Tradition and Baking

womantearinghairout

Baking is supposed to be relaxing right?  What part, exactly, is relaxing?  The precise measurements that if deviated from can spell complete disaster!  The timing which if off by minutes results in smoke, charcoal briquettes and the occasional visit from the North Vancouver Fire Department?  The hot oven that requires me to remove my glasses every time I need to open it?  What is it?

My husband’s family has a specific traditional cookie that needs to be baked every year.  And when I say need to, I mean HAS to. In our house it’s not Christmas until we have baked  the “Christmas Tree Cookies”.  They are actually almond spritz cookies.  Bright green tasty mouthfuls of almondy sweetness. I know it’s a big part of the impending holiday season so this year I have agree to suck it up and bake.  I’m showing my holiday spirit.

Half a pound of butter mixed with a cup of sugar then an egg and some flour thrown in to hold it all together.  Oh yes, and green food colouring.  Lots of green food colouring.  Sprinkled with red sugar and baked for a few minutes.  Sound good right?

If only it was that easy.

For starters it’s never just one batch.  It’s at least two, if not more.  Granted the cookies are only a mouthful, but in some ways that makes it easier to grab, say, a half dozen and snack away.  The huge mound I make each year disappears like St. Nick up the chimney.  So the kitchen becomes a bit of an assembly line of measuring and mixing the squishy dough.

Then  there’s the actual art of “pressing” them
out.  This involves a cookie press, a strong hand and some patience.  About sixteen or seventeen years ago I was given my first cookie press by my mother in law.  It took a little while to figure the contraption out but I eventually got the hang of it.  The cookie dough that has been chilling in the freezer needs to be warmed up a bit and then stuffed into the tube of the press.  Then the Christmas tree cutout is screwed onto the end of the tube.  Now that your hands are nice and slippery from all the butter in the dough, you need to squeeze the trigger until a perfectly shaped Christmas tree appears in your cookie sheet.

Sometimes it does…….and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes your “tree” looks a bit like, oh I don’t know, let’s say a pigs snout.  Or a green cow patty.  Anything but a tree.  So then you scrape that cookie up and dump it back into the bowl and try again.

Relaxed yet?

Over the years that first press has been used a lot and last Christmas I pretty much gave up on it.  After about half a cookie sheet done my hand started to cramp up and the profanity coming out of my mouth was not very jolly.  My husband had to finish up and I swore I would never make Christmas tree cookies again.

Some months have passed now and for some reason I have agreed to revisit the cookie press.  A quick trip to Bed Bath and Beyond and voila I have a shiny new cookie press that promises easy use and perfect cookies.  We will see.

Things start out well.  The dough comes together easily and the new press gets filled with green buttery goodness.  Then human error comes into play.  As I squeeze the trigger and await the outcome the dough oozes out the side of the metal tree cutout.  Damn.Xmas tree Cookies

I try again.  Same outcome.  As I’m taking it apart for the third time my lovely husband hands me a glass of wine and asks if he can help.  I hand him the two pieces  and explain the outcome.  He asks me if I’ve been putting the disk in the right way.  Double Damn!

Not sure if was the wine or the fact that I had finally put the press together correctly but the next 200 cookies came out without incident.  (Pretty much).

The Best Thing in Life is keeping a tradition alive………no matter what.

 

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TBT – The Godmother

This is my godmother.  Her name was Faith Mahwinney and she was a lovely sweet woman. I remember her being like a little bird and smelling like roses.  She loved a good giggle and always wore heels.

When my parents first came to Canada in the mid-fifties they were introduce to the Mahwinneys and the older couple basically adopted them.  I can only imagine how hard it must have been to be newly married and living in a new country with no family of your own.  It must have been reassuring to have a nice couple to help them out and act as surrogate parents.

baptism

When I was born my parents chose Faith as one of my godparents.  Traditionally three godparents were chosen but I think that with a lack of close family they decide two was enough.  That is her holding me on the day I was baptized.  I still have the little gown I wore packed away in tissue…..somewhere.

Do people still have godparents?  I feel like it is a bit of a dying tradition.  Traditionally godparents are appointed by parents to provide spiritual guidance for their godchildren.  They are present when the child is baptized and make a promise of renunciation, faith and obedience in the child’s name.  In the past it was required that godparents be baptized themselves but the Anglican Church has waived that requirement in recent years.  Frankly I’m not even sure my godparents went to church at all.

Since we only went to church on the big days. You know.  Christmas , Easter and Thanksgiving.  It was a bit more about tradition than wanting us to have somebody teach us about God, but really, it’s a lovely tradition.

Generally speaking godparents are chosen for their interest and ability to nurture the Christian life and faith of the child/adult whom they sponsor.  I can’t say that I ever discussed God with either do  so in that respect she may have not lived up to the bargain.  But in other ways she knocked it out of the park.

Every Christmas we would all get dressed up and go to the Mahwinneys house on Marine Drive for tea.  The grown ups would sit in the living room and have tea and we kids would hang out in the dining room with our own tray of goodies and lemonade.  She made the most amazing cookies and treats and we each had our favorite.  My favorite was the coconut strawberries.  I have no idea what was in them other than coconut and sugar but they were shaped into little red strawberries and holy crap they were good.  My brothers favorite was very thinly sliced home-made brown bread slathered in butter and my sister loved the butter tarts.

After her husband passed away Faith moved into an apartment.  I would go and visit her on my own then as I was older.  She was getting old and frail and didn’t hear well but she still wore heals and smelt like roses.  She would putter around that apartment overlooking Ambleside making me tea and chatting about the people she had met in her new building.  She would always walk me down to the elevator when I left and remind everyone that we saw that I was her goddaughter.

faith

I was twenty-seven when she passed away.  I helped to spread her ashes over the rose garden outside her church.  She may not have guided me spiritually but she taught me a lot by always being polite and ladylike.  Traditions can take many forms and that makes them one of the Best Things in Life.

An English woman, a Scot and and an Irish woman walk into a pub

moving truck

An English woman, a Scot and and an Irish woman walk into a pub. No really, they did and it’s not the lead into a bad joke, it’s how I researched this post.

For as long as my husband and I have known each other (17 years) we have been talking about moving. We love living on the West Coast but, for my husbands work, opportunities are pretty limited here. First it was Memphis, then Boston, then Seattle and now Ottawa. Or maybe Seattle again. None of these discussions have come to fruition yet but it could happen any day and I want to be prepared. While I completely support him and his choice of work, I have never lived anywhere other than the North Shore of Vancouver (other than a couple of years working in Banff) so it’s safe to say that I’m a bit apprehensive of loading up the moving van and starting over. With a young daughter.

So I asked some friends who have made big moves with children to meet me for a drink so that I can get the skinny on what it takes to move, not just to a new city, but to a new country.

(This is where the joke line comes in)

I have to say, I got a bit more than I bargained for though.  The conversation ran from moving to kids to traditions to religion to shopping and sports and back to moving. As I struggled to keep up with three different accents and three different stories, I got some great insight into what moving with a family is all about. But I also got a bit of a lesson on what it means to be an ex-pat. Each of these three women has moved from the UK to Canada either for work or for a better family lifestyle. “If we didn’t have kids we would still be living in London.” And make no mistake “I am going home (to Scotland) to die.” Clearly they love their home land.

Moving to another city within North America may seem like a momentous change for me, but realistically not a lot would be different. Perhaps some differences in local terms may pop up. For example, on the West Coast you spend the summer at the “cabin” but in the east you spend the summer at the “cottage”. Really, a first world issue. Moving to anther country can bring vast differences. Religion, while for some an important part of life in Canada, is woven into everyones upbringing in the UK. One of my friend’s son hasn’t been baptized yet and she thinks that when her mother finds out that she may just stick him in a sink full of water just to make sure he’s covered.

“You have to do what you have to do”.

While life in Canada has its traditions, hockey for example, nothing can compare to the rich traditions of the British isles. It’s what one of my friends misses the most if she stops to think about it. “Shared history” is something that can not be reproduced when you start fresh in a new place. A ceilidh, I learned, is a traditional social gathering which usually involves Gaelic music and dancing. And telling somebody to “stick it up your jumper” is not a term of endearment. John Lewis is a store not a person. And real hockey isn’t played on ice, it’s played on a field of grass.

“Moving from the UK to Canada was less traumatic than moving from Scotland to England”. So, I learned, it’s not really about how far you move but how different the area you move to is from what you are used to. Yes, things will be different and you will miss the “shared history” of where you have come from but if you go with reservations and close yourself off, it can be horribly lonely. If you go with an open attitude and are willing to put yourself out there and meet people and experience new things, then it becomes an adventure. Especially with kids.

“They will be looking to you for help in adjusting and if you are anxious, then they will be too.”

As usual I have gone into writing this post with one thing in mind and come out with insight into, not only that subject, but far, far more. I have a new respect for these women who have let behind a comfort and history in order to move their families forward. I know that if it comes to that, I will be able to do the same. The Best Thing in Life is having inspiring women to help you along the way.

TBT – Easter Memories

I found this picture of my sister, brother and I all dolled up for Easter church.  (I’m the one in pink if you hadn’t guessed.)

easter

My earliest memories of Easter are of my mom getting us ready for church in pastel coloured dresses with white gloves and white wicker purses covered in fake flowers. Even though we were the Christmas , Easter and Thanksgiving only church family, my mom ensured that when we did go, we were dressed appropriately. I remember her inspecting our hands to be sure that we didn’t have any chocolate on our sticky little fingers. In those days the Easter Bunny came very early in the morning and left a beautiful egg on our breakfast plate. Hollow in the middle and decorated with our names in royal icing. “How did that bunny know our names?” I wondered. I learned later on that my mom was actually the bunny and would order the big chocolate Easter eggs from Woodward’s department store.

When we were a bit older the best memories are of Easter Sunday bonfires. It was Spring, the weather was getting better and my mom and dad would have been working in the yard to get ready for the summer. The yard waste needed to be disposed of and, for us,that meant a great big bonfire at the bottom of the yard. Usually a couple of other families would come over for the day and there would be a dozen kids standing around the fire roasting hot dogs and burning marshmallows for lunch.

Yup, that’s when destroying the ozone, processed meats and sugar were all good.

The big draw for the kids was the tire swing. A large tree stood at the top of a grassy hill and dad had hung a rope from the tree and then attached it to an old tire. When pushed properly you would swing out over the hill and hang 20 feet over the back lawn. I can not even count the number of times I fell off and had the breath knocked out of me. How none of us ended up in the emergency room is a mystery. Every year we had a contest to see how many of us could get on the swing at the same time without falling. Again, can’t believe we all live through it every year.

And then there was the egg hunt. The only acceptable candy was foil wrapped mini chocolate Easter eggs, mainly because they could withstand being tucked into crevices and hidden under logs or rocks in the garden and could survive being transplanted by squirrels if the hiding had been done the day before. Frantically we would search for those little eggs in every inch of that 3/4 acre space. I remember hitting pay dirt at the bottom of the tree that my sister fell out of when she broke her arm. I guess whoever was hiding the eggs got tired and dumped the last dozen or so in a hollow at the bottom of the tree. Score!

As the years passed and my sister, brother and I each got married and had our own kids, things changed. Nobody goes to church anymore, bonfires are now prohibited and the tree that held the tire swing died and the swing was lost. That may have been a good thing as my mom and dad ended up with six grandsons who I can say, without hesitation, would not have been as fortunate as us in not getting injured. But with that change and those grandchildren came different traditions.

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I’m not sure how or when it happened but at some point the chaotic search for foil covered Easter eggs in the garden became an Easter scavenger hunt. The Easter egg hunt evolved into my mom and dad creating elaborate clues that took the grandkids around the house and garden. The little ones had pictures to follow and usually an older cousins to help them out. The older ones had the task of not only following the clues but deciphering Granny’s handwriting. If you stood on the front doorstep you would see them standing scratching their heads, looking at the clue and then suddenly tearing around the side of the house when they realized that “Minki’s Flowers” meant the patch of daffodils that bloomed every year where my mom and dad had buried our dead cat’s ashes. (creepy yes, but really pretty.)

Easter at Granny and Poppas

Now the house where all these memories originated stands empty and the yard is a series of little holes where my parent’s friends have dug up my dad’s lilies, roses and yes, the daffodils. We will all go on to create our own Best Things in Life and memories for our kids around the holidays in our own homes. I can only hope that they are half as good as the ones my parents created for us.

Gung Hay Fat Choy

Gung-Hay-Fat-Choy-symbols

The West Coast is experiencing a magnificent February this year and with an empty calendar for today I decided to get out and make the most of it. I hadn’t been downtown in ages and with tomorrow being Chinese New Year I thought that Chinatown would make a great morning excursion. Vancouver’s Chinatown is one of the largest historic Chinatowns in North America and although over the years it has declined as members of Vancouver’s Cantonese Chinese community have dispersed to other areas, it still holds a lot of charm.

lantern

I love the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, particularly the day before a huge celebration. The ladies pulling their shopping carts behind them and haggling over the price of live fish. The crazy old lady at the produce stand yelling at passers-by to, I’m assuming, come and check out her fresh fruits and veggies. One day I will ask one of the little old ladies at the markets what the hell all those things are. Basket after basket of dehydrated somethings. Some are fish but others are, well I don’t know what they are, but they look so interesting and I can only imagine the flavor they would add to a stir fry. Chinatown is always loud for some reason. Everyone seems to know each other and yells across the street if they see a friend. Most shoppers are chattering away as they make their way from store to store.

Chinese candydried fish

My first stop was the Ten Ren tea store at the corner of Pender and Main. I love their ginger black tea. Everything you would need for a traditional tea ceremony you can buy in this store. It’s all I can do not to buy one of their fabulous black and red lacquer tea sets. Really the last thing I need is another tea-pot. Next up is the corner store for red lucky money envelopes. Traditionally lucky money is given at celebrations like weddings, births, funerals and Chinese New Years. Apparently you are supposed to give money that ends in an even digit and should not have the number four in it as that number is associated with death. The money should also be in the form of a bill so that the recipient can’t guess the amount in the envelope.

When I was little my family used to go to a restaurant in Chinatown called the Ho Inn. It was just off the corner of Pender and Columbia. Old style diner style dining. The booth tables had huge lazy Susan’s in the middle of the table for easy access to every dish. My dad and brother always ordered the garlic cod for the sole purpose of daring each other to eat the eye balls. Ewwww. Unfortunately the restaurant burnt down many years ago and a new fusion bistro stand in its place. The store next door was almost as big a part of the dining experience as the restaurant. A typical Chinatown trading market with incense, delicate China soup bowls and spoons, red and gold tasselled figurines and bags of brightly coloured candies. The white rabbit ones where my favorite. I loved going there after dinner to look at the curios while the lady behind the counter gave me the stink eye. I’m pretty sure she thought I was going to break something.

Chinatown street signs

I think that the Dollar Market still has the best barbecued pork and the line up of people waiting outside the store is significant. I was the only Caucasian person in the line up today. I would guess there were twenty people waiting patiently to buy cooked meat. The window is full of whole roasted chickens, barbecue pork loins and whole sides of pork that is sold by the rib. The men behind the counter wield huge sharp cleavers and chop the meat up so quickly I’m surprised they all still have ten fingers. Once I get to the front of the line I order a half a pound of barbecued pork. Chopped and wrapped in brown wax paper it is moist, fragrant and delicious. I rarely make it home without sneaking a bite or two. The meat store can be a bit off putting to some who are used the sterility of a Safeway meat department but that’s part of the charm for me.

dollar market

In the Chinese calendar the coming year is the year of the sheep. The Chinese regard sheep as an auspicious animal, so the Year of the Sheep should be a year of promise and prosperity. I myself am a dragon. Interestingly, all of the men in my life are rats. My dad, my ex-husband, my current husband and my son. Wonder if that means anything?  So as I head home with my tea, barbecued park and lucky money envelopes, I look forward to a great year and enjoying all The Best Things in Life.  Get out and enjoy somewhere you haven’t been in a while.  It’s worth it!

Easter Memories

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My parents sold their house last fall. They had lived there for 50 years. It was the home they brought me home from the hospital to. So many great memories came from that house and the garden that surrounded it. So many amazing family gatherings, birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings (a few fairly wild parties in their younger years) and anniversaries. For me the best memories always seemed to revolve around Easter. With Easter just around the corner and my daughter asking about the Easter bunny I am reminded of those great times.

My earliest memories of Easter are of my mom getting us ready for church in pastel coloured dresses with white gloves and white wicker purses covered in fake flowers. Even though we were the Christmas , Easter and Thanksgiving only church family, my mom ensured that when we did go, we were dressed appropriately. I remember her inspecting our hands to be sure that we didn’t have any chocolate on our sticky little fingers. In those days the Easter Bunny came very early in the morning and left a beautiful egg on our breakfast plate. Hollow in the middle and decorated with our names in royal icing. “How did that bunny know our names?” I wondered. I learned later on that my mom would get the big chocolate Easter eggs from Woodwards.

When we were a bit older the best memories are of Easter Sunday bonfires. It was Spring, the weather was getting better and my mom and dad would have been working in the yard to get ready for the summer. The yard waste needed to be disposed of and for us that meant a great big bonfire at the bottom of the yard. Usually a couple of other families would come over for the day and there would be a dozen kids standing around the fire roasting hot dogs and burning marshmallows for lunch. Yup, that’s when destroying the ozone, processed meats and sugar were all good.

The big draw for the kids was the tire swing. A large tree stood at the top of a grassy hill and dad had hung a rope from the tree and then attached it to an old tire. When pushed properly you would swing out over the hill and hang 20 feet over the back lawn. I can not even count the number of times I fell off and had the breath knocked out of me. How none of us ended up in the emergency room is a mystery. Every year we had a contest to see how many of us could get on the swing at the same time without falling. Again, can’t believe we all live through it every year.

And then there was the egg hunt. The only acceptable candy was foil wrapped mini chocolate Easter eggs, mainly because they could withstand being tucked into crevices and hidden under logs or rocks in the garden and could survive being transplanted by squirrels if the hiding had been done the day before. Frantically we would search for those little eggs in every inch of that 3/4 acre space. I remember hitting pay dirt at the bottom of the tree that my sister fell out of when she broke her arm. I guess whoever was hiding the eggs got tired and dumped the last dozen or so in a hollow at the bottom of the tree. Score!

As the years passed and my sister, brother and I each got married and had our own kids, things changed. Nobody goes to church anymore, bonfires are now prohibited and the tree that held the tire swing died and the swing was lost. That may have been a good thing as my mom and dad ended up with six grandsons who I can say, without hesitation, would not have been as fortunate as us in not getting injured. But with that change and those grandchildren came different traditions.

I’m not sure how or when it happened but at some point the chaotic search for foil covered Easter eggs in the garden became an Easter scavenger hunt. The Easter egg hunt evolved into my mom and dad creating elaborate clues that took the grandkids around the house and garden. The little ones had pictures to follow and usually an older cousins to help them out. The older ones had the task of not only following the clues but deciphering Granny’s handwriting. If you stood on the front doorstep you would see them standing scratching their heads, looking at the clue and then suddenly tearing around the side of the house when they realized that “Minki’s Flowers” meant the patch of daffodils that bloomed every year where my mom and dad had buried their cat’s ashes. Creepy but really pretty.

Easter at Granny and PoppasMatthew finds his eggs

So now the house stand empty and the yard is a series of little holes where my parent’s friends have dug up my dad’s lilies, roses and yes, the daffodils. We will all go on to create our own Best Things in Life and memories for our kids around the holidays in our own homes. I can only hope that they are half as good as the ones my parents created for us.