Published in: on March 28, 2018 at 3:30 pm  Comments (1)  

Easter Memories

“Most of us have fond memories of food from our childhood. Whether it was our Mom’s homemade lasagna or memorable birthday cake, food has a way of transporting us back to the past.” ~ Homaro Canto

Let’s face it, all our major celebrations are about the food. Okay, let us be honest here. Even our minor celebrations, and day to day meals are all about the food. But the holidays have their own traditions and steeped in our memories are the way things used to be–which informs how we celebrate today.

Easter is a deeply religious holiday, but it is also the official welcoming of spring for those imbued or not in the religious tradition. And in order to celebrate, we feast on what we think of as traditional spring food. When I was young we always had ham studded with pineapples and cloves on Easter, plus the requisite scalloped potatoes. Today I may have ham, but lamb is really the tradition in our household, studded with garlic, accompanied by tiny red potatoes, both complemented by mint sauce.

My mom never served lamb–and it goes back to a true story of when she was a young girl living on a farm. She made a pet out of a cute little lamb, and… well, you know the rest of the story. My uncle named a calf after me (and another one after my cousin RuthAnn), but I was wise enough to know not to ask whatever became of LouAnn the calf. I like to imagine that the calf grew into a happy chocolate milk giving cow, who was put out to pasture after serving her time, but I have a feeling the fate may not have been so picturesque. I refuse to think about it. Unfortunately, my mom had to face reality at the supper table. A reality that lived with her forever. I guess some childhood food memories are not idyllic.

I am fortunate in that my food memories are not marred with a regrettable incident. The closest I come to an unpleasant food memory is refusing to eat my squash when I was about eight or so. I remember having to sit at the table and eat the (by now) very cold and thus even more unappetizing orange-yellow stuff. I remember gagging on each mouthful–but I learned a valuable lesson. Or actually I don’t think I did. But I do like and eat squash with gusto now (although it could have something to do with the copious amounts of butter and maple syrup I lace it with.)

Easter dinner always followed a day where my little sister and I wore brand new outfits complete with hat and spring coat and white gloves even if it were cold out. Our legs may have bore goosebumps as we abandoned our leotards for the day to wear little white ankle socks with our white shoes. The outfits of course were for the morning church service, which was preceded by our Easter egg hunt, and a token bite off the ear of our chocolate Easter bunnies. I do not remember my brothers having special clothes for the day, but they always wore a suit to church–you just did in those days.

Sunday dinners were always special, but a holiday Sunday meal was extra special. Sometimes we would have asparagus for the Easter meal but we always had green Jell-O with cottage cheese in it. I do not remember really liking this combo a lot–but it did connote spring at our house. Dessert was always wonderful, as my mom excelled at baking. In later years, a carrot cake encased in cream cheese icing became our favourite go-to Easter dessert–but there were always cookies, and something coconut–for some reason Easter and coconut were bound together in tradition.

As we approach this Easter weekend we leave winter behind, even if it seems somewhat stubborn in overstaying its welcome. I have an arrangement of pussy willows and some coloured Easter eggs and a few bunnies scattered about, plus a vividly coloured hydrangea plant I am trying to keep alive until at least after the holiday. Some of my Easter traditions have gone by the wayside–I no longer colour eggs with my kids as they are now grown adults, but I still get them something chocolate and probably will until they are 70, or I die first.

We will have lamb and little red potatoes, some asparagus (and peas for those who refuse to eat the asparagus), and the requisite mint sauce (which goes wonderfully with peas and potatoes and lamb). Dessert? I am not sure–but I am thinking the tradition of carrot cake with thick white whipped cream cheese icing will be a good fit. We will eat, drink, and be merry, ushering in a new season of hope. Is that not what Easter is all about?

Published in: on March 26, 2018 at 6:33 pm  Comments (5)  

Irish Ides are Smiling

In like a lion, out like a lamb. At least that is the hypothetical theory for the month of March. But what about those Ides of March and St. Patrick? Both are coming up this week, when we all hesitate over the Ides, and are all a little bit Irish on St. Pat’s Day. I am legitimately a little bit Irish, enough so that I can drink green beer and talk to the leprechauns with the best of them.

I know that the Ides of March, (ides meaning “divided” in Etruscan, divides the month of March in half) is somewhat foreboding–but until I looked it up (in an actual book), I had forgotten why it had such shadowy overtones. According to “The Book of the Year” by Rudolph Brasch, it was in 44 BC that Julius Caesar was stabbed to death (despite being forewarned by a “seer” who told him to be “specially on his guard” on the Ides of March). We can thank Shakespeare though for perpetuating and popularizing the warning “Beware the Ides of March” having encased the now infamous phrase in one of his plays “warning of impending danger or calamity.” I guess we can both thank and blame Caesar (who was defiant of the seer’s warning) for the ominous take on the Ides of March.

When I was much younger, drinking green beer seemed to be a rite of passage on the day heralded as St. Patrick’s birth. But the thing that has stuck with me is the irony that he is thought to have been more likely born in Scotland than Ireland. Now, having both Scottish and Irish blood (plus English, French, and Pennsylvania Dutch) this does not break any cherished heritage bonds for me. The legend goes that Patrick was “captured by Gaelic raiders” when he was 16 and deposited as a slave in Ireland. Although not an auspicious beginning, Ireland is later where he made his name. He is of course best known for ridding the emerald isle of its snakes, by throwing a bell over the precipice of the mountain called Croagh Patrick. In fact, the very bell is on display at the National Museum in Dublin.

There is a lot more to the story, but most of us are happy for a day where the “wearing of the green” is de rigueur and having a sip or two in honour of St. Paddy is what is important (no matter what our pedigree.) In fact, it was St. Patrick himself, who on his death “implored people not to grieve overmuch for him” and that to alleviate their sorrow, “Irishmen should take a small drop of something.” Brasch, the seeming authority on all matters Irish says that “in lasting obedience and reverence, the Irish continue to observe St. Patrick’s Day in the manner ordained by their saint”, which could also explain why we are all Irish on St. Paddy’s Day.

The lovely third stanza lyrics to “Irish Eyes Are Smiling” were made famous by the crooner, Bing Crosby. Though he did not team up with David Bowie to sing these words, they stand by themselves as a hearty song to drink a little something with:

“When Irish eyes are smiling
Sure, ’tis like the morn in Spring
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing
When Irish hearts are happy
All the world seems bright and gay
And when Irish eyes are smiling
Sure, they steal your heart away~”

An interesting aside here: As I opened “The Book of the Year” to the month of March, a four-leaf clover I had placed between the pages fell out. Dried and brittle it is still intact, and I am taking it as a good sign. Having done my good deed for the day in consulting a book about both the Ides of March and St. Paddy, I Googled four-leaf clover and found out from the site GoodLuckSymbols.com that it is one of the most common good luck symbols in the Western world. The four leaves represent hope, faith, love and luck, or fame, wealth, love and health (depending on your belief system). I am willing to accept any of the above. And the real kicker is that chances of discovering a four-leaf clover is 1 in 10,000. Think I will buy a lottery ticket.

Bibliography of sorts: The Book of the Year, R. Brasch, pages 32-36

Published in: on March 15, 2018 at 3:57 pm  Comments (1)  

Food Memories

One of the “tricks of the trade” for creative writers is to use “prompts.” I have been to a number of writers’ workshops where the workshop leader will employ prompts to help us get in the writing mode. One of the least useful for me was when some “musical out-takes” were used as prompts. I drew a blank. Not only a blank, but a total and complete blank. The music was meant to elicit some response in me that I was then supposed to translate into words. It did not work. I found the music chosen for the exercise was totally uninspiring, but it taught me something. It taught me that some things connect with some people, and some things do not.

One of my most successful columns was written years ago and it talked about Sunday dinner, and if I were ever in the position to lead a writing workshop, I would probably use that meal as a prompt. Who does not have memories of Sunday dinners, or who wishes they had memories of Sunday dinner? My mother created memorable Sunday dinners, and for years my whole family was expected to show up at the dinner table, married or unmarried, kids in tow, boyfriend or girlfriend included. There was no edict–we were not forced to be there–we wanted to be there–for the food and the comradery. (I want to spell this “comraderie” but my spellcheck insists on comradery).

According to “Eat Love Savor”, a self described “Luxury Lifestyle Magazine”, the “history of the Sunday dinner meal originated in England. The British Sunday Dinner or Sunday Roast as it was called, was the main meal of the week.” Our big family Sunday dinners almost always consisted of a roast of some kind–roast beef with lots of gravy being my favourite, but of course we had pork roast, roasted chicken, and on occasion ham, which for some reason is baked and not roasted. But by far, the meals that remain at the top of my memory were those with roast beef, copious amounts of gravy, mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, and of course a tossed salad that included everything but the kitchen sink and homemade dressing. And dessert was always something wonderful–fruit pies with ice cream, or a special cake, and sometimes mom would get fancy and create something new, which we gobbled up without discernment.

I have fallen out of the habit of creating Sunday dinners, and the special meals I fix are mostly for birthdays or holidays, or days when I can actually see the top of my dining room table. I am disappointed in myself for not continuing the tradition I so loved, but passed into oblivion when my mom died. But the lovely memories live on—and at times I do rise to the occasion to give my kids a taste of something I so took for granted.

In the article about rediscovering the tradition of Sunday dinner by Angela Tunner in “Eat Love Savor” she says that the Sunday meal “is compared in this culture to Christmas”, but in England it was originally “served each week by the squire to his serfs as a reward for the week’s work.” I guess I can be forgiven for not upholding the tradition as I have no serfs, but I agree with Tunner when she states: “There is something deeply comforting in simple rituals like a special weekly meal.”

She suggests that Sunday dinner can be made easy and that “it needn’t be complicated or too time consuming.” She says that “simply cooking the roast in a crock pot is fuss free” and gives her take on the new Sunday meal: “Mashed potatoes are just hot water and potatoes cooking…a few steamed vegetables…a lovely loaf of fresh bread…. a butter dish on the table…and a small dish on the table with a few olives, artichoke hearts and other jarred delights.” She calls this a “grand meal on a plate.”

Which brings me to my next memory–who remembers the pickle plate in the days of yore? I remember my mom had a big glass plate broken up into compartments where we laid out carrot and celery sticks, radishes when they were in season, sweet and sour pickles, dill pickles, and those little green olives with pimento (at holiday meals–we did not have olives every day). I have a friend who takes the time to put one of these trays together when she serves meals, and it brings back fond memories for me. I guess they are the forerunner of the ever-popular charcuterie trays of today.

In essence, perhaps I should harken back to the days of my fond food memories and create some memories for my own family. I wonder what they will remember fondly besides mom trying to fix the simplest meal in the shortest time ever?

What is your favourite food memory?

Published in: on March 7, 2018 at 4:18 pm  Comments (4)  

Spring Forward

Spring forward. Apparently, that is what we will be doing on March 11th. I don’t know about you but I am still recovering from Fall back. So is my cat. He insists on eating at 3:00 p.m. and has since we turned the clocks back last November. I am getting tired of changing the clock during the spring and fall seasons, and no longer adhere to the propaganda that it really does us any good. In fact, there are a few things that it does do that are not particularly good. In an article on the website bigthink by Philip Perry called “Daylight saving time 2018: 7 myths and facts about changing the clock”, he says:

“Losing or gaining an hour may not seem too big of a change. But in fact, it can jolt the body’s internal body clock, causing a higher risk of sleep disorders, heart attacks, strokes, and miscarriages. Sudden changes in circadian rhythms can affect fertility as well. A 2013 study published in the journal Open Heart, found a 25% increase in the number of heart attacks occurring the day after a spring DST. Fatigue, decreased productivity, and even cluster headaches are also more common.”

Sounds rather ominous doesn’t it? I guess we can blame Ben Franklin, who according to Perry originated the idea to conserve candles–he figured if people got up consistently with the daylight they would use fewer candles. While Perry says that daylight saving time (there is no “s” I learned elsewhere in the article) was probably first practiced in Britain, Germany was the “first recorded country to have taken up the practice in May 1916” to save fuel during WWI. America soon followed suit–determining that the extra hour of daylight meant more leisure time and the increased sales of baseballs, barbeque paraphernalia, and golf balls.

Now who doesn’t mind messing up their circadian rhythms for a few more leisure hours spent chowing down on burgers, perfecting their golf swing, or throwing around a baseball? In all fairness daylight saving time (DST) was enacted to save energy. Wikipedia, that “know all and sees all” source says that “DST is observed in all ten Canadian provinces and three territories. However, there are exceptions within several provinces and the territory of Nunavut, including most of Saskatchewan, which observes Central Standard Time year-round even though the province is in the Mountain Zone, effectively putting it on DST year-round.”

Ah, Saskatchewan–what a rebel! Jury is still out on Nunavut….

Anyway, back to the dilemma at hand. I am none too fussy about going forward in time–but it is a close to time travel that most of us will get. And the added bonus is that my bedside clock radio will now be the right time–at least until November. (Am going to have to figure out how to change the time on that thing.)

In November we are made to feel guilty if we do not make good use of that extra hour we are afforded, but at least in the (early, not quite) spring no one is there to chastise us about using our time well. We will have lost an hour that we have to wait for months to get back.

The thing that I most enjoyed about putting the clocks forward “back in the day” was when I used to go to church, and people would show up just when the service ended. They would take their seat just before the closing prayer–then be unabashedly embarrassed as people filed out of church, just as they were settling in. I know, my sense of humour is a bit questionable, but seriously, I just loved watching for the inevitable to happen.

Here are some other views that I found interesting. I especially agree with funny man Dave Barry who sums up the whole thing quite succinctly for me. *He said: “You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight saving time.”

Anonymous was a bit curmudgeonly in his/her point of view: “Daylight saving time: Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot of the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.”

Lastly, I will leave you on a more positive note, looking ahead to November. Victor Borges stated: “I don’t mind going back to daylight saving time. With inflation, the hour will be the only thing I’ve saved all year.” Me too, Vic…me too.
*quotes assembled by Maria Vultaggio

How do you feel about this tradition that has been foisted on us?

Published in: on March 6, 2018 at 4:11 pm  Comments (7)