My Sanctuary

I truly enjoy cooking. Simply being in my kitchen makes me smile. I don’t need fancy chef’s knives or stainless steel appliances to make me happy. What I have in my kitchen these days is good enough. As long as the stove and oven are in respectable working condition, I have some small amount of counter space and good ingredients; I’m one happy camper.

Leith and I spend most of our Sundays in our cozy apartment, him on the floor in the living room with his Hot Wheels and remote control R2D2, along with a few cooking pots and Tupperware. I’m in the kitchen, with my head in the oven, or my hands in a bowl.

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Summer’s Harvest, Revisited

Every summer, for about as long as I can remember, my parents have planted tomato plants in their backyard garden. That’s what Victoria Day is for — as long as it’s not pouring rain or freezing cold (both good possibilities up here in the great white north) — planting the vegetable and herb gardens.

On the south side of the yard, where the sun shines the strongest and where the soil has grown vegetables and herbs for more than forty years…that’s where they go. I would make the trip to the nursery and pick out each plant as though it might be a piece of beautiful jewelry, carrying them home in the plastic trays, watching them bounce up and down on the seat next to me. The smell was always what I loved most in the beginning — the smell of freshly growing tomato plants is something beautiful and simple…it’s the smell of sweet and savory combined in one.

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Utter Joy

I used to be dreadful with accepting change. Having a child, I am now a roller-with-the-puncher, a flyer-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal; the parent of an utterly astounding kinder. I always knew having a child would change my life. I knew that having a child would probably change the way I ate and the way I cooked – for myself as well as for him. I knew I would be the type of A-personality mum who made her child’s food with both gratification and determination…it’s purely who I am. Remember: I’m not good with change.

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Not Quite Green Eggs

“Breakfast for dinner” is a phrase that is turned quite often in my parents house. My mom LOVES it (but at her own concession, the woman worships anything that might come with bacon), my dad enjoys it a lot, and my brothers? Well, “Bacon and eggs? Now? You mean for dinner? Um, okay, why not?” is sort of their general attitude. Actually “why not?” seems to be their general attitude about everything, I think…they’re men. So I grew up in a house where breakfast for dinner was a semi-regular occurrence and I became rather attached to the idea myself.

Leith has wholeheartedly embraced this idea and eggs are probably one of his favourite meals. He likes his eggs every-which-way-but-loose, to be honest.

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I Can Smell Happiness

I adore blueberry season. Blueberry sauce for ice cream, blueberry pancakes, blueberry smoothies, blueberry bars, blueberry jam, blueberry pie, blueberry muffins and blueberry loaf. I can’t get enough of those brilliant little indigo spherical bursts of tender sweetness. They are also very good for you, containing vitamins A, B1, B2, C, as well as niacin, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron. Yummy AND healthy hasn’t come along very often in my lifetime.

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Back in My Kitchen

Lately there have been days that I don’t even make it into the kitchen…which for me is extremely difficult. Many days I’ll grab a coffee while on my way to work after dropping Leith at school, to drink along with a yogurt for breakfast. Lunch these days is almost non-existent and is, more often than not, eaten while submitting payroll or editing reports at my desk. By dinner I’m famished and craving something hearty and delicious – that also takes little or no effort on my part.

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Calamity Jane

When I was little I was quite accident prone; my father’s nicknames for me were Calamity Jane and Murphy’s Law — I’ll give you one guess as to why. Now that I’m grown, it’s not that I’m suddenly full of grace, either. It’s more likely that I hide my accidents a bit better and look before I leap more often than I did when I was a child.

I remember writing an autobiographical essay for an English assignment in grade ten. The teacher had asked for a mini-biography (at age 16 it couldn’t be anything but short!) to teach us about writing in the first person, in the past tense. I thought it would be a funny twist to chronologically list my calamities rather than bore people with stories of how I got a dog when I was a kid or how my cat ate my brother’s bird. People respond to misfortune; it makes them laugh in the face of disaster — this was the wisdom of a 16 year-old.

Disaster #1: My brother dropped a drinking glass on the floor of the kitchen (which was marble) and it smashed into a thousand pieces. He cleaned it up, but once I walked in there I “found” the last remaining shard of glass with my foot. My parents thought it might work its way out (does glass ever really do that?) and didn’t take me to the hospital for a few days. When it was still stuck in there later on in the week my mom decided to trot me off to Sick Kids and had the doctor remove it. I got a lollipop and balloons — my brother was jealous and I still have a scar.

Disaster #2: I was in kindergarten and we were at the park playing one day. I loved the slide; I could go up the stairs and slide down that thing for hours on end. Swings made me dizzy for some reason and the jungle-gym was an accident waiting to happen (to me at least), so the slide was my best friend in the park. One day I slid down just as the teacher blew her whistle that signaled everyone to freeze so she could do a “head-count”. I froze. The guy behind me did not. He slid on down that slide, smacking me from behind, pushing me off. I landed badly and cracked my left ankle. I was on crutches for at least 6 weeks (after my mom rushed me to Sick Kids to have it looked at, x-rayed and bandaged). I got another lollipop and balloons. I also got some seriously special treatment at school – pretty much everyone was jealous.

Disaster #3: My father was replacing the glass pane in the door at our cottage. He started to remove it and was called away for a minute. I came up from the lake and wanted to get into the cottage, having no idea what my father had been working on. I tried the door. This door is sticky (yes, it’s still sticky) and you really have to give it a good YANK to open it. I did this and that top window pane came completely loose, fell from the door frame and almost sliced off my right thumb. My parents (being quick on their collective toes) wrapped my hand in a dish towel, treated me by dunking my hand in a large measuring cup full of slightly diluted hydrogen peroxide (ouch!) and Tylenol. No stitches. No antibiotics. No doctor. Why ruin a perfectly good family vacation by driving an hour or two to the closest hospital?! I do have to add here that my thumb is still attached to my hand and works just fine although it does sport a rather large scar and has some nerve damage. NO STITCHES. I swear, I was a miracle child. Eventually my mom took me to Sick Kids to have my thumb looked at – they said it was healing fine and wouldn’t bother with stitches anymore. I got another lollipop, some balloons and was sent home. No one was jealous.

Disaster #4: My older brother and I were at the supermarket with my mom and we were bored. He decided that pushing me around in the cart would be more fun than following my mom around the whole time. Then he decided – without clearing it with me first – that pushing me around wasn’t good enough. He decided that pushing me around really, really fast would be much more productive, and all of a sudden we were going Mach-5 around the Dominion. Admittedly, it was fun. Until the cart hit the fruit stand and everything went black. I opened my eyes and there were a half dozen grocery store employees standing around me as I lay, bruised and scared, UNDER the over-turned cart. Needless to say my mom didn’t take both of us shopping together again…ever.

While these are hardly the only “disasters” I encountered as a child, I always manage to recover each time I scrape my knee or fall up a flight of stairs (it happens more often than I’d care to admit). Comfort food comes in really handy on days when you slip in the shower or stub your toe on every corner you come across…and lately I seem to be the Queen of Comfort Food. This bread is the perfect thing to serve along with some really good corn chowder or even a hearty beef stew. It’ll keep you warm, keep you safe and keep you full.

Boxes, Boxes

I’m not a "hater"…at least I don’t think I am, anyway. I don’t hate most things that most people I know happen to hate. I don’t mind traffic or waiting in line in the bank. I am perfectly fine with Brussels’ sprouts, snails and yes, even hospital food. Hatred is something I reserve for precious few things in life and honestly, I can only think of one thing that falls into that category right now.

I don’t think there is anything I loathe more than living out of boxes. Perhaps I dislike the packing of said boxes…or maybe I hate the act of having to purge prior to packing those boxes. It’s difficult to decide; thankfully I get to do all three things simultaneously these days.

Everything suffers when you live out of boxes.

Wardrobe: I wear basically two or three "outfits" because everything else is packed. I have limited things to wear to work and try to pretend they are different by wearing my hair differently each day so no one will clue in (right…).

Entertainment: the television and all of its accoutrements are packed. Enough said. Even Leith’s books are packed, forcing me to read "Guess How Much I Love You" every. night. like. clockwork.

Diet: my cookbooks are out of commission (see above). My kitchen is also packed, save for a few cracked plates and cups and old cutlery. Even my beloved KitchenAid is packed up in its box, waiting by the kitchen table, to travel to its new home. I swear if I never see another take-away menu or box of frozen hamburgers again it will be too soon.

It’s times like these that I am happy and just a little bit proud of something I did way back in December, not thinking at the time that it might just be a decadent life-saver come August. You might recall my recipe for Chili Pepper Jam. I gave jars, along with jars of Cranberry Chutney to some very lucky people. I kept a few to myself, hoarding them for use on special occasions; a dinner party here, a cheese tasting there, a quiet, candlelit meal for the two of us once.

As I was packing the kitchen pantry the other day I came across one last jar of the Chutney. I had been thinking of ordering pizza for dinner but spotting that ruby-red jar spelled out an amazing dinner instead. As we munched on our left over roast chicken sandwiches with chutney and goats cheese on rosemary buns from the local bakery, I smiled. I was thinking about how I’d found the jar and how I might not have noticed it if I hadn’t had to pack that day.

I suppose I don’t hate packing after all.

One Night

The frigid air rattles against the kitchen window, trying to get in, as I stir a pot on the stove. Its contents bubble and roll and I think briefly about climbing in and allowing the soft, warm food to envelop me. The daydream ends in a cacophony as Leith tumbles into the kitchen, rambling in his own two year-old language about cars and dinosaurs and trains. He’s managed to wrap them all up in a "blankie" (nee tea towel) and would like me to put them to bed.

Various inanimate objects all tucked in nice and warm, dinner is finally ready and Leith and I gather ourselves together at the table, one of us in a highchair with a sippy cup and plastic plate, the other with a wine glass and cutlery without rubberized handles. S. is at school tonight so we are on our own, which, admittedly, is nice, though he is missed by both of us.

After dinner a warm bubble bath is in order for Leith and a few of his "baby dinos"; a treat for him. His bath is a treat for me as well because I get to sit in a cozy bathroom and read while he splashes, washes and thoroughly enjoys himself – tiring himself out completely at the same time. A pair of dino pajamas and a good-night story later and Leith is in bed and I have the house – and the evening – to myself.

What to do…?

I have turkey stock in the fridge that needs one more strain before it can be frozen. I have chutney and chili jam in the cold room that still needs to be labeled. I have recipes that need organizing and weekly menus and grocery lists to update. There are dishes to do, laundry to fold and of course emails to answer and voice mails to attend to. And I could easily go on…

I decide to reheat those delectable kernels of creamed corn from dinner that Leith enjoyed so very much, park myself on the couch with a bowl and a spoon and enjoy my one evening alone and do absolutely nothing. I didn’t even turn on the television. It was heavenly. If S. hadn’t returned home, chilled to the bone and tired from a very long day at school I doubt I would have parted company with that couch for at least a few more hours.

The corn by the way, reheated one more time, banished his chills and brought a smile to his face. Food just seems to have a way of curing that which ails you.

Grilled to Perfection

Somewhere in amongst the trips to the pool, the treks to the cottage, the seemingly unending backyard cleaning, the outdoor home repairs and the hours of watching the Olympics, I find time to cook. I love summer cooking for its simplicity: meat + grill = dinner. I find the scents of summer cooking irresistible: all those fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables make me lightheaded (in a good way). The flavours of summer are diverse and splendid…and tempt my palate well into the cool crisp months that follow.

S. and I have a deal that lasts from early April until late October. Actually, who am I kidding, it’s an all-year-round arrangement, much to his chagrin. If I marinate the meat and put together a side dish, he is more than willing to take to the outdoors and grill our main course. Sometimes I will peek out the kitchen window or lean out the back door to see him strutting around the backyard, congratulating himself on a job well done. He is artfully arranging steaks or chicken on the barbecue in order to achieve maximum beauty with his precise grill marks.

I benefit from this display of gastronomic masculinity not too long after as he proudly presents a plate of perfectly grilled meat. Even though he claims not to know what he’s doing some of the time dinner always turns out perfectly cooked, deliciously presented and amazingly delectable.