It seems that blogging has become a seasonal activity – it was just summer, and now it is fall (coming up on winter). I hope for more often, but life as mommy is busy!
Above is the spooky soup we had for dinner on Halloween night. I was making it in between trick-or-treaters (including our own, for the first time), so I kept it very simple. Just two ingredients: one roasted buttercup squash and one can of coconut milk, pureed in the blender. It was really tasty, and perfect for enjoying with our wonderful wizard.
I’ve written before about how much I love buttercup squash. Here are more recipes for using it in risotto and an even simpler soup (click on the link).
Besides squash, autumn is treating us well. We’ve been in the garden picking dahlias, exploring the many wonders of falling and fallen leaves, and enjoying lots of walks and hikes in nearby parks and forests.
I love this time of year. There is something very special on the west coast in the shift between summer’s abundance and the more subtle, sparse nature of plants and trees as we move into fall and winter. What I love most, and what is unique about this place in comparison with other places in Canada, is that the plant world is still – is always – growing and beginning and teeming with life. Mushrooms coat forest floors and spring-time sights like magnolia trees with fuzzy buds and snowdrop leaves poking through the soil are already here, even though the trees haven’t lost all their leaves yet. Magical for young eyes, and old.
You’ll see the word “simple” twice up above – this is the theme of cooking and other indoor pursuits these days. I have thrown in the towel on tidiness and housekeeping – “toy explosion” is our new style. Thankfully we have a dog to help clean up the floor, otherwise it would be “toy and Cheerio explosion.” I am not complaining, though. We are having so much fun, and it is a non-stop source of wonder to watch our little one grow and learn at what feels like the speed of light. Kids are messy, but so amazing. And, as much work as it is to chase after a big baby, it feels like a piece of cake compared with the challenges of caring for a newborn (recall the many, many all-nighters and a steady diet of peanut butter sandwiches).
We are well into the childproofing zone now, so along with simple soups I am working on simple solutions for safety and saving our dishes from being smashed to smithereens. You’ll see in the background of the photo below that there is a little person’s kitchen in front of our stove. A lovely friend of ours passed this along after her kids were done with it, and it has been life-changing. That might seem like high praise, but opening up all those doors – cupboards, an oven, microwave, stove – and exploring all the play food takes a long time…long enough to cook dinner or make a batch of muffins or cookies. And placing it in front of our stove has solved another set of problems – fire, hot surfaces, the finger-pinching warming drawer.
It also distracts from all of mommy’s cupboards, although we did have to add some reinforcements this week: homemade cupboard locks (see below). I made them with some buttons and leftover felt from the Halloween wizard hat – a quick stop-gap measure one morning when curiousity was particularly active, but they actually work really well. Not to mention the added benefit of making me feel very crafty and proud of myself. :)
I have not been writing as much as I should/would like to, but I have been reading quite a bit. We go to the library at least once a week to peruse kids books and music, cookbooks and novels, and sometimes join baby sing-a-long time. I’ve fallen in love with music from folk artist Elizabeth Mitchell, who has the sweetest, melt-your-heart songs for listening to with kids, and I’ve been reading my way through Caroline Adderson‘s ouevre, which is a fabulous array of smart literary fiction and clever children’s books. Also, Diane Schoemperlen (whose work I never tire of and could read again and again) and Patrick Dewitt (who I will always admire because of the way he writes about horses and brushing your teeth).
I started this blog six years ago (!!), and when I began one of my main goals was to have a way to mark in stone all the tiny, but beautiful things that happen in my life. Squash soup, fabric scraps, walks in the forest, library books and second-hand toys are the little things I will remember from this fall. Simple pleasures and small victories.
It’s well into fall and I am finally getting to my summer vacation photos – better late than never, right? I spent almost a month in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia this summer, with a quick stop in Ottawa on the way home. When I was growing up we spent a month every summer in the Maritimes visiting family, and those visits, like this year’s, are such happy memories.
What a treat it was to have all that time. To be able to sit and talk, or to sit and not talk and just enjoy the company and whatever comes into view – sun, sky, ocean, birds, flowers, trees. What a treat to see all the people who live too far away. Friends, family and neighbours: I find the the line between them blurs so easily when I travel east. Clan, I think, is closer to the right word.
We kayaked, splashed in the water, went to the beach, travelled around, ate saltwater, sand and seaweed (baby!), and cooked with PEI potatoes, all the beautiful summer produce and seafood – lobster, mussels, scallops, salmon, haddock. Took long walks up quiet lanes and red sand shores. Of course, as is the east coast way, we also spent many, many hours visiting all the special people while sipping tea, coffee, wine (especially local wine), beer, vodka…
And don’t forget mowing the lawn. Very exciting for a little guy to see his daddy and Grampie making the rounds on the ride-on mower. One thing I always notice about Maritimers is that their homes, yards, and gardens are so well loved and cared for. As my husband said, “lawn-mowing is like a provincial pastime,” after he noticed all the beautifully manicured ditches along people’s properties.
Also, clothes lines. Much ado about those, and rightly so. A lovely line flapping in the summer sun is a fine thing to behold.
Tides and moons. Low and high, dark and full and super, and all the in-betweens.
Sunrises. With a baby around you never miss one of those. Tired as I might be, I am always grateful for the sight of both.
With such a long time away, we had a chance to develop a whole new set of routines. Summer vacation routines. Cottage routines. Mornings with Nana and Grampie routines. Those were the best. Little man would wake up with the light and not long after Nana would come upstairs to collect him and mommy would roll over and go back to sleep for a couple of hours while diapers were changed, breakfast was eaten, and playing was had. Then nap and lunch and swimming and scootching and visiting in an ever-changing set of arms. I said while I was down east how hard it would be to come home and not have all grandmas around, and indeed it was. Not only did we have our own Nana, there were also the “shore grandmas” – all of our cottage neighbours of grandmothering age who were always happy to pass the baby, snuggle the baby, bounce the baby, talk with the baby, laugh with the baby.
There is something so nice about this, about visiting so long with people that they become part of your day, and vice versa. When I was growing up and we went to stay with my grandparents in Nova Scotia it was like that. I remember the breakfast routine so clearly – the voices, the smell of buttered toast, raspberry jam, porridge, the way the light looked at that time of day. Likewise with lunch, breakfast, dinner. Picking peas and potatoes from the garden. Or walking down to the beach – the very specific crunch of the rocks underfoot, the texture of the wood on the wharf, the seats on the boat, the salt breeze as we raced through the water.
I know my little one is too young to start gathering memories like this, long memories, life memories, but it was a beautiful thing to see his memory at work in the short-term. He remembered raspberries – he and Nana were out picking them every morning for his breakfast, and every time we walked by the bush he reached for them. He remembered the sound of my dad imitating the talking Eeyore doll my uncle gave him: every time he heard my dad speak in that low, dreary Eeyore tone he’d scrunch up his face in a big grin. He remembered the taste of salt water: every time we went swimming he would dip his hand in the water and give the ocean a taste. And all the jumping and bouncing he did at the beach translated over into bath time: every trip to the tub became a splishy, splashy mess!
They seem like silly little things, but of course they’re not. Well, they might be silly, but not little.
Now that we’re home, it’s back to the old routines, with no more jumping up and down in the tub. I guess that was just a Maritime thing. It’s easier, but already I’m nostalgic for the splashing. What a wonderful summer we had down east. I can’t wait to go back.
I’ve written before about how something as simple as tending to a row of peas can calm frenzied days, and how flowers from the garden can lighten even the saddest days. My faith in garden therapy continues to grow. It’s been a spring and summer of gardening in five or ten minute stints throughout the day as I navigate the joys and challenges of being a new mommy.
Our little guy has his own chair outside on the deck and many mornings we enjoy our breakfast or lunch outside and I do the watering in between bites, or pick a strawberry or two for us to eat. Once in a while a weed gets pulled, but only in the food growing areas. The rest of them have free reign of the yard, I’m afraid (motherhood is doing wonders for curing my perfectionist tendencies).
Best of all is going out, usually late afternoon, to harvest something good for dinner. We’ve had a steady crop of greens that I’ve been using in salad and pasta – rainbow chard, spinach, arugula, bok choy and more – since late spring. Cucumbers have been a success as well – from one little plant I’ve harvested at least a dozen full-sized cukes. Tomatoes are also collecting in a basket I keep on the windowsill. I’ve been picking them a bit green to encourage others on the vine to ripen up. The tomatoes I grew this year shot up sky-high, so it is a race to get the fruit before the plants topple over from the weight.
We have plums, plums, and more plums. I have made six beautiful plum cakes over the past couple of weeks, and I might still make one or two more. The plums are wonderful for eating fresh as well. No one is enjoying them more than our 7-month old. Good luck eating one if he is in arms-length of you: he’ll reach over, grab it away and hoover it down with the most intense passion and focus. All that is left a minute later is a sticky, drippy, gooey mess of plum juice and slobber all over everyone and everything. Motherhood also cures you of caring about whether your house or shirt or arm is clean: I am in love with this kind of mess.
Apples, sadly are a bust this year, for reasons unknown. Last year’s harvest was incredible, so I will have to figure out what we did wrong so the pie-making can recommence next season. Tent caterpillars might be to blame. We found a pile of them nesting in the tree in the late spring, so I wonder if they ate all the blossoms. Last year’s apple sauce is still here, though, and almost as popular as the plums with our little guy.
Fresh herbs – chives, dill, sage, basil, thyme, and oregano – are all thriving in pots and in the garden. The ambitious me wants to dry mint leaves, lemon balm, lavender, and rose petals for tea. We’ll see if that happens this year, but for now I am reminding myself to brew up a pot of what’s growing fresh in the garden.
There will be time enough for tea bags all winter, and for weeding maybe some day. For now I will enjoy my five minutes here and there in the garden by picking something good to eat.
Five years ago, on August 1: in Porto, standing on a bridge, watching a seagull drift. I was marveling at the beautiful melancholy of a moody, cloudy morning, and at the same time feeling the most intense sadness for seemingly no reason at all.
I didn’t know yet. And yet I did.
Those of you who know me well know that this is the hardest time of year for me and my family. It has been five years since my brother died and the fact that he is gone seems more unbelievable than ever. Anyone who has lost someone they love must know this feeling, and this question: how is it even possible? How can someone that was so real, so vital, so essential, just be gone?
There is no answer to that question, no solution to that feeling. There is only sorrow and regret, sadness at what can never be, and holding close to the ones you have left. For everyone who has offered comfort this week, and in all the weeks before: thank you. It helps more than I can say.
I will never know for sure, but in my heart I believe this is where I was, and where he was, when he passed. What I felt was so strong: it had to be real.
I hope he was there, too, just for a minute or two. Maybe he was that seagull flying up high, taking in the view as he journeyed to the next place.
A recipe for all the beautiful corn available right now. I have dill, chives and jalepeno peppers growing in my garden so I used those to flavour the chowder, and I couldn’t resist garnishing with the pretty flowers starting to form on my dill plants.
4 cobs of corn, cooked and cut from the cob (save the water you boil the corn in to use as broth in the soup)
6-8 new potatoes (about golf ball sized)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 can coconut milk
1 red pepper, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1/4 cup chives, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
In separate pots, boil the potatoes and corn until cooked. The potatoes should be a bit overcooked (you want them nice and soft for blending in the soup). The corn should be a bit undercooked to make sure it keeps a fresh taste to it when you heat it up in the soup. Save the corn water for blending into the soup – like a corn-flavoured broth.
Saute the onion, celery and carrots (I used the big pot the corn was in to save on washing). Add potatoes and half the corn. Puree the potato mixture in a blender using the corn water until it’s the consistency of a very thick soup. Add back into the pot and stir in coconut milk, red pepper, shallots, jalepeno and the remaining corn. Season with salt and pepper to taste and heat until the soup is warmed through – about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the dill and chives just before serving. We ate ours for lunch with a slice of quiche.
What a great book this is – I highly recommend it. Us Conductors is a love story, a spy novel, a history lesson and a biography all in one. The story is based on the inventor of the theremin – a musical instrument that creates sound from electricity. The story (based on a true one) is set between the two World Wars and follows the life of the Russian inventor as he travels to America at the behest of the Russian state to show off his creation.
I am one of those stodgy souls who still reads the newspaper, and every weekend I eagerly turn to Sean Michaels’ column about music in the Saturday Globe. I’d buy the paper just for that section, and it’s made me a fan of the music blog Said the Gramophone as well. His book, Us Conductors, was sitting on a cart waiting to be put away at the library a few weeks ago when I was there picking up my latest stash of kid materials. As much as I’m loving Baby Signs and Raffi (and I do actually really like Raffi) these days, us mommies need something with a bit more depth and intrigue to balance out the day. I don’t know if I would have read it if I hadn’t come across it by chance. Too often I am disappointed in the prize-winning books (Us Conductors won the Giller Prize last year), but not this time. There is a freshness to the voice, a creativity to the storytelling and a level of effort and craft to the writing in this book that is really special. After reading all those music reviews I’m not surprised – all of those elements are in his weekly column, too. To see that style played out over the course of a whole novel was just delightful.
Another thing to point out: I think men will like this book. So much literary fiction is geared toward a female audience and I often see the men in my life struggling to find a good book. There’s a little bit of James Bond in Lev, the inventor, who is a spy as well as a scientist, and the time period the book is set in shows the seeds of the Cold War brewing between the United States and Russia.
After making these muffins and enjoying zucchini in salads and pasta the past couple of weeks I am sorry that I did not plant any of this delicious veggie in my garden. It’s on next year’s garden wish list. I know zucchini is notorious for overproducing, but it is so versatile – I would happily freeze it to use all winter long.
I’ve talked before about trying to reduce or eliminate animal products like butter and eggs from my cooking. I’ve been experimenting with coconut oil as a substitute for butter lately and it is wonderful in these muffins. The tops have a delicious crunch and I think it’s the coconut oil that does it. I made these muffins on quite a hot day so the coconut oil I keep on my counter top was very soft – the consistency of half-melted butter. This was perfect for mixing in with the other ingredients. If it is a bit colder out I think it would be worth warming up the oil to create that same melted texture.
Makes 12 muffins
4 cups grated zucchini
2 flax “eggs” (combine 2 tablespoons ground flax seed in a bowl with 6 tablespoons hot water; let sit for 5 minutes)
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup coconut oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour (I used a half-and-half mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup hemp hearts
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
Combine zucchini, flax eggs, honey, sugar, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Combine dry ingredients in another bowl and stir into zucchini mixture until just combined. Spoon into a greased muffin tin and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until tops of the muffins are golden brown.