Coming together

A few weeks ago, a colleague and friend who lives in Toronto emailed to say that she and her parents (who live in Montreal and whom she hadn’t seen since before the pandemic) were thinking about meeting up in Kingston for a visit. Neither she nor her parents felt comfortable making what would have to be an overnight trip to visit the other, so they had decided to meet up halfway. Were there any parks that I could recommend? Would there be clean and open public washrooms? Somewhere to sit in the shade?

I spent a few minutes thinking about Kingston parks and conservation areas. While there are some pleasant spots here, nothing felt quite right, and I could not get consistent information about the state or availability of public washrooms.

Then, it occurred to me: why not invite them to have their visit in our backyard? It offers privacy, thanks to a tall cedar hedge on one side and decent fencing on the others. It has both sun and shade, the latter from the leaves of a giant maple tree. My partner’s flower and vegetable gardens are beautiful, as are the many giant pots of flowering plants that hang over and surround the deck. We have lots of comfortable chairs. There is a bathroom close to the back door. And, in the case of last-minute bad weather, our sunroom is big enough for physically distanced visiting.

Once I convinced my friend that it would be no hardship for us to be banished from the sunroom and yard for a few hours, we had a plan. We blocked off a few possible days to allow for weather issues, and confirmed the visit the evening before.

Pandemic-style hostess gift

The visit happened last week. My friend arrived first, so we had the opportunity for an in-person visit before her parents arrived. My partner and I stuck around long enough to meet her parents and then retired to the house to get on with our day.

We were given lovely gifts: two bottles of wine and a set of beautiful COVID-19 masks made by my friend’s mother. Occasionally, bits of conversation wafted through the open windows, but since neither of us speaks French, we had no concerns about intruding on their privacy.

After some visiting, a picnic lunch (which they brought), a short walk around the neighbourhood and trips to the bathroom, they all departed by mid-afternoon.

It was such a simple thing for us to do, yet so helpful to them that it made me think of a few lines from Ian Hamilton’s The Diamond Queen of Singapore., which I read recently The main character, Ava Lee, recalls some advice provided by her former mentor, Uncle:

“You always have to remember, a favour however small, is always far more significant to the person getting it than to the one giving it. So never hesitate to give, but do it without asking for anything in return.”

If you can’t stand the heat . . .

While it is unlikely that Harry Truman was thinking about cooking when he coined his now infamous phrase, it has come into my mind more than occasionally over the seemingly never-ending heat and humidity wave this summer. Much as I enjoy preparing food, it has been challenging coming up with interesting meals that don’t require stovetop or oven use.

We have been eating a lot of main course salads. One of our new favourites is what I call Mediterranean Salad. It requires a few items that may not be on your pantry shelf or in your fridge or your garden, but they are all available at any decent grocery store, and the salad itself takes almost no time to put together.

Here’s what you do to make enough for two hungry people:

Slice one package halloumi cheese thinly, then fry in hot olive oil until browned, turning once so both sides brown. Set aside on paper towels to drain. (Keep an eye on it while it is browning, because the cheese can overcook quickly.)

And that is all the cooking you have to do – the rest is a matter of assembly.

Place 8 cups mixed salad greens (arugula, lettuces, kale, spinach) in a large salad bowl. Add whichever of the following ingredients appeal to you: halved green and/or black olives, sliced Lebanese cucumbers, halved cherry tomatoes or sliced regular tomatoes, thinly sliced purple onion, chopped pickled artichokes, roasted red pepper (from the store or roasted yourself) and toasted pine nuts (I toast a big batch of pine nuts from time to time and keep them in the fridge to have at hand when I need them).

Toss well. Dress with a simple vinaigrette: 2-1 parts olive oil and a light vinegar (I have been using a pear cranberry balsamic vinegar) mixed with a bit of Dijon mustard and pomegranate molasses. Place halloumi on top.

(If you want to make enough to have leftovers, keep the dressing on the side, so the salad is still fresh and crunchy the next day.)

Serve with Mediterranean flatbread and a chilled rose wine and imagine yourself sitting on a Greek Island staring at the sea.

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