Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When We Love

A while ago I was talking with another mother. Her young son was diagnosed with cancer and treated for a brain tumor. Fortunately he is doing very well now. Nevertheless, he still has some challenges that are a result of his illness and treatment. Feeling a sort of kinship with me as a mother who has experienced a loss, she shared some of her thoughts. One of the things that she said has really caused me to think. She expressed a certain amount of impatience with the more common concerns of many parents - the broken bones, the colds, things that are not life threatening - and said that she wants to tell them that it is not a big deal. That they should be grateful and not worry about those things. I understand (I think) what she said. I have thought a lot about our conversation and I think that those things are a "big deal".

The experience of losing a child is awful. There are so many hard things but there have also been blessings and lessons. For me, one of those lessons has been that when we love it doesn't matter what the challenge is that our loved one faces - it is a big deal. So if a baby has a cold - it is a big deal. A big deal for the baby that's for sure, but also a big deal for the parents. Not so much because of the lost sleep due to the baby's wakefulness but because of the care and concern the parents have for the comfort and wellbeing of their beloved child. They know that a cold is (generally) not life-threatening and that the baby will almost certainly recover within a week or two. But it is hard to love and not be able to protect or fix or remove whatever the issue may be. So it is a big deal. And there is no competition. No qualifier. No threshold for "big deals". When we love, we care. We share the worry, the hurt, the grief, and we learn to understand one another's concerns.

I am so grateful for the continued expression of love and concern for me and for our family. For the thoughtful and unselfish gestures. For all the sharing. I understand in a new way the importance of truly loving others. I can see more clearly and easily how everyone struggles with some kind of "deal". It is not my place to decide how big or little that may be but simply to understand that for them it is a big deal because they love. And then to love them and share their burden. Even if that simply means listening and really hearing.

I want to be more aware and more compassionate because of what I have experienced. I hope I am.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Corn Salad with Mint





Late August = fresh from the farm corn. Farmer's market, corner store, roadside stand, or supermarket - doesn't matter. Just get some and eat it however you like best. If by some weird freak you are tired of corn-on-the-cob dripping with butter and sprinkled with salt you could try this salad we had last night. I suppose if you don't have fresh corn you could use thawed frozen but the fresh kernels cut off the cob are so sweet and crunchy, so ultra-delicious....I think I would wait for the real deal. This salad is fast, easy, and appealed to everyone from Theo on up in our house. (And Theo is quite discriminating about what passes his lips.)




Corn Salad with Mint
(from Chatelaine Daily - adapted slightly)


1/2 cup fresh mint*
4 green onions, thinly sliced
4 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 cup chopped cucumber
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp salt


Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to coat. (I told you it was easy!)


*The mint was lovely and fresh. Another good option is to use fresh basil or thyme and add a good twist of freshly ground pepper.


Note: Contrary to common thought corn really is good for you. High in insoluble dietary fibre and carotenoids (antioxidants that eliminate free radicals and help our cells stay strong and healthy), it is also a good source of potassium and folic acid. All that and it is so yummy!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Green Bean Salad with Three Sesame Dressing


I really had plans to post something else tonight. The last couple of weeks have been....full. Intense in some ways, busy for sure, fun, with many joys and much comfort to balance the sorrow. Lots of thoughts I have been thinking and wanting to share. But for dinner tonight I made a salad that Thomas took one bite of and pronounced "A. Mazing!!" I made this salad a month ago or more and have been wanting to make it again ever since - because I really wanted to share it. And because I really wanted to eat it. So I took a picture today (unlike the first go round) of the beautiful beans from the Farmer's Market that went into a truly superior bean salad and I am ready to share.

I am pretty sure I have mentioned my fondness for green beans. Also my love of gardening. I planted several rows of beans this past spring, watered, weeded, and waited - anticipating my own lovingly grown (and therefore surely more delicious) fresh garden beans. Apparently I was not the only one waiting and anticipating but unfortunately for me, the others waiting beat me to the crop and there is not a solitary bean hanging on the vine for me. I have generously (and bitterly) fed the neighborhood deer. This year they have enjoyed every single bean, pea, rosebud, and hydrangea blossom my garden has offered. Every one. No joke - and I do not find the situation at all funny. This year the cheeky nuisances even spit out the flowers they bite off but find not to their taste. The only produce left for us to consume aside from the herbs are the things that grow underground - and even those I half expect to find dug up one night! Thankfully the Farmer's Markets are brimming with beautiful, beautiful produce and the beans are at the peak of perfection right now. I urge (yes  urge) you to try this salad. Soon. While the beans are fresh and summer is still here. Hannah thinks it is about the best thing on the planet. Me too.

Green Bean Salad with Three Sesame Dressing
(from The Food Network - barely tweaked)

1 pound green string beans
1 pound yellow wax beans
1 Tbsp roasted sesame oil
1/4 cup tahini paste
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp soya sauce
2 limes, juiced and zested
a dash of srihacha sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds

Wash the beans and trim ends. Bring a pot of water to the boil. Dump the beans in the water and bring back to a boil. As soon as it boils, remove the pot from the heat and drain immediately, putting the beans into an ice-water bath to stop the cooking.

Whisk together the sesame oil,tahini, honey, salt, soya sauce, lime juice and zest, and hot sauce. When the beans are cooled, drained, and dried, place them on a serving plate and drizzle with the dressing (I drizzled pretty generously). Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top. You're ready to go.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Zucchini, Ganache, and a Birthday Cake




Since the whole concept here is sharing stuff, I thought I really should share with you what I discovered on Hannah's birthday.

It is Zucchini Time in my garden and therefore in my kitchen. Last September I posted a recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Cake - a favorite in our house and something of a seasonal delicacy (you know, Zucchini Time and all). Hannah was in favour of having a Chocolate Zucchini Cake for her birthday cake so I turned on the oven and got ready to bake. In last year's post I said that I never frosted the cake because it was simply unnecessary. And it is  but I couldn't bring myself to present her with an undecorated cake in a 9x13 pan as we sang Happy Birthday to her, so I decided to try something different - ganache. mmm-mmm-mmmmmmm. Yes, then. Anyway....

I baked the cake in one 10" round pan and one of my adorable little 6" pans - just because that worked out. (I really only wanted the large cake but who can complain about a cute little chocolate cake?) The baking time was adjusted to 45 minutes for the large cake and 30-33 minutes for the small one. If you haven't made ganache before it is stupidly easy. And it makes a wonderful cake fantastic.

Ganache
(makes enough to frost both cakes)
8 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup heavy cream

Chop the chocolate fairly fine and put in a medium sized bowl.

Heat the cream and butter until it begins to steam. Pour it over the chopped chocolate and let sit for a minute or so. Gently whisk the mixture until it is smooth and shiny being careful not to incorporate air. You have just made ganache. From here you have a number of choices but if you want to frost a chocolate zucchini cake....

Pour a generous amount onto the top of the cake (I really do mean generous - you want enough to do the whole cake in one go) and using a long metal spatula push it over the top and sides of the cake. The ganache is actually easy to work with and if you have a spatula you will end up with a nice smooth surface. Shockingly, I don't have a metal spatula (and I thought I did so I had a pile of ganache sitting on my cake while I looked frantically through my drawers) so I grabbed the next best thing that I could find - my serrated bread knife and used the back of the knife. It worked reasonably well but as you can see, not perfectly. Nobody minded however.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Beautiful Hannah


The first morning I woke Hannah up I walked into the room where she was sleeping and stopped and just looked. She was as perfect as a doll. Absolutely lovely, with her thick, long, curling hair fanned out on the pillow and thick, long, curly eyelashes fanning her cheeks. 

Some people are initially attractive - their physical beauty can even be quite arresting - but they just don't "wear well" and after a while they don't seem as pretty. Some people are so personally wonderful that their inner glow makes physical attributes redundant. And then there are a few people that are just beautiful inside and out. Hannah falls into the last category.

I feel incredibly blessed that she is my daughter by virtue of her marriage to my son. I love her so much that it feels wrong to refer to her as a daughter-in-law. With total respect to her  wonderful mother, Hannah is my daughter too. I am proud of her for many things and enjoy her always. She is a great comfort and a blessing. A wonderful wife and a sweet mother. A budding sewer. A runner. A good friend. A twin. A hard and willing worker. An avid reader. A clever girl. A generous heart.  A true beauty.

Happy birthday sweet Hannah.



Friday, August 12, 2011

My Japanese Knives




Good tools make even the simplest chore enjoyable and often make the most difficult much easier. Whether it is ironing a shirt, sewing a garment, cutting a lawn, fixing a car, or chopping vegetables, well-made, quality tools are worth every investment in resources and time to seek them out. I am pretty much devoted to my beautiful and practical Japanese knives. I have had other knives over the years - of course - but I have valued none the way I value these.

There is an area in Tokyo called Kappabashi. Pretty much a bit of heaven for those who enjoy time in the kitchen and good food. It is the restaurant supply and kitchen wholesale area for the city. I truly believe that one can find and buy the best of anything the world offers in Tokyo - if you know where to look for it. And the place to look for the well-out-fitted kitchen is Kappabashi. After our first stint in Japan I had a few Japanese knives that I had bought in one supermarket or another. I liked them better than other knives I had used but I knew they were not really "quality" knives, so I determined to see what I could see when we moved to Tokyo a few years ago. I took along my trusty interpreter (David) and we rode the subway to Kappabashi for the adventure. You need to know that when David shops for something (anything really) he exhausts the possibilities. Accordingly we visited every knife shop and knife maker in the area. Every one. It took most of a day and we learned a lot. As Japanese knife makers are passionate about their work and product it was a really great day. We didn't buy anything that day but went home and considered what we had learned. To  make a long-ish story shorter I decided that the knives I wanted were the Tojiro Flash knives.

At the outset I certainly was not looking for a "set" of knives. (I am more or less opposed to sets of anything - from furniture to jewellery.) And I had thought I wanted the unique hand-made traditional knives but chose the Tojiro Flash and have been so very happy with them every day for the last five years.


These knives are made of Damascus steel - a technique that originated in ancient Damascus and was refined in Japan during samurai times. The blades in my knives are 63 layers of steel wrapped around an extremely hard core of VG-10 steel. This produces a blade that is incredibly hard but still flexible (holds an edge very well) and is beautiful as well. The wrapping and layering of the steel when ground results in a unique and beautiful surface that looks like moire silk - a work of art.  The elegant handles are made of something called micarta (layers of resin and linen - how cool is that?), I love how they look and feel. They fit my hand very comfortably and add another aspect of beauty and craftmanship.

Being as hard a blade as they are, these are very very sharp knives and deserve to be treated with respect. I always hand wash mine and always, always use a good cutting board (either wood or Richlite - a paper and resin product). The down-side of the extreme hardness is that if one is careless the blades can chip. (Chips can be sharpened out by a pro.) That said, although I do treat mine with respect I don't give them the kid-glove routine and I have really no chips after five years of use.



I have two other Japanese knives that I would be loath to part with. One was quite pricey and the other only about 15.00. One is the traditional high-carbon steel blade that is sharpened on only one side. The other is who knows what? I use both regularly but not as often as I go to my Tojiro Flash. I have two identical TJ knives because I use and love the size and shape so much (and because I hate to ask anyone who might be cooking with me to use anything less.)


And that's my love song for my beautiful handmade knives. I do think they are so pretty.


P.S. Eden has a picture of Tiffany from the wedding up on her blog today. Just one but it is so perfect. Just in case you wanted to know.




Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cleaning out closets to make room for Thomas and Hannah - the closet in Merin's old room. Her dance bag stuffed full of old tights and bodysuits. My heart breaks all over again. I miss her. Sometimes this is still so hard.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho


It's off to work I go.... After our week away the garden is over-grown, the spinach has bolted and gone to seed, weeds have sprouted everywhere, the laundry is piled high, and my house looks like a thread-bomb exploded in it (the inevitable result of weeks of near-frantic-paced sewing). But the week was worth every bit of catch-up needed now at home. Time on the beach with the family, late night discussion with great friends, cousin sleepovers, good food at every turn, the best of Vancouver weather and a beautiful wedding to crown it all.

Mark and Tiffany's wedding was perfect. Tiffany was an incredibly beautiful bride, Mark so handsome and happy. The five little flower girls were adorable in their dresses and the three boy cousins cute as buttons in their suspenders and bow-ties. Sadly I have not one single photo to share. Not one. Can't wait to see Eden's work - always amazing and this wedding is special to us.

It's good to be home again. Now....heigh-ho, heigh-ho, I'm off to work :)