Sunday, April 10, 2011


In the warm optimism of yesterday's sunshine, springtime finally announcing itself, I drove out of Toronto and through the swooping hills north to Grey County. I had a great visit with my lively and wonderful aunt in Markdale and then headed over in the sunny late afternoon to Durham.

There was a contra-dance last night in the town hall in Durham, a lovely chance to catch up with friends. We danced and danced, to lilting music by Scatter the Cats of Owen Sound and area: fiddle, mandolin, double bass, irish flute... instructed and called to so that we found ourselves moving pretty confidently through the complications of the dances, getting hot and sweaty and happy as we did so. "We" were about 75 people, maybe more, of all ages, from small children to grandparents, of all descriptions, all there to have fun and also to help raise money for a local Waldorf-ish school called Edge Hill.

I spent the night at friends' whose house is in a forest. This morning, instead of yesterday's sun we found ourselves in dripping rain, with occasional flashes of lightning and rolling thunder. There are still no leaves on the trees, so the forest was all vertical lines and soft autumnal tones. Well, not entirely autumnal. There's a quickening in the trees, heavy buds on branches, a warmth to the bark on the willows, the occasional strand of green peeping up already from under the damp brown-tan-purplish layers of last year's leaves.

We had a sauna this morning, seven adults sitting on benches in a hot wooden room, the stove hissing when we tossed a little water on it. Every so often one or more of us would go out to stand in the cool dripping rain radiating clouds of steam. Fun! And such a cleansing feeling, all that sweat and open-pored skin in the cool moist air.

After a huge drink of water I headed down the misty road in the little red Honda Fit, feeling light as air. The last patches of snow were brilliant white against the soft tones of the damp fields. And rising from each snowy patch was a fine mist, the moisture in the air condensing in the colder temperatures above the snow. It's an eerie effect, that trailing mist. In the low-lying patches, at dips in the road, and over pools of water still ice-patched in places, there was swirling thick fog. Fields of corn stubble were rows of pale yellow on dark, like some ancient hand-writing on the curving landscape, with gleaming black crows as punctuation. And there were newly ploughed fields, the soil not brown, not black, but again that purplish brown-black of spring, promising life and fruitfulness.

I know that when I drive those roads again in two or three weeks there will be brilliant colour, not the muted tones of today, and no mist, no snow, no skims of ice still floating on shaded small ponds.

It all got me thinking about impermanence. Of course as I drove through it, my view of the landscape was constantly changing. But even if I'd been standing still, my view would have been melting and moving and transforming before my eyes. In these northern climes all of nature is change, especially at these "shoulder" times of year, when we lurch out of the grip of winter and into the promise of new life. It's miraculous.

Back in the city now I know that I must start digging up the back garden, feeding it some manure, and thinking about where to plant the early lettuce seed. I had problems with tomato blight last year, so I need to move things around. The tomatoes have to go somewhere new. But how to do that? there's a very small space, and not all of it with good sunshine. hmmm

My cousin Jennifer sent me a link about blight and suggested that I could grow tomatoes in bags of soil, so they don't come in contact with the infected soil in my garden. That takes more planning and discipline than I'm used to putting into my gardening. My approach tends to be more haphazard. But I should be treating the garden with more respect.

I had a conversation last night at the dance with a friend named Diane who is part of the seed-saving movement. Her task this year is to grow more than twenty plants, tomato plants of a particular heirloom variety, in a place at least 100 feet from any other tomato plants (to ensure the seeds from the new crop are not-contaminated by cross-pollination). She's on a farm, so she has the space, but she still has to cultivate and develop a whole new area of garden, a huge amount of work. If she can do that, and the other seed-savers can put their efforts into protecting heirloom varieties for the good of us all, then the least I can do is take good care of my small tomato crop. Right?

And finally, on the Burma book front: This evening i retested the balachaung recipe (a great side-condiment, with tamarind, fried shallots and garlic, lots of dried shrimp ground to a powder, all cooked together into an umami-laden must-have condiment. My mouth is watering as I write this!). And I made a deceptively simple staple I learned about in Kengtung, in the Eastern Shan States (just near where the earthquake was a few weeks ago). It's made of rice and peanuts cooked together and then ground into a smooth texture, rather like a polenta. Tashi loved it.

A couple of days ago I printed out a draft of all the recipes, organised by chapters and looking pretty complete. It's thrilling to have the recipes in a three-ring binder, easy to annotate as I retest. I feel I've turned a corner, and am on the home stretch.

As I write this Dom and Tashi are also on a home stretch, a different one, which is made up of exams and term papers, as the university year comes to an end. I'm on cooking duty for these weeks, my small contribution to their efforts. And they thank me and say they'll take good care of me as I get really close to my June deadline. I'll keep you posted!


Caroline Wickham said...

~Thank you for bringing back well remembered pictures, Naomi. All a little different fm mine here in West Vancouver (since Dec/10). I must tell you of the time I rolled my yellow Ford truck north of Markdale...into a field of snow, that is.

kerrdelune said...

Rain here in Ottawa too, Naomi, and lots of it. A good day for reading recipe books and drinking tea.