Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Solstice

Well, we did it. Once again, we've completed our journey to the shortest day of the year. Today, at 13:47 EST, you can raise your coffee mug to the cosmos. The winter solstice signals that from now until the end of June, every day will include a few more seconds of daylight. From this day forward, our frozen land will begin to thaw and new things will be coaxed into existence.

Lately, I've felt the appeal of hibernation. We've had our first below-zero weather of the season for the past week or so, and the few centimetres of snow that fell earlier in the month have solidified into ice. I bought my first proper winter coat, a shin-length down-filled monstrosity that, though a tad unwieldy, has proven very warm indeed. And even though I'm using my new cold-weather technology to move from place to place without becoming an icicle, all I really want to do is sit in my living room, fire crackling away in the hearth, and knit. I want to be surrounded by wool, feel it move through my fingers as I knit the world's largest afghan, big enough to cover its country of origin. All the while, elves will be busying themselves in my kitchen, brewing hot cocoa with cinnamon, baking spice cake spiked with brandy and softly singing hallelujah.

This is also the time of year I feel inclined to watch long, epic movies while wrapped in a blanket on the TV room sofa. Last year, I spent the requisite 14 hours to complete yet another viewing of the Lord of the Rings movies, and the year before, Byron and I unplugged the phone for several days while we blazed through the first three seasons of Lost. I don't know what I'll feel like watching this year, but come Boxing Day, the day after all our family holiday obligations are fulfilled, I'll have made my choice.

Whatever your holiday traditions, I wish you the best of everything. May your season contain visits with family and friends, great food and whatever makes you smile. See you in 2010.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Thanks to the greater Toronto area's significant Italian population, these lovely Christmas treats are in our grocery stores right now, so get them while there here. This seasonal Italian pastry is a sweet, light bread dotted with raisins and candied citrus peel. Traditionally, panettone is served with mascarpone cheese and a sip of fortified wine, but I like mine toasted with butter.

Panettone (sometimes called Pandoro) is usually packaged in big shiny boxes with ribbon loops at the top for hanging. You'll probably find them stacked high near other seasonal foodstuffs in your grocery store.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hello December

Hurrah! November is finally over. The bookends of winter, November and March, are the hardest months for me. November signals the beginning of the long haul, whereas March feels never-ending, as cold grey winter reluctantly makes its sluggish retreat.

This is a two-season city: warm and cold, or if you prefer, green and grey. This November has been unusually warm, perhaps delaying my acceptance of the inevitable. (I dreamed earlier in the month that it was mid-February and the ground had not yet frozen. I stood in the warm winter sun on green grass regretting that I had pulled out my annuals.) Yesterday, however, I awoke to frost on the grass and one degree weather. The freeze is on its way.

December, at least, has great food to its credit. The flavours of Christmas are my favourite of the year. I ate my first clementine orange yesterday and was reminded of the season. I love watching the oils mist in the air as I remove the peel. I'll be making Nigella's clementine cake again this year and can already taste its moist orange-scented goodness. I'll also try to recall how I made my stovetop Christmas cake, a concoction I threw together last December and of course didn't write down, but resulted in a beautiful, rich and boozy fruitcake that I'll desperately try to recreate for the rest of my life.

I'll also visit Sandra Juto's photo blog to remind myself to notice the beauty of winter. Her daily pictures of Gothenburg, Sweden, where she lives, are always astonishing in their simple aesthetic. Winter, there as here, has a lovely palette of muted, mixed greys, blues, greens and purples all perfectly complemented by the low dim light of the winter sky. This is the perfect backdrop to enjoy white steam rising from a cup of hot chocolate while wrapped in wool and sitting on a park bench.

November is always the hurdle. Now I'm settled in.