Saturday, May 31, 2008

Home, part deux...

After a not-so-restful night (thunder-and-lightning DID keep us awake, unfortunately... And so did Wee Three, who serenaded us all in her sleep at 4am with loud, tuneless humming), we awoke "for good" at 7am on Saturday morning, and set off for one of the highlights of our weekends home: The Stratford Farmer's Market.

It was there that we discovered a brand, new TREAT amongst the throngs of vendors that crowd the grounds... And that treat is: "Brit's Frits". Brit is a lovely English lady with a broad accent that matches her cheerful personality. And I tell you, people: the heavenly creations she concocts in her little shop-on-wheels are some of the most scrumptious things I have ever. eaten. in. my. life.

THESE are REAL Apple Fritters.

That is to say: honest-to-God, thickly sliced pieces of Ontario-grown APPLE, that have been coated in sweet batter, then quickly deep-fried, and generously sprinkled with sugar.

Let us just say this: I could have eaten the entire truck-load. Yes, as if I needed any MORE enticement, the Stratford Farmer's Market has proven, once again, that there is no better place to find GOOD FOOD.

Once the children had been provided with their requisite cookies-on-a-stick (Wee Three manged to drop two of them on the floor, one right after the other, as they were still so soft and fresh-out-of-the-oven), we went off in search of beautiful cheeses and produce and summer sausage, which would later become our dinner. The Ontario asparagus is "in season" right now, so I bought armfuls to take home with us, with the plan to make a delicious soup this week.

And then, we hit the downtown. The kids wanted to visit the amazing toy shop, and, of course, our own personal "Mecca": Chocolate Barr's.

But, the highlight of my day yesterday was a leisurely stroll through the amazingly imaginative gardening shop: "Anything Grows". (For all who are interested: this is currently a link to their online news-letter, which I highly recommend for anyone obsessed with gardening. Their website is under construction, but will soon be up-and-running, so bookmark this link, and keep checking back!!)

It is a little jewel of a place, nestled just in-behind the city's main street, and tucked around a quiet corner... but the treasures found within are astounding. The owners have managed to gather all the most useful, most attractive, and most creative gardening tools and ornaments imaginable, and put them for sale in one place. It. Is. Heaven. And luckily, they even have a very sweet, very agreeable dog on the premises, who amused the girlies by allowing them to pat him while their mother examined every single article in the shop, and made selections.

I found a wonderful brass plate, that will soon be screwed on to the back door. The message to all who enter my home?


I found a wonderful wooden tool that will be just the thing for planting bulbs in the fall, and even for setting out plants in our new vegetable patch this spring:

This is called a "dibber". It is used to poke holes in the ground, in preparation for planting... It is made of hand-turned Canadian hardwood, comes in three different sizes, and sports inch-markings on the side, so that you know how deeply you will be setting out your plants and seeds. I was told that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, farmers used a long-handled dibber of metal or wood to plant wheat and other crops. One person would walk backwards with a pair of dibbers making holes about four inches apart. A second person would drop a seed into each hole and fill it in. It would take two days to plant an acre. Whew. I now have even MORE respect for my maternal ancestors...

And this? Is the "Garden Bandit". It is like a miniature version of an old-fashioned garden hoe, and cuts weeds off at the roots. I can't WAIT to get home and use it in one flower bed in particular... The one that is positioned directly underneath where a bird-feeder hung all last winter (oh, the foolishness... Oh, the WEEDS... What. Was. I. Thinking??!) I've no doubt, I'll have all those dratted erroneous sprouts cleaned up in a trice with my purple-handled Garden Bandit. Because I've got a "thing" about purple...

And, last but not least, LOOK at the Morning Glory seeds I found:

These are from the Livingston Seed Company, and called "Picotee Blue".

I have never seen anything like it. We'll get the seeds going in a little covered indoor tray, and then set the plants out to climb up one of our side-fences. I can't WAIT to see these beautiful blossoms!

After all that shopping, we slung our purchases into the trunk of the Loser Cruiser, and plugged the parking meter for another hour, so that we could go on a paddle-boat ride:

The local swan population is currently "nesting", and so rather than risk our lives trying to sneak up and take a peek at them on land (because, swans may be silly, but they can also be extremely violent if they feel at all threatened...) we decided to try and catch sight of their hiding spots from the water, as the boat bobbed by.

According to the boat operator, there are currently two nests:

One in a small, enclosed area that the Parks and Recreation board has isolated exclusively for "swans-only" usage... (A bit blurry, sorry, the boat was in-motion at the time, and Wee Three was tugging at my arm, clamoring for me to "SEE???!!")

And one here, at the foot of a very popular bridge. Strange choice of residence, perhaps, but apparently the pair come back and make it their "home" year-after-year.

After lunch, we headed to the park for a good, long swing...

And a trip over-the-bridge to see the little water-fall. This area of the park makes a gorgeous spot for photos-- there are usually bridal parties lined up, waiting to use it every fine weekend of the summer. But, we were lucky enough to have it all to ourselves, and I was able to snap a few particularly lovely, "sisterly" photos of the girlies...

When they weren't running away from me, of course.

It truly is a slice of heaven here, my home-town...

Dandelions and all.

Friday, May 30, 2008


We are here.

After a slightly harrowing, late-afternoon drive in a downpour... made more angst-ridden by the worry that I would fall asleep at the wheel of the Loser Cruiser, whilst on one of the busiest and most dangerous stretches of highway in the province. (Because, Child Number Three and I "did" the Pre-School Picnic this morning, and after wrapping the week up on THAT frenetic note... Well, let's just say that what I required was a long NAP, not a hundred-and-twenty-minute rush-hour road-trip.)

But oh, it was all so worth it. Because we are all so glad to be "home" once more.

Due to my extreme weariness tonight, the most I can offer right now are seven random facts about being "home"... A more coherent, well-thought-out post will (hopefully!) follow tomorrow:

1. The main street of town has been completely torn up, inexplicably, right at the "height" of the theatre season. Apparently, NOTHING says "Let's Renovate!" like a summer's-worth of tourists trying to flood in and out of town twice a day for the next four or five months. I swear, as we careened along the gravel-and-dirt, pothole-punctuated thoroughfare, I half expected herds of wildebeests to suddenly appear, galloping out of the dust clouds billowing all around me. It was sheer madness. What. A. Mess. Tomorrow is Saturday-- traditionally, the busiest day of the week, here. Needless to say, the girlies and I will be WALKING, anywhere we go. Rain or shine.

2. Amazingly, it took no more than the sound of my parents' front door un-locking, and crossing the threshold of my family's home to make every pore of my being exhale and relax this evening. And after the week I've had, this is no small miracle.

3. It will come as no surprise to you, then, when I report that the thought of attempting to concoct something for dinner that my three children would all eat never even entered my mind tonight. Instead, we hit "Madelyn's", the best little diner in the whole wide friggin' world, never mind Stratford, Ontario, Canada. Their "Gooey Grilled Cheese" and fresh-cut french fries are legendary, and the hot beef sandwich and two big scoops of mashed potatoes, topped with ladle-fuls of gravy, is a taste sensation I dream about (usually whilst frantically pedalling 15 km on my exercise bike). Yum. I am now so full, I need not eat anything ever again... well, maybe not until first-thing tomorrow, when we'll hit the farmer's market, and I'll have to taste-test all the cheese, and try the summer sausage... Oh, and then there's those great big smartie cookies-on-a-stick things, and the poppy seed danish, and PIES... And did I remember to pack my stretchy yoga pants...

4. Although I manage to maintain the facade of being a fairly-responsible grown-up when my kids are awake, after they have all gone off to bed and I am "alone" in my parents' house, I immediately revert to feeling twelve years old again.

5. And thus it feels ever-so-slightly uncomfortable to raid the wine cellar for a nice glass of white-something-or-other... But thankfully, only for a second or two. Because, after all, I AM a busy, thirty-eight-year-old mother-of-three. I really deserve a drink.

6. It is an undeniable fact that the half-sized, ancient porcelain bathtub in my childhood home is more comfortable than the enormous soaker tub in my own master-bathroom. Even though my feet hang out the other end, there's no contest.

7. I plan to sleep right through any and all thunder-and-lightning storms tonight. And by golly, I'm praying my three children do, too.


File this under: The Story of My Life

Need I say more?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A wee bit of monkey business...

I was busy sorting laundry, and preparing to begin tossing clean clothes into suitcases this morning, when Wee Three burst noisily into the room. She cavorted in circles around me a few times, and soon began bouncing on the furniture.

Mother: (turning to watch her youngest child pinging off of the walls, and arching one eyebrow in warning) And what do you thing you're celebrating, Wee One?

Wee Three: (gleefully) I a'tending to be a MONKEY!!

Mother: (sighing and turning back to her work) Not much of a stretch for you, is it?

Wee Three: (sweetly) NOPE!!!


Remember me?

Yeah, me. The crazy chick covered in dirt, carrying a big shovel, streeling in through the back door. The one who's heading up for a loooooong, hot shower.

The garden? Is finally "in".

And between accomplishing all the digging, planting and re-arranging... as well as all the "family activities" (Child Number One's EQAO exams at school... accompanying the 24 little stem-winders that make up Child Number Two's class to the Metro Zoo yesterday... and Wee Three's class picnic tomorrow) I'm just about "done". So done, turn-me-over.

Thank heavens the girlies and I are escaping for the weekend... We'll catapult the loser cruiser out of the driveway at lunchtime tomorrow. Details soon, I promise. Just as soon as we've all gotten a good. night's. sleep.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Remington the pony looooooves that our area is now "pesticide-free".
'Cause there ain't nothin' like a good dandelion leaf salad for lunch...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The swimming pool is open again...

... and it's back to the exercise bicycle for me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Meanwhile, back in The Garden...

The lily of the valley are starting to bloom...

The crab-apple trees are a riot of scent and colour...

The lilacs are blossoming, and hang heavily on their branches...

And the whole, wide world smells absolutely wonderful.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Tea fit for an Empress

All of my regular readers here know how proud I am of my British-Canadian heritage. That said, I am probably one of the few Canadians left who whole-heartedly embrace the "Victoria" in what most simply call our "May 2-4 Weekend". For my American readers, this is the weekend when many Canucks beetle off to open their cottages up North, and ceremoniously crack open a "2-4" of good, strong Canadian beer.

Not THIS family, however.

We stay at home (though we do indulge in a few bottles of our favourite beer: Stratford Ale), and usually take great delight in slogging away in the garden. When the long weekend actually falls when it's supposed to (on-or-around the twenty-fourth of May), it is the first weekend when I actually feel safe enough to plant anything. Being in a "Zone 5" location, my mother's sage advice of "NOTHING before the end of May!!" has never failed me.

This weekend, however, it is raining. And while that seldom stops me from going out in my wellies and a raincoat to have a good dig with my garden fork, the combination of wet-and-COLD has enticed me to stay indoors this afternoon. (My ancestors would be ashamed of me, I know.)

But, what better way to spend a dark and dreary Sunday, than to whip up a great big batch of scones-- the recipe courtesy of the glorious Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia?! On Friday, I purchased a large (read: EXPENSIVE) pot of clotted cream (also known as "Devonshire Cream") to go along with home-made jam... This afternoon, the girlies and I will have tea, in honour of the holiday.

I flatter myself that even though I am still wearing my grubby overalls-- in the faint hope that a ray of sunshine will eventually break through the clouds later on today-- Queen Victoria would have heartily approved of our celebration.

The Empress Hotel's Scones

**This is an English recipe, and uses a food weight-scale for measurement.**

2 lb, 4 oz flour
9 oz sugar
9 oz butter
2 oz baking powder
8 oz raisins
6 eggs
16 oz whipping cream
a pinch of salt

Mix together the flour, butter, sugar, baking powder and salt with a pastry cutter, until it is the size of small peas. Add the eggs, one-by-one, and mix. Add the raisins. Then, add the cream, and mix until the dough is smooth.

Roll out the dough to a 1/2 inch thickness, and cut out the scones to the desired size.

Place scones on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and lightly brush the tops with egg-wash (I beat up a bit of egg-and-water, or you can use egg-and-milk... This just helps to brown the tops and give them a bit of shine).

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Makes about 35 regular-sized scones.

Top with butter, jam, and a big dollop of fresh cream...

Put the kettle on!

Patriotic Prejudice

When my brother, sister and I were young, our family embarked on long car-trips nearly every summer. It was during those times that we learned a tremendous amount about the music favoured by our parents. It seemed only "fair", really-- most of the time that we were at home, we three (particularly my brother and I) expended a tremendous amount of effort, torturing our long-suffering parents with OUR favourite music. Much to our parents' chagrin, our tunes-of-choice were more often than not gleaned from sources like The Muppet Show, Marx Brothers movies, and choir practise. The "choir practise" part actually sounds kind of promising, in theory, doesn't it? Especially since my rawther talented brother often accompanied our choir on the church's pipe organ, so his musical accompaniment was unbridled perfection. However, quite often in fits of mischievous boredom, I would pass my time dreaming up alternative lyrics to the beautiful hymns we had learned, and thus managed to squelch any hope that my long-suffering mother might have had that we would grow up to be normal, responsible, respectful adults.

In the car, however, it was a different story. We were clamped into our seatbelts, prisoners in the back seat of the creaky old Volvo. Once we were gunning down the highway as fast as the engine could propel us forward (read: NOT FAST ENOUGH), my father would pull out a large bag of cassette tapes that he had pre-recorded, just for the occasion.

We three learned the hard way, to tell all of the Beethoven Piano Concertos apart, and by number, too. We wallowed through Wagner's entire Ring Cycle during a nearly month-long, cross-Canada tour. We learned our Mother's favourite composers: Brahms and Schumann, and of the historical relationship between the two (and of Johannes Brahms with Robert Schumann's wife, Clara. Woo-woo. Even though the relationship was apparently platonic, it was "heady stuff" for us kids to absorb at the time.) And this, my friends, is only the tip of the iceburg, considering that each of us lived and travelled with our parents until we were at least eighteen years old.

One summer, my father played a tape for us that immediately captured our imaginations. It was a recording he had made of "The Last Night of the Proms" concert, from the Royal Albert Hall in London, England. We kids were completely riveted by the unbridled patriotism of such songs as "Jerusalem", "Rule Britannia", and most of all, "Land of Hope and Glory". We had always been brought up to be ferociously proud of our British-Canadian heritage. Hearing such powerful music, accompanied by the rapturous cheers and outbursts from the exuberant crowd of people who packed the hall to the rafters, was an epiphany for us. We rolled down the car windows, cranked up the volume, and turned THAT trip into a travelling sing-a-long. It was bliss.

This is the Victoria Day weekend, here in Canada, and I do believe that I must be one of the few remaining Canadians who insist upon calling it just that: "VICTORIA DAY", rather than the more common "May 2-4 Weekend". Unlike many, I have no burning desire to re-name the holiday "Founders Day", or to try to whittle down the long list of great Canadians, in the hopes of finding just ONE to celebrate and honour...

This weekend, I choose to celebrate my family's history, and our link to a beautiful country I love.

I hope you will all have a happy, relaxing "Victoria Day" Weekend.

The "Pomp and Circumstance" March No. 1 , "Land of Hope and Glory", by Sir Edward Elgar, from The Last Night of the Proms, 2007.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


When I was expecting our first child, now over a dozen years ago, my husband and I made a trip to San Francisco.

I confess to having grumbled a bit when it was suggested that we do a day of wine-tasting, because it pretty much sealed my fate at being the "designated driver" for the day... and, being pregnant and unable to drink, what fun would be in it for me??

Luckily for both of us, I was feeling particularly magnanimous that day, and agreed to go along for the ride. Because Robert Mondavi's winery was at the top of our list of places to visit-- and what was intended to be a short stop on our journey turned into a wonderful day.

Robert Mondavi, who passed away yesterday at the age of 94, was a gifted wine-maker and teacher, whose tireless efforts brought the California wine-making industry to the fore-front of the world's stage. He was an advocate for what he called "gracious living", which included not only excellent wine and food, but the "fine arts", as well. Together with his wife, the formidable Margrit Biever, Robert became a tremendous patron of the arts, and the winery was bursting with paintings, photographs and sculpture. They began organizing concerts in 1969, and hosted such enormous talents as Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, and Etta James. Proceeds raised from the concerts and rotating art exhibits were donated to the Napa Valley Symphony, and other local charities.

As we explored the beautiful property, I was especially taken with this sculpture: Saint Francis, by Benjamin Bufano. The glass mosaic of the birds glistened in the bright sunshine, and made it truly spectacular to behold. It is, most certainly, one of the most fitting pieces in the winery's permanent art collection, as it is the Franciscan Friars who are credited with bringing wine grapes to California over 200 years ago.

It was a memorable experience. And today, I fondly remember the man behind it all.

Grazie... e salute.

Friday, May 16, 2008

It's Friday...

Need I say more?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Up and flying!

Thank-you, Sam, from "Temptation Designs" for my blog's beautiful new look!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A bright, sunshine-y day...

There could not have been a day more perfect that TODAY to officially declare Gardening Season "OPEN".

Ladies and Gentlemen, grab your forks, sharpen your spades, haul out your wellies and a wheelbarrow... For there is MUCH work to be done!

Oh, the weeds... THE WEEDS. We've had several long weeks of dark, dreary weather, and the incredible amount of "invasion" in the flower beds was quite astounding... In places, it was very hard to tell where the lawn left off and the garden began. However, there were a FEW "lovelies" amidst the uglies today...

The few tulips that the *&%! squirrels left me last fall are nearly finished.

Yes, you little bugger, I'm talking about YOU... Now quit that fuzzy, innocent little cute-act of yours...

There are clumps of sweet violets all over the place...

And the first of the columbines are in bloom.

The fairies are back...

And the Garden Goddess seems well pleased.

You know you've had a good day of digging, when you leave a dirt-ring around the SHOWER at the end of the day...

I can't wait for tomorrow...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Carnival of the Animals

I rock my new earrings... non?

We had a wonderful Mother's Day.

It began with being offered special, hand-made gifts by the resident seven-year-old, who simply could. not. wait. past 6.30 am to show me all the things she had been working so hard to complete.

At a more reasonable hour (8.30) I was brought a delicious breakfast-in-bed, made specially by the husband and children.

Then, it was off for a delightful day at the Zoo.

Among our favourite sights were:

The giraffes... one of which treated us to a truly magnificent gallop around his field. I have never before seen a giraffe RUN at top-speed... The grace with which this animal moved was truly astounding. Even more surprising was the fact that, even though she was covering a tremendous amount of ground, because of her enormous size, it looked to us as though she was moving in slow-motion. To see such things on television is one thing, but to see it live, right in front of your eyes, is a truly memorable experience.

The lions... who roared appreciatively when a keeper arrived with their mid-day meal.

The gorillas, who had to beat-out Charles the magnificent silver-backed patriarch of the "family" to get their share of the vegetables scattered about the enclosure. (While Charles staunchly refused to be photographed and stomped off to hide, the other gorillas seemed to watch us with as much interest as we had in them.)

A spell-binding aquarium exhibit (I can't wait until next weekend, when the BRAND NEW aquarium, which will include sea-life from Australia, will open!)

But by far, THESE GUYS were the most wonderful sight of all. The two enormous hippos are Wee Three's absolute "BEST THING" about the zoo... Yesterday, it was though the show they put on was entirely for us. The waddled around on land and posed for photos: I think this one even smiled:

Then, when a keeper began tossing huge, red apples into the water, they lumbered in for a swim and a snack. It is incredible to watch an animal that is so lugubrious and clumsy on land, suddenly turn into an agile and graceful swimmer. A swimmer, however, without many table manners... The slorping and chomping that ensued upon the discovery of each apple bobbing in the water sent the girlies into fits of giggles... Wee Three was probably right, when she noted that her Grandma and Grandpa would NOT have approved...

This didn't seem to bother the hippo much, however.

Yes, when it comes right down to it, to heck with manners... And, if only humans could enjoy a mid-afternoon nap in a warm, sticky mud-puddle, we would all probably be a lot better off.

I hope you all had a wonderful Mother's Day, surrounded by the people (and other creatures) you love best. I know we sure did.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A most appropriate dessert.

'Way down the bottom of the beautiful, elegant English garden that my mother has tended for nearly forty years, there is a gorgeous clump of green, elephant ear-like leaves. They have grown down there for as long as I can remember. The roots must grow down deeper than even I can imagine, for the plant has survived horrific winters, and the droughts of countless scorching summers. It has been deftly "worked around", as my parents have crafted their landscaping plans, but not in a very deliberate way... It used to stretch out behind the old green sandbox that my father built and dutifully filled every spring. The ruddy pink stalks survived being trodden on by three pairs of little feet, and slonked sideways as we hauled the heavy plywood cover off of our play area (which was necessary to deter the neighbourhood cats from turning it into their Public Bathroom). After the old sandbox was hauled away, the plant later survived many garden "renovations", including the construction of a deluxe new two-story garage and shed. The construction caused an enormous mess, and just about razed that corner of the garden to the ground, but the following year... amidst all the brand-new perennials and shrubs... those dark-green leaves sprouted again once more. I swear to God, that rhubarb plant is as hardier than anything else that grows on that blessed patch of land-- and it has been there longer than any of the rest of us. No doubt, it could tell us some stories.

And some pretty "fruity" stories those would likely be, too, because as long as I can remember, my mother has included a rawther unique expression in her extensive vocabulary... and it is one that I now find popping out of my OWN mouth, now that I've got three children of my own. That expression is:

"Screaming off into the rhubarb patch."




You get the idea.

As children, my brother, sister and I gathered that the inference was: you have to be crazy (and preferably, driven there by your family) to like rhubarb.

So, after the kind of week I've had around here, it seemed only natural that I should happen across a gigantic display of rhubarb stalks at our little grocery store.

Rhubarb!! In May!! Clearly, SOMEBODY'S been looking over my shoulder...

I brought it home, chopped it up, and concocted this wonderful pudding... the scent and taste of which takes me RIGHT back to being about seven or eight years old, and sitting up to dinner in the old kitchen in Stratford. My brother, sister and I kept up an under-the-table war, wherein the challenge was to deliver furious attacks of deadly kicks-in-the-shins. Even more challenging was to keep angelic expressions on our faces, and to continue shovelling food into our mouths all the while, thus "fooling" our mother and father, who had high regard for table manners and other such civilized behavior. Needless to say, we seldom succeeded, and thus, my mother would threaten to go "screaming off into the rhubarb"... even though our delicious dessert was proof enough that she was Already There.

And now, I'm there, too... But boy, does it taste good.

Regina Rhubarb Pudding

Mix together in the bottom of a greased casserole dish:

4 1/2 c rhubarb chunks
1 c granulated sugar

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together:

1 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

In a small bowl, blend together:

2 tbsp softened butter
2 tbsp granulated sugar

Gradually add the butter-and-sugar mixture to the dry mixture, alternating with 1/4 to 1/2 c cold water. Mix everything together until you have achieved a soft dough. Spoon the dough over the rhubarb-and-sugar in the casserole dish.

Bake at 350 degrees, for about 40 or 50 minutes, until the "cake" on the top is done (test it with a toothpick to make sure). Sprinkle the top with about 1 tbsp icing sugar.

Serves two dignified adults, and three bratty children.

Regina is the capital of the great province of Saskatchewan... and "just a little ways away" from the tiny prairie town where my mother was raised.

An early Happy Mother's Day to my mother... whose tremendous love for us, and strength-of-character kept her from going "screaming off" and just staying down there in the rhubarb patch... Because I now know what it feels like to be sorely tempted.

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