Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Going Into Hibernation

I am officially going into hibernation for the winter. No, I do not find a cave and sleep until spring. I do, however, put my car into "local only" mode. When I made plans to go down to the US for American Thanksgiving I had not factored winter driving into the equation. That was a miscalculation on my part. This picture was taken while I was still in British Columbia. The outdoor temperature showing on my instrument panel was hovering around -18C when this was taken. This is the Kettle River and you can see it is almost completely frozen over.

It seemed fitting, given the holiday I was heading down to celebrate, that I had to stop the car while a flock of wild turkeys crossed the road. There were at least 30 birds, and I think they were all hoping this particular holiday would pass without incident.

Although it was extremely cold outside the roads were mostly clear of snow and ice. At least until I got to my destination. Spokane was a winter wonderland! The problem being, of course, that it wasn't yet winter. I felt like I had arrived for the wrong holiday.

Thanksgiving day itself was spent at relatives sharing a wonderful meal, looking through some old family photos and hearing family stories, many of which were new to me. The highlight of the day for me was sitting in the kitchen watching somebody else prepare the feast. I could get used to that!

This will come as no surprise to those of you who know me. Black Friday- that infamous shopping day that occurs the day after Thanksgiving- found me hunkering down with my knitting and avoiding setting foot inside a store of any kind. There was no bargain on the face of the planet that was worth venturing into that madness for. Not to mention that fact that the day found Spokane in the midst of another snow storm that proceeded to dump 5 more inches on what was already on the ground.

Saturday my mom and I did bravely head to the mall as we both needed to pick something up at one of the stores there. Fifteen minutes into our shopping trip we looked at each other and agreed that we had had enough. We had a few other stops to make, but by the time we got to the last place on the list neither one of us could face it. At that point they could have been giving away the complete contents of the store. We didn't care. We crossed it off the list and headed home where I made a cup of tea and slowly recovered from the trauma. 

On Sunday it stopped snowing long enough that my dad and I were able to take their new car out for a drive. We were proud of ourselves since we managed to figure out quite a few of the features such as how to program the garage door so dad just has to push a button in the car to open and close it, how the satellite radio works, how to set the trip mileage indicator, and how to work the cruise control. I can't believe how complicated new cars are! We were laughing about how far things have advanced since the Ford Model A, a car my dad also happens to own. 

I had taken down a knitting project to work on. It is a Christmas gift that needs to be finished soon so I can get it mailed to the recipient. I procrastinated finishing the Christmas project by casting on for a pair of thick wool slipper socks.

Then I decided I needed a new headband. After the headband I finally did manage to pick up the Christmas knitting and it is now almost finished. I have the snow, and the fact it kept us housebound for most of my visit, to thank for all the knitting I accomplished while I was away.

The day I drove home was snow free, but another storm moved in right after I left setting a 100 year record for the month of November. All of this makes me very happy that the next holiday will be spent right here in our home in Kamloops even if it means I will be the one preparing the food rather than watching someone else do it for me.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Frugal Luxuries

There are certain things in this world that have definite dividing lines. You are either for them or you're against them. For instance, in the food category two that come immediately to mind are cilantro and asparagus. I don't know a single person who is neutral about these foods. People either love them or hate them. In the musical category there would be the banjo. You either love it or you hate it. Actually, I have never met anyone who likes the banjo, so I am just guessing when I say there would be people who love it. I have no proof.

The Sound of Music is the entertainment category's example of this dividing line- the one where you are either firmly on the "yeah" or the "nay" side. I personally think this is one of the best movies ever made. I love the scenery, I love the music (and I am not usually a big fan of musicals), and I love the story. And if you happen to be one of those people who hate the movie I want you to know I respect your right to your opinion, even if you are wrong.

I have to admit that this post was probably inspired by my latest viewing of The Sound of Music. The first time I watched this movie I was a young girl, probably around 6 years old. I remember sitting in the theater and feeling like I couldn't breathe when the Nazis were searching the convent for the Von Trapp family. I still get nervous when I watch that part. And yes, I know it's pathetic. After approximately 58 subsequent viewings it's not like I don't know what happens.

So last night while I was watching the scene during the thunderstorm when Maria and the children are singing My Favorite Things I was thinking about what some of my favorite things are. That brought to mind a book a friend gave to me a number of years ago called Frugal Luxuries. The subtitle of the book is Simple Pleasures to Enhance Your Life and Comfort Your Soul.

I love the idea of simplicity. Frugal luxuries don't cost a lot of money, they don't take enormous amounts of planning or work, and they are usually found in our own homes. I want to be the kind of person who appreciates the "every day", not the "some day", and focusing on my favorite things helps me along the way. Here is what's on today's list:

-Flannel sheets to crawl into tonight while the wind howls outside and the thermometer plummets to -15C

-my hot water bottle and heated rice bag for the same reason as the sheets (it is really cold here right now!)

-the beauty of the fresh snow outside

-my afternoon cup of tea

-some Theo's chocolate to go with that cup of tea

-the smell in the house from the batch of applesauce I made earlier this morning- yum!

-a home made loaf of artisan bread sitting on the counter ready to be eaten with tonight's stew

-chocolate cupcakes

-warm mittens

- a new toque

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Border Smuggling

Tomorrow morning I will be driving south of the 49th to celebrate American Thanksgiving with my parents. It has been many years- twenty two, in fact- since I last was down to celebrate with them. Here is the tale of that long ago trip. My apologies for the length of this. It is actually an excerpt from a longer piece of writing. Oh- and if you manage to stick with the story to the end you will see "then and now" pictures of Rebekah and me. 

When Rebekah joined our family in April of 1988 she was flown into the Seattle airport. Her Korean passport had an American visa stamp in it, so there had been no problem with her entering the USA. The following November the kids and I headed down to my parents’ farm in northern Idaho to celebrate American Thanksgiving. Here I was, an ex-pat American who had been living in the great white north for six years, finally living close enough to home to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. (We had just moved from Fort St. John to Nelson) Not only would I be celebrating Thanksgiving, it would be baby Rebekah’s first trip to meet her two great grandmothers. 

We left Nelson early in the morning, hoping to be down to the farm by lunch time. The boys were excited as well, singing songs and jabbering in the back seat. It was one of those special times, the kind where you feel perfectly content and secure, where “all is right with the world.” 

I pulled up to the small border crossing and rolled down my window, positively aglow with the anticipation of my first Thanksgiving home in years. The border guard asked where we were headed, then stuck her head in the window to see who was in the back of the van. When her eyes lit on Rebekah she asked to see her identification. Still smiling, all still right with the world, I handed Rebekah’s Korean passport and Canadian immigration papers to her. She thumbed through the documents, scanning each one with a growing look of concern. This border guard was starting to mess with my glow. 

Then she looked at me and said she needed Rebekah’s entrance visa. Wondering how she could have missed it, I pointed out that it was stamped in the back of her passport. No she said, that was just a temporary 24 hour visa issued for in-transit purposes only. Rebekah needed a regular visitor’s visa to be allowed entry to the United States of America. 

Her official “don’t mess with me” tone had me reassessing my previous “all’s right with the world” sentiments. However, I knew there was no way they could keep me from crossing the border. After all, I was an American and it was Thanksgiving. She begged to differ, saying it didn’t matter, refused to let us cross, and informed me that I could go to the nearest border crossing staffed with an immigration officer to see if they would issue the appropriate paper work.  

I don’t want this to degenerate into name calling, but seriously this lady was Scrooge one celebration early- the nearest crossing with an immigration officer was a two hour drive away, and not in the direction we were headed. I pleaded. I begged. It was not to be. I turned around and headed back north, silence emanating from the back seat and my glow having turned to a burning anger. 

Did I mention it was Thanksgiving and I am an American? Nobody was going to stop me from spending the holiday with my family! There was just one slight problem- the guard had strictly warned me not to attempt crossing again without the proper paperwork or I could be charged with attempting to smuggle an illegal alien into the country. Apparently they frown on this. 

I took her words as a direct challenge rather than the warning they were meant to be. This time I would not volunteer any information about Rebekah. I would simply drive up to the next border crossing, a mere hour’s drive away, roll my window down just enough to be able to talk to the guard but not enough for him to stick his head in, and vaguely wave towards the back seat when he asked who was traveling with me. 

My heart was racing as I approached the border. All was going as planned until the guard looked at me and asked if I happened to have a Korean infant traveling with me. Busted. I could not believe it. Apparently the witch on a broom we had encountered at the last crossing had phoned this crossing and warned the staff that there might be a woman in a blue van with three young children attempting to cross the border after being denied entrance earlier in the day. 

I'm just not the kind of person you would expect to carry out illegal activity between international borders, and thankfully this kind border guard didn’t think so either. In what had to have been an absolute God moment, he looked at Rebekah (she really was sweet!) and asked to see her passport. It turned out that he had a nephew adopted from Korea and he was quite taken with the little fellow. I told him my story- the long wait for Rebekah, the misunderstanding about the 24 hour visa, and my deep desire to be home with my family over the holiday. 

Then this man did the impossible! He told me he would go fill out a bogus piece of paper saying he was allowing her to cross the border, which he really didn’t have the authority to do since he was not an immigration officer, but would do anyway. He simply asked if I could mail the paper back to him when I returned to Canada so he would know Rebekah was no longer in the US. I was quite sure it was no coincidence that we happened upon a customs officer who had a Korean nephew and a big heart! 

We made it home for Thanksgiving thanks to the compassion of this kind man, and I had one more reason to be thankful this particular year, namely that I wouldn’t be sharing my turkey with the inmates at the local detention center instead of those nearest and dearest to me.

Rebekah's first birthday, two weeks before the border incident
 22 years later

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The List

I am a list keeper. Without my lists I would be lost. Which is why I keep an ongoing grocery list stuck to the side of the fridge. The minute I run out of something, or think of an ingredient I will need for next week's meals, I hurry over to my master fridge list and write it down. If I don't write it down right away I can guarantee you I will not give that ingredient another thought until days later when I go to pull it off my shelf, only to discover it isn't there.

Post-it notes are my other survival tool. They are sprinkled throughout the house, but the biggest population can be found in the kitchen. There are currently eight Post-its at my place at the kitchen table, three down at Jay's end, a couple on the island and several dotting pages in my planner by the phone.

My kids have learned that if they want me to pick up something from the grocery store they better write it on the list. It is pointless to tell me. I will just forget. This week saw those instructions taken to a whole new level, one that made my organizer's heart overflow with joy.

A Post-it and the list commingled
There was just one small problem. The item that we seem to be in such urgent need of that it required a Post-it strategically placed on top of the grocery list? Tea. Apparently we don't have enough flavours to choose from in our cupboard, a place guaranteed to make an organizer's heart stop beating all together.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Decade of Minutes

I start out every morning by sitting down with a hot cup of tea and reading the BBC and CBC news websites. Most of the stories seem far removed from my daily life, and to be honest, usually I skip over any stories that sound like they will be especially horrendous. I suppose it is a survival mechanism in today's world where we have so much (too much?) information coming at us. There is only so much gloom and doom I can cope with.

This past weekend one of the big news stories was out of Mexico where there had been an explosion at a hotel in a resort community. I first heard about it when Karsten phoned from Calgary to ask if I had been listening to the news. It was a breaking story on CBC radio. He said they had only stated the name of the community, Playa del Carmen, not the name of the actual hotel where the blast had occurred.

I could feel my heart start to race as I ran over to grab the photocopied sheets of travel information Anita, my daughter-in-law, had given me before she and Kellen left for Mexico last Friday. There was the name of where they were going to be scribbled at the top of their passport information: Playa del Carmen.

This was the point at which I am sure I stopped breathing. For ten long minutes, a span of time that felt like a decade, I started madly searching the Internet to find out the name of the hotel that had experienced the explosion. I finally found what I was looking for. The name of the hotel did not match the one Anita had written down. I was able to breathe again. I am so thankful they are safe, and also keenly aware that the news was not so good for a handful of other families anxiously trying to find out about their loved ones.

Here is a picture of Kellen, Anita and Diana taken last Christmas. Anita is the one wearing the purple scarf, not to be confused with Diana, proud holder of the 0% on the "How Chinese Are You?" quiz. Diana was teaching Anita how to knit. I'm not sure what Kellen was doing. Maybe he thought his turn for a knitting lesson was next.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Facebook Fail

I have to admit I have mixed feelings about Facebook. I also have to admit that I use Facebook. My kids, all twenty somethings, live in a Facebook world. I want to stay connected with my kids and the world they inhabit, so have made the difficult decision to renounce my former Luddite ways and make an effort to cautiously embrace the technology that surrounds me.

Facebook has many good features. For instance, I like being able to see pictures of friends and family. Just last month I had a friend request from a relative in Denmark, and it has been great to be able to browse his photo album and see pictures of the small island my grandpa was from, including a picture of the actual house he was born in.

I also enjoy the private message system, which I have used quite often when I have been travelling. Then there is the instant messaging system. I have to constantly remind myself that my kids are part of a generation that does not use the phone as their preferred means of communication. They message, either by text or through an instant message system like you find on Facebook. Again, I have found this is a nice way to stay connected with my kids when I have been away.

I have also found it quite useful when I have needed my son to take out the garbage and was getting no response to my verbal requests. No problem- I could see he was online, so just sent him a message. It surprised him enough that he actually emerged from his room, shaking his head at me like I had lost my mind, and proceeded to take the garbage out. Bonus points for Facebook!

There are also some Facebook pitfalls, and I fear I have fallen into one. Unlike many people (can you hear the self-righteousness in my tone?), I do not sit on Facebook all day, endlessly creeping people's walls and posting minute by minute updates about my life. I have, however, developed the habit of checking my Facebook page first thing in the morning, and then again at lunch. It is the lunch check-in that I feel slightly guilty about.

I used to listen to CBC radio every noon, catching up on the latest happenings here in our province of British Columbia. Now the radio sits sad and neglected on my kitchen counter while I skim through my friends' pictures or look to see what they have recently posted. What's that you say? The premier of our province just resigned? Well, he should put up a page on Facebook if he expects me to keep up with what he is doing. And if he does have a Facebook page he hasn't sent me a friend request, so it's really not my fault if I didn't know.

Then there are the endless quizzes and game requests. Now these are things I usually ignore, at least I was ignoring them until my daughter-in-law Diana phoned me a few days ago. She asked if I had seen the Facebook quiz called "How Chinese Are You?" I told her no, I didn't do Facebook quizzes (more self-righteousness in case you missed it).

She then went on to tell me she had taken the quiz and scored a 0%. A 0%? Diana? I laughed and asked her how that could possibly have happened. I doubted anyone could score a 0% even if they were trying to. It seemed especially unlikely that Diana would have scored a 0%. I asked her if she had ever in her whole life got a zero on a quiz and she said no, never.

This is how I got sucked into taking my first, and I assure you, last Facebook quiz. As soon as I hung up the phone I headed for my computer and started answering the questions. At the end of the quiz I hit submit and up popped my score. It turns out that Facebook rates me as 50% Chinese.

So here is my caution for all of you who have ever taken a Facebook quiz. That quiz that said your IQ was 150? Well, you might want to shave a few points off that score. The quiz about which hockey player you are most like? Scratch Wayne Gretzky and fill in the guy with the beer gut playing in the local men's over 50 league. Which historic figure do you most closely resemble? Winston Churchill make way for George Bush.

The reason for my sounding the alarm about the accuracy of Facebook quizzes? Here, in picture #1, is me, with my Viking blue eyes and unruly brown hair, who Facebook has declared to be 50% Chinese.

Here, in picture #2, is my son Karsten and his wife Diana. Total. Facebook. Fail.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


It is November 11th. Another Remembrance Day has rolled around, and at first glance it doesn't seem much different than all the ones that have gone before. The usual sights that accompany this day surround us- red poppies decorating jackets, uniformed cadets at cenotaphs across the land, and dignitaries making speeches. Community bands will play somewhat recognizable pieces of music and a bagpipe or two will no doubt make a mournful appearance. But something this year is missing. Take a look around and you will see only a handful of WW2 and Korean War vets marching in the parade or gathered at the cenotaphs. The rapidly dwindling number of WW2 vets are now in their eighties and nineties, and many are too frail to stand out in the wind and cold for the lengthy ceremonies. The Korean vets are a decade younger, but also getting up there in years. 2010 also marks the first year that Remembrance Day will be celebrated without a surviving Canadian WW1 vet.

This summer when my parents, brother and I visited the farm we stopped in to see an old friend and neighbor. Sam came to the door, and when he saw us he got a huge grin on his face. I was relieved that he immediately recognized my brother and me. The reason I was relieved? Well, Sam has started to lose his memory. So even though Sam has known my brother and me since the day we were born- the bonds of friendship in the farming community I grew up in run long and deep- there was no guarantee he would know who we were on this warm summer day.

We were ushered in like royalty and immediately offered a cup of coffee, the gesture that has always been the defining mark of hospitality in this rural north Idaho farming community. While Sam and my dad and brother went into the kitchen to make the coffee, my mom and I sat in the living room looking around at the pictures on the walls and the decorations sprinkled around the room, all clearly reflecting Sam's wife Donna's taste in decor. Donna and Sam had been married for 60 some years, raised two daughters, and were blessed with a multitude of grandchildren and great grandchildren. Sadly Donna had died the year before, and Sam now lives alone in a house where he struggles to hang on to his cherished memories.

After the coffee was served we sat down to visit. Now, when you are visiting with someone whose memory is failing you aren't quite sure how the conversation is going to go. As it turned out, Sam's memory is remarkably intact when it comes to events that happened a long time ago. It is the present that gives him trouble. We sat and listened as Sam shared story after story of his time spent serving in the navy during WW2. He talked about what it was like in the Pacific, on small islands that were the sights of fierce fighting. He told us about what it was like to be a kid (really, most of the guys who enlisted were just 18 year old boys) fresh off the farm transported to a naval training station back east. He could name every port his ship, returning once the war was over, had stopped at. He shared these stories, and as I listened I felt like I was being handed a gift.

Here is a picture taken that day of Sam and my dad. My dad is the guy on the left- the one with the amazing head of hair. Seriously, perfect strangers, all women I should add, will come up to my dad in places like restaurants, malls or grocery stores and start going on about how great my dad's hair is. I have actually witnessed this! My dad pretends to be annoyed, but really I know he enjoys the attention all these older women give him. My mom finds it quite amusing, mostly because she can see how flustered it makes my dad.

Stories are important. They tell us who we are, where we have come from, and to a degree shape where we are going. My dad served in the army during the Korean War. Because stories are important, I am going to share my dad's story. He witnessed three different atomic bombs being exploded in the Nevada desert. In an odd way, these bombs could well have saved my dad's life. The policy at that time, for reasons that don't seem entirely clear, was that any serviceman who had witnessed an atomic bomb explode would not be sent to active duty in Korea. As you read my dad's story you will see the outcome for some of the soldiers who witnessed these explosions was not as good as my dad's.

So here, this Remembrance Day, is an unauthorized, slightly edited guest post from my dad. At my request (actually after much pestering if the truth be told) my dad wrote this down for me last year. I should add that it is used totally without his permission. So if you are reading this blog dad, well.......... surprise!

Atomic Bomb Tests at Camp Desert Rock, Nevada, 1953

This story starts near the end of my time at Camp Desert Rock, when I was with the transportation section of the army. When we were sent to the camp we did the usual army training. We had nothing to do with the actual bombs; the army just assigned the different troops to the needed departments around the camp and bombing sights.

As I recall, about a week before the first of the three drops, we were given instructions as to what to expect when the bomb was exploded. The first one was dropped from a B36 bomber. We were told to sit down on the hillside on the sand and to expect complete silence for a short time and then the concussion would be very loud. We had dark glasses on and were rather nervous- nervous as all hell actually.

All at once was the loudest explosion I ever heard; the shock wave that followed raised all of us several feet off the ground. When the dust and noise had settled a bit we were told to look at the sight area. It is really hard to explain the strange beauty of the explosion. Tons of sand, smoke, flame and movement were in front of us. As I recall we were about 5 miles from ground zero as it was called.

After about maybe two minutes or so, when everyone was settled down to just watch the activity another explosion and shock wave hit us, along with all the sand coming back in our faces. No one had mentioned the fact that a second shock wave was even going to happen. At first we were sure another bomb had been dropped behind us. The officers apparently didn't know about it either because they were as white-faced as the enlisted men. A very huge mushroom cloud erupted in front of us and kept getting larger as time passed by. On the very top of the cloud a huge ice cap formed.

We witnessed two more atomic bombs and they were similar in looks, size and beauty. One was set off underground and one from a tower of about 50 feet in the air. The bomb on the tower was placed near a "town" constructed of many different types of materials- wood, cement, steel and any other equipment that was available and used in the army. The purpose of this was to see what would happen in an actual bombing. I was very lucky not to be chosen to go to ground zero to check on the damage that was done. A lot of troops, probably hundreds, were sent in to check things out and report the findings. From what we know now, that was a really stupid thing for the service to do, not knowing the end results of exposure to radiation. I am afraid most of the troops that were sent into this area are most likely either in bad shape or dead.

Lest we forget.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Family Secret

I debated long and hard about whether I should write this post. After all, it is not easy to give away closely guarded family secrets. But, due to popular demand, I am forging ahead. And by popular demand I mean when my husband came into the kitchen and saw me throwing together his annual birthday cake he said, "Oh yeah, my sister asked if you could send her the recipe for that cake."

This recipe definitely makes the Hammond "top 5 all-time favorite foods ever" list. In the past I have only let it out of my recipe box for my own daughters to copy, with the expectation that they would not be sharing it with their friends, boyfriends, or 768 Facebook friends (I'm not sure if the Queen is one of their 768 friends). It is the annual birthday cake request of both my husband and my youngest son, and occasionally one of my other children as well. So when Jay said his sister wanted the recipe my first reaction, well- my first reaction after the one that went something along the lines of "over my dead body"- was that maybe it is time to share this gem with the rest of the world.

So here it is, my recipe for oatmeal cake. The best cake recipe ever. And if you just read the name and are thinking to yourself "ICK", think again. You do not have to like oatmeal to like this cake. In fact, the only way to not like this cake is if you have had your taste buds amputated. Seriously, I have seen 12 year old boys wrinkle up their noses in disgust at being offered a piece at my son's birthday celebration, only to beg for seconds after taking their first bite.

The cake:

1/2 cup butter
1 cup quick oats
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour- I use light spelt flour rather than white flour in an effort to make it healthier, but hey, with 2 cups of sugar in this mixture who am I trying to kid?

Pour boiling water over the oats and butter and let soak for 20 minutes. Add the sugars and beat. Then add the eggs and beat. Then the dry ingredients and mix gently one more time. Bake in a greased 9 X 13 glass pan for 35 minutes.

The frosting:

1/2 cup white sugar
6 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup evaporated milk- possibly the most disgusting food product ever, but trust me, even this turns out to be okay in this cake!
1 cup coconut (or you can do 1/2 cup coconut and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans)

Place all of these ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil several minutes until it thickens slightly. Set the frosting aside for about 5 minutes, then pour over the cake. Important note: the cake should still be warm when you frost it.

The illustrated version:
Oats and butter soaking

Blending sugars with oat mixture

Adding in farm fresh eggs

Okay, you knew I had to do at least one quirky thing- freshly ground nutmeg

Adding the dry ingredients, including the yummy smelling nutmeg

Pouring the warm frosting over the cake

Oatmeal cake, a sure sign someone has a birthday here at the Hammond house

My recipe says at the end "stays moist and fresh for days." I always laugh when I read that bit. This cake has never made it past the 24 hour mark in our house. If any reader makes this cake and has it last longer than a day I would be interested to hear if this statement is actually true.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Day of Reckoning

This blog has been up and running for over two months now, so I decided it was time for an update, and, possibly, a confession. Let's start with my attempt to learn to speak Chinese. I am slowly moving forward, which I guess is better than being stalled or actually losing ground. I was pleasantly surprised to see basic Chinese language lessons included in the special features section of the new Karate Kid DVD. For those who haven't seen this movie, it follows the story line from the original Karate Kid very closely but the new story takes place in China rather than California, and is about kung fu, not karate. I found this part a bit confusing- why would they name a movie about kung fu the Karate Kid? This in turn made me rather suspicious of the Chinese language lessons in the special features section. The movie is set in Beijing, so the language spoken should be Mandarin, not Cantonese. But then again, the title of the movie should have been the Kung Fu Kid, so I got out my Chinese/English dictionary and double checked. It appears to be Mandarin, but I am going to ask Diana to rent the movie and confirm this for me. When spoken, Mandarin and Cantonese are two completely different languages, thus my caution. The fact I can't tell for sure which one is being used in the movie makes me think I might not be making as much progress in this area as I had hoped.

The dividends from the tomato season are finally paying off. Now that the hard work is over and all I have to do is grab a jar of tomatoes to throw in a stew, or take some pizza sauce out of the freezer to make a quick dinner, it all seems worthwhile. And yes, in the Hammond house putting together a homemade pizza is considered a quick dinner fix. Details to follow in a future blog post.

There is excellent news in the tea department. I have faithfully had green tea for my daily cuppa since I originally blogged about my intentions. I do have the occasional cup of black tea, usually on a Sunday afternoon for a treat, but I have to admit it does taste a bit sweet with all of that honey in it now that my taste buds are no longer accustomed to it. My green tea consumption has been enhanced by my recent discovery of this yummy blend at Starbucks. Tazo orange blossom tea, the perfect drink on a cold autumn afternoon. And after the incident with my old computer you can bet I am protecting my Mac like a newborn baby!

I am afraid the news in the cookbook department is not as good. First of all, I had not factored in the temptation of the internet and magazines with yummy sounding recipes when it came to remaining faithful to just two cookbooks at a time. But, more than that, I realized I could not easily walk away from my relationship with Jamie Oliver. It would appear my daughter Rebekah has the same problem. I would start out the week with the best of intentions, but by the time Tuesday or Wednesday had rolled around Jamie's Food Revolution would be back out on my kitchen table with me pouring through its pages. Then there was this little slip. Have I mentioned that right after Jamie Oliver on my list of food gurus comes Ina Garten, or as she is more commonly know, the Barefoot Contessa? There is no small amount of irony in the name of her latest offering, which also happens to be my latest cookbook acquisition.

I realize I didn't post this resolution on my blog, but I did manage to keep it so will show you just to prove that I can stick to some things. I am a knitter. If that sounds a lot like the admission that addicts make at 12 step groups there is a reason. I have a tendency to start a new project before I have finished the other five, or six, or however many I already have on the needles. Well, this time I promised myself that I could not start the sweater my daughter Alexandra wanted me to knit for her until I completed the cabled vest I was making for myself. So here it is, my Heather Hoodie Vest.

And now for the confession. Remember the snake I encountered on one of my hikes through the bush? Let's just say that it is amazing how much bigger something can be made to look with a zoom lens. Here is the "unzoomed" picture. If you get out a magnifying glass I think you should be able to spot the itty bitty baby snake in the lower left corner of this photo. You didn't really think I would have the courage to stand there and take a picture of a full-sized one did you?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Putting Food By

I love the expression "putting food by." It is a somewhat outdated saying, one that our grandparents and great grandparents would have been more familiar with than we are. Before the age of refrigeration it was crucial to know how to properly prepare and store the summer's bounty for the upcoming winter. Failure to have enough food on hand could threaten your very survival. The literary illustration that comes to mind is The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Part of the Little House series of books, it is the gripping story of a community shut off from the rest of the world due to a series of blizzards that rage, one after the other, for the entire winter. The Ingalls family barely make it through to the next spring when, at last, a train with relief supplies is able to make it through. When my kids were younger we read the whole Little House series out loud several times over. I especially loved pulling this book out when we were in the midst of our own snow storm, cuddled up warm and cozy together on the couch, reading about the hardships Laura and Mary were having to endure.

Perhaps it is the impression left by the many readings of that book, or possibly just my own eccentric nature- that I will leave for the reader to decide- but every year I spend time putting food by. There are several ways I do that, but in this post I want to highlight one in particular. I have an Excalibur food dehydrator that is in almost constant use from the middle of summer right up to the end of October. It is a fairly easy process to dehydrate food. I will use my garden carrots to illustrate the steps.

These get used in soups and stews throughout the fall and winter. Without going into as much detail here are a few other examples. First up are some Italian plums, followed by cranberries.

The cranberries get put into cookies, breads, muffins and bowls of hot oatmeal. They are so much better than the sugar laden ones you buy in the store. The plums get eaten by the handful straight out of the jar! Finally, here is a sample line-up of this year's winter supply. We might have a long winter in store for us here north of 49, but I think we'll be okay.