Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall Air

I don't know how it happened, but suddenly Fall is in the air. I had a friend call me from Bolivia tonight, and her first sentence included the phrase "so it's cold up there, I hear." She might even have cackled after saying that. And I, much to my chagrin, had to sigh and agree. It IS getting cold up here. One day soon we might have to turn on the heat in the morning. I've discarded my thin summer morning fling-on for a full length dressing gown. And because I'm a product of my British heritage, I'm also chiding the kids to come up in the mornings with their slippers on. "Where are your slippers?" I say, "Go and get them on. These floors are freezing!"

Yes, I am turning into my mother. And my aunties. And my grandmothers. And my great-grandmothers. It's running in the family (to quote Michael Ondaatje).

The garden is showing signs of chill: there are still a lot of things growing, but you can see the effects of the cold. There is a surprised look on everything, as if the cold has caught them unawares. The green tomatoes still left on the vines have that slightly shrivelled look. I went out today and picked everything that looked even vaguely reddish, and put them all in bowls in the greenhouse window on the deck, so they can a) ripen in some warm air, and b) ripen without bringing bucket-loads of fruit flies into the dining room.

So far I have many many many quarts of tomatoes in various guises in the cold room and freezer, mostly in the form of salsa because it's so versatile. A quart here in a pot of black beans, a quart there in some soup to spice it up, a quart on top of enchiladas or burritos, and a quart in a bowl with some corn chips when friends come over. Last year I canned 25 quarts of salsa and we had eaten them by mid-January, so this year I grew more tomatoes...

The other form of cooked tomato we love is the Simple Sludge: get a large stainless frying pan or dutch oven, drench the bottom generously with olive oil and plenty of pressed garlic, stir and stir until it's all sizzling nicely, then add many chopped up tomatoes. Stir and cook, stir and cook, until the mixture is bubbling and thick and you don't see any recognizable tomato bits in it (about 25 minutes). Once it's all lovely and sludgy, pour into a bowl (or a freezer bag) and maybe stir in a little salt. This is a particularly handy recipe for cherry tomatoes, cracked tomatoes, and tomatoes that are a little on the Overly Ripe side.

FDPG and I picked all her gourds and deposited them on the front porch, there to await our Halloween Summons. We hauled all the pumpkins under the deck, where they could cure in relative dryness. And I went out front and spent an entire day digging up the front rockery, so that I could put in some bulbs and get old weeds out before the winter comes and sends everything into hibernation. I felt slightly conflicted about this, because I know there were more than a few leaf cutter bees with little nests in that rockery, and while I am always neurotically careful about not disturbing the nests of such creatures, I do fear that several must have crumpled under the loving crunch of my shovel.

Thanks to a Bulb Fairy I have a new bag of bulbs to plant. I will inflict some names upon you, just because I can:

Frittilaria Persica (40" tall)
Baby Moon Mini Narcissus (10" tall, fragrant)
Tulip Angelique (16" tall)
Striped Squill- Pushkinia (6" tall)
Bulgaricum Nectaroscordum Siculum (36" tall, fragrant)
Summer Snowflake - Aestivum Leucojum
Purple Sensation - Allium (36" tall, fragrant)
Imperialis Rubra - Fritillaria (36" tall, fragrant)
Striped Beauty - Fritillaria (36" tall, fragrant)

Thank you Bulb Fairy. You are sweet and generous and when these things bloom we will invite you over for a tea party. With cakes. Iced, even.

Did I mention that we turned over the composts last week? And when we did so we discovered layers of living quarters, like an apartment building. On one layer we found a mother snake and her two young snakettes; on a lower level we found a tunnel with two baby mice in it. They gambolled away as soon as we opened up their layer, as did the snakes (and snakettes), and while Max was typically vengeful about all things Rodential, none of us had the heart to do anything other than peer and hope for the best, in the end. We sent the snakes, who seemed to have absolutely no idea who was living below them, packing, and buttressed up the mouse house, despite FDPG's pleas ("can't we take them and put them in the aquarium and keep them forever oooh they're so cute oooh look at those little babies I love them they are so cuddly looking oh shut up you stupid boys we aren't going to smash them with the shovel oh can't we keep them as pets?").

I'm glad I don't live further in the countryside, where I'd no doubt be dealing with skunks and raccoons and deer and all sorts of other things I am ill equipped to deal with (I have a very low tolerance for things that mess with my gardening impulses).

And now I am going to contemplate what we grew and how we grew it and what we will or will not grow next year. (sounds so simple, doesn't it? sheila rolls her eyes at such simplistic hopes)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Putting On Our Thinking Caps...Literally.

Hmmm...let me think.

Here's FDPG wearing her thinking hat this morning, contemplating the trajectory of her day.

Poke your temporal lobe a little bit harder, FDPG!

You can make one of these hats too.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Last Gulp of Summer

We're having what some are calling an Indian Summer here right now. It seems a little on the early side for this, because the leaves aren't turning, but it's certainly not a Dog Day, so I'll settle for showing you weird shots of the garden and saying "It's really hot right now and wouldn't you know it but I hauled the soaker hoses out of all my perennial beds and now I'm having to water by hand, ugh."

As I was digging out yet more tomatillos from my tireless tomatillo, I came across this. The husk had disintegrated, leaving the skeleton around the fruit.

There were half a dozen of these things and each one seemed equally mysterious and enchanting. They went immediately to the Greenridge Museum Of Strange Things (along with FDPG's cheezie collection, Dominic's collection of Zebra Pez dispensers, and Max's collection of old chocolate bar wrappers).

I grow sorrel in both the front and the back yard, and we eat a fair bit of it through the summer. It's such a versatile garden green, and last year when I saw a variety of ornamental sorrel (the blood veined one) I bought it, thinking it would be a nice companion piece for the edible green sorrel. I would sit them across the slate path from each other, I thought, and they could be old cronies together. Maybe smile. Wave fronds. Chat occasionally. Well, let's just say that the ornamental sorrel is a piggy piggy space hog. It's seeded itself everywhere. It's even managed to insinuate itself in amongst the Irish moss, and we can't have that, because I am cultivating that Irish moss. It's going to be a path one day: a soft sparkling green carpet gliding under the artfully arranged bench and interesting brickwork next to the beach wood trellis and no it will NOT be a really cool place for Max's HO train to thunder through OR for all that Star Wars Lego to have super wild battles on top of. So while I was digging out all that ornamental sorrel I suddenly thought of this teacup I found at Michael's the other day, in a bin marked "Damaged." It wasn't damaged, although the cup and the saucer seemed to be stuck together, but best of all it was only 98¢. Heck, I thought, it's ornamental too - just like the blood-veined sorrel. So I planted one inside the other. They were made for each other.

My first cantaloupe fell off the vine today. Here it is. You know those pictures of the planets? The ones where they show the various planets sitting next to one another, so you get a sense of their respective sizes? Well, here is my cantaloupe, sitting next to one of my Golden Boy Beefsteak tomatoes. Is that not the biggest cantaloupe you've ever seen?

And no, that is NOT a cherry tomato. Whatever gave you that idea?

We were coming home from a friend's today and I stopped at the local farmer's stand for some corn and saw this: local pop. It's even made in BC, even though it has the word SODA on the label (we Canucks don't usually use that word so I'm wondering if their marketers are American). Do you know how you can tell this is Canadian? Hint: check out the flavour. What other country do you know that has pop in Saskatoon Berry flavours? Ah, my country. So wacky.

Dominic made me buy it because a) it doesn't have HFCS in it, and b) it's called Beaver Soda (he used to be a Beaver so he saw that as a sign that he was meant to drink it).

We have GOURDS this year. And lots of them. Here are but a few. I'm guessing it was a good year for gourds. My dad said "What do you do with those things?" "They're decorative," I answered. "Oh," he said politely (doing that internal eye roll parents are so good at). Later that day Dominic asked "What do you do with those things?" "They're decorative," I answered. "Oh," he said (looking completely puzzled) "Why are they so small? Are they supposed to be like that? Why did we grow them if we can't eat them?"

Two days later Richard said "What are you going to do with those things?" "They're decorative," I answered. "Oh," he said smirking widely, "are you sure they aren't just pumpkins that failed in their mission?" (suppressing his eye rolling very poorly considering he was but one shin-kick away from me).

One week later FDPG said "Did I grow all those?" "Yup," I said. "Oh," she said, "what are we going to do with them?" "They're decorative," I said, "we stick them places and they look cool. Maybe we can hollow them out and stick candles in them and put them on the table at mealtimes. Or float them in a big planter at Halloween - or even string them up like lanterns." "HA!" she said, "I knew they were good for something. Dad said they were pumpkins that failed in their mission. But I knew he was just mad that he's such a bad gardener and I'm such a great gardener."

HA! Take that, ye scornful men of little imagination. Failed pumpkin, indeed.
(sheila aims her pointy little toes at some shins)

Got a free plant with my garden points at Ye Olde Garden Centre today. It's called Zebra Grass. Bet you can't guess why...

A Study of Two Personalities

The Zen Michaelmas Daisy. Free flowing. Loose. Always late for everything. Loses keys and driver's licenses regularly. Likes riding around town without a seat belt. Has a tinkly laugh and long curly hair. Wears lavender coloured lipstick and voluminous yoga pants. Carries a large red velvet purse from 10,000 villages. Absentmindedly chews nails.

The Type A Michaelmas Daisy. Always on time. Has specific places for keys and driver's licenses. Never loses anything. Is very thin and well dressed at all times. Probably wears tasteful makeup. Heels click when walking. Has a place in the bathroom for everything. Does not like mildew.

And I love them both equally, as every good parent does...

Latest garden surprise. I don't know where this plant came from, and I have no idea what sort of grape it is (by the way, Moira, you were right about the crocosmia), and while they are very sweet they also have a lot of big ole seeds in them. Any suggestions on what to do with them?

Finally, drum roll please, this is why they call this variety of pumpkin a Cinderella pumpkin!
There you have it - my garden weirdnesses in the last days of summer.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Passing of Days

I've had a cold these last few days, which might (or might not) account for my relative silence here (it might be plain old NothingToSayitis). I spent all of Saturday lying in bed, feeling utterly miserable. When I was fed up with that, I wandered around the house a couple of times to make sure everyone knew just how miserable I was feeling, although with the weather being so lovely and hot they were all outside. No one present to witness my ability to be a tediously pathetic weeniepants about having a cold stoic and bravely ill, sigh. It was rather pleasant, now that I look back on it, because at least Richard was there, and able to be the Other Adult around so I actually could lie in bed the whole day. For some reason I kept remembering the audio commentary to the film Gosford Park, and thinking about what Julian Fellowes (who wrote the script) had said about an old aunt of his. Apparently she spent each and every Friday lying in a darkened room, eating nothing and drinking only water. She lived to a ripe old age and looked wonderful for most of it, according to him, and he thought her Friday routine had something to do with it. So while I was (mostly) lying there feeling horrible, occasionally I tried to think Pleasant Youthful Thoughts, in a (mostly) vain attempt at using the opportunity as a multi-tasking moment. Hard to feel youthful and healthy when one is sick and feverish.

Why yes, I do listen to audio commentaries of films. Sometimes they're better than the actual film. The ones for Gosford Park and Chocolat are fascinating, but that's probably because Lasse Halstrom and Julian Fellowes are good talkers. The Dr Who episodes are equally riveting. I now know just how they get those Daleks to glide across the floor. And no, it's not highly technical. Or even computerized. Think bare feet...pushing cardboard boxes...

Sunday I woke up, saw glimpses of the early sunrise all pink and yellow and gorgeous outside my bedroom window, thought briefly about attempting another stab at the Sitting In A Darkened Room, then remembered my giant pot of tomatoes, sitting all naked and peeled on the deck. See that big silver pot there? To your left? I had that pot, all 18 quarts of it, filled with tomatoes. Peeled tomatoes, might I emphasize.

If you have no idea what I'm on about, imagine if you will a long wooden counter, in a kitchen, an old fashioned farm kitchen perhaps, and a stove with a giant pot of boiling water on it, into which some kitchen maid (who probably doesn't spend her Fridays in bed thinking Pleasant Youthful Thoughts) has emptied masses upon masses of fresh, ripe tomatoes. She lets them sit there, briefly, in the boiling water, before she scoops them out and sets them gently but firmly in an icy water bath on that giant counter. Then, and only then, does she put the cruel knife of fate to their tender innards, removing their skins and the odd core. The whole process takes our kitchen maid an awfully long time. Because she has an awfully large bucket of tomatoes.

Got that image in your head? Right, well, remove the kitchen maid, the wooden counter, and the icy water bath (I've always thought it a little excessive to use ice cubes for this purpose). Oh, and the giant kitchen too. But the rest? C'est moi: sweating, cramped, and endlessly toiling. All in the service of the charming tomato.

I think I'm still a little feverish. I'm finding it difficult to stay on topic. My mind keeps wandering off on Chaucerian tangents. Kitchen maids? I wish.

Anyhow, Sunday morning I woke up and saw the sun through bleary weary eyes. I watched it send out tentative beams of light onto the deck, flicker across the pot of salmon-coloured geraniums, wander over the table, settle briefly on the luminous dishes of drying garlic and potatoes, and then on the...silver...stockpot. The by now effervescent-with-too-much-sitting-in-the-sun stockpot full of peeled tomatoes...into which I had poured at least 3 hours, picking, washing, peeling and chopping. I think I might even have gaped in horror, right then and there. I'd been so busy lying in bed being pathetic that I'd completely forgotten about that big ole pot of soon-to-be-wasted time sitting out there. And that was how I left my sick bed. I did my Super Jane Austen heroine routine again, even. I forged out onto the deck, lifted my Ton 'O' Silver and hauled it into the kitchen, where I promptly rescued it from Imminent Death By Fermentation.

And now I have 30 quarts of salsa sitting in the cold room, many quarts of antipasto, and a number of quarts of tomatillo salsa spiked with Thai Dragon Peppers. Once I got working on the tomatoes I figured what the heck - might as well clear the deck of Potential Fruit Fly Bait. Besides, the tomatillos were sitting alongside the bubbly tomatoes looking sad and ever-so-slightly shrivelled, as if they knew they'd soon be Permanent Residents of the Compost Heap if I didn't leave off with the Youthful Thoughts crap and get out the food processor right this minute.

So I did.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Doing Art

I was doing some blog hopping a while back, seeing what all the homeschoolers were getting up to this summer, when I came across this post at Melissa Wiley's blog. I almost did a double take because I'd just been reading this post at the Camp Creek blog and thinking "we have to get a field kit together." If I wasn't stuck up here in Canada and frequently subject to mysterious "border fees" I too might have ordered the watercolour DVD Melissa links to and found so inspirational, because the website is so gorgeous that I found myself clicking back to it again and again.

We like doing art projects. I've noticed that it's by far the most effective method of silencing everyone when we're in the middle of our school day and some critical phone call suddenly pulls me aside. Usually the boys erupt into noisy, gleeful chatter, or some game of Fling The Lego Man Onto Precariously Piled Books, anything that makes it insanely hard to hear the person on the other end of the line (who always seem to be a Low Talker). But once, in a fit of desperation, I grabbed sheets of printer paper and shoved them in front of them, with a bit of a stern look (yes, I confess, it might very well have been a glare). I thrust pencils and felt pens into the air. And then there was quiet. Silence. Immediate silence. Pure absorption. I felt like I was holding a magic wand it was so sudden.

Um, where was I? Oh, right. Art.

Many of us homeschoolers worry about science, or math, if we're going to worry about anything. Critical career things that are necessary for all those future marine biologists, forensic pathologists, and engineers we're raising. I try to worry about those things, really I do (particularly when I consider how career-challenged I am), but what really worries me is art. I want them to know who Raoul Dufy was. To be able to see Starry Night and know who painted it. Maybe even to feel a thrill when they see a genuine Corinthian helmet in a museum, like we did this spring. To carry a sketchbook with them when they head off on their travels, so they can look back at it one day and see the world as they saw it then. To that end I lure it into our world as often as possible, even if it sometimes involves - gasp - naked Greek statues that have Max gaping and making the most idiotic remarks possible (sheila rolls her eyes at the thing that is the perpetually silly pre-teen boy). I want my kids to have such mundane thrills as sketching on a blanket out in the backyard in the sun, or painting with watercolours, drawing with pastels, or even drawing their own maps in history...sometimes it's just a matter of ripping up tissue paper and making 'stained glass' windows. Or smooshing clay. Or watching the incomparable Sister Wendy and her black balls of erotic fury. So I was thrilled to see both Melissa's post and the Camp Creek post enter my day at about the same time, because it seemed like a Message From Above. And I really like getting messages that way. It makes them seem Serious and Mysterious and Meaningful, even if it is just coincidence.

And it's not always conventional, as you might expect. Here are just a few of the places we get our art fix:
Next to poems.

Alongside dried flowers from the garden.

On cards we send to our friends.

On old trellises we've harvested from the garbage, although some of us have trouble agreeing what colours we're going to paint them and so they end up several colours...

And now I've made up an art kit for each of them, based on the ideas at Camp Creek, for any Wandering Art Walks we might take (even if it's just under the sundeck in a rainstorm). Here's a picture of it. We've got a mesh zippered bag, some Prang watercolours (I bought the double-sided ones, using a coupon from Michaels to make the price more palatable, but really, having 16 colours instead of 8 is much more fun), a spritz bottle in case we forget that oh-so-critical cup of water, a sponge (for those overly wet moments), a tube for the brushes (any art supply store will have these for around $2 each), a Sharpie (outlining), a good pencil, and a non-marking eraser. And we've all got a sketch book and some small pieces of watercolour paper to go along with this.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Twitting My Day Away

More silliness from the back of my mind (and one from the Onion):

"There was too much friction on the table - it should have slid" (Max, grasping at straws in a futile attempt to explain why his mug of tea skidded across the table and tipped over onto the newspaper)

"Do you think you'll ever go over to the Dark Side?" (FDPG to Dominic)

"They're fun, they're fashionable...and if you made them life-size, their heads would be 5 feet in circumference." Finally, something that vindicates my dislike of those uggalleeeee Bratz dolls.

"You might think you know what's going on in my head but you don't. I don't even know what's going on in my head." (Max to me, curiously lucid on his impending teenage self)

Someone just called their dog Yangtze River Number Two. And paid 352,000 pounds for it. Gosh, and there was me thinking Sparrow was a dorky name (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, you obviously aren't as engaged in trivial meaningless gossip as I am).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Backyard Fair

We came back from the county fair last night, laden with 4-H projects, various ribbons and projects and ed. boards and boxes of children's garden and pumpkins and other things, and after I dumped everything into my pigsty of a kitchen, I went right out into the garden. It had spent a long time being abandoned as we had prepared for the fair. And after a long weekend of rain and cold weather it looked tragic.
But weirdly enough, I found myself looking at the fruits and vegetables with a more, err, critical eye, after having seen what was on show from other people's gardens. Then, in a fit of idiocy, I thought "I'm going to mount a fair in this very back yard!" Just because. For the heck of it. And no, I had not been drinking when I decided this. Call it Post Fair Exhaustion Idiocy.

So here we go. Categories are mutable, me being a bit of a Relativist and all.

Most Shy Plant In The Garden: This vine has been growing slowly for nigh on, umm, hmmm, let's say 5 months now, and so far it's grown 8 feet and produced this one teeny tiny little watermelon.

I've got it sitting on a couple of greenhouse pots and I fully expect some bloody squirrel to take a bite out of it anyday now. Like they did with Dominic's Pink Popping Corn (oops, almost wrote pooping corn)

Melon Voted Least Likely To Grow: I planted 5 cantaloupe seeds in May and watched them grow like stink. Once they reached the 2' mark I put them outside in the warmest spot, with rich composted soil, and a lovely sheltered enclosure, blah blah blah.

They all shrivelled.

And died.
So I planted 3 more. Same thing: grew strongly for a few weeks, then withered and died. Finally, in a slight panic, I planted one more. I might even have kissed the seed for luck, I don't know (it's all a painful blur). And whaddaya know but it grew and grew and grew and now there are 4 melons on this baby. They even LOOK like cantaloupes. Phew.

Eggplant Voted Least Likely To Produce Eggplants:
(notice a theme here? I am)
This little plant has really been testing my Gardener's Resolve. I thought it was going to live and die without producing anything but LO and BEHOLD I notice that it's suddenly got a few eggplants on it. Did it hear me growling at it last week? Is this a last ditch bid at avoiding the compost heap? Whether they will come to anything is anyone's guess.
Maybe it'll win yet more awards: The Eggplant That Never Was; Eggeplante Pathétique; The Eggplant Sheila Will Never Grow Again...

The Crocosmia I Like The Best: I know, I know, it's not nice to play favourites, but I really like this crocosmia. It's so, err, orange. And big. And I've completely forgotten what it was called. Usually I am Miss Anal (pronounced Ahnahl) and file every single plant tag in a binder, but this one ESCAPED ME SOMEHOW. Drats.

The Tomatillo That Won't Stop Producing Tomatilloes: This is one plant. So far I've canned 8 quarts of tomatillo sauce from it. It shows no sign of flagging yet, either. It's one crazy plant. Someone hand that tomatillo a blue ribbon!

Tomato Plant With The Most Tomatoes On It: this is a Tigerella tomato. I grew it from seeds from last year's Tigerellas. The lowly Tigerella is a nice enough tomato, a bit small next to your average Beefsteak, perhaps, but oh my does it produce. I think this plant has approximately 180 tomatoes on it. Plus, it survived an awful lot of (inadvertent) mistreatment on my part. It was one of those Leftover Seedlings that got jammed into a spare spot in the Alternate Strawberry Bed (and was promptly forgotten about). Gosh, it sounds like a bit of an Anne of Green Gables, doesn't it?

The Little Tomato That Could. And did.

The Most Mysterious Rebirth Thus Far: Here we have two perfectly edible artichokes growing about 3" from the ground. Never saw them coming, but suddenly there they were.

Don't know why,
don't where when,
but we'll eat again
some day...

So there you have it: a virtual Backyard Fair. How about you? Any malformed vegetables? Perhaps a few fused zucchinis? (I have some but they are just too rude for words) Let's be seeing them!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Summer Wraps Up

How was your summer? Mine, for the most part, was exceedingly fun. Some of the people in this house had a birthday party in which they were suddenly revealed to be EIGHT YEARS OLD. And seeing as how they were such Harry Potter fans I made them some fancy schmancy Harry Potter items to usher in this event: origami owls, letters of acceptance to Hogwarts, cards with miniature gear for their new school, paper wands in custom cardboard boxes, boxes of chocolate frogs with wizard cards (it's intriguing what some adults are getting up to out there, I tell you). We even convinced The Queen of Dairies to put a Hogwarts crest on one of their finest ice cream cakes, seeing as how we're always on holiday when this birthday rolls around, and my holiday kitchen in no way resembles the kind of kitchen one could bake or ice a cake in. Then, when we got home and had another birthday party for the relatives, I'd had enough of we'd kind of exhausted the whole Harry Potter thing so I made them a cake that was supposed to look like an Ohm, which is a creature from a Miyazaki movie called Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. An ohm looks like a large woodbug. Well, a large woodbug with lots of blue eyes, which turn bright red when it's mad, which is usually when the humans do bad things to the environment (ack, go watch the film, I'm making it sound weird). And, in an occurrence that really shouldn't surprise me anymore, when I was trolling the internet looking for Ohm stills on which to base the cake, I came across a lot of Ohmu in various mediums, made by a lot of very odd creative people and there was even a Lego Ohmu. The people in this house who turned eight was thrilled with their particular Ohm, especially as it involved three layers of cake, a whole package of sparklers, and a ton of icing.

I made a dress out of this material (cast your eyes left) and endured an astonishing amount of comments from people who could not understand why I was wearing a) a dress made out of kid's fabric, b) a dress made out of material with SILLY LOOKING BUGS on it, and c) a really LOUD green dress. All I could say was "Umm, because I liked the material?"

I made chocolate leaves for yet another birthday cake, this time one for an adult who wanted something more sedate than an Ohm cake. Chocolate leaves are one of the more satisfying things one can do with a lot of leftover chocolate chips, they're super easy, and they always look really impressive. Oops, I'm outing myself here, aren't I? Trust me, they'll practically KILL you they're so complicated - and they take HOURS to make.

We also swam a lot. And played a lot. And built a lot of Lego structures. And caught the cat accidentally with the hose a few times (the places this cat sleeps!). And in a final, last ditch attempt at capturing the summer, the twins and I decided to enter a whole whack of categories for the local County Fair. We collected the longest bean pods we could find, the best pumpkins we could find, the reddest tomatoes we had, and Dominic even went all out and made some penguin cupcakes from the amazingly creative Hello Cupcake book he'd discovered at the library. I entered some of my canned things and a few garden items. FDPG made some pressed flower creations and some truly lovely greeting cards. It was incredibly hectic and exciting and breathlessly fun (some of us won a few Best In Category ribbons and a surprising number of firsts and some of us even won some - gasp - cash) and although we all agreed to enter at least 4 times as many categories next year, we also decided not to start everything the week before the fair. In the interests of not giving me a nervous breakdown...

And now it's the end of the summer. School is starting almost INSTANTLY. I like to mark this time. Something to mark the start of a new school year, a time of excitement and anticipation in this house even though we're homeschoolers and don't have to get up early to catch a bus or get to the classroom on time. If our school funds come tomorrow we'll be off to get some new pencils perhaps, or something in the workbooky line for the always busy FDPG, or the watercolours I'm planning for our Art Bags. Then it'll be back to dealing with the 5,392,190 tomatoes in the back yard. Tomatoes to turn into many many jars of salsa (a salsa that won me a Best in Category ribbon at the fair - does it get any more exciting than that?) for those long winter months.

We had a funny incident the other week, as we were on our way to meet a friend at the bank. We were racing to meet a friend at a bank, and some fellow in a coffee shop doorway said, å propos of nothing "Don't worry - they'll all be gone in another 2 weeks!" My kids, for whom this was a Mysterious Remark From Another Planet, all said "What did he mean by that? Where are we going?" They were uneasy. Disquieted, even. I was SO tempted to play a little game with them, but being the mature adult I (sometimes) am, I didn't. "He meant school," I said, "public school. All parents generally look forward to getting rid of their kids round about now." Then I looked at them all and laughed rather immoderately.

"Poor you," said Max, "You're stuck with us!" And then we ALL laughed rather immoderately.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Julie and Julia

I'd title this My Sheila and Sheila but it looks weird...

The brilliance behind the Silver Palate cookbook series died on Sunday, did you know? I didn't. I only noticed when I read her obituary in the newspaper (I like me a well-written obituary). And then I felt kind of sad, because I have this book, the one to your left, and the discovering of it was one of the more seminal moments in my long and rather speckled cooking career. I picked it up at a Costco somewhere, and all of a sudden, there in front me, I saw the possibilities of savory food. Before that I'd been a die hard sweet fan, even apprenticing as a Dessert Cook in many a restaurant, and savory foods were not really on my radar. Oh sure, I ate savory food, most every day, and I loved eating out. I'd even spent some time as a treeplanting cook, where (vegetarian) savory food production was a Serious and Extremely Well Paid Event, even if it was unaccompanied by electricity or refrigeration. I liked cooking, and people were always enthusiastic about eating my food, but cooking meals was never a Grand Passion, until I met this book. And then, one day, on an otherwise desultory Costco visit, I picked this book up. It was bright, it had interesting illustrations, and what's more, way back in the early 90's it had panache. Charisma. Style, even. Whatever it was, this book had it. I was hooked, and I know I irritated my mother to death with all my "Why didn't you ever make ____?" remarks when I was reading it. It was this book that introduced me to such oddities as caponata, peperonata, galettes, sorrel mayonnaise, and potato gnocchi before I even knew they existed (or saw a hint of them in stores). It had a repertoire of things called "new basics" before Martha did them, and (dare I utter this thought without jinxing my Martha juju?) it did them simpler than she did, with less ingredients. And it abounded in charming phrases like "In Rome, Thursday is gnocchi day..." I was so delighted that such a thing might really exist somewhere I made them then and there. As a result, the page where the gnocchi recipe is is so coated with flour it practically opens up on its own (if you're wondering why I don't just remember the recipe you're in good company: my mother wonders the same thing when I call her every Christmas for my biscotti recipe - which I can never remember either).

The other place that opens on its own is where my much-coveted brownie recipe is but I probably shouldn't give that away - page 655.

This book did for me what Martha does for me now: opens my mind up to the possibilities. And for that, I thank you, Sheila Lukins. You were great and I really owe you. I'm sad you're dead.