Monthly Archives: September 2013

Poking at a Wood Fire

To poke a wood fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything else in the world.
~Charles Dudley Warner

This week I lighted my first fire by myself.  For many this may be a mundane occurrence, something mastered years ago and now done as handily as tying your shoes.  I, however, am a city girl who grew up in a semi-arid desert where fires were not needed, and in fact can be looked at with great suspicion since half the state tends to burn down each year.  I’ve been camping and gone to cookouts where fires were lit, I’ve gathered wood and cooked/flamed marshmallows on fires, and I’ve done my share of poking at a wood fire with a good, solid stick.  Up until this week, however, I have never started a fire by myself.  But now the weather is changing and we need a fire in our basement wood stove.

Since we passed the first official day of fall I’ve noticed our neighbors stocking up on firewood to last through the winter.  The piles of neatly stacked logs are quite impressive, and I want to build up our plentiful supply as well.  I’ve been teased by the gentle smoke perfuming the chill Fall air, curling out of other chimneys.  Our chimney, on the other hand, had no smoke since we had not yet lit a fire in our stove and I wasn’t sure how to fix that situation.  Up until now I’ve never had use or need of a wood burning stove and had no idea how to light one.

I also have to admit that I don’t like feeling incompetent.  I don’t like having to ask people for help, but I’ve trained myself to do so when I must.  And I certainly don’t like being reliant on other people for the basic necessities of life… like fire.  So when the weather got colder and all my neighbors started taunting me with their curlicues of smoke, I broke down and asked both Dave and my landlord how to use the wood burning stove.  The Farmer gave me a bemused look and said that you light a fire in it, as if this is something that anyone can do, like tying your own shoes.  And for many it is that simple, but for me whose most recent experience with lighting a fire literally involved flipping the switch in our room at the resort… Let’s just say that it wasn’t such a simple idea.  Dave’s response was not much better.  He shrugged his shoulders, said he wasn’t exactly sure (he’s a city kid too) but that we’d need kindling, and then he went on to do something else leaving me without answers and without fire.  In Dave’s defense, I think he was acting out of self-preservation.  The man is always hot, and has never been able to wear sweaters even in the coldest of Januaries.  So anyone with ideas of Christmas presents for Dave that consist of sweaters, save your money.  He’ll love them, try one on even, and then break into a dripping sweat and tear the thing off.  I think in our current predicament Dave is concerned that the stove might heat up the house too well.  I, on the other hand, am more of a lizard.  Give me a hot rock and some sunshine (with the appropriate… or excessive… sun protection required) and I’m happy.  I wanted that stove lit, and I wanted it lit yesterday.

First, however, we needed to get wood.  Out here you can order wood to be delivered to your door or you can do what most people do, which is to cut and split your own.  For an insanely reasonable amount of money you can get a permit to harvest lumber from the tops of trees cut down last year by the lumber companies.  Then you fill up your truck, cart the logs back home, and get to work.  For us, that means a chain saw to cut the logs into serviceable size, and then an ax to split them apart.  Our landlord has already made one trip to get timber, and Dave will be joining him on another trip this weekend.  Last night Dave went outside to make sure his chainsaw was in functional condition, and ended up portioning all of the logs with our landlord, making short work of the task.  Little Man and I went outside to visit the lumberjacks, and I was curious to see where the log splitting would be done since I fully intend on being a part of that.  When I asked our landlord about the splitting he eyed my foot gear worriedly.  Apparently pink Uggs are not appropriate wood splitting shoes.  I’ll have to work on that.

The next day I had just put Little Man down to nap and was in the office typing away when I realized that I wasn’t just cold, but even my nose was freezing.  Enough.  I was tired of waiting, and yes, I was annoyed at the idea of having to wait on a man to rescue me.  I was going to get a fire started in that stove, or burn up all our kindling in the process.  There is an anthropologist (who does not deserve to be named here) whose main claim to fame is a theory that men (and I do mean “men,” not the English language’s poor attempt at using a masculine word to define a group of people made up of both men and women) developed bipedalism (the ability to walk on two legs) because of their need to hunt.  His theory goes on to literally leave women at home near the empty cook fire, pregnant, hungry, cold and on all fours, waiting for their menfolk to walk home and feed them.  Yeeeeesssssss…  That is one lonely man…  I digress, but the point here is that there was something about the simplicity of fire equalling heat that galled me since I could not produce it.  I did not want to wait any longer to be granted the knowledge of how to create fire.

So I went downstairs armed with one of those long barbeque lighters (I wasn’t ready to go full Survivorman… and besides, I don’t think we own a flint striker) and approached the stove like one does a beast that you don’t think will hurt you, but you’re just not quite sure.  I opened its maw, put in the log, and then looked at it, trying to remember any tricks about starting a fire from my childhood camping days.  I knew that I needed kindling, so I took all of the splinters of wood that Dave had made and tossed them into the stove as well.  Anyone who knows anything about starting a fire should be cringing right about now.  Then I remembered something that Dave said about using newspaper.  So I found a box of wadded up newspaper that had been used as packaging from our hundreds of moving boxes, and stuffed that into the stove as well.  Then I sat back on my heels and puzzled at my mess.  That couldn’t possibly work.  Eventually I figured out that this should be more of a layer cake affair, with wadded up newspaper at the bottom, kindling laid out on top of that and then the log on top of my pyre.  All the time I’m messing with this I keep asking myself how many PhDs it takes to light a fire.

The set up...

The set up…

Then I lit the newspaper at the base of my pyre, sat back on my heels again and smiled at my accomplishment.  That is until the newspaper smoked up, and the smoke started pouring into the room.  A quick flail at the damper to open it, and soon the smoke was coursing through the chimney, joining the scented offerings of my neighbors.  I sat there for quite some time, enjoying the crackle of the wood and the scent of its burning.  Then I heard Little Man stirring upstairs through the monitor and I closed the stove’s door.  The effect was instant.  I went from having a live, crackling, aromatic fire, to something that looked a lot like the Christmas channel with burning logs but the sound was turned off.  All evidence of “fire” disappeared with the sound and scent dampening of the door.  However, the heat continued to radiate, and while I missed the sound and the scent it was good to know that the fire was safe inside its home while we were safe inside ours.

fire3

I had achieved fire and for one night at least had heated our home.  I would later learn that to start my prized fire I had used a king’s ransom of kindling, as I told Dave of my accomplishment and he stared morosely at the pile where all of his lovely kindling had been.  The upcoming forecast shows a couple days of higher temperatures, and then we will drop down again.  That should give us a chance to restock our supply of combustibles, and I will definitely be more frugal with our supplies.

Our own Christmas Burning Log channel.

Our own Christmas Burning Log channel.

It never fails that the scent of a wood burning fire makes me yearn for cocoa and flaming marshmallows.  One of our neighbors has not only a wood burning stove to heat their home, but also an entire cast iron affair complete with four burners (now I see where that name came from) and an oven all fueled by wood alone.  Their stove is gorgeous and I’m fascinated by it.  It has me looking at our own modest, but eco-friendly stove, wondering what kind of treats I could whip up using its top as a heat source.  A friend recently shared with me that in one of the bad snows a couple of years ago the power had gone out and since she had an electric stove with no electricity she ended up cooking a simple dinner of rice on the top of her wood heating stove.  I don’t need to resort to rice cooking on the fireplace yet, but maybe some popcorn… or hot cocoa… or perhaps a gooey cheese dip for a crusty, toasty loaf of bread…  I’m going to have to give this some thought.  And I would love to hear from any of you, if you have an idea of things to cook on top of a wood burning stove or open flame.

For now, I’m going to content myself with some hot cocoa, and this time at least will make it on our upstairs stove.  The wood burning stove in the basement is so efficient that it heats the area quickly, and I think that Dave would boycott.  The night of “my fire” I made Dave and I a couple of mugs of this awesome cocoa taught to me by my sister-in-law Erin.  Auntie Erin’s cocoa is dairy free, but you will not miss the lack of milk.  It tastes like gorgeous dark chocolate, without being overly sweet or thick like some dairy-based cocoas can be.  Don’t get me wrong, I love just about all food-products that come from a cow, including milk.  This recipe simply doesn’t need it.  If, however, you are dead set on a dairy-based cocoa, I have a suggestion for you below.  You won’t want to miss it.

Auntie Erin's Cocoa in two of the mugs I threw myself.

Auntie Erin’s Cocoa in two of the mugs I threw myself.

Auntie Erin’s Cocoa

(Serves 2)

The resulting cocoa is rich with dark chocolate, but is not cloyingly sweet like some of the premade mixes can be.  You can use regular measuring cups for this recipe, or do what Erin and I do, which is to measure with the mugs that you will be drinking the cocoa from.  That means that everyone gets a nice full mug of this deliciously dark, hot cocoa.  And please note that this recipe calls for real cocoa powder, not hot cocoa mix.  You can use whatever brand of cocoa powder you have on hand, but the better the quality of your cocoa powder the better this drink will be.  The main point is to taste your final cocoa before you pour it back into the mugs.  If you want it sweeter, add more agave.  If you want more chocolate, add more cocoa powder.  The first time you make it, try to be sparing in the amount of cocoa and agave you use.  It’s easy to add more to the drink, but it cannot be taken back out again.  Another trick that I use is after I pour the milks from the mugs into the saucepan, I partially fill the mugs with hot water to keep them warm until the cocoa is done.  I want my cocoa hot, not cooled down by a cold mug.s

I like to measure the milks in the same mugs that the cocoa will be served in.

I like to measure the milks in the same mugs that the cocoa will be served in.

Ingredients

1 mug of almond milk, unsweetened

1 mug of vanilla rice milk, sweetened is fine

2-3 heaping tbsp. cocoa powder

1-2 tbsp. dark agave syrup

Directions

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk the mixture constantly so that it does not scorch and all the cocoa powder is slowly incorporated into the milks.  Once the cocoa starts to steam, dip in a spoon and taste for sweetness and amount of chocolate.  If you want more chocolate, add a bit more of the cocoa powder.  If you want more sweetness, add a bit more of the agave.  Pour into mugs and enjoy.

All the ingredients in the pan.

All the ingredients in the pan.

It's important to whisk constantly so that the cocoa does not scorch.

It’s important to whisk constantly so that the cocoa does not scorch.

Now the best part, taste testing to make sure there is the perfect amount of cocoa and sweetness.

Now the best part, taste testing to make sure there is the perfect amount of cocoa and sweetness.

Click here for a printable recipe for Auntie Erins Cocoa.

Now for hot cocoa that uses milk…

Nigella’s Feast Hot Chocolate

For those of you who would like more of a cow-based hit to your drink, the best hot chocolate I’ve had comes from Nigella Lawson’s Feast: Food to Celebrate Life cookbook.  This is my favorite cookbook, and if you haven’t checked it out before I highly recommend it.  Just about every celebratory meal I’ve had a part in over the last five years has come from this book; from an invitation signing party before the wedding (aka how to get your friends to help you with an impossible task by plying them with food), to a welcome home dinner for my fiancé with a Georgian feast as he came back from the Republic of Georgia, to our housewarming party in Indiana, the list goes on and on.

So let me stop here with the gentle nudge to check out the hot chocolate recipe in Feast for one of those nights when you just want to feel pampered.  Nigella’s hot chocolate is flavored with real dark chocolate (save some to nibble on while the milk heats), sweetened with honey and brown sugar, and spiced with a cinnamon stick and vanilla.  Cuddle up with a mug of this and a favorite book and you’re good to go.  Oh, and did I mention that it is laced with a little dark rum?  Silly me for forgetting to mention that…  It’s titled Alcoholic Hot Chocolate and is found on page 420.  Feel free to leave out the rum if you’d rather, but it’s delicious as is.

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Taking Things a Bit Too Far…

OK, so I might have taken things a wee bit too far the other morning.  Just a smidge.

We were struggling, as usual, to get the momentum moving in our ever-so-halting quest to start our day.  The plan was to leave the house in about a half hour so that Little Man and I could drop Dave off at work and then we would head to a friend’s house for a play date.  That’s when it happened…  I remembered that I hadn’t made muffins or scones to bring for a snack.  Now, in hindsight my response could have been “ah well, next time I’ll do it.”  Then I would have simply grabbed a couple of extra handfuls of the healthy portable snacks we have around so that there would be extra to share with his buddies.  That would have been reasonable.  That would have been a good use of time.  That also would have been a wise choice leading to marital accord and to not freak out your spouse who is chronically stressed about being late to work (or maybe he’s just stressed about my ability to find things that “must” be done before we leave the house, like unpacking one box just to say that I’d done my quota for the day, or transplanting a seedling of kale to Little Man’s garden spot, or moving the pillows before they get destroyed by cats, the list goes on…).   As you might have guessed, my response to this situation was not the rational one.

Instead, I grabbed my Ipad and started to flip desperately through recipes to see what ingredients we had on hand so that I could whip something up.  I couldn’t do the Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins the batter has to rest for 20 minutes before baking and we didn’t have that kind of time.  No, not the Cheddar Chive Scones; I wanted sweet not savory. And not the Banana Chocolate Muffins; I wanted their appearance to be a bit more wholesome since I was taking them to someone else’s house… and there would be fewer chocolatey hand prints to clean up this way also.  So I decided to wing a new batch of scones that I hadn’t tried yet: Blueberry Cinnamon Scones.  Now set on this path, nothing could sway me, much to my spouse’s dismay.  Little Man, however, was in complete support of my harebrained plan and was singing his scone song in the background.

I start tossing ingredients into the food processor, whirring up oats into oat flour, adding the other flours, brown sugar, etc.  Then when I got to the part of the recipe where I needed to cube up the butter, I glanced into the refrigerator and realized my fatal error.  I was out of eggs.  For my plan of world domination to succeed I needed one egg.  I could have stopped at this point, dumped the flour mixture into a resealable bag, tossed it in the refrigerator and finished them at another time.  No big deal.  Instead, I grabbed my egg collecting basket and booked it out the front door. Oy…  Isn’t that what the normal person would do in the morning?  If you’re out of eggs, what other option but to run through your backyard like a crazed banshee, across the farm lot and to the hen house.  The sun was up, but just, and it was peeking over the cedars behind the barn.  I had a moment to admire the gilded edges of the sunflowers that ring the garden before I was at the hen house door.

I was already dressed to go to my friend’s house, so now I was carefully stepping around chicken poo in my low-top Converse to get to the laying boxes.  The chickens were not happy to see me, primarily since an industrious farmer’s daughter had already been up to visit the birds in order to harvest their plenty.  Having previously been disturbed and robbed, the chickens did not look kindly on me as I prepared to loot their nests again.  Then their looks of dismay turned to scorn as we all realized that where there are normally dozens of eggs, now there were only two single eggs to be found.  I grabbed my booty and headed for the door before their derision turned to outright chicken hostility.

Outside the sheep berated me for not filling their troughs, the pigs tried to get my attention asking why I hadn’t brought out the slop bucket, and as I dodged a particularly large dragon fly, it was all I could do to not break out in hysterical giggles. Who would have thought that my going back to graduate school (where I met Dave and started our crazy adventure) would have led to this.

Once back inside the house I quickly finished the dough and got the scones in the oven.  Dave was still getting ready, trying to convince Little Man to change out of his pjs, and casting me rather bemused glances.  Little Man was dancing around playing hockey, signing, and generally ignoring whatever his parents wanted him to do.  And I had succeeded in destroying our kitchen before even making my own cereal.  Let the games begin…

As it all ended up, the scones were great even though they needed a little extra baking time because of the frozen blueberries.  I was able to get Dave to work almost on time, and Little Man and I had a wonderful time playing with friends.  The only glitch was during the play date when Little Man came up beside me on the couch at our friends’ house with a mouth bulging with blueberry scone and a mischievous smile on his face.  He had already finished his own scone, and seeing his friend leave the table to play with a truck, Little Man struck with viper-like speed.  Then he came to me, not having an ounce of subterfuge in his heart (yet), smiled his blueberry grin, and proudly stated “took scone.”  Little Man is definitely his father’s son.  Just ask his Auntie Jen about the pilfered cherry tomato when we were in graduate school.  She learned quickly to not leave spare tasty bits around like that.  While Little Man managed to stuff quite a lot of the pilfered scone into his mouth, there was still a bit left and I don’t think his friend minded.  I’ll just bring a few extra to leave behind next time.  And perhaps I’ll plan a little bit in advance before I find myself wondering if I have time to go find a cow to milk for my tea.

Blueberry Cinnamon Scones

Blueberry Cinnamon Scones

Blueberry Cinnamon Scones

Ingredients

½ cup oats

½ cup whole wheat flour

¾ cup white flour

2 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 tblsp. sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. salt

1 ½ cup blueberries, frozen

6 tblsp. butter, ½ in. cubes

1 large egg

1/4 cup yogurt, plain

3-4 tblsp. milk

1 tbsp. cinnamon sugar

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a food processor blitz the oats to a coarse meal.  Add the other flours, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon and salt, and then process to combine.  Add the butter and pulse to blend.  The butter should be in roughly pea-sized bits.

Oats in the food processor with the blade attachment in place.

Oats in the food processor with the blade attachment in place.

Coarsely ground oat flour after just a few pulses in the processor.

Coarsely ground oat flour after just a few pulses in the processor.

The dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients with the butter processed into the flour mixture.

The dry ingredients with the butter processed into the flour mixture.

3. Pour the flour mixture into a large bowl.  Add the blueberries and toss to coat.  Set aside.

Lovely frozen blueberries harvested from a local farm with a friend.

Lovely frozen blueberries harvested from a local farm with a friend.

The blue berries get tossed in the flour mixture before adding the wet ingredients.

The blue berries get tossed in the flour mixture before adding the wet ingredients.

4. In a small bowl beat together the egg, yogurt and milk.  Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together.  If it is too dry and powdery to hold its shape, then add more milk a scant tablespoon at the time.  It should look quite dry (see picture), and will not actually come together until dumped out and kneaded.

Yogurt is an unusual ingredient for scones, but I find it works great with the blueberries here.

Yogurt is an unusual ingredient for scones, but I find it works great with the blueberries here.

The dough will look quite crumbly when it is all mixed together.  This is your moment of faith.   If there is unmixed flour at the bottom of your bowl, add a little more milk and mix again.  If not, dump it onto the board and prepare to be amazed.

The dough will look quite crumbly when it is all mixed together. This is your moment of faith. If there is unmixed flour at the bottom of your bowl, add a little more milk and mix again. If not, dump it onto the board and prepare to be amazed.

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and  knead it 4-5 times.  This is not like kneading bread dough, but is more of a gentle fold over.  The goal is to not handle the dough too much, since that warms up the butter.  The colder your butter, the flakier your scones.  Once the dough is together and kneaded, pat it into a 8-inch round and cut it into eight wedges.

The dough before being kneaded looks quite dry.

The dough before being kneaded looks quite dry.

After gentle kneading/folding the dough comes together and can be patted into a large disk.

After gentle kneading/folding the dough comes together and can be patted into a large disk.

Here the dough has been cut into 8 wedges and wrapped in one layer of plastic wrap.  I recommend two layers of wrap to keep it safe in the freezer.

Here the dough has been cut into 8 wedges and wrapped in one layer of plastic wrap. I recommend two layers of wrap to keep it safe in the freezer.

6. At this point you can bake your scones immediately, or you can freeze the dough to use in the near future.  If you choose to freeze your scones, wrap them well in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer on some form of plate or sheet tray.  Once they are completely frozen you can remove the plate and keep them frozen for 1-2 weeks.

7. When you are ready to bake your scones, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and space the scones evenly on the prepared baking sheet.  Brush the scones with milk and sprinkle them with the cinnamon sugar.
8. Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes if the dough was used immediately or closer to 25 minutes if the dough was frozen.  To check if the dough is baked completely, just give a scone a little touch on top while still on the baking rack.  If the scone seems gooey in the center you will feel it, and that means it needs more time.  If the scone is mostly firm to the touch, then it is done and can be cooled.  If they need more time, bake for an additional 3-5 minutes and check them again.  Cool on a wire rack and serve.

I baked these scones from the frozen dough two days after mixing them together.

I baked these scones from the frozen dough two days after mixing them together.

Click here for a printable version of the Blueberry Cinnamon Scones recipe.

scones 2

Taking One For The Team

In a previous post (sometimes it feels like a previous life), I mentioned that I am an archaeologist and that I have worked in Turkey.  It is amazing work; literally digging up the past and holding it in your hands.  I love it, but it is always hard to be away from my friends, family, boyfriend (at the time, husband of course now) and cats.  I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I had to be away from Little Man for that period of time.  Some day… but not today…  For my first couple of field seasons in Turkey as a graduate student we only had access to internet once a week when we went into town for our day off.  The connections were slow, power often shut off randomly and we had to deal with the extra vowels of the Turkish keyboard.  In order to feel connected to my distant loved ones I would jot down stories in my notebook of things that were happening over the course of the week.  Then on our day off we would all head to an internet café and from there I would email my latest story en masse to friends and family.  In a strange way this let me feel connected through the shared experience of reading and writing about events, even when the events weren’t being experienced together.  It feels remarkably similar to what I am doing now with this blog.

 In the move to Canada I came across a folder of printed out emails that I call my Turkey Tales.  I boxed them up (they are around here somewhere…) with the thought that they would be fun to read later on (like years from now).  When I started this blog Dave suggested that I should see if any of the Turkey Tales would work as posts.  It was a good idea, but I’d have to find that blasted box first.  Then on a recent visit from Dave’s Mom she mentioned a particular story that I had emailed during the field season just before Dave and I married.  It turned out that Ruth kept this particular story in one of her email folders and opens it up from time to time when she wants/needs a good laugh.  I asked if she could forward it to me and she did.  As I re-read this “post” I started smiling and chuckling as remembered it through the written version. 

Me and fellow archaeologist/soccer star "Cat."

Me and fellow archaeologist/soccer star “Cat.”

The story itself deals with a soccer match between we archaeologists and our Kurdish workers from a local village near the excavation site.  The match took place during the summer field season directly before my wedding to Dave.  I had forgotten some of the details, but especially now as Dave and I celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary it seems apropos (that’s for you Dave) to share the story here.

 The summer before our wedding Dave and I were apart for about three months.  I was in Turkey excavating for nine weeks and got home one day after he had left for a six week field season in the Republic of Georgia.  He would come back from that field season with a mere two weeks left until the wedding.  When he left for his fieldwork he’d left me two letters; one was the perfect love letter (a note on the outside instructed that I was to read this one first) and the second was a list of things for the wedding that he was supposed to take care of… but didn’t.  Doh!  Around the time he was writing his second letter, I was preparing for this soccer match.

 The Saga of the Soccer Match

Here is the saga of the soccer match…  Last year the dig team played a soccer game against their excavation hands from a local village.  Everyone had such a blast they decided to make it an annual event; the yubangi (foreigners) against the locals.  This year the excavation season has been difficult.  We had all the problems with the workers’ strike, and the village that we had to cut off relations with was the one from the soccer saga last year.  Even though we could not work together at the excavation anymore the team still wanted to have a game, and it was decided that the archaeologists would make up one team, and any of our workers regardless of which village they hailed from could make up the other team.  This decision was extremely naïve on our part, as the different villages and lineages did not necessarily get along and there was a definite internal pecking order that we were oblivious to.

 I was asked to play but was afraid of making a fool of myself so decided to embrace my chicken-ness and play spectator instead.  Another female excavator felt the same way and we plotted to be cheerleaders and not allow ourselves to get dragged into the actual event.

 Game day.  After a full day of excavation we left for the match.  We piled into the van, all of us in various forms of excavation clothes including worn and dusty khakis, torn runners and t-shirts, the women with our Kurdish headscarves firmly in place.  In short, we were unimpressive.  We got to the soccer pitch a little early so our team would have time to warm up, play around with a ball and hopefully not embarrass ourselves too much.  As we pulled into the parking area we saw that the other team was already there, and our jaws dropped.  Not only was the other “team” there but they were all wearing professional uniforms; matching jerseys with numbers and names, striped socks, boots, the entire kit.  Apparently the team of Kurdish villagers we thought we were going to play were actually a regional semi-pro team.  To make it worse they also were only from the one village and had told all of our other workers from the remaining four villages that they couldn’t play.  For a moment our team considered calling the match off, but the strike had left all of us a bit nervy and the chance to run around playing soccer, not doing anything academic, was too good to pass up.  The game would go on.

 Not only was the opposing team different from what we expected, but so was the pitch.  It was carpeted and smaller than a normal soccer field, which was great since if we’d had to run on a normal sized field I think we would have expired.  The sun was going down, as was the temperature, but it was still well over 100 degrees F in the shade.  While we had been doing hard physical labor for weeks, excavation is not largely cardiovascular and every one of the archaeologists was winded within minutes.  The Turkish game was also played differently.  You could play the ball off of the chain link fences surrounding the pitch and the goals were very shallow.

 The fan base was unique as well.  In rural Turkey it is unseemly for women sit with men whom they are not related to, so there were no female fans on their side.  There certainly were no female players; and therefore no Kurdish women making spectacles of themselves.  The same cannot be said for the American side.  The bleachers were filled with the other team’s kinsmen and a handful of excavation workers that had not been “called up” to the team.  And then there was Jenny and myself; hooting and hollering, jumping up and down, and all around acting remarkably unladylike in the Turkish/Kurdish sense.  We apparently scandalized the neighborhood as we would learn the next day.  Good Kurdish women do not cheer or raise their voices like we did.  Nor did they heckle the opposing team with comparisons to various parts of a sheep’s anatomy.  We were obviously not good Kurdish women.

Me in Urfa looking over the Balikligol (Fish Pond) and wearing the same headscarf from soccer fame.

Me in Urfa looking over the Balikligol (Fish Pond) and wearing the same headscarf from soccer fame.

Needless to say, we started playing and pretty quickly the slaughter began.  Our Kurdish cook and driver had agreed to play for us and they were both surprisingly good; much better than any of us.  I’m not sure why we were surprised by this, but we were obviously pretty slow at that point.  They are the only two who kept the “match” from being a wholesale blowout.

 In the last ten minutes of the game our cook was in goal and called for me to come and take his place.  He wanted to go forward in order to try to score a couple goals so we won’t lose so pathetically.  We had stopped counting at this point, but I think the score was something along the lines of 2 to 10.  The ringers had been taking it easy on us at the end.

 Not wanting to disappoint our cook who had miraculously made coming home from the excavation to his meals something to look forward to… I agreed to go in.  You learn early on that to keep an excavation team functioning, you’ve got to keep them happy.  The best way to do that is to keep them well fed.  We don’t have many bells and whistles in the field, but good food goes a long way.  In a future post I’ll share the story of the “hairy red sauce” of the previous field season and you’ll see how important this can be.  Ugh!

 So the cook wanted me to take his place.  We were already short handed on the field, and in order to save my supper (literally) I was going into goal.  There was no way this could end well.

 My “uniform” consisted of a clean (relatively) white t-shirt, loose green palazzo pants, an embroidered headscarf and sandals.  I was hardly something to strike fear into the hearts of those wanting to slam the ball into the net as hard as they could.  May I also add that I have never been in the goal?  Ever.  And that the Turkish ball was different from standard soccer balls, being a little larger and really heavy.  All I could think about was that this ball would leave a mark.

 The sun had gone down and the field’s lights weren’t good.  I was sure that I would be the biggest embarrassment of a goalie ever, but at least my ego would have taken one for the team.  Small enough encouragement.

 I got in the goal and quickly took off my flimsy sandals before I twisted an ankle.  I did not want to repeat an injury to my feet like I shared in the Family Dinner post (posted on 9-12-13.  The soccer match took place one year after the salmon dinner).  A ball was quickly, but softly, kicked at the goal and I ran after it like I was chasing my cat, bent at the waste, bum in the air, arms outstretched.  I had just as much success blocking the ball as I’ve had catching Zadi when she zooms through the room.  I was undeterred, however.

 When the next shot came, I pushed a player from other team out of the way and somehow ended up sprawled across the goal with the ball outside of the net.  Not my most graceful maneuver, but an effective one.  All I could think of was Dave saying “that’s my girl.”  Then a third shot came and I was able to block it pretty easily. I promise you I was not getting cocky, just lucky.  I was sure that any second a ball was going to come with my name on it and I would be nursing a broken nose for the wedding.

Me in Istanbul posing before Dave and I went out for a dinner to celebrate the end of a successful field season.  All 10 toes accountd for.

Me in Istanbul posing before Dave and I went out for a dinner to celebrate the end of a successful field season. All 10 toes accountd for.

 And then it came.  I still don’t remember it coming; never saw who took the shot.  All I remember is a stinging fire in my middle thigh region across both legs.  Everyone gasped as the resounding slap echoed off the concrete walls.  Players froze not sure what I would do.  My girl friends on the team said that if they hadn’t loved me before, that sacrifice would have bought their hearts.

 And the ball was just sitting there right in front of the goal…

 And my brain finally realized that I should probably pick it up…

 So I did and then dramatically collapsed in a heap on the floor hamming it up.  Everyone started laughing again and I was a hero, though we still lost 5 to 10.  At least I only let in one.

 And now each thigh has a nicely yellowing half moon bruise that when I stand with my legs together share a remarkable resemblance to a Turkish soccer ball.  I never thought that taking one for the team would smart quite so much.  After the match the winning team served us hot tea, and we eventually went home to nurse our wounds.  I needed an ice pack.

 I’ve since tried to figure out which of the workers took that shot.  My current workmen seem to have developed a convenient case of amnesia and no one is willing to fess up.  One did bring me a nicely woven head scarf beaded by his mother.  I wonder which one of his cousins is the guilty party…

 —

Today –

It’s been just over eight years since that story took place.  What a remarkable ride.  Happy anniversary, Dave!

Dave and I after our first field season together as a married couple having cocktails at the Pera Palace, one of the grand hotels in Istanbul designed in the Orient Express era.

Dave and I after our first field season together as a married couple having cocktails at the Pera Palace, one of the grand hotels in Istanbul designed in the Orient Express era.

These are the buttons you see above Dave's head in the previous picture.  High tech at the time, you could push to call a waiter for food, your barman or your groom for your "ride home."

These are the buttons you see above Dave’s head in the previous picture. High tech at the time, you could push to call a waiter for food, your barman or your groom for your “ride home.”

The biggest smiles and relaxed poses always show the end of a field season.

The biggest smiles and relaxed poses always show the end of a field season.

 Cacık (Chilled Yogurt and Cucumber Soup)

Thinking about Turkey made me nostalgic and when that happens I often have to make a Turkish dinner.  Cacık (pronounced zhazhik) is a chilled yogurt and cucumber soup that is fantastic on a hot summer or fall day.  In Turkey this is what I always want at the opening of my meal.  It is refreshing, cooling, and also stimulates the appetite for whatever delicious offering is coming next.  I recently made cacık as part of the meal to welcome Dave’s Mom back to our place after a ferry from the mainland.  Another plus for this soup is that it takes minutes to prepare and can be held in the refrigerator for hours before being served.  If that isn’t enough incentive to try cacık, it’s also a great way to use up any late summer cucumbers that your gardener friends “gift” you with.

 Ingredients

1 tsp. salt

Pinch of sugar

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tsp. dried mint (or 1 tbsp. fresh)

1 ¾ c. plain yogurt (fat free is fine, just use a good quality yogurt)

1 large cucumber

2 tbsp. cold water

 In a medium-sized nonreactive bowl mix the first five ingredients well.  Set aside.

 Peel the cucumber and slice it in half lengthwise.  With a small spoon remove and discard the seeds.  Then finely dice the cucumber and add it to the yogurt mixture.

 Add the cold water to the yogurt-cucumber mixture and stir.  The consistency should be thin, but not watery.  Depending on the type of yogurt you used you might need to add a little more water to thin it out.  Cover the soup and place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or up to a couple of hours to keep it chilled until ready to serve.

 Note: On an exceptionally hot day add less water to the soup and instead float a couple of ice cubes in each bowl.  As the ice melts it will dilute the soup and keep everything refreshingly cold.  Afiyet olsun (bon appetite in Turkish)!

 Click here for a printable recipe card for Cacik.

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Family Dinner

So I can’t say that I married Dave for his Dad’s cooking since I hadn’t had this dish until after Dave and I were engaged.  But it is possible that Joe’s Salmon sealed the deal.  When Dave and I met, dated, and got engaged we were both living far from our respective families.  This led to the interesting position of being engaged without actually having met our future in-laws more than once or twice.  When I first got the chance to meet Dave’s dad, it was for Dave’s sister Erin’s wedding.  No stress there.

In the interest of full disclosure I need to come clean and state for the record that I actually do not remember much of Erin’s wedding or the week leading up to it.  This is not due to a poor memory or excessive celebration (that was taken care of by the wedding party).  My memory loss is likely due to the fact that I just might have been crazy at the time.  So here’s the story…

 Erin and Tyler’s wedding was planned for mid-August.  For archaeologists August is often a touchy month since we may still be in the field excavating, or we will have just gotten back from the field and are not quite fit for polite company yet.  For this particular field season before the wedding… let’s just say that things went wrong… in spades.  The highlight was that I didn’t lose my foot and I mean that literally.  Dave loves to go into embarrassing detail about this not-so-fun memory, but since he’s not telling this story I can give you the abridged version.  Hard field work in far southeastern Turkey led to really bad blisters, which led to a blood infection, which led to lots of antibiotics and blood thinners, all of which eventually led to a fully healed foot with all of my toes still attached and functioning.

 All of this leads up, I promise, to a dinner of Joe’s famous salmon.  Dave’s dad, Joe, was going to make salmon for our first family dinner in Canada the day that I flew in.  With layovers included, I had been traveling by plane and car for over 30 hours, literally traveling from Asia, across Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean, and then across North America.  When I landed in Vancouver I was hopped up on Dramamine and had been mostly immobile for more than a day, confined in those too-small-for-even-tiny-people plane seats.  And then there were my ankles… 

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I fly my ankles swell a little.  This time, I was coming from Turkey where it was so hot (over 120 degrees in the day) that we had been consuming excess salt just so that we could retain enough water to not be dangerously dehydrated.  I was also still dealing with my damaged foot and lower leg, immobility from the travel, and a cute skirt (meaning exposed lower legs) to meet Dave’s folks.  I didn’t just have cankles (the lovely situation when your ankles swell to the size of your calves); I had thankles (replace “ankles” in previous definition with “thighs”).  My lower legs were so swollen that there was not even a suggestion of where my ankles were supposed to be; in fact the swollen flesh actually lapped over the supposed ankle area.  I was greeted by Dave outside of customs with a kiss, and I asked him to please not look down at my ankles.  He did his best, but man… they were impressive.

 Dave then drove me from the airport to his parents’ home.  It would be another hour or so before I realized that I had left the airport with someone else’s luggage, and therefore had left my own bag complete with dress for Erin’s wedding at the airport.  So we went back to the airport, dealt with snarky customs people, returned to the house, and somehow I was still standing and able to speak relatively coherently.  Ruth and Joe usherd Dave and I out to the deck for drinks, snacks and a chance to get to know each other.  It was only then that they actually had a chance to check me out.  From the knees up I was feeling pretty good.  I’d been working hard at the excavation, had shed my winter weight, and was as tanned as I ever get (which isn’t much, but it was something).  It is also quite possible that I was drooling a bit from the aforementioned plethora of Dramamine I’d taken to survive the flight(s).  Ruth and Joe made me feel welcome and at home, assuring me that I wasn’t drooling or slurring too much (sweet, but not true).  At some point in the small talk Ruth happened to glance down at where my feet were supposed to be.  I think she might have shrieked, but there was definitely a gasp, popping eyes and a gaping mouth.  Like I said, the thankles were impressive.  She then pushed me (kindly) down into my seat, put my thankles up onto their own chair (I’m surprised that I didn’t need a separate chair for each leg), and got me a couple of cool compresses.  And that’s how I ate my first meal with the Hopwoods.  A lovely outside dinner of amazing salmon, just the four of us, and my thankles occupying the fifth chair.

 From that meal on I only have snippets of memory of the festivities for Erin’s wedding.  There was a painful, but effective Thai massage that allowed my destroyed feet to be presentable.  I wore my cute, strappy shoes without the appearance of my feet trying to burst out of the straps, and any stumbling was from my inherent grace not from injury.  I remember bits of the ceremony; as well as bits and pieces of the reception.  Amazing lasagna.  Great wedding speeches.  A memorable Macarena.  Feeling overwhelmed with the number of cousins in existence.  And that’s about it.  After the wedding I think that I slept for about a week solid.

 Which brings me back to the salmon…  With all of my crazy, and let’s be honest that was a lot of crazy, the Hopwoods made me feel welcome in the middle of their own crazy whirlwind of the wedding.  And that is what this salmon dish makes me think of every time I’m lucky enough to have it.  For me, this is love on a plate.  Family.  It is one of those untranslatable feelings “to be safe and at home amongst people who love you.”  We had this meal recently up at the Hopwood cabin as a belated celebration of Dave’s birthday, and that is where these pictures come from.  May you have many “safe and at home amongst people who love you” meals in your future.

portion

 Joe’s Salmon

Serves 6-8

Joe is likely going to chuckle when he sees quantities listed here for the ingredients.  Both Dave and Joe are the kind of gifted cooks who can look at a pantry of food and instinctively combine ingredients into tasty and inventive meals.  I am not that type of cook.  When Joe makes this salmon, or most any other dish, he does everything by “eye ball” measurement.  You just add enough of everything until it looks right.  This recipe is an attempt to recreate Joe’s Salmon, and he kindly allowed me to play journalist/paparazzi at the cabin, photographing every move.  Any discrepancy or difference in taste from Joe’s dish to this one is from my quantities being not quite what he would have done.  But I consider that simply a challenge to keep fiddling until it’s just rightent.  Challenge accepted!

 Ingredients

¼ c. olive oil

¼ c. teriyaki sauce

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. garlic powder

1 tbsp. Montreal steak seasoning (see recipe at end of post)

1 tbsp. Oregano

2 sides of salmon, skin on (weight varies)

 Mix all of the ingredients except for the salmon in a small bowl.  Set this aside for 15-20 minutes to let the flavors meld and the marinade thicken.

Mixing the marinade for the salmon.

Mixing the marinade for the salmon.

There was a suggestion that I needed to add an ingredient to the official recipe; a drink for the cook.  This is Joe's preferred grilling beverage, but you can choose your own.  I just suggest something cold and refreshing as a reward for you "not so hard" work at the grill.

There was a suggestion that I needed to add an ingredient to the official recipe; a drink for the cook. This is Joe’s preferred grilling beverage, but you can choose your own. I just suggest something cold and refreshing as a reward for your “not so hard” work at the grill.

 Meanwhile heat the grill and check the salmon to ensure that all pin bones have been removed.

 Once the marinade has rested and the grill is hot, put the fillets skin side down on the grate.  Close the cover of the grill and let the salmon cook for 2-3 minutes.

Two beautiful salmon fillets.

Two beautiful salmon fillets.

 Open the cover of the grill and brush the marinade over the salmon.  Close the cover again and grill the fish for 8-10 minutes more, depending on your desired level of doneness.  Since salmon is a delicate protein, you should remove it from the grill when it is just underdone to your liking.  It will continue cooking a little (carry over cooking) after you remove it from the grill.

Brushing the marinade/sauce over the salmon.

Brushing the marinade/sauce over the salmon.

The "sauced" salmon ready for final cooking.

The “sauced” salmon ready for final cooking.

 Once the salmon is done, use a sharp metal spatula and score the flesh vertically to portion it into appropriate sizes (see pictures below).  Then slide the spatula between the skin and the flesh of the fillet, lifting the salmon off of the skin and placing the individual servings on a platter.  You are also welcome to remove the entire fillet (skin and all) to a platter and serve it tableside, but for our family this is what we prefer.

With a sharp metal spatula you want to score the salmon vertically without cutting through the skin.

With a sharp metal spatula you want to score the salmon vertically without cutting through the skin.

Then lift individual portions off of the skin and place them on a serving platter.

Then lift individual portions off of the skin and place them on a serving platter.

present

present2

portion5

Click here for a printable recipe card for Joe’s Salmon.

Montreal Steak Seasoning Recipe

While there are a variety of grocery store brands of this spice blend, it is also super easy to whip up your own.  If you have these spices at home already then it is cheaper to mix your own, and you can swap out or in any spices to your preference.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. black pepper, coarsely ground

1 tbsp. salt

2 tbsp. smoked paprika

1 tbsp. garlic powder

1 tbsp. onion powder

1 tbsp. coriander, ground

1 tbsp. chili flakes

1 tbsp. fennel seeds

Instructions:

  1. Mix all spices together in a small bowl.
  2. Pour them into a spice jar or small container (glass or metal is best), and store in a cool dark place.
  3. Use the spice blend in your favorite recipes for a little extra heat and peppery flavor.

Click here for a printable recipe card for Montreal Steak Seasoning.

The Importance of Snacks

We are finally getting to the point where we feel a bit more settled in Nanaimo, and this has nothing to do with the number of boxes that have been (or have not been) unpacked.  The basement still looms large with boxes and piles of who-knows-what, but we are getting there.  Little Man calls our house his “Canada Home,” but is also finding new places to be his favorites.  One of these favorites is Oliver Woods Park.

Oliver Woods Park surrounded by forest.

Oliver Woods Park surrounded by forest.

 The park itself is carved (literally) out of the surrounding woodlands.  For someone who has lived in the flat, flat plains (which have their own beauty, don’t get me wrong) for the last few years this park looks magical with its cape of fir and cedar.  It also reminds me a bit of one of the parks from back in Pella, the West Market Park, with its wooden castle and bridges.  Maybe that is one of the reasons that Little Man calls Oliver Woods “his” park.

park1

 The playground is dominated by its large castle-like climbing toy, but that isn’t actually the area that Little Man likes most.  Just beyond the castle is a slightly smaller area that is designed more for the 2-3 year olds.  The slides are shorter, there are no rock walls to climb, but there is a cool pirate ladder of beams suspended on chains that hang just above a solid wooden gangway.  Little Man and most of the other little ones step over the beams onto the gangway below.  He loves it.

 At the back of the playground is a small exercise circuit designed for anyone over 13 years of age.  Little ones run around and play there too, but most of them tend to lose interest quickly as nothing is designed for them and the coolness of the circuit is lost on those who can’t read the instructions.

The "Enchanted Forest" that surrounds the park.

The “Enchanted Forest” that surrounds the park.

 The entire playground and exercise circuit area are surrounded by forest, hence the “Woods.”  For Little Man, this is the Enchanted Forest.  Just behind and to the right of the castle is a little gate that leads out into the Enchanted Forest and a series of nature trails.  We haven’t explored many of these yet, except for the trail on the right.  This is a short downward trail, perfect for little legs and for parent legs that are exhausted after chasing little legs around the playground, that ends at a little dock and the duck pond.

The duck pond at Oliver Woods Park.

The duck pond at Oliver Woods Park.

 Little Man loves the ducks… and their food.  If you are interested, you can get a bag of duck food from the reception desk inside the Community Center.  The last time we were at the park we were making new friends and stayed a little bit later than I had intended to.  That meant that Little Man was late for lunch and apparently quite munchy even after his snacks.  One of his new friends let him take a handful of duck food to feed the already stuffed ducks.  The birds must get quite the feast from all the little kids, and none of them were moving too quickly that day.  Little Man, however, was feeling rather peckish.  So peckish, in fact, that he took his little handful of duck food and like lightning stuffed them into his hungry mouth.  I was not as fast, but managed to fish most of the pellets out of his mouth before he’d swallowed them.  I didn’t want to immediately quash his ability to play with the ducks, so I let him feed the ducks a little bit more.  This was fine for a handful or two, until he grabbed a fistful and stuffed them in his mouth again.  I guess duck food can’t taste as bad as I would have imagined.  More fishing of slimy duck pellets out of Little Man’s mouth ensued.  The very nice woman at the reception desk ensured me that the duck food was an all natural product from a local store with a great reputation, and luckily there were no adverse reactions to Little Man’s ducky snack.  But Mommy has definitely learned that a hungry toddler should not be given access to “snacks” that he’s not allowed to eat.  The ducks still look at him askance when he comes close.  I think they’re wondering if he’s going to make off with their lunch.

Here ducky, ducky...

Here ducky, ducky…

 Now I plan in advance to have a few more snacks at hand when we might be out closer to lunch time, and closer to the duck pond.  I think that this week I’ll make him the same scones that we had a couple of weeks ago when his Tia came out to visit.  The best part of living on the island is that every couple of weeks we get to visit with family, a luxury that Little Man has never experienced before.  When his Tia came over we had a little tea party, with tuna sandwiches, hummus and cucumber sandwiches, and cheddar chive scones.  These scones are great since the dough can be made, portioned and then frozen before baking them.  The dough should last a couple of weeks in the freezer.  Then when you are ready to eat them you simply break them apart, put them on a parchment lined backing sheet, and shortly thereafter you have delicious scones.

done2

 Cheddar Chive Scones

Ingredients

½ cup cheddar cheese, sharp

¼ cup chives, chopped finely

½ cup oats

½ cup whole wheat flour

¾ cup white flour

2 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 Tblsp. sugar

¼ tsp. salt

6 Tblsp. unsalted butter, cut into ½ in. cubes and COLD

1 large egg

4-5 Tblsp. milk (any kind)

 Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

 In a food processor fitted with the shredding blade, shred the cheese.  Put the shredded cheese in a large bowl, add the chives and set aside.  Do not wash out the processor.  Replace the shredding disk and lid with the standard blade and lid.

Cheddar cheese and chives for the scones.

Cheddar cheese and chives for the scones.

 In your emptied (but still a bit cheesy) food processor, put the oats and blitz until forming a coarse meal (oat flour).  Add the other flours, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Process to just combine.  Add the butter and process in pulses until it resembles a coarse meal with some pea sized bits of butter.  Dump the flour mixture into the bowl with the cheese and chives, then toss to coat.

Preparing the oats for blitzing.

Preparing the oats for blitzing.

Cheesy oat flour.

Cheesy oat flour.

The dry mixture with cheese and chives.

The dry mixture with cheese and chives.

In a small bowl beat the egg and 4 tablespoons of milk with a fork.  Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together.  In the bowl it will look like it won’t hold its shape.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Fold the dough in half and “knead” it no more than four times.  It should hold together and form a solid mass when you pat it into a 1-inch thick 6-inch round.  Cut the circle into eight equally sized wedges.

The dough combined and messy.

The dough combined and messy.

The dough dumped out onto the floured surface.

The dough dumped out onto the floured surface.

The dough shaped into a round.

The dough shaped into a round.

kneaded 2

Keep the dough relatively thin. Too thick and it doesn’t bake well in the center, too thin and the scones get hard.

 At this point you can wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it, or you can bake it immediately.  Cooling down the dough (in the refrigerator or freezer) can make for a lighter, more flaky (and more awesome) scone, as this creates more flaky layers in the pastry.  However, they are also flaky, cheesy, and downright irresistible even if baked right away.

The dough round portioned into eight scones.

The dough round portioned into eight scones.

The scones ready for the oven.

The scones ready for the oven.

 Space the scones evenly on the prepared backing sheet.  Add a splash of milk to the empty milk and egg bowl.  Brush this mixture over the top of the scones.  Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.  Cool on a wire wrack and serve.

The scones are golden brown and ready for snack time.

The scones are golden brown and ready for snack time.

 Note: If baking the scones after freezing them, unwrap them from the plastic wrap and proceed with everything as normal.  One note is that you may need to bake them for little longer.  Just give them a little touch when they “look” done.  If it feels mushy in the center, then give them another couple of minutes.  If they feel firm to the touch, then they are done.

Click on this link to open a ready to print recipe card for the CheddarChiveScones.

Ready for tea...

Ready for tea…

A Season of Blackberries

OK, so it’s possible that I might have gone a little overboard with the blackberry love recently.  It’s hard not to on the island.  On Vancouver Island in August it is a common occurrence to see cars pulled over on the side of the highway, not because they are broken down or in need of assistance, but because people are out there picking blackberries.  Then you start to see people with ladders on the sidewalks to get to the higher branches, people buried in bushes at the back of supermarkets, people with berry buckets everywhere.  Once you can recognize what the bushes look like, you realize that the parts of the island that are not covered with forest are instead covered with blackberry bushes.  The bushes line the highways and roads, the train tracks, they pop up next to telephone poles, they grow beside bus stops, and they are all over Vancouver Island University campus.

Bushes 

I started jealously watching specific areas around town where I’d spotted the bushes, waiting for when the locals had decided that the berries were ready.  Then I would pounce… literally if I had to.  It wasn’t until after the family reunion that I started noticing people’s cars on the side of the road with people embedded and ensnared in the bushes greedily picking berries.  Then it took some time for us to be able to coordinate our schedules when all three of us could be out there harvesting.  While Little Man was willing, he is not actually much help picking blackberries… or picking anything for that matter.  When he has “helped” Mommy pick tomatoes in the farm garden he tends to use the precious fruit like a hard thrown bocce ball.  I have to move fast to get the fruit from his little hands into my basket.  And that is without the extra bonus of all the blackberry thorns.  So on each of our forays to pick berries Dave’s primary task has been keeping Little Man out of the road, out of the bushes and more or less out of trouble.  For Dave’s efforts he has been rewarded with blackberry scones, muffins, and yes, a blackberry cocktail.  I’m sharing the blackberry muffin recipe at the end of this post.  For the other two, you’ll just have to keep posted.  🙂

berries 

For our own harvesting, we first tried a spot along the road that takes us down into town.  The area is largely forest, but there is a little turn around area and I’d seen cars and berry pickers there in the past.  While we made a pretty good haul that day, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped since the people I had spied earlier did a good job of clearing out the berries.  Our next attempt was right outside of Dave’s building at VIU.  These bushes were full of gorgeous, bursting ripe blackberries.  So Dave chased Little Man who was chasing the bunnies, and I picked berries as fast as I could.  Blackberry harvesting is not without hazard, the bushes snagged my jeans, my sleeves and my hair.  I would bury myself deep into a particularly nice area of the bushes counting on my clothing to protect me (more or less) from the thorns, just to find that I couldn’t get out again.  But any scratches, and there were quite a few, were well worth it.

Dave

I have to admit that not only do I love picking and eating blackberries, but with every freezer bag I put away I feel like that’s also money in the bank.  Each bag that I freeze for future use is one more bag of berries that I don’t have to buy at the store, and as I mentioned above I use berries in everything from salads to pancakes to baked goods to drinks.  Did I mention that I love blackberries?  Normally this time of year would find me scowling at the stacks of beautiful fresh blackberries in the stores, priced at a level that was hard to justify in our grocery budget.  This year it found me ensnared in bushes, and I am still finding thorns in my jeans.  If you also find yourself in a place where blackberries do not grow wild (and free of cost) but still want to try out the muffin recipe below, please substitute the blackberries with any berry that you do have access to, frozen or fresh.  Blueberries or raspberries would be great in these muffins.  Speaking of blueberries, I’ve been told that they are just now coming into season here…

A couple notes about blackberry picking safety:

  • First, although the berries grow incredibly well along the train tracks, NEVER pick berries there.  Not only is it dangerous with the trains using the tracks, but the tracks are routinely sprayed with herbicide to keep plants from growing there.  That means that the berry bushes have been sprayed too.  Not good eats.
  • Second, although it is tempting, never pick berries low to the ground.  There are animals out and about that like to mark their territory.  Just imagine the height of a neighborhood dog’s hind quarters and remember that urine soaked berries are to be avoided.

Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins

Ingredients:

1 ¾ c. whole wheat flour

¾ c. rolled oats (not quick cooking)

½ c. brown sugar, packed

1 tbsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 c. milk

1/3 c. plain yogurt

1 tbsp. canola oil

2 eggs

1 c. blackberries or other berry, frozen or fresh

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400º.  Line a muffin pan with papers or lightly oil it.

In a large bowl stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl whisk together the milk, yogurt, oil and eggs until well combined.  I tend to use good quality skim milk and fat free yogurt here.  The yogurt adds a richness to the muffins, and replaces the oil that would otherwise be required.

The dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients combined.

The dry ingredients combined.

The wet ingredients.

The wet ingredients.

The wet ingredients combined.

The wet ingredients combined.

 Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just long enough to combine.  You do not want to over mix the batter since that results in tough muffins.  This batter will look a bit more wet than muffin batter usually does.  Don’t worry, it’s supposed to.  Let the batter sit for 20 minutes.  This will let the oats hydrate, soaking up some of the extra liquid.

Everything combined.  It will look too wet until after it has rested for 20 minutes.  My sushi timer is set, now the waiting begins.

Everything combined. It will look too wet until after it has rested for 20 minutes. My sushi timer is set, now the waiting begins.

 After the 20 minutes of resting, add the berries to the mixture and gently fold together.  Divide the batter amongst the muffin cups, and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until they are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean (except for any blackberry juices it might encounter).

After the batter has rested, add in the berries.  Now you are ready to go.

After the batter has rested, add in the berries. Now you are ready to go.

Tasty batter in the pan...

Tasty batter in the pan…

Tasty muffins out of the oven...

Tasty muffins out of the oven…

 Let the muffins rest in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then remove them to a rack to cool completely.  Enjoy!

Cooling muffins on the rack.  This is when Little Man realizes a treat is coming.

Cooling muffins on the rack. This is when Little Man realizes a treat is coming.

Little Man in the background asking "'Nack time?"

Little Man in the background asking “‘Nack time?”

 Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins

A Day Off in Wine Country

Recently after a particularly tough week of adjusting to Canadian life, Dave surprised me with a special vacation day.  We used to do this for each other from time to time in upstate New York as graduate students.  We would plan dates and then whisk the other person off for a day of surprises planned just for them.  These were not expensive events, but were carried out on the shoe string graduate student budgets that we had.  The very first “Surprise Day” was when we were dating and I took Dave on a mini-golf date.  This included a short walk down the street to a local restaurant with a ½ price happy hour.  While I remember that we had a good time overall, the most memorable part of this date was the weather.  Gale-force winds that literally tore the astroturf off of the course while we were playing; golf ball-sized hail that bounced off the road and off our heads; and rain blown so hard from one direction that we were drenched on one side and bone dry on the other.  This made the “short walk” down to the restaurant a bit more challenging (and glamorous) than originally planned.  Then of course after our snacks we had to run back up the road through the rain.  Later we would learn that our mad dash was more impressive than we had originally thought, since moments after we ran by an electrical pole it was struck by lightning.  I just thought the electricity in the air was from being with Dave.  😉

My boys...

My boys…

 We used to do “Surprise Days” as often as we could, but they have become a bit more infrequent as we have moved across states and international borders, and especially with Little Man’s arrival.  So it was extra surprising when Dave said we were having a day off and I wasn’t allowed to know the plans.  Heaven to not have to plan anything, not even diapers to bring along!  Dave’s “Surprise Day” was a tour of some of the local wineries on Vancouver Island.  This was also reminiscent of our time in upstate New York, when we would drive up to the Finger Lakes, visit a couple of wineries, have a nice lunch, and enjoy the scenery while we tried as hard as possible to ignore the pressures of graduate school that were waiting for us back home.  This Surprise Day was our first attempt to recreate that experience here on Vancouver Island; and of course it was made a bit more “adventuresome” with Little Man.

In front of Averill Creek Vineyards.

In front of Averill Creek Vineyards.

 Little Man was not as impressed with the beautiful scenery or wonderful wines as Dave and I were.  And there was the moment of panic when he had a fleeting moment of freedom from the stroller and made a wild dash for expensive bottles of wine on display.  He has fantastic taste in which bottles to grab, but thankfully no damage ensued.  It was a fantastic day.  We couldn’t ask for better weather.  Bright blue sky, warm but not hot, and an amazing view of cedars and ocean at each winery we visited.  Dave did good.

AverillCreek

Averill Creek Vineyard and their picnic friendly patio.

 

I talk about some of the wines and food that we ate on this trip below.  Please note that I am not a food critic, but I am sharing and remembering our experience of that day.  The preferences are mine and Dave’s alone, and are likely quite different than your’s would be.  Please try the wineries that we visited and see what you think.  You won’t be disappointed.

 This is the order of where we visited:

 Averill Creek Vineyard

6552 North Rd., Duncan, B.C. V9L 6K9

(250) 709-9986

http://www.averillcreek.ca/

This was my first taste of Vancouver Island wines and it was also my favorite winery of the day.  The winery itself is gorgeous and has an amazing patio where you can sip wine by the glass or the bottle.  Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic for the patio, or you can also buy locally sourced cheese and chartecurie from the tasting room.  We are definitely bringing a picnic next time!

Favorite Wines:

Foch, Eh! – This is a low-tannin red made from their Marechal Foch grapes.  Marechal Foch are apparently a specialty of this region, and this bottle was a great representation of them.  We bought a bottle specifically to share with Dave’s parents, and are looking forward to a chance to break it open.

Pinot Grigio – It was a bright, warm day and I truly enjoyed the whites that I tried.  This one had a nice, clean citrusy finish.  I’m looking forward to going back and having a glass of this on their patio with our picnic.

Cherry Point Estate Wines

840 Cherry Point Road, Cobble Hill, BC, V0R 1L3, Canada

Phone: (250) 743-1272

http://cherrypointestatewines.com/

This was our second winery and my expectations were high since we had just come from Averill Creek.  Their wines were good, and we had a nice time talking with one of the owners who was justifiably proud of the recent awards they have won.  Our favorite part of the visit, however, was their bistro.  Dave and I shared their Tapas Plate and Little Man had an amazing Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  The kiddo food is not listed on the menu, but we asked if they had children’s options and they came up with a couple of options on the fly.  The tapas plate included: a fresh beet salad, pickled garlic, mushrooms, mussels, shrimp, pulled lamb shank, olive tapenade, cheese, and an apple compote.  This paired excellently with the wine by the glass that Dave and I had.  He had the Forte, which was rich and tannic.  While I had the Bête Noire, full of fantastic dark fruit flavors with a light finish.

Favorite Wines:

Bête Noire: This was my favorite wine from Cherry Point.  It is in a Rioja-style and is almost inky in color, but the finish is light.

Forte: This was Dave’s favorite wine from Cherry Point.  It also was a strong, rich red that paired very well with the tapas plate.  In terms of comparing this to the Bête Noire, the Forte has a richer overall feeling on the palate and has a strong finish as well.

Wine and bread at the Cherry Point Bistro.

Wine and bread at the Cherry Point Bistro.

Our tapas plate at Cherry Point Bistro.  We devoured it!

Our tapas plate at Cherry Point Bistro. We devoured it!

Tapas from the side... Yes, we love food photography even with our phones.

Tapas from the side… Yes, we love food photography even with our phones.

Little Man's Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  He's lucky our meal was so good.  The sandwich is such that even an adult would be happy to have that as a meal.

Little Man’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich. He’s lucky our meal was so good. The sandwich is such that even an adult would be happy to have that as a meal.

Venturi Schultze

4235 Vineyard Road, Cobble Hill, BC V0R 1L5

Phone: (250) 743-5630

http://www.venturischulze.com

This winery was a bit hard to find, but the search is definitely worth it.  They are a “beyond organic” winery and have produced small batch excellent wines for over 20 years.  For our visit the daughter of the original vintners was working in the tasting room.  We learned a lot about organic wines and their creation that day.  It was in this winery that Little Man got loose and things almost turned disastrous.  In terms of great wines, this was our second favorite winery of the day.  They also produce amazing balsamic vinegars.

Favorite Wines:

Brut Naturel: It was a warm day for our visit and my favorite was their sparkling Brut Naturel.  It was not overly dry, and was extremely refreshing after a hot day of touring.

Millefiori: It was hard for Dave to corral himself into admitting just one favorite from this winery.  In the end I think that the warmth of the day and the refreshing character of the Millefiori won him over.  This is not a sweet white at all, but it also is not overly oaky like some intense (and beloved by me) Chardonays.

 Twenty Two Oaks Winery

#1-6383 Lakes Road, Duncan, BC V9L 5V6

Phone:(250) 701-0385

http://www.22oakswinery.ca/

While Dave was fascinated by the names of the ex-hockey player owners, I was less impressed with the wines and the story of their ugly bulldog wine labels.  This is a relatively new winery, and things could turn around for them quickly.  However they are not on my list of wineries I want to visit again, or labels that I will search out in the wine stores.

Favorite Wines: not so much…

 Deol Family Estate Winery

6645 Somenos Rd. Duncan, BC, Canada

Phone: 250-746-3967

http://www.deolestatewinery.com/

Deol Estate Winery was our last winery to visit that day and it was one of our favorites, at least in terms of the number of bottles purchased.  Do not let the exterior of the winery deter you.  The parking lot and surrounding buildings looks more like an area where restaurant delivery trucks should be off loading product.  The tasting room itself is nice, but the woman pouring our tastings was nice and knowledgeable.  This is a winery that I would love to go back to; I just wish that its surroundings were more inviting.

Favorite Wines:

Blanc de Noir: This was my favorite wine from Deol.  The woman running the tasting room said that the wine embodied the flavor of honey; and it did but not in a sweet way at all.  It was a light, crisp wine that left the lingering taste of honey without its cloying sweetness.  She had me at “honey.”

Somenos Red: This was Dave’s favorite wine from Deol.  It is a rich, deep earthy red.  Not overpowering, but something very nice to sit back and sip in the evenings on the arbor bench… which is just what we did.

Marechal Foch: This was an excellent example of the Marechal Foch grapes that are characteristic of this region on Vancouver Island.  It embodied all of the best characteristics that we were beginning to recognize from our visits to the different wineries.

Little Man's favorite part of the day... running wild with Mommy.

Little Man’s favorite part of the day… running wild with Mommy.