Sunday, February 25, 2018

Warming meals and bright flowers

In contrast to last weekend away, this one, also delightful, was spent at home. I puttered in the kitchen on Saturday, making vegetable soup, yogurt, and cabbage rolls. 

Making yogurt is a new thing for me. I've been trying to minimize the plastic in our home; making yogurt eliminates a big tub every week. I use the oven light in my electric oven and it works so well and is so easy that I wish I'd started long ago. 

Chillier than normal temperatures persist and many pots of tea have been brewed. A jar of honey and a bowl of teabags is handy on the counter top, and a vase full of daffodils is a cheery sight. 

I'm realizing now the stress of an extremely challenging class last semester. My current classes are delightful and I come home with enough energy in the evenings to do something other than collapse. I'm sleeping better, too. Stress is an insidious drain on an individual's well-being.

We missed the snowfall that blanketed much of our province over the weekend. Instead, a chill wind blew, but Spring's imminent arrival is evident in fresh green shoots on various shrubs, and in the appearance of sharply pointed tulip, hyacinth, and daffodil bulbs in the garden. 

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

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Five on Friday

1. A cold snap arrived over the weekend and lingers on. Yesterday afternoon snowflakes wafted outside the classroom windows, distracting students and teachers alike. By late afternoon the snow was beginning to stick and this morning there was a fresh white blanket covering the ground. My little pot of spring bulbs didn't seem to mind the chilliness.

2. Beautiful pink streaked just above the horizon this morning. Each window had a different, and equally lovely view. I took this from a back bedroom, looking out over the Sooke Hills. 

Students were really distracted this morning and I think I earned a few points with my French 8s by letting them go play in la neige for the last 10 minutes of class. They were quite surprised when their teacher threw a few snowballs at them, and a few retaliated in kind. It was great fun. 

3. This is another photo from our little getaway last weekend. On China Beach this log looks to me like it bit off more than it could chew. That rock is firmly lodged and not going anywhere. 

4. This evening I made Ginger Snaps, the first in a long while. They come from an old cookbook - The Mennonite Treasury of Recipes, a forerunner of the Mennonite Girls Who Can Cook, perhaps. I like them because they are assertively ginger-flavoured and are crisp and snappy, but can soften to chewiness over time. I put the recipe below.

For a number of years, every time I baked these cookies I would package some up for Tim's mother. This is the first time I've baked them since she left us, and it made me a little sad. She liked them as I do, snappy! 

5. My Christmas cactus decided to bloom in January, and now in February, it has a few more blooms and is growing rapidly. I'm happy to see it flower whenever it chooses. 

Although the Five on Friday link up is no longer happening, the format is fun, as Brenda mentioned the other day. 

Tomorrow may bring more snow, or rain. Possibly some sun. The forecast is a mixed bag.

Here's the recipe for the ginger snaps:

2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
sugar for rolling the cookies

Mix the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg and molasses. Add the dry ingredients and mix well.

Form into small balls and roll in sugar. Bake on a lined baking sheet for 12 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool on rack. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Expect Changeable Weather

Birds, from top left Ruddy Turnstone (I think),  a pair of Wood Ducks, a quartet of American Wigeons with feathers ruffled by the wind, a pair of Buffleheads, and a trio of distant Harlequin Ducks
 My husband has been known to quote, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." This weekend proved the veracity of that statement. We'd planned a little getaway, looking forward to plenty of walking/hiking on the coast. The weather report was grim: wind, rain, cold, possibly snow. 

We packed lots and lots of gear - rain coats to wear over fleece jackets, cashmere sweaters, silk undershirts (me), rain pants, down vests, and down puffy coats. Hats, scarves, gloves. Good thing it was just the two of us!

On Saturday morning we drove out to Sooke, to the southwest of the Island where the winds blow in freely from the Pacific. We walked along Whiffin Spit, a long, narrow curve of land protecting the Sooke Harbour from the wildest waves. Wind lashed the rain into our mostly covered faces, and blew us along the path. Coming back was a different story as we pressed against the wind to return to our car. 

The birds in the photos above didn't seem too bothered by the weather. The ducks bounced on top of the waves. Tim thought the group of four were probably on a double date. 

After eating lunch in a local bakery (fresh soup and bread), we drove to China Beach, one of the campgrounds along the Juan de Fuca Trail. After parking, and being surprised at the number of cars in the parking lot, we hiked down to the beach. About a dozen wet-suited surfers bobbed in the churning waves, waiting for that perfect moment to climb onto their boards and ride the ocean. Huge logs were tossed about like toothpicks. I wouldn't have wanted to be out there.

When we returned to Sooke, we checked into our hotel and relaxed in the hot tub. Our concierge advised us to make dinner reservations immediately as they expected a lot of local people that evening because of widespread power outages due to the storm. 

Dinner was delicious - a Steak Sandwich (knife and fork variety) with salad and wonderful crispy fries for Tim, and Wild Mushroom Gnocchi with Spinach and Garlic Cream for me. We shared a Chocolate Pate for dessert - rich, intense chocolate ganache with a bit of fruit sauce and whipped cream.  

Sunday morning dawned cold and windy. Any clouds in the sky were soon blown away. A bit of snow blew around and settled here and there. We enjoyed the sunshine and blue skies while eating Eggs Benedict for breakfast. Well fortified, we headed out again. No more need for rain gear, but we were very glad for our down winter jackets. 

We visited the small, but pretty Ed MacGregor Park in Sooke, where the camellias and rhododendrons are just beginning to bloom. A long boardwalk took us down to the ocean again, and we walked along the Rotary Pier, then back up via another trail. A few brave cherry blossoms shivered in the cold.  

Heading home again, we stopped at Matheson Lake for another hike along the lake edge, so different from the sea shore. Ferns in the snow, an old beaver dam, and dry grasses coloured our views. 

Home again now, and I feel like I've had the loveliest break. There's something about going away from home to a place where nothing reminds me of things that could be done, and there are no meals to plan or laundry to do. It was just one night, but so refreshing.

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Bright and Cold

When our temperatures hover around freezing here in the temperate rainforest, we call it cold. Those in more northerly regions scoff. Cold is a relative term. 

Spring is en route, but winter continues to hold sway. Frosty nights are followed by bright sunny days. It's enough for flowers to appear, such as the Henderson Shooting Stars above. The glow of colour in the background is a naturalized lawn of crocuses and shooting stars.

The crocuses are just beginning to open, tentatively unfurling a petal or two. 

In the late afternoon, a gnarled Garry Oak stands out against the clear sky. 

We walked quickly, for we had dressed according to the sunshine, not the temperature. Brrr. It was good to come indoors to the blast of warmth. 

Our Valentine celebration was a simple affair at home, made special by the effort of setting a table with a vintage tablecloth given to my in-laws on their wedding day 63 years ago today. China, crystal, and linen lift a meal to a celebration. 

Tonight we lingered over dessert (chocolate souffle cakes), tea, and candlelight, chatting together about the years we've spent together. No regrets at all about choosing each other.

One more bit of green - I do love moss. Happy Valentine's Day to each of my readers.  

Monday, February 12, 2018

Signs of Spring and a Birthday

Mr. F turned 4 this weekend. With all the family and friends, he's having 3 birthday get-togethers. The first was Saturday night - breakfast for dinner, with fruit, puffy baked pancake, sausage, and of course, a cake. 

The big hit of the evening was a Lego loading dock, complete with M & Ms to load, unload, and share, designed and built by Uncle Gerry (wearing glasses). The big and little boys were equally enthralled. 

Our boat normally lives on a trailer on our second driveway. It looks awfully big there and draws some attention when driving down the street. On Saturday morning we launched it for a short trip to a marine shop where a new engine will be installed. The old one (40 years) still works well, but for how long? We're planning longer trips and to more remote areas and want the extra security of a reliable engine. As a bonus, this new engine will be quieter!

The weather wasn't the greatest on Saturday morning, but soon cleared up. 

Sunday afternoon skies shone blue and clear. How I love these brighter, longer days. I have more energy to plan and do things. A wander around the garden with my camera revealed lots and lots of life springing up in the garden. Rhubarb, hydrangea, peony, lilac, and rose bushes unfurl in response to the season. White Candy Tuft begins to bloom. 
"Welcome, welcome," I say.

This winter has been extremely mild, as evidenced by the parsley plant that hasn't died down. I've been able to clip from it all winter. Now the chives are poking up, and soon oregano will show new growth. The garlic I planted last fall is 3 inches tall. Kale plants are yielding a wealth of leafy greens. 

It could still get cold, and possibly snow, but as the days pass, the likelihood lessens. Are there any signs of spring in your corner?

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

Thursday, February 08, 2018

This Week

From the kitchen window I see the snowdrops, white and green against the brown dirt. I pick a bunch from behind the porch where they are barely visible. In the warmth of the house, white petals fly upwards like nun's headdresses caught by the wind. Green circles and upside down hearts on the inner petals make me laugh. They seem incongruous with the snowdrops quiet elegance. 

I recently finished this book, won in a giveaway from Golden Hours. I was eager to read it, from a number of reviews I'd read, and did finish it quickly. I kept hoping it would get better, but it didn't. I found the setting idyllic, the premise enchanting, but the characters sadly lacking. The "Man in the Wing Chair" seemed arrogant, and the tone of the book didactic. 

I did like the concept of an ideal marriage including marrying someone "better" than yourself, in the sense that one's ideal mate has different and admirable qualities than oneself, hence the attraction. 

If you've read it, I'd be interested to hear what you think. 

I've been sewing this week. Clothes. For myself. I'm having a lot of fun. I belong to a site called Pattern Review. It's a great site for checking out others' experiences with sewing patterns, and reading articles about sewing. They host a variety of contests throughout the year, and I've joined a few in the past. The goal, for me, isn't so much to win, but to push myself to finish a number of garments within a set time period. This one goes from February 1 - March 15, with the goal of sewing six garments: 2 bottoms, 3 tops, one topper (jacket/vest/cardigan). I've got two complete at this point, one top and one pair of pants. We'll see if I can keep up the pace and finish. 

This week, we've had sunshine. Oh, it is so wonderful to see. Today, the late afternoon sun illuminated the spring bulb pot on the front porch. Golden daffodils made even prettier by the sun. 

Are they not the cheeriest sight? 

If you want to watch poetry in motion, watch this young woman, Li Ziqi, design, dye fabric, and create a flowing dress. I went down a bit of a rabbit hole when I discovered her other videos depicting traditional Chinese ways of making paper, foods, cosmetics, and more. Fascinating. There is no narration, only music, but it's beautiful. 

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Freesias in February

Last Thursday, a bundle of tightly closed freesias came home with me from the grocery store. After trimming the stems, I plopped them into a vase and waited. 

My wait has been rewarded by creamy blossoms gradually opening to release the delicate, fresh scent of early spring. 

Here's another photo, taken a few days earlier, by the light of a little lamp in the morning.

We're doing some planning for the kitchen renovation that is going to take years, not months. First step was the fireplace we installed last autumn. Next will be trading out the sliding glass doors for a single hinged door, and installing a window on a blank wall. To that end, we taped off the size of the window and moved the breakfast table in front of it. Since there's nothing to see and no light there, the little lamp adds a cozy ambiance. 

On Saturday, we helped some friends move, and Tim also helped do some minor repairs to a "new-to-them" first home purchased by our children. My task for the day was providing lunch for the gang. I set up at our eldest daughter and her husband's home, since it's closest to all the activity. 

Our three grandchildren were there, as well, and the wooden train set is a favourite of Mr. F, now almost 4. The two girls ran around playing "hotel" and making tickets for us all to check in. 

When it was time to go home, Mr. Bear apparently wanted to spend the night at Nana's house, so he came along. I assured Miss S that he would have a good time and took some photos of him reading (Mrs. Tiggywinkle), sleeping under a cozy quilt, and eating berries, nuts, and yogurt for breakfast. He's home again now, and Miss S used her mother's camera to take a photo of him playing Lego, and shared it with me on Facebook. 

This afternoon, Sunday, Tim and I went for a long walk. Although the wind was chilly, warmth from the sun heated our backs, and the sky was blue, blue, blue. Such a welcome sight. Brighter skies, brighter days. Hooray!

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

Friday, February 02, 2018

A Walk in Wales

February is probably my least favourite month. I get restless. I want to start new projects and not finish them. My winter wardrobe is boring. This year, I'm tired of the incessant rain. Dreary. Grey. I want to go somewhere sunny. 

I'm going to take some virtual trips. Would you like to come along? Let's go to Wales. Wales, you say? Wales - where rain falls all the time? Yes, Wales. 

On a very sunny, hot morning in July we left our cozy room in Woodmancote, bravely setting our GPS (Sat Nav) for Lampeter, Wales. I wrote a little bit about the trip here. We arrived in the town of Brecon and thought to find a place to take a short walk before lunch. Our rental car trundled over the bridge (very narrow) and up through the winding streets out of town, looking for something that resembled the walking path we saw on our map. 

"Quick! Turn here!" And we veered sharply to the left, which isn't as dangerous as it sounds in Canada, because we were driving on the left hand side of the road already. Actually, we were in the middle of the road; there wasn't enough room for a left and a right lane. 

We parked in a little pullout off the main (narrow) road, and walked down the steep lane. To the right the bank rose sharply up to the road and Welsh sheep stood in clumps on the incline. 

At the bottom of the lane, a black and white Welsh cottage drowsed in the heat. Don't you just want to knock on the door and be asked in for tea? Instead, we followed the curving path to the left and crossed a small river - the Honddu. From the stone bridge, the path went left or right; which should we choose?

Left, we decided. We walked, slowly, because it was very hot. The trees provided shade and the trickle of water in the river gave an illusion of coolness. Mere illusion. The path led out of the woods and along a field with a farmhouse in the distance. 

After a short while, we arrived at this stile. The path continued through the field, but we chose to turn back for two reasons. One was the heat; we couldn't bear to be out of the shade. (I write this while sitting beside the fire, looking out at the rain falling down, and I can hardly imagine it now.)

Here's the second reason. That cow on the left didn't look too friendly. We thought that perhaps the heat was making her irritable. Choosing discretion over valor, we stayed on the woodsy side of the stile. 

Back we went, in the direction of Brecon. Did I mention the heat? So hot. 

The path led alongside the river, where sunlight filtered through the trees and made pretty shadows on the water.

We had no intention of walking all the way back to Brecon, so we returned to the car, trudging up the steep lane. A row of houses lined the right hand side of the lane. White cottages, lavender, and stylish doors caught my eye. Forge Cottage is the name, and if you "google" that name, Mr. Google will take you to the very lane. 

Lavender! Can you imagine it? I'm tempted to take the photo out to my shorn, flowerless plants and show them what's in store for them in a few months. 

Back to Brecon where the Welsh flag flies above the Brecon Castle Hotel, built snugly against the ruins of the 11th century Norman castle. 

I'm feeling brighter, are you? And outside, the rain has stopped and there are patches of blue. February isn't so bad, after all.

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-...