The Way Forward

Bubble Baths and Sparkling Wine

Courage, Compassion, Creativity

Wow. What happened? One minute, life was returning to normal after an eventful year. The next minute we were ‘locked down’.   Truthfully, for me, living in rural Wales, isolation is not new. But when most of the world is locked down, that is new.  When the possibility of travel is no longer a possibility, when the relief and refreshment of a visit to the grocery store or the coffee shop can no longer happen, well…. this is really different. Of course, I spent the first several weeks on my phone checking updates, up to 5 hours a day.  Gradually, helped immensely by a spell of gorgeous weather, a sort of new normal set in. This included a run on the lane two or three times a week. (It only requires 32 ‘trips’ up and down to do the 5k. My knees are not happy).  Cooking dinner every night is a change. I have done a bit of painting and ironing of course, my default hobby and sometimes have caught up with running buddies on ZOOM.  Oh, and I almost forgot- there is always a morning cappuccino, a shortbread cookie (homemade of course) and a reading. 

Still, the ‘new normal’ means that my anxiety, always on the alert in any case, has now reached new heights.  Of course, at first, accessing groceries was the BIG issue on my list.  I would stay up until past midnight trying to find a slot for home delivery as I had never done this before.  I was pretty lucky right from the outset. I never found a slot at midnight but during my many ‘trips’ to the various websites throughout the days, one occasionally would show up. So we never actually starved.  And then….a  Tesco delivery person took a look at me in the doorway one day  and asked me if we had ‘priority’.  Actually …no. (I didn’t know I’d aged so much in three months!) So he tucked himself away behind his truck and a couple of minutes later came out with a number written in pencil on a small piece of paper. ‘Call this number’ he said.  I don’t know who he was but if he ever gets to read this -THANK YOU for your care and thoughtfulness.

Then….it was….how am I going to unload these groceries in a risk free way? So I would leave the bags out on the front step and bring a few perishable things in at a time, place them on the counter by the sink, and then wash things like milk bottles with soapy water, leaving them to dry on a paper towel on the counter.   But what about things like strawberries? Raspberries?  Do I wash them or not before putting them away? So I decided to empty them from their plastic containers and put them into my own plastic containers which are in the cupboard. OK. I take my own containers out of my kitchen cupboard….but…oh…I forgot to wash my hands before taking them down. So now I have to wash my hands, and wash the cupboard handles…..and…you get the idea…

 So what has helped me?   Trying to keep busy.  A routine of some sort as I have already mentioned has been pretty useful.  My GP once told me that the most important pathway to mental health is DISTRACTION.  Trying to be a bit creative.  Trying to maintain a compassionate approach.  And just summoning up the courage on a daily basis to keep going.

If I am to be really honest, the highlights of the day or rather the end of the day have, without fail, been bubble baths and sparkling wine.  Truthfully, on occasion I have had to resort to Fairy liquid for the bubbles, when Jo Malone, or Molton Brown or the White Company have been unavailable to me.  As for sparkling wine, well, I must confess that a glass of Prosecco has taken front row and centre in Sparking JOY, just ahead of watching Montalbano, the Sicilian detective and Murdoch, the Canadian.

And truthfully, time has been available to really consider what matters the most.  Hope and generosity keep coming back to me.  Hope for all of us that a solution will arrive REALLY SOON, hope that we will continue the generosity which has been so remarkable.  Our neighbours with whom we have had little contact over these last 22 years, checked in with us every couple of days to ask what we needed and they were able to find milk, eggs, even brown sugar! 

This profound shift in the rhythm of life has given me a chance to step back, to reflect, to revisit. and yes, to address those thoughts, questions, potential shifts in ways of doing and being that have been quietly simmering for quite some time within me and possibly you too. The central question is this:  How can I live my life fully and meaningfully within the particular context in which I find myself? How much of my life do I need to change in order to achieve a sense of fulfilment? And, do I know what would bring me that sense of fulfilment? Of course, these are not questions that can be answered this afternoon, this week, maybe not even this month.  But to have identified the questions is such an important step for it provides a focus.

I have revisited books, and other significant sources of wisdom that I haven’t touched for many a year to help me along this challenging path to fulfilment.   I am a big fan of Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology. Among his many contributions have been his methods for helping us identify our personal strengths, through various means including a Strengths Inventory, (VIA-Values In Action) which you can find and take for free at: www.viacharacter.org.  My good friend, colleague and former PhD student Ilona Boniwell has developed the wonderful Strengths cards which you can find and order on her at her company website: Positran.fr.

 Last year, I had the good fortune to spend a bit of time with Martin, Ilona and a few others in Paris. It was there that he discussed his latest contribution to ways and means of enhancing our well-being- the development of PERMA model, Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationship, Meaning and Accomplishment.    Of course, you can find out a bit more about it on-line.

Though I have done some painting over this time, I had not created a Mandala for years. This profound approach, a simple, complex, visual way of revealing your inner self to yourself is another lovely ‘intervention’.  You can still buy the book ‘Creating Mandalas by Susanne F. Fincher at Amazon.uk

And, I found amongst the other 999 books on my shelves, ‘On Becoming a Person’, by my all time favourite famous psychologist, Carl Rogers. (Hmmmm). Of his many contributions, to me the most important has been his description of the necessary and sufficient conditions to facilitate positive change-empathy, unconditional positive regard, genuineness.  To listen to someone else without  judgement or advice giving, but simply to  reflect back to the other the thoughts and feelings they have conveyed, this can bring such a sense of relief to that person, of being understood. This ‘active listening’ can bring a consequent deepening in self- understanding, a profound sense of release, clarity, and movement forward, ultimately to that place of fulfilment. If we rest our interactions with each other on these three cornerstones, empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive regard, what amazing things we can all accomplish.

So this has been a ramble, from here to there.   But I can’t leave you without sharing a few of my paintings and of course …a recipe.

The landscape painting is of the farm in which we live and I will be giving the painting to our lovely neighbours.  The second is a copy of a photo by Matt Wilby of the Aberystwyth sea front. The third….well…I got carried away by a rose from the garden.  The recipe is from…..you guessed it…my very very favourite tv chef and cookbook author-Ina Garten!

Pecan Pastries (Alias: Easy Sticky Buns)

I have cut Ina’s recipe in half but of course you can always double the ingredients to make a dozen. They freeze well.

Makes 6

Heat oven to 200C/180F

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/6 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

¼ cup pecans, chopped into large pieces

1 sheet all butter puff pastry

Filling

1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ cup raisins

Directions

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Beat together 6 tablespoons butter and 1/6 cup light brown sugar. Place one rounded tablespoon of the mixture into each of 6 muffin cups.  Distribute pecans evenly on top of the butter sugar mixture.

Unfold the puff pastry so that the narrow ends of the rectangle are up and down, not sideways. I use a marble slab but anything smooth and not absorbent will work well. Ina’s recipe says to brush the whole sheet with the melted butter, but truthfully, I forgot and mixed the butter with the brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins. It worked fine. Leave a one -inch border on the puff pastry, sprinkle the mixture evenly on the sheet.

Starting with the ends nearest you, roll the pastry up snugly. Finish the roll with the seam side down.  Slice the roll into 6 equal pieces about 1 ½ inches wide. Place each piece spiral side up in each of the 6 muffin cups.

Bake 30 minutes until the buns are golden to dark brown on top and firm to the touch. Allow to cool 5 minutes. Invert onto parchment paper. You can ease any remaining filling and pecans out onto the pastries with a spoon. Allow to cool completely.

Enjoy!

Anitaxx

The Power of Now

Wow! What a year. I promised I’d be back soon. I didn’t expect it to take quite this long. Welcome to 2020.

First. Badly Chopped Carrots and Everyday Dinners: Life as a Canadian in Rural Wales.

Who knew? What a wonderful, joyful, exhilarating launch back in September at the Aberystwyth University Arts Centre. Just about all my running buddies and longest standing friends showed up to celebrate AND bought books! Once again, thank you all.

I’ve heard that the book has captured interest and is selling in such far away places as Santa Barbara in California and Ottawa in Canada. And, I’ve also heard from Jacqueline Jeynes, my wonderful publisher, that there is a lovely review in Welsh Country magazine. So be sure to check it out.

Meanwhile, this past year has presented some ultimate challenges to my husband’s health which he has handled with immense dignity and equilibrium. Through it all, I have been thinking about, asking the question: What are the pivots to well-being? Yes, goals are important, with a focus on the future. They provide a sense of purpose, offer momentum. But equally important, powerful even, are humour and flexibility-in the moment. There is nothing like the gentle release from tension, the uplift of spirit that comes from a laugh or a smile in those quirky moments of life. Watching a blue tit blown sideways on the bird swing by gale force winds, but still managing to grab a peanut in his beak and go. And, yes, you may have plans for the day, the week, the year and circumstances get in the way. So you have to be flexible. You are required to draw on your creativity, imagination, resilience, determination, and so much more. What emerges is something altogether different from your original plans or goals, but equally or perhaps even more rewarding. Of course, we can never forget the power of compassion and connection. And, what has always kept me afloat in difficult times, even driven me, is finding an answer to the central question: What can I learn from this- now?.

So, I continue to train and to run-now. I did manage five or six 10K races this past year And thirty Park Runs. And I continue to paint. With the guidance of Karen Pearce, her inspiring creativity and endless patience, I am working on water right now. Karen and two or three of us from her group will be having an exhibition at Jay’s Gallery in Tregaron in July. Here are a couple of my paintings in progress, of the small ‘lake’ at Cors Caron, the Nature Reserve up the road.

Of course, I can’t leave you without mentioning …cooking! Rick Stein’s various journeys have now become our new favourite television series. Here is a variation on recipes from his book ‘The French Odyssey.

Rick Stein Influenced Seabass Fillets

Ingredients

I combined recipes for fried trout and hake en papillote from Rick Stein’s Seafood Odyssey.

Directions

4 seabass fillets

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 small carrots very finely chopped

1 leek finely sliced

100 + grams mushrooms quartered

1 rasher smoked back bacon chopped into about ½ inch pieces

1 garlic clove minced

2 tablespoons butter

Oven 220 C/200 Fan/425F/

Saute bacon in butter until just cooked. Move to side of pan.

Saute carrots and leek until carrots are tender. Add mushrooms. Cook through.

Sprinkle fennel seeds on fish. Place fish fillets on bed of vegetables. Bake 15 minutes.

Meanwhile make beurre blanc.

Ingredients

50 grams shallots finely chopped

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

4 tablespoons dry white wine

6 tablespoons fish stock made with a fish stock cube

2 tablespoons double cream

175 grams cold unsalted butter cut in small dice. (Truthfully this is Rick’s suggestion. I used approximately 50 grams butter)

Directions

Simmer shallots, vinegar, wine and stock until reduced to 4 tablespoons.  Add cream. Boil until reduced a little more. Lower heat. Gradually whisk in butter.

Serve with saffron potatoes.

Small peeled new potatoes in 900 ml chicken stock. Add a big pink of saffron threads.  Simmer 15-20 minutes until tender.

I hope you enjoy!

Anitaxx

At Last, As Promised!

 

 

cover photo (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know you have been waiting patiently for this moment. Thanks to Jacqueline Jeynes at Pen Coed Publishing, Badly Chopped Carrots and Everyday Dinners: Life as a Canadian in Rural Wales is now published!

The first launch and book signing will take place at:

Aberystwyth University Arts Centre Book Store

September 12, 2019

6:30 pm.

There will be one or two more local launches later in the autumn. I will post details as we move closer to the dates.

You can buy the book on Amazon UK if you are unable to make it to one of the launches.

…and…the blog will be back to normal wanderings and recipes very soon!

Anitaxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Next?

 

Long post alert.  I know…I have been away a long time.  I may have forgotten who I am. I turned 73 in February. Whoa. How did that happen? I must admit it caught me a bit by surprise. I did have a second or two when I thought…so now what?  Is it time to shift gears? Change my expectations? Maybe aim to do less? But no, I concluded almost immediately – keep going, carry on.  See, smell, savour and enjoy.

Since we last connected, I’ve run three 10K races, in Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Tregaron. As always, there are not enough ways to say thank you to Lina Land, and all my running buddies in Team Land.  I visited twice in Paris, my wonderful colleague, friend and former student Dr. Ilona Boniwell, founder of Positran.fr. Ilona has been a pivotal force in bringing Positive Psychology to Europe. On my second visit, she and I and a few others had dinner with Martin Seligman, a founder and father of Positive Psychology, after an event she organised for him at which 1,100 Parisians attended. I will say more about his new theoretical model of happiness shortly.  I travelled to St. Petersburg to see my family where my wallet was stolen. That experience was truly a temporary loss of identity and took some time to sort out. But the family are great, and St. Petersburg, dazzling in its elegance as always. I’ve been putting the finishing touches on Badly Chopped Carrots: Recipes for Life, in collaboration with Pencoed Press. I’ve taken on for 6 months, a voluntary role as chief executive of HAHAV (Hospice at Home Volunteers Aberystwyth.)  I am a founding board member and have been part of its extraordinary journey over these last three or four years.  And I am working on my next project ‘Pathways to Well-being’. This is a smaller project, that includes some art work, some life enhancing quotations and short activities to take us through the seasons.   I am combining my code for good living: See, Taste, Touch, Smell, and Listen with Martin Seligman’s model for achieving happiness: PERMA.-Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationship, Meaning, Accomplishment.

Here is an example: Keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of life. (Kahlil Gibran)

For one week pay attention to what you SEE. How does what you see make you feel? Just notice and perhaps jot some notes on how what you see may interact with your level of engagement, relationship, meaning in your life and what you may accomplish.

Here is one of my responses.

This week, I’ve been seeing all the birds in the garden.  It’s spring. They are flying in and out constantly enjoying the nuts and seeds we put out for them. I love watching how the different species interact. The small tits, the big jays, the bull finches. Some are quite polite and wait their turn. Others are a bit pushier.  I have to say I feel a sense of joy when I see them. A sense of the busyness of life. That Life goes on. Watching the birds interacting makes me want to get out and meet up with colleagues, friends.  In a small way, putting out the nuts and seeds feels like a deliberate act of care, of giving, and I am pretty sure, some of those birds have gotten significantly bigger, healthier, more energetic in the last few weeks!

Of course, you may not be spending a significant part of your day watching birds! Perhaps you take the train to work and back and you see people as they convey themselves on and off the train.  Or  you sit in the park occasionally and watch dogs of every description, sauntering, running, chuntering past.  The point is, where ever you are, whatever you do, take a few moments to really see and notice how you feel this week.

For me, busy is good.  Of course, too busy is not good! It’s about finding the right balance between life sustaining, life affirming action …and…enough down time to appreciate, to savour it all.

Speaking of savouring, I know I go on about my two very favourite life enhancements and this post is no exception: Home Décor and Home Cooking.  At this time of the year, winter, wind, sleet, maybe a little snow (a lot of snow for the people in Ottawa!), all of this is getting a bit tiresome.  My personal remedies have been to create as comforting, welcoming, nurturing, dare I say beautiful home environment as I can…always – flowers, candles, warm coloured cushions, and …space….which of course  requires MASSIVE DE-CLUTTERING.

And…I know you’ve been waiting for this…Home Cooking.

Since we last connected, I’ve been following daily, two blogs, SeasonsandSuppers and SmittenKitchen.   You met Seasons and Suppers last year on this blog when I introduced my variation on Jennifer’s Pear Almond Cake.

Shortly before Christmas, I discovered (I know not how) Smitten Kitchen.  There are not enough positives in the English language to do justice to Deb Perleman’s effervescence, humour and humility, not to mention her outrageously delicious recipes.  So much so, I am forced to share not one but two of my adaptations of her recipes.

Before I do that, I want to bring some of the outside in especially to conjure up a little hope for my family and friends in Ottawa, Vancouver, St. Petersburg.  I know you can’t go out right now to ‘steal’ daffodils from the local hedgerows, but don’t despair… your chance is coming!

daffodils on the table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now…you all know the problem I have with pumpkins. Too many of them, seized and displayed throughout the autumn until Halloween is long gone. What next?

Here is one amazing solution. Deb Perelman’s:

Pumpkin Cheesecake.

This is quite a long, somewhat complicated recipe, but I have to tell you it is so worth it. I have frozen most of it. It thaws perfectly and remains utterly scrumptious.

I have adapted it by making double the amount of crumb and scattering the top with them. I know the picture doesn’t show this but trust me…a real enhancement if you like a little more crunch and crumb.  I have also left out her extra creamy topping.

Ingredients

For the crust and topping:

1 ½ cups gingersnap crumbs

1 cup (about 100 grams) pecans or walnuts, chopped finely.

1/2 cup (90 grams) packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

8 tablespoons (110 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Two or three pinches of salt.

For the filling

1 ½ cups pumpkin (You can use either pure canned pumpkin or if you have a problem like mine, chop up and bake those chunks until tender. Scoop from skins and puree in food processor or blender.)

3 large eggs

½ cup (95 grams) packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons (approximately 30ml) double (heavy) cream

1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla

1 tablespoon (15 ml) bourbon (I wasn’t sure I could get this in rural Wales, but sure enough…)

½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon fine salt

24 oz (three 8 oz packages) cream cheese, room temperature.

Directions

Heat oven to 180C/160Fan/350F/ Use a 9 inch springform pan or in my case, a 9 inch round pan with a removal bottom.  Pat firmly half the crumb mixture into the bottom and slightly up the sides (possibly ½ inch) of the pan. Chill between 20 minutes and one hour.

For the filling you can either use an electric beater or a food processor.  Deb recommends the following order for ingredients if you are using a beater:  Whip together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon in a bowl until well mixed. Mix together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt in another bowl. To this bowl, add the cream cheese and beat for 3 minutes at high speed. Reduce speed to medium and add the pumpkin mixture beating all together until smooth.

Alternatively, you can use a food processor.  This allows you to use cold cream cheese in case you have forgotten to take it out of the refrigerator. You will be putting the ingredients together in a different order from above: Put the sugars in the bowl and the cream cheese which you have cut into chunks. Blend together until completely smooth. Then add: pumpkin, cornstarch, salt, and spices. Once again, blend together. Add eggs, one at a time, blending briefly after each addition. Add cream and bourbon. Mix.

Either way, pour the mixture over your now chilled crust. Place in the middle of the oven on a shallow pan in case of leaking.  Bake 50-60 minutes until centre is just set.  Remove from oven for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the other half of the crumbs pressing down slightly just so they don’t fall off. Return to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Cool cheesecake on rack about 3 hours.  Chill covered at least four hours.  When you are ready to serve, remove the cake from the pan and let it come to room temperature.

Deb says the cake keeps well, covered and chilled for up to one week.  As I have already mentioned, it freezes beautifully. Truthfully, if you live in a small family, or are entertaining a small number of guests freezing is an important option. This cake serves 12-14 people!

The picture you see here is one I took before I put the crumbs on top.  I have blurred out a slightly unseemly background with a new ‘app’ (for me) called Snapseed.

pumpkin cheesecake (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t have a picture of the second of the Smitten Kitchen desserts I promised you.  But it is so unusual, so delicious and so easy I just had to share it. By the way, Deb says this is a variation on a Nigel Slater recipe.   Don’t you just love how our worlds have become so positively connected through food!

Chocolate Pear Raspberry Crumble

Ingredients

Topping

1/3 cup (40-50 grams) chopped dark chocolate (around 70% is good)

½ cup Dorset muesli (I am afraid I went off-piste here. I didn’t have rolled oats on hand)

¼ cup maple syrup.

Pinch of salt.

Filling

3 tablespoons (40 grams) butter

3 tablespoons (40 grams) sugar

2 pears, peeled, halved, cored and diced into small chunks (about ½ inch). It’s good to use firm pears.)

1 cup (115 grams or 4 oz.) raspberries

Directions

Heat oven to 180C/160Fan/350F/

I used a small cast iron Creuset dish about 8×5 inches.

First, mix the topping in a small bowl and set aside.

For the main body of the work, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar and cook together until the edges start to turn golden. Add the pear chunks. Watch quite carefully so they don’t become overly mushy cooking about 5-8 minutes. Scatter the raspberries on top.  Then sprinkle with the chocolate oat topping.

Bake 20-25 minutes until the oats in the topping are crisp and the chocolate melting.

Serve warm.  With ….yes…a ball of vanilla ice cream.

This does offer 4 people an earthy, freshly memorable end of dinner treat.

…And…don’t worry, spring will come!

Enjoy!

single daffodil (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow is the scent of spring in Wales.  A.M. Rogers

 

Anitaxx

Hope and Generosity

The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it. (William James)

DSCF2483

Life is like badly chopped carrots. Far from perfectly sliced batons of equal length and breadth, badly chopped carrots are ragged, irregular, lumpy and bumpy. So too is life. But badly chopped carrots have a way of absorbing more readily the intensity of flavours, enhancing the colours and the interest of the dishes that surround them.  And, life, in all its ups and downs, its sheer wonkiness makes living more intense, more memorable, more beautiful.

I started this blog a couple of years ago out of sheer despair, living the isolation and loneliness of a foreigner in rural Wales.  The blog was my way to reach out, to connect with as many or as few of you who cared to read and comment.

Since then, my life has changed, partly because of the blog and those of you who read it, generously comment, and reach back to me. Reaching out works. One thing leads to another.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I started to meet with Lina Verseckaite for some personal training sessions just before my 70 birthday, because I was too afraid to join any kind of fitness group.  That was 2 ½ years ago. Six months ago, still attending weekly sessions, I felt I needed a goal to keep our mutual interest and positive energy intact. Lina is a passionate and accomplished runner and coach and so …on my 72nd birthday, on a dark winter’s night, in rain and some sleet, I took up running. I made it half way around the track.  I joined both of Lina’s groups. Couch Potato to 5K at the Aberystwyth Leisure Centre and 10K to Half Marathon at the University Sports Centre.  I have met people of all ages from their 20’s to their 60’s (and beyond), administrators, dentists, students, nurses, becoming fit, becoming healthier, becoming friends. All of this happens under the aegis of Lina’s unflagging support, utter commitment, uncommon wisdom.

If you had told me last summer, that in May of this year, I would have run the 5K Race for Life, that I would regularly do the Park Run and that I would be signed up for a 10K race in Cardiff for September…well….my first thought would have been….a few ice cubes short of a tray…

It is hard to describe the tectonic shift that running brings about to soul and psyche, the sheer exhilaration, the sense of empowerment, of actually just surviving a run, being alive.

And then there is painting with Karen Pearce, at: karen-pearce.com, one of Wales foremost contemporary artists. She has gathered together a group of 5 who paint at her studio every two weeks. Under her guidance, her exquisite artistic eye, endless patience, we have developed each in our own way. Just recently, at Karen’s suggestion each of us hung two of our paintings in a small gallery at the Treehouse in Aberystwyth.  You will see mine shortly.

Finally, there is Eddy Webb at InSynch: insynch.co.uk.  His staff put together my original website, EdgeworkConsultancy, and then this blog. Nothing is too much trouble for Eddy. Just the other day, I walked into the InSynch offices, unscheduled and unannounced with a small but pivotal request. Eddy knew just the people I should talk to. With a smile and few moments out of a day I know is crammed full, Eddy came up with absolutely vital information that will take me to the next steps on  my journey.

Hope and generosity.  These three people have given me hope through their generosity and helped me change my life.

Perhaps too it’s the lifting of the clouds both metaphorically and in reality in this glorious sunny summer, but all has come clear to me. First, I noticed my thoughts. Just stood back and noticed. And guess what?  When I started to count, my negative thoughts outnumbered my positive thoughts outrageously.  So I started to catch those negative thoughts, acknowledge them, and put them aside.

Then I learned about a Positivity Jar, at one of Lina’s Life coaching sessions.  The power of putting different coloured Post-Its, each containing a positive thought or one of gratitude, watching them pile up in the jar, is extraordinary.

Finally, and just to make it easier for you, what has come to me from it all, through it all are 3 steps to survival and success:

1) Develop a mental attitude -this too shall pass. Catch those negative thoughts.  Acknowledge them. Put them aside. Catch your positive thoughts and put them in your Positivity Jar.

2) Keep trying, keep doing, keep reaching. Never give up. I may be the only person on the planet who didn’t know about the 5 second rule developed by Mel Robbins, but just in case you too have missed the boat on this one: Don’t procrastinate. Count backwards-5,4,3,2,1-GO.  This incredible technique helps you to outsmart the part of your brain that overthinks, procrastinates.

3) Challenge the notion- ‘It all comes from within’. No it doesn’t. We need people. We need each other.  And here is the challenge to those of us who live in rural Wales. Step up to the plate. Notice your neighbours, distant acquaintances, people you run into occasionally or often in the road, on the street.  Pay attention to who they are. How they are.  Say something nice to them, about them.  Be warm, be compassionate, be supportive.

I took Lina to see my paintings on one of our regular power walks through Aberystwyth.  The first is called: Winter Near Tregaron and the second is: Summer Joy. Here they are and here is what she said:

 

winter near tregaron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

summer joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘After winter comes summer. After a bad day comes a good day. Weather goes still after the storm. Whatever is overwhelming you now-there is a change waiting to happen. There’s power in patience. That’s when summer tends to make an appearance.’

Karen Pearce celebrated a birthday this weekend.  The party was like no other I have ever attended. People just kept streaming in. All friends of hers or family, all people Karen has touched positively in some way-life at its best, most joyful, peaceful, playful.

She asked me to bring a cake.  Here it is. Naturally I have been massively influenced by Ina Garten and of course, I have made many adaptations. It was so delicious I was able to bring my serving dish home empty before the party ended!

Fresh Peach Raspberry Celebration Cake

Ingredients

  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract.
  • 2 cups plain or all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
  • ½ cup raspberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180C/160Fan/. Grease a 9-inch-square baking pan.

Beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar with a hand held electric mixer for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla and almond extract, and mix until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined. In a small bowl, combine the  1/2 cup brown sugar and the cinnamon.

Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half of the peaches and raspberries, then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches and raspberries on top and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.

Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Of course, a ball of clotted cream vanilla ice cream to accompany this gorgeous treat never goes amiss.

 

Fresh peach raspberry celebration cake

 

Ee Enjoy!

Anitaxx

Moments

 

This will be a really short piece. I just wanted to reconnect with you after a long absence, to celebrate the spring equinox in date if not in climate and to share with you a delicious Pear Almond Cake recipe.

The ‘beast from the east’ has visited twice in a short space of time, and even now is lurking for a possible return.  In other words, where is our promised spring?

Surprises are about the unexpected and often bring us precious moments, if we take note and savor.   The day after the equinox was one of those moments, ‘time out of time’. Yes, it was a little windy, a little overcast, and yes, a little chilly as I walked around Lampeter, waiting for the installation of new wheels on my car. Yet there was a softness to the day, a quiet peace, a sense of utter timelessness, normal life just carrying on.  The lovely people at Huw Lewis completed the job, no fuss, no problem amidst the warm chat about…the weather of course! ‘How was it up there where you are near Tregaron?’ And the inevitable question: What brought you to rural Wales?

Then a drive to Aberystwyth. I didn’t bank on the bank being closed in Lampeter on Wednesdays.  For some reason, my usual irritation, frustration, huffiness at the inconvenience to my very important life simply wasn’t there.

Barclays Bank was quiet too. They were only too happy to help me out. What was an impossible problem 5 days ago, today was no problem at all.  All sorted out amidst some light banter and gentle exchange.

And then, to No.21, the flower shop.  Yellow, of course, was the presiding colour-Narcissus, the ever -present Welsh daffodils. And then, I spotted in the back, lying forlornly on the floor, piles and piles of giant yellow tulips.  ‘You can have them’, said the young owner of the shop. ‘They’re from last week and I am not selling them’.

So laden with tulips, daffodils, and narcissus, with a heart singing in gratitude, appreciation, celebration, I made my way home through the hushed lanes of rural Wales.

yellow tulips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What better way to end this ‘pause’, this last, gentle moment of winter than with a Pear Almond Cake.

I happened to have some pears that were perfect today but tomorrow would be ‘past perfect’. What to do?   I googled pear desserts and up came the ‘Italian Pear Almond Cake’. As it happens, the origins of this unbelievably delicious cake, are with one of Canada’s foremost food bloggers at www.seasonsandsuppers.  Naturally I sent an email, as she is located in the town of Bracebridge, out ‘in the bush’ in Muskoka, Ontario’s hinterland.  We visited often as children, because my mother’s best World War 2 nursing buddy lived there.  Jennifer, the food blogger, emailed me back. Her grandmother came from Rural Wales!

Of course, I have added my own adaptations.

Pear Almond Cake

Ingredients

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

9 tablespoons white sugar

2 large eggs

7 tablespoons plain or all-purpose flour

4 oz ground almonds

½ teaspoon baking powder

3 medium pears, ripe, peeled, cored, halved

1.5 oz flaked almonds

½ teaspoon almond extract (my addition)

1 tablespoon mixed chopped peel or more to suit your taste (my addition)

1 teaspoon lemon zest (my addition)

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 375F/190C/170Fan/

Grease 8 inch spring-form pan and line bottom with parchment paper

Prepare the pears (as above)

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add almond extract and lemon zest.

Sift flour and baking powder together.

Fold in flour, baking powder mix, ground almonds, mixed peel.

Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Arrange pear halves on top of cake. (Here is where the size of the pears becomes important. If they are medium sized, you will have a lovely design of six pear halves laid out in spoke fashion. Mine were too big and I had to chop off the pointy tops.  Not so pretty)

The instruction say to bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with flaked almonds, and return to oven for an additional 8-10 minutes.  I am not sure whether my oven might have been set a little too low, but I actually had to bake the cake for slightly over 1 hour.   Do not worry. Keep checking the cake by poking a skewer in the middle. This did not harm the eventual, delicious outcome.  In fact, it may have added to the slightly crusty, crunchy fine layer atop the cake.

Enjoy!

Anitaxx

pearalmondcake

 

JUXTAPOSITIONS

Daily life is where life happens. (Jack Shoemaker, in MFK Fisher, The Art of Eating, 1937, xxii)

autumncolours

autumnlandscape20173

REDTREEINAUTUMN

REDBERRIES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raw gold, deep amber, sparkling ruby, emerald, bronze. The colours of precious jewels. Autumn in Wales.

I know the seasons are often compared to the flow of life, with autumn a time of winding down and the prelude to winter, the last of the year. For me, autumn, in its ravishing vibrancy, no matter what the weather, is a lavish celebration of life in all it richness, and its juxtapositions.  This has been a roller coaster time -of unexpected deep emotions, from momentary and intense anger (watch out anyone in my path!) to profound sadness, to joy and wonder and an absolute commitment to appreciating every moment of life.  In fact, I’ve agreed to run the Race for Life this coming spring. Lina, my trainer says I am her oldest running experiment!

More than ever, I am aware of juxtapositions. A three- hour delay and then one ‘standing room only’ train from Birmingham to London after ‘an incident on the track’. Yet, two extraordinarily generous people gave up their seats for my husband and I as ‘they weren’t travelling so far’. After being robbed by a street gang in front of the Louvre in Paris at 10:00 in the morning, the privilege of witnessing with my daughter and granddaughter, a luminescent moon as it emerged from behind the glowing steeples of St. Clotilde Basilica (some of you have seen my account on my Instagram at amrbul69). The gentleman who spontaneously picked up my suitcase as I stood at the foot of a staircase at St. Pancras Station.  The touch on my hand from our local pharmacist, who said: ‘we all lose it sometimes’, after I had a small ‘melt down in the pharmacy. The absolute healing peace, freshness of air, space, softness, normalcy of rural Wales after the wildness of traffic, noise, congestion in that glorious city Paris.

I’ve just read an article in the Guardian about the perils of the ‘clean eating movement’ and it strikes me that what seems to be missing from their equation is balance and perhaps juxtaposition is another way of looking at, of finding-balance.  As some of you know, over the last year and a half, I’ve written a cookbook and a homage to life in rural Wales, based partly on these blogs.  The idea of balance is at the very heart of the book: Badly Chopped Carrots: Cooking My Way to Sanity.  However, as my Tai Chi teacher once said, there is no perfect balance.  Finding balance is always a process of moving in one direction, then another.  As you know, badly chopped carrots is a metaphor for the tendency to focus on the negative, the ‘not perfect.’  It is also a beacon of hope because what can emerge from imperfections and quirkiness,  are new revelations, creativity, edge.    The book explores balance through contrasts-of colours, textures, ingredients both in the surrounding countryside and in food. So rather than just offer recipes, the book has taken the form of menus and recipes for each season that reflect the seasons. You have already seen a few of the recipes in this blog over the past year and a half.  It is now in the hands of the publisher Graffeg, who create the most gloriously evocative treasures. They are ‘considering the project and their response to me.’ I’ll keep you posted!

Cooking is my form of positive action, of nurturing, of creating beauty, of experimentation, and although you may have your own preferred ‘positive actions’, we all have to eat, so why not make cooking a joy.  You can check out a whole range of positive actions that may surprise you on the website of my friend, former colleague and former student Dr. Ilona Boniwell at: www.positran.eu.

The Positive Action Cards have been selling like hot cakes around the world!

positive actions

For now, I’ve been busy painting. Not finished-of course!

squashpainting

 

I’ve been ‘bringing the outside in’, harvesting the last of the rosehips and lighting those so evocative, scented candles. Here are a couple of my favourites-in combination. Why go half way!

candles in autumn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, I have to find a way to do justice to those 25 pounds of perfect apples that our generous friends harvested from their trees in Milton Keynes to give to us. So come and join me for a quintessential autumnal dinner. It involves apples of course!

apples20173

THE MENU
Beef Cottage Pie
Beetroot and Celeriac Salad
Apple Frangipane Tart

BEEF COTTAGE PIE
A Tribute to Mary Berry’s Venison Cottage Pie
Ingredients
• 2 tbsp oil, for frying
• 6 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 1 large carrot, finely chopped
• 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
• 600g/1lb 5oz lean beef steak mince
• 1 heaped tbsp plain flour
• 300ml/10fl oz red wine
• 500ml/18fl oz beef stock (I use a capsule of enriched beef stock putting it right into the mixture with no water)
• Six large brown mushrooms sliced quite thinly (my addition)
• A jar of chestnuts marinated first in beef stock and red wine (my addition)
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the topping
• 1kg/2lb 4oz potatoes, chopped into 2cm/¾in cubes
• knob of butter
• splash milk
• glug of truffle oil never hurts

Directions
1. Heat the oil in a large deep, lidded casserole or a heavy-based saucepan set over a high heat. Add the bacon and fry until crisp. Remove and set aside.
2. Add the onion, carrot and rosemary and fry for a few minutes until softened. Add the mince and stir until golden-brown, breaking it up while stirring.
3. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for a minute, stirring. Gradually add the wine, and, stirring all the time, boil for a few minutes until the volume of liquid has reduced by half. Add the stock and the cooked bacon, bring to the boil and season with salt and pepper, stirring for 5 minutes. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until tender.
4. Preheat the oven 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.
5. Spoon the mince into a 3 litre/5 pint ovenproof dish. Set aside to cool.
6. To make the topping, bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Boil the potatoes until tender. Drain and return to the pan. Add the butter and milk. Season with salt and pepper and mash until smooth.
7. Spoon the mash on top of the cold mince, level the top and mark with a fork. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden-brown and bubbling.

BEETROOT AND CELERIAC SALAD
I know that the following salad is technically classified as a ‘summer salad’. But truthfully, the ingredients are readily available throughout the year, and once again, it is fresh, light, yet earthy flavour that juxtaposes so well with the deep, dark, rich cottage pie. And, the mint in my garden is still amazingly prolific.
Beetroot and Celeriac Salad (House and Garden, Autumn 2016)
Ingredients
• 400g beetroot, peeled and cut into 1.5cm chunks
• 400g celeriac, peeled and cut into 1.5cm chunks
• 2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon of red onion, finely minced
• A scattering of rocket leaves or other green leaves
For the dressing:
• 4tbsp chopped mint
• 2tbsp lime juice
• 1tbsp Dijon mustard
• 2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Directions

1. Heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/mark 6. Use a 30×40 cm dish or pan. Mix the beetroot, celeriac and olive oil directly in the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste, using your hands to coat everything well. Bake for 20 minutes, or until soft. (I find I like these to cook longer than directions specify, around 35-40 minutes)
2. Meanwhile, for the dressing, put all the ingredients, except the oil, in a small bowl. Whisk the oil in gradually. Once the vegetables are cooked, allow them to cool. Before serving, toss them in the dressing, adding the red onion and leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper.

APPLE FRANGIPANE TART

Ok. I admit this is a tad ‘fussy’, but so worth it!
Pastry (Makes 1 9inch/23cm pie crust. This recipe is a variation from a Canadian cookbook called Brown Eggs and Jam Jars. It works. It has a delicate flaky texture and a mellow flavour)
Ingredients
3 tablespoons (45ml) ice cold water
1 egg yolk
½ tablespoon lemon juice
1 ½ cups (325ml) all- purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup(125ml) butter cut into ½ inch/1cm cubes

Directions:

To make in a food processor
Pour water into a measuring cup and drop in the egg yolk. Add lemon juice and beat with a fork. Drop in ice cube to chill liquid while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, salt to combine. Add butter cubes and pulse about 5 times to cut the butter into the flour. Butter should be pea- sized pieces.

Drizzle ice water mixture through feed tube and pulse about 10 times until the liquid is incorporated.

Empty the contents onto a lightly floured board and form a disc of dough 6 inches (15cm) across. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap (cling film) and chill for at least 2 hours or up to two days.

The Frangipane Filling (this is a melange of Mary Berry’s recipe in her  Foolproof Cooking  Book and a Waitrose recipe found on line from 2005.)

Pre-heat oven to 200C/180Fan/400F

(Remember-you are using a 23 cm pan. First roll out the pastry and fit into the pan. Return to refrigerator until you have made the filling. Then you can take it out and fill it with the following ingredients.)

4 eating apples

1 tablespoon apricot jam

75 G (3 oz) butter, softened)

75 G (3 oz) caster sugar)

2 eggs

100 G ground almonds

1 tsp almond extract

1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest

Directions

Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. You can also whiz in food processor. Add eggs one at a time, then add lemon zest and almond extract. Fold in the almonds.

Halve and peel the apples, carefully cutting out the cores. Place flat side down and slice thinly across the width.  After you have poured the frangipane filling into the tart,  plant the apples on top and spread out the slices slightly. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon caster sugar. Bake approximately 35-40 minutes or until frangipane is puffy and golden and the apples are just cooked.  Paint apples with apricot jam. Leave to cool 15 minutes and then remove from pan.

 

unnamed

 

enjoy!
Anitaxx

A Homage to Cafe Havens

Or is that heavens?  Early morning.  The deep, dark, warm coffee scent, hints of chocolate.  The promise of peace. Momentary solace.

This past summer, for reasons some of you already know, was not spent in rural Wales.   In between trips to Ottawa, there were also flying visits to St. Petersburg, Vancouver and always, just in passing, London.  Such is the price we pay for far flung families. And, through it all, three cafes sustained my soul and spirit- BWCHE in St. Petersburg, Planet Coffee in Ottawa, and Café Nero, in Aberystwyth.  Through it all, they kept their gentle arms around me, offering comfort, serenity, sustenance, revitalisation. 

I cannot detail the blends and brews, the roasts of the innumerable cappuccinos and macchiatos I drank, always in the mornings. But the earthy, homey scent, enhanced by baking bread, warm scones, straight from the oven, the sight of cherry pastries the size of small platters, never failed to wave me in.

There are BWCHE cafes sprinkled all around St. Petersburg. One found itself right on my daughter’s doorstep, near Park Pobedy, just off Moskovsky Prospekt.

bwchelamp

parc pobedy2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, you can always have an omelette, but why would you when those cherry pastries, are shouting out ‘choose me’. This is Russia. You would expect giant pastries and so they are, covered, no, slathered artfully in apple slices, raspberries, and… cherries. But the BWCHE specialty has to be the incredible range of rustic breads, round loaves, oblong loaves, seeded loaves, dark crusty rye loaves piled mountain high in early morning, diminished to a small hillock by late afternoon. Local residents, very much in the French style, replenish their bread supplies daily.   All the BWCHES have an intimate feel, low hanging lights, little pops of whimsy -in this café, the papier mache lamb with a red bow sitting in the window looking out onto the street.                                                                                                                                  

bwche lamb

Little touches of comfort. BWCHE, uniquely offers, with every order, sealed and freshly scented hand-wipes. The cappuccino at BWCHE is the gentlest of all the cappuccinos I drank across the world this summer.
Very berry and date pecan, the best scones in the entire world, (trust me!) were my ‘go to’ breakfasts for several weeks, moments of pure joy at Planet Coffee, or ‘the Planet’ as I renamed it. A melange of warm, soft, crunchy, with chunks of sweet dates or hints of tart berries. The size of small planets. After all, this is Canada. Cappuccino- absolutely the best in Ottawa. It’s impossible once you have been to the Planet, to go anywhere else. And, I have to mention the London Fog tea drink, on offer once I had consumed my daily coffee allowance. I was always there at 7:00 sharp, maybe a little later as jet lag wore off. Just down from Parliament Hill, you can reach Planet Coffee from a little lane, where it sits on a tiny square ringed with 18th century, grey stone buildings.

planet courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low hanging lights, the fish painting on the back wall, fresh water in the pitcher on the counter, the daily newspapers.                                                                                                                                                 

the planet coffee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And…finally, on the high street in little Aberystwyth, Café Nero.  In some ways, the most ‘homey’ of the three cafes I celebrate here, Café Nero, the country over, makes a point of offering a range of hard chairs, big, soft enveloping chairs, little coffee tables, bookshelves with real books.

cafenerochair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And…while they are of a more modest size, the crispy, flaky, pain au chocolat, or the pain au raisin, slightly heated, are quite simply, the best.  The cappuccino positions itself somewhere between the ‘pow’ of the Planet coffee and the more café au lait style of BWCHE.

What do these far flung cafes, these homes away from home have in common? What makes them so welcoming, so comfortable, so compelling? BWCHE is a local chain, Planet Coffee is stand alone and of course we know about Café Nero. Yet they share a certain ambiance, a modern rustic feel, simple, pale woods, grey walls, soft, lovely lighting, coy little touches of interest.  For all the industrial quantities of coffee drinks they offer in a day, each is remarkably quiet, no jarring noise, of grinding machinery, crashing cups, indeed, even loud conversation.  There seems to be a respect built into their very fabric. 

Their ambiance is supported always by music in the background….not too loud of course, but audible.  In Café Nero, it’s often mellow jazz, of the Ella Fitzgerald or Stan Getz variety.  BWCHE seems to favour quiet, French chansons.   Planet coffee, offers a totally different experience from day to day, depending, I think, on the mood of the manager, some days energizing, other days, soft…but somehow always a perfect fit for the day.  Now I realise these choices of music may simply be to my taste, but I am obviously not the only one who appreciates them. Because these cafés are busy.  Of course, there is an ebb and flow but throughout the day there is a steady stream of coffee lovers. Yet there is rarely a ‘line-up’ at the most, two, three or four people at the counter.  There is little ‘waiting around’ for someone to come and take your order at the table, prepare it and return with it.  For someone who wants their coffee -now- this is the perfect arrangement.  Seating is always adjustable, whether you are alone, or accompanied, there is a place to sit comfortably, not too crowded, and yet close enough to be cozy if you wish.

Not drafty, damp, chilly, overheated or under-heated, the climate is usually just right.  In summer, a soothing coolness. In winter, utterly welcoming warmth. In an odd sort of way, the same can be said of the staff.  The twinkle in the eye of recognition.  A nod. A smile.  Perhaps a passing comment about the weather outside.  The care for each and every cup of coffee.  A slow dance, the patient swirl of foam with just the right amount of air.  Here is your cappuccino and your scone, or pain au chocolat, or cherry pastry.  Renewal, revitalisation in a bubble, an oasis of time away, of time out of time.

Thank you.

Anitaxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She did it her way. April 29, 1920-August 16, 2017

I know I’ve been away a long time.   Here is why.

Born in Limosano, a commune in the Italian region of Molise, Mary (Pat) Incoronata, Mariglia, Mongrain, my mother arrived with her family, in 1924, in Niagara Falls Canada. She recalled biting an immigration official when he insisted she take off her clothes for a medical check. And so it began….

Though always vulnerable to the prejudice of the 1920’s and 1930’s, at 5 feet tall, she was a high school basketball player and stellar student. When she overheard a classmate’s mother say to another that her greatest dream would be to see her daughter become a nurse, at that moment, Mary decided she would become a nurse.

Class valedictorian, she graduated from the University of Ottawa in 1941.  She worked at various hospitals in the Toronto region and then, on a whim, decided to move to Twillingate Newfoundland, then a separate Dominion of the British Empire where she worked as a district nurse.  It was there, she joined the army in 1944 as a Lieutenant nursing sister. It was there, she met a handsome, dashing French Canadian officer, Edouard, who was to become my father.  Demobbed, they lived first in Quebec City where I was born, and then variously in remote regions of Northern Manitoba  and Northern Quebec, where he worked on the big hydro- electric projects of the 1950’s.  They finally settled again in Quebec City for several years, where my siblings and I ‘grew up.’

Having travelled Canada, upon my father’s retirement, they travelled Europe. She paused briefly to care for him in his last year, before carrying on to Samarkand, Egypt, Russia, Paris and London, well into her eighties.

She was a woman of enormous paradox- sociable, entertaining, charming gathering people to her wherever she went. She was also fiercely private.  Financially cautious, she believed in serendipity, following her intuition (though she never called it that) and had the largest collection of 4 leaf clovers ever seen.  She emphasized to her children, hard work, discipline, and delayed gratification. In her own life, she threw out that rule book. One of her favourite expressions, where she met a frustration she couldn’t be bothered to overcome, was -phfewy…

She was not domestic. She took great pride in the fact that she had never worn an apron in her life.  The story of the cold peas is one of the family favourites.  She was known to regularly open cans of peas and serve them directly from there. Her reasoning-my father didn’t like his food hot anyway. But there was always dinner on the table at 5:30 sharp.

After living for several years in Vancouver, she returned in the year 2000 to Ottawa, the real place of ‘her coming of age.’ Surviving breast cancer at the age of 85, she was asked to write a brief account in a charitable publication. This drew her to the attention of Max Keeping, a local celebrity. It was through him that she was honoured as one of Ottawa’s 100 amazing people, for the publication of her first book at the age of 92, ‘As It Was In the Beginning’.

Indomitable, intrepid, she was frustrating and loveable in equal measure.  She drank too much, smoked too much, kept herself thin as a rail, until she was 80. Then….phfewy….she decided to get fat.

She loved food, chocolates, peaches, and especially meat. Red meat. She didn’t feel right unless she had her meat. She violated every known principle for living into a healthy old age.  She donated her body to science and the University of Ottawa will no doubt discover important learnings from that study.

She lived independently in an apartment in the Byward Market in downtown Ottawa until three months ago. However, with the advance of congestive heart failure, her habit of calling an ambulance when she was feeling anxious, her decreasing mobility, and much against her real wishes, my brothers, sister and I ‘helped’ her settle into Ottawa’s most luxurious retirement home. She hated it.  After more trips to emergency ( where she always introduced herself as a nurse), and threats to move to the Chateau Laurier where she would drink Manhattans at Zoe’s, she organized by herself, a move to the Perley Veteran’s Retirement Hospital.

I spent three weeks in Ottawa, visiting several hours with her every day, during July and August, while my noble brother, his incredible wife and son took a much needed break.

We chatted, sat, she slept, I walked the corridors.  We took the final trip to Zoe’s, the timeless cocktail lounge at the Chateau Laurier, where she had been a frequent visitor since 1938.

The last day I was with my mother, she driving her motorized chair, we went outside into the beautiful grounds of the Perley.  Bird feeders dot the grounds. Their chatter and singing fill the air.  She raised her face and it just lit up.  She loved birds. I didn’t know that, until now.  We shared a non-alcoholic beer in the pub inside. With her walker and her oxygen, she came with me to the door. I bent down and put my arms around her gently. I couldn’t help myself. I said: I love you. I love you. She said: triple that.  She didn’t like being overly demonstrative.  She said: I am not going to cry. I said: I’m not going to either.

She was the last of her classmates, the last of her generation, one of the last veterans of World War II .

pat

She is survived by 4 children- Anita, Susann, Lester, Steven, 3 grandchildren- Lisa, Kevin, Alexander, 3 great grandchildren -Andrew, Anya, Anton.

So tonight, to honour Pat, it’s red meat- Ina’s Sliders and Peach Cake.

Anitaxx

 

 

Deep Winter

All may look dormant out there but in fact, the countryside is busy making its own splendour.

Often considered the bleakest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, (and what could be bleaker than recent events of which I will say no more!) here in the Welsh countryside, there is always a surprise or two to shake things up.  A quintessential white winter’s day can give way almost immediately to another sort of experience.  The extraordinary colours, when I have finally bothered to look and see, are quite simply, breath-taking.  Of course, green is my favourite colour and as you can see, there is an almost infinite variety out there.

moss on a tree midwinterwalk

ivyAs you know, I am working on the project ‘Pathways to Well-Being’- Simple, everyday things we can do to lift the spirit. Looking, seeing and of course, appreciating are among those simple things. Over the past few weeks I have been asking myself what all these discrete, small activities and experiences have in common that so make a difference to me. I have more and more recognised that there are two or three keys  to what helps  improve my sense of well-being in dramatic and lasting ways.   One key is viscerality.  The extreme example for me, is the experience of a very good massage.  I have had two or three experiences that have been transformational and have had a lasting impact, not minutes or hours, but months and years. ( I relive the effects of them even now as I tell you about them). The first occurred when I was caring for my very elderly and very ailing mother.  I was having palpitations that were lasting all day every day.  Fortunately, my mother lives in the centre of Canada’s capital city, Ottawa and right across from an Aveda salon.  I booked an appointment and explained a little of my circumstances to the masseuse. The love, care, skill, the music, were such that I left with a soaring sense of well-being. The palpitations were gone and did not return.   Another key is that something needs to be distracting.    Distraction can be momentary of course, but really, I am talking about the distraction that some kind of project, or focus can provide.  There is nothing more powerful for getting out of those Badly Chopped Carrots moments than an abiding distraction, a long term commitment to something. Or course, being visceral and being distracting are not discretely different experiences.  They are tied together. The massage was definitely distracting!  Finally, and I know I bang on about this-connection– to understand and to be understood deeply and caringly by someone else.

Our culture does not necessarily lend itself to authentic connection. I came across this article a while ago and it captures for me the sense of perpetual bewilderment, confusion, alienation, second guessing caused by being at the other end of communication at a personal level that is not truthful or straightforward.  The article is commenting on British culture but the problem of obfuscating communication is more widespread than that.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37799805.

By Damien McGuinness

BBC News, Berlin

30 October 2016

If you read the full article, you will see that it is written as a political commentary but it is in fact so much more than that.  For those of you who may not have the time or inclination to read the full thing, I have copied some of essentials here.

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Theresa May had her first EU summit in Brussels last week. But her after-dinner address to other leaders was greeted with a frosty silence and even Germany appears to be losing patience with London. Could a different understanding of some very simple words be part of the problem?

There’s one thing about the German language that if you’re British, you never really quite get used to.

It’s how to say yes. And how to say no.

An English friend of mine, Jessica, once told me a story which sums up the problem.

When she was at school in London she was about to go on an exchange to stay with a family in Germany, and the teacher sat them all down for a talk.

“Now girls,” the teacher explained, “when someone offers you something to eat, and you want it, you say yes, not no.”

Germans baffled

These well-brought-up young ladies would usually say: “No, I couldn’t possibly” to that plate of biscuits the first time round, and wait to be persuaded before giving in with a gentle: “Oh, go on then.”

“In Germany,” the teacher went on patiently: “No actually means no. You won’t get offered again.”

Crazy, Jessica remembers thinking. Obviously the school had had experience of pupils coming back famished.

In British English, of course, no means yes, yes means no … and “maybe,” “possibly” and “would love to but” can mean either.

A group of British people trying to decide where to go to for dinner will say things like “I’m easy” or “I don’t mind” – even though everyone blatantly does mind.

This is all quite straightforward to Brits, and the subtext is clear. In Germany it’s baffling.

And I suspect it’s a cultural difference which partly accounts for the communication problems we’re seeing right now over Brexit.

Last year David Cameron tried to persuade German Chancellor Angela Merkel to let the UK have a special deal to opt out of free movement of people, while staying in the single market.

Westminster chatter

She said no. And she meant, well, no. Not “no-but-ok-if-you-push-hard-enough-maybe-yes”. Just no.

Rhetorical bluster

In the rough-and-tumble world of confrontational British politics, we’re all used to hearing things which sound like one thing, but mean another.

Politics needs to be exciting in the UK to keep voters and journalists interested. So rhetorical bluster and the odd showy, overblown promise, with a bit of backtracking later, is often forgiven, especially if you’ve managed a witty gag or two along the way.

In Germany – where the tradition of consensual, coalition-building means co-operation and compromise are more highly valued than macho posturing – not saying what you mean is not forgiven. It’s seen as dishonest, confused and ineffective.

The German political debate would send most British voters to sleep. Whereas to German sensibilities the British debate looks bafflingly inconsistent.

In fact, that’s the word that explains the whole point: you hear the German word “konsequent”, which roughly translates as consistent, a lot here.

And it’s a highly prized virtue. It means you’ll do what you say, and live by the consequences if you don’t.

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So my remaining friends from the former Tuesday group have agreed that ‘straight talking’ is our motto.  We all need feedback, positive and at times ‘constructive’.  When it is delivered in a balanced, caring, clear way our relationships are enhanced. We are enhanced both individually and collectively.  Of course finding out why we don’t talk straight, finding that balance, finding the language of appropriate delivery,  this is all  a part of the life long journey.

Well, that was pretty heavy.

I want to mention a few other essentials in Pathways to Well-being.  Beauty.  I know beauty is different for each of us, but take some to recognise what your ideas of beauty are.  Beauty is not a luxury. It is not an indulgence. It is an essential Pathway to Well-Being.

My sister-in-law worked for many years for Canada’s International Development Agency.  She forged life long links in Nepal and pondered for many years how best to continue to be of service. Shenecklace amethyst decided to set up a business in Ottawa where she lives, to sell necklace silverstunningly gorgeous hand made  fair trade objects which she has brought back from recent trips to Katmandu and beyond.  Here are just a few of them.

 

 

earrings topaz

 
Flowers.

 

 

 

Almond tea from Mecca.
Coffee.
Food. Food has it all. It’s why I love cooking. Viscerality, distraction, connection beauty.

Menu for a Mid Winter Night

February 1st 2017.

I’ve just returned from Aberystwyth, grocery shopping and coffee with a friend at the Café Nero.  It’s 3:30. The last grocery parcel is unpacked when the lights go out. It’s been really windy  but the lights don’t usually go out around here. When they do someone pretty quickly manages to get them back on.  The message from the electric company is 5:30. Oh oh. I am going to have to make something fast and simple for dinner tonight.  Now you know I am a pretty diligent follower of recipes.  This one is absolutely, completely, fully one I have created myself.  We loved it.  Light and richly mellow for a deep winter night.  I hope you like it to.  By the way, the lights came back on at 4:15.  Bravo to Western Power.

Salmon and Salmon Pasta

Ingredients

Serves 2

120 grams smoked salmon chopped into 1 inch squares

120 grams skinless salmon chopped into 1 inch squares

4 scallions (green onions) chopped about 1/8 inch thick

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup white wine

Juice of half lemon

2 -3 tablespoons fresh dill

½ cup coarsely shredded parmesan cheese

1/3 package of white and green pasta.

Directions

Heat a large cast iron or other heavy fry pan on medium high.  (I use a Creuset. In truth any heavy pan will do. I don’t think it even needs to be a fry pan. )

Throw 2 scallions in and saute lightly.

Toss the fresh salmon chunks in and sear on all sides.  It takes a couple of minutes only.

Add the juice of half a lemon and scrape up the brown bits which have started to accumulate.

Throw in the last two scallions.

Add ½ cup of white wine. (I used very left- over Prosecco.) You can use more but you should bubble it down until there is still some liquid in the pan but its starting to get slightly gelatinous.

Add the smoked salmon and stir around until it just changes colour from bright pink to soft pink.   Any more and it will start to dry out. Not good.

Add grated parmesan.  (I know the young Montalbano would be horrified.  Fish and cheese don’t go together in Sicilian cuisine-but hey…it tastes really good and adds a bit of body and tang. )

Add the fresh dill very roughly torn.

Meanwhile you have boiled a large saucepan of water and cooked the pasta for about 4 minutes, one minute or so less than the package suggests.

Drain the pasta.

Add the almost cooked pasta to the pan and stir until everything is evenly distributed.

Serve.

Made up salad

I have a small rectangular white dish (a Matalan purchase I believe)

It lends itself so well to an artful arrangement of ‘mixed vegetables’.

In this case:

3 or 4 sliced juniper flavoured, cooked beetroot.

One small sliced avocado.

A handful of mixed colour tiny tomatoes sliced. (yellow, red, purple)

Balsamic vinegar (to taste)

Extra virgin olive oil

A bit of salt.

Pepper.

Roughly torn basil leaves.

…and now the piece de resistance….Ina’s Apple Tartlets (a variation of the on-line variation of the tart in her Back to Basics 2008 book).  This is so easy and fun to make!

 

Damson Apple Tartlets

Ingredients

1 sheet puff pastry

3 Granny Smith apples

1/3 cup sugar (approximately)

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced into small squares

1/3 cup warm damson jam or preserves (I made this last summer)

3 tablespoons rum (I made a mistake here. Usually I divide recipes in half but I added the full amount of rum here.  It was truly wonderful)

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/180Fan/

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper

Cut the sheet of puff pastry into 4 squares. (For me, this is the most inspired part of the recipe.  I am not sure why…but having the individual ‘tartlets’ makes it all very special and I think it allows each piece to gather the candy like sticky parts that melt onto the sheet as they cook.)

Peel, cut the apples in half and then into wedges about ¼ inch thick. Toss them in the sugar. (I think this works better than sprinkling after you lay out the slices and it means you leave the pastry at room temperature for less time)

Place overlapping slices diagonally across the pastry and use one slice along each side in the corners of the pastry. (you can see this layout in the picture)

Bake 40 minutes until pastry and apples are starting to brown.

Some juices will leak out and caramelise as I have already mentioned but that just adds delight.

Heat the damson and rum together and then brush onto the tops of the tarts.

Remove tarts from the parchment paper (they peel off very easily) and set onto a wire rack to cool.  I know these look more ‘rustic’ than beautiful.  But wow…delicious!

apple damson tart

Enjoy!

Anitaxx