Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Slipper Lessons

Never say, "Ooops." Always say, "Ah, interesting." 
Author Unknown 

Who would have thought that I would learn so much from a little slipper? A few days ago I mentioned how I had learned all about 'ssk' and 'W&T'; since then I learned how to work with 5 double-pointed needles all at the same time with some finger acrobatics, and most recently, I learned a very important lesson about needle size. I guess I wasn't paying attention and I picked up and began working enthusiastically with 5mm needles, rather than 5.5mm needles specified in the directions. Only when I began to put the pieces together did I notice that the slipper might fit the dainty foot of Cinderella, but certainly not mine. I learned that a half a millimeter makes a big difference in some cases. And now I am going to learn a lesson in unravelling rows of work. Oh well, live and learn. ;-)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Let's Go to the Ex"

Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths.
Colossians 2:16

The New Testament didn't have the Canadian National Exhibition in mind, but the quotation seemed apropo considering the hamburger in a donut bun (consumed by a 17-year old with an active metabolism) and other culinary monstrosities served, the fluorescent 'juices' on tap for the under 10, the lights, the whistles, and the gut-wrenching rides that all add up to good, clean fun. Let no one judge; just go and have fun.

S-I-L invited me to join her and her young male entourage on their annual pilgrimage to the "Ex" knowing that it has been DECADES since I last walked these hallowed streets. Operating every year since 1879, the "Ex" has a special place in the hearts of many. As kids, we all received free admission passes with our year-end report cards from grade school and a trip to the "Ex" marked the end of summer and return to school. We probably all got sick there after too much sugar, too many rides, and too much excitement, but we all looked forward to doing it all again the next year. So after a long hiatus, I enjoyed walking around looking at all the old familiar buildings amid some that were new to me.

We walked past the fountain which was the designated family meeting point when my brother and I were old enough to wander the midway sans parents. Somehow, the fountain didn't seem as big today as it did back then; the perspective has changed.

I was a little disappointed that it is no longer possible to walk among the horse stalls and breath in cow manure. Nowadays, it seemed to me, the agriculture component has been minimized with a few horses, cows, pigs, turkeys and alpacas housed in a small area. We were not in time for the sheep shearing demonstration nor the milking demo, but the piglets kept us amused.

Sadly, much of the horticulture building has been relegated to leather sofas, teeth-whitening and other sales, yet still on entering the building you are hit with the over-whelming scent of lavender and a couple of vendors still sell the same wicker sachets that my grandmother loved. I was pleased that some things haven't changed, even if the lavender made/makes my nose tickle.

And then there are the rides. My days of paying money for the pleasure of feeling queasy are over, so I enjoyed the thrills of whirling and twirling from the sidelines. Note in the background that King Tut has risen from his Theban tomb and followed me to the "Ex".

The Tilt-a-Whirl is still here, as is the Haunted House, but looking around at all the new ways a person can now 'woof their cookies', I marveled at the perversity of the minds of the engineers who think up these rides!

The dazzling colours of the midway always make for excitement and it's great to see someone beat 'the house' and get to take home a Rastafarian banana.

It was a great day of shopping, eating, memories and laughs. The "Ex" will always be a sweet spot. Thanks S-I-L!

Monday, August 29, 2011

200 Clicks!

A tree against the sky possesses the same interest, the same character, the same expression as the figure of a human.
Georges Rouault, French artist (1871-1958)

Today, Stealth and I celebrated 200 km along hometown streets and park paths. It's been a great journey and I'll keep on peddling!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Last Sweetness of Summer

This was one of those perfect New England days in late summer where the spirit of autumn takes a first stealing flight, like a spy, through the ripening country-side, and, with feigned sympathy for those who droop with August heat, puts her cool cloak of bracing air about leaf and flower and human shoulders.
Sarah Orne Jewett, The Courting of Sister Wisby, 1887

Autumn coolness and gray skies blanketed the city today as if to remind us that Summer's days are numbered. Wanting to preserve some of Summer's last sweetness, I took a Sunday drive to bring home another big basket of peaches . . . and some plums . . . and some nectarines. The final days of Summer are going to be very, very sweet. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Not Like Grandma

Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn't hurt the untroubled spirit, either.
Elizabeth Zimmerman, knitting teacher par excellence (1910–1999)

In a bag, in the closet, lies a sweater unfinished after I hit a snag understanding the pattern and couldn't figure out how to proceed; so there it waits, seemingly abandoned . . . but perhaps there is hope thanks to YouTube.

Yesterday I began knitting a pair of 'granny' slippers -- a simple project, I thought, until this evening when I hit a snag; a 'ssk' snag to be exact. I read the pattern's instructions but knew I needed someone to show me how to do a 'ssk' (slip, slip, knit together) and was impatient to learn it now. Nothing can be more immediate than the Internet, so I searched and, lo and behold, found a 'ssk' video on YouTube. And then, after hitting another snag and found a W&T video, I had an epiphany: YouTube will solve my sweater problem. Knitting slippers over a laptop may seem incongruous but felicity -- and hope for the abandoned sweater -- have been achieved.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Gull Barometer

Recently, storms having been blowing through the region with winds so strong that they had taken down several tall and seemingly sturdy trees along the route of our country drive today. A good indicator of bad weather is a flock of gulls taking refuge from waves on the bay by roosting inland on the mall parking lot. I have to admit, however, that my 'gull barometer' goes a little wonky around dinner time when the fish and chip wagon is doing a good business. ;-)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Travel Bonus

I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself.

James Baldwin, American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and civil rights activist (1924–1987)

As I flipped through a travel magazine, my eyes anchored on images of fresh seafood, colourful pottery, and soaring cliffs; memories of driving along Amalfi coast came flooding back and the Italian sun shone in my soul. Travel is priceless . . . even Cat seems to agree.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Little Spice

A small pepper is hotter than a large pepper.
Variety being the spice of life, we attended a travel lecture this evening and were greeted by a garden resplendent with chili peppers. How stunning! My mouth watered with a hankering for penne all'arrabbiata, that fiery, 'angry' pasta that is so simple and yet so matchless; just like these garden peppers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Life with Peaches and Cream

Be careful in your selection. Do not pick too young and take only such as have been reared in a good moral atmosphere.
Some insist on keeping them in a pickle, while others keep them in hot water. This only makes them sour and hard and sometimes bitter.
Even poor varieties may be made sweet and good by garnishing them with patience, well seasoned with smiles and flavoured with kisses to taste.
Wrap them in a mantle of charity; keep them warm with a steady fire of domestic devotion and serve with peaches and cream. When thus preserved they will keep for years.
"Husband Preserve", Unknown Author

I was looking through old family photo albums and came across a newspaper clipping with the "Husband Preserve" recipe. I rolled my eyes but at the same time acknowledged the underlying truth: a little 'peaches and cream' never hurt any marriage.

Among the albums I found proof that I took to baking at an early age. And I still use that same yellow bowl.

Today's experiment involved blackberries and sour cream. This coffee cake is moist and yummy so I thought I would share the recipe.

And in the meantime, I'll continue to explore Mom's cupboards! :-)

Blackberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake

1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I used pecans but felt they didn't add anything to the cake.)
1 cup fresh or frozen Blackberries*

* If fresh blackberries are not in season, you can substitute other fresh berries, such as blueberries or huckleberries, or use dried fruits such as raisins, currants, or dried cherries. (I think chunks of peaches would also work quite well.)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a bundt pan, cake pan, or 10-inch springform pan; sprinkle pan lightly with sugar.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whip the butter at medium speed until creamy. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the sugar, mixing well. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well, and then add the sour cream and vanilla extract. Increase the speed to medium and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

3. In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt; mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in several increments, mixing well after each addition. Gently stir in the pecans or walnuts and berries.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Source: What's Cooking America

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Cabbage always has a heart;
Green beans string along.
You're such a Tomato,
Will you Peas to me belong?
You've been the Apple of my eye,
You know how much I care;
So Lettuce get together,
We'd make a perfect Pear.
Now, something's sure to Turnip,
To prove you can't be Beet;
So, if you Carrot all for me
Let's let our tulips meet.
Don't Squash my hopes and dreams now,
Bee my Honey, dear;
Or tears will fill Potato's eyes,
While Sweet Corn lends an ear.
I'll Cauliflower shop and say
Your dreams are Parsley mine.
I'll work and share my Celery,
So be my Valentine.
"A Vegetarian Valentine", Author Unknown

It's a corny quotation but few people have waxed eloquent about green beans, so my options were hampered. Did I mention that I had bought a big basket of beans when I stopped to buy peaches, blackberries, onions, radishes, celery and tomatoes? I couldn't resist. So today I processed them for freezing. Now, I know that many of you have been growing, canning, freezing, jamming and jellying for years but this is all new to me and I was surprised at how very satisfying it is to scrub and chop and blanch and bag and store in neat columns in the freezer. It got me to thinking that, even after millennia upon millennia of evolutionary development, there must still be buried deep in our human psyche an animal instinct to stash away food reserves before the frost. Squirrel and I are one. ;-)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Peachy Experiment

Receive a plum, return a peach.
Vietnamese Proverb

There is nothing like a fresh peach! Not being keen on canned peaches and wanting to taste some August sweetness in the depths of November, I bought a box of peaches during our last outing into the Niagara Peninsula. Peaches have been harvested here since 1779 and less than a century later there were approximately 375,000 peach trees showing the popularity of the fruit. Unfortunately, not one of these early varieties still exists.

I wasn't sure how to preserve my treasures without investing in canning jars but Mr. Google came to the rescue providing multiple methodologies for freezing peaches, so I decided to experiment to see which technique produces the best tasting, best looking, and best textured fruit. I will update this page over the next few months as we taste each result. So stay tuned.

1. Pick Your Own [dot] org recommended submerging fruit in a sugar solution. Mom and I had quite an assembly line going for this one with all the peeling, slicing, bagging and submerging operations and quite a few peaches were processed quickly. We have some concern about the added sugar but we shall see.
August 28 Update: I just bought another big basket of peaches for preserving so we tested the results of our initial peaches in syrup experiment. I was pleased with the flavour (yes, they are quite sweet, but deliciously so), and texture (soft, but not mushy). I would make this recipe again.
2. Another sugary recipe, provided by Ontario Tender Fruit, called for coating the fruit with a mixture of sugar and ascorbic acid. With no vitamin C or fruit preservative on hand, I dipped the fruit into a water and lemon juice solution, sprinkled sugar over top and stored in Ziploc bags.

3. Simply Frugal recommended skinning, slicing and dipping the fruit in lemon water, then laying the sliced fruit out on a cookie sheet and freezing before transferring the fruit to freezer bags for long-term storage.

4. From Mother Earth News, came the simplest option; no more than putting whole peaches, skin and all, into a Ziploc freezer bag and freezing. In theory, when I want a peach, I simply take one from the bag, run it under water which will cause the skin to slid off, and slice the fruit into a bowl. Sounds too good to be true, so time will tell.
August 21 Update: Yes, it's only a day later but we wanted fruit with our lunch and I had frozen all the peaches so I pulled three whole ones from the freezer. The skin slides off under running water, just as Mother Earth News said, but some time is needed before a knife can cut through the fruit. Being impatient, I zapped each peach for 20 seconds in the microwave, that was enough to easily slice through the semi-frozen fruit and, as a bonus, the fruit comes away from the pit beautifully. Seems to me that this is a perfect way to preserve fruit for future use in baking. Although the peach slices were soft when thawed, the texture was not mushy and so we all enjoyed our 'fresh' fruit with lunch. I am very satisfied with the results of this method.

All of the methods for freezing peaches were simple and I see another trip to our favourite roadside fruit stand in the near future. ;-)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Perhaps the Prettiest Town in Ontario

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
Henry David Thoreau

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a lovely town, preserving centuries-old charm along its quiet streets and park. There is something about a white picket fence that warms my soul.

Meanwhile, shopping warms my pocketbook. The home of a summer theatre festival honouring George Bernard Shaw attracts millions of visitors particularly on beautiful summer days such as we had today, yet crowds were absent today and Mom and I had fun walking along the main street, checking out the shops, and finding unique treasures. (Dad enjoyed his walk along the lake.) Its century-old homes, tree-shaded streets, and profuse florals lend credence to its moniker as the prettiest town in Ontario, although I do know of some other deserving communities.

Just outside of town we dropped into de Luca's Wine Country Restaurant for an elegantly casual lunch. For a year, I have wanted to taste the creations of Chef de Luca, known for his locally-sourced Niagara cuisine and I wasn't disappointed. In-season blueberries topped the cheesecake that was founded on a crust infused with rosemary (I think). Scrumptious. Our lunch and the trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake made for a special treat.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Cat Days of Summer

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.
Sam Keen, American author

Cat doesn't feel any need to justify lounging about as Summer wanes; I, however, feel some guilt spending the day reading a book, stretched out in the easy chair, legs hanging over the arm. I wonder, who is imitating whom? :-)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Elusiveness Found

A portal is a transitionary device of sight or sound that functions as a sort of third gravitating body between the this and the that, pulling us toward itself, allowing us to bridge into the unknown from the known.
Roy H. Williams, American advertising 'wizard' and author

About a year ago a new bridge appeared almost overnight over the expressway; where it came from and where it went remained elusive until Dad and I found its source during this morning's 10K bike ride. In the future, it will provide a portal from the known into the unknown as we venture further afield.

Under today's blue sky and with swathes of green and yellow fields, the view from the bridge of ribbons of black asphalt appeared beautiful to my eye. I look forward to regularly crossing this portal from the this to the that -- whatever 'that' is. ;-)

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Good Marriage

A good marriage is one which allows for change and growth in the individuals and in the way they express their love.
Pearl S. Buck, American author (1892-1973)

Happy Anniversary, Time Traveller.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Stealth Health

Health is the vital principle of bliss, and exercise, of health.
James Thomson, Scottish Poet (1700-1748)

Probably due to advancing age, I've been rather lethargic over the past few days, but I felt much better with an hour's bike ride with Dad. I have yet to reach bliss, but I'm on the road to it. ;-)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bling Happiness

Jewelry takes people's minds off your wrinkles.
Sonja Henie, Norwegian figure skater and film star (1912-1969)

Every time I look at my new bracelet, a birthday present, my insides giggle. Give me bright, sparkly 'jewels' and I feel like a kid again.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

40-10 or 38-12

A birthday is just the first day of another 365-day journey around the Sun. Enjoy the trip!

A half of a century may have passed, but I'm not 50: I'm 40-10 according to the advice of a friend. Forty doesn't sound so good either to my ear. Thirty-eight was a good year, so for the next year I shall be 38-12. Next year, I'll be 38-13.

My family sent me off on my next 365-day journey in grand style. It began with a delicious lunch at Murphy's, overlooking sailboats in old Port Dalhousie.

Then it was off to ride the Maid of Mist to the base of Niagara Falls, something that I have always wanted to do and I wasn't disappointed.

Leaving the dock, the boat's first 'stop' is the so-called "American" Falls, so-named because it lies solely in the state of New York. You will note that some folk didn't think it necessary to wear their souvenir poncho as we set sail.

By the time we pulled up at the base of the "Canadian" Falls, everyone had taken cover and a couple of us photographed through Ziploc bags. Photos taken on the disposable underwater camera will be posted anon, but this image captures the excitement of the thundering cascade, the roiling waters, and the drenching 'mist'. What a thrilling way to begin the next installment of Life!

The area near the Falls is very kitschy, but it's fun. The talking 'colossus' of Ramses the Great and the re-creation of Indiana Jones inside a pharaonic tomb transported me back to an ancient land in a flash. And then I was back.

The "Strip" (a.k.a. Clifton Hill) offers lots of junk stuff to spend money on but, hey, we should all give in to our inner child once in a while. My indulgence was a chocolate glazed donut with my coffee.

Leaving the "Strip", we breathed in the beauty of the Botanical Gardens.

My great day concluded with a heartening summer supper as the Sun's final hours illuminated my wonderful family who made my embarkation on the next 365-day journey so much fun. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

St. Jacobs Excursion

A day spent with a friend is a memory made.

The rain poured down but it didn't dampen the spirits of a friend and I as we chatted for hours  wandering through the shops of the centuries-old, Mennonite village of St. Jacobs that I haven't visited since my university days, dare I say, more than a quarter-century ago. It is such an enjoyable excursion, rain or shine, that I hope to visit again before another 25 years pass.

We hardly noticed when the rain stopped and the sky cleared but I was thankful for the change because it made the drive home a true pleasure.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Joie de vivre

If you're afraid of butter, use cream.
Julia Child, American French chef (1912-2004)

All afternoon I've been savouring page after page of As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon; as evening settled and I got comfortable in the living room easy chair, I thought about making a cup of tea but quickly recognized that Julia should be accompanied by a nice glass of wine. I wish I had a (half) bottle of champagne on hand because it would pair nicely with her effervescent personality that bubbles up in her letters, letters that cover multiple pages, filled with musings about mundane things like paring knives, shallots, dishwashers and pressure cookers (and American politics) and yet fascinate under the reflection of Julia and Avis. I aspire to Julia's joie de vivre. Bring on the butter! ;-)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Second Look

Each moment is a place you've never been.
Mark Strand, Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet

Lemonade is served in the parlour every summer Sunday and yet today, for the first time, my eyes were open to the beauty of the bouquet on the window sill reminding me that all things, and all people, deserve a second look.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rain Relief

The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Finally, into our lives a little rain has fallen, causing the grass to sigh in relief.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Road Trip

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.
Confucius, Chinese philosopher (551–479 BC)

Southern Ontario scenery in the summertime is majestic, even with rain falling, even from a perspective over the steering wheel, even from one of the nation's busiest highways. I thoroughly enjoyed today's outing to lunch with Cairo friends. En route I wandered a little off the highway to find Canada's oldest operating flour mill, to be featured on a Travel Tuesdays post after I try my hand at baking with the purchased spelt. There are 'firsts' for me around every corner!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gastronomy of Place: Life's a Peach

Food has always held communities together, whether in the preparation and eating, or in the careful sourcing that guarantees a livelihood to local producers, good food to the consumer and a balanced economy.
Dennis Cotter, Irish restaurateur and award-winning celebrity chef

My recent reading of Locavore by Sarah Elton has committed me more than ever to choose locally grown foods and to support local farmers. 

Elton's call to arms for a sustainable food system musters consumers, chefs, and farmers alike:
On the farm, we need to move towards a holistic understanding of agriculture that takes its cues from nature, supports biodiversity and relies less and less on fossil fuels. Farmers must make a living wage and be respected for their work, something achieved by rehumanizing the food chain and connecting farmers with consumers through farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture while at the same time developing new supply chains for institutions such as universities and hospitals. When devising our new food system, we need not dwell on the past and replicate subsistence agriculture. Instead, we can push forward to fashion something new and innovative, using our technology and our imagination to design energy-efficient greenhouses and other novel ways of producing food.

In the city, we need to grow some of what we eat and figure out how to incorporate food production into the metropolis. By connecting with the food chain, and eating well, we will be more likely to experience a cultural shift and watch a gastronomy of place take hold.

The Niagara Peninsula deserves a hearty 'gastronomy of place'. In my youth it epitomized the Garden of Eden, full of blossoms in the Spring and bountiful fruit and vegetables for months thereafter. I am thankful that some of the local orchards have resisted selling their rich arable land to developers and that it's still possible to buy fresh local produce along the road. The signs announcing in-season products appear to be the same as those from my youth. Even if the local farmers need to price their products slightly more than the agribusiness imports flooding supermarket displays, I believe that I'm getting value for my money.

Today I specifically wanted peaches that have just come into season so as to bake a couple of Peach Schlitz Pies, featured here last year, thankfully preserving the recipe in the blogosphere because Mom and I searched the house but could not find the recipe's original hard copy. ;-)

Procuring farm fresh peaches was an added bonus to the excursion into the Niagara peninsula which originated as a celebration of my aunt's birthday at the 13 Mountain Street restaurant. The chefs there promote 'gastronomy of place' by proudly serving local ingredients in seasonal menus, such as my very tasty Roasted Red Pepper Ricotta Brulee Tart, and pairing each item with a local wine.

No doubt its primary ingredient was an import, but I must leave you with an image of the mountain of molten and baked cocoa that comprised our Vesuvian dessert (its real name had something to do with lava but since I've been thinking a lot about Italy lately Vesuvius is all that stuck in my memory).

Elton's sustainable food system does not proscribe food sourced beyond a 100-mile radius, such as coffee, bananas and chocolate. Rather (she writes), the ideal of a strong local food economy is to eat good, healthy food that is produced with the least environmental impact. This usually means food that is produced nearby, but includes imports that are produced and transported sustainably.

Makes sense to me.