Posts Tagged With: Egg Nog

A Bespoke Christmas

Once upon a time, all my kid sister wanted for Christmas was “world peace.” (I’m sure this is still true.) However, she was also quite thrilled to get a Cabbage Patch Doll and the latest Babysitter Club books for her collection, in addition to world peace.

Our family has definitely shifted to the “experiential gifts” because we are truly want for nothing. That is, except for the circa 1860 Stockdale Feed Mill on Cold Creek in Frankford that just came on the real estate market today. We wouldn’t mind the keys to that place for Christmas. And some world peace. And a dozen of my mom’s butter-bomb shortbread.


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Admittedly, I do love looking at the extreme and unnecessary like the excess of the Neiman Marcus Fantasy Line or Nordstrom’s Dream Big Gift Guide suggestions. I love the Williams-Sonoma catalogs even more. But when I look at the Kitchen Aid Copper stand mixer for $959.00 I think of Africa and rationalize that I barely mix anything beyond cocktails anyway.

I think back to childhood, when we used to make stuff for gifts from “found objects.” It’s funny that it’s ‘trending’ now—this movement of ‘repurposing’ and ‘reloving’ when we really did it all along, especially way back when. As a kid with $9.82 in the piggy bank (or reasonable facsimile) shopping wasn’t a consideration. You could SAVE that $9.82 and make things out of teasels and dry milkweed pods and pinecones. Add silver sparkles, googly eyes and voila. (As I look at a few walnuts that the squirrels have yet to warehouse in our backyard I consider the Pinterest crafting possibilities by default. Hmm, grown- up craft: pressing some black walnut oil as used in a fancy cocktail with bourbon in a swishy place our friend Heidi took us to in Nashville). Maybe next year. I’m sure there’s a youtube video on it.

Or, I could just buy into the online “Orphan Barrel Project” that Neiman Marcus has on offer. For a paltry $125,000 “You and five bourbon-curious friends will visit the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, to go barrel hunting, taste recently discovered bourbons, and create two completely unique Orphan Barrel variants to be hand-bottled with labels designed exclusively for you. You’ll then receive 24 bottles each of the remaining stocks of eight different Orphan Barrel bourbons—including the variants created by you—along with a bespoke whiskey cabinet crafted in Kentucky to house the collection, barware, and a leather-bound book about your whiskey.”

Luckily we still have some Maker’s Mark in the cupboard.

Kim and I aren’t even exchanging gifts (well, we deemed our equatorial plane tickets to Las Terranas and Las Galleras in the Samana peninsula for the first two weeks of January “Christmas”).

If we really had to buy stuff (and we don’t because we both naturally avoid eye contact when “Secret Santa” is brought up in the workplace), we wouldn’t have to look too far. Our circle of friends are oozing talent and make stuff that’s awesome, and there’s a different kind of peace felt when you are contributing to an artist and making their life and creative path a little less overgrown.

Here are five sure-fire ways to light up a room though, from Iceland to a night in a frontier tent to adopting a donkey.

A Ticket to Iceland, With Two Precocious Cats


Our family friend (a friend of my sister first, but, we all liked her instantly and took shares), Jocey Asnong, recently published another children’s book called Nuptse and Lhotse Go to Iceland. When I first met Jocey, her Banff apartment was a spider web of clotheslines and clothes pegs—the humble beginnings of her first book’s illustrations, all hanging in sequence. Everything was colourful in her home, right down to the painted furniture that she also sold. It was like standing inside a kaleidoscope. By day, Jocey indulges her bookworm matrix at Café Books in Canmore, Alberta—but at night, her cat characters Nuptse and Lhotse take flight. They’ve already travelled around Nepal, and Iceland just made sense. Jocey seems to fly there whenever a seat sale is on, or when the glaciers move just so. Visit the land of ice and fire and see how a landscape can consume an artist and writer so innocently. If you have munchkins in your life or Iceland devotees, this gift just makes sense.

A blurb: “While digging in their garden, Nuptse and Lhotse uncover an ancient Viking helmet. Excited by their discovery, the two cats make their way to Iceland to find out more about the Vikings. Throughout their epic journey, the cats learn all sorts of new things related to Iceland: longboats, sweaters, horses, volcanoes, geysers, even local cuisine!  Nuptse & Lhotse Go to Iceland is a colourful, illustrated story for adventurers of all ages who long to travel to faraway places.”

Be Bound by the Beauty

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I met Alistair MacLellan on assignment. I had read about his new biz venture in the Waterloo Record and was instantly intrigued. I pitched a storyline to the editor of Grand magazine and she bit. Alistair was making hand-bound, hand-sewn books in his garage. Well, his parents’ garage—but, nonetheless, the journalism grad was kicking it old school and making money, making stuff. I liked the simplicity and possibility of his product. Like Steamwhistle—they make just one product, and they make it well. Alistair even sold his beloved (but never running) 1977 Honda CB550 motorcycle to help finance his business (temporarily setting his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ambitions aside). His story was not unlike Olympian Clara Hughes–she sold her crappy car (a Pinto I think) for $700 to buy her first pair of speed skates.

Alistair is all passion, the kind of guy who would try to roast his own coffee beans, learn the art of beekeeping and/or soap making, and make his own jeans if he had time. He’s the real deal and his books are nifty. At MacLellan & Baetz Publishing House, “Making notebooks in a garage in Waterloo, Ontario is our life’s work. You can fill them with yours.”

Tune up Their iTunes With Madison Violet

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Madison Violet has been the soundtrack of our love life—and they could be yours too. We became groupies early on (in the late 1990s even, back when they were Mad Violet and playing at bookstores in the likes of Dunnville, Ontario). Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac are a Juno-nominated powerhouse duo that have moved smooth as pudding from folk and fiddle to Euro pop and a distinct David Byrne meets Kate Bush meets Duran Duran electro feel. Not to be superficial, but, it also helps that they are foxy and girl-next-door-ish.

We routinely recruit cult members to their sound and concerts—some of which we’ve carried their precious cargo (guitars!) back from (i.e. Grenada to YYZ). I check out their tour schedule and send demanding emails to friends in Prince Edward Island and Tennessee and Vancouver Island to make the pilgrimage. We love them so much we flew to Le Petit Phare Bleu in Grenada to see them perform on a barge with dozens of fan-loaded dinghies lashed together at 12 degrees north latitude. Don’t miss them this April back in the Spice Island. Until then, check out their latest CD release, These Ships.

Intelligent Camping for the Lumbersexuals in Your Life


One of our favourite sleeps this year was at the Fronterra Farm Camp Brewery in Prince Edward County. The founders, Jens and Inge, are like shook-up champagne. They’re all energy, vision and the kind of people who convince you to chase down your own dreams and make them real. Their passport stamps are enviable, and it was the Four Rivers Floating Lodge in Koh Kong, Cambodia that really put the spell on them. They knew they could create something gobsmacking too—and they chose the County and a return to the frontier life.

Before you bark about the price, how much would you pay for solitude? What’s your price tag for an original experience, frying just-laid eggs in a cast iron pan, tending to the embers of a fire that unleashed so much conversation that life had been just too busy to share? Did I mention the intensely hot open-sky shower and King bed? If you’ve grown tired of the stiff back and soggy sleeping bags of traditional camping—this is the intelligent upgrade. Jens and Inge have also planted a massive garden where you are welcome to pluck some cilantro, red leaf lettuce, veg, dill—whatever is at the ready. North Beach Provincial Park is an easy stroll away if you dare leave the fairy-tale woods. In the very near future, the hops Jens has planted will be the source of the on-site brewery the couple has planned. Be part of the dream early-on. Just pack your marshmallows and daydreams and romance 101 is waiting for you. If you want to give a true “experience” gift, this is it. A night in the woods at Fronterra.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me….a donkey?


Nothing says I love you like a donkey. Since 1992, the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada has been a refuge for neglected and abandoned donkeys, mules and hinnies. To visit the 100 acre sanctuary is like putting your heart in a fondue pot. Which donkey you fall in love with is personal—you can read their profiles on line (each a heart crunching story) or actually visit the Guelph location and give them a good groom and nuzzle before deciding. For $50 you can become a guardian for a year. You can donate money towards specific needed products like fly masks, herbal supplements or pitchforks. Kim and I had a crush on Peter (his bangs!) and Sadie and became guardians. My mom swooned for Trooper and adopted him in a heartbeat. Which donkey will you give some festive love to? Find your donkey sweetheart now!

Make your gift-giving thoughtful, intelligent, creative and supportive this year.


If all else fails blend a dozen egg yolks, a carton of cream and a cup of sugar in your non-$959.00, non-copper, non-Kitchen Aid mixer. Add Mount Gay rum as family drama or (hopefully) merriment requires. Play A Jann Arden Christmas. Repeat both.

Best prescription: Watch Love Actually. Love the one you’re with.

Falalalala, heehaw, Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa to you and yours and theirs.

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Egg Nog and Cat Carol Crying

December 9, 2008

“Oh no, is this my Christmas card moment?”

My family knows exactly when they have made their faux pas of the year, the one that will be captured for eternity in ink, on a homemade Christmas card. Each of them receive one, it’s highly expected, and the presents fall to the wayside. My mother laughs until near-peeing-herself as the cards get circulated back and forth. They hate my elephant memory, and spend the months leading up to Christmas wondering what will be heralded as their 2008 Christmas cartoon. And this year was no exception. In the heat of August, in my BC backyard I was snickering as I cartooned the images.

Sitting in Uganda, the festive feeling is a bit diminished in the 28 degree heat. I am in cargo shorts, a tee shirt, and a bit sticky from the heat. Aura, or Mother General as she is somewhat kindly referred to, just arrived from Australia, bearing garish tinsel and artificial trees and the like. She also unpacked three fruit cakes from her suitcase that could kill five horses with the brandy wafting out of her luggage.

To get into the spirit I have been cooking. Egg nog. Twelve egg yolks and three cups of rum (a recipe from my friend Jann who rattled it off the top of her head). That’s another five horses down. It is sitting in the fridge, permeating everyone’s loaves of bread and veggies. I felt the need to share a little of the Canadian holiday culture with my loved ones here. Hopefully I don’t give them all rum-soaked salmonella instead. There are no refrigerated eggs here, but I figure the booze would kill off any free-range creepy crawlies.

Normally I would have already laboured over a gingerbread house, bitching about the poor holding quality of the icing. Inevitably, the plastic icing bag splits and I have icing snaking up my arm, and into the dog’s mouth and everywhere it should be but on the gumdrop that has also rolled onto the floor. Oh, how Bently loved when I opened the bag of jellybeans for the gingerbread rooftop last year–they sprayed in all directions, like rapid-fire bullets, scattering over the hardwood. He was on them like Pac Man. Mila, due to her age, wasn’t aware that something good was going on until Bently had successfully cleaned up the game board and advanced to the next level. Eighteen jellybeans, high score.

Despite my general global perspective of saving the forests of the world, I am a sucker for a live tree. Except for the year when my sister flew home early from Banff and wanted to do the authentic tree ”hunting” experience. Dax and I piled into his Jeep with my girlfriend Kelly, and we left our urban oasis and Toronto comforts with grande Starbucks gingerbread and egg nog lattes, whip and all. We were dressed like responsible Torontonians, all of us in Puma footwear despite the snowbanks. Who owns boots in the city? We met my dad and Kiley, who rolled her eyes at our poor clothing choices. No Gore-tex, no proper layering of cottons and wools to allow for wicking… we were doomed. Flo (dad) had on his eskimo-style Sorels which he has had for thirty years, and the jacket that he has also had for just about as long (that my mother keeps threatening to stuff in a Sally Ann bag when he’s not looking). We drove to a very whimsical tree farm on the outskirts of marshmallowy Brantford and began our Torti family tree search. Dax and I were already teeth-chattering, and too cool for toques. My jeans felt like they might crack in the cold. About 15 minutes into it, the wonderful magical thought of cutting down a tree sucked. My Pumas were frozen to my feet, Kelly’s teeth hurt, and Dax, due to his gayness had little resistance to the cold either. It’s just hard to look good in winter, and we weren’t about to sacrifice our vain ways for toques and boots. We headed to the truck. Kiley and my dad didn’t really care, it gave them time to bond without us making fun of them. We raced back to my mom’s tracker (she was apparently working, but probably just at home drinking in her work uniform ) and cranked the heat up to Florida temperatures. That’s right, save the forest, but if I’m cold, let the thing idle. Well, we thought we were going to have to call in the SWAT team or a helicopter task force. Where the hell were they? Waiting for a sapling to grow? Christ, night was falling upon us. Hell, I liked the pre-cut one sitting beside where we were parked. Soon we were rooting around my mom’s glove compartment and we all found sunglasses to wear. Most were tilted on one side, compressing our eyelashes and cheek when we smiled. Then the lipstick came out. Dax was dolled up, and Kelly had great fun doing us up Sandra style. We had music blasting, our jackets off and we were actually sweating with lipstick on our teeth. Flo, looking like Old Man Winter hammered on the window on the driver’s side–I think Kelly and Dax both screamed. He looked like he had just climbed Everest, and Kiley had cheeks pinker than maraschino cherries despite her layering and clothing with wicking ability. They had a tree, finally. My dad shook his head to see us all wearing my mom’s sunglasses and make-up. We thought nothing of it.

At home my dad chewed his lower molars into nothing as the tree was too big and required the use of man tools. My mom buys him tools every year, that generally sit in the boxes they come in, until I come home with a tool-savvy girlfriend who gives him a band saw demo or instructions on how to use the mitre saw. Kelly wasn’t one of them, and the rest of us weren’t exactly helpful (aside from Princess/Kiley who is always at Flo’s side). Instead we were all in the kitchen with my mother spoiling our dinner with spanokapita, hot kielbasa and whirling up afternoon drinks in the martini shaker. And of course, the daiquiri mix always comes out because “it’s Dax’s favourite,” but really it’s my mother’s favourite so we indulge her.

The actual Torti Christmas dinner usually happens around 9 p.m. By then Flo has eaten seven consecutive slices of toast to ward off hunger. We have all been merrily drinking and have forgotten about the intent of eating. My mother insists on proper thematic dinner music and we are suddenly transported to an Il Divo concert with our wine glasses sliding across the glass table with the vibrations. By the time we make our way through all that is buttery and laden with gravy, we sink into the couches in the livingroom to endure three hours of present-opening. Dax and his boyfriend bring all their presents down for each other to open in front of us which I think is slightly odd, especially when the kinky stuff gets unwrapped. Flo buys my mother 56 stocking stuffers that are wrapped like they are going to be tucked up the bum of a drug lord going through a Turkish airport. We eat my mother’s decadent pecan pie and shortbread that isn’t short on butter until we all want to throw up. By this point my dad is falling asleep and we are taking pictures of him as he does his head-bobbing. When he wakes up to the flash, we only have to wait another minute before he does it again. By midnight, my mother usually makes a dramatic exit, simply declaring, ”I’m going to bed,” whether all the presents have been opened or not.

Their cats, Chloe and Casper breathe a sigh of relief as all the humans leave and they can resume their unpestered existence, curled up under their new tree.

But wait, I skipped the integral part of our Christmas. The annual weep over Meryn Cadell’s The Cat Carol. The song makes us all stop in our tracks and a hush falls over the livingroom. The local radio usually plays it twice, so if need be, we stop and cry twice. The song is about a cat who has been locked out on Christmas eve, and it is oh so cold. The cat finds a mouse, who is initially frightened of the cat, but the cat says because it is Christmas eve, he is safe, they will be friends–“on this freezing night we both need a friend.”‘ The cat curls around the shivering mouse to keep him warm, and when Santa arrives, the reindeer start to cry. The cat has died. The mouse says ”dear cat, wake up, we are saved!” But Santa says, “the cat gave you her life, the greatest gift of them all.”And Santa lifts the cat up and into the night sky and lays her to rest among the stars. ”Dear mouse do not cry you are not alone you will see your friend every year, each Christmas a Cat Constellation will shine to remind us all her love’s still here.”


Tell me that isn’t tragic. What a heartbreaker song. None of us can speak after listening, and Kiley near sobs. I’m no better, trying to hide my heaving chest, and Dax and my mom have tears running down their neck. Sometimes Flo falls asleep listening, which at least gives us something to laugh about after the ache of the little cat dying to save her mouse friend.


And that is a Torti Christmas. Laughs, tears, beers, and Dax standing with the fridge door open after midnight eating cold turkey between bites of shortbread with a plate of olives and crumbled feta. Eventually my mom comes down to see what we’re all up too, and then she’s having milk and cookies with us. Then my dad somehow stirs and feels like he is missing out on something and clomps down the stairs in his velour robe and old slippers (despite the new pair he got under the tree).

We gather around the tree again and reminisce about the ornaments, and ”our friends from Christmas Past,” as my dad says. That would be all our pets who have passed on: Xanadu, Moker, Drakkar, Phantom and Whisper. There is an ornament for each of them. And it can be expected that one of the gifts that we open is from our friends of Christmas Past.

Oh, we are a sappy lot. Our partners can hardly stand it, but it is a truly golden time and I love that we have such precious family memories together. Because cutting down a tree was never so fun as the time we actually didn’t cut down the tree but had a make-up party in the truck instead.
Merry Christmas to my nearest and dearest, and furthest away.
And of course, my friends from Christmas Past.

Categories: Into and Out of Africa | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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