Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday Wall (Mural, that is)

This gorgeous mural in its very urban environment makes quite a contrast to my last post, doesn't it? I hope you've had a chance to visit Ali's garden and to join the conversation there, where that talented, hard-working, and very generous gardener is taking the time to answer each comment.

As for the mural above, it was painted over the last week as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival which takes place mostly in my neighbourhood. This photo was taken as I walked with my good friend Alison who, with her husband, happened to attend the same Bard on the Beach performance of A Winter's Tale as we did on Saturday night. What a happy surprise, one we immediately capitalised on by arranging the next day's visit.

You'll have noted the very dark sky in the photo. The evening before, Pater and I had stepped out of the Bard Festival tent into a shower and walked the five or so kilometres home from the play along the seawall, the rich fragrance of petrichor so welcome, the pattering on our umbrellas a delight. On Sunday, though, these clouds only hung around to tease, promise -- or threaten, depending on perspective. At least the rain seems to have rinsed the smoke out of the sky. . .

I'm balancing blog-writing against the personal writing I'm doing these days (I've almost completed drafts of three chapters now, and I'm determined to finish this project, with no expectation of what I might do with it once it's all drafted), so that while I've got many ideas of what I'd like to do here, I'm trying not to make promises I can't keep. I will say, though, that I have many more photographs of very impressive murals, and I hope I'll get to tell you about a lovely and inspiring conversation I had with one of the muralists.

And I've booked some flights, made some travel plans for December, so there's that as well for a future post.  .  .

Meanwhile, do be sure to visit Ali's garden via my last post. It's such a treat! 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Garden Visits: Ali's, on an Island

Hello! Have I got a treat for you today!  Ali, a reader and sometime commenter here,  has generously invited us to visit her garden, so my idea of a series of posts featuring readers' gardens is becoming a reality. In case you missed it, the first post in the series was a visit to Wendy's garden in Yorkshire, and I'm pleased to tell you that another reader has offered her garden for a third visit. So we're well launched, aren't we?

For today's visit, you might just like to sit a while in that charming blue chair, above, in its lovely setting and just take in this wonderful garden, but let's wander a bit, shall we, and then we'll have its generous owner, Ali, tell us something about it.

Ali points out that this structure marks "the drink spot" -- I'll have a limoncello, thank you!

Ali draws our attention to this butterfly, who's landed just at the right time. . . . From the butterfly's perspective, I suspect that anytime is the right time when it comes to this garden.

There are no fish left in the pond, Ali tells us -- a snake ate all of them!

Below, the gardener, working away, covered from head to toe -- she tells us that she dislikes bugs crawling on her. I must admit I'm not keen on the sensation either.
This typically West Coast home blends so well into its setting, and the artfully naturalistic plantings complement it splendidly.

That's the neighbour's fence you see in the photos above and below. As Ali will explain, she's chosen the immense challenge of gardening without a fence in an area with abundant wildlife.
Oh! This magical early morning light, filtered through the surrounding evergreens. . .

And below, observe the wonderful variety of the thyme. Look, but don't step -- Ali gently points out that no one is allowed to walk on this section while the thyme is in bloom. Isn't it gorgeous? I imagine it is probably alive with bees.

Now that we've had a good look around the garden, let's let our host answer some of my Garden Series questions.
I'm so pleased that you've offered us a tour of your beautiful garden, Ali. Could you tell us a little bit about where your garden is and perhaps a bit about yourself.
We live on beautiful SaltSpring Island which is part of the Southern Gulf islands of British Columbia, Canada. I'm a retired Public Servant. We used to live in the Ottawa area, but fell in love with SaltSpring and bought a one and a half acre lot twenty five years ago....never really knowing if or when this fantasy would happen.
I know you built this garden from scratch, and you've been at it for long enough that you have a beautifully mature garden now. Can you tell us something about that, especially given that you were living in Ottawa 25 years ago and between then and now, you've created this magic.
Fast forward to 1999....very early retirement  and here we were. We built our house in 2003....typical west coast style, cedar with high ceilings. Naturally all the bare ground had to be hidden. This was a very well treed lot, meaning that trees here tend to be a few hundred feet tall and two to three feet in diameter. There is very little soil and a lot of rock; we live on a ridge.
Did you begin with a clear plan for the garden or did it evolve more organically?
There was never a plan for the garden. When extra money was found, we had huge rocks moved and placed around by enormous excavators. I used a pick to dig holes between the rocks, put in some compost and bone meal place a plant and carried on.
What challenges or frustrations do you face in this garden?
 Gardening here has its special challenges. We don't have a fence. We have ravenous deer and rabbits. I had to figure out what they would not eat or just nibble, and would look good...also not need a great deal of water. So to me that sounded like the South of France...minus the deer. I tried to make it look as natural as possible, within the parameters that I had. The front garden looks very West Coast....meaning a few rhododendrons and ferns. 
You say there was never a plan for the garden, yet it has a very obvious sense of design, with very strong "bones." Can you say something about how you've achieved that?
I'm fairly creative and have a lot of energy, so I've moved plants around a lot. I go in the house..look at the garden, ponder....return outside and move a plant. It has to look good from every angle; especially from the house, because you can see it twelve months of the year. I think that makes me very anal. Balance and layers are very important in the garden. I can't grow everything that I love, so I try to make it as interesting as possible. I use a lot of pots with the same plant in them...terracotta pots with boxwood. Terracotta square pots with feather grass. All this mixed with the usual Mediterranean plants...Lavender, Germander, Rosemary, and lots of other architectural grasses that wave in the wind and shimmer in the sun.
Do you do all the maintenance yourself or do you have help?
It seems that I have an almost full time job with the garden. I don't think I've ever worked this hard at anything before.  It completely absorbs me. Because it's a creative process it feels like play.  I just keep puttering away. In case you were wondering, my husband does help. He cuts grass, or what we call grass...reclaimed forest. He helps move the heavies that I can't do myself...helps move piles of soil, and chops wood....we have a wood stove. During the week, in the summer, he mostly cooks supper. He also has to remind me that I should eat. At five o'clock he rings a bell to tell me it's drink time. We sit out in the garden, under the arbor and drink a glass of wine and chat and listen to the birds. He also  has taken these photos of the garden Please be sure to thank him for us -- they're beautiful photographs!

Two years ago I decided to get someone to help with trimming in the spring and fall. I really hated that job. The garden is fairly steep which makes it even more awkward. It does keep me very fit though. 
What do you think of the garden at this stage? You must be very pleased with it. . . .any changes you think of making?
I'm still amazed that the garden looks like it does. It looks planned. It really wasn't. I stare  at it a lot....and decide whether it needs something tall or something roundish. Because of the deer, I have learned to think that way. It mostly is about the process, the creating, the details. I guess I really  am anal.

Sometimes I wish we had a fence; we could get one built, but, I would probably drive myself crazy, because I could plant to my hearts content. I would miss seeing the deer up close. They drink out of the birdbath. That's magical seeing a big buck drinking...or a doe with the fawns. Then there are the times that I run screaming out of the house swearing at them....
And then the wild card question. . . 
Aw, the question that I wished you had asked. Would I have started this garden if I had known how how large it would get, how much time, how much work?  Yes, I would. I'm a bit of an introvert and it's a perfect fit for me. Creating something, anything that you love doing is so rewarding. I mean really, at the end of the day sitting in a garden with a glass of wine, what's not to love about that.

What's not to love indeed?! 
Thanks so much for allowing us this generous peek into your wonderful garden, Ali. And thanks also for agreeing to answer readers' questions about your garden. (We understand that you'll be out in the garden most of the day again, so it might take a while for comments to be seen and answered.)

And as for our readers today, I know you'll join me in thanking Ali--I hope you'll leave a comment for her, below, and, as I say, she has indicated that she's willing to answer your questions, if possible. So go to . . . .

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Friday in Venice? Don't Mind if I Do. . .

I've written so many words this week, but not for today's post, unfortunately. I have a brilliant gift of a post for Monday, a gift from a gardening reader, and I'm so excited to share it with you. But for today, I'm going to share a few visits from way back in May, when I was in Venice. . . Ah, Venice. . .

Hope you enjoyed this quick visit to a beautiful city! I have an 8 a.m. Session with my trainer at her gym to start work on a new program -- she sent me a copy of it last night, and Oof! I'm a bit nervous, truth be told. . . Wish me luck!

And I'll wish you a happy weekend! 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Easy Summer Meal from Leftover Fresh Pea Soup

If you made that fresh pea soup I described last week, and if you should happen to have leftovers -- or if you liked it enough to make it again and purposefully plan for leftovers -- this is an idea I gleaned from a comment on a Foodie site I browsed while deciding on my pea soup recipe: Use the leftover pea soup as a pasta sauce.

You could reduce the soup by simmering until it's a bit thicker, if you'd like, and we decided it would suit us best with something like conchiglie (shell pasta), farfalle (bowtie/butterfly), or, best of all orecchiette (little ears, that always remind us of our time in Peschici, Puglia).  You could grate some Parmesan over it or add a dollop of crème fraiche or go wild with some mascarpone or even burrata if you're lucky enough to have a secret source.  We kept ours pretty simple and served it as a carb complement to a (wild) salmon fillet and a baby spinach salad.

I have to be honest and tell you that Pater found the soup's slight sweetness less convincing as a sauce. He might enjoy it better if I'd used more chicken stock in the soup and if I hadn't added the fresh mint.  If you try this, I'd love to know what you think.

Some of you already follow my Book Blog, but in case you don't and you're looking for some recommendations, I've (finally) posted a few new titles there.

And I'm thrilled to say that I'll have another Garden Visit post up within the week; I know you're going to enjoy it. Stay tuned. . . .

Monday, August 7, 2017

Beach Stories, Back in the City. . .

Back in the city, under a layer of the smoke that's covering our province, I'm nonetheless quite happily occupied, enjoying such aspects of city life as watching spectacular fireworks from our balcony, walking to beachside Shakespeare, cycling the very decent network of bike lanes, sweating up a storm in the condo gym each morning, and shopping the Farmers' Market Sunday mornings just down the road at Dude Chilling park.
But that doesn't mean that my thoughts don't stray, occasionally, to a broader horizon. . .
to a more natural setting that draws the eye up and outward, then down and in. . . .
The big and the small both call to the imagination against a spacious background where there's room and time to meditate on other possibilities, other rhythms. . .
These traces of other lives, the tiny stories they tell (have you read Robert Moor's fascinating On Trails: An Exploration? He makes wonderful, compelling links between trails or traces made by the simplest, earliest lifeforms and those pathways that intrepid hikers follow through the Appalachians.)
Makes me think about my trail through life, who or what I might be following, something I'm working on in the writing I've been doing, looking back through my mother. . .
The little fellow above? Whither and whence, what story does that trail tell, and what weight can it possibly hold against the deeper indentations of water on the sand, the day's tides erasing the traces like so many Buddhist monks sweeping away a beautiful mandala.
Another story here, the rope's trail from anchor to boat? (which was left by whom? when? and when will they come back for it? How patient must they be for the tide to return, how attuned to the clock?)
Questions. . . .
And observations. . . . And a tiny screen in my busy urban mind, playing in the background, giving me respite if I only close my eyes. . . .
We have a long weekend here right now. I hope some of you share that good fortune.  Even with this apocalyptic layer of smoke, I have to admit that there's something fragile and luxurious and resonant about this last month of summer, of knowing the beach days are limited, of wanting to make the most of each one.  I posted a (very) short video on Instagram last week with some thoughts about the richness, the persistence, the bittersweet quality of those layers and layers of summertime memories. You can see it here, if you're curious).

As I write this on Sunday (for Monday posting) we have our Four and our Two coming over with their parents, not sure if the Eight will be here as well, but we haven't seen these Littles for a few weeks, so our Brunch together will be a treat. What are, or have you been, up to? Summer doings? Beachtime? Trying to stay Cool? Wishing the Rain would Go Away? Wishing it would fall? Or if you're at the other side of the Equator, are you beginning to think about Spring Gear? Looking forward to summer as we're getting ready to say good-bye to it? Do tell. I always love our conversations.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Travel Sketch. . . Trogir Putto

I sketched this cheeky putto in Trogir (croatia), in the chapel of the Blessed Giovanni Orsini (by Donatello pupil Fioren) in the very beautiful St. Lawrence Cathedral, and I remembered him this past week when Hamish Bowles' Instagram account featured photos of that same chapel. You know? That frisson of "Hey, I was there!"
Here's my photo of the actual sculpture, along with several of this little fellow's putti neighbours.
Note that the little pisser (sorry, I just couldn't resist) is the only one with a robe to lift. . . Quite honestly, I have to say that I'm increasingly uncomfortable with some of the putti I've seen. Beautiful sculptures, no question, and while their wings and their presence in churches might seem to establish them as heavenly, as angels in training even, a bit of research makes it clear that their origins are secular rather than sacred. Putti are quite different than cherubs, and very often their poses and facial expressions are undeniably erotic. Disturbingly so, for me. . . .

 I do think it's worth questioning, occasionally, what the "male "gaze" has gotten away with proclaiming as Art over the ages, as if Art is above interrogation for its more mundane desires (and I owe so much to John Berger's Ways of Seeing for broadening my perspective here, and to Laura Mulvey as well).  But perhaps that's enough of that for what started out as a short travel posts. . . .  There's no question that the chapel is beautiful in its proportions, symmetry, light, materials as well as for its story-telling, iconography, and its sheer entertainment value.

 And honestly, I need the trip back to remembered beauty today, because Vancouver is currently shrouded in smoke. The grey skies at 6 this morning evoked memories of rain, but there is none in the forecast for the week ahead, so not only will there be nothing to bring this particulate to the ground and wash it away, but the continued high temperatures across the province mean more wildfires breaking out, and more smoke. It's all rather apocalyptic.

So beautiful sculptures in glorious spaces with wonderful light streaming through? Just the ticket.

Also hoping to catch up with a Redheaded Four and her sweet brother after their vacation. It's been three weeks since we've seen them, so there will be cuddles galore!

What about you? Are you appreciating the rain you have or wishing for some or begging it to go away? And what about those cheeky Putti? Any thoughts? Or is that just a can of worms we oughtn't to open?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

And Fresh Pea Soup Back Home. . . .

 First of all,  no, those are not Peas in the Pod.  But I thought I'd begin by pointing backwards, in case any of you have access to fresh fava beans (we've been able to pick them up at the local Farmers' Markets, although the season is almost over). If that's the case, you might be interested in a post I wrote two summers ago about bringing our travels home via a favourite salad (Fava Bean Salad recipe included in that post, as well as suggestions for substitutions we've used when we can't find fava beans).

But I've also promised you a Fresh Green Pea soup recipe. Like the fava bean salads we now enjoy at home each summer, the fresh pea soup-making was inspired by a meal we ate while traveling, a meal I told you about here, eaten on a terrace above the beach in Split, Croatia where my g'daughter surprised me by devouring the verdant contents of my bowl quite greedily. . .

Quite honestly, the recipe isn't mine but rather a compilation/mélange of a few I found online, heavily reliant on the Barefoot Contessa, but then swayed by options such as this recipe published in the New York Times . To begin, I sautéed 2 cups of leeks and 1 cup chopped yellow onion in a couple of tablespoons of butter (vegans or cholesterol-watchers could happily substitute olive oil). Because you're going to blend everything smooth, don't be too fussy over how you chop up the leeks. . . Just sayin' . . .

When the onions and leeks are softened, the Contessa would have you add 4 cups of chicken stock, and I had some ready in anticipation. But then I read the New York Times recipe, and I was interested in the claim that using water instead of chicken stock allowed the flavour of the peas to really shine through. As a compromise, I went with 2 cups of water and 2 cups of chicken stock, but vegetarians will want to make that all water, and I might try that next time myself.

Whatever liquid mixture you've decided to add to your onions and leeks, bring it to a boil.

If you're lucky enough to have fresh garden peas, this is where you add them. The Contessa says 5 cups; that NYT recipe calls for a pound shelled; an Epicurious recipe wants 6 cups of either fresh or frozen.  Sadly, I had to go with the latter, but I chose the small, sweet peas, and honestly, I think they get pretty close. . . .

Dump all 5 or 6 cups of fresh or frozen into your boiling pot, allow the whole kit-n-caboodle to come back to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer for another minute or two. You just want the peas to be tender, not mushy at all. . .  Now take the pot off the heat and let it cool a bit before blending.

I'm still using the Oster blender we got as a wedding gift, Harvest Gold, and the kids make fun of me every time I haul it out.  One of them even, very generously one Christmas, got us a KitchenAid food processor with a whole whack of attachments, and Pater uses those regularly. Let's just say I choose my learning curves judiciously . . . That said, I do think I'd like an immersion blender one of these days, and if any of you have favourite models to recommend, I'd be glad to hear.

So if you have an immersion blender, you'll be able to turn your chunky mixture into a velvety smooth soup right in your stockpot. I had to scoop mine out, two cups at a time, into my blender, then turn the smooth mixture into another pot for reheating later.

Still, the whole process is quick, and when the soup's all blended, you can taste and decide how much salt to add, and whether you might want to blend some fresh mint or basil or tarragon leaves into the last batch. We have lots of mint growing on the terrace, and I threw some of that in, but Pater thought it might have made the whole a bit too sweet, so I'll be rethinking that.

Start to finish, this is ready in less than an hour, and if you stock your freezer with a few bags of high-quality frozen peas, it's an easy from-the-pantry meal for those of us who always have an onion around. Skip the leeks and throw in an extra onion or dice up some shallots or try a garlic clove. . .

We bought crème fraîche, but I think sour cream would be just as tasty OR you could add 1/4 cup of light cream to the blended soup before serving. The bowl I had in Split featured a poached egg, which was a beautiful creamy touch, and, of course, adds lean protein to an already healthy dish.

In Split, I had the Fresh Pea Soup as a starter, but when I made it at home, I decided it made a good simple main course,  with the stellar addition of some gorgeous, succulent scallops that Pater sautéed in butter and seasoned very simply with pepper and salt. Purchased artisan bread or a simple homemade Bread-in-a-Bowl served alongside, and honestly, I'd serve this to company for an easy, casual meal. I might add a simple green salad as another course, or I might just follow up with Roasted Cherries (350 oven, drizzle balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, watch the sugar doesn't burn) and a good vanilla ice cream, and put my hostess feet up. . . .

 Let me know if you try this, especially if you have suggestions for happy tweaks. . . And if you have a fair bit of soup left after your simple lunch or dinner, check back over the next day or two, because I have a suggestion about making a completely different meal from those leftovers. . . . 
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