A girl’s best friend

My last post was prompted by a chance hearing of a song I had never heard before.  ‘Always trust your cape’ by Guy Clark awoke a memory of my son’s failed attempt at unassisted human flight.  Another video this morning helped me recall my daughter Tara’s early life with our dogs. I guess at my age these little nudges to boost memory are as welcome as…what was it now…oh yeah, ducks in May.  Tara was just about two years old at the time and very tiny for her age. I have read somewhere that, up to the age of two, children and dogs can communicate on a non-verbal level that can be quite amazing. We had two dogs at the time, a beautiful German Shepherd by name of Senta, and a Basenji named Isis. Two dogs with personalities that have as much in common as a fish and a bicycle.

Tara, at the age of almost two had developed a relationship with the Shepherd that was as close as a human and an animal can become. When she walked around the house with dog in tow, one could almost hear them talking to each other. Tara did most of the talking, while Senta grunted now and then…in approval I think. One morning something woke me early, around 6 am. Somehow, it was too quiet in the house. Usually Isis and Senta were up, chasing each other and having their first morning slurp of water. All noises I was used to as they usually helped me grab that additional 30 minutes of ‘dozing time’. Why was it so quiet in the house? Something was not right and I had to find out what was going on.

When I rounded the corner into the dining room there was the answer to my question. Tara’s mom had purchased some new dog treats the day before and had left them within Tara’s reach. I guess Senta told Tara to get them and start sharing the wealth with her. Now, unless you have had a close relationship with a German Shepherd, you may not fully understand the intelligence of these dogs. They can be very gentle, and their first instinct is always to serve us. Tara had poured some of the treats into a bowl and had seated herself between Senta’s front paws. With great enthusiasm and care she was feeding the dog, one treat at a time. “Open Senta”, Senta would open her huge mouth full of shiny white canines, Tara, delicately holding a single treat, would stick her toothpick size arm up to the elbow into Senta’s mouth, whereupon she would deposit the treat, withdraw her arm, and repeat the procedure.

Very quietly I watched for a minute or two, being careful to not surprise the dog or Tara. When I made myself known to them, the magic spell was broken. Both jumped up and ran over to greet me.

Tara was brought up with Senta and saw her as just another, if somewhat hairy, human being. When we brought her home from the hospital I showed her to Senta and Senta showed her approval by licking her tiny face. Tara’s love for dogs has never changed, but that early bond between human and animal is no longer there. The price we pay for being human. Enjoy the video.

“Always trust your cape”

Like so many other fathers, I have a son who can be the bane of my existence. Don’t get me wrong, I love him and really care what happens in his life, but he does make it difficult sometimes. The strange thing with him, when he was in his teens, was that he never gave any hint that he wanted to break out, leave the nest and head for greener pastures. As a matter of fact, he stuck around and stuck around, and even when he left he kept on coming back. Well, finally I guess his inner voice told him to get the hell out and live his life somewhere far away from the safety net of Ol’ Dad. He ended up in Chile of all places, without a job and without money and without any real idea of what might come next. We lost all contact for about four and a half years and all but gave up on ever hearing from him again. Wouldn’t you know it, his sister found him and we reconnected. Will he come home? “No”, was his definitive answer. “I love it here, I love the people, I am learning Spanish, I am a chef in a great restaurant, and life couldn’t be any better.” Well, it relieved me to know that he was all right and had found what he had been searching for. I miss him, but with Skype and Email we can chat from time to time without causing him any discomfort. He’s a grown man now, no longer the kid I once knew, and he has made that ‘leap of faith’ we must all make if we want to take a hold of our own destiny. If it works out…great…if it doesn’t, you have only yourself to blame.

But I digress, let me step back a few years, almost forty now. The stairs going to the second floor of our house had a landing part way up, and the last set of stairs, about 10 of them, ended on the final landing, about a 4’x4′ pad. Young Fred loved Superman, and was very fond of wearing his official superman uniform, complete with cape. One day I heard him talking to himself at the top of the stairs while he was pacing around rather restlessly. I quietly sneaked into the hallway to see what he was up to, when I witnessed the final act of his experiment with flight. Trusting in his cape he took off with a great deal of energetic enthusiasm and became airborne. Yes, he flew all the way down those 10 stairs, all the way to the landing. Well, it wasn’t altogether a landing, so to speak, it was more like a crashing, if you get what I mean. There was no victory cry, just a blood-curdling scream as his head met the wall and he thumped onto the hardwood floor. I ran to his side to console him and to make sure that he hadn’t done himself any serious harm. Six year olds are like rubber ‘Gumbies’, they bounce, and he was OK. Thank goodness, he never tried that again, but somewhere in his psyche he retained this notion that, if he had to, he could fly. I guess we all do to some extend, some of us succeed (we call them entrepreneurs) others fall flat on their faces and must Continue reading

Old dog…new tricks

It seems that every time I turn around I am confronted by another interesting activity that I want to dive into. I must say, blogging, and the need to come up with fresh ideas on a regular basis has been an exciting catalyst in this process. Reading other people’s blogs makes you realize that there is so much to do and to learn about, that the sheer volume is overwhelming. The trick now will be to find the time and to chose carefully which new quests to follow, and which to put on a shelf for a while. Believing that one must never stop investigating the wonders of life, like Alice, I have ventured down the rabbit hole and we’ll see what we find. Music listening and playing, has always been one of my favourite past times. Discovering new performers and new music genres opens doors to so much enjoyment. Just this morning I received notice of a new post from ‘Old Jules’, a fellow blogger who resides somewhere in the middle of Texas. Jules has lived a rich and varied life and can always draw something new and different from his hat of tricks. (new and different for me)

The blues are the closest expression of the human condition we call anguish. Anguish dissipates when we express it and thereby take away its power to intimidate us. Blues singers bring an honesty to their musical expression that is hard to find in most other musical styles. All of this is the long way around of introducing a blues singer who was the subject of Old Jules post this morning, Abner Jay. Never heard of him and glad that I did now. Thanks Jules. I hope you enjoy these two numbers by Abner and a third by someone  we have heard many times , the great Lead Belly.

Pozole, soup to die for

For our ‘Soup du jour’ may I suggest ‘Pozole‘, a Mexican soup, or soupy stew, depending on your preferred soup consistency. I am given to understand that this is the soup of soups in parts of Mexico, and as soon as I get over the image left in my brain by some of its distant history, I will prepare it and share it.  It seems that this very delicious soup, or a variation of it, was originally served with human flesh which, if you had a contact at the local temple, could be obtained following Thursday’s Aztec sacrificial rituals. Of course, following the conquest by the Spaniards, cannibalism was banned, and pork was substituted, owing to its similarity in taste. I am always amazed at the bizarre relationships our religions, past and present, have with the foods we eat…but that’s a topic for a later post.  The area of Mexico most famous for this delicacy is Guerrero where the weekly event is known as Jueves Pozolero. Specific restaurants are open only on Thursdays for the sole purpose of serving this dish. So click on the link, happy Pozole Thursday and may you enjoy you meal.

John Lees-Extreme Hiker at 65 (and still living)

John, you have made it to 65 and who’d have ever guessed it, leading the life of thrills and adventure that you do. Over the years your courage, limitless strength, your cunning, your skillful handling of danger, your ability to follow trail blazes, all have combined to make you one of the outstanding lowland hikers in the country (sorry, I meant county). Who shall ever forget your slide up the gully in Meadowlily, or for that matter, the downhill slide on the same trail. Such poise, such courage, such dedication to your chosen sport. Someday fellow hikers will say of him: he knew where he was going, he followed the white blazes without hesitation, he understood the different challenges of up and down, and he always respected his fellow hikers when the need for relief struck him. He was a private man, always seeking out a private spot for that private act that, now and then, visits us all. He knew the importance of a good hat and always respected what lay behind a good long thumb.

We, your lifelong companions, wish you a very happy 65th birthday and we really mean it when we say…. Take a hike!

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Assorted Videos

There is an incredible amount of video ‘stuff’ out there. Good, Bad and Indifferent sums up the quality of this aclectic lot. Every once in a while someone sends me something that tickles my funny bone, makes me happy, or makes me think. I invite you to take a look at what I consider ‘Interesting Videos’.

Age-Activated Attention Deficit Disorder

Happy Hour in Africa

Watch the elephants knock the fruit out of the tree and all the animals eat it off the ground. 
This is a real video from a French documentary about Africa . There are trees that grow in Africa which, once a year, produce very juicy fruit that contain a high percentage of alcohol. The tree is known as the “Elephant Tree,” because elephants have a fondness for the fruit. Because there is a shortage of water in that area, as soon as the fruits are ripe, animals come there to help relieve themselves of the heat.  You will easily know who had over-indulged…on purpose or not!
PS. The tree is the Marula tree. You can buy a great liqueur named “Amarula,” which is made with the fruit and cream.

Jimmie Rodgers:  The world I used to know, perhaps not one of his top hits, certainly one of the most appropriate for the times we are experiencing. It’s good to listen to, and understand, lyrics that have meaning. A pleasing voice and real instruments in support of a good song, are also welcome now and then. Don’t get me wrong, I love all good music but—just listen and enjoy.

Lee Camp:  Stop whining…just work hard. Occupy Wall Street…why are they doing this? I’ll tell you why, they love sleeping on hard asphalt under canvas with the stink and noise of thousands of others keeping them awake. No bath, shower, or toilet; no change of clothes, no cable TV. I’ll tell you why, they love living like that. If you have to ask the question you haven’t been awake for the last decade. Listen to Lee who says it much better than I can:

Sharks: Are they the killers that many would have us believe? Unlike humans, sharks do not kill unless they must eat. Our slaughter of the shark is nothing short of criminal, and must be stopped if we are to maintain the delicate balance of the ocean’s eco-system. This video shows a different side of the shark:

Majestic Lake Superior, our summer of sailing

“Come up to Thunder Bay and go sailing with us.” It was the summer of 2009 and that was the invitation from Joy and Rudy Warkentin, our friends up north. Beth had never sailed on Lake  Superior, and I assured her that, with Rudy at the helm, she was going to be in capable hands, and she would have the time of her life. I had sailed with Rudy the year before and we had enjoyed every moment of it. The spectacular northern shoreline is truly something to behold. Traveling close to shore gives one the opportunity to see the land in all of its true glory. Cliffs that rise skyward out of crystal clear water, inviting shore-lines, and protected harbours, make this massive lake a very special place.

The  ‘Arctic Fantasy’ is a 32-foot sailboat that Rudy built over the period of 7 years. It is a boat whose hull is constructed entirely of concrete, making it heavy, rugged and very safe. Over many years of hard labour and loving care, Rudy has created a very beautiful and capable craft. While she may lack some of the modern amenities, she is well equipped with the necessities required for performance and safety. There are no shortcuts available to operate this boat; the crew must know what to do and how to do it competently with basic ‘sheets’, pulleys, and navigation devices. (She is equipped with depth gauge and Radar, a must on this vast body of fresh water)

On the trip out we hugged the shoreline where we were treated to some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable. Cliffs rising hundreds of feet out of the water, scarred by ancient and recent rock-falls. Bald eagles soaring high above the cliffs, coasting lazily on the uprising air currents, and silence that is broken only by the reassuring rhythmic rumbling of the trusty inboard engine. Moving along under sail is only possible when there is suitable wind, the rest of the time you count on a strong, reliable, engine to take you to your planned destination.

Our trip took us to an island that has been lovingly developed into a luxurious, rustic, resort away from the hectic distractions of everyday life in the city.

The harbour is well protected by a snug entrance, making it safe in most storms that can suddenly blow up on Superior.

We tied up, along with three other visitors, and prepared to do what everyone does when they come here, sweat out all the accumulated tensions of our stressed lives in a sauna constructed by the people who know saunas best, the Finns. We had brought our own supply of seasoned wood and were soon stoking the boiler located in the change room of the structure.  The sweating part was comforting and peaceful, what followed is an archaic leftover from a time when men had to prove that they were indestructible. Superior’s waters are deep, clear and c.c.cold. Custom dictates that one is required to smartly burst out of the hot sauna and fearlessly perform a long and enthusiastic run down a very short pier, landing in the icy water. I have never been given a convincing explanation for this form of ancient torture, other than ‘it’s good for you’ and it seems to be a rite of passage. The initial nano-second when you hit the water is quite pleasant until you realize that you have just jumped into really cold, I mean icy cold, water. In a split second you rise to the surface gasping for air realizing that you, and everything that amounts to you, has just shrunk into a mere knot. Only one solution, get back into the comfort and safety of the sauna as quickly as possible. Ahh, it must be good for you.

Long, lazy afternoons, several hearty drinks, and a good book, best describe the atmosphere of this bucolic setting. Even ‘Princess’, the Warkentin’s Siamese cat, took advantage of the safety provided by the bench on the dock.

To avoid being labeled ‘lazy slugs’, Rudy, Beth and I hiked to the top of the island and enjoyed the panoramic view, a view that included the ‘Arctic Fantasy’ snugged up to the pier.

After two days in paradise, we started the engine and slowly and confidently left the safety of our harbour, heading for the next destination, Key Harbour, at the foot of the Friendly Giant.

Superior, while being majestic and beautiful, can also be a very moody and dangerous mistress, as we were soon to find out. Our bearing to the island we had visited was west of Thunder Bay; Key Harbour is to the east of Thunder Bay. The onboard marine radio had warned us of some strong winds from the west, along with traces of severe fog. For now the sky was clear, the air was still, the water flat as a mirror. We set our compass to due east, and expected clear sailing. To reassure myself I turned to the west to see if I could spot the impending fog bank, and was immediately shocked by what loomed in the distance. Out of a clear blue sky and unperturbed water appeared what I can only describe as an avalanche of threatening, heavy, black air. The promised fog bank was rolling upon us with a determination, purpose and speed that spoke of imminent and clear danger. Within minutes the winds in advance of the fog, forced us to drop our sails and tie down everything that was loose on deck. Beth and Joy went below and took care of loose bits and pieces there, while Rudy and I made certain that we would get through this rough spot safely.

The violent rocking of our boat and the turbulent seas surrounding us made certain that Beth would be properly inducted into the ranks of ‘Brave Sailors of Superior’. In other words, she became sea sick. Both Beth and Princess took refuge inside one of the rumpled sleeping bags, while the rest of us hung on for dear life…or so it seemed…

On the radio we heard two disturbing announcements. A sailboat had overturned in the storm and the sailor could not be located. The other emergency concerned a kayaker who sought refuge on a small island, had slipped on the rocks and cracked some ribs. He wanted to be picked up by a coastguard helicopter and was told to………..

After an unsettling hour of chaos the storm  abated and the fog dissipated. Beth lifted her head out of the pail, “is it over?”, she whispered as the colour returned to her smiling face. Arctic Fantasy slipped into Key harbour for a two day stay and some more relaxation.

The trip back to Thunder Bay was relaxing and pleasant. Once more Superior afforded us its majestic, warm and spectacular personality. Our sailing adventure had been a huge success. Even Beth held no grudge for the initiation she received at the hands of this, the greatest of all freshwater lakes, Superior.

Thank you Joy and Rudy.


Emma is Tara and Bill’s little girl and our granddaughter.  She has been dancing since she was 4 years old, to the point that dancing has become second nature to her. Emma has a wall covered with trophies and medals from her annual competitions. She has spent a full year with the Nation Ballet School of Canada and is in the process of deciding what to do next. Whatever she chooses, it will be dance and it will be beautiful.

I would like to share with you some of her wonderful talents through a series of photographs. Enjoy the poise and beauty of this exceptional young person, our Emma.

What’s cooking?

Who doesn’t like to share good food and drink?  From time to time I come across a recipe, or a good wine, beer, or single-malt, that I simply must share with friends.  This section of my blog is dedicated to just that, food that really “schmeckts” and beverages that satisfy the soul.

Make your own Pasta

I have decided that there is no pasta like home-made pasta. It is smooth, silky, and its flavour can be adjusted to your own liking. You will have to invest in a couple of useful tools to make the process easier and, quite frankly, more fun.

pasta press attached to KitchenAid

Dryer folds for easy storage

Creating the desired pasta can be accomplished free-hand, with a manual press and cutter, or with the very useful KitchenAid machine attachments.

Finally, you can create the all important pasta dough manually on a board, or use a food processor, which is my choice. It is quick and easy and almost guaranteed to come out right every time.

Recipe for pasta dough:

1 cup of all-purpose flour

½ cup of semolina flour

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

a pinch of salt

1 tbsp + of cold water

1 tbsp of oil

Add the moist items first (hold back the water) and follow with the dry.

Add water gradually as the dough changes from dry, to pea size granules, and finally forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the food processor. That’s it… knead the dough a few times, then wrap it in clear plastic and rest (you with a glass of wine, the dough with its plastic wrap) for a half hour at room temperature.

Now comes the fun part. Cut the dough ball into 2 to 4 smaller portions, flatten them a bit and start to run them through the rollers. Start with the largest setting and progress to the desired thickness. Remember to roll all portions through each setting before you set a new thickness. You may also have to sprinkle the individual sheets of pasta with flour to prevent them from sticking to the roller, or each other. When you have reached the desired thickness you can begin the cutting process with theappropriate size of cutter (spaghetti, fettuccine etc.).

Hang each batch of cut pasta from your pasta dryer; wait 10 to 15 min. then cook in salted water for 3 min. or so. Remember, as with dry pasta, al dente!  Have a great time adding your own homemade pasta sauce and your choice of wine.

Buon Appetito

Shrimp Saganaki

I cannot recall when I have had such initial misgivings about a recipe, and have had to swallow those misgivings (so to speak) after tasting the resulting dish. Somehow Feta cheese and shrimp did not sound right. Don’t take my word for it, try it. I suggest you savour this shrimp dish with steamed rice.


1 1/2 pounds shrimp , peeled and deveined (size is your choice)

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons ouzo (I used Pernod)

5 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic    press

Grated zest from 1 lemon

salt and ground black pepper

1 small onion , diced medium

1/2 medium red bell pepper , diced medium

1/2 medium green bell pepper , diced medium

teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomato , drained, 1/3 cup juices reserved

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves

6 ounces Greek feta cheese , crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill leaves


1. Toss shrimp, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon ouzo, 1 teaspoon garlic, lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper in small bowl until well combined. Set aside while preparing sauce.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onion, red and green bell pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir to combine. Cover skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables release their moisture, 3 to 5 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until moisture cooks off and vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes longer. Add remaining garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and reserved juice, wine, and remaining 2 tablespoons ouzo; increase heat to medium-high and bring to active simmer. Reduce heat to medium simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavours have combined and sauce is slightly thickened (not completely dry), 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add shrimp along with any accumulated liquid to pan; stir to coat and distribute evenly. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are opaque throughout, 6 to 9 minutes for extra-large or 7 to 11 minutes for jumbo, adjusting heat as needed to maintain light simmer.

Remove pan from heat and sprinkle liberally with feta. Drizzle oil evenly over top and finish with dill. Serve over steamed rice immediately.

Beef Stroganoff

This is an easy recipe to prepare and one that will please everyone in the family. I assume that you will be able to adjust the volume and quantity of the ingredients to suit the number of portions you prepare.  To this end I will not add precise amounts, rather let you decide what would work best for your situation. (with a couple of exceptions)


Beef, cubed or sliced (I prefer slices similar to a flat French-fry), onion, garlic, chervil, mushrooms, bouillon cubes or beef broth, paprika, tomato paste, parsley, liquid from caraway seeds, sour cream, noodles.


Soak 2 tbsp. of caraway seeds in a ¼ cup of boiling water. To a medium hot skillet add oil, onions, garlic and mushrooms, tomato paste. Meanwhile cover meat with beef liquid and simmer covered until meat is tender and liquid almost evaporated. Remove beef and remaining liquid to the skillet. (Containing the onions and mushrooms). Season with paprika, chopped parsley, liquid from caraway seeds, salt and pepper. Turn down heat and carefully add sour cream.

Serve over flat noodles.

Hominy Chowder

I came across this recipe a couple of years ago while looking up the the procedure by which hominy corn was made by Mexican housewives. The process of creating this unique soup (chowder if you will) is about as easy as boiling water. The flavour is all about cumin, as it is with many Mexican dishes, and cumin flavouring is something I crave every now and then. Try it and I guarantee that you will make this dish every time you need to depart from everyday flavours.

Hominy Chowder

3-tablespoons oil

2 cloves garlic chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

½ cup chopped green onions (scallions)

½ cup hot salsa

1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes in sauce

1 (28 oz.) can white hominy (approx 3 cups kernels and juice)

½ tsp ground cinnamon

2 + tsp ground cumin (to taste)

½ tsp dried thyme

4 cups chicken stock

1.5 cups corn kernels (fresh or canned-without the liquid)

fresh cilantro (leaves and stems) finely chopped (to taste)

Add chili powder to taste (or pepper flakes)

Add salt to taste


Heat the oil over medium heat and add the garlic, onion & scallions

Cook for 3 minutes

Add the rest of the ingredients including the hominy corn, (hold back corn and cilantro)

Bring to a boil, reduce to medium heat and cook for about 15 minutes

Stir in the corn and cilantro

Bring soup to a boil and serve

Adjust seasonings

Serve with lots of French bread or Portuguese buns. This soup keeps well if refrigerated.

Glen Breton Rare – A smooth all Canadian Single Malt

So the word is now out for all to see

A single malt from this side of the sea

A lowland taste, or a highland smile

Or the tang of the sea, like a malt from the Isle.

These secrets reside in the walls of the cask

And those bouquets and flavours are with us at last

Ten years in a complex of oak and of smoke

Now we reach for the glass, for the cask has awoke.

And we’ll toast with Glen Breton with more than a dram

For the dream of Glenora has captured our land

From the shores of Cape Breton to our mountainous west

Our friends now toast with their very own best.

To Glen Breton ‘Rare’