Victorian Tea

This past Sunday I was asked to volunteer for an organisation called Friends of the Farm. These are the people who help with keeping up the ornamental gardens at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa and I had helped them in the past in the peonies and rose gardens. 

They also organize quite a few fundraising events during the year. One of them is the Victorian Tea, which is a two hour affair where anybody in town can come and have afternoon tea and snacks while listening to live music. Here is the print-out of a little history of the afternoon tea, which the volunteers left on the tables:

“Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford is often credited with the invention of the tradition of the afternoon tea in the early 1840s. In those days, dinner was usually not served until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening and even later in the summer. Anna would become hungry by mid-afternoon and so would sneak small cakes and biscuits and other niceties to her room where she would indulge herself in secret. Once found out, she was surprised to learn that rather than being upbraided for her unladylike behaviour, she was applauded for her ingenuity.

It seems she wasn’t always the only lady to crave sustenance in the afternoon. Long before this, tea gardens were introduced in London. Women were allowed to gather in these places, often outdoors, with a male escort where they could relax and chat among themselves while enjoying delicate foods. In the early 1700s tea was an expensive indulgence and so these tea gardens were frequented by the upper classes only.

The Tea Garden engraved 1790 by George Morland 1763-1804

(George Morland – The Tea Garden, 1790 – source: Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum)

It was common for the lady of the house to serve the tea herself since it was such an expensive commodity not to be trusted in the care of servants. And, she alone would hold the keys to to tea cupboard. Today, we take tea for granted but we do enjoy it so.”

The Victorian Tea at the Farm is a nice reminder that heritage events of leisure are still possible in a world full of haste. Initially, only the servers dressed up in period costumes.

More recently, people have started to show up with amazing hats and fascinators, and even dressed up in 1890s original costumes. 

The event is a joy and the weather this year truly cooperated.

Some might be quick to say that this tradition of the afternoon tea is a British colonial reminder which many would like to put behind. However, one cannot disregard the sensible nature of the British: tea is tea and an afternoon snack makes sense. Plus, these events have always had a very clear healthy role in socializing. So today, being Thursday, I urge you to try find the spots in your part of the world which give a glimpse of a past worth remembering in some respects. Go out and enjoy!

Happy Thursday!

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Summer Pasta

Wednesday morning. August is here. Feel like eating much in the heat? No, I didn’t think so. Still, we need to give this body some light energy. So here’s one of the best recipes I know of which does the trick for summer months.

Pasta with carrots and zucchini

450 grams fettuccine 

2 big carrots

2 zucchini 

Olive oil

Fresh basil

Salt

In a big pot, bring water to boil and add pasta and some salt. Stir immediately so fettuccine don’t stick to each other.

Remove peel from carrots and zucchini.

In a pan, heat up some oil. Using the peeler, slice up the carrots in long peels directly in the pan. Stir so they get cooked evenly. Do the same with the zucchini. The vegetables need to be mildly fried, don’t overcook.

Drain pasta and add cold water – this will cool the fettuccine off quickly and prevent them from sticking to the vegetables. Mix with the cooked vegetables. 

Separately, make a dressing from olive oil, chopped fresh basil and salt.  Add a bit of water if it looks too thick. Mix and shake in a jar so all combine thoroughly. Pour dressing over pasta and vegetables. 

Bon apetit! Happy Wednesday!

CAN touch THIS!

Tuesday morning. Hi there! Back in the body business today. Sticking to that morning walk? Excellent. If you discover any fun stuff along the way, drop me a line. And if you don’t feel like walking, we’re gonna…

… dance – that’s great for your body. If you’re like me, you can easily replace gym with a dance session for day. When I was a student, I tried aerobics. It worked for a bit but I got bored with dancing on the same music just because it fit the exercises for the various muscles. Good thing I didn’t give up the parties. And man, in those days did we dance at parties… There wasn’t much booze available in the communist stores, not to mention drugs. Just before I was born, an anti-abortion law had been passed which stayed in place until 1990 – you got it, no contraceptives of any kind, sex was a tricky affair, better not. So what could you do at parties? Play the philosopher guy and hope you’ll bewitch the (more intellectual) girls, or dance. Which is why people in my generation are not only pretty good dancers and sophisticated philosophers (yes, of course they don’t say anything), but have also stayed relatively slim into old(er) age.

I love dancing. As a kid I had asked my mom to put me in ballet lessons. At the end of the first one, she excitedly asked: “so how did you like it?” “I didn’t” – I said. “Why?” came mom’s surprised voice. “Well, they asked me to stretch and stretch and to just go around the room.” “Oh, honey, it takes some time and exercise to get into the ballerina moves…” “But I don’t want to learn those moves – I just want to wear the pretty dresses and dance.” That was my first realization that sometimes you gotta work hard for a pretty dress. So I dropped the ballerina thing, absolutely no regrets – and later on became one of those rare architects who also wear colours besides black.

Anyway, no big deal. I continued to dance whenever the occasion arose. Not to brag, but I was the soul of the parties and I did dance almost all night long. I remember once we returned home at 5 am – it would have taken forever to get the buses, so we had to go through a park. My feet were hurting so bad, I removed my white shoes and walked home barefoot. Liberating. (I probably would have done it at 1 pm, too. I’m just that kind of person.) Oh, and I danced a bit more on the way. You see, I was in love.

Dance has the amazing ability to put you in a good mood. A loving mood. And if you don’t have somebody specific in mind, how about loving yourself? Swing, baby, swing. You can put on Swan Lake and twirl through the house, or a waltz and go one-two-three, one-two-three… Or go easy with Ella & Louis and don’t wake up just yet, keep dreaming … And when you’re quite ready to start your day… full steam with M.C.Hammer – trust me on this!

Let’s dance! Happy Tuesday!

I am grateful for…

…Monday morning.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was not grateful for any morning, let alone Mondays. A new beginning, a new day, a new opportunity. Whenever I heard or read any of this, I rolled my eyes and went back to hide under the covers. Yes, I was depressed and yes, I hadn’t yet hit the bottom.

And there was another time, even longer ago, when Monday was just another day feeding into another week which was part of another month of an infinite row of years. Yes, that’s how we think when we are young: that we are eternal and time will always be on our side, aren’t we stupid. A good number of years in that – now I know it’s rather finite – row passed before I got to the bottom of that depression valley, and all the Mondays – slowly but surely – lost their flavour and excitement and joy.

Until one day. I don’t even remember if it was a Monday – probably not. It doesn’t matter. Out of the blue came the memory of another day from that forgotten youth when a nice kind man had woken me up to say “I have news for you.” (We had had a conversation the previous night and I had confessed to him that sunny mornings were not giving me joy any longer). So I said: “Yeah, what kind of news?”

“Well, mixed really. The bad news is that it’s sunny outside…” – he said seriously.

I smiled thinking of our talk. “Oh yeah?”

“… and the good news is that it’s sunny outside.” – he smiled back at me.

I didn’t get it then, I thought he was just trying to look smart to impress me. He was, in a way (long story short, he’s my husband of twenty years now). I got out of bed, had breakfast with him, and then we walked through sparkling snow for about 4 hours. He was courting me, it was lovely.

Six years ago, he watched me helplessly while I drowned in my own sorrows. Then, as I was saying, that memory came back and I got it: it was all about perspective. You’d think I’m pretty obtuse, how could I not get that in the first place? Oh, but I did: in my head. It sounded like a joke then. And suddenly, so many years later, it sank into my heart and it became reality.

It’s Monday morning. The sun is shining. What? It’s cloudy? So? The sun is still there, above the clouds, and your brain knows it. Now let your heart be flooded with its warmth. Feel the new beginning, the new day, the new opportunity. Life is yours to live it. You gotta want it – and why wouldn’t you? It’s in your power to change everything. Yes, gradually – you know, they say Rome wasn’t built in a day either, and that’s one true saying. So start with that step you don’t want to take and just be grateful for today.

Happy Monday!

Absurd and Paradox in Christianity

Sunday. The day of the light. The first and the eighth day of the week – a great mystery, how can the same day be double? How can God be three persons? Sunday: the making and the re-making of the world.

Sunday is prayer time. Prayer is conversation with God. We are poorer and drier when we do not pray. The energy stops flowing, no matter how much we’d jog along the streets. Sunday is the time to grow vertical and expand infinitely.

On Sundays, I shall post quotes which I endeavour to keep translating from a diary written by a Romanian Jew intellectual who was incarcerated in communist prisons and became not only an Orthodox Christian, but also a monk. I promise you Fr. Nicolae Steinhardt is one of a kind. His writings on God and Christianity are wonderfully to the point, many times too complex in their Romanian spirit to be able to achieve an accurate translation. I shall try my best. Here is one tiny sample.

“28 August 1964

Nobody becomes a Christian, even if they receive the baptism, like I did, late in life. I think it is no different in phenomenal conversions. The calling is always from before – no matter how deeply, subtly, cleverly masked. Pascal: Tu ne me chercherais point[1] The logic is always turned upside down: you’re looking for what you’ve found, you find what has been prepared for you, what you’ve already been given.

I am drawing two conclusions:

First, the true rudiments of the Christian doctrine: the absurd and the paradox. Second, God works in detail and with skill, when it rewards as well as when it punishes. Those – not always stupid – who believe that they can trick God, that they can deceive Him are bitterly wrong. No way. He gives a gift or a beating with accurate sophistication – which shows that God is not only good, right, almighty etc, He is also incredibly smart.”

[1] Blaise Pascal, Le Mystère de Jésus: “Tu ne me chercherais pas si tu ne m’avais trouvé. (Pensées, 553 [éd. Brunschvicg])

Groceries: the BIG FUN job

Saturday morning. Quickly-quickly, before it gets to noon…! I’ll have to try prepare these posts in advance, Saturday mornings are the leisure part of our week (before it gets busy again towards noon, which is where I’m heading now…)

We do grocery shopping and laundry and fix things and other house stuff on Saturdays. It’s a good time to do this, I find. During the years, we’ve had one possible activity scheduled for the kids in the afternoon, though we’ve tried to avoid it in the early years as they’re more likely to be invited to birthday parties at this time. Talking about organizing your life so you stay (pretty much) on top of things?

Let’s talk about that grocery list today. Ideally, you’d shop for the whole week. That doesn’t exactly work as fantastic as it sounds in larger families if you don’t have two fridges or a separate freezer – and we don’t. We mostly cook from scratch, and I‘m mostly the one who does the cooking (almost daily; I know, but you get used to it), so I need to first do another list of possible dishes to cook in the following week. I have a friend who’s a dedicated working mother – and when I say “dedicated”, it’s in all respects. She has two altars she constantly dies on: work during the day, home during the night and weekends. To keep up with everything, on Saturdays she cooks for the entire following week. I could NEVER do that, it’s too depressing. But hey, if it works for you, go ahead and try it. I’ve adapted this by having a (tentative) idea of what I’ll be feeding my gang weekly.

My cooking list is usually 8 or 9 items long and it includes the daily dinners for the next six evenings and some loose thoughts on lunches or snacks, depending on the time of the year (school-time or summer vacation). I’ve developed an array of dishes which are easy and quick to make, need only a few ingredients and feed tons of people, plus leftovers for next day lunch bags. True that the bulk of these dishes come from the Romanian cuisine, which I’ve been brought up with and might sound strange to anybody who’s not Eastern European or Mediterranean – but you can always adapt it to the cuisine you know and love best. One of the dishes is necessarily some soup – why? Most complicated thing about it is the chopping – other than that, you just put everything in a pot and let it boil until ready. I’ll continue to post recipes on my Wednesday series.

Here’s a possible cooking list for the week:

Chicken and yellow beans (the Greeks call it fasolakia, same thing)

Fish (oven) + corn and peas (boiled)

Pasta with meat/mushrooms/peppers

Pizza

Chicken soup with vegetables and dumplings

Baked potatoes/ hummus/green salad/tomatoes etc. (vegan)

Munchies, snack bars, deli & cheeses for sandwiches

Banana bread / some kind of sweet pie………

Sometimes, I get ready-made dinners – once a month is no big deal, even for healthy-living crazed people. Or we get take out. Or I feel like trying Turkish recipes or Thai or fancy French ones like coq-au-vin (which is really a variation of a Romanian similar recipe, only we use white wine whereas the French use red). Once you start cooking, you get the hang of it and you can vary stuff. The idea is to get to the point when you don’t worry. You cook with whatever is in the fridge (and a little extra, which might require a trip to the store in the middle of the week). Which brings me to the REALLY fun part of doing the groceries!

My husband insists he does the Saturday shopping. He asks for my list, completes it with one or two things he likes, and then sticks to it almost religiously. Like most men, he has little imagination, (mildly) forgets about replenishing kitchen supplies like salt, oil, napkins and the like, plus he does. not. do. the. cooking. (he insists he cooks as much as I do. Sure.) He’s been annoyed for years that by next Wednesday (or some other aleatory day) I do a second (might I say, light) round of groceries. We disagree, obviously. He constantly bugs me about dropping that habit – and why on earth, why can’t I just stick to the list if I come along shopping with him? (does this resonate with any other women?)

So one time, it was I who got so annoyed with him that I let him cook with whatever he bought. Not just that Saturday night, but FOR SOME TIME afterwards. Guess what happened. That Saturday he did some barbecue, nice, he’s good at that. Sunday afternoon, I had to go out running some errands, and asked before I left the house: “so what’s for dinner tonight, honey?” He looked at me aslant and said: “it’s OK, I got it.” I get back home two hours later to find him cooking lasagna (a favourite of his, I never cook lasagna, his is perfect). “Lasagna?” I say with laughter in my voice. “I don’t recall you getting minced meat yesterday.” “I went to the shop and bought some.” he says, avoiding my gaze. “Oh.” I burst out laughing. “It didn’t last you till Wednesday.” He makes himself busy. Funny, right? Lasagna was great that night and it lasted, you got it, for another night. Surprise, surprise, on Tuesday night there was no more. “And what’s for dinner, darling?” Oops. “Err… we have stuff in the fridge.” Right. Sandwiches. We also had some pasta and cheese three nights later.

We lasted like this for about two weeks. The kids started to beg: “moooom, stop this… when are you gonna cook again?” I looked at the love of my life and raised my eyebrows. His lips were pretty tight closed. Ever since, he hasn’t commented much on either the grocery list, my mid-week second round of shopping or my cooking. Getting organized and sticking to a point is working in all respects, trust me. Just find your own way to do it.

Happy Saturday!

Mind games 1

Friday morning. (Actually, today is Saturday, had lots to do yesterday – but I thought of this as a daily series, so I’m catching up with it).

Nearly end of the week, good time for some evaluation, some logic in the picture. I thought we could exercise the mind a bit on Fridays, so I’ll post mind games. O.M.G. Math! Is she kidding? Nope. Math is a lot of fun, literally. How can you NOT be in love with your brain and give it some thought? Pun intended.

So I’ll be posting all sorts of games and stuff that I’ve been collecting over the years: you give it a try, solve them, comment on them, and I shall post the answer to the prob.ems and riddles next Friday. Ready? Here’s the one for this week:

(Source: Ivan Moscovich – The Little Book of Big Brain Games)