That R.E.M. song lyric keeps playing through my head. I heard it on the radio during a comedy show doing its best to make light of the current state of world affairs. It sums up nicely the surreal nature of world affairs at the moment.
I remember the song coming out in the 80’s, and back then a pandemic wasn’t even a topic for a sci-fi movie. (It wasn’t until the 90’s that we saw Stephen King’s “The Stand” and “12 Monkeys” using diseases as the villains in apocalyptic films.) Now of course, end-of-the-world scenarios have been played out with numerous plot-lines, and a sense of doom is much more pervasive in pop culture. That doesn’t make me feel any better, though.
What does make me feel better is remembering to laugh amidst the absurdity of this new reality. Watching the silly people fill their shopping carts with toilet paper, Hubby and I calmly proceeded through the store stocking up on perishables. Being people who cook real food on a regular basis, we have a running stock of canned food, pasta, baking supplies.
I am happy I began a new sourdough starter (great series of videos through Northwest Sourdough if you’re interested). We also have our Tower Garden which allows us to have fresh herbs and lettuce indoors even in winter. If we won’t be working in the next short while then I might as well be busy cooking!
My heart goes out to all my friends in the hospitality biz right now. People are scared to go out at all, and many health officials have said they should avoid any contact except with people they know. Dining out is way down the list of reasons to disregard the advice, and staying in hotels is even scarier for most.
I’ll do my small part here and say please do your best to support your local businesses. Corporate chains have a much larger capacity to weather any kind of business storm, and this one is a doozy. Your neighbourhood bakery, butcher, greengrocer, coffee shop and even restaurant need your help to stay afloat.
If you aren’t comfortable going out or can’t, consider buying gift certificates to local places. They won’t expire, so you can use them sooner or later. If you can get out, then do. Follow necessary precautions and don’t panic. Remember these are your neighbours, the businesses you trust to help you live well. They will be doing their best to maintain that relationship, and they are hoping you will, too.
Once you’re back home, relax. Catch up on those things you’ve been meaning to do but forgot with all the hustle and bustle of regular life. Board games with the kids, reading a book, creating that photo album, contacting a far-away friend… there are all kinds of activities on that “never got ’round to it” list we all have. Not to mention all those recipes you have bookmarked?
Oh, and don’t forget the humour. The Sirius comedy channel, YouTube videos, a funny movie on your streaming service… or even a funny book. I humbly offer a few of my favourites below.
- Stewart Maclean’s Vinyl Cafe, a classic CBC radio show
- Ellen’s “Relatable” comedy tour, on Netflix
- for something kid-friendly (although I still love them) – any of the Muppet movies or episodes of “The Muppet Show”
- if you want a funny read, try a classic and read something from Erma Bombeck
- for those not minding a bit of naughty British humour, Ricky Gervais’ bit on the funniest leaflet ever made
Whichever way you manage to spend your days, remember there are plenty of quotes to keep us going:
“Just keep swimming.” – Dory, Finding Nemo
“There’s no place like home.” – Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
“It will be alright in the end so if it is not alright, then it is not the end.” – Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
And for us foodies:
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” – Peter Clemenza, The Godfather
March is a mixed up month. I never know if spring is really here or if winter is just gearing up for her grand finale. The days get longer but if it’s grey they can still seem gloomily short, in my opinion. As a result, one day I feel like eating salad for dinner – celebrating the sprouting tulips and sunshine – then the next day stew is on the menu, to ward off the damp and cold of a frosty day.
It is said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. In Canada those little lambs aren’t the ones eating ivy, though, for the snow could still be on the ground.
A silly aside here – does anyone else remember the old song, “Mairzy Doats”? The story goes that one of the songwriters was inspired when his 4 year old daughter came home singing her version of a nursery rhyme, simple cute jibberish to his ear. He wrote:
Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?
The lyrics of the song’s bridge provided a clue to undoing the code:
If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,
Sing “Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.”
Then we can translate the final line as
a kid’ll eat ivy, too; wouldn’t you?
But that’s a matter more for the month of April, don’t you think?
To avoid feeling overwhelmed by the month’s maelstrom of emotions, I decided to focus on the gentler lamb image and find something “springy”. More light, more new things – that’s what was needed. I found it in my Tower Garden.
Now I plant lettuces and herbs inside and get to watch them grow in the wonderfully cheery tower brightened by LED wands. It’s a delicious sort of magic being able to eat homegrown lettuce in the month of March, without having to brave the whistling winds and half-frozen dirt that comprises my garden plot at the moment.
It’s still a bit early to plant my seeds for the outdoor veggie garden. Experience has taught me that I’ll end up with leggy shoots that can’t stay up in the continuing winds of later spring. Their stocks will mold or break in the damp outside world and I’ll have to start over. For now, I am just plotting out my plan, choosing which seeds will be featured and how everyone will fit in the space.
In the meantime, at least I can feel nourished by what is to come; I don’t have to subsist solely on the stock of the winter larder, or my winter spirit. Having a bit more colour in my diet helps me notice the colour in the world. It cheers me and brings back my sense of humour.
On that note, I’ll close with the other quote I found about March. It sums up my sentiment quite nicely.
March is the month God created to show people who don’t drink what it feels like to have a hangover. – Garrison Keillor
It’s been hot the last couple of weeks. So hot the last thing I wanted to do was turn on the oven. I don’t know what was worse, having all those ideas of baking pies and crisps and pound cakes that incorporated all the fruit coming into season or sweating through the muggy days with only a small air conditioner that was as overwhelmed as me.
Finally today it clouded over and cooled just a little. I whipped out an old magazine and started the quickest recipe I could remember – fruit streusel muffins I used to make when I first started baking. I had peaches sitting on the counter, so away I went!
About an hour later, I was duly rewarded. Not only did the house smell divinely delicious. there was a rack of muffins proudly displaying themselves on the kitchen island.
I did not hesitate. I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee, grabbed a side plate and a dob of butter, and sat myself down with a warm muffin. Nirvana was the word that came to mind.
It’s supposed to warm up again tomorrow. But we are coming to the end of summer, and there is still plenty to harvest. The fast has been broken, and I feel a burden has been lifted from my gourmand soul.
Not to mention there are more muffins awaiting consumption. I might just have one for breakfast…
When I was a kid, I was weird.
- I liked wearing a flowery embroidered purple tunic with just about anything (it was my favourite top).
- I wore horizontally striped socks with skirts.
- I carried a book bag years before any of my schoolmates. What I thought was cool never synced up with what was considered cool.
- I was a complete clutz, not coordinated at all.
- I was taller than most of the boys in my class, and I didn’t wear a bra until senior high school.
My mom always let me be me. She would check with me as I got older sometimes, maybe offering another alternative for consideration, but she supported my final decisions.
Mostly, I liked being weird. I have always enjoyed quirky things, new adventures; they attracted me. It’s a lot of why I became such a foodie, wanting to try new tastes and understand how to incorporate them. Becoming a sommelier was a perfect fit – it’s a bit of a nerdy pursuit, learning all that history and geography and tasting wine but then spitting it out.
When I took up gardening, I found another weird way to express myself. Just like that embroidered top, the flowers that attract me are unique:
For some people, all this is just too much of a difference. It can scare them away. I have been very fortunate to find some wonderful friends over the years, but often I’ve encountered folks who just don’t know what to do with me, or how to respond to all my weirdness.
I remember asking my mom one particularly tough day at about the age of 15, “All of this is just a phase, right? It will pass, I’ll grow out of it, won’t I?” Without hesitating, she answered, “No dear, it’s not a phase. You’ll have to learn to live with it.”
I think back then I figured she was kidding. It took me another few years to realize that I was born NOT to fit in. The more I tried to be a part of the cool crowd, the more they disliked me. I should have connected the dots, knowing that my tastes were different. Once I understood that others who had similar (equally weird) tastes were my tribe, then I stopped trying to explain the differences as a way of being accepted.
On this Mother’s Day as I strolled through my garden, and as I crafted the olive-wood smoked oil & vintage balsamic vinaigrette for our salad with dinner, I was thinking of my mom and her encouragement of my true self.
She was always a traditional Mom, making great cookies and putting notes in my lunch and sewing my Hallowe’en costumes… but the best thing my mom did for me was help me understand who I really am.
Thanks, Mom. Cheers!
In honour of Hot Toddy Day, and because I plan to binge watch the last few episodes of Outlander tonight, I thought it fitting that I share a good recipe for the drink that is supposed to be the perfect cure for a dreary winter and the mood we often have to accompany it.
I am generally a fan of hot drinks on a cold day, and I do love trivia, especially as it pertains to food and drink. Toddies not only have a connection to Scotland but also to the American Revolutionary War, so they make a perfect fit with the Outlander story. Of course, some Outlander fans would say you don’t need a hot drink to warm up while watching such a sexy romantic tale, but well, better safe than sorry!
It is said that the first use of “toddy” for a drink was in India, where the fermented sap from a toddy palm was used to sweeten a cold drink in British colonial times. This recipe of a spirit with lemon, spices and sweetener made its way back to Britain, and it was the practical Scots who decided it would work well hot as a cure for the common cold.
Believing strongly in the power of preventative medicines, the Scots made the hot toddy a popular beverage. Their presence during the time of the American Revolutionary War (just like Jamie Fraser in the Outlander stories) was what brought the drink to North America. It is said the colonists liked the drink for liquid courage, but I think perhaps it might just have been to stave off the cold, damp weather.
I was a bit surprised a recipe wasn’t included in the Outlander Kitchen Cookbook, one of my favourite themed recipe collections. (It contains so many other wonderful gems that I will use that common old Scottish phrase – “dinna fash” – if you’re thinking this makes it unworthy. On the contrary, I recommend it most highly for anyone with even a passing fancy for Scottish tastes and a love of history.
You can use the spirit of your choice to make a toddy, but here I’m offering what I believe would be the Scottish recipe. Lemons wouldn’t have been common in Scotland or America in the times of the colonists, but feel free to add a slice of lemon if you’d like a more worldly twist.
Spices too are adaptable; traditionally the slice of lemon is stuck with a few whole cloves before it is dropped in the glass, and a cinnamon stick garnishes the drink. If you’re feeling adventurous, a few pink peppercorns or a slice of ginger root can kick things up a notch.
I believe that a Highlander such as Jamie Fraser would have chosen a smoky, peaty Scotch like Laphroaig, but if your tastes are more mellow then perhaps a Glenmorangie would be to your liking. Feel free to experiment with different options. Just remember not to do it if you have to get up and drive afterwards.
Claire Fraser would undoubtedly have a stash of spices in her medicine kit, knowing the benefits of such things as cinnamon and cloves. With their time in the Caribbean, I like to think she might still have had a few treasures that could have helped raise the spirits of a toddy drinker, and perhaps eased the jolt from such a forceful libation.
As a last tip, I’ll offer a few tips on the vessel you use:
- if you use a glass, put a metal spoon in the glass before you add the hot water. This will conduct the heat and prevent it from cracking.
- if you choose a metal mug, remember it will conduct the heat very well – even handles can get hot, so be careful. It would be a shame to waste a good drink by dropping it on the ground.
SCOTTISH HOT TODDY
Instructions: Add 1 1/2 ounces of Laphroaig 10 (or another Islay Scotch) and 1 teaspoon of honey or maple syrup to a heat-safe glass. Season with lemon or orange, studded with a few whole cloves if desired, and a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon. Heat 3 ounces of water to a near-boil and pour into glass; stir until honey is dissolved.