Thanksgiving in Canada

This past weekend was Thanksgiving up here in Canada – my favourite holiday in the middle of my favourite time of year. The trees are all red-orange-golden now, the evenings are crisp and the days still warm, the last of the flowers are blooming and the sky is either a deep, deep blue, or layered in dramatic greys. It’s beautiful!

I have fond memories of Thanksgivings as a child. For the most part we spent the long weekend up at our cottage in the woods with my grandparents and my great aunt. We made Christmas cakes and, when I was younger, Halloween costumes. The most important things were that we were together, the leaves were changing and we had lots of delicious food.

That’s what Thanksgiving is all about – families and good food – and this year was one of the best. We spent it at my cousins’ house in Kingston. Kingston is two hours away from us, and two hours in the other direction away from my mother so it’s a perfect meeting place for everyone.

As we drove past firey-leaved forests, faded ochre fields and the quintessential faded grey barns of Eastern Ontario, I consciously severed my connections to all things online. I had left my laptop and iPad behind and, though I had my phone with me, I had no plans to do any writing or note taking.

I wanted to be in the moment, focused on the people I was with. And I needed a break after a month of trying to balance working and writing.

Kingston is a pretty little town on the water, with quaint brick and stone buildings throughout its downtown area. My mother was staying downtown, so I did get to see some of that but my focus was my family who live on the outskirts.

My cousins mean the world to me and I love watching my son and his second cousins playing together and having some of the same experiences my cousins and I had when we were their age. It was just so fulfilling to have two days to focus on these special people.

My cousins have always been a bit more than cousins to me – kind of like the siblings I never had – and that all comes back as soon as we are together. We shared memories, laughter, tears, the burdens of life, and more than a few glasses of wine. I felt like I was home — warm and happy. I’m always moved by how much these people, my people, mean to me.

Two days passes so quickly but even now I can feel how much that time together nourished my soul.

As we drove back to Ottawa late on Sunday afternoon, the sun was setting and the whole world seemed to be aglow. It was a perfect chance to reflect on the weekend.

When I got home, I finally looked at the Yeah Write prompt for the week and admit I felt at a loss. I must have really shut that part of my brain down! But then I looked at the pictures on the site and an idea started to form. I very quickly had 3 posts in my head all jostling and screaming to come out.

Why does that always happen in the shower when I have nothing to write with?

This was the first of those three posts. I hope I’ll get to the next two in time.

In the meantime, and in keeping with the spirit of thanksgiving, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what I am thankful for.

My family and the ties that bind.

The beauty of our countryside.

Pumpkin pie (even the vegan, gluten free kind).

That feeling of inspiration that comes right before I start writing.

Having the sense to take a break.

Whether you just celebrated Thanksgiving, whether you will be celebrating it in November, and even if you don’t celebrate it at all, I wish you the same happiness I enjoyed this weekend, and the positive experience of realizing how great the great things in life actually are.

Simply Irresistible

Daily Prompt (November 26, 2013): Tell us about the favorite dish or food that you simply cannot turn down.

I have always been moved by food. Well, by the taste of it. We are all, of course,  technically moved by it.

But there have been times I have enjoyed whatever I am eating so much that I have closed my eyes, blocked out everyone around me, and allowed myself to be completely engulfed in the flavour.

People either find this amusing or highly offensive.

But if something really tastes that good, I want to savour it.

So, when I discovered a year ago that I could no longer eat many of my favourite foods, I was horrified…no, saddened, actually.

In the past, the one thing I always found simply irresistible was goat’s cheese. If it was on a menu, I was guaranteed to order that dish.

My favourite kind of goat’s cheese was Grey Owl and whenever I went to visit my mother, she would try to have some sitting in her fridge for me. We would take it out to eat after a nice dinner, passing it around with sliced baguette or crackers.

I didn’t bother with the bread stuff usually. I went straight for the cheese, eating it with fork and spoon (I’m not a total animal!). And no matter how much I had eaten during the preceding course(s), I would often-I’m somewhat ashamed to admit now-polish off more than half of the sizeable piece of cheese that would once have been sitting on the serving plate.

Ah, glorious cheese.

When my husband and I travelled to France a few years ago, I ate so much of it that the inside of my mouth was swollen for the two weeks we were there. I guess I should have known then that I had a problem.

My gluttony isn’t reserved solely for cheese. I’ve also, once, eaten a full pound of bacon in one sitting, but that’s another story and, in my defence, I was pregnant.

So what do I eat now in place of cheese?

First of all, nothing replaces cheese. And I do try a bit every now and then but it makes me so sick that it takes me another 6 months before I can trick myself into believing that maybe this time it will be different.

I find I eat an awful lot of nut butter now, and I crave meat more often than I ever have before. So I guess that’s my body asking for the protein it would have consumed via cheese in the past.

I also eat more fruit. If I’m really trying to make up for my lost love, I eat figs and blood oranges and pomegranates drizzled in the sweet tahini sauce from this recipe on My New Roots.

My New Roots is one of my two go-to sites if I need a perfect recipe (that fits with my dietary restrictions) for just about anything. The other is Chocolate Covered Katie.

Which brings me to the only things that come close to rivalling my once overpowering addiction to cheese: dark chocolate, red wine and coffee. I was always partial to them, but they are now front and centre in the comfort eating department. To be really effective, they have to be made with high quality ingredients, taken in small amounts, and savoured.

I love a really good cup of americano – at home, we drink J.J. Bean’s JJ Espresso – or a glass of Bordeaux with a few squares of Green & Black’s or Chelsea Truffles’ dark chocolate. I also like to make hot chocolate with a good, rich chocolate powder, hot water, sugar, vanilla and a cinnamon stick. No dairy, no substitutes. It’s thick and rich, like coffee, and perfect on a cold day.

Simply irresistible.

Comfort Food

A dark mist, thick as cloud, swirled across the face of the Earth.

It was not yet night, but it was as dark as if it were. The streetlights had been turned on in the cities, to fight off the gloom, to suggest normality.

It hadn’t really worked; most people had fled to the hills – What is it about impending doom that sends people out into the countryside? – or had gone underground or were in the midst of a last minute, panic-stricken flight towards various houses of worship.

Magda and David, though, had stayed put. What was there to do, really? They had planned this evening months ago, well before the mists had begun, before the scientists had announced that Earth’s days were numbered. They really didn’t think there was anything they could do to stop what had apparently been in motion for as long as the planets themselves had been circling the sun. Nor did they believe there was anywhere particularly safe to hide.

And Richard and Eve were game. They had been looking forward to coming to dinner, too, and had reached pretty much the same conclusion about the end of the world as their friends.

Magda was in the midst of preparing what she was fondly referring to as her “end of the world supper” when their guests arrived.

“It smells wonderful in here!” chorused Richard and Eve as David opened the door. They smiled with sincere warmth, seemingly oblivious to the wisps of darkness that threatened at the door and wrapped around the windows.

Richard shook hands with David as they entered, his brow furrowed somewhat, his salt and pepper hair and the shoulders of his woollen overcoat dusted with the snow-like substance that had been blowing around with the mist. He put a hand on Eve’s back, helping her off with her coat. She was petite, elfish, with long, blond hair, and had dressed for the occasion in one of her hand-made dresses, this one grey wool with a red velvet sash tied at the waist.

Magda’s voice greeted them from down the hallway in the kitchen. “If the world was ending,” Magda replied wryly, “I would want to eat this dinner as my last meal.”

The house, though starkly white with soaring ceilings and open spaces, was not cold, but welcoming and comforting. David had dimmed the lights, lit candles and placed them around the room. Their light danced from the countertop and the centre of the white marble dinner table. The effect was cozy, golden, and it banished the fear and worry and darkness that surrounded the house.

Magda opened the oven, pushing back her short, black hair back with one hand as a burst of fragrant, lemon and thyme-scented heat engulfed her. She poked at the chicken roasting on the remains of several quartered lemons.

“What is that I smell?” asked Richard, coming over to peer in at the dinner. The oven lights  momentarily reflected like sparks in his dark brown eyes as he bent close and inhaled deeply, the wrinkles on his forehead smoothing as he relaxed.

“It’s zataar. Have you heard of it? It’s a Middle Eastern mixture, made of thyme, sumac, salt and sesame seeds. I’ve rubbed it all over the chicken, along with olive oil and lemon juice, and also mixed it into the caramelized onions and mini eggplants. I hope you like it, it’s sort of everywhere! We’re also having rice with lemon wedges and I made some tahini. It’s a cozy, sunny sort of meal.”

“Hi, we’re glad you came,” she added, giving him a hug.

“We used our own thyme,” explained David with pride. “For the zataar. We had been growing it on the roof and it was a small bush by the time I decided I should use it.”

A shadow passed across his face, briefly clouding his blue eyes before he continued. “You know, when the mists started to take over. It’s amazing how much bush it takes to make a cup of dried thyme,” he finished a bit wistfully.

When dinner was ready, David opened the bottle of 40 year old Margaux he had been saving for a special occasion, and filled the four glasses.

“To the people we chose to spend our last night with; thank you for joining us tonight,” he said as he held his glass aloft, the ruby coloured wine glowing in the candlelight.

Four heads bowed over the plates and they descended into a momentary silence as the flavours of sunbaked earth and warm winds, of lemon and olive oil and thyme and sesame enveloped them.

It was, indeed, exactly the right meal to dispel the murky darkness awaiting them.

Once the dishes had been cleared away, Magda brought out more sunshine: an orange, olive oil and pine nut cake and a fruit salad which sparkled in all the colours of the rainbow; pomegranate, blood oranges, yellow pears, kiwi, blueberries, plums.

They talked late into the evening, lingering over their dessert plates, picking the fruit bowl clean.

They spoke of the music that moved each of them most, they spoke of Eve and Magda’s writing and of their favourite books, they spoke of art, food, and of a little house on the edge of a cliff that looked out over the ocean. Richard and Eve had been planning to move out there one day. One day.

When at last it was time to go, Richard and Eve rose from the table, hugged David and Magda goodbye and, as though it was any other night, parted with the promise to get together again soon.

As they watched their friends disappear into the night, David and Magda remarked at the darkness of the night. It was almost possible to imagine that there was no mist, that it had all been a dream, or a movie, or their imagination. That it was just any other overcast night.

They locked the door, went upstairs and got ready for bed.

Before she turned out her light, Magda smiled and said, “that was a nice night. The dinner was good and they were the perfect people to have over on a night like tonight.”

David agreed. He turned out his light, too, and pulled Magda close.

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This post was inspired by the November 1 Daily Prompt. It took me a month, but I was waiting all through NaNoWriMo to write this.

Here are some fellow bloggers’ posts from the same prompt:

  1. Bagels | Nature Activities
  2. Baked potato | Bright Moments Catcher
  3. Pacman | Bright Moments Catcher
  4. Fried eggs reading Business Magazine | Bright Moments Catcher
  5. Cajun chicken caesar salad | Steve Boer Photography
  6. Last Meal | Finale to an Entrance
  7. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | Destino
  8. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry | Under the Monkey Tree
  9. Dinner | Mara Eastern’s Personal Blog
  10. My.Vivid.Visions | Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry…- At My Village
  11. The sky has done falling, so what’s for dinner? | We Live In A Flat
  12. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry | Awl and Scribe
  13. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | Memory Bank of the Nocturnal
  14. Last meal on Earth | Motherhood and Beyond
  15. Any Last Words? | sayanything
  16. “Dinner” | Relax
  17. the world is ending – bring me FOOD! | wannabepoet
  18. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | veryvanessalynn
  19. of (double) dates | Anawnimiss
  20. Rob’s Surf Report
  21. 209. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | Barely Right of Center
  22. What If The World Doesn’t End Tomorrow, Who Cleans The Mess? | The Jittery Goat
  23. Peace | Life is great
  24. The End is Nigh…. | Kate Murray
  25. The world is ending and it’s my turn to make dinner | James Clegg
  26. Cheese and garlic in windmills | The verbal hedge
  27. Die-Dine [Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry…] | unknowinglee
  28. Good Eats | CurTales
  29. Supping with Mephistopheles! | alienorajt
  30. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | The Story of a Guy
  31. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | Crow Arrow, Inc.
  32. 152. Mom’s Rice Pudding with Pistachio. | Sofie’s Diary
  33. At World’s End | Flowers and Breezes
  34. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | Basically Beyond Basic
  35. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink and be Merry | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
  36. Last Supper | crookedeyebrows
  37. The Sky is Falling, So Lets eat and Drink and Be Merry | Kansa Muse
  38. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… « life n me!
  39. Eating, Drinking, and the Merryment that Ensues | cagedbutterfly1
  40. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry . . . | A Little Sip of Lemmon-ade
  41. Daily Prompt: A FINAL MEAL BEFORE OBLIVION | SERENDIPITY
  42. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | End of the World in Thanksgiving style | reyoflight
  43. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | My Atheist Blog
  44. Last Supper | Fruit Salad
  45. Death Is Like That | Just Visiting This Planet
  46. Daily Prompt: Last Dinner Thanksgiving | Food and Everything Else
  47. For Tonight, We Dine | A Sign Of Life
  48. I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire | djgarcia94
  49. Its the End of the World | Winding Road
  50. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry or Just Have Really Good Sex « Morning Pages
  51. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | Punch-Drunk
  52. My Last Day | Nekoruchii: Life of a Commoner
  53. I’m Hungry, We Can Die Tomorrow. | pierceeff
  54. Halloween | My Creative Days
  55. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry…Dinner | Around and About The Pacific Northwest
  56. Pity The Living, and, Above All Those Who Live Without Love | Catching A Scent of Salt…
  57. The Dinner | The Visionary Hollow
  58. Taste Of Autumn: Sweet Treat | Taking One Day At A Time
  59. Daily Prompt for Eat, drink, and be merry: The Golden Hour | Fika After Fifty Digital Photography and Art
  60. The Last Supper | Momma Said There’d Be Days Like This
  61. Daily Prompt: Dinner | Chronicles of a Public Transit User
  62. November Challenge: Day 1 | E. W. Morrow
  63. Eat, Drink, and be Merry ~ For Tomorow We Die | thisblogisepic
  64. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… {must} | IESKRIEN
  65. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry | Pomme Garden
  66. Eat, Drink and Be Merry | Drops of Ink
  67. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | Words We Women Write
  68. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… « The Blogging Path
  69. My last supper | Life as a country bumpkin…not a city girl
  70. The Apocalypse Buffet | tinypurpleme
  71. Eat, Drink and be Merry | Danny James
  72. Eat and be merry | ferwam
  73. My Last Supper Before I Die … | Life with Tess
  74. This is the end… | Evanesco Waffles
  75. Dinner and a Wedding | tjbarkerseattle
  76. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | Nola Roots, Texas Heart
  77. Science Inspires | A Dinner Party | beachlog
  78. The Last Supper | Reflections and Ruminations
  79. A Pomegranate Tree Inside of Me | The Novice Gardener
  80. It’s Not All Dust and Dirt… | rfljenksy – Practicing Simplicity
  81. Daily Prompt: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | Your Daily Dose
  82. It’s More Than “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry,” You Know | Not the Family Business!
  83. Last supper … | 365 And Counting
  84. Daily Post – The Last Supper | adorablyobnoxious
  85. Last meal, but not quite! | Historiefortelling
  86. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… | The Nameless One

Finding Comfort at the Bottom of a Peanut Butter Jar

How much is too much chocolate peanut butter?

That was the question I recently posed on Facebook, mostly to entertain my friends.

But I also really wanted to know. You see, I had found myself eating 200g of the stuff two days in a row.

Is that too much?

Almost a year ago, I was handed a list of foods I apparently can’t tolerate. I was told that they have been the cause of 20 years, or so, of digestive and iron problems. In an effort to gain control of the resulting discomfort, I have followed my new, pared down diet religiously. And too great effect.

I have discovered, however, that I can’t cheat, not even a little bit, without incurring the wrath of the stomach gods. So I don’t bother trying anymore.

No gluten, dairy, egg whites, yeast, turmeric, garlic, chick peas…unfortunately, the list goes on.

My upcoming trip to Italy should be spectacular. But I digress.

A month after I began this whole diet thing, I tried to bake something, following all the new rules. It was horrible! I had wasted my precious Sunday afternoon and all my expensive new baking goods, and I had nothing to show for it.

My husband found me, a sobbing mess, in the middle of the kitchen, a crumbled loaf here, a pile of grainy “flour” there. I declared I would never be able to make anything I’d like to eat again.

And so, I embarked upon a quest to find new comfort foods, baked by other, more professional restricted-diet types.

I discovered a vegan cupcake bakery down the street that has a gluten-free selection of cupcakes and cookies, as well as coconut milk ice creams. The health food store next to them sells yeast-free, gluten-free bread and coconut milk yogurt. A second vegan bakery makes nice (that’s a qualified compliment, as my husband tells me my taste buds have changed after a year of eating all my new foods) gluten-free cinnamon buns. And a raw/vegan/gluten free take-out nearby makes to-die-for date brownies.

I have also found that Kettle Chips are gluten free. And Glutino makes highly addictive gluten-free, casein-free, egg-free pretzels. I’ve never eaten so many pretzels in my life.

The nights that my husband makes his wonderful yeasty, garlicky pizza, I make gluten free pasta with my own garlic-free tomato sauce, prosciutto, fresh figs, olives and red peppers.

So, I can cook my own food successfully now.

I even have managed to start baking wonderful treats, finally, that meet my dietary restrictions. I make a nice pumpkin bread, a wonderful apple crisp (my family even agrees!), and this past weekend, Canadian Thanksgiving, not only did I make myself some nice hazelnut-crust pumpkin tarts, but I actually made an entire, traditional Thanksgiving feast – that I could eat. Gravy, wild rice stuffing, the works.

The best part was that no one noticed that it was cooked to meet all my requirements.

A year ago, on that sad, sad day, I never would have believed it possible.

But I still get frustrated. I still have days when I need that extra bit of comfort that only food can bring.

What do I eat then?

Armed with my Glutino pretzels, I open the Peanut Butter & Co. dark chocolate peanut butter jar and plow through a good 200g or so of the stuff. Pretzel after pretzel. Sometimes, I even use a civilized utensil to scoop it out. But not always.

Chocolatey, peanut buttery, pretzely goodness.

It doesn’t get much more comforting than that.

Written in response to Writing the Fire’s appetizing prompt about tomato sandwiches and finding comfort and simple happiness in every day things.

Crustaceans Backwards

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Weekly Writing Challenge: Backward

“You are going to get us kicked out of here,” warned David, a serious look on his face as his three friends continued to laugh uncontrollably.

It was embarrassing. There was a table not too far away at which sat a nice French family, parents and three children, all nicely dressed and nicely behaved. He didn’t really care for children but for God’s sake, those kids were better behaved than his convulsing companions.

He looked out of the centuries old stone building, across the road to the deep blue sea and sighed. Gert, Herman and Annie continued in hysterics. They were doing voiceovers now for the various shrimp and cockles and periwinkles, and even the lobster, which had been delivered to their table on a large multi-tiered platter.

He could see the humour, but at a certain point, there needed to be some decorum. And that point, he hoped, would arrive before they were ejected from the nice restaurant.

*

A table full of crustaceans sat before them. Granted, there were three of them, but, still, there was an awful lot of food there. And it was all crustacean. No lettuce, no vegetables. Ok, there was a sprig of rosemary, some lemon, some seaweed, but that was just a garnish. Some of the crustaceans they couldn’t even name, didn’t even recognize.

“How did we decide to order this again?” Asked Herman, recovering from his fit of giggles.

“And where do we start?” returned Gert between hysterical sobs of laughter.

They sat with their friends, David and Annie, by the open window of a beautiful old stone fish restaurant, looking out at the little Atlantic fishing village and the blue expanse of the ocean beyond.

Herman took some lobster while Annie swallowed two oysters. Gert was just lifting a full-bodied jumbo prawn onto her plate when its alien appearance prompted her to launch into the Eddie Izzard Darth Vader skit again.

Annie and Herman were almost on the floor they were laughing so hard.

Feeling a bit rueful, Gert tried to look a little more composed as she pulled herself together and got on with the business of eating.

“You are going to get us kicked out of here,” David was saying.

*

“I’m sure you will get along very well with Gert and Herman,” David reassured Annie as they climbed out of their small car, their eyes on the castle before them.

“It’s really a castle!” exclaimed Annie, looking up at the turrets, and taking in the roses growing at the base of the castle walls, the forest in the distance, the gardens and the beautiful French countryside of the Loire Valley.

She could hardly believe she was here, that they would be staying in an actual 14th Century French chateau, for two weeks.

She was looking forward to having a holiday with David, and with their friends from home. And she was eager to meet David’s friends from his previous life in New Zealand. She just hoped that they would get along. Two weeks could be a long time if you were staying in a secluded castle in a foreign country with people you didn’t like, or who didn’t like you.

At the very least, meals could be awkward.

Annie and David found the caretaker, obtained the keys to the chateau – real, old iron castle keys – and had a look around.

The large oak doors across the foyer from the front door opened out onto a courtyard with a pond and two rows of sculpted trees, leading into a field and a forest beyond. They left the doors open to clear out the stale air and mounted the spiral stone staircase to the second floor.

Upstairs, they found four bedrooms. They selected one for themselves, and threw open the large shutters and windows to let in the light and some air. They stood there, gazing at the courtyard below and the rolling forested hills in the distance.

Having unpacked, they looked around the castle some more, ensuring that the other rooms would be satisfactory for their friends.

“Hello?” a man’s voice echoed from somewhere below them.

“That’s Herman,” explained David, heading toward the stairs to greet his friend.

“Don’t worry, I know you will really like Herman and Gert,” he reassured her again, as he disappeared down the stairs.

And in fact, David was right. The very next day, Annie went with Herman and Gert to the nearest city. It felt immediately as though they had always been friends. They spent the day perusing the French countryside market, laughing and having a wonderful time.

When they returned to the chateau that evening, they had so many inside jokes from their day out, none of the others were really sure what they were laughing at. Gert and Annie cooked dinner and everyone sat down to a fabulous feast, accompanied by a number of wonderful bottles of wine.

As the holiday progressed, the six holidayers came and went, visiting nearby sites or taking the picnic basket and a blanket to spend the day under one of the many trees on the grounds.

As the holiday drew to a close, David suggested that perhaps someone might like to join him for a day on the coast. Herman, Gert and Annie jumped at the chance to see the ocean.

Annie had been doing some research in a dated guidebook she had found in the castle’s drawing room and suggested that they have lunch at a lovely seafood restaurant in one of the villages by the sea. Everybody agreed, and they set out in good spirits.

By the time they had reached the coast, they were all hungry. The found Annie’s restaurant easily; it was situated in an old stone building on the main street, and offered a beautiful, expansive view of the sea.

They ordered wine as they perused the menu.

“I’m quite hungry,” Annie thought aloud. “Would anyone like to share the seafood platter?”