Friday, July 24, 2015

My Advice...Have Something to Look Forward To

I grew up on a homesteaded grain farm in southeastern Saskatchewan during the 1960's. Our history was tilled as regularly as our land. My father didn't sit around telling stories; they were a part of our every day farm life.

Winters were long. And cold. We looked forward to summer. Summer meant Sundays swimming at Sandy Beach at White Bear Lake, or Carlyle Lake as it was called back then. Summer meant fresh shelled peas and corn on the cob.

Summer meant fresh B.C. fruit. We were so excited when our cases of cherries, peaches, apricots and pears arrived, ordered through the grocery store in town. I watched and later helped my Mom preserve these fruits. Our taste was simple. Whole and sliced fruits were cold packed with hot sugar syrup. We had a canner but we also had a boiler. I have no idea how many jars this oblong copper vessel held. It was intended for serious canning and we used it every summer.

We especially loved cherries. We jarred them whole with pit and stem on and enjoyed the end of the meal eating them like finger food and slurping up the syrupy juice.

Years later I am surprised to find myself forgetting the little things that bring joy. Something to look forward to is just as important now as when I was a child. I wonder if that is the void I am feeling. I long for the naive wonder of a child ecstatic over a jar of preserved cherries.

Summer meant watching the aurora borealis and fireflies. Summer was when my younger sister and I would run away from the farmhouse and play under a thatch of bushes in a bluff in the middle of a wheat field. We made it our secret hideaway.

In a few days I will be vacationing with a cousin and his family at Emma Lake. It is taking me back to the wonderful anticipation I held for summer. I fondly remember his father, my uncle, taking us in his motor boat across to the other side of Carlyle Lake. There is a nice little beach with big rocks where we sunned like a turn of turtles. There are big tree trunks completely submerged in the water offering proof that the lake had been dry at one time and for a very long time, my father avowed.

"It has been said that we need just three things in life: something to do, something to look forward to, someone to love."  Maya Angelou

Pickled Cherries with Five Spice
I still wait in awesome wonder for the beautiful British Columbia tree fruits. My palate has changed over the years but the love of the fruit endures.
Traditional Chinese Five Spice is a combination of star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and fennel. This works well with the sweetness of cherries. Frozen cherries work as well as fresh. Use non-reactive bowls and pots, such as glass or stainless steel, when working with acids such as vinegar. Serve these cherries with pork, duck or with a cheese and charcuterie plate.
4 c. bing cherries 1 L
2 c. cider vinegar 50 mL
1 c. sugar 250 mL
2/3 c. water 150 mL
1 small cinnamon stick
2 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns, optional 10 mL
5-6 whole cloves
3-4 whole star anise
2 tsp. fennel seeds 10 mL
4 pint jars (500 mL)
Stem and pit cherries and let sit overnight in the vinegar.
Prepare jars by washing in clean soapy water. Place sealer lid in a pot of hot water to soften the rubber seal.
In a saucepan add sugar, water and spices. Drain the vinegar from the cherries and add it to the saucepan. Set cherries aside.
Heat vinegar mixture and simmer for 10 minutes. Let the liquid cool to room temperature then pour over the cherries. Cover with a plate to submerge and put a towel or plastic wrap over the bowl. Let sit at room temperature for two to three days.
Using a slotted spoon remove the cherries first and rinse them in a colander to remove as much of the spices as possible.  Then strain the liquid through a couple of layers of cheesecloth. Bring the liquid to a boil. Fill jars with cherries leaving room for a quite a bit of liquid. Pour liquid over the cherries leaving a headspace of 1/4 inch. Top with a new canning lid and finger tighten a ring. Process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. Remove from water bath and cool overnight. Store in a cold room or pantry for a month before using. Makes about 3 pints (3 – 500 mL jars).

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mumbled and Jumbled Days

I did not visualize retirement. I had no mind's eye picture. In fact, it wasn't on my radar.

Even now after almost six years life seems surreal. I relax in my back garden wondering who planted the delphiniums. Why did they not let the fallen pine cones accumulate rather than attempting to grow grass where grass doesn't want to grow?

I sit in my wicker chair beneath towering pines whose boughs nearly touch the earth and listen to the mournful call of doves, wondering if any bird will ever make the little house on said pine, gifted to me by children on the Colony, home as I sip on a glass of chianti.

I sit here in the quietness of a summer's warm evening and ponder my lot in life. I am fortunate to have the freedom to follow my whims but at the same time I don't know what for I wish. I ask, I seek, I listen. Nothing. Am I to be here without direction? When? When will the message arrive?

Most of all I yearn for socializing. How much longer must I wait or am I overlooking the obvious?

Fortunately I have met interesting people in cyberspace. Elisabeth Poscher of Prairie Infusions is one of those people. She is a professional forager in northern Saskatchewan. Her chanterelles and morels grace the finest tables in Canada and the States.

This year she has begun a CSF, Community Supported Foraging, subscription. Once a month a box of freshly plucked produce arrives from the boreal forests of Saskatchewan. I love the challenge. Last month a few of the items in my box were wild rose petals, Labrador tea, morels, SK maple syrup, stinging nettles and fiddleheads.

This box is my Christmas gift to myself. I await with great anticipation.

Tomato Salad with Ricotta and Wild Mint
Wild mint is to garden mint as rose petals are to gardenias. The delicate flavour adds that "je ne sais quoi" to salads and side dishes. 

If you make your own ricotta, this is the time to use it. Also choose the juiciest and most flavourful tomatoes you can find. Birch syrup takes on a flavour similar to aged balsamic vinegar. Camelina oil has an earthy flavour.
2 tomatoes
1/2 c. fresh ricotta 125 mL
camelina oil
birch syrup
wild mint leaves
sea salt
Cut tomatoes in thick slices and place one in the centre of each plate. Top with a small scoop of fresh ricotta. Drizzle with camelina oil. Garnish with sea salt, mint leaves and a drizzle of birch syrup. Serve immediately.