~ A Little Early Snappy, Happy Ever After or A Little Magic in the Air ~

Cover of "A Family Christmas"

Cover of A Family Christmas

Ever notice how Christmas comes at the right time of year? When it is at its darkest, and starting to get cold and dreary? Even without snow, Christmas lights brighten things up a bit. Last night we had a light shower of snow and it is gently snowing right now, adding a little frosting to the still warm ground. Just that right festive touch for getting into the spirit.

One of my favourite little Christmas ditties is “We Need A Little Christmas” by Jerry Herman–and these lines just seem to embody the season we are about to embark:

“For I’ve grown a little leaner,  Grown a little colder, Grown a little sadder, Grown a little older, And I need a little angel, Sitting on my shoulder, Need a little Christmas now.”

We seem to make Christmas into a hassle with endless lists of things to do to make it merry and bright, and sometimes lose out on the magic of the whole season.

I read an interview with Santa in the book, “A Family Christmas” compiled by Caroline Kennedy, and the word magic was used no less than six times in answer to various questions.

Asked how reindeer fly, the jolly elf said that they are fed a magic mixture of corn and oats that only grows near the North Pole.

Magic was also the one word answer he gave to the questions, “how do you fit down the chimney”, and “how do you get into a home that does not have a chimney”.

How does he fly around the world in one night? Santa says it takes “a combination of lots of practice, judicious use of time zones, and of course, a little magic.

And how does he know who has been naughty and who has been nice? You got it: Magic.

What is magic? I have a two part definition: it is the suspension of disbelief; and the belief that there are things that happen we cannot explain. (It could be argued that this is also the basis of faith—but that is a topic for another place and another time.)  The best dictionary definition I found, (among many) is that magic “is a supernatural power that makes impossible things happen.”

Right now, there is a group of people who want us to only believe in those things we can prove—Darwin is their main man, and they only want to deal in things that can be substantiated. I have no argument with these people—in fact I think it is easy to follow this dictum as it takes us out of the world of imagination, into a world of grounded thought.

At various times in my life, I too have wanted proof positive, but have come to the conclusion that it does not exist. I like to think that there are things that happen that there are no easy or worldly answers to.

I am not talking magic as in the world of potions and spells, enchantments and bewitchments. I am talking about magic as inexplicable and astonishing, miraculous and exquisite.

If reindeer do fly—it is magic. When Santa makes it down the chimney unscathed-it is magic. By the way, when he does get to

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

English: Santa Claus with a little girl: a magical moment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

your house, he made it very clear in his interview that he likes all kinds of milk except buttermilk, and loves all kinds of cookies, but most especially Christmas cookies.

Santa’s  favourite colour is red (who knew?); he has hundreds and hundreds of elves; and can remember without hesitation the names of his reindeer. And yes, he does count Rudolph as one of his reindeer.

When asked how old he is, Santa replied: “As old as my tongue, and slightly older than my teeth.”

So there you have it, from the horse’s mouth so to speak. And what is it that Santa wants for Christmas? Without batting an eye he says:  “Peace on earth, goodwill towards all people.” Now where have we heard that before?

Do you believe in Magic?(Wasn’t that a title of a song from the 1960’s? The Barefoot Baroness  would know.)

~ If It Is Saturday – It Must Be Recipe Day! ~

Vegetarians look away.

knife & fock

knife & fork (Photo credit: Elena Karelova)

I have told you about our “family cookbook”–the one that for about ten years all of my family contributed to at the behest of my sister Peggy. She covered binders in beautiful cloth for each of us, and only asked that every year at Christmas we contribute three recipes. Some years I was inspired–and some years I thought I was a comedian.

In 1995, it was a “comedian” year. So here was one of my contributions (I was young, I was stupid, I needed the money–okay this last one does not apply here):

*John K’s Favourite Meal #1

Ingredients: 1 very large steak, sufficiently marbled to cause a flare-up on the barbeque

A1 and Heinz steak sauce

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1 bottle of HP steak sauce or Heinz 57 sauce

salt

Method:

1. Tear off plastic wrapper.

2. Put on barbeque.

3. Cook on high. Burn. Turn over when flames reach three feet or neighbours call fire department.

4. Done when brown inside (better known as well done). If particularly hungry, done while still dripping in blood and transferred to microwave. Done when brown inside.

5. Put on platter. Enjoy with copious amounts of steak sauce and a Lot’s wife size amount of salt.

*John K’s Favourite Meal # 2

Ingredients: 1 very large slab of prime rib roast

gravy

salt

Method: roast beef in oven until brown. Make gravy. Flood plate with said gravy over slabs of prime rib. Add enough salt to kill a horse and horse radish.

My cooking skills have since improved to the point where we no longer cook steaks or roasts until they are well done. We are sophisticated now–we like a little red in the meats that having a little red will not kill you, or send you to the emergency ward to have your stomach pumped.

My husband’s Neanderthal tastes have also been tamed. He now eats fruits and vegetables. His repertoire is not wide in these areas, and I am sure if left on his own, he would not need to supplement his meals with those pesky things like potatoes, rice, vegetables and salads. Good thing he has me–a mediocre cook who sometimes serves salad in a bowl, which he has to finish before he gets the rest of the meal.

Okay–here is one for the vegetarians, if you happened to read down this far:

Ingredients for making a fermented salsa. Cloc...

Ingredients for salsa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salsa

5 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes

3/4 cup of chopped spanish onion

3/4 cup of sweet red peppers

1 hot pepper

1 large clove garlic

5 1/2 oz can tomato paste

1/2 cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons white sugar

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 1/2 teaspoons pickling salt

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp oregano

Cook until thick.

Note: We also add hot sauce and extra hot peppers for more spice.

This was a recipe included in the Family Cookbook and submitted by Mark and Chrissie who are my nephew and niece by marriage. I have never made it as it has more than five ingredients–but I am positive it is good–because anything I have ever eaten at their house has been exceptional. Unfortunately, when I get a hankering for salsa, I buy it. The medium spicy. Unless Mark and Chrissie give me jar of theirs. Then I am in salsa heaven.

*my husband

Do any of you have stories to tell about your days before you became gourmet cooks?

Published in: on November 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm  Comments (45)  
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~ Easiest Stew Ever ~ No Kidding! ~

a slow cooker Oval Crock Pot

a slow cooker Oval Crock Pot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think by now you have learned not to look to me for fancy cuisine, gourmet delights, or even recipes with much more than five ingredients. But since it is November, the harbinger of cold weather, I thought I would share my recipe for the “Easiest Stew Ever” with you.

When I shared my Chili recipe in a post, I asked if you wanted my easy stew recipe. Several of you answered in the affirmative (big word for yes, I know-keep it simple stupid). A number of you nodded your heads vigorously (I could hear the rattle). So without further ado, I will give you the original recipe that my sister-in-law, Brenda, provided for me about two decades ago. Then I will tell you how I have adapted the recipe. Are you ready?

Here goes:

OVEN STEW

1 ½ lb. stewing beef

1 10 oz. can mushroom soup

1 envelope onion soup mix

¼ tsp. thyme

¼ tsp. pepper

1/3 cup sherry (or water)

Put all in casserole, cover tightly and cook 2 – 3 hours at 325 degrees. Brenda’s comment on the recipe: “All in one pot, extremely easy, very good…my kind of cooking.”

Now, I used to be a little bit of a snob about cooking with soup and soup mixes (I don’t know why—must have been from reading Gourmet magazine, not from cooking from it).

I have never made this recipe the way it was written, and a lot of times, I just throw the ingredients in the crock pot—so here is what I do ~

Put the soup and soup mix in the crock pot. Whisk it until it is smooth. (Sometimes I double the recipe). Then throw in the stewing beef—you don’t have to brown it. Add pepper and sometimes paprika if you have it.  I leave out the thyme because for some reason I do not like it. Add the water (as I never, ever have sherry and my husband does not like wine in his food.) I add more than a 1/3 cup of water (usually half a soup can unless I double it). And there you have it—

I usually cook it anywhere from 6-8 hours on low or four hours on high in the crock pot. Most of the time, I add carrots and onions and potatoes and then I have a complete meal.

Sometimes I will do it in the oven—but both ways are delicious. It makes surprisingly good gravy. If you make it without the potatoes and carrots, it is good on rice or noodles.

I have a whole binder full of recipes (not women) from my family. My sister instigated this recipe exchange about twenty two years ago, and for several Christmases members of my family would add three recipes. If there is a demand, I can make Saturday recipe day. Just to get your mouth watering– the next one I will share is my brother John’s Fried Bologna Sandwich. It is a gourmet delight (seriously).

What do you think? Should I make Saturday recipe day? And do you have any easy recipes to share or hints for fast meals?

~ Sundays Past ~

English: Liddesdale Parish Church A small coun...

A small country church  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember when Sundays were a “day of rest” and the only stores open were… hmm…well pretty much nothing was open. Of course this was in my small town which was very WASP-Y (white Anglo-Saxon protestant) and dry until the early 1960’s (though this is not something I remember, as I was not much of an imbiber at nine years old).

Sundays when I was young  was a day when the kids went to church (for some reason my parents did not go, but the four of us kids did—we went to Sunday school, then when we got older, we went to church and joined the choir, and Young Peoples—a group for teenagers). For me church was more of a community/social thing.  Of course God and Jesus played a role, but at the time God was a male father figure, and Jesus apparently “loved the little children”.

Today my beliefs are a little more complex, but I no longer go to church. I do miss “visiting” though. People tended to visit friends and neighbours and family on Sunday afternoon after church. Without calling ahead. They would just drop in. And that was totally socially acceptable.

I remember when people used to have “parlours” set aside for just these visits, and if the minister should happen by. I think it was kind of like the good “living room” that was always neat and no one used it unless they had company. This makes perfect sense to me, with the type of housekeeping I do.

The home I grew up in was not big enough to have a parlour—we lived in the whole house—though because my mom was so neat and clean, it was almost always company ready. But today, I need a parlour—a room set aside that I can go into that will always be neat and clean and not subject to muddy boots, and coats thrown over chairs, and newspapers gloriously spread all over the floor. I try to keep my living room in good shape “just in case”, but this does not always work out.

Back to Sundays of my childhood~

Every Sunday we would have a roast of some kind—pork or beef or roasted chicken, and on occasion fried chicken. The entrée would generally include mashed potatoes, gravy, coleslaw and a couple of vegetables I would try to avoid eating. I remember spending what felt like two weeks at the dinner table with cold squash in front of me—I was free to leave the table once I had eaten it. I must have eaten it, because today I am not still at the table, but memories of that cold squash still haunt me. It does not affect my grown up penchant for it though, which is strange.

And we always, always, always had a special dessert – most of the time homemade pie or cake and ice cream. In those days we had dessert at every meal, but some were very simple. Sundays were different—no Jell-O, or pudding, or a little syrup in a bowl with a cookie.

I like the freedom of Sundays today—I like that the whole town does not close down. But I do remember the days when visiting was the thing to do on Sunday afternoon, followed by a wonderful meal, then unfortunately as I got older, homework—because of course, I never did it ahead of time.

What are some of your Sunday memories—are they similar to mine, or did you have a totally different “day of rest”?

~Thanksgiving Trilogy~

1. Thanksgiving Sunday:

Fall colours

Fall colours (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We eat the first meal today

Leftovers tomorrow.

2. Can never decide

Which meal is better ~ today

Or turkey sandwiches?

3. Love the leftovers on

Thanksgiving Day when the mess

And cooking are done!

Published in: on October 7, 2012 at 6:01 am  Comments (39)  
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Olives ~ How Could I Forget Olives?

Olives

Olives (Photo credit: jurvetson)

I was going through my Thanksgiving menu in my head today for some reason. It is not like me to plan ahead, so this is a good sign for those who will have to eat the meal. I thought about the menu that I have created, and was gobsmacked that  I had forgotten the most important thing: OLIVES. Sure we will have turkey and stuffing and potatoes and corn and pumpkin pie—but how did I forget the Olives?

Olives have been on all my holiday feast tables since I left home and my mother’s table. And olives were on the menu of every one of her holiday meals—or at least Thanksgiving and Christmas, but probably Easter too.

I love olives. The little green ones stuffed with pimento were the ones from my childhood, and I still make sure I have them on my table for the holidays. I guess my tastes have expanded since childhood, because I now like briny black olives, but my hands down favourites are  huge green olives stuffed with a garlic clove. They are to die for (seriously that is what this cliché was designed for, to describe these garlic stuffed olives).

I am going to let you in on a little secret: when I do not have my jumbo garlic olives, but have the little guys with the pimento in my fridge, I open the jar and stick some garlic cloves in, and the next day, these garlic infused olives are also “to die for”. Learned this from my sister who got it from her friend Kathy.

English: Single clove garlic.

English: Single clove garlic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone once asked me if I liked garlic and was surprised at my response that I love garlic. Do I look like someone who does not like garlic—am I too white bread for garlic? (Is there even such as thing as too white bread for garlic?) I get this kind of stuff all the time—I was once told by someone that they were surprised I drank beer. Jeez, I need to get some kind of makeover—admittedly I am a little preppy in the way I dress—but hey, I love garlic and a cold beer. Hope that settles the controversy (though I think it is a controversy of my own making—the mind is a wonderful and complex thing isn’t it?)

I seem to have digressed here—but just so there is no mistake: Olives will be served at my Thanksgiving table. They will also be on the table at Christmas. When I was a kid this was the only time we had olives. Today, I have them whenever I darn well please, but they may not make it to the table in one of my mom’s little crystal bowls like they will this Thanksgiving.

~ We Gather Together ~ and Stuff Ourselves ~

English: Bow Bridge over The Lake in Central P...

English: Bow Bridge on Thanksgiving Day 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

~ we gather, we give thanks, and we eat ~

This is an edited version of my weekly newspaper column and though it is early it will serve to whet your appetite for the coming weekend if you are Canadian. I know that many of my readers are not Canadian but I think you may find a few things you can relate to:

“We gather together” are the introductory words of the first verse of a hymn sung traditionally at Thanksgiving. And it very aptly sums up one of the best attributes of Thanksgiving—it brings us together at a table heavily laden with harvest food.

A Canadian living in the United States wrote an article in the October edition of Chatelaine magazine comparing Canadian Thanksgiving with American Thanksgiving. Samantha See’s article, “Turkey Takedown” concluded that: “…we gather. And we dine. And we make a huge mess. But mostly we hang out and talk over each other and laugh and argue and fall asleep on the couch zoned out on tryptophan.”

The big difference between our Thanksgiving and our neighbour to the south, says See, is that we are the “first out of the gate” in that we celebrate in October and not November. Even though we cannot lay claim to the Pilgrims we “celebrate all the same, and Give Thanks and have Family Feasts, and all those good things.” That to me is Thanksgiving in a wonderful nutshell. On both sides of the border.

Sure the Americans throw in some parades and their Thanksgiving seems to be the harbinger of the holiday season, but if we look at in another way—our holiday season is even longer, because we start sooner. The point See makes is that “as long as you celebrate, haul that whole family together, and break bread in some way”, Thanksgiving has been appropriately commemorated.

She also makes the very salient point that Thanksgiving is the beginning of the “eating season”—a time of year when she bakes herself “into a woman-sized shortbread cocoon” and spends “two and a half months eating (her) way out.”

I think that the majority of us love Thanksgiving with all the fixings. I would love Thanksgiving even more if I were not the one in charge of fixing it, but over the years I have learned a number of ways to make that part of the equation easier. At the advice of a friend, I now buy a turkey that needs neither days of thawing nor the stuffing of its interior. No handling an unwieldy bird for me (but now I have to find something new to complain about).

Thanksgiving is important for so many reasons—the food, the giving of thanks, the camaraderie, but most important is the first three words of that hymn written originally in 1597: “WE GATHER TOGETHER”.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all a good appetite.

Thanksgiving Day Greetings

Thanksgiving Day Greetings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then and Now

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
As many of you know, I occasionally include my newspaper column on this blog. It is the 14th anniversary of my column “On The Homefront….and Beyond”, so I thought I would share it with you. It appears on p. 5 of the Kingsville Reporter:

I have been writing this column for fourteen years now. It started out as a joint venture with another writer friend of mine, Liz Moore, but after about ten months she moved to London and this space became mine. A lot has changed in 14 years. I was a young (young being relative here) mother then, with a 7 year old and 12 year old. The topics I wrote about then were a bit different than the topics I write about now.

Then, I wrote about sending my kids back to the first day of class in September, and performing a ritual “happy dance” until my oldest asked me not to do it anymore because it made him feel like I wanted to get rid of him. I understood, and I stopped doing the happy dance. And I quit humming “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of Year” to boot. After a summer of wracking my brain to find things to do to keep my kids from being perpetually bored, I was probably ready to have them back at school, but I did not want them to know that. And if I were honest, they were pretty good at keeping themselves busy and happy.

Today, my kids are in their twenties. One is away at college and is a computer genius (which you have to realize that to me, anyone who knows the ins and outs of a computer is a computer genius— still, I think he is brilliant—but I am his mother after all.) I call my eldest son a Rock God, which he is not really comfortable with, but he is getting used to me referring to him as such. And he does play a mean lead guitar. His band is called Rodents & Rebels. Not a name a mother would choose, but hey, they like it.

Then, I would write about our adventures in the soccer field, at the baseball diamond, and on the basketball court. Today, my kids talk about being “buff”, which I think means there is a six-pack in their future, whether it be the liquid kind, or the “arrangement of six bulges in the human abdomen” kind (this definition thanks to all-knowing, all-seeing Wikipedia).

Vacations back then took the form of camping trips, which was and is not a favourite past-time of mine. But in retrospect, with the nostalgia factor kicking in, camping really was a great family time—even if you had to sleep on the ground and walk half a block to a washroom where the showers were always cold. I remember waking up in the morning to coffee and eggs and bacon being cooked over an open fire in order to get me to “stay just one more day mom” and of course I would acquiesce.

English: Camping by Barriere Lake, Barriere, ,...

English: Camping by Barriere Lake, Barriere, , Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, organized vacations take the guise of attending out-of-town weddings or celebrations together, and are not necessarily vacations, but as a mom, I will take any time together with my grown-up kids.

Fourteen years ago things were different. Fourteen years are admittedly a long time in a family’s life—we have all grown a little older—some us have to dye our hair now, some of us do not have as much hair as we did then, and some of us are not home all the time. Sometimes I would give my eye teeth to have that time back, but I also like things as they are now. We still have a long way to go on our journey, and I will continue to let you in on our lives as they change over time.

Party Like It is 1965!

A cooked hot dog garnished with mustard.

A cooked hot dog garnished with mustard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Party! Party! Party! (Sorry that was a chant from 1973, the beginning of my university academic life–probably should have been study! study! study!–but just doesn’t have the same ring to it!)

Let the frivolity begin! It is Friday. Not only that, it is the beginning of a holiday weekend. The reason for the holiday weekend is superfluous to me; the important thing is that it is a holiday weekend.

Does anyone remember having wiener roasts? When it was okay to offer people hot dogs roasted over a real fire, with real wood in a brick encased fire pit? My parents had a sort of outdoor mini fireplace they built with my older brothers’ help and it was the heart of  summer at my house.

We gathered around the makeshift hearth for many a wiener roast, hamburger binge, and on occasion steak fry (it was not really fried, hence I do not understand the term, but hey, who am to argue with a time-honoured tradition?)

We did not have steak a lot, but my parents would buy a half cow or quarter cow at the end of summer from some farmer who had it wrapped in a million big and little brown packages secured with string.  At the beginning of the procurement of the partial cow, we had the steaks. The steaks were big T-bones, and if I remember correctly, I could eat one that was about half my size. Now mind you, as I get more mature (?) I may remember things a little differently than they really were—but I swear those steaks were humongous.

And we would have potato salad with egg (always with egg), cottage cheese encased in green Jell-O (which I would never, ever eat!), huge mounds of coleslaw, and for dessert there was watermelon. We would cut it so that we could eat it without forks, and of course have seed spitting contests. (This sounds like I am making it up—but I am not—just ask my brothers and sister—oh, sorry—they do not want me to divulge their identities—so you will just have to take it from me).

English: fresh potato salad

English: fresh potato salad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There will be no wiener roast for me this Labour Day weekend. We had to retire our barbeque a few weeks ago as it had just given up the ghost. We put it out at the road, and some poor guy came along and took it before garbage day, and as he was loading it onto his truck, all the burnt briquettes spilled out onto him. I just happened to be looking out the front window when he was loading it up and felt bad for him. Hope he got something out of it for his trouble.

Anyway, I digress. I am not sure what is on the menu for this weekend. Are any of you having a barbeque you want to invite a charming couple to—we will byob and some extra if you throw a couple more hot dogs on the *barby for us. Have the mustard ready!

*Friends from down under — did I spell this right – feel free to correct me and I will edit it.

Published in: on August 31, 2012 at 2:16 pm  Comments (38)  
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Comforts ~ Day 16 or Grateful Does Not Need a Laugh Track

Lady Grey Tea

Lady Grey Tea (Photo credit: tyfn)

One of my favourite songs is from The Sound of Music. Called “My Favourite Things” I can conjure it up in my mind’s eye easily and  hear Julie Andrews singing it in her imitable lilt. The last stanza says it all:

“When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.”

My favourite things do not necessarily mirror those in the song—raindrops on roses is a lovely and lyrical sentiment and whiskers on kittens is cute, but not really my cup of tea or glass of gin and tonic with a twist (or for that matter a cold beer or icy Coke—but now I am just getting carried away). Some of my favourite things are the things I am most grateful for, and are little scenarios that get played out in everyday life. I am grateful for

1. Family gatherings at holidays, but also impromptu gatherings of friends. Too much planning kills my enjoyment—but just enough planning makes it special. When you hit that balance, it is gold.

2. A good book, a cozy corner on the couch, a soft blanket, with gentle music in the background, sipping a cup of Lady Grey tea and devouring half a package of shortbread cookies.

3. Watching the television program “Community” with my youngest son; attending a “gig” of my oldest son’s band (even at a biker campground); and watching Power and Politics with my husband and having a lively political discussion.

I like to write on the “lighter” side and throw in a few quips and what I consider clever asides—but I find it hard to do when I am being grateful, and maybe that is alright. Maybe being grateful does not have to be clever~

Gin and Tonic

Gin and Tonic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)