The Summer Day

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

- “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems

Here is what I’m doing with my wild and precious day today: spending as much time as I can with the girls.  My youngest is home from a month as Leader-in-Training at camp; my oldest has a few days off before returning to camp for the rest of the summer as a counsellor. As they get older, our time together is more precious than ever, and I intend to make the most of it.

What are you doing with your wild and precious day?

Roasted Beet and Orange Salad with Goat Cheese and Toasted Walnuts
(adapted from Fresh, Fast and Green by Suzie Middleton)

1 recipe quick-roasted beet slices (see below)
2 Tbsp orange juice
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic
kosher salt
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups mache or Boston lettuce, torn into small pieces
1 orange, peeled, cut into quarters, and then cut crosswise into 1/2” thick slices
2 ounces fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

Arrange four salad plates on the counter.  Combine the orange juice, lemon zest, thyme, balsamic vinegar, garlic and a pinch of salt in a bowl and stir well.  Transfer 2 tsp of the dressing to a small bowl.  To this small bowl, add the olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Toss the lettuce with this mixture.  Combine the roasted beets with the remaining dressing.

Lightly scoop a quarter of the lettuce with your hands and put it on a salad plate.  Add a quarter of the orange slices and a quarter of the beet slices on top.  Sprinkle a little salt over each salad.  Crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle evenly over the salads, then do the same with the walnuts.  Serve right away.

Quick-Roasted Beet Slices

8 to 10 ounces golden beets (4 or 5 small, or 3 medium), trimmed, scrubbed but not peeled, and very thinly sliced (1/8” to 3/16”)
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.  Line a large sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper.

Put the beet slices in a mixing bowl and toss thoroughly with the olive oil.  Arrange the slices, evenly spaced, on the sheet pan (it’s okay if they touch).  Sprinkle with thyme and salt.

Roast until the beets are tender and glistening, 16 to 18 minutes.  The smallest slices will be black around the edges.  Let cool for a few minutes before serving.


Monday, July 22, 2013
"One berry
Two berry
Pick me a blueberry.

In my canoeberry.

"Under the bridge
And over the dam
Looking for berries
Berries for jam."
- from Jamberry by Bruce Degen

When the girls were small, Jamberry was one of our favourite books to read together.  The rhymes are fun to read, and the pictures are irresistible - a little boy and his bear friend riding a canoe through rapids of blueberries, with marshmallows growing on reeds and bread on tree branches. (Now that I think of it, it sounds like a junior version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".)   Who wouldn't want to live in a world full of berries?

I remembered that book again when I was given a gift of berries.  Last week I wrote about the flooding in our basement, and how the silver lining was all the kindness and concern that people showed us.  It happened again a few days ago, when my dear neighbour Jayne-Ann brought over some berries that she'd picked for us at her cottage.

I didn't make these berries into jam, but I did turn them into a wonderful batch of blueberry bars. Fruit desserts are my favourites, and the more fruit that I can pack in the better.  These bars hit the mark - not too sweet, and oozing with juicy berries.

"Mountains and fountains
Rain down on me
Buried in berries
What a jam jamboree!"
- from Jamberry, Bruce Degen

Blueberry Lemon Bars
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1/2 cup white sugar (first amount)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
Zest and juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 egg
1/4 cup white sugar (second amount)
2 tsp cornstarch
2 cups fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line an 8" x 8" pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar, flour, and baking powder.  Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg.  Dough will be crumbly.  Pat two-thirds of the dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar and cornstarch.  Gently mix in the blueberries, then toss with the lemon juice.  Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust.  Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer and pat gently into place.

Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes.  Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Apres Le Deluge

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Well, we had an interesting week…

We received a month’s worth of rain in two hours on Monday night, and as a result, our basement (as well as many of our neighbours’) was somewhat soggy.  Actually, a whole lot soggy.  Much of this week has been spent talking to restoration experts and insurance adjustors.

It wasn’t something we expected to happen.  But as Andrew said to me, “You learn what’s important to you.”  He’s right – I raced for the girls’ old schoolwork and the photo albums, while he rescued the signed Sidney Crosby jersey.  It is good to know your priorities.

We were also grateful for very basic things – like the guys who showed up to pump our basement.  And for the incredible number of people who have shown us small kindnesses on our journey back.

When we finally got our power back, almost a day later, we realized we’d barely eaten in that time.  With dinnertime nigh and men still in our basement, a trip to the grocery store was out of the question.  So I relied on what I had on hand and pulled together a quick meal, one component being these beets.   I don’t know if it’s because it was our first meal in a day, or because I was so grateful for the small things, but I think this was one of the best vegetable dishes I’ve ever eaten. I've since made it again with red beets, and it was very good.  But I'll be looking for golden beets next time because it was truly delicious.  (And hopefully 'next time' we won't be wearing boots in the house.)

"Apres moi, le déluge"
- attributed to Louis XV

Roasted Beets
(adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris)

6 golden beets 
1 1/2 Tbsp good olive oil
3/4 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp pear or raspberry vinegar (I only had pear vinegar in my cupboard, and it was sublime)
juice of half a large orange

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the tops and the roots of the beets and peel each one with a vegetable peeler.  Cut the beets in 1 1/2 inch chunks.  (Small beets can be halved, medium ones cut in quarters, and large beets cut in eighths.)

Place the cut beets on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, turning once or twice with a spatula until the beets are tender.  Remove from the oven and immediately toss with the vinegar and orange juice.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve warm. 

Waiting for Mango

Sunday, July 7, 2013

This week, Andrew and I saw Waiting For Godot at the Stratford Festival with our friends Trish and Cliff.  We're fortunate to live fairly close to Stratford, Ontario, and I try to make it to the festival twice  each summer.  In the past, I've seen shows both deep (Hamlet, King Lear) and light (The Pirates of Penzance); this year we saw one of each, the other being Blithe Spirit.

According to the program notes, the play was informed by Samuel Beckett's wartime experiences in France, where he was a member of the Resistance and, like Vladimir and Estragon, slept in ditches and survived on scavenged turnips.  An early critic described Godot as being "a play where nothing happens, twice".  The combination of humour (sometimes slapstick) and pathos is deeply moving, and says more about human nature than almost any other work of literature I've read.  I can't help but think it's as timely now as the day it was written.  As Allan Pero writes, "(t)he disturbing, almost tragic element of the play ... occurs not because it is so alien to us, but because it is all too familiar."

I loved the show, partly because it’s a great production, and partly because I’d been anticipating it for so long.  Waiting for Godot is a classic that I read in university, and that I’ve wanted to see ever since.  (I guess it’s fitting that it took me so long, although it would be even more appropriate if I’d never seen it.)

I didn’t wait thirty years to make this crumble – once I saw it, I knew I had to try it.  With mangoes and raspberries at their seasonal peaks, it’s the perfect time of year to make it.  The crumble is so perfect, even Andrew – who doesn’t like mangoes at all, and tells me so every summer when I load up the kitchen with them – succumbed quite happily to its charms. 

“Estragon: I can’t go on like this.
Vladimir: That’s what you think.”

- Samual Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Mango Raspberry Crumble
(adapted from Martha Stewart)


1/2 cup all purpose flour (first amount)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/4 cup rolled oats
5 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 mangoes
3/4 pint raspberries
1 Tbsp all purpose flour (second amount)
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 1/2 cup flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and oats.  Mix on low for 30 seconds, then add butter and mix until clumps form, 3 to 4 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Peel mangoes and cut flesh into 1-inch chunks.  Add raspberries.  Add remaining 1 Tbsp flour, granulated sugar and lime juice; toss gently to combine.

Transfer fruit to a shallow 1 1/2 quart (1.5 liter) baking dish.  Distribute topping evenly over fruit.  Bake until topping is golden brown and juices bubble, about 35 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.