Saturday, October 8, 2011

Buddha's Hat & risotto recipe

View from the kitchen sink.
Dear Kindred Spirits,
     I'm not sure if you have a Buddha living at your house, but if he lives outside like ours, it might be time to get him geared up for winter.  First, find an acorn squash at the grocery store, or if you're really lucky, at the farmers market.  Look for one with a funky stem.  Cut the top of the squash so that the circumference is about 3 inches across.  It'll look like a flower looking down at it.  Now find a sunny windowsill and let this part dry for a few weeks.  You'll see over time, how it'll curl in on itself and form a bit of a 'hat'.  When it's almost dry, put it on Buddha's head for a form fit.  The final results will be very satisfying and make you laugh every time you look at it.  Maybe the local squirrels will discover it too, it won't interrupt the joy factor in the long run.
     Risotto Recipe; all measurements are approximate.  Peel the above mentioned acorn squash, take out seeds and boil or bake until done but firm.  You'll know it's ready when you mash it and it'll break down but still have lumps in it.  Lumps are yummy.  Add vegetable or chicken broth so that you have about 5 cups of liquid in all, simmering.  In a large cast iron cooking pot, fry an onion and 5-6 cloves of garlic.  When well cooked pour in about 1/2 cup of white wine.  Now pour in about 1.5 or 2 cups of Arborio rice (also known as sushi rice), these are fatter and rounder grains.  Stir the rice into the wine, onion and garlic mixture until the rice is translucent, about 2-3 minutes.  Then add about a 1/2 cup of your squash liquid, keep stirring, as it thickens, add more liquid when it gets goopy.  This is the basic combination; keep adding liquid until it's all gone and the rice is tender in a kind of sauce - a long process without a glass of wine.  It's good to have and use lots of liquid to make your risotto nice and gooey.  As the rice reaches it's right texture, add grated cheese.  We like to use Cheddar, blue cheese or Swiss or a combination. This usually makes a large pot so the second night you can make risotto cakes by making patties, dipping them in bread crumbs and frying.  Top with pesto/sour cream sauce.  Asparagus is a nice side dish.

Amsterdam Sandwich Shop

Formal entrance way
     Funny where ideas and inspirations come from and how long they steep and peculate before erupting into a new form.  In the spring of 2001, I visited friends in Holland who are close to my heart and sensibilities.  Karin and Anne-Marie guided me with great care and humour and would routinely say to shop keepers and relatives alike that I lived in a cabin in the Yukon bush, in a community of 24 people.  I was grateful for this ready explanation because I often felt out of sorts and discombobulated with the hectic rhythm of the place.  Especially in Amsterdam where I could only handle so much before heading south on a train back to Anne-Marie's sanctuary.
     On one visit to the capital city, they took me to a tiny sandwich shop near the red light district bordering Chinatown in Karin's neighbourhood.  This place was completely unnoticeable to me, only blending into the many doorways conveniently coexisting in an orderly barrage of chaos.  We ordered a type of grilled thing with coffee and we were each served on a different style of plate and cup.  This is what caught my attention and I learned that just about every item in this place was for sale; the dishes, the tables and chairs... The owners were collectors of interesting bits and kept an assortment of second hand treasures in a narrow mezzanine overhead, open to the curious and the interested.  I came home with a simple plate and idea.
     So in the spirit of that tiny hole-in-the-wall in that place far away whose name I never knew, I wanted to present the same concept here at the lake, with the Curiosity Shop.  It's full of things we collect in our travels in exotic locations like Guatemala, Africa, even Holland.  When we travel we also collect beads, paper and fabrics to then turn into other things here during the long winter months.  Plus the shop has stuff that I've unearthed, collected and loved that other people would call antiques and vintage, that are ready to move on to other homes to be loved and re-purposed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Searching for our mentor Jim Geenan

Jim at his 50th birthday party, Las Playas, Ecuador, 1996.

Dear Jim,
It`s really too bad we`ve lost track of each other.  There`s so much to tell you, especially in the way you`ve inspired us.  I last heard you moved back to the states after all those years away – it must be strange to return.  I`d love to know of your adjustment process.

I think of you most often when we prepare for guests at our lakeside home, arranging flower pots, choosing the right linen table cloth, and accentuating our local quirkiness with beaver chewed sticks.  I think of your excitement and unregistered enthusiasm when we visited all those villages in the Philippines, how many was it…20 or 30…You were fresh from the conference where you met Robertson in Montreal called `International Institute Promoting Peace Through Tourism`.  You couldn`t wait to share the bounty of new knowledge.

You`d have us get up at 3am sometimes, at our little pensione in Manila, to take flights to mountain villages, or beach side ones and everything in between.  I remember a moonlit bushwhack without supplies other than clove cigarettes.  We got lost, no one around, no food, no water, no clear destination but I felt I could follow you and Robertson anywhere, unafraid.  In the end you did not disappoint us, we were proud to be part of your team.

You were a one man show and we were your entourage taking photos and writing inspirational stories focusing on the villages, projects and people along the way.  You were desperate to find creative ways to keep people in their homes and not migrate away like the millions before.  The first time I ever heard words like bio-diversity, eco-tourism and perma-culture was from you, cutting edge concepts in the late `90`s.  You explained it all with giddy patience, waving your arms around adding to the drama to your extra tall stature, as if to draw out the obvious magic of the place.  Saying things like `Will you look at this cashew tree and this pomegranate together, alongside this bamboo hut on stilts!  Wouldn`t a tourist love to come here and pick these with you, see how you prepare them and hear some stories of your life here…`

Jim, you were untiring with your wisdom and your love of people so different than us.  I just want you to know that though often times, you felt that your voice was not heard, that your ideas were maybe considered too radical, someone was paying attention and taking really good notes. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where did "Dunroamin'" come from?

     Behind the legislature buildings in Victoria, there is a old humble historical house wedged in tall overgrown trees with a tiny sign above the door "Dunroamin'".  This was spotted years ago when I lived there while aimlessly wandering around; I doubt I'd be able to find it now.  It doesn't matter, what's important is the feeling it immediately captured for me.  The sign read like an exclamation point, as if to say, this is it!  It took a lot of searching and adventures to finally decide where I need to be.  It's compact stature declared that the residents didn't need much and had their memories to keep them entertained.  At least, that's what it told me as I stood there to admire the little house.
     A few years later I met Rob and together we set off of a wild adventure lasting several years; starting in South East Asia and ending in South America.  Near the end, feeling tired of living out of a backpack and ready to plant some roots, we were living in an Andean mountain town near the border of Peru.  I loved Cuenca, it's cobbled stone streets, the cafes and ice cream parlours, Spanish architecture, the Saturday market when Indegenous people came down from their villages to sell their flowers behind the blue domed cathedral, the quirky characters, even it's dogs that lingered in doorways.  I cried when we left there.
     Cuenca was known as a center for ceramics for Ecuador.  Longing for a place we knew we had yet to discover inspired me to custom order this plaque.  Having it displayed in our adobe house was a mark of serious intention. I knew that someday the right place would come along that would fulfill the same sentiments of that little house in Victoria. 
     Back in the Yukon, as we prepared to leave for Columbia, our last posting, Rob found a photo of this house at a real estate office.  We were living in his bachelor pad, a wee cabin without a door knob and a giant frost heave directly under the oil barrel wood stove.  Ever so casually, he placed the photos on the table and said "I'm buying this".  It was 2 weeks before Christmas, during an economic downturn and people were leave the Yukon in droves.  The house hadn't been lived in for a few years.  The realtor was not eager to drive all the way out here to show it to us, maybe it had to do with the time of year - apparently no one buys houses in December - or it could have been Rob's jacket with duct tape on the elbows.  We trudged through thigh deep snow banks and instantly recognized that this was it.  Without looking at any other houses, we declared confidently, yes, thank you, we'll take it. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Leaving the Day Job

Photo: Returning from raiding Jeanine's rhubarb patch.  Nice view of the new English garden, eh?

"Retirement" some people are calling it, but to me leaving my day job is more of a re-evaluation, a re-structuring of my time at the lake and to ponder "what's next", while focusing intently on being fully present.  Here.  Why be anywhere else when it's so amazingly beautiful here?   

These are times to visit neighbours (and put their forgotten crops to good use, such as rhubarb compote) and feed on their passions for a while.  Time to plant that grapefruit seed I found that was already sprouting or to haul rocks from the local rock slide for a special flower bed or to experiment in the garden or to make a giant batch of pesto from the jungle of basil in the greenhouse.  Time to visit with guests who wander by and to tell them stories of why we choose to live in such a remote place so far away.

Personally, as much as I've tried to do the sensible career thing, it never seems to be sustainable, for one reason or another.  Maybe it's my attachment to this place, an hour away from the city.  Or maybe it's my lack of understanding of retirement, seeing as I've spent much of my life semi-retired anyway.  I've learned to live with less, be mindful of money being a tool and not an identifier of who I am.  Don't we all need something to do that's uniquely ours?  A purpose, some expression of joy?  Something to keep our energy juicy?  I figure if we've prepared ourselves properly, there won't be the dreaded ailments of aging, such as boredom and loneliness.  For me, being creative has been my main salvation and salve that gives me meaning and to be able to share this with other questioning and wandering souls is a blessed opportunity.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dear Louise,

     You'd be surprised at how often I think of you.  So I thought I'd sit down and tell you of a good memory I have of you.  I remember when I first saw you in grade 6, at Notre Dame.  You were the new kid in school and you had a certain confidence that comes from moving around a lot.  Your French was very mature and different from our dialect.  I wasn't sure what to make of you and so I kept my distance.  Then one day in class you mentioned to everyone that your brother actually had a stick that a beaver had chewed on!  I was completely enraptured by this idea of possessing such a marvel from nature.  So much so, that I decided to do a big project on beavers and on my cover page, I glued a nickel.  I was impressed by my cleaver ingenuity.  Sadly, the nickel did not return with the paper.  A nickel back in 1972 meant a chocolate fudge sickle!  I blamed Raymond somebody, not sure why.
       All these years later, I find myself thinking of this while canoeing on our lake, doing what I love best - collecting beaver chewed sticks.  The plan is to make an awning off the sauna, completely with this harvest.  Can you imagine something as beautiful as that?  Lately, fat ones have been availing themselves.  So there's a fence waiting to be created somewhere.  Last fall during a gray, cloudy, misty day, a red canoe pulled up with a girl in a yellow rain coat.  She had a gift of many smaller freshly polished beaver chewed sticks for me and she piled them on our dock.  I've made a rustic lattice out of it for the new bed of daisies by the shed.
     This year's big project is an English garden, Yukon style.  For me it's not so much about what we'll plant there, it's the doodads I'm going to have fun with.  A sun dial (ours reads: "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be"), a memorial bench for my friend and neighbour Gail, a bird bath (made by Gail who was a potter), a funky locally made statue of some kind and an archway made of beaver chewed driftwood.  I've been saving some extra precious ones for the rustic elegance effect, reflecting far away lands, yet terraced in front of the guest cabin.  This is where I'll pass to deliver freshly made sourdough muffins, neatly tucked into a willow basket, to hang on an old paddle wheeler's pulley, dangling off their deck.  Nothing says "Good morning and welcome to Crag Lake!" better than that.  "We're glad you're here to catch a glimpse of this wild setting and to be part of what we are literally carving out of it."
     I'm not sure where these massive ideas come from but Rob, this talented marvel of a man continues to manifest them for me and with me.  I am truly blessed in so many ways.
     Do you ever wonder about things like that?  How we recognize parts of our future selves at a young age and then finding ourselves exactly there?  There's a deja vu effect, or a comforting confirmation about choices made and certain directions taken.  That's the beauty of this decade of being 50.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Label Quest

My grand vision of having a tiny retreat in our back yard was to not only share this amazing and inspirational natural space but to also bring me varied stories in the form of wonderful visitors from many different corners of the world.  I figured in my future years, I'd slow down on my personal adventures yet still want to travel vicariously with our guests.  So far we have not been disappointed by the many unique, charming and charmed characters who have managed to find us.

Our latest guest is Dirk Rohrbach, a German adventurer here to write a book on his latest tour paddling to the Bearing Sea in a birch bark canoe he made himself last summer.  Dirk is a good sport who had no trouble humouring me with sending out an alert to his many followers that I was in need of clothing labels to finish my next label quilt.  Many people responded and yesterday I received my first significant contribution in the mail from L.A.  The challenge is to receive 500 labels during his stay here, until April 3.  The official count so far is 79, mostly thanks to Britta.  Many of them I've never seen before.

So Dirk and I are hoping to drum up more to reach our goal.  Later today, I'll be visiting him with my seem ripper in hand.  His generosity has no limits, he's letting me take all his labels!

Much gratitude to Dirk and his many friends!  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The English Garden

"Bloom where you are planted" 

Few subjects subdued and quieted her;
big ones like the state of the world, loss of humanity
where we've all turned cold, afraid,
heavily guarded, overly stimulated,
presenting well.
Other thoughts were hedonistic, open, accessible, 
approachable, coital;
embracing of all encompassing juices of existence.

Photo: Royal Roads, Victoria, B.C. from our courting days. This was the garden shed door 
and is now the main inspiration for our future English Garden.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


"The true traveler is she who goes on foot and even then,
 she sits down a lot of the time."
- Colette
She seemed scattered at first,
that's 'cos she was, in almost every way.
Still, she liked to think she had it where it counted.
She came from Africa, Acadia, South America;
from the divorce-land of domesticity,
colour schemes and coordinates.
Living in a back pack suitcase
carrying water with him,
 even after the traumas.
She grasped what it was to be displaced,
expulsed from home.

Muse written when we first found a place to be for a while, after being on the road a long time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Mexican Parka

Photos: with Ros Oberlyn on the Malecon, La Paz, Mexico & Crag Lake parka
During my brief stint as an inn keeper in Baja, three winters ago, I had one of those amazing Yukon coincidences.  One of my neighbours said there was a woman who liked to winter in La Paz who also had a Yukon connection.   So when she walked past the inn a few weeks later, I had a vague recollection of her smiling face.  For anyone living in the Yukon in the late 1980's, Ros Oberlyn would be a familiar sight since she was a CBC TV reporter.  Turned out she had an apartment on the next block from me.  Most memorable all those years ago was Ros' outside winter stories because she wore a stunning purple and red beaded parka.  This may have been one of the first things I asked her once I found out that soon she would take up permanent residence in Mexico "What will become of your parka?"  We negotiated the repatriation of the parka back to the north under a polka-doted palm tree while eating rose pedal and corn ice cream.  Quite a surreal and lovely memory.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Soiled Glass

The sun has returned to us.  Living in this deep valley has it's dark sides literally and for a few weeks in winter we don't see the sun directly.  But lately it's been blasting in, showing us all the accumulated dust on the logs and surfaces.  Who has time to address that, I figure, especially since our vacuum is indisposed for the moment.  I'd much rather admire the light shinning thru what my friend Wendy calls, my 'soiled glass' window.  It's an inspiration of hers that I adopted last summer and now I reap the rewards.  She says she can't afford a real stained glass window, so instead she has a collection of coloured antiques and thrift store finds at her window.  She uses these items regularly and rotates the colours to change the mood and the style of her entire kitchen.  I really like that idea of function, creativity and environment combined.  For up to 2 hours a day now, the southern exposure of the sun shines directly and I'm not wasting such a warm bath on dust but capturing it ever so briefly in old soiled glass.

Each piece hold a souvenir too; the old Sprite bottle discovered in my brother Pierre's yard while digging for the new landscape on Vancouver island.  The small red pitcher from Rob on my 50th birthday, a fancy hand blown antique; the broken red measuring cup that Wendy couldn't part with after the tragedy; the odd purple bottle from a huge antique shop in a barn in Ontario near the farmhouse Rob grew up in; the glass chicken from my Memere's kitchen in Cocagne, N.B.; the amber '70's vintage candy bowl from a garage/estate sale, another reminder of adventures with Wendy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Flaming Vacuum Cleaner

Photo: Label quilt #1, produced as a form of meditation while in college, 2004 - 2006
On New Years Eve, Rob was eager to welcome the warmer weather so he could clean out the wood stove.  It needed a thorough scrubbing from the roof as well as below.  In his estimation, this requires a vacuum cleaner but in winter it's a bit more challenging with the odd errant ember.  Soon the cabin was filled with thick smoke, cussing, and the scent of burning dust and plastic.  The funny thing about this flaming vacuum cleaner, after the initial rush to get the thing outside and the place aired out (again thanks to above zero temperatures) is remembering that we originally rescued it from the dump 11 years ago, when we first moved here.

And now, back to -30 C, we watch the ice form again on the inside window sills and the hinges on the door.  Billows of frosty air wafts in every time the door opens.  Everything outside has an extra crispness to it and the cabin makes loud creaking thud sounds.  Once in a while, the lake too will give us satisfactory groans, pings and moans, while it adjusts to it's new colder environment.  It's hard to explain why we love this life really.  It's not an intellectual thing but a serious matter of the heart.

Like most cabin dwellers in winter, we read adventure, gardening and cook books, and experiment with new exotic recipes.  We keep fit by shoveling, skiing, and snowshoeing.  Rob likes to feed sunflower seeds to his critters at the feeders by the windows.  In their excitement, the grouse beaks and chickadees throw the seeds on the ground, feeding a lively colony of squirrels that have dug tunnels under the snow.  We could watch this action for a long time.

For me winters is a creative time when I take on wild projects like hand sewing a full size quilt made entirely of clothing labels.  I also made one out of doilies but it wasn't as satisfying.  I'm now finishing up a second label quilt and I'm seriously scrounging for more labels.  Any assistance in this matter would be hugely welcomed.  Labels are fading out, especially the embroidered ones I cherish, which I'm told are mostly silk.  Imagine that, I'm able to say I have a silk quilt that cost me nothing, just thousands of hours of labour!

Add garlic, chocolate, our own blend of Crag Lake coffee and global music blaring (the latest favorite is "Pacifika", a juicy Latino/Canadian blend). Well, there you have it, our formula for a sweet life on a frozen Yukon lake.