Monthly Archives: November 2009

Sudbury: The Last YOTF Event, November 19

The 19th and very last musical and dramatic Year of the Flood Event took place at the Fraser Auditorium of Laurentian University on November 19, after the Margaret Atwood Birthday Dinner. I arrived at the auditorium not knowing what to expect, because for the Sudbury Event – alone among all of them – I had not been at a rehearsal. There was an atmosphere of suppressed glee, especially among the Banner-bearers: I would be surprised, this told me. And so I was.


After an introduction by MC Sherry Drysdale – a well-known CBC North radio voice – there was an Honour Song, excellently performed by Angela Recollet, manager of Native Student Programs at Laurentian. It said that the honouree had been guided by ancestral spirits, certainly true in my case. Then came the Banner Bearers (Andy Sekora, Stephanie Grant, April Passi, Sandra McPhee, Anthony Cecchetto, Meghan Juuti, Alanna Negssanti and Jennifer Preen), and the Singers of the Ariadne Womens’ Chamber Choir: Pat Bailey, Alice Brownlee, Patti Brace, Danielle Brinkman, Jan Buley, Marissa Charette, Kristina Donato, Mary-Jo Gordon, Amy Hallman, Marybeth Hickey, Leslie King, Shelbey Krahn, Kate McLaughlin, Charlene Mannings, and Hilary Welch). The three Readers were also in the procession: Adam One, played by Dan Lessard, another CBC voice and a good sport, giving vent to his inner pastor; Toby, played by Patricia Tedford, startling in a bright pink raincoat; and Ren, played by Pandora Topp, astonishing and lustrous in a sequined body-suit number topped off by a feather robe. These were accomplished actors who did full justice to their parts, and made the characters very sympathetic and believable.


But this was not the surprising part. It turned out that Sudbury was – through the musical director, Dr. David Buley – bent on full audience participation. For “The Holy Weeds,” Buley hopped back and forth like a ponytailed gnome, pulling two-part harmony for an underlying “Holy Weeds” chant out of the audience, while a solo soprano soared above them. For the Predator Day hymn, he led some serious “constant threat” chanting.


But his most impressive feat was yet to come. After an all-singing, all-clapping finale, and after the bows and waving, up on a giant screen above the stage flashed a giant head: mine! I was handed a scroll, and upon unrolling it, discovered a freshly-minted Birthday Ode, composed by the Margaret Atwood Hymn-writing Club (around a kitchen table, I was later told, at a session during which vinous beverages were not unpresent). The tune was that wonderful Welsh favourite, Cwm Rhondda, and the words were – well, inspirational. Or something. What can I say? (Full text from Rublemusic, 259 Maki Ave., Sudbury, ON, P3E 2PE.) Under David Buley’s direction, the entire audience burst into glorious song.


So there I was – very surprise, pleased as anything, and – for 10 bonus points – still alive. It was grand all round. But what will Sudbury do next year? They can hardly top this!







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Sudbury, Part 1: A Unique Birthday


Every year, on or around November 18, Laurentian University in Sudbury,Ontario hosts Margaret Atwood’s Birthday. It’s kind of like Robert Burns’Birthday, with the advantage that I’m still alive. Or maybe it’s a disadvantage: dead poets are by definition more glamorous, most of the time.

How to explain this Sudbury Margaret Atwood Atwood’s Birthday thing? Is it a joke? Sort of. But it’s sort of not a joke. Canada’s like that.

Laurentian started the birthday caper five years ago, using each event as a fundraiser for a worthy cause, but I wasn’t present the first three times. However, working on a Build It And They Will Come model, they kept on trucking, and then, finally, on the fourth year – like magic! — I did appear. (Wonder if it would work with Robert Burns? No matter how much bagpipe music we play, he’s never turned up at our place.) Happy Birthday was sung in French, English, and Cree, and I had such a good time that I went back again this year.

So after a brief encounter with Anne Murray in the Toronto airport – during which I traded my book for a Dawn Langstroth CD (Dawn being Anne’s daughter), off I went to Sudbury, to the 5th Margaret Atwood Birthday Dinner. The food was themed to the novel: local, organic as possible, with blueberry vinegrette for the salad, root vegetables, Georgian Bay whitefish, Finch Haven Orchards sparkling cider, Sumatrra Gayo Mountain shade-grown coffee, little desserts, some with cranberries — and menus on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

I was among some old friends – Helen Macdonald, with whom I formed half of a Dutch windmill in Miss Pickering’s Sault Ste. Marie dance class in 1945, who brought oatmeal cookies made from my mother’s recipe; and Jim and John Savage, whom I’ve known ever since we were all young –see pic of us on a self-made raft – who brought a CD of some old photos (See John’s website at ). There were some newer friends, too – Shannon Hengen and Susan Glover of the English Department, instrumental in putting the whole Sudbury event together, and MC Ashley Thomson, who is also my bibliographer, dedicated to recording every written word: the Blogs and Tweets are driving him mad. And more than 200 others — including the arts-friendly Mayor, John Rodriguez — who’d all come out to see me being turned into a lake (Lake Margaret is now one of Sudbury’s 700 lakes), and also a grove — the Margaret Atwood Grove on the Jane Goodall Trail. I thought I might end up as the Margaret Atwood Tea Room and Bun Shop, but this is better. I also received a statue called “Pretty in Pink,” incorporating a Sudbury fish bone showing growth rings and improving fish health. Lake, grove, and statue were courtesy the three beneficiaries of the dinner: the Living with Lakes Centre, the Vegetation Enhancement Technical Advisory Committee, and the Junction Creek Stewardship Committee.

And finally friend Chief Harry St. Denis of the Wolf Lake First Nation from Lac Kipawa, Québec, presented me with a beautiful Eagle Feather — a very high honour indeed. What had I done to deserve it? Not nearly enough; though Chief Harry and our family have recently been thinking together about the problems of the lake, and about the desirability of small electrical installations that use existing facilities as opposed to new, huge megadams that would not only destroy forest habitat, but disrupt the flow of water in the lake and lead to stagnation.

It was fitting that such concerns should be raised in Sudbury: for just as the Sudbury of the past was an emblem of the nightmares caused by a disregard for nature, the Sudbury of the present and future shows what can be accomplished through understanding and respect. Go, Sudbury!

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New Mexico, November 15-18

The Pictures: Two Birthday Cakes, From Santa Fe and Albuquerque; Wonderful antler arrangement at Los Poblanos in Albuquerque; Graeme with Mermaid, Los Poblanos Inn & Cultural Centre; with  Gene Grant of KNME TV in Albuquerque; Santa Fe Cathedral; vista at Los Poblanos; with old pal Judy Chicago in Albuquerque; moral at Cafe Pasquale in Santa Fe, all organic; Graeme with Wild Earth Guardians, Carol Norton on right; in Santa Fe audience; with Lorene Mills at KNME in Santa Fe; Wild Earth Guardians poster; in front of State House mural; “Surviving Columbus” poster.


What fun in New Mexico! Graeme Gibson and I did two-handers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, me for YOTF, him for Bedside Book of Beasts, me with music from the CD, him with slides from the Bedside Beasts — both sponsored by Garcia Street Books, with Edward and Eva Borins, both in aid of the Wild Earth Guardians and the Wild Watersheds; did raise quite a bit of $, and morale too, we hope. I had two birthday cakes, a single-candle & whipped cream one in Albuquerque at a dinner attended by artist Judy Chicago, among others; and a Vegan cake with candles that wouldn’t blow out in Santa Fe. We enjoyed staying at Los Poblanos, an exceptionally beautiful inn in Albuquerque (own organic garden, own bees, much art), and at La Fonda, the oldest hotel in Santa Fe.

Outstanding warmth and hospitality, many discussions about how to reconcile the needs of wild nature with the behaviour of people; breathtaking scenery; much hope. Here is a blog posting of interest:

Thank you, New Mexico — a long trip to get there but worth every minute!

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Toronto: Brief Encounters

I haven’t spent more than 3-4 days at a time at home since August 20, but here are  few glimpses. I still can’t figure out how to get the pictures to go where I want them to: I need a seminar in WordPress! I can’t seem to get rid of doubles…

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Miami Book Fair, November 8

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Chicago: Last U.S. “Event,” November 6

The pictures: View from Kimpton Hotel Burnham window at night; Pile o’books, with Laura Baratto, Random Rep; Girl Interviewers from DePaul; beautiful chocolate box top, but Phoebe ended up with the chocs (how did that happen?) Phoebe Larmore, old-pal escort Bill Young, Anne Clark Bartlett; The singers rehearse, with Jane Bunell; “Adam One,” Marc Embree, “Toby,” Anne Bartlett, and “Ren,” Loresa Grigsby; the actors with stage manager; Jane Bunell (pianist and music director) and Orville make the Sign of the Mole; the Signers, Heidi Woelbling and Mera Kelly-Yurdin; the Final Wrapup with the Blue Feather Boa and Orville.





Chicago – what a terrific city for the last U.S.A. dramatic and musical Year of the Flood Event! I imagined my late friend, Studs Terkel – whom I first met in 1976, and by whom I was interviewed so many times on his TV and radio shows – beaming down on us from the ornate ceiling of DePaul’s grand Merle Reskin Theatre.

Here’s how it went: Orville Stoeber and Phoebe Larmore were supposed to meet me at O’Hare, but the schedule didn’t say exactly where, so I wandered around among the baggage conveyor belts looking for them. No sooner had I obtained a Pike’s Place organic misto than I saw  a demented gremlin pushing a baggage cart shoot out of an adjacent alleyway, whirl around, then shoot back out of sight. It looked a lot like Phoebe, and it was doing a Phoebe-ish kind of thing, so I followed up. It WAS Phoebe! “See,” she said to Orville. “I told him—all we have to do is run around in circles and she’s appear! And it worked!”  Magical thinking triumphs again.

I spent the next bunch of time signing books with the help of Random rep Laura Baretto while somehow doing phone interviews at the same time, and then it was time for dinner with the DePaul co-conspirators in – yes! – the Atwood Café at the Kimpton Hotel Burnham, handily equipped with veggie options and organic coffee. (That Atwood was not me, but a distant relative – hero of Chicago architecture of olden days.)

The DePaul contingent was headed by Anne Clark Bartlett, Chair of the English Department and specialist in Mediaeval Studies, who had not only put up her hand for the Event, but had also gathered the troops and elected to play Toby heself! Now that’s gutsy! A huge number of people at DePaul helped out – it was a true community effort.

Old bookpal escort Bill Young was on hand to help out the next day, which included an interview by student TVers from DePaul and a reception for many involved, and then the performance. Women and Children First – the booksellers, long a Chicago feature – introduced the Event, and then, along with Orville Stoeber and accompanied by Jane Bunnell (who sings with the Chicago Lyric) the well-trained singers launched into the first Hymn. (They were: Becky Sorensen, Becky Robonson, Joanna Wernette, Jane Bunnell, Carl Glick, Daniel Cheng, Michael Cochran, Matt Marshall, Lindsay Metzger, and Lindsay Lehman, and they were from the Music School.) Marc Embree – in real life, an opera singer – was Adam One, and he gave it that operatic energy; Loresa Grigsby, a student from the Theatre School, was an excellently-articulated and touching Ren; and Dr. Anne Bartlett – in her first stage role! – played Toby with great inner conviction.

A special feature of the Chicago performance were the two Interpreters, Heidi Woelbling and Mera Kelly-Yurdin. It was the first time we’d had Interpreters, and these two were a joy to watch, especially during the Hymns – very dance-like. I called them “Signers” in the photo caption because I have a poem called “The Signer.”)  Well done, Chicago!

After the book signing, the intrepid team –including Orville’s sister Cathy and her husband – retreated to the Phoebe & Orville room, where, in a frenzy of relief, we made merry with the blue feather boa. It was actually the second blue feather boa, Phoebe having left the first one somewhere, but it looked just the same. What were we eating? Popcorn? Whatever it was, it was festive.


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Bonnie Stern Book Club, November 12.

Every year, Bonnie Stern of Cooking with Bonnie Stern ( selects a certain number of authors and their books. She reads the books, marking all the food passages in the text. Then she concocts recipes that go with the books. The walls of her enclave on Erskine Avenue in Toronto have many authors pictured with food and/or books. People sign up for the dinners, the authors speak, and then we eat. Bonnie provides the recipes for the dishes. which I’ll insert here when I get them in e-form. It’s a labour of love for Bonnie.

On November 12, the reader/eaters assembled at the BonnieCastle  and undertook to eat our way through the themes of YOTF. (Someone has to do it.) Bonnie had excelled herself, paying meticulous attention, not only to The Year of the Flood, but also to Oryx and Crake.

We began with  Elderberry Sangria (see Chapter 9 of YOTF), continued with some lovely cheeses, and – for others – some mini-Not-So-SecretBurgers, made with Cumbrae local and organic beef. Next came some delicious Wild Mushroom Bruschetta, in a tribute to the Gardeners’ mushroom-growing. (No psychedelics though.)

While all this munching was going on, I spoke about food in YOTF, dividing it into Vegetables, Fruits, and Meat and playing the appropriate Hymns from the CD (“The Holy Weeds,” for vegetables; “The Peach or Plum,” for Fruit; and the Predator Day Hymn, “The Water Shrew That Rends Its Prey,” for Meat.) We then spoke of many things, though I didn’t tell What Happens Next or What Becomes of Zeb.

Next, the main food event began, with a fantastic Ancient Fruits Gardener Salad (see Pollination Day, just before Chapter 49); and then we had some 100% Real Fish Sticksof the kind Jimmy in Oryx and Crake would have liked, served with lentil “caviar” and Heritage Carrots of many colours. We talked some more while the dangerous-dessert  Happicuppa Walnut Roll was being prepared. At the end, I gave out some CDs to interested parties, and we staggered home, blessing the food we’d just eaten. Thank you, Bonnie and Co.!

For Bonnie’s inventive and witty recipes (when did you last eat a witty recipe?) see below:



“God’s Gardeners ate a lot of mushrooms, both dried and fresh and lived in buildings where they did not have to pay rent like an old cheese factory which still smelled faintly of cheese.”

1 lb (500g) mixed wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2  cloves garlic, finely chopped<

2 tbsp (25mL) olive oil<

1/2 tsp (2mL) salt<

1/4 tsp (1mL) pepper<

1 tbsp (15mL) fresh thyme leaves<

1 tbsp (15mL) white truffle oil – optional<

8 oz (250g) riopelle, Brie or goat cheese<

16  slices baguette<

2 tbsp (25mL) olive oil or butter<

1 tbsp (15mL) chopped fresh tarragon<

1. Cook mushrooms and garlic in olive oil in a large heavy skillet until any liquid evaporates. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Add truffle oil if using.<

2. Trim rind off cheese if it is too strong.<

3. Brush bread on one side with olive oil or butter. Grill or broil about one to two minutes per side until crusty on the outside but still chewy on the inside. 4. Spread oiled side with cheese and top with mushrooms. Sprinkle with tarragon.<

makes 6 to 8 servings<



No one really knew what strange things were in SecretBurgers! But we know what’s in our burgers – meat  from Cumbrae Butchers.<

1 lb (500g) 100% ground pure steak<

1  egg<

1 tsp (5mL) salt<

1/2 tsp (2mL) pepper<

2  cloves garlic, minced (or one head roasted garlic)<

1/4 cup (50mL) breadcrumbs<

1/4 cup (50mL)  tomato sauce<

2 tbsp (25mL) Worcestershire sauce<

chipotle ketchup*<

16  dinner rolls<

1. Combine ground steak with egg, salt, pepper, garlic, breadcrumbs, tomato sauce and Worcestershire.  Shape into 16 meatballs. Flatten ball slightly.<

2. Just before serving grill burgers to medium.<

3. Serve in dinner rolls topped with chipotle ketchup.<

* For chipotle ketchup add 1 tbsp (15mL) pureed chipotle chiles to 1/2 cup (125mL) ketchup.<

makes 16 mini burgers<



In The Year of the Flood, God’s Gardeners eat many wild greens and herbs. They also keep honey bees and make their own vinegar. For this salad, we used Cookstown Greens’ organic salad mix of more than 40 greens, herbs and floweres and made a honey vinaigrette.

16 cups (4 L) organic mixed greens

2 apples, halved, cored and sliced

1/2 cup (125 mL) pomegranate seeds

4 fresh figs, quartered

8 Medjool dates, halved

1 cup (250 mL) honey-coated walnuts or roasted walnuts


3 tbsp (45 mL) apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp (15 mL) honey

1 tsp (5 mL) salt

1/4 tsp (1mL) pepper

1/2 tsp (2mL) Dijon mustard

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1/2 cup (125mL) extra virgin olive oil

1. For dressing, whisk vinegar with honey, salt, pepper, mustard and shallot. Whisk in olive oil. Season to taste.

2. Toss as much dressing with greens as needed. Top salad with apples,pomegranate seeds, figs, dates and walnuts.

Makes 8 servings



In the cafeteria at Helthwyzer High, they serve fish sticks with only 20% real fish sticks. Ours are all fish! Atwood confirmed that Jimmy in Oryx and Crake would have loved them.

5 tbsp (75 mL) butter

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) panko breadcrumbs

2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped wild herbs (thyme, sage or rosemary)

salt and pepper to taste

2 lb (1 kg) boneless, skinless, fresh halibut fillets, cut into 2 oz (60

g) pieces

2 tbsp (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp (5 mL) kosher salt

1/4 tsp (1mL) freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add breadcrumbs and cook gently untillightly toasted. Add herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Cool and place in alarge shallow dish.

2. Rub pieces of fish with olive oil, salt and pepper. Dredge with crumbs onall sides. Place fish in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

3. Roast fish in a preheated 425F (210C) oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or justuntil cooked through.

Makes 6 to 8 servings



At Scales and Tails where Ren works, Caviar and Champagne were considered “loyalty snacks” for girls who had gone above and beyond with high rolling clients. These beautiful beluga lentils look like caviar. For a vegetarian version omit the bacon and use 2 tbsp (25mL) chopped smoked sun-dried tomatoes from (Cookstown Greens) instead – add them with the olive oil and onions in step #3 and cook  about 5 minutes until softened. We used double smoked bacon from Cumbrae Butchers.

1 1/2 cups (375mL) black beluga lentils (or tiny du Puy lentils)<

1  onion, cut into chunks<

2  sprigs fresh thyme<

1  carrot, cut into chunks<

1  rib celery, cut into chunks<

4  strips double smoked bacon, diced<

1 tbsp (15mL) extra virgin olive oil<

1  onion, chopped<

1  clove garlic, finely chopped<

salt and pepper to taste<

1. Cook lentils in a large saucepan just covered with boiling water for 20 to 25 minutes until tender. Drain well and rinse with cold water.<

2. Place bacon in a large deep skillet and cook until crisp. Remove bacon and reserve. Discard excess fat. Return pan to heat. Add olive oil. Add onions and garlic and cook gently until tender about 5 minutes.<

3. Add lentils and heat thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in reserved bacon.<

makes 6 servings<



Organic, heirloom vegetables would be God’s Gardeners first choice and drizzling them with honey makes them irresistible.<

3 lbs (1.5kg) carrots, cleaned and cut in half lengthwise if large, preferably heirloom varieties in many colours<

2 tbsp (25mL) olive oil<

1 tsp (5mL) salt or to taste<

1/4 tsp (1mL) freshly ground black pepper<

1 tbsp (15mL) fresh thyme leaves<

1 tbsp (15mL) honey<

1. Toss carrots with olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and honey. Spread in a single layer on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.<

2. Roast in a preheated 400F (200C) for 30 to 40 minutes until caramelized and tender.<

makes 6 to 8 servings<



This cake was inspired by the novel’s Happicuppa coffee franchise and the walnuts and berries that God’s Gardeners ate.

6 eggs, separated

3/4 cup (175 mL) sugar, divided

1 tsp (5 mL) pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) ground toasted walnuts

1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder

Coffee buttercream:

3/4 cup (175 mL) butter

1 cup (250 mL) icing sugar, sifted

1 tsp (5 mL) pure vanilla extract

1 tbsp (15 mL) coffee extract or more to taste

Chocolate sauce:

1/2 cup (125 mL) whipping cream

4 oz (125 g) semi-sweeet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 tbsp (15 mL) brewed espresso or strong coffee (optional)

2 cups (500 mL) mixed berries

1. Lightly butter a 10×15-inch baking sheet and line with parchment paper.

Butter and lightly flour parchment.

2. Beat egg yolks with 1/2 cup (125mL) sugar until very light. Add vanilla.

Combine nuts with baking powder and stir into egg yolks. Whip egg whites

until light and gradually beat in remaining sugar. Fold into nut mixture.

Spread on prepared pan. Bake in a preheated 350F/180C oven for 15 to 16

minutes. Cool.

3. For filling, whip butter until very light. Beat in icing sugar. Add

vanilla and coffee extract.

4. Loosen cake from pan. Dust with icing sugar. Turn cake out onto parchment

paper. Spread cake with filling and roll up lengthwise. Refrigerate. Serve

cake at room temperature.

5. For sauce, heat cream. Pour over chocolate. Allow to rest for 2 or 3

minutes and then stir until smooth. Stir in coffee. Cool.

6. Drizzle cake with sauce and garnish with berries.

Makes 8 servings



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