Category Archives: events

Christmas Dinner for the ages

Christmas is my favourite time of year, and Christmas dinner seems to epitomize the whole festive season: the food and drink and best of all, the company. It is the one time that people try to see past any differences and gather to share a meal – a simple thing, but a powerful experience.

In a normal year, there might be challenges to bridging the gaps and getting everyone to enjoy a meal together. Both my chef hubbie and I have always believed that we should be grateful we have those people you care about enough to argue with, and toast their good health before you dive into that sumptuous dinner. I suppose a good part of living in a pandemic is being reminded of the things for which we should be grateful.

Ebenezer Scrooge was shown his future in one night. We have spent 9 months living in a version of that same dream. It’s time to get up and embrace a new future.

In my Christmases past, I have had traditions that evolved over time. As a kid, I remember mashed potatoes with gravy, NO Brussel sprouts (my Dad hated them) and a roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Stuffing was a topic that was hotly discussed by my parents, as my Mom read more cooking magazines and my Dad pined for the “good old days” when celery and sage were all it needed. Years later, he would be the one saying why hadn’t we added walnuts or used cornbread earlier.

Once I was on my own, I wanted to replicate the Victorian Christmas. I cooked a goose one year, and made Christmas cake. I found out I love Brussel sprouts roasted in the oven and dusted with Parmesan cheese. And as friends and family spread out across the globe, I have learned to enjoy a smaller feast. It has been a rare occasion to have guests for Christmas dinner at Rabbit Hollow – turns out that was a blessing in disguise for this year, not expecting much.

We have a new granddaughter this year and so it is disappointing not to see her in person for Christmas. My stepdaughter was looking forward to having her dad help her with the first of her big family Christmas dinners. But we are focusing on creating a memory that embraces this year so that we can look back on it later as part of our Christmases past.

I don’t think it was merely the tryptophan from the turkey that made me groggy and light-headed at Christmas; it was more that sense of euphoria that comes over you when you immerse yourself in the spirit of Christmas. This doesn’t require the presence of people in the room, just in your heart. If you truly believe in the essence of Christmas then as you let it into your heart and take active part in the festivities and the giving, you cannot help but feel better yourself.

Children know this intuitively, and it is only as our hearts harden if we don’t practice such things that we lose sight of the true meaning of this holiday. Christmas is not for children, but for the child that lies within us all, hoping for a chance to believe in something pure and good, and listening for that magic signal which says that something exists.

So, if you need a dose of “A Wonderful Life” or “The Polar Express” before Christmas dinner to get you in full gear, go right ahead. If you can exchange Tupperware containers to share in the food with folks close in proximity, why not! And when you fire up the screens, have your glass ready. When you sit down to dinner, cherish the meal, toast those with you, remember the ones missing, and take a picture for your memory book. This will only be Christmas present right now.

It is of great importance to take Christmas to heart, for if you do it right, it just might stay with you until next year. Wouldn’t that make the world a wonderful place?

As Tiny Tim said so long ago, “God Bless us every one.” Merry Christmas from our table to yours.

Hallowed eves of old

I don’t think of myself as old. I often think of myself as a big kid, never quite having grown up. So many memories of how much fun I had as a child are still so vivid in my mind.

I wonder, is the imagination still an active organ? With images supplied for almost everything today, where is the chance for mystery and magic? Hallowe’en is a perfect example of that. I do hope people can still enjoy a good old-fashioned scare.

My dad was a good-natured fellow, but he was also the youngest of four children with two much older brothers. From the stories he told my brother and me, he was scared plenty of times thanks to his vivid imagination, his sister’s equally healthy creative mind and his brothers’ ability to sound really creepy.

The anticipation of what might be under the stairs or behind the door or lurking “out there” in the dark is the scariest part. Apparently studies have shown that we can come up with much scarier things that we will see on a screen. I know I have. I hated the dark as a kid. I am still not fond of it; I just learned how not to think about it.

Gathering a pillowcase of candy while skipping from house to house all dressed up, yelling “Hallowe’en Apples!” – it was good entertainment with a suitably cool reward. But now that I am a big kid, I like to know the story behind the tradition.

Perhaps it is the respectful tone of the day that I admire. Even if one isn’t interested in pagan rituals, it’s hard not to appreciate all the thought that goes into them.

At its heart, Hallowe’en comes from the ancient celebrations of the harvest – the end of the growing season and all its life, and the coming of the darker, winter season with its shorter days.

Festival of the Fires is Ireland’s oldest festival – a celebration of Irish culture, art, heritage, music, ceremony and sport which has been held at the historic Hill of Uisneach for over 1,400 years.

Legend has it that this transition is when the veil is thinnest between the worlds of the living and the dead.

  • Wearing a disguise or costume was a way to avoid being recognized by evil spirits.
  • Food was also put out, or possibly given, to spirits as a way to placate them. Today we call that trick-or-treating.
  • Carving pumpkins today is done because of a fellow named Jack who tried to outsmart the Devil, if you believe the legend. Jack was left to wander the earth with a hollowed-out turnip lit with a lump of burning coal as his lantern.

I come from a childhood full of mist and smoke and fairy dust. The legends I learned made the world I lived in even more special. I hope the children out there tonight will find something special as they gather their treats. They deserve to have a good old-fashioned scare, and to believe in something bigger than all of us.

May your soul be safe under the light of the Blue Moon.

And so it goes… back to little things

Today was Epiphany. The twelfth day of Christmas. It is by some accounts the day the Magi came to see the Christ child. Others believe it represents the baptism of baby Jesus. It is a Christian feast day, complete with a special cake, called King Cake or Galette des Rois.

galette des rois with crown

In Iceland it’s called Þrettándinn, representing the day the 13 mischievous Yule lads return to their parents at their home in the mountains. There are bonfires at many locations throughout towns and country; if one is lucky, one might see an Elf Queen or King dancing around the flames.

In any country, with any beliefs, the holiday celebrations are at an end. A New Year has begun and we start afresh. The tree comes down, the lights go out, the parties stop. Resolutions for a new diet or gym regime, or setting new goals at work take up our time.

And so it goes. We move into “the rest of the year”, full of little things, day-to-day stuff. Some of us look forward to the next holiday, the next celebration. Others are grateful for little things day by day. And still others just put their heads down and try not to think about anything but the finish line.

C’est la vie, as the French say. Life goes on, day by day. Apparently athletes who win a big game – say, the Super Bowl – feel bereft, even depressed, after all the celebrating is over. I think the same thing happens with some people after Christmas. We go into a sort of withdrawal.

As I sit here watching the snow fall that eluded us for most of the holidays, I am cataloging all my special moments and saving them in my mind. I don’t plan on packing them up like the ornaments for the tree. I’m going to keep them handy and use them on bleak days. But for most days, I’m going to just live, and look for the little things that make my day.

The things that people were the most grateful for were the ordinary things in life. The sound of your spouse’s laugh, the smell of morning coffee, the echo of children playing in the yard. The little things. In waiting for the big moments – the vacations, the retirements, the birthdays – we risk missing the experiences of life most worthy of celebrating. — John O’Leary

 

 

Share kindness with a cookie

sharing a cookie

Today is World Kindness Day. I think every day should be World Kindness Day, but we have to start somewhere, right. One step at a time. So, I propose we start by sharing.

One of the easiest things to share is food. I know that in today’s world even that can be complicated, what with all the dietary restrictions and allergies. But the gesture of sharing is still a kind one, even if the recipient has to refuse the token. They don’t have to refuse the smile that goes with it.

My Mom used to say there wasn’t much a cookie couldn’t cure. Technology will argue that point; but if I have a bad day, I still feel better after I take the time to enjoy a cookie. If I can find someone to share the moment and maybe another cookie, so much the better.

Are you like me – certain kinds of cookies fit certain moods?

peanut butter criss cross cookies

 PEANUT BUTTER CRISS CROSS – for days when I feel like a dose of kid magic, that beautiful feeling of freedom and wonder you have when you’re a kid. There is something simple and nourishing about these squished rounds that make my soul sing.

 

cookie monster in bed happiness

TROPICAL DELIGHT – for when I want to “Sail Away” like in that old song, imagining that I’m at the beach or on the water, in holiday mode. These are particularly welcome in the dead of winter.

 

 

Dave Zen cookies

CHOCOLATE COOKIES – you know those days when you just don’t think you can get to the end unless you have a bit of chocolate? These are like a friend made into cookie dough. When your best bud isn’t available, these come to the rescue.

 

 

Maybe you aren’t so much of a sweets person? Not to worry, I have something for that savoury shortbread The Chef Insteadtoo. I always lean towards sweet treats for sharing a morsel, but SAVOURY SHORTBREAD that my hubbie, The Chef Instead makes is a perfect grown-up treat that’s good for one friend or many.

 

 

If, God forbid, you’re not into any kind of biscuit or cookie (it’s okay, we could still be friends) then how about sharing a pot of coffee or a bottle of wine? You can even “pay it forward” in the queue at Starbucks or Timmy’s. You could put something in the Food Bank donation box at your local grocery store.

Even if you’re reading this at the end of the day, you can still be a part of all this wonderful-ness. There is no expiry date on kindness. What do you say?

(I’m heading out to share my birthday cake from yesterday. I’m baking cookies tomorrow. I’ll report back on how they turn out!)

Occupational Hazards

I work with food and wine. Much of why I do is because it is a passion to share good food and drink with others. I love to see people enjoying time around a table for a meal.

In the summer season much of what I do is helping cater large events, like weddings and corporate appreciation events. This is not a cozy dinner party, unless you can imagine fitting 150 people in your dining room. On top of that, we prepare fresh food on site from scratch and my hubbie (the chef) cooks slow food – southern style BBQ meat.

a wedding buffet at Ancient Hills Winery, in Lake Country

wedding dinner at Okanagan Centre Hall in Lake Country

These events work out to about a 14 hour day, usually. Much of it is outside in the elements, since we live in a piece of Paradise – the Okanagan. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate an event in the summer here?

wedding ceremony at Silver Sage Stables in Lavington

a private wedding and reception lakeside in Coldstream

wedding reception on the crush pad at La Stella Winery in the South Okanagan

private wedding and reception by the lake on the Westside

I don’t tell you all this to make me sound special – my work day in the catering world is a variation on the work day most people spend if they work in the restaurant industry. The irony is, at the end of those work days I don’t feel much like eating or drinking any of the fine food we prepared. I taste of course, all day long, but by the end of service when there is time to eat, I’m tired and just want to wrap up. (I also feel like if I sit down I might not get up again.)

Tomorrow is the first wedding of the season. Today I’ve got my ducks in a row, getting platters ready and double-checking all the little details. I planned out my layers of clothes to wear in our less-spectacular-than-usual spring weather. I have snacks loaded in my bag: a banana, energy bar, nuts and raisins, and lots of water. I’m good to go!

Every occupation has its hazards. I can be grateful that mine are only that my feet hurt, my muscles are tired and I don’t have the energy to eat wonderful food for a day. There is no need to feel sorry for me, that’s for sure. On top of it all, I get to share in the joy of some momentous occasions. That is worth missing a meal in my book. I go to bed knowing that I have helped make great memories.

 

 

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