Food probably never before seen at the Manse

The lobster goes into the pot

What is going on in this photo, you ask? Well, people, I’ll tell you: this is a live lobster going into the pot on the Manse’s vintage Harvest Gold stove. Which I am pretty sure is a first.

A while back I did a post about one of my favourite vegetables, artichokes, and speculated that when Raymond and I enjoyed some, freshly steamed, here at the Manse, it was very probably the first time such a thing had ever been consumed in this 126-year-old rural minister’s house. Well, there have been a few more probable firsts on the food front since then. And I have the photographic evidence!

Had someone told me when I was a kid growing up here that one day I would be eating fresh raw oysters in this very same place, I suspect I would have been hornswoggled. But here they are (and they were delicious):


A dozen Malpeques, bought at the Metro supermarket in Belleville (and opened by Raymond). I hope you note our Blue Heaven plates!

And then there was the cheese fondue, a 1970s fad in North America that never caught on (back then) here at the Manse. And if you still think of cheese fondue as merely a 1970s fad, well, I just don’t care, because it’s the best way I can think of to eat a lot of bread and melted cheese all at once. (Well, and broccoli. For Raymond.) I’m afraid I have to tell you that the bread, a proper baguette from Première Moisson, and the cheese (raw-milk Gruyère and Emmenthal) all came from Montreal, and another time I’ll rant about the impossibility of getting a good baguette and good cheese (other than cheddar) in central Hastings County – and, for that matter, in much of Ontario.

Cheese fondue

And then there was the pizza. But not just any pizza: it was Raymond’s (Newly) Famous Pizza, on awesome homemade crust that came from a recipe in from the New York Times‘s Sam Sifton (it’s here, and here is the accompanying article; try it, and you’ll thank me!) and was made with 00 flour – very fine Italian flour that neither of us had ever heard of before and that, you guessed it, was obtained in Montreal. (You can use regular flour instead.) With the bacon, onions and mushrooms (and of course cheese) on top (not to mention a glass of chunky Italian wine), it was absolutely delicious:

Homemade pizza

And finally – the lobsters. Perhaps you’ll recall that in my post this week about East Coast mystery writer (and our friend) Hilary MacLeod speaking at the Tweed Public Library Thursday evening (May 1, 7 p.m., and you’re invited!), appropriately themed refreshments would be served. Well, among those refreshments will be lobster salad on crackers, yum! Which Raymond has made thanks to these three sea creatures giving up their lives for a good cause:

Lobsters in the sink

Live lobsters and raw oysters and cheese fondue and 00-flour pizza at the Manse, wow. Culinary craziness!

A lovely surprise to start the day

Pussy willows

Look what appeared on the Manse’s front porch this morning!

You know, people are so nice here in Queensborough. I’ve said it many times before, but things just keep happening that make me say it again.

This morning, for instance. I was bustling out the door at about 7:30, on my way to work, appreciating the brief bit of sunshine we were getting before what apparently will be many days of endless rain, when suddenly I noticed something on the little table that’s on our front porch. A cheerful bright pink box of flowers! With pussy willows!

I’ve always loved pussy willows. I remember how when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, I used to try to spot them growing by the side of the country roads around and about. How did someone know that?

And who is that someone who quietly delivered this lovely surprise to our front porch? I have a suspicion, but I very deliberately haven’t looked into it before writing this. I rather like sharing the story before I have an answer to the mystery.

Such a delightful mystery! Thank you so much, whoever you are!

It’s coming-events time again, and there’s good stuff ahead

Queensborough Pancake BreakfastI know that QueensboroughMadocTweed-area readers can learn about local coming events in our weekly newspapers, but whenever there’s something particularly good coming up, I think of the readers who live further afield who might be interested in attending. And so, everyone, here’s the latest round of Things You Should Do in Queensborough and Area, by Katherine Sedgwick.

Hilary MacLeod at the Tweed LibraryFirst up: an evening with mystery writer Hilary MacLeod at the Tweed Public Library this coming Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. This is another in the splendid Writers’ Series hosted by the Friends of the Tweed Library. (I was extraordinarily honoured to be the guest speaker at the April Writers’ Series instalment.) Hilary has written four books (and is working on a fifth) in the Shores mystery series, set in a fictional East Coast fishing village that kind of has to remind you of Prince Edward Island, where she lives when she is not in her other home in Prince Edward County. (Talk about a charmed existence.) The first in the series, Revenge of the Lobster Lover, won the 2011 CBC Bookie Award for Best Mystery, and Hilary’s carried on with the fishy theme in the followup books Mind Over Mussels, All is Clam (a Christmas mystery) and Something Fishy. (The work in progress is called Bodies and Sole.)

Hilary also happens to be a friend of Raymond and me; she and Raymond were colleagues in the journalism biz in Montreal many years ago, and in more recent years (until her retirement to write first-rate mystery novels) she was a very highly regarded teacher in the journalism program at Loyalist College – where I now teach. Connections everywhere! So we’ll of course be on hand to hear Hilary speak on Thursday evening. The Tweed Public Library is at 230 Metcalf St., Tweed. Appropriately themed refreshments will be served!

Queensborough Pancake Breakfast

Queensborough Community Centre

The historic Queensborough schoolhouse is now the community centre, where pancakes with all the fixings will be served this Sunday.

And speaking of food: the Queensborough Pancake Breakfast is this weekend! People, you could not ask for a better (or more delicious) way to spend a Sunday morning than to drop in to the Queensborough Community Centre (our historic 1901 one-room schoolhouse) between 8 a.m. and noon this Sunday, May 4. As you can see from the menu on this flyer, which arrived in local mailboxes today, you will be getting an awesome breakfast at a great price – and a chance to rub elbows with le tout Queensborough (as they say in France).

And hey – if you come early and are so inclined, you’re invited to join us around the corner and up the road (812 Bosley Rd. to be precise, just up from the Manse) for the Sunday service at St. Andrew’s United Church at 11 a.m. You could make it a morning of nourishment for both body and soul – and spend some time in not one but two of Queensborough’s historic buildings.

And I can sincerely say that for all of the above – I hope to see you there!

Note to self: you’re a dope for not having long underwear

Our hardy band

Here are some members of our hardy band of volunteers, setting up and getting ready to feed close to a hundred hungry Black River kayakers. Can you tell it was raw and cold out there?

Today was a big one in Queensborough, Day 1 of the two-day Marmora Area Canoe and Kayak Festival (Mackfest for short) that sees dozens and dozens of hardy kayakers test their mettle against the fast-flowing Black River and end up in the centre of our hamlet. It’s a fun and colourful annual spectacle for those of us who live here – not to mention for the kayakers, many of whom come from a long way away to take part.

For many of us Queensborough “regulars,” Mackfest means it’s time to help out with Treats on the Black River. Volunteers gather on the spacious lawns of Elaine and Lud Kapusta’s historic house at the heart of town and serve up barbecued burgers and hot dogs, hot chocolate, coffee and cold drinks, and slices of pie for as far as the eye can see to those cold and famished kayakers as they emerge from the water. The money made from food sales goes to support the Queensborough Community Centre and its many activities.

Today was my first time taking part as a full-time resident of Queensborough, and it was a fun, if chilly, experience. The best part was the heartfelt thanks the kayakers offered for the great food and the warmth of the fire – a nice welcome for them after their labours. They were so pleasant and appreciative, and their thanks made you feel just great. I want to show you some photos I took of the day’s activity – but first I have to tell you about an important lesson I learned today. Which is: if you live in the country, you have to have long underwear.

I had made a note to self after a brief stay at last year’s Mackfest in Queensborough about the need for long underwear – and then of course had completely forgotten about it. Really, never in my life (before today) had I seriously considered purchasing a pair of what I believe are still called long johns. I am not remotely a winter-sports enthusiast, and do my best to stay indoors where it’s warm throughout the cold months. My father, the minister/farmer/woodlot manager and world’s hardest worker, was a big believer in long underwear – as he had to be, working outside as he did for extraordinarily long hours in all weather. But me? I’m a big softy.

long underwear

Boy, did I ever near a pair of these today! (Photo from

So I felt like a dope today when I showed up where the volunteers were setting up. I was bundled reasonably well (layers, you know) on top, but clad only in a thin pair of trousers on the bottom. “I hope you’ve got your long underwear on!” joked our friend and neighbour John. “Ummm…,” said I – “Don’t own any.” “Well you’d better put on a pair of pyjama bottoms underneath then,” advised John. And you know what? Since I was already getting cold, and I’d just got there, I went straight home and did exactly as he suggested. I pulled out a pair of garish plaid flannel PJ bottoms, put ’em on under my trousers, and felt a thousand times better as soon as I re-emerged into the raw, windy, damp day. And let me tell you, that extra layer served me well. So: note to self (and any other city slickers who may be listening): if you’re going to spend time in the country, do yourself a favour and get yourself some long underwear. My quick online research shows that they sell it at Sears, Mark’s and L.L. Bean, among others – there’s just no excuse!

Okay, with that lesson learned, let’s move on to a little slide show of the day’s activity. And people, keep in mind that Mackfest continues tomorrow (Sunday), with lots more kayakers expected. Come on down, or over, to Queensborough, take in the spectacle under what are expected to be warmer and sunnier skies – and stop in for the best barbecued hamburger you’ll ever taste. Oh, and did I mention the pie?

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The Rock Acres Peace Festival musical mystery is solved

Rock Acres Peace Festival poster

Thanks to reporter Brett Mann and the Central Hastings News (and Tweed‘s excellent By the Way Café, whose owner, Lisa Ford, owns the poster), the world can see this original poster advertising Queensborough’s Rock Acres Peace festival. Do you recognize any of the names of those early-70s bands? (Photo courtesy of Brett Mann/Central Hastings News)

I have good news for all of you who remember, or have an interest in, Queensborough‘s one and only (to date) rock festival, the August 1971 Rock Acres Peace Festival. I’ve written about that momentous event several times before (notably here, but if you click on the Rock Acres Peace Festival category that you’ll find on the right-hand side of the home page of this blog, you’ll find all the other posts as well). However, one very important bit of information about Rock Acres has – until now – remained elusive: what bands played at our rock festival? It seems like the music is one thing that people who remember the festival don’t really remember all that well. Until now, pretty much the best information I’d been able to come up with was that The Stampeders were among the headliners.

But that has all changed, thanks to an excellent article in this week’s Central Hastings News by Tweed-area reporter Brett Mann. Brett was on hand when I spoke as part of the Friends of the Tweed Library Writers’ Series early this month, and had asked me some questions about Rock Acres. He told me he’d heard mention of it, but had always thought it was more myth or legend than actual event; I was pleased to assure him (and others in the audience who were in Queensborough at the time happily backed me up) that the Rock Acres Peace Festival had most definitely, really, truly happened.

Well, Brett took that information and decided to do some digging of his own, and the result is the aforementioned article, which you can read right here. He’s found two people who were connected with the festival (an organizer and a chap hired on security), and they have some very interesting memories to share.

But for me, the absolute best part was the photo of the Rock Acres poster that accompanied the article. Because: not only is it a great artifact in and of itself, but it names the bands. People, at last we have a clue to the soundtrack of Rock Acres!

Now, I wonder whether all the bands listed on the poster actually appeared, and at this late date we may never know. But I have to assume that some, if not most, of them did, and so this is very excellent information.

Do you recognize any of the band names? Some are familiar to me: April Wine and The Stampeders, of course, but also Crowbar, Edward Bear, maybe Fludd, and maybe Creed. And I presume “Major Hooples” is Major Hoople’s Boarding House – not to be confused with the endlessly unfunny ancient comic strip of a similar name, or with the British band Mott the Hoople. But Allister? United Power? Piledriver? Spriggs and Bringle? I’m afraid you’d have to hum me a few more bars. Quite a few, in fact. Anyone else recognize these names?

But whether the bands are still familiar or lost to midcentury musical history, how utterly fantastic to have that list! Excellent investigative work, Brett!

Sieste the cat, queen of all she surveys

Sieste explores 1

“I am the cat who walks by (her)self, and all places are alike to me.” That’s from Rudyard Kipling (whose Just So Story was actually about a male cat). Doesn’t Sieste look like she subscribes to that line of thinking one hundred per cent as she explores the Manse’s yard?

It’s quite something for our cat, Sieste, to have a great big yard to call her own. Until last fall, when we moved to the Manse and (to steal a joke from Stephen Leacock) she decided to come along, the extent of her outdoor explorations were occasional tentative forays a few feet into the back alley behind our Montreal home. And since it was well into fall when we moved here to Queensborough, and that fall was followed by such a long, brutal winter, she still had not spent much time exploring her new domain until very recently.

But now that the good weather has arrived, Sieste is quite interested in her new outdoor surroundings. I spent much of today doing yard work – raking up the usual winter detritus from the Manse’s expansive lawn. (I always forget how expansive it is until I have to start raking it all.) And Sieste was just such a good helper.

Okay, I’m totally lying. She didn’t help a bit. But she had a great time exploring the Manse property and watching me work. Supervising, I guess you would say. And somebody has to supervise.

Here is Sieste the elderly, deaf (but still curious) cat pacing and checking out the acreage:

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And here is what an elderly, deaf cat looks like after a hard day of outdoor supervision:

Sieste is sleepy

That is what I call a well-deserved rest.

Test your rural roots: Do you know what this is?

Milk shed

Okay, quick now: what is this? Do you know?

I came upon what you see in the photo above on a lovely, relaxing afternoon drive through central Hastings County (north-northeast from Stirling on the backroads up to Highway 62 just south of Madoc) a week ago. Of course its rustic prettiness caught my eye, which is one reason why I decided to take a picture. But the thing that really stopped me in my tracks was the realization that people passing by would either know immediately what it was, or… not have a clue. And the difference between whether you know and recognize it, or don’t, is just this: either you grew up in a rural area in a certain time (sometime before the middle 1960s), or – you didn’t.

So do you know what it is?

If you don’t, I will tell you. Because I do.

It is a milk shed. Or at least, I think that’s the technical name for it. Truth be told, milk sheds were no longer in use by the time I was growing up in rural Hastings County in the mid-1960s. But one saw them a lot, and even as a small child I knew what they were. It was the place where dairy farmers left their big milk cans full of fresh milk for the truck (cart?) to come by, pick them up, and take them to the local cheese factory. (This was of course before the big refrigerated tanker trucks that one sees on the roads of Hastings County and other rural areas now, operated under the auspices of the Ontario Milk Marketing Board [oops, sorry, now called the “Dairy Farmers of Ontario,” marketing boards having become rather controversial in recent years], travelling from farm to farm to pick up the fresh milk.) See how the platform in front is about three to four feet off the ground? That’s so that the full milk cans were at the level of the wagon/cart/truck that was collecting them. I believe that as the full cans were picked up, empty ones would be dropped off.

And the reason for the milk shed having a roof over it would have been to protect the product from getting too much sun and heat.

It is a rustic method of sending raw materials to be processed, but from everything I’ve heard, it worked perfectly well. And I think it is just lovely that there are still some of those old sheds around to remind us of those simpler times.

And when they got there, it was spring.

Green grass, red truck

Green grass, red truck, blue sky. The sun is out and spring has arrived at the Manse!

Day lilies by the garage

The day lilies are showing their usual profusion, down in some nice rich soil behind our little garage.

Raymond and I have just returned to the Manse after spending a long Easter weekend in Montreal. I’ll tell you another time how dazzled I was by the sights and sounds – and tastes! – of the big city after a very long, cold, trying winter here in quiet little Queensborough. But oh, it is good to be back home at the Manse today.

And what was especially nice was that, after our long drive through cloud and drizzle and occasional heavy rain, the sky when we got to Queensborough was bright blue, and the sun was shining.

It was spring at the Manse.

Something poking up

Here is something poking up in the flower garden. Yay!

The grass in our yard has suddenly turned bright green; there are buds on the trees; day lilies are poking up down by the garage, and the garden is showing signs of life.

Spring is a very nice thing to come home to.

Enjoying the social scene

OHara Mill auction

Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith (right) was the guest auctioneer. Unfortunately for us, that ever-so-cute miniature tractor went for rather more than we could afford.

Before this spring rolls any further along, I thought I would tell you briefly about a pleasant evening Raymond and I spent recently in support of a good cause, the O’Hara Mill Homestead and Conservation Area. That’s a place in Madoc Township where there are historic buildings to explore, restored farm machinery and implements in full working order, and lots of gardens and trails to walk through and enjoy. (I wrote about a Christmas event at O’Hara’s here.) It’s been a popular place since I was a little kid growing up at the Manse, when we would go on school excursions to O’Hara’s. Today a hard-working group of volunteers raises the money and does the work to keep the operation running very smoothly indeed, and a couple of weeks ago these volunteers held a fundraising dinner and auction at the Madoc Township Recreational Hall.

Raymond and I joined a good-sized Queensborough contingent at the event and had a thoroughly nice time. A humdinger of a roast-beef dinner was served (they really know how to do roast-beef dinners in these parts; in this case we had the women of the Harts-Riggs Women’s Institute to thank for the bounty and deliciousness), but I have to confess that the real highlight of the evening for us was the auction stuff. As regular readers know well, we love auctions!

This was primarily a silent auction, with the walls of the rec centre lined with all kinds of goods that had been donated for the cause. It was fun doing the rounds, checking out the merchandise on offer and seeing whether your own most recent pencilled-in bid was holding up or had been bested. Needless to say, after a glass of wine (or maybe two), the item that you’d once vaguely thought you might like becomes something you absolutely have to have, and so your bidding gets higher and higher and (as others compete with you for it) – but the money is of course all for a good cause.

Mini New Holland tractor

It would have been perfect for Henry!

There was also a live auction, with our local MPP, Todd Smith, serving as the amateur auctioneer. He’s not likely to give Boyd Sullivan a run for his money any time soon, but he was a good-humoured host and everyone had a fine time. Raymond and I were only a bit sorry to see this adorable little pedal tractor (which we had thought would be just the thing for Raymond’s grandson Henry) go for considerably more money than we were prepared to spend.

But we came away from the silent auction with three (!) original paintings, with which we are very pleased:

Our paintings

This is Raymond with our haul of original paintings. Not bad for a night’s work!

And we met some new local people, and rubbed shoulders with some old friends, had a great meal, and all in all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

I think I could get used to the rural social scene!

In which we find a treasure. Or actually, two.

Main street, Tamworth

The nicely preserved main street of little Tamworth, Ont.

Now that the fine weather seems to be finally here, Raymond and I are excited about resuming our enjoyable pastime of rambling around the back roads and obscure corners of Hastings County and environs. We got a taste of that a week or so ago, when we took a drive to Napanee – in neighbouring Lennox and Addington County – for an auction sale, and from there poked along in a northwesterly direction back home to Queensborough via roads that were mostly new to us.

When we came to the pretty, historic village of Tamworth we just had to stop for a bit. What a nice little place! There are a bunch of gorgeously preserved 19th-century buildings there, and several shops and businesses in operation – just what a village needs (as I’ve often said, like here) to get people to stop and spend a bit of time (and money). We enjoyed lunch at a café on the main street, and were delighted to find a splendid used-book store tucked away down a little pathway:

Tamworth Book Shop

Who knew? An excellent used-book shop down a little path in Tamworth.

Hutton of HastingsAnd there we found another treasure! A book by Hastings County’s most famous and respected historian (and a friend of this blog), Mr. Gerry Boyce! Gerry is known primarily for his seminal book Historic Hastings (a new edition of which has recently been published, which you can read about here), but unbeknownst to us until our Tamworth visit was the fact that Gerry is also the author of a 1972 book called Hutton of Hastings. It’s a biography and collection of the letters of William Hutton (1801-1861), an Irish immigrant to these parts who became the county’s first warden and first school superintendent. “His letters give a delightful insight into the life and times of a farmer, educator, and politician of local importance, who also played a significant role in the Canadian civil service with respect to agriculture, immigration and colonization roads,” the book’s jacket reads, in part. Raymond and I are both history buffs, and this book is a wonderful addition to our local-history collection.

And get this: it’s signed by the author!

Hutton of Hastings, signed by Gerry Boyce

So that’s why I say that on our little drive we found not one but two treasures. A good morning and early afternoon’s work!