A Prairie Home Companion and We Were There!

Garrison who?

Some twenty years ago my sister gave me an album on cassette tape (remember those…or maybe not).  She’d heard about the performer, Garrison Keillor, on CBC radio.  Mr. Keillor, an American, is well-known as an National Public Radio (NPR) radio performer, an author, a humourist and essayist.  The album was “A Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra” and I listened to it time and time again.  I enjoyed the music and the stories that went with the album.  This makes me think I should likely buy it again-in a format I can listen to these days.

A Prairie Home Companion

Garrison Keillor is the host of the weekly NPR radio show A Prairie Home Companion (PHC). I often listen to the archived shows.  There was a 2006 movie of the same name.  The movie was set around a single radio show and used the same set that Keillor and colleagues perform on at each show.  The show is quirky and warm and often showcases well-known performers as well as  local musical talent (the show is based in Minneapolis but does travel across the U.S. during the year).

Tanglewood, June 30, 2012

We seized an opportunity to see a live performance of the PHC last week in Lenox, Massachusetts.  The venue is Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston
Symphony Orchestra.  

The stage is in the “shed” and you can purchase tickets either in the shed or out on the lawn.  We learned that to picnic on the lawn before and during the concert is part of the charm of Tanglewood performances.  The venue (The Serge Koussevitzky Music Shed and lawn) can accommodate upwards of 20,000.  

The day was perfect, June 30th, 2012 as we drove to Tanglewood.  It was sunny and very warm, with a little breeze. The concert was great.  Keillor said (tongue in cheek) they like to give local talent a chance and so had Arlo Guthrie as one of the guests.  You can hear the show on the archives of the PHC website.  I was thrilled to be at the concert and enjoyed the evening immensely.  

The Encores

And one of the very best parts of the experience was what happened after the live broadcast (2 hours) signed off.  The PHC broadcast starts at 6pm and ends around 8pm. A number of audience members left early, probably thinking getting out of the parking area would be a nightmare.  Another number left at the end of the show while many of us stayed and called for an encore.  And did we get encores.  Pure singing-some folk, some songs from long ago (my Dad would have loved their choices) and some rock and roll.  All the band and guest performers (e.g. Arlo Guthrie) came out and the songs went on one after the other.  The audience stood and clapped and sang and danced.  They walked up the aisles to get closer to the stage soaking up the experience.

After they had played for almost an additional two hours and left the stage for the third time we started toward the car.  We weren’t aware of the after show soiree and we hadn’t eaten.  It was closing on to 10pm.  We were on our way to the parking lot and heard the band start up again!  

PHC/Tanglewood Advice

  • If you have a chance, attend a PHC live performance-no matter where it’s being held
  • If you go to Tanglewood buy tickets in the Shed
  • Arrive early (grounds open at 4 pm for 5:45 pm show)
  • Pack a lovely picnic lunch with accompanying beverages.  Eat on the lawn and then pack up the bits, take them back to the car and take your seat in the shed.  
  • Buy tickets for next year…I plan to!  

Do you have a concert or live show experience that stands out in your memory?  A performance you found so very enjoyable.  What were the reasons? Who you attended with, the performer, the venue, the weather…it seems a combination of all of the above for me.  



Warning Light: Anti-Freeze

I have a theory about a human “anti-freeze” phenomenon .  It is based on my experience with winter and living my entire life in the northern hemisphere.  Those of us who live where the snow falls and temperatures can drop into -30C to -40C range (and colder if you factor in windchill), well, we learn about dressing warmly.  We have anti-freeze in our car’s windshield washer fluid.  We buy fleece lined vests and woollen socks and down-filled gear.

The Theory

When winter first takes its place out our front door we shiver and shudder.  We find it very cold and we begrudge putting on the layers and the winter boots and the scarves and hats and on and on.  Then gradually, we become used to it and it doesn’t feel so cold.  My theory is we have some human anti-freeze that builds as winter progresses.  It makes the cold tolerable.  

The Bad News

Due to a design error, our human antifreeze does not have a very long shelf life.  It starts to dissipate somewhere around the end of January.  Slowly it ebbs away.  If our bodies came with fluid level lights (like our vehicles do) the low-level anti-freeze light would start to flash.  And then it feels cold no matter whether the temperature is moderating or not.  I recently read an article that put forward a hypothesis about why it feels colder as winter starts to exit.  It wasn’t an “ah ha!” moment for me.  I prefer my anti-freeze theory. Those of you have lived or do live in colder climates-do you think you run out of tolerance for cold as winter ebbs?  Tell me it’s so.

What can you do?

Think of something else: here’s a few pictures of some things that took my mind off thinking I was cold this past week.

A sunny day, mid-week snowshoe with a friend and a tremendously tasty dinner cooked by my husband.  Oven roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts along with a braised beef tenderloin topped with a blue cheese/thyme/breadcrumb dressing in a red wine reduction sauce.


What can I say? It was outstanding. Who cares about the temperature outside. It’s likely all in my head anyway.

Simply Biscotti #10

My plan to eat my way through the dessert counter at Simply Biscotti is still in play.  I met friends there recently and we each enjoyed a sweet after lunch.  Two of chose the  dacquoise, one of their new desserts.  Have you ever heard of a dacquoise?  I hadn’t.  If you look around on the internet you will see multiple types with different fillings and toppings. It is a general term for a style of cake of merinque layers with cream or other fillings basically.  Here’s just one of many:


I read about someone who saw Julia Child making a dacquoise cake on her television show. It was iced with buttercream.  She said  the joy of the cake was you could slice a piece off the end and enjoy it, then re-ice the cake and your guests would be none the wiser.

At Simply Biscotti, you are served an individual dacquoise, the layers of meringue with praline cream filling.  The topping is lightly toasted almonds.  The result is a variety of textures, some sweetness, some crunchy, some creamy and all very good.   This dessert might have to be tested twice.  Only because I want to report accurately.   I now plan to make a dacquoise.  It will likely be a cake where you can eat some before company arrives and then cover it up.  Have you ever had or made a dacquoise?  What did you think of it?

Dacquoise-Simply Biscotti

Guess Who? Randy Bachman

The 15th Annual Ottawa International Writers Festival is about to get underway.  There have been a number of pre-festival events.  Last night I went to see Randy Bachman. It was lovely evening.  Lawrence Wall of CBC radio one introduced Randy Bachman.  Both men are originally from Winnipeg and they shared a number of reminiscences.  Lawrence recounted The Guess Who playing a noon hour concert at their Winnipeg High School when the band was at the peak of its popularity.  It was an example of what made the Guess Who beloved in their home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba.  

Musician, singer, songwriter and storyteller

Randy Bachman Ottawa International Writers Festival

Bachman regaled the audience for well over an hour (more time than initially promised) with stories that are found in his recently published book (this is the writers festival) Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories.  If you are of a certain vintage, or you like rock (and roll) music dating back several decades, you will be familiar with Bachman’s program on CBC radio.  It airs a number of times during the week and Bachman and his wife Denise play songs and he tells stories of his experiences over decades in the business.  He often plays his guitar (s) and provides an interesting and varied dialogue on a world most of us never will have never known.  It’s not all roses for Bachman spoke of the time he spent away from his family (8 children) as they were born and grew.

Bachman had great rapport with the audience last night.  He talked about how he got started in music (with violin lessons) and how in his teens he would skip school in the afternoons and hang out with Lenny Breau.  He has so many experiences to recount-from living the life of a musician in obscurity to one who was at the top of the charts.  From living in a beat up van while on the road, to meeting Gerry Dorsey before he entered the agent’s office and came out with a new name-Englebert Humperdinck! There were great tales of how songs and song titles came to be. Bachman played his guitar and did some singing-all to the audience’s delight. He announced that next year he and his full band will do a cross-country tour that will be  2.5 hours of story telling and music based on his book.  

Small world-art imitating life

To my quiet delight, as the event seats filled, the Ottawa based actor and playwright Pierre Brault sat beside me.  We have seen and enjoyed Brault in a number of performances here in Ottawa.  One of those was the one-man play  5 O’Clock Bells Brault both wrote and performed based on the life of Lenny Breau.  I spoke briefly to Pierre-he has not had the opportunity to meet Randy Bachhman. That seems like a shame.  There is only one degree of separation-Pierre Brault-Lenny Breau-Randy Bachman.

And finally

Bachman has a great sense of humour, enough truly interesting stories to fill a book (funny thing) and for all his accomplishments he appears approachable and grounded. 

Friday Food- Dolsot Bi Bim Bab

We just returned from a road trip to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio and into Kentucky.  I thought I’d write a few accounts of the sights and experiences.  Here’s the first:

Dolsot Bi Bim Bab

is a rice dish mixed with seven kinds of vegetables, chicken and topped with egg and served with spicy sauce on the side.  It’s heated in a stone bowl and, boy oh boy, is that bowl hot when it gets to your table!  It results in crispy rice as part of the flavour.  There is a cooked egg on top and the server mixes the egg in and adds spicy sauce according to your desired spiciness-mild, medium or hot.  Mild for me, please.   It makes a very tasty meal.  An Asian beer would have been a nice accompaniment for this dish.

We hadn’t eaten much Korean food before but really enjoyed this meal.  If you’d like this dish, try the Korean Riverside Restaurant on Madison Street in Covington, Kentucky.  The neighbourhood is not what one would call beautiful but the food and the service were both really enjoyable.  

Have you eaten much Korean food and if so, do you have a favourite Korean dish?  

Scotch and chocolate

Recently we attended a scotch tasting hosted by the local chapter of the Opimian Society. The Society is a non-profit wine purchasing cooperative. We belonged to the Society a looooong time ago back on the prairies when chapters were first starting up across Canada.  We re-joined recently and this was our first event with the Ottawa Chapter.   Funny thing, then, that the Society’s recent event was a scotch tasting.  It’s apparently the first time they have ventured away from wine and by the accounts of those assembled (at least at our table), it was well received.

A brief account of a scotch tasting:

Wayne Selci, Ottawa Chapter Secretary was the host for the evening and our guest speaker was Carol Anderson, sommelier.  Carol offers wine and scotch consulting. tastings and events through her business GrapeScot.  Carol gave us some history and background on scotch whisky, how it is made, what various terms mean.  She is knowledgeable and it is a pleasure to learn from her.  She described each of the six scotches we tasted that evening and emphasized that, just as with wines, the best one is the one you like.  The whiskies (which is what Scots call scotch) were paired with tasting plates and we drank scotch with appetizers, a main dish and chocolate.  Five of the six are available at the LCBO, the sixth is available only through the Opimian Society.  If you look them up on the LCBO site, you’ll see that a small tasting of each is a good way to see if you like something before investing in a bottle (in some cases it can be quite the investment!).  At our table of 7, it’s fair to say that preferences were varied.  Some people enjoyed a smokey, heavily peated whisky while others preferred a lightly peated whisky.  

Excerpted from Carol Anderson’s notes for the evening:

  • Malt whiskies are made from only three ingredients-malted barley, yeast and water.  (Growing up on the farm in Sask. when we grew barley all I knew was that it was good for us if our barley “went malting”.  It meant a better price.  Our barley ended up in beer, not scotch.)
  • Single malts are made in one distillery, from multiple casks. Single cask malt is the product of one barrel.
  • Blended malts are 100% malt whiskies that come from multiple distilleries. Blended whiskies contain malt whiskies and lighter-flavoured grain whiskies.
  • The age on a bottle (malt or blend) indicates that of the youngest whiskey used in the blend.
  • ABV-alcohol by volume.  When you see the numbers you’ll know why it’s wise not to drink and drive.
  • Scotches may be aged in variety of oak casks including: sherry, bourbon and new oak. For the first two, that means sherry or bourbon was first aged in the cask and the second renter was scotch whisky.  It’s interesting, once you hear this, you can smell/taste the sherry or bourbon.
There’s an entire flavour vocabulary that goes with tasting and there are a great number of potential descriptors.  This would be what you smell or taste.  Just to give you a flavour of the vocabulary -it could include terms like smoky (ash, bonfires, molasses, turf-burning), sherried (grappa, winey, spirity, rum, sherry), medicinal (antiseptic, Brylcreem, menthol, turpentine) and malty/cereal (oats, malted-milk, porridge).  And as people sip they will often comment on what the drink tastes like to them.  

  1. Appetizers- terrines, chutney and salad with Glennfiddich 15 year old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 40%ABV and The Macallan Fine Oak 15 Year Old, Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 43%ABV
  2. Main course-Irish beef stew with Cul na Creagan Blended Malt Scotch Whisky 43%ABV  (Opimian offering and Highland Park 18 Year Old Orkney Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 43%ABV
  3. Dessert-New York style cheesecake and chunks of dark chocolate with Aberlour A’bunadh Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 59.5%ABV and Lagavulin 16 year old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky 43% ABV.
Barb’s Best:
  • Glennfiddich 15 year old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 40%ABV .  I liked the “nose” and found it very smooth.  It has been aged in sherry, bourbon and new oak.
  •  Aberlour A’bunadh Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 59.5%ABV . This was a family favorite.  The whisky has been aged exclusive in oak ex-oloroso sherry casks.  It is bottled at cask strength which means the ABV is not decreased to a certain level before it’s bottled (ergo the 59.5%ABV).  At this level, one should be able to disinfect wounds with it.

After seeing the offering for the evening and the ABV, it’s plain to see why we are encouraged and wise to take a taxi, get a ride, walk or stay in a hotel after the event.

Barb’s Best-Boston style

We took a road trip to Boston, Mass. last fall.  Nice place, that Boston.  We enjoyed many of the sights and walked around a great deal.  On the first evening we were strolling along a side street, not far from Boston Common.  It was close to dinner time and we were looking for a place to eat.  We came upon a little bistro place with a decal declaring “Boston’s Best Small Bistro 2010”.  Well, let’s give it a shot we thought.  We were lucky to get seats, we thought, since it was Boston’s Best.  The place did get busy and the food was good.  We left thinking we were fortunate to have stumbled upon the place.

Over the next several days we noticed something peculiar as we continued to walk around.  We saw several Boston’s Best decals-it became a bit of a humorous sighting.  We concluded it was perhaps not the special thing we might have originally thought.  It seemed the designation is given out freely (or maybe you buy it from a Boston’s Best decal shop).   We think the bistro was perhaps Boston’s Best Small Bistro between 3rd and 4th Avenue.  And the dry cleaning shop a few blocks away was Boston’s Best on a Tuesday in October and so on.  On that theme, I figure if Boston can do it, so can I.  So I thought I’d put forward Barb’s Best.  There’s no decal, no jury or panel or Deloitte and Touche, just Barb and what seems to be the Best-at least for that minute or hour or day or month. 

Let’s try a couple:

Best Virtual School-Khan Academy

  • Sal Khan, a former investment banker has established on-line virtual school.  What started out as Sal making a few algebra videos for his cousins has grown to over 2,100 videos and 100 self-paced exercises and assessments covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history.

Best Ice Cream Bar-Magnum

  • Magnum Ice Cream Bars.  They are delicious!  There are several types and not a dud among them.  I’ve seen them in the UK and in Singapore (where a colleague and I ate one a day for a week-because it was so hot there of course).
  • And the really great news is that Magnum Bars are now available in Canada.  If you are really creative you could enter their contest and win a prize valued at $250K!  No kidding, it’s a true story-that’s quite the prize. If you win with the best video (that’s what you need to do, make a short video), I’d appreciate you remembering you learned about it here.  A small remembrance-perhaps a year’s supply of ice cream bars.
If those who follow this blog find this sort of thing interesting, let me know.  I can think of many other Barb’s Best’s e.g. bakery/sandwich shop in an odd location, scotch/food tasting favourites (we happen to be attending such an event soon), italian food/wine match (coming up soon too) and so on and so on.