Not To Speak Ill

She lived in the house
on the other side of the young cedars
at the bottom of our yards.
I waited for them to grow and give me my privacy—
I calculated the time it would take
until she could no longer see me.

If I’m honest, I didn’t like her much;
she was a bit too high and mighty
for me.

Once, I spent an evening
in her company, and by the time
I got home, knew in my mind,
I’d never do it again.

Conversations always filled me with anxiety
and a longing to slip away.
(It may have been my own insecurity.)

I did watch out for her—
made sure her blinds came up
the same time every morning,
her lights went off at night,
but Christmas was busy;
we thought she was away, not hurt
and bleeding
on the stone floor.

She died suddenly; it might have been a fall.
(We don’t know the details.)
She wasn’t hateful, or cruel, or any of those things,
but she made me feel small.

She was an old woman on her own
and now I feel guilty for every thing I thought—
all the times I avoided her, not really giving her a shot.

Looking out across the trees covered in snow
I know, she’s never coming out that back door again.

I’m sorry, Diane.

Kathleen Mortensen © 2016

 

What’s on tap for this week?

hyggesnow

 

It’s coming up to Christmas (as we  all know) and this year is a little different for us since we will be entertaining my husband’s parents at our house come this Friday. 

Christmas is a big thing for the Danish.  I married into a great culture of tradition that usually means a Christmas Eve feast.  We can’t be present for the actual Eve celebration, so we’re going to try and bring a bit of that to the Hyggehus.  You may wish to read more about the Danes and their “hyggelig” in my post, “Life in the Danish Hyggehus”. (That’s a photo of our house that was taken a few years back. )

I’m sure I’ve mentioned in the past, that Kev and I don’t eat meat.  We do eat fowl and fish, but nothing that comes from a four-legged creature.  The Danes love pork.  Well, you can see the dilemma in this situation, but we usually do make a compromise (I ask for forgiveness from all the true vegetarians and the porcine world at large).  We concede to one piece of pork roast to keep things copacetic for Christmas.

Of course, it’s even worse when I’m planning on cooking said pork myself.  Rather than work with a slab of pork roast, I am choosing to do a pork tenderloin in the crockpot (where I will only have to look at it very infrequently) along with some delectable vegetable dishes.

Here’s the menu:

Spicy Pork Tenderloin

Potatoes à la boulangère

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

Baked Parsnips and Carrots

Followed by:

Coconut Cream Cake and coffee.

libations

 

Drinks will begin with an apéritif  of either Aalborg Danish Jubiloeums Akvavit with its hint of dill and coriander to prepare the palate for the spiced pork or, Danish cherry-wine cocktail, Kirsberry over ice.

The wine for dinner will be a nice Riesling and we’ll follow up with a lovely glass of Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port.

Recipes:

Spicy Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin (1 lb.)

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 cup apricots (this recipe called for preserves, but I prefer to use dried and heat on the stove with a little water until they become soft.

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/8 tsp. cumin

sea salt and ground pepper

1 Tbsp. olive oil

(I have a feeling I may be ramping up the spice-factor)

Cut evenly spaced slits across the top of the pork tenderloin.  Insert pieces of garlic. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Let sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat apricots with 1/4 cup of water, lemon juice and spices. If necessary add water so the fruit does not stick to the pan. Coat the pork with the olive (use clean hands to smooth it over the entire piece. Yuck! What I do for family!) Roast the pork in a slow cooker/crockpot for 1 hour.  Spread fruit compote over the pork and roast for a further 3 hours on low until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees.Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving with the apricot sauce over top.

 

Potatoes à la boulangère

400 g peeled potatoes, thinly sliced

1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced

Fresh ground pepper to taste

1/4 cup (generous) vegetable or chicken stock

1/4 cup (generous) skim milk

1 tsp. butter

Layer potato and onion slices in a shallow, oven-proof dish (pepper each layer).  Mix stock and milk and pour over potatoes. Dot with butter.  Cover with foil and bake  for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes.

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

200g red cabbage (tough core removed), finely sliced

1 medium cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped

1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

1 Tbsp. wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. butter

2 Tbsp. water

fresh ground pepper, to taste.

 

Put all ingredients in a heavy-bottom, lidded pan.  Season to taste with pepper.  Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.  Stir well and replace the lid.  Reduce hat and simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring once or twice.  When tender, serve.

Can be cooked in the oven for the same length of time (at 325 degrees).

 

Baked Parsnips and Carrots

2 parsnips

4 carrots

1 Tbsp. butter

salt and fresh ground pepper

pinch of cumin

1 Tbsp. water

Peel parsnips and carrot. Cut in half cross-wise, then cut length-wise into strips.  Place in baking dish and dot with butter. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cumin. Add water.  Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

Can also be done in a covered dish in the microwave on High Power for 12 –15 minutes (or until tender).

 

Coconut Cream Cake

1 organic white cake mix

1/2 tsp. coconut extract

1 can coconut cream

1 can sweetened condensed milk

flaked coconut for garnish

In either a 13 x 9 or 2 round pans, bake cake.  Allow to cool.  Pierce top all over with a fork.  Blend cream, condensed milk and coconut extract. Pour over cake.  Sprinkle with flaked coconut.  Let stand overnight.  Refrigerate for a while before serving the next day. 

I intend to shake a few green and red sprinkles over top to give it a real Christmassy look.  The white cake with the coconut looks very much like snow.

 

What are you serving for your Christmas celebration?

(Recipes came from either my head (combining some internet recipes) or these two books: The Pocket fat, carbohydrate & fiber counter by Carol Bateman and Anne Lindsay’s, The Lighthearted Cookbook.)

Beware of freaks bearing gifts.

As a little girl I loved the rush of a party – the lead up to a festive day with girly dresses and balloons and loot bags and cake and gifts all packaged up with lovely bows and pretty paper. Sometimes it was so pretty that I hated to tear it off, but I still did, of course.
The fun of a party didn’t dwindle as I got a bit older. In fact, as a young girl I loved to host parties and my parents, especially my father, loved to get right in there and make them the best parties on the block.
gypsy
I remember a Halloween party when I was about 14. My father somehow acquired a big metal basin and we all took turns bobbing for apples. It was so much fun to get wet when you stuck your head in that tub of water and then to have mom waiting with a fresh towel to dry your head was heavenly. Everybody had a great time. I can remember a few Halloween costumes that mom helped me put together. I think on this occasion I wore one of her bright printed skirts and a peasant blouse, lots of beaded necklaces and bangles and a scarf tied on my head to make me a gypsy-lady. It was glamourous and funny all at once.
When I had my first boyfriend in Grade 12, I decided that I wanted to have a Christmas party. My parents were cool with that as usual and so I set out to invite a group of my friends. I attended a Catholic all-girl school from Grade 9 until 11, before switching to the local public high school for Grade 12 and 13, so my selection for the Christmas party was rather an odd bunch of kids from my different classes who didn’t really know each other well. I had friends who were geeks, friends who were artsy and friends who were popular and sporty. I even had friends who spent a good deal of time in the smoking area at the back of the school (even though I myself was not a smoker). My boyfriend and his best friend (who happened to be my best friend’s boyfriend – are you still with me?)both came from neighbouring high schools and of course they were invited too.
popshoppe
What I remember of this particular party was that everybody had a really good time– the music was fun – a mix of new wave and progressive rock, and the snack food was good – chips and onion dip made from sour cream and onion soup mix, cheesies and pop from the Pop Shoppe, a fun store where every variety of soda pop imaginable was available and came in small, stubby bottles.
The other interesting thing I recall is that 3 couples emerged from that eclectic group. The mix of types ended up like being an episode of The Dating Game and a few people went home very happy having made a love connection with somebody new. My boyfriend gave me a sweet, heart necklace with rhinestones and I had a very good Christmas that year.
Since that party went so well, when I entered my first year of university, I decided to throw another party for the new friends I met. My boyfriend from the Christmas party was old news and I was free and single. I was into dancing at the Blind Duck Pub on campus and the latest album was Human League’s, Dare. It was around St. Patrick’s Day so I planned a party for that occasion. I remember still, exactly what I wore: moss-green woollen shorts, a green long sleeved, scoop-neck top with gold-glitter stripes and mustard-coloured wool tights. I know! Did I think I was a leprechaun, or what? Actually, I looked pretty trendy and my short, light-brown hair was a bit spiky, my ear-rings were dangly and my shoes were pointy (again – could be taken for one of the wee folk, I know).

I’m sure we played a lot of different music, but the anthem for the night was definitely “Don’t You Want Me?” off the Human League album. The front of our basement was the social area – with the reupholstered couches and ancient coffee table set. There was a lime-sherbet punch on the bar and we had meatballs and rice pilaf on Chinet plates because this was adult party-time now. Even so, there were still the obligatory chips and dip and dishes of cheese-sticks and pretzels too.
The back of the basement had been decked out with Christmas lights and our old wooden toy box that my dad had made was the music centre with the Dual turntable and speakers. We just took turns playing deejay. This is why, instead of changing the record, we ended up listening to the entire Human League album and then flipping it over again. No one seemed to mind – everybody took a turn on the cold, cement dance floor. I think the only alcohol was in the punch, but everyone enjoyed that and we all had a lot of fun.
When I turned 21, my parents decided to throw a surprise party for me. This can’t have been easy, since my friends came from all different backgrounds, just like in high school. They enlisted the help of my newest friend, Debbie, and pulled together a group of very interesting university buddies. I don’t remember that much about the circumstances – how they got me there, who brought me, who was there. It’s 27 years ago and only one thing stands out in my mind about that party. It eclipsed everything else.
utmlib Click for source (my campus library at Erindale College, Mississauga)
I had a (shall we say)male acquaintance in my circle of English-Literature student friends. We were not what I would call close. We went for coffee in a group with other people, we studied in the library with other people, we hung out – occasionally and chatted on the way to class – or in class, but we were NOT romantically involved. We were friends.
At my 21st surprise birthday party, I sat in a chair in the family room downstairs in front of all my (sadly, now-forgotten) friends and opened up each one of their presents. I imagine they gave me the usual thing you give your school-pal – a book, an album of music, maybe a fun tee-shirt or hat, a gift certificate; you know the sort of stuff.
chocbox
Okay, so I reached for this flat, square, wrapped box. My “friend” was sitting alongside me literally on the edge of his seat, anxiously anticipating as first, I read his card (which as I recall was innocuous enough) and then tore off the lovely paper and opened the box. I thought it was chocolates. Yum!
Fortunately, some people were chattering and not paying attention, because what I was about to discover was not what I would ever have expected. Certainly, it was nothing I would want to pass around.
I opened the box to find some pastel-coloured tissue paper. I slid my hand under the paper and felt something soft to the touch. Slowly, I peeled back a floral seal and opened the two folds of paper to reveal a pair of lavender silk panties! Oh my Gawd! Like a shot I rammed the lid back on the box and held my arms down on top of it. No one seemed any the wiser until, the gift-giver said loudly, “What’s in the box, Kathleen?” I looked daggers at him, but to no avail. Now people were curious and I had no choice but to reveal the contents of the box to the assembled attendees.
I opened the box and lifted out the lingerie. They WERE lovely. As someone whose idea of luxury in the underwear department means black rather than white cotton, or even better—eco-friendly bamboo, I have to admit they were gorgeous!
My best friend, Debbie gasped. A few jaws dropped. I laughed it off and made some wisecrack about how he must have had me confused with somebody else. I quickly used my best diversionary tactic: Who wants some chocolate cake?
choc_cake2 Click for source
Thank heavens it worked. There was a mad rush up the stairs and I shoved the box with the intimate item under the upholstered chair.
Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t give the gift back. To this day, they are still the nicest panties I’ve ever owned.
So, if I didn’t say so at the time, thanks, Buddy!

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

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Do I hear $400 for the Velvet Elvis?

Christmas has come and gone and so I have decided to put a halt to my countdown of most wanted gifts from Santa. Perhaps next year I’ll continue the list.
That’s not to say that I can’t write about some great toys though, is it?

Today’s lesson is all about ART.

I don’t claim to be an expert on art. At all. I know what I like and what I don’t like. I like abstracts with vibrant colours and quirky drawings and the odd inviting land or seascape; I like unusual paintings of men and women. I don’t like fluffy stuff with gingerbread houses and doll-faced kids and cookie-cutter anything!

I grew up in a house where the appreciation of art was not present. That’s not to say that my parents didn’t like a nice picture – there was that fake oil-painting of the still-life of a bowl of strawberries on the wall in the kitchen. There were the two immense real oil-paintings in the gaudy gold frames that hung in the living room over each loveseat. You know the kind – a stream running through an autumn wood, or a barn in the middle of field, flanked by an autumn wood. There were the framed chocolate box-lids with pictures of Ireland in vivid green, white, brown and blue – their cliched thatch-roofed cottage (always with a red door) and the stone-walled field harking back to a distant memory. In my own room I had 3 little plastic-framed pictures of moppet-girls with enormous eyes, sporting harlequin and other costumes – they were everywhere in the 70s. I also had a cheap, framed poster of a suspended cat with the caption, “Hang in there, Baby”.

My father once gathered up a load of “art” (actually it was mainly a goodly number of calendars) we owned and took it to be framed professionally. We ended up with a number of religious pictures, some ancient photographs of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and the “Old Country” as well as some treasures – the original artwork of my mother’s cousin, Jean Khanbegian.

I remember we had old magazines downstairs in the linen closet that had feature articles on this member of my family. She worked mainly in oils and concentrated on the sea. I have a real love of the sea, not merely as it’s in my blood on my mother’s side, but also from having looked at these fantastic works of real art. Jean Khanbegian is in her 80s now and still paints, superbly. She focused on the ponies of Sable Island in a series of paintings a few years ago. These are gorgeous, wind-swept, wild pieces that carry you away to an almost mythical world. My mother has two pieces of Jean’s and one day, I trust they will come to me and my husband to join the collection of oddities we have accumulated.

You might think that my taste in art would come from these influences and in large part, it does, but more than this, I believe my knowledge and appreciation can be attributed to a pair of brothers: the Parker Brothers.

In 1970, Parker Brothers released the game, Masterpiece and that Christmas, I found one under the tree in the living room on Christmas morning.

What great joy was to be had inside that box! There was a board (similar to Trivial Pursuit) featuring a large picture of Rembrandt in the middle of a circle of playing stations (I made that up – it works though, doesn’t it?), coloured marker-pieces for each player and loads of paper money in very large amounts ($100,000, $500,00 – all ornately designed) , There were cards representing the characters (players) participating in the auction and cooked up biographies for each one. Most importantly, there were postcard-sized reproductions of famous artworks with an easel to display them when they went on the block.

Players tried to bluff each other with forgeries while accumulating large sums of money in the auction process. A grand time was had by all, but little did we know the added bonus to this game: we learned about famous paintings, artists and art history.

This game was a delight to me particularly since I could never get enough (and still can’t) information packed into my brain. I absorbed all the details about the artists and their work.

In grade 9, it was compulsory to take ART 101 with Sister Colette at my all-girls’ school. She was a brilliant artist, but a grueling teacher and I didn’t take to the rigours of water-colour washes or weaving at a loom! (OMG you should have seen what came off my loom!– Think baby-blanket crossed with an old string dishrag.)
I abandoned art after first year (much to Sr. Colette’s relief).

This did not completely eradicate my interest, however; I continued to draw at home – mostly pop stars and album covers, but I was not too bad a talent and in later years when I switched to public school and posted my Cheap Trick pen and ink drawings inside my locker, the art teacher noticed them and told me I should be in her art class. So, I went back to a Grade 9 level art in Grade 13 (carrying my Masterpiece cards with me as a talisman) and had another go. Art was not to be in my repertoire that year as the rigours of Family Studies, History, World Geography and English conspired to distract me. Oh well!

In any case, I still love to draw, fool around in “Paint” on my computer and collect strange original works of art that pop up in my local thrift stores. We currently have two large abstract oil paintings by the same artist, done in 1962. We love them both and although we tried to find out more about the artist, failed miserably, until one day we were in our local gallery and my husband stopped in front of a painting with a stunned expression on his face. He called me over and my mouth joined his in dropping. It was the same artist as we own. We got the paintings for a song at the thrift store, but honestly, if they were worth a fortune, we’d NEVER give them up because they are a part of us. Turns out, there’s a massive mural on our city library wall, done by the same artist! How cool is that?

So, how did Masterpiece affect my adult life? Well, I married an Art History major, I watch art programs in HD on tv, I am surrounded by various pieces of art in my own home and I dabble a bit myself. Mind you, I am Poetikat first and foremost, but I guess that’s just “painting with words”, isn’t it?

By the way, we never owned a “velvet Elvis” – a velvet toreador, but never Elvis.

Kat

Incidentally, my favourite artists are:

Alex Colville
A.J. Casson
Modigliani
Klimt
Turner
Rousseau

These days when I want to learn more about art, I can always count on a lesson from Blicky Kitty.

N.B. I just had a twigging of my memory over at My Side of the Story, where Anna Lefler of Life Just Keeps Getting Weirder mentioned Doodle Art. How could I forget that? What? Was there a little black hole in my brain that had that stored away? I was the Doodle Art queen! I had one of the jungle, one of the ocean and another one I can’t remember. Know what? I never finished them…I think I still may have that jungle one somewhere. Hey, if you don’t hear from me for a while, you’ll know where I am.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

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The Other Side

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Unfortunate

The butterball is baking, lights all twinkle on the tree
Lots of presents have been opened–now the kids are on a spree.

Outside some streets over
She stands shivering in shame
Scouting ‘johns” along the roadside–
She’s a hooker on the game.

Let’s open up those chocolates and we’ll quaff another nog
Throw those giblets in some tin-foil—they’re the favourite of the dog.

Silently he trudges
On the sidewalks of the town
But he’s had no destination–
Since the system let him down.

Set the table with the crystal, grandma’s china’s in the chest
Use the silver and the linen–those red candles look the best.

She’s clinging to her baby
In a room she’s seen before
The last time that he hit her–
When she made it out the door.

Inside it’s warm and toasty and the turkey’s burnished gold
Quick! Say grace and pour the “vino”–let’s enjoy it ‘fore it’s cold.

His fingertips are frozen
As he lights a cigarette
Somewhere his mom is weeping—
Still his dad has no regret.

When the party is all over and the family’s gone their way,
There’s an emptiness we’re feeling, though we’ve stuffed ourselves this day.
We really can’t explain it–we made everything just so,
But we’re almost glad it’s over, is there something we don’t know?

Kathleen Mortensen © 2007

The Easy-Bake Oven Mystery

The other day, I was in the parking lot of my local grocery store ( I spend a good deal of time at grocery stores – being not just a lover of food, but also a lover of shopping for food as well). As I made my way into the store, I passed the back of a car where a woman was loading her groceries and I noticed a box tucked in the trunk. It was a new-toy box and it housed a modern-day Easy-Bake Oven. I almost said to her, “Oh, some little girl’s going to be very happy this Christmas!” For some reason, I didn’t, but it did make me think: what little girl wasn’t happy to receive the Kenner Easy-Bake Oven? Or perhaps, what little boy? I mean Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay had to start somewhere, right?

Okay, so maybe they didn’t actually have one, but you know what I mean.

As a child, I loved to fool around in the kitchen, helping my mom with stirring batter and adding garnishes and mixing various dry ingredients, etc. I used to go to the library regularly and often would come home with big kid-sized books filled with fun, easy recipes to help children learn their way around a kitchen.

When the Easy-Bake Oven came out in the late Sixties, I wanted one desperately. I wrote to Santa and asked for one nicely. I pleaded with my mother to make sure that Santa knew I was a good girl and I deserved the shiny, turqoise, tin oven with the silver cake pans and the accompanying cookbooks. I even appealed to my father to put in a good word (little did I know, that he had a real “in” in the Santa department).

When Christmas morning came, I was crushed to discover no EBO! I was incredulous! Still, I put on a brave face and accepted the Barbie doll house and the new doll-clothes and even the target-shooter that Santa (suspiciously) wanted me to have – where the chicken laid the egg whenever I hit the cardboard barnyard with my rubber-tipped missile from the plastic gun.

The most devastating thing about that Christmas, was that my good school-friend, Jane Thompson got the exact Easy-Bake that I wanted. It was turquoise and shiny and chock full of pans and spatulas and recipe books. Jane made no bones about how wonderful Santa had been to her and I was green, er turquoise, with envy.

I was already jealous of Jane because her grandmother was a knitter. She used to knit Jane fantastic doll clothes for her Barbies and even knit a funky bikini bathing suit for Jane, herself, one summer. My grandmother, ironically, was the baker. She baked wonderful rolls, pies, cakes and her specialty was homemade donuts. When she came to visit from Nova Scotia once a year, she would bake up a storm, but she couldn’t knit a stitch.

So, why was I the one with no Easy-Bake Oven? To this day, it still baffles me, but a stint with Jane Thompson’s oven laid all my keen fascination to rest.

One day, I was over at Jane’s house and she suggested we play with her Easy-Bake Oven. I remember how much fun it was for a budding chef, like me, to empty the packets of cake mix in the tin cake-pans and add the water (or milk–I can’t recall), stir it all together and pop them in the two-story oven – it even had a light inside to do the baking. When the cakes came out not long after, we iced them with green frosting and then we had to eat every last morsel.

I’m not sure whether it was all the sugar, the excitement at finally getting to use an EBO, or a combination of both, but when I got home, I spent most of that night barfing up all that Easy-Bake Oven goodness into our toilet. I never mentioned that particular toy ever again and eventually, I taught myself how to knit.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

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Here’s a funny little cake-song, I found on YouTube:

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