Sunday, October 29, 2017

Abkhazi Garden

The story of how a displaced Russian prince and a wealthy British woman came to build a garden in Victoria, BC is filled with tragedy, war, internment in Shanghai during WWII (the Princess), and a meeting, after years of separation, on the top of the Empire State Building in New York.

The garden that Peggy and Nicolas spent 40 years developing encompasses just over an acre and is built on a rocky slope where bare granite, narrow swaths of lawn, Garry Oaks, rhododendrons, and pools of water dwell in harmony.

On a very sunny, warm Sunday afternoon, Tim and I visited the gardens. The noise of the squirrel caused us to look upwards and we watched him gathering bunches of leaves in his mouth. It didn't look like there were any acorns attached, but he looked like he knew what he was doing. 

Tim had made reservations for tea, and after our stroll we entered the Prince and Princess's house where we sat in their sun-drenched living room and enjoyed tea while looking at the gardens they created. 

Tea was lovely, with all kinds of treats, savoury and sweet, and a delicious tea blended especially for Abkhazi Garden. I felt very spoiled.

We looked at the books, china and photographs displayed on shelves. I was tickled by the title of one book "A Sense of Humus" written by Bertha Damon , and enjoyed reading a little more about the author. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Improving Upon a Good Thing

Back in 2010, I first posted this recipe for Apple Cake on my recipe blog. (I like keeping all my recipes together in one spot, hence the separate blog. Makes it easy to search.)

Anyways, I make this cake every year. It's a recipe I first tasted in the jungles of Ecuador, made by a good friend. It's delicious, as is, served with softly whipped cream. 

I've mentioned previously how I love watching The Great British Bake Off, and how inspiring I find it. I know there's a new series going now, not on the BBC, and I haven't watched any of it, yet. I have to find out where to view it.

Back to the cake. Inspiration struck when I thought about apples and apple crisp. For me, the best part is the crispy topping. I make a triple or quadruple batch of the topping to keep in the freezer for quick crisps. 

"What if," I thought, "I put some of the apple crisp topping on the apple cake?" 

I did. It's delicious. An improvement upon an already very good cake. Especially after drizzling an icing sugar, butter and cream glaze over top. 

Apple Cake

1 3/4 cups sugar
4 cups apples, cored, not peeled, diced
1/2 cup oil 
1 cup nuts (I omit, due a husband not fond of the crunchy bits)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda (reduced from the original recipe)

About 1 1/2 cups of apple crisp topping (I use one with oatmeal)

1. Stir together sugar, apples, oil, and nuts, if using, in a medium large bowl. 
2. Add the eggs and vanilla. Stir well.
3. In another bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Stir.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the apple mixture. Stir just to combine. It will be thick.
5. Spread in oiled 9 x 13 baking pan (I use glass).
6. Sprinkle the apple crisp topping over the batter.  
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, then at 300 degrees for 15 minutes.
8. While still hot, drizzle a mixture of melted butter (1-2 Tablespoons, 1-2 Tablespoons cream or milk, enough icing sugar to make a spoon-able glaze.)

Enjoy for dessert with a cup of milky chai tea.

Before dessert, this is what we ate for dinner. 

I've been making a few of these sheet pan dinners lately. So easy. Cube vegetables, or cut into bite-sized pieces - here it's sweet potato, red onion, broccoli, and sweet red pepper. Spread on baking sheet. 
Add chunks of chicken breasts (as above), or sausage pieces, or pork chops. 
Season to taste - today it was salt, a pepper medley, and fresh rosemary.
Roast at 420 degrees for 30 minutes. Dinner is served!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Stormy Weekend

We spent a good chunk of time in this room over the weekend. My parents came over on the ferry Friday night. Saturday was blustery and wet, very wet. We ventured out in the car for a little bit, but most of the day was spent at home, enjoying being together. 

In my previous post I included a similar photo, but with my slippers showing, and the fire off. Here the fire is barely on, and my slippers no where to be seen. A more formal view, as it were. 

Those quinces I mentioned earlier were poached in white wine with orange peel, then sliced and made into an Upside Down Honey Spice Cake. It's a Fine Cooking recipe, found if you click the link. It was okay. The quince taste wasn't very pronounced and I'm a little ambivalent about the whole thing. It was a fine experiment. If I get my hands on more quinces, I think I'll make Membrillo, a quince paste eaten with cheese in much of Latin America.

The cake was dessert for a family dinner on Saturday evening, four generations gathered for food and visiting. 

It's been a week of storms. On Friday afternoon, before the next system blew in, I went out to clip some flowers. The dahlias drooped alarmingly, their thin stems unable to hold the weight of the blooms made heavy by rain. Still the roses bloom, somewhat battered, but beautiful and fragrant. I also cut hydrangea stems, choosing the most richly coloured mopheads for a bouquet on the mantel. I placed all of the rather wet flowers in the sink before beginning to arrange them and thought they made a pretty bundle there. 

I arranged the roses in a teapot that cracked years ago and no longer holds water. A small jar inside holds the water.  

This afternoon we took my parents back to the ferry. They leave their car on the mainland and walk on as foot passengers, and we're happy to pick them up and deliver them back to the terminal. Before returning home, Tim and I walked along the waterfront. The rains held off until we were safely indoors at home once again. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

October Cozy

A pale, lack-lustre sun is peeking through the clouds today, most welcome after some heavy rain. The morning is still rather dark and dreary, making candles seem like just the thing. Here's the view from my chair - with my slippers visible in the foreground. The fire (gas) just went out. Drat!

Here's a bit of what I've been reading. I finished Black Rabbit Hall last night and am so pleased that it had a happy ending. In Farleigh Field didn't disappoint. I chose How to Hygge from the library to read what all the hoopla about this "new" word was about. My son-in-law had read it (or one similar) and commented "that's what we already do." I agree. 

In Late Winter We Ate Pears was quickly paged through and is already back at the library. I spent more time with Clodagh's Irish Kitchen. I saw her on a television programme and was completely charmed by her accent. She has a series of short videos featuring seasonal recipes. You can access Clodagh's Youtube channel via this link.    

I've just begun Life of Elves and look forward to the Killara Farm book soon. 

I was going to write that autumn is a good season for reading, but then I realized that every season is good for reading. During the school year, I manage 4-6 books each month, and more during vacations. Do you enjoy reading?

The area where we live used to be a farm. I'm pretty certain that there was an orchard here, for here and there, a gnarled apple tree still stands. Most were cut down during subdivision development, I assume. There are also two quince trees, on private property. Several years ago, I picked one off the ground, not having a clue what it was. I kept waiting for it to ripen and soften; of course, it never did. I thought it was some sort of pear, and eventually threw it out. 

Then I read about quince! During a walk recently, I spied these two on the ground and picked them up. They've been on my kitchen windowsill for a week or so, and I think it's time to do something with them. I think I'll poach them. Do you cook with quince?

All the tomato plants have been pulled up and green tomatoes line the rest of the windowsill. I see this one is ripe and will be good in a tomato-avocado salad for dinner tonight.

The fire came on again as I write this post. Alas, it's time for me to leave it and head off to school. Although my classes are not until afternoon, I go in early to prep and mark. Today is The Great Shake-Out Drill - a region-wide earthquake drill. All schools take part, as do government facilities, hospitals, care homes, and more. So Tim will be involved, too. It's good to be prepared. I hope it's not pouring rain when we evacuate the school this morning. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Sunday Afternoon Walk to McKenzie Bight

It was far too nice a day to spend indoors. After church I put on my hiking boots, we grabbed a water bottle and few snacks and off we went. 
As we walked we discussed the meaning of the word "bight." He was right; I was wrong. 
A bight is a geographical term for a "slight bend or recess in a coastline or river. It typically indicates a large, open bay, often only slightly receding."  

Once we reached the water, we tried taking some photos with the delayed timer. I pushed the button, clambered down some rocks and up some more, trying to get to Tim's side within the 10 seconds. I've shared a couple of the attempts in the collage. We moved to an easier access point before claiming success.
It's high time to investigate a remote!

Such a pretty day. In the forest, we stood still and heard fir needles dropping like soft rain. A leaf let go and sashayed downwards, rustling when it touched a branch. There is still much green in the woods, and a definite feel of autumn crispness in the air. 

This is the kind of day that I wish would go on and on. As Anne of Green Gables says, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

October Moments

This week has been short, with Monday the Thanksgiving holiday, but busy with covering classes for another teacher. 

Rain fell this week, and temperatures are dropping. Late in the afternoon, however, golden light suffuses the garden as the sun slants low over the Sooke Hills beyond our home. 

Rich tawny shades dominate in one last burst of colour before the austere lines of bare branches are etched against the sky.

Something drew me to an upstairs window on Wednesday afternoon. A thin layer of mist covered the distant hills seen beyond our neighbours' roofs. A tree, aspen perhaps, glowed yellow. 


An enormous murder of crows rose up and swirled silently in circular patterns that spread from garden to garden including our own. The black crows spiraling upwards in the mist and the beacon of the yellow tree formed an unforgettable picture not captured by any camera.
At a time when the world aches with pain and despair, this moment of grace came as a gift from God, and I tucked it into my heart for safekeeping. 

The weekend is upon us. Some homekeeping is on the agenda, and a little cooking. Hopefully a long walk and reading by the fire. What are your plans? 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Thanksgiving in October

Eleven of us sat down to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings yesterday. Although the holiday is technically Monday (the second Monday in October), we, like many families, have our big dinner on Sunday, followed by a relaxed Monday. 

I look at this photos and see the faces of some of the people I love so very much. For now, the little ones enjoy sitting at their own small table while the adults sit at the big table. I remember sitting at the children's table at family gatherings when I was growing up. Do you?

Did you notice the top right hand photo? That's Katie, our daughter-in-law. For this particular dinner, I set the food out in the kitchen and we served our plates from their and brought them to the table to eat. After dinner was mostly done, Katie was up checking on the little ones and stopped by the stuffing casserole on the way back to the dining room. She mentioned how much she enjoyed it. She ate it from the pan.  She was there long enough that I suggested she bring the whole thing to the table and sit down to enjoy it. So she did. And she posed very nicely for a photo. Much laughter ensued.   

On Friday evening, Owen and Ashley told us stories of their recent trip to Scotland, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. One thing they mentioned were the Cardamom Buns eaten with coffee in Stockholm. I had just read the How to Hygge book and remembered a recipe for the buns. Ashley suggested we make some, so we did. We used another recipe found on the internet. Baking time was tricky; some were slightly overbaked, but still delicious. Forming the dough was also tricky. 

My children wonder what has happened to their mother. I have never liked the colour orange. I tolerate it in marigolds, planted among the vegetables, never in the flower beds. Pumpkins are okay. So there was great teasing when they noticed two orange velvet cushions on the couches. What can I say? They suit the season and I'm okay with them, for now, although I get a little twitchy if I really look at them. I stitched the covers and they can easily be zipped off and replaced. 

Lovely October. Crisp nights, a bit of rain, lots of sunshine. Plenty of laughter. My favourite month.

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life.  

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Just Before Thanksgiving

Sometimes, weeks don't turn out as planned. Each year, on the two school days before Canadian Thanksgiving, our school gives the students time off while the teachers go to a conference. It's a great time of learning (for the teachers) and having fun together. 

On Monday night, I came down with a sore throat that turned into a cold. So, no conference for me. I stayed home. By Friday I was feeling much better and rather wished I had gone. My colleagues were happy for me to NOT share my germs, however. 

I rescued some flowers from the garden from an impending rain and windstorm. Those white roses, Winchester Cathedral, have wicked thorns and I plunked them down onto the table without much fuss. 

I gingerly separated this one bloom from the bunch and posed it for its portrait. Such a pretty, fragrant flower. 

This basket of tomatoes and squash were also rescued. We've been eating the little Millionaire tomatoes like candy, for they are so sweet. The bigger tomatoes were cut in half, sprinkled with chopped onion, fresh thyme and oregano, drizzled with olive oil, and roasted until the house smelled like an Italian restaurant, redolent with flavour. 

Our Vancouver kids arrived last night for the holiday weekend, and I made the effort to prepare a special breakfast. A fresh corn tortilla, lightly crisped, topped with sauteed onions and sweet peppers, topped with guacamole, one of those luscious roasted tomatoes, and a fried egg. A few sprinkles of Cheddar cheese finished it all off. Very filling and very delicious (patting myself on the back just a little).  

On the mantel a cheery vase of hydrangeas and sunflowers seem apropos to the season. 

Dinner preparations are what's happening around here today - turkey, savoury stuffing, crumb-topped sweet potatoes, and more. We'll gather tomorrow with our children and grandchildren. Truly, we have much to be thankful for. 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

October is Here!

Welcome, October, my favourite month of the year. September hovers between summer and autumn. October sees true autumn: shortened cool days; brisk, even frosty nights; alternating sunshine and rain.

The dahlias still bloom prolifically. Every few days I clip another small vaseful. I can see them growing from my kitchen window and admire them at every stage.   

It's time to light candles and focus on home. Saturday I puttered about the house all day, making things sparkle for the beginning of this season. 

I washed the downstairs windows and cleaned the grime from the sliding tracks. Has someone invented an efficient way to clean these? A cloth and a knife for getting into those 90 degree angles are what I use. My few silver pieces gleam; baseboards are dusted, and the house seems to sigh in contentment.

We walked around the Bog this afternoon. Clouds teased us with their forays across the sun, but no rain fell. Hawthorne trees are rich with berries. The Bog is mostly dry, awaiting rain. 

A few trees, very few, show signs of colour. As these 31 days pass, more and more colour will appear and leaves will drop to the ground - perfect for scuffling.

After returning home I set myself up in the kitchen and made a big batch of pastry dough. Two unbaked pie shells rest in the freezer, ready for next weekend's Thanksgiving (Canadian) pumpkin pies, a Spiced Plum Pie will head there as soon as it's completely cool, and the dozen apple hand pies are diminished to less than half. For tonight's supper I used more pastry for a Tomato Pie, full of cheese and herbs.

Here's a link to the Tomato Pie recipe, on my other blog. I didn't use the pastry in that recipe as I'd made a big batch of regular pastry. I have to say that the one that goes with this recipe gives a richer flavour to the savoury pie. Also, I substituted the cheese I had on hand. The key is to letting those tomatoes drain for at least an hour. 

This was a lovely weekend. I'm left feeling rested and satisfied, and ready for the week ahead. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Of Spare Rooms and House Guests

  If you've ever read L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables , you'll remember the importance of the spare room. It was a long-...