Country Living: Farm-to-Table

One of the best parts about moving to the country has been experiencing the joy of savouring freshly picked produce.

It is interesting the way that things have flip flopped: When I lived in the city, within a small radius, I had ten grocery stores to choose from, two farms from which I could buy seasonal produce, and one farmer’s market that would set up on Saturdays. In the country, I have one excellent grocery store nearby, I am surrounded by a multitude of farmers’ stands that sell produce, and around here, any day of the week is pretty much “farmer’s market” day.

Needless to say, we took full advantage of this opportunity.

Over the course of the last four months we have enjoyed fresh tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, green and yellow beans, peas, corn, potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, onions, garlic, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and several varieties of apples, all grown locally.

There have been other products available, but there just haven’t been enough hours in the day to try them all.

When you add to the mix a local butcher shop that also sources products from local suppliers, we have found ourselves marveling on more than one occasion at how everything on the dinner table was truly local.

I will be the first to say that I appreciate the convenience of a good supermarket that can sell you anything, anytime, especially in the middle of a Canadian winter when the ground is frozen and growing season is over. The availability of imported fruits and vegetables is certainly a delight to add colour and variety to our diets through the twelve months of the calendar year.

But when local produce is available, freshly picked and comparably priced, why wouldn’t you buy it, especially when your taste buds stand up and take notice?

The first “Oh my God!” moment was when my partner brought home some snap peas. I couldn’t remember the last time that I bought peas in a pod. At first, it seemed like an awful lot of time-consuming effort to open a pile of pods and get such a tiny amount of peas… That was when I remembered why it had been decades since I last did that.

But the minute I had a bite of the warmed, lightly salted, lightly buttered peas that hadn’t been sloshing around in a can since who-knows-when, I knew I could get used to this fresh produce thing. The peas tasted like heaven… if heaven was round, green and tasted like spring.

Another moment I remember so vividly from this past season was the first time my partner made apple sauce from freshly picked apples. When he first suggested making it (and my point of reference being commercial applesauce that generally tastes unremarkable) I agreed to join him in sitting at the table for an apple peeling session without really knowing what awaited at the finish line.

What a delightful treat it turned out to be! The applesauce was bursting with flavour without needing much in the way of seasoning or sugar. The applesauce was an instant hit with me, and became a quick favourite to accompany vanilla cake or ice cream or both. Needless to say, we made more and those apple peeling sessions have become something to which I look forward to now.

I had some previous experience with skinning fresh tomatoes, dicing them and freezing them for use in recipes. This season we made a day out of it to try our hand with my mother-in-law’s tomato relish. We made a huge batch of relish, but we also froze several containers of diced tomatoes.

Based on my last experience with using fresh rather than canned tomatoes, when making my chicken minestrone, the resulting colour of the soup is seemingly a different shade, almost a little brighter. And maybe it’s psychological, but I am pretty sure it presents a slightly different taste profile.

Having just moved in June, there was no way that we could launch our own vegetable garden this year amid all of the other work we had to do around the house, but we are considering it for next year. We know the satisfaction that comes not only from fresh produce, but fresh produce from one’s own garden is the absolute best feeling. But it is good to know that with all of the options for fresh produce surrounding us, we can get by quite well.

In a few short months, we really enjoyed the journey of discovering what farm-to-table really meant.

This also gave us the opportunity to pitch in and help our neighbouring farmers at a time when many businesses were hurting from Covid-19, as demand from restaurants had weakened through the era of social distancing.

As I am writing this post, sipping my morning coffee (knowing full well that the beans were obviously not locally sourced), farmers around the world are to be commended for their continued hard work in helping us keep a great variety of food on the table, year round.

Thank you!

 

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Sincere thanks for reading!

Have a great day,

André

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Needs and Wants in the Covid-19 Era

Five years ago, I wrote a blog post called “The Conquering Clutter Resolution” in which I discussed my wake-up call when I replaced flooring throughout the house, which meant having to pack and relocate everything.

During the process, I could not believe how much “stuff” I had. It was nothing on the scale of an episode of “Hoarders”, it was just mystifying how much I could hide in a closet when it was neatly and efficiently organized.

This prompted me to start a purging habit of getting rid of one cubic foot of “stuff” (aside from the regular garbage and recycling) every week. This was definitely an easy and achievable goal, even on the busiest of weeks, to see slow and steady progress.

Gone were the kitchen gadgets that got little use. Gone were the hobby items that never developed into an actual hobby. Gone were the collectibles that never really turned into a collection.

As the months went by, I patted myself on the back as I felt lighter with each donation and each extra garbage bag. I thought that by the next time something like that came up, moving my “stuff” should be a breeze.

But when I moved this past spring, despite my best purging efforts, my moving van was still astonishingly full. How did that happen? Continue reading

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Creating Stock Photos for my Blog

When I first started blogging in 2013, it was for the pure enjoyment of the writing process and to work on my creative writing skills.

I was nervous at first. No… let’s say petrified, about putting my work out for public viewing. I worried about the content, whether anyone would be interested enough to read it, and the possibility of accidentally leaving spelling or grammatical mistakes, no matter how many times I would proofread it.

As time went on, those fears seemed to fade as my creative writing skills got sharper and my confidence gradually built up. With a clearer mind, I could focus better on other aspects of blogging.

A few months into the process, I started noticing how other bloggers were adding pictures to their posts. When the link to the blog is posted on Facebook or Twitter, a thumbnail of the picture is incorporated into the post (quite magically!) which, according to blogging experts, creates additional visual interest. In doing so, a well-chosen photo is said to help increase traffic to the blog. Continue reading

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In Search of Dim Bulbs

From the moment we walked into our new home, we have struggled to understand the lighting situation.

In almost every room, there is an overhead light fixture; no problem there. But switching one on usually turns into a scene from a vampire movie, with one or both of us shrieking in fright, shielding our eyes and yelling “Turn it off! Turn it off!”

The lights in this house are freakishly bright, the kind that could be used to land an aircraft.

What is puzzling is that these aren’t high wattage bulbs. Throughout the home, our previous owners left us with an assortment of LED, CFL and incandescents equivalent to 60 watt bulbs… which is considerably better than in one of my previous homes where the previous occupant left one light bulb for the whole place.

I don’t know if it is the bulbs themselves that are set to “harsh white”, or is it the fact that they are affixed to ceiling fixtures that their light bounces off the gleaming white ceiling making everything look brighter than it really is. Could it also be because some of the fixtures have three bulbs in them that the light radiating from them is more than we were used to, coming from homes with very little in the way of overhead lighting, mostly table lamps?

Either way, in a home with two people who are prone to migraines, this was a problem. Continue reading

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Books or eReaders? It Depends.

I may be a little late to the party, but recently, I have been wanting to join in on the discussion among book lovers about whether they preferred books or eReaders (electronic reading devices and apps).

Since their appearance on the market a little more than a decade ago, eReaders have steadily gained in popularity, thus creating a discussion among avid readers that would have been considered science fiction in the decades prior.

It warms the cockles of my heart to see the passion with which individuals explain perfectly valid reasons for their preferred option. I also find the deep loyalty with which they express their preference to be charming, magical and absolutely convincing as I can relate to every word.

Where both camps meet in the middle is in their articulation of love of the written word and for reading in general, which is a joy in itself.

The reason I am only jumping into the conversation now is because of my recent realization that my own preference has changed a couple of times, depending on other factors.

Back when I was commuting daily by bus, I had loads of time on my hands. When I wasn’t listening to music and watching the scenery go by, reading was something that helped me to pass the time as well as to decompress from a heavy work day.

However, there were limitations to what I could bring with me. A heavy hardcover book was out of the question. With a messenger bag already pretty full with healthy food choices and a few necessities in case of emergency, adding a heavy book could have easily had me walking with a distinct tilt and risking additional visits to the chiropractor. Continue reading

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The Writer’s Dilemma: Say It or Save It?

When I first started blogging almost seven years ago, the process was pretty straightforward: get an idea for a post; scribble it down; scribble more ideas; write the post; edit to make it sparkle; review again; if happy with the end result, post to the blog.

There is also a whole decision-making process surrounding the possibility of “if NOT happy with the end result”, but in the interest of not boring you with the 53 loops of reviewing, editing, overthinking and playing with Ivy the Wonder Cat, I’ll skip that part altogether.

I have been very proud of the content in my blog and in how it has connected with readers around the globe. The response has been heartwarming, deeply gratifying and a definite incentive to keep going.

Regular readers know that this blog has been a way for me to spread my creative wings and to keep practicing a form of creative writing until such time as I retire from my career of over 30 years, when I will switch to full-time writer.

With that finish line in sight scheduled for 2021, which isn’t too far off, I often find myself debating whether an idea should be articulated in a blog post now, or whether I should save it for one of the stories I will write later. That is a whole agonizing decision-making process on its own.

Again, in the interest of not boring you with that roller-coaster trajectory, a diagram that is sure to have you running away screaming, I’ll skip the specifics. Continue reading

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When the House Makes Me Jump

One of the pitfalls of having very good hearing (as I do) is the process of getting familiar with a house’s noises.

In my last house, after almost 20 years, I knew exactly what “normal” sounded like for each individual appliance, sink and toilet as well as for the furnace, the air conditioner and the hot water tank.

I knew that dramatic drops or increases in temperature outside would make the house pop as the building materials contracted or expanded. I was also familiar with the specific creaking noises that tree branches outside would make in heavy winds.

Each sound had a distinct fingerprint, and after 20 years, whenever the house made noise, I could usually pick out the cause and not worry about it.

But in having my radar on like a bat and the ability to filter out common “normal” noises, it goes without saying that noises that weren’t so common and didn’t match the usual patterns, could sometimes make me jump higher than I would when watching most horror flicks.

I wouldn’t chalk up that reaction to perhaps being a little over-caffeinated or being a nervous person by nature. I think it stems from a pride of ownership in my home and any noises that aren’t considered “normal” should be investigated right away to ensure they aren’t a sign or a more serious problem.

When that happened, Ivy the Wonder Cat and I would turn into Scooby and Shaggy (respectively), slowly walking through the house, flashlight in hand, waiting for the noise to happen again to be able to figure out where it is coming from, what it is, how to stop it and if a professional noise-eradicator needed to be called. Continue reading

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How I Miss Being a Tourist

At our new home, I find myself in an endless loop of shredding, as I go through old documents that I didn’t have time to destroy before moving.

Maybe it comes from my high school and university years working in the retail sector, when I realized that keeping receipts and statements was a good thing if I ever needed to return something.

Maybe I was traumatized by one client too many who stirred up a tempest in a teapot, bellowing about the unfairness of our return policy and shrieking their vow never to shop at our store again, simply because they didn’t have a receipt for a refund.

To me, keeping receipts was synonymous with keeping the peace, a natural conclusion for someone with an aversion to conflict.

Over the years, my filing system has been pretty solid and I have been able to produce receipts on demand when I needed an exchange, a refund or maintenance of one kind or another. I really can’t say I’ve had too many sleepless nights ruminating over where I might have misplaced a receipt.

As much as I was really good at filing, the downside is that I was perhaps a little lax in destroying after a reasonable time frame had passed. I still have receipts (and user manuals) for products I don’t even own anymore as they have already completed their useful life span.

Now, in the new place, with the move well behind us, I make a point of sorting and shredding a little bit each week, to make some steady progress in chipping away at the pile of boxes marked “papers to sort”. Continue reading

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Country Living and Non-Stop Pick-Up Sticks

When I first read the real estate listing for our home-to-be, one of the details that stole my heart was the mention of a tree-lined lot and the picture of mature trees surrounding the little house.

Even though I am not what I would consider a winter person, when combined with a fresh February snowfall, the house presented all of the elements of a charming country retreat. A couple of friends mentioned how it looked like the kind of house you’d see in a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Having grown up in suburbia, I wasn’t a stranger to trees. We had a weeping willow, a crab-apple tree, cedar hedges and a few shrubs. There was even an apple tree on the property line with one of our neighbours. But as a kid, I never really thought about them. I just remember climbing them or making them into a big prop in whatever game my playmates’ imagination came up with.

Then came a decade of rental apartments, where trees were there for shade, shelter and beauty, but I never really gave them much thought. Even in the townhome where I lived for 20 years, the condominium corporation took care of the trees. The most I ever did was rake a few leaves.

Now, in a home with a tree-lined lot, I see trees differently, both literally and metaphorically. They are a source of pride and joy and we are so fortunate that our property has such a variety of beautiful trees. But the reality check is setting in: ongoing maintenance.

Sadly, there are a couple that aren’t doing well that will need to be removed, but that’s just nature and the circle of life at work. At the same time, we have a few majestic ones that we were told by our tree expert were probably standing since our great-grandparents’ days and will probably outlive us.

In having so many trees around, in various stages of life, I understand that getting acquainted with each variety individually and understanding their respective needs will be a project in itself.
But the one thing that doesn’t take a tree expert to realize is that when you have mature trees around, falling twigs, sticks and branches are a fact of life. Continue reading

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How Country Living Changed My Outlook on Weather

One of the biggest ironies about moving to the country has been the surprising shift in the way I look at weather forecasts.

Back when I lived in the city, I was not a fan of rain nor snow. The reason was pretty simple: commuting.

After our work team was relocated a few years ago, I had accepted that taking the car to this new location would always be faster and more efficient than dealing with buses or our emerging light rail system. After being a bus commuter for 35 years, I felt justified in taking that decision and in having done my part for the environment.

I occasionally questioned that wisdom when a major reconstruction project on a major artery kept adding time to my commute, but I still persisted.

But when the highway was narrowed not only from the construction itself but from vehicles breaking down in the construction zone like it was the Bermuda Triangle, my patience started to wear thin every day that lanes would be blocked, adding to the commute time.

But when you incorporate precipitation into the mix, whether rain, snow, or freezing rain, it became impossible to predict just how long it would take to get to work. Let’s just say that I restrained myself from drinking too much coffee just in case I’d be stuck in the car on the highway (between off-ramps) for lengthy periods.

Back then, whenever I looked ahead to a forecast with several successive days of rain, I would already start the week with a bit of a frown.

But now living in the country, in the Covid-19 era, where I have been working from home and haven’t had to commute in almost five months, I have had good time to recuperate from idiot drivers, construction, precipitation and stressful commutes. Continue reading

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