things i learned in a few patio hours with my favourite eccentric

A teaspoon of red wine vinegar tossed into a bowl of lentil soup just before serving apparently turns lentil soup into nectar.

Shivasana is THE most important yoga move. Ten minutes is good.

Persimmons for arthritis.

Raccoon poop is best disposed of with a) gloves, b) crumpled newspaper. Forget the trowel or shovel because then  how do you clean off the toxic??

Margaret Carney, nature writer and birder extraordinaire, once upon a time worked as an editor at Harlequin.

Lima beans, aka butter beans, will last — tops — three days in the fridge once the tin is opened so after you use half a tin for making a butter bean flan, use the other half — straightaway! — in a butter bean salad (red onion, celery, dressing of choice).

A lavender farm has opened not a million miles away from my front door.

And if that isn’t enough there’s ANOTHER lavender place even closer.

Ways of peeling garlic. (The knife crush is but one.)

Levine Flexhaug.  (1918 – 1974)  Famous for more or less painting the same cheesy landscape scene over and over in audacious colours and with various ‘differences’. So bad it’s brilliant.

The word minim.

 

 

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wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

Greetings from somewhere west of Toronto, way west (but not as far as Calgary) (or even Windsor). No idea what’s inside this museum as we didn’t stop, or it wasn’t open, who can remember. What is recalled is the infamous garden at the swanky inn where we stayed (a gift to us from kind souls else we’d never have gone the way of such swankiness). I’d looked forward to staying there mostly because they are known for their enormous vegetable gardens and famously claim almost everything on their menu is seasonal and made with their own produce… but what we saw on the menu didn’t jibe with their marketing schpiel (butternut squash and cauliflower in July for instance). In fact almost everything on the menu was out of season  and when we asked the waiter what was up he got a little jumpy and said he’d check with the kitchen but in fact he never came back to our table. Someone else brought the bill. Later, walking in the infamous gardens of menu mythology, we asked a couple of gardeners where the celery was, and the frisee (two of very few things on the menu that were in season) and were told they didn’t grow celery or frisee and so we mentioned the marketing that spoke of how all this magnificent produce was used in the kitchen. Ha!  they snorted. The garden, it seems is pretty much for show… while rows and rows of produce go unpicked, none of it on the menu. Not a single string bean, not an onion. Even in the face of oodles of evidence, we didn’t want to believe it… a vegetable garden of this size, being used only as a marketing tool??? Nah. Can’t be true. But in the morning, as we set out for a walk, we watched a delivery arrive from a huge commercial vegetable supplier whose name was painted very clearly on the side of the truck.

I wrote a letter to the inn, asking them about this.

Didn’t hear back.

(Summer, 2015)

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

wordless wednesday (aka: instructions for pretzels)

Go to your local market on market day.

Find the pretzel lady. Try not to get there too late. She leaves when she sells out and she sells out often.

Take a minute, make sure you choose the right  pretzel.

Or just grab any of them because they’re all the same for heaven’s sake.

Use the tongs provided.

Pay.

Put pretzel in backpack and take to your desk to eat later.

OR (better idea) eat while walking in the sun.

Last, but most important point:  the instant you realize you’re too far away to  go back for more, kick yourself for buying only one.

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

 

this is not a review: ‘meatless?’, by sarah elton

 
I so enjoyed Meatless? : A Fresh Look at What You Eat…. a book (but also a really lovely, enlightening and important conversation) about eating meat or not eating meat… the choice being ours and the emphasis being on choice. (There is nothing, nothing, nothing judgy or even suggestive of one ‘side’ being righter than the other. It’s merely info.)

The author, Sarah Elton, is a well known food writer. She also eats meat, although she truly understands the ‘other’ side. This, in my view, is the ideal perspective by which to write such a book. Balanced, in other words.

It’s picture book size with loads of gorgeous illustrations by Julie McLaughlin, and tons of easy to digest info. Really the most brilliant tool to start a chat with kids about veggie-ism, before they get their ideas on the schoolyard or to clarify some already-got misconceptions.

A smattering of things of note:

♦ It was Pythagoras that came up with the germ of the idea that became veggie-ism. He felt animals were reincarnated humans.

♦ Why is meat the MAIN part of a meal? And why, in a restaurant, do we order ‘the chicken’ that comes with the lentils and asparagus…. instead of ordering the ‘lentils and asparagus’ that come with chicken?? (This one item is a whole conversation in itself in my world.)

♦ 20 million pigs are killed EACH YEAR in Canada.

♦ 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of meat and dairy. This is more than from cars. (Kids will love the ‘how’ of this one!)

♦ There’s a terrific section on food combos that create complete proteins (for the days you choose not to eat meat). Beans, rice, legumes… nut cheeses. All of which are equally nutritious in terms of protein, but much cheaper. Good for students and families who need to make their food dollars stretch. A few meatless days a week = money saved.

♦ From the section titled ‘Telling Your Friends and Family’, this struck me as a fair warning: “Meat eaters sometimes take offense or react defensively when they hear someone is a vegetarian…”  Equally valid, that veggie people sometimes need to stop preaching. (And this is the best thing about the book…. no defensiveness, no preaching. The message is that there’s no way to be wrong, just misinformed. And that judgment serves no purpose.)

♦ Gallo Pinto is a beans and rice dish that I want to make. The name means spotted rooster.

♦ There is a small section on animal welfare, the reality of factory farms,  overcrowded stalls, pens, and feedlots, and animals that can barely move.

And before everyone starts wringing their hands about how the wee ones mustn’t be traumatized by the truth and that surely it’s better they believe ‘meat’ has nothing to do with animals… that, instead, it arrives by pelicans, already saran-wrapped at Costco or delivered with pickles in a burger under golden arches… and that the animals that are used to create such happy ‘bargain food’ have indeed lived sunny lives… let’s remind ourselves that country children grow up knowing where meat comes from and they somehow manage to understand, and survive the info..

Tell kids the hard truth about unethical meat farming, I say. And, harder still, tell ourselves while we’re at it.

Like Elton, I’m a meat eater, though it’s not a huge part of my diet and I can easily go a week without missing it or even noticing that I haven’t eaten any. I’m not a vegetarian but I do care about where my meat comes from. I care about how the animal lived and died and I care about its food source. I care about over-production and over-consumption and waste and I continue to hope that the big players, the golden arches, the chicken purveyors and bacon mongers, will one day insist their meat suppliers follow more humane practices because, mostly, I care about responsible farming practices. I hope, too, that maybe some of us will consider the effects of supporting the alternative. And given that information, we make our choices.

That’s really what this book is about… the idea of informed choices.

Meatless? : A Fresh Look at What You Eat  can be ordered online at Hunter Street Books.

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what we talk about when we talk about restaurants

 
Dear Restaurant with a Cute and Unusual Name:

I was thinking of writing you a letter to say what I thought of my experience at lunch but I got side-tracked into wondering what your cute and unusual name might mean…

Perhaps it means… “An attractive establishment with plenty of staff and at least one server who does not know what beans are in the Sweet Italian Soup with Beans but who will check because it’s No Problem and returns with a proud declaration of ‘white’ and when I say ‘navy?’ he says yes even though when the soup comes they are not navy, they are possibly lima…. although, like the server, I am not a connoisseur of all and sundry beans.”

Or could it by chance mean “tepid soup that arrives many many minutes after ordering, with only an asthmatic whisper of cheese (pecorino) and too little Sweet Italian Sausage.” 

Or a reference to this, how when I ask the server if he’s found out about the pizza he forgets to find out and (many many minutes later) tells me he will do so now because until now the kitchen has been too busy but it’s No Problem and perhaps things have slowed down.” 

Maybe it means “a cook that cannot be asked about pizza while s/he is ladelling soup.”

It might  of course be meant to describe “how only after my not-even-close-to-being-warm, indeterminately bean’d soup is eaten, does my server deliver the glass of water I was offered when I  first sat down.”

Or does it mean this: “three water glasses mysteriously left on my table after the hostess cleared the excess cutlery and plates. Or a reference to the hostess herself , a young woman who, on my arrival, said I could sit anywhere I like, and when I said Oh how lovely, a window would be great! she led me to the end of the room and pointed to a tiny table tucked into a windowless corner and which almost touched the table of the only other people in the room and when I made a face she said You don’t like this table? and I said well another would be better and so I chose a table by a window where I would not be touching neighbouring diners and when I asked the hostess if she knew what the soup of the day was she said she did not and reminded me that she was a hostess.”

Then again, perhaps your cute name simply refers to “how when the bill comes, long long minutes (too many long minutes) after I ask for it, and a passing bartender asks if she can help and I say well I’d like to pay my bill and she says No Problem, she says she’ll take care of it and when ten minutes later I am now pacing in front of my table as I have a class starting in mere moments no one can find my server or the bartender and so I explain the situation to the hostess and when the server finally shows up he casually places the change from my twenty-dollar bill on the table and says sorry for the wait.”

On the other hand it wouldn’t surprise me if the name is meant to describe “the tone in which he says this, like he’s been ‘told’ I’m annoyed rather than any kind of sincere apology.”

Also, we shouldn’t discount the possibility that it refers to“the way that I, for the first time in a very very long time, possibly ever, scoop all of the change, bills and coins, into my pocket and leave the bill folder empty and wide open.”

Or “the look on the server’s face when I do it.”

If the restaurant’s cute and unusual name means any of the above, then it is a well suited name indeed. And things are going perfectly to plan.

Sincerely,

The single at the window seat who will bring a sandwich next time she has a class in your vicinity.

Alphabet_soupPhoto by: wikicommons

story of a recipe

 

Once upon a time there was a folk dance group that required its female dancers to wear a dirdnl’ish costume with a corset over a cotton blouse and sometimes real, sometimes fake, carnations stuffed down the front of said corset. This effectively rendered the girls dancing flower pots. Boy dancers were encouraged to ‘smell’ the carnations while the girl dancers twirled coquettishly from one to the other. When they weren’t sniffing carnations, the boys danced ‘figure’ dances, pretending to chop wood or other acts of physical prowess meant to attract the hapless flower pots.

I was a member of such a folk dance group.

For the record, it wasn’t my idea to join. I was fourteen and shy and my parents thought it would be just the ticket to bring me out of my shell.

I suppose in a way it did. It was also where I learned to drink beer.

And it’s where I met Laura, from whom I received the recipe mentioned in the title. Laura wisely left both the dance group and town at the first opportunity, stuffing everything she owned into a small car and driving west until she got to Calgary.

A few years later I followed. Not to Calgary, but to Edmonton. Close enough. Only 300 km away, it made Alberta a place where I knew someone. We’d visit each other on occasional weekends, mostly me going to her place, the main floor of a big old ramshackle house with no yard but access to a back stoop, room enough for a Hibachi.

The kitchen smelled of meatloaf, coffee and Joy dishwashing liquid.

Laura was the first person I knew (my age) who not only liked to cook but talked about food, grew herbs on windowsills, owned actual cookbooks and shopped for food with all kinds of serious enthusiasm. Even more amazingly to me, almost ten out ten times she preferred inviting people to her place for a meal over meeting at a restaurant. She was interesting in different ways (she once moved into an apartment with a bright red fridge and spaghetti on the ceiling; beyond enviable when the rest of us were still living in bungalows) but this cooking thing struck me as a little over-the-top… remember, this was eons ago, when food as a ‘thing’ hadn’t been invented yet. When only five people in the whole world read Gourmet.

In that ramshackle Calgary kitchen Laura served me my first Caesar salad, and I remember thinking it was pretty groovy that she made the dressing by throwing ingredients into a jar and shaking it like maracas.

I came across the recipe recently—the original paper version I wrote out while she dictated precise instructuions all those decades ago. More than slightly splattered and used (though not for some time now as I’ve since discovered other recipes. Julia Child’s and Ina Garten’s, for two).

But they don’t come with a story.

(Actually, the Julia Child one does… it can be found in the book From Julia Child’s Kitchen — a tradition in this house is to have someone read the passage while someone else makes the salad…)

But that’s another story entirely.

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(All recipes with stories welcome. In fact that would be exceedingly groovy…)

 

a frivolous five minutes over pizza with ‘k’ — age 58

 

I met K in the 70’s. We used to work together for what now seems like a fraction of a second. Then I moved away and for a brief time we stayed in touch. Then I moved even further away, and further still, and eventually she moved too and married and remarried. Along the way there have been an assortment of cats and dogs, long ago mutual friends and at least one hamster, as well as a gap of years and years and years when all we did was send birthday and xmas cards. We rarely spoke and we never saw each other. Yet we remained connected in that peculiar way of old friends… where when the phone rings one day and you hear their voice for the first time in a decade and you start talking like no time at all has passed.

Recently, we’ve been meeting for lunch once or twice a year at a place about an hour’s drive for each of us. We rarely do phone calls and emails are few, yet when we see each other it’s like someone spliced out all the gaps and this lovely film just continues on from the last scene…

K always begins every lunch by explaining to the server that we’ll be there a while.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen her place an order. And exactly what size are the peppers when they come out?”

She still has the most contagious laugh I know.

How long could you go without talking?  However long I’m asleep.

Do you prefer silence or noise?  Noise, as in background… a fan at night, TV on while reading…

How many pairs of shoes do you own?  Fewer than 10.

If you won $25 million?  I’d fix the garage and the driveway, give some to family and Humane Society.

One law you’d make?  Install a device in cars that prevents driving drunk.

Unusual talent?  Am a ‘Name that Tune’ master.

What do you like to cook? One pot meals.

Have you or would you ever bungee jump?  No.

What’s the most daredevilish thing you’ve done?  Roller coaster at CNE. Hated it.

Do you like surprise parties, practical jokes?  Yes.

Favourite time of day?  Early morning.

What tree would you be?  Birch.

Best present ever received?  An opal ring I’d had my eye on. My dad gave it to me to me the year my mum died just before xmas.

What do you like on your toast?  Peanut butter.

The last thing you drew a picture of?  A map with directions.

Last thing written in ink.  Birthday card.

Favourite childhood meal?  My dad’s meatloaf.

Best invention?  Car.

Describe your childhood bedroom.  Pink with rosy wallpaper. Maybe. We rented and moved around a lot.

Afraid of spiders?  Not spiders, snakes.

Phobias?  Heights. [see bungee jumping and devilish thing; also declined hot air balloon idea]

Least favourite teacher?  Mr. Something—made me put gum on my nose for chewing in class.

Favourite children’s story?  Anything Winnie the Pooh.

Ideal picnic ingredients?  Potato salad, devilled eggs, fresh buns and butter, pickles, cold cuts, strawberries, ice tea, no bugs.

Is Barbie a negative role model?  No.

No?  No.

Best thing about Canada?  Landscape.

Best thing about people in general?  Their differences.

What flavour would you be? Chocolate.

What colour? Pink.

What would you come back as? Medium sized border collie.

Favourite saying: “She offered her honour; he honoured her offer; and all night long he was honour and offer.”
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—the frivolous five, a series of frivolity