The Garden Report #114
Sunday, January 6th, 2013
Happy New Year!
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|
|Ashley is our newest member of the family|
• 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 #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 #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|