Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cycling Through Life

MICHAEL PALIN SAID one of the most important days of his life was when he learned to ride a bicycle, and so it was with me. 

And every spring since, there has always been that one day that marks the turning point, when a whiff of freshly thawed earth and new grass hits me, and it's so intoxicating I am as sun drunk as a gamboling lamb.

As a child, warmer weather meant two things: I could...

If you want to read the rest, pedal on over to my column in Watershed Magazine.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Buddy is Busted

Doug and I had a date night tonight. 

A dinner out. 

A new place around the corner. (Lucille's. Very nice. Most Excellent plate of oysters on the half shell, calamari, steak and lobster rolls. A lot of extreme facelifts all around us, and I don't mean renovations to the restaurant. But I digress.)

We were gone...maybe two hours, if that. We were with Buddy all day, and in fact, when I went to the gym this afternoon, Doug waited until I got back before he did his errands so Buddy wouldn't get lonely. 

I took him for a long walk, fed him, and played fetch the monkey with him for twenty minutes. Even though that monkey was soaking wet with dog saliva and smelled like corpse, I picked it up and flung it over and over again because it made my furry little friend happy.

To Summarize: The Budster was well fed, amply walked and played with, so he wouldn't have the energy to get into mischief.

And yet he still felt compelled to do this tonight. How did he get in there, I hear you asking? Don't you make sure all doors are closed securely, knowing he has a history of murdering paper when he's alone? Well, someone (hey, no names, no finger-pointing, but there are only two people living here and it wasn't me) left a door ajar.

You tell me. Guilty face? Or unrepentant miscreant?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Italian Wedding Soup

How have I not heard of this before? I've gone to Italian weddings. I've eaten my share of soups over the years. And I've made my share of soups over the years. Soups like Corn Chowder, or Parsnip Carrot Ginger soup, or Tortilla Soup with Avocado, toasted tortilla strips and a sprinkling of cheese.

But this Italian Wedding Soup?

Best soup ever. Ever.

This is an outstanding soup. One of those soups that sits in the tummy like a warm hug. It fills your up without you feeling stuffed, and stays with you a long while. This came via my friend Julie Kentner who lives out in Winterpeg, so she knows from soup.

The original recipe came from a blog called thekitchn.

Try to find escarole if you can. I wasn't sure what it was or whether my local IGA would have it, but you'll likely find it in the lettuce section. It's a tad bitter, but once you cook it as directed, it gets sort of sweet and infuses the soup with a certain earthiness. I'm making it tonight, but I have to substitute escarole for something else (they were sold out! is it really that popular? is it because it's listed as "scarole"? is that really the French translation or was the label guy just lazy?)

 Here's hoping a mix of rapini and Swiss chard works as well.

If you have homemade stock, bring it, baby. If not, I like to use Knorr chicken broth or Campbell's in a pinch.

Here's the recipe. I changed a couple of things from the original. Most notably, I can't eat oregano, so I substituted basil. You can look at the original by following thekitchn link above to see the other cheeses etc. they recommend.

(Also, it says it serves 6-8. In what universe? We ate most of it in one sitting. Nom, nom, nom.)

Italian Wedding Soup

3/4 pound ground meat (I used a mix of beef, veal and pork or use turkey, chicken)
1/2 cup Panko crumbs
3 large eggs, divided
1 cup Parmesan/Reggiano grated cheese, divided
1 TBSP fresh basil or 1 tsp dried (so sue me, I read it wrong, I used 1 TBSP dried)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, diced (I used a Vidalia, which is sweet)
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups chicken stock
1 bunch greens (such as escarole) trimmed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
 (about 6 lightly packed cups)
Red pepper flakes
Lemon wedges

Combine the ground meat, bread crumbs, 1 egg, 1/2 cup of grated cheese, basil, salt and pepper in a bowl.

Mix thoroughly with your hands, then form the mixture into small balls, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches. You should have 20 to 30 meatballs, depending on how large you form them.

In a large Teflon skillet, heat 2 TBSP olive oil over med-high heat. Add meatballs in batches and cook, turning, until browned all over, which will take only 3 to 5 minutes. (A bit pink in the middle is ok because they will finish cooking in the broth.) Place them on paper towels to absorb the oil.

In a large soup pot, heat the remaining 1 TBSP of oil over med-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, taking care not to let them brown (it will be as bitter as my grade one teacher Miss Campbell who clearly wanted to do anything but teach, and did not appreciate my inquisitive young mind) so, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the stock and bring to a boil.

Add the greens, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the meatballs and cook another 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the last 2 eggs and the remaining 1/2 of grated cheese and whisk with a fork to blend.

Slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot soup, stirring constantly.

Cover and simmer just until the egg is set, about 30 seconds. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately and add a dash of red pepper flakes and a squeeze of lemon, if you wish, which I did.

Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Hahahahahaaaa (wiping tears) leftovers, good one.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Goodbye to 2014

After a couple of days cooped up indoors nursing this wretched cold, I decided I needed some fresh air. We're at the cottage, and once you step outside, the only light you get is from the moonlight. It's disconcertingly dark after the bright lights of the city, and so silent you can hear the blood pounding in your ears. Well, silent except for the ice on the lake blindsiding you with a low moan or thunderous crack when you least expect it. 

It is windless tonight, thankfully, but a skin-numbing minus 16C. I armed myself with long underwear, and refused to let this stupid virus, or my fear of the dark, and that damned woo-woo-wooing lake, be the boss of me. (Plus I took Buddy and Doug along.) 

Oddly enough, there is almost no snow on the ground, crazy for this time of year and us being so far north, which meant we were able to walk with ease through the cedars and birch, guided by the moonlight, right down and then on to the lake. 

We hugged the shore and shuffled along the ice, marvelling at the sheer number of stars spread out overhead. The surface of the lake was like glass, the ice reliably thick, perfect conditions for skating literally miles without stopping, or hitting a bump or patch of snow but, as Doug pointed out, terrible for hockey because "if you miss the puck, it'll keep going forever!" 

A beautiful, perfect night and a wonderful way to say goodbye to 2014.

Happy New Year. May you find peace, happiness and joy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Winter in Montreal

And the view from my flat is holiday themed. This is the racquet club next door, a beautiful old Tudor style building.

This was taken very quickly out of my sunroom window one evening, on my iPad. No enhancements or post processing or filters. This is exactly what it looked like.

Note the bike leaning on the fence. Someone actually rode a bike to the club.

Winter is so not the boss of us, here in Montreal.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do you believe in Synchronicity?

Well, my socks were blown off today.

Recently I wrote a piece on coincidences. It began like this:

Coincidence kills good fiction, as the saying goes. In fiction, we expect patterns of cause and effect. If everything happens by convenient accident, there is no buildup of suspense, no curiosity about what comes next. At best, there’s an eye roll. At worst, we exit the movie theatre or throw the book across the room. When everything is contrived, it destroys our willing suspension of disbelief. 

So why, when it happens in real life, does it seem like a small miracle? Carl Jung called that synchronicity, Deepak Chopra calls it synchro-destiny. Whatever you call it, whether a “conspiracy of improbabilities” or fate poking its cold wet nose into our hands, real life coincidence is meaningful and fills us with awe. Twins who found each other as adults. Best friends whose parents dated...

I went on to describe events in my life that were too coincidental to ignore. I didn't know what if anything they meant, but the pundits say, ask yourself what is the message, the significance? If you do, the answer will present itself. 


So here's the thing. Throughout the year, at odd times, I'll start to notice the clock saying 11:11 or 2:22. It happens often enough that I pay attention. Sometimes it's not even the real time, like the flashing clock radio in the kitchen I never bother to adjust because there's always another power failure to knock it back again. (Also, I don't know how.) So sometimes it will say 11:11 when it's really 8:02.

My sister Lisa and I have taken to texting each other when this happens. "Haha, look. It's 11:11 on 11/11!" Once the fire alarm went off at the cottage during the night, and we collided into each other in the hallway. The time? 11:11.  Then there will be nothing for months, but it will start up again, and we'll send more "BOO!" texts back and forth. It's a silly game we play.
What do you think it means, I asked her, because it happens with such frequency I'm starting to find it kind of creepy. I'll wake up in the night an press my alarm light to check on the time and more often than not it will read 3:33 or 4:44 or 5:55.

Maybe it's Nana saying hello, you know, from the other side, said my sister. Our beloved grandmother passed away in 1988, just after my son was born. Okay, I could deal with that. That wasn't creepy, that was comforting. (Numbers repeating for no reason is creepy. A dead relative saying hello beyond the grave is not creepy. That, my friends, is how my brain works.)

So now my sister and I text, "Look, 11:11! Nana is saying hello, haha."

Last year, a cousin I had never met, indeed, never even knew about, contacted me through this blog and sent me a photo of my grandmother and her older sister Edith. I'd never seen it before, and was thrilled to have it. 

The photo arrived on November 24th, Nana's birthday.

This year, her birthday was last Monday. I thought about Nana all day. She would have been 125. (If you think that's impossible you haven't heard of this lady.)

The day passed uneventfully.

This afternoon, Buddy stood in front of my china cabinet and barked at it. Repeatedly. He'd woof, back up, stare intently, woof again, look at me, stare at the cabinet. To be fair, he's a bit of an oddball dog. He doesn't bark often, but he will woof at the couch if the blanket is in his way, or at his bed if it's in the wrong position. But there was nothing in, on, beside or under the cabinet that would account for his behaviour I looked for a mouse, a moth, food, anything. The only thing in there was my grandmother's china. And he wouldn't stop. I'd haul him away, and a few minutes later, he was back, staring at the cabinet and softly woofing at it again.

I ignored him and checked my emails. A casual glance at my junk mail file showed an unfamiliar name with a subject title, "A fun little mystery unfolding....maybe." Another Nigerian scam, I figured.

It said, "I don't know if you are the right Pamela Patchet, but I thought it might be fun to send you this note and see what comes of it."

The woman who wrote, W.W., lives in California and said her father was a former senior editor of covers and photos at Newsweek Magazine. He passed away, and she was going through his things when she came across a letter from an E.L. Patchet in Toronto. (Ernest Luther. My grandfather.) In the letter, he said how surprised he and my grandmother were to see a photo of their granddaughter (me) on the cover of Newsweek. In fact, it was the woman who wrote me the email who appeared on the cover back in 1960, and I guess the resemblance was such that my grandparents felt compelled to write and ask. 

She said, if you would like your grandparent's letter, the photo, and the copy of the Newsweek cover, she would be happy to send it.

Then I looked at the date of the email.

November 24th.