Thursday, April 16, 2020

An Exalted Folly

The following was published as part of the liner notes for Herbie Mann - the Evolution of Mann in 1972:


Music is a strange and useless thing.
It doesn't offer cover from the storm.
It doesn't (really) ease the sting of living; nor nourish us, nor keep us warm. 
And men expend their lives in search of sound, and by their swift illusions to 
confound the heart with fleeting and evasive joys. 
Yet I am full of quaking gratitude
that this exalted folly still exists,
that in an age of cold computer mood, a piper can still whistle in the mists.
The notes are pebbles falling into time.
How sweetly mad it is, 
and how sublime.

Friday, April 10, 2020


Just before all the isolation began, K and I were interviewed by a nutritionist as part of a check-up. She was quite impressed that we rarely have any prepared foods, tending instead to use fresh ingredients where possible, and cooking our own meals from scratch. She even asked for the treacle flapjack recipe! Perhaps that will be another post, but today, at the risk of having a blog of mine evolve into a food blog, I want to share a recipe we have for a favourite side dish that can be a stand-alone meal - Baked Beans. 

Growing up, we both enjoyed brown beans. They came from a can with Heinz written on it. If I'd known then what I know now ... ah well. I do know now and making my own pot of baked beans is so easy, and the meal so tasty - why spend so much money for something that is a really cheap and delicious meal? 

South of the border these are known as Boston Baked Beans. I suppose that comes from one of the major ingredients; molasses. Molasses is a derivative of sugar cane (imported through the port of Boston at one time) and a by-product from the production of rum. It is a sweetener, but could replaced by, oh say, maple syrup ... hmm ... At any rate, I am using an original recipe with some very small changes that I've found work to improve the flavour and texture. More experiments will follow, since there is great pleasure to be found in attempting the perfection of a recipe! 

The main ingredient is the humble bean - a pulse as the food folk like to say. In this case, we need white pea beans, sometimes called navy beans. Canada is a major grower of legumes of all sorts, and a pilgrimage to Hensall, Ontario might be in order ... it is the white bean capital of Canada

Making baked beans all begins by washing the dried beans in cold water; then, in a pot with lots of water, boiling the beans to soften them. After they have boiled for 30 minutes in the morning, I let them sit all day and overnight. In the original recipe I have, the beans are soaked for a day, then boiled just before mixing them with the other ingredients. I have found that boiling twice actually softens the beans better, and you must soften them before baking - they don't get any more tender in the oven. 

The beans alone are bitter, and otherwise tasteless, so some peppy ingredients are now added to give them the characteristic flavour of baked beans. Here is the recipe I've been using and massaging for a while now. 

So here is the pot, water drained off and set aside. The tasty ingredients have been added, and once mixed will be poured into the dutch oven, on top of the onion slices, ready for the reserved water and bacon to be added. 

I expect you could leave the bacon off, if that was your choice, but it does add to the comfort-food aspect that baked beans evokes. 

You can see the bowl of reserved liquid. As the beans bake all day the smell tells you that some of that liquid is escaping.

Don't let your beans get dried out as they cook. The sauce is a wonderful part of this meal.

If the reserved cooking liquid gets used up, plain water will do nicely.

For more on the history of baked beans, I recommend this article by The Old Foodie, where we learn that baked beans are part of that classic - the full English breakfast! I also love the idea that when the French came to North America, they adapted their cassoulet recipes to match the available ingredients. Mmm, ... cassoulet! I think there is a recipe here somewhere ...

What is better than cooking wonderful food? 

Eating wonderful food. 

Peameal Bacon (Canadian bacon for my friends from the south), and Baked Beans! 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Adventures in Staying Healthy

It is becoming clear that many will remember this winter and spring as the time we woke up to the reality of global pandemics. I have seen several articles that give good reasons to believe that this will not be the last of these. It is clear the way we do things will change permanently because of the way we have had to adjust to stay healthy and to help others who are vulnerable do the same. 

Sadly, it is clear that many thought it would be business as usual for far too long. In some cases, people used half-measures, and that didn't work out well either. For example, not far from us, in a relatively small and remote community, twenty-two (at last news report) residents and the spouse of a resident of a sixty-five bed nursing home have died from COVID-19. As well, at least twenty-four staff members there are also infected. Somehow this disease got into a facility that should have been a safe haven for the most vulnerable. If it can happen there, we all need to do as we are being instructed - stay home as much as possible.

On a lighter note, living in a time of a health crisis doesn't mean that other health concerns end, even mundane ones. Some computer likely deserves the credit for keeping track of such a thing, but it was a human who took the time to phone and tell me that I have an appointment for a mammogram next month. It seems likely that I will have a follow-up call  in the next few weeks telling me the appointment is postponed, but at least they are carrying on the business of taking care of our health in general. 

At the very best, some of us can see this as an adventure; we stayed home and entertained ourselves in new ways. Hopefully we didn't gain too much weight. 

At the worst ... the worst is unspeakable.

K and I have been keeping busy - not just entertained. Being really engaged in some activity is important for good mental health. Most days, while we aren't working on a nasty jig-saw puzzle, K is downstairs in her office working on family genealogy while I am upstairs with the girls (three miniature dachshunds) making sure they know everything is ok. Generally my time is filled with cross-stitching and cooking. I'm trying to give us a variety of meals to make up for a lack of variety otherwise. It is an interesting challenge to plan for a once-a-week grocery outing. While K is keeping the girls company, and cross-stitching, I head to the music room to practice. 

In the area of entertainment is the vast number of videos available online. I love to learn so history or science or music is keeping my mind busy as I do these other things. 

Of interest to those who like classical music would be the recent addition online of the Keeping Score videos by the San Fransisco Symphony and their director Michael Tilson Thomas. Below is a link to their YouTube channel. There you can see the full list of composers and pieces that have been featured. Each of the four I've listened to so far has a full performance at the end of the program, with interesting background insights at the beginning. They aren't short, but they are very well produced - fascinating for anyone with a love of music.