Today is Family Day where I live. A long weekend, a chance for families to spend some time together. Not the Spring Break-kind of vacation time, but perhaps a chance to see a movie, or make a trip to the ski hill (there is still snow up there although not much left in town). If people can manage to arrange their busy schedules to make quality time happen, I’m all for that.
In our house, the easiest way to make quality time is to set the table. Does that sound old-fashioned and corny?
We are passionate about food in all its forms – growing it, cooking it and eating it. That too is weird for lots of people, I realize. What can I say? I was brought up in a house where meal time was important and where a nice meal was a big deal. Everyday meals were not to be taken lightly either.
Growing up I didn’t think of us as not having much, but according to my parents there were times when things were tight. I loved Tuna Casserole and shepherd’s pie for dinner, so what did I know?
I don’t think I realized tuna could be eaten another way than from a can until I was much older, and I thought everyone made shepherd’s pie in their electric frying pan just like my mom. Seasoning was what counted, and she knew how to make flavourful meals.
Many of our meals today are simple – we eat salad for dinner at least a couple times every week. When we invite people for dinner we apply ourselves, offering something fun and colourful. It might be simple if it’s dinner before a movie, or it might be Sunday roast with all the trimmings; it’s always an occasion worth celebrating, just like at the family table when I was a kid.
Anyone around my table are like family – I want them to feel comfortable, taken care of and happy.
They shouldn’t feel guilty having seconds, and they needn’t worry about offending if they push the mushrooms or onions to one side. I am happy they could be there and enjoy the time – that’s what counts.
So how’s about we make every Monday a Family Day? You get the cutlery and place mats, I’ll grab the tuna casserole. I’ll meet you at the table.
January. Short drab days and long cloudy nights. Not even a twinkling star to cheer one through the darkness. My Prairie girl soul takes offence to so much grey; it aches for the sea-blue skies and blinding sun on snowdrifts.
My best remedy for what seems to be a seasonal malaise is to cook. I especially like to use citrus flavours in winter, as they help to awaken the senses and brighten things up with their acidity and even their colour.
One of my favourite January pastimes is making Seville Marmalade. I have always loved the stuff, thanks to my maternal grandfather who hails from the Scottish side of my heritage. His habit of stuffing things in my tiny mouth whilst babysitting me as a toddler is probably the largest single contribution anyone made to my palate. Marmalade, green olives, watermelon… he opened my eyes and tastebuds to the range of flavours in the world.
I have written about my marmalade making in the past, and the wonderful author of the recipe I use, in my post Wishing for Marmalade Skies . I did make marmalade this year again, adding a wee dram of Johnny Walker Black Label to the pot just before filling the jars. Next year I intend to submit a sample in the international competition in Dalemain, UK. I’d like to attend their Marmalade Festival too, at some point.
For those who aren’t marmalade fans, I have another recipe for you to enjoy. I adapted a tart recipe from Ottolenghi, a fabulous chef to use for winter inspirations with all his Mediterranean flavours.
Orange Polenta Cake is perfect for sharing, whether for afternoon tea, happy hour (with a bit of Asti Spumante) or as a dessert after a nice stew dinner.
There is a wee bit of a marmalade flavour from the caramelized oranges on top but the cake is buttery and having a bit of caramel sauce with it almost makes you forget it’s winter.
It is a new year, and spring will come eventually. In the meantime, I’ll keep cooking and persevere. The smell of the oranges cooking will remind me of sunshine and lollipops and all things bright and beautiful.
Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.
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.
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