Tag Archives: United States

A Corn Maze and the Making of Fall Traditions

When Dave and I first started dating I was surprised to learn that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving also; though their holiday is a month earlier (on the second Monday in October).  I’d always thought of Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday, but in fact it is not.  The importance of the Thanksgiving meal, however, does vary greatly between the two nations.  In Canada, or at least on Vancouver Island, there no displays in stores, no Thanksgiving-themed commercials, no chatter about getting together with family, or trying to figure out long distance travel to get home for this one evening.  Instead, all the focus seems to be on Halloween, complete with fireworks.  Our cats will not be amused…

With this difference in Autumn celebrations, I feel out of sync with the season.  Halloween seems on time, but the fact that Thanksgiving is already over leaves me feeling like I’ve missed out on something important.  We had a great Canadian Thanksgiving, and we will be celebrating American Thanksgiving come the end of November, but in the meantime we’re trying to carve out some new Fall traditions and get into sync with our new community.  In Nanaimo that means a trip to McNab’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch.

A perfectly foggy day for the corn maze and pumpkin patch.

A perfectly foggy day for the corn maze and pumpkin patch.

The day we went was a little late in the season, since it was after Thanksgiving (Canadian) and most of the really big pumpkins were gone.  However, they had tons of small to medium pumpkins, a local school fundraiser with all the homemade baked goods my heart could ask for, and the corn maze was still in full swing.  I was already feeling nostalgic for Iowa since a much-missed friend was throwing a fall celebration party with all of our friends, and we had just passed the dates for two of our favorite things to do in Iowa; the Farm Crawl and the Brews and Muse Festival at Peacetree Brewery.  Oh, friends, we were sure missing you on those weekends (especially those friends who shall remain nameless but kept sending emails and Facebook comments about the delicious new brews from Peacetree that we were missing out on… trisky hobbits that you are).

So with homesick hearts we went looking for new traditions at the pumpkin patch.  I assure you I never thought in my life that I’d say I was homesick for Iowa, but I’m getting sincerely tired of leaving places behind that have become home.  In our quest for new traditions to make this place home, McNabb’s did not disappoint.

Even after living in the American Midwest for five years, I had never been to a corn maze.  At Farm Crawl there was a corn maze, but I was always more interested in Pierce’s Pumpkin Patch, the borscht served at Coyote Run Farm, and the amazing preserves, people and brew (Peacetree again…) at Blue Gate Farm.  So McNab’s was my first time to be in and amongst the corn.

Dave and Little Man heading towards the corn maze.

Dave and Little Man heading towards the corn maze.

Surrounded by corn... like being back in Iowa.

Surrounded by corn… like being back in Iowa.

The day was perfectly foggy for an Autumn trip to the pumpkin patch, and we headed off to the maze first.  We had a great time trying to get lost, and searching (often fruitlessly) for the little markers hidden in the paths.  Apparently the markers haven’t been moved in years so the locals all know where they are, but since we’re new the hunt was still fun.  Once the chill of the maze started to get to us, and the enclosed space of the corn from Little Man’s viewpoint started to wear on him, we took the Hay Ride tractor to the pumpkin patch.  Here we selected a couple of pumpkins, had them measured and then heaved them back to the tractor, wishing we had brought the stroller to carry our pumpkin booty.

Hmmm... Which one can I carry all the way to the front?

Hmmm… Which one can I carry all the way to the front?

As we got off the tractor at the front of the farm, we ran into some friends from town, and hung around the fire pits chatting.  That is the sort of thing you miss when you move often; the regular meeting of friends in public places.  Little Man ran around with their kids, visiting the piglets and goats, and climbing massive downed stumps.

pumpkins

When Little Man finally started showing signs of wearing down and needing lunch, we headed off for lunch.  We could have stayed there for hot dogs, but the morning was cold and we all wanted some warm, inside rest.  So we headed for Coco Café in Cedar.  The café’s name is an acronym for the Cedar Opportunities Co-Operative, whose mission is to provide developmentally disabled adults with employment opportunities within their community.  This year the maze was dedicated to Coco’s, and I had heard of it before as well.  It has the reputation of being a nice little café with cozy atmosphere and good, local food, for good prices.  Perfect.

Walking into Coco Café I caught a glimpse of our little family in the glass door; all looking cold, dazed, hungry, and distinctively muddy.  Inside I ordered a hot cocoa, and Dave got coffee.  Little Man was very pleased with my drink choice, and did his best to polish off my whipped cream before I could get to it myself.  Dave had a Thai Curried Chicken Panini with a green side salad.  Little Man had the grilled cheese on an awesome whole wheat bread; and I had a massive bowl of Beef and Barley soup complete with a good-sized hunk of warm Pumpernickel, rich with molasses.  Dave’s Panini was great, and we were both impressed with the salad.  After our time in the Midwest we had come to loath side salads since inevitably they were tasteless piles of wilted, ice berg lettuce buried under a mound of not-cheese.  At Coco Cafe even the side salads were great.  Not a hint of iceberg lettuce to be seen, but only dark, lovely salad greens with a homemade vinaigrette.  Little Man liked his sandwich, but preferred my cocoa; and my soup was divine.  It was full of great vegetables, barley and beef, the broth was rich and stew-like with a good amount of black pepper.  This soup was a perfect example of why homemade soup is so much better than the stuff from a can.  All in all we had a great, home style lunch that did not break the bank, and which warmed us up from our stomachs to our fingers and toes.

On the way back home, Dave struggled to keep Little Man awake so that he could take a nice long nap at home.  Little Man, for his part, did his best to hide behind his Pooh Bear and fall asleep.  In the end we all had great naps, and ever since I’ve been fixated on hot beverages.  I want drinks that I can hold in a real mug, not paper or factory made, but something made by real hands, something that fits nicely between my palms, and warms me from the fingers on out.  And that brings me to my family’s Wassle; a hot mulled cider that fills the home and the heart with the aroma of the holidays.

This recipe for wassle comes from my dad’s side of the family, and just a whiff of this simmering away in the slow cooker makes me think of “family.”  I don’t mean “family” in the sense of just the three of us, but of gatherings of loved ones, whether or not you are biologically related, where you can just relax and be at home.  In fact, it’s worth making this wassle just for the aroma.

When Dave and I first made this wassle for our friends-who-became-family in upstate New York, their first comment was “mmmm… this is good…” followed quickly by asking if we’d ever tried this with rum.  We hadn’t.  We did.  It was delicious.  But I have to say, this wassle is amazing on its own and doesn’t need any accoutrement.  What sets it apart from other mulled ciders I’ve tried is the mixture of apple cider with pineapple, orange and apricot nectars.  Cardamom and cinnamon round out the spiciness of the hot, hot drink, and are key to its aroma.  There is no added sugar, the juices are sweet enough as it is.  So if you’re having friends/family over and want that scent of the holidays that will stop them in their tracks the minute they set foot in your home, this is the wassle for you.  The only problem will be getting them to leave later, since it’s so nice to just sit with loved ones while cradling a mug of this wassle in your hands.

Wassle (A Hot Mulled Cider)

Ingredients

4 cups apple cider

4 cups unsweetened pineapple juice

1 ½ cup apricot nectar

1 cup orange juice

6 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp. whole green cardamom

Directions:

  1. Pour all juices into your slow cooker and turn it on to high.
  2. Place the cardamom pods on your cutting board and crush them with the back of a spoon or flat of a knife.  Alternatively, crush the pods in a mortar and pestle (I just can’t find mine since the move…)
  3. Add the cinnamon and crushed cardamom to the slow cooker.
  4. Cover and heat until pipping hot, then turn the slow cooker down to low and simmer the wassle for 25 minutes.  Enjoy!
  5. Optional: float a new cinnamon stick in each mug.

Click here for a printable version of the Wassle recipe.

pumpkin 2

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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.

marie4

Two Independence Days

Did I mention that we made the move to Vancouver Island the day after Canada Day and two days before American Independence Day?  So even though I had warned our American bank that we’d be moving to Canada, an automated system caught our Canadian purchases and “temporarily” froze our account… the day before the Fourth of July… so no live person would be in the office to fix this problem until July 5.  Argh!  Our dilemma was discovered when we tried to buy sushi from a take-out joint for dinner.  Thank goodness we had not decided to go to a sit down restaurant, had eaten our food and then found out we had no funds at all.  I don’t know what we would have done.  Would they accept our toddler helping us wash dishes as payment?

 So we went home, frustrated and concerned about what we were going to eat that evening and the next day until the American bank opened again and freed our cash supply.  Luckily the day that we unloaded our moving van I had visited the grocery store for a few staples.  We had oatmeal, bananas and milk for toddler cereal in the morning, and I had also bought a bag of potatoes on the off chance that we just needed something comfort foodish…  I don’t know about you, but basically any type of comfort food for me includes potato in some form.  It would be another day or so before I realized our farmer friends were growing potatoes in the garden, and oh what a splendid discovery that was.

 On the drive back to our sushi-less home, we remembered that we were living on a farm (yes, we were slow on the uptake that day…).  Most importantly in this case, we were living on a farm that had chickens, glorious chickens.  So we all put on grubby shoes and I grabbed a basket that usually held students’ papers and dropped in an unused (and unwanted) curtain as padding.  As our landlords were on vacation, their friends were stopping by to take care of the animals.  We had been told that we could collect eggs and eat from the garden while they were away.  As we trudged up to the chicken coup, we were praying that the farm help had not completely collected all the eggs.  They had not, but we will later find out that they had planned to do just that, which is a different story for a different day.

 In the meantime, we needed to collect dinner.  The three of us walked into the coup; or at least two of us did.  The previous day our son had decided that the sheep were “too loud,” but the chickens won his heart instantly. While his love was unwavering, he was not sure about walking amongst them and instead felt safer in Dave’s arms.  I can’t blame him, I’ve often felt the same way.  We collected nearly 3 ½ dozen eggs that day (remember the part about other people’s plans to collect eggs?  Oops!).

The ladies who saved the day

Collecting eggs for dinner

The best eggs you will ever taste

 Later Dave and his mom would comment on how confident I looked in the hen house gathering eggs, and they asked about where I had learned to do that.  My first thought was that it was egg collecting, not rocket science…  or even archaeological science.  Then I remembered that this actually was not my first time collecting eggs.  Visiting my Grammie’s small farm as a child I had also collected eggs.  I don’t think I did it often, and my main memory of this is being pecked by the chickens (not fondly).  Flash forward to the in-between time of Canadian and American independence holidays and I suddenly found myself living on a farm, with a hungry husband and child waiting for my efforts.  I think my long-missed grandmother was proud at that moment.

 With our egg bounty we headed down to the garden for some herbs and lettuce.  I found a little curly parsley, some fresh oregano and an abundance of chives.  Basket overflowing and toddler in arms, we headed back to the house.

 The potatoes were shredded, drained, seasoned and pan-fried into latkas like my Mom’s college roommate had taught her (this recipe will be shared in a later post).  Another 8 of our eggs were transformed into what I on the spur of the moment named Chinese Eggs.  I had never cooked with eggs that I had literally just collected minutes before.  Just like restaurants use descriptive names to entice our appetites, I use the same tactic with our son whose favorite food in the world is Chicken Fried Rice.  The only way I got him to try (and love) an amazing roasted sweet potato risotto was to call it Italian Fried Rice.  I have no shame when it comes to food shenanigans that get him to eat.  So our Independence Day meal (for both countries) was made up of my Mom’s Latkas, Chinese Eggs, a salad of freshly harvested lettuces and fresh herbs, tossed simply with a little olive oil, salt and white pepper.

 As we ate and laughed about our farm fresh feast, washed down with a lovely, cheap Californian wine I brought in my luggage, we sent all grateful thoughts to those chickens and their absent caretakers.  When Dave and I married in upstate New York, promising for better or for worse, much of what I was thinking about was the difficulties of life as an academic, especially for two academics in the same field.  I certainly did not imagine (in dream or nightmare) living on a farm, feeding my amazing family with the bounty that we had literally just collected from the ground 30 minutes prior.  All in all, this was a pretty good way to celebrate independence.

On my way to the chives

Chinese Eggs

I named these “Chinese” Eggs in honor of my profuse amount of chives, which reminded me of an amazing sautéed flowering chive dish I’d had at a much missed restaurant in upstate New York.  Using the catch word “Chinese” was also a ploy to entice my son to try them.  He usually does not like scrambled eggs, but he LOVES Chinese food.  In this case the ruse worked and he gobbled them up!  If you are curious as to why I only used half of the yolks in this recipe, I did that in an effort to lower our overall cholesterol intake for this meal.  Between the Chinese Eggs and the Latkas I used an entire dozen!  We didn’t finish it all, but that was still quite a few eggs on our table at once.  I also used white pepper as opposed to black because I had not yet found where I had packed the black pepper.  It was a fortuitous difficulty since the flavor of the white pepper was perfect for this dish.

 8 eggs divided (4 whole and 4 whites)

1 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, chives and tarragon)

½ teaspoon white pepper

Salt to taste

Olive oil for the pan

In a medium bowl whisk the four whole eggs and four egg whites together.  Mix in the chopped herbs, pepper and salt.

 Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and add a splash of olive oil.  Pour in the egg mixture and stir, stir, stir.  Cook the eggs until the whites are set and then remove them from the pan to a serving bowl.

 *If cooking for children, pregnant women or anyone who is immune compromised be sure to cook the eggs thoroughly.

Click the following link for a pdf version of the recipe that can be printed.

Chinese Eggs Recipe

The Sheep Are Out…

Close up of Mallow blossoms near our home.

Close up of Mallow blossoms near our home.

“The sheep are out…”

“No, Dad, they are in their pen, it just looks like they are out.”

“No, the sheep are out…”

We had lived on the farm for three days and our farmer landlords were away on a long-planned vacation, having left before we had arrived.  Now, as we were just sitting down to the first dinner with my in-laws in our new home…  the sheep were out.

 Let me begin by stating that Dave and I are NOT farmers.  In fact, we haven’t even proven to be successful gardeners yet.  We moved to Vancouver Island with our toddler son for a new job and happened to stumble on this fantastic rental property smack in the middle of a small organic farm.  Awesome!  But now the main residents of the farm were “going on walk aboot” and we had to figure out how to get them back into their picturesque setting.

 Dave and his Dad ran down to tend to the sheep, while I called the previous renter and stared incredulously over my wine glass across our unfinished deck at the scene below.  To say that our deck is “unfinished” is to put it kindly.  Our deck does not exist.  In fact, the glass French doors that will eventually open out to the deck currently open out to a grand drop of about 15 feet down to the dirt below.  An old bannister with flaking white paint has been nailed outside of the doors to forestall anyone visiting the deck before it is actually in place.  This means that Dave’s Mom, our toddler son and I had an amazing double-glass door view from our table to the scene unfolding below.

 There were probably only 10 sheep that had gotten out, but they are robust, large sheep not the soft little lambs of the cartoons.  Dave and his Dad were being remarkably successful in herding the sheep back towards their pen as they surged in waves around the backyard.  That is to say that they were being remarkably successful until the farm dog came to “help,” and in a burst of joy scattered the sheep across the property.  Once the dog was separated from the sheep, the men were able to corral them and head back to dinner.

 For some people, the idea of running out of the dining room to corral sheep may not seem like such a herculean venture.  Why make such a fuss?  Those people have never met Dave or me.

 Dave and I are both city kids, born and raised in large West Coast metropolises.  We have spent a number of years living in the Midwest and I had studied farm politics, but we’d never ventured to the actual farm side of food production.  Now we had moved our family of three halfway across the continent, across national borders, to an island where I knew how to do nothing.  Literally.  I can’t figure out the temperature (Celsius), the speed or distance to anything (kilometers), or how to use their debit card machines (Interac).  It’s not pretty.  Anyone who thinks that Canada and the States are the same, should move across a border and see just how similar things are.  They aren’t.  Similarly, teaching university classes, writing dissertations and researching academic articles do not quite prepare you for the “real world” of sheep wrangling before your dinner gets cold.

 Yet despite the dog’s best efforts to scatter the sheep to the winds, Dave and his Dad managed to get the sheep contained and return to their dinners unscathed.  Dave’s Mom was concerned that their dinners were cold; our son was simply concerned that someone keeps filling his little plate; and the men looked a bit dazed.  In my mind, however, a slightly cooled dinner would only last in our memories for a few moments; the story of this evening would live in the family forever.

 The next morning I was feeling the need for “home,” and following the advice of real estate agents to make your house smell inviting, I baked up a batch of these Banana Chocolate muffins.  I’ve adapted the recipe a bit, but the original comes from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home.  I may not be a domestic goddess, but her food makes me feel homey.  And our son, who was a total trooper through the entire move, had just lost all of his friends, his parks, his familiar jaunts.  Most of his toys were still packed, and he kept asking where we were.  These muffins are one of his favorite things, and I wanted to see that little chocolate smeared smile.

 Later that evening, once Dave’s folks had taken the ferry to the mainland (our son thinks his grandparents just might be “fairies” going to the Mainland from Neverland Island), Dave and I sat on the little arbor bench next to the driveway.  We were looking out over the pasturage lined with trees, sipping two well-deserved frosty beverages after our day of unpacking an endless stream of boxes, when the sheep started bleating from their stalls and we started laughing.  The sheep were most definitely not out this time, but our new home promises to be an interesting adventure.

Banana Chocolate Muffins

Makes 1 dozen awesome muffins

These are my son’s favorite muffins.  He thinks he’s getting a real treat, and doesn’t realize all the good things packed into these great little packages.  My best experiences with this recipe are when I use four (and sometimes up to six) over-ripe bananas that I’ve stored in the freezer.  When bananas are just about too far gone, I chuck them into the freezer to use later for muffins like these.  Just put the frozen bananas on a plate in a single layer in the microwave for about 20 seconds or so to soften them up.  You can also pull them out of the freezer the night before you want to make them and thaw them on the counter, but I’m never that well-organized.

4 very ripe bananas

¼ cup canola oil

¼ cup plain yogurt (I use fat free, but full fat is fine too)

2 eggs

½ cup packed brown sugar

1 cup all purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ cup good quality dark chocolate chips (optional… if you don’t like awesome)

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400ºF and line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large bowl mash the bananas, leaving them a little coarse.  Mix in the oil, yogurt, eggs and sugar.

In a medium bowl mix the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda.  Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, being careful to not over mix the batter.  Gently fold in the chocolate and walnuts if using.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan.

 Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.  Let the muffins rest briefly in the pan and then cool them on a wire rack.

Chocolate Banana Muffin batter

Chocolate Banana Muffin batter

Filling the muffin tins

Filling the muffin tins

My “new to me” oven runs a bit hot, so these are almost over done, but the extra-doneness just makes them taste extra-chocolatey.

A satisfied customer... who wants "more muffins please."

 Banana Chocolate Muffins Card

Click on the above link for a pdf version of the recipe that can be printed.