Sunday, August 15, 2010


I feel as if this is a peasceful oasis, a haven, this bedroom of mine on the third floor, with open door to a quirky deck and night air blowing in, soft and summery still. But the weekend was very un-peaceful, as nature's power, and the possibility of plagues and floods etc at any hour, was very real.

I went north to Grey County for a film and to see friends. I left humid bright skies in Toronto and by the time I was north and swimming in magical Wilder Lake (I swam across and back and felt so weightless and timeless, it was wonderful) the sky was grey and formless. Later it turned into intense dark clouds and then the heavens opened: lightning, yes, but right overhead making the electric wires crackle, and great claps of thunder with it, and then drenching rain, and more and more. I headed out in it, in the car, with Lillian and some friends. We travelled through green fields and fog, but had little rain while we were gone. Returned to their house on a hill some hours later we learned it had continued to pour there, for three hours straight. Buckets left outside had nearly a foot of water in them. The tender greens in the garden were battered and bruised, and the smoothly gravelled laneway was like some flood plain, all scored with furrows where the water had poured along, rushing downhill.

Spent a good amount of time later on, around midnight, helping bail out a neighbour's basement, bucket after bucket scooped and poured into a big laundry sink. It felt a little sisyphean: were we making any progress? But finally we could see that the water was going down. We quite when it had gone from nearly two feet deep to about four inches.

And today? Well is that small twinge in my upper arms from swimming across the lake and back? Or is it from all that bucket scooping? Hard to tell. Lucky to be physically able to engage with the world, with its pleasures and catastrophes both.

I cannot imagine the floods in Pakistan, where deluges of at least biblical proportions have ripped people from their homes and killed hundreds. It's easy to get preoccupied with our immediate worries and comforts, but out there in the wider world, there are life and death situations, real-life, and real-death. How can we cope? How can we acknowledge them? How can we help, and not get paralysed or overwhelmed by hopelessness?

That's the task, and each of us invents the answer in our own way. For international relief, the advice is, send money
to an internationally reputable organisation such as OXFAM, rather than sending supplies that need to be shipped. People seem to be hesitating about helping Pakistan, because of all the fear-mongering there's been about the Taliban, and also because of a history of poor government over decades. But international organisations are in there, and are not the same as the discredited Pkistani government. Arguably people there need even more help because their governmetn has been so incompetent, so there's even more incentive to send aid. Here's hoping everyone hears the pleas.

On a local and mundane note, a food story: Last year I had a black fennel plant or two in my garden. This year I have masses of volunteers. But when I dug one or two up, they had no bulb, just a root. They ARE aromatic, and they are flowering now, level flowers, like all unbelliferae, yellow and cheerful. Fennel pollen is a fab ingredient, wild fennel pollen, and I know it from Italy. So dawnthebaker suggested we try gathering it.

We snipped off the fennel flowers and then tapped them on a white bowl, and there we were with golden strongly aromatic yellow fennel pollen. It's loaded with flavour. We added some salt, so the pollen would keep. Sprinkle fennel pollen on freshly roasted potatoes, or on roast chicken (that's what we did) or on eggs or as you please....

But what about the flowers, once cleaned of pollen? We dragged them through a simple batter, a pakora batter (chickpea flour and water, a little more than 1 water to 1 flour by volume to get a loose batter, and some salt), then deep-fried them. Yum again! You'd think that perhaps all the flavour is in the pollen, but no, fennel flowers are tasty. Some garlic chive flowers also got the pakora treatment, and were delish.

The huge rains will bring on a flush of shiitake's at Lillian's place, even as they drown and batter the tender greens and bring blight to potatoes and tomatoes. There's a bright and a dark side to most weather, right? Lillian, up north in Grey County, has okra in this warm summer, and also a version of winged bean, a tender lovely legume that I've seen only in Thailand and India. Amazing to see it ripen here. And we've had amazing fruit this year, from peaches to crabapples (already! on the tree out front) to elderberries... A friend, who grew up on Wolf Island, where Lake Ontario flows into the St Lawrence River, says her favorite pie is apple-elderberry.

I have other plans for the elderberries I bought last week at the farmers' market. They're precious, for on many years the birds get them all. I'll turn them into vinegar I hope, with dawnthebaker's help, using a "mother" from the organic apple cider vinegar I use (Filsingers from Grey County). We have to wait for cooler weather to start it (so meantime I've frozen the elderberries). And I was told by a friend this evening that a few simple pieces of dried pasta help vinegar along. It's the traditional Italian way, he said. He makes a very delicious red wine vinegar; I trust him on this.

Any idea why it might help or speed things along?

This is a rambling post, perhaps more than usual (and the first posting of it, late at night, was filled with typos, now all, hopefully, corrected). Sorry! Perhaps it's the ongoing heat and humidity that have scrambled my brains a little? Or maybe it's all the fresh tomatoes I'm eating, straight from the garden? No complaints. In fact it feels like a fair trade!

1 comment:

cassandra said...

You asked about your friend's advice to add pasta to start a vinegar. Of note, your friend starts with wine. I've read that it's easier to make vinegar from wine because the fruit starches turn to alcohol, which another bacteria turns into vinegar: and and and

That said, wine-makers dread the wrong bacteria taking hold, and turning juice into vinegar, so going straight from juice to vinegar is clearly quite possible. As for the pasta, perhaps homemade pasta carries the acetobacter bacteria which is commonly found in the air, like wild yeasts are, and helps innoculate the batch, or provides an alternate source of food for the bacteria.