Looking back, July seems more sodden than juicy, loaded with huge downpours and cool temperatures, green lush gardens and green unripening (unripenable???) tomatoes. It's also been full of friends of all kinds, and with new encounters and new growth...
Last week I had eight visitors staying in the house. There was Melissa of course, who has been here since May, visiting from Thailand to get her English fluency better and to have a good long first-time-in-North-America kind of trip. She's nineteen, so it's all new and interesting. She's now in New York and not due back for another week or ten days. And then there was a large lovely contingent from Spain: our old friend Rick and his partner Astrid and their six-year-old son Mario, and then a family of four who are friends of theirs. The mornings began with "hola!" and ended with "hasta manana!" and in between there was lots of action and conversation, embraces and laughter.
Last Thursday we had other people over (if you're going to feed 10 you might as well feed 20, right?) for a loosely conceived supper. I grilled some beef and then sliced it for grilled beef salad. There was a potluck aspect, so there were several huge gren salads, lemon pudding, a ricotta tart topped with sour cherries, some stir-fried green beans and asparagus, etc etc. We also made "pakoras": we whisked up a batter of besan (chickpea flour) and deep-fried some zucchini blossoms (halved lengthwise, since they were huge!) and also some fresh garlic bulbs, cut lengthwise. I added some ground roasted coriander seed to the batter (proportions are about 1 cup besan and scant 1/2 cup lukewarm water whisked in, plus 1/2 teaspoon salt and some generous amount of coriander seed, 1 to 2 teaspoons). The peanut oil heated in the wok and then we slid in three or four battered items at a time, using a slotted spoon to turn them, then lift them out (pausing to let oil drain off). They were crispy and delish, the garlic a real taste hit, the flowers softer and milder. The cooking goes very quickly, and then they all get eaten just as fast!
Then on Sunday night, with the same crew from Spain, up in Grey County at Lillian and Jon's, we deep-fried pakoras again, this time on the wood stove (the wok fits into a hole on the stove so beautifully). Ian did the frying. We used day liles from Lillian's garden, freshly picked by her. Some were in full bloom, some were buds, and some were the softened drooping day-after faded blooms. They were all delish, and beautiful too. We made a potato salad using newly dug spuds boiled, peeled, then dressed with stir-fried (in olive oil) sliced shiitakes (grown by Jon and Lillian on maple logs in the forest) and loads of chopped fresh herbs, as well as local cider vinegar. What's not to like?
And somehow the taste of place, in all the food, was intensely life-giving, perhaps most of all in the salad of greens that practically leapt off the plate and into the mouth, greens from Lillian's miraculously generous garden.
The hummingbirds darted around us as we ate outside on the deck surrounded by airy deciduous forest.
I had a huge appetite, because before supper I'd had a sauna with Ian and Misha in their newly built sauna house. I had a lot of saunas in my twenties with the Puhks in the Gatineau by a lake, but that was long ago. It was wonderful to be back again, breathing in the familiar hot wood-scented air. I felt my bones take in the heat and melt, somehow, and my skin prickle. Slippery with sweat, after being in, then out to cool, and then back into the heat for more, we leapt into the car for the two minute quick drive down the road to the river. (The car windows steamed up with our heat!) The current flows swiftly there, carries you along in its cool flow, so we played and floated, waded back upstream and floated down again. Bliss.
But that Sunday began with another kind of miraculous encounter, not with mother nature, but with the wisdom and lovely energy of a remarkable man named Menahem Pressler. He is famed as a pianist and as the founder of the Beaux Arts Trio, but also as an extraordinary teacher. And that was my luck, to be able to sit in on a Master Class he gave here in Toronto at the Faculty of Music. To hear this charming and focussed man in his mid-eighties talk about music, and guide the young pianists that morning with such clarity and insight, was an enormous privilege. I felt there should be a tape-recorder on all the time, just to catch his comments.
And I felt, as perhaps one does with all great teachers, that what he said about music and attitudes toward music, was also true of life. He talked about the need for the performer to renew his or her relationship to a piece of music each time, to make it fresh and clean, a lived experience for the musician and the listener both. "Music should sanctify us, elevate us, inspire us" he said. His intelligence and energy, his warmth, his generosity toward the young performers, and his insistence that there be attentiveness and respect, joy and engagement, were a tonic, a lesson, an inspiration.