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When I last visited the Dames, I wrote about the Simple Writers Life as I live it (https://damesofdialogue.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/simple-writers-life-by-vicki-delany/). The time before that was about my one true love – Tomatoes. (https://damesofdialogue.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/3241/)
Time for an update. I am still living the good life on a small patch of land in the country in Prince Edward County, Ontario. My new book, a standalone titled MORE THAN SORROW, is just out from Poisoned Pen Press, and is getting good reviews including a starred review from Library Journal which called it a “splendid Gothic thriller”.
On the tomato front, I have to admit that I’m a failed farmer. I’ve decided to give up on the tomatoes and not try again next year. Mine are tiny and shrivelled lumps of red clinging to a thin browning stalk. In fact they look much like my 2010 attempt that I told you about.
I’m better off confining my farming efforts to the realm of fiction.
MORE THAN SORROW is set on a small scale organic vegetable farm. A place of of huge heirloom tomatoes growing on thick green plants and baskets overflowing with produce.
The novel has a backstory, as all good Modern Gothics do, and this one is about the people who settled Prince Edward County in 1784. They were Loyalists – refugees from the American Revolution. The arrived in boats because there were no roads, to a land of untouched wilderness. First they had to chop down ancient trees with hand axes to clear the ground, and they used those trees to build the initial shanties, in which they spent the winter – in Ontario! Gradually stumps were cleared, crops planted, and the settlement began to grow and eventually prosper.
Good thing they weren’t counting on my gardening skills, is all I can say. We would have all starved.
I seem to do better with flowers. Here’s a pic of me among the sunflowers. (Confession: not my property, but the farm next door).
But I did have an abundance of peonies in June.
Here I am hard at work on my deck.
Vicki’s newest novel is More than Sorrow, from Poisoned Pen Press. The book got a starred review from Library Journal which called it “a splendid Gothic thriller”.
Once, Hannah Manning was an internationally-renowned journalist and war correspondent. Today, she’s a woman suffering from a traumatic brain injury. Unable to read, unable to concentrate, full of pain, lost and confused, haunted by her memories, Hannah goes to her sister’s small-scale vegetable farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario to recover.
As summer settles on the farm, she finds comfort in the soft rolling hills and neat fields as well as friendship in the company of Hila Popalzai, an Afghan woman also traumatized by war.
Unable to read the printed word, Hannah retreats into the attic and boxes of mouldy letters that have accumulated for more than two centuries. As she learns about the original settlers of this land, Loyalist refugees fleeing the United States in 1784, she is increasingly drawn to the space beneath the old house. More than carrots and potatoes, soups and jams, are down in the dark damp root cellar.
Hannah experiences visions of a woman, emerging from the icy cold mist. Is the woman real? Or the product of a severely damaged brain?
Which would be worse?
Then Hila disappears. When Hannah cannot account for her time, not even to herself, old enemies begin to circle.
In this modern Gothic novel of heart-wrenching suspense, past and present merge into a terrifying threat to the only thing Hannah still holds dear – her ten-year-old niece, Lily.
When I first began writing, I like so many other writers, had a full time job and was a single mother of three daughters. I called myself a “Sunday writer” meaning that the only time I had to really work on my writing was Sunday afternoon. My children grew up, as they tend to do, and soon I had a bit more time to myself. But I was still working as a systems analyst in a bank in the Toronto financial district and would rush home after work to put down a few words.
My dream was to move to the county and pursue the simple life. And to be a writer, not just a systems analyst who found time to write now and again.
Three years ago I sold my house in the suburbs of a big city and followed my dream to a small rural property in Prince Edward County, Ontario.
I am living the writer’s life because I am content with the simple life.
And simple is the operative word. Like most (almost all?) writers I don’t earn a heck of a lot of money from my writing. I don’t take exotic vacations, I don’t have fancy electronics, I don’t drive a flashy new SUV. I have a 23-year-old TV with rabbit ears that gets one channel and drive a much-loved Toyota Corolla. I don’t eat out much or buy fast food, and do all my own cooking. I don’t need clothes any fancier than for appearances at bookstores and libraries. I keep my house at a temperature my children call bone-chilling, and rarely go to movies, preferring to read. Reading is still the best value for money you’ll get anywhere in terms of entertainment.
When I’m at home, I write every day. Seven days a week. Usually for about three to four hours in the morning. In the summer I then work in the garden and in the winter, don’t do much now that I think of it. Evenings are pretty much devoted to book promotional activities, particularly around release time.
I’m enjoying life in the country. I started a vegetable patch when I first moved in and get a lot of pleasure out of it. There is absolutely nothing in the world that tastes as good as a cherry tomato picked and eaten on the spot. And lettuce you’ve grown yourself? You’ll wonder what that stuff they sell in the supermarket really is. I filled the freezer with pasta sauce and soup and frozen berries I picked myself, and the second year I enlarged the size of my freezer.
Living in the country occasionally has its drawbacks.
Like when I came home from my vacation with my family after New Years to find three feet of water in the basement. Literally. The sump pump had failed and it had turned warm and all the snow had melted. My house is well over one hundred years old (the fulfillment of another dream) so the basement is just a cellar, with nothing much in it to be destroyed. Except the furnace, which was.
This was my first winter in the house and a few days later the brand-new furnace stopped working. I’d run out of propane. How should I know you’re supposed to order propane? In the city this sort of stuff just arrives all by itself.
Fortunately the house has a wood burning stove as well as the furnace so I was able to use it to heat the house while waiting for propane delivery.
Get the propane tank filled and gag at the expense. Wow.
The wood burning stove worked so well, I decided to start using it more to save on propane, so I ordered more wood as the stuff the previous owners left was running out. I phoned the supplier and asked for a cord. I had absolutely no idea how much that is. He suggested that as the delivery charge was the same, I should get two cords. Okay, two cords it is.
When he pulled up with a trailer piled high with wood, I thought, “I guess he has several other deliveries to make.” He backed the trailer up in front of the garage and dumped all that wood on the driveway.
I spent three days moving and stacking wood.
Life has its ups and downs, as always. But I am living my dream.
The simple writer’s life.
Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of psychological suspense such as Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory, to the Constable Molly Smith books, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the B.C. Interior, including In the Shadow of the Glacier and Winter of Secrets which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, (“artistry as sturdy and restrained as a shaker chair”), to a light-hearted historical series, Gold Digger and Gold Fever, set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush.
The fourth book in the critically-acclaimed Constable Molly Smith series, Negative Image, was released by Poisoned Pen Press on November 1st. Kirkus reviews said Negative Image “…combines the crisp plotting of the best small-town police procedurals with trenchant commentary on such universal problems as love and trust.” Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com
I love tomatoes, but I truly believe a tomato has to be freshly picked to be worth eating. In the winter and spring I might buy a tomato or two from the supermarket but only if they are going to be put into a stew or soup. They’re just not good enough to eat raw or lightly cooked.
I believe in the pleasure of anticipation. I’ll wait ten months in order to really enjoy a fresh, warm, local tomato. I believe we’ve lost a lot when we’ve given up the pleasure of anticipation. In the world today we want what we want when we want it and that when is usually now. But you can’t grow a tomato in November in the north and you can’t pick it fresh from the vine in January. You have to wait.
And wait I will do.
When I moved to the country two years ago, one of my requirements for my new home was a nice space to plant a vegetable garden. Mostly for tomatoes. Is there anything in the world more perfect than eating a cherry tomato straight from the vine?
The first picture above shows the product of my garden last year. Look at those tomatoes. Look at the variety of sizes, colours, types. I spent August and September eating tomatoes, cooking with tomatoes, freezing tomatoes, making tomato sauce and tomato soup to last me over the long winter. And in the depths of winter, when the snow was piled to the windows, I ate tomato soup or pasta with my tomato sauce and remembered my lovely garden.
The second picture shows my tomato plants this year.
It would be an understatement so say they are disappointing. The plants are thin and anaemic and each has one (or less) tiny little tomato dripping off the end of a drooping branch. The beefsteak tomatoes are the size of a good cherry tomato and the cherries are about the size of the end of my finger. I will say, however, that they are very, very tasty. They taste perfectly normal, it’s just that they’re so small and so few!
Why the tomato disaster? I have no idea. I also planted two heirloom tomatoes in the herb bed closer to the house and they are threatening to take over the deck (not to mention the herbs). The plants are huge, and the still-growing tomatoes are abundant, fat, and healthy.
Notably I added manure to the tomato bed in the fall, turned it over in the spring and mulched it, watered it regularly, occasionally with Miracle Grow. The little bed near the house? Dug a hole in the ground and stuck two tomato seedlings in and told them to have at it.
The ‘regular’ tomato seedlings were bought at a garden store. The heirlooms were bought at Vicki’s Veggies (http://vickisveggies.com/Home.html) in Prince Edward County. Nothing to do with me, but they grow about a gazillion types of heirloom tomatoes. Lots of other wonderful fresh stuff too.
Fortunately the failure of most of my tomato crop isn’t the end of tomatoes for me this year. I have the great fortune of living in Prince Edward County, Ontario, one of the best agricultural areas in Canada. All I have to do is walk up the road to a farm gate stand or stop in at another one on the way into town and I can buy tomatoes they grew themselves. Not quite as good as eating the ones you’ve grown, but the next best thing.
Now that I’ve got you licking your lips and anticipating a dash to the farm stall or farmers’ market or your own back yard for tomatoes, here are a couple of recipes. I probably have this pasta dish about half of my suppers in tomato season. The sauce goes in the freezer.
Vicki Delany’s Cherry Tomato Linguine
(Mix up the quantities depending on taste and number of people being served.)
- One Green onion
- One clove garlic
- Copious amount of fresh cherry tomatoes. If they are large, slice in half.
- Handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
- ¼ to ½ Log of goat’s cheese.
- ½ cup white wine (already open for sipping while cooking, I am sure)
- 1 – 2 cups of arugula, roughly chopped.
The sauce cooks very quickly so have the linguini started before beginning.
- Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add sliced green onion and chopped garlic. Cook on medium until soft and golden in colour. Add tomatoes and cook for three or four minutes, stirring. Tomatoes will go soft and wrinkly.
- Add basil and arugula and cook stirring until arugula begins to shrink.
- Add goat’s cheese and stir until melted.
- Add enough wine to loosen the sauce (about ½ a cup). If you don’t have, or don’t want to use, wine use pasta liquid.
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Toss sauce with pasta.
Vicki’s Tomato Sauce
- About 10 large tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- Large handful of fresh basil leaves
- Salt and pepper
Skin the tomatoes: I dip them into a large pot of boiling water and cook for about 1 – 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and leave to cool. The skins will then slip off easily. Core and chop roughly, removing tomato seeds where possible. (Don’t worry if some get in, but remove the ones you can easily).
Heat oil in large pot
Add garlic and onion and cook gently for 5 minutes until pale gold
Add chopped tomatoes and chopped or torn basil
Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
Simmer on low heat, without a lid, for approx 1 ½ hours. Stir occasionally.
Remove from heat and let cool.
You can now use the sauce as is or puree in a blender to make a smoother consistency.
Freeze in meal-sized containers.
Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of suspense (Scare the Light Away, Burden of Memory) to a traditional village/police procedural series set in the mountains of British Columbia (In the Shadow of the Glacier), to a light-hearted historical series (Gold Fever) set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush. Winter of Secrets, the third in the Constable Molly Smith series published by Poisoned Pen Press, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Vicki was lucky enough to be able to take early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world and now lives the simple writer’s life in bucolic rural Prince Edward County, Ontario, where she writes books, grows vegetables, and rarely wears a watch. Negative Image, the fourth book in the Constable Molly Smith series, will be released Nov. 1, 2010. Visit www.vickidelany.com, Facebook at Vicki Delany, and Twitter @vickidelany.