Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Garden Report #117

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Sandra's garden is under two feet of snow right now
• Writers write: ‘Dear Abby’ was asked, during an interview, which of her thousands of columns was the most controversial? Was it abortion, pre marital sex, divorce or perhaps, corporal punishment in schools? Nope. The one column that drew more letters than all others was toilet paper. Half of the respondents argued that toilet paper should be installed fold side over and the other half were equally insistent on the fold coming from under the roll. One golf club had to install two rolls in each cubicle, one under and one over, to appease their membership.

Why I began with this anecdote is simple. I have written about motherhood, relationships with God, marriage, raising children, the justice system and other topics. They all have had a level of response but nothing equalled the response to my question, who do you recommend as an optometrist? Mine retired and I need a new one. From all four corners of the city and beyond, readers sent in their recommendations. I am certain that every optometrist, licensed to practice and within driving distance, is now on my list. Each recommendation was put forward with great sincerity by the reader. I had anticipated three at the most would express their opinions. Who knew?

On another note, readership of The Garden Report has been climbing by a hundred or two, every month, on the internet edition. This means readers across the globe have been finding the blog. People in India, the U.S. and England have no interest in reading reviews of local places or community events. I get that. I have made a decision to continue on with the same format, including items that interest my neighbours as much as those with international appeal. I always wanted this to be more about community than anything else, not that I don’t appreciate the diversity of our readers from abroad. I will try to include enough of those universal bits to keep it worthwhile for readers abroad.

• Readers write:

• Lyn Goldman and I share a mutual love of dogs, cats and plants that grow in the shade. She writes: “How could anyone give up that beautiful dog? And yes, I want some of those hostas!”

• I sent Dianne Palmer #116 but it didn’t get through. She panicked. It’s nice to be missed. “Hi Rod .... I woke up on Sunday and there was no Garden Report to read. Is everything Ok?”

• Georgia Hearn has opinions. “Always a delight to my Sunday morning. I loved that rose! Cannot wait for the seed sale. I also wanted to tell you that I have religiously followed your advice and my poinsettias are still spectacular. I have to agree, I hate to shovel this heavy snow and I would like a break.”

• This in from Chris Dodd. “Amen on snow tires! Changing them seasonally is cheaper that your insurance deductible and less time and discomfort than recovery from whiplash.”

• Roberta Nichol is empathetic with the people who have snow clearing routes. “ I sure feel for Mike and Richard Liske this winter. Wow, they have their work cut out for them. I have a friend who employs them for snow removal, and she is just delighted with their work. Thank goodness they are around to take care of us!”

• Linda Lyster spotted a typo. “Hi Rod...we just returned from the cinema and thoroughly enjoyed 'Life of Pi'. It was very true to the book and I loved it in 3-D. Since readers of The Garden Report make a point of telling you of your infrequent typos, I'd like to add that Yann Martel is the correct spelling of the author's name. As always, I enjoyed The Report....well written, but more importantly, informative and often amusing.”

A reader sent me another shot of my Kerr Clan home
• Wendy Richardson writes to us from London, Ontario. “We don't have as much snow as you have in Regina, but it is pretty cold today and going to get worse, so it is winter. Love all the pictures and fun anecdotes about Regina that you put in The Garden Report. As I have said before, it helps me to still feel connected. Thanks for all your hard work in putting this together and giving so many pleasurable reading material and helpful gardening advice.”

• A remembrance: I grew up in a newspaper family. My dad was an editor. There were often newspaper men around our house. Women rarely worked in that trade in the 1950s. The two things I remember the most is a)they drank a lot of whiskey and when I write a lot, I am being subtle: And b)they had massive egos. They thought because they wrote the story, they were the story.

• Community news: Maple Leaf Bakery/Oscar’s Deli is now open four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday. So don’t go there on Tuesdays anymore or your will be disappointed.

• Soup is democratic: Anyone can make a good soup and soup is perfect for a cold winter. On Sunday last, I took a litre of beef stock, unsalted, brought it to a boil and added in some German egg noodles. I looked in our fridge to see what else was left. Soups do not have to be prepared from a recipe. There was a handful of frozen green peas and they went in to the pot at the end. You don’t want to boil the peas until they are mushy, the same with green beans. For spicing, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoon of chopped garlic, a bit of salt and pepper. I placed some capers into the bottom of the soup bowl, five for Maureen and ten for me. I like capers more than she does. Then I ladled the soup. Hearty, basic and a great way to get rid of those small bits floating around your fridge.

• Times change as we age: Patrick, our number three son, who is Rayanna’s father, told me that I have to turn in my t shirt. The one that reads “World’s Greatest Dad”. He alleges that the shirt and the title are now his. I have been transitioned to “World’s Greatest Grampa”. I asked for clarification. “Do I still get to sit at the head of the table.” His response: “As long as you are picking up the cheque, the head of the table is yours.” It’s nice to have job security.

 'Morden Cardinette' rose
• Writers’ tip: This one, I have to be vigilant of in my own writing. It is very easy to switch between past, present and future tense. Best to reread your writing and ensure there is consistency. If you are writing in the past tense, do not lapse into the present, though it is quite easy to do.

• Strange world: The two banned drugs that Lance Armstrong took to improve his cycling skills are a part of my dialysis therapy. I, of course, take them to bring my blood levels closer to normal. Lance took them to win races. I want to state for the record, he did not get them from me.

• It’s difficult to be taken seriously around here: Talking with Maureen, I suggested that if we were not so busy, we could be making love three times every day. She laughed and laughed and laughed. My feelings were hurt. “Hey! The first time I speak the truth in a long, long time and you think I am joking?”

• Told this before: When I was twenty-four, I was working at The Senator Hotel in Saskatoon, in their bar, part time. I was putting myself through school. One night, two fellows in the their fifties were in my section. After a few drinks, one gentleman informs his buddy that he and his Mrs. still have sex once a day, every day. Being twenty-four, I thought “What? Only once a day? What’s wrong with you?”

• Good pizza: In CJ Katz’ new cookbook, she has a recipe for pizza dough and sauce. The sauce is a no cook one, originating with Gina over at The Italian Star. I cut the dough recipe in half and had enough for two, sixteen inch pies. Two of the baking tips I found useful. The first was to preheat my pizza stone. It ensured the crust began to bake right away. The second one was to roll out the dough and let it rest for ten minutes before applying the toppings. The ten minute rest allows the top of the dough to dry out a bit and it is not soggy. The finished product was as good as the pies we have been getting from The Copper Kettle, at a fraction of the cost. That is the good news. The not so good news is that Maureen had to clean up my mess. How she handled that situation, I don’t know. I am still in hiding at an undisclosed location.

• Sadly: Les Pavelick passed away this week. Most people knew him as ‘Metro’, the Ukrainian comic. Les released several comedy albums under his stage persona. There were the politically correct who objected to Les’ bit, that somehow it was demeaning to Ukrainians. That was their view, from the high horse. Yet, everywhere I went within the Ukrainian community, Les got big laughs. His act also included many references to growing up on a Saskatchewan farm and everything that entailed. I loved his wisdom advising “never piss the old man off during harvest.” Every farm boy knew the truth behind that one or else they didn’t survive puberty.

• Writers’ tip: Often, there can be two words that are both correct for a given situation. Usually, one is slightly better than the other. When uncertain, speak the sentence out loud using both words. One will feel as if it is the better choice.

 Single and double impatiens
• Garden Tip: Do not use salt to melt ice near your garden or lawn. Salt will raise the PH level of the contaminated soil so that very little will grow. In low lying marshes, where salt collects, few plants thrive. Take a lesson from nature.

• Old school service: My vehicle had a boo-boo and needed to go to Isaac Sneath’s, Queen City Auto Body for repairs. I met Isaac in the detention hall of Central Collegiate, around 1967. Both of us were there, having been framed. Isaac did a good job of repairing my car and the exterior was clean. I expected that. When I got inside, it was spotless. Isaac had one of his lads clean up the winter grime and it was a real treat to drive home in a clean interior. Even the floor mats had been shampooed!

• Driving tip: If your vehicle goes into a heated shop during the winter, add in a touch of gas line anti-freeze when taking it back outside. What I have found is that a warm car creates moisture and that can freeze up the lines when exposed to our cold outside temperatures.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in Regina

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Garden Report #116

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Clematis growing in Regina
• Writers write: Several years ago, I was watching a documentary on CBC. It was about this Russian Orthodox sect that lives in Northern Alberta. They cross themselves in opposite fashion from other Catholics. Their hands move right to left instead of left to right. No problem. This woman explained to the camera that when you cross yourself from left to right, “each time, you drive yourself deeper into hell”. I try to be empathetic to all religions but if I were to have one criticism it would be towards those religious people who practice such a narrow form of worship that all others are wrong. I don’t get it. If God is indeed an all loving God, then why would he condemn those who cross themselves in an opposite manner?

I grew up in a Christian church that inflicted (I use that word correctly) the belief that our membership would be the only ones in Heaven. We were the chosen ones, God’s people and none others. Even as a little boy, I wondered “won’t Heaven be a lonely place if we are the only ones there?”

To me, Heaven is a lot like Canada. There is every religion and all are respected and tolerated – or at least they are supposed to be. There is room on this earth and in Heaven for all, as each of us is one of God’s chosen people. The zealots of any religion are not true believers, rather they are intolerants, inflicting their own brand of misery wherever they gather.

• Readers write:

• A mea culpa on my part, and no one picked up on it. Shame. Last week, I should have framed the television show, ‘Seinfeld’, with a set of single quotes because it is a title. You readers are really starting to slip.

• Lyn Goldman enjoyed the photo of the Crassweller girls. “Those are three sweet beauties! Thanks for sharing. The snow has overwhelmed me!”

• Jean Freeman is a fan of Downton Abbey. “And thank you for your suspicion about Thomas on Downton Abbey! It hadn't occurred to me, but of course it makes perfect sense.”

• Wanda Bellamy also gets into the act, regarding our British soap. “I too am hooked on Downton Abbey and I never thought about Thomas killing Bates wife.... interesting theory.”

• Sherri Tutt loves fresh tasting tomatoes. “Thanks for the tip about coffee at Lakeview Fine Foods. It is my go-to place for fresh tomatoes. Grown in a Saskatchewan green house, they have lush tomato flavour, even in the dead of winter when every other tomato on the market has little or no taste at all.”

• Mike Liske, along with his dad Richard, looks after the snow removal from fifty-five homes. This winter has been very hard on him. He writes “Rod - I have to agree, no more snow. The past couple of days have been incredibly long, constant complaints of either not clearing said driveway fast enough or too early in the morning and waking up the neighbours. To top it off three out of four snow blowers broke down on us. What are the chances after two months with no issues, the day when you really need that equipment, they break?”

• Neil Slater has a suggestion for Mother Nature. “I would never complain about too much snow, but could we please save some and have it fall next month?”

Now that is one big snow drift!
• Katherine Livingston sent along the photo of a snow drift in her yard. “Your lament about snow touched upon our experience here behind Douglas Park and St. Andrew’s schools. The fact that they are adjacent and face Douglas Park Ave., leaves a lot of open playground space behind these schools for winds to whip up even a minor snowfall. The attached photo shows the view out our south facing window. A little bit more drifting and we would not be able to see out of the window at all.”

• You know that you have arrived as a writer when your Mrs. sends you an email regarding your blog. “Well done dear. Maybe people should try growing poinsettias as a nice big, bushy plant as I did. It was so green and fresh looking for such a long time.”

• Roberta Nichol grew her amaryllis bulb outside last year, as per the instructions from The Garden Report. She had wonderful success. “As for my amaryllis, I experienced some outstanding blooms on it this summer, as it sat planted underneath the large lilac bush. It was more orange than ever, a much more intense colour than when it had bloomed inside. However, it didn't bloom this winter. That's okay. It's a three year old bulb. We'll see this spring. If nothing happens, maybe it's time for a new one next fall. It's also nice to change colours once in a while, too.”

• Doug Gummeson reviews The Garden Report from the metropolis of Moose Jaw. “Thanks Rod. Really appreciate it. Love the read.”

Kerr Castle-my clan home
• Heather Lowe (who used to be a McLean in an earlier life) was in Scotland and took the photo of my clan’s ancestral home. I am having my solicitor make inquiries into any back rent due to me.

Rob Van Zanten grows lots of hostas!
• Rob Van Zanten, one of our many Dutch readers, has planted up a few hostas. Rob sent along a photo. As soon as spring arrives, they will begin to fill out their pots. By the way, this photo was not touched up. He really does grow that many hostas.

• Ever the Scot: Bob Anderson sent in this bit of humour regarding my clansmen. “My wife and I walked past a swanky new restaurant last night. "Did you smell that food?" she asked. "Incredible!" I responded. Being the kind hearted Scot that I am, I thought, "What the heck, I'll treat her." So we walked past it again.”

• Enough: Stop picking on the Scots people! Time to go after the Dutch. Did you know that copper wire was invented by two Dutchmen fighting over a penny? Did you know that Dutch greenhouse operators work seven days a week because if they take Sunday off, they have to be retrained on Monday morning? And the list goes on. My apologies, not really, to all of our Dutch readers as we do have many.

• Funny and true: I have an elderly friend. She is not a techie. Even less so than myself. She had to go to a care home after an injury in November. I phoned to wish her a merry Christmas. She was surprised by my call. “How did you know I was in this care home?” she asked. So where is the humour? I called her cell phone.

• Writing Tip: Now and again, people will use two verbs in one sentence. Example: We went and saw the movie. In order to see the movie, it is implied that you went, so it is better to write we saw the movie.

• ‘Life of Pi’: I have not been getting out to the movies this winter. ‘Life of Pi’ was my first one. It is written by a master story teller, Yan Martell, who lives in Saskatoon. At the end of the narrative, there are two choices. The storyteller asks the question, which one is the more enjoyable to believe? That has always been the storytellers dilemma. Which version of the truth is told? The one closest to reality or the one that satisfies.

• Winter tip: After not having winter tires and driving on ‘all season radials’ for close to forty years, this is the second year I have had my winter tires. To the point: Love them! Stop better. Start better. Not an excuse to drive fast on the ice but safely. The kids had my car for Christmas and they said that they saw drivers slipping and sliding all over the road but not them.

• No more dating: I took in a lecture, many years ago. The speaker maintained that men marry, not because of love but, because they don’t want to date any more. He said that women invent the floating rules of dating and they are too complicated for most men, so the men give up and choose to marry, rather than to play the game any longer. When he said that, the men in the room began to nod their heads at the same time their wives turned to glare at the husbands, asking “is that true?” Everywhere in the room, men were whispering to their wives, “for most men it is true, but not for us dear.”

'Emily Carr' grew very well for me
'• Ngoc Anh: I have reviewed this Vietnamese place on Smith Street before and I was not impressed. Last Sunday, we wanted a bowl of soup and being a little ticked with Peking House, we gave this restaurant another try. CJ Katz raves about their won-ton soup and that is what we ordered. Filled with flavour, we gulped it down, deciding it was the best won-ton soup we have had. We ordered two more dishes to turn it into a Sunday supper. One was a chicken dish and the other was a curried noodle. Both were excellent. So much better than the last time we were there. It rated as being one of the best oriental meals we have eaten.

• Garden Tip: Once again, there will be a seed exchange and sale at St. Mary’s Anglican at 15th and Montague. When they have a poster ready, I will have more details available for gardeners. By the way, this is the 100th Anniversary for St. Mary’s. There are photos of the church building with no houses around it.

• Leonard Cohen: He will be performing in Regina this March. Tickets are on sale. We took in his show in Saskatoon three years ago and it was the best concert of any performer. The old boy really gives you your money’s worth and no attitude. “She feeds you tea and oranges, that come all the way from China…”

• Still my favourite: We have not been to Siam on Hamilton Street for several months but that was rectified on Tuesday. It is still Number One in my books for big flavour. Watch your choice of heat levels or else your ‘tears of joy’ will be plentiful.

• Always grateful: My friend John C. (everyone calls him that) has been over several times this winter to dig me out of the snow drifts. I can handle the snow blower in the open areas but the shoveling is a tad onerous for this body.

• Garden Tip: At this time of year, a pot or two of spring bulbs is always a breath of fresh air. Showing up in the market place are pans of tulips, daffodils, crocus and hyacinths. If purchased at a tight stage, spring bulbs can last for up to two weeks in a home. The cooler the room, the longer they last.

• Does anyone know: I need new glasses and my optometrist has retired. Is there one out there that you would recommend as being excellent? Let me know. If not, I will have to increase the font size of this blog.

'Campfire' is being released this spring
• Writing tip #2: Adjectives and adverbs do not take the place of well chosen nouns and verbs. Spend more time on the nouns and verbs and restrict your use of adjectives and adverbs.

• Ancient history: In the 1960s, I was a paper boy for The Leader Post for four years. My route was the down town  morning route and I had 140 papers to deliver, six days a week. There were two days that I remember, as would any paper boy. The first was June 30th, 1967. It was the centennial of Canada as a country and the newspaper published a ‘Commemorative Edition’. Usually, I carried fifty or sixty papers in my bag but that day, I could only fit six as the paper was so heavy. Many people ordered extra copies to give to friends or to save. Joe Dojack over at National Music on Hamilton Street ordered a half dozen copies and I had to make a special delivery, just for his store. It was a good thing there was no school that day as I did not finish my deliveries until ten a.m. instead of the normal time of 7:30 a.m.

The second day that I remember was the December 27th edition of either ’66 or ’67. In those days, there were no Boxing Day sales. The paper was only twenty-four pages and it was the lightest that my carrier bag ever felt. I kept my route until the first month of Grade Eleven. Some of the kids at school found out that I still had a paper route and they made fun of me for keeping that job. I quit the next week.

Thanks for reading….Rod McDonald in Regina-the snow capital!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Garden Report #115

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

In Regina, we take snowblowing seriously
Writers write: Nothing spectacular this week, on my mind, except for snow, glorious snow. My snow blower is getting an incredible workout this winter. I actually love running the snow blower. You have to realize men love anything with a motor or involving danger. I am a man. I blow out neighbours walks and this week, I had some help from the snow fairies. My spies suggest it was neighbours Dave Calam and Nigel Crooks who were out early with their machines, taking care of the city sidewalks. Thanks guys!

• Readers write:

• Candace Holmstrom lives out in ‘God’s country’ so she was able to verify that Continent Coffee in Vancouver, on Commercial Drive, is still open. She writes “Continental Coffee is still open” which is what I just wrote.

• Casey Van Vloten also reports “my nephew and his wife work at a coffee shop on Commercial and they report The Continental is alive and well.”

• Continuing with the coffee theme, Jean McKay is a convert. “Thanks, Rod, for the kicking Horse 454 tip-am really enjoying my morning coffee!

• Jodi Sadowsky is getting our 2013 Fringe Festival up and running but she still has time to read the blog. “Hey Rod - thanks for The Garden Report. Love the story about your mom stopping to say hi to the two men as well as the Grammar Police being good and bad. I agree with your friend, your Garden Reports don't need to be policed. That said, I love the "Let’s eat grandpa" versus “Let’s eat, grandpa."

Brad's angels in Hawaii
• This in from Robert Stedwill. I inadvertently added in an extra one to #114, moving it up to #1114. Also in last week’s Report, my American Spell Check took over for no explainable reason. “I won't comment on the use of liter versus litre, because I do have a lot of American friends, and do understand they write a little differently, but I got a little concerned when I saw The Garden Report #1114 in the subject line! Have I been asleep for 1000 issues? Did I arrive at 85 and never felt the intervening twenty years? I have enjoyed reading the ‘Coffee Report" and understand why you take your own coffee equipment with you when traveling. Standing in line at a Tim Horton’s for coffee is not my cup of tea, unless you're there for tea, which is, strangely enough, passable.”

• Jim Tomkins writes in about dialects. “The story of the Glaswegian in today's Garden Report reminded me fondly of my paternal grandfather, who emigrated from England to Saskatchewan when he was eight years old. Being young, he of course quickly lost his British accent and developed a Canadian one. ... except, oddly, when he answered the telephone. To the end of his days, I could have sworn that I had dialled someone in London when he picked up the phone!”

• Neil Slater has a take on multiculturalism and it involves food. “Regarding multiculturalism: our favourite places to shop for food are Oskar's Deli/Maple Leaf Bakery, the Italian Star, Ukrainian Coop and the India Food Centre on Victoria.”

• Jean Freeman also supports multiculturalism with a Canadian perspective. “I agree completely with your take on Canada's melting pot abilities -- although I also agree with Arnold Edinborough, who said that Canada has never been a melting pot, but rather more like a tossed salad! I like that!”

• Marg Hryniuk suggests this local place for good coffee beans. “Lakeview Fine Foods sells coffee beans roasted at The Green Spot. They go fast, so I doubt if they are even one week old. I love the French roast.”

• Roberta Nichol enjoys the food at Peking House, but not when ordered by the numbers. “Oh, Rod, I so agree with you about Peking House. Kevin, Ray and I often go there before we attend The Globe Theatre. The separate dishes are just excellent. A few months ago, some friends were in from out of town, and we decided to go there for supper before attending a concert at Sawchyn Guitars. I ordered a dinner for one. Plain and simple: Yuck! I couldn't believe it was the same restaurant that I'd been bragging about. Never again will I order a dinner for (whatever number). But I do highly recommend the single dishes, yes.”

Add caption
• Terena Murphy Bannerman sent along the cartoon in the attachment plus this: “Thank you for the last year of Garden Reports, and I look forward to those to come in 2013.”

• Gwen Barschel passes out compliments. “I am still enjoying those Sunday morning reads, especially the latest installments of grand parenting.

• Garden Tip: I used to receive many phone calls asking how to turn a poinsettia from summer green to a winter red colour. I got so tired of answering the question that I wrote up the instructions and callers came down to pick up the answer sheet. Why I got tired was, in all the years of answering that one question, I never once, not once, had anyone carry out the instructions. It is so much work, having to provide sixteen hours of absolute darkness, every day, from September onwards, that no gardener bothers with it. It is best to leave the growing to the pros such as Les and Calvin Vanderveen and purchase a new one every December.

• Community news: The Creative Arts Center, operated by Marian Donnelly, produced 144 events in 2012. That was 144 events that struggled to find a venue prior to the opening of this community based arts center. A thank you goes out to Marian.

Amaryllis can be grown again
• Garden Tip: Tulips, daffs and crocus (crocii is the plural) that have been grown indoors seldom repeat their blooms. The adage I follow is ‘once forced, always spent.’ With amaryllis, I have found they can be successfully re-bloomed, five years out of eight. When the bloom is finished, cut the flower stalk to the level of the pot. Feed and water the plant until the danger of frost has passed in May. Plant outdoors, underneath a deciduous tree or in a similar dappled light condition. It could bloom, later in the summer. Allow the plant to get one or two mild frosts on the leaves. Remove the spent or withering leaves with a sharp knife. Store the bulb in the basement, dark and cool, for six to eight weeks. Bring upstairs after the resting period, repot and start the growing process. Remember that amaryllis bulbs grow best when planted two thirds below ground and one third above. It doesn’t look right, but that is the proper way.

• Low and slow: I have been buying blade roasts for Sunday supper, a cheaper cut of beef. I have been getting very good results by massaging the roast with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. I roast it in my convection oven at a low temp of 200 f. for five hours, give or take. I do use a meat thermometer and pull it out when it reaches an internal temp of 71 C., which is medium rare. The meat is very tender, when served warm. When left to cool in the refrigerator, it toughens up.

• Some clichés are true: Some writers and reviewers get on their high horse over perceived clichés. The problem with clichés is that they do have a basis in real life, otherwise they would have never become clichés. One of my favourite clichéd stories involved my Aunt Belle, who was as Scottish as Robbie Burns. One Sunday supper that I shared at her house, she served roast beef with HP Sauce. At the time, HP Sauce was not common in Canadian households and I adored the brown liquid as a gift from the gods. Aunt Belle thought I adored it too much and instructed me to return one half the amount I had on my plate to the bottle. When I hesitated, she threatened, in her Glaswegian accent, to call my mother and report my over indulgence. The next time someone references the frugality of the Scots, I just might have an opinion.

• The best (or worst) of the Scot’s jokes: One can tell they are flying low over Scotland when you see toilet paper drying on the clothes line.

• The best (or worst) of the Scot/Irish jokes: When you have a parent who is a Scot and another parent who is Irish, one half of you wants to get drunk but the other half refuses to pay for it.

• Some clichés are true #2: When it is convenient, I do not reference my Scottish grandparents. When I present myself as a writer, I suddenly remember that my dad’s father was Irish, somehow proving an obscure point of heritage.

• Downton Abbey: This British produced soap opera is incredible. A period piece, set in the early part of the last century, it weaves stories in and out in a brilliant fashion. I am hooked and watched the first two season over the Christmas holidays. For those dyed in the wool fans, I think that Thomas murdered Bates’ wife. Just a suspicion. It is on PBS, Channel 20, Sundays at eight p.m.

• Garden Tip: Okay. This tip is really a winter tip. When approaching someone who is operating a snow blower or any other power equipment, never, ever tap them on the shoulder. Operators of equipment are engrossed in the operation of the machine and with the engine noise, cannot hear someone approaching. A tap on the shoulder is an almost certain method for getting an elbow in your gut from an operator who genuinely believes he is under attack.

• Too much of a good thing: Now, the old timers who survived the drought years of the 1930s always maintained, a prairie boy should never complain about too much moisture. So I won’t complain. Having written that, we received another twenty centimeters of snow on Thursday. With the drifts, it was two feet high along some parts of the sidewalks that I shovel. If I were running a ski resort, I would be ecstatic, but I am not. In Newfoundland, according to The National, they got two to three feet of the white stuff and then it rained so the snow was the heaviest type for snow removal. Ours remains very fluffy, the easiest type to remove with the snow blower.

• Ouch: On the Seinfeld show, they would take everyday issues for topics. One of the shows dealt with whether you can date a girl and then date her roommate. According to Jerry, “it has never been done.” Somewhere in my youth, I took this girl out on a date, twice. She was nice, but no chemistry. Her roommate and I did hit it off. I knew it was a risk for me to ask the roomy out, but being young and filled with bravado, I decided to sally forth. I phoned, hoping against hope, that the girl I had already dated would not answer. She did. She knew what I wanted and was definitely not in the running for Miss Congeniality. She said in a loud voice, for all to hear, “Rod McDonald! How dare you speak to me using such vulgar language!” All I could muster was a “well played,” prior to tucking my tail between my legs and leaving the conversation.

A snowbank at High Q Greenhouse - two years ago
• Grampa’s little girl: Rayanna has returned with her parents to Edmonton, but not before I received many opportunities to hold her, burp her and feed her a bottle or two. I told her stories of my parents and my grandparents so that she will grow up knowing her ancestors. So far, so good and my record for never having changed a diaper is still intact. In 1977 when my nephew was a baby, my brother and I attempted to change a diaper, once. We required several rolls of duct tape and the entire process would have made an excellent ‘Red Green Show’.

• Thanks for reading...buried in the snow, here in Regina, Rod McDonald

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Garden Report #114

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Happy New Year!

Sharon's garden
• Writers write: Multiculturalism is not a word in Canada as much as it is a way of life. We, as a nation, have fought it in small pockets of resistance. Why, I cannot begin to fathom. Forty years ago, when French immersion was being established, complaints were being uttered “why should we have to learn French?” Today, many of our children grew up in French immersion schools and society has not collapsed. The Ukrainians still serve cabbage rolls, the Greeks speak Greek amongst themselves, the Chinese have woks and the Poles prepare dill pickles every fall. There was a time, within this province, when if you were from Nordic stock, you did not marry someone with Slovak heritage. Obviously, that has changed. We have indeed become the melting pot of the world, leaving behind the theories of racial purity to the 1930’s.

My family and I took in ‘An Evening in Greece’, for many years. It was a fundraiser, supper and dance put on by the Greek community of Regina. It was not uncommon for them to raise $85,000 for Palliative Care in one evening. A good time. As we watched the Greek kids dancing their folk dances to the music played by the Greek band, with everybody’s friend Nicky Makris shaking more hands than a politician, my brother quipped: “And this is why culture does not exist based upon government grants. The Greek culture is maintained because people within their community promote it.”

Now, being a man with excellent lineage deep into Scotland, it is quite difficult to get friends to celebrate ‘A Night in Scotland’. I don’t know if it is the haggis, or the wearing of a kilt when it is thirty-two below zero or is it my cousin Duncan playing ‘Rock of Ages’ on his bagpipes that slows people down? Of course, that is a secondary resentment and the story continues.

We have struggled with this grand faux debate over what it is to be Canadian for over fifty years now. Here is the story I enjoy the most. My friend was in Saskatoon, visiting family. An Afghani family moved in across the street. Their first day in Saskatchewan. The kids had not even unpacked when they were invited outside for a game of road hockey by the neighbourhood children. Never having played the game before, within the hour they were shooting pucks at the net. Their first words in English were “he shoots, he scores!” That is the Canada beyond any government agency. That is the real Canada.

(A somewhat connected story to the one above is this: In 1958, I was in Grade Two. A Greek boy moved in next door. His name was Leo. He taught me two things that year. First, when playing soccer, you cannot pick up the ball and run with it. Second. He taught me how to use the ‘f’ word. It took an immigrant boy, coming across thousands of miles of the Atlantic Ocean, to teach me, a boy born at The Grey Nuns Hospital, to speak the one word forbidden by my family. Now that’s multiculturalism at its best!)

• Readers write:

• Georgia Hearn begins with “what a wonderful start to the new year...with tears and a grateful heart. You make us realize how blessed we are. All the best wishes to all for a happy 2013.”

• Dean Ast was our neighbourhood pharmacist for many years, over on Hill Avenue. He wants us to know “Lynn & I regularly read your Garden Report, so still feel connected. Life is always busy in our household, but we are enjoying a little slower pace at this time of year.”

• Roberta Nichol was moved by the story of the baby in I.C.U. “Oh, my buddy, this was a 'gooder,' as my former neighbour used to say. Wonderful Report. Of course, your last entry left me bawling. I wonder if little Henry is still alive? That's a terribly big challenge for a wee little baby. Wow. Again, stories like that give you such a slap in the head, and remind you of just how blessed you really are. Indeed, there but for the grace of God, go I.”

• We rarely hear from Patty Softly, who was a CBC producer and writer of docs for many years in Toronto. Patty is succinct when she does write and here is everything she has to say: “I really liked this Report.” Come on Patty, fire off a hundred words. Gush if you have to.

The front garden at the ranch house
• Ingrid Thiessen found a similarity between the blog and her sermon. I suspect the last two words were proffered tongue in cheek. “Your comments on gratitude were wonderful. What a coincidence that it was the topic of yesterday's sermon. Perhaps the Christmas spirit was on a mission and you were one of the chosen wise men.”

Ashley is our newest member of the family
• Good news: Maureen was already on Cloud Nine with our first grandchild home for Christmas. Then Bryan (Number One Son) and Ashley arrived home late Saturday night with Ashley wearing a rock on her left hand. They are getting married next January, in Mexico. What is higher than Cloud Nine? I have no idea but Maureen was on it. A baby and a wedding. The woman was ecstatic.

• Really?: The Leader Post, in last Monday’s paper, had a photo that included this caption, “more sharper”. For the benefit of those who are grammar impaired, it is sharp, sharper and sharpest. I’m trying not to be too smug.

• Bakers’ holiday: Both Maple Leaf on 11th and Orange Boot on Gordon Road are closed until the middle of the month for holidays. Now is the time to get that bread maker out of storage and give it your best shot. Come on, you have been talking about doing that for two years now.

• Mark’s baking tips: When you are going old school baking bread, here are some basics from Mark Dyck at Orange Boot.

1. Add water. A wetter dough will give you a better crumb.

2. Use less yeast. Long fermentation gives better flavour and your bread will keep longer.

3. Bake hot, with steam. 450F+. Mist the oven after loading (avoid the light bulb!). You will get more spring and better crust.

3.5 Don't be afraid to ask your baker for more tips!

The always lovley hibiscus
• Thinking: The best thing about getting older is when you get a big pimple on your face, it doesn’t ruin your Friday night.

• Thinking #2: The worst thing about getting older is how steep they are building stairs these days and the small print in the newspaper. Has anyone noticed that I use a twenty point font here in The Garden Report?

• Quit being so selfish: A chap writes a letter to the editor. He is not going to shovel the City owned, public sidewalk. The City should do that he asserts. Yep. The sidewalk out front of my place is owned by The City and I am obliged to keep it clean so that my neighbours can pass by safely, with ease. I live in this community and I have a shared responsibility to do what I can to make it a better place to live. This fellow needs more compassion and less jerk in him.

• Thinking #3: One day at the garden center, I had some new neighbours over for tea. One of my guests was eighty-seven years young. She looked at the stairs leading to my office. She told me that as a little girl, she would run up and down the stairs at The R.H. Williams Department Store on 11th. Her mother warned her that she would not be able to carry out that feat forever and a day. Being seven years at the time, she thought otherwise. “That day has come” she quietly said to me as I helped her climb.

• Times change: When the metric system was introduced into Canada on July 1st, 1975, the news was filled with stories of people who said they would never convert. “What’s wrong with the old system?” they asked. Ten years later, most of those who insisted they would never adopt metric were commenting on the plus thirty degree heat, picking up a liter of milk at the store and ordering two hundred grams of cheese from the deli.

• Times change #2: A very positive change in the last thirty years is the reduction of alcohol abuse on New Year’s Eve. There was a time when public dances, restaurants and house parties were absolutely disgusting displays of the over consumption of booze. People who rarely drank would be falling down. Jobs were sacrificed, marriages damaged and sadly, many got behind the steering wheel to drive in that condition. Now, perhaps my head is in the sand with the ostriches, but I am a witness to very little of this behavior and for that, all of us can be grateful. As a secondary note, The City Police in Saskatoon and Regina reported no arrests on New Year’s Eve for impaired driving this year.

Dancing on New Year's Eve
• Hanging with the Italians: This was the third year we went dancing at The Italian Club to bring in the new year, along with neighbours June and Dave Blau. Great time as always. There are so few opportunities to enjoy a live band left and ‘Cornerstone’ worked hard to fill the dance floor. Their opening set was two hours long. People are there to dance rather than drink, which is how I want a dance to be. The buffet was an improvement over last year with upgraded salads, desserts and an old fashioned, bone in ham. As readers know, I detest processed ham when the old school ones are so damned tasty. Perhaps next year, I will put out a call in early December and ten or twenty of us can book a Garden Report table. Leanne Anderson has taken over as the manager of The Italian Club. Many readers will remember Leanne’s eleven year tenure over at The Italian Star on Victoria Avenue.

• Hanging with the Italians #2: There is an old school, off the boat, Italian gentleman at the club. Actually, there are many. I don’t know his name, but we have talked before. We were chatting away when his wife came by. She spoke sharply to him, in Italian, so I don’t know exactly what she said but I do know it was not “thank you for being a great husband.” He said nothing. She walked away. I said to him as only one husband can say to another, “do you listen to your wife?” He answered “no”, paused for a moment and asked “do you?” I, too, paused (as if I had to think about it) and then replied “no.” It was a male bonding experience.

• Hanging with the Glaswegians: At The Italian Club, a lad from Glasgow was dancing, shaking his Scottish booty. To people not from Canada, this might sound unusual, but not to Canadians. There was a Korean family in attendance as well. This is Canada and we tend to climb into the melting pot together. We don’t need another bloody Royal Commission on multiculturalism! All we need to make this country work is for one group to throw a great party with wonderful food and then invite their neighbours over. On with the story. Scotty, how clichéd, speaks Glaswegian, which is a dialect of English that sounds nothing like English. It is virtually indescribable, thicker than a ‘bay boy’ Newfie accent. Fortunately for this story, my grandparents and aunties spoke Glaswegian and I can understand it but not mimic the accent. When he would come to the garden center, I was the only one who could wait on him. The way he pronounced geranium was almost Martian.

Maureen has always been suspicious that I made up the word ‘Glaswegian’, but even ‘Spell Check’ acknowledges it as a real word. We know ‘Spell Check’ wouldn’t lie to us. On with the story. I asked Scotty to drop by our table and have a chat with my Mrs. He did and she sat there, picking up perhaps one tenth of what he said. He even clipped me with “the teed was oot,” which in the written form does not demonstrate the guttural nature of his voice. It took me a full minute to realize he had said “the tide was out.” Scotty has been here thirty-two years and my aunties were here seventy years, yet the accent remained. Maureen asked why he didn’t adapt and speak a modified Canadian version of English. She doesn’t know anything about Glaswegians. “He is waiting for us to change” I told her. “That’s just how Glaswegians are.” And just to stir the pot with a little controversy, he assured me that Glaswegians are salt of the earth people unlike the stuck up snobs in Edinburgh. On this subject, I must abandon my clan roots and have no opinion. I remain neutral, just like Switzerland.

• Peking House surprise: Let me start out by saying that I never, ever order the dinner for four, five or six. Just not what I want at any Chinese restaurant. Secondly, I have never had a bad plate of food at Peking House, though some dishes I prefer over others, which is normal. The Sunday before Christmas was photo day at our house. All the kids, they hate that word, were home along with our first grandchild. We put on our best smiles and the photographer plied her trade. It was a longer session than we anticipated, what with many close-ups of the ‘oh too cute’ baby. Supper time was looming and the kids asked me to order in some Chinese food. I grabbed the Peking House’ menu and rather than pick out my favourites, I called in for ‘The Deluxe Dinner for Eight’. It kind of touched all the bases and I thought it was easier.

I have always been suspicious that the dinner for whatever number you care to insert, receives little respect in the kitchen and what arrives is a dumbed down version of their finest. My suspicions proved correct. The ‘Special Fried Rice’ which I have had before and quite enjoyed was nothing more than a plate of steamed rice, barely fried, with three shrimps. Definitely not special and not even close to what was served to me in their restaurant on Rose Street. Now, I am not a big fan of chicken balls or deep fried shrimp, but the ones I have seen at Peking House always impressed me that the batter did not dominate the chicken or the shrimp. Ours were 75% batter, and I am being generous with that estimate. The shrimp and the chicken were only these tiny little rewards for slugging your way through two inches of deep friend batter. The ‘Ginger Beef’ which many acclaim as being first rate had not even a hint of ginger. I explored all portions of this dish to see if I could find a slice of fresh ginger but none was to be found. On the positive side, the two veggie dishes were first rate, no short changing us there. With tax, tip and delivery charge, it was a flat ninety-five bucks. I do enjoy Peking House and will frequent them again, but never the ‘Deluxe Dinner for Eight’.

• Maple syrup: That’s right. You read it correctly. Maple syrup is the topic. After all, this is a Canadian blog, eh? I was at The Farmers’ Market in December. A new vendor was in attendance, selling maple syrup from Kamsack which is four hours north of Regina, in bush country. I purchased a half liter bottle for $25. Here is the taste test carried out comparing our traditional Quebec maple syrup and the new boy on the block. The syrup from Kamsack has a much stronger taste, similar to molasses. Fortunately for me, I love molasses, but not everyone does. Short and sweet, pun intended.

• The way we were: In 1967, I asked a girl out for dinner. How elegant. Not to The A and W, but to a real restaurant. I asked Ernie Pappas, my football coach, for the protocol. He advised me to make a reservation and that ten percent was an appropriate tip. We arrived at The Oriental Bowl on Albert Street. It was in the neighbourhood, just north of Dewdney, what else can I say. We were the only ones there. Thank God I had made the reservation. Not knowing what to order, we chose the dinner for two, somehow thinking this might be romantic. Did I mention my car was a ’58 Chev? When finished, we left fifty cents under the plate, as instructed. The meal had been five bucks, no tax in those days.

• Everything starts somewhere: The ‘foodie’ movement had its start in Regina with my friend, Mieka Wiens. Mieka set up shop near the corner of 11th and Smith Street, after training at The Cordon Bleu, more than thirty years ago. Today, you can find many wonderful chef run bistros in this city, but none before Mieka’s. She was the trailblazer who brought us out from the ‘iron curtain’ of cutlets with tomato sauce or meatloaf and mashed potatoes. When most restaurants were moving towards purchasing prepped foods, including soups in bags, Mieka was saying “hey, my soup is made from scratch”. A Greek salad is standard fare all over this city today, but it was Mieka who first introduced it to Regina, long before the Greek community offered it. The first time I ordered it, I thought the feta cheese was cottage cheese, having never seen it before. She had her fans, including me, along with her fair share of detractors who did not get what she was doing. Today, without her, there might not be the wide assortment of establishments that promote fresh, in house cooked food.

• Some get it, some don’t: I had a regular column in The Free Press, in the nineties. I wrote a story about how I had been to the hospital for a bladder transplant. I ledged that I had a larger bladder installed so that I didn’t have to get up to pee during the night. Carrying on with that line, I mentioned that The General Hospital was having a special sale. With every bladder transplant, you got your choice of a knee replacement, absolutely free. Should be the end of the story, right? The week after publication, I had three people call me, asking how the knee surgery had gone and did I recommend the surgeon? Not one person called to ask how the bladder transplant was working out.

• Language matters: For those who still maintain that choosing your words carefully is not important, keep this in mind. Years ago, when you ran into two friends and said “let’s make it a threesome”, it meant you were going for lunch. Today if you utter those same words, it gets really weird, fast.

• Coffee nuts: I do not consider myself a coffee connoisseur. That word is just too precious for a Dewdney Avenue boy, but I do love my java. When we travel to other cities, I always pack my beans, my coffee grinder, filters and favorite cup. Even in a hotel, I brew my own morning coffee, just the way I like it. When it comes to taste, all coffee lovers have their favourites. Each of us taste something different in a bean or blend. For the past two to three years, my number one choice has been 454 from Kicking Horse. I thought the 454 was named after the legendary GM motor. Recently, I found out that 454 is the roasting temperature. I like my first idea better.

Locally, good places to purchase house roasted beans are Roca Jacks and The Green Spot. If you are new to being a coffee nut, talk to the baristas at your favourite cappuccino bar. It is perfectly okay to smell the coffee beans that you are interested in purchasing. I usually say “give me a whiff” and they have always passed the opened jar so I can inhale. No one has laughed at me yet. The two places I mentioned are in Regina. In Saskatoon, at Five Corners along Broadway, is the well known Broadway Roastery. I still maintain they brew the best latte anywhere. Their beans are first rate as well. In Vancouver, our favourite haunt was The Continental on Commercial Drive. It was a forty-minute bus ride to get there, but coffee aficionados think nothing of that investment. I have heard it is now closed, but I need one of our readers out that way to confirm the story.

Again, if you are just beginning your quest for the perfect cup, here are a few tips. Invest in a decent grinder. Coffee is always best when the beans are fresh ground, not in store. Second, the best coffee is made one cup at a time, with a small dripper and filter. Machine made coffee is not for you. Third, while everyone has their own version of weak to strong, the best coffee is usually more to the strong side. It should have bite, otherwise it is brownish dish water. The last time I wrote about good coffee, I was swamped with emails, readers telling me which was their favourite roast or espresso house. Coffee nuts tend to be similar to religious zealots, myself included. By the way, for those in our community, Gales on 13th is the best place to purchase your 454 beans. It’s a flower shop, which makes no sense at all.

Thanks for reading...Rod McDonald in seasonably warm Regina

A riot of colour