Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Under the Harvest Moon Soup.

The fall of our hearts

And the light faints.

But the colors

Still stain our eyes.

DSCN0909I wrote that poetic bit to mark the end of summer and to welcome in autumn. As far back as my memory will allow this time of year has always made me sad. With a tendency towards melancholy at the best of times, Labor Day weekend is like a freighter that transports me from the light and easy to the dark and serious. For those first few lingering days afterwards, until my eyes adjust to the changing light, when the large blue skies abbreviate and foretell. The feeling of loss that another glorious summer has come and gone, the lazy hazy days are over. It’s back to school. Or business. Life, without beach sand between my toes. I miss it. Pine for it. Beckon it back. Beg it to stay just another month or two. But that’s not the way of summer, North of the 49.

Goodbye to the pastel evening skies. Oh, but hello to early morning light that shimmers and casts rusty hues on the arcing limbs of the Garry Oak trees.

Back into the kitchen, overlooking my reluctant rocky garden, I prepare earthy vegetables for Under The Harvest Moon Soup featuring our volunteer summer squash.

DSCN0892The ingredients.

It’s a simple recipe that involves cleaning out the crisper and roasting what you’ve got along with at least two squash, any kind. Our little miracles are a-corns. My crisper crop usually includes cauliflower, red and orange peppers, carrots, tomatoes, onions, celery, and garlic. Whatever you’ve got that goes with squash will work beautifully.

The method.

Lay these all out in a large baking dish. I use the spectacular Portmeirion baking dish that E gave me for Christmas a few years ago. It’s big and beautiful and roasts veggies to perfection.

Sprinkle with your favorite herbs and spices. For me, curry and turmeric are the perfect spices for squash soup so that’s what I sprinkle lavishly over the veggies. A little s ‘n p.

DSCN0895Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Pop in the oven at 350 degrees for at least an hour, or until the veggies are tender and getting that roasted look.

In no time at all, your kitchen will be infused with a sweet fragrant aroma, like none other. Take a moment to breathe it in. This will make you happy. You will smile.

While enjoying this culinary bliss, remove your magnificent morsels from the oven and set aside to cool. When cooled, blend with a vegetable broth or stock. I just use the Tetra Pak type you buy at the grocery store. But if you’re into making your own, that’s cool. Truth is, water works too since this is already a nutritious and delicious brew. You just need enough liquid to blend the veggies until they are pureed, smooth and creamy. Dump this into a large pot and add more seasoning if you like. I add more curry because I can never get enough. Because the veggies are already cooked, this baby is almost good to go.

DSCN0930Cover and simmer on low heat to slowly warm up the silky smooth veggies. Let them mingle with the sexy spices for a while. Once the soup is nice and hot, I add a tablespoon of butter. You don’t have to do this, of course. I just think butter makes everything better. Except for your butt. But that’s a whole other blog post.

The accompaniment.

Our family likes something starchy with our soup. Like homemade biscuits. Or any kind of crusty Italian bread. E likes Saltines. Enough said.

DSCN0935

Neil Young – Harvest Moon

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Garden of Little Big Things.

DSCN0818I’m big on the little things. The small, unexpected delights that make you smile. Or grin like a fool in love. Stand on your head and spit nickels. The unplanned moments and spontaneous incidences, with their elegant perfect brevity, that takes you by surprise. Then there are all those transitory things that are so easily overlooked or often passed by completely. Those are quite simply, the best. When you raise your head and say, ‘thank God I saw that.’

I also believe in everyday miracles. The tiny wonders that make you grateful.

This summer I was fortunate enough to bear witness to the innate generosity and enduring tenacity of the earth, quite literally beneath my feet. It began with a compost box in our backyard. Actually it began before that. With delicious winter meals of roasted squash and crispy green salads populated with grape and cherry tomatoes.

DSCN0834Little back story. Our house is built on a rock. A massive boulder that ascends heavenward less than ten feet from the back door. Steps have been cut and built into the rock so that you can climb it with ease. At the top it levels off into this lumpy grassy knoll in spring that is parched and stripped of color in summer and then mushy from the relentless rains of fall and winter. Always a farm boy at heart, E refers to this as his Back 40, but unlike his Annapolis Valley roots, where food crops grew in abundance, this little piece of paradise is canopied by Garry Oak Trees and shadowed by the Douglas Firs that tower like looming sentinels in the park that butts up against our property. We soon discovered, our first summer living here, that growing things to eat would be a challenge at best. And far too often, downright heartbreaking.

Like the early settlers and pioneers of the New World, E and I persevered. We were inspired by a deep yearning to sow good seeds, tend to them with loving kindness, watch them flourish and burgeon so that by summer’s end we could enjoy the harvest season, nature’s bounty, the abundance of Autumn. Surely this is what Mother Earth intended, even for gardens grown in difficult settings.

DSCN0971E persevered. I gave up.

Through tenacious experimentation with planting various and sundry seedlings, grew understanding, wisdom and respect for what we had in our Back 40. First and foremost, we accepted that it was different from any other garden we had ever grown. It did its own thing, for the most part. It was a maverick. In many ways, it was a mirror to our own natures.

Eventually E figured out what grew. And what didn’t. Blueberries for example, love the rocky ridged beds that E built and filled with enough earth for them to take hold and produce an abundance of juicy berries. We have over a dozen bushes now of different varieties, including pink blueberries. Who knew? On the very top of the rock, where the trees don’t block the sun, big bouquets of petunias grow beautifully in cobalt blue and burgundy glazed earthenware pots. And a variety of tall elegant grasses do well on the sunny slopes that flank the steps. In the long narrow bed that clings to the side of the rock, just outside our kitchen window, a grouping of succulents with tiny pink flowers that bloom in autumn have taken occupancy. I am a blessed woman.

One of the things we have grown to appreciate the most about this wild horse of a garden are all the things that grow naturally, without any help from us. For the rock knows what it needs and what it wants. Like all the wild flowers that grow in the tiny pockets in the rock. Purple things, little mysterious gems that pop up everywhere all year round. I don’t know their fancy Latin names. I just call them beautiful. Then there are the daisies with their sunny smiles that hang out on the side of the fishpond with the orange spiky lilies, red hots, the scraggly fuchsia bushes and overgrown grape vine. And of course, there are the clingers and hangers-on. The pale green lichens, the mossy carpet bits and the small-scale succulents.

DSCN0735The birds love it here too. Plus, they also do their share of planting. Without them, we wouldn’t have the pink and yellow funny-faced snapdragons.

But of all these miraculous things, the most wondrous of all, are what E calls “the volunteers”, a phenomenon of sowing and reaping that occurred for the first time this summer. One that took us by surprise, and delighted us, beyond measure. And to think, it all started last winter with roasted squash and tomato salads. And that black compost box.

In the spring E filled all the rocky beds with the rich mulch that he had been collecting all winter. And from that, six mystery squash plants and three tomato plants took hold. Sprouted and grew effortlessly. Miracle plants. Gracious gifts from God and Mother Earth.

We’ve spent the summer watching them do their own thing. Just doing what comes naturally, I suppose. Add a little sunshine and water to E’s well-mulched earth. And voila! Hallelujah! A miracle.

And we slow dance under the harvest moon.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Dog Poop and the Fine Art of Raking.

The Old Man with his rake and white cowboy hat.

I like my garden.  And I like to hang out in it.  I like all the flowers and trees. The blueberry bushes, mauve lilacs and sundry shrubs with no names.  The bird houses clinging to the Garry Oak trees are cute and folksy.  But most importantly, they attract delightful birds into our little piece of the world and that fills me with glee.  It’s spring and I’m itching to get out there and watch my husband do all the grunt work.  I admire his talent for breathing new life into the places where unpleasant dead vegetation has amassed over the winter months.  He seems to enjoy doing that.  I see no reason to discourage him.  I prefer to putter.  Plant pretty things.  Pansies.  Petunias.  Poppies.  And flowers that start with other letters too.  Like Geraniums and Marigolds.

There was a time when I was a great gardener.  Or at least I worked hard at it.  Did all the grunt work like my husband does now. When I was living in Toronto with my two older kids, my summer weekends were spent mowing lawns, trimming hedges, dead-heading flowers, staking tomato plants, plucking peppers, weeding and watering.  I got my hands dirty and my knees bruised.  It was back-busting, nail-breaking work.  It involved blood, sweat and tears.  But it was also glorious.  And gratifying. Especially at the end of the day, when I sat in the tranquil shade of our grapevine canopy and admired my day’s travail.

We lived in a predominantly Italian neighborhood with a smattering of Greek, Portuguese and Jamaican folks.  I rarely knew what anyone was talking about because I didn’t speak any of those languages.  Ma was a second generation Italian and only knew how to count to ten, so consequently that was the extent of my Italian conversational skills. Not very engaging.  We were the foreigners in Toronto’s Little Italy.  The Mangacakes.  But nonetheless, we felt at home there. Possibly because in their warm olive-complected faces, I saw Ma.  But despite the language differences we were able to communicate, especially in the back gardens where our Italian neighbors and I spent much of our spare time during those steaming summer months.  And I definitely understood good advice on growing tomatoes and peppers – the vegetables that grew in abundance and seemingly effortlessly in that climate.  With their advice, even I grew them with ease.

I look back and marvel at the gardening language we employed.  It consisted of hand gesturing, facial expression, demonstration and example. There weren’t a lot of words because there were so few we had in common.  Yet we learned this universal language that crossed all cultures and parlance.  It was as beautiful as the luscious red tomatoes and delectable green peppers we grew.  Communication at it’s simplest.  You point.  You dig.  You hoe.  You stake.  You pluck, pinch and prune. You scratch your head.  You smile.  You laugh.  You say thank you.

Little back story.  I come by my love of gardening honestly.  The Old Man taught me all the basics.  Back then we didn’t call it “gardening” though.  Far too gentile and refined sounding for that time and place.  It was yard work.  Raking grass or leaves in the front yard.  Digging up earth, planting rows of seeds, watering, weeding and harvesting in the backyard.

Over the years, The Old Man tinkered with the backyard, adding a row of Poplar trees along the fence line and a Weeping Willow, that eventually became a nuisance despite it’s beautiful forlorn hangdog branches. It’s labyrinth root system overtook the yard and sucked the life out of everything.  There were a couple of evergreens here and there.  But the piece de resistance, the shining glory of the backyard were the Manitoba Maples.  Two beauties strategically planted about ten feet apart.  Just wide enough to hang a red white and blue striped hammock.   The swinging bed of afternoon daydreams and early evening siestas.  The double swing for giggling grandkids.  The humorous pratfall for anyone who dared to keep their guard down.  The place to rest your weary soul after a hard day’s work.

In the front yard there were flowers under the front windows.  Marigolds and Geraniums mostly.  These were the Old Man’s favorites. I suspect because they were both hardy and happy plants.  Bright and cheerful all summer long and well into an Indian Summer. Feisty enough to make it to Thanksgiving (Canadian) and some years tenacious enough to hold out until Halloween.  There was a wild rose growing between our yard and our neighbors.  The scent of which I will yearn for until the day I die.  But the centerpiece of the front yard was a beautiful lilac bush that bloomed in June.  Ma would pick a bouquet for the kitchen table, the sweet romantic fragrance enveloping the entire room.  On the boulevard grew another magnificent Manitoba Maple.  Every house along Kenogami Avenue had one.  They were a gift from the city to a weary wartime street.  Green lush shadow casters in summer.  A riot of autumn colors in September and October.  Naked, flexible and courageous all winter long.

I’ve heard it said that it is our sense of smell that has the power to conjure up past memories and emotions.  That appears to be true for me.  The first hint of Spring in the air and I’m ten years old in the front yard with The Old Man.  We’re raking.  (It’s probably more accurate to say, he rakes and I watch and pick up things with mine.  Just the same, I learned the fine art of collecting and disposing of winter debris.  A lesson that would serve me well years later in my old Toronto neighborhood.)  All the snow has finally melted.  The grass is still soggy and mushy in spots.  At first blush it looks dead and gone forever.  Hopeless.  The smell is a paradoxical brew of pure clear 100% Northwestern Ontario Spring air and fusty rancid months-old dog poop.  Then after all the raking and observing is done, something supernatural occurs.  God lifts the winter carpet to reveal the wondrous new green sprouts concealed beneath. And The Old Man and I stand there leaning on our rakes surveying the scene, and we’re hopeful. Optimistic. Expectant.  Summer is coming.  Soon the lilacs will bloom.

Eleven years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, The Old Man, my father, the Breadman had dinner as usual at the old folks home, where he had spent his last year.  Afterwards, he went for an early evening siesta.  He closed his eyes and then held hands with Ma.  He left quietly without any fanfare.  No trumpet calls.  No slapping spoons.  No good-byes or family gathered by his bedside.  When I got the news, my first  thought was “just like The Old Man to leave town on St. Patrick’s Day.”  And my second thought was “I love you and say hi to Ma. I’ll miss you both forever.”