the long and worthwhile road…

—That leads to my bookseller’s door.

Please understand.

I don’t have to drive. I can call the store, phone in my order [and have, often], or place it online through the shop’s website. I can have it delivered to my doorstep—but I prefer the thirty minute drive to pick up the books in person, see how the shelves are stacked, see what’s in the windows, chat with staff about new favourites, gift ideas, book club picks, the best food in town, the latest author reading or event being held in Blue Heron’s studio space [where among this summer’s inaugural events was a Neil Flambe camp for kids with Kevin Sylvester], or just wander about neighbouring shops. It’s the kind of town where you feel encouraged to wander, discover things, where you end up getting back in your car with not only books but goat cheese, olives, pastries, fresh bread—the fixings for a perfect rest of the day.

The bookshop is merely the town’s heart. Stuart McLean named it among his ten favourites in the country.

Recently ordered, collected, or waiting for me, are Joe Brainard’s I Remember, Alice Zorn’s Ruins & Relics, Brenda Schmidt’s Grid, Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat, Alice Peterson’s All the Voices CryLorri Neilsen Glenn’s essays on poetry, Threading Light, the re-release of Sheree Fitch’s classic, Toes in My Nose, and the short story anthologies Riptides  and Bridges. 

All of which has arrived, or will, without a glitch. The phone will ring and I’ll pick a day when I need goat cheese and good bread and head out.

Lucky us for having all that.

And congratulations to Shelley Macbeth, the creative genius and owner of Blue Heron Books, who, this year, [so well deservedly] received the CBA Libris Award for Canadian Bookseller of the Year.

Congratulations.
And thanks.

how to spend a day in peterborough

If the day is Saturday…

…start with the market.

Buy potaotes from the Potato Guy who has a dozen different varieties at least and can tell you the history and origins of every single one. He will also tell you which ones make the best potato salad, the best for mashed, scalloped, boiled, baked, fried, potato-pancaked, you name it, he will tell you. He is the Potato Guy.

Buy mushrooms from the [you know what’s coming…] Mushroom Guy. Only in this case it’s the Mushroom Gal. But she’s not there in person in winter [though her ‘shrooms are]; in winter she’s in her lab figuring out how to cultivate morels.   I think she’s doing a PhD in mushroomology. Seriously. The Shiitake are always spectacular. And the Portobello are fresh and don’t need their insides scraped out before you eat/grill/sautee them the way they do when you get the ones from Outer Mongolia at the grocery store.

Buy chocolate from two lads who call themselves ChocoSol and whose [better than fair trade] endeavours are worth supporting. Not to mention the chocolate. Which is worth eating. Expensive, but that’s because it’s ethical and real. And that is the price of ethical and real food. The recipe is simple: buy smarter, eat less.

Buy clean, fresh greenhouse greens from the guy right near the entrance at a tiny table where you never know what he’ll have from week to week, but you know it will be excellent.

Buy apples from the St. Catharines guy, also apple cider; and for god’s sake, don’t forget the pulled pork pastry from The Pastry Peddler or a jar of freshly jarred honey—or cheese, or perogies, farm fresh eggs, homemade pies and cookies, sausages and a few samosas.

Buy flowers to feed the soul.

Remember to thank the buskers for their delightful ambience.

And be absolutley stunned that you spent all your money but applaud yourself for spending it so wisely and in a way that will directly help others, rather than helping already-doing-just-fine-thanks grocery store gazillionaires who bully farmers.

Make a mental note to get cat food on the way home.

Visit a 94 year-old uncle who has a fractured femur but that doesn’t stop him lighting up at the bag of mudpie chocolate cookies you bring him from the market. [p.s. bring him reading material also; Harlan Coban is a good choice.]

Have lunch at Elements. Have the wild boar pate. Have the mussel and fish stew. Have the vino verde. Smile. Sit back. Breathe. Be thankful.

Pop into Titles Bookstore. Buy a copy of something local.

Decide against visiting the many second hand bookshops on George Street [you can’t do it all] and walk west, along the river instead. If you see litter, pick it up. If you fancy a sit down, well then, for pete’s sake, sit down. [Make a note to try the patio at the Holiday Inn once the weather heats up; lovely view.]

Walk all the way to the art gallery, one of the best you’ll see anywhere, where you might find an exhibit by the students at PCVS, a local, downtown high school under threat of closure—and then wonder at the madness of the powers that be.

Choose as your favourite, an installation comprised of one large pink velveteen sofa with dark and ornately carved trim, above which are four standard paint-by-number style formal landscape paintings in gilt frames, each of which has been over-painted in Norville Morriseau style interpretations of ‘landscape’.

Second favourite installation: a text written on the wall, denouncing art. Heart-breaking in one way, given that the artist feels there’s no point in art because no one really gets it and it changes nothing. Oh dear. I want to find this person and say: it doesn’t matter. Do it anyway.

Admire the light.

Walk back along the river to your car and make a mental note to wear better shoes next time.

Stop to take pictures of a dilapidated building that was once a place to eat and drink and be merry.

Go home. Eat, drink and be merry.

[But not before picking up some cat food, otherwise there will be hell to pay.]

◊♦◊

More Travel:

Prince Edward Island
Miami
Montreal
Niagara Region
Chile
Stratford
Vancouver

making a list

Of course the holidays aren’t about gifts. Who said they were?? Gifts shmifts. We’re above that, right? It’s all about feelings and togetherness and kumbaya, man. Yessirree Bob it surely is. Still, I have the feeling that if a few gifts don’t cross a few palms there will be some questionable vibes floating around amongst the joy and the shortbread crumbs.

Having said that there’s no rule about what the gift should be and between you, me and the lamppost, I don’t like shopping and most of the people I know already have too much stuff. (Books don’t count. We all need books.)

So for the past few years I’ve been moving to non-stuff gifts (except for books, which, just to make it crystal clear, are NOT included in the ‘stuff’ category, not in any land or galaxy because, among other things, and unlike stuff, they’re fun to buy).

I was, therefore, super chuffed when a friend recently sent me a list of “Out of the Box” gift ideas. Nothing especially mind-blowing, but that’s the point: to consider some of the basic things that everybody needs but don’t treat themselves to. Like new underwear, only better.

— gift certificate to an art supply store
— or hair salon, barber
— garden centre
— car detailing (someone to clean my car—they do that??)
— lawn mowing service
— snow ploughing
— ski hills/trails
— restaurants, cafes, diners, bistros, a really great mom & pop breakfast joint
— house-cleaning for a day
— window washing service for spring
— eavestrough cleaning for fall
— local art, pottery, scarves, jewellery, etc.
— subscription to local theatre
— membership to museum, gallery
— chimney cleaning

Lots there to appeal to mums and dads, grandparents or older friends/relatives who have mown enough lawns and cleaned enough gutters that the lustre has faded a little from those particular DIY jobs… and it helps support small businesses.

Then there’s food: homemade preserves, baked things (markets sell this stuff year-round), or (for people you really like): Community Supported Agriculture and similar farm programs that deliver baskets of fresh veggies all summer. There’s magazine subscriptions and favourite charities of course. And donkeys… You get the idea.

In fact, if you do get any ideas, or come across other sites that are doing unusually fun gifty things worthy of note, please let me know.

So here’s to keeping out of the malls and, as much as possible, supporting community and independent retailers, book shops… and always, always… FARMERS!

Happy trails!

Via Melwyck–— give the library!

Via Eating Niagara –— give ice and rock climbing, outdoorsy adventures, nudist dining, and more!

love... it's all in the detail(ing)s

goats are (were) one of my dreams

From the new glossy pages of The Globe and Mail (Sue Riedl’s ‘The Spread’) comes a piece about a family that moved from Israel to Kelowna and opened a goat cheese business named after their two daughters. I read it thinking: that is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, despite not having the requisite two daughters.

I just like goats. And not only that—although I do have a story about taking one for a walk in the Austrian alps when I was nine (that got away from me because it was not used to being taken for walks by strange young Canadians and was both confused and frightened and so galloped through the village with me in hot pursuit trying to think how to say Stop Little Goat! in german)—

—but I also happen to like goat cheese.

So running a goat cheese business has always been something that seemed right up my street.

Two problems continue to prevent this:

1) They don’t allow goats on my street; at least I’ve rarely seen any, and

2) I haven’t finished the novel so don’t really have time to be milking and walking and otherwise entertaining them.

Oh, wait. There’s three.

3) Despite my general crazy love for cheese, and no matter how hard I’d be willing to try, I just know I’d never be able to describe it in these terms (from The G&M):

“Misty and Moonlight are two cheeses that stand out from the pack…. Misty is immediately distinctive with its dark ash rind made from kiln-charred root vegetables. The cheese has a mushroomy, yeasty aroma and a nice balance of flavour–salty with a soft tang that leaves a pleasantly long linger. “

The other—Moonlight—is, apparently, “smooth and creamy on the palate with mineral notes and a pleasant earthy aroma.”

Gorgeous, yes, but I’ve only just learned to describe wine as not merely tasting ‘grapey’. Now it seems it’s not enough to describe cheese as mmmm, nice

So, notwithstanding my love of all things goatish, I’ve gotta say this is one dream I just may have to let go of.

Ah well. I’ll always have the alps.

~

take this

Take 2 cups of it, in fact (from your local farmers’ market if you can, or better still, pick it yourself on a sunny day). Tightly packed. Put in food processor. Add a few pinenuts. A tablespoon, two. Or none. Or walnuts. Half a cup of olive oil. A whoosh of salt and by a whoosh I mean about an eighth teaspoon, no more than a quarter (you can always add later). Garlic cloves. Three, four, five, depends how big they are, how much you like garlic. But more than five large ones would just be silly.

Puree.

Place in small tupperwares and freeze. I use single serving yoghurt containers, covered with saran wrap (and an elastic band to hold it in place). This recipe will fill two such containers.

Don’t worry about imprecise measures. You can’t go far wrong here. What you’ll have, no matter how you do it, is a little preserved ‘summer’ to enjoy in December. 

~

a series of lovely events (with a point)

—leaving my mother’s building I overhear an elderly woman looking for dental floss; I might I have some in my purse, I say, and she wonders if it’s new or used and I don’t ask what she means; I say I think new; my dentist gives them to me, I tell her, and sure enough I find a tiny blue container, the white seal unopened and firmly in place. She only wants a piece, she says, but I tell her she can have the whole thing, keep it forever. She smiles like it’s her birthday and floss is the perfect gift.

—from there I drive downtown to visit the library where a book I expect to have seventeen holds is actually on the shelves (and, even better, is now on my kitchen table).

—after that I walk over to a beautiful, recently burned out church to take some pictures and while doing so a man in a burgundy van stops and because I must look very keen on religious buildings he asks if I know where is St. John’s Anglican. I normally don’t know where things are when people ask and if I do my directions can be a little complicated. In any case, churches are not my specialty but, to my amazement, I’m able to direct him perfectly. He leaves with a “well, I sure as hell asked the right person” kind of look on his face.

—En route to the farmers’ market around the corner, I stop at a shop to check their small selection of second hand books, buy a copy of Tillie Olsen’s Tell Me a Riddle, published in 1956—I have a thing about that era, the 40’s and 50’s. Also pick up some postcards (also have a thing about postcards), which the shopowner says I can have for nothing because I look ‘honest’. Not quite sure of the math involved in his reasoning, but it’s sweet nonetheless.

—At the market I’m delighted to discover a new vendor, a local organic farm who not only offer fresh produce but also raise pastured cattle and poultry and are members of Community Supported Agriculture (a program where you can sign up to get a week’s supply of straight-from-the-field veggies, washed and packed). Not only all that, but they are tremendously friendly and charming and when I buy a pint of green beans, they throw in an extra handful.

—Then, as if all these lovely events aren’t enough to prove I’m in the right place at the right time, as I’m walking back to my car, which is a moderate hike, it starts to rain—but only the vaguely spitting kind of rain, a warning. I have time to get to get to my car, time even to stop and take this picture (because I love the style of this house and may use it in a story).

It’s not until I’m sitting behind the wheel and the ignition is turned on that the skies open like they’ve been unzipped, and within milliseconds this is what I see—

And that’s not all. It rains like crazy until I get home—BUT by the time I park and walk to the house, the sun is back.

Moral and/or point of the storythis stuff doesn’t happen all the time but when it does you’ve got to admit it’s like dental floss: one big fat gorgeous gift.

~

a good sign

Seen next to a busy street.

Had to stop of course.

None of the gardeners were there.

So I wandered about being amazed and delighted at the variety of contraptions and ‘constructions’

—humbled at the idea that people would come all the way out here to the middle of nowhere to work in the heat, tending rows of cucumber

and string beans

cauliflower

tomatoes (112 plants in this patch alone)

as well as lettuce (not to mention zucchini, eggplant, brussel sprouts, beets, carrots, herbs, peppers, kohlrabi…)

for the benefit—at least in part—of others.

~