July 29, 2010

The Intersection

The first day of our visit to the little town north of Edmonton, Alberta where my husband's sister and mother live, it rained. The day before, as we drove from our first stop in the sunny north Okanagan, through the neck-craning mountainscape of the Selkirks and the Rockies, we had driven toward the clouds. By the time we reached the rolling canola fields of Alberta the water was spraying up from the wheels of the trucks in front of us and with the fine, misty showers descending on us from above our visibility was almost nil. The rain subsided about an hour west of Edmonton and my husband was able then to concentrate on pointing out every landmark to do with the excavation of oil, the massive bison farm, and to remark at the speed of the infamous Alberta drivers passing us at regular intervals.

We arrived later than planned at my sister-in-law's house, but found my mother-in-law, sister-in-law (to be called Auntie from now on) and her two elderly, lovingly groomed dogs, Duchess the dalmatian and Casey the border collie/German shepherd eagerly awaiting our arrival. Our brother-in-law had gone to bed - he had to get up early to open the Harley Davidson motorcycle shop where he works. After a short visit we too, exhausted from the thirteen and a half hour drive that day, fell into our beds and slept hard until the eager dogs woke us all up in the morning. Auntie had taken a few days off from her administrative job in the oil industry in honour of our visit and had now assumed the role of super chef and uber-hostess. Bacon, eggs, and toast were placed before us, with juice and coffee to wash it down. "What do you guys want to do today?" she asked me.

Yes, what to do in Central Alberta on a rainy day... We would have the morning to catch up (I hadn't seen my sister-in-law in years) and play with the dogs and then Gramma would be arriving at noon to visit with us..."Why don't we take the kids to the West Edmonton Mall," I suggested. Eager to please, I knew that idea would go over well with everyone and so we agreed to leave after lunch and return in time for my mother-in-law (Gramma) to go to work for her evening shift as cleaner of the local bank.

The West Edmonton Mall is the world's second largest all-under-one-roof shopping experience. It used to be the largest until the monster sized Mall of America was built somewhere in Minnesota. The West Edmonton Mall boasts a huge water park, a roller coaster, a pirate ship complete with real leaping dolphins and barking seals, a skating rink, and of course, hundreds of shops on a variety of themes. There is a Bourbon Street wing complete with Cajun restaurants and a Paris, France wing with foreign shops and cafe au lait. People come from all over the world to experience the West Edmonton Mall, some even requiring a tour guide so they don't get lost. It is not exactly my idea of a destination resort, but it is a unique experience (and, I am sure, handy to have in a city as cold in winter as Edmonton). We also happened to be in the neighbourhood with three teenagers. And it was raining.

After lunch we headed off in two vehicles, Auntie leading the way with Gramma in the front and my two daughters in the back seat of her powerful Ford Mustang. The rest of us followed in Heidi the Honda. Roads are straight and wide in Alberta and people drive accordingly. Keeping up to the Mustang was out of the question. It was all we could do to keep it in our sights, often reaching 130 kms an hour to do so. We reached Edmonton in about forty minutes and began the series of starts and stops that make up city driving. At one such intersection, the Mustang was the first of a long line of vehicles to stop at a red light. We were directly behind her with one lane to our right and two to our left. Suddenly we heard a loud screech of tires and a bang to follow. I looked up to see a rusty old pickup truck doing a 180 degree spin in the middle of the intersection. As the truck spun, the loosely piled up load of scrap metal and assorted stuff in the box of the truck went flying like so many frisbees. A couple of rusty wheelbarrows, empty propane tanks, lengths of 2x6 lumber, axe heads, tire irons, and a small cooler filled with nails, screws, nuts and bolts opened and sprayed across the road and under the vehicles directly around us. When the debris stopped flying we rushed to the Mustang to make sure everyone was okay. Miraculously they were, even though most of the debris had ended up under the Mustang and some of it had hit the lower portion of the car, causing a few minor dents and scratches. As it happened a young man stopped just to our left, after checking on the driver of the old pickup and calling 911, told us he was a Ford mechanic. He checked out the Mustang and said it was mechanically uninjured. The fire department soon arrived and began to redirect the incredibly impatient traffic, interview witnesses, attend to the injured and clean up the mess. The cause of the accident lurked ashamedly on the edge of the accident scene. He, and his large, shiny black truck had run the red light in a moment of inattention. The elderly man in the aged brown pickup full of scrap had seen the black truck coming at his door, accelerated and was hit on the driver's side of the box instead. The impact had sent his truck spinning and presumably his head into whiplash, not to mention the poor old dog of a passenger, a blue-heeler cross with cataracts.

Two policewomen arrived after the fire department and began to hand out paperwork to the victims and the witnesses. We would all be stuck there until the road was cleared and the paperwork completed, so we began to help clean up the mess. Several juice bottles and soda cans had also littered the road and at one point Auntie said to me, 'Look!' A rough looking opportunist had jumped into the scene and was quickly picking up all the drink containers that were refundable for a deposit. He was gone in a flash. At least someone would benefit from the wreckage.

Gramma, in typical fashion, was busy talking and sympathizing with everyone involved - the firemen and policewomen, the guilty party in the black truck, the nice young Ford Mechanic - but she concentrated her concern on the elderly man and his dog who had been hit. She found out the man was seventy-two (though he looked much older), in shock, and that his dog was a biter. Gramma is an animal lover so she tried to talk to the dog, but it was obviously going to guard the truck of its injured master with its life. After the injured man was placed on a stretcher and taken off to hospital, the firemen were unsuccessful at reasoning with the dog, so they called animal control. Before long a woman arrived with what looked like a lasso on a stick and within seconds the poor, grizzled, traumatized dog was coaxed out of the cab of the pickup and into the back of a vehicle specially designed for cases like his. Gramma took down the license number of the old pickup and, if I know her, the man and the dog will be soon be receiving some help from the good people of Gramma's church, whether they like it or not.

With the last nails swept out from under the wheels of the Mustang, we were off to the mall, our time there now greatly reduced. We synchronized our watches and split up, the boys going off in search of music shops, the rest of us to see whatever sights we could manage in an hour and a half. We missed the dolphin show, but did get to watch the lemurs cuddle up with each other or leap from branch to branch in their glassed in cage. Auntie found enough time to buy each of our lucky kids a present and I, to purchase a London Fog (earl grey tea and steamed milk) from the Paris wing. And then it was time to get Gramma home. Auntie suggested the kids, their dad and I stay longer and make our own way home, but we declined. We didn't know the way back very well and we'd had enough excitement for one day. On the way out of the city we saw at least two more vehicles run red lights.

The next day was sunny so we went for a walk with the dogs and then played games in the park across the street from Auntie's house. When it got too hot we went back to the house where Auntie made the adults Margaritas and the kids drinks with juice and crushed ice. Uncle came home from work and barbecued steaks and chicken for us all. He brought the kids Harley Davidson t-shirts and told them stories from his previous life as an officer in the army and how he once clocked 237 kms an hour on his racing bike. No Margaritas for him; he stuck to rum and Coke and later, put out an enormous bowl of chips and three kinds of dip. The boys dove right in, but the girls and I went to bed.

July 16, 2010

There's no Music like Live Music

It's summer festival season here in British Columbia. Here in my neck of the woods is a little, but mighty festival of the arts with a multicultural theme. The other night my eldest son, Ian and I went to see Poema Flamenco, and boy! are we glad we did. My son's facebook status the next morning was "Ian quite likes flamenco dancers". Along with the four piece band, all men, was a very beautiful dancer. She was so fluid, so strong, so expressive, so commanding a performer we couldn't all help but be completely entranced by her. She also had the great attraction of appearing to enjoy herself to the utmost. At one point in the performance when all was quiet, there was an audible admiring sigh from a male member of the audience - followed by many good-hearted giggles. I even ventured to say that the dancer's performance was a good omen for Spain's World Cup victory the following day, which it was. Viva Espana!

On Wednesday of this week, the event which I have spent five months coordinating came off with nary a hitch. The day was sunny, breezy and warm. Over 500 people, most of them children, came to the Festival Children's Day. It took around sixty five volunteers to do everything required to make the day run smoothly. We offered seven different art activities, outdoor shows of music and an indoor show of comedic high wire acrobatics, a real climbing wall with harnesses and ropes and everything for the energetic kids, science based programs and activities, an activity area for the really young ones, a treasure hunt with a map and clues to solve, etc. It was a great day, and after doing this for five years, I felt I really got it right this time. Needless to say, I went home and lay down for two hours afterwards. My husband and children were all a very big help to me in the preparation and execution of this day, and to them I am extremely grateful. A few of us went that evening to see the amazing poet of a guitarist David Lindley. It felt very good to sit with a drink and do nothing but listen to such a great artist after such a big day.

Last night we went to see the band Peatbog Faeries from the Isle of Skye in Scotland. They are a very high energy brand of celtic funk fusion. We danced a bit, but it was extremely hot in the hall and crowded so we didn't last long. We were all still pretty tired from our efforts of the week.

The festival continues through this weekend, with Spanish band El Puchero del Horteleno, which means "the gardener's stew", ('symbolizing their mix of Flamenco and Rumba with Funk, Pop and Rock' according to the program) as headliners tonight. It will be a good way to round out our festival experience, as we leave tomorrow for a nine day road trip to visit our families in Alberta and the interior of this province.

I will not be taking a computer with me on this trip (I don't have a laptop anyway), but I will be taking a notebook and pen as always. I will catch up with everyone in a couple of weeks' time. In the meantime, enjoy summer wherever you are and if you feel inspired, do take some time to enjoy some live music. There really is no better kind!
The photo was lifted from http://www.poemaflamenco.com/.

July 8, 2010

Just Desserts

Whew! That last post sure generated a lot of passionate discussion. I'm still reeling, which is why I am going to give you all a break and write about a favourite topic on a lighter note: dessert.

The stages of summer in the Fraser Valley are defined by whatever lucious berry is in season. In June we have strawberries, with the Catholic Women's League's annual strawberry tea as a high point (delicious tiny little tea sandwiches, my favourite is the wrapped asparagus - and a generous portion of homemade strawberry shortcake). Local strawberries are deep red through and through, juicy and quick to spoil - especially if one buys a large quantity late in the season, then develops a secondary sinus infection thus leaving the berries ignored for two days. I had to compost half of them, but the rest are in the freezer thanks to my husband buckling down and helping me hull them and freeze them on trays individually before putting in ice cream buckets to enjoy late in the year with waffles or cake, or soon, in cooling frozen fruit smoothies.

July is defined by raspberries and blueberries. We have our own small plot of raspberry bushes which we pick from every couple of days and enjoy fresh on our granola, or with french toast. This week my girls and I looked after a friends' farm, and one of our 'jobs' was to pick raspberries from their plentiful bushes for our own use, so we will have extra raspberries in the freezer to make up for the dearth of strawberries this year. Blueberries, I buy in quantity and freeze as well, for blueberry sauce, for muffins, or fresh for a favourite family recipe, Blueberry Creamcheese Pie: fresh blueberries surrounded by sweetened blueberry sauce on a minimal layer of lemon-flavoured cream cheese in a graham wafer crust. The only word to describe it is an old one - toothsome. In my parents' part of the province, sweet purple huckleberries are used instead of blueberries. They make an even better pie.

Blueberries continue into August and when they are done it is time to pick wild blackberries from a favourite secret spot. Ours, unfortunately, has been discovered by earlier and more savvy birds than we, so last year we picked at our friends' farm and enjoyed four gallons of blackberries over the winter. Blackberries coincide with the early apples, so apple-blackberry crisp, a favourite of my husband's is a common dessert in our house come the gold-tinged days of autumn.

I include a newly discovered recipe (pictured above) for a dessert I served to friends on Canada's birthday, July 1st. It was so good, it was suggested I put the recipe on my blog. The recipe can also be found in the book Whitewater Cooks at Home, by Shelley Adams (of my hometown). The meringues are crisp on the outside, but chewy and soft in the middle - just the way I like them, and the whipped cream has a slight tang from the sour cream which goes very well with the fruit.

Meringues with Raspberries (or any berry) and Cream


4 egg whites, room temperature

pinch (1 ml) of salt

1 cup (250 ml) sugar

1 tsp (5 ml) cornstarch

1 tsp (5 ml) lemon juice

1 1/2 cups (375 ml)whipping cream

1/4 cup (60 ml) sour cream

3 Tbsp (45 ml) icing sugar (confectioners sugar - the powdered kind)

2 tsp (10 ml) pure vanilla extract

2 cups (500 ml) fresh raspberries


Preheat oven to 225 degrees F (105 degrees celcius).

Make 8 approximately 4 inch (10 cm) circles on 2 sheets of parchment paper by tracing a glass or cookie cutter with a pencil or pen. Flip the paper circles over and place them on 2 baking sheets.

Whip the egg whites and salt until frothy on medium high.

Start adding the sugar 1/4 cup (60 ml) at a time and keep beating until the egg whites form stiff peaks and all the sugar is added. Mix the cornstarch and lemon juice together and fold into egg whites gently.

Spread the meringue onto the traced circles making a little nest shape with the back of a spoon.

Bake for about an hour and a half. You don't want the meringues to brown at all so check them at 20 minutes and turn the oven down if necessary. When done they should be dry and crisp and easy to remove from the parchment paper.

Cool on a rack.

Whip cream for a minute or two then add sour cream, icing sugar and vanilla. Whip to soft peaks.

Assemble the meringues on a big platter or individual plates. Pile the tops up with the cream and then the fruit. You can give them a little dusting of icing sugar if you like.

Enjoy! And happy berry season!

July 4, 2010

A Trip from Bountiful

Maria and Lola were in my Canadian History 101 course at Selkirk College. They arrived each morning in a sleek Buick sedan and left right after classes in the afternoon to make the long drive back home to their fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful. They both wore their hair in the sect's traditional bobbypinned curlycue at each temple, with braids to their waists. Lola wore Little House on the Prairie dresses that looked as if they were made of busily patterned bedsheets - I knew you couldn't buy dress material like that. Maria dressed more modern; she wore plain skirts and collared shirts with a sweater or vest overtop. Both girls were about my age, about eighteen, and both were married already - to men that had multiple wives, but that was nothing unusual in the polygamous community of Bountiful.

Lola barely spoke and always looked ahead, but Maria was more approachable and seemed to me, quite clever with a glimmer of wit in her eyes. She sometimes sat in the upper area of the spacious glass and concrete common room of the college doing homework, and once I got the courage up to speak to her. (I have always been interested in hearing peoples stories. I'm not particularly nosy, but if I think someone might be receptive to questions about themselves, I tend to 'fire away'.) I sat down on the couch opposite Maria and asked her where she lived, even though I already knew the answer. She told me she and Lola were training to be teachers for their community school. Somehow we got on the topic of marriage and she said yes, she was married. I felt comfortable asking her by this point if her husband had more than one wife, and how did she feel about that. She said, oh, it was fine, he was a young man and had only two other wives. I knew that some of the elders of the sect, like leader Winston Blackmore had a lot more wives than that, and some of them even younger than Maria - as young as fifteen. We chatted about other things, about our classes, about the daily three hour round trip to and from the college, and then that was it. I don't think we talked much after that, but we did exchange greetings in our class and in the common room.

Since meeting Lola and Maria, I have maintained an interest in the community of Bountiful. The idea of it has always been reprehensible to me, for I know that all those young girls who are married off as babymakers and 'sister wives' to the men are individuals with dreams and desires of their own. I have also been keenly sympathetic toward the young men who are 'conscripted' out of school far too early to work for the elders' businesses. In recent years, Bountiful has come under scrutiny. The government is trying to find a way to dismantle their polygamous lifestyle, not so much for the idea of multiple wives, but more for the common practise of coersion of very young women to marry men old enough to be their grandfathers.

The communities of Bountiful, and other sister communities south of the border have, to my mind, been dealing with a slow implosion. There have long been two main 'prophets' of the fundamentalist Mormon Sect, and now they are at odds. The communities are becoming divided in their loyalties and young people are questioning the entire system. This I only know from watching documentaries on tv and reading articles in newspapers and magazines over the last couple of years. Jane Blackmore, one of Winston's highly ranked wives, has left the community completely and now works as a midwife in the nearby town of Creston. She and other ex-members of the sect help young people, especially young women to leave the community and start life in what must be an alien social landscape. They also talk to the media, which I am certain is contributing to what I predict to be the eventual downfall of Bountiful.

When I think about Bountiful, I think of Maria and Lola*. I wonder what they are doing now. I wonder if they completed their teacher training. I wonder if they have children. I wonder if they still live in Bountiful. Most of all, like many of the other students I have lost contact with over the years, I wonder if they are happy.
The above photo is from the Vancouver Sun newspaper.
*I changed their names