A place to call home

On our last evening at Squirrel Cove, we watched the storm wash the sky away. Lightning crimped the edge of clouds and a peppery wind was whipping up whitecaps close to shore. The piano broke into a waltz, the sound merry and ragged, too loud on the counterpoint where the chords needed to be tuned. It made us laugh. We slurped on the lemon-and-butter soaked oysters and sipped on bubbly prosecco. We didn’t know then this would be the last time we were to dine on protein caught out of the inlet that fingered its way alongside the verandah, through cedar-green thimbles of islets threading the seam where water was meeting the sky. The horse piano changed to a languid moonlight sonata and we pulled out the barbecued lingcod and rockfish off the grill, setting it next to trays of potatoes, beets and tubers sweating in tinfoil. The Merlot splashed a deep purple in the wide glass bowl and we made room for the post-dinner board game and chocolate covered raisins and almonds.

How do you say good-bye to a place that makes up the best part of your memories? Or do you just let it languish in your soul, seeping through at times unexpected, recalled with the turning of the leaves and the whisper of wind on water? Perhaps you just go back swept along the tides of a novel, accompanied by characters at once imaginary and credibly real, like the spirited Margaret Schlegel in E.M. Forster’s Howards End, who is bequeathed a place full of memories by a dying friend. Yet the friend’s family, incredulous at the prospect of losing valuable property that they own by right, contrive to do away with evidence of this bequest. What unfolds is an exquisite contest between traditional and liberal values, practicality and idealism, the rights of the individual vs those of a group, the strained tensions between social classes in Edwardian England and the first attempts to bridge the divide through love, honour, respect and friendship.

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Sweetness in the Belly

Some days ago, on my way to work, I was struck by a disturbing image on the top page of my local newspaper. A young man stranded in the middle of a flooded road, barefoot, clothes plastered to a soaked body, carrying a small child in his arms, trying to cradle him away from the massive downpour pounding on his head.

More and more such images are imposing into our consciousness these days as wave after wave of Syrian refugees land on European shores in search of safety from the ravages of civil war. Some countries have risen to the challenge, making conscious efforts to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees; others hasten to erect walls around their borders to stem the tide and keep “the problem” out of their backyard. It’s easy to pass judgement on these less than welcoming measures from behind the comfort of our lattes and laptops. After all, there is no point of reference to the daily reality of coping with the unstoppable influx of people in search of shelter when you and your neighbors are struggling to make ends meet and put some decent food on the table for your own family.

And then there is the age-old issue of race, ethnicity and religion. Uneasiness over how others dress, eat, pray and greet us has been a mainstay of human interaction across centuries and continents. How will communities react to the shaken up melting pot once the refugee crisis is over and people are asked to adjust to a different reality, in a strange land with foreign customs, odd weather patterns and unfamiliar routines, having to face suspicion, distrust and often downright hostility because your ‘Hello’ sounds different from mine.

It was only forty-one years to this day when a communist coup d’etat deposed Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, igniting civil war in Northern Africa, displacing lives and destroying livelihoods. The tragedy of uprooted existence, the naked fear of tomorrow, the heartbreak of families torn apart, the torment of waiting for news of the one you love, the desperate longing for the place you know you can never call home again – all these themes are captured poignantly by Camilla Gibbs in her Scotiabank Giller Prize nominated novel Sweetness in the Belly. A moving love story and a courageous stand against bigotry and violence, this is the tale of a white Muslim orphan girl growing up on the streets of Harare who teaches us that compassion, companionship and solidarity are what help us lay aside our differences and build a more welcoming tomorrow.

Lets replace the newspaper image of the tormented man and child in the rain with that of black, brown and white women sitting in a circle around a pot of stewing lentils, stirring in chili peppers, turmeric and pods of cardamom, breaking loaves of sourdough, eyes twinkling over the brim of a dark roasted, lightly salted cup of coffee.

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Forebodings of the Promised Land

Hunched as he is by the campfire, sifting through grit and sand for the day’s cache of gold dust, Hermann is oblivious to the danger lurking in the woods beyond. His compadre has wandered further down the stream to throw a line for coho salmon, but with the rivers silted up where the gold diggers have made camp, they may have to settle for beef jerky instead. Unless he can snare and skin a hare and roast it over woodsmoke. The shadows are lenghtening over the blazing poppies and goldenrods, and dry timber rustles and crackles in the faint breeze. Hermann lumbers to his feet, popping his rusty joints, and turns to stare into the double barrel of a gun pointing straight between his eyebrows.

The weapon belongs to The Sisters Brothers, the infamous pair of bounty hunters in Patrick de Witt’s Westerner set in 1851 California. Charlie and Eli Sisters are very much in demand for they are notoriusly level-headed and focused under pressure, planning and executing a kill with surgical precision, leaving no loose ends to tie up in their wake. Little wonder than that the Commodore sends them on a complex mission to track down Hermann Kermit Warm, a prospector rumoured to have found a foolproof way to mine for gold. But as the Sisters Brothers trekk deeper into the Californian Promised Land with the intent to kill Hermann and extract his golden secret, what they find causes them to shift their loyalties, question their allegiances and rethink their priorities in more ways than one. Does this spell the end for the Sisters Brothers’ killing streak? Or a new beginning?

Rough it out under the stars with cured venison sausage, generously spiced with paprika, marjoram, garlic powder, celery seeds and ground nutmeg. Grate kohlrabi, beetroots and apples and toss in with olive oil, cider vinegar, salt, pepper and coriander seeds for a succulent twist on legumes and greens. And swig Pacific North West craft beer with punchy notes of cucumber and peach.

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Mad with heat

The air crackles like an oven. Grass, dry as cinder, crawls with critters mad with heat. One spark is all it takes for houses to shoot up in flames, the hot breath of the wind fanning the fire in a mad frenzy, eating up the wood until nothing is left but raw cinder caughing up smoke. It’s the dog days of summer, when nerves are frayed thin, passions erupt in white heat and gossips spread like wildfire, leaving resentments and spite smouldering in their wake.

Master storyteller Lisa Moore unravels the tangled relationships of a Newfoundland family in her debut short story Degrees of Nakedeness. When Joan’s house burns down, she moves in with her brother and sister-in-law in what soon becomes an uneasy, strained and not a little awkward threesome arrangement. In terse prose that hints at troubled truths, the story teases apart the complications of marriage, spousal abuse, abandonment and hurt, private secrets that edge dangerously close towards public disclosure and shame.

Cook up a summery Newfoundland menu with steamed mussels flavoured with lemon grass and kaffir limes, followed by roasted Atlantic salmon fillets alongside a spoonful of lime-begonia butter and a light barley salad, and ending with tart bakeapples for dessert. A sparling prosecco adds prickle and bite to seafood and fish.

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On the road again

The engine groans as it grinds up the hill in a tight curve. The windshield is caked over with dust, the ochre smudged off just above the steering wheel where the wipers have been working over time. They’re taking a breather now so the A\C can stir waves of overheated air from the back to the front of the car, in time with the Latin disco static crackling from the radio. A bump in the road, and the car shudders to a halt beneath the desiccated arms of a pine tree, where bleached stonework clumps together into the barnacle of a Spanish village on the endless plains of La Mancha.

This is mystic land, where Don Quixote once battled the windmills in tales of gallant chivalry. In Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote, a modern errant knight is taking up the fight against bigotry, oppression and greed: an unprepossessing country priest and his opinionated comrade, Mayor Sancho, take to the road in their rusty Seat ‘Rocinante’ to escape political turmoil in their native El Toboso only to find themselves caught up in treacherous intrigues and machinations that threaten the freedom and wellbeing of their community and ultimately their own lives. What starts out as a benign country road trip filled with humour and witty banter turns into a madcap race against the unbridled power of state and church, and we learn that humility, empathy and grace are not some wornout romantic notions but the very core of our moral compass that guide us in times of ambiguity, guilt and doubt.

Father Quixote and Sancho set up camp under the pine tree, scooping out traditional eggplant, tomato and green pepper pisto stew with floury flatbread, a wheel of mildly cured Machegan cheese rolled over in rosemary sprigs, roasted red peppers, pimiento-stuffed olives slick with fragrant oil exuding grassy notes, thirst-quenching wedges of watermelon, and the deep-plum, easy to drink Tempranillo wine that hints of tobacco, vanilla and herbs.

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Long, lazy summer days

Swaying in a hammock under the shade of vine leaves, book drooping on the bridge of my nose; the soft putter of the motor boat idling in the creek; crows roosting amidst treetops popping with cherries; the tires of my brother’s bike careening off the gravel; the air drenched by sprinklers; cannon ball dives off the waterlogged dock, scaring off mosquitoes and granddad’s taut fish line; fistful of blackberries staining our teeth, nails, chin, shirt; the greasy smoke from the grill pulling us home.

In her debut novel When God was a Rabbit, Sarah Winman brings back the lazy days of Cornish summers, memories of a carefree childhood casting long, deep shadows into the future, slowly gathering momentum like boiling storm clouds, to finally erupt in a thunder-clap of tragedy in adulthood, leaving the now grown-ups to pick up the pieces of their past and fit them back together in the puzzle that has become their life. In poignant and tender Chekovian scenes, the book showcases a vibrant cast of characters connected by familial and circumstantial ties and reveals how our past shapes our present and how the bonds we make with those around us determine where we end up as we grow older.

Shards of memories, coming together in glittering hues, a prism refracting truths that haunt and delight us, that tease us apart and build us back up; and seeping into our consciousness the tastes and smells of cabin BBQs: smoky mackerel caked in lemon and salt, its soft bones caught between our teeth; ochre mushroom juice pooling on the inside of a fresh bun rubbed in paprika oil; fluffy potatoes spooned with mayo, horseradish and chives; and a chilled glass of oaked chardonnay to cut through the oil.

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Power walk

Harold leans across the brine-eaten railing to catch a glimpse of the sealion lazying in the sun. Seagulls wheel overhead and the fishermen slap baskets of shrimp onto the jetty, ready for market. The first customers already crowd the docks, stepping over cordage to the moored boats bobbing on the water. Shielding his eyes from the sun, Harold looks beyond to the open sea, where a container ship draws a faint red line across the horizon. The vessel charts its journey from port to port, not unlike Harold, who has embarked on his own voyage of redemption and self-discovery from the south coast of England to its northern shores.

In The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce tells the story of an elderly man, who emboldened by the letter of a dying woman, sets out on foot across England to meet her before her time has come. It is a hasty decision, naive in its assumption that by simply walking towards her, Harold may somehow slow her death by making her wait for him. Throughout his journey, Harold learns to rely on the kindness of others and to bond with those who are not the same as him yet also not entirely strangers; he discovers meaning and joy in the ordinaryness of small things and the greatness of nature; he rekindles a love he thought he had lost and purges his soul of the crushing weight of his past; and in the process he builds a following of minds who may think alike but who act in ways that are beyond him. Tender, meditative, unexpected and brave, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry marks our own journey in life from the person we think we are to the person we aspire to be.

An artless coastal meal enriches our literary voyage: moist, velvety black cod basted in lemon-and-scallion-infused butter, with a crust of smoked salt, cajun seasoning and black pepper, and tossed kale-slaw on the side. A well-balanced Quail’s Gate rose from the summer-baked Okanagan Valley delivers ripe notes of strawberry with a tonic rhubarb kick.

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