Monday, January 31, 2011

day off -- afternoons at home

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There are plenty of household chores I should be doing on my day off, but I am just enjoying sitting, eating and hanging out with the cats. Reading up on edible flowers and herbs, while at the same time getting inspiration for my botanical illustration class. Eating a real lunch: grilled pita with pesto, cherry tomatoes, spinach, onion, garlic, avocado, and mozzarella. Also documenting the darkening of the kitten's facial markings.

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day-after-birthday breakfast

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I'm 24 now. I had to work yesterday. Listening to Simon and Garfunkel. "I've got nothing to do today but smile".

p.s. my birthday also means my blog is 3 years old.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

dr. a. r. elliott

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{Red with his mother, Josephine}

I'm not sure this is the proper forum, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about a very special man in my life, if I may. In summary:

Redmond Elliott
October 3, 1925 to January 18, 2011
(that which is in quotations is from his printed eulogy, written collectively by his brother, wife and children)

Red was raised on a farm in Camrose Alberta, or rather just outside of what was then the small town of Camrose. "He served in the Royal Canadian Navy in the north Atlantic during the last years of the Second World War" Red's father had himself served in the First World War, surviving the battle of Passchendaele (albeit losing the sight of one eye) and went on to train new servicemen for WWII. After the war, "Red was able to fulfill his childhood desire to become a veterinarian through the programs offered to returned servicemen, graduating with his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph in 1950. The day after convocation he married Frances Hall of Guelph and they returned together to Camrose where he established a large and small animal veterinary practice" Years after the wedding Red poked fun at how Frances would only marry him once she was sure he had received his diploma -- you can't move across the country with a drop-out after all. "Red worked as a vet in and around the Camrose area for the next 28 years. His practice was attached to their modest farmhouse (which saw many expansions over the years) which was just down the lane from his parent's house. Much of the Elliott farmland was later converted into school grounds for the Camrose Composite High School. 

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"Red was also a life-long farmer, expressing his love of the land and that vocation by engaging in at various times dairy and beef cattle operations. He was particularly interested in animal nutrition and used that expertise effectively both as a veterinarian and as a farmer. After leaving active vet practice, Red worked for several years as an agricultural consultant with the Sampson Band Enterprises beef farming operation in Hobbema, later 'retiring' to farming full time." 

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"An embodiment of the spirit of service, Red remained actively involved in his community until the present. He held several positions within his church, was a longtime member of Rotary, was involved for nearly 60 years in what is now the Camrose Regional Exhibition... a founding director of the Canadian Bull Congress and served as a CESO (Canadian Executive Services Overseas) volunteer twice, in southern India and Hungary."

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{While in southern India}

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"Red loved his family and was always interested in young people. There was generally an extra place at the table when the kids were growing up and even after they left home Fran and Red served as substitute parents for a series of students from Hong Kong, some of whom later invited them back for a visit. Red shared his love of horses and the farm with his kids and grandkids. He took great pride in the accomplishments of his family, big and small."

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{Frances and Red Elliott}

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"Although a hard and dogged worker, Red also knew how to have fun and his grins transformed his face. He loved to dance, not only with Fran and his granddaughters, but also made a point of asking every woman in the room, particularly those who lacked a partner. In his latter years, Parkinson's disease cramped his style and made every day a brave testament to his determination to keep enjoying life." He carried his illness with humility and dignity.

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Red left this world with five children, eleven grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. My feelings towards this man, Poppa, are so overwhelming full of love and respect I don't know how to begin explaining the impact he has had on my life. Growing up, Red was a giant. He had the largest, strongest arms and hands of anyone I knew and his hands were especially skilled in the art of tickling children. His face was always red from the sun and hard work and white whiskers always poked out from his cheeks, even after shaving, causing me to struggle to get away from his scratchy kisses. He loved a solid breakfast and I remember him eating a half a banana and half a grapefruit religiously every morning with his shredded wheat. Neither he or my grandmother ever thought I was eating enough in comparison to their hard-working, country diets.

During my stays at my grandparents house I would run around outside for hours on end, but I would still make it back into the house before Red returned from working on the farm. I would hear his loud footsteps enter the house and he would always go straight to the laundry room to scrub his hands with orange soap, but hands like his never really get clean of all the dirt. When I was young my grandparents had two tabby cats that lived in the house, Big-Mouth and Blue-Eyes. Blue-Eyes was shy and would hide when the grandkids were running around, but there was many a time that I would come downstairs to find Red asleep on the couch, with Blue-Eyes not far away, breathing in sync. The dust in that room sparkled in the late afternoon sunshine. That was my favorite place on earth, but that's a different story.

Red called my grandmother 'Boss' and she called him 'Boss' right back. He would tease her under his breath at the kitchen table and would be all smiles if she gave him enough acknowledgment to tell him to cut it out. He never stopped recounting to my mom the time he and my grandmother came to watch my karate class; Red beamed with pride and amusement at the young male foe dodging this way and that to get away from me.

One cold Easter Sunday Red took some of us grandkids out to the farm in the morning to check on any calves that had been born overnight. One cow was struggling with the birth of her calf and I watched in the dark and the cold as Red pulled the calf out with huge chains. The calf fell to the straw covered ground, a slimy, shivering mess, and the cow began to lick her clean. There was so much steam coming from her nostrils, I had never seen anything like it -- just another day for Red, wiping his brow and on to the next creature in need.

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{Farming partner Rob, with Red}

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Red read my blog everyday and I'm sorry that he can't read this. I'm sorry sometimes we don't properly express with words everything that a person means to us. Even now I am having a hard time writing what I am feeling. Knowing that there is so much pain, regret, and sadness being felt by so many of my loved ones is overwhelming.

In Red's late years he lost the appearance of the man he once was. He hunched over, he needed hearing aids, after a car accident a couple years ago he required the use of a walker to get from point A to B. Everything happened much slower. He shook. Words took a lot longer to form and he usually couldn't keep up with the conversation and so would say nothing at all. So many stored up thoughts. I've been sad and angry for years. No man should have to sit quietly and watch as he becomes less and less significant; placed at a table to be out of the way while the family and the world moved on around him. Still, he never complained and he never looked to be in question as to why he was suffering from Parkinson's.

Red Elliott, I hope I can keep sharing your stories and my stories of you, for you are the most honest, hard-working and loving man I have known. If I ever have a child, he or she will be named Elliott, because it' better off to hit the ground running, don't you think?

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

a special sunshine

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I don't take the sun for granted in Vancouver. We go for days on end in the wintertime never even glimpsing a ray of light or feeling its warmth. Still -- we never forget what it looks like, or what it feels like, but when it does decide to poke out behind the clouds it is our life-source. We don't just see it, we don't just feel it on our skin, but we breathe it and it becomes a part of us. Every thought and feeling changes and is strengthened with the presence of the sun and we have learned how to store it up for the  next inevitable stretch of darkness. 

Sometimes we get little gifts like this one: where the sun surprises us, just briefly, and just in time for a colourful sunset (and just in time for us to refuel).

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

chocolate & coconut ice cream sandwiches (because it's not freezing here)

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After Christmas I had a lot of left-over chocolate cookies that I couldn't decide what to do with. Normally I frost these with a peppermint icing, but after having already eaten so many like that over the holidays I wanted to do something different with these ones. I decided to make little round mini ice cream sandwiches. A friend of mine would often make little cookie ice cream treats and I thought the chocolate would just be so irresistible. Almost any ice cream flavour would have been tasty, I chose the roasted coconut made by Udder Guy's -- their ice creams are so delicious and are made locally, in the Cowichan Valley.

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The only problem with these is you really do have to bite right into them, so it doesn't work well for those with sensitive teeth, such as my beau. Oh well, more for me.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

an empty heart / a full heart

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There is a void that needs healing. A patriarch is gone. Going home to be with family this weekend.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

baking: cheddar jalapeno scones for a savory breakfast

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As much as I enjoy granola for breakfast (and homemade granola bars, and pancakes) I am really more of a savory gal. I felt the need on my day off yesterday to make something and this recipe popped into my head. I'm not really a huge scone fan, so I can't tell you if they are a good scone or not, but I can tell you they are delicious and I am already planning more healthy additions for the next time I make them.

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Savory Jalapeno Cheddar Scones, adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 quick oats
1/4 cup plain, non-fat yogurt
1/4 cup, plus 2 Tbsp skim milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (originally called for 1 teaspoon, but I found this too salty with the cheese)
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) cold butter, diced
2 eggs
1/4 pound sharp cheddar cheese, diced into pea-sized pieces*
2 small jalapeno peppers, most of the seeds removed, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs fresh parsley, finely chopped

*I don't know how much cheese this is. I just cut some cheese into small cubes, which ended up measuring almost a cup. I used an old cheddar (yep, the orange kind) but next time I think I would use one that is a little sharper, and therefore also use less cheese.

Combine oats in a small bowl, add yogurt, milk and brown sugar. Stir and set aside. Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a small skillet melt one tablespoon butter over medium-low heat. Add minced shallot and cook until almost translucent. Stir in jalapenos and garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring to avoid burning. Remove from heat and let cool, then combine with cheese in a small bowl and coat with one tablespoon flour. Set aside. Combine the remaining flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the remaining butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the butter bits are pea-sized.

Lightly whisk the eggs and combine with the mixture of yogurt, milk, and oats. Add this egg, milk, and oat mixture to the flour-butter mixture. Using a wooden spoon, fold mixture until it begins to come together. Add the cheddar jalapeno mixture and parsley to the dough and mix just enough until everything is incorporated.

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead gently for less than one minute. Pat dough out to a 3/4-1" thickness and cut into triangles, or with a biscuit cutter. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Best eaten warm and within 24 hours. I flash-froze half of them, as recommended by Smitten Kitchen, to be cooked in the future.

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Oh and I updated my post on tortilla soup, adding in the recipe, so go check that out if you were curious.

Monday, January 17, 2011

the last kermodi arrangements and a tree of wonder

string of pearl egg planter

Good morning Monday workers! Today is actually my day off (well other than a couple hours of work-related errands) and I sure hope to get some much needed quiet (specifically in my brain).

These are the last photos I have of planters I completed while at Kermodi. The top is a string of pearls -- a really fantastic plant, so long as you don't drown it. The cactus in the middle in the photo below (Chrissy, a little help with the variety name, please?) is the same variety that left a piece of one of its spines lodged in my finger for weeks....painful.

three succulent black cubes

And in a somewhat related note: a friend and I spotted this tree in a school yard while on a walk in December -- isn't it stunning?

mossy fern tree

Friday, January 14, 2011