Springtime remembered

Small comforts on a Sunday

Good morning friends! It’s another Sunday of small comforts coming from Gabriola Island.

Sunday recipe: Nutella (not really) bliss balls

Keeping with the theme of healthy snack recipes in the Sunday edition, I bring you hazelnut and chocolate bliss balls - a no bake recipe that has the base ingredients of Nutella! Requires a food processor.


12 Bam dates (or Medjool)

1/2 cup of hazelnuts

3 tablespoons of nut butter

2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

2 tablespoons of maple syrup


  1. Set oven to 350 and spread hazelnuts out on a cookie sheet. Toast for 10 minutes until they are golden.

  2. Put toasted nuts in the food processor and pulse until they are in little pieces (not powder or butter).

  3. Put the rest of the ingredients in the processor and run for about 30 seconds until everything is broken down and starting to stick together in a kind of dough.

  4. Using your hands, or a tablespoon scoop, make 14 portions from this dough and then roll them into balls.

  5. Refrigerate in an airtight container. These last up to two weeks.

Book notes: The Buried Giant

Kazuo Ishiguro fascinates me, and this novel stayed with me for a long time after I read it.

The novelist and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro fascinates me. He won the Nobel prize in literature a couple of years ago even though his oeuvre consists of just a handful of works. None of his novels share a setting, or a set of character archetypes. He hints towards genres without fully committing to them, and at least one of his works (The Unconsoled) is so much a trip through endless surreal dream sequences that it would be aggravating if he wasn’t able to pull it off as well as he does. His two best known works, Remains of the Day (the recollections of an English butler during the collapse of the manorial system in England) and Never Let Me Go (an alternate history in which cloning is part of the medical and social landscape) have both been made into critically-acclaimed films, and he also wrote the script for the Canadian film The Saddest Music in the World (which I have yet to see). 

His work is largely unified by its dystopic quality. Though we usually think about dystopias as set in the future, post-apocalypse (or something like it), I’m using it in a more broad sense to describe worlds that we recognize, but which are distorted in some disquieting way. We enter settings that seem familiar and think we know the rules, but very quickly Ishiguro lets us know that this is not the place we were expecting. His pacing is steady, his language austere, his characters melancholic - and yet he reveals to a us a savage wisdom in stories that unfold with a dreamlike quality.

His work, The Buried Giant, is an example of all of the above, and one that has stayed with me since I first read it two years ago.

In a post-Arthurian England, we are introduced to Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who live in the war-ravaged landscape. The wars between the Britons and the Saxons have come to an end, but peace in the land has come at the cost of memory. For the war has only ended due to the arrival of a strange mist which has caused a great forgetting. Though vague ideas about the past remain, they are like shifting clouds across a landscape, allowing the sun to shine through only briefly before darkening the minds of the population once again. Since no one can remember the causes of the war, there is no need to fight it any longer. By the same token, to restore memory will mean the renewal of animosity and fighting.

In this context Axl and Beatrice set off from their home to find a son who they barely remember having. They do not know what village he is in, how old he is, or what direction they must travel, but their urge to embark on this quest is strong, propelled by the fact that Beatrice has become ill and they feel treated as though a burden in their community. Prepared for anything they might encounter, they head out into a dangerous landscape, in which they must focus all their efforts on wayfinding, guided only by vague recollections of a Saxon village where they plan to spend their first night.

It is early in the journey when they first become acquainted with the Boatman who they encounter in a ruined Roman villa. Here they learn for the first time about the enchanted island on which every soul is solitary and to which all are destined. From the very start we know this boatman to be Charon (of Greek and Roman mythology), and this meeting shapes much of the journey which follows, not to mention the philosophical underpinnings of the story which include the nature of memory, how that applies to love, and forgetting as a survival strategy. Beatrice and Axl move on from this point quickly, and as the story unfolds we meet the landscape and people they encounter - a young boy named Edwin, Wistan the Saxon knight, corrupt Monks with murderous plots, and an errant Knight of the Round Table who is on a quest of his own to slay the dragon Querig. Though Axl and Beatrice start with the simple goal of reuniting with their son, their journey evolves into a quest to recover all the lost memories, shedding light on the past and the secrets of their own hearts.

While the setting of The Buried Giant is straight out of the fantasy genre (knights, dragons, King Arthur!), it is no hero’s journey in which a young character tests their mettle against the world in order to experience growth. Instead Ishiguro takes us in the opposite direction, asking the reader whether or love, and in fact all of survival, requires a certain amount of forgetting. The narrative is compelling enough, but this is not a novel about story as much as it is about our human condition as experienced through Beatrice and Axl. This is likely why The Buried Giant received mixed reviews - by readers of genre-fiction and literary fiction alike, each disappointed that this novel wasn’t enough of what they wanted. And I can see how this book could be difficult or plodding if you either weren’t into the fantasy setting, or wanted more of a fantasy plot. But for me this book, including the ending which I have recalled often in the last couple of years, was engaging on many levels and it’s one I recommend.

I’ve just picked up Ishiguro’s latest work Klara and the Sun which I am reading out loud to my husband Brian as part of our nightly ritual. We are just at the beginning so I haven’t much to say about it except that I have been pulled right into a new world again and I am so far intrigued about where Ishiguro is taking us now.


When I find myself straying from practice
I vow with all beings
To find the temple
In a blade of grass

And finally

The return of spring insists we remember that life continues to emerge despite our human concerns. Brian and I planted some fruit trees this weekend and cleaned up the yard debris from winter storms. I weeded the small patch where the rhubarb is peeking up through the soil. It’s hard not to feel hopeful when working in the early-season garden.

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If you want to hear more from me, find my blog at http://red-cedar.ca or follow me on instagram @birdsongworkshop - otherwise, I’ll see you here at the end of the month!

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