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Winter Wonders

enjoy-winters-idle-hoursWinter in most of Canada is cold, windy and white. Kids and animals are mostly okay with that, but most adults don’t seem to have much patience for wintery weather. I walk every morning with my chocolate Labrador, Ella, in a fruit orchard and pumpkin patch so I’m out there in the elements daily. I decided that I might as well enjoy it, and so I look to Ella for inspiration.

This year the snow has built up and it’s gotten harder to walk each day. There is no real path as we are the only regular walkers, except for the odd coyote or deer tracks we see. So in loose snow I felt as though I was making two steps forward and one step back. I already do a workout inside, so I didn’t want to be doing more. Then I noticed Ella’s pawprints in the snow – she spreads out her toes in deep snow, to make the best use of her webbed Labrador paws. Her usually tiny feet with their winter fur between the pads end up almost twice the size – like snowshoes! “Aha”, I thought – I can get on that bandwagon. This morning our little sojourn in the field was much more enjoyable with my snowshoes on. Ella was in a fine mood too, bounding off my track to leap in the deep snow like a baby deer.

We were lucky enough to have some blue sky and sunshine today, so I did my best to soak in the good vibe. Ella leads the way, and she is a great role model for enjoying the moment. She trots along, not afraid to stick her head deep in the snow to sniff out the tracks of another creature (even if it is a woozle). She bounds about, and if I stop to blow my nose, as often happens on a cold day, she will happily plunk down, her fuzzy bum in the snow (makes me cold just to see it happen!) She also loves to eat the snow.
mitten-full-of-snow

So here’s my foodie epiphany for the day: take a moment to truly experience the weather. I scooped my mitten in the fluffy snow and took a tongueful. It tasted clean, it sparkled on my tongue the same way it sparkled in the sunlight. It was pure and fresh and gone too soon. I wanted more. After a few mouthfuls I was deep in the memory of days spent tobogganing and playing tag on sticky frozen monkey bars. My heart soared with the sheer joy of it all.

ella-and-kpl-in-the-snow

P.S. If you’re wondering what a woozle is, brush up on your Winnie the Pooh here.

 

An Afternoon with Santa’s Reindeer

Santas reindeer

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in Calgary with one of my dearest girlfriends, in honour of my 50th birthday. One of the activities on our radar was to attend the Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market, and it did not disappoint. After all, shopping and sampling goodies amidst children singing holiday tunes is lovely, but how can you beat a sneak peek at Santa’s reindeer?

If you’re like me and you love the hustle and bustle of artisan markets, then Spruce Meadows is a delicious blend of funky, kitschy, homespun and intriguing. There are vendors big and small, with all manner of gift and decor items. Every food vendor offers samples, and the concessions have such delicacies as Hungarian goulash and gluwein, in addition to good old hot dogs and mini donuts. Outside the buildings are toasty warm fire pits where you can snuggle and enjoy your treats, and inside the pavilions are seating areas near performing stages. You’ll need a bit of sustenance to manage the whole fair!

There is something here for everyone, so I encourage you to stroll the aisles and check out what strikes your fancy. The vendors in the stables are particularly charming in their stalls, and that of course, is where you’ll find the reindeer, too. You can even get a posed picture for a fee.

I found some perfect Christmas goodies, and so I’d like to offer a few suggestions from my list of favourites, just to get you started:

In Reindeer Alley (right after the guests of honour)-

  • pet stuff – I loved the funny signs and toys at DOG GONE HEALTHY in Reindeer Alley, but in all fairness there are a number of vendors selling all manner of dog and cat paraphernalia

    Dog Christmas tree

    Dog Gone presents for, and from, the dog!

  • home decor and entertaining accessories – BURGUNDY OAK BARREL DECOR has stylish, well-made wine barrel platters and other accents.

In the Riding Hall-

  • KOOTANA GALLERY – featuring some lovely chimes, crystals and beautiful jewellery that is all about spirit animals, symbols and the energy in stones. You’ll feel good just checking it out!
  • AFRICAN BUTTERFLY hair accessories – these masterful works of art are the best for putting up long hair, whether it’s thick or thin. I bought one years ago and was happy to see Daniel again and get Christmas presents.
  • KATTINAT Swedish dishcloths – ingenious and fun! Look for the colourful designs on these organic cotton cloths that wipe up like nobody’s business! (there were 2 booths carrying these cloths; same price at either one)
  • western style gifts – COWBOY CHRISTMAS has some lovely accessories and fun gift ideas, and the art at RON CHURCH FINE ART & DESIGN is stunning.
  • COZY COTTAGE INTERIORS  brought much of their store inventory to showcase. Great country-style kitsch.

In the Gallery on the Green and outside

  • REAL TREAT cookies – I know, you’ve tasted lots of cookies, what’s the big deal? Try the smoked pecan ones, or the salted caramel shortbread and you’ll get it.

    A "Giggler" puppet!

    A “Giggler” puppet!

  • GIVE A LITTLE GIGGLE puppets – These wonderful people were only at the market for one weekend but check their website to see where else they are, or buy online. A great gift for little or big kids.
  • garden gizmos galore – CREATIVE IRONWORKS has beautiful garden sculptures and furniture; SPRUCE IT UP GARDEN has accents and greens, and RED BARN MERCANTILE has lots of fun Christmas accents and decorations
  • home decor – LITTLE MONKEY METAL WORKS has a striking display of silhouette metal art.

In the Equi-Plex (this is also where the main food concession is – think Hungarian Goulash – as well as many of the performances)

  • BIG BLUE MOMA jewellery and textiles – if you want something handmade and unique, the collection here will do the trick for sure. Jewellery, cushions and table linens all made in Canada with materials made by hard-working entrepreneurs in Ghana. They are one of the delightful booths featuring international wares – be sure to wander this aisle and check out all the unique items.

    Ghanaian fare by Big Blue Moma

    Ghanaian fare by Big Blue Moma

  • TORILL’S TABLE – delectable Norwegian waffles, made from a mix – try a sample!
  • KRUSE’S BAKERY – has stollen, and some delicious-looking cookies. Save some time and enjoy someone else’s baking!

There are 2 more weekends left to enjoy this market in Calgary’s south end. Easy access is available through public transit, and there is a parking shuttle too. You can save $2 per ticket if you buy online through their website. Plan on spending about half the day if you want a good look around; my list is only the tip of the iceberg. If you are there after dark, you’ll get the added benefit of all the lights!

If you’re not in the holiday spirit yet, this is sure to do the trick. Thanks to Spruce Meadows and all their volunteers for putting on such a professional and welcoming holiday event.

Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market

Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market by night

Spruce Meadows Christmas market

lots of room to browse and enjoy at the Spruce Meadows Christmas Market

The Secret to Happiness is in Sharing

Norman-Rockwell-Thanksgiving

I write often about the fact that sharing food is a central concept to enjoying it. Gathering around a table to break bread and share the events of the day has been an integral part of society since the ancient Greek and Romans started it. As a cook and a lover of food, I get a kick out of seeing others enjoy my preparations and also being able to sit down and savour someone else’s hard work.

Food isn’t the only thing that is fun to share; friendship works exactly the same way. One of the easiest friendships to have is with a dog, and I have been privileged to know many four-legged friends in my life. Dogs don’t judge friends; once they have decided you are a companion they stick by you for life. I am partial to Labrador Retrievers, who are famous for their gregarious nature and ability to be thrilled with whatever you want to suggest to them. IMG_2550 They can be running or swimming at full speed one moment, and then relaxing and ready to nap the next. With their dense soft fur, they are eminently huggable, and will often encourage this kind of behaviour, being touchy-feely animals. They are also big lovers of food, another worthy trait in a friend, I think. I highly recommend at least making use of a dog that belongs to someone you know even if you don’t have your own. They say time with a dog lengthens your life, so how bad can it be?

In this post I’d like to salute my current companion, Ella. She is featured this week in a photo contest, so here’s your chance to think about dogs you might like. Hopefully you’ll vote for my lovable Brown Girl, but even if you don’t I’m sure this few moments will put a smile on your face. Vote here (no registration required)

Take time out to simply Be Happy and Live in the Moment. It’s Ella’s philosophy. Doesn’t she look like she’s enjoying life?

Ella & me selfie Knox Mtn 2014

Many Happy Returns to a best friend

It’s birthday season in my world it seems. I just wrote a post remembering my Dad’s birthday. Now I have another day of note worth mentioning, so I hope you’ll indulge me, and my loved ones.

Today is Simon’s birthday. He is 10 years old today. Everyone deserves to be celebrated on their birthday, even someone as egocentric as Simon. You see, Simon is my husband’s German Short Haired Pointer.He is a well-trained and handsome dog, but he loves me for my throwing arm. ImageSo, any tribute I make in this article is directed much more towards MY best friend, Ella, the Chocolate Labrador you see gracing my photos in this blog. She is the one who nurses me through my sinus infections in winter, and watches over me when I garden in the summer, and always looks back when we walk to make sure I am still there. (Simon, on the other hand, could care less till it’s dinner time where I am.)

In honour of all four-legged best friends, I am contributing a recipe for healthy dog treats to my archives. You can just feed your dog popcorn as a natural treat, or slow roasted sweet potato slices (cook them in the oven at 200F, or a dehydrator, for about 6 hours). This is a fun recipe to do with kids, and it gives them great practice at kitchen skills. It’s also a great gift to give a fellow dog owner. I once even hosted a canine birthday party at the local park where we walked our dogs, and gave out homemade dog treats as a take-away. Dog owners tend to be really sociable people; it was a fun party!

Of course, if you’re not a dog owner, your best friend would likely enjoy a more decadent birthday treat. For this kind of celebration, I suggest chocolate. One of my favourite special desserts is my husband’s Chocolate Souffle. ImageIf your friends are more into simple fare that is not so decadent, how about Pavlova? It’s even gluten-free, for those who don’t eat wheat.

Whether your friends are two-legged or four, you could hold a party with just balloons and still elicit many smiles. But I am a firm believer that birthdays deserve a cherry on top, if you know what I mean. Gathering people together to share a taste of something special makes for a great memory.

Here’s to doing back flips for birthdays!

Image

Changing of the Guard

Spring has definitely sprung in our part of the world, and every day there is a new reminder of the splendor to come as the sun shines longer and the air warms on our cheeks. New blades of grass poke through the mulch of last year, and shoots that promise daffodils and tulips show braver every day. It also seems to be a time however, when we are reminded of the circle of life and how sometimes we must honour the changing of the guard. It is a good reminder of the value of true friendship, which is indeed a precious commodity. If you will grant me a little poetic license this week, I would like to explain. This column is not so much about food, although that certainly anchored the friendship I will recount, but it is of great importance so I hope you will read on.

This week is the fifth anniversary of the death of a very old friend, Riley, someone who was close to another friend I lost around the same time – my Brown Girl, Satchmo. Some of you will shake your heads at my sentimentality perhaps, but the loss of four-legged friends is a blow that strikes a special place in your heart. I feel the need to honour this friend because of the significance of his friendship and also the timeliness of his passing. You see, he was Irish, and so it seems only fair that he be remembered on the most famous of Irish days. And besides, that was also Mo’s birthday, and he was one of her favourite birthday pals. Allow me to paint you a picture if I can…

It is an early misty morning at Kits Point in Vancouver, with the sun just barely brightening the sky and only a few joggers out on the path. The park is alive however, with the sounds of happy snuffling in the grass and low voices chatting amongst the trees.

It is the dog owners of Kitsilano, and they are out with their four-legged friends for their daily constitutional. For many, this means more of a pilgrimage to the top of the Point, where a certain fellow named John waits in his yellow rain jacket with his pal close by – a staunch and dapper Irish Terrier named Riley, who knows he is King of the Hill.

There is not a dog who has been to the park more than twice who does not remember this man, as he has pockets that contain an endless supply of biscuits. Owners who are otherwise strict go to pieces when in John’s vicinity, for he is renowned at his ability to convey pet owner’s guilt… He recounts their pet’s supposed commentary on just how hard-done-by they would be if they were left out of the gift-giving. Everyone ends the visit by realizing that the odd cookie never hurt anyone, and a little attention goes a long way. As the group parts company for each to carry on with their day, there is always a smile on each face – two-legged and four – that helps them start the day right.

this caricature cover from an old Vancouver law magazine shows John, with Riley in front, and Satchmo first in line for biscuits (where any Chocolate Lab worth her salt would be)_

Many of those folks grew older together, and eventually we even learned the names of the other owners! There was a special camaraderie that developed in those early mornings. Even after my girl Satchmo went blind, one of the few times she would run was when she heard John’s familiar voice on that hilltop calling her name. She and Riley continued to wrestle and taunt each other even when he started to go blind too, and we all got a bit greyer. When we moved away from Vancouver and would return for a visit, we always made it back for a morning hello. Over the years many faces have come and gone, and generations of owners and dogs have now been a part of things. Riley and Satchmo passed the torch onto future furry pals who would show their owners the benefits of enjoying morning moments and other pastimes. Riley and John set a standard for friendship and generosity that needs to be practiced in today’s world more than ever, reminding us that we will be handsomely rewarded for taking the time to stop and enjoy a biscuit or a sweet-smelling spot in the grass.

Here is Satchmo, happily caught next to the carrots in the garden - she loved poaching carrots as much as she loved John's biscuits.

So, Riley, here’s to you. Thank you for all the memories; it was truly a pleasure to be in your company. I hope you and Satchmo are having a good old romp in the spring sunshine. I shall drink to you this St. Patrick’s Day, with this adapted toast in mind:

May the smells rise to meet you

And the wind be always past your nose;

May the sun shine warm upon your coat

And the biscuits fall gently from a hand.

And until we meet again,

May the Lord hold you safe in his Land.

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