard, red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a small bowl.  While whisking, add 3/4 cup olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Mash 1/4 pound blue cheese with a fork and add it to the dressing.

To assemble, toss enough lettuce for 6 people with dressing to taste.  Place the lettuce on 6 plates and arrange the onions on top.  Coarsely crumble the rest of the blue cheese on top.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

Thursday's Child: Ihlara Gorge, Turkey

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The last walk I’m writing about this month is our trek through the gorgeous Ihlara Gorge in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Although it wasn’t a strenuous walk, it required a descent of 360 steps to make our way into the valley.  This beautiful gorge was formed by the Melendez River carving its way through the volcanic rock in central Turkey.

We spent about four hours walking through the valley.  Our time in Cappadocia was chilly, but that day was warm enough to walk without our coats.  It was early spring, and the valley was just beginning to come to life. 

So much of Cappadocia was barren, but the gorge was fertile and full of vegetation.  The trees were just beginning to bud.  Both sides of the path were bordered with grass and wild flowers.

The previous week had been mild, and the cherry blossoms had just begun to bloom.

The walk was culturally significant, too. The Ihlara Gorge was the hiding place for early Christians fleeing their persecutors because of the large number of caves that could be used for refuge.  Some of these caves were among the earliest Christian churches in the area.  The gorge was home to over 100 churches.

Just next to the entrance to the valley, Agacalti Kilise (Church Under the Tree) is thought to have been used for worship in the 10th or 11th century.  Its stunning frescoes depict Daniel in the Lions’ Den and the visit of the Magi, among other Biblical scenes.

Tea and cookies with our guide.

The Grey Cup

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Canada’s answer to the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup is the championship of the two best CFL (Canadian Football League) teams.  But where the Super Bowl always looks like a perfect, professionally-run show, the Grey Cup is smaller and less formal, with a thousand stories to tell. 

Weather is an integral part of the Canadian psyche, so it’s no wonder that the history of Grey Cup games includes all kinds of strange weather occurrences.  The 1962 game between Winnipeg and Hamilton is fondly referred to as the Fog Bowl.  Spectators at Exhibition Stadium had no idea what was happening, because the fog was so thick they couldn’t see the field.  Even more unfortunately, neither could the announcers.  The game was eventually suspended, and the remaining nine minutes played the following day.

Stranger still was the 1950 Mud Bowl, in which players competed on a quagmire of a field at Varsity Stadium.  Even cleats were of little help as a snowfall followed by a thaw turned the field into a swamp.  One injured player nearly asphyxiated lying face down on the field before a referee pulled him to safety.

Lest this game sound like a quaint rivalry between gentlemanly players, let me share the story of two fierce rivals.  Angelo Mosca of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Joe Kapp of the B.C. Lions, had feuded since 1963, due to a controversial hit in that year's Grey Cup game.  Last year they appeared together at a CFL fundraiser, the intention being to bury the hatchet.  But it soon became obvious that the bad blood lingered, as the 74-year old Mosca hit Kapp with his cane, which was followed by Kapp punching Mosca in the jaw.

This year’s Grey Cup returns to Toronto for its 100th anniversary, and the big scandal was whether Marty the horse – Calgary’s unofficial Grey Cup mascot – would be allowed to parade through Toronto’s Royal York hotel.  Although Marty was originally denied entry, the Royal York backed down and allowed him into the lobby, thereby recreating a famous moment from the 1948 pre-game festivities.

I am making up none of this.

Closer to home, Andrew remembers watching the 1971 Grey Cup with his father, the first televised sporting event he ever watched.  Painful memories of Leon McQuay fumbling the ball with less than two minutes left to play precluded him from sharing more details of that game.

CFL players don’t earn much money, and some even take part-time jobs in the off-season.  It’s probably no surprise, then, that it they are some of the most down-to-earth and likable athletes you’ll ever meet.  Andrew’s best friend Ross once saw Pinball Clemens – perhaps the best-loved Toronto Argonaut ever – in a Florida airport.  Ross went over to introduce himself and tell him how much he enjoyed watching him play.  Their conversation continued as Clemens helped Ross carry his luggage off the conveyor and out of the airport.

Later today, we’ll be cheering on the hometown Argos as they vie for the championship against the mighty Calgary Stampeders.  The game may not be as flashy as the Super Bowl.  But it’s as Canadian as hockey, bad weather and butter tarts, and we wouldn’t miss it for anything.

If you’re looking for the ultimate comfort food to enjoy while you’re watching football, you couldn’t do better than old-fashioned, homemade macaroni and cheese.  I’ve made this recipe in individual ramekins (pictured here) and also in a big casserole.  Whether you’re rooting for the Argos or the Stampeders, Green Bay or the Giants, or any team in any sport, nothing will cheer you more than piping hot mac and cheese.

Macaroni and Cheese

2 1/2 to 3 cups raw macaroni
4 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups milk
1 cup shredded cheese (I use aged cheddar)

Additional salt (optional)
Additional shredded cheese (optional)

Cook macaroni as directed on package.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan.  Stir in flour and salt.  Add milk slowly, then cook and stir until sauce thickens.  Add cheese and stir to melt.  Combine with macaroni, and add salt to taste.  Pour into a 2-quart casserole or individual ramekins.  If you like, cover with extra shredded cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees until hot and bubbly (25 – 30 minutes if cooking in a casserole, 15 minutes if cooking in ramekins).  Enjoy with your favourite fans.

Thursday's Child: Twillingate, Newfoundland

Thursday, November 22, 2012

“I’se the B’y that builds the boat
And I’se the B’y that sails her.
I’se the B’y that catches the fish
And brings ‘em home to Liza.

“Hip yer partner, Sally Tibbo,
Hip yer partner, Sally Brown,
Fogo, Twillingate, Morton’s Harbour
All around the circle.”

It’s safe to say that every Canadian knows this folk song from Newfoundland, our easternmost province.  I remember singing it boisterously as an 8-year old, proud that I could translate “I’se the B’y” as “I’m the boy”.  Newfoundland’s psyche is wrapped up in the sea, and many young boys would indeed sail the boat and catch the fish.  (Take a minute and check out the song on Youtube.  I dare you not to sing along.)

When we planned our family trip to Newfoundland in 2007, there were a few things we couldn’t miss.  Ches’s Fish and Chips in St. John’s.  The pageant in Trinity.  And visiting one of those magical destinations that the song alludes to – Fogo, Twillingate or Morton’s Harbour.  I’m sure they’re all lovely, but we had the wonderful fortune to visit Twillingate in northeast Newfoundland and to take its marvellous Top of Twillingate trail.

This beautiful walk, part boardwalk and part forest trail, took us through the wooded areas just outside of town.  We climbed the lookout towers for a wonderful vista over the whole area.  Ocean, trees, town and even a far-off iceberg (yes, in August!) were all part of the view.  The hike gave two lively young girls a chance to stretch their legs after a long drive, and their parents a chance to admire the natural beauty of this small town and the wilderness that surrounds it.

And there may even have been a verse or two of “I’se the B’y” sung on our way back to the house.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

I think of zucchini as a summer vegetable, but in reality I use it all year.  It’s one of the most versatile vegetables I cook with.  This gratin, a Barefoot Contessa recipe, is a perfect way to serve it.  The flavours – zucchini, onion, nutmeg – are very simple, but they meld together beautifully. And the Gruyère and bread crumb topping makes the dish special enough to serve for company.  But my family is very happy when I make it just for them!

Zucchini Gratin
(from Barefoot in Paris, by Ina Garten)

6 Tbsp unsalted butter (first amount)
3 large yellow onions, cut in half and sliced (1 pound)
4 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick (2 pounds)
1 tsp kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup hot milk
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (second amount)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter in a very large (12”) saucepan and cook the onions over low heat for 20 minutes, or until tender but not browned.  Add the zucchini and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, or until tender.  Add salt, pepper and nutmeg, and cook uncovered for 5 more minutes.  Stir in the flour.  Add the hot milk and cook over low heat for a few minutes, until it makes a sauce.  Pour the mixture into an 8 x 10” baking dish.

Combine the bread crumbs and Gruyère and sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture.  Dot with 1 Tbsp butter cut into small bits.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and browned.

Thursday's Child: Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Thursday, November 15, 2012

One of the most beautiful walks we’ve ever taken was a hike in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.  We were treated to three of the loveliest aspects of this area: the cool, clean air; the stunning views; and the gentle hospitality of the Berber natives.

We took one of the moderate-level walks to a region northeast of where we were staying.  The destination was the Tizi n’Tamatert pass, and it was roughly a five hour trek.  We hired a guide and two mules to make the walk, and each of the mules came with its own minder.  Although the girls did most of the riding, Andrew and I took turns too.  I actually preferred walking, as the mules walk close to the edge of the path and I hated looking down!

After a long glorious hike, we arrived at the summit and looked for miles in every direction.  We had a clear view of two valleys, Ait Mizane and Imane.  Although you can’t see it in these pictures, we were amazed that most of the tiny homes we saw in this remote area had a satellite dish.

There was a snack bar at the top where we relaxed and gathered strangth for the walk back down.  Apparently, in the Atlas Mountains you can order Pepsi in at least two languages.

We headed down, full of energy now that we had refueled and were descending.

And near the end of our walk, we stopped in the small village of Tamatert to share mint tea at the home of one of the villagers.  The simplicity of his home was overwhelmed by the effusiveness of his welcome, and we were honoured to be his guest.

Movie Group

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Does anyone else belong to a movie group?

A movie group is like a book club, except every month we watch a movie then meet to discuss it.  The movie part of the group is fun, but we’ve evolved into much more than that.  Among the eight of us, we have 18 kids between the ages of 14 and 19.  So whenever we get together, the subject of families comes up.  No matter what stage someone is going through, somebody else has either lived through it or is experiencing it at the same time. 

Even more importantly, this is a genuinely nice group of women.  In the time we’ve known each other, there has never been any gossip or pettiness.  When I spend time with them I feel completely loved and accepted.

And that’s why, when I marked a certain milestone birthday this week, it was so special when they helped me celebrate.  When they planned the evening, they incorporated all the things I love to do.  We started by gathering at Carla’s parents’ house to watch an old movie (Woody Allen’s Manhattan), then we walked a short block to attend a cooking class (more about that another week), and returned to the house for cake and conversation.  I had an absolutely wonderful time, and the evening was made even more fun when they gave me a gift they knew I’d love – a KitchenAid stand mixer!  Thanks to Carla, Trish, Kim, Karen, Barb, Marlie and Jan for a great birthday celebration and for your amazing friendships.

I’ve made these cookies without a stand mixer, but they’re much easier to make now that I have one.  Fifteen minutes of beating is a long time when you’re using a hand mixer.  I relish using that time to do other things while an appliance does the work for me.

Snickerdoodles can seem a bit plain when stacked up against cookies filled with chocolate, peanut butter or other worthwhile additions.  But these cookies are taken over the top with brown butter, and have become a hugely popular addition to my cookie repertoire.  And now that I can use my new stand mixer, they’ll become a more frequent addition to my cookie repertoire.

Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

(recipe from Baked Elements)


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon (first amount)
2 eggs
1 Tbsp milk (or half and half cream)
1 cup sugar (first amount)
1/2 cup tightly packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon (second amount)
3 Tbsp sugar (second amount)

Place butter in a medium saucepan and brown it.  (For directions on browning butter, see here.)  Once browned, pour it into a large bowl and beat on medium-low speed until it cools to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt and 1 tsp cinnamon.  Set aside.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.  Set aside.

Once the butter has cooled to room temperature, turn off the mixer and add 1 cup sugar and the brown sugar.  Beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes.  On low speed add the egg mixture in a slow steady stream.  Once all of the mixture has been added, beat on medium speed for about 1 minute.

Add the flour mixture in three separate parts, stirring to incorporate.

Refrigerate dough for at least one hour, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a small bowl, mix together 3 Tbsp sugar and 1 Tbsp cinnamon.

Shape the dough into balls, then roll them in the cinnamon/sugar mixture until they’re evenly coated.  Place on cookie sheets, leaving at least one and a half inches between them.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Thursday's Child: Soufriere, St. Lucia

Thursday, November 8, 2012

This month, I’m writing about memorable walks we’ve taken on our travels.  Although we stayed at a resort when we visited St. Lucia, we didn’t want to miss visiting the nearby town of Soufriere, so we took a Saturday morning walk to see the town, its market, and its buildings.

The hike into town was truly lovely.  The day was already warm by mid-morning, and we had a different view of the Pitons (the island’s twin peaks) every time we turned a corner.  It was a pleasant downhill walk, although the grade was steep at times and we had to watch our footing.

In Soufriere we visited the bustling market, watching the locals barter with the vendors for fish, fruit, and household goods.  We didn’t take many photos here because most of the salespeople asked us not to, but I won’t forget the vibrant colours of the produce and the lively banter that we overheard. 

We enjoyed exploring the rest of town, too.  The lovely church, which was built in the 1950s, sits next to the town square where a guillotine was once stationed.  The church was simple and lovely, and I was sorry that we weren’t there on a Sunday to hear their beautiful choirs.

At the end of the tour, we stopped in a few local shops and the grocery store.  The latter had a good selection of both international and local goods, and we saw locals and tourists shopping there.  And at the end of our walk, given the midday heat and the long uphill climb, we were happy to take a boat back to our resort.