Posts tagged ‘Victoria’

Instead of snow

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I am very happy to see online that my friends to the east are embracing the crazy dump of snow that just happened. Snow men, snow angels, snow pants are all a lot of fun. I am almost envious, except that I am too busy gardening and gloating among the flowers here in Victoria.

Not to say there hasn’t been rain, because there has, and lots of it, especially yesterday when it poured all day yesterday. We got drenched in the best sort of way when I had the dog and baby out for a (very) early morning walk. It’s impossible to grumble about the dark and the cold and the wet when there is a bright-eyed little boy in awe of it all helping to hold the umbrella with one hand, pointing out all the street lights with the other, frantically doing his sign for tree every time we go past one (often!). This is my favourite thing about being a mom: experiencing the world anew through fresh eyes every day. It’s a cliche, I guess, but a true and joyful one.

Seeing the world with wonder is particularly lovely when paired with spring. Rhododendrons, hellebores, crocuses, snowdrops and are all blooming now, and the first daffodils and cherry blossoms are out, too.  As soon as we have some warm weather I know the plant life will start to explode, so I have been trying to get an hour of gardening in every day while I can still see the ground. Last year we were parenting a newborn and in no position to be gardening, so our yard quickly became a jungle. I learned from our neighbours that the people who lived here before us had a regular gardener, which made me feel a little better, but reinforced that something needs to be done! This year I am trying to tame the beast, at least a little, and also trying to reclaim some areas overgrown with invasive perennials (free daylilies, buttercups or Queen Anne’s Lace anyone?) so we can have more space for fruit and veggie growing.

I need to take some “before” pictures this week so we can marvel later this summer at what is sure to be an improvement! For now, I am very content to be digging and dividing and enjoying the relative simplicity and smallness of the garden – delicate patches of purple crocuses, hardy edibles, the first daffodils opening, nodding hellebores, and strawberry runners starting to make their move. 

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February 16, 2016 at 9:33 pm Leave a comment

Water + Pigment + Paper at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

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A long time ago I lived next door to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. We loved the annual Moss Street Paint In, and the gallery’s collection of Emily Carr works captured my imagination, so much so that the artist now has a namesake in our beautiful dog.

It’s been wonderful to see how much the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has grown up since we last lived in Victoria. Our Emily (the dog) is now 11 years old, and I remain enchanted by the artist she is named for. The AGGV has done a beautiful job showcasing the Emily Carr works in its collection alongside art from Carr’s contemporaries, including a couple of favourite artists of mine, Mfawnwy Pavelic and Ina D.D. Uthoff, both of whom are also featured in the gallery’s new watercolour exhibition (more on that below).

When we moved back to Victoria last year I bought a membership to the gallery and it’s been a great investment, especially during my year of maternity leave. We still live within walking distance to the gallery and browsing its exhibits on quiet summer mornings and rainy fall and winter afternoons has been a treat – a hit of mental and visual stimulation on days that can sometimes feel long or lonely when it’s just me and the little one. And now that he is getting older there is an added dimension to our gallery visits: I am not the only one looking at the pictures anymore.

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We went to the opening of Water + Pigment + Paper: Experiments in Watercolour from the AGGV Collection last weekend. We were alone (sans baby) and it was night time – two rare occurrences to be sure. We were the youngest people there for most of the night by at least a decade or two, but still, it was a fun start to date night, and something I’d recommend to other new parents: the openings are free, plus you can be easily home by 9 or 10pm, even if you go out for a drink afterward like we did.

I always love to see shows that are curated from galleries’ permanent collections, and this was no exception: there are some really interesting pieces that say so much about the history of some prominent Victoria artists, as well as work by other BC, Canadian and international artists the gallery has collected over the years. The curator was careful to point out the large number of women represented in the show and it was refreshing to see so many female names on the wall, especially given that all of the work on display is pre-1990s. “So Much More Than Pretty” is the tagline for the show, and I think it’s apt, although it is very pretty: Gorgeous colours, inventive brushstrokes, spontaneous and playful capturing of moments, people and places, and most of all the overarching feeling of intimacy that seems to be a hallmark of the watercolour medium.

As fun as it was to be out alone just us adults, I will definitely visit the Water + Pigment + Paper show again during the daylight hours. I love my being able to drop into the gallery whenever I want now that we have the membership, and with each of the shows I find there is always so much more to see on the second, third or fourth visit, especially when I’m with my favourite art lover in training.

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February 2, 2016 at 12:58 pm Leave a comment

Almond pear cake

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I tore this recipe out of a magazine a few years ago. The increasingly tattered page has been stuck to the side of not one, but two fridges (the one in our Vancouver apartment, and then at our house in Victoria), and now it has earned a place of honour in the pine recipe box my grandfather made for me when I was about 15.

I made the cake early in December with some D’Anjou pears that took forever to ripen, and then got too ripe too quickly. It was amazing that such an elegant and delicious cake could emerge from those pears, which were mottled with brown spots and mushy parts. I planned to serve it for a dinner we were having with an old friend until I remembered his nut allergy, so I put it in the freezer and then brought it out on Christmas morning to munch on as “pre-breakfast” while we opened gifts.

Last summer we pre-ordered two pear trees from Fruit Trees and More, a nursery in North Saanich  (a truly inspiring place that deserves a post all on its own). This weekend’s project is to prepare space for them in our yard, so it seems like a fitting time to share the recipe for this lovely cake. It is perfect in so many ways: gluten free, so easy to make, stores well in the freezer, and it’s a little bit healthier than the average dessert thanks to almond meal and the fruit. I hope in a few years once our new pear trees are established that I’ll be able to go on a baking frenzy like I’ve done in the past the harvest from our other fruit trees, which gave us delicious plum cakes and apple pies.

Almond pear cake (adapted from Style at Home’s recipe for Almond Pear Tart)
Makes 1 cake (6-8 servings)

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1-1/3 cups almond meal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
Zest of 2 lemons
3 pears, peeled, cored and sliced
Raw sugar and cinnamon for dusting
Plain yogurt for serving

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a round springform pan. Cream the butter and sugar in a mix master until just combined. Add the eggs, almond meal, flour, baking powder and lemon zest and process until all the ingredients are just incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the springform pan. Arrange the pears on top of the tart mixture and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the tart comes out clean. Sprinkle the tart with the raw sugar and cinnamon and allow to cool in the pan. Serve with yogurt.

January 21, 2016 at 12:32 pm Leave a comment

Apple pie for a season of change

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It has been months and months since my last post. Poor neglected blog. So much has happened since then! We got pregnant (7 months along now!), moved house and cities (goodbye beautiful, exciting, expensive Vancouver, hello lovely, soothing, affordable Victoria!), and, as always, have been busy with work and life. To say it’s been a hectic few months would be putting it mildly! I am hoping now for a season of settling.

The moving process is never fun, but it is great to be back in Victoria after so many years away, and we are loving our new house. Yes, house. Finally some space! A real kitchen and a crazy, overgrown garden are both making me so happy.
backyard with apple tree

We have been busy harvesting our beautiful apple tree for pies, crisps, salads and bags of fresh fruit for family and friends. They are Pacific Gala apples (which we know thanks to our friend Brian who came to visit from Vancouver a few weeks ago and brought one of the apples back with him to the UBC Apple Festival for identification!), and really delicious.

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I’ve made at least six pies in the past month. Every one is a bit better than the last, which is very satisfying. I’ve decided that if I accomplish nothing else in life except to be known as someone who can make a great pie, I will be happy with that.

Apple pie
Makes 1 pie

Pastry
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold vegetable oil shortening (you could also try coconut oil)
3-4 tablespoons cold water

Pie filling
5-6 cups sliced, peeled apples (you might want more or less depending on the size of your pie plate)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup brown sugar

For the pastry, I highly recommend using a food processor (a stand mixer also works) for mixing and parchment paper for rolling out the dough. I used to make pie crust in a mixing bowl and then rolled it out on the counter, but always found it tiresome and messy. Also, the more your warm hands handle what is supposed to be cold pastry, the less flakey and tasty it will be.

Here is what I do now: buzz the flour, salt and shortening in a food processor until just combined, then add water one tablespoon at a time, pulsing the dough in the processor each time, until the dough forms a ball. Tip the dough out of the processor into a bowl and shape it into two balls. I usually make one of the balls slightly larger for the bottom crust. Chill the dough for a few minutes while you preheat the oven (350F), peel and slice all the apples and make the filling (just combine the ingredients in a bowl).

To roll out the pastry, put one of the dough balls between two sheets of lightly floured parchment paper. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a circle about 2″ larger than your pie plate. Remove the top sheet of parchment (carefully so you don’t tear the pastry), tip the pastry into the pie plate, remove the other sheet of parchment and then use your fingers to shape the dough into the plate and repair any boo-boos that might have occurred during the transfer.

Pour the apple filling into the crust, and repeat the same roll-out method for the top crust. I like a lattice top, but you can also do a full crust. Cover the pie loosely with aluminum foil and bake for about 40-45 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown on the top and bottom. Keep an eye on it toward the end as pie crust burns easily.

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October 27, 2014 at 6:26 pm 2 comments

A walk through the garden

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Welcome to the new year. I am happy to be still in pajamas at three in the afternoon enjoying a quiet day as 2014 begins. It is calm and overcast today in Vancouver, one of those west coast days where the air is moist and warm. Moss and ferns and lichen rule the landscape this time of year, even in the city, and especially in the tucked away areas of Vancouver Island where we spent most of the last week visiting family.

We had a couple of hours to spare on our way home from the Island this time, and one of the things we did was stop for a walk at Government House gardens in Victoria. I used to live a five-minute walk away from these gardens when Victoria was home, so I know them well.

You can always tell how much care and thought goes into a garden by what it looks like during the winter months. The Government House gardens are a good reminder about the quiet beauty of the plants that thrive at this time of year: Garry oaks, evergreens, lichens, moss, berries on trees and shrubs, first flowers like hellebores, cyclamen, snowdrops and blue-flowering rosemary.

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Cultiver ton jardin is the thought that is with me today as I think about how to approach the new year. Cultivate your garden. It’s not a new idea, but it’s a good one. It comes from a famous book called Candide by the French writer Voltaire. Candide’s life starts out with innocence and promise. Tragedy after tragedy plagues him, however, and after much loss and struggle, Candide concludes that the only path through this suffering is to focus inward, away from those things out of our control and toward practical action: “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.” One must cultivate one’s own garden.

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What Voltaire meant by the garden keeps many a Literature major up at night. A space of our own making, a place of growth and discovery, a gathering of loves, a sanctuary to help us survive trauma and hardship. At times it might feel like a futile exercise, cultivating our little gardens while the world crumbles around us. But without the garden how can we find the strength to create the change we seek?

Last night we had friends over to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and as always I am at a loss when the question of resolutions comes around. I’m leery of resolutions because I’m just not motivated by goals. That seems like a terrible thing to admit, but it’s true. Goals quickly become tasks on a list – obligations – which make me want to run in the opposite direction. I don’t know why I feel that way, but I’ve given up fighting it. Doing the things themselves is fine; it’s the planning to act that brings me down. I attempt to do most of the things I see others striving for: eat well, exercise, and try to live in the best way I can. But I’ll never approach those things as goals or resolutions. If I have a goal I need a motivation beyond the goal itself to see things through. Ideas like mindfulness, intention and sustaining a practice (artistic, spiritual, healthy living, etc) work much better for me than the idea of achieving a goal. I’m wired for living life in increments, not for planning big leaps and bounds.

rockland hellebores

When it was my turn to offer goals for the new year, travel seemed like the only thing to say. It’s too wonderful to hate, so I felt safe putting it on a resolutions list.

“Cop out,” said my husband, who is one of the most goal-oriented people I’ve ever met. He claims travel doesn’t count as a real resolution since I’ve already half done it by making plans for two trips during the first part of 2014: Hawaii in January and then Denmark, Sweden and Germany in March. I think my resolution still counts. And it was truthful: travel is a goal of mine every year, but more importantly, it’s part of my garden cultivation strategy. No matter what is going on my life, being in a new place seems to make it better.

It takes a day of thought to come to a proper answer sometimes. My walk through the gardens at Government House brought quiet and solace on one of the last days of 2013, and reminded me about the importance of creating something beautiful that can stand up to winter in its literal and metaphoric forms.

2014, for me, I hope, will be about continuing to cultivate a garden worthy of all the seasons.

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rockland mountains

rockland red berry bush

rockland garry oak

rockland moss

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January 1, 2014 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

Glittering like jewels

Now that we’re in Vancouver, I’m discovering a new version of the west coast that is thriving, vibrant and urban. It’s an ideal place to situate my passions for food, gardens, and culture and I love living here a little more every day. Still, after spending last week exploring our old stomping grounds on Vancouver Island, the allure of returning someday remains. (more…)

June 29, 2010 at 5:53 pm Leave a comment

Tomato Basil Sauce (taste of summer)

This summer I spent a whole day chopping up a 25lb box of tomatoes and cooking them into a tomato basil sauce that could be stored away for winter. Well, winter is here. No doubt about that. It’s snowy and cold here in Calgary, and it was frosty even in Vancouver, where we spent the Christmas week.

So, freshly home from our trip and with not much food in the fridge, it was time to bring out a jar of that heavenly sauce for a simple pasta meal. I added a small tin of tomato paste to it along with about 2 cups of fresh spinach, some finely chopped almonds, grated asiago and hot chili flakes and served it over brown rice pasta for a delicious, simple supper that tasted just like summer. Vegetarian and gluten free, of course.

The recipe for the sauce is below. I highly recommend devoting a day next summer to finding a big box of tomatoes and making it. It was a beautiful way to spend a day, and the experience of pulling out a jar of your own tomato sauce in winter time is about a million times better than opening up a jar of Prego. (more…)

December 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm 2 comments

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