Thursday, June 30, 2011

Her summer

This is where Erin is living right now. Curiously enough it's the same university residence system I lived in when I first left home. Almost, but not quite, the same building.

I dropped her off at the airport a couple of weeks ago. The day before we'd arrived in Kelowna in time to do some shopping. She bought herself an iPhone 4. Three and a half years ago we bought a family cellphone that was a low-end dinosaur even then. Erin has used it during her various travels so far, but it was time to move on. She needs a phone of her own, something with more functionality. She won't have a land line next year, so the cellphone will be it. She needed a few gizmos to take with her for the summer and the fall: an iPod for listening to repertoire (hers had died a couple of months earlier), a metronome, a GPS device to keep her found when running and managing public transit, a camera, an alarm clock. The iPhone is all those things, and more. She subscribed with a Montreal number, so she's all set.

For the summer she's in Ontario, on the UWO campus. She arrived without any difficulty. NYO staff picked her up at the airport. Sweet! She's sharing a room with nice violist whom she really likes. She has 6-10 hours of music programming a day. She's trying to practice 3 hours and run 5k each day in addition to that. Within three days of heady music immersion she was saying that it felt like she'd been there her whole life already. She's lost her sense of time. Days seem like weeks. The intensity of the musical and social experience is playing tricks on her mind like that. She's found friends to run with. She performed the complete Haydn Sunrise Quartet today, and loves her quartet-mates. Everyone is awesome -- they're so musically capable, so motivated, so friendly and unassuming. There are occasional swing dance sessions for recreation. Meals are veggie-friendly and delicious if you stay with the salad bar.

The schedule shifts from mostly strings / mostly chamber music to a full symphonic focus in the next couple of days.

In short, she's thrilled. She's in her element, with young people just like her. If you're in Ontario, Quebec or the Maritimes (or even New Hampshire) you may be able to catch the NYO in performance somewhere on their tour schedule.

New tea, new candy

When you have a lot of rhubarb in the garden, and strawberries are coming into season, and red clover is overflowing the waysides, and you're an 8-year-old looking for inspiration for a new tea blend, the colours of your inspiration are pink and green.

I truly love this tea. We found some bulk organic white peony tea, fair trade and imported in small quantities by a Chinese woman in the area. Fiona and I chopped strawberries and rhubarb, dried them on the dehydrator, picked a couple of litres of red clover heads and lightly dried them. Mixed this all together and voilà, a beautiful blend full of the colours and flavours of spring. We used roughly equal volumes of each component, so that makes it easy to reproduce if you'd like to make your own. I expect any fresh green or white loose leaf tea would work just as well as the white peony. Fiona has packaged up a dozen bags of it to sell at the market tomorrow. It will be her "Featured Tea of the Week," and samples will be available if you're interesting in dropping by her stall.

Brewed up it's yellow with a touch of ruddiness. It is absolutely wonderful with a little dollop of honey mixed in. I expect it will be great iced as well. This is definitely a tea that I'm going to mix up a couple hundred grams of and mark "Not for sale" and tuck in my cupboard for my personal use in the middle of winter. Fiona calls it Pink Paradise. In February it will reassure me that spring will come again.

Sophie received a couple of books on candy-making in the mail yesterday. She's all inspired to make marzipan bumblebees, violet velvets, blackberry paste and crystallized rose petals. This book is amazing: great pictures and the recipes use real ingredients. The raspberry lollipop recipe starts with sugar and raspberries; the caramel apple recipe makes absolutely no mention of Kraft products in any way, shape or form. I'm looking forward to her explorations!

Macro perspective

I put the magnifying lenses on the DSLR camera the other day and Fiona had fun shooting up-close photos around the garden. A change in perspective is truly magical.



Lupin top



Hens & Chicks

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Veggie Pâté

Veggie pâté has become popular around here. It's so simple to make, and it adds substantiveness and protein to summer sandwiches and crackery snacks.

Veggie Pâté

4 medium onions, chopped
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
0.5 kg sliced mushrooms
2 cups lightly toasted walnuts
2 cups lightly toasted sunflower seeds
2 cups dried green lentils
1/3 cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons blackstrap molasses
1 Tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh)
1 teaspoon dried parsley (or 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh)
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke

(This is a very forgiving recipe. If you don't have dried green lentils, use red ones, or use dried peas, or dried garbanzos or heck, you could probably use tofu or even porridge for that matter. If you don't have walnuts or sunflower seeds, substitute with hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, cashews or any number of other possibilities. The seasonings are suggestions, not requirements. I've put all sorts of seasonings in and it always turns out great.)

Simmer dried lentils in a few cups of water for 1 hour or until tender, drain and set aside. In the meantime, sauté onions, garlic and mushrooms in olive oil until soft. Add salt, turn the heat down a bit and allow to "sweat" a bit and also carmelize a bit on the bottom. Stir occasionally, but don't worry if things get a bit crusty in the bottom. Turn off the heat. Deglaze the bottom of the pan to extract any caramelization, adding a tablespoon or two of water if necessary. Dump in vinegar, seeds and remaining seasonings.

Combine cooked lentils with the mushroom-onion mixture in a food processor. Process until smooth. Serve as sandwich or cracker spread.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Market upgrades

 It's market day tomorrow. Sophie got an order for 20 lollipops, so she's been busy stockpiling. Her dad made her a lollipop display stand and we are all very smitten with the fetching rainbow of colours. From left to right: raspberry, tangerine, lemon, peppermint, anise, root beer, maple, butter rum, cinnamon ... and repeat.

She's got new creative ideas she's planning to try with the popular lollipops. Stay tuned for special Canada Day editions of the lollipops, and a limited edition premium version.

Fiona ramped up her tea production this week. She is completely self-sufficient at mixing, weighing, heat-sealing the bags, and packaging. She gets help from me printing the labels from my desktop publishing program and punching the holes in the top (her hands aren't strong enough to work the hole punch).

New this week for her is this display stand. It's just a piece of scavenged pressboard with some holes drilled in it for wire pegboard hangers. Stuff we found in the bottomless pit of Chuck's hoardings of home repair stuff in the shop. And now she has a lovely vertical display which does her lovely packaging justice.

The easy pickings of wild ginger are almost over for the year, so she is beginning to think about the next tea blend. Lots of herbs are growing in the garden, but they're nowhere near ready for harvest yet. So she's considering some fruity blends and wild-crafted wellness teas. We have a huge collection of wild rose petals and dried rhubarb, some red clover, mint and nettles. We also have some organic ingredients we've purchased: sencha and white peony teas, red rooibos, vanilla bean pods, coconut and other toasted nuts, chamomile, orange and lemon peel. The possibilities are endless!

Purple, purple and more purple

Erin has left us. Her cabin is now officially vacant, and so a grand reshuffling of rooms is taking place. My teaching studio will move into the cabin that Erin used to occupy. I hope that I can winterize it a little better, as violins do not tolerate the low temperatures that teenagers tolerate.

Sophie is moving into what was the teaching room in the basement. It's tiny, but it will fit the essential furniture. And more importantly it will be all hers, and with a little bit of extra privacy due to being on the lower floor.

The walls used to be a warm grey. But when I stopped quickly for dog food last week unbeknownst to me Sophie made a beeline for the paint chips in the back of the store. Once I had dropped Erin off at the airport she presented me with her choices. Dark, medium and light purples. So be it. She is working really hard on this room. It's going quickly. She'll be ready to move her bed down by tomorrow.

Which will leave Fiona in a room of her own as well. With the lower bed removed from the cramped L-shaped arrangement we had before, she'll actually have room to walk through the room, and the lower space under the loft bed will become a proper desk space. Her redecorating plans are less ambitious at this point but she is turning over a few ideas. I expect that once she can see the space she'll come up with some plans. In the meantime the co-operation between Sophie and Fiona in all the work required for this room-shuffling and redecorating is amazing to see.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bear stories

Last week it was beautiful and sunny and I decided to sneak in a quick afternoon run. I took the highway out towards the junction to the east of us. Typically this highway has only very light traffic, and it's beautifully scenic. I did my 20-minute jogging warmup and then started up my heart-rate monitor and my Garmin GPS watch for what was supposed to be an easy endurance run.

A red minivan with out-of-province plates passed me, going fairly slowly, then immediately slowed to a crawl. It was travelling in front of me at about 10 km/h, matching my speed. It was creepy. I was by myself on foot, 20 minutes from home on a remote, little-travelled secondary highway and now this van was behaving very strangely. I tried to look confident and nonchalant, and I avoided looking at the van, not wanting to make eye contact.

On the Garmin tracing above you can see the red arrow which is the point where the van pulled in front of me. My pace (bars at the bottom) slowed down a little, so that I could stay well back from the van. But my heart rate (red line) blipped up a bit despite the slower pace, because I was, well, a little freaked out about the creepy tourists I guess.

The van continued in front of me at a crawl for a good minute or more. Focused on avoiding eye contact with the psychopathic out-of-towners, it took me a long time to look anywhere but at the road three metres in front of me. Finally I glanced to the left.

There was a bear. Right there. I had almost run past it by that point. It was just on the shoulder of the road about 10 metres from me. At most. It was looking at me curiously, without any fear. Kind of a weird-looking bear, like it was having a bad hair day or something. Small to medium sized, maybe 2 or 3 years old. But yikes, it was so close. I veered to the other side of the road and though I tried to avoid doing anything to startle it, it seems from my Garmin tracing (blue arrow) that I picked up my pace a lot, and my heart rate took another big jump. Bear stayed put, I carried on around the next curve. The driver of the minivan, seeing that I was now safely past the bear he had clearly spotted, sped away.

Now, I see bears with some regularity when running. I usually wave and shout and they run off and I don't think again about it. This incident became story-worthy because of my tourist-paranoia and my obliviousness that let me get that close without noticing, not because it seemed a particularly dangerous situation. But for some reason, for a few days after that, I kept mentioning to friends and family members how I was feeling kind of spooked about risks from wildlife while running. I'd never felt that way before. It was weird.

It took about five days, and a wildlife report from a neighbour, for the penny to drop. That was a grizzly. That was not one of the shiny cute black bears (that actually come in various shades of cinnamony brown as well) that I've become so nonchalant about over my 20 years in the Kootenays. In my memory I realized I had a clear picture of the scooped face, the jowly tufts of grizzled fur backlit by the sunshine. And yes, our neighbours had had a grizzly in their garden, and seen it up close through their window a few times, and had it bluff-charged a friend's truck when he stopped and rolled down his window to take some photos. And my description of the roadside bear was a perfect match.

I'd never seen a grizzly before in the wild. We know they live around here, usually up in the subalpine zone though. So it's very unusual to see one close to town. This guy is probably a 2-year-old, off trying to fend for itself for its first spring without mama. I hope it makes a U-turn and heads back up the pass soon.

I'm still running the road and trails out that direction, but with more awareness, and more often with other people. Thinking of carrying bear spray.

So then a couple of evenings ago I did a quick barefoot run along the same highway. Our driveway is rough and gravelly, so I wore my Minimus shoes while walking the 400 metres up to the road. When I got to the top of the driveway I shucked my shoes and left them, as usual, near our highway-number-sign. I had a nice, uneventful 30-minute run. Got back on the dark side of dusk and peered in the weeds for my shoes.

Only one shoe was there. Had I kicked the other off and let it fly? No, I was pretty sure I'd set both down together side by side. I wondered if maybe my family was playing a joke on me, but that didn't make sense: the driveway is a long way to walk from the house, and anyway they wouldn't have known I was leaving my shoes. I looked all through the weeds and grass. No shoe. Finally, about 20 metres down the driveway in the dim light beneath the overhanging trees I spotted a dark lump that looked like it might be shoe-sized. I walked over and picked the item up. It was a slobbery wet Minimus with two neat puncture marks in the sole.

I hadn't heard anything, but then I was busily looking for my shoe in the brush, thinking some human (me or my kids) had done something silly. Likely a bear (a black bear, I assume, optimistically!) was curiously mouthing my shoe as I arrived back from my run, dropping it and running off when I startled it.

I rinsed my beloved Minimus with a hose, let it dry, and it's perfectly wearable.

Second market and other bits of news

Quick update from the second market. Despite the dreary weather (cool and raining on and off all day) Fiona sold out her teas again quickly (proceeds: $25, initial investment now recouped), and Sophie, who had taken huge quantities of candy with her, sold almost all of it. Just a couple of lollipops left, one gift jar, half a dozen loonie bags. I think she sold about $80 worth. She was thrilled but also a little overwhelmed to think how much candy-making this project will require to be sustainable on a weekly basis.

We will have to skip the next market as we'll be taking Erin to put her on a plane to NYO that day, so that gives both girls some breathing room in the production schedule. This is particularly good as Sophie is waiting on a Canada Post delivery of more natural flavour oils and lollipop sticks, and with the rotating postal strikes that are currently taking place it may take a few extra days to arrive.

I managed to get out to meet my running group for a quick 10k this morning. I've joined a running club based 45 km to the east of here, in the hope of being able to join some of their Friday long trail runs. (And, truth be told, because I wanted to be able to buy one of their awesome club jackets). I did a fabulour long run with them three weeks ago; then Beauty and the Beast got in the way. More on that later. Anyway, today they were coming this way to run a trail almost in my backyard. I ran out along the trail to meet them at their end, then ran back with them as far as the spur back to my house. It was a soggy run what with the rain, and I ran at the front because I had to be home soon, so it was fast and tiring. But I made it back in time to get Sophie and Fiona to the market.

From there Erin and I went to a meeting at the school. We're all trying to perform a delicate dance: keeping everything kosher and honest, supporting Erin in her ambitious musical plans, letting her live elsewhere to get musical training, while also maximizing her chance of cleaning up a bunch of post-secondary scholarship money next spring through the local school district, and getting her all the academic requirements she needs for admission to her program of choice in 2012. So she's officially "travelling" to Montreal a few times next year (and also, incidentally, travelling to China with her Montreal-based orchestra). Her permanent address is here in New Denver, and for reasons of scholarship eligibility her school enrollment will be split between the bricks-and-mortar school she has "attended" the past three years and the DL program that her siblings are part of. She'll write her midterms in January, after the China trip, when we'll have her home for a family Festivus celebration (in lieu of Christmas).

Ah, yes, Beauty and the Beast. Erin and I for some strange reason enthusiastically volunteered to commit to playing in the pit orchestra for a full-scale high school and community production of this musical in Nelson. The orchestra was all adults, mostly very good amateurs or semi-pros, all volunteering. Great bunch of people. Erin's first experience playing in a pit, and it was a true pit ... a tiny cave directly beneath the stage, wired with mics and monitors and such. It was so much fun! Partly to have the time together playing reasonably challenging music mostly solo on each of the two violin parts, partly because of the feisty, fun company of the other players in the pit, and partly because of the trickle-down energy and enthusiasm of the cast, many of whom were friends of Erin's. But my, it was a lot of driving and a lot of time.

Now Erin is back to practicing Mahler, Richard Strauss, Tchaikowsky and Shostakovich symphony music and Haydn quartet movements in preparation for her NYO summer. We're still working on Montreal plans but she was enthusiastically accepted into the orchestra she wanted to join, and things are looking more hopeful all of a sudden on the accommodation front. It also looks like her current slate of school courses, plus the 3 she'd planned to do next year, will satisfy McGill University when she applies next winter.

Friday, June 03, 2011

First Market

It was a cool day with a little bit of sun and the first Friday Market of the year was fairly slow. The late spring and cool temperatures have kept the tourists away, and the kids are still in school.

Still, business was brisk at the Tea & Sweets stall. Fiona sold out of all the teas she had packaged up. Sophie, who had brought considerably more stock, sold about two thirds of what she had. After paying the Market Society 10% they are both about half way to paying off their start-up costs.

What they learned: People really like loose-leaf tea around here. Raspberry is the candy flavour of choice, while lemon was relatively scorned. Lollipops go like hotcakes when there are kids around, and that demand will escalate greatly in July and August when the schools are out.

What I learned: Fiona and Sophie are excellent prioprietors. They were cheerful and attentive, and when asked they affably explained their ingredients and production methods.

People were very impressed by their customer service, packaging and by the quality of what they were offering. And they were kind and encouraging.