When shared with the right people, Life can be a series of seamless moments that transition without argument or aggravation. I will be the first to admit that my everyday life has become wildly rich and kinetic in the past four months, so much so that my blog has suffered from neglect. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I have had less time to write, take photographs or even travel internationally; nor can I recall a time when I cared less.
Upon returning from a week long adventure trip with 120 students to Quebec City, I began my March Break with a short photography session for Graeme Cameron of Base Camp X. Graeme always brings over some pretty wicked work to be shot on white backgrounds which requires me to climb to the tom of a ladder and shoot while perched precariously overhead. I have had to hire an assistant for these shoots just to ensure that I do not topple over and break my neck. I have to admit that I was a little jealous of the blue blood Pioneer and the flame Pathfinder that I shot; while I already own my own copies of these tools there is an intrinsic quality to the wood and colour stain combinations that make each one of his creations a masterpiece of quality craftsmanship.
The second part of my Break found me heading north to friends’ glorious log lodge in Huntsville. Never have I been in such a warm, inviting space. Each room felt like a place where I had spent a lifetime and where I could spend the end of my days repeating the simplest of gestures [cooking, talking, walking and resting] without feeling the outside world had more to offer me.
Our first night began with a wine tasting of four styles of grapes in Riedel Vitis glasses. Our host playfully led us through a shell game wherein nothing was lost by admitting the obvious truth: the shape and quality of a wine glass can completely alter the experience of the drinker. Frankly, I have tasted wines in Napa, Sonoma, South Africa, and Niagara on the Lake vineyards, and I have spent many an afternoon being led through tasting workshops [not to mention countless hours slaving away on summer patios imbibing quality vintages], but this night’s exercise opened both my mind and palate up in an absolutely fascinating way. Between the company, the conversation and the setting I was in a state of nirvana.
After a superb first dinner of Tuscan chicken and vegetables [punctuated by a dessert of my favourite: butter tarts], I found myself on deck for the next day of cooking. I was thrilled. I seldom have the opportunity to stretch out in a kitchen for friends, especially not for people who would appreciate the challenge of building dishes from the creative surroundings I find myself in.
First…breakfast consisted of a blending of three types of oats until they were stirred into an oatmeal thickened until pudding-like. Added to that dish was a sautéed banana, toasted walnuts and organic local honey with the honeycomb intact. The second dish was a bed of organic kale softened by steaming with garlic and butter, covered with a slice of baguette covered in egg whites. topped with a quail egg and a thick slice of Armagnac sautéed foie gras. Absolute heaven and perfect to get us moving for the two hour snowshoe through the property where we followed wolf tracks to a kill and enjoyed a good romp in the outdoors.
Lunch…lunch had to be both austere [to ensure we had room for a late dinner] and vibrantly cleansing after the fatty flavours of the morning. We went with a black and red quinoa cooked in a broth of Lapsoung Souchong tea and topped with a giant tiger shrimp cooked in rose petal harissa. As we sat in front of the hand-assembled fireplace in the warm afternoon light I felt like I had arrived in a place of peace. The quinoa was nutty and minimalist while the shrimp warmed the palate without overpowering the grain. The remainder of my afternoon was spent sleeping with the dogs on a kilm-fabric couch near a roaring fire bathed in afternoon sunlight.
Finally…dinner. Dinner is always an opportunity to produce a rich, satisfying meal to carry the body until the next morning; a meal to match with interesting wines and profound conversation. Our dinner began with duck done in three ways: confit with du Puy lentils, foie gras with Grande Marnier on truffled potatoes, and medium rare duck breast sliced onto a sour cherry Armangnac sauce. Our dinner ended with local roast of lamb, sunchokes, and turnip. The wines were a stellar Shafer Merlot from 2008, a decent Chateau-neuf-du-Pape, and a lush South African Cab. Sauv. As we troddled towards the fireplace to share the music I had written and recorded in the Fall, I could only feel blessed to have been given the gift of the company of such great people. With the Shafer still lingering on my lips, I fell asleep staring into the warm glow of a hardwood fire. The wine was so good that I just had to pick up a One Point Five Cabernet from the LCBO for our next special dining experience.
My next few days were spent in Haliburton, hiking and Ski-Dooing through the deep forests of the area. Never had I spent such a wonderful holiday; never have I spent it with such people so close to home. Life can be magical when we open our hearts to that which surrounds us.