Wistful Memories

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.
Daddy in Maui, sampling gourmet nibbles on our private lanai – Isn’t life grand?

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.

Catch of the Day

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.

Groundhog Day – this idea is getting old

“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.

Good and sticky

This weekend we celebrate a Canadian food invention. I wonder if you know what it is…

It was the quintessential sandwich filling of my childhood, and also the main ingredient in a favourite cookie. As a grownup(or should I say “big kid”?), I enjoy it in cheesecake with chocolate or to make a satay out of skewered meat.

Yes, it’s that delectable stick-to-the-roof of your mouth stuff that comes just like life, chunky or smooth – peanut butter.

Peanut butter was first eaten by the ancient Incas and Aztecs, but was not adopted by later civilizations. Modern peanut butter was invented by Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Bedford, Quebec in 1884. He patented a machine that milled roasted peanuts to create a paste.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (yes, that Dr. Kellogg) was the man who took care of the marketing. His machine made peanut butter from raw peanuts; his suggested audience was people who could not chew much solid food. At his Sanitorium (combination spa, medical centre and hotel) his other invention, Corn Flakes, was also served. It was marketed as an anaphrodisiac (the opposite of aphrodisiac), for Mr Kellogg was all about temperance.

Dr. Kellogg

Peanut butter was put on the map as a snack food at the Worlds Fair in St. Louis in 1904, and it featured strongly during WW1 when meat was rationed. It was a favourite alternative on the first Meatless Mondays.

The real modern innovation came in 1922 when Joseph Rosefield came up with the idea of using hydrogenated oil to stabilize peanut butter so it would not separate. That increased the shelf life and meant it could be shipped further.

Mr. Rosefield was a peanut butter king of sorts – his brand Skippy is still one of the biggest in the U.S. today. He came up with churning the mixture instead of grinding to make it smoother. He also invented chunky, or crunchy, peanut butter. He even pioneered the wide-mouth jar we all use.

This stuff is a North American phenomenon. I remember trying to get my English students to taste it years ago when I was in France – they were disgusted. My British friends would much rather put Marmite on their toast, thank you very much.

Sunday January 24th is Peanut Butter Day. Do we need to do extra celebrating? Apparently the average North American child eats about 1500 peanut butter sandwiches before they graduate high school. Then there is peanut butter on toast, peanut butter ice cream and cheesecake, Reese’s cups… you get the idea.

Whether you are a smooth or chunky fan, regardless of your preferred brand, I think you will admit that peanut butter is something that binds us all together as North Americans.

Peanut butter seems to defy pomp and ceremony anyway. It is the glue of everyday life. Perhaps that is why it deserves to be lauded. Where would we be without a jar of this wonderful stuff in the cupboard to sustain us?

I’m off to make myself a piece of toast and slice a banana, so I can pay proper homage to that delicious spread. Later I might even whip up a batch of Criss-Cross Cookies

Homemade goodness!

A cure for the winter blahs

I am a Prairie girl at heart, I guess. I love clear blue skies and bright days. I love having four distinct seasons, each with its own weather, its own colours. I don’t like being cold, but I don’t mind bundling up if there is sunshine to warm my soul. In the grey, wet days we have so often here in January, bundling up alone does not take away the blahs.

Even when the clouds aren’t thick, the sky isn’t really blue.

I am not particularly fond of grey. Perhaps it is connected to my love of food. There are no grey foods. (The closest I came was trying to mix frozen blueberries into biscuit dough; the result was a weird sort of mauve-grey that was not appealing, but at least still tasty.) I prefer plenty of flavour and colour, in all aspects of my life.

When I say I find solace in food, I don’t mean like eating a tub of ice cream in one night. I prefer to savour things…

  • A cup of tea on a damp day is just the thing to warm one’s bones
  • A cookie can make one forget sadness, even if just for a moment
  • A bowl of soup really does help one’s soul, and it doesn’t have to be made with chicken

All of these things are a way for me to guard against those winter blahs, or to celebrate another day of having survived them.

I am grateful for a fully stocked pantry, and a companion at the table. I am grateful for my cabinet full of cookbooks, like old friends who can regale me with stories of the good old days. I am most grateful for my health; that I can still reach to gather ingredients, get down the stairs to the pantry and back up, bend over for a peek in the oven… even with all the groans from me and creaks from the joints, I realize these are blessings indeed.

In the age of Covid, having my sense of smell and taste are gifts I celebrate more than ever. Is that why I am even more conscious of savouring flavours and aromas? Or perhaps it is the lack of ability to travel that makes me search the spice cupboard for exotic options.

We cannot visit foreign lands or even visit a friend or relative for tea, but we can still eat. The direct connection of our olfactory system to our memory means that we are hardwired to remember experiences when we smell things we have smelled before.

So, my cure for the blahs is to feed my hunger. My hunger not just for food, but for flavour and excitement. It is harder to sustain in the bleakness of winter, especially in these times of lockdowns and restrictions, but I will keep cooking and keep eating, and keep toasting to everyone’s good health. Cheers!

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

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