Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Poet photographer

Around this time last year, a friend held an unofficial sonnet-writing contest over Google +.  I didn't intend to participate, seeing as I don't know a sonnet from a limerick, but that's what happens when your only upper-year English class focused on Norse mythology. If it had been a saga identification quiz, I'd have had it made, unless contestants were expected to spell.

A couple days later, I came across this tree: back-lit in the morning sun, flaming orange, and me without a camera, or, let's face it, the skills, to capture what I see. Struck with desire to preserve that moment of beauty, I tried to do with words what I couldn't do with film. Mere letters couldn't do justice to the details of the scene, but I hoped at least to convey that which had me grasping for photography equipment in the first place. I spent my next few preschool drop-off and pick-up walks counting syllables, selecting adjectives, caving to my urge to alliterate. I wrote a haiku.

It was my first time voluntarily writing poetry since the tail-end of grade school, half a lifetime ago. I enjoyed it so much I did another one for a winter scene through the Groat Road ravine, though Blogger tells me hardly anyone read it. I'd meant to do a set for all four seasons, but, like many of my intentions, that clearly didn't happen.

Nevertheless, it's fall again; my choice season for beginning. I'm posting my original haiku, with a nice meaty chunk of prose to trick you into reading it. Bwahaha.

leaves of molten hue
illumined in slanting sunlight
whisper of winter

Friday, 19 October 2012

"The waters and the wild"

The other week, I had a brush with fairyland. It was a coincidental stumbling: driving over the river, my eyes are by habit locked on the road in anticipation of twisting blind-cornered through the ravine beyond the bridge. That afternoon, in search of yet more autumn beauty, they wandered slightly to my left. A turn of the head, and I caught a ridge full of colour. The Saskatchewan's north bank, steeply climbing with trees leaved from amber to umber, was a phoenix reborn in the blaze of the sun. A breath-taking scene. At that moment came magic from the mechanics of my stereo, the King's Singers giving ethereal voice to the words of Yeats:

Come away, oh human child
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand...

I've enjoyed Whitacre's setting of "the Stolen Child" many times before, but never have I felt the urge to answer the faery's call. Had one come to pull me through my windshield, I don't know if I could have resisted. Thankfully for my back-seat passenger, no such nymph appeared. Common sense prevailed, and my eyes abandoned the ridge for the road to guide us safely home.

Ever after, when appointments or errands take me south of the river, I'll search that ridge upon my return. I rather doubt that constant vigilance can reproduce what chance once brought together, but a second glimpse of woodland sprite would be worth a thousand empty glances.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


every so often
I step outside in the cool of the day
and I stop

sometimes I feel a little silly
feeling refreshed over the compost heap
but there's something in the sharpness of a cold intake of air
that brings life to my house-warmed lungs
even among decaying vegetation

I'm told that those who fish for sport
cast their lines in northern pools
the lakes of warmer climes shunned
for their sluggish swimmers

cold water provides more oxygen
more energy
more life
to will a fish to fight
more fun for the fisherman
this vitality in his prey

back at the bus stop
the parking lot
garbage bag in hand
rancid fumes lose their fire
in the face of pure temperature
fall frozen, oxygen rises
as I channel my inner pike
and return inside
to daily bread

Monday, 15 October 2012

Because Monday is better with claymation

Upon leaving the house to meet the noon-hour school bus, I met with a pleasant surprise: for the first time in weeks, there was no need for jackets. My son and I spent the minutes we would have squandered in bundling strolling up and down the sidewalk, searching for crunchable leaves.

While waiting for kindergarten drop-off, I toyed with the idea of an afternoon walk, but my kitchen told another story. A pile of dirty dishes and a pack of thawing stew meat were evidence enough of a prior engagement. I settled for sending the kids out to play, opening the windows, and blaring Fleet Foxes while I worked. There's something about their self-titled album that says "autumn" to me.  It's an eccentric and folksy record, and fall's jumbled array of colour speaks to me in similar terms. I find this especially true of "White Winter Hymnal", despite its title. The song has me wanting to jive into a hair-swinging dance, like the nameless twins in A Charlie Brown Christmas. The lyrics make for a rather disturbing juxtaposition, since I'm pretty sure they're about decapitated birds, but the video is so charming it's still worth a share.

Hope the weather where-ever you are gives a similar treat.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

No such thing as too many borscht recipes

Once upon a time, in another house, my husband made a fabulous pot of borscht with the produce of our massive garden. He'd found a lovely recipe online which involved cooking the beets with a whole slew of other vegetables to make a rich and vibrant stock, and varied it by adding the same contingent of carrots and cabbage and the like to the cooked beets and liquid for the final production. It was delicious, but sadly, never to be repeated, for the recipe was lost in the ether. And re-googling a term as popular as "borscht recipe" two years later is never a sound plan. Trust me, I tried.

As every second site the first two pages of my borscht google search told me, there are as many ways to make borscht as there are Russians/Ukrainians/Pols/Mennonites (which nationality depended on the website). Basically, if you've ever had a beet or cabbage soup made by someone whose ancestors once lived in Eastern Europe, it was probably called borscht. Furthermore, if you, the soup-taster, are also of Eastern European descent, said soup probably had you wondering why it did/didn't contain beef/pork/tomato/cabbage/anything other than beets. If the recipe for that soup made it on to the internet, as about half of them seem to do, it was likely labelled the "best borscht ever", and, as it was made by the author's grandma/oma/baba, that's subjectively right, because there's no arguing with food memories from your grandmother's kitchen.

Eventually, I gave up on finding any one recipe, and settled on making my own - and posting it too, because, clearly, borscht recipes are in vogue. I pulled on the collective memory of my husband and myself on our two-year-old borscht experience, the current contents of our fridge, the common seasonings noted from my internet research (namely dill, garlic, pepper, allspice, and vinegar), and my notions of what ought to be in borscht in the first place, i.e. how my grandma made it: chopped vegetables, no meat, a broth so intensely magenta it was almost opaque, served with a dollop of sour cream.

Here's what we came up with:

3 lb beets, well washed but not peeled, ended, and quartered if needed (i.e. if larger than a fist)
1/2 head savoy cabbage, chopped
3 large carrots, halved
2 onions, quartered
5-10 leak & scallion greens, washed & ended
1/2 cup celery leaves, roughly chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
2 tsp dill seed or several young dill stalks, washed & ended
1-2 tsp white vinegar
water to cover

Assemble all ingredients in a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, for 1-2 hours or until beets are fork-tender. Remove beets and set aside to cool. Strain stock, squeezing excess liquid from veggies. Reserve stock and set aside.

2 tbsp olive oil
4 small onions, chopped
1 bulb garlic, minced
5-6 carrots, chopped
1 small head green cabbage, chopped
1/2 head savoy cabbage, chopped
Stock + 2-4 cups water
1 head bok choy, chopped
1 bunch beet greens, chopped
5 medium white potatoes, chopped
1 bunch dill weed, finely chopped
beets from stock, peeled & chopped
1 tsp each dill seed, allspice, black pepper
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt to taste

Heat oil in bottom of stock pot (don't bother washing it - that yummy beetiness is all going back in). Sauté onions, garlic, and carrots with dill seed, allspice, and black pepper until softened. Add cabbage and sauté a little more (approx 1-2 min). Pour in stock, add potatoes, bok choy, beet greens, and dill weed. Bring to a simmer. Peel and chop beets. Add to soup and bring back to a simmer. Add vinegar and salt to taste. Simmer, covered, 15-20 min more until potatoes are falling apart. Uncover, adjust seasonings, and remove from heat.

If time and appetite allow, let soup rest for an additional 15-20 minutes. It'll be even better the next day. Pairs nicely with a side of farmer's sausage, rye bread, and, of course, sour cream. Makes enough for several meals. Your freezer is your friend ;)

And there you have it: yet another borscht recipe for the masses. Feel free to adjust to suit your own tastes/fridge contents/family traditions. One of these days, I'll call up my grandma and see if I even came close. In the meantime, my freezer is stocked, and I managed to use up that bok choy before it went bad. Everyone wins.

Enjoy the soup season :)

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Wandering through architecture

It is a road I have walked hundreds of times, a lovely lost tunnel through the trees, busy this morning with birds and little shy rustling things, my favorite road anywhere.
-Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

The fruits, or, rather vegetables, of our CSA share are available for pick up on Tuesday afternoons. Our farmer and his team drop off the goods for we, the shareholders of Edmonton's northside, in the backyard of a friend's house in the historic district of Westmount. This means that once a week I have a built-in excuse to stroll through one of Edmonton's best neighbourhoods on my way to pick up locally grown organic produce. Rather posh.

I must admit this pick-up perk played a little to prominently in my vote for this culinary investment. Westmount is known for its pre-war architecture, with the majority of its dwellings hearkening back to a time before the war effort caused folks to tighten their belts when building new homes, doing away with such frivolities as front verandas, dormer windows, and deep-seated eaves. It's my favorite era for urban meanders for personal, even more than historic, reasons; my familial home was built around 1912 in a neighbourhood of a similar vintage. Walking by the windows of my parents' veranda causes the scene seen through to waver: a street canopied by weathered elms with trolley tracks hidden beneath its pavement. Such buildings were the constant in my early rambles, they dotted my chosen bike paths, drew comment from my parents during family strolls, dominated my first, and only, paper route. It's a type of double nostalgia, reminding me both of the time Canadian prairie cities first became boom-towns, and when childhood surroundings began to be my own.

As Westmount is an entirely gridded community, I had originally intended to vary my route every week, taking advantage of as many permutations as the harvest season would allow. It was not many Tuesdays later, however, that my path was changing very little. It was as if my introverted nature prevailed upon my quest for novelty, almost subconsciously leading me to deepen my knowledge of a few choice houses rather than maintaining the passing acquaintance of many. Bowing to this grain of wisdom in my secret heart, I drank deep, memorizing details of craftsman stickwork and clinker brick, giving bygone drainage experts the nod for acutely peaked roof lines and over-hanging eaves. I grinned irrepressibly at each exchange with the weather-vein topped cottage, whose scarlet-curtained porch is just begging for a glamorous witch, and the modern residence kept strictly to the prevailing style, except for its walls of cerulean blue.

The produce I've carried home in my double jogging stroller has changed throughout the season, from field greens and garlic scapes to pumkins and potatoes. Next week marks our final pick-up and the end of term for my little architectural study. I'm far from a hundred treks along this summer's favoured path, but I look forward to renewing our relations come the spring. In the meantime, I may have found a reason to visit through the winter: the Duchess Bake Shop is but a stone's throw away. If the website's pictures do it any justice, the decor alone with be worth the journey. Why have I not been here before?

Happy ramblings, my friends.