Saturday, December 31, 2016

raisin bread for breakfast Jan 1, 2017

I want to make raisin bread for brunch à deux on New Year's morning.

Seems I haven't made raisin bread for a very long time.

The original glue from the binding is desiccated. The paper is as fragile as dead butterfly wings. The recipe belongs to a pamphlet I used when I first taught myself how to make bread. When I was 12 yrs old? Maybe younger. I was allowed to bake whatever I wanted. I recall having been fascinated by how yeast grew. Later I experimented with making my own sour dough.

Sure, I have other cookbooks--and a virtual supply of recipes a fingertap away. But I might try to guess at amounts and ingredients from this page. Why? Because.

All best to all for 2017!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

winter solstice in winterpeg, 2016

Where better to spend the shortest day of the year but in Winterpeg? True, we could have gone farther north to where the sun doesn't even clear the horizon, but we've got friends in Winterpeg. Ergo.

We went for a walk at dawn just before 8:30 am. A luminously cold Prairie sky from east to west to north to south. In Winterpeg you can turn in a circle and see the sky all around. You might never know you've got heart disease because you're never short of breath because you never have to climb a hill. That's not the case where I live in Montreal. The city is built around a low mountain. Where I grew up in Ontario, we had the Niagara escarpment--a geological formation which at one point becomes Niagara Falls. I'm used to hills, whether rolling, cigar-shaped, or jagged with rocks. So in Winterpeg I marvel at how the land s-p-r-e-a-d-s. And Winterpeg is only the beginning of the Prairies. What would Saskatchewan be like? (Someone please invite me to Saskatchewan! I promise I'll write a story--from the point of view of an outsider, of course. I won't appropriate voice.)

We walked to Assiniboine Park and along the Assiniboine River. Looking up from the banks, we finally saw the sun rising through the trees. Bare black branches... stark yet graceful.

My Alpine grandmother used to complain that she lived in a narrow valley hemmed in by mountains. During the winter the sun didn't rise high enough to clear the peaks. She could see the blue sky. For someone somewhere the sun was shining! But not for her in her valley. A bitter lament--but not enough to prompt her to leave home. It was my father who left.

I had a date to have lunch with a friend in the grand-railway, Plaza-style elegance of the Fort Garry Hotel. I planned to take the bus to the centre of Winterpeg, which was not complicated in itself, but I have no innate sense of direction. That knowing-where-you-are part of my brain is permanently lost down a rabbit hole. Years ago I decided to trust the kindness of strangers.

When I left R to wait for a bus that was supposed to take me almost to the doors of the Fort Garry Hotel--all I had to do was cross the street! and, of course, get off at the right stop--I asked two fellows who were discussing municipal Winterpeg politics if they could confirm I was at the right stop. I knew it was the right stop, but it never hurts to ask. As I hoped, one offered to tell me where to get off. In turn, he wanted to know where I was from which led to talk about winter in Montreal vs winter in Winterpeg. Except then, when the bus came, the fellow who had said he would tell me where to get off remembered that he was actually getting off earlier. No problem, I said. I'll ask the bus driver who was wearing a Santa hat which I assumed boded well. He agreed to holler when we got to my stop--which he did and even pointed across the street at the castle as he called it.

I meant to take more pictures, but my friend arrived and we had lots to catch up on.

In the afternoon R and I were supposed to go sledding with the kids. I was curious to see what kind of hill there was in Winterpeg, but desperate situations call for desperate measures.

The insignificance of the hill didn't prevent R and the boys from having a grand time, inventing ever more ingenious ways to careen down the slope. For example, how many bodies and what configurations could be piled onto a single sled?

R decided against this one before they set off. Right!

I couldn't watch the madness any longer and went to make snow angels.

There were adventures yet. Mum had seen a carp in the grocery store and knew one of the boys would enjoy scaling and gutting it. He was very excited. He'd never before scaled a fish. I suggested he watch a few YouTube videos, not realizing I would then be the adult chosen to watch the videos with him. (Grimace.) Dad came home and suggested a paint scraper would work better than the back of a knife. It does. It's also not as unwieldy to handle.

We ate carp for supper that evening. Me... maybe less of it.

Another feat of derring-do: a game of chess. Six years old is not too young when you have older siblings to explain the rules. One rule was to learn how to be a gracious loser. That wasn't as easy as understanding the moves a bishop or pawn could make. 

Mum asked for volunteers to make marzipan holly berries for the Christmas cake. That was when we discovered I had never seen a holly berry in real life. I was making cranberries. Way too large! 
Somewhere among the toys an elk was found to impersonate a reindeer. 

R had decided to help the eldest of the boys in his competitive swimming by giving him an arm extension. He, in turn, tried to educate R to the delights of Instagram.

By now it was time for baths and bed. I read a chapter of The Hobbit--which I haven't read since... 1970? Hey there, Gandolf! Well-met in the company of three rapt children.

Did I mention when the sun set? Just after 4 pm.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Having coffee in St-Henri in Montreal. I had to take a picture of these cups

because they reminded me of coffee that we had in Vienna, sitting outside in 2015. Global village or what?

Here in Montreal--more global village--I'm wearing a scarf my friend brought me from Pakistan.

We're not sitting outside here because it's December and this is Montreal.

You only realize how long your street is when it's bright with snow and Christmas lights.

Monday, December 12, 2016

finally snow!

That bike stays out all winter because R is always hopeful he might still be able to ride it.
The bush is a lilac. The vines are clematis. But hey, it's winter now.
I see, too, that the back gate really does need to be replaced. Wasn't as obvious without the snow.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

going for a walk Nov 28, 2016

There's a lot going on in the world and I keep my sanity as best as I can by going for walks. Sometimes I head west toward the river. Sometimes I hike uptown. Whichever direction I take, I leave my post-industrial hood of brick row houses and newly constructed condos. 

There's always something to look at.

Yesterday, as I was walking toward the Lachine Canal, I was disappointed to see this blank wall of a factory. For a few years the door had an elaborate graffiti around the frame that made it look like a theatre entrance: red velvet curtains furled back and held in place with silk tasseled cords. The door was painted a deep magical red. Why would anyone think a plain grey wall with a rectangular door was an improvement on that?

I kept walking and got a new shot of my favourite sign.

And the sunset and clouds and Lachine Canal did a gorgeous pseudo-velvet painting for me.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

montreal in transit

On the way home from a film, R and I took the Papineau bus across the street from the store where I bought a futon sofa a few years ago. At that time, the store was called Elvis Meubles. It's not called that anymore.

When I bought the futon, I thought I was finished with futon sofas. Futons were all I could afford when I was a student, but now I was a grown up. I wanted proper furniture.
But as we soon discovered, a futon was the only kind of sofa we could get up the narrow twist in our stairs, and I wanted a sofa in my study. Somewhere I could fling myself when writing got too much for my head. So I bought a futon on Papineau at Elvis Meubles.

On the bus R and I talked about the movie we'd seen. I was irritated by the many possibilities for character and plot development that had been left hanging.
Except for two people giggling a few seats away, nobody else on the bus was talking. They were texting. You gotta stay in touch, eh? What happens if you don't? You have to know what all your friends and family are doing. Keep up with the latest.

I was looking at the way people dressed. Today was sunny but still sock and jacket weather, but Montrealers can be schizophrenic when the seasons are changing. People are either eager to bring out the woollies before they're necessary or pretending it's still balmy when it isn't.

I wonder who is receiving all the text messages that are being sent. 
Do people have any sense of privacy or aloneness left?

Friday, November 4, 2016

aprons / Grimms' fairy tales / linen

Do you wear an apron? I'm pretty sure my mother wore one when I was growing up but I didn't take the habit with me when I left home.

I wore one the year I had a job baking cakes in a restaurant, because I didn't want melted chocolate or egg yolks dripped and smeared on my clothes. The kitchen wasn't so fancy that any of us wore full kitchen whites, except for the supper chef who gave himself airs. He had trained in France. The rest of us wore jeans and aprons. That was in 1981? 82?

At home I only started wearing an apron after I splashed a beloved sweater with hot olive oil. I opted for the bibbed apron over the skirt-style apron my mother used to wear.

That's not a picture of my mother and I haven't included a photo of my apron because it's long ago acquired a patina of avocado, tomato, orange juice, chocolate, oil and whatever else I've wiped across it over the years. An apron is handy when you need to blot your hands or clean a knife fast. I do wash the apron but the stains are there to stay. That's why they're called stains. (Stay = stains?)

I've been thinking about aprons because I want to know what kind of cloth would have been used to make an apron in Grimms' fairy tale times.

As far as I can discover, the common household fibre at that time in Europe was linen. Linen is made from flax. There are a few Grimms' fairy tales about the spinning of flax--most often when an irrational monarch demands that a girl spin flax into gold.

Last year I happened to wander into a shed in Austria where I saw honest-to-goodness flax. Even in the dim light, the fairy tales about spinning flax into gold suddenly made sense.

To get flax supple enough to spin into yarn, the stalks are threshed with flail, followed by retting, then scutching, AND THEN they are heckled with heckling combs!

If I'm ever heckled when I'm standing on stage, I hope I have the presence of mind to point out to my heckler that I am not a stalk of flax.

And here's a linguistic/textile tidbit I came across while looking up the history of cloth. When cotton was first introduced to Europe in the 1300s, people knew only that it came from a plant, and so they imagined there were trees that grew in India with tiny lambs on the ends of its branches. This myth lives on in the German word for cotton which is baumwolle. Literally: tree wool.

If you're wondering how far off the beaten path I went to find an old shed where flax used to be threshed, retted, scutched, and heckled, here's the view. The first snow had blown in the night before. Guess from which direction.

Making linen was a laborious process, but in countries that didn't have ties to cotton-growing colonies linen was still the least inexpensive textile until partway through the 19th century. Nightgowns were made from linen. Underwear was linen. Shirts were linen. Collars were linen. Skirts were linen.
When the brothers Grimm were researching and writing their fairy tales, aprons were made of linen. And people wore aprons. The word has been around in English since the early 1600s. Men wore aprons specific to their trade--carpenters, butchers, stonemasons, cobblers...

Even the witch in "Hansel and Gretel" wears an apron.

Illustrations of aprons courtesy of Fritz Fischer in Grimms Märchen (Bertelsmann Verlag, 1957) 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

dismantling a chimney / Gaspé Sept 2016

You get a few extras when you acquire an old house by the sea. Ours had a condemned brick chimney. R shrouded it with plastic and painted tar around the base to keep the rain from getting in. Every now and then when I was reading I could hear a brick tumbling down inside.

We'd had a stovepipe chimney installed for the wood stove. How much do I love sitting by the wood stove? Much, much, much.  +++++++ 

Last June when we visited the house, there was some water damage to the ceiling so we knew the plastic and pitch solution wasn't working anymore. Time to deal with the crumbling brick that was turning into a hole in the roof. 

R isn't one to complain. Only after he finished did he say that it wasn't fun to sit on the peak of a roof for a day and a half. 

Here's the after photo--with a fire in the wood stove keeping the house warm as we go for a walk on the beach. The hills behind the house are the tail-end of the Appalachians that cross the border from Maine into Québec.  

And this is the Gaspé, right? The beach is rugged. Rocks, lichen, cool wind off the water, kelp, seagulls, sky.