View From The Glen

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lights, Camera, Action

A television crew is coming to our farm this week. The host of a local cooking show is doing a segment on local food, and wants to talk to us about the whys, hows, ins and outs of growing our own beef and lamb. She also wants to film our garden where we grow a variety of vegetables and herbs.

But Keitha, I said to her, we don't exactly have a manicured garden.

But a slightly messy garden turned out to be exactly what Keitha wants. People are too busy to be Martha Stewart, she told me. It will be inspirational for them to see what a real garden looks like.

Real people. Growing real food.

I looked at my garden through new eyes after that. Unkempt garden as status symbol. I like it.

Summer at the Cottage

Does anything say summer more than the smiles of children hanging out at the cottage? Swimming in the lake, shucking corn with Grandma, staying up late giggling with cousins, listening to the loons, and just hanging out on the deck in the adirondack chairs.
Even though we live in the country, there is something so freeing about heading down for a weekend on the lake with the family. Leaving behind the routines of everyday life for a couple of days is good for the soul. At the cottage there is nothing more important to do than spend an hour tossing sticks into the water for the dogs, or watch the kids show off their swimming skills. Watch me do a starfish, Mommy! I can swim out to that rock, Mom! Look at me dunk my head, Mom, look!
I feel I have all the time in the world at the cottage. It's a fallacy, but a nice one. Time certainly does seem to slow down at the lake. The days are long, sun-drenched, and tiring. And at the end of the day, when the kids are all dried off and tucked into bed, there is still a sunset to watch, a bottle of wine to share, a conversation to have.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oh Great Caesar!

For a few years, off and on, I've aspired to creating the perfect caesar salad dressing, and never does this seem more important that in the summertime, when the romaine lettuce is growing madly in the garden and caesar salad every other night seems a necessity rather than a luxury.

I have a couple of versions including a quick one for emergencies, which is okay but not great, and a lower fat version, which is fine for weeknights when you're trying to keep it light.

But I have long aspired to create the kind of dressing that Caesar himself could be proud of, and here it is. A Ceasar Dressing both authoritative and seductive. Often requested by friends and family who try it - and what more proof of success can you ask for than that?

Note: There is some debate as to whether caesar dressing requires anchovies or whether the Worcestershire sauce imparts enough of a flavour all on its own. The jury may still be out, but having made it sans anchovies for ages, having now added them I believe them to be the magic ingredient that gives this dressing it's tang. My verdict: Add the anchovy paste!

Caesar Salad Dressing:
1/4 cup oil (vegetable or olive)
2-3 tbsp Parmesan cheese (grated)
1 tbsp wine vinegar (I usually use white, but red works too)
2-3 tsp Dijon mustard (grainy if possible)
2 tsp anchovy paste
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp mayonnaise (light is acceptable)

Whisk together all ingredients except mayo. Whisk in mayo last. I usually make up double the recipe.

Caesar Salad
Tear up a head or two of Romaine Lettuce. Cook 2-3 strips of bacon until crunchy and crumble into salad. Toss Salad with Homemade croutons (Cut up stale bread, drizzle with oil and bake at 350 until crisp) and Salad Dressing to taste. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan Cheese if required.

If making ahead, take croutons and dressing with you and toss just before serving otherwise croutons will get soggy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Oh, How It Sparkles...

I came home last night exhausted. Actually, I feel I’ve spent most of the week in that state. An early night, I told myself. But once the kids were in bed I thought a glass of white wine would be a nice treat first. I opened one (Gazela - Spain) that’s been sitting in the fridge for six weeks now, only to discover it was a sparkling wine.

Usually I’m a fan of hearty reds. A cool refreshing pinot grigio is always tasty too. But sparkling wine hasn’t been my wine of choice since high school (baby duck, anyone?). Still, I’m an environmentalist so “waste not, want not.” I dug out a flute and poured a glass.

It was delicious. Light. Fruity. Bubbly, but not popping like a newly opened can of cola. I sat on my serenity couch in the dusk and savoured my drink. After the heat and humidity of this rainy day, it was a heady moment, like slipping into a cool and refreshing lake. You could drink this all day, I thought to I poured a second glass. It made me feel quite hedonistic drinking sparkling wine on a weeknight (oh, the thrilling life I lead).

DH came in from stacking hay and topped my glass up. I think Gazela is Spanish for sparkling, I informed him, feeling witty now that I’ve had a couple of glasses. And when that went down – so smoothly, so easily – I had another. Sparkling wine, after all, needs to be drunk while it’s still, well, sparkling.

I did not drink the whole bottle. Neither did I have that early night I had planned. But relaxing – oh my, yes.

I joke with my bookclub pals (also mostly mothers of young children) that no matter how tough a day you’ve had with the kids, there’s nothing a glass of chardonnay won’t cure once they’re all tucked in.

I’ll amend that now. Sparkling wine is the new cure.

Today is grocery day. Also my wine rack needs replenishing. And among the cabernets and melots, I think I’ll slip in another bottle of Gazela. For a rainy day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Adios and not goodbye?

The CBC is taking away my favourite morning show, Music and Company. It’s in reruns for the summer, and come fall, will be replaced.

I’ll miss it, dreadfully.

Music & Company plays a range of classical music, but the real treat is that the music is punctuated by the witticisms and commentary of the show’s host, Tom Allen who offers up anecdotes and turns of phrase both droll and informative.

The good news is that Tom will be back in September in the same time slot. But the music will change and that is not necessarily good. I’m withholding judgement for now, but I fear CBC is on the same path as some mainstream churches – and in trying to appeal to all, will end up appealing to none. For the most part I like my music –– like my religion - straight up. Evolving with the times is one thing – but changing mid stream is just plain annoying. And so while I like a wide range of music, when I want classical I want classical, when I want country I want country, when I want Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, I want Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. And in the mornings, I want classical, not a diluted version of what the CBC thinks will appeal to the masses.

For the summer, I’ll enjoy the reruns. And in September…I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

50 Books - New Favourites So Far

I joined the online chapters group to try to read 50 books in 2008. So far so good. At least, I'm just starting #33 as we head into month 7, so I'm at least on track.

Some on my list are perennial favourites that I read regularly and always enjoy. But of all the new ones I have read this year, the following are the ones I have enjoyed most:

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston – This story of Joey Smallwood was a library book I picked up not sure it would be my cup of tea. I loved it, especially the first half of the book, and especially the story of Joey, Joey’s Newfoundland, and Joey’s (fictional) foil, Fielding (who I so wanted to be real). I’m a Canadian history fan, but think this book appeals on many other levels too.

The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens - Betrayal, Passion, Loss, Hope, Survival – they are all in here…the law of dreams is to keep moving, not to stop and allow yourself to give up. The writing is phenomenal and striking, with words and phrases that jump out and hit you long after you have moved past them. Some great quotes (“Sometimes your heart cracks and tells you what you have to do.”) and imagery (a moving train described as “a promise of everything you could leave behind”).

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – I loved this book and found it a really compelling read, though I would probably not have picked it up if I’d realized it was about vampires – specifically the legend of Dracula and the history of Vlad the Impaler. Oddly, it makes me yearn for eastern Europe and reminds me of the taste of strong black coffee with cream and sipping raucous red wine on red clay patios.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill – I enjoyed this book very much. The life of Aminata, skilled midwife and African slave, is simply recorded against a historical background full of vivid detail and rich imagery that made the book very compelling while telling a powerful story of slavery and freedom and one woman’s lifelong attempt to make a difference.

Addendum: Must also mention Marley and Me by John Grogan which had me laughing and crying. I have a lab, not that it's necessary.

Also The Road by Cormac MacCarthy, which I didn't enjoy because it depressed me, but which I have nonetheless been recommending as something people should read.

Both these last two are being made into movies. I'll see Marley, but may take a pass on The Road.

Clean it up!

What is the worst part about school being out for the summer?

Easy - the house is a disaster.

During the school year, we leave the house at 7:30 am to catch the school bus, and I picked them all up from the sitter at 4:45 pm, and came home to a clean home. Clean because I make it my morning mission (5 mins - tops) to put breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, and wipe down the table and counters and sink before heading out the door. If there's time, I even run a broom over the floor. And then nobody touches it again until we get home.
But in summer -- whole different ball game. No matter how clean the house is when I leave it, DS (8) and DD's (7 and 5) spend all day in and out, mud on the floor, making crafts, making juice, eating lunch and snacks under the care of our wonderful teenage sitter. The first two weeks school was out I thought I'd go insane.

And then I figured it out.

It's not the mess that gets me. I'm used to soccer cleats on the floor. It's coming home to the clutter that causes my eyes to boggle and for mom to be grumpy mom instead of fun mom.

So I made a daily routine and posted it on the fridge for the kids and sitter. Every day in the morning they have to make their beds and put their own dishes in the dishwasher. And every afternoon before I get home - they have a 10 minute chore (See below) and they (as a group) have to wipe off the counters and the table and sweep the floor. Now when I walk in, I am met by a clear kitchen, and that makes all the difference. Not perfect. But manageable.

For more housekeeping tips, check out:

Daily 10 minute Chores
Monday - Book roundup: Put them back on shelves in library
Tuesday - CD/Movie ROundup: Put them back in cupboard
Wednesday - Toys and Games: Put away on shelves & toychests in rooms
Thursday - Garden: Pick a basket of whatever is ripe
Friday - Make Mommy Smile Day: Pick a chore and surprise me.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Great Es-Scapes!

Last night I went out and cut the curly tips off some of the garlic plants. Chopped up or grilled, these curly ends (called scapes), add a wonderfully subtle garlicky flavour to all kinds of dishes.

By cutting off the scapes, you prevent the seed head from forming, which in turn allows the garlic bulb, growing underground, to get bigger. We harvest scapes from about 3/4 of the garlic patch, leaving some to form seeds which we can then use another year.

Burgers were on the menu last night. I just added the chopped scapes to the burger patties for extra taste.

Cheeseburgers with Scapes

For each pound of locally farmed, lean ground hamburger, add one beaten egg, a handful of cracker crumbs or oats (I've even used cereal in a pinch), finely chopped scapes, and seasoning to taste (I use pepper, sometimes an herb or two). Form into patties and grill over medium-high heat. Top with old cheddar for the last couple of minutes of grilling, until melted. Serve with garden-fresh salad.

Perfect soccer cleats

There were muddy soccer cleats in the middle of the kitchen floor when I got up this morning. Striped soccer socks and shin pads too - carelessly lying where they were dropped by DD, aged 5, in a rush to get her share of freshly picked strawberries after the game last night.

I stepped over the cleats, twice, on my way out the door to work. And thought nothing more of it, until overhearing a conversation at the deli counter at lunch time.

Two women, in their 30's, obviously mothers, talking about all the clutter in their homes - toys, sporting equipment, clothes and books. I found myself smiling at their conversation, nodding my head absently as if they were speaking to me. As they bemoaned the lack of domestic organization that seems part and parcel of raising children, I heard echoes of conversations I've had with friends along similiar lines, and mentally took stock of the clutter in our home.

Art & craft supplies and artwork on the desk; journals and paper beside the computer; books on the coffee table, lego in the oddest places, beads and toys and games and puzzles that don't always make it back upstairs after being used, and yes, cleats and socks and shin pads on the kitchen floor.

I should have picked them up, I thought to myself. And that's when I had an A-Ha! moment. Because the truth is, while I have visions of spotless perfection, they are visions fostered by unrealistic expectations and television ads featuring homes that real children obviously never set foot inside. The truth is that deep down I like the everyday clutter. It speaks volumes about our family life - that the children are active, interested, artistic, happy, enthusiastic, messy, imaginative - and very, very normal.

To everything there is a season, and all those things do get put away eventually. When I get home it's quite possible that DD, prompted by DH, will already have picked up those cleats and put them in the mud room where they belong. But if not, I hope I can step over those cleats once again, give big hugs all round, admire some more artwork, and - if any are left - enjoy a few of those juicy strawberries.