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In the Kitchen With Granny

Today I woke up and took a good look in the mirror; Fingers padding lightly across my skin, as I lean in to really see myself. I look into my tired blue eyes and know that I look like both of my grandmothers.  I have the round, kind face of my Granny Dorothy, and the body of my Granny Eileen. It’ll just have to do.

The two of them were as different as night and day. Granny Dorothy was an educated woman who married late in life to a sour, strict, everyone’s-going-to-burn-in-hell-baptist.  Her wits and grit kept the bills paid, and her sense of humour kept her alive. Had she been born today, she likely never would have married. She would have worked her way around the world. Alas, the 1930’s had other plans for her.

Granny Eileen on the other hand, was on husband number three when I came along. She’d raised six kids on her own. She was a resourceful woman with a heart of gold who didn’t take a lick of shit from anyone, especially her husband.

Both of these women taught me to make something from nothing.  Whether it was in the kitchen, or out in the world at large. They taught me how a woman could be both strong and kind.

Every year, I keep them close as I plant my garden, and every harvest season, as I take to the kitchen. These rituals keep me close to them. I’m a sentimental traditionalist when it comes to my kitchen. During the summer, I find myself preserving the same things with the same recipes that they did all those years ago.  I throw in a few more odds and ends, just because I find comfort in the routine of being in the kitchen during harvest season.

This morning I slipped on a jersey knit dress that put me in mind of Granny Dorothy. She knew what she was doing with those old house dresses. Simple, tidy, and most importantly when you’re preserving; cool. I listened to interviews with authors as I sterilized jars, peeled and chopped fruit, remembering how my Granny Eileen’s gnarled up hands seemed to be able to create anything.

During the summer months, I yearn for the slow, simple days of childhood summers. I recall the flavour of each stage of the harvest; radish, carrots, and beans snapped straight from the plant and tossed directly into our mouths.  No garden was immune to kids raiding it for a snack. We sucked on sour rhubarb stalks, and cringed at the bitterness of currents. We raided the ditches and gullies, picking raspberries and blackberries when we were lucky enough to find them. Each ripening carried back to the kitchens of our grannies where it was made into something wonderful.

 

Except pastry. I learned how not to make pastry from both of my Grandmothers. Kind of like how not to choose a mate. As it turns out, Granny Eileen  insisted that if I followed the recipe on the box of Tenderflake, my pastry would be just fine. She also lied. Years later my aunt laughted at me so hard tears streamed down her face; Granny used pre-made pastry and was full of shit. Granny Dorothy on the other hand was honest with me but produced pastry with a texture so fearsome that the dog wouldn’t even eat it.  From this I learned that sometimes we don’t always get what we need from family. Sometimes we have to reach out to become wiser and better.

 

The quiet stretches in my kitchen necessary for the process of preserving and canning gives me time to commune with the spirit of these two women. They are with me here in the steam and heat, and smell of cooked fruit. They are with me when I take a jar of something I preserved from the pantry and serve it to my family and friends. My grannies are always with me at my table.

 

 

 

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My Culinary Relationship with Mother Earth – We Be Jammin’

rearviewmirroI remember the year the apple blossoms froze on the trees. It was 2012. We didn’t have fresh Ontario apples that year, and the prices sky-rocketed.

That was also the year I stopped making apple juice.

So what?

Well darlings, I’m a country girl at heart, and a big part of enjoying the seasons is enjoying whatever our harvest yields. A big part of showing love and coming together as friends and family is sharing a meal together.

The lack of apples impacted a generations long tradition of baking apple crisp, apple pie, applesauce and apple juice.While I live within the rushed pace of the city for now, I stay connected to the seasons and to what matters most by enjoying the tradition of preserving. Apples are the end of the summer fruits, and it was a strange feeling knowing that something as stable as our seasons and harvest were being affected by the impact of consumerism (aka global warming). Our harvest seasons are part of the essence of who we are and the organic rhythm of life.

flat of berriesStrawberry season signals for me the start of true summer. Rhubarb is spring. Of course you can’t forget asparagus and radishes. With the appearance of little white blossoms and bright, juicy, red fruit, I know that the strawberries cometh and that it’s time to enjoy in abundance what the earth provides, and squirrel away the rest for winter.

Yesterday I took a beautiful drive out into the country, got a flat of strawberries, and came home to make my first batch of jam. Next will be raspberries, and this year there will be beets, peaches, pears, tomatoes, and salsa.

 

 

pouring jamEvery year, I think of my grandmothers and my mother, who carried the tradition and taught me how to do these things.  I remember standing on a stool to stir the jam as it cooked, and when we used to use wax to seal the jars.

I remember hot jam slathered on homemade bread. The smell of granny’s kitchen when she made her chili sauce with the cheesecloth sachet of spices simmering in the pot, and being told countless times to go get another jar of this or that for whatever was on the stove. We used to count the number of jars of jam, tomatoes, beets, etcetera in order to ration them until the summer came again. It was never because we couldn’t afford to go to the store to buy more, it was because we subscribed to the rationale; who the hell would eat a can of fruit or vegetables plied with preservatives and chemicals that tasted second rate at best, when you could eat something that tasted good and wasn’t laden with other goop? It just didn’t make sense. And it still doesn’t to me.

There are few people my age who know how to do these things anymore, and I wonder what they must be missing out on, counting summer by work-weeks instead of by the season; strawberry season, raspberry season, plums, pears, apples, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers…

This might even be the year that I get back to making apple juice. Just the thought of hot cider by the fireplace makes me want to cuddle with someone. During the winter months, there’s nothing like opening a jar of peach jam to remind you that soon, summer will be upon us again. Or maybe it’s a jar of tomatoes for a rich, hearty stew.

jam 1Living in the city for the past 16 years, you’d think I’d prefer the convenience of buying something off the shelf, but I don’t.

I love the slow process of gathering, preparing and preserving my own food, knowing that it’s fresh and wholesome. Knowing that what I’m eating and what I’m sharing with the people I love is the best that I can give them.

Wishing you a bountiful summer, and an extra pair of hands in the kitchen.

 

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Waving Good-Bye to Summer & How to Like What Comes Next

sunto
Every summer has it’s own story…

It’s hard to believe, that today is the last ‘official’ day of summer, what with being in the middle of another heat alert.

It’s a bittersweet season of not wanting the long, sunny days to end and looking forward to the delights of autumn.

I must make a confession, although I’m loathe to see another summer pass by, I have to confess that I love the fall.

Growing up a wild-haired blonde-beach-bum, summer was a season of freedom and self-discovery. Fall was the beginning of nesting, wrapping up our sun-soaked bodies and snuggling in for the winter.

Each year as summer draws to a close, I reminisce about what the summer brought; new love, broken hearts, shenanigans and road-trips. I also look forward to all the pleasures of autumn;

…clear, crisp air, and the beauty of watching green turn to shades of gold, rust and deep ruby reds…

autumnlandscape

…a fireplace on a wet November day…

fireplacewine

…weather cold enough to have an excuse to stay inside and write…

williegreeneye

…baking all kinds of yummy Thanksgiving treats…

autumn food

…sumptuous, comfort food shared with friends…

thanksgiving al fresco

…pumpkin spice lattes of course…

Pumpkin spice latte recipe

…rainy November days perfect for sleeping in, reading or movie-watching…

catwindowI hope that you’ve had a delightful summer, that your skin is smiling from the sun, and your wanderlust is somewhat sated.

Here’s to autumn my darlings, and all of the comforting beauty that it brings.

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What’s So Sexy About a Man & Four Pounds of Bacon?

baconmyheartThere are some things that men just do better than women; revere bacon,  for example, or enjoy standing over a hot grill on a blistering hot July day (see: Chicks Shouldn’t BBQ), nursing a cold beer or two and contemplating the state of….whatever.

As I type this sparkling gem of wisdom, I have a man cooking lunch in my kitchen.

No, it will not be the beautifully plated jasmine and chicken-that-took-hours to catch, pluck, butcher, marinate and pair with a white burgundy that I was accustomed to in my early years of man-tertainment.

Lunch today is a bacon-wrapped grilled cheese sandwich, which has been researched, coveted and shopped for by the Y-chromosome carrying members of the household, and I’m not going anywhere near the kitchen. I have a manosaurusrex loose in there, and I’m just going to stay outta the way darlings.

Am I ok with it? Am I ok with men being men and the gender stereotypes that straighjacket us into believing that boys will be boys; irresponsible, insensitive, sloppy and a never-ending succession of stupid decisions that they can’t be responsible for because they’re fathers never loved them enough? No. I am not ok with that. Mostly because I’ve given birth to, and raised a boy.

Men and women are equally responsible and irresponsible, sensitive and insensitive, sloppy and tidy, and both make a considerable number of bad decisions until they grow up enough to realize that maybe, just maybe being loving and kind isn’t such a bad thing.

So what does this have to do with bacon?

Bacon seems to be the BBQ of manliness to the modern man. You know the ones, right my sweet little peaches? The ones we’ve kicked the metaphorical shit out of by unraveling the male psyche and fluffing it up with metrosexuality, cosmetic lines for men, and horror-of-horrors educating our women to rule the world of not only home, but work too.

Yes, yes, yes, I know this is a binary analysis of the sexes. We all exist on a continuum of gender. I just happen to live by the wonderful grade-four French slang; Chacun a son gout.

My gout just happens to be for the manly, never-been-touched-by-GQ Magazine-seasonal-fashion-must-have-anxiety, hairy-chested, red-hot-pulsing-slice-of-testosterone-propelled-man-steak-who-thinks-bacon-wrapped-grilled-cheese-lunches-are-a-good-thing-to-do-for-his-woman kind of man.

Ok, so I get that  he’s not doing it for me, but he’s got a grin on his face beautiful enough to light up the room. No, I’m not hallucinating as the smoke from flaming bacon grease fills my lungs. He is smiling and he is happy and he’s willing to share that with me. What more could a gal ask for?

If you are a  bacon-loving man’s man, do not try to be anything else. We love you just they way you are.

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Winterlicious 2015 – Let’s Review

first we eatEvery year for the past decade, I’ve organized a Lady’s Winter/Summerlicious dinner for the Ladies Who Lunch. There are usually between 6-12 of us who use this culinary celebration as an excuse to get together and try a new place.

Trying new restaurants gives us another card to play in our social repertoire, and when we’re impressed, we return; for birthdays, anniversaries, dates and weekend lunches that involve a bottle of wine…or two, depending on the deeds we need to dish with our dear ones.

Winterlicious was a wash with business for me. Alas, I was only able to get out to two new places. I’m sad to say that this year, everyone, including myself, my ladies and my kiddo, were underwhelmed by both the food and service.

Before the restaurant world whines about bad tippers and losing money on the endeavor, I would like to say that it’s a fair shake for diners and staff alike. If you don’t like Winterlicious don’t participate. If you don’t enjoy facilitating a happy dining experience for people, please, for the love of digestion, get a job somewhere else.

Today I spent a fair amount on lunch at  Archeo in the distillery district after braving the freezing rain and slick roads. It took an hour and a half to get there, and not once did a server ask how our meal was, nor were we offered a beverage once the meal started. Apparently coffee and tea with dessert is passé, because it wasn’t offered at all at Archeo, and only as an afterthought last week at Hush.

Both restaurants served French fries with meal options, yet neither offered condiments such as wonderful vinegars or tangy mustards for their sandwich choices.

The fish and chips at Hush were sad. The batter had the potential to be wonderful, it looked crispy, but was flavourless, and lukewarm. The accompanying bacon and apple slaw was as outstanding as the fish. The spicy edamame beans were not spicy, and the soup was bland as well. Nothing tasted hot, fresh or flavourful.

Nine of us at Hush were served barely warm meals, but the service was at least friendly.

At Archeo, the food was hot, which is really the least you should expect when dining. The bruschetta was flavorful but served on the same mass-produced bread as the chicken parmesan sandwich. Both the tiramisu crème brule and chocolate pudding were delicious. Unfortunately the service was so cold that by the time dessert came, we were chilled by the poor service.

Our meals may have been hot at Archeo, but the service was as cold as the blizzard outside. Instead of ordering wine, and lingering over coffee this afternoon, we headed back down the street and stopped at Balzac’s for a little something ‘to go’.

An impromptu stop at  Le Saint Tropez  during Winterlicious,(not a Winterlicious meal) reminded myself and my gal-pal what service was all about. We did not have a reservation, we were not there for a multi-course meal, but we were welcomed warmly and sincerely. The waitress/server knew how to have an engaging conversation. That kind of four-star service and delicious food, will guarantee we come back again and again. It’s the kind of place you can count on for a special occasion.

Our 2015 Winterlicious experience was underwhelming indeed. We will however, look forward to Summerlicious 2015, hoping that the restaurants live up to the wonderful food and extraordinary service we enjoyed at Destingo last year.

Until we see you at Summerlicious, Bon appetite!

 

 

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The Magic of Christmas Appeared in the Form of Ambrosia

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" ~Charlie Brown~
“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
~Charlie Brown~

The magic finally happened for me this year.

I had just put the tacky Christmas goldfish ‘sunshine-Jello-salad’, into the fridge and was stirring together the tacky ambrosia, when I felt the first sparkly jolt.

Christmas?! Yes!

Perhaps it was going through the motions of tradition that brought it about for me this year. On the eve before Christmas Eve, I found some magic. It started with a kind message from one of my oldest friends who helped  me realize that I don’t have to constantly be strong for everyone else.

Just in time for Christmas Eve: my favourite part of Christmas.

To say that it’s been an anti-climactic lead-up to Christmas is an understatement. In fact it’s been a Christmas time to remember. Often these are the years that build character and help us empathize with others who struggle through the holidays.

One well-meaning soul typed a comment about having expectations too high at Christmas time.  This Christmas has not been Christmasy, and it’s not because of any expectation, it’s because of loss. Expectation is an interesting concept, and one worthy of discussion.

We live in a hurried world where sadness and empathy take time none of us want to take. I believe that encourages platitudes about ‘no expectation’ and ‘not being attached to outcome’. Hogwash and pith my darlings.

It’s right up there with; having a stiff upper lip, not crying in front of the children, and keeping yourself busy. I’m a ‘loss’ professional, and I firmly believe in having to fall apart sometimes in order to pull your refined-by-trial soul back together. Sometimes things suck, and it’s ok to say so.

If you think that having rainbows and lollipops poof out of your arse all day long is normal, please send your unicorn to fetch me for your next seminar.

Certain expectations are healthy; to be treated fairly, to be compensated fairly for work, to be able to live freely without discrimination and most importantly, to feel validated when you feel every emotion, including the ugly ones like fear, anger and sadness that make most folks uncomfortable. These are healthy, and necessary expectations.

For anyone who has experienced loss, Christmas can be a really tough slog, regardless of expectation.

As we near the midnight hour, and our corner of the world slows down, I think I will take some time to stop and consider what expectations are helping me move forward or holding me back. Discerning between the two is where the magic happens, because as much as our human brains would like the world to be black and white, it isn’t.

Christmas magic appeared unexpectedly as I went through the motions of making the traditional food that goes on our Christmas table, and I am grateful. Happy even. I’m looking forward to tonight and tomorrow, and am thankful for having people to share the day with.

Wishing you joy this Christmas. Wishing you a soft landing if  you are among those who have experienced loss at this time of year.  Wishing you the wisdom to discern between healthy expectation, and hokey platitudes. If you’re having none of that, I’ll send over a dish of ambrosia for your narwhal.

 

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Santa Strike: Stuff That Won’t Get Done This Christmas

"Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself." ~Hermann Hesse~
“Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.”
~Hermann Hesse~

This is one of those Christmases. I’ve had very few of them, but this is going to be counted as one.

It’s 11:25 am, and I am still in my nightgown, staring out at a beautiful sunny sky, thinking of my to-do list, and giving myself permission to mentally rip it up and set it on the Christmas fire.

Having been an eager little elf in years past, people expect my bounding red, green and jingling-bell joy every year; the cards, sweets, treats, carols, and extra little gifties. They expect my home to be clean, neat, decorated and the door to be open. There is always wine and coffee and tea, and time to sit and visit in the midst of the lights on the tree and mantle.

This year, is not one of those years. Sure, the lights are up, there is definitely wine available, and tea or coffee if you prefer, but you’re likely to find me wandering around with a book of Rumi’s brilliance and braless until noon, and I’m ok with that.

You know what that means? That means you have to be ok with it too. Yep.

Instead of good old Bing and Ella belting out classic Christmas tunes, I’ve got Hozier on high, and Sam Smith. If you want treats, the ingredients are in the cupboard, and you can help yourself to my kitchen. While you’re at it, mama would like some Scottish shortbread and some macaroons. The floor could really use a scrub and the dishwasher needs unloading. Too much bother you say? I totally get it.

Sometimes you just have to take a break from being everyone else’s jolly elf. Sometimes you need to just forget about what you think you have to do, and do what your soul is telling you that you ought to do for your own well-being. I’m going to pioneer a new field of study; The Ethics of Self-Care.

Take it from the master of flipping-off-elf-class-101. I’m headed to the tub now for a long soak with my coffee, Patti Smith art book and Eminem. If you need me, you’ll have to drag my pudgy,wet, steamy body from the bathtub, and that won’t be pretty.