Sunday 31 March 2013

Easter Sunday

   Signs of Spring.........
.......are appearing everywhere. A couple of days ago the first crocuses appeared in my garden. This particular patch is almost always the first to appear, poking out of the detritus winter and the melting snow leave behind.

   Yesterday I noticed some green spikes in my vegetable garden and at first mistook them for some wayward daffodil bulbs. The wily squirrels have been known to dig up bulbs in the Fall and bury them somewhere else in the garden.On closer scrutiny, though, I think they may be garlic that I planted in the Fall. I will have to keep an eye on them and look up their "days to maturation" period and be ready to harvest it. I got quite a good crop last year and found it much more flavourful than the supermarket variety.

   Another early event was the appearance of activity at the tennis courts. This almost never happens until the middle of April but I had a premonition we might get an early start when I saw Washington, our maintenance guy, out sweeping the courts a few days ago. Sure enough, when I took a bike ride down to the park on Saturday, there were 5 or 6 of the keenest members out installing the nets. When they were done, out came the rackets and balls and an impromptu game was soon in progress. The temperature was up in the low double digits so everyone was comfortable, except Bruce, just back from a holiday in Cuba, and complaining it
was too chilly! But the sun was shining and no wind. I call that pretty perfect weather for March 30th! Here is an unfocussed Tamara just leaving the courts. I really need to work on my photography skills!

   Today I have the sniffles and decided I needed to get some fresh air to clear my head. On my walk I came across this beautiful display in a south facing border at one of my neighbours. Our Spring may be short but is very welcome!


Saturday 30 March 2013

Good Friday

Natalie arriving with lily.
   I feel that we have finally turned the corner and winter is behind us. It has seemed very long in coming. Yesterday the family came over to celebrate Good Friday with a special Easter-themed meal.

    As expected, the children were all about "chocolate", and set off to find any Easter eggs that the Easter Bunny might have dropped off at my house. They found a bunch but were
encouraged to save them for after the meal (that didn't happen).

The Easter Bunny came!
A well-stocked table
   We started off with Spanakopita - little Greek pastries with spinach and cheese filling - and smoked salmon and cream cheese on toasts. This was eaten al fresco which eliminated the need for plates and cutlery, always a consideration when I am feeding a big crowd. Then on to the table for roast lamb and vegetables (Judy brought a green bean and feta casserole which fitted well with the Greek theme), accompanied by mint jelly and my homemade Winter Fruit Chutney (see an earlier post) which Elliot declared "not bad", high praise indeed! This was followed by a choice of (or both) Steve's chocolate  cream pie or trifle, accompanied with extra cream or custard for those of us who still didn't have enough of a sugar fix. I opted for a small helping of each. All accompanied by various wines and/or juice, depending on your age or preference!

    After the meal the children retired to the TV room to digest their meal, and probably nibble on contraband Easter eggs, while the adults relaxed with coffee and some grown-up conversation. Then it was time for baths (kids only) and departures for the journey home in their pyjamas  (kids only again).

   Today I am killing the last bottle of wine and snacking on leftovers. Somehow a bottle of Pinot Grigio got left in the freezer and the cork popped. No point in letting it go to waste, is there? The late afternoon sun is streaming through my windows and a happy glow permeates everything. Spring is finally here!


Thursday 28 March 2013

A Memorable Trip

   Nothing much to write about today so I have dug out a photo from my Egypt trip. It's been some time since I went there - before the scary happenings during the "Arab Spring" of last year - so I have wonderful, but fuzzy, memories of the visit. This temple could be anywhere; I really must learn to label my photos at the time! Suffice to say the The Pyramids and the Sphinx were a bit of a disappointment, a sort of "been there, done that" moment. However I had a ride on a camel out into the desert just south of the pyramids which will stay in my mind forever.

   My favourite part of the trip was a river cruise down the Nile, over several days, from Cairo to the Aswan Dam. We were one of many boats doing the cruise but it was peaceful, almost idyllic. The river is very flat and broad but in places we were close enough to the shore to see people going about their daily activities, children playing by the water and animals being brought down for a drink. Of course, the Valley of the Kings, where Tutankhamen's tomb was found, was out of this world, literally. An almost moon-like topography, with craters and rocky outcrops. How they discovered it is a mystery! The tombs were unbelievably well-preserved, probably due to the hot, dry atmosphere.

This next tomb was a short flight south from Aswan at Abu Simbel, almost on the Sudanese border. It was part of a whole temple complex that had been removed from the Nile valley before it was flooded when the dam was built. It was reconstructed here, stone by carefully numbered stone to exactly conform to its original construction, an amazing feat!


Sunday 24 March 2013

Spanish Feast

   Golf courses and tennis courts are still covered by snow but today had the feel of Spring! I managed to do a little tidy-up in the yard where the sun has melted the snow, and examine some little shoots showing their first green stalks. I even saw where my rhubarb has pushed up a pink bud. The air seemed warmer, even though the thermometer was still registering in the low single digits. At least they were on the plus side!

   Yesterday was Spanish cooking class at the LCBO. The host was Chef Jose Arato, and he prepared tapas and a magnificent paella (forgot my camera again but it was quite spectacular). The tapas was a warm salad of roasted eggplant, zucchini and red pepper from the Catalan region. The paella included shrimp and octopus, both of which went into the pan frozen and were perfectly cooked in the time it took to cook the rice and other vegetables. He showed us how to use saffron, something I have been wondering about since I brought some home from Morocco. The lunch ended with a vanilla ice cream, which he made himself, over macerated berries  (in Madeira wine). All quite delicious. Each course was accompanied by a different wine tasting - the sweet one with the dessert was my favourite. Unfortunately, the wine made me sleepy and, as I was heading to the west end for a tea dance later in the afternoon, I put my head down when I got home, just for ten minutes.
     Forty minutes later I woke up and realized I was going to be late if I didn't leave home right away so it was a mad dash across the 401 to Brampton where, luckily, they were a bit behind schedule (there had been workshops in the morning) so I had time to change my shoes and make it to the ballroom (AKA school gym) before they called the first dance. Danced every dance, met some new partners and old friends, had a light supper around 5:00 p.m. and headed home tired but happy after a very busy day.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

First Day of Spring

   Woke up to freezing temperatures but brilliant sunshine this morning. So much for it being the first day of Spring! We lost the sun before noon and had snow flurries (at one point a blizzard for half-an-hour) for most of the afternoon. Now the sun is back (4:00 pm) and everything is starting to drip. Shovelled the first layer  of snow but will leave the rest to melt, hopefully by the weekend.

   A couple of posts ago I had documented how my spring bulbs were coming along. Now they are once again  poking through a layer of snow. It's amazing how they survive several thaw/freeze cycles with only a little damage to their leaves. It will still be some time, however, until we have flowers. Winter has felt unnaturally long this year!
After today's snow

Monday 18 March 2013

A Sweet (and Sour) Treat

   A few days ago I made a batch of chutney that I think will be a staple in my fridge. It's a chunky mix with just the right elements of sweet and sour. I had it last night with a baked breaded Basa fillet and enjoyed the contrast to the crispy fish. Quinoa casserole and steamed broccoli rounded out the meal. Quite a gourmet experience! Here's the recipe.
    I had to cook it for quite a bit longer than specified to get the required consistency, however I did have it on a very low simmer (scared of burning it!). Also, I used brown sugar as I like the slightly molasses flavour you get with it.

Winter Fruit Chutney

3/4 cup quartered pitted prunes                       1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup quartered dried apricots                      1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 onion, chopped                                             1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tart apple, peeled and finely chopped           1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped drained, seeded, canned tomatoes
1/4 tsp. each black pepper, cayenne pepper and salt

In saucepan bring prunes and apricots and 1 cup water to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes.
Stir in all other ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 50 to 60 minutes or until thickened. Fill sterilized jars. Store in fridge after opening.


Sunday 17 March 2013

March skiing

Judy sure knows how to pick a good ski day! Brilliant sunshine but still cool temperatures so we had slightly fast, icy conditions in the morning which softened a bit by noon without becoming mushy.

Elliot and Natalie were on their second and third days ever of skiing, respectively, and did amazingly well! The hills at Uplands are just their speed and they became more confident on the chair and the slopes as the morning progressed. Bonus: it was "Customer Appreciation Day" with tickets at half price. Uplands is only 20-30 minutes from both our homes so we had plenty of skiing and were home in time for lunch, tired but exhilerated.Here they are at the top of the hill on their first run. Natalie: "Let's go!". Elliot: "I'm not sure about this". But by the time they reached the bottom of the hill, you can see his expression says. "That wasn't so bad". Later we took a break and continued for quite a few more runs before heading home. Better to quit while they were having fun than wait until they'd had it.

Thursday 14 March 2013

My Trusty Steed

    Cold but sunny today so I decided to get my bike out of winter storage (upside down on a sheet of plastic in the garage), checked tire pressures (with thumb) and set off for a trial run. Roads were dry but had to watch for icy patches.North wind in my face going out but at my back coming home, utterly exhausted and sweating! I am definitely out of shape, and that was after only a couple of kilometres. Knees are complaining already and will be stiff tomorrow.

     As you may know I had a broken fibula in the fall (long story - suffice to say I was chasing James, uphill and down, and on the "down" slipped on wet grass and heard the bone crack as I landed - crutches for 3 weeks). While recovering and not walking too well, the doctor suggested swimming or cycling for exercise so I did take the bike out a few times before the weather put a stop to that. I hope to get more use of it this year.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Snowing again!

   Some snowflakes coming down just as I had said "goodbye" to winter! Not enough to get me back into my boots which have been shoved gratefully to the back of the closet, but enough to disguise the dirty banks of snow on either side of the driveway and road.

   Yesterday the snow was almost gone from the back yard (see photos) but still big piles on the boulevard where the snow plough dumped it. Thankfully, the driveway is now cleared of the big chunks of ice that resulted from the combination of snow and rain we had a couple of weeks ago. Now I can put my garbage bins out again!

   I have got all my appointments taken care of and just need a hair cut to set me up for the rest of the month. I got the dance list for Sunday's demo at the Retirement Home so will spend some time practicing the dances. Hope the Senior's enjoy it; it's a St. Patrick's program and we are doing "An Irish Maid" among other dances. I will try for some photos.


Tuesday 12 March 2013


    Dave arrived at my house yesterday afternoon to say my phone wasn't working. They had been trying to reach me without success and, as he was in the neighbourhood, he came by to check on me, which is very reassuring. While he cleared up some problems on my computer I contacted the phone provider and had the problem fixed in minutes. It's amazing how they can deal with problems remotely like that - no need to send out a technician.

   The meltdown proceeds apace and if we have more rain today, I am expecting to see some greenery before too long. Of course, the lawns will be too wet and soggy to walk on for a couple of weeks but spring bulbs will begin showing up in the borders soon.

   As school is out this week for the March Break, I won't be seeing James until next Monday. I have a few things planned (doctors' visits, hair cuts, a movie or two) so I will keep busy. Also, I have a couple of good books on hand, always my fall-back when I have some spare minutes!

Monday 11 March 2013

A birthday

   Number 1 grandson turned 7 on Saturday - an excuse for a family get-together. Lots of good food and conviviality. His uncle Steve gave him this Superheroes story book and the Science kit was gratefully received. Happy birthday, big guy!
    He had friends over on Sunday for a trip to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) to see the dinosaur exhibit. He knows them all by name - how do kids do that? I can barely get my tongue around their names!

    The weather continues in Spring mode but with rain today instead of sun. Good for the garden and will wash away much of the debris, salt etc. that has accumulated over the winter months. I will spend the day indoors enjoying a good book.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Signs of Spring

       Time to shed those winter woolies - the sun is shining, water is dripping off the eaves and all's right with the world!

 I have decided to document the arrival of Spring (also known as "The Great Meltdown"). Every few days I will photograph the snow around my house to document its disappearance for those of you not participating in it.

   In this photo, James is attempting to negotiate the snow drift outside my walkout. The sun on the snow was so bright he needed my sunglasses! You can't see his feet but the snow is up to his boot tops.

   Close to the brick wall of the house, where the sun has heated up the soil, a few shoots are poking through. I think these are daffodils, but I have also seen some hyacinth shoots too. It will be a few weeks until they are in flower but this is the first hopeful sign that life is returning to the earth.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Indoor Garden

   It's snowing again and no possibility of getting out in the garden for several weeks yet. Most of my borders are under at least a foot (30 cms.) of snow. No exaggeration! As a result I am more and more reliant on my indoor plants to keep me cheerful.
    One of my successes this winter was to preserve a small Rosemary bush which I brought inside in the Fall. I have tried this before, digging up a plant before the first frost. However, this one was grown in a pot so didn't need replanting. It's getting a trifle tall and stringy but I am hopeful it will survive until I can put it outside again.

   Can't believe we have to move the clocks forward an hour this weekend! This usually heralds the start of Spring but we are far from there yet. Another plant I move indoors in the Fall has continued to flower beautifully but unfortunately I don't know its name Can anyone help me? 

    Worked this morning in a Kindergarten class - beautiful kids, I will gladly go back there, if asked. Spent this afternoon at Chapters looking for a birthday present for Elliot, who will be 7 on Saturday, and finally settled on a Science kit made by Green Science. Hope he likes it! It has a small solar panel which will allow him to convert a used pop can into a "Solar Rover". His dad will have to help him build it - let's hope it works. Seven year olds can be mighty disappointed when their plans fall through.


Wednesday 6 March 2013

On the Slopes

    Had a great day skiing yesterday but forgot to take my camera so you will just have to trust me on this one. Despite being time for Spring skiing, the conditions were still wintry. Nicely groomed hills made for easy skiing under a brilliantly blue sky - no slush and mush yet, although the parking lot was decidedly muddy! We had some light cloud cover blow in just before noon but, by the time we came back out after lunch, this had blown away and the sun was brilliant again. My knees began to give out around two p.m. but I concluded the day by sitting in the sun at the foot of the hill for another hour - came home with a hot face but definitely got a good shot of Vitamin D.

    Just a regular day with James today. We went to the "Sing, Play, Learn" playgroup in the morning, had sausage, egg and soup for lunch (he polished everything off including a kiwi, his favourite fruit) and followed this up with yogurt and a granola bar after his nap. He seems to be making up for when he was off his food while sick.

    Time to have a quick bite before going to Scottish Country Dancing class. I found some orange beets at the store last week so am making a roasted beet salad with arugula, walnuts and goat cheese. I'll let you know how it turns out. I can smell the beets roasting as I type!

Sunday 3 March 2013

A Late Burns' Night

Let kings and courtiers rise and fa',
This world has mony turns.
But brightly beams aboon them a'
The star of Rabbie Burns.
    The immortal Rabbie Burns is usually celebrated around the time of his birth date, January 29th. However, many of the Petronella dancers were entertaining at other Burns' suppers at that time. These events took place in Retirement Homes, church halls, and recreation centres around the GTA and sometimes we joined the audience for the ceremony and sometimes not. So it seemed fitting that we celebrate  in our own way - with food and dance!

     A great time was had by one and all at the 2nd. annual Burn's Supper at the Petronella Scottish Country Dance group this Saturday. Once everyone had assembled, the haggis was piped in and Donald, accompanied by Graeme, David and Muriel gave the "Address to the Haggis".

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware,
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer
Gie her a Haggis!
Duncan led us in the Selkirk Grace:           Some hae meat but canna eat
   and some wad eat that want it .
      But we hae meat and we can eat, 
So may the laird be thankit.
    Then followed the meal and much jollity, followed by the Toast the the Immortal Memory (Duncan again), Address to the Lassies (Ian), Address to the Laddies (Jenn) and then, now that we were all stuffed with good food and drink, what we had all come for ..... the dancing!

    Maureen led us through the dances in admirable fashion and although we may not have burned off all the calories acquired during the meal, we were well heated and puffing by the end of the evening. Some of my favourites:   

 The Frisky,    The Rakish Highlandman,     The De'l Amang the Tailors,    Mairi's Wedding
The Dundee Whaler        Bonnie Stronshiray       Maxwell's Rant     Eternal Friendship.

    Near midnight a tired but happy crew wended its way homeward with sore feet but happy hearts, having participated in the fellowship that comes from taking part in the community that is Scottish Country Dancing.
In the words of the Immortal Bard:
Adieu, dear amiable youth!
Your heart can ne'er be wanting!
May prudence, fortitude and truth,
Erect your brow undaunting!
In ploughman phrase, 'God send you speed',
Still daily to grow wiser;
And may ye better reck the rede,
Than ever did th'adviser!


Saturday 2 March 2013

Machu Picchu

    Time for another update on my travels as I have little to report from yesterday. Even though it was the 1st of March, the weather continues wintery, with much snow and ice underfoot. I ventured out in the evening with only shoes (can't wait to tuck my boots at the back of the hall closet!) as I only had a few steps from the car to the subway entrance. Thence to "Milestones" where I was meeting friends - all in the same building. How to beat winter Canadian style!

   This photo is of the ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru. I travelled there in 2008, just a year after I retired.The ruins are up in the Andes and, after a few days in Lima (beautiful city, I would love to go back and see more of it), we flew to Cuzco, a small town in the mountains and the closest centre to the ruins. You can either hike to the ruins or take the train which we did. The high elevation was a challenge and we needed a few days of acclimatization. It is one of the most impressive sights I have seen and can only imagine the effects on the explorers who discovered it. The Incas only occupied the fortress for a few hundred years before being obliterated by the Conquistadors in the 16th century. The place was swarming with llamas who were quite tame, and a few other tourists like ourselves. A mist covered the area in the morning as it is in a basin between the two peaks, but this burned off by midday and we were able to climb to the highest point to take some magnificent photos. If you would like to know more about the history of the sight, post a comment.