Cautionary Tales

Asparagus Risotto

Much as I grumble about winter, I do enjoy living in a seasonal country.  The anticipation of the delights that each season bring is what makes them so sweet (and maybe melancholy).  Asparagus is right up there on the top of the list for spring.

One of the regrets in my life is that I have never grown asparagus. Imagine the joy of walking out to the back 40 (feet in our case) and picking your own asparagus. Alas, asparagus takes 3 years to mature fully to harvest (which explains how pricey it is), and until recently I’ve never had a full sun spot to plant it. Three years is committment!

Photo by Eneida Nieves on Pexels.com

Asparagus Risotto The ‘grands’ next favorite dish is Asparagus Risotto, another labor of love. But isn’t that what cooking is about? https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/rice-recipes/asparagus-mint-and-lemon-risotto/ ( I like Jamie’s site because you don’t have to scroll through dozens of images and ads to get to the recipe. ) Rice pudding had been a go-to comfort food all my life so it wasn’t a stretch to try a basic risotto and then move on to some of the more exotic variations.The challenge here is that risotto will never have its celebrated creamy yet slightly al dente texture when reheated, so it simply has to be done while you are surrounded by guests. Fortunately it doesn’t require too much thought – just constant stirring for 20 minutes. I think it’s worth it.

You need to start with a good quality chicken broth. Homemade, on hand, in the freezer is the best – but purchased will suffice. A cup of white wine or even champagne definitely improves the flavor but can be omitted if you drank the whole bottle. Tsk tsk. The Parmesan also makes a difference – if it’s a ‘pull out all the stops’ event, go for broke and buy the best. I’ve been able to impress the ‘grands’ using the round shaker brand. But I only use butter.

I’m always looking for shortcuts that won’t compromise quality so I cook the sliced asparagus (briefly) in the chicken broth while it simmers – a much simpler method. When I don’t feel like stirring for 20 minutes at all, or don’t have arborio rice on hand I substitute penne – cooking the asparagus in the same water as the pasta and then tossing them both with olive oil, slivered garlic and lots of parmesan.

If you want to learn more about making great risotto here’s a link that covers the basics plus lots of ideas for variations. https://w ww.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94939511 I make a killer rice pudding using arborio rice, but this article suggests adding chocolate – a whole new level of decadance akin perhaps to ‘gilding the lily’.

I first learned about risotto when I watched Big Night (1996), an understated foodie movie about Italian brothers who own a restaurant and long to serve authentic Italian food. The care they lavished on making the risotto intrigued and inspired me. Some other favorite food movies I’ve enjoyed are Mostly Martha, Babette’s Feast, The Hundred Foot Journey, The Lunchbox, Julie and Julia, and Ratatouille. Both books and movies have expanded my repertoire.

Right now I’m following a mystery series by Martin Walker about a French detective, Bruno, who is passionate (of course, being French), about cooking and gardening as well as justice. Walker and his wife, food writer Julia Watson, worked to produce a cookbook based on meals from the book. https://dianerehm.org/2015/09/22/recipes-from-the-new-bruno-chief-of-police-cookbook

“Only butter’ could be my cooking mantra – and no doubt accounts for the slightly raised triglyceride levels my doctor nags about. Perhaps describing a rice pudding as killer is cutting a bit close to the bone. According to Julia Child the secret to French cooking is to simply add 4 times as much butter as the human artery can physically withstand. A

This delightful old poem ‘Little Thomas’ by F. Gwynne Evans, springs to mind – very entertaining for young and old – a great Thanksgiving read. My granddaughters had great fun memorizing it last week. It’s always handy to have a little verse up your sleeve to entertain the troops. .http://signpetch__1.tripod.com/laurelsaslthanksgivingharvestasl/id8.html

I learned the poem about Jim and the lion by Hilair Belloc when I was in grade four – it may have been the first seed planted that grew into my love for poetry. https://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poems/jim-who-ran-away-his-nurse-and-was-eaten-lion.

Both these poems were written in the Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard era of history in which properly trained children were instructed with cautionary, morality tales through story and poetry – which going into week three of the lockdown, some beleagured parents may wish to revive.

Bless you my friends.

Sylvia Was Right

The first assignment in the writing course I took at Regent College was predicated on a statement Sylvia Plath had made – that she could not put a toothbrush in a poem. Our assigment was to do exactly that, (bonus marks for making it a love poem.) Dare I say that many bristled at the suggestion and wanted to brush it off? Okay, sorry, I won’t do that again.

I had some fun with this one and was glad I was able to capture my heart as a writer in this little ditty.

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com
Sylvia Was Right  

I'd like to write a line that makes you laugh, 
  or moves you from your self to someone's pain,  
or opens up your eyes to see again.  
I can't do that with a toothbrush.
  
I long to touch your core and make you weep.  
I want the truths that I have plumbed to leap  
from my heart, to the page, to your soul,  
(like the last jig-saw piece that makes you whole).
I can't do that with a toothbrush.
  
Now if they'd given me a truthbrush I could try 
 to wash the blinding log out of my eye,  
or it might be used to scrub my errant heart 
free of sin's plaque. But that's an art
 that cannot be accomplished with a toothbrush.


Photo by Pietro Jeng on Pexels.com

So happy there is one who can transform us and cleanse us –

And now for something COMPLETELY different. My daughter came home from school in about grade 3 with this cute little song her class had to perform for a school concert. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFfgmsziUS8 This version is a bit screechy but there is a longer sort of vaudeville version on the next clip.

So perhaps Sylvia couldn’t celebrate a toothbrush – but aren’t we all learning to appreciate and be grateful for the mundane things we have taken for granted. Perhaps a good thing to do today would be to make a list for the many gifts in your life – including your toothbrush. Be blessed today.

Eight Little Letters

It’s 3 AM and I am awake. Awake enough to know I may as well get up and now I am wrapped in my favorite wool shawl with a big mug of hot chocolate beside me and my little fake fireplace dealing with the chill. And a tiny, but oh so powerful phrase running through my mind, in Christ. Those two words, eight letters, have transformed my life. In Christ.

If there is such a creature as an ordinary person I would fit into that category. There are so many amazing women accomplishing amazing things in this world. I am not one of them. There’s a verse in 1 Corinthians that I gladly embrace, “…not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world…” I am more than happy to fall into that category – a foolish thing.

Years ago I was going through a very difficult time in my life and it had gone on for a long time. By nature an optomist, being in this bleak a place felt all wrong. I didn’t doubt God but I sure doubted myself. When you are feeling that low you isolate, hide the shame of your nakedness. But a few friends insisted I join them at a retreat and I still had enough pride that I couldn’t tell them exactly how undeserving of their friendship, unworthy of their time I felt. I did not want to go. But I went. I insisted though on sitting alone at the back of the room. Who needs a spotlight – the crying alone was enough to draw attention.

And then it happened. The event that had such a huge impact on my life. There are people who see things, hear things, just know things – stranger things. I am not one of them. I am pragmatic, practical – rooted in the earth. A gardener – not a mystic. But as I sat there, bent low and weeping, I had a vision. I saw Jesus, on the cross, golden and glowing – like an Oscar or the Terminator. And as I walked towards him a cleft opened in his chest, his heart. And either he was large enough or I was small enough, but I walked into that cleft and it closed behind me. I was in Christ. And that was it. This life altering event possibly lasted all of 10 seconds. But it changed everything.

Not that overnight I went from depressed, hopeless, and needy to confident and joyful. I still had a lot of work to uproot and tear down the lies my life was based on. But it gave me a foundation. I was loved. I was safe. I was his. This starting point gave me the courage to venture out into the world, to give purpose to my life. The rest of that verse in 1 Corinthians goes on to say…”God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are so that no man may boast before God.” But notice that amazing verb – chosen, three times. God has chosen. Me.

In Christ. A quick search on a Bible app tells me that little phrase, in Christ, occurs 87 times in the New Testament. If for some reason you happen to be awake at 3 AM there are far worse things you can do than meditate on some of those ‘in Christs’. There are many rich and glorious promises involved and from the vantage point of one looking backwards over vast decades (like hills rolling behind me) they are all true.

I’ll close with a favorite quote from CS Lewis in The Weight of Glory, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

As I wrote that word cleft I remembered singing this song with my older sister at the piano so many years ago, completely unaware of the import of the lyrics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM7gt_cSxjw

Food For All

Years ago, two friends and I catered for several years- mostly for weddings and banquets. My husband, an accountant, figured we were working for far less than minimum wage, but we laughed lots, learned lots, trained our daughters, met lovely people and cooked some memorable meals. I developed the menus, another managed our finances and the third cleaned a kitchen like the famous white tornado of commercial fame. I’ve never completely retired. Friends are still able to coax me into helping out with the occasional wedding or party and I have agreed, now, partly for the joy of having my grands involved in the process.




Photo by Brent Keane on Pexels.com

Boy did we have a lot to learn. When we were ironing out the details to cater to our first wedding, the bride’s mother asked if we would recommend a bakery for the cake. I said I could do it (it couldn’t be THAT hard.) It took me the better part of a week with a few horrifying detours, but eventually, my first wedding cake was complete, beautiful and delicious.

When we presented the parents with the bill after the wedding – the mother of the bride protested, “You didn’t say the cake would be extra.”

And she was absolutely right. But we did in the future.

But my favorite cooking experience was for neither family, friends nor special event. For several years I cooked at the men’s shelter in our city and it brought me enormous satisfaction to prepare tasty and healthy meals for the men there. I smiled at and addressed each man by name as I served him. Well prepared food is a way of honoring people and perhaps no one needs that more than people who are broken, despised, and homeless.

Bizarrely, every time I slipped my key into the kitchen door, I felt like I was stepping into the kitchen of the best restaurant in town. Eat your heart out Wolfgang Puck. I can say that with some assurance – these men were, bar none, the pickiest  patrons, reluctant to attempt any unfamiliar food. I had to talk fast and sweet to get many a meal accepted. “Just try it – just a mouthful.” Like all of us, they soon succumbed to the power of good food plus love. A winning combination every time.

Yale Hotel Borscht When they learned that the blog I was starting would include recipes, my grandgirls insisted that I start with a some of their favorite recipes – and they have an eclectic list for me to work from. So, I’ll start with the famous Russian Borscht recipe from the Yale Hotel in Grand Forks, BC. ttps://i.pinimg.com/originals/b8/10/d7/b810d71301b31cd6c2b779bdc8ec6fef.jpg Of course I adjust this to what’s on hand but, yes, I use all that butter (and more) and I dice rather than discard the beet. Why would you? We eat this with generous dollops of sour cream and thick slices of buttered bread. This recipe makes a huge potful but it freezes well or you could invite the neighbors (after the shutdown – to celebrate). They would love it. 

The Yale Hotel burned to the ground in March 2012 depriving many a traveller of an anticipated delight as they stopped for a hearty, homemade lunch. (Cafe cooking at it’s best – not a pretentious maitre de to be found.) There are many borscht recipes out there but if you have the original Yale Hotel recipe you have, in my opinion, hit pay dirt. And earthy it is, like the thrifty, hard working Eastern Europeans who created this delicious soup from their meagre resources. Enjoy!

It’s Finally Come

Gardening has been a passion for decades, it brings me such joy rightly and apparently scientifically so as the ubiquitous they now tell us, that if we mess about in the earth, are in actual contact with it, friendly bacteria in the soil produce seratonin in us – hence my silly grin while I putter about in the dirthttps://www.livescience.com/7270-depressed-play-dirt.html Most of the gardeners I know are cheery souls – there’s life, beauty, growth (and food) – what’s not to love!

Spring is a huge rush for me. It’s too early to herald its arrival from the roof tops but slender shoots are emerging as the sun warms the flower beds, the days are lengthening and the heady scent of softening earth refreshes my winter weary spirit. To quote Kenneth Grahame from the Wind in the Willows, “Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.” And now, to misquote him just slightly, ” Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats dirt.” (I’d be disgusted if someone did that to my writing but I believe Mr. Grahame is past caring.)

One day last week was mild enough to warrant a few hours outside sifting compost, top soil and peat moss together to make a seed starting mixture and allow me to start a flat of leeks and early onions which are already springing up. Leek soup is one of the grands’ favorites and this year we shall grow our own leeks. Fun.

One of the ways I survive the cold, dark winter is watching gardening videos and preparing for spring. What a feast the internet is! Luke at https://migardener.com/ is a particular favorite. Like me, he gardens in Zone 5, so I can know what and when to plant, plus he is an amazing teacher. There are dozens of instructional videos on his Youtube channel and he sells seeds online – dirt cheap.

I was reading Colossians 2 this morning and relishing the phrase…”Let your roots go down deep into Christ…” That image delights me. I visualize my roots seeking out nourishment and water, gradually growing, millimeter by millimeter undeterred by the crumbly, rocky soil, determined to find life. Hydrotropism at work. A combination of faith, hope and perseverence.

Let Your Light So Shine

I find this simulated image of a black hole slightly terrifying – that gaping hole of nothingness from which there is no escape. To me, it hints of the isolation, anxiety, and despair that many people are experiencing right now, in the middle of the Covid 19 crisis. Not unlike that bleak painting by Edward Munch, The Scream. It makes me think of the barreness of post modernism, the nihilism that is at the root of much current thought and education. (Apologies – this is the kind of rhetoric you get on Day 15.)


A grim little verse that needs no elaboration.

Into the Void

Black holes suck.
Stars give
light, heat
power to live.
But black holes suck.


I didn’t realize until tonight how these 2 simple little poems I wrote years ago play off each other. Different in style and tone but each expressing the cry of God’s heart expressed in the book of Deuetronomy 30: 15 – 19 “…I have set before you life and prosperity, and death and adversity…choose life in order that you might live…

Be Bread Broken

Be bread broken.
Be wine poured.
Manna rots overnight.
It can’t be stored.

Dynamite dams.
Let the river flow
The source is endless.
Just let go.

 Cast off your masks .
Let your beauty blaze.
There is oil aplenty
for all our nights and days.

Walk on water.
Walk through walls.
Dare to follow
wherever He calls.

Go in peace, my friends and remember – we only shine when we are connected to the power supply.

Cohesion

I’m beginning to lose track of how many days we are into this lockdown and this is perhaps a funny title to serve you in the middle of this time when we are all called to isolation. But the apostle Paul prayed that our hearts would be knit together in love, Col 2:2. Let’s learn what that means – and especially reach out to the already isolated.

I read this at my mother’s funeral. My father had always adored her – through all the trials and travails of their marriage (and there were many). In the middle of many painful memories I have the knowledge, the firm foundation of their love. Love must show itself somehow – and this simple act of his, a ritual whenever he was home, taught me that.

Cohesion

All winter long my father rose early 
and started the coffee and porridge. 
He was hopeless in the kitchen,
but Mom had to have that first cup in bed.

My porridge would be lumpy: 
he never stayed to stir 
but preferred to go to her, 
smiling, cup in hand.
By half-past seven, the porridge 
was a sticky mass you could slice.
I can still feel the heft of a spoonful.

I saw a column in the paper yesterday - 
“Scientists can’t understand 
how the universe coheres -
how solar systems exist.
The whole thing should have
come apart with  the force of the big bang.”
I know how...
no,  I know who.
It's you, Lord.
You are the glue that holds things together.
It's love – sticky old love.
 I stick to you, stick to she,
 sticks to he, sticks to they 
stick to we, stick to Him
and it all holds together. 
What isn't love comes undone.

How can the world cohere 
when our days start
cold, flaked and shredded?
               

Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that, “…all things work together for good…” In the middle of this confusing time I’m hearing a lot of good reports – people connecting in new and sometimes deeper ways. Certainly stranger ways, on Zoom, on Skype, on FB – on Dasher. Whoops, that last one was Santa. So, today, let’s stick together, let’s love one another, cherish one another and extend grace (that wonderful oil that keeps the machine moving.)

Lockdown: Day 11

Why do I feel like that should have been the first line of a post-apocalyptic novel and not an entry on my gardening blog?

 I went for a walk with a girlfriend this week , the requisite 2 meters from each other. She is growing tomatoes this year, again, after several frustrating and  unsuccessful attempts in past years. Tomatoes are such a staple and having enough to freeze or can is valuable. We talked a bit, about light requirements, fertilizer, and then it hit me. Pruning. She was unaware of the difference between determinate and indeterminate varieties. Knowing which you are growing is crucial to success. 

 Determinate tomatoes or bush tomatoes grow to perhaps 4 feet tall. They put out almost all of their fruit at once,which ripens and then the plant is done. These plants are pruned minimally – or you end up cutting off the potential fruit.

The other main growth pattern is Indeterminate, which continue  growing until frost. If the soil, weather and fertilizer permit they can grow up to 10 feet, producing new fruit all the time. They need to be pruned and staked or the plant will set too many new branches and rob the fruit of strength. https://theprovince.com/life/homes/making-sense-of-tomato-growth-patterns

The seed package should tell you which category your variety is.

This week I started several  different varieties of tomatoes,  determinate, indeterminate, 2 paste, and a cherry tomato which is fun for the kids to just pick & pop. ( No one is coming to visit so I can cover tables with plant trays and grow lights). I pretty much live on Greek Salad in the summer and picking fresh tomatoes and cucumbers off the vine is a treat. That said, last year’s cucumbers were a disappointment and I had to buy cucumbers for 2 months. Gardening is all about perseverance, knowledge and hope and there is an amazing store of information out there. 

 I want to be like those indeterminate tomatoes, I want to keep on growing and producing fruit as long as I live. I like that Jesus said in John 15.1 …” My father is the gardener.”  When I am out working in the garden I think about Him pruning me, fertilizing, looking out for pests. That I might bear fruit and glorify him. In so many ways I seem helpless to change myself – but He is faithful. 

 I remember an old Raffi song – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BkuK-lm0f0  that demonstrates this. We don’t usually  see growth happen – not in ourselves. Having been part of the same faith community for nearly 40 years  – I look around at the people that have walked this path with me and I am blown away by the beauty and richness of their character.          Psalm 92: 12 – 15 “…They will still yield fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green.”  

Liistening to a bit of Raffi now and this one is pretty profound too. Especially now, when we are being forced to recignize what is really important in our lives. https://www.youtube.com/wath?v=qZB96eDhhF0  Grab your kids and sing-along. Many decades ago I took my then 2 year old daughter to her first concert – Raffi – at a library in Oakville, Ontario. (She’s loved concerts ever since). His music has delighted several generations of kids – I love it’s innocence, and cheerful joyfulness. 

Let’s all use this time as wisely as possible. I’m sure it’s stressful for many and if that’s you, call a friend, pray, do something you’ve never done before. Be stretched. Grow.

Sun Dried Memories

I’d heard people bragging about their grandchildren, pulling out bulging wallets of photos, sharing every brilliant word or act. I was mildly sceptical and completely unprepared for the emotions when ours arrived. I’d never known my own grandparents so was unaware of the strength and potential power of that bond.

We lived in the same city as our first grandaughter until she was two – and then they moved. Ouch. I prefer not to mope so I decided to make the best of the situation and volunteered to enjoy a young friend’s children once a week so she and her hubby could have some downtime. But people are not interchangeable and I missed her terribly (and of course her parents).

I wrote this sonnet the following summer at a writing course.

Sun Dried Memories  

(for Magdalena)

When you are gone and I can’t touch your face
or watch with joy your mind grasp some new thought
so quick I almost see synapses race,
I need not grieve the joys that I have not.
You did not see me pluck the shining days 
and spread them on crisp sheets beneath the sun,
where they lay drying under its bright blaze
till they were soft and supple every one.
You did not see me scoop the leathered hours 
and thread them till they formed a glowing wreath
of the glad, vivacious moments that were ours.
(The few dark days are folded underneath.)
When days are lean and I am hungry through,
I slip one in my mouth and savor you.

I currently live in the same house as four of my grandchildren and I consider myself highly blessed among women. When you love people you hardly notice them rollerskating upstairs!

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

 

Scrambled Eggs? Well, it’s not what I’d hoped for but if you have ever attempted to name a website or blog, you’ll understand. Whatever subliminal urge prompted that name, ( the breakfast dishes abandoned on the counter ) it was accepted and I embraced it. Mine. It feels appropriate and freeing. I can discuss anything under that rubric.

So, who am I and why am I here? I am the second eldest of six, widow of one, mother of three and grandmother of eight. From childhood I believed my name did violence to my character. Lois – stodgy and serious where I was quick and funny. And Ann – without an e. Dead boring. But immaturity aside, the significant journey of my life has been discovering who I am as Lois, daughter of the Most High King, created in his image to reflect his glory and to serve his purposes in advancing his kingdom on earth. Boring? How could life anywhere in proximity to the very creator of the universe be less than amazing!

Life holds so many delights, a dizzying, dazzling panorama of joys to experience: family, food, friendships, gardening, birds, and poetry are a few of mine. ( Yes, I know, there’s pain too.)

But the primary passion of my life would have to be seeing captives set free. 

Hence my appearance here. We were created by God for freedom, love, joy and peace – all within the context of relationship  with him and our fellow man. Just a brief glance around shows how few lives are thus characterized. The words themselves almost seem a mockery of 21st century reality. 

Although born into a home where faith was scorned, I found myself believing in God from childhood onwards. To my unjaded eyes the order and wonder of the natural world not just spoke, but had stamped on every surface, Handmade by God.  How could anyone think otherwise? Indeed.  My poem ‘Believing is Seeing’ in the Poetry category speaks of this journey.

I’m new at this. I hope to improve the site as I get more familiar with the format and the possibilities. Right now it’s under construction and I’m working on the foundation. I’m excited for the adventure.

%d bloggers like this: