Farewell

Farewell Bend

Farewell Bend (Photo credit: Katherine H)

  “Just as there is no small hello, there is no small goodbye. Every goodbye holds the seed of a new and fruitful greeting….A goodbye is a meaningful and vital ritual.” – Donald Altman, Author of “one minute mindfulness”

As I prepare to say goodbye to 2013 in a couple of days, I mourn the passing of another year, but celebrate the *verity that I get a brand new one to try on. Every year is a roller coaster ride—sometimes the downs give the ups a run for their money—but that just tests our **mettle I guess. Sometimes my mettle is steadfast, sometimes it bends, and sometimes it breaks. I am looking forward to a little less mettle testing in 2014.

Read my horoscope today in the National Post and apparently I am going to be a force to contend with except in March, April and May of 2014—so watch out world. I am not a big believer in horoscopes, but neither do I ignore them. I read the horoscopes for myself and my husband and sons, and there were some pretty big coincidences in them that make me wonder if there is something to it. I never discount the magical or the mystical.

So, as I say goodbye to 2013, I remember the good moments, the lovely times, the surprises, as well as the challenges and losses. Some of challenges will follow me into 2014—I cannot just close the book on them,  but a new year presents new hope and it is that hope that will sustain me.

What are you glad to be leaving behind, what do you remember fondly, and what are you looking forward to in 2014?

*truth, fact, reality

**strength of spirit

Published in: on December 29, 2013 at 5:26 pm  Comments (42)  
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As Expected: The Halloween Column

  By now, you know the ritual–this is my weekly newspaper column:

                One need not be a chamber to be haunted;
              One need not be a house;
              The brain has corridors surpassing
              Material place. ~  Emily Dickinson

      

Haunted House

Haunted House (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

  There is a rhythm to life. Expectations that must be met. If you are a columnist and it is the last week in golden October then you just naturally turn to the subject of Halloween. And you remember your love/hate relationship with the celebration of the dark night of the soul, or as I prefer to think of it—the night of endless chocolate, chewy caramels, and remembrances of homemade popcorn balls and chocolate chip cookies packaged prettily in cellophane.

        Again, against my better judgement, I bought one of those boxes of chocolate bars that I am particularly fond of—a combo of Reese’s peanut butter cups, mini O’Henry chocolate bars, and Hershey’s milk chocolate bars with peanuts. I have now pretty well emptied the box, having shared only a few of the treats with my husband (lest you think I am mean, he is diabetic after all-don’t want to kill the guy!) so I have had to purchase more candy. I was careful this time to buy candy that does not speak to my sweet tooth but will still pass muster with the few kids destined to show up at my house on Thursday night.

       

English: Candy corn, specifically Brach's cand...

 Candy corn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The number of trick or treaters have dwindled over the years—as my sons grew older, so did their friends, and no one seems to be replacing that crew at my door—something that is both a relief and disappointment. I remember fondly the days of excitement leading up to the grand day of chocolate and all things sweet—the costumes and smeary grease paint, the adventure of walking out the door knowing we would come home with a bounty of cavity causing booty, my sneaky swiping of my favourite chocolate bars from my sons’ cache bagged unceremoniously in pillow cases. Ah—the good old days!

        Halloween has become big business. So much so that it seems to rival Christmas in our affections. I guess the ‘shadow’ side of life needs to be given its moment in the sun, and this weekend The National Post took the whole Halloween, death, and dying thing for a spin—making death the cornerstone of many of their articles, opinion pieces, and columns. I read a bit of it and was left feeling overexposed to the subject and a little bit creeped out. Do I really want to know that Marilyn Monroe’s last meal consisted of stuffed mushrooms, meatballs and Dom Perignon, or that Cleopatra noshed on figs before meeting her demise?

        One section of the paper was devoted to “The Look of Death”, touting black as the new black; another section was called “13 Spectral Street” contemplating the scariest address in town; a third section shouted “How We Die Now” and elucidated on “the new ways we deal with death.” And, not to be left out, the financial section headline was “Death and Money.” Usually the National Post is my favourite weekend paper, but not so this weekend. I lightly perused its pages, alighting carefully on articles that were not too gruesome, but in truth, skipped most of its content. Even Rex Murphy, who I find eloquently toothsome in his descriptions, was a disappointment with his wish at the end of his column that everyone have a “happy, grey, grim Halloween”. Death, a topic possibly ripe for Halloween was overdone in this edition. The paper is now in the recycle pile—none of it saved for further study or rereading.

        I am a fan of the Halloween that produces fairies and Cinderellas, dinosaurs and robots. Not for me the monsters, or skeletons, and if the ghost is Casper, then I am okay with that. The macabre does not fascinate me; death does not beguile me; tombstones are not the delight of my décor. Inexplicably I do have a soft spot in my heart for witches and wizards, probably as a result of being brought up on the television program “Bewitched” with enchanting Samantha and her charming nose twitch (something I practiced a lot as a kid to no avail.)

        So, in opposition to Rex’s desire that you have a grim Halloween, I wish you as many trick or treaters at your door as you desire, chocolate dreams, and caramel apple wishes.

Published in: on October 28, 2013 at 2:33 pm  Comments (35)  
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Do You Need Shoes to Party Hardy?

Shoes!

Shoes! (Photo credit: Cynewulf)

“Abandon shoes, all ye who enter here.”  – National Post

Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up.  The subject of “peace on earth, good will to (wo)mankind” seems to no longer be a hot topic for this time of year. The new hot topic? Whether you should leave your shoes on or take them off when you enter a private home for holiday parties. The topic is so hot that the Canadian newspaper, the National Post devoted the front page to the subject.

It seems people have very strong opinions about the topic.  One of the “experts” quoted in the article said she did not mind if people left their shoes on, but noted quite pointedly that she did not have white carpeting. (So, I am thinking that if she did have white carpets she might not be so open-minded). Another woman  put the responsibility squarely on her visitor’s shoulders. She said quite adamantly that they should come prepared to leave wet footwear at the door, and bring a pair of shoes to wear inside. (I am thinking she is not a “party hardy” kind of gal.)

Another responder to the question of “shoes on or shoes off” said that “guests should leave their shoes on. Any decent party will involve a lot of spilled drinks, passed out people, and possibly, a flood. If you’re worried about a bit of slush on the carpet, you’re probably going to react badly when your brother-in-law falls through the coffee table”. He has a point. One might wonder about the type of parties he goes to. (I have not been to one of those in years–I sort of miss them.)

A highly fashion conscious woman sniffed at the question and said that shoes must stay on as they “are the most important part of an outfit.”  She stated: “May as well wear my pyjamas if I have to take my shoes off.”

My opinion, shaded on the side of “make your guests comfortable” is to not ask people to shed their shoes at the door, and let them make up their own mind. In fact, most of the time I encourage people to wear their shoes in my house especially if they are unexpected so that their socks do not gather up the dust tumbleweeds that tend to float willy nilly around my house. (If I am expecting guests though, I tame the tumbleweeds beforehand, spray furniture polish in the air, and use candlelight, not so much for the ambience but to hide my lack of housekeeping skills.)

The easy solution—in Canada in the wintertime?

Fancy Yelp KC Party 146

Party! Party! Can’t tell if they have their shoes on. (Photo credit: Yelp.com)

Wear your boots to the door and put your shoes on after you have discarded your outerwear. Easy peasy. Or wear cute socks. The ones with the reindeer are especially nice.

Where do you stand on the shoes on, shoes off controversy this holiday season?

Potlucks are not for the faint of heart

Recipes

Recipes (Photo credit: pirate johnny)

Hey, if you are going to be snobbish about it, forget adding me to your list of fans. Daniel Humm, executive chef of Eleven Madison Park in New York says that people who do not have a certain “level of skill” should relegate his new cookbook to the coffee table rather than near their cook top. According to a short article in the National Post, he says that the recipes in his book require (besides skill) a “significant time commitment, a reasonably equipped kitchen, and a healthy dose of persistence”. So I assume making a meal in fifteen minutes is not a significant time commitment, and the attention span of a baby rabbit and the skill set of an impatient “get in on the table so we can chow down kind of cook” are not the proper credentials needed to cook from “Eleven Madison Park:  The Cookbook”.

Well, Monsieur Humm, methinks your cookbook is not for me. Actually, that is not altogether true—as I treat reading cook books as kind of a hobby. I love to read about food, about exotic ingredients combined in unusual ways to create magnificence, all the while stirring 1% milk into my macaroni and cheese and warming up meatballs from the frozen section of the grocery store.

I have long made fun of my skills as a cook, and I have a friend who calls me on it, saying that she thinks I use my “phantom lack of skills” to ward off any criticism of my cooking. And she is right. I am not a bad cook—my family is not starving, and I can be creative in my own right—but I am not a particularly confident cook. I attended a small get together on Saturday night—a casual dinner party, and having volunteered to bring dessert, I had visions of all kinds of delectables I could make and offer to my friends. I usually volunteer to make the salad, but in my new quest to “take risks” I offered to bring the finale to the dinner instead.

I told my sister of this unusual offer to make dessert and she promptly emailed me an easy and foolproof recipe for dessert that she was sure would be a hit. She is aware of my skills, so sent something that had very few ingredients, and even fewer steps. I think that part of my problem is that I am a languid (synonym for lazy) cook, as well as a little unsure when it comes to feeding anyone outside my family (which includes my siblings and nieces and nephews, who are kind about my efforts).

I was determined to try the recipe. I made a list of the ingredients and was all set to buy them and “compose” a homemade dessert. Then I got cold feet. I perused the bakery section of a local grocery store and found a sinful dessert that would be sure to please. I considered buying the caramel chocolate mousse cake and putting it on a plate from home to “make it seem” as if I had baked it. But then, I decided on two things: I should practice baking before I tried the recipe on my friends, even though I knew my sister would not steer me wrong; and, to be honest. I presented the cake unapologetically in its original packaging. These were good friends—they would understand. And they did. But they did not know the angst that went into “buying” dessert.

Desserts from JusQytly

Desserts from JusQytly (Photo credit: laRuth)

I never judge when people bring “prepared” food to a potluck, as I understand their trepidation. I suffer from it too. To those of you out there who either do not care what people think about your cooking (good for you) or are such good cooks that you have great confidence from years of success, I honour your commitment to “homemade” and enjoy it immensely. There is also a faction out there who is unabashedly unapologetic—as they should be. They bring offerings that may not be “from their hands but still from their hearts” and I honour you too. We are all talented in different ways and being made to feel guilty because you do not make your offerings from scratch is just not hospitable.

So, this holiday season, as we all venture out to our potlucks, go with what makes your season bright and not stressful. If “homemade” is not your forte, that is what grocery stores and specialty shops are for. Some of us will reject Chef Humm’s cookbook except as a form of light reading, and others will relish it as an instruction manual that will garner rewards, which the Chef says is possible, if you follow the recipes “exactly”. By the way, I am going to try my sister’s recipe and report back—just not under the pressure of producing a grand ending to a great meal.

Published in: on November 28, 2011 at 9:35 pm  Comments (8)  
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Tradition: A good thing for Thanksgiving

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine,...

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine, USA 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Thanksgiving 2011

Who needs tradition? We need institutions, habits, customs, and rituals to mark our important occasions. And we need the tradition of Thanksgiving to mark and celebrate our harvest and give thanks. But more than that—we need some things to remain the same. Year after year. Year in and year out. I do not need to “change up” Thanksgiving. Admit it, how many times do you have turkey and stuffing and all the fixings during the year? Why would we want to “change up” Thanksgiving if we hardly ever celebrate and eat and give thanks for the things that compose this fine holiday?

For years I have fought against tradition—mainly because I found the turkey a difficult thing to wrangle. But last year, after  telling my tale of woe to a friend of mine in an email, she wrote back and told me what to do.  Her knowledge and wisdom have changed my life forever. It is a small thing—but one that makes my family’s wish for turkey dinners a dream come true. “Why don’t you,” she wrote, “do what I do and buy one of those turkeys that are already stuffed and frozen? They do not need to be defrosted—you just take them out of the freezer and put them in the oven.” Now, preparing the turkey is not quite as simple as she said. You still have to take the plastic wrapping off, and remove the plastic bag of innards (which is placed in a conspicuous spot for easy removal). I do plaster my turkey generously in butter—but that is it! Okay, I  peer at it from time to time and baste it, just to do my part—but I don’t think it even needs that.

The best part? The stuffing is good. The turkey comes out brown and crispy and tasty, and I do not have a major meltdown. I also have one of those meat thermometers now that helps me judge when meat is done by the temperature gauge so I do not kill my family. I do have a suggestion for the meat thermometer people though. They need to invent a thermometer for paranoid cooks that indicates clearly that “this is the temperature you need to reach in order not to poison your family.” I would find that immensely comforting, but until then I will cook everything to a temperature of 360 degrees (yes, I am kidding, even I know I would be serving a big lump of coal at this temp).

What got me thinking about tradition was an article in the Saturday National Post. On the front page of the Food, Book, and Entertainment Section was a story called “Your Complete Visual Shopping List for Thanksgiving.” The food writer suggested that you take the page to the  grocery store, buy the food shown and use Bonnie Stern’s “delicious updates of next weekend’s classic dishes”.

I then turned to page WP13 of the Toronto newspaper as instructed and lo and behold, Bonnie Stern provided a menu and recipes for a Nordic Thanksgiving! In her little blurb before she got into the actual recipe accounting, Ms. Stern admitted to just returning from recent travels in Scandinavia where she was inspired to (and these are my words) ruin Canadian Thanksgiving by suggesting that we have roast celeriac with herb crumbs, rye berry salad, roast turkey breast with dill and lemon and marzipan kuchen with peaches and plums! Has the woman no shame? These recipes on their own for other occasions are probably wonderful, but I say uncategorically and with great righteousness—do not sully the traditional turkey and stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, cranberries and pickle platter, coleslaw and Jell-O salads, and pumpkin pie with the requisite whipped cream!

Ms. Stern says that Denmark and Sweden do not have big Thanksgiving celebrations—so why then is she taking a page out of their book? I say, stick with the tried and true (now that I have become an aficionado of the tried and true) and forget “changing up Thanksgiving”. No lamb or ham or prime rib or roast pork or turkey breast with dill and lemon for me. Let tradition live on with those staples of turkey and stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm  Comments (9)  
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