The Christmas Grocery Shopping Lists; A Guide for Men

man in storeLet’s face it; it’s always one person who bears the brunt of domestic planning. In my home, it’s me. I have lists for groceries, lists for toiletries, lists for separate stores. It takes time, and effort, so trust me when I say that if it’s on a list, there’s a reason.

At this time of year, the last thing I need is someone arbitrarily deciding what we don’t need. What I need is a housekeeper and two months off and exactly what’s on the damn list.

Unfailingly my better half asks me for a grocery list whenever he’s popping into the store. It’s very thoughtful and I appreciate it more than he knows. There is one problem however, quite often he arbitrarily decides that one or two items just simply are not necessary.

This is the core of the secret to executing the list and I’m about to share it with all of you lovely gentlemen out there. The items on the list are dependent on one another. They are a team you see, each playing an important role in a recipe.

rotten zucchiniWhat is a zucchini without eggplant when making ratatouille? It is simply a lonely zucchini, waiting to weep it’s sticky brown death juice into the bottom of the veggie crisper because it’s calling has not been fulfilled.  When that happens, it becomes part of another list; clean out the fridge and likely, get-your-arse-back-to-the-store-and-get-what-we-needed-in-the-first-place.

It’s not just about handing over a checklist of items to be purchased and brought into the house. The food that we share creates an atmosphere at home, whether it’s a cozy night in for the family, or an evening of hosting guests. It takes time and energy to dream up what might be pleasing and enjoyed. When you decide that the list isn’t important, you’re essentially diminishing the significance of the homemaker. It’s a way of telling them  that their work is insignificant.

A long time ago, a spiritual mentor spoke these wise words; “Our partners do really do just want to make us happy.”

If this is the case, buy what’s on the list.

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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.

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.

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!

 

 

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.

 

The Elusive Christmas Rutabaga

rutabaga

“No Christmas dinner is complete without rutabaga.” ~Andshelaughs~

At 11:30 p.m. one Christmas eve, long, long ago, and about ten kilometers away, I almost tossed away one of the most cherished traditional foods to grace our Christmas table; the elusive Southwestern Ontario Rutabaga.

Had it not been for a squash turned bitter-el-yucko from being grown too close to the gourd patch, I may not be telling you this story.

That evening I had given in to my lovely British boyfriend’s aversion to turnip in favour of squash. I had also ensured that we had his cherished brussel sprouts and enough potatoes to make our mashed and his roasted, along with a sure-thing bread sauce mix for the turkey. Anyway, the squash tasted like bitter-el-yucko (that’s Spanish slang for; it-tasted-like-shit).

So, literally at the eleventh hour, I hustled my chubby bustle to the twenty-four-hour grocer across the street, who would be closing at midnight for Christmas. What was I hoping to find? Not a squash which may have also been contaminated, but  the elusive Christmas Rutabaga. I learned my lesson that year; stick with rutabaga, because it never let’s you down.

You may have read my last post, Caring Less That It’s Christmas. To say I’m not in the Christmas spirit is putting things mildly. So, tonight, unlike most years, I ran out to get the Christmas groceries before the parking-lots become a UFC event tomorrow.

This is not like me. I’m usually el-finito with the Christmas groceries at least two weeks in advance, except for staples like milk and red wine, our pantry is decked out like we’re ready for nuclear holocaust by November 30th.

This year the only items I had stocked up on were sour cream and coloured mini-marshmallows (for my retro 70’s squares). Those darn marshmallows sit on the shelf all year, and then go MIA every year right after Thanksgiving.

I had everything I needed paid for and packed carefully in shopping bags; the orange jello for our tacky jello dish, the pineapple and mandarin oranges for the traditional ambrosia, a thousand pounds of butter for our thousand pounds of sweet treats, five cases of soda, bags of chips, frozen pizza for the teenagers to eat during their lazy days at home, cat food so little Willie Nelson doesn’t starve, tangerines, brown sugar, icing sugar, white sugar, flour, not to mention our every-day groceries that have nutritional value.  But I did not have the rutabaga.

So I stopped at the next store over. No rutabaga.

It took me three stops before I finally got my gnarled up little paws on a rutabaga. Three stores!!!

I like to think that it’s worth the effort. That my son will remember our traditional Canadian food, and that our guests feel like it’s Christmas when they join us on Christmas day. So tonight, I can put my feed up safe in the knowledge that everything I need for our Christmas dinner, and my Christmas baking trays is ready to go.

Once I had successfully captured the elusive Christmas rutabaga, I could cross the last thing off my Christmas shopping list, and there’s no greater feeling. Well, maybe a pedicure and the undivided thorough and proper attention of a good man, but I digress.

Tomorrow is baking day; snickerdoodles, gingersnaps, shortbread, whipped shortbread with chocolate nougat, my 70’s retro squares, a batch of fudge, pineapple squares, biscotti, maybe some caramel corn, and the last drenching of the fruitcake with rum.

Now I bet you’re wishing that bitter-el-yucko squash hadn’t been grown so close to the gourd patch aren’t you? You’re kinda wishing I kept my trap shut and switched to common squash. But I’m not common my darlings. I’m a country girl at heart who loves tradition even more than she actually enjoys the rutabaga.  Go figure.

Wishing you a peaceful and relaxing weekend before the fat-man in the red-suit shimmies down your chimney next week.

 

Mmmm! Something smells good!

"Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all"

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into without abandon or not at all”

My relationship with food has been a grand love affair. Much like the one I have with men, I have a wide variety of tastes, and have over-indulged from time to time.

Cooking has always been about comfort, showing love, and making someone feel at home.

I love to be the cook for traditional get-togethers. There’s no greater contentment than sitting around a table with people you love and enjoying all of the dishes that have come to define the holidays.  Well, sitting around the crackling fireplace finishing off the last of the bubbly is pretty darn good too, but that’s for another post and another day.

Cooking for a man has always been special for me, but then again, I get excited about everything. Now, let’s be clear darlings, I’m not talking about throwing something together quickly to help wash down the vino like mussels or a charcuterie plate.  What I’m talking about is being excited to see someone, and wanting to prepare something special for them.

It’s thinking about the recipe, making the special trips to the grocer, liquor store and picking up the bits and bobs that will make the evening special. Maybe it’s his favourite tipple, movie, or planning something fun for after dinner, even if it’s just a walk around the lake to look at the Christmas lights, or perhaps something that requires far fewer layers.

So, after I perform my bed-time routine of switching off the lights and tripping over Mr. Willie Nelson the cat, I will curl up under my snuggly duvet with my cookbooks and start planning.

Oooh! I’m sooo excited! Maybe, just maybe I should consider keeping one of these fellas someday….

Ritual, Devotion, Faith & Fruitcakes

monkcakeI’m very fortunate to have the ear of clergy representing many faith groups at many levels. Recently, during a conversation we discussed the idea of ritual in opposition to devotion.

Raised Christian, with a background rooted in the rich and terrifying land of Religious Studies in combination with being a present-day-barely-practicing-Buddhist, I must admit that I  equally find comfort in the ritual of a Protestant service,  Catholic mass and chanting of the Sutras.

I’m one of those heathen hybrids that most faith leaders find irresistible when it comes to their calling to convert. That I can somewhat intelligently discuss a vast variety of religious dogma and texts makes me somewhat slippery when it comes to devotion, and a ritual junkie. My values of honouring the human spirit, practice of kindness and stripping interpretation of sacred text of its ancient and oppressive cultural superstition also makes me a bit of a pariah.

The idea that devotion and ritual can even be opposed left me gob-smacked.

 

devotion; noun (pr. dee-vo-shuh-n)
1. profound dedication; consecration.
2. earnest attachment to a cause, person, etc.
3. an assignment or appropriation to any purpose, cause, etc.:

the devotion of one’s wealth and time to scientific advancement.

4. Often, devotions. Ecclesiastical. religious observance or worship; a form of prayer or worship for special use.

Devotion embraces elements of ritual, often as prescribed by religious texts and demanded by rites of passage.

I do believe that perhaps the faith leader I was speaking with perhaps intended to say that people often go through rituals without understanding the intended meaning within the faith. Ritual is a step on the pathway of devotion.

Ritual often reveals itself in real-life-every-day habitual activities. Think about our rituals around food.

Today, for instance, I spent  some time preparing a fruitcake recipe that has been handed down for generations. ‘What does fruitcake have to do with ritual and devotion‘, you might be asking yourself right now. Everything.

The ritual reminds me of my grannies, and all of the lessons about life I  learned at their apron strings; patience, planning, generosity, the value of work, taking time to teach, listening, and even the value of humour.

You see, it’s not about the fruitcake. It’s about what you do with it. Your fruitcake might be wine, or cabbage rolls, easter ham, serving tea or technical skills. It’s about whatever it is that helps you create something to be shared with your community.

After all, isn’t a life of faith, devotion and practice about creating a more compassionate, loving world? Religious scripture, ritual, and organization are creations of our own, intended  to guide us on a path of living a life of purpose, meaning and compassion.

Whatever your creations (even if it’s a controversial culinary masterpiece like the oft-debated value of fruitcake), they are  your gift to share.

Small,  daily rituals such as opening a door for someone, shaking hands or  sharing food are all stepping-stones of devotion. That we don’t recognize them in such a busy world, where the human spirit often struggles to shine,  does not diminish their value .

Your small gestures  in this big machine of North-American life do matter.

Celebrate your mundane creations, and the people who share them with you. Faith has such vast connotations, but why don’t you try to think of faith as  the ability of the human spirit to shine through our every-day-existence.

Whatever your particular faith, ritual or devotion, please share your own fruitcake with the world.

 

Trying Too Hard

trying too hardThe world seems to be trying too hard.

Just this morning the ticker-tape news on CBC news included these little gems; Bear bites boy off 9-year-old boy in Chinese Zoo, 350 Runners finish windy 20km race in Newfoundland, 14 people arrested after New England Pumpkinfest turns ugly, South, North Korea exchange gunfire across border.

Other than being vaguely entertaining, it really wasn’t news. North and South Korea exchanging occasional fire across the border? Pul-eazah, deliver some real news.  For instance, perhaps give a little more screen time to this Ebola vaccine,  the pr0-democracy demonstrations in Hong-Kong, or perhaps even the on-going sale of Canada’s democratic principles and social humanitarianism to China itself.

On a much less serious note, but serious to anyone (like myself ) who considers art, of any kind, the expression of the human spirit, consider Neil Diamond’s appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The only feeling I had for old Neil was pity.

What old Neil Diamond needs is to be himself, not a duded out old songbird trying for one more. Thank you for your classics Mr Diamond. Even Jimmy Fallon, whom I adore as a truly talented man had to force amusement during the most entertaining part of the interview;

Neil’s performance was a swinging tribute to the 70’s, a decade fashion needs to leave  behind.  Granted, Mr. Diamond may be considered an attractive older man, with  skeletal legs holding up his leather jacket and huge, gaunt eyeballs, I just wanted to go on stage, gently take the microphone from his hand, and pat him on the back as I escorted him to a comfy chair and a plate of biscuits.

Even dear old Leonard Cohen’s last album was nothing to write home about. Sorry Leonard, you know I love you, but your persona as the ever-curious lover was awesome. Save the singing of your new poems, and let us instead hear you recite your poetry as poetry, not lyrics. You are a literary icon, not a playboy. We love you, but make room on the stage and pocketbooks of music lovers for fresh, new talent.

Take Hozier for instance;

 

Give me something unique, sincere, and weird, but don’t give me mimicry of the truly great originals.

The recent global slap to U2’s ego was heard around the world when Apple invaded our privacy and assumed everyone wants the same type of art imposed on our unassuming playlists.

Classics are classics because they gave a stellar performance during their five-minutes of fame on the world’s stage. Let them remain classics.

Julia Child cannot be mimicked, nor can Bob Dylan or Don Cherry. They became the royalty of their own weirdness, and we celebrated them for it.

Enough of the knock-off chefs with over done hair and glasses trying to imitate the sincerity of the proud, Michelin-starred-chefs-of-the-past .

Enough of the Nicki Minaj’s dancing around to someone else’s hit. Sweetie, we lived through Madonna’s coffee table book, your bare ass isn’t anything new.

Let us all have the courage and grace to flow from year to year being our own, unique, selves, without trying too hard to be someone, or something we’re not. That includes doing real work, reporting authentic news, and promoting fresh talent.