Thursday, June 28, 2012


Although I have a very tenuous relationship with vegetables for most of the year, in the summer I am more than willing to comply with the US Food Guide’s edict to fill up 50% of my plate with the requisite 5-12 servings of vegetables. 75% of the year I only grudgingly eat veggies because we are supposed to. Especially broccoli. I only buy and consume broccoli out of obligation.

But summer? Ah, summer is different. How sweet are those little growing things that we buy at the farm market, fresh picked from the good earth from June to October? How delightful are my memories of childhood riding in the back seat of my Dad’s Pontiac on the way to the Asparagus Lady’s farm near Bird’s Hill, Manitoba to get our weekly supply of those fresh cut stalks gathered by a woman with the flabbiest upper arms ever known to mankind? Her name was Mrs. Small, definitely not in reference to her arms, but my Dad called her Mrs. Asparagus Lady anyway even though she grumbled about it. I didn’t like asparagus in those days. But my parents were obsessed with eating as much as they could while those green stems were in season. In fact, they were obsessed with eating summer’s entire crop of vegetables as exhaustively as possible during Manitoba’s uber-short growing season, which began with the asparagus. We would eat asparagus for lunch and dinner until the later stalks grew as thick and fibrous as wood planks. Asparagus with cream sauce, asparagus on toast, asparagus with lemon and butter. Asparagus accompanied steak, pork chops and fresh pickerel fillets. After a week’s worth it seemed like we had been eating it for a month and I’d gag on every bite.

Next, they’d reroute the Pontiac over to a farm on McPhillip’s Road where the farmer used chicken manure to stoke his crops, a method he claimed as the reason his crops were so superior. His specialty: Peas! Peas were clearly more fun than asparagus because they involved popping the pod and running a thumb along its length to extract the tiny, round, sweet morsels inside. I’d shoot a few to the dog who would scramble across the kitchen floor to chase them. Peas came in pods in my youth. Nobody had even heard of Sugar Snap Peas, which to me are not peas at all. They are pods and they are stringy at that. We ate sweet green peas swimming in butter at every meal for another couple of weeks, again with the steaks, the pork chops and the fresh pickerel fillets. Peas I liked. Also I liked yellow wax beans and tiny baby potatoes. Potatoes were my arch enemies the rest of the year in their mashed, starchy gumminess. But summer baby spuds with loads of butter? Nothing better.

Then we started in on the first corn of the summer – which wasn’t 21st century engineered-to-be-super-sweet-forever corn that you get today. Corn when I was a kid was sweet for about 5 minutes after it was picked before the sugars turned to starch. It relied on instant consumption and a lot of butter but it was glorious – until later in the season when it would get thick and mealy. Mother would say, "Oh, that corn's getting mealy." Other kids’ families talked about having “a good feed of corn” which always struck me as sounding so porcine in approach. I figure this meant that they’d eat numerous cobs in one sitting, unlike our family where it was rationed to one per day. I couldn’t eat more than one cob a day, anyway. My body has no actual use for corn.

The award for most creative use of summer vegetables surely must have gone to my Dad for his pride and joy: his Summertime Sandwich. On one thick slice of white bread he’d slather a generous spoonful of my Mum’s sweet boiled salad dressing (a cornstarch, vinegar and sugar concoction.) On another slice of bread he’d slap a thick slab of cold butter (in our house, butter came in two forms: so cold it would tear holes in bread if you tried to spread it, or melted, as in over hot vegetables. There was no softened butter allowed in our household. When I told my Mum about a family down the street where they put butter to soften on a plate out on the counter and it was so nice to spread it on bread, she said, "Fine. You can have your own butter if you plan to do that.") In between the bread slices, Dad piled a combination of sliced raw produce: radishes, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, celery and lettuce. It was more salad than sandwich. On your first bite, everything inside would fall out onto your plate.

Until I was about 12 or 13, we had never heard of vegetables like zucchini, red bell peppers, broad beans, Roma tomatoes and eggplant. Then the DeConto family, newly emigrated from Italy, moved in next door and turned their entire backyard over to a garden. How exotic that produce seemed to me then. How delicious it all was, once we figured out what to do with the zucchini and broad beans the DeContos gave us.

Things are different now. You can buy all variety of produce at any time of the year. Asparagus comes from Peru or Mexico in December and January, which is when I don’t buy it. Instead, I love watching for those signs of the approaching spring as the asparagus in the grocery store at last becomes available from California, then gradually advances further north and finally it comes from local growers. Then we head to the farmer’s market to buy it fresh and eat it every day for weeks. It takes me back to my youth.

Only, these days, cholesterol levels demand that we leave out the butter. What a shame!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Don't Take My Kodachrome Away!

Now that our vacation memories are filed away in a Microsoft “My Pictures” folder entitled, “Charleston, 2012”, I got thinking about the joy I once had in taking snapshots.

I had a Nikon camera. I loved to take a photograph.  

I used to take hundreds and hundreds of snapshots that recorded our lives, our friends and families, our trips, our dogs, and our special occasions. Yeah, sure, digital cameras can do all that and more, what with tagging on Facebook and assembling albums on our Timelines and sending each other the latest breaking images from our phones of our every waking moment. But I used to love film. For me, digital photography has ruined a perfectly good hobby.

In the not so distant past, I used to love going to our local camera shop. I’d confidently ask for multiple rolls of Kodak Color Plus, 35 mm, ISO 200, 36 exposures, please, or Kodachrome 64 slide film with the processing and mounting included in the price. There would be that chemically aroma when I’d pop the top off those little black and grey canisters. And then I’d find it so satisfying to load the new roll into the old Nikon, matching those tiny square notches up with the sprockets inside and then listening for the sweet sound of the film engaging with the advancy thingy and settling into the first frame ready to take the most amazing images. There is nothing quite this tactile in the digital camera experience. You don’t even have to hold the view finder up to your eye for heaven’s sake! The whole camera-to-photographer relationship is so distant; so remote; so gone!

And when the roll was full, I’d race back to the camera store (drug store processing was never quite as good) to get it developed and printed. And what joy when the photos came back a week later. It was pure pleasure to hold 36 fresh 4x6 shots in my hands, to see the images for the first time, anticipating how happy and handsome we would look in each one. I wouldn’t look at them until I got home. It was cheating to sit in the car and leaf through the set; they deserved slow and rewarding contemplation. And to have the negatives, too, oh, joy! These offered the promise of duplication of the really nice shots for sending to friends and family as thoughtful Christmas gifts. Yes, digital photography can do all this. And I acknowledge the bonus of instant gratification, or instant deletion if you don’t like the image, but where’s the reward in that? Yeah, yeah, you can print them, but I find it just such a hollow experience to sit on a naughahyde stool in front of a touch screen at the pharmacy going press, press, press, on the shots I like and sending my order to the developing machine. The photos always come back looking flat and a bit iridescently yellow – the color not anywhere nearly as rich as on Kodak film – or even the least bit lifelike. Digital photos usually make me look like I have serious liver disease.

And then, and then, oh,  how I loved to buy a new photo album with those clear magnetic pages that peeled back so you could arrange your photos in any old random which-way you chose. Or pop slides into a tray and wait for dark to have a show and expect the projector to jam and break down so many times that we’d be rolling on the floor laughing.

I mean, when was the last time you had a slide show or leafed through a photo album you made from your last trip? Not recently, I bet. Oh, you might occasionally browse through the hundreds of folders you have stored on your computer and squint at your thousand-odd, itsy-bitsy images so dinky you can’t even see who’s in them, all lined up in neat, regimented rows labeled with heart-warming captions like DSC000172.

And there they’ll stay. Unless the hard drive crashes.

I discovered today that Kodak film is still available online. But is it worth reliving the glory days? Likely not. Even though it gives us the nice bright colors. It gives us the greens of summer. It makes us think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah. 

All that’s important is telling our stories. Which is what snapshots do, regardless of being digital or not.

So, here’s DSC000172 (aka: Ken and me on the beach, in the rain, in South Carolina, taken on Ken's iPhone)

Song lyrics paraphrased from “Kodachrome”, by Paul Simon

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Pork Trifecta

There is a road trip myth that tells the tale of people traveling the highways and byways of North America who, when a-hungered for lunch, happen upon greasy spoons, truck stops, diners or mom and pop cafés where they find exceptionally good food and meet authentic local characters, so that they not only get to taste great home cookin’ but also experience local culture as well. And pie. There is always pie.

I don’t know if these travelers exist or not, but if they do, they must have some kind of radar for good lunch, because this almost never happens to us. In 35 years of road trips I think I can count on one hand how many times a midday stop at a local eatery somewhere off the Interstate has resulted in a decent meal. We seem to pick places where the food is dreadful and the clientele makes us nervous. Mostly we have given up our search for indigenous culinary experiences when traveling from A to B. These days when we are on the road we mostly just head straight to the Mickey D’s – which ain’t hard because you don’t have to travel far in this fair land to find a McDonald’s. And although you will be appalled by the slovenly manners of the pimply 16 year old in a hair net who has failed diction class who takes your order, you will at least know that your food will be identical to the last Mickey D’s at which you dined.

But we continue to dream. Case in point: We were on our way to Asheville, North Carolina on the first day of our trip, just getting close to lunch and the southern end of Kentucky, when we spotted a billboard advertising “The Birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken  The Colonel Sanders Cafe and Museum.” Wow! Who could resist that? The word, “café” made me think it might be fancy!  It was indeed the historic site of Harlan Sanders first café, and it did have a quasi-museum where we saw where the colonel first conjured his eleven herbs and spices, how he set up his 1940 Sanders motel units to entice travelers to set a spell, and we viewed some KFC memorabilia. But the food service was the same as it is nation-wide in the fast food establishment of the same name. Original or extra-crispy. And I couldn’t understand a word the girl taking our order us was saying. She asked if Ken wanted “Slahhenwegges.” Hm?  “Slahhenwegges.” He just nodded and said, “Sure.” She asked me the same question. I couldn’t understand her either. Pardon? She repeated herself, “Slahhenwegges?” I said “Sure.” No idea. It was cole slaw and fried potatoes cut into wedge shapes. Slahhenwegges.


In Charleston, we ate very well, as one does in urban centers. Here are some of the wonderful restaurants we tried, all of them focused on local cuisine and outstanding service and ambience.  


High Cotton, Charleston, SC                       

Hominy Grill, Charleston, SC

On the road again, we renewed our search for homegrown fare. We found it. Could this be the elusive café of legend where regional cooking reigns supreme and there is a place of honor on the wall of fame for conquering a burger as big as your head?  “Maurice’s BBQ Piggie (sic) Park” in Columbia, South Carolina. There were three billboards announcing its imminence for 35 miles down the road. We had to go. You understand.

Maurice's Piggie Park

The room was enormous, with booths and tables and that mop line half way up the grimy walls. There was a framed photo of Edwina, Waitress of the Year, 1959. She was the only one representing the modern era. Other photos dated to the Civil War – Grandpa Jebediah in his uniform.

The southern buffet was too daunting, so we opted for pulled pork sandwiches with Hush Puppies (deep fried corn bread) potato salad with bacon and beans stewed with pork hocks. Pretty much a Pork Trifecta. The sandwiches were liberally doused with traditional South Carolina barbecue sauce which has a mustard base. Tasty. For half a minute I thought I would buy a bottle of Maurice’s special BBQ sauce to take home, but the bottles were so sticky I had to go wash my hands after examining the labels.

We ate. We used the restrooms. We got back in the car and continued on our way. The next day we ate lunch at McDonalds.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

It Rained on My Vacation

It’s an interactive blog today. I’d like to hear your worst “It Rained on my Vacation” stories. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.

As I’m writing this, we’re in Isle of Palms, South Carolina (close to Charleston) in a junior suite in a resort hotel that offers all the amenities: pool, tennis, golf, bicycle rental, kayaking, eco-adventure walks and boating – you know: OUTDOOR activities. We aren’t likely to do any of those things, but it’s nice to know we could. If we were so inclined. If it weren’t raining.

We have a balcony with an ocean view. Our room is within short walking distance to a gorgeous, long sandy beach with crashing breakers where we could be strolling slowly along, holding hands, leaving our footprints in the sand, picking up seashells, gazing philosophically out to sea, dipping our toes in the shark infested surf. There’s a great pavilion steps away from the sand where we could be relaxing with a nice cold beverage and a snack.

But it’s raining cats and dogs. Forecasted probability of rain? All day. Go for a romantic walk on the beach in the rain? Nah, it would be more like a rat-drowning walk in the rain. Ducks would find this weather too wet.

Oh, I know. It could be worse. It could be a hurricane. Or a tropical depression. It’s just a hard, steady, bone-soaking downpour. It’s me who has the tropical depression.

And I know we ought to be more resourceful than that. Yeah, we could read. Yeah, I brought playing cards and a book of crossword puzzles. Sure, there’s a TV with pay per view movies. Yes, I brought the lap top, but the hotel’s Wi-Fi is totally booked with every other guest getting online, so there will be no internet. Ah well.

Again, it could be worse. I feel badly for the scores of parents, dealing with disappointed toddlers or sullen teens, who well could be wondering if anyone would take the kids if they put them on e-Bay. It rained for a while yesterday, too, but the second it stopped there were a hundred kids in the pool.  

I shouldn’t complain. At least we were able to get away for a week and can stay in a nice place like this. But I’ve been longing for “Beach” for months and now we are so close – and yet so far.

So much pressure rides on the “perfect vacation” doesn’t it? We all want gloriously blue skies under which we can frolic and play, or relax and soak up some rays. We take pictures of ourselves wearing our sunglasses and hats and radiant smiles as bright as the sunshine testifying to the lovely time we’re having. We go home again feeling as though heaven has blessed us. As much as we might say things like, “I don’t care! I’m on vacation! If it rains, I’ll really relax and read my book!” we don’t actually mean it. Not on vacation we don’t.

Wait a second! Is the rain letting up? Is the sky clearing? Do I hear kids in the pool?

Quick, honey! Let’s hit the beach!

Look for photos on Facebook later!


The Atlantic Canada Laundry Tour

Sometime back in the mid-90s, Ken and I took a trip to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. It was our worst “It Rained on our Vacation” story. It was June. We flew from Vancouver to Montreal, and from there, on to Quebec City where we intended to see the historic Old City over a couple of days, and then we would fly to Halifax, get a rental car and tour the Maritimes. Our plane landed in Quebec City late in the evening. Next day, it was apparent that the morning rainfall wasn’t going to let up all day long. Our choices were three: try to squeeze onto the overcrowded bus tours with all the other tourists, stay in our hotel room all day, or get out there and walk. Thinking ourselves very clever for having packed rain jackets, we headed out on foot.

By the time we had gone a couple of blocks, our jacket hoods and shoulders were already soaked; our pant legs were wicking water upward from our ankles to our knees. We stopped at a souvenir shop to buy ponchos and umbrellas. Not a big improvement. The umbrellas were useless against the rain being wind-driven sideways under their canopies. The edges of the ponchos spouted water directly along the knees of our jeans which wicked up the legs, soaking us, undies and all, literally to the skin. Our runners (US translation: sneakers) squished. Once wet, we figured we couldn’t get wetter, so we soldiered on.

Later, in the hotel room we hung our wet things over every available tap, rod and hook in the bathroom. We laid socks out on the radiator in the bedroom. The runners were beyond hope, but we put them on the window ledge anyway. But what to do with all this wet laundry when we had to pack up and fly to our next destination? It all got stuffed in plastic bags, of course. But wet clothing doesn’t dry out in plastic bags, does it? It just stays wet. Especially runners.

In every hotel room for the next week, through Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island and PEI, we hauled out our wet duds and found places to hang the jeans, the socks and the underwear. Window sills for the runners. None of it was getting dry before it had to be bundled up in plastic again when we hit the road. By the third or fourth day, it was all taking on that musty, damp, mildewy aroma that wet things get. Our hotel rooms looked like we were in a community theatre production of “The Grapes of Wrath.” Our car smelled like a damp basement. We had to do something. I think it was in St. Andrews by the Sea, New Brunswick that we finally found a Laundromat. The laundry came out fresh and sweet, but I think we tossed the runners.

To this day whenever we are on vacation and one of us says, “It’s only a little rain! What will it hurt if we get wet?” the other quickly invokes the image of underwear hanging on the backs of chairs with the words: “Remember the Maritimes!” It’s enough to make us stay indoors and read a book!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Boy Meets Girl. Many Years Go By.

The topic du jour at the hairdresser’s today was the You Tube sensation posted by the guy who arranged a Flash Mob (or now apparently it’s called a Lip Dub?) to help him propose to his girlfriend. Everyone at the salon was talking about it. The Young Thing getting a pedicure next to me thought it was the most romantic thing she had ever seen.

Maybe you were one of the 5 million people who viewed the video. If not, you can find it on You Tube it’s called “Isaac’s Marriage Proposal.”  Isaac, the guy, gets his friends and family to participate in a dance routine to “Marry You,” sung by Bruno Mars (I know – Who? I had to look it up. I wouldn’t have known the song either.) The girlfriend listens on headphones. Needless to say, he pops the question and she says yes. The couple made it to the Today Show early this week. They were all giggly. It was very sweet.

But that’s like all the romantic movies, isn’t it? That’s like Jane Austen books. Guy and Girl meet. Guy and Girl think they are in love. Guy and Girl split up for some reason but then it dawns on them that they really are in love. Guy pursues Girl or vice versa and the movie or book concludes with Guy proposing to Girl. Happily ever after.

Sometimes we’ll get a sequel – like Shrek III. But mostly the “romance” ends at the proposal.


Ken and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary this week. (May 28, 1977) It got me thinking about our romance.

We were married in the Chapel at the University of Winnipeg, which is where we met. We first eyed each other in first year Biology class. We often tell people that we met while “studying” the human reproductive system. Ha Ha!  “Studying” is the euphemism there because we weren’t exactly doing scholarly work it was a survey course we needed as a science credit for our Arts degrees. You thought I meant…well, never mind!

Our first date was New Year's Eve, 1971. (Really romantic!) We dated for 5 ½ years. We finished undergrad together, then Ken did graduate studies in Theatre at Michigan State and I went into Interior Design at University of Manitoba.  That was our Guy and Girl splitting up bit. Except we were still “going steady” and talked to each other on the phone late almost every night. We had grown so comfortable with each other over time that when Ken had his masters’ and was back home in Winnipeg, it was just all like, “O.K., when do you think we should get married?” In those days, no one did marriage proposals in flash mobs or lip dubs that go viral on You Tube. That wouldn’t have been our style anyway. I think we were in the car on a Sunday afternoon in August driving to my parent’s cottage when this question came up. In the next breath we were talking about buying pots and pans and picking a date in May.

Ken got work for a year in theatres in Edmonton and Calgary and I planned to finish my fourth year in Interior Design. When May rolled around, neither of us had a job. My wedding dress cost $100. His suit didn’t cost much more. The sum total of worldly goods we owned were our wedding rings, a stereo and speakers, Ken’s guitar, the wedding gifts and a Fiat Sport Coupe with a leaky windshield. Our honeymoon was at my parents’ cottage. We moved into their house in July. They moved to an apartment and put the house on the market. Friends came over. We ate a lot of spaghetti. We drove the leaky Fiat in a rain storm to Calgary to look for work.  It was a wonderful summer.

By October, we both had jobs. We got a one bedroom apartment. Ken worked nights at Manitoba Theatre Centre and I worked days at the Hudson Bay Company store planning office. We saw each other on Sundays.

Thirty-five years later. Sunday is still our day for being together. We’ve been through the whole bit: good times and bad. Sickness and health. Richer and poorer. Tears and laughter. We still love a road trip. We’ve lived together in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Buffalo, and now Dayton is home. We still have most of our wedding gifts. We are so fortunate to have a lovely house, Ken’s fabulous job, our brave Golden Retriever and each other. We’re still in love 35 years later.
I wish Isaac and his girl much happiness; the proposal is just the beginning of their journey. Because I was thinking to myself as I watched the video: "You want to hear romantic? Try being married for 35 years!" And still hoping we will be granted another 35 or more. Now THAT'S romantic!