Saturday, September 26, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another opening to another show

September brings a new season of shows at the UNB Art Centre at Memorial Hall. Tonight they unveiled Neurotica: a journey into the obsession of the mind.... by SilverFish Photography Collective.

SilverFish is a diverse group of Fredericton photographers who exhibit together usually a couple of times a year. They work with a variety of techniques and equipment from digital and Polaroid, vintage equipment and mixed media. For this show 10 photographers took on the challenge of obsessions - with the mundane and the bizarre, with beauty, with sex and with self.

The result is a cohesive show thas still allows each artist's own voice and style to come through.

Loving Rachel Brodie's pieces exploring the love of and fear of home.

It was interesting to see Chris Giles' work in digital. More accustomed to seeing him explore older techniques.
My lovely and amazing friend Lori Quick not only mounted the show and designed and produced the catalogue, she's also one of the SilverFish photogs. She first told me of her idea for this show over coffee back in February or March. It's wonderful to watch a piece grow from an idea through to a fully-realized installation. Lori explores our obsession with beauty. Across the mirror are the little questions and self-doubts thast fill our heads, particularly as women. On the dressing table are flip-books of photographs detailing all those rituals we go through in our obsessive pursuit of perfection.

I love that Lori so frequently brings an interactive element to her work, inviting viewers to become participants.

A portait of the artist and her mother. You can check out Neurotica at Mem Hall until October 23.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Autumn's Here

A morning meeting at the Crowne Plaza provided a good excuse for a morning walk along the river...

How do people live in places without changing seasons?

Glad the clock on City Hall is working again...

I can't imagine living somewhere land-locked. It's not the ocean but the St. John River is alright by me.

Monday, September 21, 2009


J. B. Priestley was a self-confessed grumbler. “Probably,” he wrote, “I arrived here a malcontent, convinced that I had been sent to the wrong planet. I was designed for the part, for I have a sagging face, a weighty underlip, what I am told is a ‘saurian eye,’ and a rambling yet resonant voice from which it is difficult to escape. Money could not buy a better grumbling outfit.”

In the 1940s, the born grumbler had fallen in love with someone who was not his wife, his marriage was crumbling, he suffered a colossal flop at the theatre and much of his public writing was a grumpy criticism of the austerity of post-war England. But despite all of this - or perhaps because of it - in 1949, he published Delight a collection of essays capturing the wonder and beauty of everyday life.

He begins with Fountains (“I doubt I ever saw one, even the smallest, without some tingling of delight.”). He meanders on to the sound of a football… walks in pine woods… new boxes of matches… streets like stage sets… preparing for old age and the Delight that never was; in total 114 little meditations on delightful things.

I first discovered Delight a dozen or so years ago buried in the stacks of the Vaughan Memorial Library when I was a student at Acadia. In the intervening years, I have, every so often, tried to locate it but inexplicably it seems to have been out of print for several years in the U.S. and Canada. From office to office I carried a Xeroxed copy of my favourite chapter: Making Writing Simple (“any man who thinks the kind of simplicity I attempt is easy should try it for himself, if only in his next letter to the Times.”) But Delight in its totality eluded me.

Enter the wonderful folks at Powells books. Today I arrived home to discover a brown paper package peeking out of my mailbox (delight!). Inside was a 60th anniversary edition of Delight published this year in the UK. There they were, like old friends: “Detective stories in bed” and “Mineral water in bedrooms of foreign hotels”, “Locusts I have known” and “Making stew” and on and on.

Being re-united with a favourite book? Pure Delight.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ingredients for a Lovely Fall Sunday

10. First edition of The Amateur Naturalist's Handbook

9. Writing cards and letters
8. Purple asters everywhere

7. a cookie jar full of Tollhouse cookies

6. Freshly-laundered quilts

5. The smell of woodsmoke
4. Latin chicken & rice with olive salsa and avocado sour cream
3. Phone calls home
2. Diamond silk & merino yarn

1. The music of Alexi Murdoch

Now off to the less lovely fall ritual of combing seed pods out a squirmy pup's curls...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Comforts of Home-Cooking

I love new recipes. I really do. But there comes a point, usually around the beginning of autumn, when coming home and preparing Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Breasts with Eggplant Panzanella and Raisin-Pine Nut Vinaigrette just seems a bit much.

In my quest to get back to basics, I headed for my oldest cookbooks. There was my grandmother Allaby’s copy of Lily Wallace’s New American Cookbook, circa 1945, stuffed with her notes and held together with packing tape. (Turns out I’ve inherited her habit of ticking off the recipes I’ve tried.) There was my mother’s Betters Homes and Gardens Creative Cooking series from her early years of marriage. Techinicolor and vaguely terrifying, this series had chapters like “High Society Suppers with Franks & Burgers!” and “Meals Men Like.” (hmmm… perhaps I should dog-ear that one for later…)

And, of course, the pi├Ęce de resistance: the Grand Manan Cookbook. This cookbook was compiled by the local Hospital Auxiliary back in, well, back in a time when people belonged to cookbook-publishing Hospital Auxiliaries. So I thought: why not borrow a page from Julie and Julia and cook my way through this? This seemed like a smashing idea until I randomly opened to my first recipe: Eudervilla Morse’s recipe for “Pork Cake.” Now I’m sure Eudervilla was a lovely person known far and wide for her culinary skills but I could not possibly make a cake that began with the instructions: “Put salt pork through food chopper.” The facing page was no help. Mabel Richardson had contributed a recipe for something called “Husband Cake”. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what I’d be expected to put through the grinder for that one…
(Incidentally, no grinder was required. Tomato soup did, however, play a starring role. Tomato soup cake would not do.)
So as I usually do when in a pinch (culinary or otherwise) I turned to my family. They wouldn’t let me down. And sure enough, there’s no place like home and no recipes like home-cooking.
I started with one of my mom’s go-to weeknight dishes: Souper Skillet Pasta. As the spelling suggests, this recipe came courtesy of the folks at Lipton as a vehicle for their onion soup mix. The night I cooked it, I excitedly emailed my mom to tell her. The response came back: “Which one was that again?” Which one was that?! To me, the name alone conjured up vivid memories of afternoons with the sun low in the sky, coming home from piano lessons or doing my lessons at the kitchen table. How could my mother not remember? Of course, as soon as I described it she said, “Oh, yes, I can almost smell the kitchen in the old house in Seal Cove.”

Then came my grandmother Ingalls’ chicken pot pie and batches of ginger snaps. A few weeks ago I revisited my mother’s beef stroganoff. My mom and I polished off the leftovers during lunch at my kitchen table the next day. “I have to start making this again,” she said. “I forgot how good it is.”

That’s the thing about this time of year. You get to remember how good it all is.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Look to the cookie.

There’s just something about autumn in New York. I know at least a half a dozen people who have gone to the Big Apple in the past couple of weeks. And while a stroll through Central Park, shopping at Henri Bendel or a cannoli in Little Italy is not on my agenda any time soon, I can at least bake the quintessential New York biscuit: the black-and-white cookie.

In the beginning the black-and-white cookie was created as a way for bakeries to use up their extra cake batter. In texture and consistency they’re really more of a spongy little cake than a typical cookie.

I bought my last black-and-white cookie at William Greenberg Bakery on Madison Ave. I ate it in a yellow taxi on my way to Laguardia after a pre-Christmas weekend in Manhattan last year. William Greenberg’s black-and-whites are some of the best around but the folks at Zabar’s on the Upper West Side are no slouches either. This, if the internets are to be believed, is their recipe.

Get ready.

Put on some Woody Allen movie music. Nothing puts me in a NY state of mind like this.

Preheat your oven to 375. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper (or grease them but, really, if you bake and haven’t invested a couple of dollars in a roll of parchment paper what are you waiting for? You will thank me.)

The cookies.
(have all your ingredients at room temperature)

1 ¾ cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp lemon extract
2 ½ cups cake flour
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

Cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add eggs, milk, vanilla and lemon extract. Mix until smooth.

In a separate bowl combine the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt.

Add dry ingredients to wet mixture in batches mixing to blend after each addition. Remember: this is going to look more like a thick cake batter than cookie dough.

Place spoonfuls about 2” apart on the sheets. (A true black-and-white cookie is an enormous and overwhelming thing. I find an ordinary dessert spoon creates a nice medium-size cookie that’s not too much but not so tiny that you’ll go bananas before you finish frosting them.)
Bake until edges begin to brown, 15-18 minutes. This is a good time to forget everything your mother ever taught you about salmonella and lick the batter off the beaters.

Cool cookies completely before frosting.
The Frosting.

4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/3 to ½ cup water
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 tsp corn syrup
1-2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
Boil a cup or so of water. Place the sugar in a large heat-proof bowl. Stir in about 1/3 to a ½ cup of boiling water to create a thin icing. (Be careful not to thin it too much! Because then you will have to add more sugar. And then more water. And then more sugar until you end up with enough icing to cover everything in the kitchen including your dog. This is bad.)
Frost half the flat side (i.e. the “bottom”) of all the cookies.
Place the bowl over the pot of boiling water to create a double boiler. Stir in the chocolate and the corn syrup. If you find the icing isn’t as dark as you want, add a little cocoa.

Ice the remaining halves of the cookies. If you find the icing getting dry, just whisk in a teaspoon of hot water to bring up the sheen again. Let the icing set.

Because these are little cakes, they will get stale more quickly. Store in an airtight container, share with friends and polish them off within a couple of days.
And Jerry Seinfeld is right. The key to eating the black-and-white cookie is to get a little of the both sides in each bite.
Look to the cookie, Elaine. Look to the cookie.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Blank notebooks and fresh starts...

It should surprise exactly no one that as a child I loved the first day of school.

There were new outfits – who cared that the day before I was running around barefoot in shorts and a summer tee? School was starting and that meant kilts or wool blazers or new pullovers.
There were friends to catch up with. The atmosphere aboard the bus would be electric; as if we hadn’t all just seen each other that weekend at the pool or Sunday School or the corner store. We would carry on as if there were years of news to share.

There were blank Hilroy notebooks neatly labeled for each subject, freshly sharpened HBs and a perfectly even row of Laurentian coloured pencils. I would meticulously arrange the contents of my desk with everything at the ready should inspiration strike.

Never mind that within a mere weeks, I’d have a snag in my new sweater, my notebook would be covered in doodles, there would be tooth marks on my pencils from my nervous habit and my desk would be overflowing with looseleaf pages, old assignments and overdue library books.
But for that one morning in September, everything was brand new. Everything was perfect. And anything was possible.

It’s been 28 years since the first time I got on a yellow school bus. Children who weren’t born when I left high school are graduating this year. But when that first full week of September rolls around I still feel that sense of newness and perfection and possibility.
I was never much for making resolutions on January 1. To start anything new in January seems to me to be a fight against nature. Winter is hitting full force, the mercury is dropping and everyone’s exhausted from the whirl of holiday celebrations. In January, you don’t want “new”, you want familiarity – a treasured book and a down comforter… your mom’s beef stew…hot chocolate in your favourite pottery mug.

But September, oh glorious September! The sun is still warm but the air has a new crispness to it. Everyone is (hopefully!) refreshed from holidays. The nights are cool and even the stars are more sharply drawn into focus.
This is a season of change; a time to ready your home, your head and your spirit for the months ahead.
This is a season of possibility with new opportunities, new adventures stretching out before you.
This season of blank pages, sharpened pencils and fresh starts? This is my New Year.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Art & Crafts

Every year just before Labour Day weekend purple hands start showing up on the sidewalks of downtown Fredericton. Along with the FREX, the arrival of the university studenta and the change in the air, the New Brunswick Crafts Council's Fine Craft Festival is a sure sign that summer is drawing to a close.

The New Brunswick Crafts Council is the oldest council of its type in Canada. The Council organizes a number of events throughout the year mostly centred on their gallery space at Charlotte Street Arts Centre. But the highlight of the year is the first weekend in September when dozens of New Brunswick and Maritime crafts people and artisans descend on Officer's Square.

This weekend the sun was shining and the air was clear and warm. It was a great chance to enjoy a final summer weekend and admire the creativity of local craftspeople...

At the Festival I had the chance to stop and chat with my friend Shanie Stozek who is as lovely and charming as the pottery she creates. Mom, if you're reading this, I would not object to finding that blue-grey vase under the Christmas tree. Also on my wish list? One of her wonderful coffee mugs with bright patches of colour and cheerful sayings ("Dear Coffee, I like you.") AND they feel great when you hold them - a MUST for a favourite mug!

The Craft Festival may mean the end of summer, but have no fear, art-lovers, the fall gallery season is just getting underway. For me, the official kick-off was the Friday night opening at Ingrid Mueller Art + Concepts of two new shows: Stephen Williams' "Family Album" and Andrew Ross' wood-turned bowls and sculptures.

Ingrid has an impeccable eye and with her husband Peter's help, her shows are always terrific. If you're just starting to collect, this is the gallery for you. Ingrid represents well-known artists like Glen Priestley, Suzanne Hill and Phillip Iverson but her special talent is identifying emerging artists. She not only has a knack for spotting great potential, she's passionate about nurturing it.

She has the same enthusiasm for helping collectors connect with the right artist. When she says, "I have an artist you have to see", you can be confident she's right. But she'll never rush you. She won't let you a buy a piece unless she knows you love it. When I finally took the plunge on my first piece earlier this year, it was a coming-of-age moment.

Now I've been bitten by the bug and I've been eyeing Stephen Williams' work for most of the summer. Knowing that his pieces would be flying off the walls, Denis and I popped into the gallery during Thursday night's Culture Crawl for a sneak peek at the show.

Am I glad we did! There it was. A new little piece I hadn't seen before. Playful in colour and whimsical in subject matter; I had to have it! Love putting those little red dots on the tags.

When I went back for the opening Ingrid had already taken it down and wrapped it for me. "People kept asking about it. I was getting tired of telling them it was sold," she laughed. I could take that as a comment on my good taste but I suspect it's more of an indication that Ingrid has spotted another great artistic talent.

So the gallery season is underway with openings and artist talks nearly every week this month. September is the most wonderful time of the year!

Oh, and for those of you who love the Impressionists, there's a biggie coming up mid-month when the Beaverbrook plays hosts to the Impressionist Works from the National Gallery of Canada. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How I spent my summer vacation

And I'm back. It's been too long. So long in fact that today I actually mis-remembered my blog address. That, friends, is too, too long. However, I have decided that much like the stars of my favourite TV shows (hello, Tina Fey! Kiss, kiss, Jim Parsons!) I deserve a summer hiatus. Unlike the stars of my favourite TV shows I have not spent the summer getting boatloads of Emmy noms or growing a goatee. Here's a recap...

There were afternoon concerts in the parks.

And evening openings at the local galleries.

Fresh food from the market and the garden...

Lots of cousins to visit...

Luke and Denis came to play on my island - a great way to celebrate my birthday!

There was a LOT of kayaking...

.... and being amazed by nature...

... and treasure hunting.

Paolo Nutini and Diane Birch are now on repeat on my iPod. And to my amazement I can't get enough of Pete Yorn's duet with Scarlett Johansson.
So that, in a nutshell, was summer 2009. And you? How did you spend your summer vacation?