My most vivid memory of maple syrup is from when I was in grade school. Growing up in a household that proudly boasted a bedraggled original printing of the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook allowed me to, at a very early age, discern the versatility of maple syrup – and the pleasure of it as well. Growing up in the same house as my mother only served to profoundly reinforce this particular philosophy.
Recently I showed up at a friend’s house for dinner, and by the look on her husband’s face when he opened the door, I knew something was very wrong. Actually, allow me to rephrase that. Something was very wrong with me. He stammered a quick hello, smiled (laughed, if we’re being honest here) and let me in. I handed him the box I was carrying and rather self-consciously removed my hat, coat and scarf, peeking out from under my bangs at his still slightly dubious smirk. In my head I took imaginary stock of what he could be gawking at so malevolently.
Did I have paint in my hair? Something huge and disgusting stuck in my teeth? Only half of my makeup done? All were distinct possibilities.
Finally I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath and asked him what the heck was the matter. He smiled (laughed…see above) and turned to his wife who was coming down the hall at that moment. She smiled at me, warmly, and turned me towards the hall mirror. I went white. Seriously – I had turned white in the few scant hours since I’d last looked in the mirror. Somehow the icing sugar from the pastries I had made that afternoon had ended up all over me. And I uh, forgot to look in the mirror before rushing out the door, the guilty-party-pastries boxed up for dessert.
Of course I laughed it off and managed to clean myself up in their hall bathroom before joining the rest of the dinner party. It (I) became a running joke that evening – everyone coming up with their own names for the light and airy pastries that had caused all the ruckus.
I walked through the door and was immediately struck by the scent of fresh waffle cones. Never a bad way to start an afternoon, I figured. This, only my second visit to Menchie’s, was definitely going to be interesting, as I was there for something called a “Blogurtfest”. It had been hashtagged all over Twitter in recent days, and I had been invited. I couldn’t say no – I mean who ever says no to frozen yogurt experimentation…? For Serious. So I went in. I smelled the waffles, I saw the toppings, I checked out the flavours. With my senses properly piqued I continued on and found the small-ish group I had been expecting on Saturday afternoon for the first official Blogurtfest.
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.
Inspiration strikes in mysterious ways – many things wouldn’t exist without it. For me, when it comes to cooking, inspiration is doubly important because sometimes, frankly, I have no idea what to do. Many nights, inspiration is non-existent at 5pm when I get home from work and I’m tired and hungry. Picking Leith up at school, getting hats and mittens and boots on and getting him home is a trial in itself. At these times that bag of digestive cookies really looks quite a lot like dinner…maybe with an orange juice chaser for a vegetable/fruit course.
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.
My favourite book as a child was about a family of bears who wander through the woods behind their house. They venture between the rocks, around the lake and up Spook Hill, where they encounter an owl who howls loudly (mimicked extremely well by my father at the time). The bears turn tail and run all the way, down Spook Hill, back around the lake and between the rocks…home through the window to their bed in their well-lit, completely safe home. I’m not sure if it was the howling, the suspense or the running home that grabbed my attention, but something in that book did. It grabbed me and held onto me virtually every night for many years of my childhood.
Last night I was awakened by a similar howling, coming from Leith’s room. I slowly emerged from the warm, comfortable sleep in which I was indulging and lay there in the dark, wondering what the noise was. I heard another long howl and my feet immediately hit the floor. I wasn’t quite awake when I found myself beside Leith’s bed, gazing down at my loveable son who was crying his little heart out. I bundled him up in his blanket and sat down with him in my lap and rocked him back and forth, whispering to him over and over that he was going to be okay.
After a few minutes he had calmed down, was heavy and warm in my arms and ready to go back to his bed. I tucked him in, said good night and went back to my own room. After about two minutes the crying started again – not as loud or as determined as before but still plaintive and heart wrenching. He stopped on his own this time but I couldn’t sleep anymore so I got up, put on my slippers and padded to the kitchen.
What do you do at 3 am when you can’t get back to sleep? I don’t find that the old warm milk trick does anything for me. A nice hot cup of peppermint tea is more my speed…and something sweet on the side to fill my belly enough that I can get back to sleep. Luckily, I keep some tidbits in my freezer for just these occasions. Slices of dessert bread or cookie dough, in small packages, ready for the oven; awaiting me when I need them most. All I have to do is turn on the toaster oven, pop one of these little beauties in for a few minutes (about as long as it takes to boil water for a cup of tea). Soon I’m seated, wrapped in my ruby red chenille throw, sipping my tea and munching on something sweet.
It calmed my nerves and obviously Leith’s as well because he didn’t wake again over night. I am still not sure what it was that woke him in the first place. The howling noises I made while reading his favourite book over and over? Another cold? Missing his father? Who knows. But he slept – much like a baby – the rest of the night, as did I after having my small, sweet treat and a few sips of tea.
“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.
Oftentimes even the simplest of fares can convey a sense of comfort, a feeling of joy and add a certain amount of contentment to your day. Merely the smell of something baking in the oven, a hint of nutmeg or the tang of ginger is all you need to make you feel warm and placated after a long day of rain and chilly wind beating against the windows of your home. In fact, the scent of baking is supposed to enhance the beauty of your surroundings to such a degree that most realtors insist that you perfume your home surreptitiously with cinnamon, orange, vanilla or apple when you are showcasing it to perspective buyers.
These smells are, to some people, aphrodisiacal. The aromas of vanilla and cinnamon, as perfumes, have proven themselves over and over again in so many contexts over the years. Women, men and children stop me in the halls at work and insist that I must have cookies in my pockets (and every so often I do). I got into a car with a friend recently and she told me I smelled like Cocoa-Puffs (personally I think she might have been a bit "koo-koo for cocoa puffs"). My old boss used to search my desk drawers when I was at work, assured that there had to be piles of Rice Krispie Squares hidden in there somewhere.
These sweet, slightly musky scents have never had an adverse effect on anyone I’ve met and I don’t even really notice them anymore until someone else points them out to me. I also don’t wear vanilla or cinnamon perfumes, but rather oils, which have no alcohol base to it; making it much more subtle and less annoying than regular perfume (I am actually allergic to regular perfume).
Blending cinnamon and vanilla in proper quantities in desserts is something I love to do. You get the bite of the cinnamon and then the long, smooth slow sweetness of the vanilla. It’s like the perfect kiss.
Growing up I was terminally shy. I hid in my mother’s or father’s arms, even around family and close family friends. I stammered and stuttered and tried over and over to edge myself into society. It never took and I spent most of my younger years simply not talking.
Once I started cooking and eating the way that I do, somehow I became much more of a social person. Years ago you would have been hard-pressed to drag me out for a glass of wine, a bite to eat or a cup of coffee, unless you were the closest of friends or family. Even then it took a great deal of negotiations, imploring, insisting, pleading and whining on your part…if you were indeed up to it, and considered me worth it.
I’m not sure why that was, or why I’m so different now. My personality hasn’t changed drastically since then and I don’t think I’m much more interesting or approachable now than I was then. In fact there are aspects of my personality that are more closed off and difficult than before and my schedule is more compressed with a job, a small child, an away-all-the-time husband.
All that aside I am a huge fan of "going for coffee". I like to drink coffee as much as anyone, but I like to go for coffee even more. And if the chosen coffee spot happens to have good sweet side dishes then all the better. A very good friend of mine introduced me to this coffee and gelato cafe near where I work a few summers ago, and we went there often. The first time I went I had their caramel apple coffee cake and fell madly in love with it. I found myself craving it more and more until one day, without warning, the shop closed. No "moved" sign, no chance of reopening. It was gone. Since that day I have been searching for a recipe that would attempt to compare. Finally when I couldn’t find one that quite worked, I came up with one myself that is amazing.
AND…mine is actually better than theirs. This leads me to think, who needs friends when they can bake like this?