Tuesday, August 30, 2011


A beautiful penultimate morning of August here in Toronto that makes me feel renewed. That renewal also comes because of the seems-like-very-solid-and-sensible-advice-to-me advice that I got yesterday from a therapist named Damien at Athlete Care yesterday. I'd gone in to see him (my friend Ilse had recommended him highly) about this fallen transverse arch situation I've been living with since June.

Of course the failing of a piece of my body is disturbing. So it's been an odd summer as I try to come to terms with it. I've bought Birkenstock inserts to wear in my shoes and a new cushy pair of runners. But the basic message I got at the foot clinic was that i would need to depend on those inserts, and on wearing shoes in the house and never going barefoot, from now on. Even that I swallowed (grumbling, natch! but I did accept it).

But then my ankle started to hurt, with an intermittent pain, sometimes when I used it, sometimes after. Not good. Clearly whatever adaptations i was consciously making, and my body was making on its own, were doing damage or shifting things around, in a way that seemed to be making the situation worse. Time to rethink, I decided. Was there something going on centrally that was somehow causing all this? Maybe I needed to dig deeper? Cranio-sacral perhaps could help?

But no, really, it all felt lke a functional problem that I was failing to understand. Thus Damien.

His advice? Strengthen, stregthen, work on getting the muscles in the foot and lower leg strong to support the (now weaker) ligaments. He had me stand on two feet and go up onto the balls of my feet as high as possible, then down, and again and again. Then he asked me to try it just on the one left (injured) foot. Yikes! It wobbled and was unsteady. There, he said, that's what you need to stregthen. I'm to go up and down, on two feet before a walk or before getting going in the morning, just to increase blood flow to the muscles, and then do it on the injured foot, up-down-up-down, as often as I can in the day, in reps. The other exercise is to use the foot and ankle to pull against resistance. I mean I can do ankle circles, but it's a more effective strengthener to pull against resistance. (I hook my foot under the edge of a counter and use it to pull me up into a sitting position.)

I'm feeling so energised by this. Aha, I can help myself! Yes, it's a brighter picture altogether, Damien's view (no need for orthotics, once you're stronger you'll be fine barefoot etc), but the energising aspect is that it depends on me, it's up to me, and doesn't rely on outside aids or medications or tricks or... Damien's opinion (and of course not everyone would agree, but one can pick one's advice as one picks anything else, no?) is that most problems are a result of insufficient muscle strength or else overuse, too much pounding. And as we age, we need to focus even more on maintaining muscle strength to support our decreasingly elastic tendons and ligaments.

Sounds like a plan.

Now what's the emotional or intellectual equivalent of this physical advice about sustainable fitness and freedom from injury or impediment?

If I start from the same approach, then I can frame the issue this way: as we age we lose resilience, not just of ligaments etc but also some mental elasticity. We're no longer able to multi-task as easily. If we're too overloaded with different thoughts, we start to forget names or show some other sign of slippage. It's not a pretty sight and it can be very distressing (is this Alzheimer's? is the first panicked thought when it happens).

Clearly the first step is to try to keep our heads clear of unnecessary clutter. That would be for example fruitless worrying about the future or the past or...let's just leave it as fruitless worrying. The other kind of clutter is that which comes when we let ourselves think about too many things at once. With the internet always beckoning, it's easy to slip out of a task and into checking email or looking at the latest tweets. That shifting back and forth builds up debris and clutter that stops us from thinking clearly. It turns us all into ADD sufferers, mental magpies leaping from thing to thing and unable to setttle on anything or think about any one thing in a sustained way.

And that leaves us without the ability to think things through clearly.

I'm just feeling my way here, but the advice I'm trying to give myself, and to live by, is to make a list for the day, and try hard to stick to it, to move from task to task sequentially and not to think much about the next one until this one is done. (And to not check email every half hour either!) The limited forward planning required as I make the list and (loosely) structure my day is very steadying I find.

Those of you who work freelance will probably recognise what I'm talking about. Maybe those of you with jobs that are already structured won't know what I mean. But in your off-hours you may have these distracted and unproductive patterns. Mine are for sure in need of tidying up.

Today for example, my list is a nice easy one. I have five recipes to retest today for Rivers of Flavor: two delectable sweets, a fab pork noodle dish, a salsa variant, and a steamed noodle streetfood from Kengtung. I've got my shopping lists made, and at the other end of the day there are a couple of people dropping by whom I hope to feed with the results of the testing. Getting it done is one goal, but feeding friends is a wonderful motivation for staying on task all day.

Now to jump elsewhere: I went to the Southern Ontario shape-note sing last Saturday. We hold it at the beautiful Detweiler Meeting House southwest of Waterloo, a stone building in rolling farm country that has fabulous acoustics. People came from six states and four provinces, the potluck lunch was a spectacular spread, and the singing warm and intense both. From there I headed to a friend's place north of Lindsey, set in a glade in the woods. I sang to myself as I drove the three hours. I was feeling foolish and over-ambitious, but happily anticipatory too. And it was wonderful to arrive. What an oasis of peace and generous conversation! There was no singing in my sleep, no thought, just a deep plunge.

And that's the other important ingredient to good health, mental and physical: getting rest and sleep. It's while I sleep that my foot and ankle muscles will grow and strengthen. It's when we sleep that our "brain muscles" renew themselves. We're all so ambitious about the things we want to do in the evening. It's as hard to let go sometimes as it was when we were three and were told it was bedtime. "But I'm having so much FUN!"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Well here it is the 23rd of August, and so I have just sent a letter off to my mother's twin, my Aunt Wendy, wishing her happy birthday. She is now ninety. [The photo here was taken on her birthday, and I'm adding it a day later, on August 24; she's the one riding the pinto, on the left.] All those years ago she and my mother arrived two months early, a disaster it seemed. My grandparents had moved only recently to their one-room log cabin on a quarter section of land in the Bulkley Valley in northern British Columbia. My grandmother had no idea she was having twins; it was only after my mother was born that the neighbour who had been fetched to help realised that perhaps there was another baby in there.

Miracles do happen, and the survival of those twins, despite their puny size and early arrival, was one such. They grew up shy and tenacious and physically capable, unafraid of hard work. My mother died over thirty years ago of breast cancer. My aunt never had cancer, amazingly, for identical twins so often share that kind of thing too. She now lives with her third son and his partner on a ranch near Vernon. As she says, she loves it there for it's the kind of place she knows well, with big landscape to look out at, and animals all around, and plenty of chores large and small to keep her busy.

As we age we lose physical capacity, but I believe we don't lose our need to be useful and needed and appreciated. Living in a place where there are things to be seen to, my aunt, even at this great age, is able to be and to feel productive. I wish that kind of old age for all of us. Happy birthday Wendy!

I spent part of this afternoon picking sea buckthorn up in Grey County. Do you know it? The plant is a low tree, think lilac for size, with long thorns every so often on the branches and tips of branches. The fruit grows in dense-packed clusters of smooth shiny berries near the ends of the branches. It's a rich orange colour with a dot of maroon to red at the tip of each berry. Inside is a seed. The fruit resists being picked, so it takes time. You can't just strip a branch of its fruit in handfuls. Instead you have to pick them off one by one, the berries.

Lillian, whose trees these were, says they originated in Siberia and possibly Manchuria too. They are hardy, which is why she planted them eight to ten years ago, and the fruits are edible.

But here's the question: what to do with the fruit? How to use it? Lillian has been experimenting with it for three years, making jam, vinegar, blended jams, etc. And now she's going to try savory condiments, and also will try using it uncooked, with flavorings. The thing is, the taste is tart and a little sweet, but when it's cooked, to some of us it has a slightly unappealing odour. Well so do many things, from Limburger to durian, but it doesn't stop us eating them. And many people don't notice the odour. It may be one of those aromas that bother only some people, not everyone. The sea buckthorn berries don't have the odour when they're straight off the tree, only once they're cooked. That's why Lillian's next step is to try them in a savory uncooked condiment, like a fresh chutney. They are so beautiful, and the taste is appealing if you have a taste for wild things, not tame domesticated fruit.

It turns out that sea buckthorn is also great for the skin, both if applied externally and if eaten. It contains oils and is loaded with Vitamin C etc. When I learn more about other possible uses, I'll let you know. Meantime, I can't think of a better way of marking my mother's birthday than picking berries, for both she and my aunt took enormous pleasure in berry picking. It was like getting something for nothing, a special treat. As a kid I didn't particularly appreciate their enthusiasm, but now I feel the same way....

My trip up to Grey County started yesterday afternoon. On my way I passed a roadside stand with gladioli in buckets of water, set out beside a money box, but no person. So I picked out some glads, all colours from deep purple to violet to orange-yellow to salmon and magenta, shoved my bill in the box, and continued on down the road. I had a swim in Wilder Lake, deserted because the day was chilly, about 18 degrees (a huge contrast to the 30 degree and more temps we've had), but the lake water was warm and welcoming and I rejoiced in there. When I got to Lillian's the flowers went into two vases and lit up the room.

It was as if they had set the colour palette for my visit, for dawn the next morning had every shade in it: dark purple clouds below, brilliant cerise pink cloads above, the sun making orange-yellow reflections as it tried to emerge, and pale violets and pinks in outlying areas of the eastern sky.

It was pretty wild.

And why was I up to see it? you ask. Well I had the huge pleasure of sleeping out in a new small sleeping cabin in the forest, a perfect elegant place to go to bed by candle-light, to wake in the middle of the night to the moon beaming in (powerfully silver, despite being very much on the wane) and the stars hanging low (I swear they were), and to surface at dawn to heavy dew, mist rising, and that technicolur show to the east. The Swedes have similar small cabins in the country, with a tiny woodstove and a bed, as this one has, and call them lust-haus (sp?), or pleasure house. If you get a chance to watch My Life as a Dog, that brilliant film from twenty-five or so years ago, there is a lusthaus in it....

I'm digressing I guess, but perhaps not. For these small spaces and immediate pleasures of colour and form are stimulating, life-giving, a reminder of who we are and where we like to be.

AFTERWARD: As I send my Aunt Wendy birthday thoughts,and think about age and mortality and living in the moment, I am also thinking about Jack Layton, a remarkable guy who was a politician with ideas, intelligence, and beliefs, as well as an extraordinary optimism and confidence in people. He was Leader of the Opposition as of our May election, having led his party, the NDP, to an amazing victory, especially in Quebec, but now he's died, in full flight. This is a loss for us all, not just for his grieving family. Thanks Jack, for taking it all on with such positive energy; you've been a great example, even to those who didn't agree with you.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Another hot and humid day here in Toronto. It feels very tropical. Sounds carry, as well as smells, both the lovely and the stenchy. The lovely include the haunting scent of phlox (mine are white) that drifts and eddies around the back garden and in the back door.

Speaking of eddies, I've had rivers and light and color on my mind this last while. I've been engrossed with images for Rivers of Flavor, picking final ones from a larger Burma pick. And now they are all sitting queued up (so interesting that the tech people, whom I always think of as American in their language, should have turned to "queue", a more classic English word, but I guess queuing is a clearer meaning than "lining up" or "waiting") and getting sent off one by one, as they load onto Artisan's FTP space. Words fail me: is it an FTP portal? or file? or dossier? or dock?

And as they load up and head out one by one, I'm reminded of the turtles I saw long ago on an outlying island of Sabah, north-east of the port town of Sandakan, then a sleepy-hollow place. Maybe it's bustling now. I haven't been back since 1980.
I was with a friend and we were taken out to the Turtle Island by Parks people. We spent the night there, at about this mid-August time of year, now I think of it. YIkes! That was 31 years ago.

At around one in the morning we headed out under the full moon, on the fine white sand, to wait on the beach. We were lucky that night. First one, and then another and another huge dark shape came out of the water and lumbered across the beach sand to its upper edge: turtles, come to lay their eggs. We crept close to one as she stood digging with her strong stubby legs, a hole that grew deeper and deeper. The sand flew. Then she turned her tail to the hole and began to let the eggs go. They emerged in a gleaming stream, some and then more, white and pearlescent in the moonlight. Eventually, once she was done, she used her strong legs to heave and push sand back into the hole to cover the eggs.

The parks people marked the spot with a post. Meantime the turtle, her work done, headed for the beach, leaving tracks like a tank, a continuous drag mark with evenly spaced dents too. And then into the water she slipped.

Well in a silly superficial way this moment of sending off images into the e-sphere feels a little like what happens when those eggs hatch. The little turle-lets head off to the sea, but who knows how many of them make it? It's part of nature's lottery.
And the process of sending images or letters or manuscript through the e-ther feels a little the same, a fraught and chancy thing.

Maybe I should revise my view: maybe all interaction, all sending out of messages and trusting they will be received, is just as much of a lottery or game of chance. The imperfections of communication are not just technical, not just a matter of something going physically awry (like a bird picking off a baby turtle, or the electricity cutting out in the middle of a transmission). Those are bad luck but in the end understandable. The others, the misunderstood comments or actions, are much more complicated, and more scary too. For example the response that is heard as critical or angry but wasn't meant to be; the silence that was meant to leave breathing room but is read as abandonment or uncaring; the praise that is real but is heard as ironic, all these are the truly scary slippages and losses. Sometimes it seems a miracle that we ever understand each other at all.

When I start to think about the fraughtness of human communication, I reach for consoling thoughts and ideas. After all, most often we DO seem to understand each other. Maybe we're fooling ourselves, and there are more gaps in our mutual understanding than we know or acknowledge, but we soldier on. And we do that because we WANT it to work. We want to understand others, and to be understood. And we want tolerance for (and always need to remind ourselves to BE tolerant of) mistakes and miscues.

How did I end up here, when I started with the scent of phlox in the garden? Maybe the idea of familar scents connects to childhood and memory and then leads to reflection on the larger meta-picture? I guess that's it.

For now, I need to absorb this place I've arrived at, which is the reminder to give people the benefit of the doubt when there are misunderstandings and to be tolerant when things go astray, in whatever way that happens. After all, that kind of imperfection is part of life too.

Now there's something to think about.

Meantime the peaches are in, lush sweet fabulous Ontario peaches. It's a great year for fruit here. Today at the Dufferin Grove Farmers' Market there were also huge blackberries and lots of elderberries too, so enticing. I bought two six quart baskets of peaches, organic peaches, for five dollars each. What a bargain, all that easy to eat juicy complexity for the price of a coffee and muffin. Amazing.

May the rest of August be as delicious and fruitful...

Sunday, August 14, 2011


It's a mild Sunday night here in Toronto, the end of a great week-end. I've just come back from supper with friends, their fabulous twin boys all the entertainment a person could want, and the food delish: sticky rice and Thai beef salad, brought by other friends, and a Burmese-style roasted eggplant salad plus a nam prik num (a northern Thai salsa of grilled tomatoes, banana chiles, shallots, and garlic), made by me there. The wines were yummy, a South African white from the western Cape, and a Beaujolais with good balance, a nice surprise.

I don't expect to dine on a Sunday evening. More often it's a meal with friends here at the house, a catch-as-catch-can kind of meal. And here I am contemplating Monday on a full stomach with happy memories of good flavours in my mouth. hmm

This weekend has been a full one. I have now finished the Burma Over Time (history) section of Rivers of Flavor, and will send it in to the publisher tomorrow, together with Traveller's notes as well as the annotated Bibliography. One of the books in the bibliiography is Elephant Bill, by a Colonel Williams. I have a copy of it from my parents, the book I read as a ten or eleven year old. And I have another, from the same edition, that I bought recently from a bookseller in Chiang Mai. It's a remarkable book, for Elephant Bill started work in Burma after the first war and then became the man in charge of elephants dring the Japanese invasion in 1942 and the subsequent flight out of Burma, followed by the reconquest of Burma in 1944. In all of it he is humble, appreciative of the elephants and the people who handle them, primarily their Karen oozies, but also Burmese and Shan people. I realised a few days ago that this was probably the first book I ever read about Burma. And though it is written in a colonial context, it rises above the limitations of colonial attitudes and society.

What a great start.

Now that I am contemplating the last stages of this Burma project, I am filled with gratitude for having been able to embark on it. When I first flew into Burma in 1980, so long ago, I never dreamt that I'd be writing about food and culture some day, let alone a book about food traditions in Burma. And more recently, as I worked on other books about food and culture, I didn't think I'd be working on my own and on a book about such an intensely felt and politically and culturally complicated a subject as Burma.

There's a good chance, given the contents of the history section at the back of the book, that some bureaucrat somewhere in Burma may decide that I should not be issued a visa. The book is not due to come out until September 2012. And so I need to get at least one trip, and hopefully two, to Burma, before the axe falls...

Which brings me back to the Elephant Bill book. He talks a lot about the upper Chindwin River. And when I was in Pakkoku, up the Irrawaddy from Bagan, I met a foreigner whose friend had travelled up the Chindwin, despite government limits on where foreigners can go.

So all that means that I would love to retrace at least some of the route that Elephant Bill and his elephants took on their way to India. It's a culturally rich area that ends up in Chin State, for now off limits to foreigners. But miracles do happen, so if I can get close, maybe I'll be able to travel into Chin State...

And on other subjects: I'm still having issues with my left foot: a fallen transverse arch, new pads for my runners, and now I have started running again, but I am having pains in my ankle. As always, the compensating we do for one injury leads to other problems. I think it's time I saw a sports-medicine person. Has any one else had transverse arch problems? My new cushy running shoes, and the Birkenstock inserts I use in my shoes, have made a huge difference. So why do I still have issues running?

The hummingbirds are gone, the robins are fat, and the tomatoes and corn are ripening. I picked a ripe okra the other day, bright green and crisp, and Tashi and I ate it in mouthfuls, crunch crunch, so delicious. It was completely different, not at all the same vegetable, as the slightly rough large green ridged veg we can buy in the winter. People who don't like okra, most of them, have never tasted it at its best, at least that's my theory.

And all this talk of veg takes me back to the subject of work and my to-do list: I have some recipes to retest, and now with just the Glossary (I love doing it) and the photos to get in, I'm feeling ready to tackle these last recipes. I'll keep you posted on my progress. The steamed noodles from the Golden triangle is one I'm looking forward to; and the tapioca custard pudding is another...

Are you hungry yet?

And on the subject of recipes: There's a piece by AMy O'Connor coming out in Cooking Light magazine, the November issue (so it will be out in the third week in October), about Chiang Mai and the immersethrough session she attended last year. The magazine asked me to contribute three recipes to the piece. I sent them off ten days ago and I just heard back from them "your recipes rock!". That's always a great message to get, for any of us who write about food. But here it was especially great timing, for as this book editing starts, I find it easy to feel anxious. The reassurance of an editor's wholehearted love of some recipes (Chiang Mai and Shan food both) was a lovely uplift.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Here we are on August 8 - in Chinese it's "ba-ba" the eighth of the eighth, and so it's father's day (a familiar word for father being roughly "baba"). In Burma it's a whole other thing, 8-8, for it's the anniversary of the "four-eights" or 8-8-88, when the democracy uprisings that started with the students in 1988 became full-on in Burma.

Twenty-three years later the rest of the world is watching the struggles of the Syrian people against a harsh and unjust regime, and hoping the outcome is happier and more fruitful than the result of 8-8-88 in Burma. There, the people having lost their fear and demonstrated, the crackdown by the authorities was harsh and bloody. And when elections were held two years later, the opposition, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, stunned the government by winning.

The government's solution? To refuse to hand over power.

And so we celebrate and talk about 8-8-88 outside Burma, while inside the country a date that marks an important anniversary in the history of Burma is buried in government silence and, dare I say it? fear of people-power. Maybe next time there are demonstrations, maybe tomorrow, somehow, by some magic, the government will become more reasonable, and then open discussion and consultation and disagreement will be possible. But for now freedom of speech and dissent and political discussion are luxuries enjoyed by relatively few people in the world, none of them in Burma.

[And a quick update: I'm working on a short history section, to go in the back of RIVERS OF FLAVOR. The photos are now sorted and just needing some captions and a little tidying. I'll send in about 450 I think. All these are late baby-steps in getting the manuscript turned into a book. I am so lucky to be working with Trent Duffy and Ann Bramson at Artisan.]

I've been out on my bicycle a couple of evenings recently in the hot humid air, soft with moisture but also laden with every smell. It's so strange, and familiar, the way humidity makes sounds carry, and smells too. I feel I can smell a french fry cooking three blocks away when the air is this heavy. And I kind of like it, as a marker of the season. No, I agree, a lot of the now-intense smells aren't pretty, or even nice as reminders, but they are for sure part of the fabric of summer, especially as we move into August.

Those bike outings are thrilling in many ways: I love the whooshing through the dark, the competitive edge I can get as I race to make a light before it turns, the hyper-alert state that is so intense with adrenalin as I pedal fast along a busy street, ringing my little jangly bell occasionally to warn pedestrians or hopefully prevent a driver from opening a car door in my path. So far so good.

This juice, this thrill-seeking, is pretty juvenile, or un-grown-up, or something, of me. Maybe it's newly possible now that my kids are grown and I don't feel so directly responsible for them? Are there other mothers reading this who have been able to move into a freer more risk-taking frame of mind once the kids are grown?

Talk about life cycles! I never expected to be "back" here in thrill-seeking territory. What a treat.

My recent evening outings have been fun, and unexpected too. I went to a short play on Friday, part of Summerfest. I Tweeted about it later, because it was so fluent and seamless and terrifically written and acted. The play is Hannah's Turn, by Richard Sanger. Do go see it if you have the chance. It demands skilled actors, and we had those too..

Another outing was to hear music, this evening, a house concert of fiddle music, some Franco-Quebecois and -Ontarian, some from down East and more celtic. The fiddler was Pierre Shryer, a master fiddler; on guitar was Andy Hillhouse; Joe Phillips played a huge resonant double bass.

We were all delighted, not just by the music but by the collegial joy and engagement we shared with the musicians. As one of them said after, it's so different from playing on a main stage at a festival, where it's hard to hear yourself, and there are time pressures and other constraints. Here the musicians could work by feel, and we were all the richer for that (though the money they took home cannot be nearly what they'd get for a big event of course, so perhaps I'm only speaking metaphorically when I speak of being all the richer? It's too easy to take an artist for granted.)

A conversation with a friend at a dancing party she gave this weekend is still resonating with me. She and I talked about reflecting on things, and the fact that as we get older, it becomes more possible, a greater pleasure, and hopefully also more fruitful. She has been writing poetry, that's where her thoughts and reflections have taken her. I end up writing here, in this blog, trying to carve my thoughts out of the strands of musing in my head, and shape them onto this virtual page.

Many thanks for your patience as I bumble along!

And to finish, a suggestion for a summer soup: My CSA delivery last week included a lot of largish patty-pans (those flattish knobby yellow and gold squashes). I chopped them coarsely into a large pot, added one chopped onion and a little water, then boiled them with the lid on until they were softened, about fifteen minutes. I was surprised at how much flavour they had, once they'd been pureed in the processor to a thick smooth potage. All it needed was some mustard seed, nigella, and fennel seed heated in olive oil (with a pinch of turmeric, now my ingrained habit since working with recipes from Burma); as well as some salt, a dash of soy sauce, and a little rice vinegar, just a touch (or you could use some wine).

Torn basil leaves, pungent and intense these days, from the back garden, were a good addition on the soup with a little more olive oil (when are they NOT a good addition). I made rice, so we poured soup over the rice and voila, a taste of summer, with no sweat. Soup is such a good way of dealing with an excess of any summer squash, from patty-pans to zucchini. And then there are the soup possibilities for all those extra leafy greens. That's for another day...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Another hot night in Toronto. We're now into the second day of August, just, as midnight has struck, yet still the air is heavy and sweat starts trickling whenever I make any physical effort.

I've got no light on in the office, to keep things cooler, and doors and windows are open to catch whatever passing breeze manages to find its way here.

Tonight I walked out to Queen's Park a couple of blocks away. I'd been hearing music all afternoon and finally felt cool enough to go out. There under the huge old trees in the park was a crowd dancing and hanging as Jamaican music live on a stage, came rocking through the hot air. Lovely. I got there in time for the last three tunes, danced and danced with the crowd, and then the music was done. The crowd hung on though, buying food from the patty stands, and from the rice and plantain and fish and salad places that had been set up all day under the trees. What a luxury it is to have free music on a hot long weekend.

I had the water on in the back garden this evening trying to cool things off. Yes everything got wetter, but no, it didn't feel any cooler. I've been thinking, as I drink huge cups of water, about all the people who are fasting for Ramadan, just started at the new moon a couple of days ago. At this time of year the dyas are long, so the tenacity and endurance required of people who fast is even greater. It's a time of coming together and mindfulness, this fasting month. But I hope that those who are vulnerable to the heat take care of themselves...

I'm just starting to get back in the groove after my time away in Skowhegan. On the long drive back from the kneading conference we stopped in to visit the mill of La Milanaise, who produce the most carefully milled commercial flour around. It's all organic, and it's of wonderful quality. The mill is very close to the crossing at the Maine-Quebec border (Woburn/Coburn Gore) and Sophie, the miller's daughter, whom we'd met at the conference, had said she'd give us a tour of the mill. Thank-you Sophie - I learned a lot!

It's awe-inspiring to look at the huge sacks of flour (900 kilos each) and then the smaller 2 and 5 kilo sacks, and think of the sequence that got them there: farmers growing organic grains, who plant and harvest with enough care that the grain comes to the mill with not more than 14% moisture and passes various other quality tests; and then the mill with its machines that grind either with granite stones (for non-white wheat flour) or metal for the unbleached white flour. The granite stones are imported from California. Every month they are re-incised, sharpened you could say, and polished a little, and every year they are replaced. It seems incredible that stone can get worn that quickly.

The grain is blended before milling not after. All wheat flour is blended, a mix of higher and lower protein wheat, so that the final product is consistent. And the details of a particular flour, its protein, and ash content, and other details besides, are printed on the side of the large bags that go out to bakeries.

When you think of the care involved, five dollars for a loaf of hand-made bread baked in a wood-fired oven seems low, way too low.

After the mill we stopped in to see some old friends of mine near Knowlton, and then it was a long drive northwest to the Gatineau. What a pleasure to swim out in the dark night in the soft waters of the Gatineau River. The sky was dotted with stars. Floating on my back I could lose track of which way was up, weightless and drifitng in a star-speckled darkness...

Early next morning I walked back down to the river and found it dreamily mist-shrouded, wisps of pale cotton floating above the water and draped over the rounded hills on the other shore. I slipped into the water, still and glassy under the mist, and swam and swam, my ripples the only disturbance in the surface as far as the eye could see.

It was like an Eden, a rebirth, a miracle.