Archive | April 2015

Hans Christian Andersen

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.
― Hans Christian Andersen

Through My Lens: Golden Hour at the Palatine


I took this photo from the Palatine Hill, the centremost of Ancient Rome’s seven hills. It overlooks the Forum and is the oldest part of Rome.

My friends and I explored the Palatine ruins at the end of a full day of sight-seeing. The Golden Hour arrived just as we did, and the soft light gave the place a magic quality.

There are hundreds of wondrous and beautiful churches in the Eternal City, some of which have left me speechless and some of which have moved me to tears. But, to my mind, the Palatine is the most sacred and holy space in all of Rome.

Recipe Box: Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Before we get too far into spring, I need to fill you in on how I spent my non-winter.

(Because when one hasn’t the means for a mid-winter getaway, and there’s no snow to play in, how does one entertain oneself in Vancouver through a long non-winter that is most definitely not summer?)

Me? I entertain myself by taking French cooking classes. That way I enjoy some armchair travel (is it still considered “armchair” when you are run off your feet for three hours?) and learn something new about France.

This winter I chose a class focused on the food of Burgundy, and one of the dishes on the course syllabus was boeuf bourguignon.

Confession: I’ve never actually eaten boeuf bourguignon in France, but a friend made it for a dinner party she hosted in my honour before I headed off to spend the winter in Paris some years ago. It was my first encounter with the braised stew and it was delicious.

Like coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon is a former peasant dish that has made its way into fine dining; cheap (read: tough) cuts of meat are softened to a delicate texture by stewing them in wine.

The classic wine choice for making boeuf bourguignon is Pinot Noir, given that the prevalent grape grown in Burgundy is Pinot noir. My French cooking instructor provided us with BC Pinot to make our stew ― French wine was too dear for his budget. To speed up the cooking time, he had us cut the beef into smaller cubes, and cook the stew on the stove instead of in the oven.

Bon appétit!

Boeuf Bourguignon

3 pounds stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes
4 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh parsley
2 springs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 carrots
2 onions
1 bottle Pinot Noir
6 ounces bacon cut into lardons (1/4 inch wide and 1 1/2 inches long)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 crumpled bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
brown-braised onions (see below)
sautéed mushrooms (see below)


1. Peel 1 carrot and cut into sticks. Peel 1 onion and cut into quarters.
2. Place the beef in a large non-reactive bowl. Add the carrot, onion, garlic, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and wine. Marinade overnight. (Note: In my humble opinion, marinating the meat is optional. My French cooking instructor taught us to do it, but Julia Child doesn’t bother with this step.)
3. Preheat oven to 450°F.
4. In a large sauce pan, Dutch oven, or cocotte, brown the lardons in butter. Remove from pan.
5. Strain the beef and vegetables, reserving the marinade, then dry the beef cubes with paper towels.
6. Reheat the bacon fat until it is almost smoking, then brown the beef in the fat. (Note: My French cooking instructor tried to get me to stir the beef by shaking the pan with a forward motion to flip the cubes from back to front. It was a heavy pan. But if you can manage it, go for it. It will make you feel like a real chef.)
7. Remove the beef from pan and add it to the bacon.
8. Peel and slice the remaining carrot and onion. Brown them in the bacon fat, then pour out the fat.
9. Return the beef and bacon to the pan and sprinkle with the salt and pepper and flour to coat lightly.
10. Put the uncovered pan in the preheated oven for four minutes. Toss the meat, then return to oven for another four minutes. (This step cooks the flour and gives the beef a light crust. Do not skip.)
11. Remove the beef from the oven and turn the oven down to 325°F.
12. Stir in the reserved marinade (or bottle of Pinot Noir if you didn’t marinate the beef), and enough stock to just cover the meat.
13. Add the tomato paste, mashed garlic, and herbs.
14. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove, then cover and return to oven.
15. Braise the beef for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, checking to ensure the liquid is gently simmering. When the beef is tender, remove from the oven.
16. While the beef is in the oven, prepare the onions and mushrooms (see below).
17. Strain the beef from the liquid.
18. Skim any fat from the liquid remaining in the pan, and simmer for a minute or two. Bring to a boil and reduce to 2 1/4 cups. To thicken, it may be necessary to add beurre manié ― a paste made of equal parts butter and flour. Use a whisk to mix the beurre manié into the liquid.
19. Return to heat and simmer for a few minutes until sauce has thickened, then remove from heat.
20. Return the beef to the sauce to reheat. The onions and mushrooms can be added to the sauce or served on the side. Sprinkle chopped parsley over top and serve with oven-roasted or boiled new potatoes.

Braised Beef

Brown-braised Onions

12 to 18 white onions about 1 inch in diameter, or 24 pearl onions
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup stock, dry white wine, red wine, or water
salt and pepper
one herb bouquet (4 parsley springs, 1 bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth)

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, immerse the onions for about a minute, drain, then cut off the root and peel.
2. Place a skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. When hot, turn the heat down to moderate and brown the onions.
3. Add the liquid, salt and pepper, and the herb bouquet.
4. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are tender and the liquid has evaporated. The onions should retain their shape. Remove the herb bouquet.


Sautéed Mushrooms

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms (cut into quarters if large)
1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions (optional)
salt and pepper

1. Place a skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. When hot, turn the heat down to moderate and add the mushrooms. Remove from heat as soon as mushrooms are lightly browned.
2. If using shallots or green onions, add to the mushrooms, and sauté over moderate heat for 2 more minutes.


Happy Birthday to The Sound of Music!

Hohensalzburg Castle

Fifty years ago last month, The Sound of Music had its cinematic release ― and “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” has been an earworm plaguing moviegoers ever since. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched the film, but I have strong memories about a handful of viewings.

My first memorable viewing was, of course, the first one. It was on our small colour TV in our small family living room with my not-so-small family. I had to be coaxed into watching it ― for some reason, a movie about a not-so-small family in 1930s Austria did not interest me in the least.

My dad promised me I would love it.

Of course, I became an instant fan, besotted, as most kids are, by all those children in funny clothes and by all those catchy tunes.

Another memorable viewing of The Sound of Music was just last fall, when I had the privilege of introducing the film to my then three-year-old niece. She was captivated (if a bit confused) by the sight and sound of Mary Poppins singing “Do-Re-Mi” and her response when the last “So-Do” sounded was instantaneous.

“Again!” she commanded from her perch on my couch. I dutifully obeyed and rewound the film to the start of the song. When it was finished, she again called out, “again!”

You get the picture.

It took my sister, who arrived halfway through the movie, to do what I wasn’t able to ― convince my niece to continue watching past “Do-Re-Mi.” (Note that, being responsible aunts, we turned the TV off after the wedding scene and told her that was the end of the movie ― no need to traumatize a young child with scenes of goose-stepping Nazis.)

“The Lonely Goatherd” and “So Long, Farewell” proved to be big hits as well and that afternoon made me realize how timeless The Sound of Music is. My niece was just as enthralled with the film as I had been all those decades earlier.

My most recent viewing of The Sound of Music was a couple of weeks ago when I saw it for the first time ever on the big screen. I was shocked at the packed movie theatre ― as full as if the film were a new release ― and at how compelling I found the nearly three-hour film ― as if I were watching it for the first time. The entire audience burst into applause at the end.

But my most memorable viewing was in the city of Salzburg, where much of The Sound of Music was filmed. My friend and I were backpacking around Europe, making all the usual stops ― including Salzburg ― and doing all the usual touristy things ― including the obligatory “Sound of Music” tour of the filming locations. After the tour, we were dropped off at the youth hostel that hosted a daily screening of the film and we watched and laughed along with the rest of our tour group when all of the Salzburg locations we had just visited showed up on screen.

I live in Vancouver (aka Hollywood North) and am used to seeing my town turned upside down by film crews. For the past two weeks, one of the main routes out of the downtown core was closed to vehicle traffic during business hours to allow for the shooting of a scene from Ryan Reynold’s next action flick. Vancouverites put up with this kind of nonsense because we know how lucrative a successful film industry can be.

I suspect that the residents of Salzburg are just as OK with the tourist dollars that The Sound of Music has brought them. But my best guess is that none of them had any idea that the film would turn out to be one most commercially successful motion pictures of all time ― or that the hoards of pop-culture tourists such as myself would still be beating a path to their door some 50 years later.

Freighters in English Bay

English Bay (aka the waiting room to Canada’s largest and busiest port) always has a dozen or more freighters anchored in it. The ships wait there, sometimes for days, until it’s their turn to load or unload their cargo.

Because they are always there, I think of the freighters in English Bay as part of my landscape. I don’t pay much attention to them other than sometimes using them to add interest to a photo.

Until this week. On Wednesday night the M/V Marthassa, a Greek-owned bulk carrier on its maiden voyage from Korea, was anchored in the bay waiting to take on a load of grain when it began leaking bunker fuel. More than two tonnes of the stuff would go into the water before the leak was stopped. Within hours, some of that oil had reached the beaches.

I took a long walk along those beaches today to get a closer look at what was going on and to reassure myself that everything was all right.

It’s not.

But it will be.

This week was a wake-up call for me. I will never again take my beach and my bay ― or the freighters in the bay ― for granted.

English Bay Freighters Sunset

Happy Easter!

Detail of the Cloister of Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence, October 2007

Detail of the Cloister of Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence, October 2007