We arrived for a preliminary visit at the farm in June 2010, a month ahead of our move-in date. Over-anxious? Eager? Yes, both, but mostly we came early to help my aging parents move out — into a bungalow in a nearby town — and to paint the old farmhouse we were moving into.
I drove from Calgary with my eldest son and my miniature schnauzer. Dave drove from Regina. We all stayed across the road from my parents’ farm, with Ken and Sharon, already friends, and destined to become even closer once we actually settled. A few days passed doing the hard work of getting my parents established in what had been my grandparents’ “town house.” Then we cleaned the old farmhouse, and we bought paint; sunny yellow, to magnify the high prairie light, with red for trim. I’d learn soon enough that such a red required multiple coats to get it just right.
I stashed the cooler I’d hauled along while Dave called in the troops — writers and artists he’d met and maintained friendships with since his days as Writer in Residence at the Saskatoon Public Library. They were people I’d met already too, at readings, and at writing retreats and workshops. Together we’d built quinzhees, shared meals, read early drafts of new work, made music. I’d been welcomed into the community. So it felt OK to invite them to a work bee that included home cooking.
The day of, most of the gang arrived, but one carful of city friends got lost en route and called from somewhere else, they weren’t sure where. But they were at a corner, and could see the road signs, so I explained the ups and downs of rural roads — township and range, and how to interpret their numbering. Eventually they arrived, cheerful and still game to paint. I told them about the countless times I’d arrived with a carful too — kids, cats, dogs — from Calgary, to visit the parents, invariably late in the afternoon or evening as the light was fading, but back in pre-cellphone days, and before road signs numbered each intersection, when all I had to guide me were the crossing points of the hydro line across the south field and a dimly remembered sense of rightness — surely this must be the right road? Sometimes it was, sometimes not. Once I’d driven in circles at moonrise with hungry kids and wailing kittens distracting my highway-fogged brain almost past bearing, hoping to stumble across a stretch of road I recognized, an intersection, a length of fence. Fortunately, I’d finally looked up and found the hydro lines, in the right field, at the right fence, only a few minutes from waiting grandparents.
On our painting date, our friends finally found us, and we spent two days painting the house together. I cranked up my parents’ barbecue, left behind for the occasion, and fed us all.
My fallback salad dressing then, as now, was a vinaigrette-style caesar dressing. After we cleaned the paintbrushes, I spooned it over salad greens and a glorious mishmash of grilled vegetables, sausages, chicken thighs, salmon and steaks. During this past winter, I’ve used the same dressing on roasted cauliflower, roasted brussels sprouts, roasted squash, roasted onions, roasted peppers, roasted asparagus, roasted eggplant, and occasionally on a variety of salad greens. It feeds artists, writers and farmers with equally open-handed generosity on all manner of food, so make lots. First we eat, then we store the extras in the fridge for tomorrow, and prepare for spring.
Dee’s Caesar Salad Dressing
When you make your caesar, add fruit in season — orange segments and pomegranate seeds in winter; watermelon and grapes in summer. Serve on salad greens to suit, add grilled or roasted vegetables, grilled salmon, scallops, steelhead, flank steak, or chicken thighs. Add grated cheese and your choice of croutons. My son likes to add one soft-boiled egg per person to the salad plates. Makes about 1 litre, and keeps well in the fridge. Serves a crowd.
- 1 tbsp. grainy Sask. or Dijon mustard
- 1 head garlic, minced
- 1 3-oz. tin anchovies (and oil), mashed or puréed
- 1/3 c. capers, chopped
- 4 tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 c. olive oil (or a mix of sunflower and olive)
- 2-4 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce 8 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. hot chili paste
Combine the mustard, garlic, anchovies, capers and lemon juice. Whisk in the oil, stir in the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust the balance to suit your palate; it should be sharp and pungent for best results.