Sunday, December 26, 2010


Still clear and cold here, with slanting sun that warms in the middle hours of the day, but only a little!

I've had a cold for the last week or so, a completely predictable consequence of flying to Toronto from Thailand at this cold- and flu-season time of year. Finally yesterday, Christmas morning, I felt light enough in myself to head out for a small jog. What a treat.

I headed out late, at about 9.30, for it took me awhile to assemble a cold-weather outfit. In the end I unearthed odd bits of ancient clothing: I had on green wind pants with cotton tights under, and a ratty silk long sleeved undershirt topped by a windbreaker; over that I layered a funky bright red vest I bought ages ago in France, and on my head a purple wool hat. A neighbour who saw me at the end of my run, sweaty and messy, said "the Christmas jogger!" so like an overdecorated Christmas tree did I look, in my red and green and every other colour combo.

The run felt easy (the first one after a break often does feel (deceptively) easy). Sidewalks were dry with only a few little patches of ice. There was dry cold snow on the grassy areas in the university, but only a little, so the grass showed through in patches.

There was no-one around, hardly a car on the road, and all shops were closed. The only people I met were the occasional person walking a dog, two other joggers, and a couple of people riding bicycles (brr!!). I called out "happy Christmas" to everyone. Some had headphones on, or were otherwise tuned out, but most greeted me back. I felt as if we had a special task to assert warmth of feeling in the cold air and bare streets.

When I got to Kensington Market, all deserted, I came across four or five different solitary guys. Each was hunched into himmself, alone-looking. I was reminded that when you are alone on a holiday day, when you have no family or friends around, and perhaps nowhere safe to stay, the big holidays are bleak indeed. And that's even more true on a cold day when everything is closed.

But on Baldwin Street in Kensington Market I finally came on a place that was open, a small independent coffee shop. "Espresso Bar: All Day Breakfast" it said on the outside. I went in, not because I wanted a coffee (I needed to keep moving to get home; I thought if I stopped I wouldn't be able to pick up and keep running afterward), but just to say hello and thank-you to the young women who'd opened for business, giving people a place they could go for company and warmth. We chatted briefly, and then as I headed back out, in through the door came one of the lonely street guys. "Coffee?" "Yes please" he said with feeling.

The rest of my day, once I reached home, was lived in warmth and comfort, starting with a hot bath, then cleaning and cooking, then welcoming friends and feasting on all that they and we had prepared. I was grateful to have had my morning out, a chance to move my body and take in lungfuls of fresh air, a chance to see the city stripped of its busy-ness for once, and a reminder not to take anything for granted...

I hope your week, the lovely blank of time between Chritmas and new Years, is rich with friends and new horizons.

And in case you are still in the mood for cooking something sweet for yourself or for friends, here's another easy recipe for a biscotti-like treat, adapted from a recipe in HomeBaking, a book I worked hard on and now find especially useful in wintertime! This recipe is for paximadia, Greek twice-cooked breads, but these are sweet, a Cretan version of paximadia, made with olive oil and flavoured with wine and spices. Very simple to make, very easy to eat, so though in theory they keep well, you won't have a storage issue!!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit and place a rack in the centre. Put out a large baking sheet. In a bowl stir together 1 cup of olive oil (preferably Greek) with 3/4 cup sugar (I like using demerara, for fun). Add the remaining ingredients and stir them in: 1/4 cup wine (white or red) and 2 tablespoons orange juice; 1 teaspoon each cinnamon and ground cloves; 1/2 teaspoon each baking powder and baking soda; and 3 cups all-purpose flour.

You'll have a pasty moist dough, a little crumbly. Turn it onto a work surface; cut it into four equal pieces. Shape each into a long flat loaf about 3/4 inch high, three inches across and eight or so inches long. Transfer to the baking sheet, lining them up side by side but not touching. With a knife or dough scraper make parallel cuts crosswise on each loaf, about 1/3 to 1/2 inch apart, and cutting down almost right through the loaf.

Place in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes, until firm. Take out and let cool for fifteen minutes, lower heat to 250, and cut through each slice mark to make individual cookies. Lay them on their sides (on one cut side in other words) and place back in the oven to bake for about 20 minutes, until very firm and dried out.

Let cool completely on a rack before storing in a cookie tin or jar.

I like dunking these in red wine, or eating them with a strong cheddar. They make a good house present too.

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