Thursday, April 12, 2012


Where to start? There’s so much to write about at this full and optimistic time of year. The honour guard of cherry trees by the University of Toronto main library was in fullest glorious white bloom last weekend and this week. “It looks like popcorn” said E, who is six. Well yes, sort of. And also like impossible snow. The other day I rode my bicycle down the path between the trees, reaching up to touch the tender blossoms as I glided by, as if in some kind of hallucination. Quite fantastic.

Meantime the other trees are in flower, the kind of unobtrusive not-cherry-blossom flowers that many deciduous trees have, noticeable for the bright green life in them, with maybe a touch of dark red, rather than for their profusion or dreaminess. The chestnuts (horse chestnuts) on my street and in various places in the university have fat blobs on their branches that are slowly cracking open to show the green leaves inside, all sticky and ready to unfurl. What a process. And every year it’s the same, and yet at the same time every year it’s different, this gradual arrival of new life and greenness.

I’ve been eating dandelion greens and garlic chive shoots and garlic shoots for weeks now. And yet it seems a little backward this spring, for we’re having a lot of clear sharp days with a nip in the air, March days, while in March we had soft warm April-May weather. The gardens are confused and so are the gardeners. Do we plant now and risk hard frost? Do we plant later and find ourselves late? hmm

Late is what I didn’t want to be this week, and I managed it. I’m talking about the second galleys (designed pages) for the BURMA book. I was due to send at least half of them back to New York on Monday, and the rest today and hurrah! I did. Now there will be small tweaks and adjustments, but things are almost there. So exciting.

To mark that feeling of donenness, I had planned to make a Kachin beef recipe from the book for supper. But before I got started a friend and neighbour dropped by with a bottle of red wine. It’s a treat to have people drop by, an unscheduled treat of the best kind. I felt like I’d re-emerged from a rabbit hole or a deep sea voyage or something as we chatted and sipped, and I got started cooking supper.

The Kachin beef is delicious and unusual: cubes of beef are simmered in very little water until cooked through and tender, then put in a large mortar with a pounded flavour paste of toasted Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, garlic, dried red chiles, and salt, oh, and lots of Vietnamese coriander leaves, and pounded until imbued with the paste and broken down into tender fragments. It sounds odd, perhaps, but it’s delicious, like an almost-pemmican I suppose, and even more so the next day. I’m glad we have some leftovers.

The other supper pleasure was black sticky rice cooked plain in water until tender. Its chewiness and gleaming blackness were a treat, a nice complement to tender cooked beans, “bird egg” lima beans from the Amish at Hope Farms, with chunks of sweet potato added to them, a little red wine, and a touch of olive oil and soy sauce. And we had salad, with skillet cake to follow. Not bad for a weeknight! With the real cold in the air this evening, a warming wintery meal was just what we needed.

What’s next? Well taxes of course. They’re not due until the end of April in Canada, but I have an appointment with the accountant on Monday, and so by then I need to have everything organised and totalled and sorted. I figure I’ve got another five hours work to do.

It does seem unfair and silly that each of us goes through this each year. Most of us are very unqualified to sort and sift financial stuff, receipts and vouchers and T-whatever slips. We’re not experts at this, just fumbling amateurs who every year have to go through the process. It’s kind of like, as a kid when you had to do certain chores every day or every week. I thought I’d get to grow out of those trapping situations. Instead they morphed into tests and term papers (my kid Tashi just pulled an all-nighter for one) and eventually into the adult version that’s called “doing your taxes”.

It’s a rigged game and I’m the patsy, that’s how it feels!

If this is all there is to complain about though, we’re lucky. And the sun is shining (perhaps too much – we could do with some rain, lots of it) the birds active.

Easter and Passover happened last weekend for everyone, except those in the Orthodox tradition, whose Easter is this weekend. I made a short visit to Grey County a week ago. The post-equinox full moon, the moon that sets Easter clocks in motion, lit the forest like floodlights, making sharp tree-shadow stripes. The “Moon Shadow” song wouldn’t leave my head as I walked along an undulating path to my sleeping quarters, keeping my knees loose to help with balance, all depth perception lost in the stripiness of white white light and black black shadows. Wild and lovely and haunting.

In Burma and Thailand the seasons turn right now too. It’s time for the big new year celebrations: Thingyan in Burmese, Song Kran in Thai. They fall in mid-April as the hot season is pressing down and they are an anticipation of the renewing monsoon rains that are going to come (and usually there’s a scattered shower here and there in early April). People throw water, just as they do at the similar festival in India called Holi. It’s a wet unpredictable somewhat crazy time to be out and about. And it marks the start of the new agricultural year, the time to till and plant.

And so far away around the globe we are on parallel tracks, we’re at equivalent points in our yearly cycle. Renewal here is marked by the return of warmth and sun; renewal in Southeast Asia comes with the monsoon rains that bring new life and fertility to the fields.

Bring it on!

No comments: