Monday, September 30, 2013

Going To See Ron Sexsmith

One of the things about getting older is how birthday present expectations change. I don't seem to get as excited, nor do I get as worked up about presents.

Boring of me, I realize, but there it is.

Anyhow, my birthday is not for another couple of months, but when I saw the ad in the newspaper announcing the (wildly joyful) fact that Ron Sexsmith was going to be in town, I decided that I wanted Ron tickets for my birthday. So I told Richard, who was hugely relieved at having A Great Birthday Idea, particularly since I'd already squashed his other Great Idea by buying a copy of Howl's Moving Castle after getting paid for a garden lecture I gave to a local club.

I really did - and if you don't believe me, click on this link. My MIL wrote that blurb, which is kind of nice given our - ahem - fractured relationship. I sound like a sensible holistic back-to-the-lander, don't I?

I won't ruin that image for you.

Tickets. Right.

So Richard buys the tickets. They arrive in the mail and I take great pains to remember where I put them (unlike the LEGO tickets I tacked to the pinboard and promptly forgot about). Last night we get ready, even though we're in the middle of a Severe Wind Warning that has all ferries to the mainland COMPLETELY SHUT DOWN and has already knocked down two garden arbors. We weren't completely irresponsible: we made sure the kids had working flashlights and gave them strict instructions not to fly their kites while we're gone. Then we drive through a deluge to the university. It is such a deluge that the gutters in the roofs are all overflowing, so hard and fast is the rain falling. Richard is a little puzzled when I demand to be dropped off near some form of overhang but he goes with it, because it is ostensibly My Birthday Event and he likes to humour me. We run through the rain to the university centre, me stealing one of the concert promotion posters along the way, and dash into the hallway with all the other sodden concert goers. There is no power outage, and really, truth be told, the wind has pretty much died down. Even so, I call the kids using the Courtesy Phone, mostly because I am excited to a) use a free phone, and b) call the kids and remind them that I am going to see RON SEXSMITH! (they humour me too and all take turns shrieking witticisms into the phone)

Then we sit in our seats and I take a couple of photos with my iPad mini, despite the arched eyebrows of my seat mate two seats over (who spent the first 10 minutes checking her stupid phone messages until I gave her some arched eyebrow action of my own). Jenn Grant, his backup act, comes out and sings. The sound in the hall is, for lack of a better word, sublime. It's clear and gorgeous and hauntingly beautiful and we all sit captivated. She sings with her husband, who has his head hanging so low I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering why. She tells some funny stories about emailing her songs to Ron and asking him to sing on one. At the intermission I go out and buy a CD from her. I ask her which one my 12 year old daughter will like. She puts her arm around me and we both laugh into each other's eyes. Then she signs it with a big heart. She's so friendly that I'm mildly regretful that we couldn't be friends in some alternate universe somewhere. We file back in, I take another photo. Then Ron and band mates come out. He is SO good and SO musical and SO mournfully sweet there is a collective shiver of pleasure from the audience.

And so we all sit for the next 90 minutes, with pauses for some extremely loud applause. I shriek YES! very loudly when he asks if his piano playing is okay, the audience all laugh and he hangs his head, sheepishly pleased that we like him so much. I wonder, not for the first time, why he isn't way more famous than he is. He reminds us that a certain song wasn't actually written by Feist, even if she HAS made it more famous than he did. After the concert, I buy his latest CD because I worry a bit for his pension plan.

Then it's home to the kids, the flashlights, the ruined garden, and the rain. What a spectacular birthday present.

(Although if you're reading this Richard, the Pacific Rim DVD is being released in, ahem, October...)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cinematic Trivialities

It was a good summer for movie viewing, even by my standards (must have lots of action, no predictable or cringe-worthy female nudity, and preferably a large monster or two). Our library has taken the recent video store closures to heart and stocked up on a variety of films, so we were able to see Cowboys & AliensMission Impossible: Ghost ProtocolMoonrise KingdomLife of Pi, and Argo without having to pay through the nose for them. Good movies, all of them, even if Max did find the facial hair in Argo a bit much. "Did guys REALLY wear their moustaches like that?" he asked, incredulously. We saw the original TRON, but all I'll say about about that movie is this: BAD BAD BAD.

We went to the cinema a few times, too, although I am increasingly dismayed by the fact that everything seems to come out first in 3D IMAX, which means that I'm paying $97.50 for the five of us to see one single film. I don't know about you, but I find that excessive. Even my kids, who think I give new meaning to the word cheap, think it's excessive. And none of us even LIKE 3D. Half the time it adds nothing to the film.

That said, Richard and I went to see Pacific Rim in 3D IMAX, because a) the kids were elsewhere for the weekend so we didn't have to pay for them to see it too (or listen to their bitter complaints as to why we never take them), and b) I love Guillermo del Toro. I took the kids later, once it had settled into a Regular Price run, and it was just as a-MAZE-ing second time round. Kaiju vs. Jaeger!  

Michael Bay, take note - you could learn a thing or two about making action movies from Guillermo del Toro (and trust me, you really DO need to learn a thing or two about making action movies).

I had to drag Max to Despicable Me 2, a film the twins and I were desperate to see. "It's a KIDS movie and I am NOT a kid," he said, "I'll feel stupid in there." Fortunately good sense prevailed and we all went. It's got it all: funny script, witty characters, lack of cheese, and wonderful voice actors (which always has me wondering what was up with Christian Bale in Howl's Moving Castle). Afterwards even Max agreed that he'd been a bit too self-conscious, idiotically teenish, and judgemental quick to label it a kid movie. 

I am shocked at how many people walk out before the credits roll. In the case of Pacific Rim they miss one MAJOR plot element, and in the case of Despicable Me 2, well, I won't tell you what they miss. Because no one should walk out before the credits roll. For one thing, they irritate ME, because I have to peer around their shuffling hulks to see who did what, where, and when. Or worse, go stand somewhere while the masses shuffle and trip around in the dark. There is a reason they don't turn the lights on until the credits have rolled. Those people should have learned this from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Sigh.

So, in the spirit of Zealous Movie Devotees everywhere, I'm going to leave you all with a Code of Conduct that I think everyone needs to know about, even though it says nothing about leaving before the credits roll...

For other movie-related posts, click here, here, and here

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Last Gasps

 You can feel fall in the air but today is one of those perfectly warm, gorgeously sunny End of Summer Days. The kind where you eat out on the deck, glad that it's not dark and gloomy. Or cold. Or windy and wet. The kind where you marvel once again how gorgeous it is here when the sun is out. And how clear the sky is.

Then I look down at the garden and see how exhausted everything is. The cherry tomatoes have to be picked just slightly ripe or else they split. We had a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes this year: Sungolds, Yellow Pears, Supersweet 100s, and while we tried to eat most of them I ended up making passata after a while: get a cookie sheet and cover it with cherry tomatoes (I like to separate them by colour), then pour a generous amount of olive oil over them. Place in a moderately hot oven (375ºF) and roast until they almost brown on the top. At this point you transfer them to a glass bowl or something similar, and dunk large slices of baguette in the juices. You can purée the mixture if you like, or just bung it in a bag and freeze it as is. This makes a superior pizza or spaghetti sauce. I've seen recipes that include salt, pepper, thyme, basil, etc, but I don't use any of those things. Just olive oil. It's irresistibly delicious. Besides, I need to hoard the basil for pesto, of which I now have at least 20 pints in the freezer. And one pot in the fridge, for everyone to spread on toast or crackers or sandwiches (for those of us at work or school).

The pumpkins are slowly turning orange, as are the butternut squash and the potimarrons, even though they were both dwarfed by the giant marigolds. Oddly, the Mortgage Lifers in the hoop house are still green - it's curious how behind they are compared to the plants out in the open. I'm rounding up the last of the raspberries, although this particular plant produces well into November if the weather is dry enough.

Picked the last of the Macintoshes and Ultraspires, which were not hit by scab this year, thankfully. I don't know how much more "Ew! What's this on the apples? Ick! I have to PEEL IT!" I can take. Not that I eat the scab, but hearing about it every time someone picks up an apple is starting to drive me a bit mad. Molded by too much grocery store perfection, obviously.

I need to write about our new school year, but there is just too much going on with our harvest right now to coalesce my thoughts properly. Suffice to say that the kids are now in grades 11 and 7 and working hard, while I'm inside AND outside picking, peeling, grating, chopping, and canning.

Friday, September 13, 2013

In Which I Am Frustrated By More Than One Organization

Dear Girl Guides of Canada phone help person,

I called you this morning, trying to get help with my daughter's Pathfinder Unit. Perhaps you didn't have a satisfying cup of coffee this morning, or perhaps you're merely constipated, but I feel compelled to point out to you how entirely unhelpful you were with my dilemma. "I guess I'm back to square one," I said to you, after you'd spent one too many minutes patronizing me, pointing out things about the online website that I already knew. "Yes, you are," you agreed. I could hear the OHMYGAWDTHISWOMANISTOTALLYGETTINGONMYNERVES in your voice, so no worries there. I was quite aware how much I irritated you. For someone representing an organization that purports to teach young girls to be confident, resourceful, and courageous, not to mention making a difference to the world, let me just say that you forgot the bit where YOU model those ideals. What a great face you put on the Guiding organization. Poo on you. I hope you stay constipated all month.

I am publicly identifying you because you should be ashamed of yourself for being so unhelpful. What is the point of being on the other end of a 1-800 number if all you do is act like a total twat when you talk to us confused peons?

So I did the only thing I could: I thanked you for being SO unhelpful and I hung up on you.




Dear Online Sales Person,

(Note: this is most definitely NOT the online LEGO store as they are possibly the nicest people to deal with in the world)

I called you this morning because you sell LEGO parts that my son wishes to purchase. He saw them in the 2013 catalogue but they did not show up on your online site. We were puzzled so I telephoned your help line. When I asked you about this, you sounded, to put it diplomatically, like you needed some very heavy tranquilizers. "If it isn't on the online site then we don't carry it!" you snapped. "Then why is it in the most recent catalogue?" I asked. Stupid of me, I realize, but that's me: I see something in a 2013 catalogue and I assume it's possible to purchase it, mostly because it's STILL 2013. "It can't be in the catalogue because we don't have it!" you again snapped, with perhaps more vigour than before. "So...does that mean that your catalogue printers made a mistake?" I asked, thinking that the situation called for a little levity. "Can I help you with anything else?" you asked pointedly. When I asked if our call was being recorded for customer satisfaction purposes you did not respond. I hope I put a little thrill of fear into you, because if you stop to think about it, that item HAD to be around somewhere. It wouldn't BE in the 2013 catalogue if you didn't sell it now, would it? Silly goose.

So I did the only thing I could: I hung up on you.



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Still Life With Vegetable

 Okay, today I have some Classic Examples of Vegetables for you to consider this winter as you sit round the table reading garden catalogues as they come in. What's good about seeing Classic Examples of Vegetables from someone else's garden is that they can be vastly more informative than what you might see on the packet itself. And yes, I'm talking to you White Sprouting Broccoli.

First, a Mouse Melon. This might not be a familiar plant to many of you now but I feel fairly confident you'll see more of it next year, because it's an oddly compelling and weird-tasting example of a miniature cucumber. I bought it as a seedling. It was small, slightly shrivelled, and looked in imminent need of a quick death. I stuck it in my beautiful fabulous glorious new glass greenhouse and its managed to rebrand itself as an Octopus of Goliath proportions, all the while covered in these teeny watermelon dopplegangers. It's, as we like to say in my family, strangely compelling.

I'm going to try to propagate this but wish me luck, because cucumbers and I, while I love to make things with them, have never really clicked in the garden. Or let's say that they underperform and I watch, uncomprehending.

Touchstone Gold Beets. This shot is so gorgeous it's verging on Foodie Porn, don't you think? (that's why you're getting the Full Frontal Assault Shot) This is what a beet should look like: globular, firm, squeaky-leafed, and glowing with colour. And to think that it all happened because I paid careful attention to the spacing requirements on the packet. Never done that before.

Here's a Tomato Size Tutorial (from left to right): Mortgage Lifter, Tibetan Bush, Taxi, I Don't Know, Tigerella, Yellow Pear, Sungold.

The Mortgage Lifter really is a giant - those ones are bigger than the spread of my palm. The Tigerella is slightly green because we've had a few days of torrential downpours and they are starting to crack, so I'm picking them earlier because I don't want a deluge of slightly green tomatoes to deal with. The I Don't Know might be a poorly shaped San Marzano but I genuinely don't know; we have the squirrel with no tail to thank for this: she broke into the cold frame and dug up everything (and scattered the plant tags in the process). Even more irritatingly, it took some Official Fruiting to sort out the pumpkins, which she even MORE irritatingly dug up THREE TIMES. What is it about a pumpkin root that she liked so much?

Which tomatoes do we like the best? At the moment the cherries and the Tigerellas are winning out, simply because they are the most adaptable, not to mention prolific. We've been slicing them  in half and dowsing them with pesto. Putting them on toast, with a scattering of cayenne. Making bake pasta dishes. The rest I skin, puree, then store in the fridge for canning. This year I mixed some leftover peach butter with some Taxi puree, added a few cherry tomatoes, some chilies and hey presto we had the most amazing salsa. The other quality in Tigerella's favour is its sheer productiveness: it produces more tomatoes per plant than any variety I've ever grown. (Tip: when saving seed use the biggest Tigerella tomato you can find on the plant, so you get good-sized fruit)

Blue Lake Beans: first time growing these. I usually grow Scarlet Runners but these are nice - I'm liking the smooth skin more than I thought I would. I'll probably grow these again.

The only trouble (if this could be called a trouble) with beans is that they come in veritable onslaughts. In some ways they are better than zucchini at Building Self Esteem For The First Time Gardener. It takes a lot for a bean to do poorly.

In my experience beans are one of the most useful items to put in your freezer: for use in soups, chow mein, omelets, or even as a side dish or thawed on a salad. And because of their onslaught-like qualities I can freeze enough to last us all winter. Simply pick, top and tail, slice thinly (on a bit of a diagonal), then blanch and freeze in small ziplocks. I do a number of them in one go, package them like rectangular flat envelopes, and freeze them lined up on a cookie sheet. Once they've frozen remove the cookie sheet and leave them stacked and they won't hog the room in your freezer. Much.

Sungolds and Yellow Pears. Just looking at them is a bit breath-taking, isn't it? Unless of course you are two of my picky picky children...

So glossy and fresh-looking.

Potimarron Squash: grew this on on the recommendation of our newspaper's garden columnist. The seed is from Seed Savers, which is good to remember because I've never seen any other company carry this particular one. It's a nice little squash but not terribly productive in my garden so I'm torn about whether or not I'll grow it again.

Finally, apples. I love it when the apples are ripe. Right now we have six apple trees in the back yard, all with pretty decent crops on them. From left to right: Granny Smith, Cox's Orange Pippin, Macintosh. This is not a stellar example of a Mac, but I put it in because of the bloom on the red part. I never knew this but Macs on a tree look (and taste) nothing like Macs in a store. Sometimes I think that they are the BEST apple in my backyard, a fact which stuns me slightly because I grew up hating Macintosh apples. They remind me of bleak rainy winters when I was a kid, slogging to school and having them confront me rudely in my lunchbox at recess, in all their horrible mealy moosh. This prejudice is probably why it took me so long to identify them when we bought this house (two apple trees were already here): I had no idea a Macintosh could taste so crisp and sweet and intensely delicious. 

So there you have it: Fecundity and Felicity In The Garden.