Saturday, April 30, 2011

Potato Head

I am suffering from a severe case of post Royal Wedding fatigue. I set my alarm for 2:00 Friday morning thinking I would never actually be so stupid as to get up at that hour and watch. But I was and I did. I have to say I'm glad I made the effort. It was wonderful from start to finish! I quite like Queen Elizabeth, and seeing her in that yellow outfit increased my admiration. I think anyone who can pull off wearing that colour deserves an award. (If I wore that colour "royalty" would not be the first word that popped into your mind.)

I am also suffering from spring fever. We are finally getting some warm weather, and I managed to muster up enough energy to plant my seed potatoes today. And, of course, I couldn't do things the normal way. This year I am trying out potato grow bags

The idea sounds easy enough. You start out by putting about 6 inches of dirt in the bottom of the bag. I used organic potting soil for the bottom three inches, then topped it with three inches of Mel's mix (stolen from my garden boxes).

I placed four seed potatoes on top of the soil. Then I added another few inches of Mel's mix.

The bag got placed at the side of the house in an area that would otherwise be wasted space. My definition of wasted space is anything that isn't growing fruits and vegetables.

Life has taught me that things that sound too good to be true most often are, so I am hedging my bets. I planted the remainder of the seed potatoes in one of my garden boxes.

Update to follow at harvest time.....

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sheriff's Log

I have just returned from spending Easter South of 49. It's always fun to go down to visit my parents, and one of the things I look forward to is catching up on all the news from the place I grew up, which is in northern Idaho. To be more specific it is in sparsely populated Benewah County. Benewah County is just under 800 square miles in area, yet has fewer than 10,000 residents. This works out to roughly 12 people per square mile.

This might explain why, as much as I love visiting Asia, I know I could never live there. The population density of Korea is 1261 people per square mile, which pales in comparison to Hong Kong's 16,444. Benewah county might come close to 1261 residents per square mile if you include the wildlife. The only way it would hit the 16,444 mark is if you also added in the trees.

There are many things that are unique to small communities, things that would be impossible to replicate in large, urban areas. I would like to share just one of those "small town" experiences with you. The county seat is in a small town called St. Maries, and this community of just under 2700 people is succeeding in an area where many big cities are failing. They are still publishing a newspaper. In fact, the Gazette Record has quite an avid readership.

Even though my parents no longer live on the farm they still get the St. Maries Gazette Record delivered through their mail. My favourite part of the paper is something called the Sheriff's Log. It records the calls the Sheriff's department has received in the previous week. Here is a sampling.

Thursday, April 7
12:09 a.m. - An unknown Plummer resident called to advise there were dogs on his roof.. The caller said the people that live above him let their dogs go up there to use the bathroom and that he thinks something should be done about it. When dispatch asked the man for his name he gave a woman's name and the dispatcher could hear the woman yell in the background and say not to bring her into it. The caller then hung up.

5:04 p.m. - Lifeline advised of a female in Plummer needing assistance for a possible heart attack after being electrocuted by her dryer.

Friday, April 8
12:20 p.m. - A cow was reportedly alongside Highway 95 near Plummer.

Saturday, April 9
12:38 a.m. - A St. Maries resident called to advise that he picked up a man who was crawling down the road near Fernwood. The caller said it appeared the man's leg was broken in two places.

12:52 a.m. - A Fernwood resident called to advise that she saw her neighbor skinning an elk out of season. The suspect turned out to be an employee of the Department of Lands who retrieved the elk.

9:53 a.m. - A Plummer resident called to advise that she receives calls from a telemarketer at all hours of the day and night. During one call, the reporter said the man on the other end threatened her niece and said he was going to kidnap and kill her.

Monday, April 11
8:10 p.m. - A Hayden resident called to advise that her son was scared because his father, a Plummer resident, just chased him down the street with a wooden spoon threatening to beat him with it. Officers made contact with the father, who said his son had exaggerated the story. Both parents reported that sometimes the boy acts out of control.

I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. There's truly "no place like home."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Puzzling Parcel

Mail in Canada is only delivered to your door if you are one of The Chosen. Those would be the people living in higher density urban areas. The Unchosen, those of us living in the country or less densely populated areas, experience what are called super boxes. Canada Post has some sort of secret formula for placing these super boxes so they are the farthest point possible from all customers using them. These are our neighbourhood boxes.

When my boys were little they had a book called The Jolly Postman. They loved that book. Each page had a little envelope attached, and they never tired of pulling out the letters they contained. Apparently the guy delivering mail to our boxes never read The Jolly Postman. You could learn human anatomy just by listening to this poor fellow's litany of complaints. Judging by his constant need to talk about his aches and pains I would say the only body part that doesn't given him trouble is his tongue. One learns to time mail retrieval appropriately.

The best mail days are the ones when I open my little box and see a red key. The red key is Canada Post's version of an inverse Matryoshka doll. The key in the small box opens a bigger box. And the bigger box holds Parcels.

Usually my parcels are what you see above - books from Chapters or Amazon. Well, sometimes there might be a parcel with yarn in it too. I was somewhat surprised when I got the magic red key a few weeks ago and found a package I hadn't ordered. Even more surprising was the fact that this parcel did not contain books or yarn. Instead, it contained candy.

This isn't just any candy. This is the candy I have been eating every Easter since I was a kid. Last year when I headed South of 49 for Easter I was looking forward to my annual indulgence, only to discover that they had packaged the candies minus the jelly beans. I realize we are in the midst of an economic crisis, but this was one cost cutting measure that had gone too far. I promptly flashed off an email to the Russell Stover candy company suggesting they return the jelly beans, and just as promptly forgot all about it.

So here, one year later, was a parcel with two of my beloved candies with jelly beans along with a letter saying:

"I wanted to let you know the milk chocolate and green butter bon Coconut Nests with jelly beans that you remember will be available in all of our Russell Stover retail stores and online at through Easter. We value loyal customers like you and hope you enjoy the enclosed, complimentary coconut nests as a sign of our appreciation."

There is a certain amount of shame in knowing the result of the only successful letter writing campaign I have undertaken was the return of jelly beans. Not enough to keep me from eating the candy though.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Mix

It is the most promising time of the year. Finally, after months of winter, I can do more than just dream about gardening. When I put in the garden boxes four years ago I used the method outlined in the Lasagna Gardening book and have been very happy with the results. For the past three years I have just added mushroom manure to "feed" the soil, but decided this year it was time to give the garden an added boost. I pulled out my copy of All New Square Foot Gardening and looked up the recipe for author Mel Bartholomew's famous garden mix. If Mel is to the gardening world what Jamie Oliver is to the cooking world, then consider this mix to be the equivalent of Jamie's famous Guinness stew recipe.

My go-to gardening books
In theory Mel's mix is simple. By volume you put together one part peat moss, one part vermiculite and one part compost. He suggests using a combination of five different kinds of compost to maximize the different nutrients going into the mix.

Mel leaves out one important piece of advice in his book. Find some volunteers to help stir the ingredients.

Here is where Mel's simple mix got a bit complicated. Being about as dense as the bags of peat moss we spread out on the tarp, I had overlooked one small fact. Peat moss is compressed in its package and once it is released into the wild it doubles in volume. Let's go back to Jamie Oliver's Guinness stew recipe. I had just accidentally added in four cups of Guinness instead of two. In order to get the proportions close to what Mel suggested it meant sending my volunteer labour back to the gardening store for more compost. The good news is my garden boxes ended up with twice as much of Mel's mix as I had originally planned on. The bad news is, not surprisingly, it also cost twice as much as I had budgeted for.

Here is my new and improved garden. There are two things to note in this picture. In the bottom right corner is my garlic crop, looking very promising at this early stage. Garlic gets planted in the fall, and tends to poke out of the ground about the same time as the daffodils and tulips. Not as pretty as flowers, but much better tasting.

If you look closely you will also see some little white things sprinkled throughout the soil. When I was at the gardening store I decided to buy just one bag of vermiculite and for my second bag get perlite. The reason? Perlite is similar in action to vermiculite, but costs considerably less. It turned out to be a classic case of getting what you pay for. Had I bothered to read the section in All New Square Foot Gardening about vermiculite vs. perlite I would have seen this tidbit:

"...because it's white, it looks rather unsightly and unnatural."

My garden now looks like it has just snowed. Not quite the look I was trying to achieve. Especially when the morning after doing this garden upgrade I woke up to the real thing.

I think I need to add one more book to my collection. Gardening For Dummies.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Exploring the Stereotype (Yes, It's About Hockey)

According to the dictionary a stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. The question I want to explore is this. Is hockey really as important to Canadians as the stereotype would indicate? I would like to argue that hockey is just a game, and it is silly to think that it could somehow inform all aspects of our lives. It shouldn't be difficult to find examples of life North of 49 that don't revolve around wooden sticks and a puck.

How about the workplace? After all, Canadians are highly skilled, dedicated workers. Sure, there might be some discussion of the game while having coffee or lunch with your colleagues, but in the actual workplace I am sure undivided attention will be on the job at hand. Oh........

From the CBC:

B.C. surgeons are being reminded to cut the hockey chatter and other unrelated banter in the operating room.
The practical advice comes after a patient complained about a surgeon discussing a hockey game with nurses, said Dr. Heidi Oetter, registrar of the province's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Well, maybe hockey has seeped into the workplace, but surely it has been kept out of the workings of the government. After all, as a nation Canada's goal is to score on the world political scene, not the ice. Oops........

Again, from the CBC:

Politics and hockey went head to head Sunday and, in the end, the nation's winter pastime held the bigger stick.
The parties and the broadcast consortium producing this week's televised leaders debates have agreed to move the French-language debate — originally scheduled for Thursday — up a day after a conflict arose with the NHL playoffs.

Okay, I have to concede that hockey has permeated both the workplace and the halls of government, but there is one other segment of our society that I am sure has remained hockey-free. You see, we are a country with a huge immigrant population. Sure, immigrants from places like Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia might be hockey fans. The game is quite popular in those northern countries. However, the majority of our immigrant population is from Asia, and let's face it - there's not a lot of ice hockey being played in Hong Kong or India. Wait a minute. What's this......?

From Sukhpreetsingh's Posterous blog:

"CBC Sports announced today that they are bringing back the very popular Hockey Night in Canada PUNJABI EDITION. The broadcast will air every Saturday covering the doubleheader games this entire season. The broadcast will also include covers of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
There was considerable outcry and disappointment by the Punjabi community across Canada when the broadcast was cancelled this year at the beginning of the 2010/2011 NHL Season. The campaign to reinstate the Punjabi broadcast was led by Sikh youth across Canada in all major cities who gathered petitions and wrote letters to the CBC."

So just how big is hockey in Canada? This picture of Kate's son over at Rocks, Waves, Beach sums it up nicely.

These YouTube clips are for all my non-Canadian readers. (I am only saying non-Canadians because there isn't a Canadian alive who hasn't already seen these.) Absolutely without a doubt the two best commercials ever. And to prove my original point that The Sport doesn't permeate all areas of life North of 49, the second one has nothing to do with hockey.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Totally Ticked

I am not an arachnophobe. Really, I'm not. For the most part I am happy to share my little section of this earth with whatever spiders might be in residence. I admit that it did take me awhile before I was able to make peace with the family of black widow spiders that lives under the siding at the front of our house. We still aren't on overly friendly terms, and they are absolutely forbidden entry to my house. However, a truce of sorts does exist.

There is one exception to my peaceful co-existence with the local arachnids. I hate ticks. Hate would actually be too mild of a term. I despise ticks. I loathe ticks. Which is unfortunate, because almost all of my life has been spent living in places that are inhabited by ticks. Even more unfortunate is the fact that of all the places I have lived ticks seem to like Kamloops the most.

My fear of ticks goes back to my early childhood. One of my first memories of going to the local doctor was to have a tick dug out of my head. In this post from last fall I talked about the fact that I had an almost perfect childhood. The tick incident would have been one of the big contributors to that adverb "almost."

Ticks seem to like certain people more than others. They love my daughters but totally avoid my sons. Which is why when my kids were younger the girls would send David into the bushes to retrieve any stray basketballs, hockey pucks, etc. All they had to do was walk across our lawn and a tick could find them. David would crawl through the underbrush and come out tick free every time.

They also seem to like one of my daughters-in-law. Two summers ago Diana accompanied Karsten on a fishing trip to a small lake in Saskatchewan. Unfortunately Diana's "catch" wasn't quite what she had been expecting. When they got home Diana discovered a tick attached to her knee, and, in what I consider to be a completely rational response, she freaked out. To the point that Karsten had to sit on her and hold her down while he removed the disgusting thing. Which made me thankful that all those years ago the doctor that removed the tick from my head had not been afraid of the thing. It also leaves me wondering what Diana, now a practicing family doctor,  is going to do when faced with a patient that needs a tick removed.

So here it is, the middle of April. It is the time of the year that the ticks come out and cling to the brush in the surrounding countryside. That would be the same countryside that I hike through. It is no exaggeration when I say I would rather encounter a bear than a tick when I am out here on this trail. At least a bear runs the other way when it sees you.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Make That a Double

I am always surprised by how few people have heard of Devon Double Cream. I am here to tell you that if you have never had a scone slathered in jam and Devon Double Cream you have led a deprived life. My goal is to change your status from deprived to enriched. I will be forever thankful to the person who first introduced me to this treat several years ago, and I am now passing on the favour. I am sure your taste buds will thank me, even if your waistline doesn't.

Imagine a product that is richer than cream! You probably didn't think such a thing was possible, but it's true. The milk fat content of whipping cream comes in at a mere 35%. Compare that to the 48% milk fat content in Devon Double Cream and you can begin to see this stuff is in a category of sinfulness all its own. It comes from the creamiest of the cream that Devonshire Jersey cows produce. The English Tea Store website describes it as "a cross between ice cream and butter." I don't know about you, but that description almost takes my breath away.

2 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

Line baking sheet with parchment paper or dust with flour. Set aside. 

Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. In separate bowl, whisk buttermilk with egg; pour over flour mixture. Stir with fork to make ragged dough.

Press dough into ball. On floured surface knead gently about 10 times. Pat out into 10 X 7 inch rectangle. 

Cut rectangle into 6 squares; cut each diagonally in half. Place on prepared pan. 

Bake at 400F about 18 minutes. Transfer to rack and let cool.

Beware! Once you have tried this stuff there is no turning back.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Accolades With Attitude

I enjoy food. I like growing it in my garden. I enjoy procuring it through the local producers I have come to know since moving to Kamloops. Here I am last spring at the Jay Springs Lamb ranch with one of my favourite local producers Jennifer, a.k.a. the "lamb lady."

As you can probably tell from the number of times I blog about cooking, I also enjoy preparing food. This love of food has been handed down to all five of my kids, and in Alexandra's case it has become a career choice.

She attends the culinary arts program at Thompson Rivers University (TRU). She is in her final term at TRU and it is a demanding one. The students run a restaurant called Accolades. This restaurant is not what you might expect from a group of chefs-in-training. From TRU's web page:

"This hidden gem offers some of the best cuisine in Canada. Accolades was awarded the “stars of excellence” twice from the national restaurant guide, Where to Eat in Canada."

Tuesday night Jay and I had dinner at this "hidden gem." My first thought as we were seated at our table was that I had seriously underdressed for the occasion. (This is not the first time in my life I have had this thought.) I had assumed exchanging jeans for cords along with upgrading my plain hand knit socks to ones with a fancy pattern would be good enough.  The problem was I had upgraded my wardrobe for a three fork dining experience but this turned out to be a five fork establishment. Looking across the table at my husband did manage to give me some comfort. He had clearly been thinking along the lines of a one fork place which bumped me from the unenviable position of  being the worst dressed customer in the restaurant. 

If the place setting wasn't enough of a clue as to how much I had underestimated this restaurant, the menu left no doubt. There were four courses, along with an amuse-bouche for starters, and a sorbet palette cleanser between the third and fourth courses. I had never even heard of an amuse-bouche. What can I say? I am a farm girl from northern Idaho. I don't think Idaho has amuse-bouche.

First Course

House Made Italian Sausage Ravioli
Apple Squash Puree
Tomato Vinaigrette
Cilantro Drizzle

Second Course

Lemon Ginger Broth with Pork Won Ton

Third course

Pan Seared BC Spot Prawns
Potato-Shallot Roll
Saffron Foam

Fourth Course

Lamb: Confit, Loin, and Sausage
Turned Saffron Westwald Potatoes
Thyme Jus

I'm a little embarrassed about this next item. I started eating my dessert the minute it was placed in front of me, and it wasn't until it was almost gone that I remembered to take a picture. Hazelnut white chocolate cheesecake can do that to a person.


Hazelnut White Chocolate Cheesecake
Chocolate Chip Cookie Base

Newly Minted Chef, Complete With Attitude

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Cautionary Tale

We live in a very safe neighbourhood. It is located high up on a ridge, and well away from the main center of Kamloops. To get to our neighbourhood you have to wind your way up through the hills. In other words, it isn't the kind of place you "just happen by", and as a consequence doesn't attract many non-residents.

The road to our home cuts through these hills

Halfway down the hill

It is also the area of our city where the highest percentage of RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officers live. In fact, the neighbours on both sides of our house are RCMP officers. It just doesn't get any safer than this.

That is why I was shocked last night when Diana, my daughter-in-law from Calgary, phoned to ask if I had heard about the attempted abduction in our neighbourhood. I was certain there had to be a mistake so immediately checked the CBC website. It turns out Diana was right.

Late Friday night a twenty year old girl stopped at the bottom of the hill to help a man whose truck appeared to be broken down. He was pulled over to the side of the road and had his emergency flashers going. When the girl got out of her vehicle the guy grabbed her and forced her into his truck. She fought back and, thankfully, managed to get away. So did the creep who tried to abduct her.

The bottom of the hill where the incident occurred

Here's the thing. I have a twenty year old daughter who drives up that hill late at night after finishing her time at school or work. In fact, Alexandra was at work when Diana called. I immediately sent her a text message warning her about what had happened and cautioning her to lock her doors and to not stop for anybody no matter what. Many of those words were in ALL CAPS. I was serious, and I wanted her to know it. (It used to be that when I was serious I could convey this with a certain tone of voice, or in extreme circumstances by using "the look." Now I find myself reduced to using all caps in a text message.)

A few minutes later Alexandra phoned and sounded slightly upset. It  turns out that she had actually witnessed the event but hadn't known that was what she was seeing! Not only that, she said when she saw the vehicle turn to go help the guy, her first thought was to wonder if she should stop and see if there was anything she could do. In the end she decided all was well which, of course, it wasn't. Far from it.

Every time I think about what could have happened if she had come home even five minutes earlier and been the first person to come across this pervert I feel queasy. Would she have stopped? I tend to think she might have. After all, it was her first reaction when she saw the other girl going to help.

If you are a woman and see some guy stranded by the side of the road DO NOT STOP. Ever. Even if it is broad daylight. If you think that person really needs help then drive down the road a safe distance, pull over, and make a cell phone call to the police. It is very easy to think that nothing could ever happen to us, that these kinds of things only happen to other people. It is also an extremely dangerous way to think.