Sushi!

A few months back, I sampled some sushi at a buffet-style restaurant. I knew next to nothing about sushi, and this became obvious to my daughters (who have considerably more sushi experience than I do) when I put a considerable taste of what I thought was mashed avocado onto my fork and discovered (too late) that it was wasabi. Aside from its colour, wasabi bears no similarity whatsoever to the mild-mannered avocado. Wasabi is a Japanese horseradish that can (and does, as I can confirm) blow your sinuses out of your head. Sushi eaters take a tiny bit of wasabi and stir it into their soy sauce, which then becomes a tasty condiment for sushi-dipping. Lesson learned.

My daughters were eager to share a “real” sushi experience with me, so the four of us went to a little restaurant called “Conception” and unwrapped our chopsticks. The laminated menu came with an erasable marker, which my daughters used to mark off all of our selected courses. Traditional restaurants force you to order one main course and then live with your decision. The one thing I quickly appreciated about this sushi restaurant was that you could literally try a taste of everything on the menu. If you could eat it, they would bring it, all for one price. However, if you happen to bite off more than you can chew and start leaving food on your plate, customers are charged for the leftovers. The sushi chef makes everything fresh, right on the spot, and you had better be sure you can eat what is so carefully prepared.

The dishes were like dolls’ china…tiny plates, little bowls circular and square. A miniscule plate came with a small heap of seaweed salad, which I found surprisingly delicious. Then came a plate with four large mushrooms, battered in airy tempura and steaming hot, with a little bowl of something slightly sweet to dip them in. Next, a plate with sushi rolls coated in sticky rice: salmon and avocado, yam rolls, dragon rolls, spider rolls, spicy salmon, crunchy seaweed. Some were cold, others hot. Some had their own swirls of sauces on top. My absolute favourites were the yam rolls. The rolls were all carefully garnished, and a miniscule work of art, every one of them. Some of them were literally too pretty to crush with my teeth. (I forced myself).

Plates of hot tempura dishes came to the table–jumbo shrimp and little logs of crab meat, all piping hot and crispy. Deep-fried, yes…but when you are just eating one or two, it’s like stealing a couple of fries out of a take-out bag, so you don’t feel too guilty about it.

Little bowls of pickled ginger come along with the sushi experience–a thin slice is supposed to clear your palate and prepare you for the next dish. Two of my daughters turned up their noses and warned me it was nasty, and after the wasabi incident, I almost took their word for it. However, I enjoyed the ginger and found the flavour interesting and refreshing.

Sushi comes desert-style. I enjoyed a slice of banana tempura and a baby bowl of vanilla ice-cream.

We paid our compliments to the chef who had been creating away behind us all the while with his knives and slices and garnishes.

My first sushi experience…looking forward to some more of that. Who wants to come along?

Wind

Friday, the wind came. I pulled up my hood for hair protection and went out for yard duty.  The kids were running around, their hair splayed out and coats fluttering. One of the boys had  discovered a long ribbon of clear plastic, presumably blown off the new construction section of the school. He grabbed it and began to run all over the back field with it. It streamed behind him like a silvery kite’s tail as he ran across the grass. Some other kids began to chase after it. The sound of his laughter brought me back to my own memories of windy days when I was small.

I always loved the wind. Do all kids? It was windy days that helped me to understand that just because you cannot see something, it does not mean it isn’t there. The wind, like God, is unseen as itself, but evidence of it is everywhere–in the bending trees, the rippling waters, the swaying grass in the fields, the wild tossing of the clouds. It even has a voice…gently whispering at times, moaning at others, even shrieking when it is truly outraged.

 I remember, as a child, jumping as high into the air as I could on blustery days, hoping the wind would wrap around me and carry me up into the sky like a bird. I wanted so badly to fly. I must have been very small when it happened, but for one moment, on a very windy day, an air current did catch me. I hovered in the air for a second or two before my feet touched ground again, even having the presence of mind to wildly flap my arms. I can still remember the look of disbelief on my mother’s face when I tried to tell her about the miracle that had happened to me. To this day, I will still attest to it, and even now, I am able to relive the utter joy of that moment. I witnessed it again with my son when he was a toddler, right before a big storm came up. I had one of his hands and his sister had the other as we walked through a hilly orchard. A huge gust of wind swept through the apple trees right before a torrential rainfall hit, and we had to clench his hands to keep him from being wrested away from us.

 I have happy memories of running across the yard with shiny foil pinwheels spinning wildly in front of my face, and of trails of shimmery bubbles borne aloft on the breezes as I raised my red plastic bubble wand into the gusty air. The feeling of being on a bike and having the wind’s cool hand on my back, pushing me along, was worth having to turn around and come back, pedalling mightily against it, just to experience those exhilarating moments of windy speed…

A night wind is a beautiful thing. The sight of dark clouds blowing across the face of the moon is mystical. Falling asleep with wind against the roof and windows has brought me the deepest rests of my life. Like the holiest of lullabies, a night wind draws me into a feeling of utter safety and peace.

 

‘A breeze came wandering from the sky, light as the whispers of a dream; He put the overhanging grasses by, and softly stooped to kiss the stream, The pretty stream, the flattered stream, The shy, yet unreluctant stream of wind’

 

William Cullen Bryant

 

 

 

 

 

April Woods

Today was a first. I have never dared to hike back in my woods alone, but there was no one available to come along, and the sweet breezes and warm sunshine made me desperate. So, with only the company of my trusty walking stick, I headed into the trees.

It was a beautiful spring afternoon. I tied my sweater around my waist and let the sun and the soft wind move over my arms. No massage ever felt better.

Under the damp leaves and the winter debris of fallen twigs and dead grasses, a lush swathe of green has begun to spread. Moss thickening on the fallen logs, feathery swatches of tiny fern, the first tender leaves of the dog-tooth and trillium. The trees have buds, slightly swelling in the first of the spring sun. Their bark is warm to the touch as they deliberate the time of growth that is so near.

The woods has lost its winter hush, although a few startling patches of snow still lie in the cold shadows to remind us of its recent and lengthy stay. The wind soughed through the treetops, making a sound like rushing water. Birds cried out overhead, as they looped through the trees, darting over the path ahead. Under it all, the steady chorus of frogs, thawing out from their chilly sleeps beneath the mud.

The brilliant sunlight playing on the creek’s surface was lovely to watch. I stood on the bridge and looked out over the water, lingering there for a while. There is something about water-watching …it never grows tiresome.

I followed the circles of light, scattered like stepping-stones, through the church. There were hoof-prints in the soft ground. My woods by horseback is something I must put on my bucket list.

As I circled back toward the bridge, a velvety brown moth, with wings edged in gold, looped through the air above me, leading the way along the crooked trail. I left it sunning its wings on a log as I retraced my steps across the bridge, casting a wistful glance behind me as I headed back towards the car.

I’ve noticed that the creaking of trees on a windy day sounds very much like the opening of a squeaky door. “Come in,” the woods seems to invite. “Stay awhile…”

The First “Real” Day of Spring

It’s really, truly spring, even though technically, the first day of spring showed up on the calendar weeks ago. It’s been nothing resembling spring around here, with the exception of the robins’ return, although I am sure they have often bitterly regretted  ever leaving the sunny south. We’ve had rain, sleet, snow, freezing temperatures, grey skies, and a lot of  grumbling since March 20th.

This morning, I woke to unaccustomed slants of sunlight shooting through the closed blinds and I could hear the birds singing lustily, even though the windows were closed.

Finally, I thought.

The first real day of spring always brings with it such a sense of relief, followed immediately by an almost chemical rush of energy. I leapt from my bed and stripped off the sheets. I tossed them into the washing machine. Then I dragged the laundry table off the deck and lumbered with it across the yard to the clothesline, venturing into the dank shadows of the shed and pulling out my tub of clothespins.

The cardinals in the bare trees filled the clear air with exuberant trills as I hung the first laundry of the year. The fresh breezes filled the pillowcases and flung the towels into the blue sky. I went into the house and threw open the windows, scrubbed out bathrooms, vehemently vacuumed and dusted the winter-weary rooms. That done, I set out into the sunshine for an enthusiastic walk.

Kids, everywhere, in short sleeves and ball caps. Flinging baseballs, swinging bats. Tossing basketballs into nets, yelling as they chased after soccer balls. Sitting on tottering bikes, struggling to remember their balance again. People hosing suds off their cars, picking stones out of their lawns, raking, filling garbage bags, sweeping…Crosuses scattered through the flattened lawns. Trees filled with birds, squirrels leaping across the fences. A new radiance in the air, restoration in the first warmth of the year.

A few weeks of this, and life will explode into blossoms and unfolding leaves, an eruption of green. This is the first taste of what is to come, and I am savouring it.

I think a barbecue is in order.

Mucking

A damp, grey day in early April. I needed some air. My husband and I set off for the fields in quest of arrowheads.

I would make a terrible archaeologist. My eyes drift upwards, to sky and treetops and wheeling birds. I could have tromped on a dozen arrowheads, and I never would have noticed.

The field was mucky. I stuck to the edge, and followed the fencelines. A few times, I ventured past the fences and into the woods, looking down into the huge ravine below.  I saw the sudden twitch of a deer’s white tail as it plunged off in the opposite direction. Red-winged blackbirds sang out, adding lush notes to the underlying twitter. Beneath the sweet music of the birds, frogs were singing out their waking songs from the winding creek at the bottom of the ravine. I stood in the trees and listened for the longest while.  Then I followed the trail in aways, keeping to the top of the hill. Soon, I was standing at the peak of an enormous sand dune, looking out across an enormous glacial valley, the green creek gurgling at the bottom. I’ve stood in that spot before, coming at it from another direction. I have been told that this spreading valley was once a huge lake, and it is easy to envision the enormous gulf filled with shimmering waters, waves lapping against the sand dunes where I stood. A crooked little brook is all that remains of that vast water now. The shored walls that slope to the bottom of the lake bed are now covered in brush, where the deer wander in and out. It is a beautiful, panoramic scene.

I headed back out to the field’s edge again, mud gathering on the bottom of my shoes and thickening with every step. I had my stick, and I pushed the purple raspberry canes away as they snagged onto my pants. The trees and brush along the edges of the fields were winter-battered, their broken branches littering the ground beneath my feet. I recognized the twiggy wild apple and thorn trees, ducking low as I pushed my way under them. The shadowed ruts were filled with the occasional white streaks of snow; the ones exposed to sun were filled with clear water. I poked my stick into puddles and jumped onto grass clods, evading the mud. My mind was pleasantly blank. I wasn’t thinking of my walk outside as “cardio.” I wasn’t thinking about laundry or what to make for dinner or how I had to do a daybook for tomorrow’s school day–I wasn’t thinking  about anything at all. I was just mucking around outside, in much the same way I used to “muck” when I was six years old.

I need to find myself a pair of rubber boots for the next time I’m six.

Green

I headed out to McSmith’s Organic Farm to replenish my meat supply. It was a cold morning–but sunny. One might even say, spring-ish.

Usually, Gary is out in the barn, ready to grab stuff out of the walk-in freezer for me. I started going out there in January, so it’s always been blustery and cold. The dog comes out for a quick meet-and-greet and then heads off to a warm corner somewhere. A quick conversation with Gary, and back into the car I get. This morning, Cathy was out in the barn, and after I had selected my organic bacon, sausage, burgers and steaks, she offered me a greenhouse tour. (The farm offers organic meats in the winter and fresh produce through the other seasons). I was delighted to accept her offer.

When I was very small, my mother used to take my brother, sister and I along with her when she took occasional shifts in the tobacco fields. She would work and we would wander around and entertain ourselves through the long, hot day. We weren’t very old and I had to look out for my younger siblings. That is not something I can see happening in this day and age. But it was common back then, for kids to shift for themselves. And we did all right at it. I remember going inside the long greenhouses and moving down the centre aisle through the vast rows of green. The air inside was so thick with heat and moisture; you could have scooped it up in your hands. A strong scent of earth and water and things verdant and alive–the pure exhalations of oxygen from the growing plants. I’d forgotten, until this morning.

It was like stepping into a summered past, as I crossed the threshold into those hot, earthy-scented greenhouses. Delicious heat, condensation dripping from the ceilings, the sun-soaked plants enthusiastically sending up sprouts and leaves. Green, green, everywhere, in all hues.

“There are so many shades of green,” Cathy remarked. “I love green.”

Thousands of sprouts, moving slowly (yet persistently) towards their futures as tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, onions, herbs, assorted flowers…so much hope and anticipation in a greenhouse. A promise of good, wholesome, farm-fresh food–for the body and soul.

I love green, too.