Category Archives: Nanaimo

The Sheep Are Out Again… Wait, What?

The very first meal that we ate in this house inspired the name of this blog, the sheep are out.  I won’t retell the story here, but you can read about it in the first post that is linked here.

Whadda ya lookin' at?  Can we get back to our snack now?

Whadda ya lookin’ at? Can we get back to our snack now?

Since that time the sheep have gotten out a couple more times, generally their short-lived freedom being spent nibbling and pooping (lots of pooping) in the garden.  There’s also been a loose horse in the front yard, munching by the basketball hoop, as well as various and a sundry other wildlife.

Running with the bulls… I mean the sheep…

So when Dave came bursting into the living room last night after just having put Little Man to bed and said that I needed to look outside, I flew to the front door.  Outside I was greeted by a group of sheep munching away around Little Man’s sand box.  They looked a bit chagrined that their late night snack was being interrupted.  Luckily Dave was doing the sheep herding and steered them down the driveway rather than the shorter distance through the garden (which I likely would have done without thinking about the consequences) since it would have been destroyed.

Wait for me!

I have to say that Dave is becoming a quite proficient with his sheep herding, much better than our first night here back in 2013.  Hopefully the sheep don’t take this as a challenge to up their game.  Until then, the sheep were out, but are now… noisily… back in their pens.

A Red Wheel Barrow

So much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.
-Poem by William Carlos Williams

I first read that poem in high school and promptly forgot it.  It was nearly 10 years later, after university as I worked in the “real world” that I decided I liked the ivory tower better and wanted to go back to graduate school.  Only after starting graduate school would I remember the rainwater glazed wheel barrow.

I was in Turkey for my first archaeology field season when Williams’ wheel barrow came to mind.  Maybe it was the pastoral setting with sheep, goats and turkeys rampaging across the golden countryside.  Maybe it was the horizon dotted by slow moving tractors harvesting grain that would feed most of the country.  Or maybe it was the fact that I’d discovered how intensely, mind numbingly boring archaeology can be at times.  I’m not sure what the impetus was, but I was in immediate need of poetry.

Don’t get me wrong, I love archaeology, but there are days when you’ve come across nothing, nothing, nothing, but more dirt, nothing to get your mind working on anything.  It was one of those mornings where I’d found nothing but more dirt… again… that I found myself quoting poems memorized in high school.  Emily Dickenson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”  Random Shakespearean sonnets.  And what bugged me was that I couldn’t remember the one about the wheel barrow and the chickens. It just seemed to fit somehow, but I couldn’t remember the words and there was no wifi for miles and miles.

In fact, not only was there no wifi, but there was no electricity, no running water, no cars at the village across from our excavation site.  My favorite thing was to watch as the donkey drawn cart come trundling over the hill, dangling with plastic bowls, metal pots, children’s toys, and other paraphernalia that the local villagers might want to purchase.  Often on those same days we would see the ice cream donkey hoofing it over the hill.  The donkey was led by a young boy and had two large, orange, insulated drink containers strapped to his sides, both filled with the local ice cream that is blended with pounded orchids giving it a distinctively gummy texture.  It’s an acquired taste.  At the time I didn’t know that this was not the glorious rainbow sherbet that just the mention of caused my parched mouth to water.  When I finally gathered up the courage after weeks of excavation to get some ice cream from the lad… I ended up burying it in my back dirt pile the minute he was over the hill again.  Maybe it was just his local batch, but it had the overall flavor of what I can only imagine old tires must taste like.

My garden plot needed a bit of elbow grease, especially with the amazing kale finally going to seed after a mild winter.

My garden plot needed a bit of elbow grease, especially with the amazing kale finally going to seed after a mild winter.

What brought all of this to mind was me digging in the dirt of my garden patch.  After our relatively warm winter, my plot had begun to look rather… what’s a polite word for it… scruffy… unkempt… bordering on embarrassing.  I hacked away at the clumps of stubborn grass and filled my borrowed red wheel barrow to the rim twice with fluffy, green toupees to dump in the pig pen.  The pigs seemed to have fun tossing them in the air.  Or at least I think they are having fun.  They might have been vehemently stating that fluffy, green toupees of grass are not delightful pig snacks.  Just to be sure I brought them some wonderfully wilted vegetable scraps later.  Those pigs have long memories.

Getting the kale out was the easy part.  That grass toupee was obnoxious.

Getting the kale out was the easy part. That grass toupee was obnoxious.

But that brings me back to the wheel barrow, glazing rain water and chickens.  So much depends upon…  Still makes me smile.  As I swung my scythe of doom for weeds (aka a borrowed hoe that I likely should not be swinging like a scythe) poems from high school streamed through my mind.  Foremost has been the white chickens by the red wheel barrow.  Though in my mind this is followed by a curly haired little boy chasing the said chickens amid much cackling from boy and chickens.

The grass toupees are gone, and I've moved the parsley and chives to their

The grass toupees are gone, and I’ve moved the parsley and chives to their “new” garden plan locations.

Let the gardening games begin...

Let the gardening games begin…

First Sunflower

There are many things that I’m learning through our first year of having a real garden, and the over arching bit of knowledge is that if there is a rookie mistake to make with a garden… I’ve made most of them. Making the plot too large, over planting, watering at the wrong time of day, watering the wrong parts of the plant, planting tall plants that block sun light and water from shorter ones, and the list goes on. But I’ve been lucky that the garden is amazing and I’m having a blast feeding ourselves and extended family from our garden, as well as trying to figure out how to save our harvest for the upcoming months when the garden will be but a dream for next season. It’s been eye opening to realize how much I care for that little plot of ground. A plant suffers and I’m obsessed with figuring out why. Is it wrong that I’ve already started dreaming about next year’s garden? Probably…
In the meantime, we are moving fast to keep up with the plants and trying to be creative to make our favorite greens delicious for our 3 year old. Oy! I welcome any ideas.

20140728_153514For today I want to share the pictures of our first blooming sunflower. This one was right at my eye level when it bloomed, and I’m 6′ tall. The rest are all well over my head, which means they are of dinosaur proportions for Little Man. That is part of my inspiration for the garden for next year… a dinosaur part of the garden for Little Man to play in… We’ll have to see how it works out next spring.

CenterI love these flowers.  Not only do they dwarf me, but it’s one of those things where I’ve seen pictures of them for as long as I can remember yet I’ve never had one of my own.  I’ve seen them in bouquets and in the distance, but not growing in my own yard.  I love the bumble bees that dance around centers, and the way that the petals glow when back lit by the sun.  Now I’m starting to wonder if the seeds of this variety can be eaten…  Hmm, now I know my homework for the evening…

Retro Sunflower

A Week On Our Own: Day 2

Fairy Doors

Today we woke to a gorgeously sunny morning, something we haven’t seen in awhile.  It’s still a cool Spring, but the sunshine makes all the difference.  We also had a play date set up with one of Little Man’s friends (and mine too) to visit Neck Point.  No errands today, just fun.

Our main goal for today was for Little Man and his friend to visit the Fairy Doors.  The last time I wrote about Neck Point was for the first time we visited the park with Dave for a Surprise Day.  We’ve been back many times, often with friends for sunny day play dates and a few times with family as well.  It’s one of our favorite places to visit, and each time we are there we explore new paths and find new treasures.

Little Man’s favorite thing to do (other than throwing pebbles into the ocean) is to visit the Fairy Doors.  Up until this point we’d only ever visited the main door where treasures can be found.  I’m still learning the story of who made these doors, but from the parking lot if you take the path behind the washroom and head up and to the right you will find the first Fairy Door.

"Give a Little, Take a Little"

“Give a Little, Take a Little”

Door 1A small sign above the door states “Give a Little, Take a Little.”  I’d been told about this door in advance, so I knew to bring a little treasure to leave behind and that Little Man could then choose a little treasure of his own from the fairy stash.  Today I also brought a little extra treasure along for Little Man’s friend since this was their first visit to the doors.  We generally pass on the dodgy candy, but each visit has a new selection of treasures to choose from.  Little Man’s favorite so far is the penny, which is my personal favorite too since they aren’t even printed anymore.  A real treasure if I’ve ever seen one.

If you continue straight on this path (no veering to right or left, no matter how tempting those paths are, at least for us today) you will come across a small grove of other fairy doors.  I think we’ve counted nine in total, and there very well could be more scattered across other paths.  We’re going to have to keep exploring to see if there are others.  My friend said that she’d seen a picture of another, more ornate door…  That should keep us searching up and down the paths for awhile.

Door 2

Door 2

Door 3

Door 3

Door 4

Door 4

Door 5

Door 5

Some of the doors are higher in the trees for those fast flying fairies.

Some of the doors are higher in the trees for those fast flying fairies.

Door 6

Door 6

Door 7

Door 7

Door 8

Door 8

For today Little Man and his friend had a blast going up to every door they could find and knocking to see if any fairy were home.  The only door that actually opens is on the treasure house door, so we explained that the other fairies must be out and about (or ooot and abooot).  The kiddos sighed, and then rushed off to the next door they found.

Knock, knock... Any fairies home?

Knock, knock… Any fairies home?

Lastly we came to another one of the pebble beaches and climbed around on the logs a bit.  This beach, however, got a full blast of the cold ocean wind, so pretty quickly we went back to the paths and back tracked to our favorite pebble-throwing-in-the-ocean beach that is around the bend and protected from the wind.  By this time the little legs were exhausted and it was getting close to lunch time.  That means that the whining level went up considerably, and the tired toddlers were herded back to the cars and their respective homes for lunches and nap times.  More exploring would have to wait for another day.

The adventurers...

The adventurers…

Day 2 of Operation Daddy Sign

Even better than paint splatting, Little Man LOVES stickers.  Now, the problem can be that he wants the stickers to be toys rather than letting them stay on the paper.  For Operation Daddy Sign, Little Man chose some sparkly start stickers and special gem stickers, both of which were left over from supplies for birthday crowns that we never got around to making.

Little Man putting star stickers on Daddy's sign.

Little Man putting star stickers on Daddy’s sign.

A close up of a star sticker constellation.  Say "star sticker" five times fast...

A close up of a star sticker constellation. Say “star sticker” five times fast…

Little Man got to put the stars and 4 gems on one by one, choosing the spots himself.  He likes to group and line things up, so he made some nice constellations in a couple of spots.

The jewels...

The jewels…

The "little, little, little" purple jewel for Little Man's treasure.

The “little, little, little” purple jewel for Little Man’s treasure.

His favorite part of this was that at the end of putting on all the stickers, he got to choose one gem for his own to play with.  He chose a “little, little, little” purple one, and has been playing with it ever since.  He puts it on his golden plastic pirate coins, puts it on his real coins, carries it around to the dinner table and to brush his teeth before bed.  He even “put it to sleep” on his changing table before story time.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the jewel to become lost in or under the couch.  Any over/unders?  Day 2 accomplished…

Operation Daddy Sign: Day 2 (Stickers accomplished)

Operation Daddy Sign: Day 2 (Stickers accomplished)

Embracing the Snow

Embracing snow is hard for me to do.  I can appreciate its beauty… for awhile… and its benefit to the environment as our future water supply.  Occasionally I will play in it as well.  But I’m done.  I apologize for this mini-rant to my friends who live in areas that can still expect falling snow for some time to come.  But I’m done.  I did my snow penance in upstate New York for years where 5-6 months of falling snow could easily be expected.  It should be noted that the 5-6 months mentioned does not account for the time it takes the snow on the ground to disappear.  The Californian in me simply can’t take it… but I’m trying to.

So when one of our neighbors from the end of the street came over to let us know that their grandson was visiting and wanted to know if Little Man wanted to come over and play in their igloo, I jumped at the chance.  These neighbors are also relatively new to our street and live in the original farmhouse for the area.  When the snow isn’t ever present, they have amazing gardens and orchards, as well as a wooded area that Little Man calls the Enchanted Forest.  We love to visit whenever we get a chance, and throw in the possibility of an igloo… we’re there.

It took FOREVER to get Little Man suited up in his gear, with the inevitable need to go potty right when I got the last piece of snow garb in place.  Eventually we made it out of the house and started ambling as quickly as his little snow-panted legs could carry him.  On the way there another neighbor saw us in snow gear and offered to loan their plastic toboggan.  So into the toboggan Little Man went, and off I mushed like a good sled dog.  Who needs a gym membership?  Just drag your toddler across and over snow drifts to feel the burn.

We slalomed up and down tractor tread impressions and around a cars, then across their farm house’s front yard, back into the orchard towards the sounds of infectious little kid laughter.  When we got there, low and behold, an igloo graced the area where last fall a pumpkin patch stood.  As an anthropologist I was immediately impressed with their igloo.  It wasn’t the real deal, but after studying Inuit culture, as well as multiple screenings of Nanook of the North and Atanarjuat it looked pretty good.  It had the key hole entrance, domed roof, and looked nice and sturdy.  Little Man clambered right in and would have stayed in there for quite some time except for the other little boy in there who started poking holes in the ceiling and dropping snow on Little Man’s head.  He retreated to better structural safety and clambered around the woods.

It was with the igloo that I realized that my Southern California upbringing, all my time at the beach and hiking around in the chaparral, did nothing to prepare me for how to play in the snow.  My goal of embracing the snow for at least short periods of time is going to require some added “research” on how to play in it.

For this day we did good.  We played in and around the igloo for a bit and then sled dogged it back home for lunch and nap.  Before leaving we made plans to meet up with our friends again after little boy nap times for sledding.   Dave was able to be home for that, which was great.  Our gardener neighbors had offered us the use of their great sledding slope, and we used it with reckless (almost) abandon.  Up and down.  Up and down.  Up and down.  Up and down we went.  Each time at the base of the hill Little Man would gaze off at the distant snow-capped mountain and twice he tried to get us all to walk there, like he had after playing on the frozen pond a few weeks back.

The day ended as all good snow days should.  Warm bath.  Hot cocoa.  Delicious dinner together.  Deep sleep.  Not quite embracing the snow (please go away snow… please…), but pretty good for me.

Being a sled dog on a blindingly bright snow play day.

Being a sled dog on a blindingly bright snow play day.

004

Chinese New Year – Nanaimo Style

One of the fun things about our move to Canada has been learning about all the different holidays celebrated here.  Like the differences between American Independence Day and Canada Day; the fact that Boxing Day has nothing to do with the sport; and holidays that are even new to the province like BC Family Day.  Many of the holidays that are new to me on Vancouver Island have a decidedly British flair to them, so while I find them fun to celebrate I’m no longer surprised to find them here.  I was surprised, however, when I learned that the Chinese New Year is celebrated on the island.

IMG_9986

I have celebrated Chinese New Year in a minor way whenever I’ve taught one of my anthropology of food courses during a spring semester, but I haven’t lived in a place where it was celebrated in the community until now.  Nanaimo is a city of malls, and people give directions to places in town based on which mall it is closest too.  This gets a bit interesting since a number of the malls have old names and new ones that can be used interchangeably.  In this case, the Nanaimo North Town Centre has an annual Chinese New Year celebration that is free to the public.  Combine the words “celebration” with “free” and it is a good bet that I’ll do my best to attend; especially if there is the possibility of snacks.

Welcoming the year of the Horse at the Nanaimo North Town Centre.

Welcoming the year of the Horse at the Nanaimo North Town Centre.

The Chinese New Year celebration at Nanaimo North Town Centre (and yes, I do keep having to go back and respell “center” as “centre” since even when I focus my fingers feel like that is backwards spelling) lasted from 11am-2pm and consisted primarily of the traditional Lion Dance.  I had read about this, seen versions on TV and in movies, in fact Little Man (and his parents) just learned about the Lion Dance in one of his favorite cartoons Justin Time, but I had never had the chance to view one live until this year.

One of the lion dance costumes.

One of the lion dance costumes.

The Lion Dance is iconic and highly symbolic in Chinese culture, and I know very little about its intricacies.  In short, each costume is worn by two people (front and back) and there are certain moves that are always included.  Around the dancing area there are generally hung pieces of lettuce (or other greens) that the lions eat and other items like oranges or red money envelopes that the lions chew on but do not consume.  All of this is done to a strong drum beat.  The students from a local Kung Fu studio, Hup Ging Do, practice throughout the year to perform here and at other venues.

IMG_9983

Entrance of the lion dancers.

Entrance of the lion dancers.

Unfortunately between the rapid lion dancing and the loud, reverberating drum, Little Man was not interested in staying around for long.  We came, we celebrated, and we retreated to one of the stores in the mall where Little Man “bought” a birthday present for a friend (and a corresponding one for himself) of a cool Chinese style dragon complete with Warrior.  I’m hoping that next year we can last a little longer at the dance, and maybe even try some of the Chinese-inspired snacks set out by the Fairway market.

IMG_9997

Now, what I am really excited about is a hybrid event related to the Chinese New Year that I would like to attend next year.  The event is called the Chinese New Year and Robbie Burns Celebration.  Yes, in this amazing melting pot place there is an annual event where they combine to celebrate both the new year in Chinese custom, but also the birthday of beloved Scottish poet, Robert Burns.  My only sadness is that I didn’t learn about this event until it had already passed, but they had me at “haggis wontons.”  From all accounts this is a fun event complete with traditional Chinese celebrations and highland dancers.  I can only imagine how great this would be and I can’t wait until next year!

IMG_9995

Pebble Beaches and Pizza

In a previous post (A Day Off in Wine Country) I wrote about how this last summer Dave surprised me with a wonderful day off (aka a Surprise Day), touring local wineries on Vancouver Island like we used to do in New York.  Then, just before the end of this last semester, I decided it was the perfect time for me to surprise him too.  So Little Man and I went to pick him up at our normal time, but we weren’t going home for a slow cooker super that evening.  Little Man “hid” behind his special teddy bear (both in the rear car seat of course) and yelled “SURPRISE!” as soon as Dave got to the car.  We then whisked him off to the shore for a walk along the pebble beach at Neck Point.

View from the trail leading to Neck Point.

View from the trail leading to Neck Point.

This Surprise Day was actually inspired by the water table at Little Man’s Strong Start program (more on that program in a future post).  For those readers who don’t have toddlers, a water table is a sensory tool where kids can explore different textures and types of things in water.  You can fill a plastic storage tub with anything you would like, then put in a couple inches of water… or sand… or whatever you would like.  The one that Little Man was playing with had a couple of inches (or a few centimeters, depending on which side of the border/metric unit you prefer) of water in which floated a scattering of plastic sea animals, as well as a number of smooth, rounded pebbles and assorted sea shells.  Little Man loved playing with the pebbles in the water and I asked the teacher where she found them.  The answer was Neck Point.

Walking along the beach in the shadow of the forest.

Walking along the beach in the shadow of the forest.

Neck Point is a popular pebble beach and walking path in Nanaimo and I had heard of it but not had a chance to check it out yet.  The directions posted on the Nanaimo Information website  are as follows: “Turn off Hammond Bay Road onto Morningside Drive, north of Pipers Lagoon. Or, you can park at the end of McGuffie Rd and follow a path.”  We followed those directions and our GPS and got there unscathed, with about an hour of light left before the sun started to go down.  A perfect amount of time for a toddler-sized walk along the beach before food/snack is required.

View from the parking lot.

View from the parking lot.

From the parking lot, you first see a beautiful pebble beach, but to get to the “neck” of Neck Point you need to walk a bit further.  We took the trail to the left of the pebble beach and headed in what we hoped was the correct direction.  The path curved around to the left, climbing slowly, and passing a couple of scenic benches and picnic tables.  Then as we turned the corner and walked into the shadow of the mountain, we saw a beautiful log-strewn pebble beach.  With the blue, blue sky and the cries of the cormorants, it was stunning.  Little Man scampered down the stairs, over the logs and had a great time threw rocks into the sea.  Dave clambered over rocks, over the logs, and out on some sea rocks looking like he was walking on water.  In the shadow of the forest with the sun lowering behind the trees it started to get a bit cold, too cold for a picnic dinner.  But once we get into springtime, we are definitely going to be giving that a try.

Stretching our legs

Stretching our legs

run

After a bit of family clambering around and pebble hunting, I realized that we hadn’t quite made it to the “neck.”  So we continued down the curving path, up a long stairway and raised wooden walkway leading over the rocks, and down again towards the “neck.”  During low tides the “neck” consists of a narrow strip of pebbly land that juts out to a “head” of rocks surrounded by sea.  We were lucky in our timing and were going out just before the tide started to come back in.  The view was gorgeous, and we all had fun climbing around… though I was wishing we had brought Little Man’s lion tether as he kept creeping closer to the edge and wasn’t feeling like holding his parents’ hands while climbing like a little mountain goat.  A few tussles later and we decided it was time to head back for dinner.

Dave walking on water.

Dave walking on water.

Timber strewn pebble beach

Timber strewn pebble beach

The walkway to the "neck" of Neck Point.

The walkway to the “neck” of Neck Point.

Neck Point at low tide reveals a narrow pebble path to the sea rocks.

Neck Point at low tide reveals a narrow pebble path to the sea rocks.

Climbing on the sea rocks.

Climbing on the sea rocks.

climb2On this particular night I was going to treat Dave to our favorite Indian place, Amrikos, for dinner.  Our plans changed when we discovered that the restaurant had suffered a horrible fire and had moved locations at least temporarily.  So our dinner was good, but a bit subdued that evening.  To make up for it, the next weekend I made a pizza inspired by one of our favorite restaurants called Farm in Bloomington, Indiana.  The food is amazing and it’s still a place that we miss even years after moving from the area.

The Harvest Moon Pizza is inspired by one of their seasonal flatbreads.  The Farm version used locally sourced kielbasa and smoked gouda, along with homemade sauerkraut and grainy mustard.  It may sound a bit odd on your pizza, but it is absolutely delicious.  My version uses more premade items, and switches up the flavors a bit, but it still comes from that homey, cold-weather type of comfort food… on a pizza crust.  Feel free to make your own pizza dough, I’ll be sharing my recipe for that in an upcoming post, or pick some up premade from your favorite store or pizzeria.  I’d suggest not buying the pre-baked variety, but go for something that is still the dough that you can shape and season to your own liking.

038Harvest Moon Pizza

Ingredients

Premade whole wheat pizza dough (white flour dough can be used too)

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. flour

1 cup milk, preferably whole milk but any grade will do

1 bay leaf

1 garlic clove, crushed

¼ tsp. grated nutmeg

1 tsp. dried mustard powder

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the canned stuff)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Olive oil

1 tsp. herbs de provance (or other dried green herb like thyme, basil or oregano)

½ package kielbasa, sliced into ¼ inch rings (save the rest for another meal)

Small can of sauerkraut, drained

1 ½ cups good quality white cheddar, freshly shredded

Directions

Preheat your oven to 450 Fahrenheit.  If you have one, this is the time to put your pizza stone in your oven.  Mine stays on the lower rack all the time, so it’s always there when I want some solid, ceramic-based heat.

The Sauce

First, make your roux, or mixture of butter (or other fat) and flour.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat.  Once the butter is melted whisk in the flour, and keep on whisking for one minute.  Watch your roux like a hawk, and do your best to not let the flour color, turning down the heat if necessary.  After a good minute, slowly pour in the milk, whisking all the while until everything is smoothly combined into a thick béchamel.  Add the bay leaf, garlic clove, nutmeg, and mustard powder to your sauce, and cook gently for about 5 minutes or until very thick, stirring often.  This is not a light béchamel for pasta, but is a thicker version for the white sauce for your pizza.  Your sauce will be more robust rather than dainty.  Once the sauce has thickened whisk in the parmesan cheese until velvety smooth.  Taste your sauce for seasoning, adding a little salt and pepper if necessary.  You should have a slight bite from the mustard, but it should not be overpowering.  Once the flavors are to your liking, take the sauce off the heat and set it aside.

The beginning of a roux, or thickener made from butter (or other fat) and flour.

The beginning of a roux, or thickener made from butter (or other fat) and flour.

Adding the flour

Adding the flour

Now whisk like you mean it

Now whisk like you mean it

Adding flavor to your bechamel, in this case from garlic, a bay leaf and mustard powder.

Adding flavor to your bechamel, in this case from garlic, a bay leaf and mustard powder.

The bechamel is thickened.

The bechamel is thickened.

Parmesan cheese rounds out this flavorful white sauce for your pizza.

Parmesan cheese rounds out this flavorful white sauce for your pizza.

The Pizza

If you have a pizza stone, it should already be heated in your oven.  If you do not have a pizza stone, place a large baking sheet upside down on your middle oven rack.  This will serve as your stone.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, and then add your kielbasa slices to the pan.  Continue to cook and toss your kielbasa until it is golden brown in spots.  Then turn the kielbasa out of the pan onto a paper towel- lined plate and set it aside.

Adding the kielbasa to the hot pan.

Adding the kielbasa to the hot pan.

Golden brown kielbasa for the pizza.

Golden brown kielbasa for the pizza.

Using lightly floured hands and board, roll or stretch your pizza dough out into a circle.  I like whole wheat here, but if you can only find white flour dough that is good too.  The dough should be rather thin.  Pierce the dough all over with a fork (or dough docker… I love mine.  It does this task in about one second), leaving a scant inch border around the edges for the crust to rise.  These little holes will keep large bubbles from forming in the middle of your pizza dough.

Docking the dough, or piercing it all over with little holes, keeps bubbles from popping up and pushing your toppings to the side.

Docking the dough, or piercing it all over with little holes, keeps bubbles from popping up and pushing your toppings to the side.

Transfer the dough to a pizza peel, or if you don’t have one you can use a metal pizza pan or the back of another large baking sheet.  Drizzle the dough with a little bit of olive oil, and then sprinkle over the Herbs de Provence or other dried green herb mixture.  This ensures that you have great flavor in every layer of this pizza.  Slide the dough onto the pizza stone or upside down baking sheet in your oven, and bake for about 10 minutes or until starting to brown in spots.  The crust may not yet be fully cooked, but I find this step creates a crisper and less doughy crust, and it will finish cooking in the next step.

Seasoning the pizza dough with olive oil, herbs de provance and a little salt.

Seasoning the pizza dough with olive oil, herbs de provance and a little salt.

The prepared crust.

The prepared crust.

Remove the pizza crust from the oven and transfer it back to your work surface.  Now you get to put all the pieces together.  Slather the crust with your mustard cheese sauce, leaving a border around the edges for your crust.  Scatter the browned kielbasa evenly over the sauce.  Then scatter a thin layer of sauerkraut over the sauce.  You likely won’t use the whole can, but can serve the extra in a small bowl for passing at the table.  Lastly, cover the pizza generously with your shredded, white cheddar cheese.  This is where I have to fight off big boy and little boy hands from snatching the cheese right off the pizza before I can get it into the oven.  Slide it back in the oven before an all-out battle breaks out in your kitchen.

When saucing your pizza crust, be sure to leave a nice border for the crust.

When saucing your pizza crust, be sure to leave a nice border for the crust.

Kielbasa scattered over the pizza.

Kielbasa scattered over the pizza.

First give a light scattering of sauerkraut to your pizza, then cover it with a generous helping of freshly shredded white cheddar.

First give a light scattering of sauerkraut to your pizza, then cover it with a generous helping of freshly shredded white cheddar.

Bake this for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese melts and gets bubbly and brown on top.  Sometimes I switch the oven to broil, and then stand guard like a hawk until the cheese is nicely browned.  From personal experience, don’t step away from a broiling oven for a second or you might just get a bit more “carmelization” than you hoped for.  Remove the pizza from the oven, and let it sit for a moment so it isn’t “hot lava” hot.  Then slice, serve and enjoy!  We like to serve this with a harvest or Oktoberfest ale, and a green leafy salad with sliced apple and walnuts and a balsamic vinaigrette.  Delicious!

The pizza as it is just slid into the oven on my pizza stone.

The pizza as it is just slid into the oven on my pizza stone.

Golden, bubbly and delicious, dinner is ready!

Golden, bubbly and delicious, dinner is ready!

036

Click here for a printable version of the Harvest Moon Pizza recipe.

view

Playing in the Mud – Part 2

I stepped into the Bowen Park pottery studio with the intention of throwing a few bowls, doing some slab work, and overall just getting my hands dirty again.  I imagined that the other people there would be like me, relative novices or people playing with pottery.  Maybe some nice grandmotherly ladies rolling out clay like cookie dough to cut out shapes for Christmas ornaments.  As I turned the corner into the studio, the first woman I saw was doing exactly that.  Her little frilly apron completed the picture.  Then I looked beyond her, and felt a wave of inadequacy wash over me.

The room was filled with predominately senior-age women, which was to be expected since seniors get free or very inexpensive access to a fantastic array of classes and activities at Bowen Park, ranking from lawn bowling to language classes to dance to pottery.  These women, however, were not dabbling.  They are artists.  One was crafting an amazing clay mask wall piece that was around two feet in diameter.  Another was doing slab work on a series of massive platters.  To my left were a couple of women dipping their bisque wares (pottery that has gone through one firing, but still needs a glaze before a second firing) into glaze, but their pieces were gorgeous.  Applique star fish on a series of mugs, bowls and casseroles.  Another had tall narrow pieces that are incredibly difficult to throw.  To my right was the wheel room with three women at pottery wheels throwing pieces that were taller, wider, and all around more stupendous than I had ever been able to do even when I was practicing multiple times a week.

A quick selection of some of my pottery created here in Nanaimo.

A quick selection of some of my pottery created here in Nanaimo.

Anyone who has thrown pottery can tell you that the more clay you have on your wheel, the bigger a piece you can make, but also the more you have to muscle the clay into submission.  I had gotten proficient with smaller pieces of clay, ranging from 1 ½ to 3 lbs. at a time.  Once I had tried a 5 lb. piece of clay and it just about threw me across the room.  A nice, petite, grandmotherly woman dropped what looked like a good 8 to 10 lbs. of clay on her wheel and almost immediately had it centered and was pulling up an amazing deep, wide bowl.  The idea of sitting with these women and practicing my “skills” that hadn’t been dusted off in years was daunting.

This bowl originally was a fail.  I pinched the top right off of it while trying to draw it higher.  A carved leaf vein in the bottom and some good glaze, and it is reborn as a lily pad bowl.

This bowl originally was a fail. I pinched the top right off of it while trying to draw it higher. A carved leaf vein in the bottom and some good glaze, and it is reborn as a lily pad bowl.

I mentally put on my “big girl pants,” sent up a quick prayer that I wouldn’t totally embarrass myself, grabbed my bag of clay and other tools, and sat down.  Then I proceeded to get up and sit down again a good three or more times as I remembered a different tool I needed, or couldn’t get the bin around the machine on correctly, or forgot a board for my clay, or forgot to wedge my clay before throwing it… the list goes on.  The lovely women on either side of me offered kind advice so that my brain slowly wrapped around the process again.  Now every time I go, I am excited to see these women working too.  They are a wealth of advice and inspiration with what they do.  I learn so much from getting muddy with them.

A butter dish or spoon rest.

A butter dish or spoon rest.

As I’ve now been throwing in Nanaimo long enough to have finished pieces (thrown, set, dried to greenware, fired to bisque, dipped in glaze, and then fired again), it’s been fun to look at the differences in my pottery between Indiana and now here in Nanaimo.  In Indiana (pre-Little Man) much of what I did was based on having friends over for dinners or parties; small dishes with ringed bases that are great for oil and balsamic bread dipping, appetizer plates with a circle cut out to hold a wine glass, fancy serving dishes that look like giant tropical leaves.  Pieces are largely still packed away in boxes from our move in order to protect them from Little Man.  They are the type of pretty, fragile pieces that he could quickly turn into thousands of pottery sherds for a future archaeologist.

It may be hard to tell in this shot, but this is a clam shell plate with a raised portion at the back for dip.

It may be hard to tell in this shot, but this is a clam shell plate with a raised portion at the back for dip.

The pieces that I have been making here in Nanaimo show that I’m trying to get my feet wet (or my hands dirty) again, sort of slowly flexing my pottery muscles as my brain remembers what my hands haven’t quite forgotten yet.  In all honesty my thrown work has been a bit shaky, but I’m just now catching my stride.  My slab work has been better.  The pictures included in this post show my most recent work here in Nanaimo, while the previous Playing with Mud post shows pictures of my Indiana work.  Instead of being inspired by dinner parties, I’m trying to think of what types of things we can use now with Little Man.  For example, he LOVES the planets, the Moon and the stars, so I’ve started a little “series” of planet and moon plates.  They aren’t anything special in terms of technique, but I hope they are fun for him to eat off of at meal times, and that they inspire his imagination in other ways.  I’ve also been making more piggy bowls that I first created in Indiana.

One of Little Man's planet plates... maybe Neptune?

One of Little Man’s planet plates… maybe Neptune?

Another one of Little Man's planet plates...  maybe Uranus?

Another one of Little Man’s planet plates… maybe Uranus?

When I first made a piggy bowl, I had been inspired by an old pottery piggy bank that a fellow student at the studio brought in.  The face looked so cute, and more importantly easy to replicate.  I also quickly learned that any bowl that goes a bit wonky on the wheel can be immediately saved through the transformative powers of a piggy face.  When I throw pottery, unless the piece absolutely implodes on the wheel (which does happen, but less frequently the longer I practice) I don’t want to waste it.  Sometimes you can slap on a handle and a slightly wonky bowl can become a nice mug.  Other times, a piggy face is just what is needed to salvage an otherwise unattractive piece.  The first couple bowls I threw needed some salvaging, so piggys they became.  I’m planning on throwing some bowls next week at the studio, so I should probably look into expanding my animal face repertoire.  Our cupboards are getting a bit full of piggys, but luckily these small bowls make great presents for little ones and a number of my friends have new additions that will be receiving piggy bowl presents soon.  Little Man loves his piggy bowl, and gets to use it often at meal times (with some supervision) for soups, bread rolls, hummus/dips, cereal/oatmeal, and the like.  I’ve been wanting to make some from scratch chocolate pudding, and I have to admit that his piggy bowl is the inspiration for that.  I think it would be the perfect thing for that special treat.

The piggy bowl tradition continues in Canada.  It's amazing what a piggy face and some good glaze does to fix an otherwise so-so bowl.

The piggy bowl tradition continues in Canada. It’s amazing what a piggy face and some good glaze does to fix an otherwise so-so bowl.

Playing in the Mud

It was hot.  So hot that if I left my trowel in the sun for even a few moments you could have fried an egg on the metal blade.  Blazing hot, but to think of it in those terms made you feel even hotter.  I was collecting yet another bag of broken pottery (officially called coarse ware or cook pot ware, affectionately called crap ware) in my first archaeological field season in Turkey.  I wasn’t exactly sure that I knew what I was doing, and I had no idea what to do with the stuff I was digging up, other than to record it properly.  I hadn’t yet learned how to take the material remains and interpret those back into the lives of ancient people.  Somewhere during the collection of that bag of boring, unpainted, undifferentiated pot sherds, I actually stopped to look at one.

At work analyzing pot sherds in Turkey.

At work analyzing pot sherds in Turkey.

It was the same earth-beige color as the rest.  Roughly the same shape as the palm of my hand, and on the outside surface was a perfectly clear finger print preserved in the clay.  The finger print of the woman or man who had actually made the pot whose surviving piece I now held.  This print was not decorative, but was simply a movement recorded in clay; and I was hooked.  For the first time, all the books on ancient history, all the poorly made films about ancient civilizations (Alexander with Colin Farrell… hours of my life I can never get back), all the museum displays, all of it finally was linked back to real people.  There were real people who made real pots that quite often weren’t pretty, but I bet could be used to put together a delicious meal.

One of thousands...

One of thousands…

Those pot sherds became the focus of my life for a good five plus years.  My dissertation was based on thousands of pot sherds, enough sherds to make your eyes cross and fingers ache just at the thought of analyzing them all.  When I was writing up my findings back in Indiana, Dave surprised me with a present of a pottery class.  It was something I’d always wanted to do, but had never made the time.  Now that I was crunching numbers and trying to interpret ancient life from thousands upon thousands of pot sherds, I was finally going to see what went into making a pot.  And I loved it!  There is something magical about pulling the pottery up from the wheel and seeing it transform before you eyes and between your hands… even if it falls.

004

Pottery I made in Indiana.

When we moved from Indiana to Iowa, I lost access to that studio and then Little Man came on the scene and I hadn’t been able to get back to pottery until now.  I’d heard that through the city of Nanaimo there was access to a pottery studio where they also taught classes.  So I tracked down a copy of the Nanaimo Parks, Recreation and Culture Activity Guide and found the information on the Bowen Park pottery studio (in the senior center at 500 Bowen Road).  The best part was that they offered multiple days of open drop in time, where as long as you already know what you are doing you can come by for a small fee and use their facilities.  I was hoping that the muscle memory of throwing pottery would come back, even though I hadn’t held clay for nearly three years.  And it did… more or less.

001

With my reintroduction to the world of throwing pottery, I wanted to cook dinner in a casserole dish or pot that I’d made myself.  I wanted to use my own pottery again, to feel the accomplishment of creating something useful not just pretty.  I also wanted comfort food, which meant casserole, and the mother of all casseroles in our household is Chicken Taco Casserole.

003

Chicken Taco Casserole is not a light meal, and frankly I don’t recommend trying to lighten it.  I’ve tried it with baked tortilla chips, and they just dissolved in an unappetizing mush.  I’ve tried it with reduced fat canned soup (yes, you heard me right, this recipe calls for canned soup.  Embrace the retro ingredient) and that was a mistake; total lack of flavor and an off putting texture.  This is one of those go big or go home casseroles that we don’t make often, but we savor every delicious bite, scraping our plates (and the casserole dish) clean.  And while you certainly don’t have to bake this in a ceramic casserole made by yourself or a local artisan, I have to tell you that it’s really great if you can.  I don’t know why, but it just seems like things taste better when served in your own pottery, pottery made for you, or pottery made by a local artisan.  It’s similar to how things you grow in your own garden taste better than those things you buy in a store.  It’s powerful when you know the hands that made something, not just an extruder or mold press half way across the world.  So if you get a chance, support your local potter.  You’d be amazed at the craft and artistry that goes into what seems like a simple bowl or mug.

My first casserole dish, made in Indiana.

My first casserole dish, made in Indiana.

Chicken Taco Casserole

As you can see, one chip has already been stolen by someone with fast hands while I was reaching for the camera.

This casserole is the definition of family comfort food for me.  It’s a family recipe that we’ve tweaked over the years and my parents make it differently than I do, and my brother has his own spin on it too.  The ingredients below give a nicely spicy version, but in terms of full disclosure, I haven’t been able to make it with any spice since Little Man came along.  We’re hoping to get him there some day, but for now I omit the chili flakes all together (unless I’m feeling risky and just give a sprinkle to the sauteing chicken), and instead of a half can of jalapenos, I use a full can of mild green chilies.  The taste is still great, but I can’t wait for Little Man’s palate to develop to spicy foods…  Mama misses her chilies.

And a quick warning…  The first time my dad and I tried this casserole with the added chips and cheese on top… the topping never made it to the table.  We pulled the delicious casserole out of the oven, called the rest of the family to dinner, and stood there in the kitchen eating the chips and cheese off of the top.  By the time the rest of the family got there we’d smoothed out the top of the casserole and no one was the wiser… until now.

Ingredients

3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless

Salt and Pepper

½ tsp. chili flakes

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

2 cans cream of chicken soup

½ small can of diced green chilies

½ small can of diced jalapenos

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1 large bag of good quality tortilla chips

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 350º Fahrenheit and prepare your favorite casserole dish by giving it a generous spray of cooking oil.

2.  Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium high heat and add a little oil.  Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and half the chili flakes.  Put the breasts into the hot pan spice side down.  Then sprinkle the exposed side with salt, pepper and the remaining chili flakes.  Cook until golden, then flip and sear again.  Saute until the chicken is cooked through, about 10-12 minutes total.

These chicken breasts were large, so I only used two rather than the three suggested in the recipe.  Taster's preference.

These chicken breasts were large, so I only used two rather than the three suggested in the recipe. Taster’s preference.

The beauty of browned food...

The beauty of browned food…

3.  In the meantime, in a large mixing bowl combine the soups, the chilies and a good sized cup of grated cheddar.  Mix this all together and set it aside.

The casserole base with the green chilies, but alas no jalapenos.

The casserole base with the green chilies, but alas no jalapenos.

The casserole base with cheddar cheese.

The casserole base with cheddar cheese.

4.  Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it to a plate and shred it into large strips.  Once shredded add the chicken to the rest of the casserole mixture and stir to combine.

The combined mixture... the start of a beautiful thing.

The combined mixture… the start of a beautiful thing.

5.  Now comes the fun part, layering.  Grab a good sized handful of your chips and crush them into the bottom of your casserole.  This should more or less just flatten them out a bit to make a good base.  Then layer in approximately 1/3 of your casserole mixture, and smooth it out.  Top this with another good handful of chips, and repeat the layers until you cap off the casserole with the last of the mixture.  Be sure to reserve a good handful of chips and about 1/2 cup of grated cheddar for the topping later.

Starting the layering with some crushed chips at the bottom of a casserole dish.

Starting the layering with some crushed chips at the bottom of a casserole dish.

The last layer of chips.

The last layer of chips.

The top layer of the casserole mixture caps off the chips, protecting them from burning.

The top layer of the casserole mixture caps off the chips, protecting them from burning.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

6.  Put the casserole on a baking sheet (in case of boil overs) and slide the whole thing into your hot oven.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and hot.  Pull the casserole out of the oven, top it with your reserved chips and cheese, and return it to the oven to just melt the cheese.  Watch it like a hawk here in case the chips start to burn.  Once the cheese is melted and the chips brown up on the tips, remove the casserole, let it sit for about 10 minutes (if you can hold off the savage hordes long enough) and then enjoy.

Deliciously browned.

Deliciously browned.

Click here for a printable version of the Chicken Taco Casserole recipe.

As you can see, one chip has already been stolen by someone with fast hands while I was reaching for the camera.

As you can see, one chip has already been stolen by someone with fast hands while I was reaching for the camera.

Cannon Firing

This post also announces the creation of a Things to do on Vancouver Island page on The Sheep Are Out Blog.  As I come across fun things to do on the island, I will write about them and link them to that page on the blog.  If you are looking for interesting things to do in the Vancouver Island cities you see listed there, please check out the links and blog posts to get ideas.  Also, if you have any ideas for things that aren’t listed there, please send me an email.  We are definitely still learning our way around the island, and welcome any fun ideas.

Cannon Firing

Every day in the summer at noon they fire off the cannon by the Bastion in downtown Nanaimo.  We stumbled upon this tradition one sunny afternoon as we were wheeling Little Man in the jogging stroller towards the sea wall.  It was the music of the bag piper that caught our attention first, the massive cannons second.

cannon

We learned from these presentations that the cannons were never used in battle or for protection, but that they were used in official ceremonies and now were a part of local tradition for summer afternoons.  The firing was always proceeded by bag pipe music, and a few times a local highland dance troupe would dance as well.

Over the summer we went so often that if we were anywhere within ear shot of the cannon and Little Man heard the pipes, he’d ask about the cannon.  Little Man had a love/hate fascination with the cannon firing.  He wanted to be there, wanted to see and hear it fired, but would sit for most of the time with his hands clamped over his ears throughout the presentation.  He would eye the cannon suspiciously through the whole thing, then we would cover his ears before the shot, and once it was over he’d ask for it to fire again.

cannon2

The pipes reminded me of Binghamton where a friend played pipes and we would go to his troupe’s biannual Robert Burns dinner complete with requisite haggis.  There was also something special about sitting on the balustrade, watching the ocean and listening to the music.  Little Man would sit spell bound, so for a moment I could concentrate on the sound, not on whether or not my toddler was about to dash into traffic or tip over the sea wall.

When the cannon firing starts up again next year, Little Man will be a year older.  He’s now at an age where he is developing long term memory, and he might… just might… remember these visits to the Bastion and the cannons.  I can’t wait to see what his memories are.

cannon 3