In an age when technology allows us to find out almost anything with a Google search, it may seem odd to think of exchanging recipes personally with someone. But I will admit I still enjoy the chance to get a personal recipe from another cook, in their own handwriting. I have more than a few ingredient-stained pages glued in an old journal that I still cherish as one of my favourite cookbooks. It is not just the bits of ingredients on the page that adds to the magic of cooking the recipes and tasting them again and again. I think herein lies the true root of soul food.
This weekend I am making a recipe I call Best Friend Banana Bread. It’s an old favourite, one that comes from one of my best and longest-held friends, a soulmate who currently lives in England. This recipe is one she sent to me on airmail paper about 30 years ago, as one of her favourites. In those days she was living in her home country of South Africa, and had just started a family with her new husband and daughter (my goddaughter). It’s a wonderful combination of health food and decadence, and I love it for that as well as how it reminds me of my darling friend.
We have shared many great recipes over the years. I sent her my Mom’s Brown Sugar Shortbread recipe, and she sent me the one for South African Milk Tart. In my movie catering days, her recipes for bobotie and carrot cake were favourites with the crews I fed. And when she brought her family to Canada so we could share Christmas together, they were amazed at my husband cooking turkey in the BBQ, and they loved his French Canadian traditions of tourtière and bûche de Noel. Food was one of the ways that kept us connected across the miles and it added to our shared memories when we could get together.
I spent a week in England at my friend’s house 8 years ago this weekend, to catch up and join in the celebrations for her 25th wedding anniversary and my goddaughter’s 21st birthday. It was amazing to think that we had been friends almost 30 years, since my first trip to Europe. We hadn’t seen each other for 7 years, and yet as soon as I arrived, we sat down at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and some biscuits and picked up where we left off like it had been last Sunday. I could feel my soul filling up like I had stopped in at the gas station. All week long we savoured moments, many of them around the table.
My husband and her husband shared time at the stove – hers loves to cook, and with mine being a chef the two of them are often engaged in a sort of kitchen chat. It’s a bit like that Actors Studio show, where you have this interview/conversation between an expert and an admiring and not unknowing layman. Martin shared some of his secret spice blends on that visit, and he got to see a pheasant prepared for a weeknight dinner like it was chicken. The grand finale was the men cooking Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict for the group of 12 staying at the house – all hot and perfectly cooked!
After coming back home, I felt as though I had been replenished. I posted some new recipes in the archives for her husband Vic to try – poached eggs in red wine sauce is one I know he found interesting! And Martin became a new lover of Sticky Toffee Pudding; he used Merle’s similar recipe for the South African Cape Brandy Pudding as a starting point for his own recipe which he now cooks for clients.
We met again in person a few times over recent years while they travelled but I was ever so grateful that we had a chance to stay with them in Senegal where Vic was stationed up until the end of 2019. It was another lovely opportunity to share recipes and time around the table, reminiscing about the many memories we have made together. We ate delectable African seafood and sampled coconut and mango jams with the French pastries available in Dakar, courtesy of the colonists. Merle and Vic spoiled us again.
The kitchen continues to be one of the best places to stay in touch across the world it seems, and I like the idea that our friendship might help warm some other hearts as well. Martin and I are hoping that when the world gets back to some kind of regular existence, we can finally host our friends in our kitchen here in the Okanagan and toast to our fantastic history across the miles.
Here we are, at the beginning of a new cycle. I don’t know about you, but I’m ever so happy to have made it to the other side of the past year. As the saying goes, hindsight is 2020, and does that ever apply to life these days.
Over the past year, I did learn to bake a mean sourdough loaf, and I conquered my fear of other lengthy baking preparations – I can now make croissants and puff pastry. I also had a wicked garden full of herbs and edible blossoms last summer, giving me inspiration to create new herb blends, tisanes, and even a few herb salts.
All these things are new skills I add to my quiver. I can duplicate them in the new world, making me an even more grateful gourmand. Food has always been a way for me to express my gratitude, and having new ways to do that has been wonderful, even if it has been remotely that I have shared.
We are moving into our new world at a tortoise’s pace, not the hare one might hope for in spring metaphors. Nevertheless, hope does spring eternal and so I am using enthusiasm as my fuel until I can employ real action. Mother Nature’s efforts to showcase the new season help keep my energy up. Does your heart lift when you hear the first robins of spring, or see the first green shoots?
Here in the Okanagan we are blessed with a mild Canadian climate. The crocus blossoms are out, and the daffodils and tulips are not far behind. My mint is pushing up through the garden dirt, and the rhubarb has shown its face, too. But my favourite harbinger of spring is something that exhibits all the signature qualities of the season of new things… cute and fuzzy pussywillows!
One of the other qualities of spring is that it tends to go over board. The possible storms and floods of the season are not much fun, but an overload of love can be just what one might need – especially after the year we just had. Family and friends provide that support we all need, and I know many have dug deep to find new ways to connect.
For us at Rabbit Hollow, the new abundance of love we felt was a puppy. I feel ever-so-fortunate to have a creature to hug and snuggle and love, who loves us unconditionally. She is like our very own personal Easter Bunny, bringing energy and love and happiness.
What new habits have you adopted in our new world? Are you proud of any new skills? We have made it here, and we can keep going. Even though spring may be unpredictable with its weather and its timing, it never fails to offer us a fresh start. Let’s skip through that new grass, inhale those blossoms, and hum along with the birds!
“Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring.”– Lilly Pulitzer
I posted a picture this morning on social media, and it made me remember other things… do you ever go down the rabbit hole that way? Today is one of those days that finds me falling through the tunnels like Alice, my mind all a-tizzy with memories that are locked in the past. They are all memories of my Daddy, who has been gone for 14 years now. He would have been 78 today.
There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think of my dad. There are numerous mementos in our house that came from him, so he is all around me. And I was his Princess growing up; we were close. Not as close in later years, as I moved away and his health deteriorated, which meant he couldn’t travel.
I do wish I had visited more – even to show up and go for coffee with him. I have learned that lesson now – that’s what credit cards are for. If you want a moment with a loved one, make it happen in whatever way you can. You might be sorry it wasn’t exactly how you imagined, or that it cost more than you planned – but you won’t regret it, especially when they are gone and you can’t do it anymore.
But enough wallowing – I can hear him saying, “Don’t let the bastards get you down, Kricky”. I am grateful for so many happy memories, and wonderful things he taught me:
- one of my earliest memories is sitting on a couch, eating peanuts out of a shell with my dad (the shells went in a paper grocery bag at our knees). I could swear we were watching the Apollo Moon Landing (I would have been 4 years old.) Years later, we would compare notes about CBS Sunday Morning stories, another bit of TV we watched together when I was a kid.
- he travelled for work, so my mom was our “rock” in everyday life, but my parents were a close, intimate and loving couple. I remember one trip he gave me instructions for notes to write. They were to accompany roses that I got each day for my mom, from him. I thought that was the most romantic thing ever.
- Music was a big part of my childhood – growing up in the 70’s meant there were lots of classics. One of my best musical memories, though, is a family parade through the house, marching along to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. We even went over the beds!
- he sent me to basketball camp so I could learn how not to be such a klutz on the court. I was never an all-star, but at least I could feel more like one of the team. Years later, we watched Michael Jordan play against the Vancouver Grizzlies – he had season’s tickets.
- the cup I posted this morning was from a resort in the British Virgin Islands. I got it on a summer sailing trip – one that I managed to get a spot on because he thought I’d have fun when he heard about it at a dinner with friends, so he saved me the spot! That was how I got the travel bug. I was 16. Years later I got to return the favour while working for Fairmont Hotels when we spent 5 days in Maui at the Kea Lani Resort. It was an epic vacation.
- he sent my Mom to spend 2 weeks with me two years later when I was in Europe. We still talk about the crazy times we had together!
- he bought me the sexiest dress I ever owned, a stunning 3/4 length, long-sleeved backless purple wool number with a swishy skirt that I couldn’t twirl enough. He always made me feel beautiful, inside and out. Every time I stand up straight I think of him and smile.
- we used to have Friday night dinners at “The Treetop Bistro” when we both lived in central Vancouver. The Treetop Bistro was his corner window table in his West End apartment. He would cook something adventurous and I would bring dessert from the gourmet food store and café where I worked. We would sit in his director’s chairs, drink wine and solve the problems of the world. I have those chairs now, and I smile every time I sit in one of them.
My dad was a passionate fellow. He was a hard worker, and he passed that work ethic on. He loved to laugh. He loved to learn. I am so grateful I got all those things from him, so that I can remember him well.
I wish there were more pictures. I really wish there was a recording of his voice. It’s ironic, given that he was in the media business – occupational hazard, I suppose. He was always the one behind the lens.
I will send out the message I always do when I think of him: “Thank you, Daddy, for always sending out your love to me. Thank you for helping make a me strong and passionate and happy woman. I sure do miss you, but I hope you’re riding the waves with a smile and that glint in your eye!”
Well, if you’re still reading, thanks for letting me share my memories. Maybe it will inspire you to go and create one with a person in your world. You won’t regret it.
Life is about moments, and enjoying them. Catching moments and hauling them in every day can be very rewarding; when you get everything right, it can be like winning the local fishing derby.
I am a cook that is inspired by circumstances. The combinations of memories and tastes move me to choose certain recipes. I suppose I am a traditional eater too; I eat seasonal ingredients and I eat what fits with the weather.
Recently we have had our annual hit of cold winter weather. The windows are all frosted up, the wind blows to chill your bones and the skies are shades of grey that swallow every other colour. The word dreary does not begin to describe the mood.
These are the times when comfort food comes to the rescue. We needed a dinner to make us forget the weather. One of those rich dishes with stick-to-your-ribs texture and simple heartwarming flavours. To kick it up a notch, I added in a childhood memory.
I was thinking of stew, but the universe intervened. My mom and I had chatted about a British pub standard and Lo and Behold, a recipe post from Paul Hollywood appeared in my feed.
My mom made a fish pie, which sounded as comforting as stew. When I read the recipe post, the sight of smoked haddock as one ingredient immediately transported me back to childhood.
When I was little, my most favourite dinner was “finnan haddie”, smoked haddock in a bechamel sauce served with toast soldiers. It is my earliest comfort food memory.
It was as much curiosity as desire to be comforted that got me shopping for the Whitby Fish Pie recipe ingredients.
I amped up the traditional filling of just fish with a bit of celery, carrots and onions sautéed first, as well as a red potato. And although simple was the theme, that didn’t mean we couldn’t have some herb flavour (a bit of our dried thyme and oregano worked wonderfully).
The best part is, this recipe is faster to prepare than a stew. Infuse milk with flavours. Make pastry and chill it. Sauté veggies, then make sauce. Add fish and warm through. Roll out pastry over top of the oven-safe pan and bake till done.
I was comforted and full of happy nostalgia. Hubbie was happily satisfied and a good sport about hearing my childhood ramblings. We forgot all about the driving wind and dreary greys.
When the conditions get ugly, that’s when you dig deep. That’s when you have to reel, and if everything falls the right way, you land the big catch.
“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”
Bill Murray said that in the movie, “Groundhog Day”. You remember the story – he got stuck in the same day over and over again. Sound familiar?
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being fatigued. Time to spin this on its head. Whether the rodent sees his shadow or not, I’m moving forward without looking back.
Let’s treat Groundhog Day as a celebration, and think of what we love to have in our lives repeatedly.
As a start to my positive outlook, I thought I’d start with a food experiment. If I was stuck in the same day, what would I want to eat… over and over again?
In the movie, Bill Murray’s character Phil samples just about every kind of breakfast – my kind of heaven. If I had to choose though, I might well go with his original choice: a sticky bun. I’m a sucker for cinnamon, and going as far back as childhood I have memories of deliciously messy buns warm from the oven.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, at least by this movie’s standards, but that’s not to say snacks should be forgotten.
If we are talking about timeless food, what better example is there than Angel Food Cake?! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to stuff a whole piece in my mouth just like Bill Murray… I’d it like marshmallow?
Phil mentions a memory of a heavenly dinner at one point:
“…eating lobster and drinking Piña Coladas”
There is something wonderfully decadent about seafood and tropical cocktails in what is by definition the dead of winter. Those foods taste even better when one’s feet are in the sand, but who says we can’t imagine the sand and have the real food instead?
Ultimately Phil figures out that the real magic in life comes from the little things – those unexpected moments or mundane tastes that attach themselves to our memory. It brings to mind the old adage:
‘Life is What Happens To Us While We Are Busy Making Other Plans’– Allen Saunders, in Readers Digest 1957
Whether I eat all my favourite foods and drink the cellar dry or I randomly enjoy a myriad of flavours, I plan to make the most of the results. As the past year has drummed into us, Plan A never works. That doesn’t mean we have to live Plan B begrudgingly.
When you think about it, perspective is the key. If the groundhog just looked the other way, he could change seeing his shadow – or not.
I can sip the same cup of coffee every morning, even draining the pot. If I choose a new perspective for the day, then the possibilities are endless, even if the coffee is not.