Tag Archives: nature

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!

 

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.

Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.

Sincere thanks for reading!

Have a great day,

André

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Filed under food, home

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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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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50 Reasons To Love Travel

1. Travel offers a change of pace from the daily routine.
2. Travel can be a temporary escape.
3. Travel can be an opportunity to disconnect for a while.
4. Travel can be an opportunity to knock things off our bucket list.
5. Travel offers an opportunity to see random things we wouldn’t normally see at home.
6. Travel offers an opportunity to experience landmarks we have only read about or have only seen on television or in movies.
7. Travel offers an opportunity to admire natural and man-made wonders.
8. Travel offers an opportunity to admire the endless beauty of our planet.
9. Travel offers an opportunity to try different foods and beverages.
10. Travel can be an opportunity to experience music we wouldn’t normally hear at home.
11. Travel can be an opportunity to experience games and sports we wouldn’t normally see at home, or to experience a favourite sport in a different setting.
12. Travel offers an opportunity to enjoy life without having to cook, clean or run household errands for a few days.
13. Travel offers an opportunity to experience and appreciate different traditions and customs.
14. Travel offers an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. Continue reading

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Did You Miss Any of These Posts? (Spring 2017)


As we shed our heavy coats from winters that seemingly never end, spring is always a busy time. In case you missed them, here is a recap of my spring blog posts:

207. How the Cat Opened My Heart 20170326
The unexpected surprise of how a rescue #cat melted my heart.

208. My Writer’s Uniform 20170402
The styles that will likely inspire my “writer’s uniform” once I am retired and free from corporate dress codes.

209. Fine Tuning the TV Habit 20170409
How my TV watching habits have been changing without a self-inflicted guilt trip.

210. Top 10 Things I Like to Do on a Long Weekend 20170412
A Top 10 list of my most favourite activities over long weekends.

211. My First Writing Competition 20170417
How my next step into the world of writing drew out some unexpected emotions at the eleventh hour.

212. Did Nature Photography Get Me to Enjoy Winter? 20170423
Did my renewed interest in photography nudge me out of my usual winter cocoon to spend more time outside?

213. The Coin Conundrum 20170430
A humourous post dedicated to the shoppers who need to unload their coins at the cash register and the increasing challenges in finding places to unload coins as we move toward a cashless society.

214. Trimming My Cat’s Nails Without Looking Like I Lost A Fight 20170507
Pet care: how I was able to trim a fidgety cat’s nails

215. How I Became a Fan of the Eurovision Song Contest 20170514
A Canadian’s journey into discovering the annual music competition through the magic of high speed Internet and a faster computer.

216. The Pitfalls of Nature Photography 20170521
The constant need to look up, down, and over one’s shoulder when trying to capture the perfect nature shot.

217. You Know It Was a Good Vacation When… 20170529
A list of the signs indicating it was a good vacation, when you’ve forgotten the intricacies of your day-to-day routine.

218. How the Feline Barricade Saved Me from Myself 20170604
The advantages of getting locked into a couch by a sleeping cat.

219. How I Need the Internet to Go “Off the Grid” 20170611
The irony over my recent discovery of how I need the Internet to disconnect and go off-the-grid.

Please know that there are plenty more where that came from! If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under Cats, Humour, Lists, photography, TV

Why I Love Nature Photography

PhotographyOn my last day off, I couldn’t have asked for a better day weather-wise. The sun was shining, the sky was a stunning shade of blue, there was a gentle breeze and the temperature was a picture-perfect 20 degrees Celsius.

When deciding how I was going to spend this precious day off, I knew that grabbing the camera and spending an hour or so around a nearby creek was at the top of my list.

Upon my arrival, it took less than five minutes to get completely absorbed into the creative bubble of this enchanted forest, focused on a world of tiny subjects in their intricate detail.

Thoughts of the real world had completely suspended. It was like I had jumped into vacation mode, yet was still just minutes from my house.

On this quiet morning, I appreciated the peace and solitude of the moment, even though I was surrounded by many species of wildlife pursuing their business of the day. I marveled at the soothing effect of just being there, bearing witness to nature’s gentle pace.

I noticed that my usually hurried steps gradually slowed down as if to not disturb nature’s ebb and flow. My breathing slowed as well, as a calming effect took over.

I scanned through the tall grasses and plants surrounding me, looking for my next subject. My senses were fully tuned in, trying to spot those moments that we miss while rushing from commitment to commitment.

Thoughts of my to-do list drifted away as I followed a monarch butterfly floating from plant to plant, posing and preening in the sunshine as if to say “Take my picture, take my picture!” I happily obliged and then thanked her for the opportunity. Continue reading

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The Pitfalls of Nature Photography

Now that I have been out and about, enjoying the spring weather, indulging in a little quiet time, communing with nature and taking photos, I could not help but notice that my hobby does have its share of pitfalls.

In trying to capture the perfect shot, I often feel like a secret agent, trying to move in on a subject in stealth mode, intensely looking at the world through a viewfinder.

But in doing so, and in being so focused, I have occasionally lost track of the intricacies of the physical world around me, including time and space. From a health and safety perspective, it concerns me a little, given my tendency to occasionally be a bit of a klutz.

Yet even when faced with these challenges, I don’t seem deterred. The rewards of capturing a great nature shot are worth every bump and bruise.

Also, Mother Nature has a way of keeping photographers on their toes by changing the perfect conditions with little advance notice. It can get a little frustrating but I’d like to think that this is part of the thrill of the hunt when perseverance leads you to that shot that made it all worth it.

Here they are, my top 10 pitfalls of nature photography:

10. Losing track of time
It has happened that in the process of evaluating the composition and the lighting, taking a test shot, evaluating the result, making adjustments, taking another test shot and repeating until I think I have captured the best photo possible, before I know it, an hour has passed. It’s delightful to lose myself in the creative process when I have unlimited time on my hands, but it is quite another matter, when I am on my lunch hour and due back for a meeting at 1:00 sharp.

9. Wearing the wrong shoes
A subset of #10, sometimes I get so enthralled in my photo shoot, not only do I lose track of time, but I lose track of space and distance and find myself farther away than I originally planned. It is on the long walk back and dealing with a blister that I realize that I was not wearing the right shoes for such an undertaking. Continue reading

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Did Nature Photography Get Me to Enjoy Winter?

In last December’s post, “How Nature Photography Might Get Me to Appreciate Winter”, I wondered if my rediscovery of photography might be able to nudge me out of my usual winter cocoon and spend more time outside.

For those who have never been to Ottawa, let me offer a little bit of context. Yes, we do have an abundance of beautiful winter days that are like a shot out of a Disney movie. However, the Norman Rockwell painting of a perfect suburban Ottawa winter starts fading around the 18th consecutive day of snow, threat of freezing rain, or temperatures so low, even the cat won’t sit by the window and conduct her usual backyard surveillance despite her abundant fur coat. Winters here can be very harsh for long stretches.

When the weather outside is frightful and the sidewalks are covered with snow and ice, it’s not most conducive to a cheerful walk outside at lunch time. When you also factor in a long and slow commute home wondering where the heck the city’s snowplows went and repeatedly mumbling to myself “Why the heck do I pay taxes?” it should come as no surprise if I have to dig deeply to want to spend more time outdoors and risk falling and breaking a hip… the joys of becoming a grumpy old man! (and yes, I know some close friends are now thinking, “what do you mean ‘becoming’?”)

But this winter, I did spend more time outside, thanks to the camera!

While I wouldn’t say it made me a winter lover in one season, nature photography certainly made it more enjoyable by helping me lose track of time while doing something I truly enjoy. I would even go so far as to say this winter didn’t seem to drag on as much as it did in previous years. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Humour, Inspiring, photography

Resolution: Inner Peace

relaxingA few years ago, I published a blog post about New Year’s resolutions and my admission that I generally don’t make them. Even though traditionally the 1st of January is believed to be a great time for a fresh start, I would like to think that improvements to one’s life can be made anytime that it makes sense.

However I might be inclined to make an exception in 2017. My resolution seems to be more of an overarching goal than a single activity. It is a collective of several activities that need to be orchestrated to work together to be effective. My resolution for 2017 is the protection of my inner peace.

On the journey of life, we face adversity stemming from things over which we have little to no control. But for those things that are within our control, why shouldn’t we protect ourselves from factors that undermine our happiness? Why should we take on more adversity than we really need to when the choice is offered to us? In other words, why shouldn’t we pick our battles?

Through life’s natural ebb and flow, we go through busy times, we go through quieter times and we have the times in-between. I don’t know if it is because I am getting older or just the fact that challenging times have followed me around like my shadow in the last couple of years, but I now seem to find myself uncharacteristically overprotective of my free time and my free thought.

I would like to think it is just a normal reflex, in trying to heal from the turbulence and to restore balance to my energy flow. Continue reading

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How Nature Photography Might Get Me to Appreciate Winter

I admit it… I like the great indoors and my creature comforts. When the weather outside is frightful, especially in winter, I can’t think of anything better than staying inside, cozying up with a pillow and a blanket on the couch, listening to great music, reading a good book, watching a fun movie or even getting a few crazy story ideas committed to paper. To me that’s heaven on a cold, blustery winter day… or pretty much any winter day, actually.

However, it seems that through my renewed love of photography and my commitment to keeping the Instagram account freshly updated, something changed. After the first snowfall of the season here in Ottawa, I suddenly found myself meandering outdoors, chasing after the ever elusive nature shots. How did that happen?

Let’s be perfectly clear. I might not be inclined to spend more time outdoors than I have to on a blustery, stormy day. That would be pure silliness. That is when I will invoke the aforementioned “creature comforts” clause.

But after the storm has passed and the pathways have been cleared, it might be a different story. I am definitely warming up to the idea of getting out on a crisp, sunny day, and wandering out in the winter wonderland to take shots of the birds that didn’t fly south or the squirrels still running around gathering food.
Squirrel

I admit, a fresh, clean blanket of snow can lend itself to a certain beauty and majesty not found in other seasons. When snow crystals glitter in the sunlight, it can have a magical effect. To capture it in a photo might be my “thrill of the hunt” challenge this coming winter. Continue reading

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