A flag at the Manse for Decision Day in Scotland

Scottish flag at the Manse

Raymond hoists the Scottish flag – the St. Andrew’s Cross, or Saltire as it’s officially called – at the Manse this evening. (Note how his shirt matches it. That wasn’t planned.)

Now don’t get the wrong idea about this: just because Raymond and I have a Scottish flag flying from the front of the Manse as you read this (if you’re reading it this evening, Sept. 17, or tomorrow, Sept. 18), it doesn’t mean we’re plumping for the Scottish-independence side in tomorrow’s referendum.

No, we’re just celebrating all things Scottish on a day when the whole world seems to be looking toward that country. And I guess also seizing the chance to fly the Saltire (which I’ve just learned – here – is what it’s officially called), which Raymond bought a while back because of our connection to the very Scots-oriented Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul (Presbyterian) in Montreal. We were married there!

I’ve written before (like here and here and here) about the charge we get about mixing it up with different flags at the Manse on significant national days; and Raymond has been having fun acquiring those flags. (Just wait till Oct. 14, and see if you can guess what the flag is that’ll be flying outside the Manse that day!)

As for Scotland’s independence referendum, it strikes a little close to the bone for us, two longtime Montreal journalists and veterans of the independence wars in Quebec. My prediction (for what it’s worth): the vote will be very close, but in the end the majority of people will decide to stick with the United Kingdom. For better or worse.

But whether the Scots stay or go, their country is a place Raymond and I would love to visit one of these times. We dream of experiencing the raw, stark beauty of the Outer Hebrides and the Orkneys and the Shetlands; the history in Edinburgh and the lively cultural scene in Glasgow; and of course the peaty scotch whisky!

Until then, we offer up our own little celebration of all things Scottish – today at the Manse.

I guess my mum was right.

Electric frying pan at the Manse

Electric frying pans may not be fashionable now the way they were in the middle of the 20th century, but our new model served its primary purpose – warming up tea biscuits – very well indeed. Doesn’t it look chronologically appropriate atop our 1970s Harvest Gold stove?

When I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, one of the small appliances that was in extremely heavy rotation in our kitchen was the electric frying pan. My mum, Lorna Sedgwick, used it for all the things that many people would have used a non-electric frying pan for: that is, frying bacon and eggs, sautéing (canned) mushrooms, and making grilled cheese sandwiches. She also used it to fulfill what is now the primary role of the then-uninvented microwave oven: to warm up leftovers. And finally, she used it for what I have decided was its highest and best purpose, which was to warm up dinner rolls from the bakery or supermarket.

Since I grew into a teenager as snotty and snarky as is the next teenager, I used to make fun of my mum’s use of this old-fashioned appliance. (Which, by the way, she had almost certainly been given as a wedding or shower gift; she and my dad were married in 1959.) I haughtily informed her that bacon, and most other things that one fried or grilled, tasted better when done in a cast-iron frying pan that sat directly on the stove. And also that in using such a pan (or its successor in my culinary life, the non-stick non-electric frying pan) there was no bother about an electrical cord and, besides, it was easier to wash up. But Mum always stoutly defended her electric frying pan, cord and all, and in fact does to this day.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Of course you can. Guess who just recently acquired the very first electric frying pan of their lives? It’s Raymond and me, of course. Which means that once again there is just such a thing in that same Manse kitchen.

Proctor Silex Factory Store

The sign that caught our eye in Picton.

Here’s how it came about – and in telling you the tale I might be doing you a shopping service. When Raymond and I were down in Picton, in neighbouring Prince Edward County, one day late last month, we noticed a sign for a “Proctor-Silex/Hamilton Beach factory outlet.” Well! Picton seemed like an odd place for such a thing, but that made it all the more important that we check it out. And sure enough, there, in an utterly nondescript building with minimal and unenthusiastic signage, was indeed a Proctor-Silex/Hamilton Beach factory outlet! With all kinds of different appliances at pretty decent prices, especially the ones that were on back-to-school special.

Wondering how the heck this happened to be, I asked a pleasant person behind the counter whether the “factory” of the “factory outlet” in the place’s title was also in the building, or at least in Picton. She told me that the appliances were all made elsewhere and imported, but that the Picton operation is the distribution centre for the whole of Canada. Now isn’t that something!

nside the Proctor-Silex factory store

Browsing at the factory outlet, where there are lots of small appliances.

We left with three appliances: an ice-cream maker (electric, that is; not the kind that requires rock salt, a bucket, and endless hours of churning); a coffee maker (to replace our old one, which dripped coffee all over everything when you poured); and – yes – an electric frying pan. They were on special sale, you see. And as I noted to Raymond, we don’t have a microwave, so warming up leftovers is kind of a nuisance.

And way more to the point, there is no better way to warm up dinner rolls than in an electric frying pan. Why? Because the low heat you can set it to, and the lid you place securely on top, allows them to get warm while staying nice and soft – not too crispy, as happens when you put them in the oven, but not too mushy, which is the inevitable result of microwaving them.

And how did I know this wondrous thing about electric frying pans? Because my mum told me, that’s how. Raymond and I put it to its first test this past weekend, warming up some buttermilk tea biscuits (yum) from Madoc‘s Hidden Goldmine Bakery to accompany the corn chowder that I’ve already told you about – the one that was delicious but would have been better had some slab bacon been available to add to it.

Anyway, the tea biscuits were perfect. Raymond was happy. And my mum was right.

The missing ingredient, coming soon (I hope) to a village near us

Corn Chowder

Homemade corn chowder at the Manse, made with fresh local corn – but missing one key ingredient that I have so far been unable to procure locally.

I hope that as you read these words you are also admiring those very appetizing-looking (if I do say so myself) bowls of homemade corn chowder in the photo above. I adore corn chowder, which is of course yet another way (aside from boiling and eating it straight off the cob) to enjoy the bounty of fresh local corn in August and early September. And so I whipped up a batch just last night, following a tried and true recipe by New England chef extraordinaire Jasper White. (You can find his recipe here, and if you like corn and cooking, I wholeheartedly urge you to try it.)

Now, I’ve made this chowder lots of times in the past, but this was the first time I’d done so here at the Manse. All went swimmingly save for one hiccup: the unavailability of what I consider a key ingredient, which is slab (unsliced) bacon. The recipe calls for four ounces of same, which you cut up into one-third-inch dice, sauté till it’s nice and crisp, and cook up along with the corn kernels, chicken stock, diced potatoes, diced red bell pepper, diced onion, some cream, fresh thyme, a couple of spices, and salt and pepper. What’s nice about those chunks of bacon is that they add lovely hits of delicious bacon saltiness (salty baconness?) that play off deliciously against the sweetness of the corn.

Slab bacon

Slab bacon: this is what I’m talking about!

Slab bacon is dead easy to find in Montreal food stores and supermarkets; it’s at every deli counter, and you just ask them to cut the size of piece you want. I used to get it quite regularly to make not only corn chowder but also Julia Child‘s Boeuf Bourguignon and quite a few other things. Not so much in little Madoc, however. I tried at the otherwise well-stocked deli counter at the Foodland store, and also inquired at the excellent One Stop Butcher Shop. No luck.

Now, I suppose longtime readers might be thinking of my self-pitying complaints a while back about being unable to find white-wine vinegar for a potato salad. And perhaps you will remember the conclusion of that yarn, which was a salad made instead with red-wine vinegar (which was readily available) that was absolutely perfect and a bit of a lesson in making do and not getting too fancy about your food. (Also, I should note that the vinegar situation at the Foodland got significantly more interesting and varied after the appearance of that post, which I noted here, and I no longer have any vinegar worries at all.)

And yes, I did manage to make last night’s chowder with a substitute, which was a package of Schneider’s extra-thick bacon. But I do have to say that it was less of a success than the red-wine-vinegar potato salad had been; I really missed those nice big crispy bacon chunks in the chowder. I am hoping that in future my plea for slab bacon might result in its appearance at the One Stop.

There are other food-related things Raymond and I have had to get used to not having readily available since our move to Queensborough from Montreal: fresh (i.e. local and unfrozen) lamb and veal, for instance; watercress for my favourite green salad; and oh, lord, real baguettes and croissants would be so nice once in a while…

But as I was doing my grocery shopping and other errands in Madoc on Saturday, even after having ascertained that no slab bacon was going to be procured, I found myself smiling and thinking how very, very much I like living here. Maybe it was the always-super-friendly service from the guys at the One Stop as we picked up some of their excellent breakfast sausages; or the warm feeling one gets when emerging from the wonderful Hidden Goldmine Bakery with an armful of cookies and tea biscuits and a small apple pie for good measure; or maybe it was Russell, who works at the Foodland and is always on hand with a hearty greeting for everyone. At any rate, I felt thoroughly at home and happy here in our little north-of-7 corner of the world, and realized that in exchange I probably can live without slab bacon. For a while, at least.

Duz glasses and Duz: my life is now complete.

Duz glasses at the Manse

I am pretty proud of this collection: vintage box of Duz detergent; vintage red dial phone (still fully operational); Harvest Gold clothes dryer (also operational, though probably not very energy-efficient); and – the most recent addition – two tumblers (in their original boxes, and still coated with a thin later of detergent dust) that once upon a time, probably a half-century ago, were “free gifts” inside Duz boxes.

Would you like to know what gets you page views if you write a blog? I’ll tell you what gets you page views. It is a post headlined “When towels came in detergent boxes,” that’s what.

Very rarely does a day go by without at least one person, somewhere in this wide world of ours, paying a visit to Meanwhile, at the Manse because that person had entered into Google the search terms “towels in detergent box” or “Duz detergent towels,” or “things that came in Duz boxes,” or some variation. Who knew that so many people would be interested in reading about the days when towels – and, more to the point for tonight’s post, other good stuff, like drinking glasses – came as a “free gift” inside boxes of laundry detergent?

I wrote the post headlined “When towels came in detergent boxes” more than a year and a half ago. It was a little paean to those simpler days when things like a free towel made consumers (fancy name for “housewives”) more likely to buy a certain kind of laundry detergent. And when the bathroom of every household you might go into had very familiar hand and/or bath towels – familiar because they, like the towels in the bathroom at your own house, had emerged from a box of detergent.

Anyway. In writing that January 2013 post I searched for a vintage TV ad about getting a free towel in the Duz, unfortunately in vain. But what I did find, and link to there, was an ad about free drinking glasses you could get in Duz. So given that, and also given how popular that year-and-a-half-old post continues to be, perhaps you will be able to imagine my delight when, this past summer, I came upon some vintage Duz drinking glasses for sale in an antiques emporium. Wow!

One of the two boxes had been opened, so that you could pull out the glass and examine it. (It’s brownish and kind of ugly but, endearingly, still bears a thin coating of laundry powder.) The other box was pristine – never opened, in all the years (it would have to be at least 50) since it had been packed into the Duz. They cost $2 (U.S.) each. Of course I had to have them.

And now they sit proudly on our almost-as-vintage Harvest Gold clothes dryer here in the kitchen of the Manse. Right in front of a vintage box of Duz that our friend and former colleague Gordon Beck (co-proprietor of a wonderful gallery/emporium in beautiful Brockville, Ont.) generously donated to the Manse’s growing collection of  relatively useless but nonetheless interesting midcentury stuff. And right beside our vintage red (it’s the hot line, you know), fully functional rotary-dial phone.

The lot of them make me smile every time I look at them. And hey, internet: I’ve just given you another post about when free gifts came in detergent boxes. You’re welcome!

Here be eagles.

Bald eagle

A bald eagle in flight, looking very much like the one I chanced upon this week on the road home to Queensborough. What a beautiful, majestic thing to see! (Photo from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s excellent All About Birds website)

Have you ever seen a bald eagle in the wild? In flight? Its huge wingspan and the kind of galumphing grace with which those broad and heavy wings move through the air?

Well, I never had. Until Raymond and I moved to Queensborough.

When I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, we were taught in school that the bald eagle was the national symbol of the United States, and that it was also a species on the verge of extinction. And even though I now know (in my logical brain) that the bald eagle has been saved from extinction and is doing quite well, it was still a shock and a thrill the first time one suddenly flew across my field of vision here in Hastings County. That was last spring, on a sunny and warm afternoon when I was driving home to the Manse from work and taking the back roads, Tannery Road and then Harts Road, between Madoc and Queensborough. It was on Harts Road, as I was watching and ruminating vaguely about the cloud of dust that the car was kicking up on the newly gravelled roadbed, that the bald eagle appeared, flying low and slowly over the road right in front of me. And I remember thinking, “Oh my lord – was that a bald eagle?” And it was.

I saw another one – or maybe it was the same one – at the start of this week, also as I was driving home from work. For who knows what reason there’s been a lot of roadkill on the local highways recently, porcupines and raccoons and skunks. And as I came over the lip of a hill heading north from Madoc on Cooper Road – just about three-quarters of a mile east of where I’d seen the eagle on Harts Road – I spotted a large bird nibbling on some of that carrion bounty. As my car approached, the bird had to move for its own preservation; and as the bird rose up, majestically, right in front of me, I realized once again that it was a bald eagle.

And you know, to live in a place where bald eagles sometimes rise and fly majestically right in front of you – that is something, I think. Really something.

A friendly face from the past: Kel Kincaid of the Madoc IGA

Kel Kincaid in the Toronto Star

Longtime readers might remember that I’ve been known to reminisce about Kincaid Bros. IGA in Madoc. Back when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and ’70s at the Manse here in the hamlet of Queensborough, Madoc was “town” – the big place. And Kincaid Bros. was a great big shiny modern supermarket compared to Queensborough’s two old-fashioned general stores – Bobbie’s and McMurray’s – where we bought most of our groceries, our gasoline, and lots of other stuff, ranging from penny candy to rubber boots.

Because my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, taught for many years at Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc, she did do a fair bit of shopping at Kincaid Bros. At the end of a long day of teaching, that’s where she’d stop in for wieners and beans or hamburger and the other essentials (remember the tasteless tomatoes from Mexico, the only tomatoes you could get in those days when it wasn’t August, that came three to a pack in a green cardboard base covered with Saran Wrap?) that she needed to make supper when she got back home to the Manse. (Because, you know, despite the fact that she taught full-time and had four small kids to deal with, of course it was her job to make dinner. Always. Those were the days, my friend.)

These days, when I go into the wondrous Hidden Goldmine Bakery in Madoc, which is housed in the building where Kincaid Bros. IGA was, I am stunned to think that the same relatively modest space housed what we thought of as a big supermarket – complete with aisles and a meat counter and a produce counter and checkout counters with a bunch of cashiers. But hey, everything was smaller and more modest back then. And I am not at all sure that that was a bad thing.

Anyway: the face of Kincaid Bros. in my memory (and, I think, in the memory of many other people) was Kel (short for Kelvin) Kincaid, who always seemed to be front and centre in the store with a friendly smile and a helpful presence. In a post here, I lamented the fact that the painted plywood figure of a grandfatherly grocer who looked a lot like Kel Kincaid was no longer adorning the side of the building where Hidden Goldmine now is. (After putting that post up, I received the reassuring news that, while “Kel” is no longer up there on the side of the building, he is safely in storage.)

So you might imagine how tickled I was today to receive in the old inbox the image that’s at the top of this post. It came from Keith Kincaid – fellow journalist, and chronicler of the Kincaids of central Hastings County, as I wrote here; and thank you, Keith! – and it shows a page from no less than the mighty Toronto Star in 1972 (back when the Toronto Star was really mighty) in which none other than Kel Kincaid of “Kincaid IGA, Madoc, Ont.” is “Mr. IGA.”

And I only have this to say: it takes me back to happier times and makes me feel better about the world in general to see Kel Kincaid’s smiling face and bow tie once more. (And to see those tasteless Mexican tomatoes on sale, 3 for 99¢!) For all those who, like me, remember Kincaid Bros. IGA – I hope it has the same happy effect on you.

Should we do it again next year?

St. Andrew's on Historic Queensborough Day

It was terrific to see the good turnout of local folks and visitors from afar at historic St. Andrew’s United Church at the start of  Historic Queensborough Day.

I thought it might be fitting to end my string of Historic Queensborough Day-themed posts with some thoughts about repeating the event in future years. Now, I should stress that this idea didn’t come from me; it was something that numerous people suggested during the celebrations here in our little village last Sunday. “I’d come again, and bring other people,” was something I heard more than once. And: “I know someone who would love to come to this.” And so on.

While the volunteers who helped out that day, some of whom (like me) are perhaps still recovering from all the excitement and hard work, probably feel a bit wary about promising a repeat event quite so soon after the first one, there certainly have been some good ideas tossed out for a second Historic Queensborough Day. Are you interested? Well then, I’ll tell you:

  • First off, as Anne Barry of the Queensborough Beautification Committee noted during Sunday’s ceremonies – which included recognition of the great work that her committee has been doing – there are plans in the works for more signage (probably with landscaping/flowers attached) and other projects at entrances to the village. So that would be a lovely thing to recognize.
  • Some of the visitors Sunday said they’d like to be able to tour a few of the historic homes in the area. I know that house tours can be extremely popular – the famous and longstanding one in Port Hope, Ont., being a good example – so that might well be something to think about. (Mind you, the Manse is unlikely to be one of the tour stops, unless this so-called renovation that Raymond and I are supposedly undertaking suddenly gets moved into high gear.) One excellent suggestion I received today was that the tour include “the old stores, churches, mill and maybe a few houses.” Now wouldn’t that be great?
  • As I mentioned in an earlier post, the hosts at the two splendid gardens that were part of this year’s event both said they wished it had been held earlier in the summer, when gardens are in full bloom. Maybe an earlier event with more gardens?
  • As I’ve also written before, Queensborough and its views and buildings have a long history of being subjects for painters, photographers and other artists. In addition, we are (and have been through the years) blessed with an abundance of talented people who do outstanding wood carving, photography, painting, quilt-making, and so on. Some sort of focus on Queensborough and the visual arts, past and present, could be both interesting and beautiful – and good publicity for local artists and artisans.
  • And what about music? One reader suggested a concert in the park (presumably the pretty park area down by the Black RIver), and wouldn’t that be nice?
  • We’d have to have the horse-and-wagon rides again. People loved them – and thanks once again to Bruce and Barb Gordon for providing them. I also found myself reminiscing during the day about pony rides that used to be a prime attraction for kids like me once upon a time (when I was growing up here) at strawberry socials at St. Andrew’s United Church. And that got me thinking that pony rides and/or other events just for kids would be a fun thing to offer.

We’ve also had a few suggestions for making things more fun for everyone at future events:

  • Having a special “sneak preview” of the historical displays the evening before the event for the volunteers, including the owners of the gardens, who will be working hard on the day itself. Maybe a wine and cheese reception would be nice.
  • Ensuring there’s a guest book at the various events, where visitors can leave not only their names and where they come from but also their contact information if they’d like to know more about Queensborough or hear about future events.
  • Have name tags for people who are longtime residents, or descendants of longtime or early residents, so that other visitors will know them and can ask questions and share stories and knowledge.
Lineup for burgers

The lineup for barbecued burgers and hot dogs was really, really long, but people were patient and chatted happily about Queensborough as they waited. This photo, by the way, is one of a bunch of very nice ones of Historic Queensborough Day taken by photographer Dave deLang; you can find more on the queensborough.ca website by clicking on Home and then Event Calendar – or just click here. And thanks, Dave!

  • And possibly most importantly of all: buy more food to barbecue! Raymond had to run into Madoc not once but twice on Sunday to replenish supplies, even though the planning committee had bought what we thought was lots and lots of food. It sure is a good problem to have, to end up with way more people in attendance (and chowing down on burgers) than had been expected.

So what do you think, people? Should we do it again? Would you come if we did? Would you (gulp) volunteer to help out? Please post your comments and thoughts!

Tonight I have a postscript: As I write this, I am feeling very badly because Raymond and I have inadvertently missed another local social event, a roast-beef dinner being held by the Cooper-Rimington Women’s Institute in the nearby hamlet of Cooper. We had heard about the event last weekend, had had every intention of attending to enjoy a delicious meal and to support the Cooper community – and managed, in the past few busy days, to forget about it until it was too late. I’ve already had glowing reports from some Queensborough folks who did attend, and I just wanted to say to Cooper readers: our apologies, and please let me know about the next event. I promise to publicize it here, and to be on hand myself to enjoy it!