Monthly Archives: August 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea

The Weekly Photo Challenge theme “Sea” for this week is quite open to interpretation. Since I have been thinking a lot about the unrest in the Middle East this week, I go to my Holy Land photo album. I have picked pictures that show how blue and expansive the sea is.

The Sea of Galilee, Israel

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Looking out to the Mediterranean Sea from a bus, near Kos, Greece

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The Mediterranean Sea, from near Tel Aviv, Israeal

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Chicken Four Ways (Part 1)

I have been following many adult bloggers who talk about sending their kids back to school at the end of the summer. This is one of the few blogs by a young person I’ve been following to reassure us parents that some students do pay attention to what they eat. Enjoy!

Bea's Bites

One of the great things about summer as a student is having the time to experiment with new recipes. I am not a self-professed meat lover, and let’s face it, cooking grains or legumes is so much less pressure. That said I am happy to add these simple chicken recipes to my repertoire.

First I started with drumsticks. I made Shutterbean’s Honey Lime Drumsticks.  I marinated the chicken in a honey, lime and minced garlic for a couple hours. Next time I will marinate it for longer, at least overnight. I didn’t have a grill, so I roasted these in the oven at 400 F for about 45 minutes, until the chicken reached an internal temperature of 165F. Then I broiled them for a few minutes to get a grilled-look. These were quite tasty and the marinade was so easy to mix together. My goal for next summer is…

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Fungi Time

This must have been a good season for fungi, for I keep sighting mushrooms of various shapes, sizes and colours on the trails.

What is amazing though is that I discover that some of them are hard, suggesting that they somehow have hardened to endure the winter and continued their growth in the warmer seasons.

Fellow hiker-photographer Kenne has spotted fungi on his hikes too. Do check them out.

Weekly Photo Challenge: FOCUS

The theme Focus in the latest Weekly Photo Challenge is a challenging exercise in photography to me. My ever so talented blog friend Mrs. Carmichael just took out her camera and captured two beautiful images to illustration the theme.  Given the limitations of my camera, I have to rely on what I have taken by serendipity in my album. However, thanks to the features of Picasa, I hope I am getting closer.

Visiting the Big Buddha on Lantao Island, Hong Kong:

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The Three Goddesses:

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Peering through an arch in a inner city lane in Israel:
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Finally, enjoying a beer in Montreal:

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Symphony of A Thousand at the Brott Music Festival

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Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 is also known as the Symphony of a Thousand. Although there is no absolute requirement to have a thousand musicians to perform the piece, it certainly requires a considerably big orchestra and a choir to produce the desired musical force. The National Academy Orchestra (NAO) chose this piece to be the grand finale of their season at the Brott Music Festival. This was an ambitious project and I was among the audience to support the NAO in this performance at Hamilton Place, Hamilton, Ontario.

In this composition, Mahler departed from the conventional form and divided the symphony in only two parts. He composed his music to the 9th century hymn Veni Creator Spiritus (“Come, Creator Spirit”) in Part I and for Part II, the words came from the closing scene (Act V, Scene 7) of Goethe’s Faust. I knew neither Latin nor German, and so I was delighted to  receive a copy of the words with English translation with my programme notes.

The first part featured Apprentice Conductor Brandan Hagan, who led the orchestra and the combined Arcady Singers and Junior Arcady Singers to a powerful and convincing performance. The baton was handed over to Maestro Boris Brott after the intermission. Maestro Brott guided the audience in a journey through the penitent and the mystical passages to the climax of the symphony. The brass instruments blared and thus announced the triumph of the human spirit and salvation (of Faust’s and all humankind) made possible by a woman’s love.

The vocal parts were beautifully sang by the soloists. The sopranos made it look easy when they sustained their parts in high range with superb tonal control, and all the voices, particularly the tenor, performed brilliantly over the might of the orchestra and choirs.

It was a dazzling musical feast with an orchestra about 100 strong and two hundred members in the choirs. The NAO brought back some of their graduates and the leadership came from professional musicians who took the principal parts. Concertmaster was Mark Skazinetsky, Associate Concertmaster with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Existing NAO members were undoubtedly mentored by a superb team. Although Mahler acknowledged that this was his “biggest” work, he never endorsed the number “a thousand”. I whole-heartedly enjoyed what I experienced with the NAO this evening.

I also liked the departure from the black attire orchestral members normally wore during performances. Female musicians wore colourful evening dresses which enlivened the mood. (They did the same when they played the Brandenburg Concerti.) After all, Mahler’s Symphony 8 rejoiced in the enlightenment of the human soul, and definitely it was not the most sombre and saddest of his symphonies. Besides, this was a summer music festival–Why not brighten our world with some colours?

The last note brought the audience immediately to a standing ovation. It was said that when Symphony 8 was first performed, the audience applauded for almost half an hour. This record had yet to be matched, but the NAO, the Arcady Singers and the Junior Choir were on their feet for over five minutes while the audience brought the conductor and soloists back on stage for three or four curtain calls. The NAO rounded up another triumphant season.

POSTSCRIPT

When I want to hear Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, this is my favourite YouTube clip, because Leonard Bernstein is one of my favourite conductors.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSYEOLwVfU8

House of Gourmet: A Chinatown Staple

Have you had the experience of walking aimlessly in town looking for a place to eat? This was what happened to me and my family in Chinatown on Spadina Street in Toronto recently. There were so many Chinese restaurants and we did not come here often enough to have a restaurant to always go to. What saved us was the rule of thumb that never failed: only go to a place to eat if there are a lot of people there. We peeped inside the House of Gourmet and this was what we saw:

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“This is safe to go in,” said my husband. Unlike some busy restaurants where we had to wait indefinitely for someone to show us where to sit, we were ushered to our table promptly, and the waiter came with the tea and the menu.

Another rule of thumb I use when I go for a Chinese meal is to pick what I do not normally make at home. For the four of us we ordered steamed eel with garlic and black bean sauce, stir fry neck of pig, roast duck and stir fried vegetables (tong choi) with bean curd.

The complimentary soup of the day, melon soup, was tasty, and so were the dishes we ordered. The eels were served steaming hot and the neck of pig was stir fried to perfection, bringing out the texture of the meat that it was known for. The skin of the roast duck was crispy and the meat tender. The vegetables were freshly in season. We enjoyed the food with plain rice and were utterly content.

When we left the restaurant, we were aware of its traditional setup with the take-out counter, where one could buy barbecue pork, roast pork and roast duck on one side and the open kitchen preparing noodles and dumplings on the other.

I shall feel comfortable to return to the House of Gourmet next time I look for a restaurant in Chinatown or to buy take-out. I may even consider it to be my Chinatown staple.

The House of Gourmet, 484 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario.

House of Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Weekly Photo Challenge: CAREFREE

I took this picture when I was in Macau: the cycle rickshaw man lit his cigarette and he looked so relaxed in his cart. “How carefree, ” I thought.

So for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, I look through my photo album to find this image to share with you. Hope you are enjoying some carefree moments too.

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Public Art On The Trails

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Other than enjoying nature’s beauty on my walks or hikes, I also notice a myriad of public art. They are usually simple, neat artistic creations, some likely commissioned by the city to decorate open spaces, yet others are contributions by unknown artistic talents who want to express themselves on the trails. They always attract me to slow down and admire the details. Here are my recent collection to share with you.

Hiking on Toronto Islands

If you are looking for a place for a walk or hike in downtown Toronto, you should go to Toronto Islands. Toronto Islands are a group of small islands off Toronto Harbour. The islands are off-limits to public traffic and are accessible only by ferries from the pier at the base of Bay Street, south of Union Station.

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This is where our journey begin. My hiking group takes the vehicular ferry, which carries services vehicles and cyclists across to Hanlan’s Point. I look back at the city and get a good view of how the CN Tower dominates the skyline. The sky is blue and it is a beautiful day for a hike.

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We approach the Hanlan’s Point docking area and on landing, the statute of Edward Hanlan in his swimming trunk and holding his rowing paddle greets us to his home. (I have since looked up on who Hanlan was. He won five world sculling championships consecutively between 1880 and 1884 and therefore probably deserved to be remembered by this larger than life-size statue.)

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Our group head across the grass towards the sandy path which takes us to Hanlan’s Point Beach.

During this hike, we either walk on the beach on the south side Centre Island, the biggest of the islands or keep to any path that runs along the shore, which sadly has taken the toll of erosion due to its exposure. Slabs of stone are piled up on some beaches to break up the waves as a preventative measure.

When we reach the “clothing optional area” (aka the nudist section of Hanlan’s Point Beach), we hurry on so as not to disturb the naturists who are sunbathing on the beach. To be honest, I much prefer the view towards the horizon.

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We are back walking on the path (Lakeshore Avenue) and shortly after we pass Gilbraltar Point Lighthouse, the look-out pier is in sight with its stone dyke –another measure to protect the shoreline.

This is time for a break–we stroll on the viewing platform and enjoy our packed lunch by the ponds in the garden.

Then it is time to pick up the pace again. It is a pleasant walk on the Broadwalk, which leads us to Ward’s Island at the far eastern end of the islands. From this direction, I can see planes taking off and landing at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which is used by private aircraft and Porter’s Airline.

On Ward’s Island is one of the two residential areas–the other is on Algonquin Island–on Toronto Islands. It is disappointing to see some houses that badly need attention and repairs, but one has to look into the history of the governance of the properties on the Islands, an anomaly which will shock many people.

But don’t drag me into politics; let me enjoy and complete my hike. It does not take long to reach the ferry dock at Ward’s Island, and I can take a ferry for passengers. By now, the sky has changed and is clouding over. I am glad our group has completed our hike under the best condition one could hope for.

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Related Post for another city hike:
Hiking on City Trails in Oakville: https://opallaontrails.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/hiking-on-city-trails-in-oakville/

A Word A Week Photo Challenge: BISECT

A Word in Your Ear  has announced “Bisect” to be the theme for this week. I have re-cropped my pictures to tackle this challenge, but it turns out to be interesting looking at the resulting images that do not apply the one-third rule in composition.

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I quite like this last one, because it can be perceived as “bisect and bisect again”.

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Sonel’s Black and White Photo Challenge: TEXTURE

Sonel has given us a theme that catches the imagination this week : Texture I find it interesting because ‘texture’ is not normally experienced by sight alone, as often it is perceived by our tactile sense–you have to feel it too. My first interpretation takes on the rock surface of a cliff.

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Then, a close-up of a rocky surface. Even when looking at a picture, one has to evoke the tactile memory to appreciate the texture.

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My second interpretation is the texture of food in my mouth. This is a carrot cake–imagine you are tasting the smooth drop icing…

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then you taste the cake. Feel the texture in your mouth, moist and soft.

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Next comes the peach crumble. The texture is different here. The crumble part is slightly “grainy” with the oatmeal, which blends well with the soft peaches which melt in your mouth.

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The ultimate experience is tasting the dried fruit cake at Christmas. Imagine feeling the a piece in your mouth and discover the texture of the cake and the morsels of fruits. Hmm….

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Visit Sonel’s site for more:

<a href=”https://opallaontrails.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/1-dsc02242.jpg”><img src=”https://opallaontrails.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/1-dsc02242.jpg?w=625” alt=”1-DSC02242″ width=”625″ height=”362″ /></a>

Book Club Review: The Sense Of An Ending, Julian Barnes

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It was my turn to host the book club and I had chosen Julian Barnes’s Man Booker Prize winning novel The Sense of An Ending. When I read the book last year, prior to my decision that it would be my book club pick, I came to the last but two pages, and the ending took me by surprise. I said to myself, “Did I miss something?” and I re-read the book–it was only 150 pages long. I then decided that it would be the book I would share with my friends.

Later I came across a review by Geoff Mak, who commented that “The Sense of An Ending has gained itself a reputation for being the novel you must read twice”, and the director of the 2012 Man Booker Prize did so as well. It was very good to know that I was not alone.

At our book club meeting, I first asked my friends whether they found the ending a surprise and unanimously, nobody expected the twist, although one or two suspected that it might not be a straightforward ending. Our discussion quite naturally moved to  the mystery aspect of the book. We thought that Tony Webster was unreliable as a narrator.  He was forced to re-walk and rewrite his life history with he inheritance of the diary that belonged to his friend Adrian through the mother of his ex-girl friend Veronica. Adrian committed suicide after they finished school and parted ways. Even then, how much could he remember events of forty years ago, let alone recall them accurately? As one book club member opined, our memory was what we wanted to remember.

Not only that, a few of us echoed what Veronica kept commenting about Tony that he “just did not get it”, although we could not figure out what he did not get, because that would solve the puzzle regarding his relationship with Veronica, Adrian and Sarah Ford (Veronica’s mother).  We felt we had to accept the fact that this was Tony Webster, resigned and somewhat unable to understand relationship issues, struggling to remember what happened in his younger days. With our all-female member book club, we even ventured into generalizing that this could be a male perspective. As for Tony, the book gave the impression that he was constantly lost and uncertain about himself. Margaret, Tony’s ex-wife, continued to be his counsel and confidante.  We speculated that his weekend at Veronica’s home was significant, but our interpretations differed. One wondered about the imagery of Sarah flipping the egg and throwing it away, and its implication.  Another person read more into Veronica’s asking her brother Jack whether “this one (Tony) would do”.

The personality of Veronica did not appeal to us. Tony warned Adrian that she was “damaged goods”, but her personal history was sketchy in the book. She was spiteful after she had slept with Tony, and that was also after they had broken up. I wondered what the story would be like if Veronica was writing it.

It seemed that Tony had almost forgotten the vicious letter he wrote to Adrian, after Adrian told Tony about him and Veronica. He wanted to find out why Adrian had committed suicide. Veronica told him that the money bequeathed to him by her mother was “blood money”. However, the ending did not help us, who were trying to play sleuth. After all, Sarah Ford’s letter to Tony mentioned that Adrian died happy.

We were very involved in our discussion, and everybody attempted to create a version of exactly what had happened. This little book spanned Tony Webster’s life time from youth to retirement age, yet what was not written– except that he got married and then divorced– in between did not seem to matter. He was an ordinary fellow trying to make sense of his life.

Julian Barnes adeptly wove the class discussion of history into the theme of his book. It was Adrian who said, ” We need to know the history of the historian I order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.” (p.13). With Tony, who seemed uncertain at times about what exactly happened in his life, the irony rang home.

One thing was certain. Several book club members decided to re-read the book. Our discussion actually continued into the next day, when one person sent out an email giving yet another interpretation of what had happened in the plot. I could not be more pleased.

Weekly Photo Challenge: FORESHADOW

I am normally a fan of the bright blue sky, but to fit the theme “Foreshadow” of the Weekly Photo Challenge, I look for the darkest and the most ominous sky in my album.

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These pictures were taken during my walks, and on all occasions, the sky opened in less than five minutes. It started with a few spitting drops, then it drizzled and intensified to a constant downpour.  I was soaked by the time I reached my car. Looking back, these photo stirred me viscerally, and images that were foreshadowing a change of weather actually turned out to be foreboding ones.

Sonel’s Black and White Weekly Photo Challenge: UPWARD

I want to have a bit of fun in Sonel’s Black and White Photo Challenge this week. With “Upward”, I have tried to look for pictures which direct my line of vistion “upwards” in the composition, rather than objects that point upwards per se.

I find these pictures, taken from the same location but from slightly different angles. I am standing at the bottom of a cave in the outback of Australia looking up to the sky.

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Do you also find that you are looking upwards towards the opening of the cave?