Warm African blood pumps through my veins, so hands down I am a summertime person. I love everything about it...life seems simple and uncomplicated when days are long and warm and filled with light. When I was getting ready to leave South Africa, and people who knew me heard I was going to live in Canada, it was always with a look of sheer bewilderment and confusion that I was trading eight months of sunshine to live in one of the coldest places on the planet. How would I survive?
Summertime in Nova Scotia seems to arrive in an instant. There’s nothing lazy or slow about it. Things seem to jump into high gear off the bat. It is a short and defined time, and it is as if nature knows it has a very limited time to be spectacular and impress us with her splendor. Our forest and surrounding garden reach tropical proportions in the space of two months.The forest that surrounds our house produces ferns comparable to those growing in a rain forest. A powerful combination of heat, long hours of daylight and rain causes an explosion of growth.
We share our house with a menagerie of creatures. The Blue Jays, Chickadees, Hummingbirds and Woodpeckers feast from the feeders. Chippy our resident red squirrel, lives in the fast lane, racing at hyper speed, stomping his tiny feet and jerking his tail violently at any one who gets between him and food. There is often an array of obstacles, like two beagles, a black cat and three humans. The family of black masked bandits who reside in a hollowed out branch of the 20 foot spruce tree that towers over our house, drive the two beagles crazy as they venture out to explore the nocturnal world. Surrounded by neighbors who think the raccoons are pests, I love the addition of the wildlife to our household. We have had a family of white tailed deer join us for a summer in the forest below our house, a bald eagle that is often perched high above on a dead spruce tree and a lone seagull that loves bananas. Harry our cat, believes we created all of this just for him and spends his days perched on a large granite boulder that serves as a lookout onto his kingdom.
It is the season of Lupines, Lilies, Peonies, Hydrangeas and wild roses. It is a mixed bag of weather from spectacular heat indices well into the 30s, to suffocating, humid clammy days. The days are long, with sundown way after eight o’clock. With the doors and windows flung wide open, the soft, delicate, sweet scent of the wild roses wafts through the house. As much as possible, we live and cook outdoors. A small round table, foraged for $12 from a thrift store, is brought back to summer splendour, with my mother’s small hand embroidered linen tablecloth, candles, and quickly picked wildflowers from the forest. This is where we eat most nights, amongst a canopy of bright green Maple, Oak and Birch trees. I only wear shoes if I must, giving my feet the much needed fresh air and freedom after months in socks and boots.
The farmers market and produce stands are awash with blueberries aptly called ‘summer sapphires’, midnight-coloured blackberries, raspberries in shades of gold, crimson and deep purple, shiny ebony currants and round plump strawberries. Each day in the summertime feels a little bit like a celebration. Possibly because we have just come out of the worst winter on record that seemed to never end, making each sunny day a gift. Wildflowers fill in the blanks of any open space, an all you can eat bee buffet. My well-thumbed Wildflower guide frequently has me pulling over onto the side of the road to identify another unknown, unnamed beauty. Our days are fixed by the familiar pink sunrises and a chorus of cicadas as the sun begins to set, in between, the clock is mostly ignored…school’s out!
Yield: Per Drink
2 ounces vodka or gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
2 ounces strawberry simple syrup (see recipe below)
4 strawberries sliced in half
A few sprigs of mint
Place martini glasses and shaker in the freezer 10-15 minutes before making the cocktails.
Place 2 sliced strawberries and mint into the cocktail shaker and muddle gently. Add the gin, vermouth, simple syrup and ice. Place 2 sliced strawberries into the bottom of the martini glass. Shake and strain into the chilled glasses.
Strawberry simple syrup
1 cup strawberries
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
In a small saucepan combine all the ingredients over a medium heat and simmer until the sugar has dissolved and the strawberries are slightly soft. Place the mixture in a blender and blend into a thin pulp. Store in a sterilized glass jar for up to a month. The syrup is delicious over vanilla ice cream.