Snow on the shoulder of Mount Hallowell

This morning the snow was very low on Mount Hallowell’s shoulder, the dark trees dusted with white. The weather people tell us the chances of a white Christmas are low but the world seems very festive right now. Frost has a way of making even the commonplace look seasonal — silver-edged branches, rocks, and the cold clean smell of it.

We were in Vancouver for a day or two, meeting our son Brendan for dinner on Thursday night (and how lovely that was, eating beef tenderloin in green peppercorn sauce at Al Porto, drinking the gorgeous Desert Hills Gamay Noir with it), doing some Christmas shopping. I like to shop locally and most of the gifts we’re giving are from businesses here on the Coast, but it was fun to search out a few things that I can’t get here. I like to go to a particular place (which will remain unnamed because it’s a bit dreadful in some ways) for hazelnut oil and other flavourings (I’ve found several different vanilla extracts there, one from Madagascar and one from Tahiti) and when I cruised the kitchen area on Friday morning, I found a tagine for 19.00, reduced from 59.00. I’ve had my eye on tagines for a few years, never actually buying one but hoping to find an inexpensive version to have here in my kitchen. Years ago I saw a shop in Montreal which had a lot of them in the window, all handpainted and all beautiful. But I was travelling with my small suitcase and couldn’t think how I’d get one home. After Forrest and Manon’s wedding in Ottawa, I wanted one even more. They arranged for a favourite restaurant of theirs — Chez Fatima in Gatineau — to do the food for the reception and the tagine sang of Morocco, its spices and bright colours.

So this particular cooking vessel isn’t handpainted and it’s not particularly beautiful — if I’d had a choice, black and orange would be fairly far down the list. But this afternoon I seasoned it by soaking it, oiling it, then putting it in the oven for two hours. And then I dredged chicken in spices, added onion, unsulphured apicots, preserved lemons from the jar of sunlight (see my post for October 27), and green olives and let the whole thing cook for an hour and half. I steamed some couscous and voila! Dinner!

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