the wind

Feral fennel softens the roadsides of my neighborhood, and something that looks a lot like scraggly kale clings to the rocky seawall. I’m getting into the groove of things at work. Yesterday evening I was sick and fell asleep facedown on the floor after lurching around the house looking intermittently like a pufferfish. Tonight, I watered the garden and put the house back in order.

It has been windy lately. I’ve been trying to wear office appropriate clothes, and by the time I get to work my hair has been completely restyled by the elements. Oh well. Mostly it has felt like I’ve been walking into the wind, but it shifted the other day and was at my back, gently pushing me along.

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the garden

In the gray morning, I watched an otter swimming in the clear water by the mermaid statue on my way to work. Sleek and playful in the small, lapping waves, it made me wish for summer beach days. On my way home, in the sunny afternoon heat (yes!) I watched an otter climbing and sliding on rocks below some people who were lounging in the sun. The otter kept creeping closer to them, then scuttling back and rolling happily in camas and tall grass.

At home, the garden is my new favorite place. We stayed out there, planting, weeding and watering until the last rays of sunlight disappeared over the fence. Some of our salad greens are starting to come up, and the onions, and the raspberry transplants are sprouting new canes. Tomorrow we’ll be planting beets and again battling the buttercups. Ranunculus, that rascal, is my least favorite plant. If it were safe for rabbits to nibble I’d feel quite differently about its adventitiously sprawling growth.

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beautiful, and better

This week has been beautiful. It has also felt much longer than a week. I could easily be led to believe that the days have always been structured just so, that is the extent of my settling into this new routine. My new job (yes, another and they just keep getting better and better) settles nicely into that place between breakfast and mid/late afternoon, weekdays. It’s refreshing. My commute is a 30 minute walk, mostly along the ocean. Tuesday morning, I saw otters playing in the grass beside the path.

The greening, flushing out of trees is continuing. Chestnut branches are like candelabras with their pillars of flowers. We went for a pre-birthday brunch and wildflower walk last Sunday, a gloriously sunny, 21-degree day.

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in a good way

Oh what a day. I have been over revving on several levels. So perhaps more coffee in the sun was not the wisest choice, but it was in keeping with current energies. At least sitting still, near the earth with nature happening around me was grounding to some degree. It was actually quite warm to be wearing a black 3/4 sleeve rabbit shirt. I bared my pale feet to the air and light. Some days – and today was one – it takes everything I have just to focus and settle. I was riled. Kind of in a good way. If my best friends were here, instead of mountains and prairies away, we could have such a time. The dandelion seeds are floating today and I am ready for adventure.

Writing helps. Thoughts that had been like bumblebees in my brain are quieter on paper, or at least leave me with more space. Inside the house today, it’s as if thoughts and feelings ricocheted off the walls at me, but outside, even just ten feet from the kitchen window, they diffused into the breeze and left me calm.

A squirrel ran along our rooftop this morning. I know because I watched its shadow glide along the fence. Sciurus, shadow tail, and so they are. I drove past Elk and Beaver Lakes today (neither of their namesakes live nearby) and the new leaves on the cottonwoods were almost autumnal in their fire-rosiness. Still translucent, the sunlight transformed them into soft, transpiring stained glass. Surrounded by green growth, blue lake and blue sky, and pale mountains in the distance, they were a moving sight.

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sitting, drinking coffee

I kind of love these sunny mornings, but I also don’t quite know what to do with them and worry that I might be wasting them on sitting, drinking coffee and catching up with myself. But time enjoyed is never truly wasted, this I have decided. If I were in Nelson now, or anywhere really, I’d be doing the same thing but on the coffee shop patio, hopefully coming across friends doing the same, instead of at home. I like the idea of being outside, of going for walks to explore and discover, but the need to get ready to work after lunch pulls me in like a leash. Also, I like this neighborhood but it’s edged by industry, busy roads and unkempt apartments. These things are all fine, I suppose, but what I want in a walk is to end up alone in nature, listening to the wind play through tree branches and water lapping shore. To sit still until birds appear from underbrush and my heartbeat harmonizes with the forest. This is the most ‘city’ that we’ve ever lived, and I like our house, I like our garden, I love going downtown for food and fun things, but I don’t know where to go when I want to get away for a morning. All the quiet spots are a decent drive’s distance. Sometimes I go to the ocean’s edge, to a paved pathway buzzing with joggers and strollers, seniors and bicycles, and walk slowly when I have a stretch to myself. Maybe it’s because I know the beaches and hills outside of town as well as any street of my childhood that I find it easier to breathe surrounded by trees than by people.

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in the midst

I’m sitting in a sunbeam, herbal tea in my hand and on the stove, a pot of earl grey waiting shyly beside the espresso machine. This morning, I watered the garden and watched swallows and starlings dive through endless blue.

Yesterday I got the laundry dry and hauled in just as another rainstorm blew in. There is a great satisfaction in sitting on the bed with a pile of sun-warmed clothes and a sleepy cat as rain pounds the grass flat outside the darkened window. I made an accidental discovery that I’ll share with you because it was glorious. I like to heat milk for my coffee in a steel measuring cup on the stove. Sometimes I leave it too long and it boils over in a stinky mess. Yesterday I caught it just as the foam was rising, and voila, hot frothed milk for a latte. This is delicate business though, and must be watched.

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I have some catching up to do. Here is Friday:

I think it’s alright to feel a little bit sad on mornings when the sun doesn’t come out. The sky feels heavy today. It is the sort of day that I want to keep for myself, to drink tea and make art and bake pie.

This evening, a spontaneous sandwich dinner on a rainy walk. We walked down to the ocean, into which sky and mountains dissolve in this kind of weather, under the droplets. The water was slate and churned turquoise blue-green, the setting sun somewhere giving the rocks a golden glow. Walking through sheets of rain, water all around, the light faded as we followed the path and bridges over into the Garry oak meadow on the point, blue-violet camas flowers in long grass and the lights of the city across the water. Darker now, the water still shone blue, a deep almost-iridescence. Streetlights illuminated pale old Garry oak trunks and the pathway, and caught on a circle of raindrops like tiny meteors. Lit-up forest and tall grass, deep blue water, rain falling illuminated all around us, and us in the midst of this.

I was playing with a recipe for rhubarb custard pie. It still needs some tweaking but since you might have rhubarb now (?!), I’m including it as a starting point.

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Experimental Pastry
1/2 c each of almond meal, kamut flour and AP flour
1/2 c butter, chilled and cut into cubes (I tend to cube this before doing the dry ingredients and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes until needed.)
1/2 tsp each of salt and cardamom
1/4 tsp each of vanilla and almond extracts
2 tbsp vanilla sugar (or just nice natural cane sugar)
2 tsp to 1 tbsp lemon juice (I used 1 tbsp and the dough tasted kind of sour but once baked it was good, however I might use less next time.)
1/4 cup ice-cold water (I put my water- usually more than called for, just in case- in the freezer before I assemble my other ingredients so that it’s nice and cold by the time I’m ready for it.)
Mix dry ingredients with a fork. Cut in butter. Add wet ingredients all at once and mix with a fork just until it comes together. Chill dough in fridge for an hour before rolling it out.

Rhubarb Custard Pie
a generous 1 1/2 quarts rhubarb, cut up (just use however much fits nicely in your pie dish)
1 1/2 cups table cream (I also made this successfully with 1 can of full-fat coconut milk)
1 1/2 cups sugar (if making this with something less tart than rhubarb definitely reduce the sugar)
2/3 cup flour
a solid pinch of nice quality salt
(Vanilla extract or the contents of a split and scraped vanilla bean would be a nice addition too)
Stir together sugar, flour and salt with a whisk. Add cream and beat until smooth. Put rhubarb into an unbaked pie shell. Pour sugar mixture over the rhubarb. Bake at 400º for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350º and continue baking until custard is set (thickened, glossy, skewer comes out clean), about 40 minutes to an hour or so.

temperamental

Here is our big news, a lot late and still largely lacking photos: we got married on a sunny Friday in March. It was a semi-elopement down on a windy beach in Deep Cove, complete with tidal pools, mussel beds and parents. We really liked the idea of throwing a big party, maybe with lanterns and birch print straws, but ultimately decided to keep things simple and keep costs down. To the probable confusion of many of our near and dear, we still sent out invitations* because we’d still like to have a celebration potluck in the summer.

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I really don’t know what I’m doing with my feet here.

We have seedlings growing in our front window. First, Calabrese broccoli, white cauliflower blend and wild arugula. Now the Genovese and sweet basil, and small sugar pumpkin have energetically erupted forth, and there is more coming up every day. Jer has been working hard out back, tilling and digging and moving soil to prepare our garden beds, but it looks like we’ll need to put up deer fencing before we dare plant anything outside.

Strangely- or maybe not-, being married feels normal. Not different at all really, more of a confirmation of what already was. Like I said to Jer, of course we’re married. However, it’s been a rather rough few weeks for other reasons. I started a new job with a schedule almost opposite my previous one. It’s a good change, but is certainly an adjustment. I’m still figuring out how to restructure the days to include important things like making food and sweeping the house, yoga, art and adventures outside. An even better job with in-between sort of daytime hours (this is good) is now almost certainly on the horizon. I’m excited and I think it’ll be pretty awesome but am a little scared because it’s more of a ‘real job’ than any I’ve ever had. We’ve also been stressing about selling our cute Nelson house and weird expensive details like the old sewer line that the downhill neighbor suddenly wants moved. You get the idea, there’s a lot going on. I’ve been accused of having been miserable for the last little while, so I guess I’ve got to work on how I handle change and stress. While it’s unfortunately (and hopefully temporarily) true that it takes almost nothing to upset me these days, I would like to say that the weather has been temperamental lately as well. Not to justify my moping and snapping but just that it could maybe be vaguely related seeing as our bodies are made up of water and minerals and such so we are hardly immune to the forces of nature. Recently, a day will brood ominously overcast, burst into sun, suddenly wintery winds pick up and dark clouds loom, then torrential rain for a bit before it’s all rainbows and sunshine and it does it all over again. I kind of like this crazy weather, but I aim to mellow, temper, sweeten my reactiveness to it all, and then my husband and I will weather this house and job stuff out.

* Ahem… are still sending out invitations because we haven’t managed to ask for everybody’s address yet. Hence the elopement.

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it will grow

“Surround yourself with what you love.” This has been on my mind today. Surround yourself with what you love and… you’ll be happy. Surround yourself with what you love… and it will grow… and there will be more of it. Maybe because this is happening in my life? I am so happy to be here on this island, near my family, in the midst of spring.

We are rich in eggs right now, and also rhubarb, both thanks to Jer’s parent’s farm. As one might imagine, this has been leading to all kinds of deliciousness. Last night I made rhubarb yogurt cake ( I used this recipe as a base and switched out the 1 1/2 cups flour for 1 cup AP flour and 1 cup almond meal, stirred in an extra 2 cups of rhubarb in addition to the cup sprinkled on top and sprinkled coarse raw cane sugar on the top – it turned out tasty but a little gooey in the densely rhubarby centre). Earlier in the week we had crème caramel.

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Crème Caramel
very slightly adapted from Cécile Ferragut
I halved the original recipe except for the caramel, so feel free to double the amounts below if you’re feeding a crowd.
500 ml milk, preferably whole
150 g sugar
1- 1 1/2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise
Bring above ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan until milk foams and rises. Meanwhile, cook appoximately
1/2 cup sugar*
1/4 cup water
in a small saucepan until caramelized (brown), then pour into flan dish and swirl round until cool. When milk mixture is ready, slowly temper it (adding just tiny amounts at first, then gradually more) into
3 eggs
1 yolk
careful not to cook egg. Cook for about 45 minutes in a bain-marie (a pan of water set in the oven) at medium-ish heat (I went with 325°) until set (you want it to not slosh like liquid, but move more like jello). Chill in the fridge overnight and flip onto a plate to serve.
*If, like me, you use natural, less-refined sugars at home, heed my warning. Only refined white sugar will caramelize properly. Impurities in unrefined sugar interfere with the caramelization process and leave a person stirring a pale sticky mess. You can still use a natural sugar with the milk.

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nettles

I feel like I’ve been away for ages; so much has happened in the past week. I went to Salt Spring Island and spent a relaxing day with my mum, and fell asleep listening to tree frogs singing to each other in the arbutus forest, a wash of pinprick stars in the skylight above me.

Yesterday, we went up to the farm and Jer dug us some rhubarb while I picked nettle in a clearing. I picked slowly and selectively, soaking up the peaceful energy of the forest, and still got two full bags. The tender tops, picked before the leaves droop past three o’clock, are lovely fried or sautéed, in soups or spanekopita, or dried for tea. My favorite tea blend consists of generous pinches of nettle, peppermint and raspberry.

Easter came at the bakery in a frenzy of hot cross buns. There was also chocolate bread, and kugelhopf, and lulls in the lineups.

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