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Monday, February 28, 2011

Decadent Dinner

Good food, good times, good dinner companions...

Does it get any better than this?

Naan Bread
Basmati Rice
Mango Chutney
Cilantro Mint Yogurt Sauce

Chocolate Torte with Whipped Cream
and Mango Coulis

Thank you for the decadent dinner. 
You know who you are!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

During the Storm

Mallards Facing into the Snow

Pheasant Sheltering in the Cedars

Friday, February 25, 2011

Birthday in February

February is a marvellous month for a birthday. 

It’s a month that cries out for something cheery.  Midway through winter, February means harsh cold, weekly snowstorms, and the house held hostage by meter-long icicles and hip deep crusty snow; snow so profound that the jolly January snow person has become a mysterious squat mound.

Sure, February has Valentine’s Day…a bit over-commercialized and lasting too briefly.  But after the V-Day hoopla, the extended stretch of wintry weather remains.

The daylight hours lengthen; 25 minutes longer each week, at this time of year.  The sun seems to radiate more powerful warmth.  However, there yet will be...weeks and weeks and weeks of winter, in New Brunswick.

Having a celebratory day, a birthday to anticipate in February, is fantastic.  We’re going out for supper to make merry, if the next snowstorm (expected to dump 40 centimetres / 16 inches) doesn’t bury us, like the January snow person.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Simple Soup

When I was ill, my friend brought me comforting food.  I cherished her thoughtfulness and her chicken soup, asked for the recipe and received the following:

“Hmmm!  Well, there was not a recipe but I think this is what I did.  Put low sodium chicken broth in a pot (used the boxed kind) and diced up some potatoes, carrots, added some rice and simmered for about 10 minutes.  Then I added two chicken breasts, cut in a couple of pieces and simmered another 10 minutes.  Next added some frozen peas and simmered 5 minutes or until everything became tender.  I took the chicken out and shredded with a fork.  I think I added a little pepper as it was cooking.  Don’t think I had other veggies…maybe a parsnip??  Not a big help, but may give you a start.”

It was indeed a great start!  Many pots of soup later I am still trying new variations, ingredients and flavourings.  Fridge exploration and cupboard mining have offered diverse possibilities: onions, cloves of garlic, noodles or pasta, flat leaf parsley, fresh thyme, summer savoury, green onion, mushrooms, beef broth, celery, pesto, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower …whatever is available and suits my fancy.

Cooking soup fills my kitchen with the nostalgic scents of homemade comfort.  There is effortless pleasure in the whish-whish of peeling and the thunk-thunk of chopping and in the interesting textures and amazing densities of the vegetables.  There is visual enchantment in the bright orange and vibrant green along side the muted tones of cream.

Ultimately, it’s about the soul satisfying taste of steaming hearty soup as it delights the tongue and fills the tummy. 

Soup in all its ordinary uncomplicated splendour!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Kitties Know

  1. Kitties know that it is important to balance play and rest;
  2. Kitties know the therapeutic value of a cozy cuddle;
  3. Kitties know that sometimes it is essential to sit and just “be”…
Kitties are good people.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Yesterday's Anger

Yesterday, something happened and I got really angry.  As soon as it began, I knew that I had fallen into an old obstructive pattern of mine: confusion, frustration, hurt feelings and anger.   

That hasn’t happened for a long time.  Yesterday, I got trapped in it again, telling myself the same stuck repetitive old stories, swirling in the emotional toilet bowl.  Angry.  Pissed off.  Just plain mad. 

I am a responsible adult.  I work energetically to raise my honest awareness of my own weaknesses, inadequacies and triggers.  I struggle with myself over how to transform those parts of me that need amelioration and I have successes.

It isn’t easy and I’m not perfect.   But, once I have an epiphany that I am swirling downward, I can climb out of the bowl; I can see that I am no longer dealing with the actual situation instead I have become focused on my internal interpretation of the situation.   With great relief, I can say goodbye to the anger, flush that emotional toilet and move on.

Each day, I want to be generous, peaceful, open and kind.  Some days that is easier than others.  Yesterday wasn’t a good day and I didn’t succeed.

Gaining perspective and taking time away from a stressful situation always helps me, as does recognizing my own imperfections and needs for further growth.  Then it becomes possible to acknowledge my angry feelings, to respect them and most importantly to let them go.  I am imperfect, always re-learning that patience and listening go much further than angst and anger.

The Buddha says:

In the end these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you love?
How deeply did you let go?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Persistent Spring

Just when I despair that winter will never end,
within the house, signs of Spring!

Buds sheathed in rosy green,
sipping the light of these longer days,
quenching their winter-deep thirst.

Blooms bursting joy,
ripe with sun dust,
petals translucent flesh.

And everywhere
Spring throbbing in the veins.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Moon of Ice

The First Peoples kept track of the seasons by naming each recurring full moon.   Aboriginal Nations chose names that accurately and poignantly described what the time of year meant to them.  The mid-winter moon in February was called:  Bony Moon, Little Famine Moon, Moon of the Raccoon, and Moon When the Trees Pop.  

Other early cultures attached names to the February moon; names which had particular significance for them.  Trapper’s Moon, Moon of Ice, Storm Moon and Snow Moon.

This full February moon… what label would we use to encompass its winter beauty and bitter chill?  I wonder.

Yummiest Scones

What’s for breakfast?   Scones! 

Recipes for scones have evolved and been passed down through families for hundreds of years.  Everyone has their favourite; here is mine, a recipe from my daughter. 

It’s her version of a recipe originally found in the November 1998 issue of Bon App├ętit.  She sent me this scone recipe with her comments and changes in bold.   

Cranberry-Orange Scones

3 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar (I put a bit more)
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (I put a bit more)
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon grated orange peel (or lemon)
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
¾ cup dried cranberries (or sweet cherries, chopped dates, currents, raisins or any other dried fruit)
1 cup chilled buttermilk (or milk or heavy cream, whatever is in the fridge)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper (I butter it lightly and sprinkle a bit of flour.)  Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda into large bowl.  (I throw everything into the food processor.) 

Mix in orange peel.  Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Mix in dried cranberries (still just adding stuff to the food processor.)  Gradually add buttermilk, tossing with fork until moist clumps form (before adding the milk, I put the dough in a large bowl.) 

Turn dough out into lightly floured work surface.  (I just usually do this right in the bowl with a bit of flour.)  Knead briefly to bind dough, about 4 turns. 

Form dough into 1-inch-thick round.  Cut into 8 wedges.  Transfer wedges to prepared baking sheet spacing 2 inches apart. 

Bake until tops of scones are golden brown, about 25 minutes.  Let stand on baking sheet 10 minutes.  Serve scones warm or at room temperature.

I add chopped preserved orange peel with the dried cranberries for more intense orange flavour. 

I prefer to serve these fragrant and warm, straight out of the oven.  Split down the middle and spread with butter, they are meltingly delicious with rich dark coffee. 

These scones partner well with tart lemon curd, silken clotted cream, thick cut orange marmalade or homemade strawberry jam.  Splendidly yummy!

Want decadence?   Stir together 1 cup of powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon of orange juice and a dash of vanilla in a small bowl.  Stir in additional orange juice, a little at a time, to achieve a drizzling consistency.  Drizzle over the warm scones before serving.

Apparently, leftover scones freeze well; I’ve never had a chance to try.   Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ice Garden

Guess what I received by mail yesterday?  A dazzlingly cheerful gardening magazine, sporting titles:  “Grow Your Own”, “Special Gardening Issue”, “It’s Time to Get Planting”.  Are they joking?  Walking in my yard today means wading through hip deep snow or navigating the crust in my snowshoes.

And what else arrived?  The latest issue of a garden tools catalogue, enticing with its garden implements for any potential need or desire. I could order some extra digging shovels and garden rakes to use for roof snow removal.

I appreciate optimism however the only signs of Nature’s growth and splendour at my house are these ice fangs. These babies are over 4 feet long, melting and freezing to this outstanding length in mere hours.

Winter is still exquisite but I dream of sun struck daffodils, warmed crab apple blossoms fragrant and buzzing with new life, impossibly merry birdsong…and no snow.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Teenager Now

He turns 13 today; a teenager now.  What adventures and challenges lie ahead of him in adolescence?  What peer pressure and family support will he experience as he changes from a boy to a man?  As he matures, where will he belong, how will he blossom into his potential?  What unique joys and healthy upheaval will he experience as he grows?   Who will love him?  Whom will he love?

David Suzuki in his book The Sacred Balance quotes Montagu, saying a healthy human requires more than satisfaction of psychological needs in childhood.  Montagu lists the following psychic needs of a growing child that must be fulfilled to ensure full development of a child’s potential:

  1. The need for love
  2. Friendship
  3. Sensitivity
  4. The need to think soundly
  5. The need to know
  6. The need to learn
  7. The need to work
  8. The need to organize
  9. Curiosity
  10. The sense of wonder
  11. Playfulness
  12. Imagination
  13. Creativity
  14. Openmindedness
  15. Flexibility
  16. Experimental mindedness
  17. Explorativeness
  18. Resiliency
  19. The sense of humour
  20. Joyfulness
  21. Laughter and tears
  22. Optimism
  23. Honesty and trust
  24. Compassionate intelligence
  25. Dance
  26. Song
He turns 13 today.
I wish for him, and indeed for each of my 10 grandchildren, the full list. 
I send love.

Ashley Montagu, The Direction of Human Development (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1995)
David Suzuki, The Sacred Balance, Rediscovering Our Place in Nature (British Columbia: Greystone Books, 1997)

Monday, February 14, 2011

For Lovers Everywhere

Listen to Molly Peacock, in  "The Purr," searching for new words
to describe the same mystery that D.H.Lawrence could not solve:

            ... The mysterious thrum
            that science can't yet explain awakes a hum
            in me, the sound something numb come alive makes.

Quoted from Molly Peacock.

Original Love: Poems by Molly Peacock.  Copyright 1995 by Molly Peacock.  Reprinted by permission of W.W Norton and Company, Inc.

Photo is mine.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yummiest Fudge

Who invented fudge?  According to folklore, fudge was a by product of a cooking accident in Baltimore, Maryland in 1886.  One myth says that the intention was to cook caramels, but the attempt was botched or “fudged”, thus inventing the candy and the name.  Other legends exist.

In my family, fudge, superior quality Brown Sugar Fudge was invented by my mother.  Her recipe was simple:

Brown Sugar Fudge

½ cup brown sugar
½ cup golden corn syrup
½ cup melted butter
1 cup evaporated milk
2 cups white sugar
Cook well, beat, cool, eat!

That’s it!  The “how” of what one actually did to create fudge wasn’t written on the smudged and yellowed recipe card, it was written in my mother’s brain.  She said one had to “develop a feel for making fudge, that fudge-making is an art.”

Her art consists of using a heavy bottom pot with high straight sides, so that the candy thermometer will fasten easily to the pot.  Also, fudge crawls up the sides of the pot, as it boils at a moderate steady rate over the entire surface.  The fudge boils until it reaches soft ball stage (236 degrees Fahrenheit or 115 degrees Celsius.)   This takes about 20 to 25 minutes or so.  If the fudge cooks too slowly, it can become a runny mess…useful for caramel sauce on ice-cream; if too quickly, it can morph into hard shards of candy…still edible, but not fudge.

My Mom says that fudge-making requires a good quality candy thermometer or an ability to use the “cold water test”.  And that fudge is more challenging if the day’s humidity is above 60 %.  Dryer days are best. 

Once the fudge has reached the correct temperature, take the pot off the heat.  Remove the thermometer.  Have several people ready to beat the fudge. (Use the “no beat= no eat” threat!)  Taking turns so that arms aren’t injured, beat the fudge with a heavy wooden spoon.  She says “until it feels right”, which means until the fudge has cooled somewhat, starts to lose its glossy sheen, and your arm is really fatigued.

Very quickly, spread the fudge evenly in the buttered pan.  Failure to adequately butter the pan means having to gouge the fudge from the pan with a sturdy knife.  Edible but not pretty. 

Score the fudge into squares while it is still warm.

When the fudge has cooled, cut along the score lines, into 36 good sized pieces.  My Auntie says that “a pan of fudge is really just a one-serving size!”

Fudge will last up to a week if tightly covered.  Ours never lasts beyond 24 hours.

Enjoy!  It is the yummiest fudge ever.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Recent Storm

Yesterday the yard was shimmering deep snow.  Earlier today, it pelted freezing rain; now driving wet snow pounds against the windows.  On the north side of the house, sticky fat flakes cover the windows.  Wind increases, forces the snow into untamed swirls. 

The rising wind and the snow-blanketed windows make the cats anxious.  They sit in their usual chairs, drawn to their favourite spots at the kitchen windows.  They meow and paw at the glass wondering why they are unable to watch their customary entertainment: American Black Ducks and Mallards feeding on the cracked corn my husband puts out for them each morning, Common Redpolls and Black-Capped Chickadees at the thistle seed feeders.  The windows are bulky with snow; the cats can see nothing.

My cats and I cocoon inside this snow blinded warmth; listen to the buffeting gale.  Through the tops of the windows, light still peeks. I watch the storm develop.  The cats are tired, weary from scratching at the window panes and meowing at me for explanation.

I carry fragrant coffee, reading glasses and current book to the living room and settle in the rocking chair near the fireplace.  I crave this warmth in my hands and on my legs. The cats follow, grow more content.  On this side of the house, they can perch in front of the windows and still view the outdoors.  These windows are not yet completely covered. 

The storm bashes the house walls, snow dances frenzied in the air; rapidly piling flakes bending the trees and covering the world.  The view down our street and across the marshes to the river is gone, swallowed in white. 

The cats are still, lined up, one, two, three staring at snow ripping past, chirping at a lone seagull attempting to fly through this blizzard.  The ducks on the north side have settled down facing into the blustery winds, hunkered low, waiting it out; sheltering in snow indentations made by my husband’s heavy boots during this morning’s bird-feeding routines.  The Chickadees and Redpolls have disappeared, hiding in denser foliage than this yard provides.   The shrubs become conical snow mysteries, the maples creak and sway heavily, and snow-burdened wires rub complaints against the house.

The cats gradually settle, wander away from the chill of the windows.  Sleepily, one lowers himself to cover a hot air register.  One pads circles on the sofa until she finds the ideal location to curl up, groom and nap.  The other, the youngest and most dependent, joins me in the rocking chair and demands attention, wanting pats and words of comfort before stretching out and up, from my lap to my chin, simply making a bed out of me!  All three sleep.  I read, sip my coffee, and enjoy this cozy fireside, companioned and cocooned from the snowstorm.  All is well!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Of Food and Comfort

Winter.  Frosty air.  Profuse snowfall.  No end in sight. February means “full on” winter in New Brunswick!  This cold, this ice and snow encourage me to hibernate.  My favourite place to “hole up” is my kitchen, a galley style room that opens into a bright dining area, reclaimed from a former sun porch with seven huge windows.  My kitchen is full of light and, in winter, bursting with cooking aromas – earthy soups, savoury stews, spicy tajines, rustic breads, scented biscuits, crispy cookies and wholesome granola, healthy plain foods that fill the tummy, thaw the heart and offer succulent satisfaction.  Despite being prone to hermit-like behaviour, I love to invite folks for meals, and embrace those who brave the cold to be fed in my snug kitchen, to share fragrant warmth and laughing company and hearty nourishment.  I delight in this homey combination of shelter, contentment and welcome.  Comfort!  They open my door retreating from the thin brittle air and are enveloped by the plump tantalizing heat and aromatics of home cooking; I offer pleasure!   Ah, winter!  Mmmm, home!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fluids and Maintenance

I woke this morning at 5 am to the sounds of a cat vomiting.  Sometimes I can talk myself into going back to sleep and cleaning it in the "regular morning time for getting up", but not today.  It was so loud and so close to the bed that I feared stepping into it later, so ... I am up, and trying to be quiet (after necessary cleaning activities) so that my husband can sleep.  The cats are ranging around looking for their breakfasts.  Oh, to have the sturdy digestive systems of cats...just threw up, think I'll eat again!

Across the street, my neighbour’s house lights the predawn shadows.  Talking to her yesterday, she told me that she has the same cold with which I struggle: watery eyes and runny nose, sinus aches and constant sneezing.  What’s that about misery loving company?  And at daybreak…

Well, so far all I've given is “bodily fluids reports”. 

We’ll have respite from additional snowfall until after the weekend, what luxury!  Ninety-three inches of snow blanket the South-eastern corner of NB.  The ice build up on our roof is menacing and the kitchen window leaks constantly.  Maintenance challenges for my husband when he wakes.

The heat pump is running finally: new thermostat, replacement circuit board and outdoor circuit breaker and lots of cash.  The garage door and the snow blower and the clothes dryer and the humidifier are acting badly, working inconsistently and causing concern.  I refuse to be upset.  Owning a house equals doing repairs.  We have our hands full. 

Oh, look … sunrise!  A dazzling winter day in New Brunswick!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cats and No Sleep

The cats woke me early today.  5 am is not a time I want to be awake unless by choice.  Usually when we settle for the night, the cats settle too, blissful to have a great warm bed with two human companions.  Last night one settled with us; two played and wrangled until 1 am.  The result:  four hours of sleep for me!   Cats are all sleeping now, catching up?

It has snowed and snowed and snowed lately; six major storms this winter, accumulating over 235 cm or 93 inches.  The town is zealous about ploughing and snow removal, cutting back the visibility-blocking banks, clearing packed snow around the fire hydrants and salting the slippery narrow roads.  Heavy machinery regularly passes through this quiet neighbourhood several times a day; more often during the night.  Lights flash, snow buffets and ice grinds, engines strain and back-up beepers pierce the hushed darkness.

Bleary-eyed from lack of rest, I theorize that the cats are disturbed by all this ploughing commotion; their small kitty brains fear habitat and home destruction from this onslaught of grotesque machinery and striking din.  I suppose this is so because the cats behave far worse on snowy nights.

Cats being cats and creatures long associated with independent and fickle natures, I can’t be sure that this IS the problem.  Just for experiment’s sake, I will close some doors tonight to separate us from the disturbances of these three furry night prowlers.  Maybe we’ll get more sleep tonight; maybe it won’t snow again tonight!  What are the chances?

Valentine's Day 2011

Valentine’s Day approaches!

This year, inspired by simple instructions found on the Internet, I decided to create thoughtful, exquisite handmade cards.  Yesterday, following breakfast clean up, I carefully organized the recommended supplies on my kitchen table.  Scissors, glues, red and gold glitters, card stock in variegated pinks, matte and shiny reds and creams, thin rosy ribbons, red and black stamp pads, requisite stamps (all Valentine’s Day appropriate), a heart shaped hole punch, sparkly red stick-on trims; everything I needed sat in beckoning piles.  Encouraged, I began. 

Shortly, I learned that despite using a ruler and pencil, I seemed to be incapable of cutting evenly along a straight line.  Further, something in me confused directions and resisted following instructions.  I learned that I could find no good use for a red doily!  Nothing I made looked like the carefully photographed Internet cards!  Frustration and negative self-talk reigned until I shredded the downloaded instructions and began fiddling with the combinations of coloured papers, cutting out paper hearts and generally ‘fooling around with’ the myriad craft supplies on my table. 

I cut and folded a pale pink piece of card stock (making a smaller card than the instructions had demanded), cut some ( not too straight) cream rectangles, punched out five (not so even) heart shapes, and sewed a (decidedly crooked) darker pink heart with a tiny gold bead onto the (not quite) centre of the card.  Et voila, an exquisite handmade card.   

I liked it!  By golly, I - loved - it! 

The card was imperfect, but I had had great fun creating it!  Hmmm, what else could I construct?  Several hours and a dozen cards later, I surveyed my handiwork.  I loved them all!  This rosy glittered gallery appealed to me.  I had learned to accept and appreciate my own distinctive artistic sensibilities. 

This year, I hope that everyone who receives a Valentine’s Day card from me ‘feels’ my genuine love for them (and remembers that it is the sentiment that counts).