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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 Kitchen Is a Time Machine

canningAs soon as the screen door squeaked open, the little, blond-haired girl with pig-tails scrunched up her nose. The fading light of sunset was lost in the tangy, humid air of the house. The scent was strong, sour, spicy, and unfamiliar.

“I just love that smell Mo,” her father said to her.

That was over 30 years ago, and the aroma of chili sauce boiling on the stove still takes the  little blond-haired girl with pig-tails back to that humid August night.

My Grandmoter was in the steamy kitchen boiling down her chili sauce. She was a fabulous cook. Granny could take the most basic home-grown ingredients and create a feast.

The cheesecloth bag that was bouncing around in the bubbling pot was full of spices, and I always think of that day when I cook up a batch of my own chili sauce this time of year.

Even though my other Granny wasn’t much of a cook, she made the best roast beef. We don’t eat a lot of red meat, but when I cook a roast, I think of my maternal Grandma bent over the stove in her apron, turning the beef. She would say to me, “You only turn it once.” She smothered the beef in black pepper, the same way she did her parboiled and fried turnip slices. Mmmm!

This weekend I bottled tomatoes, salsa, pickled beets and cooked peach jam.  Anyone who does any significant amount of home preserving knows that the cost savings are negligible. Everyone seems to want some, and very few bring back the jars. But that’s not the point.

The process provides as much satisfaction as the end result. My big, tall, football and baseball-playing teenaged son donned an apron and spent the entire evening with me preparing the fruit, stirring and washing up. I know that these are precious moments that will soon pass as he grows up and spreads his wings.

My son also manages to be around when I prepare the fruit for the fruitcake, measuring it by sight, and pouring the rum over it.  Every year I point to my Granny’s handwritten recipe, and tell him the stories of growing up in the country, and the particular Christmas Eve that the town drunk let himself into Granny’s house when we were out at church. There is comfort in ritual, even in such a simple atmosphere as the kitchen.

The scents from the kitchen bring back wonderful memories of family, holidays and full tummies.

Although I appreciate a finely cooked meal, the abundance and friendship that are nurtured around our meals is more important.

As a young woman, I had dreams of a country house with a huge harvest table. Instead, I live a city life. As  I pulled the protective cloth off of the antique maple table that my Mumster gave me, I realized I already have everything that I wished for. My table is a harvest table during the month of August. My home is filled with love, friendship and abundant laughter.

More often than not, my son comes home, opens the door, and says, “Oh, something smells good! Is that…”, and sure enough, it usually is. Whether it’s my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe, or a pot of chili sauce, there’s usually something cooking at our house.

Friday Night Football Lights games, Thanksgiving and Christmas will all see our little home filled to bursting with friends who visit and join us for a bite to eat.

As I sat reading the paper and having my tea listening to the jar lids pop and seal, I was that little girl in blond-pigtails again, back in my Granny’s kitchen.

 

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Bittersweet Summertime

farmersmarketBaseball season and football season start the official overlap tomorrow at our house. That means autumn is on the way.

The seasons are marked at our house according to what kind of footwear the kiddo needs; football cleats, baseball spikes, curling sliders, court shoes, water shoes…you name it, we’ve got it.

We are at the front end of what I refer to as deep summer.

I am ready to start canning tomatoes, salsa, chili sauce, and pickling beets. I wedge my domestic chores in between practices, playoffs and football camp. Oh yes, and my fuller-than-full-time-gig as a professional, working, single mom.

This is a bittersweet time of year. The sun is setting earlier, and there’s a crisp edge to damp air each evening when I sit out on my little patio before bedtime.

Although I love the summer sunshine,the tail end of the season is more precious because we can feel it slipping away.

I capture the essence of August in the fresh produce put up for another cold, icy winter, and enjoying the sunshine into the autumn.

As sweet as summertime is, fall has always been the season of my heart.

I give you another list;

 ~Reasons that the end of Summer & Cool Fall days are the Best Time of the Year~

1) Cool nights that call for sweaters and curling in up with your true-love under a blanket, watching for falling stars.

2) Canning and preserving all the delicious fruits of your summer time gardening-labours.

3) Pumpkin spice lattes. Pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving turkey.

4) Football season, and cheering on your local team.

5) Fuzzy socks

6) Long drives along winding roads to buy your produce from small farmer’s markets.

7) Winery tours during the grape harvest.

8) Long walks, holding hands and kisses on cold lips and cold noses.

9)  Delicious, hearty stews by candlelight with red wine and hoards of good company.

10) The World Series.

~Wishing you sunny days and a satisfying slide into autumn.~

 

 

 

 

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Anticipating Autumn

fall sceneThat’s it. They’ve rolled up the sidewalks, and declared the end of summer.

The beaches are alone tonight, the tide relaxed in the moonlight.   The swimming pools have wrapped their chain-link towels around themselves and declared their secret depths off-limits until the sun shines in 2014.

As the evening of Labour Day marks the end of summer, it also beckons you to come peek at what’s coming next.

Autumn.

Summer has been a flash this year my darlings.  My gin and tonics were few and far between. I knew that it would be a whirlwind of work and settling into a new routine. Instead of time off, I’ve had to settle for white-wine spritzers while standing by the BBQ, grilling up a quick dinner.

As much as I’ve always loved the freedom of summertime, I have always, always, always loved September my tart little apples.

With a schoolgirl heart, I look forward to the routine, the cozy cool evenings and the bold beautiful show that mother nature puts on for us all.  It’s time to take stock, check out which parts of life are abundant, and which need a little more attention.

Career in line – check.  Kiddo ready for high school – check. Summer berries and yummies preserved on  the shelf – check.

As summer closes her youthful eyes, Autumn is sweeping across the land.  I’m dreaming of some cozy nights at home with my new man (he doesn’t know it yet), giving ‘thanks’ with good friends, a girls’ roadtrip, making candy apples, applecrisp, pear and pumpkin pies and hiking through our beautiful forests.

Red wine, warm cognac, bourbon straight up, and long, passionate kisses on the trail as the sun sets. Rich stews and soups after days at the market and roadtripping together. Rainy Sunday afternoons, curled under a blanket with a book that never ends, roast in the oven, and leaves waltzing to the ground.

I love fall because it’s time to tuck in and cozy up with all that I hold close to my heart.

Wishing you hope, gratitude and a deliciously cuddly love-of-your-life  to snuggle up with by the fireplace as the air grows crisp and  days grow  shorter.