Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Strawberry Time

News from the strawberry fields of Quebec is not good.  Crops in the southern region of "la belle province" have been devastated by viruses that are spread in the field by visiting aphids.  Mild yellow edge and strawberry mottle are diseases that have crippled plant growth and reduced fruit yield by about 50%. Cloning of sick plants in Quebec nurseries has created a dismal season for farmers who rely on berry sales for income.

In our province, despite recent wild, stormy weather, strawberries are still abundant, healthy and ripe.  I took a drive to Shemogue N.B. yesterday to buy fresh-picked fruit at Jakobs Energy Fruit Farm.  The rural property located on Route 15 was purchased  by a German couple two years ago, and their work has gradually transformed fallow fields into productive ones.

Roadside signage for Jakobs' Farm

Mrs. Jakob at work

The Jakob boys help with farm chores and fruit sales

Flats of fresh-picked berries delivered from the field

A few boxes of berries will be used for jam - a  pleasant reminder of July's bounty on a cold morning in January.  I use an old-fashioned recipe from a 1948 cookbook written by co-owners of the Anderson Hotel in Wabasha, Minnesota.  The popularity of their grandmother's cuisine prompted them to compile 500 of the hotel dining room favourites for publication.  Jeanne Hall pays tribute to her grandmother's kitchen prowess in the book's foreword.  

"What cooking she did and how she loved it!  I think that is why she decided to buy herself a hotel.  Cooking was what lured the traveling man - the piece de resistance of hotel income in those days - and cooking was what Grandma loved the most and did best.  And because the news of really good food travels far, her dining room with the Famous Dutch Kitchens soon became known all over the state of Minnesota and in the neighboring states as well.  Grandma's chicken and dumplings and apple cream pie were justifiably popular then, as they are now, though her recipes today are followed  by other cooks.  For her Hotel Anderson is now in the third generation of family possession.  It still serves home-cooked meals inspired by a woman who loved to cook and who loved to have people "eat hearty" and who thought there was no substitute for butter."

Mother Anderson knew what she was doing

The ingredients for Mother Anderson's perfect jam are just fruit and sugar - no Certo required.   The overnight resting period allows the jam to thicken properly.  I am convinced that this is by far the best way to make fruit preserves.  

Simple and delicious

Thursday, July 10, 2014

World Cup Soccer Braids

I am not an avid soccer fan, but FIFA World Cup games have been an excellent source of television entertainment this summer.  The attraction for me is a combination of beautiful things at the periphery of the beautiful game: the stunning scenery and boisterous atmosphere of Brazil, the colourful costumes and painted faces of fans, the proud line-up of players marching onto the field with local children in hand,  the national anthems that are almost impossible to sing,  the graceful slow-motion shots of airborne bodies colliding, close-ups revealing moments of intense frustration, absolute joy and if you can read lips, swearing in a variety of foreign tongues.

Robert grew up playing and watching soccer in the Netherlands, so he kindly explains the rules of the game to me as play progresses.  I do have a hard time being attentive during the uneventful parts, when the ball is dribbled back and forth without shots on goal or brilliant headers or dirty fouls.  When the game lacks luster, (or teeth marks) I work away at a Japanese craft that produces braided cord.

The thrift store in Shediac happened to have a bag containing all of the supplies - cord, a circular loom, jewelry findings - which I purchased on a whim, without knowing anything at all about kumihimo.   Informed by experts on the internet, I can now offer instructions for weaving a spiral braid necklace, a practical strategy for surviving dry spells in World Cup soccer.   This is so simple that you can keep weaving and never miss any exciting action on the field.

Use cord or embroidery thread in 4 colours

A circular kumihimo loom
Cut 4 strands of each colour in lengths measuring one yard
Tie the ends in a simple knot
Insert cords through the center hole of the loom, add a weight to the tied end

String 16 cords into slots on the loom with two strands of one colour positioned
opposite two strands of the same colour (e.g. 2 red north, 2 red south)

Move the right hand cord to the bottom of the loom, insert to the right of the pair -
 ( just like a soccer kick from one end of the field to the other)
Move the left hand cord up to the top left, re-creating a pair of the same colour.
 Rotate the loom counter-clockwise and  repeat the two basic moves - right down, left up.  

By half-time you'll have a good length of cord growing from the underside of the loom.
When you're at the end of your rope and the game is over, you'll have a necklace length spiral cord.
 Remove the braid from the loom and weight,  bind ends with sewing thread and snip off the tails.

Add coils to the ends and attach a lobster claw clasp

Completed FIFA necklaces

This video shows the basic technique for kumihimo.