Archive for the ‘Luxury’ Category

Farmer’s Market

August 16, 2016

A block’s walk from my apartment is the venue of our local Farmer’s Market. It houses an odd mixture of vendors’ stalls – vegetable growers, artisanal sausage makers, pie makers, garlic growers, purveyors of hand-made soaps, macaroons, jams, sauces and condiments, crafters of dubious quality hand-strung jewelry, bannock frying natives, hand crocheters and knitters who use really nasty acrylic yarns of ghastly colour combinations, the occasional potter and local amateur painters of  picturesque dabblings. The prices are exorbitant. Anyhow much of what is on offer is a bit too pricey for my wallet, or would be, were it not for the coupon program for low income seniors and families, of which I count as one. So, I do not flinch too much when asked to hand over $4 for a knob of Russian.  garlic or $3 for a couple of medium sized tomatoes. There is a $6 allotment for meat weekly included in the coupons, but a package of four artisanal sausages comes priced at $9, so every other week a purchase of one package is manageable. Otherwise, one might purchase a precooked sausage on a stick for $5. A 3 oz. piece of Sockeye salmon is priced at @ $17, so that is a market I find myself reluctant to frequent.

I do find the vegetables of such excellent quality that the act of eating freshly picked and fully at optimum ripeness produce is a tremendous pleasure. The weekly coupons are a welcome gift!

Last Saturday, my favourite vegetable vendor had two generous sized Vegetable Marrows left over at the end of market. Every August I am always on the hunt for these. They are not commonly grown  or seldom available in our little city as most people don’t know how to cook them. The vendeuse, Flor, asked me what they were, as this was the first year she tried growing them. Casting my eye around her booth, I collected an onion and a clump of fresh dill. As I handed over $6 worth of coupons to purchase the marrows, onion and dill, I explaine how I was going to prepare them fro my special feast for that evening’s meal. “Heavenly it will be!” I told her. She replied that she was wanting to ty that dish, as it sounded so simple to prepare.

Here is my grandmother’s recipe for Hungarian Tokfozelek (missing the umlaut and accent ague)

1 Medium Vegetable marrow – halved lengthwise, seeded and peeled. Cut each half into thin slices across the width, set in a colander, sprinkle with salt to release excess water in the flesh. Set aside for 20 minutes.

1 Peel and finely slice one medium onion.  Saute in butter over medium heat. While onion is softening, squeeze excess water from the sliced marrows, and add them to the transparent softened onions.  Stir, cover pan and lower temperature slightly. Stir several times over 10 minutes.

3 Meanwhile chop about a handful of dill fronds, toss into onion and marrow, stir and keep cooking.

4  measure out 3/4 cups of sour cream , add to the vegetables, stir in, grind on salt and pepper, let heat to steaming.

5 Sprinkle with Sweet or Hot Hungarian Paprika.  Serve with bread, chicken, sausage ,or pork steaks.  A green salad on the side completes this feast.

I often just eat this vegetable side dish by itself, if I have eaten my daily meat alottment already.

On listening to Rimsky-Korsakov…

September 14, 2012

Yesterday, Martha, who is disassembling her life here and moving to London, brought me a plasti-bag full of music CDs she is de-accessioning. “Keep what you want,” she said.  “Most of these are from a time when I was trying to develop a taste for classical music, but no longer play regularly.” In spite my promise to myself to acquire no more possessions, on studying the labels of each CD, and what composer and piece of music was exampled on the different discs, these gifts from Martha seemed appropriate to where my head and heart are these days, reveling in memory, revisiting long-assumed to be dormant pleasures of sensory nature. Perhaps because it is September, a treasured time of the year for me, when memory causes me to anticipate the joys of this season, that aides memoires such as the sound of winds in the late afternoons, and specific passages of sound make me revel in being alive.

So, I popped onto my player the Scheherezade of Rimsky-Korsakov as I prepared hot water and vinegar with which to wash the tile floors in my apartment. I should know myself better by now, because, all of my life I have been unable to multi-task, especially when music is a component of what must compete for attention. After hearing about the fourth bar of the overture, I collapsed into a heap on the couch, dripping scrubbing cloth clutched in my hand – and all ears.

Memories arose, unbidden.  Of kneeling on the floor in my childhood home, right next to the radio, of a late September dusk, Anyu and Apu sitting close-by in the scuffed leather chairs, Idiko perched on the piano bench, all of us silent as Scheherazade piped through the cloth covering the radio speaker.  A few years later, coming home alone  in the afternoon from Catholic school in Kingston, after parting from Ildiko at the church where she had her daily piano practice session, letting myself into the empty brownstone parlour and for company putting on the Rimsky-Korsakov record which had arrived as donation in a box of household goods from our church. On hearing the second movement, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude in the memory of how that music had helped me then assuage feelings of nostalgia for my lost homeland, and how it had kept me wonderful company when I was feeling particularly alone.

After an unexpected lassitude overcame me, my thoughts strayed to doing guided meditation sessions while recovering from Leukemia treatment, which involved the therapist verbalizing a scenario in a soothing voice – so sound and meaning implied by word content and context was able to transport one beyond quotidian concerns into a place of respite. That fleeting moment of puzzlement was replaced by a sense memory of holding my new-born son and a reminder of the special place of safety and oneness a mother and infant shared moment can be.

At some points in the music the sound made me experience temperature change, taste sensations, colour variations and the texture of varied fabrics.  Sinewy arabesque threads wound along the lines of melody Instrument sounds implied tapestries woven of different weight and colours of fibres. A taste of fresh figs, honey, acrid sweetness of plums vied with pungently spiced  taste tidbits, the texture of roasted almonds. I was awash in sensations.

Sudden silence when the music stopped brought me back to the clammy touch of the cool washrag in my hand, the sunlight streaming through the windows, the sound of wind teasing through the aspens outside. The noises of nearby construction re-asserted itself. My tile floors remained uncleaned, but after relaxing in my newfound sense of comfort and pleasure, I tackled that chore with a vigour which surprised me.

I do wonder though, do creators of works of art ever comprehend the effect of their creations, because they are ever varied, and largely unpredictable. But the riches bestowed on the individual appreciator are thousand-fold.  Was Scheherezade an artist? She of the Thousand and One tales, the one Rimsky-Korsakov references as muse, to aid us in reviewing tales of our own, read about, told to us, or directly experienced. Hmmm…

Old to you, new to me…

November 7, 2009

Lookingforbeauty and her friend Carole are doing a timely bit of business together. They are holding and Art and Antiques Sale at LFB’s house. They have been preparing for this sale for about two weeks, dusting, washing, polishing, displaying and pricing wares they have obtained by various means during the past 20 years and which they have been amassing and stockpiling due to their true nature as magpies. Magpies love shiny pretty bits of things, and true to their nature collect little caches of found treasure that attract and please their eyes. These two ladies are truly the magpie Sisters. And now, they plan to divest themselves of these treasures, and share them with others.
There is a lot of “stuff”, objects of desire, if not always of utility, circulating out in the world. Daily more and more stuff is created to add to this mass of materal goods. There is always something new to seduce the eye, the desire for novelty and luxury and to stir a lust for acquisition or gifting.
Over my lifetime, I have successfully resisted the siren call of goods. It is not that I do not admire beauty, utility or clever and ingenious design, it is simply that I have not the need, want or desire to weigh myself down with things which give momentary stimulation or which must be stored, guarded or maintained. My possessions must not define me; I resist the pigeonholing one must submit to in order to allow possessions to signify who I am. This may be a form of perversity, of my constant need for rebellion.
One of my great pleasures is to go about looking at everything, considering the importance of things in the scheme of existence. Old stuff is fascinating; they give clues to ideas about what constitutes a good life as expressed through material accumulations, what is valued, at what level of valuation as signifiers they sit. Old stuff gets passed from generation to generation; their value being association and sentiment which have uncounted value and yet propel forward as weight which is carried and then added to with new stuff to create even more weight, impediments and preventers of a baggage free life. At once a blessing and a curse, we pass around compilations of goods to benight the next generation. I am not exempt from this behaviour.
Last evening, I braved blustery fall weather to nip over to LFB’s house to peruse the offerings she and Carole had displayed for today’s sale. I pored over the goods with the same zeal that I had demonstrated while digging in the backwoods middens of early BC settlement at Wells some 20 years ago. What treasures might beckon my magpie eyes? What wonderful objet would call out to me. “So, or so might enjoy having this for themselves?”
Well. A mold made glass plate, an example of Depression glass, caught my eye. Martha would enjoy serving pickles from this at one of her many buffet dinners with which she welcomes guests. Only $5.00. Done! I set it aside. Of! Look! there is a bisque porcelain pelican, the one I have been admiring, while it was sitting on top of LFB’s linen press for several years now. Barb loves birds and loves intricate and delicate detail and a lovely surface. This is perfect for her Christmas present this year. has Barb ever seen a live pelican? Maybe a well crafted stand-in would do, in case she never has set eyes on this wonderful bird, or may never, in her lifetime. Set it aside!
Oh, yes. YES! There is a set of beautiful etched drinking glasses, each one a different colour of glass, each one decorated with a lush exotic bloom. Lucky would enjoy handling these and serving sparkling mineral water from them to her family. Put these aside on the pile, also!
I meander around, looking, considering, wondering who had handled these during a life at which I can only guess.
There are baskets of silver, polished for presentation. Ah, but look – there is a pile of odds and ends sitting in a box. What stuff is in there, jumbled, ready to be discovered by the curious eye? What is this black and red square of about 1 inch proportions? I poke around and lift this up. It is an enamelled ear-ring, of 60’s beatnik vintage. Poke, stir, turn… aha! here is its pair.
I get a moment of flashback and nostalgia to the mid 60s, when my friends Myra, Terry and I used to go to artsy craft shops and admire goods for sale. We never had enough money for any more than our bus tickets to and from such places. But we handled and admired the hand-crafted offerings. These ear-rings might delight Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis. She loves hand-crafted ear-rings, especially arty ones. Place them in my pile of findings.
Poke around some more in the box from which these ear-rings came. Yes! A primitive looking fish pendant! It’s made of aluminum, I think and say so to LFB. “Nope!” she comments, “that is Pewter.” I scratch the back of the pendant with my fingernail, and announce to her that it is aluminum. We haggle; LFB being the friend she is lets me have it for a half-price reduction.
This one is perfect for Emma, my niece – she is a Pisces. I put the pendant in my growing bit of stuff. But I am not yet done.
Stacked by the fireplace are piles of old books. I kneel down and start to read the titles on the spines. There is a slim volume in a dustjacket. It is a 60s compilation of aphorisms on the French take on Love and Life. I open it and begin to peruse the contents. Some great stuff in here. I say to LFB, “Are you sure you want to sell this? There is a huge possibility for you to work up a Conceptual series of drawings from these. Wouldn’t those be fun to undertake?” LFB gives me a considering long look. “Okay,” she finally mutters, ” I guess, now I’ll have to keep this.” She sets the book aside on her kitchen counter, so she can give this idea more thought.

And then, I find the perfect treasure for myself. It is an olive coloured, leather bound book – its front cover loose and detached. It has a gold-embossed laurel wreath with ribbons swirling from the wreath. On the ribbons is engraved “Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat.” I hold it in my hands and feel the buttery soft binding. Turn it to look at the highly decorated spine – Land Surveying, the author, HJ Castle. On opening the book, a series of chapters on mathematical and trigonometry problems, introduction to the theodolite, leveling and surveying complete with illustrations appear, and at the end ofthe book a table of logarhythmic sines and tangents and traverse tables. For some reason, this book appeals to me – I must have this for myself. I have long been fascinated with geometry, topography and about these concepts. Illustrations explaining mechanics of breaking down information I have long considered an art form. So, this is the finding which I was happy to come uon for myself. LFB said that the book had been one of her Father’s text-books from Upper Canada College. Her dad had been a professor of Civil Engineering at UBC. His old textbook was new to me. I plan to reattach the cover and interleave its pages with appropriate diagrams I will most likely find in my peripatetic way of uncovering information – maps, graphs, photos having to do with terrain, the landscape.

It is my hope that the treasures I have obtained from LFBs magpie collecting will have the effect of novelty to the people to whom I plan to gift these.
Of course, they may not really like to be further burdened with additional stuff, however, if they so desire, they can pass these things forward. Old stuff can in this way remain new.

Jam-jar aesthetics…

October 23, 2008

If people were generally more knowledgeable about the resources used and labour expended in the fabrication of the simplest items of daily use we would find the contemporary privilege of unchecked choice horrific, wasteful and counter to our need for self-preservation as a species.

One day, while waiting for my friend to complete her banking business, I wandered around our local Value Village. In several long aisles there were a staggering variety and number of flower-vases, lined up higgledy-piggledy, cheek to jowl – vases that householders had found lacking in currently favoured taste, and which then they had discarded or otherwise removed from their consciousness and environs. Mind you, there were no un-noticed Daum or Lalique vases with which to tempt the tightwad person of bourgeois aspirations. There were however many acceptable containers in which to temporarily house flowers arriving at our shore from overseas flower growers. Yes – there was that delicately cut bud-vase in which to display that red rose from Colombia, the one that would make its way home from a refrigerated container at the harbour’s edge, to the auction house on Marine Drive and then from the local florist or grocery store. A visitor to the house, where such rose is displayed in its hot-house glory, might sigh in appreciation at the unblemished perfection of the flower amply displayed in the tasteful and delicate cut glass bud-vase. The fact that it is the last gasp of autumn here and no roses can thus bloom on their shrubs would simply not occur to the visitor, the magnificence simply erases all practical and logical thought.

And such is the case with most of North-Americans’ aesthetic manner of living. Special containers need specimen and uncommon flowers to display, and there must be a variety of containers available – to suit every taste and personal economy. It is somewhat doubtful that a fashionable matron in the British Properties, or in Shaughnessy would walk along ditches and fields, collect wildflowers and display them in an empty Smuckers Strawberry Jam jar. No, for such a lady the Meinhardt’s on South Granville or a flower selller on Granville Island or in Kerrisdale might provide the exotic blooms for which the vases are purchased from Atkinson’s or Martha Sturdy on Granville or even Birks, downtown. The aspiring middle-class housewife might purchase her flowers from the local flowershop, or the grocery store, and her vases from Bowrings, Ikea or Homesense. Women, disparagingly classified as granola-munchers, the frugal or the poor ones might just do with a second-hand vase picked up at a garage sale or thrift shop, and if really skint, then put into service the good old jam-jar or milk bottle.

I have to confess that I have often displayed downwardly-mobile tendencies in the past, and continue to do so to this day. While I love beauty in its myriad forms, I feel no pressure to own it. It is enough that it merely exists, everywhere, commonplace hard-wrought beauty. Of particular value are the tools with which life is carried on; they need to be functional and long-lasting – in that resides their beauty. The term, “gilding the lily” comes to mind. One does not have to apply flourishes to something whose inherent beauty is enwrapped in its perfect functionality. The field daisy can vie with the lily; both are beautiful, each in their own way and neither needs embellishment and both look spectacular placed in a plain tall drinking glass, or a tall narrow pickle-jar. An ornate carved crystal vase diminishes the flowers, in my opinion. Possible contemplation of the marvel of nature that is a field daisy is distracted by the context of man-made tour-de-force of elaborate craft.

One of the few wedding presents Rumpole and I received was a gorgeous carved Lalique vase. It sat on our mantle for three years and never once housed flowers. It seemed to overpower the kind of flowers and grass stems I picked up in my forays about the neighbourhood. It never loooked right, and seemed to me a reminder of the kind of rarified life I was to aspire to – one of ease, leisure, and material comfort and a distancing from visceral pleasures of a rather grubby life. Never having been a young woman to whom were given flowers, but rather tin snips, wire cutters, metal files, carving tools and prosthetic arms and other strange, unfeminish items such as strange rocks and concretions or dried dead things. The joke in our house was that if it came from a ditch, field, or midden it took pride of place on the mantle; however if a glorious bouquet of flowers came from a flower shop or decor shop it was left to decay, deform and otherwise gather dust and then it was of value. That poor Lalique vase never had a chance for long survival. Whilst packing up the house to move up north to our acreage and log house in the bush, I was carefullly sorting and determining just what objets deserved careful wrapping and placing into packing boxes. The concretions, shells, bits of bark, twigs, stones and seeds were carefully wrapped and set aside. Similarly, any old and roughed up glass medicine jars picked up from dusty second hand stores and jars of pleasant proportion, with or without lids, were lovingly seated among crumpled nests of newspaper and insulated against brakage. I had left the Lalique vase to the end, considered giving it to my mother, who might have been horrified at what an unsentimental ingrate I was to not value such a beautiful gift. I held it nestled in my hands as I stood above the flagged stone apron of the fireplace, contemplated the vase and what it meant to me,to the giver, to any other recipient who might have valued it; decided that I had neither the inclination nor energy to spend time in seeking a new home for the vase, opened my fingers and dropped it onto the stones. It shattered into fine pieces, which I then swept up and put into the dustbin.

The last item I packed from the mantle was a small plaster plaque which six-year old Renaissance Man had made for me of an impression of a leaf. I still have that sitting on my studio window, next to an empty jam-jar ready to hold a foundling weed flower, and alongside a toy firetruck and some retrieved circuit boards. Oh yes, and a cardboard cut out of a brocade bedecked Renaissance Queen.

That is what I consider jam-jar aesthetics; a not very fashionable one, but which gives me far more satisfaction than the Lalique vase ever did.

The hunt for strawberries…

July 11, 2008

Martha and I had our dinner and movie night a couple of days ago. On Wednesdays, I am a guitar widow;  Rumpole goes from work directly to dinner with a friend and then to his standing weekly guitar lesson. Martha rented “Death at a Funeral” for our movie treat. She made a supper of ribs, salad and for special dessert, strawberries and raspberries au nature. This time of year is special for it is when that yearly gift of strawberries can be so briefly savoured and treasured.

Last week, Looking For Beauty, dropped by after one of her local shopping forays and shared her treasure trove of local organic strawberries with us. They were perfect, blood red throughout, plump and sweet. it occurred to me that it might be so pleasant to pull out of the freezer a little bag, during one of those cold, overcast winter days when root vegetable stews are a customary diet. So off this gift of strawberries went into the freezer.

The local  strawberry crop had been much reduced this year, due to inclement cold early summer days and rains. The farmers are hurting; their crop yield is more than halved. So acquiring a small amount of this fruit to put up for winter delight has become a challenge. Today, Martha and I are trekking out into the valley to farmer’s stands, on the lookout for a small amount of strawberries by which to remember summer during those long dark winter days. It seems, that, once in while, a ration of a couple of berries, thawed out, sprinkled with a small dusting of sugar  will be such a bounty to share with friends and family.

This is far more meaningful, in my opinion, than purchasing unripe strawberries at the supermarket; the ones that come from Chile or  other far-flung places during our winter season are inedible and a waste of resource to import. Better to appreciate small amouts of what our land and weather provide, closer to home, than to vainly pretend that the seasons do not in any way affect our lives and pleasures.

Strawberries are a luxury, a gift and a delight. Maybe the ones we find today will have come fresh from the fields, warm from the reflected heat of sun on soil. And then, tomorrow, when Byline Woman and The Engineer come for supper, we can celebrate 40+ years of friendship by ceremonially tasting a touch of a shared summer.

A tag from Nita…

May 10, 2008

Fritz Wunderlich, tenor – Das Land des Lächelns

Nita – – has tagged me with a writing tag… to select a song which compels one to entre into a state where writing (or making images) is stimulated. While I rarely work with music in the background, preferring silence or ambient sound, certain pieces of music cause me to disconnect from mundane preoccupations and let my spirit soar into regions where imagination, or “what if”, lives.

This beautiful aria is one I fortuitously found on a record from an obscure little record store, back in 1973. It was a recording of Fritz Wunderlich’s great arias. A heartachingly beautiful tenor, this song is one I always listen to in the springtime. Especially when looking at my apple tree in bloom, which, this year it has not done in April, but rather late right now in May – I hum along in an atrocious alto with glee and intense pleasure.

“Die apfelbluete ist einen kranz…” (The apple tree is a crown…)

I hope you enjoy this lovely song, by someone who was one of the finest lyric tenors in the 20th century, one whose sad, abbreviated life, yielded so much musical pleasure for us all.



April 24, 2008

A person doing scuba diving is equipped with oxygen tanks which limit the amount of time one can safely stay alive underwater. That is a form of rationing; only a fool tries to go beyond the limits provided by the existing oxygen tanks.

In many parts of the world, but not where I live, people consume rations of food-stuffs. Some rations fall short of maintaining people’s health and well being. Meanwhile, where I live, the most exotic foods are readily available to people of average means. Variety of food is naturally rationed by seasonal availability, by the commonplace transport of foods from all over the world, and cost.

All of a sudden, news has arrived that Costco is limiting the amount of rice that can be purchased by individuals and small businesses. The reality that finally we may have to pay “actual” cost for food – the cost of transpost, storage, middlemen, producers – unleashes the first signs of panic in our carefully orchestrated  unreal reality, our waking dream life. No, I have not made my way to Costco to pick up several bags of Basmati, or brown rice to stockpile in our spare bedroom as a hedge toward scarcity.

I remember walking out with my Mother as a young child and waiting in line for the family ration of rice, which had to be taken in a pillow-case, and once brought home we spread out on the kitchen table to take out the chaff, gravel, and other components of the ration. Flour was rationed; as were sugar; coffee; beans and lentils. We live; we thrived; we played; we bemoaned the shortage of fresh fruit and vegs; we worked. Seasonal offerings were cause for joy and celebration. Living meant labour – daily doings which helped sustain us, offered us amusement and distractions from the rigours of living.

In comparison, my life has been one of almost unremitting ease and, yes, luxury. A suburban woman, I don’t perform one quarter of my mother’s labours. Yet I don’t view her life from the heights of condescension – she certainly didn’t lack in appreciation of the “refinements” of life; her tastes were not less sophisticated nor more pedestrian than my own – her ease, appetites, opportunities, ambitions  and labours were rationed in a balanced way.

I think it is high time to consider rationing my activities, appetites and expectations. Just enough, and no more, will most likely be a pleasing way to live.

Killing time…

February 4, 2008

A rosy mackerel dawn sky, fractured between the spaces of the winter-bare apple tree, beckoned me outside this morning. I drew my housecoat around me, ran my fingers through sleep tousled hair and stepped out to stand beneath the tree. The dawn silence, so precious, was interrupted by the jet drone of a large passenger plane headed south-west to land at Lulu Island.

How strange the world looks from up there. If, indeed, passengers are not busying themselves with stashing books and magazines in their bags, pushing their folding-tables back into place on the seat-back in front of them, steeling themselves for the change in engine sounds as the plane descends or as the plane’s wheels thunk down from the wheel-wells and brace for the landing impact.

I took bracing breaths of the chill morning air, lingered briefly in the slowly changing light, then went back inside to read the paper with the first coffee of the morning. This is not a copy of our regular newspaper, but of the other daily which has today a section of the Weekend Thriller Contest, to which both Martha and By-line Woman sent in  a second chapter installment. Had to have a look-see at what second chapter was chosen to continue the plot. Otherwise this paper I refer to, disparagingly, as a “rag”. There is of course no news of what our neighbours to the South are undergoing in their selection of Presidential Candidates. There was a heart-rending write-up of a family dog who gave her life to a cougar in exchange for her master’s. I browsed through the various sections until I reached the travel section. At this season of the year people who travel by plane often encounter long lay-overs, flight cancellations and rerouting – all due to winter weather conditions. The article that caught my eye and attention was:

“Tips on ways to kill some time at YVR

TRAVEL B.C.: There is a plethora of creative activities awaiting you at the airport”

by Rebecca Stevenson, CANWEST NEWS SERVICE

It’s like a sudden loss of altitude in the pit of your stomach: that sinking feeling when you hear your flight is delayed indefinitely.

In the blink of an eye, you’re reduced from a peppy jet-setter to an aimless loiterer.

Stranded travellers, don’t despair. Beneathe the surface of any airport lies a plethora of creative activities to while away the hours.

Here, we discover the secret world of Vancouver International Airport, or YVR.

*The sound of music: Instantly nix about 225 minutes in the domestic terminal by getting thyself to Virgin Books and Music’s CD listening station, where you can sample three full-length CDs.

*The medical/dental plan: Proceed downstairs to the dental clinic, where you can get a one-hour tooth bleaching session for only $375. next door, at the medical clinic, travel vaccines and flu shots are on order.

*Massage or a manicure: The next best thing just might be a treatment at Absolute Spa, which provides hair, make-up, massage, facials, manicures and the rest. There are three specialty “flight-delay” packages ranging from $75 – $95.

*The next level: And once you’re reduced to molten flesh, there is no telling what you might do next. Potential inductees to the famous “mile-high club” might want to pick up some condoms or lubrication at Pharmasave.

*Looking Good: Don’t forget to beautify at the Body Shop’s make-up testing counter.

*Food and drink: Gorging on calories and boredom often go hand-in-hand. But instead of defaulting to a personal dozen at Tim Hortons, why not add some flare to your consumption? Saunter down to the 7-Eleven in the Domestic Terminal and relive childhood by making your own root-beer float, or sipping a slurpee.

Treat yourself to a swanky meal at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport’s Globe @YVR or jetside Lounge restaurants, where you can sink your posh derriere into stuffed armchairs and take in the executive view of the runways.

*Drag your bloated body back to the Fairmont and use the Health Club ($10 for just the shower and sauna, $15 for the gym and pool). You can even drop into yoga and pilates classes.

*Shhh. had your fill of these sushi-eating, downward-dogging West Coast health maniacs? The Fairmont’s Quiet Zone Day Room ($99 for four hours) is literally the stuff lazy dreams are made of.

*Culture Vultures: Refreshed travellers can flit about the airport and soak up a bit of culture. First Nations art installations – including a massive Haida jade sculpture – are scattered throughout both terminals.”

(Sunday, February 3, 2008   THE PROVINCE)

After reading this article I realized once again why I hate reading newspaper Travel Sections (among other sections) where what purports to be an article is really nothing more than editorial advertising with copy-writing of the most breathless order.  Even the headline’s “ways to kill time” phrase panders to the most unthinking among us. Oh, sure, I know it’s just a figure of speech, but what a profoundly mindless one it is. But to couple it with the phrase”plethora of creative activities” and then to follow that up with a list of “consumer” services which cost a small fortune really insults a reader’s intelligence.

Nita at  posted on February 2, 2008 her writing about a truly creative act related to travel and flying, by a former Indian Airlines flight engineer, Bahadur Chand Gupta who created an opportunity to experience what it is to be inside a plane for people who would otherwise never set foot in an airport, enter and sit in a plane or rise above the surface of the earth. Nita’s piece, titled “A dream come true for those who will never fly.” is one which throws into painful contrast the attitudes we in developed countries have toward travel, particularly of the resource-consuming sort we take for granted such as air travel, against the realities of limited access to creature comforts, let alone opportunities for travel experienced by people living in  other parts of the world.

Here, where I live, to buy into so much sybaritic comfort made possible so that I and others can while away or “kill time” in superficial pleasures  requires a suspension of disbelief. The modern airport is an extension of the modern shopping mall, if I interpret The Province article correctly. Waiting, in transit between one place and the next, I must be entertained, pampered, pandered to in order to be lulled into acceptance of the “urge” to keep in constant motion around the world, otherwise I may have a spot or two of time where I may begin to think for myself and realize that travel is not what I would rather want or need to do.

The treat…

December 28, 2007

We celebrated Christmas day with Renaissance Man, Glasgow Girl and Mousey. I was so excited to be able to bring the dessert, a Mont Blanc, and had readied the ingredients days in advance. Rumpole cautioned me to phone ahead to find out if such a dessert might be welcome.  “You know how Glasgow Girl is weird about food; she may not like this dessert, and all your labours will be for naught.” He did have a good point. Glasgow Girl hates nuts, and chestnuts are nuts, even if somewhat unusual ones. Naturally, she said, Thanks, but no, thanks. So there went that plan to provide pleasure for RM and a new treat discovery for Mousey. I was temporarily disappointed, but then realized that there are more Christmases ahead in the future, so one of these years I can make this for them.

Martha had invited Rumpole and me to a Boxing day celebration with her son, Davide, cousin Etienne, brother Richard and his wife Louise. Rumpole said to Martha, “We will bring a Mont Blanc to dinner as dessert.”

So, after we returned from Christmas dinner with RM, GG and Mousey where Mousey had been wild with enthusiasm for the poached pears I had provided for dessert, Rumpole and I began preparing the chestnuts after donning our pjs and housecoats. He wielded the small sharp knife and cut crosses in the flat sides of the chestnuts. He worked so hard that he wore through the skin of his guitar picking forefinger. “I hope this heals by time for the New Year’s gig,” he moaned. “How do I explain being a disabled bass player?”

“Just say to the guys in the band ‘I got injured in Operation Dessert Storm’,” I giggled, choking on my tea. “Surely they can relate to helping your wife in elaborate kitchen preparations.”

There sure were a lot of chestnuts in the pile, but he did a yeoman’s job of crossing their bottoms with little Xs. At One a.m. we staggered off to bed, after Rumpole bandaged his finger with a bandaid.

Boxing Day morning, while many citizens were lined up at Future Shop and Best Buy for the big sales, we began our culinary labours. While I made coffee, Rumpole set the chestnuts ,covered in water, to boil on the stove. Then while he sipped his morning cup, I began to hull the chestnuts. man, was this laborious. My left thumb became, sore, then numb. But the pile of naked nuggets grew, and we sampled them for taste. Yum, but still needing further cooking.

“Do we have two quarts of milk?” I asked Rumpole. “Please check in the fridge.”

“There’s only a quart,” he replied after checking. ” I’ll run out and get some more.”

I still had half a big pot of chestnuts to shuck, so as he left to get more milk, I continued to make inroads on the never ending pile. By the time he got back with the milk, there were still a couple of handfuls of chestnuts to strip. Once those were finished, he poured the mik to cover the chestnuts, and set them to heat on the stove. We drank another cup of coffee as we waited.

“What’s the next step?” asked Rumpole while I cast a critical eye on the pot to make sure the milk didn’t boil over.

“Check the recipe, and tell me what needs to be done next,” I said to him.

“We need to make a syrup of sugar and water, next, to cook the chestnuts further.” He brought out the sugar and measured the right amount of sugar and water in a big glass measuring cup. He heated it in the microwave to make a solution.

While I went off to dress, he decanted the milk from the simmered chestnuts, after tasting for doneness, and poured the syrup onto them and set them to cook and reduce the liquid. That took a good half hour.

Then he watched with interest as I poured in a splash of Kirsch, a spoonful of vanilla. He crumbled the almond paste over top and let the whole mess cool. Meanwhile, I fished out my German, hand-cranked food mill, assembled the parts and set it over a bowl for the next phase of production. Rumpole inspected the food mill and admired its simple workings. “This is like something my Mother would have used – really old-fashioned.” He gave it a few turnings, and announced, “How simple and effective this is, – amazing.” We waited for the chestnuts to cool.

For the next hour, I cranked the chestnuts and almond paste through the mill, twice, and with the second pass through the finer extruder built up the mountain on a shallow crystal bowl. Rumpole hovered and tasted. He said it was heavenly. I had worked up a good sweat from the milling, and went off to have a shower. He covered the mountain and put it into the fridge to chill. He grated chocolate shavings and packaged them into a covered bowl.

Soon, we were ready to drive to Martha’s house. Rumpole carried the mountain out to the car, with infinite care. I snagged the Whipped Cream from the fridge, and took a thimble full of Kirsch to fortify myself, and locked up the house.

At Martha’s, Rumpole carried our offering into her house. Company had assembled. Martha’s Jack Russel terrier, Murtaugh, and Richard and Louise’s large old Shepherd, Bogart, milled around looking for food they could smell but couldn’t access.

Dinner was fabulous; the company of friends, scintillating. We told stories. Martha and her brother, Richard, are great raconteurs; very entertaining. There was much laughter at the table. The dogs, hovered, looking for hand-outs. In inimitable Martha fashion, she had once again outdone herself as a hostess, and had provided a feast not only for the senses but also for companionship.

I dressed the chestnut mountain with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Martha did the honours and scooped spoonfuls onto the tiny Japanese dishes with chestnut leaf decorations. Richard, Louise and Martha had never before eaten chestnuts. But, Etienne exclaimed, “Ah, creme de marrons – heaven!” (He had been a server at one of Vancouver’s finest restaurants before retirement.) “If there are any left-over of this, I want them to take,” he purred as he took a third helping. Rumpole and I had small helpings; we had laboured so hard at producing this dessert that neither of us felt like eating more then a tiny portion. The mountain disappeared; only a couple of spoonfuls were left. We repaired to the living room and sprawled, sated and watched a really bad James Bond movie starring Roger Moore. It was the one with the interminable chase scenes on cigar boats in the bayoux of southern Florida. This movie was not exactly conducive to good digestion, but it provided an occasion for some wicked movie critiques from the men.

We had a lovely evening together. On the way to drive Etienne to the Sky Train station, Rumpole expressed how much fun he had being a part of dinner preparation, even though the process was so labour intensive and resulted in war wounds.

“But, then, it was really ‘Operation Dessert Storm’, and surely injuries are par for the course,” he chuckled.

Mont Blanc at Christmas…

December 5, 2007

Memory – It is December. I am eight years old and am carrying my violin case while walking with Apu to my evening half-hour violin lesson. Stalin Utca is covered by a layer of freshly fallen dry snow; our footsteps squeak as we walk along. Apu smokes a cigarette; in the cold air he sends up great plumes of breath, like a tall dragon. Like a baby dragon, but one weighted down with a hard violin-case, I belch little plumes of moist breath as I struggle to keep up with him. Apu is accompanying me instead of Anyu for the violin lesson tonight. He will sit in while the teacher, Mr. Peterfi, puts me through my paces. Anyu does not do this; she always sits in the waiting room to keep a closed door between my schreeching sawings at the violin and her ears.

Soon, the smell of roasting chestnuts permeates the crisp night air. Up ahead is a man, swaddled up in a cloth coat, standing by a brazier of burning coals. He rubs his mittened hands together and gives the perforated iron roaster a couple of shakes. Apu strides up to him, takes a deep appreciative snort, turns back and asks. “Gabi, do you want some?” I nod, yes, and watch the man as he lifts the lid and scoops a ladleful of split, steaming dark-brown nuggets into a folded twist of newspaper. He hands me this, as Apu seaches in his pockets for a couple of forints. The exhange made, we fish a couple of chestnuts out and begin to strip the scorched skins away from what we know is a delicious treat. This seasonal delicacy is only available at the beginning of winter. Forever after, smooth feel of  chestnuts’ outer skins, the hairy nap of the inner skin, the scent of them roasting, the heat of them in the palms and the undescribable deliciousness, I will always associate with this time of year.

Its 1974. Renaissance Man is four years old. We live up north in a little town where I teach high school to support us. We have a routine on Friday evenings. After coming home from school and day-care, we eat dinner, then, depending on weather conditions we either walk downtown towing RM’s red wagon, four blocks away from our basement apartment, or, if there is snow on the ground, I pull RM on his little sled. This is our weekly provisioning foray to Safeway which is the only big grocery store in town.

Outside the store, we leave the particular vehicle parked by the front entrance, and walk about inspecting and selecting from whatever fruit and vegetables, staples and meats are available. Around the end of November, the Japanese oranges suddenly arrive in the store. RM loves these and happily bags some after carefully unwrapping each green tissue-paper wrapped orange. Then on an early December shopping trip, we come upon a bin of shiny dark brown conkers. This is a huge surprise to me. Chestnuts, with their flat bottoms and curving mounded bodies, the little point at one end, the slightly lighter colour of the skin at the kernel end. He has never before seen these, and is instantly fascinated. We run our hands through the bin. He picks one up and sniffs at it.

“Are these food?” he asks. “It doesn’t smell like anything. What are these?”

“Chestnuts,” I say. “They are the seeds of big trees. They taste very good, but only when they have been roasted or boiled. Do you want me to get some so you could try eating them?”

“Let’s get some. Have you eaten these before, Mom?” He starts to select some and places them into a paper sack.

Slightly distracted with calculating just how much these might cost, because the cost per pound listed is so high, I take some time to answer him. “These were my favourite thing to eat in the wintertime when I was your age. I was always so excited when they came into season. You’ll just have to try them and see if you also like them.” I scoop more chestnuts into the bag, figuring that we can try to roast them, and maybe I can make us that very special, my absolute favourite, way of eating chestnuts – as gesztenye pure (pureed chestnuts) made into a dessert like little mountains with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, what Anyu always called Mont Blanc whenever she had made it for us on winter occasions.

After we finish our shopping, RM is too tired to walk home in the snow. He sits in his sled and hangs onto the  few paper sacks containing our weekly food. I pull him him home. He sits back, a small snow-suit clad pasha, and sings  as we go along on the snow covered sidewalk. I am ruminating about how I plan to prepare the chestnut puree tomorrow.

Later on, after RM has gone to bed, I take out my dog-eared copy of “The Joy of Cooking”, my cooking Bible. Sure enough, there is a section on how to prepare chestnuts to make puree. It seems really involved and time-consuming. It also requires one to have as an addition sweetened almond paste amd Kirsch. I read the instructions and determine that tomorrow we will have to go back downtown to get the almond paste and Kirsch.

The next morning, Saturday, we get an early start to head back downtown to get these two ingredients. Safeway has almond paste; the liquor store next door has no Kirsch. So Cointreau has to do as a substitute. To buy a whole bottle of Cointreau for a couple of tablespoons needed for the recipe seems a waste of money. I decide, the small bottle I buy will do as a little treat for visiting friends during December. Back home we schlep through snow.

At home, as RM goes off to build some sort of construction in his room, I begin to simmer the chestnuts in water for a couple of hours, then take off the softened outer skins. The inner hairy membrane refuses to come off. Back go the chestnuts into milk this time to be simmered for yet another hour. RM comes to the kitchen and asks why its taking so long to get this treat ready. We decant the milk from the chestnuts, let them cool, and begin the unpleasant process of pulling the hairy membranes from them. He gives up after a while and lets me finish this by myself.

According to “The Joy of Cooking”, one is supposed to take the softened cooked chestnuts, pass them through the fine sieve of a food mill, then mix in the almond paste, add the Kirsch and then, pass the whole thing through the food mill twice more. After the second milling, one is to let the puree tendrils snake onto a plate and form a mountain. My problem is that I don’t have a food mill in my kitchen. On the other, hand, I do possess a metal sieve. That has to do as a stand in. I spend the next hour patiently scraping the ingredients through a sieve with a rubber spatula.  This is hard work, very laborious. I have sudden appreciation for Anyu’s kitchen prowess and labours  to provide delicious food to our family throughout the years. My mountain of puree grows by very slow increments. By late afternoon, it’s getting dark, and I have exhausted my enthusiasm for cooking, and RM needs Dinner. It will have to be grilled cheese sandwiches tonight, followed by a fabulous dessert of Mont Blanc and an orange.

Rm comes back to the kitchen and watches as I make the grilled cheese sandwiches, and between turnings of these from one side to the other attack cream with the rotary hand beaters. I ask him to grate a bar of Jersey Milk chocolate. We top the mountain of chestnut puree with whipped cream. He sprinkles chocolate shavings on to decorate it. Our wonderful dessert is ready.

We make short work of eating the grilled cheese sandwiches, both of us eager to get to the high spot of tonight’s menu.

Finally, it is time to ruin the mountain, dig out a portion, test it on the tongue and declare it the most wonderful dessert to be had. RM does the honours. He sticks his spoon into the mound, tastes, looks very serious.  Is he going to like this, or say it’s awful? I watch him with great anticipation. He starts to grin. “This is sooo good. Can I have a lot of it to eat?”

I did eventually buy a manual food mill in the German deli downtown. This winter, the food mill is 33 years old, still serviceable. It has done yeoman service to make “Mont Blanc” for us at Christmastime during the years. It’s chestnut season right now. Almond paste is also commonly available for Christmas baking. I plan to make a “Mont Blanc” as a surprise for Christmas dinner. Renaissance man will be delighted, and maybe Glasgow Girl will be encouraged to take over a tradition of treating her family to this delicious food-stuff. I suspect the gods on Mount Olympus also feasted on a similar dish in the cold of a winter’s night. It is a dish fit for the gods!