I flew back East for the holidays and discovered some very valuable items in my mother’s freezer: Montmorency cherries.
You see, I can’t find tart or sour cherries anywhere on the Left coast. They don’t grow ’em, they don’t sell ’em. They have sweet cherries. Lots of ’em. But no sour cherries. My grandmother used to make a sour cherry pie for dessert on Friday nights. She’d bake it in a brown glass tart pan, that now sits in my kitchen cupboard. She’d make something called a “Mazola No-Roll Pastry,” which was dead simple and always had the perfect bite to it and a smidge of salt, that was the perfect counterpoint to the sweetened sour cherry filling. I still make it and biting into that pie brings back all sorts of nostalgic memories for me.
When I lived back East, I used to buy a huge bucket of pitted cherries from the supermarket for about 20 bucks. I would drain them and measure out enough cherries for a pie, put them in a plastic freezer bag and have enough to outlast the short cherry season in Ontario. I did that this past summer, hence why there were some in my mom’s freezer.
Instead of doing the traditional pie, I decided to change things up and make a batch of frangipane cream for the pie filling, and then I poured the cherries on top and finished it with slivered almonds.
Frangipane is of French origin. It is more of a paste than a pie filling, made of almond flour, butter, sugar and eggs and a hit of almond extract. I just think of it as the filling you find in almond croissants. It’s definitely not marzipan. It was quite a popular choice on the Great British Baking Show and I was curious what all the fuss was about, so that’s why I decided to try baking with it.
I don’t mind it, but I’m not sure it will become my go to filling. It has a very distinct flavour, which is not to everyone’s liking.
I think it baked up beautifully and looked pretty good. My only criticism (which is entirely cosmetic), is that my pie crust shrank too much and so I didn’t get the nice fluted edge I was hoping for.
But it must have tasted good, because there wasn’t any left at the end of the evening…and people were asking for more!
Last night I broke down. I spilled many tears and sobbed uncontrollably like a young child. The culprit? Homesickness.
It’s been barely 10 months since we moved from Toronto to San Jose, California and I’m exhibiting all the signs and symptoms of homesickness. I didn’t know what that felt like until it happened. I have felt an overwhelming sadness or malaise that can strike at any moment. Yesterday it hit me when I was unpacking our Halloween decorations. I remembered where each spider, skeleton, ghost and ghoul was placed on the porch and in the garden of our home. Now I find myself trying to find a new perch for the scary rat, or a new post to hang the drooping ghost. Are there hooks and nails for the other decorations? Am I allowed to put new nails into the house I am renting? Those questions seem trivial, but they triggered feelings of anxiety and loneliness beyond words.
I looked up articles online (something everyone knows they shouldn’t do but do it anyway) about homesickness and the first results I got were aimed at students who had left home for college or university; kids who didn’t know how to buy groceries, cook a square meal or find their way to a doctor’s office. Those are things I have mastered, not only for myself but also for my kids and husband. The practical aspects of living somewhere new have come easily to me. Finding doctors and dentists, sussing out the grocery stores for all the different foods we like, getting a driver’s licence, navigating the highways and roads, and opening a bank account. Even though I ran into some bureaucratic red tape along the way, everything went smoothly for the most part (Department of Motor Vehicles excluded, but that’s another story!).
What is much more difficult to master are social circles for adults–the very things that aren’t readily available to you, like they are for my kids with school and their sports teams. Breaking into a new community is far from easy. There are neighbours, school parents and hockey parents, but other than sharing a zip code and the same drop off at school or drive to the rink, nobody feels compelled to befriend me. And why should they? The effort must come entirely from me to reach out, make connections and take risks. This can be incredibly intimidating and uncomfortable depending on your personality.
I consider myself an extrovert so I don’t have trouble approaching a stranger and striking up a conversation. I credit my time as a radio and television producer for giving me the confidence to ask lots of questions and listen to the answers. But that doesn’t mean the effort I’ve put in has reaped overnight friendships, or people I can call upon to help out when I find myself needing someone to watch the kids when I’m in a pinch.
Most days are spent in solitude doing chores around the house or running errands. I talk to the dog a lot, but he’s not much of a conversationalist.
That makes it easy to fall into bad habits like comparing everything to back home–the food, the public transit (or lack thereof), the weather, the healthcare system, the schools, the homes, the neighbourhoods, the stores. It is very easy to critique and criticize what is different and somehow inadequate or disappointing in comparison. What is more challenging is finding the good in a new home and capitalizing on it.
For me that is hiking in the hills nearby and spotting deer and wild turkeys, or weekend trips to the coast for a day at the beach with a picnic lunch. It’s about having the time–and the luxury–to ride my bike to school every day with my son for drop off and pick up; or the time to try new recipes and cook with fresh produce that’s grown within an hour of where I live. Every place has something different to offer and it’s up to me to explore, discover and enjoy those amazing things.
Not being allowed to work has contributed, in some part, to my homesickness. This is the first time in my adult life that I have not earned a pay cheque, which is very disconcerting. I’m used to being self sufficient. But it’s not only the money that matters. Going into an office every day, feeling that you have a skill that adds value, and interacting with like-minded people are very powerful motivators that make you feel part of a community. In the absence of that, it is easy to feel alone and isolated when you aren’t part of “the hive.”
So I am volunteering at my youngest son’s school with the garden club and at my middle son’s school snack bar twice a month. Both keep me close to my kids, but I can’t say I have formed lifelong friends through these activities. I do go hiking with a fellow Canadian who has become my closest friend since moving here. She and I are kindred spirits, and I am so grateful for her friendship. I’m not sure how I would be making it through this year emotionally without her support. Unfortunately I already know that she is moving back to Canada after this school year, which means our time together is fleeting and as my husband says, I should really try and make more friends.
Back to that article I found online about homesickness–it appears everything that I am feeling is normal for someone feeling homesick and while there is no formal psychological diagnosis for the condition, there are plenty of things the article suggests you can do to combat the feelings of loneliness and longing, many of which I am attempting to do.
I think the biggest challenge for me to overcome is my attitude, which can be a huge barrier to happiness. If I believe I’m going to be unhappy and uncomfortable here, then I probably will be. If I decide I’m going to meet people, make new friends and try new things, then moving here could be a positive experience I can look back on with fond memories.
Yes, there will be moments when I can’t help but feel sad and miss the people I love who are back home, but I also know home can be in more than one place–that’s something I’ve told my kids. So it’s time to ditch the hypocrisy and embrace the new.
I decided to give this little pet project of mine a bit of a facelift with a new look. It’s cute, dontcha think? Very girly, which isn’t really me, but it’s easy on the eyes.
I don’t actually have much to tell you about right now so I thought I’d show off the planter at the front of my house. I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to use the same birch logs, some branches and the white berries in the arrangement for the last three or four years. I wish I could do the same with the evergreen boughs, but they just don’t last. Yes, very frugal of me.
New this year are the little battery operated LEDs, which I love, but seem to be rather unreliable. But you must agree, they really do complete the look, don’t they?
Happy Holidays to you all during this unseasonably warm winter evening!
Tonight we had all of our friends from the neighbourhood over to celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah with us. I think we’re on Year 5 of our annual Hanukkah Party. What started off as a one-time shindig to celebrate the Festival of Lights with all of our gentile friends has turned into a bit of a tradition. And from what I hear, the neighbours look forward to the invitation!Â
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a bit of aÂ go big or go home approach to throwing a party so it should come as no surprise when I tell you I spend days preparing for the two or three hours of crazy that we host. It begins with copious amounts of baking, a Bar Mitzvah-worthy dessert-slash-candy table with a blue, white and silver theme and some delicious homemade latkes and hot corned beef sandwiches (full disclosure: this year I ordered the corned beef from Center Street Deli and it was well worth it).
I have a lot of fun baking and decorating the table and putting out a big spread for everyone. But man, I’m exhausted! So here are some of my photos of the dessert table, which seemed to garner most of the attention.
Call me a glutton for punishment, but every year for the last–oh, I don’t know–four years, my husband and I have hosted a Hanukkah party for our closest neighbourhood friends. You see, we are the token Hebrews in the ‘hood, so most of our friends have never been to a Hanukkah party, let alone tasted a latke. So, we felt it would be a Mitzvah (aka: good deed) on our part if we threw a little shindig to enlighten our friends.
Well that little shindig turned into a big shindig and has become something of a tradition. It has also given me licence to go a bit meshugenah (crazy) with the event planning, decor and yes, a dessert table!
Today I’m giving you a preview of some of my *crazy* ideas. I made a big batch of sugar cookies a la Martha StewartÂ and decorated them with royal icing and some confectioners’ decorative sugar. You will notice a theme of blue, white and silver.Â
I made the dough, chilled it, rolled it out, cut it into the shapes of dreidels, menorahs and stars of David before baking. Then I went to town on the icing. The icing was a piping consistency and I could have piped all the cookies and then flooded them, but I got lazy. So the icing is a little thicker (the kids will love me for it–not the parents) than usual and maybe not as pretty. But I’ll let you be the judge!
Tonight was family pumpkin carving night. This year we have a total of nine–count ’em–NINE pumpkins! Whew!
Mind you, two of those were carved up at a workshop at Lee Valley, my husband’s favourite store. It’s a wonder I let him go in there–he’s like a kid in a candy store.
This time, though, he was there with my dad, who had signed them up for a pumpkin carving workshop with the boys.
The cost of the workshop included a fantastic little set of serrated carving knives.
Take it from me: my world changed tonight after I used this little set. I will never, I repeat, NEVER, go back to carving pumpkins with a standard knife or those cheap-o sets that are sold at this time of the year.
In my last post I showcased some Halloween pumpkins that were my “Pinspiration” for my pumpkin. So I pretty much copied my favourite (the Tim Burton-esque one) by drawing the image freehand on a piece of paper. Then I sprayed the pumpkin with water, “glued” on the piece of paper, traced out the image with a fabric marker thingamabobby and then went to work with the best serrated knife EVER. Here’s how that whole process unfolded…
And here’s Jack, all lit up!
Other than having to pull all the guts out of the gourd, this year’s carving experience could actually be described as pleasant.
So to all my friends, have a safe, candy-filled Halloween and hopefully Environment Canada gets it wrong for Thursday night.
My appetite has excellent timing. It’s been “on leave” for a while. Ironically, my stomach isn’t fond of the food that I like to eat. In fact, my entire digestive tract doesn’t like anything I put down my gullet. Humor me here for a minute: imagine eating a simple meal; it could be toast with peanut butter and a banana with a glass of O.J. in the morning. Or maybe a bowl of soup and tuna sandwich for lunch. Now imagine not feeling the slightest bit hungry when you’re supposed to be eating those meals and a full three hours later you feel as though you’re going to upchuck the sandwich, salad and the full breakfast. These have been the joys (or misfortunes) of my dining experiences as of late. I brought this to my doctor’s attention several months ago. This was followed by some tests, which included drinking the most awful chalky concoction after which I was expertly tipped flat on a cold metal table while having my innards X-ray’d. I’ve even been injecting with radioactive nuclear medicine, which I’ve been assured will not shorten my lifespan nor make me glow in the dark. Neither of these tests has revealed the great mystery of my incredible indigestion. However the doctor decided to put me on a prescription strength anti-acid, which I think has helped my case. I no longer wake up in the middle of the night with the feeling of someone’s fist forcing its way up my esophagus. But the most miraculous improvement has been my appetite and it couldn’t have returned at a better time. Thanksgiving weekend is a glutton’s wet dream come true. It’s the harvest. There is no shortage of good, fresh food. So I decided to embrace the spirit of the holiday and cook and bake for my family while up in prime harvest territory: at the cottage. Saturday’s dinner consisted of chicken stew with chickpeas, sweet and yellow potatoes and sweet onion. We had a fabulous salad of fresh lettuces on the side and not one but TWO pumpkin pies! We only polished off one of the pies, but that meant I could use the dish to bake the most scrumptious apple pie for the Thanksgiving dinner. I decided to pay homage to the slow food movement by making beer-braised beef short ribs, steamed savoy cabbage with roasted chestnuts and garlic mashed potatoes. Yes, I roasted the chestnuts and the garlic. And let’s not forget the pies that came at the end of the meal. It was one of those meals that makes you want to hibernate for the winter or put on a cable-knit sweater and cozy up by a fire. And guess what? Not a single bout of indigestion the entire weekend (you know I’m going to live to regret writing that down). Boy was I thankful this weekend, if for no other reason than I was able to enjoy a good meal with my family for the first time in months. To tell you the truth I would have been just as happy eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if it meantÂ I could eat without fear of my food revisiting me in the middle of the night. But having a good meal go down certainly doesn’t hurt.
Ah Fall! The mostÂ brilliant time of the year in my opinion. Talk about sensory perception: there’s a crispness in the air that hits your cheeks and nostrils every morning. The smell of earth and leaves is pungent and foliage on the trees is visually stunning. And don’t get me started on the food. The FOOD! Squash, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, beans, beets (gasp for air), lettuce, turnip, apples, pears, peaches, plums (tell me when my birthday comes!)….All I want to do at this time of the year is plant bulbs in my garden, cook stews and soups, bake pies and crisps, climb into a cable-knit sweater and cozy down for hibernation. No, I’m not a huge fan of winter, but I do love Fall. I have now grown pumpkins in our garden for the last three years, although only successfully two out of those three. This year was the banner year, by far. The pumpkin plant overtook the entire garden patch sending it’s prickly tendrils into every other plant growing–my poor sunflowers barely stood a chance. The plant reminded me of the one in the Little Shop of Horrors (remember “feed me seymour”?). It grew and grew and grew, and for all it’s effort it produced one brilliant pumpkin. The kids are thrilled and the pumpkin now sits proudly on our front stoop awaiting carving for Hallowe’en. And it sits in close proximity to my planter, which now houses some lovely mums, false cabbage and tall grasses. I really must say I can get into the spirit of the season, however fleeting it is.
Well our weekend in the Muskokas was cut short. We bailed after less than 24 hours at the cabin. Upon arrival we were literally swarmed by mosquitoes and black flies. The minute we opened the car doors, the bugs began to pour in. Without bug repellant (it was on the other side of the lake in the cabin), I looked like a crazed woman swatting at the air at imaginary demons. My husband doesn’t seem to react to bug bites. I, on the other hand, swell up like a balloon at the tiniest little nibble and then proceed to complain about the constant itchiness.Â While my husband unloaded the half ton of food and multiple bags from the car, I did manage to get the kids across the lake in our dandy new pedal boat, which is not nearly as efficient a mode of transportation as a canoe. Once across, we reached the safety of the cabin. The next couple hours were spent cleaning up (including theÂ discovery an old mouse carcass), putting the food in the battery-powered fridge, which was getting its “juice” from the solar panel, and setting up the beds for the kids. We barbequed that night and had a lovely meal of burgers, corn on the cob and raw veggies & dip. While all of this was going on the kids played out in the forest seemingly unphased by the biting bugs, although they’ve got the welts to prove it. When nightfall came, things changed. The kids eventually fell asleep, but when it was my turn I couldn’t. Somehow the mosquitoes had infiltrated the cabin and spent the entire evening accosting me. I tried hiding out under the bed sheets but began to suffocate. And it didn’t stop the blood suckers from making that awful whiny droning sound in my ear. Then the kids woke up around 3 complaining about the bugs so we moved to a different room WITH both kids in the bed and hoped that a closed door would keep the pesky pests out. By the time morning came, my hands were sore from being bitten and I was exhausted from little to no sleep. And it was raining. And cold. I felt like Susanna Moodie in Roughing It In the Bush; A civilized woman in an inhospitable land suffering from cabin fever.The kids woke up early as usual. My husband built a fire in the stove to heat up the place while I made breakfast (bacon and eggs–as a kid the breakfastÂ I always smelled at the neighbour’s cottage and wished I could have, but never did). My husband apologized and suggested we leave, given the bugs and the weather. I didn’t say no. The kids amused themselves while we tidied up. They even got to go out on the pedal boat with my husband while I cleaned up. So after lunch, in the misty rain, we paddled back across the lake, loaded up the car and the kids, but notÂ before my youngest fell into the lake fully clothed. So my vision of a romantic holiday weekend with the family was not to be fulfilled. Rather than head back to the city, we cut across cottage country to my in-law’s “country condo” where I managed to get a good night’s sleep. In the end it wasn’t a completely wasted trip. I did clean up the makeshift kitchen, which you can see in the pictures. No matter what space you give me, I try my best to make it as homey as possible.