Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Garden Report #38

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

New Zealand by Richard Gustin
• Writers write: The afternoon sun is strong even on a cold, winter’s day. The snow banks in our garden get higher with each passing week. As gardening season is still in the future, I have time to spend on theater. Each year, The Regina Fringe Festival produces a fund raiser. The Festival is truly a shoe string operation, scraping by with minimal funds and any monies raised are appreciated and needed. This year, Jodi Sadowsky will be producing the event, Roberta Nichol will be the musical act and yours truly will be presenting Glory Days. Of my six plays, this one has been the most popular with audiences. It has played to full houses and standing ovations in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Calgary and Regina. I just happen to have some tickets for sale and if you would be willing to support The Regina Fringe, send me an email. The show is Friday, March 25th at 7:30. The venue is The Royal Saskatchewan Museum. Tickets are $30 advance and $35 at the door, if there are any left.

• Readers write: Reader Richard Gustin writes that he is enjoying his trip through New Zealand. Richard was kind enough to forward a few photos of his journey. New reader but old friend Joanne Bonneville writes “I look forward to reading about gardens while ours is still covered with the highest snow banks we have seen in years.” Lyn Goldman writes that she can relate to my dad’s voice reincarnated in my body. Lyn claims that her mother is often channeled through her body when she sees someone wearing inappropriate attire. Regular contributor Cheryl Hutton writes that the bit about cooking bacon in the buff is indeed funny. Sure it’s funny Cheryl, until you get splattered with some grease. Cheryl and her fellow actor/husband Aaron Coates have purchased their first house in Calgary, after living in the same apartment for seven years. I can relate to their enthusiasm. It was February 26th, 1973 when I purchased my first house just across the street from where I am living and writing, today. Nancy Topping writes “Spring will be here one day.” Ah, the voice of faith. Jodi Sadowsky writes that she made the Yorkshire Pudding from the recipe here at The Garden Report and that it was delicious. Roberta Nichol writes that she enjoys all of The Garden Reports but she adds that #37 “is so damn funny and entertaining.” Are we talking Reader’s Digest funny or George Carlin funny? Piet Berkenpas out of Vancouver thinks that #37 was funny as well. Piet wrote “I will probably be found smiling all day.” If my kids are reading this, please note that there are a few people out there who find me entertaining.

Silver Leaf Dogwood
• Fashion police: In 1969, I was a first year student at The University. I had a favorite pair of Levis’ jeans that were threadbare and faded. A real fashion statement for the times as they went with my tie dyed t-shirt. Go ahead and laugh. Every Friday, I would stop into the university cafeteria for lunch because they prepared a decent fish and chip meal. The cashier who would ring up my purchase took me aside one day. She was a woman in her sixties. She said in a quiet voice “I don’t want to embarrass you but I can’t help to notice how poor you are as your jeans are past the rag bag stage. I mean, they are so worn out. My husband died last year and he was about your size. If you don’t’ mind, I will bring his pants to work next week so you can have a decent pair to wear.” I thanked the woman for her kindness but I assured her that I preferred my threadbare Levis’ over her husband’s slacks. She was somewhat surprised by my refusal but life carried on. A few years later, I run into this woman, her name was Jean, and she was with my mother. When my mother introduced me to Jean as her son, Jean turned to my mother and said “this is the boy I told you about. The one too proud to wear my husband’s pants even though his ass was sticking out of his jeans.” My mother responded “I know, I know. I’ve tried to get him to stop wearing those but he won’t. It’s so embarrassing.”

What? I had a recent visit with a long time friend. He is in his seventies and still going strong, but his hearing has diminished. As with many men, he refuses to get a hearing aid. He kept providing me with great answers to questions that I didn’t ask. It was as if we were playing a bizarre game of Jeopardy. He would provide the answer and I had to guess the question. The conversation went something like this: Q. What is the name of your church choir? A. Church? A small Alliance one in Saskatoon. Q. What? A. That’s where the funeral is being held. Q. What funeral? A. Didn’t you ask about Don’s funeral? Q. When did Don die? A. Aren’t you keeping up with the conversation?

• What? A second time: We had a lovely man who worked at Lakeview. His hearing was going and the conversations were getting increasingly bizarre. I had to ask him to get a hearing aid, which is a delicate subject to broach with anyone. I asked him point blank “have you thought about getting a hearing aid?” His response: “Sure. Have you thought that you should quit mumbling.” As far as he was concerned, the problem was solved, once I did my part.

Little Princess Spirea-one of my favourites
 • Garden Tip: For myself and for many people who work in the greenhouse/florist world, alstromeria is a favorite flower. It is a complex flower and yet simple at the same time, if that makes sense to you. They last a long time and their colors are not harsh. A bouquet of alstromeria is a lovely addition to any room, especially at this time of year. Can anyone guess what I got my Mrs. for Valentines?

• Today’s Thought: I have spent the better part of my life believing that happiness was a destination, only to discover that it was a part of the journey.

• A Scottish dream come true: Most of us remember when it was illegal to advertise beer or liquor in this province. Molson’s wanted to thank their customers so they sent out sales reps with an advertising budget of sorts. The reps hung around off sale vendors and if you purchased a Molson’s product, they matched your purchase with additional product. My buddies and I were around twenty or twenty-one and we stopped at The Plains off sale to pick up a dozen Pilsner. In I go and the Molson rep introduces himself after my purchase, thanks me, and he buys me another dozen. So, I asked him had I purchased twenty-four, would he have matched that and he said “yes”. Pushing the point, I asked if I had purchased thirty-six, would he have matched that number and again, he said “yes.” I had to quit asking because that was all of the money I had so I bought my thirty-six and he bought me an additional thirty-six. My buddies were expecting me to come out with a dozen beer under my arm. They were pleasantly surprised, and then overjoyed, when I emerged carrying three cases of twenty-four beer each. There might have been a party that night.

• Garden Tip: Reader Sherri Tutt asks about starting her saved begonias and her tomato seeds. Begonia tubers should be started at the end of February or the beginning of March. If they grow too big for a four inch pot, they can be bumped up to a five or even a six inch container. The key is not to overwater a begonia tuber. In the greenhouse, tomato seeds are started in early April for a four inch finished pot. They need about five to six weeks to look nice at that size. If you are wanting to grow your tomatoes in the conventional six pack size, tomato seeds only need around four weeks growing time. If your tomato seedlings are getting too tall, then pinch them back. I always prefer a short and stocky plant over a tall and lanky one. Also, in a window sill situation, it is always best to rotate your plants with a quarter turn every day. This allows the plant to develop on all sides.

• Germany calling: I have just found out that The Garden Report is now being read more in Germany than in Denmark, which used to occupy third place. I have no idea why it is popular in Germany. I have to assume that there are quite a few people there who read English. Sadly, I know a thousand Dutch jokes, five thousand Scottish jokes and twenty-thousand Canadian jokes, but I don’t know a single Danish or German joke.

• Garden Tip: If you are planning on rebuilding your garden or starting a new one, best to get some decent design advice. Two people who can assist you, though they are booking up quickly, are Heather Lowe at 545-1519 and Ingrid Thiessen at 789-5449.

• The staple of life: Good bread is a very popular topic amongst our readers. When you are in Vancouver, visit La Baguette on Grandville Island. It is an incredible, old school bakery that sells artisan breads. I must confess that I am rarely a big fan of Danishes but at this bakery, they are heavenly. Nothing is more enjoyable than one of their Danishes with a strong cup of coffee, sitting on a wooden bench at dockside during a sunny afternoon.

• Winnipeg too: In Winnipeg, we wander over to The Forks which is located just south of downtown to buy good bread from Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company. They are also known for their whole wheat cinnamon buns which are very popular, though they have never appealed to me.

• More good stuff: I wrote that while I have never been fond of Danishes, I have experienced ecstasy eating one from La Baguette in Vancouver. A similar situation applies to brownies. I rarely eat one even when they appear on a dessert buffet. I am always more tempted by matrimonial cake or a lemon tart. Regardless, when we are in Winnipeg for The Fringe, Maureen and I share a brownie from The Fyxx Coffee Shop in The Exchange District, every day. There is something about their brownies that is highly addictive and better than any others.

New Zealand by Richard Gustin
• Excellent product: We had a loaf of ‘Saskatchewan Sourdough’ from Orange Boot this week. The crust was incredibly chewy, just the way I want it to be. Great taste on the inside as well. We ate it with supper and we never serve bread with supper.

• Saturday Night out: A lovely night at the symphony with readers Jim and Susan Rollins. The title for the concert was ‘The RSO Goes to The Oscars’ and they played a number of scores including ‘The Godfather’, ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. What really shone through for me were the oboe and the English horn, two instruments that are not always noticeable, but last night they were given their chance in the spotlight. There is a new oboe player within the orchestra and she has brought a sense of passion with her to the chair. Only the concertmaster provides more character than her.

My garden-photo makes for a great screensaver
• Thank you: With my mother’s passing, our family requested in lieu of flowers, a donation be made to The Care and Share Group. The group is comprised of around sixty seniors from North Central, who meet every Tuesday for lunch and a social at The Albert Scott Community Center. Mom was active in that group for thirty years. Twelve of you took the time and found the generosity to send checks, and we want each of you to know how much that is appreciated. 
 • God’s grace: Many of us believe that God’s grace is available to everyone, even a condemned prisoner standing on the scaffold awaiting execution, yet we find it difficult to accept that it is available for us as well.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in still cold and snowy Regina.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Garden Report #37

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Michiel's Greenhouse - plug production
• Writers write: The Valentine’s issue is here. Along with the Sports Illustrated swim suit edition, this is what men have been waiting for all year. Not really. My friend Don Keith who is now deceased, used to come into the greenhouse every Valentine’s Day and buy his wife an azalea. A lovely azalea. How thoughtful. But he would never take one of the florist cards and sign his name to it, even though there was no extra charge. I even offered to write out the card for him but he refused, always explaining “she’ll know who it’s from.” As much as I dearly love my male buddies, they are idiots. All of them. Complete idiots! They never understand that for women, the card is the most important part of the gift. The flowers will be finished in short order, and the chocolates will be eaten, but the card remains forever, in a drawer somewhere, proof that love exists. Best card ever written by a seventeen year old boy to his girlfriend… “I love you so much that I would give you my last beer.” Here’s to love in all of its forms.

Pink Spire Flowering Crab
• Readers write: Michiel Verheul of Alberta sent along a photo of his greenhouse this week. Michiel grows plugs which he sells to other greenhouses. They, in turn, grow the plugs into a finished product. Spring must be getting close because I can smell the peat moss. ‘Pink Spire’ Flowering Crab is displayed as well. This is a variety that was developed by Les Kerr out of Saskatoon and the photo is courtesy of Jeffries Nursery. Number Three Son and his new bride are in Hawaii for a vacation. They sent dad some photos and three are included in this blog. Lyn Goldman, Kate Berringer and Jodi Sadowsky all wrote the same thing: “Beautiful photos” in reference to last week’s attachments. The photos were courtesy of Jeffries’ Nursery. Audrey Drummond liked the one liner about middle age. Audrey suggests that we have a contest to coin a new phrase to replace ‘middle age’, which mathematically is not a correct description of people in their fifties and sixties. New reader Susan Patryluk writes that she is pleased to be included on the list as she has enjoyed her first Report. Joanne Terry writes “you get more hilarious each week”. I assume the thought of me cooking bacon in the buff set Joanne off. Reader Daniel Redenbach informs us that he has applied to a number of festivals to host the premiere of his short film ‘Close to Here’. I have seen the final cut and he did a wonderful job. New reader Bob Leeson wrote that Marg Hryniuk’ ability as a reporter is first rate. June Blau wrote “keep writing so we can keep reading.” Richard Gustin wrote he was reading #36 in New Zealand where it is plus twenty-five. Orange Boot Bakery is pleased that good bread is being promoted within The Garden Report. We do like to eat. Gwen Scott out of Ft. Langley, B.C. writes “I continue to enjoy your banter on all things ‘gardeny’ and ‘kitcheny’. Well, that is just ‘peacheny’.

• The King’s Speech: This movie has been nominated for several Oscar’s and it will probably win Best Picture. It is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Writing of historical movies, TBS had on late at night, ‘Anne of a Thousand Days’. Richard Burton plays the role of Henry and his acting skills are phenomenal.

• Oh well: Greg Morley and Susan Hardy joined us at The Globe last Sunday. Within the play, the husband is caught not listening to his wife’s instructions. For whatever reason, Greg and I were laughing at this situation, in a loud and vigorous manner. Now, some might suspect that we were laughing because we could identify with not listening, but that is not true. Greg and I are very good listeners. We just have short memories.

A hibiscus in Hawaii growing outside
• Garden Tip: Reader Marcus Fernando has a small plot of land available to develop as his first garden and he sought advice on where to begin. I always advise new gardeners to start off with a small ‘salad garden’ which will be easy to manage. One can always increase the size the following year. A ‘salad garden’ should contain everything you would want in a salad including lettuce, green tail onions, carrots, tomatoes, basil, thyme and a few marigolds to reduce insects. It is always a good idea to stagger your seed times with lettuce so that you have continuous ripening times. Tomatoes can be jarred, carrots can be stored, herbs can be dried, but lettuce has to be eaten when it is ready. Even in a small area, I might be tempted to plant a few garlic toes and a rhubarb plant. For those who are not gardeners, rhubarb plants are perennial and they can live for fifty years or longer.

• Garden Tip: A perennial is a plant that had it lived, would have bloomed the following year.

• Garden Tip: Rhubarb leaves are quite attractive and they lend themselves to being planted for ornamental purposes in perennial beds. Similarly, ‘Northern Lights’ Swiss Chard is being used as an ornamental and not as an edible. There was some planted in front of The Legislature last year.

Patrick in Hawaii
• Community: We received and invitation to a supper hosted by Christ Lutheran Church on Dewdney Avenue, Saturday night. The meal was excellent but more importantly, I always enjoy these events for their sense of community. It was a chance to visit with people that we have not seen for a while and to meet new friends. I met a woman whose father I had worked with forty years ago. Her dad is still going strong at 105! Patrons of community events invariable turn out to be some of the nicest people one can meet.

• Sir?: Les Anderson who was my greenhouse manager said it best. “Maturity begins when the kid at Safeway turns to you and asks ‘would you like help out with that, sir?’” The first time that occurs, Les says you have to realize you are no longer hip. You have become your father.

I swore it would not happen: One night when the kids were small, they were supposed to be getting ready for bed but of course, they were fooling around. I gave them a warning. They did not heed it. Without thinking, I was standing at the bottom of the stairs shouting upwards, “So help me God…if you two don’t have your pajamas on and get into bed in five seconds, I am coming up there. Don’t make me come up there!” I had no idea where that voice had come from. It was as if my dad had been transposed into my body. And I had sworn that it would never happen.

• Something is not right: I have this doctor in Saskatoon who is quite distinguished looking. He has grey hair and his face tells you that he has been practicing medicine for many, many years. I always assumed he was ever so much my elder, by at least ten years. This week, he was being interviewed on the news and they reported his age as being two years less than mine! That must be a mistake, right?

• Language Reform: In Saskatoon a few years ago there were two theater reviews. One was for a performance with Robbie Benz who is thirty pounds heavier than me. The reviewer wrote “the powerfully built Robbie Benz”. Fair enough. Then the same reviewer described me in a different play as “the stocky Rod McDonald”. If any reviewer is reading this, in the future, I would prefer to be described as “the powerfully built.” And to that other reviewer who wrote “the aging Rod McDonald”, does he not realize that he is bald? Glass houses man, glass houses. For the record, I would prefer the word ‘aging’ be substituted with the adjective ‘timeless’. Ah, that feels better.

• Cyber Space: A hot topic in the news continues to be cyber bullying which apparently, is not confined to teen aged girls. It has now leapt into the adult demographics. Along a similar vein, when I read my favorite blog sites, often historical ones, I am amazed by the insane comments posted by anonymous readers. Not just opinions that I disagree with, but plain old fashioned, crude comments. I am often left wondering if they are posted by twelve year old boys. Most of us remember when the bulk of stupid, anonymous phone calls were made by adolescent boys who had nothing better to do with their time. Now with all of the technology available, cranks calls have decreased but cyber crap has increased. One of the major problems as I see it is that posters are not required to reveal their names, and they hide behind their anonymity. A part of democracy has always been the freedom to write and to speak what you believe to be true, which has to go hand in hand with assuming responsibility for what you write. Many of you write in to express your opinions on various subjects and I post your views, but I would never allow someone to post without identifying themselves. Anonymous posters are nothing more than new age cowards.

• Old age cowards: When I wrote for The Free Press, every now and again I would receive a letter that was absolutely off the wall, and unsigned. The writer would be waging a vendetta against some enemy, real or imagined. In contrast, the signed letters were always much more coherent and thought out, even if I disagreed with their conclusions.

• Garden Tip: Your amaryllis is through blooming and you don’t know what to do. Here is the scoop. Continue to water the plant. It should have three, four or five long, strappy leaves on it. After the danger of frost has passed, plant it outside in the garden in dappled light. I plant mine underneath my flowering crabapple tree. It could bloom again in September. Allow the plant to get a couple of frosts on it, just enough to turn the leaves. Lift the bulb out of the soil, allow it to dry out in the sun for a day or so and then store it in a cool, dark place (such as the attic) for six weeks. Repot the bulb and start growing it again. It will usually bloom five years out of eight. Not bad chances, eh?

• Funny: A woman at the grocery store asked Maureen how she stays so skinny. I told the questioner it was because I chase her around the house every night. The woman asked me how come I am not skinny. Maureen replied “he doesn’t chase me very fast.”

• Restaurant time at Ngoc Anh: Maureen and her book club have been to this place for dim sum and they have been quite pleased with their experience. The restaurant occupies the premises once home to Mieka’s and later on, Ming’s at 1810 Smith St. We decided to check it out for an early Valentine’s supper on Friday. First, the owner does the serving and she is extremely friendly and nurturing. A definite plus. Her husband is the cook. Another plus. The place is clean. Plus, yet again. We started out with a basic hot and sour soup. It was filled with a great assortment of vegetables however it was not sour, it was sweet. Correctly labeled, it was hot and sweet soup. Our next dish was cashew chicken which again was filled with an array of fresh veggies, but a little shy on the chicken and the cashews. Dish number three was the Singapore noodles which were cooked with curry. This dish was very tasty and I really enjoyed it. Our last dish was a hot plate, something we have not ordered for years. We chose one with scallops and black bean sauce. It also had some nice flavors going on and it was filled with fresh veggies, including green beans and fresh pea pods, but not a lot of scallops, especially for sixteen bucks. Total price for the meal including tip (no alcohol) was fifty-eight dollars. I don’t dole out stars. What it comes down to is this: Would I go back? I would give them another chance based upon their friendly service, their cleanliness and their wonderful selection of veggies. I would definitely ask them for dishes with more flavor and oomph. I have been told by others that they offer up a decent lunch time buffet for around nine bucks, but I have not checked that out.

A lovely photo of Hawaii
• Back to school: I have a little friend who is four years old. She loves to be scared and I accommodate her when we play ‘lion in the jungle’. I wanted to change things up a bit so I introduced a new character, a mean spirited pirate who chases little girls around the house. After we were through playing, she pointed out that my ‘lion’ and my ‘pirate’ sound quite similar to each other. Damn! Now I have to sign up for another acting class. Everyone is a theater critic these days.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in Regina

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Garden Report #36

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Starlite Flowering Crab

• Writers Write: There is a company that tracks the readership of The Garden Report. Not surprisingly, the readership is comprised of mainly Canadians, followed by a solid base in The U.S.A. For third place, I would have expected England but I was wrong. For some unexplained reason, we are being read quite nicely in Denmark. Perhaps they like my jokes about the Scots. Next in line is Germany, Slovenia, Russia, Poland, The United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Japan. Eighty per cent of you read this with a PC and fifty-three per cent of you are using Explorer. There are only 17 of you reading this on your I Pod and 8 of you who read it on your I Phone. There are no statistics available as to how many of you are reading this in your underwear. For some strange reason, I am actually dressed this morning and it is not because I am cooking bacon. That is my idea of living dangerously these days, cooking bacon in the buff.

Starlite Flowering Crab
• Readers Write: I was quite surprised by the number of responses to the ‘salad wars’ blurb. There were several different perspectives. Some readers shared how they had gone through their own battles many years ago including reader Jean Freeman. Jean wrote that her war was with a defiant six year old daughter over whether six year olds should eat brussel sprouts: And then the younger parents such as Noelle Chorney from Saskatoon wrote: “Thanks also for the parenting tip on the ‘salad wars’. I read it to my husband, and we both appreciated the good advice, since we are currently navigating parenthood with a 2 and a half year old and a six month old, and are learning the hard way to avoid power struggles at all costs.” Noelle also wants readers to know that she has a blog of her own and it is about food. You can read her blog at . Marcus Fernando writes that his young niece filed a complaint regarding her mother. She ledged her mean mother made her “eat leaves.” Nancy Topping was interested in making Yorkshire Pudding. A recipe for this lovely dish appeared a few Garden Reports back. June Blau writes that she and Dave enjoy the smell of ‘bone soup’ as it simmers in their kitchen. Ingrid Thiessen suggests that I am an enigma because I have requested airplane passengers to dress in a respectful manner yet I insist that we be allowed to eat brunch in our underwear at The Hotel Saskatchewan. I had to explain that flying is a formal experience whereas brunch is much more casual, thus I am no longer an enigma. Marg Hryniuk pointed out my grammatical error from last week. I wrote that “our priorities lay…”. According to Marg, chickens lay eggs and priorities lie. Good to know. Reader Gail Bowen wrote “Thanks for the recipes, for the wit and the wisdom and for all the lovely memories…” Wisdom, eh? I have to send that comment along to the kids. They won’t believe it. Paula Grolle writes that she really enjoys British shows including ‘Doc Martin’ and ‘Coronation Street’. Peg St. Goddard wrote “As always, I am enjoying The Garden Report." Jodi Sadowsky has been passing us along to her parents. They made Johnny Cake from the recipe presented here and they enjoyed it. Reader Joana Cook is in London, England, working on her Masters. She writes that it is a balmy twelve above and quite sunny today. That’s beach weather here.

• Gross joke: Whilst we discuss our versions of the ‘salad wars’, I wish to relay a vegetable joke told to me by a Grade One girl, many years ago. What is the difference between broccoli and ‘boogers’? Six year old boys won’t eat broccoli. Yuck!

• Salad Wars: During the ‘salad wars’ of 1983/84, positions not only became entrenched but they expanded. One afternoon I was making a batch of cabbage rolls on top of the stove. Patrick climbs up onto his stool, lifts the pot cover to inspect the product and proclaims in disgust “cooked salad!”

Starlite Flowering Crab
• Garden Tip: Readers have been asking about fertilizing their house plants at this time of year. I like to use a 10 30 20 or a 15 30 15 or even a 20 20 20 water soluble fertilizer. I mix a teaspoon of fertilizer (five mm.) into two liters of water. That is a very weak strength and I use it each time I water. The point is to keep your leaves a dark, healthy green. As a rule, light green leaves or slightly yellow ones indicate a need for some plant food. Needless to write but I will, most plants can tolerate all the light you want to give them at this time of year. A south window will not be too warm and sunny until we are well into March.

• Light: We are six weeks past the winter solstice and the increased light is now noticeable and much appreciated. It is amazing how a little bit of extra sunlight can perk people up. My friends who suffer with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) which is triggered by low light levels, should hopefully be feeling better.

• Garden Tip: Reader Peg St. Goddard wrote to ask about geranium seeds, as in where can you buy them. I used to sell a lot of them but I am not certain if any independent is open right now and has them in stock. If you cannot find them locally, check with T and T Seeds out of Winnipeg, Mackenzie Seeds out of Brandon or with Stokes out of Ontario. All three of them are reputable companies. The only mail order company that you should avoid is Rockwood Nurseries.

• Arguments you can’t win: Several years back when my niece Michelle, was four years old, the two of us were going out to Regina Beach for an afternoon of swimming. Before we left, Michelle’s mother was fretting, saying “I hope Uncle Rod doesn’t speed with you in the car.” At the time, I might have had a reputation within the family for being a little heavy on the gas pedal. So Michelle and I are cruising down the highway and she begins to bark out “don’t speed Uncle Rod! Stop your speeding!” I glanced down at my speedometer and I saw that I was doing 100 in a 110 zone, well under the speed limit. I was explaining this to Michelle but she wasn’t buying it. “You cannot speed with me in the car!” she insisted as I continued to plead my innocence. Finally, it dawned on me that I am arguing with someone who doesn’t know how to read, tell time or to drive! Add into this equation, that she is woman, albeit a woman in training, but there is no way she is going to let me win this battle. What could I do but say, “thank you Michelle. I have stopped my speeding and now I am driving much more careful.” Order in the universe was restored and we had a good time swimming in the lake and eating at Butler’s.

• Garden Tip: There are some lovely little flowering plants starting to show up in the different stores. I really suggest that you treat yourself to a bit of spring color to brighten your day. Not a brilliant tip but a gentle reminder to be good to yourself.
Top Graft Little Leaf Lilac

• A cruel disease: We had lunch this week with a friend whose wife suffers with Alzheimer’s Disease. I asked him how far the disease has advanced. He told us that she no longer knows his name and that she can’t make toast. All I could do was to listen, nodding my empathy. Then he stated the inevitable, “and soon she will get worse.” I often refer to this as ‘a cruel disease’ because it takes the mind from a healthy body and how it impacts the family.

• Bring on the good stuff: Readers got onto their computers and let me know their joy of eating good bread. A few years ago, each I time left Vancouver to return to Regina, I did so with the regret that I could no longer purchase quality bread. This is no longer the situation as today we have several choices. Orange Boot has been baking some incredible tastiness, Koko’s offers up some great stuff, and Beer Brothers produces some terrific loaves. Now, Jean McKay writes in telling us that la Macaron in the east end on Quance Street has entered the derby with a rye and walnut loaf. This is a wonderful situation, to have several different artesian bakers working on our behalf. Don over at Lakeview Fine Foods has just started to carry Koko’s breads on Saturdays. Don said his first sales day, everything was gone by noon, so he will be increasing his order. Get the butter ready!

• What is old is new again: My mom told me this last year. She said in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, they grew their own grain, ground it, mixed it, proofed it, formed it and then baked it in the wood fired oven. It was a wholesome bread with no chemicals or additives. Mom’s brother went to work for a bakery in Regina and when he would return to the farm for a visit, he would bring sliced bread made at the bakery. Mom and her sibling would go wild. Store bought bread was so much better in their minds, than their home made loaves. Then mom pointed out “and now, they make the bread like we used to but they call it artesian bread…and they charge five bucks a loaf for it!” Here’s to the return to slow and pure food movement.

• Not so good for us: A recent study found that wherever there is a Wal-Mart Super Center, that people gain weight. It has to do with their reduced pricing on processed foods. All of the stuff that is not good for us is now cheaper and consumers who eat processed foods gain weight, amongst other health issues.

• Fast food joints: Reader Jean McKay is very involved with decent nutrition for children, especially breakfast. Jean is on The National Board of Jean and her organization know of children who start the school day without breakfast and other kids who are sent by their parents to a fast food place for their meals. There was a kid at the boxing club whose mother sent him to McDonald’s everyday for supper. After years of this, he was actually addicted to a Quarter Pounder, fries and a Coke, and he ate them all the time. It is difficult to be an athlete with a fast food diet.

• Good for us: I love telling this story. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, you could not purchase yogurt anywhere in this province. The Milk Control Board did not allow yogurt sales. Hippies returning from Europe were the first proponents of yogurt and they started to make their own, albeit yogurt did exist in small pockets of immigrants, especially Greeks. While you could not sell yogurt, you could give away the culture to a friend and the hippies loved to share. I had a little taste of the stuff and I loved it. I was given a small jar of the culture along with instructions regarding how to produce it. I would make a batch every week and my family started to eat it, but we kind of kept that quiet. Eating yogurt was considered a weird or a revolutionary act, at the time. Quit your laughing. I only record history, I don’t make it up. Now today, yogurt appears in every convenience store and in every format conceivable. The one thing I have noticed is how few of the products are really true yogurts. Most are imitations. To be real yogurt, all there needs to be is milk and a culture. Having gelatin products as a thickener is not a yogurt. It is more of a jellied milk.

• History continues: Along with yogurt, hippies introduced granola to the Canadian public. It was not sold in stores. It was baked in the oven at home. Because of its hippie influence, there was a principal at a high school in Minnesota who actually prohibited his students from bringing granola to school. Why? Because hippies made granola and they were involved in anarchism and that would leave the door open to communism which would lead to the downfall of America and all of its freedoms. I can’t make this stuff up. As with the yogurt, granola is now sold in many forms in many stores and America has not fallen, at least not from eating granola.

What? Along with the weird history of yogurt and granola, here is another kicker. When typewriters first came on the market, doctors decided that women should not be allowed to operate them. Why? Because the strain of typing would interfere with their reproductive organs. Just about all of the first typists were male.

• New math: I have to stop referring to myself as ‘middle aged’ or else I have to live to be 120.

Thanks for reading this week….Rod in even more snowy Regina
The Garden Report #35

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

A summer view at the ranch
• Writers write: There may be revolution in the streets of Cairo but order has been restored in our house. There was no toast or porridge for brunch this morning. No, there was that golden hued piece of heavenly delight that we call Johnny Cake in the oven, baking at four hundred degrees. There was butter and real maple syrup and a fresh fruit bowl with a bit of yogurt on top and there was a big pot of black tea. It’s twenty below with snow banks four feet tall in places and nothing but Johnny Cake was designed by the good Lord for Sunday mornings. Nothing, except maybe some scratch waffles but that is another story. I understand that the Hotel Saskatchewan has a wonderful Sunday brunch, but they don’t serve Johnny Cake, and they won’t let you eat in your underwear. If I owned ‘The Sask’, I would let people eat brunch in their underwear. I would advertise that policy. “Don’t shave, don’t put on your pants…just come and eat our food!” The place would be filled, mainly with men my age. For me, it would be a chance to see all of my friends in one place, at one time. Not wearing pants ranks up there, just behind eating Johnny Cake with maple syrup.

• Readers Write: Ken McCaw writes that the baguettes at The Orange Boot Bakery are better than those baked at Koko’s. Ken thinks that Koko’s baguettes have a good taste, but The Orange Boot beats them on authenticity. Roberta Nichol wrote to let me know that my coming out as a flaming heterosexual will not impact my standing in the neighborhood. Roberta feels the community will rally around me in my time of need. Jean McKay wrote “Thanks for writing” which is short and sweet. Rex Deverell wrote into remind me that mental illness and stupidity are not the same thing. Rex was responding to my off handed comment about the callers to radio shows being psychiatric patients. I corrected that statement on the internet edition. Casey Van Vloten from Vancouver appreciated Jan Pederson’s tips on good coffee places to visit in his travels. Heather Phillips from Carman, Manitoba wrote that the Johnny Cake recipe brought back many fond memories of a childhood winter treat, served with stove top, brown sugar syrup. Marcus Fernando, who lives in England and Croatia, writes that he knows nothing about ‘Doc Martin’. I am going to assume that Marcus does not want to join my ‘Coronation Street’ support group. Cheryl Hutton writes that she has received another out of town residency (acting job). Lyn Goldman thinks misting plants is a good idea.

A lovely evening in my own garden
 • Sweet Bakery: This place at the corner of Broad and College has been open for awhile. I have heard good things about it and on two occasions, people have brought me treats purchased from there. On Sunday last, we went for a walk through the park and our half way point was this place. I had a cinnamon roll made with baking powder, something that all of us grew up eating, but is seldom seen today. Helen who owns the place and is the head baker commented, that no one else in town produces a roll similar to this one. Most places opt for the yeast risen sticky bun. Maureen had a scone and when she was not looking, I sampled a bite (alright, I had two bites). Excellent treat. Maureen’s tea was first rate but my cafĂ© au lait was a little weak. Definitely will try an espresso based coffee next time. The atmosphere was lovely and the washrooms were clean, which is always important.

• Clean washrooms: Don’t you just hate a dirty washroom whether it is in a restaurant or a gas station? The Starbucks at the corner of Robson and Thurlow in Vancouver was disgusting. I complained to the manager and his response was that they were understaffed. I suggested that they place that information in the window, in large print as in “Home of the four dollar coffee and disgusting washrooms!” On the east side of Portage la Prairie, there is a small gas station. It is an independent with a Domo sign. An older couple run it. The washrooms are spotless as is the rest of the store. I complimented the owner and his response was “We try.”

Wheelchairs and Winter: Driving east along 13th Avenue, there was a fellow in a electric wheelchair coming towards me, an unsafe situation. I stopped to let him pass. I glanced over at the sidewalk and I could see why he had to be on the road. The sidewalk was impassable for a wheelchair and tricky for an ambulatory pedestrian to navigate. I have written before that Cathedral is supposed to be last, great walking neighborhood in the city and it is, until it snows. But the street was recently graded. It shows that our priority lies within car culture.

• Stop the insanity: I had to drop in to a local high school on Tuesday. Outside of the school, there were many students, 14, 15 and 16 years of age. All were smoking. I don’t know what more can be done to inform them. There are the television ads, the warnings on the cigarette packs, the posters, the seminars. It is not as if ‘the word’ is not out there. Tied into the smoking is that youthful belief that negative consequences will not catch up to them, personally. When you are fifteen, you cannot imagine fifty and emphysema.
Tulip season is only three month away for Regina gardeners

• One more reason: As regular readers know, I am hardly a fan of fast food joints. That industry has contributed to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and the decline of our quality of life. Now there is one more reason not to eat at these places. An Alabama law firm has tested Taco Bell’s ‘seasoned beef’ and found it contains only 36% meat. The rest is fillers and binders. Yum. Our oldest son who lives in Calgary, told us that a friend of his manages another fast food establishment. Bryan was visiting the store and noticed there were buckets in the kitchen with the label “Meat fit for human consumption”. Not Grade AAA or Grade AA or a single A, but “fit for human consumption”? How far down the food chain do you have to go to reach that grade?

• Times are tough: Many years ago, I was boiling the carcass of the Christmas turkey to create a soup stock. Number Three Son was about five years of age at the time and he came into the kitchen. He climbed onto his stool so he could lift the lid off of the stock pot. He saw the carcass boiling away. He turned up his nose at what he saw and complained “Oh no! Bone soup.” I tried to explain that things were a little slow at the garden center and we all have to make compromises. Since that day, whenever we have the stock pot on the stove, the family joke is that we are making ‘bone soup’.

• Salad Wars: The year before the time of the ‘bone soup’, we went through the ‘salad wars’ in our house. Well, to be honest, Patrick and I went through the ‘salad wars’, the others were merely observers. For whatever reason, Patrick decided to quit eating salad when he was four and I thought this would ruin him for life. I laid down an ultimatum, that he had to eat his salad or no dessert. Not surprisingly, it turned into an incredible power struggle with one of us throwing temper tantrums. I am almost certain that it was Patrick with the tantrums. This war raged for close to a month, with neither side willing to give on any point. “Eat your salad!” “No! I don’t like salad.” We flash forward to today. He is thirty-one, married and he eats his salad. I don’t view that as a victory. Instead, I think back and ask why I put myself through that ordeal. It seemed so important at the time. Why does it take me thirty years to figure these things out?

• Yorkshire Pudding: I wrote how easy it is to make Yorkshire Pudding and it really is easy. This week we had a beef stew on the back burner and I thought that some of this starch would make a lovely accompaniment. I decided to experiment and added in two teaspoons of dill weed to the mixture, prior to baking. It was delicious. A perfect accompaniment to the stew.

• Chick Pea Masala: This Indian dish is simple to make and it tastes fantastic. Start by chopping up an onion and placing it into a hot pot with a bit of canola oil in the bottom. Brown the onions, then add in a cup of chopped mushrooms and a cup of carrots cut into coins. Sweat those for about ten minutes. Add in a can of unsalted tomatoes and a can of washed and rinsed chick peas. Cook on a low heat with a bit of garlic and one teaspoon of masala spice for flavor. You can lightly mash any of the tomatoes that do not break down from the cooking process with a fork. The masala spice can be purchased from Tony on Victoria Avenue at his Indian food store. I let this mixture simmer all afternoon on a low heat. About half an hour before supper, I added in a cup of green beans and a half cup of green peas, along with two tablespoons of hot peppers. I added in a second teaspoon of masala spice which made it quite hot. I finished off this dish with the juice from half of a fresh lemon. If you wish, you can add in a half cup of yogurt to reduce the heat. I didn’t because I was keeping the dish vegan. I served it with raita which is nothing more than yogurt with chopped cucumber spiced with garlic, cumin and a pinch of masala and some flat bread that had been heated up in a frying pan with a touch of oil and curry. An incredible dish for a cold winter’s evening meal.

• Good concert: We attended ‘The Nylons’ concert Saturday night. Good show. They split the concert between performing with The Regina Symphony and performing by themselves. I like getting out on a cold winter’s night and sharing a musical experience with others.

• Garden Tip: If you like to grow your geraniums from seed, it is time to start. Even if they get a little tall before it is time to move them into the garden, you can pinch them back. They will just get fatter. Keep in mind that geraniums from seed are usually singles versus the cutting geraniums which are usually doubles. Also, if you like to start your begonias from tubers, February is usually the month when those are started. The key to growing good begonias is not to overwater them. They like to be kept damp, but not wet.

• Thank you for reading this week…Rod McDonald in Regina