August 19, 2004

Olympic verbiage

Recently I’ve been watching the Olympics a lot on tv. Like most Canadians, I’m a little disappointed at the lack of success of our athletes. There has been a lot of talk from the athlete and pundits alike about the reasons for this, but I’m convinced that the main reasons are lack of funding and the Canadian Olympic Committee’s decision to not send athletes in all the events we qualified for — in other words, the COC set the bar higher than the International Olympic Committee. Ostensibly the decision was made so that we don’t have a lot of athletes competing and failing, as we are sending only our top medal hopefuls, but I’m sure it’s really just a cost cutting measure. And you never know when an athlete will have a really good day, perform a personal best, and perhaps win a surprise medal.

In general, I think we need to support our athletes more, or stop complaining that we don’t do very well at the Olympics. Of course it’s an unfair comparison to make looking at the US Olympic success, but a better comparison is with Australia, which is comparable in size and resources, and has recently become one of the top Olympic countries. In any case, I’m enjoying watching the Olympics in spite of Canada’s difficulties.

Watching the Olympics has also allowed me to become reacquainted with some vocabulary that I only seem to encounter during the Olympics, such as peloton and repechage. A peloton is the small clump of cyclists that follows the leader in a bike race. According to the OED, peloton comes from French peloton, and ultimately from Latin pilotta, a diminutive form of pila ‘ball’. It’s interesting to note that the OED does not list this sports usage of the word, listing only two senses: “1. A small ball or spherical mass. Obs. rare” and “2. A small body of soldiers; = platoon”. Perhaps this will be updated in the third edition.

The term repechage, on the other hand, is only a sports term in English. It comes from the French repêchage, from the verb repêcher ‘to fish out, rescue; to give an examination candidate a second chance to pass’, and is defined by the OED as “an extra contest in which the runners-up in the eliminating contests compete for a place in the final”. Both interesting words with interesting etymologies. Isn’t language fun?

Posted by Mark at 05:13 PM | Comments (0)

Cornucopia III

Time for another compendium cooking post, this time involving various, newly acquired cooking implements and cookbooks!

Earlier in the summer we bought a new cookbook, another in the Essential Cookbook series called The Essential Barbecue Cookbook. Since a number of the recipes in the book call for cooking on a barbeque griddle or a cast iron skillet on the grill, we bought ourselves another cast iron pan to use exclusively on the barbeque. For our first recipe from this new cookbook, we decided to adapt one of the recipes involving the skillet, Scallops with Sesame Bok Choy. What we wanted to do was make the sesame bok choy and serve it with something else. Having dutifully seasoned our newly purchased pan, we then realised that it would be unwise to use it in its maiden usage for this recipe since it involved a certain amount of liquid that included some lime juice; one isn’t supposed to use cast iron cookware with liquids, especially acidic liquids, until it is very well seasoned. So instead we made the sesame bok choy on the stovetop. Essentially what happens is sesame seeds and garlic are briefly fried in sesame oil. Then the baby bok choy are placed in the pan, and a marinade from the scallops in the original recipe, containing soy sauce, fish sauce, honey, kecap manis, lime juice and rind, and grated fresh ginger, is poured over. Here’s a picture of the bok choy cooking:

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To go with the bok choy, we re-created the short rib dish we made previously with my father-in-law, marinated in dark soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, rice wine, and ginger. Here’s the finished dinner served on top of some rice:

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So unfortunately we didn’t manage to use our newly acquired cast iron pan on this particular occasion.

In the past, we’ve found that making cornbread is a really good way to break in a cast iron pan and develop the non-stick surface, so we decided to make some cornbread on the barbecue. After heating up the pan on the grill with some oil in it, we poured the batter in. Here’s a picture of the cornbread nearing completion, with some vegetable packages cooking on the side:

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After taking the cornbread off the grill, we decided that it wasn’t quite done, so we briefly finished it off under the broiler while the rest of the dinner was cooking on the barbeque. To go with the cornbread, along with the vegetable packets, we barbequed some pork ribs. I’m not ashamed to admit that when we make barbequed ribs, we first boil the ribs, with a sliced onion and a sliced lemon, before finishing up on the grill with the sauce — though I’m sure barbeque afficionadoes would be horrified that we don’t actually slow cook them. It’s just so much easier! I’m also not ashamed to admit that we use a bottled sauce, President’s Choice Memories of Dad’s Grill, flavoured with maple syrup. It’s just so damn good! Here’s the finished dinner, with some boiled corn on the side:

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So finally we managed to use our dedicated barbeque cast iron pan. It’s starting to come along now; hopefully soon we won’t have to worry about what we cook with it.

The final dinner of this compendium post uses another recently acquired cooking gadget, the slow cooker. It also involves another new cookbook borrowed from my mother: Judith Finlayson’s The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes. The particular recipe we made was a traditional Mexican dish, Snapper Vera Cruz:

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First, onions, garlic, oregano, ground cinnamon and cloves, and finely chopped jalapeño pepper are briefly sautéed in oil on the stovetop. Then a can of diced tomatoes and some clam juice is added to the pan and brought to the boil. Once boiling, this mixture is then poured into the slow cooker:

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In the last twenty minutes of the cooking, thinly sliced snapper fillets are added, along with some lemon juice. Finally, capers and sliced olives are added. It was a very good dish, and we can’t wait to make some more slow cooker recipes!

Posted by Mark at 04:50 PM | Comments (2)

August 14, 2004

Gearcung

Well, it’s getting to that time of year when I have to prepare for the new academic term. At the beginning of the summer term, after over a month of not actually being in front of a class, I was quite excited at the prospect of teaching again. I guess it’s the performer in me. I have the same feeling again, though somewhat tempered by the thought of all the things I have yet to do.

This year I’m teaching Old English again, as well as, for the first time, Chaucer — and not Effective Writing again, which is a very time-consuming course. It will be great to teach Old English again because I’ve already built the course, and I’ll be able to fine tune it. All the fun but not too much work. I’m both excited and a little nervous about teaching Chaucer for the first time. Since my main area of research is Old English, not Middle English, I don’t have the same comfort level yet in Middle English as I do in Old English, but I’m having a great time reading up on Chaucer and preparing the class. And it will certainly be a great addition to my resumé.

I’ve ordered my textbooks now, with a few changes from last year. In the past, for Old English I’ve used Mitchell & Robinson’s A Guide to Old English, as most Old English teachers do. The biggest problem with this text is that it is very difficult for those who don’t have much of a background in language and grammar to use. If the students already had somewhat of a background in, for instance, Latin, it would be no problem, but the reality is that most students today have little formal training in Modern English grammar, let alone an inflected language like Latin. So instead, this year I’ve decided to try out Peter Baker’s Introduction to Old English, which has an accompanying website. This text is more geared to students who have no prior linguistic knowledge, but unlike Bruce Mitchell’s An Invitation to Old English & Anglo-Saxon England, it has a structured approach to learning the language. To supplement the anthology of texts contained in Baker’s text, I’m also using Pope & Fulk’s Eight Old English Poems, mainly because I also like teaching The Battle of Brunanburh and Deor, which aren’t included in Introduction to Old English. As supplements, like last year I’m also using The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, as well as translations of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Beowulf, specifically Michael Swanton’s and Roy Liuzza’s translations respectively.

As for the Chaucer class, the main text is The Riverside Chaucer, really the only choice. Apparently there is a soft-cover version, but it’s only available in the UK. I would love to have used it, to protect both the students’ wallets and backs from this weighty tome. Ah well. I spent a lot of time considering what supplementary text(s) to use and finally settled on Robert P. Miller’s Chaucer: Sources and Backgrounds, which contains excerpts from parallels and sources to a variety of Chaucer’s works. I also wanted to use some kind of commentary volume, but given the expense of the two other texts, I only added a recommended text, The Cambridge Companion to Chaucer. I’d be curious to know what others think of these textbooks.

Now I have to put together the syllabus for each of my classes, so there’s still a lot of planning to do. It’s funny, I’m almost as excited as I used to be when I was a student about to start new classes. I enjoy teaching — being in front of a class is so much fun — and I love the material I’ll be teaching this year. Now if only all my other work would fall into place…

Posted by Mark at 03:27 PM | Comments (0)

Because we can can can

We’ve been quite busy canning lately (as you can read here, here, and here). I have three new preserves to write about — Raspberry Natural Summer Fruit Jam, Kincades Lime Mint Jelly, and Rhubarb Chutney — the first two of which are again taken from the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving and the last of which is modified from a number of recipes we found online.

The first recipe, Raspberry Natural Summer Fruit Jam, begins with making an apple sauce by boiling some chopped apples, including the cores, with a small quantity of water. A lemon is peeled and juiced, and the remaining pulp is then chopped and added to the apples. Once the apples are cooked, the sauce is sieved and then returned to the pan along with some raspberries and the lemon peel:

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This is brought to the boil and the sugar is added gradually. Then the lemon juice is added. Next the jam is removed from the heat, the peel is discarded, and the rather messy jar filling takes place. Here’s the finished product:

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We filled six 250 mL jars and five 125 mL jars, which is about 2.5 cups more than the recipe was supposed to produce, just like our last recipe.

Next we made the Kincade’s Lime Mint Jelly, largely because — as is often the case with those who have herb gardens — we have so much damn mint! This recipe uses liquid pectin to cause the jelly to set. First the limes are peeled and juiced and the mint is finely chopped. The zest and the mint is boiled in water and allowed to steep:

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The mint infusion is then strained through a cheese cloth and returned to the pan. At this point the sugar, crème de menthe, and lime juice is added, and the mixture is further boiled. Then the mixture is removed from the heat and the liquid pectin is added. After the jars were filled, this is what we were left with:

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This time we got seven 250 mL jars and four 125 mL jars, about a cup less than we were supposed to.

And finally, we made our first chutney of the year, Rhubarb Chutney:

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This chutney was made with rhubarb, onions, raisins, apple, brown sugar, and cider vinegar, and seasoned with salt, allspice, coriander seeds, minced ginger, garlic, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, and lovage (another herb we have far too much of). This produced five 236 mL jars and one 125 mL jar. There are a whole bunch of other chutneys we want to do, along with lots of other preserving, so stay tuned…

Posted by Mark at 02:04 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2004

Lac Vert

Last weekend, my wife and I went up to her parents’ cottage, our only real vacation this summer. You can read my wife’s account of our weekend here, and see some photos not included in my post. Here’s a picture of the cottage from the back, which my wife didn’t use:

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Among the cottage activities were a cut-throat game of Scrabble won handily by my father-in-law Ian — I came in a distant second — much music, much eating, and some swimming and lounging on the beach reading. Here’s a view from the beach:

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I brought up with me my baritone ukulele and my guitalele, knowing there would be guitars already there. Here’s a picture of me noodling on the baritone:

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Among other things, we played songs from the two books I had put together containing songs suitable for the ukulele and 50’s rock and roll tunes. Here’s a selection of photos (1, 2, 3, 4).

Dinner on Saturday night was a spit-roasted suckling pig, already described by my wife. Here’s a picture of Pete enjoying his birthday pig:

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On Sunday we had barbequed rabbit, which you can see on the table in this picture, the remains of which became a wonderful rabbit stew for Monday’s lunch. Also worthy of mention is a frittata that Aven’s grandmother, Aven, and I made for lunch on Sunday. Made from a variety of ingredients we happened to have on hand (1, 2, 3), the frittata was first fried on the stovetop before being baked and then broiled. That and a cold beer made for a nice lunch.

It was a much needed relaxing weekend, and hopefully these photos give some sense of the experience. I’ll finish off with a photo of Saturday night’s bonfire which, I think, ideally captures the cottage mood:

firecottage.jpg

Posted by Mark at 03:55 PM | Comments (0)

Gebrocen sweg

Having recently seen Sting perform at the ACC, I decided that the next book from my bed-side pile would be Sting’s Broken Music. A dear friend of mine went to meet Sting earlier this year and got an autographed copy of his book, which she very sweetly gave to me knowing what a Sting fan I was.

I was actually a little surprised at how well written the book was. Many first-time writers who are famous for some other persuit don’t come across so well. I found Sting’s book to be quite gripping, if somewhat disturbing at times. He’s certainly a very intelligent man. The book deals mainly with Sting’s life before he became famous, the realities of growing up in the north of England in the 50’s and 60’s and the building of his musical career in the 70’s. I suppose those who aren’t particularly Sting fans won’t be drawn to the book, but it’s actually quite interesting because of the world he writes about.

Reading this book (along with a number of other factors) has certainly made me want to have more music in my life. It’s something I’ve put aside for a number of years now, but I’m coming to realise that sometimes one has to make time for things.

Posted by Mark at 03:48 PM | Comments (0)

August 06, 2004

Dysig

Well, I can’t help but feel somewhat insulted by this one. Though I don’t mind the drunk part so much…

You would have been the local fool/drunk.
Village Idiot/ Jester:
You lack ambition. You would have been the local
fool/drunk.


Who would you be in a Medieval Village?
brought to you by Quizilla

Posted by Mark at 12:13 AM | Comments (1)

Orðanc II

And now the answer to the question I posed the other day: it’s a setup for drying herbs, specifically in this case (as Madhava indicated, though I suspect solely from the file name of the image) mint.

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It’s a box fan with herbs from our garden (as I said specifically in this case mint, both leaves and flowers) sandwiched between air filters weighed down with some cans. The idea is the extra air circulation allows the herbs to dry much faster. We first did it with two layers, but I think our air filters are don’t permit enough airflow to allow more than one layer of herbs, as the process was somewhat slower than expected. We’re tried it again with only one layer and achieved bone-dryness in about a day.

This brilliant invention is not ours, but in fact comes from Alton Brown. Incidentally, have a look at the latest entry (June 30th) in Alton’s blog for a very amusing photo.

Posted by Mark at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2004

Nænig onfand þone catt

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As I mentioned before, the next book on my reading list was No One Noticed the Cat by Anne McCaffrey, pictured above with my cat Tigger. Actually, the only reason I read this book was because my wife, who is a big McCaffrey fan, got it out from the library, and since I’m such a cat fanatic I decided to read it too.

It’s actually more of novella than a novel, and only took me a short amount of time to read. It was reasonably enjoyable and diverting to read, but it did remind me of why I’m not a big fan of such fantasy books. They have no grounding in reality and yet are so clearly patterned after an unreal, romantic notion of a nondescript, mythical past. What turns me off even more is that such books often take themselves far too seriously. And in this case, there wasn’t nearly enough cat in it. I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as I did Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, which didn’t take itself too seriously and contained an awful lot of cat.

Posted by Mark at 10:59 PM | Comments (0)

Heorot

Yesterday I went to the gym for the first time in over two years. In the early days of working on my PhD, I did manage to go to the gym a bit, but once I really got into the thick of the dissertation writing, exercise was one of the first things to go. Somehow I never managed to get back into it over this past year of teaching, but I’m hoping that now that I’ve managed to start up again I’ll be able to keep it up over this next year.

I really ought to given how much I’m paying for this. Since I’m no longer a student, I no longer get free use of the Hart House athletic facilities, so I had to buy a membership (fortunately discounted to recent graduates). At least I get towel service with my membership (something students have to pay extra for), and since I’ve now also got a permanent locker, this should all be relatively easy for me.

Incidentally, I know people always say that if you get regular exercise, you will feel more energetic. Well this has never been true with me. While I’m sure I’m much healthier, exercising does seem to lower my energy level.

Posted by Mark at 10:47 PM | Comments (1)

August 03, 2004

Orðanc I

What is this strange contraption and what is it used for? Send your guesses in and stay tuned for the exciting answer…

dryingmint.jpg

Posted by Mark at 04:28 PM | Comments (1)

With rhubarb my jar is laden

For our second preserve of the year (see my account of our first here and my wife’s account of our canning activities here), we decided to make use of the rhubarb from our garden and made gingered citrus-rhubarb jam, another long-boil jam with no added pectin. This recipe sounded so interesting and so yummy, we just couldn’t resist.

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Again, the process was rather simple. In a large pot we put chopped rhubarb, orange peel and juice, lime peel and juice, sugar and grated fresh ginger, and then boiled it. Once the jam was boiled down to the right consistency, we went through the usual canning process. Since this time used both the larger 250 mL jars and the smaller 125 mL jars (five of each), we also had to use the make-shift insert for our canning kettle. We’ve found the the small jars don’t work too well with the usual rack in the kettle — they tend to fall through to the bottom — so we got a wire fruit basket for this purpose, which you can see in this picture:

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It is also interesting to note that we seemed to produce 2.5 cups more jam than the recipe said. Not quite sure why.

[Note: My apologies to A.E. Houseman whose lovely poem I sorely mistreated in the title of this entry.]

Posted by Mark at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2004

All the world's a stage...

And now for the conclusion of my account of my father-in-law’s Toronto visit and our “typically” Toronto activities. Again, those not interested in these types of blog entries can stop reading this rather long entry now, though this entry also has a decidedly literary focus…

On the Monday of his visit, Ian entertained himself with some tree-seeing at Mount Pleasant Cemetery and other family visiting while my wife and I caught up on some work, but on the Tuesday — Ian’s last day in town — we had a number of activities. Since it was Ian’s birthday, we took him out for a sushi lunch — certainly a typically Toronto activity — to New Generation Sushi, our favourite sushi restaurant. It seems, at least amongst our friends, that people break down into different camps depending on which Bloor Street sushi restaurant they prefer. One group prefers Sushi on Bloor, while my wife and I prefer New Generation. (There are also a number of other sushi restaurants on the Annex stretch of Bloor; anyone else want to name a favourite?)

After lunch, Aven and I got to work on the provisions for our evening activity, to wit we made a picnic dinner to bring with us to the Dream in High Park production of As You Like It. The main dish was Coronation Chicken from Great British Cooking by Jane Garmey. The dish, a cold, curried chicken invented in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, is purported to have been enjoyed by the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting in a stolen moment during the rather long ceremony at Westminster Abbey. Since the recipe calls for cooked chicken, we poached some chicken breasts which we then cut up into small pieces. The sauce was made by sautéing onion and curry powder in some olive oil, and then adding chicken stock, tomato paste, lemon juice, and mango chutney and simmering. We then puréed the mixture in the blender, and completed the sauce by adding mayonnaise and cream. The side dish we made was a mango salad that also contained raisins, cashew nuts, mint, coriander powder, asaphoetida powder, and powdered chilli, and the chicken was served on basmati rice:

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Here’s a picture of Ian and Aven enjoying our picnic dinner in the Dream in High Park amphitheatre before the show:

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It was only later that we realised we perhaps more appropriately could have made something from Eating Shakespeare by Betty & Sonia Zyvatkauskas, a cookbook containing various renaissance dishes. Nevertheless, the dinner we did make was excellent and always one of my favourites.

Our time was only slightly dampened by a brief rain shower, which is quite fortunate given the severe thunderstorm warning. And most fortunately the rain had mostly passed by the time the show started.

The play itself was very good. (You can read my wife’s brief account here.) The acting was quite good, particularly the female lead Allana Harkin in the role of Rosalind. Also worthy of special mention is the fun music in a 50’s style — the play was reset in a 1950’s setting which also made for good costuming options — composed by Marek Norman. I thought perhaps more could have been done with the homosexual undertones of the play. There is, of course, always an interesting irony in Shakespearean plays which feature cross-dressing in the plot since all the female characters were played by cross-dressed boys in Shakespeare’s time. In current productions, which feature female actors, it seems a good opportunity to explore these sexual undercurrents in a different way. Then again, perhaps such heavy handed directing would be out of place in a play written for light entertainment (though there are definitely not-so-hidden depths, for instance the character Jaques). In any case, it was a thoroughly enjoyable production and quite appropriately staged in High Park due to the thematically important setting of the Forest of Arden. Here’s a picture of the beautifully lit stage:

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Is it really geeky of me to be quite interested to know more about Shakespeare’s sources, which apparently draw heavily on Robin Hood material?

Posted by Mark at 01:56 PM | Comments (0)