It’s fall here, which means rain, pumpkins and indoor activities. Not my favourite time of year. I just don’t like putting on all these layers of clothes and Clare always has ‘nothing to wear’ when it gets cold and miserable outside. The last couple of days were crystal clear and crisp and apparently October 10th was the coldest in BC in a 123 years. Yikes.
‘How was your trip east?’ Muriel asked as I sat down at our usual corner table overlooking the calm waters between Gibsons harbour and Keats Island. ‘I made Camp close the store early so we could have a drink together. I hope you don’t mind me joining your weekly cabinet meeting.’
‘You know what the most watched picture was last week, indeed maybe the whole past year,’ Camp asked as he sat down. No comment about the weather, book sales or married life with Muriel.
‘Probably the one about Greta Thunberg sailing past the Statue of Liberty or the one about the fires at the Saudi oil refinery or maybe Trumps map of Hurricane Dorian in Alabama.’
September looked like November for the past few days and the swimming days are gone with the summer it seems. Camp met me out front the pub and we both walked in together. As soon as we sat down and even before our beers arrived Camp needed to vent about the attacks on the Saudi oil refineries and Brexit with Boris.
‘So did you watch any news,’ Camp asked before I even sat down at our usual corner table by the Salish Sea.
‘You can be proud of me. I refrained from reading the daily news from my phone on my bedside table as soon as I opened my eyes, which had become my routine as of late. Instead I just lay there for a couple of minutes, contemplating the day ahead.’
‘I have to confess,’ Camp said, ‘I have been following the Brexit improv theatre but only with cursory, sideway glances,’ Camp confessed.
‘I see you hired a part time assistant at the store,’ I said to Camp as I sat down for our weekly relax and debrief over a couple of brews.
‘Muriel insisted that I take on some help to organize the store.’
‘Probably a good idea, now that the summer rush is over. How did you find the person and what’s her name?’
‘I know you don’t have a TV but have you seen any movies lately?’ I asked my friend and cohort Camp, after I sat down.
‘As a matter of fact Muriel and I went to see Yesterday. I only went because I knew the music would be fantastic. Imagine a world without the Beatles.’
This is the time of the west coast summer I like the most. Warm, lazy days, fresh tomatoes and black berries on the table, cool languid evenings and the leaves turning colour already. It’s the end of the summer, kind of a metaphor for myself. I feel a bit nostalgic, having just spent last weekend at an annual cousin gathering in Heidiland; talking, walking, eating and drinking. Maybe not in that order.
It’s been a perfect summer so far. The occasional rain has taken the sting out of the expected drought, which resulted in thousands of forest fires over the past couple of years. ‘What’s with this haze? ‘I said when I joined my friend Camp at our watering hole on the Gibsons harbour.
‘Apparently it’s from the massive forest fires in Siberia’ which have consumed over 13 million acres this year alone, an area larger than Greece,’ he said. ‘Putin sent in the army and even Trump offered to help fighting the blaze.’
Camp was already at our usual table, engrossed in the Vancouver Sun.
‘Great interview by the way. Folly Bistro will be a hit at my bookstore.’
‘Thanks Camp, I can use all the free PR I can get.’
The walk along the seashore was as pleasant as it gets. I wore shorts, sandals and T-shirt; my favourite attire. Storm clouds building to the west promise welcome rain overnight and then it’s back to sunshine. When I checked with Camp earlier in the week at the store, which was crawling with tourists, mostly looking for a washroom, he assured me that he would be there on Thursday. ‘Nothing has changed buddy, stop worrying. You’re not my mother in law.’
While walking along the shore towards the village I was thinking about all the thousands of miles we travel every year and how much energy and fuel that jet setting burns. The other nagging question is: who bears responsibility for reducing the carbon footprint? The companies that pumped the oil, the carmakers whose engines burn the fuel or the people who drive the cars? And is guilt about everything from what we eat to how we travel a good motivator for improving our lazy comfort habits. Are these rich man’s problems. Such were my quandaries when I sat down, waiting for Camp who was unusually late.
‘Living is hard, dying is easy’, goes a rock’n’roll cliché. By living I don’t mean the mundane, everyday routines like paying bills, maintaining relationships and watering the garden but living in the face of a short lifespan, with only a relatively short time left to go before it’s all over. And why exert myself at all if it’s all so transient? Sartre theorized that it’s ok to constantly be challenged by life, be forced to make daily decisions, be afraid of the dizziness of life. There is no golden rule for a successful life, no guarantees and no single path to fulfillment.
We jIt’s finally summer, and unlike Europe’s heat wave here it’s what they call rich men’s weather: Warm, sunny and no bugs. This coming Saturday, July 7th will be Camp’s big day. He and Muriel are hosting a garden party at Muriel’s house and they are going to formally tie the proverbial knot and says nice and endearing things to each other in front of family and friends. With that in mind I decided to be in an upbeat mood and not dwell on the usual misery and word-wide discord but instead focus on harmony, good vibes and love.
Finally we got some much needed rain, and it just cleared up enough for my walk along the shore to the pub. The long Canada Day weekend is coming up and the sunshine will be back in time for the summer to start in earnest. The kids will be out of school and the population here will grow with cottagers, campers and tourists, which will mean that our quiet corner table will most likely already be taken. But not today. I could see Camp from below, intent on his smart phone, which he quickly stashed away when he saw me.
Mankind vs Nature
While I walked along the rocky shore towards the pub at the harbour for my weekly get together with Camp I was struck by the gap of the natural beauty around me and the precarious and tenuous nature of the modern world we made for ourselves.
As soon as I walked into our pub I could tell there was something else besides drinking beer going on. The place was packed and all the screens were tuned to a basket ball game. Game 6 just happen to be on during our Thirsty Thursday after noon tea at our regular watering hole.
Campbell, or Camp to us regulars, was in good spirits this evening and he didn’t take long to let me in on the reason for his ebullient mood.
‘You know what’s happening in June?’ he asked rather cryptically.
‘Well, let me see, in June the official summer starts, it’s also the longest day of the year and school is out for trillions of kids.’
‘Yes, yes, all of that. I’m talking more personal, like what’s happing in my life in June,’ Camp said.
We just returned from our yearly camping weekend to Lund, our favorite spot here on the west coast at the end of highway # 101. We always go the Laughing Oyster restaurantfor the great food, music and view of Okeover Bay. A provincial campground and recreational shellfish marine park is right next door and we waitedfor low tide and then joined the king fishers, herons, eagles, ducks and seagulls and some other scavengers like us, all feeding off the freshly uncovered bounty along the seashore. In a matter of minutes we picked our daily allotment of hand sized oysters. Once shucked they’re as big as an egg yoke. We also checked the DFO site for red tide, which is a paralytic shellfish poison and invisible.
We met a local who looked at our bucket full of oysters and wanted to know how we intended to eat them. I consider myself an experienced oyster-shucker from several years of picking and proudly told him so. It’s a grimy, tedious job and these big babies are tough to open.
He shook his head and said: ‘Just put them into boiling water for a minute and they’ll open up by themselves. Now they’re also pre-cooked and no mess to deal with. It’s the only way unless you’re one of those crazies who eats them raw.’
The best advice I ever had. I did exactly that and these big fat oysters just popped open and practically fell out of their shell. Other times I also shucked them fresh and froze them, a dozen to a small container.
Then I looked for recipes on the net. It seemed everyone had a different idea for Oysters Rockefeller. The original recipe was a serendipitous invention by chef Jules Alciatore at Antoine’s in New Orleans ano 1889. He was short of escargots and replaced them with the plump local oysters, baked in their shells. Somebody said they were as rich as the Rockefellers and the name stuck. Jules took his original recipe to the grave and left it therefore wide open to create them a hundred different ways. It dawned on me that oysters are really a personal thing and you’re free to create your own recipe. Bread them, smother them, cover them, bake them.Here is my simple version of the legendary Oysters Rockefeller recipe. 6 each is a meal, half of that is an appy.
Place shucked oysters (or pre-cooked) on a half shell on a cookie sheet. (I don’t use the original shells because they are full or barnacles and embedded rocks. Instead I collect the sun bleached half-shells where the local Oyster Bar chucks them onto the beach and I sterilize them in boiling water.
Mix up creamed spinach, onions, garlic, bread crumbs and some Tabasco or hot sauce. Spread mixture over oysters.
Top with pre-fried bacon pieces
Sprinkle with grated Gruyere cheese
Bake at 350° for 20 minutes then broil on Hi for 1 minute
Serve the oysters on the half shell or just by themselves
Goes well with a butter lettuce and/or potato salad
You’ll feel as rich as Rockefeller when you eat them
Serve with any wine you like but goes best with a white wine or bubbly
Clare and I went out for lunch at the pub today. She had a spinach salad and I opted for the beef dip. When I asked for half fries and half salad the waitress said: That will be $ 3 extra.I declined. A glass of white wine for Clare, a pint of the in-house lager for myself. The bill came to $ 50, add 5% for the tax on food and 10% for the alcohol and then add the tip on top of it all. I peeled off three twenty-dollar bills. When I told Camp about our rather expensive pub lunch he just shook his head of grey curly locks and said: ‘That’s why you’ll never see me eating out. I just can’t afford it. For sixty bucks I can buy a whole weeks worth of groceries for myself.’