Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dressed Out

I am not a shopper. Since not all shopping expeditions are created equally I have rankings within my list of Most Dreaded Shopping Outings (MDSOs). For instance, while I don't particularly enjoy grocery shopping, I do enjoy cooking and eating. This means grocery shopping makes the MDSO list, but just barely. At the other end of the spectrum would be Walmart. I despise Walmart. I would almost rather go to the dentist than Walmart.

There is only one thing worse in the MDSO rankings than Walmart and that is clothes shopping. The first strike against it is most of the clothes stores are at the mall. I am not on friendly terms with malls. The second strike is the change room mirrors. There must be some sort of legislation that requires mirrors in change rooms to:

1. Make you look 3 inches shorter.

2. Make you look 3 inches wider.

3. Reveal every imperfection you normally work to keep concealed, plus adding some that weren't there before you happened to glance in the offending mirror.

The third strike, the one that sends the whole affair to the top of the MDSO list, is the clothes themselves. Racks and racks of nothing.

So, given my opinion of clothes shopping you can imagine how inspired I was to shop for a dress to wear to Rebekah's wedding. Several weeks ago I came to grips with the fact that the wedding day was rapidly approaching and I could no longer put off the inevitable. Alexandra and I were going to town to run some errands, and one of the jobs was going to take us to the mall. I figured as long as I was there I might as well get it over with.

It's been a few weeks. I think I have healed sufficiently to be able to relate the experience without having a breakdown. It was grim. Very grim. By the time it was finished I had tried on at least a dozen dresses, four skirts, and more blouses and shirts than I could keep track of. I won't bore you with individual descriptions of each and every item. Why do that when one word would suffice? Hideous. I kid you not. Every single item I tried on was a disaster.

Several of the dresses were of a similar style, so I am presuming it must be the height of fashion at the moment. They all did this weird scrunching thing at the front, but weirder still was the fact the scrunching was in a random curve. Think of how the sickle was on the old Soviet flag, make it a bit bigger, and you've more or less got the idea.  It reminded me of what happens when the thread on my sewing machine gets screwed up and bunches the material. This would be something I consider a bad outcome, not a design feature. The effect when I tried these dresses on was breathtaking. Breathtaking in the sense that when I looked in the mirror I almost had a heart attack.

It was mostly good having Alexandra there because she kept going back and forth bringing me more items to try on. The drawback was she insisted I try things on that simply were not me. At one point I looked at a shirt she was handing me and said it wouldn't work. She rolled her eyes, sighed, and said, "That's why you need someone to go shopping with you mom. Just try it on." Presumably she meant if I was on my own I would stick to the boring "mom" kind of clothes.

There was one skirt and blazer I found that I thought had potential. They were a beautiful plum colour, and they actually looked like something I might wear more than once. I was informed by my fashion consultant (Alexandra) that I couldn't wear the blazer because it was the same colour as the skirt. It was too boring. Whatever. I was willing to just go with the skirt and a nice shirt. I do love plum! The next problem was the sizing on the skirt. The size 8 would have fallen off, which really isn't the outcome you want at your daughter's wedding. And the size 4 would have split if I inhaled, which also would not have been a good outcome. Unfortunately the only size 6 was on a mannequin that was going to take two store employees considerable time to strip. They were saved from having to disrobe the dummy because in the end I couldn't find a shirt to go with the skirt. So much for plum.

When I got home I made a cup of tea and went out to the back deck to try and recover. That was when it happened. It was my Harrison Ford moment. Remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where he was fighting the guy in the back alley, whip in hand? Then he gets this funny look on his face, kind of shrugs, pulls out his gun and just shoots the guy? It was like that, only the enemy I was fighting was the dress and the whip was the mall. And the gun?

The Lands" End catalog of course! I sat there with my tea and my iPad and in ten minutes flat I had picked out and ordered a dress. A classic, guaranteed not to go out of style before August, sewn by somebody not using hallucinogenic drugs dress. My only regret is I didn't think of it sooner.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Simply the Best

These rolls are the best. These rolls are so good it is possible to eat the whole batch in one sitting. Not that I would ever do such a thing!

Start out by making your favourite recipe for dinner rolls. If you are pressed for time you can cheat and buy some of those frozen rolls from the grocery store. Just be sure to allow extra time for them to thaw. I made this honey whole wheat roll recipe in my bread machine:

1 cup warm water
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg, beaten
2 cups white flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp. yeast

Lightly grease a cast iron skillet. Form dough into rolls and place in skillet, leaving some room between each one. Cover and let rise in a warm place.

While the buns are rising go out to the garden and cut some fresh rosemary.

Chop up the rosemary into small bits. Melt some butter. Brush the butter on the tops of the rolls, then add the rosemary. Brush with some more butter (perhaps you are starting to see why these are so good). Finally, take a bit of sea salt and sprinkle on top. Trust me, you need to do this or they won't be right.

Bake at 400F for about 18 minutes. They should be golden brown on the top when you pull them out of the oven.

If you eat the whole pan in one sitting please don't blame me. Blame the Pioneer Woman.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Farewell to Butterbeer

It's been a good run.

J.K. Rowling's first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was published in Britain in 1997. Fourteen years later sales of her seven book series stand at over 450 million. One has to wonder how the first twelve publishing houses that Rowling approached with her book are feeling. I suspect a bit like the "reject" label they put on her manuscript.

Our family remained Muggles for quite some time. My theory had been that there were already more great children's books than we had time to read, so why bother to expand the list. Plus I hate jumping on bandwagons. Then one day Rebekah told me that they were going to grow up culturally illiterate if they didn't become familiar with the story. It was a great line, and successful too.

In the interests of being culturally literate I got the first book and we started reading it aloud. Reading aloud was the hallmark activity of our family, and we had some rules that were meant to be followed.

1. It was absolutely forbidden to sneak the book and read ahead.

2. It was also forbidden to laugh at me if I got choked up over a scene and started crying.

Rule number 1 was followed religiously. Rule number 2 was blatantly ignored. We kept right on reading right through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. All for the sake of being culturally literate of course.

I should point out that by the time the final book came out Rebekah and David were both attending university here in Kamloops, but that didn't stop us from reading the book together. We had started them together and we intended to finish them together. Sadly, in the end life got in the way and we each finished the final chapters of the book on our own. It made me realize that half of the enjoyment of reading Harry Potter had come from the howls of protest when I would close the book and say that was enough, the tension that gripped everyone as I read through a scary bit, or the speculation as to what was going to happen next.

The Harry Potter books are a lot like asparagus and cilantro. People ether seem to love them or hate them. Some people felt they were classics in the making, and credited them with getting otherwise reluctant readers engaged with the written word. Others felt they were basically the spawn of the devil and were leading a generation of youth into the occult. On a forum I used to frequent simply putting the initials HP into the subject line was guaranteed to start an argument that could continue for hundreds of comments. The fights would only stop when the moderator stepped in and closed the thread. Just like magic, a few days later another thread would start and the whole thing would take off again.

I find J.K. Rowling's story almost as good as the books she has written. I am fascinated by how the whole story line came to her in four hours on a delayed train trip between Manchester and London. She didn't have a pen to scribble down her ideas, so simply sat and pondered Harry. She said she thinks the story might not have come together the same way if she had interrupted her thoughts by stopping to write them down.

I also find it interesting that she ignores one of the hallmark rules of good writing and makes it work. Here is a blurb from Stephen King's excellent book On Writing.

"I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special occasions...and not even then if you can avoid it."

Here are a few examples of what Stephen King is talking about, taken from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

"I want to read it," said Harry furiously, "as it's mine."

"Oh, this is Crabbe and this is Goyle," said the pale boy carelessly, noticing where Harry was looking.

"Typical," said Harry darkly. "Just what I always wanted. To make a fool of myself on a broomstick in front of Malfoy."

How well does she succeed at this rule breaking? Aside from selling 450 million books, that is. Adverb hating Stephen King himself is quoted as saying J.K. Rowling is a great writer, and he lists her books in the back of his On Writing book as some of the best he has read. High praise indeed!

So does the release of the final Harry Potter movie signal the end of an era? In some ways yes. The hype over an upcoming book or movie is now a thing of the past. But there will never stop being new readers who discover the series, and my guess would be that the Harry Potter books will remain popular for many years to come.

Plus there is the new Pottermore site coming in October, where readers are going to get an "exciting online experience around the reading of the Harry Potter books." It is also reported that this fall the books will be coming out in e-reader format. Maybe there is another round of Butterbeer coming after all.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dear Deer

To the ungulates whom it may concern:

Next time the two of you want to run full speed through the bush please look where you are going. Your lack of awareness of your surroundings resulted in the following panicked instruction.

"Deer! I am sure they are deer...Blow your whistle! NOW!!"

It is good I decided to blow first and ask questions later. I mean, it is bad enough when you jump in front of my car. While the resulting collision is going to harm both of us, most likely you are going to end up in far worse shape than me. But when the two of you came screaming towards us as we were walking along the trail minding our own business, I knew that in this situation any contact was going to weigh heavily in your favour. Potential outcome:

Deer 2
Hikers 0

It would have been considerate to at least have made a bit more noise as you bounded along. More than 20 yards of warning would have allowed us time to move out of your way. After all, we were talking and making ample noise so as to alert some of your wilderness neighbours such as the cougars and bears.  Would it have been too much to snap a twig or two as you did your hopping and bounding thing?

Before you get your respective backsides of venison up, in your favour I would like to acknowledge that you were not being aggressive. Blissfully ignorant would be a more apt description. However, had you not come to a screeching halt when I blew my whistle I don't think there would have been a noticeable difference in outcome.

I would like to close on a positive note by saying that before our unfortunate encounter I had some doubts as to whether or not I would be able to remain calm enough in an emergency to be able to use my whistle. Thank you for clearing up that matter for me.

Someone who does not want to have any more trail stories this year...

P.S. If ever there was a WTF moment, this would have been it. But as I have pointed out in a previous post I don't use that kind of language.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kitchen Fail

In the interests of full disclosure I have a confession. Not every effort in the Hammond kitchen goes as planned. For instance, over Father's Day weekend when we had a house full of kids and kids-in-law there was An Incident. On Sunday afternoon we decided to go out to the BC Wildlife Park. Planning ahead I made some spaghetti sauce and put it in the slow cooker. That way dinner would be ready as soon as we got home. Great plan. Except for one small detail.

When we got back and I looked at the slow cooker I could not believe it. The on/off light was flashing. Somehow, in my rush to get out the door, I had forgotten to turn the thing on. This meant the contents had sat at room temperature for almost four hours. If the sauce had been meatless I might have taken the chance that it would be okay, but remember - I am totally paranoid when it comes to potential pathogens. After consulting with a GP and an infectious disease specialist it was agreed the spaghetti sauce was toast. (Normally I wouldn't have gone as far as asking for medical advice, but when the doctors happen to be standing next to you in the kitchen it doesn't hurt to get their input!) It was a sad moment as I poured enough spaghetti sauce to feed a dozen people into the kitchen garbage. I will spare you any pictures.

The next fail was leading up to Canada Day. I had asked Alexandra if she could make a batch of Canada Day cupcakes. (In case you are wondering, Canada Day cupcakes can loosely be defined as any cupcake baked in a red and white cupcake holder.)

The first sign of trouble was when she looked at me and asked if she had put in 2 or 3 cups of flour. I suggested she dump out the flour and start again if she wasn't sure. She shrugged her shoulders and said she was pretty sure it had been 3. Then, horrified by the amount of sugar the recipe called for she decided to cut back on this rather vital cake ingredient. As you will see by the pictures there was also likely a baking powder/soda blunder.

We tried multiple rescue attempts. These volcano-like things were the best we could do.

Clearly this batter did not want to be cupcakes, so we dumped the remainder in a cake pan and thought it would be cake. It didn't want to be that either. This is what happened when I touched the top to see if it was done. We had moved from volcano to earthquake.

Whatever it was, it all got eaten. Which is further proof for my theory that there is no such thing as a failed dessert.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bells and Whistles

Over the past two weeks several bear stories here in B.C. have made the headlines. The most sobering was the story about the woman killed by a black bear near her home. It is presumed the bear that killed her was the same one that had tried to break into her home previous week. There was also the grizzly who attacked a man picking berries and the black bear who went after a jogger.

The interesting thing about these last two stories is in the first instance dogs caused the problem and in the second dogs saved the day. After doing some research this past week into the effectiveness of bear bells and whistles I realized they are a lot like having dogs as a deterrent. It can go either way.

I went to our big outdoor store on Sunday fully intending to buy some bear bells and a whistle. The bells are meant to let bears know you are in the area. The whistle is for scaring "reluctant to move along" bears away. The woman who helped me discouraged me from buying the bells. She said the tinkling of the bells can actually attract bears. Worse, they can also attract cougars. Gulp. Needless to say my only purchase was a whistle.

It isn't just any old whistle though. Apparently in the world of whistles, a world I didn't know existed until entering the sporting goods store, this is the top of the line. It is a Fox 40 Pealess Safety Whistle. It claims it can be heard over a mile away, and has no moving parts to jam or freeze. Of course, it can't guarantee the person using it doesn't freeze when confronted with an angry bear. And just in case you thought it was only electronics that come with ridiculous warnings - you know, things like "don't use this blow dryer while standing in a tub of water" - here is the warning on the back of the Fox 40 package:

Caution: Do not blow a Fox 40 whistle directly in a person's ear.

While searching Google for an answer to the bell dilemma I came across a book called Don't Get Eaten. Since this was my goal, although in starker terms than I would have chosen, I decided to have a closer look. The author, Dave Smith, had some great advice about cougar encounters. He went in stages, starting out with how to avoid cougars in the first place, then moving on through how to react if you do have an encounter based on the level of aggression the animal is exhibiting. He lost me somewhere around the stage where the cougar "is staring intensely and trying to hide, combined with crouching and/or creeping toward you." I am sure his advice is sound, but I think it would be rather hard to implement after one had fainted.

My recent interest in avoiding bear encounters has been motivated by more than the news stories I mentioned earlier. Last week a friend and I were out on the trail and when we came to a patch of Saskatoon berries I noticed some broken branches on the biggest bush.

We weren't left wondering for long what had done the damage. Rounding the corner on the other side of the bushes we came across this.

Then on Saturday I was out walking with my neighbor. This time it wasn't broken branches or a pile of scat. It was the real thing. Of course, my first reaction was to grab my camera. I managed to catch it just as it ran off into the bush.

For the remainder of the walk I was able to comfort myself with these two thoughts.

1. It was a small bear. (I am operating under the assumption that small bears only take small bites.)
2. It wasn't a cougar.

Friday, July 8, 2011

An Octogenarian And A Gentleman

My dad is a gentleman. He is also a great dad. And I can't think of two nicer things that could ever be said about a man.

My dad was born on a farm in Northern Idaho on July 8, 1931. July is a bad time to be born when your parents are farmers. I have visions of my grandma waking up that July day, making breakfast for my grandpa and the hired hands, taking a couple hours off in the middle of the day to give birth to my dad (worrying the whole time she was in labour about what she was going to make to feed the men for dinner), then hurrying to get that supper ready before the men came in from the fields.

Here are some other people who were born in 1931. I hope they feel humbled to be mentioned along with my dad, who I am sure is miles ahead of them in the kindness department even if he isn't quite as famous. I think you will recognize most of them: James Dean, Joanne Woodward, Mikhail Gorbachev, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Andy Warhol, and Barbara Walters.

The birth of my dad wasn't the only interesting thing to happen in 1931. Al Capone was sentenced to prison and Thomas Edison died. Two men, Mahatma Gandhi and Adolph Hitler, were gaining the world's attention. One promoted nonviolence and the other espoused hatred and aggression. It was a time when the world was recovering from one war, oblivious to the fact it was rapidly spiraling towards another.

In 1931 horses were still being used to pull the combine during harvest. The source for this painting was an old black and white photo of my grandpa cutting wheat on the farm.

By the time my dad retired things had changed just a bit. The horses had been exchanged for something that was fed diesel instead of hay. The air conditioned cab was a bonus! (By the way, this is a random picture, not my dad.)

The world has changed in many ways since my dad was born eighty years ago. When letters would arrive from my grandpa's family in Denmark my grandma would take out her Danish/English dictionary and painstakingly translate one word at a time. Nowadays it would be a simple matter of plugging the text into Google Translate and pushing a button. Letters themselves are a thing of the past, having long since been replaced by email. And if my dad wants to exchange news with the relatives in Denmark he can just check their Facebook pages.

One thing that has not changed over the years is the way my dad sets the standard for what it means to be a gentleman. He learned this from his father, and has, in turn, instilled this quality in my brother. Here are my dad and brother at a belated 79th birthday dinner last summer. (Please note the Native is not a real person.)

Happy 80th Dad!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July's Frugal Luxuries

Canadians are good sports about suffering through the long months of winter. Really we are. But when our brief fling with summer looks like it might be in jeopardy we tend to get a bit cross. This is why the month of June produced scowls all the way from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island.

We are now a few days into July and I am happy to announce that the sun has decided to make an appearance after all. Finally being able to soak up some rays, not to mention being able to get some vitamin D that doesn't come out of a bottle, earns top spot on my list of July's frugal luxuries. Here are a few more of my favourite things about July.

I love lazy Saturday afternoons spent on the back patio enjoying some iced tea, a good book and my latest knitting project.

There is nothing sweeter than the smell of sheets that have hung out on the line to dry.

Hikes out on the trail, sturdy walking stick in hand, are filled with wildflowers.

And last, but most certainly not least, are the fresh strawberries from the farmer's market. One juicy bite has more flavour than all those plastic imitations from California put together!

Happy July!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Great Scape

Many years ago when we were living in the Kootenays Jay returned from one of his numerous out-of-town road trips and deposited a bag of curly green things on the kitchen counter. When I asked what on earth they were he told me the guy selling them said they were the tops of garlic plants. He assured Jay that they weren't poisonous, and in fact tasted good in everything from salads to stir fries. I had my doubts about the strange tangle of greens poking out of the top of the bag, but decided they were worth a try. It was the beginning of a culinary love affair.

Fast forward a couple decades and I now grow my own garlic. Lots and lots of garlic. This year's crop is the biggest yet at around 100 plants. I have my trip to Korea last year to thank for this increase in garlic production. Koreans love their garlic, and as a result they are experts at growing it. One thing I noticed when I looked out on field after field of garlic when we were on Jeju Island was how close together the plants were. It was way closer than what my gardening books recommended. I decided that from now on I was going to grow garlic the Korean way.

Garlic crop on Jeju Island, Korea 2010
Garlic scapes seem to be growing in popularity. They are sold at many stalls at the Kamloops Farmer's Market at this time of the year, and articles and recipes featuring them are beginning to appear in numerous places. It is weird when something you have done or used for years get "discovered" and becomes trendy. This isn't the first time it has happened to me. Knitting, homeschool, and international adoption would also fall into this category. This makes me either a woman ahead of her time, or one hopelessly out of sync with the world. Most days it feels like the latter.

Here is one of our favourite ways to eat garlic scapes. This is a very basic pizza recipe, but don't be fooled. What it lacks in ingredients it more than makes up for in flavour. I use my bread machine to make a basic pizza dough.

Once I have that started I head out to the garden to cut some scapes. The scape is the immature flower stalk of the garlic plant. Ideally you want to cut these off once they begin to form so the plant's energy can be directed to the developing bulb. It is an added bonus that they also happen to be both edible and delicious.

I cut the top part of the scape off because I find it a bit tough. Then I use kitchen shears to cut the rest of the stalk into pieces about an inch long. I also find something else in my garden to use as a topping. This time it was basil, last time it was spinach. I just go with whatever happens to be ready to harvest.

Put the cut pieces of garlic scapes into a bowl with a small amount of olive oil and sea salt. Stir.

If you are using a pizza stone, which I highly recommend, now is the time to place it in the oven. Turn your oven to 450F.  Roll out the pizza dough.

Sprinkle your wooden pizza paddle with a liberal amount of corn meal. Trust me on this - you don't want to skimp or your pizza will not slide off the paddle and onto your pizza stone. Rather, it will get all scrunched up, fold over on itself, and resemble a calzone that is having a very bad day.

Place your rolled out dough onto the pizza paddle. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Top with the garlic scapes and basil (or whatever else you have picked for a topping). And no, it isn't an oversight. There is no sauce added to this pizza. I told you it was basic!

Slide carefully onto the hot pizza stone.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the cheese starts to brown.

When it is ready I use the pizza paddle to transfer the pizza from the stone to a pizza pan. Let it cool for a few minutes, slice, and enjoy.